“Thumping the tub”


When I was plugging my SURVIVING ON THE STREETS book (my book about homelessness) back in 2001, my publisher set me up with about 30 interviews with radio stations all across the country (and one in Canada). And that was like a fantasy come true. Because all my life I had watched the movie stars and rock stars and famous authors going on their media tours to plug their latest product (“thumping the tub” as Marlon Brando famously put it). And now I was one of them doing it myself. Albeit on a smaller scale. Most of the radio stations were smaller markets like St. Louis. So it wasn’t like I was doing Howard Stern or the Johnny Carson Show. But still it was a kick.

Though I came to dread doing them. For a number of reasons. Number one I was always nervous as shit, stage-fright and all that. The other thing was, I did the interviews over the phone, and mostly in the morning, and often very EARLY in the morning, due to the different time zones. I was living in my office at the time, and the phone would usually wake me up from a sound sleep. Often it was still dark outside. It was the producer of the radio show. And I’d have like 5 minutes to fix up a quick cup of coffee, and then I’d be on the air. Still half-asleep. And babbling off the top of my head to thousands of people out there in radioland. So most of the interviews weren’t very good. And to tell you the truth, I much prefer being the interviewER. It’s a lot easier to come up with questions than it is to come up with answers.

The other thing about the interviews that was a pain in the ass: I’d have to figure out where the D.J. was coming from on the fly. And try to adjust my answers to their schtick. For example, some of them were “shock jock” types, and they were just using me as fodder for their dumb jokes. So it was pointless to try and have a serious conversation. While others of them had serious attitudes about the homeless issue. Considered the homeless a blight on their cities, just a bunch of smelly bums and drug addicts. So they wanted to use me as an excuse to do their axe-grinding. And then there were the super-serious and sincere bleeding-heart liberal types, who wanted to use me to publicly sob and weep over the plight of the homeless. And then ask me about my big and grand solutions to this pressing social problem. Something I usually wasn’t very good at articulating at 5 in the morning.

So it was pretty much of a mess. But at least it sold a couple of books. And that’s show business I guess. I’ll be right back right after this important message. . . .

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