Wednesday, May 7, 2008

"A Possibly Special Appearance"

I may have been on the David Letterman show.

I know that’s kind of a strange thing to say. A long-running, late night television show, people have been on it; people have not been on it. But very few people say – or imagine even – that they may have been on it.

Usually, given a sound mind and whatever, a person knows what they did and didn’t do. I wrote for television; I didn’t walk on the moon. It’s pretty simple to determine. I know some people exaggerate, but within that exaggeration, lies something they did; otherwise they’re not exaggerators, they’re fabricators.

With fabricators, if you care enough, you can dig up evidence of whether or not they’re fabricating, and if they are, you can call them on it.

“You said you were ducking sniper fire. Here’s proof that you weren’t ducking sniper fire.” End of story.

Beginning of explanations.

What I’m talking about is different. I’m not saying I was definitely on the David Letterman show – let’s be clear on that, I make no such claim. But I also can’t say with absolute certainty that I wasn’t on the David Letterman show. Why? Because there’s a chance – not a huge chance, but a chance nonetheless – that I was.

And I was good.

I’m asking you to be fair. Listen to my story, consider its likelihood, and then tell me,

“Was or was I not on the David Letterman show?”

Or, not wanting to bother digging up evidence, do you simply agree with me that I may have been?

Okay, here it is.

I’m working on Al Franken’s sitcom Lateline, a comedic version of Nightline, which ran for a while on NBC. There were nineteen episodes of Lateline in all. Six episodes were produced in Los Angeles, the other thirteen – because Al lived there and didn’t want to be away too long – were produced in New York.

I served as a script consultant on the show. During the East Coast segment of the production, I’d visit New York for periods of ten to sixteen days a month. They put me up at the Trump International Hotel, which is on the corner of Sixty-First Street and Central Park West.

The office we worked in was on 45th and Broadway, an easy sixteen-block walk from my hotel, a walk I enjoyed very much. I passed a lot of interesting places on that walk, one of which was the theater where they taped the David Letterman show, on Fifty-Fourth and Broadway.

I’m being deliberately thorough in my description. When you’re telling a “may have” story –where your credibility is already in question – it’s important to be scrupulously accurate in the details.

Okay, so I’m walking to work, and I arrive at the intersection on Broadway, just north of the theater where the David Letterman show is produced. The light is red in front of me. As I wait for it to change, I glance down at the road, about a foot and a half in front of me, and I see

a bright, shiny penny.

Harkening back to a story I related during Passover Week, when it comes to exhibiting certain behaviors in certain situations, “Some does, and some doesn’t.” In this case, seeing a penny lying in the street, some pick it up, and some pass it by.

I always pick it up.

The light is still red. I have time. I step into the street, and reach down to retrieve the penny.

I quickly discover that the penny is not on the road. The penny is embedded

in the road.

I pick at the penny with my forefinger, trying to dislodge it from the pavement. The penny does not budge.

The penny is fused into the pavement. If you slide your hand across that area, you would feel no “raised penny” sensation. The penny is, in fact, now, a part of the pavement.

I take out my wallet, and pull a quarter from the change pocket. I bend down, and in a series of short, forceful jabs, I try to wedge the quarter under the penny, in an effort to pry the penny out of the pavement.

The penny remains in place.

I’m running out of time. The light will soon change and vehicles will be passing in front of me, making further efforts to retrieve the penny impossible. Also, if I keep at this, I’m going to be late for work.

I don’t care about anything. I’ve put a lot of time into this. I’ve endured disdainful stares.

I want that penny!

In my last remaining moments, I stand directly over the penny and begin kicking at it, first with the toe of my shoe, and when that doesn’t work, backwards, with my heel, with all the energy at my command. I have totally lost control. I am focused, and I am crazed. I do not notice the light changing. I am barely able to jump back onto the curb.

And now, it’s over. With the traffic whizzing by, I stare at the penny that wouldn’t come out, and I sadly shake my head.


All this takes place just north of the David Letterman theater. You know that show. You know the kind of stunts they pull. Is the following possibility so far-fetched?

There’s a “pitch” meeting, where the writing staff is trying to come up with a funny “outdoor” segment, one involving unsuspecting passersby. They do that all the time, right? Humiliate the public?

“I got it!” one writer cries with excitement. “We take a quarter – no, a nickel – no, a penny! – and we mash it into the road, and then, we film people – you know, idiots – trying to dig the penny out of the road!

“Is that hilarious, or what?”

The writing staff agrees the segment will be “hee-larious”, and they schedule it for the show.

I really think that’s what happened. And one of the idiots they were talking about was me. Somewhere in the archives, there is footage of me, frantically kicking at a penny that’s lying in the road.

I like to believe that’s true. If it’s not true, I endangered my life for nothing. Which, of course, is possible. But you know what else is possible? That

I may have been on the David Letterman show.


Anonymous said...

If only pennies were able to be "mashed" into the road on short notice, doubtful.

Sally Roll said...

Cool! A doubting Thomas...