‘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!

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Posted on December 10, 2011, in Books, Christmas, Twas the Night Before. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. The pizza story reminds me of a real-life tale about how punk musician Billy Bragg allegedly got his first single played on BBC radio: the DJ, John Peel, complained on air that he was hungry, and Bragg had him delivered a curry with his demo reel included in the package. But in that case, Bragg didn’t send round the demo the day before, then hide in the studio and not own up to being the writer when Peel asked whose it was, all of which sounds completely bizarre.

  2. but these days the odds are stacked against anyone who wants to break into print without a diploma.

    Man’s got a point there. Why should it take a degree to do what people used to do without one for a century prior? In fact this kind of credentialization of journalism, I would make the case, creates the unintended detrimental effect of creating a cadre of journalists who (a) have an interest in perpetuating the credentialism going on, (b) go into debt to get these degrees and need to make money, and (c) feel that as “professionals”, they ought to rub elbows with the elite of society and in doing so justify why some journalists get paid a shitload of money.

    In short it pulls journalists out of touch with the common people of the country they live in.

    I get that Jenkins is pulling a GIRAT-y anti-intellectualism thing, but the complaint noted in the italics is a legitimate social issue in my view.

    • Yep, I think Tom makes numerous good points before his body is taken over by the Pod…er, Santa People. 😀

      Tom is easily the most likeable LaJenkinsian hero ever. I sympathize with Meta-Tom’s desperate struggle to free himself from Buck Williams’ shadow. Or, perhaps, with Jenkins’ struggle to create a very complicated hero, while fighting the demons of far-right-RTC ideas about education, social class, psychology, manners and morals, and, of course, religion.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        ep, I think Tom makes numerous good points before his body is taken over by the Pod…er, Santa People. 😀

        You mean “before he Says the Magic Words”?

        If so, he’s in good company with Buck Williams, Hattie, Meta-Hattie, Chloe, and Meta-Chloe.

  3. ““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.”

    — um, how old are the students Tom’s lecturing? Because if they’re freshmen or even first semester sophomores, then Tom would be the second MOST educated person in the room. Way to play up the false humility there, sir. (I know, I know, he’s a Jenkins hero. He has no choice.)

    “this guy likes “armpit pizzas,” which are apparently onion, garlic, and extra cheese.”

    — actually, this doesn’t sound too bad. Roasted onions lose their bite and, if they caramalize, they get sweet and delicious. Same thing with garlic. Jenkins sounds prejudiced to me.

    Maybe the Date Night could be between Meta-Tom and Meta-Isis? No? *sigh*

  4. So to Tom journalism is all about the quality of writing?

    Not about keeping contacts who’ll tell you about things before the press release is sent out, chasing down leads, putting together disparate pieces to tell a story, resisting intimidation and bribes, getting the copy in on time and reliably…?

    • inquisitiveraven

      Obviously this is why he’s a columnist, and not getting the front page features.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Not about keeping contacts who’ll tell you about things before the press release is sent out, chasing down leads, putting together disparate pieces to tell a story, resisting intimidation and bribes, getting the copy in on time and reliably…?

      Like Cameron “Buck” Williams, GIRAT?

      Over and over again, it’s obvious Buck Jenkins, GCAAT, doesn’t have a clue. I think this is his wish-fulfillment fantasy of Being a Famous Journalist, and bears as much resemblance to the reality as Wesley Crusher & Doogie Houser have to RL kid uber-genius Dallas Egbert III.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy

    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.

    Still better than John Galt’s chapter-long all-one-run-on-sentence rant in Atlas Shrugged.

  6. I don’t know. I’m already beginning to dislike Tom more as he goes on his Cameron-schtick of martyring himself because of his l33t skillz that are, like, so much better than everyone else’s, if only the envyous pricks around him would admit it.

    Off topic, I didn’t know this but apparently someone thought it a good idea to make a movie (well, a book, then a movie) based on the most horrible Christmass song of all time, Christmass Shoes. And that movie has now been ripped a new one: http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/team-nchick/nostalgia-chick/33547-the-christmas-shoes

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      I’m already beginning to dislike Tom more as he goes on his Cameron-schtick of martyring himself because of his l33t skillz that are, like, so much better than everyone else’s, if only the envyous pricks around him would admit it.

      Author Self-Insert strikes again?

      …apparently someone thought it a good idea to make a movie (well, a book, then a movie) based on the most horrible Christmas song of all time, Christmas Shoes.

      I think they’ve scraped the bottom of the barrel for so long they’re hitting the barrel.

      I mean, every year you get New Xmas Specials and New Xmas Movies adding new characters & stuff to the entire Xmas Mythos, they’re going to run dry sometime. (Parker & Stone parodied this with “Mister Hanky the Xmas Poo”, but it’s getting beyond Mister Hanky.)

      All you need to do is add an afterlife belief (say the one from Night of the Comet) and you’be got a full-honk Santa Claus/Xmas religion right there. So much about the “Meaning of Xmas” and “Saving Xmas” and “Spirit of Xmas” every year, somehow never mentioning this guy Jesus who I thought had something to do with the whole thing…

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