OK, so maybe anecdotes about cigarette smoke, acerbic editors, and disgruntled sources aren’t your typical triggers for flashbacks to childhood, but my childhood can be divided into two eras: pre-newspaper and post-newspaper.
Thanks to one Patrick Will, who was maybe the greatest teacher in the history of education, I fell madly in love with journalism at age 9. I had my first byline in a daily newspaper at 10, and I supplemented my babysitting money by chasing stories for 50 cents a column inch at the local weekly from ninth grade on. The smell of printer’s ink still gives me a thrill I can’t fully put into words — it is, as I explained to one young colleague during a tour of the Southern Illinoisan office when I was 17, the smell of being done — and most of my high-school memories are a blur of late nights spent in a smoky, wax-scented newspaper office, burnisher in one hand, X-acto in the other, scrambling to make another deadline.
With that in mind, you can imagine how I felt when I learned that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein would be speaking at TU this evening. Ron and I had already purchased tickets to Glen Campbell’s farewell show a couple of months ago, but the more I thought about Woodward and Bernstein, the more I could smell wax and ink and stale cigarette smoke, and by the time I got home from work this afternoon, I was pretty sure that if I went to the concert, I would just spend the whole evening trying not to pout every time I thought about the fact that I was missing an opportunity to listen to some good war stories and maybe meet a couple of my idols.
My title these days may be teacher, but Ron knows my identity is still journalist, so when I asked him how mad he’d be if I blew off Glen Campbell in favor of Woodward and Bernstein, he just grinned and said he’d been expecting that question all afternoon.
That would be my battered old copy of All the President’s Men that Bernstein is signing.
If I close my eyes, I can still hear Mr. Will explaining the difference between libel and slander to a 9-year-old girl with visions of White House press conferences dancing in her head….