I just saw a post on my friend’s Facebook timeline. It showed a newspaper headline that had, no doubt, been innocent when the editor typed it but could also be construed in a highly sexual manner. And it made me laugh.
It reminded me of an incident that happened (and I had to pull my calculator out for this one) 45 years ago.
In high school, as editor for the school newspaper Features Page, I received the galley to correct for the Friday edition.I had written a feature article about “Slave Day.” Imagine having a well-intentioned, fundraising event in this day and age with that name? Now it would probably be “Voluntary Indentured Servitude Auction”.
Slave Day was when seniors were auctioned off for various amounts to be your bodyguard, carry your school supplies from class to class, or just be at your general groveling disposal the entire school day. Usually it was the popular seniors—the star athletes and cheerleaders—who brought in the highest bids. “Hey you!” you might yell at the varsity quarterback who outweighed you by 150 pounds, “Fetch me a cup of water for me and the young lady here.”
It was a heady experience for a 98-pound weakling—and one sure to bring retribution from the football team in the weeks and month to come.
Anyway, I scanned the lead line in the feature story I’d written. It read:
“How would you like someone to carry your boobs around all day?”
Well, let me tell you I had a true moral dilemma on my hands—as it were . . . .
On one hand I’m picturing my buddies Doug French, Dick Schroder, Duane King and Ken Lopez bust a gut over the opening line, making me an instant cult hero. On the other hand I saw the disapproving glare of Journalism Advisor Mrs. Langley on whom this “flub” would hit more heavily than me. After all, “I’m sorry. I missed it” was a totally plausible form of deniability for a young scribe of 16.
I’m sure that’s not how I typed the story before I handed it in. I always proofread my pieces 10-12 times religiously. It must have been the typesetter at the district printing plant—now there’s an anachronism for you—who inadvertently hit “b” on the typesetting devise instead of “k”. They are, after all, a mere three spaces from each other.
To this day I waffle between between being sorry and proud for the decision I made with that devil and angel perched squarely on my shoulders.
When the newspaper was published, the lead story of the Foothill Hoofbeats Feature Page read:
“How would you like someone to carry your books around all day?”
I like to think I did the right thing back in 1972, saving my Journalism teacher a ton of school district grief. In fact I know I did. I like to think that because I passed up the easy opportunity to become a Foothill High School legend my place in Heaven is assured. But I know that’s not how it works.
I guess I changed that one letter in the galleys because I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do. And I think today when I’m writing or speaking and I come to that “Good taste” fork in the road I often veer from the path I know is right and go for the laugh. I figure I have a lot of credit built up in my “good taste” bank account and still have a hefty balance to draw from.