Wednesday, April 25, 2018

"Indisputably Correct"

“There is no happier delight

Than someone telling you you’re right.”

Anonymous

(Although not by choice.)

That was my firstopening for this post.  Here comes the second one.  (Because I am unable to decide on just one.)

There is this sequence in Fiddler on the Roofin which Perchik, a student from the university, arriving at the pious and insulated town of Anatevka gets intoit with the local inhabitants, as a peace-loving Tevye attempts gamely to mediate.

PERCHIK:  “You should know what’s going on in the outside world.”

MORDECHA:  “Why should I break my head about the outside world?  Let them break their own heads.”

TEVYE:  “He’s right. If you spit in the air, it lands in your face.”

PERCHIK:  “That’s nonsense.  You can’t close your eyes to what’s happening in the world.”

TEVYE:  “He’s right.”

AVRAM:  “He’s right and he’s right?  How can they both be right?”

TEVYE:  “You know. You’re also right.”

(Note:  This exchange is constructed like a sitcom-style joke, and is traditionally “played” like one – a conflict-averse Tevye, adamantly refusing to take sides.  To me, what is here islessa joke masquerading as wisdom as it is wisdom masquerading as a joke.)

ThirdOpening  (As I am nothing if not waveringly indecisive.  It’s no wonder we stayed till two in the morning when I was a show runner.  “ Okay, guys.  ‘A’ or ‘the’ – what do you think?”) 

And then there is this.

Out to dinner with an amiable couple, I heard myself aggressively asserting the two main reasons people voted for Donald Trump.  

Here’s the thing about that experience.

My secondreason was greeted with a corroborating “That’s true.” 

(Neatly delineated in a New York Times“Opinion Headline” on evangelical support for the stink bomb in the White House; to wit,  “Evangelicals Would Not Vote For Jesus If He Were A Democrat.”)

By diametrical contrast, the response to my firstreason they voted for Trump was a challenging, “That’snot right.”

Pay heed to this interesting phenomenon.  

I remember the secondreason – the one receiving the validating “That’s true.”  But the firstreason, the one inexplicably greeted with “That’s not right”?  

Hard as I try, I cannot for the life of me recall what that was.

Apparently, you cannot emotionally “hit the roof” and remember stuff at the same time

Okay, so frequently in this venue, I extrapolate from the general to the specific, the “specific” invariably being me.  Today, however, I proceed in the opposite direction.

Recognizing how being contradicted turned me into a white-hot poker of righteous indignation – I was going to say “red-hot poker” but that sounded like a poker reminiscent of a hotdog – it occurred to me that others who I, or people of my ideological ilk, insist are sorely mistaken, might well feel equally incensed. 

Leading to the tentative hypothesis.

“Everyone feels right.”

Followed by its incendiary corollary:

“And when you tell them they’re not – Look out!”

An Essential Clarification:  (Written in red for eye-catching emphasis.)

I am not saying, as did the non-confrontational Tevye, that everyone is equally correct.  Or even that they’re correct from their own perspective.  I am speaking specifically about feelings where I suspect, when it comes to their personal opinions, everyone has an emotionally invested commitment to their position.  And when you try to awaken these, in yourview, misguided people to the error of their ways…

(VEERING DELIBERATELY INTO UNDERSTATEMENT)

They don’t care for it.

Think about it.  You don’t have to agree, just think about it. (And give careful thought before informing me I’m wrong.)

Consider the most outrageous decision…

Okay, I won’t go there. 

Okay.

Think, for a moment, about the Trump voters, specifically their expressed reasons for voting for him. Not the racistvoters, because those people are messed up.  But the reasons the otherTrump voters believe their decision was rationally arrived at:

“He is not a ‘sold out’ politician.”

“The man speaks to our issues.”

“He really ‘sticks it’ to the ‘Establishment Elites’.”

“He’s a successful businessman.”

“The electoral alternative is unacceptable.”

“Why not try something different?”

I know how these voters feel when their considered positions are discounted or dismissed.  

Because I feel exactly the same way when mineare.

A guy during my beach walk, accessing “hip-hop” on his iPhone, and I reflexively take irritated offense.  “What, songs from old musicals aren’t goodenough for you?”  

Hey, the guy’s enjoying his music.  What happened to live and let live?

It would be nice if that tolerant sentiment came back.  But if that’s something we collectively think is worthwhile, the first procedural step, I think…

Is to put down our dukes.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"If They'd Only Listen"

I have been playing “Peek-A-Boo” with a serious thought lately, which I cannot quite reel in. The idea momentarily materializes. Then, in a slippery flash – if there issuch a thing – it frustratingly darts away. 

Today’s offering is a peripheral relative to the conceptual “Moby-Dick” that elusively escapes capture, and which I am therefore unable to deliver, hewing to the dictum:

“There shall be no blog post before its time.”

In a recent post written by Ken Levine (bykenlevine), Ken mentioned the vituperative flak he received when he announced that he would not be watching the newly resuscitated Roseanneshow.  And I thought, as I have thought of equally trivial matters before,

“Why make a big fuss about that?”

That’s the general arena I’ve been struggling with.  What is it that leads people to explode when somebody else disagrees with them?  There is no definitive “right and wrong” about an opinion.  Why blow a damn fuse about it?  Why not simply… and peacefully… disagree?

And then I thought about how I react when myopinions are opposed.

As you may have noticed, I have many opinions, some of them powerfully held.  For example, I currently believe that all “certainty” is wrong.

And I am absolutely certain about that.

(Do you see the logical difficulty there?  But that’s for anotherblog post.)

I have examined my emotions when my opinions are confronted. And not just about the big stuff.”  

“Is this shirt blue or is it gray?”  

THEM:  “Gray.” 

ME:  “Blue.”  

And before you know it, inside me, it’s an Armageddonish ” RED ALERT!”  

“How dare you, sir (or madam)”, I can sense myself feeling, an eye-blink away from producing a face-slapping white glove and challenging them to a duel.

And that’sjust about shirt colors.

Plucking a single example from my stack of accumulated grumps and grievances, I have assembled a list concerning, I don’t know, cultural “labeling” issues, my compiled list delineating ones I believe they conspicuously did wrong.  

This is not about conflicting ideology; we are in perfect agreement on these matters.  It is significantly about CLARITY!  (Sorry about the capitalization.  I am susceptible to Strangelovianoutbursts.)

My imaginary opponents in this dispute wish these labels to be memorably “catchy.”   

And I– though there is no more scrupulous scanner than myself – more importantly, want them to be accurate.

My View on the Matter:  Careless labeling leads to unnecessary conflicts accuratelabeling would avoid.

I have chronicled this example before – a frequently trotted-out quote by the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

“You are entitled to your own opinions.  But you are notentitled to your own facts.” 

I understand the inherent sentiment of that statement.

But it’s wrong.

What’s right

“You are entitled to your own opinions.  But you are not entitled to your own fabricated facts.”  

(“Your own facts” is just a competing selection of supporting evidence.) 

My version’s more accurate.  

Theirs is more quotable.

“You didn’t build that.”

Rather than

“You didn’t build that alone.”

Or 

“Black lives matter.”

Rather than

“Black lives matter as well.”

I readily concede that from a purely rhythmicperspective, 

My quotes are less “snappy.”

But I believe my lumpy “bump-in-the-beat” makes a meaningful difference.

And when I am scoffingly dismissed – or at least feel “scoffingly dismissed” – which may just simply mean "dismissed" – or I am "aggressively contradicted" – which may just simply mean "contradicted" – 

I do not care for it one bit!

I have, embarrassingly, fantasized standing up to President Obama at a meeting in the White House, where, after trying desperately to hold my tongue, I impulsively blurt out,

“Mr. President. Though it may cost me my job, I really believe it should be ‘You didn’t build that alone!’

That’s how insistently adamant I was.  I was willing to sacrifice my lofty position.  Only later to remember that I had never met President Obama, and I did nothave a lofty position.

But if I did, I’d have definitely sp… 

Yeah, maybe I wouldn’t have.

But you can be darn sure I’d have feltit.

Truth be told, although we undoubted live in adversarial times, I must confess that I have alwaysbeen this way.

Although in quieter moments I secretly wonder…

What the heck’s the big deal?

Monday, April 23, 2018

"Stranger In A Strange Land"

I shall talk about one play.

Runners on first and third in a close contest late in the game.

The pitcher toes the rubber.

The runner steps out of the box, disrupting the pitcher’s delicate timing.

The batter digs in.

The pitcher steps off the rubber.

Tit for tat.

Pitcher and batter return to position, tensely locked their adversarial "chess match."

The catcher calls for a fastball, the speedy delivery buying him time should the runner on first attempt to steal.

The first baseman nudges the bag, shortening the baserunner’s lead, in defense of a possible “Pick-off.”

The third base coach surreptitiously signals both the batter – “hit” or “take” – and the baserunners – ordering a predesigned play.

The runner on third stretches his lead, raising concerns of a possible “double-steal.”

With his glove shrouding his mouth, the shortstop relays instructions to the second baseman, determining responsibility for covering the bag.

The third baseman "cheating" in, anticipating a possible “Suicide Squeeze.”

The outfielders position themselves consistent with the habitual hitting proclivities of the batter.

The runner on third gauges his chances of scoring on a sacrifice fly., including in his calculation the traveling distance of the fly ball, the direction it takes the pursuing outfielder, their evaluated “arm strength”, their own foot speed, and the outfielder’s ability to accurately throw the ball home.

The pitcher receives the signal, his gripping the baseball determining its velocity and its spin.

The pitcher goes into his windup.

Sending the ball towards the home plate.

And that’s all on one play. 

There is actually a lot more.

But that’s all I personally understand.

By frustrating contrast…

The symphony concert I am attending is concluding.

The audience roars in delirious approval.


And I have no idea why.

Friday, April 20, 2018

"Answering Yekimi's Question About Working On 'Amazing Stories'"

I have probably written about this before.  But since I have this annoying habit of giving my posts titles that are so incomprehensibly opaque – I have no idea why I do that – it is easier to write it again than to plunge into a protracted and likely futile blogatorial search.  

Wow.  The computer did not underline “blogatorial” in red this time. I guess it finally gave up.

“He makes up words. Why bother?”

Anyway… let’s see.

My first recollection concerning my experience working on Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories– to my mind, a mistakenly revelatory title compared to more carefully branded but similarly themed Alfred Hitchcock Presentsand The Twilight Zone – was that, while driving to my first story meeting, my 1978 PeugeotDiesel was rear-ended by Joan Collins. Notthe famous DynastyJoan Collins.  The vehicularly negligent Joan Collins who rear-ended my car. 

A distraught Ms. Collins explained that she was distracted because she had just learned she was pregnant. I replied, “Congratulations.  My back hurts.”

Thatwas my introduction to Amazing Stories– an unfortunate mishap that “totaled” my Peugeot.

Numerous weeks and trips to the chiropractor later, I drove my new Saabto Universal Studios for my rescheduled story meeting.  How did I acquire this coveted assignment?  I and the show’s producers – working directly under Spielberg – had the same agent.  Plus, I later discovered though I no longer recall how, Spielberg had asked Jim Brooks, whom I had worked with on the MTMseries and Taxifor a recommendation of a capable comedy writer and Jim Brooks had proffered my name.  (Which he may nothave had he known I employ unfunny words like “proffered”, a guaranteed instant disqualifier.) 

Steven Spielberg’s production compound looked like the Alamo.  As I entered the building, I felt as nervous as its historical counterpart’s threatened inhabitants.  Not that it was surrounded by the Mexican army, but its “Generalissimo” (JawsE.T. – Spielberg’sscreen credits, notSanta Anna’s – was equally daunting.

I met the show’s producer’s – whose subsequent claim to fame was creating Northern Exposure – who pitched me a story called… Oh, man.  I gotta look it up… hold on a second, will ya?

………………………………………….

………………………………………….

“Fining Tuning.”

(That took a while but you’re worth it.)

(Note:  Almost all the episode story ideas derived from Spielberg himself, though unlike any previousseries I had worked on, where producers regularly provided freelance writers with story ideas but allowed them to receive a combined “Story” and “Teleplay” credit, Steven Spielberg appropriated “Story” credit for himself. Along with the accompanying “Story” payment. I guess it was a matter of,

“I need a few more thousand to make it a billion and this “Story” money will really help.”    

Anyway…

“Fine Tuning” involved teenage boys who, for a High School science experiment, rejigger a television so it can receive programming from outer space.  (Discovering in the process that faraway galaxies “pirated” The George Burns and Gracie Allen Program and I Love Lucy, only the performers were robots.)

Here’s the thing.

I had never written a “single-camera” episode before – my experiential forte being writing “multi-camera” shows filmed before live studio audiences – and I was fearful of handling the transition to the more “visual” comedic format.

My imaginatorial “high point” occurred when I wrote this scene where the “Producer-Aliens” land in Hollywood for some show biz “reconnaissance” – and the ultimate kidnapping of comedian Milton Berle back to their planet.  

The visiting extraterrestrials, decked out in loud, “Vacation-Issue” Hawaiian shirts, are on this “Bus Tour of the Movie Stars’ Homes.  And here’s the “good part” I made up.  For them, “taking a picture” involves blinking their eyes, followed by a hanical whirring sound, followed by the developed snapshot emerging “Polaroid-Style” out of their mouths.

Look at me, doing “Visual Comedy”!  (The exclamation point denoting my continuing sense of personal satisfaction.)  Which Spielberg perfectly produced.
“Fine Tuning’s” positive reception led to anotherassignment for an episode entitled “Mummy Daddy.”  (“Story by Steven Spielberg.”  “Teleplay by Earl Pomerantz.”)  Thatone seems more frequently remembered, although my preferential favorite is “Fine Tuning.”

“Mummy Daddy” involves an actor, playing the lead role in a “Monster Picture” filmed in a rural Southern location, racing to the hospital – still in costume – when his visiting pregnant wife suddenly goes into labor, all to the unnerving consternation of the terrified “locals”, finding a “Mummy” running amok in their veritable backyards.

When handing in the “Second Draft” of “Mummy Daddy”, I was asked, “Do you want
to meet Steven?”, which I misheard as, “Do you want to meet Jesus?” 

The man walked into the room, shaking my hand and praising me effusively for “cracking’” the story, a feat they were unable to accomplish “in-house.”

I replied, “We do that in ‘half-hours’ every week.”

(Though I am not sure I said “Thank you.”)

With the exception of a “downer” denouement I will not bother to go into, thatwas my experience on Amazing Stories.  I was not directly involved in the production.  I wrote two scripts at home, I handed they in and they made them.  I met Steven Spielberg one time, and he was nice to me.  

Thank you Yekimi for asking about that.

It reminded me of that “Polaroid” bit from “Fine Tuning”, proving, adopting a theater critic’s review of iconic composer Richard Rodgers’ only foray into also supplying the words (for the musical No Strings)– 

“Amazing Stories does not definitively prove that Earl Pomerantz cannot write movies.” 

High praise indeed.

Who knows?

Maybe it will inspire me to try again.

Nah.  Probably not.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"Original Or Snooty?"

In the course of yesterday’s post, I wrote:

“… trying to digest a “replica” brisket sandwich, which bore a passing resemblance to brisket but missed badly on the flavor.”

Then, during the rewrite process, I changed “missed badly on the flavor”to “missed egregiously on the flavor”, believing I had upgraded that sentence fragment, no writer deliberately intending to make their work worse.

But then I wondered.

Maybe I didmake it worse.

At least for somepeople.

Last night, I was reading a book review about the relationship between writing and alcoholism, where, while  explaining her difficulty accepting the democratizing humility at the core of A.A.’s “Twelve Step Program”, a writer/alcoholic confessed, 

“My whole life I’d been taught that something was good because it was original.”

“Original”, in that context reflects the writer’s uniqueness.  And consequently, their literary worthiness.  Thereby proving, by not too distant association, their own personalworthiness, the reasoning going,

If you are not “distinctly original” but are instead “indistinguishably ‘human’”,

What exactly is the purpose of you?

The discovered quote kind of woke me up in my head, reminding me of two things:  The way I was taught to appreciate writing, and following its example, to write myself...

And the hit CBSpolice series Blue Bloods.

I have been wanting to write about this for some time, but I did not quite know how until now.

I am not trying to make judgments here.  What I am considering’s just alternative ways of communicating with an audience. (Though it is unlikely to be the sameaudience.)

Theoretically, I should not likeBlue Bloods.  It is, as Ed Grimley might say if he were a television critic, “as contrived as “contrived” can be, y’know.” 

The patriarch Reagan, is a policeman who rose to Police Commissioner.  His son – Exactly the same thing.   His son’s children– the three males all became police officers (one of them “killed in action”) and the daughter, though not a police officer, is an Assistant District Attorney, so she’s alsoin law enforcement.

Question:

Does that really happen that much?

I mean, there areother jobs out there.  

Even if you’re Irish.

Blue Bloodsfans – and they are numerous – do not care about the contrivance.  They like the show.  The Reagans are on the right side of the law.  They eat “Sunday Dinner” together.  They say “Grace.”  Their credo is, “Family first.”

And they talk like regular people.

They are not “smarter than the room”, like the shows that win prizes.

They instead arethe room.

I enjoy Blue Bloods, finding it a welcome break from shows that make me feel slow in the head.  (Obvious but Often Ignored:  There is surprisingly little entertainment value in “I don’t get it.”)

Never ducking a cliché, Blue Bloods, instead, embracesclichés.  

Does that make it “bad writing”?  Dialogue consistent with the educational and cultural levels of the depicted characters? How is that “bad”?

Blue Bloodstalks the way mostpeople, rather than graduates from elite universities, talk.  No slathered-on irony.  No arcane literary references.  No “air quotes.”  (Unless they are mocking people who use“air quotes.”)

Here’s a partial list of what characters on Blue Bloodssay with a totally straight face.

“I’ve got your back.”

“It is what it is.”

“Tell me something I don’tknow.”

“What comes around goes around.”

And many, many more.

And not onceare they facetiously “putting you on.”  

Blue Bloodsis mass entertainment.

And, when it speaks to the audience, it actslike it.

It seems to me we didn’t.  

Believing “something was {only} good if it was original.”

We, of course, wanteda mass audience.  

So why didn’t we talklike them?

Before I began this, I went back and changed “missed egregiously on the flavor”back to “missed badly on the flavor.”

Hopefully, I have learned a lesson.

Though only time will definitively tell.

Man!

Did I really need “definitively”?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"Flexibility Versus Predictabiliy"

I don’t know. *

(* I can pretty much start every blog post I write in that fashion.  It’s not a pose.  I really don’t know a sadly astonishing number of things.  Including, with any degree of certainty, the following.)

In an effort the mine miniscule statistically-grounded advantages the current fashion in baseball is to require ballplayers to be more flexible in their responsibilities than ever before in the National Pastime’s long and tradition-bound history.

This is baseball, a game known for hewing to longstanding procedure, where, if, for example, you found another ballplayer occupying “Your spot” on the bench, you could shoot them and nobody would call the police.

“He was sitting in my spot.”

“Well okay then.  The man was playing with fire.”

That’s only a minor exaggeration.  Ballplayers – and likely players in all sports – cling to their habitual behaviors – including, it’s been reported, their underwear; I mean, you’re on a personal hot or team winning-streak, you leave them on till they totally shred.  (Or the “ju-ju” demonstrably wears off.)

Now, however – and this won’t be entirely about baseball, as, to a degree, we all, I believe, have deeply entrenched habits – stop here a moment and imagine some of your own, including “Oh, no, not me.”  Reflecting a deeply entrenched habit of denial.   

Today, the emerging sabermetrical “Whiz Kids” of baseball require fielders to play numerous positions from game to game rather than one, hitters to be prepared to bat in different slots in the batting order, and infielders to occupy unfamiliar locations, playing the “shift.” 

These “rules”-busting innovators also require – especially in the “post-season” – pitchers to take the mound after fewer days of rest than they have been regularly conditioned to, and – with the relief pitchers – to pitch longer and be brought into the game earlier than they once unwaveringly anticipated.

“Everyone comes to the ballpark, knowing exactly what role we’re expected to play”?

Gone.

THE TEAM “CLOSER“:  “I used to only come in in the ninth when we were protecting a lead and there is nobody on base.  Now I don’t know when I come in.  Well I do.  I come in whenever they tell me to.  And I really don’t mind that.  Even though I have never done it before in my entire career.”

Really?

In a game steeped in formerly rigorous routine, how is this suddenly okay?

I know it is definitely not okay for me.

(Here’s where I “universalize” this chronicled exercise, using myself as a “Guinea Pig” example.)

And by the way, I imagine some ballplayers are fine with this strategic upheaval.  Though the game’s “Big Names” are likely left to their comfortable regimens, even there, there are individual preferential differences.  Confirming my tried-and-true dictum, “Some does, and some duzzn’t.”  For me personally in this regard,

I duzzn’t.

A Recent Case History:

We went to Disneyland during “Spring Break.”  (My medal for “Grace Under Stupidity” is currently in the mail.)  We stayed at the aforementioned “Disneyland Replica Hotel”, where everything was a duplicate of something actually real, a motif extended into the theme park itself.  We had ice cream that tasted close but not quite like actual ice cream.

One advertised advantage to hoteling on the Disneyland premises is that, for an hour after seven in the morning, registered guests get a head start on access to all the rides, the gates not opening to “Day Visitors” until eight.

What that meant was, we had to get up at six, go downstairs and line up – there were, amazingly, already hundreds of people ahead of us – for our seven o’clock “Advance Entry” into the park.

Which we did, enjoying – if you exclude the incipient nausea – five rides before the “Gates Opening” waits for them became agonizingly prohibitive. 

The thing is,

I always eat breakfast at seven.  Or very close to thereabouts.

And at “very close to thereabouts” that day, I was a captive visitor to the hurtling Cars ride, screaming, “I want to get off!”

At least most of me was.  Another part of me, wired to “Nutritional Expectations”, was whining,

“What happened to breakfast?

In our exuberance – or at least the exuberance of the younger members of our party – we took full advantage of the “Early Start”, enjoying – for noteworthy exceptions, See:  Above, or yesterday’s post – five rides before – some time after ten – we found a place open, offering something to eat. 

It was not a restaurant; it was a theme-painted “Convenience Store.”  And the best available dining alternative was

Pretzels.

So…

Not only had I missed my habitual “Eating Time” by more than three hours,

I was having pretzels for breakfast.

For the sake of propriety, I shall eschew the alimentary consequences of this “flexible” behavior.  Suffice it to say…

There were some.

And they endured for some time.

Perhaps the thing about flexibility is,

It is a good idea to be flexible about everything.

Including flexibility itself.

Sometimes it’s more advisable to follow your regular routine.


With an unsubtle emphasis on “Regular.”