Different angles- reflecting on the moods of Rush WeekColumn/Thomas T. Huang
With only a farmboy politeness, some books by Bellow and Roth and my Bildungsroman to my name, I arrived at the Institute, eager as a freshman should be, but not so eager that I should become a black sheep among the flock of sheepish students milling around the Student Center.
"No, no, no," said Bein with a grimace. He had asked me to write a column about my experiences with rush week in 1982. "What you've written is too serious, too melodramatic," he said. "Your writing, like your collar, is too stiff.
"The students are just not into reading about feelings anymore. You've got to lighten up a bit. Put some humor in it."
I said farewell to my brother before I left for MIT. Even though he now had a young man's body, asleep he looked like a baby. Vagrant strands of hair rested on his pillow. I longed to go back in time. He opened his eyes and asked, "Why did the chicken cross the basketball court?"
"I don't know. Why?" I said.
"He heard the ref was blowing fouls."
"This isn't what I want," Bein said. "I don't want sixth-grade humor. You can't just go through your column and add one-liners to spice things up. You've got to set up a comic atmosphere. The average MIT student is a white 19-year old male who has watched Porky's Revenge and Where the Boys Are, 1984. That's the readership we're after."
I stayed at MacGregor my first night at MIT. I was alone in a strange place, with only my toothbrush and soap to remind me of home. It's funny how little things, usually taken for granted, can trigger flashes of the past. Then the hollow pit in your stomach brings you back to the present.
My neighbor came in and put his towel on the rack. Then he bent down to peer into a hole in the tiled wall opposite the mirror.
"Hey, man, like what gives?" I asked.
"Jeez, you mean you don't know about the hole_in-the-wall? What are you, a virgin?"
"Whaddya mean? I've done it a hundred times, twice with a girl," I said, combing my hair. I looked into the hole. For a minute I could only see steam, but gradually I could discern women bending over and soaping themselves in the shower.
"What the hell are you writing?" Cherian asked, looking over my shoulder. "This is sexist, teenage-fantasy trash. Tom, there are a lot of mature people at MIT. Your column has got to be deep and dark if you want them to read it."
The black and white sky is painted with clouds. Rain will come, but not until a cold wind runs its fingers over the grass. One thousand people march onto the lawn. Dead animals, to be eaten, lie on tables with white linen. But the meat reeks of pestilence. The people drink strawberries and milk from wooden bowls. They huddle against each other for warmth. It is very cold outside.
A bird, white as ivory, flies across the sky. I stand and touch the shoulder of a girl. She is my sister. She screams in terror. She has seen a man in dark robes enter Killian Court, a chessboard under his arm.
Stanger tapped me on the shoulder. "There was never a freshmen picnic like that. Nobody, but nobody, is going to read that depressing piece, because nobody is going to understand it. Do you even understand it?"
"Well," I said, "I could lighten it up by having Death say, `Anyone in the mood for checkers?' "
"Music videos, Thomas. That's the answer."
Talking Heads, "Creatures of Love," Little Creatures, Sire Records.
Scene 1: Camera pans and follows a pair of feet in white shoes across a fraternity dance floor. Zoom in on David Byrne in his big suit as he mingles with fraternity members and their girlfriends. He is scared, because he doesn't know if the fraternity people really want to get to know him. It is indeed a week rushed, and friendly smiles sometimes fade to tired facades. Fadeout.
Cut to Scene 2: Flashback of man in three-piece suit and woman in bikini running along beach as waves lap at their feet. Man stops and holds woman to his body. In slow motion, they dance. The sun adds a backlighting effect to their kiss.
"You should stick to news," Stern and Jungwirth suggested. "That's the way you were brought up in this paper, anyway."
The walk across the Harvard Bridge to MIT makes the young freshman reflect on his or her life, according to Thomas T. Huang '86. "You look at the reflection of MIT's lights in the river as you cross the bridge, and it's scary, because it's your future," Huang said in an interview last Thursday. "For a moment, you don't know if you want to cross that bridge."
President Paul E. Gray '54 could not be reached for comment.
"News style is too boring, too restrictive," someone else said. "Jazz it up. The column's got to have a headline like `I Married a Ten-Foot Gila Monster.' "
"Maybe I should use some spaceships and pyrotechnics," I tried, "like a Lucas or Spielberg movie, with Eddie Murphy in it."
It's a simple truth. We, as writers for a newspaper, have the horrible power of being able to package our facts and our thoughts in whatever manner we choose. There exists a dark counterpart to every reporter. That evil counterpart wants to distort and exaggerate events so that more people will read about them.
Newspapers have to be entertaining and colorful, or they don't get read. So study up on your demographics.
I have figured out a good way to jazz up my column. It has some psychological implications and has been used on "Knight Rider" as well.
In the end, Tom Huang meets and does battle with his evil twin.
You just can't be taken seriously anymore.