Kes was a real son of a bitch. He helmed the East Europe Desk and during the civil war in Yugoslavia he became a star editor. It seemed like all the shit happening in the world at that time was sliced and diced by Kes, and served up to the language departments to be translated and disseminated accordingly in that wonderful propagandized way governments swing out news. I worked next to Kes as a rookie writer green out of school. He yelled at me every fucking day, several dozen times within my eight-hour block. Always on my way out, having finished a gruesome shift, Gollust–the Managing Editor from Cleveland–would roll up the sports section of the Plain Dealer and shake it at me, smiling. Gollust liked to have his staff roughed up and abused in Basic Training. Kes was his Sargent Hartman. I thought I was going to be Pyle.
Everything happened in Yugoslavia, those years. I fucking hated Yugoslavia. Goddamn 20th Century began with a bang there and ended the same exact way in the same exact place. Fucking cycles. Shit may flow downstream, but it also lies still in puddles. The writers on the West Europe Desk, working across from Kes, would literally put up physical barriers–books, folders, cardboard boxes–between their space and Kes’s. Everybody went to Yugoslavia to cut their teeth or continue drilling them. I fucking hated it. Not more than ten years before, I had been pulled out of that part of the world. The last thing I wanted was to go back. To write about a fucking racial war. To get eviscerated by shrapnel or some hotshot picking off unsuspecting suckers like me, from the 8th floor of a Tito government housing project. I had no delusions or, it seems, an ego. I never wanted to be known for anything. Never wanted to make a name for myself.
So I quit.
On my last day I finished up a regional story about a bus rolling into a ravine in Guatemala. I had been re-assigned to the LatAm desk for refusing to travel to Belgrade. My last month in the newsroom I reported on FARC rebels and the banana trade in Central America. I also wrote obits for people no one had ever heard of.
Walking out the sliding double doors, I got held up by Kes–this little insufferable parasite of a man who had made my life hell. He shook my hand and congratulated me for getting out of the business early. He said I was smart. And that I would be a great writer soon. He also said never to think about coming back to journalism. It was quickly becoming a worthless trade. Soon, he said, it would be over-run by pretty talking heads on television and young editors and producers who had no idea what the fuck they were doing.
I never have missed Kes or the rest of the geriatric crew in the news room. But I can’t say he didn’t surprise me with his gesture. Even parasites have a heart.