There are several things I could write about this week—the State of the Union speech, nuclear energy, the Mars Rover, more Chino history, human trafficking—all subjects which have come my way this month. Another timely subject, which I tend to favor this week, is “Procrastination.” So here goes, picking up a column I wrote 45 years ago. If nothing else, it will show you how things have changed. First, few firms have secretaries any more. They’re called “executive assistants” now. Walt Orvis was the news editor, Bruce Robbins a local politico, Frank Meehan the police chief. Of the three, Mr. Robbins is still around. We don’t use typewriters any more, published the Champion on Fridays, and I haven’t played golf in 20 years or more since I wrecked my back trying to break 90.
Reprinted from March 3, 1974
Instead of writing this column by Wednesday like I should have, I went out and played golf. I can skip it this week, I said to myself. Orvis has the oil situation covered. Robbins has taken care of impeachment. We’ve made our council selection editorially. Meehan has the police beat covered. What is there left for me to say?
It was a beautiful day out there in Los Serranos. I was feeling pretty good about it all (except the score) when I got back to the office and saw a note left on my typewriter to the effect that one of our readers had called the office to say she liked the Champion very much, and particularly the Rolltop Roundup, which she always reads first.
My God, I thought, there won’t be any Rolltop to read first on Friday. She’ll be a golf widow.
Since this was not time to lose a good subscriber, I thumbed through a skinny list of notes I keep – the type that one writes in the middle of the night when a good idea emerges. I’ve lost more good columns by not getting up and doing something about it when the idea struck in the wee hours of the morning, or while shaving or some other time when it was inconvenient to write a note.
“I don’t have a sec,” said one such note. It took me a minute of reflection to figure that one out. The next brief notation explained it: “So I’m duck soup for the guy who has his sec get me on the line before he is called to talk to me.”
“Secretary one-upmanship,” I noted. For some time now I’ve been trying to think of a way to retaliate against these guys – particularly the ones who don’t come right on the line, leaving me sit there wondering if I’d miss a hot tip if I hung up. We have women in the office who answer the phone, but they’re not secretaries. They’re too busy doing other things. I haven’t thought of any good comeback for them to use on the secretaries on the other end, but I’m working on it. It makes me mad that they (the callers) think they’re busier than I am.
There are other forms of secretary one-upmanship. The politicians use this one in particular. They have their secretaries type out a form letter and give them a list of names to send them to. It’s done cleverly so that each letter appears personal. And just in case, the “Mr. McCombs” in “Dear Mr. McCombs” is crossed out and the word “Al” written above. Apparently to remind me that we’re still buddies, and things really haven’t changed, even though they have a secretary and I don’t.
I’ve contemplated putting one of those marks like “AM:tbm” at the bottom of my letters like other people have their secretaries do. Only I would know that it stood for Al McCombs: typed by myself. Except that one look at the typing job would make the average person realize no secretary could be responsible for that and last long.
There’s other things that a secretary would be useful for. Such as writing a column when I go out to play golf. That way I wouldn’t have to burn the midnight oil to keep from disappointing my loyal readers on occasions like this.