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October 21, 2021

Funny Papers Again Column | School Daze II

You will recall, dear readers, last week we left off with my reminisces of university days down in Southern California. I just read the piece in the Rustler, and while I can’t for the life of me figure how it would be interesting to anyone, I really don’t have any choice but to finish it; so here it is (try to stay awake if you can).

I had a radio program for three hours three days a week, it ran from 8 o’clock in the morning until 11 o’clock. I really enjoyed doing that show even though I found that being a university DJ is no easy task as records had to be kept while the show was running, and at CSUSB we were a one-person operation. All songs had to be recorded on a playlist register, all PBS notices were recorded in a separate ledger (Public Broadcast Service airtime is for non-commercial announcements; as a university station we did not run ads and all PBS’s were written by communications students), and all kinds of technical checks were made on the half hour and they had to be recorded. Busy job.

But one of the real perks for me, and the other DJs, was the song machine; a software called The Jazzler. It was great because one could “load” three songs at once and just hit a button and they would play; if you wanted to pause between songs to say something it was a simple push of a button or you could let the trio play and fill in afterward. As one song finished, just load another and there was a continuous (or is it continual?) supply of music.

The catch was the songs pre-loaded into the thing had all been vetted and approved by the university as acceptable and suitable for students. And the catch to that catch was the thing never worked the entire semester. This meant we had to supply our own CDs and load them one at a time into the CD player; we DJs loved it. I often suspected one of my fellow students was tech savvy enough to have thrown a monkey wrench into the works, but I never asked her.

The incapacitated Jazzler made it possible for me to start every show, promptly at 8 a.m., with the same opening words: “Wake up, young people, it’s bright and early here at Coyote U out in North San Berdoo; get that cup of coffee and get to class!” Then I would play, as loud as permitted, the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” and off we would go for three hours. One of my professors informed me that my nickname for California State University, San Bernardino, whose sports moniker is the Coyotes, was not appreciated by the administration. Oh, well.

My last class in my last semester at the last of my academic career was an acting class. I was admitted by the instructor after the deadline when she already had an overfull class because, she said, she wanted an older POV in the mix. I was that point of view. None of the students were new to either the stage or television, they either had prior high school or college experience; a couple had professional training. One student about 24 years old had spent four of her early teen years on a popular Saturday morning TV show. It was a good group.

Because I came in two classes after the other students I had not given the obligatory introductory speech where one spouts one’s past accomplishments and experiences in theater to impress, or intimidate, the other students, so no one really knew who I was or why I was there. Good.

Our first assignment was to choose a speech from Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology”; for those not familiar with that work it takes place entirely in a graveyard where each person buried stands at their headstone and gives a short speech; excellent material for acting classes. It took three class sessions for all of us to do our bits; I was among the last few on the third session. While I don’t consider myself a tonic unto myself, I will say that in this case I pretty much blew them away. That was the term one student used at the end of the exercise: “You blew us way, man.”

There is no experience like experience and that was recognized, for the rest of that semester we did scenes from a variety of shows and practiced all the weird things actors do to prepare for the stage. It was tough keeping up with all that young talent and energy, but I like to think they learned as much from me as I learned from all of them.

Before I close out this college days story, I want to mention working while going to classes. One position was for three months during the summer as a landscape/maintenance worker for the California School for the Deaf in Riverside. Summer classes were in session and though the school day was only half as long as the rest of the academic year, the campus was full as most students were from out of the area, many out of the state, and so lived on campus. It was a kindergarten through high school curriculum, so there was a wide variety of students; and all, of course, were to a greater or lesser degree deaf.

I spent much of my time on a riding lawn mower cutting the grass in the football stadium, the soccer field and the playground areas; the campus occupied quite a large area. But occasionally there was something in the gymnasium or the swimming pool that needed fixing; and more than a few times I was on the feeding line in the large dining hall. After a while most of the students knew me and though communication was difficult, it was a very rewarding time in my life.

Take care. Peace.

Steve Wilson
King City and Greenfield Columnist
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