Another election comes to us on the back of several years of worsening polarization of our political parties. Suddenly we have more republican candidates than we know what to do with, but with luck maybe the republican voters can figure it out. Because of the bad feelings on both sides of the aisle there has been a huge amount of media attention as the primaries approach.
In times like these the media come in for a lot of criticism, both sides blaming the other side for untruths, exaggerations and raw opinion, each side also defending itself against all charges. Of course I agree with all this and pat myself on the back for my own moral purity, but advancing years have the uncomfortable capacity of awakening a person to some of the weaknesses in her own character, and I am reminded of my own newspaper career back in 1953.
We lived in a garden apartment in San Jose where Harry taught at Lincoln High. We had very little furniture and a new baby who cried all the time, a five-year old who went to kindergarten in the afternoon. Nothing to do in between feedings but read or push the baby to the drugstore for a coke and some idle conversation with non-friends. A lonely existence and yet I had studied journalism at the university and should have been eligible for a decent job, a simple enough solution to my problem that I found impossible to carry out.
I haven’t thought till now of how unrealistic I was in my approach to the future. I should mention that at this time California was at the cusp of a population boom, Silicon Valley still a few years away, but builders worked hard and fast at tearing down the fine and fragrant orchards of the Santa Clara Valley so that that spring of 1953, I believe, hosted the last Blossom Tour of the area. Small postwar ranch houses exploded in suburban development featuring pretty streets and charming cul de sacs. Looking down at the developments from the highways all one could see after the sign of say “Walnut Creek Home of 50,000 people by 1954. If you lived here you would be home by now,”would have been the depressing sight of similar roof tops filling the distance below.
Here let me introduce Vince Wahlsburg, creator of the one Shopper in the suburb known as Cambrian Park. Vince was a stocky, messy sort of guy who lived within walking distance of our house with his wife and three school aged children. He and his Shopper would have been the envy of the entrepeneur crowd. The sheet came out more than once a week. Vince really scrambled to get it out and it was no easy task. He sold the ads, did the lay out, thn s typed it in his Vari-typer, had it printed and delivered it door to door.
How could my expectations have been so low? I began to dream of a career in journalism based on the success (much of which would be mine) of this Shopper. Move over San Jose Mercury. For weeks I studied the Shopper, dreamed of being a part of it, thought about how I could work on it, called Vince at last and offered to work for him for either nothing or five dollars a week. I could put that five dollars a week on my revolving Macy’s account, which was so hard for me to pay secretly out of the grocery money. And I spun my dream out of sight to show Harry how I wanted to help. He still didn’t have a regular job, but was a long term substitute for a woman who had cancer.
So many things were going on at that time. The information revolution was just around the corner and giant computers were already functionig at certain universities, but the vari-typer, precursor of a slight advance on the typwriter was cutting edge at this time. It’s advantage was that it came with several removable fonts of type in different sizes so that you could type out an ad or announement or whatever right in your own home. Vince taught me the technique on my first day at work.
I can’t begin to tell the joy I felt that first afternoon when I sent David off to kindergarten, packed Charles in his buggy and set out for Vince’s house, where I put a blanket of the floor for Charles and set up next to him to type. At first I simply took charge of classified ads. As you can imagine, in an all-new culture like Cambrian Park there were many needs going unmet and these classified ads were filling them. But it was too easy. I didn’t have to spend much time at the house at all, but found myself perfectly able to be home in time for David to get back from school. Besides it was a little bit boring, and I complained to Vince that our paper did not offer anything beyond mere commercial interest. Go ahead, Vince said. Liven it up.
Back in Idaho there was a little local news-sheet that detailed the social doings up at McCall. Items like who had celebrated fifty years of marriage, who the guests were, bridge parties and ladies lunches. That, I believed , would be a good model for our paper. A few phone calls brough in some news, but not enough. People were busy getting settled in this brand new place. I saw that it would be necessary to expand the coverage, and I found it pleasant, even amusingly creative about making up an item.
Let me give an example:
Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Jones celebrated their fiftieth at an anniversary party at their home on cherry Picker Lane on sept.9 . All five of the couple’s children were present for the repeated ritual of wedding vows, as were their several grandchildren and old friends who drove from Seattle for the occasion.Mrs Jones wore a powder blue dress with a lace collar crocheted by her mother. Guests were treated to refreshments from the Swedish Bakery.
More people called with their personal news after I began printing the false items and no one ever caught on that so much of it was false information. People finally began looking forward to their shopper for more than just grocery sales, but we were in store for a denouement that cut off my journalism career in midstream, so to speak.
Vince paidme regularly for a while but at some point he began not giving me any money and none of my complaints was effective in getting him to give me some. This failure of his, of course, led to my failure at paying my Macy’s bill. I asked nicely a few times for my weekly five dollars bu he never gave it to me. And then one day I got a threatening letter from Macy’s. Reading Dickens had given me all the information about debtors’ prison that I needed, and I carried on vociferously until Vince kicked me out. I had to confess to Harry what I had done. Our next door neighbor lawyer, Lee Diel, came over to help me out to help me out, and we took my claim to Small Claims Court.
Vince was prepared to met my challenge. When the judge told Vince that he would have to pay me, said “I’ll pay her when she gives me back my piece of vari-type, the q, that she stole.
Now it was a matter whom believe. I didn’t take it, I said. And Vince answered, Prove it.
So Vince was a crook too. I wonder what has become of him. I wnder if, like me, he has given up a life of crime. I, for one, found it didn’t pay, and when I read reports of the election process in New Hampshire I think of us as a lucky people indeed. I am very grateful for our watchdog brothers and sisers of the press and I will never sell them short again.