“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” Chapter 32 “The T-Bird Talon”
By Bruce Williams
My dream of a writing career began early, in high school, as I applied with a buddy of mine to get on the staff of the school’s newspaper at the end of our sophomore year. Being a legacy (my older sister Linda had been the paper’s features editor), I falsely assumed that I was a shoo-in—that my wisecracking cohort and I would strut right onto the rag’s roster with confettied fanfare. As the names of those newly chosen scribes were read aloud on the PA system on the last day of school, we sat in the commons area listening for what we thought was the anticipated inevitable. Our names never came. Silently and dejectedly we parted for our summer vacations, shuffling out quizzically at our rejection. It was discovered later through gathered whispers that we had been considered “too disruptive” a force to be taken as a duo—hence our joint blockage.
The following year I tried out alone, so eager was I to climb aboard that I overcame my fear of a second embarrassing no-thank-you. This go-round they decided to take a chance on me, and I was added to the staff. In short order I was named the sports editor and also given a column on the op/ed page—I called it “The Edmund Fitzgerald” after the old Gordon Lightfoot song that I found so compellingly awful in my youth—the singer’s wavery-voiced, furrowed-brow sincerity about a doomed boat with a funny name—and proceeded to write fanciful, fictional essays about the slightly older than I Sanchez brothers (Mangy and Lupe), and their run-ins with their looming nemesis, the cheerless and vindictive Bobbi Van Pelt. Their free-wheeling Seattle adventures included such period nightspots as the dance club Scucci’s and television luminaries like the diminutively lecherous Fantasy Island actor Herve Villechaize. My column was situated on page two, sandwiched between Wayne Combs’ double entendred “Two Ways to Travel” and Andrew Pulrang’s “From Down Under” (he was a rollicking three feet tall, wonderfully self-deprecating, and someone whose opinion I secretly held in high esteem—despite my sometimes cartoonish hijinks at the time).
Our editor was Dennis Jones, a wildly mulleted cyclone of conviction and energy, whose marijuana-fueled irritation at the no-shows on layout night led him to surreptitiously insert various expletives (in the paper’s margins) not quite subliminal enough for the printers at the Centralia Chronicle not to catch. More on that later.
Littleton, our advisor, he of the skin-tight Wranglers and snakeskin cowboy boots, had made an appearance earlier in the evening on his way out to what I’m only assuming must’ve been a country line dance or an ass-kicking contest. Anyways, he wasn’t there to thwart Dennis’ worst impulses, and fellow section editor Shanno and myself were left with our still underdeveloped, bleary-eyed moral compasses to defend the papers’ honor—at which we failed miserably amidst good-Lord shrugs and dual head shakes.
The culmination of the year was the journalism convention in Seattle—out and about in the big city with deliciously limited chaperoning. We stockaded at the Sheraton, Dennis and I securing enough beer for the final night to accommodate the entire class, including the most curious of the confirmed nerds and devout Mormons. And it was one of those memorable nights—the party spilling over into unoccupied, darkened ballrooms only to be interrupted by midnight vacuumers. Recently, when polling some old classmates to grab the bits of their memories that I had let slip away, one gal listed that night as one of her great regrets. You know, I said—I don’t…it made for a great story, even if Dennis and I got suspended six days each for providing the Budweiser and another three days for his handiwork with the dirty words (he did eventually apologize for that one) for a grand total of nine each for the both of us. No longer part of the journalism staff, we were denied attendance at the awards dinner and had to sit out the better part of the remainder of our senior years. We both managed to get into UW, though—Dennis joined a fraternity and I got a job and found a rooming house down on Roosevelt. Andrew avoided our nonsense, went off to Dartmouth and ended up writing for the paper there. And Wayne recently earned his PhD, bringing a smile to my face and a quiet “good for you” upon viewing his success.
We did cover some serious topics at the Talon—Molly Roe interviewed serial rapist and avowed pervert Kevin Coe in prison, still getting shivers when she related the story to me now. I had an interview with a military vet who claimed to have seen the inside of Area 51. We covered the politics of the smoking area (yes, they allowed students to smoke in a specific area in the ‘80’s while on school property…kind of hard to believe now), and we entertained “want” ads, which were more of a way for kids to verify their most recent crushes on the back page. Sometimes, when we needed filler, I’d pen an incendiary letter to the editor under the pseudonym Vince Quarto (my mispronunciation of Rick Moranis’ alternative character from Ghostbusters Vinz Clortho), and would get tickled when our dim-witted shop teacher would respond angrily to “Vince” and his callings out of school policies and ill-perceived norms.
While it lasted less than a full school year, my journalism experience was seminal to my later meeting of term paper deadlines at The U (BA in English Lit earned after a several-years break in the middle) and for cranking out columns weekly now for Eli. Somewhere in a box in the garage I’ve got several old, yellowed copies of those newspapers that my Mom saved, my ridiculously cartoonish hand-drawn picture festooning the top by my byline, glaringly reminding me of my era immaturity. But it was great fun—especially now in reconnecting with some of my old chums and having a laugh or two about those kids—the ones we once were and the little bit that still resides (thankfully) in all of us.