Thursday, 20 June 2013

Do it Daily: Read the Standard

I saw today that The St. Catharines Standard is moving from its ancient spot on Queen Street to a spiffy new locale.
Brings a tear to my eye.
Like many ink-stained wretches, I earned my first callouses on the typewriters of The Standard.
My initial job there was in high school as a columnist reporting on all the fascinating events at West Park Secondary School.  It's hard to imagine, given the space wars today, but nearly every high school in St. Catharines had a weekly column where nerdy wannabees like myself got their chance to commit journalism.
The man I worked for was Jimmy Simpson -- no relation -- who had the classic look of the old newsman. He was about 92, by my recollection, and sported a skinny torso and a basketball where his tummy used to be.
We got paid 25 cents a column inch which was -- and still is! -- a fortune in the freelance game. The trick to making money was to write long, so every week I included the names of every single athlete. (This experience set me up to become the successful entrepreneur I am today.)
A few years later, I had the great fortune to be hired by Larry Smith, the managing editor, who was a straight up sort of dude, a gravelly-voiced charmer with an oak panelled office where he proudly showed off his polished awards from the Rotary Club, along with his private school diplomas.
Journalism was a fascinating career back then, during the Watergate era, when a BJ meant something very different than it does today.
We young upstarts had great expectations, believing we would change the world. But we soon had our hopes and dreams dashed after a steady diet of city planning committees, car accidents and ethnic festivals.
For some reason, I always got to write the "first" stories: first woman cop, first woman rowing coach. I grudgingly took the assignments, as they got me out of writing about the opening of the new Wendy's or the installation of new curbs on St. Paul Street.
 I was a summer student for two years at The Standard, a place that was full of eccentric lifers.
One actually got life. John, a handle-bar moustachioed regional council reporter, went to jail for killing a thug he had befriended while volunteering as a Venturer Scout leader.
There was Ken, who taught me that mornings were for work, but afternoons were for drinking at the Mansion House across the street. Ken schooled me on all aspects of workplace drinking and hangover management, skills I sometimes still use today.
There was Craig "Sweatsocks" Swayze, the city editor who wrote stories about the rowing team, quoting himself out of necessity as he was both a newsman and President of The St. Catharines Rowing Club. He taught me to use "suggested" instead of said.
"The men's eight did a terrific job today," suggested SCRC president Craig Swayze.
You don't learn that in J-school!
Like most newsrooms, political incorrectness ruled the day.
One of the photographers, a man named Les took great delight in christening me Rosie Tits and my colleague Darlene Happycrack.
One of my favorite characters was Tom McCarthy, the court reporter, a man who bore an uncanny resemblance to Burgess Meredith, who played the Penguin in the old Batman series. Tom was, let's say, colorful. He once gleefully reported to me the lurid details of a trial for the man who killed my cousin Monica. We'd thought she'd been strangled but she, in fact, had been left for dead after she choked giving the man oral sex. Instead of calling the police, the perp propped her up against the freezer in the basement.
You can't make up shit like that.
Leadership at the top set the tone for the place.
The Standard ship was captained by Henry "Bentley" Burgoyne, the youthful publisher who had been forced into his job after his dad Bill shuffled off the mortal coil. Hank never wanted to be publisher; he wanted to be a playboy and was always in trouble with the constabulary for leading them on high speed car chases.
The Burgoyne family was legendary for their love of the drink. Hank's aunt Mary -- who owned the local radio station -- once smashed her car into the CKTB building. The next day, the deejay joked: "What do you call the newest drink craze? Mary Wallbanger!"
He was soon replaced by Laura Sabia.

Yes, The Standard brings back memories, by cracky, as Les would have snarked.
Though, I suspect most of memories won't make it into the paper's official history.
Happy moving day! BTW, if you see my dignity under one of the desks, please forward to this Internet address. I've been looking for it for three decades.


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