Tuesday, August 19, 2014

First day at the Los Angeles Times: memoir 16

Being able to work at one of the largest newspapers in the world was an extravagant thrill. From my journal of October 30, 1978:
     Well, 1st day at LA Times finally arrived! Book Review is on the 4th floor. Took elevator. Restroom stop. Rebrushed my hair, added lip gloss and checked for bad breath. Tried to act calm, collected, and like I'd always worked there. Me. Working at the Los Angeles Times. Only eight months ago I was moping around campus, feigning interest in the school newspaper and mundane classes. If I'd known then.
     Art Seidenbaum welcomed me with an invite into his cozy, cluttered office. He looked marvelous in a gray V-neck sweater, blue shirt and gray pants. Very literary, college professor-ish, a perfect outfit for the cold gray day outside. We chatted for a few moments then I was off to calling the bookstores for their bestsellers.
     I finally figured out how to wander around without appearing to be wandering. You grab a pencil, a stack of something or other like papers or manila folders and saunter with a deep-in-thought look on your face. Nobody would ever guess it was your first day.
     Because Art was the new editor, a New York publisher came with her photographer to learn about the review process. She wanted our small staff for some photos, so five of us gathered in front of the opened book cupboards to show off our stacks of hopefully-to-be-reviewed books.
     About that time Jack Smith wandered in.
     "My, but you're looking dapper today, Jack," Art said.
     "Yes, I have my new jacket on." He stood there looking amused and crisp in his green plaid coat and slim slacks.
     So that's Jack Smith! Finally, those grand columns of Paris, his Airedale and Baja vacations came to life. There really was a Jack Smith!
     He seemed quiet. A friendly quiet, though. He was thinner and smaller than I'd imagined. Appropriately gray for a grandfather. I liked him. I mean, I had always adored his writing and colorful adventures and perused his stories every day they appeared in the Times.
     But here he was, a real living fellow, all dressed up like he was going to take his wife out to lunch or go to a book store and sign autographs for Spend All Your Kisses, Mr. Smith. Art was kind enough to introduce us. I tried not to seem too eager when I shook his hand.
     "I'm happy to meet you, Mr. Smith." I had my pencil safely in the other hand and an armload of papers. I wondered if he knew the truth.
     He smiled. "Thank you."
     I know he'll never remember that moment in a million years and maybe he'll never know how dumb I felt or how thrilled.
     Funny. A spare moment in his life made a whole day out of mine.
From BLUE SKIES: ONE AUTHOR'S JOURNEY, to be published this Fall.

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