I decided I wanted to be a lawyer when I was 7 years old.
It was the influence of watching a tad too many Perry Mason reruns after school.
But I changed my mind in the eighth grade. The reason? I came face-to-face with a lawyer.
With all due respect to decent and honest lawyers — and there are a lot more of them who are that than not such as John Brinton, Tori Verber, and Don Lupal to name a few — I didn’t get what you would call good vibes from the meeting. It was during a high school career day that a few select eighth graders that had expressed interest in specific careers were invited to attend. Not that I have a sixth sense about judging character, but 20 years later the lawyer in question who had been elected to a judgeship was removed from the bench and disbarred.
The same year I went on a class trip to The Press-Tribune in Roseville. Carmela Martin, the publisher at the time, made an offhanded comment during the tour about the paper always looking for high school correspondents for its high school page. At the time I was one of two editors of the weekly mimeographed newspaper at Glen Edwards School.
Over the summer between eighth grade and high school my best friend at the time — Randy Summers — and I decided to go into the aluminum can collection business. Randy dubbed our effort “Red Irish Enterprises” since he was almost a full-blooded American Indian and a large chunk of my ethnic makeup was Irish. We’d get up almost every morning before sunrise and hop on our Schwinns equipped with wire saddle bag baskets and go through garbage cans at McBean Park and transverse country roads collecting cans. Sunday morning after what were almost weekly dances at the McBean Park pavilion was a treasure trove given the adjoining popular open air beer stand. We’d collect an incredible amount of cans in the various oil drums converted into trash receptacles that would also generate beer drenched currency that was inadvertently thrown away. We typically fished about $12 a week out in dollar bills with an occasion $20 bill.
By summer’s end we had $880 to split between the beer soaked currency and the aluminum cans. I do not remember what Randy spent his share on but I bought a copy machine that used stencils. It was a strange purchase for an incoming freshman but I was going to start my own newspaper.
You got it. It was an “underground newspaper” but with a twist. After Randy assisted me as a volunteer circulation director by helping slipcopies into all 700 lockers at Lincoln High I was summoned to Principal Bob Elkus’ office.
If you thought I was being suspended, guess again. My “underground newspaper” carried student council news, club activities and sports as opposed the high school newspaper that focused on cars bought by seniors, the latest couple news, and what would best be described as “sophomoric” humor pieces.
Mr. Elkus decided to break a few rules. You had to be a junior or senior to be in the journalism class. He had the counselors change my schedule, drop typewriting (that probably comes as a surprise to a few people) and put me in journalism.
By the time I was a sophomore, I was not just the editor of Zebra Territory — the new name of the paper that had been called “Zebra Tales” for years — but had been contacted by the weekly Lincoln News Messenger to work as a “sports editor.” I got paid 15 cents an inch, $1 per photo used, and $1 per roll of negatives developed. The paper was owned by Carmela Martin with Barbara Alosi as editor. Within months I was doing my own cut and pasting to put pages together.
Rich Turner, who was the Press-Tribune photographer at the time before going to work for the Record in Stockton and eventually opening his own studio, schooled me in the basics of shooting and darkroom work as well as the screen print techniques required for newspaper reproduction. Given Turner’s high quality photography work compared to mine, a lot didn’t rub off.
I started shooting not just sports shots but also news photos including accidents. I also became the Lincoln High correspondent for The Press-Tribune. During the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I started covering Lincoln City Council meetings and government as well as doing features. I also got a gig at 35 cents an inch covering Lincoln sports for the Press-Tribune all while continuing with the high school paper and News Messenger.
By the time my senior year rolled around, I was doing all that plus added three other things. Carmela turned over all aspects of the twice monthly Wheatland News to me at Barbara’s insistence. I sold advertising, did the editorial content including Wheatland City Council and school board meetings, handled circulation, took care of printing arrangements and hired correspondents. Anything I had left over after paying all expenses I got to keep.
I also started covering Rocklin City Council and Planning Commission meetings on an hourly basis and backed up the Roseville city hall government reporter for The Press-Tribune. At the same time Bill Smith at the Sacramento Bee convinced his bosses to retain me as the Lincoln area correspondent for their Superior California section.
I did all of that before graduating high school.
And it wouldn’t have been possible without adults not simply taking a chance but also mentoring me.
Think about that the next time a teen shows interest in your vocation.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.