Saturday, June 4, 2011
Newsprint, door knockers and Angelina Jolie
For some reason I have found since arriving in the US, I received about half the number of paid days off work that I was entitled to in Britain. I had not appreciated this at first but learned the hard way. When I asked my first American line manager if there were any restrictions on when I could take my five weeks, he looked at me as if I had just popped out of a pod at Roswell.
So I worked Memorial Day and am working on Saturdays to earn my passage which brings me firmly back into the world of strange unpredictable news and people being shot as opposed to the world of politicians sending moaning text messages on my BlackBerry.
There would be something almost cathartic and refreshing about a drowning search if it wasn't quite so tragic. If, for example, the missing people always turned up alive at some beach side restaurant, wiped a strand of sea weed from their hair and ordered the beers.
But Saturdays are strange. Seemingly for years now at various times I have sat in silent offices and worked away in solitude. At first there's almost a pleasant sense of mission because you realize how much you can get done without distractions.
You also get to wander with abandon around other people's desks. You see post it notes on groceries to order, you wonder why Mike has strange plastic coins by his baseballs and, more crucially, why he's stolen your Eat Chikin cow.
But then later on you get a curiously displaced feeling that the world is going on somewhere else and you are trapped in an airless environment. That your whole life will be a long litany of waiting for press releases before you are waiting for God.
Being a journalist isn't the loneliest profession in the world but it can be more lonely than a lot of people think. I'm sure it's less lonely than being one of those people who sit in the semi darkness in banks that nobody seems to frequent.
But often you can feel alone, a figure apart with a notepad, cutting a strange shadow on the sidewalk. Today I was at an apartment complex to ask people about a cell tower application. So often people squint at you and can't quite comprehend. Or they think you're trying to sell then a subscription or you are really a Mormon and you have a stack of encyclopedias in the back of your car.
But, believe me, asking people about a cell tower isn't the worse thing you can do by a long chalk. People are a lot more willing to talk than down in the ghetto when you ask people if they saw a homicide. Even in crowded streets nobody saw a thing.
I can't recall my worst assignment but it was probably being asked many years ago by a news editor to 'door knock' the wife of an airman who had died after dousing himself with gasoline, setting himself on fire and walking two miles.
Strangely enough the aforementioned wife didn't invite me in for tea and a chat and who can blame her?
Fortunately American publications aren't so big on door knocks, maybe because more people here own guns. It's ironic in a way because I'd probably be better at it now than I was all those years ago because the older you become the more in touch you become with your own mortality and the more glimpses you start to get of the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns.
Lots of journalists say that one day they'll get a real job and some actually do. But when you are in a communications office selling some faceless corporation or bureaucracy I'm sure they must miss the occasional adrenalin buzz we still get, when we uncover something rather exciting.
Yet I can't help feeling news rooms are not what they used to be. That the days of characters and infamous drinking sessions and smoky rooms and intrigue are now just a distant memory.
And even the jobs that sound glamorous to others weren't really so amazing. Take for instance - press conference with Angelina Jolie at the Dorchester. Sounds glam doesn't it?
The reality. Hanging around for 40 minutes in a stuffy suite. Diminutive woman in a T-shirt arrives, answers a few sycophantic questions about B-movie; leaves us in a stuffy room to chew on canapes.
But come on, what am I talking about? It's got to be better than hanging out here on a Saturday waiting to hear about someone being shot on the scanner.
It's not all bad - my piece is slated to be in the L.A. Times tomorrow.