“Welcome folks, to a preview of Barbara Walkers’ upcoming Christmas Special to be aired on Christmas Eve on the ABC television network. You will see Barbara and her guests, and exclusive glimpses of the studio rehearsals now in progress. This special behind the scenes look at glamour, excitement, and star power is what Christmas is all about.
“A few words of caution before our tour begins. Please do not try to converse with Barbara or her guests. The high stress level of taping unfortunately does not allow for interactive communication. We will, however, be privileged to listen in on all the showbiz jargon. Remember what you see and hear is what will be broadcast on Barbara’s Christmas Eve show.
“Those of you who came by automobile probably parked in the ABC visitor parking area in North Hollywood. We apologize for having to shuttle you by bus to our Burbank studios; however, parking here is restricted to ABC stars, staff, and their guests. You may have noticed Barbara’s parking spot just beside the main entrance. The colourful blue and white striped awning is in Barbara’s favorite colours, as are her name and #1 parking sign. In the #2 spot next to Barbara is Chairman of the Board Saul Wintegarter, followed by the President of ABC and various other ABC executives.”
“Where’s Peter Jennings’ spot?” I asked, in my most innocent manner.
“Mr. Jennings is #115. He is located just beside the green dumpster at the far end of lot 2. Now, please follow me. Let’s enter the main doors and proceed to security for our photo ID cards and fingerprinting. Then I’ll whisk you all to rehearsal hall 10, or as it’s known here, “Barb’s hall for barbs.” By the way, if you have a criminal record, a conviction for murder or embezzlement or any unpaid parking fines, I’m afraid you won’t be allowed to participate in our tour. After security, please follow your tour guide. We all have a different colour ABC-TV sign that we hold over our head so you know immediately where we are. Each group is made up of 20 visitors, so keep close and don’t dawdle. Any questions?”
“Are those Mac computers in the security kiosk running FileMaker Pro?” I asked, not so innocently this time.
“I don’t think so,” the senior guide answered. “We use Windows here. See, the screen is like a desktop”.
“That title bar has horizontal stripes. That’s a sure sign of the Mac OS”, I insisted. “And there is a small Apple logo in the upper left hand corner.”
“That’s not an apple; it’s a striped multi-coloured 3/4 moon,” the guide replied, beginning to perspire. “Come along everyone. Keep together. This group will be assigned to Meryl. She will answer any more of your questions. Thank you for visiting ABC-TV.” The senior guide quickly disappeared behind an official looking door with large black letters proclaiming “Staff Only”
“Good morning, everyone.” A sweet looking brunette with blue eyes smiled at us radiantly. “My name is B… Meryl and it will be my pleasure to serve as your guide today. As you know, our first stop will be Rehearsal Hall 10. Please come this way.” As we passed her, she counted us one by one. I was the last of our group and I lip read her mouthing “eighteen” as I passed. She looked momentarily perplexed but her bright smile returned almost immediately.
“What happened to 19 and 20, Meryl?” I whispered.
“Security!” she replied, this time her fixed smile was not betrayed by moving lips. In fact, this kid could be a major star as a ventriloquist. I was relieved that somehow security had not uncovered my indiscretion of last night: tipping the waitress only 12% instead of 15%.
“Walk this way,” Meryl sang happily as we all trudged dutifully behind her. I couldn’t help chuckling to myself as I thought of the old vaudeville routine. No one else smiled or seemed to have noticed. In fact, looking at the age span of our group, I was probably the only one who knew what vaudeville was. Not because I’m that old, mind you, probably because I read a lot.
Rehearsal Hall 10 was a cavernous stage. The high ceiling was covered by thousands of multi-sized lights. At the moment, all the lights were off except for a small corner of the stage. We were herded into the large seating section that rose from the main floor in levels, with rows of seats on each level. The different tour groups numbered about a dozen, with approximately 20 per group (give or take the odd missing embezzler or murderer). The audience numbered about 200. However, no matter what seat or what level you chose, it was very difficult to make out what was going on because of the huge cameras and miscellaneous production equipment that sat in direct view. Multiple monitors were strategically placed at the stage peripheral and a massive screen hung from the ceiling. All monitors and the huge centre screen focused on the corner of the stage that we first saw as we came in. When we had all been seated, Meryl came in and sat next to me.
“Meryl, what are we actually going to see?
Meryl?” She seemed wrapped up in what was happening on stage.
“Meryl?” I tried again.
“Oh!” she exclaimed in a startled tone. “That damn name, I can’t get used to it.” She looked at me and blushed. “My name is really Barbara but I can’t use it here at work,” she explained rolling her eyes apologetically. “And every time I look at myself in a mirror and see this hair, I scream. I’m really a blonde. Really!” she emphasized. Suddenly, as if she were experiencing a cathartic release, she continued, “Back at the security kiosk you asked about the computers?”
“Yeah,” I answered. “Why did the senior guide lie to me?”
“You were correct, of course,” she said sotto voce. “They had to get rid of the Windows NT system. It was a disaster. We had a major security breach and all hell broke loose. Barbara laid down the law. NT out. Mac in. Just like that. Never underestimate the power of a woman, especially a woman superstar who rakes in the ratings.”
The crew were speaking in muted tones when, over the public address system, the director announced Barbara’s gown test. Suddenly Barbara walked onto the stage in her Christmas Special red ensemble. All monitors exploded into a crimson haze. There was a collective gasp and a simultaneous burst of applause from both audience and crew. Barbara waved, turned left, right, and then completely around, smiling brightly as she dutifully modelled the latest creation.
“Who said Givenchy is out of fashion?” she laughed. “The diamond earrings are from Tiffany’s, the gold necklace from Bugatti, the perfume from my own personal Faberge´ collection, and the shoes from Gucci in Rome.”
“Barbara, turn to your right again.” It was the director’s voice booming over the P.A. It sounded not unlike the voice of God in a biblical epic. “The dress looks a bit bulky around the hips. Can you pat it down a little?” The silence echoed from wall to wall.
“David, darling, that’s not bulk or hips. The dress is supposed to hang that way.” The icy retort cut through the silence like a rapier through water.
“Sorry, Barbara. The cameras are picking up an exaggerated mass. I know how you want to look for your audience. I don’t think you will be pleased. Perhaps you should try a different gown.”
“But I like this one.” A frown was beginning to form on that newly smoothed brow.
Meryl turned to me and whispered, “For your information, that gown costs more than the budget of some third world countries. It was donated, as were the necklace, perfume, and earrings. The only thing she’s missing is a vial of aromatic oil that Elizabeth Arden is sending but hasn’t yet arrived.”
Barbara was still pouting. “Christmas is for wearing glamorous outfits, looking beautiful and feeling good. Try a camera angle that doesn’t show the bulk,” she said petulantly.
She turned to us, the audience, “Thank you all for coming today. I want to tell you that my guests for my Christmas Special are Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Sandra Bullock.” The first two names were met with a surprising lack of enthusiasm, but Sandra Bullock’s name caused pandemonium to break loose. Even I joined in. I was very partial to Sandra, suspicious of Steve, and indifferent to Bill.
“As you all know, usually I visit the homes of my guests and we talk comfortably as they show us about. But for this year’s Special, I will have all three guests with me in person and at the same time.” The audience again murmured and nodded their approval. Apparently, Madonna could have sent her regrets and sent her bra as a replacement and this cheerful group would still have shouted hosannas.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Steve Jobs.” There was a smattering of applause as Steve walked on stage and waved jauntily to the audience. I noticed he was wearing his imported rose-tinted glasses. They camouflaged his rather intense dark eyes and brows and gave him a softer look. Barbara expertly maneuvered him to her left side. Steve looked pleased. This guy couldn’t possibly con anyone out of $5,000.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Bill Gates, the richest man in the world.” Another smattering of applause, although this time it was much more pronounced. He shuffled up to Barbara’s right. His “I’m not a crook” look reminded me of another gate, but that’s water under the bridge. If only the Department of Justice would stop picking on him. So what if he asked, “How much do we need to pay you to screw Netscape?” Look at that face. Is that the face of a man who would use such language, or lie, or cheat to get what he wants?
“And now ladies and gentlemen,” Barbara paused for the right effect, “Sandra Bullock.” If you are a Californian, you would know the experience of the earthquake-like sensation that occurred as Sandra walked on stage. It started as a subdued hush and built in expectation until it unleased a torrent of applause and adulation. The frenzy continued for some minutes. Steve and Bill stood awkwardly, fixed smiles frozen on their faces. I imagine the reception Sandra received would send a message to these two computer moguls that acclaim is relative and that the computer world is not really that large or important.
“Hi everyone,” Sandra waved demurely. She wore a simple black dress. Simple and chic. “Steve,” she leaned past Barbara and planted a light kiss on his cheek.
“Mr. Gates,” she smiled. A slight hesitation on his side and then she gave him a light peck on the cheek as well. She embraced Barbara like family. The audience ate it up. I was wondering how long this tribute to Sandra Bullock would last. Barbara, ever the showman, deftly walked her guests to the ‘living room set’ that emerged from the darkness. The overhead lights sprang into life. “Sandra, you sit there, Bill, you sit here and Steve, you sit on Sandra’s left. Isn’t that cozy?” Barbara plopped herself down in the centre, sinking well down into the plush sofa. As she did, her Givenchy dress puffed up in a billowing mass of scarlet. The taping came abruptly to a halt. After much scurrying, a straight-back chair was brought in for the star and, once she was seated more appropriately, the taping continued.
” Steve, I have a question for you that I know you have continually dodged whenever you are asked. When will you take on the CEO position at Apple full-time?” Another California hush-before-the-quake settled on the audience.
‘As interim CEO, I thought I could do all I can for Apple and still maintain my other company obligations.” He smiled a tight smile and, it seemed, watching him on the giant screen, that the rose-coloured glasses were slightly fogged.
“You are referring to Pixar,” Barbara interjected. “But still, don’t you think Apple needs you full-time now? Will you take over 100% in the New Year?
“I am devoting as much time to Apple as the company currently requires. It can function amazingly well on its own with the staff that is in place. I only offer suggestions, advice, and recommendations.
“But, Steve Jobs is still,” Barbara persisted sweetly, “top man, so why not drop the interim for de facto CEO?
“I’m sorry, Barbara,” he said standing up and removing his lapel mike at the same time, “I told your people that I would not talk about this subject. I haven’t changed my mind since I told them that last week. Thank you for having me on your show, good night and Merry Christmas.” In five long strides he walked off the set leaving a sputtering Barbara and an uncomfortable Bill Gates and Sandra Bullock in his wake.
“It’s deja vu, Barbara,” Sandra quipped when she regained her composure.
Barbara bulldozed ahead, not skipping a beat.”Bill, tell me why you are so successful. Your company, Microsoft, has the largest computer-based user system in the world. Why don’t you buy Apple outright instead of investing in it like you did last year? You could be CEO of Apple and then Steve wouldn’t have a problem deciding if he should or shouldn’t become full-time CEO.” She expertly put Jobs in his place for his unseemly conduct.
“Microsoft is quite happy working with Apple. We are not competitors. As you know, Microsoft is the largest software developer for Apple. We are happy and they are happy. We are like family, like distant cousins. Microsoft owes a lot to Apple and Apple, in turn, owes us as well.”
“The last time you were on my show, I had you sing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ to your new baby. How about another chorus?”
“I think my singing days on national television are over. I’m still trying to live down that appearance .”
“I want to talk to you about the government’s antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft, but first I would like to ask Sandra what computer she uses for home and/or work?”
“I’ve used Windows, but my day to day computer is a G3 PowerBook. Sorry, Bill,” she said with an ingratiating smile and a slight shrug of the shoulder, “but until you guys get it right, Windows is just too clunky.”
Bill Gates was not amused. His normally placid frozen smile faded and his complexion took on a light crimson glow. In seconds, it was a deep red. He stood up. “I don’t have to be insulted on national television,” he sputtered. Windows is the premier operating system in the world and I am proud to have brought it to everyone and not just the elitists.” He stormed past a (for once) silent Barbara and a slightly surprised Sandra.
“Wow,” Sandra managed, “He didn’t let me finish. I do use Word for the Mac. What are you going to ask me next, Barbara? I want to get my exit right.” The audience laughed. Two super geeks down and out and one movie star in the spotlight.
“And they say women are prima donnas,” Barbara finally managed in exasperation. The audience applauded in amusement.” Sandra, let’s get to important matters. What is your next film and what is it about?”
“Well,” Sandra hesitated a moment, then took a deep breath and looked from Barbara directly to the audience. “It’s called OS.” The audience again howled. “But wait,” she hollered over the melee. “It’s a short form for Operation Simple and it is about industrial espionage.”
“An industrial espionage comedy?” Barbara’s tone was skeptical.
“I want to explain the basic plot as delicately as I can,” Sandra continued, “insofar as we have witnessed quite a scene here.” She hesitated and then decided to forge ahead. “It is about a fictional computer company that steals the basics of a superior system from their rival and palms it off on the public as their own.”
The audience for once was stunned into silence. Then, little by little, chuckles began to ripple through the throng at the irony of the unfolding events.
“Do I walk out now?” Sandra quipped. This time the audience laughed in unison.
Barbara was unconvinced. “Are you sure the public will buy that plot line and will this advance your career?
“When I first read the script I was determined to play the female lead. Don’t tell my agent, but I would have done this part for free. Agents don’t like 10% of nothing. As it turned out, I received by current salary plus a certain percentage of the gross. I’m happy and my agent’s happy. As for the plot, it could happen in real life, so why not portray it in reel life, she winked. “Art imitating life.”
The taping session ended quickly thereafter. Barbara walked off stage arm in arm with Sandra and, almost immediately, we were rousted out of our hard straight-back seats by our individual guides. I wondered how they would edit what little material they had of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, but I had learned, in my short time in the land of tinsel, that almost anything is possible. Meryl beamed her dazzling smile and steered us to the exits. She thanked us profusely for our attention and comportment as we walked out the exit door that led directly to the main parking lot. As she did so, I again noticed her lips moving silently as she counted us pass by one by one.
Out in the crisp December night, at least crisp for Californians, I looked up at the starlit heavens. Even with the city glow, it was a spectacular night for stargazing and not necessarily the Hollywood types. The brightly coloured Christmas lights twinkled around the perimeter of ABC-TV complex. On the side of the main building, the huge ABC logo was surrounded with an enormous multi-coloured wreath of Christmas lights. The logo and wreath were at least several stories high.
I decided to walk back to my car which was parked a substantial distance beyond Peter Jennings’ spot and the green dumpster. The stars sparkled and twinkled above. In this land of make believe, perhaps more than anywhere else, you could see how much Christmas had changed. I had some mental notes swimming in my head that I wanted to get onto my PowerBook hard drive. My laptop was sitting in the trunk of my car. My fingers itched to get at the keyboard.
The nativity scene of antiquity seemed lost and distant. These days, it was partially or completely hidden by the cola company’s jolly old man in the red suit. If you did find a creche, it was probably motorized with moving figures, had bright indirect luminous lighting and was accompanied with CD sound pseudo-carols. Was Rudolf really one of the animals in the stable in Bethlehem? Did the shepherds wear designer sneakers to tend their flock? And who needs three wise men when multiple thousands are available on Madison Avenue and Wall Street to tells us how, why, and what we should purchase.
No one would be turned away at the Holiday or Ramada Inn today–as long as one had reservations or a valid credit card. No reservations? No card? No money? Better try the flop house on the other side of the tracks. Maybe they can put you up, but don’t count on it. Perhaps things haven’t changed so much, if you are poor, travel weary, and dispossessed.
At a time in history when Power is the new god and governments are interested in power more than the well-being of their citizens, when multi-national companies wield more power than some countries, and when the most powerful official of the land can misrepresent his personal peccadillos to save his political life, we should all reevaluate our personal code of conduct rather than point fingers and judge others.
Why is it that after two thousand years we have still not learned the simple lesson of living and conducting ourselves with as much concern for our fellow human beings as we do for ourselves?
I reached my car, unlocked the trunk, lifted out my PowerBook, and turned it on. The startup screen burst into life. It was a small shareware program I had written for the holiday season. It showed a bright shimmering constellation on a black background with the caption, “Happy Birthday.”
To all the staff at My Mac Magazine and to all our readers and visitors, I extend best wishes for the holiday season.
Ralph J. Luciani