When that school newspaper came off the ditto machine, I was hooked

Public domain (Froom xxxxx.com)

Public domain (From finebooksmagazine.com)

My writing quest goes back to the days of the ditto machine.

It was the eighth grade.

I loved sports. I tried out for the junior high basketball team. I made it to the final cut before Coach Herb Friedman did not call out my name. We lived in a big school district on Long Island, so I only felt bad for a little while.

My friends that did make the team, though, they knew how much I loved the sport. All sports, really. I was a playground regular for hoops and street hockey. I’d tuck my mitt under my arm and bike to the park for pickup baseball in the summer sun, and watch the steam come out of our mouths while we played no-equipment tackle into the fall nights, after swearing to our parents that we’d only play touch.

And they knew that I loved to read newspapers. I’d ask them if they saw a story the night before. Yeah, nerdish, but I did find others with a curiosity for the big world with that question.

One of them put two-and-two together. Jim Colabufo was a star running back and linebacker on the junior high football team. Some teacher or advisor made him the sports editor of the school newspaper, too.

I use the term newspaper loosely.

At Robert Cushman Murphy Junior High School, the news was spread by student writing via a monthly handout of ditto pages.

Jim told me that I was going to cover the school basketball team. He didn’t ask, Mr. Star RB/LB. I would have said yes anyway.

The game before ditto day was at another school. Players got push. Parents were shouting a bit. Referees calmed everybody down. Some more words were mumbled from both sides as the team walked to the bus. Murphy won.

I wrote my game account and a headline that read something along the lines of Boys Basketball: Undefeated and Still No Scars.

The homeroom teacher passed out the freshly minted ditto pile that was the newspaper.

All the kids picked it up and took a deep sniff. Yes, that scene from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” is true for the ditto generation.

They read the sports page. My friends all smiled at me. For the rest of the day, I heard how much they liked my story.

I was hooked.

I’ve been writing ever since, and still.

Ward Melville High School Patriot. SUNY Morrisville Chimes. University of Maryland Diamondback. The Washington Post. The Prince George’s Journal. The Syracuse Post-Standard. The Syracuse New Times.

And all of it leads to this blog, where the last 13 months of writing about whatever I want have deepened my love affair with words and ideas even more.

Thank you to Jason Cushman, WordPress’ Opinionated Man from the Harsh Reality blog, for issuing the challenge to write about a defining writing moment.

Here’s the source for the ditto machine advertisement.

Did you write for your school newspaper? Did your friends think that was cool? Did you ever sniff fresh dittoes?

54 thoughts on “When that school newspaper came off the ditto machine, I was hooked

  1. I guess I fall in the stale dittoes camp because I do remember the tell tale purple text, but no smell. We didn’t have a school newspaper. Our town was so small our newspaper went to print once a week and it looked (still looks) more like an insert rather than what you would think of as a paper.


    • The powers that be may have figured out how to take the smell (and the fun) out of the ditto process, Sandra! As far as newspapers go, it’s a good thing that your hometown still has any kind of newspaper at all, I think!


  2. Mark, very cool making waves in high school. I never wrote for the school paper or any club. I actually didn’t really write or pursue writing until 11th grade. My writing span has been a roller coaster, but there was one moment back in… Wait. I’m going to save this for the challenge. πŸ™‚


  3. Oh lord, I started my “professional” life as poet laureate for my high school paper Mark. And the ditto machines were everywhere!!!! My first job as a private secretary, I used them, also the mimeograph, the early fax which is a whole different animal than today’s version. When I wrote for the Diocesan monthly I just had to email the article in to the editor — no proofreading. Today? Whatever hits my brain first. I can still remember my first poem, written in the first grade. Don’t ask though. I’ll never tell.


    • I am impressed to keep the company of a poet laureate, Angie. I remember those mimeographs, and the first spinning fax machines, too. It’s so much easier to use the new technology, better than the email days. Write it, edit it, push the button, read it on the blog. Awesome. And I also am impressed that you remember your first poem, from first grade.


  4. god i loved the papers freshly off the ditto machine, the smell, the ink, all of it. great to hear the history of your writing. happy it turned out like it did, otherwise, you’d just be a retired overpaid millionaire athlete.


  5. Oh yeah! My mom was my first grade teacher and after school I would help her run the ditto machine. Actually, my job was to sniff the fresh copies to ensure they were of good quality.
    (This could explain some of weird behavior even today–Thanks Mom!)

    Great post Mark.


  6. I haven’t heard the term “ditto” used to refer to a piece of paper in probably 20 years! We still called them dittoes even after conventional copy machines were introduced to our school. Sadly, I don’t remember them having a smell to them… or maybe I just never bothered to sniff one when I was a kid!


    • Yup, Ross, the smell is a gateway scent for me, still.

      Before my layoff from the big daily, when I’d bring guests into the building through the press hall wing, I’d always tell them to stop, close their eyes, and smell the ink. And every single one of them smiled and got it.

      Yes, writing can’t be avoided once you start.

      Thanks, Ross.


  7. Oh, Mark I am older and remember dittos and hand punched text onto reels of paper. Waxing enthusiastic I worked at newspapers from just post hot type and into coldtype. Now I do my own typesetting and paint instead of pasteup. Great memories in the newspaper biz. Thanks.


    • OK, I worked in the back shop with hot type and cold type, too, Martha. I was a college student grabbing newsroom aide shifts at the Washington Post’s sports department, and they send me down to the press room to get page proofs. I didn’t know that the printer’s had an “initiation” for first-time aides. You had to look at the type upside down and backward on the hot lead and then give approval for the page proof. They put all the bylines on upside down. So I grabbed the page proof, brought it to the editor (in on the joke) and he circled all the bylines with a red grease pencil and asked what was wrong with me. Ha-ha heart attack.

      With cold type up here, there was one printer who would rap you in the knuckles with his pica poll if you touched the type.

      Thanks, and have a great afternoon, Martha.


  8. Mark,
    I remember them well, blue ink, great odor. My 4th grade teacher, the beautiful Miss Francione, used the mimeograph machine, what seemed like every day. My most favorite odors were the paper and her perfume.
    I think the ball game you referenced was against Central or East Islip. I remember Glenn Kuhlman on the foul line when somebody in the stands yelled, “you sink this shot I will sink your head”. I may be imagining this but i believe Glenn did what any self respecting 13 year old smart ass would do and shot him the bird!
    After the game ended, there was quite a fray, Freidman got punched and we all got on the bus and were told to lay on the seats. It was all pretty quiet on the way back to Murphy, when i imagine all of the stories became somewhat more than reality.
    Do you remember playing 2v2, with Scott Ahrens and me against you and Agostino?. We would play at Murphy on open gym nights when we were in HS We used to play a lot at Nassakeag on the outside court as well. Great stories Mark. Keep up the good work.
    Thanks for the memories,



    • Thank you for filling in the details of that Murphy battle, Dan. Those were some days. We were lucky to have such a good group of friends. I remember playing two-on-two with Agostino against you and Scott. We lived for those open gym nights, and outside courts at Nassakaeg. My mom was a lunch lady at the Nassakaeg cafeteria when my younger sisters went there.

      Remember at Melville when Stuart Starkey started a night basketball league that all of us joined? I was on Bill Carney’s team. He was a great shooting guard. John Winder was on my team, too. NIce kid and he always passed the ball. We all called it “Starkey’s League.”

      I wonder where Scott Ahrens is. He’s the only one of us four that I’m not in contact with.

      Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog, Dan.

      Pretty good last week in your state of Connecticut, huh? The Huskes were awesome, men and women.


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