Easy Drama

One Minute You're Up, Next Minute You're Down

Miranda Billings was the newest member of the high school newspaper. Always a good student, her first assignment was to write about the first semester finals. As a novice reporter, she wanted to deliver a solid story but she always felt that she had a creative streak that needed opportunity to grow. She interviewed several students in study hall as well as some veteran teachers; she had all the facts to put together a nice, tight five paragraph story but something wasn’t right. She felt she needed to transcend the event by doing something creative.

She submitted this:

It was the night before testing
And all through the school
The juniors were resting
Trying to be really cool.

The students were all booking
And stuffing their brain
For fear that lunchroom cooking
Would have their intelligence all drain.

She quickly wrote five more paragraphs, blatantly stealing the ubiquitous meter from “The Night Before Christmas” and feeling the liberating adrenaline of figuring something out for the first time. It didn’t matter that thousands of students per year across the country fall back on the hackneyed practice of using tired old chestnuts as a diversion to their crappy writing, she didn’t know or care about that. She sat at her keyboard, almost vibrating with journalistic excitement, due to her ability to crack the creative code for future success.

When the newspaper was published, many of her friends congratulated her on her creativity. They read her poem and marveled at the way she could capture the issue and still make it a fun read. The slam against the lunchroom food and the use of timely inside jargon made her feel like a crusading young journalist who gave a creative damn.

“How did you ever come up with such a great idea?” asked her friends.

Miranda would smile and say, “I don’t know, it just came to me.”

They would fawn over her story and some of her closer friends wanted her to autograph their copy. She was ecstatic to comply and she spent significant time thinking about her dedication. On several of them, she used the similar syncopated meter to provide her fan(s) with additional creative riffing.

“It is amazing I didn’t think of this sooner,” thought Miranda. “The diacritic whatever is definitely the way to go.”

Miranda loved the feeling of publishing success and she hung around the paper’s office and bugged both the faculty advisor and the editor-in-chief for her next assignment. She had already begun her scrapbook, complete with a half-dozen tear sheets of her first story. She was only a rookie and she since she had already found the formula for success; it was time to apply this learning with another assignment.

“When can I do another story?” asked Miranda. “The kids love my first story and are asking me for more.”

“One story is enough for now,” said Matt Paquin, the paper’s student editor. “Help out with the classified ads for the time being. When I need another story from you, I will tell you.”

Miranda was shocked. She was the real star of this newspaper and her talent was only going to get bigger and brighter. The secret of using existing poems and television themes provided her with her own style but she needed to lay claim to it before someone else decided to copy her methods. She wanted to be considered an original and wanted to do again before someone else stole her idea of casual uniqueness.

“I was the edition last time,” said Miranda. “My story about testing is what everyone is talking about. You should be begging me to do another story.”

Matt looked up and sighed. He had gone to the paper’s advisor after Miranda’s story was published to apologize. He knew this type of lame and overused creativity was a time bomb to the reading public and he got frustrated because the assistant editor (and Miranda’s friend) placed it on page one without his approval or knowledge.

“Why don’t you cool your heels, Ms. Pulitzer? One story didn’t make this paper and your tired old trick of using the ‘Night Before Christmas’ is embarrassing.”

Miranda just glared: it was obvious this dolt couldn’t recognize her genius. Matt had the audacity to imply that her idea to use a poem versus straight journalistic prose was amateurish and tired. However, he had not heard all the great things her girlfriends said and she decided not to tell him. That powerful secret would come into play later if she decided to make a run for senior editor herself someday. She found herself resenting his lack of vision but she wanted to remember the crack about using “The Night Before Christmas.” She knew the idea was pure gold but she had the patience to wait until later to trot out that classic again and show the hack that she understood vox populi.

She kept her emotions in check and dutifully wandered over to the classified ad team; this group of shiny-faced journalistic dilettantes didn’t want her looming over their own toadish role in managing a newspaper. They brought in the money and cultivating the relationships with the vendors. As self-appointed rainmakers, they liked to work without the cloying opinions of the ink-stained dreamers. Miranda did not want to antagonize them so she just restacked and cleaned up miscellaneous areas until the bell rang. She had waited long enough so the next day would be an entirely different matter.

She arrived very early the next day and walked directly up to the editor-in-chief, and gave the impression that she had learned her lesson.

She batted her eyes and asked him.” Matt? May I have another story assignment?”

Matt knew it was coming and already had one to hand her. “Here is one: the Future Farmers of America and the Future Homemakers of America are having a dance.”

“A co-sponsored FFA and FHA dance?”

“Yes. A strong human interest story with easy drama; it almost writes itself.”

“But a co-sponsored FFA and FHA dance? A bunch of farmers?”

“A bunch of your co-students. A big constituency. A huge opportunity, now go.” Matt tore the assignment sheet and handed it to Miranda. He turned back to his desk and grabbed the phone and thought of someone who he could call. He decided to call himself and watched Miranda’s reflection in the mirror stand there for a few moments before wandering off.

Miranda slowly walked out of the room, still clutching the story sheet. The dance was happening on Friday night and it was ironically for members only. She would have to suffer further indignity by having to request from the group’s sponsors to get a pass to attend. She had plans for Friday night but she decided to shelve those plans in order to get the story. She walked down to the FFA advisor and knocked on his classroom.

“Mr. Kjellberg?”

“Yes?” He looked at Miranda. He had no idea who she was.

“I am Miranda Billings, reporter from the school paper. I wish to get your approval to attend the members-only dance on Friday."

“Sure, just tell the ticket takers that it was okay with me.”

 “Should I bring my press pass? I have made one and if you wish, I will use it.”

 He looked at her as if she was drenched in pancake batter. Her tone was actually condescending and he could not figure out why she was so pointed. He smiled and said, “Sure, bring your pass but make sure you tell them that I said it was okay.”

She snapped her pristine reporter’s notebook shut and smartly wheeled around and left his office. Kjellberg scratched his head and tried to place the name with some momentarily misplaced memory. Her name had rung a bell but before he could ask a few questions, her annoying demeanor took center stage and his low level questions failed to become worthwhile enough to bring up.

The night of the dance, she got there early and presented her credentials to the two ticket takers that were setting up the table.

“Hello, I am Miranda Barnes.” She waited for some recognition; obviously, they were already briefed that the press would be here. However, neither man showed any understanding of her presence. The two young men looked at her with pimply curiosity. They were freshman and no one said anything cordial to them to date.

“I am covering the dance for the school paper. Mr. Kjellberg said it would be okay to attend, even though I am NOT a member of either FFA or FHA.

“Okay” said one of the boys. They had no idea what to make of here.

“And,” Miranda continued, “Here is my press pass.”

She proudly presented it to the duo and waited for them to take it all in. She had used her own photo software and laminating machine to compose the first press pass in the school’s history. She pulled down the logo from the school website, dropped in her own picture and boldly emblazoned “PRESS” across the top. All she was missing was a fedora but that fact was likely lost of the ticket takers.

One of the boys handed it back to her and she slipped it into her jacket pocket. It would be easier to gain the confidence of the crowd if she didn’t intimidate the interviewees. She walked in, with no intention to pay for admission because that would compromise her position. The boys, now somewhat curious about Miranda, let her go by due to the potential complexity of further conversation.

Safely inside the gymnasium, Miranda stood directly in front of entering couples and was snapping pictures and taking copious notes. Each couple were photographed and pigeonholed for several quotes and Miranda made her rounds, making sure to get opinions and reactions from the attendees arriving stag, the advisors (including Kjellberg), the band and the janitorial supervisor. Kjellberg was impressed with her thoroughness with both her initial and follow up questions. At no time, did she give Kjellberg the impression that they had met earlier although he attempted to give her the hint that they actually had met before.

“Hello, Miranda” said Kjellberg.

She looked at him with a slightly confused expression, trying to focus in on his face while she was busily taking in the overall dance atmosphere.

“Hello” said a squinting Miranda.

“Mr. Kjellberg, FFA Advisor.”

“Good evening, Mr. Kjellberg. Tell me: how many students are you planning on attending this evening’s dance?”

“Well, we sold approximately one hundred and twenty tickets during the school day and I was told that we also have had about forty walk-up ticket purchases.”

Miranda scribbled down something in her notebook. “Now,” she said with extreme emphasis on the single syllable, “What else can you tell me about this evening?”

She pointed her ballpoint pen at him, like an ersatz microphone, and waited for his response. Kjellberg was surprised with the line of questions: this would be maybe three column inches in the middle of the school newspaper and she was treating it like an expose.

Kjellberg looked blankly at her and said, “I really don’t have any other news: it is a dance for the FFA’ers and the FHA’ers. I hope everyone has a good time and gets home safely at an appropriate hour.”

Miranda did not look up at his face, as she was busy capturing this on-the-record quote. She smiled to herself, her correspondent instincts were right on: this would be the final hook. She flipped the book over on its wire-coiled top and left to work the room one more time: there were a hundred stories in this dark, corduroy-jacketed gymnasium and she was just the reporter to find them.

She walked around the room, got a few more quotes and concluded her night by interviewing the band. This was the first formal press experience for the band so she assumed they were a little nervous but Miranda knew she had the calming presence to calm even the most high-strung musician.

“What is the name of the band? She asked without losing eye contact from the group. She had heard some of the new bands were on drugs and unstable.

“Well, we don’t have a name yet,” said the lead singer. “Our brothers are all in FFA and they needed a band so they asked us to play."

“We play in Billy’s barn,” said one of the longer haired members.

“I see. Why did they need a band?”

“I guess the other band couldn’t make it so they asked us. I think one of the guys had mono or car trouble.”

“Or both.” The whole sofa full of young musicians smirked. Miranda was worried because she needed to control the interview. All it would take is another few comments and they might get out of control. She had to end the interview quickly.

“Thank you for the background. Good luck with the rest of your performance.”

Miranda grabbed all her stuff: her credentials, tape recorder, camera, backup film and battery packs, backup notebooks and backup writing tools. She walked out of the gym and was horrified to find her backpack unsupervised. She expressly told the ticket takers to guard her property and specially asked them to watch her stuff. When she arrived at the head table, the ticket takers were gone and the only thing at the ticket station was her abandoned, vulnerable backpack. She dumped her stuff into the pack and went home to compose her story.

That night she organized her thoughts: she had several directions she could go and supporting back-stories up the journalistic wazoo. Miranda felt excited: this is how some of the greats started and all tonight’s work was going to pay off with at least a permanent reporting slot and perhaps, a column. She had done her homework and felt that she was at a creative crossroads: she could tell her story with her objectiveness safely tucked away or she could take a chance and try to give her story some additional life. Miranda looked at her reporter’s notebook, recipe cards with earlier research on both the FFA and the FHA, Kjellberg’s bio, a floor plan of the gymnasium, her homemade press pass and the battery-depleted tape recorder. The ideas were coming fast and furious and she decided to go to sleep and file her story in the morning.

The next morning, Miranda had decided to roll the dice and take another chance. The story had to be told and she was confident that she could sell the editor on a fifteen-stanza poem. She has edited cruelly, excising huge amounts of great reportage for the sake of self-imposed brevity. The finished product was a beauty and once she knocked off the last verse, she pushed herself away from the keyboard and clapped her hands: she left it all on the paper. The images of her editor fawning over her next creation and begging her to take on a column were spinning in her mind when she walked into the school paper on Monday and dropped off the masterpiece in the copy editor’s box. When she was walking out, she pre-occupied herself with the possible names of her column: Miranda’s Corner, MB Weekly and her eventual choice: Top Billings.

The copy editor grabbed the submission and literally hefted it in his hands. He read the first stanza, rolled his eyes and walked over to Matt Paquin’s desk. He dropped the reamette onto the middle of the desk and startled Matt from his concentration on finishing his editorial.

“What the hell is this?” asked Matt.

“This is the latest offering from your cub reporter, Miranda “Psycho Rhymer” Billings.

“I asked her for three paragraphs on the FFA dance.”

“I think you have over eighty paragraphs if you count each one as a separate stanza. I think that is a fair estimate considering the absurdity of the submission.”

“At least it isn’t ‘The Night Before Christmas.’”

“I am afraid it is.”

Matt’s eyes grew wider and he began to read:

Twas the night of the big dance
And all through the gym
The couples were mixing
One her for one him

Matt stopped because his stomach was hurting. Miranda had unfortunately followed her muse down two poorly chosen paths: the shopworn iambic pentameter and the incredible waste of time and effort (although he felt uncomfortable using the term “effort.”) had combined to insult every journalistic fiber in this soul. In was painfully obvious, in a anapestic tetrameter kind of way: this chick didn’t know when to stop. As he scanned the misdirected output, he decided to write the story himself. In about five minutes, he finished it and directed on of his copy monkeys to place it in the paper, “anywhere there is room.”

He didn’t know if he wanted to give Miranda a byline credit on the piece and since she had missed so poorly with the story, he decided to send it out without a byline to give the illusion that it was a staff piece. The story appeared the next day in the paper:

FFA and FHA Dance

The Future Farmers of America and the Future Homemakers of America had a dance last Friday night at the school. Over one hundred students attended and enjoyed the music of the FFA house band.

The dance included several other events, including fortune telling, caricaturists and door prizes. Junior Allen Albrecht won the grand prize, a portable CD stereo player, donated by Westman’s Music Store.

Mr. Ronald Kjellberg is the FFA Advisor and Ms. Yvonne Sommers is the FHA Advisor.

Miranda had grabbed a newspaper as soon as they arrived back from the printer. She had hoped for a page one, above the fold story but was surprised not to find it anywhere on the first page. She quickly paged through the paper, seeking her name or the 100+ point lead but she didn’t find anything. Miranda then sat down, slowly went through each page, and finally found it buried on page seven, near the classified ads. She read the aborted,  eviscerated story with her hand over her mouth; she knew editors were direct descendants of the devil but this was too much, too cruel of an act of heavy handed ignorance to be true but there it lay, tiny in both type size and spirit. She didn’t know what to do except she was compelled to confront her editor and ask where this heartless act was motivated.

Matt was working the phones when she got to the classroom. She stopped off at both the assignment board and her cubbie and did not see any new reporting assignments. This conspiratorial effort to stymie her journalistic future was almost too much to bear. Her courage now reawaken, Miranda stood in front of Matt and waited for him to acknowledge her presence.

In a minute, Matt hung up the phone. She stared at him and he returned her stare but his was more quizzical, wondering what odd brain synapse had instructed her to write a hundred stanza poem, yet again in the meter of “The Night Before Christmas” about an insignificant school farmer dance.

“I saw what you did to my story,” said Miranda. She was holding her emotions in check and kept resisting the urge to cry.

“I saw what you did in the first place,” said Matt. “Not only did you do the exact opposite of my request, you also creeped out an entire gymnasium of future farmers and future homemakers by walking around and interrogating them within an inch of their young lives.”

“But I was just following the story.”

“What story? It was three paragraphs at the most unless a shootout occurred.  Then it would have been four paragraphs.”

“I wrote a deep, insightful piece.”

“No, you again lifted the sophomoric meter of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ and wrote almost one hundred stanzas. I didn’t want another crappy poem, I didn’t want four hundred column inches, I didn’t want you to scare the ticket takers or the band, I didn’t want you to cause attention to yourself and most of all, I didn’t want what you gave me. One hundred freaking stanzas...”as he voice trailed off.

“The vehicle of the poem would work again.”

“It might work with your friends but you can’t keep trotting out that pitiful poem. Start writing in sentences, having a readable point and grow up. This stuff isn’t even good enough for a free, forced-fed student newspaper.”

“I disagree. I gave you the ‘easy drama’ you had referenced and that poem is pure gold. That vehicle will vault me to the top of the marketing or journalistic world; I guarantee it.”

We all have a tendency for the over or under dramatic. Things happen to all of us, whether it be tragedy or comedy, and we need to realize that events outside our control are not necessarily bad or good. 

However, when faced with situations unknown, or tendency flies right to drama and that flight can effect us in many ways. I hope to avoid that spectrum and encourage a quiet co-existence with life in general. 

Just starting to work on this as a linking story to Miranda as a grown-up Marketing Executive. One has to plant the back story somewhere.

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