Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Miles to go before I get pulled over

You are now entering ... Aaron's blog

   I've been fired, I've quit, I've been downsized, restructured, laid off, yelled at, cursed, thanked, congratulated, transferred sideways so many times you'd think I was on a merry go round. In 46 years in the newspaper business since I landed a part time job as a copyboy at the New York Post when I was 17 years old and a freshman at the City College of New York, I've sharpened pencils, made coffee, distributed galley proofs, read upside down, written headlines, corrected grammar, saved countless reporters from getting their pants sued off, gotten one newspaper's pants sued off (they should have fought but it was cheaper to settle), hell, it's like preventing terrorism, only the ones that slip through the security measures get noticed. I've Hemingwayed a thousand run-on sentences, called hundreds of reporters in the middle of the night to tell them there's a hole in their story big enough to bounce a beachball through. Did I mention I've made up a verb or two along the way and mangled the English language in a thousand different headlines? There's one thing I've never done until this week ... retired.
   Make that semi-retired. That's the way I see it. Bad financial judgment over the years led me to put in for early Social Security at the age of 63 and for every buck I earn above a certain amount I have to pay a penalty, so I decided to cut back on my hours. I was sure the publisher of the newspaper I work for would take it hard, since I did everything I could the last two and a half years to make myself indispensible, but when I asked to cut back on my hours his eyes lit up. The paper isn't going to replace me, will no longer be saddled with the cost of my health insurance, and my colleagues will have to pick up the slack, so why shouldn't he be happy.
   He's happy. I'm happy. If a day or two of overtime gets thrown into the mix my colleagues will be happy. What's wrong with this picture? I'll tell you what's wrong. If I don't do something to head it off at the pass, my friend Victor is going to send me a comment saying "Congratulations on your retirement." And I'm going to have to correct him and say "Semi-retirement."
   The fact is, it's time to devote more time to my second career as the second coming of Studs Turkel. And to collect my thoughts on the fine art of writing headlines and finish that semi instructional, semi autobiographical book I always wanted to write under the title of this blog. Uh oh. I think I hear the dinner bell tolling. It's tolling for me. I toll you so.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

An audio sampler

   Friends, Romans, Presidents, lend me your ears ...

Ears! Ears! I said "Lend me your EARS!"

No! No! I meant the kind of ears you listen with!

Now that's what I'm talkin' about. I've created a new sampler CD containing tracks from several of my oral history audiobooks. The audiobooks are available in my eBay store.

Click on the links below to listen to the sampler in mp3 form.

Track 1 Introduction (Aaron Elson)

Track 2 Karnig Thomasian, POW of the Japanese, from "For You the War Is Over"

Track 3 Sam Cropanese, 712th Tank Battalion, from "The Tanker Tapes"

Track 4 Ed Boccafogli, 82nd Airborne Division, from "The D-Day Tapes"

Track 5 Vern Schmidt, 90th Infantry Division, from "Kill or Be Killed"

Track 6 Bob Rossi, 712th Tank Battalion, from "Once Upon a Tank in the Bulge"

Track 7 Bob Cash, 492nd Bomb Group, ex-POW, from "March Madness"

Track 8 Russell Loop, 712th Tank Battalion, from "More Tanker Tapes"

Track 10 George Collar, 445th Bomb Group, from "The Kassel Cassettes"

Track 11 Jerome Auman, from "Four Marines"

(c) copyright 2013 Aaron Elson

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Random acts of musing

   Earlier this month I went down to New York City to be a guest speaker in a fifth-grade class on alumni day at Hunter College Elementary School. HCES is housed in a complex that includes Hunter High School. I arrived early so as to avoid getting caught in rush hour traffic, and while I waited in the lobby a student entered the building with a copy of the New York Daily News.
   Here it is more than a week later and I still haven't a clue as to what the lead story was about, maybe somebody reading this will remember the headline and the story and can fill me in, but the headline kind of gave me a flashback both to a headline I've written about previously and to a discussion many years ago with my old friend (and current Facebook amiga) Joanne.
   The tabloid headline, which took up about 80 percent of the front page, was: "Dixie Heads" (all capitals, if I recollect correctly).
  As I mentioned, I had no idea what the story was about, and figured maybe I'd see something on the Internet later that would make me go "aha" but that was not to be. However, my immediate reaction to the headline was that the headline writer was making a play on the word "Dickheads," which is the word my dear friend Joanne all those many years ago used to refer to men who asked her for her phone number and then never called.
   If that were the case -- that is, if that indeed is what the headline was playing off of, it would be like a bookend to the headline "How the City Got Shafted" which I wrote about previously, and which signaled a change in editorial direction that allowed blatant euphemisms for outlawed words to be used in a tabloid head. Of course "dick" has more acceptable usages than "shafted," I mean Richard Nixon was often called Tricky Dick, and going way back a detective or a guard was called a dick, as in "The Bank Dick" (god bless you WC Fields), but there's no confusing the dick in a dickhead with a penis, if, indeed, that was the gutter in which the headline writer's mind resided.
   So that's two flashbacks for the price of one headline, not bad, eh?
   Then another headline this week triggered a flashback. This one was on ESPN.com. The flashback was to a headline that I refused to let a colleague write when I was filling in during a brief stint as the backup night sports editor at the doomed Daily News Tonight, or maybe it was the regular Daily News sports section, I forget. But the headline was about a sporting event, again, I don't even remember what kind of sporting event, maybe a boxing match or a baseball game, but it referred to the event as being similar to "World War 3."
   "You can't write that," I said.
   "Why not?" my temporary underling but most time equal said.
   "World War 3 is serious business," I said, or words to that effect. "Millions of people could get killed. This is just a sporting event."
   "It's hyperbole," my colleague said.
   "It's history," said, hitting the delete button. At least I wish I'd said that. But I overruled him anyway.
   So the flashback came a few days ago when I clicked on ESPN to see how the New York sports teams were doing, and the lead video on the home page was about how the Golden State Warriors were in the process of winning a playoff game, or maybe any game for that matter, in San Antonio for the first time in many moons (I don't think ESPN used the word moon).
   The headline said "Forget the Alamo."
   Whoa, Nellie. For any kid who grew up buying into the myth of Davey Crockett and his coonskin cap, a headline like that is anathema. Oh the sacrilege! How can anybody charged with writing headlines compare a basketball game to an epic event in American history. It would be like saying someone on a diet was fighting the Battle of the Bulge. Wait a second. I've done that. More than once. Nevertheless.
   At any rate, when I saw "Forget the Alamo," I had my flashback moment and moved on. But I'm sure I'll remember the Alamo long after I've forgotten the score of the game the headline referenced. In fact, I think the Spurs rallied to win the game anyway. No doubt inspired by someone in the second row holding up an iPad displaying the offensive headline.