March

2000

Journalism Class I

When I was in high school and still entertained the pernicious delusion that I was going to college, I decided to “flesh out” my resume by joining the staff of the school newspaper as – surprise – the staff cartoonist. Easy A, english credit, great. Unfortunately, my position as class clown and irrepressible raconteur led me into a lot of trouble, almost got me suspended twice, and caused a good deal of pain to people who didn’t deserve it. Here’s a story from that period.

Several times a year, the Association for High School Journalism holds conferences for the staffs of newspapers at schools across the country to get together, get some pointers from “pros”, exchange papers, surreptitiously fornicate, and generally despise each other. A couple months after one such conference, we noticed a paper from Gig Harbor, a small town to the northwest of Seattle, that bore more than a passing resemblance to our paper. The offending issue was on the subject of “stress” – just like an issue that one of our editors had given one of their editors at the conference. The cover image was “The Scream,” by Munch. Just like our cover image. Obviously, they had plagiarized our asses off, and I for one was cranky.

We had a substitute teacher for Journalism that day, the geriatric and dissasocciative Mr. Hall (about whom a whole other chapter can and will be written…), so I had free reign of the classroom, and used it to dash off a very insulting letter describing Gig Harbor and it’s residents as “inbred pig-fuckers” and questioning their need for a newspaper at all, given that the most exciting thing that could ever happen in Gig Harbor would be, “what, somebody steps on the end of a rake and the handle hits them in the face?” I signed and mailed the letter, on official stationery, in an official Garfield H.S. Messenger envelope, and promptly forgot about it. Cut to three weeks later. I’m called out of Physics by a very cranky vice principal, Mr. Clarence Acox (who is also, by coincidence, a crack jazz musician and arranger). Acox had hated my pewling guts for at least two years now, and I smelled a problem in the wind. Mr. Ehrich, the journalism teacher, was also in his office.

Sweat beaded on the back of my neck.

Acox brandished a copy of the offending letter, veins on his forehead standing in frightening, Frankenstinian relief. Ehrich sighed and looked at me. I fidgeted and coughed into my hand, and asked in a hopefully nonchalant but more likely guilt-affirming way, “So – what’sup?”

Guilt didn’t even need to be proven – I’d signed my name to the damned thing. Apparently, the girl editor of the Gig Harbor paper who had been unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of my missive had opened it, read it and collapsed into tears on her desk. The rest of their journalism class was equally sad or angry. Which, I tried to explain, didn’t really bother me. I mean, they plagiarized us! I had a right! I was defending our honor and school spirit! You guys are always busting my hump abot not having any spirit – here I am doing my darnedest to defend the sancticity of our creative efforts against some honkies from the sticks and I was getting beat down by the Man for it! Is that justice?

Anyways, I had to not only write a pathetic, crawling-for-forgiveness letter, stating that of course I didn’t mean that you guys were a bunch of plagiarist pig-fuckers or anything, I was just carried away and on drugs and didn’t know what I was saying, and I’m sorry and I’m sorry and I’m sorry, but also I had to call the girl who had opened the vitriolic letter in the first place and personally apologize to her.

It was hard to refrain from asking her for a date.