Thursday, October 28, 2004

Like a Republican

So, last Thursday my mini-disc player and I got ourselves a press pass and went to hear what Vice President Cheney and his wife (The Vice Lady? The First Lady of Vice?), who was by far the more engaging speaker, had to say to the assembled masses here in Int'l Falls.

Though Cheney wasn't slated to show up until one o'clock, the line at the Bakus Civic Auditorium stretched well around the block when I arrived at 10:30. I grimaced and took my place in line (and in the rain, as it happened). There was plenty to look at, what with the various security personnel, campaigners gathering signatures, local candidates gathering handshakes, and the rows of fire trucks, ambulances, and log trucks. Yes, log trucks, set up in perimiter around the auditorium presumably to discourage would-be car bombers from showing up without a ticket.
Having no umbrella to occupy my hands, I got out the ol' recorder and began collecting soundbites from my fellow impatients:

"What are you expecting to hear from the VP today?" I asked a young man wearing the letter jacket of the local high school.
"I dunno."
"I see. I see. Okay, well, is there anything in particular that you'd ask Mr. Cheney if you had the chance to do that today?"
"Mmm. Nah. Don't think so."

His friend of the same age was a bit more forthcoming. Asked for his comments on the day's upcoming events, he grinned proudly and pulled open his jacket to reveal a t-shirt with a picture of an elephant accompanied by the words "Hung like a Republican."

It took me fifteen minutes of this to notice the press entrance. Leaving the great unsoaped to be drizzled on, I hurried over to this entrance which was attended by an expressionless guy wearing an actual dun-colored trenchcoat, accented with Matrixy sunglasses. This so delighted me that my microphone and I asked him if he was in the habit of talking to microphones, which he wasn't. Beyond him, several fellows in commando pajamas were busily exploring the contents of a Star Tribune photographer's camera bag. Both she and I winced as they performed a drop test of her 200mm lense, but it passed with flying colors and no flying glass, and before too long it was my turn. As they inspected my cell phone, mini-disc recorder, and person, I watched another security team down the hall relieve three elderly gentleman of as many Swiss Army Knives, which were then tossed into a five-gallon bucket standing by for the purpose.

I was cleared to move on inside just as the kids in the letter jacket and elephant t-shirt made their way past me from the other line. So much for special treatment for the press.

The main benefit conferred by my press pass, it turned out, was freedom to be outside the little fence that squeezed the herd of local Republicans together like so much livestock (an unpleasant impression, but one that the piles of hay bales framing Cheney's podium onstage did nothing to dispel). As a member of the media, I realized, I was under no obligation to cheer, boo, shake a sign, or do anything else on command, and any frowning would be construed merely as concentration. What a great job!

The media space outside the crowd of local supporters was a roomier playpen by far, but the twelve journalists in Cheney's entourage moved as a tight little group, twelve intense faces peering over twelve laptops as if beholding the Sermon on the Mount and determined not to miss a word, twelve faces that I recognized from countless televised White House press briefings. In tableau against the peeling, yellowed walls of Bakus Auditorium, they seemed so ridiculously elegant. I confess I was more interested in trying to distract them with questions about their jobs than in actually tuning in to the thirty-minute jacob's ladder of soundbites that was Cheney's speech. Still, I stood with my microphone arm uncomfortably raised to a speaker for the whole thirty-one minutes and twelve seconds. Later, back at the station, I would transfer the whole business to Sound Forge and find that an entire nine minutes of that had been nothing but applause.

MSNBC's Priya David, though exhuasted, was a sweetie. "Ever heard of International Falls before showing up here?" I asked. "Not that I recall. This is . . . Michigan-no, Minnesota, right? Sorry, it's just that we started the day in Wisconsin and we'll end it Pennsylvania, and frankly the whole trip's become a blur." Be that as it may, the food on Air Force 2, she confided, is simply amazing.

And then, as swiftly as they had arrived, they rolled up their extension cords, stuffed away their PDAs, pulled down the big top and loaded up the elephants, and with them went all the excitement that had, for a magical moment, graced our little town. As they one-handed their laptops and hustled out of the aging auditorium and toward the waiting motorcade that would take them to Air Force 2, a sad jealously overtook me; the big kids were goin' on a campin' trip and I had to stay behind at home on account a' I'm little.
Sigh . . .

So, what conclusions did I reach? What did I come away thinking of Cheney? Well, I had intended to get to that, but I'm on the air in ten minutes, so once again it'll have to wait.

Methinks the radio station will be an exciting place from which to watch the election results roll in tonight, not least because I get a TV in the studio for the first time, and there'll be pizza.
"It'll be like a Superbowl party that matters!" I said to Brandy last night.
"Let's hope it's a grand ol' party," came the wry reply.
To which I say, "Hmm . . ."

God bless us, everyone. On what will the sun rise?

Repairs and Recusings

I'm told my link to Brandy's site works about as well as trying to one-up Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, which is just fine, since actually making your fingers do the walking to will make you more appreciative of hyperlinks that do as ordered.

Speaking of work, that's where I'm at, and daren't snatch just now the moments necessary to recount my big day of covering competing rallies. Ah, who'm I kidding? I'm just as beat as Nader, is all, after a lengthy day. Do please check back tomorrow to see my blog runneth over.

Thank you, and goodnight.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

New Kid on the Blog

One Brandy Ussery (M.D. pending) has decided to invest a few of her precious hours outside of surgery rotation by regaling us with a blow-by-blow account of what goes on within. It's Discovery Channel of the mind, folks,
a rare look at the world of those terrifying men and women in white. Do warm hearts really beat behind those cold, cold stethescopes? Can you tie your tennis shoes with a suture knot? Do surgeons whistle while they work, or vent their spleens while exploring yours? And what's UP with the shower caps? Find out here.

In other news, my interview with Sting was postponed. The ol' boy never called. Apparently being 6'3'' 270 and carrying a baseball bat to work gives a person the idea that he can neglect the little media folk who get his movie publicized in the first place. His agent apologized, and we've rescheduled for this Thursday.

This time, though, it will be my turn to reschedule, since our very own vice president is coming to International Falls that same day. First VP visit since Mondale in '79, and this little mill town on the river is excited, yessir! It's going to be an interesting show, what with the Falls being as divided as the rest of Minnesota. Arms will be open; claws will be out. The coffee shop from which I now write is directly across the street from the local union office, whose broad signs and bright slogans through the "Kerry '04!" soaped windows, give proof to the right that its members are unlikely to be much moved should Mr. Dick try poncing about in a hard hat.

Yesterday morning I went over to the Holiday Inn's Bronco Room to wait in line with the rest of the good townsfolk for my free ticket to the grand event. No great surprise that the local Republican Committee is overseeing things, but I was unprepared, as I stepped up to the ticket table, to be met with a sharp look and a "Well, lemme ask ya' this--are you a fan of our President Bush?" Not wishing to purjor myself I answered carefully, "Well, I'm, uh, not a big fan of the alternative." "Atta' boy! Here you go."

My ticket informs me that I'm prohibited from toting along with me are "knives, weapons, lawn chairs, and excessively large bags." If my mini-disc recorder and camera make it through I'll see what I can do about posting some of the digital goods on here. Whether or not questions from the floor will be taken I know not, but if anyone has a pressing question as yet unanswered by the debates etc., I'll do what I can to voice it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

So, um, What's Your Favorite Food?

Dear Friends of Ben,

I confess myself in need of some advice. No, wait. Let me spin this differently.
I'm offering what may well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sate your curiosity about a real live celebrity! This will be especially cool if you happen to be a fourteen-year-old boy (or an undergraduate male; the difference is often negligable).

Tomorrow (Thursday) at 11:00 am Pacific Time, 1:00 pm Central, I will receive a call on the KXBR hotline* from none other than Sting. No, not the Fields of Gold guy. Think mascara. Think chin like an Abrams tank.
Yeah, that Sting, four-time WCW champ Steve Borden, who has had folks "wrapped around his finger" in a less figurative sense than his musical namesake ever envisioned.
A guy who drops into the ring from helicopters, and is known for the patenting the Scorpion Death Lock of . . . death, or something. A wrestling persona inspired by Kiss, or by Brandon Lee in The Crow (or maybe by Wynona Ryder in Beetlejuice?).
And tomorrow I'm going to be interviewing him on the air.

It seems that our boy of the warpaint got taken down for the count (forgive me) by his own fame, until somewhere in the middle of an addiction to painkillers and nearly losing his wife, he found a friend named Jesus. Some people write books about their conversions; Sting, in conjunction with Willow Creek Marketing, has made a movie.

So I'm wondering, gentle readers, what you might like to have asked of him?

*218 285 9190
Which, by the way, I invite any of you to utilize weeknights between the hours of 6 and 10 p.m. central. No, you're probably not in my listening area, and no, we're not online and probably won't be anytime soon. But that doesn't mean you can't call me up to say, "Hey, how 'bout less Demon Hunter and more Cindy Morgan?", or for that matter share something of import with the good listeners of International Falls.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

(Kind of ) apropos of what ace scribbler Myles had to say in the most recent car of his rarely-rattling brain gravy train, I'm wondering if any of my fellow once-and-future (God grant it) students feel themselves to be, in a cerebral sense, growing "older and fatter and louder on the sidelines," as others now go about the bookish business that once so occupied and enlivened us.

Erstwhile Academic #1: Shoot, just look't 'em'ere boys. Cain't write fer spit, think MLA stands fer "More Loans Available?," prob'ly hain't got a clue 'bout nothin' 'cept ultimate frisbee and X Box. Ain't I right?

Erstwhile Academic #2: (Scratches. Clears throat. Spits with flair into the quad.)

Erstwhile Academic #1: Dang straight I am! Now you take the literary criticism class a' 2001. Think monkeys don't grow on trees? They're a dime a dozen, but ain't a one of 'em ever stuck his head in that classroom, no sir! Good's what we was! You recall' t, don'cha?

Erstwhile Academic #2: (Tamps pipe.)

Erstwhile Academic #1: Some've 'em even talkin' 'bout goin' on up to the big leagues. Well, I'd like t' just see long it'd take them fellas to get all chewed up 'n spit outa' grad school. Right into Wal-Mart's where they'd land.

Erstwhile Academic #2: Guess then we'd have some company, huh?

Erstwhile Academic #1: (Gives Erstwhile Academic #2 a look of infinite disdain before rapping him smartly on the head with the latest Danielle Steele novel, and storming off to the video store).

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Through the yet-golden leaves today came scents less of autumn than of summer. I'd have thought it wishful thinking on my part if it weren't for my liking fall so much. We're upon what Keats called "the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness." I thought of these verses as I made my way in across a winking carpet of dewey pearls and over to an old apple tree in my backyard. Autumn , the "close bosom friend of the maturing sun, conspiring with him to load and bless with fruit the vines that round the thatch eaves run." Kim, the Jehovah's Witness who had started my morning for me a bit earlier than I had intended to myself, followed behind me on the momentary path my shoes made through the morning wetness.

Those apples were maybe only the size of a fat baby's fist, but they were red and sweet, at least around their equator, you might say, as if the ripening effects of the sun hadn't quite worked into the green tartness of their polar regions. I relieved the branch of their weight, a whole cluster coming off all at once as the branch sighed, rising, so that I had to quick bring up two hands where I had thought one would do.

"Here you go, Kim. For the road." She smiled, shifting her Bible and stack of "Watchtower"s to accept two apples. I was glad to give them to her. It's not easy, doing what she was doing. "Nothing could compell me to flee in greater haste than if I were forewarned of a do-gooder coming to do me good," said Chesterton.
There are stickers a person can get now, little postage stamp-sized warnings for faith peddlers to "stay the heck away from this door!," and how was she to know but whether the next door she knocked on would have had such a sticker if its owner had only known about them?

For a minute there I had sure wished for a sticker, as I stood in my back doorway squinting, looking hungover, wondering what board meeting this nicely-dressed woman thought was being held at my house.
Surely they plan to have you at the disadvantage of shame, the way world hunger relief ads play on TV right after Thanksgiving. Her smile was pitying. It seemed to say, "Just look at yourself, poor lost little lamb--9 a.m. and still in your grubby t-shirt and shorts and Jim Carrey hair." And then she launched right in, wondering whether I didn't agree with her that death and pain sure were a bummer, uh huh, and wouldn't it be a better thing, really wouldn't it?, if I could inherit the Earth, just stay right here with Jesus Himself? I wondered what kind of hand I might play in the maintanance of the Earth once it had been bequeathed me, and thought maybe I could carry lambs or shocks of wheat like the smiling people in the magazine she was reading to me from.
But seeing as I hadn't yet inherited the Earth and had to be mosying along toward my current terrestrial occupation, I thought I'd better save my inquiries concerning matters eschatological for a time when I could be more sociable. I hated to just tell ther that, though, and was wondering what I ought to say when I spied over her shoulder those apples, huddled close together on the bough like a group of round rosey little women giggling out the latest gossip to one another. I wondered aloud whether she wouldn't mind just following me out a few steps into my backyard, and she didn't seem to think it so strange an idea, and so it was that she came by some apples to help her on her way, and perhaps ease any unpleasantness that the morning might yet bring her.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—

As she settled the apples in among the things in her bag, I noticed that in addition to the "Watchtower" magazines, she had some literature offering counseling resources for unwed mothers and their families. She noticed me looking, and smiled. A little sadly, I thought. " I have two teenage daughters myself," she said. "Kids in this town need Jesus so very much."
"Well, 'Thou hast thy music too,'" I thought. "Aren't we in about the same business?"

I told her what I did, and said she should listen in to me on the radio that evening, if she wanted to, and she said she might, and thanked me again for the apples. I took a big bite myself out of one--glory! Wouldn't anyone think it about a fair trade on Eden for a taste of such crisp sweetness?

"Good luck," I told her, and whether or not I should have, I meant it.