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Student Column is Moving up the Ranks
Sam Rockmore isn’t shy about expressing his opinions. In fact, he lets all of Park Forest Middle School know what he thinks.
Rockmore, a seventh-grader, writes a popular Park Forest Times humor column which ranks his preferences for whatever lies in his sights. Particularly with the bottom-dwellers on his lists, he spares little mercy, savaging them with an acerbic wit that has earned him a following among classmates and faculty.
Take his takedown of Skittles, for instance, placed next-to-last and dismissed as “fake M&Ms” in his January column: “These are like raisin cookies … Skittles are a crime against humanity.”
Candy corn didn’t fare much better two places ahead: “Yum, flavored wax. If you melt down candy corn and put a wick in it, boom! You now have a candle. Thank you for listening to my Ted Talk.”
Even his top choice, Hershey Hugs, received shade: “One of the few good uses of white chocolate.”
He’s just being true to himself.
“Essentially, I like to really diss on things,” he said.
Basically, though, he just likes to write. Before coming up with his list column last fall, he spun a short story about a demonic talking Elmo doll in his basement that eventually winds up in North Korea — not a surprising flight of fancy from someone who created his own country and hung its flag outside his home. Another piece, published in the paper, explored whether carbonated milk qualifies as soda.
The list columns are an extension of his fertile imagination, born from daily life — a random Jolly Rancher in his pocket spurring the candy column, a spilled water bottle inspiring a selective beverage review, his love for chocolate milk leading him to rank Byler Goat Dairy as his top local brand. He has also taken aim at the months of the year and his current target, Nintendo Switch games, where Fortnite brings up the rear with this quip: “I’ve been advised not to put in my original description so as to not offend the three people that play this game unironically.”
“Humor ranking columns feel more like myself because I like to rant about things that I hate and really, really like,” he said. “With the format, a lot of times the middle ones, they’re pretty bare bones, and then the last and first ones have a lot.”
For the record, he’s not all snark, all the time; his endorsements, such as for his top game, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, tend to ring with earnestness. Toward the back of the pack, however, the opinions acquire a sharper edge, including the disclaimers that regularly precede the worst-to-best lists. Sample: “If you think a different game should be on top, you are the reason shampoo has instructions.”
Count Park Forest Times advisor Andy Cunningham among Rockmore’s fans. For every issue, Cunningham guides several talented writers producing news, sports, consumer guide and opinion pieces, as well as poems and essays. But Rockmore stands out for his distinctive literary style.
“He’s got a gift,” said Cunningham, who teaches eighth-grade academic literacy and has known Rockmore for years. “That writing voice is a gift. It has to come naturally, but for a lot of kids, it comes later as they mature. He definitely has it now, which is pretty cool. So it’ll be exciting to see where he goes with that.”
When eighth-grader Anna Christopher read her first Rockmore column, “Ranking a Bunch of Random Drinks,” she was surprised that she hadn’t heard of him before.
“His writing was hilarious and it led me to binge-reading every article of his I could find,” she said. “I love his ‘Ranking Things’ series because even though each column follows the same outline, they’re all unique and funny in their own ways.”
Christopher thinks the reason she and other PFMS students enjoy Rockmore’s column “is because of how relatable it is.”
“Even though I can name endless amounts of people who would disagree with his rankings, I know they would still love to read it,” she said. “He writes like a middle schooler but still manages to make it really creative and well-written, and it's really fun and easy to read his work. I can almost feel like he's having a conversation with me when I'm reading his articles. He finds a way to make every line funny without going overboard, and I'm genuinely impressed that someone so young can write so well, especially comedy writing.”
Rockmore’s humor also registers with technology education teachers Tim Dzurko, Shaun Boyer and Aaron Zimmerman.
“We find Sam's work to be quite relevant, interesting and entertaining,” Dzurko said. “We all agree that it makes us laugh out loud as we occasionally preview his work during our 30-minute lunch period. His creative style of writing/sharing is our new age version of the Sunday comics.”
Christopher still considers the drink column one of her favorites, ironically, because she has a bone to pick with it.
"I am an avid coffee lover, and the fact he ranked it No.13 [“Bitter mud,” one place behind actual mud, “just thicker coffee, just without the bitterness.”] slightly hurts my feelings,” she said. “He's an insanely talented writer, but someone needs to introduce him to iced caramel macchiatos.”
The Park Forest Times is available at http://pfmstimesonline.squarespace.com/. A printed version is distributed throughout the school.
By Chris Rosenblum
Photos by Nabil K. Mark