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November 9, 2006

In my defense, your honor, I am crazy, too.

I can't believe I'm going to tell ya'll this story.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I worked at the Los Angeles Daily News. I wanted desperately to be an ace reporter, but instead I was pulling down a cool $7.15 an hour (part-time!) writing press releases in the PR department. Oh, the largesse.

(I did eventually migrate to the newsroom and I even got a front-page Travel section story once. But prior to that, I was a Public Relations hack.)

I was REALLY BAD at Public Relations. Not because I don't like the public or their relations, but because I was young and inexperienced and THERE ARE A LOT OF CRAZY PEOPLE IN LOS ANGELES. And one thing about the newspaper industry is that it is a fertile breeding ground for nuts. Every two-bit fruitcake with access to any form of correspondence will eventually contact the local newspaper. And you know who gets the craziest ones? The low girl on the totem pole.

And that was me.

About three months after I had started working at the newspaper I started receiving calls from a man we'll call Mr. Smith. I do not know how Mr. Smith got my direct line, but I can only assume it was one of the charming front desk folks who loved the new kid in PR.

Mr. Smith called me every day to complain that the newspaper carrier in his neighborhood was beaming alien death rays into his home via the dispatch radio.

Mr Smith: He drives into the neighborhood in a truck with a large antenna...

Me: Yes?

Mr Smith: And that's when it starts.

Me: What starts? The newspaper delivery route starts?

Mr Smith: No. Well, yes. But most disturbingly ... that is when the alien beams start coming into my house.

Me: I see. That is disturbing.

Mr Smith: WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO DO ABOUT THIS?

This went on for months, because I think Mr. Smith was lonely and really just wanted someone to talk to and ya'll know. I was getting paid $7.15 an hour. I was kind of on the fast track to crazy myself, and he was the most amusing of all the regulars. There was the lady who called to complain about how the ink on her morning paper made her sneeze, the guy who threatened to sue us if we didn't start printing the daily comics in color again, and the woman who refused to get out of bed unless she could call the horroscope line, which we had discontinued. So guess who she called every morning promptly at 8:45 a.m. to read her that morning's newspaper horoscope? Three guesses!

And by now ya'll should know me well enough to know that not only am I a magnet for crazy, I myself am also interested in people and what makes them tick and so on, and also I am terribly Southern so I am polite and indulge people even when perhaps I should move on and change the locks. The crazies just became part of the job, and I felt like I was doing a public service in a way. Even if I kind of sucked at the job I was at least making thirty-seven certifiably insane Los Angelenos happy.

And hey, they were subscribers after all.

After a few months, Mr. Smith and I were on a friendly basis. He really was quite tormented by the alien rays, and I couldn't exactly tell the Daily News to stop delivering newspapers in the eight-mile radius of his Canoga Park residence as he requested. That is when I told him about the Southern Alien Death Ray Miracle Cure. It involved tin foil and duct tape.

I didn't hear from as regularly, so I thought my Alien Death Ray Miracle Cure had worked. Then one day I got a call.

Mr Smith: Laurie, I tell you, it was fine for a while but now the rays are getting worse and I can't sleep at night.

Me: Well, Mr. Smith, did you put the tin foil on top of the TV like I told you to?

Mr Smith: Yes, and it worked! But now I think the alien rays are back, and they're ... stronger!

Me: I see. Are you using the heavy duty freezer tin foil?

Mr Smith: Why do you call it 'tin foil'?

Me: Mr. Smith, I think what we have here are the, uh, the porous rays that can travel through, uh, ions. And so you're saying the tin foil worked when you put it on top of the TV set right?

Mr Smith: Yes, but then it...

Me: You need to take pieces of tin foil, the HEAVY DUTY kind, and tape it over all the unused electrical outlets. Don't stick your finger in a socket or anything, just tape in over them externally. That will do it.

Mr Smith: WHY didn't I think of that MYSELF! That's it! I knew it! I have to go!

And I never heard from him again.

Sometimes I wonder what happened to him, and if he's living in a house in Canoga Park covered from floor to ceiling in tin foil and if it's somehow my fault, or if I brought him peace from the alien death rays. I hope he didn't electrocute himself. He seemed like a really nice guy, aside from the psychosis.

So, as you can see, I never made it as an ace reporter. But damn I was good with the crazies.

And hey... they were subscribers, after all!

Posted by laurie at November 9, 2006 9:47 AM