April 16, 2017
By Arthur H. Gunther III
When my son Arthur IV bought his small Upper Nyack, N.Y., house from Leroy Buckout, the owner explained that he long ago had adopted a way to deal with the lack of closets, not uncommon in a 1929 home. “When I buy a shirt, I get rid of another,” he suggested.
I figure old Norman Baker did the same thing. He was the longtime editor of the original Journal-News in Rockland County, N.Y., and his work shirt never varied. It was white, or the off-white that many washings bring, and Norm always had the sleeves rolled to just above the elbow.
That was at first practical, since newspapering in his 1920s into the later 1960s included daily time in hot-metal composing rooms filled with lead type, high heat and some grime.
But there was another reason. Norm did not wear short-sleeve shirts. Maybe he didn’t have closet room. Perhaps he didn’t like them. Or — and this is my best guess — the editor was a practical man, and he figured a long-sleeve dress shirt became seasonal when you rolled the sleeves.
Norm also used copy editing pencils to the limit, writing headlines with some that were three-inches short. He penciled those “heds” on half sheets of copy paper that the printers cut from left-over newsprint.
And as you would guess, the editor’s cigarettes were smoked to the stubs. (In my old Hudson Avenue, Nyack, office, maybe three of us, out of 50, did not smoke. The way individuals held their cigs, lit them, inhaled, stubbed them out offered study in habit, almost an encyclopedic entry.)
Norm Baker also didn’t say much. His sort of teaching was by example. A copy boy could watch and learn. For me anyway, it was the best lesson.
Maybe that is why, decades later, I still recall Norm, my hiring boss, in his white shirt, sleeves rolled.
The writer is a retired newspaperman. firstname.lastname@example.org