this if my favorite so far
| Many people have warm recollections about their first drink, usually involving a close relative passing them a beer at the tender age of eleven, or an underage group of fake ID bearing classmates on a Friday night rite of passage into adulthood and functional alcoholism. Mine, however, is a darker tale, involving mystery, intrigue, and quite possibly celebrity sabotage. When speaking of the latter, of course, I am referring to the heinous attacks made against my car by Regis Philbin.
This traumatic experience occurred many years ago, when I found myself working as a production assistant (see: piss boy) for the television production crew in charge of the 1994 Miss America Pageant. While there are many tales that I could spin about these events, quite possibly enough to fill a book, I find that it is much easier to break with narrative tradition and start at the end, my last night on the job.
The day in question had started out on a bad note, with the willful desecration of The Bulletproof Hyundai by Regis Philbin, currently spreading his evil to American households as host of the mind-numbingly popular “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” game show.
Parking for all those involved behind the scenes of America’s favorite flesh-peddling beauty contest masquerading as a scholarship drive was made available within the convention center itself, so the overpaid people involved wouldn’t have to expose themselves to the perils of Atlantic City casino parking. There weren’t too many cars filling the vast indoor space in the beginning of pre-production, but as the night of the event grew near, the lot became increasingly overcrowded with plenty of expensive luxury automobiles. Needless to say, my dirty white Hyundai hatchback clashed rather violently with all of the high-end rental vehicles and polished trophy cars. You could easily pick it out from a distance, which most of the other car owners reluctantly did, frowning and shaking their heads in dismay.
Indeed, it seemed that the more crowded the parking area of the convention center got, the more attention my brave little hatchback attracted. Security would occasionally hassle me open entering, despite the daily appearance of both the car and myself with enough repetition to imprint us on the psyche of countless test chimps, and the occasional suit clad passerby would politely recommend that it be taken in for a wash sometime in the next decade. Of course, it would have been gratifying to explain to mister smartass how working twenty-hour days as a PA allows very little time for washing myself, let alone my transportation. But I was young, eager, and at the bottom of the industry food chain, so my motivation to identify assholes on site was somewhat low. That motivation would grow rapidly over the next year, however, and force me into what I now consider an emotionally and spiritually fortuitous career change.
One little happenstance with me and my car still sticks in my head, when a rather snobbish and rude individual that had no immediate connection to me and my employers approached me out of the blue and began chastising me like a naughty ten year old. He had happened to notice that my car was parked with the windows down, and he seemed very concerned that someone might try to steal my parking pass out of the car. I felt the desire to point out that since we were inside the production building, the only people with access to my car and parking permit were people who no doubt had permits of their own, but instead I simply nodded in agreement until he finally walked off with a self important stride. Though the years have passed, and my car and I have no doubt faded from his memory, my hope is that karma someday leads him to read this little tale and remember our little discussion, so that I may dedicate a line of text on these pages and tell him to go fuck himself.
But even with such open displays of disapproval and disdain, I did not expect a rash act of vandalism from a well-known television personality. Sure, the car may have been a tad grimy and a stone’s throw from swanky, but imagine my shock and horror when I came in that morning and discovered a soda can resting on top of my hood. Shaking heads and derisive tones might be bad enough when taken on a daily basis, but for me the ultimate insult was to find that someone felt my car was more deserving as serving as trash receptacle than the garbage can located ten feet away. The Bullet Proof Hyundai may not have been desirable to most, but neither it nor I deserved such a lack of respect and courtesy.
I have no actual proof that Regis Philbin was the one who decided to employ my car as a makeshift coaster. But I do have my suspicions, based partially on an indirect run-in we’d had the previous day. Regis had been on set the past week or so rehearsing with Kathy Lee Gifford, and had been rubbing elbows with the press and other officials for a good portion of the day before the show. One of the Script Production Assistants, with whom I had worked long and hard to forge a rather strained and mutually unsympathetic working relationship with, rushed into the production trailer in search of a bag for Regis. Regis had acquired a handful of books from on of the other visitors, and she was now in a frenzied search for something he could carry them in. I offered her a paper grocery bag, and she nearly backhanded me with a look of disgust, insisting that we needed something like a cloth tote would be more appropriate. I calmly informed her that our velvet jewel sacks were at the drycleaners, and suggested that if she was that concerned about Regis’ heavy load, that she might want to personally transport his haul of five books to his talent trailer, which currently resided a mere four hundred feet away from the press tables.
My response might go a long way to demonstrating why I never really got far in the production end of the industry, and if the Script PA that stormed off afterward in a huff felt the spiteful need to inform Regis of my unreasonable assertion that he carry his damn books, then his possible motivation for desecrating the Bullet Proof Hyundai is also demonstrated.
Or maybe I’m just being silly. Whoever the culprit was, the soda can vandalism was to be an omen of things to come.
The night of the legendary “First Drink” was just one large accident waiting to happen. It was the big night of the show; all preparations were in place, final rehearsals were underway, costumes were being steamed and pressed, the crew was rigging for the live telecast, and I had fallen victim of one of the most violent sinus headaches I had ever experienced. By the time the show was broadcasting live, I had already attempted to overdose on multiple cold medications, none of which managed to put a even a mild dent in the pain. What they did manage to do was take me as close to a drug high as you can get with over-the-counter cold medicine, a state of mind that was the best place to be in when I found myself picking up a large pizza order for the wrap party. Foolishly thinking some fresh air would do me good, I set out into the cold rain with the production mini-van for the pizzeria, feeling completely miserable and slightly incoherent.
Upon parking in front of the pizza shop, I was immediately confronted by a scraggly and grumpy looking wino sitting on a nearby bus stop bench in the pouring rain. Obviously mistaking me for Ralph Cramden, he immediately staggered towards the van and ordered me to give him a ride. Not wanting to be rude to somebody obviously down on their luck, I politely informed him that I was otherwise occupied, and therefore could not offer him transport. I then purchased the dozen pizzas, loading them into the van with the help of the pizzeria owner.
With both of us burdened by hot pizza boxes, I hit the UNLOCK ALL DOORS button, a mistake to say the least. While we loaded the pizzas, the wino asked for a ride again, and once again I refused politely. As I thanked the pizzeria owner and climbed behind the wheel, the rejected bum decided that he was getting a ride regardless. He simply climbed into the passenger side and demanded that I drop him off in Philly. The struggle that ensued would have been comical if I myself hadn’t been the one trying desperately to shove this wet drunk out of my vehicle while he punctuated his demands for a ride by spitting on me and the dashboard. The pizzeria owner quickly leaped to my aid by launching into an immediate double-barreled assault of subtle charm and sympathetic psychology. The charm and psychology didn’t work, but luckily a boot heel to the fifth and sixth rib did the trick, and I peeled out of there before the wino could regain his balance and pursue on foot. I can’t even describe how this experience felt through the fog of a severe Nyquil high, but needless to say, none of this was doing my headache any good.
Thinking back, I probably could have just brought the bum to the convention center and let the security guards beat the snot out of him. Or I could have simply let him out in the parking lot, pointed him in the direction of the stage, and told him that Regis had three separate cans of malt liqueur concealed somewhere on his body. At the very least I could have just left him in the van and asked the other Production Assistants to get the pizzas. I blame my overly medicated condition on not realizing the full potential of the situation until well after the fact. But as they say, hindsight is 20/20, foresight is 60 Minutes.
It was during the actual wrap party that I would make the big mistake. I bumped into fellow PA Brian, who was in the process of mixing drinks for some of the crew, and he asked me if I’d like a Vodka & Cranberry Juice. Up to this point in my life I had never consumed anything stronger than a Coors Light, and even then it had only been one or two in a sitting. But I was feverish, headachy, slightly delirious, and still angry over my homeless wrestling match; so it occurred to me that a drink might help clear up the headache. He offered me the drink, I drank it, and my sinus headache began to fade! So I asked him to make me another, then shortly after that one, another. With each drink I asked for, my instruction was always to add just a bit less cranberry juice. By the time I had acquired my sixth drink, which was straight vodka with a slightly red tint, I was joyously numb, having a great time, and devouring slices of pizza with reckless abandon. Brian cut me off after six for some reason, but I managed to continue a steady intake by consuming the random drinks that people were abandoning half-finished throughout the production trailers.
The events that occurred afterward are, needless to say, somewhat vague. I do remember that the wrap party went on until two AM, at which point I somehow made it back to my roach infested $14 a night hotel room on the boardwalk, where I proceeded to embark upon the worst three hours of sleep in my entire night. I fell onto the stained mattress at three in the morning, barely remembering to set my alarm for five in the morning, when I would be expected to drive the production crew to the airport for their respective redeye flights.
It was a little after three thirty that I suddenly discovered that all of the jokes about spinning rooms were frighteningly true. Fifteen minutes later, I discovered that my stomach no longer wanted the gifts I bestowed upon it that evening. Normally the solution to this would have been to stagger into the bathroom and heave into the nearest toilet. However, the room I was staying in did not have a bathroom. Instead, I shared a bathroom with five other guests of the hotel, and this was located at the opposite end of the floor I was on. So instead of simply staggering into the bathroom, I had to stagger out of my room, navigate through a maze of hallways, knock on the door of the bathroom to ensure it was empty, and then enter and vomit, all of this in a state that could only be described as equal parts delirious and desperate. This happened exactly three times before five, and I can proudly say that I made it every time.
By the time I was forced to get up and return to Production’s hotel, I was completely sober and completely hung over. Actually, hung over is putting it lightly. I was a complete wreck, and proved it by throwing up in the hotel bathroom while the bellboys loaded the luggage into the van. How I made it to the airport without crying I’ll never figure out, but I do know that, after unloading the luggage and seeing the crew on their way, I vomited yet again in the airport toilet. Believe when I tell you that there is nothing more unnerving then throwing up in a toilet that automatically flushes).
Mind, spirit, and body were all in complete agreement that I was at the end of my rope, and so the four of us decided then and there that I could drive no farther without some sleep. So it was there, in the Miss America Pageant mini-van, in the no parking/loading and unloading only zone, that I completely passed out for three hours of comatose bliss.
Needless to say, I blame Regis for the whole thing.
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Comments 1 to 6 of 6