Seattle, 1987 an old stone church somewhere around Capitol Hill: I woke up.
My first job out of high school I worked as a freelance television production field assistant for David, a producer who had, what was called, “an account” with CNN. David had a working relationship with the network to provide feature stories from the Northwest corridor that included Northwest Oregon, Washington and Alaska. It was one of the most life changing jobs I ever held. One experience I had in the field has recently resurfaced in my thoughts. It has made me consider the heavy responsibility writers, communicators, reporters and producers have to the public.
|Me and the Bates Quad Tape Machines,
possibly cueing up some Paul Anka
KBTC TV, Tacoma
I first met David in the hallway at my school, L.H. Bates Technical located in downtown Tacoma on Yakima Street. David was looking for an assistant, gave me his card, I took the job. It was brilliant on-the-job training while I finished up my degree.
David had a small upstairs office off Broadway, above a restaurant called “The Good Egg”, just a block or so down from the QFC Grocery. Nothing glamorous, as you may think. It was a lonely gray room, bare walls and the only office furniture was shelves that held the tape library, two desks and two chairs. One desk had a ¾ inch tape editing system on it, the other had stacks of papers and the only good chair. When I was called in for a shoot, THIS was headquarters. Running downtown 20 minutes from my home in south Seattle, I never had a place to sit. That was fine because I never was there for more than a half hour at a time. Headquarters to me was the place to load up the car for a shoot with boxes of tapes, batteries, the lighting kit and mics, nothing more.
|One half of a Sony 3/4 inch editor
One day I was called in to do errands. When I arrived David was reading a newspaper, from a stack at least a foot thick. He gave me a list of places to purchase new tape stock, ship some things out, and an order for lunch and mochas. When I returned, he was more than half way through the pile, as he gleamed each page for future features he wanted to cover.
“This is how it starts,” he told me, “research.” His job seemed boring and tedious.
Many of the stories we covered were moving, but none more than the musician It was one of my first assignments. A standard shoot: interview and B-roll. Usually, I did not know what we were shooting until the drive over. This evening David was covering a local musician who was performing at an old church.
The musician was a singer, songwriter, guitarist, who, I was shocked to discover, also in a wheelchair! He was a little person with a malformed spine that kept him from walking. Despite his height and limited mobility, his arms and shoulders allowed him to play a guitar with ease. (I have tried unsuccessfully to find him online, so my apologies that I cannot credit his name for this article.) His message was an inspiring one. The doctors told his parents he wouldn’t live more than ten years, yet here he was in his mid-thirties. His band traveled around sharing original music with hopes to encourage, enlighten, and increase social awareness about the handicap.
|Host/Producer Denny, me (grip/assistant)
and a new cameraman
My main job during an interview was to monitor the audio. Once everything was set up, David sat down with the guest and the two started to talk. I sat there, in the shadows as it were, large headphones over my ears, listening to the audio, adjusting it as needed. Then I started to not just listen, but to HEAR and understand. The musician’s voice, with its rich warm tones, flowed directly into my ears, brain and heart. With eyes closed I could not hear his disability, only his spirit! Memory, however, is a strange beast. I cannot remember one word he said! I DO remember feeling moved to tears by his story. Those words, not words spoken, but the spirit in which they were expressed, moved me. It seemed like for the first time in my life I was standing before a true warrior; a man who fought real battles every day. Yet instead of being bitter and angry about his handicap he simply celebrated life, seemed thankful for every breath. Thankful for his family, his music, his life! My impression of the physically handicapped changed from fear and uncertainty, to the realization that a full spirit lives inside the shell we call “Body”, a full complete person, despite any disfigurements, limps, or mutations of the flesh.
I understood why David found his job so exciting. Why he searched the newspapers for remarkable stories. These were voices that needed to be shared with everyone. He was a good egg.
~ ~ ~
I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death.
~Leonardo da Vinci