Mar. 01, 2009
Leader of the Spanish Demolition
puts loco in news as Spanish-language
"One day," Ms. Morrell told me, "you're going to regret not paying attention in this class."
That class was eighth-grade Spanish, and that day is hoy. I'm the "special surprise" that KINC-TV, Channel 15, Univision's Las Vegas affiliate, has been promoting to its 50,000 viewers for two days.
"You do speak Spanish, of course," said Luis Felipe Godinez, the anchorman whose 6 p.m. seat I have hijacked (and raised five inches).
Of course! In addition to two years of Ms. Morrell, I vigilantly watched "Quien es Mas Macho?" on the old "Saturday Night Live" and once learned a sentence from a bartender that got me slapped by a Mexican girl at Club Med Playa Blanca.
Come on. Words scroll down the teleprompter. You read them. How difficult is that?
"I used to think like that, too," said Godinez, 27. "But it's not just reading. You have to be aware of so many other things."
Before hitting the valley airwaves in 2007, Godinez -- raised in San Francisco -- was a backup anchor in Denver and a TV reporter in Amarillo, Texas.
"The teleprompter might go out," he said, "or you might not have a script. There might be a word that's written wrong and you have to change it on the spot."
At the top of this very newscast, in fact, Godinez and his lovely co-anchor, Regina Guillen, were forced to vamp when video of an eviction was delivered 15 seconds late.
"You definitely have to speak Spanish to do that," Godinez said.
And it's not just Spanish. It's auction Spanish. Sentences here are blazed through so fast, Angus cattle are in danger of changing hands.
Chris Roman, general manager of KINC's parent company, explained that his viewers average 26 years old, versus 41 for non-Hispanic news stations. "Young people," he said, "like everything faster."
The red plastic cube atop camera two lights up. Like Cindy Brady on that game show, I'm on.
"Buenos noches!" I begin by veering off script.
Noches was incorrect. It's evening, not night. But nobody watching will remember that as being the major thing wrong with this newscast.
For 30 seconds, my tongue twists, lashes and bruises the beautiful language of Spain and the people who named most of the streets I take to work. Crecientes, perdidas, jornada laboral -- these are much bigger than any of the words Ms. Morrell habla-ed at us. And they have nothing whatsoever to do with going fishing or to the bathroom.
A dozen TV crew members do their best to contain swelling hysterics.
Did I mention that the story I'm reading is gravely serious? Toyota has instituted buyouts, shorter workweeks and other reducciones at its factory. As I read, the broadcast cuts away to footage of a valley dealership. Someone in the audience probably has a relative working for Toyota in Detroit. Yet this was a story judged more appropriate for me to tackle than the one on Valentine's Day flowers coming up later on.
"I don't know why they gave you that story," said Godinez, who wrote this and 80 percent of the other stories he reads. "Honestly, I don't know why."
Technical director Andres Gonzalez tells me to keep talking to camera two.
"I'm going back to you from the video now, Corey," he says.
To experience the full reality of anchoring, I requested an earpiece. I didn't figure it would distract me, since the Spanish in my ear would just be so much noise to tune out.
Unfortunately, I made the mistake of boasting of this beforehand to Gonzalez.
"OK, then," he replied, "I'll have to speak to you in English."
In addition to the foreign words in my eyes and Gonzalez in my ear, the crew's laughter now echoes throughout the newsroom. This is not just regular laughter, either, but the kind with shoulders heaving up and down.
After my second mispronunciation of the script's last word, administrativo, Godinez provides what producers apparently saw as a much-needed explanation. Actually, it sounds more like an apology. Whatever it is, so much of it is needed that it lasts longer than my actual story did. (Because of this, a 30-second teaser for the Univision show "Panorama" must be cut.)
Godinez turns to address me in English.
"What did you think?" he asks. "Did you like it?"
I could reply in English, but what fun would that be? Instead, I bust out a joke suggested by Cecilia Kajatt, an R-J classified ad representative originally from Peru.
"El elefante se comio mis calzones!" I announce, raising my finger like Fidel Castro addressing his cabinet.
I've just told Latino Las Vegas that the elephant ate my underwear. The sentence is meant to suggest that I have no idea what I'm saying. The reality is that I've practiced it nearly every waking moment for the past week.
The loudest eruption of laughter yet suggests that my pronunciation is correct and I haven't accidently uttered anything capable of getting KINC's broadcast license revoked.
If only Ms. Morrell could see me now.
Fear and Loafing runs on the first Sunday of every month in the Living section. Levitan's previous adventures can be found at www.fearandloafing.com.