I knew this interview was going to be rough when the grumpy, old man blurted out, "I'm glad you're here. I started to do it myself, but it got too dang boring!" I'd barely entered the cluttered little house before he lit into me. "Well, don't stand there, gawking like a tourist, pull out your laptop and let's make some magic!" He said as he rubbed his wrinkled hands together.
Allow me to give you some background information. I'm the comedy writer for Bobby Bilachek. Yeah, that Bobby Bilachek, the funniest guy on late night. The guy with all those great Top Ten lists! Well, before all that I had my share of tough jobs. This one right here ranks right up at the top of my list!
I worked there for about a year. The small magazine prided itself on interviewing every World Record holder. A noble task, made for some interesting stories. Like meeting the owner of the largest living crocodile in captivity. Or riding in the fastest driving car. Those were some interesting interviews. You know there are over 40,000 world records currently in the database?
The magazine wasn't well-known, and the job certainly wasn't glamourous. But it paid the bills, and I was cutting my teeth in the business so I took what I could get. Everyone was hustling trying to make a name for themselves back then. A lot of the best writers paid their dues in small-time rags like this one. These magazines required you to write what they wanted, you get an assignment and wrote. Didn't make a difference if you had any interest in the subject or not.
Me, I'd been making folks laugh since the 2nd grade. I always thought of it as my superpower. That is, until I got this job. The editor here ran the magazine like his own little country, and he was the dictator. And he didn't like comedy. Wouldn't you know it, I got tapped to talk to this old guy!
See, my editor had a crazy way of doling out assignments. Didn't make a difference if you came in early or had skills or experience in a particular area. "What am I thinking, Barry?" He said as he stalked out of his office like a panther.
Barry, another junior writer like me, perked right up. He imagined since he was the first writer spoken to, he would get the most important assignment. "Well, Mr. Edwards," he stammered, "I would say, you're thinking we need a powerful lead article for this month..." he trailed off.
"Naw," the squat little editor said with hands on his hips. "I'm thinking, there's no more coffee in that coffee pot...and I'm ready for cup number three!" Barry took the hint and bolted off to make more of the morning brew. If Mr. Edwards sounds like a grouch already, you ought to see him before he's had his first cup!
He then bore down on me. I don't know why I started typing frantically on my keyboard. There were no words, just gibberish. I needed to look busy. Remember, I said I was a junior writer at the time. Go back a couple of paragraphs. Each factoid I drop provides background so you get the whole picture- please keep up, will ya?
"Hey, Newbie," that's what he called me, even though I'd been there for about a year now and others had been hired after me. I'm sure he just couldn't remember my name. "You still interested in that hobby of comedy writing?" He asked staring at the bunch of assignments in his hand.
I stopped typing. Was I going to be interviewing the funniest comedian or the girl who told the longest joke? Shoot, I'd settle for the joke that was told the most often. But it wasn't my day. "Well, since comedy is your hobby, go check out this guy who's got the most hobbies in the world. That oughta be funny pretty," he said with a mirthless laugh. He dropped the folder on my desk and stormed off yelling to Barry about that coffee.
So that's what brought me to the armpit of state to this old rickety house with the cranky old man. I set up as he complained. I was starting to get agitated. I mean, I had called before coming, had arrived early, and even brought him the 6pack of beer he'd asked for. What was his problem?
"You're probably wondering what my problem is, aren't you sonny?" He asked. "Well, I decided my new hobby is going to be 'complaining,'" he said with a satisfied grin.
"That doesn't sound like a very fun hobby," I remarked rolling my eyes, "that's a way to make a whole lot of enemies." I finished.
"That's the whole point," Rufus exclaimed. Did I mention his name was Rufus? "Rufus P Quatrain, Q U A, then TRAIN, just like a choo-choo," he spelled it out. "Last week, that was my hobby, spelling out everything. So, don't you worry about my complaining. That's why I hold the record." He finished.
"I don't understand," I implored.
"See, I hold the record for the most hobbies, cuz I pick 'em like a little kid picking their nose. But I drop 'em just like a bad habit!" He said snapping his fingers. It made a sharp sound like two pieces of leather being slapped together. "I can't seem to stick with them. Who knows, I may be complimenting you before this interview is all over."
"That may not be a bad thing," I said.
"Quit stalling and get back to typing," he complained. "It's actually a curse because some of the hobbies, I really enjoyed."
I now started to find this assignment kind of interesting, almost funny. "What do you mean?" I asked as I typed as fast as I could. I didn't want him complaining anymore.
"Well," Rufus began, "For instance, I took up watching movies for a spell. I was getting into this one sci-fi franchise. The first one was really good, and a lot of folks said the sequel was even better. I wouldn't know," he said, looking at the floor.
I couldn't follow, I asked what happened. Rufus continued, "Well, the villain with the deep voice had the goodfella trapped. And it looked pretty grim and all. I mean, our guy was wounded, lost his hand or something. And then it seemed to me like "old big bad in a black cape" was about to drop a real doozy of a bombshell then..." he trailed off.
I knew the story, everyone of my generation knew the story. I remember my astonishment when the revelation came at the movie theater. You could have heard a pin drop. I smiled in anticipation, waiting to hear the old man's reaction. You know, there are YouTube videos of different people's reaction to this part of the movie? Yep, waste a couple of hours checking that out when you have some time.
But there was no reaction from Rufus. I looked back at him and saw a tear form in the corner of his eye. "I'd lost all interest in the hobby of watching movies right then and there. So, I got up and walked out of the theater. I didn't see the ending. See, all of a sudden, I decided I was going to take up sailing. I purchased a boat that day and went around the world in a Catamaran." He said with a flourish.
"Never did find out what the big secret of that movie was. I'm guessing, it had something to do with food. You know, with the villain wearing that mask all the time, there must have been like a space straw or something. I think it had something to do with food..." He said looking up at the ceiling, while he chewed his bottom lip.
I didn't want to burst his bubble. Sometimes, ignorance really is bliss. So, I nodded in agreement. "Um, any other tidbits to share about your hobbies?" I asked, flexing my fingers from typing.
We spent the better part of the evening recounting how many different hobbies he picked up over the past month. The old man had played various sports, learned different crafts, and mastered numerous arts. And sure enough, he couldn't hold onto one for more than a week. He would be so excited and all in for a hot minute and then just as quickly, the old geezer would lose interest and move on to the next thing.
We took a few hours to try to record and categorize all his hobbies. I found out that the world record didn't actually have an exact number of his hobbies. They stopped counting once they knew nobody had as many as he did. It was surprising how quickly he could become an expert on a particular subject and then lose interest in the hobby after a few days. He told me he took up writing a few years back and decided he would write his autobiography. He stayed with this one for about a month and nearly finished the giant manuscript.
"Let me show it to you," Rufus said as he shuffled off into another room. I could hear him opening drawers and cabinets. He emerged with a dusty old binder and dropped it in my lap. "There you go," he began. "Here's all the hobbies I've ever done, all recorded and categorized in alphabetical order!" He finished triumphantly.
I must admit, I was a little perturbed. "That's what we were just doing over the last few hours. If we had that, we could have used it as the basis and just added on to it." I muttered
The old man replied quickly, "That's why I caught n so fast to what you were doing. Because about 15 years ago, I took up being organized as a hobby and that's when I put them all in specific boxes and labeled them all.
My patience was wearing thin. "Once again, Rufus, if we would have had these files earlier. We could've saved a lot of time. We just would have had to add on the last few years and this assignment would have been complete..." I tried not to let the impatience show.
Rufus grinned as he shared this next bit, " After my 1987 win, they told me I was a million hobbies ahead of the next fella. So, after mastering the hobby of being organized, I learned that I could just rotate and modify the current hobbies and just keep doing the same ones over and over. I haven't started or stopped an original hobby in about 15 years..."He said rubbing his chin.
I stopped typing. I could hardly contain myself. "Wait, you're saying all these questions and answers, digging through musty files, dealing with your crankiness could have been avoided? You've already had it all done already? Is that what you're saying?" My head was starting to hurt, my fingers bled from various paper cuts.
The old man looked to the right, then to the left. Finally, he looked up at the ceiling as if he were solving math problems in his ancient head. "I guess that's about right." He said finally.
All I could ask was why. So much trouble could have been avoided, so much time could have been saved. Why hadn't he told me about it before? Rufus blinked twice, then scratched the back of his neck. He began slowly, "Well, I needed something to complain about to satisfy my hobby and once you walked through the door, I decided I was going back to hobby #1966 which is 'irritating other people.' And sonny, you just happened to be the nearest one around for me to practice on!" He finished with a wink. “You sure looked irritated!”
To make a long story short. I got my story. I condensed his 1500-page volume down and combined it with my research and today's experiences. I ended up with a nice 4 pager that even my editor, grouchy, old Mr. Edwards liked. He clapped me on the back hard and spoke loud enough for all to hear. "That's good writing here, folks! To take a dry, boring situation like that old man and his crazy hobbies and make it into something worth reading takes talent. There were even some funny parts in there, Newbie. You just might make it as a comedy writer. I know a fella out in Vegas. He's got the looks, but might could use a writer like you. His name is Bilachek, his goal is to be the funniest guy on late night someday. I'll make some calls."
I couldn't believe it. I was on my way now. No more cheap articles for low-rate magazines like this one. I was packing up my desk to leave as I heard Mr. Edwards yelling, "Barry, this coffee pot is empty again! How am I supposed to have my 5th cup to get me through the afternoon?" Maybe Barry will get his big break someday soon...