By Chris Brecheen
The reason I’ve walked out on a twenty-two year career in journalism probably isn’t what you expect. That exit interview yesterday....that was just legal covering its ass. It was too rushed, and you were asking the wrong questions. Alicia has made mistakes, but so does any new E.I.C., and she’s better than most who’ve been there twice as long. Might not hurt you to ask questions about what she’s done right or how she stacks up to other E.I.C.’s. It's pretty obvious that someone wants her head right under the bus's back wheel.
Maybe I have too much time on my hands. I’m sitting here, ankle-deep in piles of single serving microwave dinners and empty cans of Diet Mr. Plibb watching daytime talk shows, and playing a game with myself where I try to guess if the next commercial is going to be for one of those private security retraining programs or for a fertility clinic. I haven’t shaved in a week. I passed possibly sexy scruff on Tuesday—now it just looks like I’m homeless. I haven’t showered in two days. There’s a stain on my shirt that I think is yesterday’s microwaved lasagna. I think. And that's on top of a deeper stain that is probably coffee.
Maybe I actually miss writing. I keep waking up with sentences already writing themselves. Sometimes my fingers are even twitching like I’m typing even though they’re only clutching my violet and black bedsheets. I miss deadlines. I miss hitting "Send" with seconds left until an article is due. I miss popping a week’s worth of Aderall down with a wash of diet cola over the course of two furious days and just writing until my joints ached and I couldn’t fully straighten out my leg. I miss my fingers blurring over a keyboard and watching my ideas come to life in front of me like some vintage Peter Gabriel video with the weird claymation. I would zone out to the staccato of my own fingers clicking and clacking and sometimes it almost seems like I’m the one reading, delighting in what the author has created. Maybe all this is pretext to fire up the keyboard one last time.
But maybe it’s more than that. All I know is filling out the paperwork, and writing “personal” in the tiny little space next to “Reason for Leaving” seemed inadequate. There’s so much more to it. And that witch hunt exit interview didn’t even scratch the surface. The questions you asked were clearly designed to strain out whatever you didn’t want to hear. I don’t know if anyone will appreciate this, or even read it--some dried up fossil’s addendum stapled to the back of his termination paperwork. But I need to write it.
I had no idea about journalism when I was younger. I was never one of those kids that knew they wanted to be a reporter. You know the type--like Wilkins on crimewatch--they’re interviewing the local 7-11 cashier about last night’s robbery by the time they’re twelve. They join the junior high school newspaper and write with religious sincerity on the cafeteria switching from tater-tots to french fries like it’s a scandalous expose. They never once cared that print media was a dying profession or that most people got their news from interlink clips and pundit comedy shows. They went and got their degrees in journalism anyway from some college that still offered them, writing articles about the impact of peak oil on car shows and the price of sushi for the college paper with the same untamed passion they once used to tackle the tater tots.
That was never me.
I coasted through college, mostly because that’s what my parents told me to do. They wanted me to make something of myself. My parents were the first generation in each of their families to go to college and they still had that turn-of-the-century expectation that any degree--no matter what--would help me have a spiffy life. So, I got a communications degree.
In case you don’t know, communications is a totally useless degree. It’s so useless, it makes all those humanities degrees with their find-yourself-classes in art appreciation and literature analysis look positively salutary. What did I do with my communications degree? Well for three years, to the horror of my parents, I used it to cover up a hole in the drywall of my apartment while I waited tables at noodle house in SOMA.
I wasn’t exactly a big fan of my career path though. Every single time I had a bad night with the local group of post-Bible-study Christians--who always left little or no tip other than a tiny New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs along a note saying that it was “the greatest gift” they could ever give me,”--I always ended up furious and wondering what I was doing with my life.
Wait, I need to back up a little.
I have to tell you something before I go on. I’ve got this weird thing for kids. Not a sick thing. I know when I say I have a “thing for kids” the first thing people assume isn’t exactly wholesome. It’s not like that at all. What I mean is that I just need to protect them. I can’t not protect them. I see a kid toddling along to try to keep up with someone who has legs longer than they are tall, and I go a little crazy inside. I will do anything--anything--to make sure those kids are okay. Little kids especially. They make me lose my mind a little.
I didn’t have kids myself--not with overpop so out of control. Working as a journalist, I couldn’t have really handled the pop-tax anyway, but there was more to it than that. This was back in the forties, so even then, you’re talking two major water wars, peak oil famine, and at that point everyone just sort of knew that we were basically just counting down to China. I remember when I was a little kid, and every other building on Fisherman’s Wharf being boarded up with a bankrupt sign on it because The Bay was ecologically dead. I watched them racing the tide to build the dykes on Junipero Serra Boulevard while I got my degree from SFSU. I remember the news report the day poultry hit fifty dollars a pound. The day beef hit two hundred. The day fish became an illegal delicacy. Things were fucked up enough, and everyone just thought they could keep having as many babies as three generations ago. I didn’t want to add to that.
But other kids... I just had to make sure they were okay. I would see their little hands clutching plastic Perry and Larry lunch boxes with or wearing blue-with-white-stars Milo the Magnificent characters all over their backpacks, and the way their little bodies wobbled back and forth when they walked, and I would just get sick.
I had this kid radar—kiddar. As soon as little kid got in range of my kiddar, I would become hyper aware of anything that might hurt them. I would start looking around for those ten-thousand little dangers kids don’t notice themselves. Everything from oncoming cars with people yapping on interlinks, bubble gum pink shoe laces flopping around as they waddle toward escalator, or just some adult with net glasses who’s lumbering about, totally oblivious to anything so small. Kids don't know what can hurt them but I did, and I was on high alert.
It got me into a lot of trouble. I would reach out to steady a kid, or suddenly drop down to tie their shoes. You can imagine how that went over—a black guy grabbing at some little kid. This society isn’t as post-racial as it thinks it is, even today, and if you want to see someone reveal their inner racist, be a “scary” color, and try tie their kid’s shoes. I had more than a couple of shrieking moms calling the cops, and even the ones who realized I was just trying to help would glare at me and tell me to mind my own business.
“Tend to your knitting!” one blond woman hissed after I dared to right her falling daughter. Like she would have preferred the girl just sort of fall on her face than be touched by the likes of me.
I swear, I could save some kid from a giant swinging blade, and their mom would sneer and say: ‘You didn’t have to grab her so hard. I think you hurt her arm.” I wish I could tell you that example was just hyperbole. But it happened--actually....literally, happened. The blade was part of a farm thresher demonstration for minimizing topsoil erosion, and the little girl was way too close. I ended spending a night in the tank arguing with a police lieutenant about the finger shaped bruises her right arm.
Anyway, this one day I was on the corner of 52nd and M.L.K. in Oakland—right across from the Children’s Hospital—and this little kid was in front of me. He had those new Psychic Ninja Squirrel things all over him. (Well, they were new back then. Now you can get quadruple digits for one still in the box.) Psychic Ninja Squirrel shoes. Psychic Ninja Squirrel jacket. Psychic Ninja Squirrel hat. And he was playing the Psychic Ninja Squirrel game on his palm. His mom yapped next to him on a lime green interlink, screaming at someone about how the grout has to set for three days before they can use the shower. “I know you’ve probably only done sonics,” she gritted, “but please take the time to do your homework about hydros if you value our account.”
The light turned. The kid saw the walk sign, even though most of his attention was on his game. But the mom hadn’t noticed it. So he started trundling out into the street. He didn’t even really look up from his game; he just kind of tottered forward. And, no shit, there was a dark green van accelerating to run the red light that basically was going to hit him. Mom didn’t see it. Kid didn’t see it. Guy driving the van was checking for cars from the opposite direction, and not tiny people.
There was no time to shout or point or shake the mom or catch the attention of the driver. There was no time even to think.
Continued in Part 2
[© 2013 All Rights Reserved.]