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Pundit Fic: "The Air And Feeling Free"

Rating: G/FRC
Warnings: None.
Genres: Gen, Friendship, Angst
Characters/Pairings: Keith Olbermann, Mama Olbermann, Dan Patrick, Rachel Maddow, Evie.
Disclaimer: All copyrighted materials referred to in this work are the property of their respective owners. References to real persons, places, or events are made in a fictional context, and are not intended to be libelous, defamatory, or in any way factual.

Notes: a) Originally written for  [personal profile] yank_abroad , for Third Monday 2011.
b) All apologies to the Chairman of the Board. And this got slightly more angsty than I intended, but that’s SOP for me.
c) Beta'ed by the lovely and talented [personal profile] amichevole .

Prompt and Summary: "Keith Olbermann's New York"

The howdy and the handshake,
The air and feeling free,
And the right to speak my mind out,
That's America to me.

(Keith loves taking pictures. Loves it. It's never been exclusive to him, loving writing and loving photography. Even if he's pretty sure he's a whole lot better at the former. Both processes deal with the nature and the beauty of things, or at least their surface. What things should be, before you get closer and see the flaws, the imperfections.
He loves sharing pictures, too: some might call it yet another sign of his not-so-latent exhibitionist streak, and he wouldn't argue with them.
But he can't help finding it a little ironic that he ended up calling that Twitter picture series "Keith Olbermann's New York". And no one will ever know why. All the pictures of buildings, of snowstorms and streets; all those empirically empty pictures.
Because his New York is far from empty.
It's filled, with people. His people. )

I. Yankee Stadium (Mom)

Mustard. It always brings her back to him. Even though he was always a ketchup person, and Mom mocked him gently for it.

"And don't forget the mustard, pumpkin."
"If I always remind you, you'll never forget."
"You promised not to call me pumpkin in public any more."
"Oh, Keith, Yankee Stadium isn't public. It's one giant social experiment, bounded by brick and mortar. And we're all the lab rats. Some people more than others."
"You know they can hear you, right?"
"Okay, then."

There were some women of that era who might have been intimidated walking the several blocks from the train to Yankee Stadium. Not Mom. Like the proudest mother duck, with him and Jenna in tow, she would stride down the concrete. Greeting some with a smile, leveling her death glare at others.

It's why he's always tried (even if he hasn't always succeeded) to remind people of that significant proportion of sports fans who are women. No one with that much passion, that much knowledge, that much commitment, should ever be made to feel out of place.

She taught him that. It's why when he pictures that particular stretch of Bronx sidewalk, he can never do it without her on it. It's painful, this association, but he wouldn't give it up for anything.

II. The East Village (Dan)

New York City is the place where everyone goes to begin, the biggest theoretical jumping off point in the world. But it's filled with endings, too. Keith knows that more than most.

Publicly, he always tells the end of him and Dan as the "soccer scores in Stuttgart" story. The shortest on-air goodbye on record. It's a good story; minimum of sap, a little bit of humor, and some cynical life lessons thrown in.

But it's not *the* story. It wasn't the end of their friendship, certainly; Dan Patrick is too persistent and affectionate and stubborn a man to let that happen. And the on-air evidence only tells part of the story of them. The other bit is unwritten, unrecorded. Etched into a slick, dirty stretch of pavement near East 11th Street.

Keith can't remember the group they were seeing now (a mediocre rock band). Or how much they'd had to drink (just shy of a little too much). Or even why they were walking those 4 blocks in the first place (one or both of them being a stubborn ass).

He does remember that it was Dan who said it, though.

"I'm going to miss it."

Dan had stopped, and it had taken Keith several seconds to play catch-up.

"Miss what?"

"Us, I should have said. Us, not it."

"What the hell?"

"You know what I'm talking about. Stop pretending you don't."

"You mean the meetings."

"No, I mean the blow-ups. You just can't leave any bridges unburnt, can you?"

"Dan. You see what's happening there, as well as I do. And you expect me not to speak my mind about it?"

Dan sighed, and looked over somewhere, focusing on one of the glaring neon signs.

"No, I guess not. I'm just going to miss it, is all." He looked back, and any anger Keith might have been feeling was dissolved. Now it was his turn to look away, down at his feet.

"Me too, Dan. Me too."

And by some compact unspoken, they started walking again. In silence.

Far away from the lights and the makeup and the plywood sets, that's where it happened. But that story's for Keith and Dan alone.

III. American Museum of Natural History (Rachel)

Everyone might think Keith's fond of endings; he's engendered plenty of them. But he likes beginnings better, really. Even though they don't last nearly long enough. He tries, really he does. And he savors each moment.

Fortunately, with Rachel Maddow, it's incredibly easy.

"Keith. KEITH. You seriously have got to come see this dinosaur skeleton right now. Get a move-on."

She's calling to him from the next exhibition room, because for some reason Keith is standing in the middle of the American Museum of Natural History. He's not sure when either of them found the time, or how exactly she roped him into this expedition. He may remember some vague promise about "showing her the nerd New York"; he pleads the Fifth on that one. But right now, he really doesn't care.

People accuse Keith of being anything but guarded. And in some ways, that's true. He'll speak his mind, tell people what he thinks. But speaking out is the easy part; letting people in, that's harder. Those people who have gotten that far, whom he's let in that far, tend to be few and far between.

But with Rachel, it's like he never had a chance to resist. It's infectious, this geeky joy she takes in new things, new places, new people. Rachel is Keith's own idea of the girl-next-door, and anyone who thinks otherwise has really boring neighbors.

And she's really the only person (only *adult* person) he knows who could possibly be leading him towards a T-Rex skeleton by one hand, with the museum guidebook in her other.

By the end of the day, his feet and legs are exhausted. Rachel is apologetic, rewarding his persistence with gelato from a tiny place down the street. Keith likes gelato, so he doesn't tell her that he considers the exhaustion totally worth it.

Keith likes beginnings, and he tried to make the one with Rachel last as long as possible.

IV. Central Park (Evie)

I can't win. Really, I just can't win.

When Keith was a kid, he always found grown-ups easier to talk to then kids his own age. Now, he finds sometimes that children are significantly less exhausting companions than adults. Especially emotionally.

It's a paradox, really. But one that makes uncle-hood incredibly rewarding. Watching Jenna's kids grow up, and finding them to be genuinely interesting friends and companions, seems to be one of the unexpected joys of his middle age.

"Uncle Keef? I need your help. Tell me if I did it right?"

Keith's jolted out of his reverie by Evie's serious face and furrowed brow. Before spring comes, and before the building blocks melt away, it is time for snow-forts.

He promised her well before the seeming month of blizzards arrived, and he's kept his promise. Certainly, he didn't expect to have quite so much time in which to do it. But that's a whole other story.

"I think it looks great, Evie. But I thought you wanted towers on it?"

The little girl looks down, and crosses her arms in a frustrated pose.

"I did, but they kept falling down. I can't figure out what I'm doing wrong."

"Well, why don't you show me, and then I can help?"

Together, uncle and niece industriously set themselves to the complex issues of snow architecture.

There's an ache in Keith's bones, that broadcasting wanderlust nagging at the back of his brain. Time off hasn't always been his strong suit. But there will be time enough for work later. Right now, he is determined to be the best Uncle Keef possible. And Keith Olbermann is nothing if not stubbornly determined.

(Maybe it's why he's always reacted so strongly to those people who use New York City as an empty facade. Who think the city is fabulous, but would love to scrub its people from the landscape, scrub away those residents who don't fit their narrow-minded, bigoted view of American. Who don't realize that New York City without New Yorkers is just a shell. A collection of gorgeous, beautiful, and ultimately cold buildings.

Keith sees it. His pictures, whether there's specific people in them or not, are never really empty. Because New York is never empty, but filled with this buzzing, humming, mass. Flawed, maybe; contradictory, yes. But indispensable, like the blood and marrow, and the vital air that the city breathes.

Every single place he goes: filled with people. Especially those whom he is lucky enough to consider 'his'; his family, his coworkers, his friends, his friends that he considers family.

That, truly, is Keith Olbermann's New York.)

The church, the school, the clubhouse,
The million lights I see,
But especially the people;
That's America to me.

-The House I Live In, Frank Sinatra



emma hamilton
i make up for it with cunning and guile

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