During my junior high days at New Rochelle Catholic Elementary, I was on the writing staff of The Cardinal Chronicle, the school's pathetically assembled newspaper. And by "pathetically assembled," I mean the school's typewritten-cum-handwritten-and-stapled-together-on-legal-sized-paper newspaper.
Our faculty moderator was the chain-smoking, REM-loving Mrs. Baron, a 60s love child with teeth so yellow (get out the Snaps book), she could spit out butter. She took on the double duty of being the school's librarian and art teacher. By morning, she guided us through that darn Dewey Decimal System, and by afternoon, she showed us how to make a mean tie-dyed T-shirt.
During afterschool meetings on Mondays, we discussed what would be featured in the upcoming issue, assigning stories to those who were lucky enough to huddle in our small library and discuss the finer sides of unreleased Ace of Base tracks and the daring trends set by Kriss Kross. Fashion updates (baggy jeans, checkered flannel, and fat belts are in!), music reviews (go out and buy the new Jon Secada!), and tips on what to see at the multiplex (Macaulay Culkin gets all badass in The Good Son!) were regular sections usually followed by faculty interviews. A chat with Mr. Braca, our gym teacher, about preparations for the basketball team's bake sale had been a fine piece of elementary school journalism. Never had a student captured on paper the intensity and stamina that went into the formulation of the perfect Rice Krispie treat.
Being the enormous (literally and figuratively) 13-year-old bookworm and TV junkie that I was, I usually appointed myself as the paper's book and TV critic. One year I created a newspaper serial called "New Rochelle, 10805," chronicling the melodramatic lives of fictitious 14-year-olds. Needless to say, it was my first attempt at mimicking my then-producing idol, Aaron Spelling. Each little installment included a nifty cliffhanger ("Jan, watch out for that car!"), and I am proud to say it ran through four issues. God help me if I remember what happened in the finale.
My "Book Corner" rarely saw bad reviews, probably because I had a hard-on for R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike and any other YA thriller copycats that dominated my bookshelves at home. The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith - "The terrifying story of two vampire brothers and the beautiful girl torn between them." R.L. Stine's Halloween Party - "Justine invites a bunch of her classmates to a party on Fear Street where the guests are just dying to get out!" Trick or Treat by Richie Tankersley Cusick - "Someone's playing tricks on Martha, who has just moved into a cold and creepy house before Halloween."
Other contributions to The Cardinal Chronicle included a short story that, according to one Sarah Evans, still stands out as one of my best pieces of fiction. "The Sound of Dying Birds" was a bleak four-pager about an unlikely friendship formed between an old man and a young boy after a nuclear holocaust. The pair sit on a park bench surrounded by ruins, listening to birds fall from the tainted sky...
You know, one of those all-American, feel-good bedtime stories for the kiddies.
As a librarian, Mrs. Baron made sure we were well-rounded in our literary selections. I was a member of the advanced reading class she also taught during the day (God, I hope that woman got two paychecks for all the hats she wore in that school). She introduced us to Stephen King's "The Eyes of the Dragon" as well as the word flaccid to our vocabulary (part of an inside joke only elementary school kids could appreciate).
Mrs. Baron the Art Teacher would also allow her students to express themselves through music in the classroom. During each art class, several students would bring in a tape of their favorite songs to play on the cassette player near the paint brushes and colored pencils. Singles from Dr. Dre, Naughty by Nature, and other obscure rappers typically monopolized the player. If it wasn't rap, artists like Spin Doctors and Nirvana filled the spaces in between. When I brought in music, it was usually the latest single from Amy Grant or a mix tape made from CDs of Lisa Keith (anyone? anyone?), Big Mountain, or Annie Lennox (If you ask me, "Walking on Broken Glass" was the shit).
You can imagine how well that went with my classmates.
I can see clearly now how The Cardinal Chronicle was an influence in developing my penchant for all things pop culture. It was the perfect outlet for my media-reporting impulses. It was my place to blog before there were blogs. It was my place to vent out my thoughts on TV characters before there was anything resembling reality-TV confessionals. And while I contributed to the paper, I got a kick out of knowing my words were being printed and distributed to an audience that would eventually grow familiar with my style, my viewpoints, my work.
I wonder what has happened to Linda Baron. Last time I heard, she had gotten cancer (lung, breast, I don't remember), and her teenaged son had run into some trouble (drugs, alcohol, I'm not sure).
Though it was only half of my lifetime ago, it feels longer. It certainly was a different time (a simpler time?) on which I now look back with a smile...and a shudder (take a look at my 1993 yearbook pic, and you'll know why). I don't look back with regret, and, taking a cue from Noel Gallagher, I definitely don't look back in anger.
If there was one thing I could tell my 13-year-old self besides "Drop the Funyuns," it would be this:
"It only gets better."