Fast that is if you’re counting in dinosaur years.
Me and my *Boychick” Alan Goldberg go back to 1978 in NYC. He was sleeping on his sister Leslie (my friend’s) couch and waiting tables at Restaurant Tartufo on the upper east side. Completely at a loss about what to do with his life now that he had graduated from Indiana University, Alan was open to suggestions.
Alan’s true gift is that he is very very interested in you and your story. His other gifts in order of importance for becoming a Sixty Minutes producer are:
1. he’s hilarious
2 .he’s very cute (in a Jewish way)
3. he has a heart of gold
4. he is open to suggestions from little old ladies who take a liking to him
Actually move number 4 to the top of the list. She was a regular at Restaurant Tartufo, a doctor, originally from N. Carolina, who always ordered a burger, fries and a Coke, and always asked for Alan.
Like any landsman wandering in the desert wondering how much longer he would be sleeping on his sister’s couch, Alan was thinking of applying to Law or Business School when the little lady doctor asked if he had ever considered Journalism because, she said,
“I think it would suit you”
So he applied to NYU Graduate School of Journalism, got in, and also found himself the recipient of a teaching assistant fellowship. This meant he would be assisting students in the Journalism Department before he’d taken a single class.
NYU School of Journalism was just starting up and someone else took a liking to Alan.
After graduating he got a job at CBS NEWS, a show called West 57th St, a hip 60 Minutes anchored by a very young Meredith Vieira (Today Show) and Steve Kroft (60 Minutes). From there he helped start Dateline with anchors Stone Phillips and Jane Pauley, and then settled in for almost 19 years with 20/20, producing interesting stories with Barbara Walters. Four months ago he was offered a new plum; 60 Minutes Sports on Showtime. He’s a guy, so he loves sports, he produces news stories so Sixty Minutes is the shimmering crown. Think Kid-in-a-Candy Store. He was in NOLA to do a story on Behind-the-Scenes at Super Bowl so we dined on leftovers from his lunch at Katies with Mary Maitlan and James Carville, co-hosts for the New Orleans Super Bowl Committee. We laughed like it was 1978.
Alan is also serious; very proud of stories like the ones on Anorexia and transgender kids that he produced for 20/20. Before Alan and Barbara Walters brought sunlight to these subjects, these kids and their parents suffered alone and in the dark. He was awed by the 28 million viewers tuned into the anorexia hour, the resulting changes in treatment and perspective, and most of all that young lives were probably saved… and not even a day in Med School! Sometimes whether your way is Medicine, Journalism, Art, or any other path, you can end up at the same spot.
The Superbowl story is something else again. Alan decided the way into this one was scale. How to grasp and then portray in words and pictures the MILLIONS of dollars it takes to produce the event, the $4 million for a 30 second commercial to reach an estimated 110 million viewers across planet Earth who will be watching, or the influx of NEARLY HALF A BILLION dollars into the New Orleans economy? Even though the Superbowl is a THING, the way in is always through people, bringing us back to the little lady doctor from N. Carolina ordering a hamburger, fries, and a Coke in Restaurant Tartufo, suggesting Alan Goldberg consider Journalism.
Alan chooses a half dozen people and their stories out of a cast of thousands to find his way into his narrative of Superbowl scale. This is a totally subjective process and the one that most bears the imprint of the Producer. If you believe, like Alan does, that everyone could be a story, then his job is really to take a microscopic slice out of a gigantic pie of possibilities and make it deliciously interesting and new.
First he chooses the ringmaster, Frankie Supovitz, head of events for the NFL. Alan caught up with him 2 months ago in a room of 350 key players at a Hyatt across from the Superdome. The little guy with the backpack is Supovitz, a would-be Biologist who started as an usher at Radio Center Music Hall. Frank views the Biggest Party on Earth as a massive science experiment akin to a NASA launch. delegating to a huge and stellar team. He starts with thousands of moving parts. Like a biologist he dissects the beast and names the parts. Supovitz does it all with a certain calm; his reputation is for building very very good teams. Alan describes it as “A massive operation and somebody has to direct it and be the funnel for all these decisions.
It sounds eerily like the explanation I got recently from Matthew Siegler, legal counsel to a Congressional Committee. I asked Matt why it was that White House staff, Press Secretary, Chief of Staff, etc. so often resigned after one term while the President stayed on for another 4 years. He told me these are the folks who do the strenuous leg work. They bring the finished package, “fully fleshed out policies or proposals for him to review”, wrapped up perfectly, on every issue for the President to digest then simply decide: yes, no, bring me more info. I shouldn’t say simply; the President’s hair does always turns white in office.
Alan chooses the head of Security as another beacon of scale for his story. This is the guy whose job it is to make New Orleans and the Super Dome the safest place in the world on game day. Daunting, especially in light of the numbers: 20,000 credentialed workers who need FBI clearance just to sell hot dogs, 5000 journalists, and 70,000 ticket holders. All in one place.
He also found it interesting that the party event planners are two women for this most male-centric of events. Private party for 10,000 VIPS?…not a problem if you’re among the most experienced in the country…another way into the narrative.
As for the nuts and bolts of producing a story, Alan starts by watching the hours and hours of raw videotape. At some point, (and each time he does this he feels this will be his Waterloo), he has to sort through all of the material, sit down and write the script that will tell the tale. He creates the essential roadmap for his collaborators: the Correspondents, Video Editor, Executive and Senior Producers, Standards & Practices, and Legal. That’s a lot of checks and balances and you have to be able to play nice with the other kids on the playground to pull it off.
His pre-interviews can be as tough on Alan as they are on the subjects themselves. Sometimes he goes in knowing more than the interviewee realizes he knows. Caught on camera. Sometimes he has to shake hands with real evil, like an accused Nazi. “It was hard for me because my mother was a Holocaust survivor. It’s this ritual; I had to shake his hand and thank him for sitting down with me, and then the tape rolls and it’s all business and I can ask the hard questions.” Still people will call him afterwards asking for favors. “I’ve outed these people on national TV and they’re fine with asking me if I can write a recommendation for their daughter who wants to be a film maker. They totally compartmentalize what they’ve done from the rest of their lives, crazy.”
So for 60 Minutes Sports, Super Bowl 47 will be about size, which really counts in this story. He’ll chip away at a ton of information to reveal a great story, one where you’ll learn something new and be entertained. In the process he’ll make people laugh and comfortable enough to talk on camera without fear. He’ll move through the world making friends like he always has. Good work my boychick.
*Thank you to the Santa Barbara Jewish Federation for Yiddish translation
BOYCHICK: An affectionate term for a young boy.
Unlikely but true, she was a Barrons Top 100 Female Money Manager who also saw dead people, a fact she pretty much kept under wraps.
She looked like Mary Martin’s Peter Pan, kept her blond hair cut to 1″ in length, did competitive swimming in the 60-65 year old age group, and did 2 hours of Hot Yoga on Sunday mornings to unwind.
She traveled widely, was fluent in French, and a good golfer. Because she loved people and took chances, she was often thrown in with people who were not her kind. The time in a village in France when she’d chosen to spend the night in the guest room of a farmhouse, the only other occupants being the farmer, his wife, and their 16 year old son. Their immediate attraction was something a Barron’s Top 100 could probably handle, but what about Lucien?
Lucien had very large hands, so large in fact that he wondered if they’d been stretched by using them from the age of 3 to pull up turnips and endive, strap leather leads on the solid work horses. Later on when he was studying genetics he learned his hands were the hands his genes said were his hands.
His eyes were a heavenly blue and heavily lidded, so along with his long rumpled brown hair he looked like it was always daybreak between the sheets. He didn’t have to do a thing to attract lovelies; he was a whole lot of honey unto himself.
In her pretty good French she and the family enjoyed a stew of beef, red wine, turnips, and onions over thick buttered noodles followed by a salad, then cheese, nuts, and more wine. Her French got better as she drank. There was the misunderstanding about a French idiom.
She translated it as “There is a mouse in every hole in this house”. Since she was terrified by mice, rats, any rodent, she screamed as she jumped up out of her chair. The family looked at her like she was crazy since the idiom actually translated to “there is always food for a visitor” When it was all explained they laughed until they cried. From that moment on Lucien called her “ma petite souris”.
She was drunk when she climbed into the big lumpy bed and drunk still when he joined her. At 5am he woke up and gave his little mouse a final neck lick and nibble, adding a soft tiny kiss goodby before beginning his chores. She thrilled here and she thrilled there, little electric charges going off in places that she thought had been shut down.
Lucien it turns out had much more on his mind than soil and toil. He was an outstanding student and the French government pretty much lifted him up off the family farm and set him down in Paris. He was a kind man and a good scientist. The things he wondered about were DNA, RNA, nucleo-this, and nucleo-that. He found that chemicals in a happy environment grew lovely connections. When he moved the petri dishes to a hostile setting they became sick. So he reasoned and then proved over a lifetime that humans, made up of these exact same chemicals, became well, then sick, then well again depending on their environments. His research was tagged in the popular press as The Happiness Genes.
It was his nature to be kind and generous but when he grew older he appreciated what a gift it was to share these things. He sometimes thought of the night in the farmhouse with the charming petite mouse 40 years his senior and wondered if he’d made the chemicals inside the petri dish of her skin happy. He had.
LITTLE WOODEN BIRDS
A dense green hooded country road leads you into Gatlinburg, Tennessee. 100 year old buildings with hand carved wooden bears and hand sewn quilts hang out front and invite you into this century old arts and crafts haven in the middle of the Great Smokey Mountains. And then you arrive; the traffic lights, the traffic, the lines of roaring Harleys spewing stinky fumes, all things Dukes of Hazzard including the chance to meet Deputy Cletus Hogg, the parade of obesity clogging the sidewalks always chewing on some fried crap or drinking liquified sugar. The dinner choices, Hard Rock Cafe or one of 6 Pancake and Waffle Houses. Yes I was being judgmental and yes, I was in shock.
I’d come for a week to do a class at a venerable Arts & Crafts Center that had been established in 1912, crafts classes going back to 1945. It was an oasis I dared not leave for the 5 days of classes.
But I’d arrived a day early so decided to drive The Arts and Crafts Trail. So many stores, so many pots and weavings and glass blown vases.
I stopped at one that sold hand carved wooden birds. At the entrance sat an old lady and her husband. The shelves got emptier and emptier as I headed to the back of the store and then I noticed the walls, covered with newspaper articles about Ronald Reagan, Nixon, and mostly both Bushes. Keep your mouth shut I thought as I said “You really like those Republican Presidents, huh?”
“Well of course we do, better than what we got now.” And then it began.
She was 85 and he was 90-something, now too blind to carve his birds so they were selling off everything and closing shop. But he’d been in WWII, next over from the Battle of the Bulge! He said “This country went Communist when the ACLU started up”. Me…Gulp. “Do you like your Social Security”? “Course I do”. Well then I guess you like Socialism” (sputter, sputter, non sequitur)
From there we slid right on into abortion. She: “They kill babies”. Me: “What about those 80 or so years that kid lives knowing his mother didn’t want him”? Silence..maybe she heard me!
Me: “I’ll give you $50 to sit down with me and watch MSNBC tonight” (and I would have).
They: Looking unperturbed and silent. She: “They lie; Fox News is the only one who tells the truth.” Me: “Gotta go”.
I pat his shoulder and say thank you for your service, and left there wondering, do they live in the bubble or do I?
I was in Barcelona driven by an urge to see Antonio Gaudi’s cut loose architecture. Wondering how a devout and practicing Catholic in 1880′s Spain could have been at that same repressive time so utterly released? For that matter, how about the city fathers who supported his psychedelic architecture?
It was Saturday, in a tiny hotel on the edge of the Gothic Quarter, right across the street from the Gothic church. My room was big enough for a large mouse, otherwise known as a rat, a room perfect in every way, a jewel in a jewel box. On Sunday in front of the church I was transfixed by the locals dancing the Sardana, hands held high in a circle, moving in precise steps to music so sad I actually cried.
Next day I took a bus out to Gaudi’s famous Park Guell. Even though I was dressed head to toe in clothes I’d bought in Spain, they stared knowing I wasn’t one of them. As the bus traveled, the neighborhood got more and more derelict until I was in a bad neighborhood and Park Guell.
100 kids yelled excitedly as they surfed the huge hairpins turns of the stairway whose railings were topped by enormous mosaic lizards, mouths open and smiling. Columns appeared to be melting, sculptures made no sense, pure fantasy.
My Nikon was slung over my shoulder and I headed up a path that looked less peopled. Once alone I was surprised by a teenager who appeared out of nowhere and walked in step with me. He was rail thin, probably hungry in retrospect, and had acne. He wore a grey crew neck sweater. He pantomimed to let him carry my camera and I was too embarrassed to say no. He took the camera and then with an inexperienced grope cupped my breast. The adrenaline kicked in. I was Wonder Woman, no really. My right hand grabbed the neck of his sweater and it ripped sweetly top to bottom like a sheet of paper. His face said, “How could you do that to me, this is my only sweater”? He was so surprised he dropped the camera and ran. I stood stock still for seconds, then as the adrenaline rushed back out I fell into a puddle on the ground.
I have always been comforted knowing that when it comes to fight or flight, my instinct, and all 4 feet, 11 inches of me, fights.
His father expected him to go into the textile business but Luther loved lichen. He studied and spent his life tenderly mounting and tagging specimens.
Although the senior Luther Erlich was disappointed, he understood passion from his own student days at The Vienna Institute of Textile Sciences. It was there his passion for baking blossomed, even pulling weekends in the kitchen of The Hotel Sacher, learning the magic art of stretching a 12 inch square of dough into a 3 foot sheet transparent enough to see through.
Over the years he perfected his recipe for apple streudel, combed by rivers of brown sugar and nuts, and mystifying his fans with his secret ingredient, black pepper.
Luther’s sister meanwhile, always had a scrap of paper, paints, a brush or a pencil in her hand.
But it never crossed her father’s mind that she would be the ideal successor to The Pantz Textile Mill.
40 years later, Anna was dining at her brother’s house, staring at the glass cases in the kitchen she’d seen a thousand times before, when she shouted “meh Dråck”! (“more dirt”!) In her mind’s eye the fluttering edges suddenly converted into fabric patterns, soft greens, yellows, browns, with specks of bright contrast, intricately interwoven.
Their collaboration began at that moment, Luther pulling out drawer after drawer of lichen samples, Anna madly interpreting and sketching until the sun came up.
They were joyful and only wished their father could have seen the renaissance of The Pantz Textile Mill. Luther and Anna did look at each other in silent awe a few days later when an employee offered them a slice of homemade apple streudel at lunch, and it was mysteriously spicy.
For a year she’d gone to the same club on Friday nights. dancing to the same DJ, but stopped when it became too embarrassing. The music was vintage 2006, her grand kids danced to it. She found it the best kind of exercise, the kind you don’t notice you’re doing. It carried her away every bit as much as Johann Sebastian Bach. Sometimes a kid would put his arm around her on the dance floor to have his friends take a picture with her; she didn’t care. Until the night a boy who’d watched her came up to the bar where she was downing a glass of water and smiled at her with glaringly white teeth that meant he’d only been drinking coffee for a year or two. “What are you doing here”? he asked in a pure sweet way that she knew was simple curiosity, like looking at an albino alligator in the zoo, not meant to offend. His beautiful girlfriend slid in between them.
After that she found a room downtown. She invested in a set of Bang & Olufsen headphones when her neighbor asked her to please turn down the volume.
Mom and I stood across the street from Trump Tower 2 years after it was built wondering who was at the center of the crowd of people out front that included an NBC film crew.
Seeing the interior of Trump Tower was on our visitors list anyway.
Later I learned that by breaking the tower up into retail, public, and living space, and claiming the airspace above its neighbor Tiffany’s! Trump had circumvented building regulations that would have prohibited him from going so high on such a crumb of land. Was he the first one to think of a mixed-use high rise? If he was, this was his stroke of genius..and trickery. Couple that with his schoolgirl vanity and you have a Cyclops missing an eye for introspection. A common brown sparrow, majestically fluffing its feathers oblivious to the fact that it’s not a brilliant blue bird. A hat of hair in all its dandy glory.
Mom wasn’t technically a visitor since she and her husband, who came to NYC regularly for business, kept an apartment there. He sold fur coats in New Orleans, a city where summer can break out in January. I think this explained why he was so grumpy all the time.
We crossed Fifth Ave. and there Dave Letterman stood at the center of the crowd taping a bit for his show that night. “Oh God, it’s David Letterman”! “Who’s that”? mom asked. He’s this! He’s that! I filled her in. She marched directly up to him and said “I don’t know who you are but my daughter thinks you’re wonderful”. Have you ever been to the 51st state? The one called Child Mortification whose capital is Make Me Invisible?
Next, mom and I went to have tea at a hotel trying to be British, two guards standing at attention out front like it was Buckingham Palace complete with gold embroidered scarlet doublets and chin crunching fuzzy bearskin hats. And there was Dave and his crew again. Mom waved, assured he remembered her from their get together at Trump Tower. I turned and waited for it to be over.
That night I fetched her right on time at 7:30. She was still in her bathrobe putting on makeup. Apparently she had encountered Dave a third time that day after we parted! “Here” she said, “I have something for you” and handed me a scrap of paper that read:
Sorry I missed you.
Good luck with mom.
Lots of people in high school thought I was strange because I dressed and cut my hair like a boy, and I was tall like a boy. But I was nothing compared to my Aunt Wanda.
Wanda usually dressed in black and talked real tough. She used to say things like, “Kid, when I get cold, I don’t get goosebumps, I get tigerbumps.” Our standing joke was my reply, “Aunt Wanda, don’t call me kid, call me Tiger Boy.” I don’t think there was anything funny about that but it always made her laugh which would make me laugh because Wanda’s laugh sounded more like terminal hiccups.
One day we were walking down Canal Street. People were staring at us probably because of Aunt Wanda’s hair, (dyed blueblack and a foot high), and she got particularly ticked off when one Catholic lady crossed herself after having eye contact. Wanda went up in her face and said “whaddayathink lady, I got tha evil eye or sumpn”? That old lady ran, probably into the nearest church. A big black fellow saw the whole thing and said something cute, but crude, to Aunt Wanda. She never did know when to drop the tough act and said “Get outta here”. He said, “Lady, you some weird peesashit, chill out”.
This was bad. “Don’t you tell me to chill buddy, cuz when I chill I don’t get goosebumps, I get tigerbumps.” The guy looked at her dumbly, having no clue how to respond. A moment passed, I think he was drunk. I’m pretty sure one blow from him would have been the end of the story so I just spoke up. “Hey mister, and they call me tigerboy.” Well, Aunt Wanda’s mouth started trembling and then she let loose, just cracked up, and her laughter let all the air out of the balloon. This giant thought she was having a fit when he heard her hiccuping and he knew in New Orleans if a black man gets into a fight with a white woman, and that woman dies or even if she just has a fit, then that black man eats his next meal Chez Angola State Prison.
So he was the second person in a row that ran off from our weirdness. A crowd had gathered around by this time and when Wanda stopped laughing, or hiccuping, she looked at me and said, “We’re quite the team Tiger Boy, quite the team.”
The three Bismanti Brothers- Sylvestre, Elmestre, and Dinizar all fabulous musicians who played for coins on the streets of Tangiers. I loved their music and followed them with my Sony tape recorder. I knew how boring these tapes would be to everyone back home. But it gave a raison d’etre to my travels and so made me more comfortable. Sometimes Sylvestre would put down his blue flute and sing weird snakey songs while Elmestre and Dinizar continued on their green and red instruments.
One day, while playing in the European section an Arab child ran out into the square to dance to their magical flutes and stood frozen and barefooted as the truck hit her. The police roughly hauled the brothers away.
When the crowds cleared I saw the green flute cracked and scattered in the orange dust and saw a dark teenager running off with Dinizar’s red flute. I felt sick and left Tangiers that afternoon for Spain.
I was grateful to have captured their music but I was never able to listen to it without feeling guilty as a thief. That’s how a memory gets stuck to a tune.
MRS MAYER’S COOKIES
Mrs Mayer took care of herself and her family by baking her Viennese family cookie recipes and selling them first for Bar Mitzvahs, then for parties, then for weddings, and finally to Pepperidge Farm.
But back in the early days my mother, a fabulous cook and baker herself, was one of her best customers. For 25 years mom begged for the recipe. One afternoon, just before the Pepperidge Farm news broke, Mrs Mayer invited my mother over for coffee.
Mrs Mayer’s Pecan Cookies
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Beat 4 small egg whites with a pinch of salt until fluffy. Add vanilla extract, then turn beater speed down to medium and keep beating, adding one and a fourth cups of sugar till firm. Set aside some of the beaten whites in case you need to loosen the mixture later.
Add one pound of pecans, (preferably ground by a hand grinder instead of a food processor!) Add to egg whites until you have the right consistency. This is the tricky part; this is a grandmother’s recipe, not specific. What you want is for the mixture to hold together but not be so loose it doesn’t firm up. You’ll just have to experiment. Roll into balls about an inch or so and drop into a bowl of sugar to coat. Place on baking sheet and press a little pecan piece into the center.
Bake about 10 minutes. They should look cracked on top.
p.s. This story is true, but only at its core. I called Mrs Mayer’s son, advertising maestro, Peter Mayer, to get his ok and he said “You have my mothers pecan cookie recipe??!! I’ve only got her schnecken recipe!”
My father and his brother had started a company together and built very similar brick homes right next to each other. Then they built 2 cottages right next to each other in the middle of 300 acres across Lake Pontchartrain, the lake that would roll over and flood New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina. Folsom, Louisiana where land was valued at $3 per acre in the middle of nowhere, misery for my city loving mom, heaven for my cousins and, I, youngest member of the Black Widow Club that met in the hayloft to discuss all the scary things like snakes and spiders and make vaguely ominous plans of attack.
I took the bus home from school that day and two blocks from my house I could already see the fire engines and police cars. Oh god, not another bad thing.
My eyes stretched open as I saw that whatever was happening, was happening at my house. “What’s happening” I asked. “They’re burying something”. I could only think it was my pug Nicky who could be buried and was deserving of this much attention. “Who are they burying” I quietly asked? “Nitroglycerin” he answered. “Who is that?” I asked relieved that my Nicky was safe.
That same morning as I’d slipped into my brother’s souped up 1956 red/white/and chromed Chevy to drive to Isidore Newman School he’d said, “Hold this”. It was a little vial with liquid in it and he hadn’t bothered to say to be careful. Marshall lived, and died, on the edge. One day he’d cut off the gorgeous red ponytail of the girl who sat in front of him in school.
His bedroom was speckled with pretty patterns from past explosions and he had a very mutually beneficial relationship with the neighborhood cops. I got quoted on the front page of next days Times Picayune for saying “Daddy’s really gonna blow up when he gets home” and I remember clearly that I wasn’t trying to be funny. Darned exciting though.
Times Picayune September 18, 1956 → http://bit.ly/qStx6e (unfortunately there’s a pay wall between this wonderful time capsule – Dulles Seeks Peaceful Pact, Adlai Answers Questions on Hiss Verdict, Nitro Disposal Problem Found- and my post).