Written By: Nathan Hill
The picture comes into focus just as the man points the camera at his own feet. He says in an annoyed and exasperated way, “Is this even on? How can you tell?” And then a woman’s voice, calmer, melodious, peaceful, says, “You look at the back. What does it say on the back?” And her husband or boyfriend or whoever he is, who cannot manage to keep the picture steady, says “Would you just help me?” in this aggressive and accusatory way that’s meant to communicate that whatever problem he’s having with the camera is her responsibility. The video through all this is a jumpy, dizzying close-up of the man’s shoes. Puffy white high-tops. Extraordinarily white and new-looking. He seems to be standing on top of a picnic table. “What does it say on the back?” the woman asks.
“Where? What back?”
“On the screen.”
“I know that,” he says. “Where on the screen?”
“In the bottom right corner,” she says with perfect equanimity. “What does it say?”
“It says R.”
“That means it’s recording. It’s on.”
“That’s stupid,” he says. “Why doesn’t it say On?”
The picture bobs between his shoes and what seems to be a crowd of people in the middle distance.
“There he is! Lookit! That’s him! There he is!” the man shouts. He points the camera forward and, when he finally manages to keep it from trembling, Sheldon Packer comes into view, about thirty yards away and surrounded by campaign staffers and security. There is a light crowd. People in the foreground becoming suddenly aware that something’s happening, that someone famous is nearby. The cameraman is now yelling: “Governor! Governor! Governor! Governor! Governor! Governor! Governor!” The picture begins shaking again, presumably from this guy waving or jumping or both.
“How do you make this thing zoom?” he says.
“You press Zoom,” says the woman. Then the picture begins to zoom, which causes even more focus-and exposure-related problems. In fact, the only reason any of this footage is at all usable on television is because the man eventually hands the camera to his partner, saying, “Here, would you just take this?” He rushes over to shake the governor’s hand.
Later all of this blather will be edited out, so the clip that will be repeated hundreds of times on television will begin here, paused, as the news puts a small red circle around a woman sitting on a park bench on the right side of the screen. “This appears to be the perpetrator,” the anchor says. She’s white-haired, probably sixty, sitting there reading a book, in no way unusual, like an extra in a movie, filling out the frame. She’s wearing a light blue shirt over a tank top, black leggings that look elastic and yoga-inspired. Her short hair is tousled and falls in little spikes over her forehead. She seems to have an athletic compactness to her—thin but also muscular. She notices what’s happening around her. She sees the governor approaching and closes her book and stands and watches. She’s on the edge of the frame seemingly trying to decide what to do. Her hands are on her hips. She’s biting the inside of her mouth. It looks like she’s weighing her options. The question this pose seems to ask is: Should I?
Then she starts walking, quickly, toward the governor. She has discarded her book on the bench and she’s walking, taking these large strides like suburbanites doing laps around the mall. Except her arms stay steady at her sides, her fists in balls. She gets close enough to the governor that she’s within throwing range and, at that moment, fortuitously, the crowd parts, so from the vantage point of our videographer there’s a clear line of sight from this woman to the governor. The woman stands on a gravel path and looks down and bends at her knees and scoops up a handful of rocks. Thus armed, she yells—and this is very clear, as the wind dies down exactly at this moment and the crowd seems to hush, almost as if everyone knows this event is going to happen and so they all do what they can to successfully capture it—she yells, “You pig!” And then she throws the rocks.
At first there’s just confusion as people turn to see where the yelling is coming from, or they wince and flinch away as they are struck by the stones. And then the woman scoops another handful of rocks and throws, and scoops and throws and scoops and throws, like a child in an all-out snowball war. The small crowd ducks for cover and mothers protect their children’s faces and the governor doubles over, his hand covering his right eye. And the woman keeps throwing rocks until the governor’s security guards reach her and tackle her. Or not really tackle but rather embrace her and slump to the ground, like exhausted wrestlers.
And that’s it. The whole video lasts less than a minute. After the broadcast, certain facts become available in short order. The woman’s name is released: Faye Andresen-Anderson, which everyone on the news mistakenly pronounces as “Anderson-Anderson,” making parallels to other infamous double names, notably Sirhan Sirhan. It is quickly discovered that she is a teaching assistant at a local elementary school, which gives ammunition to certain pundits who say it shows how the radical liberal agenda has taken over public education. The headline is updated to TEACHER ATTACKS GOV. PACKER! for about an hour until someone manages to find an image that allegedly shows the woman attending a protest in 1968. In the photo, she sits in a field with thousands of others, a great indistinct mass of people, many of them holding homemade banners or signs, one of them waving high an American flag. The woman looks at the photographer drowsily from behind her big round eyeglasses. She leans to her right like she might be resting against someone who’s barely out of frame—all that’s visible is a shoulder. To her left, a woman with long hair and an army jacket stares menacingly at the camera over silver aviator shades.
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