When I was a junior in high school I pestered my dad mercilessly about helping me find a job. I didn't want to work in fast food. Dad was friends with the editor of one of Knoxville's local papers, the Knoxville Journal. So he called Chubb Smith, the editor, to see if they needed anyone.
I was hired as a Copy Clerk. I was 16 years old. I turned 17 a few weeks later.
Now, to be fair, nepotism wasn't entirely a bad thing. I had 3 years of experience on my high school newspaper and was the Features Editor that year. I knew how to write. My teacher/sponsor for the newspaper, Mrs. Becker, was very thorough about teaching us budding journalists.
My dad also told Chubb if I didn't do a good job to fire me. He was serious. Whenever Dad helped me or my brother get a job he always told us to work our butts off and make him proud, and he told our employers to fire us if we were lousy workers.
That six months at the Journal was a real learning experience. I learned how to parallel park on the Church Street bridge, driving my 1968 Plymouth Fury. I learned my way around the old courthouse, where I went every day to record who had taken out marriage licenses for the I See By The Journal column. I learned how real reporters worked.
The editor let me write a few feature stories. He always re-wrote my lead. He told me I used too many big words, and the stories were supposed to be written for a 5th grade reading level. I thought he was kidding. He wasn't.
I got to interview and write a story about an actor named Eddie Mekka [The Big Ragoo on Laverne and Shirley] - a tiny man, in town for a charity telethon. He kept staring at me. I know he was thinking, why is this 12 year old interviewing me?! I looked younger than my 17 years.
I also got to meet Dick Van Dyke who was in town with a touring company of Damn Yankees. I didn't write about him but I talked the photographer into letting me tag along when he went to photograph the actor. Very thin. Very nice, genuinely nice. I saw the play and he was awesome.
The next summer, 1980, I wasn't at the Journal, but the editor Chubb Smith was killed in a plane crash. I had not known him well but I was really sad. He was a friend of my dad's and Dad was upset. Chubb's daughters were all in and out of the offices a lot and were just a little older than me. I felt awful for them.
That fall of 1979 I kept working at the Journal, part time, because I only had to take 3 classes in high school to graduate. I was moved from Copy Clerk to Morgue Clerk. The Morgue is where old clippings and photos were kept. Nowadays I'm sure all the stuff is computerized but back then it was a room full of filing cabinets. Stories were filed away in hard copy. There were photo plates in there from decades past and I loved to look at the old stories and photos.
I quit the Journal because I got cast in a play and I didn't have time to work, finish high school, and do the play. In retrospect I wish I had ditched the play and stayed at The Journal, but it was fun doing community theatre.
My clippings from the stories I wrote back then are all yellowed with age and falling apart. That makes me feel really old... [below, I am seated on the far left, in front of the man wearing a vest and tie]