THE END OF THE AFFAIR . . . being an account of what some may simply refer to as a man's losing his job, but what the author prefers to think of as an infatuation gone wrong; in which the players are the following:
The Author . . . . Eric Burns
The Woman . . . . "Entertainment Tonight"
My friends are not surprised. They said I never should have gotten involved with her in the first place. The Woman was not my type, was too flashy, would only bring me down. One friend even resorted to an analogy from high school. He said it was like the president of the stamp club putting moves on the captain of the cheerleaders.
Which is not to say it started out badly. Quite the opposite. The summer of '85, it was, and I happened to be in L.A. on a family matter. In my spare time, I eagerly took in the sights, a stranger in paradise. I went to Disneyland and the Huntington, Malibu and Melrose, the Santa Monica Pier and the Music Center. And, of course, I toured the studios, the fabled dream factories I had heard so much about.
I met The Woman at Paramount. It happened quite by accident, but there was nothing accidental about my response; I was smitten. Never before had I known anyone like her: Glamorous and glittery and high-spirited, the dream factory's enduring model. If she was also a bit on the vapid side, well, was that so bad? It was an Angst -ridden time for me, the late innings of my mid-life crisis; I liked the idea of getting together with someone who hadn't either the interest or the raw materials for gloomy introspection. Perhaps I could learn to glitter a little myself.
I was, you see, as different for The Woman as she was for me. A former NBC newsman, I had covered striking football players and the PLO, abortion referendums and the Falkland Islands War, Chicago politics and New York bank heists. I had not covered show biz. I was a collector of books, an aficionado of quiet evenings, rather a homebody. But what is a mid-life crisis for if not to break out of old patterns?
I said: We are apples and oranges.
The Woman said: It's what turns me on about you.
I said: Really?
She said: I want you for your mind.
The Woman and I had begun to see each other regularly and feel surprisingly comfortable with the arrangement. I enjoyed her brassy affability; she liked my "artsy musings." Her term.
Then I read in the paper one day that various news organizations had chartered a total of six helicopters to get shots of people going to the Sean Penn-Madonna wedding reception. Six helicopters! For pictures of celebrity heads! And not even real celebrities; these were celebrities of the Brat Pack variety, celebrities even younger and less interesting than those kids who drive the Domino's Pizza to your door still hot.
So I came up with what I called the Helicopter Index of Relative News Importance, or H.I.R.N.I. It was based on the assumption that coverage of the Penn-Madonna wedding was actually worth six helicopters.
If so, I told The Woman, an automobile accident in the middle of the night on a deserted road outside Fargo, N.D., with no one injured and minor damage to the car was worth 23 helicopters.
A City Council meeting in late summer in Cleveland with a small agenda and no quorum was worth 37 helicopters.
A Presidential press conference was worth the American aviation industry.
I even got a friend to make up some little helicopter decals; I pasted them onto a card and, as I referred to the event, I held up the appropriate number. And--as the camera was rolling. That's right, I shared my artsy musings not just with The Woman, but with the millions of viewers who tuned in to ogle her every night on syndicated TV.
The Woman was not amused. It seems that one of the choppers was hers! She had split the costs with CNN and aired the video as enthusiastically as if it were exclusive footage of the Second Coming.
OK, she fumed, so much for your mind. Now I want your body.
The Woman started sending my body to places I had never intended it to go. I was, in TV terminology, reassigned. I went to a movie set to ask Molly Ringwald whether the character she played in her latest movie was anything like the person she is in real life. I went to an office on Hollywood Boulevard to ask Ralph Edwards what made him think the time was right for a "This Is Your Life" comeback. I went to Carlos' & Charlie's to ask the entrants in a Statue of Liberty look-alike contest what it would mean to them to win. I went to a gymnasium in the Valley to ask the "Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling" whether they were as ill-tempered out of the ring as they were inside.
I went without complaint. I hoped that by demonstrating a willingness, if not exactly enthusiasm, to accede to The Woman's whims, I could show her I was a sport and so rekindle the fires.
It did not happen. My compliance only seemed to make her think she could get away with even more insulting assignments.