Wednesday, July 11, 2007

what a rat

So along with my amazing cafe job, I also landed an internship with the Connecticut Post at the beginning of the summer. It's been so rewarding to go in and work on stories that will be published in the very same paper that's been delivered to my home for as long as I can remember. Plus I get to experience the buzzing atmosphere of a news room, and also what it's like to be under pressure to complete a story. I already know that I don't ultimately want to work for a newspaper, but this is a great stepping stone for me. If nothing else, I'll walk away from the internship with two front-page stories sporting my name in the byline. Can't hurt my portfolio too bad.
So in any case, I was sent on my first interview last week, which happened to be with b-list celeb, John Ratzenberger. He hosts this show on the Travel Channel called John Ratzenberger's Made in America. You also might remember him as Cliff, the mailman from Cheers. Fun fact - he's considered a good luck charm by the dudes at Pixar, and they've had him sign a contract agreeing to be the voice of one character in every Pixar film made.
I was sent to interview Ratzenberger at this charity breakfast where he was the guest of honor/dude who got people to buy tickets to a $50 breakfast. After the breakfast, he was scheduled to march as honorary grand marshal in the parade that brings Bridgeport's famous Barnum Festival to a close.
When I first arrived at the breakfast, everything seemed to be running smoothly. The event coordinator got me in for free, and almost immediately asked if I would like to meet Ratzenberger. Since he was my sole reason for attending this absurdly overpriced and unimpressive breakfast, I said yes and was led to a table at which Ratzenberger, his daughter, his daughter's beau, and a flock of crazy conservative fans sat gabbing. Just as the coordinator guy and I reached the table, someone started announcing that breakfast was served (buffet-style...yah...classy), and I was told to wait until Ratzenberger's book signing to interview him.
So an hour goes by...(during which the event coordinator only offers me COFFEE when there's enough scrambled eggs to nourish all of Ehtiopia).....
Finally the book-signing comes. I make my way toward the coordinator, and ask if now's the time. I'm told that I should wait a little longer...the line for book singings is off the wall...all for a completely lame -looking hardcover. I bet that out of the approximately 50 people waiting in line to get their books signed, 5 would actually read the thing. They totally just wanted to schmooze with the Ratz.
So I wait and wait and wait, meanwhile chatting it up with everyone from cocky (and hefty) strip club owners to corporate nobodies. The don't have much to say. Most don't even watch Ratzenberger's show, or are too distracted by my crayyyyyyyzeeeee piercings to concentrate on my questions. Mother fathers...
Finally the book signing is over, so here's my chance, right? Oh..wait...uht...yup yea I missed him again. This corrdinator dude tells me to wait, so I do, then the next thing I know I'm following Ratzenberger out the door like a little puppy at his heels, struggling to introduce myself amid his half-conversations with fans and communications with the other parade participants.
He basically shoots me down, saying I should have introduced myself earlier, and when I shoot a glance at the coordinator dude he just looks the other way. I choose not to defend myself, except by saying that I tried but he was busy. I guess he wasn't having it. At that point he hopped into a cherry red convertible, which I found out was headed for the parade meeting point. I followed the car to their destination (which was, oddly enough, a funeral home), and continued to stalk my prey.
Finally I cornered him - pouring a cup of coffee, alone, finally a moment of silence and peace for him...but uht, sorry, here comes the press to rain on your parade (no pun intended?). He didn't seem annoyed or anything, but he also didn't seem to take me very seriously. We sat down at one of the plastic-lined picnic tables so I could ask him the 7 or 8 questions I spent an hour developing, but before I could begin he actually started to question ME. I have this all on tape, by the way...
Tan- "So how does it feel to be back in your hometown for the Barnum Festival?"
Ratz- "What's that in your lip?"
"Oh, I have a piercing in my lip, I actually love to do research on body modification..."
"...You got one in your tongue too..."
"Yup, I have one in my tongue, I have one in my wrist..."
"It's an interest of mine, it's been an interest of mine to modify the body for a long time now..."
"Do you not like yourself?"
"No, I love myself very much..."
"You didn't like the way you came out?"
"No, I love myself very much, I just wanted a little ornamentation, like how other people wear rings and watches, this is my way of decorating myself."
At that point he finally allowed me to get on with the interview, but his attitude toward me was clearly condescending. Every question I asked was responded to with a vague, barely informative answer. After trying for hours to even get a word with this guy, I ended up with not one usable quote from the interview. I was forced into simply paraphrasing him in the story, filling in readers on some fun facts about Ratzenberger's childhood in Bridgeport.
As much as I hate to admit it, I know that before I got involved with body modification I was just as ignorant as most white, conservative, closed-minded Amercians (aka my teachers and elders in general). I would stare, not in admiration but in half-disgust, at the goth kids in my high school with their pierced lips or the guy with full sleeves ringing me out at the convenience store. I didn't understand it. I just saw them as different.
In retrospect, this was the same way in which I used to view midgets, the handicapped, and minorities. I know it sounds harsh to say I was going around mentally judging all of these people, but I was young and extremely impressionable. I went to a predominantly white high school and lived in suburban Connecticut. I was exposed to very little cultural diversity, and never traveled out of the country until just last year. But despite having grown up mindlessly believing that what you see (through socially conditioned eyes) is what you get, I would eventually go from gawker to gawkee. Now I'm the one receiving stares and rude comments, but those slight annoyances are a small price to pay for the way my mods make me feel. I don't even notice them anymore, except when I'm inspecting, cleaning, or admiring them. They're just a part of me, and I think that every single one represents my personality and message to the world.
Ratzenberger had me all mixed up. He thought I modified myself because I wasn't proud of my "original" self. He missed the point. I modify to celebrate myself. And not my outer, physical self. That's just the decoration, the icing on the cake. Modification allows me to give my creative, ambitious, colorful inner self a fitting home.

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