We called it "pitching," which I of course assumed I would be good at only because it was a baseball metaphor and I halfway understood what that meant. Plus, I was playing community college baseball at the time so I was basically already a professional 'pitcher,' right?
Jeeeezuzz was I ever wrong.
Pitching was the word we used to describe someone 'throws' the story to you, which you're supposed to then 'catch' and continue with magician-like precision & slight-of-hand -- only instead with words in place of cards, coins, or foam balls. Think of it like this: a band will sometimes have two singers who often share vocal duties in any given song. Lead singer #1 doesn't need to notify singer #2 when it's his or her turn to sing; they just know because they've done it hundreds of times (or maybe it was explained to them at some point, which would have been nice). Or when a news anchor tosses to a weatherman, he doesn't need to say: "Hey Brian Monahan, tell the people about tomorrow's weather now!" Brian just knows because he's a professional with a degree from Penn State to prove it. Brian was like the professionals that I was working with at the time, except I was the polar opposite of a Wolf in Sheep's Clothing. I was essentially just an intern who still thought the world was flat.
In this case, the professionals were: Nina (shout-out grrrrl), Marcus D ("Marsha D," my pd/boss), and Bender (literally the guy who gave me my start in radio). They were the 'starting pitchers'/news anchors back in the KISSfm studios and they were throwing to me and Jacob (lovingly referred to as "Gaycob," which is another story for another day) for the turn to talk on the radio and explain to listeners the why/what/where's of what we were doing on top of a Mayflower Truck and how they could help us get out of the cold & go home to our families. What the professionals didn't know was that I've never successfully caught anything in my entire life, and I certainly wasn't prepared to start now. Especially not when I couldn't even SEE my pitcher's wind-up.
This was the defining moment when I learned how to be good at Faking It Till You Make It.
I should clarify that it absolutely was not their fault for throwing to me. They didn't know I had no idea what was coming, but they probably assumed that I would have a garden-variety idea of what to do with the pitch. After all; this was major-market radio. This was MORNINGS we're talking about here, and forgive me Justin Smoak; if you can't hit a curve ball in the big leagues you probably shouldn't be there. Didn't anyone brief this kid before giving him a key-card and a live microphone?? This wasn't some experiment or a 'learn-as-you-go' project - they actually trusted me to open my arms and at LEAST let it hit me in the chest (not unlike my job as a 3rd basemen). If I failed; fine. At least I didn't jump out of the way, right?
But I bailed.
Like a suicide jumper who decided at the last second that he had something to live for - I slithered backwards and tried to disappear forever without anyone knowing that I had even thought I knew what I was about to do, much less attempting to do. What I then allowed to happen is what every radio DJ fears: dead-air.
I totally locked up. I was freezing cold but somehow managed to start sweating in my rain gear. I slurred, choked, and I couldn't stop swallowing at all the wrong moments. It was just plain awful. I had publicly drowned myself on live radio and I was 100% sure that I would get a text message from Bender or Marcus D within seconds letting me know that I should turn over my microphone, headphones, and key-card to the nearest engineer and go back to my crappy apartment. My face was red, my mouth was sweating, and I couldn't force a positive thought into my soon-to-be-condemned brain.
But Jacob saved me.
He watched as I closed my eyes before I tried to speak and he had observed how I immediately forgot what it meant to 'swing.' It was like I just tossed him a lukewarm hot potato that I had mistaken for being molten lava and he caught it with his eyes closed (if this were a romance novel, which it almost is, he would have been wearing silver armor & riding a majestic white horse). He absorbed my mess & continued the story, seamlessly, like a magician. He was a pro. And nobody besides him, me, and Nina (and potentially thousands of people in their cars) knew what had happened. But I was convinced that for me, it was the end of my radio career. One & done.
This entire story that you just read took place over the course of a :45 second period during the 2007 edition of "Thanksgiving on the Mayflower," a yearly event/tradition for 'Jackie & Bender. Mornings.' This was the year when The Gay Wonder Twins (Gaycob & JustIn-To-Guys) were made to live on the top of a Mayflower moving truck on Aurora Ave N until it was completely full of non-perishable food items to provide Northwest Harvest with full shelves for the Holiday season. Four days and very frigid nights in a tent, 10 gallons of coffee & a ton of baby wipes later: we succeeded. Mother nature pissed a lot of rain on us and the wind blew it sideways - but the truck was full, people helped other people, and I learned more in those four days than I had ever learned from spending months in a producer's studio.
I loved it.
From that day on I just started faking it and hoping people knew what I was doing. So far, it's worked! And I'll never be able to properly thank YOU (yep, you) enough for believing in me. Especially those of you didn't, or thought I was dumb for even trying to 'make it' in a dying industry -- because you'll never know what it feels like to successfully 'catch' anything. Ever.
So if you can, go help Bender NOW (Albertsons in Mountlake Terrace, WA) fill the truck for this year's Thanksgiving on the Mayflower. It's not easy and I don't envy him for living on that truck; but goddamnit do I respect it.