The River

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Tales from Realist life

I never knew where I would find new contributors. One time I woke up at 3 o'clock in the morning. My radio was still on, and a man was talking about how you would try to explain the function of an amusement park to visitors from Venus. It was Jean Shepherd. He was on WOR from midnight to 5:30 every night, mixing childhood reminiscence with contemporary critiques, peppered with such characters as the man who could taste an ice cube and tell you the brand name of the refrigerator it came from and the year of manufacture. Shepherd would orchestrate his colorful tales with music ranging from "The Stars and Stripes Forever" to Bessie Smith singing "Empty Bed Blues." He edited several of his stream-of-consciousness ramblings into an article for the Realist under the title "Radio Free America."

At first, the entire office staff consisted of me. I took no salary, but I had to figure out how to continue publishing without accepting ads, so naturally I got involved with a couple of guys who had a system for betting on the horses. Although I lost all my savings, there was one blessing in disguise. At the racetrack, I bought a handicap newsletter, the Armstrong Daily, which included a clever column by Marvin Kitman. I invited him to write, and he became our consumer advocate with "An Independent Research Laboratory."

His first report, "I tried the Rapid-Shave Sandpaper Test," called the bluff of an advertising campaign when he described his personal attempt to shave sandpaper with a particular shaving cream. He also wrote sardonic pieces such as "How I Fortified My Family Fallout Shelter," on the morality of arming yourself against neighbors who didn't have a fallout shelter.


Thanks for this one, Frank.

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