‘Twas the Night Before: Chapter 5: Tom and Noella, Part Four

Well, Tom Douten may be the most likeable LaJenkinsian hero ever, but he’s a total ass here. 

It’s time for Tom and Noella’s first fight!

They go to a Bulls game and meet a pal of Tom’s, a sportswriter for the Tribune named Bart.  The Chicago Educational Association gives out calculators at the game as the freebie.

Seriously, calculators???  I admit I haven’t been to a ton of professional sporting events, but don’t they usually give out towels or spongy We’re #1 hands or pompoms or something?

But hey, it serves the very important purpose of making Bart and Tom talk about education!

Deus Ex Calculator

 “A two-dollar calculator more than makes up for the education I got.” [said Tom]

“I learned more from my editors and colleagues than I ever did in class,” Bart said.

“Course you didn’t spend a whole lot of time in class!” Tom said.

“Probably the best thing that ever happened to me.  Those who can, do.  Those who can’t, teach.”

“The problem with my teachers,” Tom said, “was that they could neither do nor teach!”

Noella is standing RIGHT THERE.  So this is pretty shitty of Tom. 

Noella said, “I owe a lot to my teachers.  Maybe I was just lucky”

“You were sure!” Tom said.  “Course if I’d had a prof like you–”

“You’d probably have flunked out.”


And for a brief shiny moment, I am totally on Noella’s side.  YOU GO GIRL.

Suddenly Jenkins tells us how Tom feels.

He was humiliated…

Yeah, I bet.  He kinda deserves to be.  But you know what’s weird?  Jenkins didn’t use his Authorial Omniscience to tell us how Noella was feeling while the two men were disparaging her entire profession. 

Then again, I’m not sure I want to know, given the words that next come out of Noella’s mouth.  To me, there are two hot issues here:

1.  Tom is biased against an entire profession.  That’s pretty rude no matter what that profession is.  As a girlfriend, I would worry about such a person’s ability to judge people as individuals.

2.  Tom is biased against his girlfriend’s profession in particular.  Again, as a girlfriend, I would worry about this: if he doesn’t respect what I have devoted my life to, how can he respect me?

When Bart leaves and Tom and Noella begin to fight in earnest, this is one of Noella’s first points:

“If your friend was the writer you are, Tom, would he have devoted his whole life to sportswriting?”

Um, wha?  So, Noella, your response to someone disparaging your profession is to disparage his?  Yeah, what a low-class gig, sportswriter for the CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

And isn’t Noella a JOURNALISM PROFESSOR?  Does she tell her students that they’re lousy writers if they end up covering sports for major newspapers?

This is what I mean.  Noella isn’t upset because Tom dissed educators.  She’s upset because some lowly sportswriter disparaged educators.

But oh, there’s more.  Because Tom doesn’t Get It yet:

“You’d have a lot more impact if you’d do what you teach.”

“My writing is a hobby?  Is that what you’re saying?”

“I’m saying you should be a writer instead of a prof.”

“You said yourself my writing was only facile.”


It’s actually kinda fascinating that Tom uses facile as a compliment.  It is a word with multiple meanings.  At least one is a negative meaning (lacking depth or sincerity) and at least one is a positive meaning (quick, poised, easy-to-understand).  Tom has complimented her writing TWICE using this word, each time specifying that he means it in the best possible sense.  So basically, Noella’s just being intentionally obtuse here.

Noella then makes the issue one of confidence: that Tom has confidence in his writing, and not everyone has that.  Which, okay, part of a teacher’s job is to impart confidence in students, but again, this is NOT THE HOT ISSUE.

Tom seems to think that when Noella cites a lack of confidence, she is talking about herself.  So he brings up her supportive family.  Noella snaps:

“Don’t make me tell you every detail of what appears an idyllic upbringing.  You don’t have a monopoly on pain.”

That’s true, but how is Tom supposed to know that about Noella IF SHE DOESN’T TELL HIM???

(Jenkins tells us that Noella’s father was a brooding professor of history who was unaffectionate towards his daughter.  Which is all well and good, but again, TOM DOESN’T KNOW THAT.)

But fear not, Noella has Tom trained well…

Tom felt like an idiot.  He couldn’t find the words to apologize.  He shook his head and tried to communicate with his eyes. 

“I love you too,” she said.  “And you’re not going to scare me off.”

He leaned toward her, and she pecked him on the cheek.

Thus, they make up.

GEEZ, I hate that whole “you won’t scare me off” thing.  It just smacks of game-playing.  People don’t say what they really mean, they say things in order to mess with your head.

Oh, and let’s bear something in mind: TOM HAS NOT YET SAID THAT HE LOVES NOELLA.  At this point, they have been dating for about six weeks.  So it is awfully presumptuous and manipulative of Noella to “know” that Tom is saying “I love you” with his eyes.

And I hate that lean-in-for-the-cheek-peck, too.  It is so cowed and submissive.

So, to sum up: Tom started it, but Noella came out worse in The First Fight.

Next up: Meet the Families!

p.s.  It occurs to me that I have to step up the pace a bit to get this done before Wintermas ends.  So expect the posts to come quicker for the next couple of weeks!

Posted on December 13, 2011, in Books, Christmas, Twas the Night Before. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Dang, they’re both assholes. I think I’ll root for the blizzard.

  2. So much word, depizan! . . . but not even the blizzard could keep them from their damn Friday night cocoa date. I’m rooting for the calculator!

    “and she pecked him on the cheek.” — like a sparrow. With a sharp, little, seed-cracking beak.

  3. Meanwhile Bart’s holding his calculator upside down so he can type “BOOBS”, the only person at this game who’s having any fun.

  4. Well, having two people in the wrong during a fight is a pretty good characterization. I’d be nice if we could be sure Jenkins intended both their flaws, but that’s not an option. I do have to wonder why this fight was in the book. Padding? Or is it supposed to be charactarization?

    Anyway, this wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Sure, Tom’s attitude is annoying, but at least the story doesn’t suggest that either of the two jerks fighting here is in the right and the other is being unreasonable. Again, these are humanly flawed characters rather than monsterously flawed characters. Jenkins benefits from the low expectations I have of him here.

    • The problem I have is not so much that they’re both wrong but that they’re both unsympathetic – I don’t care about either of them.

      • To me, that too is part of my incredibly low expectations. They’re not good characters, and there’s little proper motivation of this feud. Noella seems to be upset about the wrong things, and Tom’s hatred for all things accademical is comical. But the fact that these are two Jenkins heroes that I do not wish to launch into the frigging sun is making me interested enough to go along with their adventures. I don’t really care what happens either, but not hoping something horrible happens to them is progress of a sort. Of course, that does make snarking it a little harder, which means to book loses a bit of it’s twisted So Bad It’s Good appeal.

  5. All of this is happening in flashback right? So is there a point to this date besides setting up the fight? That would be fine if the fight advanced the plot (what little there is) in any way. Usually in rom-coms the couple takes awhile to make up after a fight. Or the fight is used to show how far apart they are on some issue. Or develop character. This fight does nothing. We already now Tom is a jerk towards those more educated and we already know that Noella is a tad, well, emotionally labile I guess. Doesn’t she seem to swing hot and cold pretty quickly?

    I agree with Ivan though. Other than the usual lack of character or plot this story isn’t so bad.

  6. Ergh. Jenkins doesn’t know the first thing about writing any sort of adult relationships, which he has demonstrated many, many times before. Yay, Bart, who had the good sense to leave the children to their squabble.

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