“Doonesbury” fans may fondly recall the brief appearance of the character T. Hamilton Tripler, intern for Washington pundit George F. Will. “Quote boy!” Will would call out whenever he needed something from Bartlett’s or beyond. As Higgins, the quote supervisor, explained to Tripler: “We provide the flourishes of erudition so indispensable to a George Will commentary.”
I remember “quote boy” with amusement and envy. Oh, to be that successful. Not just research assistants, but a secretary and agents and even somebody to apply makeup for the big-bucks TV gig. When I ask Ron the Librarian for help, I wait my turn like everybody else.
So imagine my surprise when editors passed along a letter from a job applicant. This is how it began:
I am interested in doing freelance reading, proofreading and copy editing for a publishing firm. I am entering 5th grade at Willow Elementary in Agoura Hills, Ca. I am an avid reader and read and enjoy adult level material.
With my many personal interests, hobbies, love for reading, and young eagerness, I believe I would be an asset to your company.
I look forward to your early reply.
Jeremy T. Kaye
I glanced through his resume: “Birthdate: July 8, 1987. . . . Lives with Parents & Sister, Karen (5 years old). . . . Actively involved in G.A.T.E. (Gifted and Talented Education). . . . Scored 99th percentile in reading and math in Iowa test of Basic Skills. . . . Reading interests include science fiction, biographies, fiction, nonfiction, mysteries and mythology. . . . Proficient with Windows 95, MS Word, Powerpoint, and entry level Cad [computer-aided design]. . . . Black Belt in Tang Soo Do Karate. . . . Goals: Entrepreneur, scientist, inventor, karate instructor. . . .”
There was more and it was all impressive. The kid obviously had potential. Not just a quote boy, but a ninja quote boy!
It took me a second reading to realize that young Mr. Kaye had failed to list any personal references. It would have been nice to talk to a former employer, or at least his fourth-grade teacher.
But the closest thing to a reference was his parents, and how impartial could they be? I decided to give it a try anyway.
Jeremy had already explained his strengths, so I asked his mother, radiologist Pamela Kaye, about his weaknesses.
“Sometimes he’s not really that into time,” she said. “He can be late if he’s not pushed. Sometimes Jeremy reads until midnight.”
Not only does he lose track of time, she said, “he loses track of things sometimes. He lost a shoe at camp the other day. . . . He says it was stolen.”
I also spoke with Jeremy’s father, engineer Michael Kaye. One reason Jeremy likes to read so much, he said, is that Jeremy likes “to tell Daddy he knows something I don’t.” Michael Kaye said his son often looks over his shoulder while he’s writing and points out his mistakes.
I also spoke with the job seeker himself. His interest in reading, Jeremy explained, began in kindergarten, when his mother and he would read the “Little House on the Prairie” books. He also read Dr. Seuss and progressed to the Hardy Boys. He moved on to Columbo mysteries.
“Now I’m reading ‘Star Wars’ novels.” He says he also enjoys nonfiction concerning astronomy, physics and electronics.
The Columbo books aren’t narrative versions of the TV dramas. They feature the great detective tackling historic mysteries, such as the Kennedy assassination.
Jeremy, his father told me over the phone, “didn’t realize these were actual events.”
From the background came a voice: “Yeah, I do.”
I liked his gumption. So I decided to devise a little test. I would provide young Mr. Kaye with a rough draft of a column--this one--and ask him to correct and critique it. I wouldn’t go easy on him, either. I’d toss in some deliberate misspellings and I’d test his knowledge and vocabulary.
Consider that first paragraph. Is he familiar with “Doonesbury” and George Will? How about the word erudition? (No points lost for using a dictionary, but I am curious.) Does he understand the phrase “from Bartlett’s and beyond”? Finally, could he find a suitable quote to spice up this column? Something about youthful eagerness, perhaps?
After this paragraph, I would reserve a little space for young Mr. Kaye’s critique and suggestions, then I’d come back with a critique of his critique. So take it away, Jeremy, but please keep it short:
My Ship and I
By Robert Louis Stevenson
O it’s I that am the captain of a tidy
Of a ship that goes a-sailing on the pond,
And my ship it keeps a-turning
But when I’m a little older, I shall find
the secret out
How to send my vessel sailing on beyond . . .
Why, T. Hamilton Tripler himself couldn’t have done better. Jeremy did an excellent job of copy editing, catching misspellings of “entrepreneur,” “proofreading,” “Dr. Seuss” and more. He admitted that his mother helped him a bit with this assignment, and so did the automated spell checker on his computer, “but I got most of them myself.”
He also offered this critique of my work: “It sounds like he slices up his words with a samurai sword. He sounds very erudite. Wow!”
Flattery is a fine tactic for job seekers. And certainly a samurai columnist could use a ninja quote boy to watch his back.
It all leaves me wondering why child labor laws were enacted in the first place.
And it reminds me of some advice I heard long ago: Always be nice to the young, bright and eager. Someday they might be your boss.
Scott Harris’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Readers may write to him at The Times’ Valley Edition, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a phone number.