Back in the days when it wasn’t clear which way my career was going to go, I filed a lot of clippings. Because you just never know. Some of them were reference material – maps, charts, statistics. Some of them funny or touching stories – rings being found on a beach and returned to their rightful owner 25 years later.
Anything that tickled me or that I thought might go into a story or an article or a novel that was based in the strangeness of life on this planet. In fact, I built an entire home office predicated on the idea that I would be filing a lot of stuff away – without thinking that, most of the time, everything I was filing would either be online or digitized.
But now the course of my writing career is pretty well set, and barring divine intervention, I’m not going to be doing much for inflight magazines. (I still harbor hopes of that Great American Novel, but I’m not holding my breath.) So during my work’s traditional summer slowdown, I’ve started cleaning out the files, keeping some, discarding most, and digitizing what’s easily found on the Internet (which is a lot).
Some of the clippings were stories I’d saved because I found them inspirational, or sweet, or ironic, or … something.
- From the Sunday, Nov. 16, 1980, Syracuse Herald-American (this would have been from my days at Cornell): a list of college lingo, including the slang term “Face Book” as a reference to a yearbook. (This was printed four years before Mark Zuckerberg was born.)
- A one-day calendar page (remember those 4” x 4” gift calendars – word of the day, stuff like that; remember calendars?) for May 18, noting the coincidence that the play Our American Cousin, which Abraham Lincoln attended the night he was shot, was also playing in Chicago on May 18, 1860, the place and day Lincoln was nominated for president.
- A purloined brief from the law firm where I used to do word processing at night (now defunct itself), in which a “document” is defined as “any written, printed, typed, photostatic, photographed, recorded, or otherwise reproduced communication or representation, whether comprised of letters, words, numbers, pictures, sounds and symbols, or any combination thereof, including but not limited to any and all originals, copies or drafts of any of the following: correspondence, memoranda, notes, records, letters, envelopes, telegrams, messages, studies, analyses, contracts, agreements, projections, estimates, working papers, summaries, statistical statements, financial statements or work papers, accounts, analytical records, reports and/or summaries or investigations, opinions, reports of consultants, accounts [sic] or other persons, books, diaries, articles, magazines, newspapers, booklets, brochures, pamphlets, notices, forecasts, drawings, diagrams, charts, graphics, photographs, films, tapes, disks, print-outs, telegrams, telexes or cables.” I’m not sure why telegrams had to be listed twice.
- An August 2, 1982 Newsweek article entitled “The Decaying Of America” about the disgraceful state of U.S. infrastructure – which turns out to have been dated almost exactly 25 years to the day (August 1, 2007) before the collapse of the Interstate 35 bridge in Minneapolis.
- The 1985 obituary of Marion Tanner, the real-life inspiration for Auntie Mame, including the news that her nephew, the author of the book about her, was now estranged because she used the money he gave her to help people less fortunate than her – exactly the behavior he celebrated in her fictionalized story.
- The 2004 obituary of Vaughn Meader, the singer/pianist who discovered in the early Sixties that he could uncannily impersonate the voice of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Interestingly, I was able to find digital versions of the AP story recounting his death, but discovered that only my local paper had inserted this line referencing Gerald Nachman’s book Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s, which noted, “One twist to the single-bullet theory that didn’t make it into the Warren Report: The same bullet that killed JFK also murdered Vaughn Meader’s career.”
- A printout of one of those wonderful stories that did and still do circulate around the Internet, this one explaining that the rocket boosters for the Space Shuttle are the width that they are because they had to be transported via railroad tracks, the width of which was determined by the width of two horses pulling Roman Chariots. I always loved that story, but it turns out it’s not true. Darn. Does that also mean that the first toilet shown on television wasn’t on Leave It To Beaver?
And those are only from a couple of folders in a couple of drawers, so … more next week.