Monday, February 22, 2010


“Put your shoulder to it,” a chief petty officer might tell the swabbie pushing a mom or broom deck side, but in truth, there’s more dance than brawn.

The closest I ever got to a CPO was my Great-Uncle Herbert Gunther, a walking advertisement for tattoo parlors who charmed women in the Asian ports just after World War I. I was never a swabbie, except in my own home, where I can mop a deck mighty fine, thank you.

I can also do a broom dance, in the garage or on the basement floor. And I barely put a shoulder to it.

Decades ago, I was a jack of all trades at a smallish community newspaper in Nyack, N.Y., called The Journal-News. That was back when there was enough advertising to support newspapers chock full of local news, back when enough people read papers and back when costs were low enough that a chain didn’t come in and buy up the community paper and dress it like all its other papers, so as to attract national ads and raise stockholder income.

No, this was in the early 1960s, and I was a copy boy in addition to being the coffee guy, the perforated wire service tape collector (tape with holes was used to set type) and an in-training photog, writer, editor – almost anything connected to a newspaper that you wanted to be. The door was wide open to the individual with get up and go.

Some days I also did the floors, either by direction or because I just felt like grabbing a broom. I had watched the high school custodians handle brooms so deftly that not a hair was missed and with action so effortless that you thought the floors were made of polished marble.

These guys would start at the left side of a hallway, push the broom a bit, angle at about 45 degrees, then tap it until the collected debris fell off. They then began sweeping anew, this time maybe at 55 degrees. They would make a 10-foot forward movement, then circle back for a parallel sweep, and so on to until the width of the hallway was done. It was then onto to other 10-feet set of parallels, and eventually the pile of debris was picked up by shovel.

This was a sure dance of a particular sort, and you could put music to it, the notes so evident. At the newspaper, I adopted that rhythm as best I could, and I perform it still in my basement and garage. My wife Lillian loves the tune.


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