'Tiger Al's Life and Times'

Dateline: Tue 29 Dec 2009

The following tribute to "Tiger Al" Ross was crafted in the mid-1980s, when Al -- who died last week -- was a copy editor at the Iindianapolis Star. The author is Richard Gilbert, who served a short stint on the copy desk of the Star, working like the rest of us from 4 or 5 p.m. until midnight or 1 a.m. or so.

"Tiger Al"s obit is in the Star today; he died Dec. 23 at the age of 77.

Gilbert was, by copy desk standards, relatively young -- in his 30s -- when he came to the paper. He shared a keen appreciation of the odd cast of characters in his midst as well as the sufferings endured by "rim rats," as copy editors sometimes called themeselves then. Gilbert was so taken with  "Tiger Al" that he artfully wrote up this little anecdote Al told, and I was taken enough with both of them -- and the whole scene -- to save it lo these many years.

Dear reader, if the gentle irony found herein offends, please forgive. Trust that both the original telling and the rendering were done with love and, I believe, considerable grace....as for the characters, "Wid" refers to the late Frank Widner, who was news editor and, in effect, the boss of the copy desk as well as the architect of Page 1, night after night after night...and as for our Tiger Al, one of his many claims to fame was that he'd written for the Chicago City News Bureau, where he learned some tricks of the trade not always appreciated in small-town Indiana.

Hence the story, in memory of Al.

"TIGER AL'S LIFE AND TIMES" with creds to Gilbert.

"Once upon a time, in a town far, far away....in southern Indiana, Tiger Al had 'Wid's job.'

'Well,' he allowed, after some pondering, 'I actually did EVERYTHING on the paper.'

"Anyway, when Tiger Al would get off at midnight, he'd go by the police station to check the blotter. No one else ever had. Apparently, the cops didn't know what to make of him.

"One stormy night, Tiger Al showed a 'nervous weakness.' To whit: he was highly irritated by moths attracted to a light bulb over the blotter, and he capered about and swatted at them.

"Soon, this Achilles' heel was tested...


"Part I

"One night, late in the 1950s or early '60s, Tiger Al's skittishness entered a new dimension, one that was to change his life, leading him to his destiny in Kurt Vonnegut's home town, Indianapolis, and wedding him forever to our hearts.

"At the time, however, nothing about the event looked promising.

"Picture him: hunched over the scrawl and scribble of illiterate gumshoes, lost in the tangents of his keen consciousness (O life, O world, O time!), hearing faintly the reassuring murmur of the police dispatch equipment, savoring the thoughts of his tasty supper, and warm bed, being a goddamned JOURNALIST despite his miserable pay, his lumpenprole co-workers, his wretched hours. Tiger Al's entire being is blasted, his vision of goodness shattered, his gentle nature violated.


"The room was small and cozy. A few cops chatted idly. Suddenly Tiger Al was clawing for the ceiling, a great ringing roar in his ears and the acrid smell of cordite in his nose. Did he shriek? Was that his cry that filled the hollow left by the blast?

"'They had to pry my head out of the ceiling,' he told this reporter.

How could he have been ready for a firecracker rolled under his very feet, shod in worn tennis shoes?

"'They did it to me five or six times,' T.A. said. "I complained to the mayor, but it did no good."

"Good journalism eventually went by the boards, and the public was the poorer for it. Al stopped checking the blotter.

"'I never knew who was doing it,' he said. 'Sometimes it happened at shift change. Those guys must have had nerves of steel. They never reacted in the least.'

A poignant note:

"'It might have been the guy who was nice to me there who was doing it.'"

Rest in peace, Tiger Al Ross. God bless and thanks for the memories.








Whitebeard [unverified] said:

I worked as a copy editor for a few years - not at The Star, but elsewhere.

It was a hellish job. No praise and constant criticism. We seldom got strokes for catching errors or for making a badly written piece readable. But we surely caught hell when an error managed to make its way into print.

I got out of it because I realized the job was making me neurotic and OCD.

Too much abuse to my inner-child.

2009-12-29 15:53:16

ruthholl [Member] said:

A friend emailed two more of Tiger Al's utterances: "Great Scot!" and "What the???"
Copy editors are the unsung heroes of the industry, altho in the 1970s, it was regarded as THE path to management -- rots of ruck, suckers.
The Star used to punish reporters by sending them to the desk -- what was that all about????
LOTS of suffering inner childs, I fear. Funny crack.

2009-12-30 07:29:42

Star Geezer [unverified] said:

As someone who never worked alongside Al Ross, I must say that my impressions of him were different. And not positive.

2010-01-01 15:27:15

ruthholl [Member] said:

I know. He could be a workout.

2010-01-01 15:55:33

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