I reread Mark Twains’s “Mysterious Stranger” the other day — something I’ve done a few times over the last 50 years — because it reminds me of how even the tiniest changes in the routine of our lives can have enormous impact.
Twain’s novella is a dark tale about a psychopathic angel who toys with the lives of the humans he meets, even to the point of hastening their deaths. But it is the randomness of life, not the darkness, that fascinates me.
An uncharted course
The short legend under the picture in my Carrick High School yearbook asked, “will teaching or journalism be in this senior’s future?” When I left Pittsburgh to attend Youngstown University in the late summer of 1964, I still couldn’t answer that question.
But I signed up for a journalism class in the fall of 1967. Dr. Robert Hare had come to YU as an English professor, but he also had a newspaper background and was drafted as a journalism teacher and adviser to The Jambar. He made it clear that joining the student newspaper staff would be a good idea for anyone looking for a good grade.
Weeks later there was a schism on the staff. Most of the veterans walked out, leaving those of us in Doc Hare’s class to sink or swim. I swam.
The question in my high school yearbook had been answered. And in May 1969 I got my first job in journalism at the Hubbard News, a weekly owned by Niles Suburban Newspapers. Eight or nine months later, I was a general assignment and police reporter at The Niles Daily Times.
It was fun, but the pay wasn’t anything to write home about. When my wife, Cheryl, and I were married in 1971, she was a teacher in Austintown making about twice what I did. Teaching was starting to look better, but I had been befriended by The Vindicator’s Niles Bureau reporter, Bill Thomas, who recommended me for a job here.
In high school, I had an English teacher, Richard O. Price, who always demanded better — find the better word, fashion the better sentence, build the better paragraph.
At The Vindicator, Paul Jagnow, then an assistant state editor, was ready to give me a kick in the butt when I needed it. But he also took the time to remark on a good lead paragraph, or even a well-turned phrase in the middle of a story.
It has been a career that has spanned more than 41 years, and began when the clatter of Linotype machines could still be heard when someone opened the door from the newsroom to the print shop. Today, stories are written and placed in the page to the same sound, the clicks of fingers touching a keyboard or pushing down on a computer mouse.
The time has come to retire.
It will be strange not rushing off to work each day.
I got my first job at the age of 12, running errands on Saturdays for the wife of the neighborhood tavern owner on Mount Oliver Street in Pittsburgh. The pay was 50 cents. Not an hour. Fifty cents. At 16 I was hired as a dishwasher at Mike’s Lunch and graduated to waiter, short-order cook and spent one summer during college as the assistant manager. Hot dogs slow grilled till they were crispy on the outside, still juicy on the inside, and hamburgers, paper thin, with fried onions, were the specialties at Mike’s and are still among the best things I ever tasted.
Paying the piper
But too many hot dogs and hamburgers over the years clogged one of my three coronary arteries. Attempts to insert a stent at Trumbull Memorial and the Cleveland Clinic last spring and summer failed. It is time for a major lifestyle change. Eat less, exercise more, reduce stress. And so it shall be.
We have a three-month-old granddaughter, Cora, in Medford, Mass., and a two-day-old grandson, Aiden, in Richmond, Va. So we’ll be living healthier and doing some traveling.
I want to see their first soccer games, first piano recitals, First Communions, first jobs, first dates and first cars. Whether I make it through all those firsts may be in the hands of a mysterious stranger. But if I don’t, it won’t be because I didn’t reset my priorities.
The Vindicator has given me a place to do what I love and paid me to do it. A person can’t ask for more. But it’s time to say thanks to everyone for whom and with whom I’ve worked and move on.
And to any reader who has gotten to this last sentence, thanks for your indulgence.
Dennis B. Mangan is editorial page editor of The Vindicator — until end of business Friday, May 10. Mangan@vindy.com.