No matter how I juggled the schedule for next week's show, I was still left with nearly two minutes of dead air.
I gave up and decided to run an insipid piece on those papers you stick on your nose to get rid of blackheads. Hardly haute couture, I acknowledged, but it was past 9 p.m. and I wanted to go home.
Another mission accomplished, I thought proudly.
I looked happily around my impressive office and imagined how elegant and official I looked at my oh-so-grown-up executive desk. Quite pleased with myself, I leaned back in my chair and propped my feet up on my desk.
And promptly knocked the contents of my tote all over the floor and a cup of soda all over my desk.
Grateful that no one was around, I mopped up the spill and crawled under my desk to retrieve the stuff that had rolled underneath. While on my hands and knees, I was startled by the phone ringing and jerked upright -- smacking my head into the underside of my desk.
In one minute I'd gone from a budding executive Rosalind Russell, into one of the Keystone Cops.
Clutching my injured cranium, I felt around for the phone and answered it, aware that I was laughing too hard to be understood. I hoped it wasn't anyone official.
"Jessica? Is that you?"
It was Steve, my friend Rina's husband.
"Most of me anyway," I said.
"I've been calling you all night," he said, sounding anxious. "I'm so sorry to call you at work. Actually, I am sorry that you're at work so late. I am soooo sorry to do this, but I have a HUGE favor to ask you."
I was more Keystone Cops than Rosalind Russell.
"Go on," I said, getting a skeptical feeling in my gut.
"Our wedding anniversary is coming up and I wanted to surprise Rina by taking her to Sedona for the weekend," he began. "My mom was supposed to come in to take care of the kids, but she came down with a horrible case of strep and the doctor told her not to fly."
"Uh-huh," I said, getting the gist of where this was going.
"We can take the baby, but..." he paused. "I was wondering if there was any way, any way, you'd be willing to stay with Ari and Sarah?"
Hmm. Sounded fun.
"Sure!" I chirped.
"Sure?" he said, sounding confused. "You don't want to think about it?"
"What's to think about, Steve? I adore the kids. You know that. It'll be great."
"I know you do. And they adore you -- that's why I am asking, even though it's such a huge imposition."
"Steve! C'mon! I took Ari to the zoo last week. I put Sarah to bed three times the week before. I am practically an aunt at this point," I replied.
"But we're talking three whole days. We'd leave early Friday afternoon, and we'd get back Sunday evening. It's a long time."
Why was he trying to talk me out of it?
"I just want to be sure you know what you're getting into."
"Don't worry, Steve. It's not like my social calendar is packed this weekend anyway. It's my pleasure. I'll see you on Friday."
I chuckled to myself over what an over-protective father Steve is. I know the kids. I was a sought-after babysitter in my teens. I make world-class PB&J sandwiches and can assemble macaroni&cheese with one hand.
Two kids, three days. What's the big deal?
I headed out and into the elevator, looking forward to a quite evening of herbal tea and my automatic foot massager. As the doors began to close, a male voice down the hall called out, "Hey! Hold the elevator!" Good Samaritanette that I am, I pressed the open-door button.
"Well, if it isn't Brenda Starr, girl reporter," the voice's owner said.
It was slick Rick, the guy who tried to strike up a conversation at a restaurant Alison dragged me to a few weeks before. I'd been ice cold and even gave him a fake name.
This isn't supposed to happen to me, I wailed silently.
"Uh, hi," I said, feebly, wishing I could shift-shape my way right out the lift.
"See, I was right. We do work in the same building," he said, more politely than I might have expected.
"I guess so," I said. "I, uh, I thought..."
Could this situation be any more awkward?
The few more seconds of the elevator ride seemed interminable. At the bottom, we both leapt out. I muttered some sort of goodbye and flew to my car.
Between the soda all over my papers, the lump on my head from the desk and running into someone I'd been so rude to, I would have thought it couldn't get worse. But, oh! It always can.
My car had a flat.
It can always get worse. Next plague, locusts.
I leaned on the hood and burst out in an exhausted combo of laughing and crying.
Next plague: locusts.
I was rummaging through my wallet for my Triple-A card when Slick Rick drove by in an unpretentious Honda. I would have thought he'd drive something more, well, slick.
His window rolled down and he leaned out. "Uh, you okay, Ms. Starr?"
Too overwhelmed to feel uncomfortable, I pointed to the flat.
Suddenly, his car was parked and he was rolling up his sleeves. Uh-oh.
"Uh, Rick, it's okay. Really! I have Triple-A. See? Member since '88?" I clucked, pointing to my card. "And a cellphone -- you don't have to..."
He raised his eyebrows.
"Brenda, or whatever your name is, it's going to take Triple-A an hour to get here and this is not exactly the ideal place for a woman to be hanging out alone at night."
He was right. Our building was downtown and the parking lot was open and exposed to a sketchy neighborhood.
"I can do this in 10 minutes."
He masterfully pulled out the whatchama-callit and the thinga-majig you turn with a crowbar, zipped off the collapsed tire and popped on the spare. Good as new in 10 minutes, although his hands and sleeves were now filthy.
"There," he said. "Now we can both sleep easier -- you earlier and me because my mother would never forgive me for leaving a lady in a predicament like this."
Men actually still talk like that?, I thought with wonder, looking at him in silence.
"Uh, you okay?"
"Oh!" I sputtered. "Uh, yeah. Thank you so much! How can I thank you?"
"Well, you can start by telling me your name," he said, a bit more warmly.
"Jessica. Jessica Shaeffer."
"Much less glamorous," he commented. "I can see why you picked 'Brenda.'"
"Look, can I buy you a cup of coffee to thank you?"
"No, I don't think so," he said, evenly. "But it was nice meeting you officially."
And as I drove home, I marveled: Tonight I encountered an archeological specimen. A real, live gentleman. I had begun to think they were extinct.