Wednesday, December 9, 2009

You Just Gotta Do What You Think You Can't...

September, 1982. I was driving a methadone delivery truck for a security company, part time. There wasn't much work for an ex-Detroit cop who didn't want to be a cop anymore. I had just gotten married and my wife was working but we needed more income. It wasn't much but it was all right as long as I didn't run into any of my old buddies in the precinct. Which I did one day when my truck was struck by a drunk. Oh, that was hard.

My friend Steve, who was a personality on Detroit rock radio at the time, and I had recently applied for a grant to produce a news show on the local cable station. Neither one of us had a clue how to do it, but we were very willing to learn. Our application had been granted and we had taken a 2 hour class on how to turn on and white balance a studio camera.

My wife, Denise, was working for a corporate travel agency as administrative assistant to the president. He told her one day that he wanted to produce some video training tapes on the reservation computers. He said he'd rented the equipment, written the script but he had no one to produce them. Denise, a fast thinker in all kinds of situations said with a big smile, "My husband works at Group W, the Dearborn cable company!" Uh huh, yeah, works. Right.

"Excellent!" said Brent. "Get him in here!" There was no moss growing under this guy. Denise came home with the good news that night. "Guess what, honey! My boss wants to see you tomorrow about doing some video work!" Of course I asked her what was involved and she told me. I looked at her with confused astonishment, wondering if she had all her faculties right then.

The next afternoon, dressed in my suit and tie, I arrived on time at Total Travel Management, still wondering what the hell I was doing. I had no idea what I was doing or what I was going to do. It was a blank slate and I hadn't started thinking about writing on it, much less actually doing it.

Then it hit me. There was no way I could do this, absolutely no way. I had no idea how to make a video, no idea what it entailed. I started to get up and leave when the receptionist said Mr. Garback was ready for me. Ah, shit, I thought, this is really going to be embarrassing. But, by the time I got to his office door, I had a plan. A plan to get out of it gracefully. I have Mars square Uranus. One astrologer called it the "hair trigger" aspect; I was good at making split second decisions. So I did.

I walked in, shook hands and sat down. We covered the pleasantries for a minute or so, then got down to business. I asked him to explain just exactly what he needed. My plan was to quote a figure so high that he would politely kick me out of his office. When he explained what he needed done - I had trouble following him at first because of the terminology. "Talking head, multiple camera shoot, computer screen B-roll, AB editing" and on, I would nod politely when I thought I should and generally acted intelligent. I pretty much had no idea what he was talking about. But I knew how to white balance a camera.

When he was finished, he asked me what it would cost him for me to do the project. I looked contemplative for a while, figuring in my head if I had enough gas to get home. Finally, I looked at him right in the eyes and gave him my figure, trying not to laugh. Then he said it. The words that would change my life.

He said, "Fine, you've got the job. When can you start?" I started to say that it was nice to have met him when his words hit me right between the eyes. I wanted to say, no, no, this was all a joke, I don't have a clue how to do what you want, I only know how to white balance a camera! What I said was, "Let's see. Next Tuesday would be good. I've got commitments until then." He said, "Excellent, I'll see you then."

I walked out in a fog with my stomach churning like a sea storm. Oh, God! What did I just do? Ah, shit, this is ridiculous. I've gotta go back in and tell him the truth! But, I kept walking to my car, a beater, and discovered to my amazement that I did have enough gas to get home.

When Denise came home that evening, I told her what had happened and the figure I had quoted. She looked at me, eyes wide, mouth open and said, "What are you going to do?" I said, "You got me into this and I don't know what in the hell I'm gonna do!" I knew, I would be sick to my stomach for the next week then call him and tell him something had come up, a family emergency and I wouldn't be able to handle his project. Sorry, but I know you understand.

I told Steve what I'd gotten myself into and he just looked at me. "You idiot. You can't do that. What are you going to do?" I didn't have an answer. I finished my soup and rye toast and went home.

Next Tuesday came and I delivered my methadone. There was a shotgun in the truck but I never touched it. If someone had to shoot somebody it wasn't going to be me. Then again, I thought, now there's a way out. Nah, I'd still have to shoot somebody. Me.

After work, I dressed casually and headed down to the travel agency thinking to myself, "You're a poser, an impostor, and they're going to know it as soon as you show up with your thumb in your ear." I walked in. There was an area set up with cameras, this complicated looking two-deck videotape system, wires everywhere and an idiot standing there. What the @#** am I going to do here? I saw a pile of manuals sitting on the counter and picked one up. It was on the two-deck editing system. I opened it and began to read.

I started to come in everyday after work, reading the manuals and playing with the equipment. I was actually having fun and looking intelligent at the same time. After about two weeks I felt comfortable with the cameras and the editing system. I had a deadline, a date by which Brent wanted the videos - yep, multiple videos -done. But now I was fired up.

I finally got everything set up, created my own teleprompter out of an art easel and a dowel and was introduced to my "talent." Three travel agents whom Brent had picked for this project. They were as clueless as I was, but I was determined. Very determined not to embarrass myself.

Do you know that I produced those three videotapes by the seat of my pants and finishing them before the deadline. And, I did it all on crutches. My knee had swelled up like a balloon, the result of a motorcycle accident seven years prior. I had no health insurance so I bought a set of crutches and got to work. It was very hard and very sweaty to do it that way but what was the alternative? Ah, I so love challenges.

Then the day came when I was to show Brent the finished product. I don't know how many takes it had taken to do this thing, probably millions. I wasn't sure if he would kick me out of his office or just cry. He did neither.

What he did was smile broadly and write me a check for that way over the top figure. He was so impressed with my work that he hired me full time as his Multi-Media Manager, bought the equipment I had used and gave me a company car. My salary was more than I had made as a cop.

My life had turned in those three months as I learned a trade and got paid handsomely for it. I would go on to work in the business for the next eight years, producing videos for Ford, Chrysler and other corporate clients. It would become a pattern for me: falling into positions doing something I had no idea how to do. It was always basically the same. I would teach myself how to do whatever it was through on-the-job training. Always saying with confidence, "Sure, I can do that." And then doing it.

I can't delineate the astrology of it because I don't know the exact dates when I presented and when I accomplished. I guess I'll have to see a psychic to get them. Now, if I only knew one besides me.


  1. Cheers Lars! I can relate to this! You just jump in and see if you can swim or not...or, like me, I'll read a few books on "swimming for the water-phobic" and then toss them aside and carry on it cheerful denial! Old style would be I'd swim totally on my own, now I like to see who else has jumped in the water too....and how do you do that back-stroke again?

  2. Wow! Pretty interesting, Lar. Marty