The Star-News


Chronicler of an interesting life

Sun, Jul 03 2011 12:00 PM Posted By: Richard Pena

I suppose that I have always wanted to be a writer. At a rather young age I saw the movie “The Front Page,” the original one with Pat O’Brien.

I thought that I would want to be like that character: fast talking, wise-cracking, hard drinking,
a two-finger typist beating out copy faster than an Indie race.

Alas, I learned at an early age that I could not be like O’Brien. I had a hard time talking with a
cigarette hanging out of the corner of my mouth, I could not think fast enough to wise-crack and more than one drink made me sick.

On top of that I was taught to type conventionally so the newsroom would label me a nerd, even before there was such a term.

So, I went through two other careers before taking up the profession. Oh, but in retrospect I have been at it for a long time. Shortly after the war I enrolled in a night course at what was the San Diego Evening Junior College.

Classes were held at the old San Diego High School. This was a course called magazine
writing. It was taught by a professional writer who had many publications to his name.

I remember two things I learned from this professor: always put the diacritical mark inside the quotation marks and never use abbreviations such as “tho” or “thru” in text regardless of its informality.
The dangling participle and the split infinitive I learned on my own.

The principal objective of the course was to not only write a magazine article but to sell it.
Anyone coming up with a sold manuscript would get an A for the course.

Among the many dairies in the South Bay we had Cloyed’s Dairy, a rather innovative business on North Fourth Avenue that, I thought, might be a good story. It was a drive-in dairy and was at the present location of the Target store. One could drive in, as at a filling station, a young man dressed in white would come to
your car, take your empties and bring you your week’s supply of dairy products. And all you had to do was sit in your car and, of course, pay the young man.

I interviewed the owners of the establishment took a few amateurish photographs and submitted my copy to a business magazine. Much to my surprise, and joy, shortly after the class
was over I received a letter, a check and congratulations from
a trade journal, The Milk Plant Monthly.

The professor had given me a B for the course, but a fast visit to his office and I had my A.
The check was only for $25 but what the heck, I had become a professional writer.

I mention this because I think I have come full circle. Some years ago members of my family
and close friends sort of suggested, or insisted, that I put my memoirs in print. And I suppose
they were right. After all when one reaches a certain plateau in life that covers many years he is
apt to have experienced a few things that might be of interest to others.

Taking that into consideration I have recently had a portion of my memoirs published. I completed
a chapter, titled “The USS Detroit Years,” and with the help of Michelle Spurlock at Mountain Printers we have put out a reasonably attractive booklet.

The Detroit was a cruiser that had quite a history. It was one of the few vessels that were there at the beginning, the bombing at Pearl Harbor, and at the end, the signing of the surrender in
Tokyo Bay. This narrative covers my years on board from 1937
to 1944.

My tale is one of those compiled of anecdotes as I remember them. There is no research that went into its preparation and, as such, it would not be rated up there with some of those lofty tomes that we see in the history section at the local library or at Borders.

There, for example, is little reference to the war, or to battles in the war. Such subjects have been tackled admirably by historians much better qualified than me.

I have a couple of more chapters in the making and hope to complete them before too long.

And if I don’t then I suppose my literary legacy will have to be “The Detroit Years” and, oh yes, I must not forget The Milk Plant Monthly.


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