birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


Don was one of three editors I worked with in my twenties when I was on staff at a collection of newsletters tracking all aspects of the nuclear power industry: Nucleonics Week, Inside the NRC and Nuclear Fuel Weekly. The stapled newsletters were as nerdy as they sound. But they accounted for fully 1% of McGraw-Hill's net profit in the years I worked for them, first in Washington, DC then in New York City. The annual subscription price for each was $1,000. I flew first class when I visited nuclear facilities to talk to the "Glow Boys."

In Washington, I attended the rare White House press briefing discussing nuclear power. More regularly, I covered Congressional hearings and Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearings. At the first press conference for President Reagan's Secretary of Energy, whose chief qualification for the job was that he had been the President's dentist, was nice enough to take a question from the 23-year-old eager beaver on the front row. He said he knew nothing about nuclear power; history does repeat itself.

After two years, I was transferred to New York to cover Wall Street and spend more time on the road visiting nuclear power plants. My desk was in section of the newsletter floor where I sat asshole to elbow with my editors and three other reporters. The group included a ditsy assistant and a chain smoker. Don was the resident alcoholic.

My first boss out of college was for an alcoholic -- what else do you call someone who keeps a bottle of Seagram's Seven in his desk drawer and routinely pours himself "a couple of fingers" after his three-martini lunch? He fell asleep during afternoon meetings, thank god. So, I didn't immediately recognize Don's alcoholism. All he drank was a six-pack of beer in the afternoon, which he usually asked me to fetch for him from the market around the corner from the McGraw-Hill building on Avenue of the America's in mid-town.

I believed Don to be a talented editor. He improved my copy, caught mistakes in my understanding of the technology, and told me I was smart. I repaid him with loyalty. The truth was more complicated. Don was not well and I covered up that fact when asked my opinion about his behavior. The more aware members of the staff, rightfully horrified by his in-office drinking, did not thrive as I did. Don could be a mean SOB. He delighted in undermining the fragile self-confidence of young reporters with demeaning remarks uttered under his breath as he edited copy.

It wasn't until I quit that he hit on me. He'd invited me to a farewell dinner for the two of us at a nicer than usual restaurant and after the first bottle of wine, he suggested that now we could have a different kind of relationship. I didn't know what to say. As I looked at this slovenly man with an untrimmed beard and a beer belly wrapped in a cheap suit, I swallowed a laugh, stood up and patted him on his balding head. "I don't think so," I said and walked out the door.

The plan

Boldly Going