Back To My Own Future

I am no tremendous athlete.  I never have been.  Point of fact, the peak of my athletic life came a few years ago in co-ed underhand softball when, over the span of a 13-game season, I was actually able to hit pretty well.  I finished the season with the second best batting average on the team behind the mighty Walter Pultinas.  My .600-something mark consisted almost entirely of singles that were, and continue to be, aided by my inability to hit.  Let me explain that a bit.

I’m six feet tall, 200-something pounds, and a right-handed hitter.  I hit second in the order for the bulk of that season, right behind Walter.  These are important things to know because there is obviously no scouting in co-ed, underhand, beer league softball.  As such, the opposing teams are left to make assumptions about me based on my size and where I hit.  Given that I am biggish and was hitting high in the order and am a righty, the reasonable assumption is that I can hit well and will probably drive the ball somewhere to the deeper parts of left-center field.  Here’s the thing:  I am still not a good hitter.  I have tremendously slow bat speed and tend to get under the ball.  What this means is that I am more likely to pop weakly to right field than anything.  But, given that they’re playing me deep, the ball will inevitably drop between the right fielder coming in and first baseman going back.  That no-mans land is where I make my money and, if ever any opponent could remember that, I’d likely never get another hit.  The fact that I am a horrible hitter makes me a good hitter.  Confusing, I know.

Back when I played little league, though, I couldn’t even make contact.  I literally don’t remember ever making it to first base.  I even played t-ball for a season and still can’t remember getting a hit.  Logic should dictate I got one at some point but I probably struck out too.  In t-ball, we’re talking about, where the ball doesn’t move.

I’m sure (pretty sure anyway) that if I played little league right now, I could be a star.  At this point, I probably could hit a pitch delivered by a nine-year-old and I could probably deposit it 175 feet down the right field line for a homerun.  Maybe not every time, but at least once, I should think.  I might even be able to catch up with the ball and hit it to left.  And to do that, to hit a homerun, would be sweet.  Of course, they don’t generally let 41-year-old guys hit off 9-year-olds.  But still, to be able to go back in time with the skills I have now would be something to behold.

This same mind set, to be able to go back knowing now what I didn’t know then, is a bit of what I am experiencing at this point professionally.

Radio was never a field in which I had much interest.  Frankly, through about the second grade, my biggest career aspirations amounted to deciding between being a garbage man or a dog.  Dog, I suppose, would have been tough.  Refuse collection appealed to me mainly because I thought the idea of riding around on the back of a truck was a great way to make a living.   The garbage men in my neighborhood in Houston used to let me do just that down the block and around the corner.  I can only imagine what would happen today if some adult caught sight of a eight-year-old hanging on to the back of a moving garbage truck, but back in 1979 it didn’t raise an eyebrow apparently.

In the sixth grade, one of my all-time favorite teachers, Mr. McNerney, ignored my request to be given some sort of behind-the-scenes job in our school play and, instead, cast me in the lead.  I played a “Prince Charming” sort who awoke a “Sleeping Beauty”-type princess.  Once awake she proved to be so annoying that we put her back to sleep.  I can’t imagine it was the stuff of Shakespeare, but it was me, up on stage in the Kings Road School combination theater/gym/lunchroom delivering lines in costume in front of parents, teachers, and classmates.

Mr. Mushnik is the one in the tie

That gave me the bug and I turned quickly into a drama geek.  I performed in every non-musical play at school from there forward.  I played the English UFO expert “Sir Reginald Tottingham” in the middle school performance of Go, Go, Go UFO!  (You can even read an excerpt of that masterpiece right here.)  I played both “Mr. Baker” and “Wescott” in 1987’s Madison High School production of The Man Who Came To Dinner.  I think one of them may have been a police officer of some sort.  My crowning achievement as an actor was my portrayal of “Mr. Mushnik” in The Little Shop of Horrors.  It was the only non-singing role in the show and, accordingly, the only one that I could do.  I retired from acting after, later that year, playing someone in The Matchmaker, which, in case you weren’t aware, is Thornton Wilder’s play that was later turned into the musical Hello Dolly!  It could have been “Horace Vandergelder” or maybe “Cornelius Hackl” but I’m sure I did a bang-up job in either case.

It is worthy of note that I was only able to recreate most of this through the help of my high school yearbooks.  I think I did something in 1986, too, but can’t find that one so who really knows.

There were very few positive things to come out of my one year at the ultra-snobby Lawrenceville School.  My experiences there will likely be detailed at some future time, but I was able to direct a play and have another that I wrote performed.

Somewhere amidst all of this, my mother was struggling with coming up with some sort of career path that could relate to “this, this acting business” (as Neil Perry’s father put it in Dead Poets Society), while not actually being acting.  She said this was because it was so very difficult to be an actor.  What she didn’t say, but I knew, was that it also was because I was about as good an actor as I was a t-ball player.

It was she who came up with this field generically called “communications.”  At the time I think most people thought it the major of a football star who needed something to put down while he went about playing football.  I suspect it is a more respected field now, but can’t say for sure.

My years in Argentina were tremendously fun and my report card showed as much.  That’s how I ended up at Lawrenceville to begin with; I needed to improve my grades to get into anything better than a community college.

At that I succeeded and found myself at Boston University’s College of Communication a year later.  In fact, my first semester there was the one and only time I showed even the remotest interest in radio.  I was in the news department of WTBU, a station that “broadcast” through a carrier signal in the electrical wires.  (Or something like that, it doesn’t really matter except to know that we were essentially talking to ourselves when we were on.)

After that one semester, it was on to the literally bright lights of television with no intention of ever looking back.  I became the co-host of a television show that had a bigger audience than the radio program if only because it takes a crew to do a show and they all had to watch.  After three or four successful years at BU, Just For You Boston lasted only three or four episodes with me at the co-helm before dying.  Well done me and Victoria Whatshername who I sat beside.

Following that I became more of a behind the scenes type (just like I had wanted in the sixth grade, after all) before starting internships out in the real world.

Upon my graduation from COM, my first job was working for the University-owned television station WABU-TV.  My job, I kid you not, was driving the intern bus that ferried my former classmates to-and-from my former school.  It wasn’t very good for the ego but I did have a job, if only technically, in television.  It unfortunately didn’t last long as I was fired about eight months later for having, as they claimed, a bad attitude.  I can’t imagine that was true.

After an 18-month detour in the physics research and development arena (my degree in television was particularly useful there as you might imagine), I walked away from that job and went back to community cable to work for free.  It was slightly better than Wayne’s World but not so dramatically so that you would notice.

I was back on camera for the first time since Ms. Whatshername and I sank the ship some five years before.  I did better as a professional despite earning precisely the same amount of money as I did as a student.  This was eventually parlayed into some actual money, though in depressingly small amounts to be sure.

Eventually I came to a fork in the road:  I was doing plenty of low-paying freelance work on television when a small radio station offered me a low-paying but full-time job.  Fifteen some odd years ago I said yes to that job and it’s been more-or-less radio for me since then.

My path took me from that station to the company I worked for until just recently.  As an employee of that company, though, I was given the opportunity to “appear” on any number of radio stations in the greater Boston area and beyond.  One of my great goals when I was hired was one day to be a so-called “flash boy” for local sports call-in powerhouse WEEI-AM.   The job involved doing about 90 seconds of sports news every twenty minutes or so.

When that opportunity came, I was nervous.  I self-critiqued every report I did with ruthlessness.  I naively believed that all the powers-that-be were hanging on every report, regardless of the fact that it was 7AM on a Saturday.  Some part of me seemed to believe that my entire broadcasting career would hang in the balance in the event that I made a factual error or stumbled over my words.

The worst was when I would flub somehow in the last report of my day.  Before that, I always had the next report to do better.  If it came in the last one the chance at redemption was much further away and the time to ruminate on the error much longer.

With experience predictably came confidence.  Still, as long as I was a full-time broadcaster, what I generated on air was still the thing that was drawing a paycheck.  There is a pressure with that.

In time, I moved into management and the on-air part became secondary and, eventually, went away altogether.  Even on those occasions when I would find myself back behind a microphone it was always because of some sort of staffing issue which was mine to fix and naturally a pressure of a different sort.

So what does any of this have to do with Little League you may be asking yourself about now?

In my new circumstances, I have found myself with that opportunity to go back in time and do it over again.  Upon my exit from my full-time job, I reached out to some of the contacts I had through it and one of them very generously offered me the chance to pick up some hours going back on the air.

The view from my seat at The Sports Hub

Accordingly, pretty much every weekend I am back doing flashes, only now they’re called headlines and I’m doing it for the other sports call-in powerhouse WBZ-FM, also known as 98-5 The Sports Hub.  And I’m having fun — lots of it.

I no longer believe that being actually on the radio is my career path or, at least, the whole of it.  I am not doing this because I need the money or the job.  I am doing it because I enjoy it and think I’m pretty good at it.  I am doing it because I am thankful I was given the opportunity to do it.  It is, to close the little league analogy, my chance to go back in time and do it again, but also do it better.  This is not to say at all that my co-workers are the equivalent of 9-year-old pitchers and that I am better than them.  Quite the contrary, most of them are probably better than me (though they’re also probably closer to 9 than 41.)

What I am saying is that I go in to that studio with a calm confidence that I never had a decade ago.  I know that all of my future hopes and dreams don’t live or die by whether I trip over the name of some Eastern European hockey player.  I can still clearly remember pronouncing Corey Maggette’s name “maggot” for an entire shift after he was traded to the Clippers on WEEI in 2000.  I also remember misstating the Patriots play-off positioning multiple times a few weeks ago on The Sports Hub.  The former bothered me much more than the latter.  It’s not that I don’t care about getting it right; of course I do.  I just don’t dwell on the errors the way I used to.

Ultimately, when I get around to landing that next big opportunity, I hope to continue doing what I am doing on the radio (assuming they’re not one in the same.)  I’m not hitting homeruns every time I turn on the mic but I am making the solid and consistent contact that I couldn’t as a younger, less experienced broadcaster.  I suppose it is the equivalent difference between a starry-eyed rookie and the grizzled veteran.  I’ve been there.  I’ve done that.  I know what to expect.  Perhaps more importantly, I know what not to.  For me, right now, that’s more than enough to keep me satisfied.

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4 thoughts on “Back To My Own Future

  1. Great stuff, Marshall. I like the Little League analogy. I think all of us have had that job, in which we think our entire career hinges on whether we make mistakes or not.

  2. As usual, I loved this! You reminded me of things I’d forgotten (dog vs garbage man). Things I didn’t know (garbage men taking you for a ride). Things you didn’t say (garbage men giving you treasures that were other peoples junk). I went to all of your boyhood performances and some of your big man games (love watching you pop those bloopers into right field). A home run might be rough on you since you will have to run around all the bases rather than to just one. You didn’t mention your Hooked on Sports call-in radio program unless that was the job at the very small station. Even I “appeared” on that one. Although I live in Florida now, via the internet, I tuned in to your Boston sports headlines last week. That was super-cool special and was enough for me to actually watch a football game (horrors!!)–one more aptly called, “cream the quarterback!” I’m happy you reminded me that I was the one who steered you in the direction of performing via TV journalism. I’m delighted that you followed through and put your acting talent to good use in a career that you love. And now, during this employment interruption, you are writing again, exhibiting another of your talents for us to enjoy. Keep it up–I’m proud of you, and I absolutely love your stories!

  3. Pingback: Busy Being Unemployed « The Four Father

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