It had to be on one of those cloudless zip-a-dee-doo-dah days, the sort of day that lulls you into a beatific complacency with the great scheme and your place within it, that fate would deal one of her dark and breathtaking surprises. As I rounded the bend on the wooded bike trail, whistling a commercial jingle, I saw them standing before me: a two-man local news crew, one slyly grinning and holding a microphone and the other holding the kind of camera you used to see at lowlife wedding receptions in the 1980s. I came to a sudden stop -- if I hadn't, all of us might be in the morgue today. It turned out that they were wondering, had I heard the news about the recent cougar sighting in these very woods, and was I alarmed to the point of considering cougar-repelling safety precautions for my family?
You know me. And be honest -- if you had been there, you probably would have gone for the obvious comeback too. It's tough to resist. Who expects to ask anyone in a non-finance field a question including the word "cougar" and not get a smartass reply? I thought as I rode off down the trail, a few minutes later, that I had aced the brief interview, as far as ensuring myself a little quality local-news talking-head time anyhow. There was no way the story would occupy any slot but the last of the broadcast, when some non-event (the people thought they saw something very like a cougar; it could have been, they admitted on cross-examination, a "water otter" or "pretty large dog") is related with mock-serious tones and gussied up with stupid puns, which in turn causes the anchor people to slap their desk and and bray and wipe tears from their eyes before saying goodbye. I didn't frame my remark about the predatory mistresses of the north shore in as perfectly a LaRochefoucauldian way as I would have liked, or in fact would have, given a minute more and a couple sheets of paper. But I felt positive it was good enough to suit our content-hungry, humor-deprived Chicago newsworthies.
A couple hours later I was folding laundry in our front room when my wife called up the stairs. "This just came in on Facebook," she said. "'Did I just see Robbie on channel 5 talking about cougars??!'" Now, I know it's bad form to be too pleased with myself, and I hope you'll forgive me, because this made me so very happy. "Bray" doesn't describe what I did. I jumped in the air, and for the next 20 minutes or so I felt as giddy as the first time I heard my music on the radio. Don't ask me why, but it seems I would much rather, if I have to be on TV, be on it telling a stupid and coarsely sexist joke than playing one of my songs!
This mood lasted until the station posted the piece on its website and I got a look at the thing. I mentioned that they spoke to me for a couple of minutes. After I said that it was "the ordinary housewifely 'cougars' of the north shore who worry me far more than any roaming wild animal" we all laughed, and the man with the mike said, "But will the sighting change anything you do with your family?" I uttered a few bland cliches about being watchful of my children playing outdoors after nightfall, and it was this remark that was used for broadcast. I give them coarse ribaldry, they portray me as a doddering overprotective milquetoast, who calls his kids off the lawn at dusk because somebody says he saw an otterlike shape in the woods, maybe. Thus does the grim wheel turn.