As a struggling memoirist, I do ALOT of looking backwards. Which is why you'll find me hunched over my battered Day Planner this time of year, trying to assign nuance and meaning to twelve months of dashboard chicken scratch. Some of the terse entries ('Fatal House Fire','Danville Primaries','New Wal-Mart) tell the whole tale, but others ('MoonRock Madness', 'Robotic Prostate','Toxic Ditch') beg to be explained. So grab your own calendar and join me, as I flip a few coffee-stained pages and trounce back through a pretty average 2004,"The Year in E.N.G."
A perfectly good news story fell from the sky in early March, and for a few days the local telescope mafia did nothing but hyperventilate about it. In between hits off their collective inhalers, they pronounced the mysterious mass of metal that pierced the roof a north High Point home to be Not Of This World - a meteor maybe, a piece of space junk, the cam-shaft to a late model UFO. Imagine their reaction when the Amazing Space Rock turned out to be a broken cog from a nearby industrial wood chipper. I don't have to imagine it - I was there, and since then the truly weird tale of 'MoonRock Madness' had richocheted inside my skull. But more on that one later.
Days after that astro-debacle I plummeted back to Earth and witnessed animal cruelty of the lowest order. Hours after animal rights activists rescued a dozen diseased and neglected horses from a Randolph County farm, I met the group in Dobson and surveyed the status of the starving herd. You didn't have to be a horse-person to spot the abuse: jutting ribcages, malformed hooves, grossly-dialated pupils, all signs of unfathomable neglect. The flannel-clad rescuers shook with anger as they told my camera how God had a special place for those who torture animals. I hope they're right. It's been said that horse-people prefer the company of their beloved steeds over that of humans. Now I know why.
Weeks later, another kind of animal dictated my day. A doe, a deer, a female deer upset quite a few Subway patrons when it burst through the glass of the restaurant's front door, obviously hungry, confused and dying to meet Jared. Twenty seconds after it crashed the party, the punch-drunk doe left through the gaping hole it came in through, causing the young counter help to speak in tongues. I knwo this because I watched the in-store surveillance camera footage until my eyes bled tartar sauce. After some judicous editing and an interview with the friendly store manager, I had what turned out to be one of the easiest, most inconsequential and frequently asked-about news story of the year. Who needs in-depth coverage of weighty topic when you have cute and fuzzy animals in dire peril?
In May, a foul hot wind blew in and sparked the first in a series of inner-city police stand-offs. These midday gatherings are a hallmark of local summer news coverage - as predictable as house fires after a sudden cold snap. I arrived a little late, and after doing power hits off my news unit's air conditioning vent, I slunk into the humid lunchtime air, taking my place amid the other cameras, drunks and looky-loo's. Police cars and SWAT team members shimmered in the distant heat waves and I wasn't quite sure what I was looking at. Spotting a hunched over woman in an orange housecoat, I made a polite inquiry of the gathering citizenry.
"'Scuse me Ma'am - what's going on?"
"Some fool beat his girlfriend", the woman said, leaning in close and bathing me in cheap liquor and cigarettes, "Now he's holdin' off the PO-lice."
Straining to make sense of the flashing blue lights through my viewfinder, I pulled back from the eyepiece and tried to get my bearings.
"You mean that blue house down there", I asked my new boozy friend, " the one kinda blocked by that old barn?"
At that, the woman jerked her gaze in my direction and with bloodshot eyes delivered what might very well be the line of the year...
"That ain't no BARN, Cracka - that's MY HOUSE!"
Flush with ignorance and shame, I stifled a laugh and never felt whiter. Later, back at the station, I shared the exchange with several co-workers. I probably should have kept it to myself, as a few of them have called me nothing but 'Cracka' ever since.
Who can blame them?
Next time on The Year in E.N.G. -- June and Beyond!