Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"The Man In The Chair"

(* It could also be a woman.  So you can adjust the pronouns as you read along.)

We went up to San Francisco for the weekend to celebrate the birthday of a friend.  When it was announced at the airport that our plane would be delayed two-and-a-half hours (for a fifty-three minute flight), we immediately rebooked to fly to nearby Oakland instead.  Blessed with a vivid imagination, what ran through my mind as the plane lifted off was the image of our inconsolable children wailing,

“They weren’t even supposed to be on that plane!”

Though filled with pleasures large and small, I shall mention only one event from this recent excursion.  (No, two.  We saw a traveling exhibit of a half-dozen or so “Terracotta Warriors” at an Asian art museum.  If they ever march into your town, check them out.  I guarantee you those full-sized toy soldiers of antiquity will give you chills.  Or you are simply immune to the delights of recently uncovered Chinese artifacts.  Which, I suppose, is possible.) 

One of the things we enjoy doing in San Francisco is attending a popular Bay Area radio show called West Coast Live, a two-hour national broadcast, featuring author interviews, music and comedy performed before a live audience, which, on three occasions in the show’s more than twenty-year history, included us.

West Coast Live’s host and Master Interviewer is a man named Sedge Thomson.  Sedge caught my attention, pacing the stage as his producer counted his way from four minutes and ten seconds down to “You’re on!”  What I noticed was a man, primed and ready to go, virtually bouncing with anticipation in his signature red shoes.

I felt myself in the presence of someone about to attempt a feat whose success was considerably less than assured – guiding guests through extended interviews in a precisely timed and congenially entertaining manner – but who knew he was up to the challenge, having come out on top – this being Show #1009 – a thousand and eight times before.

But there was more to Sedge’s “Inner Bounce” than confidence.  Accompanying his experience-driven self-assurance, was the unmistakable sense of a man who could not imagine anything better than to be what, for the next two hours, he was about to become.

On that Saturday morning broadcast, from “The Chapel” at 777 Valencia Street, San Francisco, California, Sedge Thomson

Would be

“The Man in the

(West Coast Live) Chair.”

You don’t have to be in show business to feel the sensual exhilaration of being “The Man In The Chair.”  Team coaches, school principals, the guy in the subway who announces, “The doors are now closing” and then closes them – any position where you command total attention and the controlling final word. 

Makes you

“The (Indisputable and Indispensible) Man In The Chair.”

A hardly carelessly chosen appellation.  What do they call the most important person in a corporation?

The chairman.

There, you see?

How seductively intoxicating is that “Man In The Chair” sensation?  Try getting any one of them out of there.  They don’t want to go.  Why?  Because they don’t want to become David Hartman.  Who’s David Hartman?  Exactly! 

(For nine years, David Hartman, hosting Good Morning, America, was “The Man In the Chair.”  When he vacated that chair, almost immediately, he was nobody.  A more recent example:  Larry King.)

When the opportunities arose, I never wanted to be “The Man In The Chair.”

Nobody asked you.

When it’s my blog, nobody has to. 

When I ran shows, people treated me differently than when I didn’t, and way differently than they do now, where I’m invisible.  At all times, whenever I temporarily found myself sitting in that hyper-exclusive “Chair of Loftiness”, I made every effort to behave like I wasn’t. 

I was allotted a golf chart to drive to the stage for runthroughs; I reassigned it to my (Senior aged) personal assistant, and I walked.  When I quartered an apple for my afternoon snack, I took one slice for myself and distributed the others amongst my support staff.  My office suite included a personal bathroom.  It was available to everyone.  (Though not at the same time.  Or if I really needed to go.)

Was that me, being egalitarian?  It was.  I like the idea that, where it causes no inconvenience or diminution in the quality of the work, everyone ought to be treated equally.  But there was something less admirable going on as well.

When I was younger, I made a determined effort not to develop muscles, explaining to anyone who asked – o,r as was more often the case, didn’t ask – that I did not want muscles, because I did not want to feel bad when, as I got older, they inevitably went away. 

A minority perspective, I’ll admit, but, to me, you could never feel “down” losing something that you never had in the first place. 

(In my early forties, I changed courses on that one.  The result is, I am now – in my mid-sixties – building muscle tone and losing it at the same time.)

Similarly, I believed that if I were never “The Man In The Chair”, or, on those few occasions when that position and I unavoidably intersected I did not act like I was “The Man In The Chair”, I would be spared the feeling of bitterness and disorientation when, as it always happens, those addicting accouterments are taken away. 

Spoiler Alert:  In case you were even thinking about doing this – It doesn’t work.  You feel terrible either way. 

So you may as well be Sedge Thomson.  Or Rush Limbaugh.  (Remember when he did this?) 

And bounce, inwardly – or outwardly – just before going on.

1 comment:

Mac said...

So you can have great things and feel terrible when they go, or you can have no great things and just feel terrible from the outset? Life is a series of least worst choices, then you die. I don't know where this train of thought's going, so I'm just going to go and find a happy song on youTube.