About the title of this post: “Gaffe” sounds nicer than “mind-numbing stupidity.” On the other hand, “iconic” doesn’t resonate well with “name-dropper.” A bit of sarcasm, a hint of irony.
Just trying to make sure you’re really reading this one. I usually offer stories about celebrities I’ve been fortunate to meet in my 40 plus years, toiling in the cotton fields of TV and radio news. It’s always an ego boost for this retired old news fart to spin yarns about time spent with the likes of John Wayne, Mother Theresa, Katherine Hepburn, Robert Mitchum, The Boston Strangler, Queen Elizabeth, Presidents Johnson through Clinton, Whitey Bulger, Tip O’Neil and Princess Cheyenne, The Queen of Boston’s notorious “Combat Zone.”
How’s that for an eclectic bunch of names dropped? There are lots more to come depending on the retention power of my aging brain. Maybe it’s because of the fading hopes for my beloved Bosox who apparently won’t be chugging World Series Championship champagne this year. Maybe it’s the pollen and floating dog hair that impairs seeing and hearing.
It’s time for, as my former employers told me as they showed me the door after 31 years of faithful service, “To go in a different direction.”
A different direction. Instead of the heady celeb stories, how about some of the things that went wrong in my long, award-winning career (see, more name and fact dopping). Lots of hinky stuff is stored in the locked chambers of my brain.
Figure it this way. If you do a minimum of half a dozen interviews a day, 5 or 6 days a week, 350 weeks a year, then spread it over more than 40 years. There are bound to be some stinkers, duds, and bombs mixed in with the celebrated stories. There’s no sequential order or grading of my gaffes. Just a handful to give you a glimpse into the not-always-successful days and nights of a TV/radio news reporter.
Embarrassing Gaffe 1
We were assigned to interview a couple who had been burgled and had their home invaded. The husband had chased the bad guys out with minimal injuries sustained. He was a hero. It was a “good news” story to sandwich in between the other “if it bleeds, it leads” stories. Invited in, I quickly surveyed the house, looking for video possibilities to enhance the story which seemed to be “talking heads” and some file video of uniformed police responding to the initial 911 call.
I refocused my attention to the couple. He appeared to be middle-aged, maybe in his early 50s. His wife seemed to be in her 20s. It was an immediate distraction, furthered by what also appeared to be a woman, well along in pregnancy. It set up an immediate log jam in my brain.
Before getting to the interview, I wanted to politely congratulate the couple. The words flew out of my mouth, unedited. “Let me offer you my congratulations – in the middle of this harrowing situation.” The husband stared at me. No smile. Just a very angry stare. “Mr. Armstrong, what do you mean by congratulations? Is it because I chased the G.D. thugs out of my house? Punks! No guts, Mr. Armstrong. So, why congrats?”
I instantly sensed I was in hot water. I squirmed while offering my “nice guy” TV smile. The husband held his angry stare. I tried my best, “Um, er, I just noticed how your daugh–I mean your wife is absolutely glowing. These must be heady times for you”. The stare widened into anger. “Mr. Armstrong, are you implying my WIFE is pregnant? If so, How DARE you? You reporters are all the same. No respect! My WIFE — is NOT pregnant – so what are you implying, Mr. Armstrong?”
I mumbled some apologies, visually telling the crew to pack their gear and get out quickly. The guys were giggling and I was the joke. The husband was furious now, telling me he would call the TV station, their lawyers and his lawyer. “I’m gonna sue all your asses, especially yours, MISTER Armstrong” he fumed as we fled the house.
Long story short, back at the station, I pled ignorance, thought the wife (who looked like his daughter) was really pregnant. No, I never implied she was obese. No way.
The executive suits and the corporation lawyers had a field day with me. My “attitude” never sat well with them. However, the lawyers worked their magic and the threatened litigation disappeared like smoke from yesterday’s big fire story. I never asked about it again. I may have been something of a smart ass but I wasn’t stupid.
Lunchtime at one of my favorite bars. Liquid lunch with a hot dog appetizer. I was on my 3rd or 4th Long Island Tea when a sultry voiced young woman struck up a conversation. The air was THICK with cigarette smoke, the jukebox was blaring Irish folk music that probably deafened all conversation including mine. Sultry voice complimented me on my clothing and said she was a fan of my work.
I nodded and repeated my thank you. I glanced at George, the bartender who owned the bar. He was leering — not grinning — at me. The sultry voice said she found me “exciting” and wanted to be alone with me.
I still hadn’t been able to see her through all the damn smoke. The one-sided, very complimentary conversation went on for maybe ten minutes as I ordered another drink from the leering George who was also giggling. I noticed some of the other bar regulars were staring at me and sultry voice.
I could finally feel the Long Island Tea working on me. I was repeating myself a lot. Sultry voice handed me a slip of paper with a seductive goodbye, “See you soon, honey.” She disappeared like Marlene Dietrich through the smoke. I still hadn’t gotten a clear view of her.
George came over to me, leaned over the bar, and spoke so I could hear him. He knew I had hearing problems. “Garry, my friend,” he started, “Be CAREFUL, buddy”. I stared at him — probably stupidly. George smiled a friendly smile, not a leer.
George shook his head, “Garry, that’s a HE, not a she, Pal. Just be careful”. I could feel the embarrassment shooting through my body. The impact of the Long Island Teas vanished as if I’d never drunk them.
I looked at my watch. Lunchtime had ended half an hour ago. I pulled out some money to pay my tab. George looked at me, smiling. “It’s on the house, Pal. Get back to work. Have a good day. Be safe”.
I returned to work. I did a couple of stories for the evening newscasts. No, I don’t remember anything about the stories.