Tuesday, July 23, 2013

An Ear for Writing

When I was going though my treasure trove of old documents, (from this weekend’s post) I saw a few relics that reminded me of a time of which I was very fond: my tenure on my high school newspaper staff.  In particular, it reminded me of the time I very casually humiliated a friend in public.

I was only on the newspaper staff for my senior year.  When I was a junior, I was planning on going into the sciences.  I was enjoying chemistry class and thought it might be my calling.  But that Spring I was nominated for the National Honor Society, and one of their requirements was that you have to participate in school activities.

I never gave a shit about school activities.  Once school was out, I was gone… I did my homework during study halls, so after school, I figured I was on my time.  Normally, I wouldn't have even been nominated for NHS, but my GPA was too high for them to ignore.  So I was admitted, with an admonishment from the NHS Adviser to join something, pronto!  So for senior year, I joined the school newspaper.

It was a good fit for several reasons.  First, it went on during school hours, during the final period.  Second, it was graded, so it was a good way to pad my GPA.  Believe me, after struggling through physics and trig, I needed the help.  Third, I liked the idea of having an audience to entertain. 

The newspaper staff was made up of about a dozen students, from freshmen to seniors.  Most were underclassmen, so even though I didn't have any experience, I immediately floated to near the top of the “pecking order.”

What most of the school didn't know was that there were actually two separate staffs.  Each staff was responsible for producing a newspaper every other week, so that the end effect was a seamless weekly distribution.

Now when I say “school newspaper,” keep in mind that this was the 1978-79 school year.  Our graphics capability was pretty primitive.  The whole thing was done on mimeo pages that had to be stapled together.  We’d type up our articles on manual typewriters, cut them apart and paste them into a master sheet, and then add the headlines by using rub-on letters.  One slip up while rubbing the transfer on would make the headline all crooked, so that it didn't look as much like a newspaper as it did a ransom note.
This was our finished product, The General’s Dispatch.  What?  Of course I still have every copy.
Through the course of the year, I fell in love with doing what I was doing… writing reviews and editorials, along with lots of satire and goofy shit.  Basically, I was team-blogging.  I soon found myself as the go-to guy when someone needed a headline, which almost always involved word play and puns, which were right in my wheelhouse.

The first month into my tenure on the newspaper staff, our Staff Adviser, Mrs B, and a sophomore girl on the team approached me with a proposition.  The girl wanted to write an anonymous gossip column about various goings on at the school.  Because of the nature of the “2-staff” system, they needed another player.  I considered the grand opportunity for mischief and was happy to sign on.  We kicked around a number of ideas for the name for the column, and settled on The Ear.

The split staff proved to be a great cover for us, because one of us would frequently publish information that the other would never be in the position to know.  That prevented most people from getting too close to figuring out who we were.  Our identities were a well-guarded secret, and eventually the subject of much speculation as more and more embarrassing stories were told.  But not even the other newspaper staff members knew who we were, other than the two student Editors.

People tried to pry it out of Mrs B all the time.  She would tell everyone that she had no idea who The Ear was; all she knew was that a column would show up on her desk every week.

I didn't tell a soul, not even my best buddies, Rik, John or Brill.  I had one guy from my College Composition class badger me on a daily basis, trying to get me to admit I was The Ear.  By that time, the teacher was reading some of my stories in class, so my work was becoming a known commodity. 

I know it’s you, Bluz, just admit it.  That’s your style and your wit.  It’s got your name all over it.”

Like I said, the fact that almost no one knew about how the paper was being produced by two staffs, (necessitating two “Ears”), was most helpful in providing cover.  To deflect the guy from comp class, I’d point out that I wouldn't have any way of knowing a couple of events my counterpart provided, because they took place in locations I would never be, (like classes I didn't take, or extra-curricular activities in which I wasn't involved).  He was still suspicious though.

OK, here’s where things got funky…  The Other Ear brought me a juicy morsel about one of our newspaper staff members, a sophomore in the Marching Band I’ll call “Fiery Redhead.”  (Yes, another redhead.  I forgot about her.  We never dated, but we were pretty good friends.)  Coming home on the band bus from a football game in October, the Other Ear saw her making out with another band member.

All I needed to do was dash off a couple of sentences about kissing on the bus, but two words did me in.  Two words were the gasoline that set our newsroom on fire.  And I didn't even mean them; I chose them purely because I liked the way they sounded.  

Known floozy.”  To me the words just sounded happy, flirty and whimsical.  Boozy, doozy, woozy, floozy… Those sounded like fun words.  I never really meant to call the girl a slut.  She was my friend; I thought it was just a little jab.  In fact, her column in that same issue, which appeared right beside mine, referred to me by name, as “The Wandering Wop.”  Obviously, political correctness had not been invented yet.  As such, I wrote my bit with nary a second thought. 

I look at those words today, and I can plainly see that it’s something I shouldn't have done, and especially not in the high school freakin’ newspaper!  I would never do something like that now.  But at the time, I was a teenage boy who was just finding out how much fun it was to be irreverent.  I thought everything was fair game for poking fun.  Eff’em if they couldn't’ take a joke, right?  I was busting out of my shell and didn't care who knew it.

I began suspecting I misjudged the situation when she first read the column, shortly after it was published.  Trust me, I was never so glad to be “anonymous.”  Poor girl was mortified, although in no time, the ratio between “mortified” and “severely pissed off” was more like 20/80.  She went through the newspaper staff room like a buzzsaw, interrogating everyone about who this Ear might be.

Not surprisingly, Mrs B held her ground, (Thank you thank you!) and maintained her ignorance of the Ear’s identity. I’m sure she wanted no part of that drama. But the funny part was that Fiery Redhead kept coming to ME to help her figure it out!  She wanted to stake out Mrs B’s desk to see who was leaving the Ear column there.  I told her she should get right on that and that I’d help, knowing full well that the desk thing was a ruse.  I turned all my Ear columns in directly to the student Editor.  (Come to think of it, the whole thing is her fault!  She should have cut the “floozy” part.)

I tried to talk her down as best I could, telling her I was sure The Ear didn't really mean any harm by it.  But I said I’d put some feelers out among my friends to try to flush this person out. I even offered to have their ass kicked, if we ever found out who it was.  (OK, I was mostly volunteering Rik and John for that activity.)

She kept at it for months, trying to find out who wronged her so publicly.  I don’t know how much grief she took in her other classes, or back on the band bus, but it became a recurring thing during newspaper period.  Around the newsroom, Known Floozy became her nickname.  Or just “Flooz” for short.

Hey Flooz, can you toss me the Wite-Out?

Over time, I've found that you can call someone almost anything, provided you do with affection and a smile. 

At the end of the year, I had to write my final Ear column, wherein I unveiled my identity.  OK, I didn't exactly reveal my name, but I left more than enough clues for anyone that knew me, so underclassmen would still be clueless. I figured if I came out completely, it might ruin the Ear mystique.  I assumed that someone else would step in and run with the column the following year, so I thought it best to maintain a degree of continuity.

On the other hand, I was happy to come clean, as my secret was starting to unravel.  Rik guessed it first.

I had written a blurb that spring about how he and I were racing to see how fast we could squeeze out a pint of blood, during the annual Red Cross blood drive.  It wasn't mentioning him (or us) that gave me away; it was that I called him “Rik.”  Most everyone else in the school knew him by his legal first name; only his closest friends called him Rik, which was a form of his middle name.  So I had to confess, swear him to secrecy, and ask him to provide any juicy material he found.

The guy from College Comp also forced it out of me.  He just kept up the pressure until late in the year, when I finally caved.  He kept going on about how snappy and witty the writing was, and how it was totally my style.  I was so happy he thought so, I eventually confessed.  (Lesson: bullshitting works!)  But neither he nor Rik ever gave me any dirt I could use.  Bastards!

As for the Fiery Redhead, you should have seen the look on her face when she found out it was me all along.  Believe me, I did a LOT of apologizing, and she finally forgave me.  In fact, we’d gotten to be pretty good friends by the end of the year.  That May, our whole newspaper staff took a trip to Cedar Point (amusement park), and had a grand time.  It’s a lot more fun to hang out when you don’t have a print deadline looming over your head.

I also saw some more of Other Ear, who I took to the prom.  (Apparently Sophomores don’t care who they go to prom with, as long as they can go!)  But prom night is a story for another post. 

Believe me, The Ear would have had a field day reporting on that!

Director’s DVD Commentary: As my struggle with higher math loomed larger and larger as an obstacle to my becoming serious with the sciences, I decided to make a run at journalism for a college major.

So I began college by majoring in journalism, but it was short lived.  If I could have gotten a degree in solely being a feature columnist or editorial writer, I would have been much better off.  I chaffed at the tight structure of journalistic writing, and realizing I’d never enjoy doing serious news writing and reporting, I migrated to a major in broadcasting for sophomore year.  Journalism would have been a much better fit if only they’d let me make up the news. 

Also, I was kidding about the whole thing being my editor’s fault.  I pitched a royal fit any time someone altered my writing.  It was bad enough when my mother, the English Teacher, corrected my work; I wasn't putting up with any mess from some underclassman!  Consequently, for better or worse, (in this case, the latter) my copy was very rarely changed.

In 1999, Rik and I paid a visit to our old school, where Mrs B gave us a guided tour.  Needless to say, the state of the school newspaper was vastly improved, although they were still producing paper copies.  They were very slick and professional, utilizing modern PCs, but I’d bet that by now, the whole thing is digital and is emailed out student phones and laptops.  Or maybe it’s part of a school website.  Either way, I bet it’s still a lot of fun for wiseguys like me.


Valerie said...

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I'm calling everyone a known floozy Crome now on!



bluzdude said...

Takes one to know one, right Val? ;o)

Deb K said...

I hope you are still in touch with the woman and you can send her a link to this column to let her know how badly you still feel (cringe worthy I'm sure when you were writing the column) today. I have so many of those pit in the stomach memories of saying or doing the wrong thing, usually inadvertently, while in high school. I hate thinking about them. Hey, that could be a whole other topic for a blog post.... Just saying.

bluzdude said...

When I was looking through all my old General’s Dispatches (looking for that particular Ear column), I was kind of shocked by the whole tone of the paper. There was an awful lot of pointed “calling out” of people, by name. It was kind of like a British tabloid, in that respect.

Like I said, Political Correctness hadn’t been invented yet, so it’s tough looking at some of that stuff, through the lens of today’s environment. We were really rough with each other, both in attitude and terminology. I know I totally cringed when I saw a classmate’s very unflattering nickname used in one of my articles.

On my part, I think I was just glad I wasn’t on the receiving end, for a change. I was so happy not to be dodging stones; I certainly didn’t mind throwing a few. Perhaps I was so interested in pushing boundaries, I neglected to consider whether really needed pushing.

I have no clue as to the whereabouts of the Fiery Redhead any more, although I could probably find her on Facebook, if she didn’t have such a common last name. I am, however, still in touch with Mrs B, to whom I will probably send a link.

Unapologetically Mundane said...

I love the word "floozy", and I would kill to be known as a "known floozy". It's certainly the nicest form of "slut". Almost endearing.

bluzdude said...

Be careful what you wish for… I can make that happen.

But I agree! I thought it was totally endearing. Only a special kind of slut, one with a heart of gold, gets to be a floozy.