From the author: A journalism student finds out how much not proofreading his article about the Dean can cost.
“You know your band’s name sucks, right?”
Christopher stood at the edge of the small stage of the campus bar while the band put away their instruments.
“Well, glad to meet you too,” said the front man as he unplugged his amp.
“Sorry, sometimes my internal editor is turned off. I say the headline before I have the story written. My name’s Christopher.” He extended his hand. Christopher was thin and slouched. He had dark, curly hair that some said resembled Peter Brady in the later seasons. He wore a threadbare sweater and jeans with holes at the knees. He always carried a pen and notepad. He had intense, brown eyes that took in everything around him.
“I’m Cy,” said the front man as he shook Christopher’s hand and stepped off the stage. Cy stood a few inches tall than Christopher. He was lean and muscular—the type of guy you’d want with you in a bad part of town. He wore a leather jacket over a Bad Brains t-shirt and cargo pants. His hair was shaved close against his dark skin. He smiled broadly and his teeth shone like porcelain, transforming him from a nightclub bouncer into an old friend in an instant. “Did you at least like the show?”
“The show was awesome! A nice blend of Glen Danzig with the flair of Neil Diamond in his sequin years.”
“Had a good beat and easy to dance to, huh?”
“Yeah. I’m writing a review of tonight’s show for The St. Regis Review. But, seriously, Secret Cretin Secretion?”
“Come sit with us,” said Cy. “I’m buying hot wings.” He shouldered his way through the crowd to a table in the corner. A young woman was saving seats for them. She was petite and curvy. Her hair was cut short in a sophisticated Euro style and she had a nose ring. Her eyes were deep brown like jewels of root beer.
“This is Maggie,” Cy said. “Maggie, this is Christopher. He writes for the Review. So, Christopher, you’re going to write us a good review?”
“Yup. But the name still sucks.” Cy shook his head and turned to go order their food.
“So, you’re a journalism major?” Maggie asked.
“Yeah,” Christopher replied, “what about you?”
“Women’s studies? I thought that was reserved for freshmen men only.”
“Nice,” she said.
“Where you from?”
“What brought you out to the great state of Wisconsin?”
“My dad’s a trustee of St. Regis, so I kinda had to go here.” She raised an eyebrow and looked skeptically at Christopher’s torn jeans. “He lives in Janesville. I live with my mother in Boston.”
“Divorced, huh?” asked Maggie. Cy returned with a three steaming baskets of bright orange wings.
“Aren’t everybody’s parents divorced nowadays?” asked Christopher.
“Mine are,” said Cy. “And Jeff, our drummer, his parents split when he was three. He’s lived one week with his mom the other with his dad all his life.”
“That sounds like hell,” replied Christopher.
“Mine are still together,” said Maggie.
“They should give you minority status,” said Cy with a grin.
“What if the Devil wasn’t a man at all, but actually God’s ex-wife?” asked Christopher.
“That would explain a lot!” Cy replied.
“So many parallels to broken families. It’s like we’re all children caught between fighting parents,” said Maggie.
“The constant arguing,” said Cy from behind a mouthful of wing.
“The one-upmanship. Having to choose between one parent or the other,” Maggie said, pointing with a stalk of celery.
“Like a giant, cosmic custody battle,” said Christopher.
“I feel an after school special coming on!” said Cy.
“There’s the name for your band,” said Christopher as he grabbed a napkin.
“What?” asked Cy and Maggie together.
Later, Maggie brought Christopher back to the Womyn’s Center. The lights upstairs and in the living room were out. Maggie’s keys rattled loudly as she turned the lock.
“Shh!” Christopher hissed as he tripped over an area rug.
“Why?” asked Maggie. “This is my house; I can come and go as I please.”
“Isn’t there a dorm proctor?”
“No, this is private property. The school owns the land, but not the building. It can’t impose its rules here.”
“Still, I feel like an interloper. Like, at any moment, one of those hard-line dykes is going to find me here in your females’ sanctuary.”
“And she’s going to start yelling like a Howler Monkey to sound the alarm to her Amazonian cohorts?”
“Right.” Maggie stepped to a large sofa by the bay window in the living room. The only light was above the door in the front hall. Christopher could see Maggie’s silhouette sit down on the sofa and beckon for him to join her. “A Menstruation Celebration?” he read from a poster on a bulletin board near the door. “What, are you all going to be bitchy together?”
“No,” Maggie said defensively. “It’s a celebration of a cycle that’s unique to women.”
Christopher considered the poster. It showed a painting of a woman stylized in heavy brushstrokes reminiscent of Chagall. She sat with her head in her palms as a crimson river flowed from between her thighs. “It’s a shedding of tissue,” he said as he crossed the dark living room and joined her on the sofa. “That’s like celebrating shaving or toenail clipping.”
“We want to take away the stigma of menstruation as a dirty, hormonally-charged burden—a burden as defined by men.”
“Why don’t you have an Ovulation Celebration? That’s unique to women and more positive—the potential for life. You could hide eggs like at Easter.” In the dark, Christopher could sense Maggie was rolling her eyes.
“We want to celebrate menstruation because it makes people uncomfortable. It makes men uncomfortable. It makes you uncomfortable—doesn’t it, Chris?”
“Please don’t call me that.”
“People always called me Chris back home. My high school girlfriend even called me Topher, which earned me the nickname, ‘Topher the Gopher.’ No one knows that here—well, except you.”
“So you want to redefine yourself in a more mature way here at college by being
That’s when she kissed him.
The next morning Christopher received a call from his mother.
“Chris, I’ve been thinking a lot about your tuition. St. Regis is so expensive.” Wow, thought Christopher. Don’t ask me how my classes are or what’s new with the newspaper or anything.
“I know, but dad’s helping me a lot.”
“He could be helping you more.” Just dive right into it, why don’t you, Mom? Start right off bashing Dad.
“He doesn’t want me to be treated any differently than any other student, even if he is a trustee.”
“Well, you have a significant inheritance you could be using toward school.”
“Mom, dad’s not dead.” Though I’m sure you wish he was.
“I’m talking about the divorce decree, Chris. Your college tuition is supposed to be taken care of. I gave up a lot so that was put in there for you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, your father was supposed to pay for all of your tuition—trustee or not. I had my lawyers write that in there. You shouldn’t have taken on any debt.”
“I don’t know, mom.”
“Your inheritance is tied up in that new house of his—the one he shares with that Belinda.”
“So, what, you want me to put them both on the street so I can go to college?”
“I don’t care what happens to them. All I’m saying is your future is on the line.”
“So, what are you suggesting, Mom?”
“I want you to sue him for your inheritance.”
“Now, do the structure again, with the hydrogen atoms on the right,” asked Maria. She and Christopher were in the Biology Lab going over sample problems.
“Umm.” Christopher said as he chewed his pencil.
“What do you get?” Maria stuffed her hands in the pockets of her long, blue lab coat that she always wore.
“C6 H12 O6 ?”
“Hi Christopher.” Maggie stepped through the door and joined the two of them at the black lab bench.
“Hi Maggie. Maggie, this is Maria Avila, my biology tutor. Maria, this is Maggie Dylan.”
“Hi Maggie,” said Maria. She was tall—a rarity for a Latina—and had long, straight, black hair, which she kept in a neat ponytail. Her face was calm and stoic, but not unfriendly. “I’m not a tutor; I’m the TA for Bio 101. I’m just helping Christopher get ready for the next test.”
“I wouldn’t have passed the last one if not for Maria.”
“Meet me for coffee after you’re done?” Maggie said. She kissed him on the cheek.
“What’s the ‘Womyn’s Group’?” asked Maria, glancing at a folder under Maggie’s arm.
“Oh, it’s a petition I want to bring to the Student Council to set up a women’s resource group in the Womyn’s Center to provide support for victims of rape, distribute condoms, and give options for unwanted pregnancies.”
“Really? Good luck with that.”
“Women at St. Regis’ should be empowered to take charge of their sexuality. This group will help them do that. Won’t you sign it?”
“I’m already empowered.”
“I’m a virgin. I take charge by abstaining.”
“Hi, I’m still here,” said Christopher.
“Abstinence isn’t for everyone. But, it’s one form of empowerment,” said Maggie.
“Right,” Maria replied.
“So, women should work together to look out for one another and share ideas.”
“Ok. I’ll sign.” Maggie opened the folder and gave it to Maria who withdrew a pen from her coat pocket. “Oh, I see I’m the first one.”
“I’m just starting out,” said Maggie.
“I could help you out, you know.”
“How so?” asked Maggie.
“Give me some of the sign up sheets and pamphlets and I’ll petition to my roommates at the Spanish House and the other females in my Bio Club.”
“That’s great!” said Maggie. “Thanks.”
“Well, I hope you go easy on me. I’m your first and you’re my first.” Maggie looked confused and Christopher blushed. “It’s my first time…signing a petition for a Womyn’s Group anyway.” Maria’s stoic face brightened into a wry smile and she winked.
“There is a motion before the council to recognize Ms. Dylan’s petition to establish a girls’ resource center on campus. Do I hear a second?”
“Second,” muttered Father Dick. “But there’s a spelling error in your petition, Ms. Dylan. You have a ‘Y’ in Womyn’s Group.”
“All in favor?” asked Father Spellman. There was a smattering of ‘Ayes.’
“So moved. Ms. Dylan, the floor is yours.”
“Thank you, Father Spellman,” said Maggie. She straightened her papers and began: “We represent the four hundred and eighty-three women of St. Regis’ who signed a petition asking the school to provide a resource for their particular, feminine needs.” Father Dick squirmed uncomfortably in his chair. “These four hundred and eighty-three signatures represent only a fraction of the seven thousand women attending St. Regis—the fraction who had the courage to sign the petition.”
“Your motion, please, Ms. Dylan?”
“We propose to set up a women’s resource group in the existing Womyn’s Center building. It would be funded using a portion of the student activity fees, as well as revenue generated from the various concerts, seminars, and open mic functions held at the Womyn’s Center.”
“What would the money be used for?” asked Father Spellman.
“Women’s services,” Maggie replied.
“Support for victims of rape, condom distribution, AIDS education, and options for unwanted pregnancies.” There was a pause so pregnant that a whole litter of screaming moments seemed waiting to burst forth from it. Maggie used the gap to plunge forward: “We would have a hotline for women to call if they had issues or questions—questions that aren’t readily answered by their parents or teachers.”
Father Dick, who seemed to have woken up from a nap, said, “There are no rapes at this school.”
Father Thomas raised his eyebrows. “Condom distribution?” he asked. Maggie nodded. “And what do you mean by, ‘…options for unwanted pregnancies.’?”
“Women who find themselves pregnant can learn about the many options they have: adoption, subsidized daycare, and, if needed, abortion.”
Father Dick gasped. “Women don’t just find themselves pregnant!”
“Ms. Dylan,” said Father Spellman, “this is a Catholic school.”
“So I’ve been told,” said Maggie.
“What you’re proposing is a sort of Planned Parenthood on our campus.”
“We want to give the women of St. Regis options. We want to empower them by taking ownership of their sexuality.”
Father Dick scoffed. “They can go down to Beloit College if they want that.”
“Ms. Dylan,” said Father Spellman, “you are not going to use school dollars to fund this center, nor are you going to conduct these types of activities on campus grounds. Let the minutes show that the council hereby retracts its recognition of the Women’s Group.”
“I can’t think of a headline,” said Christopher.
“That’s a first,” said Maggie. “You usually have that before you have any copy.”
“That’s for articles I want to write. This one’s a chore, but the article’s done, just not the layout.”
He and Maggie were in the lounge of Christopher’s dormitory. Maggie sprawled in an armchair while Christopher typed away at a computer.
“State what the piece is about,” said Maggie from beneath a copy of Introduction to Zoology that lay over her face.
“‘Priest Wins Award,’ but that doesn’t fill the space.”
“Tell me something else.”
“There is nothing else.”
“What about the priest?”
“He’s a dickhead.”
“Well, we know that.” Maggie got up and looked over Christopher’s shoulder at the screen. Christopher typed: “Dickhead Priest Wins Award.”
“At least that fills the space,” said Maggie. “Read me the intro.”
“Father Thomas Spellman, S.J., Associate Dean of St. Regis University has won the prestigious Catholic Award in Collegiate—”
Just then the dorm’s fire alarm went off.
“Somebody burned their toast again,” said Christopher with a sigh. He and Maggie evacuated the dorm with all the other students. Outside in the parking lot the late night air made ghosts of their breath. People stamped their feet and huddled together in small groups.
“Let’s go for a coffee,” said Christopher. “Better than hanging out here.” Maggie linked his arm and they headed toward the quad.
The next day, they read the headline in horror.
“Dickhead Priest Wins Award by Christopher Jessup.”
“Shit! I never fixed that and it went to press!” said Christopher.
“You sent it to the paper like that?” asked Maggie.
“No, I wrote it in the web version and missed the deadline.”
“You didn’t think to draft it first, and then put it on the website?”
“I’ve never had to before.”
“Shit! Shit! Shit!”
“Can’t they retract the article?”
“No, it’s already been emailed to thousands of readers. They might be able to stop delivery on the hardcopy versions before they get to the alumni…and our parents.”
Christopher, Maggie, Cy, and Maria were on the steps of Martin Hall; they were all too anxious to go inside for breakfast. Maria closed her laptop. Staring at the headline wasn’t going to solve anything.
“What do you think will happen?” asked Maria.
“Umm…other than a formal inquiry, apologies to Father Spellman, the school, alumni relations, admissions, lawsuits from sponsors,” Christopher ticked the possibilities off on his fingers, “then there’s always expulsion.”
“Wait, can’t your dad help you out on this? He’s a trustee, isn’t he?” asked Cy.
“He can’t. That would be nepotism,” replied Christopher.
“Even just this once?” asked Maria.
“It was just a stupid mistake,” said Maggie.
“I just libeled the Senior Jesuit in the school paper,” said Christopher. “I called him a dickhead on the front page!”
They were all silent for a moment then Maggie looked up. “They’ll think this is retaliation.”
“Huh?” the other three asked.
“Because of my petition,” said Maggie. “They’ll think it’s in retaliation for not recognizing the Womyn’s Group. They’ll want to make an example out of you. I should be the one to get expelled.”
“No,” replied Christopher. “It’s my byline; it’s my responsibility.”
“We should all quit the school in protest,” said Cy.
“Umm, speak for yourself!” said Maria.
“I’ll have to leave St. Regis,” said Christopher. “Apply somewhere else and hopefully be able to afford the tuition on my own.”
Christopher dialed his mother’s phone number. He let it ring twice then hung up.
“Fuck!” he whispered to himself as he thumped the phone against his forehead. The phone rang in his hand. He saw his mother’s number calling him back. He took a deep breath and answered.
“Chris?” his mother said.
“Hello, dear. I saw that you called then you weren’t there; trouble with the line?”
“Umm…no,” Christopher said.
“Is everything all right? You so rarely call me out of the blue.”
“I was thinking, y’know, if I was going to transfer to another school…”
“What was that you said about my inheritance?”
“Why the sudden change of heart?”
“Mom, there’s been…an incident…with the paper. I screwed up. Royally. I wrote a snarky headline and it went to press before I could change it.”
“Yes, I saw.”
“There’s going to be a disciplinary board. They’re gonna expel me—I know it!”
“They can’t do that. Your father’s a trustee.”
“I don’t know, Mom. I haven’t heard from him all week.”
“Your father hasn’t called you?”
“No. I suspect he can’t do anything because of his spot on the Board.”
“All the more reason to sue him for your inheritance.”
“God! I hate the thought of that—suing my own father.”
“You have to do what’s right for you, sweetie. You and your future.” Christopher was silent for a few moments. “Well, if you’re expelled, you can go to school out here. You’ll have the rest of spring
to apply. I can pull some strings with some people I know in Boston. You really will have to get that inheritance money from your father—I can’t pay for your schooling on my own.”
On Friday the lecture hall in the Paulsen Building was packed. Students, faculty, administrators, and local business owners filled the polished wooden seats below stained glass windows featuring scholars and saints. Cy, Maggie, and Maria were there.
Christopher sat alone at a table and across from him, at another table, sat Father Spellman. Members of the Board sat in a row of chairs on the stage with the school’s Dean, Dr. Paul Potistine, at the center.
“Esteemed members of the Board, Father Spellman, and Mr. Jessup,” said Dean Potisine. “This hearing will determine the authorship of the recent disparaging headline in The St. Regis Review, as well as reparations and consequences. Mr. Jessup, your first character witness is Maria Avila. Ms. Avila, will you please take the stand?”
Maria rose and stepped to the chair at stage left.
“Ms. Avila,” asked the Dean, “were you involved, in any way, with the writing of the article in question?”
Maria swallowed and looked at Christopher. “No,” she replied.
“Thank you, Ms. Avila, we have no further questions for you. You may step down.” Maria returned to her seat by Maggie and Cy and stared at the floor.
“Cyrus Peters, will you please take the stand as next character witness?” Cy stood and strode towards the stand. His teeth were set and his stride defiant as if he were going to pummel every member of the board with his bare hands. Cy sat down and faced Dean Potistine.
“Mr. Peters, were you involved, in any way, with the writing of the article in question?”
“It was an innocent, proofreading mistake—anyone could’ve done it.”
“Please answer the question, Mr. Peters. Were you involved in the writing of the article?”
“I’m a character witness. I’m here to vouch for Christopher’s character.”
“Did you assist Mr. Jessup in writing the article?”
“The board has no further questions for you, Mr. Peters, you are free to go.” Cy looked deflated. He glanced at Christopher sheepishly and stepped down from the stand.
The Dean shuffled some papers and pushed his glasses up his nose. “The next witness for the defense is Ms. Margaret Dylan. Ms. Dylan, please take the stand. Maggie took the stand. She never took her eyes off of Christopher.
“Ms. Dylan,” said the Dean, “were you involved in any way with the writing of the article in question.”
“Yes, I was.”
The Dean peered at her over his glasses. “In what capacity? Did you write any part of it or edit it?”
“I was there with him.”
“So you witnessed the defendant writing the article? Did you see him write the offensive headline?”
“Well, yes, but I was having him read it to me when the smoke alarm went off and we had to leave the computer lounge.”
“Ms. Dylan, did you assist with the writing of the article in question?”
“Maggie,” Christopher whispered, “Just say, ‘No.’ No one can do this for me—except me.”
Maggie paused. After a moment she said, “No, I didn’t.”
“Ms. Dylan, you are free to go. Mr. Jessup, do you have any other character witnesses?”
The Dean turned to the court reporter. “Let the record show that the defendant’s father and trustee of St. Regis’ University, Mr. Christopher Jessup, Sr., is absent from today’s proceedings—”
“I wrote the article,” said Christopher suddenly. “I wrote the article and I wrote the headline.”
“You don’t deny it?” asked Dean Potistine.
“In that case, Mr. Jessup, the Board has determined that your recklessness in writing this headline has done serious damage to the University’s reputation. Your position as a reporter with The St. Regis Review placed you in a position of trust—a trust which you violated. The school will need to issue a formal apology to Father Spellman, the paper’s commercial sponsors, and the readership at large. We have no choice but to end your status as a full time student with St. Regis’ University, its affiliate satellite locations, and adjunct courses effective immediately. You will have seventy-two hours to vacate your residence hall and depart the campus.”
On Saturday night Christopher, Maggie, Cy, and Maria had dinner at the local Chinese restaurant. They feasted on Crab Rangoon and Kung Pao chicken and drank Tsingtao beer late into the night. They had the upper room all to themselves. The owner, Charlie Fong, gave them items not usually on the menu, compliments of the house. “I know that Father Sperr-man,” Charlie whispered in Christopher’s ear. “He is a dickhead.”
When they were done, Christopher passed around the fortune cookies. “Everybody read their fortunes,” he said. “I want to hear what you’ll all be up to after I’m gone.”
“Jeez, it’s not like you’re dying!” said Maria.
“Mine says, ‘You will obtain your goal if you maintain your course,’” Cy read.
“Mine says, ‘Your life will be filled with magical moments,” said Maria.
Maggie read hers. “Mine says, ‘Watch your back.’” The table fell silent. “Kidding. It says, ‘The path is perceived when you stop looking for it.’”
“What does yours say, Christopher?” asked Maria.
“‘You are a lover of words. Someday you will write a book.’”
Maggie grasped Christopher’s hand under the table. “You’ll call me as soon as you get to Boston?” she asked.
“And me,” said Maria.
“Yeah, and me,” said Cy. “I want to know if all those books I packed for you made it safely.”
“Of course,” said Christopher with a smile.
Christopher gave hugs all around as his father’s black Mercedes pulled up to the front of his dormitory that Sunday morning.
“Call me, OK?” said Maggie who was too brave to cry, but not too brave to have something caught in her eye.
“Don’t let the bastards get you down,” said Cy. He lightly punched Christopher’s arm.
“Vaya con Dios,” said Maria and kissed his cheek. “Don’t forget your equations.”
“Thanks, guys,” said Christopher and climbed into his father’s car.
As the Mercedes pulled away, Christopher turned to his father. “Dad? I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I’ve been talking to Mom about other schools, but she can’t afford to send to me to any place back east. She told me that I have inheritance from you that I could use. But, of course, you’re still alive and you and Belinda just bought that new house.” He was silent for a moment then said, “I can’t…I won’t do what Mom suggested, which is to sue you for that inheritance now so I can go to another school.”
Christopher’s father pressed a button on the leather dashboard and turned up the air conditioning. He stared straight ahead through the windshield while his sunglasses glinted in the morning sun.
“I…I just wanted to let you know that I’d never do that to you,” Christopher said.
“I know,” said his father.
This story originally appeared in The Loose Leaf Press.