Someday the world is going to end and I, the Hestonesque hero left to report the tragic news, will totally choke on it.

It’s not that I don’t have the skills or fortitude to write about the end of the world, mind you: “The world ended on Friday, officials said. It reportedly went with a whimper rather than a bang.”

See? That’s most of what you need to know in two tidy sentences, complete with vague attribution and all that stuff copy editors like.

It’s a pity no editors survived the apocalypse.

No, I will write you 5,000 words on the end of the world and I won’t take all day to do it, either. It will be riveting stuff, replete with mushroom clouds, toppling buildings and a working sidebar on the Rapture – check hourly for updates on which of your friends made it and which did not.

Writing about TEOTWAWKI will be easy. Fun even, considering I’ll be writing from an underground bunker that you totally don’t know about so don’t come a-knocking.

My problem, as always, will be writing the headline.

I stink at headlines. And not just a little bit, I’m utterly rancid. When I try to write a headline for one of my own stories, an eye-watering effluvium blows through the newsroom, sending my retching colleagues racing for the exits with their faces covered.

It’s awesome! But also frustrating, because gee whiz. If I can write 500 individual sentences, 100 paragraphs and a single lead sentence that sings like the strings of a harp, why can’t I condense the guts of the story into one crisp and catchy line?

Because I stink at it, that’s why. Here, watch as I try to do it and enjoy the stench of a thousand rotting fish heads.

“IT’S OVER!”

Terrible headline. It’s too short — you’d need to make the letters three feet tall to get them to fit on the page. Plus, who needs that old Roy Orbison song in their heads when the world is on fire?

“GUY WITH SANDWICH BOARD ON LISBON STREET WAS RIGHT! WORLD ENDS!”

Too long. Too stupid. Too fish-heady. Plus, if I remember right, the sandwich board guy was on Pine Street.

“GOOD NEWS! YOU DON’T HAVE TO GO TO WORK TODAY!”

Eye-rolling bad. People scrambling around waiting to fall into the furnaces of hell don’t have time for wit, nor do they need the blow softened. They just need to know that it’s officially over so that they can tell their bosses to shove it.

That’s three swings and three misses. These headlines are not funny, catchy, charming or informative. It’s the end of the world and I’m slumped at my keyboard completely paralyzed because I can’t put a hat on an otherwise perfectly fine story. I apologize. I really let you dead folks down.

Now watch as some random strangers on Facebook write their headlines, seemingly without any effort at all.

“MEEP, MEEP! THAT’S ALL FOLKS!”

“WORLD ENDS. KEITH RICHARDS AND BUGS SURVIVE.”

“NOTHING TO SEE HERE: WORLD ENDS.”

“YOUR NEWSPAPER MAY BE LATE TODAY.”

“APOCALYPSE WOW: RAPTURE STANDARDS QUESTIONED.”

“WORLD ENDS: JUSTIN BIEBER AND 8 MILLION OTHERS KILLED.”

In the real, non-ended world, my editors are always reminding reporters that they should write their own headlines. Who knows the essence of the story, after all, more than he or she who writes it?

Blah blah, editor talk, blah.

After John F. Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas, Texas, you saw some flowery, cumbersome headlines in papers across the globe. Newspaper people everywhere fell all over themselves trying to capture the horror of the day as poetically as possible. I took a look at hundreds of those headlines, and my hands down favorite is: “KENNEDY KILLED.”

Two words, cold and stark; no exclamation points needed. The brevity and simplicity of the headline imparts like a fist to the gut the mortal ghastliness of what had transpired.

It was the same on 911 when headlines like “Terror,” “An Act of War” and “Bastards!” screamed from newspaper racks everywhere.

Could I have written a headline as powerful? Probably not. My writer’s brain isn’t conditioned to amputate strings of words in order to make them shorter, even, than a hard news lead sentence. The short stuff just does not compute.

With this in mind, I’ve decided on a course of action wherein I will use the same tried-and-true headline, ironically swiped from a 1980s comedy, on every story I write. Council meeting? Storm story? Flower show? Knifing in Kennedy Park?

“BOY TRAPPED IN FREEZER EATS OWN FOOT!”

It may not be original or in any way pertinent to the matter at hand, but admit it: you’d read that story.


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