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Our house often mimicked newsroom sounds: the rustling of the newspaper over morning coffee; the ringing of telephones; the hammering of a heavy black Royal typewriter, each volley of keystrokes followed by a ring and the clatter of the carriage return; and then the dictation of the daily copy.
In a deep, slow, clear voice, my father, George Vecsey, read his freshly written Sports of the Times column – one of thousands he had written over 30 years – on a machine somewhere in the New York Times Building. Every word, every comma, every quotation mark, every spelled proper name. Everything in its place.
He had read on the phone: “NEW PARAGRAPH The frustration was on the faces of the Rangers EM-DASH a couple of them full of tears EM-DASH when the players clumped from the ice a few minutes later COMMA and it was in the words of CAPITAL Herb SPACE CAPITAL Brooks when he talked about OPEN QUOTES LOWERCASE C to fill the gap PERIOD CLOSE QUOTES NEW PARAGRAPH. “
And the next morning this appeared in the New York Times:
Frustration was on the Rangers’ faces – some of them were full of tears – as the players clumped off the ice a few minutes later, and it was in the words of Herb Brooks when he spoke of “closing the gap”.
For an 11-year-old who was sitting in the hallway, baseball glove in hand, waiting to play tag, it was pure magic.
My father described conversations he had with Herb Brooks or Mike Bossy or Chris Evert or Alexis Argüello … a fantasy world for any child who grew up with the Wide World of Sports.
More importantly, I had front-row and behind-the-scenes views of how a story is written at the same time. It wasn’t just that every word was in its right place; it was that every idea was in its right place. It was a private course in journalism with one of the great masters, and these lessons, listening to his dictation, would shape my career as a lecturer. Not only do I know how to read a New York Times story, I know how it should sound, how the cadence should go up and down. Unfortunately, with the advent of portable computers, that experience was lost when the sound of my father’s voice was replaced by the screeching of his Kaypro modem.
I spent a lot of time in stadiums as a kid. I got there early enough to watch the crew members by the water and the line of the field, and late enough to watch them sweep popcorn out of the aisles. Sometimes I could talk my way through to the media room, where I fell asleep and waited for my father to turn in the files. We drove home in the middle of the night and he was telling me over a Wendy’s burger what he’d broken down from Keith Hernandez that night. A few hours later a column of “Keith Speaks” landed with a thud in the driveway.
In the pre-cell phone world of the early 1980s, my father might have done a few things that would raise some red flags today, but the truth is, he was cultivating a sense of independence. “I’m on my way to the ballpark,” he said, tossing $ 20 on the desk in a Chicago hotel room. “Take the Red Line to Addison, your ticket should be with Will Call. Try to find the media room after the game, or just hang around in front of the goal or just meet me here. “
People often told me how lucky I was. And they were right. But not because I had to “attend all the games”. And not because I would occasionally have lunch with Lucky Pierre Larouche or shoot hoops with Bob Welch.
I was lucky because I had a father who shared his world and his craft, who taught me the same lessons that every father in any profession should teach his son, how to get through life, love, work, play and human nature navigates, not to mention Backup Catcher and Boxer are the best quotes.
They gave me 700 words for this essay, but I was able to write 700 words every day from this Father’s Day to the next and still not say everything that could and should be said. But that’s another lesson: you ask for 700, you file 700 (OK, 750), and you put the rest in your notebook for later.
Thanks, Pope. Period. Close quote. Finish it.
David Vecsey is an editor at the Times’ Print Hub.