The numbering system for periodicals has always perplexed me. The late William M. Gaines, who contrived for Mad to come out every forty-five days, once declared that there would never be a Volume 2, and sure enough, even with Gaines gone to atheist heaven and Time Warner having upped the frequency to once a month, issue #447 has now appeared with no indication that Volume 1 has ever been left behind. Most publications don't screw around like this. And just to make things complicated, this past week's Oklahoma Gazette, Volume XXVI, Number 42, is somehow the twenty-fifth anniversary issue. I know why it is so Volume 26 makes sense, and this is the forty-second issue of the year and yet it looks a bit odd just the same.

A twenty-fifth anniversary, though, is hard not to celebrate, and while the Gazette looks back at the fall of 1979, so shall I. In October 1979, there were three of us we'd been married for not quite two years, and our daughter had just passed 12 months. We lived in a 1300-square-foot house on Oklahoma City's south side, purchased for a startling $40,000 that year; apart from the fact that neither of us had a clue as to what we were doing together, we were doing fairly well. I didn't see that first issue of the Gazette, then billed as a "journal of contributions to Oklahoma's quality of life"; frankly, we were busy with more mundane concerns, and we subscribed to a daily paper: the Oklahoma Journal, which we had no idea would die the following year, leaving Oklahoma City's news in the hands of the Gaylords.

And really, the city itself seemed kind of mundane in those days. Despite spilling over six hundred square miles, Oklahoma City had no presence: it was just, well, there. The three Councilmen on the southside routinely fought the five on the north; the Pei plan for urban renewal had removed much of downtown and replaced it with, well, nothing at all; construction on Interstate 35 was taking forever. It was a nice enough place, I suppose, but nothing compelling about it; if anything exciting was going on, it was happening in the 'burbs. The Gazette, gone monthly after its first year, was pushing preservation and historic districts, and the city had already bestowed Historic District status on Heritage Hills and Crown Heights, but what was that to us? We were a couple of lower-middle-class kids, far from the center of things, but with entirely too good a view of the Interstate.

Still, we didn't worry too much about things. Oklahoma made its fortune from oil, and oil prices were soaring; prices at the pump were painful, but they kept the wheels turning. Or so we thought. Writer Mark Singer, in his book Funny Money, quoted a lawyer familiar with the Oklahoma oil patch:

You've got thirteen thousand oil and gas companies in Oklahoma; maybe fifteen hundred are looking for oil and gas, the rest are looking for investors.

This couldn't last, and it didn't. On the fifth of July, 1982, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation took control of once-insignificant Penn Square Bank, a tiny shopping-center institution that five years before had had modest assets of $30 million and somehow in the interim had managed to inflate itself to half a billion. Most of us didn't know about this; all we knew about Penn Square Bank was that you could "beep for bucks" at its amazing Automatic Teller Machine, something we'd never seen before. We had no idea that this little bank had sold billions of dollars of loans to Seattle First and Continental Illinois and Chase Manhattan, and that when the FDIC finally took it over, we stared at the television coverage in disbelief. One of the prized souvenirs of the bank failure was the "I Survived FDIC" T-shirt, which we saw frequently.

Except that "we," in our case, weren't a "we" anymore. The marriage was dissolving, and while the final divorce was five years away, the separation was beginning. We sold the house for $60,000; she took the children to Missouri, near her parents, and I moved to the suburbs and descended into silliness and occasionally picked up a Gazette every other week.

Today, the city has changed: it's less fractious, less white-bread, and more willing to preserve rather than to tear down. The old neighborhood went downhill, the people who bought our old house defaulted, and it was finally picked up as a repo in 1989 for $29,000; today, the block has been cleaned up and looks better than it did when we were there. I moved back to the city in 2003, and haven't regretted it. And the Gazette, now a weekly must-read, spent a few paragraphs in its last issue before its 25th Anniversary quoting the likes of, well, me. Believe me, I wouldn't have predicted any of these things in October 1979.

The Vent

  17 October 2004

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 Copyright © 2004 by Charles G. Hill