CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - Columnist Returns After Threat of Blackmail

By Jack Cawthon 2008
I was deep in discussion, to phrase it politely, with Homer Bob Pratlow, proprietor of the Over Easy Inn in Big Puf. Homer Bob is an aspiring writer who never learned to read so as to keep himself free from the chronic disease of plagiarism affecting writers who do read.

I had taken an unauthorized leave of absence from the Herald in order to further my education in Big Puf with "life experiences," which I had discovered could be used for graduate credits at a leading university in the northern part of the state. Big Puf provides a multitude of life experiences for those whose lifetime isn't shortened prematurely before graduation ceremonies.

Homer Bob and I were discussing writing. As he can't read, and I, an avid reader, have been told that I can't write, I figured that together we might produce the great American novel. We were just beginning to discuss symbolism in Charleston Gazette editorials when Arley Cleeter breathlessly barged into the room. Arley is Big Puf's resident intellectual and its lone computer nerd. Although he has lived in Big Puf for 33 years he is considered an outsider and a bit strange, attributed mostly to his Pennsylvania origins.

Arley thrust a computer printout onto the table for me to read. I saw that it consisted of a note by Bob Weaver of the Herald, seeming to offer praise of my writing and requesting that I return as a columnist. Then I read the ominous part: he was threatening that if I didn't begin producing again he would rerun one of my old columns each week. Oh, the humanity! Only someone who has turned a cold shoulder to an honored profession such as undertaking to undertake journalism could be inclined to such insidious blackmail.

I had assumed that all of my past columns had vanished into the black hole of cyberspace when the Herald server crashed some time back. Now I find that evil can live on backed up on hard drive.

I should have notified the Herald of my intentions for advanced study, but I assumed that it might have the inside scoop should my efforts turn out as badly as they did for the poor woman who has been hassled unmercifully since claiming her own life experiences in credits for a degree. She has provided gist for numerous stories and editorials and all of my experiences would have been given the Herald first hand. For all the grief bestowed upon this lone pioneer woman in pursuit of her degree, she should have received a Ph.D. in place of a lousy masters.

I had considered first attaining a degree from one of those online universities found in a computer search. But a major drawback of those degrees is a lack of running backs, as they don't field a football team. A degree counts for little without top quarterbacking it up. Adequate faculty compensation also enters in. Unless there is a ratio of 55 to 1, with the coach receiving 55 times the salary of the English professor, sometime referred to as the Rodriguez formula for academic excellence, a degree can be compromised.

But when I learned of the advanced degrees based on life experiences at a nearby university I decided to go for it. One of the requirements, perhaps THE requirement, was to be a recommendation from "the right people." I first considered Voy Dire, Big Puf's noted lawyer, but as he was then doing community service, I next thought of Bobby Gene Bubba, the Tri-Holler's longtime delegate in the Legislature. Bobby Gene has risen to top leadership roles over the years, having served as chairman of the Oversight Committee which has been able to overlook some major missteps that some have considered felonies.

But my best bet of all appeared to be Lester T. Archibald IV, coal baron owner of the Degenerated Mining Company who has contributed millions of dollars to both parties, coming up a winner in one of them that will not be named here.

However, just as I was about to bring my qualifications to the table, some pesky newspapers moved in and disrupted the system. The poor woman who preceded me and had obtained her degree was humiliated which resulted in a president relived of present duties so that he can move on to a far better job, some staff members punished by removal to safe shelter, howbeit with the same salaries, and satisfied newspaper editors who are content to safeguard motherhood, the flag, and appease advertisers.

But I still must report in without that long sought after degree, but with additional life experiences which at my age I may no longer be able to utilize fully.

As an old editor once remarked to me after offering me a job which I declined to finish college: "Go ahead and get your degree; it will look good in your obituary." I had hoped, by degrees, to have more filler material when it comes time for someone to write that essay, but considering what most newspapers now charge for the "service," combined with my cheapness, it might as well be brief. At least, 25 years when I served time on The Payroll can be skipped as nothing much happened over that period.

However, you would be amazed at what one can learn from a writer who can't read. I intend to return to Big Puf to further my education. Homer Bob has a definite advantage by not reading as he has never read this stuff.

Read lots more Cawthon's Catharsis, under Columns