Bill Everett's Humorous Look at the First Days of His Career at the Post
My first day on the Post-Dispatch was almost my last.
The city editor was completely charming. He told me in a fatherly manner that nothing much would be expected of me for a time, that I was just to sit quietly and study the paper and the style. He cautioned me against hurt feelings in the event that he might find constructive criticism necessary. It would be in my best interest – nothing personal, he assured me.
He kept his word. No one noticed me, but after about six hours, I began to feel hunger pains. I approached the desk to find out about eating arrangements. I didn’t find out at once.
The assistant city editor was addressing one of the staff. “Mr. Dresser,” he was saying, “it is a cardinal principle that our reporters read the Post-Dispatch, and I hope you will, you may observe that when we refer to a man as a Corporal, we spell it out. When we refer to his rank before his name, we abbreviate it with Cpl.”
There was much more. Mr. Dresser was trying to say something, but rank had him whipped. He sounded as futile as Jack Benny trying to interrupt his sponsor. Finally brass ran out of brass, and more important, out of wind. Mr. Dresser had his chance. He said, “but sir, I did not write that story.” This information left the editor quite cold. He removed his glasses, wiped them, and then in measured tones said, “I think it is a damned good thing for you to keep in mind anyway.” Mr. Dresser left and I almost did.
My First Volunteer
The city editor summoned me to the desk and told me that there was a volunteer in the hall. He advised me to handle the situation with great acumen. Some of our biggest stories came in that way, he warned me.
I was a trifle nervous. This was a new and tremendous responsibility.
It turned out that the volunteer was more nervous than I. He peered over my left shoulder, then my right shoulder. I decided to follow suit. To the astonished persons in the hall waiting for the elevator, we must have looked like the pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll.
He told me his trouble. Every time he walked in the streets in south St. Louis, people called him bad names. I asked him for a few samples. They were bad. I suggested that he move to north St. Louis. He told me he had tried that, but they called him even worse names. I asked for a few samples. They were much worse.
I was worried. I could tell from his clothing that it would not be wise to offer the advice of Greeley, and it would not be seemly to tell him to jump into the river. I compromised. I told him that the Post-Dispatch would keep him in mind and that no one would call him such horrible names again, unless justified.
He was extremely grateful, shook hands with me and wept a bit. He started for the elevator, and then it dawned on me that he had asked me for my name. I rushed back to him. “How,” I asked, “did you happen to ask for me?” He said it had been quite simple. He had been in the day before and was told that Mr. Everett, the man in charge of the “Bad Name Department,” would be in on the following day.
The Strike That Failed
I was a full-fledged reporter now. I had been there one week and called the assistant city editor by his first name. He told me to meet a photographer in the lobby and to be careful. He said there was information that eight meat packers were to cross a picket line at a cold storage firm in north St. Louis. He warned me that heads could fall and blood flow in the streets.
It was a hot August morning, and I was scared. The photographer didn’t do much to reassure me. He advised me that strikes could be nasty. He said we should look the situation over. We did. Finally, after driving in the area for 20 minutes, we saw one picket with an umbrella, and he was about 75 years old. We gathered courage and approached.
Soon we were joined at the one-man picket line by a young Irish cop who had a pencil, a crossword puzzle and a gripe. The cop said he had only four words to go to finish the puzzle, that he had never finished one and that his wife always made fun of him because he couldn’t finish one.
I interrupted to ask the picket what would happen if the packers crossed his line. He pointed to some men entering the storage company. “Them fellers have already crossed, now how about the puzzle?” he asked.
I went to the nearest telephone and called the desk. It was too early for a beer, but the phone was in a tavern. I told the editor that the only controversy was with a young cop, a picket and our photographer over a crossword puzzle. “Stay there,” Sam said.
I went back. They were down to two words and were becoming very excited. I went back to the tavern. I reported that they were down to two words. I was told, grimly, to stay there. I went back to the trio. They were wildly excited. They needed only one word to complete the puzzle. I went back to the friendly tavern and telephone. “Sam,” I said, “all they need is a three-letter word for the Queen of Fairies.”
There was a silence for the matter of a few seconds. A deep intake of breath, and then: “It is M for moron, A for addle-brained, B for bastard, MAB, and you, you SOB, you come on in, and now!”
(Originally published in Page One, 1958. Bill Everett began working as a general assignment reporter at the Post-Dispatch in 1944.)