‘Twas the Night Before: Chapters 1-4: Tom and Noella, Part Two
Now we’ll cover Tom’s speech to Noella’s students. This speech deserves a post all to itself because it takes up OVER EIGHT PAGES in a novel that is only 209 pages long.
Not bad, considering that we only read a few SENTENCES of Tom’s actual writing, and nothing at all of Noella’s writing, even though she, too, is published.
Once again, we see Tom’s war with himself on his attitude towards money, education, and success:
“It’s only fair to admit that I am the least educated person in the room. I finished just a year and a half of college. It didn’t make me antieducation. I have my problems with certain ways writing is taught, but these days the odds are stacked against anyone who wants to break into print without a diploma.”
Hmmm. I’m tempted to call Tom’s “I’m not anti-education” statement a lie, but I find myself more inclined to paraphrase good old Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice: I can only assume that in this case, he has deceived himself.
I find myself growing fonder and fonder of Meta-Tom, though I must admit my bias for Tortured Heroes (my second-favorite type of Hero, after Beta Heroes).
I kinda want to set up Meta-Tom with Meta-Isis.
Tom skims over his dysfunctional childhood, and proceeds to speak at length (and I do mean AT LENGTH) about his rise from a part-time job with the local paper while attending community college, to being a nationally-syndicated columnist.
“Who noticed my stuff? Maybe the full-time reporters, I don’t know. My guess is they saw me as a threat.”
Wow. Full of yourself much, Tommy?
Quite a common theme amongst LaJenkinsian heroes: “It’s not that people have genuine reason to dislike me. It’s not that I’m insufferable and arrogant. It’s that they’re jealous. THEY ALL WISH THEY COULD DO WHAT I DO.”
“I wasn’t yet twenty when [an editor] motioned that I should follow him back [to his office]. We never even sat down. He said, ‘You know you’re the best writer we’ve got, don’t you?’
“I’d wished it, suspected it, but I never allowed myself to believe it. Until John said so.”
As much as I appreciate the “I never believed it,” I still think that’s pretty cocky for a twenty-year-old kid. I would suspect Jenkins of trying to make out that typical twenty-year-olds are just that cocky, except that Tom’s self-assessment is meant to be accurate.
Because the editor wants to hire Tom, but can’t because of budget constraints, so he gets Tom a job at the City News Bureau. But that just isn’t good enough for Tom, who (shades of Buck Williams) wants to work where he wants to work, when he wants to work there, and goes crying back to the guy who got him the job, complaining that he’s a better writer than everyone else and he wants to work for one of the big Chicago dailies.
Seriously. That’s what he says:
“…[I] told him, in all humility, that I thought I could write better than most of the J school interns I knew and about half of the people already writing for the Sun-Times or the Tribune.”
Again, I would write (har!) this off as youthful arrogance and immaturity, except that we are supposed to believe it.
So, his old editor hints that he should start dropping off unsolicited manuscripts to another editor, which Tom does. Literally: he drops the sheets on the guy’s desk, then goes and hides in a corner while the editor reads them. Then, when the editor yells out, “Hey, who wrote this???” Tom doesn’t answer.
Instead, Tom asks around about how to “get next to” the editor. I would have thought, answer when he calls you, but I guess that’s why I’m not a famous reporter. Instead, Tom is now advised, instead of bringing unsolicited stories, to bring an unsolicited pizza.
Jenkins seems struck by the smelliness of newspaper editors. The first editor smoked the stinkiest cigars ever, and this guy likes “armpit pizzas,” which are apparently onion, garlic, and extra cheese.
So Tom brings the guy a pizza, and says it’s a gift from Tom Douten and o hai, I’m Tom Douten. Thus is Tom hired for the Tribune.
It’s just as easy as pizza pie! Ha!
I’m honestly not sure how the journalism students would like this very long story of Tom’s rise to fame and glory (a story, he emphasizes, that could not play out for any of these kids because nowadays you need a degree), but at least Tom ends on a note of advice and optimism:
“My challenge to you is to not run…”
And not to split your infinitives, Mr. Writer-Man.
“…from hard stories, the everyday tragedies played out in the neighborhoods, the back alleys, the high-rises. There will always be plenty of reporters to cover everything else. … If you keep honing your craft, your work just might expose a reader to the plight of someone he would never have occasion to meet.”
That’s not bad, really. Kinda strange coming from an author who made his living by writing as-told-to biographies of famous people, but whatevs.
Next up: Date Night!