I’ve decided what I want to do when I grow up.
At various times over the years, I considered fireman, jet pilot, playboy, hero.
All good, eh?
I realized at 6:11 a.m. this morning, however, that I want to be a medium-market television news personality.
If the barking dog down the hill hadn’t awakened me early, I would not have rolled out of bed and staggered to the living room where I crashed on the couch to check the television news broadcast out of Denver. Things happen for the best of reasons in this best of all possible worlds, don’t they?
My destiny was clear as I watched the crew of news goofs do their work.
“I can do this,” I said to my faithful yellow Labrador retriever, Arnie.
In a flash I had it figured out: With my roly-poly, gap-toothed looks, I am the perfect consumer/financial news reporter, an “in-the-field” kind of guy.
I had a vision: I fit right in. Not only do I look the part, but I can be as superficial and bland as the next guy.
I’m a member of the news “team.”
There’s the dashing anchor.
There’s the attractive, but somewhat matronly female anchor.
There’s the weather person — if male, kind of a lovable wiseacre, if female, kind of hot.
There’s the irritating, testosterone-fueled sports guy.
We possess the requisite and limited news chops: facial expressions — an array of visual cues key to the television biz. A competent TV newsperson masters them all and can use the arsenal to conceal the fact he or she knows next to nothing about the subject at hand.
The repertoire includes Concern, Moderate Concern and Profound Concern. These are used in times of crisis or to express empathy when confronted with tragedy. Eyebrows figure heavily into the concern modes, accompanied by a slight tilt or subtle shaking of the head.
Calm Acceptance often follows one of the Concerns, indicating an understanding and acceptance of the harsh nature of life.
Puzzlement is useful when confronted with examples of bizarre behavior and, of course, there’s Consternation (delivered with a slightly open mouth and depressed brow) indicating an emotional condition one click away from Exasperation or Surrender.
But, as the consumer reporter and gadget guy, I need a few more expressions.
I need to be able to register Joy (in order to convey my solidarity with others) and I must be adept with Giddiness. This, I trade with my partners at the news desk as we engage the Childlike mode when we toss fluffy banter around for 10 to 20 seconds prior to every commercial break. (Being the biz guy, I will also need Horror in my repertoire, reserving it for market crashes, severe recessions, bank failures and the like.)
The facial expressions and meaningful gestures play an important part in our news team’s projection of a family-like bond. Our camaraderie is our most outstanding characteristic, and it obviously extends to the viewing audience. We are all one.
Can you see us? There we are at the News Desk, seated in front of a huge, digital sunrise splashing golden light on steep ramparts. It’s morning, after all.
At the center of the curving desk sit Bill and Estelle (anchors must have ordinary, reassuring names).
To Estelle’s right (your left) sits Wendy, the semi-glamorous weather girl — our “Team Meteorologist.” Wendy can’t spell meteorology, but that is beside the point; her job is to stand in front of a blank green screen and make sweeping gestures. Her smile is magnetic, her capped teeth perfectly white; her breasts seem designed by a Renaissance master. You truly care when she indicates a major high-pressure system is moving over the southeastern section of the state.
To Bill’s left (your right) is Lance, the smart aleck sports reporter. Lance knows everything and makes pronouncements about humankind’s most important issues: whether an aging ball player can still hit the curve ball, the inability of a certain quarterback to win the Super Bowl. Lance was a member of his high school’s junior varsity baseball team.
That’s me, down at the end of the desk, on your right. I always have a stack of colorful crap sitting in front of me. I look simultaneously Fascinated and Befuddled.
But, it’s when I’m in the field that I get the opportunity to do what I do best: perform as the ultimate dilettante. I pretend to do all sorts of things, under the tutelage of experts. Since I’m incompetent, I’m a perfect fit.
When I’m in the studio with my comrades, I engage in the art of the segue. We are skilled in the art of meaningless chatter, just the kind of exchange viewers need when they wake in the morning and prepare for a day at the office or the warehouse.
No one sitting at the news desk is wearing pants.
We move you from one unconnected event and emotion to another.
Bill (registering Moderate Concern): “And so, police continue to investigate what is perhaps the most violent crime this city has experienced in more than a decade. An entire family and their pets, brutalized by drug-crazed gang members.”
Bob turns to me, switches to Cheerful and says: “And Karl, you’ve been at Bead World out on 88th Avenue where they’re displaying the largest bead portrait of Elvis ever completed by a third-grade class. That must have been great fun. Is it true Elvis himself showed up? Heh, heh.”
I switch from Consternation to Animated Anticipation as the tape rolls.
Me: “You bet, Bill. Those kids are incredible. And, just so you know: Elvis has left the building. Heh heh.”
Estelle (exhibiting Shock): “The senior citizen bus plunged forty feet from the freeway into oncoming traffic where it was struck by the fully-loaded cement truck. Karl, where in the world were you this afternoon?”
I hastily switch expressions from Anguish to Delight as the tape rolls.
Me: “Well, Estelle, can you imagine six tons of pistachio ice cream? Carved in the likeness of Mother Theresa? Wow, is that a lot of ice cream? Just about the same weight as the concrete in that truck.”
With our ability to switch facial expressions and, thus, our emotional states, we move effortlessly from the crash of a commercial aircraft to a spirited comeback by yet another drug-addled pop star. We sail from a mudslide that destroys an entire Swiss village to a new and incredibly cute polar bear cub at the zoo.
We are, in rapid succession, Stunned, Titillated, Pious and Star-struck.
We’re pros: A multi-racial, two- (maybe three) gender crew of light-headed mullets.
Better yet, we are an accurate representation of Middle America, and I’m excited to be part of it. Nothing lasts, nothing is too deep, too involved, too perplexing. We are not particularly concerned about the truth: it is most often too complex, ambiguous and difficult. We are like bees flitting from one cardboard blossom to another, never returning, never remembering, never asking more than the scripted, shallow question. None of us has the slightest idea what we’re doing and, without the teleprompter, we would be lost. I read the financial news and talk about the fed rate. I have no idea what the fed rate is. My cohort modifies her facial expression just after I’ve notified viewers a recession is imminent and asks: “We hear you’re learning to do the schottische this afternoon. Are you excited?”
I am. And I have no idea what the schottische is. My cohort is confused and frustrated; she is stuck in the middle market because her eyes are too small and she is fighting a losing battle against a fierce case of facial hair.
It’s great to be part of a “team,” a key member in a group of dullards whose marginal apprehension of the universe is molded into 10-second segments and who are trusted to keep a similarly skilled public abreast of what is happening across the globe.
It’s the perfect job.
The one problem about my new job: the hours.
I have to be out of bed, up and at ’em at 4 a.m. There are situations when it is reasonable to stay up to this hour, but rising at 4 a.m. from a night’s sleep is uncivilized.
To endure the torture of the predawn hours, a good breakfast is in order.
Breakfast tacos and strong black coffee.
I’ll brew the java first, extra-heavy on the grind. If I want a serious dose, I’ll use a French press. If I want volume, it’s the automatic coffee maker.
For the tacos I’ll need a potato, some sausage, onion, red or green bell pepper, garlic, eggs, corn tortillas, a blend of grated cheeses, a high-grade salsa or a bit of homemade green chile.
The potato will be cut in small cubes to allow it to cook rapidly. The cubes are parboiled the night before in lightly salted water, until fork tender. Some olive oil and butter is melted in a nonstick sauté pan and into the fat goes the spuds. I’ll press the potatoes firmly, season and leave them, allowing the bottom surface of the little cubes to get golden brown.
Meanwhile, I’ll finely dice the onion and pepper and mince a couple cloves of garlic. I’ll parboil a bit of sausage (chorizo or hot Italian, relieved of casing and crumbled), then I’ll drain the water and fat, add a bit of olive oil and brown the meat.
When the layer of potato is golden and toasty I’ll turn the potatoes, season again, and add the onion and pepper. I’ll wait.
When the potatoes brown again, I’ll test them and, if they are cooked, down goes the heat and in go the sausage and the minced garlic. I’ll turn the heat to super low and cover the pan, stirring the mix every so often.
I’ll take corn tortillas (figuring two per taco, doubled up to prevent breakage) and wrap them in a slightly damp tea towel. Onto a heavy plate they’ll go and into the microwave. I’ll set the machine for high heat for 60 seconds, but I won’t turn it on. Not yet.
Now, for the eggs.
I’m going to scramble a couple eggs for each diner. At this ungodly hour, that means me. That means two eggs.
I’ll break the eggs into a bowl and add just a touch of cream. I’ll beat the living daylights out of the eggs with a small whisk and add a smidge of salt and pepper. I’ll wail on the eggs until the whites and yolks are totally incorporated and there is a significant amount of air beaten into the mix.
Here’s why I’ll need to get up early: Decent scrambled eggs take darned near forever (or so it seems when you’re hungry). Or they should, if one wants the best possible scrambled egg.
I’ll put a nonstick sauté pan on medium low heat and melt a wad of butter. The pan is hot enough to melt the butter but not hot enough to brown it.
I’m going to say it. Those of you who like to make sure any bacteria haunting the ova are dead by incinerating them, producing a dry and tasteless substance very quickly over high heat, may not like to hear it: A small batch of scrambled egg should take at least 10 minutes to cook.
Correct. Ten minutes, at the least.
The egg goes into the pan and immediately starts getting pushed around with a spatula or wooden spoon. The egg has to set almost like a custard, the curds forming very slowly, in constant motion, the creaminess maintained throughout the process.
Drink some coffee while you push; it’s worth the wait.
As the eggs near completion, on goes the microwave. The tortillas stay inside their steamy garment until the last moment when they are taken out, almost too hot to touch. A layer of grated cheese (cheddar, cojito, jack, etc) is spread on them. On goes a layer of potato and it is topped by some of the velvety egg. A bit of salsa or green chile is added, homemade please, and the taco is folded and eaten.
I intend to make this breakfast every morning once I get my job.
Meanwhile, I have to review the principles of newscaster hairstyles and practice my frantic laugh.
Appearance versus reality.
This work is never complete.