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A Nose for News--of Prague, Tonga : Fixations: Bob Snyder of Laguna Beach culls items from worldwide papers that he finds fit to reprint, like the discovery of the world's oldest toilet paper.


LAGUNA BEACH — What's black and white, read by Bob Snyder, and sent all over?

If you answered "A newspaper," you're only about 299 issues away from being correct.

Each month Snyder peruses some 300 English-language newspapers from around the globe. On any given morning, you might find him sequestered in the converted bedroom office of his South Laguna home, sifting through the Calcutta Weekly Statesman, the Prague Post, the Tonga Chronicle, the Aberdeen Eve Express, the Egyptian Daily Gazette, the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, the Bangkok Post, the Botswana Guardian and a host of other papers he loves to read. Over the past few months, Snyder has begun putting out his own paper, of sorts. His Worldwide News Letter contains has a wild variety of international news that rarely appears in the U.S. press.

His eight-page newsletters tell of cracks in the protective dome at Chernobyl, Korea's advances in high-resolution TV and the illegal alien problem in Japan. They also cover the Taiwanese fad of hiring exotic dancers for funerals, the price of pig tails in Jamaica, and the discovery of the world's oldest known toilet paper, cloth strips found in Gaza from the 4th Century.

Readers can learn that Muhammad Ali recently laid a wreath at the tomb of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, and that Virgin Airlines had to discontinue is massage service on Japanese flights because many Japanese businessmen had presumed there was more involved than just a massage.

Snyder also has listed a phone number readers can call to get ads placed on Ukrainian TV, as well as an example from the personal classifieds in an Athens paper that caught his eye: "Temperamental young lady available as an escort for foreign gentlemen."

All these stories are culled from several issues of the hundreds of papers he reads each month, and the really sweet part of the deal for Snyder is that they are very often someone else's newspapers. That doesn't mean he travels around the world swiping them off lawns. Rather, the retired 66-year-old electronics and computers engineer has had a side business since 1974 of distributing the papers, and sometimes they tarry in his hands for a few hours before he sends them on to subscribers.

"Look at all this free stuff I get to read, because I read it and then I ship it out. So somebody else is paying for my reading," Snyder declared, delighted with the prospect as only a former newsboy could be.

When he was a kid in Boston, he delivered the Boston Herald, and his cut of the three-cent price didn't amount to much. "None of us had bicycles in those days, just a leather bag that you'd carry about 100 newspapers in," he recalled.

Snyder thinks that, along with delivering papers, there was another event in his childhood that made the newsprint stick to him. His father was killed during World War II. Snyder still feels the impact of seeing the news in all the Boston papers, and thinks that may be one reason why newspaper stories remain so immediate to him.

Snyder's wife, Sylvia, has her own memories of his paper addiction.

"When we were dating about 45 years ago, we'd go on a date and then come home and smooch until about 2 in the morning. Then Bob would have to walk home, which was miles, because the streetcars didn't run that late. One day I heard my father tell my mother, 'I saw something strange. I looked out the window at 2 or 3 in the morning and I saw Bob out reading a newspaper under a lamppost!' "

He first saw an international array of papers in Boston's central library and became hooked, recalling, "I was fascinated with all the stories that we don't usually see." Decades later, in the mid-'70s when his electronics job was looking uncertain, Snyder was looking to start a supplemental business and decided to go with something he loved.

He started Multinewspapers in his guest bathroom, graduating to his present bedroom locale when his kids moved out. Today he does mail-order sales of 164 foreign papers and 95 domestic ones, from the big-city papers to backwater ones, and also carries a wide selection of foreign magazines. (Write to Multinewspapers, P.O. Box 866, Dana Point, Calif., 92629 for subscription information.)

"They're always English-language papers," he said. "I tried doing foreign-language ones, because people kept asking me, but it's a lot harder to communicate, for one thing. You send a letter to a French newspaper and the answer comes back in French."

Some of his customers are expatriates who want to see the news from their old country; some are businessmen; some are current-events buffs; some are from people researching the vacation or retirement possibilities of a locale. Snyder has several institutional customers--most are schools or libraries--as well as some who are institutionalized.

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