My path to Professor Carson's Journalism 205 class at the University of Arizona was more like an obstacle course. I was a terrible student in high school. I was completely disinterested. I thought of dropping out many times but somehow saw it through and graduated in 1985. Instead of attending my high school graduation, I followed a punk rock band all across the country that summer. I had no plans to attend college. Instead, I thought I would drink 40-ouncers of Old English Malt Liquor among the other wayward youth who hung out at Aetna Park on the North Side of Chicago.
In September of 1985, all of my high school friends had gone off to college. Buddies Tom and Karl went off to the University of Wisconsin. Mike road his motorcycle out west to CalArts. Tom B. went to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. While I still had plenty of friends to drink with at the park, I felt real lonely when my oldest friends all went away to college and for the first time, I thought maybe I should go to college too.
I enrolled at Columbia College in Chicago which did not start its fall semester until October -- leaving me with a whole month to sleep till 2 p.m., drink at Aetna, and hang out at an all-ages night club called Medusa's. Having never considered going to college before, I did not have a major. The folks at Columbia College labeled me "undecided." They made me take writing classes, along with history and social sciences. I avoided math like the plague. I hated math. I still hate math.
Columbia is an art school, so in addition to my required courses, I took all sorts of art and music classes which I really enjoyed. For the first time in my life, I actually liked school. After two years of being "undecided," I "decided" to pursue a degree in journalism. Of all the classes I took at Columbia, I enjoyed the writing classes the most. I figured I needed to find a career that I would enjoy. The only career that came to mind where I could write was journalism.
I went from a "D" student in high school to an "A" student at Columbia College. After two years, I lost my interest in punk rock, malt liquor, Aetna Park, Medusa's, and felt I needed to leave Chicago and go to a real college campus to study journalism. I applied to schools all over the country. I went out to Philadelphia to look at Temple University. I thought Philadelphia was a real pit and lost my interest in Temple.
My high school buddy Tom had transferred from University of Alaska to the University of Arizona in 1986 because his girlfriend was at Arizona. In February of 1987, when it was 12 below zero in Chicago, and in the 80s in Tucson, I flew out there to see Tom and check out the U of A. I wish I had some sort of anecdotal epiphany as to why I chose to attend the U of A, but embarrassingly, and truthfully, I ended up there because I saw girls in bikinis running around Tom's apartment complex. I wanted to spend my winters with girls in bikinis, not walking down Harrison Street in Downtown Chicago with the freezing wind blowing off Lake Michigan, forcefully hitting my bald head. So I picked up a copy of the course catalog and saw that Arizona offered a journalism major and enrolled that fall. I roomed with Tom and just outside our apartment was a pool filled with girls in bikinis -- all year long!
My courses that fall included Journalism 205, Algebra (ugh!), and a host of other required classes. One was called "Humanities" where we studied Greek philosophers, it was actually kind of cool.
The campus at the University of Arizona is absolutely beautiful. The heart of the campus is a long grassy "mall," as they call it, surrounded by red-brick buildings that blend well with the surrounding Catalina mountains. Outside the mall is the Franklin Building -- the only dumpy, run-down structure on the campus. The journalism department, at the time, was located in the basement of the Franklin Building. It was there I met Professor Carson, a freakishly tall man, thin, and in shape for his age.
Professor Carson's classroom was not very large and had a dozen or so 1960's-era desks each decorated with a crusty old manual typewriter. There were stacks of that gray recycled paper that seemingly crumpled by the touch. At the start of each class, the students grabbed a sheet of that crappy paper and stuffed them into the crappy typewriters. First thing, we had to type up our answers to Professor Carson's daily current affairs quiz which was based on the morning's news contained in the Arizona Daily Star.
About the only thing I aced in Journalism 205 was the morning current affairs quizzes. I was a news junky long before I decided to pursue a career in journalism. In Tucson, I had my hometown Chicago Tribune delivered to my apartment along with the Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Citizen. I was up to speed on the workings of the world by the time I finished my morning grump.
After the current affairs quiz, Professor Carson had some sort of newspaper related lecture, whether it be about writing a lead, the inverted pyramid, or checking facts and spelling. He had us engage in all sorts of exercises where we practiced leads, interviews and writing hard news stories. All was done on that crappy paper in those crappy typewriters. Professor Carson treated his Journalism 205 students as if they were his staff at the St. Louis Post Dispatch. I'm not sure what he did at the Dispatch but there was a photo in his office of him editing copy at the Dispatch. I spent a lot of time in that office.
He was tough. If you failed to include the middle initial of a source in one of your stories or class exercises you received an automatic E grade, affectionately called an "Auto E." An Auto E was a failing grade. I was the Auto E King! I could never remember to include that stupid middle initial!! So after receiving great grades at Columbia College, I was back to my high school grades, at least in Journalism 205. What was so disheartening was, unlike high school, I really tried in Journalism 205. Nevertheless, I learned a lot but I hated Professor Carson for all those dang Auto E's.
When the semester ended, he called me into his office and told me I should pursue another major. I became enraged and blasted him for being a poor teacher. I told him he should not give up on me so easily and actually try and teach me something. I hated that man.
I avoided him the following semester as much as I could. The Franklin Building was small so I had to see him. I joined a gym and began lifting weights to get out my frustrations. One day Professor Carson asked if I was working out. I told him I joined a gym. He said I looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I had a much better experience with Professor Ford Burkhardt in Journalism 206. Professor Burkhardt was everything Professor Carson wasn't -- kind, supportive, empathetic.
In the fall of 1988, I was stuck with Professor Carson again, this time for the class titled Reporting Public Affairs. I avoided contact with him as much as I could. I was able to cut down on my Auto-E's but Professor Carson found other ways to criticize my work. The bulk of the grade was based on a feature story, assigned on day one and due at the end of the semester. I chose to write about the City of Tucson's long-range plan. I was amazed that city officials had come up with this detailed plan for every aspect of its government for five, ten, 15 years down the road. I drove the Tucson City Manager nuts. I was constantly in his office with questions. At the end of the semester, I felt I had a hell of a story. Professor Carson hated it. I had a real flowery lead that went something like, "Deep in the epicenter of Tucson City Hall, secured with graphs and assorted calculations, was the plan, the future, for Tucson, Arizona." I sat in Professor Carson's office and he read my lead back to me and looked at me like I was nuts.
I took out my frustration in the weight room. I also dated some beautiful ladies, that helped cheer me up. I would not allow myself to get discouraged. At this point, there was no turning back, I thought. Journalism or bust. I certainly wasn't going back to Aetna Park. Screw Professor Carson.
I thought I could be a foreign correspondent and signed up to study international journalism through the university's study abroad program in partnership with the University of London, in England. Hah! I thought, no Professor Carson in England!
Then one day I was called to meet with a group of professors at the journalism department. I had no idea what the meeting was about. I showed up at the Franklin Building and met with Professor Carson and a group of his cronies. Turned out, I was the only journalism student at the university to sign up for the study abroad program. Professor Carson was to accompany me to London. I thought I had a black cloud following overhead.
I was determined not to allow Professor Carson to get to me. I was going to London. He wasn't going to ruin this for me.
In January of 1990, I arrived at Heathrow Airport and met up with other American students from various universities across the U.S. We were herded onto a bus and received a quick tour of London before being dropped off at our "flat," which is Londonese for "apartment." It was more like a townhouse on the North Side of London. It had a kitchen and living room on the first floor and two bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor. My bedroom was more like a closet. It contained a dresser and a bunk bed. The other room had a bunk bed and a small bed. There were five of us living in the flat. There was Jim, who also was from the U of A; Dave and Bill from the University of Iowa, and Todd from the University of Texas. We all got along great.
The University of London was located a mile or so south from our flat. The easiest way to get there was the "tube," Londonese for "subway." Though, I figured out how to walk to the University of London and found it most enjoyable to hoof it each day and take in the sights, sounds, and scents of London. The tube was disgusting. It smelled like piss and vomit.
I had all of these great classes lined up. The History of Parliament, the History of Britain, English Literature, and International Reporting. The professor who taught the History of Parliament reminded me of Mr. Bean. The other history professor was a rotund Irishman who enjoyed a pint with his students after class. He was awesome! My literature professor was an American ex pat, who moved to London with his wife, a native. Of course, teaching International Reporting was Professor Carson, bring on the Auto E's, I thought.
Surprisingly, there were no Auto E's in Professor Carson's International Reporting course at the University of London. There was no critique of my work. I thought Professor Carson may have been ill but he brought a different philosophy to London. Concerned, I actually asked him why he wasn't giving out Auto E's. He said grades were not important in this course, instead, experiences were important. He advised that I did not worry about my grades in any of my courses at the University of London and he told me take advantage of being in London and in Europe and explore. Who was this man?
Well, I always fancied myself as a sort of Huck Finn character, and I took Professor Carson's advice to heart. I explored London by going to a different pub every night. Man, that was fun. I drank a ton of bitter ale. Saw amazing bands. Ate terrible pub food. Got beaten up. Somehow randomly ran into people I knew from Chicago and met all sorts of crazy Londoners. As the weeks went on, I started taking train and bus trips all over the U.K. Then my pal Matt from Chicago came out to see me for spring break and we took trains all over Europe.
Back at the University of London, I told Professor Carson of my adventures. He was doing the same with his wife and encouraged that I travel more. We actually hung out regularly. We both enjoyed the many types of chocolate candy bars available in London and not in the U.S. We met to review and discuss the many chocolate bars. We also went out for Chinese Food. At dinner, Professor Carson surprised me and recited the first paragraph of my Tucson City Plan feature story. Turns out, he didn't hate it, as I had thought, he loved it!
Oddly enough, I looked forward to seeing Professor Carson each day. His International Reporting class was amazing. He told us that London contained the top foreign correspondents from every major newspaper in the world. He assigned us to seek out and meet a foreign correspondent and write a feature story on that person. I decided to seek out the foreign correspondent from the London Times. I called the Times relentlessly. Eventually got a name and phone number and badgered this fellow until he agreed to meet with me. I went to the Times and he gave me a tour of the newsroom. I was thrilled. Then we went across the street to a pub, one that was a little fancier than I had been accustomed to on my nightly adventures. We dined on meat pies and drank pint after pint of bitter beer. He opened up and told me about his experiences all over the world. I took notes and had a wonderful time. I wrote up my story, turned it into Professor Carson and received my first "A" from Professor Carson. I was on top of the world.
When classes ended in May. I stuffed all of my belongings into a backpack, then along with my new friend Greg, who came to the University of London by way of the University of Iowa, took off for Scotland and Ireland. Five weeks later, sometime in July, we returned to the States, not realizing we picked up English accents.
In the fall of 1990, I had my final semester at the University of Arizona. I did not have any more courses with Professor Carson but I stopped by his office to chat with regularity. We even went out to lunch a few times. The man I once thought of as an enemy was now my good friend.
A few months after graduation, I was hired as a reporter by the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago. I put all those hard fought lessons learned from Professor Carson to good use. I went from the Daily Herald to the Des Plaines Times to the Northwest Side Press before starting my own newspaper called "Barfly." My paper was based on my experiences exploring pubs in London. I created a guide to the bars of Chicago. I published two free newspapers a month with a circulation of 48,000. I also published a soft-cover guidebook to the bars of Chicago. I received a lot of publicity and was even interviewed by Playboy.
I married the love of my life, Lisa Gulotta, in 1996. I met Lisa at the U of A. She was a journalism major as well. In 2001, when Lisa was pregnant with our first child, I decided I could not raise a family being a Barfly. I shut down my publishing operation and applied to law schools. All the law school applications required a letter of recommendation. Professor Carson was happy to write a letter for me. His letter was so kind and so complimentary that I teared up when I first read it. Wow, I was a long way from Journalism 205.
Today, I am a former journalist, a lawyer, husband and father. I can't believe what a shit I used to be. I still love to write but my only opportunities to do so these days are here in this blog. The blog allows me to engage in my passion for vintage sports memorabilia as well. I regularly get compliments about this blog from readers all over the country. Honestly, I owe it all to Professor Carson and his damn Auto E's. I miss you Donald W. Carson. Rest in peace old friend and most of all, thank you.