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

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


“You’re the naked cameraman from TV!” She screeched with sudden recognition, and shrank behind a rack of novelty bumper stickers, then peeked out. “Did I really say that out loud?”

“Yes, I am, and you did.” I punched the price of her cold drink and newspaper into the cash register. “One twenty-seven.”

Her eyes shifted nervously from the bumper stickers to my belt buckle to the front page photo. There I was, in all my black and white glory, hands raised like a suspect at gunpoint, but it was a fireman’s hose holding me at bay. Water droplets glistened in the tight curls of my frizzy mullet. No shirt, no pants, and a scrap of sheet stretched in front of the good parts. Emergency lights behind me created a halo-effect around my torso and projected a shadow of my twig and berries on the small sheet. A strategically placed black bar made the picture fit to print in a family publication.

She handed me two dollars and strained at a shy grin. “Must have been pretty cold.”

I nodded.

It had been that way since I’d arrived at work that morning. Just forty-five minutes into my shift and I was ready to crawl under a rock. I could handle the men; a bawdy comment about shrinkage was usually enough. But how do you answer a grandmother or co-ed?

“Yeah,” was all I could muster. I dropped seventy three cents into her hand.

“It must be fascinating being a cameraman. Running to wrecks and murders and meeting all those interesting people.” Gold flecks sparkled in her big brown eyes.
She was trying to flirt, but I just wanted her to leave. “I wouldn’t know. KELC fired me. And they had never actually hired me in the first place.”

“That sucks.” She wrinkled her nose.

“Nobody else would even answer the radio. I lugged all that gear three blocks, to get shots of that damned overturned tanker. Then, that bastard Weaver from the competition shows up, grinning like a possum eating shit and shoots my little striptease.”

“Sorry I brought it up.”

“Nah, I’m sorry. You didn’t come in here to listen to a minimum-wage cashier bitch and moan. It’s just that bastard Weaver took my gear when they packed me in the ambulance. Then, he uses my shots in his story. That son-of-a-bitch.”

“I thought he was a bastard.” She joked putting the change into her purse.

“He’s both. I wouldn’t piss on his guts if they were on fire. I’m sorry. Bitching again.”

“That’s okay. It sounds like you got hosed . . . Sorry, bad pun.” Her lips hitched between a wince and a smile.

“Yeah, really bad.” I shook my head and tried to disguise a smile. “But look, it’s my first smile of the day. Thanks.”

“If you need some cheering up, there’s a big party tonight.”

“I think I’ll stew in my own juices for a while.”

“If you change your mind, it’s at The Cotton Gin. You should come – it’s dark in there. Nobody will recognize you.” She dropped the change in her purse and bounced out of the store.

The slap of another newspaper on my counter dragged my attention back from the door.
“Good thing I’m not on fire.” Jim Weaver laughed from the other side of my counter. “You got balls.” He set his cold drink counter. “Not that I could see ‘em.”

I had met Weaver once before he made my privates public. He was a round man with round eyes, an uneven mustache, and bristly gray hair half way around head. His right shoulder sagged a little lower than his left, and his left eye squeezed into a permanent half-wink from years peering through the lens of a television camera.

“Really, I looked at your video last night.”

“Looked at it? It was all over your story.”

“You expected me to just hand it over to KELC? You needed a tripod, but it was good for a rookie. You’ve got a good eye – too good to be ringing-up newspapers in a shop-n-rob. You might make it in this business.”

“Tell that to Cranch. He fired me for the ‘over exposure.’”

“Yeah, I feel pretty bad about that, but I couldn’t not shoot it.” Weaver dug his hands in his pocket and shifted from one foot to the other. “Hell, you even shot it yourself. Or tried to.”

I had almost forgotten that I had rolled tape too.

“The focus was soft, and it was a little dark, but I used it in the story for the morning show, just to piss off Cranch.” Weaver grinned slyly. “Like I said, you got balls, kid.”

I wanted to jump across the counter and beat the crap out of him, but it was hard not to like Weaver.

“How’d you like to rub his face in it?”

“What do you mean?”

“One of my guys walked off the job two weeks ago. The News Director wants me to hire some hot-shot college grad who thinks he’s Edward R. Murrow and Cecil B. DeMille all rolled into one. I want you.”


“I’ve been doing this long enough to know that hiring a photog is like looking to score at The Cotton Gin – eager beats pretty, every time." He laughed at his own joke. “Anybody can point a lens and hit record. But you’ve got an eye, and what you did to get those shots – taking your own car, hiking in with all that gear, sneaking out of the command post – that tells me you’ve got the fire that makes a good photog.”

“How do you know about all of that?”

“I’d tell you, but I’d have to kill you. You want the job or not?”

“When do I start?” I practically jumped over the counter, this time to hug him.

“Don’t be too eager. We ain’t talked money.”

“Look around. It would be illegal to pay me less than I get here.”

Weaver laughed again and shook my hand. “When do you get off?”

“I can be off now.”

He shook his head. “No, no. Come see me tomorrow.” Weaver headed for the door.

“Eager, I like that,” he called over his shoulder as the door closed behind him.