A Great Big Pile of Book Review
I want to tell you a little story about a guy who ate crap and spit out pure gold. It's the 1970s. Bell bottoms are popular, and not in a retro hipster sort of way. Disco isn't dead. Cars just look cooler, sleeker, meaner somehow than they will in subsequent generations. When people walk down the street, they say hello with a polite nod, a wave, or at the very least, a slight little head bob to acknowledge the other person's existence. It will be decades before society devolves into the state of phone zombies who wander around, seemingly lost, their faces washed in a blue glow from whatever app is trending at the moment. Alright, so maybe the air is a little bad. Catalytic converters have only been required on new cars for a short while, so there's a distinct odor in most big cities. Cities are dirty, gritty, and to be perfectly honest, more dangerous.
This is where we first meet Michael in Baltimore. He's a good, all-American kid. The son of a couple of schoolteachers, money isn't necessarily easy to come by, but life lessons are in abundance. In a stroke of parenting genius, Michael's parents convinced the young boy that people who go on distant vacations, purchase amusement park tickets, and generally fall victim to the materialistic culture that seemed to pervade should be pitied, not envied. This is probably where Michael got his penchant for bucking popular opinion. This will come in handy for young Michael later in life. He becomes an Eagle Scout, and for his service project, he reads to blind schoolchildren. It's probably the first time Michael takes on the role of narrator, but it won't be the last.
Fast forward to the 1990s. Michael is now grown, living in a haunted mansion, and he's using his deep voice to sell products to strangers in the middle of the night on a fledgling television station called QVC where people can, in three easy installments, buy porcelain figurines, trendy sweaters, and katsacks (bags that make a crinkling sound that cats apparently go crazy for). Michael realizes on these late-night hosting gigs that he's not a salesman, but he also discovers that he learns well on his feet. The audience finds that they, along with the camera, like Michael’s face and his deep voice.
Within a decade, Michael is hosting a local television segment called Evening Magazine. He takes a modest television viewing audience through tours of local vineyards, orchards, and the like. That's when Michael's mother calls and tells him that, for the sake of his 90-something year old grandfather, it would just be the best thing since sliced bread if Michael would, just for once on his little show, do "something that looks like work." Michael, being the good, all-American kid from Baltimore and an Eagle Scout promptly took his show down into the sewers.
Michael and his cameraman waded through the worst kind of nastiness one could imagine. Human excrement (and anything else that gets flushed down a toilet), roaches, bacteria, and sewer rats made their presence known. In fact, it was a sewer rat that whispered in Michael's ear (or screeched loudly, depending on your interpretation) the sounds of what turned out to be success. The rat’s sweet nothings (or shrieks) caused the adventurous host to leap up, bang his head, and then fall face first in the sludge full of things that I don't even want to imagine. To put it mildly, Michael got dirty. Really dirty. But that didn't keep him from pressing on and getting the job done of repairing the brickwork under the city he called home with his guide. Collecting himself, Michael “embraced the suck" of the situation, and he used his voice to give voice to many that go unnoticed in our society. In fact, it was this made-for-T.V. moment that ultimately led to the creation of a little show called Dirty Jobs, a show that propelled its fearless host to international stardom. A man named Mike Rowe.
Pretty cool, huh?
Mr. Rowe's book, The Way I Heard It, pays tribute to Mr. Harvey, and it reads like several segments of the late Mr. Harvey's famous radio series The Rest of the Story. It is, I’m not ashamed to admit, a major influence of mine, and a large part of my decision to write a few of these little stories. In fact, some may say I’m paying tribute to Mr. Rowe and Mr. Harvey, others may say “totally ripping off” the two.
Pot-ay-to, pot-ah-to. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
His latest show, Six Degrees with Mike Rowe is streaming now on Discovery+, and it’s worth a gander.
Note: This article was originally published in 2019, and it has been slightly modified and updated.