When I was 17, I spent a few months working the graveyard shift in a newspaper plant. The Miami News, to be precise. I was a typist. Yes, we had typewriters. I sat with a couple of other typists in a long windowless room on the 6th floor. We never spoke to one another. A slovenly guy sat at a big desk at one end, facing the row of tired typists at our narrow desks, each of which had a copy stand. Every few minutes, a copy boy (who looked about 100 to me) would shuffle in with a sheaf of papers and hand ’em to the big desk guy, who’d stop snoring, look ’em over and pass ’em down to us typists. We’d slap them on to the copy stands and turn the scribbled midnight chicken scratches of coffee- and scotch-addled late shift scribes into readable copy to send downstairs to the printing press.
Yes, we had a printing press. It was big. It was noisy. It shook the walls. In the bowels of the building, ink-stained night crawlers would painstakingly pick letter by letter, using our typewritten sheets to construct the first morning edition, which would start slapping out just about midnight. I’d type thousands of words in a night, reading the details of the police blotter and the local politics voraciously, the social news from Little Havana and the bizarre magical realist musings of the political class in this Florida Caribbean city of salsa and Santeria, racial tensions and the likes of Bebe Rebozo, millionaires and beachcombers who were sometimes the same. My favorite copy was, of course, the humor column of the late lamented John Keasler. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.
Around 3am I’d take my lunch break, stepping into the tropical night and onto Bayshore Boulevard, listening to the slap of the breakers on the boats on the dock and the chains rattling against the wooden pilings. It was always hot and always wet. Across the street from the Miami News was a 24-hour restaurant that catered to us newspaper folk. I sported a 40s style hat, a black shirt and a white tie. I thought I looked Runyonesque. I’d eat huge breakfasts of omelettes and Danish and black coffee and read Dostoevsky in the fluorescent light, then totter back to the desk half-asleep and hang on till morning. At 8am I’d step out of that windowless office to a bustling metropolis of morning folk, editors, ad salesman, movers and shakers, reporters who actually looked like they’d slept and wore starched shirts, secretaries, cleaning crews, flitting about like sparrows. I’d slink half-crazed on coffee and sleeplessness onto the bright morning street, still hot, but drier now, the sun turning the sky white so I couldn’t look. Even the breakers on the bay were like glittering diamonds too intense for gazing.
Man, that was romantic!
My suggestion this week: Dress for mystery, stay up and read Dostoevsky in an all-night diner drinking black coffee, walk around after midnight, write as if you were 17, watch a sunrise and embrace the romantic.
The world will wait. And you might even return to it with a bit of diamond sparkle to dazzle the mundane.
– Charles Kruger
The Storming Bohemian