Mr. Smith Is Late for Work

H. Allen Smith was the most popular humorist of the 1940s and 1950s. He was the Dave Barry of his day, parlaying his newspaper columns and magazine articles into best-selling books. His very funny novel, "Rhubarb," about a cat who inherited a baseball team, was made into a movie that starred Jan Sterling and Ray Milland.

But, before he became a best-selling author, he was a lowly reporter for the New York World-Telegram. And he was always late for work, according to Ed Hill, who was a colleague of Smith's back in those days.

When I knew him, Ed Hill was a special assistant and adviser to the publisher of the Standard-Times. He was a jovial guy who frequently joined us denizens of the Sunday Department for lunch and was full of stories about the newspaper business in the "Front Page" days.

The story of his that I liked the most was about the last time H. Allen Smith was ever late for work.

Smith arrived late for something like the twentieth straight day and the city editor had had enough. "The next time you're late," he warned, "don't even bother talking to me. Just consider yourself fired, clean out your desk, and get out of here."

For quite a while, Smith conscientiously showed up a few minutes early every day. But then came the fateful morning when he made a panicked phone call to the city editor.

"I'm sorry, but my alarm clock didn't go off!" Smith explained. "I just woke up, but I'm getting dressed even as we speak and I called a cab. I'll be there in no more than fifteen minutes."

"Take your time, Allen," the city editor replied. "No need to rush."

Smith took that as a sign that he had already been fired and he rushed even faster, hoping to salvage his job. He was still buttoning his shirt as he climbed into the waiting taxi and he tied a sloppy knot in his tie during the ride. After dashing into the newspaper building, he went up the stairs two steps at a time rather than waiting for the elevator.

He hurried through the door to the city room and ran to the city editor's desk. "I'm so sorry," he said, "I swear that I'll never ever be late again. Please don't fire me!"

"Oh, Allen," the city editor said, "stop worrying. Relax. Everything's just fine. There's no way I could fire you. After all, this is your day off."

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