Off the Press
March 8, 2011
By Tim Pfarr
As a journalist, I’ve covered fatal accidents, murder plots and bizarre incidents involving women jumping naked through living room windows. These stories always catch me off guard, but a room of 11-year-olds recently caught me more off-guard than ever.
As part of Newcastle Elementary School’s literacy celebration the first week of March, I volunteered to read aloud to the school’s fifth-graders. After reading, I talked about my job and answered questions from the students.
“Do you do more interviews on the phone or in person?” one girl asked.
Very good question, I told her. Definitely on the phone.
“Have you ever interviewed Tim Lincecum?”
Not yet, but I’d love to, I said.
Then, the weird questions came.
“Who do you like more, the New York Knicks or the Orlando Magic? Who do you like more, the Orlando Magic or the Miami Heat? Do you like Duke University?”
“Knicks? Magic? Yes?” I said.
My fragmented answers drew yells of excitement from various boys in the room.
“Do you like the Seahawks?” another asked.
That’s an easy one, I thought.
“Yes, but only until Mike Holmgren ruined the team,” I said.
One child then politely told me that in the room with us was the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator’s son.
“But I like them again now!” I said, hoping they didn’t see through my weak excuse for a save.
I needed to stay on their good sides, because they greatly outnumbered me and could eat me alive if they wanted to. In a fifth-grade classroom, nobody can hear you scream.
Then came the questions I should have expected, and thus should have thought about beforehand.
“What’s the weirdest story you’ve ever written?” one boy asked.
My mind instantly rushed through the oddest collection of stories to come across my desk. Perhaps the shoplifter who attacked a grocery store employee and had to be restrained with belts until the police arrived? Maybe the 70-year-old man who was afraid the 40-year-old woman he met on craigslist was lurking on his property?
But my mind kept coming back to the high profile case of Michael Mockovak — the Newcastle eye surgeon who was found guilty of soliciting murder.
With the teacher’s permission, I gave the quick rundown on the case, eliciting oohs and ahhs from the wide-eyed fifth-graders. This led to many follow-up questions about the case, worrying me that I’d receive angry phone calls from parents the next day.
“What’s the best story you’ve ever written?” a boy asked.
Best? That’s hard to say, I said. However, my favorite to write was the recent “Dark Side of Issaquah” story I wrote for the February 2011 Winter Living magazine. The story detailed the sinister history of the city, including murders and violent accidents.
I quickly ran the story through my head, trying to find a single appropriate example to share. Hate crimes. Lynch mobs. The KKK. Ted Bundy. Exploding strip clubs. No, these stories should wait until at least sixth grade, I thought.
I settled with the story of two miners who attempted to thaw 50 pounds of dynamite with headlamps and accidentally set off all of it.
More ahhs of excitement followed, and a dozen hands shot up across the room with follow-up questions. Again, I had regrets about what had just come out of my mouth.
That afternoon I learned something about children, the questions they ask and the answers that are appropriate for them.
And hopefully the children learned a thing or two about dynamite.