January 1, 2001

Meeting The Moviegoer

Filed under: Atlanta,Life Stories,Media — schroder @ 3:30 pm

In 1977, I returned from my junior year at college and hurried to the funeral of my Great Aunt Bolling, I fell in with other latecomers behind the casket being wheeled down the aisle of the church. A distinguished gentleman was in front of me. He turned, caught my eye and nodded hello. He seemed somehow familiar. At the burial, my father introduced me to him: “Meet your cousin, Walker Percy.”
I had heard Walker’s name spoken with reverence just a few months earlier by fellow English students at the University of Virginia. During literary sessions at my fraternity, passages from his novels had been read out loud, alongside excerpts from William Faulkner. But I had not yet joined the ranks of his devotees. I wasn’t even aware we were cousins. It turned out we were related by marriage, through the very woman whose funeral we were attending. But in the South, even this tenuous a relationship is enough to call someone “cousin” – and to ask a favor.
Hearing I wanted to be a newspaperman, he set up an interview for me with his famous hometown newspaper in Greenville, Mississippi. I landed the job at the paper and the next day began my lifelong interest in Walker’s writings by spending a Saturday with him and his family at their home in Covington, Louisiana.
That fall, I vowed to read all of Walker’s novels and went to the college bookstore and ordered first editions. His second, third and fourth books were easy to locate. I purchased them for less than $10 each. But the store manager advised me not to buy the first edition of his prize-winning first novel, “The Moviegoer,” because sellers were asking $50. Today, it sells for $2,000.
At the time, both the price and the premise of the book seemed just out of my reach. I had committed my college years to enjoying every moment because I knew the experience was a short one. I reveled in all I saw and everyone I met. I was on a search for meaning every moment I was there.
Life beyond college had no roadmap or defining limits. And for a creative type like me, finding meaning in the drudgery of the everyday was a daunting challenge – the same one that haunts this perplexing book’s narrator, Binx Bolling – named perhaps for our relative.
Every few years, when I would feel lost in a holding pattern of despair, I’d pull this novel off the shelf to remember that the mere act of searching for more meaning in life makes it worth it.
When Walker autographed my first editions, I promised I would return with a first edition of “The Moviegoer” and thank him for helping me start my career as a newspaperman. But I moved, changed jobs, married, had children and life became all too ordinary in its busyness.
One day, after a pre-dawn business meeting in Buckhead, I picked up the morning paper. Walker’s obituary was on the front page.
I was crushed. I had allowed myself to be swallowed by the everyday. That morning, as I trudged into an office building with thousands of other seemingly uninspired employees, I vowed to do better. I promised I would begin a search for a more meaningful job, that I would find a way to thank Walker publicly and that eventually I would find that autographed first edition of The Moviegoer to complete my collection. That final search, at least, continues to this day.

Lucky Seven

Filed under: Atlanta,Media — schroder @ 12:00 pm

This month marks our seventh year of publishing our community newspaper. Given that we have made only minor mistakes in those years, I would have to call this enterprise a lucky one – so far.

Of course, there have been some close ones.

In one of my first columns back in 1995, I was clumsily trying to thank a former girlfriend with whom I had just broken up for all the help she had provided me in starting up the newspaper. Unfortunately, my thanks were expressed a little too eloquently and – in combination with heavy use of the past tense – many of my readers thought she had died. I had to correct that in the next edition, which was a painfully long month later.

We’ve always taken pride in “family-safe” newspaper. Because we deliver to so many homes, we feel we have to be careful not to include information that might be offensive to children. One story about businesses on Lindbergh referred to the “golf club” at the end of the street. Our crackerjack editors proofed every story several times before we went to press. I looked over that issue right before it went out the door and thought for a moment about the golf club. I wasn’t aware of a golf club on Lindbergh, but before I could do anything about it, my phone rang and I forgot about the reference. It was only after a few readers called asking about it that our team discussed the story and we realized the writer meant to say Gold Club. “Oh well,” we said. “Just another effort on our part to protect our readers from sex, politics and crime.”

A couple of years ago, I wrote a column about dating that my ever-vigilant editor vetoed. “If this ran, you’d never date again!” she said. Another time, she corrected a reference to my ex-wife that forgot to mention the “ex” part. Thanks to Jan for protecting my single status.

None of these were as serious as the time I worked at The Greenville News in South Carolina and we published a full-page ad for a grocery store that had a sale on “Chicken Things” rather than thighs. As one of the press room guys said later, “I’ve eaten many part of a chicken, but I have never and will never eat that part!”

One time in Charlotte, the The Observer newsroom ran a story about a city councilman named James Brown. Late at night, one of the younger editors went to grab a photo of the Caucasian gentleman, but instead grabbed and published a photo of the King of Soul with his resplendent huge grin and big hair looking out from a serious story about local sewer repairs.

But the worst mistake I witnessed was in Augusta at The Chronicle, when we ran the obituary of Nelson S. Jackson, but a late-night copy editor ran the photo of Nelson T. Jackson instead. Nelson T., it turned out, was very alive and well, and also a member of our then-editor’s Rotary Club. The editor quietly took his usual seat at that week’s Rotary Club and endured many embarrassing remarks. But he was most annoyed when Nelson T. walked into the Rotary late and the entire club stood and raised their hands and greeted him with shouts of “Lazarus, Lazarus!”

When I first joined the Greenville, Mississippi newspaper and was looking forward to my first by-line in that afternoon’s edition, a fire suddenly broke out in the press room and the paper didn’t get published for two days. The publisher looked suspiciously at me, the newest and most questionable hire. Years later at the Fulton County Daily Report, my first day on the job led to several computer crashes that pushed us way past deadline by several hours. My college-age designer sidled up to me in a particularly tense moment and tried to reassure me.

“It could be worse, Chris,” he said. “Oh yeah, how?” I asked.

“We could be naked and on fire!”

I wasn’t reassured, but I did laugh. After nearly 25 years in the business and seven years “on our own,” here at Schroder Publishing, I am happy to report that we can still laugh. Even in these serious times.

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