Bonus Online-Only Feature
Hello, lovlies! You know that the online folks are near and dear to our hearts. Secretly, we love you much, much more than the paper folks. You're kind of our e-lovers. But in a Platonic way.
Do you ever wonder how we do it? How is it that we can consistently churn out high-quality comedy, month after month? We write the things that make us laugh, and mostly the stories write themselves. Here’s how we came up with one of our stories from this month, from the initial idea all the way to the finished product.
Here’s how it works. When we deliver issues of the Tool, we walk around campus dropping them under doors, posting them to bulletin boards, and putting them in the dorms and in faculty mailboxes. We’ve been doing the same thing in every issue since the first one.
Well, last month we delivered the issues the night of March 31. During our rounds we walked over to Diddle, and the door was open and some sports people were wandering around. So we walked in and put one in the mailboxes there. Among the mailboxes was the one for the new Athletic Director, Röß Björk, who was coming in for his first day at work the next day. What better greeting could there be?
Uh oh. The very next day, at 10:30am, we got the following very stern warning from the University Attorney:
from Wilkins, Deborah
date Thu, Apr 1, 2010 at 10:33 AM
Hey guys, please make sure your “carriers” do not place copies of the tool in any WKU campus mailboxes. This is a no-no.
Really? We had to ask:
from Gabibbo Gabibbo
to "Wilkins, Deborah"
date Thu, Apr 1, 2010 at 10:54 AM
subject Re: Mail
OK, maybe this is some weird misunderstanding. Surely the Chief of Staff can't mean it.
from Wilkins, Deborah
to Gabibbo Gabibbo
date Thu, Apr 1, 2010 at 11:07 AM
subject RE: Mail
WKU is licensed and operates its own official post office, so these mailboxes are legitimate “mail” boxes. According to postal regulations, no flyer or anything else mail-able can be put in a mailbox without proper postage. And since I know it will come up, “campus mail” is the only item that WKU Postal services allows to go through without postage (although, who knows how long that will continue) – these items are exempt as university business related and internal only.
Notice the link in the e-mail. We saw it and figured that this was the evidence for her claim. It's not like we were expecting to click-through to some exalted legal forum that maybe contained the distilled wisdom of thousands of years of western legal precedent. But I think we could have at least hoped for the part of the postal code that says "no unstamped mail in our box."
Instead the link clicked to "ehow.com," which is, like, a website where uninformed people ask questions and get answers from semi-informed people. Its the kind of place we're always told not to go to for research papers.
This was too good. First we've got the university attorney bullying us about some stupid flyers in a mailbox. Then she can't even be bothered to cite some kind of proper authority.
But we thought that she might be right. So we put our crack investigative team on it, and called the post office. Turns out there is a regulation like that. But it also turns out that the Post Office doesn't really give a crap about it. They guy we talked to laughed, and couldn't believe ayone would actually care.
We then decided to search a real legal database, not ehow.com. A quick glance at the relevant code provides for all sorts of exceptions to the rule, and the Tool clearly falls under a couple of them--exceptions for special messengers, exceptions for urgent letters, etc. Also, in order to qualify under the code, the mailboxes have to be marked "US Mail," which none of the campus mailboxes we visit are.
So we have two things here. One, the University Attorney is clearly trying to bully us. By acting all serious and official and stuff. Two, she's doing it in a way that is completely without meaning.
Come, on. We're a satire magazine, for God's sake. We don't take anything seriously. Least of all when high and mighty administrators put on their "I'm serious" hats on, and try to intimidate us.
See what we mean? The stuff practically writes itself.
One of our folks began writing. That person's draft looked like this:
Big Red Tool Prohibited From Placing Big Red Tool in Campus Mailboxes At Own Expense
Worried about the displacement of academically valuable flyers from campus mailboxes (and probably the delivery of the last issue to the campus mailbox of the new Athletic Director Röß Björk), the University Counsel today moved to enforce a little-known “mailbox monopoly” provision in federal law that prohibits non-USPS (or “stamped”) mail from being placed in USPS mailboxes.
In what can only be described as official communication of University policy, President Ransdell’s aide-de-camp Barrister Wilkins wrote in an e-mail to the Big Red Tool that nothing that can be mailed can be placed in a campus mailbox, unless it has postage affixed. Internal University business is exempt from this. So the deluge of annoying, useless announcements from other departments will continue unabated.
The crackerjack attorney could not be bothered, however, to cite a link to any existing legislation, choosing instead to link her argument to a Yahoo Answers-type page at eHow.com. This is favorite legal resource for attorneys who have received their law degrees online, which Consigliore Deborah Wilkins most assuredly did not.
A bit of digging showed that the legal eagle is, in fact, partially correct. In an exclusive interview with Tool reporters, a local postal official explained that the penalties for violating the law are quite severe. After first determining if the case even merits attention, the Postal Service will notify the local police, who will then deliver a very stern warning to the offenders. A second offence will bring a second very very stern warning.
If the problem persists, local officials will be authorized to “lay stripes on” the offending party “in number sufficient so as to cause much distress to thee offender.” When asked for further explanation the Postal Official official said “OK, seriously, is this a joke? What kind of pinhead wastes time worrying about this sort of thing? Are you all nuts up there?”
One problem, though. To qualify for the monopoly, according to the statute, mailboxes must clearly be marked “U.S. Mail.” Campus mailboxes are not. Furthermore, exemptions are provided for "letters by special messenger" (which we are), and for "extremely urgent letters” (which the Tool is). So “nanny-nanny-boo-boo” to you, Perry Mason.
Nonetheless delivery of the Big Red Tool to campus mailboxes shall therefore be restricted to those departments least likely to rat us out (no more Tool in the mailboxes for you, Athletic Department pinheads).
In a very short interview with Tool reporters, President Ransdell said “Oh dear God. Are you effing kidding me? Is this what we’re paying her for? To waste her time worrying about trash in the campus mailboxes!? While we’re working to prevent those homos from getting health benefits?! That’s the work of my administration. She needs to focus, for god’s sake.”
This first draft has some of the parts that will show up in the final draft, but really isn't all that funny. There are some nuggets of humor there, but overall what's really driving it is anger about the bullying. And there are some parts that are just mean. It really just retold the story, we thought, with some funny bits thrown in.
We kind of feel like the purpose here is to make the administration's silliness look even sillier. So we went back to the drawing board. Or editing room, or whatever it is.
One of our other writers took a stab at it. The next draft looked like this:
In response to the most recent distribution of the Big Red Tool to select campus mailboxes, University Legal Counsel Deborah Wilkins has vowed to "come down like a ton of bricks on these campus regulation-scoffers and their scurrilous so-called publication." Citing a federal provision that only stamped United States Postal Service mail shall be placed in official mailboxes, Wilkins sent a strongly worded email to the editors of the Big Red Tool threatening them with imprisonment, interrogation, corporal punishment, and/or deportation if they persist in violating the laws of the nation.
In an effort to prevent future violations, Wilkins took additional measures, beginning by issuing a 374-page list of guidelines for what is and is not acceptable material for placing in campus mailboxes. According to the list, leaving a handwritten note in a colleague's departmental mailbox will result in the loss of a month's wages. Wilkins has also ordered a pair of armed guards to be posted by the mailboxes in each department; they are authorized to use "lethal force" to ensure that the mailbox guidelines are followed to the letter. Finally, faculty and staff caught reading the Big Red Tool in print or online, or discussing it on or off campus, will be punished by having a Happy Thoughts Helmet locked onto their heads for a period of not less than three months.
In response, the Big Red Tool has vowed to form an underground network of paper distributors and resistance fighters to "smash the fascist regime of jackbooted oppressors who are trying to keep the butterflies of freedom from something something in the meadow of justice... we'll work on it." When reached for comment, President Ransdell looked up from his financial planning and asked, "Don't you people have work to do? Deborah, stop upsetting the propellerheads."
This version removed a lot of the mean parts, and had some good over-the-top silliness thrown in to boot. We were closer. However, it didn't quite hit the right tone, and some of us thought that it left out the few good parts of the original. And some of us still had some lingering anger about the original e-mail that we'll probably end up working out with our therapists, if you know what we mean. Nudge nudge, wink wink.
The different versions are a good reflection of our writing process. An individual takes a an idea and writes something up. Maybe it's just a headline. Then someone else might come along and write about it as well. Sometimes it's minor tweaking, and sometimes it's a major re-write.
This one was pretty major. You can see the different perspective, and the different point of view. It has the original core idea ("it's absurd to think that the administration would seriously try to enforce a little-regarded rule about what can go in a campus postal box") but spins it in a slightly different direction. The person who did this re-write wasn't involved in the initial exchange with Barrister Wilkins, and came to it a couple of days later. So there wasn't the personal element.
Anyway, after the first drafts we usually get together as a group to write. Here anywhere from two to eight of us might show up to work on all the stories at once. We'll get together and work from a single machine in a Natty-Light-fueled haze of satiregasmic output. Or, we just stare at each other blankly and say "OK, what do you have?"
Because each of us has a different sense of humor and a different approach to writing humor, that kind of editing produces a lot of re-writes and a lot of good ideas. And a lot of bad ones, too. But in truth we always lose some good parts. Sometimes accidentally--where we'll read the final printed article and say "Hey, what happened? Did we forget to keep that one thing about Big Red's testicles in the final draft?" It helps, too, that we're pretty ego-less (or drunk at that point) in terms of our writing. Everyone feels comfortable saying to anyone else "That's just not that funny." Nobody takes it personally.
Anyway, the group re-write was the final version, and probably took 30 - 45 minutes among four people working together. This was the result:
To combat the potential displacement of academically valuable flyers from campus mailboxes by the Big Red Tool, University Legal Counsel Deborah Wilkins has vowed to “come down like a ton of bricks on these renegade scofflaws and their so-called ‘humorous’ publication.”
In response to the dire threat Tool satire poses to the The Western™ way of life, Wilkins’ exhaustive Googling uncovered a little-known provision in federal law that prohibits non-USPS mail from being placed in USPS mailboxes.
Barrister Wilkins then issued a strongly worded e-mail to the editors of the Big Red Tool, threatening them with imprisonment, interrogation, corporal punishment, and/or deportation if they continue to place copies of the Tool in university mailboxes.
To prevent future violations, Wilkins issued a 374-page list of guidelines on acceptable material for campus mailboxes. Faculty may continue to receive expensive, glossy “Doers and Deeds” fireplace kindling, Texas Book Buyers solicitations, Feliz Navitas junk mail, Little Green Bibles, and announcements of Veritas Forum events. Leaving handwritten notes to colleagues, however, will result in the loss of a month’s wages. Delivery of the Big Red Tool will be punished by decapitation.
Wilkins dispatched a pair of armed Honors Toppers, authorized to use “lethal force,” to each department to ensure compliance with the new guidelines. Faculty and staff caught reading the Big Red Tool in print or online, or discussing it on or off campus, will have a Happy Thoughts Helmet locked onto their heads for a period of not less than three months. Repeat offenders will be required to purchase football season tickets.
Local postal officials commented to reporters, “Let’s see... we’re combating Anthrax, mail bombs, death-threat letters. Yep, we got lotsa extra manpower here at the USPS, so we’re glad to help The Western™ track down and prosecute serial thank-you note writers and satirical student publication distributors.”
In a very short interview with the Tool, President Ransdell said “Are you kidding me? Debbie, we’re paying you a crapload of money here. Get back to work, will you?”
The final version is a hybrid of the two originals, with some other things thrown in. It brings back the post office employee, adds some Honors Toppers and a few other groups, and doesn't contain the harshness of the first draft.
It very much reflects what we think about when we write. That is, we don't take the administration seriously, we can't believe that they think we would, and we can point this out without getting overly personal. It was also a real group effort, which some of the other pieces are not.
So there ya go, online folk. A small bonus to go along with the smugness you must feel for being able to read the Tool without contributing to the deforestation of the Amazon and the displacement of native peoples.
All of that because we put a copy of the Tool in Röß Björk's campus mailbox. I wonder what will happen when they find out we mailed a copy of the new edition to Angus Emslie's place in Oklahoma?