Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Man in the Blue Pinstripe Suit

The newspaper I write for sponsored a debate between the two local mayoral candidates. I was on a panel of journalists that asked the candidates questions, grilling them like they were suspected terrorists at Guantanamo.
If journalists were allowed to waterboard political candidates, I suspect we’d get more honest answers to our questions.
Still, the chance to wear a suit and sit on a stage in public while over a hundred people scrutinize your every move makes for an entertaining evening.
The newspaper asked other news outlets if they wanted to participate and they said no, although one daily paper that bowed out sent a reporter to cover the debate.
The panel consisted of yours truly, the editor of our sister paper and a former Philadelphia Inquirer investigative reporter now weekend anchor at a local television news station. My editor and boss moderated the debate.
Debates are all about preparation. Since the event was being taped for television, I wanted to look my best. Just because you’re a journalist doesn’t mean you have to resemble a homeless vagrant in a burlap bag. My blue pinstripe suit sufficed as an adequate garment that depicted professionalism and told the world I was being paid far more than I actually am. I stuck a cloisonné American flag pin in my lapel, projecting patriotism for all of those old fogeys who thought all journalists were to the left of Trotsky.
When we arrived at the auditorium, I realized how under prepared we all were. Nobody thought to bring bottled water, and immediately my lips grew parched. My tongue felt like sandpaper. Here we were, minutes from the debate and I was dying of dehydration. Since the event occurred at a high school, I ran to the cafeteria as fast as my muscular, well-toned journalist legs could carry me. A vending machine that dispensed bottles of precious water was unfortunately broken. Disappointed and panicked, I returned to the auditorium, my parched throat closing.
The debate began with the two candidates shaking hands and delivering their opening statements. The journalists would each ask questions at the moderator’s direction. Both the editor from our sister paper and I had our questions prepared beforehand, while the television anchor was jotting down a few notes.
I was picked to ask the first question, and I would hit the candidate hard, like his head popped up from one of those Whack-A-Mole arcade games. He wouldn’t see it coming because the question was specifically tailored for him.
Unfortunately, I was called on at that moment to ask a question of the other candidate. Scrambling, I shuffled through my notes like a kid summoned in front of class to give a book report on a book he hadn’t read. I pinpointed another question and just blurted it out through my dry mouth.
When my mouth is dry, I tend to salivate. So when I delivered the question, the saliva, combined with exhaling produced bubbles. Through gurgling and slurring, I asked my question, like I had just crawled out of the Viper Room at 5 a.m. after a night of drinking Patron with Megan Fox and Scarlett Johansson.
After both candidates answered, it was the TV anchor’s turn. This guy was a consummate professional, very dignified and majestic in his delivery. Broadcast journalists train their speech and hone their pronunciation, and this guy was no exception. He spoke in a mellifluous tone that would make any NPR newsreader weep with pride. His sonorous voice punctuated the question perfectly and made you take notice. Though it was a sweetly lobbed softball, the audience seemed engaged, whereas my voice sounded like a bag of gravel scraping a concrete embankment.
Why do politicians dodge questions? It’s as if the complexities of the English language are so incomprehensible, that they actually mishear entire sentecnes.
The simple question: “How will you reduce taxes?” shouldn’t elicit a diatribe about your opponent’s business qualifications as an amusement park owner.
As the debate progressed, the questions grew tougher. There were few linguistic haymakers and no knockouts. I went for the jugular twice, asking each candidate about their connections in town and if this could be constituted as favoritism. Watching a candidate try to wriggle out of a question is like watching a kitten trying to escape from a rucksack: amusing yet oddly disturbing.
The average citizen does not want to see a civil, harmonious debate. They want a bloodletting akin to the Roman Colosseum. They want each candidate to quash each other with zingers, barbs and an arsenal of linguistic weaponry. It’s fierce combat between the titan and the weakling, the ultimate winner and loser.
Yet our debate didn’t pack the steel cage death match I had hoped to see: no chest thumping, wild accusations or gotcha moments. It was like these two somber guys were in our living rooms trying to sell us insurance. Where were the fireworks of the Kennedy/Nixon debate, or the Lincoln/Douglas debate? Locally, the candidate's responses were as dry as my arid mouth.
After the debate people came up to me and said I did a good job, that the debate was informative and educational. I felt a sense of accomplishment for weathering the hour and a half of scrutiny and acting like a professional journalist.
One plus following the debate: my editor took the reporters out for dinner and drinks.
Stella Artois worked its effervescent magic and dulled the pain of politics.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Occupational Hazard

Oscar Wilde once wrote, “The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one.”
Wilde may have been an ebullient 19th century foppish dandy with a wit sharper than the Hope Diamond and a cravat you could wind your pocket watch to, but he knew nothing about my line of work.
There are days when I feel like I’m on top of the world, when the words just tumble out and are arranged with superb skill befitting a master wordsmith. Other days…other days I feel like my brain has been replaced with a brick.
Working for a small town newspaper is like shoveling elephant shit at the circus, except in the circus you work with interesting people.
My quandary is that I can interview people and write the stories on deadline, but it just seems so futile. I write about the same issues over and over, endless column inches of ad nauseum descriptions, vapid quotations and information so monotonous that it would make a Chartered Accountant commit seppuku out of boredom.
Today an old guy called the assistant editor and asked if she was a reporter. She asked him what he was calling about and he said it was about the upcoming municipal election. She wanted to transfer him to me because I’m the political reporter.
“I don’t want to talk to him,” the old man said, and hung up.
It makes me feel so good about my job performance when a decrepit Abe Vigoda clone is sitting around some nursing home in Ensure-filled Depends cursing me out.
I got a similar call last week, when some curmudgeon left a message on my voicemail: “I was the guy who stormed out of your office. You just confirmed what I suspected. Have fun talking to your answering machine.”
First of all, Grandpa Munster: It’s not an answering machine. It’s voicemail. We’re in the 21st century now. Secondly, what the hell are you talking about? Why the cryptic riddles? If you want to talk to me, just tell me who you are and why you want my time. I’m a busy person.
Then there are the freaks who drop by the office and want to talk. They’re mostly harmless cranks, members of the tinfoil hat brigade who see conspiracies everywhere.
But every once in a while, the mental defectives are so memorable, that one must blog about them. There’s this old guy who was a former Philadelphia cop. He drones on and on about his run-ins with the wiseguys back in the 1950s. He tells me the time he dated a mob boss’s daughter and how crazy the drivers are here.
When he’s not regaling me of the past 80 years of American history, he’s talking about dog excretions.
Sometimes I wish I had an ejection seat or escape pod in my office that would jettison me to safety whenever one of these people shows up. An automated alarm system would trigger the klaxons, red whirling lights would flash, and a recorded warning would blare from the loudspeakers: “Danger! Unstable element has breached the outer wall! Evacuate! Evacuate! He might be extremely mind-numbingly boring! Evacuate!”
I’d dash to the escape pod, crawl in the protective webbing and blast off several miles away, preferably landing in front of the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts.
Aristotle said, “All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind.”
The Philosophy King was probably too busy playing “hide the souvlaki” with Greek boys behind the Acropolis to consider a job where you have to deal with crazy people who hate what you do.
You know what I say? Life’s too short to worry about people who don’t like you, who insult or mock your performance without understanding who you are and what you’re capable of.
Most of the fogeys here read their newspapers. It’s the only thing connecting them to the town and to their past. It’s a non-threatening low-tech vehicle for transmitting information slowly, something comforting in an age of binary and instant gratification.
As many major dailies are cutting back, subscriptions to local weeklies are up. People want the news in their communities. Newspapers are cherished, antiquated things.
So when Wilford Brimley calls up and bitches me out, when he says things like, “reporters just twist stories the way they want” (I like that one. ‘cause you know, we all want to get sued for libel.) I really pity him.
I’d gladly swap places with any of them. They can write eight to ten stories a week while I shout at traffic and yell at the girl cashier at the CVS for wearing too much makeup.
Like a harlot, that girl is!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Another Russian Chick Wants Me

A while back, I posted how a Russian woman/spambot contacted me through the phishing site Quechup. As if my life wasn't already shitty enough, another woman from the former Soviet Union decided she wanted to meet me. Since American women ignore me like the plague, and I'm about as popular with women as a serial rapist that spits some kind of corrosive acid from giant, insect-like mandibles, I didn't know why this Russian chick wanted to contact me.
It's probably a dude from the Ukraine who collects the credit card numbers of dupes that think they're chatting with this attractive Ruskie.
Here's what the e-mail/spam I received read:

Hello, stranger!
How are you? I saw your profile on site quechup_com and I got interested.
If you are interested in me too write to me on my e-mail.
And I will surely answer to you. I send you one of my photos.
My name is Ekaterina, I am 27, I live in Russia, in the city of Omsk.
I have a job. I am intellectual, sociable and gay girl.
I want to find a generous and caring man, to whom I will give
all my caress and will take care of him. I hope you are the one
that I was looking for for so long.
Write to me and tell me more about you!
Take care. Ekaterina.

I don't know where to begin. First, the e-mail Ekaterina sent has a extension, meaning it was from the United Kingdom and not from Russia.
Let's deconstruct this line by line:

My name is Ekaterina, I am 27, I live in Russia, in the city of Omsk.

Omsk in in southern Siberia, about 1,700 miles from Moscow. There's nothing in Siberia except prison camps. This scares me.

I have a job. I am intellectual, sociable and gay girl.

I appreciate a working woman. Employment is necessary, especially in Third World countries like Russia. I also like that she's intellectual and sociable. I can't find an American woman who is intellectual. I can find many American women who drink in bars and remove their tops and scream "Wooooo!!!!" but not one that admits she's "intellectual." As far as being a "gay girl," even though I like lesbians, I don't think I would date one. Maybe you should hit on another lesbian and go to a t.A.T.u. concert or something. I don't think there's a Russian equivalent of Lilith Fair.

I want to find a generous and caring man, to whom I will give all my caress and will take care of him.

I am generous and caring, but inviting to "give all my caress" to me is kinda freaky. I mean, I don't even know you. I like taking things slow. And the part about taking care of me? You want to move in already? Cool your jets, sister! Couldn't we at least have dinner first?

I hope you are the one that I was looking for for so long.

Let me see: You're a 27-year old, beautiful blonde Russian woman who uses an Internet social site to meet men and you're hoping a 40-year old writer from New Jersey is the one man who'll take you away from your snow-swept gulag?
You, madam, are a dreamer. You're in complete denial if you think I'm going to rut with some borsch-slinging hussy only interested in scamming men online under the false pretenses of carnal bliss.
I don't believe that any woman in this universe or even in some alternate universe would want to contact me. I see through your shamble of a ruse and call you on it. If you're really who you say you are and you want to get to know me, you will send nude photos of yourself. Since you did not, I can only assume that you are the product of some con artist's fanciful imagination, and the e-mail an elaborate trick designed to part me from my hard-earned gold sovereigns that I keep well-secluded in a velvet moneypurse locked in a bank vault and guarded by a bloodthirsty hellhound.
Fare thee well, Ekaterina! Your vixen ways shall not tempt me to the Almshouse.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pet Peeves

With the Internet used as a personal springboard for emoting and bitching, I thought it would be helpful and informative to list what pisses me off.
The reason for doing this is twofold. First, by listing my pet peeves, I get to vent to the invisible multitudes about what I find truly irritating, and two, by posting this I can warn people in advance about the things that will force me to rip your eyes out and use them as squishy castanets.

My pet peeves:
People who say “think outside the box,” “it’s all good,” or “win-win situation.”
People who talk on their cellphones in a loud volume as to purposefully attract attention.
College girls who let loose ear-shattering drunken screams like “Woooooooo!!!!!”
Longwinded people who keep droning on and on without a specific point.
Fat people who complain how they’re discriminated against for being fat and shove another corndog in their cavernous maws.
People who claim to follow Jesus and then act in the most un-Christian ways.
People who turn their car stereos really loud so you can hear the pulsating bass thumping five blocks away.
Women when they break up with you say, “It’s not you, it’s me…”
Aggressive salespeople who want to sell you something.
Couples who make out and dry hump each other in public.
People who dress their pets in little outfits.
Religious extremists who kill in the name of God.
People who think the world should follow their particular political, religious or social views.
People who think you’re queer because you don’t eat spicy, tongue-burning foods.
Pretentious people.
Tradesmen who intentionally rip you off.
People who display American flags on their lapels, clothing, cars and homes and then criticize you for being unpatriotic.
People who say “the children are our future.” What are our senior citizens, our past?
People bereft of a sense of humor.
People who believe anything Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann or any mainstream media commentator says.
Writers who think they’re God’s gift to literature because they’re published.
Racists or jingoists who believe their own racial or ethnic group is the right one.
People who follow political movements like unquestioning sheep.
Women who complain about men and then lament why they’re single.
Men who try to fuck every woman they see.
Teenagers who show no respect for their elders, namely me.
Women with freakishly long fingernails and puffy collagen-injected lips.
People who beat their kids and husbands who beat their wives.
Preachy vegans who lecture me on why eating meat is wrong.
People who smoke.
Wealthy celebrities or politicians who feel they’re above the law because they have money or connections.
Stupid people.
Women who are as frigid as the Antarctic in bed.
Gun owners with more firearms than most nations whining about their Second Amendment rights being infringed.
Rev. Al Sharpton.
Ann Coulter.
Reality shows featuring whiny twentysomethings.
People who drive like they’re strung out on heroin.
People strung out on heroin.
People with a lot of tattoos.
People who work in public relations.
Parents who push their children into activities the kids don’t enjoy.
People who don’t listen.
People who lack imagination.
People who read blog entries and don’t post comments.