Back in 1999, Winnie Mandela backed out of a Saturday interview by satellite an hour after we were supposed to start. The executive producer called in a crew on the weekend on my assurance that we had the interview locked down. The overtime costs for him were considerable at a time that the show was struggling for sponsorship, and I thought I was going to lose my job. The stress of that workday made it the worst of my career. But yesterday now runs a very close second.
Friday began with a crew member I’ve never worked with before ignoring explicit, repeated instructions from three different people (myself included) to wait at a specific place and time to be escorted to the interview site by our contact. It was important to the contact, the person facilitating our interviews with ten different authors; that’s all I needed to know to do as I was asked. She, rather understandably, wanted to know why a person working for me hadn’t complied. Nothing prepared me for the answer I received when I politely asked him.
He unloaded on me with anger and profanity that all amounted to: I knew where I was going; how dare you three tell me what to do. It may be worth noting that the three of us telling him to wait were all women, but I digress. It was an assault that left me in a state of shock, shaking with tears of anger. Since I was alone on an elevator with him as he screamed at me and leaned across a dolly of equipment to get in my face, I thought it best to simply get away from him as soon as possible.
I spent the rest of the day speaking to him only when I needed to and with an unmistakable smile in my voice, but the need to walk on eggshells upset me – particularly in a 10-hour day elongated by the delayed flight of one of the authors and an impending 45-minute drive to a new hotel for our next show. My first impulse was to let the Sijeh in me have her moment with the man, put him in his place, take back my power. After all, I had the staff in the equipment van. I could’ve just brought it out and done a few dozen spins and stabs with it to make a point. But there’s no real way to intimidate the unbalanced, and even if there were, a pissing contest is unseemly for my age and gender. So I simply did the professional job I always do, willed the clock to move faster and said a prayer for an unhappy man.
Up next on this trip that can’t end soon enough is the beauty and eloquence of an award-wining author in the small bookstore he founded. Hopefully that will dull the memory of Friday’s craziness.