Wednesday, July 1, 2015

"A Belated Acknowledgement"

When I was growing up in Toronto, we had a minor league baseball team.  I did not see my first Major League game till I was nineteen – Phillies versus the Mets at Shea Stadium in New York.  It turned out it was a 6-0 “Perfect Game” (no runs, no hits, no walks, no errors), pitched by Phillies’ future Hall of Famer Jim Bunning.

When it was over, I found myself standing in front of my seat, hearing my voice bellowing an appreciative,

“Thank you!

… in the direction of the field. 

Not because I had witnessed the four-leaf clover rarity of a “Perfect Game”, but because I had sat in a Major League stadium, enjoying every magical second of a Major League ball game.

Since that first time, without exception – and I now have dozens of Major League attendances under my belt – in New York, L.A., San Francisco, Chicago, Anaheim, Washington D.C., Toronto, and San Diego – I have never failed to bellow an appreciative “Thank you!” at the end of every game, before making my way up the aisle to the exit.

(A Small Variation:  During the late nineties, when I consulted on the New York-based series Lateline, I attended {yet another} Phillies-Mets game with the series’ two creators, {now two-term Senator) Al Franken and John Markus.  On that night, the Mets organization handed out complimentary baseball caps to every attendee. 

As the game ended, I stood up and did what I do.  Only this time – as I overheard later John reporting to {now two-term Senator} Al – “Earl just said, ‘Thanks for the hats.’”)

And the thing was…

I meant it.

Moving on…

As a warm-up man – I was, on occasion, the guy who kept the studio audience entertained during the filming of shows like Taxi and Cheers – my approach was demonstrably different from my warm-up man – there were no warm-up women at that time – contemporaries.

Some warm-up men revved up the audience with tried-and-true material from their stand-up acts.  Some offered impressions of recognized celebrities.  One warm-up man dazzled the crowd with his ability to balance a standing-up quarter on the tip of his nose.  Another contorted his face so that he looked exactly like a primate from Planet of the Apes.  Or one of its sequels.

I had no paralleling abilities.  How then did I keep the audience involved?

“You may think you have come here to watch a show,” I would begin, “but you’re wrong.  Because it’s better than that.  Instead of just watching a show, you will be watching us making a show.

“Nobody but this audience will have the advantage of that experience.  You will see the show taking shape before your very eyes.  And you will know all of our secrets.

“When you this episode is broadcast at home, only you will be able to say, ‘You hear that line he just said?  They had to shoot that four times, because the actor kept flubbing his lines.’  And after the third try, he said ‘Dammit! 

“Or you’ll say, ‘Did you hear that joke?  Well, that wasn’t the original joke.  The original joke didn’t get a laugh, so the writers got together on the stage, and they came up with another joke.  And you know what?  It was funnier! 

“Tonight, you will go behind the curtain, and see the show miraculously coming together.  Nobody else will have that opportunity.  Only you. 

“Pretty exciting, isn’t it.”

That’s all I had.  And it goes without saying – at least I hope it does – that, as with all the baseball game “Thank you’s!” and that one “Thanks for the hat”…

I meant it. 

And the audience generally picked up my enthusiasm.  I sincerely loved being there, and somehow, that made the audience love being there too.

I had one boss who thought I was faking.  More than once he’d say, “Knock off that ‘shit-kicker’ routine.” 

I couldn’t. 

Because it was real.

Recently, for the first time, I started wondering where that unusual reaction came from?  And then it finally hit me.

It came from my mother.

My mother was a spontaneous appreciator of little moments, moments others obliviously took for granted.    

An exquisitely-folded napkin.  (“Look how they did that!”)  The backyard garden smell of lilacs in the spring.  I can still see her face light up when she proclaimed, “This watermelon is out of this world!

(In addition, my paternal grandmother lit up with beatific contentment in the presence of a really good lamb chop.)

Not long ago, we had dinner at this not fancy but recognizably superior restaurant.  I don’t know what “squash blossoms” are, but my first taste had me doing a “Happy Dance” in my mouth. 

My immediate impulse was to rise up from my seat and shout “Thank you!” to the chef.  I did not do that, partly because my dining companion was unlikely to have approved.  But also because my mind turned to another worthy – and shamefully neglected – recipient of my gratitude.

Hey, Mom...

For teaching me to notice and to appreciate...

Thank you!"

1 comment:

Canda said...

Appreciating every moment in life is a rare trait, but it allows you to live two lifetimes. Congratulations, and "Thank You", Earl.