Thursday, February 03, 2005

Ripley's Believe It or Not TV Appearance

My appearance on Ripley’s Believe It or Not first aired the night of July 24, 2002. It has since aired a half dozen times but the first time you see yourself on television is special. The week leading up to the TV debut, I informed close friends and colleagues about the airdate. I also forwarded emails to all 271 registered members of The Mastocytosis Society whom share my same peculiar disease.
A few hours before the show aired, I began receiving a few stray calls. The on-screen programming guide did not list me as a guest for the Ripley’s show. It was nerve racking enough I began to think what could potentially be more awkward. Having my friends watch me on Ripley’s Believe It or Not or telling your friends to watch and end up nixed from the show. My nerves tightened. I uncharacteristically drank a half bottle of wine before the curtain call.
Nonetheless, about a minute into the show Ripley’s ran previews for my segment. I came on about halfway through the hour-long show. If I can stake claim to dubious bragging rights, I was the anchor in the episode of oddities. I looked to be carrying extra weight on television so I didn’t mind playing the heavy.
My episode evoked a lineup worthy of a carnival atmosphere. I shared precious airtime with monkey brothers from India, a boy yo-yo wizard, an underwater swimming dog, and a clan of hillbillies who shot anvils in the southern sky for sport. Only a movie theatre could have magnified me more on the big screen than our 64-inch high definition television.
In and of itself, my segment, presented with dignity and human interest. I was more relieved than excited. As a social worker who advocates for the rights of handicapped clients, I did not want to lose respect being portrayed as a sideshow. The segment summarized the previous year of my life into six finely tuned minutes. The editing and narration were excellent. Our four kids were immortalized on the silver screen, and home movies of our wedding proved touching.
It is a very strange to see yourself showcased on television. A lot of buried emotions splintered through my head. The telltale sound of buzzing bees played in my ear. The memories of nearly dying flashed like a light bulb. Then the memories disappeared as quickly as they came. Call me Gilligan but I felt empathy for the suited guy Ripley’s Believe It or Not portrayed. I was that masked man.
A respected friend summed it up best when he said. “Only Joe could come within a whisker of dying and be on national television a year later becoming famous off of his tragedy.”
Life is about overcoming handicaps and turning negatives into positives. Social work didn’t have to teach me this. But next time I got to remember to not come so close to the grave for supplemental income.
*excerpt from autobiography Stop and Smell the Silk Roses
Link to TV's Ripley's Believe It or Not episode guide

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