Dad Beat Reporter

The edge of his stiff, leather-soled wingtips puts just enough pressure on the coagulating puddle that the skin bursts and a tablespoon or so of blood spills past the membrane levy and under his shoe. This is enough so that when he shifts his weight, his shoe slips in the moisture. For that millisecond, he loses his center. Once the friction from the dry floor boards catches him, he checks to see if anyone noticed. Whether the assembled group of cops, detectives, coroners or whomever saw, they don’t say a word to the reporter barely out of his teens.

This is one of my favorite stories from my father. It’s cool and stylized and humbling. It’s gritty and noir and comedic, too. Dad played with his cigarettes when he held court to tell his stories. We kept our eyes on him, but, unless he was making a point, he kept his eyes on the swirls of smoke, which seemed an inspired part of the story telling. Anyone within earshot could smell the dark coffee breath of the actors in his play.

Like most reporters, he began by writing obituaries. At some point he was assigned to the police beat where in addition to stepping in puddles of blood he unwittingly walked through a shootout. Eventually Dad made it to front page editor before making a career change. I still like to tell people he was a journalist. It sounds better than attorney, which he never put his heart into. “Esquire” was his vanity title.

For the record, my brother never fully bought into Dad’s stories. Dad surely embellished and I take liberties in retelling them. I think Dad would prefer it that way. He liked stories and, while he valued straight-forward, fact-based news pieces, he appreciated the flavor of new journalism.