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 TheJoelStein.com, 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.

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