The land down under

Rear Window, sans Jimmy Stewart

Rear Window, sans Jimmy Stewart

Fruit Cake introduced himself at 7 a.m. on a Sunday by playing guitar in my bed.

Directly above my head. To the radio. Through the ceiling.

A very unprintable scream brought the Gin Blossoms rendition to a halt. We would meet many times again, through the wooden beams of a 1800s-era carriage house.

So began six years as a downstairs apartment dweller. The median age of my last three buildings stands at 117 years. With character and charm come creaky, thin floors. Renter beware – and be prepared to hear everything, including pieces of the most uncomfortable conversations.

This particular neighbor’s nickname was taken from his beat-up sedan in the parking lot, license plate FRUTCKE. There were no signs, however, that he was interested in culinary arts. His passion was playing ’90s pop and country tunes along with FM stations, usually just as dawn had faded.

With a move two years later, I failed to warn the next tenant. Maybe they’d enjoy karaoke as an alarm clock.

After a period of calm, the Princess and the Pea began his reign. He introduced himself in person and seemed normal enough. Maybe we’d be friends.

But Princess was delicate. The slightest noise left him sleepless, terrified, simply inconsolable.

My movie tastes were the last straw. He called in a uniformed army.

Nearing midnight on a Sunday, the war began with a knock at the front door of the 1929 fortress. The officer appeared sheepish. Standing less than 30 feet from the thunderous racket, he had to ask.

“Do you have the television on?”


“We’ve had a noise complaint from a neighbor in the building.”

“Oh, we know who it was.”

The movie silenced and the offenders seething, a tell-tale creak of feet was heard on the floorboards above.

The offensive film? “Independence Day,” perhaps? “Scarface”? Explosions and warfare? Obnoxious musical?

Try 1948’s “The Naked City.”

With film noir now part of my permanent record, I’ve recently retreated a safe distance of two blocks. The neighbor above doesn’t yet have a nickname. And, so far, 1875 has been a decent year.


Send in the clown

2000 meets 2014, and the student becomes teacher.

2000 meets 2014, and the student becomes teacher.

I’m staring out at a jury of 20-year-old faces. These guys are armed with hoodies, yawns and misbehaving, multicolored Macs.

My voice has wavered. The gathering can sense my desperation. I stumble over words and cringe at computer errors. My Hail Mary at humor is met with silence. I’ll gulp my water, bang on my laptop as if it’s a shield. Is anyone awake out there? The clock doesn’t seem to budge.

Exactly a decade after graduating from college, this is how I am spending my Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.

Most would simply pull out a photo album or visit with old roommates to commiserate about classes, house parties and old flames. By chance, I became a (temporary) professor.

“Dead Poets Society,” this is not. This professor isn’t a PhD; she’s a denizen of newspaper night work. They simply call her Katie. Or, in most cases, nothing at all.

COM 323 – Newspaper Editing and Design – is held in the same Bradley University classroom that convinced me to become a copy editor. The banks of hulking, sweating Power Mac G4s are long gone. Same goes for those pesky Zip disks and the days of hard-wired Internet.

It’s now been made clear: The last 120 months walled away behind a desk have left me ill prepared for teaching. My head was filled more with AP Style rules than ease in front of a crowd. Put mildly, copy editors are a strange bunch. We often don’t play well with others; coffee flows as freely as criticism. Negativity is in abundant supply, and it might be the lack of sunlight. Profanity doesn’t even raise an eyebrow.

But change? That’s when we lose our bluster. (Expletive).

Smile! Tell a joke! Something about Comic Sans! You’re losing them even further.


I’ve contemplated showing a movie. “Page One,” perhaps?

Have you kids seen “All The President’s Men?” Yes, Robert Redford used to be young.

What about “The Paper”? I don’t care that it’s dated, I still have a working VCR somewhere.

“Network” is my last try. Broadcast is still journalism, right?

“Television is not the truth. Television is a goddamned amusement park!”

And as I’m finding, so is teaching.