Biff America: Dying Of A Guilty Conscience (column)
I put on a pair of pants because I didn’t want to be found both dead and naked.
This occurred almost 20 years ago and I will say, in all modesty, I would have made an attractive cadaver. I had just gotten a haircut, a spray tan and had lost a few pounds in order to look my best. But despite the fact that I’d be ‘looking hot’ yet feeling cold, no one wants to be found deader than Hendrix in a cheap hotel in London.
I was both scared and racked with guilt. Instead of our yearly fall vacation (always my favorite), I took a seven day job in the UK. I could have taken my mate with me but I would have had to pay for her airfare and I would not have been able to eat as much fish and chips.
I wanted to call her to say goodbye and apologize for being so cheap, but the cost of an international call on my cellphone would have been astronomical.
I knew she would be devastated for a few months by my passing with too much responsibility on her hands as she grieved. I’ve always taken care of our vehicle and house maintenance and all our finances. She would have no idea about investments, IRAs, dividends, 401(k)s or where we keep our cleaning products.
Now obviously much of this is tongue-in-cheek but, in all honesty, on that night many years ago in London, I actually thought I was dying.
I solidly placed the blame of my condition in the hands of Tony Hall (fake name). Tony was a wanna-be, freelance cable TV producer. It was his job to create low rent cable TV content and then to convince sponsors that what he produced was worth them giving him money.
The problem was that Tony had little talent or scruples, which might have been the foundation of our long-standing professional relationship.
I didn’t really want Tony to be the last person I saw on Earth but I did feel honor-bound to tell him that the guy he was sharing that cheap hotel with was dead.
I literally crawled to his room and said, “Dude, I think I’m having a heart attack.” To his credit he took me seriously and said, “No you’re not.” (It was just like Tony to argue with a dying man.) I told him about my racing heart, shortness of breath, numb fingers and a sense of impending doom.
“You’re not dying you’re just having an anxiety attack. I get them all the time when I take money for a job that I’m not sure I can do.”
Several months ago, before we entered the meeting at a potential sponsor’s office, Tony cautioned me to not tell the truth. “Let me do the talking,” he said. “You just pretend to be talented.” The client was a British clothing company that was hoping to make inroads in the U.S. market. Tony proposed a campaign of a half dozen 90 seconds vignettes shot on UK location that would air on a network, which I was afraid was a figment of his imagination.
To make a long story short we got the assignment. It was while flying overseas that I began freaking out.
After arriving and eating enough fried fish to clog arteries the size of the London tunnel and drinking too much in a Brixton bar I wanted to go back to my room and storyboard some ideas. Tony wanted to sleep.
This was my first and only panic attack and I swear it did feel like death. After Tony told me I wasn’t dying I felt better — even though he wasn’t known for his honesty.
I went back to my own room, got in bed and tried to calm down. It helped to put things in perspective. Yes, I had more bravado than ability. I took money under false pretenses. I might not be able to do the job I said I could do, but on the other side, I wasn’t dying and my ineptitude was not going to cause any loss of life. It wasn’t as if I was going to start a war. Yes, admittedly I was in over my head, but it was just a silly TV show, it wasn’t like I was running for president…..
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book “Mind, Body, Soul.” is available at local shops and bookstores or http://shop.holpublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul
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