What Mike Does

    As I told you earlier, I write.  Always have. 

    Once I got “too old” for my morning (5 a.m.) paper route, I went to work for my Dad’s little Edinburg, Texas, Daily Review.

    I started working in the back shop, where the newspaper was produced.  Back in those days (the early 50s), the newspaper was produced by letterpress.  Think of the letterpress printing process as being like a rubber stamp.  Raised type is inked and pressed on paper.  If you’d like to learn more about the process, go here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linotype_machine.

     My first job was in the “Hell Box,” a small room with a large metal pot, heated by a natural-gas fire burning beneath it.  I would collect the lead “slugs” that had comprised that day’s newspaper and melt them in the Hell Box pot.  Using a long-handled metal dipper, I would pour the molten lead into metal forms, of the shape so the lead could be re-melted in the linotype machines.

    The Hell Box was, of course, not air-conditioned, as was the rest of the newspaper building.  Temperatures in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas usually range from 70 in the winter to 110 in the summer.

    Working in the back shop was a seminal event in my life because I got to work for Tim Duarte, the Shop Foreman.  Tim had been the driver of the only taxicab in Edinburg.  He came to Dad, saying he needed a profession and wanted a job at the newspaper.  Dad hired him and Tim began his new profession in the Hell Box.

    It is from watching Tim, whom I came to consider as my second father, that I began my first lessons in Mexican culture.  Working is joyous.  Loyalty is required.  Respect is desired and can only be earned.  Family is Holy.

    As I “advanced” in my lead-melting and pouring skills, I was given a new title:  Assistant Pressman.  This new job required that I learn (from Tim) how to run the ancient Goss Comet flatbed, 8-page press.  Oh, yes, and keep it clean.

    You see, accumulated printer’s ink turns into gunk.  And accumulated printer’s ink gunk turns into steel, according to Tim, who also told me that if the gunk did turn into steel, I would turn into dead meat. 

    At the end of my freshman year of high school, I was promoted to assistant photographer.  Luis Garcia, the newspaper’s photographer, had been teaching me how to use the big four-by-five Graflex camera (if you’d like to know more about the camera, go here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Press_camera).

    As the assistant photographer, my primary job was to process film and print photographs (only black and white, back in the day) and to shoot photographs when Luis wasn’t available.

    One of the perks of my new job was getting my own telephone in my bedroom.  The police and sheriff’s office had this phone’s number and would telephone me when something newsworthy occurred (another dead-body car wreck on Highway 281) at dark-o’clock at night.

    The dark-o’clock phone calls didn’t happen that often.  Maybe three or four times a month. 

    All those other hours, the telephone was available for me to talk to my girlfriend, without having to worry about Dad’s five-minute limit on phone calls conducted on our family’s only other phone, where the conversation would always be overheard by a parent or (worse) by one of my two baby sisters.

    Except for Saturday nights.  On Saturday nights, my junior and senior years, I had a teenagers’ music show on our little radio station, KURV.  It ended at 10 p.m., so I still had time for a late date.  And, believe me, it wasn’t hard for a big-time radio disc jockey to get dates!

    At the end of my sophomore year, my title changed from assistant photographer to assistant photographer/reporter.  “Reporter”!!  I had finally made it to the Big Time.


    Fast forward to September of 1957.  (Click here)