Twas the Night Before: Chapter 1: Noella Wright

Unsurprisingly, people seem to have found Tom Douten a likeable guy.  I find him so, too.  In my opinion, he does one really jerkish thing, and one really self-aggrandizing thing in the course of the story.  And that is really not bad for a Jenkins hero, even in a shorter work.  But we’ll get to that later.  For now, let’s meet his sweetie, Dr. Noella Wright.

Two interesting things about Noella and Tom:

1.  Noella is a year and a half older than Tom.

2.  Noella is much more educated than Tom, with a Ph.D. in journalism to Tom’s three semesters at community college.

I’m tempted to consider this progressivism of a sort.  Certainly a woman dating a man eighteen months younger than she is a long way from Buck Williams being ten years older than co-ed Chloe.

Then again, Tom takes multiple opportunities to disparage education and speak snidely of students.  So maybe it’s not as progressive as I’d like to hope.

When we left Tom, he was banging out his column at the Tribune.  Noella, a professor of journalism, is hanging out in her office at Northwestern.

Remember, it’s the day after Thanksgiving.

And there’s a blizzard.

Her car was the one lump under the white covering the parking lot.  Noella’s colleagues, gone as early as possible every day, hardly ever came in on a no-class day.

Nice little slam on the other J-school profs.  I guess nobody cares but Noella.

Noella loved being in her office.  She told herself she didn’t teach journalism, she taught students.  The more hours she spent in her office, the more contact she enjoyed with them.

Um, okaaaay.  That’s nice and all, Noella, but you do realize that it’s the day after Thanksgiving and there aren’t any classes and there’s a blizzard, right?  Exactly how much student contact were you expecting?

Perfect weather for student-teacher conferences!

I’ve been through more than a few Midwest blizzards, and I am quite fuzzy on why Noella left her house.  I’ve always considered it both nicer and safer to stay off the roads during a blizzard unless you absolutely have to go out.  I just do not see the point of Noella sitting in her office for eight hours, twiddling her thumbs, all alone.  What, she couldn’t have checked her e-mail and done some work from home?  She has to go out on icy roads and put the security guard to trouble?

Noella accepted the escort of the security guard, who also helped brush off her car and waited until she started the engine.  She rolled down the window to thank him.

“I’ll push if I have to,” he said.

That’s sweet of him, and it’s nice of her to thank him, but he shouldn’t have had to do this in the first place.  What the HELL has she done all Black Friday No-Class Blizzard Day?

She’s been doing what any good woman should be doing: thinking about her good man.

These first few chapters are awash in flashback, and Noella remembers a recent conversation with her colleague, Sue.  I suppose Sue and Noella could talk in present-time, but I guess Sue just didn’t care enough about her students to come into work on a non-working day in the middle of a blizzard.

As well, like all LaJenkinsian minor characters, Sue knows she is a minor character.  Thus, the only topic of conversation that interests her is the state of the main characters’ relationship with each other.  In service of this topic, Sue is not afraid to underline the Significant Names that she has noticed in the story in which she makes her home:

“Tom and I will live happily ever after, and you know it,” Noella told her.

Sue shook her head.  “You say it like you mean it, but you’re blind.  You’re Pollyanna Pureheart.  He’s Sad Sack.  You’re his Miss Wright.  He’s your Mr. Douten.  Well, I’m doubtin’.  I’m a sucker for a love story.  But, Noella, really.  A half-empty-glass guy with a half-full-glass gal?”

Hmmm, where have I heard this just recently?

Giving the reader credit, I gradually reveal more—that he’s a glass-half-empty guy who meets a glass-half-full woman who still literally believes in Santa Claus.

If I had started with: “Tom Douten was a cynical newspaper columnist who always wrote about down-and-outers but fell in love with a Pollyanna girl who still believed in Santa Claus,” I would have been spoon-feeding the reader what she would rather discover on her own.

Consider yourselves having gotten credit, dear readers.  I’m on page 5.

Two things about the next bit:

Noella had roared.  “You call yourself a feminist and you call me a gal?”

1.  I dislike the phrase “roared with laughter.”  Mostly because I have never actually heard anyone roar with laughter, but also because the phrase really suffers from overuse when Jenkins is at the keyboard.



Our heroine, folks.  A woman who thinks other women call themselves feminists and thinks that it is anti-feminist to use the word “gal.”

Having sat in her office all day, Noella heads to a diner just off Lake Shore Drive, where she and Tom routinely hang out after he finishes his column.  The blizzard does not even give her pause.

What a gal.


Posted on November 28, 2011, in Books, Christmas, Twas the Night Before. Bookmark the permalink. 46 Comments.

  1. Whut? Teachers do not go to schools and sit in empty buildings on Thanksgiving break! NO ONE DOES THIS! NO ONE! Does Jenkins also imagine that fast food workers randomly go to their workplaces at 3 am and just sit there? It makes as much sense.

    My dad was a college teacher when I was growing up and, while he was darn near the only teacher who spent a whole standard working day at the college, he did not randomly go there when the college was closed and sit in his office. Doing so doesn’t make Noella look dedicated, it makes her look foolish.

    • I’m more curious about these students she’s having so much contact with. You know, the ones who attend class in the middle of a blizzard on a holiday.

      I’m getting this mental image of Noel lecturing to a shelf full of broken porcelain dolls…

  2. Feminism. Jenkins uses that word. I do not think it means what he thinks it means.(>_>)

    That being said, I’m gathering this won’t be quite as wincingly painful as Soon, so there is that.

  3. “You’re Pollyanna Pureheart. He’s Sad Sack.”

    I think these are much better names for our protagonists, and barely less subtle than the ones actually chosen.

    “…and then Noelle, not having snow chains or experience driving in bad weather, skidded her car off the road and froze to death before anyone found her. The end.”

    • Or perhaps Thomas, being the sort to expect the worst, had surreptitiously installed snow chains on her car while she wasn’t looking, and she never even noticed. Hmm, where have I heard this before?

  4. “Having sat in her office all day, Noella heads to a diner just off Lake Shore Drive, where she and Tom routinely hang out after he finishes his column. The blizzard does not even give her pause.”
    Well of course not – she’s the Romantic Interest having a meeting with The Hero. God would have stopped the blizzard and upped the temperature ten degrees along her route, just to make sure she got there.

  5. I choose to believe Noella literally roared in that moment, just for the fun of it. She seems appealingly daffy that way.

  6. By the way, isn’t a love story generally supposed to start with the two people not yet in love? I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with having it be otherwise, but I wasn’t expecting them to be already in a relationship.

    Also, ignoring how painful it is to read Sue’s dialog, “A half-empty-glass guy with a half-full-glass gal?” seems to me like a great combination: they’ve got a full glass between them.

    I mentally change the order of the words, I’ve been reading it as “glass half empty / glass half full” and only now noticed that the text is putting the “glass” at the end of the phrase.

    • I mentally change the order of the words, I’ve been reading it as “glass half empty / glass half full” and only now noticed that the text is putting the “glass” at the end of the phrase.

      Weird. I’ve been doing the exact same thing and didn’t notice it until you pointed it out.
      Brains are funky.

  7. inquisitiveraven

    I don’t know about Chicago, but in Philly when we get a blizzard or near-blizzard conditions, the weather and traffic folks on the radio will come out and tell people that unless they absolutely have to go out, they should stay home.

    I once talked to a pet store employee who mentioned that in really bad storms, staff members would end up camping out at the store overnight because someone has to take care of the animals, and if it’s not safe to drive that means someone is stuck at work until the storm is over and the roads cleared. Zie didn’t mention if they got overtime for camping out. Given that, I could see a biology or psychology professor who works with live animals showing up on the Friday after Thanksgiving in a blizzard, especially if zie doesn’t trust the people who are supposed to take care of them to do it right (When several students in my high school biology class went on a week long field trip, the custodial staff overfed the rats who were on calorie restricted diets.), but a journalism prof? No way.

    • In NEPA, the police will stop your ass and order you off the road if they catch you driving in a blizzard. In a true blizzard, and during its aftermath, the only vehicles allowed on the road are humvees to transport medical workers to hospitals. Otherwise, you sit at home and wait first for the blizzard to end and then for the city to get the roads cleared.

      In 1994, we had a blizzard that had everyone but medical workers trapped at home for 7 days. The blizzard itself lasted one day, but 4 feet of snow takes quite a while to clear. Anyone caught trying to drive during that period was forced off the road and issued a hefty citation.

    • It was the same in the Omaha metro area. I rather suspect it’s the same in most cities.

      And, yeah, if she worked with animals, or, possibly in chemistry or some such and had some experiment going she needed to check on, then her being at the college would make sense.

      I don’t think Jenkins does sense.

    • That…seems like a pretty cool premise for a story, albeit a short one taking place in a single building. Snowed in with the pets.

      • Hmm, doing it straight it would basically be a psychological profile piece.

        I’d be tempted to go for a magic realism approach, have the employee start to think that the animals are talking to them after a couple of days being snowed in with downed phone lines and no other contact. Leave a few hints that something odd was going on before the break was cleared, and one of the other staff members spotted something odd when they arrived, but leave it vague enough that you couldn’t be sure whether or not it was all in the mind of the trapped employee.

        Can you tell I grew up on Twilight Zone and also loved Satoshi Kon’s work?

        • inquisitiveraven

          You’d either need to set this pre-cell phones or find some way to take out the cell phone network as well as the land lines. A couple of critical cell towers got taken out by the storm perhaps?

          • If you’re setting it in the USA, it’s easy – all those overhead power lines tend to come down as soon as the weather gets nasty, and the cell towers need power.

          • Of course, if you take the power out, you have to worry more about the possibility of the employee dying in the store as well if it’s winter, as the heat would likely be out as well, as well as lights and quite possibly some of the things necessary for the animals, such as the aerator in the aquarium.

            Granted, that would both add to the tension and give greater chances for odd events or odd interpretations of events.

            Gah, I’ve already got four or five stories on the go, I don’t need another running idea…

          • If it’s just the cell phones being out then that simply serves to isolate the person, but if the power is out then I’m imagining a character spending the duration with iguanas under their clothes because they need to keep the damned things warm lest they die.

            Which stands a pretty good chance of being quite uncomfortable. Those big giant claws are non-retractable, after all.

    • inquisitiveraven

      Yeah, I’m necroing the thread. Got a video here made by PZ Myers as he walks to work in -30° Celsius weather because he has fish to feed that I’m posting to illustrate my point in the post I’m replying to.

  8. Tom Douten’s more likeable than his colleague Tom Pepin, at least. I mean, that guy’s column is just creepy.

    I just found this blog and have loved reading all the Soon posts! It sounds at least a little more interesting than Left Behind, possibly because the secret underground salt mine complex filled with company break rooms reminds me of Portal 2. It’s a weird combination. Is Jenkins available to write the Portal 2 novelization?

    I can see it now — the protagonist, Wheat Steelman, a solidly built, spherical man, about one foot one and fifteen pounds, will be forever changed by his encounter with the drop-dead gorgeous test subject, Dora N. Thewall….

    • And Glados’s comments on how it can’t be proper science if you do it on robots or plants that can’t feel pain would be portrayed seriously, and Chell would be reprimanded for making Wheat Steelman imagine she called him a moron, because it is her job as a good Godly wife to make her man feel secure at all times (though the fact she can’t speak would make her an ideal match for Paul, who never listens to what his wife says anyway.)

  9. Well, we’re only 5 pages in perhaps, but for now I can say that this is the first bit of Christian fiction I’ve seen snarked where the woman seems less likable than the man.

    And oh dear is it sad to see Jenkins mention his awesome meaningfull names. I think it’s pathalogical. From Left Behind where Bruce Barnes say in advance which prophecies will come next yet and what they mean, to Paul explicitly stating he’s just like the Biblical Paul and pointing out all the Biblical names he finds, to these guys. I think he’s insecure, and is just really proud of his analogies, so much so that he wants everyone to notice them. “Here, see them? They’re great, right? Isn’t it clever of me? Please, say they’re clever!”

    • To be fair, the Noella is already an RTC and most of Jenkins RTC’s are pretty annoying. I’m sure by the end of the story Tom will say the magic words and become just as annoying.

      • True, true, but remember male leads like Paul, Rayford and Buck, who were asshats before their conversion, and not just because of the traits that were supposed to display they were still filthy unsaved heathens. It’s still a step up, so far only some of the female characters were nice before their conversion.

  10. Incidentally, Sad Sack seems like kind of an odd, dated reference. (I’ve heard of him, but I’m more into ancient comics trivia than most). Does it mention how old Sue is supposed to be, or does she just fall into the usual Jerry B. Jenkins “Hot or Not?” method of describing female characters?

    (After a bit of research: apparently Sad Sack was published until 1975, and is still making enough money today somehow for there to have been a lawsuit over rights to some of the art in 2002. So maybe it’s not so obscure?)

  11. “But, Noella, really. A half-empty-glass guy with a half-full-glass gal?”

    So, if Noella agrees with Sue that she’s too optimistic for Tom, then she’s actually pessimistic about their relationship, and so they’re perfect for each other, but if she acknowledges this, then she’s being optimistic, so they’re NOT perfect for each other, but if she acknowledges THAT — this may be the only sappy Christmas story that’s also capable of causing robots’ heads to explode.

  12. I…the…we…what is this dialogue?

    Have you ever seen the remake of I, Robot, where they ask the robot if it can put brush to canvas and make a masterpiece. Yeah, well…this seems to be written by a robot with a poor understanding of english and story telling.

    At least he hasn’t mentioned toaster heaven much yet.

  13. Incoming transmission from the Satellite of Love! We’ve got book-sign!

    Noella loved being in her office.

    CROW T. ROBOT: It was much better than being in the classroom! Or the beat-up cardboard box she sleeps in at night!

    She told herself she didn’t teach journalism, she taught students.

    TOM SERVO: I tried to teach journalism how to fetch, but it just wandered off and chewed my slippers instead.

    The more hours she spent in her office,

    CROW: …with the door closed and locked!

    the more contact she enjoyed with them.

    CROW: She gets so much more contact with her students in her office than actually teaching in the classroom!

    Noella accepted the escort of the security guard, who also helped brush off her car and waited until she started the engine. She rolled down the window to thank him.

    “I’ll push if I have to,” he said.

    CROW: That’s what she said!
    JOEL: Oh come on now!
    TOM: Oh, are we not doing that this time?

    Sue shook her head. “You say it like you mean it, but you’re blind.

    CROW: Why wouldn’t blind people say things like they mean it? Is she saying blind people are insincere?
    TOM: Well if I were deaf I wouldn’t say it at all!
    JOEL: You might say it, but you wouldn’t hear it.
    TOM: Today’s opening dialogue brought to you by the Department of Mixed Metaphors!

    You’re Pollyanna Pureheart. He’s Sad Sack. You’re his Miss Wright. He’s your Mr. Douten.

    CROW: You’re Bill Clinton, and he’s Bob Dole!
    TOM: You’re his Olive Oyl, and he’s your Popeye!
    CROW: You’re an altar boy, and he’s a recently transferred Catholic parish priest with a troubled background!
    TOM: You’re his… wait, what?

    Well, I’m doubtin’.

    CROW: Ha! Word play! What are the odds that a person would have a last name with a double-meaning like that? I mean, it’s got to be astronomical, right?
    JOEL: Well, in real life, yeah, but I mean, if you’re writing the story…
    CROW: I don’t know what you mean, Joel.
    JOEL: Well, when you’re writing a story, you get to decide what each character’s name is…
    CROW: But you using names from people you know in real life, to make it more realistic, right? I mean, what kind of a story would have a person’s first name of “Zarbon”?
    TOM: Or a last name like “Carpathia”? You can’t just make up names! That’s silly. Nope. obviously this character’s last name is an amazing co-incidence!

    I’m a sucker for a love story. But, Noella, really. A half-empty-glass guy with a half-full-glass gal?”

    JOEL: You’d only have one full glass for two people. You’d get really thirsty.

    Noella had roared.

    EVERYONE: Yah!
    CROW: I thought we only had the lion roaring at the start of the film!
    TOM: Wow, someone has a short temper!

    “You call yourself a feminist and you call me a gal?”

    CROW: I call myself a masochist and I call you a big jerk who won’t throw a punch!
    TOM: I call myself a diplomat and I call you a big doody head!
    JOEL: I’d just like to call myself a cab.

    • Hey, I gotta Internet here for a Mr Rodeobob, where ya want it put?

      (The more hours she spent away from students, the more she enjoyed contact with them? That makes sense, can’t be right. 🙂

    • I can’t believe I missed the innuendo of her enjoying contact with her students in her office.

  14. I’m a sucker for a love story. But, Noella, really. A half-empty-glass guy with a half-full-glass gal?”

    Oh, and like everyone else, I mentally transposed the order. Yeah, it’s probably because of common useage, but also, if you don’t put the “glass” before the “half”, then what she’s really saying is that he’s half-empty, she’s half full, and they’re both made of glass.

    • I was going to ask if that meant Tom was a Teeny Little Superguy, but then I looked him up and Teeny Little Superguy is actually plastic. (The way I remembered it, he was a shot glass, which I really should have known was wrong.)

      Also, that would make Noelle a Teeny Little Supergal, but if I called her that, she’d roar at me.

  15. “Noella had roared.”

    I now have the mental image of Noella being a lion who eats students (enjoying being in contact with them so much) and believes in Santa Claws.

  16. Off topic: Filibustercartoons has a little open-comment thread about atheists, how they are perceived and how you perceive them. I kinda like that site. While I’m a liberal and the author is an (economic) conservative, I find most of his cartoons and accompanying posts (yeah, I really recommend you read the text below the cartoons too. It’s generally interesting at least, and since he’s Canadian, it certainly helps to understand his many cartoons about Cadadian politics) at least worthy of ‘food for thought’, instead of raving Fox News lunacy. He’s not perfect (his Osama & Sadam joined at the hip cartoon springs to mind as a bad example), but he’s generally reasonable and isn’t above criticism of conservatives or (more rarely) complimenting liberals.

  17. “…and then Noelle, not having snow chains or experience driving in bad weather, skidded her car off the road and froze to death before anyone found her. The end.”

    Left Behind and all of Jenkins’ books would be so much better if they were Choose Your Own Adventure books. 90% of the endings on those were basically “and then you die.” It would have also worked as an old-fashioned Nintendo adventure game (best description of these ever:

    As for the use of the word “gal,” I’m actually in favor of bringing it back. I often find “woman” too formal and still find it odd in some ways applied to myself as a “grown-up” even though I undoubtedly am. Unfortunately, there is no commonly-used female equivalent of “guy.” “Gal” would be perfect for that usage.

    • There is a choose your own adventure game! Well, kind of. These morons also think there’s an inevitable tribulation comming and that only God can save you, bla bla bla. But their particular flavor of lunacy is that they think there’s a World Calendar comming, backed by the Vatican, that’ll make the day the sabat falls on change which is ZOMG!!1!1!EVIL@#%^. I got the link for the game on the former conservative’s page:

      I played it a few times then, and made the following comments:

      Re: That game. BWAHAHA! Oh, that was rich. Even discounting the ridiculous calender triggering armageddon, that was just… everything Left Behind tries to tell you but at least told much, much quicker. To wit:

      – You get exactly 2 choices all the time. Drop down and worship God or act like a total dick. The first ‘story choice’ is if you want to agree with your wife that God is great and the Bible is 100% true, or to start a fight with her. That’s it. Those are your only two options. And it stays pretty much like that. The word choice of the options makes it clear that you can either be and RTC or do something douchy or incredibly stupid. And if they can’t cram it into the question, they’ll do it in the response: “You and the churches choose to worship on the day now called Saturday. You have uneasy feelings about this, however …”

      -Those choices don’t matter a damn. There is no choice of “Do something about this”. You make your choices and events unfold regardless. You get questions on whether you see what that eeeeevil Pope is up to, but you’re not doing anything about it. Plus, if you decided to pick up a Bible at some point, you don’t get the choice about whether you realize this Calender is the Mark of the Beast. You get that question if you were an [stroke] sceptic [/stroke] filthy lying asshole, but once you’ve read the Bible, the creators of this game assume you naturally concluded that the Mark of the Beast refers to a calender. And when there’s widespread mayhem, war and chaos, you don’t get any ‘choice’ on what to do about that. Which brings us to…

      -The prophecised disasters happen in order with no connection or logical leaps between them. Oh, now there’s wars. Oh, now the world economy is completely tied up with the new turbo-calender. No, we won’t tell you how those things happened. They’re supposed to happen! No need to explain any of it.

      – When in doubt, throw in some more right wing lunacy to pad the story. Oh they won’t sell you a bread for shiny yellow rocks (gold). It’s all electronic now! Eeeevil.

      – If you’re not an uncritical follower of God you’re damned, and God puts great store in whether you accept these people’s specific theories much. I tried it out. For most path, the last actual choicse you get is whether you realize that the calender is the mark of the beast, and whether you continue to pray on the right day. Nothing about accepting God, let alone about being a good person. If you answer those questions right, come right into heaven. If you get them wrong, it’s hell for you.

      And there’s this bit: “Radical religious groups have been eliminated by wars and genocide. Moderate non-conforming sects are tolerated, although barely. Do you remember “Toleration”, “Political Correctness” and “Acceptance”? Dictatorship and martial law have no interest in such nostalga [sic]. ” So… do they here suggest that Toleration, Political Correctness and Acceptance are actually good things that the evil dictators have suppressed? Or is this a snide remark that falls horribly flat when presented to non-RTCs? “Oh, you liberals always talk about Tolerance and Acceptance, but you know what. You’re hypocrits: Because my highly convoluted prophecy scheme says that at some point in the future, you will in fact not tolerate me. Ha, got nothing to say to that rock-solid evidence do you?”

      On the Plus side, the last page if you miss being saved is pretty funny.
      You can hit the back button on your web browser. But in real life, the choices are eternal

  18. “Her car was the one lump under the white covering the parking lot. Noella’s colleagues, gone as early as possible every day, hardly ever came in on a no-class day.”

    BULLSHIT!!!! BULLSHIT, BULLSHIT, BULLSHIT!!!!!! I was T.A. and I’ll tell you, it’s not uncommon for professors to be on campus in some way, shape, or form for 10 hours Mon-Fri. As for “hardly ever came in on a no-class day” . . . unless you had massive amounts of copying to do, or something involving office equipment . . . NOBODY CAME IN ON A NO-CLASS DAY!! Clearly JJ’s as familiar with college as he is with archaeology, airplanes, spying, and um, pretty much anything involving nonfundified real life.

    “Noella loved being in her office. She told herself she didn’t teach journalism, she taught students. The more hours she spent in her office, the more contact she enjoyed with them.”

    Again, BULLSHIT, BULLSHIT, BULLSHIT!!!!!! I know from personal experience the only time students ever appear in a professor’s office is if they have been asked to show up, or if they are very worried about their grades (usually for good reason.) For that matter, what student in his/her right mind would show up to a professor’s office the frickin’ DAY AFTER THANKSGIVING?!?! BULLSHIT!!!!!

    One more BULLSHIT! call — unless you specicially CALL then, you will not find a security guard hanging around campus on the day after Thanksgiving. Never mind a security guard willing to give your stupid ass a push after you were idiotic enough to drive in a blizzard just to sit in your office waiting in vain for students to appear.

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