Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"I Wanted To Be A Commentator"


A few years ago, a female friend put me in contact with an old friend of hers, an Executive Producer of the powerhouse NPR series All Things Considered.  (I had had the occasion of seeing the two of them together, and I sensed that he had once had a crush on her.  Which, I believe, rather than my identifiable natural abilities, is the reason the following opportunity eventualized.)

I was invited to submit a two-to-three-minute commentary, which, if deemed acceptable, would be broadcast – with me reading it – on All Things Considered.  There was “honorarial” money involved, but remuneration was not the issue.  What I was in intense need of at the time – I considered saying “in desperate need of” but it sounded too desperately needy – was a revitalized career.  

Television had recently indicated a unilateral disinterest in my future services.  My “Development Deal” contract at Paramount was not picked up.  (And those were my friends.  So there was a little hope of a rescue from strangers.) 

The “spec” pilot scripts I subsequently wrote, one of which may have been my most fully realized half-hour comedy script ever, were rejected by the networks, my longtime agent retired, and so, after thirty years of regular employment, I found myself suddenly on the outside, grumpily looking in.

Professional athletes talk about “dying twice” – the real time, and before that, when the only thing they ever wanted to do, they are not permitted to do anymore.  I know that’s dramatic.  But it’s right.  And not just for athletes.

Anyway, before lacrimosity shorts out my computer screen…

I now have this chance to return to the Public (Radio) eye  (or, in this case, its ear.) 
Which in reality is all I am looking for – a platform for my efforts, and for somebody to tell me I’m good.  (Like they once previously did in television, and before that – long before that – in school.)

I will read self-written commentaries on a nationally broadcast radio program.  And who knows where that will lead?  Even if it leads nowhere, I am still reading self-written commentaries on a nationally broadcast radio program.  And, if it turned out being on a regular basis, I am “back in the business” and happy as a clam. 

It didn’t happen.

Actually, it happened for a while – six commentaries worth, to be exact – but then it ended.  My Executive Producer contact, who appreciated my work (either that, or he was trying to please the woman he’d had a crush on decades earlier), delegated the commentary-picking process to a woman who was definitely not a fan. 

After overruling her on a couple of occasions, my patron relinquished final authority, explaining that he had to allow the woman to do her job, or something equally as ridiculous. 

Imagine, a boss delegating an assignment to an underling, and then actually letting them do it.  I do not understand it!  I mean, have we entirely lost the concept of “pulling rank” in this country?  Override this foolish woman, and be done with it!

The fact is, I was a capable or better commentary writer, but a less than acceptable reader of them.  Why?  Primarily because while I am reading what I have written, I am constantly rewriting in my head, inevitably discovering better ways of saying what I have written, thus triggering a collision of words in my brain, derailing concentration, leading to a detectably uncertain rhythm in my reading.  Plus, my peripheral vision isn’t that great.  Reading off a paper, I am unable to anticipate what’s next.

I even wrote a commentary about that.  Though I expressed my concerns differently.  Rather than taking personal responsibility, I instead attacked the commentary-reading process itself. 

And not, I believe, without justification.  Because that process is a sham.

Think about this.

A man wants to express his innermost feelings of affection and admiration for his beloved, which he pours out in the form of a proposal of marriage.   Consider, if you will, the impact this sincere outpouring of emotion would have on his beloved if the man drops down on bended knee, takes out a piece of paper…

And reads it to her!

My intention was to blow the lid off the entire commentary process, exposing its dishonesty to the chastening light of day.  While simultaneously making the equally important point that reading to them is not the most effective method of communicating with an audience.

I was thinking of the long-ago, variety radio host Arthur Godfrey, and the loquacious sports commentator Howard Cossell, and perhaps Garrison Keillor, though I am uncertain if he writes out his “Lake Wobegon” narratives in their entirety or not.  The other two famously spontaneously “winged it.”  And, in my view, made more successful contact with their audience by so doing.

So I constructed this radio commentary, which, in part, said:

“I will be totally honest with you.  I may sound like I am talking to you right now, but I’m not.  I am reading to you.  For example, when I said, ‘I am reading to you’? – I read that.  And when I said, ‘I read that’? – I read that too.  And ‘I read that too’? – I also read that.  In fact, I am reading everything you are currently listening to.  Including ‘I am reading everything you are currently listening to.’  As well as what I just said.  And also that.  Yes, and ‘and also that’ as well.  And also that.” 

Because I needed a humorous payoff for my commentary, I explained that I was going to to abandon my prepared script and speak entirely “off the cuff.”  I then found myself at a complete loss of words, my panic propelling me immediately back to the script. 

Ultimately invalidating my original point.  (Which, abandoned for comedic effect, I continue to believe in, although I may, in fact, be unable to pull off an “in the moment” commentary myself.)

My commentary on commentaries was never broadcast.

Not only did the selector who didn’t like any of my submissions hate it, the Executive Producer shot it down as well, branding the material, “smart-ass.”  (Was it?  Or was it instead “dangerously subversive”?)

And so I do not do commentaries anymore.  Except for here.  Where I can say freely that the possibility of “connecting” is substantially enhanced by talking directly to people rather than by writing things down.

Which, of course, I cannot do here, because when I said “rather than by writing things down”? – I actually wrote that down.  And when I say, “I actually wrote that down”? – I wrote that down too.  And when I say “I wrote that down too”…

AS WE SLOWLY FADE OUT.

(Which I also wrote down.)
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Tomorrow:  What I Know About the Cosby Situation


Monday, November 24, 2014

"Coming Home"


You return home after an exciting travel adventure, feeling jazzed up from the recent experience. 

Writing (a surprising) ten posts about it, ignites you with recollective enthusiasm.  The party’s not over if you’re still talking about it.

There’s a “high” and you write about it, and the “high” continues (which is partly why you write about it.)  It’s like keeping a balloon in the air, because as long as it’s up there, the excitement is protracted, in this case by the warming memory, and simply “telling the story.” 

But then, eventually and inevitably, to overdramatize it but only to a moderate degree…

You crash.

Suddenly, you’re home.  And it’s like…

“What happened?” 

You are not “There” anymore.  You’re “here.”  And “here”, by comparison, is banally and painfully…

Routine.

The Result:  A debilitating letdown.

WARNING:  I will shortly disorient you with a surprise revelation – you’ll like it, I promise.  But first, two side trips.

One:

When I taught school in London at St. John’s Church of England Infants and Juniors School (in working class Kilburn) – which I believe I have talked about, but having forgotten, I may well talk about again – the school’s headmaster, Mr. Kinsman, having taken a shine to me, developed the habit of driving me home at the end of the day. 

I am not aware of his driving any of the other teachers home, and I never asked him why he had singled me out for these personal chauffeuring services; I was just grateful I didn’t have to take the bus, which I would frequently ride in the wrong direction, forgetting which side of the street I was supposed to stand on to pick the bus going in the appropriate direction up.  It’s England; it took a while.

Anyway, Mr. Kinsman confided to me that he had made a deliberate point of never taking a vacation because of how difficult and demoralizing it was when you come home.

This is not as outlandish and is sounds.  Vacations can be like a temporary furlough from prison.  You are out and about for a short time, and then…

CLANK!

It doesn’t have to be prison.  It could be a “Clank! of Luxury.”  A “Clank!” of family and friends.  A “Clank!” of familiarity, comfort and stimulation.   It does not matter. 

It is still “Clank!

Because it’s not “that.”  It’s “this.”  On a regular, daily basis.  Seemingly forever.

Now, the surprise revela…

“Wait!  You forgot the second side trip!”

Oh yeah.  Okay.

“Whaa!  Whaa!  Whaa!”

“A man goes on a “Rich Guy’s” vacation, seeing breathtaking sights, traveling by yacht, paddling in the Aegean, and munching on ice-cream bars peddled off a boat, (OOZING WITH SARCASM) and he’s complaining about a “debilitating letdown” when he gets home.

Well “Whaa!  Whaa!  Whaa!”

I’m sorry.  I’m a lucky guy; I have nothing to complains about.  

(NEW READER:  “Do all of this guy’s posts come with shame-generated apologies?”

REGULAR READER:  “A surprising number of them do, yes.  And then he cuts the emotional treacle with a fabricated conversation.”

NEW READER:  “I like it.”)   

Okay, moving on.

Identifying with the position of my headmaster/slash/personal driver Mr. Kinsman, my initial reaction upon returning from Turkey is “That’s it!  I am never traveling anywhere again!”  A weekend to Arizona, perhaps, to catch some “Spring Training.” But no more long trips that cast my everyday routine into contrasting mediocrity.  It is too hard to come home. 

“Why don’t you make ‘home’ better?”

I hear ya.  But it is still going to be “home.”

By the way, I was discussing this phenomenon with a man who, along with his partner, returns from one trip and almost immediately starts planning another one.  That’s his answer to the dilemma – continuous shots of “Travel Adrenaline.”  (By the way, if you’re old and you travel a lot?  It won’t help you.  If He wants you, God still knows where you are.)

The aforementioned man’s strategy would not work for me.  And I shall now confound you and contradict myself by telling you why.

I love my daily routine. 

It’s reliable.  It’s consistent.  It is safe.  It is rewarding.  And it’s fun.

“I’m sorry…what?

I know.  I came home to something I love. 

“Yet you are still experiencing a ‘debilitating letdown.’” 

Yeah, go figure.  I can’t.  The adjustment, now in its third week, has been difficult in… well, I can’t say I miss those Turkish toilets) but in every other regard.

Including blog writing. 

So I decided to write about that.

Rather than, for example, about the recent arrival “Awards Season” movies.

Though I will offer one line.  Chalk the snarkiness up to my persistent “Trip Lag.”  The line goes like this:

“It must be ‘Awards Season.’  Hilary Swank is in a wheelchair.” 

Hope to be “up to speed” shortly.

Bear with me until I am. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

"A Still Lingering Loose End"


You try not to be xenophobic – believing that where you’re from is the greatest place on the planet and that every place else comparatively sucks.  The thing is, even the best of us – by which, it goes without saying I mean myself – can slip. 

I mean, there are limits, of course.  You do not to respond to everything a culture throws at you with a non-judgmental “That is simply the way they do things.”  Beheadings for example, which seems to be the execution “Method of Choice” of certain militant, Middle Eastern subcultures… 

“Sorry, that’s out.  We’re tolerant.  But not that tolerant.”

(Asserts the citizen of a country that dispatches its condemned via an unreliable lethal cocktail.)

NOTE: During the preceding nine posts chronicling our recent Turkish adventure, you may well have detected signs of suggested Turko-phobia, my discomfort, for example, with some Turkish toilets I had encountered that were just drains.  But in those cases, I kept my disapproval to myself.  Yeah, and then I wrote about them – I know.  But that was primarily for comedic effect.  Which is different, don’t you think?  I mean the joke was essentially on me… is what I am trying to say.  Never mind.

Further exemplifying my determination not to offend was this intense inner struggle I experienced concerning asking about the potability of the drinking water.  I had noticed that the hotels we stayed at, as well as the boat, all supplied bottled water.  Did that mean, I wondered, that the tap water was not drinkable?  Or were they simply being “fancy” with the bottled water?

The thing, is how do you politely ask that kind of question?

“Can Turkish tap water kill me?” is probably not the way you want to go. 

It’s a legitimate issue, the way to appropriate way to ask something.  You are reluctant to inquire of a person who lives there,

“Is this a Third World country, or what?”

I encouraged myself to steer clear of this potentially uncomfortable issue, but, like trying not to sneeze, the more I suppressed my concern, the more the question propelled itself to the forefront of my consciousness.  And so, after three days of holding my tongue, in the least offensive construction I could think of, I said,

“I am curious about the tap water.”

I am informed, without rancor, that it’s fine; it just doesn’t taste that good.  And I leave it at that.  There was no,

“So you’re saying that it’s not raw sewage coming out of the faucets?”

I instead dutifully behave myself, proceeding to less provocative concerns, like, “What’s for dinner?” or “Do you know if the ‘ice-cream guy’ coming today?”  I remain throughout pretty much on my very best behavior.

Until the final night of our journey.

We, by which I mean the five remaining traveling companions and Sarhan, are sitting together at dinner at the Kismet Hotel outside of Kusadasi – forgive me, but this is probably my final opportunity for Turkish beach town name dropping – and the conversation inevitably turns to Jane, who had fallen on the boat and had undergone emergency surgery in Fethiye.  (Okay, but that’s the last one.)

I can feel my adrenaline revving up for a rant.  Being the sensitive person that I am, I immediately identify with Jane’s desperate situation – having no alternative but to go under the knife far away from home, the small town surgeon wielding that knife, an unvetted stranger from a foreign country.

In my admittedly hyper-fearful response system, facing a crisis of this nature inevitably triggers the emotional equivalent of,

“I want my Mommy!

“Home”, the geographical surrogate for “Mommy” instills the illusion at least of the familiar, the capable and the safe.  I encapsulate this contrasting situation, bewailing painfully,

“I mean, who is this Turkish doctor?” 

Do you see what I did there?  Exposing my xenophobic bias to the world, I was essentially expressing a coded version of,

“Who is this not American Board Certified ‘Exotic’ who’s going to be cutting open my shoulder?”

I immediately felt terrible.  Trying to backtrack, by insisting I’d feel the same way about any small town hospital, explaining that only two weeks before I’d experienced my “heart incident” in Los Angeles, I was vacationing at our cabin in Indiana, and I’d have felt exactly the same had I been rushed to the local hospital in Michigan City. 

I then abruptly stopped talking, sensing that the insult I had inflicted was terminally irreparable. 

I had “misspoken” – defined as “inadvertently telling the truth.”  By verbalizing my, more than likely, irrational concerns, I had insulted Turkish doctors and, by implication, the country of Turkey as a whole.  That’s why the next day, when we parted company, I said to Sarhan, “If anything stupid accidentally came out of my mouth…” and I asked for his forgiveness.   

Sarhan gallantly dismissed my apology.  It is true that when I committed my faux pas, Sarhan had behaved like he had not been offended.  But I had looked in his face at that moment, and I had detected an involuntary flinch.

Ah, well.  Two weeks, and only one egregious boo-boo.  (That I know of.) 

That’s better than my overall average.

But still…