The Answered Prayers of the Printers Devil – Part 1
I strolled into the grungy newspaper office, hung up my jacket, removed my school shirt and threw an apron over my tall, thin, 16-year old body. Not just any apron, but a printer’s apron, long black and filthy with ink and grease.
The Lake Odessa Wave, owned by Dick and Kathy Schultz, was not an award winning weekly newspaper. That didn’t matter to me. I was extremely proud of this job and loved working there. I enjoyed journalism, was the high school paper’s news editor and yearbook photographer. And Wednesday nights were always special. It was press night. Seeing that huge roll of raw paper come out of the old, iron printing press as neatly folded papers with stories and pictures was always a thrill. So what if the articles were poorly written, the photos blurry, the headline fonts didn’t match and some of the papers weren’t all that neatly folded? It was still a thrill. But there was another reason I loved Wednesday nights at the Wave – I didn’t have to attend Wednesday night prayer meeting at the Main Street Bible Church! My dad’s church. How I loved that job!
I attended Wednesday night prayer meetings since I was five. Eleven years of sitting quietly in a pew, or on a hard metal folding chair, every week. Sitting through basically the same service every week (think Ground Hog Day movie). Always a couple of hymns (hopefully there was a pianist to help the few, but wonderful saints muddle through), next a short lesson from the Bible, then prayer requests were taken. Occasionally some parishioners stated their requests were unspoken, but most usually knew what they meant – Clarksville was a very small town. Then the men separated from the women. The groups sat around in small circles and prayed aloud. Rarely did other children attend. I think Mom and Dad required my presence because they recognized early on that I might be the black sheep of the family and that early intervention might help (obviously, it didn’t). Most of the time I was okay with being a preacher’s kid, but I did hate prayer meeting, part of that two-sided coin thing.
“It’s gonna be a short night tonight.” At 3:35 p.m., Dick bellowed around his half lit, half chewed cigar that perpetually jutted from his mouth. “Only 8 pages and we’re getting the hell out early.”
Well that’s alright, I thought. Early probably meant 9:00 p.m., as we normally finished around 11:00 p.m., and frequently not till 2:00 a.m., or later. But then I noted that the paper was all wrapped up. The chases, heavy steel frames holding each pages’ columns of leaded type, were waiting for me to lug to the elevator for their short ride down to the press. The Linotype machines were quiet; the press had been oiled and the Schultz’s were waiting on me to start printing. I started to worry – prayer meeting started at 7:00 p.m. Since starting this job I had managed to miss nearly all of them, I did not want another exception.
Dick and Kathy were the owners, publishers, editors, writers, typesetters, printers, photographers, ad salesmen and bookkeepers of the Wave. It was rumored they were also both drunks. But lest you judge, they were high functioning drunks. After copious amounts of strong black coffee in the morning, they generally switched to beer by noon. The whiskey, straight up, came nearer the end of their day. Usually. They were funny, loud, profane and loved me almost like a son. I loved them too. They were my kind of people. Sinners!
Dick, was short with a big gut hanging over his drooping pants, and always moved like he was on the way to a fire. He had short sparse hair that most men today would shave bald. He usually wore a battered fedora when he went out with his ancient cameras to take blurry pictures of football touchdowns or basketball layups. Kathy was about the same height, slightly plump and only wore wigs or a bandanna on her head. I never saw her real hair. The longer the day, or the night, the more crooked her wig sat, until it looked like a bedraggled birds nest struggling to hang on in a wind storm. Like Dick, she had a hoarse voice, probably from all the cigarettes she smoked. Kathy also had a wonderful sense of humor, but was much less crusty with the public then Dick. Most of the news we published came from little old ladies writing up the social events for their tiny hamlets, the local churches or the schools. Important events moved Dick to pound out an article that somewhat resembled the facts along with a grainy photo. Occasionally he would get a bur under his saddle and write some half-baked editorial that usually angered the few who bothered to read it, which made Dick feel happy, a success. People were angry and he’d caused it. What could get any better than that?
My parents eagerly awaited my weekly updates on the production of the Lake Odessa Wave. Jokingly, and in the sanctity of our home, they gave the paper a new motto: “All the News That Fits – We Print.” It was their parody of the New York Times motto of “All the News That’s Fit To Print.”
Next week – Part 2!