Bert Brilliant writes a column for The Daily Planet. Norman Naive is one of the young up-and-comers who sits a couple of desks away. Every few days, they go have Chinese food and good Dutch beer and figure ways to make the world a perfect place. "Pass the soy sauce, willya, Norman? Just pass the soy sauce, like a good youngster, and hurry up!"
"You're having a bad day. I can tell."
"Spare me the psychology. Soy sauce! Now!"
"Don't tell me. Let me guess. Poor Bertsywertsy had a column rejected by those awful meanies on the desk? Or maybe one of the horses that Bertsy bet on decided not to win?"
"Norman, you sniveling youngster, it's just like you to reduce things to an infant's level. Alas, the trouble is more difficult. It's . . . ."
"Youngster, of all the subjects about which you know nothing, that one is at the head of the list."
"Then it must be a professional crisis."
"It is. I have an offer. To teach journalism. At a well-known local college. I'd have to quit the business that has been my home for 30 years. It would mean a world unlike any I've ever known!"
"Bert, it would mean a crummy salary, a threadbare tweed jacket and unending worship from 18-year-old girls."
"Waiter! No more of that communist beer from Holland for this man. He can't handle it."
"You've been in Washington too long, Bert. Anywhere else, if someone says something controversial, people blame the person. In D.C., people blame the politics of the beer he drinks."
"If you'd drink some real American beer . . . ."
"It tastes like soap. Anyway, Bert, this is quite a bombshell. You gonna take the job?"
"I think I just may, youngster. But I keep coming up with reasons not to. I mean, I have enough trouble keeping my desk in the newsroom clean. Am I going to have to worry about a whole office? And what if they give me a secretary? Norman, I wouldn't have the faintest idea what to do with a secretary, except maybe send her out for cigars."
"You do that at this well-known local college, you'll have a lawsuit on your hands, old man. If not for polluting the air, for sexism."
"Spoken like a true-blue law school dropout."
"Actually, Bert, I'm a journalism school dropout."
"Waiter! Another commie beer for this man! His judgment is all right after all."
"I'm not at all sure of that, Bert. There was a lot to dislike at journalism school. But I can remember one or two professors who were as inspiring to me as anyone I've ever met. I have a hunch that you'd be the same sort."
"That's nice of you, Norman, but niceness won't get you anywhere. It's your turn to pay the check, and you aren't welching on me again."
"Bert, I'm serious. All your professional life, you've been moving among adults, or at least people who are biologically adults. You've been telling the president what to do for 18 years now. Wouldn't it be nice to let someone else make a fool . . . . I mean, make a suggestion from time to time?"
"I heard that, you rotten, keyboard-pounding child! I heard that ill-informed slander!"
"Sorry, Bert. Must be the szechuan chicken. Cooked it in truth serum today."
"Youngster, despite your ill manners, you've hit on something important. What do I have to offer today's students? I have a history in the business, but is that really valuable in a dynamic field like journalism? How can I presume to teach kids about a business that's nothing like the one I started in, and that might not exist much longer?"
"Here it comes, world: Bert's speech about how TV has destroyed an entire generation."
"Did you drop out of journalism school, Norman, or did they throw you out for insolence?"
"Dropped out, Bert. Dropped out so I could take a real job on a real newspaper. Where I learned twice as much as I was ever going to learn in school."
"Exactly what's bugging me, Norman. You don't teach journalism. You do journalism. Sure, you need to get comfortable with the fundamentals. But once you've done that, journalism is a matter of being a human being who writes about other human beings. If any of these college kids haven't learned how to be human beings by the time they're 18, well, how in the world am I going to teach them?"
"Bert . . . ."
"Bert, it sounds to me as if you're staying in the newspaper business."
"Yes, Norman, it sounds the same to me."
"Well, then, Bert, sir, may I ask a favor?"
"Would you please pay the check so I can get back to work?"
"But it's your turn."
"Not if I push the check to your side of the table. Little something I learned in journalism school."
Bert choked softly, then asked: "Next Thursday?"
"Next Thursday," said Norman.
And they shuffled back to the office.