Authors: Michael Winerip
“All right,” Jennifer was saying. “Ideas, ideas, and ideas. For the October issue. First issue of the new school year.”
She waited. “We want it to be great.”
She paused. “Anybody got anything?”
Silence. “Hello? I’m begging.”
Adam found a spot on one of the sofas and flopped down just in time to see Jennifer shoot him a nasty look. What was the big deal? He wasn’t that late. He had just wanted to put away his baritone horn before the meeting. Was it his fault his locker was on the first floor?
Adam loved the
the student newspaper of Harris Elementary/Middle School. Ever since he was a cub reporter way back in third grade, room 306 was the one place in school — in his entire life, really — where he could sit back and let his mind go.
He glanced around. The room looked great. Same old filthy sofas covered with hot chocolate and iced-tea stains. Over the summer, somebody had ripped down the music and skateboard posters from the walls and computer terminals, but that didn’t matter; they’d put up a new batch. A good turnout for the first meeting, too, practically every seat taken.
Still, he could tell, Jennifer was not happy. People were finally suggesting stories, but the ideas were really boring: Halloween safety tips from the Tremble police; the Dental Association was sponsoring a smile contest to promote Dental Health Month; the health sciences teacher had sent over a news release reminding students that the Say No to Drugs Community Players were holding fall auditions (“All Newcomers Welcome!”).
Some third grader kept saying she wanted to do a story about Eddie the janitor. Adam couldn’t believe it. Eddie the janitor?
He was slipping into a basketball daydream when he felt a sting on his forehead. A spitball! He glanced up. Jennifer was waving a straw at him. “I’m not running this alone,” she said. “We’re coeditors, remember? What do
At that moment Adam was thinking maybe he had made a serious mistake. Jennifer had sworn she would not run the
this year unless someone helped her, and Adam had agreed to — sort of. But now Adam was thinking that maybe he should have stuck with being a star reporter. Maybe being in charge would take the fun out of the
Maybe this was going to make the newspaper like everything else in his overprogrammed life — deadly serious.
He had to admit, it wasn’t all Jennifer’s fault; she did have her good points. Although they’d both been at Harris since kindergarten, and he’d seen her around the
they’d never actually spoken much until last year. On that first day last September, he had rushed into class, late of course, grabbed the only available seat, and found himself next to Jennifer. She’d leaned over and whispered, “I was sure I was going to be the fastest one getting my work done this year. Then you come in, and I go, ‘Uh-oh.’”
That was the nicest thing a girl had ever said to Adam, and it made him feel like he had a reputation at Harris. Yes, Jennifer definitely had her good points. As far as Adam was concerned, she had a sharp eye for talent, and she wasn’t one of those annoying girls who spent all their time on the computer filling in do-it-yourself romance sites for boys they liked.
The thing about Jennifer, though — as Adam had tried to explain to her when she asked him to be her coeditor — was that the two of them were very different. She had a classic editor’s personality. Steady, dependable, good at punctuation and that kind of stuff. Didn’t mind being indoors a lot, tons of patience for nurturing artistic types.
Adam, on the other hand, as he had tried to make clear, was destined to live life on the edge. “I need to be on the streets, digging up dirt, taking dangerous risks for the public good.”
“Oh, come on, just do it,” she’d said, smiling at him.
“OK,” he’d said. He had to admit, Jennifer had a pretty good smile.
Adam tried to focus.
“Hey, I want to write about Eddie the janitor.” That third grader was squeaking again. All third graders looked alike to him — little and jittery. Usually they sat in the back and felt lucky to have a middle schooler talk to them. This one seemed to have the potential to be really annoying.
Adam figured this was the perfect opportunity to show Jennifer he was taking his coeditorship seriously. He hopped off the sofa. “All right,” he said, “what about Eddie?” Adam had been at this school since day one of kindergarten and could not think of a single thing about the man that was remotely newsworthy, unless you considered pushing a wide broom down the hall for 150 years exciting. Adam figured an important part of being coeditor was nipping bad story ideas in the bud, and he was going to nip this one fast.
“He saved two baby birds who fell out of a nest,” the third grader said. “They already had bugs crawling on them.”
Adam stared at her.
“He’s real nice,” she said.
“What’s your name, kid?” Adam asked. It was Phoebe. Adam wasn’t surprised; she looked like a Phoebe, a real moochie-pie type. “Look,” he said, trying to let a third grader down easy. “Let’s put that idea on hold. Eddie the janitor is what we in the news biz call an
You might want to write that word in your notebook. E-V-E-R-G-R-E-E-N. Did I go too fast? It’s a feature story that can run anytime. If we’re having a slow month, trying to fill the paper, Eddie the janitor might be great. It could go on the back page, maybe with a small head shot. But this is the first issue of the new year. We want to — you know — kick a little butt.”
Instantly, a sofa full of large middle-school boys began swaying and chanting, “Kick a little butt, get down tonight. Kick a little butt, get down tonight.”
Adam acknowledged his audience, then he motioned for quiet. “Here’s my idea,” he said. “We create a Spotlight Team to investigate the cafeteria food.”
Room 306 lit up like the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center the day after Thanksgiving.
“We could find out why the hot dogs are green!” said a boy.
“We could drop them out a third-floor window — see how high they bounce,” said another.
“Rubber! Rubber! Rubber!” chanted the boys, flopping around on the sofa like green hot dogs.
They wanted to see if the cafeteria’s pasty mashed potatoes would stick to a wall for a week. Could the gray hamburgers give cancer to a mouse? And who was getting paid for all the plastic cups of applesauce that no one ever ate?
Someone suggested having a food critic review a cafeteria meal each month.
New York Times
food critic wears disguises at restaurants so they don’t know who she is,” said Jennifer.
“Cool,” said a boy named Sammy. “We have a gorilla suit I could wear. They’d never know it was me.”
“Sammy,” said Jennifer. “They wear a disguise, like a wig or floppy hat. So no one recognizes they’re the world-famous food critic. That way, the restaurant doesn’t whip up a great meal for them, while it’s feeding the regular customers the usual poison.”
Sammy nodded. “So, as soon as the cafeteria ladies saw the gorilla was back, they’d know it was the reviewer from the
and give me steak and lobster.”
“Might be worth it,” said a boy.
“We could all dress like gorillas,” Sammy said. “Finally get a decent meal.”
“I don’t know,” said another boy. “You really think a gorilla would stick out in the cafeteria?”
Jennifer had another idea, though it sounded way complicated. She’d clipped a brief article from the
Tremble County Citizen-Gazette-Herald-Advertiser
about the county’s September zoning board meeting. The zoning board had decided to enforce local law 200-52.7A, which had been on the books since 1924 but had been ignored for years. The story said the law prohibits “accessory structures in the front half of a housing lot.” The story said if Tremble was to continue being the richest, tidiest suburb in the Tri-River Region, zoning laws must be strictly obeyed.
Adam nearly slipped into a coma. Had Jennifer lost her mind? A zoning story? “What’s the point?” said Adam.
“Well, my dad’s a lawyer . . .” she said.
“Please,” said Adam. “This is not the Biography Channel.”
“Dad says it probably means basketball hoops in driveways and on sidewalks are a zoning violation.”
“What?” Adam said.
“They’re going to tear down our hoops.”
The room got so quiet, you could’ve heard a basketball swish on the playground three floors below. “Give me that,” Adam said. He skimmed the article. “I don’t see anything about basketball hoops. . . . Wait . . . are you saying a hoop is a quote-unquote ‘accessory structure’? . . . What’s the ‘front half of a housing lot’?”
“The half near the street,” said Jennifer.
At first, Adam hadn’t been sure if they needed a second Spotlight Team, then, ten seconds later, he was positive they did. Make a kid get rid of his hoop? Declare it a zoning violation? Tear it down? What was wrong with grownups?
This was what Adam loved most, a juicy outrage to investigate, a story that would put him back on the streets, require him to take death-defying risks to safeguard the common good. He and Jennifer decided to do some research and report back to the staff on how to best handle this travesty of justice.
“All right,” said Jennifer. “Now we’ve got ourselves a story list.” She read off ideas and asked for volunteers.
With most kids, it was hard getting them to agree to a single story. But this Phoebe, this pushy third grader, wanted to do every one, and when Adam kept choosing older kids, she jumped out of her seat.
“Hey, it’s not fair only middle schoolers get to be on the Spotlight Team,” said Phoebe.
“Look,” said Adam. “Older kids get first shot. When I was in third grade, I felt honored — I mean honored — if they assigned me a one-paragraph news brief.”
“That stinks,” squeaked Phoebe.
Adam placed his hands over his head.
he thought, rhymes with
Totally and Completely Dweebie.
But he didn’t say it. He knew if he was going to do this coeditor deal with Jennifer, he had to be what his father called a “constructive force.” He decided the easiest thing would be to assign her a story that was too hard and then they’d never see her again. He looked down the list and suggested the Dental Association smile contest at the mall. She’d never pull it off. “Good story,” said Adam. “I bet Cable TV Action News 12 will be there.”