This year marks my 30th year at writing stories for a newspaper, 25 of them for this company. It had a different name when I started. I can’t remember what it was, and it’s changed hands a number of times since.

I’ve had more editors than I can remember. Editors seem to come and go and still I’m here. Where do they go, I wonder? I’ve asked the ones still around, and they don’t seem to know. They just went to other papers I suppose. I can’t remember their names, and I’m sure they can’t remember me. They passed by me like smoke every day I was there.

The one I’ve got now wasn’t born when I started writing, but he seems to like me and is good at correcting my errors without wagging his finger at me.

Probably most of the others really wanted to be writers and became disenchanted and took up other lines of work. They might have gone to medical school and have become brain surgeons. Twenty-five years is a long time. You can become a pretty good brain surgeon in that time. It’s possible.

Probably most of the others really wanted to be writers and became disenchanted and took up other lines of work. They might have gone to medical school and have become brain surgeons. Twenty-five years is a long time. You can become a pretty good brain surgeon in that time. It’s possible.

It’s important for a writer to have had many jobs in life. Zane Grey, who was probably the greatest western writer of all time, was once a dentist. He sold his first book at the age of 40 and was able to give up drilling teeth.

The great Langston Hughes worked as a busboy in a hotel, Jack London was an oyster pirate, whatever that is, and Harper Lee, who wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird,” was an airline ticket agent. Kurt Vonnegut sold cars, and J.K. Rowling taught English as a foreign language before Harry appeared to her.

I guess that bodes well for my future, limited as it is. Because I loved clothes and had no money, I had more after school jobs than anyone in my family, and I had no experience to bring to any of them. I dressed windows and display centers, setting up furniture displays in department stores.

My favorite brother, a cop, got me a job as a police clerk for the St. Louis Police Department, where I watched the human comedy and tragedy of life unfold. There, one night, I checked in a high school friend whose throat had been cut. He lived. I watched cops try to save the life of a small boy who swallowed a lollipop. They failed. Cops tell great stories. I can’t remember their names, but I remember those stories.

I had a paper box and route when I was eleven, and had a lot of fun as a copy boy for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in a newsroom full of smoke from cigarettes, pipes and cigars and the familiar smell of whiskey.

I freelanced for the Los Angeles Times, where a guard checked you for weapons before entering the building. After high school when my future was a blank piece of paper, I made plastic feet in a shoe factory, where I had lunch each day out of a brown paper bag on a loading dock with old men who told me hundreds of stories about the Great Depression and “The Great War.” I can’t remember their faces, but I remember the stories.

My other brother got me a job as a fireman on a diesel engine. That’s the easiest job in the world. You simply sit looking out the window and try to keep people from walking into the train. The engineer was a happy drunk who knew all the words to just one song, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” and finished an entire bottle on the run from Waukegan, Ill., to Gary, Ind., at full throttle.

I’ve been a reservation clerk at the Waldorf Astoria in New York and a date for debutantes who couldn’t get one for the ball.

Now, near the end of my sidewalk, I’m a cook and live-in housekeeper for a famous teacher. It’s almost easier than keeping people from walking into trains.

 

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