She also says he can deliver it in writing if he wants.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has uninvited President Donald Trump from delivering the State of the Union address because of the partial government shutdown, saying that because of security concerns, it would be better to wait until the government has reopened, or for Trump to submit it in writing.
In a letter to Trump on Wednesday, Pelosi delivered the news that she wants to postpone the address from its preplanned January 29 date and work with the president to “determine another suitable date,” or for the president to deliver it in writing. Trump and Congress have been at an impasse for weeks over his refusal to sign a government funding bill unless it includes $5.7 billion for the construction of some 200 miles of wall at the US-Mexico border, and Pelosi said she’s looking to reschedule Trump’s speech once that issue is settled and the government is back up and running.
The State of the Union address, since the start of modern budgeting in 1977, has never been delivered during a shutdown, Pelosi said. And during the 19th century and through Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, it was actually delivered in writing.
Pelosi focused most of her attention on security. She pointed out that in September 2018, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen designated State of the Union addresses as “national special security events” (NSSEs) that need “the full resources of the Federal Government to be brought to bear” for the sake of safety and security.
“The extraordinary demands presented by NSSEs require weeks of detailed planning with dozens of agencies working together to prepare for the safety of all participants,” Pelosi wrote.
She also noted that the Secret Service, the lead federal agency responsible for coordinating and implementing security for NSSEs, and the Department of Homeland Security haven’t been funded for 26 days. Nine federal departments have been affected by the shutdown, including Homeland Security, Justice, and State.
Here's the letter from Pelosi uninviting President Trump to give the State of The Union address on January 29th pic.twitter.com/InuBKUV4FF
The White House has not yet reacted to Pelosi’s letter, her latest move in an ongoing battle with the White House over the shutdown and funding the government. Pelosi has said she will not budge on providing money for Trump’s border wall.
CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins reported on Wednesday that Trump aide Stephen Miller and other speechwriters have for weeks been working on Trump’s State of the Union address — and were looking to focus on the government shutdown. It now looks like they won’t have that opportunity.
A beacon of nostalgia, the host of the euphoric late-’80s kids game show ‘Double Dare’ is back with Nickelodeon for a 2019 reboot—but the intervening years haven’t been as easy as his famously sunny demeanor would suggest
“And then over here is the nose,” Marc Summers says, introducing the oversize orifice for approximately the 1,037th time since Double Dare debuted on Nickelodeon in 1986. He gestures to a handful of 20-something men on stage clutching beers, as he drapes his arm over one nostril. A fan in a robin’s-egg blue Rocko’s Modern Life T-shirt takes it upon himself to pick the nose, which is not yet oozing with lime-green slime.
It’s the week before Thanksgiving, and several inches of snow coat the roads in Newark, New Jersey, an early-season storm that’s essentially shut down the tristate area, as Summers greets the “dedicated humans” who made it out to the second night of his Double Dare Live tour stop at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Before the show, which involves a series of physical challenges and a tense game of musical pies before the familiar DoubleDare–style segment, Summers invites VIP fans onstage and cheerfully promises them he’ll pose for however many pictures they want. Selfies abound. Meanwhile, a 7-year-old boy sprints through the obstacles again and again, continuously dislodging the Velcro teeth from their gums; a man in his 30s wearing a gray suit does the same, hoisting himself up a wall and smashing through bricks. Eventually, Summers puts on a black blazer and walks out to a small but screaming crowd to bellow out the words anyone who grew up with a TV set in the ’80s or ’90s would recognize. “On your mark, get set, go!”
At 67, Summers is plunging ahead in a career that’s been perhaps one-third slime, one-third Food Network, and one-third sheer toughness. The veteran game-show host left the stand-up circuit in the mid-’80s and rose to fame as the face of Nickelodeon’s Double Dare, and then What Would You Do?, before switching networks and adding producing to his résumé. He’s since made stops along the way at channels like Lifetime and the History Channel, before trying his hand at theater in a one-man show in Indiana. Now, Summers is returning to the familiar: The Double Dare live tour is meant to promote Nickelodeon’s televised reboot, which next airs on February 3, and in which Summers does color commentary alongside new host Liza Koshy, a 22-year-old YouTube influencer. (“I have no idea what that word means,” Summers offers of her title.)
In 2019, Summers’s enduring charm is a breath of fresh air in a media landscape saturated with cynicism and rote reboots. He’s reviving his old-school appeal for a new generation of Nickelodeon viewers—often the kids of the kids who watched him all those years ago. Summers is familiar in that sense, just like Double Dare is: the same dad jokes, the same spiffy dude in white sneakers in the middle of a complete mess. The key, those around him insist, is that he’s just being himself. It’s a lesson Summers picked up from his late idol turned mentor, Soupy Sales. “The same guy onstage was the same guy offstage, and I like to think that’s the same with me,” Summers says. “I think what you see is what you get.” But beneath the warm comfort in the consistency of his personality and presence, there’s plenty more worth exploring, as Summers settles in again on his home network. He’s not just a Nick and Food Network elder statesman; he’s also a Magic Castle–vetted magician, smoked salmon salesman, and former Mary Tyler Moore Show page and Lifetime talk-show host, among many other odd jobs (a DJ and a wet-T-shirt-contest judge, to name a couple). And his life outside work has often been darker than his sunny demeanor would suggest.
Summers, née Berkowitz, long wanted to be in television—after he decided not to be a rabbi, that is—but he never imagined working with kids until he took an audition that a ventriloquist buddy of his passed on for a little-known network called Nickelodeon. They shot the pilot for Double Dare in a basement. The cast and crew would hole up at a Four Seasons in Philadelphia, congregating in someone’s room each night to review the day’s footage. “It was like being in a college dorm,” Summers says. In Newark, none of the charisma of his early tapes is gone. He builds conversation onstage by looking kids in the eye and addressing them the same way he does adults. “What do you do for a living?” he earnestly inquires of a girl who looks to be about 10.
“Whether you’re watching him on television or whether you’re hanging out with him having a slice of pizza, he’s going to be very much the same man, and I believe strongly that’s why we all connected with him so intensely as kids. Because we knew he wasn’t bullshitting us,” says Mathew Klickstein, who wrote Slimed! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age (2013) and has stayed in touch with Summers ever since.
Summers is used to unfavorably comparing himself with the likes of David Letterman and Jay Leno, with whom he shared the stand-up circuit in Los Angeles before their late-night appointments—the latter of whom witnessed Burt Reynolds dumping a mug of water on Summers’s lap on The Tonight Show. “I’ve always thought of myself of being a player in AAA baseball and never quite making the big leagues,” he said in the first cut of On Your Marc, a documentary directed by Klickstein. But his outlook has improved since he embarked on the first leg of the live tour in the fall of 2018. “I didn’t realize what Double Dare, and in some ways, what my performance meant to these people. When people say to me, ‘I grew up watching you. I idolized you. You were my first friend.’ … I really had no idea.”
Whether he realizes it or not, Summers’s Triple-A magnetism is enough to stop major leaguers in their tracks. Summers himself recounts a brief interaction at the White House: “Here comes Michelle [Obama], and I was on my phone looking at emails. And I looked up and there she was. And she said, ‘I know you,’ and I went, ‘I know you too.’” Another time, Lin-Manuel Miranda spotted him at Richard Rodgers Theatre and invited him backstage. “I wanted to talk about Hamilton, and he wanted to talk about Double Dare.” Summers has also tweeted at Miranda to join him for a Double Dare taping, which itself is a reminder for him that seemingly anyone could be open to doing anything for him, and be absolutely thrilled about it. “I throw a marshmallow into a cup, I’m gonna get a standing ovation, you know? It makes me laugh. And because parents can take a ball with a plunger and put it on one side of the stage to the other, they get excited.”
In 2019, Double Dare’s messy, childish escape is perhaps more important than ever—both comforting and cathartic, a necessary reprieve from real life. “It was a time in our life that it feels good to fall back on, and to remember the way you might listen to an old song that you really love, or read an old book, even a children’s book that you might have loved as a younger person, or even just flipping through a photo album,” Klickstein says. “It was also very special that the entire conceit of the show was about doing something you’re not supposed to do.”
The most visceral thrills of Double Dare and later What Would You Do? were born of watching kids and their families mess with each other—and often Summers too. Seeing a grown man have so much fun at work, in a suit and a tie but still at the mercy of rebellious children (and his crew), was aspirational—a promise that adulthood can be carefree and, well, daring. Often, the show’s best candid moments highlighted not the actual children, but the playful, brother-sister dynamic between him and his longtime on-camera assistant, Robin Russo, that developed into a lasting friendship off-set. “Backstage every day was just pure laughter,” she says. “It’s so silly to think about it now, what we were doing, but it just worked.” To be clear, by “it,” Russo is generally referring to Summers tackling her in Lake Double Dare, or slathering Summers in blue gak obstacle after obstacle, while both of them labored to breathe through laughter.
Watching the show’s popularity endure through his stint with Food Network, Summers pushed and pushed for a revival. Now it’s finally here, in full, nostalgia-funneling force: The reboot closed out its first year in late November with a finale starring none other than Kenan and Kel. “I didn’t even imagine, like, getting to be on the stage,” Koshy recently told NBC. “And then to have the honor and the blessing to be able to be here hosting with Marc and be in the moment, it’s so fun. It’s so fun, dude, and I get covered in slime every time.”
Summers hasn’t found the same success in mining nostalgia at his other longtime onscreen home, the Food Network, where he started in 1999. His first big gig was Unwrapped, in which he traveled the country to show audiences the origins of iconic foods from Crunch Bars to Fruity Pebbles. The show, one of the channel’s longest-running, benefited from Summers’s preexisting fan base and launched his career on the network in front of and behind the camera. He went on to take projects that fostered his game-show vibe like Dinner: Impossible and The Next Food Network Star, which spawned the career of Guy Fieri, who refers to Summers as Obi-Wan. “I don’t think I get the respect I deserve from the channel, quite honestly,” Summers says. He mentions that he’s recently talked to the network about reviving Unwrapped as part of a nostalgia-themed week that Emeril would partake in, too, but things apparently haven’t panned out.
“It’s kind of like I don’t exist anymore,” he continues. “People magazine just came out with a 25th-anniversary of Food Network magazine special edition. I have, probably, the longest-running continuous show on Food Network, and they didn’t mention it. Such is life. I don’t need those pats on the back. But I feel more sorry for Emeril. Emeril never really got the dues, the respect he deserved for making that channel what it is.”
Summers’s outspokenness extends to social media, where he manages his own Facebook and Twitter pages himself—he’s into reading comments, playingwithPhotoshop, and DMing reporters. “Come to the stage door,” he tells me over Messenger, as if I’m not a stranger who sent him an unprompted message a day ago. This is a mostly endearing aspect of his public persona, but the snowy night in Newark proved an exception. He says that the venue refused to cancel the show despite the dangerous road conditions, and initially blamed him to concerned fans hoping to reschedule. (An NJPAC spokesperson says the venue cancels events only when the governor declares a state of emergency or when an artist can’t make it.) “I basically had a gun to my head and hated every minute of what was going on there,” he says. Facing a barrage of negative Facebook comments arguing he personally endangered kids’ safety, Summers exposed a facade in his clumsy, uncle-like persona. He called a couple of commenters “mental midgets” and suggested to another it was “time for [her] meds.”
“Is that sort of a sick way of going about it?” Summers asks, not necessarily looking for an answer. “Was there anger there? You bet your ass there was anger there, OK?”
That Summers, with all his imperfections, is still in the business at all is anything but a given. “He may be one of the longest survivors in the history of television,” the writer of From Scratch: Inside the Food Network, Allen Salkin, once said of him, speaking to his adaptability over decades of TV while hinting at his resolve off-camera. There is, of course, his OCD, of which much has been made, to Summers’s chagrin. To reporters and fans, it was often something to pity, a sign of Summers’s fragility. Oprah Winfrey herself suggested as much in March 1997, when Summers broke ground by disclosing his OCD on her show: “While on the outside he always looked like he was having a lot of fun getting all messy, on the inside he was living a verypainful secret,” Oprah said, hyping the segment. Summers says opening up cost him a job hosting a Hollywood Squares reboot the following year, based on rumors that he was “crazy” and hard to work with.
The OCD was severe, but Summers says he was never secretly miserable getting messy on TV. “Maybe it was therapy that I didn’t even know existed,” he says of being alternately smeared in peanut butter and pelted with whipped cream to earn a living. The medication and therapy he did know existed helped too. Summers says he still has moments when OCD slows him down and he gets caught up, say, reading labels in a grocery store, but that it’s nothing like it used to be. “I don’t want anybody to pity me,” he says.
News of another of the host’s longtime medical struggles wasn’t shared as widely: his cancer. After learning his diagnosis of chronic lymphocytic leukemia about a decade ago, Summers and his wife, Alice, sat in a Los Angeles oncologist’s office filling out a mountain of paperwork. When he was done, the doctor wanted to take a bone marrow biopsy. “I started to walk toward the door, and my wife said, ‘Where are you going?’ And I said, ‘I can’t do cancer. I just want to go home and die.’ And I left.” Summers doubted whether he was strong enough to go through with treatment, but persuaded by his doctor and his wife, two days later he walked back in and took a needle to his pelvis. He went on to get two years of chemotherapy, under the fog of depression for about half of that time.
Summers’s cancer returned in the fall of 2017, prompting another six-month treatment. He’s in remission now, a reprieve from what’s been a decade eerily full of near-death experiences. Like in 2012, when Summers was riding without a seat belt in the back of a cab in Philly when it hydroplaned on I-95, sending him crashing into the car’s partition. He underwent surgeries to repair his face and lost about 70 percent of his memory, which took about a year to regain. “If I get the opportunity to host anything, can I even do it?” he wondered at the time. “Will I remember how this works?”
Summers has been doling out motivational speeches—whether it be to groups of aspiring DJs or broadcasters—for ages, but he acknowledges that these more recent experiences have made them a bit easier to deliver. “I’m not as lackadaisical about what life is about as I might’ve been prior to those things happening to me,” he says. Even with a lot of current projects in the works—Double Dare, a potential revival of his one-man show, Broadway prospects (he’s waiting to hear back on an audition he did for Waitress), documentaries—he tries to avoid making business his life. Despite feeling perpetually out of place in L.A., aside from having a go-to Jewish deli, he and Alice moved out there in 2017 to be closer to their grown kids, Meredith and Matthew, and Matthew’s 4-year-old son, Oliver. Summers and his wife make a point to babysit their grandson a couple of times a week. One day, once his schedule cools off a bit, he hopes to coach Oliver’s baseball team. He did, after all, make time to lead Matthew’s squad for eight years, even when it took 6 a.m. flights between coasts to make a late-morning game. That sort of dedication is standard for Summers.
“Marc is relentless in his pursuit of success. He doesn’t take no for an answer,” Russo says. “And he’s usually pretty right on. He has more energy than my two kids put together.” Once an all-star third baseman and catcher on his own team growing up, he seemingly can’t help but put the same effort into even recreation that he does into work. “The most frightening thing I ever did was throw the first pitch out at Fenway Park,” Summers, a decades-long Red Sox fan, says, “because if you don’t get it across the plate, the crowd will kill you. I practiced for three months throwing balls. The morning of that game, I got up, went to a sporting goods store, bought 25 baseballs, found a park, and just threw baseballs for, like, two hours that morning. … I have something called obsessive-compulsive disorder.”
“I always want to be better. I always want to learn something,” Summers tells me—though, if he’s being honest, his drive always comes back to one thing: “I’m pretty lucky to be alive.”
On July 19, 2003, after playing catch with a player in foul territory, Summers walked to the mound in a white Red Sox jersey, blue jeans, and Sambas. He kept his head down, turning the baseball over in his hand. The second the announcer finished introducing him, he wound up and fired. The pitch sailed a bit high, but crossed home plate. Letting out a brief shout, Summers punched his glove and walked off the mound smiling.
I can’t tell you about a specific day as a cable tech. I can’t tell you my first customer was a cat hoarder. I can tell you the details, sure. That I smeared Vicks on my lip to try to cover the stench of rugs and walls and upholstery soaked in cat piss. That I wore booties, not to protect the carpets from the mud on my boots but to keep the cat piss off my soles. I can tell you the problem with her cable service was that her cats chewed through the wiring. That I had to move a mummified cat behind the television to replace the jumper. That ammonia seeped into the polyester fibers of my itchy blue uniform, clung to the sweat in my hair. That the smell stuck to me through the next job.
But what was the next job? This is the stuff I can’t remember — how a particular day unfolded. Maybe the next job was the Great Falls, Virginia, housewife who answered the door in some black skimpy thing I never really saw because I work very hard at eye contact when faced with out-of-context nudity. She was expecting a man. I’m a 6-foot lesbian. If I showed up at your door in a uniform with my hair cut in what’s known to barbers as the International Lesbian Option No. 2, you might mistake me for a man. Everyone does. She was rare in that she realized I’m a woman. We laughed about it. She found a robe while I replaced her cable box. She asked if I needed to use a bathroom, and I loved her.
For 10 years, I worked as a cable tech in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Those 10 years, the apartments, the McMansions, the customers, the bugs and snakes, the telephone poles, the traffic, the cold and heat and rain, have blurred together in my mind. Even then, I wouldn’t remember a job from the day before unless there was something remarkable about it. Remarkable is subjective and changes with every day spent witnessing what people who work in offices will never see — their co-workers at home during the weekday, the American id in its underpants, wondering if it remembered to delete the browsing history.
Mostly all I remember is needing to pee.
And I remember those little glimpses of the grotesque. I’ll get to Dick Cheney later. The one that comes to mind now is the anti-gay lobbyist whose office was lined with framed appreciation from Focus on the Family, and pictures with Pat Buchanan and Jerry Falwell, but whose son’s room was painted pink and littered with Barbies. The hypocrite’s son said he was still a boy. He just thought his sundress was really cute. I agreed, told him I love daisies, and he beamed. His father thanked me, and I wanted to tell him to go fuck himself. How the fuck do you actively work to ensure the world’s a more dangerous place for your beautiful little kid? But I didn’t ask him that. I just stood and glared at him until he looked away. I needed the job. I assumed his kid would grow up to hate him.
Maybe the next job that day was the guy whose work order said “irate.” It’s not something you want to see on a work order. Not when you’re running late and you still have to pee, because “irate” meant that the next job wasn’t going to be a woman in lingerie; it was going to be a guy who pulled out his penis while I fixed the settings on his television.
I know after that one, I pulled off the side of the road when I saw a horse. Only upside of Great Falls. Not too long ago, Great Falls was mostly small farms and large estates. The McMansions outnumber the farms now. But there are still a few holdouts. I called the horse over to the fence, and he nuzzled my hair. I fed him my apple. Talking to a horse helps when you can’t remember how to breathe.
Maybe that “irate” was an “irate fn ch72 out.” Fox News. Those we dreaded. It was worse when the comment was followed by “repeat call.” Repeat meant someone had been there before. If it was someone I could call and ask, he’d tell me: “Be careful. Asshole kept calling me ‘boy.’ Rather he just up and call me a [that word]. Yeah, of course I told them. Forwarding you the emails right now. Hang on, I have to merge. Anyway, it’s his TV. Dumbass put a plasma above his fireplace. Charge the piece of shit ’cause I warned him. Have fun.”
I’d walk in prepared for anything. There was sobbing, man or woman, didn’t matter. There were the verbal assaults. There were physical threats. To say they were just threats undermines what it feels like to be in someone else’s home, not knowing the territory, where that hallway leads, what’s behind that door, if they have a gun, if they’ll back you into a wall and scream at you. If they’ll stop there. If they’ll call in a complaint no matter what you do. Sure, we were allowed to leave if we felt threatened. We just weren’t always sure we could. In any case, even if we canceled, someone else would always be sent to the same house later. “Irate. Repeat call.” And we’d lose the points we needed to make our numbers.
The points: Every job’s assigned a number of points — 10 points for a “my cable’s out” call, four points to disconnect a line, 12 to install internet. We needed about 120 points a day to make our monthly quota.
A cut cable line was worth 10 points, whether we tried to fix it or not. We could try to splice it if we found the cut. Or we could maybe run a temp line. But you can’t run one across a neighbor’s lawn or across a sidewalk or street. That’s what happened with the guy who was adding a swimming pool. The diggers had cut his line. I knew before I walked in. But he still wanted me to come stare at the blank cable box while we talked. I did because the Fox News cult loves to call in complaints about their rude techs.
She blinked back the flood of tears she’d been holding since God knows when. She said, “It’s just, when he has Fox, he has Obama to hate. If he doesn’t have that ...”
The tap, where the cable line connects, was in a neighboring yard. There was a dog door on the back patio of that yard. I like dogs, but I’m not an idiot. I told him it would be a week, 7 to 10 days to get a new line. He said through his teeth he needed an exact day. I gave him my supervisor’s number. This whole time, his wife was in the kitchen wiping a clean counter.
I was filling out the work orders and emailing my supervisor to give him a heads-up on a possible call from a member of every cable tech’s favorite rage cult, when his wife knocked on my van window. She stepped back and called me “ma’am.” Which was nice. Her husband with the tucked-in polo shirt had asked my name and I told him Lauren. He heard Lawrence because it fit what he saw and asked if he could call me Larry. Guys like that use your name as a weapon. “Larry, explain to me why I had to sit around here from 1 to 3 waiting on you and you show up at 3:17. Does that seem like good customer service to you, Larry? And now you’re telling 7 to 10 days? Larry, I’m getting really tired of hearing this shit.” Guys like that, it was safer to just let them think I was a man.
She said she was sorry about him. I said, “It’s fine.” I said there really wasn’t anything I could do. She blinked back the flood of tears she’d been holding since God knows when. She said, “It’s just, when he has Fox, he has Obama to hate. If he doesn’t have that ...” She kept looking over her shoulder. She was terrified of him. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I just need him to have Fox.” I got out of my van.
The neighbor with the possible attack dogs wasn’t home. The next-door neighbor wasn’t either. But I looked up his account. I got lucky. He didn’t have TV service. I pulled up his modem on my laptop, perfect signal. There was an attenuator where the cable connected to his house-wiring to tamp down the signal — too much is also a problem. I got enough running a line from the neighbor’s house to theirs so the asshole would be able to get his rage fix from Hannity. I remember leaving a note on the neighbor’s door, some ambiguous lie about their internet service being urgent. I figured the neighbor might be more understanding about internet service than Fox. I sure as fuck was.
Maybe the next job was unremarkable in every way. I liked those jobs. Nothing to remember but maybe a cute dog. Maybe a few spiders. But I’d gotten used to spiders. I don’t feel mosquito bites anymore either. If the customer worked any sort of manual job, they’d offer me water. I wouldn’t usually accept. But it was a nice gesture.
Blue-collar customers were always my favorite. They don’t treat you like a servant. They don’t tell you, “We like the help to use the side door.” They don’t assume you’re an idiot just because you wear a name tag to work and your hands are calloused. The books on their shelves aren’t bound in leather. But the spines are cracked. Most of them, when you turn on the TV, it’s not set to Fox. They’re the only customers who tip.
Maybe the next job I had to climb into an attic. Maybe it was above 90 outside and 160 up there. I’d sweat out half my body weight, and my skin would itch like hives from the insulation the rest of the day. At some point, I’d blow something black out of my nose. You have to work fast in an attic. You don’t come down, not all of these customers would even bother to see if you’re at medium rare yet. If the customer had a shred of humanity, you could ask to reschedule for the morning.
Humanity is rarer than I imagined when I first took the job. One woman wanted me to shimmy down into a crawl space that held 3 feet of water and about a foot to spare under her floorboards. A snake swam past the opening. She said it wasn’t a copperhead. Like I fucking cared.
We had a blizzard one year — a few, really. Snowmaggedon and Snowverkill and Snowmygod, I think WTOP named them. We had to work. I went to one call where the problem was dead batteries on a remote. They didn’t think batteries were their responsibility. The next, they wanted me to replace a downed line. Yes, that’s the power line in the tree, too. Well, sure the telephone pole’s lying in the street, but we figured you could do something. I didn’t explain why I didn’t get out of my van. I took a picture and sent it to my supervisor with “Bullshit.”
Most of the streets were blocked. Thirty-five inches is a lot of snow. A state trooper told me to get the fuck off the road. My supervisor said, “We can’t. We do phone so we’re considered emergency service.” I didn’t have any phone jobs. No one else I talked to did either.
The supervisors made a good show of pretending to care that we made it to jobs. The dispatchers canceled everything they could. The techs, we didn’t talk much. Every so often someone would mic their Nextel to scream: “This is bullshit! They’re going to get us fucking killed!” And someone else would say, “They don’t care, man. They won’t have to pay anyway. They’ll piss test your corpse and say you were high. Motherfuckers.”
“They’ll fucking care when I plow my van through the front of their building.”
“Dude, I’m gonna ram the next little Ford Ranger I see.” Supervisors drove Rangers.
“Fuck that. I’m ramming a cop.”
“Bitch, how you gonna know what you’re ramming? Can’t fucking see the snowplow in front of me.”
I couldn’t respond. My voice would stand out. We had to hope for the humanity of others, the customers, because corporate didn’t care. They didn’t have to drive through a blizzard. The blizzards, I remember.
The other days, they all blended together. Let’s go back to imaginary day. Maybe next I had the woman with the bull mastiff named Otto. I don’t remember much about her because I like bull mastiffs with their giant stupid heads. I told her I needed to get to her basement. She said, “Do you really? It’s just it’s a mess.” (That’s never why.) I explained the signal behind her television was crap. The signal outside her house was great. With only one line going through the cinderblock wall, there was probably a splitter. She was taller than I am. That’s something I remember because, like I said, I’m tall. And probably a useful trait for her considering what I found next. I told her what I told everyone who balked about their privacy being invaded: “Unless you have a kid in a cage, I don’t fucking care.” Kids in cages were an unimaginable horror then. A good place to draw a line.
This is a good time to say, if you’re planning on growing massive quantities of marijuana, look, I respect it. But don’t use a $3 splitter from CVS when you run your own cable line. Sooner or later, you’ll have a cable tech in your basement. And you’ll feel the need to give them a freezer bag full of pot to relieve your paranoia. Which is appreciated, don’t get me wrong. Stoners, I adore you. I mean it. You never yell. I can ask to use your bathroom because you’re stoned. You never call in complaints. But maybe behind the television isn’t the most effective place to hide your bong when the cable guy’s coming over.
Anyway, Otto’s mom laughed and said, “Not a kid.” It took me a second. She went down to get his permission. And I was allowed down into a dungeon where she had a man in a cage. I don’t remember if she had a bad splitter. So that was probably early on. After a few years, not even a dungeon was interesting. Sex workers tip, though.
Sarah Maxwell for HuffPost
Maybe my next job was a short little fucker who walked like a little teapot and who beat his kids. Sometimes you can tell. Some of us recognize the look in their eyes, the bite of fear in the air. He followed me into the office. And he rubbed himself against my ass when I leaned over to unplug the modem. I let it happen that time. Sometimes you know which guys you can’t fight back against.
There were a lot of those. Those I never forgot. They seep into your skin like cat piss. But you can’t shower them off. It’s part of why I didn’t mind most people assuming I was a man. Each time I had to calculate the odds of something worse against the odds of getting back to my van.
One of those creeps, his suit cost more than my car. I can’t fathom what his smile cost. He had an elevator in his three-story McMansion. Maybe he thought he owned me, too. I broke his nose with my linesman’s pliers. Nice heft to those linesman’s pliers. He’d called me a dyke. I hope I ruined his suit. I lost the points.
I made it back to my van. My van became my home, my office, my dining room. I was safe in my van. In my van, I could pull off near a park for a few minutes, smoke a cigarette, read the news, check Facebook, breathe until I stopped shaking, until I stopped crying. That’s only if there was someplace to pull over, preferably in the shade. We were monitored by GPS. But if I stayed close enough to the route, I could always claim traffic. This was Northern Virginia. There was always traffic.
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Maybe that’s why I was running late to the next job, and my dispatcher, my supervisor, another dispatcher and the dispatch supervisor called to ask my ETA. No, that job canceled.
Irate doesn’t always mean irate. Sometimes it just means he’s had three techs out to fix his internet and not one has listened to him. They said it was fixed. He was bidding last night on a train. It was a special piece. He’d seen only one on eBay in five years. One. He showed me his collection. His garage was the size of my high school gym. But his sensible Toyota commuter box was parked out front. His garage was for the trains. He had the Old West to the west. And Switzerland to the east. But the train he wanted went to someone in Ohio because his internet went out again and he lost the auction. He wasn’t irate. He was heartbroken, and no one would listen.
I remember he started clicking a dog-training clicker when I said the signal was good behind the modem. He said he was sorry. The clicker helped when he was feeling overwhelmed. I said I should probably try it. My dentist didn’t like the way I clenched my teeth. He said, “They all come here and say it’s OK, but it goes out again.”
This was probably around the time my supervisor realized I was pretty good at fixing the jobs the guys couldn’t, or wouldn’t. And really good with the customers who’d had enough. The guys looked at cable as a science. Name a channel, they’d tell you the frequency. They could tell you the attenuation per 100 feet of any brand of cable. The customers were just idiots who didn’t know bitrate errors from packet loss. I looked at cable like plumbing, or something like that. I like fixing things. Some customers were idiots. Most just wanted things to work the way they were promised. This guy’s plumbing had a leak. I didn’t pay attention in class when they explained why interference could be worse at night, or I forgot it soon after the test. I knew it was, though. So when he said the problem only happened at night, I started looking for a leak. One bad fitting outside. Three guys missed it because they didn’t want to listen to him. Because he was different. Because he was a customer. And customers are all idiots.
I remember training a guy around the time I was six years in. He’d been hired at $5 more an hour than I was making, 31 percent more. I asked around. We weren’t allowed to discuss pay. But we weren’t allowed to smoke pot and most of us did. We weren’t allowed to work on opiates either. We were all working hurt. I can’t handle opiates. But if I’d wanted them, there were plenty of guys stealing them from customer’s bathrooms. I could’ve bought what I needed after any team meeting.
That’s the thing they don’t tell you about opiate addiction. People are in pain because unless you went to college, the only way you’ll earn a decent living is by breaking your body or risking your life — plumbers, electricians, steamfitters, welders, mechanics, cable guys, linemen, fishermen, garbagemen, the options are endless.
Ivan came back and opened his paw to show me a gram bag of coke. He’d helpfully brought a caviar spoon. He said, “You must taste.”
They’re all considered jobs for men because they require a certain amount of strength. The bigger the risk, the bigger the paycheck. But you don’t get to take it easy when your back hurts from carrying a 90-pound ladder that becomes a sail in the wind. You don’t get to sit at a desk when your knees or ankles start to give out after crawling through attics, under desks, through crawl spaces. When your elbow still hurts from the time you disconnected a cable line and your body became the neutral line on the electrical feeder and 220 volts ran through your body to the ground. When your hands become useless claws 30 feet in the air on a telephone pole and you leave your skin frozen to the metal tap. So you take a couple pills to get through the day, the week, the year. If painkillers show up on your drug test, you have that prescription from the last time you fell off a roof. Because that’s the other thing about these jobs, they all require drug tests when you get hurt. Smoke pot one night, whether for fun or because you hurt too much to sleep, the company doesn’t have to pay for your injury when your van slides down an icy off-ramp three weeks later. I chose pot to numb my head and body every night. But it was the bigger risk.
I probably should’ve stolen pills. It would have made up for the fact I was making less than every tech I asked. They don’t like you talking about your pay for a reason. Some had been there longer. Most hadn’t. I was the only female tech because really, why the fuck was I even doing that job? Because I didn’t go to college. I joined the Air Force. They kicked me out for being gay. I’d since worked at a gay bar, Home Depot, Starbucks, Lowe’s, 7-Eleven, a livery service, construction, a dog groomer and probably 10 more shitty jobs along the way. Until I was offered a few dollars more, just enough to pay rent, as a cable guy.
My supervisor hadn’t known, said he didn’t know our pay. But he said he’d take care of it, and he did. He said the problem was my numbers were always lower than most of the guys. All those points I mentioned. So my raises over the years had always been lower. The math didn’t quite work. But it was mostly true. My numbers were always lower. Numbers were based mostly on how many jobs we completed a day. On paper, the way we were rated, I was a terrible employee. That I was a damn good tech didn’t matter. The points were what mattered. The points, I’m realizing now, were why I spent the better part of 10 years thinking about bathrooms.
The guys could piss in apartment taprooms, any slightly wooded area, against a wall with their van doors open for cover, in Gatorade bottles they collected in their vans. I didn’t have those options. And most customers, I wouldn’t ask. If I had to pee, I had to drive to a 7-Eleven or McDonald’s or grocery store, not all of which have public bathrooms. I knew every clean bathroom in the county. I knew the bathrooms with a single stall because the way I look, public bathrooms aren’t always safe for me either. But they don’t plant a 7-Eleven between the McMansions of Great Falls. One bathroom break and I was already behind.
The guys could call for help on a job. No problem. If I called, some of them wouldn’t answer. Some I’d asked before and taken shit for not being able to do something they couldn’t have done either. One of them told me my pussy smelled amazing while he held a ladder for me. One never stopped asking if I’d ever tried dick. Said I needed his. And for the most part, I liked to tell myself I could handle their taunts and harassment. But I wasn’t calling them for help. Sometimes I’d have to reschedule the job because there was no one around I could ask for help. Rescheduling meant I’d lose even more points that day.
So my numbers were lower than the men’s. I never had a shot at being a good employee really, not by their measure. Well, there was one way.
I worked with an older guy, a veteran like me. I usually got along with the veterans. He was no exception. Once, after I explained why I called him for help, he told me that he understood. He said he found vets were less likely to treat him like shit for being black. Higher odds they’d worked with a black guy before. That made sense. But when I asked him how he kept his points up, seeing as how he worked slower than the other guys, he said he clocked out at 7 every day. Worked the last job for free. It brought up his average. I wasn’t willing to work for free.
One year, though, the company tried a little experiment: Choose a couple of people from each team, let them take the problem calls, those jobs a couple of techs had failed to fix, and give them the time to actually fix the problem.
Time was the important thing. Time is why I can’t tell you what day or week or year a thing happened. Because for the 10 years I was a cable tech, there was no time. I rushed from one job to the next, sometimes typing on the laptop, usually on the phone with a dispatcher, supervisor, customer or another tech. Have to pee, run behind, try to rush the next so the customer doesn’t call and complain you’re late, dispatch gives the call to another tech, lose the points. The first few years, I was reading a map book to find the house. Then crawling down the street, counting up for 70012 because I needed house number 70028 but no one else on the street thought it important to put numbers on their house. They’d tell me I needed to pick up my numbers. One more bad month and I was out of a job. Maybe you can understand why I avoided canceling anything but the most dangerous jobs.
After a few years, I spent most of my days off recovering. I’d get home and couldn’t read a page in a book and remember what I’d read. I was depressed. But I didn’t know it. I was too tired to consider why I couldn’t sleep, why I stopped eating, why I was so ashamed of what my life had become.
Sometimes at night, when I couldn’t sleep, I’d think of the next 10 years doing the same fucking thing every day until my knees or ankles no longer worked or my back gave out. I thought maybe the best thing that could happen was that if I got injured seriously enough, but not so seriously I’d forget the synthetic urine I kept in my lunch cooler, I could maybe try to survive on workers’ comp. Most mornings, I woke and it took a minute to decide. Do I want to die today? I guess I can take one more day. If I just make it to my day off. I tried to go to school for a while. But I was too tired to learn coding. And anyway, I missed most of the classes because I’d have to work late.
That one year, though, being a cable tech wasn’t all that bad. I’d start in the morning with a couple of jobs. And the rest of day, they’d throw me one problem job at a time. And I had all the time in the world to fix them. It’s how I became the Cheneys’ tech.
My supervisor called and said, “Look at the work order I just dropped you. You’re gonna thank me.” I recognized the name: Mary Cheney, the former vice president’s daughter. I didn’t know why he thought I’d thank him. I called him back. “What the fuck are you doing to me here?”
“I thought you’d be happy. They’re lesbians.”
“Dude. They’re married.” He didn’t say anything. I said, “Google her and tell me you still think you’re doing me a favor.”
He said I was just pissed because they were Republicans. I said I was pissed because Dick was a fucking war criminal. He called me a communist. Said a couple of guys had been out. Internet problem. Read the notes. I didn’t actually have a choice. But with the pressure off to complete 12 jobs a day, I found I could actually have fun at work, joke with my boss about whether or not the Cheneys constituted a favor just because, hey, we’re all lesbians.
Mary Cheney wasn’t home. Which was good. The further I was from Dick, the more likely I was to keep my mouth shut. Her wife was friendly and talkative in the way old people are friendly and talkative because they haven’t had a visitor since Christmas. The house had a few problems. I’d fix one. She’d call my supervisor and I’d have to go back to fix another. But I finally got it fixed.
A few months later, my boss called and started with, “Don’t kill me.” He was sending me to Dick Cheney’s. Dick was home.
He had an assistant or secretary or maybe security who followed me around while I checked connections and signal levels. I’d already found a system problem outside. I just wanted to make sure I never had to fucking set foot in that house again. Dick walked into the office while I was working. He was reading from a stack of papers and ignored me. I told the assistant it would probably be a week or so. I’d put the orders in. He had my supervisor’s number.
He said something to the effect of, “You do understand this is the former vice president.”
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I panicked and said the first thing that came to mind: “Yeah, well, waterboard me if it makes him feel better. It’ll still take a week.” And I walked out.
It was my last call that day. I drove the entire way home thinking of a hundred better things I could’ve said. Finally, I called my supervisor and told him I might’ve accidentally mentioned waterboarding. He laughed and said I’d won. He’d stop sending me to the Cheneys’. I don’t actually know if they ever complained. If they did, he never mentioned it.
That was the year I met a Russian mobster whose name was actually Ivan, a fact that on its own made me laugh. There were rumors of mob houses. The guys said they’d been to others. My original trainer pointed one out in Fairfax and said, if you have to go in there, just don’t try to see shit you don’t want to. I pressed him for details. But he wouldn’t tell me. I thought he was full of shit.
The Russian mob house was off Waples Mill Road. It was a massive McMansion, looked like a swollen Olive Garden. I parked behind a row of Hummers.
Ivan was a big kid with cauliflower ears. He met me at the door. Told me, “Please follow.” I followed him to an office. Same collection of leather-bound books on the shelf in most McMansions. I think they come with the place. The modem was in the little network closet. The signal looked like they had a bad splitter somewhere. (Remember what I said about cheap splitters?) I told Ivan I thought there was a bad splitter somewhere. I needed to check the basement. He said, “Is not possible.”
I said, “I can’t fix it then.” He didn’t say anything, and I wasn’t clear on where we were with the language barrier. So I added, “No basement, no internet.”
He seemed worried. Kept looking at the door. Looking at me. Like a puppy trying to figure out where to pee, a large, heavily tattooed puppy. I said, “Look, unless you’ve got a kid in a cage, I don’t fucking care.”
He nodded and said, “You stay. I ask for you.” I told him I’d stay. I heard him down the hall. Heard Russian, garbled words. A couple of doors opened and closed.
Ivan came back and opened his paw to show me a gram bag of coke. He’d helpfully brought a caviar spoon. He said, “You must taste.” I actually laughed. He seemed sad that I was laughing. I told him: “Look, I can’t. I’m at work. I’ll take it home, though, for tonight.” This was one of my first jobs that day. I did not want to find out what climbing a telephone pole felt like on cocaine.
He said, “No. You must taste.” This time he emphasized the word “must.” I told him I get sinus infections. (This is true and extremely annoying.) He didn’t understand. I pantomimed and explained a sinus infection in words like “nose, coke, bad, no breathing.” This made him happy. It was a problem he could fix. “Stay.” I was the puppy now.
He came back with a little round mirror and a little pile of coke. He said, “This is better. No cuts.” I was just standing there. I really couldn’t figure out what to do. I hoped this was some weird mob thing like when every Russian I’d ever met forces you to do vodka shots and then you’re friends. But I’m not great with vodka. And I’m really not great with coke. Drugs affect me.
He stepped closer and he looked older and very sad. He said, “I am trying to say, is safe for you if you taste. You do not taste, is maybe not safe for you now.” I figured it was probably his job to kill me and he honestly felt awful about it. I took a bump.
He was visibly relieved. He smiled all goofy and lopsided and said, “OK. Yes. This is smart decision you make.” And he took me to the basement.
I think my heart attack started on the stairs. It was good, though. Best heart attack I’d ever had. I could hear it. I didn’t know my eyes could open that wide. Which didn’t help me see.
They had a bunch of sweet gaming computers lined up on a table. But with no internet, all the guys were hanging out on a couple of sofas watching soccer. The World Cup was on. One of the guys pointed at me and asked Ivan something. Ivan said, “Yes, of course.” I understood that much Russian. And the guy gave me a thumbs up, said, “Good shit, yes?” I agreed that it was good shit. And I changed their splitter and got the fuck out of there.
We got a new regional manager after that. He called me “young lady.” I told him not to. My old vet buddy said he’d called me an entitled dyke after I left the room. The company was bleeding money with the whole “no one fucking needs cable anymore” thing. And I was back to chasing points. Eventually, my ankle went out.
I remember my last day. There was a big meeting. I hated these. The only potential good part was that they’d play happy messages from happy customers about their cable tech. If you got one, you got a $20 gift card to Best Buy. I got lots of calls, mostly because little old ladies liked me. I programmed their remotes. They never played mine in the meetings because no one ever figured out what to do about customers thinking I was a “nice young man.” That last meeting, they gave a guy an award. For 10 years, he’d never taken a sick day, never taken a vacation day. He had four kids. I thought maybe they’d have enjoyed a vacation. But that mentality is why I was never getting promoted in that company.
I couldn’t go back after surgery. My ankle never healed right. I needed a letter from HR to continue my disability. Just a phone call. But they moved their HR team somewhere else. They never answered my emails. So I work at a gay bar. The pay is shit. But I like going to work. I don’t spend my nights worrying about where I’ll pee. And no one has called me Larry in years.
Lauren Hough was born in Berlin and raised in seven countries, and West Texas. She’s been an Air Force airman, a green-aproned barista, a bartender, a livery driver and, for a time, a cable tech. Her work has appeared in Granta, Wrath Bearing Tree and The Guardian. She lives in Austin, Texas.
Also I have a larger question here... Is tipping for utility repair services something people do in some places? And if so how much do you tip? Do you tip based upon your monthly bill, and if so do you use a percentage based upon the fees added on too?
For GQ, Drew Magary talked to the family, friends, and coworkers of Anthony Bourdain for this piece on the life of the late chef/traveler/writer/explorer/whatever. Here’s how he got his big writing break, which led to so much else:
David Remnick (editor in chief, ‘The New Yorker’): My wife came home one day, and she said, “Look. There’s a really nice woman at the newspaper. Her son is a writer. She wanted you to take a look at his work,” which seemed…adorable, right? A mother’s ambition for a son. I took this manuscript out of its yellow envelope, not expecting much. I started to read. It was about a young cook, working at a pretty average steak-and-frites place on lower Park Avenue. I called this guy up on the phone. He answered it in his kitchen. I said, “I’d like to publish this work of yours in The New Yorker. I hope that’s okay.” That was the beginning of Anthony Bourdain being published. I don’t know if there’s any way to put this other than to say he invented himself as a writer, as a public personality. It was all there.
Prior to becoming the best-ever host of a travel show, he’d actually traveled very little internationally (only France and Japan) and his first go of it wasn’t successful:
Tenaglia: Japan was a fucking disaster.
Chris Collins (co-founder, ZPZ): The mistakes were very clear. He did not engage with us. He would not acknowledge our presence and that we were there working together.
Tenaglia: I think he was thinking, “Great! I just got a free ride to all these countries.”
Collins: It was a ruse. It was, I’m gonna double dip here. I’m going to be able to get paid to go make something, and I’m going to write articles.
Tenaglia: We would go back to the hotel and say, “We are so screwed.”
But it turns out this inexperienced traveler & newbie TV host was the exact right person for the job.
He came alive, because those frames of reference were starting to pop. His sudden inclination was to turn and share that with us. You could sense this excitement, like, “Holy crap, I’m actually on the ground in a location that I have studied, that I know, that I have references to.” You know, Apocalypse Now, Heart of Darkness, Graham Greene, the Vietnam War. He was percolating with an excitement that was very genuine.
My only complaint about this piece is the length…I would have happily read on for hours.
Paula Froelich (author, journalist): I’ll never forget laughing my ass off because he was obsessed with my dog, who’s a small dachshund. He’d always walk my dog, and he was so tall and the dog was so long and short, they would look like this movable L.