The woman was as friendly as can be until recognition dawned.

“Wait,” she said after five minutes of talking. “Is your name Mark?”

I resisted the temptation to lie and admitted my identity.

Her eyes darkened. Her body tensed. The face twisted into a scowl.

This is The Person Who Remembers, and if you’ve been a reporter for a while, you will encounter her often. It’s all fun and games, my friend, until that witness at the fire scene suddenly remembers that you wrote a story about her sister’s criminal conviction for dealing in black market string cheese back in ’98.

Sometimes recognition is followed by non-negotiable silence. Often, the Person Who Remembers will have hot words to spit at you before he or she storms away. You never know how it’s going to go, which is what makes the encounter extra fun.

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But that’s child’s play compared to The Guy Who Knows Nothing Yet Wants to Talk Nonstop, anyway.

You’re at a stabbing scene downtown when you spot a fellow gazing knowingly at the cops behind the crime scene tape.

“Say, friend,” you begin. “Did you happen to witness this event?”

“No,” he tells you. “But I did witness a fire out in California back in 2007. You should have seen it. Entire chicken coop went up like a marshmallow in a campfire.”

“That sounds interesting,” you say, “but I’m here to cover the stabbing and I don’t …”

“Feathers flying everywhere,” the wide-eyed man goes on, hot on your heels as you attempt to retreat. “Smelled like burned turd, I can tell you. Ain’t never seen a fire like it. Firemen talked to me and everything because I saw the whole thing. It was a warm evening, slightly overcast, but windless and …”

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The Guy Who Knows Nothing will literally stalk you from one end of the crime scene to another, continuing his weird tale even as you’re engaged and trying to interview others. This is a guy who will follow you home, if you give him a chance. He figures that what he lacks in quality observation he can make up for in quantity.

But that’s nothing compared to The Riddler. The Riddler is a man or woman who somehow manages to greet the reporter’s every question with a question of his own.

Reporter: “Did you witness this accident?”

Riddler: “Why? Are people hurt? Is anyone dead?”

Reporter: “We’re just trying to figure out how …”

Riddler: “What caused it? Was somebody drunk?”

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Reporter: “I don’t know, I just …”

Riddler: “Say, how does one become a reporter, anyway?”

A reporter can wind up talking to a Riddler for 15 minutes before figuring out that the person is physically incapable of articulating words that don’t form a question. It’s sad. There should be more help for these people.

But even that nonsense is a delightful distraction from The Tease. This is a person who will give you pure gold at the scene of the crime. Beautiful stuff. Riveting. The kind of detail reporters dream of.

Tease: “I saw that man there shoot that woman with what appeared to be a gold-plated Beretta, 9 millimeter, I believe. Before she died, the woman confessed with her last breath that she had fooled around with the man’s brother, Todd. The killer and his victim exchanged vows of everlasting love before she died. It was very romantic. Somewhere in the distance, a dog barked.”

Reporter: Furiously scribbling these awesome details in his notebook, already rehearsing his Pulitzer acceptance speech.

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Tease: “But all of that is off the record.”

The Tease is a horrible human being, the type who will dangle scraps of meat before a starving dog before snatching them away and eating them himself.

But he’s nothing next to Johnny One Word.

Reporter, gasping and out of breath after sprinting 2 miles to the scene: “Sir, were you here when City Hall exploded?”

Johnny One Word: “Yup.”

Reporter: “Can you describe it to me?”

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Johnny One Word: “Sure.”

Reporter: “Well? What happened?”

Johnny One Word: “It exploded.”

During an encounter with this dude, a reporter’s pencil will remain forever hovering over the notebook page, never to write a single thing. It’s like hell for a pencil, I think. And for a reporter.

But you will welcome interaction with any of these people over just five minutes with What About My Needs. This is the person who acts like he has something to contribute and will subtly indicate that he does, but when you go to question him about the issue at hand, bam! Out comes the agenda.

Reporter: “Say, chum. Did you happen to see it when the wild dogs carried off the mayor?”

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My Needs: “No. But you wouldn’t believe how much I pay in child support.”

All reporters know this guy or gal. He or she will almost always begin an exchange by saying, “Boy, do I have a story for you.”

And here’s a tip for you aspiring scribes: This guy (or gal) never has a story for you. It’s always the child support he pays, the fight she’s having with her landlord or the business she is starting up and, boy, you sure want to get in on the ground floor of that action.

Anytime a reporter goes out to interview witnesses, the uncertainty of what awaits is part of the thrill. In addition to the above characters, you might also meet Ain’t Talking, Only Talking for Moolah, Can’t Talk Here, The Lonely Guy, The Flirty Girl and Not Wearing Pants.

Come to think of it, that last appellation was given to me, so strike it off the list.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer, known in the newsroom as The One Who Eludes Editors. Email him at [email protected]


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