Monday, February 09, 2015

The PC: The Weekly Wad was a modest start.

The PC: The Weekly Wad was a modest start.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

Strictly speaking, this column is not about beer, and yet there is a common assumption (not without foundation) that in my life, everything has been about beer – and beer has been about everything.

Fair enough.

Once upon a time, the beer writer Michael Jackson referred to me as a polemicist, and while I knew what the word meant, I hadn’t previously thought of myself as a practitioner of polemics. He was right, of course, and ever since then I’ve tried to determine why – why a polemicist and not a poet? Why an essayist and not a novelist?

What exactly compels me to quote David Brinkley again and again: “You’re entitled to my opinion”?

I still don’t know, but it started as early as 1972, when as a sixth grader at Georgetown Elementary, I composed a list of grievances called the White Paper and Blue Ink Report and taped it to the desk of my teacher. It was the first of many times I’d hear a variation of this exasperated verdict:

"You’re a good writer, but couldn’t you use it for something constructive?"

But that’s always been the whole point. I was ... I am.

The Weekly Wad happened in 1975. The following essay has been published in the former New Albany Tribune (in 2010) and was republished at NA Confidential in 2013. I’ve retouched only one passage to reflect passing time. Then, as now, it is dedicated to the memory of the late David Roark, whose boundless wit so enlivened those far-off times. He was a kindred spirit, and I miss him.


The Weekly Wad was a modest start.

Not so long ago, an old friend observed that my meek and unobtrusive writing style – as displayed for over 35 years in letters to the editor, a beer appreciation newsletter, Internet blogs and finally newspaper and magazine columns like this one – can be traced back to baby steps at the Weekly Wad.

I’m not entirely sure he meant it as a compliment.

For the record, the inaugural Weekly Wad was an underground “newspaper” of four crudely mimeographed pages. A dozen Floyd Central freshmen collaboratively wrote and “published” it in 1975 by purloining paper and supplies from the audio-visual department, running off 200 illicit copies, and distributing them free of charge to a subscriber list made up of friends whom we trusted not to tell on us.

The first Weekly Wad is widely remembered for a front page illustration depicting our principal, Don Sakel, as wearing a Nazi armband and giving the requisite Hitler salute. Seeing that he subsequently served on the local school board, and voted enthusiastically for neighborhood school closings, the mature adult in me is resisting the temptation to draw obvious parallels.

Another feature of our first born was an open advocacy of beer consumption on the part of a group still well short of legal drinking age. There 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.

Floyd Central’s corridors were teeming with excited readers when one of our distribution associates was collared by the heat. After a brief round of water boarding, he was coerced, sans Miranda Rights, into a full confession. In short order, the entire staff was taken into custody. Parents were called, suspensions were plotted … and then the scandal became even more bizarre than before.

Much to our surprise, our folks (two of whom were teachers, including my mother) took the case full bore against the somewhat befuddled administrators, arguing that for 15-year-olds like us to seek creative literary and journalistic outlets apart from the pre-ordained curriculum surely denoted abject failure somewhere in the chain of bureaucracy, and that we might better be rewarded for educational initiative rather than punished for illegality.

After all, we were writing, albeit poorly, and not painting graffiti on the walls.

There was the small matter of materials we’d appropriated in the name of the revolution, and so after a cooling-off period, cursory wrist-slappings and assorted pieties intended to channel our youthful energies into more conventional artistic 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 A-V pilferage.

Belated thanks to you, Mr. Neely, for agreeing to sponsor the “new” Weekly Wad, circa 1976, and to my mom for letting me use her 1950’s-era manual typewriter to compose screeds against cafeteria food, undemocratic cheerleader selection processes, and turncoat hall monitors. These were cut out with scissors, pasted into place, and when an adult was available to play taxi, taken to a long-departed business called Pronto Press in New Albany.

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 an 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 tenure as part-time clerk at the late and lamented Scoreboard Liquors, I staged periodic revivals of the Wad. Most of these were undertaken with the help and connivance of my primary co-conspirator Byron, whose colorful accounts of high life in low places appeared under the banner, “And Now for the Truth,” which I believe we lifted in its entirety 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 annual walkabout through the bedlam of Harvest Homecoming’s Saturday night booths, when we’d be armed only with plastic cups of Stolichnaya previously passed through the shadow of a Rose’s Lime Juice bottle to produce the best ambulatory Gimlet in town.

During this second Weekly Wad era, with the subject matter turning toward topical downtown New Albany issues like the stone-deaf construction of the canvas-topped waterfront Trinkle Dome, 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 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 interests in the topic during the late eighties, and how these peeked through the nebulous haze, I almost named the blog the Weekly Wad before changing my mind at the last minute.

It’s stupefying and quaint to consider the history of an underground newspaper in that dusty, pre-wired era. Kids today build interactive web sites at the age of five – that is, if they haven’t already abandoned the Internet for sophisticated journals of cultural critique disseminated by their handheld mobile devices.

My generation had subversion in our brains, and larceny in our hearts. If the Internet had existed then, we’d probably still be in jail.

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