Back when Lena and I lived in Gainesville, before we left that swinging little burg of student-exploitation-driven economies for the hustle and bustle of “big city” life in glitzy Jacksonville… excuse me, I just shot Diet-Coke out of my nose… I worked for theIndependent Florida Alligator. This was the family owned but student run newspaper that served the University of Florida as it’s campus newspaper. I really enjoyed my time there, and have nothing but fond memories of those days. (Remind me sometime to tell you about the Twelve Days of Grinchmas! Wait, never mind. I just put it on my list for future blog articles. We’re good.)
Okay, almost nothing that is. I got my job there by attracting the newspaper’s notice with a regular comic strip called Killing Time. They had been printing the strip for a while and put a “Help Wanted” sign out in the front window about the same time I was seeking liberation from my Pizza Hut job, and so I was hired. (I think mostly because they thought I might be able to get them free pizza. I probably neglected to mention how I had left that job. Wait… okay, that one’s on the list too.)
The strip itself was semi-autobiographical, sort of inspired by the events in my real life but very highly fictionalized. Plus everyone was rabbits. (What is it with rabbits and cartoonists?) Anyway, I had included a woman from the newspaper named Christine who wrote an extremely funny and bawdy editorial column as a character in the strip. She thought it was great to be a comic character and we had a lot of fun with it.
Across the street there was a weekly news/conspiracy magazine that ran horoscopes written by a woman who didn’t share our humor, and she began slamming the hell out of Christine and I using some very crass and kind of ooky alliterations to express her opinion that we were too lowbrow to be considered humorous. (The magazine had no particular limits on the language they were allowed to use, unlike our paper.) Well of course in those younger days it didn’t take much to set off a battle of righteous indignation, and the gauntlet had been thrown. We responded with satirical columns and the addition of a rather loony new cartoon character, and horoscope-girl set new lows with her comparisons of our work to various bodily fluids, secretions, and mucous matter. All in all it was a great time that somehow ended with my assuming horoscope girl’s job across the street in addition to my regular job at the Alligator. I’m chalking that one up as a win.
About a year later Lena was working at yet another magazine that catered to the college students when she got a freelance job from a particular fraternity to do some graphic design work. When her boss found out about it, he went behind Lena’s back and swiped her job by promising a lower price, and then made Lena do the work anyway for him at her regular hourly rate. (About a third of the freelance rate.) Lena got her revenge on her boss, (read The Scales) and I set my sights on the frat.
The fraternity in question was well known as heavy-drinking, party-hearty, jock frat. As part of the job they hired Lena to do they brought her their tippy-top secret book with all their heretofore unknown charters, chants, secret handshakes and codewords, as well as the super-secret ingredient in their He-Man-Brotherhood-for-White-Boys Brownies. (It’s pee.) Not wanting Lena to be implicated, I snuck the book away for a few hours and made prodigious notes. I waited a few months to be safe, and then started a new story line in my comic strip.
Of course there were any number of rumors about the members of this fraternity being closeted, self-hating, date-raping, test-cheating, bigoted, alcoholic lunkheads that only ever occasionally saw print in the sobbing rantings of some aggrieved mother of a victimized daughter, ostracized son, or drunk-driver-killed child. Just a blip here or there, but never a sustained, daily attack, buttressed by the use and exposure of the innermost workings and secrets of their house. I introduced the whole house as new characters, setting up a side-story detailing their tawdry exploits. The non-greeks on campus ate it up, while the fraternity and sororities mostly sat in stony-faced silence.
The frat in question began sending members to the newspaper to protest their unfair treatment. Now the name of the house had been changed for the comic, but it was derivative enough that anyone would have recognized it. They wanted to talk with me directly they said, but they never sent less than four hulking, muscle-bound goons at a time to “talk,” and I decided that might not be the kind of chat I wanted to have.
Rather than stand on his principles and send the gorillas packing, the editor of the paper decided he was scared of up to a half-dozen angry sides of beef in his office too, and came to the conclusion that it would be way easier and a lot less dangerous to simply cut my strip from the paper. (In all fairness, he was kind of a noodley little guy.) I would have understood, except he lied to me and told me the reason I was being cut was because I wasn’t funny — and never even mentioned the goon-squad. (They replaced me withPogo.)
In all, I count this as a loss. I enjoyed the battle, struck some great blows, but was felled by a geek’s greatest natural enemy, a bunch of jocks. To the victor go the spoils.
But you should’ve read what I wrote about them in the horoscope…