Advanced Reporting

The woman opened her front door and got right to the point, “Why are you looking at my house?”

When I chewed Apple I HAD to spit.
When I chewed Apple I HAD to spit.

I had just put a plug of Apple chewing tobacco in my mouth because I hadn’t intended to try to interview her until later. When I chewed Apple I had to spit, so I didn’t chew it indoors.

But I knew from the tone in her voice it was now or never — she was an older black woman; I was a young white guy. 

So I introduced myself, told her I was a reporter for The Charlotte News, told her what I was working on, and asked if could I come in and talk to her.  She said yes, but reluctantly it seemed to me.

That bulge in my face is not bubble gum.
This photo was made on another occasion but I was chewing then too. And that bulge in my jaw is not bubble gum.

I was investigating a federally funded neighborhood improvement program.  I knew that some inspection reports had been falsified, causing the government to pay contractors for work they had not done, and I was gathering more evidence.

I sat on the sofa in her living room and asked about the work that had been done on her house, but I was getting nowhere. She gave me one word answers and seemed uncomfortable with me being there.   I was pretty uncomfortable myself –I was about to spill tobacco juice down the front of my white shirt.

I had to spit.

My indoor chew. Mixed with coffee the juice goes right down.
My indoor chew. Mixed with coffee I could swallow the juice.

Indoors I chewed Red Man.   If I had to, I could swallow Red Man tobacco juice, especially if I had some coffee to dilute it.  But not Apple. No way. Gradually I began tilting my head back, trying to keep my mouth parallel to the floor so tobacco juice wouldn’t run out either corner of my mouth when I was talking. But you can only do that for so long. When your mouth is full the juice has to go somewhere.

Finally I told her: “I’m sorry, ma’am. I’ve got to go spit out this tobacco.”

“Why, law, reach under that sofa and get my spit can,” she said.

I did. What a relief.

She offered; I accepted.
She offered; I accepted.

“Have you ever tried Days Work? she asked, pulling out her brand.

“No, ma’am,” I said.

“Would you like to?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

And she handed me some, and a knife, and I cut myself a plug and put in my mouth.

After that I could do no wrong.

“Come on back here and let me show you the mess they left in my bathroom,” she told me.

NOTE: I chewed for about 10 years, I guess, until I heard a story that rattled my cage. I quit that day — right then.  I posted a story about that, called “You did WHAT?,” on Dec. 9, 2016.

Coming Monday: Smarts Win

SOB

If you knew what a “slug” was you would know what a foolish mistake I had made.

In the old days, reporters named their stories –slugged them — so everyone could keep up with them while they was being edited and set in type. Editors laying out the paper would diagram where each story was supposed to go and write the slug in that space.

The slug on this story
This story was slugged “gunfight” and, below that, is the “lead,” the first paragraph.  Yes, this copy was written about 50 years ago and, no, I didn’t save everything.  Just a few things.

Each page of a story –newspaper people called a page a “take” — was slugged. The first take about, say, a fatal traffic accident might be slugged “twodead-1,”  the second take, “twodead-2” and so forth.

Why?

Stories that came in late would be set in type by several linotype operators, each one working on a different take. The story could be set in type faster that way. Reassembling a story wasn’t a problem because each take was slugged, showing the printer which blocks of type went together and in what order.

The printer, of course, would remove the slug lines and throw them into what they called the “hellbox.” At least, he was supposed to.

I wrote right many embarrassing stories about government misadventures and the officials who were responsible. The main character of the story in question was a bad fellow, an SOB, so I slugged the story “SOB-1; SOB-2; SOB-3” and so forth.

You’ve guessed what happened, haven’t you.

The printer failed to pulled one of the slugs, on the third take, “SOB-3,” and that slug appeared in the paper.  Right in the middle of the story there it was, “SOB-3.”

Postscript:  That was the last time I ever wrote a prejudicial comment about one of my stories, something that could have been used against me in court.   Never again, not in a slug, not in the margin of my copy, not in my notes, and, later on, not in an email — nowhere, no how, no way.  I had learned my lesson.

Coming Monday: Ring THAT Up