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We of the Times were all cynics and pessimists. Every newspaper office, I afterward learned, is a school of cynicism in which the only difference among members is in degree. But we of the Times, of uncertain future, had particular reason for a gloomy outlook in those days. No one knew who would buy the paper at the receiver's sale. We all feared that we might have to hunt new jobs.
But we were glad of one thing: Under a receivership salaries were sure to be paid. Before this, salary checks were being handed out so irregularly that it came to be said that “the Times' pay-day is the second Tuesday of each week.” One week we received our checks on Monday; the next, it was Wednesday; another week, it was Saturday; and the next, Monday, again. This brought two pay-days so close together that it was not strange that some of us felt rich. Nor was it strange that there was very little news in the paper the next morning.
But the receiving of checks was only a first step to being paid. The Times had money on deposit only occasionally. The balance on the right side of the ledger was at no time great. Merchantsparticularly those who conducted what the sporting editor called “emporiums of damp joy,” had become tired of cashing our checks. So we had to depend upon getting the cash at the bank. Each pay-day saw a race, in which reporters and editors, being night workers, were generally losers. We got up too late to have a fair start. The only way we could beat the common workers in the other departments was to stay up all night. And then we never had reliable advance news as to what day the checks would be ready.
One of the many schemes to keep the paper's circulation above the zero-mark was to print long obituaries after every death notice, no matter who the deceased might be. “The three most important events in Kife are birth, marriage and death,” it was argued. “We can't print much about births, and marriages are much alike; but good notices can be got up about anyone who dies. Nothing is so much appreciated by relatives of the departed, and if the relatives of everybody who dies in Kansas City buy the paper we'll get an immense circulation."
I don't know whose brain conceived this idea. But for weeks the Times spread gloom wherever it circulated. All the good and great of humanity seemed to be dying out. When it appeared that no one in this class could be left alive, it was decided to abandon the scheme, as the circulation went down more rapidly than ever.
Just before the receiver was named the best proofreader, tired of irregular pay-days, went to work on another paper. After he left, the Times had strangely worded items for a while. One night a furious man entered the city editor's room. “Read that,” he yelled, “and see if I'm not justified in going to law! One of those young women, sir, is my daughter, sir!"
It was a society notice, beginning: “Two of the decent brides of Kansas City started upon their honeymoon trips last evening. They were seen off at the Union Station by a party of merry young friends, whose snouts filled the air as rice and old shoes were hurled at the train. The two happy couples," and so on.
"Well," said the city editor, helplessly, “all I can do is to give you a correction. We can say that we didn't mean that the brides were decentI mean that we meant they were recent brides, and that it was the shouts-__-"
The man then declared he didn't want a correction. He left, vowing to boycott the paper.
At another time, a drilling contest among the cadets of a religious military society appeared in print as a “drinking contest.” The echoes of that had hardly died down when a church sleighing party of young men and young women was told about by the types as a “sleeping party.” Then a story of a divorce suit, in which the wife of a prominent man demanded her rights before the law, was made to read, “demanded her tights before the law."
And all this time the paper was putting on a bold front and trying to make the public believe it the most prosperous and enterprising journal in the world. It was owned by a man named McDonald, who had succeeded Doctor Morrison Munford, under whom the Times had become known as the New York Herald of the West” and “the Democratic Bible of the West,” but whose personal career ended in failure. McDonald himself had failed as a banker, and in several other ways when he started in to be an editor and a political dictator. Afterward I used to think of how he more than fulfilled Bismarck's definition of a journalist: “One who has failed in his profession."
As a newspaper proprietor, when he could think of no other way of losing money, he organized "The 500,000 Club.” Instead of paying our salaries, he went junketing in the East with Mayor Davis and a committee of prominent citizens to boom this club. Kansas City then had about 150,000 people. It dreamed then, as it dreams still, although it is little larger, of imperial greatness. It is jealous of St. Louis and Chicago, New York and London. So McDonald's idea was popular. But he himself wasn't. And “The 500,000 Club” was just another of his failures.
When the junketers returned, cruel, cold-hearted, practical creditors demanded a settlement. “Help along the 500,000 Club, and we'll all get rich,” said McDonald, at the same time moving his paper into a cheaper building. The creditors went to court instead, and had a receiver appointed.
The receiver was also president of the bank where we had sometimes got our checks cashed. Later he bought the paper. His name was Cox. At once the editorial halo which my fancy had painted about the head of McDonald was transferred to him. He had once been a police commissioner, and had quarreled with Governor Stone, and someone else had been appointed in his stead. He, too, was said to have political ambitions. This, and a possible desire for revenge upon the Governor, may have had something to do with his buying a newspaper. The fact that he afterward started an investigation of the police department indicated that it had.
But I didn't trouble myself about these sordid details. I was a journalist. Aud during my first year as a journalist the world might easily guess my vocation. I kept a copy of the Times sticking out of one coat pocket, the title showing. A pad of note-paper protruded from the other. In reporting fires, I always stood where the publicparticularly the feminine part—could see me take notes.
Like all geniuses, I was a bohemian. I drank all kinds of liquors, although I had little taste for them. I never cared for tobacco, but I practiced hard to get the smoking habit. Drinking and smoking were condemned by moralists. Therefore, I must drink and smoke. What was the use of morals, anyhow? They were not for geniuses.
The Times Building was at that time in the center of town, at the junction of three principal streets. The editorial rooms were in the tower section, on the sixth floor. Thus we were on a sort of Olympian Heights, overlooking the thoroughfares far, far below (six stories was pretty high up in Kansas City), where moved the common mortals of earth, puppets of our will.
Were we not divinities, in a way! The elect of