Alan H. Feiler is editor-in-chief of JMORE, a new multi-media company covering the Jewish community of the Baltimore metropolitan region. He has worked as a professional journalist for three decades and worked as a writer and editor for The Retriever from 1981-1985.
Back in the fall of ’81, I slammed into a dead end. Caught in the crosshairs of indecision, dazed and confused, I was a sad pup and feeling pretty damned sorry for myself.
After a year at UMBC and taking a plethora of courses in myriad disciplines and schools of thought, I couldn’t find myself. I felt adrift in a sea of students who all seemed to know what their majors were and what they were going to do for the rest of their professional lives.
And here I was, no closer to knowing what I wanted to major in than when I first declared myself “Undecided” after stepping onto the hallowed grounds of what we used to jokingly call, “UCLA – University of Catonsville, Left of Arbutus.”
I’d come to realize that no amount of imbibing at the old Rathskeller in the cellar of the now-defunct Hillcrest building was going to remedy my problem. So at a friend’s suggestion, I sought counseling – academic counseling, to be precise. I made my way over to the Career Development Center (as it was known then), seeking some guidance and comfort.
My counselor, a tall, kindly man named Ira Katz, asked what I liked to do in my spare time. After listing a string of absolutely useless proclivities, I said, “Well, I’ve always liked to write. But you can’t do anything with that, can ya?”
Ira smiled patiently and said, “Well, you’d be surprised,” and recommended seeing if The Retriever needed any freelance writers. In my naivete, I responded, “The Retriever? But those guys are real writers!”
Ira attempted to suppress a chuckle and said, “Just drop by and see if they need any help.”
Dutifully, I followed his advice and to my utter shock, they were more than happy to give a chance to a kid with a bad haircut and virtually no writing experience.
I spent the remainder of my time at UMBC toiling away at The Retriever, honing my craft and cutting my teeth as a reporter, writer and editor and I was loving every single minute of it.
Working at The Retriever gave me direction and a sense of purpose in college. I made friendships and enjoyed experiences there that I’ll keep in my heart for the rest of my days.
So many memories stand out: covering a slew of SGA elections, reviewing Prince’s concert at the Capital Center and The Who’s last decent album, bemoaning the closing of the Rathskeller in my way-too-long “magnum opus” and profiling such great campus professors as Lou Cantori, Warren Belasco and my old journalism mentor, Tom Nugent.
Most of all, I remember the camaraderie of The Retriever staff, laughing it up all the time, arguing about bands, occasionally annoying the administration folks and sometimes fighting like cats and dogs, all in the name of good student journalism. Those late Sunday nights and early Monday mornings of noshing on cold pizza and swilling warm beer while putting the final touches on our “masterpieces” and laying out pages with Exacto knives, hot glue guns and rollers – it just didn’t get any better than that.
Happy anniversary UMBC and The Retriever!