The most fun part of the job was doing remote broadcasts.
Billy Pitre was my hero. He had a regular job, but still did occasional broadcasts for the station. He is a lovable, down-the-bayou kind of guy who has one of the driest senses of humor I have ever seen in my entire life. I learned a lot about dryness from him. Intelligent and low-key, you would never tell he was making a joke from his expression or voice inflections. You’d think he was talking about property tax paperwork or something. Then, when you got the joke, it was that much funnier.
I was with Billy at the Firemen’s Fair. Music was playing, and every few minutes they’d toss it to us.
“We now go out live to the Firemen’s Fair with Billy Pitre and Chuck Boutwell.”
Then we’d talk about the fair. We would get food between broadcasts and comment on the food.
“Chuck just had the jambalaya from the Home, Hook and Ladder booth. How was it?”
We’d talk, encourage people to come to the fair, thank our sponsors, mention particular things people might want to see at the fair and of course, joked around.
The second-proudest moment of my humor life was when I cracked Billy up so badly he had to stop for a while.
I had been admiring his dry sense of humor and hoping to develop more dryness of my own. I had just been thinking about a funny way of describing Billy’s sense of humor, when our on-air discussion drifted over to the grounds. If it rains during or right before the fair, the grounds are messy, which results in less people.
Billy was describing the ground as dry, but he was stuck for a metaphor. I could tell he didn’t want to say “bone dry” because it was a cliché.
“The ground is as dry as … what would you say, Chuck?”
I almost said, “As your sense of humor,” but I remembered a better reference.
“I’d say it’s as dry as Burgess Meredith’s elbow, Billy.”
Billy busted out and had to catch his breath.
“Burgess Meredith’s elbow?!?”
It was my second proudest moment of my humor life.
The very proudest moment involved bodily functions and confetti, and it isn’t appropriate for a family newspaper.
Remotes were fun, but the bulk of the work in my early days at the station involved baby-sitting the semi-automated equipment. It paid minimum wage, but that was okay for a college student working other part-time jobs and getting grants and student loans, which I am still paying off.
The important thing was the free time. It was semi-automated, so there were times when a human had to do things, but in between you would have stretches of time for doing homework and writing papers. When I got into graduate school, there was a lot of paper writing. And I was doing some part-time writing for local publications and the student paper.
Heck, if you didn’t know me, you might think I was an ambitious, hard-working guy.
I had an early portable computer. It was made in the pre-laptop days — unless you had a really big lap. I think there were laptops available at the time, but I bought this one used, and it was good enough for word processing.
This computer was barely portable. It was as big as a medium-sized sheet cake, but thicker. I don’t think it even had battery capabilities. Just plug in, flip up the monochrome screen, insert the floppy disk and start typing.
Ah, those were the days.
I’d have books and papers spread out, pecking away on this device, and every 12 or 20 minutes, I’d have to push a couple of buttons at just the right time. Then maybe another in 30 or 60 seconds. Then hit a switch. And I’m done for another 12 or 20 minutes.
The set up was perfect, especially for a graduate student, so I was really not bothered by the minimum wage.
Minimum wage is an interesting thing in a way. If you think about it, it is your boss telling you, “This is the lowest possible amount I can pay you. I would like to pay you even less, but the federal government won’t let me.”
But that’s another column.
There was only one time when the minimum wage became an issue. The station manager, an incredibly well-respected person in the community who I loved a great deal, left a stack of paperwork and said she wanted me to file it that night.
I’m normally an almost preternaturally laid back person, but I actually got a bit feisty.
I left her a polite and respectful note, and with appreciation of my job, explained that the reason I was willing to work for minimum wage — without the possibility of a raise unless mandated by Congress — was because the free time allowed me to do my studying and writing for school.
I respected that she had the right to tell me to do the filing, but if that was the case, I wasn’t interested in working there. I would find a job at a local retailer or fast-food establishment where I would at least qualify for a raise periodically.
I think she got my point because she never said a word about it, and never left filing for me to do.
Next week: word games, late night crazy call and “you know what I want to hear.”
Chuck Boutwell is a humor columnist for Big Fun on the Bayou. Opinions expressed in this column represent the views of the columnist, not necessarily this publication. He can be reached at email@example.com.