After teaching for three years, I returned to college for a masters and a graduate assistantship in the Agriculture Education department.
Somehow, I heard about a predicament that farmers were in up in some northern state. The Spotted Suckerfish, or Salamander, or some such slimy spotted serpent that was endangered lived in the rivers from wince the farmers drew their irrigation waters. The slimy suckers got their knickers in a knot over the use of their water, and they got the government involved. The government, as governments do, stepped in and stopped the irrigation, resulting in thirsty crops and economic losses.
Back then, I was more sympathetic to the crops than to the slithering critters, and so I wrote an op-ed piece about how noble farmers are and how salamanders suck, or something like that, for our school newspaper.
The editor called me soon after. I did not have a cell phone, so how he called me I can’t recall nor imagine–however editors called in those days. And he said something like, “This is pretty good. Will you come work for us?”
I went to a meeting where the editor introduced me as part of the staff. We easily agreed upon pay, as I was already working three jobs and wasn’t relying on this one to pay the bills. And I got my first assignment—I would attend “Cruise the Island” and report on it.
Cruise the Island was one of the many stupid traditions that I refused to partake in during my undergraduate years. In between the (old) student center and (old) dining hall was an island of landscaping amidst a sea of, uh, streets. Each fall when the students came back, there was a parade of different campus organizations along with the craziest, most desperate and drunken nineteen-year-old boys and girls.
The year that I showed up as a reporter, I was much too old—twenty-five–to partake in such silliness, so I scowled at the immature heathens as I made mental notes on what I’d say. I was so determined not to have fun that I even refused the Hawaiian lay necklace, decked with condoms, that the sexy senior wanted to drape around my neck. (Yes, opportunity is wasted on the wrong people.)
The next day, I turned in what was probably a straightforward and bland summary of the event, without nary a mention of condoms or lays. As I submitted it, I asked about my piece on the slimy slithering spotted suckerfish. “We can’t print that,” said the editor. “We’d need the other perspective to make it fair.”
Considering what I wrote was an opinion piece, that didn’t make much sense, but I didn’t argue.
The next day, I was in my college department office, visiting with our department head and secretary and a few of the graduate assistants, when one smirking girl said, “Hey John, great story in the paper,” and handed me a copy.
I can’t remember exactly what the story said, but I do remember feeling my face turn red with embarrassment. The only part of my story that resembled what I wrote was my name, just under the new heading, “A Chance to Get Lei-ed.” (I now, by the way, remember exactly what the story said.)
The twenty-five-year-old me did not think this was funny. I promptly went to the news office and told them that as a graduate assistant, I could not write things about condoms or getting “lei-ed,” and that I was embarrassed in front of my professors. They said something very understanding like, “We don’t give a shit, your writing sucks anyway,” and we parted ways, never to meet again.
Here’s a letter to the editor I wrote during undergraduate school:
One more note: It makes me feel very old to find my college writing on a website called “A Portal to Texas History.”