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In the shadow of war: the conflict comes home to the magazine.


It's bright. It's beautiful. It's full of sunny stories and dazzling pictures that celebrate the splendid Sarasota lifestyle. The only problem with our annual March Visitors' Guide this year is that we're putting it together in the shadow of war, and suddenly, our hearts aren't really in it.

Not that we're not proud of this issue or don't believe in the story it tells about Sarasota. We are; we do. It's just that we're wondering what dark events will have unfolded by the time this magazine reaches your living room. It's hard to keep our minds on ad sales and production schedules when we've got one ear tuned to the radio listening for the latest dispatches. Will a world at war want to read about a two-million-dollar real estate sale or who turned out for the Ringling Gala?

As with most Americans, it took a while for this war to get our attention. In the months of bluster and deployment before the Jan. 15 deadline, most of us, as one reporter put it so perfectly in Time, mainly wanted to change the channel. But then on Jan. 16 it burst across our TV screens, and we were mesmerized. We watched the first few days of this strange, Nintendo-game war, with bull's-eye hits and not a body in sight, with exhilaration - and foreboding. When would "The War: The Mini-Series" become "The War: The Reality"?

So far the war had seemed distant, unrelated to most of us. Only bookkeeper Janet McKenney, whose youngest son has been serving in Saudi Arabia since October, had been personally touched. The rest of the staff only had memories of other conflicts. Those of us who grew up in Florida recalled seeing Navy planes streak across the sky during the Cuban missile crisis. Others described marching against the Vietnam War. At home, I watched my 15-year-old son unfold my father's army blanket, a souvenir of freezing nights in muddy German villages during the closing months of the war in Europe, and carefully hang it on his bedroom wall. He could be drafted in a few years, I thought, and suddenly, the war edged closer.

At first, the war was more of a business than a personal threat for advertising director Bobbie Costello. Since December her clients had been telling her to call after Jan. 15. "If we're not at war, then I'll do business," they'd say.

Actually, says Bobbie, many seemed more ready to commit once war had started, perhaps simply relieved that the long uncertainty was over, perhaps believing the conflict would kick-start the faltering economy. But she's not thinking too much about business right now; several days ago, her 20-year-old son Michael told her that if the draft is restored, he'll enlist rather than wait to be called.

Both Bobbie and publisher Jimmy Dean report that patriotism is running high in businesses all over town. A year ago, Bobbie remembers being "shocked" at a parade where no one stood to salute the flag. "Everybody would be standing today," she says. And Jimmy even suggested we pull the February cover off the press and replace it with an image of Old Glory. (We were too far past the printer's deadline to really consider that.)

Even usually apolitical Bob Plunket, the magazine's creative director, started worrying. "All my life there's been this threat of war in the Middle East. It's exactly what we didn't want to happen and now it has. I have this queasy feeling I never get about current events."

Then things hit home for senior editor Ilene Denton, who grew up in the American Zionist youth movement and considers the summer she spent in Israel in 1972 one of the high points in her life. Recently, however, she'd grown disturbed by the Israeli government's treatment of the Palestinians. And when her nine-year-old son asked her why the United States had come to the defense of Kuwait but not to Lithuania, it seemed to capsulize her ambivalence about the war. Yet once the first bomb struck Israel, all her doubts melted away. She couldn't eat or sleep for several days, she said. "It's clarified for me that Israel must exist. And it's made me very grateful for what I have."

Two days ago production assistant Gina Broussard came in with red-rimmed eyes. Her 23-year-old brother Christopher, who had completed his service in the reserves just five months ago, had called her the night before to tell her he'd been ordered to report back to Ft. Eustis, Va. for an indefinite tour of duty. The next casualty was Gigi Scott, who left her job as assistant art director of the magazine last year to work as a flight attendant for TWA. Gigi still free-lances for us on breaks between overseas flights; this time she came in to announce she was one of the 1,500 employees the airline just laid off ("furloughed," TWA called it, in inspired military-speak) because of the war's crushing effect on international travel.

Jobs, families, loyalties, beliefs. Like a microcosm of the nation, the dozen people who make up our small company are already pulled by the currents of war. The discussions in the hallways and kitchen about President Bush, the Palestinians, terrorism and human rights have an edge and personal intensity that's new and a little frightening. All of us see what we cherish more vividly, feel rocked by this strange disequilibrium.

I ask Janet, who with a son in Saudi has been living with all this emotion for months, how she can keep focused on billing, invoices, the everyday work of the magazine.

She hesitates. Andy - a tall, dark-haired, intensely handsome 23-year-old, who loves girls, motorcycles and computers with equal fervor - has been in the army four years now. Despite reservations about America's involvement, Janet is staying away from peace demonstrations and refraining from voicing a single doubt to her son. "He needs support and not divisiveness," she says. The worst moment so far came when one night she lay awake, so frightened for him she couldn't sleep. It came to her that halfway across the world, her son might be feeling a similar fear, and somehow, to a mother's heart, that was the most terrible blow of all. "It's awful," she says. "But really, work keeps me mentally occupied. It's a diversion."

A diversion. For those of us at the magazine, where work has always bordered on more of a glorious obsession, it's odd indeed to see our jobs, our talents, and creations such as this annual issue as incidental, almost trivial and unrelated to our deepest concerns. But in this weird first week in a world astonished by war, that's the way it is.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Clubhouse Publishing, Inc.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Daniel, Pam
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Article Type:editorial
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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