Zen and the Art of Noise

By Jeffrey Carl

Jeffrey Carl UR Column
University of Richmond Collegian, March 23 1995

Thanks to a bare modicum of writing skill and a more obvious fondness for bourbon which aligned with that of my journalism professors, my putative career advanced rapidly through my undergraduate years. I went from a practicum story writer for the University of Richmond Collegian student newspaper in my freshman year to Assistant News Editor in my sophomore year, then on to Greek Life Editor and IT Manager (I read MacWorld magazine!) in my junior year, and ultimately to Opinion Editor in my senior year.

For some reason that escapes me now, I acquired a humor column during this process at the beginning of my junior year. This column, titled “Over the Cliff Notes,” eventually ran for 22 installments and was over the course of two years was read by literally dozens of actual humans, only most of which where KA pledges I forced to do so. Its literary influence was quite literally incalculable, and I’m just going to leave it at that.

It occurs to me now that topical humor from college campuses nearly 30 years ago does not age well. I’m sure it was absolutely hilarious at the time, though. Enjoy!

We here at The Collegian pride ourselves on being responsive to our readers.  Yes, both of them.

Each week, we receive figuratively hundreds of letters asking, “Oh please please please give the world a glimpse of the column-manufacturing process The Collegian uses!”  Well, this process is a heavily-guarded state secret, much like McDonald’s secret sauce (Thousand Island dressing) or the secret KA greeting (Sign: “The fat man is doing his laundry.”  Countersign: “Yeah, whatever.  Go away.”), and under normal circumstances anyone who found out would be killed by the élite Collegian Death Squad (assistant copy editors).  

But, hell, it’s my last week as Opinion Editor (Poppy Seed dressing),  and I’m feeling a little bitcrazy.  It’s time the cat came out of the bag, as it were.

The first recorded column was written by Socrates in 447 B.C.  It said, “The Greek system sucks,” which did not make him a popular man in Athens at the time.  History tells us that the ancient Egyptians also wrote hieroglyphic columns, which all seem to have been about scarabs, eyes and weird wiggly “Prince”-looking shapes.  Mesopotamians of the Bronze Age and Chaldeans of the Tupperware Age are both reported to have written numerous “humor” (Hidden Valley Ranch dressing) columns but were hindered by the low circulation of newspapers and the fact that everybody was still going to be illiterate for another 2000 years.

Columns experienced great popularity in the early Byzantine Empire, but were nearly crushed in the West after Pope John Paul George Ringo IV declared them to be “heretical as well as just plain irritating.”  Thousands of unrepentant columnists were tortured, burned at the stake or beaten up by male cheerleaders.

But all was not lost: under the enlightened spirit of the Reformation and the High Renaissance, columnists once again became hunted like the dogs they were, and burned almost continuously.  This continued until the Industrial Revolution (Zesty Italian dressing), when cheaper forms of fuel than “columnist-burning” were discovered.

But where – or who – or, really, why – do these columns actually come from?  Who are the valiant men and women who strive each week to bring much-needed entertainment to you, the reader, and the other guy?  Well, truth be told, they’re all illegal migrant workers.

Each week, hundreds of columns are harvested in the fields of Colombia by Juan Valdez, his faithful burro “Meximelt” and the rest of his literary cartel.  From there, they are processed, packed in shipping grease (Hollandaise sauce) and smuggled into the United States, disguised as a shipment of “Pet Rocks.”  From there they are sold on the streets, with “pushers” selling Dave Barry columns for as little as five dollars for a one-paragraph “hit.”  Some states have enacted laws providing a minimum jail term of 20 years for anyone distributing Mike Royko columns to minors.  Possession of “Freedom Betrayed” will get you the death penalty in Malaysia.

Ha ha ha hee hee.  Just kidding.  Nope, all of our columns are home-grown right here in the good old U.S. of A., except mine, which are flown in from “World Evil Headquarters” (light chicken gravy) in France.

Each columnist has a different “creative” process for writing.  None of these are interesting or probably even comprehensible, and, frankly, I really just don’t want to know.  

The point is that each columnist produces 750-850 “words” (Vaseline and grapefruit) which thereupon undergo a magical process that eventually ends with you, the reader, throwing the paper away after reading the “That’s What You Think” section.

Every week, each columnist reports to the Collegian office and presents his or her column before the scarlet-clad throne of the Opinion Editor in a formal ceremony.  If it is amusing, well-written and intelligent it is discarded immediately, and the Opinion Editor will order his royal guards to flog the columnist and occasionally mildly behead him or her.  All other columns are immediately rushed into print.

After columns have been submitted, the Opinion Editor will consecrate the writing by praying to the ancient Algerian God of Columns, “Crapola.”  This process used to involve a time-consuming ritual of human sacrifice and burnt offerings, but now can be done electronically by sending E-mail to [email protected]  After that, all of the columns are entered into The Collegian’s giant mainframe Commodore 64 computer.  From this stagnant pool of information, the individual columns are processed, translated into Pig Latin, encoded so that the Germans and Japanese can’t read them and run through a cheese grater.  This reduces the columns to fragments of about three letters each, which are picked up off the floor and are pasted on the page in no particular order by the Opinion Editor (I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter™).  Believe you me, they make a lot more sense that way.

So that’s how it all works.  Now the next editor will have to figure it all out.  And believe you me, I’m pretty happy to be done with this job.  Four more columns to go.  Yep, no way I’ll miss it.  I’m not kidding.

Cooking with Fire

By Jeffrey Carl and Paul Caputo

University of Richmond Collegian,
March 9 1995

Paul Caputo and I began writing humor columns together for the University of Richmond Collegian at the beginning of my Junior year. Paul had started his term as The Collegian’s opinion section editor that year, or maybe he hadn’t. I don’t really remember. Maybe it was me, or possibly Scott Shepard. I know it happened sometime during college. At any rate, Paul and I started writing together and later with Shepard as well. It was the start of a writing partnership that would last years and ultimately result in no tangible lasting value except for some free baseball tickets. I originally had something much more positive in mind when I started writing this introduction.

with your hosts: Paul “Chef” Prudhomme and Julia Child

All right.

We’ve had it up to here with all these whiny Collegian “The Greek system sucks/the Jepson School sucks/Libertarians rule the universe/ and there aren’t enough sidewalks here” columns. We’ve decided that we’re going to just hand the whole Opinion section over to public access. We figure, being seniors about to be thrust out into the real world where food is not just made for us and slapped onto trays like in elementary school apple-sauce-and-salisbury-steak-with-ketchup-leftover-surprise, the first order of business is food, and how to make it. Damned if we know, but we’ll try to squeeze some cheap jokes out of it. For you’re reading pleasure, here are Julia Child and Paul Prudhomme, with “Cooking With Fire.”Editor’s Note: The persons herein identified have nothing to do with theoretically actual persons who might exist named something crazy like “Julia Child” or “Paul Prudhomme” and so we really hope they don’t sue us. This is called a disclaimer, common to nervous newspapers everywhere.

Julia Child

Julia Child: Welcome to “Cooking with Fire.” Tonight we’ll be showing you how to prepare several fine dishes, most of which are non-carcinogenic. First is soufflé du jambon vert. First we will need three liters of wine…

Paul “Chef” Prudhomme: You need three liters?

JC: The soufflé gets four ounces. I get the rest. [begins drinking]

PCP: I see. Did you drive here?Editor’s Note: This attempt at a humorous look at alcoholism is obviously in bad taste and frankly not the sort of thing condoned by this newspaper ever at all even once even the slightest tiny bit, except during Christmas parties and weeknights. Kids, don’t try this at home. Please continue.

JC: As I was saying, we marinate the jambon vert and add just a dash of thyme … a squirt of vanilla … and a sprinkle of fairy dust. [drinks]

PCP: Fairy dust? What the Hell is fairy dust?

JC: Never you mind. I stole it from those damn Keebler Elves. I won’t even tell you what I had to do to get it. But they won’t be bothering us anymore.  Ha ha ha ha. Anyway… [drinks] Then I heat the skillet to 450 degrees and leave some old, oily rags sitting on top of it. While that is cooking, Paul, why don’t you show us something else that you’ve whipped up?

PCP: Well, this in this pot here is called Chicken Pot Pie…

JC: Ooh. Exotic.

PCP: And this is … this can’t be right. The teleprompter here says this is called “Baked Tauntaun.”

JC:What the Hell is a tauntaun?

Teleprompter Guy: [runs, crazed onto the stage and exits] You’ll freeze before you reach the first marker, Captain Solo!  I welcome our new ant masters!

JC and PCP: Yeah. Whatever.

PCP: Anyhoo, I have a great little bundle of taste explosion here called Corned Beef Hash O’Brien-style.

JC: And how much sherry do you need for that dish?

PCP: Umm, well, you really don’t need any, I suppose…

JC: In that case I’ll just drink the rest myself. [oily rags begin to smolder]

PCP: Whatever floats your boat … Well, the first step in making an absolutely smashing Chicken Pot Pie is to remove it from the little tinfoil thingy it is encased in …

JC: Ooh. Space-age technology.

PCP: And then you put it into the microwave here, like so…

JC: Really? [chug-a-lugs gin] Never would have occurred to me…

PCP: And then comes the especially tricky part: You’ve got these two settings on the microwave here. It is absolutely imperative that you use “defrost.” If you put it on “cook,” your brain will explode into thousands of tiny, smoking little bits.

JC: Hmm. And that’s an important safety tip for our viewers at home, isn’t it?

PCP: Right-O. So while that’s cooking, let’s turn to the Corned Beef Hash. You take it out of the can like this … and then you just gulp it down right out of the can.

JC: I see. What is the “O’ Brien” part for?

PCP: Not sure. Never got that far. Anyway, this stuff gives me gas like an Exxon station.

JC: Which is a great time for us to turn here to this neat little treat I’m preparing here. 

PCP: What’s it called?

JC:“Harvey Wallbanger à la carte.”Editor’s Note: Did you see that one coming? This is what is known in cheap joke terms as a “running gag.” This not only follows federal guidelines for recycling, but also creates humor through repetition as well as freeing the writers from having to make up any new jokes. Please do go on.

JC: And after you add the Sloe Gin you stir, and gulp it all down in one shot. Ignore occasional vomiting afterwards.

PCP: This little tangy taste treat I’ve got here is perfect for accompanying a nice dry white wine or…

JC: Sounds great.  [drinks]

PCP: Whatever … Well, it’s called Cream of Wheat. What do you think?

JC: It’s as good as I remember.

PCP: Yes, but wait until I add my secret ingredient.

JC: Vodka? [drinks]

PCP: No, it’s our friend the mongoose! Mongoose, “the other red meat,” is available at your friendly neighborhood grocery outlet, I’m sure, and adds a tangy spice of exotic flavor-splosion-liciousness to the most mundane of dishes! Mongoose paté, anyone? Mongoose and truffles? Treat the kids when they come home from school to a zesty surprise of Mongoose and jelly sandwiches. Plus they make great pets.

JC: Those bastards at the National Mongoose Council got to you, didn’t they?

PCP:You can’t prove that.

JC: OK, look. You know you can’t cook, and I know you can’t cook. So why don’t we just forget about all this “You take the stuff and you throw it in the bowl and put it on the stove” stuff and get down to business?

PCP:What are you saying, Julia?

JC:Ithink that you’re a beautiful, beautiful man.

PCP:Thank you. Stop touching me.

JC: [whispering, with her hand on Paul’s leg] I think Ilove you.

PCP: Thank you.

JC: Are you in a fraternity?

PCP: No.

JC:Oh, forget it then. Let’s get back to cooking. Do we have any Ramen Noodles?

PCP: Well, I’ve got a little surprise I call “Boar for One.”

JC: One?[now searching the cabinets for Ny-Quil to drink]

PCP: Well, the full name is “Boar for one Really Fat Guy.” But I digress. Anyhoo, we need a boar. 

JC: In the newspaper? We’ve got several. But I digress. 

PCP: Nobody noticed. Anyway, I happen to have a boar here … what’s that smell?

JC: Is it the boar? It’s a wee bit musky.

PCP: No … never mind. [oily rags burst into flame, killing three and wounding six]

JC: So what do we do with the boar?

PCP: We kill it first.

JC: That’s disgusting.

PCP: No, what’s disgusting is when I get really hungry and don’t kill it.

JC: Okay, let me do it.

PCP:Iwas just kidding, we’re not going to … Oh my God … What are you doing?! No!

JC: Ooh! Is that part supposed to be squishy?

PCP:Oh, dear God. Well, we gotta a dead boar here, so we might as well cook it. But just for the record, I was kidding.

JC:I’ll go collect all of its bits. [starts drinking again]

PCP:OK, so you take its … umm … Well, you take all the bits that don’t have hair on them and throw them into a big ol’ pot.

JC:I’ll do it.

PCP:Ifigured. Now, umm … Iguess you should go ahead and boil them. 

JC: Whoo-hoo! [passes out]

PCP: We turn now to the Chicken and Bacon à la D-Hall — incidentally this is French for “fiery kiln explosion” — which are being cooked in these two pans. Please note that they are separate entrées. Julia, will you…? Well, Julia is vomiting right now, so I will add the dash of…

JC: [revived] Booooot and raaaaaally!  [begins drinking leftover vinegar]

PCP: Gotcha. Anyway, I’m going to sample the chicken, which has been marinated in pepper and acetone, to give it that proper “breaded masking tape” taste. I’ll just take a bit here … and a bit here … Hell, I’ll eat the whole damned thing. Julia won’t notice, she’s funneling spare cooking grease for the alcohol content, and we won’t tell her, will we?

JC: Missss Tessmacherrrrr! Bring me the head of Steve Gutenberg on a silver platter! Marinate it lightly! Damn the torpedoes! [vomits repeatedly]

PCP: Oh, dear. I knew Ishould have thrown away that old Turkey Tetrazzini weeks ago. Let’s move on to another dish. And I mean that in a strictly professional way.

PCP: Well, it looks like all we have time for is boxed mac and cheese.

JC: Takes me back…

PCP: The first step in cooking gourmet mac and cheese is to remove all of the boars’ hair from the boiling water.

JC: I’ll do that. Owwwwwwwwww!

PCP: But not with your hand. Once you’ve done that, you dump the mac and cheese into the water and pray that this segment will end soon. While it boils, you want to stir the mac and cheese noodles with a blunt object, preferrably an old copy of the Web.Editor’s Note: This fictitious journal theoretically called “The Web” has nothing to do with any possible actual publications which might, under certain circumstances, be called “The Web” or something. Please don’t sue us. Now back to the column.

JC: I knew they were good for something.

PCP: Now you want to wait for seven minutes. After you mix the milk, butter and cheese powder in a bowl — if you run out of cheese powder, sawdust makes a fine replacement— you can pass the time watching Knight Rider on USA because, chances are, they’re running that episode with the evil KITT named KARR, and Michael Knight’s twin tries to kidnap…

JC: Shut up, pretzel boy, and get back to cooking!

PCP: OK, it should be ready by now. Taste these noodles Julia…

JC: [Crunching down] Oh, my God, I lost a tooth.

PCP: OK, they’re not quite ready yet. Let’s move on to something else before it’s too late.

JC: We got carrot sticks!

PCP: You can’t cook carrot sticks.

JC: Loooooove me some carrot sticks.

PCP: You’re drunk.

JC: [shouting] Show ’em how to make puddin’! People loooooove puddin’!

PCP: Our next dish is…

JC: Brad Pitt!

PCP:Shut up! OK, we’re going to make a big heap of mushroom-sauerkraut casserole. First you take a handful of mushrooms.

JC: I’ll show you a handful of mushroomsh. Shay … you, the fat guy … you review moviesh or shomethin’, dontcha?

PCP: [swallowing handfuls of soufflé] I think you’ve got me confused with…

JC: Waita shecond. Paul Prudhomme my assh. You’re Dom Deluise! You shon of a bitschhh…

PCP: Oh, dear … looks like we gotta go.

JC: [singing, in her best John Denver voice] Rocky Mountain Hiiiigh … youuu gotta know when to hoooold ’em…

PCP: Seeya next week everybody!

I Lied

By Jeffrey Carl

Jeffrey Carl UR Column
University of Richmond Collegian, March 6 1995

Thanks to a bare modicum of writing skill and a more obvious fondness for bourbon which aligned with that of my journalism professors, my putative career advanced rapidly through my undergraduate years. I went from a practicum story writer for the University of Richmond Collegian student newspaper in my freshman year to Assistant News Editor in my sophomore year, then on to Greek Life Editor and IT Manager (I read MacWorld magazine!) in my junior year, and ultimately to Opinion Editor in my senior year.

For some reason that escapes me now, I acquired a humor column during this process at the beginning of my junior year. This column, titled “Over the Cliff Notes,” eventually ran for 22 installments and was over the course of two years was read by literally dozens of actual humans, only most of which where KA pledges I forced to do so. Its literary influence was quite literally incalculable, and I’m just going to leave it at that.

It occurs to me now that topical humor from college campuses nearly 30 years ago does not age well. I’m sure it was absolutely hilarious at the time, though. Enjoy!

Editor’s Note: I’m back.

We here at The Collegian pride ourselves on being responsive to our readers. We also pride ourselves on the fact that we are all ex-members of “Menudo.” We are even more prideful that most of us have never been on a David Hasselhoff Pay-Per-View special. What we do not, however, pride ourselves on is our occasionally tense relationship with the University community. How do we know people don’t like us? When the “Letters to the Editor” written in flaming dog-doo that simply say “Collegian must die ha ha” begin adding up, you just get that feeling.

Furthermore, people sometimes get so irate that they threaten direct action, like beating us up to prove that athletes aren’t big dumb guys after all, or even sending vague death threats with absolutely dreadful grammar. And sometimes, somebody says that he or she is going to sue us.

I do not react well to lawsuits. They make me break out. I’m not going to tell you where. They make me grouchy, irritable and they give me that “not so fresh” feeling. As far as I’m concerned, lawsuits can lick me. So, normally I do everything I can to stay away from possible lawsuits, like degrading, humiliating and insulting everyone I can think of in the newspaper.

So you can imagine my surprise when, a few weeks ago, Iget a message that Ihave been threatened with legal action. And by a fellow columnist, no less. I don’t feel free to betray his identity here, but it was Mike Nimchek. So, anyway, I was informed that he was considering suing me for libel, in regards to scandalous remarks that Imade about him in the midst of a “retirement” column about how nobody has a sense of humor anymore. I imagine possibly that Mike, being helpful and seeing that perhaps not everybody got the point, felt he should be kind enough to illustrate it graphically by threatening me with the possibility of legal action.

This is a dumb move.

Never try to sue me. Why? Because I’m a struggling young college student! Ihave no money! Never sue poor people! If you win, what are you going to get? My soul? My collection of “Squeegees of All Nations?” My three-foot-tall laundry pile/biology experiment? I don’t even have pledges anymore to barter or sell. In fact, if you took me for everything Ihave, considering my current Visa bill, you’d probably lose money. So, basically, “Duh.”

Furthermore, lawsuits (the state sport of Pennsylvania) are such a horribly uncreative way of exacting revenge. If you want to get back at somebody, you certainly don’t want to do it in some way that involves lots of paperwork and Judge Wapner. Consider perhaps the following:

• Pour superglue in their locks
• Using the awesome power of the Death Star, destroy their home planet of Alderaan
• Staple stuff to their foreheads
• Call upon Papa Legba to destroy their loa in the spirit world, or call upon Vito the Fish to destroy their car in the real world
• Blackmail! Blackmail!
• Get everyone to start calling them “Spanky” or something equally embarrassing-sounding
• Kill everyone in their family
• Whenever they approach you, maintain a sullen silence, then when they leave the room, stick your tongue out at them
• Casually invite them to stand underneath a 16-ton weight suspended by a pulley, then drop it on them
• Stage an elaborate set-up brutal triple murder and frame them for it, watch as they are convicted and given consecutive life sentences, and then start sending their cellmate “Huggy Bear” love letters, supposedly from their new roomie
• Trick them into opening the box which they think holds the remote control for detonating the nuclear missile speeding towards the San Andreas fault, but which in reality contains pure Kryptonite, which will kill them
• Make a “peace offering” of brownies made with Ex-Lax
• Casually invite them to stand in front of a particle accelerator, then annihilate them in a 10-billion-degree burst of proton/antiproton collisions
• Clean their dishes, but spit on them
• As soon as you get out of prison, shadow them everywhere, hang on to the bottom of their car when they try to drive away, climb on to their boat, and then sing the entire score of “The H.M.S. Pinafore” by Gilbert and Sullivan to them
• Replace their computer’s processor chips with “Chips Ahoy”
• Vomit on them, or
• Write a snide column about revenge methods. The ball is in your court. Next time you consider suing someone, try doing something a little more creative. Or better yet, get a sense of humor and a life.

Good night and God bless.