Stefanella's Drive Thru

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Trashy December 19, 2010

While out covering a story today I heard a must-share anecdote

Background:  The locale was Tel Aviv’s landfill.  Not the most pleasant of surroundings, admittedly, but one eventually adjusts to the pervasive odor generated by multiple tons of trash.

I was interviewing the head of Tel Aviv’s recycle/renewable energy site at the landfill and as we watched tons of plastic bags, bottles, cartons, containers and the like empty onto conveyor belts aided by municipal employees, I commented:

“God, I’ll bet you’ve had some nasty accidents here with people falling into the compactors…”

The head of the recycle plant nodded his head vigorously and replied:  I could tell you some stories.

“Go on then, let’s hear,” I replied.

And this is how it went:

A few years ago the trash conveyor belt recycle line employees came banging on his office door in panic: 

“There’s a baby in the compactor!  There’s a baby in the compactor!”

He ordered an immediate machine shut down and then ran to the area to investigate.

Sure enough, there was an arm sticking out of the trash compactor heap.

But it clearly wasn’t a baby’s, he explained.

Someone called out in Hebrew: “Come out of there!” but there was no response.  Then in Russian. Nothing.  Arabic.  Still nothing.  Amharic.  Nada.

Then someone  yelled ‘Get out of there!’ in Yiddish.  And a reply in German came from inside the heap: ‘No!  I’m not coming out!  I’m naked’

The men gathered some clothing together and coaxed the man out.  He then told his story.

A German tourist, he had gotten drunk in a Tel Aviv pub the night prior and en route back to his hotel, was accosted, beaten up, robbed, stripped and then tossed into a dumpster.

The trash assembly line crew discovered him moments before he was headed into the “crusher”

They summoned an ambulance and police and when the medics arrived, one of the women commented: ‘He’s awfully good looking; shame about the smell.’

Divine intervention?

(more…)

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Matthew the Bully July 24, 2009

In the car driving home from summer camp this week. . .  

Mom, there’s this kid at camp.  His name is Matthew.  And …well…last week my friend Kenny made a joke about Matthew and I laughed.

Now Matthew says that because I laughed I have to pay him two dollars.

Pay him two dollars or what?  What is Matthew **f**k** going to do? I muttered under my breath, gripping the steering wheel tightly.

What mom?  What did you say?

What did Matthew say would happen if you don’t pay him? I asked, all sweetness and light.

He’ll hit me.

He’ll hit who? I internally raged.  We’ll see who’s going to get hit.  Threatening MY BOY??  Uh uh.  No.

Sweetheart, I reassured, You don’t owe him anything and you didn’t do anything wrong.  Laughing isn’t a crime. What do you want me to do?

Could you talk to Matthew or to the camp counselor? he asked.

Sure doll.  And don’t worry about it.  It’ll be okay.

I later consulted with a level-headed male friend who confirmed that  since my son doesn’t live here or see Matthew on a regular basis i.e. he doesn’t present an ongoing threat, it would be best to bypass the bully – unless I want to add legal implications to my troubles – and consult with a camp counselor.

So I heeded his advice.  And so far, all is quiet on the Matthew Front.



 

War Cover Fatigue January 11, 2009

war_journalistIn my most recent post I wrote about returning to work in the television news industry during the current Gaza conflict.

The war itself, the toll to both sides, the ongoing strife,  the shite suffered by children being robbed of their childhoods – and lives – sucks.

Getting back into the industry and my roots, however,  has been a good experience.  And I’m almost ashamed to admit that because  it’s probably not okay to like what I do.  I love what I do, in fact.  But it comes with a price:  internal conflict hard stories evoke between the humane and professional parts of myself.

What I mean is that in the weird world of the press, journalists are often privy to information and images that dub us lucky in the eyes of those outside the business.  We get to see pictures we don’t put out.  Often because they’re too gruesome. We get information before everyone else and sometimes we have to sit on news until it clears censorship – or a next of kin is informed of a death.  That’s not lucky.

But in some cases – like when meeting and interviewing John Lasseter, or gawking Darth Vader‘s original  light sabre and then lunching with colleagues at “The Ranch”– we truly are privileged.

When the images are hard core, the story is war and the information you’re getting ahead of the games is, say, the knowledge that a friend’s son has been killed in a firefight and the friend is phoning to find out if you know anything, it’s tough.  But really tough.

I personally go into rote mode.  I do my job, cover what I need to cover and keep my opinions and feelings in check.  But they occasionally go splashing overboard after returning home and processing what I’ve been doing and seeing.

Loads of journalists drink heavily.

As I get back into the rhythm of cover, I’m discovering industry changes.  Modern day journo’s multi-task to meet print, radio and television story demands or work desk, field and camera positions.  No pigeon-holing.  They work long hours under not-always-pleasant conditions aided by technical changes that have come to the fore with the advent of digital technology: open fiber optic links, camera to computer broadcast-quality image transfer, not just for techies  easy-to-operate live studios and radio booths.

And gone are the days of cowboy  “Just find the Rebel Forces and go in With Them!” heroics. As insurance rates soar and the face of war moves to urban centers, field producers, crews and correspondents undergo hostile environment training before heading to the field and networks employ security experts:  former special task force or elite ex-military personnel who scout conflict locales for safety and potential danger before allowing journos to go in.

Last night one of the correspondents admitted: “I feel really guilty.  I went back to the hotel at midnight yesterday and slept 6 hours.”

Until that point, she’d been averaging 18-21-hour days on this story.

Slacker.

 

Bring a Gun to School Day!! September 12, 2008

Last month I caught this Reuters story about Harrold, Texas schoolteachers gaining district approval to carry guns in school.   At the time, I was too busy getting my own son ready for 1st grade to blog it but I bookmarked the story because it was waaaay too good to let slip by without comment.

Clearly I wasn’t alone.

In late August The New York Times carried this story on Harrold’s new “teachers with guns” measure.

Here’s the thing: Harrold is a small, “impoverished” town characterized by “grain silos”.  The high school in question has a student population of 100 and employs two dozen teachers.

From what I could gather, there hasn’t been a problem with violent incidents in the school in the past but the proposal was put forth as a preemptive measure:

In the center of the storm is (school superintendent…sf) Mr. Thweatt, a man who describes himself as “a contingency planner,” who believes Americans should be less afraid of protecting themselves and who thinks signs at schools saying “gun-free zone” make them targets for armed attacks.

Mr. Thweatt maintains that having teachers carry guns is a rational response to a real threat. The county sheriff’s office is 17 miles away, he argues, and the district cannot afford to hire police officers, as urban schools in Dallas and Houston do.

Umm, okay.  But if, as the NY Times article sites, the idea is to ward off a Columbine-esque repeat…Columbine happened nearly a decade ago.  What took Harrold’s town-folk so long?

“Our people just don’t want their children to be fish in a bowl,” said David Thweatt, the schools superintendent and driving force behind the policy. “Country people are take-care-of-yourself people. They are not under the illusion that the police are there to protect them.”

Hmmm…now where else have I heard that rationale?  Oh yeah.  Within other small towns, communities and insular religious groups adopting a “we’ll keep this silent and in the family” approach to problem solving.

And specifically, speaking of Columbine, I also heard that same rationale nearly a decade ago while producing a post-Columbine story on Youth & Guns in America for German network television.

Living in the U.S. at the time, I traveled to L.A. for pre-production work that included visiting gang members in South Central projects, driving around Watts with an ex-Crips member, touring an NRA range and attending a weapons and gun exhibition.

I was a woman working on my own and risks were inherent but most of the week was spent listening to a lot of superfluous talk and a lot of rhetoric.  More followed during production week when I returned to L.A. to join my German colleagues in filming all of the above plus night sortees with the LAPD.

I got an earful of the “right to bear arms” and “guns don’t kill people; people kill people” credos.

Funny that because at the same time, the ex-gang bangers were on a crusade to get the younger generation to put down their weapons and duke it out hand to hand.  “Old school style” they said.  They seemed to understand that guns, indeed, DO kill people.

Of the above, guess which group genuinely sent chills down my spine?  Hint:  The one with loads of $$ and a strong U.S. government lobby…

Let’s hope none of Harrold’s teachers gets his or her britches in a twist over an incomplete homework assignment.