The Answered Prayers of the Printers Devil – Part 2
Dick was always rushed when laying out the paper. Remember there were no computers, everything was set in lead line by line. When a column of lead type (the story) was longer than the page space available, correct newsroom practice was to insert a line of type that said “continued on page 3” and move the remaining part of the story to page three. Or, one could quickly review the galley proof of the story and then remove a paragraph or several sentences of lead type that were not critical to the gist of the story. Not old Dick! Nothing was edited down or continued. Whatever lines of lead type that couldn’t fit in the space on that page were dramatically thrown into the used lead bucket. Thus, our stories frequently ended in the middle of a paragraph or a sentence or even the score of a game. No ending punctuation, no ending anything. Worry about dangling participles? It was our readers we left dangling! Only the news that fit did we print.
I learned a lot in the 11 months I’d been working there. How to set type and lay out the paper. How not to burn myself every time I made those long slugs of hot lead that fed the giant, wheezing Linotype machines. How to web the press. And I was learning how to hand feed fancy invitations into the old, small-jobs printer without painfully slamming my hands between the constantly rotating platens. I learned other things too. Like when the web of paper tore to shreds at 2:00 in the morning, cussing helped, so did a quick, surreptitious slug of Dick’s cheap whiskey. I learned that, stacked in the corner of the dusty dark room, Dick’s collection of old black and white nudist colony magazines confirmed that girls really did grow hair down there; that the best hamburgers in the world came from the local bowling alley and that Dick’s old Ford Falcon, under certain conditions, usually after midnight and a few sips of whiskey, could peel rubber.
By 4:00 p.m., on that particular Wednesday, Dick’s hand gripped the iron tiller-like bar and he slowly eased the belt over onto the pulleys, engaging the old behemoth press. He adjusted the tension, checked that the web had no faded ink areas and then threw the tiller over to, “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, we’re getting the hell out early,” speed. Kathy started stomping the foot pedals of the ancient Addressograph machine, trying to stamp the addresses on the papers without smearing them beyond legibility. I began eyeing the old filmy wall clock. Frequently. Dang! We might finish in time for prayer meeting. Not good.
At 4:30 p.m., I offered up a quick prayer for a web tear, anything to slow this torpedo down. It wasn’t answered. By 4:45 p.m., I was silently bargaining with God. Offering up my future first born, maybe even stop masturbating (I didn’t specify for how long), anything Lord, just keep me out of prayer meeting that night. By 5:15 p.m., I was bundling the papers for local delivery. At 5:30 p.m., I loaded them into the old Falcon. Slowly I drove, stopping observantly at each intersection – even though there were no stop signs. Instead of heaving the bundles on to the sidewalk, I carefully walked them up to the stores and if the stores were still open, reverently took them inside and chatted up the clerks. I placed those bundles exactly where the post office always wanted them, but rarely got them on late press-run nights. By 6:05 p.m., I was back at the Wave, shoulders slumped, arms barely dirty, changing back into my shirt. Our last stop to make was Clarksville, an easy 9-mile drive. My home was the parsonage on Main Street, right across from the church, one block from the drug store where the paper bundle was to be dropped off.
By now, Dick and Kathy had switched to whiskey. Drinking it straight, in grimy, ink-fingerprinted, unwashed old kitchen glasses. “Okay, let’s go” Dick hollered at 6:15 p.m. I didn’t notice the glint in his eyes, sort of hard to observe when they’re blood shot, or the smirk on Kathy’s face, obscured by the smoke of her dangling menthol slim. Defeated, I clambered into the back seat of the Falcon, quietly resigned to my fate. Knowing that in 15 minutes I’d be home, shortly thereafter sitting in the church basement on a cold, metal folding chair, listening to deep, sincere requests to the Almighty. I barely noticed the extra turn of the car, but did come to when we pulled into the parking lot of the bowling alley. Dick and Kathy got out. Figuring they were picking up food to eat after they dropped me off, I remained crammed in my seat with bundles of old papers piled around me until Dick pounded on the faded metal roof and Kathy barked, “Get out! We’re hungry!” They roared with laughter as I unfolded out of the little car, a smile of hope slowly spreading across my face.
Two rounds of beer leisurely imbibed by Dick and Kathy, huge cheeseburgers with hot greasy fries and lots of cat-sup, all slowly eaten, plus a sipped cherry coke. Ahh…
Answered prayers never tasted so good.