Tonya Harding and Doris Biscoe Walk Into a Laundry-mat
Deep in the winter of 1993 and 1994 I had my 15 minutes of fame in a laundry-mat on Detroit’s north side. It was thrilling. As is the case with many of my memories it was also embarrassing and worthy of memorializing.
In case you weren’t sentient in January, 1994, a leading contender to win the US Skating Finals was brutally clubbed in the legs in Detroit. It happened at Cobo Hall in the city center. It was horrible and it was embarrassing. OF COURSE you get beat up in Detroit.
What did you expect, Nancy Kerrigan? To come, compete and leave with both your legs? What a simpleton.
The city was embarrassed. My friends were embarrassed. I was embarrassed. We were in the middle of the millionth “Detroit Renaissance” and these days we’re supposed to be behind us. Trappers Alley was still kinda cool, The Shelter was trendy and City Club still scared (exhilarated) me. Just one year before, we finally got my aunt Bunny to calm down enough to have a decent meal in the city. On her first visit to me in college she dove under the table at Pegasus, a greek restaurant, when the waiter lit the Saganaki cheese on fire. Opah, Aunt Bunny. Opah.
College Laundromat Days
In my last few years of school I rented a townhouse with 3 friends near campus. It was a 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath, 80s-build in a development called Hidden Rivers. The joke was, “There’s a reason it’s hidden.”
2 of my roommates took their laundry home on the weekends. My other roommate and I we’re not that organized. We did our laundry in random segments and at random times, but managed to coordinate going to the cleaners together at least.
We got into a rhythm: “Hey you have laundry? Yes let’s go.” We had a favorite shop and created a routine: Put clothes in wash, get ice cream from ice cream parlor next door, put clothes in dryers, get more ice cream from next door, throw clothes in baskets, stop at Taco Bell on the way home. When we were finished and got home I’d collapse in a sugar coma.
It was a routine I came to loathe (laundry) yet cherish (ice cream). By this time Eric and I had been roommates for years. We’d sit silently reading magazines like an old couple that doesn’t have anything else to say to each other.
One mid-week night, right in the middle of Nancy Kerrigan-gate, Eric gently elbowed me and nodded to the front door. Doris Biscoe, a local television reporter and a cameraman were coming in…lights ablaze. Sqweee! Doris had to duck to enter the building.
Breaking News: Tonya Harding Accused of Hired Hit Man To Knock Nancy Kerrigan Out Of The Competition.
Earlier this day news broke that a friend of Tonya Harding had been arrested for assaulting Nancy Kerrigan. Speculation was swirling that it was a conspiracy, and rightly so. Harding was, by any account, clearly white trash and jealous of Kerrigan. Harding grew up in a trailor. Kerrigan looked like a perfect WASP who grew up on the Main Line outside Philly.
Best of all: if it was true then Detroit was saved. It would mean it was a planned conspiracy and not a random mugging. “See everyone? It’s safe here. Unless you mess with white-trash dreams.”
Doris Biscoe, the Queen Of Evening News
In Detroit, in the Nineties, there were two rival stations in Detroit that mattered. ABC Channel 7 and NBC Channel 4. Doris Biscoe was the Grand Dame of Channel 7. She was a strong and confident, gigantic, 6’6″ black woman.
The news station for Channel 7 was next to our college campus in Southfield. I regularly saw Doris pulling into the station in her Lincoln Continental, head slightly bent over. She was like a giraffe. And fabulous.
You can imagine my delight when she walked into that laundromat looking to interview people about Nancy-Gate. You can also image me eager to be interviewed and scrambling to come up with a premise that would assure I get on the evening news.
I Thew Out My Morals To Be On TV With Doris Biscoe
I’m not sure what came over me. When an opportunity to ham it up in front of people comes along, a second me comes out that will stop at nothing to get attention. I blame my mother.
And it’s exactly what happened that night. I knew Tonya Harding was guilty. But as Doris Biscoe walked through that dirty, cheap laundromat I scrambled for an angle that would make me stand out; to get her attention. And most importantly, to get on air.
Somewhere between a lick of Superman ice cream from my waffle cone and some woman named Chanel being interviewed just 5 feet away, I came up with the idea. She was waxing how great Nancy Kerrigan was. “Silly Chanel… everyone thinks Nancy is perfect.” In my mind I thought, “what Doris needs is conflict.”
I’ll be pro Tonya.
As the klieg light of the camera shifted my way and Ms. Biscoe walked towards me, I sat up a little straighter. I acted coy, and smiled an innocent oh-hey-what-are-you-talking-about-I’ll-give-you-the-quote-you’re-looking-for-smile. My heart beat fast with anticipation. My mind raced and and I practiced my lines/lies. I imagined my “take” being so unique and my performance so stellar that I would be invited to join Doris and crew in the Channel 7 WXYZ newsroom. I imagined being so great that ratings would soar and I would become a regular guest commentator on newscasts… a new career. I glanced quickly at Eric as if to say, “Watch the magic, bitch.” Then lights, camera, action.
“Why would you think that?”
“Hi young man, we’re talking to Detroiters about the new charges against Tonya Harding. What are your thoughts?”
“Me? Oh well… I definitely think Nancy Kerrigan is trying to set up Tonya Harding to look like a fool.”
Small pause, “Interesting. So you think Nancy Kerrigan had Tonya Harding beat up?”
“Oh no, I think she’s playing a really coy game. I bet what actually happened was Nancy Kerrigan hired the hit men in order to frame Tonya Harding. I just love Tonya, she’s so talented.”
“Let me get this straight, you think that Nancy Kerrigan would hire thugs to beat her own legs? Why would you think that?”
I knew why I said that. But I couldn’t say it.
“That’s definitely the most bizarre theory I’ve heard…what about you over here?”
The light turned, Doris turned, I was in the dark but satisfied. It was shorter than I planned, but I thought I acted crazy enough to be guaranteed a spot on the news. I turned to Eric, proud.
“Look down, asshole.” Somewhere between that last lick of ice cream and the end of the interview, my waffle cone had cracked open at the bottom. Red, blue and yellow cream had flooded out all over my stomach and shorts. In my excitement I must have had so much adrenaline that my skin was numb… for now it suddenly felt cold. Cold as the realization flooding over me. “I’m going to be on TV. I’m going to look like a moron. With ice cream all over me.”
Shame. Doom. It was ok to act crazy, but to look like a total slob. Embarrassing.
Then like every other embarrassment in my life I snapped out of it.
I figured that I had just said the dumbest thing to get on air, and the ice cream effect would totally help.
I started to feel better, and wanted to get home asap to see the rest of the newscast and wait for the 11pm hour. Video tape ready. Thumb hovering over “record.”
Carl’s Chop House
Years later, my mom took a small motley crew out to Carl’s Chop House to celebrate my graduation. Carl’s is downtown, yet far away from restaurants that light cheese on fire.
The group consisted of my brother and his family, my 2 cousins, my mom’s best friend and her daughter… and of course Aunt Bunny.
Bunny hadn’t been back to Detroit since the beating, but was still obsessed with it. To top it off, my graduation ceremony was at Cobo Arena where it all happened.
To my irritation, Bunny had to mention she was worried about getting beaten or mugged. “Shut the fuck up Aunt Bunny,” I thought.
“It was staged, Bunny. It was a staged beating. Nobody is going to beat or mug you,” I said.
Bunny replied, “I don’t believe it. I think it was a set up to hide the fact that people get beat up in Detroit.”
Touché, Aunt Bunny. Touché. Two people can play at this game.
This story is part of a series about my college years that will be published in its entirety at some point. This story is also published on toddridley.com here. If anyone is interested, the segment never aired.