Something reminded me yesterday of the classic skit the late Chris Farley did with Paul McCartney on Saturday Night Live in the early ’90s. Do you remember Farley’s petrified “Do you remember when you were in the Beatles” nervous interviewer guy? It’s awesome . . .
Anyway, whatever the trigger was, it flashed me back to one of the worst Nervous Chris Farley moments I foisted upon myself back in the former day. There weren’t many, or else I couldn’t have done the sports writer thing for so long, interviewing some of that world’s biggest personalities. But I remember this one frozen moment, because as soon as it happened, I nearly dropped the phone to punch myself in the head and pull my hair, cursing my hopeless stupidity.
The object of my vapors? Another sports columnist — turned best-selling author — Mitch Albom. Go figure.
I know, I can’t figure it. But although this was maybe 10 years ago, I do remember Albom was in the middle of a hectic book tour, which was bringing him to Norfolk in a few days, and his people were squeezing me in for a few minutes on the phone from some radio studio somewhere before he went on the air.
So I felt rushed, on top of already being on edge because I was an admitted fan-boy. Albom’s sports columns in Detroit were hardly everybody’s cup of chai — cloying and homerish were two constant criticisms in the biz. Still, he was acclaimed enough to also constantly win best metro sports columnist in the annual Associated Press Sports Editors contest. And I was in his tank, on board with his conversational style and his creative approaches. Few in major markets seemed to be going at columns in fresh ways like Albom. Never mind my later indifference to his formulaic but huge-selling books, although I thought “Tuesdays with Morrie” worked pretty well. The point was, I wanted to write columns like he did and wasn’t necessarily succeeding.
I had my list of questions about his latest book and his career, and I guess it was going OK for a couple of minutes despite my discomfort. But then it struck me as a good idea to stray off-topic and express my admiration for his sports writing, which is where my inner Farley reared its head. I immediately heard myself babbling as I tried to make a connection, columnist to columnist, that really wasn’t there. Words unspooled from my mouth like paper towels off a spindle. Somehow, as I tried to right the ship, I went to my long-ago memory of a series of great pieces Albom had written on the Iditarod dog-sled race in Alaska. But the best I could do was, “Uh, so, do you remember when, uh, you wrote that series on the Iditarod in Alaska? It was awesome . . . ”
I give Albom, pressed for time as he was, credit to this day for not calling me an imbecile and slamming down the phone for injecting such nonsense into his day: “Um, no. Why would I ever remember flying in a bush plane for days over Alaskan tundra following sled dogs . . . ”
“Sure,” I think he helpfully responded, but I can’t be sure of what words came next or for how long we “talked” from there, because my mind was busy plotting which window ledge I was going to leap from.
Whatever I eventually wound up writing, Albom saw it when he came to the Naro in Norfolk for his book-signing. Because I truly have no shame, I dropped by at the end of the signing to say hello. And rushed but gracious again, Albom said something along the lines of, “Wow, you have a big audience. Lots of people have brought your column here tonight.”
Thanking him, I wandered off knowing Albom had just patted me on the arm — McCartney consoling the crestfallen Farley — and said, “No, Tom, you did fine.”