Biff America column: Dying of a guilty conscience
I put on a pair of pants because I didn’t want to be found both dead and naked.
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” but feeling cold, no one wants to be found deader than Hendrix in a cheap hotel in London.
I honestly wasn’t horribly afraid of dying as much as I felt guilty about dying alone. Instead on leaving on our yearly fall vacation, I took a seven-day job in the United Kingdom. I could have taken my mate with me, but I would have had to pay for her airfare and I would have not been able to eat as much fish and chips.
I wanted to call my wife to say goodbye and apologize for being so cheap. But the cost of an international call on my cellphone would be astronomical. I knew my passing would devastate her (for a few months), with too much on her hands as she grieved. I’ve always taken care of vehicle and house maintenance and all our finances. She would have no idea about investments, IRA’s, dividends, 401ks or where we keep our cleaning products.
Now obviously much of this is tongue in cheek, but in all honesty, on that night in London, I actually thought I’d soon be pleading my case to Saint Peter.
Blame it all on Tony Hall
Even though I might have been in the homestretch of living, I was able to solidly place the blame of my condition in the hands of Tony Hall (fake name). Tony was a wannabe freelance cable TV producer. It was his job to create low-rent cable TV content and then try to convince sponsors that what he produced was worth them giving him money.
The problem was Tony had little talent or scruples — for years he and I worked closely together. He wasn’t all bad. He was fun to hang around with, did seem to be able to get people to pay him, and in turn, he would pay me. In addition, he was the one who told me I wasn’t dying.
I didn’t really want Tony to be the last person I saw on Earth, but I did feel honor bound to tell him the guy he was sharing that cheap hotel with was dead.
I literally crawled to his room and said, “Bev, I think I’m having a heart attack.” To his credit, he took me seriously and said, “No you’re not.” 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 a panic attack. I get them all the time when I take money for a job that I’m not sure I can do.”
Several months before that fateful night, just before we entered the meeting at a potential sponsor’s office, Tony cautioned me not to tell the truth. “Let me do the talking,” he said. “You just pretend to be talented.”
To make a long story short, we got the assignment. It was while flying over (first class — Tony told them I had severe claustrophobia) when I began freaking out.
It was so easy assuring the client that we knew what we were doing and could do the job we were hired to do. Tony said he had U.K. connections (lie) scripts written (lie) access to clubs and venues (lie) and a creative and talented host — that would be me — also not true.
After arriving and eating enough fried fish to clog arteries the size of tunnels and drinking too much in a Brixton bar, I wanted to go back to our room to storyboard some ideas. Tony wanted to sleep.
Over our heads
There was no doubt we were over our heads. I was lying in bed panicking. My heart was racing, I couldn’t breathe, my body ached, and my hands and feet went numb. After Tony told me I wasn’t dying, I felt better — even though he wasn’t known for his truthiness.
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 I wasn’t dying, and my ineptitude wasn’t going to cause any loss of life. It wasn’t as if I was going to start a war. 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 shop.holpublications.com.