Striking Gold All Around

by Nelia Dingcong Bernabe
January 16, 2012
I watched my husband grin from ear to ear as he walked out of Staples Center in Los Angeles on Christmas Day after watching his first ever NBA game. In the land of purple and gold, he fit right in. He was with his people and he looked like he just struck gold.
I was so happy for him that day because I know it’s his ultimate dream to watch his beloved Lakers in the flesh. And to be able to watch them in their home turf – and win – was simply icing on his cake. He came out of Staples Center after the game with a Lakers giveaway scarf that he proudly draped over his neck and a plastic bag filled with Lakers mementoes. He looked like he belonged there with the rest of the throng. Coming from the “Land of the Bulls,” this was a milestone for him as I watched him walk toward me.
“How was it?” I asked.
“It was great!” he said, his voice hoarse. “It was so much fun and our seats were so close. Man, what an experience!”
Before heading off to ESPN Zone across the street, he stopped a few times to take a few more last-minute pictures. As we walked away from the Mecca of his dreams, he showed me some of the pictures that he took as he chatted nonstop. Understandably, the man was beside himself with excitement!
“Oh, by the way,” he tells me. “We saw Rihanna and Chris Brown inside.”
“I know you did,” I told him. “I did, too.”
“You did?” he asked, sounding very surprised. “How?”
It turns out my husband was not the only person who had a story to tell that day. I did, too. And in the bigger scheme of things, I think mine was a bigger and more interesting story than the Lakers beating the Knicks.
While he, our older daughter, her boyfriend, and another friend, went to watch the game, our youngest daughter and I opted to walk around and hang out at Starbucks a few blocks away and get drunk on coffee.
But as the basketball game began to wind down, we headed back to Staples Center and walked around some more. We got around to the back and discovered a group of people hovering around the back entrance. Curious, I walked to where they were and discovered Los Angeles’ finest — the paparazzi! Well, well, well, what do you know!
Thinking that I struck gold myself, I started talking to one in particular as the reporter in me kicked into high gear. What do I have to lose, I thought. If he answers my questions, great. If not and he tells me to “f” off, then I’ll quietly walk away. Not a big deal!
“Hi,” I said to him. “Who were you taking pictures of a while ago?” I asked hoping my icebreaker works.
“Oh, this guy?” he asked, as he started showing me some of the pictures that he took as he pressed the backward button of his camera. “This guy?” he showed me one picture in particular. “Yeah, that guy,” I said. “Oh, he is the lead singer of Red Hot Chili Peppers.” Taking his answer as my green light, my barrage of life-as-a-paparazzo questions followed soon after that.
It turns out my new friend’s name is Chris and he’s been a paparazzo for quite some time now. He wasn’t always one. He started out as a reporter for eight years, he said, but life as a paparazzo meant more money so he stuck with it.
For a few minutes, I hung around with him and his fellow paparazzi while he shared more details about his life as a paparazzo. I asked him if he and his friends are there because of Rihanna and Chris Brown. He told me that a good picture of the two of them together would rake in some nice cash because of the rumor mill churning that they’re a couple again.
While we were waiting, he pointed to Rihanna’s bodyguard who was hovering by us. He was one serious looking dude who is quite ordinary in stature – not the bouncer-type – which surprised me a little bit. He also pointed to the few black SUVs parked just a few feet away from the back entrance and from where we were. He told me that one of those is the “getaway” car.
A few minutes later, I could tell things were about to get really interesting. I saw the bodyguard pace back and forth as my paparazzo friend and the other paparazzi moved closer to the back entrance. A slew of Staples Center security guards appeared. A short while later, the paparazzi were told by one of the security guards to stay behind the barricades.
My instinct told me to get out of harm’s way as I sensed it was only a matter of minutes when all hell will break loose. And sure enough, the “mayhem” happened in no time. In seconds, all the paparazzi sprinted as Rihanna and Chris Brown appeared and briskly maneuvered the short distance between Staples Center and their SUV. Hand in hand, Chris Brown, his face covered with a hoodie, and Rihanna, in a stunning black ensemble and killer black heels, were surrounded by an onslaught of flash bulbs and their names being called from all directions.
Just as fast as it happened, the black SUV pulled away leaving the paparazzi to huddle and review the pictures that they took. I found my friend Chris and asked him if he was able to take any moneymaking shot. He showed me a few pictures that he thought might sell and imparted a few more words of wisdom before saying goodbye. Well, not before I got his email address. You never know when it’ll come in handy!
Watching the paparazzi in action and pondering on the nuggets of insight that my new friend Chris shared with me, my perspective on the issue of privacy versus the paparazzi has given me a deeper and sympathetic understanding of how complicated but symbiotic their relationship to their subject is. I saw firsthand how easy it is for them to sometimes defy the limitation and obscure the line.
But more importantly, I thought of Rihanna and Chris Brown and how four years made her forget what happened in February 2009. I’m not surprised though especially after I watched her recent interview with Oprah.
It’s easy for an outsider to dispense judgement and ask, “how could she go back to him after he beat her up so badly?” Unless one walks in her shoes or the shoes of any woman who suffered domestic abuse, the mind of the victim is not as cut and dry as everyone would hope it would be. Not to defend Rihanna and Chris Brown’s incomprehensible act, I can only surmise that she’s giving him a second chance after he sought help and underwent “rehab.”
My heart goes out to her. She must feel like she’s caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, all eyes are on her and her next move, and the paparazzi are not helping. On the other hand, she wants to follow her heart. My wish for her is simple. In the end, it’s her happiness that counts the most but she has to realize that the cycle of abuse does not end with her. Sometimes walking away, hard as that is, is the best thing to do.
Take it from me. I was once in her shoes. Like her, I was all about second chances but I realized that walking away was the best thing I can do for myself. Luckily I struck gold the second time around and did I mention he is a huge Lakers fan?

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