I was saddened Monday when I heard that Tom Magliozzi, one-half of the Car Talk team known as Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers, had passed away from complications due to Alzheimer’s. The brothers Tom and Ray from Cambridge, their fair city, had entertained me and millions of others on Saturdays with their NPR radio show called Car Talk. Am I interested in cars and car mechanics? Not in the least, but their silliness, playful banter, and infectious laughter made me tune my dial to KQED 88.5 every Saturday anyway.
Their show proved inspire me in an unexpected way. In 1992 I signed up for a weekend writing class through the University of California Santa Cruz. One assignment was to take the “voice” of a writer and try to emulate their style in a piece of writing. I couldn’t think of an author I wanted to emulate but then Tom and Ray came to mind.
Maybe it was because it was a Saturday and I was missing Car Talk.
But I thought about it some more. Their fun, playful style made me listen to a whole sixty minutes on a subject I disliked. What if I could copy their style and write about fashion in a witty, fun-loving way? Maybe even a car nut would find my topic entertaining if I did it right. I gave it a try and the next day I read my assignment out loud in class, without revealing my person(s) of influence.
My Writing Assignment
I titled it “And the Winner Is…” Don’t forget, it’s circa 1992. It went like this:
The Academy Awards will be announced March 29th. Once again, despite all my campaigning, there is still no award for Best Accessory. Come on! There are awards for best makeup, best caterer, best comma in a screenplay…where’s the category for best accessory?
Don’t try to appease me with the Best Costume category. That’s about cavemen outfits or nineteenth century garden dresses or leather flaps for Mohicans. I demand a category for the true start of a film: that accessory that says it all, like Mercedes Ruehl, winner of best supporting actress last year for the Fisher King. I close my eyes and I can still see those big, shiny gold hoop earrings she wore.
We’ve needed this category for a long time. Consider the great accessories from movies past: Grace Kelly’s chiffon scarf in To Catch a Thief; Marilyn Monroe’s long, black sparkly gloves in The Seven Year Itch; Audrey Hepburn’s black oversized sunglasses in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. They’re standouts.
I bet the French award their accessories. They study accessories in grammar school. They teach basic urban survival skills from birth: how to have three pieces of clothing, five pieces of jewelry and make a different outfit for every day of the year. They can take an Hermés scarf and turn it into a halter-top, a sarong skirt, or an arm sling. Trés chic.
I bet the French would approve of my choice for this year’s Best Accessory. Here it is on Oscar night: All eyes are on Billy Crystal who says, “And now to present the Oscar for this year’s Best Accessory, please welcome Sharon Stone from last year’s thriller Basic Instinct and Jeremy Irons whose latest movie, Damage, is hotter than mustard on a Polish dog.”
Sharon and Jeremy appear, hand in hand, and descend a golden spiral staircase to the podium. Jeremy looks at the cue cards and reads, “Well, Sharon, that was some belt you wore in Basic Instinct. The scene at the beach house…those buckles were in the shape of, what…fish?”
“Alligators, Jer,” she purrs. “Big alligators…on a big alligator strap.” She leans toward him. Her chin tilts up and she snaps her teeth together twice, real fast. He winces.
She continues, “This accessory isn’t too shabby either.” She strokes his silk paisley scarf from the nape of his neck, down the front of his tux and fusses with the black fringe dangling at the end.
Jeremy says, “Would you like to read this year’s nominees?”
Sharon reads them one by one. Then he hands her the envelope.
She slips her clear, polished fingernails under the bummed red sticker, flips it open, and smooths out the envelope against the Lucite podium. She takes a short breath and says, “Oh, my gosh, it’s the black and white zebra print scarf worn by Whitney Houston in Bodyguard!
Whitney Houston’s voice comes over the speakers singing the chorus of the movie’s hit song: “And eye-eye-eye will all-wayzzz love you…oo…oo…oo. Yes, I will always love you.”
Alma Thoren, the Accessories Director for Bodyguard, pops out of the audience. She’s in a short red cocktail dress with seven strands of pearls around her neck. While she scrunches past everyone in her row to get to the Oscar, the cameras go to the big screen on stage and show a clip from the movie.
It’s near the end where Miss Houston’s character – a young, snooty, superstar – demands her pilot stop the plane. The door swings open. She flies down the metal steps. There’s Kevin Costner, her bodyguard, waiting on the airstrip. She races to Kevin in her men’s style drapey black trousers and crisp white shirt. Her black gabardine trench coat flaps in the propeller wind. Covering her head is the winning accessory: the large, square zebra print silk scarf.
The camera moves in close and follows Whitney as Kevin twirls her around in his arms. While she’s hugging and kissing him for a million years we see the scarf in great close ups, from every angle, as the camera spins over the tops of their heads.
Oh, to have a scarf like that. I try to imagine kissing Kevin Costner without that scarf on. It just doesn’t work.
What Happened Next
At one of the breaks, my teacher Mel Walsh pulled me aside. She told me she really enjoyed my piece and said, “Brenda, when you read it, I couldn’t help but hear it on the radio.” She told me I had talent and encouraged me to keep working at it. (Thanks, Mel! I did just what you said!)
On my drive home from Santa Cruz I kept thinking about my piece being on the radio. The radio, the radio I thought. What radio program would possibly have me on it talking about accessories? It sounded preposterous.
I nearly gave up on the idea but a couple of days later I thought about Sedge Thomson, the radio host of the San Francisco produced show called West Coast Live. It aired on Saturday mornings on KALW 91.7, another public radio station, and was taped in front of a live audience in the Marsh Theater in Fort Mason.
I had to act fast because the Academy Award’s show was coming up. I sent it to him. I waited for my phone to ring. It didn’t ring…not until that Friday night. It was Sedge Thomson himself calling me at 8 p.m.! “I read your piece, I liked it. Can you be here tomorrow around 9:15?” he asked. I could barely speak but I was able to ask one thing: “Can I bring my kids, too?” He said yes. Tickets would be at the will call window.
It was quite the adventure. Maybe I’ll tell you about it another time. Let me just say it was terrifying and so satisfying all at the same time. And I made the audience members laugh. I imagine there weren’t that many fashion lovers in the audience but they enjoyed it just the same.
I wish to thank…
Thank you Tom and Ray. Thank you Mel Walsh. Thank you Sedge Thomson. Thank you NPR.
I understand the Magliozzi family wants Car Talk to continue in reruns as a tribute to Tom. That would mean we could join them on Saturdays and laugh our way through another “wasted hour” with Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers. I’ll be listening.