I was talking recently with a young woman I know glancingly who has been working in a local mortuary. Her conversation concerning the newly dead tweaked my thoughts in the direction of Ted Zink, a unique individual who was the Kitsap County coroner most of the time I was a reporter over there.
Ted had a sense of humor and a seemingly complete indifference to the fact that many people knew they couldn't, and wouldn't want to, do his job.
Once while I was eating a late breakfast in a crowded pancake and bacon house in Port Orchard, surrounded by overweight folks wolfing down French toast, sausages, eggs and biscuits slathered in honey, jelly and butter, Ted walked in and made a show of panning around the crowded eatery very slowly.
The question begged to be asked.
"What are you doin', Ted?" I called out.
"Looking over my new crop," he yelled back.
Not everybody laughed.
I did a profile of Ted and included a color shot of him doing one of his favorite things: cooking dinner.
The hands that had autopsied a thousand Kitsap corpses were coming at the reader, holding raw shrimp he had been preparing for some dish. More than one person commented on the picture, and a few of the truly squeamish complained to my publisher about the "unfortunate" photo. Ted got a big kick out of the minor tempest when I told him about it.
I lost touch with Ted after he stepped down and I moved to Hawaii. His plan had been, if his heart held out, to tour the United States - he smoked plenty of cigarettes and saw nothing odd about the fact he might be killing himself. I'd somehow thought his job would have forced him toward aerobic health, but it didn't seem that way at all.
Al Schottelkotte was a legend in Cincinnati when I was a kid. A reporter at 16, during World War II, he covered cops from the street for the Cincinnati Enquirer, the big morning daily. He was in the street because he was too young to even go into many of the bars and nightclubs where homicides took place.
After years of reporting, Al became a locally famous newspaper columnist who truly didn't seem to care what most people thought. He didn't attack power, but he was very aggressive in his writings about regular folk.
One column that made a huge stir involved the Cincinnati Safety lanes, where cars were inspected, and if not passed, taken off the road. Al got hold of a car that was on its last legs, drove through the safety lane and offered a bribe to the poor schmuck working there ... or left a bill on the seat (it's been 40 years, folks). Either way, the guy took the money, Al wrote the column, and the poor, tempted-to-weakness working stiff killed himself. If it bothered Al, he never let on.
By the time I graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1979, with a degree in English literature, Al was the most famous news anchor in "the Tristate area" (Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky). His show, criticized for being "bloody" - Al showed the bodies of murder and accident victims on the air - was ranked number one year after year.
It had taken some courage for Al to switch from the paper to the local CBS affiliate in 1957. In the beginning he took a huge pay cut, and he was only given five minutes of air time. But by the time Al hired me, on a two-week trial basis as a newswriter, replacing an attorney who'd always wanted to be on the air but couldn't write a concise sentence to save his soul, he was the father of 11 children and the owner of a six-figure income.
He liked me and my newswriting, and hired me after four days of trial. He often mentioned that since I was a German-Irish "mutt" like himself, and thus not really very "photogenic," I should be happy to labor behind the scenes.
"You can be a good news editor," he told me repeatedly. But I wanted to be on camera and eventually got there, going out late one night to a local socialite's dive off one of Cincinnati's seven bridges (one of which was constructed by August Roebling as practice for the Brooklyn Bridge). Al resigned himself to having a cops reporter who wasn't photogenic, and I enjoyed about a year chasing ambulances before I started yearning to tell more of the story than one minute and pictures allowed.
Al was disliked by a lot of people because he was abrasive and successful, but he taught me more about covering "straight" news in my year at his U-desk than the next five editors combined.
And toward the end of his life he took another leap of faith: divorcing his wife, the mother of the 11 children, and marrying one of his reporters, a nice lady named Elaine Green, who was very photogenic.
New owners, from New York, bought the station not long after I transferred my typewriter to Cincinnati Magazine, where I was allowed to write 5,000-word features about crime, politics and sports (I took a pay cut myself, despite being recently married and the father of two young children, thanks to Al's example). They kicked Al upstairs to vice president and stopped showing bodies. They brought in the blow-dried, prettily bland people to read the softened-up news, and within a year WCPO-TV was number three, out of three.
If I know Al at all, I'm sure he enjoyed that slide, promoted by the suits, who wouldn't know a good news story if it bit them on the well-padded butt.[[In-content Ad]]