journalism

Maximum Rage

Back in 1994, at my first post-collegiate job, I earned a whopping $4.50 an hour. This was a whole quarter above the minimum wage so you could basically say I was living the high life.

I was an “online server” in a coffee house back when online meant actually being on a line and handling a variety of insane customers–kinda of like the Internet with less anonymity.

I fondly remember “scone man.” He would hand me two heavily-stained coffee mugs that likely never touched soap and spent 10 minutes selecting the best scone. One day, he gave me the honor of selecting the scone for him. I felt I had reached the pinnacle of my career. As I rang him up, he took the scone out of the bag, inspected it, placed it back inside the bag, swung the bag around his head and slammed it three times against the counter.

“Yeah, nice and soft,” he said and left.

Nearly 20 years later, the minimum wage is a whole $3 more, and many minimum wage workers are protesting that is not nearly enough to live on.

While a minium wage annual income is a couple of thousands below the poverty line, low-income workers are missing one crucial point:

We have way more choices on TV.

Back in 1968 when the minimum wage was at its peak and would have been the equivalent of $10.60 in today’s dollars, TV was kind of lame.

There was only a couple of channels. Nothing was 24 hours. News was actually news.

Boresville.

But now?

While low-income workers might not earn enough to have three decent daily meals, they can watch a buttload of cooking shows that almost makes you feel like you’ve eaten. There’s Top Chef  and the 4,000 other cooking shows that want to be Top Chef.

I wish I could take credit for this brilliant insight, but the credit is all due to Virginia Postrel, a writer and supposed human, who wrote a compelling piece for Bloomberg.com titled “Who Needs a Raise When You Have TV?”

Who indeed.

I mean just the other day, I was thinking my 14-year-old car with its 170,000 miles might not last another year and could I really afford a car payment and then I saw a clip of Miley Cyrus twerking on a three-day-old burrito and I thought….well, I forgot.

Because TV is awesome.

Postrel acknowledges that wages have stagnated over the last four decades, but for fuck’s sake poor people, you’ve got Duck Dynasty (slight paraprase). You don’t have to worry about how you’ve been left behind by the Kardashians because you can keep up with them on DVR.

Postrel reports we watch way more television now because what the fuck else are you going to do as you kill time between your first and second job? Or maybe you have the “ample leisure time” to watch hours of Fox News reports insisting a minimum wage increase will break the bank because your hours have been cut just before the holiday season or you were just laid off.

So buck up, poor person. Turn on that TV to that yuletide log burning in the fireplace so you aren’t reminded that you haven’t paid your heating bill and revel in the abundance.

“It’s Been Fun”

This is a weekend for traveling.

More than 5 billion Americans will jump into their cars and drive to some destination so they can watch a parade, wave a flag, buy an inflatable Angry Bird™ balloon manufactured in China, and drink too much. I am doing all four things right now so my estimation of the number of American drivers might be a little off.

The recession is beyond us, according to Triple A, aka AAA not to be confused with AA or ABC. Gas prices are down, the three As declared, and promptly forgot to tell all the gas stations in my hometown since yesterday I spent $55 to fill up my Toyota Camry when it still had one-quarter of gas in the tank. But apparently, I will use all that “extra” money to buy me some entertainment in the form of restaurants, furniture rental stores and dollar stores.

I am using my savings to buy these at the Dollar Tree:

Snap-on feather hair extensions are extremely useful when the chemicals contained inside them cause one to lose 75% of one’s hair.

Mine will be red, white and blue.

The people-travel-on-holidays is a news story in the NY Post, and I am all too familiar with these non news stories that a reporter is forced to write to fill news holes on a long holiday weekend.

In Memorial Days of yore, I would be a lucky American non-traveler holed up in a cubicle on a Saturday covering four events that would eventually lead me down the path of obtaining an MLS so I would never have to interview people at the annual soap box derby ever again.

So. . . why are you at the soap box derby?

My daughter is racing.

Awesome. Grrl power. . . I’m sorry I said that. Um. So, what do you like about the soap box derby?

The fact my daughter is in it.

Yes, great stuff. Let me make sure I’ve quoted you accurately.

By the way the winner of the race “likes to race” and “enjoys the competition part.”

You’re welcome.

Then I would rush over to the annual wheat festival 20 minutes away to report on festive wheat. The ole’ timey wheat thresher would ole-timely thresh, and people would consume switzle–a concoction of vinegar, sugar, water and ginger–and vomit profusely.

Here is a direct quote from an news article I wrote about it:

“It’s been fun,” said one of the organizers. “We chose this weekend because of the weather and because it would be a patriotic weekend.”

Where the fuck is my Pulitzer?

Then I would write a story about oxygen being required for people to breathe, and inevitably someone would stick the inflatable parade balloon somewhere it should never be, and I would write about that when I did my police calls, and I would call it a day.

But this year, I’m free, people.

I’m free to join the 399,000 or 4 billion other drivers on the road to more happiness or more nowhere.

If only I can kick my switzle habit, I’ll be home free.

Easter Egg Funk

Now that I have a two-year-old, I have been hounded with questions about whether I’m taking my son to an Easter egg hunt.

(Full disclosure: No one has asked me this)

The short answer is no.

The long answer is F*** no.

I might have mentioned I once worked as a newspaper reporter. Thank you. Oh, wait you weren’t applauding. I thought maybe you were applauding.

I was a serious journalist, and that is why I covered the annual Easter egg hunt at the local park. I asked some tough questions like “Why are you here?” “Do you think you’ll find an egg?” and “Is there a bridge nearby? I’d like to jump off it.”

It begins all nice and egg-free. The kids appear human as do the parents.

But as soon as the air horn sounds, it quickly devolves into something resembling a Black Friday stampede for the cheapest electric egg cooker.

Eggvidence:

"Screw the conch, I want me some eggs!"

Parents, who have already staked a position by an easily visible egg, pounce upon it like a pack of jackals, spraying their urine and feces freely to ward off intruders.

Okay, maybe not that, but they yell really loud and basically push two-year-olds out of the way. Once their grubby snot-nosed child picks it up (always snot-nosed, always dripping, always the child I end up having to interview at the end of the 3-second bloodbath, always manages to get snot on me), they move onto the next egg, bawking orders like chickens if chickens could bawk orders, and just generally making the Easter Bunny weep hot tears.

There should be a limit to how many eggs one can grab (correct amount is 1) and how many times one can bellow “C’mon! C’mon! C’mon! Right here!!! Right here!!! Get it!!!!  GET IT!!!!!” (correct amount is never)

Even after reading this, you feel you must subject your offspring to an early taste of dashed hopes and despondency, please follow these tips:

  • Bring eggs with you. At the start of the hunt, put them in your child’s basket and say “Let’s go home.”
  • Watch or read something uplifting to restore your faith in humanity.
  • Enter a profession that will never make you cover an Easter egg hunt. One day you will find yourself writing sentences like these: “Thousands of children and parents packed the park. Many held plastic bags and baskets to load with eggs.”
  • Weep hot tears.

Reason #473 Why I’m No Longer a Reporter

I used to be a news reporter. Click this for one of my most compelling stories.

I kind of looked like this:

The Mona Lisa

When you are a reporter, you are at the whim of your editors. It’s really great. Like this one time when an editor sent me to a standoff in the middle of the night.

I was pretty thrilled when I got a call at 11 p.m. from an assistant night editor explaining that a man was in his house with a handgun and a standoff was in progress on some county road in the middle of nowhere, but that they were unable to get any information from the sheriff’s dispatch, and would I mind driving there and checking things out. It really wasn’t a request.

I got into my car and drove to the dark road, parking next to a few TV news vans. No law enforcement was in sight apart from the empty sheriff deputy cars parked in the driveway. The house was set back from the road and trees obscured its view.

I got out of the car and approached a newscaster, asking first for his autograph and then if he knew what was going on. He didn’t.

I called the newspaper back telling the assistant night editor that no one was around except for TV broadcasters who knew nothing.

“You can’t see any deputies?” she asked.

“Nope.”

“Okay, hold tight. We have about a half-hour until deadline. See what you can get and call back.”

I didn’t quite know what to do so I stood in the same spot and looked at a house I couldn’t see.

The cell phone rang.

“Anything yet?”  she asked.

“Nope.”

I could hear her talking to someone in the background. She got back on the phone, sighed, and asked if I could go up to the door, knock and see what was going on.

What a fabulous idea! Why didn’t I think of that? I could just see it in my head. I’ll walk up the darkened driveway, bang on the screen door:

“Hello? Hi. Yes, you with the gun, I’m from The  . . . and we have a really tight deadline so we need to speed things up here. If I could first just get your name?”

“Could you spell that?”

“Great, um. .  so what are you feeling right now?”

“Sir, I’m having a little trouble understanding you with the sobbing. Could you say that again?”

“Oh you’re depressed. Yeah that’s not very descriptive. Could you say why you’re depressed?”

“How do you spell her name?”

“Do you have a contact number for her. I’d really like to get her side in this. Sir if you could just keep that gun pointed at your head, not at me.”

Easy, right? But for some reason my feet stayed on the road.

“Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to do that,” I told the assistant editor.

“I didn’t think so,” she said. “Just stick tight until deadline and you can go home.”

So I did. I stood in the same spot, looking at a house I couldn’t see, waiting out the minutes. Nothing happened and I drove home.

I found out the next day, the man wasn’t even at the house.

The Great NYS Fair

An apology to our readers: the following blog entry was inadvertently published whilst still in draft form therefore the post made as much sense as a grown woman covering a tween goat-herder for a news story. Here is the post in all its glorious entirety.

The main reason I agreed to have a baby was to have an excuse to never go anywhere again. But something happens when you have a child. You see nothing strange about keeping a log of your infant’s bowel movements. You use the word “poopy” a lot. You attend functions willingly that you normally wished you had a good excuse, like having a baby at home, to avoid attending. So I’m bringing my son to the NYS Fair.

I hate the fair.

I have only been a few times and the occasions have always been unpleasant.

Once I followed a 13-year-old goat herder around for a riveting news story about spending 14 hours with a 13-year-old goat herder (spoiler: lots of sitting in lawn chairs and looking at goats). I was a correspondent for the local newspaper so I was being paid for the article not my time–14 hours for $25, or $0.56 an hour. After about 20 minutes, you run out of questions to ask (so…why goat-herding?) and it’s mainly sitting around being uncomfortable, a situation made even worse by the powerful aroma of goat shit.

Another time, I paid $2 to see the “world’s littlest woman.” Having just left the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Tent, I thought I would see a Barbie Doll in a fish bowl–the Ripley’s tent was full of fakety fake fakery, but I chose to believe it rather than not, man–so I was horrified to come into the tent, and see an actual person sitting in a toddler-sized armchair, watching a mini-television and eating dinner. She was propped up on a table to be at eye-level. She looked wearily at me and said “hello.” I know I had a horrified look on my face because I just paid $2 to gawk at another human being who happens to be a little short. Instead of saying “I am a horrible, horrible person,” I mumbled “hi” and got the hell out of there.

Now for some completely illogical reason, I’m all pepped to go and expose my son to the urine-and-fecal-soaked barns and midway, the freak shows run by the worst people alive and the crown jewel–the butter sculpture, which I hope is just a giant stick of butter.

I am a horrible, horrible person.