Garret Mathews is retired from writing the metro column for the Evansville, Ind., Courier & Press. He penned more than 6,500 columns in a career that began in 1972. Mathews lives in Carmel, Ind., and happily babysits his new grandson four days a week.
When I recall my early years in the newspaper business at the Bluefield, West Virginia, Daily Telegraph, I think of pounding out stories on an ancient Royal typewriter that could have been used as a hand weight at a World War II boot camp.
And mailroom guys growing marijuana in the dirt between the cracks of the wood floor on the third floor.
C.W., their boss, was cool with it and even helped with the harvest.
“Makes ‘em work better,” he told me.
And never completely trusting the contents of the pizza on my desk because pieces of the Depression-era ceiling were always falling down. One night, a staffer thought he was biting into an anchovy and ended up needing dental work.
I worked with a narc, a woman who went to jail for Social Security fraud, a guy who went to jail for assault, assorted alcoholics, assorted drug users and a desk man who tried to burn the newspaper building down.
The attempted mass homicide didn’t amount to much. The gothic structure had lived through 80 years of storms, pigeons, angry readers and poor reporters. It could survive a quart of lighter fluid and a boat-load of matches.
But what I remember the most are the nicknames that were given out like lollipops at the bank.
The big three were “slick,” “ace” and “stud.”
“Gimme six grafs on that bus wreck, slick, so we can make deadline and go drink beer at King Tut’s Drive-In before Stu tries to set the place on fire again.”
“Hang up on your girlfriend, stud. Need that headline on the Sewage Board meeting some time today. We ain’t a monthly.”
“Better not be going up to the mailroom, ace. The cops are up there handing out indictments.”
“I know there’s no chair, slick. Company policy. There’s three for every five employees. Either come in early or learn to squat.”
“Wouldn’t park out front if I was you, ace. Get a little wind and bricks start flying off the roof. Usually land where your hood ornament is.”
Sadly, you don’t hear those wonderful nouns around the newspaper office any more.
We have this ridiculous, politically correct notion that folks should be called by their real names.
Can’t call somebody “slick” because it means “pile of bile” to natives of Qatar.
Can’t call somebody “ace” because it reminds the news editor he isn’t one.
Newsrooms are alleged to be too sophisticated to dabble in such verbiage these days. We have carpet now. And coffee makers. And ceilings that can be counted on to stand their ground.
I take this opportunity to break from the mold.
To: Those who address me in the future:
From: The ex-columnist in cubicle 12
Let it be known that henceforth I will no longer answer to Garret. Or GM. Or “Whatsit.” Or “Hey, you.”
I want my appellation to touch on the rich history of the newspaper business.
I also want it to reflect my strength, power, well-being and, yes, virility.
My greeting of choice is “stud.”
“Hey, stud, the company car is stuck in a ditch. Wanna lift it out for us?
“Hey, stud, our new hire was parking his car and got hit with a brick. Can we borrow some of your scar tissue?”
“Hey, stud, there’s a gas leak at King Tut’s. Can you suck up the fumes until the HAZ-MAT crews get here? And hurry. There are three slicks and two aces in there.”