You know what’s crazy? I’ll tell you what’s crazy™
They are young and dumb and full of desire.
They come to businesses eager and wide eyed and ready to please
Interns are dancing between two worlds. They have one foot in college and one foot in the work place. They have an eye on an insouciant life of frat parties and beer bongs and tail gates. They have another eye on the real world, where bills, dead lines and bosses who suck ass are the norm.
They are taught by professors who couldn’t hack it in the street so now they lead the next wave of Walter Cronkites into the abyss. It’s like the blind leading the blind.
So I’m in the lunch room and I see a young intern seated at the table. She is 20 and cute. She looks like a million other wanna be reporters I’ve come across in my career.
I immediately notice she has red eyes. Does she have scurvy? Or is she hung over like she has just returned from a sea voyage with liquored up pirates, I think to myself.
“You look tired”, I say keeping my real thoughts quiet like a poker player holding all aces.
“I am tired”, she responds with a forced smile, looking up momentarily from her smart phone.
I notice the back of her hand is covered with red sharpie. What 20 year old covers her hand with a sharpie?
“What happened there?”
She stares nervously at her hand, almost as if she didn’t realize it was there. “Oh, ah, I needed to remember an address.”
I shut her down.
“Girl don’t bull shit a bull shitter. I went to college once. You wrote that mess on the back of your hand because you got hammered last night and that way you could just show it to your cabbie and still get home.”
She rolls her eyes and laughs.
“I’m tired” she says again smiling sheepishly.
She says she is a sophomore studying radio/ TV / Communications at Auburn. She says she is shadowing another reporter today.
She starts to gravitate back to her smart phone.
“Hey. You got that jam?”
She looks at me like I’m crazy.
“Yeah, the jam? It’s that buzz, that feeling you get when you know you’re doing something cool, something worthwhile.”
“I think so,” she says unsure of what this demon of televised insanity sitting across from her is talking about.
“Girl, pull up a chair at my alter of honesty and hede my words. Put your cell phone down for a moment. I normally charge a lot of money on the rubber chicken circuit for what I’m about to tell you.”
She is startled.
“You don’t get this in Mass Comm 101.”
She seems receptive.
“What do you wanna be when you grow up?”
“I guess I wanna be a reporter”, she says with all the conviction of wet toilet tissue.
She has a nice look. But that’s only one component of the mix.
“OK, well let me tell ya a story. We use to have a female reporter who worked here. She was solid and nasty and tough. She was a real news woman. Her name was Christie, and I’ll leave out her last name to spare the guilty from incrimination. Christie was a news woman’s news woman. She was unfraid, crass, ready to kick ass in a world where ass kicking is mandated, expected. She had a temper and an attitude. She cussed like a sailor on liberty. We use to call her a holster sniffer cause she loved many a police officer. But I digress. So Christie once told me a story about what it is to be a news reporter. Imagine being 30 years old. You are on a country bumpkin ass road with a tanker truck over turned with a bunch of bubba fire fighters standing around spitting tobacco and you are the only woman. You have to pee so bad, but you can’t leave the scene because you are going to go live in 5 minutes. So with no options and a full bladder, someone throws you a roll of toilet paper that has been on the back seat of a fire truck for weeks. It’s covered with dirt and rain and who knows what else. You walk into the woods in your most lady like way and while nobody is watching you hope, you squat and pee in natures great outdoors. When you walk back to the live truck, your photographer and a slew of fire fighters laugh and say Happy Thanksgiving.”
Thanksgiving? the intern says wide eyed with horror.
“That’s right, Thanksgiving. You see that’s what we do. We work around the clock, on holidays, in rain and sleet and lunacy that makes no sense. We don’t get holidays off and we can only take vacation certain times of the year because nobody gets off during the sweeps period when ratings matter most.”
She looks stunned.
“So once again, I ask, do you have the jam?”
She pauses and swallows. “I have the jam,” she says her eyes red as a coronation gown.
I laugh. “You out late last night?”
“Just tired,” she says again.
“Don’t lie to me college girl. I’m old but i’m not dumb.”
“You don’t look old,” she says with a smile.
“Good answer. But i am old.”
“So anyway, you are 20 now and you don’t have any worries. Mommy and daddy pay your bills. But 10 years from now, when there is no return from the journalistic abyss and you are working in some market somewhere on the edge of who knows and it’s a cold ass day you will remember me asking you in this lunch room if you have that jam.”
She rolls her eyes.
“Search your soul girl? See if you feel the intensity. Imagine if you will still have it in ten years, when someone calls you wife and a bunch of kids call you mom.”
I point to the newsroom in the distance.
“There are a lot of people out there right now who don’t have that jam. They did, like you. But now they don’t. They are going through the motions, shopping on line, dreaming of what might have been. They would have benefited from an old guy like me giving them a real shake down about what they wanna be when they grow up.”
“You’re not old,” she says again.
“Hey, Sometimes I hate this job while I’m in here. Stupid bosses, dumb ideas. But you know how I know I still have that jam? When I get out of here and I tell a story about a man with one arm who survived a crash and he willed himself to live because he loves his grand kids. I get that jam when I illuminate the darkness and make filthy dirt bags and corrupt sons of bitches run like the worthless sacks of manure they are. If my story telling can make a difference in one person’s life, then I get that jam. And I’ve been getting that jam for 25 years.”
“I don’t know if I have that jam,” she says finally being honest.
“You gotta know yourself. You gotta dig down, look deep. If you think that you might want kids or a husband or not squat to pee on a country road with a dirty roll of toilet paper on Thanksgiving day then reconsider a career as a lawyer or a veterinarian. It’s ok. It’s called being true to yourself.”
“So where did you go last night?”
“Don’t lie to me. You were out partying, right? Why else would there be a bunch of red ink on the back of your hand when you have a job shadow assignment today.”
She laughs out loud
“How’d you know that?”
“I was young and dumb once. I’m still dumb.”
She smiles in a cute college girl kind of way.
“Ok. Well just think about what I said. One day ten years from now, you’ll thank me.”
“OK”, she says going back to her all engrossing smart phone.
You got that jam?