Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Interview

Beep. “Bob, where are my scripts? Get the fucking scripts up to Studio A, now!” Beep.

The overhead intercom announced my arrival. It began screaming at the exact moment I stepped through the newsroom’s glass doors.

Beep. “You’re going to fuck me over in front of all of America, Bob. Bring me the scripts for the fucking “C” block.” Beep.

Young guys, about my age, ran past with scripts in one hand and cassettes in the other. They muttered to themselves about voiceovers and live shots, satellite feeds and when they could take their next cigarette break. Computers, television screens and maps of the Middle East crowded every work surface. Phones rang and rang and it sounded as if exactly two of them were answered. A quarter mile of madness stretched before me, one slender path cutting through its core. The racket was deafening. Swivel chairs and video carts obstructed the aisle; candy bar wrappers, empty soda cans and take-out containers littered the computer stations. Primary colored desktops and chairs lent the room an elementary air.

I had just sat down, crossed my ankles, when a tall, dark-haired woman approached me—it looked as if nothing could have parted her thin, maroon lips into a smile.

“Belle Lee?” she said in a flat, lifeless voice.

“Yes, ma’am, I’m Belle.”

“For God’s sake, don’t say ‘ma’am’ around me—I feel old enough as it is. Follow me into my office, it’s quieter in there. Oh, and my name is Cheryl Burke. I’m the Vice President of the newsroom, this whole mess you’re looking at.”

I decided right then and there that Cheryl never could have made it down South. It took five seconds and a limp handshake to determine her potential status below the Mason-Dixon. With her enormous shoulder pads and miniscule ass, she looked like a scrawny, 2nd string high-school football player masquerading as the starting quarterback. She was tense, charmless, overbearing. We stepped into her dry-walled makeshift office studded with plaques, certificates and crystal obelisks; the trophies tried very hard to justify her 6-figure salary.

“I understand you come from a news family,” Cheryl said with equal parts condescension and amusement. She held my resume at arm’s length, up to the light as if she were looking for stains (chewing tobacco spittle, barbecue sauce?). “Your grandfather’s paper is quite influential down there, down, uh…where is it again?” She sounded thoroughly bored.

“Alabama—Mobile to be precise,” I said, trying to maintain a smile.

“Right, right… So what brings you up here? What can the station do for you? Looks like you had a very comfortable place for yourself down there.”

“I want to be the anchor of the 6 o’clock news. I suppose you can’t do that working at a newspaper,” I said quickly, perhaps too quickly.

“Well, aren’t we ambitious?” Cheryl said, arching an over-penciled eyebrow. “Just a minute,” she said picking up the ringing telephone. “What now? Didn’t you hear what he said today in the quarterly? For fuck’s sake, Guy, no. It doesn’t matter if CNN is running it at the top of the hour. If drugs are involved we don’t run it.”

“I’ll step out,” I mouthed to Cheryl, pointing to a swivel chair out in the newsroom.

She cupped the receiver, “No, I’ll be off in minute. Stay where you are.” Completely unaware of my discomfort, Cheryl began screaming at Guy on the other end of the line. “Bush! Does the last name ‘Bush’ mean a God damned thing to you? I know that Noelle was arrested trying to buy prescription drugs. And so does the rest of America because the God damned liberals are wallpapering their broadcasts with her mug shot! Get another fucking lead story and call me back!” Slam.

“Now, the six o’clock news,” she began again, running a slender finger along her upper lip, wiping away the beginnings of a sweat mustache.

“That’s where I want to be in ten years,” I continued, trying to convince both myself and Cheryl that I was capable of pulling off this grand plan. “Quite frankly, Ms. Burke, the News Channel is setting the standard. I want to be part of a news organization that represents the majority of Americans. The Republican Party has a lock on the presidency, the House and the Senate for a reason—our country is fed up.” Cheryl leaned further and further over her desk, nodding in agreement as if I were a toddler about to utter my first precious word. It was almost too easy.

“And?” she asked, pressing for more, perhaps hoping that I would validate the headaches, ringing telephones, and cheap dry-walling that defined the newsroom.

“All I’m asking for is a chance—” I began, suddenly interrupted by the phone.

“What, Guy? Yeah, well, I’m sorry the anchor had a problem with our coverage. Tell her to go fuck herself and then come talk to me,” she said, nodding at the phone as if it were a person.

“Belle,” she said as she hung up the phone, switching back into interview mode, smoothing down her limp bob, “I like what I hear. You’re exactly the kind of person we need down here in the newsroom. Your background, your experience, your point of view—that’s what management and I look for. When can you start?”

It had all gone so quickly that I didn’t know what to say. She hadn't even checked my references. Of course, I would later learn that the News Channel never checked credentials--once again, too many man hours.


“Tomorrow it is. We’ll start you off working the night shift. Great place to gain experience, learn your way around the newsroom. Welcome to the News Channel. Now, get out of my office."

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