I imagine when Chris Licht first took the gig as head of CNN he had a similar reaction to the CNN+ business plan as I did when I got set up with Marilyn.
Well-intentioned, to be sure. But not for me.
But in both situations the challenge is to be respectful enough to those who thought they were doing right by us but letting the process play out.
There’s plenty of perspectives out there why CNN+ isn’t even going to make it to May, while QuiBi survived six months and TeleTV somehow made it two years. Having four-figure usage and limited access without a live feed of the network didn’t help, nor did the great Netflix crash earlier this week make anyone in the new Warner Discovery hierarchy any more bullish. As my grandmother use to say, “fartick finished” . I’ll defer to those articles and pundits. But you won’t get the following anyplace else:
In my situation, I’m going back so far that I honestly can’t remember Marilyn’s last name, not that I’d use it here. Marilyn and her friend Rae were inseparable at the Jewish singles volleyball games I went to when I moved into a semi-decent neighborhood in Queens just before I moved West. They each lived in separate apartment buildings near the basement flat I was renting, which was an upgrade from the previous one I had.
Rae was a talented spiker, had an amazing smile and a quick Brooklyn-bred wit that I absolutely adored. On top of that, she was popular, stylish and in demand with most of the other schlemozzels who would show up on Thursday nights in the hopes of human connection, way back in the Luddite days where texting, phones and zooms were only fantasies. I was smitten, but very much in the back of the line.
Marilyn was self-deprecating, never wore makeup or lipstick and always clinging to Rae for some sort of moral support. She was an even worse volleyball player than I was, which is saying something since I was and still am horrible. And–and I hate to admit this mattered to me then–she was balding. She was naturally self-conscious about it and almost always wore a cap. I initially thought she was Orthodox. Nope.
So when Rae asked that I walk her home one night my heart quickened and my testosterone level spiked. She immediately brought up Marilyn and how frustrated she was that for as nice a girl as she thought Marilyn was she’d never get any attention from other guys. I summoned the courage to point out she had really strong competition from her, and that Marilyn should try to make the first move independent of her. Rae smiled that wonderful smile as she had a brainstorm:
— “Would YOU go out with Marilyn, Steve? It would mean the WORLD to me!”
— “If it means a lot to you, then it’s worth a shot”, I lied. “Sure, I’ll take her to a movie”.
Marilyn called me about six times in the couple of days between my asking her out and our date, excitedly telling me about her choices and the advice Rae gave her about lipstick shades, perfumes, etc. It was the dead of winter and it was just a movie, but for poor Marilyn this was like a debutante ball. I’ll admit that when I arrived to pick her up, Marilyn looked as attractive as she ever did. But she still wore a hat.
I was polite, respectful and as much of a gentleman as I could be. We saw the movie, I offered dinner. Marilyn, as always, suggested a “dinah”. Now I’m not one who despises a good diner, if for variety’s sale only. But, honestly, to me it’s not classy. I was more in the mood for a wine bar. Marilyn adamantly said “No wine for me, I’m already enough of a whiner.”.
We had something Greek and fattening, and then I indulged her in my favorite pastime of getting the early edition of the Sunday New York Times. She coyly said, “Can we go back to your place and read it together?” Duh, I said yes. Once we got into my flat, before I had my coat off, before I could extract the magazine section to get to the crossword puzzle I’d hope we at least try to solve together, Marilyn embraced me, had her tongue down my throat and was clawing at my belt. She then got out of her clothes as quickly as I’ve ever seen any woman before or since. Saving her hat for last. Let’s tactfully say I didn’t pass up the opportunity. But then…the hat was removed. And at that point, any chance for a second go-round went by the wayside.
I suspect Chris Licht felt as deflated as I did that night when he saw the first usage numbers for CNN+, or the sight of Jake Tapper in a book store.
I hate that I was as turned off by the sight of Marilyn’s scalp as I was. As someone who is rejected so often, the idea of saying no for any reason was an anathema to me. But being disingenuous is the exact opposite of the intent of Leblanguage, and frankly, I liked Marilyn as a person too much to keep taking advantage of her voracious sexual appetite.
The next time I saw Marilyn, I took her hand and truthfully said, “Look, what happened the other night was great, but it was honestly too fast for me. I’m probably relocating soon anyway, and it’s clear you want something and someone stable. I’m not that guy. I think you deserve someone more appropriate”.
Marilyn started to cry and exclaimed “It’s my baldness, isn’t it? It’s always that!”
Trembling, I admitted “That didn’t help. But, honestly, it’s the timing more than anything else”.
I never heard from Marilyn again. She stopped showing up to the volleyball games, and soon after I did indeed relocate to LA.
But I did see Rae at one of the games, and again she asked if I’d walk her home. Rae said “You know, Marilyn’s really upset about what happened. She doesn’t stop crying and complaining to me”. I looked down and said “I really tried to explain my situation honestly.” I never wanted to hurt anybody”. Beautiful Rae then embraced me and said “You at least gave her a shot. I remind her that every day. She’s either gonna listen or not. But I want YOU to know that I’m single again, and I think you’re so sweet for caring so much that I’d love to kiss you myself”.
Rae and I saw each other every night until I moved, and the last night I was in New York she met my work friends, partied heartily, and I’ll never forget how gorgeous she looked when we woke up together in each other’s arms. I didn’t see Rae much after I moved, but at least I have those few weeks of acceptance and passion to look back upon. God, I hope she married well.
So for anyone personally impacted by the demise of CNN+, let me offer this pious but sincere encouragement. Timing DOES matter, and if you’re honest and sincere you’ll get another shot at something with a stronger infrastructure, a better value proposition and represents what really gets your kishkas going. All indications are some form of news content will be folded into HBO Max, and some of the sounder ideas will still go forward (possibly, even Jake and his books).
And when you do get your next opportunity, let’s celebrate at a classier place than a diner.
Until next time…