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Wednesday, February 05, 2003

The Man in the Green Jacket

In my line of work, you are forced to listen to a lot of hooey. A woman calls up: "DSS took my kids away. You really should put that on the TV." Upon further questioning, it is revealed DSS took the woman's kids away because she was forcing them to eat dinner in the garage with a rabid penguin and a case of weapons grade plutonium. "The penguin wasn't rabid," she explains, "we was just having Alkaseltzer for dinner. You know what that can do to a bird, don'tcha? But I thought, if it can't fly, it must not be a bird. You gotta put that on the TV." And on the plutonium? "Oh, Daddy left that to me in the will."

A lot of hooey, ladies and gents.

So, obviously I was skeptical when the man in the green jacket walked up tonight, clutching the inside of his jacket. I was breaking down equipment from my 6pm broadcast.

"You're always first on the scene, aren't ya?" he said with a half smile.

"And the last," I offered with my please-don't-talk-to-me-much-more TV-guy smile.

Mr. Green Jacket went on to explain he was looking for his 13 year-old cousin who may or may not have hitchhiked up from a nearby small town to join the Reverend Jesse Jackson in a sit-in to protest my county's lack of a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. I was, needless to say, dubious.

I explained the Reverend Jackson was long gone and the building where the sit-in had been was long closed. I told him I hoped he found his cousin and made for my SDV, Emilio.

"I've been knocked out by the river for three hours," Green Jacket said.

This is where TV-guy in need of a beer and dinner utters this little word under his breath: "Fuuuuuuck."

Fake-sympathy entered my voice. I hardly believe this joker has been unconcious for three hours. In other words, a bunch of hooey.

"Did you go to the hospital?"

"Yeah, but they didn't find anything," he said, rubbing his noggin. Big surprise, I thought.

"Well, I hope you're okay." That had to be it. Two sympathetic well-wishes from TV-guy had to be enough to send Hooey-Man on his way.

"I'm okay, but the other guy isn't doing so well. I stabbed him twice."

Um...what?

I did a quick scan of the green jacket and blue jeans. No blood. Still, the guy kept holding the inside of his jacket like he had something in there. I took a step back.

"Um...why did you do that?"

"He was trying to steal my coat. And he tried to give me a black eye, but he missed and hit my head." Jacket rubbed his noggin again.

The conversation continued for another five minutes, Green Jacket edging toward me, me stepping back, him rambling about bad sidewalks in his Grandma's neighborhood, me smelling booze on his breath.

I made for the vehicle again.

"Think you could give a guy a ride?" He smiled. Gummy, bad teeth.

I thought as quickly as I could, looking at my personal vehicle. "Can't, man. Against company policy."

Now, it all could've ended there. I could have driven off and let this guy go off with his green jacket, rubbing his noggin. But there was that little voice in the back of my head that wondered if there was some guy bleeding out on the bank of the Reedy River.

Fuck it. I called the police.

I'll shorten the end of this story up, because it is already too long. I described the guy--white, 6'1", green jacket and blue jeans--to the police. They were there in two minutes. They searched him--nothing inside the jacket after all--cuffed him and tossed him in the back of the cruiser. They talked for ten minutes or so and drove off with him.

An officer drove over to me with a big smile on her face.

"He said he made up the story because you're a news reporter," she said, giggling.

Nice. Friggin' nice.

I looked at the officer and asked the same question I've been asking for the last hour: "If you're going to make up a story to impress a TV guy, why not say you just rescued some kid from certain death instead of saying you just stabbed somebody."

"I don't know," she said, still giggling, "but that's what he said."

I felt guilty for a couple of seconds. I figured the only reason they had to arrest the guy was public intoxication. If I had been arrested every time I was drunk in public, I'd be Public Enemy #1. So, this old drunk got some other drunk tossed in the pokey.

But, after a few minutes of reflection I decided this: Many drunks lie to impress people, but not every drunk does it so badly. At the age of 22, I drunkenly told a cab driver I was an NBC News correspondent in St. Louis to report a story. Why tell such a story? I was drunk and bored. It was a stupid story and I'm embarassed to even remember it.

But never in my many years of insobriety have I told anybody I stabbed a guy twice. Especially a TV guy. That's just plain stupid.

So, as I sit here tonight, hoping Mr. Green Jacket won't remember who got him arrested, I also hope he's not been charged with public intoxication.

I hope he's sitting in the Greenville County Detention Center on felony charges of First Degree Making Up a Bad Drunk Story.

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