Humor by Mark Bazer

My first job after college was as assistant to the editor of an alternative weekly, much like the Chicago Reader. This was in the pre-Internet glory days when prostitutes bought countless classified ads because, of course, of their firm belief that only an alternative press could hold our government and the mainstream press accountable.

My job was essentially secretarial, but every so often they'd throw me a bone and let me cover something no one else wanted to. Perhaps you've read my review of "Operation Dumbo Drop"? Hey, every great newsman has to begin somewhere, and so do people like me.

Anyhow, it was there that my boss, the editor whose work (and sometimes personal) life I was charged with keeping organized, introduced me to the greatest invention known to man -- at least prior to the Shark® Portable Steam Pocket®.

He called it The Action Pile.

The Action Pile was a stack of papers on my desk where I would put all non-urgent letters, requests, invitations, etc., sent my editor's way. Then every several months, after he'd had a few martinis over lunch, we would attack The Action Pile.

We'd answer one or two of the most important letters and return a few others to The Action Pile for future consideration.

But by the time we looked at them, the bulk of the contents were way past their expiration date -- half-baked pitches for stories on an election that had since passed, invites to an opening reception at a restaurant that had since closed, requests for internships from students who had since graduated and started families.

Those letters we would throw out.

At first, The Action Pile drove me, new to the working world and official adulthood, crazy. HOW COULD WE BEHAVE SO RECKLESSLY? WHAT IF A PROSTITUTE HAD ACCIDENTALLY SENT US HER PAYMENT FOR HER AD?

But over time, I noticed a funny thing happened. Nothing.

Nobody ever called to complain. Nobody ever got into trouble. No lives were ruined.

And most importantly, a solid paper came out each week -- even when I was entrusted with the review of "Dunston Checks In." ("The bad news for the talented Dunston," the 22-year-old me wrote, "is that from now on he'll be typecast as an orangutan.")

Today, the Action Pile is probably online -- no longer the tragicomic visual it once was, at some points nearly blocking my view of the rest of the newsroom.

But in today's world -- where everyone (yes, including me) is clamoring for everyone else's attention -- The Action Pile must be ten times as valuable.

And so with the holidays coming, with the onslaught of solicitations, invitations and other miscellany set to come your way, I'm here to ask: Isn't it time you started one?

Humor & Satire

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