Wednesday, April 21, 2010

CREDIT (end)

Weaver caught me in the parking lot. “Lemme guess, three-day suspension. You, not Lou.”

“Yeah. I don’t get it.”

“It’s how Finch operates. I tried to tell you to let me handle it.”

“Well, next time just stop me before I give a shit about a story.”
“No. Next time, don’t leave your story with Lou.” Weaver smiled and punched my arm. “Brock, you’ve got something special. A passion and raw talent that doesn’t come along often. Don’t let this thing with Lou keep you from caring about your work. That’s what makes it special. Lou’s jealous. He couldn’t crank that out if you did it for him.”

“I did crank it out for him.” I tried to laugh. “And see where it got me.” I just wanted to go home and cry on Susan’s shoulder, but I sucked it up for the boss. “Payback’s a bitch.”
I had already started concocting ideas to torpedo Lou’s story the next time we worked together. His stand-up would look lovely a shade of sea-sick green. Or better yet, there had to be a way to embarrass him in front of his fans at the next live shot.

“You know I can’t let you do that, Brock.” Weaver had obviously seen the wheels turning in my head.

“That bastard deserves it.”

“He’ll get what’s coming to him. Guys like that always do.”

“Yeah, but I want to be around to see it.”

“You got the short end, and that sucks. But you gotta let this drop.” Weaver put his arm around my shoulder.

“Drop it? What about journalistic integrity?” I pulled away from Weaver. “Lou plagiarized. Where’s the penalty for that? What if that was to get out somehow?”

“Don’t be stupid.”

“I’m not saying I would . . . I’m just saying.”

“Okay, say this 'leaks' to the paper. There’s a big investigation. The station ends up with egg on its face. The only answer for Percy Finch is to fire both of you. Try getting a job after that. And after what you saw today, how sure are you that he’ll do the right thing? You’ve got to let this go and get past it.”

“I know, but how? I put my heart into that story.”

“And that’s why it was good. This business needs more guys like you. I’ll make you a deal.” Weaver’s tone brightened. “Ever heard of NPPA Boot Camp?”


“Every March, the National Press Photographer’s Association holds a week-long training camp for photogs. The best of the best from places like KUSA/Denver, KSTP/Minneapolis, WBZ/Baltimore fly in to run you through the wringer. It’s a tough week, but it’s one that will change your life.” Weaver studied my face. I guess he liked what he saw, because he continued, “They just wrapped up this year’s camp. You keep working hard and keep your nose clean, and next year, I’ll send you . . . If you’re still with us.”

“What about Percy Finch?”

“It’s next year. He’ll forget about this by then, if you can drop it.”

“As long as I don’t have to work with that son of a bitch the day I come back.”

“I don’t think Lou will be asking to work with you anytime soon. Now start your vacation. Treat Susan to a room in that fancy hotel of hers.”

Monday, April 19, 2010

CREDIT (part 2)

Weaver caught my shoulder from behind as I stepped through the doorway. “Now’s not the time, Brock.”

“Oh, it’s time.” I answered over my shoulder.

I zeroed in on Lou’s smug anchor’s grin. My cork was about to pop. I checked my hands – no fists.

“Th-thanks.” Lou leaned forward in his seat as he watched me enter the room. His gaze darted between the news director and me. His grin dimmed just a bit. “Uh, Brock did a heck of a job shooting it too.”

“Yes. Good job, Brock.” Percy Finch fanned a limp-wristed salute my way.
I was torn. Should I play it cool, give Lou a little rope, and watch him dangle before he hung himself, or –

“You sonofabitch!” Choice made.

I dove across the corner of the table. Lou scrambled from his chair, but I managed to grab a handful of his tie before he could hide behind the ASSMAN. Ken nearly tumbled out of his chair trying to dodge us. Two women producers screamed.

Weaver leapt with me. He threw his arm over my shoulder and across my chest, and he pulled hard to keep me off of Lou.

“Tell ’em, you son of a bitch! Tell ’em what you did!”
Lou’s eyes swung nervously from me to Weaver to Ken, and back to me. “What? Uhh, I – ”

“Brock.” Percy Finch stood, smoothed his tie, and buttoned his suit coat. “What is the meaning of this?”

Ken wrestled Lou’s tie from my grip, and Weaver backed me across the table.

“That no-good son of a bitch ripped off my story!”

Lou backed flat against the wall and tried to disappear.

“Tell ’em! Tell ’em how you put your lock-out on the end of the Sonic story! Tell ’em you piece of shit!”

“Brock, calm down.” Percy Finch’s voice remained calm as he ran a hand through his starched hair.

“I’ll calm down as soon as this plagiarizer gets what’s coming to him!” My hands were balling themselves into fists again.

“We’re not going to handle this in the morning meeting.” Percy Finch turned toward the producers and reporters at the table. “If you’ll excuse us. Both of you, in my office. Now.”

Percy Finch leaned way back in his chair and faked his most sincere smile. Until now, I had steered clear of the diminutive Director of News. At five-foot-three, his less than impressive stature mirrored his yes-man managerial abilities. Percy Finch hated conflict. “Gentlemen, can’t we solve this without fisticuffs?”

I couldn’t contain myself. “Lou had absolutely nothing to do with that story last night.” My hands waved wildly around my head as I ranted. “I shot it! I produced it! I edited it! And he goes and slaps his name on it!”

“I think I’ve heard quite enough from you, Brock. I’d like to hear from Lou.” Percy Finch bobbed back and forth in his chair, his stubby fingers intertwined across his tie.

“Well,” Lou started tentatively, avoiding eye contact with me. “We needed a kicker for the late news. Brock had this story.”

Percy Finch smiled.

“Brock’s story didn’t have a KALX lock-out on the end.” Lou looked nervously at my hands. They were folded in my lap.

I waited for what I already knew was coming.

“Brock was gone. So I recorded mine over the last line.”

I gripped the arms of the office chair to keep from flying across the room.

“He’s not even a reporter!” Lou explained, desperation in his voice. “He couldn’t have locked it out even if he was here.”

Percy Finch nodded. “Brock, stay.” He held out his hand. “You see, a logical explanation. Thank you, Lou. You may go.”

“What!” I jumped from my seat. “Is that all? ‘Lou, you may go?’ He took credit for my work! That’s plagiarism!”

Percy Finch leaned across his desk. “Lou, would you close the door on your way out, please?”

When the door closed, Percy Finch stood and shut the blinds all the way around his glass office. That couldn’t be good, but at least no one would see me pummel the runt.

He took his seat behind the desk. First, he studied the doodles that covered his desk calendar. He rummaged around his top drawer for a pen, and doodled another running cowboy stick figure.

I waited, breathing heavy to keep from shouting.

“Brock,” he finally said never looking up from his doodles, “what are we going to do with you?”

“Me? I’m the victim here!”

“You’re not a victim. You are a photojournalist. You shoot stories for reporters.”

I squeezed my lips and gritted my teeth. I wanted to take his head off.

“Lou is an anchor.” He continued. “He tells stories.”

“Well excuse the hell out of me for stepping out of my narrow job description. Isn’t part of being a photojournalist telling stories?”

“Well . . . yes, but you tell them with pictures and sound.” Percy Finch looked me dead in the chin.

“That’s exactly what I did last night! And that son of a bitch took credit for it!”

“Son, everything on tape here is KALX property. It’s not your work.”

“So it’s okay for me to record my name on one of Lou’s stories?”


“It’s the same damn thing Lou did. Only he did it to me.” I pounded my fists on his desk. The blast nearly rolled Percy Finch out of his chair.

“Son,” Percy Finch fought to suppress the startled look on his face, “if you don’t learn to control your emotions, you’re going to have a heart attack before you’re thirty.” He leaned way back in his chair again. “I’m going to help you with that. You’re suspended. Three days, starting now.”

“Suspended! I do the work. Lou plagiarizes it. But I’m suspended!”

“That’s twice you’ve almost punched a co-worker. I can’t have you threatening my staff without penalty.”

“What about Lou?”

“Lou didn’t threaten anyone. He’s fine.” Percy Finch stood and opened the blinds all the way around his glass office.

For once, I was speechless.

“No hard feelings.” Percy Finch winked. “Leave the door open on your way out.”

to be continued

Friday, April 16, 2010


I strode into the station the next morning confident in my abilities for the first time. ASSMAN’s drunken congratulations the night before was just what my sagging attitude needed. With Sam’s carhop story, I had finally broken the jinx. I had shot and edited a good story, one people would not forget when they switched over to Johnny Carson’s monologue. And Susan and I had agreed that I had been an ass, but an ass that deserved a second chance if he learned to pick up a phone when he was going to be late.

“Nice piece last night, Brock.” Sarge patted me on the back.

“Thanks, Barb. I worked hard on it.”

“You finally got that white balance thing down. All the colors on the school board meeting were right.”

School board? She was just jealous. After all, she had turned down the chance to do Sam’s story.

“Good story last night, dude.” Dick Hicks high-fived me. “Can’t believe you got it in. The ASSMAN was pretty hot you shot the thing.”

“Thanks. Lou helped get it in the late show.”

“Yeah, you guys rocked it.” Hicks headed to his desk to make his daily crime blotter calls.

I loaded Icky, with its duct-taped viewfinder, and the rest of my gear into the Turd-Brown Taurus.

When Weaver pulled in to the parking lot he was wearing a smile almost as big as mine. “Helluva job last night!” He pumped my hand. “I knew you had it in you! How’d you talk Lou into working it with you?”

“He stopped by the edit bay as I fini – What do you mean, talked Lou into working it with me?”’

“Nothing.” Weaver gave me a quizzical look. “I just mean you two knocked it out of the park with that story last night.”

“Two of us my ass. I shot and edited it. Lou just made sure it got back to the tape room.”

Weaver’s smile began to wane. It was obvious a light bulb was blinking inside his head. And it wasn’t one he wanted to see. “You . . . didn’t see the newscast last night, did you?”

“No, I was buying flowers and arguing with Susan.” My stomach knotted with a sudden realization that all was not well with Sam’s story. “Why?”

“You need to see this.” Weaver headed for the newsroom door.

“But, I know the story backwards and forwards,” I explained as I trailed him. “I worked on it all night.”

Weaver led me through the empty newsroom and into to the feed room. Lights and l.e.d.’s blinked and fluttered on complicated-looking electronics that were crammed, ceiling to floor, in two heavy racks opposite the door of the tiny room. Two wall-mounted video monitors flashed pictures from network affiliates around the country, and CNN. A third ran the KALX off-air signal. The fourth showed the competition, KELC.

In six months, I hadn’t bothered learning much about the room, except how to get video from a live truck to the switcher, and which tape deck the ASSMAN used to record the newscast.

Weaver grabbed the shuttle knob on the ASSMAN’s recorder and scanned backwards past the last commercial break in the 10pm newscast. Sam’s face wiped in over an out of focus shot of the Sonic Drive-In sign. She sped through the story doing all her spins and tricks backwards at sixteen times normal speed until Lou’s smiling face beamed from the anchor desk.

Weaver stopped the tape. He gave me a this-hurts-me-more-than-it-does-you look.
“What? Did the director fat-finger the switch and punch color bars over the beginning?” I pulled my hand nervously through my mullet. “What was so important that you can’t just tell me?”

“You’ll see.” Weaver sighed as he punched play. Lou delivered a sugary intro with a gleam in his eye and tossed to the story.

No photog credit. No big deal, the story had gotten back late. Maybe the graphics girl didn’t have time to whip up a fancy lower third graphic with my name on it. Photogs never got credit for their work anyway. That’s just the way the business worked. We were paid for our work, reporters for their name and poofy hair. Nothing to get bent over.

The story rolled, just like I had edited it . . . until the last shot. Sam’s lips moved, but the words didn’t match, neither did the voice. It was much deeper. Manly.

It was Lou’s standard lock-out. “Reporting from the Sonic Drive-In, Lou Jameson, KALX News.”

Sam disappeared from the screen.

Weaver paused the tape and waited patiently for me to react.

He didn’t have to wait long.

“That son of a bitch.” I whispered in disbelief. My heart began to race as I fought to keep my words measured. “That no-good piece of shit,” I said a little louder. My hands balled themselves into tight fists.

Weaver put his hands up hoping to keep me from boiling over. “Brock, stay calm. Let me handle this.”

Crack! My hand sent itself straight through the hollow-core door of the feed room.

“Stay calm?” I dug my hand out of the splintered hole in the door, and wiped a thin trickle of blood from my knuckles on the thigh of my faded Levis. “That no-good bastard stole my story! I’ll have his job, that plagiarizing son-of-a-bitch!”

“Brock! Calm down and let me handle this.”

“I’ll calm down,” I mumbled “just long enough to knock that bastard flat on his ass.” I made a bee-line for the conference room where reporters and producers gathered each morning to plan the day’s coverage. I could feel Weaver on my heels.

“. . . and hats off to Lou Jameson,” a perfect mid-western non-accent drifted into the hallway outside the conference room, “for a masterful bit of storytelling on that Sonic story last night.”

I poked my head in, just in time to watch News Director Percy Finch draw his midget fingers to his forehead and wave a flaccid salute toward Lou. Finch's small crowd of producer drones clapped dutifully, while Barb Wilders and Dick Hicks tried to avoid his gaze. At the end of the table nearest the door, Lou Jameson beamed in the adulation.

Friday, March 26, 2010


“Brock, what are you thinking?” Susan’s long hair dangled in my face and tickled my nose.

How do you answer that question? After I had ruined our anniversary dinner plans in a late-night edit session and only managed to save the evening with pancakes by candlelight, I couldn’t tell her what I was really thinking – not with her laying naked on top of me.

How do you tell a woman glistening in a thin sheen of perspiration and the after-glow of a particularly vigorous session that you’re thinking you want a beer and some sleep?

I gazed into her eyes and made something up. “You.”

“What about me?”

Dammit Einstein, you should have known better.

“You and me.” It wasn’t really a lie. I had been thinking a lot about her lately – just not right at that moment. Six months of co-habitation had gone a lot smoother than I had thought. Actually, our relationship had outlasted any of my other flings by more than three months.

Susan rolled off me and onto her side. She propped herself up on one elbow and looked into my eyes. “What about you and me?” Shadows created by the candles we had lit danced across her porcelain skin.

Maybe it was because she had seen me naked before we ever met – of course the same could be said for most of the city – or maybe it was the way Ernie beat the crap out of me the night we first kissed, or maybe it was that Susan was just different, but whatever the reason, hanging out together felt natural. I didn’t have to be careful what I said, or did. I wasn’t always on my best behavior like with most of the women I’d dated. And neither was she.

Nope, with Susan, I was free to be the same happy-go-lucky prick I was before we met. We never had to play the tiresome courtship games, unless of course we played them as a sarcastic slap in the face of social norms.

And I liked having someone to greet me when I came home at the end of the day. That that someone wanted to jump by bones was a plus, and the fact that she genuinely cared about my day made those romps in the sack special. As much as I liked to pretend these were just casual flings, I knew Susan felt differently. I didn’t like the idea of leading her on. But I liked the idea of her moving out less.

“I don’t know – just us.” I rolled on my side to face her. I brushed her hair away from her face with the back of my hand and let it linger on her cheek for a second too long.

Susan breathed a short gasp. “Ooh. You just gave me the yon-yons.” It was her favorite expression to describe the butterflies in her stomach when we kissed. Her face glowed with contentment. I just smiled and let my hand rest on her cheek a little longer.

Humor. That’ll diffuse the situation.

“Who would have thought that getting my ass kicked could lead to this?” I coughed a little laugh.

Susan’s face brightened and a loving grin gave way to a toothy smile. “You looked so helpless on the floor in the fetal position with Ernie pounding you and Nubby trying to pull him off.” She rolled on her back giggling.

I laughed along with her. The beating Ernie handed me that night was on par with the way my life had been headed at that time. I had flunked out of college. My naked cameraman routine made me a laughingstock in town. I was hopelessly lost shooting news, and I was bluffing my way through life. I knew it, and others around me were beginning to suspect it. I still couldn’t explain why Susan had hung around so long.

“Why’d you take me home that night?”

“I don’t know.” Susan stopped giggling.

I waited. “Sympathy?” Susan’s face went blank. I knew that hurt, but I persisted. “Revenge?”

Susan stared straight ahead with a puzzled look on her face.

What the hell was I doing? Susan was the first woman to have real feelings for me, and I was accusing her of throwing me a mercy hump, but it was what I thought about every time I thought about us.

She turned her back to me and pulled the covers up to her ears. He shoulders twitched. She was crying.

Good work Einstein.

I nestled in to spoon her, but Susan rolled onto her stomach.

“C’mon, Susan. You gotta admit,” I pushed myself sitting against the headboard, “we went from flirting, to bed, to roommates pretty quick.”

“Is that how you think of me? Your roommate?” Her voice held no expression.

“I don’t know what I think anymore.”

“That’s your problem, Rene. You think too much. Love isn’t rational.”

There it was again. The ‘L’ word.

“You think my feelings for you are rational?” Susan rolled to face me. Her eyes puffy, determined not to cry. “One minute I want to scream because you can’t remember to take out the garbage or pick up your smelly work shoes. Then I see your sexy smirk and I just want to kiss you.”

I wanted to smirk, but I couldn’t. I’d never seen Susan like this. Vulnerable. My shoulders slumped. My heart sank. What a prick.

“Then,” she sniffed, “I want to slap that damn smirk off your face when you don’t call when you’re going to be late, and when you finally come home, I want to hug you and never let you go.”

She looked me dead in the eye. She took a deep breath as if to stiffen her resolve. “You want to know why I took you home that night?”

It really didn’t matter at this point, but I was sure I was going to find out.

“Because I knew you.” Susan sat up.

I couldn’t look her in the face. My gaze trailed off somewhere around the nape of her neck.

“I knew you had passion. The way you ranted about being fired inside the store the day we met. Who says those kinds of things to a complete stranger? One look into your eyes that night at the Cotton Gin, one kiss on the dance floor, and I knew all I needed to know. I could feel it.” Susan’s voice brightened a bit. “It was more than the yon-yons. It was the way my heart fluttered. The way the world disappeared when I was in your arms. The way the room spun.”

I remembered those same feelings that night . . . right up until Ernie landed his first punch. “I think that was Ernie.” I tried to look coy.

“Why do you always do that?” Susan frowned.

“Do what?”

“Try to make jokes about something serious. Do you think my feelings are a joke?”

I stared into the sheets like a scolded kid. “No.” I finally sputtered. “It’s just all this talk is uncomfortable for me. I feel like letting you tell me you love me all the time is leading you on. I’m not sure what I feel.”

“You know exactly what you feel. You just don’t want to admit it.” Susan leaned in to me. Her skin was soft and warm. Her eyes begged me to give in. Something inside me melted.

Susan held me in her gaze.

Why was it so easy to listen to that passion at work but not at home? She could have gotten me to do almost anything if she had just asked. Instead, she pulled me down onto the pillows and snuggled into my side. She laid her head on my chest.

“I can hear your heart.”

“Oh yeah, what’s it saying?”

“That’s something you’re going to have to figure out for yourself. But don’t think too hard. Just listen.”

Monday, March 8, 2010


Edi-turd's note: Taking a break from Brock's story for something a little different. My local writers' group tackled a little writing exercise. 600-800 words. Character opens a black box holding a secret. Lemme know what you think.

Tony gently placed a box on the table next to a large pair of scissors. His hands trembled as he ran them back and forth across the lid.

She never let him have his “little treasures” (as she called them). He always had to hide them.

Why’d she have to be such a bitch?

Once, she found one of his smut mags – another of her names for the many things she of which she disapproved – and immediately called her pastor over for dinner and a lecture.

What did he care what her pastor thought? Like he was any better, robbing little old ladies with his stories of miracles and promises of salvation.

That’s when Tony had started hiding his treasures in plain sight. She’d never think to look in the decorative black box wrapped in black and white speckled ribbon with curly-q ends. It had been sitting empty atop the entertainment center for three years.

Hiding shit in his own house. His check paid half the mortgage, the utilities, the groceries. He even paid for the expensive interior designer who’d re-done the house in colors he despised. It was all about her, and what she wanted. From the spit-shined brass knick-knacks on the mantle to the flowery wall paper in the bedrooms, to the potpourri candles that choked him every time she lit them.

Every time he took the box down to fantasize, he’d carefully untie the ribbon so as not to kink or tangle the ends and give away his little secret. And when he was done, he would re-tie the bow in exactly the same manner and fluff the loops so that she’d never notice the difference. Then he’d wipe off any fingerprints or smudges he may have left on the shiny surface and slip the box back into its place at the exact angle it had been before. He’d been doing that for almost two years now.

Fuck her.

He picked up the scissors and studied his reflection in the cold steel. His heart raced at the sound of the two honed steel blades grinding past each other, and he slid his hand down his pants to soothe his growing erection.


It was music to his ears. He had waited so long for this chance. Now he’d finally get his release.

He watched the ribbon fall to the table.

Tony’s hand trembled as he removed the top.

“Tony, I’m home!” she called from the kitchen.

Caught in the act. But this time he was ready. This time it would be different. He, with his guilty pleasures, wasn’t the freak of the house. It was her with her spotless wine glasses, polished dinner table and floor clean enough to eat on, her alphabetized book collection, her closet arranged by color and size, her early morning cleaning rituals, her meticulous schedules.

She was the freak, not him.

This was going to rock her world.

“In here, Mother,” he answered trying to keep his voice from quivering. “You stupid sadistic fucking whore,” he added to himself.

“Can you be a dear and help me unload the groceries.”

“I kinda have my hands full.” The truth and irony of the line made him smile almost as much as hatching his little plan. He released his erection and reached into the box. “Can you give me a hand?”

“Tony Simon! The ice cream is melting in the trunk. You come out here this instant or you’ll be scrubbing the car!” Her voice grew louder as she left the kitchen and made her way toward the family room, “I won’t have sour milk spoiling my clean car.”

She rounded the corner into the family room.

The blast reverberated through the spotless home. Panes of sparkling glass rattled in their frames. Blood spatters marred the freshly painted walls.

She froze. All she could do was stare as Tony’s brains leaked over the rich brown leather of her sofa.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


The silence was worse than the fight. And knowing I had hurt her was worse than the silence.

I let my eyes drop from her face to a spot on the floor half-way between us. My body was drained, my mind blank. And through it all, Susan stared silently, her eyes dead, refusing to hint at what she was thinking, what I needed to say.

“When do we come first, Bock?”

Finally. A clue. I played out the options in my head. You’re always first. I hadn’t exactly acted that way. What was the other option?

I finally broke the silence. "I know I've taken you for granted lately. You're really important to me." I crossed the kitchen and stood in front of her. "But this television thing is tough. I've got so much to learn to catch up with the rest of the photogs. I've got to pay my dues. And it's still new."

“That’s what I’m talking about! Why do you always do this?”

“Do what? I’m trying to explain.”

“Why do you always make this about your job?” Susan sighed. “This isn’t about cameras or tape or news. This is about having a life. I’ve got a job too. But you don’t see me hanging around the hotel for hours after my shift. I have a life outside of work. I thought you did too.” Another tear rolled down Susan’s cheek. It was obvious she had been holding back these feelings for a while.

I wanted to tell her – to explain – but I didn’t know, myself, why I spent so much time at work.

“What is it that makes you spend night after night in that station instead of at home? Is it me? Am I smothering you? Did we move in too soon? Do you need your space?”

She brushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear while she waited for me to answer. I didn’t have a clue what to say. The last thing I wanted was for her to move out.

She dabbed at her eyes with a dish towel. “I’m not asking you to spend every waking hour with me. But a phone call when you’re going to be late would be nice. And once in a while, I’d like to be able to plan a nice date.”

Susan leaned back against the sink.

Thick, heavy silence filled the room. The kitchen was only eight feet wide, but Susan felt an ocean away. I didn’t know why it even mattered. We had only known each other six months, but what she thought about me and my non-life mattered more than I wanted to admit it. My heart pounded inside my chest. "I wish I could explain the rush I get from telling a good story.” My head reeled as I searched for exactly the right words. “Its adrenaline and anticipation and butterflies . . . It's like a first kiss."

Wrong words.

"Oh, so when you're kissing me, you're thinking about work!" She turned away from me and slammed her hands on the counter top. "Fucking brilliant!"

I put my hands on her shoulders and tried to turn her to face me. “No. It’s – ”

She pulled away. "That's what you said." She answered into the kitchen sink.

"It's . . . the excitement of creation."

“So, now you're god.”

"Just forget it. You wouldn’t understand.”

“No, I need you to understand something.” Susan sighed and slowly turned toward me. The anger in her eyes had softened. “I’m not trying to take you away from your job. I know that you love it. I see it on your face every day when you walk through the door.”

A whisper of a smile crossed her lips. Susan dangled her hand limply next to mine. My heart raced as her fingers brushed against my palm, and she let my hand wrap around hers.

“That excitement in your eyes why I come home every night. I work all day dreaming of the smile on your face when you get home. I want that smile to be for me, not some city alderman running for re-election. I can’t wait for you to come in with those big, blue eyes sparkling like a kid who just pulled one over on his teacher. But I don't get that when you don't come home.” She slipped her hand from my grip. “This all happened too fast. You need time to sort out your life.”

My chest ached again, but this time it wasn't the bruise from my falling camera. I knew exactly where she was going. Things had moved fast between us, but it was that passion that kept me going. Susan's belief in me and her support made facing the mistakes I made every day at work bearable.

Brock, call me at home. The small voice pager on my belt could not have squawked at a worse time.

I ripped it from my belt and sailed it across the kitchen. It hit the wall and broke into three pieces. At least it silenced the ASSMAN.

Susan frowned. “You better answer that. Ken sounds like he means it.”

“The ASSMAN can wait.”

“It's okay, call him. He probably wants you to go in early and work late tomorrow.” She tried to smile.

I put the phone on speaker and dialed Ken’s number. I wanted Susan to hear me tell him where he could stick his late-night page, but she retreated to the bedroom. Ken answered on the first ring.

“Great fushing story!” He was smashed. “Why didn't you tell me she was sho good?”

“I tried, remember. But you didn’t want to hear it.”

“You guysh did great! I always knew you had it in you. See you at work tomorrow.” And the phone went dead.

Silence hung in the room like the smell of cooked cabbage.

I walked over to the corner and gathered the pieces of my voice pager. The speaker lay near the wall under a small knick it had left in the paneling. The belt clip landed a couple feet from it near the stove. I picked up the cover to the battery compartment from under the kitchen table last and sat down to put it back together. Why couldn’t relationships be that easy?

I sat at the kitchen table, afraid to disturb the uneasy peace, and rewound the day. I had finally found a small degree of success at work. Ken’s phone call should have been great news. I should have been happy. But all I could think of was how I had wrecked Susan’s night. And the more I thought about that, the more I realized she was right.

Why hadn’t I just called to tell her I’d be late? Stupid question. That would have been admitting that I’d rather work than go out with her. Even though that’s the way it looked, it wasn’t the case. Telling a good story was like catching lightning in a bottle. It was urgent. If I didn’t do it right then, the opportunity would be gone forever. Susan, it seemed, would always be there.

I’m not sure how long I sat in the quiet of the kitchen asking myself if I really believed that and why it was that my mind worked that way. The longer I sat there, the heavier the silence became until it was unbearable. I had to do something, but what?

I pushed away from the table as quietly as I could trusting that the words would come to me when I reached the bedroom. I met Susan in the hallway. Evidently she was thinking the same thing. We stood there for a while, each waiting for the other to say something.

It had always been my experience that in situations like this one, the first person to speak was the one that lost. For some inexplicable reason I was more worried about losing Susan than an argument. I took a deep breath and looked her in the eyes. “I've been a dick lately. I should have called tonight.” I paused hoping my apology would sink in. “I'll do better. Don’t move out.”

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


I fluffed a small bouquet of tired-looking daisies and turned the ones with brown-edged petals away from the door. It wasn't much to look at, but it was all the grocery store had at 10:05 at night. I knocked three times – in the last six months, it had become my code – and let myself in.

Susan slouched on the sofa watching Lou James toss to Tommy Kay for the weather. She didn’t move as I entered the apartment. Instead of her usual skin-tight jeans and revealing blouse, she wore formless sweatpants. The neck of her oversized sweatshirt drooped across her shoulder revealing the strap of her lacy black bra.

“Oh, good. You’re watching the news. I want you to see the story I shot. It’s the kicker at the end of the show.”

She turned off the TV and hid her face as I bent to give her a hug.

“Hey, what’s the matter? I brought you some flowers for your birthday.”

She swung her head back to face me. Her golden eyes looked tarnished. Black mascara smudges ran down to her cheek bones. “Do you know what it’s like to be stood up on your birthday?”

“I . . . uh – ”

"I was worried sick. I just knew you were on the side of the road at some crime scene somewhere, dead." She stepped back and looked into my eyes. "I could kill you."

"I –"

"Where do you get off not calling me?” Her tears dried. It must have been the flames forming in her eyes. “You were supposed to take me to dinner tonight."

"I know but –"

"It’s my birthday!"

"Yeah, but –"

"I got all dressed up.”

“Yeah, nice sweats.” I handed her the pitiful flowers and plopped down in the La-Z-Boy across the living room.

She took one look at my peace offering and slung it across the room. “Flowers ain’t gonna fix this.”

“I know I –”

“I was in the edit bay.” She mocked my feeble attempt at an explanation. “Can’t you come up with something more original?”

“I was in the edit bay, and what’s it to you?”

"Lemme guess." Susan closed the door and faced me, her hands on her hips and fury in her voice. "Another story! What was it this time, Bock? A cat in a tree? The school board set a new, longest meeting record? Or were you repairing the damage you did to another sports interview?"

That last one hurt. But she was right. This whole routine was getting old. We had moved in together just three weeks after Ernie punched my lights out on the Cotton Gin dance floor. It was quick – maybe too quick. But there was something between us that neither she nor I could deny. And the sex was great.

"A carhop." I mumbled.

"What?" Susan screamed and stared straight through me. "I missed a night in a fancy restaurant for a fast-food floozy on roller skates!” Her arms waved wildly over her spray-starched hair. “I'm getting tired of this, Bock."

"I know."

"What's this make, seven, eight times we’ve canceled our plans because of your job?"

"I know. I'm sorry.” I hung my head. I didn’t have to try to look pitiful this time. I hated letting her down.

“I don’t want your damn apologies! I want steak Janon!”

The thought of the signature dish at the poshest restaurant in town made my mouth water.

“I want a night out with a boyfriend who wants to spend time with me!”

She was right. I had been spending too much time at the station, changing our plans at the whim of the ASSMAN. When we were together, it was perfect – except for when I screwed things up. It was a constant struggle to balance my love for my new job with my feelings for Susan. And it was not an explanation I wanted to tackle, especially with Susan this mad at me.

“I do want to spend time with you. You know that, but this is the way news works. I can't tell you when the next big story is going to happen."

"And what's big news about a carhop? I know,” Susan’s voice oozed sarcasm, “she ended world hunger with her serving tray!"

I had that one coming, I guess. My head sagged between my shoulders and I sighed in exasperation as I crossed the room and scooped the disheveled bouquet off the floor.

Susan’s eyes followed me almost daring me to speak.

I obliged.

"The carhop wasn't the big news part." I fought to keep a somber look on my face. I had to look contrite, but I could feel the edges of my lips giving away my true emotions. "It finally happened. It finally clicked! I told a good story!" I felt my face light up.

"Fan-fucking-tastic!" Susan stormed past me into the kitchen. I was sure she was headed for the knife drawer, but I followed her trailing limp flower petals anyway.

She spun to face me, the anger in her face tempered by desperation. "Let's stop the world because Bock has a good story.” Tears began to pool in the corners of her eyes. “What about us? What about our lives?” A fat tear cleared a fresh trail through her mascara, smearing a gray streak down her cheek.

I hadn’t really thought that much about us. I had it good. A job I loved. A girlfriend at home who loved me. She told me as much every time I left the apartment.

“We can't just put everything on hold every time someone has a story to tell.” Susan folded her arms across her chest and waited for me to say something.

I searched my brain. What was it that she wanted to hear? It wasn’t another apology. I love you? I wasn’t ready for that. I’ll move out? I wasn’t ready for that either.

I stood there staring back at her. Waiting. Hoping. Praying for an answer that would get me off the hook. I shifted my weight, first to my left foot, then to my right.

Susan didn’t budge. She wasn’t letting me off that easy tonight.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


After I sent Sagre's school board story to the control room, I sat in the edit bay moping. No one would touch my car hop story. But I knew better than any of them. News? That might be a stretch, but it was a good human interest story that people would talk about around the water cooler, if they ever saw it.

I popped the tape into the playback machine, and slapped the shuttle wheel on the edit control console. Zig-zaggy images rolled backward across the monitor at eight times normal speed. Sam spoke in high-pitched Russian until the tape reached the beginning. "My name is Sam, and I'm a car hop."

That was it! It was that simple. If no one else would tell Sam’s story, I would let her tell it herself! I shuttled through the tape for an opening shot.

A large finger entered from the top of the screen and pushed a small red button on a silver speaker box. “Welcome to Sonic, can I take your order?”

Cut to another close-up, burgers sizzling on the griddle. Grease droplets leap from red meat. The mic was so close I could hear the meat squish as a long, spatula pressed pink juice from the burger.

"Order up!" Another tight shot of an overweight cook in a paper hat hollering.

Fingers with red-painted nails dropped paper-wrapped burgers onto a red dinner tray.

Another hand set a chocolate shake on the tray.

Sam's roller skate wheel entered the frame, and rumbled quietly down the pavement. The camera moved down the sidewalk with it. "My name is Sam, and I'm a carhop."

I rewound the tape, leaned back in my chair and watched it.

Damn. It was a rough edit, but it was good. I closed the edit bay door and buried myself in the edit, trimming shots here, extending shots there, smoothing out audio transitions, weaving a seamless open for Sam's story.

The whole sequence took less than six seconds. It took me nearly 20 minutes to get it right. Then I pressed on with the rest of it.

Just like in the parking lot, I let the story speak. It told me where it wanted to speed up, where it wanted to breathe. My fingers flew across the edit console, splicing sound and pictures into the graceful dance I saw in my head.

I choreographed Sam's moves to a soundtrack of sizzle, glurb, tink, schwick and rumble. Sam's own words were the lyrics I hoped would pull viewers along until Sam would deliver the knock-out punch of this little feature film.

"Everybody should care.” Trays and shakes floated in and out of frame. Sam’s skates twirled on the oil-stained concrete. “I'm not just schlepping burgers from the griddle to your car. I'm providing a service.” Customers unwrapped burgers and chompped fries.

A quick tight shot of the customer’s smile, then it was back to Sam on the hood of my car to finish out her passionate soliloquy.

Cut to a shot of Sam pushing her way backwards from the kitchen into the parking lot and out of frame. "This is my job, and I'm gonna do it right."

Close-up. Sam’s skates pirouetted in front of another car. The window eased its way down. "Besides, the tips are better when I spin."

Close-up. Sam's face lit up the screen. "Hi my name is Sam. Thank you for choosing Sonic!"

I rubbed my face. I hadn't realized I was sweating. I eased back in my chair and shuttled back to the beginning of the story. I opened the edit bay door to cool off and punched play. I smiled, satisfied as Sam spoke her last line and exited the screen to reveal a soft-focus shot of the Sonic sign. I mentally amended my new mantra. “Shoot with your ears; listen to the story.”

"Cute story." Lou James’ voice-of-god delivery startled me. "Who shot it?"


"It's a cute story." The weekend anchor explained. "Well shot, very well edited. Where did you find it?"

“Lou, what are you doing here at night?”

“Grip’s off. I’m filling in. It’s my chance shine. Work my way off the weekend shift and into the money!” His eyes sparkled. “So, where’d you find the story? I didn’t see it on the network feed.”

"I shot it this afternoon." I blinked, a little surprised at the compliment. "I just finished editing it."

"Doesn't look like your work. It's not blue."

"I don't know what happened. It just sort of all came together."

"I especially like the way you slipped in that little bit about an honest day's work. And letting her tell the whole thing is a brilliant idea."

"It's not my story. It's Sam's. I just helped her tell it. Too bad no one will see it." I slouched in my seat. "None of the producers want it."

"Those show-stackers don't know anything,” he answered with a dismissive wave. “Tonight, it’s my show. I want it in. It's late, but I'll make sure it gets in the ten o'clock."

"Late? What time is it?"


"Shit! I was supposed to take Susan to eat for her birthday." I ran past the anchor toward the back door. "Can you take the tape to the control room for me? Shit!"

"I'll handle it. Better not show up without flowers."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


part one
part two

I had barely darkened the newsroom door when Ken “the ASSMAN” Roberts lit into me. "Where the hell have you been?"

"Uh, lunch?" I waved him off.

"Lunch!" He sprayed my shirt with spittle. "Who cleared you to take lunch?" The dome of the Assignment Manager's egg-shaped head glowed red. His shoulders bunched around his ears and the folds of skin hanging on to his jowls trembled. "I've got reporters without photogs circling the desk like planes around LaGuardia, and you stop for lunch?"

"A photog's gotta eat." Ken's tirades were the stuff of legend, but the ASSMAN's venom had never been directed at me. Thirty-five years in television news had turned a one-time star reporter into a seething gasbag. He ran the assignment desk like a concentration camp. A photog hadn't earned his stripes until Ken went off on him. "Doesn't look like you've missed too many lunches." I patted his belly and started toward an edit bay with my tape.

"Where do you think you're going?"

"While Bump ate lunch, I shot a feature story about a carhop on her way to a national competition, so –"

"No one told the desk about a feature story." Ken's head was buried deep between his shoulders. The vein in the middle of his bald spot throbbed.

"That's because it just sort of happened."

"News doesn't just happen! It's not news in this building until I say it's news!" He waved his assignment sheet in my face. "Do you see anything about a carhop on the assignment list? Then it’s not news!"

"But it's a good story."

"You wouldn't know a good story if it shit in your face. And you sure as hell couldn't shoot it, you blue video, out-of-focus-shooting, no-sound-getting rookie."

Weaver rounded the corner of the big granite assignment desk just in time. “What the hell –" I had already thrown down my tape and was about to lunge at ASSMAN. Ken had his fists up in a boxing pose from the 1920's.

Weaver stiff-armed me right in the bruise on my chest. Fire, like a .38 caliber slug, shot through me.

"Calm down!" Weaver yelled.

I crumpled into a chair at the nearest desk.

"You better get a handle on your staff. Let 'em know how things work around here." Ken huffed at Weaver. "I assign the stories! They don't just go off doing as they please."

"That asshole better learn to shut his fat mouth, or I'll shut it for him!" I struggled against Weaver’s arm to get up.

“Both of you shut the hell up!” Weaver held me in my seat with one hand and pushed Ken toward the assignment desk with the other. “Ken, get back to the desk. Rene, my edit bay. NOW!"

Inside edit one, Weaver let me have it. "What the hell do you think you were doing in there?”

“He started it.”

“I stick my neck out and hire you with no experience. I defend you every time your stuff has to be re-shot by someone else, and you disappear for an hour, then pick a fight with the Assignment Manager?"

"Weaver, it's a good story."

"I don't care if it's the second coming of Christ himself. You just don't go off and do your own thing."

"So if I see a twenty car pile-up on Hollywood, you're telling me to ignore it?"

"You know better than that," Weaver sighed. "You gotta let the assignment desk know what you're doing. Ken's got way too many things to keep track of without wondering if some photog is off freelancing a story that no one wants."

"I'm telling you Weaver, this is a great story. The girl is fantastic, the pictures are there; the sound is clean. I nailed this one."

"Why didn't you radio that in before you shot it? What do you think your chances are of getting it on air now?"

I hung my head. "Yeah, I'll talk to him about it."

"You've done enough damage. You need to let this one go.”

“But Weaver, the story is gold.”

Weaver shook his head. “It’s my own fault. I knew you were too eager when I hired you.”

Was that a chink in his armor? Was Weaver coming around to my side? I sat there and tried to look pitiful.

Finally, Weaver sighed. “I shouldn’t tell you this, but if you really want to this story into a newscast, try to sell it to a reporter and have them sell it to Ken. Make it sound like someone else's idea."

“Got it.” I bounced to my feet and headed for the reporter’s pod.

“But I never told you to do it.” he called after me.

"Sarge" Wilders trampled through the newsroom like the proverbial bull-dyke in a china shop. Sarge spent half her life as a public information officer in the Marines. Her short-cropped hair and don’t-mess-with-me stare could wilt the resolve of the saltiest photog, but I had to try. “Sarge . . . uh . . . How about trying something a little softer today – It’s already shot – All you have to do is voice it.”

She lit into me like . . . well . . . like a drill sergeant. “Soft? Who you calling soft? The school board is voting on which standardized test to give to the little hellions. I have to be there this afternoon.”

"But Sarge, this story is visual." I begged.

"Too bad kid, the school board is real news."

Dick Hicks had always been open to my ideas before. He panned my idea for an interview with the mayor about the city’s effort to ban noise. And Boyd Leffingwell, the newsroom’s other screw-up, was all a twitter about his big live report from the 4-H fair.

When Ken caught wind of what I was doing he assigned me to Sarge and the school "bored" meeting from hell. I squinted through my lens as board members blathered about Iowa Test scores, bell curves, normalized results and standard deviations.

Riveting television.

While I wasted tape, my mind constructed Sam’s story, the sound bites, scoops of fries dropping into paper sacks, soft-serve ice cream globbing into waxy cups, the crinkle of cellophane as a customer unwrapped an after dinner mint.

It would never see the light of day.

to be continued

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


“You know, Baldilocks,” it was a pet name I had for our number two sports guy, “you’re just gonna pull a few more out like that.”

Bump continued checking his ever-thinning mane in the sun visor mirror. “Yeah, and I’m going to take hair advice from a guy wearing a mullet. I pull better looking shit out of my shower drain.”

“Leave my mullet alone.” I flipped my shoulder-length locks at him. It was a little Bald Cop/Hairy Cop game we played every time we worked together, which had been a lot recently. My knack for finding trouble made me an outcast in news circles. Ragging on Bump’s hair was better than talking quarterback ratings, RBI’s, or the sportswriter polls.

“That shit went out with hair bands. When are you going to lose that mop?” Bump complained, eyeing my mullet with contempt.

“At least I’m not counting follicles before every shoot.”

We had just wrapped up a less than riveting interview with the head baseball coach from Alexandria Senior High. I couldn’t help but wonder who Bump had pissed off to win my company for the afternoon. Six months of bone-headed mistakes had put me at the bottom of the photog food chain.

“I’m hungry.” Bump’s three-pack-a-day rasp interrupted my self-doubt. That rasp was amazing, considering he didn’t smoke. “Want some lunch? I’m buying.”

I couldn’t blame Bump or any of the other reporters for wincing when my name appeared next to theirs on the assignment sheet. Tape jams, blue video, broken mic cables, dead batteries, and head clogs stalked me. It was anybody’s guess how much longer Weaver could defend me when the suits in the front office bellowed.

“Yo! Buckwheat, I’m talking to you.” Bump slapped the back of my head. “That hair clogging your ears? I said, ‘I’m hungry.’”

He was always hungry. I turned to see the sun glint off Bump’s namesake, a large hump created by the drastic angle his over-sized nose took as it dove toward his upper lip. I dreaded lunch with Bump. He was a slob. When he offered to buy, it meant only one thing, Sonic Drive-In, big, flat, burgers eaten inside the car. At least it was free. I had been saving money for Susan's her birthday date.

I wheeled the turd-brown-Taurus into an empty stall at the Sonic on Lee Drive, and pressed the call button on the speaker box. Bump yelled our order from across the car. A few minutes later, a babe on roller skates glided our way, sandwiches, fries and drinks planted firmly on a red window tray. She stopped short in front of the car, pirouetted, and gave a deep bow. Not so much as a fry moved out of place. Then she skated to my door and hooked the tray to the window.

“Hi, my name is Sam. Thank you for choosing Sonic!” Her words practically jumped from her lips which she had painted to match our dinner tray. “Two Super Sonics, fries, a Coke and a Dr. Pepper, that’s seven-sixty-eight!”

Sam was way too excited about delivering burgers for a living.

“Hey, Sam.” Bump leaned across the front seat and dropped a twenty on the tray. “Thanks for the show. You still working on that ‘America’s Best Carhop’ routine?”

“Working on it? Won the regionals in Houston last week,” she beamed. “I’m headed to the finals at Sonic headquarters in Oklahoma City.”

“Keep the change,” I volunteered, “help pay for your trip.”

Bump shot me a look, but what could he do?

“Thank you. And thank you for dinning at Sonic!” Sam curtsied, “Ya’ll come back and see us soon.” She spun on one leg and sped back to kitchen.

"Why didn’t you tell me about her, Bump?”

He was already ear-deep in his burger. “Who, Sam?” A hunk of lettuce dangled from his lips. “She’s too young for you.” Bump wiped mayonnaise from his cheek with his sleeve. “Besides, what about Susan?”

“I don’t want to do her, you perv. And nothing happening with Susan.”

“Bullshit. I’ve seen the way she looks at you at the Gin.”

“Too much baggage with Ernie stalking her. We just party together when we bump into each other. Besides, who has time to date in this business.”

Bump gave me a you’re-full-of-shit look and licked ketchup off his fingers. “Then what do you want with Sam?”

“Sam’s got a great story – local carhop skates her way to national fame.” I fanned my hands across the windshield like I was laying out a headline.

“I don’t see it,” Bump gargled through another mouthful of meat and cheese.

“What do you mean you don’t see it? The skates, the tricks, it’s a great story.”

“It’s 1991. People want news, not a car hop contest.” Bump sprayed the dash with runny mayonnaise.

“Granted, it’s not like an intern giving the President a hummer in the oval office, but –”

Bump chuckled and dove into his fries. “Like that’ll ever happen.”

“You gotta admit it’s cute.”

“I don’t gotta do nothing, but finish this burger.”

I punched the button on the speaker box again and pitched my idea to the manager. A few minutes later, Sam was sitting on the hood of the turd-brown-Taurus snaking a clip-on, lavaliere mic under her uniform shirt.

I set my tripod to eye level. “Rock solid and on the sticks.” I repeated one of Weaver’s many mantras to myself. Each week during our tape reviewing sessions, Weaver would shake his head in disbelief at my misfortunes and try to sound positive. Sure, every week it was a different mistake, but with every piece of ruined tape, I could see my career as a news shooter slipping away.

The other photogs made it look so effortless. I, on the other hand, prayed every time I shouldered my big, orange Icky. I fumbled through each shoot and hoped I had flipped all the right switches. My amazing lack of aptitude put me first in line for the assignments no one else wanted.

Sam smiled sympathetically as I untangled myself from the mic cord. I peered through my lens, set the iris and flipped the white balance switch. At least everything would be the right color today. Inside the eye cup I framed a head and shoulders shot with the Sonic sign slightly out of focus behind her, and repeated another of Weaver’s favorites, “Composition, composition, composition”

I took a deep breath and hit record.

Sam answered my first question. I zoomed in for a head-shot and fired another question. She smiled and launched into a few sentences about Sonic’s made-to-order American classic burgers.

When she finished, I slid left – “Stick and move,” – and fought to lower the sticks. One of my tripod legs was stuck, so I bent over to grip the jammed lock mechanism.

“Whoa, whoa, WHOA!” Sam waved her hand in the direction of my lens.

I looked up from the stuck leg just in time to see Icky tilt up on its own.

Damn! Forgot to lock the tripod head.

Icky’s lens continued in its upward arc until it reached its tipping point. The locked tripod leg rose off the ground. There was no way Weaver could protect me if I dribbled Icky.

I dove.

Icky landed with a dull thud squarely on my chest. Bump screamed with laughter from inside the car while I flailed around on my back like a dying roach and gasped for air.

“Are you okay?” Sam slid off the hood to help me upright my camera.

“Happens all the time.” I wheezed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


After my news unit spontaneously combusted, I need a beer. It was male stripper night at The Cotton Gin, the only bar in Alexandria not inhabited by old cotton farmers, and that was good enough for me. Weathered siding, faded feed store signs, and rusted tractor parts outside led newcomers like me to expect both kinds of music, Country, and Western. Inside, a day-glo pink palm tree guarded a Plexiglas dance floor which was lit from beneath by red, green, and blue Christmas-tree lights. Speakers on either side of the disc-jockey booth acted as a stage for go-go dancers and lubricated patrons who thought they were Michael Jackson.

And the music, a mix of .38 Special, Led Zeppelin, and Madonna attracted the strangest mix of mouth-breathers, wannabe sluts, and farmer’s daughters I had ever seen. Not your typical after-work bar, unless your workday ended when the credits rolled on the late news.

The dance floor jiggled and bounced with horny female flesh revved-up and ready to party with the eager-to-score poon-hounds flooding into the club after the show. Sure it was a meat market, but I wasn't looking for someone to grow old with, just something to erase the last two days. I grabbed a long neck at the bar before venturing into the fray. Someone tapped me on the shoulder.

“Couldn’t resist another chance to take your clothes off?” Little flecks of gold sparkled in her eyes. It took the edge off another long humiliating day better than a Bud Light.

“Nah, I do all my stripping on busy highways when the TV cameras are rolling. Which show did you like better?”

She squeezed her shoulders forward swelling her cleavage. Susan grinned a devil’s smile, “I was hoping for my own private show.”

She was the only good thing to happen to me all week. And she still hadn’t happened yet.

Her face was unremarkable. She had pairs of all the necessary parts: ears, lips, nostrils. It was her eyes that held me captive. Even in a dark and smoky night club, they glistened. Little flecks of gold swam in two pools of honey. And every time she smiled, they seemed to shower the room in droplets of light like a disco ball.

Her auburn locks were teased and starched like surf, frozen in time, over her forehead, a conscious rebellion against the grunge fashion of the day, as were her clothes. Painted on blue jeans accentuated the curve of her hips, and a red bustier revealed everything else I needed to know – her taste was way above my six-dollar-an-hour pay grade. Her smile, at the same time shy and sly, insisted that I give it a shot.

“Got any ones left?” I arched my back and leaned my hips forward bumping her thigh with my crotch.

She reached inside her bustier for a wrinkled bill, rolled it length-wise and pulled it slowly through her fist. Then she slipped the dollar inside the waist of my jeans and giggled, never breaking eye contact.

The music segued from Madonna to Twisted Sister “Ooh, I love this song.” She grabbed my hand and dragged me onto the dance floor.

She jumped and bounced and threw her fists in the air and screamed along with Dee Snider. “We’re not gonna take it any-mooooore!”

I must have been crazy to follow her. Women like this didn’t pay any attention to struggling photographers like me. They went after the pretty-boy reporter with the telegenic grin and thick wallet. But there was something about those eyes.

She didn’t care that we were the only ones on the dance floor. All I could do was watch as he tore into an air guitar solo. She whipped her hair in gonzo circles as she pounded her invisible axe. The crowd egged her on.

I wanted to leave, but I caught a glimpse of her devil’s smile. She stuck a defiant pose and slowly lifted her head. Her eyes glued me in place as they traced a straight line up my chest.

Maybe she did want me.

The world around us vanished. It was just me and the girl with the golden eyes. Butterflies fluttered inside my stomach like pterodactyl wings and the room spun around us.

I wobbled on one leg and caught my balance. It wasn’t the room; I was spinning. I stopped just in time to meet a corn-fed country boy with shoulders as wide as a John Deere. His fist was cocked all the way back into the next parish.

“Ernie, no!”

I don’t remember much after that.

When I opened my eye, I was outside. Sharp edges, like fingernails clawed at my face. The gravel in the parking lot crunched as I rolled onto my back.
Susan stooped to help me up. “Are you okay, Brock?”

“Yeah,” I grunted. I lied. Blood trickled from a cut under my eye and I fingered my aching cheek. My head throbbed. My ribs felt like a side of beef in a Rocky movie. And I actually saw cartoon birdies floating in circles around my head.

“Damn Ernie.”

“Wait,” I forced myself upright. “I just got my ass kicked by a guy named Ernie?”

“I’m the only one who calls him that. He’s my ex, Earnhardt Waltrip Petty.”

“Folks were big NASCAR fans, eh?” I pushed myself to my feet and slapped the dust off my jeans. My left eye had already swollen shut. “What happened?”

“It’s a long story, but ends with a jealous streak – ”

“Not with you two," I squinted through the haze inside my head. "Inside. What happened in there?”

“Oh, that. He does it every time we break up.”

“Every time?”

“You should get that looked at.” Susan prodded around the growing bulge under my eye. “Thank God for Nubby.”


“Duh, the one-armed bouncer. He pulled Ernie off before he killed you.”

“So you’re telling me a guy named Ernie just kicked my ass, and I was rescued by a one-armed bouncer named Nubby?”

“That’s about the size of it.” she winked and laughed. “Let’s get you out of here. I’ve got a bag of black-eyed peas in the freezer at my place.”

I threw my arm over her shoulder and leaned heavily on her all the way to her car. It was mostly an act, but for the first time all week, things were looking up.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


part one

The Bentley Hotel was an homage to finery: gray stone walls and tall fancy columns, brass-framed glass doors, and a fancy-pants doorman dressed in a colorful uniform. I parked at the door and jetted inside to check things out, no use bringing all that gear until I knew where I was headed.

The lobby was just as lush: mahogany desk, elaborate chandeliers, Persian rugs, and a winding marble staircase to the second floor. “Hey buddy, where’s the Chief Justice speaking?” I asked the first bellman I saw.

The bellman took one look at my blue jeans and snubbed me.

“We require proper attire in the lobby sir.” A cheerful voice came from behind the desk.

I turned to see hypnotizing golden eyes eyeing my “attire” with disdain. There was something familiar about her gaze. Where had I seen her before?

“Oh, Brock, it’s you. You can’t just pop in to see me like this. Especially dressed like that.”

“Uh, yeah.” I fumbled for my next line hoping the blank look on my face didn’t betray my clulessness. “I . . . uh . . . forgot that you worked here.”

“Well, I guess I can forgive you. We were both pretty trashed.”

The girl from the bar. What the hell was her name?

“I don’t usually get that wild,” she giggled.

And what the hell did we do?

She leaned across the reservation desk and her cleavage peeked through her swelling blouse.

“Me either.” I stared at her chest . . . for a name tag. “Susan, I’m working too. I’m here to shoot the Chief Justice.”

“Do I have to call security?”

Still flirting. Must have been pretty good. “With a camera. I’m working for KALX.”

“That’s different. The Bar Association is lunching in the Pelican Ballroom, second floor.”

“Thanks.” I turned to dash back to the Taurus for my gear.

“Hey, I had fun last night. Wanna do it again?”

“Yeah,” I called over my shoulder. “Gotta go. Can’t keep His Honor waiting.”


Heavy velvet drapes and plush burgundy carpet sucked every foot-candle of light out of the Pelican Ballroom. I barged right in, mid-introduction. Every eye in the place bored through my cocky shell. I knew someone was going to sue me for disturbing the “speech,” but I soldiered on.

I stooped in the darkest corner I could find to assemble my gear. Icky clicked into its lock on the tripod. The big blue multi-pin umbilical cord stretched from Icky to my recorder. I connected the 30 volt sun-gun to the battery belt strapped around my waist, and bolted it to the camera’s light post.

I’d never seen so many stuffed suits in my life. Every lawyer in the state must have been there. They crowded around tables covered in frilly, white table cloths, their hair receding; their stomachs distending. They stood in unison as Chief Justice Wallace Christophe strode to the podium.

I squeezed my way between chairs and tables slapping my recorder against attorneys and counselors all the way to front of the room and set my tripod fifteen feet from the dais.

The judge opened a manila folder containing his speech, and I switched on my light.

They call it a sun-gun for a reason.

About a ga-jillion watts hit the judge square in the face. He raised his hands and swatted at the rays like they were a hoard of angry mosquitoes. His face squinched like he’d bitten a green persimmon, and he tried to blink gathering tears from the corners of his eyes.

My heart pounded against my ribs. I just blinded a judge. At least he couldn’t see me on the dark side of the light.

“I’ll see you in court,” the judge warned in a scholarly voice, “if I ever see again.”

The room erupted with laughter. I wanted to hide under my tripod. When the attorneys had all taken their seats, the judge lowered his head and barreled right into his speech.

It happened about three minutes in.

Hey new guy.

The Chief Justice froze.

Damn voice pager!

Blow off the judge.

Weaver’s words echoed in my head. “It’s a voice pager. It’s great.” Great my ass. The brazen voice in the little box on my hip drowned-out anything His Honor was trying to say.

We don’t want him.

I melted into a puddle and tried to soak through the heavy carpet.

“I don’t want you either, New Guy.” The judge said like he’d issued his decree from the high court’s bench. The lawyers guffawed and pounded the tables.

I grabbed my shit and oozed out, banging every lawyer’s chair along the way. The girl with the golden eyes called after me as I rushed through the lobby. I didn’t even bother to wave. I just wanted to be gone.

I threw my gear into the trunk without disconnecting anything. The sooner I could be out of there the better.

Inside the car, the two-way was already calling. Hope the judge hadn’t started talking yet. Just come back, Boyd needs a photog.

“The judge was in the middle of his speech. You told the entire room we didn’t want him.”

Sorry. You ought to turn your pager down when you’re shooting.

"Now you tell me." I threw the car into gear and floored it. My tires squealed, and I was gone in a puff of blue-gray smoke, jumping ever speed bump in the parking lot. I hoped no one took that “How’s my driving” sticker on my bumper seriously.

I took the long route back to the station to cool off so I didn’t kill someone when I got back.

Hey new guy. It was the radio. Someone just called from their car phone. They say your driving’s fine, but your trunk is smoking.

I checked the mirror. Thick white smoke billowed from the edges of the trunk lid.

“Holy shit, I’m on fire!”

I threw the car into park and jumped out in the middle of MacAuthur Boulevard. Cars zoomed past like it was normal to see a smoldering news unit on the main drag.

New guy, you okay?

I fumbled for the radio. “No, I’m not okay. I’m on fire!”

There’s a fire extinguisher in the back seat.

I grabbed the fire extinguisher, threw the trunk open, and put the fire out. It was minor, but my rain gear was now melted to my sun gun. The stupid light must have switched on when I jumped that damn speed bumps.

On cue, the hangover I’d been waiting for all day erupted inside my head.
I had been a photog for two days. I’d been stripped and hosed, fired, hired, humiliated by a judge, and caught fire. I could only hope the words Weaver had spoken were true and tomorrow none of this would matter.

I somehow doubted it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


The sun burned holes through my ZZ Top Cheap Sunglasses as I waited outside the wrought iron gate. I was beginning to regret partying all night. I slid my fingers behind the dark frames and rubbed my bloodshot eyes while trying to shake off the remnants of my beer-induced buzz. I couldn’t help but gawk at the scene beyond my windshield. It was like nothing I had seen before – not the gate, the TV station behind it – and I had been in the business a whole week.

KALX-TV stood before me like the proverbial gleaming city on the hill: a sprawling, single story building of sparkling steel and glass. A massive orange and white broadcast tower, like an erector set on steroids, grew from the center of the building. Fifteen American flags waved down the long gated driveway to the front doors. Below each flag, a second flag bearing the KALX-TV 5 logo announced, “This is KALX Kountry.”

I cranked down my window and pressed the button on the speaker box. “Nicholas Brock, here to see Jim Weaver.”

“Yes, Mr. Brock, I’ll buzz you in.”

The receptionist buzzed me through the front gate, and my rusty Dodge Charger sputtered to a parking place near the tinted glass. I shook my head as I headed for the door. Was I dreaming? Was I still drunk from last night? I was about to start my second job at my second television station in two days. Another buzz and I was inside.

“I’ve told Mr. Weaver that you are here. He’ll be with you shortly.”
Mister Weaver? I squinted in the dim light waiting for my eyes to adjust, “Thank you, Miss, uh,” I searched for the name plate on marble half-wall that hid everything but the receptionist’s head, “Johnston.”

“Call me Jeanne,” she said with all the perkiness of Katie Couric, while she fished for something inside her desk. “Mr. Weaver asks that you please have a seat and fill out this application.”

So this was how the other half lived? No ragged out carpet. No leak-stained ceiling, no crappy RCA cabinet television from the 50’s. Unlike my former digs, the KALX reception area shined of polished marble and glass. My sneakers squeaked against the marble tile floor as I crossed the room to a leather and chrome arm chair. I dropped the application on an asymmetrical glass coffee table. Across the room, on a large television screen, sand drained through an hourglass as the announcer introduced the next soap opera, “. . . so are the Days of Our Lives.”

Then I saw it. I could feel my eyes getting wider. My pulse quickened. I stood and took a few tentative steps. The orange glow in the corner called to me like a siren’s song. Plaques and statuettes with names like Murrow, Peabody, and DuPont stared back at me from the chrome and glass trophy case. There must have been a dozen of them. And standing tall in a beam of white light atop the case, a gold-plated, winged woman in a flowing robe, her back arched, stretched her arms toward the ceiling. She lifted a gilded, wire-frame globe for all to see. The inscription read, “EMMY, Excellence in Television News Photography, Jim Weaver.”

I felt someone watching me stare. I jerked my head around to see Weaver grinning like a mule eating briars. “Just admiring the hardware.” I said, checking my chin for spittle.

“It’s just a regional,” Weaver apologized.

“It’s a freakin’ Emmy.”

“Just a shiny hunk of tin that says I did good work two years ago.”

I stammered at a few words in protest, but Weaver cut me off.
“Rule number one, yesterday’s story, no matter how good or bad, is gone. Nobody remembers it. Nothing matters but the story you shoot today. You hang on to that attitude and you’ll have your own shiny dolls to play with. Now, let’s get you signed in.”

I followed Weaver into the cavernous main hallway. Larger than life-sized photos of anchors and reporters smiled at me we I drifted past.

“That’s the Gripper,” Weaver explained as we passed the first head shot, “Bob Grip. He anchors the five, six, and ten. The blonde next to him is his co-anchor Darla Darling – cheesy name. Consultants picked it – but she knows her shit.” And so it went all the way down the hallway, “That’s Sarge; she’s an institution. Dick Hicks, nicest guy you’ll ever meet. Lou James, he does the weekend show. Watch out for him. Hammy, sports guy extraordinaire, and his side-kick Bump. And that’s Boyd Leffingwell. He’s a fuck-up. But he’s our fuck-up.”

The newsroom was as opulent and immense as my previous digs were ratty and cramped. Framed prints by Manet or Monet, or some other long-dead, famous foreign artist graced the walls. The assignment desk stood as mountain of granite in the center of the room. The news director and assistant news director holed-up inside glassed offices at the back of the room.

Weaver just stood there and let me take it all in. “It’s like the Taj Mahal of newsrooms,” I finally sputtered.

“Nah, that’s in Baton Rouge, but it’s comfortable. It’s time to get you signed in, Ass Man has an assignment for you, and you still need to meet Icky.”

“Ass Man?”

“Assignment Manager, never met one who wasn’t an asshole. You would be to if you had to direct whining reporters and grumpy photogs all day.”

Weaver steered me to the back hallway and into the equipment room, where he opened the last locker and pulled out something big and orange. “This is Icky, the Ikegami 730. Nothing makes a prettier picture. And it’s a whole lot lighter than that TK you were driving.”

“It’s orange.”

“You’ll forget about the color when you get it on your shoulder.”

Weaver handed me Icky like it was made of gold. I threw it on my shoulder. He was right. Icky was light, well-balanced, and comfortable, almost like it belonged there.

“Now gear-up. The judge is waiting.” He tossed me a set of car keys. “Unit 7, it’s the Taurus sedan in the back lot. Oh, and you’ll need this.” Weaver pulled a silver cube the size of a matchbox off his belt.

“What is it?”

“It’s the latest thing in beepers, a voice pager. If the desk needs you, they call the number, leave a message, and it comes out of this little speaker. No need to fumble with buttons or fight to read a phone number while you drive. It just spits it out. It’s great.”

I put the beeper on my belt, loaded the Taurus and radioed the desk.

Hey new guy, the radio crackled back. Head to The Bentley Hotel, the Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court is speaking to the Louisiana Bar Association. Just shoot the speech; a producer will pick out the sound when you get back.

And I was on my way to my first real story.

to be continued