Monday, October 21, 2013

STORY-Veteran Day Thoughts.

I remember my first newspaper article I wrote. It was a piece about riding along with the Nye County Sheriffs Department, in the town of Pahrump, Nevada. I was authorized a press pass and introduced to a local Sheriff's Deputy. It was an interesting and extremely informative night spent learning of how lonely and dangerous it was to be a police officer in a rural community with a patrol area of roughly 300 square miles. The sheriff's department had only four deputies to include the shift Sgt, and the one I was riding with as the total police force. Backup could be a long time coming.

I was nervous in the extreme that evening. Not about being shot or involved in something I could not handle or that the deputy could not handle, no it was I might miss something or misunderstand what was going on. I took copious notes. I think I all but filled a yellow legal pad that night. I rode for a full 12 hours. I stayed with my deputy from the time he went on shift, through the dregs of his night when he filled out his paperwork. I don't think mystery writers, films or TV shows can ever emphasize enough the amount of paperwork each officer has to do. It was an 18 hour day by the time the paperwork was finished. I remember coming home, kissing my wife and daughter and sliding into bed a zombie.

I wrote my article over the next few days and as a backstop, I sent my rough article to a very dear friend Linda Vernon in Wyoming. She was a former police officer, who had become a writer. She was kind enough to pre-edit my story before I submitted it to my editor. Two days later, my editor a man for this story who will go by simply as Mr. Mark, called me into his office. When I arrived, there was a stack of newspapers on his desk wrapped up in twine, with a sticky note attached.

"David have you seen today's edition" Mr. Mark asked.

I took the offered spare chair in his office and replied, "No sir I have not."

Mr. Mark paused for a moment and then grinned, "Well son, if you are going to be in the newspaper business you need to become neurotic like the rest of us, when you know you have submitted something for publishing."

That's when I noticed, the stack of papers sitting on his desk. Mr. Mark pushed them towards me and just grinned. On the front page, above the fold, was my very first newspaper article.

"You are going to need these papers, so you can cut out and keep a record of your work. Every newspaper reporter does. Because sooner or later you are going to need to leave here and find another paper to write for." He said with his face lit up.

He then grabbed me by the arm, and took me to where the newspaper's news room and editing spaces were located. "See that room there David?" He asked me.

I nodded my head and said that I did.

"Do you know what it is full of?" Mr. Mark asked me in a very serious tone.

At first I thought he was pulling my leg and this was practical joke they pulled on the new guy, and so I cautiously replied, "Uh, a room full of reporters?"

"Exactly! Not a God Damned one of them a writer! Hell give me six weeks and I can make a reporter out of a circus monkey. But either you are a writer or you are not a writer. You have to be born to tell stories." He then clapped me on the shoulders, gave me a tour of the place and introduced me to the rest of the staff.

Eight months later, I walked into his office and took my old US Army map, carrying, case, one each, off my shoulders and pulled out my reporters pad, to talk to him about a story I was working on.

Mr. Mark noticed my bag and said to me, "Whoa there son. Where did you get that thing?" Nodding his head towards my bag.

"I stole it fair and square from the US Army. They gave it to me and never asked for it back. So I figured they had more than they could use, and it is my souvenir for being a nice guy."

Mr. Mark just laughed and bent over and pulled something from behind his desk, and held it up for me to see. It was a canvas map case like mine.

"I have been carrying this thing around with me for close to 37 years." He said.

That's when we discovered we were both bastard step children graduates and alumni of the Ft. Benning School for wayward youth. A couple of nights later we sat in a local cantina  eating something called Pollo el Diablo and enjoying handmade margaritas. We shared our stories. He told me of being an Infantryman in Vietnam; while I shared humorous stories of belonging to a National Guard unit that looked and acted like a cross between Kelly's Heroes and Hogan's Heroes.

Post Script. Mr Mark was one of those unfortunate souls who was sprayed with Agent Orange. Like so many of his generation, his battlefield wounds in the end caused his death decades after being exposed to the chemical grandfather to Roundup. They told me he went quickly, editing a report on a dodgy county council member who had approve some rather shady zone variances for a developer. His heart just stopped. He was as it turned out, my first editor and so far my last editor. I miss him deeply. He is my 2013 Veterans Day Remembrance.

-DS Baker