GeminiMAGAZINE
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When you met Wolf Thomas for the first time,
he had this way of introducing himself as if he were
James Bond or something, keeping his hands
tucked away and simply saying, “Wolf. Wolf
Thomas,” with a sly smirk. Except he got it
backwards. His whole name. If he had really been
James Bond, it would have been “Thomas. Wolf
Thomas.” But instead he confused you and left you
wondering why the hell his parents gave him this
backwards name. Or was it an affectation on his
part? And invariably you would ask, “Oh, you mean
like Thomas Wolfe?” Except being twenty-three or
however young he was, he’d never
heard of
Thomas Wolfe, let alone read him, even though
here he was pretending to be some sort of writer
himself. So then you would go to Tom Wolfe,
figuring even young people have read
him,
especially some hotshot blogger claiming to be a
“new kind of journalist,” but no, you’d just get
another blank stare, and he’d repeat that ridiculous
inside-out name of his: “No. Wolf. Wolf Thomas.”

What this person was doing in your newsroom you
couldn’t exactly be sure. It was a land of giants.
People with iconic names had walked those halls:
Sevareid. Murrow. Cronkite. Rather. No one was
ever going to say “Thomas” and have future
generations respond, “Ah yes, you must mean
Wolf.”

He actually looked more like a squirrel than a wolf.
He was shorter than my Aunt Minnie and had
chipmunk cheeks that bulged as if some absent-
minded dentist had forgotten his cotton. Perhaps to
soften the effect, he’d grown bushy sideburns that
curved toward the corners of his mouth. He had
thick, curly, dark hair that fell over his forehead,
threatening to merge with his unibrow. He was so
hairy that you decided he must have popped out of
the womb this way and that’s why they’d slapped
the name Wolf on him. There was no chance he
could ever appear on television, so you knew he
was no real threat, but for some reason that made
his presence all the more rankling.

You’d try to find out where he’d gone to school and
he’d be cryptic. “Oh, here and there,” he’d
murmur, again with that sly grin. Obviously, he
was bright, and smugly self-entitled, and he came
from the kind of family that named its children
after predatory animals, so perhaps he’d been
home-schooled by a succession of frilled nannies
and stern governesses, tutors he knew only as Frau
and Herr. At night he would take apart
motherboards by flashlight under the covers, and
he’d learned hacking via secret communication with
an underground network in Shanghai, and now
here he was to wreak havoc on the American
corporate media complex.

Or perhaps he was the last in a succession of
generations that had squandered the family
fortune, or Father took a flyer on some mortgage-
backed securities and it all went wrong, or the
family dot com had gone bust, so there was no
money left to send poor little Wolf the Fifth for
proper schooling, so you pictured him sneaking into
classes at West Nowhere Community College and
then learning computer science at some as-seen-on-
TV technical institution, before joining a cabal of
radical code-crackers where a programming guru
named Hugo had taken him under his wing and
taught him backdoor ways to destabilize foreign
currencies and break into celebrity Twitter accounts.

You’d never get it out of him, so you’d just have to
keep an eye on the shifty kid in the corner, fingers
flying on that keyboard, tweeting and Facebooking
and hacking and cracking or whatever he did,
taking your finely honed who, what, when, where
and why and reducing it to an alphabet soup string
of abbreviations and symbols inscrutable to most
sentient beings but somehow indispensable to his
Twitter “followers,” turning deeply reported
investigative segments into a series of catchy
online blurbs, blogging out “breaking news” in
hipster speak without so much as a fact check or
attribution, while you sweated blood to commit real
journalism.

As it turned out, the truth about Wolf’s background
was far less exotic than you’d imagined. He hadn’t
been reared by rodents or feral canines at all; his
dad was an electrician and his mother, a social
worker. He was originally from Woonsocket, Rhode
Island. He wasn’t taught by terrorists either; like
me, he’d been schooled in his early years by nuns,
although in my experience that was essentially the
same thing.

But there our educational paths diverged. I was
class president and a pretty good athlete at a
highly regarded high school, studied
communications in college and held a master’s in
journalism from Medill. Young Wolf had scuffled his
way to twelfth grade, tinkering at home in his
father’s basement workshop, keeping mostly to
himself, and getting a job at GameStop after
graduation while he tried to figure out what to do
with his life.

He was working in the IT department at the
Providence Journal when he happened to sit next to
a network vice president on the Amtrak
Downeaster. Wolf was heading to Maine to visit his
aunt and uncle’s maple syrup farm. The TV guy was
doing advance work for the New Hampshire
primaries and scouting local talent while he was up
north. When his laptop crashed and he threw a fit
because he couldn’t screen demo reels, Wolf came
to his rescue. Somehow he fixed the damn thing,
saving the VP’s bacon, and the exec was so
impressed he gave Wolf his card and told him to
call him in New York.

Wolf was too green for the network newsroom
upstairs, so they stuck him with us, the local
affiliate. We were two floors down, but essentially
one operation. I often came in at exactly the same
time as the network’s lead anchor. We went to the
same dry cleaners, too, so here we’d come, the
two anchormen, identical suit bags over our
shoulders, ready for another night of exposing
injustice, revealing truth and bringing the world a
little closer together, word by precious word.

The entry-level job in the big city and the cramped
studio apartment in Brooklyn were definitely a step
up, but Wolf was still from one of the lesser parts of
Woonsocket and had never been to college, and
clearly his aloofness was a defense mechanism to
ward off the inquiries that would inevitably expose
him as a fraud. There were overqualified Ivy
Leaguers willing to kill just to get their foot in the
door of the newsroom, and here was this shaggy
clown, a pretender in a house of heavyweights.
Deep down, you knew, he knew he had no place
here and it was only a matter of time before he
was found out.

It wasn’t long after Wolf’s arrival that the powers-
that-be initiated one of their periodic Soviet-style
purges, parachuting in some new programming
genius to manage our station cluster. The new
cluster-fucker, Con Connolly, like so many we’d
seen come and go before him, slashed and burned
and fiddled and faddled, getting rid of people who’d
been there too long and bringing in new people
whose primary virtue seemed to be that they came
from somewhere else, moving one pretty face from
mornings to evenings and another from evenings to
midday, hiring a recently disgraced politician to
begin the rehabilitation of his image with a nightly
opinion segment, and spending the money I’d been
denied for my clothing allowance on a “magic wall”
of Twitter monitors and LED touch screens.
Incredibly, Wolf not only survived the upheaval, his
responsibilities increased. Connolly bumped the
weather gal over to give Wolf more space, and he
rewired that end of the newsroom with all kinds of
extra, uninterruptible power. God forbid his steady
flow of OMGs and LOLs be cut off. At least Con had
the good sense to keep Wolf and his corner lair far
from the set, lest a straying camera lens somehow
find his furry little face.

It was never easy when people were let go, but
you got used to it in this business. I couldn’t even
begin to count how many people I’d worked with
over the years. I’d need five more fingers just to
keep track of all the news and program directors. It
got so I didn’t even bother learning the names of
the production assistants and other various and
sundry underlings. They either moved up or moved
on, so why waste the energy until you had to? Most
didn’t survive one regime, let alone straddle two.
Luckily, I had a damn good agent and an ironclad
contract, so I knew my job was safe.

Wolf, on the other hand, had no seniority, and as a
blogger, he wasn’t even in the union. I mean, he
wasn’t a “television artist,” per se; he was just a
kid at a computer. He wasn’t even really a
newsperson. He could just as easily have been
posting recipes, or pictures of his cat, for all you
knew. He served at the pleasure of Con Connolly—
for as long as Connolly lasted—and somehow, he
was bringing Con inordinate, inexplicable pleasure,
from the looks of it.

Maybe it was that damn name of his, or all that
hair, or the distinction of being our first blogger,
but Wolf stuck in my craw far more than most,
certainly much more than he should have.

One afternoon, while I was editing my interview
with the archbishop about the latest sex abuse
charges, I sensed the kid hovering. I actually felt
some of his sideburn hairs penetrate my personal
space. I wheeled around to find him clutching a
printout.

“What!” I admit it was more of an accusation than a
question.

He told me he was posting links to resources for
victims, and also wanted to show me the timeline
he’d prepared. I guess I didn’t appreciate the
interruption.

“Very pretty,” I told him, giving it about a two-
second look. “If you don’t mind, we need to finish
something people will actually see. But thanks for
sharing.”

As he slithered away, my video editor chided me.

“I don’t know why you’re so hard on that kid. He’s
pretty sharp, you know. One of the best writers in
the newsroom.”

“Really? Then why isn’t he writing news? If his
work was worth a damn, they wouldn’t waste it on
Facebook.”

“You should be nice to him. He really looks up to
you. Besides, you never know. The way this
business is going, we could all be working for him
someday.”

“Ha! That’s the day I retire.”

The church abuse piece killed. We entered it for
some major awards.

I didn’t see it coming. Connolly took me out to
lunch one day, about a month before my contract
was up. I assumed he wanted to open negotiations.
It was a dance I’d done every three or four years
with a succession of bosses who always pleaded
poverty, but eventually gave me most of what I
wanted. I mean, the ratings were strong enough,
and you couldn’t stroll three blocks in Manhattan
without seeing my face on the side of a bus. I
would give him a number, he would protest, and in
a few weeks my agent would call me with the good
news.

Except this time, I’d been trying to delay the
meeting as long as possible. At the cleaners one
day, the network anchor had mentioned in passing
that he was mulling retirement, and I passed that
intelligence to my agent, instructing him to move
stealthily to get me elevated to the big chair. I’d
have to stall Con until the deal got done.

Connolly surprised me with a clandestine agenda of
his own. He told me he was making some more
changes. He couldn’t even look me in the eye. It
took a few minutes before it sunk in that one of the
positions he was eliminating was mine. Or rather,
the position would still be there; there’d just be
someone else filling it. Like an idiot, I even asked
him what my new slot would be, if I really wasn’t
going to be anchoring the evening news.

“I’m not sure you get it. We’re not renewing your
contract.”

The medium was changing, he told me. Viewers
want things to be more interactive. Everyone is
second-screening. It’s podcast or perish. Profits
were down and the company was trying to
maximize non-traditional revenue while reducing
labor costs. I was a relic, projecting the wrong
image. Et cetera, et cetera.

I wasn’t the only one. They were really cleaning
house this time. The show would have a whole new
look.

For a moment, I allowed myself to panic. This
would be a stunning blow, and not just financially.
My son had a job at an ad agency but he wasn’t off
the old man’s tit just yet. My youngest was in her
second year at Fordham and it wasn’t cheap. Their
mother had been shacked up with some loser
musician for years now and they were deliberately
not getting married, just to keep my alimony
checks coming. Would I have to give up the
eighteen-year-old Macallan and start buying
Dewar’s at Costco? Cancel the lease on the
Mercedes and take the damn A train? I made more
money in a year than half the newsroom combined,
which probably had a lot to do with why they were
chopping my head off. But this was Manhattan, and
I had grown accustomed to a lifestyle befitting my
stature in the industry.

Then I relaxed. My agent was probably sealing my
network deal right now. If not, there were three
other local stations across the street who would kill
to have me captain their ship. The news was still
the news, whether it was carved into stone tablets
or flashing on a computerized one, and Moses
himself wasn’t better at delivering it than I was. All
the focus groups said so.

It was a few years later, at an industry convention,
that something made me remember Wolf Thomas.
I still hadn’t found a publisher for my memoirs. I
was doing some consulting, and had a commentary
slot on the local cable news channel. My agent
thought I should work this conference, keep myself
visible, remind everyone I was still vital and
involved and not just languishing on the beach.

They’d set up a social media booth, where college
broadcasters were tweeting live from the confab.
Out of nowhere, an image of furry little Wolf
flashed into my brain. It’s funny how you suddenly
think of obscure people at random times. I
wondered what in the world had ever happened to
him. Maybe if he’d had some college experience,
like these kids, he would’ve made it in this
business. I knew that Con had been blown out
himself, just a year after he canned me, and it was
hard to imagine Wolf lasting much longer than that.

In fact, I imagined him kicking around in Brooklyn,
out of work, barely hanging on, sending home to
Rhode Island for rent money, until he latched on at
one of those web startups in Chelsea. That went
belly-up after a year or so, and his social worker
mom, worried sick about her poor Wolfie,
persuaded him to give up on the big bad city, so
he’d gone crawling home to Woonsocket and taken
over his ailing father’s electrician business. He went
into remodeling and his business flourished. Soon,
he was driving all the way to Providence to do
fancy renovations on College Hill. He’d see the
Brown kids going to their engineering classes and
computer labs and think about what might have
been. Eventually, he’d married some squat, French-
Canadian Woonsocket girl, rather hirsute herself,
and they’d whelped a couple of Wolf pups. He’d sit
at the corner bar at night, crushing cans of
Narragansett with his blue collar buddies, dropping
names of all the famous newspeople he’d rubbed
shoulders with during his heady days on West 57th
Street. In his version, he’d helped break important
stories and exposed a corrupt politician or two, and
the plumbers and carpenters would be wowed
when the network news came on the bar TV and
Wolf would nod and say, yup, I knew that guy, we
were wicked good friends.

That convention didn’t yield anything, but a while
later, a gig came up that I was perfect for. The
longtime host of a cable talk show was retiring. It
was five nights a week, a two-hour show, live from
New York. It would give me the national exposure I
had long deserved. I sent in my resume and reel,
and damn if I didn’t land an interview. I was
representing myself by then; my agent hadn’t
really worked out.

I told myself not to get my hopes too high, but
when I came out of the building, I realized how
desperately I wanted that job. This might be my
last chance. People were forgetting my name.
Maybe only once a month now, someone
recognized me at the deli or the drugstore. I was in
a cab and the driver actually asked me, “Hey!
Didn’t you used to be that guy?”

This gig was my shot at getting back in the game.

But it wasn’t meant to be. The executive producer
called a few days later and thanked me for coming
in, but said I hadn’t made the cut. They were going
in a different direction.

I found myself wandering down that block again a
week later and stopped outside the network
headquarters. I gazed up at the giant logo and the
walls of glass like a lovestruck schoolboy pining
over an unrequited crush. I couldn’t help just
standing there, watching people go in and out,
thinking, damn it, that should be me. Everyone was
on deadline, stressed-out, rushing to do something
important. I missed the pressure. I missed the
energy. I missed the juice.

And then I heard it. That name. That ridiculous
name. “Wolf. Wolf Thomas.” The person saying it
had his back to me, and was extending his hand to
an attractive blonde, who was telling him how
much she’d heard about him and how nice it was to
finally meet him. She and another woman were on
their way out of the building, and had run into Wolf
and another guy on their way in.

“Wolf!” I heard myself boom out his name. I don’t
think I’d ever actually said it out loud before that.

He turned to face me. And there he was: a
domesticated, defanged version of the Wolf-child
I’d known years before. The bushy sideburns were
gone. His cheeks seemed thinner. Maybe he’d had
some molars pulled or something, the way Cher
removed a rib to look skinnier. The unibrow had
been waxed or plucked into submission. The unruly
mop of hair was decidedly more ruly. He wasn’t
wearing an electrician’s workshirt; he was in a
smart suit, and not off the rack either. There was a
gleaming gold wedding band on his left hand. He
still had to look up about eight inches to meet my
eyes, but there was a sharpness there, a
confidence I didn’t remember from before, and he
took my outstretched hand with no hesitation and a
firm grip.

We went to a bar off Columbus Circle. He was
Executive Vice President of Programming and
Interactive Media, or something like that. He’d
single-handedly rejuvenated the world’s largest
cable news operation. They were landing all the
young eyeballs everyone else was chasing. The sky
was the limit for Wolf. He’d married a pretty young
TV reporter, and they were hoping to start a family
soon. He made so much money his dad had retired
and spent most of his time fishing off Newport,
though his mom still worked half-time, bless her
heart. We reminisced about the people we’d
worked with. He knew what everyone was up to;
he’d kept pretty close tabs. He’d seen my cable
spots and I could tell he knew I was getting just a
little desperate.

When I called for a second round, he said he really
had to get back to the office. He finally gave in, a
reluctant favor to a guy he’d idolized years before.
I ordered another scotch for me, and a second Jack
and Coke for him.

“Wolf,” I told him, “I know I barely gave you the
time of day back then. There’s no reason in the
world you should help me. But there’s a gig at your
shop I’m perfect for. If there’s anything you can
do…”

I wasn’t really sure how to ask what I was asking,
not of a kid like that. I felt like a fool. Lucky for
me, he was good at this stuff. He cut me off.

“Listen,” he said. “You don’t owe me any apologies.
Are you kidding? I learned so much from you. I
was just a child. So young. I had no idea what I
was doing. I didn’t deserve any more attention
than you gave me.”

Maybe it was the second drink, maybe it was the
rush of finally being treated as an equal by a man
who’d stood on the mountaintop, but Wolf opened
up, telling me about his struggles back then, his
insecurity, how hard he worked to overcome his
lack of pedigree. He had been painfully aware that
he was the only guy in the newsroom without a
degree. That wasn’t all in my head, after all. He
had started taking classes at City College, and as
soon as he could afford it, he had enrolled part-
time at NYU, and after all these years, he was
finally on the verge of getting his BA. You had to
admire his tenacity.

He drained the last watery sip of his third drink.

“But I’m not going to help you get that job,” he said.

All those scotches kept my face from hiding my
disappointment.

“Not because I have anything against you,” he went
on. “You’re just not right for it. I’m really good at
what I do, and if I want to keep doing it, I can’t
make a mistake like that.”

So that was that. This was what I had become. A
mistake, to be avoided. He was where I used to
be, where he had dreamed of being. I had stomped
on his fingers as he tried to crawl up the cliff, so
now there was no way in hell he would reach down
with a helping hand, to let an old man scramble
back up the rocks to the high ground.

“But I have a better idea,” he said.

It turned out, he told me, that while his channel
was dominating the younger demographic and had
cracked the code for integrating on-air news with
its online content, it was lagging in middays. They
were developing a one-hour news magazine for the
early afternoon, a slot dominated by ads for
arthritis medications, hearing aids and reverse
mortgages, because the midday audience was
mostly shut-ins and other older folks. They had hit
upon a concept: an upbeat, but leisurely paced
show focusing on the day’s health and lifestyle
news, with updates on retirement investments and
travel. It would hit all the right buttons for older
viewers, but still have live cut-ins with the latest
headlines and stock market reports. All they were
missing, Wolf said, was the right host. They’d been
looking for someone familiar and comforting,
someone the seniors could feel was one of them.
Someone authoritative but not condescending, who
could bring old school gravitas but also serve as a
bridge to the hip, young, high-energy guy whose
show would follow.

Someone like you.

You had to audition, of course. Go in for a round of
interviews. And then another one. And then do a
demo show. And then endure an interminable wait
while they tested it with focus groups. You hadn’t
had to jump through this many hoops to land a job
since your first live tryout for that idiot news
director in Kankakee, fresh out of J school. But in
the end, you got it. No more bridge loans from the
401k. No more having to persuade your
increasingly skeptical accountant that a new suit
should count as a business deduction. You were
anchoring a live hour on the top-rated cable news
channel. Take that, Con Connolly.

OK, so it’s not 60 Minutes. So you’re stuck in the
ghetto of early afternoon. So your lead story the
other day was about the hidden dangers of hip
replacements. It’s the news, baby, and you’re the
face of it, the voice of it, the man on the billboards
who millions of Americans turn to and trust. Older,
decrepit Americans, yes, but it’s only a matter of
time before there’s a tsunami or something on your
watch and you show the nation what you can really
do. You’ll juggle live elements from the Andaman
Sea and ad-lib flawlessly over unedited footage of
fleeing villagers. You’ll strike just the right tone of
horror and compassion while still bringing
authoritative objectivity. The viewers will be so
moved, and Wolf so impressed by the way you
own
that story, that
you’ll be the one they chopper to
the previously unheard-of tropical island that you’re
suddenly an expert on. You’ll be the one hosting a
live prime time special while the network’s pretty
boy bigfoot anchor stews and steams back in
Manhattan. It’ll be you the critic from the Times
raves about, you who gets the fancy medal and the
gala lunch at Columbia University, you who helps
Wolf
really make a name for himself at last.

You might even be willing to blog about it.


Douglas Sovern is a veteran reporter for CBS Radio in San Francisco with
more than 175 journalism awards to his name. He previously worked at The
New York Times and the Associated Press, and has written articles for The
San Francisco Chronicle. He is the author of TweetHeart, a critically acclaimed
novel written entirely in tweets and distributed live on Twitter. Sovern plays
bass guitar and writes songs for two bands: Eyewitness Blues Band and The
Fallopian Dudes (the musicians’ wives are all gynecologists).
THE BLOGGER WOLF
by Douglas Sovern
EXCERPT
You’d just have to
keep an eye on the
shifty kid in the
corner, fingers flying
on that keyboard,
tweeting and Face-
booking and hacking
and cracking....