Editors Note:

EDITOR'S NOTE: Fresh off a three year managerial stint, your friendly neighborhood lenslinger is back on the street and under heavy deadline. As the numbing effects of his self-imposed containment wear off, vexing reflections and pithy epistles are sure to follow...

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Brothers in Scrum

"G. Lee, you on scene yet?"

"Negative. Interstate's at a standstill."

"Well, once you're there, throw up a picture. We're taking you at the top of the six."

G. Lee dropped the cell phone in his lap and stared through the windshield. A sea of brake lights stared back. He glanced at the dashboard clock. 5:40. Twenty minutes to get to what was sounding like the city's seventh homicide in as many weeks. In his lap, the cell phone began to vibrate again. Looking down, he saw it was The Desk again. 'Jesus', he muttered, before noticing the helicopter circling in the distance. G. Lee grabbed the steering wheel, yanked it to the right and stood on the gas pedal. Trapped commuters looked up from their own cellphones and watched the SUV with the oversized 7 on the door race by them in the breakdown lane. G. Lee didn't return their angry looks. He didn't have time.

Eight minutes later, he pulled into the housing development as his GPS chirped in her sunny, female voice.

"You've arrived at your destination."

Overhead, the Channel 3 chopper hovered, as if parked on a cloud. G. Lee didn't give it much thought, but he knew it was why his bosses were blowing up his phone. Up ahead, swirling blue lights bounced off the crumbling brick walls of the housing unit and washed over the curious faces of the crowd  assembling on the sidewalks. Only a few of the faces turned to watch as the news unit park behind a police cruiser. Even fewer kept watching as a shaggy-haired man in his mid-forties climbed out and walked around to the back of the SUV.

G. Lee raised the hatchback lid and without even looking, grabbed his gear. TV camera, industrial-sized tripod, bulging fanny-pack and what looked like an astronaut's lunchbox. He clicked the fanny-pack around his waist, hung the camera by its strap over his right shoulder, hoisted the tripod onto his left shoulder, grabbed the case with his one free hand and trudged up toward the clot of police cars.

At the edge of the yellow crime tape, a tall black man with a salt and pepper beard stood intertwined with his own tripod, his face buried in the blue glow of the Channel 4 camera's viewfinder. Several yards away, uniformed cops made small talk as detectives in rumpled dress clothes loitered on the porch of one of  the housing units. Hoyle Laxton twisted the barrel of his lens ever so slightly, bringing the detectives into sharp focus. He kept his eye glued to the viewfinder as G. Lee joined him at the crime tape.

"Where you been, G? Thought the coroner was gonna beat you here."         

G. Lee planted his tripod on the ground beside Hoyle's, lifted his camera atop of it and framed up a wide shot. As the camera rolled, he popped open the astronauts lunchbox, pressed a button on the transmitter inside and snaked a cable between it and the camera.

"Been suckin' fumes on I-40. Tradin' snapchats with your Mom. Cops talk yet?"

Hoyle snorted, never looking away from his camera's eyepiece. "Not yet. Check out the lady in the housecoat."

G. Lee scanned the crowd and spotted her, a large woman in a faded green housecoat. She was slumped over the roof a police car, her head buried in folded arms, round shoulders hitching as she fought to control her own sobbing. G. Lee zoomed in, locked down his shot and felt nothing at all. It's not that he couldn't empathize, but the callouses on his soul rarely allowed it to happen in real time.

"Think she's the victim's auntie. Cops ain't sayin'. You wanna dog-pile her?"

 "Not especially," G. Lee said. "Let the reporters do it when they get here."

With that, Hoyle and G. Lee fell silent as they recorded shot after shot of bored cops, parked police cars and rubbernecking locals. Soon, other news crews joined them and the kind of idle chatter found in media scrums the world over took place. It was rarely about the tragedy at hand. Rather, they traded war stories about blocked interstates, clueless assignment desks and the unquenchable thirst of the news beast that kept them all employed.

Most of the photogs knew each other well and generally looked out for one another. G. Lee and Hoyle were especially tight. They'd ping-ponged around the region for years, recognizing each others' silhouettes from a distance at house fires, jackknifed semi's, protests and presidential campaign stops. When Hoyle's wife left him, G. Lee listened to him lament the loss, then traded in the favor when it happened to him. It was the closest thing to a friendship either of these electronic loners would lay claim to and they helped each other more than their bosses ever knew.

Which is why it was so hard on G. Lee when what happened to Hoyle happened right in front of him...

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Just So I'm Clear...

Sooo, you want me to take my aging news hoopty up some burning mountain pass in smoked-out pitch black conditions? Dodge wombats and flatbeds as I push that junker up hairpin turns while my reporter checks her Instagram standings? Barrel my way past a fleet of parked fire trucks perched on what should be called Suicide Ridge until I find a flat patch of grass to park on? Break out my gear and plant my tripod on some crumbling road shoulder in the name of news? Employ my sniper-like ability to knock off shot after iconic shot of smoke plumes, hot spots and cop cars while my reporter waves her heavily logos microphone at the only person around NOT wearing a firefighter helmet?

Be there ready and rolling to catch any soundbites that may pour forth, fingers hovering over zoom button should any real emotion emerge? Scrounge even more sound from whatever official we can find, then get back in the car and force it up five more miles of dark, twisty switchbacks? Steer that bucket of bolts past Lovers’ Leap and Losers' Landing before settling on a suitable view of the burning orange smear on the cliff-face above us? Unpack lights, camera and action as my reporter steps in front of the camera while mumbling to herself? Crank open the iris and tweak the backlight until my reporter is flanked by distant orange smear and a passing sense of urgency? Hit ‘Record’ and ride audio levels as she stylizes a diatribe that will be used to open and close a report we’re still not done shooting?

Pack up my gear, get back in the car and break out a laptop? Dump my fresh footage into a digital timeline before passing laptop to reporter without knocking over the Big Gulps we’ll have bought an hour earlier? Buckle up and try not to drive off a cliff as I navigate one crazy curve after another back down the mountain? Try not to fall into a trance-like state as the reporter beside me zips back and forth through my footage, the sound-bites stopping and starting like some pre-edit hip-hop? Pull over halfway back and switch seats so that I can finish the edit and upload our piece (hopefully) before we get back to the station? Hunch over a jostling laptop and finger-pad my way through a catacomb of click and drag decisions while my reporter drives us into what I can only pray won’t be a herd of news-crew-hating deer?

Yeah, I can do that...again.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Prattle and Scrum

In his latest musical release, Lenslinger mines the plight of the lonesome data-gatherer against the angry jangle of the American dream. "Pixel Hood" tells the washed up story of a TV stevedore, a limping journeyman whose stilted visuals have left the landscape badly out of focus. Forced to schlep the earth with a broken Sony, the blogger turned troubadour finds damnation, scams and calamity in the guitar-laden gnarl of the photog songbook. But for all the pith and vinegar he pours forth, this only marginally skilled musician struggles with tone throughout what could have otherwise been a minor masterpiece.

The album's opener, 'Over and Under' opens with an angry scat about tangled TV cables, then shifts into what can only be described as 'Screamo-Zydeco' before settling into a whispery chant about fast food wrappers left in the live truck.

By far, the strongest track is 'Trailer Park Fire', a rollicking stomp through a thousand late night news scenes. With potent imagery and a plaintive wail, 'Slinger paints a searing portrait of what losers look like when they look at losers. Too bad he had to drench the whole thing in mid-80's synthesizers.

From there, 'Slinger careens from one genre to the next, often abandoning a particular style, form or even instrument before the song in question is halfway through. While the source material is strong, his insistence on open-mouthed throat drumming distracts wears thin. Were it not for the versatility and verve of his backing band - a ragtag group of news shooters turned musicians known as 'The Hurricane Head-Nods' - their leader may have mangled the muse in the process.

The album ends with it's title track, 'Pixel Hood', an ambitious if unwise epic dirge about a delusional news shooter bent on revenge and too many Red Bulls. Before the nine minute song crescendos with enough rock-star bombast and rearview mirror moves to make Corey Feldman slink away in shame, it touches on such important topics as hunger, injustice and why Spandex is no longer an acceptable fashion choice for middle-aged men. 

The whole thing's pretty much an ear-bleed, but compared to his debut CD, the pretentious, protracted and universally panned double live album "Wretch-A-Sketch", anything is an improvement. (Two Stars)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Framing Chaos

As grown men go, I'm just not that brave. My brother Richard, a retired firefighter/paramedic, is. He's the guy you want by your side in times of danger. I'm the guy that can get you through the first round of Jeopardy.

But place a TV camera on my shoulder and my very DNA changes. It isn't courage that consumes me when I'm within the lens. It's curiosity. There's no valor involved behind that glass. It's a quest for access. I've no flair for daring in any other situation. But a face full of viewfinder is a suitable mask for a guy like me. I can don that disguise and weigh into any fray as if I'm a treasured guest. It's the fortitude born of a million deadlines met, an aberrant behavior caused more by boredom with the norm than any notion of nobility. Don't get me wrong: I could never be one of those far-flung war correspondents. But when shit goes sideways in my little 'burg, you can better believe I want to be there, if for no other reason than to see it for myself. Those of us with tripods in our trunks steer into the weird with only one agenda: get a better shot than the other guy or girl...

It's been a solid week since the city of Charlotte damn near came undone. It began when local cops shot and killed a black man, Keith Scott. As accusations of institutional racism and police overreach swirled around the Queen City, a couple dozen protestors grew into hundreds of unhinged citizens. Roving bands of demonstrators flooded uptown and disorder ruled the day. It went well on into the night and I was there with a TV camera in tow. Seven days later, I'm still unpacking impressions and trying to figure out how to write about it. The best I can do for now are these scattered thoughts:
Think what you will of the protestors, but don't lump them all into one category. Like the media itself, they cannot be categorized into any one genus or phylum. In my time among them, I witnessed everything from rancor to grace, apoplexy to aplomb. While many were intent on anarchy, others pleaded for peace and understanding. Some wanted the eyes of the world to see what was happening. Others wanted to wipe the streets with this Caucasian cameraman. In one night alone, I was threatened, blamed, pushed, high-fived and even hugged by demonstrators of every denomination.
Despite the incident that led to the unrest, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department showed unbridled restraint in the face of chaos. Suited up in riot gear, they formed a line and stood silently as protestors screamed in their faces, challenging their convictions, character and courage. Sure, they threw tear gas and flash bangs when they felt overwhelmed, but had they used their batons rather than their shields, this city that I've come to know and love would likely have burned. Ask yourself: Could I have kept my cool while a mob of angry faces screamed 'murderer', 'bigot' and 'demon' at me?
Tear gas is no trifle. When police began lobbing canisters last Wednesday night, I was too close for any hope of comfort. Fueled by adrenaline and competition with the other news crews, I stayed put for far too long and sucked a couple lungs full of the noxious fumes. I coughed for a half an hour, my eyes welled up with acrid tears and I wore a large snot-stain on my shirt for the rest of the evening. At one point, I hunkered down with my camera at my feet and wretched. A man who looked to be homeless appeared out of the mist and poured some of his bottled water on my face. Then he vanished into the crowd.
Somewhere amid the threats, tear gas and fatigue, I found myself re-examining my career path. Less than two months ago, I held the title of manager and as such, spent all of my time inside, far from the vagaries of the chase. 'Was I not better off playing the part of house cat?', I wondered as I zigzagged through a throng of SWAT cops and demonstrators. Was I not safer navigating the shoals of office politics, rather than dodging wide-eyed marauders and burning trash cans? Would I not have been wiser to stick with managing millennials instead of this thankless life of sweat and peril?
'Naaah', I thought, wiping my eyes with my shirt collar. I'm safer out here than holing up inside any newsroom.
After all, I'm just not that brave.
(The viewpoints and opinions posted here do not reflect those of my employer. They are my thoughts alone.)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

License to Thrive

If you're drug-free like me, please treat yourself to the (mostly) harmless contact buzz that is Cory Feldman's recent Today Show appearance. But only if you're not operating any heavy machinery In the next few hours... 

Pretty potent, huh? I've watched it like five times now and, I swear, the swirlier patterns on my bathroom wallpaper are fighting with each other. But that's not important right now. What IS important is that the snarkeratti that now makes up most of humanity is piling on the 80's matinee idol for his mildly hallucinogenic performance. Is it dated, deluded and self indulgent? Indubitably. The by-product of celebrity enabling and nefarious booking agents? Youbetcha. The direct effect of having more money than sense. Chiggity-check. 

But whatever you credit or blame for the fact that Corey Feldman is back in the national consciousness, I for one have to give him his propers. After all, his combination of half-baked Michael Jackson moves and dead-eyed Fembots has peppered my Facebook feed with something other than Trump, Hillary and/or impossibly adorable puppy montages. That alone earns him the right to sign that 8 episode reality show deal some Hollywood hack is no doubt thrusting in front of him at this very moment. What's more, his ear-grating vocals are totally devoid of talent the kind of misogynistic posturing found in so much current day hip hop. Most importantly, his Today show gig probably saved the world from one more Hoda and Kathy Lee segment. 

And for that, he deserves our scorn

I don't think so. And while I'm as mystified as you as to just how he landed the gig, you have to respect him for believing in his vision enough to drag a handful of off-duty waitresses and a cast-off Trent Reznor track to the set of America's most vapid morning show. What, you wanted another dissection of Ryan Lochte's latest dim-witted debauchery? Not only has this hapless has-been regained what passes for relevancy in our click-bait society, he's done so with a song and dance number so deplorable I twisted my ankle trying to replicate it in my rec room. (I'm kidding: I don't have a rec room.) So before you cast judgment on a 45 year old man channeling the id of a deceased King of Pop, let me ask you, "What did YOU accomplish last week?" 

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go stare at my wallpaper.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Roughing the Glasser

Some fellas would sell their souls to idle on the sidelines as padded gladiators try to shove an over-inflated football down their opponent's throat. I, however, am not one of those fellas. What can I tell you: sports was never my game. A day-dreamy lad more at home in the stacks of my local library than on any field of play, I passed through adolescence without ever learning how to root, root, root for the home team. Okay, there's more to it than that. Let's just say I was born without the chromosome that enables one to give a rip about things like scoreboards, time-outs and color-coordinated uniforms. 

All of which makes my access to the NFL nothing less than ludicrous. See, if you man a fancycam in this town, eventually you're going to find yourself at Bank of America stadium, that holy shrine of gridiron glory known as the home of the Carolina Panthers. To most, it is a Mecca. To me, it is a mystery: a place where oversized athletes zig and zag in a most convoluted manner, where full grown fan-boys in matching sweatshirts genuflect every time some chiseled millionaire passes gas, where sports reporters bandy about terms that leave a word-nerd like me reaching for a thesaurus that's forever out of reach. 

Just how clueless am I? I've been gleefully hating on the band Nickelback for damn near a decade without ever realizing their very name was a football term! I thought running a route referred to dashing to the bathroom during one of those incessant TV time-outs! I assumed a blitz was the state of mind all those tailgating fans were pursuing in the parking lot! I'm not even kidding! Well, maybe a little. What I can truthfully attest to is that I know I have no business skulking along the field's perimeter, dive bombing the press room food table or trying not to get too many cutaway shots of the cheerleading squad. 

Mostly, I keep to myself, be it in the the odorous bunker where the camera crews loiter during halftime or on the sideline, where even a fraction of distraction can land you in a body-cast. See, you don't have to grasp every play's ramifications to know that if even one of those players you've been struggling to keep on screen lands in your lap instead, you'll be drinking your next month of meals through what's left of your spleen. That's one game day sensation I can live without. So if you spot me on the sidelines sporting that thousand yard stare, know that I'm not just bored out of my skull, I'm forever afraid I'm gonna wake from said stupor with my beloved lens shoved down my gullet. 

Then who would get all those artsy shots of the cheerleaders?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Quantum Heap

Remember the early 90's television show where at the end of each episode that dude from McGyver would lock eyes with Harry Dean Stanton Dean Stockwell and instantly transport into another person's life? I didn't either - until a prolonged patch of personal turbulence left me vexed, hexed and more than a little perplexed. Nooo, I didn't leap from the body a brain surgeon to that of a ballerina before that last Pepto-Bismol ad, but I did manage to alter my corporeal form before the final credits began to roll. Credits: that's what we used to call the rolling scroll of names shown at the end of each and every broadcast. Even the local news did it - which is why I grew up marveling at the Teleprompter stylings of one Myron J. Botnik. Dude was on fleek! These days, Shakespeare himself could flex the text for your local news-readers and you'd never know (though they'd happily mine YOUR social data for winking selfies, buyer tie-ins and any possible Ashley Madison infractions).

But I digress.

Which beings me to the question WHY? Why do I feel compelled to encapsulate the verve of The Fourth Estate? I dunno ... it just feels good. If you're a person of the writing persuasion, you understand. Putting one's thoughts on paper or pixels or even peanut butter is wildly therapeutic (if by 'therapeutic' you men the sensation of pulling out one's favorite eyelashes while sitting in an empty room). I myself once harvested a bumper crop of warm and fuzzies by employing this exact method. But things were easier back then. More days than not, I'd trundle my highly-logo'd lens to the edge of intrigue and come away bristling with theses, reflections and the occasional Top Ten list. Nowadays, I spend my time making more lukewarm phone calls than white hot deadlines. I'd tell you all about it, but each time  I try I grow so bored, I click over to Facebook and scroll through cat videos, Trump eulogies and all those nice people wondering what kind of rutabaga I'd be...

American Purple Top, if you're curious.

Chances are if you're still reading this you ARE curious. That or really, really bored. Either way, I'm grateful. See, it's high time I get these soliloquies out of my frontal lobe and into the hearts and minds of the half dozen folk who used to regularly read my mind. Question is, can I? Sure, I can absolutely smoke a spreadsheet these days, but you're not gonna drop by to read three fresh paragraphs on how I nailed the margins on that last TPS Report. (Yeeaah...) I could try to sex it up, but would even the best lamentations of an office hack compare to that time a lion pissed in my face? I think not. But, hey, at least I'm thinkin' again! I've spent most of the past 24 months in a fugue like state and while that may make for great copy, it's never going to land a pencil sketch of my fuzzy mug on one of those Barns and Nobles tote bags. So, click back every once in awhile to see how I do on my latest pledge to achieve my density destiny. That, or check out the old Quantum Leap episode where dude pops the collar of his jean jacket and goes from being a crack-addled taxidermist to the Dalai freakin' Lama.

I'm sure it's on Netflix...