In 1982, I met the Cookie Monster. Well…maybe not THE Cookie Monster – most likely just someone officially sanctioned to dress up in the Cookie Monster suit. But I digress. Meeting the Cookie Monster ended up playing a significant role in my professional life.
I was 7 years old, and my mom heard about a radio contest to win tickets for Sesame Street Live. Sure, I had already pretty much outgrown the show, but my mom insisted I enter. I guess she knew how much I loved the series even a year beforehand. “Meh, whatever,” I must have said to myself…and so I entered. The rules stated that I had to write “why I wanted to go see Sesame Street Live” on a postcard and send it into the station. I didn’t know what to say, so I said “I want to go see Sesame Street Live because it’s one of my favorite shows.” A blatant lie, as I already mentioned – I had outgrown the show and cared more about Saturday morning cartoons. I kind of wonder what my mom were to say if she were alive today to read this. Such a big moment in my young life was about appeasing her – about going with the flow and not really caring if I won! Eh, she’d probably laugh. Maybe she’d insist that I was still very much into the show. She’d probably say I was remembering wrong. Granted, that wasn’t the only lie involved in entering this contest. She transcribed my words to the postcard and later admitted to writing a few letters backwards. When I found this fact out, I laughed, but I was secretly offended as I never wrote letters backwards to my recollection. I knew my alphabet forwards, even at that age, thank you very much!
What was probably a few weeks passed, and found out that I, along with five or so other kids, won tickets. The radio station wanted me to read my postcard over the air on the radio, so one Saturday morning we trekked down to their studio. They sat me in an early 80s DJ booth, and read my words into the microphone (somewhere, I still have a recording of this). Afterwards, we were ushered downstairs into what seemed like a gigantic room with huge couches. There we waited for what seemed like forever. The other contest winners were also there, and there were refreshments – meats, cheeses. Probably cookies – after all, we were about to meet Cookie Monster! Mostly though, I was kind of bored.
Finally, I see a big, blue, carpeted muppet entering the room. Some of the other kids thought he was real. I knew better – he was just someone in a costume. Regardless….I thought it was cool. He didn’t say anything – confirming that it wasn’t Frank Oz. A legit Frank Oz would have said “Me want cookies” or something like that. I felt kind of shy, but I did hug him, and my mom got a really cute picture of me and him embracing. He didn’t stay too long – did his rounds with all the kids, waved bye, and left.
After the meet and greet, we were given a tour of the radio station – and that’s where I saw the most fascinating room of my young life. It was full of knobs, and levers, and buttons. I swear, one of the tech people said that one of the machines was for dispensing meat and cheese. Certainly a joke, but I saw him pulling a piece of salami from a slot. I would love to tell said tech how much his joke influenced my life. To this day, whenever I’ve walked into a strange control room, I wonder if they have the mysterious meat and cheese machine. But back to the story…what I can only assume was master control fascinated me on a level I had never experienced before.
Ever since that day, if you asked my inner, deeper self what I would do as an a adult, I probably would have said working in some control room somewhere. Sure, if you had asked surface me, I would have said something else. As a kid, I wanted to be “a doctor In Hawaii.” In high school, I wanted to be a youth pastor. Even now, I’m still trying to make my college dream of being a professional writer come true! Despite all those dreams and ambitions, something deep inside of me told me that I would be working in a control room. And If I hadn’t entered that contest, and then met Cookie Monster, I would have not gone on that tour. The fascinating room would not serve as a basis to my aspirations.
To be fair – I really don’t work in a control room anymore. I did when I got my first job in television, I was a master control operator. My career has progressed from that point onwards. Even though I now work in an office behind a desk and with a computer, it is essentially still a control room. Sure, all the noisy machines and buttons and levers are in the room next door, where I no longer need to go – but I still control a good portion of those machines. I still give those machines input, and watch their output. It’s just that those inputs and outputs are, like most things, done via a computer instead of levers and buttons and knobs. So I still stand behind my statement! I always knew I would work in some control room somewhere and here I am.
Of course, the Cookie Monster may have been one of the reasons I work in a “control room somewhere,” but it’s not the only reason. I was also greatly inspired by my dad, who ran the sound at my church every single Sunday. I’m sure sitting behind the sound council with all those knobs and buttons and sliders made me think “This is what I’ll be doing one day.” That’s actually how I got into television. I volunteered to do sound myself at one church, knowing that I could pick it up pretty quickly. A couple family friends who happened to work together at a TV station knew I had some skills in “control room work,” and got me onboard. 18 years later, and here I am. Sorry Cookie Monster. You did have a little help in your attempts to shape my career.
If there’s a moral to this story, it’s just this: Don’t be afraid to let your kids take chances at stupid things – even if they’re just a tad bit too old for said things. The memories I have of that experience are something I’ll always have with me, sure. But the seeds that experience planted shaped me in a deep way and continues to do so, some 35 years later. I’m not saying their experiences will lay out their career path – but maybe it will. At the very least, it will teach them to take chances. And if you happen to scribe their letters backwards, well…they’ll forgive you.