SECTION EIGHT
SM
COLUMN FORTY-NINE, SEPTEMBER 1, 1999
(Copyright 1999 Al Aronowitz)

STOP THE PRESSES! I WANT TO GET OFF 

or

WEBS, WASPS AND WHIPLASH WHILE CRUISING THE O-ZONE
 

PART 3: HOW TO PAY FOR A DAILY NEWSPAPER

Daily newspapers, even small dailies, cost lots of money.  But, like our insurance executive investor would say, "Shoot for the stars and you might hit the moon."  

Kuncl would answer, "Ya! And if a pig had wings it would fly."

As for the insurance coverage, I learned another important lesson that day: you hire an attorney as soon as you have a loss.  We had held off hiring one.  The thought of giving an attorney 30 percent of the money needed to replace the loss was more than we could deal with.  After paying for the equipment and the building we'd be lucky if we could buy a round of beer at our 16th Avenue SW hangouts.  Plus the insurance agent kept telling us that we'd get paid as soon as I was exonerated.

Needless to say, as soon as I was exonerated I called the insurance company.  A few days later their attorney informed me that, since I had not filed suit within the period stipulated in the policy, they were not going to cover the loss.  I learned that Daddy Warbucks, our wealthy backer, got his investment back years later.  But as usual the rank-and-file got the shaft.

Back to the beginning-again.  Would my worries ever end?

They ended---or appeared to end.

Living on the bottom rungs of the socio-economic ladder for the past few years and having covered the courts, the unions, fights, fires, and killings, the depths of my anger soon got to someone who saw the possibility of putting it to good use.

The right offer---rather, the wrong offer---came early in 1967.

It was no secret that I had skills as an artist: "Use your skills to print money and we will see that you make enough to do exactly what you want to do."  I thought about the offer for as long as it took to drink a cup of coffee.

I went to work for a group whose desire for easy money was almost as great as my desire to get even.  My knack for making the perfect copy and my knowledge about chemistry to develop a sizing agent that gave quality paper the look, feel, and flexibility of good old American currency kept me busy for a year.  I desperately wanted a newspaper, but along the way my desire for the newspaper took a backseat to developing the paper and the plates.  Creating money was science fiction, an addiction.  I couldn't stay away from the drawing table, the plates, the chemistry.  I was hooked.  Strange as it may seem, I never thought of spending it, never gave any thought to the illegality of what I was doing, and never rested.  I published an issue of the newspaper once a week and spent the rest of the time in a small one-room hideaway that was a combination laboratory, art studio, and printing plant.  I was in another world.  A world that hate had created---hate and some Chicago acquaintances 

The world was all new to me, and quite frankly it was fascinating---for a while.  I became so engrossed in the work that I could do little of anything else.  I was given money to run the paper and meet a modest payroll.  I didn't think to pay myself.  So, when I was arrested and charged with counterfeiting, I thought about it and had to face the fact that I was cursed with bad karma.  No sense in making excuses or copping a plea.  I called Bob Nelson and Bob Fassler again.

Later that day, I was sitting with the Bobs trying to explain what I had done.  After I had answered all their questions, Fassler said to Nelson, "We won't have any trouble winning this case."

Nelson looked at Fassler like he was nutso and asked him what he had in mind for a defense.

"Why, temporary insanity.  What else is there?" Fassler laughed as only he could laugh---loud, louder, loudest, and right from the heart.

I could have walked away from most of the charges but rejected adding any complications to my life that were not already there.  As a result, life was considerably safer and mellower at Leavenworth---you never gain anything by dragging others to prison with you.

The trial itself was boring.  I spent days answering the federal prosecutor's endless questions with a simple, "I just don't know."

Every time I said "I just don't know," Nelson and Fassler would look at each other and shrug---the gesture saying, "We should have gone with the insanity plea."

The judge knew, though, and he didn't waste any time.  He rewarded me with five or six ten-year sentences and tossed in an additional five for conspiracy.  I entered Leavenworth in November, 1967---a Pilgrim, so to speak, a couple weeks in front of Thanksgiving.

When the two federal marshalls dropped me off at Leavenworth, one of them took me aside and gave me some advice:

"You have to be mighty careful in there, Joe---there's sex-crazed men on the other side of those walls who haven't been with a woman in a long, long time.  Don't let them get to you."

Don't let them get to me? I thought.  If there were men in there who were so hard up they saw me as a desireable love object, I wasn't heading into a prison; I was heading into an insane asylum.

One last story about the money.  Around the time I was finishing the money, a bright young high school student who had been hanging around the office getting occasional writing assignments had been given a key to the office.  Being an inquisitive young man, he had discovered my hidden room and had borrowed some of the fruits of my nighttime labors.

He had passed up the 10s, 20s, and 50s for the 100 dollar bills with 27 different serial numbers.  He told me years later that he was working on a story of his own.  After I had been cooling my heels in Leavenworth for three or four months, he and some friends got a little drunk after a football game and walked into the tavern just half a block from the old office.  There, he laid a $100 bill on the bar and asked for a case of Old Style.  As soon as the other patrons saw the bill, they went through the litany of jokes that my "temporary insanity" had generated.

"Check that C note!"

"Got a list of those serial numbers?"

"Let's look at that bill."

And they all did.  They gathered around and studied the $100 bill that Bobby had laid down and they all agreed that it was good old American currency---the real thing---not one of Joe's bills.

When the kids were picked up for public intoxication later that night, my young friend had a couple thousand in his backpack.  One of the men who had been in the tavern the night before saw the front page of the morning paper and in a letter told me about what had happened there.

I was reading the paper at about the same time he was and figured I'd hear from one of the regulars.

I wondered if it would ever go away.  ##  

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