The craft of assembly.

Hank Stuever had a post on his blog yesterday, about a happy time in his life that coincided with a happy time in my life, i.e., working on the college newspaper. And even though his happy time was a decade after my happy time, it sounds as though the technology we used was about the same, and that was part of the fun of it:

I miss layout. It was probably the only crafty, tactile skill I ever mastered — starting in the journalism room in high school. I miss the waxer, the long strips of freshly developed type set in column inches, the bordertape, the pica poles, the photo reduction-ratio wheels, mitering my corners, the Zip-o-Tone, the 20-percent gray screen half-tones, the light-tables; writing headlines from count orders (”they need a 3-36-1 in 19-pica column width, and don’t forget that flitj only counts for half a character”). I miss the monstrous and cantankerous photostat machine. I miss light blue Copy-Not pens. I miss being able to fix a typo with a knife instead of a reset.

Much of that is probably gibberish to most of you, but to me, that paragraph, loaded with all those terms of art, is what separates a writer from a layout artist. I hadn’t thought about Zip-o-Tone (Zip-A-Tone, to be exact — sorry, Hank) since maybe 1978, and just that phrase brought it all back — the late nights at the Post doing just that, fueled on day-old doughnuts and bad coffee, trading jokes and insults. Disco light table! someone would squeal when “Don’t Leave Me This Way” came on the radio from down Parkersburg way, flicking the switches on and off during the chorus.

But I think I may have covered this topic before. What I meant to point out was this apt comparison later in Hank’s mini-essay:

I think I derived the same joy from laying out a newspaper that quilters derive from quilting bees. It required concentration, measurement, technique, artistry — but it never distracted you from conversations and gossip and laughs with your collaborators.

Yes. Exactly. It’s the craftiness of it. I’ve never been much for crafts, but like Hank, I miss the camaraderie of building something with your hands in a group. I got a little of that during my time on the copy desk; the work wasn’t so difficult you were risking anyone’s concentration by occasionally noting, out loud, “Name Redacted is the worst writer this newspaper has, and I’ll fight any man who disagrees.” We were just Amish ladies stitching squares together.

So thanks, Hank, for that. And yes, I will join your Layout Club. We can put out a newsletter or something, ol’ skool. I may still have some Letraset lying around here somewhere.

J.C. will probably use his admin status to post a photo in comments from those days. He was one of the supervisors of our backshop, back in the day.

So, anything else today? There’s this: You may have heard how the president of the Detroit Public Schools board imploded last week, or rather…[cue boom-chicka-wow soundtrack] maybe I should say, exploded. Mathis was briefly shamed into resigning after the superintendent accused him of playing pocket pool during their meetings, and if you want the gross details, well, read all about it.

I say “briefly shamed” because he had no sooner resigned than he tried to take it back, claiming “health problems” caused him to take matters into his own hands, ha ha. I think Laura Berman sums up the man in a few devastating sentences, here:

After graduating from Southeastern High School with a D-plus average, he got into Wayne State University in a program for the academically unqualified. When he failed to pass an English language writing exam required for graduation, he sued, claiming the exam discriminated against African-Americans. When the exam was dropped, a decade later, he duly received his bachelor of science degree.

Mathis was praised by his colleagues for his coolness under pressure and his lack of defensiveness: qualities that have stood him in good stead over the years, as he faced down challenges to his competency. As he told me in a March interview, his deficits had been written about before. “People make a lot of noise for a while and then it all blows over,” he said.

Maybe he felt compelled to test how low expectations might really go.

And they were already pretty damn low, let me tell you.

With that, an announcement: I’ll be scarce around here for a while. We’re taking a few days’ vacation, and this time we’re going someplace my cell phone contract doesn’t cover, so no mobile uploads. And where might that be? They speak French there, but it’s in North America. Where could it be? Let me put it this way: I told Kate I wanted to take her to Europe, but we can’t afford Europe, so we’re going for the closest equivalent within driving distance.

So: Au revoir for now, and I’ll see you back here Monday.

Posted at 9:45 am in Current events, Housekeeping, Media |

93 responses to “The craft of assembly.”

  1. coozledad said on June 22, 2010 at 9:53 am

    Chinatown in Montreal kicks ass, too.

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  2. basset said on June 22, 2010 at 9:58 am

    Benday screens. Letraset. Cutting yourself with a number 11 X-Acto and bleeding all over the layout.

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  3. Laura Lippman said on June 22, 2010 at 10:04 am

    I’ve always heard Montreal is a great eating town. Please report back.

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  4. MarkH said on June 22, 2010 at 10:29 am

    I caught “Absence of Malice” over the weekend, and much of the newspaper composition process you and Hank describe is displayed under the opening credits. Even this display, done in ’80, is more modern that what you dealt with Nancy. But it still dates the movie a bit.

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  5. nancy said on June 22, 2010 at 10:29 am

    For the record, our typesetter c. 1978 were these super IBM Selectrics with some sort of crude memory. You pushed a button and typed the story. (By “you,” I mean “the paid typists,” because you had to be accurate and fast.) When you were done, you removed the paper you’d been using and inserted this shiny stock and pressed a button, and whatever you’d just typed started printing back out, in justified columns.

    The typists were very picky about who used these machines. They were delicate and temperamental.

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  6. Michael said on June 22, 2010 at 10:29 am

    I originally wanted to comment about my own layout days, but then came across what is a more interesting (I hope) observation.

    Is the proliferation of web based community (social networking sorry) a proxy for that tactile and yet social activity such as quilting, or pasting up a paper. I suggest that as I sit quietly in my home office writing, or crunching data, I am engaged in a running dialogue with a mass of humanity from across the globe. From all parts of my life (high school, college, jobs and neighborhoods), they reassemble, in differing accumulations each morning to share my/our various projects, and observations. Yes, it is mostly gossip and philosophy, current events, and talk of kids, but it has resolved one of the real problems with the information age, the isolation of it all.

    Just my quick thoughts, I would enjoy the observations of this very thoughtful group.

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  7. Deborah said on June 22, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Have a fun vacation Nancy. I’ve never been to Montreal so I have no advice to give.

    Loved your post, I too remember all that stuff early on as a print graphic designer and before that as a production artist. Back in the day I did all of the stuff that you and Hank mentioned. One of my favorite things to do was cut amberlith (if you don’t know what this is never mind, it’s extinct). I always thought of it as knitting, something that you had to do meticulously but you could think your own thinky thoughts as you worked, it was soothing and calming. You didn’t mention the chemicals though, I probably will pay for that sometime in my life, the solution I had to run the photostat paper through, wiping my waxy fingers off with Bestine constantly, fumes from the process of making custom color rubdowns for comps. Oh well, that’s all over with, the only hazards I have to deal with now are repetitive motion and eye strain.

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  8. derwood said on June 22, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Go Habs Go….Montreal is a great city.


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  9. Linda said on June 22, 2010 at 10:43 am

    Nancy, you took me back in time. I used to do the typing in the late 70s for the Dearborn Herald. Of course, I didn’t do the real layout stuff–I was just paid for my flying fingers, but it was a lot like that.

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  10. Jeff Borden said on June 22, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Christ, I’m even older than the proprietress. When I started working as a sportswriter in the summer of 1968 at the Medina County Gazette –my first stories were about the ponytail softball tournament at the Medina (Oh.) County Fair– we still used manual typewriters and copy paper, which was just newsprint sliced into 8×10 sheets with sheets of carbon to make copies. Reporters left enough room at the top and bottom so they could glue them together with rubber cement. When the story was written, you took them to a U-shaped desk made up of cheap countertop materials, which was the copy desk, of course, situated right alongside three of the noisiest teletype wire machines imaginable. Once copy was edited, it was taken to composing, where a crew entirely made up of women typed the stories onto a machine that spit out an inch-wide ribbon of paper punched with holes. This, in turn, was fed into another machine, which produced the cold type that a crew waxed and glued onto a makeup sheet.

    I didn’t lay hands on an IBM Selectric until 1974, when I joined the Columbus Dispatch.

    What was so striking after coming up in these super-noisy old newsrooms with their Steelcase desks and linoleum floors and clanging wire machines was how quickly newsrooms became as quiet as an insurance adjuster’s office. The computers were silent. The floors were carpeted. The wire machines were relegated to a sound-proofed room. The phones beeped instead of rang. And those of us afflicted with booming voices that carry were soon stationed in far corners of the newsroom, lest we disturb our fellow scribblers.

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  11. ROgirl said on June 22, 2010 at 10:53 am

    I spent time in Montreal for work a few years back, and never had a bad meal there. Chinatown is definitely worth it. Schwartz’s Deli has unbelievable smoked meat (it’s like pastrami) or viande fumee. The bagels are baked in wood fired ovens. St. Viateur and Fairmount are the biggies. The old quarter has some good places, too.

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  12. brian stouder said on June 22, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Well, unless I miss my guess,the destination is much more south, and not northeast – although Montreal would have been fun when Formula One was in town a week ago. ‘Course, I could be (and probably am) wrong, but I suspect the proprietress and her crew will get to see that human Gieco gekko’s gulf legacy, up close, while enjoying gumbo.

    edit: at this writing, the over-revved right-wing noise machine* is reaching it’s usual red-faced crescendo, over General McChrystal’s bone-headed comments to the ‘scribblers’ at Rolling Stone. I hope the president doesn’t fire him (yet), but instead treats him the way President Lincoln treated General Hooker, when it became known that Hooker was talking trash about his boss, and even toying with the idea of taking over the government himself! Essentially, the president told him – in kind words – only generals who WIN can set themselves up as dictators; go and bring me victories, and we’ll see about these theories of yours. Same for McChrystal, I say. (‘course, before long, things went very poorly for Hooker, and he got reassigned, but we digress)

    *radios here and there in the office have the soft squeals of the Beckster wafting in the air; surely all the others will continue the theme

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  13. Snarkworth said on June 22, 2010 at 11:02 am

    You’ve unleashed a gusher of memories, I see.
    I remember Jeff B’s glue pots and manual typewriters. I also recall Hank’s layout world, but was never allowed to touch the pages, because that was union work. We ink-stained wretches took turns staying late to OK the pages, and it seemed to take forever. I think some of the production guys enjoyed keeping us until the last minute. I’ll never forget Snail Man.

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  14. Sue said on June 22, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Off topic, but can any Treme people help with this – what’s going on with the John Goodman character? I have a coworker who is very upset because in the season finale he’s missing and possibly/probably dead? Suicidal, for heaven’s sake?
    Anyone have any analysis?

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  15. Claire said on June 22, 2010 at 11:14 am

    I was on my high school newspaper just as it was becoming digitized. We did the layout on a computer, but still had to send hard copy layouts to the printer (and by “send,” I mean “drive 20 miles to the printer”). We also had to send the hard photos, and figure out the proportions using a dreaded (at least to me) proportion wheel, and blue pencil in the photo boxes. I loved doing layout too, and love the quilting bee analogy. I think I liked it because I flexed my creative muscles in a different way, and gave me a useful excuse to hangout in the journalism room. Oh, those were fun days.

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  16. Dorothy said on June 22, 2010 at 11:15 am

    As a quilter for the last 24 years and a former member of an every-Wednesday-night-get-together group, I can say that today’s social networking is not even close to capturing that kind of fun and shared experience. A dedicated group of ladies who knew each other from neighborhoods or classes we took, we grew by asking along a friend here or there and most of the time we had at least 12 or 13 regulars, with an assortment of 8-10 others who were not able to come as often as the others. We took turns going to each other’s house. How did we determine whose turn it was to host quilting? “My house is dirty – I need an excuse to clean. So everyone come to my house next week.” That sums up the decision making process for much of the group. We rarely talked about quilting – that was the reason we were together but we talked about our kids, our husbands, our sex lives, that kind of thing.

    When I had the girls over to my house (and we all worked on our own projects – no clunky frame in the middle of the room that we all sat around), my husband would go hide out in the cellar to get away from the noise of our laughter. Then he’d come upstairs after the last car pulled away and say “Around 10:45 you guys got especially loud. What was the dirty joke someone told?” My mom came once and when I asked her what she thought, did she have a good time, etc.; she observed “I love them all! But I noticed that everybody talks and no one listens!” She was partially right – multiple conversations would go on at once and most of us could listen with different ears and keep track of at least two different subjects at the same time.

    I miss those gals so much, and since I moved away from Pittsburgh 8 years ago I have been trying to re-create a similar group in various cities. But it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe someday.

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  17. Dorothy said on June 22, 2010 at 11:18 am

    Sue since we have company with us this week we haven’t seen the entire final episode of Treme, but yes John Goodman’s character apparently slipped into the water when on a ferry boat and drowned. It’s evidently a suicide because his wife (played by Melissa Leo) was allowed to remove some items from his truck after the police found it. His character has been depressed since Katrina and the aftermath. We watched about 40 minutes of the episode on Sunday but fell asleep. After my mom goes back home we’ll watch the episode because it’s on our DVR.

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  18. msmeta said on June 22, 2010 at 11:36 am

    flitj. And a pica pole. Wow. That brought back memories. Thanks.

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  19. brian stouder said on June 22, 2010 at 11:41 am

    fyi – “flitj” is a term that stumps the google. (but “pica pole” dutifully comes up)


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  20. adrianne said on June 22, 2010 at 11:47 am

    I still miss my blue highlighter marker to make edits on the bank. Sigh.

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  21. Deborah said on June 22, 2010 at 11:47 am

    Kneaded erasers, triangles and Maylines, T-squares, french curves (no Brian not those other kind), x-acto blade cuts (and resulting stitches), Stadler mylar rulers, cork backed metal straight-edges, the arcane symbols for typsetters… oh the memories…

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  22. Julie Robinson said on June 22, 2010 at 11:58 am

    My DH paid his way through IU on the advertising staff at the IDS back when the salespeople were also responsible for the layout and graphics of the ad, and he still has an eye for that. But I also used to watch my dad put together newscasts at the radio station, and the process wasn’t too different than the one Jeff B. describes. After the yellow teletype paper was cut and rubber-cemented together they recorded it, inserting sound bites on the tape with a splicing machine. There was a real art to using it and no “undo” button–if you spliced in the wrong place and lost tape, you were SOL. I spent a lot of hours watching Dad because he would usually take my sister and I along to games he was broadcasting, and the last stop before home was the radio station. I felt then and still do that I was one lucky girl.

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  23. jcburns said on June 22, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Nancy, they were IBM Selectric Composers, used to typeset, notably, all the Whole Earth Catalogs. Trying to sort out that the Post typists (as they were known) were picky about who used them…I think they just didn’t want you coming in and laying down your 2 am jazz riffs on them. But for pete’s sake, they let BEEP be a Post Typist, so the bar wasn’t raised that high!

    And thanks for promoting me, but I was a mere production grunt. It was the famed Kevin-Burns-no-relation who ran things in the Post’s production room. And David Griffin asked to borrow my pica..uh, ruler, in one of our layout/design classes and never gave it back, and look what happened to him.

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  24. alex said on June 22, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Bon voyage, Nance! Be sure to go “oui, oui” before the long wait at Customs.

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  25. paddyo' said on June 22, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Jeff B said most of it @ No. 10. In my post-college career, I never touched an electric typewriter before the first CRT terminals came along about 3 years after I started. The glue pot and my pica pole were my friend. Some folks used continuous rolls of wire service teletype machine paper, fed into their manual Royals from a box at their feet. I preferred the cut-and-paste method myself. Laid sideways, the Sunday feature take-outs I turned in to the city desk looked more like ransom notes, in several colors (off-white copy paper, yellow newswire paper, faded white, etc.) and weights, with my own penciled corrections and inserts already scribbled and smeared. (Hey, I’m left-handed . . . )

    And Nance, I can still smell that vaguely alarming aroma of overheating wax in the waxing machines, through which we fed photopapery columns of type and heds, about to be scissored, X-acto’d and eyeballed into place (with the aid of pica poles) on the paste-up grids of the Nevada-Reno Sagebrush, the then-twice-weekly paper at my early-mid-1970s alma mater.

    One ‘Brush colleague, also named Hank, brought a ghastly gastric “lunch” with him on production nights that included a jar of pickled pigs’ feet. He placed it on the level ledge above the sloping tables where the page grids were pasted up. His splatters of porcine podiajuice sometimes made it all the way through to the print run.

    But nobody ever splashed a drop from the photo editor’s bottle of another suspect concoction, Southern Comfort.

    Living as we did in a 24-hour casino town, we’d repair to a downtown bar after putting the pages to bed for the pressmen at the local weekly that printed the ‘Brush. It was well after midnight Mondays and Thursdays when we hit the barstools at Jim Kelly’s Nugget, a watering-hole-in-the-wall around the corner from the original Harrah’s. “Well” drinks were 75 cents. My, we trained those newspaper drinking elbows of ours early, didn’t we . . .

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  26. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on June 22, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Still have my Stadler, and some Letraset I can’t quite throw away but really should.

    In the spirit of our theme, today’s Doonesbury:

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  27. B ryan said on June 22, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    I, too, miss physically laying out the paper, which I haven’t done since I was the editor-reporter-photographer-designer-compositor for a small weekly way back in the late ’80s. I don’t miss, however, slicing off the tip of my finger with an extremely sharp X-acto knife. (But did I go to the hospital? Of course not. I just put about five Band-Aids on the cut and continued pasting up that week’s edition.)

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  28. beb said on June 22, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    At a guess “flitj” are all the extra skinny letters in the alphabet and so would require special accounting when creating a headline to fix a known space.

    I produced mimeographed fanzines in the 70s and 80s. Not so much cutting and pasting but scratching out headlines with lettering guides and remembering to type around hole where illustrations were to be pasted. There was a sense of craft work involved and a snese of real accomplishment. I still have several mimeos in the basement that I’ll never use because it’s just faster printing from computer.

    At times I fear Detroit is thoroughly screwed. When the ‘best and brightest’ we have to offer turns out not to know better then to masturbate in public how can we hope to turn this city around?

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  29. Snarkworth said on June 22, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    And “flitj” was useful when trying to write 1-column heads. You could squeeze “jilted” in where “dumped” wouldn’t fit.

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  30. bobolink said on June 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Does the Smithsonean have an old newsroom to go along with Julia’s kitchen? It should. My son is starting at Mizzou and was clueless when I asked him if his articles had to end with -30- and then I couldn’t explain why. I was a Michiganensian gal across the hall from Zorn. I can get way lonesome for layout …

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  31. jcburns said on June 22, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    For those playing at home:

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  32. Colleen said on June 22, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Ah, memories of my days on the Homestead Spartana…IBM typesetter and all. Shoot…what was the name of the headline machine? The one with the wheels that had all the different typefaces?
    Meeem reeees, of exactos in the ceiling…..

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  33. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on June 22, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    Speaking further of what we’re losing from an earlier era of journalism, a good friend and colleague here in the Newark OH area –

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  34. Dexter said on June 22, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    Maybe it’s Quebec. Don’t miss the Plains of Abraham if Kate like history. The old walled city is a nice place to gawk around.

    Sue, all kinds of analysis here:

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  35. Snarkworth said on June 22, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Very nice, jc.

    Colleen, weren’t the ceiliing knives hazardous when they came loose?

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  36. Rana said on June 22, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    Deborah – I think there’s definitely something about having some sort of handwork to do while hanging out. I find that I’m a much calmer person, and a better listener, if I can putter about with something while talking – whether it’s knitting, photo post-processing, weeding… – and that being able to talk with someone while doing those tasks makes them go more smoothly as well.

    If you poke around, you will find that a lot of academics have some sort of hobby that involves craft; it gives you the time to think about knotty problems and writing issues, while at the same time involving a different set of skills, both mental and physical… and, unlike a lot of academic work, you often have a finished object at the end, which you can show to other people and have your work appreciated.

    If I have to sit somewhere and listen to something without something to do with my hands, I end up picking threads out of the carpet or making little lint balls, or attempting origami with sugar packets; as a kid I made a lot of little braids out of grass while standing in the outfield, bored out of my mind. I just wish more people understood that if I’m knitting or similar while listening to them, I’m paying them more attention than I would if I were not doing something to distract my fidgets.

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  37. jcburns said on June 22, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    Headline machine? The VGC Photo-typositor or maybe the Compugraphic Compuwriter IV?

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  38. Mr. Wuxtry said on June 22, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    I must be the oldest one in the room. Waxers and X-acto knives to me represent the evil, cheap, shortcut methods we were forced to live with after the human printers and their makeup rules and Linotypes went away. The printers were our last line of defense against looking stupid. They, too, chatted among themselves, loudly enough for editors to overhear, and they were happy to direct the editors’ attention to crappy stories, bad heads, misspellings, grammatical errors and many other flaws, even though they had to read the type upside down and backwards. They’re gone now, and the newspapers show it.

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  39. JC said on June 22, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    You’ve all jogged loose very happy memories of my college paper and my first job in journalism, too. My first job was at a small daily paper (Monday-Friday only, so not really a daily), where I was hired to lay out the paper on slanted glass-topped tables, using wax and X-acto knives. By the end of the summer, all my jeans were worn and ripped on the right thigh, because I carried that blade in my right hand at all times. I got in trouble because I read the stories as I pasted them up and caught typos, which would cause the editors grief because they’d have to correct and resend the articles.
    We were still using that late-1980s technology when I finally returned to college and was an editor at the school paper. Our computer network was shaky and if your computer stalled, the protocol was to yell “everybody save!” so the rest of the staff could preserve their stories before the inevitable network crash swept through the newsroom. The old wax-and-knife technology was also great for fixing grades at the end of the semester, before they were shown to parents.

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  40. brian stouder said on June 22, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    A genuine feel GOOD story, for Michigan:

    an excerpt:
    When completed in several years, the facility will make lithium-ion battery packs for tens of thousands of hybrid and electric vehicles annually and provide 700 to 800 “green-collar jobs.” The $600 million project also will create hundreds of more jobs for construction workers…..At the ceremony inside a nearby tent, Vice President Biden was introduced by Brenda Still, a heavy equipment operator who hasn’t worked yet this year, but has been hired to work at the Dow Kokam site. “This is not just another dirt-moving job for me,” Still said, referencing the development of what many in attendance said is a groundbreaking technology. Officials said the batteries can store up to three times more energy than the nickel metal hydride batteries currently used in most hybrids.

    And five sentences later, we have this ray of sunshine:

    Republican National Committee spokesman Ryan Tronovitch said Biden’s appearance showed how “out of touch” the White House is. He said in a statement that Michigan has the second worst unemployment rate in the nation, and the federal government is spending millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money to send Biden to talk about the stimulus program — which Republicans believe has failed.

    Surely all this Republican investment-in-failure will not pay off for them in November, right? I truly begin to think that the traditional out-party midterm bump, which the GOP is up for, will be smaller – or even non-existent. The less they’re rewarded for this, the better, I say.

    Anyway, looks like my fine young son and I will be rolling to Columbus Friday for the Origins game convention, and then on Saturday a visit at COSI and their superb RMS Titanic exhibit. That ought to be very cool, indeed.

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  41. Colleen said on June 22, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    I think it was called a Varityper Headliner. I just remember spinning the font wheels, which were as big as dinner plates.

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  42. prospero said on June 22, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    UD High, in Detroit. We sent the paper out for printing and got back galleys to proof and paste up. It was extremely enjoyable work, a lot like carpentry, in my opinion. Our paper was printed on slick and looked a lot like skinny Time Magazine.

    Y’all frequently note the deaths of great people. Notable passing of a delightful humane being. My bad. There are nincompoops on there claiming to have heard and used the term in the 70s, but I’d swear that’s bullshit, like movies set in the 60s with characters high-fiving. Anyway, what other pro athlete ever spent all his money on hospitals and got fined for brokering peace?

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  43. brian stouder said on June 22, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    Forget “blame it on Canada”; now it’s “Blame it on Iceland”. “Stanley and the Volcano” is so twenty-years-ago.

    Key sentence in the article, after explaining that the reporter was going to have two days to speak with the general in Paris:

    As the ash disrupted air travel, Hastings ended up being “stuck” with McChrystal and his team for 10 days in Paris and Berlin.

    See, and if the staffers had been drinking Diet Coke, instead of whatever stuff they actually were inbibing…

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  44. paddyo' said on June 22, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    Ooo, JC, nice one! I’d forgotten about “Fifi,” the stereotypical streetwalker name we gave our balky pre-PC computer-and-dumb-terminals system at the Reno Evening Gazette and Nevada State Journal in the late 1970s.

    As in, “Everybody hit ‘SAVE,’ Fifi’s going down!”

    And once a day, even if Fifi wasn’t, um, going down on her own, the tech guys would take her down. 6:15 p.m. Pacific Time. Yeah, that’s right, smack in the middle of the end-of-day crunch time for finishing many stories and sending them to the city desk. Even back then, I.T. ruled the world.

    And hey, Prospero, nice nod to the Dinka Dunker. Humane being, indeed. Probably an interplanetary alien, which might have explained his amazing stick-figure physique. But, really, it was his kindness and, well, GOODness that were more other-worldly, weren’t they . . .

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  45. prospero said on June 22, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    Remember way back when there were conservatives with principles?

    Best description of the reptilian right I’ve ever read. Don’t mean anything derogatory by reptilian, just that these folks are limbic, so-to-speak, but it’s not alliterative. Oh, and every other country in the whole wide rest of the world requires redundant blind shear rams, because, holy shit, one might break. Before W, so did MMS.

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  46. deb said on June 22, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    those are sweet memories indeed. i’m glad there are others out there who fondly remember hot waxers, benday tape and all the rest of it. re those IBMs, one of the post typists once graffitied the wall with: “international burnout machines is what it stands for!”

    my most enduring dave griffin memory: sitting with him in the wire room while he repeatedly jabbed an x-acto into the wooden desk. one shot missed and went into his thigh. we watched, fascinated and frozen with i don’t know what–terror? torpor?–as blood began to seep onto his jeans. after a couple minutes, he said, “hey, i think somebody should probably take me to the hospital.”

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  47. prospero said on June 22, 2010 at 7:15 pm


    I’ve been reading most of the day, and the ‘terror? torpor?’ trope is the best thing I’ve come across. I probably won’t have means of attribution whenI use that in the future. It’s kind of like a definition of characters’ reactions to really bad shit in Elmore Leonard novels. Well put.

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  48. Deborah said on June 22, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    Funny how whatever goes around comes around here in comments. The first time I ever read the term “my bad” was in something by the writer Anne Lamott, I think it was on It thought it was a ridiculous thing to say but now of course I say it too.

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  49. deb said on June 22, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    thanks, prospero…and don’t worry too much about the attribution. a little flattery is all it takes to make my day.

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  50. deb said on June 22, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    snarkworth, we had a snail man at one of the places i worked, too. his name was ed, so naturally he was “fast eddie.” always the last guy to finish, and nothing would speed him up, including having his supervisor breathing down his neck when we were late. he was one of the crankiest human beings i ever met, and i would try to cajole him (while not touching the union-only pages) into a smile by telling him he had the hands of a surgeon. “the hands of a STURGEON!” he’d cackle. those printers were real characters; i miss them.

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  51. Brian Cubbison said on June 22, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    I remember making periods out of commas, and writing sentences in such a way that it was possible.

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  52. blue girl said on June 22, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    Delurking to let Jeff Borden know that I sent an ad to the Medina County Gazette a few weeks back!

    Not a neg made from a (great, old) keyline, just a boring, old pdf for print.

    It’s the craftiness of it. I’ve never been much for crafts, but like Hank, I miss the camaraderie of building something with your hands in a group.

    Me too.

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  53. moe99 said on June 22, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    I well remember staying up all Thurs night, trying to get the college newspaper, the Mac Weekly,(affectionately known as the Smack Weekly) put to bed. We had a machine that typed the columns and had a dedicated student who did most of the typing but come 1am Fri morning, it was a free for all. Wish I could remember the name. We had only two albums it seemed in the news room: “Marrying Maiden” and “Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen.”

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  54. nancy said on June 22, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    Hey, all. Checking in from Toronto to ask someone to explain to Brian how headline counting works. If I can summon the rules from memory…

    All lowercase letters and spaces are 1, except for f,l,i,t and j, which are .5, BUT m and w are 1.5 and any capital letter is 1.5, and any capital M or W is 2. Amirite?

    So “jilted” has a count of 4, and “dumped” is 6.5.

    I can’t believe I still remember this stuff.

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  55. Kim said on June 22, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    How could you forget this stuff? So much depended on it.

    Oh, yes, the Compugraphic! Boy, all those tools – X-acto knives, the blue Copy-Not pens, paper – it seems like a long time ago. Or yesterday. We had a guy who pasted up the paper at my first job who’d come to us while on strike for the major Chicago daily that was busting up the union. There weren’t many angels in that situation, but this guy was very dear and sliced/pasted so fast and perfectly while carrying on a spirited conversation about any topic it would leave a bystander breathless. Not that anyone other than me ever saw him do it, but still.

    Sue @ 14: He dead ’cause he quit. Melissa Leo was brilliant in the season finale, as was Khandi Alexander.

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  56. Dexter said on June 22, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    My Bad. I also heard that it was started by Manute Bol. Why do really good people like Manute Bol suffer and die so? That falling-away-skin disease he had is a horrendous, painful, wretched way to have to go.

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  57. Denice B. said on June 23, 2010 at 12:30 am

    Oh, Canada! Toronto is so awesome in the summer.

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  58. Claudia Allen said on June 23, 2010 at 7:47 am

    Don’t forget the spikes. I had one that was made back in the composing room out of a big piece of heavy metal (lead???) with a sharp unprotected spindle on it. Lots of desks had them…but I don’t remember anyone ever spiking a hand or falling on one of them.

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  59. coozledad said on June 23, 2010 at 8:00 am

    The military has always been leaned right, but the culture they have now doesn’t leave any room for anyone with the subtlety or diplomatic skills required of senior officers. Just a bunch of guys who will publicly lick their own nuts like a dog.
    “Moving around to different bases, McChrystal took solace in baseball, a sport in which he made no pretense of hiding his superiority: In Little League, he would call out strikes to the crowd before whipping a fastball down the middle.”
    You’d never catch Eisenhower or Stilwell giving themselves such a prurient tongue bath, at least not in print. You’d think when the Republicans went about reshaping the military as an expeditionary arm of the mining and oil industries, they’d have given this a little thought.Maybe the wholesale appropriation of the values and aims of the Wehrmacht just handed us a high command infested with Custers.
    H/T whiskeyfire

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  60. brian stouder said on June 23, 2010 at 8:46 am

    If McChrystal isn’t whacked, he certainly needs a shorter leash. The first general he reminded me of was Hooker – who had the right plan but (literally) crumpled at crunch time – much like McChrystal. Olbermann compared the current situation with Lincoln and Pope, but I don’t really see the analogy. But your comparison to Second World War generals is an interesting one; certainly Ike would never have acted this way, but Patton – capable in the field, but a piece of work otherwise – got himself in hot water in the press, and nearly ended his career. So maybe that’s the answer: if the president keeps McChrystal, he needs an Ike holding his leash

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  61. MichaelG said on June 23, 2010 at 9:54 am

    Obama needs to fire McChrystal the moment he sees him. Anybody who has ever been in the service will tell you that. He (and the other idiots) have to be fired decisively, not allowed to resign. Anything short of this and Obama will entirely lose the respect of the military.

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  62. Deborah said on June 23, 2010 at 10:43 am

    I agree that Obama needs to fire McChrystal. Period. But be assured which ever way he goes the right wingers will cry fowl, he’s damned if does and damned if he doesn’t with them.

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  63. Jeff Borden said on June 23, 2010 at 11:18 am

    Obama is damned no matter what he does.

    If he forces McChrystal out, the wingnuts will howl that the best guy for the job in Afghanistan was removed because he upset the delicate sensibilities of the former college professor. If he retains McChrystal, the wingnuts will howl that he is weak, tentative and displays the delicate sensibilities of a former college professor.

    If Harry S Truman could fire the revered Douglas MacArthur, I fail to see why Obama shouldn’t pull the plug on McChrystal, who heretofore has been best known for his role in covering up the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman. Plus, what kind of hardened military man drinks lime-flavored crap beer??

    If the argument is that the general is irreplacable, well, by God, what have the tens of trillions of dollars we’ve spent on our military over years really bought us if the bench strength is that shallow?

    I long for the days of honest and humble military men like Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, George Marshall. Perhaps they no longer exist. If not, we are all the poorer for it.

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  64. MichaelG said on June 23, 2010 at 11:30 am

    This isn’t about the wingnuts. This is about the military. All members of the military recognize that Stanley Mac and friends crossed way over the line and they know there can be only one result. They may not like Obama and they may love McChrystal but they know the score. If Obama waffles, he’s toast as far as the military is concerned.

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  65. velvet goldmine said on June 23, 2010 at 11:36 am

    At our college paper the Friday edition always featured a lot of crooked letters because we (the proofers/baby reporters) were tasked with cutting out the typos and finding fresh letters from the extra waxed graphs always kept tacked to the board for spare parts. It was usually a long night, and the Thursday night (party night) proofers would disapear partway through and come back somewhat wasted. Hence the crooked letters.

    No jokes about the “hand delivered” status on top of the Detroit memo?

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  66. brian stouder said on June 23, 2010 at 11:37 am

    Well, hauling him into the White House like this does seem to be the blazing neon sign – for anyone who needs it – that indicates Who Is In Charge.

    I think Michael is right; with this much theater, if Mac isn’t whacked, Brack will be (somewhat deservedly) smacked.

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  67. Jeff Borden said on June 23, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Agreed, MichaelG, but I doubt Obama was ever going to have much respect in the military. Still, as you accurately note, these men and women know the rules and understand the general broke them. I was thinking more about the narrative out of D.C.

    Originally, I supported the idea of invading Afghanistan, routing the Taliban and, hopefully, sticking around to help rebuild a shattered country, an action that might have won the U.S. some points in the Muslim world and the Middle East. Now, it’s hard to see why we are there. Karzai is as corrupt as they come. . .Pakistan military and intelligence agencies do their best to aid the Taliban. . .no nation has ever subdued Afghanistan. . .etc.

    We can’t get in Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine and return to the pre-Iraq invasion days. We’ll never know if such an effort might’ve worked in Afghanistan.

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  68. paddyo' said on June 23, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Screw the wingnuts and grow a pair of real nuts, I say — but maybe not in that order.

    Hey, one more pre-computer tale for the hed-count thread: Although I learned that infallible headline-fitting formula in j-school editing class, I didn’t really employ it until the summer I worked as a Newspaper Fund copy-editing intern on The Salt Lake Tribune’s kidney-shaped copy desk. It was the summer of Nixon’s resignation.

    Anyway, the first night I walked in, I was confronted by a crew of deskmen (and yes, they were all men on the copy desk back then) straight out of something like “The Front Page”:
    The embittered, hard-drinking slot man who never made news editor, and who downed a bottle of bourbon nightly after work at his private club, the equivalent of a bar in strictly Mormon Utah . . . the college J-prof picking up extra work for the summer . . . the white-haired wise-cracking veteran . . . the earnest, just-out-of-college guy hoping for a reporting job . . .

    And then there was rim man Alan Halliday, a lapsed Mormon and recovering alcoholic who looked like filmmaker John Waters — all skinny with a pencil-thin mustache — and who introduced himself this way:

    “I’ve already written my own obituary headline.”
    “Oh, really?” I replied.
    “Yeah,” he said, grabbing a copy pencil, printing something on a piece of copy paper and sliding it across the desk to me.
    I picked it up and read:


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  69. brian stouder said on June 23, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    All we know for sure is – whatever happens – the Flying Monkeys of the right wing airwaves will immediately act like the head of Detroit’s public schools, and vigorously and repeatedly ‘take matters in their own hands’.

    That being the case, the president may as well do the right thing without regard to the hanky crowd

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  70. MichaelG said on June 23, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Paddyo has it. Grow some balls. The admin is never going to get anything but grief from the right no matter what they do. So go ahead and do the right thing. The Dems have never understood this simple truth.

    USA beats Algeria 1-0 in 91st minute to advance to 2d round.

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  71. LAMary said on June 23, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    The IHB called to let me know that England won and the US won. I’m still betting on The Netherlands to make to the end.

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  72. Jeff Borden said on June 23, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    I do wish Obama were more like Truman or Roosevelt, particularly the latter. FDR said he “welcomed” the hatred of the powers who stood arrayed against him.

    Obama should drop the pretense of bipartisanship. All it has done is produced watered down results, ie., health care reform. At the national level, the Republican Party in its current state is crazier than a shithouse rat, a collection of hypocritical idiots, uneducated goobers, racists, clowns and corporate bagmen. Let them purge their party and embrace the teabaggers. . .let them stand on the wrong side of a demographic tsunami they cannot even see. . .let them remain towel boys to the wealthiest of the wealthy in exchange for a few sheckels of tribute. There’s no reasoning with these creeps. . .nor should we even try.

    The GOP is truly about yesterday’s people. I just wish the party would dry up and blow away faster, so maybe we could make some progress.

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  73. crinoidgirl said on June 23, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    The cap just came off of the BP oil well after an ROV collision. Christ.

    And McChrystal is relieved of command.

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  74. brian stouder said on June 23, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    crinoid – and two workers at the spill are dead? (not sure whether their deaths are related to the ongoing spill, or today’s events, or because of some other reason)

    but aside from all that, the proprietress no sooner goes to Toronto then we read this:

    How do you get 17 stitches from a dancing accident? Stilleto heals?

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  75. Sue said on June 23, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Well, then, thank goodness that judge struck down the drilling moratorium! That well is obviously toast and we’re gonna need some new ones, fast.
    Why hasn’t Obama apologized for this yet? It happened, what, a couple of hours ago?

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  76. crinoidgirl said on June 23, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Brian, WSJ says:

    “Two people working on the oil-spill response effort died, but none of the deaths were work-related, Adm. Allen said. One of the deceased was working on a vessel of opportunity in the Gulf Shores, Ala., area, Adm. Allen said. The other was a swimming-related accident. Adm. Allen didn’t say where the swimming death occurred.”

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  77. MichaelG said on June 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Yes, Jeff B. Drop the bipartisanship and make the bastards actually filibuster everything. Call their bluff and make them vote.

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  78. Jeff Borden said on June 23, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Amen, MichaelG.

    I had hopes Obama might knit together a “sensible center” but those were dashed from the outset by the GOP’s decision to oppose literally everything he offered. If Obama figured out how to turn piss into gasoline, his enemies would assail him for endangering the urinal cake industry.

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  79. brian stouder said on June 23, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    And let me just say – if John McCain was president and the commander of US Armed Forces in Afghanistan said all the same things, and sat still while one of his staff said “Sarah Palin? Did you say ‘suck my pale nips’?,
    I doubt anyone here would say that McCain was a weenie who actually caused the silly, insubordinate talk – the way Shit-for-brains Sean Hannity and his crew did last night. (when I dipped in there last night, he had Ollie North and some guy I didn’t recognize, pushing exactly that line, and saying that Obama caused this because he didn’t give the general all he asked for! – sort of willfully forgetting that the president tripled the forces there from where W had them)

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  80. Sue said on June 23, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    McChrystal’s out.

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  81. Jeff Borden said on June 23, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Ah, Oliver North, a traitor to his country and his uniform, yet celebrated by the very dimwits who loudly proclaim their very special brand of patriotism. That son-of-a-bitch should still be behind bars in Leavenworth for his actions in Central America.

    But at least North served in combat. Sean Hannity is one of the huge number of right-wing chickenhawks to clamor for war who never put their pale white asses on the line. They loves `em some war, so long as someone else’s kids fight it.

    Speaking of SheWho, I think it will be interesting to see what happens to our favorite snowbilly now that another attractive, conservative woman has won the governorship of another state, albeit the deeply crazy South Carolina. SheWho loves that spotlight and now another photogenic brunette with an even better story to tell –daughter of Sikh immigrants tops beauty pageant contestant and high school basketball player– is on the scene and actually holding an office, I wonder if any but the Fox cameras will keep calling.

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  82. deb said on June 23, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    brian cubbison at 51–dude, is that you? cubby?! it’s mom! (you can find dad over at

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  83. Deborah said on June 23, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Ack that’s foul not fowl, #62 (pointed out by my daughter Little Bird). How embarrassing.

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  84. moe99 said on June 23, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    deb–this is the reverse FB where the kids show up AFTER the parents!

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  85. alex said on June 23, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Wonder if we’ll hear from Nance regarding the earth-shaking news this afternoon from the north.

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  86. Dorothy said on June 23, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    I’ve been thinking that us kids can play in the dirt about McChrystal without Mom (a.k.a. Nance) supervising! Thoughts – anyone??

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  87. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on June 23, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Was that a NN.C related tremor to the north? Did the Proprietress have to stomp her feet on the floor of a Quebec bistro to get service from a Francophone waiter?

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  88. Dexter said on June 23, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    LaMary & MichaelG: It was big news here in Ohio, in my house anyway. Pins and needles, palpitations and entire series of skipped heartbeats…goddams and oh shitz flying about, guzzling coffee by the quart to get as wired as I possibly could, pins and needles, needles and pins, and then a goal. But after sitting there for the entire match and on into stoppage time, I dashed to the bathroom for a minute…and I missed the goal.
    Ah, blessed, blessed replay! USA v. Ghana coming up this weekend. Be there.

    President Bill Clinton was there. As a noted radio host said today, “He is SO getting laid tonight.”

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  89. MichaelG said on June 23, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    I was at work and didn’t get to watch any of the game, let alone see the Goal. I dipped in now and then to get the score. I hope I’ll see the Goal on the news tonight. I think I missed something, Dexter. Why is Clinton more likely to get laid in S. Africa than anywhere else?

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  90. beb said on June 23, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    What a weird day for news — most of what I read here first.

    This afternoon I was sitting down at work for a moment when I felt the chair wobble. I was sitting still but the chair was rocking ever so faintly back and forth. Turns out there was an earthquake in Canada near enough to be felt! I await Nancy’s tale of the event, she being so much closer to the epicenter.

    Had to Google about the BP oil well. Apparently it wasn’t an accident, but deliberate due to (I’m guess) excessive pressure. I suppose the fear is that if they don’t relieve the pressure the well will crack open uncontrollably. Well, this is going from bad to worse.

    But in news that gives me a small warm sense of schadenfreude, I learn that our disgraced ex-mayor has been indicted for 19 different FEDERAL crimes today. Kwame won’t have to worry about how he going to afford that mansion down in Texas — he won’t be seeing it again anytime soon.

    His mother, the Congresswoman, is reported devasted by the charges. I’m just surprised she hasn’t been swept up in the corruption inverstigation. The apple, afterall, doesn’t fall far from the tree.

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  91. Deborah said on June 23, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    I’m stuck at work, there’s a big storm going on out there, tornado warnings, the works. My desk is about 10 feet away from a gigantic window, maybe I should go somewhere else. Earthquakes, tornados, what else is new?

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  92. Brian Cubbison said on June 23, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    To deb:

    Yes, that’s me. Still in a newsroom, in Syracuse, N.Y.

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  93. deb said on June 23, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    ah, cubby! nice to know you’re still out there. i still recall something you said about peter king’s love life (in a letter, after i went on to grain ‘n’ shit monthly) as one of the funniest “post item” bits ever.

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