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Thursday, Jan. 15, 2004 02:20 pm

Grace about town

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If "Friends" at 10 p.m. is a re-run I've seen more than eight or ten times, I'll watch the Channel 20 News. And when they get to Gus Gordon, I have one tiny pang of regret in my heart. No, I don't yearn for Gus. He seems quite talented and cheerful, but this is something else entirely. One time, long ago, I wanted to be a Weather Person.

My ability to find a career both income-producing and interesting has been a constant challenge throughout my life. One day, I pored through the help wanted ads, and an opportunity caught my eye -- auditions for a new Weather Person at Channel 20. Hmm, I thought, that might be fun. Both acting and informing, imparting pearls of wisdom about all things meteorological with charm and, naturally, grace.

The ad didn't go into much detail. All I remember is showing up at the Channel 20 newsroom one afternoon. There were two other candidates: Bob Murray, a longtime local radio personality and a cute brash young guy from California. I immediately started worrying about CBY guy from CA. "I'm sure he's better than me," I thought. "He's here all the way from California!"

Looking back on it, I should have wondered what, if he was so popular in California weather circles, was he doing in Springfield?

The producer showed us what to do. We'd each give a mock weather forecast in front of a royal blue screen. To the side was a projected map, which would be superimposed over the blue screen. We were given a little clicker to hold; when you push the clicker, the map changes to the next image.

First of all, let me say that if you ever happen to go to a Weather Person audition and stand in front of a royal blue screen, under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you wear a royal blue blouse. Your body disappears, that's why. I stood there in my royal B. blouse practicing pushing the button, and I looked like a floating head. Entertaining, perhaps, but not the right tone for a believable and legitimate Weather Person.

Luckily, Susan Finzen was there, and she graciously lent me her jacket. Susan is quite a bit taller than me, so instead of invisible, I looked like a child playing dress-up.

We were instructed to talk about one image on the map, then click the clicker and talk about that screen. "Where's the teleprompter? " I asked. I was familiar enough with TV news to know they read off the teleprompter. "No teleprompter," I was told, "you talk about the weather on the maps."

Huh. Okay, second thing you should know if you find yourself at a Weather Person audition: know about the weather. Because although the floating head thing was slightly bad, it was nothing compared to the badness of my actual forecast.

They said it should take about five minutes to get through the various projected weather maps and statistics.

I didn't know which state was which, because they're not labeled. Somehow I completely missed geography in school, and although I've driven across the country too many times, I need a map with all the states' names clearly labeled. But there are no state names on the weather map. Also, what exactly was I supposed to say about the weather, anyway? There was a smattering of raindrops off to one side, some wind down at the bottom. I plunged into my weather pitch, even though I didn't know the names of the states or anything about weather patterns or what the symbols meant. "Over here on this side of the country it looks like rain, and way down here, there's lots of wind," I stammered. I did grand hand flourishes and swooping arm movements to indicate wind and rain, hoping to distract from my lack of weather knowledge.

As I went on, clicking from one map view to the next, I picked up speed in a blind panic. Twenty seconds, from beginning to end.

Sometimes I wonder if the audition tape was shown to the people in charge of hiring. I hope it was, because at least they'd have had a chance to break up their news day with howls of laughter.

My consolation was that the cute BYG from CA didn't get the job, either, and he'd been a weatherman before so I'm sure he at least knew where the states were. Bob Murray got the gig and did a very fine job. And now we have Gus, both theatrical and quite knowledgeable about all the exciting weather we face each and every day here in Springfield.

But still, sometimes I wonder what would have happened if only I'd worn green, and known the location of Kansas. Maybe you'd be watching me every night on the TV . . .

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