Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hardball & I

This is a continuation of The Reeler's Totally Unrelated Blog-A-Thon. The rules remain:

1) Authors should either be publishers of or contributors to a regularly updated film blog (In other words: You should have something to want a break from);

2) Entries must not address subjects related to filmgoing, filmmaking, film criticism, film news or anything else film-related (television is OK);

3) Everything else is fair game.

Therefore, I'm going to address a "dark" point in my life. Not to mention my #1 Google hit.


The common rule I always found when it comes to my second hometown of Hot Chocolate City is:

"You're either punk rock or into politics."

The basis being you either learn three shitty chords and scream, or you bite the bullet and take the Red Line to Union Square Station and work at the Hart/Dirksen/or Russell buildings for whoever happens to be in power at that point. I know there's the idea that if you're punk, you're already political, but I knew way too many kids who were more interested in getting wasted on glue than who the mayor was.

Then again, you try growing up in a city where there is no real representation. I got in during the good time without the race riots or extreme bigotry. I was lucky, but D.C. has a funny way of sucking out that activism and replacing it with a bottle or a bong.

If you missed it by now, I couldn't play three chords at all. I sold the guitar my parents bought me for a copy of the Matthew Good Band's Underdogs.

Anyway, I'm digressing. During the summer of 2004 I was in Spain--at summer school, natch--when I got an e-mail informing me that I had been accepted to work as a Runner for MSNBC at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

A Runner is fairly interesting. The job description is loose, but can be considered like this: I ran. I ran so far away...to buy shirts at the GAP for producers, to get lunch orders, to bring new scripts within the trailers, to escort guests, to hold Rob Reiner's hand, to get back to the hotel room at 3am, sleep, wake up at 10:30 am and then walk back to Fanueil Square Faneuil Hall ready to do it all again.

Now, it's important to note that I worked for Hardball with Chris Matthews, a show made forever famous by Matthews' ability to conduct Q&As solely by raising the tempo timbre of his voice. Personally, I think it's impressive. I would love to have that power.

Me: So, how'd you get interested in this?
Subject: Ah, I dunno. I mean--
Me: YOU GOT INTERESTED BECAUSE OF DRUGS. ADMIT IT. DRUGS AND CHEAP BOOZE.
Subject: [Breaks down crying, nodding. We hug. It is a powerful moment in Journalism.]


I never met Matthews while I was in Boston. I was partnered with a guy named Malcolm and we routinely had to run through the Fleet Center doing all sorts of odd things. Get signs, get scripts and be able to run constantly. During the day I'd live in Satelite Truck City with the NBC interns and even run into Paul Wright--better known as The Big Show.

The producers of the show heard I could write and were looking to have someone blog for the then-new Hardblogger about the conventions. When considering names, someone christened me The Hardblogger Jogger.

And I took this picture two minutes after finding out I'd be an "official" MSNBC Blogger for a few days:


It also didn't hurt that I was going to be in New York (thanks NYU!) for the second convention. Which was marked only by getting to see the D.C. Statehood Dragon be paraded up 7th Avenue, then lit on fire and burn to the ground during some Beastie Boys tune.

Ah, Hot Chocolate City.

But back to work in NYC, or rather a week prior. Since I lived in D.C. I asked if I could come work in the Hardball office for a week until going back to New York. After all, I wanted to see how the show functioned during regular office hours. This led to two odd moments:

1) One day, as production on the show ran late and they still did a live 5 and 7 pm broadcast, I took dinner orders and ran out for the meal around 5:30. The Dubliner is a few blocks from the (old) studio and serves a hamburger with two potato pancakes as buns. It is worth murder. I came back, distributed orders and people all commented that the burger is good, but the potato pancakes make it great. And I agreed. I sat down at the spare cubicle I was given for the week, turned the TV at my desk to FX and started watching Predator instead of the live, in-house feed.

I catch movement from the corner of my eye and turn around. First, to my meal: the fries are nearly gone. I just opened the take-out box and had a full batch. I looked up and there was Hardball host Chris Matthews sitting at his desk, eating fries and looking me dead in the eyes. This would be my first experience with Chris and food.


2) The week I was there, the whole John Kerry Swift Boat fiasco was going on. Michelle Malkin, by pure happenstance, was scheduled to pimp her then-latest book, In Defense of Internment: The World War II Round-Up and What It Means For America's War on Terror. Now, a lot can be said about her. If I learned anything from my brief time in Network TV, it's that a majority of these writers and on-air talent become obsessed with furthering their "public image" at the sake of being seen as a blow-hard, a liberal, a conservative, a wind-bag, whatever.
Most of these people are generally decent--except for politics, that's where they turn bat-shit crazy.

Anyway, I was buzzed while Malkin's interview was being wrapped and asked to deliver a book on Matthews' desk to the studio. It would be on a chair. The book I grabbed was Malkin's own copy of her book--with notes, stickies and page markers for some reason--which was left on a chair. I brought this into Matthews and he looked relatively confused at why I gave him the book. See, I assumed I was supposed to give the book to the host. Instead, Malkin fumed at the door while Matthews gave me the book back and said, "Why do I need this? Put it in my office."

Malkin stopped me at the door, told me it was her book and I handed it over. I felt bad about the mix-up, but oh well.

The next day, this popped up on her blog:
As the show broke for commercials, Matthews scrambled for his producers to see if what he said was true. And I’m irresponsible? One staffer ran to the office where I had left my copy of the book, and handed it to Matthews, who–for the first time, apparently–started flipping through it. I asked for my book back and politely said thank you. After I left, he trashed me again on the air and his scurrilous charges were repeated by his MSNBC colleague Keith Olbermann, who called me an “idiot.”


On the bright side, I got a promotion! On the other, Malkin published the "main" number, or number that rang for all producers, staff and myself. Thanks Michelle!


And now, back to New York. The convention wasn't anything special. I started blogging about it and Bo Derek--aka THE Bo Derek.

I also met Joe Trippi.

In fact, after my first blog ran, I happened upon Trippi coming out of the production trailer at Herald Square one day. I walked up to the man responsible for publicizing the net with politics during the Howard Dean campaign and said, "Uh, hi, Mr. Trippi. I'm a runner here, and I just started blogging--"

"Yeah, yeah," he said. "You're the Hardblogger guy."

"Yes! I mean, I'm new to it."

"Great, can you go get me a diet coke from the food trailer? Thanks."

That was how I met Joe Trippi. YEAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!


Aside from Trippi using me to constantly get him Diet Cokes, even so far as spending $2.50 at 3:30 am on the last night of the convention to get one for him. Seriously, it is 2007 and Joe Trippi still owes me $2.50.

Then again, he owes 90 percent of the Dean staff money too. So...guess I shouldn't complain too much.


...basically, it boils down to this. Even now, when I apply for work, people always ask me about working at Hardball and Chris Matthews. Even a freelance gig I applied to with the anime-centric Protoculture Addicts, Managing Editor Zac Bertschy asked me about Matthews as a boss, then never returned an email or call. So, for the sake of future editorial inquires, I will now relate the rest of my personal thoughts on working for Chris Matthews.

...

ahem.

He was a good boss. I worked more with the actual producers. They were great.
I also baked him a cake once. Seriously, it was delicious and the office loved it.
He can be loud, he's roughly 6'3", if not a bit taller. And no, he doesn't remember me. There is the slight chance he remembers the cake I made for him after being shouted at since I didn't bring him another cake. Hm. Wait.

4) The Chris Matthews Cake Bake Story

Apparently, this is legend around the Hardball office. And I will address it here.

Yes, I once made Chris Matthews a delicious, chocolate cake with vanilla icing.

It was the summer of 2005 and I came back to Hardball as an intern after working the conventions. On a rather off Thursday, there a was a lull in the news cycle. It was going to be an easy day, Matthews wasn't coming in until the early afternoon and the rest of us interns were just kicking around. When he did come in, the word came out that everyone was ordering coffee from Starbucks and we'd get a chocolate cake. There were hearty laughs had by all. And Starbucks orders were taken.

Then, he came out, walked up to me and said,

"Where's our cake?"

"What cake," I asked.

"...the chocolate cake I asked for."

"Oh. Oh, you were serious?"

Yes, Chris Matthews was serious. For chocolate cake. And so, at 3:45 on a Thursday afternoon, I had to find a chocolate cake. Now, I was moderately lucky that a deli nearby sold cake. Of course, they only took cash and that meant me paying $40 from my own pocket for cake. But I came back to the office, cutting him a slice only to hear:

"This tastes like raspberries."

I assured him it didn't. Matthews was adamant that, in fact, I brought him chocolate-raspberry cake. He called in his assistant to confirm this. And then no one ate any of the $40 cake. Mind you, the $40 cake I had to hustle to find on a Thursday afternoon before the 5 pm show. My only bright point came from Hardball reporter David Shuster admitting the cake tasted great.

This would lead in later years to my friends and I lauding Shuster and creating the unofficial "David Shuster Rocks Drinking Game."

You drink every time Shuster rocks during a broadcast. It became very bad when he'd take over Tucker Carlson's 4 pm slot on occasion.

But after that day, I went back home blind with intern rage. I was so enraged that it wasn't until later that night did my mother stop and ask me,

"...John, why did you bake a cake?"

And I had no memory of it. Indeed, I baked a delicious cake while furious with my boss. Bringing it in the next day, it was delicious. And Matthews ate the chocolate cake with vanilla frosting. And he too claimed it was delicious.

And so, forever more, I would be remembered as the intern who baked a cake. A delicious cake made from rage, anger and spite.


Anyway, that was the time I worked for a major cable network and in politics. It taught me important, Big-J Journalism lessons. Not to mention that Joe Trippi owes a lot of people money, despite having a very nice farm in Maryland.

Oh, and that despite your former bosses' best advice, a career in freelancing is less stressful than working for a cable network.

And Hardblogger was just like Huffington Post: they don't pay for "original" work. So, I still like freelancing more.

Edit 10/28/07, 12:58 pm: Oh, totally forgot. After working there, I found myself doing the trademark "Ha HAH!" laugh for weeks. I still do it by accident sometimes. It's like PTSD.

Edit, later: Holy christ, I've been living in New York too long. All my D.C. terminology is being mixed up.

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7 Comments:

Blogger Eric Kohn said...

John, you make so much sense now.

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Blogger CARvsTREE said...

"D.C. has a funny way of sucking out that activism and replacing it with a bottle or a bong."

amen brother. amen.
-Dave Marx

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