Brian Williams is the blow-dried anchor of NBC Nightly News. His salary is $13 million per year. His daughter stars on Girls. But hey, don't go thinking Brian Williams is fancy—has he told you about his working class roots?
As anyone who has heard Brian Williams talk in any social or public setting can testify, the newsman loves nothing more than to describe his working class roots, back in Jersey, at length. Despite the fact that he is generally well-liked, Brian Williams is determined, in a borderline pathological way, to drive home the point to each and every American: Hey, I am just like you, notwithstanding my great wealth and fame. A single appearance on Alec Baldwin's WNYC radio show yesterday offered the following examples:
Alec Baldwin: When asked for a report on his own life, he describes his early years as a ‘Grindingly middle class upbringing.'
Brian Williams: I did not know vegetables came fresh. I thought they were frozen bricks in the field. Salad was 1/8 of a head of iceberg lettuce sliced with a steak knife with a spoonful dollop of mayonnaise on the top. My mother's goulash was one can Spaghettios and ¼ pound ground beef. We had Spam. We had what everybody else had.
Alec Baldwin: You grew up in New Jersey, right? Was it Ridgewood, New Jersey?
Brian Williams: Born in Ridgewood, New Jersey. We moved for the first eight or nine years of my life to Elmira, New York, and then most of my life was spent in Middletown, New Jersey, on the Jersey shore.
Tell us more about these grindingly middle class times in Jersey.
Brian Williams: My dad, former manager of John Wanamaker department store in Philly, he took a job with Corning Glass in Corning, New York. We lived in adjacent Elmira. Got fired with a slew of executives in a purge of Corning, and then really bounced from job to job, had a tough time-heart attack at 50. That sent us back to the Jersey shore where he could at least find work in New York City. But we had some rough financial times after that.
Did you mingle with the common man?
I mean, [I was] a volunteer fireman in Jersey. I can't sit around with those guys saying, ‘Fellas, here's what you don't know about me in the future. Here's what I intend to do.' It just wouldn't have made any sense.
Any friends with Italian names?
Brian Williams: I went to a Catholic high school. I went to the local community college. I was a townie. I had applied for a civil service job as the nighttime Monmouth County Police Fire dispatcher out of Freehold, but my life took a turn. A buddy of mine took me to Washington, D.C.-Tony Laveglia. Everybody has a Tony Laveglia.
How did a grindingly middle class Jersey boy like you make it in Washington, DC?
Brian Williams: Well, fast forward. I'm at Catholic University having transferred my meager credits. Guy named Rocco comes into our dorm, and says, ‘Does anybody want my internship in the White House?' I raised my hand, because I had a blue blazer from my job at Sears in Middletown, New Jersey.
And after you finally broke into TV reporting in Kansas—you must have been rich?!
Brian Williams: That was the adjoining town where my efficiency apartment was, not to brag. You know, I was a working poor. I'm on television in this market in Kansas, going home and making an art form of slicing, and if you've ever done this, you know. You take one can of Spam. If you fry an egg in that pan, you can make a Spam steak in a frying pan, and you can get four or five slices out of one can of Spam. With some toast, it's a meal at night.
But have you totally forgotten those long-ago hard times?
Brian Williams: To this day, I like Ramen noodles. I do.
Alec Baldwin: [Laughter]
Brian Williams: I like Ramen noodles -
Alec Baldwin: There's too much sodium in those.
Brian Williams: Hebrew National hot dogs and Spaghettios. My big three.