I spent half the week or more working on a piece of biting
satire that made the case that I appeared to be the only human being on Earth
who understood what Seth MacFarlane was doing at the Oscars. (Working title:
The Tit Offensive)
Look, when you hire a guy who makes fun of the handicapped,
once wrote an entire network skit dedicated to sideboobs and “Dogs Humping” and
then made a feature film about a Teddy Bear that gets stoned, you know what
you’re going to get at the Oscars.
And that damned sure ain’t going to be
If nothing else, I argued, people needed to pay better attention to
the cutaway shots of the actresses appearing to be “offended” during “We Saw
Your Boobs.” Charlize Theron was wearing a different dress and so was Naomi
Watts. And if Theron was really insulted and blindsided by all this, how the
hell did she change dresses so fast and hop up on stage for an impromptu dance
with Channing Tatum?
After spending a good amount of time trying to find the clip
of David Hyde Pierce flopping his nut sack around while dancing with Jenna
Elfman, I finished the post and was ready for what attention whores like me
(and most of the Academy) love: attention.
It wasn’t anything in that post that changed my mind on
running it, nor was it a change of heart. Instead, it was a moment of
self-reflection brought on by my work-muse.
A few months ago, our department was mired in the kind of
academic navel-gazing, in-fighting, shit-box stuff that makes people really
hate to go to work. As someone far smarter than I noted, the reason the fights
in academia are so bitter is because the stakes are so low. After a few threats
were levied against me, I noticed that my health and quality of life had taken
a turn for the worse. I talked to my doctor who told me that it was likely to
get worse unless I got out of there.
I applied for a job several states away. Better colleagues.
Better pay. Better hours. The only real downside at that point was that it
would be life on the road again when it came to family matters. At least that
was the only downside I could see at the time…
The week after I completed my Skype interview with this new
school (by the way, worst invention ever for interviews. Had to wear
headphones. Looked like Princess Leia the whole damned time…) I went down to
the newsroom for our production night. I didn’t quite know how or when would be
a good time to tell them I was probably out the door.
I watched them work on stuff, shouting out orders to one
another, joking about something or other and so forth. One of the women farted.
The room got quiet for a moment. Everyone started laughing.
Someone found a Gummy Frog that someone else had impaled on
a pencil. We started kidding the news editor about her fear of frogs. Someone
said something that had a double entendre to it. “Quick! Write that one the
quote board!” someone else yelled from across the room.
It would have been surreal to most people. To me, it felt
like that soft, fuzzy sweater I wear when I’m sick and cold: perfectly
A week later, I found out I was bounced out of the pool for
the job. I half-jokingly told a friend that someone on the committee must have
found my Twitter feed.
My wife told me it was probably for the best. The new
position didn’t come with a student newspaper. I kind of agreed, but it was
still a bit disheartening.
I felt like a guy in a bad dating situation who was
blindsided when the girl called it quits before I could. It was like, “If
anyone’s ending this relationship, it’s me, not you.” I might not have taken
the job if it were offered, but I don’t want someone else telling me I’m not
I sent a few emails to colleagues I’d grown up with in
Ph.D.-land. These were the folks who went from the program to the same kind of
school I was at now and then moved on to the “good jobs” of higher prestige and
higher positions. They were the associate deans and the leaders at the “name”
schools who had once looked at me and said, “Wow, how the hell do publish so
much?” They made more money. They were cited as experts.
I was fighting with a mentally imbalanced idiot and trying
to convince my university to spend money on an award-winning student newspaper.
I was becoming the tragic tale of wasted youth.
The doc friends, of course, saw it differently. I was
working hard, I was doing fine, I probably didn’t want their lives. I wasn’t a
Intuitively, it was hard to see it, so I just let it drop. I
had way too much shit going on to worry about it. I had committed to a
convention on the West Coast for student journalism and I needed to prepare
The day I was getting ready to leave, we caught about 11 inches
of snow. I was driving Sparky down the freeway at 35 mph for almost three hours
to make it to Milwaukee in a blizzard. The planes were delayed and I eventually
got out of there.
I made my connection in LAX and landed in Oakland, which at
least meant I wasn’t going to be late. As I walked up to the baggage carousel,
there was a guy who looked like a football free safety standing there in a suit
and tie holding a piece of paper with my name on it.
“Are you here for me?” I asked in that incredulous, no-shit?
kind of way.
“Yes, sir. Compliments of the convention,” the driver said.
“Holy shit! Can I keep the sign?” I asked.
He laughed and handed it over. I tucked it into my bag
carefully and we rode into San Francisco.
Over the last two days, I’ve spoken until my voice fell out,
critiqued newspapers on the fly and laughed with former students who have
become friends. I helped the convention people stuff convention bags and hugged
people I only see once a year. After the first night, I stopped having the
incessant nightmares about trying to sell our house or being tossed out of my
department. Last night, I went to bed at 9 and slept for 9 hours, the first
time that happened in a long time.
For some people, student media is a job. For me, it’s a
Somewhere, sometime, a long, long time ago, it got a hold of
me and it never really let go. It’s the counterbalance and the salvation. It
took my soul and promised to care for it. It is the small flicker of light in
the darkest of rooms.
I remember reading or seeing a quote about Gordie Howe a
long time ago. I think it was Dave Diles, a famous Detroit sportscaster, who
explained that even after Gordie retired from the NHL as an active player at
age 52, he still couldn’t let go. When the Whalers sent him out to scout minor
league teams, he’d drive to the events with all of his hockey stuff in the
trunk of the car, just in case they invited him onto the ice.
“For most of us,” Diles noted. “We think at some point,
‘Maybe I should do something else or be something else.’ That wasn’t him.
Gordie never wanted to be anything other than a hockey player.”
There are probably more important things I could be doing
with my time and whatever talent I have managed to marshal. I could be breaking
ground in scholarship or crunching numbers with Nate Silver or moving to some
place where I could be an expert from a “name” place.
Or, maybe I am a tragic tale of a life misspent. Had I
worked more in doing X or climbing ladder Y at an earlier age, I’d be where
those in this field felt I should be. Instead, I cast my lot and landed here
and this is where I’ll be forever. I mean, really, at what point do you stop
being “full of promise” and just start becoming whatever you actually are?
I guess I’ll never really know the answer. What I do know is
that I spent yesterday afternoon with a kid who had his ears gauged out to
about a half inch, a tattoo around his neck and a stud through is lip, gushing
about how fucking incredible his art work was and begging him to do a sketch of
me at some point. I talked to a returning student who was probably three years
older than I am who was still finding herself and her footing as a journalist,
convincing her that she has more than enough time to turn her paper around. I
drank and ate my fill for free and could have doubled it, given the number of
people here who said, “Dude I owe you a drink for…” whatever it was.
So, I’m sorry Seth. You’re on your own.
Gratitude and soul-saving warmth are rare these days.
And they deserve to be celebrated.