Budding Writer, 1979: A respectable Republican cloth coat

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Stark winter contrasts on a field in North Hero, Vermont, February 8, 2023. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

The journals from my first year as a freelancer show yet another (or anothuh) day with both my car and my career stalled by cold weather. You’re probably getting tired of this. I am too. Reading between the lines, apparently I was back then, as well.

But I’m offering this series of entries so young writers or those just starting their careers can draw some inspiration from parallels or contrasts to their own struggles, so consider this:

Still cold, and I’m tired. Understandably, after walking a brisk 2 miles or so toward the garage where my car is being fixed. Izzy (Francis Isabel) gave me a lift the rest of the way. I don’t believe in hitchhiking. Pity. I needed the exercise, anyway.

Typed (and Xeroxed) the Kilmarx letter tonight. Later I gathered a (very) little data for my article by fishing people for “Brothers and Sisters”. Yawn. Yawner. Yawnest.

At least my car runs well now. After $46 of parts, $14 of alignment, and $15 of labor, it had better. At least this tune-up. etc. should bring better mileage and fewer headaches. Might be worth the $75.

Howard W. Fielding, “Journal, Volume II,” 16 February 1979

First, I call the reader’s attention to the process of writing at the time. We would type our manuscripts, not save them on disks or the cloud. There was no Delete key, so rewrites meant another sheet of paper. And copies meant either carbon paper or photocopiers (then known by the brand name), usually at a library. They were too expensive for the average user.

But seriously? Complaining about a two-mile walk? This was two miles along rural roads, five miles from the garage. Round trip that would be about three hours of walking in temperatures well below freezing. I did do some cross-country skiing back in those days, but down parkas and insulated gloves were for the downhill skiers. My winter outfit was a knit cap, a scarf, and a wool coat lined with fleece.* (I still have and use all three.)

Why was mileage so important? I don’t remember what my little Vega wagon’s MPG was at the time, but oil prices were creeping up again. That winter, in Bradford, Vermont, I would for the first time pay more than a dollar a gallon for regular gasoline. That was the newfangled “gasohol,” with 10 percent ethyl alcohol from corn blended in to cut the price.

*I often thought of the wool coat as a frugal measure, much like the “respectable Republican cloth coat” Richard Nixon referred to in his famous Checkers speech, below. By 1979 Nixon had resigned as president after the Watergate scandal, but I couldn’t hold that against his wife’s frugal fashion choices.

If you don’t have the half-hour to listen to the speech, the key phrase is toward the end after he lists all his family’s assets and liabilities:

Well, that’s about it. That’s what we have and that’s what we owe. It isn’t very much but Pat and I have the satisfaction that every dime that we’ve got is honestly ours. I should say this—that Pat doesn’t have a mink coat. But she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat. And I always tell her that she’d look good in anything.

Richard M. Nixon, “Checkers Speech,” 1952

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