This post is a continuation from the previous one entitled “Dear Dick.” It’s the second half of a resignation letter written but never sent by a former Atlanta TV reporter after leaving a station in another market.
by Tom Corvin
But we had our lighter moments, too, didn’t we? The student who deliberately vomited thirteen personal pan sized pizzas on his Spanish teacher. The hate crime “victim” who attacked himself with a red hot butter knife by burning “G A F” on his forehead. The hillbilly vigilante who tracked down the hillbilly who stole his hillbilly van. The cheeseburger eating chimpanzee left “unattended” in the semi-tractor trailer and the man who cried, “Coco’s a human being just like you and me.” The hotel clerk who cooperated with the robber because he didn’t want to end up “in the mortgage.” The “Dishonest Abe” bank robber who looked more Amish than Reconstructionist. The schizophrenic slave labor victims forced to wash dishes and vacuum in the nude. The mayor too drunk to talk about his drunk driving arrest. Funny stuff, Dick, if not a little condescending. But if we can’t laugh at the victims who can we laugh at, right? At least they’re still alive and kicking. Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a little public humiliation in the ass.
That’s why I appreciate the rapes and perverts, the 24 stories of relief, the two dozen donuts of scum. Granted, folks need to know when a flasher is flashing and a rapist is raping. That is a community service. Especially when the safety of school children’s involved. But we both know it’s the freak factor that draws them in. “Tonight at ten, a senior citizen’s caught holding something in the check-out line. And it’s not a discount coupon!” It’s genius marketing, Dick, turning the sick into a punchline. Like the dancing man in the gold lamee thong, the 45-year-old pushing his package at the “jazzercising” middle-class mothers in their leotards. “He was a little man,” one mom said, “if you know what I mean.” Or the heavy set man in the lacy lingerie, lurking for a looker, snapping his panty strap and cupping his black brassiere when he finds one. “The victim describes the man as having man breasts,” the officer said. We all laughed at that one, all of them. I’m laughing right now. Considering the deathly alternatives, it was a joy reporting on jack-offs. At least the jack-offs who didn’t hurt anybody. It’s like safe sex, right? We all get off but no one gets hurt. Unless you’re that sick sucker brooding at home, stewing on how you’ll do it again and again until your sin isn’t so funny anymore. Which cycles back to the fear and loathing we love so much, the pedophiles and pud pullers, the secret sex offenders “on the run,” “on the loose,” “out there somewhere tonight.” And that’s almost as good, pitching that palpable danger of someone in silhouette, of some boogieman out to snatch a child, a coed, a wife. It’s not funny. But it sells. And packaged sex may not beat a good baseball bat attack, but it delivers. And it’s on those nights I feel most proud, Dick. Not unlike a ten dollar whore with an empty bottle of mouthwash. The customer’s satisfied AND I got paid in single bills, no change.
I always enjoyed underestimating the viewers, too, Dick. Especially when it came to weather and what folks should do when it’s too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry. I did that 31 times, 31 stories, 31 live-shots in the black ice of night, the water ban of day. Like the rapist, the community needs to know what’s coming, the big snow storm, the big twister. It’s no joke. It can save lives. But we sure had fun when it didn’t, roaming the ruins of a trailer park, laying out the lost lives of those who didn’t listen. Which always gave us the upper hand when it came to forecasts. We had something to hype, something to threaten their lives with. “It’s coming. We’re not sure how big. But it’s coming! And it could be another killer!” Which set the stage for the warnings. “If you don’t have to drive, don’t!” “Make sure you wear lots of warm clothing.” “Drink a lot of water.” “Wear light clothing.” “Cover your plants.” “Bring in the dogs.” “Buy batteries.” “Don’t water your lawn.” “Don’t get out of your car in high water.” “Take cover if you hear the sound of a train.” And if they couldn’t see how cold or hot it was, if they didn’t have the sense God gave them to look out the window, if they lived under a rock, I’d stand in the sub-zero elements to show them how to shiver and shake, picture proof, live, of what lurked on the other side of life’s looking glass: simple doom if they dared step away from the power points of our instructions, our meteorological salvation, our dumbed down lessons of survival. Milk sales never had it so good. And though I never got a cut from grocery store hysteria, it was always satisfying to see the havoc we wreaked at the check-out line, the gas pump. Pure Pavlov, baby. And we rang that bell for all it was worth, namely, the big numbers and the big advertising bucks they bring with them. There’s nothing like the wrath of inclement weather to wrap around the necks of our viewers, Dick, to choke them like retarded dogs, to make them understand their lives are in danger if they don’t swallow our vomit and follow. Fortunately, enough do. Or we think they do. And that’s why I was out there 31 times, laying down the obvious, but assuming, like you do, these people are idiots, so let’s treat them like idiots. And we did. We do.
Which is why I understand the lack of “features,” the feather soft stories on someone who isn’t a criminal, a victim, a laughingstock. Who cares otherwise? That’s a rhetorical question, Dick, because I know the answer. No one. Not you, anyway. Not according to the six I did. And I’m including the “investigative” pieces, the fluff we pawned as “important,” like illegal downloading, like uninsured drivers. I’ll even throw in the little boy beaned by the foul ball at the ball park because it had a happy ending. He survived his partial paralysis. But the sale of Charlie Parker’s Super King 20 sax? That’s about it. And that was “filler” on a slow night. But I understand. I really do. Especially now that I look at the numbers.
And the numbers don’t lie. 437 stories. 215 bodies. Sixty survivors. I’m not sure, Dick, but I think death and dying accounts for more than half of what I’ve done in the last two years here. Throw in the 24 perverts and that’s just too much fun for one reporter to handle. At least that’s what my psychoanalyst is telling me. And my wife. She tells the kids, “daddy’s just quiet because he’s tired.” But I always snap out of it after a little cry in the closet. Or the next homicide. And even though the city’s on a record pace for most murders in a year, even though we’re reporting every drug dealer’s retaliatory hit like a Labor Day telethon, and even though the state of local news is incurably diseased with the ease of death, I’m reluctantly stepping aside to let someone else enjoy the fruits of society’s failures (not to mention the darlings of Darwin). Thank you, though. Thank you for the feast of blood and guts, the meals of mayhem. And I hope you get your just desserts in return. I really do, Dick. Because if anyone deserves the rewards of running a 24-year veteran reporter out of the business, it is you, my friend. I only hope I live long enough to witness it. And now that I’m getting out, I have a good feeling that I will.
As I used to say before blacking out at the bar, “Click!”
Corvin is no longer in the TV news business. He lives in San Francisco.