Friday, April 6, 2007

The Newspapers in My Life

Having just turned in my latest review for the Montecito Journal, and checked to see that the previous one was posted, I couldn't help the yank of nostalgia that drew me, ceaselessly back into the past, as F. Scott Fitzgerald put it in Gatsby.

My first experience with newspapers came when I lived in Los Angeles, near the La Brea Tar Pits and what has now become the County Museum of Art. My job was to stand on the corner of Third Street and La Brea, selling the afternoon Hearst paper, the Herald-Express. I did not do notably well because nearby was a saloon-type establishment called The Swanee Inn, where most afternoons around four, the featured vocalist came to practice and run through her numbers. Thus as a kid who'd had to lie about his age to get the job, I discovered the remarkable Anita O'Day, one of many chance associations that drew me inexorably into the jaws of jazz.

There was more money to be made, I was told by a neighborhood kid named Harvey, by having one's own paper route. This information shifted me from being a corner peddler to having an enormous orange wagon provided by my new employer, also a Hearst paper, the morning Examiner.

What Harvey didn't tell me was to become my first lesson in economics: people who buy newspapers from street vendors pay cash; subscribers tend to be dead beats or slow pay.

My next venture with newspapers involved being assigned an instrument looking much like a letter opener, made from whale bone. Each afternoon, I used the instrument to fold copies of the Miami Herald into convenient size, then slip them into a canvas pack which held at some precarious grip the afternoon paper, which I was admonished to deliver to my route in central Miami Beach, a process much more precarious than my experiences in L.A., with the Examiner.

Whatever it is now, the Miami Beach of my youth (and, incidentally, of WW II) was by tradition racist, evidenced by signs in front of some buildings that read RESTRICTED CLIENTELE, euphemistic for WHITE ONLY. Indeed, the busses had black lines girding the interior,a kind of racial devide in which front was for white, back was for--well, you get the picture.

Some of the houses and apartment buildings on my route had signs denying entry to those of Cuban descent, and at least two had signs saying No Blacks, Cubans, Jews, or dogs allowed.

Upset with these restrictions, I took to the streets again in what seemed to me an entrepreneurial coup, buying slightly out-of-date newspapers from a junk dealer and selling them to the service men as Home Town Papers. They did come from such places as New York, Chicago, Philladelphia, and, for some reason, Harrisburg, PA, with an occasional Cincinatti and Louisville paper, which remarkably seemed to match the demographics of the servicemen who bought them.

I did not get into writing for newspapers until, back in Los Angeles, I was drawn to the Colonial Gazette,the weekly of Fairfax High School. The mind reels and shudders at the memory of what I wrote under the guise of humor. But this led to coverage of high school sports--boring!--for the Pico Post,a neighborhood weekly, and regular interview-type for features for the paper of Will Rogers, the Beverly Hills Citizen-News.

Some journalism skills were honed at L.A. City College, and teased into a paying proposition and near profession of intended career thanks to the years on the UCLA Daily Bruin.

As a staffer on the DB, one could make a serious monthly pay check. Desk editors got $4 a shift, night editors got $5, proofers and copyeditors $4, meaning I could do all three many nights and manage anywhere from an additional one to five dollars writing the best headline (one that contained some outrageous pun), the best news story, the best feature.

The lure of journalism paled but not the lure of newspapers: soon I was reviewing books for the L.A. Examiner, the L.A. Times, and the then equivalent of the free metro weekly, The L.A. Free Press. Soon I got a call from my UCLA buddy, Larry Swindell, who'd gone as book editor to the Philadelphia Inquirer,which by-line emboldened me to approach the one newspaper I wanted more than any to "work" for, the Virginia City, NV Territorial-Enterprise,, home turn for Mark Twain and the legendary Joe Goodman. The T-E said yes, and I wondered if life could be any richer.

It became so in a way. Swindell left Philadelphia and went to Fort Worth,where he was the new book editor, staying there until he retired. I sent in my copy and had the occasional joy of seeing my reviews appear on the reverse of the page that contained the Molly Ivens column, more riches.

There has over the years been a long flirtation with the L.A. Times, in which, from time to time I'd appear with my pal, Barnaby Conrad; the occasional appearance in the Santa Barbara News-Press,and indeed the Santa Barbara Independent, of which it is difficult to find an appropriate adjective. Quirky? Notional? Stylistic? Not louche, although I do love the word.

And now I have come to the Montecito Journal which, with the exception of its stellar managing editor, Guillaume Doane, and fellow columnist Jim Alexander, is essentially written, edited, and launched on the community by Republicans and Libertarians. Since the early months of '05, I've done the book review for this community paper with about a 20K circulation, but what a 20K; many residing in some of the more expensive real estate in the US. The past president of the Montecito Association, a name so benign in weight that it suggests a terrorist organization rather than a group of conservative homeowners, ventured that the tax base is over six billion dollars, as in, Montecitans pay--You get the picture.

Last week, we had Rudy Gullianni come through to talk to the Republicans, which meant he shook hands with enough force to loosen pocket change, should he decide to run for the Republican nomination. Rudy was so confident of his appeal that he wore brown shoes with a blue suit, a fact that the Montecito Journal did not report. Rumor has it that John McCain, not to be outdone by a potential rival, is going to walk through the Montecito Friday Farmers' Market on Coast Village Road,without his bullet-proof vest.

Montecito is a refreshingly odd place to live and to have one's work appear, creating bonds with all levels of the political spectrum. My mailman sent his former neighbor a copy of one of my reviews. The review was an highly favorable one of a recent work by Jim Harrison. The mailman's former neighbor was Jim Harrison.

Dr. Laura kindly sent me an autographed copy of her latest book. Steve Gilbar, a Montecito author who writes books about books, sent me an email about a review I'd done on Philip Roth,one of his great favorites, enjoying the views in the review but detesting as execrable my pun, The Gripes of Roth.

It comes down to the fact that after all these years, I still cannot get over the high of being paid to read a book I would ordinarily read, then write something about it.

There are those who, alas, get high sniffing glue or nitrous oxide. I get high sniffing books.


Pod said...

i like to sniff books too. thanks for all your comments mr lowenkopf!! and a happy easter to you

Anonymous said...

Glad to know you, Pod.