Our dirt bikes bring all the boys to the yard. Damn right, they're better than yours.

Friday, March 10, 2006

See where you are and get out

See where you are and get out. That's what Tim Hardin sang back in 1960, high on heroin. He died of an overdose soon after.
And that's the last song I heard before going in to My Daily Newspaper to get fired.
"Whoa," you say. "Fired? How could that be?"
Well, I think three of my closest friends summed it up best when they said, "I think you may have subconsciously sabotaged yourself."
I'd told them several times in the last year that I hated writing, and didn't want to do it any more. And I honestly didn't.
And perhaps it was subconscious. By the dictionary, it was! I wasn't conscious of the decision. It was the phonecall I got the next day that made it clear that I was going to get fired.

It all started a few months ago, when I got the name of a dead girl's mother entirely wrong, along with the name of another dead girl spelled wrong. That's in the archives. Check it out.
Then, this weekend, I had an adventure. Two adventures! Again, they involve dead children and dead men!
Three days into my second chance at full-time newspaper work, I make my first near-fatal
error.
So, there's a 12-year old girl dead. The uncle who found her dead lives out of town. I'm supposed to find the uncle, and, at very least, confirm the spelling of the dead girl's name. I knock on doors on a street lined with trailers. Nobody answers.
Finally, I get to clean, well kept trailer. A little boy and his older sister,maybe 12 or 13, are the only people home. I talk to the girl, standing in the doorway, outside. She tells me about her friend, the dead girl. I thank her, notice my tape recorder wasn't on most of the time, and ask her for the spelling of her friend's name. She tells me. Score.
Then, I get back to the office. My brain says: hey! I should have asked them for a picture of the dead girl. I begin to drive back out of town to ask them, because I didn't get a phone number. Halfway there, I get a call from my boss. The mother of the kids is livid that I came to her house and talked to her kids while she wasn't home. He tells me not to go to their house.
I know what I've been told to do, but a real super hero would go back, apologise, and get a photo out of the family. I make a conscious decision to ignore my boss.
The mom isn't there again. Her daughter says she's off to the tanning salon. This concerns me for a moment. So, since my plan to apologize is pooched, I ask the girl if she's got a photo of her friend.
Yes.
Can I have it?
Yes.
Can you e-mail it?
Yes.
Hooray! I'm a journalism champion. I leave before the mother gets back. I get another phone call from my boss on the cell phone once I'm back in the car. "Did you go back to the house?" Yes.
"Why?"
Because I wanted to apologise. Oh. She is very mad. You should call her. I do.
Hello, this is Newspaper Reporter with My Daily Newspaper.
"Hello." (silence?) "Did you talk to my children?"
Yes.
"Why did you talk to my children?"
I was trying to find out about this dead girl.
"They're going through a grieving process," she says angrily.
(Now--here's a note. If inviting boys over and drinking mom's booze is a "grieving process," then I guess I've grieved a lot more than most people. Except for the having boys over part.)
"Never come to my house again."
I'm very sorry. I didn't mean to cause any trouble. So I drive back, and my boss calls me into the office.
"Why did you go back there after I told you not to?"
Uhh, I was trying to fix things. I wanted to apologise, and then ask for a photo. "Well, we usually just ask when the parent would be home, and then wait outside in our car, and watch for them to come home."
That's less creepy than talking to children?
We discuss the different ways to be creepy. Hanging out at schools asking kids if they knew dead people. Hanging out in cars at peoples' homes at 9:00 p.m. Going into peoples' houses when they're not home to talk to their children. The discussion is long. I get bored.
Finally, we stop talking. I tell the copy editors the correct spelling of the name. The photo never comes in the e-mail. The mother must have railroaded my attempt.
But I'm not fired.
Saturday, I have nothing to write. They put me on the story of a local restauranteur who died of cancer. His was an old and venerable establishment. One reporter, who used to work for him, says "he was an asshole, and a creep to women." Great.
It's the day of the funeral. We're kicked out of the wake at the man's restaurant. I don't talk to the family, because they're not up to it. I call a distant cousin, and she's willing to talk. I call a man who's known him for 40 years.
Then I search the dead man's name in the archives. Ah. There's an area of Oceantown where most of black people live. It's called Uniacke Square. He called it "maniac square" and said that that's where they should be sending the mobile Salvation Army soup kitchen vehicle. It was a controvercial, almost racist thing to say at the time. I use the quote.
The next day, I get a call from one of the other reporters. "Are you sure it was the dead guy who said the "maniac square" comments?"
I say that I'm pretty sure.
"Well, Richard, who wrote the maniac square story in the first place, says it's not him that said it, but his brother."
Oh. Shit.
So, in the next 24 hours, they get around 20 phone calls from friends and relatives of the dead man, asking why I've decided to defecate on his grave by misquoting him with his idiot brother's comments.
The firing goes rather smoothly. My boss has been firing people for the last six months, for reasons far less concrete than misquoting dead people. It's almost pleasant. I get my tape recorder back, and some other stuff I left on my desk. What was said?
I basically said I hadn't had fun working there for a long time. With all the cutbacks, the place became an ugly place to work, and the last nail in the coffin for me was when they fired the writing coach, who was the only person in a year and a half who read my articles and gave me feedback on them. My boss said that was for big newspapers with big circulations. I said "that's stupid." I wanted to mention how our circulation had gone down by one theird since he'd started as managing editor, but I'm certain he knew.
Anyway, I'm there at 3:00, and gone by 3:20. Smooth, clean, and clear.
And I'm surprisingly level. For the first time in a year and a half, I'm not dreading the trip to work, and the long day of no feedback, no space to write, and deadlines that really don't work for me. I'm honestly as content as I've been in a long time. I go home, take a long nap, and hope that maybe this change will finally push me in some direction towards my desired career, whatever that might be.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a guy who's been fired on separate occasions for changing the radio station and then for more or less watching a family drive into a construction trench, it's not the worst thing that can happen.
Take the weekend, have some soup and think about it.
Collin
PS--I don't want to tip my hand, but I may have the ultimate pre-emptive revenge story in about a month and a half.

12:51 PM

 
Blogger DRZ said...

Neal, you're a champ. It's not writing you hate, but being a shackled ghoul for shithole dailies. Feel the force.

10:17 AM

 
Blogger enthrall said...

Damn, boy - if they'd pay you to write the way you write for bloggin', you'd be a happy guy.

And the world would thrill to your words!

C.

5:09 PM

 
Blogger Dave said...

Wish I could say that sucks, Neal, but it really does seem for the best. You gonna try to stay there or move away?

On the upside, at least you posted something on this neglected little blog. I assume by sick of writing you mean news writing, because your stuff here is entertaining, and you post way more than all these currently employed journalists -- even if some of the entries are inexplicable graphs, random photos and the odd cartoon. Ha.

I know Collin reads this, but I'm beginning to suspect Chris, Kristine, Heather and Mike may have been abducted into the editorial slave trade and are currently sharpening pencils for some North Korean wire service.

Let's just see how long it takes them to check in. Tick...tick...tick...

1:11 AM

 
Anonymous collin said...

Agreed!!!
As someone who's too lazy to actually become a member, I'm horrified.
I can have the long awaited Medicine Hat Scrabble Championship to you Wednesday-ish (with pix).
Keep the faith, Nealo.

3:17 AM

 
Blogger Chris! said...

Fuck you guys, I'm busy!

Oh, wait. I'm not at all. Post coming pronto, dinkwads.

1:57 AM

 
Blogger Kristine said...

Hi!!! I just finished my thesis, if that's any excuse. I'll post before May 1, I promise.

6:02 PM

 

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