Farewell to an Old and Famous Friend
© David Volk


I’m not always proud of the stands I took on important issues in my youth.

When Jimmy Carter was campaigning, I supported him until I heard that he was pro-abortion. Then I switched sides, although I’m not sure why.

Even worse, I would have voted for Richard Nixon if I had been old enough. At least that’s what I told anyone who would listen at the time. In fact, I even wandered the halls of my school saying, “All the way with LBJ” because for some reason that I still can’t figure out, I thought Lyndon Johnson was Nixon’s running mate. Which just goes to show why it’s a good thing that 8 year-olds don’t vote.

I wouldn’t normally share such embarrassing political trivia, but I was inspired to do so by today’s death of former presidential secretary Rose Mary Woods. For those of you who weren’t paying attention, weren’t born yet or aren’t old enough to remember, Woods said she erased 18-and-a-half minutes from an important Watergate tape.

The only reason I mention all this is because Woods' death reminded me of a prank I pulled in college.

Fool that I was, I decided to take a sophomore general honors composition class when I could have skated by in a regular one. I quickly realized my mistake when our teacher, one Joseph Ditta, said he wanted us to pick a topic and write six papers on different aspects of the topic. At a loss, I opted for Watergate. A close friend and computer geek (who was the only person in the dorm with a computer in his room: A TRS 80), Scott Courtney chose computers.

As I quickly discovered, the hard part about writing six papers about Watergate isn’t a lack of material. It’s that the scandal was so complex that it was hard to break it up into six parts. Still, I managed to do it until the class was working on its fourth paper and the deadline was coming down like a screaming banshee. Desperation being the mother of invention, Courtney and I dreamed up a daring gambit to save our butts. Scott did his paper on computer formatting, I did mine on the 18 and a half minute tape gap. The trick would be a dose of timing with a healthy helping of street theater.

We hid out until class started, all of the students were handing in their papers and Ditta had begun his lecture. That’s when Courtney threw open the door, told the instructor that the computer had gone down, but that he’d managed to finish his paper by finding an even more efficient format. Pausing for effect, he reached into his backpack and handed Ditta a six inch stack of computer punch cards. All the stunned instructor could do was stare dumbfounded and laugh.

I made my dramatic entrance a minute later.

Wearing a three piece suit and a Nixon mask, I held my hands up in Nixon’s victory sign yelling “Four more years! Four more years!” Then I reached into my jacket, pulled out the paper, handed it to the instructor and sat down as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

Fellow classmates said the instructor jumped straight up in shock when he saw Nixon rush into his classroom.

The real punchline came later, though, as the instructor began to read my paper while the class filled out required worksheets. Ditta had a set format and I had complied. I had just thrown him a major curve. The first page had to have the title about an inch or two down, of course, followed by text. Every page thereafter had to have the person’s name and the page number on the upper right side (Volk—2, Volk—3, etc).

After doing papers called, “And They Is Us…” and “America Sings the Blues,” I decided to call this one “The Complete Transcript of the 18 and a Half Minute Gap” and leave most of the pages blank. The only other mark on the first page was:  “                         ,” he said.1 Page two had only the number and                  , according to the transcript.2 And page three had a similar sentence fragment with footnote reference.

My favorite touch was the final page (number 19), which had been ripped in half widthwise and had only “Volk-18½” at the top.

That wasn’t what made the teacher laugh the most, however. He started rolling when he saw that I had actually done a bibliography and footnote page complete with citations.

Those of you who have seen the acknowledgements in my book, “The Tribe Has Spoken” may also recall that I mention Rose Mary Woods there, too.

I don’t know about anybody else, Miss Woods, but I will miss you.

Fortunately, Al Haig is still in charge.

From a man in a flu-induced haze,

David G(etting better. Really, I’m getting better) Volk