Friday, August 25, 2006

Pavlov's Cell Phone

Low Slung CellieLike most people today, I go nowhere without a cell phone. My whip of choice is a tricked-out LG number, worn low on the hip like Han Solo's blaster. It's not the newest of models, but it's alot sexier than the crankcase shoebox rig I use to lug around in the early 90's. Trouble is, the damn thing keeps ringing...or vibrates, I should say. Four dozen times a day the infernal gizmo shimmies and shakes in its plastic case, until I blindly swipe it off my belt and take yet another order. Swing by the courthouse - go spray the dog show - bring home a loaf of that good wheat bread. Whatever the directive, I vow to comply before holstering my weapon, knowing it won't be too long before my battered cellie buzzes again and I'll be off on my next misadventure.

But here's where the going gets weird. Lately, I've felt that familiar vibration on my lower right side and instinctively reached for my phone - only to realize I wasn't wearing it. In the kitchen, out on the deck, once while spraying petrified bird crap off the driveway - I'll fumble at first for my well-worn phaser until I look down and discover I'm telephonically unarmed. Am I becoming unhinged as well? Have 16 years of the daily chase so tattooed my psyche that I now grasp for phantom phone calls? Is it not bad enough that I drag my camera AND tripod through my own private dreamscape every night? (My dream back is killing me, by the way.) Is subconscious on-call status some kind of personal, Pavlovian apocalypse? Is it simply the residual effect of deadlines met? Or am I simply making too much of a few random twinges? Probably, but I worry about what may follow. Will I see a little red 'RECORD' light glowing in the upper right corner of my peripheal vision? Will I blink insistently, trying to feather focus some inner lens as my trigger fingers twitch with rack-zoom readiness? Probably not, but I can't help but wonder if I'll soon be able to tune in police scanner frequencies whenever I go for a scratch...

'Cause that would be pretty cool.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Waiting IS the Hardest Part

The Waiting is the Hardest PartIf it's been a while since I last took you along on my daily slog, there's a good reason. Summer sucks. News-wise, that it - the past few weeks have been so devoid of general interest, I've found myself sleepwalking through three out of four assignments. My training helps. See, I'm a graduate of the Walter Mitty School of Not Really Paying Attention. If I hadn't misplaced my diploma seconds after receiving it, I'd show you - but just know that I can record every word of a public speaker and not hear a damn word he said. You sit through a thousand droning monologues and see if you don't tune out while you zoom in. Besides, how much gray matter do you need when you're playing back-up on another region's scandal? Not alot, from where I stand.

But then again, where I stood was familiar ground. Exactly a week ago, I loitered outside the Federal Courthouse in hopes of filling my screen with one Charles Raymond Childers - the Landis, N.C. police chief facing child pornography charges. Were I writing the screenplay, I'd bring things to a tidy close with Chief Childers wrapping his walrus moustache around his service pistol and testing the trigger. Alas, I am but a cameraman so all I could do was skulk about the courthouse and wait for the alleged predator to shuffle out in shackles. This is by no means difficult duty, but it can make for an achingly long afternoon in 90 degree weather. Luckily, my gaudiest of tropical shirt allowed for maximum breeze circulation. That, along with unexpected company, made an otherwise dismal gig downright bearable.

Jennifer MoxleyMeet Jennifer Moxley. A one-woman-band from News 14 Charlotte, she journeyed from her Salisbury bureau to share my sidewalk perch. Okay, so she really came to town to chase the disgraced police chief; it didn't stop her from striking up easy conversation with yet another scruffy photog. Of course, I quickly got the feeling Jennifer struck up conversations with everyone she met as we dished on the joys of parenting and lamented the pitfalls of solo newsgathering. But the curbside camaraderie soon vanished when a passing print reporter dropped the knowledge that the man we were expecting to pile out of a county van at any moment was already deep inside. With that, Jennifer scurried off to get a courtside seat and I gathered up my gear, delighted to have a new ally the next time I find myself stalking some half-baked imbroglio down Salisbury-way.

In my business, that could be any day now...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Hints of Redemption Spent

Remember twelve scant months ago, when Hurricane Katrina ripped open the Gulf Coast and our nation’s leaders tried to pretend it didn’t happen? Chances are even more people would have died in the days following that deluge had it not been for the dedication and verve of - gulp! - The Media. While politicians slapped each other on the back and the military polished their brass, an army of broadcasters invaded the stricken region and filed gut-wrenching reports on the travesty at hand. Corpses rotting in wheelchairs, whole families stranded on rooftops, infants wallowing in forgotten filth… Middle America could barely believe their eyes as normally glossed-over correspondents toured the Third World conditions in day-old clothes and demanded the government do something, anything to help our fellow citizens. It was perhaps the Fourth Estate’s finest hour and it prompted me to post a few words detailing the Media’s sudden redemption.

Well, I’d like to take it all back.

Over the past week, the upper echelon of my chosen profession has proven itself to be nothing more than a pack of scurrilous dogs, ripping away at the still-warm bones of a ten year old tragedy known as the JonBenet Ramsey case. I suppose you could credit John Mark Karr, the skeevy little worm whose troublesome confession has sparked this latest firestorm of broadcast speculation. But even that apparent pedophile cannot be blamed for the crass behavior and orgasmic glee of the chattering class in the past six days. Networks and cable alike descended on Boulder, Bangkok and L.A. - engorged on salacious details and ravenous assumptions. Whatever respect we garnered in the wake of Katrina evaporated in an instant as over-coiffed reporters stationed themselves in front of the slain child’s final resting place and reached for gravitas. What’s next? Chopper shots from the exhumation? Live slab-side reports from the autopsy table? Hey, how about bringing back the victim’s withered spleen for a set-prop? Something for Chet Graytemples to hold up under the studio lights while he acts all concerned-like...

Heckuva job, fellas. Heckuva job.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Ghosts of Suribachi

Joe Rosenthal missed the first flag-raising, but he trudged up Mount Suribachi anyway in hopes of seeing his country's banner fly over the craggy heap of fresh death and smoking metal that was Iwo Jima. When he saw a group of Marines struggling to raise a second flag atop a length of heavy drainage pipe, he brought his trusty Speed Graphic to his face and popped off a few shots. A few minutes later he made his way down to the landing beaches below, unaware he'd just captured an image that would galvanize a nation, solidify the Marine Corps' future and demonstrate the irrefutable power of the frozen image.

It would be days before the diminutive AP photographer would get a look at the spontaneous shot of five Marines and one Navy medic thrusting the flag into Suribachi's crest. By then much of America was already enthralled with the picture, a bloodless symbol of Allied victory over a formidable menace. With the battle still raging on Iwo Jima, Joe could hardly fathom that his photograph would come to symbolize American might, that it would soon be the most reproduced image of its time, that his country's government would seize upon the photo with jingoistic lust, deftly using it to sell War Bonds and help finance the dark days of battle ahead. No, as far as Joe knew, he was just taking pictures.

Of the six men who placed hands on that makeshift flag pole, three were killed in the following days. Rosenthal, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his Iwo Jima shot, would go on to live an unassuming life before dying peacefully at the age of 94. With his passing, so goes another member of the Greatest Generation. But his most famous frame lives on, an instant masterpiece that was used to forge peace, pain and propaganda. In today's 24/7 disposable news-cycle, even an iconic shot as Rosenthal's wouldn't capture the imagination of the masses quite the way it did during World War Two. Within minutes of publication, pundits and gadflies alike would rip apart the image's implications and question the motives of the photog behind the shot. Luckily, that wasn't the case back then and the work of one lone soul with a camera helped change the world for the better. Rest in Peace, Joe Rosenthal.

(For the full story of Rosenthal, Mount Suribachi and 'The Photograph' - read James Bradley's most excellent tome, Flags of our Fathers - soon to be released as a feature film.)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Signs Your Press Conference Isn’t Going Well

13. Ninety seconds in pretty reporter chick leans in and snatches microphone off podium, while her dirtbag partner lowers his tripod legs.

12. Your assistant didn’t mention that crouton on your cheek.

11. Rookie shooter leaves a little plastic wrapping on station’s antique light, which begins smoking, immediately triggering the overhead sprinkler system.

10. You begin to regret greenlighting the sock-puppet idea.

9. Both of the pasty newspaper guys are scribbling Chaucer quotes in their skinny notebooks and digging Sudoku scores out of their Members Only jackets.

8. The person who insisted the podium go there didn’t account for the blinding sunlight, passing freight train, inherent risk of electrical shock.

7. Blood is spilled when gum-smacking radio hacks duel to the finish in a flurry of white man roundabouts and inexplicably large microphone flags.

6. The guy you hired to take pictures won’t look at you. In fact he’s huddled in the corner with an upturned camera, licking batteries and sweating profusely.

5. Screeching feedback from rented loudspeaker deafens local sound-crew hippie.

4. Power Point System hiccup show’s project coordinator’s vast secretary fetish photo collection on wide-screen, complete with bad soundtrack, scrolling multi-text and cheesy wipes.

3. Even your most shameless suck-up isn’t pretending to pay attention.

2. There’s only one TV cameraman left on the premises and he’s in the lobby with his lens stuck to the aquarium.

1. Amplified Flatulence. It ain’t a metal band.

Master of Distraction

Master of DistractionWhen my friend Billy ‘The Blogging Poet’ Jones speaks of his writing compulsion, he does so with pride and remorse, like an addict who’s learned to live with his own particular jones. I myself was never so open about my own impulses, but I certainly understand what the bearded lyricist means when he speaks of scribbling down the trip. See, long before I issued electronic missives with flick of a wrist, I filled countless notebooks with doodles, spoofs and platitudes. Never one to let a good idea get in the way of a daydream, I filed away my broken prose and got back to my ambivalence. Not until my mid thirties did I realize the voice I yearned to discover had been there all along, like an director’s commentary on your favorite DVD you haven‘t gotten around to listening to yet.

Luckily, I learned to listen to my inner narrator and even take dictation, Before long I was scrawling furiously, rarely stopping to consider to the wisdom of my screeds before hitting ’send’ and moving on to the next half-baked notion. But a funny thing happened on the way to becoming prolific. I started thinking about just who might be ingesting my drivel, began worrying I was repeating myself and made the fatal mistake of re-reading my blather. Bad move. Before I knew it I was back to just thinking about writing again, instead of actually sitting at the keyboard and conjuring up the muse. It’s not quite like summoning a genie from a bottle, but you’d be amazed what you can accomplish by merely putting ass in seat.

I blame myself. While I hold no official sheepskin, I hold a Masters Degree in Practiced Distraction. Were I reared twenty years later, I surely would have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder - instead of rightly classified as merely normal but lazy. That gift for underachievement rarely bothers me, but it kind of got to me today when, after watching an entire episode of MTV’s My Super Sweet 16, I realized I’d just watched an entire episode of MTV’s My Super Sweet 16. When the shame and uncertainty subsided I took to my keyboard confessional with renewed fervor, for even though what felt like the precipice of greatness a fortnight ago now vaguely smacks of a midlife crisis, I’m newly committed to documenting the descent. Strap in, would ya?