Bad At Small Talk

Credentialed

 For the next four days, this will be my home. It’s an arena in the standard form, and I will arrive every day at about 10 a.m. and leave typically between 11 p.m. and 12 a.m. I am here because there is an event here.

 Three rooms will matter to me, the media room, the interview room and, of course, the arena floor. All right now are empty, because I am here early. I will arrive early all four days, because that’s what I’ve done since childhood. It’s a reflex.

 I don’t want to be here, and in fact, I hate it here. But I am also happy to be here. Twice this year, with no warning, they have started cutting  jobs. The first time, they didn’t announce it. They just did it, and I found out via people’s comments on social networking sites. The second time, because it was bloody, they announced it. I was scared and I stayed home. Next time they give an announcement, I will also stay home.

 Other men begin to file into the media room. I don’t know them, but they’re all familiar. Sports journalists are almost always either ex-jocks or nerds. They are almost always big, one way or the other. I am too short to be an ex-jock and too slight of build to be a nerd. There are other differences: Goatees are favored, and I am clean-shaven. Sideburns, inexplicably, are favored. There are more glasses than contacts.

 I don’t know these men, and by the end of these four days, I won’t know them any better. But invariably, they will do things. They will gossip, discuss the troubled state of the industry and mask their fears with gallows humor. When not filing stories, they will browse message boards devoted to sports journalism. Next to discussing the possible loss of jobs and livelihood, debating exactly who on these boards go by what online moniker is the top choice of conversation.

 They will also, following the post-game press conferences (self-consciously called “pressers”) exchange knowing chuckles and eye-rolls regarding those who have breached press conference etiquette. Possible violations of press conference etiquette include: Starting the press conference with a really hard question, starting the press conference with a softball question, asking questions that are of no use to the rest of the media, not asking a question at all and instead beginning a sentence with “tell me about…,” stammering through your question, forgetting your question or delivering your question so smoothly that it sounds like the questioner is on the radio.

 I have a partner in this, assigned to me from the office to lend me a hand. I do not know him, have never met him, but he also looks different. He is tall and sinewy, a recreational runner. Over the course of these days, he will talk with me about nothing other than the games. I will try to get more from him, and I will fail. He speaks in a flat, low, abrupt tone. I think people would call him “dry” or “mellow.” Even though he is incapable of discussing anything but basketball, because I am short and tightly wound and he is lanky and mellow, he will make me feel unsophisticated. I am glad when he leaves a day early.

 The games are the worst part of my day. I am not awed by the household name players. I sit on the front of press row, courtside. I am close enough to see acne, smell sour sweat, see white caked deodorant on underarms.

 I don’t know what to feel about the coaches. They are placed under lights during the press conference, and the light reveals pale skin, sunken eyes, utter exhaustion. They are well paid, and on the sidelines they wear designer suits and exude urgency and control. After the games, they are spent, cars that must be wound up again. It is hard to imagine these men are happy.

 I won’t go back to the press room to write. There is a feeling of overall rush and adrenaline in the press room, as men peck away in the rush to meet deadline. There is an electricity, but I work better away from the electricity. I return to the arena floor, which is being broken down by the arena’s employees. It is not quiet, but it is relaxed. I am writing rapidly, but I do not think about deadline. I write quickly for the same reason I unload my dishwasher quickly: It is a task, and the sooner it is completed the better off I will feel.

 I am parked far away from the arena, and this is on purpose. This is the best part of my day. Not because it is over (there will always be more events,) but because when I walk to my car in the middle of the night, all alone, I feel like I’m shedding skin. Nothing else makes me feel this way.

February 10, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment