Off The Night Shift, Out of Left Field

23 Jul

The capture of Radovan Karadzic a few days ago propelled me back a decade and a half to some darker times writing about darker things.

To me, people in general (yours truly included) have always seemed like mediocre Triple-A players. They sometimes throw bad enough curveballs or knuckleballs that mesmerize or better yet, sedate one into not even taking a swing, but instead stepping back and shaking his head at the futility of it all.

The day I decided to leave the newsroom and journalism altogether, I composed a short but fair-enough letter of resignation, which I circulated via (rudimentary, internal) electronic mail to everyone first thing in the morning—Big Brass included. I didn’t expect much from anyone (as I often do not), but I thought of a handful of writers who’d stick their heads into my cubicle and at the very least give me a parting, verbal Charlie Horse. Or maybe a literal kick in the arse, Eastern European style, as that was the area I covered with regional and international pieces. By three in the afternoon, an hour short of my scheduled departure, no one had said anything. I was only slightly surprised, but mostly relieved, really. There wouldn’t have to be any words or answers to questions about the future, my career, etc. And so I fine-tuned a piece on the Srebrenica Massacre, on which I’d been working for a couple of days, proofed it one last time, and let it go through to the Managing Editor. It was the last time I hit “Send” on one of my stories, and felt quite un-burdened about all of it. Not melancholic, not sorry, not weepy…just un-burdened; like one who takes off a heavy rucksack which had been breaking his back. The remainder of my chunk of attention span in the newsroom was taken up by coverage of CNN and personal fascination with Vernon Wayne Howell’s (aka David Koresh) fiery demise in Waco, Texas.

At four sharp I picked up the little personal junk I had, stuffed it into my messenger bag, and started to high-tail it out of the newsroom. No regrets. Never any regrets. A few steps from reaching the door I was held up by a firm, calloused hand on my shoulder. I turned to face my antagonist. I almost visibly gasped. It was Kes, the insufferable shite of a man who helmed the Eastern European Desk–my home during my fraudulent stint as a journalist. Indeed. The same diminutive bete noire that had made my life (and others’) hell every minute of every hour of every shift the previous twelve months.

What was said doesn’t much matter now, although the sincerity of the good-natured and complimentary words that came out of that man’s mouth would’ve melted even the hardest of hearts. We spent quite some time shaking hands and patting backs right there, in the middle of everything, under everyone’s watchful gaze—a very surreal experience. Here was the ogre who had tormented me and soured me forever (even to this day) to the field of journalism and reporting on wars or anything else in general. Here was the nemesis with the Napoleonic Complex whose demeanor, attitude, working style (if he ever had one), and human relations were so inept and obtuse and combatant that the stress he had caused was probably responsible for the inertia that propelled me into chronic insomnia to this day—sixteen years removed from the experience. Here was the monster…doing a complete and utter 180, shaking my hand with such sincerity and warm-heartedness that it threw my trusty “People Shit-Detector” into a dizzying tailspin.

And that was that. At the end of it all, he turned and walked back into his dark, lonely cave and transformed himself into that creature which most of us knew him to be. And I walked out into the early October crisp, late-afternoon sun, unemployed, no prospects for much of anything in my life—personal, professional, or otherwise—yet feeling good and proud that a year of walking the conveyer belt of the newsroom was in the end appreciated by one editor: the one least likely to enjoy much of anything in this world. Curveballs and knuckleballs. All coming out of left field.


3 Responses to “Off The Night Shift, Out of Left Field”

  1. maria 25/07/2008 at 9:02 PM #

    I had that same experience – well, not the same experience, but a similar one – leaving SCI Systems. For half a second I wished I was staying or I had known the person better, but then of course, the reason you get to see that angle is the fact you’re leaving.

  2. moctapka 28/07/2008 at 9:35 AM #

    Would love to read one of your pieces on Srebrenica. Would you mind sending it.


  3. Alex Pruteanu 28/07/2008 at 10:19 AM #

    Maria, true.

    Moc, somewhere in my last two moves, I’ve lost all my hard copies of the stories I wrote. Not sure I’d have been able to forward anything anyway, since it was USIA’s property. Thanks for coming by.

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