“That’s a wrap everybody.” I heard those words yesterday around 7.30 pm in a little ear piece I wore for over two weeks. It was the first time I’d ever heard those words and I almost cried. We had just finished the 14th episode of a new tv series. It was the first tv series I’d ever done. I had the time of my life.
Unfortunately I can’t discuss any of the specifics surrounding the series. If you think you know anything please keep it to yourself. The broadcaster will announce the show at the appropriate time and all will be revealed. As for me, it’s back to the deli today but I bring with me a head full of wonderful memories.
I will never forget the events of the last two weeks or the people who made it such a joy.
We laughed from Day One and didn’t stop until Cliff uttered the words I heard in my earpiece yesterday. I’m trying to avoid using cliches and hyperbole to describe how much fun I had working with this team but it’s hard because this experience was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. Let me try:
A number of years ago I read “What Color is My Parachute” and it changed my life. At the time I was staying with a friend, sleeping on the floor in her spare room. Although I clearly knew where I was, in every other respect I was lost.
I’d just returned from a disasterous experience managing an election campaign in Florida. My mother’s first cousin hired and then fired me and refused to pay me for my efforts. While I was waiting for the small claims action I’d filed to try and force her to honour our contract I was homeless and sleeping in my car. So I guess I wasn’t really homeless. My home was a Saturn sl2 usually parked in the parking lot of the West Palm Beach Hilton. During the day I’d sit by the pool. I mean, if you’re going to be homeless, at least you can work on your tan, right?
A few months later I returned to Toronto a broken man. Anne was my last friend and was kind enough to let me bottom out on the floor of her spare room. It was on that floor that I read the Parachute book. If you don’t know it, Parachute helps you not only find a job but find the thing you were put on this world to do.
I remember reading author Arthur Tolles say something about finding that job you would do that gave you so much joy, you’d do it even if you weren’t being paid. I remember reading those words and feeling that they were a luxury I could never afford. Feeling that kind of joy was beyond me. If I was homeless, I wasn’t hopeless but I was full of despair.
After completing the exercises at the back of the book I resolved to recommit myself to the business of food. I’d had such a love/hate relationship with being a hospitality professional yet everything in the book pointed me that way. Maybe love/hate isn’t fair. Maybe its love/self-hate. I’d been so happy working in bars and restaurants around the world but when I returned to Canada and graduated from George Brown College I couldn’t get past my ego and work in that industry here.
Fortunately I left my ego in the swimming pool of the West Palm Beach Hilton. Following Tolles’ advice for people desperate for work (as opposed to those looking for their calling in life) I opened the yellow pages under “C” and started calling catering companies. Maybe the second or third on that list was “All The Best Fine Foods”. Bob Lamont hired me to run an off-site catering contract. Soon thereafter I moved off of Anne’s floor and into my new life.
That was about 10 years ago. Four days ago, sitting in the lunch room eating a wonderful catered lunch during our break from making tv magic we were laughing. The execs on the show were joking around about paying the cast in cash. ”You know Blair,” I said “I can’t believe you’re even paying me to do this.” I was dead serious. Getting paid to have this much fun? Ridiculous. “Please don’t ever get jaded,” Blair said. (Aside: Dear Mr. Tolles, thank you for helping me find the thing I would do even if I wasn’t being paid).
But, as Ron Popeil says: “That’s not all!”
In the middle of the best experience of my life I had another experience that The Goose (aka Gregory Macdonald) compared to a scene out of the movie “Inception” because it felt like a dream within a dream.
A week ago Thursday we had Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives shooting in the deli. They shot us over three days but this was the day that guy Fieri would be shooting his scenes with us. Because of my commitment to the just wrapped series I wasn’t available to shoot the cooking segments but they did want me to do a quick interview with Guy.
And so, during the two hour afternoon break in the series I was taken by car to my deli. In full make-up and wardrobe I walked in, was shown where they wanted me to stand and waited for Guy. He entered moments later and after getting his bearings came over and shook my hand.
Seconds later we were into it. The Dude was awesome. He let me say everything I wanted to say. We joked about changing the name of his show to “Diners, Drive Ins and Delis”. We talked about schmaltz and matzo balls and pickled tongue. As we talked he ate a smoked meat sandwich. He gave me one of his signature lines after the first bite: “Shut the front door”.
Just before the interview was over, I pulled out a pin I’d tucked in my pocket and gave it to him. “You know, Guy, sometimes you just gotta ‘Jew It Up’”. He held the pin upto the camera which may or may not have caught my head exploding in the surreal grandeur of it all. At the end he gave me the fist bump.
Off camera, Guy was a total gentleman. The way he spoke to his team, to my team and to me proved to me the kind of man he is. He loves food and people. He changes lives and only for the better. He has achieved the kind of success that invites many to disparage him. He’d never say this but I will. Fuck them. Guy Fieri is a mensch.
Interview done, I’m hustled back into the van and back to the other studio. Walkie talkies crackled with confirmation that we’re coming back on time. I clicked my seat belt around me and let out a scream of pure ecstasy. My feet didn’t hit the ground for the rest of the day or week.
I got back to my dressing room, looked myself in the mirror and silently asked myself a question: “How the fuck did you get here?”