Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Here. Now. The News.

Today news, real life and fiction, humor and pathos, whizzed around my head like a lowflying frisbee - or maybe a boomerang. I unwittingly rode past a crime scene en route to a job writing light news, then on my way home was confronted with reality -- and alternate reality.

I've been working this summer at ABC News, which when I was a kid was one of the institutions -- like the New York Mets, NASA, and Saturday Night Live -- that I clearly idolized, if my autograph collection is indicative.  I had glossies of the "Eyewitness News" team at the local ABC station, including (yes) Geraldo Rivera, who back then was not a joke, but a scavenger of real news stories.

But my favorite was anchor Roger Grimsby (left), whose anchor sign on -- "Here now, the news" -- ironically became adopted by Jane Curtin in the second year of SNL when she took over Weekend Update from Chevy Chase.

Grimsby was a cantankerous and bemused presence who, now, to my adult viewing eye seems to have been something of a drinker (perhaps confirmed by the fact that when he left ABC in acrimony, the network is said to have bought up some nearby buildings for the sole purposes of shutting down his favorite watering holes).

 I recently came across this wondrous clip of his improvisational skills when a reporter was caught on camera giving the director the middle finger.

The queen of pop and 2 NYFD hunks
That is just the kind of off-the-cuff banter that helped fuel the dynamic between co-hosts Josh Elliott and Lara Spencer [right] on Good Afternoon America, where I worked this summer, rising before dawn and working at the Times Square Studios. As much as we could script for them, the best moments came when they just reacted.

But the show's limited run ended to make room for Katie, so this week I have been doing some prep writing for the morning show, working uptown at the ABC offices (on Peter Jennings Way). And,  because it's only cool September weather in New York once a year, and because ABC graciously provides a storage room, I decided to bike to work, through Central Park.

I arrived on West 66th today at 2:00, not knowing that just a few hours earlier, a troubling crime had taken place right nearby.

Instead, I remained in the cocoon of the morning show's newsroom, toiling away on several pop news stories for Lara that I cannot yet reveal since they haven't aired yet, but suffice it to say they don't involve crimes, unless you had your heart set on a different person singing the closing theme in the new Bond film.  (And they may, and often do, change in the morning.) During a meeting about tomorrow's show, we also discussed national and political stories.

But I was surprised when I left work at 10 p.m., rode up Central Park West and at 72nd street ran into a gaggle  of satellite trucks, police cars, floodlights, and yellow crime scene tape.

The guy who found the victim
A reporter from one of the local stations was doing a live stand-up with a cameraman. I kept my distance until she was off camera and asked her what had happened.

"A 73 year old woman was sexually assaulted," she said grimly, "by a man she'd photographed masturbating in the park a week earlier. He asked her, "Remember me?" The police are circulating his photo. [See above] She's in the hospital, she's conscious and was able to tell them about it."

Turns out she's a bird watcher and a park regular. Here's the New York Times report of the encounter:
After asking her if she remembered him, the suspect threw the woman to the ground, raped her and stole her backpack, which contained a digital camera with a professional lens. He also broke her wristwatch while attempting to steal it. It was not clear if the camera was the one that she had used earlier or if she had kept the photos from the earlier encounter, which she never reported to the police...
The woman was taken to a hospital, where she was interviewed by investigators with the Special Victims Unit, as police officers spread out across the park in search of the suspect.
Shaken, I rode the rest of the way home, and when I got to my block, the normally crowded street was emptied of parked cars, with cones set up and that same yellow police tape.  Uh oh. What was it? Closer inspection revealed this:
That's right -- it was for tomorrow's filming of Law & Order, Sexual Victims Unit, creating some fictional horrible crime scene.

Good night America. Hope your news is good news.
UPDATE: Three rookie cops recognized the suspect -- who was wearing the same shirt [below]! And he has been idenitifed by the victim and arrested. He sounds like a Dickensian villain:

David Albert Mitchell, 42, was nothing if not distinctive. His body was a canvas of dark, mythical tattoos: a grim reaper, dragons, Nordic warriors, castles and “some kind of deadly insect..."
Mr. Mitchell, a parolee from Virginia who arrived in New York City in July, found his way to Central Park, where he almost immediately inspired fear in park regulars, one of whom he threatened with a knife on Aug. 20.

1 comment:

Robert said...

Great post, David. You must've spent your entire youth sending out SASE.