Well, I missed his last show. I knew it was coming, but missed it all the same. I'm old. I'm not up that late anymore. But man, I LOVED David Letterman. Spent today watching all the online clips and tributes and was kind of stunned by just how much nostalgia rushed back to me.
It's been years since I've watched the show religiously. I don't think that's because it's gotten any worse than it was when I WAS a huge watcher—or if so, only naturally so, because David and his staff are only human and, I think, once any of us have accomplished (or surpassed) our own expectations, it's tough to keep pushing yourself to those crazy lengths that got you those accolades in the first place. Dave's 68 years old in a culture that values the Freedom-55 mindset. He's been at it 30-plus years, every weeknight. That's a hell of an output. Sometimes you only notice how monumental something is when you reach the end. It seemed that way to me today.
Years ago, back in 1995 I'll say, me and some buddies went to NY to watch him. Took the Greyhound from Toronto, ended up in Port Authority. It was a miserable ride. We hadn't booked a hotel and we were poor, so a great deal of that morning was spent LOOKING at hotel rooms—like, as if they were apartments we were going to rent. Looking back, I'm stunned the hotel clerks actually indulged us by showing us rooms. You'd think it'd be: take it or F Off!
We found some place off Times Square. There were 4 of us. We didn't want to pay the extra charge for extra guests, so we pooled our $$$ and two of us paid for the room and the other two of us snuck up. Four of us for 2 double beds. We went down to the bodega and bought Zima. They still sold that then; maybe they do now, but I kinda hope not. Then we went down to Times Square and got intimidated by a crazy-eyed hobo who insisted on taking us on "a tour" for 10 bucks each. We gave him ten dollars just to leave us alone.
The next day we lined up for seats. It took forever. We got our assigned seats and wandered around until it was time to be called in for the show. THAT was magnificent. Worth the crummy bus trip, the hotel, the Zima, the fearsome hobo—all of it.
It went by so so quick. A time-warp. One minute we were taking our seats. The next, there was Dave. The next, commercial break. The next, we're all being herded outside for the outdoor Bon Jovi concert, which they'd shut the streets down to stage.
There was a real sense of desolation after it was over. Four poor Canadians stuck in NY. No money. Noplace to go. 4 hours to blow before a trip back to Toronto on the bus. All the prep work—sending away for the tickets, waiting for them to come, booking the bus tickets, waiting, waiting—all of that for what felt like a few fleeting seconds of wonderment.
Oh, it was worth it. Never for a second would I say otherwise.
Later, when I was living in Calgary, I sent a letter to the show asking how you get hired on as a writer. I had no experience. I'd written a few books. I felt myself a bit of a funny fellow.
A few weeks later I got a package from the head writers, the Stengel brothers—well, not FROM them but the boilerplate Xerox had their replicated signatures as I recall. It was an applicated pack, basically. I had to send them 3 Top 10 lists based on their suggested topics, plus various skit ideas.
I probably worked as hard on that application as I did on anything in my life. I seem to remember one of the Top 10s was "The Top 10 Worst Race Horses in History" or something like that. I think I tried names like 3 Legs and a Broomstick, and Zombie Barbaro (Barbaro was a racehorse who'd died, pretty tragically, around that time. It was probably too soon). Another one was "Top 10 Worst Fast Food Franchises." I honestly forget what I did for that. I suppose I thought it was pretty hilarous, anyway. I tried to track that file down, but it's on an old computer that crashed years ago.
I slid the application into an envelope and mailed it off. There's something delicious about that process. The anticipation. You figure: the mail takes 7 days to arrive. It'd take a few weeks for them to consider it. So that meant I had, like, 3 weeks to fantasize about them saying yes. You're hired! I forecasted, foolishly, what my life might be like in New York. Oh man, that would be wonderful. I was pretty much broke at the time, working part-time at a library. I NEED this, baby!
Time went by. It dawned. I wasn't going to get that call.
Bummer. Ah, well. We've all had letdowns before. I still think what that would have been like. Working in a writer's room. I've always toiled alone as a writer. Passing Dave Letterman in the hall. I might have crashed and burnt. Probably I would have. But still, it would have been a hell of a fun crash and burn.
I'm older now. More settled. Those kind of adventurous forays—apply for the Letterman show! Move to NY and live in a bachelor apartment if I get it!—aren't in the cards anymore. Which again, that's fine. That's life. I wouldn't have wanted to work for anyone except Letterman, anyway, and when I discovered he was retiring a few years ago I put all thoughts of that out of my mind.
But I will always remember those days back in my undergrad years, heading to the Common Room in my dorm room and getting in arguments with the hippy-dippy artsy-fartsists who were watching some Marina Abromovic performance art documentary, hollering: "Turn it off! It's a video! You can watch it later—DAVE'S on soon!" Somedays I'd win and get to watch. Other days the Fartsists would win. But if I won, there I'd be, huddled in the glow of that TV watching my gaptoothed idol do his thing.
I miss those days. I'll miss David Letterman. He's a big part of that time in my life. Weirdly, I forgot how big a part until just today.