It remains the most difficult gig of my life.
Wait. Stop. Let me go back a bit. As a junior at Delaware, I served as the paper’s managing sports editor. At least I did so until Doug Donovan, the Review’s editor, demoted me after something really, really stupid. I’d written a piece about spending New Year’s Eve at Time’s Square, but was furious over the editing by a woman named Karen Levinson. When nobody was looking, I snuck into layout and placed Karen’s byline atop the story. Ha-ha, hee-hee. When she noticed my handiwork, Karen freaked. She (rightly) screamed and shouted and tossed a chair through the air. Though Doug knew, technically, I was correct (the editing was pretty bad), he also knew, unambiguously, that changing a byline ain’t cool. Hence, I was demoted to mere “sports editor”—a drop in title and, I believe, a few bucks in pay.
At the end of the spring semester, I ran for editor—knowing the Karen Levinson Situation would haunt my efforts. My competition for the position was Adrienne Mand, an excellent news editor and one of my closest friends. Mand (as I called her) and I were pretty equal in most areas—she was better with news, I was better with sports, she was an excellent reporter, I probably wrote with a bit more pizazz. But the Levinson thing, well, it lingered and lingered and lingered and lingered. Come election day, Mand and I both gave speeches, then took questions. Karen Levinson’s hand immediately popped in the air. She looked at me, scowling. “How can you be trusted to edit a newspaper,” she said, “when you’d sneak behind someone’s back and change a byline?”
It was powerful and spring-loaded, and I fired back with the perfect asshole reply. “Well, first of all,” I said, “if I’m elected, I won’t hire editors with your limited skill set …”
I still squirm, thinking about the assholicness of that response. Poor Karen Levinson, victim of a kid with an awful haircut and an ink-stained power trip …
Poor, poor Karen Levinson …
Turned out nobody much cared for Karen, which worked to my benefit. When the results were announced, I hugged Adrienne and begged her to run for the No. 2 position. “We’ll be a great team,” I told her. “We’ll have lots of fun …”
I still hurt for her.
I wasn’t merely a bad newspaper editor. I was an awful one. Sloppy. Cocky. Rude. Based upon a couple of good internships and an unjustifiable ego, I turned a respected newspaper into a wreck. Headlines were routinely misspelled and loaded with sexual innuendos (I remember a piece on a guy wanted for jerking off in the windows of female students. The subhead read: HE COMES BY DAY, HE COMES BY NIGHT). We ran police blotter with goofy headlines, mocked fraternities and sororities with gleeful abandon, dared administrators to take us on. For a reason I’ll never understand, I posed for my mugshot without wearing a shirt (odd, because I had the physique of a starved bird). Perhaps the lowest moment came after an alleged rape at a fraternity. The frat’s president gave the quote, “We still believe he is not guilty.” I used that as a pull quote subheadline, but accidentally wrote, “We still believe he is not innocent.” When the guy entered our office, steam oozing from his ears, I knew I’d royally fucked up.
There was always someone telling me how awful the newspaper had become. A campus official. An advertiser. A parent. The president of the gay student union said we were homophobic. The president of the black student union said we were racist. Democrats thought we were too conservative. Conservatives thought we were too liberal. I’ll never forget one professor telling me, pointedly, that I’d led “the worst newspaper in my two decades at Delaware.” We released an April Fool’s issue that featured Snoop Dogg on the front page, beneath the headline SNOOP DOGG EXCITED TO ADDRESS BITCHES AT COMMENCEMENT. That was the article everyone talked about until I received a call from the Little People of America, threatening to picket outside our offices. Why? We ran another April Fool’s piece titled MIDGETS FIGHT TO TAKE OVER NEWARK. The accompanying photograph was of a short-statured former UD student, his head obscured by a football helmet. When his mom (who lived locally) saw the paper, she flipped.
That was not a fun call.
By mid-semester, I was probably averaging four hours of sleep per night. I was waiting for the next complaint, the next lawsuit, the next threat, the next … nightmare.
There was but one single saving grace: My staff. Twenty years later, I still love those people as if they were siblings. There was Adrienne, calm and cool and patient with my nonsense. There was Furm, the big-hearted feature editor. There was Faz, my dolphin sister, and Tollen—always convinced everything would be OK. Garber was addicted to Snapple, Hickey owned hard news, Lew was the goofy freshman, Walter Eberz lived in the dark room, Lardaro took no shit, Dennis O’Brien was the hard-core military vet (RIP), Lauren Murphy was the hippie chick, Greg Orlando was the wrestling fanatic, Danielle Bernato famously covered a pro-choice rally, set aside her notepad and bellowed, “I’m Danielle and I’m pro-choice!” One writer covered a Matthew Sweet concert and hooked up with his guitarist. Another staffer liked popping people’s zits. Another always had his ass crack sticking out from his pants. On and on and on and on and on.
Two decades have vanished. I don’t miss the stress, or the long hours, or the struggle of putting out a paper. I don’t miss long deadlines, bad Scrounge food, fights with professors.
What I do miss, however, is the youthful innocence.
I miss the buzz.