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The Seven O'Clock Syndrome
I cry over the seven o'clock news.
At least three evenings a week, and in a prime week every evening. Sometimes it's just the familiar walnut-at-the-base-of-the-tongue, accompanied by an eye-sheening wash of tears which I can usually hide behind the National Observer or the round dome of the cat's back. (He spends the seven o'clock news crouched on my chest, tail in my face--from this angle he is a perfect series of ellipses--blinking serenely at God knows what inklings and oddments of his own.)
But at other times, the tears catch me unaware, a flood tide that rises up through my throat, reddening my eyes and corrugating my face truly hideously, spilling out in a guttering runnel of Revlon, prompting me to strangle and snort and rush into the bedroom for a Kleenex and my husband to sigh. He isn't callous, only accustomed. This briny ritual is my evensong, as the brief, neck-crippling, head-on-chest nap before dinner ("I am not asleep, I am merely resting my eyes") is his.
It didn't start until a couple of years ago, this peculiar affliction of mine. Leaving the hermetically sealed dome of an Alabama college campus in the late fifties, I found the shining, murderous sixties a shattering enough experience, but it was with more or less normal bemusement and judicious, abstract outrage that I reacted. As a reporter for a city magazine during this decade, I found enough in my own back yard to mourn or decry, but somehow, it didn't unglue me. Some things came close; the fire storms of Selma and Cleveland, where my own friends in the news media stood to lose more than their cameras and tape recorders and half a nationstood to lose it all, wrung tears of fright and frustration from me. But others wept then, too. Those were the years when a whole generation of placid young sheep learned how to howl like starveling wolves. And there was the anguished jungle lying just beyond the world I knew, that bloomed, mature and perfect and terrible, when the bullet that shattered John Kennedy's head also cracked the skin of my world to reveal it. And the snowballing horror of watching them go, one by one--Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy. I cried then, furiously, blindly, for days--but so did everybody else. Almost.
Later in that decade, and into the next one, there were things that merited-and received-the cathartic ceremony of grief. Appalachia, Biafra, Vietnam, Bangladesh; ritual murder in California and bloodied, near-human seal pups in Alaska; the crippling of a man I feared and loathed, but whose life I affirmed, in a Maryland shopping center; earthquakes, fire, and the incredible, unspeakable image of a girl child half a world away, naked, arms outflung, running down a road in Vietnam. On fire.
Things, truly, to cry about. And sane people eating their dinners all over the world did.
This seven o'clock thing of mine is different.
It generally starts when our local news hits, at sixthirty. I've probably just come in from work and switched on the set in the den. First, the local big stuff: A member of the police aldermanic committee has been nailed for accepting a bribe from a creamy, smiling restaurateur and club owner who happens to live down the street from me. Two mayoral candidates are calling each other names. The sanitation workers' strike is waxing ripely into its second week. A black man in one of our yeastier ghettos--slated for urban renewal nine years ago--has shot his common-law wife and her three young daughters. A local supermarket survey has shown that meat prices jumped 11 percent this past week. The Falcons have lost--again. It's going to rain-again. The smirking station ombudsman, the one with the Frankensteinlike hairpiece, whose task it is to preserve, protect, and defend the small consumer by publicly shaming his corporate malefactor, silkily announces that the Ed Fleag family of Sweet Harmony Drive, this city, is indeed going to get a refund on the chemical toilet that blew up their camper on the interstate last month. The appallingly young critic-at-large, who resembles a cadet Cuban pimp, blasts a visiting symphony conductor to shards and mispronounces "Moussorgsky."
Except for the murdered family, surely not the stuff of tears. Rage, maybe, but not tears. Never theless, they begin to nibble at my sinuses like demented mice.
Then the national news, and out come the big guns. John Chancellor, chanting like a Druid who knows a dirty joke, is telling us about Watergate. No inherent grief there, for me, anyway; I fiercely love every new morsel and can't wait for the whole suppurating mess to be laid out cleanly, like the seed mass of a rotting pumpkin spread on newspaper, so we can throw the damned thing away. But the traitorous muscles around my mouth quiver.
Mr. Kissinger has done a good day's work on the Middle East imbroglio; gallant, cliff-faced Mrs. Meir smiles her smile of lopsided grandeur. One sinus pings shut like a butterfly valve.
An oil slick from a wounded tanker has slimed a section of coast, but area conservationists and kids, working together, have managed to capture, clean, and save most of the affected sea birds ... close-up of saved sea bird. I whiffle, drawing an apprehensive glance from my husband, who had innocently thought tonight's news was the best we'd had in days.
David Brinkley says something so utterly sane, acid, and funny about the energy crisis that I wish I'd said it-or written it to my congressman. And a burping sob comes skittering up from behind my rib cage.
And then the news is over and the Hamm's Beer commercial comes on--the one with the shambling, trusting clown of a bear--and I am back scrabbling on my dressing table for a Kleenex.John Chancellor Makes Me Cry. Copyright © by Anne Rivers Siddons. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.