Posted by: johnhourihan | December 26, 2012

Newspapers and penny-candy stores: A

We were never so young as when we went to Domenic’s store.
It was in a time when penny candy was a penny, newspapers were papers filled with news, and children learned how to duck and cover at school.
“Put your coat over your heads children. That will stop the nuclear blast,” we were told.
Domenic’s wife was an old woman, in her 40s I guess. And Domenic was even older, if you can imagine that. I was sure in his time he had seen spittoons, and horseless carriages and Tammany Hall.
But my world was this trip to the Purchase Street Market.
It would begin with my mother making tea and realizing she had no milk. She rummaged through her purse for a dollar bill and the twins and I would be sent to Domenic’s.
The store was a mile or so away, although it felt like a year because we had to get by the Delorme’s German shepherd and the Allagrezza’s cows, but it was a good walk because at the end was a prize.
As we stepped from the white light of the morning sun, the small room went black.
Then my eyes refocussed, first on the glass-enclosed candy case straight ahead.
Next, the dark plank floor, like flat wooden steps, led through a gauntlet of stacked groceries. Penny candy was stacked and piled inside the glass-encased counter, rows of neatly separated Maryjanes, Squirrels, Tootsie Rolls, Dots, Crows, Mint Juleps, and then the cat, and after the cat was the five cent stuff, like Necco Wafers, Waleecos, Mounds and all the stuff I never got unless Scrapper Jack bought it at the bar on his way home as a sort of sweet apology for those of us still waiting.
The glass front was old, curved and yellow, and it distorted everything inside.
As the cat would get up and begin its trek across the case it looked as if its back was rippling. Then it would lie back down and Domenic’s old wife would shoo it away so she could let us see all the candy all at once.
She was proud of her candy case.
After we got the can of milk, and maybe some Kool Aid we got to spend a nickel on candy, which, in the old days, filled a small brown bag. While my sister was deciding on the candy, I would run my fingers over the morning newspapers in a pile on the floor next to the case. After you rubbed them, you could put your fingers to your nose and smell the most delightful smell in the world.
Printer’s ink — the life-blood of the newspaper.
I can still see the black etching of a baseball player on the front page, with the rows of type and the thick black masthead.
I would sit next to the pile while my sister talked with Mrs. Domenic.
The smell of cigar smoke, provolone, aging fruit and printers ink got into my blood.
Once, my little league team took a tour of the Milford Daily News and I smelled the same thing there, mingled with cigarette smoke and the smell of strong coffee.
I began working for that paper when I was in my early 20s.
The click of the teletype, and the roar of the press was the magic that produced an  adversary to a government that was selling an ill advised war to an unsuspecting people.
I was proud to be part of the hometown rag that said, “End the war now!”
But it seems the world has flown through offset printing, four-color, process jet presses, inserts, computers, no smoking in the newsroom, no drinking in the newsroom, no swearing in the newsroom, and then my heart broke when it occurred to me that soon there would be no more newsrooms.
The lifeblood is being sucked out of them: The transition has begun into the undead wasteland of the Internet.
People don’t seem to care, and I feel older than duck-and-cover.
Kids who are younger than I thought Domenic was old, now advise men who remember the smell of printers ink.
They tell us how we can blog and twitter.
A flick and a flicker and multicolor pictures of air-headed heiresses and short celluloid superheroes, and more opinions than Carter has little liver pills light up across your screen with all the credibility of a Daffy Duck cartoon.
But I sat at a newsroom meeting the other day and looked out the window and wondered if we are doing the right thing.
Is more money enough of a reason to jump from the credibility of newspapers to the insanity of the Internet, where you can find every thought in the universe, but nothing proven.
Where you can find every filth and depravity ever conceived, but so little morality.
Where you can find so much typing but so little writing.
This morning I feel particularly young, except that penny candy doesn’t exist any more, and duck and cover is a thing of the far past, and newspapers are on the verge of going the way of the spittoon.
But I still remember the smell of the printers ink on my fingertips.
It was something you will never get on the Internet.
It was the smell of truth



  1. I’d settle for a reasonable facimille. I went out and got the Sunday paper the other day. So big it almost didn’t fit in it’s box. When I brought it in and took out the flyers it wasn’t as big as a pamphlet. The biggest selling point in the paper is “SPEAK OUT” This is where anyone can say anything about anybody and they don’t have to sign their name. Truth is not nessasary.

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