Manhattan Project #41 A Pat on the Back

(wherein Berman tries to curb his obsessive reflection about violence and ends up getting an “attaboy” from his boss)

I told you I tried to avoid getting back into thinking about all that stuff, but my mind shifted back into reflections-on-violence gear almost automatically. The brain is an amazing organ, when you think about it. Always working; it never takes a coffee break. Once you put a problem in there or a question, it just keeps banging away, examining everything it’s got trying to put together a solution or an answer it can deliver to your conscious mind.

The first thought that surfaced in that go-round was the invention thing. If we hadn’t ever invented guns, no one could grab one to kill people with. Nice try, brain. But we’d been down that road before. If we didn’t have guns, they’d grab a spear, or an arrow, or a knife, or maybe just a rock, one of those other inventions that marked our great progress to modern civilization, as that invention book writer had said. I tried to shove the problem down into subconscious territory again, and it went, but a few days later it was back with another possibility.

Take Two went another direction. The gist of it was that maybe all the shootings in society connected to the stuff Richard Leakey talked about. He used words like cooperation and community about prehistoric people. In the earliest of human days, they worked together, helped each other, knew each other, for crying out loud, even got down on each other if someone got rough or aggressive, because they knew it took everybody working together just to survive. It wasn’t until they started doing too much thinking, using their evolving minds, that they got into violence against each other.

So maybe those guys who were killing everybody were following that same route. Maybe they still had a natural tendency to form cooperative relationships with the guys they work with, knowing they needed each other to get the job done or maybe just because they all had to put up with whatever bullshit that was doled out to them on the assembly line. Then, when they got canned or faced rough financial times, and didn’t have that community around them, they stopped reacting out of instinct—stopped depending on each other to get the job done—and tried to think their way out of the shit they were in, and just wigged out. Like that one expert said, they’d lost the guy next to them who could have heard their crazy ideas at break time and leaned over to them on the way back to the nozzle department and told them they were on the wrong track.

Early human beings must have done something like that. I don’t know how much language they had, but they must have had some way to tell somebody when they did something good and when they did something bad. I mean, even Nathan Thibodeau might fit in there. He had his family, but the war had driven a granite wall between them and him, and he didn’t have his Army buddies anymore. And he wouldn’t see a shrink, who might have been able to convince him that blowing away his whole family just didn’t fix anything. You know, I saw a story just the other day where a guy killed his whole family, and then left a bunch of suicide notes saying pretty much what Nathan said in his journal: he couldn’t take care of them properly and he wasn’t going to leave them around for other people to rough up. So he took them with him.

When those thoughts drifted up, they actually made some sense. But I still didn’t want to dwell on all that stuff, so I parked it again. I know this is going to sound goofy, but I sort of got the feeling my brain was getting tired of working so hard and never getting much more than a pat on the neurons for all its hard work. Not long after I shoved the issue out of my mind, out of nowhere I had this thought that maybe I had a brain tumor that had been growing ever so slowly since I was a kid, and just kept squeezing up against whatever part of my head is mostly in charge of thinking about things like this. That did it. I really made myself give it up for a while, till I could rest the old brain cells and take a fresh whack at it.

That put the whole deal out of my mind for a while, but it left me feeling kind of bad. Considering the things that were happening in my day-to-day life, I probably shouldn’t have. A couple of weeks after our great success in the ratings book, DeMarco marched me up to the GM’s office. He wouldn’t tell me why, but the whole way up the stairs he had that little smile of satisfaction on his face. When we got there, the GM stood up and congratulated me on my war stories and went on for a while about what an important part my reporting had played in our recent ratings success.

Now, I gotta’ tell ya’, management doesn’t waste much time praising people in my business. They don’t let you in on the Q-ratings when they come in—those are the numbers showing how popular on-air people are with viewers. They especially don’t talk about it when the numbers are good, because they know you’ll march right into their office and ask for a raise, based on your great value to the station.

But in this conversation, the GM ignored the established wisdom and told me my Q-ratings were great and climbing. He said—in the inside lingo of the business—that my external value to the station was rising nicely. And he said my war reports had done really good things for the station’s image, all of which translated into higher ratings, which translated into higher advertising rates, which meant the station was making more money. So, he was very pleased with me. He paused for a couple of seconds to let that sink in and I just sat there trying not to look too pleased about it. He looked over at Fred, and I followed his gaze. DeMarco was sitting there, ramrod straight in his chair, with a look of intense pride on his face. Then the GM turned back to me.

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