In the dream I see the Moorish domes
and tile floors of the Examiner building in downtown Los Angeles, my fatherís
world, model for Hearst Castle. I smell the paper and the ink and the hot
lead, and I feel fatherís hand holding mine as we walk the high catwalk
from the editorial building to the press building, hearing the growl of
the trucks at the loading docks below.
Across the bridge a door opens onto
the top landing of a cast-iron stairway bolted to the wall, half-way up
the four story height of the great web presses that stand side by side
in the cavernous vault, ten feet from our perch. The machines rise out
of darkness and tower above us in the charcoal light of ink-misted windows,
an iron-age cathedral. Iím only seven but I know itís a mythic scene.
Iím frightened to look down through
the grillework, but father tightens his grip and I cling close and we descend
the open stairs, down and slowly down, like lowering into a coal
mine, down and down onto a second landing, and weíre below Earthís surface
now and there are no windows and we continue on down into lamp-lit darkness
and step off onto the floor of the world.
The ancient floor is crossed with
dolly tracks that transport great wheels of paper to turntables where pressmen
load the presses. The broad white ribbons are stretched taut now, waiting.
Pressmen with lamps roam the hives of iron above, traversing narrow bridges
from one dark tower to another, into which they disappear.
It's almost time, father says. We
climb back up the stairs to the first landing and I stand close to him,
and now red lights flash and a ringer rings loud and thereís a lurch somewhere
and the mighty engines begin to groan into ponderous motion, begin to move
their unthinkable gears, winding them forward like the drivewheels of a
legendary locomotive, and the sonorous drone of smooth-moving steel begins
to rise with the gathering momentum into a steady thunder that drums my
stomach and thrills me.
The rushing river of paper screams
through its zig-zag web with an air-splitting pitch that loosens the letters
from their words and whirls them into alphabet clouds that print a fatal
text on my fatherís lungs with each breath he takes. It wasnít the ink
that killed him. It was all those lies.