"Therefore I Am"
Published June 8, 2004
I'm left to ponder the really
In journalism school, the professors taught us how to ask
hard-hitting, probing questions that get to the meat of a story.
One question is most important: Why? The who, what, where, when
and how tend to be interchangeable details, but the why was always
the eyebrow-raiser. Why do people do what they do? The why is
what makes a story interesting. The why is what we want to know.
Why does a teen go on a murderous rampage? Why do men hijack
airplanes and crash them into buildings? Why does a mother drown
her own children? Why do military prison guards pose for photos
with nude prisoners?
These days, since I traded in my reporter's fedora for the
diaper bag of fatherhood three years ago, the questions I contemplate
are even more pressing. I'm no longer concerned with the late-breaking
headlines but rather the eternal questions that have plagued
humanity since the dawn of existence.
Why do people touch computer screens?
This one has stumped me for decades, long before computers
were on every desk in America. My fellow arcade rats were pressing
video game screens in the late '70s and early '80s when Pac-Man,
Donkey Kong and Space Invaders ruled our world (and gobbled our
quarters). I'd be standing there doing my best to eat Blinky
before he ate me, and some leering chump would slide his pizza-greased
index finger all over the screen, creating a sluglike trail throughout
The trend continues today as adults and kids alike, for some
unknown reason, feel the need to physically touch computer screens
in order to call attention to something on it. They're not content
to simply verbalizing what they're looking at, and pointing without
actual contact doesn't satisfy their odd urges either. No, they
need to feel the cool glass against their fingers. And at the
end of the shift, when you shut down your desktop pal for the
day, the evidence is clear -- dozens of fingerprints all over
your screen. For some reason, they show up quite clearly on a
I've seen cop shows in which the police covertly obtain a
suspect's fingerprints by lifting prints from a glass, a soda
can or even a cigarette. Don't waste the cola. Just sit the suspect
in front of a computer for five minutes. The chances are fairly
good you'll have a complete set of usable prints in a matter
Why do TV newscasters tell us who's NOT reporting the news
"Good evening. I'm Dirk Magnum. Brenda Underalls has
the night off. Those stories and more on Action 5 News at 11."
Does anyone care who has the night off from one newscast to
the next? Why do they bother telling us this? If we see Dirk
sitting alone at the desk and Brenda isn't with him, I think
it's safe to assume that Brenda is elsewhere. Maybe she's at
home with a sick child. Maybe she's at the movies with her hubby.
Maybe she's out with the girls complaining about how she never
should have married a man named Underalls. Whatever. Just read
the news. Get a kindergartner to do it. I don't care.
Imagine walking into McDonald's and the cashier saying, "Hi.
I'm Katherine. I'll be taking your order. Tim has the night off."
Well, good for Tim. He needed some time away from the deep fryer.
I think the president should begin every speech with, "Hi.
I'm George Bush. I'm running the country. Al Gore lost the election."
Why do real estate agents put their pictures on their ads?
I can't figure this out at all. It would be one thing if the
agent were attractive, but sometimes the ugly ones do it, too.
Here in Knoxville, there are real estate agents who even put
their faces on billboards. If your face is pleasing to the eye,
that's fine, but there are some people whose faces simply should
not, under any circumstances, be 17 feet high.
And speaking of unnecessary pictures, why is my mugshot
on this column?
It's an old newspaper tradition, but why should a columnist
have his picture alongside his column? What's the point? Why
shouldn't a general-assignment reporter get his picture alongside
a school board story? What's fair is fair. I use my second-grade
picture because it's the last photo taken of me that I really
like. So there.
Why did gawkers rush Reagan's hearse over the weekend?
A legend of American politics died, and some people acted
as though Kid Rock was rolling into town. I saw video of people
sprinting at full speed in an effort to catch a glimpse of the
hearse carrying Ronald Reagan's body to the funeral home. I respect
Reagan as much as the next nonpartisan, but I cannot imagine
I'd sprint to see his hearse drive by.
What do these people tell their friends the next day? "Yeah,
well, we had to run the last 150 yards or so, but we saw the
hearse. I think it was black." It's a hearse. That's it.
Seeing the hearse carrying a great man has nothing to do with
the man himself. Sprinting to gape at a car seems like inappropriate
rubbernecking to me.
Why? Well, that's the most important question of all, now
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David Spates is a Knoxville resident and Crossville Chronicle contributor whose column
is published each Tuesday. He can be reached at email@example.com.