“I ain’t quite the beauty who holds up two guns and shoots at the pretty, pretty view.”
An 18-year old girl from my town got pregnant. She didn’t tell anybody. Not even her boyfriend, the father, knew. She went to
Just about every day, I walk from my house to the store with fifty cents in my pocket – there’s a pop machine that still costs fifty cents – and I think about the things I’m going to miss about
When I was 200 yards from the store, the reporter was already hoofing it towards me, tie blowing over his shoulder, clipboard clutched in both hands like a mendicant’s cap.
I hate local TV news. I think it’s irresponsible. I think it has very little to do with journalism, or being objective, or trying to tell the truth about things that matter from a perspective that’s as uncluttered as possible by ideology and venom. Since local newspeople have a responsibility to make stories compelling, and get them in on time and under budget, they have to parrot a pat emotion under a thin wax of fake objectivity.
A couple sentences into our chat he had already started to spin me. “We were just trying to get a perspective… from some people… about how such a… terrible… thing could happen in such a… small town.” I didn’t know what he was talking about, so he told me, in the barest outline, the story, and peppered it with pejoratives. Terrible. Horrible. Unthinkable. Tragedy. And over and over again, small town. Such a small, small town. How could such a horrible thing happen in such a tiny town? Well, it didn’t, but you know what I mean.
It started to piss me off. Not, of course, because it’s not all of those things. But because he didn’t say anything like, poor girl. What a poor, poor little girl. What a horrible, horrible thing to happen to a child of 18. No, that wasn’t it either. I was offended just because he asked me. Because what could I possibly have to say about it that could mean anything to anyone? What could I possibly have to say about it that would shed any light on the situation as a piece of news, not just table-scrap rabblerousing? So I was like, “fuck that.” He asked me to talk and I said no. He pressed me and I told him, “There’s a lot of sex around here. There’s a lot of repression about sex. Something like this was bound to happen. It takes a lot to keep up the veneer of this town, like it was all farmers and pickup trucks and NASCAR hats. Sure, it’s a tragedy. But the fact that this girl felt like she had to hide a pregnancy from everybody in the world, that sounds pretty terrible to me.”
So I was like, “fuck that.” He asked me to talk and I said no. He pressed me and I told him, “There’s a lot of sex around here. There’s a lot of repression about sex. Something like this was bound to happen. It takes a lot to keep up the veneer of this town, like it was all farmers and pickup trucks and NASCAR hats. Sure, it’s a tragedy. But the fact that this girl felt like she had to hide a pregnancy from everybody in the world, that sounds pretty terrible to me.”
His eyes sort of lit up. I’m not sure if it was just because he had found a young person to talk to, or if it was because I was saying some shit that would sound awfully bad on television, playing the old “product of her environment” card. All I know is, while we were talking, a late-middle aged farmer-type came up to him and said, “so, is that gonna be on TV?” He walked away with a big smile on his face when he was told that yeah, his interview would be broadcast at 6 and 10.
I would later find out that he said, “You just can't figure out why someone would do a thing like that when there's so many people that want children.”
Then he said – this didn’t make the broadcast, but it’s in the print article – he said, "It's unacceptable in a town like this."
I’m being unfair. In context, the article goes like this.
“Now, people in Solon just wish someone would have noticed [the girl] was pregnant and reached out to help her. ‘It's unacceptable in a town like this,’ [the interviewee] said. A town where people say they would have helped [the girl] get through this difficult time in her life.”
He also writes, “Solon is the kind of place where neighbors greet each other by first name. That's one reason many don't understand why [the girl] never reached out for help.” Maybe that’s true. Maybe in, like, Geneseo, it’s weird to greet your neighbors without addressing them as “Professor” or something. Maybe I was totally off base. All I know is that the dude said, “It’s unacceptable in a town like this,” and that he got a quick shot of pride when he found out he was going to be on TV. These are the kind of people she’s supposed to be reaching out to… the same people who are vaguely damning (when he says “unacceptable,” I don't think he's referring to the town's sleuthing skills) her during what have to be the most horrible days of her entire life.
All this was before I learned the stuff that really hit home and make it real – most of which was in the report that came out that night. This is the stuff the reporter didn’t bother to tell me before he asked for my reaction. He wanted me to talk fast, because he was on a deadline. I was an expert by merit of being from Solon, and doubly an expert because, as he said, “we’re looking for reactions from some of the younger folks.” This is what I didn’t know before I was invited, pleaded with to comment: She delivered the baby in a hotel bathroom. She cut the umbilical cord with a knife, wrapped the baby in some towels and a plastic bag, and left the room. When her boyfriend asked where she was going, and noticed she was dripping blood on the floor, she told him she was having her period. Then she took the baby to the garbage chute in the hallway of the hotel, and dropped it. Then she dropped the knife. Not down the chute. Just on the floor. The hotel staff found the knife, covered in blood, and called the police. The police found the baby, and then followed a trail of blood back to her room. That’s when her family, and the father of her child, first found out she was pregnant.
That’s what the reporter failed to tell me before he asked for my reaction, which he wanted to air on television.
That’s why a man was willing to get on TV and say, “It’s unacceptable in a town like this,” after the reporter asked, “how do you feel about something so… so terrible happening in a small town like this?” He didn’t ask a question. He just asked for a repetition. And this is the end result.
The guy, he was probably just trying to be nice, whether or not it’s bullshit. It’s unacceptable because, in a town like this, we would have helped her get through it. All of us, the community, would have banded together as one. Nobody would have talked behind her back, or blamed her, or said the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong way. Not if she had just come out earlier. But I doubt it. Did she have a responsibility that she absolutely failed to meet? Absolutely. And now the unconscionable machine of Southern justice is starting to spin its gears. I think she’s dealing with enough without being second-guessed, in a public forum, by people a thousand miles away, who are tied to her simply by the fact that they happen to live within five or ten miles of each other. That man never even met this girl. He had never even heard of her. And this is news.
Maybe what I’m going to miss is all right there. All that innocent, meek self-righteousness. Superiority dressed up in humility. Maybe living in a town like this makes you feel more important than you really are. Because that shit is in my blood. I’m doing it right now. I feel that, somehow, my indignation at local newsmen is somehow a more appropriate reaction, which is nothing if not self-righteous. I'm demanding exactly the kind of reverence that I am, apparently, unwilling to provide, enjoining people not to weigh in on things unless they've really got a stake in them, and doing it myself anyway.
When I told him I didn’t want to say anything on camera, he seemed disappointed. As he was walking away, as an afterthought, he said, “Nice to meet you,” without enthusiasm, and I imagined him being trained by a producer. “When you talk to people, always say ‘nice to meet you.’ We want them to think it was nice to meet them.” Fuck you, man. Fuck both of us. Who gives a shit about us? What about that poor girl?
Stay tuned after the news for According to Jim.