It’s almost impossible, even now, for me to keep my eyes open when I say it. I see her on my eyelids and I wish I was blind. My breath becomes labored. I shudder slightly, and when I open my eyes, she is gone.
I think about her every day. At meetings. When I’m pouring over spread sheets. At the golf course. When I make love to my wife.
Anabel is five feet tall and can’t weigh more than 100 pounds soaking wet. She ties her curlybrown hair into a haphazard pony tail. Sometimes she keeps it up and in place with a chopstick. She is so serious, but she betrays a playful side when she does her hair that way.
The light creases on her forehead conspire with those lovely eyebrows that dance over her hazel eyes. Such an expressive face. The cute nose, just a little off center. Full lips that always curl up on the right like she is failing to keep some private joke to herself. Her skin is just dark enough to make her ethnicity ambiguous. I love her.
Anabel, you keep your slender body hidden from all of us under ill-fitting, dark clothes. I can’ttake my eyes off that drab green ruck sack of notepads and pens and whatever else the assistant news editor at the school paper might need. I want to see inside.
Every weekday, you sit under the trees by the duck pond and read before disappearing into the building where the student journalists work. I watch you through the windows, serious but enjoying yourself. You always make your coworkers laugh. You’re a funny girl. I want you.
I major in business administration and play football, tight end, second string. You never write about sports. I never read the paper except for sports and the stocks, which aren’t in the school paper.
You covered the scandal. We lost seven good players. You nosy reporters ruined the entire season. I contemplated murder.But not you, Anabel. You are an innocent. Your intentions are pure. I forgive you for making my team mates, my friends and my brothers look like monsters.
What I can’t forgive you for, Anabel, is saying no to me when I asked you out. You smiled nervously and said something about it being “unethical.” You showed me your cruel side. I shouldn’t have screamed. You stepped back and out of my life.
I never forgot you, Anabel. The pain has never subsided. I feel nothing else save for the rush that accompanies a profit. I am empty.
When I went into private equity, I convinced investors to buy up a chain of newspapers. And I’m going to destroy them, Anabel. One by one. Maybe one day I’ll get to yours. I’m going to sell off all the assets and fire all the reporters. Then all the reporters I saw through the window, the ones laughing at your jokes, will know my pain. Everyone will know my pain.
Ever since I was 5-years-old, people have drawn the connection between my name and the fuzzy animal who lives in the woods. My father and brother always bought bear-themed items for the home, and my brother has a Native American-style bear claw tattoo.
Aside from a t-shirt with numerous photos of bears wearing crowns, gold chains and grills, I’ve never much bought into the bear merchandise. It’s just a last name. Sometimes I do get compared to a bear, because I’m moody and I’m not a huge fan of the winter.
It’s spring time in Colorado, so the bears are waking up and coming down into town. I came into the office on Friday and had barely sat down when someone called out “Bear up at Chautauqua!”
Suddenly, all my coworkers began to chant “Bear! Bear! Bear!” And “You’re a bear! You should go look for the bear, Bear!”
“We need the first bear of the year photo,” my editor said. “Why don’t you go scout it out.”
“I’ll go,” I said. It was nice outside, and any excuse to not be inside this nondescript office building is a good excuse.
“Take a selfie with a bear.”
“I think that is generally frowned upon, like a good way to get eaten.”
“Try not to get eaten by a bear,” a second editor said.
“Maybe it’s not a bear,” I said. “Maybe it’s a mountain lion.”
“Try not to get eaten by one of those either,” he added.
I set out in Friday afternoon traffic, never relaxing, and started to yell at my phone when I read an email from a spokeswoman asking me to pay for a ticket to an event.
“Calm down, John,” I told myself. It was too early in an eight hour shift to be so pissed off already. And stop looking at emails while you are driving. That’s an excellent way to end up saying “Your honor, I’d like to apologize to the family of the man I ran over.”
A car had broken down on Baseline, so I pulled around it and yelled “nice job” to no one in particular. About five minutes later, I had navigated the one lane each way road and made it to Chautauqua National Monument. There was even a parking spot for me! My luck was changing.
For the middle of a weekday, the place was packed with hikers and joggers coming up and down the mountain. Some had dogs and others were in various states of undress. As someone who grew up under the blazing New Mexico sun, I’ve always stuck to the rule of staying out it between noon and four pm. People in Colorado, many of whom I suspect are from hazier places, don’t seem to abide by this custom. They will likely look like lobsters tomorrow when they realize the extent of their sun burns, I thought.
I saw plenty of dogs, but no bears.
After scanning the horizon and snapping a quick photo of the Flatirons for no particular reason, I walked into the ranger office. I’d never set foot in there before, and when I stepped inside, a stuffed great horned owl looked back at me. Next to the owl sat a large golden eagle, and on the counter was a small hawk, also dead, inside a glass case.
The ranger was speaking to three women who appeared to be from another country as their English was broken, but I was not sure what country as one woman was obviously Latina and the other two were Asian. They were chatty, and I hoped they wouldn’t take forever.
The ranger, an affable looking fellow of about 60, finally looked my way.
“Yes sir,” he said, a friendly smile that only park rangers can muster.
“Hi, I’m John Bear,” I began, realizing that I was wearing a shirt with bears on it. “I’m a reporter with the Daily Camera. Did you have a bear up here?”
“Yes, we did but he took off as soon as he saw us.”
“Ah rats. We wanted to get a photo of him, the first bear of the year and all.”
“Oh we’ve been seeing a lot of bears,” he said. “They’ve been coming down.”
“Ah, well that’s cool. We like to get photos of them.”
“You’d need a really long lens.”
“Oh, we have those.”
“It was a really cute bear.”
“Yeah, a cute young bear.”
“We maybe next time.”
He nodded, and, oddly enough, clenched his fist and extended it over the counter. I clenched my fist and gave him a pound.
“Have a nice day, man. Thanks for the help.”
“No problem, sir.”
I walked outside and started toward my truck. It was about 75 degrees and lovely outside. The thought of going back to the office made my stomach sink. I meandered over to a tree with a clutch of large rocks scattered beneath and sat down on one of them.
A sudden rush of calmness settled over me. I hadn’t been so relaxed in weeks. Even if it was only a for a few minutes, I decided to stay where I was. I had a pack of notebooks in my back pocket, but I momentarily forgot about them, pulled out my phone and started writing haiku on Twitter.
The International Brotherhood of Narcotraffickers on Wednesday condemned New York-based private equity firm The Carrion Group for what the consortium of drug dealers, smugglers and manufacturers says is greedy and unethical behavior by the investment organization that owns dozens of media outlets across the United States.
“While we are used to a making a healthy profit margin — really sometimes as high as 15 percent — we try to take care of those in our employ,” said a masked man who would identify himself only as “Snake.”
“Here’s the deal: You can’t have a successful, long-term business if you lay off two-thirds of your employees and overwork the others until they hang up their triple-beam scales and automatic weapons, as it were,” Snake said. “It’s not rocket science.”
Snake added that he is troubled by what appears to be a lack of long-term goals or any interest in the news business by Carrion.
“I don’t get not wanting a company to succeed in the long term,” he said. “I mean, I’m not handing out drug rehab literature with every half gram. It’s just silly, really.”
Leaked documents from Carrion, a secretive hedge fund, show that the company has been making 20 percent profits while stripping media outlets of staff and infrastructure since it bought the controlling shares of Cutting Edge Media in 2011.
Carrion did not respond to repeated phone calls, emails, smoke signals and telepathic messages seeking comment.
“Why would you want to buy a company just to ruin it?” John “El Cortador” Johnson, a former Central Intelligence Agency deep-cover operative and current spiritual leader of the notorious Puño Negro Cartel, said in a phone interview Wednesday.
“I have always, historically at least, worked in cocaine,” Johnson said. “It’s very profitable. But I realized that methamphetamine is the drug of the future. It’s entirely synthetic, which cuts down on international trafficking. I only have to get it over one border.”
Johnson added that he invested several million dollars in setting up three “super labs” in the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and he has seen improved profits and a product that he calls “state-of-the-art shit.”
“You can’t really call a company ‘Cutting Edge’ if you aren’t investing in cutting-edge technology,” he said. “It just doesn’t work that way. You have to spend money to make money. To do otherwise does a disservice to customers as well as your employees.”
Chad Todderson, who describes himself as an “upper echelon” member of an American-based opioid sales team, said he formerly worked at a private equity fund but resigned because “you just can’t trust those people.”
“I saw the story about Carrion’s profits, and I must say, I was disgusted,” Todderson said. “That’s why I moved on to narcotics trafficking. It’s just a better way to make a living and way more ethical than investments. I have to be able to look at myself in the mirror every day.”
Point Barrow, Alaska — A polar bear lashed out at the media during a press conference on Tuesday that was called to address the tape recording that surfaced last week of the animal bragging about his prowess as a seal eater to an arctic fox ahead of a broadcast of Arctic Fox and Friends.
No one was at all surprised to discover that a polar bear eats seals, and interest in the story grew solely because the bear has so vehemently denied that he eats seals.
“Really, it’s just kind of weird that a bear would lie about something this obvious,” said a walrus that asked not to be identified.
The press conference featured a contentious exchange between the bear and a snowy owl who is a reporter with the the Daily Arctic Observer. The bear accused the owl of being a member of a “cabal of elite liberal media owls obsessed with making me look bad.”
A partial transcript of the exchange has been reprinted here.
“Mr. Bear, can you address why you are denying that you eat seals, even though everyone knows bears eat seals, and no one has a problem with bears eating seals?”
“I don’t eat seals.”
“Mr. Bear, you are clearly heard in the tape recording saying that you do in fact eat seals. You at one point say quote ‘I am the greatest seal eater in the history of the arctic circle. No one eats more seals than I do.’ End quote. Is it not usual for a polar bear to eat seals? Why the steadfast denial?”
“This is obviously more liberal arctic media fake news. I have never eaten seals. And if I did, I would always get permission. I wouldn’t just go gobbling up seals without their consent. And I don’t eat seals.”
“Sir, I …”
“I’m done talking to you. You aren’t a real reporter. In fact, you look like a snowy owl to me.”
“Uh, I am a snowy owl. I think maybe you are taking this the wrong way, Mr. Bear, but isn’t it normal for polar bears to eat seals? We still aren’t sure why you are denying you eat seals.”
“I don’t eat seals. And I’m not a polar bear.”
“Uh, sir, clearly you are a polar bear.”
“No, I’m not. You’re a polar bear.”
“No, I’m a snowy owl. You are a polar bear.”
“That’s just like a liberal media owl. You insinuate that just because I weigh 1,500 pounds, am covered in white fur and eat seals that …”
“So you admit that you eat seals.”
“Damn it. That’s not what I meant. You tricked me into saying that. You dirty polar bear.”
“Again, sir. I’m a snowy owl. You are a polar bear.”
[The polar bear produces a seal from behind the podium and begins eating it.]
“Mr. Bear, you are eating a seal right now.”
“I’m not a polar bear. I’m a seal.”
“This press conference is over.”
A polarbear who last year denied he was a polarbear has again lashed out against the media following the publication of a book “Fire and Furry” that raises questions regarding the polarbear’s mental stability.
The author, an arctic fox, defended himself against allegations by the polarbear that the book is a “work of fiction,” particularly a segment that detailed a contentious exchange between the bear and a reporter with the Daily Arctic Observer during which he denied he was a polarbear.
“TPress conference never happened,” the polarbear wrote on his Twitter account @ImNotAPolarBear. “It’s another attempt by the liberal snowy owl media to paint me as a polarbear, which I’m not and have never been. Losers! … Lots of people are saying I’m not a polarbear. Even more are saying I’m a very furry genius!!”
The bear sent out a second tweet with no explanation that said “Any allegations by dumbass reindeers are untrue! #MakeItRein!!!”
The press conference was recorded and widely reported, but that has not stopped the bear’s press team from denying that the press conference happened. On Tuesday, the bear’s press secretary, a snowshoe hare, attacked the arctic fox and appeared to double down on the assertion that polarbear is not a polarbear.
A portion of the press conference is reprinted here:
“I mean it’s just obvious that there is an inherent bias in the liberal arctic press, and no one can deny that. Also, the polarbear denies any of the allegations made in this piece of trash book, particularly that he is, in fact, a polarbear,” the hare said. “I’ll take some questions now, although I’m sure they will be awful.”
“Snowy Owl, Daily Arctic Observer,” a snowy owl began.
“Oh no, not you. Next reporter.”
“Uh, I am a member of the working arctic press, and I’m credentialed to be in the polar press pool, I have a question, Ms. Hare —“
“Yeah, I’m not a snowshoe hare, and I don’t know how you got that idea.”
“Oh my, are we going to do this again?”
“Doing what again?”
“Ma’am, last year Mr. Bear denied he was a polarbear for reasons that are still terribly unclear, and now you are denying that you are a snowshoe hare, when it is abundantly clear that you are, in fact, a snowshoe hare. What is the long game in taking this tack?”
“You’re a snowshoe hare.”
The snowy owl threw up its wings in exasperation. The hare snickered. All of a sudden, the polarbear emerged from the door in the back of the room. He appeared to be dressed in a penguin suit.
“Rar, I’m a penguin,” he announced to the room.
“Sir, has it occurred to you that it’s not helping your case that you are mentally stable when you deny you are a polarbear and are dressed as a penguin,” the snowy owl asked, mostly rhetorically.
“You’re a polarbear!”
“Sir, there are no penguins in the arctic.”
“Fake news!” The bear and hare yelled in unison.
A polar bear who has repeatedly denied that he is a polar bear has lashed out against a stand up comedian who, during the Arctic Circle Press Correspondents Dinner on Saturday, took multiple shots at the bear’s claims.
The bear announced on his twitter account @ImNotAPolarBear that the comedian, a wolf, had crossed the line when she joked during her monologue that the bear is, in fact, a bear.
“I’ve said multiple times that I’M NOT A POLAR BEAR but #FakeArcticNews continues to lie. Also, wolf not funny, total hack!!!! Worst correspondents monologue ever,” the bear said.
The bear has on multiple occasions denied it is a polar bear, even though it is off white, weighs 1,500 pounds, has lots of sharp teeth and claws and has been photographed on multiple occasions in the company of other polar bears. When reached for comment on Wednesday, the bear said “Fake News. I’m not a Polar Bear. You’re a Polar Bear.”
The wolf also joked about the bear’s press secretary, a snowshoe hare, and a majority of the jokes involved snowshoe hares not actually wearing snowshoes. While the correspondents dinner has generated controversy in the past — the Alaskan malamute monologue is a notable example — some members of the arctic media say the wolf’s comments went too far.
“Really, we are all here to celebrate the First Amendment and joke about the sometimes contentious relationship between the arctic press and the polar bear,” said a snowy owl reporter who has been in several past heated exchanges with the bear.
“This really goes beyond the pale,” the owl said. “It’s never OK to make fun of a snowshoe hare not having any snowshoes, even if it’s true.”
Numerous journalists were quick to criticize the snowy owl’s comments, among them a fat, facetious black bear from Colorado who appears to have gotten lost and ended up in the arctic.
“It’s ironic that a journalist, in this case a snowy owl, would stand up for an snowshoe hare who has gone out of the way to lie to the public and constantly attack the Arctic Press,” the black bear said. “I mean, come on, the polar bear is a polar bear. It’s so obvious. Why is this even up for debate?”
During a campaign speech inside an igloo that coincided with the correspondents’ dinner, the polar bear lashed out at the arctic media and made numerous unsubstantiated and false claims, mostly about seals.
The bear spent nearly three hours saying one sentence that never appeared to end and was mostly about how he is not a polar bear.
“Let me tell you, the fake Arctic news, they love, and their are a lot of them here,” the bear said, pointing at the rear of the igloo. “They will love to tell you, and there are a lot of them, believe me. They will tell you I’m a Polar Bear, but it’s just not true. I’m not a Polar Bear. You’re a Polar Bear.”
I reported on a murder trial that seemed open and shut when I walked in one Monday morning for jury selection. A Norman, Okla. man stood accused of killing his brother. He said it was suicide.
He was obviously guilty. The brother had taken a single shot from a .50 Caliber Desert Eagle, a more than foot-long hand cannon designed by the Israelis. The shot was in the back of the head, and police found the suspect standing on the front porch smoking a cigarette and having a drink. (That seemed cold to me, but if your brother’s head had just become a Jackson Pollock painting on the ceiling, what would you do?)
The trial was scheduled to last all week, but I didn’t see why.
And then I witnessed the power of a team of defense attorneys. They argued that the dead man was distraught, a lifelong drug addict and alcoholic whose parents had both died within the past year. He allegedly had given his girlfriend the dose of drugs that killed her, and he had recently fallen off the wagon. Suicide was the logical next step for this man.
I wrote feverishly over the next week, working 14-hour days, getting both sides of the story.
The prosecution called an expert witness from the state police and a local detective. They swore that blood stains proved the defendant was guilty.
The defense then worked its magic. A good defense lawyer bombards a witness with questions to make him stumble and appear less than credible. This worked well on the local cop, who appeared to be unaware of multiple important details. The state investigator was exposed as a “partisan advocate,” my favorite quotation ever.
It was beginning to appear that the police had thought this man so guilty they did a half-assed job investigating.
Then the defense produced its own expert, a man who investigated shootings in Haditha, Iraq. He said the blood stains looked like suicide. A psychologist testified that the dead man exhibited nearly two dozen suicide warnings. It came out that another brother had killed himself in the same manner, a gunshot to the back of the head. The accused’s family, among them a retired police captain, testified as character witnesses.
The prosecution countered with this stellar argument: Just because the victim was likely to commit suicide doesn’t mean he did.
It was beginning to look like the guy was innocent.
The jury took about three hours, including lunch, to return with a “not guilty.” When I spoke to the defendant after the verdict had been read and the judge released him, he said, “Three years of hell over in less than three hours.”
I loved covering a good murder trial and absolutely adored rifling through police reports looking for the moon-walking drunk driver or the man stealing panties from K-Mart. It was my bread and butter.
I learned something that day. Things aren’t always as they appear. That guy, clearly guilty a week before, now pranced out of the courtroom.
When I look back, this is the day I first ran afoul of the metro police (but not, interestingly enough, the prosecutor who lost the case). I covered both sides of the trial. This had largely not been done in the past. The television station was especially notorious for presenting stories that made the defendant look guilty and the police look like heroes, guardians of the community. Upholders of the law. Whatever.
I approached this trial as objectively as possible. Now, I don’t have no fancy journalism degree, but I remembered that on the first day at my college paper they said to be objective and not to take sides. I’m of the mindset that if people want a nice little positive story about themselves, they should buy an advertisement.
I made some enemies that day.
The Beginning of the End
Never move to a state that has its own ethnic slur named after it.
I did, and it nearly drove me insane. I worked the police beat at a small city daily newspaper in Oklahoma, the most conservative state in America.
After college and a brief stint in Alamogordo, I left the mountains and clear blue skies of New Mexico for the rolling plains of southwest Oklahoma, beautiful in their own right.
But eventually, like the Joads before me, I would leave Oklahoma, though there would be no Dust Bowl, no bank repossession of the homestead, no desperate search for employment. (Actually, scratch that last one.)
My Great Depression was not caused by a stock market crash; it was caused by living in Oklahoma.
I was a lefty cop reporter, a blue reporter in a red state. A bad combination.
I lived where driving a Toyota Yaris is a political statement, where people call Barack Obama a “Muslim” but don’t actually mean he’s an adherent to Islam. Where Mexican food comes with Texas chili slathered on top. What can I say about “Texas chili”? Another name for it is “brown sauce.” I’m not kidding.
Not that there’s anything wrong with bad gas mileage, thinly veiled racism and Mexican food that would get a person stabbed if he tried to sell it in Albuquerque. Not at all. If that’s your thing, more power to you.
I worked the police beat, the hardest, most thankless job in the history of journalism. I have occasionally met police officers who respected what I did as a police reporter, but not often.
I embarked on what I called “John Bear’s Backwater Nightmare Tour.
Covering deaths and felonies, however, surely beat languishing in a city council meeting. Democracy is boring. Someone getting his face smacked with a hammer, now that’s entertainment.
The police beat satisfied some deep-down sense of civic duty and the need for laughs at other people’s expense. I loved covering a good murder trial and absolutely adored rifling through police reports looking for the moonwalking drunk driver or the man stealing panties from Kmart. It was my bread and butter.
I met lots of people, including murder suspects, sociopaths, and enough lawyers and police officers to ruin watching “Law & Order,” or any other cop show, forever.
True, the pay is terrible, interacting with cops can be infuriating, and many reporters get hooked on Vicodin and Chardonnay and die, but not before getting yelled at by hundreds of people.
But it’s damn interesting work. In any given day a police reporter could get to see kilos of cocaine, meth lab leavings or a dead body.
One day an old man gets bludgeoned to death by teen hoodlums, the next a drunken tire factory worker demands a refund from a prostitute. The possibilities are endless, and anything can happen.
But there’s a problem with working the police beat: You make all the powers-that-be incredibly mad. They hate being exposed as the jerks too many of them are.
I eventually made the upper echelons of the police department mad enough that the chief banned anyone from speaking to me. (They didn’t really speak to me anyway, but when they are actively—as opposed to passively—being unhelpful, it can be an issue.)
The stress of walking into a police station where a large percentage of the employees wants to bury you in the desert takes a toll.
How to Be a Police Reporter, the Right Way and the Wrong Way
There are three ways to do business with the police.
One is from inside their pockets. The easiest way to get in and stay comfortable there is to write fluff pieces about them, like human interest stories about officers who teach martial arts to kids or features about that new batch of assault rifles. While this is OK to do once in a while, overdoing it turns a reporter into a tool of the government. And if you’re a tool of the government, what’s the point of being a reporter?
A second is to get into an adversarial relationship. It’s easy to become frustrated and just work off the public record and not have to spend six hours of the day trying to hunt down a captain who doesn’t want to be found and won’t answer the phone or return calls. Truth be told, the department will often guilt a reporter into not using information found in public records. There’s plenty of stuff in those records they’d rather not see in the paper. Many times I found myself being intimidated into not using something on a report. I would leave an interview with less usable information than if I had just used the report.
While an adversarial relationship can be fun and make a reporter feel like a real rogue badass, it’s stressful and can lead to nervous breakdowns, heart attacks and other pathways to early death.
Third is mutual respect. This is hard to pull off. I’ve done it, but it isn’t easy. Under this scenario, the police understand that the reporter has a job to do, and they don’t piss themselves every time the reporter writes something that can be construed as less than positive.
But you don’t burn them, either. If something is off the record, one does not cite the source. One does not deliberately burn bridges. I got the police beat at my first paper by treating the sheriff with respect. He respected me right back.
Civilians get sick of macho cops, too. I noticed the women in my last police department were often subjected to sexual harassment. I treated them with respect and they repaid me with information. This worked until I got into it with the chief’s racist secretary.
Hey, at Least It’s Not Afghanistan
Most of the people I knew at the college paper where I cut my teeth went to places like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.
Not John Bear.
As an English major, my services weren’t in as much demand. Since there would be no editorial position at the >New York Times, I embarked on what I called “John Bear’s Backwater Nightmare Tour.”
Journalism has taken me to places I never would have imagined.
First I went to Alamogordo, home of the first space monkey and graveyard to millions of E.T. video games. When the film came out, Atari made the game just in time for Christmas. It was so terrible, the company that made it paid Alamogordo to smash the games and bury them under a layer of concrete. People still come searching for them.
I took the police beat the first time an editor asked me what I wanted to cover. My job began one steamy night in Alamogordo. A man had barricaded himself in a hotel room and was threatening to kill himself. My editor sent me to get the story. I walked past the police line and was immediately intercepted and escorted away, asking questions the whole time.
My first time out ended in failure. True, I didn’t get the story, but the police appreciated my moxy and complete disregard for my own safety.
I once stood outside a crack house where a drug dealer was holed up and refusing to come out. While I waited—and waited—his customers berated me for being a snitch. The police eventually fired pepper balls into the house and the man begged to come out.
I’ve also watched dozens of volunteer firefighters line up on a ridge to battle a grass fire propelled by 40 mph winds. The smoke blotted out the sun and the temperature dropped 20 degrees. Penned cattle climbed all over one another, frantic to escape.
I continued working with local, county, state and federal authorities. And it worked out well. They seemed to respect what I did. Sometimes they would even call and give me a heads-up about stuff going on around town.
Even when I had to write something less than flattering, the general response was, We don’t like that you have to write that, but we won’t hold it against you.
Liberal Media Bias (Reality)
I eventually took a job in Oklahoma, loaded the dog and cats and furniture, and struck out. I was excited to ply my trade in a larger city.
But I suffer from a condition known in the Midwest as being a “dirty liberal.” I didn’t realize that Oklahoma is the reddest state in the country.
It surprised me the first time someone called me a liberal and expected me to be offended. (It surprised me even more when no one at the police department would speak to me, because, the way they saw it, all reporters were filthy liberal scum.)
I learned during my travels that people expect police reporters to be conservative, because the law and order crowd tend to be more on the right of the political spectrum.
So I have some liberal leanings. I think people shouldn’t go to prison because they are addicted to drugs, and I’m against the death penalty.
At the same time, it doesn’t bother me if a person wants to own an AK-47 with armor-piercing exploding bullets. The way I see it, they’re more likely to shoot themselves.
I never let my political leanings get in the way of my job. A reporter reports the news; he does not form opinions about it. To do so would be unethical. I assured the people I covered that I was only interested in irrefutable facts.
What the Hell Is Your Problem?
I wasn’t kidding about pain killer addiction and death. The staff body count in the newsroom wasn’t staggering, but it was disturbing.
The first to go was Randy the Photographer. Randy was well-liked in the newsroom, though I nearly killed him during a brushfire because he liked to yell writing tips and orders at me. No writer wants to hear writing tips from a button-pusher. I sat in the car. Following him up the road as he snapped photos, I plotted his demise.
Randy’s bipolar disorder got to him before I could. He put his iPod on one morning, sat in his green Pontiac and gassed himself in the garage. We planted a tree in his honor at a local park.
The next to go was Bill the Police Reporter. Though Bill and I didn’t always see eye to eye on everything—he liked Ron Paul and said the digital television crossover was a harbinger of the New World Order—I did find him a fascinating character. He was a Texan who once received a commendation from the city for stopping the robbery of a cabbie. He held the robber and the cabbie at gunpoint until police arrived.
Pills, cigarettes, a bad heart, a pretty nasty pain killer addiction, a generally bleak outlook and a poor diet that consisted of corn dogs did Bill in. He died in Oklahoma, which probably pissed him off since he was born and raised in Texas.
The paper didn’t spring for a tree that time.
The reason I mention Randy and Bill is this: When Randy died the cops sang his praises. Randy had made them all look cool for 20 years.
When Bill died, they said he was a homosexual.
Yep. Bill had angered the entire department with a story about the family of a man known on the street as “Cell Boat” who was gunned down by police following a brief car chase.
The family of Cell Boat was distraught. Bill came down to the spot of the shooting, in the rough part of town, and interviewed the bereft. They said a number of unsubstantiated things concerning the shooting, including the belief that Cell Boat had been shot in the back.
It wasn’t true. It was a rumor. But Bill wrote up the story, was unable to contact the chief of police (big surprise there) and the story ran the next day.
It infuriated the police.
The story killed 20 years of work Bill had put in, during which time he wrote countless positive stories for the police who now shunned him.
And truthfully, I think the story was a bad idea. The shooting hadn’t been investigated yet and it seemed a little inflammatory. But it also seems harsh that one bad story would destroy a career.
In the end, the district attorney, a retired cop who had two sons on the force, declared the shooting justified. The official story indicated Cell Boat, holding a cell phone the officer mistook for a weapon, had advanced on the officer, who eventually fired three times, striking him in the neck and upper torso. Police found a half-ounce of cocaine at the scene and toxicology tests revealed the presence of PCP.
Sail on, Cell Boat.
Bill was disheartened, and he died a few months later in Duncan, Okla., home of Halliburton Industries. The cause of death was listed as congestive heart failure.
It was shortly after the funeral that the police began to suggest that Bill had been gay, a serious slur in Oklahoma having nothing to do with sexual orientation.
It was infuriating to have a co-worker dragged through the mud. They had to pay. But how?
Just keep going. That was the only way.
Bill’s supposed gayness is important because I learned something about police-mandated character assassinations. And I was the next person to catch a bullet.
John the Middle-Aged-Lady-Threatening Reporter
I never understood why I couldn’t get on with the police in Oklahoma. At my first police writing gig here in good old New Mexico, the detectives would call and tell me, Get down to such and such address; we’ve got a murder/suicide and a story for you.
This really happened. An Alamogordo woman shot her husband through the eye, probably as he slept. Then she rolled him up in a piece of carpet, stuck him on the back porch and went on the bender to end all benders. When the police showed up about six weeks later looking for the man, the woman said, “Hold on a second” through the door and shot herself. A detective told me they didn’t hear the shot because her head had acted as a disposable silencer.
It was nice to get those little extra bits of information, even those unfit to print. And it was nice to speak with detectives. The lower the rank, the more they know. And the better the story.
I was not afforded this luxury in Oklahoma. The chief of police one day decreed that no officer below the rank of captain was authorized to speak to the press. Good luck finding a captain. He was “not in the office” or “in a class” or “off for the week.” If and when he was found, the answer was invariably a shoulder shrug and something that sounded like “Iowno.”
This is what passes for leadership in Oklahoma law enforcement. The chief bore an uncanny resemblance to former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton. He drove a giant truck emblazoned with an eagle and American flag on the grill. When I first entered his office and saw Fox News blaring out of the television, I knew I was doomed.
He eventually banned even captains from speaking to me after I refused to omit a detail embarrassing to his department from a story. This is the detail: A man who was too drunk to stand at the time of his arrest hanged himself in a holding cell with a phone cord. The police didn’t want the phone cord mentioned because the state jail inspector gasped when he saw phone cords long enough to reach inside the cells and aid a suicide.
The chief’s displeasure was expressed not by himself, but through his secretary, a bell-shaped woman of about 50 with enormous helmet hair and a thick twang. She once confided to me, pretty much out of the blue, that she was angry her daughter had married a black man named Cookie. She said interracial marriage was still “frowned upon in the community.”
The secretary said that if I printed the phone cord tidbit I would be “blacklisted.”
I told her that, with all due respect, I would not placate an uncooperative police department, that to do so would only open the floodgates of requests to suppress information.
She apparently ran to her boss and told him I had threatened to “placate her.” He called, yelled and said that if I thought the department was uncooperative before, just wait. He also accused me of threatening his secretary.
That left me with public records, which I was required to read on a tiny section of police station counter, as I was forbidden to walk through the department. My visitor’s pass was confiscated and I was given one that said in bright red letters, “Escort Required.”
Just like Bill the Gay Reporter, I was now John the MiddleAged Lady Threatening Reporter.
We’re Not All That Different, Are We?
This bitterness defied logic, as cops and journalists have a few things in common. There are plenty of self-righteous, arrogant jerks in both professions, people who think they are doing some kind of elevated, holy work. And it’s true to a certain extent. Police watch the streets, keep the community safe. Journalists protect the First Amendment, keep the community informed.
But that’s no reason to be a pompous ass about it.
Journalists and police spend a lot of time sitting around waiting for something to happen.
Most people hate cops and journalists—that is, until they need one.
Both newspapers and police stations have a chief.
Cops and reporters gather information and organize it in reports and stories.
So far I have only spoken with one police officer about these similarities. He brought it up, not me. I thought he had a good point. No one else has agreed. Usually they look at me like I’m crazy, which tends to discourage the formation of contacts.
I’ve read that both professions have inordinately high numbers of sociopaths polluting their ranks. I can’t speak for the police, but I can believe it about journalists.
Fine, We’re Not All That Similar
Police and reporters also have some marked differences. Police are macho men. They like testosterone, and the job does require a certain amount of bravado. They get into dangerous situations.
Reporters are verbal people, the nerds in school who suffered vicious beatings at the hands of the people who later became police officers.
This difference, and shared history, causes tension. A sheriff’s detective told me he hated talking to reporters because one made him look stupid in a story.
I have often felt that officers think I’m a sissy because I carry a notebook and pen.
Police are snappier dressers. Reporters tend to dress worse than students.
Police carry guns. I once knew a reporter who did, too (see Bill, above), but guns are generally frowned upon in the newsroom.
So Long and Thanks for the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
After the secretary incident, I continued traveling to the police department every day to mine the reports for stories.
It was hard, but I made myself do it. If they wanted to fight, I was going to take it to the street. Everything was now fair game.
The irony of it angered me. Here was a police chief, nauseatingly patriotic and sworn to uphold the Constitution, unless, that is, he didn’t agree with a differing opinion, who had blackballed me. Sleep began to elude me. Weekends were spent loathing Monday morning.
But every dark cloud has a silver lining. Several of the rank-and-file detectives began talking to me. It was rarely anything on the record, but they warmed up to me. I guess they didn’t agree with their boss’ methods.
If I had stayed on, they would have become sources. Unfortunately, a panic attack struck me one morning as I entered the office. I went back only once, to get my hat. My run in Oklahoma had come to a sudden end.
This article first appeared in the Weekly Alibi, an alt-weekly paper I worked for off and on for about six years. I wrote it after I had been fired from a newspaper in New Mexico for doing some freelance work.
I thought about this column, because the opinion editor at my current paper was fired this week for writing an unauthorized editorial about our hedge fund owners. I guess this old column came at a time in my life when the future of my career felt uncertain.
We are here again. I feel like the Pool Boy for the Fourth Estate
In a case of irony invading my life, I was fired from my newspaper job for writing.
I had been working as a crime reporter for a twice-weekly paper, which means I was broke but also working as feature writer, city council writer, question-of-the-week writer, parade correspondent, photographer and Lunch Boy.
Lunch Boy (one who fetches the editor’s lunch) wasn’t offered as a class in college, so I learned on the job. Actually, I have no journalism degree, either, and learned how to be a reporter by being a reporter.
Being a crime reporter usually means that one is a failed criminal, much in the way a music critic might be a musician with no talent. I have always suspected that the impending failure of the American press will more than likely result in many reporters metamorphosing into criminals, much as the samurai became the yakuza.
The only alternative is to join the demon people and do public relations work. Apparently, I lack the sunny disposition for a PR job and am therefore doomed to hang around car wrecks and house fires in a town where the social center is Wal-Mart and the methamphetamine trade can only be described as “booming.” I stay long enough to make a friend or two then drift away. I get a free obituary at the paper in Oklahoma. That’s the extent to which I have laid down roots in any place I’ve been.
In order to stave off this downward spiral into petty thievery for a few more weeks, I penned a few columns for the paper you now hold in your hands.
I didn’t consider it a competing paper—not even the same sport, really. Alternative weekly vs. community paper. Different adjectives.
I never did any movidas (Mexican slang for side work) for the Alibi while at the other job, only wrote on my time. My philosophy: If you don’t pay someone enough to live, you can’t dictate his or her side hustle. No problem, right?
Maybe I could have saved my job, but that would have involved kowtowing and lost dignity. That, I cannot abide. Hate myself enough already. It’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees. Emiliano Zapata said that. He was shot.
I come from a long line of people who would rather live in a refrigerator box (or at mom’s) than submit to unreasonable management. Ours is a lifestyle that is unprofitable and leads to many nights up waiting for “Married … With Children” reruns to come on.
The Kansas City Star reports that the unemployment rate dipped in June (that’s good) because more people quit looking for work (that’s bad). And 64 percent of people think newspapers will no longer exist within 40 years, according to a poll on “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”
It’s not easy being print. Goddamn bloggers chipping away at the market. But you can’t swat a fly with an iPad.
A former journalist, now in law school, told me the other day that perhaps journalism is becoming a part-time gig, that there will be fewer full-time reporters in the future. My former employers offered this as a solution: Sack groceries on my days off. Another reporter does that. Why not me, they suggested.
I’m not above sacking groceries, washing dishes or waiting tables. I’ve done these jobs before (and will again shortly).
But I find two things wrong with the part-time option. One, there will be reporters out stealing service jobs from other people when there already aren’t enough to go around. Two, reporters have generally bad attitudes and demand 20 cigarette breaks a day, regardless of whether they smoke.
Reporters need prizes as well, constant prizes that eat away at our brains like tertiary syphilis. Do other industries give out as many prizes to themselves? I think not. (John Bear has only won an honorable mention for public service reporting. This previous paragraph merely served to espouse his jealousy of all those “award-winning” journalists out there. Harumph.)
Solution: bailout. I’m not the first person to broach this subject, but, come on, every other vile, heartless industry gets one, and who is more hated than the media? We’re important. The founding fathers gave us one-fifth of one amendment. Take that, TV.
It can be hell listening to people in the business drone on about the First Amendment, open meetings and public records. The ones who talk the most are often the ones who do the least—a genuine reporter is too busy for rhetoric. Unfortunately, newsrooms are full of this type of desk-bound Socrates (and me fresh out of hemlock); add these pontificators to the low pay, the strange hours and the bad coffee and you get an industry of people who flee from job to job, an industry of tumbleweeds endlessly searching for less noxious environments. A fellow reporter, now unfortunately dead at 56, worked 12 papers in 13 years. I’ve worked three in four.
But the First Amendment is important, regardless of whether D-bags like including them in their delusions of grandeur. It’s real simple: If the press ceases to exist, some sort of Orwellian nightmare is not far off. Regardless of it being technologically obsolete, the paper will always be more thorough than the television and less ghostly than the Internet. Even in its badly weakened condition it remains an integral part of a democracy, and I rue the day the last one is gone. (For your column award consideration.)
Oh well. Nothing to do now but wait to see if I get my unemployment insurance and “work on that novel.” As I write this, it seems like a bad time to be unemployed—and a writer, for that matter. The Republicans are opposing unemployment extensions. Sen. Candidate Sharron Angle said such benefits are making the population spoiled. Sarah Palin just compared herself to Shakespeare. I cannot help but feel uneasy.
I’ve noticed today that missing a front tooth gives one an automatic West Texas accent. That’s disturbing, particularly since I hail from New Mexico and West Texas is our sworn enemy.
The price is on my official list of least favorite things: $1,000. That’s how much it costs to have a tooth removed and some fake bone affixed to the root. The alternative is a darkening tooth, flapping in the wind every time I spit on the sidewalk.
I felt a tinge of sadness as the dental surgeon carried the tooth — which had snapped in half when I fainted about two weeks ago — away, probably to an unceremonious grave in a biohazard bin. I’d had that tooth about 30 years. So long, Mr. Tooth.
The surgeon told jokes throughout the operation. This offended some of the people to whom I would later recount “The Funeral Procession of Mr. Tooth.” Personally, for $1,000, I demand a show, and the jokes had better be good.
And they were. The surgeon also played some classic rock on his phone. (I chose classic rock. It seemed like something everyone in the room could enjoy.) I know I am satisfied with this particular medical professional because I woke up today still thinking “Paradise City” is a decent Guns N’ Roses song. I went to a dentist last year, and I was thoroughly unsatisfied with the work. I still can’t hear Simon and Garfunkel or Cat Stevens without flying into a fiery rage.
Afterward, the surgeon snapped a couple of pics of his handiwork.
“You better not be posting those to Snapchat,” I remarked.
“I’m barely on Instagram,” he replied.
I pulled out my phone to take a peek at my face and had one of those Jack Nicholson as the Joker moments.
“Don’t worry about it,” the surgeon reassured me. “With the STP T-shirt, you’ll fit right in in The South.”
I laughed. That’s all there was left to do.
The surgeon offered me some Schedule II narcotics but then said I likely wouldn’t need them and gave me ibuprofen. I’m not going to lie. I cried for two hours once the lidocaine wore off. The pain was excruciating. Apparently, I can’t have any OxyContin because Oklahoma ate all of it. (I apologize for this unwarranted attack on the Sooner State.)
“Well, it’s not like you’re giving birth,” my mom said during my second or third hysterical phone call.
Shut up, Mom. (And thanks for the $1,000.)
The pain vanished by morning. It’s probably good the surgeon didn’t give me any opiates lest they end up ground up on a glass-topped coffee table.
Anyway, the tooth extraction is the first of several rounds of unpleasant dental work yet to come. But why? I brush my teeth. I floss, goddamnit, and yet I look like the NASCAR reporter for Fox News. I’m pondering a trip to the thrift store for a NASCAR shirt. Let’s take ironic hipster clothing to dangerous new frontiers.
Later that month.
I’ve always had a good set of teeth in my mouth, but during the past year, order is beginning to deteriorate. It’s like society at the beginning of “Mad Max.” Who knows? By the end of next year, my pearly whites might look more like “The Road Warrior.” Even more terrifying would be “Mad Max: Beyond Thunder Dome.” Bad movie.
OK, that was a bad metaphor, too. But sue me. My teeth are shifting in my head like Pangaea (better metaphor), and I’m not thinking straight. It’s uncomfortable. In the last month, I’ve had a a tooth surgically removed and more visits to the dentist than I’d care to remember (six).
It’s been interesting to watch people’s eyes drift toward the dark gap in the front of my mouth during interviews. Usually, I’d just chock that up to paranoia, but it’s happening, a fascinating lesson in sociology. The thousands of dollars it will cost to fix the tooth are worth it. Once one’s teeth start dropping out, so do one’s options.
On Monday, I had my first root canal, because the tooth next to the missing tooth is a bad tooth, a very bad tooth, and it had to go. I was grateful when the dentist took pity and prescribed opiate pain killers afterward. I cried for four hours following the surgical removal of the previous tooth. It was unmanly, and anyone who knows me knows I’m the pinnacle of manliness. (Hardy har.)
But I can’t take schedule II narcotics at work. The pill I swallowed Monday night brought with it an odd urge to start a grunge band then kill myself at the height of my popularity. I need to type and have the end result not be a William S. Burroughs novel. Drooling at work is also frowned upon.
Anyway, also on Monday, a total solar eclipse passed over the United States. Much to my chagrin, all of the white supremacists, Nazis, polo shirt-clad alt-right bros and other assorted pasty-faced losers who’ve emerged from the orange rock they’d been hiding under didn’t all kill themselves so they could hitch a ride on the mothership. Bummer.
But as terribly disappointing as the lack of mass Nazi suicide was, I was at least afforded the opportunity to see the eclipse. I went to the dentist’s office Monday morning under the assumption that while I wouldn’t see the moon pass in front of the sun, I would at the very least see stars as the electric drill sank into my jaw.
Interesting fact: I could see the handiwork inflicted on my tooth from the reflection of the magnifying lens hovering above my mouth. I haven’t had that much metal stuck in my head since the CIA installed the implant.
Anyhow, the dentist had extra eclipse glasses, so we put the dental surgery on hold for 10 minutes so we could stand in the parking lot and crane our necks skyward. There it was in the sky, a big orange J, just for me and my Orioles cap.