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WILL VAN OVERBEEK Doris Laake, intrepid reporter and photographer editorial cartoons. One charged $25; the other expected two six-packs. And then there was: the Bird Lady, and is, bird crazy. She ministers to sick birds, runs what appears to be a bird orphanage, and studies birds constantly, hiding under a pile of leaves or standing mannequin-still in the middle of a field. We met her one day on a country road as she walked her geese, and asked if she would write about birds for the paper. She did, and her “Bird Lady” column became an instant hit. \(Particularly popular was the account of the Bird Lady’s Thanksgiving Day ritual serving her turkeys a cake In four years of running the paper, we published pictures of every unusual edible item grown, caught, or created in Bastrop County. There were eggs big enough to be a hen’s worst nightmare, catfish of biblical proportion, two-handed pears; and turnips so large they would set a smile on the face of the grimmest Bohemian farmer. Our philosophical justification for this weekly horn of plenty was that we wanted people not only to read the paper but to be the paper. Everyone was a potential contributor. We wanted each issue to be a surprise. We ran an April Fool’s page every year \(some readers are still upset that Ferdinand . and Imelda Marcos are moving to nearby The bottom-line result of this combination of hard. news, editorials, features, and a cornucopia of contributors was a 33 percent increase in subscribers in the first three years to more than 4,000. Revenues also jumped, from the $160,000 in the year before we bought the paper to $285,000 in 1986, a 78 percent increase. WHAT SEEMED a successful business venture, however, produced an intolerable way of life. There was always too much work and not enough money. Stories were dashed out Tuesday afternoons, between taking classified ads and fixing a typesetting machine. Even when the paper was finished the job wasn’t over. One morning, having been up until 3 a.m. putting the paper to bed, we were living the life of the righteous drinking ‘coffee, trading gossip when word came from the press; the computergenerated list of our 2,000 mail subscribers was Off center. The machine that sliced and pasted each address label was tirelessly separating city from state, first name from last. It was a disaster, and we spent our only off-day of the week \(and every Glue 2,000 labels by hand. “You want your own voice, at least that’s how I started out 20 years ago,” says Kentucky weekly publisher Albert Smith, in words that make more sense now than before we put out our first edition. “I had had it with writing for these people, had it writing for dull editors, had it with unresponsive, insensitive pieces about serious topics. I would do my own thing. So you start, and the first thing you find out is that you are preoccupied with just economic survival, and your voice begins to croak or fall mute in your desperate sweat to produce the paper, to get enough ads to pay the bills.” By early 1987 we were croaking. Every bit of creativity, the fun of the job, came after the full-time chore of putting out a paper. And there was never a break. Even our infrequent three-day-weekend vacations became traumatic. We returned one Monday morning to learn that an employee had taken the company car \(a ten-year-old Pontiac family. The car had caught fire on the road and the driver had steered the smoldering heap into the parking lot of a restaurant holding a grand-opening celebration. The restaurant owner was on the phone first thing that Monday threatening us with a lawsuit. In 1983, we would have laughed; three years latter it stopped us as cold as THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7