January 9, 2023

Tales from the attic: Getting started in journalism

Sam Smith - My family newspaper came out at least 20 times during my 13th and 14th year. It underwent several name and layout changes, the earliest editions being handwritten and the later ones typed in red and black ink. They shared a taste for bad jokes, awkward emulation of adult journalistic styles, and evidence of an editor uncertain whether to put away childish things.

I also demonstrated an early willingness to take on the establishment - including my mother who was showing a disturbing interest in health foods and Gaylord Hauser. An editorial in the Weekly News argued:

In the first place to "live longer" you have to drink yogart. Well that's an "untruth." How can you know that you'll live longer than you're meant to live, if you don't know how long you'd live without the yogart. And you don't.

I've watched this wheat germ business. The theory is to have a breakfast or any meal consisting of toast and eggs let's say. Well you're meant to pile wheat germ on the eggs so they can't be seen. Then you slowly eat the wheat germ, germ by germ, until you get down to the egg. By that time the egg is cold so you don't eat it. Can you tell me what good that egg was in the first place?

There was news from the basement:

The fare boost requested by the PVRR was granted today by the PUC of Amiga. Both the Brotherhood of Model Switchmen and the Model Train Union were also for this move . . . Service is off between Pokono City and Granston because of a defective switch.

And pet crusades:

It is my belief that all the reports of flying saucers can be contributed to these five sources: 1) hoaxes, 2) imagination, 3) weather equipment, 4) experimental rockets and 5) interplantary travel. There are other sources I shall discuss at a later date. This is only an introduction to a series of articles I intend to write proving to you that THE FLYING SAUCERS ARE REAL.

Not to mention direct confrontation with parental authority:

[I] said this week that if anybody asked that familiar question, "How's your room?' he would refer them to what he called the "best judge," the questioner's eyes. He said that if persons who had authority wished him to straighten the room that person should leave a notice to that effect either on his bed or in his box and he would attend to the affair at the earliest possible moment. He also said that persons wanting to take notice of the state of his room should take such notice between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm. Any persons looking at the room at any other time must realize that work is done in the room between the hours of 3 pm and 10:30 pm.

There were even weightier matters. At 14 I wrote a one and half page essay on the H-bomb: "It can only be used for evil." And overpopulation: "There will come a point where the earth can no longer supply our needs. Then ours will be a slow, starving death in contrast to the sharp blade of the H bomb." I toyed with the Malthusian possibility of the bomb as a "check on the ever-growing population of the world" but concluded

Who would advocate such control? It seems more feasible that the solution would be migration off this planet. The big question would be whether or not we could find a planet to which we could adapt.

Whatever the answer, it will have to be found within the next 50 years because our tiny planet will not be able to contain the destructive forces of men at the rate they are now going.

Mine was a room for all young seasons. It was also a place where I felt safe. I was finding the world not as comfortable as I had hoped. Increasingly, a lot of it scared me. I had come to understand that life required that you follow an extraordinary number of rules and if you slipped up, you would be embarrassed or scolded. Worse, you would have "failed." And if you were among your peers, you would be ridiculed as well.

There were times when just being in a certain place would bring a cold sweat and dizziness. Like church. I would imagine every person in the sanctuary was watching me to make sure I did the right thing. It wasn't God I was afraid of. God, I decided early on, was a pretty decent guy or he wouldn't have had a son as nice as Jesus. Besides, God and Jesus talked a lot about forgiveness and love and receiving sinners.

But God's people, gathered with such unwavering, unforgiving aplomb seemed totally unforgiving, benches of hanging judges ready to pronounce a wayward boy guilty.

Thus it was with dismay that I learned that the meddlesome, fawning minister of another church my family sometimes attended had written my mother suggesting it was time that I joined the service of the Lord as an acolyte. It would be, he suggested, "spiritually beneficial," adding that "I am quite convinced that to breathe the atmosphere of the sanctuary at such services does something for the boy he cannot receive otherwise."

There was nothing to be done. You didn't argue about such matters. In my mind, I was prepared to tough it out, but my body rebelled, and I periodically would react to breathing the atmosphere of the sanctuary by becoming faint or ill to my stomach, interrupting the service as I retired as quickly and discreetly as one could bedizened in a black and white raiment. I had done what I feared most, shown myself a failure in the eyes of God's people. After a while, even the minister gave up on me.

As I grew older I became less terrified, though I sometimes still find my hands shaking and my mind slaloming through space as I stand to sing hymns during occasional church visits or during an otherwise innocuous public rituals that trigger memory of those early Sunday mornings.

I tried to deal with my Episcophobia pragmatically. I learned that it was well worth attending church on the first and third Sundays of the month -- which featured the shorter morning prayer service -- in order to add argument to why I didn't feel well enough to go on the second and fourth Sunday for the tedious communion ritual. I became an expert on the small type in the back of the prayer book which contained liturgical ephemera far more interesting than what was going on at the altar. It was here that I discovered the Episcopalian sin of supererogation: doing more good works than God demands of you. I also discovered how to stare at the minister devoutly while dreaming of something magical and fun.

And then, finally,

The lord bless you, the lord make his face to shine upon you.

Amen! Sunday lunch at last.


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