Listening to Mike Cotter talk at the memorial service for John Watson Friday morning at St. John the Evangelist of how John put his own stamp on the Dispatch when he took the reins got me to thinking about the time John decided we needed photos for our columns.
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, right after learning of John’s passing, that he wanted the two of us to write personal columns so Dispatch readers would know who is putting out their paper. In essence, he wanted the paper to have a personality. The year was 1984, and when Cotter came on board, the personality part of the paper took a giant leap.
Some of our co-workers used to say we were the good, the bad and the ugly of columnists. They’d quickly add that they knew who the good was but weren’t sure about the other two.
I can’t say I was actually proud of the good label being attached to me. Watson and Cotter wrote biting stuff. They tackled issues, John with a lawyer’s style of case building and Mike with his rapier wit, honed as the playwrite he was for several years. My stuff was, well, you know.
Anyway, John said we needed photos. So photographer Kenny Feeney snapped several shots of each of us and made a contact sheet — proofs, you might say — for us to pick the one we liked. And that got interesting.
None of us liked any of them. Who looked too fat in this one. Whose ears were too big in that one. Whose one eye was closed too much. Whose ever-increasing forehead was too shiny. You should have heard us.
“Vanity, thy name is woman?” I thought. Not judging by us.
“There’s a column in there,” I thought and began trying to find out who said “Vanity, thy name is woman.” It proved a daunting task. This was pre-internet, i.e. no Google.
Trying to save myself a day at the library, I just started asking around. And most people, I soon found out, had no clue.
Andy Petonak, almost 30 years later my teaching colleague at the community college, was a young stringer at the paper then but also one of the best read people I knew. “Shakespeare,” he said matter-of-factly as soon as I asked.
“You sure?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “but I figure Shakespeare said 50 percent of all things quotable, so why not?”
My favorite response came from Kathy Feeney, Kenny’s wife at the time. “I don’t know who said it,” she replied, “but I know it’s true.”
Some folks guessed it must be from the Bible. A priest told me Voltaire. I wound up writing the column without having the answer. I just Googled it a minute ago and found out no one actually said it. “Frailty, thy name is woman,” comes from Hamlet. How it became “vanity” I still have no idea.
John’s memorial service brought a flood of such Dispatch memories along with some interesting moments, like seeing the aforementioned Kenny and Kathy Feeney sitting side-by-side in a pew. They’ve been divorced for almost 20 years but came together to honor John. How appropriate, I thought.
I was a kid when I started at the paper and met Kenny and his then-fiance Kathy. She always had a nickname for me. It started with Eddie my Love, from the hit song by The Fontane Sisters in 1956. Family legend has it that when I was little my Aunt Dorothy used to sing it to me and make me cry.
When McDonald’s came out with the Egg McMuffin in 1971 and I had one at the Jersey shore and came home raving about it, well, I had myself a brand new Kathy Feeney nickname: Eddie McMuffin.
She stills calls me one or the other.
John Watson was a school kid when Kenny and Kathy married but to illustrate that he did not get his rogue behavior “from the wind,” as the saying goes, let me tell you what his dad orchestrated.
Kathy and Kenny were married on a Saturday and off on their honeymoon while we returned to work to get out the next day’s paper, which included Kathy’s bridal portrait. As the press was running, John’s dad, Pidge Watson, informed us we weren’t done yet. He had us produce a fake front page with Kathy’s photo filling the whole cover under the headline “Kathy Feeney takes up her cross.” I wrote a few funny lines to go with it.
When the Dispatch press run was completed, we cranked it up again with the fake front page, ran off a handful of copies and shipped one overnight to the resort where the newlyweds were staying.
All that after working a 16-hour day, which was the Saturday norm.
We all worked hard at the Sunday Dispatch but always managed to have fun at the same time. No matter what the obstacle before us, our head pressman James “Spot” O’Donnell would remind us, “We have to find the humor in this.” And we always did.