Not so long ago I expended quite a few words to explain why I try to keep high school memories at arm’s length. At the same time, formative experiences undoubtedly took place back then, and so for me, it’s not hypocritical to analyze them even while remaining supremely vigilant to the distortions of spectacles with rose-colored lenses.
This column is about the Weekly Wad. It is old and new, all at once. The original iteration was published in the pre-merger New Albany Tribune on March 24, 2010, and was repeated here in 2013 and 2017. However, I’ve rewritten it to better reflect the lessons that I learned as a prime instigator of this particular episode.
As before, the column is dedicated to the memory of the late David Roark, whose boundless wit so enlivened those times.
From time to time an older friend observes that my meek and unobtrusive writing style – as displayed over forty or more years in letters to the editor, a beer appreciation newsletter, internet blogs and occasional newspaper and magazine columns – can be traced back to those baby steps of ours in 1975 with the Weekly Wad.
I’m not entirely sure they mean this reference as a compliment, or if I even do, but as always thanks for reading. A writer without readers is a mere diarist, destined to be read when dead, and not before.
For the record, the inaugural Weekly Wad was an underground “newspaper” of four crudely mimeographed pages. A dozen Floyd Central High School male freshmen (and one gal, maybe two) collaboratively wrote and “published” the Wad by purloining paper and supplies from the audio-visual department, running off 200 illicit copies after school, and distributing them free of charge to a subscriber list made up of friends we trusted not to tattle on us.
In retrospect, this strikes me as a tad naïve. Are marketing and bragging separable?
This first Weekly Wad is best remembered for its front page illustration depicting our buzz cut school principal wearing a Nazi armband and giving the requisite Hitler one-armed salute.
Eventually each of us was compelled to have a private audience with the head man, listening as he expressed disappointment over the illustration, given the fate of his cousin, “a good Christian boy” who died in Europe during World War II while fighting the Nazis.
(Later, when the original column was published in 2010, this same principal had retired and become a member of the school board, enthusiastically voting to shutter New Albany’s inner-city schools. Suffice to say that I did not support his various, perennial candidacies for seats on the board, the last of which came at the age of 119 or thereabouts; furthermore, for this and another highly personal reason occurring in 1986, I find myself serene with regard to our uninformed but accurate instincts 45 years ago. Too bad it couldn’t have been in color.)
Another feature of our first born publication was an open advocacy of beer consumption on the part of a motley, fuzz-cheeked collection of adolescents still six years shy of legal drinking age.
There also were a few unflattering references to fellow students and teachers, and a music review of a group long forgotten, or elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or neither – maybe both.
These pot shots at fellow students, at least the ones I authored, constitute the single biggest lesson I learned as the Weekly Wad’s editor. This is because we chose not to sign our work. Our names were not listed, and to be frank, I wrote a few hurtful and stupid things. When the furor died down and a settlement proposal came forth from above, it was stipulated that an abandonment of anonymity was necessary if we intended to continue publishing.
The school administrators were absolutely right. It is from this single teachable moment that I’ve derived my subsequent hostility to pseudonyms and diversionary tactics. Say and write what you will, and stand behind it by signing your name.
Or, conversely, shut the fuck up.
Floyd Central’s corridors were teeming with excited readers the day following release, and we were basking in notoriety, when one of our distribution associates was collared by the dragnet. After a brief round of water boarding, he was coerced into a full confession, sans Miranda rights.
In short order, the entire staff was taken into custody. Parents were called, suspensions were plotted … and then the scandal became more bizarre than I’d ever imagined.
Much to our surprise, our folks (two of whom were teachers, including my mother) took the case and turned it full bore against the administrators, who became stunned and confused, like ducks hit on the head.
Our parents strenuously argued that for 15-year-old kids to seek creative literary and journalistic outlets apart from the pre-ordained official curriculum surely denoted an abject failure somewhere in the chain of educational bureaucracy, and in addition, we should be rewarded for our initiative rather than punished for purely incidental illegality.
We were writing, after all; very poorly in fact, but doing so on our own time, seeking self-expression, and refraining from painting graffiti on the walls or toilet-papering the superintendent’s house.
(Those feats would come later, once we had driver’s licenses.)
To be sure, there was the small matter of materials we’d appropriated in the name of the revolution, so after a cooling-off period, cursory wrist-slappings and assorted pieties intended to channel our youthful energies into more conventional directions, we were permitted to remunerate the school corporation for its dead trees and resume our journalistic careers, so long as we had a faculty advisor and refrained from further A-V pilferage.
The late Michael “Mick” Neely providentially agreed to sponsor the “new” Weekly Wad, circa 1976, My mother continued to allow me to use her 1950’s-era manual typewriter to compose screeds against cafeteria food, undemocratic decision-making processes, and turncoat hall monitors.
These were cut up with scissors, pasted into place, and when an adult was available to play taxi, taken to a long-departed business in downtown New Albany called Pronto Press. Our allowances and odd job monies were pooled to pay for these sporadically released opuses, which decreased in frequency as we advanced toward graduation.
A final farewell issue planned for the autumn of 1977 was completed and printed, but never released owing to the possibility that the athletic department might object to the strident tone of a Mike’s wickedly funny expose on individual versus team sports.
It has become known as the Lost Wad, and occasionally pops up on EBAY at vastly inflated prices.
Throughout the 1980’s, during my tenures as part-time clerk at the late and lamented Scoreboard Liquors by night and substitute teacher by day, periodic revivals of the Weekly Wad were staged.
Most were undertaken with the connivance of my primary co-conspirator Byron, whose colorful accounts of high life in low places appeared under the rubric “And Now for the Truth,” which I believe we lifted straight from a Herbert W. Armstrong religious tract.
My favorite episode detailed an unfortunate incident with a loaded taco on a crowded Market Street during Vodka-Thon, an informal annual walkabout through the bedlam of Harvest Homecoming’s Saturday night booths; armed only with plastic cups of Stolichnaya passed through the shadow of a Rose’s Lime Juice bottle, rendering the most ambulatory of gimlets, we would tour the streets.
During this second Weekly Wad era, with the subject matter turning toward topical downtown New Albany issues like the construction of the ludicrous canary yellow canvas-topped waterfront amphitheater, I first took to referring to the Wad’s newsroom as occupying an opulent suite high atop the glittering Elsby Building.
More than anything else, these developments foreshadowed written endeavors to come.
When the NA Confidential blog was founded in 2004, it stemmed from an escalating personal interest in the downtown area. Recalling my nascent explorations into this somnolent topic during the late eighties, I came quite close to naming this very blog the Weekly Wad before changing my mind at the last minute.
It is stupefying and quaint to consider the history of an underground newspaper in that dusty, pre-wired era when the genial Gerald Ford was president.
Kids today build interactive (and profitable) multi-media empires at the age of three. My generation had subversion in our brains, larceny in our hearts, and the traditional restrictions of pre-electronic paper-trail discourse to keep us out of serious trouble.
If the internet had existed then, we’d probably have been incarcerated.
For me, there’s still time.
September 3: ON THE AVENUES: If you really want to be my friend.
August 13: ON THE AVENUES: In My Merry Oldsmobile.