Some raccoons have been chewing up our house. They actually got inside, burrowing their way into the crawlspace between the roof and the ceiling. We had to get professional trappers to come out, and help us get rid of them. To date, we have apprehended five raccoons. Plus, a substantial number of possums who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Once they are extricated from the trap cages, we are informed that the raccoons are driven away, and set free in the wild. We like to believe that to be the case. To believe otherwise would make us sad.
In the past, however, I’ve been skeptical about such comforting assurances. I have always wondered if the idea that one human year equals seven dog years wasn’t just a thing somebody made up, so that the kid whose dog died wouldn’t be so upset.
“‘Rusty’ was only nine years old!”
“Yeah, but in ‘dog years’, that’s sixty-three.”
“Sixty-three? Really? That’s a pretty old dog.”
The dog was sixty-three. The raccoons are set free in the wild. Sure. Let’s believe both of those things.
What if it’s not true? What if the trappers just say that so their customers will feel better when, in truth, the raccoons are actually taken away and…turned into collectible Davy Crockett hats?
If the latter is actually the case, I can imagine some Raccoon Post Office, where, tacked to the wall, there’s a prominent poster of Yours Truly, under which are the words:
“Public Enemy Number One – Five Raccoons, and Counting!”
I could be the most hated person in the entire raccoon community, the Timothy McVeigh of raccoon slaughterers. I could be the frightening “Boogey-man” raccoon parents scare their raccoon children with, when they refuse to eat their…whatever raccoon children don’t like to eat.
“Eat it….or we’re calling Earl!”
This is not the first time I’ve felt this way – despised by a group I was deliberately responsible for annihilating. Perhaps that’s why I’m hypersensitive about the matter. The situation has come up before.
While assembling the final version of a script, multiple changes are inevitable, during which process, content, in the form of words of course, will, by necessity, have to be dropped. The script is too long – some material needs to be cut. (In that regard, I was famous for saying, “You don’t need Page 8.” To which, someone would inquire, “Why don’t you need Page 8?” To which I would confidently reply, “You never need Page 8.” It is surprising, with how stupid that sounds, how often it is actually the case.)
You tighten up a line, and some words inevitably have to go. (A writer once asked me, “What do you mean when you say that a joke has too many words in it?” I responded with a mouthal rendition of the opening sequence to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, but supplementing it with one additional note, so it went, “Da-da-da-da-dahhhhhh!!!” You see? That’s not nearly as good.)
Scripts are also cut to accommodate the show’s inflexible time constraints. Joke replacements are inserted, when the originals fail to get a laugh. Even a good joke occasionally gets the axe, cut either “for time”, or because, though it’s funny, in the context of the story or the character delivering it, it isn’t quite right.
There is always the hope verging on “expectation” that these perfectly acceptable – hilarious even – deleted jokes, and sometimes entire runs of dialogue, will be re-instated in some subsequent script. But in my experience – I cannot speak for others – this never, ever happens. When they’re out, they’re out. And they ain’t never comin’ back.
Sometimes, I would think about this when I excised some worthy word, line, phrase or Page 8, in an effort to make the written material marginally “better.” What happens to those words, I wondered. Where did they go?
Is there some specified location where all the deleted verbiage is shipped off to, a collective oblivion for dropped dialogue, where the trimmed-out material from all my scripts get together, and share their pernicious tales of undeserv-ed woe:
“I would have made it to broadcast. If it wasn’t for Earl!”
“Earl? Earl got me too! A harmless connecting word – ‘although.’ Earl changed it to 'though' - one less 'beat', he explained - and I'm banished from the script!”
“I got huge laughs at the table reading. I am “sure-fire funny! So what happens? Earl cuts me, because, “The character wouldn’t say that.”
“I hate Earl!”
“Who doesn’t? Because of Earl, we are forever doomed, exiled for eternity to the tortured Purgatory of Discarded Words.”
There's a payback for that callousness, I am starting to think. Sometimes, when I’m writing this blog, and even when I’m talking, a word I am looking for unexpectedly escapes me. Some simple word, I can't think of what it is. Just today, in conversation, I drew a blank on the word, “commission.” Sometimes, the word comes to me eventually, but sometimes, it doesn’t, and I am relegated to employing an inferior alternative, or, as happened today, I go painfully silent.
Eschewing the obvious answer for why I can’t remember words – I’m old – I consider very seriously whether the words I red-pencilled over the years aren’t getting the last laugh on me, by deliberately withholding the word I am looking for as retribution for their ignominious exits from the final version of the script.
It’s a scary thought. Overly general nouns, slightly off-the-mark verbs, unnecessary adverbs and cluttering adjectives – ganging up on me, ravenous for revenge on the awful man who cast them so cold-heartedly adrift.
I wonder who will do me in first? The words I mistreated,
Or the raccoons?