Some voice mail just begs to be returned. "This is Robin Yocum," the message said. "Call me. I’m writing a book, and you’re quoted in it, and I want to run the quotes by you."
OK, I’m calling you back.
Rob’s a voice from my past; he and I toiled together back at the Dispatch many years ago, when I wore Candie’s and he wore a silver disco belt. The book’s a memoir about his time as a police reporter, and evidently I’m a minor supporting character who contributes wry observations on two occasions. Actually, after hearing the quotes, I don’t know if "wry" is quite the word, but it’s clearly what I was reaching for at the time, all of 24 years old. The working title is "Cop Shop Confidential," and he even has a publisher. I’m impressed, but then, Robin’s already been published; he and his reporting partner wrote a true-crime book about the Just Sweats insurance-fraud case, which you probably don’t remember, but it was bizarre enough to warrant a longish piece in Vanity Fair once upon a time.
I wondered what the hell I’d said 20 years ago that had prompted Rob to make a note of it. It comes in a section about Ned Stout, who was an assistant city editor, now deceased, one of those great newspaper characters that have been pretty much rubbed entirely out of the business. Ned had this resonant, Shakespearean voice and a vocabulary to match, and loved to harangue young reporters with both. Unfortunately, he was also a gone-around-the-bend alcoholic, and while this added to his persona, it certainly played a part in killing him before his time.
Ned always worked Saturday night, the most hated shift of the week (except for Sunday); the paper’s done and there’s nothing to do but wait for a cop-shop apocalypse, which rarely happened before 10 p.m. anyway. He took his dinner break at the bar across the street, where he’d drink four "ice waters" and come back with a gleam in his eye. His favorite thing was to send you out on wild goose chases off the police scanner, except when he kept you in the office to torture you. He once made my friend Ted call a couple at the scene of a domestic-dispute call; he jotted down the address, criss-crossed it and found the phone number, then ordered Ted to find out what they were fighting about.
The thing was, the call came before the cops arrived. "Imagine you’re one of the parties in this thing, and the phone rings in the middle of your argument," Ted said later. "You pick up the phone and hear someone say, ‘This is the Dispatch. Why are you fighting?’" When I worked with him, he’d drum the desk and chant, "Come on, grass fire!" Once he went to the bathroom and I heard a report of shots fired at a wedding reception on the redneck south side of town. I looked at the clock, and it was 15 minutes to quitting time. I weighed the chance of a pretty good story with tremendous photo possibilities — I could just see the bride in her white dress, tattoos peeking out of her neckline, sobbing while the ambulance lights raked across the chaos of her special day, perhaps a white crepe-paper bell swaying sadly in counterpoint to the fluttering of the yellow police tape — with the certain knowledge that if I said a single word about it to Ned, he’d send me down there in a heartbeat and I wouldn’t get home until after midnight.
I decided to hold my tongue, but stayed a little longer to listen to the radio traffic and make sure no one was going to the ER in a tuxedo. All was calm. False alarm.
I asked Robin what I said. It was something like, "One of these days he’s going to die, and they’re going to have to say he died of Ned. They’ll open him up at the autopsy and it’s just going to look like a jar of pickled eggs in there."
Which is probably pretty much what happened.
Ned was famous for many other incidents — and please, Dispatchers, send them along — but one I remember was the note he posted on the bulletin board, announcing the birth of the court reporter’s baby. The last line was, "Temporary cloud cover obscured the Star." I stole the line in a similar note I posted on the board in Fort Wayne, and somebody scratched it out — it was deemed offensive to Christians. The end of an era. Somewhere, Ned Stout spun in his grave.
Speaking of the end of an era, Rob isn’t a reporter anymore. He runs his own media-relations firm. Explain the justice in that.
Easter’s late this year, but it still sort of snuck up on me. I made a run to Meijer to stock up on provisions — jelly beans, asparagus, a turkey breast. Yes, a freakin’ turkey breast. My in-laws believe that a special occasion calls for turkey, and after a few years of Honeybaked Ham I’m just throwing in the damn towel and we’ll have turkey in damn April. But I’m making it on the grill, and they’re going to like it. What goes with hickory-smoked turkey on the grill? Hell if I know, but I think I’m doing asparagus, carrot salad some sort of potatoes and maybe a spinach souffle, just to be perverse.
We’re making a bunny cake for dessert, Kate and I. I love bunny cake.
Michael in Cali wrote with a funny story about thievin’ dogs:
Thirty years ago. Living and working in Berkeley. I had an old ’61 Falcon wagon I’d paid $40 for. I’d just gone to the supermarket and to the butcher and now stopped in front of the laundry to pick up my stuff there. I had rolled down the window in the tail gate of the old Falcon and just set my groceries inside with the butcher’s packages on top. One package had a half dozen sausages in it. I came out of the laundry just in time to see a dog coming from the back of my car. He had my sausages! I threw my laundry into the back of the car and took off after the dog who was running down the street with a string of sausages hanging out of his mouth. Many bad words and a block or so later I conceded defeat. I had to laugh. The dog looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. A goofy spotted white thing. I think he was laughing too.
You know that story is true because of the roll-down tailgate window; only someone who’d actually owned a Falcon of that vintage would remember that. Detail makes the story. That and the string of sausages. It had to be a string.
So, see you anon, then.
Page Lewis said on March 3, 2004 at 1:59 pm
A favorite Stout story:
The Col. lay on his death bed; his skull cap nearly pulverized in a tremendous car wreck. The hospital chaplin was in route and the presiding surgeon was preparing the gathered family for the worst. Upon hearing the verdict, Ned’s wife squeezed his hand and announced with great conviction: “Ned, you are not going to die!”
“And, at that moment, young son,” Ned would later say, “I knew my life had been spared. Becase in 20 years of marriage, Mrs. Stout has NEVER, EVER, been wrong.”
Linda said on November 30, 2005 at 2:15 pm
I remember Ned Stout when he frequented the Press Club in an alley near the Dispatch. The bartenders were Bill and Clyde.
One night in the early 60’s, at Christmastime, the PC was full; the bar in the back was standing room only. Ned made his way to the end of the bar where I sat talking to one of the attorneys that was also a regular customer. There was small talk and laughter; after a while we found ourselves singing “You’re Nobody Until Somebody Loves You”. Ned sang at the top of his lungs, gesturing to the words.
Just as we sang the last line, ‘so find yourself somebody to love’ ~ he began to cry. At first we thought he was kidding around. The cry turned to loud, uncontrollable sobs. Someone led him out.
I left the workforce and downtown Columbus behind during Christmas vacation and never saw or heard anything about him until his obituary ran in the Dispatch. He was indeed a colorful character; probably ahead of his time with those creative writing skills and command of the language.
More than 50 years have passed since that night but the memory of his small form and those sobs are still with me.