Tales From a Reporter’s Notebook

Now Playing: Ain’t Leavin’ Your Love, by the great Townes Van Zandt. “The poor man got him an airplane, tryin to cruise across the traffic jam. The rich man got him a Chevrolet. I’m stayin’ right where I am.”

Another tale from my days as a young reporter/editor in Jacksonville. A few blogs ago, I talked about The Daily News Hall of Fame and one of its inductees, a man I like to call Tim Tate (not his real name). To recap a small bit of Tim’s biography, he was a reporter who covered the military for us and later worked some for Soldier of Fortune magazine and a bureau or two in Washington and elsewhere. He had a gas mask and an AK-47 and dated a woman who worked awhile at one of J-ville’s massage parlors.

This incident happened several years before he met her, however. In fact, it was shortly after Tim came to work at the paper, sometime around 1981 or so. I was city editor, which at the time was the No. 2 slot at the paper. Tim, who at about 25 was a couple of years older than me, wanted to make a splash, and what better way than a series on adult businesses in Jacksonville.

One in particular caught our eye. It was named “Dial-A-Massage,” and, as you might have guessed, involved making appointment by telephone for massages in your home. (And I must explain here that in 1981 or so, the last thing you expected to get at a massage parlor in J-ville was a massage, if you know what I mean. No offense to the legit massage parlors all over the state, including the one the boys got Karen a gift certificate for as a Mother’s Day present.)

We started out pretty cautiously. The newspaper had a special phone, installed by the Associated Press, that rang directly into the newsroom instead of at the switchboard in the front office. We used that phone to make the appointment, telling the “Dial-A-Massage” scheduler that Tim worked for a company we called Star Electronics. Sure enough, about two minutes after Tim hung up, the AP phone rang. We’d warned the reporter who answered, and in her best receptionist voice, she twittered, “Star Electronics, how can I direct your call.” That was good enough for D-A-M, which promptly hung up without disclosing Tim’s appointment to his “employee.”

That was where we stopped being smart, however.

We’d given D-A-M Tim’s home address. I didn’t want to hang him out to dry in case it was a set-up for a robbery or something (not that I’d have been a lot of good in that kind of situation). But we formed another plan. I’d go to Tim’s apartment and hide in the bedroom closet, tape recorder going, and monitor what was going on during the massage.

Interlude: If I Were You, by Kasey Chambers. “If I was good, I’d tell everyone I know. If I was free, I wouldn’t be so keen to go. If I was wrong, I would take it like a man. If I was smart, I would get out while I can. If I was broken, I would probably let it be. If I was dying, I wouldn’t go out quietly.”

“Peaches” was coming over at 7, so I got there early and picked out a good place to hide in the closet (this might have been the most dangerous part of the assignment, looking back on it) and setting up the recorder. And we waited.

A little after 7, there was a knock at the door. Peaches was there, with a bottle of mineral oil and a couple of towels. Clean ones? I don’t know, I was in the closet. But I’d bet against it. They talked awhile, as Tim was sneaking in an interview about who she was and where she came from and what you got for you money. Turns out you got a massage. Maybe more if you signed up for another visit or two. But “Peaches” had to be pretty sure of you first – and she would have had to be pretty dumb to buy Tim’s backstory that was a businessman, living in his rundown digs.

She was about what we expected. According to Tim’s description (and I never really saw her, remember), she was skinny, pale and kinda cute but not a knockout. She’d come to J-ville with a Marine but had gotten dumped and was just trying to make a living.

We’d conned the publisher into funding that venture – I think it was $50. We didn’t deliver quite the “undercover” story we were looking for, but we didn’t give up. We had another trick – or so we thought – up our sleeves, and the publisher was willing to throw away another $50. But that’s a story for another day. Maybe.

“And the moral of this story, Is I guess it’s easier said than done, To look at what you’ve been through, And to see what you’ve become. It’s a private conversation. No one hears you say.” _  Lyle Lovett, Private Conversation



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2 responses to “Tales From a Reporter’s Notebook

  1. Pingback: More Tales From a Reporter’s (and Editor’s) Notebook « Rants 'n Raves

  2. Pingback: Remember When It Used to be Black and White? | Rants 'n Raves

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