Tag Archives: journalism

Yep…You’re Cool!

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Yep…You’re Cool

My son slipped on the glasses, sat in the chair and his oldest sister said “no! You have to put your hand on your chin like he does!”

My son put the hand there, an upright “thinker” position and said “just call me Dave Manoucheri, investigative reporter!”

It got a chuckle out of me…an outright burst of laughter from the rest of the room.

My children, after four years of my working at my job, had never come to my work and actually seen what I do every day. They had been visiting a museum and decided to stop by and say hello. When they reminded me they’d never seen a newscast and how it operates I figured the least I could do was let them do that.

The boys were amazed. When robotic cameras went moving around on the floor unaided by human hands the boy up there was awestruck. When they met the anchors they see on the television they were . . . well . . . awestruck again.  When they saw the editing booths, the cameras, the giant empty studio we use for everything else they were flabbergasted.

“Which is your desk,” they had asked me after the tour.
“The one with what looks like a shrine to you four,” a colleague informed them. I hadn’t thought about it, but yes…I have a lot of pictures of my kids sitting on my desk. I’m very proud of them. They have persevered through a lot of terrible, horrible things and they aren’t at all bitter about it.

Not to say that I haven’t been informed of the major limitations of my parenting abilities by, particularly, my two daughters. There are a lot of things about raising girls that you really need to have a woman around to help you with and I just didn’t. It was better, though, for me to stumble along than to bring someone in with no connection to them whatsoever just so they’d have a female adult in the household. I stand by that decision.

“This is so cool,” my sons said of the television station where I work.
“I thought you’d all been here before,” I told them.
“Well, yeah, but we didn’t really get to see anything,” they told me.

Their older sister wasn’t as impressed.  When she was a toddler she was in live shots and segments for the news all the time.  I worked in a consumer unit and we always needed video of a kid doing something or a home for a backdrop, which was always mine.  It was second nature for her to be on television.

Your work is so cool, said my middle daughter. “So are the people you work with.  Tell them we said that!” she added.
“Dad’s cool, too,” said my son.
“Nah…I’m just Dad,” I told him.
“No…you get to do all these things, you changed a law, you play guitar, you are in a band with a guy that played with all these famous people…you’re pretty cool,” he told me.

My kids got to see that my out-of-home life was far more complex and intense than they thought. It was a wonder to them that I get to do all this stuff and then still come home and quote Monty Python to them.

I was just starting to bask in the admiration of the “coolness” they’d bestowed upon me when my other son decided to copy his Dad at the desk.

He put on the glasses, looked up and went “whoah…ugh…man, you can’t see very well can you!”

Aaaaand…thus endeth the coolness.

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Rest, but not Peacefully

I think I can honestly say I’ve had enough of the grim reaper, loss, and grief in the last year.  Hell, in the last three years.  Being honest, this comes after a particularly terrible day where loss seemed to be the running theme.

What I know how to do, though, is tell stories.  As a result, that’s what you’re getting here.  After a day where word came that two people – one a former colleague, the other more like a brother than a friend – had passed away the day went from difficult to painful.  So as I write here tonight, I’ve had a couple glasses of alcoholic beverages and it did little to numb how things felt.

Jim Fagin
Jim Fagin

The first man had been ill, a few years back he’d found out he had pancreatic cancer.  They’d declared him cancer-free for quite awhile, but like many other forms of this horrid disease it came back with a vengeance.

Jim Fagin was a curmudgeon of a man.  I don’t say that as an insult, it honestly was in the most appealing of ways.  When a woman once called our station – a call I seem to repeatedly get from multiple people each day – saying she wanted him to go after CPS.  Apparently they’d taken her kids and they had no right.  Sure, she’d been on meth and smoking pot and the kids were in soiled diapers but that didn’t mean she was a bad woman, right?  “Ma’am,” Jim said in his blunt demeanor, “I think you’re under the mistaken impression that we’re here to help people!”  He informed her we worked in news.  We weren’t social workers we had to make a profit and we told stories.  That was it.  It may be an over-simplification, but it’s true.

Jim wasn’t cold-hearted, though.  Before I ever worked with him I dealt with him while I was at another station – across the river in Council Bluffs, Iowa.  I had stumbled on an accident and it was one of the first stories I’d had to cover in my career.  A young boy, simply driving in the middle of the day to get a pack of gum at a convenience store, had been hit by a car.  The driver had left an adult bookstore, likely not wanting to be seen, and struck the boy, who was following the traffic rules, and hit him.  I’d shot the scene, a mangled bicycle, the street literally covered in blood.  Jim called a few hours after we’d closed up for the day. “I saw your story,” he told me.  “Powerful stuff!  Powerful stuff!”  The line was over the top enough we used “powerful stuff” for every good story from that point on . . . but Jim was serious.  He swallowed pride and called to get the video from us which couldn’t have been easy.  He went after the story at WOWT with a vengeance . . . to no avail.  He once told me he was always upset they’d never caught the driver.  That’s the kind of man he was and I always remembered that the story stuck with him.  He passed away on December 2nd and the journalistic world’s a little worse off without him.

The Manoucheri Trio: from left: Orv Morrow, George Marshall, Adam Manoucheri
The Manoucheri Trio: from left: Orv Morrow, George Marshall, Adam Manoucheri

The second loss hit home from left field.  On the way to San Francisco for a story I got a message from my father that George Marshall had passed away.

George was a dear friend.  Closer even to my brother, Adam, a member of his band, the Manoucheri trio and drummer extrordinaire for our band together, Manoucheri.

I met George when my band ran a jam session at the Howard Street Tavern in Omaha, Nebraska.  The bar had a storied history, with Albert Collins and Buddy Guy having graced its stage.  We got paid in beer, mostly, but we honed our playing as well.  We always opened with a set of our material and this night was no different.  After finishing up I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see George standing there.  “What can I do for you?” I asked pleasantly.  George, a man of few words, simply opened his coat and showed me his t-shirt, which had the logo of the country club of my hometown.  “Hey!!!,” was all I could get out.
“Your cousin Tom said you would be here and that you’d let me play.”
“Absolutely,” was my answer.  “What do you want to play?”
“Hendrix.  Clapton.  Santana . . . just want to play.”

Play he did.  My 2nd guitarist was starting a Hendrix tribute band and looked a bit skeptical.  Here was an unknown guy, short – just over 5 feet – and my friend Grover shrugged figuring he’d play his best.  We counted off “Them Changes” off the LP “Band of Gypsies” to start.  George didn’t miss a beat or a break.  He was dead-on, better than Buddy Miles on the original.  We did other songs, it was like Mitch Mitchell, Keith Moon, Neil Peart and John Bonham had just arrived in one body on the stage.  We selfishly tried to stay on the stage as long as we could to the consternation of the jam attendees in the crowd.

My brother would have his own tales . . . a day in the school gym playing songs from Blind Faith, Cream and Jethro Tull.  The ability to play Rush with no problem was innate in him.

George was a man of few words but when he spoke it was worth it.  Often funny or insightful he’d also constantly push to gig.  When I left Nebraska for another job my brother and George became even closer.  He’d become the drummer in the Manoucheri trio.

Just a few months after my wife Andrea passed away I came to my hometown and stayed with my folks.  My brother came over and simply said “George and Orv are coming.  Let’s head out to the studio.”  It was a pattern repeated at every visit since.  George showed up, tuned up his drum kit, and walked up, shaking my hand.
“How are you doing,” he simply asked.
“Best I can,” I told him, and it was true.  It wasn’t easy and I was still a bit lost.
“You just need to play some music,” George said and sat down at his kit.

At the Crossroads Atoll studios with George
At the Crossroads Atoll studios with George

I remember that day in particular because we played so much, and I played so hard, that sweat was pouring into my eyes.  I had soaked through my shirt.  “Damn, he’s just torturing that guitar,” our bassist Orv said.  I had broken strings on two Stratocasters and was quickly moving through other guitars in my brother’s stash.

George didn’t stop.  He just kept playing.  When we finished he just said “well . . . when are we doing this again?”

My brother found George Monday night.  We don’t know what happened . . . we may never know.  He was young, healthy, in far better shape than I am.  Today just didn’t seem real.  To have lost George, who was at the house a lot, spent Thanksgiving with my family many years, had holidays, was simply part of the family, was unfathomable.

2013 has not been a banner year.  We lost my grandmother, the kids lost Andrea’s father and mother . . . and now this.  It’s all out of left field.

We will miss the amazing songs we didn’t get to play with George, the dreams we’ll never see.  We’ll miss the melodies we created over his intense rhythms.  But more we’ll miss the presence of the man who was a great friend.

Goodbye Jim.  Don’t rest peacefully, George, but play on.  I will try to hope when the summer storms roll through that part of the booming thunder is your hands, hitting every beat and never missing a break.

A change in me

Covering the buildup to the Iraq War…

I had a discussion recently with a friend – a belated birthday lunch for a woman I know from a previous incarnation of my professional life.  The discussion was innocent enough, really, just about the jobs we’ve held and the things we’ve done.  I never looked, really, at what I do as particularly earth shattering or dangerous.  But as I told the stories of some of my ill-fated adventures I realized that I really took a lot of risks that I shouldn’t have.  It’s not really something I’d considered, but it’s also registered a change in me.

Now . . . don’t get me wrong.  Sure, I could be like one of those parents who takes a separate flight so that if the plane crashes their kids never lose both parents.  However, since that ship has sailed, there are a number of things I’ve done I realized had me changing without even realizing it.

In 2002, New Year’s Day, I went – against my wife’s wishes, by the way – to Israel to cover how a country deals with terrorism far more often than the US does.  At the time I knew there was a cease-fire between the state of Israel and the Palestinian Authority and HAMAS.  I thought nothing of it.  As I told the story to my friend, I recounted how my reporter and I were shooting a segment where Israel and the West Bank are at their closest: a mere 80 yards apart.  As I shot my video standup, the reporter describing said short distance, I noticed two or three soldiers running up toward us, shouting in Hebrew.  It was clear they were agitated and I was concerned . . . you are highly discouraged from entering the West Bank, which is obviously why we went.
“What the hell are you doing?!” was the question from the kid in front of us.  He looked no more than 17 and carried an automatic rifle over his olive green body armor.
“We’re just shooting a television segment.”
As the kid turned around we noticed a bullet hole in his back.  “What happened here?!”
“I got these when I signed up,” the kid told us of his uniform.
“Obviously it didn’t serve its previous owner well,” my reporter mumbled to me.
“You have to leave,” was the line.  Before we could ask the kid added “we disarmed a roadside bomb, an IED, on this very spot today.”

You see, a couple hours earlier we might have triggered that very bomb.  Now, I’m not saying we were close to death, and I hardly ever think of it that way, but my friend’s look was shocked during our luncheon conversation.
She asked, expecting I’d say no, if I’d been to other zones like this.  The answer sounded odd as it came out of my mouth.
“Well, I did a 6-day trip with a medical evacuation unit to Afghanistan,” was my response.  It truly was not a dangerous trip, we only spent about 2 hours on the ground at Bagram . . . but it sounds . . . irresponsible, when I realize I have four kids.  I say that, because the reporter I travelled with on that story had to be convinced how safe it was.  She refused initially, under the guise of a promise to her family, to never cover a war zone.

At Bagram Air Base with Colonel David Talley and Major David Baker

I can’t say I ever made the same promise.  Before the boys were born, I’d covered the buildup to the Iraq war.  I had all the shots, filled out the paperwork, even had the visas stamped in my passport.  The war was supposed to start in October or November, I was ready to go.  But then it got pushed to December…then January…then February…by the time they got to March I had said “no.”  We aren’t going, I won’t miss my boys being born.  I didn’t, either, but it killed me to watch the reports going on the air and be sitting in the newsroom.

Shooting Blackhawks loading cargo

Hell . . . as we moved to California and I had no job I was considering covering – in person – the hidden front of the war on terror as a freelance reporter.  That front?  Northern Africa.  I had inquired with the State Department and hit up for all the visas already.  Then I got the CBS job as we were moving and I let it slide.

So why am I less inclined to do this now?  Does my brain go along with it and ignore all the things I see?

No.  It still kills me when I see the news happening without being there.

You see, I was never an adventurer, but I loved the coverage and the news from those zones.  I wanted so much to cover it and this was my chance to dabble.  When major news happens it really does bother me when I see it happening and can’t be there to cover it.  I’ve covered the wake of 9/11 in Washington DC.

I covered the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, finding debris, videotaping the burned mission patch of one astronaut as it lay in the grass like a discarded piece of paper.

The difference . . . is I know it’s not a choice now.

Part of me realized that, during those times when I volunteered for whatever the news wanted, even though it would be hard on them, I’d come home.  I never thought I wouldn’t, which was silly.  Bad things happen all the time.

The other part of me knew that the kids had their Mom, and that was a good thing.  I wasn’t reckless and never volunteered to cover things I couldn’t handle.  I don’t have the experience of Bob Simon or Bernard Shaw so I wasn’t going to go chase Iraqis willy-nilly, or so I told myself.  I wasn’t going to be hiding under a table while the bombs blew up . . . but part of me always wanted to say I had.  No, I realized after the horror that day in March – not the horror of losing my wife, but of the looks on my kids’ faces having to tell THEM that she was gone – that I couldn’t do that.  Not to my kids.

So I noticed in that discussion with my friend that I’ve changed, without even knowing I had done it.  Sure, I went and knocked on the door of an alleged illegal gambling/racing operation, but I had others with me.  I was cautious.  My kids know that no trip would come before them now.  Mainly, I can’t stand the fact that they might have to go through this all over again . . . and this time it would be worse because they’d have lost both of us.

Ending my conversation I admitted “Yeah, I did a lot of stupid things, particularly knowing I had a family.”

The first step in growing, I know, is admitting that you were kidding yourself before.  I still crave adventure . . . but now it’s with my kids and with those I love.

Beside, the world looks better from my eyes . . . not through the lens.