(After wallowing in self-pity for a time, Berman takes his wife’s advice and contacts his old news director Fred DeMarco about a job.)
And that was the beginning of my resurrection and I mean that word any way you want to take it because, as usual, Jane is always my lifesaver. I ran a search for DeMarco online and found his name and phone number listed with an address in Bangor, Maine. My first thought was that he’d just chucked it all after he got fired and headed into the woods. Hell, he was a monk, right? Maybe he was doing some sort of return to his roots or something.
But for Jane’s sake I kept looking. And when I googled TV stations in Maine and Fred DeMarco, I found a website for a station in Bangor, where the news department had just won the local award for best newscast, and the news director, Fred DeMarco had been in Portland to receive it. They didn’t have a picture of him anywhere on the website, but I figured it had to be him, so I wrote down the station phone number and gave it a shot.
Since it was after five, the phone rang directly into the newsroom where a sweet-voiced young thing answered,
“TV 22 News. This is Ellen.”
I told her my name and that I was calling from the Midwest and wondered if I could speak to Fred DeMarco.
“Just a sec,” she said, and put me on hold. In a few seconds someone picked it up and I heard that gruff, bass voice I’d learned to love when we worked together.
“Yeh, this is DeMarco. What can I do for you?”
I’m not sure why, but I suddenly felt a little anxious, maybe I was feeling a little guilty that I had never tried to catch up with Fred after he got the ax until I needed something from him. I don’t know. I realized I wasn’t much of a friend, but then he could have contacted any of us in the newsroom to let us know what happened to him and what he was going to do. And he hadn’t done that, either. I finally just started talking.
“Fred, this is Jed Berman. How are you? Long time no contact.”
In the next instant I knew he was still the same old DeMarco. He picked up the conversation as though it had been minutes instead of years.
“Hey, Jed. I’m doing alright. How’ve you been?”
“Jesus, Fred,” I sort of wheezed. I had forgotten how casual this guy could be. “Fred, it’s been years since you disappeared into the night without a trace. What the hell have you been up to?”
“Just workin’, Jed. Keepin’ at it, you know?”
“But you’re in Bangor, Maine. How did that happen?”
“It’s like I always told you, Jed. You go where the work is. I took a look around after they dumped me at the station and there wasn’t much to see. Then I got a tip on a new station starting up here in Bangor.”
He pronounced it properly—Bang-gore, with the accent on the first syllable, not Bang-er, like most people who don’t live in Maine. I almost thought I detected a slight New England accent when he talked, which would really be something for a kid from Brooklyn.
“Yeh, I gave them a shout and offered my services as news director, since I couldn’t find anything else, and they went for it.”
“What size market is that, Fred?”
“We’re about one-fifty-three, I think. I’ve never paid a lot of attention to those things, which, as you know, is part of the reason they showed me the door out there.” He paused for a second before he continued. “Are you still out there? Seems like I heard some scuttlebutt about you a little while ago that sounded like you might have moved on.”
Okay, so that was on the table. With Fred DeMarco there’d be no ducking it.
“Yeh, I managed to blow it with the guy they brought in to replace you. Part of it was me, but part of it was him. He’s one of those hair spray and expensive suit guys we used to rag on when you were out here.”
“So, you’re still there? What are you doing now?”
I’d hoped to ease into this, but that was never the way DeMarco did business, so I figured I’d just get it over with.
“I’m still here, but to tell you the truth, I’m not doing anything right now, except looking for work. Seems the story of my on-air meltdown got around pretty fast. I’ve had some interesting conversations with news directors all over the country in the past few weeks.”
“No shit. What the fuck were you thinking, Jed? I know you’ve got your principles and stuff, but you always managed to keep them under control when I was there. How’d you lose it?”
“Man, I’m not sure I understand it, and I don’t think I could explain it to you in a way that would make much sense, at this point. But I’m not crazy, if that’s what you’re thinking. It was just a combination of things that came together in a broadcast perfect storm, and my ship went down.”
Never a bleeding heart, DeMarco let loose with one of those big guffaws that used to shake his protruding belly and nearby portions of the newsroom when he let them out.
“Man, you know how to go out in style, don’t you?” he asked, still snorting a little. And then he made the rest of the conversation easy for me. “So you’re out of work, everybody in the business is laughing at you, and you want to know if I can give you a job, right?”
“In a nutshell, my friend, as always. How’s it look there?”
“As it turns out, your timing, like your reporting, is impeccable. I just lost a news anchor who indulged in one too many joints out behind the station before the late news. I am, in fact, looking for someone good, because most of the talent that ends up here is either too young and green or too old and fried to do it right. So, are you interested?”
I had one of those quick heart-to-heart conversations with myself, in which one voice was screaming, You’re not that hard up, wait for something in a decent sized market, and the other voice said, Take it, sluggo, your prospects elsewhere are pretty much nonexistent. And then I heard Jane’s voice saying she was ready to go when I was. Finally, I thought how good it would be to work with a real newsman again, after years of Lenhard’s superficial bullshit.
“Fred, I am definitely interested. What do we need to do?”
“Well, here’s the real test. We ain’t got no money to fly you in for an interview with the GM, and I can’t hire anyone without his say-so. You interested enough to invest your own nickel to get here?”
Jane has always handled our money well; I knew I could afford the trip.
“Sure. When should I come?”
“How about tomorrow? Unless your social calendar is just too full.” He laughed again.
“Fred, I’ll be there. Should I ask what this job pays?”
Always frank and to the point, he said, “No. See you tomorrow. Give me a call when you get in.” And he hung up.