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PAIN DON'T HURT: New York Journal Part 1 | page 2

My driver won't let me smoke and I haven't had a cigarette since the parking lot of Cherryland Capitol Airport in Traverse City and we're crossing some enormous bridge into Manhattan and all those damnable bells and whistles are already going off in my head. They chime and blow thusly: What am I doing here? Will I be able to keep it together? Is it too late to turn around? If I were to hang my head completely out the window like an exuberant family dog on a Sunday drive, would this bastard up front allow me to hotbox a Winston? It's more than a few miles from Suttons Bay to Manhattan. Even further when you're taking it on the chin from your own neurotic qualms and brass knuckle insecurities.

Only twelve hours ago I was sitting in Eddie's Bar being feted for the journey by a buncha Friday Night rum-dumbs who couldn't begin to grasp why anyone would wanna import a dullard of my less-than-apparent entertainment value and low-ebbing snazz all the way to New York to purportedly enrich some TV show they'd never even heard of. I was really at a loss myself as to how to explain it. Sure, I was the coach's lucky long-snapper and all, but, by the same token, I hadn't exactly made anyone confuse my act for Eric Severied when last I was summoned to hold forth with microphone and morning shakes extended. There is actually no other way to describe my performances from that era other than to call them rigorously awful.

"I'm a valuable component to an Emmy-nominated television program," I assured Al the barkeep. "To represent myself as anything less would be nothing short of a giant slur."

"Speaking of which, you're all done after that one."

And damned if that wasn't the majority of the problem when last I went a-correspondin'. The entire TV Nation span from the mid-90s was just something that skedaddled right on by me while I rubbed my eyes and tried to catch a blur of it in the bar view mirror. It wasn't only the drink that was steering me off the track, it was also this brutal devotion I had to a myriad of dunce-inducing prescription sedatives I allowed myself to get hooked on. I had a long history of panic syndrome and this was how I'd chosen to deal with it. Trouble was, I was convinced that I was warding off the demons when all I was really doing was summoning them in and licking the calcium off their bony talons. Jim Beam with a Klonopin kicker might set you up with an adequately happy-go-loopy mindset for most of life's witless maneuvers (the theory being that it's nigh on impossible to panic when you're soarin' higher than a pair of fuzzy dice in Payne Stewart's cockpit) but just try holding serve in a television interview format floatin' through that kind of fog bank.

For instance, there was the time they flew me out to San Francisco to handle correspondent duties on a piece about sabotage in the American workplace. (Yea, I know… ironies like these don't grow on trees.) Although I can laugh about it now, it wasn't particularly humorous then… though maybe it was, I don't recall much of it. I remember at one point having to interview some muckety-muck white-collar spokesman for something who sat patiently waiting for me to ask something about some topic regarding something he had to do with. I still recall him staring at me and me staring back at him and no one saying anything and the camera rolling and realizing how the whole damn thing was collapsing into such a snoozy scissor-lock of lowbrowism that it should've been used for remedial training at cable access stations all across Idaho as cautionary evidence on how not to hurl a viewer into an immediate comatose swoon. Eventually the segment producer (I think he had a beard?) halted the seance and fed me the pre-arranged questions one small underhand lob at a time, and even then I'd get maybe halfway through one of them only to turn around and mumble something rather un-Rather-like such as: "Uh, what came after that one part about that one thing?" CUT!

And just to show that when God created funnybones he slid my boss right to the front of the pack, Mike allowed the goddamn thing to air! Take that all you calloused dart-chuckers who might wrongly assume that MM only giggles at C-Span blooper reels and Pat Buchanon haircuts.

However, that was then and this is now, and as the Lincoln burrows further and further into Manhattan and the buildings begin to play matador with the skyline, it's actually a very welcome sense of nervousness and doubt that I'm experiencing. It marks real headway in my struggle to get back to wherever it was I'd left off before the shrinks rolled out their dead carpet and I ventured off to places unknown, though at least partially video-taped. A few years back I would have never allowed myself the option of an uneasy emotion such as nervousness or doubt. I wouldn't have taken the risk of feeling anything honest. I'd have swung into town all numbed up and dumbed down, confusing a swig for a swagger, and treating the entire fortuitous liberty of the television offer as nothing more than some annoying sideline to my prowl for a potent buzz.

Not this time. I'm as sober as a nun on Easter Sunday and nearly as contrite. I think back to something former Detroit Tiger manager Sparky Anderson once said: "Pain don't hurt." I really have no idea exactly what he was referring to -- probably nothing more significant than a two-strike bunt attempt rolling off in foul grounds -- but I've kinda adopted Sparky's malapropism as my Manhattan mantra. After all, who wouldn't be in some state of emotional unease rolling into a metropolis this mammoth and self-diminishing to retrace the steps of his own dogged failures? You'd have to be nuts or drunk or quite likely both not to feel some amount of pain or wan trepidation.

Nope, I'm certain of it. Pain don't hurt. Fire don't burn. And brain don't care.

Two-out-of-three not bad.

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

The Lincoln lets me off in front of a large apartment building right in Midtown. This already represents a huge improvement over where they stashed me last summer. That place was over on the Upper West Side in an area deplete of much action unless you had a hankering for loafing around languid bistro settings reading some European daily while sippin' lime-bludgeoned seltzer concoctions as your Portuguese waiter performed everything but felatio to make you feel comfy and consequential. Maybe it's just me, but I tend to get a bit dispirited in a place where I know the guy sitting next to me has spent more on his sunglasses than I have on my past two suits.

Another downer about the summer pad was that it was at street level and every morning I'd get jounced out of bed by the sounds of hoofbeats on pavement. Yep… hooves as in horses as in Flicka as in Trigger as in McDonald's Big Xtra with Cheese. It seems they had a large stable down the block where they kept all the horses for the NYPD Mounted Surveillance Unit that patrolled in nearby Central Park. Don't get me wrong… I like horses. I just got awfully tired of diving out of a solid sleep each morning in some delirious grab-yer-jodhpurs rendition of Larry-Storch-meets-How-The-Upper-West-Was-Won. Generally, hoofbeats and hangovers are not a good mix.

Well, no horses down here on 58th Street, but I do have a doorman. He rushes up to me like he's gonna assist me with my pile of luggage, but instead he just juts his jaw near mine & asks, "Are you Hamper?" I tell him yes and he slaps a key and a desk memo in my hand and waves me toward the elevator. "Thanks?" I reply.

The room is small but nice. Everything a TV temp might want, right down to the VCR and stereo and laptop computer and large cigar box with frilly bow and… hold it. Cigar box? Oh Christ, that's right: I'm supposed to be goin' to Cuba for a segment! Must be that the sweet bosslords of Bravo have purchased me a box of Cubans as an extravagant welcome-aboard gift. Damn if MM wasn't on the dot when he said these new network honchos were a bunch of swell cats! I toss my crap in a corner and rip the bow off and begin fumbling for my lighter. I get the box open and fling through the tissue and there they are: two dozen perfectly preserved sierra-colored illegal-as-all-getout Cuban… candy cigars? What the hell? The damn things are made entirely out of chocolate. I can't smoke these. I can't even eat 'em. I hate chocolate! Ok, relax. Think. Cue mantra. Ben to brain: "Pain don't hurt… pain don't hurt… pain don't… "

The desk memo reminds me that Crazy Eyes is on his way over to help me figure out how to work this laptop gizmo. His real name is Dave Hamilton, the executive producer of The Awful Truth and last summer's Michael Moore Live. Dave's nickname came courtesy of one of our cameramen from last summer at HBO Studios who was absolutely convinced that Dave's eyes were those of a deranged and simmering lunatic… which, of course, they were. And even though Dave himself didn't much argue with the veracity of the cameraman's comment, it still wasn't enough to save the guy's job.

Dave arrives and I make certain to address him by his birth name. As opposed to last summer when they foolishly gave me possession of a company cell phone (and I ran up a bill larger than a porn-addled fratboy housesittin' his Uncle's place), this time they're setting me up with a laptop as a more cost-conscious means of fending off my notorious homesick doldrums. Trouble is, like everything else in this world that isn't made from either yarn or beachwood aging, I don't have the foggiest notion of how to use one of these gadgets. Crazy Dave Eyes runs me through it about a dozen times before I finally get the hang.

Meanwhile, I'm brought up to speed on the show. Dave seems to be under explicit instructions (from MM, no doubt) to paint my role on the show as if it were really nothing any more urgent or taxing than a hitch at a curbside lemonade stand. He keeps repeating phrases like, "we'll work to your strengths" and "we'll just have fun with it" and "we're only interested in you being you"… all of which is probably just toned-down producer blarg for "Dear Mother of God, please see to it that this idiot doesn't totally blow us outta the water."

I ask Dave if maybe he wants to go catch a beer or something but he's due back at the office. Mind you, it is now goin' on 9pm on a Saturday night. I'd almost forgotten the ridiculous hours these television folk tend to put in. Dave asks for a raincheck and begins to head out. As he leaves he suggests I stop by the office tomorrow for further briefing on just what I'll be doing for the show. He also adds that I should go out and have some fun on the town.

"I've been known to have very little problem in that area," I reply.