It certainly was great while it lasted.
Right from the start, my theory was that if I kept a low profile I'd stay out of trouble. And that's how things worked out.
Periodically, lighting flashed and thunder rumbled through the newsroom. Some people wer promoted, others vanished from sight. From time to time any colleagues would rather in anxious little groups and ask each other, "How is this latest reshuffling going to affect you? Do you get along with the new guy?"
I never had to worry. The bosses all worked in the daytime, and I took care worked in the at night and keep out of sight. I didn't bother them, they didn't bother me. Nobody gave me what to do. Through two dozen sraff reshuffles, I remained quietly at the bottom of the deck and led a beautiful existence. Nobody knew I was there.
I realized that sooner or later the bubble would burst. This week it did. Somebody wrote an editorial about me and blew my cover wide open.
Executives began phoning each other and asking, "Is that guy still on the payroll, for heaven's sake?" Even worse, the morning the editorial appeared, the managing editor came in before I could finish my night's work, and of course h made a beeline right for my desk. "So much for the first 30," he said. "Now let me give you the game plan for the next 30."
You see what I mean? As soon as they find out you're still with the firm, they start giving orders. Who needs it?
What brought on this disruption in my life was the editorial writer's discovery that the District Line column would be 30 years old this week. For some reason our culture takes special notice of anybody who manages to keep the same job or the same spouse for any term of years divisible by 10. It doesn't matter that the obkect of this attention has no talent except for survival. Longevity creates a patina of venerability on people, just as it does on Civil War cannon standing in front of county courthouses. Before long, colleagues begin to point the man out, as they would a historic site.
"That's Mr. Earl," they say reverently. "He's been setting type here for 40 years. Imagine that! Forty years." Or, "That's old Bill Gold. He's been pounding a typewriter here for 30 years. Imagine that! Thirty years."
Come off it, gentlemen. As achievements go, these aren't very much. If you want to pay Mr. Earl his due, tell how he bluffed two men with better hands out of a huge poker pot. And if you're stumped for something complimentary to say about me, give me credit for also being pretty good con man. After 43 years, I still have my first wife believing that I'm really about to reform, and that henceforth life with me will be easier. I've fooled that poor girl more often than Lucy has pulled away the football that Charlie Brown is still trying to kick.
Something else that can be said for me is that I now have a dozen readers for every one I had during Christmas week of 1946. Managing editor Alexander F. Jones had explained to me precisely what he wanted in this new column to be called The District Line, and I was spending 12 hours a day trying to write to his specifications. But each day he'd read my copy, drop it into his wastebasket, and say, "You still don't get the idea. Try it again tomorrow."
At that point, I had a readership of one. To dress up the numbers a little, I used to say I was writing for two consumers - Jones and his wastebasket. It was a bleak Christmas.
Fortunately for me, however, on the following Jan. 10 Jones didn't drop my copy into his wastebasket. He sighed resignedly and siad, "All right, we'll start printing it on Monday." So the first one appeared on Jan. 13, 1947, and soon after that Jones moved to another job, I moved to the nightside and lost myself in the newsroom subculture, and nobody bothered me until that editorial appeared.
Heaven only knows what will happen to me now that I have been forced to surface and join the anxious little groups at the water cooler. I have a feeling I'm about to find myself back on night police.
Anniversary or no, there is work to be done as our fund drive for Children's Hospital nears its conclusion.
Children aged 3 to 5 in the Montessori Class at Drew Model School (Arlington) pooled all their coins to raise $4.13 for the hospital. Employees of the Weather Service Office at National Airport sent me $10. Members of the Separation and Retirement Branch, Pensonnel Management Division, Marine Corps HQ, added $28.65. The men and women at Westat, Inc., in their first year of participation, came up with $46.
The staff at Fairfax County's Westlawn Elementary School sent in $50. In their second year of not exchanging intramural holiday cards, staffers at the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission saved $70.50 for the children. The Internal Affairs Division of the Metropolitan Police Department used the same plan to raise $125.
National Geographic Society's Photographic Services used the no-cards plan to squeeze out a healthy $156 for sick children. The Economic Research Service of the Department of Agriculture talked soothingly to its no-cards asterisk and watched it grow $254.15 high.
The Renegotiation Board, one of Our Town's smaller federal agencies, put together one of the day's larger contributions, $340.41. Employees of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States refrained from sending each other $409 worth of holiday cards.
On a day when we needed a big boost, it came winging in from the friendly skies of United. UAL's well organized campaign included Baltimore's Maintenance unit; Washington National's maintenance, Flight Office, Inflight Services and Dispatch; and six units at Dulles - Maintenance, Flight Dispatch, Crew Desk, Passenger Service, Operations Planning and ESP Committee. Together they sent me $1,490 plus the explanation that this year their serious giving is going to be done through a payroll deduction plan. The $1,490 is something extra, just to give me something to count while the "deducts" are pilling up. A tip of the hat to the friendly people who make the skies so friendly for United Air Lines.
The abacus says these 12 groups have moved us forward by $2,983.84, and that 21 anonymous individuals added $604.50 to bring today's receipts to $3,588.34. When we add the $112,122.75 with which the shoebox started this day we find that our tally now stands at $115,711.09. We need help, and we need it quickly or this year's campaign will fall short.