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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I Used to Want to Be Sam Donaldson

I sometimes tell myself that, if I had more time, more talent, more motivation, more money, more... chutzpah, I could probably take a year or two off from work and pen one of those awkward, painfully funny memoirs of what it was like to grow up in my skin, my eccentric, affectionately crazy skin. Re-enacting the Pan-Am 103 disaster with Playmobil victims wrapped in Kleenex. Memorizing entire episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus as a nine-year-old, complete with diverse English accents, coming to my elementary school's 1988 Halloween parade dressed as Richard Nixon.

I mean, you'd read that, wouldn't you?

I mean-- you are reading that. Aren't you?


Little boys spend a lot of their time and their energy thinking and fantasizing about what they want to be when they grow up. I suppose some of them want to be their Daddies. I wanted to be anything but. He was (and still is) what I referred to cheekily and audaciously as "A Girdle Man," that is, someone who has devoted his life to manufacturing compression undergarments-- first for ladies, then for professional athletes. I used to go with him to his factory some Saturdays to spread fabric from bolts that were three times taller than I was. We'd spread fabric, a long sheet across the table, weigh it down on each corner, and I'd take a huge, rusty pair of shears and he'd take a huge, rusty pair of shears, and we'd slice, slice, slice until we'd meet in the middle, and spread another sheet.

"Jesus Christ," I said to him, at age eleven, "you mean to tell me there are actually people who do this for a living?"

He laughed at me. What a dummy. Of course there are people who do this for a living. I was looking at one.

I knew I didn't want to be a laborer. A manufacturer. Someone who did something with his hands. I knew I wanted to be on screen. But I knew also, from a very early age, that my physical appearance was, well, awkward at best, and that my potential for television/film was limited, and my voice wasn't special enough-- not smooth enough or, for that matter, brash enough-- for radio. It was a dilemma for an a-typical American youth.

From a very, very early age, I enjoyed watching two things: Monty Python, and the news. While you may at first regard these two televisual pastimes as exceedingly disparate, I assure you they are more similar than at first they appear. There is one thing that they both have very much in common:

Not entirely attractive, very well-dressed men sitting behind desks talking into microphones.

I mean, John Cleese created an entire character whose sole purpose was to be dressed, usually in a tuxedo, sitting behind a beautiful wooden desk, with a gigantic, old-school BBC microphone in front of him, just to say, "And now for something completely different." Sometimes this desk would be in the middle of a field, or in a creek, or in front of an apartment building window where a young woman is getting undressed, or ascending heavenward courtesy of two large propellers attached to the desk.

And, of course, as we well know, the news is nothing BUT sometimes unfortunate-looking men sitting behind desks wearing formal blue and red striped ties talking into the camera. I began, at age eight, cutting out photographs of our local news anchors and taping them to my bedroom walls-- you know, the way normal children do with cars or, I don't know... dinosaurs?

Men behind desks. Wearing suits and ties.

Yes, I thought. I will be a man behind a desk, wearing a suit and a tie.

In addition to cutting out photographs of local news anchors, I also got into the habit of recording news theme music that I found particularly titillating. The music to ABC Nightly News was my favorite. It's not as good anymore, but, back in the eighties, it started out with the pounding of bass drums and then came in some badass trumpets heralding the arrival of something truly important-- something you've waited your whole fucking day for.

And I liked it.

So, I had one of those mini cassette recorders that I probably made my father buy for me from Radio Shack for some ridonkulous amount of money, and I would hold it up to the speaker on our living room TV, just below the green, red and white RCA logo, at exactly 6:30 to record the theme music. And I would listen to it. Alone in my room. A lot.

And then it hit me.

I had a closet full of formal wear, you know, like every child my age, I had a desk, I had a gargantuan mirror in my room, I even had a desk-mounted microphone (which I also made my father buy for me from Radio Shack for some ridonkulous amount of money).

It was time to play a little make-believe: me style.

So, one weekend morning, I dressed in my dark blue suit, with my powder blue dress shirt underneath, and completed the ensemble with an appropriately dour dark blue striped tie. I parted my hair on the side (I wore a bowl-cut back then) and wet it under the sink so it would stay that way. Not only that, but I plastered the front part of my hair down on my forehead, like my favorite ABC Nightly Newsman, Sam Donaldson. Then, I looked in the mirror and realized that something was missing. My eyebrows. No matter how I manipulated them, no matter how hard I scowled, I just didn't look enough like Sam Donaldson, with his extreme browage. So, I did what any pre-pubescent boy fantasizing about being a news anchor would do: I snuck into my parent's bedroom, ransacked my mother's admittedly scant make-up area, and found black eyeliner. I carefully drew over my eyebrows, creating a dramatic transformation. I then turned the desk to face the mirror, switched on the mini tape cassette player, and did my newscast.

In the middle, I heard my bedroom doorknob click and the door cracked open, and my mother was standing in the doorway. I saw her in reverse in the mirror, looking at me. I turned to her.

"Hi, Mommy. I'm being Sam Donaldson."

"That's nice," she replied, "could you put my makeup back when you're done?"

"I did already."

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  1. So, my sister is afraid of Muppets.

    And I always — well, not confused, because that would be idiotic — liked to juxtapose Sam Donaldson with Sam the Eagle.

    Because I don't mind Muppets. My sister's a weenie.

  2. Pee Dubbya:

    From the Muppet Wiki entry: "...Sam seldom performs on-stage (though he frequently barges on to complain), unless convinced that the act is "cultural"; he's reluctantly persuaded to recite the lines of the dicky-bird in "Tit Willow."

    I love that there's a G&S (Mikado) connection there. But, I mean-- isn't there always?

    Say "hey" to that big ol' weenie for me.



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