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After 20 Years, It’s Never Too Late for Ethics

<i> Harvey is a Times staff writer</i>

Inasmuch as I just passed my 20th year as a reporter at The Times, this seems like a good time to divulge what items I’ve accepted over the years while pursuing stories.

After all, the press asks politicians, business people and others to meet certain ethical standards; it’s only fair that members of the press be equally forthcoming.

Besides, I recently moved and I’ve got to sort out the stuff. My new garage isn’t big enough to hold it all.

I have amassed, I believe, the world’s largest collection of songs about Los Angeles--about 75. They’re the remnants of several contests aimed at finding an official city ditty over the years. The lyrics range from “Los Angeles, Los Angeles . . . only 400 miles from San Francisco” to “We got surfin’ in the Pacific Ocean/I get nostalgic smellin’ suntan lotion.” I think I have a tape of “I Lost My Liver in the L.A. River,” too.

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Despite the fact that the songs lost out in the competition to Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A,” I’m sure I could sell my collection for a huge price. But it would, of course, be unethical to do so. Therefore, I’m willing to donate it to the first university that contacts me. As a matter of fact, to the first anybody who contacts me.

The same is true for my garage-floor library of first-edition books, which includes the autobiography of Ben Garcia (the only man to ride across the nation on a lawn mower), a manual of exercises to do on the freeway, and a do-it-yourself kit for building a coffin (in six easy steps).

Then there’s “Recipes in Rhyme,” featuring such favorites as: “Wash spinach to remove the sand/Tear leaves into bits by hand/Put aside and find a jar with a lid that screws on/Now combine vinegar and mustard Dijon.”

I don’t believe I’ve compromised my professional principles by converting some of my collected mementos into paperweights beneath the tool bench: a brick bearing a press release, a six-pack of Nude Beer (with one of the scratch-off labels unaccountably missing), an “Oscar” I was given by a singer who held his own “Oscar” ceremony when he was snubbed by Hollywood.

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Sure, I’ve been tempted to take advantage of some of my other treasures.

For instance, I have a blue tie with 25 red stripes that say, “Los Angeles City Council.” The tie was leaked to me by a city councilman’s aide so I could write a story about how a rival had printed up the ties and then sent them to Los Angeles-area legislators in Washington as a public relations gesture.

But like the Washington legislators I subsequently interviewed, I’ve resisted wearing the tie despite its prestige value.

Two organizations that I wrote about have sent me free memberships, but I’ve never used either. Even before I got married, I never flashed my Southern California Freeway Singles card at another motorist. And, as for my admission to the Exotic Dancers League of America, well, I’ve done no flashing in that arena, either.

I don’t smoke so I’ve never been tempted to use my ashtray celebrating the roll-out ceremony for a Lockheed C-5A cargo plane in Georgia.

The gasoline-rationing days of 1974 have long since passed so I hardly give a second glance to my Day-O-Matic machine, which is capable of telling me whether a given day of the month is odd or even.

And I don’t like wearing necklaces so I’ve never donned my sample of skunk repellent to ward off attackers, a failed product called “Rapel.”

But, here, as I glance at my desk, I spot one exception. It’s a toy version of the Zamboni Ice-Rink Resurfacer. It was sent to me after I wrote a story about the Paramount-based company. I unwrapped my plastic Zamboni. I push it around on dull days.

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OK, so I’m not perfect.


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