Cry into your pillow

A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with my coworker. She was having a particularly bad day…on top of a particularly bad week. I was trying to cheer her up.

“You know, as you’re crying into your pillow tonight about all of this, you can at least take some comfort knowing that this is one of the best experiences you’ll ever get in this industry.”

She laughed at that. But it’s not just funny–it’s true.

I say this as someone who isn’t a big fan of crying–in this job, you need to cry. If you don’t, you’ll probably kill yourself or go into serial killer mode or something.

That being said, there’s a time and a place for crying. And 99% of the time, it’s when you’re alone at home.

There are a few exceptions. If a story hits particularly close to home, I think it’s okay to shed a few tears. I’ve discussed this with my coworkers and came up with a few instances where we cried:

  • The only times I’ve ever cried at a shoot was at 9/11 memorials. This wasn’t so bad because everyone around me was crying too–including other photographers.
  • A coworker told me she cried covering a cop’s funeral, because her dad is a cop. But luckily she hid the tears behind big sunglasses (I need to remember this for 9/11 next year).
  • A coworker told me she cried doing a story about Osama bin Laden being killed because it brought back old memories for her. She ended up being really embarrassed about it because it happened during a one-on-one interview with a 9/11 victim’s family member.
  • Another coworker cried a few days after Sandy…and was comforted by two women who had lost their homes. The picture of him bawling made it into the Daily News, and of course is now famous in our office.

I think these were all instances when it was completely okay. I also think if you’re crying at work, you should try not to do it loudly or grossly. I try not to draw any attention to myself when I cry. But I have heard of “journalists” who start bawling all the time at nothing, and I think that’s crazy. You’ve got to be tough–at least outwardly–when you’re on the job.

One of my coworker always gives me a tip on how to cope with stressful situations at work. She always laughs, because as she says, “If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.”

So I laugh. A lot.

Crazy Callers, An Ongoing Series

When I first started working in the field, a coworker gave me a great piece of advice.

As we were sitting in our office in Staten Island, the phone rang. It wasn’t our extension. It was some weird line that had a 718 area code.

I went to pick it up, and the coworker stopped me.

“Don’t pick that up,” she said.

“Why not?”

She shuddered, “That’s the tip line. I never pick up the tip line.”

Turns out the number is the one that plays after our segment airs. Anyone can call in. But half the time, the people are actually certifiable. You never know what psycho has memorized the number and decided to call in.

Recently I’ve been filling in as a researcher, which means many things, but mostly that I have to pick up the tip line. It is literally part of the job description.

So, I have decided to do a series of posts about all the crazy calls I have received while picking up the tip line. Here’s part 1:

CALL #1

A few days after Paul Walker died, we were running a story about the crash investigation. A woman called our tip line (which specifically plays after the Queens, Staten Island, and Bergen County news) about the story. The conversation went like this:

Crazy Lady: I saw that the guy from the Fast and Furious died. Which guy was it?

Me: Paul Walker.

CL: The bald guy?

Me: No, the other guy.

CL: Which other guy?

Me: The blond guy. The other main character.

CL: Oh, so not the bald guy?

Me: Not the bald guy.

CL: Oh because I thought it was the bald guy. They showed the picture.

Me: They showed a picture of Paul Walker.

CL: Okay. How did he die?

(By this point I wanted to scream “DIDN’T YOU WATCH THE STORY???” but I remained calm.)

Me: A car crash.

CL: Oh yes, that’s right. It’s terrible. Can you give me more details about that.

Me: I’m sorry, I didn’t cover that story. I only know what we’ve covered.

CL: So you don’t have any more information.

Me: No, we’re getting all our information from national news sources. You can look it up on CNN if you’re interested. It happened in LA and we’re in New York, so we’re getting everything from national sites.

CL: Oh, okay. It’s such a shame. I really liked that guy who died.

(I wanted to yell “YOU DIDN’T EVEN KNOW WHO HE WAS FIVE SECONDS AGO” but didn’t)

CALL #2

Insane Woman: I just saw a story about a cop that was arrested in Staten Island. What was he arrested for?

Me: Extortion.

IW: I left my young son in daycare on Staten Island today. I’m worried that he’s in danger from the cop.

Me: Well, the extortion took place in Queens, so you really don’t need to worry.

IW: But what if the cop is still out there? And dangerous?

Me: Ma’am, he’s been arrested.

(I wanted to add that extortion doesn’t really pose a physical danger to young children)

IW: So in your opinion, should I go pick up my son from daycare?

Me: He’s not in danger from the cop. The cop isn’t on the street anymore. He’s been arrested. He’s in court right now.

IW: Okay, if you think he’s safe, I won’t go get him.

CALL #3

Me: Hello, how can I help you.

Whacko: I’m in the hospital and they aren’t serving me tasty food. The food is absolutely disgusting here. It’s inedible. I told them I won’t eat it, but they keep bringing it to me and I said I won’t eat it but they don’t stop. I wanted them to bring me chicken but they brought me some slop and I have diabetes and this is not food and I hate it. I hate the food here. I’ve been here a week and the food is awful and I can’t even eat it.

(He went on for about 5 minutes without taking a breath, but I’ll spare you for now)

Me: I’m sorry, there isn’t anything I can do.

Whacko: Okay (hangs up)

The Doctor Is In

Sometimes in my job, I get to meet celebrities. Usually, they are D-listers.

Last week, I filled in producing an interview show. The producer told me that one of the guests was Dr. Ruth, the famous sex therapist.

I didn’t think much of it. Of course, I told my parents, who were excited for me. But they were alive through the entire ’80s, and I wasn’t, so Dr. Ruth’s appeal was a little bit lost on me.

I got an email the day we were supposed to tape the show that Dr. Ruth was taking an earlier train back from a trip to Washington DC. She wanted to come to our studios early to get out of the cold and sit and make phone calls.

Even though this meant I would have to go into work two hours earlier than I had originally planned, I said yes. To be honest, I was annoyed by the entire thing.

When Dr. Ruth arrived, the first thing I noticed was that she was tiny. I towered over her, and I’m only 5’4. She’s probably no more than 4’9, if that. She immediately greeted me (in her signature German accent), “Hello Allison, nice to meet you,” and then thrust her bag and coat into my hands.

As she walked in, she gave me a list of demands. She wanted to know where the bathroom was, where she would be sitting, and if she could have herbal tea, a sandwich, and the NY Post, in that order.

This all added to my annoyance. I sat her down, asked her what kind of sandwich she wanted, and went downstairs to buy one.

When I came back up, she was on the phone. I laid down the sandwich and tea, leaving the room quietly. When I returned with the Post, she was off the phone.

“This is the best sandwich I’ve ever had! Did you pay for this with your own money?” she asked.

“Yes, but I’ll expense it through the company,” I responded.

“No! I don’t want you paying for me! Did you pay for the newspaper?”

I explained to her that we got newspapers delivered to our office daily, and reassured her that I wasn’t paying for any of it. She kept alternating between thanking me and insisting that she would pay for whatever she had taken. And then she asked me for about five more requests, but by this time I didn’t take offense to it. Even though she wants a lot, you can tell that she’s a nice, friendly old lady.

I went back out to my desk after getting her what she wanted, but every so often she would come out and ask me for something else. She wanted to see the video of her that we were going to use. She wanted her manager to email me material to print out for her (she doesn’t know how to use a computer, but I did note that she had an iPhone). She wanted me to put pillows on her seat in the studio so she could be eye-level with the interviewer. And every time she would emerge from the room to ask me about something new, one of my coworkers would see her and talk to her, or ask for a picture. She gladly posed for every single one (including one with me).

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When it finally came time for the interview, I walked her back to the green room. By this point, she had another bag, filled with things that people from my office had given her.

“You’re really popular here,” I noted.

She smiled and said delightfully, “It’s good to be Dr. Ruth! So many freebies!”

I could see why. There’s something about her that just lights up–and makes you want to give her stuff.

In the interview, she shone. I even laughed out loud when she started talking about sexual stuff. At 85 years old, she’s so full of life and energy.

On her way out, she thanked me again for everything I had done and made sure to tell my coworkers that I had shown her a good time and taken care of her.

As she walked out the door, she said, “If you don’t get the money for the sandwich, I’ll send it to you!”

And you know what? I bet she would.

Stalking Whitney

I remember the moment I found out that Whitney Houston died.

I was sitting in Applebees in the Staten Island Mall. This is particularly strange because I eat at Applebees about once every 3 years. And I almost never go to the one in the mall. But I was hanging out with some friends from high school that I hadn’t seen in a while, and they wanted to go there.

My phone pinged, as it usually does every 45 seconds, and I looked down at it.

“AP reporting Whitney Houston is dead at 48,” the email said.

I was shocked. I mean, yeah, I knew about her issues. But I didn’t expect her to die.

I told my friends, and we chatted about how sad it was for a bit. But I thought it would end there.

The next day, I was working with our New Jersey unit. Even though we have the words New York in the name of our station, we cover parts of Bergen County, NJ. Weird, I know.

The thing about our Bergen unit is that there is almost no news to cover. A big story is a water main break or a car robbery. So I figured I’d have a nice quiet day–maybe I’d cover a farmer’s market or something.

Turns out Whitney Houston’s mother, Sissy Houston, lives in Bergen County.

I drove to Edgewater and found Sissy’s building, all while listening to Whitney’s music blaring through the car radio. I could tell I was in the right place, because there was another news van parked outside. But the apartment complex looked deserted.

So for about an hour, I waited outside the building. During that time, only about 3 people went in or out of the building–and I could tell by looking at them that none of them were related to Whitney.

The whole time I felt kind of sick to my stomach. I don’t know how the people from TMZ do it every day. If I did encounter Sissy, what was I supposed to say? Sorry about Whitney, but do you have time to comment about it to your favorite local news station? I really loved “The Bodyguard”…so how do you feel about your dead daughter? Do you think she was lying when she said “crack is whack”???

After waiting in the January chill for over an hour, I was finally cleared from the scene by our assignment desk (the news truck had left as well–I guess no one talked to Sissy that day). I went down to a local shopping center and interviewed random people about how they felt about Whitney’s death.

I was glad to finally go home at the end of the day, mentally exhausted and physically frozen from standing outside for so long.

Even though I never got the interview, I have become famous around my office for my attempts to chase down Sissy Houston. In fact, many of my coworkers refer to me as “the girl who got the exclusive sit down,” even though I didn’t. They like to tell people she picked me over an interview with Anderson Cooper or Katie Couric. If only.

But I guess I could be known for far worse things.