Friday, July 07, 2006

Pondering the Continent

Expect posting to grow scarce (or schizophrenic) in the coming days, as the girls and I are heading to the coast for a well-deserved seaside reprieve. While I harbor no concrete plans of blogging by the shore, don't be too surprised if I do cough up the occasional flotsam - as my writing compulsion knows no holiday. (Neither does my need to be read, quite frankly.) So while I'm busy wrestling with an oversized umbrella and my own ornery brand of introspection, surf on over to Photog's Point, where you're sure to find something to float your boat. As for me, I'll be wedged in a low-slung beach chair, ignoring the paperback in my lap while I scan the horizon for glimpses of my future. If nothing of promise surfaces, I'll pack it in and move inland, where I can be found chillin' with the wife and kids, and no doubt losing badly at miniature golf...

Beats another day at the deadline factory.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

This Ain't Baseball (part 3)

“How stupid are you? Now I’m gonna have to charge you with assault!”

From his fetal position on the pavement, Garrett could the state trooper wrestling the drunk across the parking lot - though it would be several minutes before his other senses returned. For the moment, all he could do is squirm and burn and pains of flame erupted from deep within his gut. When he did pry his eyes open, he saw his station’s camera resting awkwardly on its logo - deep scratches down one side but otherwise unharmed. Though it did little to douse the fire in his loins, the site of his intact camera made his feel a little better. But that modicum of relief evaporated when he looked past his camera and saw Jani pacing back and forth in the distance, her cell phone jammed to her ear as she stole worried glances at her suddenly prone photog. Crumpled in the dust was not the impression G. Lee wanted to leave with his pretty co-worker, but he knew even then the unfortunate image would pop in her head whenever, if ever she thought of him in the future. It was this realization that kept Garrett on the ground, even as the conflagration ion his crotch slowly subsided.

“Son, stay right there, I’m callin’ an ambulance.”

The voice from above snapped Garrett from his stupor and he looked up to see the short State Trooper towering over him.

“No, don’t do that - please.” he croaked.

“You sure boy?” the trooper asked. “Looked like that guy got you right in the fruit basket.”

“He did, but I’ll be okay.” Garrett slowly rolled to a sitting position as Jani walked up with the cell phone still in her ear. The trooper didn’t acknowledge her. Instead he rolled his eyes and turned on his heel to walk back in the building. As he did, Jani hit the End button on her phone and squatted beside him.

“You okay, G. Lee?”

“Never better,” he said, trying to avoid looking her in the eye.

Jani rolled her cell phone around in one manicured hand and looked back at the state trooper’s car. “Man, I thought maybe he’d stabbed you or something, the way you went down like that.”

Garrett blew air through his gritted teeth and tried to think of a clever response. When he came up empty, he pulled his knees up to his chest and hung his head, silently willing his groin to stop throbbing. Jani sensed his unease and decided to give him some space.

“Well, I guess we’re done for the night.” she said. “I’m gonna call the desk.”

With that she walked off, leaving Garrett to slowly stand on his own. He was picking gravel out of his camera’s microphone windscreen when the trooper reappeared from the shadows.

“Here,” he said, handing him a bottled water. “If you want to press charges, I’d more than happy to start the paperwork.

At first, Garrett almost gave the trooper the go-ahead. But then he thought about how official charges would complicate matters and drag the unbearable evening out even further. A small part of him screamed for vengeance, but a larger part just wanted to hobble back to his apartment and make sure he hadn’t been rendered a eunuch. Besides, the feared his managers might latch on to any assault charges as fodder for yet another insipid ‘special report’. Not wanting his swollen testicles to be a subject of water cooler chat across the tri-city region, he dismissed the idea.

“Naaaah, I don’t wanna press charges - I just wanna go home.”

Garrett couldn’t see the trooper’s face underneath the shadows of his hat brim but he heard the lawman let out a long sigh before speaking. “All right, if you say so.” he said, looking around before leaning in close to Garrett’s face. “But let’s at least go screw with him.”

The drunk sat at the end of a concrete bench, his stringy black mullet glistening in the fluorescent lights. Whatever bravado he possessed earlier in the evening seemed to have dissipated and his shoulders slumped in defeat. When he saw the two men enter the room, he looked up with an expression that reminded Garrett of dogs at the pound awaiting execution.

The trooper stepped right in front of the shackled hulk and with the tome of a stern Sunday School teacher addressed his arrestee.

“Before we draw up assault charges on ya, is there anything you wanna say to Mr. Cameraman here?”

“I’m sorr-ee, Mr. Cameraman,” the drunken construction worker said through a stalactite of snot. “I shouldn’t a kicked you in the nuts. But me and my ole lady’s fighting and I just got too liquored up. Please don’t press charges on me.”

Garrett looked down at the man’s quivering lip and tear stained cheeks. . Were it not for the incredible heat radiating from his mid-section, he might have actually felt sorry for the guy…


“So you didn’t press charges?” the young reporter in the electric aqua suit asked.

“Nope - didn’t seem worth it,” Garrett said as he looked from one enthralled colleague to the next. “Besides, dude did me favor. Jani never gave me the time of day after that, and I realized what a self-absorbed shrew she really was. The last I heard of her, she was complaining to her agent that her face wasn’t big enough on all those billboards along Capitol Boulevard.”

With that, the clutch of news geeks gathered by the crime tape nodded solemnly - as if G. Lee’s decade old tale of being popped in the rocks was less a random act of drunken judgment and more of a cautionary tale to be handed down to a whole new generation of lenslingers.

Perhaps it is.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Lens of Coersion

NORWALK, Ohio -- A television news cameraman paid a $145 fine after police said he enticed three teenagers to ride their bikes through waist-high floodwaters.

The boys told police that Gary Abrahamsen of WEWS-TV in Cleveland offered to put them on TV if they rode through the water on a bridge, according to a police report...

Abrahamsen denied coaxing the two 13-year-olds and one 14-year-old to ride through the water, and told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer that paying the fine was cheaper than fighting the citation.
Who knows what exactly happened on that bridge in Norwalk? I sure don't, but a few different scenarios come to mind... from overzealous camera jackals exploiting innocent tykes on bikes, to a roving pack of hoodlums blaming an innocent lens, to renegade cops concocting the whole matter as vengeance for media transgressions past. Okay - that last one's a stretch, but speculation has always been a slippery slope. Rather than plummet off the edge of credibility, let's cling to what we know:

As file footage and police reports can attest, otherwise rational adults regularly underestimate floodwaters. Young teens tooling around on bicycles can be counted on to do the same and don't need the enticement of limited celebrity to send them pedaling into the abyss. Still, we at the Viewfiner BLUES home office do not endorse the practice of 'staging' - that news camera tabboo that covers everything from asking a receptionist to pick up a telephone that's not ringing, to luring hapless adolescents into the drink. It's just bad business ... and it ain't journalism. Rather, it's theater - and very often bad theater at that. Don't believe me? Consult your local listings for the reality fad of your choice.

Besides, who needs to verbally cajole anyone into ill-advised action, when the very presence of a TV logo often does the trick. It's just one way electronic newsgathering differs from our brethren in print. Where as a newspaper reporter can blend into the scenery of the smallest of melees, I and my swaggering fancy-cam often crash through the gates like oxen on a bender. That lack of stealth can be a detriment, but it often pays off in time for deadline - for the unblinking lens of a local affiliate is a far more coercive lure than any print reporter's skinny notebook. I'm not saying it's right, but when's the last time you saw a boisterous crew of juvenile delinquents bum-rushing a distracted scribbler at a high school football game? Doesn't happen, yet I can't shoulder my lens in the parking lot without picking up a few dozen well-wishers, goons and stalkers.

The moral of the story: Careful where you point that thing, as it can hynotize both object and operater. Now if you'll excuse me I have some old evidence to erase, uh, I mean tapes to archive...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

This Ain't Baseball (part 2)

“You wouldn’t be so damn bad if I won’t locked up...”

Garrett didn't feel very bad as he sank back in the seat and tried to dodge the drunk’s angry spittle. Beside him, Jani remained absolutely silent - hoping to avoid the attention of the hulking redneck seated in front of her. When the state trooper first placed him in the front seat, the driver of the now abandoned Riviera let loose with a torrent of obscenity that centered on the lawman’s lineage. Besides the occasional ‘shaddup’, the trooper ignored the man’s intoxicated rage, focusing instead on the steering wheel in his regulation grip. This left the arrested driver with no one to berate but the cameraman in the backseat, and he set upon this task with drunken intensity. Poor Garrett could only sit and take it as the handcuffed man cursed him up and down as the trooper drove ever so slowly to the county jail.

“If I weren’t in these damn handcuffs, I’d take you back to the single-wide just to see if you bleed --”

This brought a snort of laughter from Jani, who’d been studying the details of her car door window. ‘Great’, though Garrett, I took this gig to show Jani I was worthy of her attention and now this hillbilly’s questioning my manhood for her to enjoy.’ Apparently the drunk was psychic as well as inbred, for he turned almost all the way around in his seat to take not of his new female fan. Dropping all menace from his voice, the man purred through his whisky-induced halitosis.

“I sure do like watchin’ yew on the tee-vee…”

This went on for what felt like forever, though in reality it was only a few short miles. The closer they got to the jail, the more irate the drunk riding shotgun became - cursing the trooper, taunting Garrett and expressing his sincere admiration of Jani’s broadcast acumen. All the while, Jani kept quiet - except when the drunk scored a particularly clever retort at Garrett’s expense. He could take it of course - they didn’t call him ‘G. Lee’ fore nothing - but Garrett didn’t appreciate the constant slams from the drunk up front, especially with the one young woman he found himself pining for there to enjoy it all. Still, there wasn’t much he could do, except cradle his camera in his lap and hope the man would fall victim to someone even more deranged inside the confines of county lock-up.

Actually, there was something he could do. The lens in his lap was indeed a powerful weapon and if there was thing Garrett prided himself on was his ability to make his camera cry and sing. By the time the trooper pulled up to the county jail, Garrett, seething with news shooter’s revenge, fondled the door handle - grateful the trooper had disengaged the automatic locks at the outset of their ride-along. The trooper barely had put the car in ’Park’ before Garrett had hopped out, shouldered his lens and ran around to the passenger side. Sensing the young photog wanted to document every step of the drunk’s belligerent journey, the Trooper took his sweet time extracting the much larger man from the car. All the way, Garrett stayed closer than he had to - determined to get every angle of this asshole’s face on tape, all so he could slather it all over Jani’s upcoming ‘special report’.

Backpedaling in front of the shackled drunk, Garrett smiled behind his viewfinder. The man stood a good two feet above the trooper behind him and could very easily crush both him with his heavy work-boots. As he puffed out his chest and cussed Garrett, the trooper held onto his cuffed wrists and guided him toward the jail’s well-lit entrance. At the exact moment the light from the streetlight fell on his pockmarked face. The drunk lunged toward Garrett, only to be painfully yanked back by the stocky trooper. Garrett only flinched a little and managed to keep both the lunge and the resulting yank in frame. ’That’ll make the promos’, he thought as he double-checked the ’Record’ light in the corner of his screen. He was just about to congratulate himself when the sounds of a scuffle grabbed his attention.

With an awkward twist the handcuffed drunk lunged again, this time breaking the grip of the state trooper. Before Garrett could even think to react, the man who’s Buick Riviera was still cooling outside his run-down trailer half skipped toward him and with the unlikely balance of a budding alcoholic brought his steel-toed boot up high and swift until it connected squarely with the cameraman’s crotch. Jani gasped in the distance as G. Lee and he and his camera fell toward the unforgiving pavement in slow-motion. He had yet to hit the surface when all light, sound and reason left his world.

(Next time ... The Conclusion!)

Monday, July 03, 2006

Credentials Acquired

Press Pass Collection
All news photogs keep their press passes, but sports guys tend to wear theirs with just a bit more pride. I was reminded of this today when I crawled into a co-workers car and had to squeeze past the collection of laminated badges hanging from the center of the windshield. ACC, NFL, NASCAR ... this guy had credentials from every initial cluster and acronym in the book, each hanging on a cluster of lanyards that threatened to choke the very life from his rearview mirror. I even found a tattered badge from the White House - though surely it was less valued than the others, seeing as how no referees were insulted in its acquisition. Truthfully I was okay with my fellow photog's press pass mass and the 16 inch blindspot that it created. Then I took a sharp right onto an exit ramp and a gaudy placard from a recent Panther's game flew up and wedged in the corner of my eye! As payback, I considered switching the radio pre-sets from the sports talk stations to something in the easy listening realm, but I make it a rule never to mess with another man's religion.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

This Ain't Baseball (part 1)

“Tell that one about the drunk, G. Lee.” Oz said.

Garrett leaned on the back his car and eyed the pretty new reporter from Channel 3. Her bright aqua outfit had taken on a strangely metallic hue in the fading sun, the swirling blue lights from the nearby cop cars glistening off its every dry-cleaned crease. Mostly she ignored him but he knew she was listening as she stared at her empty note-pad. He didn’t want to tell that story in front of her especially, but the cops in the distance weren’t in any hurry. Besides, Oz had thrown down the gauntlet and as usual Garrett couldn’t resist.

“All-right,” he said as he shifted his weight from one bad knee to the other. “About ten years ago, me and Jani Avery were ridin’ with this state trooper looking’ for drunk drivers.”

“Jani Avery from ’XLB’?” asked the pretty new reporter.

“Yeah - she’s their main anchor now, but she used to do noon and weekends for us…”

Back then, Jani was deep into her reign as the region’s TV sweetheart. With her dark eyes, blinding smile and intense delivery, she’d quickly ascended to the news-set throne, upending one badly-aging news queen in the process. But viewers were already forgetting the older woman’s name as ladies in housecoats admired her wardrobe and the men in their lives quietly watched the new news bunny’s mouth move. As for Garrett, he’d barely gotten to know her after their awkward inaugural assignment. She’d been warm to him throughout her rapid rise to the station‘s top, but as her face began popping up on billboards through out the tri-cities, she’d grown a bit distant. When she came to him for help with her DUI sweeps piece, ole ‘G. Lee’ was more than happy to share some air. He’d even sprayed on a bit of cologne the night they were scheduled to ride with the trooper - just in case they got jostled around there in the backseat…

Three hours into their ride, his cologne had faded, along with his interest in the story or the evening. Beside him, Jani stared out the opposite window, made small talk with the trooper and answered her new cell phone, which seemed to ring every four and half minutes. She’d barely said a word to Garrett all night, and while he was used to that, he’d been hoping for just a few minutes of her undivided attention. No such luck, though - and their driver wasn’t helping. Squat, taught and jug-eared, the State Trooper seemed to make up for his lack of height by being an unbearable hard-ass. He’d even insisted on running Garrett’s license before he’d let him ride along. He smiled weakly as he handed over the wallet-warped card, his mind racing over the details of the dozen or so well-earned speeding tickets. When the dashboard camera didn’t erupt into sirens, Office Hard-Ass allowed him to squeeze himself and his camera into the backseat. From there, the diminutive trooper promptly ignored him as he stole his own glances at Jani through his regulation-sized rearview mirror.

“So where you from, Miss Avery?”

It had gone on like that for hours, the trooper chatting up the news anchor while the cameraman squirmed. Between his curious inquisition of his most radiant ride-along, the trooper pulled over car after car, issuing pink slips and lectures to annoyed motorists over even minor infractions. Despite their chauffeur’s unmitigated zeal however, they were coming up empty. The suits back at the shop were drooling over the idea of drunk drivers acting a fool on tape and grandmothers driving left of center just weren’t cutting the mustard. Garrett and Jani had all but given up when just after midnight, a dusty Buick roared past..

“He’s definitely 10-55..” the gravely voice declared from the front seat.

“Really?” Garrett said, exchanging the night’s first glance with Jani. “How can you tell?”

“I been doing this a long time…” The trooper’s voice trailed off as he fell in behind the beat-up Riviera and flipped on his roof lights. Up ahead the driver’s silhouette didn’t flinch as the blue strobes bathed his hulking shoulders in unnatural light. Instead he flipped his right turn signal and wheeled his rumbling sedan into a dusty trailer park.

The trooper said nothing more as he followed the car up a gravel driveway. When the driver put his car in park, the trooper did the same, calmly wedging his Smokey-Bear hat over his buzz-cut before leaving Garrett and Jani in the backseat. Flipping a switch on his camera, Garret opened his door and stepped out, steadying his shot on the squad car’s roof. Through his custom earpiece, he could hear the trooper’s voice through the wireless microphone attached to his state-issued clip-on tie.

“Sir, how much we have to drink tonight?”, the trooper’s voice crackled in Garrett’s ear.

“Yeah, I had a few drinks,” came the slurred reply, “ but I’m home, dude, I’m s-s-safe.”

Garrett heard the trooper chuckle for the first time all night. “Sir, this ain’t baseball, and you ain’t safe. I’m gonna need you to step out of the car.”

As the man unfolded himself from the driver’s seat, Garret inched forward and craned his neck and lens upward to keep him in frame. With his faded work jeans, dirty black t-shirt and greasy mullet fully extended, the driver towered over the cop and the cameraman. When he saw G. Lee and his unblinking lens, he cocked his shoulders back and swelled up his chest.

“Who you schp’osed to be?” he slurred as he turned toward the camera. Garrett barely had time to zoom out before the man’s chest took up the entire viewfinder. But as soon as it did, the man crumpled with a grunt and a thud to the gravel driveway below. Before Garrett could pull the eyepiece away from his face and see what happened the trooper was on the man that was almost twice his size. With a fluid movement borne of repetition, the trooper pulled the man’s hands behind him and encircled his wrists in handcuffs. The trademark sound of the bracelets clicking home made the viewfinder’s audio needles jump and Garret couldn’t help but smile in the blue glow of the eye cup’s tiny screen. Turning back to the trooper’s car, he saw Jani pounce out and do a little victory dance on the side of the road, one she ended abruptly when the trooper wheeled Mr. Mullet around to face her. When he did, the drunk man’s bloodshot eyes widened at the beautiful young woman with the familiar smile.

“You’re J-Jani Avery.” he spat. “ I watch you on the noon news.”

With that, the man tried to reach out his hand and seemed to realize for the first time he was indeed in cuffs. This sent other thoughts racing though his greasy head apparently, for he then tried to squirm away from the trooper and lunge at Garrett’s ever present lens. Somehow the trooper managed to hold on, and the best the man could do was swing his shoulders in drunken menace and curse like the cross-state trucker he soon proved to be. Deep inside his viewfinder, Garrett back-pedaled and fought t the urge to giggle. It had been a long night, but the redneck in his lens was more than making up for it with roadside show. As the small trooper pushed the man toward his waiting car, Garrett wondered for the first time about seating arrangements, blissfully unaware the evening was about to take a painful turn...

(Next time ... Part 2!)