Authors: Karin Tanabe
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For my mom and dad
sabelle Norman’s skin was the color of uncooked meat, and her green eyes glistened
with panic. She ran toward me, a Usain Bolt in heels.
She had just sprinted out of a closed-door meeting with our newspaper’s editor in
chief, Mark Upton, and she looked about as happy as the fat girl picked last in gym
When she stopped at our group of plastic desks in the very back of the newsroom, I
saw the lines of tears covering her pretty oval face.
“I’m going to get fired. Immediately,” she bleated, grabbing my arm, leading me toward
a bank of glossy white elevators and collapsing onto a bench. “I’m—I’m a—I’m going
to get fired for being an incompetent fool on CNN! Of all the networks out there,
I had to be an absolute dimwitted idiot on CNN!” Her tears started to fall faster.
She put her head between her knees and let her wavy blond hair fall into the pleats
of her magenta silk skirt.
I wanted to wrap her up and take her directly to the Four Seasons for a large tequila
and a shiatsu massage. But instead, I just watched her sob in a building with the
privacy of a maximum-security prison.
What was she doing on CNN again? Wasn’t she doing a hit
with that scary White House reporter Olivia Campo? A woman so pompous she made Hosni
Mubarak look humble.
“Were you on with Olivia?” I asked, smoothing her sweaty hair down. I tried to speak
in a buttery, soothing voice.
“Yes, I was on with that little termite,” shrieked Isabelle, clearly not responding
to my lullaby tones. “And guess what? She stole everything! She stole all of my talking
points! I sat silent on CNN for twenty entire minutes. A third of an hour. Someone
called the network and asked if I had facial paralysis!”
That last part had to be made up.
She looked me square in the eyes and said, “That last part is not made up.”
“It could not have been that bad,” I lied. I tried to sound calming and nurturing.
The Mother Teresa of colleagues. “You are so charismatic. And smart!” I offered up.
“I’m sure the majority of it went swimmingly.”
She looked up at me with the pain of an abandoned child. “Swimmingly?” she repeated.
“No. Not even a little. Not even a dog paddle. I drowned, and I’m going to get fired.
It was a quiet death, at least. I was mute,” she said, wiping away her tears. She
took a coffee filter from the side table and patted her face with it.
“My mother texted me and said she’s praying for both my sanity and continued employment.
She said she’s overnighting my white Confirmation dress, because it made me look so
innocent. I’m going to wear it to work tomorrow.”
Confirmation? Wasn’t that a rite of Catholic passage dedicated to tweens?
“But didn’t you wear that like thirteen years ago? It might be a little tight,” I
“Adrienne! Be realistic! Drastic measures must be taken.”
“No one watches stupid CNN anyway. Their ratings are way
down,” I said. “Think about it. The only time I tune in is to see the rise and fall
of the Asian markets. But that’s all. I bet like five thousand people were watching,
Isabelle shook her head no. She motioned for my mohair cardigan. I placed it in her
shaky hand, and she rubbed it on her cheek and clutched it like a security blanket.
“This wasn’t some Washington-only program,” she assured me. “It was CNN. Hundreds
of thousands of people saw me. Maybe millions!” she wailed, sounding muffled through
the fabric. “And it was the international edition. I’m going to kill myself.”
That sounded bad. Had people from other time zones called in? Was the woman who asked
if Isabelle had a mummified face ringing up the CNN hotline in New Delhi?
“How could Olivia have possibly stolen all your notes?” I asked. “Did she write them
all on her palm? Can we have her ejected for verbal plagiarism?”
“There are no rules in television!” Isabelle screamed. Her voice bounced off the glass
walls surrounding the bank of elevators and the smoky gray marble floors. “Plus,”
she said, cracking all her knuckles one after the other, “it was all my fault. I should
know that every single person at the
is a self-serving, self-righteous prick.”
After she had soaked two coffee filters with her saliva and tears, she balled them
up, handed them to me, and explained what had led to her anguish.
“It was around eight
last night. We were just sitting in the greenroom at the CNN headquarters in Northeast
before our segment on the president’s upcoming vacation to the Gulf Coast. I was fact-checking
a few things online and making small talk with Olivia. I’ve known the troll for a
year, after all. And for some reason, I was pretty nervous. You know, I do a lot of
TV, but it was a forty-minute segment, twenty minutes each. That’s a hell of a long
time to be live. But I was prepared. I spent all weekend writing notes, everything
organized and written in black and red fountain pen.”
I nodded encouragingly. It was always a good idea to have executive-looking pens.
“And then in the greenroom, while I drank a triple espresso so that I would be extra
peppy, Olivia asked me what I was going to talk about, so we wouldn’t overlap. I viewed
it as a perfectly normal team-player kind of question, so I let her look at my notes.”
At this point, she started to cry again, as if her puppy had just been microwaved.
“Adrienne, I swear, I didn’t know that red-haired narcissist would steal everything!
I mean, who has a memory like that! If she’s so smart, why didn’t she just make her
own multicolored notes!”
Her facial paralysis seemed to have been cured: she had dropped the cardigan and was
scrunching up her button nose like a Shih Tzu.
“Well, you should say something,” I suggested. “Rat her out. Tell Upton that you were
more prepped than the president but Benedict Arnold swiped your notes!”
Isabelle sighed. “They won’t believe me. Or care.”
“Show them your talking points,” I urged. “Give them irrefutable proof.”
Isabelle reached for another coffee filter. “You know how this place works, Adrienne.
No missteps. No mercy! They’ll just say I’m totally stupid for having to prep that
much. You know them. They think you should be able to recite the entire history of
American politics on cue, like a dancing monkey. I just don’t think that way. I have
She was right. I had only been at the paper for three weeks,
but I knew that. You walked in the door, and they gave you a phone and a computer
and said “go.” That was it. From that moment on, you had to get everything right.
“You should talk to Upton anyway,” I said. “That’s so morally wrong. Maybe they’ll
actually listen to you and fire her.” I knew they wouldn’t. They didn’t care how you
got your info, as long as you didn’t plagiarize it and you presented it with Napoleonic
confidence. But I had to say it anyway.
“Fire her? They love her,” said Isabelle through her sniffles. “God, I wish she would
just disappear to the mountains of Papua New Guinea. Are there mountains in Papua
I shrugged and looked at her blankly.
“Maybe someone would eat her. Or maybe she would contract a horrific case of syphilis
like Paul Gauguin and die a slow and painful death.”
“I think that happened in Tahiti.” I was standing in front of her, trying to shield
her from curious colleagues who might suddenly jump out of the elevators.
“Whatever. Tropical island teeming with germs, STDs, and cannibals,” said Isabelle.
“That’s where the little thief deserves to be.”
I was ready to share a hearty laugh and invent a few more ways for our amoral colleague
to die, but Isabelle had succumbed to further crying.
“You must have answered a few questions. I don’t believe it was all that bad,” I said.
I had seen Isabelle do plenty of TV, and she was photogenic and great on camera. That’s
why our media bookers had dared to put her on CNN for twenty long minutes.
“I didn’t answer a thing,” said Isabelle. “I sat there, frozen, like those ice people
they found perfectly pickled in Nova Scotia. Whiskers and everything.”
“I think you mean preserved.”
“Whatever! I looked like I was born without the ability to smile,” she said, sniffling.
“Oh, and as a bonus, those horrific media training girls marched right in to my Upton
meeting. That girl Gretchen, the one who always eats papayas with a steak knife, she
analyzed the footage for our dear editor and guided him on a master plan of damage
control. She watched it ten times!”
Wow. Ten times. That seemed excessive. The only videos I had seen ten times were
and this night-vision sex tape I made with a Parisian bartender in college. Both
did get better after multiple viewings but I doubted the same rule applied to Isabelle
“What did Gretchen say?” I asked cautiously.
“Oh, well she was an absolute dear. A real chum. She said I was too thin and mannish
and not meant for the screen.” Isabelle’s eyes started to tear up in a soap opera
kind of way. “She brought the video into the meeting and forced us all to watch it
together. While I was making this terrible blank face, she smacked the pause button
and sucked in her breath through her teeth. It made this sound:
Then she looked at me and said, ‘Isabelle. Let me say something to you woman to woman.’
I thought she was going to compliment me on my skin-care regime or something equally
chickish, but she didn’t. Oh and of course Upton was right there. Woman to woman,
my ass. So while I sat on my hands to keep from punching her in the jaw, she said,
‘I look at that video, and I just can’t stop thinking, Ron Paul. Ron Paul. I’m looking
at the female Ron Paul.’ Can you believe it? Ron fucking Paul!”
“Wait, what?!” I exclaimed. “He’s like eight hundred years old.”
Isabelle shook her head. “Well then that’s what I look like, too. Because according
to the media witch, I am the spitting image of United States representative Ron Paul.
Never mind that he’s very old and a man.”
“He is a doctor and a committed Libertarian!” I pointed out. “And a Texan.”
“Gretchen said that if I was going to put on this big California glamour act of mine,
I needed more pigment in my face and more meat on my bones. It’s like she wants me
to be a Maori rugby player! And male. Do you know how hard people work to be thin?
Has she never seen Giuliana Rancic? People are supposed to want to be thin. I’m an
athlete. I’ve been thin and muscular all my life! Since birth. I weighed five and
a half pounds and was the only baby in the hospital with a six-pack.”
Looking from glass door to glass door to make sure no one was coming, Isabelle put
her head between her knees again and said, “It’s too much. Please fetch me my pistols.”