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As my foot was about to touch the sensor, activating the sliding doors and facilitating a clean and relatively early escape from the office, I heard a voice.



Dorothy Gustafson, the benevolent leader of The Community News, serving the lower Bergen county towns of Carlstadt, East Rutherford, Hasbrouck Heights, Lodi, Rutherford, and Wood-Ridge, was in her office and had caught me trying to leave early. She’s generally in favor of remote work and never scrutinizes my schedule, but I missed a deadline.

What she didn’t know was that I had quite a unique opportunity waiting for me on the other side of those doors.

I sauntered in, cocked a grin, leaned on her door jamb, and committed to a charm defensive.

“Yes, Dot?”

“I still don’t have your article on the Rutherford YMCA Kid’s Cookie Bake Off. And don’t call me Dot.”

No grin in return. When they tell you Norwegian women are stout, strong, and devoid of emotion, believe them.

“Ah, yes. I’m really struggling with some cookie puns. I didn’t think you’d want every paragraph ending with ‘and that’s how the cookie crumbles.’”

Honestly, I hadn’t actually started writing the piece.

It’s pretty impossible to write effusive praise for the six entrants, especially when one of the competitors (Karen Marie Walsh, grade 4) had a temper tantrum and threw her finished product at her mother in a fit of rage. Every time I attempted to write the article, it devolved into a scathing think piece on shitty parenting and a treatise on the pervasive “everyone gets a medal” philosophy. I also didn’t think it would be appropriate to publicly shame little Sarah Brubaker, grade 3, who had dumped two cups of salt instead of sugar in her Happy Birthday to Me funfetti cookies.

But, back to Dorothy. “You would be correct. Need I remind you that physical media—community newspapers especially—are an endangered species. Be that as it may, we have a great responsibility in still providing newspapers to the members of our community who prefer them over reading the news on their phones or computers. Some of our valued readers don’t even own a smartphone!”

I had heard this before, and I did recognize my responsibility to the community that had raised me.

Dorothy was part of that community, and honestly, she had tons of opportunities to fire me, and she hadn’t.

“And, DJ, I’ve since received three emails from Andrew Grant’s parents asking when the article announcing his victory would be printed. I really need you to get it to me. Apparently, all four of his parents are dying of terminal diseases, and they won’t shuffle off this mortal coil until they’ve seen their grandson’s name in print.”

I looked at Dorothy sheepishly. “Of course, Dot.”

She finally looked away from her computer screen to look at me. “If you ask me, his Peanut Butter Jamborees tasted like shit. And I go to church with Andrew Grant’s paternal grandmother. She’s not dying, she’s just terminally a miserable bitch.”

I laughed.

“And DJ… don’t call me Dot.”

I shuffled out of her office and mentally committed to writing the cookie bake off article as soon as I got home. But first, I needed to get to a very important meeting.

My name is Donnie Jones, and I am a 30 year old staff writer for a small community newspaper in New Jersey.

This was not the career trajectory I had planned. I had just graduated college and had moved back home while I applied for a variety of finance jobs in New York City. My parents were happy to have me back home. My mom, Theresa, made me breakfast every morning and dinner every night. Even if I slept in until 11 A.M., which was often, there was always a full spread ready for me. My dad, George, would insist I enjoy a beer with him every Friday night on the wrap-around porch, to celebrate a week of hard work. He politely ignored the fact that I actually wasn’t working.

Then, they died in a car crash.

When I say that Dorothy Gustafson and the community stepped in to raise me, this is what I meant.

My parents were heavily involved in the community, with my mother serving on every town committee imaginable and volunteering her time at the library running story hours, overseeing the child care center, and mobilizing letter writing campaigns every time the state threatened to cut library funding. My father had been a principal at both the grammar school and high school, and when he decided to semi-retire, he spent his time teaching new teachers all the need to know about instructional design and working with the mayor and his board on neighborhood improvement initiatives.

I was listless after the funeral and overwhelmed by all the paperwork. There was still a mortgage to pay, and—as I already stated—I was jobless, and saddled with student loan debt.

The first thing Dorothy did was hire me at the Community News. 

She paid me over market, especially for someone with a business degree and little writing experience. She was patient with me as I struggled through writing about town hall meetings, library book sales, and trash pick up schedule changes. In the early days of my “journalism career,” I did my best to hide my boredom because I was so grateful for the opportunity to make money and pay my parents’ bills. Dorothy knew it wasn’t a job I wanted, but I also made sure I worked hard as a sign of my deep appreciation for what she had done for me.

I soon learned that Dorothy had also created a program where a percentage of ad revenue from the paper went to a fund in my parents’ name, the total of which she used to pay off the remainder of the mortgage and have the house be placed in my name. It was not lost on me that the ad space in the Community News was filled by small businesses in the community, who sometimes struggled to stay open between rent checks and business expenses. The places where I ate my breakfast bagels, got my hair cut, and bought my first legal six pack had all sacrificed their own comfort and financial security to provide me with mine.

So, I felt a bit guilty about what I was about to do.

If the meeting went as expected, I could get picked up by a major news outlet.

And that would mean I would leave the Community News, and Dorothy, in the rear view mirror after 9 years. And honestly, Dorothy probably wouldn’t be able to afford to hire my replacement, so she and the other staff writer would keep the paper hobbling along until they had to shutter their doors completely.

I had first seen the sign while grocery shopping.

It was tacked to the community announcements bulletin board, under a posting by a woman desperate to offload her remaining LuLaRoe inventory. I usually ignored the community board, but some of the boards on the porch were starting to warp, and I was hoping to find a local contractor to help repair them.

Monthly Anarchists Meeting !!!

Wednesday, April 26th

8 P.M.

Our Lady of the Assumption Church Basement

No Weapons Allowed!

All attendees are asked to bring a dessert. (No peanuts or tree nuts please!)

I had decided, in that moment, while blocking the entrance of my Stop and Shop, that this would be my ticket to a “real” journalism career. If this was an actual anarchists meeting, I would get a front row to a group of people plotting to take down society, in a church basement no less. I had honed my writing skill over the years, and truly believed I could write a provocative, insightful piece that would, at best, go viral or, at least, get the attention of a major news outlet.

But it wasn’t lost on me that a group of people who were set on destroying our country from the inside out didn’t allow weapons. To me, weapons seemed like a required part of an anarchists’ tool set for government overthrow. And did anarchists usually request allergen-free desserts at their planning meetings? It was jarring, but also intriguing.

I told myself that one could work methodically to tear apart the fabric of society through concerted disruptive efforts while also avoiding anaphylaxis in their comrades.

And that’s how I ended up in a church basement on a random Wednesday with two dozen cotton candy funfetti cookies.

Yes, you heard that right. Cotton candy funfetti cookies. No, it wasn’t a recipe from the aforementioned bake off I had yet to write about. I had Googled “What baked goods do I bring to an anarchy meeting?” and it led me to a famous baker’s recipe blog, where she stated she made these at her kid’s birthday party, which was total anarchy. Close enough, I figured.

I had decided early on I wasn’t going to reveal my true identity to the attendees. I considered myself an ethical person, but in order to really understand the group, I figured telling them I was researching a story wasn’t the best way to get them to open up. But, if they quickly Googled me, they may actually choose to help, because some of featured bylines weren’t necessarily New York Times worthy:

“Chili Cook Off Conundrum in Carlstadt!”

“Rowdy Racoons Raise Rage in Rutherford!”

“Wood-Ridge? More like Hood Ridge! Car Show Comes to Bergen County!”

When I arrived, there was already a sizable group gathered in a circle of folding chairs.

A folding table was sagging under the weight of all the proffered baked goods. A large, bald man with a bushy white beard came up and greeted me. He was friendly enough. His name was Gerry Gubler. And he looked like fucking Santa Claus.

I introduced myself as Tommy Jarvis, as I had a tendency to use horror movie character names when anonymity was required. I jumped right into the questions, as Gerry had greeted me with a firm handshake and a wide smile. Again, not what I had anticipated an anarchist to look like, but people can surprise you. My college roommate once told me his 80-year-old neighbor, who looked like a sweet grandmother straight out of central casting, had been arrested for murdering delivery men who disturbed her during her court shows and kept their corpses in her basement alongside her jam jars.

“Gerry, I’m surprised a church, especially a Catholic one, let you use your basement… for… well… this.” I motioned around.

“Well, Tommy, my friend. Isn’t it anarchy to lie on a room rental application?” He tapped his nose as if letting me in on a little secret. “The pastor thinks we’re a book club. No one has yet to make the connection between this meeting and our sign at the grocery store.” Gerry picked up a cookie from my Tupperware container, took a bite, and through a mouthful of pink crumbs, invited me to sit down.

It was evident Gerry Gubler was the leader, as a hush descended on the circle once he sat down.

Upon first looks, it seemed like a wide variety of ages, races and ethnicities was represented in the group. We couldn’t get representation in the executive boards of Fortune 500 companies, but if you were looking for diversity in your community, just come along to your local anarchists’ support group. Don’t forget to bring nut-free donuts! I had truly entered the Twilight Zone, and I was committed, so there was no going back now.

Gerry coughed to get everyone’s attention and then brought the meeting to order.

“Hello friends. Before we begin, I’d like to introduce a new member, Tommy. Tommy, this is everybody. Now, let’s get to it. How did we bring about the fall of civilization as we know it this week? Or, if you were too busy this week to slowly chip away at the foundation of society,” he looked at a young blonde woman, “I know the twins keep you busy, Varlette, maybe provide an example of how you’ve done it in the past!”

An older woman in a hand-knit cardigan raised her hand. “My name is Carla, and when I’m at the shopping centers, and their parents aren’t looking, I whisper into kids’ ears that Santa doesn’t exist.”

I couldn’t help but respond. “That isn’t very nice, Carla!” I was actually aghast.

“Well, no one said anarchy was supposed to be nice, now did they?” she balked. Okay, so I was already on Carla’s shit list.

Did I mention I’m not very good in groups?

I looked at Gerry for the assist, ya know, being that he LOOKED LIKE Santa Claus. He ignored me and encouraged the rest of the group to tell their stories. He insisted they move counterclockwise around the circle, which seemed incredibly counterintuitive to anarchy. For an anarchist group, they sure had a lot of rules.

The man next to Carla, who looked older than Moses when he received the Ten Commandments, explained that he never used his blinker when driving. He felt like “keeping the other drivers guessing” was his contribution to destabilizing the local government and the law enforcement industry complex. The fact the man was still able to drive was reason enough for me to believe in societal collapse!

We proceeded around the circle.

“I rearrange clothing displays in American Eagle so the graphic tees aren’t in size order.”

Not really sure that’s what this group is about, but okay?

“I leave one star reviews for movies I’ve never seen.”

Harmless… but not cool, bro.

“I recommend R-rated horror movies when Facebook Mom groups ask for family movie night recommendations.”

I mean, this is something I would do. Does this make me an anarchist? 

“I sleep with my exes’ Dads.”

“Well, that’s fucked up.” Ooops, I said that out loud. 

So now I’m on Carla AND Lance’s shit lists.

Gerry scolded me with his eyes and his words.

“Tommy, this is a judgment free zone. Remember, destroying the world we live in means we don’t put our values on other people.”

“I crop dust intense Moms in Disney.”

They deserve it, probably. 

And so on and so forth. It ended up just being a litany of low level offenses that were mere annoyances rather than total anarchy.

And as we landed on the final member of the group, a cherubic, grey-haired woman who had been knitting throughout the entirety of the round robin, I didn’t know what to expect. She looked up from her blanket, eyes peeking over the glasses frames firmly settled on her nose. She introduced herself as Marilyn.

“I snuck peanuts into my baked goods.”

A devious grin crossed her face.

Touchè, Marilyn. Touchè.

After Gerry, in a fit of rage, threw his folding chair across the room and took a vote to evict Marilyn from the group for her utter disregard for the dessert bylaws, the remaining members of the group all began making plans to keep the party going.

Although Carla and Lance were definitely not interested in grabbing half-price appetizers with me at Applebee’s, Gerry made an attempt to include me in the “What’s next?” crowd.

Dejected, I politely declined.

“No thanks. I need to go home and write a story about a kid’s bake off. Duty calls.”

Like Dot says, I’m just another endangered species.

Eric Mochnacz

A wizard of pop culture. A prince of snark. A delightful addition to any dinner party.

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