When I was in high school, a woman walked into a local courthouse and shot a man in the back of the head. That's when I learned that everything in the news is reported in a style that holds the most popular appeal. My hometown is Sonora, California. Down the road a bit is Jamestown. Between Sonora and Jamestown was a metal sign beside a cow pasture that delineated where one started and the other ended. Following that road, you came to the Jamestown library, which on Thursdays and Saturdays served as the Jamestown courthouse. That's where that man was shot.
The library was a single room, no bigger than a couple tables and bookshelves. Along one wall were the encyclopedias; a rack held popular fiction in the corner, and on the librarian's desk sat a dictionary. Before court was called to session, the box of Louis L'Amour books on the table was taken to the back room, and a Bible replaced the dictionary. The judge sat at the librarian's desk, and as the seasons rolled over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the judge sat to hear why teenagers were caught speeding.
Ellie Nesler was the woman's name. She shot the man there in the library courthouse. The man Ellie shot was accused of molesting her son at one of the summer camps run in the surrounding hills. The man had been a camp counselor. It was probably the biggest trial Jamestown had ever seen, and there were people standing outside and watching the proceedings through the plate-glass front window when Ellie asked her sister for the .38 caliber handgun she carried in her purse.
Blood was splattered across the judge's bench and Dewey decimal card drawers, and Ellie dropped the weapon without a struggle before the sheriff handcuffed her.
Sacramento sent up vans to get footage of their "frontier vigilante girl." The news crews talked to locals who said Ellie should be free because she was just protecting her son, and they broadcast that all over the world. Most of the town thought she should stand trial like anyone accused of any crime, but those people were ignored, and a small group of business owners who were interested in drumming up tourist dollars dressed in cowboy hats and boots and lit candles in a park. The news couldn't get enough of that.
On the TV, our town was depicted as a throwback to the gold-rush days, when women raced through the streets on horseback shooting out the spines of anyone daring enough to cross them.
When it was over and Ellie was up in state prison and the town was back to normal, the news ignored us once again because we were a blue-collar, middle-class town of people in pickup trucks and Nike tennis shoes instead of the boot-stompin' rough riders they needed for commercial interest and market appeal.
WHAT I WILL AND WON'T WATCH THIS WEEK
Thursday, July 20
My Super Sweet 16
MTV 10:30 a.m. When future civilizations study the rise and fall of the American empire, they'll point to decadence, arrogance, and ignorance as the reasons for our undoing. Defenders of our culture will say that there were fine people who lived here once -- intelligent, rational people. And a recording of this show will be played in response, and the debate will be over.
Windsor Castle: A Royal Year
PBS 9:00 p.m. What is it with PBS and their fascination with all things British? Of the thousands of countries around the globe (Thailand, Kenya, Argentina...) the only thing on the AMERICAN Public Broadcasting System is this sycophantic butt-sniffing of the English. PBS wonders why they can never raise enough money.
Friday, July 21
Painful Secrets (2000)
LIFE 7:00 p.m. She told me she'd been beaten by one of her exes. She was a teenager when it had happened, and it explained a lot. It explained why she wore her hair in front of her eyes and the way she walked into a room. We'd been living together for a few months, and as much as I didn't want to be a selfish asshole, I couldn't help but think how this was going to affect me. She was a cracked Christmas ornament, and as much glue as I had on hand, I couldn't make her new again. When she needed me to tell her that everything was going to be okay, I was in the frigid air of the garage with a bottle of bourbon. Of all the weekends we'd been together, I chose the evening of her confession to fix the pump on the washer instead of put my arm around her as she cried. Yeah, I was a bastard for that.
Saturday, July 22
Quilt in a Day
PBS 11:30 a.m. Of all the things I could do in a day, including touch myself like a laboratory chimp and get drunk on brown booze first thing in the morning, quilting never comes up. I mean, I'm never standing there in the kitchen with a bag of drugs and a shot glass thinking, "Huh, well, I've got the whole day ahead of me, I could start that quilt." But, God bless you if that's your gig, you know? Different drums and all that.
Global Warming: What You Need to Know With Tom Brokaw
DSC 8:00 p.m. Ironically, it was the hairspray, smug sense of self-satisfaction, and methane gas emitted from nightly news anchors that tore the hole in the ozone.
Sunday, July 23
Baby Snatcher (1992)
KUSI 8:00 p.m. I was snatched as a baby and raised by a coven of beauty-pageant queens. I've come to terms with it. There aren't any lasting effects, except, when asked how I'm feeling, I say, "It's an honor to be here," and I wave. That and the sequined swimsuit and baton thing, but that's beyond the scope of this article, and we don't have to go into that here.
Monday, July 24
NBC 8:00 p.m. I've already started casting for the pilots of Project My Filthy Shower, Project Dirty Underpants, and Project Those Dishes Aren't Going to Wash Themselves. So far there have been no entries, even though I have one of those folding chairs with my name stenciled on the back, a bullhorn, and a clipboard. I'm legit. The winner gets to ride the horsy in front of the grocery store and a gift certificate for a taco. C'MON!