Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cowboys and Indians

As a kid in Indiana, the state with a somewhat misleading name since even in the 1940s there were no tribes of the noble indigenous to be seen, most of the play time was spent recreating World War II over the hillocks and kid-dug caves of the vacant land across from the tank factory.

We fought Germans and Japanese soldiers with stick rifles and machine guns, not to mention an occasional grenade-like rock.

But sometimes we would switch off to the older, more exotic experience of Cowboys and Indians. In my neighborhood in Kokomo, most of the kids wanted to be cowboys -- mostly Gene Autry or Lash LaRue with an occasional Roy Rogers thrown in. The cowboys would gallop around, shooting at the Indians. The better-off ones with shiny cap guns and the rest with any piece of wood that could emulate a six gun.

The Indians mostly would use home-made bows and arrows and spend most of the game improving their representation of dying from cowboy bullets.

The Indians, just as the Germans and Japanese, were always the losers. What's right is right.

Nowadays, it is different. For the past few years the tables have been turned.

Today, the old Cowboy and Indian game has a new wrinkle. The Indians have casinos and instead of bows and arrows, they use slot machines and card tables to take on the cowboys.

And unlike the games of my youth, the Indians almost always win.

And the cowboys just keep coming back.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Devil Weed

I guess I could blame my first experience with tobacco on the movies (everyone smoked in them, particularly the manly heroes), my admiration for an uncle and grandfather who near chain-smoked or my dad's occasional cigarette, El Roi Tan cigar or use of his hookah with its water bowl and snakelike tube.

Or perhaps I was in a hurry to grow up. After all, it was during World War II and we were all in a hurry, even those of us in our single digit years.

I first met the Devil Weed when I was 8 or 9. At first, I would appropriate a Lucky Strike from my father's pack and sneak out to the coal shed at the back of our Home Avenue place for a few puffs. I enjoyed smoking so much, I decided the share the experience with my little sister, Bonnie. That association came to an abrupt end when Bonnie, so buoyed by the experience she felt it necessary to report to our parents: "I smoked cigarettes with Bobby in the coal shed."

My father, ever into modern child raising, decide to treat my budding addiction in a modern way.

"So you like smoking," he said.

Unsure if it was a question or statement, I remained mute.

"Well, we'll see about that," he concluded as he handed me a Lucky Strike, instructing me to smoke it.

I did and thoroughly enjoyed it. In an apparent effort to make the lesson stick and possibly to provide added impact by making me ill, he provided me with one of his El Roi Tans. I had not partaken of the cigar experience before and found it a bit more than I could take.

But the effect my father had sought did not occur. Neither of the smokes made me ill.

Not sure how that ended, although it was before he hooked up the hookah. I never had a chance to puff tobacco through the water jar and the snakelike tube, although it looked like something a sophisticated person like my father would enjoy.

That failed punishment only whetted my taste for tobacco. Mostly it taught me to avoid smoking with my rat of a sister. After a few experiments with corn silk and newspaper burned my throat, I determined I had to have some of those Lucky Strikes. But I couldn't filch my father's or I would have to endure another smoke 'em if you got 'em punishment and embarrass my father again.

So I did what had to be done. I forged a note which read: "Please send a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes home with my son, Bobby. (signed} Mrs. Weaver. I took the neighborhood store, which fortuitously was about halfway to Meridian School.

The man at the store fortunately didn't know my mother did not smoke and could write better than a third grader. Had I been a good son, I guess the incident would have resulted in a strong case of shame. Instead, there was the elation of having my own pack of cigarettes -- 20 of those wonderful little soldiers in their nifty white package with its dashing red circle trademark.

About this time, I made friends with the little redheaded girl who lived a couple doors north of us. She, too, had an interest in tobacco which helped me greatly in avoiding the coal shed and the informer of a sister. The preferred smoking area for the redheaded girl and me was her family's rhubarb patch, at the back of their property.

In addition to the pleasurable hours spent puffing smoke, I was enthralled and a little puzzled by the many tall tales the redheaded girl would spin. One particularly impressive story involved an uncle who lived with them who was dying of some horrendous disease. At one point, to prove the veracity of her story, she brought along a swatch of pink silk cloth with some reddish stain.

This, she informed me, was a piece of her uncle's underwear, worn by him hours before he died.

After using notes at the neighborhood store for a time, I became wary. Mostly it involved the store's owner telling me he and my dad and uncle, who ran stores, were great friends of his. In my tobacco-sharpened state, I knew the day might come when the grocer would mention my mother's tobacco habit to my father.

So I ventured out afield along the old rusty train tracks beside the shut down glass factory, up Main Street to Markland and the black market cigarette and candy store. The owner of the store, who also ran a tiny movie house next door, wasn't interested in any note from Mrs. Weaver. He just wanted the two or three nickels for the cigarettes.

Lucky Strike greens had gone to war, but the movie and cigarette guy had not. World War II might be a patriotic effort for many on the home front, but for the black marketeer it was a time for profit to be made.

Those days cigarettes were in short supply. Filling the gap at stores like his were second line smokes. My two favorites were Wings and Spuds.

They weren't as tasty as my beloved Lucky Strikes, but they were available.

About the time I got used to the second rate smokes, we moved to the outskirts of town. About that time I kicked my smoking habit for the first of three times.

My second installment of tobacco addiction started shortly after we moved to California. I became friends with a classmate who was also on the eighth grade basketball team. He and I became close friends. Mostly it was his sartorial splendor that I admired, dressed as he was in the uniform of the day -- Levi's jeans, a T-shirt and engineer boots. If it was cold, a Levi's jacket topped it off.

Cigarettes were carried in a rolled up shirt sleeve or down in the engineer boots . The boot was preferable in keeping your smoking from your folks, but a detriment for smoking since the sweaty location gave you soggy, hard to light cigarettes.

This new buddy of mine was a bit of a rebel. Smoking was "beating a weed" while his other favorite pastime was "cyping" cigarettes or candy from a neighborhood market. His technique involved a two-man team -- one keeping the grocer occupied while the other stuffed the loot into a Levi's jacket.

When high school came along, I joined the smoking crowd on the bridge over the train tracks. Each morning a dozen or so would stop for that last cigarette before trudging onto the school grounds.

My smoking continued through high school and college. It wasn't until my second job and was in my 20s that I decided to kick the habit.

That probably would have been it, had it not been for the great Fairbanks flood of 1967. I was between jobs and waiting to leave for points south when the flood hit. We were caught on the other side of the river from our home, imposing on friends for a week or so.

The boredom and availability of the cigarettes from a neighbor led me back down the path. This time I took up filter tip cigarettes -- Phillip Morris with the sweet after-taste, That third and final installment lasted a couple years. Since then, except for a rare cigarette bummed from someone during consumption of adult beverages or an even rarer cigar, I have been clean.

Still, every now and then I have an urge to get out a pad and forge a note saying:

"Please send a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes home with my son Bobby. (signed) Mrs. Weaver."

Monday, August 4, 2008

My First Job

Cartoons by the author's father,

Robert Weaver

What sold me on the job was the nifty T-shirt with its red, white and blue shield and the lettering proclaiming my new status as an American Boy Ice Cream salesman. I had seen the advertisement for ice cream boy jobs in the Kokomo Tribune. Such phrases as "no experience necessary," "earn lots of money" and "be your own boss" appealed to me. After all, at 11 my opportunities were dwindling. My dreams of a job in the store my dad and uncle ran across from the projects had been crushed when they hired Freddy King to sweep out and deliver groceries. Never did like Freddy anyway.

And then there was my foray into journalism which had fallen flat. The neighbors weren't impressed by the two-page mimemographed publication I delivered and my dad was not too happy with the mess I had made of his mimeograph machine in the garage.
The American Boy office was a couple doors down from the Dr. Pepper plant, where everyone knew they had bottled a mouse once, and across the street from the ice plant. It seemed an eternity in line with all the other boys before I got to the man who was hiring.

He explained how the American Boy organization worked: Boys would come in each morning, wearing their white T-shirts, bought the ice cream bars and other frozen novelty items which would be loaded into the icebox on wheels. The frozen goodies were kept frozen by dry ice. Each boy was to wear a change machine on his belt, a device that would let you lever coins one at a time from the metal tubes for half dollars, quarters, dimes and nickels. (The bills, if you got any, were to be folded carefully and carried in your right front pocket so as not to be stolen by any passing pickpocket.)

In the evening, the boys would return to the office and check in, returning unsold bars and goodies and split their money with the American Boy cashier -- less a charge (discounted, of course) for whatever ice cream bars and novelty items the boys had eaten.
Each boy would be assigned a specific route, a couple miles long and half mile or so across. He was expected to cover the route at least two times.
I had not heard everything the man had said, as my attention was drawn to the stack of snowy white T-shirts emblazoned with the American shield. One of the parts I didn't pick up on was that the ice cream salesmen had to be 16 and have a Social Security card.
It wasn't until I had shaken hands with the man and been issued my T-shirt and shiny change maker that that the part about being 16 and needing the Social Security card sank in.
It gave me pause for a few seconds, but I figured I was big enough to pass for 16 and ought to be able to get a Social Security card, whatever that was.
"OK, all you need to do now is go to the courthouse and get your Social Security card and show up here tomorrow morning," the man said, turning to the next applicant.
I do not remember my experience at the Social Security office or telling what I considered to be a little white lie about my age, but the people there must have swallowed it for I showed up the next morning, bought my ice cream, loaded the cart and set off.

In my sparkling white American Boy ice cream T-shirt and dungarees (no Levi's in Indiana in the late 1940s) I was quite proud of my professional appearance. There was a trick to pushing the cart: You had to lift up on the handle so the thing was riding on two wheels, while occasionally shaking the whole thing from left to right so the bells would ring. At the same time, you were expected to shout out, "Ice cream, get your American Boy ice cream."

Within a few minutes I had the intricacies of cart operation mastered. And after a few sales, I had making change and using the coin changer worked out, too. After a couple hours, the summer heat was catching up with me. Time to sample the goods. A nice ice cream bar filled the bill.

Several times during the day, the siren call of the ice cream and other frozen delights could be heard, although a bit muffled by the insulated ice box on wheels. By early evening of that first day, I was finding myself hungry for something other than frozen delights.

To my surprise, my mother pulled up in the family car, a black 1940 Pontiac sedan -- the one with the silver spot on the front seat I had added when I opened the can of silver paint to see what was inside. She had brought along a tray of warm food for her favorite (and only) son.

That ritual would continue each evening of my career as an ice cream peddler.

American Boy ice cream salesmen would hawk their wares until near dark, providing the residents of Kokomo with a chance to sample the goodies after supper.

Then we would return to "the barn," as the older boys described it, unload our frozen goodies, hand over our money and most nights be amazed at how much of it we had sampled.

After a few weeks, the job was second nature; I was pretty good at it. Bits of knowledge gleaned on the route such as where the repeat customers lived and what areas had almost no business were tucked away under those white cardboard hats we wore.

Although Kokomo is as flat as most Indiana towns, my route, which was south of the main part of town and included a little of the more affluent section to the west, was graced with a couple of north-south streets with hills. The gentle slopes provided an ice cream vendor with chance to get off his aching feet and enjoy a short but exciting surfboard-like ride for a few blocks.

I like to look back on these rides as pioneering exploits that predated the later deeds of California's surfers. These rides required a great degree of balance as the ice cream cart surfer put his body forward across the box, putting weight on the front of the rig while hanging onto the handle. Ringing the bells was optional.

These downhill plunges may have set world land records for ice cream carts. And since there were no brakes on the cart, it was fortunate for me that these streeets would start uphill after a short dip.

Almost my whole ice cream selling experience was spent on the south central route. I got used to it, knew most of the people on it by name (and what they liked to order). Then, one day, the boss said I would have to work the northeastern route.

I had never been to that side of town. Coming from a household where my father and mother referred to black people as Negroes and would not abide even the use of "colored people" to describe them, I was without prejudice.

I knew there were black people somewhere in town, but was not sure just where. That day I learned. The northeastern part of town was apparently somewhat an undefined ghetto.

Since the only blacks I had ever seen included some waiting for buses downtown and the blind guy who played an accordian on the square.

So I found it interesting to discover all these people lived in my town. Things went along at about the same clip as on my usual route until I got to the lodge. One of the men came to the door and asked me to come take their orders. It was impressive.

I was counting up my increased profits in my head, when one of the men, asked if they could have the ice cream for free. Others joined in, saying they all deserved a treat. I was worried and tried to explain that I had to pay for the ice cream, so they had to pay.

Then, in an instant, one of the men cracked a smile and then the rest. They had been teasing me and added my first tip to what they paid for the ice cream.

I learned a lot of important lessons my 11th summer:

How to sell something, how to make change, how to surf
the hills of Kokomo on my ice cream cart and how everyone
is pretty much the same, regardless of their color.

Oh, yeah, and maybe the most important one: There is no free lunch
or ice cream -- even if you are the one selling it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hoosier outlaw commando

It all started one muggy summer day in Indiana when I was feeling sorry for myself. My father had announced one of his edicts; this one forbidding the possession of any type of cap pistol.

It seemed unfair. After all, everyone else had them. Some fired the regular-size caps that came in a roll and sounded like a stick hitting pavement when they went off. The ones that were prized and proved the manhood of my 8- and 9-year-old buddies fired much bigger, single caps that produced a louder, more commanding bang.

But, alas, once father had spoken, that was it. Or was it?

I had spent more than a few hours in the darkened theaters in Kokomo absorbing the derring do of the heroes of those black and white World War II films. Many were outlaws; some commandos raiding enemy bases while others were smart-talking, cigarette-smoking, pinup girl-attracting bad guys with good hearts.

But one thread linked most of these characters. If the situation demanded it, they would turn to thievery. They were all a little like Ali Baba. Jimmy Cagney and Edward G. Robinson were even more larcenous.

As I lay in the grass in the shade of the Catalpa tree, one of its green cigars clenched in my teeth, I dreamed of trading places with Cagney or Robinson, blasting my way out of a tough spot with my pistol. But, alas, I was not allowed to have a pistol, let alone the sulfur smoke ammunition it used.

At that point, I crossed over to the Dark Side.

That decision totally ignored all the good lessons learned at Trinity Methodist and its sister churches where I had been dragged by my mother in hopes one of the varied approaches to soul saving might stick.

Not likely, although it was pretty interesting to discover how the methods of conducting various rites such as baptism were so very different; Methodists sprinkled you while the First Christians down at the corner in the church under the giant oak tree would plunge you into a square tub of water adorned with a painting of John the Baptist pushing Jesus under.

But in those days the good work of the church came in second.

I had seen enough movies about criminal gangs and commandoes to know the success of a big heist or raid into enemy territory needed a good plan. Mine was simple: Strike fast at several targets and use the cover available to make my escape. The perfect place for my crime spree was the courthouse square in Kokomo.

Several businesses that sold caps and cap pistols were located in ground floor businesses on the square. I entered the businesses from the front or back, doing my best the emulate the professional gangster-commando with steely nerves.

At the first store, I managed to slip a cap gun into a pocket, leaving by the side door. Then, still in the style of a raider, I slipped into a nearby doorway, climbed the stairs and walked quickly to the other end of the building, a block away, descending down the front stairs on my way to the second target. Once down, it was easy to enter the next shop, make my escape and repeat the process until I had circled the square.

My booty included several cap guns, boxes of caps and a couple of girl’s toys I thought my sister Bonnie would like.

My raids were infrequent and my use of the stolen weapons and ammunition had to done in a furtive manner. During that period, I also developed an urge to grab other little things I thought I needed, little toys, knives, candy and gum.

My first brush with authority came during a family trip to a vacation at one of the lakes. We had stopped at a store for some food and other items my folks needed for the outing. While in the store, I helped myself to a sack of candy. Everything would have been all right if I hadn’t opened the package and shared some with my sister.

"Where did you get that candy, Bobby?" my father asked.

I lied, claiming I had it at home and had brought it along.

Unlike the Public Enemy No. 1 or the commando, I couldn’t hold up to questioning by the authorities, broke down and admitted my crime to my father. He marched me back into the store and had me apologize to the owner and pay for the candy.

That put an end to my life of crime – for a time.

A few years later we moved to California and I fell in with a couple of classmates who were successful shoplifters. They used a technique in which one kid would detract the shopkeeper while the other would load up on candy, gum and whatever else could be stuffed into a Levi jacket.

We felt no remorse for our thefts; they were exciting and proved how bold we were.
One of our more bold forays, which never quite came to fruition, involved scaling a wall to the roof of a lumber yard, dropping onto the ground behind the place and making off with a cash register or its contents from the office. Fortunately that never happened or I might be writing this on a roll of prison toilet paper with my blood.
I had a couple more brushes with authority, managing to talk my way out of them by claiming each was my first transgression. Finally, one summer in Pacific Beach, a toy shop owner took me into his office and threatened to call the police and my parents.
I managed to talk my way out of it, apologizing and promising never to do it again. And I didn’t.
Funny thing was that even as a kid I knew it was wrong to steal; I was breaking the law and the Ten Commandments. But the excitement of the act and feeling of outsmarting someone proved more strong.

Since then, I have gone out of my way to avoid taking things that belong to others. I have returned money and personal items I have found to their owners several times.

My conversion to the right side of the law seems to have rubbed off on at least one of my offspring.

Once, my daughter, found a wallet containing several thousand dollars. At the time, she was separated from her husband and on hard times. She asked my advice and I told her she should return it to the owner.

The man thanked her and gave her a fairly small reward. I was a bit disappointed as she was. But then, in a few days, a letter arrived with an additional thank-you and a certificate from Toys R Us that helped her provide Christmas gifts for her daughters.

Proof that crime does not pay, but honesty does.

Still, on occasion, I admit I recall the excitement of my life as a thief. But I could not return to the Dark Side.

Not because of any high moral standard I might have, but rather the fear that I might run into that storekeeper from Pacific Beach and he might call the cops this time.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Al JaCoby

My memories of Al JaCoby stretch back to my second job -- first as wire editor and then demoted to reporter -- at the Escondido Times-Advocate in the 1950s. I arrived there shortly after JaCoby had landed a job on the San Diego Union.

He left behind a legacy among the staff there, which frequently called upon his name and sharp decision process. The county editor, Eloise Perkins, would start one of these JaCoby moments by recalling a quote starting "as my old Armenian grandmother would say..."

The city editor, Ron Kenney, based his well-run desk on things learned from JaCoby.
After leaving the Times-Advocate for greener (financially) fields I did not hear about JaCoby for seven years when I was hired at the Union.

I first met him when I was roving feature writer for the county desk, a kinda low-budget and less talented countyside equivalent of Joe Stone.

JaCoby, the Sunday editor, asked me if I could do a feature on a lost gold mine a couple of locals had found near Borrego. Turned out it wasn't Peg Leg's mine, but one from the Depression. Still It made a great yarn, despite the leg wounds inflicted by the chollas.

It also provided me with the experience of staying in one of those luxury cabins, complete with a kitchen and its own little liquor cabinet (no tiny bottles or charges on your bill). The place had no TV or radio since satellite and cable weren't available. To make up for it, after dinner, they would show first-run (or nearly first-run movies) in the dining room. How great.

When I got back, I suggested a feature on how cool it was in Borrego to be out of the reach of TV and radio distraction. My boss, Baker Conrad, liked the idea but thought it might not work, what with the publisher's financial ties down there...

A few months later, JaCoby asked me to do another Sunday piece. This one as to be my favorite story from my Union days. It involved one of the last survivors of Olivenhain, who had been a kid when she and her family moved to the bare land with other German-speaking people in 1885, lured there by full-page ads in eastern papers promising a sunny paradise.

As it turned out, the survivor, an elderly woman recalled nothing much about that first year, except for the rain.

I spent a lot of time talking to people who lived there and researching the colony. It made a wonderful story.

Both the stories I did for Al drew more response from readers than any of the other hundreds of features I did while there.

When I left the Union for the glitter of Alaska, I lost touch with Al for quite some time. Later in my career, I got to know him better when we met at various editors' conventions. He was a wonderful, witty person and I am proud to have known him.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Steamy incidents

Hot stuff

The last time I remember seeing a source of water to cool a boiling radiator was on the way to Weaverville. Halfway up Buckhorn grade on Highway 299 there was a spring. probably Artesian water, that ran year-round.

It was encased in a granite base, the kind they made during the WPA or Conservation Corps years of the Depression.

I never needed to stop there to cool off the variety of vehicles I used in those years -- mostly older and ranging in size from a brace of Metropolitans to a Rambler American, to a stately 1955 Studebaker pickup truck with a hill holder to a borrowed Ford 100 pickup with a gasoline tank that sloshed liquid from side to side as the vehicle leaned into and out of curves.

About 20 years ago, someone in authority decided the water should be turned off. As I remember it, the action was not taken on a dry year or because the water no longer flowed beneath the ground.

To make sure motorists got the message, signs informing motorists of the spring in both directions were taken away The stone structure and the pipe that held the water were torn out, too.

Perhaps it was the advent of nearly universal use of cooling system liquid that spelled its doom.

Too bad.

With the demise of that spring, the last I have noticed in my travels around the state, some one of the truly reassuring fixtures of the highway died.

In those earlier days of driving when a trip into the mountains or across the desert was more of an adventure than the drudgery it is today, a source of water for the radiator was as important as that of the gas station.

Back then, one of the more enjoyable parts of the drive -- a good way of passing the time on a long trip -- was the conversation triggered when someone spotted an overheated car or truck at the side of the road.

The newer and more expensive the vehicle, the more comments. A new Cadillac or Lincoln drew quite a bit of derision while an older Ford or Chevrolet, expected to wind up there, were mentioned in more kindly tones that shared the misfortune of the drivers.

One of my favorite memories involving an overheated auto occurred at an important juncture in my career. I was riding up the Cajon Pass in a new Mercury Comet driven by the publisher of the Victor Press. About half-way up the pass, the Comet fell out of orbit, its radiator steaming as the publisher guided it onto the shoulder.

We were on our way to Victorville so I could look over the Victor Press and the town. I had been offered the job of editor at the twice-weekly newspaper. The publisher, also the general manager of the Ontario Daily Report, had offered me the job while I was a reporter at the Report.

Carlton Appleby proved just how cool he was when the radiator boiled. He didn't even get out of the car to open the hood, he just kept pitching the job to me. By the time engine had cooled off and we had topped the pass, I was pretty well sold on the job.

In addition to those welcome springs along the highways of the past, there were several other aids for those who ventured out on trips during hot weather.

People crossing the deserts could rent a device that sprayed water onto the radiator as you drove through the heat. They would hook it up for you on at Las Vegas or St. George, Utah, and take it off on the other side. My memory of the device is that you controled the water flow with a foot pump.

In addition, almost all desert travelers carried gallon canvas bags of water on the front bumpers of their cars. The water evaporating through the canvas kept cool for drinking or radiator.

Bag of cool water

Perhaps the neatest device of all was the window cooler, a scaled-down version of the swamp coolers I would learn to love in later, pre-airconditioning year in the desert.

You hooked the cooler onto the front passenger side window allowing an opening an inch or two deep for the air to blow in. You filled a small tank with water that would drip onto the excelsior. I can't remember if there was a fan or not, but the air blowing through the streamlined silver device made many of my earlier trips tolerable.

Most of the time back then, such cooling was available only when faced with treks across the burning sands. For those who lived in the Imperial Valley or say Bakersfield, there was only one type of relief during the hot weather: The 460 airconditioner.

That technique, not quite as efficient as the window swamp cooler, involved driving with all four windows cranked down and sailing along at 60 miles an hour, ergo the 460.

Although the advent of the airconditioner has made driving during the hot months much more comfortable, it is not nearly as interesting. The cooling spray from the window swamp cooler, the refreshing cool drink from the canvas bag and the entertainment offered by discussing stalled motorists or mechanics wrestling a water sprayer onto your car, those are all gone.

But they are not forgotten.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Milo Sorghum: The Final Years

Milo Sorghum’s resurrection and final, fading years were spent with the pseudo farm editor, now a silver-crowned, crusty newsie in the service of the free-booting pirate publisher Billy Dean, Billy Dean in the far-away realm known only by the dreaded inituals ANG.

Milo, in the nether world since his contrived death at the hands of the pseudo farm editor’s henchman, would remain in printing purgatory for a few years as the editor toiled the hellish existence of a copy slave not too far removed from the life of the galley slaves of yore.

Instead of pulling at oars to the beat of the drums, urged on by the bite of the whips of the overseers, the copy slaves pulled at glowing boxes, hacking away at the offerings of cityside slaves, a floor below. The beat of the drum had been replaced by a series of deadlines, times certain and as inviolate as the speeds demanded in the galleys. The overseers were replaced by a copy sergeant and his band of bully-boy (and bully-girl) sidekicks whose main goal in life was to keep the poor copy slaves choping copy and slapping on headlines.

In the sanctuary of the copy slaves, there was a dark pall of cynicism and an air of smugness that was pervasive. It took our pseudo farm editor two years of toiling in this sad existence before he escaped and helped Milo live again.

One of the knights of the Kingdom of Billy Dean, Billy Dean, brokered the escape, offering the editor a chance to breathe in the cleaner air of another level of the ANG realm where writers toiled to create stories.

To encourage the writers to be more creative in their work, our hero decided to use a program of rewards that had worked for him at other newspapers. In those places, various colored stars, certificates of merit and ice cream cones were awarded those who went above and beyond the call of duty.

Ah, but it was not to be. A newly beknighted superior would not hear of spending any of the treasure of the dreaded King Billy Dean, Billy Dean on such frivolity. Our hero found himself lacking the resources to pay for medals, trophies, certificates, ice cream cones or even multi-colored stick-on stars.

It was at this point, that the spirit of Milo Sorghum rose from the ashes. Our hero devised a plan in which imaginary awards would be given those who deserved the ones denied them by the skinflint supervisor. A variety of Milo Sorghum awards were provided to the worthy -- handed down in e-mails and occasionally posted on the bulletin board.

The announcements went into great detail in descibing the type of imaginary jewels and metal in each prize, i.e. The Milo Sorghum Award for Valor, a beautifully worked gold-encrusted display of crossed heads of sorghum with two emeralds on each. The award can be worn as a medallion on a gold chain or as a broach.

Although our hero missed the days when reporters proudly displayed the varied colored stars -- red for good work, green for better work, silver for exceptional work and gold for the best -- on their computers in the style of football players using them as evidence of their tackles, passes, catches or sacks, he found the writers seemed pleased by the imaginary awards.

And so, in the final years of our hero's time in the newsroom in the Kingdom of Billy Dean, Billy Dean, the spirit of Milo Sorghum lived on. Finally, when our hero was knocked from his steed by the lance of one of the evil money counters of Billy Dean, Billy Dean, the second life of Milo Sorghum came to a close.

That has been several years. The farm editor imposter lives a quiet life, sometimes dreaming of the glory days when he and Milo battled through the newsrooms in a quest for excellence in agriculture and journalism.

Of late our hero has begun to wonder if Milo might make another appearance some day. After all, our hero has created a ficticious company that runs three ficticious ranches in California and Bana California.

Where could someone like Milo be more at home?