In journalism class we are taught tricks to help guide our drafting
TK, Professor Michaels lectures, stands for "to
come." He uses a chalkboard. Think of it as filler, he says,
for facts and details you don't yet have, ideas you'll
flesh out later. No one wonders why the abbreviation doesn't match the
spelling. If it's Latin we haven't a clue. He scratches out
proofreading marks: a smile beneath a frown denotes close the
gap, an S on its side means transpose. Dust clouds his sleeve. Someone
snickers. Someone else says, Who works from hard copy?
Later, at the bar, we have our fun. What a boob! A veritable dinosaur!
We dissect our professor's fall from journalistic grace; deem his
academic post a consolation for being put out to pasture. We empty
carafes harnessed in wicker and colored wax. Our fingers flutter over
table votives. We tsk at news breakers once again becoming the news,
assure ourselves we'd do better. Red moustaches bracket our lips.
Narcissist, we say, like we discovered it, the sound of pinching flames.
Ours is an era of transition, Michaels concedes the next class. He
clears his throat. Uncertainty, however, cannot erase the past.
Otherwise, what are we doing? He throws up that
word—integrity! A few flippy gray curls graze his neck like
he's forgotten the barber. He leaves out: how fucked we all are.
A Rolodex sits on his desk. One by one, we approach and spin it like a
I get Tommy Chong and Dick Cavett.
Who the hell? I ask, rolling off him in bed.
Didn't you have parents? he says with a reach for my ass.
Professor Michaels lives on Sutton Place and smells of steak and gin
and office cigars. He has these silky, purple sheets. My parents are
still hoping I'll go econ.
I may be young but I take it from him: everyone is on the lookout for
Still, I'm not sure which is sadder, the vanishing of his world or that
none of us will ever inhabit it.
Give a damn! Michaels shakes his fist at the podium. His blazer looks
like it might split. Not that it means anything. His assignments are
exercises in futility. Deadlines are artificial. Our pitches won't
sell. Our articles will never be read outside the classroom.
But I am a good student. I get into my interviews. Dick Cavett is so
relieved I'm not a telemarketer he won't get off the phone. This one
show, he muses, right after Woodstock, was such a stunner I thought I'd
never be lonely again. Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, and Grace Slick!
Can you dig?
Yes! I say. But I can't, exactly.
Feed your head, Tommy Chong croons when I tell him who else I've
contacted. Chong doesn't believe Cavett's alive. Coulda sworn he went
out with the Reagan administration, he says. Sure you're not working
some voodoo because baby I have a sixth sense.
Paranoia? I volley, feeling smug. This time I used Wikipedia.
But Chong is all earnestness and exercise videos. He says: It's not
just Dionne Warwick, you know.
While he sleeps, I sneak into my professor's Rolodex and pluck out more
cards. A few sources I connect via email but the rest I get on the
actual phone. A centenarian juggler! A cat astrologer! Brian Williams!
There's the snap and click of my recording device, but other than that,
it's just them and me, bon mots, memories, stories in my ear. We are
people having conversations.
Other students call me goody-two-shoes, teacher's pet, but what they
mean is slut.
I dial up the former prima ballerina of the Met. She recalls her diet,
the hours she practiced, but I can't help it. What was it like to be
crotch-hoisted, a constant cup on the plate, lifted and spun on stage
with equal parts passion and indifference?
Ask your teacher, she says, hanging up.
Be hungry, we are told. Professor Michaels paces like he's caged. Chase
down those leads. Go deeper. Resist simple satisfactions. He runs
stubby fingers through his hair.
There's been a string of daytime break-ins in his neighborhood,
Michaels tips me off, hands over keys to his place. I stake out, take a
fancy shower and polish off his juice, pad his black tiles looped in
binoculars but after a while all I hear is quiet.
On the way to campus we pass peddlers of good on the sidewalk. It is
the season. Canvassers brandish clipboards against fracking and we
breeze by without listening. Today Michaels stops, nods for me to go
on. This one has a ball in her tongue. Mouths move. Appeals are made. I
picture the merging of bodies.
We break into groups to discuss progress and pitfalls. Michaels
circulates the room. My thing is I transcribe and transcribe but can't
figure out what to do with it.
I'm all about human interest, I say, loudly as he nears. My sources are
He winks as he passes.
Only I cry instead of laughing.
He joins us at the bar. Our class swells around him, giggling, brushing
against his elbow patches. I'm not sure what's shifted but everyone is
drinking each other up. They probe him with questions, the 5 W's and an
H, like they were taught. Professor Michaels reports. He has thirty
years of clips. A Pulitzer for exposing the MOVE debacle back in 1985,
before any of us was even born.
You can read the entire investigation on microfiche, he says, arms
crossed, leaning back in his chair.
TK, they dash in their notes.
TK, I write, as if I might look this up. TKTKTK. Letters form tracks. I
don't stop. I fill up pages of TKTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTK
TKTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTTKTKTKTKTK until my slant emerges
and I race toward it, fueled by something or nothing, by what I don't
Sara Lippmann is a recent New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Fiction.
She has stories in or coming from Joyland, Jewish Fiction, New World Writing, SmokeLong Quarterly
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