Whenever somebody asks why I walk around with a grimace all day, I tell them this: Because I’m a journalist, damn it. And being a journalist is hard work.
It’s a lie. The truth is that I grimace a lot because I’m constantly stubbing my toe. But that doesn’t change the fact that being a journalist is hard work. It is. Not only does a newsman have to ask a lot of hard questions, he has to answer his share of them, too.
It was unreal last week.
“What was the dead cat’s name?” people demanded of me everywhere I went. “Did the tail fall off when they swung it around?”
You can imagine that all great reporters of our time have had to answer questions like these. You can imagine that because you are very drunk.
I was bombarded with these questions because I had written a news story about an incident with a dead cat that led to a confrontation with an assault rifle. And in addition to the hard-hitting, journalist-type questions, I also fielded more than a fair share of witty comments, such as this: “I guess it’s true what they say, huh? You can’t swing a dead cat in Lewiston without hitting someone with an automatic weapon.”
Cue laugh track here.
But not all of the questions and comments I face are so easy to respond to. In their efforts to save pocket change, tightwads will frequently barrage me with questions instead of forking over the loot to buy a paper.
Where was the crash? What happened? Why did it happen? Is it true the wreck might have been caused by a dead cat? Why are you grimacing?
So, I thought it would be a great idea if I set up a sort of question-and-answer forum where I could tackle these big issues with the readers (or the cheapskates who buy bubble gum instead of the paper). I figure we could give it some highfalutin title like: “Ask the Reporter,” or “Stump and Publicly Humiliate Mark LaFlamme, That Simpleton.”
I figure I’ll compile the list of questions and answer them every other weekend or whenever the hell I feel like it. Something organized like that. The format might look like this:
“Hi, Mike. Long time reader, first time writer. You seem to get along pretty well downtown. Do you have any specific tricks for relating to the people down there?” – Sally in Sabattus.
“That’s a very good question, Sandra. I was just discussing this matter with a former drug agent I know. He made the comment that I drink the same language’ as the people I often mingle with. Which is a very clever thing to say, but entirely untrue. I would never drink with street sources because it would mack me right slopy.”
“Hi, Mork. Personally, I’ve never heard of you. But since you seem to be connected, I wonder if you can tell me who writes the Bag Lady and Good Buy Girl column? I’ll bet they’re pretty.” – Gunther in Greene.
“I am asked that very often, Grungy. And while I’d like to tell you exactly who the writers are, I’ve had negative experiences with that in the past. I can’t go into details while the hospital records are still sealed. But I will relate that you don’t want to mess with Bag Lady or Good Buy Girl. They can hurt you. I’ve said too much already.”
“Hello, Mitchell. I wondered if you ever suffer consequences when you rag on the editors the way you do. I mean, don’t they ever beat you up?” – Lars in Lisbon.
“They do worse than that, Lars. Have you ever seen my byline over a weather story? Or a feature about a potato that looks like Moses? Or a piece on city politics? That’s editor revenge. Although, they can also emit a fine spray of a blinding ink, much like the octopi from which they descended.”
“Greetings, Mr. LaFlower. My wife and I just built a fantastic replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in our backyard. Do you think you could come over and write a story about it?” – Creative in Carthage.
“Dear Creative: No.”
So you see, this would be a fine way to get the answers to questions that were not addressed directly in a news story. Not to mention the gossip that might be generated. So I say, write now and write often. And while you’re at it, you should… Hey! Here comes my very first question.
Smokey! The cat’s name was Smokey!
Mark LaFlamme is the Sun Journal crime reporter. He really does like to write weather stories.