Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Local News doesn't get much more local than this. Just on the right side of the frame, that's Mrs. Ditchman's car in front of our house!

So the news vans showed up and I just walked right up and asked, "What are you covering?" Seems there was a break-in down the street over the weekend. Ho-hum news, you hear it every night -but this was my street and my neighborhood, so I took notice. They said they were going LIVE at seven, which is when we were sitting at the table having dinner. We left the TV on and when we heard the guy announce it, Mrs. Ditchman and I bolted from the table for the TV (leaving the little one fairly confused.)

What I love about the news piece is all the story going on in the background that you can barely see. Just off frame to the right is my house, with my family sitting around the dinner table. We had just finished blessing the meal and were enjoying some pasta. In the background, my neighbor across the street is arriving home from work, his car approaching slowly as he turns into his driveway. You can almost see him leaning over his steering wheel asking to himself, "What on earth is happening here?" And then, at the end of the piece, I left the TV to go to the window to see it happening LIVE, and noticed a few of the local teenagers walking past my house -they wanted to be on camera. "Here come the local teenagers," I said, and then I went back to the family room, looked at the TV, and -yes- there they were, strutting past. It happens here, it comes out there. Technology!

(The girls, by the way, went across the street to another neighbor and knocked on the door. They had nothing to exchange. They just needed a reason to cross the street. It worked! They were on TV! And then they turned and went home. Hilarious.)

Anyway, the story gets a little interesting when you pay slightly closer attention, and you have to cross-reference it with Channel 8's version in order to get the whole thing. It was last Friday night, around midnight. A single mom was away for the evening, leaving her teenage girls at home when someone broke into the garage. The girls were "hysterical" according to reports, and the cops came and got him. This is about six houses down from our place, which is a suburban American cul-de-sac of the most benign and ordinary kind. Turns out the guy was an old boyfriend of the woman, and also used to be a neighbor. He's in his forties, and is an Orange County firefighter (the minor fact that evidently merited the coverage.) He still lives in Oceanside (though Channel 10 reports it as "Vista", which is fine with me) and has a few kids of his own. Evidently he got drunk and wandered over to this old girlfriend's house and broke into the garage.

Now, don't we all know people like this? Desperate people who just can't get on with life, are still living in the past? They get drunk one night and call up old flames like they'd just spoke with them last Tuesday, and are shocked to discover that the other person has a family and a life now and has moved on to normalcy in the biggest way. There are some incidental facts. The father of the girls is interviewed and he knows the guy, but he's divorced the woman and also doesn't live on our street anymore. The woman saw the guy six months ago in a Lowe's parking lot. What happened there? Could it be that she had an affair with this crazy firefighter ten years ago, somewhere in the midst of her divorce? She kept the house, she has five kids, today is single, and then this drunken wretch (who has "moved on" with a family of his own, obviously to a much lesser degree of success) shows up looking for action... The Dad of the girls really seems to have it out for this guy, doesn't he? And then the Dad of the drunk shows up and says he's a good, church-going, public servant! It's almost impossible to write about in a few short paragraphs, but it sounds like the same old soap opera we hear all the time, on TV and in our own lives.

And it's all on my street. Now, I'm not sure anyone outside of the families on my street are interested, but the news crews could have told the story in a much more compelling way. The facts are rarely interesting by themselves, and just "reporting" them seems to me a missed opportunity. I mean, this is the drama of LIFE! People are affected! But, oh well. Local news. They really should just hop it up with some well-placed adjectives, juxtapositional editing, and theatrical timing -for the benefit of everyone who lives elsewhere.

People think I make up this stuff, romanticizing the suburbs so I'll have something to type about, but no, it's all right there. It's in your neighborhood, too. If you just open your eyes a bit and look around, squint this way and question that, suddenly you're in some pulp novel. There's no need to fictionalize it. You do have to be careful, however. Every life is a story, but every story needs conflict -and there's the rub. Life without conflict? I suppose that would be safe, but also boring. And it would never make it to prime time.

Life is short enough, and all the while it is funny, scary, sad, beautiful, horrible, delicious, disgusting, and unfair in both its blessings and its pitfalls. Do you remember that brilliant opening scene in Blue Velvet? That's what I'm talking about. The movie kinda falls apart from there, in my opinion, but I suppose that was David Lynch's whole point. A storyteller will choose what to tell and what not to tell, and if your point is that "it all falls apart in the end", well, that's your prerogative. Personally, I don't see it that way. The human story is one of triumph or defeat of the spirit, and the spirit can always triumph, regardless what slings and arrows of outrageous fortune we may suffer. There is always a happy ending within reach. Sometimes it's quite a reach. That's where the story gets interesting.

And then in that final sleep of death, that "undiscovered country" as Shakespeare called it, "What dreams may come?" For without hope in the afterlife, the spirit will never triumph.