There’s this bathroom down here at the paper that’s tucked in right next to the presses. It’s a tiny windowless space with ink-stained walls and none of the frilly accouterments you’ll find in the more popular bathrooms up near advertising.

This gloomy little spot carved into massive concrete walls is where the pressmen go when they want to powder their noses between runs. It isn’t a bathroom meant for primping or preening or for checking one’s lipstick in clean wall mirrors.

This is a bathroom that would feel at home in a men’s prison and I love it, mostly because whenever I’m in there, I can feel the looming presence of the mammoth press machinery just outside the door. I feel tiny in the shadow of it; a mere field mouse at the stomping feet of a dinosaur herd.

The main press is a monstrous expanse of greasy metal, whirring cogs, spitting ink and spinning rolls. When it’s running at full speed, it’s a fearsome thing; a prehistoric beast in the throes of labor, giving birth to a day’s worth of news.

When it’s still, the press is somehow even more menacing, a sleeping leviathan that might roar to life at any time to devour the nearest village. Its gauges and buttons and dials are like watchful eyes in the gloom. Its grease-smeared tentacles seem to thrum ceaselessly with the energy of the news that has been digested in its oily belly. The press, to me, seems sentient in the dark. Sentient and perhaps insane.

I love the press, even if I mostly view it from the closet-sized bathroom that squats at its heels. The press is like a lumbering stranger I’ve passed a million times on the street but whom I never got to know. I have no answers for the occasional visitor who comes into tour the facility.

Visitor: “What do those big metal wheels do?”

Me: “I dunno. But don’t they look like eyes?”

Visitor: “How do they load those massive paper rolls?”

Me: “I dunno. Probably with one of those truck thingies that beeps when they back it up.”

Visitor: “What’s that big red button do? Does that stop the press?”

Me: “Probably. Hey, do you want to tour the bathroom? I can show you the soap dispenser.”

The press is the heart, the lungs and the guts of this newspaper operation. The rest of us, with our clean pants, our ties and our blouses, are mere phalanges. We feed the beast and the beast takes it from there, transforming our strings of words into giant blocks of paper to be broken up and distributed to the populace.

In this news jungle, the press is King Kong.

Not that he’s all by himself back there. There are enough machines in the press and distribution areas to fill an entire city block, and most of them look like they sprang out of the pages of a Dr. Seuss story. Some of them fold, some of them staple, some of them put stars on the bellies of Sneetches who had none upon thars.

It’s a strange and enticing landscape of monsters down here, is what I’m saying, and it makes visiting the men’s room just delightful. And with that thought in mind, I’ve got to go powder my nose this very minute.

And to find out, once and for all, what that red button is for.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.