Saturday, January 15, 2011

Me vs. Technology (Hint: Don't bet on me)

Two occurrences from this past week:

1. I was invited to volunteer my services for a local project that places locally designed posters – including locally written haiku – on downtown streets. I’ve agreed to interview some of the artists and poets by phone while recording the interviews, which I am to then transcribe and edit into blurbs that will appear on the back of the posters.

2. I opened the obituary pages and found that a local lawyer and professor, whom I’ll call Joe Farrelly, had died.

You will, of course, agree that this was an eerie coincidence.

Oh, you won’t?

I totally understand – you didn’t know me 36 years ago…..

(Cue the harp glissando as the special effects folks screw around with the picture to cleverly indicate a trip back in time.)

It was the fall of 1974, and I was a student in a Mass Media class. My big project, shared with another student, was to do the promotion for a career night that the instructor was putting together.

As part of this project, I set up an interview with Joe Farrelly and his wife, whom I’ll call Isabella, and who was also a lawyer. The interview was to run in the student newspaper, along with a photo of the couple, which was to be taken a couple of days after the interview.

I decided that the neat thing to do would be to record the interview.

So I signed out a cassette recorder from the college’s AV department and brought it to the interview, which took place on a Saturday afternoon at the house where the couple lived with their six children.

I cleverly set up the recorder somewhere near my chair and began asking questions.

Isabella, sitting on a couch perpendicular to my chair, gamely answered my lame queries while her youngest, who was maybe less than a year old, squirmed beside her. (Even at his young age, he was obviously reacting to the insipidity of my inquiries. I recall that at one point, when his mother picked him up, she and I both noticed a round, wet stain on the couch – as eloquent an editorial comment as I’ve ever seen.)

Joe Farrelly sat in a chair at the other end of the room. He was tall and very low-key (think Jason Robards on Quaaludes), and his voice was so soft that I decided I’d better try to write down some of his quotes in case the microphone didn’t pick him up.

After the interview, I went home and played the tape.


I’m not even sure you could hear dead air.

So quiet, you could hear my grade-point average drop.

Visions of the end of my college career came crashing down. (Can visions really crash? Oh well, it certainly felt that way.)

I imagined myself going to the registrar’s office on Monday to quit, dunce cap in hand.

But then I pulled what was left of myself together and decided to tough it out.

Luckily, I had a couple of things going for me:

1. The quotes from Joe that I’d written down, along with a quote from Isabella.

2. The Farrellys had provided a joint resume that uncluded everything except what the couple had for dinner on St. Swithin's Day, 1967. It made the average Thomas Pynchon novel look like a pamphlet.

I was able to somehow arm wrestle some of this stuff and the quotes into an article that the paper ran under a headline that referred to the Farrellys as “He-she barristers.” This was several years before I began writing headlines for a living, but even then that sounded weird to me, though I suppose that today it might be the springboard for another David E. Kelley show. (Coming to NBC: “Hermaphrodites at Law”!)

I attended the career night but was careful to avoid the Farrellys because somehow their picture was never taken; the student photographer said they weren’t home when he came by that night. Though it wasn’t my place to challenge him, my instincts told me he’d blown off the job (a family of eight away from home on a school night?), and I feared that the Farrellys would threaten to sue me over being stiffed….

This weekend I’ll get a start on my poster project work by trying to open the plastic package containing my new microcassette recorder. (Why do I always manage to cut my long fingernails a few days before they would have come in handy?)

Wish me luck.

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