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Our house often mimicked the sounds of the newsroom: the rustling of newspapers over morning coffee; phone ringing; the pounding of a heavy black typewriter, every stroke of keystrokes followed by a dingo and a carriage slap; and then dictate a copy of that day.
In a deep, slow, clear voice, my father, George Vecsey, would read his freshly written Sports of the Times column — one of thousands he had written for some 30 years — on a typewriter somewhere inside the New York Times building. Every word, every comma, every quotation mark, every proper name spoken. Everything in its place.
He read into the phone, “NEW PARAGRAPH Frustration was on the faces of the Rangers of EM-DASH, several of them filled with tears of EM-DASH as the players gathered from the ice a few minutes later COMMA and it was the letters CAPITAL WAS SPATIAL CAPITAL Brooks while spoke of LOW-CHANGE OPEN QUOTES C closing gap PERIOD CLOSED QUOTES NEW ATTITUDE. “
And the next morning, this will appear in The New York Times:
Frustration was on the Rangers’ faces – several of them filled with tears – as the players gathered from the ice a few minutes later, in the words of Herb Brooks as he spoke of “reducing the difference”.
For an 11-year-old sitting in the hallway, with a baseball glove in his hand and waiting to be played, this was pure magic.
The father described conversations he had with Herb Brooks, or Mike Bossy, or Chris Evert, or Alexis Argüell … a world of imagination for every child who grew up in the “Wide World of Sports.”
More importantly, I had simultaneous views of how the story is written in the front row and behind the scenes. It wasn’t just that every word was in its place; it was that every idea was in its place. It was a private journalism course by one of the great masters, and those hours of listening to his dictation would come to inform my career as a copy editor. Not only do I know how to read a story from the New York Times, but I also know how it should sound, how the cadence should fall and flow. Unfortunately, that experience was lost with the advent of laptops, when the sound of my father’s voice was replaced by the screams of his Kaypro modem.
As a kid, I spent a lot of time in stadiums. I would be there early enough to watch the crew members water and line the terrain and late enough to watch them sweep the popcorn from the aisle. Sometimes I could walk into a media room, where I would fall asleep waiting for my father to hand me a card. We would drive home in the middle of the night, and over Wendy’s burger he would tell me what he had taken out of Keith Hernandez that night. A few hours later, a column of “Keith Speaks” would land with a blunt blow on the driveway.
In the world of pre-mobile phones in the early ’80s, my father may have done a few things that would raise a few red flags today, but he actually nurtured a sense of independence. “I headed for the stadium,” he would say, dropping $ 20 on a table in a Chicago hotel room. “Take the red line to Addison, your ticket should be at Will Call. Try to find a media room after the game or just hang out in front of the gate or just meet here. “
People would often tell me how lucky I was. And they were right. But not because I have to “go to all the games.” And not because I could occasionally have lunch with Lucky Pierre Larouche or shoot in hoops with Bob Welch.
I was lucky because I had a father who shared his world and his craft, who taught me the same lessons that every father of any profession should teach his son about navigation in life, love, work, play and human condition, not to mention that backup catchers and boxers are the best quotes.
They gave me 700 words for this essay, but I was able to write 700 words every day from Father’s Day to the next and still not say everything that could and should have been said. But that’s another lesson learned: They ask for 700, you submit 700 (OK, 750), and you put the rest in your notebook for later.
Thanks, Dad. Period. Close the quote. Stop it.
David Vecsey is the editor for The Times’s Print Hub.