The old TV news adage: If it bleeds, it leads
Only this time, the blood came as a shock.
I was sitting at my desk, trying to condense the city council meeting I’d covered the night before into a coherent 20 seconds for the morning news.
In digits bright enough to guide an airplane through fog, the clock on the newsroom wall said it was 4:17 a.m.
I was suffering writer’s block on the council story, so I started a rewrite on a story about a robbery at a convenience store:
“Police are asking for your help …”
Down the hallway my co-worker cleared his throat; it was part habit and part warning, his way of letting me know he was in the building and didn’t want to startle me. Duly warned, he’d greet me every day with “Mornin’, Dan” as he passed behind my cubicle on the way to the studio to prepare his drive-time show.
On this morning the routine changed, and from the corner of my eye I saw him stop at the doorway to my office.
“Mornin’” I said without looking up.
“Am I bleeding?” he asked casually, like he’d nicked himself shaving.
I looked up and grabbed the edge of the desk to steady myself against a wave of lightheadedness.
That much blood is rarely seen outside of movies that feature hockey masks and chain saws — it had soaked his beard and stained the front of his shirt.
“YES you’re bleeding!” I said in an alarmed, embarrassing falsetto. “What happened?”
“I fell asleep in the car,” he explained in a mushy voice. “I drove off the road. You know that in-drive just before you get to the station?”
“There’s a big rock in the ditch. I ran into it and hit my face on the steering wheel. I bit my tongue.”
To prove his point, he stuck out his tongue. I tightened my grip on the desk.
“You need to go to the hospital,” I said. “That looks really bad. I can drive you …”
I started to stand, but my legs felt wobbly.
“No, I’m okay to drive,” he said, sounding like he was speaking through a mouthful of saltines. He disappeared around the side of my cubicle, then peeked over the wall.
“Um … can I use your car? Mine’s still in the ditch.”
I would have asked him to not bleed all over the seats if it didn’t sound unsympathetic.
“Sure,” I said, tossing him my keys.
Ten minutes before his broadcast he walked back into the station.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, pulling the city council story out of my typewriter.
“I called …” he said, naming his boss. “He wouldn’t let me have the day off. He said I should just play music and not talk.” With a mouth-full-of-marbles voice, he explained that an emergency room doctor had given his tongue a shot of Novocain and five stitches.
“Well,” he mumbled with a glassy smile, “it’s show time!”
At least I think that’s what he said; the trip to the ER hadn’t exactly done wonders for his diction. But it DID make him talkative, and he spent the next three hours waxing on about … who knows? The weather? The ballgame? The latest music? The morning commute?
It was all uniformly unintelligible.
And in an ironic “go figure” kind of way, I’ll bet the ratings were through the roof.
Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson.