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Davis, California

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The definite article

The best thing about being a columnist is my Xtreme notepad. Not only does it make me look much more prepared when the time comes to make grocery lists, it allows me to blatantly steal my friendsrandom observations for inclusion in future articles. Alongside lists of future band names like Conan the Grammarian (Nerd Rap) or Gentleman Vegetables (Punk), are other bizarre quips like,Bacteria look a lot like Cheetosand,I appreciate that the buseshazard lights double as blatantly-ignore-all-traffic-laws switches.

I bought the notebook the day I learned that, due to some gross clerical error, I’d been hired to write for The Aggie. I was going to be diligent. I wrote voraciously for nearly two months, frantically scribbling out ideas for future columns. I only stopped when I realized that I’d never actually used a single one. Still, when I’m asked where column ideas come from, it’s usually easiest to just lie and bring out the notebook.

Writing for The Aggie is a lot like having a two-page paper due every week, with a few crucial differences. If I dont turn it in I won’t just get a bad grade, I’ll be liable under breach of contract and my editor will summon serious men with guns to come beat it out of me. And when I submit it, there’s no real grade attached. Instead, my paper gets photocopied a few thousand times and distributed around campus with a picture of me in case my name isn’t enough to ensure recognition. It can be rather stressful at times.

Columns start on Tuesdays, when it occurs to me that I don’t have anything worth talking about that week. This happens every week. After a brief moment of panic, I’ll spend a day asking everyone I know whether they’d like to write a guest article. The answer is invariably no, but it feels productive enough to keep me occupied for a day. Wednesdays then are spent agonizing over the fact that I didn’t get anything done the day before. Around nine or so, it’ll occur to me that if I don’t write something I’ll have to face Eddie the editor empty-handed, a prospect terrifying enough to propel me towards my laptop.

If I’m lucky, I’ll have talked my way through the article with a friend. Those are the good ones. Otherwise, I essentially just sit in front a blank screen staring at my fingers, willing them into action. The differences are dramatic. The column about waking up to drive a bus took about 45 minutes total; the one involving homebrew was a 10-hour ordeal. I get paid by the inch, not the hour. To put that into rough perspective, in the time required to find a coffee tree, harvest the pods, break them, roast them, ship them to the US and package them, I’d earned almost enough to afford a cup of coffee.

Thursdays are usually better. After putting the finishing touches on a column (or waving my hands at it in despair), I mosey down to Lower Freeborn for edits. Columnists fall under the wing of the editor-in-chief, the distinguished Eddie Lee (HI EDDIE!). He boots up my column, reads it out loud, deletes my favorite comma and sends me out the door. The whole process takes about ten minutes, and then I’m free for another week. It’s an exciting day.

It’s Fridays that remind me why I keep doing this. Seeing someone on the bus giggling their way through my article is unbelievably gratifying. When I get home I’ll rush into the apartment, grab the nearest roommate and exclaim,My picture was in the paper today!” They’re unimpressed, but I’m excited. Later, when friends come over to drink they’ll joke about lines from the column, though by that time I’ve forgotten what I wrote and am instead impressed with their cleverness.

I solemnly believe everyone should have this job for a year, if only to realize that they’re not nearly as interesting as they think they are. It’s been an astonishing amount of fun, and I’ll be sad to see it go. I look forward to reading my replacements.


CADE GRUNST has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you, write to cade@ucdavis.edu for more info!


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