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WOSTER: Rolodex, not Rolex, was a reporter's friend

Because I came late to keeping a file of contacts on my phone, the names, addresses, phone numbers and email on that list are incomplete, sometimes out-of-date and often inaccurate.

I'm not organized that way. If you saw my desk, either during my working years or now in retirement, you'd think I wasn't organized in any other way, either. But my contact file is particularly sloppy. I look at it now and then, but if I'm going to make a call or send a message, I tend to do it from memory. I don't trust my own file.

To tell you the truth, I keep a contact list on my phone mostly because I grew weary of having people say, "Hey, give me your phone, I'll add my contact information.'' For several years when that happened, I'd reply, "Write the number and email on this piece of paper (which I'd tear from my notebook) and I'll add it later.'' (Sometimes I would. Sometimes I wouldn't. I wasn't a fanatic about it.)

It occurs to me that I've been slow to develop a trustworthy contact list because I still miss my old Rolodex. I'm probably dating myself by even mentioning such a thing, but there it is. I miss my Rolodex.

Some people get Rolodex and Rolex mixed up. Many years ago I covered a trial that involved a seemingly wealthy guy. When he walked past, another reporter whispered, "Did you catch that big old Rolodex on his wrist?'' I wanted to say, "Yeah, I'll bet that comes in handy when he needs to make a call from a phone booth.'' Instead, I nodded and held my tongue.

What's the difference between a Rolex and a Rolodex? Thousands of dollars, it seems. A glance online showed me Rolex watches that were priced from $4,500 to $15,000. A second glance showed me Rolodexes ranging from $10 to $20. I looked up the definition of Rolodex and found that it's "a trade name for a kind of desktop card index used to record names, addresses and telephone numbers in the form of a rotating spindle or a small tray to which removable cards are attached.''

My rotating card spindle probably was a cheap knock-off, not the real brand-name Rolodex. It worked, though. The cards were almost like those three-by-five note cards composition teachers forced us to use while researching and writing theme papers back in high school during the Dark Ages. I wonder if people today have any idea what I'm talking about. Former Gov. Bill Janklow used such cards (not on a spindle) to great effect in his early State of the State addresses. A handful of cards with scrawled notes turned into 90- or 100-minutes speeches.

Love those note cards or hate them, if you came of age when I did, you used them. You'd go to the library, fumble through the Dewey Decimal System-arranged catalog, find books or periodical articles that seemed somewhat near your topic, take the minimum number of notes possible on the three-by-five cards and then write your paper, referring to the card information and using the widest possible margins to fill the bare minimum number of assigned pages.

In college, I found that while English instructors continued to prefer the three-by-five card method, journalism professors encouraged note-taking in bound notebooks, those skinny ones that fit in a hip pocket or the inside pocket of a suit jacket. I took to those notebooks quickly, but for some reason I also created a Rolodex-type file for names and numbers. Mine was pretty primitive — scrawled names and sometimes unreadable phone numbers. It wasn't even uniformly arranged. Sometimes I'd tape a business card to one of the pages of my rotary file. I filed alphabetically, sometimes by first name, sometimes last name, sometimes business or agency name. It was very much a personalized file.

I added to that file through 40 years of reporting. When I left the newspaper for the last time 10 years ago, I tossed the whole thing in the trash. I kind of wish I hadn't. I could add all of those cards to the contact file on my phone.

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