Thursday, August 31, 2006
Personally, I never had much contact with Roz the controversial, prematurely-ousted Hard News Cafe hashslinger. The one I remember was Albert, mostly because I worked the 7pm-4am shift, but one day I week I was scheduled until 5am. On those days, I'd go to the cafeteria at 4:57, hoping to get a biscuit before heading home to sleep until three. I'd see the doughy goods, nestled in their metal tray; warm and inviting. But when I'd ask to buy one, Albert inevitably barked out, "NO BISCUITS TILL FIVE! That's the rules. That's right. You heard me."
Anyway, yesterday I received the following rant about Roz. Despite the evidence offered up by the previously published "Roz Files" I had no idea she had such an impact on people. Or that someone could carry around such resentment towards the person who served up barely edible CNN cafeteria gruel.
And yes, this fired up, Roz-phobic CNN refugee shall remain anonymous:
"I hated Roz; that's right, downright despised her. And I know that I am not alone when admitting this. Plus, I still blame her for everything. That woman had it out for me!
First of all, she was friendly to everyone BUT me. She'd rip a joke, call people "honey", even ask about people's loved ones, all with that cool Jamaican accent. However, when I approached she became a stone cold bitch. No "honey", no complimenting my choice of cuisine, even her accent was gone. I tried everything; I was desperate to win Roz over. I asked about her beloved country and family, commented on new hair-do's...but nothing. No acknowledgment, not even a smile, just an evil smirk.
Finally, I gave up. I became petrified of her. So much so that I timed my visits to the Hard News to coincide with her breaks. If the timing didn't work, I'd bribe colleagues with free Chick-Fil-A waffle fries to get my lunch for me.
Then one day I was hungover -- not an uncommon occurence -- and was in need of grease. Sure I could have gone to McDonald's, but my VJ food budget for the day only allowed for me to spend $2 for breakfast. Needless to say, Roz had already taken her break and my head hurt too much to bargain with people.
Fast forward to the cash register. My grand total was $2.10. Hallelujah, made my budget. Thank God for spare change found in almost every couch and/or chair spread throughout every floor on both the North and South Towers. I handed Roz
$5.10 and she returned $2.90. Normally, I would not have made a fuss, but the $2.90 screwed up my $3 Wendy's dollar menu lunch. I calmly said,
"Roz, I gave you the 10 cents, you owe me 3 bucks."
"Well," she loudly exclaimed, "You did not!"
I loudly retorted,
"I did so! Why would I lie about 10 cents?"
In a huff, she gave me that buck and mumbled under her breath,
"I know you didn't give me 10 cents, but I'll give it to you anyway cuz I have too."
So I shouted, "Exactly. The customer is always right!" and marched out of the cafeteria with my hard won three dollars.
But that damn Roz got the last laugh.
Awful things began to happen to me afterward; not being promoted to Feeds, a way too long stint of celibacy (not by choice) and a nasty car accident--makes me think that Roz put a voodoo spell on me--
God Bless you Roz!"
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
The most testosterone-driven department within CNN was, unsurprisingly, the sports department. Before the advent of the CNNSI sports network (which folded only few years after it was launched) the sports shows were just done on a hideous set lurking in the same studio as the regular news set. This monstrosity had to be pulled out and set up nightly. By the time I worked there, it was so banged up that it looked like the cast members of STOMP had performed on it for 10 years.
When CNNSI launched, the sports guys were exiled to whole new zone, sealed off from the news department. It was even on a separate floor. This led to a frat-house environment, only the frat boys wore neatly pressed white shirts instead of togas. Whenever female VJ's had to go there to floor direct, they'd come back and report on who had "penis eyes" and who had hit on them. Then everyone discussed the lines that were used. Well that, and how one idiot used to practice his sports sound effects (Boooooiiinngg!!! Ziiiinngg! Bllllluuurrrrppp!!!) ad nauseum before going on air.
But CNNSI guys soon realized the disadvantage of being separated from the rest of the newsroom: lack of women. Like I said, only a few stray women had to wander into their sports lair once in a while, and even fewer women actually worked there. This was was not the desired quantity of women.
So some of them would saunter back upstairs to the newsroom after their shows, eyes darting from female to female, on a poontang pilgrimage. However, away from their home turf they had the disadvantage that some newer CNN recruits did not necessarily know who the bigwigs were. And certain anchors especially wanted it known that they were anchors. To telegraph their status, they'd strut through newsroom, ties unloosened, swinging their earpieces like lassos. This seemed to exclaim:
"See! I have an earpiece! And I use it! On the set! In front of the camera!"
I called these prowling packs of mighty, earpiece swinging, booty-stalking men: THE PUSSY WARRIORS.
Monday, August 28, 2006
While I no longer endure the daily humilation of being a VJ, I still work in news.
And one thing has not changed.
I suspect it never will.
Whenever I walk into a newsroom and smell free pizza; see congealed slices resting on the copy machine, spy people at the assignment desk with one hand holding the phone and the other wiping grease off their mouths and producers flinging unwanted crusts in trashcans, I know I'm in for a shitty day.
This always means there's breaking news.
This means we will be forced to work overtime. Long, busy hours of running around red-faced and annoyed.
It has instilled in me a Pavlovian response to the scent of pizza.
Others see pizza and smell delicious red sauce, mozzarella cheese and spicy pepperoni. They are awash in happy memories of childhood pizza parties and the roller rink.
Me, I just smell newsroom sweat and think of mudslides, shootouts and the occasional political scandal.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
One of the most enduring, irritating issues in a news room, any newsroom is The Blame Game.
Hearing someone acknowledge their mistakes is such a refreshing rarity that I wouldn't be surprised if that simple act alone could lead to a promotion. No need to sleep with the boss. Just admit to your mistakes and you're on your way to that corner office or assignment in Paris.
But like I said, this rarely happens. So instead you get situations like these at CNN:
-One dim anchor (apparently not a dog fan) pronounced the word "chihuahua" as "CHI-HOOA-HOOA" and blamed the writer, not her own stupidity for the error. She sternly lectured him for not including a pronounciation guide for such an "unusual" word.
-A script was dubbed over from the previous hour and the sign off with the previous anchor's name was not changed. Yes, the "Ron Burgundy" story is true. Some anchors will read anything that is on the TelePrompter, and this woman signed off under the previous MALE anchor's name. Never one to display a sense of humor, she began shrieking at everyone within earshot afterwards.
-A vain anchor blamed the director for not giving him enough "face time" once when we chose to show powerful footage of the natural disaster that was taking place instead of his handsome mug.
More often than not, The Blame Game continues on down the food chain until it gets to the only person left: the entry-level VJ.
The worst example of this was during the Ennis Cosby debacle. CNN made a huge error in judgement by airing graphic footage of Bill Cosby's son, who had been gunned down on an LA freeway. Once it hit the air, everyone knew it was a mistake. The executive producer screamed at the director. The director screamed at the producer. The producer screamed at the associate producer. The associate producer, having no recourse, actually ran to "playback" where the lowly VJs load and cue up piles of tapes they have been given (by people higher up on the food chain) so they can be rolled out during the show (but only after people higher up on the food chain ask for them.)
And yet, this AP thrust open the door and glared at the VJ, demanding to know why she allowed that tape to get on air.
The kicker was that she'd never even seen the footage before.
About the only time that I felt The Blame Game was justified was during the dark ages of Teleprompting. CNN had this truly ancient Teleprompter that was a conveyer belt that had been duct taped together. You were given paper scripts, which you then had to cut to fit the conveyer belt. When a story would "float" you had to re-arrange your scripts in seconds or risk screwing up the anchor, who might toss to the wrong story. Sometimes you'd get all your scripts just right, only to have them scatter all over the floor when one particular VJ would create a massive gust of wind as she rushed past, delivering last minute scripts to the control room. Your scripts on the Teleprompter would go flying, and she'd offer a half-assed apology.
But when asked to explain yourself, this VJ's name only needed to be invoked, and people understood immediately.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Within my first two weeks of employment at CNN, it seemed to me that the place was rampant with horn dogs. This was partly due to an internal messaging system called BASYS which enabled faceless and occasionally anonymous sexual commentary. (The anonymous part happened because it was an open secret that CNN's style reporter Elsa Klensch's password was "garden". Not sure if she ever knew about the type of filth that was messaged under her good name.)
Back in the late 1990's people weren't as concerned about privacy issues in the workplace. It didn't occur to us that our comments could come back to bite us on the ass. Plus, some people working weird hours only had their co-workers as a social outlet. They never saw anyone else much of the time. Consequently, the CNN Center became a bubble community...filled with horn dogs.
So, whenever that blinking "message" sign popped up, you never knew quite what you were going to get, only that it was most likely not work-related.
A sampling of the types of messages I got during my stint as a VJ:
-Hi. My wife and I are really into threesomes. We talked about you last night over dinner (she's a great cook by the way) and she agrees that you are exactly the kind of person she'd like to bring home.
-You feel like getting stoned? I have a break at four.
-Hi. You don't know me. But I think you're cute. I've been noticing you now for the past few days. I'm too shy to talk to you though, because I have a fat ass.
-You look like a pilgrim hooker in that outfit.
-Hi. It was fun having drinks with you after work at Jocks and Jills. If you're ever into having a threesome, let me know. I'm pretty sure my wife would be into it. I know I would!
There was one CNN BASYS "rite de passage" that I never experienced. One co-worker was notorious for using BASYS as a tool to proposition women for anal sex. Apparently, I was not to his taste because he never asked me. While the offer was odious, I felt curiously left out that it was not extended to me. Kind of like when someone tells you, "Eww! This really stinks. Smell it."
And you DO.
Monday, August 21, 2006
My request for stories of heartache and heartburn recently resulted in this story of sexual woe from a former CNNer who shall remain anonymous:
"I was inspired to write in after reading about how broke we all were as VJs. I was so broke that one night over too many drinks, when a friend of mine offered to give me a free haircut, I seized the opportunity. She decided to give me what she called a "pixie cut". Despite the fact that I have a very round face, it seemed reasonable. She was in beauty school after all. And from what I understood, she was at the top of her class. A skilled technician. An artist even. After another glass of Chardonnay it occurred to me that it was crazy not to take advantage of this situation. I figured with the money saved I could finally afford to buy that big box of Tampax I'd been eyeing at Eckerd Drugs. Best of all, she even had her scissors with her.
When we got back to my apartment, I don’t even know how she had the confidence to grab massive hunks of my hair and chop them off. Maybe it was the cockiness that comes from being the gold star student at a beauty school in a suburban Atlanta strip mall, next to the Popeye's chicken hut. I guess all that fame went to her head. I know it went to mine.
I passed out and was convinced it hadn’t actually happened, despite the mounds of hairy evidence in the kitchen. Somehow the thought was just too awful to actually be true. I woke up the next day and stared at my head in the mirror for five minutes. I cried for ten. My round head had less than an inch of hair on it. I looked like a Monchichi.
The next day would be my initial appearance into the public eye. Of course my female co-workers were such liars. “Oh, it’s so cute!” they’d say. Meanwhile they were shuddering the way you do at gruesome photos in medical journals.
As for my friend, even she couldn’t convince me she was proud of her handiwork. She ran her fingers through it and said,
“Maybe next time I cut your hair, I’ll skip the third margarita.”
Next time! How could she think there’d be a next time?
But the greatest travesty of my haircut is that I began to feel invisible. It seemed that I just disappeared. I simply blended into the background, like mold or grocery store music. Men would literally bump into me on their way to prettier, longer-haired women. They didn’t even stop to apologize, probably because they didn’t want to spend one extra second in the presence of my haircut. Even my fuck buddy wanted nothing to do with me. Women would look at me and breathe a sigh of relief because I did not pose a threat.
In my depression, it occurred to me that my "friend" had turned me into a sexless blob of a human being. Had I not been so damn broke, I would not have entertained the notion of a free haircut. Now, because of my pitiful financial state, no one would sing me songs of desire or compose poetry professing their eternal love for me. I didn’t even feel like a woman. I basically had no sex organs. I was I was like one of those gender-nebulous figures on pedestrian crossing signs.
The point is: that bitch stole my vagina. I did not get laid for almost two years."
Thursday, August 17, 2006
As I noted before, I've spent many precious work hours checking out bizarre wire stories from various news agencies. These are my all-time favorites so far:
A retired Turkish worker attempting to cure his sexual impotence with a penis transplant from a donkey irritated his family so much that his son shot him in the leg...On two occasions he bought a donkey and amuptated its sexual organs, appealing in vain to medical staff in his home town and the health ministry in Ankara for a penis transplant. He was denied. Undeterred, he bought a third donkey, angering his family who were already exasperated by his obsession. Consequently, one of his six children shot him in the leg. When asked for comment, he replied, "For a long time now I have had sexual problems and I have spent all my pension funds to overcome them." He is waiting to recover from his gunshot wound so he can go out and buy a fourth donkey.
(This reminds me of the W.C. Fields line: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.")
2.)CLOWNING AROUND (AP)
An employee of a Toot N Scoot convenience store in McCandless, Penn. called police to report that a woman dressed as a clown and driving a minivan full of balloons pumped six dollars worth of gasoline and drove off. Police found the minivan in nearby North Park where the woman was performing for children. They told her to go back and pay for the gas. She did. But clerks called the police again to report she had threatened them. She faces a summary charge of disorderly conduct.
(I'm curious how she threatened them, and if she was still wearing the clown attire. In my mind, she tore into the Toot N Scoot parking lot with a look of rage contorting her greasepaint covered face. Her orange wig bounced up and down as stormed out of that minivan and stomped into the store, smacking the linoleum with her huge red shoes. She glanced around the place and grabbed the closest employee by the collar and snarled, "I'm gonna rip you a brand new asshole, buddy." )
An Amsterdam man suffered injuries after his girlfriend used a portable electric vegetable mincer on his genitals in a sex game that went wrong, police said Friday. The 51-year-old man was entertaining the woman, in her sixties, at his home Thursday night when the two wound up in the kitchen, drunk and naked. "For a joke" the woman decided to try applying the vegetable mincer-more normally used for preparing soups and stocks-to the man's private parts.
(The obvious question is--"How does that game go RIGHT?" Also, I like how the writer saw fit to explain what vegetable mincers are "more normally used for". Clarity is key.)
Zimbawean police have urged people not to panic over widespread reports that a number of women have died after being forced to breastfeed a frog in sorcery rituals. Police dismissed reports that a man in a luxury car, carrying a frog in a briefcase was picking up unsuspecting women and forcing them to breastfeed the creature. The Herald, Zimbabwe's main daily broadsheet reported that a number of women had lept from moving cars after suspecting that they were about to become victims of the businessman and his frog.
(I like that this guy is attempting to convey a professional, corporate image. No mystical robes and dangling amulets for him. He carries his voodoo frog in a briefcase, next to the management reports.)
An endangered green monkey attacked an unsuspecting family in their Beijing home last week, injuring at least one member before being caught in a ceramic jar where it later died, the official media said Monday. The incident ocurred while the family was watching TV. Upon hearing a noise outside, the father opened the door and the monkey immediately lunged into the room. He fought off the attack, but the monkey tore into his head and severed three tendons before neighbors helped contain it in a ceramic jar outside in sub-zero weather. Three days later the family remembered the monkey and called the Beijing zoo.
(Three days later the family "REMEMBERED" the monkey? Seriously, this family must lead some exciting lives, if they can forget about a green monkey trapped in a ceramic jar outside. They must endure daily earthquakes, nightly catfights in the swimming pool and Sasquatch stomping around the backyard.)
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
One of the valuable opportunities within the VJ program was the "training time" that was built into your schedule. It was a very nice idea. For all the hard-working, industrious, go-get-'em types, this meant finding a mentor in whichever area of TV news that interested you, such as audio or writing. Then during training time you'd sit with them, dip into their deep reservoirs of knowledge and pave your way for the next step in your career.
This was a rather successful tactic for the company, since CNN hired a lot of well-scrubbed, bright-eyed young people ready to take on the world.
The only hiccup in this plan was when they hired a jackass like me.
I had two full hours of training time built into my schedule and I can honestly say I never trained on anything for one minute. Yes I know--squandered opportunities. And as my spotty career track record can testify, this is a cautionary tale. I am not at all proud, merely truthful.
A list of things I did instead of bettering myself during training time:
1.)Taking stupid pictures in the food court/atrium (see above)
2.)Buying cheap shoes
3.)Sending bizarre AP wire stories about pubic hair and trapped monkeys to co-workers
4.)Reading trashy magazines
6.)Running into an establishment in downtown Atlanta with nice, normal couples swaying on the dance floor, seizing the dance floor with crazed, wildly gesticulating abandon for one song and then running out
7.)Considering having sex in an edit bay but never following through
8.)Returning cheap shoes after realizing I needed to eat before the next paycheck
9.)Perusing the files of viewer letters, one of which complained about being tired of a certain anchor's "dusty vagina."
AND MY FAVORITE TRAINING TIME ACTIVITY:
10.) Boozing it up at Reggies in the Omni atrium
Now, I am saddened to report that Reggies is no longer there, and has been replaced by a Mexican restaurant. I cannot understand why some Atlanta Historical Society, the same folks who put up those brown signs in front of various strip malls, thereby marking the spot where Robert E. Lee once burped, why did they not step in to preserve a true Atlanta landmark? It's a crime.
Reggies was a murky English pub with reddish carpet that smelled a little of vinegar and other less-definable scents. (Actually, even if they were definable, I'm not sure I'd want to know.) They had great fries and poured a superb pint. Once I "trained" there with a co-worker and we lost track of time. When he looked at his watch he realized he had two and a half minutes to get back to master control for the next show. So he tore out of there, pushing aside patrons and passersby. The waitress came back with the check and said,
"I saw how he just up and zoomed out of here, leaving you with the bill. Honey, you need to get yourself a new man."
Reggies was such a staple for CNNers that it was often referred to as "C CONTROL", as though it were a separate CNN control room. Each time I'd go in there, I'd find at least one co-worker. One anchor from CNNI in particular camped out there so much that when he was late to the set, people always knew where to find him. I worry about what happened to him when it shut down. I wonder if he sniffed around the deserted pub in the initial days after its closure; confused, lost, disoriented. This desolate, broken man was left to wander the atrium, searching for a new home...
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Being a floor director was a VJ task that offered plenty of insight into broadcast news. Floor directing consisted of wearing huge-70's style headsets (that often smelled funky because so many people used them and they rarely got wiped down) and waving a folded up piece of paper (or magazine or grocery coupon booklet) in front of the appropriate camera to signal the anchor to begin reading the TelePrompter.
The job naturally put in you in close proximity to the anchors, but wearing a headset also kept you keyed into the control room, thus enabling you to take direction. This also meant you were privy to all the nasty and sometimes hilarious commentary that went on in there. You'd hear producers screaming, crude jokes from directors, and withering assessments of anchors outfits from everybody.
The most unusual tirade I ever heard was from a director undergoing gender-reassignment. She became enraged when some idiot referred to her as "he." She started shrieking, "I'm a woman! Don't you get it? I'm a woman!" Supposedly, she ripped off her bra and flung it around the control room to prove the point.
The show, however, went off without a hitch. What she lacked in undergarment decorum she made up for in excellent director skills.
As for the anchors, some were very kind, like Bill Hemmer, who always knew your name and asked questions about your life. Others pretended you weren't there, until they made a mistake and then suddenly everything was your fault. Others made the same stupid jokes repeatedly, asking with a wink for the "personal vanity plate" when they wanted the mirror. One southern anchor would speak with no discernable accent on air, but off air whenever a cute sports anchor would join her on the set she'd turn on the honeysuckle drawl and purr stomach-churning things like,
"Oh BAY-RAY, if AAAH weren't MAAAH-ried, AAAAH'D be all OVAH you like a bulldog on a biscuit."
Other anchors were so legendarily bitchy that VJ's would have panic attacks when their schedules changed and they'd have to work with them. Deals would be cut, bribes taken. One director I knew told a tale of the old days at CNN, when smoking was still allowed on the set. He claimed that one anchor would throw his lit cigarette butts at VJs just for his personal amusement.
One thing I noticed as a floor director was how often putting a camera in front of a person's face suddenly made them feel REALLY important. Even if they worked the graveyard shift and the PR department didn't even deem them worthy of publicity photos. That camera was instant validation.
The anchor in this photo, whose identity I have spared with a pumpkin, was never a name-brand anchor. No one really knew who she was, even people who worked at CNN. When a friend of mine took this photo, I thought for sure this anchor was in on the joke, and knew that we were just having fun. But afterwards she turned and said without a hint of irony, "Your mother will be so proud to see you in a photo with me."
Little did she know that my mother actually said nothing about her and merely commented on what an ugly outfit I was wearing.
I worked with this same anchor for quite a while, as did the friend who took this photo. He got closer to her than I did. Literally. In what must have been a thoroughly uncomfortable half an hour, he was forced, due to technical issues, to spend an entire show under the set desk, squatting between her legs and holding a microphone.
I did get a close up of her naked ambition though. A few weeks later she was on the set, and we were in a commercial break. She started clacking away madly on her computer. I could see she was excited about something.
Soon the clacking stopped.
She sighed, turned to me and said with a serious face,
"It's not that I want Mother Theresa to die. It's just that if she does, I want her to die on my shift."
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
My first job out of college was as an entry-level Video Journalist at CNN headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. It sounded pretty exciting at the time. But the salary for this peon position would have been embarrassing in any era, and during the tech boom years of the late 1990's it seemed particularly meager. At $20,000 a year, we "VJ's" hardly lived in the lap of luxury. Instead we lived in the tacky, cookie cutter shantytowns that seemed to spring up on every corner back then. One company built so many crappy apartment complexes that we deemed their slogan,
“Building tomorrow’s ghettos today!”
My mother, a fierce Finnish woman, was convinced that Ted Turner took great satisfaction in our slave wages. In her eyes he was a ruthless, penny-pinching fiend whose sole aim in life was to thwart my happiness. Not only that, but he apparently micro-managed his network to an extreme. Whenever I'd complain about anything at CNN, she'd blame it all on Ted Turner personally.
“The bathrooms on the third floor are always stinky.”
She'd reply,"That Ted Toor-ner. Not cleaning the toilets," as though he were a shiftless janitor who spent all day telling dirty jokes and ignoring his bowl-scrubbing duties.
“The Brunswick stew in the cafeteria gave me gas."
"That Ted Toor-ner. Makes his employees fart all night with his food," as though he were in the kitchen stirring the stew himself and tossing in extra onions with gleeful abandon.
I'd say, "I hate working the 7pm-to 4am shift."
"That Ted Toor-ner. Exploiting you hard-working kids for his own pleasure," as though he were perched in his penthouse apartment at the Omni hotel, rubbing his hands together, watching me enter the CNN Center through a telescope as he cackled,
“Here comes that Dutton girl. Boy do I love to see her on this miserable shift!"
While I didn't necessarily blame Ted Turner for my lot in life, working at CNN was the root cause of my empty wallet. If necessity is the mother of invention, my CNN salary was the mother of desperation. I did anything to save a few bucks.
I treated the salespeople at Macy’s like Moroccan bazaar merchants, haggling five bucks off a dress for a lipstick stain that I had furtively smeared on the sleeve minutes before. I wouldn’t throw out a tube of toothpaste until I’d sliced open the tube and scooped out the gunk smeared on the inside. All my furniture came from K-Mart. I even begged them for the beat up floor models at a discount. I had my TV stand for three weeks before noticing that some uncouth customer had stuck a massive pink wad of Bubble Yum under the shelf.
Obviously, none of my fellow VJ friends were loaded either. Everyone was just barely scraping by. Still, I became indignant when a weather reporter magnanimously bestowed us VJ's with some left-over peanuts from a holiday party that none of us were invited to. Eyeing those three pathetic Ziplock bags of Planters party mix, I was livid. Was this any way to treat your professional colleagues? Scattering meager Christmas crumbs in our script-ripping area? But one by one all my co-workers’ eyes lit up as they exclaimed “Peanuts!” and happily wolfed them down. I realized it was a lost cause.
We were literally working for peanuts.
In CNN's cash-strapped, budget-minded, leftover peanut-devouring atmosphere, transportation also suffered. There were all sorts of run-down, oil-leaking, trashy cars in the parking lot, and people had to play clever games to get their parking validated, as rumor had it Ted Turner himself (this time mom was right) wanted employees to take the MARTA public transport system.
Now, I have never possessed a driver’s license, so MARTA was always going to be my lot in life. I took the subway during the daylight hours, and cabs when I left work at four a.m. Naturally, there aren’t many cabs patrolling downtown Atlanta at that hour. So I’d call in advance, and wound up depending on the services of one particular Moroccan cabbie. After a month of regular service, he stopped charging me and I knew I was headed for trouble. Then one Tuesday he turned up and presented me with an elaborately embroidered pink muumuu and matching pointy slippers. He also threw in a decorative brass plate. The disturbing part was that the slippers actually fit.
Sufficiently creeped out, I took to sleeping on the sofa in the lobby of the 14th floor until daylight hours so I could take MARTA. I chose the 14th floor because the sofa there looked the plushest, cleanest and most comfortable. Unlike the one in the break room, it didn’t look as though there were years of Cheetos powder and earwax slathered all over it.
This arrangement worked well for about two weeks until one morning I opened one eye at around 5:30 am to see a tiny, shriveled up little lady staring me down. She quickly turned and ran out. I shut my eye again. I opened them both ten minutes later to find the same lady flanked by two huge security guards, pointing her knotty finger at me. The security guards seized me. One grabbed my left arm and the other grabbed my right as they hustled me out to the elevator. Nervous, I kept flashing my badge, insisting,
“But I’m a VJ! I’m a VJ!” as though I were a D-list celebrity being booted from a Soho nightclub.
I quickly found out that I had unwittingly chosen Ted Turner's office floor to use as my sleeping quarters.
"That Ted Toor-ner.” said my mother when I told her. She had nothing to follow it up with, and just shook her head this time. Apparently he had some nerve placing the most comfortable sofa on his floor.
Always trying to cut costs and find bargains, CNN employees became reliant on our internal computer message board called READ-ME. It was a forum for finding a roommate, helpful hints on cheap mechanics, and bitch fests about unfair distribution of free food at the workplace. The staff at CNN Financial Network in New York managed to churn out three pages worth of rants about whether the free Friday afternoon cookies in the break room were a perk or an entitlement until financial guru Lou Dobbs ended the file by stating,
"This is Dobbs...you should know that at this very moment our Technology Division is tracing every message in this file to determine exactly precisely who contributed what and there will be significant, even painful retribution taken against those who’ve expressed themselves too freely on this obviously important workplace issue...
Yours in journalism,
But the best part about READ-ME (and most crucial to us cash strapped peons) was the buying and selling of a litany of strange stuff. A sports anchor moved out of Atlanta and tried to sell a shoebox full of old pens and paper clips for five bucks. A producer requested a used breast pump. A political reporter begged for a kidney. Possibly underestimating his mother, another anchor tried to sell a used mattress claiming,
"Only my mother has used it, so you know there’s been no funny business on it."
My favorite entry was from an employee who managed to provide both gossip and a cheap bridal garment by pitching,
"Wedding Gown. Size 12. Never used."
READ-ME proved instrumental in reporting theft too. If you worked on an overnight shift, odds were you were stuck with the Hard News Café to provide meals after the food court in the atrium closed. This was usually a dismal prospect. The only time people got excited was when the Café offered the famed Turkey Tetrazzini. The electricity in the air! People would message each other exclaiming:
TURKEY TETRAZZINI TODAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
They would practically skip off to the cafeteria, ululating, pumping their fists in the air in anticipation of the culinary orgasm of Turkey Tetrazzini.
But not everyone chose to play the cafeteria lottery. Some organized, budget-conscious employees brought their leftovers to work in Tupperware. The problem was it was routinely stolen. So, in READ-ME there would be accusatory entries like:
"Today someone stole my lunch. I'm pregnant. How do you feel you bastard, taking food out of the mouth of my fetus?"
Others got specific about the type of food that was snatched:
"Someone stole my blueberries. What kind of an animal steals a man's blueberries?"
Still others tried to get witty, posting gems like:
"Egads! Who is responsible for the theft of my tasty vittles?"
I hated those people. They were the same ones carting around the mugs that read:
“You don’t have to be crazy to work here-but it helps!”
To those who don't know, READ-ME was often used as a rallying cry for employees to fight perceived injustice within CNN. Someone would write an initial posting, and other employees would chime in with their opinions. This practice resulted in "The Roz Files" which I had the good sense to print out for posterity. Since leaving CNN, I have moved across the country twice but still managed to hold onto this precious document of a bygone era. It is excerpted below:
ROZ IS GONE!!!!!!!!
-I'm sure most of you know Rosalyn from the Hard News (Cafe). One of the nicest and funniest people that worked there. Well, after inquiring to find out if she had been sick this week, I was told she had been transferred...not by her choice. If there is anyone out there who feels as I do, that this is unfair treatment of a long-term, dedicated hardworking employee, make your voice heard.
-Where does one get a survey to complain about this? Who is the manager of the Hard News so I can complain directly?
-Letters are usually the most effective.
-I think a petition might be effective, and maybe easier than individual letters.
-Do we have a little too much time one our hands?????
-Funny that when someone takes a second to note when an employee and friend of long standing departs, particularly if it is against her will, there are those who complain about it (just as above.) Roz was an eclectic and warmhearted friend of many of us and her removal is just one more example of the raw deal we employees got from the new management at the cafe.
-I agree with the above statement. In this day and age when most people are just considered a number and the almighty dollar seems to have more value than human life, it is good to recognize and support co-workers who need your help. This scrooge-like writer has forgotten what it is to be human.
-All I ever heard out of her was when she would sarcastically read back what you bought and how much it cost! I'm sure she received several complaints against her for THAT.
-I know several people who complained about her in particular to the management. I have stood there several times whe she was totally indifferent to a line of people standing there while she was debating her lottery numbers.
-I second the above. I saw her ignore people all the time, and make a big deal if she had to get up out of one of those chairs to do her job. I say she should stay where they put her. Management finally got it right.
-I heard she shot a man in Reno--just to watch him die...
-Well then I guess you should feel vindicated then.
-Has anyone heard about the possibility of Starbucks buying out the Hard News?
-Haven't heard that one.
-That is SO not the subject here. Let's get back to what's important: fighting this move!
-I never met Rose, but with a name like hers...I can't understand why she'd get the boot. Lordy.
-Starbucks? Really? Would we get free lattes?
-Oh please. When's the last time we got anything for free? People: Call me ignorant, but didn't Phillips buy the arena and Hard News? Does Phillips also own Starbucks?
-I have a kitten for adoption. It makes a strange "bleep" sound though...
-Would you people get serious? This isn't a joke. Take your bleeping kittens and coffee somewhere else. Those of us committed to making a change here would appreciate it.
-I'm sorry. Let's ignore the "bleeping" kitten.
-What kind of unfeeling monster ignores a poor innocent kitten that can't even control its own bleeping...
-What kind of a kitten is it? Does it have its shots?
-Yeah...it's a Siamese, but it's missing half it's tail. All shots accounted for...minus the "shot of love" she'll give if you adopt!
-Do kittens like Starbucks?
-Name the kitten after Roz and feed it nothing but Starbucks double espresso until the evil overloards agreee to return our beloved hashslinger!