Here’s why it’s hard to get things done…

Here I am, finally, at the public library here at the beach, after two days in which I was unable to open my laptop during the few hours that my post-stroke brain allows me to do real work each day. First there was the Fourth of July, during which I scraped the rust off my grill long enough to build a fire and cook hot dogs and corn on the cob in the middle of the hottest day in the history of the world. After that, I only had energy to rewatch the first two epidodes of HBO’s “John Adam” with my wife and two of my daughters — which I thoroughly enjoyed, I’ll admit. That’s what everyone should do on that holiday.

Then, on Wednesday, there was the packing up and driving to the beach. We decided to come here a couple of days ahead of a cousin’s wedding in Conway on Saturday. That was tiring, especially since the rainstorm started while we were having lunch in Lake City, and didn’t end for the rest of the day.

So now I’m here at the library, with no distractions, where I can work, right?

Well, no. Never having been confined to a sensory deprivation tank, I’ve never been anywhere like that. I often claim, with some justice I think, to be the most easily distracted person on the planet.

For instance, look at the shelf next to me, since I made the mistake of glancing at it.

I think, That might be interesting. Not because of the stuff everybody knows about Mr. Shoe Business but I’m also thinking, I’ll bet it deals fairly extensively with his time as a newspaperman.

Which is something I only know about because of my own brief time as a reporter, in the late 1970s, before my long decades as an editor.

And it was just a chance thing that I learned it. It was during my time as “chief” of the Gibson County Bureau of The Jackson (Tenn.) Sun. That grand title meant that I was a lone reporter who was based 30 miles away in Trenton, charged with covering everything that happened in five counties to the north of Jackson. I think the “chief” part was because I had a secretary, who divided her time between me and the circulation and advertising departments. (I didn’t really need a secretary, but she tried hard. Once or twice, I pulled out multiple clippings that I needed to write a story and spread them over my desk, and stepped away to the men’s room down the hall before starting — only to come back and find she had refiled them all.)

I had a lot to do in those five counties, sometimes causing me to work more than 24 hours at a time — what with covering multiple things all day, writing them all overnight, and working through deadline the next morning. But that did not excuse me from the rotation that required everyone to do periodic human interest stories. Talk about distraction — not that I didn’t find them occasionally interesting.

I had found this old guy in one of my counties (and when I say old, I mean perhaps even as old as I am now) whose story interested me. He was retired to the country after a long career in the Central Intelligence Agency. This interested me a great deal as a fan of le Carré and Deighton, so when my turn came around, I went to interview him.

But what I remember now had nothing to do with intelligence work, because he had another career before the war, before even “Wild Bill” Donovan’s OSS existed, even less the CIA. He was a copy boy at one of the New York papers that doesn’t even exist any more. Maybe this one, but I don’t recall.

I, of course, particularly love one story he told from those times, because I’m probably the youngest journalist you’ll ever meet who actually started his career in that traditional manner — although by that time, thanks to the second wave of feminism, we were called copy clerks. (But it remained, despite that one girl who joined us some nights, a very boyish line of work.)

It so happened that the sports editor at that paper was Ed Sullivan. Hearing that was news to me at the time — I just saw him as that unlikely impresario, to use the book’s title (but once I learned that, the sports editor title seemed to fit him better than the later role). Anyway, one night Ed was hard up, and had no one to go cover the prize fights. So he sent this kid, my interview subject, giving him strict orders on the basics, telling him how to take notes, and just come back and write what happened. He was probably anticipating no more than a simple listing of who won which bouts. I mean, the kid should be able to handle that, right?

But that night, with no one there to cover it but this kid, a fighter was killed in the ring.

So the kid came back, and wrote what had happened, and his dreams were exceeded by this horrific occurrence — Ed and the other editors not only ran his story, but gave him a byline, which wasn’t something just handed out to anybody. I don’t have my story handy, but I think he even made the front, maybe even the lede.

So the copy boy in me was in awe. The biggest thing I ever got to do was once, on a holiday, I was sent to collect “the agate” — which meant going to the cop shop and the courthouse and coming back and typing up such dull stuff as property transfers and court filings.

That was a big day for me, in which I felt strongly the burden of responsibility. But what this guy was telling me was the stuff of legend

Anyway, I’ll try to stop and do some work now…

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