Stringer: in journalism, a freelance reporter paid by the column inch of type in a printed paper. The inches were measured with a length of string, hence the term.
The year was 1980. I was the editor of the weekly Pinellas Park BEACON, and one of my stringers had tapped into my slightly bent sense of humor.
“I have a friend you should meet,” Glenn told me. “He thinks the way you do: Weird.”
I’d been divorced for about two years. Meeting someone new seemed like a good idea. Someone with a sense of humor? Even better.
“Fine with me,” I told Glenn. “Give him my number.”
Weeks went by and I never heard from this mystery man. Eventually, I forgot all about him.
I was busy covering City Council workshops and meetings, and the workshops and meetings of our Planning and Zoning Commission. Meetings were frequent, and frequently lasted into the wee hours.
Glenn was stringing for me in general news, but he wasn’t available for these evening meetings. I had no social life, so I took on the assignments that pretty much guaranteed I never would have a social life.
Then Glenn called to tell me a friend of his wanted to be a stringer but had no paid experience in writing. He wanted to get his feet wet in a smaller publication. Only one catch: the guy wanted to cover sports.
Um. Mine was a small community. “Sports” in Pinellas Park meant Little League games, Thunderbird Football, Miss Softball America, and Pinellas Park Youth Soccer. And most of these groups had a parent who did a great job of providing me with detailed reports of each match-up.
I could use some help covering high school games and the stock car races at Sunshine Speedway, but where I really needed some relief was with those Council and P&Z meetings.
“I can’t take on somebody just for sports,” I told Glenn, “but if your friend is willing to help me cover government, too, ask him to give me a call before seven tonight.” I figured I could invite him to join me at the Council meeting at 7:30, give him a chance to see what a meeting was like, and then see the report I wrote so he could get a feel for the job.
At 7:15 pm the phone rang. I was already on my way out the door, but on the off-chance that it was the aspiring writer, and that he lived close enough to make the meeting, I turned back into my apartment and snagged the phone.
“Hello, this is Billie,” I said. “On my way out, so please talk fast!”
“Oh. OK. Um. My name is Bill and Glenn said I should give you a call—”
“Great, I was hoping to hear from you!” I interrupted him. “I’m on my way out the door, so let me get this jump-started so I can get to my meeting.
“Now, Glenn’s already told me that there are certain things you really like to do, and that’s fine, but I need to know that you’re willing to do what I need, too. If you’re not, then we’re both going to end up frustrated.” I paused, waiting for his agreement.
When the pause went a little too long, I decided to just forge ahead. I had a meeting to get to, after all.
“I don’t know if Glenn told you, but the schedule is pretty erratic,” I continued. “Sometimes I’ll be able to let you know I need you here a day or so in advance, but there will also be times when I’ll just call and say, ‘I need you tonight.’ Is your schedule flexible enough to accommodate that for me?”
This time Bill managed a halting, “Uh. I … guess so.”
“Good!” I said. “Now the other thing is that I never can tell how late you’ll be out. It could all be over in 30 minutes, but it could drag on till 2 or 3 in the morning. I hope you can function with very little sleep!”
Bill found his voice. “Oh … er,” he said. I decided that was a “yes.”
It was time for the deal-breaker.
“The last thing I have to tell you is that this job pays by the inch. Do you think you can support yourself on that?”
I don’t think I’d ever heard anyone “sputter” before, but the sound that came across that phone line is probably pretty close.
I heard the phone clatter to the floor. I heard Bill clear his throat. It sounded like he took a drink of water, too. I waited. I heard Bill draw a deep breath.
“My name is Bill,” he told me again, “and Glenn said he thought I should call you, but …”
Suddenly, I remembered that social call that never came. I realized this wasn’t the writer I’d been expecting to hear from. It was the guy looking for a date. Oh dear Lord.
“Aaack!” (Yes, I really said “Aaack!”) “You’re the social call! I’m so sorry! I was expecting someone else!”
“Yeah, I got that,” Bill said. “I’ve gotta ask–what position are you interviewing for?”
Oh, yeah. Bent sense of humor, all right. Bill and I were going to get along just fine.Share on Facebook