I'm Not Sure How to Tell You This, But...

There are ways to break bad news and there are ways not to. Doing it in person is good, though it takes nerve, something most of us only have when we get in the express line at the grocery store with 23 items in our basket, completely prepared to defend our spot by arguing that milk, yogurt, and Cheet-os are all dairy so they only count as one. Over the telephone is probably second best because, while it's not as personal, at least the other person can hear a voice. Not to mention that if you're the one doing the calling you can make static noises to pretend the line is going bad and hang up quickly to avoid extended unpleasantness. Of course if you're using a cell phone you won't have to fake it. After all, having a cell phone conversation without at least one "Are you still there?" is about as farfetched as the Weekly World News hiring a fact checker.

Breaking important news by email, voice mail, or posting it in the Internet chat room where you met the person you're about to break up with isn't good form, even though this is the 21st century. Remember, it takes etiquette a good while to catch up to the times, which is why there's no official ruling about whether it's more proper to hold your Big Mac with the paper wrapped around it than it is to hold it in your hand and then lick the secret sauce from your fingers afterwards.

It's also not a great idea to announce something for the first time during a deposition, a televised Senate subcommittee hearing, or right before the police read you your rights. Especially if you don't have a lawyer present. Very public means of making important announcements are also a no-no. Skywriting, billboards, and the Jumbotron at the baseball game may be great ways to propose -- providing the target of your affection says yes so you can show your face in public again -- but they aren't good for broadcasting the subsequent divorce. Unless, that is, you're the Godfather of Soul.

No, James Brown didn't hire a skywriter. What he did do was take out a full-page ad in the trade newspaper Variety to announce that he and his wife are splitting up. Not only is this a very public and efficient way to spread the news, it's a rather expensive one. For the $9,250 a full page ad in Variety costs he could have had announcements printed on hand-made paper, put a good print of the photograph that was in the ad showing the couple and their 2-year-old son at Disneyland posing with Goofy on the front like an anti-Christmas card, and had an expert forge his signature on the inside with the inscription, "I feel good! James."

Now before you pick up the phone and call the Weekly Advertizer to find out if you need to take out a second mortgage to buy an ad, don't forget your mother's reply when you asked why you couldn't go bowling with your friends instead of attending church with the family: "If Bobby jumped off the roof, would you do it too?" What she was trying to get across in her non sequiturish way was that you should be your own person and do what you want to do, not follow the crowd. This is especially good advice when it comes to choosing James Brown as your role model, since it's generally not a great idea to follow the example of someone who's been convicted of assault, possession of drugs, and carrying weapons. Unless your last name is Soprano.

Apparently the usual rules of announcement don't hold for celebrities. After all, as the saying goes, they're just like you and me except richer, more powerful, better able to afford Botox, and more easily able to avoid jail time when caught shoplifting, driving drunk, or being so stoned on drugs they mistake Jay Leno for Ted Koppel. Oh yeah, and able to make announcements in ways we can only dream about.

Take Arnold Schwarzenegger for example. He kept 14 people, all newspaper reporters, in suspense while he tried to decide whether to throw his pumped up hat into the ring and run for governor of California in the upcoming recall election. In true celebrity fashion, he decided to make his formal announcement on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Apparently the Jerry Springer Show was booked and they refused to change the night's theme, "I've Been Screwed! Democratic Governors and the State Senators Who Finance Their Recall" since it had all the earmarks of a big ratings draw. Or at least might attract more viewers than the number of California voters who care about the real thing.

Schwarzenegger's appearance gave the program its second-largest ratings of the year, which doesn't bode well for the future of announcements. If word gets out about how successful this was, people will start running radio commercials to tell friends their cat ran away while they were on vacation. Newspapers will run Special Announcement pull-out sections. And people will start timing their news for sweeps week to make best use of the ratings. All I can say is, god help Maria if Arnold ever decides he wants a divorce.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com

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