Sesame Street writer Annie Evans won a poetry contest in sixth grade with a dark poem about a hunted wolf

Annie EvansAnnie Evans has perhaps the coolest job description in the world: writer for the television show that raised everybody, Sesame Street. Since 1993, she has written for the U.S. show and “Sesame Street Live!” as well as for international versions of the show in countries ranging from Mexico to South Africa to China to Bangladesh. She’s also an accomplished playwright and author, with several books and plays to her name. Here’s a clip she wrote for Sesame Street as a parody of Mad Men, which is funny whether you’ve seen the original or not, but does contains a few references for fans of the show:

You’ll also absolutely fall in love with this clip of Annie and her husband, fellow Sesame Street writer Marty Robinson, getting engaged on the show’s set in front of all the staff and crew — a ceremony officiated in part by Oscar the Grouch:

But Annie didn’t always write with such a happy tone. In sixth grade, she won a poetry contest with much more sinister and morbid language. First here’s her explanation of the context and backstory, followed by the text of the poem pasted at bottom.

Won the Suffolk County poetry contest in 1974. Typed it from memory since I had to memorize it way back when at the awards ceremony! I was so scared it stuck!

Wolves is the title. The contest wasn’t just for kids, it was for all Suffolk County, NY (on eastern Long Island.) I remember the second place winner was a teacher. The tone of the poem is definitely dark. I was very serious back then about animal welfare (wanted to be a vet.) I didn’t really discover my funny side until I started to write plays and perform in musical comedy. I have a dark side still (don’t we all?) but I feel comedy is more effective a tool for teaching kids on TV. I just finished a play — a comedy about infertility. So it has a dark edge to it, but my point is to make it funny, since life is. If you aren’t laughing right now at the state of things, you’re weeping.

You can find Annie on her website and on Facebook here.  (I also appreciate Annie being the first woman to contribute on this website after launching with nine consecutive men!) And now, here’s her poem from 1974:

Slipping through a moonless night.
Stalking up to a silent prey.
Squatting down to make that deadly bite.
A wolf makes its last and final kill.
A fluttering noise shatters the silence.
Fright is passed through the woods.
Bullets shoot through the air with great violence.
And in the end a wolf lay dead in the snow.
Why did this have to happen?
Man just taking a life like this?
So another legend is confirmed.
All enemies must die
Is man’s horrible wish.
Annie Evans
Sixth grade


New York Times columnist Dan Barry’s 1978 profile of a college dorm janitor

Dan Barry

Dan Barry

Perhaps Dan Barry is the best person to describe his own career exploits, from an excerpt of the commencement address he delivered at his alma mater St. Bonaventure University just weeks ago:

“I’ve been a newspaper journalist for 35 years and I have written thousands of stories. Small town crimes and big city massacres. Political campaigns for Town Council and for the United States Senate. Saints and mobsters. Burlesque queens and circus elephants. The powerful and the powerless. I have met the coroner from The Wizard of Oz.  I have witnessed a man’s execution. I saw New Orleans underwater after Hurricane Katrina. I spent an entire year writing about what happened to the city of my birth after an attack on a sunny Tuesday morning in September. In some ways, I’m still writing about that.”

Dan Barry is truly one of the great storytellers of our time, best known as the columnist for the regular New York Times feature “This Land,” which tells the tales of ordinary people with unique stories or meaningful lives in the hidden corners of America. It’s always a refreshing break to read that in a newspaper often noted for its coverage of the most powerful, from presidents to popes to dictators. Among Barry’s best writings include:

  • The tale of Mamie Lang Kirkland, the elderly black woman who finally returned to her home state a full century after her family left while fleeing a lynch mob.
  • The offbeat story of activists in Keene, New Hampshire who were paying literally all the parking meters in the town to “save you from the king’s tariff.”
  • The sad life of Jesse Webster, who since 1996 has served life in prison without parole for a completely nonviolent offense.
  • Dan Barry's 1908-style baseball column in the NYT print edition. Click for a larger view.

    Dan Barry’s 1908-style baseball column in the NYT print edition. Click for a larger view. (It should surprise nobody that the Cubs lost.)

    His column last October covering a Chicago Cubs vs. New York Mets baseball game as though it was 1908, featuring old-fashioned terminology (a single becomes a “one-bagger” and the Mets become “the Metropolitans”), a century-old font in the newspaper print edition, and grainy black-and-white photographs.

  • Another baseball-related story,  his book “Bottom of the 33rd” about the longest baseball game of all time in 1981. Barry alternates chapters describing the game inning-by-inning and tracking down the (often tragic) lives of the minor-league players in the subsequent three decades. I read the whole thing, all 33 innings of it, and I’d highly recommend even if you don’t love baseball. As proof, I don’t love baseball!
  • Barry’s new book, released just last month, is “The Boys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland,” the true story of several dozen intellectually disabled men who were kept in servitude for more than 30 years in a small Iowa town without anybody knowing before gaining their freedom.

The piece Barry submitted for A Step in the Write Direction is a short column he wrote for his college publication the Bonaventure Convex in December 1978, about a janitor at a university dorm building who had more to his life than met the eye. The piece shows early glimpses of the “aura of mystique” writing style that Barry uses so often today, in particular phrases like “some people still say…” Below is a photo of the piece as it appeared in the print edition you can read, followed by the original text copied and pasted. (A note for younger readers: Sophia Loren, who is mentioned more than once in the column and featured in the photo accompanying the piece, was an Oscar-winning actress from the ’50s and ’60s.) Check out Dan Barry at his official website, follow him on Twitter at @DanBarryNYT, on Facebook at DanBarry.Author.

Toni Oni, The Spirit of Devereux - Dan Barry - The Bonaventure Convex, December 1978

Toni Oni, The Spirit of Devereux

By Dan Barry

When that freshman first lugs his suitcase up those stairs in Devereux, he can sense the tradition of the oldest dorm on the St. Bonaventure campus. It has a special air about it, one of pride and madness. The teachers refer to Dev as the “Zoo.”

As the upperclassmen arrive a few days later, they fill the freshman in on the history of his new home. Yes, Lanier lived here, and there’s where the Great Water War of ‘76 took place, and up on Fifth Dev two guys said a black mass and a priest held an exorcism.

But the only story that the upperclassmen tell with a special tone of reverence and mystery is the one about Toni-Oni, the janitor. He’s Sophia Loren’s cousin, the upperclassmen say.

As the years pass, that freshman (now an upperclassman) sees Toni-Oni almost any time of the day, dragging two plastic trash bags down the Dev halls, his eyes down in search of empty beer cans and scraps of paper. In his baggy blue uniform and black shoes, he perpetually cleans up after the students, never complaining, never scolding. Only smiling. He always smiles and says, “Hiya.”

Some people say his name is Antonio Villani and he lives across from Burger King in town. Others who know better say his name is Toni-Oni and he lives in Devereux tradition. After all, the upperclassmen say, he’s Sophia Loren’s cousin.

Time Magazine humor columnist Joel Stein’s first college piece was so weak “they made me submit a second sample”

Time Magazine humor columnist Joel Stein, present day and with his mullet in 1990. (Photo on left:

Time Magazine humor columnist Joel Stein, present day and with his mullet in 1990.
(Photo on left: Ron Bennington Interviews.)

Not sure which one is Joel Stein.

Not sure which one is Joel Stein.

Every year Joel Stein parodiesTime Magazine’s annual “100 Most Influential People” issue. This year he had the 100 most influential animals. Previous years included:

That’s what you’ll read in the back pages of Time Magazine which feature the weekly irreverent humor column “The Awesome Column,” written since 1998 by comedy writer Joel Stein.

Asked for an early example of his writing, Stein submitted the first humor column he ever wrote for his college newspaper, the Stanford Daily. Wanting to join the newspaper’s opinion staff at the beginning of his sophomore year in 1990,  he submitted a column titled “Fruit flies and memories,” which may be more relevant than ever during the year of the mosquito-borne Zika Virus. The column is copied below in text form, along with a photo showing how it appeared in the print edition. (His author bio also contained a very dated reference to the at-the-time-recent unification of East and West Germany.) Remembering his first piece, Stein writes:

It sucked. I was copying Dave Barry. I was the only person where they made me submit a second sample because that one was so weak, but someone thought there was something there.

Follow him on Twitter @TheJoelStein where he has just shy of one million followers as of this posting. Stein can be found at his official website, his Time Magazine column archive is here, and and like him on Facebook here. One particularly funny and accurate tweet of his: “The only way to assure an email gets read is to send a second one titled ‘Ignore last email.'”

 Here’s his original October 5, 1990 humor column “Fruit flies and memories.” Hopefully you can get past the late-’80s style mullet haircut in his author photo.
Click on the image or open it in a new tab to enlarge.

Click on the image or open it in a new tab to enlarge.

Fruit flies and memories

The fruit fly quarantine was over. The signs which had previously warned the public (and successfully convinced small pesky mosquitoes not to fly within restricted areas) were now covered with “Eradicated — We Thank You” notices. Sometime over the summer, the Stanford community had scoped the area and destroyed the entire fruit fly population, boldly proclaiming their accomplishment with notices declaring that no fly would dare return.

As I drove up toward the Stanford campus this fall, eagerly searching for a familiar face, I was instead immediately confronted with this startling information. My first reaction was a gut one: “By God,” I thought, “what a wonderful, powerful institution this Stanford University is.” But as I drove on toward my new sophomore home in Sterling Quadrangle, I had plenty of time to consider the deeper implications of the complete extermination of the local fruit fly community. The question that was raised appeared to me in this form:

  1. In recent months, the Stanford community has worked together to accomplish the eradication of certain agricultural problems. In a short, two-page paper, describe several similar personal accomplishments of your summer and/or Stanford career.

I quickly began to form an outline of my summer experiences on the front cover of the great big blue book in my mind.

  1. bought a few CDs
  2. rented a bunch of movies
  3. read a couple of books
  4. met a girl named Bubbles

But, as I tried to flesh out my outline, I was forced to own up to the fact that none of my summer experiences could even compare to the fruit fly thing. What I needed was a contribution to the community at large, an accomplishment of some kind, some sort of a Raid can I could place on that bathroom shelf we affectionately call Life.

“Forget the summer,” I blurted (mentally) as the car rounded past the Stanford Hospital, “I’m sure I did something last year.” But alas, my search was to no avail. I hadn’t done any of the things I promised I would accomplish during my frosh year. I hadn’t done any volunteering for the local community. I hadn’t gotten straight A’s. I hadn’t even gotten A’s tickets. I hadn’t made a habit of flossing everyday. And worst of all, no one had yet told me I had become a more multicultural person.

By the time I turned onto Santa Theresa Street, I had come to two conclusions. First of all, Sterling Quad is really far. Second, I decided that this year was going to be different. I was going to do all those things I promised to do. I pulled the floss out of the glove compartment and concentrated hard on all the things that lay ahead of me. I was a sophomore, dammit; I should be kissing up to professors, applying for internships and running various (or is it sundry?) student organizations. I was a sophomore and, if nothing else, I was going to use more parentheses this year (they’re so collegiate).

It’s been a week since I first drove up to the Governor’s Corner parking lot, and I’m now forced to ask myself what I have accomplished. Let’s see…. I joined the Price Club and bought a gallon of Clinically Proven Anti-Plaque Pre-Brushing Dental Rinse (seven dollars — what a bargain!). I got my oil changed. I finally found out where the GreatWorks lectures had been held. And I even helped someone build a loft.

Well, I guess I haven’t exactly lived up to the Stanford student I feel that I was supposed to be — nor the one that was described in Approaching Stanford. But I did meet some nice people and take some interesting classes. And most of all, I had a good time.

Who cares if I didn’t end a pestilence? I’ll leave that for the big organizations. For now, I’m content to just enjoy myself, make some new friends, learn a few things, and strengthen my tooth enamel. Screw the fruit.

Joel Stein would like to know which flag Germany is using, and if he can have the other one. His column will appear every Friday.

11-time Sportswriter of the Year Rick Reilly’s first big sports article about a local marathon included an interview with the governor

Rick Reilly photo

Rick Reilly, 11-time NSSA National Sportswriter of the Year

If you’re a huge sports fan, then longtime Sports Illustrated and ESPN Magazine columnist Rick Reilly is probably your favorite sportswriter. But if you’re not a sports fan, please keep reading this… because Rick Reilly would still probably be your favorite sportswriter.

See, Reilly rarely writes about game scores and recaps. He mostly writes about the people behind the games.

Rick Reilly's cover story last month. In this photo, just like in politics, the Green Party is on the left. (Photo: Walter Iooss Jr. for SI)

Rick Reilly’s cover story last month. In this photo, just like in politics, the Green Party is on the left. (Photo: Walter Iooss Jr. for SI)

Take his recent Sports Illustrated cover story about the Golden State Warriors, the basketball team which just set the record last week for most wins in a regular season. Almost any other writer would have structured the article around  superstar and Most Valuable Player award winner Steph Curry. Instead, Reilly structured the article around 15-year-old Sofia Petrafesa, afflicted with a bone cancer that shows up only 200 times a year in the U.S., a girl whose only dream is to see the Warriors play.

As another example, take Reilly’s 1999 column “Funny You Should Ask” which many people (including myself) consider to be his best piece. It’s kind of about sports, but mostly it’s about life itself, as in this beautifully eloquent paragraph:

I don’t think the meaning of life is gnashing our bicuspids over what comes after death but tasting all the tiny moments that come before it. We’re here to be the coach when Wendell, the one whose glasses always fog up, finally makes the only perfect backdoor pass all season. We’re here to be there when our kid has three goals and an assist. And especially when he doesn’t.

The cover depicts Reilly competing in the competition known as "ferret legging," which actually exists.

Reilly competing in the competition called”ferret legging,” which apparently actually exists.

Plus Reilly wrote one of the funniest books of the past few years — “Sports from Hell: My Search for the World’s Most Outrageous Competition.” In it, he goes around the world competing in everything from Chess Boxing to the World Sauna Championship to the Three-Mile Golf Hole.  And those are some of the less ridiculous contests.

Reilly is one of the best sportswriters but would probably be one of the worst horoscope writers. Here’s a quote from his 2011 University of Colorado-Boulder journalism school commencement speech:

“We’ll be fine. You guys should hang onto those diplomas. They’re like collectors’ items. It’s like ‘Donald Trump for President’ bumper stickers or polar bears. You’ll never see them again.”

So which early piece of writing did Reilly choose to feature here?  A Colorado native, Reilly, while still a sophomore in college, started writing sports on the side for the local Boulder Daily Camera newspaper . His first piece in May 1979 was about the local marathon, which even included a short interview with then-Governor of Colorado who was at the race. The article is copied below in text form at the end of this post, with a photo of the print edition version included as well.

As Reilly lamented when re-reading the piece for the first time in decades a few weeks ago, “It wasn’t much, was it?” To be perfectly honest… no, it wasn’t. Yet perhaps that just underscores the point: the best writers aren’t made, they’re developed.

Here’s how Reilly describes the experience in his own words:

The Boulder High School Owl, my first newspaper was called. “Hoo’s Hoo at BHS” I think was one of my columns. Yes, it was.

The Owl was HUGE for me because that was the first time I could actually write for somebody else. As opposed to my terrifyingly-detailed “newspaper” accounts of me and my 10-year-old friends’ exploits in Home Run Derby every day and what we did at “night” — I dated Joey Heatherton, I remember, and drove a Rolls-Royce.

Also, through the Owl, I competed in the state high school journalism contest, where I won first place in sportswriting. They gave you a list of random facts about some game, all mixed up, some important and some not, and you had to bang out a game story in six paragraphs and 15 minutes. Somehow, I think I got the word “obstetrician” into it.

Anyway, the judge was the assistant sports editor at the Boulder (CO) Daily Camera. The problem was he judged the contest anonymously. That is, nobody’s names or towns were on the entries. So he didn’t know who he’d picked. When I won, I tried desperately to find him and ask for a job, but he was gone.

BUT… I was a teller at the local bank that summer after my senior year and who do I end up “telling” next to but the guy’s WIFE.

I begged her for a month to tell him I was the kid who won the contest and would they need any help? And finally she did and he immediately called me and gave me a JOB, which I worked at 40 hours a week while going to CU [University of Colorado at Boulder].

And, anyway, that’s how I got my break.

And now, here is — in both photo and text form — Reilly’s 1979 article about a Colorado marathon. (Reilly can be found at his official website, and follow him on Twitter @ReillyRick. Read and watch his ESPN articles and videos here, and read his 10 best Sports Illustrated feature articles through the years here.)

Rick Reilly - Boulder Daily Camera - Barksdale Beats Heat for Marathon Win - 5.7.1979

Click the photo or open it in a new tab for a larger version.

Barksdale Beats Heat for Marathon Win


Camera Sports Writer

DENVER – Boulderites Hank Barksdale and Bernie Allen are giving Colorado marathon runners the business.

The business is a wholesale running gear company — International Sports, operated out of Boulder by Allen and assisted by Barksdale. The company deals in professional equipment for the serious runner. The other business the two are involved in is actually running marathons. Allen won the first annual Boulder Memorial Hospital Life and Health Marathon earlier this year, and Barksdale claimed the United Bank of Denver Mile-High Marathon Sunday.

The red-haired Barksdale, who turns 25 today, beat the searing mid-morning sun, the altitude, and 1,657 other runners to win the title and cross the finish line at the Brown Palace Hotel in downtown Denver in 2 hours, 33 minutes and 39 seconds.

“I never pushed it,” an exhausted Barksdale said afterwards. “It was so hot out there that after a while, I realized that running with a kick was going to be ridiculous. I just decided to keep up a steady pace. The heat took at least five minutes off my time. So did the altitude.”

Barksdale took the lead at about the 20-mile point on the scenic Denver course and was never behind after that. Second place went to Longmont’s 18-year-old Perry Evoniuk, who ran 2:35:47.

The women’s winner was Bette Popper, a Littleton native and a member of the Rocky Mountain Road Runners, co-hosts of the event. She finished in 3:13:30, unofficially.

Claiming second behind Popper was Boulder’s Beth Schlichter, a physical therapist at Boulder Memorial Hospital. Schlichter finished in three hours and 15 minutes, also an unofficial time after a computer breakdown prevented accurate timing.

A crowd of about two thousand people roared as Barksdale made the turn onto 17th street off of Glenarm and headed into the last yards of the gruelling 26-mile, 385-yard course. When he arrived, a swarm of television cameras and reporters greeted him, along with Gov. Richard Lamm, who placed an Athens-like Olympic wreath around his head.

Lamm had already run his own 13-mile race earlier in the day, but remained at the race site for a few hours afterwards.

“This is such a joy,” he said. “I envy these people [finishing the race]. But you don’t have to go 26 miles to enjoy running. You should be able to run around the block and still have fun.

“I just ran 5 or 6 miles a day, but I keep thinking it would be a good goal to try and run one of these things. I have so much fun now, though, I would hate for it to become a chore. There are already so many chores in life.”

Women’s champ Popper was greeted with the same type of enthusiasm as she neared the finish.

“I have the best fan club in the world,” said Popper. “This is wonderful. The course was beautiful. I ran badly, but it was good enough to win, I guess.”

Businessman Allen, a native of England, dropped out of the race near the 20th mile but Barksdale, the man they call “Hammerin’ Hank,” hung on to win his first marathon ever.

The slender Barksdale didn’t enter last month’s Boulder event because he was training for the Boston Marathon (where he finished 190th). He says he will probably run in the New York Marathon.

Barksdale defeated former CU track star Mike Peterson, one of the favorites of the race, who withdrew after 24 miles because of blisters.

Last year’s winner, Skip Houk, from Reno, Nevada, finished fifth. Houk ran a 2:30:53 on a cold, snowy day in 1978.

“The heat made all the difference,” Houk said. “It was bad for me. Even before the halfway mark, I could feel it. It was a lot easier to run last year.”

Third-place finishers were Roger Gerard, 35, of Arvada and Martha McKeal, also 35, of Colorado Springs.

Though the breakdown made complete results unavailable, Boulder also had one of the best efforts by a young runner Sunday. Twelve-year-old Jay Roper finished the 26-plus-mile race in 3:56.

10 million+ selling children’s author Dan Gutman wrote a 1976 quiz on whether you were cool


Dan Gutman juggling

Dan Gutman, shown here presumably doing research for his baseball book “Shoeless Joe and Me.”

When I asked Dan Gutman for some biographical information, his answer started with this: “Dan Gutman was born in a log cabin in Illinois and used to write by candlelight with a piece of chalk on a shovel. Oh, wait a minute. That was Abraham Lincoln. Actually, Dan Gutman grew up in New Jersey.”

How popular is Dan Gutman? Let’s put it this way: just this week his children’s book series “My Weird School” sold its 10 millionth copy! How can you not want to buy the collection of 50 books with titles like “Miss Daisy is Crazy!” “Dr. Nicholas is Ridiculous!” and “Mr. Harrison is Embarrisin’!” Millions of others have devoured his other children’s book modern classics like “Johnny Hangtime” about a kid Hollywood stuntman and “The Million Dollar Shot” about a kid who gets the opportunity to win seven figures by scoring a half-court shot at the NBA Finals.

My personal favorite is “The Kid Who Ran For President” which is about exactly what you would think. One line that I frequently quote to this day: title character Judson Moon is asked during a presidential debate where he stands on endangered species. He replies, “If they were endangered, I wouldn’t stand on them.”

Gutman was destined for greatness ever since his first book, a now-discredited-for-decades 1986 manual “I Didn’t Know You Could Do THAT With A Computer,” which is currently selling for 48 cents on Amazon. Hey, nobody’s perfect.

He can be found at his website, on Facebook here, on Twitter @DanGutmanBooks, on Instagram also @DanGutmanBooks, and his Amazon author page here.


Then again, back in 1976, “cool” people looked like this.

The excerpt he submitted is of the first thing he ever published: a quiz for his college newspaper about whether or not you were cool. I’ll let Dan tell the rest with his explanation, followed by the piece, which you can read by clicking on the photo below (showing how it originally looked in the school newspaper) or reading the copied text.

The first thing I ever published was this silly quiz about how to tell whether or not you were cool.  It appeared in the Rutgers University newspaper, The Targum.

I didn’t work on the paper, and I was not studying writing.  In fact, I was a psychology major and never took a writing class in my life.  But this idea came to me and writing always came naturally to me, so I decided to write it down and submit it to the paper.  I was amazed that they printed it.  Even more amazing was what happened the next day.  I walked around campus and just about everybody was reading and talking about this article.  What a rush!

I think that was the beginning of my career as a writer.  I gave graduate school a try, but soon I decided to quit psychology, move to New York City (where all the starving writers go) and become a starving writer.  I struggled for a long time until I found my strength–writing fiction for kids.  I can already see my style of writing in this piece–simple, conversational, concise, and borderline stupid.  To this day, I still get off on seeing people reading the silly words I wrote.

I would have come out on the UNcool end of the spectrum.

Dan Gutman - How cool are you - Rutgers Targum, 1976

Page 4, The Rutgers Daily Targum, Thursday, September 23, 1976

How cool are you?


Now that we are all settled in and the new school year is well under way, it is important that we brush up on the basic skills that take up the majority of our valuable time. Mainly, being cool.

Face it, on the college campus being cool is just as important as the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, and shelter. Now how cool are you? A massive study is taking place in California (where all massive studies take place) to answer this very question. It is reproduced here. To determine just how cool you really are, simply check the items below that are applicable, add up your “cool” points, and subtract your “uncool” points. Be honest.

“Cool” Points

+1 My major is Art, Music, or Philosophy

+3 I am a vegetarian or ecology freak

+1 I have mononucleosis

+2 I went to Colorado over intersession

+1 I own a Picasso or a Magritte print

+2 I am unconcerned with material things

+2 I meditate

+2 I watch Star Trek, Monty Python, or All My Children

+3 I read Tolkien, Vonnegut, Rolling Stone, and The Voice

+5 I don’t believe in a god anymore

+3 I have at least one homosexual friend

+1 I play guitar

+2 I play guitar well

+3 I play barre chords

+4 I took off a semester to – “get my head together”

+1 I am usually depressed

+3 I write poetry when I’m depressed

+2 I ride a bike to class

+1 I took the legs off my dressers

+4 I put my head in a copy machine to Xerox my face

+3 I go to class high

+2 I talk to plants

+1 I can catch a frisbee between my legs

+4 I am a Mary Hartman freak

+2 I am into classical music

+3 I am into jazz music

+3 I often say “into”

+2 I often have dilated pupils

+2 I am left handed

+4 I am ambidextrous

+3 I see a psychiatrist

+1 I know how many presidents were assassinated in Chile last year

+4 I am a grad student with a beard, attache case, wire rims, and a styrofoam cup of coffee

+2 I steal things from the Commons

+3 I belong to any minority group

+6 I take no notes, buy no books, attend no classes, and I aced out last semester

“Uncool” Points

-4 I am a throat

-3 I saw the Carpenters in concert

-1 I eat pizza with a knife and fork

-2 I bring a tape recorder to lectures

-3 I wear sandals and socks

-4 I wear shoes and shorts

-5 I wear sneakers, black socks, and shorts

-6 I wear shoes, white socks, and shorts

-4 I carry a calculator on my belt loop

-6 I am a Young Republican

-5 I am a white person who tries to act black

-5 I am a black person who tries to act white

-6 I am a J.A.P.

-5 I am in R.O.T.C.

-6 I own a John Denver album

-2 My pants are way too short on me

-2 I admire Ronny Howard

-3 I attend Livingston College (Living Stoned)

-2 I attend Douglass College

Well, how did you do? A score of -5 equal nurd, 0 equal derf, +5 equal blah, +10 equal semi-cool, +15 equal cool, and if you scored +20 or better, you are super-cool.

Dan Gutman is a Senior Psychology Major at Rutgers College.

Prolific young adult fantasy author Michael Grant wrote a short story in 1962 about moving to France

Michael Grant

Michael Grant

Michael Grant is one of the biggest authors of fantasy teen novels and children’s books around, having written over 150 books. What, you couldn’t manage 160?

He and his wife Katherine — then publishing under the J.K. Rowling-style name K.A. Applegate — co-wrote the Animorphs fantasy series, about a group of five teens who use their secret ability of transforming into animals to battle an evil invading alien life force, which was even made into a television show on Nickelodeon. (Video of the pilot episode here.)  As most kids who grew up in the ’90s like myself can attest, “Jake, Rachel, Tobias, Cassie, Marco, and Ax” ranked just behind “Harry, Ron, and Hermione” on the list of favorite ’90s fantasy book heroes.

Some of Grant’s other best known series include the Gone series featuring the books Gone, HungerLiesPlagueFear, and Light. It’s a six-part saga about a town where everybody over age 15 vanishes, and presumably the oldies radio stations start playing songs from five years before. Grant also wrote The Magnificent 12, a four-part series that can best be described by the description on the series website: “Only one thing stands between her and the destruction of the human race—a team of twelve twelve-year-olds. So humanity is basically out of luck. It’s clearly hopeless.”

But he wasn’t always penning fantasy and science fiction, as our entry today showcases. Then known as Michael Reynolds, at age seven in 1962 he wrote a short story on the typewriter. (Kids who may be reading this because they’re a fan of his, a typewriter was basically a really old-fashioned computer that couldn’t do anything except type.) Entitled “My Last Four Months,” the story chronicled the preparations for his family’s move to France, inspired by his real life living in both the U.S. and France while being raised in a military family. A picture of the original typewritten version is below in this post, followed by the story in text form.

Michael Grant, middle row, left, with glasses, in school in France

Michael Grant in France at around the time he wrote the story, fourth one in the middle row, wearing the glasses.

Grant had this to say about his original piece as well as advice for young readers who want to become writers or authors:

Interesting. Not sure my style has changed that much.

Here’s my advice for aspiring writers:  Writing is a job, and it’s work. If you don’t want to work, if you just want to call yourself a writer, do something else.  This is a job for people who work at it.  That said, if you have talent, and if you acquire the basic skills, and if you’re willing to work hard, and if you’ll also learn about the business, and if you will stand back up every time you get knocked down, you can succeed in writing.  And then?  Best job on earth, people. I work three or four hours a day, sitting in a bathrobe on my deck, and I make more than the President of the United States.  I know: it’s insane!  But first came the hard stuff.  Don’t forget all that.

Follow him on Twitter @MichaelGrantBks, like him on Facebook at TheRealMichaelGrant, and check out his website with the “The Donald” style name Now for the story:

Michael Grant - My Last Four Months - 3.3.1962

completely original excepting last 2 words.

the author’s second work

March 3, 1962


One day, on the way home from school my mom told me that she got fired. But she seemed perfectly calm and happy, for only one reason: because she was happy. Because a drunkard, her boss, had fired her.

Me, half scared out of my wits, started thinking of all kinds of weird things to get money. The next morning I got a letter from my dad who had been stationed in France. We always thought that the Army was going to send money to go over to France, but in the letter it said that we were going to have to do it on our own because there was a ban that no dependents could go overseas until they paid for it with their own money. This just added up to more trouble. No job, no money. No money, no trip.

So, this put us in quite a spot. The first place we went to was our Grandma’s to try to borrow some money from them. They said they’d give us as much money as we needed, but that we’d have to pay it back when we got back to the States.

Now, we got the money, but there was still something else that we had to do. And that thing was the passports. So, one day I had to tell my teacher I would be out until about 12 noon. So, we went to the passport station and got a passport. Ten days later we received the passport. But when I saw the passport it didn’t look like it was worth 850 dollars. The cover wasn’t even genuine leather.

Now there was one more thing I had to do. Shots! So next day we went to the health center and I hated shots. When we got in my mom had to give me a good tranquilizer pill. But then we found out that the health center couldn’t give us those shots. And besides, my shots already covered enough time so it was a big waste of time.

Then I went over to my Grandma Marcus’s. As soon as I got over there I went straight to Channel 2 on the television. I came in on this war picture, but of course, there came a time when my mom had to drag me away from the television and into the car.

Then came my last day at school. At the end of school they gave me a book and a good-bye party.

And then, we had another goodbye party. That day just happened to be the day that I wrote this story. We had everything you could think of eating.

This looks like the end of this book because this is the first and last day of me writing this book. The only thing else that I can tell you is that we’re going on the plane in two more days. This is going to be the end of this book because there’s no more to tell. Bon Voyage!

Michael Reynolds

Pulitzer Prize winner and Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten wrote a haiku about life in eighth grade English class

In honor of Gene Weingarten's haiku in today's post, here's a haiku for this photo caption: Gene Weingarten sits Staring contemplatively At the camera

In honor of Gene Weingarten’s haiku in today’s post, here’s a haiku for this photo caption:
Gene Weingarten sits
Doing his best impression
Of Rollie Fingers

If you’ve only won one Pulitzer Prize in your life, you might want to skip this post because it may hurt your ego.

Gene Weingarten is the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for his work at the Washington Post, where he now writes the weekly humor column “Below the Beltway.” Recipient of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award, Weingarten is one of America’s most acclaimed columnists of the past few decades. His book “Fiddler in the Subway” compiles his best writings through the decades… and is, quite simply, one of the best books I’ve ever read. Five of his best include:

  • “The Great Zucchini,” a profile of DC’s most popular children’s magician who hides a dark and secret past.
  • “None of the Above,” a profile of Ted Pruz, a normal guy and swing-state undecided voter chosen at random in the weeks before the 2004 election, a piece which ends up revealing great insights into the voters who decide the leader of the free world.
  • “Fatal Distraction,” a sobering look at loving and well-meaning parents who accidentally leave their children in locked cars with the windows closed. One of the saddest articles ever, but should be required reading for all new parents.
  • “The Armpit of America,” where Weingarten spends a week or so living in Battle Mountain, Nevada, which had been named as “the worst town in America.”
  • “Pearls Before Breakfast,” a 2007 article in which Weingarten set up a social experiment. World-renowned classical violinist Joshua Bell played anonymously as a street performer in a Washington D.C. metro station to see whether people would pay attention when he was not in prestigious concert halls and everybody was hurriedly on their way to work. My favorite excerpt:
    • “There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.”

Weingarten is currently at work on his next book, all about the date December 28, 1986. What happened on that day, you ask? Nothing in particular — he selected the month, day, and year from random out of a hat. His author page can be found here and followed him on Twitter @GeneWeingarten.

Now here is his submission, featuring an early piece of his which is not only the shortest one the website has published so far, but also the shortest likely to be published even if this website continues for decades! Gene will take it from here:

When I was in eighth grade English class, the teacher introduced us to haiku.  I suspect that all eighth graders are introduced to haiku: It is easy to understand, and deceptively simple to do.  (It is hard to do with skill, but that is irrelevant, in eighth grade.)

We were assigned to write one overnight and bring it in the next day, to be graded.

I spent some time on this.  I was a morbid little guy.   What I came up with was:

As death draws nearer

Like an eagle hunting prey

Life becomes dearer.

I was pretty proud of this poem.   I guarantee you it kicked the crap out of all the other kids’ poems.   The teacher graded me harshly, and held it up as an example of what not to do.  Why?  Because I had rhymed it.   Haiku is not supposed to rhyme.

To this day, I hate haiku, and all un-rhymed poetry, and fucking rules.