Sunday, July 20, 2008

Trade Off/ Fibers and Dog Hairs


Time: 1981
Place: Atlanta, GA

I was sitting with my neighbor Nancy in a McDonald’s on a spring day in downtown Atlanta. It was early morning. Nancy ate breakfast while I sipped on a cup of coffee. Besides the generic happy music and people giving their orders at the counter, the place was relatively quiet. Most of the customers were sitting by themselves and were busy eating, waking up, or both.

This peaceful scene ended when an old black woman stood from her table, shuffled to the middle of the floor, and glared at us all.

“Damn right!” she shouted. “Damn right, that’s what’s got to happen!”

I glanced around the room and noticed that everyone was doing exactly what I was doing: trying to pretend the old woman wasn’t there and avoiding eye contact with her.

“Damn right, the white man needs to be shot,” the old woman shouted. “That’s the only way before they stops killing our children.”

The old woman’s tirade became clear to me. Atlanta was growing more and more tense from the Atlanta Child Murders case. The city seemed to be holding its breath wondering when another murdered black child would be found in a patch of woods or in a stream. The week before, John Hinckley Jr. had shot President Reagan. Somehow, the old woman had connected the two events in her mind.

“The only solution to saving our children is for more white people to get shot,” she shouted.

The old woman wasn’t shouting to the room in general any more. She had moved over to our table and was looking right at Nancy and me, which seemed to make sense. Nancy and I were the only white people in the room.

“The sooner white people start dying, the sooner our children will be saved!” the old woman shouted.

Her ranting continued for a while longer before she ran out steam and shuffled out of the McDonald’s. Nancy and I were afraid to move. We didn’t say it, but the questions from unnatural fear were there. What if the other black people in the restaurant agreed with the old woman? Did they hate us for being white? Were we in danger?

A black man caught my eye. He was sitting in the booth across from us. He looked to be in his late twenties. He seemed very sad.

“Please don’t listen to her,” he said. “She’s upset and talking crazy.”

“We understand,” Nancy said.

Nancy and I relaxed. She finished her breakfast and I drank my coffee. Two months later, Atlanta police arrested Wayne Williams for the Atlanta Child Murders.


Time: 1985
Place: Atlanta, GA

I have another anecdote that relates to the Atlanta Child Murders that took place four years after the old black woman ranted at Nancy and me in a downtown Atlanta McDonald’s.

I was working for a small television station. We had a live show on Friday nights hosted by a local black radio personality named Alley Pat. He had the best connections in the black community. We were a small rinky dink station, but Alley Pat could get any well known black politician on the show he wanted.

One Friday night, Alley Pat invited Wayne Williams’ father to be on the show. There had been a lot of discussion over the years about whether or not Wayne was really guilty of the Atlanta Child Murders. Some argued that Wayne may have killed one of the victims, but not all of them. Others argued that evidence used against Wayne wasn’t enough to convict him.

Fibers and dog hairs found on some of the victims matched fibers and dog hairs found in Williams’ home and car. Though using fibers as evidence is common now, it was still a new thing back then. Wayne’s father came on Alley Pat’s show to voice his opposition to using fibers to send his boy to jail.

“Fibers and dog hairs,” Wayne’s father said, “That’s what they used to put my boy in jail. Fibers and dog hairs! You can’t put somebody in jail for fibers and dog hairs.”

Allow me to set the stage for what happened next. This was a live TV show. In our studio, there were three cameramen operating these big ass cameras. There was a floor director. On the set was Alley Pat, the guest, and next to them, a four piece jazz band to play music in and out of commercials. In another room were the director and the technical director. In yet another room was the sound guy. I was the sound guy. I was responsible for everyone’s microphone. All the technical crew communicated with each other by headsets. We could hear each other, but the people on the set couldn’t hear us.

I was in an odd situation in that I had monitors to see what everyone was doing, but I was the only person sitting in a room by himself. I was involved and isolated at the same time. I also had a bad habit of making jokes during live events. Because of the headsets, only the technical crew could hear my jokes.

Around this same time, there had been many commercials on TV for Fruit and Fiber Cereal. The cereal’s tagline was “the fruit is so good, you forget about the fiber.” The idea was that the cereal’s fruit was so delicious, you didn’t think about that health benefit of the fiber.

Okay, now you have the situation. Wayne Williams’ father is saying that “fibers and dog hairs” unjustly sent his son to jail, which triggers the cereal’s slogan in my head.

“Dog hairs and Fibers,” I said. “The dog hairs are so good, you forget about the fiber.”

Mr. Williams doesn’t hear my joke, but the technical crew does. They all wanted to bust out laughing, but this was a live event. On the monitor in my room, I could see one of the cameras bouncing up and down from the cameraman trying to laugh quietly. Unfortunately, his camera was the one directly on Mr. Williams who saw the cameraman laughing and was not happy about it one little bit.

I felt terrible. Poor Mr. Williams was defending his son and it appeared as if the technical crew was amused by his efforts.

“Camera two, hold your shot steady,” the director said. “And no more talking.”

For the rest of the show, only the director spoke and only to give direction. After the show, the crew went out and did what we did after every live event. We got stinking drunk. About every ten minutes, somebody shouted out, “Dog hairs and fibers.” To which someone else would shout “the dog hairs are so good, you forget about the fiber.” And we would all start laughing again. Out loud like only really bad people do.


jessica said...

Alley Pat's still on the air somewhere locally, isn't he?

That drawing is fierce, dude!

Mickey Dubrow said...

Last time I saw Alley Pat he had a show on People TV.

Sparkle Plenty said...

I really enjoyed these literary snapshots of both moments. I know--"literary snapshot" probably sounds pretty stupie, it's just what came to mind. As always, the pictures are great, too. The second picture really reminds me of this book I read when I was a kid--"Harriet The Spy"--just something stylistically sounds a chord.

(Also: I'm pretty sure the angry old black woman has an arthritic finger--it doesn't just point accusingly, it points accusingly, doubles back, and points accusingly again.)

Mickey Dubrow said...

I like the term "literary snapshot." It sounds so much cooler than "anecdote".

Sparkle Plenty said...

Whew! That's a relief. But, tell ya what: I'm watching yer banner like a hawk and if "Charming literary snapshots" pops up there, y'all better fork over.

(I kid. HEY! I don't know if you like insane old movies--although I suspect you do--but did you see those clips of "Skidoo" on YouTube? How did I NOT know about that movie?! I'm going to be stripped of my b-movie badge.)

Mickey Dubrow said...

I went to you tube and checked out "skidoo" and saw Jackie Gleason having an acid trip. It was off the hook. I can't believe all the aging stars who signed up for that movie. I had never heard of it, but I see where it has been on TCM.