“Lead” Poisoning: An Open Letter to Pat Meehan

Dear Pat,

I generally don’t discuss politics on my blog, and I’m not about to start now. At the same time, however, I have to take issue with a recent mailer in which the Republican Federal Committee of Pennsylvania asks me to vote for you based on your record of fighting to strengthen campus safety throughout the United States through your support of the Clery Act. My problem isn’t with your record; as a faculty member at Montgomery County Community College, I appreciate the value of a safe campus. As a member of the English Department, however, I must point out a glaring typographical error on the part of whoever composed the mailer in question.

Touting your record in relation to such an important facet of higher education as campus safety, the mailer reads, “Pat Meehan lead the fight to strengthen campus safety and protect students.” As you may know, the past tense of “lead” is “led.” As you may also know, the word “lead” can also refer to the chemical element listed as Pb on the periodic table. “Lead,” however, is not used as the past tense of “lead.” That the flyer in question draws the reader’s attention to the misspelled word by both underlining and highlighting it in red makes the mistake difficult to ignore. What’s more, the fact that this mailer ostensibly focuses on higher education renders the error especially egregious.

Although I’m rarely one to offer advice to those in the political realm, my recommendation to your friends in the Republican Federal Committee of Pennsylvania is identical to the recommendation I make to all of my students before they submit their work: proofread. More to the point, if you’re going to pander to educators — especially those who teach writing — you might want to make sure that you don’t go out of your way to draw attention to your spelling errors.

Warmest Regards,

Marc Schuster

PS: I think you’ll like my latest novel, The Grievers. You may even find a typo or two in it.

Exhibit A

Public Displays of Affectation

In addition to working on my own writing, I’ve been helping my friend Shaun Haurin with a collection of short stories titled Public Displays of Affectation. It’s the last book I’ll be working on for PS Books, and I’ve had a hand in almost all aspects of the production — working with Shaun on the manuscript and book design, and even editing the book trailer. The book isn’t due until September, but here’s a sneak peak at the trailer…

PS: The music in this trailer is by a band called The Novenas. Check them out!

Last of the Outtakes

Here’s one last passage that didn’t make it to the final version of The Grievers. The official publication date is a week from today.


Heading back to my office I ran into a fellow grad student who asked how I was doing. Fine, I said, except for the fact that a friend of mine had killed himself. We were riding the elevator, just the two of us. Two lights were out, and a third was flickering over an obscene message that someone had scratched into the paint years earlier. In the mail room, we both peered into empty mail slots and went our separate ways—she to her office on the eighth floor and I to mine down the hall where a man in mismatched shades of black sat waiting for me on a bench outside my door. Back when I was single, I might not have realized that his turtleneck and trousers clashed with each other, but if a year of wedded bliss had taught me anything it was that I should never, under any circumstances, wear two articles of clothing that are nearly the same color. Though I was initially inclined to balk at this rule, Karen set me straight in front of a room full of people when she leaned over a piano and repeatedly struck a high C in tandem with its corresponding sharp to produce a sound reminiscent of the shower scene in Psycho. That’s what I was dressed like, she said as all the women in the room burst into applause and the men knitted their eyebrows.

Eyeing the stranger up and down, I made one or two quick passes in front of my office before attempting a final approach. In addition to his dissonant blacks, the man wore army boots and had his hair pulled back in a stumpy ponytail. Though my first guess was that he might be a former student seeking vengeance over a less than stellar grade, a second glance gave me the impression that he might be a sales rep from one of the massive textbook conglomerates that hounded me day and night to use their anthologies. Either way, I didn’t feel a whole hell of a lot like talking to the guy, so I faked to the left and then to the right before dashing into my office.

“Charley Schwartz?”

“No thanks,” I said, closing the door behind me.

“Rick Beecham sent me.”

I opened the door an inch and put my eye to the crack. The stranger was standing now, looking back at me, clutching a moderately thick stack of papers. Behind me the telephone was ringing.