Monday, February 6, 2006

Manhattan Media Whirl

In case you've forgotten where it all began...

Before there was Chef, Yankee friends that actually liked me, news articles written about me, I had my singular dream of the newsroom--my shot at the big time. The Manhattan media whirl beckoned like the tinkling of a a carousel's tune and I was enraptured by its sweet melody...

My producer, Guy, was juiced, sweating through his “Moody Blues, Tour of 89’ t-shirt and furiously drumming his fingers on the desktop.

“Belle, what am I going to do?” he whined. “You know this place busts my balls.”

“Ask to be transferred to dayside, like Susan.” Hell, I don’t know—if I had a good enough plan, I’d use it, I mused to myself. I tried to focus on the computer screen and the breaking news updates but I was worried—the sweating, and the dilated pupils, scared me. Two hours into the overnight shift and he had already made five trips to the bathroom.

Guy shoved his hands into his pockets. I knew that the right side was where he kept it. He would finger the small, Ziploc bag in his trouser pocket and then take it out, play with it when he thought no one was looking. It’s as if he were a five year-old boy that had just discovered something hanging between his legs; he touched it just enough to reassure him, make him feel good. For a split second he’d be calm and his eyes would roll back in his head.

“It’d be fuckin’ fantastic if Arafat died before daylight,” he blurted out.

“And then what? You’d get a raise based on the Nielsens’?” I asked, cocking an eyebrow.


I considered what was now the obvious: working the overnight shift at a 24-hour news station means that you are new, incompetent or crazy. It doesn’t matter if you are the anchor or tech support, lower management has scheduled you to work the between the hours of 1a.m. and 11a.m. because upper management thinks you’re worthless, or at least unproven.

“What about the networks?” I offered. “Why don’t you leave your set up here and go to one of the big three? Better hours, better pay…”

“Three marriages in nine years,” he cried.

I stopped typing.

“Did you hear me? I’m averaging a wife every three years. And, I’m supposed to be on top of my game? Give a shit about producing 90-second news cut-ins?” His enlarged pupils looked at me incredulously.

We all knew that the bitch of a vice president couldn’t stand him but, he was staff. Staff (as opposed to freelancers) were never fired—too much paperwork and too many man hours for the fat cats on “17” to prove him incompetent. He was doomed to a career of graveyard shifts, distant time zone news, collapsed nasal passages. I stared at him and imagined his body slowly adapting to the lack of sunshine and rest, thriving in the dank newsroom air. Soon, he would resemble a blind sewer rat, a thin flap of skin covering his small, red eyes.

I sat back in my swivel chair, rocking, back and forth, back and forth. We looked at each other and then I shifted my gaze to the Ziploc bag next to his computer. A single wrinkle cut into the otherwise taut plastic surface.

“What? What?” he said, grabbing my shoulders. “We’ve got shit for coffee in the Green Room. You think that’s the same shit they feed Henry Kissinger and Dick Morris when they come to flack for Bush? Fuck no.” Guy stood up and began pacing between a row of deserted workstations and the War Room. A string of clocks hung on the far wall: London, Paris, Moscow, Baghdad, Kabul, Beijing…

“We’re so proud of you workin’ up at that station in New York City—you’re at the center of the thinkin,’ conservative world,” Mamma had said at the end of our phone conversation. I liked the way she pronounced “New York”—all vowels and minted iced tea. Her accent imparted an exoticism on the city that otherwise belonged to those distant time zones on the wall.

“I just can’t imagine the wonderous things you see…”


G. dropped the bag of cocaine onto my keyboard. It sat upright, looming large on the keys. Letters danced across the screen ruining my 3:30am script.

“This might do you some good,” he said, smirking. “You gotta wake up, my little Dixie Dorothy, you’re not in Mobile anymore.”

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