August 27, 2003
From The Weekly Dig
My Night as a Talking Head
"Is this Joe Lavin, the Internet columnist?" the producer asked when I picked up my phone on a Friday afternoon. I responded with a tentative yes. The whole point of writing on the Internet is that nobody can find you. Had someone taken offense at one of my columns and decided to track me down? No, it was far worse. He wanted me to be on television that night to discuss former Boston Celtic basketball coach Rick Pitino. Three years ago, I wrote a scathing review of a Rick Pitino book, a piece that I don't even like anymore, but such is the hatred for Pitino that people are still linking to it.
I didn't agree immediately. I lied and said I had to see whether I could switch my schedule, a ludicrous statement considering my social life. Switching my schedule that night merely meant that I would be watching the James Bond movie I rented on Saturday rather than Friday. Still, I didn't want to commit right away. First, I had to mull it over. I called my girlfriend for a pep talk. "Joe, you have to do it," I needed her to say. Unfortunately, she wasn't home, but twenty minutes later I realized she was going to say that anyway, so I called the producer back and accepted the offer. The prospect was terrifying, but I took solace in the fact that probably only twelve people would be watching.
The whole premise of my segment was particularly silly.
My segment was scheduled for the end, so I sat in the lounge for an hour, trying to come up with as much vitriol as I could muster while watching the show. With me was a sportswriter from The Boston Herald who was there to discuss high school basketball. He obviously didn't care quite as much as I did. I had spent a half-hour figuring out what to wear, finally settling on an olive suit with a beige shirt and no tie. He had apparently dressed in the car on the way over, throwing on a blue dress shirt and waiting until he was in the lobby to put on socks. The image of him bending over to don socks is sadly scarred into my brain.
Soon, the makeup artist, a woman in her forties, took me away to get ready. We chatted while she applied makeup under my eyes and on my forehead. She confessed that she was still rattled from an earlier "news" program on the station. The guests had been two black men, a priest, and a skinhead. It sounds like the setup of a joke, but apparently it really happened.
"Oh my God," she said, "the skinhead was sitting right where you're sitting now. I was so nervous. He barely spoke. He just glared ahead, while I put makeup on him. We don't really have much security here. We tried to keep everyone separate, but it's so small here…. Then, I had to iron his shirt. I was so scared that I would burn it, and that he would kill me."
This seemed ominous. For my television debut, I would be following a skinhead, though at least one with a freshly ironed shirt. Luckily, my segment was just five minutes, but those five minutes lasted forever. Looking back at the tape, though, I wasn't all that bad, except for the first thirty seconds when my eyes darted back and forth as if I was looking desperately for an exit. I was simply trying to decide which camera to look at, but to the viewer it must have looked like I was about to make a run for it.
In the end, it was just five minutes of me ripping apart Rick Pitino for an audience of dozens. Unfortunately, I am on record as saying that I will be the first in line to buy tickets if Pitino does come back. I didn't really mean that, but Ed wouldn't stop asking me until I said yes. I also claimed that a Boston College basketball game against Louisville would "definitely" sell out Boston's Fleet Center. I don't believe that either, but when you're on a sports talk show, you have to say these sorts of things.
Immediately afterwards, I was convinced I had bombed and firmly decided that I would never go on television ever again. I've since amended that statement to be: I'll never go on television to talk about Rick Pitino ever again. After watching the tape, I realized that I certainly wasn't awful -- not good enough to be invited back perhaps but not a complete embarrassment either.
Nevertheless, I'm still not letting anyone else see the tape.
©2003 Joe Lavin
February 10, 1998