I won't lie to you. I sometimes scrounge for column ideas from the news headlines, both nationally and locally. Look hard enough and you can usually find a "Duck Saves Family from Fire" or "Scientists Report that Picking Nose May Lead to Longer Life."And honestly, how can you not grab those tidbits by the handles and just run with them?
The idea is to find something light and meaningful, a little chunk of useless knowledge that might save you people from crying in your Cheerios on Wednesday and Sunday mornings. Although, let's be honest. Can you really call that thing I do for the Sunday paper a column? Doesn't it feel more like some kind of psychological experiment in which I'm the lab rat and you people are the guys poking it with sharp sticks?
The point is that there is often gold in them thar headlines. Usually, that is. Lately? Not so much.
I started off Monday morning by scanning the day's news. It had been a busy weekend and I figured I might have missed a "Man Marries Cat" piece or possibly "Martial Arts Goat Wins Trophy."
What I found, instead, was this:
"Student Shoots Self in Ohio Classroom."
"Mom Disappears from Late Night Shift at Gas Station."
"DNA Collected in Killing of 8 Year Old Girl."
"Man Stabs Choir Members During Hymns at New Mexico Church."
"Teenager Struck by Patrol Car Dies."
At which point, I shut down the news site and turned to the funnies. I mean, sheesh. You get the feeling that the world is a ball of string, hurtling through space and unraveling faster and faster as it goes.
Two weeks ago it was kids getting blown apart by bombs followed quickly by a massive explosion in Texas. That followed a series of school shootings almost too horrific to comprehend. You think there's going to be a breather after all that, but there is not. Somebody stabs an 8-year-old girl and someone else snatches a young mother from her workplace. And those are just the headlines that made it to my feed reader.
I'm sure every aging windbag since the age of cave sketching has opined that the world has become crazier than it's ever been. And I won't deny that I've been having those thoughts lately. I think: There is more violence and cruelty than ever and surely it's a sign of the end of times. So I go to work on my backyard bunker, which doesn't have any more space, so don't even ask.
Of course, there's a valid argument in response to this. There isn't more bad news in the world, it's just that news spreads faster and farther than ever before. Twenty years ago, we might never have heard about the little girl who was stabbed or the Ohio kid who turned a gun on himself in front of his classmates. Newspapers had only so much space, after all, and they had to dedicate some of it to the "Record Setting Squash Grows in Turner" stories.
Today? You can get the gloom 24 hours a day on your high-def TV, on your home computer or on the portable bad-news device you carry in your hand. If you wanted to (you don't), you could set up alerts and be notified instantly any time the words "murdered," "explosion" or "shooting" are used in the mainstream media.
The horror just keeps coming, an endless river of killing and maiming and weeping children. In the face of it, I sometimes feel guilty for writing about things like funny stuff I find while riding my motorcycle or underwear mishaps. Sometimes it feels disrespectful to babble about the absurd while the rest of the world seems to be mourning one tragedy or another.
The day of the Boston Marathon bombing, I had come home from a delightful motorcycle ride through downtown Lewiston. I had some funny stuff on video and I posted it at once on Facebook. I hadn't yet heard, you see, about the dead child and the blown-off limbs in Beantown. When I became enlightened, I apologized for posting my pointless video in the midst of all that. The response was rather surprising.
"I will take this anyday over what is on TV in my beloved Boston right now. I needed a smile.......thanx."
"After a heavy heart today w/what happened in Boston, it was nice to 'escape' for a few minutes while I watched this."
"Don't apologize for being a dork. We need dorks more than ever lately."
And so on. Apparently I'm not the only one looking for relief in massive turnips and cat-marrying farm folk among all the bloody headlines. And if my job is to provide some of that relief, I'm happy to do it. I'll start this very day.
Which is excellent news, because that means underwear mishaps will return next week. I tell you, I've got a really good one.
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. Send underwear mishaps and giant turnip photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.