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My first paid writing job was on the sports staff of the late Indianapolis News. I started at 15 and worked there on and off (college months) for the next decade or so.

Wayne Fuson was the sports editor who hired me. Wayne (Wayne-O or Fuse, as in Fuseball) wrote a daily column, “Time Out!”  Many bloggers have discovered the difficulty doing one blog a week.  The discipline.  The time.  A columnist is another breed.  Even weekly or semi-weekly columnists must cocoon and create.  Imagine the daily grist. The deadlines. The resources to make it so.

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Wayne Fuson

True, there are those who have assistants who may research.  Legmen.  Sometimes ghostwriters.  Wayne wasn’t one of those.  We may have passed on some info sometimes, but pretty much the column was his.

There are a few aces-in-the-hole to maintain a daily column.  One is the “go-to-slow-news-day” piece.  The column to print when there “wasn’t any news,” no room, or when you just don’t feel like it.  It could be a short essay that, with a couple of updates, can be fresh and timely.  Wayne’s go-to columns leaned toward family matters wherein he’d refer to himself in third person.  Dear Old Dad.  Hold that till it rains, slap in a subhead, add on eight or so bullet-pointed sports items, names in BOLD FACE CAPS, type -30- and run that puppy.

Aside from Dear Old Dad, Wayne’s go-to was, “Notes written on…” whatever the object was and attached to a location.  Not Hemingway, Vonnegut or Royko, but the hole was filled.   Old school.  Facile, not flashy.  Fill the space.  Don’t languish. No typos. Sixty lines. “Notes written on a napkin waiting for Arnold Palmer to____.” -30-  Next!

I hadn’t thought about Wayne or his columns in years.  DECADES, even.  Until today in Wal-Mart looking for sugar cookie dough amid manic children while aggravated shoppers and exasperated stockers clogged the aisles.  Really, this is less about Wayne than about…

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The horror! The horror!

NOTES WRITTEN IN MY MIND TO MAINTAIN SANITY WHILE…

… Christmas shopping between Aisle 5, Aisle 9 and Frozen Foods.

I needed to vent; to write down my 2 cents about the folks who cannot drive shopping carts.  I pulled out my phone to Tweet.  Something like, “When you’re in the Wal-Mart and…”  Thoughts came so fast, I figured by the time I posted one, it’d be obsolete, pushed down on my crawl before it could trend.  Thoughts need to be in one forum.  One column.  And that’s when Wayne-o came to mind: “Notes written on____.”   Wayne Tweeted before Twitter.  (All Hands, as Wayne would say,  I am not responsible for your rejoinder.)  Sure, it’s all the rage now.  EVERYBODY writes short.  Sixty lines!? Pish-posh!  140 characters! 7 second videos.  Who remembers the pioneers?  Had I only known, I’d have been less miffed when the lead of one of my feature stories was cut so the piece started in the third graf…and the story made no sense.  I was being prepared.

It makes sense: All the script notes, snatches of dialogue, scene sketches that I scribbled on bar notes and matchbook covers in bars when I moved to Chicago.  My OCD with sticky notations and envelopes on airplanes.  The boxes of interview notes I can’t discern (does ANYBODY take shorthand anymore?).  The reason I love Dustin Hoffman’s “All the President’s Men” note-taking scenes.  It’s because of DOD (isn’t it always the parents?)

So, having told that story, This Reporter continues with short stories.  MEMos at your will. Like, five columns in one.

THOUGHTS WHEN DATE-SHOPPING WITH WIFE AT 11 PM

We always run out of wrapping paper. And the remnants are odd sizes. For some reason, we have a storage box of partial rolls.  Whenever we buy new, the rolls run out WAY before you think.  The family has countless creatives types, cousins Jimelle and Renee, who turn those sheets works of art.  I am not among them.  There are six people in our house now, so, I tell #TheMrs we should grab a couple of rolls.  I don’t want to be shopping on Christmas Eve.

  • We decided not to do massive shopping this year. Too many peeps.  Too many repairs.  MY request is gift cards…from Home Depot & Lowes (hint).
  • Who do I talk to to sell them on the idea of the Christmas Registry? You know, like for weddings?
  • It’s the stuff the fam plays with in the store that REALLY lets you know what they want; more than what they SAY.
  • Actually, I just want the gift of Christmas presence.
  • As much as I enjoy email greetings, few things elate me more than Christmas cards in the mail.

ALL THE GIFTS THAT FIT

I was Christmasly creative once. When I found an in-house substitute for wrapping paper:  The Sunday New York Times.

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Chez moi, circa 1978.

In the single days, in my first house, between girlfriends, when Christmas time was mine alone, I became infatuated with The New York Times. A left-over from the Watergate investigative journalist phase when dreams of Pulitzer danced in my head.

I’d gotten gifts for some newspaper pals and had no Christmas wrap. Stores were closed.  I thought it would be funny to use the newspaper. An inside joke. The News and The Star, our sister paper, were handy, but their design was sort of…um, Midwest pedestrian.  The simplicity of New York Times was mesmerizing.  The minimalist layout was the essence of 19th century Christmas cards.  The black and white photography gave modern allure to the ads.  Thus, The Times’ motto, “All the news that’s fit to print” became “All the gifts that fit, I primp.”

Sections were chosen to fit the recipient: their personality, their tastes, our relationships.  It was a long, unhurried process. A few days. The bachelor had little else to do.  Plus, I actually read the paper. When done, I copiously arranged the gifts under my tree for a photo essay I may use for my next year’s Christmas card.

I then transferred the appropriate packages under the tree at my parents’ where we had family Christmas.  Folks knew which gifts came from me. Because each gift wrapping was individually chosen, I didn’t need tags.

There we two problems wrapping with The New York Times. One of my sisters decided she’d rather stare at the paper than open the package.  “It’s so pretty.” Dad — Mr. Crossword — would look for clues to what I was saying by reading the wrapping.  Aloud.  TO US ALL.  Second,  newsprint smudges. That was fine for me, but open opening a white sweater with ink-stained fingers…I think not.

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A bachelor’s décor.

The newsprint-for-gift wrap phenomenon ended when I moved to Chicago.  My family was devastated, I discovered, when I returned home the first Christmas after I’d moved presenting regularly wrapped gifts.  “Where’s the paper?  I was looking forward to the newspaper!” The Sunday Trib didn’t have the same panache, and the Sun-Times, well, tabloids are just too loud.

In recent years, I’ve been tempted to resurrect the tradition.  Problem is, newsprint has shrunk; the DAILY edition costs more than wrapping paper, and downloading the Sunday Times off my Nook doesn’t stretch as far.  Although, if I declutter my basement enough, I’m sure I’ll find an unused edition from 1980.  If I look closer, I bet there’s a box that’s still wrapped.

 

SMILING WHILE DECLUTTERING ONLINE

  • Actor Chuck Neighbors: “Well, my Christmas shopping is done… and that is why this Santa is now called St. Nickel-less.”…Singer Ailyn Perez’ rendition of Rudolph The Red-Nose Reindeer supporting  ‪#‎carols4cancerDrummer-Interviewer Dave Schulz’ essay on Christmas Peace:

ON THE DOMESTIC FRONT

  •  Robin Williams once said, “Cocaine is God’s way of telling you you have too much money.” Similarly, Christmas is God’s way of telling you you have too much stuff. Children are God’s way of producing humility.  Christmas shopping with children is God’s way of teaching discernment.
  • I have not performed on stage in Chicago for many years; I believe it’s because I’m living a Kauffman and Hart script.
  • We bought this house so I can have an office. My office has moved three times. It’s now a storage room. #TheMrs wants to make the storage room a recording studio. My gift to #MrsMonk is throw away stuff.
  • Folks who truly DREAM of a white Christmas have not spent time shoveling on Christmas
  • Christmas Day falling on Sunday. Is going to church an imposition?

GOALS OF CHRISTMAS PAST

In the newspaper days, Christmas did not have the personal faith significance for me it has now.  However, Christmas had a couple of eagerly awaited traditions.

The News was an afternoon paper.  We edited in the morning as opposed to the night-owls at our sister paper, The Star.  They put the paper to bed Christmas Eve and could sleep in…or get up like regular Christmas early risers.  Some of us at The News – the single, the empty nesters, the full quiver reproducers – would sign up for the four-hour holiday overtime.  To put out the truncated editions meant we could be free to leave by noon and have some extra bucks.  Besides arising early to work, the OT staff was also treated to an eye-opening libation:  a deftly mixed spicy tomato juice concoction with celery stalk garnish. A variation on the Mary theme.

Corky Lamm

Robert C. (Corky) Lamm

Also anticipated was the annual staff Christmas cartoon.  It was a staple created by Corky Lamm, who wrote a column called Hoosier Sketchbook, twice a week.  Corky (given name Robert Corwin Lamm) accompanied his writing with one or two pen-and-ink sketches, half editorial cartoon, half comic strip. An Indiana journalism legend, an annual Sports Writer of the Year Award, is given in his honor.  To be subject of a Corky cartoon was an honor.  Corky would frequently doodle caricatures of the guys in the office.  You may find one dropped on your desk.  Seeing how he depicted the staff in the cartoon was insightful.  In addition to the public reflection of the beat the report covered, everyone’s caricature could contain a clue about his relationship with Corky, spoken or not. (I say, his, because when I started and until I graduated college, there were no women sports reporters.  Yes, another story.)  I’d been at The News about three years when I finally made the Christmas cut. The staff were ornaments on a tree.  I was tucked on the side, my face unseen, but my hair prominent.  I did, however, have the honor of a word balloon: “I work summers only,” Corky said I said.

I had mixed emotions.  I was in the ‘toon and I wasn’t.

As it turns out, Corky drew me as he saw me.  His desk and easel were behind me, so from that angle my most prominent feature was the back of my head.  Afroes were new then, early ‘70s, evolving into a fashion statement from their political origins.  Somehow, to Corky, my ‘fro from behind the tree was a statement. He’d see my face in the summers or the school breaks when I temped in the office.  When I was there, we did have face-to-face talks.  About stuff.  Sometimes when we’d cross paths when he came to sketch after an assignment. He introduced me to Billie Holiday on 78s.  Still, even when I was there, he mostly saw my back and profile.  I know because I found a Corky doodle on my desk one day.  It’s always been part of my office displays. At least until the recent remodeling and everything got boxed up.  I still have it. Somewhere. Hope to find when decluttering ends.

I don’t recall talking with Corky about the drawing.  A few weeks later I returned to college in Muncie, honored that I was even thought of because it was likely he drew the ‘toon I was still up the road in college.  About a month after the Christmas cartoon appeared, I was watching the teletype at my college newspaper office when the bulletin came that Corky had died that morning.  Heart attack.  Saddens me still.  Think I’ll go declutter.

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Debi Reed, Kim Rogers & me.  It could have been Christmas.

STUFF YOU FIND ON LINE WHEN LOOKING FOR SOMETHING ELSE:  Looking for a photo of Corky for this writing, I came across a blog,  “Adopted Fathers,” by Dan Wakefield. You make recognize Wakefield as an esteemed author.  A few years older than me, we have intersecting paths.  We graduated the same high school, edited the same daily high school paper, had the same journalism instructor who introduced us when I was a senior, and were influenced by Corky.

THERE IS NO ‘I’ IN COLUMNIST (Well, there is, but…)

notebook

Not my notes, but you get the idea.

Wayne once explained to me why The News did not allow the columnists to write in first person — ‘I’ — whereas our sister morning paper, The Star (same owner, same presses, same location, different competitive staffs) did.  An executive at The News did not think “I” was proper.  #TheExec thought “This Reporter,” “This Writer” maintained objectivity.  “I” might lead to egocentric writing.  “I” might lead to everybody on the paper just writing his opinion about everything instead of concentrating on the news. The facts.   Where would that leave the state of journalism.  This is what #DearOldDad said to #ThisReporter. What do I think?  What do you think?

NOTES BEFORE PUTTING THIS MEMo to BED

My last conversation with Wayne was at my dad’s wake.  I had not seen him since I’d left Indy 15 years earlier.  He was frail, leaning on wife Carolyn’s arm.  My mother met him for the first time.  He passed away a year later.

As the newspaper and the columnist have given way to The Blogosphere, there seems a myriad of prophecy in that sport’s editor’s office sidebar.  To Tweet:

  • When the family that owned the paper sells the chain, the purchasing organization retires your contemporary, moves the offices, sells the building which is razed and condo-ized;
  • When health sidelines and -30- becomes a death notice #JimmiesJewel.
  • When survivors’ breakfasts and Facebook posts are invigorated by harangues about sloppy editing and lazy reporting.
  • When the mail carrier delivers Christmas cards from college friends who later became newspaper colleagues, even though you haven’t seen them for half-your-life ago;
  • When you discover you’re a punctuation, layout and grammar Grinch and love anew all those editors who said, “Do it over!” “Don’t bury the lead!”
  • When decluttering unearths “thank you” notes from kids, parents and coaches who made The News because they were achievers not victims.
  • When you unbox press cards, scoresheets, notebooks, black-and-white negatives and their derivatives — formally known as “prints.”

Then there is joys in the world, even in the middle of Wal-Mart Aisle 6.

#ThisBlogger  must now resume cleaning his wife’s studio. Maybe I’ll find my Corkytoons.

All Hands, Merry Christmas.  .

 -30-

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Young turks:  Moi with Ray Compton, Zach Dunkin, his wife Carol & friend.  It was a Star staff vs News staff basketball game at Market Square Arena that proved why were were writers. 

 

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