Tuesday, December 11, 2007

In Case It Wasn't Already Obvious, Last Friday I Learned That I'm Not Meant To Be a Real Journalist

I haven't posted anything for a few days, and I do feel bad about that. Horrible sportswriting happens every single day; I usually take pride in the fact that I in turn complain about it each and every day. Or each and every weekday, anyways. So I'll be getting back to that kind of thing on a regular basis starting tomorrow. For now, though, please indulge me while I tell you a story about my brush with real journalism and the valuable lesson I learned in the process. I know this is going to come off douchebaggy and boring- I promise I don't intend it to be either of those things. It's actually a kind of good story, and I swear that this kind of writing will not happen (from me, anyways) regularly here at FireJay.

(Preface: It really bothers me when sports bloggers/columnists put information about their personal lives into their posts. I constantly rip Bill Simmons for doing it. Wow, you helped conceive a child? Congratulations. You've managed to perform a basic mammalian function. Here's your sticker. And although I absolutely love The Big Lead (how could I not when he's responsible for about 75% of FireJay's exposure), he sometimes lets details about where he lives and how he's employed slip into his writing. It's not like these kinds of things are the end of the world but for some reason they do kind of bother me. Obviously, though, I'm going to have to do exactly the same if I want to tell you a story about something cool that I did. So I apologize in advance for that. And I promise that when I'm not having adventures like this one, which are extremely rare, I'm squarely planted in my parents' basement doing nothing but playing Stratego against myself and eating Teddy Grahams. Also, like I already said, I promise that this kind of post is a one time deal, unless something equally exciting happens to me during the life of this blog, which is very unlikely.)

A few weeks ago, one of my roommates gave me a great idea. "Hey," he said, "you should go to that Bonds arraignment thing." Although normally he's full of crap, I had to hand it to him on this one. It was a damn good suggestion. I do live in the Bay Area (near Palo Alto, so about a 45 minute drive from downtown San Francisco). I will be going to law school next fall. I am self employed, meaning I can take a day off from "work" pretty much anytime for any reason. And furthermore, as a huge baseball fan, I do definitely find Bonds's legal troubles fascinating. Several of my biggest interests were intersecting at a massively significant event which was to take place less than an hour from where I live. How could I not show up?

I quickly realized, however, that I was probably not the only person in this metropolitan area of about 8 million people interested in this arraignment. And federal courtrooms can only accomodate so many people. A quick search of the court's website revealed that after allotting 60 of the available "public" seats to media members, there would be a whole 30 seats left over being made available to people like me. My interest level in the event quickly sank. What were the odds that I could secure one of those seats? Surely there were enough crazed Giants fans, avid court watchers, media members having to pose as regular citizens after being denied a media spot, and streakers-that-always-show-up-at-big-events interested in Barry's big day that there wasn't really a point in me trying to get in.

But come Thursday, I couldn't help but continue to be interested. It's not that I harbor some dream of becoming an actual sportswriter, but I couldn't help but remember what ESPN's Jeff Pearlman told me when I interviewed him for the blog back in September.

LB: bloggers/amateur writers with big dreams about getting into professional sports journalism should make sure they do what, in order to best increase their chances of one day making their living from writing?

JP: ... do reporting—real, honest-to-goodness reporting... The thing about blogging is that, while it's great, it's also lazy. I know—I write a lame blog, and it's literally me on the couch. It may well show you can write, but it doesn't show you can report.

Again, it's not that I want to be a real journalist. I'm selling my soul to the US legal system in about 9 months. But that doesn't mean that I don't want just a little taste of what it's like to be a real journalist before I go through with the whole legal career deal. This was obviously the perfect opportunity for me to do so. Not only would I be getting off my couch, I would be leaving my house AND going to a significant event in the world of sports! Plus, I mean, what if the impossible happened and Bonds decided to take a plea bargain right then and there? I would be kicking myself for years after passing up an opportunity to be in that room to witness such an occurrence. Of course it wasn't going to happen, but this thought wouldn't leave my head. I had to at least take a shot at getting in. So Thursday night, I threw my Spiderman toothbrush and Harry Potter pajamas in a backpack and drove to San Fran. I have some friends who live up there, in an apartment that's about a 20 minute walk from the courthouse. My plan was to park at their place, crash for the night (to avoid making the drive in the morning), get up at 5:30, and walk down to the courthouse. Assuming no one was allowed to camp out overnight, I figured there was a pretty good chance that getting there at 6 would put me in the top thirty. And hey, if it didn't, I could just go back to my friends' place and continue to sleep.

I don't really remember waking up and getting dressed. Five thirty in the morning is not a time I am well acquainted with, unless I experience it before going to bed rather than after. Somehow, some way, thanks to pure will power and my unstoppable desire to pretend to be a journalist, I found myself in front of the Philip Burton Federal Building at 6:30 AM. Those who know me well can confirm that this is a minor miracle. I really surprised myself by pulling this off, especially since I hadn't gone to sleep until about 2 in the morning. Even more surprising though, at least to me, is that I was the first motherhumping person in line! That's right! Me! I won! I won the prize! Laptop under my arm and smug sense of satisfaction evident on my face, I proudly stood inside a temporarily fenced off area as a handful of camera crews and other media types hanging around on the building's front patio sipped coffee and wondered who would be dumb enough to wake up that early unless it was part of their job. You want to know who? Me, baby. Me. The rest of the line filled in very quickly with a combination of interested citizens and (as predicted) media members who hadn't been able to get a media pass during the next 20 or so minutes. But they'd better not forget who was first. Bitches.

Don't believe me? I've got proof. Check out this. And this. (Note: now that you know my full name from those articles, please do not steal my identity. That would really piss me off.) That's right. To the victor go the spoils. At least eight or nine print journalists interviewed me, along with three camera crews from local TV stations. I didn't bother to watch the news that evening and see if my ugly mug made it into the lead for their Barry piece; I fucking hate my voice when it's recorded and played back to me. I tried not to sound like a total dumbass, but when you're coming off less than 4 hours of sleep and it's the earliest you've been awake in a year and a half, the words tend to stumble out of your mouth. You can see the guy from that first article I linked chose to directly quote me on the stupidest thing I said during our three minute conversation in order to make me look like an idiot. Why? I'm not sure. That's the media, I guess. Always out to screw you.

My favorite part about the interviews was that everyone seemed shocked that while I didn't support Barry, I also claimed not to be there just to shit on him either. Which was true- although I hate the guy, I didn't go to the arraignment to watch him crash and burn. I was there, as I've said, for a variety of other reasons. Attending a possibly historic event involving both baseball and the courts. Trying to do some "real reporting." (I failed to plan out in advance just what I would see that justified reporting; an arraignment is a very vanilla process. But whatever.) Not wanting to miss out on the 0.0000000001% chance Barry would plead guilty. Etc. But I definitely didn't go there with any kind of anti-Bonds rage. I save that for the ballpark, where you can't get thrown out of the building by a couple of US Marshals for loudly telling him he sucks.

One of the TV interviewers, in particular, was really hoping for some kind of angry and/or racist sound bite from me. She asked what I thought about Barry being charged with using steroids. When I pointed out to her that he was actually standing trial for perjury, she looked disappointed that I understood that issue. She then immediately switched gears asked me if I thought the fact that he is black has something to do with it. Fortunately I was able to voice my disagreement with that assertion without bursting into laughter; had I done so it might have come off wrong. But really, are people who think that serious? I mean, COOOOOOME ONNNNNNNN... Anyways, this reporter moved on down the line as soon as she realized I wasn't going to play the role of local idiot for her. I was on to your little trick, Jemele Hill. Don't think I didn't recognize you under all that makeup. You're going to have to do better than that.

This is getting long winded and I've already done what I really wanted to do, which was gloat about being first in line, so I'll move forward and get to my conclusion. I brushed off the media like a celebrity and entered the building as soon as they opened the doors around 7:15. I spent the next hour or so in the cafeteria, talking to the guy who had been second in line. He recently retired and now spends his days as a court watcher. He had been to the vast majority of the BALCO case happenings so he was able to answer all my questions about their intricacies. He also knew a lot about the judge and Barry's legal team, so we discussed that for a while. Probably the most eyebrow-raising thing he told me was that it took so long to get an indictment against Bonds because (by his estimation) the US Attorney who had formerly been in charge of the case, Kevin Ryan, is a lazy bastard who wasn't doing anything with the case before his removal about a year ago. Ryan is the balding guy you see being interviewed on ESPN in split screen all the time whenever Bonds is being discussed. I can now no longer take him seriously. I probably should have written down some of the other interesting things this court watcher guy said, but I was too tired/delirious to do so.

At around 8:30 I took the elevator up nineteen floors to claim my rightfully earned spot. Brushing elbows with lawyers and other well-dressed people in the elevator was mildly awkward. I was wearing a hoodie and jeans, and probably had forgotten to brush my teeth. My seat in the courtroom was unfortunately in the back row. But the room was small, with a maximum capacity of maybe 120 people, so that wasn't a huge deal. It was mostly full by the time I arrived. I ended up sitting directly behind ESPN's Pedro Gomez, the guy that has been Barry's shadow for about four or five years now. I didn't have the heart to tell him he has basically contributed exactly jack shit to my appreciation or understanding of the Bonds situation since the day he was assigned to report on every single Goddamn thing Barry does. He's been more useless than Ed Werder and his reports from Dallas Cowboys headquarters. Gomez definitely has a nicer cell phone than me. But it wasn't one of those "ESPN Special Superfan" ones with video highlights on it that they're always advertising, which was disappointing. At 8:55 Barry and his high powered legal team came in, silencing the room. I'll say this- Barry's head is shockingly enormous from 20 feet away. I couldn't believe it didn't get stuck in the door frame as he made his entrance. It really looks like it needs to be lanced like a giant boil. There's got to be a soda can's worth of fluid in there.

At 9:00 sharp, the magistrate judge arrived and the next ten minutes were spent receiving Barry's plea ("Not guilty." FUCK! A tiny hopeful sliver of me really hoped he was going to give in) and hammering out the details of his release bond. After a ten minute break, the actual judge who will conduct the trial came in and spent about twenty minutes talking to both sides and agreeing that the next time everyone would convene would be in exactly two months, on February 7. In the meantime, they'll begin the discovery process and send threatening letters to one another. They didn't even get close to beginning to think about setting a trial date. Hell, I don't even think they used the word "trial" in a sentence at any point in time. And then, at about 9:40, it was all over.

All told I had spent just over an hour staring at the back of Pedro Gomez's head. Barry hadn't pleaded guilty. No one had made a "WE LOVE YOU BARRY!" or "GO FUCK YOURSELF BARRY!" outburst and been forcibly removed. No surprise witnesses had been produced. No one cracked under the pressure of an intense cross-examination. The most interesting part was probably when the US attorneys initially said they wanted to restrict Bonds from leaving the country, only to relent and instead limit his travel to North America when his attorney pointed out that the might have to go to Toronto to play ball next summer. Yawn.

I looked down at the blank screen on my laptop. I hadn't written a damn thing. What was that I had thought to myself about Pearlman's "real reporting" advice? Did I honestly think I could do that kind of thing? Sure, it was cool to have been there. Had Barry pleaded guilty I would probably have shit myself with excitement. And the experience made me hope that one day if I'm a lawyer, I can somehow practice law related to sports because that's probably slightly less boring that other types of law. Most importantly, I knew the whole experience would make for a half decent story. But really... what did I think I was accomplishing, "journalistically?" The only way to describe the situation is to say that I was completely out of my element.

Go back and read the stories those two guys who interviewed and quoted me wrote. They made this mudane arraignment sound kind of interesting. I, on the other hand, just wasted five to ten minutes of your day so I could brag about being first in line at something. There's definitely something wrong with that picture. Not only am I mentally about seven years old, I'm also a bad reporter. I'm just not cut out for it. So here's my conclusion, and the explanation for the title of this post: the main reason Friday morning was great (again, besides being first in line) was because it made me appreciate how much fun being a hateful blogger is! Let the Pedro Gomezes, the Jemele Hills, and the Howard Bryants of the world do the dirty work. Let them attend Barry's arraignment and broadcast completely useless "updates" back to Bristol, CT afterwards. Let them (SMACK!) play the race card and formulate ridiculous ideas and perspectives on the case. People like me don't belong in that world. We just don't do well coming up with our own material. Some might say this makes us useless to the world of discourse, since all we do is tear down other peoples' original thoughts. So? Someone's got to do it, when those original thoughts have little or no value in and of themselves. Even if we can't further the discussion with our own ideas, we can certainly try to prevent stupid people from doing the same when they have little to no business being employed by a major media outlet.

Friday gave me a new lease on life as a FireJay blogger. I feel great. From now on, I'm going back to exclusively bitching and moaning about professional sportswriters. And of course, living in my parents' basement while eating various unhealthy snack foods.


pnoles said...

I actually read the entire thing!

Cool story!

Chris W said...

"Though Bailey sells mattresses on Craigslist, he hopes to study law one day."

PWNED by Jonathan Littman.

He sure makes you sound like a winner, doesn't he? The only thing missing is a "from his parents basement" after "Craigslist"

pnoles said...

Haha yeah meant to comment on that one LB....you were presented pretty fondly in the public light there!

dan-bob said...

Goddamnit, I was going to quote the exact same line myself.

My paraphrase:

"Though Bailey seems to be employed in some kind of pyramid scheme involving matresses and a website most famous for Ryan Freel's sexual desires, one day he hopes to rise above his social squalor and become a prominent legal professional!"

larry b said...

DB- that pretty much describes it, although it's not a pyramid scheme. It's pretty much just me making enormous profits. No one else is involved.

pnoles said...

Also....we'll put the use of the "Jemele Hill is a stupid bint" label in the "loose" category.

Then again, the more the public sees of that label, the better.

Jeff said...

I like that it's "he hopes to study law". Your aspirations aren't to be a DA, or a partner in a prestigious law firm, or to practice law for a cause, or to have your own successful firm. No no no. You just hope to be able to be allowed to pay $30K a year to study.

Larry's Dad said...

Wow, "internet mattress salesman". That's so much more than his Mom and I ever expected from him. We're so proud. (sniff)

pnoles said...


eriz said...

i hope that's actually Larry's dad. Why didn't you tell me about your new job larry?


Larry's Dad said...

It was, and I don't want to hear any lip from you Eriz. Our cat is still in therapy from the abuse heaped on it by you at Larry's 13th birthday party...

Spencer said...

Did you promote the blog at all? I seriously want every ESPN moron to read this thing and start crying. I'm a little disappointed in your lack of promotion.

pnoles said...

Really....the cat from Larry's 13th birthday party? I'd think that cat would be dead by now.

pnoles said...

spencer - We do too. I really hope Howard Bryant saw what I wrote about his trashpile Sunday.

larry b said...

Spencer- You've got a point. I really should have been more forceful. I gave the URL to a couple of the print guys, but didn't tell them that was why I was there. I probably missed out on a fair amount of exposure. Again, I blame the tiredness.

And yes, that is my real dad.

Larry's dad said...

Larry, as long as I have your attention, I want those pizza boxes and Mountain Dew bottles cleaned up NOW. Don't make me go downstairs. And turn down that garbage that you call 'music' while you're at it.