When some people write books they get literary prizes, academic appointments, invitations to smart parties, notes of approbation from major cultural figures of the time. I got a beer commercial.
I'm not complaining. I've done a TV ad for Iron City beer that will be shown in Pittsburgh during Pirate games. The ad is one of a series in which Bobby Layne will also appear as a "beer expert." When I went before the cameras I was told that Tony Roche was also scheduled. Roche is now out, but anyone mentioned in the same breath, so to speak, with an Australian and beer can count himself heavily regarded, and as for being included in a series with Bobby Layne, even if it isn't a series of downs, I have not been so overwhelmed by an association since I was told by a hotel maid in Detroit that I had checked into a room that Rosemary Clooney had just checked out of. Also, I got $2,500 for doing the commercial.
But I don't want to overemphasize the money angle. I do want to emphasize that I like that brand of beer. It is a good solid local liquid, like Lone Star in Texas, or redeye gravy in Georgia. I would not go on television and lie.
"Hey," my son said, impressed. "Pretty soon you'll be the bionic man." But my children greet commercials, except those touting toys or sweets, with skepticism. "Sure!" they will shout at the screen, or "You're just saying that to get us to buy it!" I would not have them shout that at their father.
The ad people assured me that I could approve or disapprove the commercial's script. "And we thought it should center on your book...."
That did it. To plug his book is an author's highest obligation. I have heard that to promote Hiawatha Henry Wadsworth Longfellow agreed to stain his body with berries and paddle down the Charles River in a breechclout. To be paid to plug one's book! To be paid $2,500 to plug one's book!
But the thing was no snap. I showed up with my "wardrobe." Wardrobe is not my strong suit. The ad people regarded my best clothes. They regarded my person. "Well, we saw him as ratty, right?" they said.
By noon they had lit me to their satisfaction. I was in a hotel room, supposedly writing a story. "When I came to Pittsburgh to write my book on the Steelers, About Three Bricks Shy of a Load, I didn't know what to expect," I recited. "I certainly didn't expect to find a beer like Iron City."
Then I did the "beauty pour." That means pouring a beer so that a big head rises right to the lip of the glass. Several times when I held the glass up to the light and went on with the praising of the product, it foamed over and ran down my arm. I stumbled over the word "super"—the sentence in the commercial read, "It's super." They brought on more beer. We did 52 takes. I poured 35 beers. I managed to take a sip out of three of them before they were taken away.
After the shooting, I was prevailed upon to sign a statement that I had meant everything I said. I felt as if I were signing a confession or a loyalty oath. But it was true, wasn't it? I signed.
Someone said of the ad, "It listens good." Like an author's word should.