When I was a kid, local newspapers would hire preteens on bikes to deliver newspapers in their neighborhoods. Paperboys and papergirls would get a big stack of newspapers delivered to their house, and they would ride around the neighborhood with big bags attached to their bikes, tossing the newspapers to the porches of their subscribers. Once a month, the kids would walk around the neighborhood collecting the monthly subscription fees from their subscribers. The newspaper office would then charge them for all the newspapers they delivered, at a bulk rate discount, and the paperboys and papergirls would pocket the difference. A paperboy was a common enough sight in a neighborhood that there was even a video game called Paperboy, where the player had to shoot newspapers from a bike into mailboxes while dodging obstacles.
In 1988, I was one of those paperboys. For nine months, I rode my bike around the neighborhood six days a week delivering newspapers to around 60 customers, and I’d get to keep around $150 every month, which was a lot of money to a kid in 1988. Fortunately for me, this was when we lived in an old and flat neighborhood in Gabilan, shortly before we moved out of town into the hills of Plumdale. Also fortunately for me, the Gabilan News was an afternoon newspaper at the time, so I could do this after school, instead of having to get up at 5 every morning as I would if the News had been a morning paper.
That experience of working with newspapers got me in the habit of reading the newspaper pretty much every day. When I started as a student at the University of Jeromeville, one of the first things I did was look into getting a newspaper subscription. The university newspaper, the Daily Colt, was free, but it mostly only covered campus news and local news of interest to students. Jeromeville had a local newspaper, the Jeromeville Times, but I wanted a larger and more comprehensive newspaper that would report on state and national news as well, so I subscribed to the big city newspaper for the region, the Capital City Record. Each of the campus residential areas had a newspaper vending machine, and students who lived there and subscribed to the paper were given a key to unlock the machine and take a paper. It seemed like it worked on the honor system, and one could easily abuse the system and steal more than one paper, but I never had a problem with the machine running out of newspapers or anything.
One morning, about two weeks into class that quarter, I got my copy of the Record on my way out of the dining hall, and I read it in my dorm room before it was time for class to start, as was my usual routine. The major news story that dominated my freshman year at UJ was the trial of retired football player O.J. Simpson, who had been accused of killing his ex-wife. The media reported on every sensationalized detail of the trial. I skipped over that news on the front page. I was kind of tired of hearing about O.J. Simpson.
A few pages in, I saw a headline which rang a bell in the back of my mind. I began reading the article, shocked once I realized why it sounded so familiar.
Repressed memory conviction overturned
San Francisco – A federal judge yesterday overturned the conviction of George Franklin, who was found guilty of murdering a young girl based on the testimony of his daughter’s repressed memories.
The concept of repressed memory, the unconscious forgetting and later remembering of uncomfortable events from one’s past, was a common subject of daytime talk shows and trashy tabloid news of the time period. In 1969, an eight-year-old girl in California was murdered, but no one was ever charged with the crime. Twenty years later, a friend of the deceased girl now had a daughter who was around the same age as her friend had been when she was killed. She claimed that seeing her own daughter at that age triggered memories of her father, George Franklin, having smashed her friend’s head with a rock long ago. Mr. Franklin’s murder conviction was the first time that repressed memory had been used as part of a criminal case in court. Mr. Franklin’s story had been told by true crime writer Harry N. MacLean in a book called Once Upon A Time.
The reason I had a personal interest in this case right now is because Once Upon A Time was required reading for the Psychology and the Law class that I was taking right now. It was a class for the Interdisciplinary Honors Program, so it was only open to students in the program, all of whom lived with me in Building C.
The next time that class met, at the beginning of class, the professor, Dr. Kemp, walked in a few minutes after I got there. As he was organizing his notes, he asked, “Did anyone see anything in the news this week that has to do with this class?”
“George Franklin got released from prison,” I said.
“Yes,” Dr. Kemp replied. “His conviction was overturned.”
“What?” said Dan Woodward.
“That scumbag is out of prison?!” Theresa Arnold exclaimed.
“He isn’t actually out of prison yet. But an appeals judge found that the prosecution did not present their case correctly,” Dr. Kemp explained.
“So what’s going to happen to this class now?” I asked.
“We’re still going to do everything I had planned, and we’ll talk about this new development later when it comes up. Let’s get back to where we were last time.”
Dr. Kemp began his lecture, and I took notes. Sticking to the plan seemed like the best possible option at this point. Still, though, it seemed like this must have thrown off all of Dr. Kemp’s plans for the class. I would have felt that way if I had been a teacher.
Sometimes, even in the days before smartphones, news traveled so fast that I would hear about something before reading it in the newspaper the next morning. About a week after hearing that George Franklin’s murder conviction had been overturned, I sat at the dining hall during lunch one day with some of my usual friends: Liz and Ramon, Sarah, Pete, Charlie, and Krista. They were already there when I joined their table.
“It’s so sad what happened,” Liz said.
“All those innocent people,” Sarah contemplated aloud.
“I feel really dumb for asking,” I said, “but what’s going on?”
“A terrorist blew up a government building in Oklahoma,” Pete explained.
“Do they have a suspect? Or do they know why?” Krista asked.
“I haven’t heard,” Pete said.
I don’t react outwardly to news of this sort. I feel like this lack of emotion makes me some kind of inhuman monster who doesn’t care that people died. That isn’t true. I guess it is just harder in my mind to connect with things like this that happened far away.
Something felt a little different about this news, though. Oklahoma is far away, yes, but it isn’t the kind of place where I would have expected to hear about a terrorist attack. These kinds of things happen in places like New York or Washington, D.C., not Oklahoma.
I didn’t usually watch TV news, but that night I did, on the tiny black-and-white TV in my room. The bombing happened in Oklahoma City, the state capital, and there were dozens confirmed dead already, with more likely to be found as the rubble was searched. A suspect was in custody already, and he was believed to be a radical executing a vendetta against the government.
Oklahoma City may have been far off to me, a place to watch on the news, but it hit much closer to home for someone I knew. I discovered this when I checked my email later that night.
Hey… how are you? How were your classes today? I hope it went well.
Did you hear about the bombing in Oklahoma City? It’s scary. That’s only a few hours away from me. My friend’s grandma lives in Oklahoma City, but not in that part of the city. She’s ok. Today at school they called a special assembly so they could talk to us about it. I heard on the news that they said something like that could happen here. I hope there aren’t any more attacks any time soon.
Take care and stay safe.
Brittany sounded scared, and I felt a little worried for her. She lived in Amarillo, Texas, directly west of Oklahoma City. I had never met her personally; we met in a chat room last summer, when I first got this computer. That was the first time I had the technology to communicate online with someone in another state, and she had stayed in touch ever since. She was a year younger than me, just finishing high school.
I wrote back later that night.
My day was pretty good. I just went to classes. I had a math midterm today. I think I did well. I’m taking vector analysis this quarter. I’d never really heard of that before this class, but so far it seems pretty easy.
I did hear about the bombing… that’s scary. You don’t hear about things like that happening in places like Oklahoma City. I’m sure it’s a lot more scary for you since you’re not very far away. I hope nothing happens to you… if something did happen and you ever needed a place to go, maybe you could come stay with me.
I hope you have a better day tomorrow.
I wasn’t sure why I wrote that last part. Could Brittany really come stay with me? Probably not, because all I had was a dorm room. And we didn’t really even know each other, although we had been exchanging emails for eight months. But she was a girl, and I wanted to meet her, and hey, you never know. Brittany wrote back the next day and thanked me for my kind offer, although she also said she probably wouldn’t be allowed to stay in my dorm. We never did meet in person. We lost touch sometime in the middle of sophomore year.
A few days after the bombing in Oklahoma City, while it was still fresh in everyone’s memory, I was sitting in Psych-Law class, waiting for Dr. Kemp to arrive. Dan Woodward walked in about a minute after me. Dan lived on the third floor, and he was politically outspoken and involved in a number of political groups on campus. His views mostly disagreed with mine, so I didn’t often seek out conversations with him, although I didn’t avoid him either. But I clearly remember what he said when he walked into the classroom that day.
“There was a bombing in Capital City,” Dan said.
“What?” Gina Stalteri asked loudly.
“Someone mailed a package bomb to a political group’s office, and somebody died.”
Everyone else just kind of sat in silence for a minute or so until Dr. Kemp entered the room and started class. This news story was definitely close to home, both literally and emotionally. Oklahoma City was halfway across the country, but this bombing happened only 15 miles away. It was just as unusual to hear of this kind of thing happening here as it was in Oklahoma City.
The next morning, reading the Capital City Record, I read more about the mail bomb. It was the work of a well-known serial bomber who had been responsible for numerous other similar attacks off and on since the 1970s. His most recent attack had been four months earlier in New Jersey. The FBI referred to this terrorist as “the Unabomber.” The nickname was shortened from “university airline bomber,” because many of his attacks targeted people at universities and airlines. In 1987, he was seen planting a bomb in Utah, having concealed his face with a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses. A witness contacted a police sketch artist, and a picture of this sketch appeared here on the front page of the Record. I noticed that my dad had a pair of sunglasses that looked very similar to the Unabomber’s sunglasses, although the rest of the picture did not look much like my dad.
The Unabomber sketch, which I got from Wikipedia in 2019.
The Unabomber often targeted people at universities; was Jeromeville in danger? Could the Unabomber strike here, especially since he had struck in Capital City? The article said that one of his previous bombs, in 1985, had also been mailed to Capital City; maybe he had some connection to this area? As scary as it was to think about, there wasn’t much I could do about anything, other than be wary of suspicious packages.
The Unabomber would be in the news many more times over the next year or so. I will come back to that story another time. George Franklin didn’t really come up a lot more in my life; in Psychology and the Law class, we didn’t really talk a whole lot about his conviction being overturned. His case wasn’t the entire focal point of the class. We had a lot of other things to talk about.
About a decade later, I would make a personal connection with the bombing in Oklahoma City. The site had been turned into a memorial and museum, which I eventually visited when I was traveling. It was a moving and memorable experience. I think the connection to this place felt stronger than with most historical sites I’ve visited, because I was old enough to remember when the event happened. (The suspect who was caught on the day of the bombing was found guilty and received the death penalty; another co-conspirator is currently serving life in prison.)
The grounds of the memorial include sculptures of 168 chairs, each inscribed with the name of one of the 168 victims. I took this picture when I was there in 2005.
My career as a paperboy lasted nine months, and the reason I quit was so typical of me. The Gabilan News office ran a contest for its paper carriers, where over a period of three months, we would be entered into a drawing for a new Nintendo Entertainment System. Each month, paper carriers would be entered into the contest if their number of complaints was below a certain limit. But the contest was horribly unfair, because the number of complaints each carrier was allowed was based on the average number of complaints that carrier usually received in a month. Someone like me, who rarely got complaints, was not allowed to get any, whereas someone incompetent would be allowed up to four complaints before getting disqualified from the contest. I told my supervisor that this was unfair, and he probably assumed I was just some pretentious kid who wasn’t able to make a logical argument, so instead of leveling the playing field and taking away the disadvantage from those of us who tried to do a good job, he just told me that I would be allowed one complaint instead of none. So as soon as I got my second complaint, disqualifying me from the contest, I gave my notice that I was quitting, and I used my money from my last month to buy my own Nintendo, which I still have, and which sometimes still works over 30 years later.
Although my middle school career as a paperboy ended poorly, I’ve still to this day always been a news reader, rather than a television news watcher. I stopped getting a printed newspaper delivered in 2012, because money was tight and I was looking to cut expenses. I read news online now. I miss newspapers. It hurts for me to say that the newspaper is a dying medium. Print newspapers still exist, and I suppose I could go back to having a print newspaper delivered to my house. However, I have become used to not having a print newspaper, and honestly I never did read every article, so it would be a bit wasteful having a print newspaper every day.
I was dismayed to read in 2013 that the print edition of the University of Jeromeville’s Daily Colt newspaper had been completely discontinued, with the Daily Colt continuing to exist only as an online news site. A few years later, though, a student referendum raised fees slightly to bring back the print edition of the Daily Colt. The current Daily Colt is only printed weekly, despite the name. Sometimes, when I find myself on the UJ campus these days, I’ll grab a copy of the Daily Colt, so I can keep up with what is happening on campus these days. And just like I used to do between classes in the 1990s, I always do the crossword puzzle.
Sometimes it feels like there is so much bad news in the world that I wonder if I would be better off not following the news at all. But as with many things in life, balance is key. I don’t need to dwell on the negative. But it is also important to know what is going on in the world. I fear for the future sometimes when I hear people say that they don’t follow the news, and that they have not heard about important things that affect all of us. I don’t know. I try to stay out of those kinds of arguments. Sometimes people need to know the truth, but it is so exhausting trying to argue with an angry and opinionated person.
And in hindsight, the news wasn’t all bad during this era. The last few years had seen the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and Apartheid in South Africa. The first state governor I had ever voted for won. And the Internet revolution was just beginning. It was an exciting time to be alive, and I had my newspapers to read about what was going on around me, to help me understand myself in relation to the rest of the world.