Sunday, January 20, 2008

Report From the Picket Line

Welcome, or welcome back, as the case may be.

This is my second posting. If you new guys want to know a little about me, don’t click on “About Me.” I don’t know how to used that. Instead, take a look at my first posting, which, since this is my second posting, should be one posting back. I hope it’s there. I have no idea what I’m doing.

Okay, so here’s the second one. Thanks for showing up.


One thing about writers is we never have control. We write something and that’s it. They buy it, they don’t buy it, they buy it and change it, they buy it and feed it to their cat, and if comes out at all, the audience gets to decide “Yes” or “No.” It’s a writer’s lot. No control. And, as a nod to the late great Rodney Dangerfield, I respectfully add, no control at all.

Now we’re on strike. No control again. And by that I don’t mean about the contract battle. I’m talking about what really matters to the foot soldiers in the operation – the picketing assignments.

First, they send me to Manhattan Beach. Manhattan Beach was beautiful. A lovely studio you could walk around, easy parking, a Starbucks across the street where they’d let you use the bathroom – perfect. A week at Manhattan Beach, and they close down the picketing there and send me to Sony.

No control.

At Sony, you could still walk around the studio and I did. Jay Tarses, a wonderful writer and angry walker, told me once around the studio was one-point-six miles. Why does the walking around part matter? Because, God forbid, if strikers waving signs outside their windows doesn’t bring the studios to their knees, at least you get exercise. As a picketing venue, Culver City was no Manhattan Beach – less Gelson’s and Trader Joe’s, more garden pottery and Kragen’s auto parts, and the Starbucks was further way – but it was still pretty good.

Just before Christmas, they closed down the picketing at Sony and sent me to Fox.

No control.

Now, just from curiosity, a couple of weeks earlier, I had visited the Fox picketing venue, where I discovered that someone had generously sent their picketers a huge carton of sandwiches from Whole Foods. When I returned to Sony the next day, my report to my comrades was a mixture of wonder and bitterness, akin to…

“Treblinka has blintzes.”

But now, our Sony days were over. We were at Fox, “we” meaning myself and my friend, Paul, who does the driving to the picketing sites. I don’t drive well. Sometimes, my vision problems will lead me to brake for no reason. I’ve also been known to slow down to think. My wife will not let me drive her anywhere, with one exception: when she’s had some kind of minor surgery and can sit in the passenger seat wrapped in the protective haze of residual anesthetic.

Picketing at Fox was a definite letdown. First off, there were never sandwiches again. Second, and more importantly, it’s not the kind of studio you can walk around. Fox doesn’t have sides or a back, just a front. The rest is Century City, and we’re not picketing them. What picketers at Fox are required to do is to walk along in front of the studio about a hundred feet, then turn around and walk back. That’s the whole thing – the entire picketing route – a hundred feet. The turnaround points are marked by two little, plastic megaphones, one at each end. They’re like safety cones, only they’re blue and they’re six inches high.

It wasn’t the same. Picketing at Fox meant “So long” one-point-six miles, “Hello” walk up, around the cone, walk back, around the other cone, walk up, around the cone...” for three hours. It was a totally joyless trudge. We might as well have been wearing leg irons.

Our decision to take action grew out of a boredom-busting conversation about movies, a conversation leading ultimately to “The Great Escape.” That’s where we got our idea. Yes, the trudge was soul-crushingly short. But did it have to be that short? We decided it didn’t. Drawing on the classic “Great Escape” tunnel-digging sequence – where they hid the dug-out dirt in their pants, then surreptitiously dumped it outside – every time we reached the outer boundary of the trudge, Paul or I would subtly give the little blue megaphone market a little nudge in a lengthening direction. Not far, a few inches. We’d come back around, another nudge, each time, edging the marker a tiny bit further from its mate. It wasn’t always a nudge. Sometimes, we’d “accidentally” knock the cone over and carefully set it back up…a little further away.

In twenty minutes, we’d extended the walk, I don’t know, six feet. Nobody stopped us. Nobody said, “What are you doing?” We felt almost giddy. We were extending the walk. But more importantly…

We were taking control!

Then Paul thought of something. Maybe there was a reason the cones had been set up close together. Maybe they were strategically set up to keep the picketers bunched together, so when people passed by, they’d see the tightly packed line, providing the impression of “That’s some crowd!” Maybe by extending the trudge, we’d unwittingly stretched the line out, creating gaps and weakening, if not the strikers’ resolve, at least its picket line representation.

Our spirits plummeted. In an innocent effort to extend the walk, we had inadvertently damaged the Cause. We felt ashamed. Our thoughts went to “Bridge on the River Kwai.” What had we done?

We immediately reversed our actions. As we passed the cones, we nudged them closer together, eventually returning them to their original positions. Not satisfied with merely making amends, I also walked unnaturally close to the picketer in front of me, a signal to onlookers that there were no gaps in our picket line, or in our resolve.

Paul and I had been failures in our sorry effort take control. Then again, as I recall, they weren’t that successful in “The Great Escape” either.

Okay, so Blog Number Two – in the books. If you enjoyed any of this, tell you friends. If you didn’t, tell your enemies. At this point, I don’t care who I get.

I’ll be back soon. I may not be able to post every day; then again, as I gain experience I may. I don’t know if bloggers do a lot of rewriting, but I do. That’s my way. I just want it to good.


MrCarlson said...

Nice Post Earl. I hope the buzz is true and the strike can be over soon, so you can do what you do better, with less exercise ;)

Anonymous said...

Earl, your blog is off to a great start, and when you have a chance, we'd love to hear some memories of Taxi and/or Larry Sanders.

MrCarlson said...

We are assuming that Earl already knows how to access the coments page. Just messing with you, you'll get the hang of it in no time.

Richard Cooper said...

You see the problem here is that writers are too obedient, for cripes sakes. The studios laugh at your exercising and pacing. They need to start seeing your teeth, and not because you're smiling.

But since the execs and lawyers are mostly ignoring you anyway, I seriously think you should start the kind of picketing that involves lawn chairs and barbecue grills in front of the studios, with intermittent shouting and threatening finger-pointing at studio executives whenever their limos appear.

Just think, what would Steve McQueen do?

Anonymous said...

You son of a bitch. I counted on the 100 feet. 26.4 circle-like cycles - one mile, and I'm done. I can go home. It was working fine. Then one day I check my pedometer, and it's off. It tells me I've walked 106 feet! 106 feet, Earl, when everyone knows the cones are supposed to be 100 feet apart. I reset my pedometer, walk the cycle - now it says 94 feet. I had to throw it out. You owe me. Paul does too.

Anonymous said...

Welcome, Earl.

I too look forward to reflections on "Taxi." I was weaned on that show's sensibilities & wrote several Taxi specs that earned a nice response (shortly after I moved to L.A.).

By the way... another possible blog title came to mind, for what it's worth...

Earl's URL.

Not that I'd dare rewrite you!

Max Clarke said...

Funny, Earl.

You wondered if other bloggers rewrite. I always rewrite my blog, It's like that advice a director used to correct a young actor's sloppy performance on the set; once the movie is done, that young actor's work will live forever, whether good or bad. My feeling is that once a blog is published, it's there forever. Might as well give it a second or third pass. If it means you're only publishing a blog twice a week, fine. It's worth the wait.

Anonymous said...

Hell, write every day. Don't revisit. Let it fly. It's fine.

Anonymous said...

Steve McQueen would 'pop someone in the chops' or take a powersaw to an excecutive desk.

Just to start negotiations.

Great start, Earl.
Found you through Ken L. and will hang on for a wile. Your writing is nice.

Ceep writing about the Strike, I like the reports from the ground.

From Amsterdam, Netherlands

Ron Hart said...

I just want to mention that leaving work a few times I ended up following Earl. He's not lying about the driving thing.

Anonymous said...

This story is the funniest! I've repeated it to a couple of people at work and i know it is truly funny if someone like myself that can't re-count a joke or a story for the life of me, can get a laughter from another. :) Thanks Earl! It's a pleasure reading your blog!