Sunday, August 02, 2009

As It Used To Be

We took a drive out and about yesterday to run a couple errands and check out some cool local places. The Tweed Museum is exhibiting its WPA drawings, and the kids got a big kick out of the Mountie exhibition. We bought John a size 5 soccer ball to practice with, and then went to check out Chester Creek Books and Antiques.

The town has needed a good used bookstore ever since Books Bound closed. And I'm here to tell you that Chester Creek fills that hole very, very well. It had a wide-ranging selection and the prices were low. Like, the kind of low where you murmur out of earshot of the proprietor, "Does he know what he has, here? Um, is there a zero missing at the end of that price?" and so on.

We bought about a dozen books; the kids each got two and the rest Matt and I picked out. Some of the books included a handbook of farm accounting, stamped by the Work People's College (we have several WPC books and it's fun to add them), a book about trains from the BLE (now that Matt's in a new union, we have to build up another catechism), some old pamphlets and booklets about Duluth, a 100-year-old book about train rules and instructions, and a book called "Heywood Broun: As He Seemed to Us."

Heywood Broun, a columnist for the now-defunct World, is known as the father of the Newspaper Guild. His column, "As It Seems to Me," started out as a general column and became more devoted to the plight of workers. I have not read any, but it is said his baseball writings were also outstanding. When he died in 1939, 12,000 people came to his memorial, where John L. Lewis, Fiorello H. LaGuardia and Edward G. Robinson were among the many who spoke. A stenographic account was made of the memorial and sold to raise money for the Heywood Broun Memorial award, which is still given today.

From the book:
On August 7, 1933, when newspapermen were growing conscious of the meaning of unemployment, and resenting reduced pay checks, Broun printed a letter from an unemployed newspaperman in his column. The letter said, "The men who make up the papers of this country would never look upon themselves as what they really are -- hacks and white-collar slaves. Any attempt to unionize leg, rewrite, desk or make-up men would be laughed to death by these editorial hacks themselves. Union? Why, that's al right for 'dopes' like printers, not for smart guys like newspapermen." The challenge stirred Broun, and what he wrote that day was the conscious genesis of what has been called his enduring monument -- The American Newspaper Guild. He said:

"After some four or five years of holding down the easiest job in the world, I hate to see other newspapermen working too hard. It makes me feel self-conscious. it embarrasses me even more to think of newspapermen who are not working at all. Among this number are some of the best. I am not disposed to talk myself right out of a job, but if my boss does not know that he could get any one of forty or fifty men to pound out paragraphs at least as zippy and stimulating as these, then he is far less sagacious than I have occasionally assumed.

"Fortunately, columnists do not get fired frequently. It has something to do with a certain inertia in most executives. They fall readily into the convenient conception that columnists are something like the weather. There they are, and nobody can do much about it. Of course, the editor keeps hoping that some day it will be fair and warmer, with brisk northerly gales. It never is, but the editor remains indulgent. And nothing happens to the columnist, at least, not up to now.

"It is a little difficult for me, in spite of my radical leanings and training and yearnings, to accept wholeheartedly the conception of the boss and his wage slaves. All my very many bosses have [been] editors, and not a single Legree in the lot. Concerning every one of them, it was possible to say, 'Oh, well, after all, he used to be a newspaperman once himself.'

"But the fact that newspaper editors and owners are genial folk should hardly stand in the way of the organization of a newspaper writers' union. There should b e one. Beginning at nine o'clock on the morning of October 1, I am going to do the best I can to help in getting on up. I think I could die happy on the opening day of the the general strike if I had the privilege of watching Walter Lippmann heave half a brick through a Tribune window at a nonunion operative who had been called in to write the current 'Today and Tomorrow' column on the gold standard."

Good stuff -- the kind of stuff that really makes me feel like I haven't done a whole lot.

Poking around on the Internet, I found a less heavy but equally engaging quote attributed to him:

I doubt whether the world holds for any one a more soul-stirring surprise than the first adventure with ice-cream.

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