Kemmeter Column: Old column triggers memories
By GENE KEMMETER
More than two decades ago, a new column, with a title that changed periodically, started in the Portage County Gazette and became one of the newspaper’s most-read articles.
Initially, it was known as “What Did You Expect for 50 Cents” and debuted in the Feb. 4, 2000, edition. The staff included veteran reporters who sat through their share of meetings with wacky moments that often weren’t shared with the general public because they didn’t fit with the subject matter.
The column was introduced with the paragraph: “Here at The Gazette, we have our share of wacky moments. We decided to share some of them. If you don’t like the ‘humor,’ then kindly refer to the title of this column.”
The title of the column changed throughout the years whenever The Gazette changed its price so that it remained the same as the price of a single edition.
Some of those initial stories, with the headlines in capital letters to tell them apart, included:
VISITING THE STARS: Outside water meters eliminate the need for meter readers to enter basements, but meter readers can tell all kinds of stories about entering basements.
One meter reader said he will never forget all the stars he saw on the visit to one home. He finished reading the meter and started out of the basement. Then WHAM. He woke up later lying on the basement floor, looking up at the low beam that leveled him like a clothesline tackle.
WHAT OXYMORON: A Plover man tells us that his wife once called him at lunch time and instructed him to “take a roast out of the freezer to ‘unthaw’ it.” He informed her that to “unthaw” anything is a physical impossibility, and, besides, it is an oxymoron as well.
She told him that the only “moron” was him and that if the roast didn’t come out of the freezer pronto, he would be taking her out for lobster. The roast was “unthawing” within moments of hanging up the phone.
The stories often relied on readers submitting information about incidents they witnessed, such as these:
A PUSHBUTTON WORLD: A local tavern’s pay phone would be labeled an antique by some of today’s youngsters. The phone has a rotary dial instead of the now-common pushbutton models. One day two kids who missed their bus wanted to use the phone but didn’t know how. They apparently hadn’t seen a phone with a rotary dial before.
A SMALL MATTER: One chap likened the rapid shrinkage in snow depth this week to a similar phenomenon that occurs when those crazy male polar bear club members jump into the icy waters on New Year’s Day.
In March of 2000, the city of Stevens Point was contemplating having two polling places in the 9th Ward in Stevens Point, one on each side of the river because the ward is split by the Wisconsin River. State law prohibited more than one polling location, but the Clark Street bridge had been removed, so residents would have to drive several miles to Highway HH to use the new HH bridge to get across the river to the polling place.
The state later authorized the two locations, rejecting a Gazette recommendation that the city put the polling place on a boat in the middle of the river, with the city furnishing boats to ferry voters back and forth to the polling place.
The column also offered The Gazette an opportunity to inform readers about our own foibles, such as this one: “THE LAST WILL BE FIRST: Oops. Someone pressed the wrong button on the computer and eliminated the first names of Gazette subscribers this week. We hoped to resurrect the first names by the time the papers rolled off the presses, but if you get a Gazette in the mail addressed to your last name only,
it’s not a matter of lack of respect, rather a lack of ability. On our part, that is.”
Readers used the column to report wacky experiences they witnessed. One local couple was playing golf while vacationing in Florida when a tee shot landed near an alligator on the course. The golfer was allowed a second shot without penalty, so he didn’t have to retrieve the ball.
The column also reported on various shapes that vegetables and other products assumed during the growing season, in addition to the wacky experiences encountered by local residents.
I mistakenly thought the column started after the 2000 April Fools edition with stories such as “Clark Street Bridge attacked,” “New spud to revolutionize dining,” “Toothpicks found to be leading killer,” “Finns to buy Green Circle Trail” and “Lake Joanis condos planned.”
The Gazette received a lot of feedback on those stories, especially for the photo of the Clark Street Bridge being blown up. The photo was taken when the old Clark Street dismantled so its replacement could be built. Associate Editor Brian Leahy then cut out the conning tower of a submarine and pasted the cutout on the photo for people to think the story was true.