“Opinion Columnist Wanted”, was boldly written on the back page of the weekly University of Missouri-Rolla newspaper. It then went on to explain that one of the two, always sparring, opinion columnists was graduating, the liberal one. “In person interviews will be held Saturday between one and four PM.” Being in a time period before the Internet and cell phones, people generally read this rag, as there wasn’t the cacophony of competing content. ‘Perhaps I should go interview for it,’ I thought. ‘It’ll be lark, it’s a Saturday. I’m liberal, I think.’ At least I was certain that I found the logic and arguments of the writer who was leaving, much more compelling than those of the one who was staying. I did indeed check that little box.
Though cordial and thoughtful, ‘twas a little baffling to me that they agreed on nothing. I suppose it’s partially the byproduct of three pound, mushy, wet, computers, at the top of their game, in terms of processing power, hungry for sleuthing the environment around them, designed to look for pattern recognition, but hampered by a lack of data, (though only a little, as these machines gobble up data at a rather amazing rate) but more by not yet getting the results back from the long running experiments of life.
Arriving at the newspaper office, I was expecting to see a waiting room full of people-take a number. I didn’t expect to get the job. Though I love logical arguments and had a father who immersed me in story telling, I had no real credentials at all. Hell, I can’t even spell! For one birthday, someone gave me a T-shirt, printed with, “Bad spellers of the world, Untie!” The front room was as empty and quiet as Whoville, just after the Grinch had stolen the last can of ‘Who Hash.’ I was greeted with more of a, ‘Oh thank God. You’re hired!’ There must have been an interview, but I don’t remember it.
Now growing up in the suburbs of St. Louis gave me the assumption that I was a reasonably typical representative of Missouri. Soon after my transplantation to small-town central Missouri, however, I was introduced to more ‘Bible-Totin-Scripture-Quotin’ conservatives than thought could be tucked into one little place. What baffled me was, where did all of my fellow St. Louisans go? Was there something in the water? Perhaps I should’ve realized that people going to ‘University of Missouri, School of Mines and Mining Technology’ might put a little different spin on the phrase, ‘Earth First.’
My opponent was worthy, but I could see a chink in his armor, one that I could exploit with devastating effect. The gap in his defense, one that would allow me to swoop in for the ultimate kill, was that he was overly gifted with gab. I knew, however, that in order to win over the hearts and souls of my fellow students, I had to measure the lengths of my moral arguments to match the amount of time that it took for the average student to read while doing some business. I did not do research on this subject.
Unfortunately, my major was Mechanical Engineering, not politics, history or journalism. This project was to my grades as a mistress would be to a marriage. Exasperating this problem was that I had an ‘electric assist typewriter’ and a dictionary, which maid it ecstreemly difficalt four a riter whith mi youneek skil sett…
This happened to be during the lead up to the Iran – Contra affair, which was a great place for a young mind to grapple with the confines of idealism. Delving into the case of US-Nicaraguan relations, I learned how that country had been run by a succession of dictators from the Somoza family who generally did the US’s bidding in return for our support. By most any standard, this line of dictators was hard on the citizens of Nicaragua, which is such a common trait of a dictator. The Somoza family rule came to an end 1979. Nicaragua held elections in 1984. An election which outside election observers had reported to be legitimately run, a rarity for that part of the world. Daniel Ortega received the largest share of votes from the people of Nicaragua. Of course history is far more complicated than my example presented here. Ortega was sure to look for support from countries that we did not like, especially after the United States mined their harbors. This, by the way, makes for a rather lame choice for a housewarming gift. Ortega had won the election. The United States were now providing weapons to the minority opposition, calling them, “The Freedom Fighters.” Now my young, idealistic mind had been very happy with the idea that the United States held up democracies around the world as something we should foster, help and hopefully be able to trust. This was certainly our rationale in the Middle East. My opponent argued from the assumption that ‘we’re the good guys’, and all considerations of what should be done begins from the vantage point of such. I like being the good guy. What I was getting smacked with, was – are the ideals of good people so easily traded in what the ‘good people’ want? Is not the desire to be the good guys better than simply proclaiming ourselves to be such? This was a good education for me. I did not finish my degree, but not for this reason.
Oh, my mother was so proud. She wanted me to bring home at least a few copies of each paper. As my niece, Emily Frei had said, after mom had brought flowers and sat in the front row for her cello concerts, Frances Helen Eckert Frei was our biggest fan.’ But then a little problem came slinking out of the shadows. The two columnists got into a sparring match about religion. After eight years at St. Peters grade school, being the only altar boy that folded his hands the way they had taught us, then four more years in Catholic high school, church every Sunday, my views were not what she thought they were. “Why don’t you bring more of your articles home?” She would ask, while I would revert back to little kid fidgeting. I never brought those home.
The culture that we grow up in shapes us, usually for the betterment of each of us. When one’s brain comes to a different conclusion of how things work, however, one starts to find themselves in something of a no-man’s-land. There is not a toggle that gets switched, or a lever that is pulled. It is a somewhat slow reckoning, but you eventually get… somewhere. I, appreciate all of it.
Move In Day
My older brother, Chris, who had graduated from the same University with a degree in Chemical Engineering, drove me and my stuff to Rolla in the family station wagon. After a few trips to unload the car and fill the first place I was about to live, in the absence of my family, I was ready, I think. As I was walking my brother back to the car, Chris quietly took my hand in his. This hadn’t been the norm for quite a long time, but lost in my thoughts, it was normal enough that I didn’t notice at first. As we were passing through the busy Commons area, I looked over and asked, “why are you holding my hand?” His response was, “I just wanted to get you off on the right foot.”
(I wrote this story shortly before finding the old paper in this photo. Upon finding this, I wondered, how closely it would match what I had just written, and whether I’d have to rewrite it. While the original article was a bit different and covered more ground, I felt, “close enough”.)
Another thing I didn’t previously know about you–You wrote for your college newspaper. Kudos! I’m glad you’re still writing with this blog.
Do you have any of those old copies?
K and I used to read this paper back in our UMR years. We would’ve read your words if we were several years younger, but alas we graduated in 1980. I remember those years fondly except for all the blood, sweat, and agony. We had a lot of fun there when we weren’t stressed out. I, too, remember being amazed at all the rural kids. They came talking about lives so foreign to mine.