Whilst he isn’t being a world class news anchor or playing the flute, it seems that Ron Burgandy has found the time to right his life’s memoirs. The New Yorker recently managed to get hold of an extract from the upcoming book, called Let Me Off at the Top! My Life and Other Classy Musings and below is the extract in all its Burgandy glory.
My father, Claude Burgundy, was a natural born News Anchor, as was his father and his father before him. Of course there was no television or radio station in Haggleworth, Iowa. Instead, every Friday night he would set up a desk in the Tight Manhole, an Irish bar where the mine workers drank and sang songs of misery. The oil company paid him to report on all the charitable and civic-minded projects they had in the works as well as hard-hitting news stories happening in Haggleworth. Because of his honest face and gifted speaking voice, men and women would come in from all the other bars in Haggleworth—the Dirty Chute, the Mine Shaft, the Rear End, the Suspect Opening, the Black Orifice, the Poop Chute, too many to list here—all to listen to The Shell Oil Burgundy Hour. In Haggleworth it was the most popular show on Fridays at ten P.M. for years. It consistently beat out Dragnet and Ernie Kovacs in the local ratings. He would report high school sports scores, weddings, divorces, births, who was diddling who, but mostly good news about the oil company and their interests. I would come and watch from the front row and be transfixed by his smooth delivery and sharp tailoring.
One day, the fire that continued to burn under Haggleworth leaped over into tunnel 8, the most profitable tunnel in the whole coal operation. Unlike the fire that occasionally shot up from the earth and burned cars or dogs, this fire was getting in the way of profit and had to be contained. Men were sent down into the shaft to try and stop the fire, but it was no use. Eleven men died. The whole town was in a somber mood when my father got up to deliver the news. “Good evening, I’m Claude Burgundy and this is how I see it.” (That’s how he started every Burgundy Hour.) The bar was quieter than usual as they hung on every word. “Today, the Shell Oil Company of Iowa announced a new plan to bring multicolored blinking lights to downtown Haggleworth for the upcoming holiday season.” On a day when eleven miners had burned to death, and husbands and fathers of people sitting in that bar had died, the Christmas-light story was the lead. A woman in the back shouted something at my father. Another man called him a coward. He just sat there, taking insult after insult as he bravely continued on with a story about a precocious little dog that wore a hat around town that everyone loved. He reported a story about a planned two-hole golf course. There was an in-depth interview with a woman who had won second place at the state fair for her lemon bars. It was great news and slowly people began to smile. When he got to his sign-off (“And that’s what happened this week in Haggleworth”) they were sad to see him go and could hardly wait for the next week’s news.
In a candid moment as we were walking home that night I asked my old man why he didn’t talk about the eleven men who had died or the culpability of the oil company or the environmental impact of this new deadly fire or the emotional damage many deaths could have on a small community like ours or even the plain fact that without tunnel 8 most of the town would be out of work. “Ron, sometimes people don’t want the truth. They just want the news.” I’ll never forget these sage words from my father. Up until that point I made no distinction between “truth” and “news.” I had thought they were one and the same! I was a boy of course and the world was just a kaleidoscope of butterscotch candies and rum cookies. I didn’t understand the reason for news until that day.
I knew from a very early age that I would be a News Anchorman. I had great hair, for one, which is 70 percent of the job. I also had the pipes. I was blessed with my father’s golden tones and melodious speaking voice. By the time I left Our Lady Queen of Chewbacca High I could read a document out loud from forty feet away without ever stumbling over a word. A photograph from shortly after my graduation shows me looking much the same way I do now. In fact at age eighteen I looked exactly as I do today. Women found me irresistible. They still do find me irresistible. It’s worth mentioning but not so important to the narrative at this moment. I mention stuff like that not for vanity’s sake but because it simply needs to be said.
It was all lining up perfectly. Every year the National News Association of Anchormen, NNAA, sends out over a thousand representatives to find fresh new anchorman talent across the land. Prospects are invited to a brutal six-day camp to test their mettle through grueling challenges and photo shoots. It’s a make-or-break week for young anchormen. An anchorman scout traveling through Haggleworth noticed me in the eighth grade but was not allowed to talk to me until I graduated. (After it was discovered that Edward R. Murrow was paid illegally by CBS as a four-year-old without his parents’ consent, new guidelines were put into place to protect children from getting money.) By the time I graduated several scouts were interested in me. I was invited to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to the anchorman camp—the “Gauntlet,” as it’s known in news circles. The field that year was tough—my class alone had News Hall of Famers Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel and Jim Lehrer. Vance Bucksnot, who became the number one anchor for the Quad Cities, was there, as was Punch Wilcox, the legendary anchor for Salt Lake City’s KPAL. There was also Snack Reynolds (Austin), Brunt Harrisly (Columbus), Tink Stewart (Butte), Race Bannon (Minneapolis), Hit Johnson (Albany), Kick Fronby (Charlotte), Ass Perkins (Mobile) and Lunk Brickman (Boston). All of these men distinguished themselves with long careers for their respective stations, so yeah, it was very competitive.
The main goal of the Gauntlet was to test if you had the avocados for anchorman work. Could you hold your liquor? Could you tell the difference between bespoke and off-the-rack suits? Could you seduce women through a camera lens? Test after test of skills. Could you turn your head sideways to other news team members when speaking? Could you manufacture a laugh after reading a lighthearted story? Could you muster a knowing, disapproving head shake after a story of sadness? On and on for two, sometimes two and a half hours a day! If it were not for the fun diversions to be had in Williamsport I would have gone crazy! But fortunately Williamsport, Pennsylvania, is one of the wildest places I know. The key parties alone—and this is way before they had caught on around the rest of the country—were almost too decadent. I’m just going to assume that most people who live in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to this day moved there to engage in terrifyingly adventurous sexual activity. I mean, how else could you account for the reckless bacchanalia that happened in that town every night? As a small-town boy in a big city for the first time I was warned of some of the dangers, but no one prepared me for what went on in that town. Maybe it’s because it’s not on the main east-west highway, Interstate 80, or maybe because the town is sufficiently surrounded by vegetation, lending itself to an isolationist mentality. Whatever has caused the town to feel cut off from the rest of civilization has also ensured its disconnect from the laws of man. It is a town of pleasure-seeking animals only gratified by buttery foods and genital friction. It’s a wonderful place to be for a week and provides great relief from stress, but if you lived there, as was borne out by the people I met, you were little more than a skin-wrapped blob of insatiable carnal urges. Many people in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, walk around town with their mouths open, their pants down and their dicks flopping around.
At the end of the week I had distinguished myself enough at the Gauntlet to receive six promising offers for News Anchor. I leapt at Tucson. In a real show of Burgundy independence I stole the family car and never looked back. Good-bye Haggleworth, Iowa, hello Tucson. The drive east was delicious. I drank up the scenery like a man freed from prison. Two straight days I drove until I overheard two truckers outside of Washington, DC, say that Tucson was in the West. I should have looked at a map but in those days they didn’t have maps, so off I went to the West. I felt like a young Horatio Alger traveling west to make my fortune. A few days later I was in the middle of Florida and getting kind of frustrated. I sometimes wonder how long-haul truck drivers even do it. How do they get from one destination to the next without getting lost? The stars? Anyway, once I got straightened out of Florida I was on my way. I went through Alabama, then Mississippi, then Arkansas, then Missouri and back through Iowa, up through Minnesota into Canada and then back into North Dakota and South Dakota and over into Wyoming, down through Colorado and Utah and Nevada and up through Idaho and back into Wyoming and Montana and into Idaho and Washington, down through Oregon to California and over to Arizona and over to New Mexico, where I had one of those “hey, wait a minute” moments where I thought maybe I had gone right through Arizona, so I turned around. When I landed in Tucson I hadn’t slept in three weeks, and I hadn’t shaved or showered. My suit smelled like eggs and butt and was stiff from all the sweat and dirt I’d built up on the road. Big problem: I was due on the air in five minutes! It was my first time on camera … and I knocked it out of the park. The station got hundreds of calls claiming a caveman had just reported the news. I got a chuckle out of that one. I worked for that station for about half a year until I found out it was in Albuquerque and not Tucson, and then off I went again until, about a month later (it’s like twenty thousand miles from Albuquerque to Tucson if you take the direct route through Maine), I finally arrived at my first real job as the nightly News Anchor for WKXM Tucson.
Let Me Off at the Top is out November 19th and can be ordered here