A Lament for All the Nobody’s Out There

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I showed up unannounced (and a day early) at Chris Collins’ office at 1117 Longworth. Actually, I was under the mistaken impression the “11” of “1117” represented the floor. There is no 11th floor in the Longworth building, which I discovered only after the elevator doors closed. Fortunately, a kind lady told me the first “1” represented the building and the second “1” represented the floor.

When I arrived at his office, Collins wasn’t there. He was on the House floor voting on, as near as I can tell from the daily record of July 18, 2017, a series of otherwise mundane amendments. Somebody probably thinks they are important. Maybe even Collins. I didn’t bother to ask. Ironically, I didn’t think it was any of my business.

I say it’s “ironic” because everything Congress does is, quite literally, “the people’s business.” It’s just that I’m so accustomed to thinking of myself as a nobody that sometimes I simply act the part.

Not that I want to. In fact, I regularly cringe when talking to big city folk (usually journalists) who treat me as if I can’t engage in the sophisticated banter of the urbane elite. Do you ever feel the same way? Stinks, doesn’t it.

A couple days before I trekked to our Congressman’s D.C. office, I had been speaking with a reporter from CNBC. She was crafting a story on this “Child IRA” thing I’ve been writing about for years (including in these very pages last summer). She was quite nice, and I could tell when it was her asking the questions, or the editor telling her to ask the questions. Being in the business for as long as I have, you begin to know how editors think. Heck, I’m an editor (although not for The Sentinel).

Reporters, for the most part, just want the facts, preferably in an order so the story writes itself. Although writing is an art, basic reporting isn’t much different than keeping a log. Good reporters go beyond this and weave a compelling tale while connecting all those factual dots. Reporters seek to cultivate a close bond with sources on the hopes those sources will become less inhibited and reveal facts never before revealed.

Good editors, on the other hand, never trust the source. To them, every source has a flaw, a potentially fatal flaw that will spike the entire article. Mind you, from the editor’s perspective, there is a hierarchy of flaws. The worst flaw is that of “vested interest.” This is where the source stands to profit (sometimes literally) from the publication of the story. The greater the passion within the source, the more likely the source has a vested interest. Editors seek to flush out vested interests. Sometimes this very exposure of a vested interest on the part of a source becomes the story itself. Pity those poor sources, hoisted upon their own petards.

This apparently, was the initial impression the editor had of me. “Why was I so passionate about The Child IRA?” asked the kind reporter, almost apologetically. She need not have apologized though. It was a great question. Not because it flushed out some vested interest, but because I had never considered it before. And when I did I discovered something compelling in my own backstory. It was of those things that, because it’s with you 24/7, you begin to take it for granted. It a foundation that everyday life causes to dissolve until it’s just beyond one’s conscious memory. Fortunately, as a result of the reporter’s question, I was able to retrieve it. She didn’t use the answer in her story, but I’m going to use it in the author’s prologue of my upcoming book on The Child IRA.

Another flaw, much lower on the food chain, is the “Nobody” flaw. Alas, this is where they had me. I’m just a non-descript fellow from a non-descript town working for a non-descript company. There aren’t enough zeros behind any of these things to qualify me as “significant.” I understand that. I accept it. Maybe I even embrace it.

But none of that means a hill of beans when it comes to the merit of any idea, thought, or proposition I may make. After all, one of my favorite stories growing up was “The Little Engine that Could,” (and not just because I like trains). Yes, I have a strong inner confidence, an undying faith, that, maybe, just maybe, I am capable of having a novel idea, regardless of the lack of zeroes.

Try telling that to a big city editor. Nope. It’s always something like “If it’s such a great idea, why hasn’t anyone else thought of it?” or “What could you possibly know that someone in a major metropolitan city working for a Fortune 100 company doesn’t already know?” or “If you really believe in this so much, why haven’t you told your congressman about it?”

Such is the lament of the nobody. Such was my pre-disposition when I stepped though the heavy wooden door of Chris Collins’ Washington office.

Sure, I did meet with several of his staff, including his Chief of Staff. I really didn’t expect them to do anything other than be cordial (after all, how many times have congressional staffs had to be polite while unannounced constituents show up with the express purpose of promoting some “wild” idea they think will change the future of humanity?). Much to my delight, however, he really seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say about the concept of The Child IRA. I may have accidentally stumbled on a hook when I explained its origin came from a presentation I used for the Personal Management Boy Scout Merit Badge. That particular merit badge is one of the few that are required in order to advance to the rank of Eagle Scout. Chris Collins, it turns out, is an Eagle Scout. Who knew? (I guess I should have, had I done the appropriate research.)

They kindly asked for more information so they could review it and pass it on to the Congressman. I may have been shocked out of my “I’m a nobody” mindset, but I never for a moment forgot who I was.

Yep, I made sure to ask Collins’ communication director to schedule an interview with the Congressman for the benefit of our readers right here in our own little ol’ Sentinel.

Stay tuned.

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