On One Hand

March 3, 2006

Off the Record

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 8:56 pm
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I’d only been working on a campus paper for a year – a campus paper, mind you, that no one reads; does that even count as journalism? Yet reporting had already corrupted me.

This is how I was polluted. Aside from the anxiety, aside from the sudden descent of my handwriting to a third-grade level, aside from the tendency to drool when planes crash, thinking, that would be an awesome story!. News writing can be an awful thing. I had been doing it for a year, and already this is what I had become because of it.

It is February 2006. I am talking to the manager of my apartment building about moving out early. I’m asking her how I apply to sublease my apartment so I can move in with this girl who lives closer to the guy I was dating at the time. She’s telling me that I pay a fee of a third of my rent for one month and they’ll open my place to sublease, and I still have to pay the rent until someone else moves in. They can’t promise if anyone will move in; three people have already vacated in the complex, trying to sub-lease, and as of March their apartments are still empty.

I ask what the chances are that April, May, June will be better luck, more people moving around, looking for apartments. My apartment manager says she can’t say.

Here’s where I start thinking I’m reporting a story, that I am priveleged by my position to write. “I know,” I answer. “But off the record, what are the chances that April, May, June will be better luck.”

“All I can give you is the policy of the Village Apartments on sub-leases,” she frowns at me.

“Yeah I know,” I am nonchalant. “But I’m not gonna write this down, or tell anyone. Just tell me off the record.”

The building manager repeats herself.

And then I’m standing in her office doorway, refusing to leave it, leaning into the room, trying to explain what “off the record” means, as if she doesn’t know.

“I know you can’t make an official statement,” I tell her, “because this is your job. But I mean can you just tell me, personally, based on your experience, based on last year, what are the chances of me finding a sublease in April.”

“If you want to pay the money now you can,” she says slowly, anunciating every syllable, “and I’ll post the paperwork on your door on Monday.”

“I know, but what are the chances,” I say, I pause to think – I laugh – I adjust my hat (it’s a beanie), I play it cool, and I am cool. I’m cool and personal and serious, and I’m safe because we’re speaking off the record. “And I know you don’t want to tell me because you don’t want to be responsib -”

“I’m not responsible, you’d still be responsible for your rent until someone else moves in,” the building manager says.

I breathe. “And what are the chances of that happening, of someone moving in. I mean,” I sort-of wink but don’t really wink, it’s more of a quick side-cock of my head that implies a wink and I continue, “I mean off the record.”

“If you want to pay the deposit now, you can,” she says unimpressed.

We continue as such until I finally get it. I get it. I do not have the upper hand. I am not the viscous reporter who puts all under a glaring eye of scrutiny, who is suddenly soft and trustworthy, putting down my notebook. Not right now. She isn’t anxious, isn’t going to crack to make a friend who has the power to report about her. She is not afraid that I’ll write, “the Village Apartments declined to comment,” that damning, tell-all phrase. She is not afraid that I’ll put something in the paper, the student paper that no one reads, she’s not declining to tell me because she doesn’t want those ignorant student body to “get the wrong impression,” to know. The masses, the ones your sources always blame when they give you bullshit excuses not to comment, “oh I’d tell you but, the students, you know, people are going to get the wrong idea, if you write that, the masses, you know how stupid they are.” This time I realize I am the masses, the student body, the outsiders who can’t be let in. She doesn’t want me to know her secret. I am powerless here, neutered. She doesn’t think that I am entitled to any information I want even though I am the press and you want the press to be your friend so if they can’t print it you say it off the record so that they’ll like you and be your friend and what they do say will be positive things.

There is no “off the record” anymore.

And the apartment complex manager is not friendly like she was when I bought this apartment, because she’s not selling it anymore. I’m already caught, hooked, signed into a year-long promise to pay. I’m asking to leave this time and she doesn’t owe me any help. This is the ruthless professional, the apartment complex manager who told the law school graduate student he had to sign the addendum about the mold in the showers even after he signed the lease. Even though he didn’t know about the addendum until he already signed the lease, and suddenly he was being told he isn’t allowed to pass on the addendum, and he had to sign the addendum – and he was like sweating, I mean, not really sweating but I could imagine it there dripping down his face, could imagine the white light, the cops, the quivering, the heat, the thirst, the can of soda sparkling with dew, the addendum, and even though he is a law student, that he’d gotten to graduate school and studied a year, he knew the law, and he should have known he had every right to refuse to sign the addendum, in spite of all that the apartment building manager convinced the law student to sign the addendum anyway.

I swallow. “Well I’m not ready to make a commitment right now,” I say, “I’ll be back on Monday or so.”

Or so. I would not come back. I would until the end of my lease, in August.

I am a reporter, or at least I think I am. I am a piranha. Someday in the “real world,” working for a “real paper” as we called city newspapers then, I will feed on word of pedophile priests and corporate fraud and the smoke rising from exploded embassies. I am smooth and slick and ruthless and cunning and everyone wants to be my friend because I have the power to include (or to conveniently forget) the ugly detail, to ask tough questions (or to smile and “understand”), to approach (or courteously ignore) the opposition, to be like The Guradian, tough-toothed, (or like Fox), to control how everyone is seen.

And I am beaten, vanquished by the manager of my apartment complex. She relaxes at her desk, leans forward, and slides her pen across some paperwork in front of her, and I am pointed toward by the top of her head. Because my notebook is gone, my pencil is absent, I am in laymans clothing. I am the masses that I love to condemn as ignorant pawns of the media (though I am the media) and take upon myself to inform. I am at a loss.

Off the record.

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2 Comments »

  1. whenever i start to read your entries, i have to finish. your writing is so captivating that even if i’m not really interested in a topic, i have to read your thoughts about the topic.

    Comment by hurley_chik — March 4, 2006 @ 11:18 am | Reply

    • same here. just never knew how to put it in such a good way. also, apt managers are some batty people from my experience.

      -denise

      Comment by Anonymous — March 6, 2006 @ 2:03 am | Reply


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