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Paul Coates

February 14, 2008 |  4:00 pm

Feb. 14, 1958

Paul_coates My very able assistant, name of Charlie, actually isn't very able.

In fact, at times, he's rather unable. But it doesn't really bother me. First, because the kid listens attentively every time I explain his mistakes to him. He's eager to learn. What he lacks in ability and common sense, he makes up for in heart.

And second, Charlie works cheap.

What does bother me is that he repeatedly finds it necessary to draw me into his personal problems.

Charlie, if you'll recall, is an ex-Mirror News reporter who had a habit of wandering off to Mexico every time he found a few extra bucks in his pocket--and staying there for periods of from one to two years.

The last time he came back to Los Angeles, about a year ago, he brought along a wife and infant son. She was a sweet, simple girl from a small south Mexico village, completely unindoctrinated in the sly, devious ways of American women.

And it's been Charlie's problem ever since to keep her out of earshot of neighboring, more worldly women and yet to shower enough personal attentions on her to keep her contented with her hermit existence.

And that's where I come in. Being a man of broad background, I'm constantly being sought out by Charlie to make his personal decisions for him.

Like yesterday. Charlie approached me with a revolutionary idea.

"I'm going to buy my wife a valentine," he told me.

I congratulated him on the decision. "Women," I told him, "are always impressed by sentiments like that, Charlie. I'm proud of you for thinking of it."

He thanked me and I thought that was the end of it.

But it wasn't.

About an hour later, he interrupted me while I was interviewing a skid row fry cook. "If I do buy her a valentine, don't you think I'll spoil her?" Charlie wanted to know.

"No," I promised, calmly.



"But it'll set a precedent," he argued. "I'll have to do it every year. She'll expect it."

"Charlie," I answered firmly. "You can catch more flies with a spoonful of honey than you can with 20 casks of vinegar."

Sufficiently confused, Charlie departed and I returned to my conversation with the fry cook.

And I'd estimate that it was two hours before I saw Charlie again. In one of my hand-me-down trench coats and felt hats, he walked dejectedly into my office.

"You been out on a story, boy?" I asked.

He shook his head. "I been out looking at valentines."


"Nothing. Not one that expresses my love like I feel it."

It took me only a moment to come up with the idea.

"Charlie," I said, "go back to your desk and sit down and write one yourself. And give it heart, lad."

Charlie broke into a smile. "Great. Great idea! The personal touch--and on company time, too."

Again, he was gone. But shortly, he was back.

"I did it," he exclaimed. "You want to hear it?"

"Do I?" I said. "I wouldn't miss it for anything."

Charlie fidgeted for a moment. Then he stood at attention, holding a piece of paper nervously in front of him. He began:

"Because I love you dear, I gotta
  "Have you for my enchilada."

        There was a long and painful silence, which I finally had to break. "That's it? That's the loving valentine message you're going to give your wonderful wife?"

"You don't like it?" he asked. You could see he was hurt.

"Charlie," I said. "It not only doesn't make sense but it's terrible."

But like I mentioned earlier, Charlie can take criticism. He bounces back. It takes him a little while but he does.

In this particular instance, it took about 45 minutes before he returned. He pushed a card into my hands. On it was a picture of a poinsettia. I opened it and read the message.

"Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year."

"How's that for luck?" he asked. "It's been in my desk all this time and my wife really loves flowers."

"But Charlie," I started.

"She'll love it," he interrupted. "She can't read English."