Category Archives: Nostalgia

Anybody remember Woolco stores?

woolco

That thread-within-a-thread we had going yesterday about the closings of Kmart and Sears stores reminded me of something…

Anybody remember Woolco stores? That was my very first experience of the big-box discount store, before Kmart or Wal-Mart or anything else of the kind.

I’ve written a lot about when my family first moved back to the States from Ecuador in 1965, and I happily overdosed on TV and many other aspects of American culture that I had done without. (As I wrote at one point, “It was so amazingly stimulating, as though all my neurons were on fire. It was like mainlining some drug that is so far unknown to pharmacology, one that fully engages all of your brain.”) The new TV season that fall seemed to this 11-year-old like the most exciting thing that had ever happened (“Lost in Space,” “Green Acres” and “I-Spy” all premiered on the same night!), but I also thoroughly enjoyed the smaller pleasures, such as drinking water straight from the tap without fear of hepatitis.

Anyway, all tied up in that in my memory was the Woolco store not far from where we lived on the Navy base in Algiers, La., across the river from New Orleans.

It was enormous, and they had everything — way more exciting than the Navy Exchange. We drove there to shop often in our 396-horsepower 1965 Impala Super Sport. I used to spend a good bit of time in the record department. I have fairly specific memories of some of the new releases I saw on display during those couple of years we lived there — “Day-Tripper,” “Mellow Yellow,” “Paperback Writer”…

Anyway, Woolco went away in 1983. Instead of closing in dribs and drabs like Kmart and Sears, all 336 U.S. stores closed in January of that year.

Oh, here’s a bonus question for Pee Dee denizens: Anybody remember Treasure City in Florence? Similar concept if I remember correctly, although maybe not as big as a Woolco. My brother and I got our first GI Joe there, also in 1965. The building still stands, although I think it has housed a flea market in recent years…

Anybody remember Treasure City, right across the highway from the Florence Airport?

Anybody remember Treasure City, right across the highway from the Florence Airport?

Baseball, the thread that runs through our lives and ties them together

win

I had a little “Field of Dreams” moment during the wonderful conclusion to the World Series last night. In the sentimental “Dad, you wanna have a catch?” sense.

While Joe Buck or someone was talking about how it had been 95 years since a team from Washington had won, a picture of Senators legend Walter Johnson came on the screen. The BIg Train.

And I was reminded of a story my Dad likes to tell of when he was just a little guy. He grew up in Kensington, Md., in a house his grandfather had built for his Dad. My great-grandfather had a construction business, and he did that for each of his kids when they got married. Consequently, several of them lived quite close together. My Dad’s Aunt Ethel lived behind my Dad, on the next street over.

Walter Johnson

Walter Johnson

Aunt Ethel’s daughter Jean married a guy named Walter Perry Johnson Jr. — the son of the Big Train. Occasionally, the great man was a guest in their home. When that happened, Aunt Ethel’s husband Carroll would call over and tell my Dad to come over, and bring his glove. Dad would go running, and then he would play catch with the great Walter Johnson.

Speaking of the Senators, there’s a story that my grandfather was invited to play for the Senators’ organization, but decided to go into the construction business with his father instead. It seems to me a surprising decision, since his life had revolved around baseball up to that point. Ancestry offers me scores of “hints” about his life, and most of them are clippings from The Washington Post telling about some ball club or other that he was forming, or pitching for, or the captain of.

He worked for the Post Office for awhile, for just one reason: So he could play on its baseball team.

Here’s how he and my grandmother met (which I think I’ve told before): She would see him walking past her house, in his suit and wearing a straw boater, with a satchel dangling from one hand, on his way to the Kensington train station. She decided he must be a traveling salesman, and the bag contained his wares. But when she finally spoke to him, she learned that the bag was filled with his uniform, glove and cleats. He wouldn’t have thought of going to work without them.

What's he doing in an Expos uniform?

What’s he doing in an Expos uniform?

I could go in all sorts of directions about baseball and how its threads run in and out of American life. I could reminisce about when we lived in Tampa, and in the spring we’d go over to St. Pete to watch the Cardinals play. I was an autograph fiend at the time, and in those days the players were easily accessible. (Once in Tampa, I went into the Reds’ locker room to get Pete Rose to sign my glove as he sat shirtless on a table during an interview with a sportswriter. Things were that informal then.) So I would chase Joe Torre, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Curt Flood. But I failed to get Tim McCarver’s. He was on the other side of a chain-link fence signing for some other kids, but I couldn’t get him to turn around, despite repeatedly calling, “Mr. McCarver! Mr. McCarver!”

Years later, when I was first dating my wife, I was over at her house and she was working on organizing her family’s photos. I asked why there was a publicity photo of McCarver in the box (in an Expos uniform, which is not the way I think of him). “He’s my first cousin,” she said. So, several years after that, we happened to be at the Red Sox training camp in Florida the one year Tim played for them. Carlton Fisk injured his wrist in the first inning and Tim went in for him. After the game, we went over to the house Tim was renting during spring training. As he drank a beer, guess what I chose to talk him about? That’s right: I complained that he wouldn’t turn around and give me an autograph when I was 14.

His answer? “Aw, I wasn’t playing when you were 14.”

Not long after that, his playing days ended. After that, he started his broadcast career. He would eventually be teamed up with Joe Buck, who I think was the one talking about the Senators in 1924 last night.

Which is where we came in.

(Oh, wait, something I forgot to mention: There’s meaning in the fact that Tim was, against all expectations, in an Expos uniform in that photo. The Expos are now the Nationals.)

Anyway, that’s a small taste of what baseball means to American life. My American life, anyway.

It runs through the years and the lives, tying everything together…

I’m very pleased for the Nationals today. And for Washington…

One of my grandfather's baseball teams. That's him squatting on the right.

One of my grandfather’s baseball teams. That’s him squatting on the right.

Top Five Posters from the Bedrooms of my Youth

Great Escape

We had a very brief discussion on a previous post in which some members of our commentariat speculated on what kinds of posters other members had on their bedroom walls when they were kids.

I decided to share what I put on the walls of some of my many bedrooms (as a Navy brat, I moved around a lot).

And the Web being what it is, I was able to find actual images of five of them. So we’ll just call those the Top Five — especially since I can only remember six, and I can’t find the Eric Clapton poster I had on my dorm wall at Memphis State, or even remember what it looked like.

The first two of these were on my walls in Tampa and Honolulu in high school, the next two from college, and the final one high school (I think):

  1. Steve McQueen from the set of “The Great Escape” — That’s the one above, or close to it. I think maybe the poster I had included more of the frame, showing the sidecar. I found that image on the Web, but the file was of poor quality. Note that this is not an actual still from the movie, because he was nowhere near the Stalag in the motorcycle scenes. Of the posters on this list, it’s the first one I acquired (when I was in either the 10th or 11th grade, so sometime between 1968 and 1970), and easily my favorite. Which stands to reason since, when I was a kid, this was my definitely my favorite movie. Back when it came out in 1963, the scene where he jumped the barbed wire was the coolest thing I’d ever seen in a movie. Tame stuff today, but back then it was really something.
  2. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — See below. The very last frame of the movie, with our antiheroes coming out, blazing away, to their certain death. When I was in high school, I found that moment way existential. I thought no one could be more alive than Sundance was a moment before that, when he was out there in the plaza alone with two six-guns, spinning left, right and all around, firing at the adversaries who surrounded him, giving Butch covering fire. (From 00:56 to 01:24 in this clip.) Yeah, I was a dumb kid. My romanticization of that moment is all the evidence you need that teenage boys are candidates for protective restraint.
  3. George Harrison poster from “All Things Must Pass” album — It came with the boxed-set album, which I loved, so of course I put it on my wall at Memphis State. This was George in his Garden Gnome phase, post-Beatles. That video that I embedded the other day, “It’s Johnny’s Birthday?” That was from the bonus third LP in the set.
  4. The Hawaii State Flag — This was quite small, like a foot by a foot-and-a-half (or a bit less) and made of nylon. Not strictly a poster, but it’s the only thing I remember having on the cinder-block wall of my dorm room in the Honeycombs that one semester I went to USC, the fall of 1971. It was sort of a homesickness thing, because I was missing Honolulu, where I had graduated from high school the previous spring. There was an Englishman on my floor, a student from Manchester. One day when my door was open, he was passing in the hall and stuck his head in to ask why I had a Union Jack over my bed. I explained what it was, and he nodded and said, “Oh, yes. Sandwich Islands, Captain Cook and all that. Quite.” And he walked away on down the hall. I thought that was cool.
  5. Bobby Kennedy in a flight jacket. This is an unusual-shaped and -sized poster — a full-length photo, almost life-sized, of RFK in a Navy flight jacket standing casually with a couple of dogs. I don’t remember where I got this, and I have no specific memory of where I hung it, although I vaguely recall it hanging somewhere. But I can tell you exactly why I liked it. There were two reasons. First, the jacket he’s wearing is exactly like my Dad’s. My Dad wasn’t an aviator, but some pilots he had worked with had given it to him as a gift, and he had given to me, and I thought it was way cool. Second, I had never given RFK much thought when he was alive. But I got really interested in him when I wrote a research paper about him for a high school civics class in the spring of 1971. And I can still remember how differently I perceived time back then: I thought of his life as being way in the past at that point — even though only three years had passed since his assassination. That’s a long time when you’re 17.

Actually, I changed my mind in mid-list. I ditched this Dylan poster, which was on my dorm room wall at Memphis State, because it never meant that much to me and I wanted to include the Hawaiian flag.

How about your poster memories?

butch-cassidy-and-the-sundance-kid-newman-and-redford-nomad-art-and-design

Is Obama REALLY listening to, and digging, all that stuff?

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I just saw this from our friend Bryan today:

And I’m like ah, yes, “Purple Haze”… It prompts two memories immediately. I can hear it coming from the jukebox in the cafeteria of Robinson High School in Tampa, Fla., where I attended the 10th and 11th grades. Other biggies on that box were “Fire” and “Hey, Jude.” In fact, that was the first place I ever heard “Hey, Jude,” as I was walking across campus and passing the cafeteria door. It made a huge impression as it echoed off the wings of the school within the courtyard that served us as a place to stand for assemblies (we had no auditorium). It was unworldly, transporting. How did McCartney produce music that magical?

But even more, my mind recalls hearing it from the garage bands that used to play at the “teen club” on MacDill Air Force Base. They used to have these dances for us “teens,” I suppose to keep us out of trouble. The bands would play “Purple Haze,” “Sunshine of Your Love,” “Magic Carpet Ride,” and so forth. Sometimes, I’d hear those songs covered by a garage band before I’d heard the original. That was the case with the Beatles’ “Birthday.” I was late getting to the White Album.

Which makes me think, what associations does the song have for Bryan? That was so long before he was born…

Which in turn brings me to this tweet of President Obama’s a couple of days ago:

And while I may remember him fondly as our last honest, normal president, I have to think: Really? Is he really into all that new stuff, from “artists” I haven’t even heard of?

I mean, seriously — where’s he even hearing that stuff? Is it from his kids? Or is he daily, earnestly Googling to see what’s hot, then making himself listen to it so he can seem “with it?”

Because, as I’ve noted before, we live in a time of musical fragmentation. Back in the ’60s, and continuing through maybe the early ’90s, we all experienced a media environment in which current, popular songs were everywhere. Whatever age you were, whatever your tastes, you heard what was hot at the moment — on your radio, on the three available TV networks, or just passing by a cafeteria door. It was ubiquitous.

And some pretty compelling pop music came out of that period — compelling enough that young people like Bryan are familiar with it, and like it. (Something I never experienced — when I was a kid, what grownups had listened to 20 and 30 and 40 years earlier was an unknown country to me. I wouldn’t have known Ella Fitzgerald’s “How High is the Moon,” to name one item from Obama’s list that predates me.) Because since then — since the early ’90s, by my reckoning, about the time MTV and VH-1 changed their formats and downplayed videos — it’s been harder for a song to get a grip on your brain.

That’s because it doesn’t seek you out anymore. You have to actively go out and find it. Music is personal now, not communal. You have no idea what the person right next to you is listening to via earbuds. It could be some awesome new pop tune, or the collected speeches of Adolph Hitler. (The people who carried around boom boxes back in the ’80s were obnoxious, but hey — at least they were sharing.)

And now Obama’s telling us that “Too Good” by “Drake ft. Rihanna” has as much a grip on his consciousness as Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl.” Maybe it does. But it feels like he’s trying too hard to be broad in his tastes. Of course, being Obama, he’s probably worked hard enough at it that he really does like the items on this eclectic list more or less equally. Maybe it’s just a matter of trying hard enough. After all, awhile back I was dismissive of LMFAO’s “Party Rock,” but my son made me try it again, and now I honestly love it. (Although I need to watch the official video to get the full effect.)

There’s something about Obama’s effort in this that makes me smile. My best friend when I lived in New Orleans — 1965-67 — was Tim Moorman, and his Dad was a Navy chaplain. Chaplain Moorman was a great guy who on weekends used to take us kids regularly up to the amusement park at Lake Pontchartrain. It was quite a drive from Algiers, and as we rode, he’d have the radio on a Top 40 station and he would loudly and enthusiastically sing along with us. His fave was the bubble-gum classic “Sweet Pea,” by Tommy Roe. It was obvious that he thought the song was ridiculous, but we thought it pretty silly, too, and did not mind his condescension. Because his enjoyment in singing along was sincere. As he would say, he really wanted to be “hip” and “with it” along with us kids. Or enjoy us being so.

So I’ll think of Obama’s special effort to be current that way. And it will make me smile…

Look — there’s Alfred E. Neuman at the Russell House!

Russell House magazine rack

Yeah, I know this doesn’t prove anything.

It’s just that, after all that stuff about how younger people can’t be expected to know who Alfred E. Neuman was, I thought I’d take note of this.Alfred E

I was doing my afternoon walk across the virtually deserted USC campus today, and cut through the Barnes & Noble (and no, I still can’t get over the fact that the Russell House bookstore is now a Barnes & Noble) in the Russell House because I like to get that short blast of air conditioning (and also because I love me some Barnes & Noble).

And as I passed by the magazine rack, there he was. Almost as big as life as the Swimsuit Issue. (Or Swimsuit Issues, plural. When did there start to be more than one of them?)

Does this mean kids automatically know who Alfred E. is? No. But at least it means the kids who pass through here have had the opportunity.

The weird thing about this to me is that magazine racks still exist. Who reads magazines? I know people still read comic books, and their big brothers graphic novels, but that’s kind of a cult commodity. Like vinyl records among some serious audiophiles.closer

They just seem like such big, slick, absurdly-expensive-to-produce dinosaurs.

What’s in a magazine that I can’t get in an even more attractive and interactive format, and more immediately, on my iPad? I don’t read the paper versions of newspapers, and I’m a lifelong newspaperman. Magazines just lie there and don’t do anything. You can’t even click on links. So why would I read a magazine?

Why would anyone?

 

Are you old enough to remember bouncing on the car seat?

truck

Do you remember a time before seatbelts in cars? I do. Standing on the seat as a little kid, looking around and bouncing up and down (and being told by a parent to “Sit down!”).

Young parents today might find it hard to believe that people could have been so careless with their children. (We even rode bicycles without helmets — gasp!) But life was cheap back in the Middle Ages.

A favorite family story features the lack of seatbelts. The first time my Dad met his future in-laws, they all went somewhere in a car together. He and my Mom were in the back seat, and my much-younger uncle — who is only six years older than I am — was standing on the front seat between my grandparents and giving a running commentary: “Mama! Daddy! He’s touching her hand!” This did not endear him to my Dad.

I first saw a seatbelt in a car when we lived in Ecuador when I was about 9 or 10. We couldn’t take a car down there with us, so the Navy issued us a series of different vehicles to use. They were usually jeeps. But one was a brand-new station wagon, painted Navy gray of course, with the first seatbelts I’d ever seen outside of an airplane. (Yes, I had flown — in a C-47, like the guys in “Band of Brothers” — before I ever rode in a car with seatbelts.) I thought it was very space-age. I felt a little like John Glenn strapping myself into the capsule.

I was a little surprised, though, when I saw that Mandy Powers Norrell had a similar memory, even though she is 20 years younger than I am. I guess it was a matter of the age of the vehicle, rather than the age of the passenger:

So happy tonight! Mitch and I have brought my daddy’s truck home! I have so many memories as a little girl standing up barefoot in the seat, holding onto the gun rack so I wouldn’t fall down when we’d make a turn. Times sure have changed. But this truck has not changed at all!

Seatbelts? Where we're going we don't NEED seatbelts...

Seatbelts? Where we’re going we don’t NEED seatbelts…

 

Let’s go back to the moon, people

BuzzhHeader

I missed this piece in The Washington Post last week. It’s a good one, in which a couple of rocket scientists advocate that we go back to the moon to establish a base, something that is completely within our power and would imbue NASA, and the nation, with a sense of purpose they — we — have lacked for a long time.

An excerpt:

This plan, which we call Moon Direct, doesn’t take rocket scientists to comprehend (although we both hold that title). And we could accomplish it in just three discrete phases: First, we deliver cargo to the lunar surface and initiate robotic construction. Second, we land crews on the base, complete construction and develop local resources. And third, we establish long-term habitation and exploration.

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy booster, which can launch 60 tons to Earth orbit and 10 tons to the moon, could easily handle the first phase. And NASA’s Space Launch System, still in development, might eventually be used along with heavy lift rockets such as Blue Origin’s New Glenn and the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan. (Blue Origin’s founder, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Post.) Rather than spend a fortune and take years to build a Gateway for obscure reasons, we could immediately go straight to the surface of the moon and set up shop.

The key to crew operations, the second phase of building our moon base, is a spacecraft we call the Lunar Excursion Vehicle, which would operate outside our atmosphere and therefore need no heavy heat shields or Earth landing systems. The LEV would fly from Earth’s orbit to the lunar surface and back again. New York to Paris, Paris to New York. Nothing could be simpler. All we would need to do is get to the airport — in this case, low Earth orbit — where the LEV would be “parked” for refueling and used again and again, just like a passenger airplane….

I’m all for it. Ground Control to Major Tom — let’s go!

From John Spratt to Ed Jones: Twitter is awesome

John Spratt with Mandy Powers Norrell and James Smith.

John Spratt in Lancaster Friday with Mandy Powers Norrell and James Smith.

I ran up to Lancaster yesterday to catch James Smith’s announcement of Mandy Powers Norrell becoming his running mate (an excellent choice, by the way — I’ll post video later). One of the highlights of the day was seeing John Spratt, whom I hadn’t seen in years.

So I looked at this Tweet from the AP’s Jeffrey Collins with interest:

That kicked off a digression in my head (sort of my default mode, really) and I replied with this:

Rob Godfrey, whom you’ll remember as Nikki Haley’s press guy, joined the conversation:

I laughed and replied that Ed Jones was a nice guy (“Mr. Ed’s” campaign slogan was “The congressman from the heart of the district, with the district at heart”), but thinking on his feet wasn’t his strongest suit. Then Meg Kinnard said:

Meg is originally from Memphis, and knows that neck of the woods. I decided to take a stab in the dark — Meg’s the age of my kids, but I thought just maybe we’d have an acquaintance in common:

To my surprise, she replied:

 

Twitter is awesome! In what other way could I have possibly made a connection like that? I need to get Kelly’s contact info from Meg — assuming he even remembers me after more than three decades — so we can get a beer together next time I’m at the beach…

That's Mr. Ed Jones on the right, and Kelly Sharbel in the middle. I'm probably somewhere nearby....

That’s “Mr. Ed” Jones on the right, and Kelly Sharbel in the middle. I’m probably somewhere nearby….

The Kid Who Batted 1.000 (almost)

My MLB At Bat app brought the above video to my attention today.

The brief description:

Jaime Barria and Brandon Belt face off in a 21-pitch duel to set the record for the most pitches in an MLB at-bat in the modern era

Here’s the NYT’s report on what happened: “21 Pitches, 16 Fouls, 12 Minutes: Brandon Belt’s Marathon At-Bat.”

Now that’s what I call some baseball — not these towering home runs the app usually tells me about.s-l225

It reminds me of one of my favorite books from my youth, The Kid Who Batted 1.000, by Bob Allison and Frank Ernest Hill.

I read it over and over when I was a kid, checking it out from the school library multiple times to do so. Then I went years without seeing a copy, and had thought it was something I’d never see again, until my wife found a dog-eared copy that had belonged to one of her brothers. So I got to read it as an adult, and enjoyed it just as much.

If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the story of Dave King, a farmboy who is discovered to have a weird talent: He can foul off any pitch thrown by any pitcher. He gets signed to a Major League team and leads it out of the cellar because he always draws walks — usually after wearing down and shattering the nerves of the opposing pitcher.

Finally, in the last game of the World Series, he hits a home run, thereby earning a batting average of 1.000 — albeit only in postseason play.

It’s great. If you can find a copy, I do recommend picking one up…

By the way, the real-life batter, Brandon Belt, didn’t quite equal Dave King’s achievement. After those 21 pitches, the Giants first-basemen flies out to right field…

I’m going to be in a book about Dylan. How cool is that?

The grainy photo I took of Dylan and The Band at that show in 1974.

The grainy photo I took of Dylan and The Band at that show in 1974.

Well, this was kind of a fun email to receive today:

Hi Brad,

I’m working on a new book called Bob Dylan – I Was There which will contain around 350 accounts from people who saw Dylan live in concert as well as people who worked with Dylan.

I’ve just come across this article on your site  http://www.bradwarthen.com/2015/02/my-grainy-picture-of-bob-dylan-and-the-band-1974/

Would it be possible to use your account in the book? And would you like to add anything to the story?
We would give you a full credit in the book.

Please let me know if this would be possible,

Kind regards,

Neil Cossar
Red Planet Publishing

I said sure, go ahead — and let me know when the book comes out.

Dylan, The Band and me, all going into the annals of rock history together. How cool is that?

Remembering the night Nixon resigned

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Yeah, I’m a day late with this, but it was some hours-old Tweets I saw this morning that got me to thinking about it:

Then, later in the day, I wondered if I could see that front page again, and sure enough, Google delivered — although a small, low-res image. See the page above. (See how much wider newspaper pages were then?)

It was at the very start of my journalism career, when I was still in school. I worked nights at the long-extinct job of copy boy, although in deference to feminist sensibilities it was by that time called “copy clerk.” Basically, I was an errand boy, learning the business. And at that point in time — the waning days of hot type — the function was essential. In a time when everything was physical instead of digital, everything — news stories, pictures, proofs (and the coffee and meals that everyone in the newsroom had the power to send us for) — had to be carried to each stage of the process by hand. And it was a great way to learn the business. I knew some things that senior editors didn’t know about where things were and how they worked together (mostly, where to get the coffee).

And there were obstacles, and workarounds, that would confound anyone who started in the business just a little later. For instance, if you want to make a two-word headline stretch all the way across the page today, you just click and drag and it’s done. But back then a headline wasn’t ones and zeroes; it was a physical thing, set in heavy metal by a machine that could only make it so big. I think the biggest possible was either 72 points (an inch high) or 96.

So here’s what we did: The managing editor wrote “Nixon Resigns” on a scrap of paper and sent me to the composing room (on the next floor up) to get it set into type as big as we could. Then, we took a high-contrast proof (on slick paper instead of the usual cheap newsprint) of that metal-type hed and shot a picture of it on one of the cameras used to make press plates, which used page-sized negative film. Then we blew that image up to full-page width, and made a proof of that, which I then ran back downstairs to the M.E., so he could see how his headline would look.

This was not something you did every day. We were doing it that night because this was history. The editor was being creative.

When I brought the finished product to him, the M.E. looked upon his headline and pronounced it good.

By the way, here was the scene in the newsroom when Nixon was addressing the nation: A bunch of us crowded around the TV over the M.E.’s desk, and watched and listened. I forget the name of our Washington correspondent. Let’s say it was Clark Kent. Someone in the group wondered aloud where Clark was at that moment. Our gruff metro editor, Angus McEachran, snorted, “Watching it on TV, just like us!” There was some laughter.

Those who want to paint the newspaper business as already a fossil, left behind by TV, might point to that 1974 scene as proof.

But here’s the thing: When the show was over, all these people had to jump into action. I’d be running back and forth to the wire machines with the copy out of Washington. Editors would be editing that copy and putting it onto pages. Reporters would be calling Tennessee pols for reactions, and maybe even doing some man-on-the-street.

And the next morning, people would have a huge, in-depth package of stories about what had happened, explaining every detail and what it meant.

So what? you think. But you’re not thinking hard enough. That morning, that would be the ONLY source of reporting and commentary available to that reader. Maybe they saw the speech the night before, but that was over. There was no 24/7 TV coverage, babbling on endlessly. (And no DVR or even VHS so you could have recorded it and watched again. You saw it when you saw it, and that was it.) There was no Web, no social media. Other newspapers were not available to anyone unless they came in the mail a day or two later. The only source they had that morning for all the details and perspective on this historic event was their local newspaper. Other sources — weekly magazines that came in the mail and such — would be available later. But the newspaper was it on that morning, the one source of information about this huge thing that had happened.

So we had an important role to play for our readers, and I felt important playing the bit part I did. I got some extra copies of that headline proof and took them home. I got together with my soon-to-be wife and some friends and showed these proofs off. I felt like a big shot…

Managing Editor Bill Sorrels, at the desk where he was sitting when I brought him the headline proof.

Managing Editor Bill Sorrels, at the desk where he was sitting when I brought him the headline proof.

The Cotton Pigue Mentality lives!

Actually, this is NOT The Cotton Pigue mentality. It's The Bog Trotters Band. I just needed a Bluegrass picture that was old-timey.

Actually, this is NOT the legendary Cotton Pigue Mentality. It’s The Bog Trotters Band, back in 1937. I just needed a Bluegrass picture that was old-timey.

This is a way, way inside joke, but I thought I’d share it as an illustration of how things don’t change much.

Back in the late ’70s or early ’80s, when I was working at The Jackson (TN) Sun, a judge in a nearby county had a case before him that seemed designed to reinforce every right-winger’s nightmare stereotype of the Welfare Queen. A poor black woman had a houseful of kids, and a couple of her daughters had several of their own. All told, there were about 20 people in the household, if I remember correctly — all women and children.

I forget why they were before him. What I recall is that this old white guy (he was not much older than I am now, but back then he seemed ancient) decided to lecture these women and tell them they needed to stop having children out of wedlock. The judge’s name was “Cotton” Pigue.

It caused a bit of a sensation in West Tennessee when that was reported, and as you might imagine, while some had a “You tell ’em!” reaction, others were quite critical of the judge having overstepped the bounds of his job description.

We were discussing it in the tiny editorial office of the paper, as I recall, when a woman said something disparaging about how certain people needed to get over this “Cotton Pigue mentality.”

My good friend Richard Crowson, the paper’s editorial cartoonist and the best bluegrass picker I’ve ever known, got excited: That was the perfect name for a Bluegrass band! The Cotton Pigue Mentality! I don’t think he actually ever named any of the groups he played in that, but it was a memorable inspiration.

Anyway, after not having been heard from in years — no albums, no tours — it seems the Mentality has made a comeback. In Tennessee, appropriately enough:

Judge to inmates: Get sterilized and I’ll shave off jail time

A judge in central Tennessee is hoping to help repeat offenders “make something of themselves” by offering them a highly original and probably unconstitutional deal: reduced jail time in exchange for sterilization operations.

Under a standing order issued by General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield, inmates in White County, Tenn., can receive 30 days credit toward their jail time if they volunteer for vasectomies or contraceptive implants, as NewsChannel 5 reported Thursday.

The order came down quietly in May, and already dozens of inmates have sought to take advantage of it. Thirty-two women have received implants of the hormone device Nexplanon, and 38 men have signed up to receive vasectomies, according to NewsChannel 5….

The Cotton Pigue Mentality lives! I can’t wait for to hear them when they come to town — just for old times’ sake…

The real "Cotton" Pigue.

The real “Cotton” Pigue.

Nice baseball story. You should read it…

There's nothing like having some room to stretch out at the ballpark...

There’s nothing like having some room to stretch out at the ballpark…

Hey, I read a sports story this morning! Don’t know why. I couldn’t tell from the headline what I was going to find, but it implied something delightful, so I plunged in.

Here’s the story, and here’s an excerpt:

At Nationals Park, an embarrassing fiasco and an absolute joy

Two events were held at Nationals Park Thursday night. The first was a rain delay that lacked much in the way of rain, and it was an abomination, a self-inflicted black eye and a disrespectful affront to thousands of fans.

That the Nats screwed up is obvious: Their decision-making was suspect (much of the delay was conducted without benefit of a tarp, a crucial clue that something was amiss); their communication was inadequate (fans weren’t told what was going on until 9:35, about five minutes before the tarp was removed); and their response to the misfire unsatisfactory. By the time the teams started playing ball — after a delay that lasted as long as a typical game — most of the crowd was gone, and justifiably so: Kids had bedtimes, Metro was closing and the information void offered no particular reason to remain….

It goes on like that for several paragraphs. More about management’s stupid handling of the situation, families who’d wasted three figures without seeing a pitch thrown, etc.

Then, you get to the good bit.

After almost everyone is gone, a tiny remnant of fans remaining — the unattached, the people with nowhere to go, and here and there families with kids who had neither school or work the next day — a few others hear that the game has yet to start, and they go to the ballpark. The writer of this piece changed out of his pajamas to go.

And they found… $5 tickets. No lines to go through metal detectors. Free hot dogs and ice cream — one kid the writer encountered on the way in was lining up for his third Rocket Pop.

And the management let them sit anywhere they wanted. Once they did, there was plenty of room to stretch out. You could hear individual cheers from the crowd. Everything was relaxed, intimate, friendly and easygoing.

The way baseball is supposed to be.

It made me think of when I lived in Florida from 1968-70. In the spring, we’d go see the Reds, the Cardinals and others there in the Tampa Bay area. It cost almost nothing to get in. Everything was laid-back. You could talk with the players, or at least get their autographs — Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Joe Torre, all those guys.

I didn’t get an autograph from Tim McCarver because I couldn’t get him to turn around when he was signing for some other kids, then he had to run out on the field. When he later turned out to be my wife’s first cousin, I gave him grief about it.

After that same game (I think), my brother and I went up to a guy in his street clothes outside the locker room and asked him to sign our programs. He said, “Aw, you don’t want mine,” he said. He signed them anyway. Then we looked at the name: “Steve Carlton.” He was right. We’d never heard of him. It was his rookie year.

Those were the day. And apparently, they had one of those days in Washington late last night.

To me, such casualness is the essence of baseball, properly appreciated. Remember that scene in “The Natural” during a practice, when Pop and Red are sitting in the dugout while the players on the field are shagging flies and tossing the ball around? They’re leaning back on the bench, playing a game of “Name that Tune,” no worries in the world…

Now that’s baseball…

Red and Pop in the dugout.

Red and Pop in the dugout.

What? Where did the Surfside Pier go?

Pier 1

The only thing I saw over the last few days that was newsworthy was that a huge part of the Surfside Beach pier was missing.

It was the first time I’d been there since Hurricane Matthew, and it was weird to see people playing in the surf out past the end of the pier.

Apparently, local folks have been having trouble figuring out whether and/or how to rebuild it, and it probably won’t be up and operating until next year sometime, at best.

It’s amazing anyone would even consider not rebuilding. But then, I remember when the pier played a more central role in the town’s life. When I was a kid, and even later when my older kids were young, that was the place to go. There was the pier, and the bingo hall, and the arcade, and the little family-scale amusement park, all right there together. Back in the days before cable TV, there wasn’t anything to do in the evening in Surfside besides going to the pier — unless you wanted to go down to Murrells Inlet and wait an hour to be seated for dinner.

Here’s what it looked like back then. I wish this had been taken from a different angle, so you could see the arcade and amusement park better — as opposed to the parking lot (which used to be free, by the way) — but you can see it would be the focal point of a sleepy, family beach town.

Then, sometime in the 80s as I recall, someone got the idea of replacing everything but the pier itself with a high-rise hotel. There went the center of Surfside life. Sometime after that (I’m thinking after Hugo repairs), someone got the idea of charging people a dollar or two just to walk on the pier.

Still, I hope they get it together and rebuild. The pier may not be what it was, but I still can’t imagine Surfside without it.

You know what it looks kind of like from this angle? One of those Imperial Walkers from "The Empire Strikes Back." To me, anyway...

You know what it looks kind of like from this angle? One of those AT-AT Imperial Walkers from “The Empire Strikes Back.” To me, anyway…

Revisiting the Hickory Huskers

Huskers

Back row: Whit, Jimmy, Strap, Coach Norman Dale, Everett, Merle, Buddy. Front row: Rade, Ollie.

All the Gamecock basketball excitement over the weekend caused me to go back and watch “Hoosiers” again, even though I had already done so once in the past month or two. I figured I needed to brush up on my sports jargon, so I could say stuff like:

You’re playing Gonzaga Saturday. Ain’t nobody knows ’em better’n me. Now, I been watchin’ how you’ve been breakin’ the colts. But, my friend, you cannot play them all the way man-to-man. They got no head-toppers. Gonzaga? A bunch o’ mites. Run you off the boards. You gotta squeeze ’em back in the paint. Make ’em chuck it from the cheap seats. Watch that purgatory they call a gym. No drive, 12 foot in. That’ll do…

I still think some of what Shooter told Coach was gobbledegook, but it sounded deep.

Anyway, as happens when I’m watching a movie with an iPad on my lap, I started looking up the colts to see what happened to them. Some of them tried to pursue a movie career, with minimal success. One (Merle) committed suicide at 39. Another — Rade, who violated Norman Dale’s 4-pass rule in the first game, is a successful dentist, and looks just the same except that his hair’s not slicked down.

Anyway, I ran across this fun picture from this past November, when the Huskers reunited in Indianapolis, and were interviewed on a radio show. I hope Kent Sterling, the radio host, won’t mind my sharing this. It’s pretty cool…

crop reunion

Pictured are, left to right:

  • Brad Long, who played BuddyThat’s the guy with the crewcut who mouthed off to the coach in the first practice and got kicked off the team — then, mysteriously, is back on the team later in the movie. It’s a mystery because the money men forced the director to butcher the movie to get it under 2 hours, and it was still awesome! The very last cut they made was to the scene in which Buddy asks Coach for another chance.
  • Dr. Steve Hollar, who played Rade — Rade had an attitude problem, too, but later became so loyal that in defense of Coach Dale, he threw the punch that got him and Dale kicked out of the game. “Got him good, didn’t I, coach?” “Yeah, you did.” Steve was playing basketball for DePauw University when he got the part. After filming, he went back to school and became a dentist.
  • Wade Schenck, who played Ollie — Ollie wasn’t no good, as he put it — “Equipment manager’s my trade.” But he scored the charity shot that got them into the championship game.
  • Kent Sterling, the radio guy
  • Maris Valainis, the immortal Jimmy Chitwood — Valainis showed up for the casting cattle call, and decided it was ridiculous with so many competitors, and got out of line to leave — and the director spotted him. He pulled the kid aside and asked him to show his basketball skills. Even though he was the only Husker who didn’t make his high school team in real life, he ended up portraying the best player anybody had ever seen in Indiana.
  • David Neirdorf, who played Everett Flatch — That’s Shooter’s son, who was initially embarrassed by what Coach was trying to do for his Dad. “Son, kick their butt!”

And who doesn’t get goose bumps when, at the end, the camera zooms in on the team photo and you hear Gene Hackman say, “I love you guys…”

“The Last Man to Walk on the Moon”

The news was buried deep inside the paper.

The news was buried deep inside the paper.

To someone who grew up in the ’60s, that headline (“The Last Man to Walk on the Moon”) sounds like the title of a dystopian science fiction novel — set in some future several centuries hence in which we’ve rendered the moon even less habitable than it is now, perhaps with radioactivity from the Second Great Interplanetary War.

Cernan on the moon.

Cernan on the moon.

But neither Heinlein nor Herbert nor Asimov nor Bradbury nor the rest could have imagined a future in which, in the near year 2017, we’d be looking back to the last trip to the moon as a thing that happened more than 40 years ago. (OK, maybe one of them did imagine something like that and I missed it. But it would have been a betrayal of the genre. In their stories, bad things might happen out there, but at least we would be there.)

When I was a kid, going to the moon was this super-exciting thing we were going to do in the future, as a necessary step before venturing to Mars and beyond. And now, it’s so far in the past it’s shocking.

Over the weekend, something caused me to think of “the Space Age,” and I was saddened to think of it as a thing in the now-distant past. We had thought we were on the leading edge of something that would last for the rest of human existence. Space travel would soon be like air travel — “2001” told us so!

Instead, after a few flights to the moon, we went backward. We pulled back to boring orbital flight, never again to leave our own backyard. And then we went back further, to where we no longer have the capability to send a man into orbit — astronauts have to catch a ride with the Russians. You know, the people we beat in the Space Race.

Astronauts are now like hobos, riding the rails when they get the chance.

Perhaps we Americans, we humans for that matter, are like the English after Spain discovered the New World — they waited well over a century before sending people to live there. (But if that’s the case, who is Spain, or Portugal?) So maybe someday, long after my generation is gone…

Anyway, those are the kinds of thought I have upon reading this, buried deep inside the paper today:

Astronaut Gene Cernan traced his only child’s initials in the dust of the lunar surface. Then he climbed into the lunar module for the ride home, becoming the last person to walk on the moon….

“Those steps up that ladder, they were tough to make,” Cernan recalled in a 2007 oral history. “I didn’t want to go up. I wanted to stay a while.”

His family said his devotion to lunar exploration never waned, even in the final year of his life. Cernan died Monday at age 82 at a Houston hospital following ongoing heath issues, family spokeswoman Melissa Wren told The Associated Press….

On Dec. 14, 1972, Cernan became the last of only a dozen men to walk on the moon. Cernan called it “perhaps the brightest moment of my life. … It’s like you would want to freeze that moment and take it home with you. But you can’t.”…

When he took those steps up that ladder to leave the moon and never return, so did his nation, his species.

And he was not happy about that.

Now, all our space heroes are dying of old age.

In the ’60s, during the Space Age, we were fired up with energy to meet the challenge that an inspirational president had set for us. I still get goosebumps:

We choose to go to the Moon!… We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things,[7] not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win

Now, this week, as Astronaut Cernan was breathing his last, our nation prepared to inaugurate… President Trump, whose great aspiration for our country is to build a wall to keep the Mexicans out.

How far we have fallen from the moon, from the stars…

I miss Garrison Keillor

garrison_keillor_96

Saturday, the radio in our kitchen was on at 6 p.m., and when “Prairie Home Companion” came on… we turned it off.

Instead of turning it up, which is what we usually would have done, ever since we started listening to it out in Kansas in the ’80s.

It’s just not the same without Garrison Keillor. That deep, mellifluous, soothing voice, speaking of things that prompted nostalgia and peaceful reflection on the human condition, was what the show was about. I appreciated that the new guy made a joke in the first show about his high, piping voice, but you know, after a bit it’s not funny. I’ve lost my reason to listen.

Keillor is still writing. But frankly, I’ve never liked his writing quite as much on a page or screen — I prefer to hear him say it. Also, his unspoken stuff tends to be more political, and he’s such a doctrinaire liberal that a lot of stuff he says is a bit off-putting to me.

But… I find that if I can imagine him reading it, I’m fine with it. And this latest piece in The Washington Post yesterday made it very easy to hear the voice. It was gentle, it was kind, it was reassuring, unassuming and forgiving. And when you write in a voice like that, I can handle pretty much anything you have to say. An excerpt:

Face it, Southerners are nicer people

I’ve been down in South Carolina and Georgia, an old Northern liberal in red states, enjoying a climate like April in January and the hospitality of gracious, soft-spoken people, many of whom voted for He Who Does Not Need Intelligence, but they didn’t bring it up, so neither did I.

I walked into Jestine’s Kitchen in Charleston, and a waitress said, “Is there just one of you, sweetheart?” and her voice was like jasmine and teaberry. There was just one of me, though I wished there were two and she was the other one. She showed me to a table — “Have a seat, sweetheart, I’ll be right with you.” Liberal waitpersons up north would no more call you “sweetheart” than they would kiss you on the lips, and if you called one of them “sweetheart” she might hand you your hat. I ordered the fried chicken with collard greens and mashed potatoes and gravy and read a front-page story in the Charleston Post and Courier about a Republican state legislator charged with a felony for allegedly beating his wife in front of their weeping children, and then the waitress brought the food and I dug in and it was luminous, redemptive, all that chicken and gravy could be. If this is what Makes America Great Again, I am all for it….

I thought to myself, “A person could live in a town like this.” I’ve spent time with people whose politics agreed with mine and who were cold fish indeed and now that I’m elderly and have time on my hands, maybe I’d enjoy hanging out with amiable sweet-talking right-wingers. I’m just saying….

Indeed. And I miss hanging out with him on Saturday evenings…

(It’s fun when Yankees find us so captivating. Reminds me of the one year I lived above the Mason-Dixon line growing up. I attended second grade in Woodbury, NJ. I read more fluently than most 2nd-graders, and once a teacher heard me read aloud, she started lending me to other classes to read to the kids. I was happy to oblige. They thought my accent was so charming. They looked upon me as a pint-sized Ashley Wilkes, and that kind of thing can make a certain sort of Yankee lady just swoon.)

Belated Top Five List: Best Christmas toys ever

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Technically, this list is not late, as this is the ninth day of Christmas. In any case, I didn’t see the inspiration for it until today. Also, it’s a slow news day.

My fellow former Cosmic Ha-Ha Dave Moniz posted the above photo on Facebook last week, with this caption:

Patrick and Monica somehow found this vintage “electric baseball” set. What a lovely Christmas gift. Unlike its first cousin, “electric football’ this actually works without little plastic men running in hideous circles or clumping in immovable scrums.

My first thought was, I’d like to try that game out. My second was, I hated to see him run down electric football, which frankly, I liked better than real football. Any of y’all remember those? You’d put your little plastic players on the line of scrimmage, with one of them holding the little felt football, and hit the switch, and the whole stadium started vibrating like mad, causing the men — whose bases were perched up on thin, flexible blades of clear plastic, would start moving independently, one hoped toward the goal line. But really, they went wherever they wanted — which quite frequently was backward.

It was a pretty wild toy, both in concept and execution.

Actually, here I am describing it like something from the distant past, and apparently they still sell these things! Which was a surprise to me. But if you’ve never seen one of these in action, here’s video of a fancy modern version.

Bottom line, I loved my electric football game.

Which got me to thinking: What would be my Top Five Toys Ever, with an emphasis on those received from Santa. Here’s a hastily assembled list, which I may amend as we proceed:

  1. My BB gun — To be specific like the kid in the movie, my Daisy Model 1894 authentic saddle gun. This was probably the greatest surprise of my childhood, as my mother had always assured me I would never get one because — and she actually used this line — I would put my eye out. This was a beautiful rifle, the metal parts a nicely blued steel, with the stock rendered in plastic that at least looked like wood from a distance. The moment I found it under the tree was special: Santa had laid out my new sleeping bag that I was expecting, and the rifle was slipped inside it. This, of course, proved the existence of Santa, because I got it when we were living in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and I don’t think there was a store on the entire continent of South America where my parents could have bought this. I had a lot of fun with it, and never did put my eye out.
  2. Any Official Boy Scout gear — All through my Cub and Boy Scout years, nothing could top any gift that had an official Scout logo on it. These were items that a guy had to have to make his way in the world, to Be Prepared (I had never heard of the Zombie Apocalypse, but I instinctively sensed that every boy should be prepared for it), and the Scout emblem, to my mind at least, spoke unfailingly of quality. I received a bunch of stuff from this category over the years. Some items that stand out are my official Cub Scout pocketknife, and my official Boy Scout mess kit and canteen (which I think I got the same Christmas as the BB gun and sleeping bag, so I cleaned up that year).
  3. Tabletop hockey — As I worked on the list, I thought of something I liked better than electric football. That was the non-electric hockey game my brother and I had — this kind, which had the metal rods that you’d move in and out to move the players across the “ice,” and which you would spin to make them shoot the puck. We had some pretty furious, active games with this, which we would play for hours. I still remember with shame how petulant I got the first time my brother — who is six years younger — beat me at this. But mostly, it was fun.
  4. Cowboy six-shooters — This is a whole category because I had a lot of them in the ’50s and ’60s, but I’m going to zero in on one particular product. Do you remember the Mattel Shootin’ Shell system? The Shootin’ Shell was a three-part piece of ammunition. It had a brass shell with a spring inside, a gray plastic slug that you’d push into the shell until it clicked, and a little round paper cap that you’d stick on the back of the brass shell. When the gun’s hammer hit the back of the shell, the shock would cause the spring to eject the little gray slug out the barrel of the gun, and the cap would go off to provide a semi-realistic sound. Here’s video. Anyway, at one point Mattel released a mechanical adversary with which to have gunfights. He was this villainous-looking little mannequin who, when you pulled a string, would start to draw. If he fired before you, you were “dead.” If you managed to draw, fire and hit him with your Shootin’ Shell slug before his arm got to a certain point, his arm would stop. No, I am not making this up. I was able to shoot from the hip and stop him. And yes, boys of my generation were really into violent toys…
  5. The see-through submarine — This was another one that we got when we lived in Ecuador, which speaks to extra exertions by my parents — they no doubt arranged to get these things from the Base Exchange up in the Panama Canal Zone, via the monthly C-47 that brought nonperishable groceries down to U.S. personnel. Anyway, this was an impressive toy. I had forgotten the name of it, but Google has identified it as the Remco Barracuda Atomic Sub. It was about three feet long, and had a motor that moved it on discreet wheels along the floor (water would have destroyed it), while it automatically fired torpedoes out of the bow. The coolest part, though, was that it had a transparent top deck that you could remove, and move around the little blue plastic crewmen inside. For whatever reason, I seem to recall you could also rearrange the bulkheads — which made it more like a Napoleonic-era warship than an actual sub. A friend of mine, also a Navy brat, had a huge toy aircraft carrier made by the same company. It had a pretty powerful catapult for launching aircraft, but that’s not what we used it for. This kid also had a construction set for building skyscrapers. We’d build a skyscraper, and then launch leftover plastic girders at the building from about six feet away to knock it down. A lot of trouble, but eminently worth the effort.

Honorable mention: Hot Wheels. These came along a little late for me, but I had an awesome time playing with my brother’s Hot Wheels — and my sons’, and my grandson’s (every time I go into Walmart today, I have to fight against the temptation to buy him another — they’re only 94 cents apiece, and they’re awesome!). I had grown up on Matchbox cars and thought they were pretty cool, but Hot Wheels just blew them away. Matchbox would later ape the fast-wheel technology, but they were just playing catch-up from then on.

Yep… guns and war toys and fast cars. But I was an actual kid, not a hypothetical one, and that’s what I liked, and I was lucky enough to come up before these things were thoroughly frowned upon. So there.

Now… what are the vintage toys that make you wax nostalgic?

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What newsrooms used to look like, long, long ago

The sardonic Managing Editor Bill Sorrels presides at his desk in the middle of the newsroom (he had an office somewhere, too). You see Dave Hampton running somewhere in the background. Note the decor.

The sardonic Managing Editor Bill Sorrels presides at his desk in the middle of the newsroom (he had an office somewhere, too). He’s apparently reading one of the proofs I fetched. You see Dave Hampton striding in a blur across the room in the background. Note the go-to-hell decor — the unmatched linoleum, the rivers of proofs tumbling from spikes on the Metro Desk behind the M.E….

Having just wrestled with the new definitions of an old word, “reporter,” here are some images from the very start of my newspaper career, so very long ago. When reporters were reporters.

After I dug out those pictures from 1978 to go with this post, I started poring through some old negatives, thinking yet again about digitizing them (and again overwhelmed at the enormity of the task), when I ran across something I had forgotten existed.

Apparently, I took my camera to the paper one night during those several months I worked at my first newspaper job, back in 1974. I was a “copy clerk” at The Commercial Appeal in the spring and summer of that year, while a student at Memphis State University. That means I was a “copy boy,” with the title adjusted for the political correctness that was coming into fashion at the time (but which for the most part did not touch this newsroom). And indeed, we did briefly have one girl join us boys standing at the rail, ready to jump when someone called “copy.”

wire machines

Copy Clerk David Hampton, later longtime editorial page editor of The Jackson Clarion-Ledger, in the wire room.

We were among the last copy boys in the country, since new technology was doing away with the need for someone to run around doing the stuff we did. Which meant reporters no longer had anyone to lord it over.

I just found these three exposures, found on one short strip of 35 mm film in a glassine envelope. I don’t know whether I took more, or where the rest of the roll is.

Anyway, I appeared to be documenting what I did at the paper by taking pictures of my friend and fellow copy clerk David Hampton doing the same tasks I did every night.

You can see Dave hurrying across the newsroom on an errand in the background of the photo at top, which shows one corner of the newsroom from the perspective of the managing editor’s desk. This part of the room is mostly deserted, with a reporter casually conversing with an assistant editor over on the Metro desk. This is 7:15 p.m., shortly after most of the day side people have left. The place would have been bustling about an hour earlier. Dave and I would be running for the next six or seven hours. (I wish I’d gotten a shot of the whole newsroom when it was full of people — but I probably would have been yelled at. That would not have been a novel experience, but I preferred to avoid it.)

In the foreground of the photo is the late Bill Sorrels, the managing editor, with a characteristic smirk on his face. I had him for a reporting class at Memphis State. His “teaching” technique consisted of telling stories from his reporting days, and stopping in mid-story to go around the room asking everyone, “So what did I do next?” and smirking when they got it wrong.

Bill would look over the galley proofs I brought him with that same expression, and then call out embarrassing critical remarks to reporters and editors about the mistakes they had made. (This was the kind of old-school place where grown men were chewed out and ground into the floor in front of everybody by their bosses.) The only actual work I ever remember seeing him do was on Aug. 9, 1974. He called me over and gave me a piece of paper on which he had scrawled, “Nixon Resigns.” He told me to take it to composing (on the next floor) and have it typeset in our biggest headline type (probably about 96 points), then have them shoot a picture of that and blow it up until it went all the way across the front page — then bring it to him to approve before they set it in metal and put it on the page. Probably the most “historic” thing I did in that job.

Above and at right, you see Dave in the wire room checking one of the 10 or 12 machines there that chugged out news from across the world non-stop — back in the days when ordinary people didn’t have access to such via Twitter, etc. We were the nursemaids to those machines, making sure the paper and ribbons never ran out, that they didn’t jam, and that the stories were ripped off the machines and taken to the editors who needed to see them.

Below, Dave is in the “morgue,” in later more polite times known as the “library,” where he’s been sent to fetch something, probably a photo, that someone needs to go with a story they’re working on. Given the size of the envelopes, these are probably mug shots, or maybe metal “cuts” that were already made to run in the paper previously. We saved those, when they were of repeat newsmakers, to save time and metal. They were uniformly 6 ems (picas) in width.

Another world. I never again worked in such an old-school environment. This was the old Commercial Appeal building, torn down decades ago. The long-defunct Memphis Press Scimitar was up on the fifth floor, if I recall correctly. Most news copy was still written, edited and processed in the old way — typed on manual typewriters, the pages strung together with rubber cement, edited with pencil, and set in metal type by noisy linotype machines up in the composing room. Once the type was set for each story, individual proofs would be pulled of each story, before they were placed on the “turtle” that held the full page — which we would run down to the newsroom. There was a lot of running back and forth.

This place was already an anachronism; it would have been completely recognizable to Ben Hecht’s characters in “The Front Page” It was what the makers of “Teacher’s Pet,” which I saw on Netflix the other night, were going for in the newsroom scenes. (Nick Adams played the copy boy in that film, itching for his shot at becoming a reporter. He was excited to get to write some obits one night. For us, the transitional job was to be the copy clerk who did the “agate” — rounding up police blotter, marriages and divorces, property transfers and other routine list-type copy and typing it up to go into the paper. I got to do that once, when another guy was out, and felt I had taken a huge step up.)

But new technology was creeping in. The non-news departments wrote on IBM Selectrics, and their copy was scanned and set in cold type, and pasted up on paper pages. And maybe some of the news copy as well — I see a Selectric behind Sorrels on the Metro desk. And a couple more on the rim of the copy desk at right.

It was also a crude, rough place that was about as non-PC as anyplace you could find in the ’70s. It’s ironic that they called us “copy clerks” instead of “boys,” because there were few other concessions to modern sensibilities. Culturally, every other newsroom I ever worked in was as removed from this one as though a couple of generations had passed. Although it was 1974, this newsroom would have been more at home in the first half of the century. It was… Runyonesque.

In the following decades, I didn’t miss this place, and was happy to work in a more civil environment. But I’m glad to have had this throwback experience; it gives me something to feel nostalgic about when I watch those old movies made before I was born. Yes, I say, it was just like that — those few months at the Commercial Appeal, anyway….

Dave, fetching a "cut" from the morgue.

Dave, fetching a “cut” from the morgue.

Sometimes ‘realism’ is taken to unreal lengths

With all the talk about guns in the wake of the Orlando massacre, we got to talking on an earlier thread about the role of firearms in American history, which started me (as a child of the ’50s, who felt naked without a toy six-gun on my hip) to start riffing on that peculiarly American art form, the Western, and how it has evolved.

So I thought I’d expand on the subject in a separate post…

I, and others my age, grew up on unrealistic westerns in which every man went around with a gun in a holster, except for wusses such as shopkeepers or bankers. I’m pretty sure that is an exaggeration, and I suspect that people who went obviously armed were probably looked at askance by the townspeople, although it may have seemed marginally less bizarre than it would today on Gervais Street.

Just as gunfights were nothing like the ritualized affairs we know from movies, with two men approaching down the dusty street, pausing with their hands hovering over their holsters, scrupulously waiting for the other guy to go for his gun before drawing.

Gunfights such as the one at the OK Corral were wild, confused affairs more akin to what happened at that video game storethe other day…

Modern westerns, of course, go for realism.

SPOILER ALERT!

I’m belatedly watching “Deadwood.” I’m not binge-watching because, as one whose ancestors stuck to Civilization — by which I mean the East Coast — I can only take so much profanity, filth, crudeness, naked avarice and utter disregard for common decency at a time. (As much as it would scandalize my 6-year-old self, I have come to suspect as an adult that had I lived back then, I likely would have been a “dude.” Which wasn’t as cool back then as it sounds today.) Thirty seconds with the “Deadwood” character Al Swearengen (based on a real guy) can make you want to write off the human race as beyond redemption. At the very least, it should persuade a discriminating person to give the Wild West a wide berth.

I would not want to live in the same territory as this guy.

I would not want to live in the same territory as this guy.

Anyway, I’m in the first season, and in the last episode the death of Wild Bill Hickok was depicted — VERY realistically, with him being shot in the back without warning while playing poker.

Such realism is preferable, I suppose. And the clean-cut, 1950s-style western was ridiculous (compare above the guy who played Hickok on TV when I was a little kid and it was my favorite show, the version from Deadwood and the real guy).

Although enough of “Deadwood” and you can start to long, at least a little, for the Disneyland version, with the good guys in spotless white hats.

Or at least for characters you give a damn doggone about. So far the only relatively likeable person on this series is Calamity Jane, and you don’t want your kids in the room when she’s talking.

Bottom line, I’m sure something like everything you see on “Deadwood” actually happened at one time or other in the Old West. But not distilled to this extent, not as unrelenting with the soul-wearing nastiness. Just like, unlike on cop shows, real cops can easily go their whole careers without discharging a firearm in the line of duty.

Surely they had to let up and give it a rest sometime — go through a day with a killing, or maybe speak two sentences in a row without an F-bomb, just to give their profanity mills a rest.

Or else it seems that after a couple of days, they’d get exhausted with it all and skeddadle back East. I know I would have.

Quick: Whose catchphrase was, “Hey, Wild Bill! Wait for me!” The answer is below…