Author of the JP Weiscarver Mystery Series
Leah came across something that caused her to reminisce about troll dolls, the wee marvels of marketing that go back to the 1960s. You know them, they’re usually just a couple of inches tall, made of plastic and have long, colorful hair that sticks straight up.
That started memories flowing, though I only have one recollection specific to the troll dolls, but it’s centered on a dear, late friend, Margie Kovar, who’s featured in the photo above at her desk in the Brenham Banner-Press newsroom.
No, those are not troll dolls sitting atop her computer (What are they, by the way?) in this late-1970s photo, but that’s pretty much exactly where she placed her troll and that’s what led to getting me in deep trouble with Margie one day. No kidding, it was undoubtedly the most upset she ever got with me.
The problem begins with the computer (a loose use of the term, believe me), known as a Compugraphic MDT 350. This was our first newsroom computer; its immediate predecessor was a typewriter. MDT stood for Mini-Disk Terminal, itself a misnomer in this day and age. Look past Margie at the desk of Mike Gibson, who is apparently thinking deeply about some wisecrack. I trust he still possesses his special brand of humor.
(Before I continue with this story, take a look at the wall behind Mike’s computer. See the photo hanging there? Who is it? I’ll give the answer later.)
Next to Mike’s computer is a box. White with a red design. That’s the box of “mini” disks, something like 5.25-inch floppies that were inserted into the computer and onto which were recorded our stories. Each floppy held, best I remember, 16 files. Each file held a certain number of characters, which could make up a story about 11 inches in length – again, best I remember. So, often, you had to break the story into two files or more. Once completed, the disk was sent to the composing room to be printed. We would use a paper clip to attach a scrap of paper on which we wrote the file number to be printed.
Yeah, it seems incredibly archaic now, but then it was amazing.
The dumbest thing about the MDT 350 was what they called the load button. (Or maybe it was called “mount,” but in the interest of good taste, I’ll stick with “load.”) It was in the top right corner of the keyboard and colored a bright red. Its purpose was to load a new disk. Press the button, insert the disk and close the latch and the computer would pull up a directory. (“Directory” is a loose term, as well, because all it did was list the files by number; you had to know where your story was.)
Loading makes sense, right? The problem was that hitting the button at any time completely reset everything. In other words, you lost whatever you hadn’t saved. To make that even more dangerous, saving copy was a pain. You would save or replace the file and your copy would disappear. Open the directory, scroll to the appropriate number and open it again. Therefore, writers were not really good about saving because it slowed things down.
I said back then that the load button should have required you to simultaneously press the button up front and another in the back. In other words, it should entail a deliberate action and limit the opportunities for accidents.
You got the picture now? There’s a computer containing a person’s labor under the pressure of a deadline. On the keyboard is a red button that says “Load.” Sitting on top of the computer is a pink-haired troll doll.
Me, I’m sitting on the other side of the room and I’m probably waiting for Margie to finish her story so I can read it, write a headline and send it back. That is likely the case because I had time to misbehave. I took a rubber band, aimed for the troll that was about eight feet away from me and fired.
Bull’s-eye! I cheered as the troll tumbled off the computer. Margie screamed as the troll hit the load button dead center and … obliterated her story.
My love for Margie prohibits me from remembering exactly what she said to me or even fully recalling just how mad she was. My only salvation was she couldn’t take time to beat me to death because she had to rewrite her story. Writers hate to have to do a story a second time. In addition to the obvious pain, the second story is never as good.
She did forgive me, though.
The last time I saw her was around 2003. We were living in Port Aransas and Margie, then a veteran employee of Blinn College, was attending a conference in nearby Corpus Christi and she drove over to spend some time with us. She died in 2008, one more person taken by cancer while she still had so much to give, so much living to do.
One more memory and then I’ll answer the question. Look at the photo again. Behind the little blue and red guys, between them and Mike, do you see a plant? Now, hovering above the plant, attached to a stick of some kind, is a piece of paper, on which is written something like, “Hi, my name is Bruce.”
Of course, that’s not Mike’s name. No, Bruce was the plant. There was another plant with a name, but I don’t remember it.
OK, did you recognize the guy in the photo on the wall? Remember this is a newsroom in the late ‘70s. Yep, that’s right, it’s Ed Asner in his role as Lou Grant.
A flood of memories just because Leah saw something about troll dolls.
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