Stop the presses! Well, could you at least slow them down?
Being a newspaper reporter and/or editor is like any other job - it has its good points and its not-so-good points. For example, there is no other job where you get to yell, "Stop the presses!" - except, perhaps, if you work for a dry cleaner.
In more than 22 years of full-time work with a daily newspaper, I never did get to utter that command. However, every day I went to work, there was always a chance that might be the day.
Actually, I did stop the presses one time, but I didn't get to yell that imperative sentence. I got a tad too close to the printing press and my tie got caught in one of the rollers. All I could manage was, "Aaagh!!!"
Unlike the theatrical version of newspaper reporters, I never knew anybody who wore a piece of cardboard in his or her hat brim bearing the word, "PRESS." I didn't even wear a hat, so I would have really looked silly with cardboard duct-taped onto the earpiece of my glasses.
One of the advantages I quickly discovered when I started as a summer intern 40 years ago was that I didn't have to be in any pictures. I was the one who took pictures of other people.
Most of these people had no problem posing for pictures. In fact, it was difficult in keeping some of them out of photos. But there was usually at least one camera-shy person who tried to duck behind a potted plant whenever I raised my camera.
I didn't have the heart to insist that the person be dragged out into the open and have his or her name appear with everyone else, listed from left to right. After all, if not for the grace of God, it could have been me being pulled out from behind a plastic palm tree.
Of course, there were a few drawbacks when it came to taking pictures for the newspaper. At the top of the list was trying to get people rounded up for a group shot.
I'd be all set to snap the photo when someone would cry out, "Where's Cornelius?" This would signal the start a search for Cornelius. Suddenly, the mystery person would reappear and two more people would be missing.
Rounding up the people in a group shot was as frustratingly futile as trying to catch popping corn with a pair of tweezers.
Then there were the not-so-nice people who REALLY didn't want their picture taken. These people were usually accompanied by law enforcement officials and were being led in to or out of a police station or courthouse.
Once, a guy started to chase me after I snapped his photo. It's a good thing he was wearing leg shackles or he probably would have caught me.
But my all-time, least favorite picture-taking assignment was when my editor would send me out to do a person-on-the-street assignment. That is where there would be a question that I would ask three or more people, write down their opinions and take their pictures.
I am a fairly shy person, so I hated having to go up to people on a street corner or in front of a store to try to get them to give me their opinion while I took their picture. Even family members and friends would cross to the other side of the street if they saw me lurking about with a camera and question.
I'm used to people avoiding me, so that didn't bother me. What did bother me were the ones who would give 10 to 15 minutes of their opinion while I risked acute writer's cramp as I frantically took notes.
The clincher came when I would get ready to take a picture to go with the 1,500-word quote that I had to trim down to 50 words. "You're not putting this in the paper are you?" the person would ask while he or she ran away.
It's fortunate that I am not sarcastic because I might have been tempted to yell, "No. I'm not putting this in the paper. Instead of collecting coins or stamps, I collect people's opinions."
Taking sports pictures was sometimes almost as frustrating. I took quite a few shots of teams that just won a championship of some sort. Inevitably, one or two of the guys thought it was funny to make an inappropriate gesture. I was so focused on focusing, I wouldn't notice - and sometimes nobody noticed until the picture had already run in the paper.
Come to think of it, that might have been the reason the editor gave me so many of those person-on-the-street assignments. He didn't want people's opinions; he just wanted me out of the office.
Taking pictures along the sidelines of a high school football game had an element of danger to it. I would be using a telephoto lens to take a picture of a running back 20 yards away and fail to see a 250-pound lineman 10 feet away and heading straight at me. Fortunately, I had developed quick reflexes dodging irate editors, so I was able to sidestep the onrushing human steam roller in the nick of time.
Well, I was able to avoid being flattened all but one time. That game, I zigged right, the lineman zagged left and I sagged to the ground. The next thing I remember was being in an emergency room asking doctors and nurses their opinions on the topic of whether or not football is too violent a game.
(Walt Kozlowski, a freelance writer from Mount Carmel, composes "Walt's Way" for each Sunday edition.)