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Our house often imitated the sound of the newsroom: the rustle of paper over the morning coffee; phone rings; The pounding of a heavy black Royal typewriter, each volley of keystrokes followed by a ding and the slap of a carriage return; And then dictation of that day’s copy.
In a deep, slow, clear voice, my father, George Vexie, read his freshly written Sports of the Times column on a machine somewhere inside The New York Times Building—one of thousands he wrote in nearly 30 years. was. Every word, every comma, every quotation mark, every proper name spelled out. Everything in its place.
He read into the phone, “The new passage was the disappointment on the Rangers’ faces EM-DASH Some of them were filled with tears as the players fell from the snow a few minutes later from COMMA and it was in the words Capital Herb Space Capital Brooks Talking about open quotes lowercase c talking about closing the span closing the gap.
And the next morning, it would appear in The New York Times:
There was despair on Rangers’ faces – some of them filled with tears – as the players fell through the ice minutes later, and it was, in the words of Herb Brooks, as they talked about “closing the gap”.
For an 11-year-old sitting in the hallway, baseball glove in hand, waiting to be caught, it was pure magic.
My father was describing a conversation I had with Herb Brooks, or Mike Bossy, or Chris Evert, or Alexis Argüello… a fantasy world for any child who grew up on a “wide world game.”
More importantly, I had simultaneous and backstage ideas about how to write a story. It was not that every word was in its proper place; It was that every thought was in its proper place. It was a personal journalism course from a great mentor, and listening to his dictation in those hours informed my career as a copy editor. Not only do I know how to read a New York Times story, but I also know how it should sound, how low the rhythm should be and flow. Sadly, that experience was lost with the advent of the portable computer, when the sound of my father’s voice was replaced by the sound of his KyPro’s modem.
I spent a lot of time in the stadium as a child. I’ll arrive early enough to see the crew members line the water and line up in the arena, and long enough to see them sweeping popcorn through the aisles. Sometimes I could talk in the media room, where I would fall asleep waiting for my dad to file. We’d go home in the middle of the night, and over a Wendy’s burger, he’d tell me what he’d minced from Keith Hernandez that night. A few hours later, a “Keith Speaks” column would land in the driveway with a thud.
In the cellphone world of the early ’80s, my dad might have done things that would have raised some red flags today, but actually created a sense of freedom. “I’m headed to the ballpark,” he’d say, leaving $20 on a desk in a hotel room in Chicago. “Take the Red Line to Edison, your ticket will be on call. Try to find the media room after the game or just walk outside the gate or meet me right here.”
People often told me how lucky I am. And they were right. But not because I have to “go to all the games.” And not because I sometimes got a chance to 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 a father of any profession would teach his son about life, love, work, play and navigating the human condition. I must teach, not to mention that the backup catcher and boxer are the best quotes.
He gave me 700 words for this essay, but I could write 700 words every day from this Father’s Day to the next and still not say all that could be said, and should be said. But it’s another lesson learned: They ask for 700, you file 700 (OK, 750) and put the rest in your notebook for later.
Thanks, pop. Period. Close bid. finish it
David Vexie is the editor of The Times’s print hub.