In the early 1980s the chattering magpies of the editorial staff sat at desks set before windows looking down from an uneasy height at the sorry mess across the street below.
The sorry mess marked the shuttered remains of a C&W roadhouse, which, at high tide, had offered a bordello in the basement.
Our northern California valley burg was then in the process of moving from an oakball town with a college in it, to a college town with oakballs on the periphery. The transition wasn’t always a smooth one, and occasionally the gearshift got stuck, like with this pile of abandoned multi-story iron scaffolding, festooned with raggedy tarps, flapping tattered banners, discarded rusting tools, and cans partially drained of paint, nails, and various unidentifiable but pretty darn scarifying substances.
It’s what we looked at, every day at work.
One day the editor, exercising the power of the press to use the pages of the newspaper to declaim about whatever might peeve him personally—a power today enjoyed by bloggers worldwide—instructed the staff photographer to snap a photo of the decaying cross-street pile as viewed from his window seat, then slapped the shot into the paper, above a caption titled “This Is Ugly,” and a short screed expressing Outrage that whomsoever had once set to work “rehabbing” the bar/bordello, had clearly abandoned the project long ago, yet left behind aesthetically displeasing detritus that daily soiled our eyes and roiled our minds.
“This Is Ugly” proved something of a success. It developed, as it usually does, that we weren’t the only ones offended by this display of the decline and fall of Western civilization. Readers too had remarked on The Embarrassing Pile, but figured nothing could be done. However, one night, during the wee hours, Something was: somebody swooped by and removed the gunk. The erstwhile roadhouse was reduced to just another shuttered storefront, like the two dozen or so others scattered then throughout the downtown.
Today, 30 or so (egads) years later, all is or more or less shiny happy there: the top floor now contains a shop that passes off doughballs as bagels, and a shop that has something to do with juice. In the basement, however, where the sporting gals once labored, is a truly fine Thai restaurant, its unisex bathroom featuring one of the better pieces of art in the town: a woodblock print of eight Thai women contentedly arranged in a carnal daisy chain.
Meanwhile, back there in the early 1980s, “This Is Ugly” enjoyed a brief but fruitful life as a recurring featurette, after having been rechristened “This Is Wrong,” since that moniker seemed more inclusive of the sort of things we magpies encountered, as we set about Passing Judgement on what passed before our eyes. It was kind of fun, playing at Yahweh, or the Khmer Rouge—identifying and photographing Wrong, expounding upon its Evil. If memory serves, the last person, place, or thing to appear above the “This Is Wrong” head was Ronald Reagan, then busily dismantling the United States. This was shortly before the newspaper was seized by Normal People—masquerading as brethren “progressives”; my, how things do not change—and we were sent out into the wilderness of exile, there to make our way as best we might.
This all recurred to me when I ran across this story, for “This Is Wrong” was my prime directive upon discovering that a clot of yee-haws in a place called Brasstown, North Carolina, think that The Thing To Do is to usher in New Year’s Day by lowering from the roof of a gas station, in a plexiglass cage, a live possum, as they chant “five, four, three, two, one!”