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.
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