This is a little something I wrote to make myself chuckle. Here’s hoping you find it similarly chuckleworthy:
To The New Editor of The Clifftonian
Dear Sir or Madam (though considering this school, I am pretty certain you are a Sir),
Allow me to be the first to welcome you to the Steeplecliff School! You now are seated at the helm of the most prestigious private secondary school alumni magazine in the northernmost half of the Mid Atlantic Region (sans Connecticut and certain blocks on the Upper West Side).
With a circulation of 19,000, The Clifftonian is the school’s most prominent and significant marketing tool. Each issue serves to remind our alumni that Steeplecliff is a stellar and respected educational institution with a rich and vibrant history, and not just the place where Headmaster Bowen Snapchatted his naughty bits.
I had the privilege to serve as The Clifftonian’s editor for the past eight years – and would still be there if a tempting new job opportunity hadn’t presented itself. Before I begin my new career as the night barista at the Bay Terrace Barnes & Noble, I thought it would behoove us both if I took a moment to explain a few nuances of the job.
First of all, Headmaster Bowen doesn’t like $10 words like “behoove.” So there’s that.
The Clifftonian uses a unique style manual that is neither AP nor The New York Times nor anything else you might recognize. Instead, we have something that we affectionately refer to as “The Steeplecliff Style,” a set of grammar and syntax rules based on whatever Headmaster Bowen says “looks right.”
There is no written record of The Steeplecliff Style. You will be tempted to rectify this. Please don’t trouble yourself, for Headmaster Bowen describes The Steeplecliff Style as “a living organism, subject to changes and growth spurts not unlike a lad’s journey toward manhood.” He is true to his word; on several occasions, a burst of headmaster-initiated grammatical puberty turned my prose into a wispy tuft of armpit hair.
The Steeplecliff School has a very active alumni community. This is why Alumni Director Sean Dixon always looks as if he is in the middle of a vexing bowel movement. Try not to provoke Dixon unnecessarily; it will not end well.
Alumni involvement extends to the magazine, too. The first phone call your will receive will be from Johnson “Johnnycakes” Cartwright Wemble, Esq. ’51, who lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His pretense for calling will be to demand more stories about the Class of 1951 – in particular his classmate who invented a food additive that was discontinued in the 1970s because it gave children crippling diarrhea.
The real reason for Mr. Wemble’s call, however, is to trick you into repeating the name of his hometown. Please be aware that it is pronounced Lan-kiss-ter, not Lan-cass-ter. If you say Lan-cass-ter, Mr. Wemble’s next call will be to Alumni Director Sean Dixon, whereby he will demand your immediate dismissal. Dixon will interpret Mr. Wemble’s call as evidence that you wish to provoke him unnecessarily. It will not end well.
Another alumnus who will be eager to introduce himself is Carter “Wooly Willie” Wilhelm Donaldson III ’79. He is a self-published author who writes historical novels set in the antebellum South. He also really likes the N-word. Despite Mr. Donaldson’s insistence, his work is not quite suitable for The Clifftonian’s “Alumni Authors” department. Once you break the bad news to him, he, too, will complain to Alumni Director Sean Dixon. Dixon, in turn, will interpret Mr. Donaldson’s call as more evidence that you wish to provoke him unnecessarily. It will not end well.
Long story short, during your tenure you will be on the receiving end of many alumni requests that you will be unable to honor.
Also, alumni Director Sean Dixon will really, really hate you.
As you may have noticed, Class Notes plays a prominent role in each issue of The Clifftonian. The dozens of Class Secretaries who write the notes for each issue are loyal alumni volunteers and generous contributors to the school. They are proud, accomplished, and highly educated. They also do not know how to use semicolons, colons, ellipses, capitals, commas, periods, or personal pronouns.
As a consequence, you will be asked to edit news items such as this one from Dr. Wilhelm Cartwright Carter Wemble Donaldson-Johnson Jr. ’84:
Went to Store….…saw Bob: is working @ Merrill Lynch as “Fund” Manager; Having GREAT fun!!!
At first glance, Dr. Donaldson-Johnson Jr.’s note looks like an editing nightmare, but fear not. It is in full compliance with The Steeplecliff School’s style manual. That’s not to say I didn’t edit this; after delicate negotiations with Alumni Director Sean Dixon, I was permitted to remove 15 exclamation points.
The Clifftonian is not all Class Notes, of course. It just feels that way. As for the rest of the magazine, you will enjoy a certain degree of editorial freedom. In fact, you can write feature stories about anything you wish as long as you wish to write feature stories about wealthy donors.
All of our wealthy donors are in banking. All banking people are persuaded to become bankers by their banking dads. The uniformity of these banker stories may feel creatively stifling, but it also provides an opportunity to implement a level of efficiency not found at many other alumni magazines. Enclosed with this letter, you will find a printout of my Alumni Banker Feature Story Template. It is set up a bit like MadLibs; just fill in the blanks with the pertinent names, dates, and net-worths, and you’ll have the spring issue put together in no time at all.
That should get you up to speed. Once again, welcome aboard! I’m sure you settle in for a long and productive tenure.
And, yes, I’ll be happy to give you a heads up once a café job becomes available.