Everybody’s got plans , until they get hit ——-Mike Tyson
I was a cub reporter once . Not many people know that . Not quite a Walter Cronkite , I will freely admit , but maybe more of a Jimmy Olsen . You remember Jimmy Olsen . ” Gee thanks , Mr. Kent . ” —–It was Superman , aka. Clark Kent , who repeatedly told him sincerely ” Thank you , Jimmy ” , as if Jimmy Olsen weren’t the bumbling half-wit character he was meant to be . Well , Jimmy Olsen had me beat , too , as a reporter , I have to say .
I don’t know what got into me one day back during my UCLA days . I had a brilliant notion that swirled up out of nowhere , out of thin air , that I should work for The Daily Bruin , which was the campus student newspaper . So I walked in and offered my services . Just like that . Fools rush in , and all that . I talked to the first person I saw in the Bruin office . They all seemed busy . He told me to speak with the editor . He pointed across the room . He’s right over there . And so I did .
I suppose that I didn’t have any idea what work they might put me to doing . I’d get to know newspaper operation . On a small scale , at least .
It’s not like I had any journalism training . None . And , as far as writing skill came into it —- Well , I took several English classes at UCLA . I liked them . I had first to take , I think , what was commonly called ” Dumbhead English ” when I was a Freshman . My writing ability was not , perhaps , as ship-shape as UCLA would have liked upon my entering their university . So I was thrown into the basic writing courses . What’s a sentence ? What is the subject of this sentence ? They wouldn’t throw gerunds and participles and the like at us until several months later , not to mention dangling modifiers . Perhaps a bit of mixed metaphor might have been mentioned , and introduction to first person narrative . Second and third person would follow . It was such a long time ago !
I was taking a literature class , too , at the time . It was a Foundations of American Literature type course , or The Beginnings of World Lit , or something profound and required like that . Real basic . The professor made us write five-page papers . Topic # 1 : The good and bad in Beowulf . We were sternly admonished to cite Beowulf references as evidence ; none of this figurative stuff would be allowed . Five -page papers were the standard at the university , I discovered . Someone must have told the chancellor that five pages was just enough . Not too much , but enough . Educationally precise . The professors or their readers , I suspect , would have staged a campus revolt if more pages were imposed upon them . That would definitely be too much reading of student assignments , especially in those 500-student freshmen survey classes.
Each of us in the Eng. Lit. class had to arrange a conference with the professor after each five-page -paper assignment . This teacher did her own correcting , I guess . She’d read the entire mass of papers on the good and bad in Beowulf. She has a place reserved in heaven
I read Beowulf twice , and then again , trying to find the direct references to either good or evil . The saga consists of 3182 alliteratve lines . I found a total of two lines directly related to good or evil . Two and only two . How does one write a five-page paper about the good and bad in Beowulf from two measly lines ? I wondered . Maybe PhDs have the answer .
She had her blond hair in a tight bun , I remember clearly . I found it difficult not to stare at the tight strands of hair that seemed to pull her forehead upward toward that bun . Her face was taut , partially due to the hair being fastened too tightly , I thought . I sat down across from her professor desk in a small professor office-hour office . She had my five page paper there in front of her , and a decidedly sour expression on her face .
” It’s probably too late to drop the class , ” she said . That was her opening line . She handed me my paper . Big red D+ scrawled toward the top .
” I don’t want to drop the class , ” I responded . ” Why would I drop the class ? ”
” I just assumed that after reading your assignment , ” she said .
I had written what I think may have been an allegory about Grendel and Grendel’s mother . Somehow , Richard M. Nixon was involved . Maybe he was Grendel’s mother , but I don’t remember any more . Whatever it was , this blonde bun-headed professor did not appreciate my creative effort . In her mind , probably , I was making fun of her life’s work , of her dedication to serious study of the English language , of all of the extensive English Literature tradition, perhaps , starting my supposed ridicule right out at the beginning .
I was a wee bit taken aback . Now that I think of it , though , the episode reflects the power of the written word . Doesn’t it ? Had she had Beowulf’s sword ( assuming he used a sword ) , I think she would have taken a few deadly Beowulfian swings at me , the ambiguously-educated beast sitting across the desk from her . I felt sorry for her , a bit , not only for the apparently painful hairdo , but because she , for the coming ten weeks , was stuck with me in her class .
I suppose a lesson here might be : never start out showing them your best work . I could only move up from that less than illustrious beginning . I thought , at least , that my paper was mildly amusing . Evidently the professor didn’t share my view . But , that’s neither here nor there .
The editor at The Daily Bruin began outlining a story the paper had run ten years before , all about a UCLA professor who had gone to Brazil to begin implementing his project that would change the course of things from then on . I’m sorry , I have no idea now what his project involved . We’ll just have to move ahead without that knowledge .
He told me to go interview the professor for the ten-year anniversary article that I would write for the Bruin . Find out how it’s all developed over these last ten years . Get the story back to him as soon as I could . ” Good luck , kid ” , he said , just like Mr. White in the Superman series .
I went to see the said professor up in his Haines Hall office . I introduced myself and told him what I was up to . He laughed .
” We went there and we came right back ,” he said . He told me it had been “like the wild west” over there , and it was immediately clear to him back then , ten years ago , that the plan wouldn’t work . He had folded up the tents right away and come home .
I could have written some goofy story about the best laid plans of mice and men , and tried to explain the failure of the ten-year old , all -but forgotten project . I began a couple of rough drafts . Why was I writing a newspaper story , anyhow , I wondered ! I’m no journalist .
I walked in to the editor’s office the next day . How about a story about Nixon and Grendel and Grendel’s mother , Chief ? I could throw in J. Edgar Hoover .
I’d get a ” No , Olsen , you’re fired ! Get out ! Don’t let the door hit you on your way !” And then Mr. Kent would see me in the hall and say : ” Don’t worry , Jimmy . Just between you and me , I’m not really cut out to be a reporter either . “
By the way , Professor Tight-bun liked my next five-page paper a little better than the first . She told me that she was surprised by it , that I wasn’t as much of a worthless loser as she’d at first thought . She gave me a big red C+ .
” I’m writing for The Daily Bruin ” I told her .