Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Sentimental Journey

Your last visit to the UCLA campus became a sentimental return to a place where you'd flourished in so many ways and under so many circumstances. While you were there, you paid off on a sentimental debt to your sister by scattering her ashes in the various locales you knew to be of matter to her.

Ashes scattered, a few in fact still clinging to one of your shoes, you sought out the student union building, climbed the familiar stairway to the fourth floor, then paused before a brass plate on a door, KH 401, an office that used to be yours.

A woman of middle enough age not to be considered a student emerged from the door, saw you, then asked if she could help you. How quickly things return to you; you smiled, then told her you were beyond help. You could tell from her facial response that she saw you as advanced enough in physical age not to be considered a student. You told her this had at one time been your office. Her expression told you she thought that was a long time ago.

You descended the stairway and, following signs, threaded your way to additions and constructions from after your time, found the commodious and quite professional appearing entry way to the student daily newspaper, and paused for deep draughts of return and nostalgia. Two earnest looking young men, whose earnestness you recognized from your own times within this part of the student union, saw you, nodded, asked if they could help you with anything.

This time, you weren't so glib as you'd been moments earlier, when you stood before the office of the campus humor magazine, where, in your day and under your direction, humor meant irony and its first cousin, sarcasm. You told the two earnest looking young men you'd used to work here. They offered you coffee, a tour of the premises, and the leisure, if you wished, to wander by yourself. From this, you understood that you'd mistaken their qualities of empathy and emerging professionalism for earnestness. Welcome home, you told yourself.

When your afternoon classes were over, more often than not, here you were, a cup of coffee and books in hand, ready to attend any of a number of chores that paid you relatively well for those times. Many of the individuals who spent time here were more than casual friends.

One afternoon, when you came to this place, you saw a sign tacked to the wall. Work for the AP, it said, using at least two exclamation points. At this time in your life, you believed work for some newspaper or other was a part of your destiny, your imagination brimming with tales of men and women who'd moved "over" from journalism to the world of books where you sought entry.

You took the sign down, phoned the number at its bottom. A week later, at 3:15 one Monday afternoon, you were in the offices of the Los Angeles Times, being ushered to the night office of The Associated Press, where your tenure as an employee began.

At the time, you had enough unit credits to qualify for the status of Senior, with a major in English Literature, a minor in political science, and the selective, not-giving-a-rat's-ass care about things related to formality, certainty, and convention. Your grades reflected your passions. At one, earlier point, the combination of your selectivity and your indifference to required courses landed you on probation.

By your estimate, you had at least another year to go as an undergraduate, simply because of your reckoning of the courses you wished to take that you knew to be available. By the time of your first round of examinations while working from 3:30 p.m. until 12:10 in the a.m., you'd absorbed some of the surface-but-important philosophy of the Associated Press.

By the time you'd finished your first round of mid terms while an employee at AP, your exam blue books began to bear notes from the instructor.  But this time, their "see me" reflected admiration and encouragement.

Simply put, you began attributing opinions to sources to distinguish those from yours, and you began writing your essays in AP style so that even if, as in one case, you only had time for a paragraph, it was the RIGHT paragraph.

No, you did not work your way onto the Dean's List; the only Dean's List you ever made had to do with your politics. Nevertheless. You were on your way to a discovery about written material, about how it was possible to be concise and effective as opposed to long and bullshit laden.

Two years later, you'd taken the courses you wished, could find no sufficient reason for hanging around, and in a real sense thought it time to move on, beyond UCLA and the Associated Press, but not your friends.

When you left both organizations, you also left behind, and with respect, the wish to move beyond reporting into the worlds of invention, hypothesis, even hyperbole. Indeed, some time later you were fired for having turned in a report of a speech that was supposed to have been given but wasn't.

Your explanation to the editor that your report was what the speech maker would have said, had he in fact given the speech, cut no ice. "You're not a reporter," the editor told you. "You're a fiction writer."

You believe she was right.

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