GRAMMARNOIR 3: The wages of syntax
Part 3: Sanctuary in the academy
Amber and Rachel and I hoofed it to the car.
“Where are we going?” Rachel asked. Always with the questions.
“I know a place,” I said.
We pulled up behind a blank brick building. Didn’t look much different from the content farm. In the parking lot, empty bottles, sandwich papers, silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends, and other testimony of summer nights.
“What’s this?” Rachel asked. Again with the questions.
“It’s the Blair-Glass School of Mass Communications and Nugatory Studies. A pal of mine once taught here as an adjunct for beer money.”
It was unlocked. We walked down a corridor of drab offices that looked as if no one had kept hours for many semesters. Unclaimed manuscripts and portfolios lay on the floor by office doors, dust thick on them. And then a voice came: “Well, well, well, what have we here?”
A little man, balding, gray, with a limp bow tie and cigarette ashes mingling with dandruff on his tweed jacket popped out of an office. He smelled as stale as a Saturday bulldog edition on Sunday morning.
“I am Professor, ahh, Luce, ahh, Charles Foster Luce. What brings you to our department?”
I had to think fast. Amber needed a place to crash before the content farm goons could find her and drag her back.
“We have a potential student for you, Professor. Young Amber here is interested in a writing career.”
“Splendid, ahh, splendid,” Luce said. “Step this way, please.”
He popped back into his office, and we followed.
Place looked like a museum sacked by vandals. Teetering stacks of yellowed newspapers on the floor, desk and table piled as high as an elephant’s eye with folders and tear sheets, gnawed pencils, stubs of grease pencil, broken-backed books, paper cups and plates with remnants of food not even mice would touch.
The professor began his song and dance. “We have, ahh, a complete program here, and you, Miss, ahh ...”
“Amber. Amber Wurd Smith.”
“Yes, Ms. Wurd Smith, owing to a recent, ahh, diminution in enrollment we can offer you individualized instruction in, ahh, the elements. We’ll start you with Bernstein’s Headlines and Deadlines and Arnold’s Modern Newspaper Design. You’ll learn the inverted pyramid form for articles, ahh, and go on to more, ahh, technical matters: picas and points, how to count a headline by hand, how to, ahh, size a photograph with a proportion wheel—have you ever operated an electric typewriter?”
“Well, doc,” I said, I can see she’s in good hands, so I’ll be off.”
“No you won’t.”
It was Rebecca. She had picked up a rusty copy spike from the professor’s desk and was pointing it at my midsection.
“You will not be going anywhere just yet.”
Next: The mother tongue
For readers catching up:
Part 1: It's always some dame
Part 2: How you're gonna keep 'em down on the farm