July 24, 2017
By Arthur H. Gunther III
One of the customs of an old-style newspaper hot metal composing room — where printing type was cast in lead by brilliantly designed mechanical marvels called Linotypes and then placed in page forms called chases so that the process could continue to the presses and then your delivered newspaper — was men helping men put on their aprons.
Handling type was messy, with ink from the proofing machine and the lead itself covering everything. The blue, dungaree-type apron was a barrier.
Now, if the composing room of old were run by industrious women, there would have been no need to tie each other’s aprons. The 5-8 ladies I am privileged to toil with in a food program do not tie others’ apron strings, instead quickly fastening their own coverings with well-practiced, behind-the-back moves seemingly natural to the beautiful species.
For some reason, perhaps so much of it being tradition, the male printers were apron-helpless. They would hang the apron around their necks, turn to the nearest fellow and make a circular move with their hands to indicate the strings needed to be tied. It would be done.
Then it would be into the work day and men talking of sports or women or politics. At shift’s end, there was no similar call for untying aprons, just an individual loosening, a grab of the lunch box and a nod to co-workers, “See you tomorrow.”
That next day would bring the repeated bonding of tying each other’s apron strings.
So, it was no wonder that my late Journal-News co-worker and printer George “Weep” Chalsen would ask me or fellow food program worker Al Witt to tie his apron when we met, not in the composing room but the kitchen. Both very hot places.
It was yet another fraternity, you see.
The writer is a retired newspaperman. firstname.lastname@example.org