My Mom Told Me Not to Get Naked on Television
I've been arrested twice in my life. Both times were for public nudity.
So, when one of the pieces of advice my mother gave me as I packed up my truck to move to...somewhere...after college was "Don't get naked on television. Keep your clothes on!" it made perfect sense.
I kept that advice until I was hired to perform on a locally produced talk show - The Morton Downey Jr. Show.
I was a seventh and eighth grade music teacher by day; an actor and improviser by night. Mostly the two didn't interesect.
The gig was to be a part of a "beauty pagaent" - the Chunks vs. the Hunks - and, given that I was at least 60 lbs heavier at the time, I was definitely one of the Chunks. For $250.00, I was to bring my bathing suit and be prepared to be made fun of by an audience of morons and the inimitable Morton Downey Jr. I was down for that.
I showed up and was ushered into a Green Room filled with odd body types - a huge black linebacker looking guy, a skinnier than a beanpole kid, a robust woman who looked like she had eaten children for breakfast, and me. The Hunks (Barbie types with fake tits and spray-tanned muscle dudes) had their own Green Room because we were not to mingle until we met on the air. The Chunks were all in good humor and we joked around about the job, laughing at the idea of going on TV in our bathing suits which were all fairly modest - mine went down to my knees - until a PA came in with a tiny red Speed-o.
"Can I get one of the men to wear this for the show?"
Linebacker and Beanpole looked right at me and said "He will."
I took the Speed-o. We all laughed.
Five minutes later, the PA came in with a red G-String. "Anybody?" she asked timidly.
No one volunteered. And, in a moment of complete clarity, I said "Give it to me."
"Who's going to wear the Speed-o?"
"I am. I have an idea."
The first 15 minutes, Downey interviewed the Hunks. The center chair was taken by a guy who looked like Fabio but spoke like he was from Wisconsin. He was dumb as a bucket of bleach-blonde hair extensions and I was ready. They introduced me last. I came out in my red Speed-o, got to the front of the stage, turned around, bent over and pulled the Speed-o off revealing the G-string. The crowd gasped and then laughed and applauded in spite of the horrifying image of my hairy posterior.
The next 40 minutes or so flew by. I was the Ultimate Smartass, consistently demonstrating how stupid the Hunks were, making snarky comments about them and boosting the rep of we Chunks (Linebacker had an MBA, Robust Gal was getting her Masters in Psychology, and Beanpole was a member of Mensa) while denigrating the shallow dipshits across the aisle. It was fun and sarcastic and, in the end, the studio audience awarded a Bob's Big Boy Doll to the winning contestant - me. I didn't look good in the bathing suit round but apparently I rocked the Q & A.
Three weeks later, it aired. My first ex-wife and I had a party. We videotaped it (on VHS, which many of you equate with etching it on slate). It was fun and funny. I sat with my Big Boy Doll in my lap.
The next day, I was immediately called into the Principal's office at school. It seemed that 75 parents had seen me on television in a G-String with their children watching and had called my boss to have me fired. Mr. Barillas was flummoxed. I was on a two-day no-pay suspension and was to report that morning to the District Superintendents' Office.
I didn't even try to defend myself - when Jose looked to me for an explanation, I just shrugged and smiled.
Joan Ferris's office was exactly what you think it was - brown, filled with hard wooden chairs in the outer foyer, lots of books as thick as your arm lining one wall, and a stale, dusty smell. I sat in one of those straight-backed chairs for a full 90 minutes before I was called in. The conference room was set for maximum reprimand. A long wooden table surrounded by high-backed leather chairs. One chair on the end for me. Ferris on the far side. Six members of the Chicago Public School Board on the longer edges. They looked like something out of a Cohen Brothers film. Very serious.
"You understand why you're here, Mr. Hall?"
"Yes. YES. I understand why I am here."
She was like Judge Judy but with a shock of almost bright white hair.
"And what do you have to say for yourself?"
And I smiled the same smug grin that has gotten me in more trouble with authority than I care to relate. If you were a part of the overreaction to what will forever be known as The Smirking Kid and the Native American Drummer® you know that smirk.
"Dr. Ferris. Members of the Board. I smoke cigars from time to time. But NEVER in school. My smoking habits are my personal business. I also drink beer and Scotch whiskey. But NEVER at school. Again, my personal business. And," I paused. "I apparently go on television wearing nothing but a six-inch piece of red cloth to cover my genitals. But NEVER at school. I'm here because you want me to be ashamed of doing something perhaps stupid, definitely juvenile, and outrageously public. I'm not."
Ferris stared at me as if she were trying to mentally will me into spontaneous combustion.
"Wait. Let me amend that. I might wear a red G-String at school - I might be wearing one right now but I'll never tell..."
And her facade cracked a smile.
She sent me home and I was called the next morning and told to report to class. According to Jose, the students had started a petition that over 400 parents had signed in order for me to keep my job.
As I write this I understand a new reality has brushfired its way into our culture. In the Neo-Puritanism of 2019, I would’ve been fired, publicly vilified, forced into hiding. Those most culpable for this tar and feathering would shrug and type on their Faceborg walls “He wasn’t destroyed. This is just him having to deal with consequences of his actions.”
Shame only works if you are ashamed. Public vilification only works if people give a shit. Just because the Rage Profiteers scream and wail that your stupid mistakes from the past should be cause for your demise doesn’t mean you owe them an apology.
That said, I probably should just listen to my mother.