Monday, December 31, 2007


Time: September 11, 1987
Place: Atlanta, GA

On September 11, 1987, CBS Sports was covering the U.S. Tennis Open. The Atlanta CBS affiliate exercised their option not to carry the event and stayed with their regular programming. This gave the small TV station I worked for the opportunity to show the tennis matches instead.

Everything was going fine until that afternoon. The match between Steffi Graf and Lori McNeil was taking longer than expected. CBS Sports was in danger of running long which would cause the Evening News with Dan Rather to start later than its six-thirty start time.

Most people remember this incident as the famous six minutes of dead air caused by Dan Rather when he stormed off the set when he learned that his newscast was being pushed back because of a tennis match and couldn’t be found when the Evening News began at six-thirty.

I had my own problems back at my small TV station. I was the on-air switcher during and after the tennis match. I don’t know how CBS Sports signed off with their affiliates, but where I was sitting, their exit was not at a clean time and I had to figure out in a hurry where my station’s regular scheduled programming should be.

Not that CBS Sports didn’t warn me that they were leaving air. During the tennis match, the announcers said, “We are running late, so we will have to leave before the match has ended. We’re sorry, but we will leave before the match ends.” They repeated this information about every thirty seconds before they did indeed leave before the match was over. I’m not sure if they were talking about the Steffi Graf- Lori McNeil match because I was too busy slamming tapes into machines and cueing them up for air.

As I rolled tape and tried to act like an octopus as I struggled to keep my station from having any dead air, the phones began to ring. My bosses were extremely stupid when it came to the phones. They insisted that the on-air switchers answer them. The last person who should be allowed to deal with irate viewers is the guy trying to keep the station from going to black.

But I followed orders and answered the phone. Most of them yelled, “Where the hell did the tennis match go?”

“Call CBS,” I said, “and by the way, this is not CBS.”

One very nasty woman would not be placated.

“I invited a group of friends over to watch this particular match and you’ve ruined our party. Why the hell did YOU switch off the match before it ended?” she said.

“Lady, the announcers explained why they left early. This was a CBS Sports decision. We just picked up the feed from them. You’ll have to ask them why they did it,” I explained.

“But it was on your station so YOU are responsible and I want an answer!”

I had the phone in the crook of my neck, I was trying to concentrate on getting the right commercials cued up, and I was adjusting the air schedule on the fly. When I almost missed airing a commercial, I finally had it with nasty woman.

“Look lady,” I said, “I can’t talk to you about this anymore. I’m the on-air switcher and you’re about to cause me to fuck up.”

There I had said it. The dreaded “fuck” word. To a viewer. The worst thing I could have said. And the nasty lady caught it immediately.

“Ohhh, I heard what you said,” she said, “I want your name and your supervisor’s name. You are in so much trouble.”

Sometimes, adversity gives birth to the most bizarre inspirations.

“Of course, ma’am,” I said in my best calm professional voice, “my name is Arnold Ziffel. That’s Z-I-F-F-E-L with two Fs. Did you get that or do you need to get something to write with?”

“Hold on,” she said, “I’m writing it down now.”

“You ready for my supervisor’s name?”

“Yes, go ahead.”

“Okay. His name is Oliver…Wendell…Douglas. Do you need me to spell that?”

“No, I got it.”

“He’s not in now, but he will be here at eight tomorrow morning.”

I resisted the urge to sing, “Green Acres is the place to be. Faarmmm livin’ is the live for me” before I hung up.

I don’t know if the nasty lady called the next day. I just know there was a lot of pigheadedness that day. Dan Rather and the nasty lady for sure. And me, I only impersonated a pig.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Starstruck (J's anecdote)

J provided this anecdote and I provided the illustration.

On a weekend afternoon about, ahem, 20 years ago, my then-best friend and I were sitting in a bar in Malibu (by the beach, sunny day, upstairs deck, you got the picture) having, I believe Bloody Marys and brunch. Both of us were in "the biz" at the time, in our twenties and high-gloss and full of ourselves and probably with a bit of the leftover runny nose from Saturday night,or Friday night, or Thursday night...

So, we're yukking it up, and I notice a pre-teen kid - I remember this child being a boy but could be mis-remembering - giving me the eye. He's sitting with his parents, and he keeps looking at me surreptitiously. 

I wonder what he wants, but I put it out of my mind. Until I'm startled by this child, at my elbow, holding out a ballpoint pen and a paper table napkin.

"Uh, can I have...uh, your, your ... autograph?"

The child is fidgety with delight and nerves.

I say nothing. My friend gets busy drinking, so I can't get a clue on how to behave from her. 

What to do? Who does this kid imagine I am? SHould I ask him, and bust his bubble, or play along?

"Sure!" I said, big Malibu smile.

And I signed his napkin with the scrawliest, illegible-est signature I could muster. (And my handwriting is already atrocious.)

The kid hustled back to his parents, grinning and thrilled.

And to this day, I feel terrible. I made the wrong choice. Whoever that kid was, he's now an adult who either thinks he got the autograph of (whom?) or realizes he was taken advantage of. And I lied, and let him think I was whomever he thought I was. And I will never KNOW who he thought I was.

I just hope he knows I was trying to do right, and not upset his moment.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Book of Rules

Year 1991
Place Atlanta, GA

I was at Ted’s house when the time came for his four-year-old daughter, Tracy, to go to bed. But Tracy wasn’t ready to leave just yet.

“Do I have ta go to bed?” Tracy whined. “Can’t I stay up longer, puh-leze!”

“If it were up to me, I’d let you stay up all night,” Ted said, “but according to the Book of Rules, it’s time for little girls to go to bed.”

“Are you sure?” Tracy asked.

“If you’d like, I could get the Book of Rules out and show you,” Ted said.

“But I don’t want to go to bed,” Tracy said, with quickly vanishing conviction.

Without getting out of his chair, Ted leaned over and picked up the phone book from the end table next to him. He flipped through the pages as if he were looking for something specific, found a page that looked good to him, and pointed to one of the listings.

“See,” Ted said, “it says right here that at nine o’clock, little girls must be in bed. I wish I could let you stay up longer, but my hands are tied.”

Tracy stared where Ted held his finger on the page, probably hoping to find a loophole, but lacking the ability to read handicapped her.

“Okay, Tracy,” her mother said, “you’ve seen for yourself that it’s time for bed. Let’s go.”

Tracy sighed, knowing she’d been defeated by the all-powerful Book of Rules. She took her mother’s hand and allowed herself to be led to her bedroom.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sketches part two

More sketches done on a small notebook while I was out and about.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

French Bulldog

Year 2006
Place Paris, France

My wife and I were in a café in the Latin Quarter. We were about done with breakfast when we noticed a bulldog standing at the door to the café. The bulldog fidgeted while staring inside with his baleful eyes.

“He really wants to get inside,” I said. “If the people coming in aren’t careful, he’ll slip right in.”

Sure enough, when the next customer opened the door, the bulldog pushed right past him and ran to the back of the restaurant.

Nobody reacted. The lone waiter didn’t budge when the bulldog ran past him. There were no shouts in the kitchen about a dog running loose.

After we paid our bill, we got up to leave and that’s when we saw the bulldog. He was sitting at table in the back as if he were waiting to be served.

Since my wife could speak French, and I didn’t, she asked the waiter about the dog.

“He works here,” the waiter said.

I had to remind myself that in France, where the people adore their pets even more than Americans do and don’t get all freaked out about a dog in a restaurant, seeing a bulldog working in a café was not that unusual.

My wife and I were about to walk away from the café when I decided to take a photo of the bulldog. We went to the window he was sitting next to and tried to get his attention so that he would be facing us when I took the photo. The waiter saw what we were trying to do. He snapped his fingers at the dog and pointed at us. The bulldog refused to accommodate us. I guess he didn’t feel like going to work until he’d had his breakfast.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sketches part one

I try to carry a small sketch pad whenever I travel or go out to dinner. I mainly draw people's faces. I have a few rules for how I choose whom to draw. They have to sitting relatively still. They have to be just far away enough so that they don't notice I'm drawing them. They have to have an interesting face. Since I don't wear bifocals, I can see the person I'm drawing, but the sketch pad is blurry. As a result, I don't know what the drawing really looks like until I'm done. Then I can take off my glasses to see the result.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sorry, wrong number

Year 1976
Place Chattanooga, TN

I was at my parents' house during winter break from college. I was in my little brother’s bedroom, reading a comic book, when his phone rang. Back in the day, when I shared this bedroom with my little brother, there was no phone, much less one with a separate phone number. My first thought was, hey how did my little brother get his own phone? I decided to be cool about it, answer the phone, and take a message.

I picked up the phone and said hello. I was expecting to hear one of my little brother’s friends, but instead heard a woman’s voice I didn’t recognize.

“Steve,” she said, “we have to talk. I can’t believe the shit you’ve been trying to pull.”

“Uh, excuse me,” I said, “but I think you have the wrong number.”

“Damn it, Steve. Don’t play games with me,” she said. “I know it’s you. I recognize your voice.”

“No, really,” I said, “I’m not Steve.”

“Steve, this isn’t funny. We need to talk, so stop fucking around.”

“Look, I can tell you’re very upset and I don’t want to make the situation any worse for you, but I’m not Steve. You dialed the wrong number.”

There was a moment of silence. I thought she might just hang up, but she didn’t.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” she said. “A total stranger. But listen, you sound like a nice person. Can I talk to you about what I’m going through?”

“Sure,” I said.

By now, I wanted to know what Steve did and this is what she told me. Her name was Susan. She was engaged to Steve. About three weeks before the wedding day, a very cute and very pregnant girl showed up at Susan’s door. The girl said she was seventeen years old and that Steve was responsible for her bulging stomach. Susan called the girl a liar and slammed the door in her face. She called Steve to verify that he was in no way involved with the pregnant teenager.

“Don’t listen to that little bitch,” Steve said. “So what if she’s pregnant? That’s her problem, not mine.”

“Did you have sex with that girl?” Susan asked.

“Yeah, so what?” Steve said. “What’s the big deal? She doesn’t mean anything to me. I love you, that’s why I’m marrying you.”

“No you’re not,” Susan said. “The marriage is off.”

Susan ran to her mother for comfort.

“I can’t believe I never realized what a terrible person Steve is,” Susan said. “And I can’t believe he actually thinks I would still marry him after what he’s done.”

“You can’t do that,” Susan’s mother said. “The wedding is too close. It’s too late to call it off now.”

“But, mom! What about the girl Steve got pregnant?”

“That doesn’t matter. What matters is the invitations have been sent and it’s too late to cancel the caterer.”

“Mom! Steve is a jerk and I can’t believe you’re taking his side.”

Susan’s mother wasn’t the only one who took Steve’s side. Susan’s family, Steve’s family, and all of Susan’s friends took Steve’s side. Abuse was heaped on Susan from all sides for ruining the wonderful wedding day everybody was looking forward to enjoying.

“That sucks,” I said when Susan finished her sad tale.

“Do you think I did the right thing?” she asked.

“Totally,” I said. “If Steve’s willing to screw this girl over, think what he might do to you. The guy can’t be trusted.”

“You’re so nice to listen to me,” Susan said. “I know this is a strange thing to ask, but would you like to get together?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess we could.”

“I really need this. You understand what I mean, don’t you? When we see each other, you understand what I need from you, right?”

The situation was starting to get really weird. Unless I was completely misreading her signals, Susan was asking me to do her as revenge on Steve. It was a crazy, screwed-up thing to even consider. It was the kind of thing that only happened in cheap sleazy novels. I had no idea who Susan was. I didn’t even know her phone number. I would have to be insane to see her, so of course, there was only one thing I could say.

“Where would you like to meet?” I asked.

We settled on Eastgate Mall by Loveman’s Department Store.

“How will I know you?” I asked.

“I have long blonde hair and I’ll be wearing a yellow top,” Susan said. “I love the color yellow.”

“You’ll certainly stand out,” I said.

“And when I see you,” she said, “I might not be able to contain myself. You do understand what I mean, don’t you?”

I couldn’t bring myself to say, you want to get naked and screw like bunnies, because one, I wasn’t comfortable saying it out loud to a total stranger, and two, I was afraid that despite all the obvious hints, I could still have read her wrong and all she wanted was a big hug and a shoulder to cry on.

“Yes,” I said. “I understand exactly what you mean.”

At our agreed time, I went to Eastgate Mall and found a bench in front of Loveman’s Department Store. I was watching the crowd trying to pick out a blonde in yellow when an old girlfriend showed up and sat down beside me. I hadn’t seen the old girlfriend since I started college. We had a nice time catching up with each other.

“What brings you out to the mall today?” my old girlfriend asked. “Doing a little holiday shopping?”

I told her the whole story, starting with my little brother’s phone ringing up to me sitting outside Loveman’s, waiting for Susan to show up.

“Are you really going to go through with meeting this strange chick?” my old girlfriend asked.

“Now that I think about it,” I said, “I don’t know why I agreed to meet her.”

“Wild sex with a woman you’ll probably never see again?” she suggested.

“There was that,” I said, “but come on. This is nuts.”

“What are you going to do now?”

“I think I’ll go home.”

We said our goodbyes and went in opposite directions. As I was leaving, I passed an attractive woman with long blonde hair wearing a yellow t-shirt. She looked really pissed off. I kept walking. I didn’t want to make her day any worse than it already was. For the rest of the time I was at home, my little brother’s phone didn’t ring again.