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Alumni events, marriage and a real Nazi

Ron’s column from a few weeks ago inspired me to tell a story about a weird event from my past. Mine is not as exciting as his in that there is no wrestler named Silo Sam. But there is at least one Nazi. And, no, not the current “I disagree with your politics so you are a Nazi” version. An actual card-carrying member of the party.

Back in the Stone Age (i.e., the mid-1980s), as I have written about before, I kind of fell into a journalism class by accident. After that class I joined the newspaper staff where I was immediately made the arts and entertainment editor. This partially reflected my background in music and love of movies but was also about the nature of a community college newspaper and how, if someone is willing to take on the responsibility, they have a great shot at getting the gig. This fact will become important later.

The next semester I was named editor-in-chief. The semester after that I was the editor of the quarterly magazine. We did well. Lots of state and regional awards. A bunch with my name on them. And yet… I have never been invited to a single alumni event. Which is all about who I married.

Back when they handed me the keys to the editor’s tiny office, the faculty advisors sat me down for a talk. It was not about direction or editorial focus. It was about someone they saw as a threat.

There was a schism in the department over grading policy. Grading was very tough. A story for the paper was also an assignment for the associated class. There was a category of screw-up called a gross factual error (GFE) which was any mistake in a name, date or place and it resulted in an automatic 50 points off. Illustration: I won a state-wide award once for a column about the original right-wing TV bomb-thrower, Wally George. In the text, I referenced Anaheim, the city where his show was taped, three times. And on one of those, I transposed the i and the e. Totally a typo. Which was a GFE. So, a column I won an award for earned me an F for the class. (This was back when anything under a 60 was a fail. My understanding is that grade inflation means that you can get a 25 and it is still a D. Don’t get me started…).

The schism was because one person in the department, the faculty member with the most actual seniority, disagreed with that policy, saying it was too harsh. A student in one of his magazine writing classes had started to raise a ruckus with the board of trustees about the most senior member of the department not being an advisor to the paper, and that student was set to join the staff of the newspaper. The meeting was to alert me to her presence and that the advisors saw her as an enemy.

I did my part by giving her terrible assignments, because I was “on the team.” Meanwhile, some 50 miles away, at another campus in the same college district a total poop show was brewing.

At Harbor College, the lone, long-time faculty advisor to the student newspaper died. The district was in the middle of a funding crisis so, instead of hiring someone with a journalism background, the made an English teacher the advisor.

Remember how I referenced how easy it was to get named as an editor? Well, at Harbor, an older student came to the incoming editor of the paper and volunteered to be the opinion editor. And he got the gig. His name was Joe Fields. The problem is that Fields was a literal Nazi.

He proceeded to write multiple columns saying things like the Holocaust was a hoax. And, they got published.

Here is where those two stories intersect. The college board needed someone to get the Harbor situation under control. They were going to send the one faculty member at my school who was not an advisor, the schism guy. But then someone remembered the stink raised about seniority and the department head (who actually had less seniority) was tapped to take on that job.

It meant a daily 50-miles-each-way commute in brutal Los Angeles traffic. It put a big strain in his marriage. And it got worse.

Just firing Fields had big free speech implications. At least firing him for what he wrote did. But, when there was an event on campus featuring Tom Metzger, a neo-Nazi and grand dragon of the California chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, Fields was instructed not to take part. When he defied that order, he was fired.

The school and my old advisor were both sued by the ACLU. It was not a good time for my old advisor and, rightly or wrongly, the person who raised the stink about seniority was blamed for it.

So, then, about two years later, I married her. We had not seen each other since the funeral of a good friend right after graduation and then she happened to walk into a bar where my band was playing. And we’re still together 36 years later.

No cool wrestlers in this story, but that is why I have never been invited to an alumni event. Fun stuff.

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