Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Follow me....

To http://marklaflamme.wordpress.com/

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The end of the world as we know it

Welcome Street Talkers. If any of you are left roaming the charred ruins of the Lost Sole, you can find safety and comfort here. All that is left of our old home is a mushroom cloud over a blackened pit in the earth. They blew us up, man. Blew us to smithereens.

For fear that no one will find this place, I'll keep it short. But should one of you wander by, drop a line and we'll get things started. There is much to discuss. There is rebuilding. There is repopulating our society. There is seeking retribution of the loathsome one who caused this apocalypse. Yes, there is much to discuss.

I've gotta get moving. There are noises outside and you can't trust that everyone is friendly around here. It's a savage new world we exist in. We've got to be careful.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Hills Have Yawns

A family stranded in the desert, surrounded by cannibalistic mutants left over from the Atomic Age. Spooky desert nights and hideous things that lurk in the dark. The claustrophobic confines of a mobile home in dramatic contrast with the vastness of the New Mexico desert. These are the makings of one hell of a chilling movie.
Unfortunately, the hills may have eyes, but the biggest challenge for you will be keeping your own open while this predictable yawner rolls on for two hours. It's not that the movie is bad. It's just no friggin' good. If you've seen just a few classic horror movies in your time, you will predict each new scene before it arrives. This is a formulated script written according to a tired cinematic playbook.
Sometimes glaringly, sometimes not, Hills is a composite of several older movies. The theme and many of the scenes flagrantly rip off the more disturbing "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." The setting is reminiscent of a lesser known but infinitely creepier movie titled "Race With the Devil" from the 1970's. Save your $7.50, skip this one, and rent one of those earlier flicks. Or get your hands on an episode of the X-Files called "Home." In one hour, the X-Files creators deftly present a truly unnerving look at genetic freaks and the disturbing dynamics of their society. You will remember it a long time. With "The Hills Have Eyes," you will forget the movie and all of the characters ten minutes after you walk out of the theater.
Like the original 1977 version, Hills of 2006 tries to sneak in a few political messages about the consequences of government testing in the Cold War era. Politics and horror sometimes pair up well, but not here. The message is as weak as the back story of the atomic freaks, whom you never get to know very well. Should we sympathize with them at all? Feel guilty about our own history as Americans? Nah, screw 'em. Pitchfork right between the eyes!
A few saving graces: pay close attention the role of the father in the movie. Roughly twenty minutes in, I recognized his voice. It's Ted Levine, the troubling, twisted serial killer Jaime Gumb from "Silence of the Lambs." Sadly, he doesn't plant anyone in a deep hole and insist that they rub the lotion on it's skin.
Also, there is some superb acting in the movie. None by a star listed in the credits, however. The only award caliber dramatics in this clunker comes from a German Shepherd, whom the producers do not use nearly enough.
"The Hills Have Eyes" has roughly 30 minutes of fun in the form of gratuitous violence and a fair share of gore. If you're hankering for an old-fashioned stake burning, you will find one here. Otherwise, the reality of the Atomic Age is far scarier than anything shown in this movie. In fact, the biggest failure of all in this film is that they show too much. They should have stuck with the strange noises from the desert night and left the rest to the imagination.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Life, at last

Imagine my surprise. I was about to switch off the evening news when Flamette said: "You might want to keep that on. They've been teasing to a story about water discovered somewhere in the solar system."
Many of you know me well. But not that well. Few of you know how passionate I am about all things cosmic. The discovery of liquid water anywhere in the universe would cause me to take off my pants, light firecrackers, and then quickly realize the dangers associated with lighting firecrackers without pants on.
Why was this not the lead story on CBS, NBC, CNN, ABC, FBI, PDQ, WTF and all the affiliated stations when NASA pointed announced their possible find? Why is it not on the front page of the paper today? Liquid water found on another planet or moon will almost certainly indicate life other than us in our solar system. If alternative life is found in this puny little solar system, then it almost certainly abounds throughout the universe.
Imagine it. We are not alone. The world is full of beings and creatures we have not even imagined. Everything you thought you knew about life, death, religion or science is about to change. Is there a God? Did he create it all, or just us? And if you believe in God, do you believe in multiple gods, one for each population of critters throughout all of space? Explain here in 100 words or less.
It's a joyous thing to imagine that, within our lifetimes, scientists might come forth with conclusive evidence that life exists out there. That the stars aren't just twinkling, dead things to be admired by poets and lovers. I've made arrangements to live 900 years just to be sure I'll be around for that day. But I wonder if it will be front page news, even then. LIFE DISCOVERED ON TITAN on page A-17. VICE PRESIDENT SHOOTS SEAHAWKS MASCOT IN FACE on A-1.
I'm a total science geek. I'll admit that now. Just the hint of this possible news from NASA provoked me in a way nothing in sports, politics, music or Hollywood ever could. Maybe water. Maybe life.
Possible water found on one of Saturn's moons is huuuuuuge news, people. Join me. Take your pants off. Light some firecrackers. Get some bandages and have your wife drive you to the emergency room. Apply balm as needed.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Brushes with greatness

My brother still talks about the time he ran into former Gov. Michael Dukakis in downtown Boston. This brush with greatness was so profound, he alerted friends he had not seen or spoken to in years. He told the story with wild gesticulations, even if he happened to be on the phone.

As time went by, more details clung to the story like lint to a new sweater. Minute details of the conversation were recalled and shared. My brother told of meeting the one-time presidential candidate as though the two of them were old friends who had met for many drinks.

The poor, wide-eyed schlep. It was the same when we met John Travolta back in the '70s. And when we met Donny Most from "Happy Days" fame. It was life-changing fate for my brother when we got a few minutes to talk to Ron Palillo, the wormy guy who played Horshack on "Welcome Back, Kotter."

And when relief-pitching great Dennis Eckersley nearly mowed my brother and me down outside Fenway Park, well ... that's a story to be unleashed at just the right moment of a party.

My brother will tell complete strangers about the impromptu conversation we had with the Eck. I'll nod a lot and back up his every word. But what I remember most about the incident was that the hurler was running across the street toward the ballpark and almost ran right over us. I remember the conversation going like this:

Eckersley: "Sorry about that, guys."

Us: "Quite all right."

Celebrities don't do much for me. If the stars in the Hollywood tabloids jumped from the pages in a grocery store line, I would have no other reaction than to check to see if they had 10 items or less. No, really.

OK, I'll admit it. There are a few megastars who might make me stutter. I'd probably stammer a bit if I came face-to-face with Robert DeNiro, because I'd be trying to muster the courage to call him Bob. Martin Scorsese might set me back a few minutes, but I'd regain my voice soon enough. These are just people. They get colds, dandruff, skin eruptions and embarrassing stomach disorders just like everyone else. No reason to fan yourself and swoon.

I know what you're thinking: that I'm lying because you recall the piece I wrote about my first meeting with Stephen King. You remember that I described the first word I uttered to the great one as something like: "verymuchbigfanthankyou."

I will ask you to stop your snickering. It was a big moment for me. It's one thing to run into simple celebrity. Greatness is a different matter altogether.

So you can imagine my distress when I was asked to sign a copy of my novel for Mr. King. You can imagine the word-evaporating horror at trying to muster just a few simple lines to impress a longtime hero.

Not that the big man was anywhere in sight, mind you. No, I was at the Book Burrow in Auburn and the owner of the place asked for the signature so she could send King a copy later. I'm not telling you what I wrote, because I know how you are.

I've decided there are two kinds of people: those who regard the famous as godlike creatures worthy of all the hysteria, and those who have deduced that even the most esteemed celebrities are still made of flesh and bone. I am of the latter group, those temporary lapses notwithstanding.

And yet, I'm willing to wager that even the steeliest, most cynical people have one or two heroes capable of striking them dumb. If you're an airline buff, it might be Chuck Yeager. If you're a geek, it's probably Bill Gates. If you golf more than twice a week and wish you could do it more, an introduction to Tiger Woods might give you goose bumps.

My brother is easy. Michael Dukakis made his day, and how many people can say that? Frankly, I'm glad it wasn't Bruce Springsteen or Joe Torre he encountered that sunny, warm day in Boston. Either of those guys might have done him in for good.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Video killed the radio star

I have no idea if this will work. Last week, I was asked to do a radio inverview with our local CNN affiliate. Flattering. But here's my problem. I write because I don't like to speak much. When speaking in a formal way, I tend to carry on with the speed of a bullet train. I proceed in a blur of words. There are no stops and starts to my speech, just one long sentence that might go on for minutes. Those of you who have suffered through conversation with me tend to just nod and pretend you understand completely. I know it, man.

Here is the first part of the radio interview, which ran yesterday and this morning. The only question you will have at the end of it is: what?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Lewiston: Life on the streets

The name's LaFlamme. Mark LaFlamme. I have two shots in me. One is lead, the other, bourbon. Yeah, that's me. I'm a crime reporter. It says so on my door.
For no good reason, I've decided to keep a nightly record of the action on the crime beat. Maybe there will be great big lessons to be gleaned from the mischief and mayhem in downtown Lewiston, Maine. Maybe it will be just an excuse for me to post some of the ugly photos I tend to get down in the hood.
Lewiston, in case you wonder, is the substance abuse capital of the state. Crack and booze is what we like, though there are pockets of heroin and meth.
Lewiston is also the most racially diverse city and arguably, home to some of the dumbest crooks. Not everything I see out there warrants a story in the pages of the Sun Journal. Some of it belongs in the funny papers.
Today is Monday, Feb. 20. It's 17 damn degrees outside.
A four-year-old boy was killed today after flames spread through an apartment house in downtown Lewiston. Many others were trapped on upper floors. Rescues were dramatic.
A story like that tends to galvanize this city. It's what people are talking about in corner stores. Even punks on the street acknowledge the gravity of such a thing. They stand around the burned house looking solemn for a few minutes before getting back to the tough poses a few blocks away.
The newspaper reporters and the TV crews scramble to get an edge. We look for grieving relatives, survivors with stories to tell, any angle that will put us a nose ahead of the competition. It's journalism at its finest, and its ugliest.
By the time it was over, we had two solid stories and a sidebar ready for tomorrow's paper. I was done wrapping up loose ends early in the evening and I began scrounging for other news. Among the most reliable facts about the news business is this: no matter how big or how tragic the day's news has been, it won't stop other news from happening.
Sadly, there were few diversions out in the hood as the night progressed. Just for kicks, I responded to a few scanner calls that sounded as though they might provide entertainment.
"Units, respond to Oak and Union for a report of 15-20 males with a stick and threatening to beat another person with it."
You just can't go wrong with a stick beating. There's just something very tribal about a group of screaming men battering at another with a fence post or club. There's also something very piƱata about it, but I'll spare you that image.
Anyway, on Oak Street, there was some variation of the report that came over the scanner. I found eight or nine guys getting patted down by cops. Most of them wore those gigantic, puffy coats that remind me of cheesy spacemen in the old 50's movies. One skinny kid wore his hat sideways and his pants low on his hips. All of them white, early 20's. A big yawn.
The stick, incidentally, was about four feet long and very thin. It was also very pristine and very delicate looking, something that probably supported a paper sign stating "keep off the grass" or "Willie Winkle for Mayor." Sucker looked like it would break the first time it was brought down on someone's skull.
A kid dies in an early morning fire at a downtown apartment house. Men go after a foe with a stick. Otherwise, Lewiston yawns in the 17 degree cold.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The end

It was around four in the morning when I finished my first novel in 2004. The sun wasn't up yet and the world was quiet. I put up a hand for a high five, but there was no skin there to slap. Not a word from the ghoul on the bookshelf. Nothing from the plastic rats or the looming skeleton in a corner. I went out to the porch for a cigarette. I tried to high five a tendril of smoke, but it broke apart and drifted away into the morning dark.
My second novel, finished last spring, was wrapped up after midnight on a Sunday. I made some calls, but there was nobody home. Still nothing from the props around my writing room. Still nothing from a circle of cigarette smoke.
I wrote the final lines in my latest book early Monday morning. It was 2:49 a.m. This time, I didn't even try. I wrote "the end," took pains to save the sucker, and stepped outside.
Lonely is the completion of a novel for one who keeps strange hours. I am new enough at this to get wildly excited at the very end. The thrill when it's over is part relief, part amazement and a touch of melancholy. All those characters you created will now get ripped through a printer, tucked into a box and left in a sort of suspended reality while you mull the project for weeks or months. Suddenly, the good guys and bad guys you've been hanging out with every night are off to another dimension.
Worumbo, The Pink Room and now Delirium Tremens. Three novels that were finished without drama in abject solitude. Clearly what I need is a tradition. A bottle kept tucked in a drawer to be opened only in these profound moments. A fine cigar. A hooker, whatever. Something to mark the moment. Something to count on when the words are on the page and the story has rounded to completion.
Someone loan me a tradition. Or at the completion of the next novel, I'll run naked through the streets screaming absurdities. No one wants that, man. No one.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Pictures of you

It is fitting that the blog is where I will expose virulent corruption in the medical field. This is the big one, people. This effects each and every one of us. I'm blowing this story wide open.

Doctors and dentists are secretly compiling photos of your brain, inner organs, teeth and bones to give to underworld operatives who are creating a race of super people to take over the world. Proof of this is slim, but the circumstantial evidence is everywhere. Think about it, please. When is the last time you were able to coax an x-ray -- those very personal photos of your innermost self -- from a physician?
You can't do it. Ask, and the doctors will get all weird about it. I know, because just today, I tried to get x-rays of my brain from the doctor who has them. They get all weird about it. They pull the photos close to themselves and assume a defensive posture. "You can't have these. They're mine. Go away. Go AWAY!" Reach for the x-rays and the doctor will try to bite you. Freaks.
Truth is, I initially just wanted the photos to post here on the blog, for your disgust and amusement. God knows what might appear in a close up snapshot of my brain. Can they tell by examining the slices if you have frequent, dirty thoughts? Does your brain store copies of all lurid images it has entertained, like the cache in a computer? I'm getting freaked out. Let's pretend I never said anything. No, I never brought up the subject at all.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


A great man once said: "some days, it don't pay to get outta bed."

That man was Foghorn Leghorn. A person could conduct his entire life upon the wisdom of that wise rooster.

But the point is this: bad things happen when I get out of bed early. Unequipped to deal with the brightness and clamor of morning, I run into obstacles everywhere.

It was midweek, and I awoke to the girlish screeching of the alarm clock at 9 a.m. Unspeakable. But I was out of bed within minutes and fully dressed not long after. It was a January miracle.

The reason for this uncharacteristic rising was a hunch. I had a good feeling there might be big action downtown and I wanted to be there. I had already alerted my editors that huge news was imminent.

"Huge news is imminent," I told them, standing in a defensive posture and protecting my gallon jug of coffee from their talons.

At the paper, we have what is called (I have no idea why) a daily budget. On the budget go items that will appear in tomorrow's paper. With assurances from me that huge news was imminent, a notation was made at the top of the budget.


And so I wandered out into the frothing world of a Lewiston morning. I parked my car discreetly on Park Street so I could watch the cops and anyone else that wandered in or out of the station.

It's always a funny thing when I get to surveilling the police department. Unsure of what I'm looking for, I lunge at everything that moves. A cruiser pulls out of the compound, I give chase, like a dog after a cat.

But you can't drive with utter freedom in the morning like you can at night. The roads are clogged. People stop for red lights. It's like skating on a rink with too many people jammed onto the ice. You never get a chance to open up and fly.

Many minutes and miles later, I learn that the officer was sent to a loud stereo complaint. I lob a few lines of profanity and return to my perch on Park Street. And wait. And wait. And get distracted by street noise.

"I am not going to take this anymore! You need to change your ways, buddy bone!"

What's this? Marital discord? An argument between drug peddler and a troublesome customer? I creep from my car to check it out.

None of the above. A cranky dad yelling at his 2-year-old. There goes that Father of the Year award. I return to the car and wait. And also, wait.

It's hard to lurk in daylight. I'm slumped in my car, peering over the top of the steering wheel and thinking I'm blending right in. A police cruiser rolls up next to my car and a cop is grinning at me. A familiar face strolls out of Speakers with a warm sandwich, looks at me, rolls his eyes.

In the morning I'm vulnerable, like an overturned turtle. Without the protection of darkness, I might as well have a spotlight on me as I wait. And wait. And besides that, wait.

Long story short: nothing happens. No big arrest, no huge news. The loud stereo complaint was the highlight of the morning. The following day, I'm at it again.

"Huge news is imminent," I tell the editors, approaching their webs with caution.

The item on the budget said something like: "Action today? LaFlamme will cover?"

And the next day, way down on the page, in parenthesis: "LaFlamme blithering about huge news again. Assigning weather story, instead."

So, I've stopped talking about it. Huge news? What huge news? Because I know better now. I learned from the sage Foghorn Leghorn, who once quipped: "That boy keeps talking, he's gonna get his tongue sunburned."

Mark LaFlamme is the Sun Journal crime reporter.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Everything I know, I learned in a puddle of beer

The party was in the basement of a frat house and it was raucous. By the shank of the evening, I was weaving back and forth and sporting a dopey grin. At the pinnacle of this finesse, I prepared to lay a killer line on a pretty sorority girl. In doing so, I leaned against a wall that wasn't there and landed in a gutter filled with vile water.

High times at the University of Maine at Orono. I have many stories filled with such lowlights from UMO and yet I was never a student there. I never went to college at all.

Here, some of you will fold up the paper in disgust and cast it aside. How can you respect a writer who never received formal schooling? There are such people and they are aghast when I tell them. I have no degree. They never gave out diplomas for the kind of education I sought as a young wanderer.

I used to be ashamed of it. I used to mumble, "Yeah, I went to college." And I did. For about two days at the university in Augusta. And my, how I hated it, sitting in deep classrooms trying to learn about matters I had no real interest in. It took two days for me to realize that my attendance there was a joke. What did I want to be, anyway? An astronomer? A truck driver? The guy who puts the "inspected by No. 9" tickets in shirt pockets?

No idea. So I quit school and I roamed. I hitchhiked a bit and drank with people beneath bridges. Not a noble education, but I wouldn't exchange any of it for a B.A. in this or an M.A. in that. I'm not ashamed of it anymore. These days, I tend to wander around the newsroom declaring: "I ain't got no book learning."

A friend from the old days visited the newsroom not long ago. We talked about the business and how I had managed to evolve since the rowdy days of my youth. He finally asked where I went to college. I told him I hadn't. And he asked the question. How the hell can a person become a reporter without a degree?

It half amuses, half irritates me. Some of the best reporters I know barely graduated from high school. Some of the worst I've worked with had master's degrees in journalism. They had great theoretical knowledge, but ask them to respond to a scanner call and write about it on deadline.

Part of me wishes I had gone to college. Part of me also wishes I had joined the military. But I didn't do either. I wandered.

Back at UMO, I did most of my fraternizing with a group of my brother's friends. They were journalism majors, wide-eyed with expectations and plans for the great stories they would write. They planned to lay bare the inequities of society. Me, I pumped gas five days a week and cooked hot dogs on the weekends.

A few years ago, I got together with the same group on a beach in New Jersey. One owned a restaurant. A few had gone into sales. One was a welder. Happy, successful men, yet none of them had written a single word of news since collecting their diplomas and tossing their mortar boards into the air. I told them war stories from the news trenches and we mused over the irony.

Back in the day, a girlfriend who had a B.A., an M.A., and some other initials I forget, advised me that I'd never get near a newsroom without a college diploma. No way, no how.

The sad fact is, for a time I believed her. I spent a lot of nights staring up at the newspaper building in Waterville, imagining the news machine inside and wishing I could be part of it. And you wonder how many others are shuffling around with their heads down, convinced that without a nod from a college or university, they can never do what they feel created to do.

All some people have is what they have learned through the hard knocks they have taken. Down-and-out addicts have risen from the dust to do great things with knowledge that has been beaten into them. Seasoned criminals walk from prisons and turn their agony into gold.

I don't push a lifestyle of restlessness and hedonism as a means of education. I recommend higher education to anyone who asks about it. With a degree, doors will open quicker. Paychecks will likely be fatter.

But there's something to be said about embracing the experiences you do have, even if they were painful and ugly. There is a certain shabby nobility in the feisty mutt in a roomful of purebreds. There is something to be said for the person who has clawed his way into the kingdom rather than entering with the key of higher education.

Of course, I'm only raving, provoked to memory by an old friend aghast that I was never formally schooled. In the long run, I still have no book learning. And I'm still the guy who fell in the swill.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Amazing live sea monkeys

I'll never forget the day of the slaughter. Hundreds were killed. Mothers and daughters, fathers and sons. The village doctor was among the dead. The horror. The horror. I was only five or six years old, but I understood how great a tragedy had befallen the young community. There were no survivors.

Like the rest of you, I had sea monkeys when I was a boy. *sniff* I loved those little guys. I watched them grow from gritty flakes in a paper pouch to full grown sea critters. Remember the pictures on the box? The sea monkeys had big eyes and crowns on top of their heads. There were little boy monkeys and little girls. There were mothers, fathers and family friends. They interacted like people and lived in a giant castle. There was a time when I wanted to be a sea monkey.
And then it happened. I rushed home from school to visit my ever growing family. I searched for the tank in which they lived and found it in the kitchen. It had been washed and rinsed and dried. There were no signs of little Jim Bob and Ella May and sweet Sally Sue. The babysitter, a woman of 245 who had dyed black hair and bright red lipstick, had found them on the window in my bedroom. Believing she had stumbled upon a bowl full of brackish, bug infested water, she dumped them down the toilet and gave it a flush. I need... I need just a minute.
Chances are good that the sea monkeys survived. They probably grew to massive size feeding on the nutrient rich waste in the sewers. I'll bet they went after Mrs. Gilbert one night. I'll bet they slithered up her stairs and stole into her bedroom, dragging her screaming from her bed with those long, pink tentacles...
I'm getting freaked out. What the hell was my point? Oh, yes. My point. Sea monkeys are creepy little life forms, especially as portrayed in advertising. It's amazing no one has taken up the concept as a basis for a novel or horror flick. The creative child ads random products to his sea monkey water and the results are terrifying. Or a lonely professor falls in love with one of his sea monkeys and endeavors a find a way to join her. Great opportunity for a sea monkey sex scene.

But I've said too much already.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Lies and damned lies

I'd been on the run a long time and I knew the cops were at my heels. They missed me by seconds over in Fresno. I caught the squawking of their scanners as they came up the stairs and I beat feet through a window and onto a fire escape. A big bull of a cop was waiting for me on the ground and we fought. He had me in a chokehold and I felt my freedom slipping away, along with my wind. But I came around after a few seconds and beat him down. When I left the musclehead, he was writhing in a mound of trash.

Those were hot, desperate times over on the West Coast. Everywhere I turned, those gumshoes were right behind me. I caught a train for Chicago and laid low there for a while. Then some U.S. marshals sniffed me out of the rathole flat I was living in and a whole squadron of them swooped in. I duked it out with another gorilla and managed to escape, this time through a dumbwaiter.

It's all hazy. The strip joint mix-up in Manhattan, the meth lab down in Baltimore, the brothel in Tennessee. I was using a lot then and the memories are fuzzy, like a blown-out photograph on a computer monitor. Running from The Man, fighting with The Man, knocking The Man down and beating feet.

Yeah, I was on the run a long time and I saw some crazy stuff. I was just a kid, but I was faster, meaner and slicker than the rest. I hear someone wrote a folk song about me in Tucson. In the Midwest they named a tornado in my honor. That's me, all right. Powerful, unpredictable and enigmatic.

Great stories I could tell for a lifetime. Too bad none of them are true. I just felt like going James Frey for a while. I felt like recreating my youth in hopes that people would believe it and find me heroic. Hey, feel free to send me money if my story has moved you.

I don't mean to get down on Frey and his struggle with booze and drugs. I think it's admirable that he conquered his addictions through sheer will and that he chose to write about his travails. What irks me is that he invented a majority of his experiences and then asked his reading public to believe it without question. One gets the feeling that Frey sat through a few group therapy sessions and felt inadequate for the tales he had to tell.

Which is fine. When one guy starts talking big, the guy next to him will start talking bigger. It's what we do. We are hardwired by evolution to build tales as high as they will go when we are in the company of our peers.

The problem I have with Frey is that he presents his struggles as mightier than those of the the next alcoholic or the next addict. He asks that you believe his battle was more valiant and harder fought.

He scrapped with cops. He served long prison stretches. He threw down with every officer and lost a girl while he was in the slammer. He suffered through a double root canal without anesthesia, stared down a Mafioso and established himself as the toughest hombre in rehab. He lost a girlfriend to a train wreck and spent his young years drinking away her memory.

At an AA meeting, it would make a great drunkalogue. Few people would bother to check the facts. But, sell a few million copies of a book and people will rightfully begin asking questions. They will find the police reports that reveal only minor arrests. They will find officer statements describing you as polite and cooperative, instead of combative and powerful. They will check prison records and find that you were never there. They will learn that the young lady killed by the train was never your girlfriend, and that you were never the neighborhood ruffian.

And so as the lies stack up, we start to wonder if Frey's sins of hyperbole are equal to or greater than those of someone like Jayson Blair. Blair fabricated news stories and hornswoggled those who trusted him. Frey deceived people who needed to believe the most - the suicidal drinkers and ragged-edge druggers who were inspired by his story. When they learned about his deceits, they might have felt they had been betrayed yet again, that there was one more entity in which they could not believe.

Mothers of rowdy children might claw your eyes out if you utter a word of criticism about Frey's book. Because they want to believe that even bad kids are essentially good, and that change is always possible. And while that may be true, Jim Frey should not be the symbol of the transformation.

Jayson Blair, Jim Frey. Two men who concocted clever mixtures of fact and lies and hoped they would ring true. Two men who fooled their audience for a time and then were called on it. A word of advice for them both: If you want to make things up, write fiction. People may still condemn your work. But at least they can't call you a liar.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Reporter looking for cryptic banter

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime. And Mark LaFlamme, who whines about it incessantly. These are their stories.


So, I'm pretty sure I need a partner. It's not that I'm overworked. I spend more time trolling than a bass fisherman or an out-of-stater looking for a prostitute in downtown Lewiston.

The problem is that I don't have enough banter in my professional life. I have thoughts. Deep thoughts.

Fresh from the streets, popping like an overloaded Pez dispenser, I'll spring to my wife's desk on the other side of the newsroom.

"Somewhere in the distance," I'll say to her in my most dramatic tone, "a dog barked."

My sweet wife looks at me with those pretty, brown eyes and says nothing. The silence is enough. The brown-eyed silence says: "I married an idiot."

So I bounce as if on a pogo stick to the copy desk. There I find editors hanging from their desks like bats in a cave.

"It was a night just like this," I inform them with just the right tone of ominous foreboding.

The editors look at me with those small, black eyes and then consult each other with beeps and chirps. Protecting the queen is what they're doing. And then one of the worker editors is enlisted to advise me on the remark.

"Do you need something to do, Mark? Or shall we devour you and feed the remains to our young?"

The bane of banter

Cops are no better. Cops worry constantly about banter because it might get inserted into a news story. Cops need to think about what their chief thinks of their demeanor in the 'hood. So when I lunge at a cop with one of my profound observations ("The beasts are loose in Bethlehem tonight, wouldn't you say, officer? Eh? Eh?") they think heavily before responding.

"There is the possibility," a cop might say, "that perpetrators will commit misdemeanors or felonies this evening. That's affirmative."

Criminals get all itchy when you try to banter with them. You just want to yack about the nature of the city and they get all squirrelly about it. You unleash a few lines of fresh banter and to their delicate, crook ears, it sounds like trouble. They think you're wired and start patting you down, right there on Park Street. They look over one shoulder, then the other, and flee in an all-out sprint. It really kills the banter mood.

I've got nobody. I need a Lenny Brisco-type partner. Someone who will understand my non sequiturs. Someone who will scowl when I scowl and spit when I spit. Someone who will address me by my last name only.

"The one-eyed monkey barks at midnight."


"You got that right, LaFlamme. It is wise to know the difference between a hornet and a bee."

"Hear that."

"Damn straight, LaFlamme."

Spit. Spit.

The shadows know

On a few occasions, I've had people shadow me on the job. These were young people fooled into believing my occupation is exciting. I like having them along. They bring to the job scene a great deal of enthusiasm. For about six hours. At which point, they realize that nothing ever happens and the reporter they happen to be riding with is a big dork who speaks in riddles. I always try to use these people as banter partners.

"This is the big one," I'll say, ear cocked to the scanner. "Get ready to roll."

A barking dog complaint rolls across the airwaves.

"Sir, I'd like to call my mom," says the pimply, Lenny Brisco washout.

So, I need a partner. No journalism skills are needed. Hell, I don't have any of those, myself. All I'm looking for is someone who can keep up verbally. At those times when I don't make sense (estimated by my colleagues at 94 percent), you would just nod, spit and say something equally inane.

"The lunatics are in the hall."

"Hear that, LaFlamme. The paper holds their folded faces to the floor."

"And every day, the paper boy brings more."

"Yeah, LaFlamme. Yeah."