Tag Archives: journalism

Requiem for a Teacher

I learned Thursday that my favorite teacher from high school died recently. A friend from back then messaged me on Facebook, but he didn’t share any details about what happened or what our former teacher’s life had been like since we last saw him in 1980.

Pete Mindock, Gateway High School, obituary, Jay Croft, storycroft, Atlanta

Mr. Mindock behind a typewriter, feet up

I found an online obituary in The Denver Post. Esophageal cancer, diagnosed a year ago, killed Pete Mindock on Oct. 14. He was 64 and left a wife and two adult children. His memorial service will be Friday in Denver.

Pete Mindock changed my life. He was the journalism instructor at Gateway High School in Aurora, Colo., a suburb of Denver, in the late ‘70s when I was a teen-ager. He was also a real-live sportswriter at The Denver Post. And he might’ve been the first adult who ever told me, and showed me, that I was good at something.

He led the kids in producing an award-winning school newspaper. When I joined the staff as a sophomore, the editor was a senior who grew up to become a Washington Post and Time magazine reporter. I met my best friend there, and he went on to lead digital communications at PBS. It was with them all that I started to form my identity as a reporter and writer.

I remember Mindock as what they used to call a “man’s man,” naturally masculine and not sentimental, but playful and a tad vain. When you earned a compliment, it meant something. When you let him down, that did, too. He called me “Jaybird” sometimes. We called him “Smindo,” his log-on at The Post, until he made us cut it out.

Mindock taught me to value the precision of language, the responsibility of the media and what my role in the world could be as a storyteller.

He hated clichés. So I shouldn’t say that he and the Medallion gang opened a whole world to me. But they did.

They gave me an idea of what I wanted to be and how to become it.

Mindock left the school the summer before my senior year. I don’t think I ever saw him again. His obit informed me he had become a successful financial adviser for more than three decades, a lifetime beyond teaching and reporting.

I hope this is not a sentimental piece. But I sobbed in my office when I heard Pete Mindock had died.

I pulled out the yearbooks Thursday night and found what he’d scribbled to me, 35 years ago at the end of my 10th grade year. He ended it with this:

“Seriously, Jay, good luck and remember. Short sentences, short paragraphs and be honest. – Pete Mindock, ‘79”

It’s still good advice.


 

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9 Times Truman Capote Inspired Me to Reach for the ‘Inner Music that Words Make’

Truman Capote, journalism, writer, "In Cold Blood," "Music for Chameleons," "Breakfast at Tiffany's"

Capote in the “In Cold Blood” years

This week marks the 30th anniversary of Truman Capote’s death. He was just 59, but the decades of drinking and drugging made him look much older and pathetic when you’d see him on The Johnny Carson Show, silly and chatting away in that nasal, high-pitched voice.

That’s all I knew of him until I was old enough to discover his talent as a writer and aim to emulate it – or, at least, a lot of it. I wanted to become a journalist, and Capote was one of the generation of great American writers to merge a poet’s precision with a reporter’s eye – and a novelist’s sweep, most successfully, of course, with “In Cold Blood.”

That book showed reportage as art. And one of his later books, “Music for Chameleons,” further jazzed me with Capote’s first-person tenderness and uniquely vivid descriptions.

To celebrate the great words Capote left, here are nine segments and quotes that have stuck with me over the decades. And if you haven’t yet, do yourself a favor and read “In Cold Blood,” “Music for Chameleons” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (and no, the Audrey Hepburn movie doesn’t count).


1. “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.”


2. “You know those days when you’ve got the mean reds…. the blues are because you’re getting fat or maybe it’s been raining too long. You’re sad, that’s all. But the mean reds are horrible. You’re afraid and you sweat like hell, but you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Except something bad is going to happen, only you don’t know what it is.”

~ Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”


 

Truman Capote, In Cold Blood, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Music for Chameleons, journalist, writing, writer

His masterwork

3. “The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there.’ ”

~ The opening of “In Cold Blood”


4. “I thought that Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat.”

~ Perry Smith from “In Cold Blood”


5. “… he called after her as she disappeared down the path, a pretty girl in a hurry, her smooth hair swinging, shining – just such a young woman as Nancy might have been. Then, starting home, he walked toward the trees, and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat.”

~ The closing lines of “In Cold Blood”


Truman Capote, Marilyn Monroe, In Cold Blood, Beautiful Child, Music for Chameleons

Capote with Marilyn Monroe

6. Marilyn: Remember, I said if anybody ever asked you what I was like, what Marilyn Monroe was really like—well, how would you answer them? (Her tone was teaseful, mocking, yet earnest, too: she wanted an honest reply.) I bet you’d tell them I was a slob. A banana split.

TC: Of course. But I’d also say…

(The light was leaving. She seemed to fade with it, blend with the sky and clouds, recede beyond them. I wanted to lift my voice louder than the seagulls’ cries and call her back: Marilyn! Marilyn, why did everything have to turn out the way it did? Why does life have to be so rotten?)

TC: I’d say…

Marilyn: I can’t hear you.

TC: I’d say you are a beautiful child.

~ from his memoir of Marilyn Monroe in “Music for Chameleons”


7. “She sounds like banana tastes.”

~ from a profile of a cleaning woman in “Music for Chameleons”


8. “More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.”

~ from “Answered Prayers — The Unfinished Novel”


9.”That’s not writing; that’s typing.”

Capote about “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac


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