No Nicci Left Behind
by Calendar Hacksaw
One of the benefits (or drawbacks), of being a successful rural humor columnist is the assortment of reader correspondence that finds its way to me, usually in the form of e-mail. Consider the following missive, penned by a high school sophomore in Baja Canada. I have taken the liberty of correcting some typographical errors and punctuation, which are tolerated in e-mail, but the rest is all just pure Nicci.
Well, Nicci, no disrespect intended, but I have elected to address my reply directly to your English teacher, rather than you, because I know you won't mind. Just don't show it to her until after you receive your final grade and you're absolutely sure you won't draw her again for Junior and Senior English. Life can really be a bitch sometimes. One minute you're on top of the world, next minute you're knocking out columns for a monthly reader.
Dear Witch Teacher:
I have received correspondence from your dear, advanced-placement English student, Nicci, seeking information about my role as a columnist. I replied to her inquiry, but feel a greater obligation to answer to you, as well. After all, you're the one responsible for her essay assignment and education; not me.
How Nicci stumbled across my stash of old columns is anyone's guess, but I presume she found a website such as http://www.blueagle.com/, where I'm listed just above the esteemed Col. David Hackworth, with whom I share nothing in common. She sure as hell didn't find me in a chat room.
As I explained to Nicci early on, Calendar Hacksaw doesn't exist. Although once a legitimate pseudonym, Calendar's writings occasionally resulted in serious threats of a major butt-kicking, which I've been told in no uncertain terms is the preferred technique of conflict resolution in Twin Oaks and the surrounding region. I got tired of taking serious heat for his mistakes, and downgraded him to the status of "fictional character." I promise to distance myself even further if he fails to heed this reprimand, but I suspect he'll come around to my way of thinking. I was unable to provide Nicci with a biographical sketch of Calendar Hacksaw, in that he has no life to speak of, but I did feed her some bunk about him liking Irish music and beer. That seemed to satisfy her.
I take no offense to the informal tone of Nicci's letter of inquiry. On the contrary, she reminds me a lot of myself when I was in 10th grade: cocky, arrogant and way too "smart" for my own good.
Nicci's vocabulary suggests that she does indeed belong in advanced placement English, and it is now her challenge—and yours—to channel that talent into something more useful than a rant. There are many great writings just waiting to be written, and Nicci hasn't started on any of them yet, nor have I.
I think it was generous of you to award Nicci a letter grade of "B" for her effort, especially in light of her subsequent admission to me that she waited until 5:00 a.m. on the date it was due before tackling the assignment. Procrastination is okay up to a point, and although "work conforms to the time allotted," the quality of the finished product tends to suffer. Getting up at 5:00 a.m. to write is always a good idea, in that it prepares the student for the real world. I imagine I would have given her a "B" as well, in that she at least went out of her way to find a columnist who doesn't run with the mainstream. A steady died of Maureen Dowd, Jimmy Breslin and the like sure gets old fast, and can be very annoying. Syndicated columnists are from a bygone era; newspaper readers today gravitate toward writers who share their own backyards and address burning local issues, such as the need to obtain proper permits from the fire department prior to burning local issues.
Our goal here, of course, is to prepare Nicci for college and help her avoid assignment to what is commonly known as "Bonehead English," which is tantamount to being flunked back to 8th grade. If Nicci is to excel at Kilian Community College, or elsewhere, understanding proper use of English and how to properly tap a keg will be critical.
To an extent, I'm certain academics come easily to Nicci, or seem to, in her mind. I was the same way until that fateful day I enrolled in Mr. Pineo's English class. I was Editor-in-Chief of the college newspaper at the time, and Mr. Pineo made it perfectly clear to me on "day one," in front of the entire class, that he did not consider journalism to bear any resemblance to proper use of English. He was right. I worked my butt off in that class, and it was the hardest "A" I ever earned, and the one which brought me the greatest satisfaction. Therefore, I encourage Nicci to seek out educational challenges that will not be easy to satisfy. But, as Nicci would surely attest, placing proper use of English ahead of content will always alienate readers. We are here to be entertained, not lectured; right, Nicci?
Calendar Hacksaw sucks up to you at firstname.lastname@example.org and if you missed the point of this column I recommend you re-read Nicci's letter and drink some more. If that doesn't work, send me an e-mail with "Nicci" in the subject line and I'll send you her essay about Calendar Hacksaw.