I was a party for John Moe the other night, celebrating his new job, when someone asked how he and I had become friends.
“Hah hah — that’s a funny story,” I said. “See, a few years back he was the head writer for a local comedy program called Rewind, and I would sometimes submit sketches. Since John was also the guy in charge of submissions, he was the one who always wrote back to tell me that my stuff had been rejected. So, then …”
Here I sort of trailed off and stared into the middle distance for 20 seconds or so.
“Um, yeah. Anyway, we’re friends now. Somehow. In retrospect, I have no idea how that happened.”
I wrote this book called Conservatize Me, right? I tried to switch from liberal to conservative through a variety of experiences, some quasi-serious and some — most — not so much. The research took place over the course of a month in the summer of 2005 when the nation had recently re-elected Bush (or, depending how Kos you are, Bush stole Ohio) but the horror the horror the horror of Iraq was becoming evident. As the book came to fruition, I was struck by the idea of routines. The research phase was not routine at all: it was full of diverse adventure like having tea with man-whore/reporter Jeff Gannon, shooting guns, getting high on jellybeans at the Reagan museum, crashing the college Republican convention, and shopping for Escalades. The writing phase was completely filled with sameness (6am at West Seattle Uptown Espresso, get handed my 12oz coffee before even ordering it, fire up Postal Service on iTunes, and I was writing before Ben Gibbard could even point out that something seems so out of context in this gaudy apartment complex).
The promotional phase of it, though, was a dizzying blend of tedium and new experiences. HarperCollins shipped me around the country, putting me up in swell hotels and hiring folks whose only job was to tend to me. Though every radio interview I did was somewhat different, they all asked pretty much the same questions, making me realize I ask the same questions of guests I interview (or did at my old job). Stops on the tour were exciting and getting to see your book on the shelves at Harvard’s bookstore is bonkers exciting, as is finding yourself in Austin. But the bookstore events are always — ALWAYS — just a smattering of folks (8 to 60 on my tour) and you read the same stuff and answer the same questions. So diversity and routine all at once. Except the Glenn Beck show on CNN Headline News.
See, we had struck out on most national media. Nothing ever came of NPR’s national shows, the Today Show nibbled but didn’t bite, same with Olbermann and Hannity. Then, weeks later, we get a call from the Glenn Beck show. Radio guy gone to TV, conservative, Mormon, from Everett.
Here’s how it worked on the day of the show:
- I get picked on the heroin dealer intensive street outside my (old) office in a car that is somewhere between a luxury car in a limo driver.
- The driver has lots of stories about Axl Rose (nice guy and very reasonable until they get to the Tacoma Dome when he gets out and puts on the jerk act) and about drunk driving (in 1965 Seattle, it was okay to do it but cops encouraged you to have some coffee.)
- I arrive at the KOMO studios down by the Space Needle. I’m hustled up to a studio where I’m seated in front of a bookcase full of books that aren’t real. They’re hollow. Not even props, just part of a set. To my other side is a potted plant. Around me, but out of camera range, are people’s desks and cubicles. So to the camera, it is as if you’re joining me in my author’s study.
- I am slathered in makeup. Quickly and efficiently.
- I’m given an ear piece and my choice of what ear to use. I pick my right forgetting that that’s the ear that’s oddly shaped making earbud headphones impossible and shutting me out of part of the iPod revolution.
- I’m told to talk into the camera as if I could see Glenn Beck but, crucially, I cannot. WHEN YOU WATCH TV, THE PERSON BEING INTERVIEWED PROBABLY CANNOT SEE THE INTERVIEWER. KNOW THIS FOREVER.
- The interview starts and Beck asks almost none of the questions his producer posed during our hour of pre-interview. I make jokes and try to smile. But all the while, I feel that earbud slipping out.
- From my other ear, I hear the guest in a nearby studio. He’s there to talk on a different show about fantasy football. “Make sure to play Travis Henry! And the Buffalo defense! THIS WEEKEND!” he bellows as I try to recall my conversations with William Kristol of 15 months before.
- With each question, Glenn Beck gets fainter and fainter due to that earpiece. If you happen upon footage of this interview, you can see me get increasingly baffled and worried. Finally, I can hear him no longer and am forced to say “I’m sorry, Glenn, I can’t hear you any more.”
- An engineer comes in to tell me the interview ended 60 seconds ago.
- Quasi-limo driver takes me back to KUOW.
I might never be more famous than this day. How would it have been different had I picked the left ear?