Budding Writer, 1979: Omens

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Bright late winter sunrise over field in North Hero, Vermont, March 8, 2019. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

On a recent road trip, I listened to Audible’s full cast production of Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, with Rebecca Front, Michael Sheen, and David Tennant in the leads. It’s a wild and wonderful contemporary comic fantasy about the end of the world, and it seemed a good time to revisit it.

Coincidentally (or was it serendipity again?), as I read on in my 1979 journal I encountered a couple of seriocomic omens of my own. First, there was this short note from March 7: “Bad news: Time and Newsweek ran uncomplimentary frat articles this week, and the frat shows may all have been killed on TV.”

That was a bad omen for the story about tube room critics that I had already mailed to TV Guide.

Then, the next day, good and bad omens as a storyteller and a journalist:

Basically a pleasant and mild day. Still no word from TV Guide, but “Delta House”, at least, is still on the air, so there’s some chance. Tom from the Journal-Opinion called today and wants me to cover the Bath, NH town meeting next Tuesday … we have an appointment for tomorrow morning … I mailed my application for the position of assistant to the Dean of the Faculty today. … Finally, I did get a chance to start writing “Good King Wenceslas” today, and the first few paragraphs came very well. A good omen.”

Journal, Volume II
8 March 1979

I had pitched — and sent — to TV Guide an article about a real-life fraternity’s reactions to the Animal House clones that all three networks were launching that winter. One was abruptly canceled after only its pilot. The others were being pre-empted almost as often as they were aired. Delta House, the official Animal House spinoff, looked as if it would make it to the end of the season. Even so, the original article would have to be rewritten … if they used it at all.

The news from the Journal Opinion was promising except for two things.

  1. I had never covered a town meeting before in New Hampshire. My reporting style in those days was largely chronological rather than inverted pyramid. Still worse, I was paid by the assignment rather than the column inch.
  2. Like Corinth in Vermont, Bath was at the far end of the paper’s coverage range, a tiny town north and east of Woodsville and a good 50-mile, hourlong drive from my base in rural Etna, N.H. Gas prices were still high and I would actually lose money on the assignment, factoring in time and mileage.

Starting the Christmas Carol collection was promising, although I later ran out of time and inspiration to work from.

I have no idea why I thought I would be a good match for assistant to dean of the faculty. The faculty dean’s office was behind the plan to terminate the fraternities. Earlier I had applied (and been turned down) for a similar position with the Dean of the College. We called these assistants “baby deans.”

To think I could have been a junior Vernon Wormer! “It’s time for someone to put their foot down, and that foot is me!”

4 thoughts on “Budding Writer, 1979: Omens

  1. Gee, Howard, I WAS the Dean’s Assistant for one semester at Marymount, to the Academic Dean and the Office of the Registrar.Of course, this was free to the college as my meager salary was a form of Financial Aid, back in those days. But it was nothing to write home to mother about, so be glad you did not get that post. I sent out people’s transcripts and did mailings and staffed and hosted events and such. Funny to think we were once potential cohorts. Recently because of the need to thin out the books, I found the 1964 “Kaleidoscope” High School Yearbook of National Lampoon, pre-Animal House, of Geo’s this week. It made me laugh a lot to see the notes “signed” by the Spanish teacher and other imaginary staff of the school, the doodlings on the margins, the sex quizzes and photos of the condition of the textbooks issued in those days to one fictional Larry Kroger. Cute to see the glint in Geo’s eye as he pours over it with his one good shooting eye and re-examined it, “Look at some of these characters! Heh-heh.You got me distracted from what I should be working on.” Yeah, I am good at that..Rest Stop. Took 8 years off his countenance. He claims he did not spend a great deal of money on the book, it was more of a pat on the back to himself for not wasting his time graduating from high school. Eva once observed George and I both graduated the same year! He did his GED work 14 years later, finally, but they bumped him up from just a GED degree to an actual graduate of Parsipany Hills High School, then. In truth, he should have gotten an honorary degree from Ramapo for ferrying me to all my classes after I got sick…he attended them alongside with me since I could not drive, and by the time he dropped me off he would have had to turn around and go back to get me. A self-made man who still considers himself a layman even though he, being one of those who DO, knows more than nearly all the so-called “experts.” He tells me I can put the yearbook up for sale, now, on E-bay garage sale. One touching note from the Lampoon people, they dedicated the book to JFK, who remains “President of the class of 1964 in our hearts.”

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