I’ve decided what I want to do when I grow up.
At various times, I considered fireman, jet pilot, playboy, hero.
I realized at 6:11 a.m. this morning that I will be a medium-market television news personality.
If the barking dog down the cul de sac hadn’t awakened me early, I would never have rolled out of bed and staggered to the “family room” where I crashed on the couch to check the early news show out of Denver. Things happen for a reason.
My destiny was clear as I watched the crew of empty talking heads do their daily work.
With my roly-poly, gap-toothed look, I am the perfect consumer/financial news reporter, an “in-the-field” kind of guy.
I had a vision. Right there on the family room couch.
I’m in the news room. 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, 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, limited news chops: facial expressions — an array of looks key to the television biz. A competent newsperson masters them all and can use the arsenal to conceal the fact he or she knows next to nothing of substance about the subject at hand.
There’s 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 and/or subtle shaking of the head.
Calm Acceptance often follows Concern, 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.
As the consumer reporter and gadget guy, I need a few more expressions.
I need to be able to show I am Perplexed. I must register Joy and be fluent in Giddiness. This last expression I trade with my partners at the news desk whenever we engage the Childlike mode as we toss fluffy banter around for 10 to 20 seconds prior to every commercial break.
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.
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 (or seashore, pasture, skyline, depending on the team’s geographic location). 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 blue screen and make sweeping gestures. Her smile is magnetic, her capped teeth perfectly white. You are captivated 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 smartaleck 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 junior varsity baseball team.
That’s me, down at the end of the desk, on your right. I always have a stack of some sort of colorful crap sitting in front of me. I look simultaneously Fascinated and Befuddled.
No one at the news desk is wearing pants; we wear shorts, swim trunks, thongs. Think aboiut it, have you ever seen one of the team below the waist?
When I’m in the field, 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 you need when you wake in the morning and prepare for a day at the office.
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. You see me doing my Elvis imitation in front of a group of bored third-graders as you listen to my voice-over.
Me: “You bet, Bill. Those kids are incredible. And, just so you know: Elvis has left the building. Heh heh.”
Betsy (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. Betsy, 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 are able to move effortlessly from the crash of a commercial aircraft to a spirited comeback by Rihanna. 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 multiracial, two- (maybe three) gender crew of light-headed mullets.
Better yet, we are an uncanny representation of Middle American consciousness, and I’m excited to be part of it. Nothing lasts, nothing is too deep, too involved, too puzzling. 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 have the slightest idea what we’re doing and, without a teleprompter and someone to tell us what to think, 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 double-dip recession is imminent and asks: “We hear you’re learning to do the schottische this afternoon, aren’t 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.
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 in 10-second segments.
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 brew the java first, extra-heavy on the grind. If I want a serious dose, I use a French press. If I want volume, it’s the automatic coffee maker.
For the tacos I 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 is cut in a very small dice to allow it to cook rapidly ( if I had the time, I would simmer larger chunks in salted water until they are fork tender). Some olive oil and butter is melted in a nonstick sauté pan and into the fat go the spuds. I press the potatoes flat, season and leave them, allowing the bottom surface to get golden brown.
Meanwhile, I finely dice the onion and pepper and mince a couple cloves of garlic. I parboil a bit of sausage (chorizo or a hot Italian relieved of casing and crumbled work just fine), then I drain the water and fat, add a bit of olive oil and brown the meat.
When the bottom layer of potato is golden and toasty I turn the spudss, season again, and add the onion and pepper. I wait.
When the potatoes brown again, I test them and if they are cooked, down goes the heat and in go the sausage and the minced garlic. I turn the heat to super low and cover the pan, stirring the mix every so often.
I take corn tortillas (figuring two per taco, doubled up to prevent breakage) and I wrap them in a slightly damp tea towel. On to a heavy plate they go and into the microwave. I set the machine on high heat for 60 seconds, but I don’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 break the eggs into a bowl and add just a touch of cream. I beat the living daylights out of the eggs with a small whisk and add a smidge of salt and pepper. I 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 need to get up early: Scrambled eggs take forever if one wants the best possible scrambled egg.
I put a nonstick sauté pan on the lowest heat possible 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 the ova are dead by incinerating them, producing a dry and tasteless yellowish substance, may not like to hear it: A small batch of scrambled egg should take at least 20 minutes to cook.
Correct. Twenty 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 the tortillas. 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, if desired, and the taco is folded and eaten.
I intend to make this breakfast every morning once I get my ideal job.
Meanwhile, I have to review the principles of newscaster hairstyling and practice my frantic laugh.
Appearance versus reality. Our work is never complete.