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UC Davis Centennial
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Photo: Jeff Percels

In between his stints at The Aggie, Percels spent a junior year abroad in Poitiers, France, where this photo was taken. (Jeff Percels/courtesy photo)

UC Davis Stories

Jeff Percel’s story

About Jeff Percels

Photo: Jeff Percels

French major Jeff Percels left UC Davis and his hometown of Stockton for the University of Virginia in fall 1984. This was after a summer spent painting dorm rooms with the paint crew, which he says was a more enjoyable summer job than one might think.

He completed a doctorate in 16th-century French literature at University of Virginia in summer in 1991, having taken a year off to work in Grenoble, France.

He and his wife, Brigitte Guillemin, have been at (the other) USC (a.k.a. University of South Carolina) ever since.

Percels teaches early modern French literature, culture and theatre production, and directs the European Studies Program at USC, where his wife teaches French language and culture.

They divide their time happily between Columbia, Charlottesville, Alsace and other parts of France, and are often in Tours with university students.

Percels says his most interesting recent publication of note is an edited volume on early modern scatology, Fecal Matters in Early Modern Literature and Art: Studies in Scatology (Ashgate, 2004).

Proof-reading The Aggie in the basement of Freeborn

I still have (and use) the X–Acto knife I bought back in the fall of 1981 when I signed on as a night proofer for The Aggie, down in the basement of Freeborn.

I don’t even think I’ve ever changed the blade. Newspaper production was pretty primitive back then — though we did have video monitors for editing copy — and the layout was a labor-intensive, late-evening (often into early morning) job of spatial design, with the headlines hammered out blind on an old Linotype machine, and everything waxed, trimmed and fretted onto the final proof pages.

I don’t know how apt I was at the job — I believe there were some impressive bloopers I missed.

Money was tight — when isn’t it for most students? — or maybe I was just cheap, but I remember often buying a plain bagel upstairs at the Coffee House for dinner, for about 75 cents, and slathering it with the unlimited free butter and jam they offered. Didn’t even spring for cream cheese.

Skill and good humor

After a year abroad on one of the UC system’s outstanding programs (Poitiers, France), I graduated to copy editing under the outstanding and generous editorship of Ellen Granberg, who was assisted with much skill and sharp good humor by copy editor James Colgrove, Senior Staff Writer Caroline Benton and companion copyreaders Anne–Marie Fulfer, among many others.

I don’t recall now how I conned Ellen into letting me contribute both a column (“Held for Observation”) and what may have been (mercifully) The Aggie’s only serial novel, The Edificational Adventures of Thomas Bovis.

I’m embarrassed now to recall bits of its sophomoric prose but I’ll ever be grateful for the Dickensian blessing of being paid by the word. Old Thomas paid for a lot of bagels….

My only real regret is that I’ve lost touch with all those friends and co–workers. It may have been as much the 3–mile bike ride home I regularly faced in the wee hours as the camaraderie, but I remember distinctly how reluctant I was to leave at the end of the day.

It seemed we had world enough back then but never sufficient time….

Damn smart and damn good

I think all of my French professors have retired or moved on by now, but I know I thought they were damn smart and damn good at what they did, even if my grades were not always the most reliable testament to their skills.

I do remember happily starting Latin with David Traill and Lynn Roller, though, and ending up my senior year smuggling in gin and tonics in a thermos (again under the influence of Aggie cohorts, I’m afraid) to get through a course on Roman comedy with an idiosyncratic, Tab–swilling professor whose name now escapes me, I’m sad to say: If he could drink in class, so could we, we reasoned.

Thanks for keeping me on the books. My wife Brigitte and I much enjoy the UC Davis Magazine.

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