Archive for the ‘working in a newsroom’ Category

Letters to my children

October 27, 2013

When I was starting out in the newsroom I edited obituaries.

It skewed my perspective on mortality. A good number more than you’d think are young people.

People my age died everyday. They died on the freeway, and they died of heart disease. One woman who went to high school with me died of AIDS. Another had an unexpected seizure. They left behind babies.

I was not yet 30.

It began to occur to me that my chances of survival on any given day could be good, could be bad.

I stopped taking the freeway to work.

I filled out my own obit form with my history and favorite charity. I wrote down the song I wanted played at my service.

Then I wrote letters to my children, just in case. They offered comfort, love and acceptance. They revealed what I saw in them that was good.

It wasn’t enough. I wrote more letters.

I wrote letters to be opened on their wedding days.

It wasn’t enough.

By the time I was through, there were stacks of letters for each child. They included graduation, first home purchase and first baby. Then I had to write letters for  in case one of them didn’t graduate, get married or have a baby. There were some to be opened in the event of unexpected pregnancy or in case they were gay.

I went completely round the bend thinking of circumstances I should lend a voice to.

I was writing to sophisticated people I didn’t even know. During this frenzy, my kids were 3 and 5.

Now they’re almost 15 and 17. I can throw most of the letters out. They know I would support whatever they decided to do about a pregnancy. They know I don’t care if they’re gay. They know I’m proud of the people they’ve become, and they have the strength and confidence to choose futures that make them happy.

They’ve had the benefit of witnessing my values as far as marriage, parenting, drinking and humor. I’ve taught them both how to cook, sew and play poker.

Thanks to this blog, they even have all the family stories.

I’m not ready to die, but tonight I’ve decided something close. I’m ready to relax.


My husband’s student’s death

October 22, 2013

My husband teaches in a high poverty, high crime high school in Southern California.

He’s told me stories about the kids’ not having toilet paper, hunting dinner out of dumpsters, raising siblings.

There’s also a lot of gang activity. One afternoon he called me upset, because one of his students — a 14-year-old boy — had been shot in both knees. The counselor had sent an e-mail to excuse tardiness. The child’s walking was slow.

Another day he was calling me on his cell phone, telling me it was slow getting off campus. “Oh here’s the problem, a child has been stabbed.”

I pictured him stepping over the body with his Razr to his ear and briefcase in hand, but it probably wasn’t like that.

I don’t think a year has gone by when his roll sheet hasn’t decreased because of a shooting.

But this story isn’t about a gang killing. This is about a teacher killing a kid.

A few years ago the basketball coach took her team for a hazing exercise. She tried to drop the girls in a bad neighborhood in the middle of night and have them find their way back to her house during a sleepover.

This would help them bond.

One player didn’t want to get out of the back of the van. She was afraid.

The teacher drove forward and back, slamming the brakes, until the child fell out. She landed on the back of her head on the street.

Coach waited an untoward while before calling for help.

This was the second time in my husband’s then 15-year teaching career he planned to go to one of his best students’ funerals.

He took this one hard, and needed to tell me all about it.

This would lead to some trouble for us.

He told me that this teacher would have lost her job the year before for violent behavior in class (I think she broke a clipboard in a rage or something), but her aunt was a member of the school board, and vouched for her.

The staff had been told not to talk to the media. I pictured them looking at him when they said this. They knew he was married to media. The administration was trying to control the story.

I was in a bad spot.

This is exactly the kind of news the public has a right to know. People send their children to school trusting there is some core concern for providing safe supervision.

Tattling on people abusing power is our job. Protecting the community is why many of us are in the business. I couldn’t not report this. I couldn’t be an accomplice.

I called it in. He felt betrayed.

The parents pulled the plug on the girl Sunday. The injury happened on Friday.

By then, it was a big story without my help. Likely the girl’s family had a thing or two to shout, school reputation be damned.

My husband gave a eulogy at the service, and was on the TV news saying what a promising future the girl had.

Our marriage survived the conflict of loyalties, and the coach was fired.

If anything like this has happened since, I wouldn’t know.

The palm tree story

June 25, 2013

My husband loves to torment me by saying a palm tree is not a tree.

I am a native Southern Californian. We’re sentimental about our palm trees.

He is a native New Yorker, and a biology teacher.

“They’re not trees. They have no cambium and no bark.” He calls them palms.

I say, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

This has gone on for years.

I roll my eyes at him vigorously, but I do respect the man and his knowledge. Secretly I used to figure he knew what he was talking about.

One night when I was a copy editor, I got a story that referred to a palm tree. It pained me, but I struck the word ‘tree.’

The editor next to me looked at my screen. “Why did you do that?”

“Palms aren’t trees. Morphologically, they’re more like grass,” I regurgitated.

“That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard,” he said. I didn’t know how I felt about that.

He pulled out an encyclopedia. Under ‘palm’ it said ‘tree.’

I went home ready to crack my husband’s ass the other way.

Because I considered him an authority, I embarrassed myself in front of my colleagues. (More accurately, I was angry at myself for not looking it up before changing the story.)

Tonight at dinner he started in again. Our new place has about 30 palm trees in the yard. We were eating under the wisteria arbor, and he pointed one out to say a thing. I forgot what.

Then he said, “Of course, it’s not a tree.”

This makes me crazy. I said mad things at him.

As I stormed into the house I heard him say, “Wind her up, and watch her go.”

How I ended up in journalism

June 14, 2013

I promised to tell you about how I threw over The Hot Guy for The Smart Guy. I have to get to it, because on July 26 I have a story about us, and you should have been introduced to him by then.

Let’s recap what we have so far of my post-high school adventures: I worked as a hula-hooping singer at a ’50s place until a former customer saw me in public and offered me a job at a college where a Hot Guy came in asking for paperwork for a semester in Mexico, which I had never heard of but said I was doing, too.

So there I was, living in Mexico based on the lie that I could speak Spanish. I lived with a family there. I was a student at the Universidad de Guanajuato.

Every morning we rode an open-air bus over the cobbled streets to the university. All of us Californians got picked up along the same route.

There was a panaderia next to the school, where several of us would buy bolillos fresh out of the oven. I remember standing in that bakery in the overcast of the mornings, breaking my bolillo in half so I could shove my face into the steam and aroma.

In Mexico, papaya juice is their orange juice. They use what’s labeled here as sweet butter — there’s no salt in it. And when you order cheese on something, you get a white, crumbly goat cheese. I didn’t like any of these things, but I liked bolillos.

From the panaderia we tackled the stairs to our classrooms. I counted them once, and wish I had written down the number. There were more than 100. First there were the wide steps to get into the building, which you can see a picture of in Photos O’ Mine. Then there was a series of short switchback stairs we took to the top tower, about six stories up.

It was on those switchbacks I lost my heart.

There was a guy with unruly hair and tragically matched clothing who went up ahead of me. I always made sure I was behind him, so I could smell his cologne. I go weak in the knees for Polo. The Hot Guy smelled like cigarettes.

By the time we were loaded on a bus for a weekend in Guadalajara, I had completely lost interest in The Hot Guy. I made a point of sitting by the guy from the stairs for the six-hour ride.

He was wearing green denim pants and a turquoise sweater vest.

He had a gentle voice and kind manners. He told me interesting things and laughed at my stories. When we ran out of conversation I read aloud to him from my Katherine Stone novel. We got so engrossed in the story, that when all the kids went out dancing that night, we stayed back to finish the book.

This smart guy had become much hotter than The Hot Guy.

I loved being around him. By the time we were back in Guanajuato we were together all the time. We knew each other’s favorite things.

He had been a writer for his school’s newspaper. “Me too!” I said, which was true insofar as two of my St. Patrick’s Day entries won the limerick contest and were published.

As the summer grew short, I got worried. He had been accepted to Stanford, and would be moving there from Laguna Niguel a month after we returned. That was far from me. I began to send him telepathic messages to ask me to go with him. Ultimately he learned my hope when we wrote entries in each other’s diaries. He asked.

Back in the States he showed me the newspapers he had been a part of. I was inspired. When I enrolled for the fall semester, I joined the staff.

This story picks back up with The Earthquake story. After that quake, The Smart Guy, along with many others, suffered from depression. He cut me loose out of guilt for bringing me down, which broke my heart.

Then in spring I was sent to Hawaii….

The Smart Guy is now running Yahoo!

Click here for photo

The kindergarten craft story

May 10, 2013

On Mothers Day when my daughter was in kindergarten, I got a matchbox on a ribbon. It was a necklace.

My daughter had glued heart-shaped pasta to the outside and a photo of herself on the inside, locket style. The box and pasta were sprayed gold.

It made a perfect lanyard for my press ID. I wore it everyday.

One night a month later there was an evening school event. The kindergarten teacher threw her arms around me.

Unbeknownst to me, her husband had been getting a haircut when I took my son to the barber that afternoon. He saw the necklace dangling over my suit.

She explained to me that her staying up late spraypainting the projects gold irritated him. He suggested it was a waste of time .

My going to the barber earned her an apology.

Happy Mothers Day back atcha.

The penis-on-the-front-page story

May 8, 2013

I volunteer guest-teaching journalism for various school newspaper programs. Today I gave my popular ethics presentation.

I show photos that may or not be ethical to run. They deal with issues like invasion of privacy, gore and the moment before death. I give them what-would-you-do scenarios.

And we talk about the difference between libel and ethics. I have lots of newsroom stories where my paper violated ethical standards, but not the law.

One ethical guideline that’s pretty much universal in newsrooms is avoiding photos of dead or nude people.

When I worked at the paper in Boulder, we would get the paper to bed about midnight and wait about an hour to proof the first copies off the press.

Each proofer took a job — page numbers, jumps, headlines, etc.

The longer the proofs took, the less thorough we were.

If they came to us after 2 a.m., we did was called a ‘f**k check’: We were to scan for the F word and approve the edition in its absence.

When we proofed with care, it seemed we never found anything that needed changing, but when we ran a f**k check, we ran a lot of corrections.

One such time got us into hot water.

The centerpiece photo on the front page went with a big feature we did on health care for the elderly. I remember glancing at it and thinking the photo felt washed in orange. I didn’t like the way it made the page look.

At a glance, it was an old man on a bed or gurney in a busy facility.

At a post-lawsuit-threat inspection, it was an old man inadequately covered by a thin sheet. His penis was exposed.

To add insult to infirmity, the man died during the night we were printing that paper.

The family’s grief was met first thing in the morning with this ignominious final photo.

With one feature, we proved both Murphy Law’s and Andy Warhol were right.

The blood-drive story

April 29, 2013

My son called me Friday at work, asking to forge my signature on a permission form for the blood drive, going on that minute. In the few weeks before I was kicked out of my law class, I learned that signing someone’s name with permission — and a witness to the permission giving — is not forgery. I gave him my grace by speaker phone and had done with it.

Naturally, I have a story about giving blood.

I’m afraid of needles, and have been delighted always to be ineligible to participate. You have to weigh at least 115 pounds and not be pregnant.

One evening I came home with a Band-Aid on my krelbow. Fun fact: The word ‘krelbow’ is the word in my house for the inner elbow. I came home to Boulder from a visit with my family in California showing off this new term. My husband, who taught anatomy at the time, laughed at me. ‘Where did you get that?’ I learned it playing Scrabble with  my aunties. ‘How much is the K worth?’ I was suckered, but my pride demands I continue using the word.

My husband pointed at the Band-Aid and raised his eyebrows.

“I gave blood today.” The blood bank used to hold drives every season in the conference room when I worked at the paper.

“Sure you did.”

I did. I lied about my weight, because I wanted the free booklight. Also the cookies were chocolate chip.

My husband shook his head chucklingly. “And how did it go?”

After some sadist with gel in his hair took the needle out, I stood up and swooned. They made me lie down for a half hour with cookies and my novel. I liked that part.

Imagine, after all I went through, my husband having the nerve to tell me the booklight was too bright.

Another copy editor catch

April 8, 2013

One night at the paper in Boulder, just before a page went to camera plate, I noticed we were reporting an erroneous hockey score.

According to us, the Senators beat the Mighty Dicks 4 to 0.


March 12, 2013

During our big kitchen remodel my potpourri disappeared. The bowl was there, but all the little citrus slices and nuts and stuff were missing.

The mystery was solved when I swept behind the couch in the parlor. There were mice droppings and dried citrus rinds. About this time my daughter yelled from the powder room that she saw a huge mouse scurry into the game closet when she turned on the light.

We found a hole going to the driveway where the electrician had run new wires.

My husband wanted to get traps. The ones that cut the mouse in half made me sad. The ones that glue the mouse to a board until he starves made me sad. Poison made me nervous. I closed the game-closet door.

After about a week my husband and I were in the kitchen space. It was bare but for wood floors and wood counters, which we were leaning against.

A big rat sauntered in, brave as you please.

A screaminger, hoppinger woman you never saw. I tried to get up on the counter, but my husband was yelling at me to get out of the room. I think he just wanted a minute of quiet.

He told me the rat could climb up on the counter. But the rat was by the door. I was trapped, hopping from one foot to the other, going, ‘Ah ah ah. I don’t like it.”

The next day I asked the contractor to fix the hole, put out those traps that cut the rat in half, put out the gluey boards, and sprinkle poison everywhere.

And on my way home from my daughter’s school I went to the Humane Society to get a great big cat. I would come to regret my choice of companion.

She went straight to the cage that held a pair of black-and-white kittens.

Oh, no, we’re not.

Here’s where my fear of destiny screwed me. My daughter asked the bad lady who was telling her that little kittens’ scent would keep rats away what their names were.

I ended up taking those stinky, useless kittens home.

They were News and Paper.

link to photos

The pregnant teen-ager story

March 10, 2013

On my way to work at the paper I always listened to a morning radio show. One morning, in order to win tickets to a concert, a 14-year-old girl pulled a prank on her mom. She called her at work, live on the radio, and told her she was pregnant.

I got to work trying to compose myself, and inter-office messaged my girlfriend across the newsroom to meet me for coffee after my first batch of stories was edited.

I cried anew telling her about the mom’s response. She was calm. Her first words were, “It’s going to be OK, sweetie. I’m here for you. We’ll get through this together. No matter what we decide to do, it’s going to be OK.”

The child was trying to get a more dramatic reaction, and she upped the hysteria, “I wanted to go to college, and now this ruins everything. I’m so scared. I’m so sorry.”

She was quite an actress. The mother was all calmness, support and love. I was all quivering lower lip on the freeway.

About five years later my girlfriend interoffice messaged me to meet her for coffee. Her 14-year-old daughter had just discovered she was pregnant.

She told me she doesn’t know how she would have made it through that moment if I hadn’t fed her the words. Like a robot she recited: It’s going to be OK. I’m here for you. We’ll get through this together.

She held me and cried. She thanked me, as if I had done something other than cry on her shoulder in the cafeteria.

It’s five years later and my daughter is 14. If she gets pregnant I’ll kill her.

Copy editor miss

March 6, 2013

During my last week at the paper in Boulder, heads had to roll.

A factbox that put Roger Ebert’s review in a nutshell announced the movie ‘Fools Rush In’ was rated PG-13.

It should have proceded to explain that there was some sexual content.

Instead it explained that the movie contained ‘some sexual contentment.’

I hadn’t worked that night. You can check my schedule.

Copy editor catch

February 19, 2013

In Boulder we ran a factbox in the sports section called ‘How the Women Fared.’ It had basketball scores.

My eyes were usually the last ones on the paper before they went to print, because I hand carried the pasted-up page to the camera.

Last-minute items like sport scores are always typed in a rush. We have to get this stuff done in time to get it printed in time to get it delivered by sunrise, but games run late and throw us in all into a panic. Elections do the same thing.

So you can imagine how easy it would be to hit that ‘T’ next to the ‘R’ and type ‘How the Women Farted.’

It’s great to save the day.


January 22, 2013 is reporting a new district attorney in Boulder is looking into the JonBenet Ramsey murder.

That murder is the reason we left Boulder.

When I was a single college student, I lived with a girlfriend in the front half of an unimposing duplex near the university. It was a flat box of a house with no personality. After I moved in, I walked over to the most impressive house on the block, took a picture, and mailed it home to California with a note saying, ‘Here’s my new place.’ It was the Ramsey house.

As a newlywed a year later, I bought my first house across the street from the Ramsey’s block. In the five years I lived in the neighborhood, I never met the Ramseys.

By 1996 I was working in the newsroom at the local paper. My parents and grandparents had come visiting for the holidays. Even on Christmas night I had to work, but I got to clock in later than usual — 9 p.m. instead of 7.

I invited my family to drive me to work, using the opportunity to drive around looking at Christmas lights. The last house I took them to see before they dropped me at work was the Ramsey home.

‘Recognize this one?’ I teased. It was about 8:58 p.m.

The murder was a big story in Boulder. It was hard to work, because every night someone was in my way — Geraldo Rivera, ABC Atlanta, Dateline, they were all in the newsroom at some point. One night I came in and Katie Couric was being filmed sitting on my desk.

There was chaos. Officers were alluding to knowledge. One reporter hung up and rolled her eyes next to me, “He said ‘I don’t want to say we have a suspect, but there were no footprints in the snow.’ ”

The paper ran with it, only to run a clarification that there was no snow on the whole south yard, which is where the broken window to the basement was.

Meanwhile, there was “a killer on the loose.” We saw it on TV. Patty said it in her first interview on CNN. “If I were a resident of Boulder, I would tell my friends to keep your babies close to you, there’s someone out there.”

Wait a minute. I was a Boulder resident. I had babies.

I was up checking on them throughout the night. The last time JonBenet was seen alive was an hour after we went by, when her mother tucked her in bed. On the nights I was home to do that, I couldn’t put that thought aside. I fought that, because I could see I was missing the tucking with all the imagining.

I couldn’t escape it. The paper more than covered this story. We smothered ourselves with it.

I had to get away. My last day at work in Boulder was eight months after the murder. Dateline NBC cameramen were in the newsroom.


How we met

January 19, 2013

I just drove my husband to the airport. The first time I laid eyes on him was in an airport.

Several Rainforest Action Groups from around the country were going to Hawaii for a protest. I was going as a newspaper reporter.

It was morning, almost 22 years ago, when I lay over a waiting chair at SFO listening to a bunch a hippies panic that their friend — the responsible one — wasn’t anywhere to be found.

I hoped he wouldn’t show, because we were on the same flight and I had a friend with a standby ticket.

At the last minute, a boy in a dress shirt and slacks with great need of a haircut came running into the gate, rugby duffel bag flying from his shoulder. His eyes were almost turquoise. I licked my lips. Then I got on the plane and slept for six hours.

In Honolulu we had to change planes before proceeding to the Big Island. To do this, we rode a tram across the airport. I hung back and watched the late but responsible friend interact with the hippies. He was attentive to everyone. He smiled when he talked. He seemed to be their leader.

I was thinking, he fits the description an interviewee gave me when I did a story on astrology a week ago. If there’s anything to it, he’s an Aries. I didn’t think there was anything to it, but I walked across the tram to where he was standing, (he had given a lady his seat,) and asked him if he was.

He was.

Then I took a shot at dumb luck. I put on my confident face and announced his birthday. Who knew my luck was so dumb? I hit it dead on.

Because I hoped he would follow me, I refused to tell him how I knew. I just walked away.

It worked.

link to photos

The earthquake

January 9, 2013

I live in Southern California. Last night we had a lengthy earthquake, and both of my children were somewhere else. It was a small quake — initially reported as a 5, then downgraded to  4.5 — but still the phone lines were clogged for a few minutes. Because of this realization, I was more afraid after the quake than during.

Naturally, I have an earthquake story.

It was October 17, 1989, and I had just been named the news editor of my college newspaper in Los Altos Hills, which is just south of San Francisco.

I was in a happy bubble as I drove home through the old-fashioned downtown at 5 o’clock. There were mom-and-pop shops with picture windows on both sides of the little streets. Knick knacks, ice cream, records — Los Altos is great for shopping.

Stop signs keep the cars moving slowly through the area, but the tailgating guy behind me was impatient. He would move to the side, as if to see if he could go around me. I remember I thought, ‘I’m a real journalist now. You can’t spoil my mood.’ But I knew he was angry.

At the third stop sign, I felt the car start to idle hard. This wasn’t unusual. Then it bucked a little, and I thought, ‘That guy got out of his car and started jumping on my bumper!’

As I turned around to scowl at him, I heard, ‘Get away from the windows!’ A woman ran out of a store into the street and stopped in front of me, holding her pre-teen daughter protectively under hunched shoulders. That’s the image I hold the strongest. That woman trying to shelter her daughter in panic.

I panicked too, trying to think if I had ever heard something like, turn off the engine or your car will explode; or roll down the windows or they’ll shatter. I thought it was The Big One I’d been advised to handle my whole life, and I couldn’t remember any of the advice. I shut off the engine and rolled down the windows.

I was one block from the intersection at the expressway, and I saw the asphalt there roll like an ocean wave, toppling the red-light signal as it changed to green and flickered out.

I had to drive around the downed signal to head into the mountains going home. That made me cry, but I didn’t understand why. I cried all the way home.

When I got there, I went directly to my phone — stepping over a bookcase, tapes, my little face-down TV — and called my parents. I was surprsied to get an open line. I kept my message brief because I knew the line would clog: I’m OK; I’ll call you tomorrow.

Then I called my paper’s managing editor. I was a journalist after all. ‘Mike, you’ll never guess what happened to me on the way home from your house! I’m heading to the campus.’

Mike argued with me, but I was a real journalist.

Finally he said, ‘Hey.’


‘Take your camera.’

It was a darn good thing he said that.

I interviewed and photographed students sitting on knolls, riding out the aftershocks removed from the danger of buildings. I captured the aisles of the library, piled feet high with books. I got some rubble that had been a chimney.

And then the sun went down.

I had never been in darkness so total. If I hadn’t had that camera, I don’t know how I would have found my car. I made the flash go off and took a step. I went flash-step all the way to my car. I must have been the last one on campus.

As I had expected, the phone was out by the time I got home. The couple whose basement I lived in lent me a lantern. They had a transister radio going upstairs, where they listened in silence as they swept up the remains of all their colored-sand art jars.

We learned it was a 7.1.

School resumed a few days later when the power came back, but on Oct. 18 the dedicated staff met unsummoned in the newsroom. We pulled out manual typewriters to put together a special edition.

Everybody wanted to tell his earthquake story. They probably still do. Me too, apparently.

The doctor’s obituary

December 15, 2012

This may be my last editing-obituaries story.

I was reading an obit one night, and I noticed that “Mr.” Soandso had worked as a physician for 38 years. He held a medical degree from UCLA, and had done a pre-med program at Georgetown.

I called the widow to clarify.

“Mrs. Soandso, it’s our custom to refer to the deceased as ‘Dr. Soandso’ when he had an M.D. and practiced medicine, but the reporter — who knows this — didn’t use it. Were there circumstances I’m not seeing?”

“I’ll tell you the circumstances!” I had to hold the phone away. “That son of a bitch made every boyfriend our daughter brought home call him Doctor. Every one of my friends from work had to call him Doctor. Our damn grocer called him Mister once, and got a curt correction.

“He was a pompous son of a bitch. I spent 38 years embarrassed to death.

“Don’t you dare put ‘Dr. Soandso’ on his obituary. I’m having my revenge, and you’re not spoiling it.”

Mr. Son-of-a-Bitch it is.

Never do this

December 8, 2012

When I was editing obituaries, I used to have to sit with the original form submitted by the family, and make sure everything in the story matched what was written in pen by the bereaved.

It was an extra big deal to make sure obituaries were accurate. To this end, I had to call survivors, even on anything the family itself may have written wrong.

One night I was doing the math to make sure the birth and death dates made the lady 90, when I realized both dates were the same, but with different years. If she was 90, it was only for a few hours.

It would be an easy mistake for a grieving son to write the death date on both lines absent-mindedly.

The family said, “Yep. It was her 90th birthday.”

Oh no. “Were you with her?” It was OK for me to be nosy. At least, I always told myself that.

“Yes, she died at her birthday party.”

I scanned the form. She died of a heart attack.

Good Lord, they couldn’t be that stupid.

I had to ask. “Was it a surprise party?”

I’m of a firm mind it’s wrong to startle the tar out of old people.

He hung up on me, which was fortunate, because I was crass enough to fall into a fit of laughter.


The dinner party surprise

December 7, 2012

There was a guy who came to work at the Daily Camera when I was there. We hit it off right away.

After he was there a couple of weeks he came over to my desk.

“I’m not coming on to you.” For the record, this is never a good thing to say to me, because it makes me wonder why the hell not. “But I gotta tell you that you feel familiar to me. I feel like you’ve been my best friend for years. It’s weird.”

We became great friends. He got along with my husband. We shared a lot of laughter, and when he met the girl for him, I gave him advice behind the scenes.

One night they came over for a dinner evening. We thought it would be fun to make it a formal event.

I cleaned and decorated. I made a tremendous meal. I fixed up a beautiful table.

But when we were having wine and conversation in the library, my 4-year-old son came in and stood near the center of the visiting.

“I think I found a clue,” he announced.

He was looking down at the center of my Oriental rug.

There was a big dead mouse there that none of us had noticed. It had cat-teeth punctures in its side.

Scott made a face of considering. He nodded, “No, buddy, I think you’ve solved this one.”

That was it. The playing grown-up had cracked. We burst into laughter, and in my gown and rhinestones, I scooped up the mouse and burped.

The Christmas thief story

November 24, 2012

Last night I watched the Lewis Black special on surviving the holidays. People talked about believing in Santa Claus, and it reminded me of a call I once got.

The newsroom phone had been ringing, and no one was around, so I answered it. It was a news tip call. The rule on these was the receiver had to type the tip into the computer on the Newstips document.

The caller was an old man. His news tip was a Christmas memory. I knew they wouldn’t use it, but I set to typing his story.

When he was a little boy in New York, his family was poor. They lived in a tenament apartment on the third floor, and he went to sleep Christmas Eve with only a couple of gifts under the tree — nothing big enough to be the train set he wanted.

It was a one-bedroom pad, so he slept on the living room couch.

He woke up as a man in Santa garb clambered through the window.

He watched the man crouch under the tree and reach for the two sorry packages under the unadorned limbs.

“What are you doing, Santa?”

The man swore.  He hadn’t noticed the child on the couch. “Just making the rounds.”

The little boy began to cry. “I didn’t think you were going to remember us. I’m so happy you came.”

“Tell Santa what you want for Christmas.” Softie.

The burglar rummaged through his booty for a train set and left it under the tree before going back through the window with another curse.

The caller said his parents were thoroughly confused the next day when he pulled the set out of its box.

He told me a string of burglaries was later reported on the news. Among the items reported stolen was an expensive train set.

I feigned outrage. “You’re reporting this NOW?”

Another punny headline

November 11, 2012

This post is by request. Be careful, Unca Rob. I have a million of these.

I once edited a story about a rodeo program for beginners.

It provided participants’ guidance on a bull — actually, they started on sheep — learning how to stay in the saddle.

My headline: The buck starts here.

The Superman speech

November 6, 2012

Today I was a guest speaker at a high school. The 11th grade English students came, three classes at a time, to hear me talk about my job.

I gave basically the same assembly five times in a row.

It’s my Superman speech.

I showed up in boots, cape and chest S to tell them being a journalist is the same as being Superman, because journalists protect truth, justice and the American way.

Here is an abridged and non-interactive version of the Superman speech.

Truth is king. A good journalist makes sure every point made in print can be substantiated. We look up what we can. We cite our sources. We don’t say ‘Lance robbed a bank.’ We say ‘Police suspect Lance robbed a bank.’ This is based in the superheroic service to the public’s right to know what’s going on.

Justice is always a consideration. We must present both sides of any issue with balance and sensitivity. We must weigh the benefit of reporting something against how invasive it is to the subject and his family.

The American way is my favorite. Look at the Bill of Rights. Exclude the right to a free press, and consider that everything else is guaranteed by the presence of the media. I contend that every freedom we enjoy as Americans is thanks to the watchdog industry I’m a proud part of.

Serving the public’s right to know, offering a forum for ideas and opinions, and tattling on people with power make us each Superman.

I’m just waiting for the day I hear ‘Look! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s an editor!’

More headlines

October 25, 2012

I wrote the other day about how headline-writing can be difficult when a story begs a punchline.

Copy editors are told to resist them. Sometimes we don’t resist them.

I remember Wes‘ editing a story about some people who didn’t want a hot dog restaurant in their neighborhood. I saw him chuckling next to me.

He was typing ‘Neighborhood fears the wurst.’

In Chicago, when O.J. wrote his first book, “I Want to Tell You,” a Tribune editor breached ethics and wrote “O.J. takes a stab at writing.”

I once edited a story about a library literacy program that was merging with Alcoholics Anonymous. I did not write ‘Gin and phonics.’

And for a story about the annual rodeo’s being canceled, because the middle school built an audio/visual center in the lot the city used, I did not write ‘Video killed the rodeo star.’

On my last of work as a copy editor at The Press, I edited a story about a guy who ran what he called ‘The Disneyland of cemeteries.’ He had little concrete forest creatures,  benches, wishing wells. There was even merry music piped about.

My final headline before I turned in my key to the newsroom for a five-year stint as a stay-at-home mom: The happiest place in earth.

I couldn’t resist.


October 19, 2012

My friend Kevin from Boulder sent me this e-mail after my post about Peter Bonerz. It appears to be the cover of a sports section from June of 2001 in the Orange County Register.

It’s about Angels player Bartolo Colon.

The headline reads “Colon takes another pounding.”

I rooted around and learned they did it again in 2004, using the word ‘absorbs’ instead of ‘takes,’ and WSOC TV ran this 2007 teaser: Royals to get a taste of Angels’ Colon.

As a headline writer, I know how hard it is to put the gist of a story into a short sentence with landmines like double-entendre names.

We used to have a local politician in Boulder name of Hyman. He was busted one night in the back seat with a prostitute.

I tried not to write a funny headline. We all tried.

The disc jockey in the sky

October 16, 2012

This morning I was listening to my iPod, which I have named iCaramba, and singing along with Question by The Moody Blues.

Parts of this song go right under my crusty exterior and force tears. I can’t prevent it.

On the plane ride home from Hawaii, ending the week of getting to know the love of my life, I plugged my rubber headphones into the armrest to discover an in-flight Moody Blues marathon.

I am the biggest Moody Blues fan you ever heard of. This was clearly some kind of supernatural message.

I closed my eyes, smiled and listened. When the chorus came —

I’m looking for someone to change my life.
I’m looking for a miracle in my life.
And if you could see what it’s done to me
To lose the the love I knew
Could safely lead me to
The land that I once knew.
To learn as we grow old
The secrets of our souls.


— I was a goner. To this day, I’m a goner.

But that’s not the story I’m here to tell. That’s just what brought it to mind.

There was a copy editor at The Press who had been there 50 years. She took her job seriously, and, like me, was proud of what we did. She was in her 70s.

We were close.

One summer day there was a posting for employees. Helen’s daughter died unexpectedly while on vacation in Hawaii. She was 50.

Lots of us went to the funeral.

Helen’s surviving daughter gave the eulogy. She had received a postcard from Hawaii the morning of the service. It said, “It’s so beautiful. I never want to leave.”

She said when they were little girls they would sing “Sisters,” the Rosemary ClooneyVera Ellen duet from the movie “White Christmas.” That was their song.

They were close.

She broke down as she described flying to Hawaii to collect the body.

And putting the armrest headphones in her ear.

And hearing “Sisters.”

These parents have balls

October 14, 2012

I’m spending a lot of time commuting in my new job.

In fact, I’ve spent so many hours in my car, I’m tired of every song in the world.

I have also had enough of news radio.

So I piled up all the gift certificates I got for my birthday and bought ’70s TV series on DVD. Now the hours fly by as I listen to episodes of Taxi, The Muppet Show and Mary Tyler Moore.

Today I was stopped in traffic for more than an hour. I reclined my seat and watched two offerings of The Bob Newhart Show.

As it turns out, I was missing the funniest part. During the end credits, they show the cast members with their names across the screen.

The orthodonist, Jerry Robinson, is played by Peter Bonerz.

I’m loving that some lady was pregnant, and said, “What do you think, honey? What first name goes nicely with Bonerz?”

Hmmm. What would be the perfect thing to call their family’s newest member?

Augie cracks me up again

October 8, 2012

I had lunch with my old boss Augie yesterday.

I asked if he keeps in touch with Shawna, whom we called, ‘Shawna Doyawanna?’

Yes, he said. She’s got it bad.

“What’s wrong?” She’s in her 40s.

“Shawna says her body’s revolting. I told her, it sure is.”

I panicked

September 11, 2012

Just as I said about being in a big earthquake, everybody’s got a Sept. 11 experience to share. Mine is embarrassing.

I woke up that morning when my husband came in the bedroom and turned the news on.

He said, “This is it. This is war. The shit’s hitting the fan.”

But I heard, “This is the day we’re going to have that nuclear war you’ve worried about your whole life.”

This is a terrible way to wake up.

I looked at the screen and started firing questions. The second plane had just hit the second tower. My Adrenalin was rushing, and I couldn’t process the information.

I climbed out of bed to see the TV better, and Jim Miklashevski said with a tremble, “I don’t want to alarm anyone, but we just felt and heard what seemed like an explosion at the Pentagon.”

That was the turning point for me. I thought bombs were dropping, leadership would be wiped out, and we’d be living the end verse of Nena’s 99 Luftballons.

I had two lucid thoughts: I regretted having children, and my bowels were turning to water.

I started to beg my husband to stay home. He raised his eyebrows and told me no as he knotted his necktie.

It was the second day of school. My kids were in first and third grade. My husband’s students were freshmen.

He put a cassette in the VCR, hit record and left. The children were just getting up.

This was bad. I was panicking, no one was helping me and I was in charge of people.

Let me back up a day, to explain my son’s state of mind.

On the playground after school he scaled the top of the new tube slide. The new principal, who was scary and mean, scolded him. He scowled and defended himself.

I told him that we were going to school early the next morning so he could go in her office and apologize for being disrespectful. He was so nervous about this his stomach was sick.

My daughter, as always, was just chill.

I took them to school and called in at work. They were not pleased. I worked in a newsroom, after all.

I went to Mama’s house. Nana showed up too. After about an hour I couldn’t stand it; I pulled my children out of school. I figured if it was our last day alive, we were going to spend it together, laughing. We got ice cream and rented Back to the Future.

I was so stressed out, I was wishing I had what I used to consider real trouble — money, kids, conflicting obligations. I told my mom, “I would give anything to have my old problems back.”

It took me months to come down from the panic. I was at the top of the short list for counseling at work.

I learned about nukes and international relations and terrorism. I learned how ignorant I was. Ignorance isn’t bliss; it’s fright.

I let my son wait a week before apologizing to his principal, who was a bitch about it.

It was a horrible time all around.

Another copy editor miss that wasn’t my fault

September 2, 2012

When we put a newspaper page together, we rarely have all the pieces. Photos, headlines, captions and even stories can still be in the production process while the page is built.

Page designers fill these spots with place holders. For photos this is easy. You need to know only whether you’ll be using a vertical or a horizontal photo.

Under there you write something like “Caption goes here. Caption goes here. Caption goes here and blah blah for three lines.”

I gave you this journalism lesson to explain why when I started working at the Daily Camera, I found the following clipping taped to my desk, left by my predecessor:

“Correction: The headline ‘Abby needs head’ was erroneous….”

Photographer sass

August 7, 2012

This week I started a new job — I’m done with subbing! — as a section editor for a newspaper group.

The publisher requested I write a column introducing myself, to run this weekend.

I knew what was coming next.

Sure enough, this afternoon I was instructed to go into the photography department and have a mug shot taken to run with my column. Grumble grumble grumble.

I called there, “Hey I’ve been ordered to get a mug.”

“Come on back. We’ll do it right now.”

“I was told you had people who would do my hair and face, lend me some clothes.” I am sassy.

“Sure,” he said, real cool. “Just come through editorial and go through the door marked ‘spa’.”

Sassy, quick and funny. I’m gonna like it here.

Lee Iacocca

July 27, 2012

I just got an e-mail from my neighbor at our other house. He sends me lots of political forwards. He is a conservative Republican.

This e-mail is an excerpt from Lee Iacocca’s book, “Where Have All the Leaders Gone?” It was a rant against the Bush administration, without naming names, but addressing Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina and the American soldiers in Iraq. Then out of nowhere it says, “Obama is running the biggest deficit in our country’s history.”

Well that was incongruous. I checked it out on Snopes. They said the rant is accurately credited until you get to the Obama part, which someone added and forwarded.

Nothing thrills a copy editor more than a catch, you know.

…And having a Lee-Iacocca story, which I do.

My news editor at the Boulder paper told it to me.

She said when he took over as the head of Chrysler, he gave each employee a lapel pin. The next day, he called a meeting and had the staff line up shoulder to shoulder for some class of drill down. Everybody wore his pin but one guy.

Iacocca looked down his nose at the pinless man, and asked threateningly, “Where is your pin, Sir?”

“It must still be on my pajamas.”