Happy Landings, Punk
On Jonathan Lederman's MySpace page, he cites as heroes Nelson Mandela and Golda Meir. He describes serving in the Peace Corps in the Philippines, and he estimates that he's raised $1 million for charity in 30 years of volunteering. He enjoys self-help books, and at the end of his outgoing answering-machine message, he says, "Remember that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
It figures that the newspaper Happy Herald would be an ideal employer for a well-meaning soul like Lederman.
You've heard — and maybe seen a copy or two — of the Happy Herald (and its almost identical sister publication, Happy Times). Founded 12 years ago by publisher Brigitte Lang, the free paper is the "#1 Positive News Source in South Florida." Don't look for the ghastly spillings from the police blotter here. No war news or reports of terrorist attacks.
In a recent issue, there's a story about a dog who has learned how to open garage doors (with an accompanying meditation about "the garage door button that you secretly long to push"), a heart-warming interview with actor Lou Diamond Phillips, and Lang's own ruminations about money and its role in our lives (it's often "the root of tremendous personal, business, and relationship stress," she sagely asserts).
Lederman started out at the paper as an assistant in the advertising department, switched to production, and eventually became the "production and advertising support specialist" at the Happy Herald. He worked his buns off, he says.
"Throughout my three and a half years of employment, I had worked through lunch only to have the 1/2 hour still docked from my pay," he wrote in an email. This spring, he took some of the paper's own self-help advice to heart, risking stability and comfort, and he pursued a better-paying position with room for advancement.
The effort paid off: He was hired as an outside advertising consultant at the Forum newspapers, a chain of community newspapers owned by the Sun-Sentinel.
Lederman offered his resignation at the Happy Herald.
So Lang sent him off with hugs, an incense and crystal infusion, and fond wishes that her former loyal employee be inspired by all the positivity in the universe to stay true to his ideals. Right? Not exactly.
Happy Herald dug out a noncompete agreement Lederman signed years earlier — and an attorney for the paper dashed off a letter about it to Lederman's new employer. Happy Herald attorney Philip Duval Saint says Lederman voluntarily signed the noncompete agreement, requiring Lederman to work at least 50 miles away or wait six months before joining a competing publication.
Such agreements are one way for the paper to protect itself in cutthroat competition for advertisers, Saint says.
Sure, but Happy Times and Happy Herald should certainly abide by a higher standard, shouldn't they? (For the record, New Times imposes no such restriction.) "This situation has created stress and mental anguish," says the distressed Lederman, who remains in a provisional status with his new employer until the situation can be resolved.
"For a newspaper that professes to empower and inspire," Lederman says, "they do the opposite."
It's no surprise to Tailpipe that Happy Times plays hardball with its employees. Last time the 'Pipe spoke to the good people at the paper, they were responding to complaints from former employees who charged that they were cheated out of performance bonuses. Happy Times/Happy Herald is not a happy place to work, employees say.
It's the money. It's that root of all that stress.
When Sandra Winbarg walks down the path to her Pembroke Pines townhouse, which sits on the bank of a wide canal, it's like a scene out of Snow White. Muscovy ducks waddle toward her. White geese bellow. Squirrels scramble down trees. Blue jays swoop. Winbarg — who, like the Disney princess, has jet-black hair, pale eyes, and ivory skin — greets them all pleasantly.
The 35-year-old mother of three boys loves all the critters that congregate outside her front door. But she is especially fond of those Muscovy ducks, with their bubbly red masks, the ones that some South Floridians consider to be a nuisance. She scatters grain on the dirt for them twice a day. And, over the years, she has raised a fair share of orphaned ducklings.
There was one little guy in particular, though, a drake she named Daffy, who stole her heart.
"I could hold him, and he would put his little head on my shoulder, and I would stroke his neck, and he would close his eyes," she says, motioning as if she were petting the feathered fella. "Definitely, he was a big part of the family."
Then one day in February — poof! — Daffy disappeared. Winbarg searched all over, to no avail. She was devastated. Word spread in the neighborhood that a bunch of biker-looking dudes had snatched a dozen ducks, including Winbarg's beloved Daffy. One of the duck nabbers had left a business card at a nearby community with the name Larry Cleeson and a phone number in Starke, 350 miles north of Pembroke Pines, near the Georgia state line.
Winbarg says she called Cleeson and offered him $1,000 to return Daffy. He said he'd bring Daffy back, and Winbarg swelled with hope. Then he said he didn't have her pet. Winbarg fears that Daffy was slaughtered for his meat and served in some restaurant.
Tailpipe couldn't reach Cleeson for comment, but Keith Freeman, a licensed Muscovy farmer and trapper in Starke, says that a large drake can fetch $15 to $20 at the slaughterhouse. As a nonnative species, Muscovy ducks are not protected under state law. Catching them in the wild, he adds, is a snatch: "All you have to do is throw bread down and pick them up." But, he cautions, it's difficult to find enough ducks these days way down in South Florida without trespassing on private property. "And I wouldn't risk getting my butt thrown in jail over a damned duck."
That's little consolation for Winbarg. "I cried for three weeks," she says. She still tears up thinking about Daffy: swimming in her bathtub, following her around like a little dog, wagging his tail.
She opens her front door to bid Tailpipe farewell, and all the ducks spared by the trapper turn their beaks toward Winbarg.
"When I went out looking for Daffy," she says, glancing down at the brood, "they followed me. I'd turn around, and they'd all be right there. That's unusual. But Daffy, he would follow me to the end of the Earth."
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