Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Smoking out the English wing

TL… about 1980
I was taking a communications class in my junior year of high school and our latest project was to make a TV commercial. They where all going to be video taped, and in those days the machine for doing this was big and the tapes expensive. It’s a shame, but the tapes where reused after being graded, so no copy remains.
I got paired up with a guy by the name of Russ Orlowitz. He was a definite character, always wearing some kind of camouflage pants, a head full of wild and wiry hair and a personality that would be more country than suburban. A lot of the other kids tended to stay away from him, but I though he was cool with his quirks.
I came up with the idea of doing a commercial about a new product, Industrial strength Raid. Not only did it come in a big bottle, according to the commercial script, it also contained DDT and agent Orange, the first being outlawed in the early 70’s, the second was a spray they used in Vietnam to kill vast areas of jungle off and thought to have caused cancer in many people later on.
The ‘can’ of the ISR (Industrial strength Raid) was one of my dads antique brass cylindrical fire extinguishers. I wasn’t really clear on how we’d simulate the spray coming out as the extinguisher shot water in a tight stream and not a wider spray you’d expect from a bug killer can. I thought that we could use a small smoke bomb by lighting it and putting it inside the tank so you could shut it off. We then made some big fake flies and attached them to two broom sticks by fishing line that would be held by 2 people on chairs, just out of view of the camera. The idea was that I would do my best impression of a fast talking salesman, saying how in these days you need more than regular Raid, that you should get the new Industrial strength Raid to kill our bigger bugs fast and you’d never have to worry about them coming back to your yard. I would then hand the tank to Russ, off screen, for him to toss the smoke bomb inside and close the lid, handing it back to me. I would then spray the smoke around, killing the flies as the people on the chairs cut the lines simulating them dropping dead instantly. I didn’t count of Russ’s go for broke ways of doing things.
I should have sensed something the day of the filming. We figured it would be more interesting to have some tree branches behind me to add realism. Bussie woods is right across Arlington Heights road from the school and in my mind, we’d just go over there and grab some stuff for the set. Our teacher allowed us to go out and get the stuff we needed and shifted our filming time to the end of the class so we could get prepared. We had only told her the basic outline of the commercial but no specifics.
So, Russ and I headed down the hall towards the door that led to the woods when Russ had me stop at his locker. From inside it he produced a rather large hatchet and a machete! Now a days you’d be arrested and suspended for months for having weapons like that. I was a bit taken aback, but to Russ, it wasn’t anything strange, so I went along with it. He handed me the hatchet and we walked down the hall of Elk Grove High school, Russ having a shitfaced smile the whole way. (Alarms should have been going off in my head by then, but I was along for the ride, like sky diving, once you jump, there is no going back).
Arlington Heights Road was a busy 4 lane thoroughfare with a raised island divider in the middle. My adrenaline was flowing now as I saw people in cars look at these two guys with long hair and edged weapons walking towards the edge of the road. We ran across at an opening in traffic and walked into the woods. While I was chopping small sized branches, Russ was hacking 7 foot long chunks at a practiced rate. I started laughing at the size of what he cut down as we emerged from the forest and looking up at the cars going by, my adrenalin was shooting out my ears. This time, we didn’t wait for a clear spot in the traffic; we just headed right on across, stopping traffic in both directions. The hatchet gave me a feeling of bravado, daring the cars to come closer. Imagine your in one of those cars and two seeming crazy teens go dragging some big branches across this 4 lane road with a machete and a hatchet in their hands!
Just getting the stuff through the doors to the school was difficult; they kept jamming in the door till one of us held it open while the other dragged them in. The teachers eyes went wide when we came back into the room, she was as surprised as I was a while ago at the extent we where going for this production. The other kids in the room amazed too. While had left when they where done with their commercial, the ones that where still there stayed to see what we where up to. It was no problem getting people to help out holding the broom sticks up with the fake flies.
After we had arranged all the branches as the background, the rest of it went smooth for a while. We only had one shot at doing it, again, the tape back then was expensive. I gathered my breath and got ready. I was in a few plays in my freshman year, so I had a little experience with acting. The camera started recording and I went into my barely rehearsed shtick. That part wasn’t hard because to me it was like telling a joke, which I know hundreds of them, and always enjoy telling them to make people smile. What I didn’t know, again, was the Russ had brought a more powerful smoke bomb that I had thought we would need. He decided instead of trying to throw it into the extinguisher, he would just tape it to the end and light it when I handed it to him.
I have to say it worked rather well. I talked about the new improved industrial strength raid for a bit, handed it to Russ, and smoke came spewing out. Lots of smoke. Too much smoke, and we didn’t have a plan on putting it out! I swung the hose around, shooting it all over thinking it would go out soon, but it didn’t. On cue, the flies began to fall, then the guys holding the brooms abandoned their spots as the smoke filled the room.
The rest of it is kind of a blur. I recall opening windows and someone closed the door so it wouldn’t get into the hallway.
We all ran out of the room, Russ holding the machete and stuff, grinning his ass off. The teacher told him to put them back in his locker as she headed up front to let them know there was no fire.
We somehow didn’t get into trouble, and for the first time in a long time, I got a grade above a C… LOL.
All day long I would hear kids saying that the English wing smelled funny, and I would just smile.

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