Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sorry Mr. President


My office was on 5900 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.  This is considered part of the "Miracle Mile". To one side of our building was the "Petersen Automotive Museum", the other was Aaron Spelling's office, the other was the La Brea Tar Pits and  outside of my widow I looked at the ocean. I was on the 24th floor and it was awesome. 

I was working for a very old friend of my fathers by the name of Sam Riddle.  Our company did a ton of TV shows but one of our main clients was the United Negro College Fund (UNCF).  Every year we produced a "telethon" supporting the UNCF that was called the "Lou Rawls Parade of Stars".  It was an intense show to produce because we had to coordinate so many celebrities at one time and much of it was "live".

One year, we arranged for President Clinton to call in a make a "pitch"; he a relatively new President.  Unfortunately, things didn't go so well.

In the TV/Movie production business, there are employee's called "runners".  They basically do everything that nobody wants to do for about a $100.00 per day if they're lucky and are pretty much worked to death.  This unfortunate position is sort of a "right of passage" in the entertainment industry. And once you move up to the next level, that is if you aren't run off from the abuse as a runner, you typically become somebodies assistant. But unfortunately  you're then subjected to much worse abuse plus longer hours.  

On a side note, there is a movie called "Swimming with Sharks" with Kevin Spacey that surrounds the "runner/assistant/producer" culture in Hollywood.  Check it out sometime, it's a great movie.

So to get back on track, we're "live" on the air.  We're preparing to do a transition from a pre-taped  portion at the Apollo in Harlem to the studio in Los Angeles with Lou Rawls saying a few words then patch in President Clinton over the phone.  Everybody is excited, tired and stressed. At the time I'm in the room where the call  is going to come in from the White House.  And then it happens....

One of the "runners" comes into the room to deliver something.  At that moment the phone rings.  This kid picks up the phone before anybody could react.  He says "Lou Rawls Parade of Stars, how can I help you"? He then says "yeah right" and hangs up. About 5 of us were sitting there staring at him in complete disbelief. This poor kid who was just trying to help looked up at us, his eyes wide open. He didn't have a clue what he'd just done but he was very aware he was in trouble.

He timidly says "it was a prank call, some guy saying he was the President", he then kind of smiled and said "the guy was good, he did sound like him".  Nobody said a word, we all just stared at him. We weren't mad we just didn't know how to react to what just happened.  To pull off getting the President of the United States as a guest on a TV show is almost impossible.  And to coordinate the Commander and Chief to call at a specific time on a live show was not easy.  In fact I bet the odds of summiting Mt. Everest in a thong and using dental floss rather than rope may be more likely. We could have pre-recorded the President but he was booked at the very last minute so we didn't have the time.  

This poor runner stood there and literally turned pale as we looked at him.  He realized he'd just fucked up in the worst way.  And this unlucky runner who was at the wrong place at the wrong time with the best of intentions had something happen that "never" does.  The President actually called himself. Normally an aid from the White House calls, establishes the connection, then patches the President in.  Good old President Clinton that day decided to pick up the phone and dial himself.

The only words said other than what came from the "runner" was from a Producer in the room who said "oh fuck". She was a major Producer in the industry at the time, had been doing the Academy Awards for years. So when she said "oh fuck", I knew it was bad.

Then I realize that Lou Rawls is starting to get nervous as he's live on TV because the segment with President Clinton isn't happening and Mr. Rawls is running out of things to say.  Sam Riddle, the Executive Producer walks onto the set and starts ad libbing with Lou Rawls to buy time but even Sam doesn't know what's happened.  And the runner is still standing there frozen in his tracks with his hand on the phone.

Then the phone rings, nobody moves a muscle.  The phone rings again and the runner literally starts to take steps away from the phone with his hands up, palms out at chest level; he wants nothing to do with that phone. I get up and by the 3rd ring answer: "Lou Rawls Parade of Stars, this is Donnie".  The person on the other line says' "Hi!... it's Bill, somehow just got cut off".  I was so relieved that the President of the United States actually called back and wasn't mad that I forgot the magnitude of who I was on the phone with. I said "Bill, patching you through right now and thank you for calling back".  President Clinton started laughing as I transferred the call to the sound engineer, the "oh fuck" Producer punched me in the arm as she mouthed "Bill?!" and the runner still had his hands up in the air.

Post Script: This runner is a man I respect beyond words.  He has a beautiful family and moved on from the "Clinton" event to enjoy a very successful career in Hollywood.  You'd be quite surprised what he's directed and who is is.  

An Unexpected Celebrity Dinner

In the mid 1990's when I was in TV and living in Los Angeles, I went to a poetry reading by Jimmy Santiago Baca who is a former convict and poet from New Mexico. I managed him for about 32.55 seconds just after his movie "Blood in Blood Out" was released. 

Taylor Hackford directed the movie. Mr. Hackford also directed the movie "An Officer and a Gentleman". I always appreciated that movie because a Sailor kicks a Marines ass and I'm a NAVY Veteran!

Anyway, Mr. Hackford was at the reading so I introduce myself, thank him for the ass-kicking scene and next thing I know, he's inviting me to his house for dinner. 

Well..... His house was impressive and I was in awe. I find myself looking at a shelf with his Academy, Grammy and numerous other awards. Then I realize I need to be polite and offer to help with dinner preparations. 

Mr. Hackford said some ladies name might need some help in the kitchen. So I go into the kitchen to find Helen Mirren struggling to get a huge dinner prepared all by herself. So I rolled up my sleeves and we cooked fish and it was really fun. 

She was caught off guard that some kid she didn't know walks into the kitchen and starts helping her cook dinner. And here is the catch, I had no idea who she was... 

 Never would have imagined...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

West Pac 1989 USS Ranger CV-61 Part 3 "Wog Day"

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Helping with little brother at the duck pond.

Trying To Move On In 2013

One of my goals for 2013 was to close out “old chapters” of my life and move on.  This process included my archiving old documents, photos and keepsakes as best I could. While doing this, I came across forgotten gems that brought back wonderful memories. I found items I’d rather never had been reminded of and a few I quickly burned from embarrassment and fear of somebody getting their grubby hands on them and having fun at my expense.

I came across a couple photos that I had no idea existed. They were of my oldest friend in the world and they brought back a flood of memories and some tears. Her name was Cyd Cutter, we met in 1972 as her mother and my grandmother were at some sort of exercise class; I’ll never forget that day. Cyd was my best friend until the day she died in 2008. We introduced ourselves as “brother and sister” and many people in our circle didn't know we weren't related. I loved Cyd with all my heart and the world was such a better place when she was alive.

I found out about my friends death in a jolting way.  I received a call from her young son. When I answered he said “mom’s dead”. I was not sure what I was being told and I asked him to repeat what he said. He repeated with “yeah, she’s dead, I found her on the bathroom floor”. I asked when did this happen expecting a response of yesterday or even last night but that wasn't the case. He said to me “I found her just now; she’s on the floor dead.

I was in shambles and to make matters worse.  My previous marriage was ending and as a result, my former wife had no room for kindness or empathy. It was a brutal moment in my life.

My best friends’ dad had the same name but it was spelled “Cid”. Cid Cutter was a great guy who was very successful. But he was most famous for his being the founder of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and arguably leaving one of the biggest legacies in the state of New Mexico. Mr. Cutter died in 2011 and his passing was a great loss.

So several days after finding the photos of my old friend, I jumped back into my project. In the very first box I opened, I came across a bunch of old legal documents. I quickly realized this paperwork was from a lawsuit stemming from the death of my father and pregnant step-mother in 1982.  I'd never read them before, didn't want to, it was too painful. But 30 years,10 months and 26 days after my dad and step-mom were killed, I did.

I was hit with something I had absolutely no idea about and wouldn't have guessed in a million years. I was seeing the name “Cid Cutter” and "World Balloons" everywhere.  It appeared that my best friend’s father was some sort of expert witness but I was wrong. It was Cid Cutter and his company World Balloons who owned and operated the balloon that my father and step-mother were killed in.

I couldn't possibly calculate the hours and days I spent with my best friend and her family and she with mine. Yet never once did anybody tell me, hers or mine, the connection.
The last time I saw Mr. Cutter, I had Thanksgiving with his family in 2009 at his house. During this holiday gathering, another guest brought up the El Globo Grande crash not knowing who I was. Mr. Cutter was standing there, looked at me and said "Tragic, just tragic". At the time I had no idea.

Oddly enough, once I had time to absorb what I’d just learned during my archiving project, I started wondering what the hell was that horrible experience like for Mr. Cutter and his family. What was it like for my best friend? Especially considering how close we were. Having my regular involvement with the family had to have been an uncomfortable reminder that made their recovery and ability to move on difficult.

But here is another intense twist.  The balloon my parents were killed in was supposed to have another passenger – me.  I cancelled at the last minute for a cute blonde I’d just me a few days before in California. She was in town and wanted to go to an early movie with me; a date! So I didn't go to the Balloon Fiesta and I’m alive today.  And the cute blonde was Mr. Cutter’s niece.

This story isn't done yet. After I learn about the Cutter/World Balloon involvement, I call an old friend who is into ballooning, knows the Cutters well and tell her this story.  When I'm done, she tells me "well I've got a story for you"!   She goes on to tell me that she'd just returned from a ballooning event in France.  One day while the balloons were down, she went to a local cafe. While having a cup of coffee she struck up a conversation with a guy at the next table.  The conversation turns to balloons, then Albuquerque, then the Balloon Fiesta.  Then this guy tells my friend about a horrible experience he had with a balloon and how it has haunted him ever since.

Apparently, this man had flown from Europe to New Mexico to go to the Balloon Fiesta. Somehow he ended up with 2 tickets to go up in a balloon. For some reason he gave his tickets away. Not long after that, there was an announcement that there had been a balloon crash.  Then a few minutes later, he learned the balloon that crashed was the very same balloon that he'd given away his tickets for. This man knew that the couple had used his tickets because he watched them go up in the balloon. Later that day, it was confirmed that they were among the dead, along with two other people; Nick and PJ Brainard - my parents.

After the accident, this guy fell into a long and deep depression.  As a way of “coping” with what had happened, he decided to study every element of the El Globo Grande wreck to see if there was something he could do to help prevent future hot air balloon tragedies. This man eventually went on to invent a fireproof fabric for hot air balloons that is apparently now used throughout the industry.

And with that, I’m going to pick up old friends  Cyd's  cat “Agony” (I didn't like that stupid name  Cyd named her so I renamed her to “Gonad”) who has been sitting on my lap purring while I wrote this and call it a day for October 2, 2013 – the 31’st eve of this sad event and go spend time with my children.

October 3, 1982.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My Experience With Those Against Obamacare

I had a heated discussion with a Texan (hehehehehe) a couple weeks ago about ObamaCare. I did my usual "give me a specific item from the Patient Protection and the Affordable Care Act that you don't agree with". Well, to this day, I've not come across a single opponent of ObamaCare who can give a "specific" actual reason or even cite a single paragraph from this healthcare plan. The responses are all the same, vague, hate, party driven, uninformed, daft, "Obama's" wrong and chilling/off the mark statements/assumptions. I'm ashamed of these people, not because I'm for or against the reform but because these opponents seem to care less about actually educating themselves on the issue. That is, other than taking an over paid face on the TV or radio's word that miraculously becomes fact.

Jon Stuart nailed it with this segment...