Where do these people come from? Where do these smiling, frowning, strangely energetic, intensely coiffed people come from? I assumed they were borne from an ancient planet, schooled from birth in the art of “laughing at that kooky weather,” groomed by well-suited aliens in the difficulties associated with the “awkward segue” and the subtleties of “tilting of the head to connote deep, deep concern.” I felt these skills could only have been absorbed if one knew nothing of planet Earth, if they were forced upon someone who wasn’t aware of our imperfect human ways. Who would volunteer for such a calling? Who would willingly participate in the production of local TV news broadcasts?
Woody Woodriffe, the Fox 2 sports guy, sits in a Keego Harbor bar called the Brewhaus at 11:30 a.m. He’s got a Rolling Rock in front of him. He’s got a barmaid named Carrie in front of him. He’s got two hours of interrogation in front of him.
You are from this world, correct?
“I was raised 20 miles north of Yankee Stadium, in Westchester County. I played a little baseball growing up, but you couldn’t call me a jock.”
And you consume regular food? There is not a special diet that is required of television personalities?
“I just ordered a bowl of chili. You want something? Their food’s pretty good here. Ain’t it, Carrie? Yeah. Go ahead, man. The specials are on the board there. Look at that! Sloppy joes, man! Get some sloppy joes!”
Woody is very excited. I don’t know why.
“This is my day off! This is my favorite bar!”
Woody’s got a tightly fitted blue knit cap on his head, a Fox 2 sweatshirt on his back. He never sits still. He moves back and forth in his seat, laughing, slapping the bar with his hand, good-naturedly shouting at the other patrons, the bar staff, and me.
“The food is good in here, ain’t it, fellas?” he shouts at two enormous, flannel-shirted dudes on the other side of the bar.
“Hey, Carrie! Who’s the new girl? Hey! What’s your name, sweetheart?” he shouts into the kitchen, where Carrie is showing the new girl how to put the sloppy joe plate together.
Where did you learn how to be a local news dude, Woody?
“I went to college in Florida. University of Miami. I studied video production. I never intended to be in front of the camera. I worked behind the scenes at a Miami station for years. Then a spot opened up in sports. I figured, what the hell. I knew it would be an easy gig. I’d been watching them do it for a long time and I knew I could do it better.”
Are you telling me that this was all an accident? A blip of fate? It was not ordained by some intergalactic cabal that measured your genetic requirements and promptly enrolled you in “The Striped Suit Is Not Your Friend 101?”
“I completely lucked into this. I did not walk around when I was 6 years old thinking I wanted to be a TV star,” he explains.
He finishes his chili and asks New Girl about her last job.
“I worked for a place that performed hair plug surgery on people,” she says.
Her hair is blond, her teeth are white. She did a real nice job on my sloppy joe plate. She put a pound of Ruffles on it, and I’m dipping the chips into the sloppy joe mixture that has escaped the bun. I do this for two hours, producing an ennui that doesn’t fade for a week.
Do the newscasters and weathermen and sportscasters return to some type of pod after their performances? Are there tubes inserted into their carcasses, energizing and rejuvenating them with secret chemical formulas? Do they sleep?
“A lot of them live in West Bloomfield,” Woody confesses.
He starts to grill Carrie about the tequila selections available at the Brewhaus. There’s one specific brand he prefers, and the Brewhaus won’t get it for him.
“Come on! That’s all I ask for. I’m not that hard to please. It’s not even a very expensive brand, either. Oh well, this will do.”
Carrie sets a large rocks glass in front of Mr. Woodriffe and soon his dismay is replaced by a calm resignation.
“I really love this place. You got to sign the pole before you leave! It’s right behind you. You got to sign it either way up high or way down low. Otherwise, people grabbing that pole are gonna rub it off!” Woody knows this place in an intimate way.
He’s jabbering to the barmaids, flirting and razzing and talking shit and all of a sudden he lets out a sound that convinces me finally that, yes, he is from this world.
This is not a laugh that can be learned in some off-galaxy training facility. This is not a laugh that you will hear from the weatherman when the anchor asks, “Who ordered this snow? I sure didn’t!” It’s not a programmed ironic titter, nor a well-rehearsed chortle. It’s a balls-out, chili-stinkin’, Rolling Rock-fueled yelp!
It was so much easier for me to attribute all these newscasters to distant worlds. So much more palatable to assume that they were not like us, you and me. And although I can’t speak for all in this profession, the ridiculously over-the-top saloon guffaw uttered by the weekend sportscaster on Fox 2 can only point to one conclusion:
Human.Dan Demaggio dines with interesting people for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected]