The Naming of things.
This is vitally important, whether the name be that of a battleship, football stadiums (except when they are named after corporate sponsors) or newspapers.
When we sat down together in our Journalism class at Zweibrücken American High School, located on the US Air Force base of the same name in Germany, in September of 1971 we knew that the name of our paper that year had to be an attention grabber.
We also didn’t want it to be one of those bland names Which so many other student newspapers seem to have - no offense to anyone who has anyone worked on one.
We didn’t want our paper to be called Trojan (the name of our team) Spirit, Pride, or any other standard name like that. Then someone came up with, “What does everybody say when they are looking for the paper? Has the the paper come out yet?”
And so The Paper was born. Stroke of genius or pitiful lack of imagination? Whatever, it was 40 years ago. At least we got to pick our own name, and not one that was foisted off on us by the school administration.
Our class instructor, Richard Hoge, a tall lanky man with red hair, was one of my favorite teachers at ZAHS. Truth to tell, if you wanted your brain cells to grow in all directions, Zweibrücken was the place to go. Hoge was the kind of guy who would occasionally give the bird to military vehicles which would pass on the street outside the school, something that amused most of us in the class.
Though I wrote the rare news article for The Paper, I was actually Humor Editor. Through the school’s work study program I wrote actual news articles every week for the base newspaper.
Part of my job as Humor Editor was to collect humor from my fellow students, and go through it, to see what might be printed in the newspaper. So there I am, with a notebook full of elephant and knock-knock jokes, and already despairing for the future of the human race at the tender age of 17.
“This stuff is awful,” I said to Hoge. “Can’t I just throw it all away and write my own stuff?”
He looked over what had been given me, and agreed that was probably the best course of action.
At the time my humor was influenced heavily by the incredible Art Buchwald, whose column ran in The Stars and Stripes (the paper we depended on over seas) and Mad magazine, which at times has been one of the best political humor magazines this country has ever had to offer.
I went to town doing send ups of Love Story (which was responsible for sending so many across the world into Diabetic comas), Dragnet, and whatever came to mind. One of my favorite bits was a parody of my friend John Harrington’s column “Leaning Left,” which I called “Falling Down,” after he left he paper after the first semester or two.
In the column I revealed John as a fake, because he was a- gasp! - jock. Looking at the second line in the column I see that I spelled censorship wrong, spelling it “censoreship.” Even then, I suppose, I wanted nothing to do with the word.
One of my bits of humor pretty much brought production of the paper to a halt, which a story I’m not sure too many people have known about until now.
More on that in a few paragraphs.
Looking over the issues of The Paper in my desk (What? You still have copies? Yes, Tenacious Reader - writers never throw away their stuff) I find that I am impressed - and I haven’t looked at this stuff in years - by what I see this morning.
Poetry from Lena Gonzales, John Sadler, Linda Tigges, Monika Gouin, among others, who I hope kept up with it. writing from Lily Cogswell, Patricia Doyle and others. The Lann Anders advice column. Sports news. Junior High news.
There is nice artwork, as well, including one of Ms. Hayman, an English teacher who had a great impact on me, but I annoyed to no end, I think. I can’t find any credit for the artwork.
It was a simple newspaper; we typed out our work on typing paper - typewriters! The age of Dinosaurs! - and sent the proofs off to the Army base just a few miles away to be printed.
For the most part, we were your basic high school paper, sort of a chamber of commerce sheet promoting the high school. But we had one thing going for us that other schools on military bases in the USDESEA (United States Dependents Schools, European Area) did not enjoy at the time.
We were the only school paper that was not censored in any way, nor did anything we produced have to run through the school administration for “approval” before we could print. it. They trusted our judgement.
Then, as now, it is always a good idea to trust the judgement of young people who produce school newspapers. Those who insist on censorship and control are sensing are very dangerous message, usually about themselves.
There is one piece of writing in particular, an opinion piece written by Jim Blazina in the March 29, 1972 edition, which I will run in its entirely below. It was accompanied by a nice drawing of a school administrator standing atop a toilet stall, hands on hips, with the warning, “Not in here, Gentlemen!!!” The Mister Boepple referred to in the writing was the assistant principal, and the figure in the picture may have been meant to represent him. I have removed the last name of the player involved.
Lie And Be Praised: Tell the Truth and Get Screwed!
The last edition of The paper promised to keep you informed concerning changes or happenings regarding the smoking situation at ZAHS. Since then, a faculty meeting had a vote of 21-14 in favor of allowing the students to have a smoking area, Mr. Boepple has stated he is asking the Air Base about it, and the lettermen’s club has changed its constitution to allow smoking and drinking for members who are out of season and not in their jackets.
But the harsh, unrealistic policy of the athletic council is still as powerful and unfaltering as the good old American traditions of bigotry, prejudice, and red-neck dogmatism. It’s latest victim was Mark ______. Mark was approached in private by one of the coaches, and later admitted that he had been drinking during the season. This admission was supposedly made in confidence, and it appeared that nothing would come of it when he was allowed to play for the remainder of the season.
At the Winter Sports banquet, however, he was denied his letter. He had been used by the school to help its basketball team place well, and to quell other insurgent trouble.
How many more people are going to get the shaft before the athletic policy is changed? The answer is simple - it will only be changed when every athlete demands the repeal of this archaic policy which has so far ineffectively attempted to regulate the furthest reaches of their private lives.
Even 40 years later, this is a nice piece of writing. This isn’t something that would have been allowed in a paper that was censored, or just concerned with “school spirit.” It’s written with deep honesty and more than a little anger.
It’s not the sort of thing that will appeal to much the “Don’t rock the boat, Baby, let’s keep every thing nice and bland,” crowd, but honestly, good writing is sort of wasted on them anyway.
It all sort of came crashing down on us in late spring of 1972. You might blame me, but I blame CBS; they can blame the Smothers Brothers, I suppose.
IN 1971, a documentary was shown on CBS, The Selling of the Pentagon, which examined the increasing cost to the taxpayers of public relations activities by the military-industrial complex in order to shape public opinion in the military’s favor. The documentary was formed around the ideas of Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright, who had written The Pentagon Propaganda Machine.
American Forces Television in Germany showed the documentary some time later.
Now we get to the good part - how I might possibly be blamed for The Paper not being printed for the rest of the school year in spring 1972.
We had been getting the run around from the Army printers for some months. Where once they might print what we had given them in a matter of days, it had finally stretched into weeks - and weeks.
I talked to Mister Hoge about writing a three part humor series - and it is still pretty damn funny - about how the paper was put together, under the heading of The Name of the Blame, a pun on the great TV series about journalists.
He readily agreed.
Part One was about the lunatic activity that took place putting the paper together, only slight heightened. I even included the incident one day when editor Mike Copeland climbed on top of a chair and cried out, “Let’s get rid of the sports section! The only reason we even have it now is because it is tradition!”
Ah, Tevye the journalist.
Part Two - which I have before me - was called “Shearing the Sheep, OR. Hey, ma, look at the naked lambs.”
This was about our dealings with our friends the Printers. At the end of the column, it was promised: Next Issue - The Selling of The Paper.
I have discovered something about writing humor over the past few decades: not everybody gets the memo.
We typed up our issue on our typewriters and sent them off, hoping against hope that they might be be delivered within a reasonable length of time - say, before Y2K. Well, quicker than any paper had ever been printer that year, the second lieutenant in charge of the printing shop sent a letter to our principal, Richard penkava, and he called me into his office to “discuss” the matter.
This is what I know about second lieutenants, and I learned it from a western many years ago, when a sergeant said, “Nobody wants to be a second lieutenant; not even a second lieentant wants to be a second lieutenant.”
Penkava - who could be pretty fearsome when he wanted to be - let me read the letter, and it was all too obvious that he thought the man was a raving idiot. Evidently I had impugned not only the honor of the United States military, but . . . I don’t know, probably the men and women who had died bringing ink to uncivilized lands.
Of course, Lt. Patton wasn’t going to print anymore copies of The Paper, at least for that for school year. Mr. Hoge (who was wildly amused) and and the rest of the class weren’t overly concerned. It was, after all, late April, and there was no guarantee that our next issue would have been delivered anytime before mid-July, anyway.
It was a great experience, and over the years several of my core beliefs have never waved:
Young people should be trusted when something as incredible as a school newspaper is entrusted to them.
When it comes to writing humor, never, ever cater to folks who either don’t get the memo, or are incapable of reading it.
Quote of the Day
Optimism can make you look stupid, but cynicism always makes you look cynical. - Calum Fisher