Friday, December 25, 2054

Chapter Six

Paul did, in fact appear on Nightline. Chris Bury did the interview. Paul tried to look humble and serious, but hell, this was Nightline. He had always been something of a news junkie and Nightline had always been one of his favorites. You could watch the Sunday morning political talk shows, but they were full of well-prepared politicians, economists and press secretaries. Dateline, 20/20, and 60-Minutes were all fine, but they were pre-produced. It might be fun to watch the hidden camera catching security guards sleeping on duty at the nuclear power plant, or to see Mike Wallace jump out of the bushes yelling “Where did you hide the money?” at some schmuck trying to get to his car, but you knew that these stories had been edited.

But Nightline, that was a different story. First of all, its live. They convince a bunch of authorities on some subject or other to come in and beat each other senseless over whatever the day’s hot topic is. The story may have only broken a few hours ago, and no-one’s had a chance to prepare. That’s where the excitement is. You get to watch these guys soar or crash and burn. And then, there’s the rare incredible show you never forget. How about the time Koppel’s got Al Campannis on in what should have been a fairly softball discussion of race in Major League Basball? Campannis sticks his foot in it, big time. Koppel gives him such a chance to extricate it; he’s practically pulling on the guy’s leg. Campannis sticks by what he said. Munch, munch, swallow. End of career. This is a show Paul thought was worth watching.

And now he had his chance to be on it. And he couldn’t think of any downside. “Hell”, he thought “They just want to parade out today’s hero. I can live with that.”
As it turned out, they took up the first segment of the show recounting the day’s events and interviewing Paul, who once again tried to downplay his heroics. This was followed by a panel discussion on the psychology of a hero. The next segment was about some similar events in the past; the guy who dove into the Potomac after the Air Florida plane crash, and Richard Jewel (Hero then Bomber, then “O.K., not a bomber, but you can’t be a hero anymore either”). The show finished with more softball questions from Chris and more humility from Paul.

Throughout the show, Paul thought his face would crack from trying to keep the shit-eating grin off of his face. “Nightline”, he thought, “this is just too cool”.

The interview had been conducted via satellite with Chris Bury in New York and Paul in the local affiliate’s studio in D.C. When it was over, a technician came over and disconnected Paul from his lapel mic and ear-whig. The makeup woman gave him a towellete to mop off the makeup and sweat. One of the producer types walked over and said, “Great show, Mr. Harkness. I’ve gotta tell you, we get a lot of big names coming through here, and I meet them all, but meeting you, it really is an honor. What you did today… that was special. It helps restore your faith in your fellowman, well mine, at least. Anyway, I just wanted to say that and to shake your hand”.

During the course of this speech, Paul had been looking around the room. He was extremely embarrassed; trying to look anywhere but at the producer. Its one thing to be praised to the hilltops on national T.V. Its something else entirely to have to endure this sort of thing face to face.

In the course of his visual wandering, Paul’s attention was drawn to a man and woman standing nearby. Both were immaculately dressed and both appeared to be in their mid-thirties.. The woman had the sort of brown eyes that normally made him lose track of time. She carried herself with an obvious sense of authority and you could see that the guy was careful to follow her lead. The guy looked like any other totally normal guy….just shy of 6’ tall, hair cut very short, skin a shade lighter than coffee, expensive suit off the rack…..totally normal….except that he appeared to have been impaled on a broomstick.

From a few feet away, Adelaide Rotholz, standing with one of the White House Protocol Officers, listened to the producer’s comments. Oblivious to Paul’s attention, she thought, “Jeez, if a Nightline producer is getting all choked up over this guy, the rest of the country is just going to eat him up.”

She approached Paul and stuck out her hand. “Mr. Harkness, my name is Adelaide Rotholz. I work for President Harper. Its my pleasure to inform you that the President would like to formally express the nation’s gratitude for your actions today. The day after tomorrow, we’ll be holding a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House. During this ceremony, you will be presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian award. Congratulations.”

Paul stood there, dumbstruck. “I’m sorry, who did you say you are?”

Addie laughed. She and the Protocol Officer each showed Paul their White House credentials. “This is real, Mr. Harkness. No Joke.”

Paul realized he had just dropped into an entirely different universe. The attention from the press was one thing, but this was just inconceivable. This was way too much.

“Why would the President give me a medal? I’m just some guy.”

Addie looked at Paul and responded sincerely. She was rarely in a position to speak so forthrightly so her sincerity was obvious, even to Paul who had just met the woman. “Paul….do you mind if I call you Paul? Did you hear what that producer just said to you? Five nights a week, its his job to hype some guy, to puff him up to the audience and to himself. And nine days out of ten, the guy’s just the flavor of the week. He’s some bloviating politician or movie star confusing fame with depth of knowledge. Maybe he’s some hack scientist talking about how the auto industry is preventing him from producing his zero-emissions car.”

“That producer knows that most people who appear on this show are either pushing some agenda or just full of shit, sometimes both. I just watched him practically bow and kiss your feet. And that’s real. I’ve also watched you on T.V. all day being humble, and that’s also part of why you’re getting this medal. Everyone in America watched you do something truly heroic today and you’re response has been, “Oh, anyone would have done the same thing”. The fact is everyone wants to believe they would have done the same thing in your place, but they know that no-one else did. And they have serious doubts that they would have. Face it, pal, what you did today is something everyone wishes they’d have done, but they know they would have just stood at the guardrail pointing with the rest of the crowd. And the most incredible thing is that you honestly don’t see anything special about it. So, do you want to meet the President, or not”?

2 comments:

Jeri said...

Nathan, this continues to be good - especially where you do dialogue and action.

You seem to have some verb tense problems early in this chapter - unless it's on purpose??? If so, I didn't quite catch the reason. You shift from past tense to present, and back again.

Keep writing, and we'll keep reading!

Nathan said...

Thanks Jeri. I'll go back and look at the verb tense thing. If you look at it, you'll see that the odd numbered chapters are told in the first person and the even numbered ones are in the third person. So, verb tense should go somewhat wacky when Paul is telling his story, but in this chapter it should be standard. I'll try to fix it.