Monthly Archives: November 2009

News Guy?

Hey Brian, Brian Williams. Yoohoo, over here. It’s your viewer, Pam. Yes, me, with just another little thought about how my fellow journalists forget they are journalists because they are at a party or telling jokes or doing something that is not journalisty.

So, when the silly network you work for decided to get a man-at-the-scene-in-your-own-words because-you-were-there segment, to be broadcast to so many of us who were left wondering how the lady in the red dress and her husband got into the WH (code acronym for White House) state dinner, you told us all about–let me restate–ALL about how you noticed the lady and the man so many many times. In the car line, getting turned away at the top of the car line, walking in without the car, waltzing into the WH, so many views of something odd. And, you did what all good and enterprising journalists do. YOU TOLD YOUR WIFE!! 

Wow. A+. What instinct. Way to go with a story. 

Not to be snide, well, maybe just a little, this should be really embarrassing, for the anchor of a network newscast and the network newscast who would treat the tale of how their anchor botched intercepting a security breach as a scoop. Quick, get someone who was at the scene. Oy.

He should be relieved nothing bad happened. And he should review the chapter on Recognizing The Story. Okay, I am done.


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Timing is Everything

I was in the supermarket yesterday, the Monday before Thanksgiving, shopping for things like milk and lettuce and olives, when I noticed all of the extra displays at the ends of the aisles. Big towers of string beans and yams and chicken broth and onions, those crispy onions in the can. “What is going on?” I said to myself, well, maybe to the person next to me, too, at the yogurt. What do they think it is, Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving was last week.

We’ve been eating leftovers since Tuesday. That would be the Tuesday before, well, Wednesday. Last Wednesday. In our house this year, the thanking took place early. We live far from family, something like 1500 miles, okay 1546 miles, if you drive. If you drive 23 hours and 48 minutes. Far, however you figure it. So, we don’t visit on specified holidays. We visit when we need to, or can. Mostly, Mom does the visiting because she is one person and we are three. 

“I am going to be in the neighborhood the third week of November,” she said from the phone in New York. “I’ll stop off on the way back.” The “neighborhood” was Florida. We are in Texas. It is all relative, especially when you are a relative. 

“Fabulous, we will have Thanksgiving. Better, we will have Thanksgiving on Daphne’s birthday,” I said. “It will be so festive, two celebrations at once.” Growing up, we generally hit the holidays on the actual day, but as college and work and doctors’ call schedules interfered, we began to choose times when everyone was around, regardless of the calendar. We usually got the month right, but sometimes we didn’t. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t about the sun and the moon. It was about us.

So, I went to the supermarket when everybody else was buying milk and lettuce and olives and loaded up the wagon with string beans and yams and pecan pie and a colossal 16 pound turkey. We got homework done quickly and got out the carving knives and set the table with a pilgrim cloth I purchased in August. And we turned 14 and opened presents and told funny stories and tried the cranberries again, but still didn’t like them. Which is just fine. We can taste them again, next June.

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Road Trip

I took the wrong turn on my way to Ft. Hood on Sunday. It was a block too soon, just around the corner from the main gate. Wrong turns are where the meaning is, though, you realize later, when you arrive where you intended to go, distracted by where you’ve just been.

Four soldiers stood in a square at the entrance to a residential neighborhood on the base. They were in camouflage fatigues and caps, and tan boots, laced up tight and dusty. A rifle hung straight down from each of their necks, on a strap, like a pendant from a chain. The guns were big, and they swayed as they moved toward my car, the barrels brushing the men’s waists. I am a reporter. I have seen a little more of life than the next person. Even so, it was hard to get past the guns.

“Could you tell me how to get to the main entrance?” I asked, my voice sounding odd in my head.

“You’ll need to go back down this road, make a left, and then a right,” said one, rosey-cheeked, not twenty. “You can pull up past us and turn around.”

I thanked them, a lot, maybe too much. They watched me drive ahead and make a really careful three-point turn. I could have been filmed for a driver’s education videotape. As I passed them, the boys with the guns, I waved out the window and called, “Thank you,” again. In my side view mirror, I saw one of them walk to a tank by the road and open its door. Wow, a tank. Gigantic guns on necks and tanks.

Civilians don’t see this everyday. This, being nothing, really, when it comes to what we could see, but do not. Yet, for me, it was compelling, and halting, and it made my brain leap to where those rifles might go, what they might do, or what they have already done. We do not get to know how these men and women live each day, whether they run nineteen miles each morning, or sit in a class with notebooks or choose the chicken or the fish. We do not know what they do if they have a stomach ache, or a worry or a fear, if they say, or if they think they shouldn’t. We do not get to know what it is like to aim and fire.

These are people who are not like the rest of us. They make a choice that will change them, unalterably. They have committed to the possibility that they may kill another person. If I draped a rifle over my chest for eight seconds, I would be different from that moment on. I would stand up with new strength. I would think with new vision, with gravity. I could not perceive what would happen to me if I ever had to use it, even on a practice target. I am changed for having seen one up close.

I found the main gate and took my place in a line of cars, waiting to be escorted to a noontime press conference. Another soldier logged my identification, opened the doors and trunk and checked inside. What did he make of the New York City Ballet beach towel or stash of soccer balls, I did not know.

The Colonel told us more about what we already knew, not enough about what we don’t. He said his soldiers are ready for this, in combat, not at home. But are they, truly. Are those boys by the road ready, telling me to go left, then right, kids with such weight on their necks, on their minds. How is one ever ready? What does ready really mean?

Later in the day, I found the house of the man who runs a convenience store across the street from the base. The suspect went there the morning of the shooting, bought coffee, used to stop in twice a week at 6:30. The man came out to the driveway to talk, nervous, his hands sweaty. His wife and baby watched from the window. I asked him about the soldiers. Four or five hundred come in each day, always in pairs, he said, in uniform, geared up for morning exercise.

“They come together, and they seem happy,” he said. “They are smiling.”

I would have expected something else, something serious. Purposeful, pre-occupied. But we do not know. We do not see. I hit the highway home and drove past my wrong turn, tempted to veer, wondering what the four boys with the guns were doing now.



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Go Team

We are enjoying the baseball. I should say that, for the most part, we tune in to sports on television when there is a big contest. Wimbledon. The NBA Finals. The World Series. We were prepared for the Yankees to win last night, mostly because Hideki Matsui hit a home run for my daughter, on her 4th birthday, eight years ago. We were home in New York for the summer and Grandma got tickets. It was hat day, too. Wow. Hats and a home run. We just figured it was all in the bag.

School nights what they are, we watched whatever was on during the dinner hour, carrying our plates to the coffee table, leaning up against the couch. Sweaty from soccer practice and tennis. Some vocab homework left to do, maybe a little math. The kids eat slowly at the coffee table. I sort of let them.

Since the series started, they know average pitch speeds, they know about the different grips on the ball. They think the spitting is disgusting. They do not spit in soccer or tennis. Imagine. They think the runners are slow to get to first. Until they realize how fast the ball is going. Sports are great, for girls, especially. I love when my nearly 14 year old has practice on Friday nights or early Saturday games. And when her sister wants to hit extra, to practice what she’s learned. Basketball try-outs begin next week. Need to shoot around, go to the park over the weekend. Get ready to push a few folks around on the court. In the spring, track. Zip zip. We have nine hundred uniforms in the closet. I have been saving them since kindergarten, in bags. So  many bags. I will sew duvets for college.

Meantime, Matsui’s on the bench. That’s okay. There is Damon, who grins as if he knows something and Swisher, who grins as if he’s done something. And Jeter, who grins like it just isn’t so. 

We wanted them to win last night, to blow away the red guys on their home turf. But, actually, with the loss, we win. We get to watch again. In our sweaty shirts and sneaks.

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