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Research paper topic: A Lesson From Oliver - 5261 words
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.. had little wish to draw him into this conversation. I decided to change the subject quickly. "Coincidentally, yes sir. Why I'm calling, though, is to inquire about the number of outboard motors that have gone missing since last week." "Pardon me?" The tone of his voice took a sudden sinister turn that sent a twinge through my bladder.
Like the rookie I was, I had made some as yet unrecognized blunder. I felt the strong urge to conclude the interview immediately, but it was too late. He knew my name. He knew my brother's name. He knew why I'd called.
He knew everything. I'd have to bluff past my own ignorance. "Well, I was wondering if the police suspected some kind of theft ring being involved." "Who the hell have you been talking to, mister?" Oh god - that was the mistake! It was Donny who'd mentioned it to me the other day, in casual conversation. I'd assumed it to be common knowledge. Everything was common knowledge in Thistle. My mother, who worked in lamps at Woolworths, the major department store in the Thistle Shopper's Mall, generally knew what was going on in town several hours before the police did.
In fact, I realized, I should have conducted this interview with her because the one I was doing at the moment was about to get at least one happy-go-lucky constable into a deep pile of - "Uh, well sir, I don't think it would be ethical of me to reveal my sources at this time," I heard myself stammer. Thank goodness for television. "Don't give me that T.V. crap. Now you tell me who gave you confidential police information before -" I didn't want to hear before what - so I did the only sensible thing for someone in my position, who was panic-stricken, to do; I hung up.
Then I dropped my weary face onto the cold laminate desktop and slept fitfully for the full thirty seconds I had before having to bounce in and read the 8:30 report. I could likely mark it as having been yet another banner broadcast, because I don't remember a word of what I read that time, either. The nine o'clock report came and went, at which point I was free till eleven. Technically I should have been using the break for some more phone-snooping, but fear for the consequences of my previous stupidity had me paralysed. I had no desire to try my luck again.
I certainly had no desire to call the fire department. When Donny was off-duty he was a volunteer fireman: "No doubt my inquiries into campfire safety will get him axed from the fire- hall, too," went my rationale. At this point I realized I was still dazed; but the fact I knew I wasn't thinking clearly only deepened my paranoia, since even when I'd thought I was thinking clearly I obviously hadn't been. I decided I'd better get some advice. Coffey still owned enough of my respect for that.
I went out to the front office. There were Carey and Barb, "the girls". I wasn't too sure what they did, as yet (not surprising, considering I still wasn't too sure what I was doing, yet). Whatever it was it seemed to allow plenty of time for coffee and cigarette breaks. They never had to leave their desks for this - due to an office lay out which I suppose was cleverly designed to create the illusion they were actually working whenever the station manager walked through. As I only ever saw them in this position, tactically tucked behind their respective desks, I imagine them to this day as a pair of unassuming faces and slight-of-build torsos lodged atop a set of very large wooden hips. "Morning," I offered hopefully.
"Grunt," said Barb, the young dark-haired one. Carey, the middle-aged blond one, was somewhat less responsive. In fact this was only our second conversation, the first having been my introduction last week by Jack Coffey, a dialogue not dissimilar in zest to our current repartee. I elected to take my chances with the more verbose of the two. "Barb, have you seen Jack around?" "Gone to Winnipeg," she said, efficiently doubling her word- count for the course of our week-long acquaintance.
But that was all it took to remind me that I was on my own for the first time. Jack had mentioned he was taking his wife and kids to the Winnipeg Zoo today, soon as he got off the air - no doubt another leg in his "Freedom for Coffey" campaign, in creating the news department. Winnipeg was an all-day round trip across the provincial border into Manitoba making Coffey effectively incommunicado. I slunk back into the privacy of the news office and closed the door. As 9:30 edged into ten o'clock I still had not found motivation to seek out some news.
I felt crushed under the weight of responsibility I did not have the experience to bear. Nineteen years old with a week's training and here I was in solo charge of the entire news department. In any larger market it would've taken me three months just to get on the air. I was in desperate need of guidance with none to be had. Even the manager was out of town at our sister station in Dresdale. That left CJRS entirely in the hands of myself, the girls..and the mid-morning jock, Linus Lindberg.
Like myself Linus was local crop, though about six or seven years older. He'd been on the air for as long as I could remember - longer than anyone else who was still at the station - and everyone but Linus knew they'd all be long gone before he ever got his "big break" to elsewhere. More than anything, Linus wanted to have the same affected sound that all the "pros" had, and cultivated his version of a "free-wheeling jock style" to the level of a science; but with his squeaky tenor voice and his thick, inarticulate tongue that dredged through the consonants like a scow at low-tide, it may be kindly stated that Linus always fell well short of his goal. He never seemed to connect his habitual pronunciation of the station call-letters as "C-Jar-Ahr-S", with his inability to move ahead in the corporate structure. But at least it may be said of Linus he was a man of patience. He stuck it out another two years before his wife finally browbeat him into a "sensible union job", sorting mail for the post office on the graveyard shift.
At 10:15 a.m. on June 26, 1979, I exemplified little of such stalwart patience; only abject misery and self-pity. When a town "blue-and-white" (police cruiser) zipped down Main Street past the newsroom window I made a nervous start, as the thought of being arrested for withholding evidence or obstructing justice or hanging up on a deputy chief crossed my mind. This thickened the layer of guilt that was encasing my conscience and I decided it was time to lighten the burden by getting down to some work. I started to make my appointed round of calls to the local news nests - pointedly avoiding the fire-hall and the cop-shop (if the people of Thistle wanted to hear about outboard motor thefts they'd have to go down to the Shopper's Mall and talk to my mom).
Before long I had a lead on an upcoming windsurfing demonstration being sponsored by a sailboard company from California. This sounded wonderfully exotic by Thistle standards, and my mood lightened a touch. But before I could follow it up two more cruisers screamed by, as if to remind me I didn't deserve to feel thus unencumbered. By now I was feeling more than a bit persecuted and decided to take a brisk walk. I took the side door from the hallway to avoid going through the front office altogether, since I didn't feel like talking to anyone (though I suppose I was in little danger of this from the girls).
I bounded down the long narrow staircase leading to street-level two steps at a time. About halfway down I could usually make out a moving collage of legs on the sidewalk as people passed by the station entrance. This time I froze. The pant legs I saw were all navy blue and had a single red stripe running down either seam. Cops! My reaction was as decisive as that which had caused me to hang up on the Deputy Chief. I spun and ran.
I ran back up the steps. I ran back through the side door, straight down the hallway ignoring the red "on-the-air" light, crashed through the door into Control Room "A" where Linus was busily mispronouncing the title of his next record, and out the back door onto the rusty, old fire- escape overlooking Thistle's scummy, deserted waterfront along beautiful Lake Norakee. About a floor down the rickety rod-iron steps I was able to wrest control back from my reflexes. Realizing there was little hope of escape - since at least one probationary constable knew exactly where I lived (and was likely looking forward to taking advantage of that information by now) - I reluctantly lugged my feet back up the fire-escape and retraced my steps to the newsroom. Once there, having returned without police confrontation, I cautiously peered over the newsroom windowsill facing Main Street and observed the activity going on below. To my shock there were now five cruisers parked out front, representing the entire fleet of Thistle's finest. They looked for all the world to be readying themselves for a massive assault of some kind, though their attentions were clearly not directed towards the lobby of CJRS.
In fact, while they were situated on our side of the street, they were facing the store fronts directly opposite. Somehow the whole street looked strangely unfamiliar. I studied all this with slack- jawed wonderment and incomprehension. The loud buzz that sounded from two feet away made me physically leave my seat. I could feel the blood hissing through my temples as I punched the phone's intercom button and picked up the receiver.
It was Barb: "Dave, it's your mother on line one," she informed me from the other end and hung up. "Yes mom, I'll cut the stupid lawn when I get home," I snarled to myself, before punching over to line one. "Hi, David?" my mother said from across town. "Yes mom, I'll cut the lawn when I get home," I repeated, leaving out the emphatic "stupid" bit. "Oh, aren't you a good boy," she sang with her trademark note of pleasant surprise. I groaned, realizing that that hadn't been why she'd called.
"But, hey, we've got the radio on down here at the store," she continued. "Have you heard anything more about the bank robbery yet?" This time it was my heart's turn to jump. No - I pleaded inside - no, please let her be talking about some bank on the news from Winnipeg or Toronto. Don't let it be - When the intercom buzzed again my nerves were getting fed up enough to ignore the shock. I put my mother on hold. "Someone on line two wanting the news department," said Barb.
"I guess that's you, huh?" I punched over to line two. "Hello?" I ventured timidly. "Hi, CJRS News Department?" came the unmistakable, quaking bass pipes that could only have belonged to an announcer from a successful large-market radio station. "This is Chad Hawkins from CPOW News, Winnipeg. Listen, any more word on that bank robbery?" From the corner of my disbelief-widened eyes I caught the blinking flash of an incoming call on line three. As the most visible and immediate route of escape, I used the excuse to put Chad Hawkins on hold and quickly punched it up before Barb most likely had had the chance to put her cigarette down.
To my horror the voice that greeted me was even bassier and more well-modulated than the previous one: "Hi, Gord Majors, BN National News Desk in Ottawa, here. Could I have your news department, please?" "Yes, one moment, I'll see if they're in," I replied and clicked him on hold. When line four began to flash I was sure this mysterious bank-heist story had just broken internationally. "Good morning, CJRS," I answered hiding steadfast behind my receptionist disguise. The voice that replied was not Washington's, however, but my mother's. "Look, David, my break's over so I just wanted to let you know you could take me off hold now." "No, wait, mom!" I cried, finding my own voice at last, "Bank robbery! What's this about a bank robbery?" "Good gravy, there's a bank robber holed up right across the street from CJRS.
Half of Thistle is down there watching. You know Mary Striker comes in to work from eleven till six? She had to detour up Matheson; they've got Main Street completely blocked off." I slammed my face into the glass of the newsroom window. That's why the street had looked so strange, I realized. Except for the cops, the cruisers and a few parked cars it was completely empty. As I peered up the street from left to right, however, I noticed two large crowds of people about a block away in either direction, squashed up behind two fence blockades.
Directly across the road from me and the entire Thistle police force was the Northern Isles Credit Union. With the sun high and bright and everything reflecting off the glass it was difficult to see right into the bank. Vaguely I could make out some movement near the back; whoever was robbing that building was not in there alone. I looked at the clock. It was 10:52 a.m. The first cruiser had come by at 10:15.
The bank across the street had been under siege for at least forty-five minutes and I seemed to be the only newsman in the country who hadn't heard. "Thanks mom, gotta go," I sputtered, hanging up the phone. For a brief instant I considered what to do about Chad and Gord. I had nothing to tell them since I didn't know anything and it was obviously going to take me some time to find out, first, what was going on, second, what to do about it and, third, how to go about doing something about it. "No sense racking up their long distance bills," I decided and swiftly cut off all three pulsing lines.
Now I really needed advice - from absolutely anyone who'd worked at a radio station longer than a week. I charged into the front office. The girls were in their usual locations but with their necks craned to look out the window onto Main Street such that they almost - but not quite - had to get up out of their chairs. "The Credit Union's being robbed!" I exclaimed, trying to raise their attention in as dramatic a fashion as the situation seemed to warrant. "Mm," Barb replied, her gaze unwavered.
She was obviously speaking for them both. "Started a little after ten." I was incredulous. "Why didn't you tell me?" The girls looked at each other for a single dumbfounded instant. Then Barb said: "Sor-ry." They both stared at me for a few seconds more, seeking some sort of acknowledgement for their heartfelt apology. When it was not forthcoming they returned to their posts of vigilance.
I had been wrong, I realized. I could not seek advice from just anyone. I made my way into the control room. For a moment I thought I might have to face the wrath of Linus for having bashed through before, while he was on the air; but no, as I came to discover, you'd have to be far more unprofessional than that to faze Linus Lindberg. "So what's up for eleven, Cronkite?" he asked with half interest.
"There's a bank robbery!" I wheezed in my breathlessness. "Oh yeah?" he remarked noncommittally. "Yeah," I said, "just across at the credit union." "Across where?" "Across the street!" "No kidding," he remarked, displaying the first mild hint of animation in his face. "Wow, that's a big story. Listen," he said, pointing at the forty-five disc spinning on the turntable, "Chuck Mangione's gonna come up a bit short, here.
Do you mind giving me your newscast about two minutes early? Otherwise I gotta put on another record and everything.." "Linus," I interrupted, "what do I do about this bank robbery?" "I don't know," he said with some irritation. "I'm on the air here, Dave." Then, looking at the turntable, he remarked with some urgency, "and my bloody record's got about twenty seconds left." Somehow the image of the broadcaster's gravest sin - "DEAD AIR" - managed to permeate the turmoil that was plugging my brain cells, and lock on directly to my motor nerves. Linus' trivial demand had presented me with a simple, concrete problem to overcome, one that I was capable of grasping at that moment. Without analyzing the absurdity of my actions I raced to the newsroom, ripped about thirty feet of print from the wire and began madly hunting for BN's 10:30 update. I found it and began tearing the other twenty-eight feet to shreds as the trumpet strains of Chuck Mangione slowly faded into oblivion over the newsroom speaker, followed by the characteristic "clunk" of Linus clicking his mike on too hard. "Fill, Lindberg," I screamed in my head.
"Read a PSA or something, for Christ's sake!" "It's eleven o'clock.." "Liar! It's 10:58!" "..and here with C-Jar-Ahr-S News is Dave Jensen." I ricocheted back down the hall towards the news booth to the sounds of.. nothing..just in time to see an empty control room..and hear the bathroom door clicking shut. I'd counted five beats of silence before I managed to say: "Good morning, Thistle, 'thank you' Linus, here are today's headlines. The Shah of Iran announced this morning that Muslim dissidents.." And that was all I remembered of that newscast. I spent the next several minutes trying to formulate, in my head, while I was reading, some sort of summary of what I knew so far about the robbery.
What I eventually tagged on the end of the report was something like: "And in local news, there's a bank robbery currently in progress in Thistle over at the, uh..uh, the..uh..well the Credit Union on Main Street, here. Nor..uh, Northern Isles.. Credit Union and..we'll have further updates for you as they become further..available." Linus, having returned from his pressing respite, came smoothly out of the news with an album-cut and his turntable still set at forty-five, blessing all Thistle with a vocal impression of Alvin Chipmunk, by Neil Diamond. For one brief moment I was actually grateful that most everyone from the station was safely out of town..and earshot. But this very thought splashed cold reality back in my face: I was still alone. Thistle was under siege and somewhere out there the rest of the world was waiting to hear what I had to say about it..
I've often since cursed the man named Marconi whose amazing research into the physics of radio waves at the turn of the century ultimately made possible my later traumatic predicament. If not for him, the public's definition of the term "news" would have remained considerably more generous. I'd likely have had several luxurious hours to get this breaking story into print, by which time someone who knew how to go about that task would undoubtedly have returned from their distant cavortings.. I sidled my way back to the newsroom, hoping against hope that the crisis had somehow managed to resolve itself, pack up and move on during my three-minute news break. From my vantage point at the window it was plain that, if anything, there were now more police crouched behind the various hoods and fenders on the street than I'd counted earlier.
I also noticed some of the vehicles were now black and white - the O.P.P. had been called in for back-up. Each officer below had his .38 revolver drawn, raised and ready. Reacting to the familiarity of the whole scene - straight out of any tawdry cop show - I instinctively looked for, and found, the rest of the SWAT team, with their telescopic rifles poised for business, strewn across the horizon of rooftops lining the street. In the back of my head a distant drumbeat began to swell into the throbbing rotor-buzz of a helicopter maneuvering into position. This was starting to look impressive. It was about then that my eyes were drawn to a distinctive yellow marquee above the store front adjacent to the credit union.
In large black lettering it read, simply: "HARDWARE". All I could think at that moment was, "When they make the movie they gotta film it right here!" And it was then I decided it was time to start writing my own character into the script. I buzzed the control room on the intercom. I was surprised to hear the loud, irritating drone at the other end coming back at me over the newsroom speakers; then I realized Lindberg's mike had been hot at that moment. I waited several embarrassed moments while he finished his record intro; then he came on the line, chuckling: "Boy, you buzzed me on the air, eh?" "Sorry, Linus" - I wished I could feel as nonchalant about sounding completely amateurish and idiotic on the air as Lindberg obviously did. But there was no time to dwell on that now; I needed information: "Listen, you know when people call up to wish birthday greetings and you hear them on the air?" "Yeah, 'The Birthday Party', 4:10 p.m., Monday through Saturday, 1:10 p.m.
on Sundays. But I don't do that any more, now that I'm on mid-morns." "But do you know how it's done?" Even Lindberg was affronted by this questioning of his professional abilities on the most basic of levels; still, I didn't know how it was done and, taking one of those Jack Coffey pearls to heart, I was in no position to ASS/U/ME anything: "Hey, Jensen, after doing afternoon drive for five and a half years I think I can remember how to punch a phone-line onto the air." He'd actually only done afternoons once a week, while on the lowly swing-shift, for five and a half years - "Good," I said, taking a big swallow, "because I'd like you to punch me up, live." There was a slight pause at the other end of the com. Lindberg was trying to figure out what I was up to without having to admit ignorance and undermine his already fragile credibility. He decided to ease his way in with a diversionary tactic: "Whose birthday greetings you sending out, Dave?" He was chuckling again now. "I've got a news report, here," I answered a bit sharply. My nerves had me in no mood to diddle around.
"I know, I know, I was just kidding," Lindberg lied. "Give me a call at five to, and I'll punch you up for the noon report." "No, no, I mean now. Punch me up now," some part of me, that was ignoring the part of me that couldn't believe I was planning to go through with this, insisted. "Now?" Lindberg blurted with a start. "Now? But it's only 11:10!" "I know, Linus, but there's a major news story happening right this minute that might be over by noon." The meek calmness with which I detailed the obvious to him surprised me.
I suppose that deep down I still recognized the extent of his experience over my own - at least in chronological terms - and was being sensitive to the fact that I might very well, myself, be on the verge of screwing up in a major way. "Why, what's up?" he ventured next. At this point he'd extended the limits of obtuseness beyond even my endurance. I had been swearing at myself all morning; this marked the first occasion in my young professional career for me to swear overtly at a co- worker. During the course of this Linus was happily able to recall the matter of the bank robbery in progress across the street.
"Holy -! You mean that's still going on?" he exclaimed. "Yes," I answered simply. "I guess it's okay to break format for something like this, huh?" He seemed to be struggling with the dilemma of what to do with his records that would be left over at the top of the hour. Then it must've occurred to him that he was CJRS's senior exec. for the day. With a sudden bold flex of authority he said: "Of course it's okay. Alright, big guy, you've got your live line.
Standby.." I heard myself clicked on hold. I quickly nabbed a pocket radio with an earplug and turned down the newsroom speaker, to avoid mike feedback. I put in the plug, flicked the switch, spun the dial to 1330 kHz and caught "The Last Farewell" by Roger Whittaker, one of Linus' big favourites. I took a second to formulate a good opening line and sat in palm-cold readiness for my imminent feed-in from Linus. Then I waited.
I took another big swallow, my mouth dry as a brush fire. I waited some more. A minute went by. Then it occurred to me: Linus was waiting for the song to finish. I could imagine this seeming to be "correct procedure", by his convoluted brand of logic.
Another half minute went by. Then he came on: "And there he is, everybody's favourite, Roger Whittaker and 'The Last Farewell', on 1330 Radio, C-Jar-Ahr-S. Word is Roger's working on a new album as we speak, right down-under in his homeland, New Zealand. Should be a good one and I know I'll look forward to hearing the first cut off that one as much as I'm sure you will also be looking forward to it, too. Uh..but, hey, now it's time for a special live news report from C-Jar-Ahr-S's roving eye-on-the-town, Dave Jensen. What's happening down at News Central, Dave?" And now it was my turn to pause, in an overwhelming rush of disbelief: This was it! I was on! A week-long graduate of high school doing live media coverage of a bank robbery in progress! I tried imagining the odds of so many unlikely circumstances having collided at this given place and time.
I couldn't. On the first level, I wondered, how many radio station newsrooms in the world could previously have boasted balcony seats to a bank robbery? Added to this, what were the chances of that privilege finally being granted in Thistle, Ontario? - in my ten years as a resident on Lake Norakee, this was hands and away the biggest news event, ever (as I later learned from Thistle "lifers", nothing of this magnitude had happened since 1952 when the hockey rink in neighbouring Kenville burned down..and Kenville doesn't even have a radio station!) A third complication of circumstance was that all this chose to happen on the exact date when the only person available to take advantage of it had neither the experience nor the training to handle it properly. The final and most tragic complication was that that person just happened to be me. And yet, despite feeling a total lack of confidence in my ability to perform the task at hand in any semblance of a professional manner, here I was, ready - if not exactly prepared - to give my all for responsible broadcast journalism. There was something to be said for my gumption at least, I acknowledged.. There ensued a brief instant of picturing myself at the fore of a long line of distinguished correspondents of this century: Lloyd Robertson, Walter Cronkite (whom I barely remembered), Lowell Thomas (whom I only knew of at all from watching certain episodes of M*A*S*H); and, of course, the unshakable Lorne Green, Canada's infamous "voice of doom", who'd broadcast the news of a world at war to the apprehensive ears of a nation.
He'd gone on to become Ben Cartwright in "Bonanza", blazing the western trail of hope for other Canadian broadcaster/would-be actors, like myself..Then there was Knowlton Nash who'd recently taken over the C.B.C. National from Peter Kent (who'd inherited it from Lloyd Robertson two years earlier when Lloyd defected to C.T.V.). Like me, Knowlton wore thick glasses. Dared I hope to one day make the grand leap to television? Knowlton, mind you, had managed this the sly way. He'd first worked his way up as head of the C.B.C.
news department. Then, when they axed Kent, he'd hired himself as anchor. Frankly, I didn't have much faith in my own managerial potential. I'd just have to work my way up on raw talent.. "Dave?" came the voice of Lindberg from somewhere off in the dark recesses of the present.
Then I heard my own voice joining him there: "Mired within the darkened lobby of the Northern Isles Credit Union, here on Main Street, Thistle, a desperate gunman holds hostages in his bid to escape the societal consequences of a robbery gone awry..Good morning, it's 11:14, this is Dave Jensen reporting live, across the street from the crime scene, right here in the news offices of CJRS.." Yeah, yeah! - I cheered in my head - what a socko opener! We're gonna do this, buddy. We're gonna DO it! Then Thistle and I wondered what I was going to say next. It seemed neither of us had the answer. "As I speak the..uh, street..is lined with police cars.. and, uh..police.." I'd had an opener but no follow-up! "They have their weapons drawn..and trained on the bank.. naturally..uh, nobody seems to really know much about what's going on, right now.." The protection of visual anonymity did little to arrest the sensation of red heat rising up my neck like a mercury thermometer.
It wasn't true that "nobody" knew what was going on. It was true that "I" didn't know what was going on. I had committed the most basic crime of responsible journalism: I hadn't checked my facts. Fact was, I had no facts, whatsoever. Any of the several hundred spectators coagulated on the street, who'd been gawking at the scene substantially longer than I had, could likely have provided harder facts.
My mother, who'd gotten her facts from Mary Striker, had more facts than I did. I knew absolutely nothing for certain. I'd been in a big panic to take the initiative. What was it I'd said? A gunman? Hostages? A robbery gone awry? All that made for a great opening line..but I'd made it all up. The few questions I'd asked had been the wrong ones of the wrong people.
At that moment I didn't know where I was going to dig, but I knew it was time to get some facts. I'd even call the cop-shop - the Deputy Chief! - if necessary. I started to sign back over to Linus: "We'll have more live coverage for you in a few moments.." It was just about then I heard the bathroom door slam shut, down the hall. My situation had progressed to that of a student pilot whose flying instructor had just bailed out..and taken the plane with him. I wa.
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