Monday, August 09, 2004

Alligator Pie, or More than you ever, ever wanted to know about Secret Storm

That bloody President has gone and done it again, and I swear if American voters don’t catch on soon we’re going to have to muster all the forces at our disposal and… well, make a phone call or something. Possibly collect.
Much like the ‘America is safer from terrorism’/’America is in grave danger of terrorism’ Presidential flip-flopping over the past few weeks (one imagines he looks over at Cheney during a campaign stop in Ames, Iowa: “Quick Dick – is this the group we comfort or scare?”) the “The economy is strong and growing stronger” pitch just doesn’t match up to the actual facts. According to Bureau of Labor statistics, actual jobs grew by only 32,000 in July, which in an economy the size of the US is tantamount to standing still. Things don’t look good – the stock market sucks, tax cuts aren’t helping and the poor job outlook is taking its toll on wage growth. The only thing trickling down in America is its crap economy dribbling down into ours.
I should know – I’m looking for work.
I’ve had 4 and ½ careers in the last 20-something years (5 altogether if you count a short but disastrous foray into selling sponsorship of the England International Football team – though I hasten to add, this was pre-Beckham)in radio, television, voice-overing and writing, and the ½ split into equal parts film acting and specialty book writing.
Interesting you say? Absolutely. Exciting? Without a doubt. Fun? Well, fun – yes, but with such abrupt detours, also disconcerting, bumpy and at times really, really scary. My life: a ride through an amusement park haunted house; listen closely – the laughter verges on hysteria.
But this is the life of the peripetath (my word – brand new! I see a possible extra 1/8th of a career: wordsmith…) the mercurial change from one career to the next, leaping as if from one alligator head to the next to get over the swamp, praying I don’t slip off and become done like alligator dinner.
Way back when, I took a year off after high school; I didn’t know what I wanted to do or be and I was bored at that moment at the thought of carrying on academically. Come the following September, I was in enrolled in University faster than you can say ‘knife’, realizing the world would never be all that kind to the under-educated.
But a couple of years in – and quite by accident – I was cast in a big Hollywood movie that came to town and the idea of taking off, dropping out and pursuing HOLLYWOOD STARDOM was just too delicious to ignore. So I pursued.
But Hollywood (for me) was straight out of a Jacqueline Suzanne novel – the seedy parts, which come to think of it, was all of it – and I came across randy agents, casting couch scenarios, hookerish type women and ugly Los Angeles news. (Babies found dead in garbage cans, the freeway killer popping people off from Van Nuys to not so very Nuys on a regular basis.) If it hadn’t been for my boyfriend, I’m not sure what would have happened; I’d grown up traveling all over the world, but was anything but a seasoned sophisticate. I was a nice, sheltered, Canadian goody-two-shoes girl, and the horror of Hollywood was way beyond my ken.
But luck stepped in with an actors strike, making a move back to Canada a necessity that also saved face. Hallelujah! And so the boyfriend transferred out of University at UC (University of California) Northridge, and back into U of C (University of Calgary… Calgary…) and we toiled back up north, me with still only a couple of years of Uni behind me and no actual skills, talents, qualifications or contacts to call upon.
Thank heaven for the boyfriend once again – “You should be in PR,” he said. “I think it’s like having lunch and being nice – you’d be good at it.” Then he drove me straight to a local radio station and tipped me out into the street, figuring (I guess) that all I had to do was appear and the gates would swing open. It didn’t happen that way; they had no need for a PR person (to this day I don’t know what PR folk do, but if all it is, is having lunch and acting nice, I think I’m ready to seriously look into it) but they offered me a job as a disc jockey and within 6 months I was off the all night show and into first mid-days (11-2), and then became the first woman in Calgary to host and afternoon drive (4-6) program.
I was at the radio station 3 or 4 years (my memory, like my life is just the teensiest bit fluid) and was anxious to try something new – but to do it in an old familiar place – so I convinced the bf to pack up again and we moved to London England; he to the University of London and me… to France as it turned out. (Surprisingly, London was not waiting for me with open arms: “We have enough bloody yanks on the air – piss off”. I was, to say the least, a little disconcerted. We didn’t know anybody and those we did, didn’t want me.)
But like so much of my life, rescue came again by accident; we were walking down a street we’d never walked before and came across a newspaper kiosk displaying an absolutely enormous broadcast industry magazine (huge – as big as The New York Times at least) which was advertising on the Situations Vacant page ‘WANTED FOR RIVIERA RADIO STATION: ANNOUNCERS – BRITISH OR AMERICAN – APPLY TO:” and so on, giving a name and address to send tapes and C.V.’s. With the almost unearthly speed of British Post (at least at that time) I heard back from the fellow the next day, met him on the day following that, and was hired then and there.
Aidan Day his name was. I never saw him again, but he was altogether great.
So the bf packed me up (again) drove me across the channel over to France (he’d had his beloved car shipped to England from Calgary) found me a flat while I got acquainted with the radio station and instead of driving back, surprised me with his car, saying he’d feel safer if I had it, so would I drive him to the airport in Nice? (Where is this guy now you ask? Married – to somebody else - with three children. Quite possibly the luckiest children in the world.)
So I lived on the Riviera for about a year, and then bored living in a holiday town, moved back to London to live with an English (Welsh if you want to be sticky) girl I’d worked with at Riviera 104. Numerous adventures and romances later, I managed the promotions department of Hereward Radio in Cambridgeshire for a time, hosted a morning show for BBC Network Africa, took on the (hideously wrong for me) job of promoting soccer teams, then was asked by a man of questionable reputation, (though thick wallet) to write the copy in a book of photographs of interesting jobs.
I met the keeper of the Panda at London Zoo (as well as a little troop of baby chimps running around the Monkey House in teeny tiny Pampers) went down a mine in Nottingham, interviewed the world’s oldest bell making company (Liberty Bell, Bow Bells etc) and was on my way to chatting with the owner of city’s oldest butcher shop (1600’s if you can believe it) when I accidentally came across my employer emptying shopping bag after shopping bag of money onto his desk. Huge tottering piles of used and dirty pound notes, stacked almost to the ceiling. Things I hadn’t understood before suddenly made a horrid amount of sense (why did a private business man/photographer need a full time bodyguard?) and I hightailed it back to Canada as fast as British Airways could carry me.
I had no idea what I would do next. I was 27 years old, not really interested in radio anymore and living temporarily with my father and my brand new wicked stepmother. The fairy tales are all too terribly true - but I have to give Margaret her due; she shamed me into applying at a television station, which against all odds hired me to host a daily, hour long, LIVE news and public affairs show. Until our first show, my entire television experience was as a 4 year old birthday guest on Montreal’s ‘Magic Tom’ TV show. I suppose the portents were all there…
For three years I hosted that show, with just one producer and an assistant. 3 – 5 interviews a day, 5 days a week, on anything from Native land claims to environmental issues, and from national politics – Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell, Paul Martin, John Crosbie, Sheila Copps, Michael Wilson, (and more) to local politics – B.C. Premier Bill Vanderzalm at his nuttiest, Gordon Campbell at his then Mayoriest – the lot.
I interviewed Robertson Davies (charming) WO Mitchell (naughty) and Margaret Atwood (haughty – until we began talking about her child).
I chatted with Linus Pauling about the healing power of vitamin C, and Norman Cousins about the healing power of laughter. (Linus smelled exactly like a big brown vitamin bottle and was aboslutely adorable.)
I did all the research and wrote all the questions and scripts. It was totally Dickensian – the best of times and the worst of times. I was permanently exhausted, but totally engaged.
After 3 years, Canadian content rules changed and my show was cancelled. I could have done another show, but I didn’t like the ideas, and anyway it was time to move. This time to Toronto, where once again, I landed in town waiting for the parade and the keys to the city and instead suffered in ignominy for nearly a year, before a magical accident brought me to the best paid job of my life – as staff announcer for CTV. I won’t tell you how much it paid because it was ridiculous… and all for about 20 minutes of work a week. 3 years into that, I stupidly trusted someone with my career (I can still get sizzlingly warm on cold winter nights just thinking about it…) and made a huge mistake which cost me my job, but was able to get on as staff announcer with the new Life network.
During that time I was experimenting with writing – scripts and show ideas for CBC, pitches to advertisers for teen magazine shows… all sorts of stuff. And then another one of my storied accidents occurred when I managed to get a try-out for a column in the National Post. I got it. And not only wrote the weekly advice column, but articles for the entertainment, style and children’s pages as well.
Sadly, those were the days of the Weekend Post, which was shelved along with all the freelancers about a year in. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was. But then, the Toronto Star offered me another advice column (and a syndication deal) which was going swimmingly until Ellie Tesher, long time editor (and first class cow) decided she was being called to replace Ann Landers (who died on my birthday – a bad day for Ann too, I suppose) and though there was space and an interest from other editors in my column continuing, had me knocked off with the stated reason that I was writing something too similar to what she was planning.
That sucked.
But then I happened to park in my lucky parking lot and accidentally bumped into a man who got me a job writing for an international medical publisher – a job that paid stacks! And this was a publisher that somewhere in the neighbourhood of 4 hundred years ago published Galileo. From Galileo to me! (A virtually straight line I would tell everybody…)
I talked to Nobel Prize winning researchers and writers, and contributors to The Lancet, and authors of the cutting edge text books and computer programs that are teaching the next generation of specialists. Every day something new, something fascinating. I loved it.
All was going well – until George W Bush went to war and my international company decided to cut off its contract consulting ties to North America.
Since THAT ignominious day (and I believe I’m not the only person who has suffered as a result…) I’ve been freelancing, doing a little research here, a little pamphlet writing there, and a whole lot of being turned down for published writing gigs.
All of this to say, that I resent the President.
I dislike his manner, his attitude and his grammar. I am unhappy with his international policies, his domestic policies and the way he smirks. I hate the war, I loathe the economy he’s trying to suggest is a triumph and I remain incensed at the fact that he seems to be getting away with it.
I blame him for the fact that I’m not working, even though it isn’t, strictly speaking, anybody’s fault but my own.
I think my old boyfriend should be President – though he’s unlikely to be considered, seeing as he’s (sadly) a successful, decent CANADIAN lawyer. But maybe it’s time to change the rules.
Otherwise, I'm going to need another miraculous accident... or at least a job in P.R.
I’m hungry, and I think it’s fair to say that on a good day I’m quite nice.
Finally – something I’m actually qualified to do.

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