Tuesday, November 24, 2009

War is war, and hell is hell....

Forward, he cried from the rear,
And the front rank died.
And the general sat and the lines on the map
Moved from side to side. -- Pink Floyd, "Us and Them"

Not sure if it's the weather, the time of year, or the PMS, but damn, I've been in a mood the last few days.

The Great Bullseye requires us to make conversation with the customers (oh, excuse me, "guests") whether we really feel like it or not. It probably goes without saying to anyone who knows me that I generally fall on the "not" side -- I suck at chit-chat in the best of circumstances. But, you do what you gotta do.

Tonight an elderly gentleman came through my line. He was wearing a Korean War Veterans jacket. I figured, what the hell, it's a point of entry for chitchat -- I comment on the right-thinking Americans who come in wearing Packers gear, might as well chat up an old guy about how my dad fought in Korea too.

The man's face instantly lit up, and he became very animated as he started telling me about his particular role. He was clearly very proud of his history. As he was leaving, he thanked me and told me to thank my dad for his service.

And I lost it.

I have missed him every freaking day of my life for the last 10 years, but at this point, it's usually just the anniversaries that get me. I thought these random breakdowns were long gone.

About 3 "guests" later, an older woman came through. Our point of chit-chat was my having to be at work well before dawn the day after Thanksgiving. I said I had never been much of a shopper and didn't understand people who would willingly get up at obscene hours to go spend money on mostly useless stuff. (One thing I have learned this past year and some is that "it's just stuff," but that's another post.)

She launched into a tale of how her mother's family all live in Kentucky, and she and her husband made the trip there every year for Thanksgiving, and she took "the girls," of whom she was the oldest, out at 4 a.m. on  Black Friday. They (willingly!!) got up at 2:30 a.m., and even when the rest of them wanted to quit and go home and get some sleep, she pulled rank and kept them going, and it was always so much fun.

Except that this year, they can't make the trip because her husband's been unemployed for a long time, and she isn't really sure what they'll do. They've never made their own turkey, etc, and they don't have any family nearby, so there wouldn't be anyone to share it with anyway. She was just heartbroken about it. I felt like hell for dredging that up for her.

Early in my reporting career, I was struggling with a feature on an inspiring (here we go again) old lady. She was in her 70s, had built her own house, ran a greenhouse business, etc. I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to get across what I found so remarkable about her.

So I emailed my favorite feature writer at the Milwaukee paper. One thing nobody ever catches onto about journos is that we're really all terrible introverts. I tell people all the time, and it's true, that I can chat up anyone for a story, but if you insist I go to a party, I'm headed directly for the nearest corner, and I ain't moving. I've gotten really good at pretending -- so good that I routinely fool people. (My 3rd night at Target, which had been a particularly awful one, someone asked me how it had gone. I said, "terrible." She said, "It'll get better. You're personable, and that's half the battle." All I could think was, "Honey, if you only knew.")

Anyway, the point of that was to say that we're all also terribly insecure, and you can get us to do damn near anything by appealing to our extreme need for positive reinforcement. I emailed this guy and said "Look, I've been a fan for years, I love you to pieces, I study your stuff for tips, but tell me: How do you do it?"

He said, "Every human being has a story. I could interview you for 5 minutes and write yours. Your job is to figure out this woman's story and tell it."

It turned out very well (both the story and the advice, which I continue to use). But that's really what it boils down to: Everybody has a story. I have run into a number of crushing ones in the last week or so (more to come on that). It makes me sad as hell. But sometimes all you have to do to make someone's day a little brighter is let them tell their story, and receive it graciously.

And I still miss the hell out of my dad, and it kills me to think of all that he's missed in my life in the last 10 years. So the reminiscing is bittersweet, as is the imagining, via that elderly vet, of what he might be like if he were still around. But at least I still have part of his story to hang onto.

PS: The quote from the header:

Hawkeye: War isn't Hell. War is war, and Hell is Hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse.
Father Mulcahy: How do you figure, Hawkeye?
Hawkeye: Easy, Father. Tell me, who goes to Hell?
Father Mulcahy: Sinners, I believe.
Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell. War is chock full of them - little kids, cripples, old ladies. In fact, except for some of the brass, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander. -- MASH

And a little note from Bing and Rosie:
it's not my watch you're holding, it's my heart...

1 comment:

Art By Amarose said...

I randomly ran across your blog. Really enjoy your writing. I've become a follower. Thanks!