Monday, October 24, 2011

Sweet Memories: I Was The Most Hated Man On My College Campus

As I'm going through everything in my apartment cleaning, decluttering, tossing, reorganizing and streamlining, the age-old photo albums from my youth finally came down from that top shelf I could never reach. At some point, I'll start leafing through the goods, but one page actually fell out of an album and made me giggle like a... schoolboy.

When I was a senior at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., I wrote a twice-weekly column, "A Closer Look," as Features Editor for the school newspaper The Breeze. After the first few columns failed to fuel much impact, my editor asked me, "What's something you're really passionate about? Something people don't necessarily understand?"

As we brainstormed, I offered, "Well, I've always thought The Beatles are overrated. I've never understood why they get so much credit for changing the world when it was producer George Martin who turned them from a rockabilly group into a boy band."

"You're fucking kidding me," editor Ian said. "That's what you're going to write about."

To say the column was an effective calling card is a vast understatement. Within the week, I was the most hated man at JMU. I'd walk across campus and hear, "Fuck you, Charles," while pissed-off co-eds shouted from dorm windows, "John Lennon lives!" I'd go to parties, where beer would be spilled on my shoes. Think I struck a nerve much?

The next week, the campus newspaper's cartoonist published the lovely image below, which only fortified universal indignation for my viewpoint. But you know what? "A Closer Look" was a hit for the rest of the school year... perhaps outdone only by a three-part page 1 series I wrote for The Breeze about "Gays On Campus" the following spring.

Ah, another golden memory: The night before Part 1 hit campus, my journo prof—who wholly supported the series—said, "I hope you're ready. This probably isn't going to go over well" in the conservative Reagan-era Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. He was correct: In Part 3, I quoted the university prez saying, "There are no homosexuals at this school." For real.