Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Framing Chaos


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