Monday, May 31, 2010
The limo pulled up to my house right on time this morning, ready to take me off to CNN's studio in Manhattan.
I was to be a guest on the morning program for a Memorial Day segment. I had been invited to read a poem that my father had written about his experience as a soldier in World War II. And I still couldn’t believe it was happening.
I was a mess. I had spent the previous day conjuring up all sorts of gruesome scenarios and whining to friends, family and anybody else I could tackle about all the catastrophes that were surely waiting for me just around the bend.
Is any of this news to people who know me? I didn’t think so.
“Take a reprieve from the negativity,” my ex-girlfriend told me. “This is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
I had actually turned down the offer of a car--thank you, Sister Frances-- and volunteered to come to the studio by subway, but my ex lit a fire under my butt and told me to get the damn limo.
The TV appearance was a follow up to a CNN.com story about the poem, which, in turn, had been sparked by a blog posting on a site maintained by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.
The people at the DCoE had come across the poem after I posted it on my blog in 2007.
My sister and I had discovered the poem in her old bedroom, which had been converted into a rather chaotic storeroom over the years. Believe me, when I posted the poem, "Murder So Foul," three years ago, I never thought I’d end up on TV.
The ironic thing here is that I used to work at the old CNNfn.com and back then the producers were forever trying to get me to go on the TV side to talk about my stories. I was always too scared to take the plunge, but now here I was jumping off the ledge.
I’ve always been a rapid speaker, so I made sure to rehearse reading the poem again and again over the weekend. I had taken two solo performer classes at The People’s Improv Theatre and that experience showed me that nothing beats practice.
The CNN producer had also taught me a radio announcer’s trick of bending your ear forward so your voice takes on this echo quality--it forces you to really pay attention to the way you speak. It reminded me of Gary Owens on the old Laugh-In program, who used to broadcast from “beautiful downtown Burbank.” But it works.
Once I got to the studio I was ushered into the make-up room, where I got my head and face dusted to cut down on the glare. My head could produce enough glare to light Carnegie Hall, so this was probably a wise move.
I went to wait in the Green Room—seriously, the Green Room—and tried not to have a nervous breakdown. I took out my parent’s prayer cards—St. Patrick for my father and St. Martin de Porres for my mom—kissed them both and prayed for strength. Then it was show time.
My knowledge of TV production is somewhere south of zero because I actually walked in there expecting to be in the same studio as the reporter conducting the interview.
You're On the Air
Swing and a miss. The anchor, Brooke Baldwin, was in Atlanta, I believe, while I was in New York, seated before a giant camera with an earpiece plugged into my head and a microphone clipped to my jacket. Gosh, ain't technology grand?
The lights came on and I started answering questions about the poem. It felt a little strange because of the time delay, but I got used to it. I saw my hands coming up as I was trying to make a point—I am half-Italian, after all—and I mentally screamed “down, boy!”
Then it was time to read the poem. And...I think it came out okay. Other then one rough patch toward the end when my throat was going dry, it felt all right.
It seems like seconds later I was back in the limo, loosening my tie and taking congratulatory phone calls from my sister and auntie. I had survived. And I was in a limo.
On the way home I shot the breeze with the limo driver, asking him how he can stand driving all day with so many freaks on the road.
“I don’t let it get to me,” he said. “If I did, I’d go crazy.”
I liked the attitude. We talked about the importance of preserving family memorabilia, so vital documents don’t end up forgotten in boxes for years on end. The driver told me that his mother had recently died.
She had been a poet and had left behind a sizeable body of work, which he said he still hadn’t gotten around to filing. I encouraged him to at least scan the documents into his computer so they would safely stored somewhere.
We talked more about families and forgetting the past and the driver brought up Yom Kippur, where people both seek and grant forgiveness.
“You can’t ask God for forgiveness if you don’t forgive others,” he said.
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trepass against us, I thought.
I came home to more supportive emails and phone calls and I really thank everyone for their kindness. I'm glad I put my fear aside and went through with this.
I'm happy that my father's work was finally heard by a mass audience. And I hope I did it justice.