I was fifteen and had just started an internship at PM Magazine, Providence’s evening half-hour local interest show. I’d been watching PM Magazine with my family since its inception a few years earlier and was familiar with its perky host, Sheila Martinez. Martinez seemed like the closest thing to a Providence celebrity. After all, she was on TV five nights a week. This was the same TV where I watched Happy Days and the Super Bowl. I knew there was a big difference between PM Magazine and the Super Bowl, but the flickering screen had the power to make anyone who appeared on it seem special to me.
I was sitting alone at the intern’s desk in the middle of the show’s open office answering fan mail. Many of the fans, I quickly learned, did not know how to write complete, coherent sentences. I knew what they meant to say, but they weren’t actually saying it. This was surprising and mildly off-putting because these fans were all adults. It was as if some veil had just been pulled away. I had until that moment put adults into a category entirely separate from me, a category defined in part by a sort of universal competence. These letters suggested that distinction was less distinct than I had previously imagined.
I had just opened a new letter when I sensed the energy in the office change. I glanced up and there, standing a few desks away, was Sheila Martinez looking exactly like herself. It was the first time I had experienced this television-to-real-life transference. It was like seeing a teacher on a date at a restaurant.
Sheila had noticed me at the same time I noticed her. She turned, and as she began heading toward me, a voice in my head said, “Treat her like an equal. Treat her like an equal. Treat her like an equal.”
She arrived at my desk and extended her hand. “Hi! I’m Sheila Martinez.”
I shook her hand. “Hi. I’m Bill Kenower.”
“So, you’re the new intern?”
“Yeah, just started yesterday.” I pointed to the pile of envelopes. “The fans love you.”
“Good! That’s what we want. Well, it was nice to meet you.”
I returned my attention to the mail, but I was still thinking about meeting Sheila Martinez. It really hadn’t felt like my idea to treat her as an equal. It was something I heard that I could have ignored. I was glad I hadn’t, though. It was the right–no, correct–thing to do because it was the truth. Strange, I thought, that the truth is obvious when you find it. It’s always there, but I just don’t always notice it.
A couple of days later I noticed the Associate Producer joking around with a new guy, who was youngish, and handsome, and had a broadcaster’s steady, cultivated voice. They were watching something on a monitor, and I wandered over to have a look for myself. Onscreen, the handsome guy was in a sound studio ad-libbing informative banter about the cameras and boom mic and editing equipment. Turns out this is how he auditioned for the job of co-host. The clip ended with him signing off: “This has been Matt Lauer for PM Magazine, and I hope I got the part.” There was laughter off camera.
I quit the internship after a couple of months. I found it boring and soon learned I didn’t want to be a broadcast journalist. A few years later I was watching The Today Show. The new host introduced himself, and at first, I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. Hadn’t I just stood next to that dude and seen his audition tape for dinky PM Magazine. The Today Show was absolutely real, national, fame-making TV. But he was so ordinary in that office. He was just the guy who could be easy and charming on camera, but there was absolutely nothing special about him. I could remember sensing his pride and self-consciousness as he watched himself, just as I had sensed off my classmates when they saw their picture in the yearbook or received a trophy.
If people on TV aren’t special, I wondered, then who was? What if The Beatles weren’t special? No, they had to be. They were The Beatles. But what would I do if I met Paul McCartney? I recalled the advice I’d received meeting Sheila Martinez. Would it apply to a Beatle? I knew at once it would have to and that I couldn’t possibly follow it. I didn’t want to. There has to be something to aspire to, something beyond everyone I meet, I thought. Everyone I meet just seems like me.
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