Saturday, February 23, 2008

Schmuck Alert: LAPD

LAPD stuff PhotogAs a law and order man, I try to give all constables a pass. Theres is a job of inconvenience and angst, of which I can well identify. And if there ever were an agency beleaguered by the media, be it Britney and the stalkerazzi or the news choppers hovering over slow-speed madmen, it is the LAPD. But ever since a citizen's lens etched the Rodney King beatdown in the national consciousness, L.A.'s finest have had waged a fatwa on the fancycam. The latest outrage comes to us courtesy of beFrank, West Coast bureau chief of the Photog Nation. Apparently a cluster of cameras was forming around the scene of drive-by shooting in Glassell Park yesterday when an officer ran afoul of KCAL's Jeff Mailes, pictured here being unceremoniously stuffed into a squad car. The offense: Uncertain. But the violation clearly centers around some real estate near the shooting, a a patch of ground open to the public - but closed to the media.

Why some officers insist on keeping camera crews out of breaking news scenes is a mystery. You can cite property rights and public safety all you want, but that guy with the badge trying to push you back to the county line is the same one who got the COPS box set last Christmas and if you just be nice, you'll both avoid in run-ins with the management. Having said that are some tenants that should be observed by all, like the delineation of crime scenes and public property. One would think it would be as evident as billowing yellow tape, but the roadside negotiations between cops and camera-ops rivals that of the drama being cranked out in all those faceless LA. warehouses. Therefore, I'm forced at pixelpoint to issue another Schmuck Alert for the L.A. freakin' P.D. What up, fellas? The DVR dump your favorite episode of Reno 911? Schmucks...

Stumbling into Punditry

As you might imagine, I’m fascinated with the case of Chez Pazienza - the cable news producer recently fired over the contents of his personal blog. Before last week I’d never heard of him. But when the suits at CNN axed him for what he put on the internets, the producer’s fate became a cautionary tale for those of us who gather news by day and slather opinion by night. Consider the evidence:

Pazienza is a gifted critic. Excoriating fairly everything that wanders through his view, he employs a laser-guided wit and heat-seeking venom that makes Deus Ex Malcontent a ripping good read (though I’m not sure I’d want to be stuck in an elevator with the dude). As a senior producer at American Morning, Chez led the execution of a cable newscast. On his off-time he posted insightful rants on all manners of topics, even contributing regularly to The Huffington Post. Its perhaps this left-leaning affiliation that attracted the attention of his CNN superiors, whom apparently didn’t want to run the risk of oh say, some talk-radio show host making great hay of the connection. So they canned him, an expectant father with many opinions but suddenly no paycheck. That sucks, alright - but should Chez Pazienza have been completely surprised? I wonder…

The grown-ups at El Ocho neither endorse or forbid this blog. They do however read it, a fact I often ponder just before I hit the Publish button. Some would call that censorship. I like to think of it as discretion. Sure, I got stories that would twist your eyelids tighter than a New York joint, but until my weekly stipend is of no great import, I simply cannot afford to share. Besides, I gotta save some of that stash for that book I’ll never write, word? Until then, hang tight as I walk the fine line between muted sardonicism and stark mutiny. I’m convinced I can keep my balance and in doing so become a better writer. That said, don’t expect any political screeds or scathing indictments from your lowly lenslinger. I’ll be back in the photog’s lounge, waxing all poetic about the utilitarian beauty of a fully-erect tripod. That’s my idea of edgy…

As for the far edgier Chez Pazienza, here’s hoping he’ll find a way to feed his family. With his well-honed writing chops and momentary global exposure, perhaps he can do better than stacking shows for The Man. Perhaps fellow marooned newscaster Dan Rather could be of service. Courage!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Photoshop Romance

Of all of Eric White's many accomplishments around the Piedmont, his most foolish was an ill-advised dalliance with Britney Spears. Yesterday that affair came to a tragic halt when, driven to madness by the paparazzi, the unhinged pop starlet showed up at a roadside live shot and went all umbrella on Whitey's ass. Luckily, Chris Weaver managed to snap this photo before taking cover in a nearby ditch, where he vacillated between covering himself with twigs and asking for an autograph. All of us at El Ocho wish Whitey a speedy recovery and hope his news bosses will understand if he's a little leery of Nashville's more aggressive ingenues. Meanwhile, we're issuing a restraining order and beginning to doubt Eric's claims of his new life as Britney's back-up dancer. Ain't love grand?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Jock Itch by Proxy

According to the suits at El Ocho, our viewers dig 'em some fitness. Why else would they insist I (and other actual reporters) keep turning these Weight Loss Stories? Hey, I'm ALL for exercise; I got a 20 pound shoulder weight I can thrust-squat while backpedaling one-eyed down a courthouse stairwell. But a gym? No thanks; I'd rather climb on my mountain bike and dodge river birches than pedal in place inside one of those thumping temples of spandex. Still, I didn't have alot of choice, as I sampled the funk of fitness emporiums all over the Piedmont. Much of it was drudgery. Brackish light, muddy sound and a few unfortunate unitards made this a series I'll be glad to put to bed. There were, however, two exceptions: Joey Motsay dropped whatever barbell he was lifting when I cold-called him. Days later I was barefoot in his dojo, where he, I and a big ole exercise ball made some half-decent television. Thanks Joey, I'll never ignore another piece of perfectly functioning gym equipment without first thinking of you.

But to be honest, my blood didn't really get pumping until I crashed personal trainer Ivor Buffong's early morning circuit training class. Not since quivering in my own body fluids at Navy boot camp have I witnessed so much legalized torture. And the victims! A guy couldn't ask for a more colorful bunch of gym-rats, none of whom seemed to mind the scruffy cameraman sleepwalking through their workout. That kind of unfettered access makes for good TV and before Ivor's booming taunts stoped echoing in my head, I pounded out a script and edited it with relish (and a few low-carb corndogs). The incredibly cut Brad Jones stepped in the booth to voice my thoughts, draping my picture in his highly defined dulcet tones. The result is a fitness piece even I can live with - though I'm nowhere closer to joining a gym than before. Not when Owl's Roost is just a mile from my house. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go put on my sweats and feel the burn. You write every night without breakin' a sweat...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lifer and the Wolf

The HunterYou ever have one of those workdays when every predator you line up in your sights acts like he wants to suck your jugular dry? I’m not talking that sales weasel who keeps taking your parking spot; I’m talking wild animals with too much cage-time and a taste for cameraman. Now, it’s true I don’t speak Maned Wolf - but if body language reaches across the species, the newest animal on display at Greensboro’s Natural Science Center definitely wanted a piece of my ass. Ears tucked back, stilt-legs shifting, a low growl emanating between clenched teeth…was it something I said? Chances are he’s seen my picture on the wall where he picks up his mail, a grainy surveillance shot of yours truly stalking sea lions at the North Carolina Zoo. Then there was the time I taunted all those ostriches from the back of that zookeeper’s pick-up. Not to mention I’m constantly trying to send AquaMan-like brainwaves to the polar bears every time they take a dip. Yep, I’ve built up some real caged animal karma over the years.

The PreyLuckily, I know when to keep my distance. Take today for instance. Having picked up their distinctive funk from across the park, I crept up to their living quarters like the apex predator I am. Looking around, I spotted my tripod standing defiantly over by the Meerkat exhibit. With a low whistle I summoned it forward, but the three-legged beast wouldn't budge. Stupid portable camera platform! Oh well, too late now. Digging my elbows into my side, I assumed a languid grip on my weapon and zoomed in on the canine in question. Hyena, Fox, Wolf - what is that thing? And why does it smell like a homeless skunk took a dump on its head? Questions I could not ask as I filled the one inch screen with undomesticated animal snout. As I did, unwatched episodes of Manimal filled my head and I found myself wishing I'd paid more attention back in Junior High. Then again, had I better applied myself in the classroom, I probably wouldn't be wandering around a menagerie with nothing more than a half-dead camera battery and a lint-covered pack of lifesavers in my run-bag.

Seems I have more to worry about than which way to run should Cujo escape. Like how I'm gonna explain wearing a fannypack at age fifty.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Back in MY Day...

Live at SunsetShould I make it to my golden years, what will I wish to remember of my career? Will I ramble incessantly about ribbon cutting and ride-alongs? Might I dominate the park bench patter with tales of a life spent loitering on the edge of happenstance? Or will I get all the details wrong - mix up my memories like a dropped box of vacation slides until my glory days are just some super-looped flickering vignette with a commentary track no one ever figured out how to mute? Is this thing on? I only ask because its Monday and I need something to write about, but also because my head’s stuck on auto-reflect and this is the kind of thing I ponder while sitting in traffic. The way I see it, I’m banking up an incredible stash of eyelid fodder should I one day find myself nodding off in some hovering air-chair. Sure, the retired CEO will have decades of exotic vacations to look back on, but will he be able to wallow in the mire of a meth-lab‘s smoke plume, a red-carpet cameras orgy or the glorious roar of a freeway at dusk? I think not...

Lens AboardI remember visiting my ailing grandmother at an Alzheimer’s Unit twenty years ago or so. While standing in a hallway as she was being changed, I caught the attention of an elderly man dressed in flannel pajamas. He puttered right up to me, mumbled something about a shipment of I-beams before shuffling off. “Don’t mind Mr. Larry,’ an attendant said ‘He spent years as a construction foreman and still kind of lives there…” I nodded as if I understood and chuckled at the sadness of the man’s arrested development. I was but a punk with a mullet that day, but even then I knew that I’d best not scoff at Mr. Larry’s past, should a similar future be waiting for me someday. So far so good, but it doesn’t help that of all the rest homes and nursing centers I visited as a kid, this is the one I’ve chosen to remember. Perhaps I watched too many Twilight Zone episodes as a kid. Perhaps I didn’t watch enough.

Roadside SoundThese days of course, I don’t watch TV; I make it. Most of it is easily disposable, flushed from my memory banks before an overnight editor gets around to archiving it all. Still, one cannot shove this much life from a tube without a certain residual build-up. Even now, in my stillest hours, a soundbite, wide shot or screen sequence will bubble up to the surface of my brain-pan and cause me to recite tape I transcribed back when there was actually tape in videotape. These days I shoot on disc, but even that will seem archaic by the time I draw any kind of diminished pension. How outdated my many adventures will feel remains to be seen. I just hope they park me beside another aging data-gatherer. Maybe then we can sit in our very own wing of the Old Photog’s Home and trade war stories and denture grip. It beats high-fiving some sales-yak over how much money he made that day he landed the Simpkins Account.

Now, stop me if you’ve heard this one before...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Pins by the Tens

Bull PantsOkay, so a few of us groused when Eric White said what he wanted Midnight Bowling to be the theme of his going-away party. “Midnight Bowling? Was the arcade at Putt-Putt not available? I hear they got a righteous air hockey table at the Chuck E. Cheese. Or how about the local Karaoke b---” Just then I remembered a story Whitey told me in Unit four one time - right after he high-fived me over the turkey sandwich he’d just unpacked. Okay so I don’t remember the story at all, but it involved Our Hero belting out a show-tune from the white-hot center of some dive’s Amateur Night spotlight. Eager to avoid any encores, I scratched a bowling ball on my calendar page and pretty much forgot about it. When the Witching Hour drew nigh, I (and others) dragged our asses to upper Archdale to hurl well-worn orbs down waxy corridors. Who knew we’d stumble across an El Ocho tradition in the process?

El Ocho Bowling FoursomeUpon arrival, I was taken aback. The sleepy little bowling emporium I passed by daily was packed with patrons of every description. Gray-templed lane hogs with custom-made shoes, would-be gangstas holding their pants up with one as they launched their balls with the other, country folk with more enthusiasm than deodorant. Butch on the releaseAnd then there were the teenagers, a highly striated crowd of every stereotype on the role: a huddle of jocks flexed for each other, stoners and Goths competed to see who could who look less impressed and one church youth group that spent most of the evening waving away cigarette smoke. Yes, it was a raucous crowd at the bowling center, all trading garbled shouts and unknowing nods as the sound of crashing pins, echoing alleys and countless Korn tunes made everything else impossible to hear.

The Beno LaunchFinally, I spotted them. Already locked in battle, the group of mostly photogs were hunched over the scoring table in much the same way they dominate an edit bay when the clock is really ticking.. Lost in hops and concentration, they barely noticed Satellite Dan and I as the Man of the Hour approached the foul line. With great flourish Whitey bent low, thrust himself forward and kicked a lanky leg out. When he released the pockmarked sphere from his grip, it shot forward on a frozen rope and upended every pin. Whitey and the WookieUpon impact, an approving roar borne of brotherhood and beer pitchers rang out, washing over the reporter in question - who, inexplicably, had a stuffed longhorn steer stuck in his britches. Spinning around, Whitey executed a victory strut Rick Flair would have envied as his posse of photogs boozily embraced him. Already, I was glad I came.

Leo LaunchesThe crowd grew from there. With a newscast ending just down the road, studio crew members began to materialize and a few more lanes fell under the influence of our collective logo. Not that anyone was sporting colors. This crowd is w-a-y past that. Instead, we enjoyed relative anonymity there among the denizens of the late-night bowling scene. Only once did I catch sight of a pie-eyed slacker gazing over his suds at the purty news lady he just seen on Tee-Vee a half hour earlier. The WeaversSince most of us had been staring back at his incredibly bosomy lane-mate, the ogling seemed only fair - though rest assured had our on-air talent ever been in the slightest peril, to a photog we would have taken on all opponents with nary a broken tripod leg among us, though possibly a bowling ball would have come into play. Luckily no such fisticuffs were necessary, but the testosterone was flowing pretty thick as everyone tried to up each other’s finishing move each time the correct number of pins skittered out of sight.

Tighty in the ClenchA word on bowling: It being a sport, I suck at it - a fact I made painfully clear on my very first attempt. Grabbing a ball with too-small finger holes, I stumbled up to the line like the bookworm I am and hurled it awkwardly into the void. There it took a really bad bounce, leaving my lane altogether before settling into the gutter of another. Imagine my shame as it lodged there, effectively bringing two frames to a halt and causing a few of my colleagues to temporarily lose control of their bowels. Look Out!No amount of latent body English would cause the thing to budge and I was forced to leave the floor Slinking off to tell a staffer how some dork got his ball stuck, I figured my humiliation was a small price to pay if it meant my fellow photogs could know the joy of shooting beer suds out of their noses. That’s my story anyway, and I’m sticking to it.

Satellite Dan on the PadNot that others shared my lack of acumen. In fact, I was impressed by the number of X’s that filled the scoring grid, even as the empty pitchers and crumpled plastic cups overtook the table top. Pins fell by the tens as Matt broke out his very own ball and made it pay for itself repeatedly. As for Weaver, he took to the task like a farm boy milkin’ cattle and I’m pretty sure Spillane threw out his back on that third victory dance. Others found their grooves as well and I’d be hard-pressed to name them all, though I remained sober as a judge throughout the entire proceedings. Eric 'Strike' WhiteyBut who needs a beer buzz when you’re surrounded by buddies twenty miles from home? Not me. No I got my kicks just watching Whitey - a goofy workhorse of a reporter whose made a permanent impression on his part of the Piedmont. We’ll miss him greatly and forever mythologize his Midnight Bowling Farewell. But that whole lane-changing gutter ball? I don't wanna talk about it...