When you lead a relatively routine (some may say boring) life, it’s sure great to have interesting friends. Take for example, my friend, K, who works for the CBC. He emailed me a little while ago to see if I could come down to the studio and record a story for the national Saturday afternoon show, Definitely Not the Opera (DNTO). He also happens to be one of the producers on that show, which is why I will often see messages on his Facebook account asking if there is anyone who knows anyone who has a story like this or that or whatever.
The story in question wasn’t even much of a story, actually. It didn’t even rate a blog post at the time. It was just one of those dumb things that happen to you in life and something cute that my daughter did at the end of it. I told K the story over lunch one day and he thought it was the FUNNIEST thing ever. I mean it really isn’t. You can tune into DNTO today and have a listen yourself. Here it is in the most basic nutshell. I rear-ended this woman before Christmas in the stupidest, most non-damagey way, and I swore my wife and daughter to secrecy about it because I was embarrassed and I just didn’t want everyone (read: my MOM) to find out about it, and then a month later our daughter spills the beans to my Mom and Mother-in-Law and before I get a chance to get angry about it my Mom tells me that our daughter actually told her about it a couple of weeks before but that it was supposed to be a secret. That’s it. That’s the whole damn story. I mean it’s fine, but it’s not like the best story ever. At the time K said that I’ll have to tell that story on the radio one day and I thought, “Yeah, right.”
A couple of weeks after that lunch, I was telling a story at the local Story Exchange and at the end of it, K, who was the host that night, got up and actually told the story in question to the crowd. I thought that was a bit much. I mean, it wasn’t even his story to tell, and like I’ve said before, it wasn’t even that great of a story, if we are perfectly honest. But the story scored a decent laugh from the crowd (and maybe did just as well IF NOT SLIGHTLY BETTER than my actual story that night) so what do I know anyway?
And to give you an idea of how everyone is kinda connected to each other in this city, after the story exchange night, the organizer came up to K and told him that his wife was the one from my story. The one I rear-ended. That’s the part of the story that makes it remotely interesting, if you ask me.
So anyway, fast forward to last week. K calls and says that they are doing a show on “crashes” this week and he wants me to come in and tell “the story”. Even better, if I could get our daughter to come and deliver her line. While we were talking, he was thinking aloud and said, “Hmmm. Do you think your Mom would come in and tell her side of it too? I don’t want to make this more than what it is, but it could be like a multi-generational thing”.
I thought to myself, “well, we are ALREADY making this more than what it is. I’m telling this goofy little story that really was supposed to be between three people (four if you count the woman I rear-ended), I’m telling this story on NATIONAL RADIO, but instead I said, “I could ask her, but she’s pretty camera-shy.” (I was thinking about my Mom, but that also equally applies to my daughter).
“The main thing is to not rehearse the story ahead of time. Don’t write it down. Don’t even think about it. I want to it be fresh,” was K’s only instruction. No problem, I thought. I’m good at not doing things.
When I ran the idea down with my Mom, she was actually up for it. “Well, I’ve never been to the CBC before. It would be kinda fun to see the process” and so we met up there a couple of days later to record our story. K met us at reception and walked us through the newsroom. We got to watch the local weather guy record a couple of bits for the evening news, so that was fun, and we were ushered into the back area that houses the offices for DNTO.
K proudly showed off his desk area, which he has recently turned into a shrine for “All Things Tintin” and then we made our way into DNTO’s recording studio. I was expecting a table with microphones and an engineer on the other side of a glass window, sort of like what you see in movies, but it was all just one small room and no separate engineer. K acted as the engineer and the producer. We all just sat around in chairs and two microphones. K had us say a couple of warm up things into the microphones to get the levels right. I went on a detailed retelling of what I had for lunch (maybe that will appear on DNTO’s extras show, ha!) and Audrey sang the alphabet song.
We were set.
I couldn’t help but think of Jesse Thorn’s disclaimer at the end of every episode of “Bullseye” where he says, “Bullseye is produced by speaking into microphones” because that’s exactly what we did. I put a headset on so I’d only hear my voice, and I just went right into it. I thought I’d tell the whole story through once and then go get the pickups, but K wanted me to just tell the first part about the accident and telling everyone it was a secret, and then we’d do the rest of it after.
So I started telling the story the best way I could remember. I’m sure I forgot little details here and there (specificity is the soul of narrative, after all, right Judge Hodgman?) but it went pretty smoothly. Later on my wife reminded me that the car we hit had a “I LOVE BEAGLES” bumper sticker, which would have been a nice little detail to work in, but I forgot about that. I guess I was too busy hitting the car to notice a cute detail like that. When I was done, K said, “Woah. One take. I don’t think I’ll even need to edit much out of that. You have NO IDEA how rare that is!” Well! Maybe I have a future in radio. You don’t hear that sentence every day. A future in radio. I could abandon one obsolete profession (librarianism) for another. At least I’m consistent. And if radio doesn’t pan out, maybe I could try light-house keeper or VCR repair guy?
The second part was a little more tricky. Our daughter was a little shy and wouldn’t deliver her lines as promised. I think could can actually hear my Mom promising Audrey a treat if she actually said them, and sure enough we eventually got the result we were looking for. It was my Mom’s turn to say her part, and she, like her son, pretty much nailed it first time through. Future podcast partner?
The biggest problem was coming up with an end to the story. K wanted something that sort of wrapped everything up and tied it into the week’s theme, “Crashes” and I tried a number of different things, and none of them really worked. My wife shouted out a couple of suggestions and we tried those too, but K shot them down once we recorded them. My Mom thought we could go out with a quote from “Frozen” since that came up in the story, but that was summarily dismissed by K as well. The weird thing was that the microphones were recording the whole time, so there was never an “okay quiet everyone, we’re recording” kind of moment. I just started and stopped and started and restarted the ending about 6 or 8 times and eventually K said, “Well I think I have enough and I’m sure it’ll be fine.” I was reminded of the way Stanley Kubrick used to make movies. It was not unusual for him to film 40 or 50 takes of the same scene, and I remember one story about him filming “Dr. Strangelove” and George C. Scott getting so fed up with the whole thing that he just started to shout all his lines like a mad man and those were the takes that made it into the final cut. Is that what K was going for here? Did he want some deranged ending that would upset and disturb the listening audience? I felt bad that the whole thing just grinds to a halt after my Mom delivers the punch-line, but I guess that’s what you sacrifice when you don’t prepare ahead of time. You trade immediacy and freshness for structure.
I’m happy to say that I heard the final product last night, and it really comes together nicely. Even the ending wraps things up without really making it sound too much like a Stuart McLean story and I think it is a nice little vignette that follows a super-serious story about a Mother whose son was killed in an auto accident overseas and her campaign to improve car safety. That’s a tough act to follow, but our goofy little nothing story seems to fit the bill. And if K is looking for more goofy stories for future programs, I know of this goofy little blog…