“Mr. Dumas! Glad you could make it. Please, come in. I was just about to settle back and enjoy the latest edition of our school’s illustrious newspaper. Allow me to read aloud.” Peering over the top edge of his reading glasses, Eberto Carloni stared at Alex Dumas and read,
“In next week’s Clarion: a tale of our times. ‘The Nun and the Billionaire’ ‘…David’s dress got longer, but Goliath still don’t stand a chance.’ The story of a young woman’s battle to save an old woman’s home from the money-lender’s greed. The age-old struggle between the powerful and…”
Across the older man’s face, disapproval semaphored from the down-turned mouth and the gathering of eyebrows. In the depths of his eyes however, there was, for anyone young enough and perceptive enough, a young man waving a banner and a clenched fist. Alex Dumas possessed both those qualities, however he remained mostly ‘a young man’, distracted by the more prominent signals of disapproval. He was about to give up hope when he heard the nearly overweight man behind the desk say,
The Dean of the School of Journalism let his tablet fall to the green felt desk blotter and leaned back. His greying eyebrows relaxed, a silent flag of truce. The ability and willingness to relax was born from an attitude only occasionally exhibited among the dwindling population of full tenure professors. By training and temperament, acceptance of a situation was the useful side of the coin of resignation. While easy to confuse the two, one was far and away more likely to inspire laughter. Eberto Carloni began his teaching career well before there were personal computers. Of late, however, he found himself feeling that he had as much in common with his students as did the European missionary with an isolated tribe of aborigines. Depending on the day and particular academic calamity, he was capable of identifying with either.
“Alex, as faculty advisor to the Clarion, I need to remind you that this is still a college newspaper. Our charter is quite unambiguous; serve the interests of the students of UMUC by focusing on the affairs of the University, its faculty and students.”
Now nearing retirement, Eberto Carloni had long since become comfortable in the role of ‘straight-man’ when advising students, recognizing that of the two, he knew how the story ends.
Alex Dumas, as many intelligent people afflicted with youth, had a tendency to be tone-deaf to irony. Life behind protective ivy-covered walls, while nurturing idealism, tended to prolong immaturity. As the student editor of the UMUC Clarion, his contribution was an un-alloyed enthusiasm, one that inspired the students that made up the small staff.
Eberto Carloni smiled and pointed at the green wingback chair opposite the paper-and-plastic cluttered desktop, waited and watched as the young man let himself fall over the curved arm of the chair. One leg found the floor, the other hooked itself on the leather and brass tacks of the upholstered arm and got comfortable. Pulling his phone from his knapsack, he looked up, face cautiously defiant. Alex liked Professor Carloni.
“No, nothing bad. Your first story, the profile of the young nun enrolled in the graduate program online? Excellent work! You took what, in lesser hands, would have been an information filled brochure for our online programs and brought it to life. That nun, Sister Margaret? She was perfect for the write-up. Your story is just the kind of thing the endowment committee likes to see, something that’ll get the alumni feeling proud of their old school. Well done. Just one problem. Your upcoming story, with the rather amusing Dickensian subtitle, complete with biblical allusion? Now, that is a horse of a different color.”
“Oh man. Doc, but that’s the real story. That’s the story that needs to be written!” A look of growing suspicion stepped out of the grad student’s eyes and climbed down his face, pressing down the edges of his smile. As emotion tends to be continuous, like the candy buttons on an endless strip of waxed paper, suspicion shifted seamlessly into anger. “The Bernebau Company has connections? Here at the school? No fricken way.”
“Yes, fricken way.”
“Does that mean I can’t run the story?”
Eberto Carloni, with the safety net of tenure and an oddly impermeable confidence in his intellect, often indulged himself in the use of slang and cultural references. He particularly enjoyed quoting lines from movies, both current and ancient. He was well aware that slang is the ultimate insider language, defying any and all outsiders from willful appropriation. Though decreasing in frequency, an integral part of a tenured professor’s duties meant attending quasi-social gatherings of department heads and members of the school’s administration. Much to his wife’s dismay, Eberto was inclined to punctuate his statements, observations and exclamations with words not of common currency among the academic class. He enjoyed the look on the faces of those he felt needed to be addressed as ‘dude’. On other occasions, he had been heard to conclude a brilliant analysis of an intractable problem in semiotics by letting his glasses fall to the end of their cloth leashes, pinching the bridge of his nose, as if forcing one last grain of wisdom from his mind, looking around and saying, ‘What the fuck! ya know?’
“Bonasera, Bonasera, What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully?” Eberto made certain to turn his chair so as to present a profile as he waited for the movie reference to register in the very agile mind of the young man. His favorite grad student appeared exceptionally distracted, not even bothering to look up the quote on his phone. Realizing the moment had passed, he turned and look at the young man and said, “Alex, of course you’re to run the story. I mean, come on, do I look like a lackey of the administration?”
Alex Dumas let out a sigh of relief and tried to present a more professional appearance. He thought to take his leg off the arm of the chair. Smiling back at the man he sometimes described to friends as, ‘Mr. French with a touch of Jules Winfield’, he said, “but, there is always a ‘but’ and I hear one hanging in the air.”
Eberto leaned forward. “Good boy. You’re learning. Finally I get to talk to you as your advisor.”
They both laughed.
“You’re going to be a good writer someday. Probably turn pro, if you want it badly enough. As for a career in journalism, you’d better hurry the hell up. There are few remaining positions in journalism not a step up from technical writer at a cell phone manufacturer. The problem is you are entering the field at the dawn of ‘the Age of the Amateur’.”
The frown on Alex’s face was accompanied by his leaning forward, tilting towards an uncomfortable wind. ‘Amateur’. Eberto saw the reaction and, ignoring it, said, “How is this story doing out there on the inter webs?”
“You know we haven’t published…”
The older man let one eyebrow loose and stared at the young man, “I know that. I still have some authority in this place. I mean out there, on whatever platform you have it on.”
The frown on Alex’s face, like fog evaporating from a meadow, turned into a sheepish look, “Trending pretty damn good.”
“There is the difference, and the definition of the ‘Age of the Amateur’. We are entering a time of steroidal egalitarianism. Everyone can be anything, provided they have enough time and bandwidth. I’ll spare you the lecture and, as scriptwriters once noted, ‘cut to the chase’. You will have interest in your story. There will be people who want to help you and people who will want to stop you. And, in this bizarro wild west culture of instant gratification, you need to be strong. And, the only useful definition of true strength comes from a very old and very dead man, ‘To thine own self be true’
And, my talented young friend, since you’re determined to play out on the mean streets, instead of the safe playground our university provides, let me remind you, it’s one thing to learn things about people and it’s another thing entirely to tell everyone what you believe you’ve learned. One is your right; the other is not. This is particularly appropriate to your upcoming story. You are talking about very powerful people, which means very dangerous people.” Eberto looked up, the younger man struggled to understand.
“This is exactly my point. Right there! You’re thinking of the Bernebau Company and it’s rather mysterious and scary owner, while I meant both parties.” Alex Dumas looked genuinely surprised.
“Not to condescend, but you’re obviously not accepting which of the two organizations represented in your expose has the longer history of destroying those it considers to be working against its interests.
It’s like doing a story on a crocodile and focusing on the teeth and mouth. You don’t want to get your legs broken by a part of the animal that you did not find interesting enough to pay attention to, careers end that way all the time. Hell, lives end that way all the time.
Be careful. You’re at the start of a career. You don’t have to do it all with this one story. Write enough to get the attention of the established professionals, the news services. Once you do, and this the most important part of my sermon and the part that you are at a genetic and chronological disadvantage to understanding, let them carry the story. Get them to spell your name correctly and if they’re willing to do that, you have taken the first step to becoming a professional writer.
I will now say, “Do I make myself clear?” and you nod your head and say, “As an unmuddied lake, sir. As clear as an azure sky of deepest summer. You can rely on me, sir.”
The young man looked puzzled at what he assumed was another of the other man’s movie references.
“A Northern English accent would totally be right.”
“Mayor? Mr. St Loreto? Could you step over a little and let the Crisfield Crusaders gather round you for a shot.” The photographer for the County Times, Lester Deschanes, waved at the boys in their blue and grey uniforms as they filed off the school bus.
Zacharia Renaude hated baseball, but loved his mother. Because of that most deadly of emotional addictions, he stood on the field, un-scuffed fielders glove on his left hand and tried to look like he didn’t want to run away. He considered it, running away, but then saw his mother get out of a very cool car with a man he immediately did not like. The Little League team cancelled a game in order to get on a bus and come to drive to his mother’s housing development and have their pictures taken with the Mayor.
Zacharia was there because he was on the team. The only reason he was on the team was that when she suggested he try out, she seemed so happy. He forced himself to join the team, go to practice and play left field. He did everything a good Little Leaguer did, except enjoy himself. But he didn’t need to enjoy any of it, as long as his mother was happy.