My mother named me Walter Stanislav Cieplik Jr., and I’m not sure how I got old. I’ve done ranch work, managed a movie star, created the original Santa Clarita Valley Magazine and helped create the SCV’s first television and radio stations. I’ve been an advertising executive, house painter, basketball coach, worked for Norman Lear, driven Uber and came THIS close to never working at The Signal.
I spent my early 20’s playing. I was making up for a childhood I never had. I played basketball sometimes for Adidas, sometimes for the local gas station leagues. Three years running, our tennis shoe hustler squad switched uniforms, and we won the open-division state AAU tourney. I played softball and poker to sometimes make the rent. Looking back in a smoke-filled bunk house with your best friends, I can’t believe it was possible to laugh so hard, for so long. I was careful not to win too much. At 24, it was time to pick a direction, settle down.
I was almost a cop.
That same day in 1974, I applied for a job with the Burbank Police Department and The Signal. This newspaper called first. Sometimes I wish it had been the other way around. I’ve been a salesman, a tutor, public speaking coach for a prominent American family and was a media consultant.
I like the word, “consultant.”
My favorite definition?
“A consultant is someone who knows 106 ways to have sex but doesn’t know any women.”
The Signal: A Job in the post office Until…
I spent the day once with a friend of mine at the L.A. Open. Jim Murray of The Los Angeles Times was inarguably the best sports writer on the planet. Ever. And yet, Murray confessed “…it was just supposed to be a job in the post office.” He shared his one regret in life, that he had never became, nor would he become, his dream — a novelist. For the public record, I am, of course, nuts. Years ago, I was seeing a therapist, and she thumped me hard on the chest. She said, “It’s a sin — a sin — you’re not writing for the world, and I don’t mean for that paper.”
She meant The Signal.
I am often haunted by both those encounters. You see, I’m nearly 70. All I’ve ever wanted to do was write books. And have them published.
I’ve had a best-selling novel. “Naked Came the Sasquatch” was required reading at Harvard for a few years. That was 26 years and a thousand-plus rejection slips ago. I’ve written 18 books.
Five have been published. One novel, “The Melancholy Samurai,” has sold less than five copies worldwide in three years. The five readers assure me it’s really good. Maybe it’s self-denial, but I always considered myself talented at marketing. Maybe just of my own stuff.
Currently, I’m working on the sequel, “Naked Came the Novelist.” It’s supposed to be the second in a 12-part series. Art has many enemies. Supporting a 16-year-old daughter and just trying to make ends meet, it’s a clock eater.
Yes. Walt Cieplik IS John Boston…
I’ve been a freelance magazine writer, had my own local radio talk show, been a grocer, weed abatement engineer and was second-assistant chef to the pop icon Michael Jackson. I coached high school basketball (at Hart) and was the first coach, in any sport, to lose to Canyon.
I’ve herded cattle and ran my own unsuccessful Internet magazine (FoofMagazine.com). A friend pointed out that I am the most prolific humorist in world history — I’ve written an estimated 11,000 columns, blogs, essays and features. But, mostly, the biggest piece of the puzzle that makes me — me — has been The Mighty Signal.
I changed my name some 35 years ago to John Boston. The Walter S. Cieplik Jr. carried a lot of baggage, and I’ve always been a self-defining amoeba-shaped peg in a non-existent square hole. Besides, I figured I was losing 20 minutes of my life daily trying to spell or pronounce, “C-I-E-P-L-I-K,” followed with a practiced clarification of why it’s not “C-E-I-P-L-I-C.” Not only have I bylines under both Cieplik and Boston, I have created an entire zoo of pseudonyms.
I was, and am, Count Vladimir Sauguslavsky, former Signal temporary society editor and later, gossip columnist. (I wrote “Who’s Sleeping With Whom” for our entertainment section, “Escape.”)
I was Commander William Viola Plantagenet, a mythical deep-sea diver and Navy operative who wrote an SCV history column. Bill V. became — blare of 1930s radio static — The TIME RANGER!
I came up with the handle of Mr. Santa Clarita Valley, figuring that management wouldn’t want to fire someone with such a Caesar-like brass deskplate.
Perhaps there would have been more job security had I called myself Saint Santa Clarita Valley.
I’ve written under at least a dozen bylines. The favorite of Scott Newhall, former Signal “Proprietor,” was Seymour Butts.
And who doesn’t want to?
To the undying chagrin of Scott’s son, publisher Tony Newhall, my favorite made-up name was Maynard G. Krebbs, assistant Signal sports editor. Maynard, of course, was the stage name of the beatnik on the 1950s sitcom, Dobie Gillis. The paper had a rule in the 1960s and 1970s that any story longer than 5 inches required a byline.
The paper was physically larger back then. As sports editor, mostly, I wrote every damn, interchangeable story. It looked kind of stupid, to me at least, to display 319 stories on the same page, all with the same credit. So, I broke it up by creating Maynard.
A couple weeks passed. Enraged, flustered, Tony called me into the log cabin office he shared with Scott to hand out an Old Testament tongue lashing, filled with smites, smotes and tips on self-procreation.
How did I even have the temerity to hire a full-time reporter without letting him know. I let Tony vent. Then, I explained the byline issue and asked if he had watched “Dobie Gillis” on the TV growing up. Tony just sort of collapsed, his arms slipping forward on the desk and his head disappearing. Tony offered a mumbled, “Get out…”
I love the guy. I loved his mom and dad.
Back in 1970, I was hired by NBC to write news copy for their brand new cable television outpost, VCCT. I felt that it should stand for Viet Cong Cable Television. Management leaned more toward Valley County Cable TV. It was horrible. Think of “The Blair Witch Project” meets “Albanian Parliament Recap” meets Leon Worden on “SCVTV.”
I think at the time San Quentin Prison offered inmates on death row the choice of the gas chamber or watching a telethon of VCCT interviews.
I was 20, a junior in college. I remember being able to hear management’s conversation on how much they should pay me. I almost fainted when the CFO suggested “25 an hour…” In 1970s money, I could have bought a house, car, food and a better class of girlfriends. They quickly whittled it down to $10 an hour. Still. Good money for a punk kid.
Forget time. Santa Clarita was an entirely different dimension. This was still a farm and ranch community. Valencia was brand new and had, like, one paved road. Canyon High was brand new. College of the Canyons held classes at Hart behind a dumpster.
No, that’s not entirely correct.
There was The Mighty Signal.
And I earned the unedited, seething wrath of the most powerful woman ever to stalk the Santa Clarita Valley, Signal Editor Ruth Newhall.
I could kick myself that I never got one single clip of my year-plus at VCCT. Cripes. Me at 21. Big, fat werewolf hair. Lapels the size of theater drapes. Ugly ties wider than the Santa Clara River. We did a daily hour broadcast. Because television was in the equivalent of the Pleistocene Epoch, we never kept copies of the shows. Videotape was too expensive.
We just kept taping over the previous days’ programming. Times got tough financially at VCCT, so tough that in order to keep a paycheck, I had to install cable in the mornings, rush back to the station and produce, direct and sometimes star (with my jeans and climbing boots still on) in a daily show by 4.
Here’s where I got into future trouble with Ruth.
Plagiarism vs. Improving the Prose…
We did an early-evening TV show, and it was great on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. That’s when The Signal came out. In the M-W-F mornings, I’d drop a quarter in a news rack. Or, I just walked in to The Signal on 6th Street bold as brass to buy a copy at the front desk, so I could flirt with Cindy. She’d eventually marry perhaps the greatest cops and crimes reporter in the state, Richard Varenchik.
I’d take The Signal back to VCCT and rewrite all the front-page stories, sometimes sending out braindead college interns to tape poorly lit video spots.
This “bettering of the inherently flawed Signal prose” as I liked to call it, “Plagiarism” as the print people six blocks over sniffed, caused a one-way rift between Ruth and I. I know that for a fact.
After I left VCCT, I earned $15 a story, three stories a week, as a stringer for The Signal and my best friend, Sports Editor Phil Lanier. I did that for a couple years, even putting out the sports section when he was on vacation. When Phil retired in 1974 to pursue an ill-fated career as a film critic (Phil hated movies), I thought I was a shoe-in to be the full-time Signal Sports guy.
I’ll never forget the inspiring words Ruth uttered on my first official interview with The Signal:
“You know — I’ve never, really, liked you…”
That was followed by a reluctant observation: “But there’s really no one stupid enough to take this job.” Ruth placed me “…on lifetime permanent probation.”
I had actually written for this paper in the mid-1960s, as a high school stringer, then, of course, in 1971 as my best bud’s lackey. When I was 19, in 1969, I had been in competition with (as a flea is to a wooly mammoth), The Signal as managing editor of Santa Clarita’s slumgullion weekly, The Potpourri News. Try sneaking that on a resume in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. Working the last six weeks without pay for owner Jackie Storinsky, I gave my notice.
She begged me to stay one more week and deliver papers because the entire circulation department quit. Phil worked there, too. We spent two days, drunk on fatigue, delivering papers to 18,000 SCV homes. We used Jackie’s big white Buick. When I finally got a check, I found it was light. Mrs. Storinsky, the big fat so-&-so, had deducted the gas we had used in her car to drop off The Potpourri.
Tweaked my shoulder, too.
So anyway. My picture was not in a magnet-frame on Ruth’s refrigerator at the Piru Mansion.
I’m 24. I think I’m witty, erudite, worldly. Ruth’s desk was kitty-corner from mine in that old cramped redwood office. For nine months, I’d drop my column in Ruth’s in-basket, tiptoe back to my desk and delicately spy on her as she read my prose. Nine months. Like a street thug with a typewriter, I had no problem with self-esteem. I was full of it. And myself. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Not once did that woman chuckle or even smile going over what I thought was prose good enough to discourage Bob Hope from returning to show business.
Finally, after about nine months (I counted), she scribbled her initials at the top of the brown typing paper and muttered, “Not bad…”
I could have borrowed a dress, spun around the newsroom and sang “…the hills are alive, with the sound of mu-sic…!!!!!”
Why Am I Writing About Myself?
In 1919, Ed Brown became the first editor/publisher of this newspaper. He created this swashbuckling periodical, in many ways, molded the boilerplate for a paper that has been the heart and soul of this community. I can only muster a few sentences about the man. Same with his wife, Blanche. Same with a lot of poets, artists, reporters, business people who have come and gone.
We are the people who have the temerity to tell the people of Santa Clarita for whom to vote, who needs to be lynched (I’ve nominations) and who needs to be blessed (all of us). We offer opinions on complicated infrastructure. We shake pom-poms and cheer. We often are the bearers of heartbreaking, unfair news. We’re the ones who can make a 60-degree error on today’s temperature. In August.
I’ve worked nearly 40 years for The Signal. That’s longer than the Newhalls, standing on top of one another. It’s almost as long as the Browns, A.B. “Dad” Thatcher and both Fred Truebloods’ combined reign of 1919 to 1963. That’s when Scott Newhall bought the paper and ran it for 25 years. I have worked sick, hung over, on my wedding day and after being told I would be fired.
There’s never been a day when I haven’t woken with a smile, so grateful that I get to write for The Mighty Signal.
This is our 100th anniversary. I hope we make it to 200 years. May it not be intern nor robot, but when we do a retrospective in the year 2119, I hope the journalist looking back will get a sense of not just dates, but who we were as imperfect souls.
Next week, I’ll share more behind-the-scenes and a look at why I really work here. It’s in our masthead: Vigilance Forever.
Starting in the 1960s, off-and-on, John Boston has worked for The Signal for nearly 40 years. He’s the local historian, author and columnist for The Mighty Signal. Come back next Saturday for installment No. 21, Part 2 of John Boston, in our History of The Mighty Signal.