My first newspaper job, on the Bee, was, in retrospect, a dream job for a young writer just starting out. The paper was scrupulously honest. You were held strictly accountable for every quote, every fact. There was an odd, old-fashioned, conservative strain to the paper, too. The saying around the city room was that the style guide was written by someone who had been dead for 50 years, old C.K. McClatchy, the founder and owner. There were some weird rules it was necessary to remember. You weren’t allowed to use contractions. The old man just hadn’t liked them. Make that had not liked them. This was a stunner, the idea of filling your story with “had not,” and “can not,” and “did not,” but that was the rule. Also, you could never write that it was hot in Sacramento, and that included all derivatives. It was “warm,” even though people were dropping from the heat, which could get up to 110 degrees. I remember covering a junior tennis match involving 10-year-old Rosie Casals on one of those blistering days, and I tried to make it a mood piece, the two little girls running around in that withering heat, etc. That’s before I knew about the rule. In the paper, it came out, “withering warmth.”
When you were on the road, you always had to dateline your story with the name of the county attached, after a comma. The standing joke was that a gunman jumps into a cab in downtown Sacramento, sticks his gun in the driver’s ribs and says, ‘Roseville, comma, Placer County.”
The Bee’s city desk fascinated me because of the collection of characters who manned the slots. My favorite was a real old-timer named Wayne “Slick” Selleck, who actually wore one of those green eyeshades that were known as the trademark of ancient newspaper men. Slick had some great stories about the old days, but the best thing he had was a scrapbook he had compiled of the bizarre and outlandish, much of which was of a smutty nature. My favorite item, out of a spectacular collection, involved a large photo that led the features page of the Bee, mid-1920s. It showed a movie actress who was passing through Sacramento by train. She was posing at the station, posing very prettily, with a stylish dress and hat and veil, in front of a background that was a bleak desert, which I guess was much of the area in those days. And in that barren background, two dogs were humping. I laughed every time I looked at that thing.
I was single and caught up in the excitement of actually doing newspaper work. I was making $85 a week, and it seemed that I always had money in my pocket. My little duplex in North Sac cost $61 a month, later lowered to $60 by my Polish landlady because I was quiet and paid on time. My big meal of the week was the $2.99 All You Can Eat Roast Beef and Shrimp Newburg special at Sam’s Rancho Villa in Carmichael. It would hold me for 24 hours.
I covered tennis and got to love the sport. I did a serious mood piece on Rosie Casals, aged 10, outlasting Leslie Abrahams, 13, in a three-hour marathon in the Central Cal juniors, the blistering heat, uh, warmth, sand flying, getting in their hair, their eyes, the two kids racing around the court, tears streaming. The best match I ever saw. I remember interviewing little Rosie afterward, a tough Mexican-American kid, going around to the tournaments with her white-haired father, the two of them shunned by the fancy clubs, which wouldn’t put them up overnight, having to sleep in their old jalopy of a car. “It was the gear shift that killed me,” she said.
Full marks to the MMQB, for making this Dr. Z Week. Those of us that grew up with and grew old reading Paul Zimmerman, the unparalleled football writer at Sports Illustrated and SI.com, knew what was lost when a series of strokes in late 2008 left the man silenced. Younger readers might appreciate the introduction. Direct, opinionated, a man of great passions. My kind of man.
This long form piece is one I think I must have missed in the magazine, covering one of my Raider heroes, Howie Long. It’s an incredible portrait, and one I’ve urged my son to read. I think a lot of our children have no idea how much of life is down to chance, in terms of the circumstance one is given, but how much more is down to effort – what one makes of the circumstance. I love this story. Well done, Z.
He sits in his grandmother’s kitchen in Charlestown, his great frame crowding the room, his face alight and open as he tells these stories. It’s the face of innocence, an Irish minstrel boy’s face transported to the body of a massive grown man. This magnificent body, combined with those clean, chiseled good looks, already has the Hollywood talent scouts buzzing. Now where is there a part for a 275-pound choirboy? He is 25 years old with two years of All-Pro behind him, a wife who has completed two years of law school and a healthy baby son named Christopher Howard Long. It’s all there ahead of him, a life of infinite promise, and yet almost every story he tells about himself, every anecdote, has an undercurrent of despair. It’s not me, he seems to be telling you, this isn’t really me that you see here in front of you.