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a story by
Elizabeth Galaida
> bio

Spin Doctor

Matt was a certified, goddamn Picasso, an artist with four years of graphic design, two years learning nonlinear editing, and a year of starving on the streets for his art. And now that he had a regular job in television, all they wanted him to do was to make the logo spin around. A production assistant could do that. He had to get out of this town soon, or he'd be completely behind the market. His skills were already becoming obsolete, and he wasn't learning any new ones. They were coming up with new editing modules all the time, and he wasn't going to learn them here. Hell, they hadn't even heard of nonlinear editing here. Not Stacy, the marketing director who was always bugging him with her "big ideas," not Jake, the producer with the creative stick up his ass. But here Matt sat all day with a nearly-new Avid system at his fingertips, with some special effects modules that Matt had picked out himself, ready to dream up images and sound like nobody's business, and they couldn't care less. So long as the logo spun around. Nonlinear Video Editing 101, Day one, Class One, Minute Five, right after the professor introduced himself and showed them how to turn on the computer.

Stacy and Jake wanted a new opening sequence for Petersville Today, and he was going to give them the best goddamn cut they'd ever seen, like it or not. He pictured a soft dark-blue background with the world in a crystallized sort of texture”put the globe in there, make them forget they're in fucking nowheresville—and then have some clips of previous shows moving across the screen in different directions and landing in a mosaic of the logo. Maybe he'd animate the clips, too, make them shake, so you wouldn't notice that all the clips were deadly boring shots of Alicia's and Barry's talking heads. He'd have to pour over hours of footage just to find one of them making an interesting movement or expression. And maybe he could rough up the edges of the clips, kind of a "frosted glass" look, or a "colored with crayon" thing. And pick some music with a beat, for Christ's sake. He'd knock their goddamn socks off.

But first Matt needed a soda. He was going to be here a while. And a smoke. He needed a smoke, even though he told himself he quit three days ago. But he couldn't quit, it was part of his qualifications as an artist and a television guy. He searched his pockets and found he didn't have enough change for a soda, nor did he have any cigarettes. He decided to get the drink first. He walked down the hall to the program director's office. Julie always had a dish or change on her desk. She wasn't there.

Oh well, that meant that he could just steal the change and not have to ask her face to face again. She was catching on to him. He walked casually down the hall, looking around to see if people were still there. Most of them were not. This wasn't a die-hard, nose-to-the-grindstone kind of company. People left at five on the dot and sauntered back in again around nine-thirty the next morning. WPET was lucky to get three hours of honest work out of most of them.

As he passed the first two offices, he peered inside and found them empty. As he came up on Julie's office, he saw Cheryl come around the corner. She had her gear, like she was about to go on a shoot.

" Working tonight?" Matt asked. He had been wanting to ask her out, but she worked two jobs, and she was never available. Single moms, he thought, ought to be dying for a date, but they were always too busy. Always sizing guys up to see if they were good enough for her little girl. Well screw you, he thought, answering her condemnation before she made it.

" Yeah," she said. "I got a side gig tonight. Golden Anniversary party. Should be pretty stupid, really."

" Good money, I bet, though," Matt said. Did this make him sound cheap? Opportunistic? Sympathetic? He had no idea what women thought. Fuck em, fuck em all, for being so confusing.

" Country club thing. Good pay, but cheap on tips." Cheryl readjusted the bag on her shoulder, and Matt noticed it was probably pretty heavy. A gentleman, he thought, the kind of man his mom wanted him to be, would take her gear to the van for her. She didn't seem to expect him to.

" Yeah, it's like that." Matt said, looking at his feet.

" You done club work before?" Cheryl asked.

" No" Matt hadn't done much of any work before.

" Oh." Cheryl moved her bag to the other shoulder, thought the better of it, and moved it back. "Well okay, I guess I better go."

Matt said okay, good night and went on his way. Probably not a good time to ask somebody out, just after making a fool of himself. Why'd she have to ask that anyway? Was she trying to show him up or something? See if he tried to ask her out again. Just wait.

He shrugged her off and continued walking down the hall until he saw her disappear, then he walked back to Julie's office, which he had passed, and dug out some quarters from a giant clown bank that looked like something he once sold at a yard sale when he was ten. Julie had kids too. Seems everybody had kids in this town.

The soda machine was out of almost everything. Why the guy couldn't come and fill it up more often was a mystery to Matt. Fill the machine up with soda, sell more soda. Easy marketing advice. He pushed all the buttons anyway, except the one for bottled water. He knew there was still water in the machine, but it was twenty-five cents more, and he'd have to walk back to Julie's office for more money, and he didn't think it was worth it, not for water. Not when you could just go to the water cooler in the lobby for water. No, he'd just run across the street to the mini-mart and get something. Maybe a snack too.

The clerk at the counter looked at him funny when he handed her his debit card to pay for his soda and chips, total $2.18.

" You want to charge?"

" No, it's a debit card. ATM."

" Ten dollar minimum."

" Can I just get cash back, then?"

" Ten dollar minimum."

" Whatever." He wandered back through the aisles, looking for items that would bring him to ten dollars. A new comb, a sports magazine, some gum, another bag of chips.

" $9.58."

He grabbed a stick of beef jerky from a canister next to the register and threw it on the counter. "There, just get me out of here," he said.

" Thank you, come again."

Standing in the smoking court was like a lesson in evolution. They had these two new camera interns, Brian and Warner, on the one end of the spectrum. They held their cigarettes like joints and just barely inhaled. They waited a good 45 seconds between draws, so the whole cigarette burned itself out with them only taking a few puffs. These novices, Matt thought, don't know what they are getting into. Jake, on the other hand, inhaled deeply, hungrily, holding the smoke in his lungs a few seconds before exhaling. When he wasn't inhaling, he held the cigarettes lovingly between clasped hands, and when he raised it to his lips, they pursed gently, like he was waiting for his first kiss. Jake had been in television a long time.

Matt could see himself in the middle. He was all business. Inhale, exhale. But he really wanted those inhales. It wasn't enough anymore just to look like he was smoking. He bummed a light from Karen, a no-nonsense inhaler like himself, and treated himself to a second.
He left after the two interns had finished, and said goodnight to Jake, who looked as if he feared departing his dear nicotine at the end of their rendezvous. Matt hoped he never smoked like Jake.

Back at his editing booth, Matt began to look through the latest set of shows. Alicia was new this season, and there were just a dozen shows that included her image. He looked at the segment titles on the log and then ran the tapes at super fast forward, to catch a sign of actual activity. Most of the time they just sat there behind the news desk, nodding their heads and grinning like idiots. The fishing show on cable was more exciting than this. What he wouldn't give to have the liberty of throwing some cool interstitials in there between the segments, jazz up the music a bit. This thing could really kick butt, he thought. And they could enter it in the regional Emmy's. They just had to pick the right episode to enter, or maybe he could cobble together a "best of" or something. Of course, the content would still be totally moronic, but if the graphics were fresh, they could win. Matt could win.

He needed to win something. If he did, he wouldn't have to spend the requisite one year in the digs doing chump work to earn the right to move up to bigger markets, where he belonged. He had to win something, get some recognition soon. He wasn't sure how much longer he could keep this up, this dues-paying stuff, before he lost his creative edge completely.

He grabbed a hunk of cardboard from a new box of videotapes, and with a black marker wrote, "It's the editing, stupid." And so it was. The editor alone had the power to make or break a show. He began to think about his earlier ideas to change the opening sequence. He decided to skip looking at all the clips for a while and work on concept. He grabbed a sketch tablet and his colored pencils and did a few versions of the layout, but he couldn't get it to look right. Not the right colors, not the right textures, too primitive a medium for his ideas.

He put the pencils away and sat down to the editing station, where he had electronic versions of the most recent shows stored on the hard drive. He chose one at random and opened the file. The various elements of the show were laid out horizontally like a series of concurrent time lines. One bar for graphics, two for audio tracks, three for video. He clicked and selected a three-inch swath of the program, representing about five seconds of air, and then grabbed graphics of Barry and Alicia and dragged them to his animator window. He fiddled with making the images move and shrink, like he saw in his head, but he didn't like the way it turned out, so instead he amused himself by making the images bulge and wiggle. He watched their gruesome bodies shrink and expand, their faces distort.

" Hi, I'm Barry," Matt said, narrating Barry's bubbling picture in a cartoon voice, "and I smell. I smell like somebody's old grandfather's aftershave. Can you smell me?"

And cartoon Alicia responded in a shaky falsetto, "Ooh, Barry, you're so good on television, and I mess up all the time. But I'm too cute to notice, ha ha. Is this knife in your back uncomfortable?"

Matt continued on, playing God and puppeteer with them until, like his sister and her Barbie's, he landed one on top of the other and started making kissing sounds. Then he stopped. He thought he heard footsteps in the hall. He got up and stood just inside the doorway, looking out. He squinted at the brightness of the fluorescent lights reflecting in the hi-gloss paint on the cinderblocks. No one was there.

He figured that since he was up anyway, he might as well make a pit stop, try out his new comb, have another smoke. It was nine o'clock. He still had nothing on his screen worth saving. He dumped it all in the virtual trash can and decided to go to the studio. The crew would be nearly finished packing up after the show. He would just catch them on their last smoke break of the workday.

After chatting with the guys in Master Control, he'd missed the production crew after all, he came back up to his office. Matt realized that, at 10:00, he was really sick of looking at this place, and he wanted to go home. Of course, home wasn't much to look at, either, and nor was his roommate. And he still didn't have a new opener. He just couldn't get the ideas in his head to look right on the screen. And now his ideas weren't even looking all that great in his head. Maybe a burst of inspiration would hit him, and he'd work at it furiously until dawn. Or maybe not. He decided he would just go in there and buckle down and knock something out quickly and be done with it. It might not be a masterpiece, he conceded, but it would be decent, and better than anything they had before.

He grabbed a second bag of chips and the beef jerky, brain food.

Matt woke up with his nose sticking to a photograph of Darrell Greene doing a touchdown dance in the end zone. He had only meant to take a short break and read the magazine he'd bought earlier, for a change of pace. It was three-thirty. His neck cracked when he sat up. He looked at the edit screen, not remembering where he had left off. He had a dozen or so clips of Barry and Alicia lined up in rows, alternating, like a checkerboard.

Had he thought that looked like a mosaic? A photo collage? A work of art? He must have been out of his mind, it was a goddamn checkerboard! All that work for a goddamn checkerboard. He cursed at Stacey and her dumb ideas, at Jake and at everyone else in this shitty station who had no vision, who kept him doing simple repackages instead of allowing him artistic freedom. Now he couldn't do shit.

He'd have to limp along at this dead-end job, or he'd end up doing used car ads for the rest of his life. And he could kiss New York or Los Angeles goodbye. Hell, at this rate, he probably wouldn't even make it to Atlanta or Washington or Denver. Who was he kidding? At this point, he'd be happy with Cleveland.

But he still had to have an opener for tomorrow. He grabbed the mouse and deleted everything he had worked on tonight and reloaded the current opening sequence. It took him ten minutes to turn the logo into a rotating 3-D image.

He could just hear them now. Stacey would say, "Hey, that's terrific," and someone else would say, "Cool, how'd you get the logo to spin around?"


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