Monday, September 09, 2013

Blurred Lines


It's a fact: If you stumble around in an existential haze long enough, people will start calling you out! At work, at the deli, at the random head-on collision... if ONE MORE person asks me why I'm not blogging anymore, I'm gonna have to come up with an answer! So far though, I've only mumbled a half-response while stifling the deployment of my middle finger. Just today, I was touring WRAL-TV when some very nice strangers piled accolades on the words I used to string together. If that wasn't enough to make me stare holes through my windshield on the way back home, I plopped down in the middle of what was once The Lenslinger Institute only to discover a eulogy of sorts from News Blues editor Mike James...
"Veteran news photographer Stewart "Lenslinger" Pittman, whose Schmuck Alerts and flowery prose always made us smile, hasn't posted to his blog 'Viewfinder Blues' for more than a month. Last we heard, he was recovering from a painful divorce and was struggling with writer's block and career fatigue."
No. He. Didn't. Okay, so he did. And you know what makes it so much worse? He's 100% correct. I am recovering from a painful divorce (to-be) and I'm damn sure struggling with writer's block and career fatigue. That first condition is more my business than yours, but I can tell you this: my wedded bliss is distant history and while I will never, ever, ever understand why, it's something I'm learning to accept. This realization, of course, hasn't come without some collateral damage: depression, self-doubt and enough unanswered introspection to make Dr. Drew huff a can of paint. As for writer's block, well, she's the only mistress I've ever had ... a frigid bitch who moves in and makes me pay for all the nights the Muse had her way with me. I'll run that hag off soon enough, but probably never for good. (Perhaps I should file for a restraining order.)

And career fatigue! Does twenty three years of riding around with gear in the rear even qualify as a career? Did Dr. Seuss take over the last half of that sentence? Is this thing even on? You show me a person who's slept, stepped and crept through as many deadlines as I have who doesn't have career fatigue and I'll show you an unfeeling schlub with a musty ball of gaffer's tape where his shriveled little heart used to be. Career fatigue, PFFT! I got three week old camera batteries with more wear and tear on 'em than the occupational distress I've shared with you people! I have not yet begun to bitch! So bring it on, snarky office mate! Take your best shot, creepy delicatessen lady! And you there, with the badly-wrapped sat truck and feigned concern for my well-being - come at me, bro'! I'll turn your latest mistake into Top Ten fodder, get plugged by News Blues in the process and STILL have to drag some beauty queen into the abyss tomorrow morning!  And as for that whole blogging phase I went through....

I'll get back to it eventually.     

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

In The Short Rows...

Traipse through your days with a lens aloft and people will naturally assume you care. More times than not, you don't, for after awhile the homicides, new brides and camel rides all blend together, until a choice parking spot outside your favorite diner thrills you far more than the meth-lab bloodbath just down the road. It's why I try to keep a low profile... head down, eyes up, deadline in the middle distance. It's a crucial insouciance, the kind you find in Waffle House waitresses, cab drivers and other hollow-eyed zombies. See, only the brain-dead know what a dozen-yard stare will do for your outlook. It also comes in damn handy when you're trying to blend into a crowd of strangers with a fancycam for a face.

That's where I found myself last week, navigating through stacks of tobacco, before briefly traveling back in time. I should have seen it coming, I suppose. But who can spot a rip in the time-space continuum with one eye shut and twenty men trying to step on your feet? I can't even find my car keys most mornings. So is it any wonder I backed right into a portal of sorts, a distorted corridor where the tobacco glowed, my own hair bristled with thickness and '1999' was still just a futuristic Prince jam. Back then, opening day at any self-respecting warehouse was a gala event. Growers, buyers, beauty queens and politicians, all soaking in the aroma of the selling floor. There would be speeches and ice cream and high noon live shots. That's where you'd find me, scanning the crowd for flashes of pageantry and the free Krispy-Kremes...

 I hovered there for awhile, watching my twenty-something self almost slip on the canvas corners of now obsolete tobacco sheets. It's there I first perfected my back-pedal, that languid lope you try to fall into as the prisoner/politician/pervert at the center of your screen tries to walk right through your pupils. I faltered at first, but after getting trampled a time or ten by men with tobacco spit on their chins, I learned to get the hell out of the way. These days, my biggest obstacles are flashbacks, time warps and the occasional urge to break-dance like no one's watching. Yes, middle age isn't pretty. Neither is the view that ensued I returned to my corporeal form... The crowd was smaller, the golden leaf moldy and I ... I, was still a freakin' cameraman...

This gig really should come with a Surgeon General's Warning.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Beak to Geek

New Penguin

Every once in a while, something unexpected wanders into frame and drains the moat around my soul. It usually happens at soldier homecomings, Special Olympics or certain City Council meetings. Okay, so I'm lying about that last one, but the fact is we TV stevedores ARE occasionally capable of human emotion (like those conflicted cyborgs of Science Fiction, who bring civilization to a grinding halt with their incessant meddling). Lately, I've strained in vain to keep my pathos under wraps. What can I tell ya - parts of my life continue to suck. But since I hold no patent on that predicament, I choose to lose myself within the lens. That I do, puttering around the eye-cup like some creepy lighthouse keeper.

Then along came Brenton.

A seabird of some distinction, Brenton met me at the back door of the Greensboro Science Center's new penguin exhibit. Unlike the rest of her colony, Brenton wasn't as interested in the bucket of fish as she was the cameraman who came with it. I was flattered, if not a little weirded out, at the creature's curiosity. Like a cat, she rubbed against my ankles, then stopped to stare up into my eyes like a homeless Basset Hound. So I returned the favor, twisting the macro ring on my lens until my new girlfriend snapped into focus. Brenton didn't flinch. Instead she met my gaze with deep black eyes that seemed to flicker with wisdom. Chances are she was checking her reflection, but as we stared across the great divide, the glacial malaise of these last six months melted away and for just a moment the present felt better than the past. That's when I heard someone laughing and realized it was me.

Don't worry, though. I'm sure the feeling will pass.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dreck at Eleven

News crews have it rough. They're overworked, underpaid and labor under a false sense of relevance. All of which makes me very reluctant to ridicule them - even from afar. After all, I'M one of them and when it comes to putting dodgy content on the air, there is blood on my hands as well. But never in my rashest hour have I foisted the kind of foolishness willingly broadcast by certain employees of WJAR-10-NBC in Providence, Rhode Island. Perhaps you've seen it: A young reporter caps off her live shot on a bear attack with a few helpful attempts on how to stave off a similar incident. What followed was an abomination. The reporter (we'll call her Julie Tremmel) cavorts, overacts and generally displays behavior better suited for a game of stoner charades than an actual newscast. While not privy to the logic behind this ill-advised addendum, I do believe I recognize the the sordid core of this report. Sooo, at the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy (I prefer 'curmudgeon') I'd like to offer some unsolicited advice, First, though, some background:

For as long as I have hoisted a lens, local TV stations have done their best to drive themselves out of existence. The sins of the fathers have many. Vacuous ass-hats and admitted degenerates have always gravitated toward our field. Long before early engineers knitted the first color patterns from stolen Indian blankets, folks who couldn't make it in the real world have found solace and acceptance underneath our heavily-logoed tent. This is nothing new. What is new(ish) is our industry's insistence on hearing the cheap, the young and the inexperienced. Major market shops that used to hand pick journeyman staffers now fill their newsrooms with folks barely out of college. Considering the salaries they offer, this only makes sense. But the corner-office crowd has thrown the baby out with the bathwater, replacing exiting veterans with a generation of journalists whose sum life experience comes from binge watching Jersey Shore.

Don't get me wrong. I work with plenty of young reporters who strive for nuance and intelligence in their work. But I know many more whose idea of a sound journalistic skill-set is a stack of glossy head-shots, some far flung agent and a wardrobe they really can't afford. It is these pretenders I'd like next to address...

ATTENTION YOUNG BROADCASTERS: You have dedicated your days to an industry in decline. What used to be considered a vibrant signal of society is now just so much noise. Loyal viewers are dying off by the hearse-load and they're not being replaced. Your Mother may be impressed at seeing little her baby on the tee-vee, but the rest of the nation considers your ilk somewhere between tax collector and pedophile. By no means is this your fault. Generations of buffoons before have long ago paved this road to irrelevance with ego, affectation and hard hitting reports on how this washcloth could kill you(!). But while you're not totally responsible for broadcasting's prolonged demise, you did willingly jump aboard this listing ship. If you have any hope of treading water, let alone lap your competition, you must remember this:

Credibility is key. People at home and on the street already assume you're a preening idiot. Most many of you are not. If you plan to stay employed, or at the very least parlay your regional fame into a sweet P.R. gig, you must bleed validity. You must project (and protect) personal integrity with the zealotry of an suicide bomber. Sure, acting foolish on the air may land you on Letterman's couch, but it probably won't land your insipid mug on any hometown billboards. Wanna go viral? Skip the condom next time you hook up with some drunken Millennial. Otherwise you're best hope of becoming a web sensation lies in the people you interview. Let some hapless sap or idling baby-mama turn soundbites into passing catch-phrases. Your job is to play the straight man (or woman). Wanna perpetrate something stupid to ping-pong around the internet?

Ain't nobody got time for that.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Slingin' in the Rain

Wet Etheridge
Up next on our runway, young Dustin Etheridge in a whip-smart ensemble that just screams professional regret! With his cherry red slicker and musty black trousers, this is one broadcaster who knows how to make a splash! Whether he's grilling a tipsy Senator, accosting shoppers outside his least favorite Wal-Mart or just plain dumpster-diving under heavy deadline, Dustin dazzles with a minimum of chafing! And those shoes! Sensible yet sassy, you'd never guess they spend most of their time buried in the floorboard of a nameless news unit. Which is exactly where you'll find this  strapping glass-handler - once he's fended off the affections of fans, a family of geese and that homeless woman with the Last Supper tattooed on her throat! Is it any wonder so many TV News types ape his trademark look (and smell)? Yes, the next time you're fleeing the island for higher ground, drop by that shabby hotel where the sat trucks gather and soak in the sartorial splendor! Oversized logo's, wrinkles that stink and enough ill-advised head-wear to make a once proud milliner slit his wrist! But you don't have to commit to a life of late shifts and dollar menu items to capture this look! Simply troll the discount bin at your local sporting goods store, stash what you score in a forgotten gym bag and you'll be dressed to impress the next time the News Gods take a dump on the Fourth Estate!

At least until Cantore shows up... Dude goes nowhere without a trunk full of windbreakers and shoe-lifts.

Monday, July 08, 2013

There Doze My Hero...

Sleepy-saurus Rex

Faster than a crashing newscast, more powerful than an intern's optimism, able to stretch a single fender bender into thirty seconds of forgettable television. Look! Over there! It’s ... it's ... some poor camera dude struggling to stay awake. But take no pity on this mere mortal, for he's folded time on a daily basis, made sitting Presidents sweat and poked a thousand holes in the sky. We won't even talk about all the pretty people he's rescued.

Posing as Rex, a mild-mannered cameraman, our hero plods through his day without the benefit of tights and a cape (though his utility belt would make Aqua-Man sink). Instead, he fights for truth, justice and a decent lunch -- all while taken for a catatonic commoner. But don't fall for all the yawning. Beneath the surface, this unlikely everyman is bristling with super-kinetic energy, knowing at any time his Metropolis could fall victim to plague, pestilence or a six-part series on airport bathrooms that no one this side of Krypton wants to watch.  

So take heed, miscreants! Should you be unlucky enough to stumble across this protector of the electorate, don't even nod in his direction. Otherwise, he'll pounce like a half-mad jungle cat, use his near X-ray vision to see your weakness and cast its reflection to the heavens and beyond. Before you know it, you'll be trapped in a satellite shot, explaining your own secret identity to the likes of Anderson Cooper.  

Nobody wants that. We'd rather watch the airport bathroom thingie.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Jaws of Life

Road Rash

Here's something I picked up on the side of the road: perspective. For years I didn't notice it, lying there among the bits of windshield and broken chrome. Too lost in youthful stupor, I never appreciated how the shadow I cast on that glittering asphalt had all its limbs attached. It just didn't seem important then. I'd bebop up to a jack-knifed semi, crack wise to anyone who would listen and grow impatient if the trooper didn't make a beeline to my microphone. But an unfunny thing happened on the way to jerkdom. I grew up, one ghastly accident at a time. The sound of a second grader wailing in pain will do that to a fella. So will watching a soccer mom take a helicopter ride moments after she made the last wrong turn of her life. All that chopper-wash won't just chip your lens. It'll ding your soul if you're not paying attention. Next thing you know, you're skulking through your shift with a pockmarked conscious, an unseemly beast who's happiest tapping his foot in the breakdown lane. Don't be that guy (or even that girl). Let the house-cats back in the newsroom high-five over the head-on collision. Your job is to gather the facts, harvest the verve and be a decent human being. Anything less is just bad customer service.   

And we need all the customers we can get.