Righting the Writes Not So Simple

I was sipping coffee at Avo's when my buddy Seymour Sharpe asked, "Whatcha gonna write about this week?"

I pulled an article out of my book bag. "Been thinking about this story where some parents want to ban textbooks that contain commercial messages."

"You mean they're selling ads in history books now?" he asked. "I can just imagine. The 40s go better with Coke. Or maybe a geology book will say Ruffles also has ridges just like the Andes which form the backbone of South America."

"Well it's not like product placement in the movies," I said, "where companies pay to have characters smoke Camels and munch M&Ms while mowing down the bad guys with their 9mm Beretta Cougar. In the article, the example problem asks how much money you'd have to save to buy a pair of Nikes. That's more vivid than saying generic 'tennis shoes.' It seems like a standard technique of using specific nouns to spice up the writing. The kids may relate to the word problem better."

"Maybe the parents are worried about the future," said Seymour. "Pepsi is advertising on school busses now. It could be terrible if Madison Avenue invaded writing."

"It wouldn't be that bad." I took another sip of the Avogadro's Number Restaurant (www.avogadros.com) Colombian coffee out of my Flo Blue Chinaware mug while staring at the blank white paper of my 70-sheet College Rule Mead Corporation 1-Subject notebook as my Skillcraft 0.5mm Mechanical Pencil lay unused. "Or maybe I could write about the letters I got." I pulled a bunch out of my bag.

"Start with mine," said Seymour.

"No way," I said. "It's a family newspaper and they don't print language like that unless it's part of something newsworthy like a Presidential inquest."

"So that's why my letters weren't published," he said.

"That's not the only reason." I skimmed through the pile of letters. "You addressed them to me personally or to 'scum-sucking vacuum brain' or to -- I can't believe the Post Office even delivered this. If you'd addressed it to 'Letters to the Editor,' then it may get printed, as long as it's not slanderous or foul."

"Seem like those would be the only kind of letters you'd get," he said.

"Not really," I answered. "There are some people who like what I write. Here's a Marian H who wrote that my 'columns are appreciated by at least 2 community readers.' Of course, some folks only like certain columns. A Barbara D wrote, 'Egads, what happened to you?' because she likes the slice of life Avo's columns and is bored by the intellectual mish-mash about English in e-mail and the history of racism and Paul Robeson. But then I heard from a lady who knew Paul Robeson -- he'd visit and have dinner with her parents -- and she definitely did not want her name used for fear her neighbors would find out so that increases my concern about racism. And I received two other letters that really put diversity in perspective. One homemaker wrote about how bad immigration is, claiming to have lived on the front lines (a warfare term) in California for 10 years. She apparently wants to go back to the 50s, conveniently forgetting how we lived in two nuclear-armed camps willing to destroy the entire planet to preserve a way of life. What's happening in Yugoslavia right now is a good example of what we bequeath our children by not solving racism today. But I got another letter from Cara T, in high school, who likes reading about different religious beliefs and is saddened by people who fear other faiths. She's our hope for the future, if she can avoid the textbook ads. So I figure I'll just keep on trying to write readable, thought-provoking columns on interesting aspects of society and/or my own life."