Posted on by Lee Richmond
After two months in the warehouse, I was desperate to get out. One rainy morning reading the newspaper over eggs and toast, it occurred to me that the Chronicle itself might be my escape hatch. I was a writer, wasn’t I? I had recently read a biography of some famous English author (I forget which one) who had landed his first newspaper job by volunteering to work without pay, so that night I wrote a letter to the City Editor (pen and ink – I had no typewriter) making the same offer. To my surprise, in about a week I got a letter back from the editor, Abe Mellinkoff. “I’m afraid our unions would not be at all pleased if I hired somebody without pay. However, I’ll be happy to meet with you.” I cleaned myself up as best my meager wardrobe would allow, and took a day off from Vern and the warehouse to go see Abe. He was a small, vigorous man with big black eyebrows and a corrosive sense of humor. “You’re not at all qualified to be a reporter here. The only entry-level job I have is Copyboy, and that doesn’t lead anywhere. Most of them quit after four or five months.” It sounded better than standing in a warehouse watching the rain. I told him that actually, I had just been kicked out of college, but they had told me I could come back in the fall, and a copyboy job sounded perfect in the meantime. He got a kick out of that: “I like you: you’re honest! You’re hired.” Thus began my introduction to print journalism and, although I didn’t know it at the time, my introduction to the Haight-Ashbury District as well.