Pretensions: But for the Grace of God


A bag person has ignited an unprecedented furor by disclosing that she spent two weeks last summer masquerading as a TV news anchorwoman.

Gert Cook, who has lived on the streets of New York for the past seven years, recently published an article in a woman's magazine recounting her experiences as a TV anchorwoman for a New York City television station last August. She says that the project grew out of an interview with the Home section of the New York Times in which she was asked to discuss furnishing "alternative spaces." In the course of the interview, Cook said how very lucky bag people were to live such carefree lives and wondered if perhaps she and other homeless people didn't have a tendency to take things for granted.

"Think of all those poor unfortunates out there who don't have it as lucky as we do," Cook said at the time. "Think of the mujaheddin. Think of the starving children in India. Think of all those TV anchorpersons."

Shortly thereafter, a woman's magazine asked Cook if she would be willing to shed her grimy rags and slovenly hairstyle and masquerade as a TV anchorwoman. Though convinced that she would be pilloried by many of her peers for doing so, she finally agreed.

Arrangements were then made for Cook to appear twice nightly for a fortnight on an evening news program in New York. Every effort was made to ensure that Cook's experiences would match those of the average TV anchorperson and that not an ounce of the humiliation such unfortunates routinely experience would be spared.

"I knew it would be bad, but I really had no idea how demeaning an anchorperson's life could be," says Cook. "Having to wear a frilly bow. Having to rehearse chuckles with a stand-up meteorologist. Having to feign knowledge of tennis players named Slobodan. And having to open the program every night with the words, 'Eleven children were burned to a crisp in a crowded Brooklyn apartment while their drunken parents were out playing poker last night, but that's not the big story. The big story is: Woody Allen's shooting on 72nd Street, where our own Cindy Barbish caught up with him.'"

Cook also mentions some of the occupational hazards of the profession, such as the Washington, D.C., anchorwoman who sued the station after being forced to interview Madonna, Princess Di, and Dr. Joyce Brothers back to back.

Since the article appeared, Cook has been lambasted by bagpeople from all ends of the political spectrum. The message has been uniformly derisive: Cook is a grandstander, a media pawn, a phony, a consultant.

It is known, for example, that Cook has already been approached by ranking members of both the Democratic and Republican parties who are considering registration drives to get out the oft-forgotten bagperson vote. Cook has also received overtures from a number of fashion designers interested in developing a line of glitzy but proletarian evening apparel evoking the Euro-trashbag look.

At least one major cigarette company is considering a new niche product targeting bagperson smokers who favor a low-tar, menthol cigarette. Last but not least, Cook has been offered a job as a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report. To date, she has not accepted any offers, announcing plans to return to full-time bagladyship imminently.

Yet Cook refuses to apologize for her masquerade, and has thus far refused to leave her dwelling in a sparsely furnished luggage locker in Grand Central Station, despite threats on her life.

"Bag people tend to have blinders on, never worrying about the other guy," says the irrepressible ne'er-do-well. "But my two weeks as a TV anchorperson have given me a whole new perspective on life. I realize now that, but for the grace of God, any one of us could wake up one morning and find ourselves behind a TV camera anchoring a local news program. We're all standing right there on the edge of the abyss."

Joe Queenan is a free-lance writer in Tarrytown, New York. His column will appear monthly.