Thursday, November 3, 2011

"The Siren Call Of Show Business"

I will call him Simon, because that, in fact, is his name.

Simon is one of my older brother’s long-timiest and closest friends. He is a couple of years older than my brother, which puts him in his early seventies. Simon, who had flown in from Toronto to attend his grandnephew’s Bar Mitzvah, called me from his rental car, to see if I was available to get together, and, genuinely liking Simon, I enthusiastically invited him to lunch. Simon responded by saying, “I’ll be over in five minutes.” Which was odd, because it was then ten o’clock in the morning.

It turns out, Simon’s cell phone clock was still set on Eastern Time, and he thought it was one. Which is lunchtime. Ten A.M. is not even close.

But Simon is, arguably, my brother’s best friend, and he’s a long way from home. So, rather than telling him to wait till it was actually lunch time, I said, “Come on over”, intruding on my blog writing time, which would have annoyed me if someone much closer to me had done it, but I am letting Simon intrude on it, because what are you going to do?

Did you ever notice that? You put yourself out more for people who matter to you less? That doesn’t seem right, does it? And yet, that’s exactly what you – or at least what I – consistently, and inexplicably, do.

I once loaned my car to a guy who I’d known for a day. The guy could have driven it away and sold it. A close relative tells me, “I need to borrow your car”, and you can count on, at the very least, a moment’s hesitation. That’s strange, the way that’s different, don’t you think? Or maybe I’m just an idiot.

When we talked, though he was only two years older, Simon described my brother as his “protégé.” That’s, to me, like saying a person two years younger than you is your son. Arithmetically, the claim seems seriously iffy.

But it is also, I believe, a clue. The arena is which Simon claimed my brother as his protégé was not where Simon had worked for fifty-five years – in the mattress industry. The arena of Simon’s insisted mentorship was show business.

In college, Simon had stood out in his university’s annual review, called the UC (University College being a satellite of the University of Toronto) Follies. When my brother showed up the following year, Simon, at least in Simon’s account, took him under his wing. My brother too flourished in the Follies. And the rest is show business history.

My brother (and his partner Lorne Michaels) wrote and performed in the States, and later wrote, produced, starred in a series of nationally broadcast comedy specials in Canada. My brother subsequently went on to a five-year stint as a panelist on a popular CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) sort of game show (only in Canada) called This Is The Law. (My brother was also, and continues to be, a lawyer.) And a few less successful television outings as well.

So, my brother had a career in show business. And by labeling him his protégé, Simon, if not taking total credit, was at least strongly identifying himself with encouraging his start. (This is not unusual. There are at least two people who seem to deem it worthwhile to claim responsibility for my start. I thought I had something to do with it, but I could very easily be wrong. Perhaps, it was, in reality, a team effort.)

Here’s the thing. You don’t claim primacy for starting a person off in a business, unless that business is, or is at least considered to be, whether rightly or wrongly, special. “I gave me his start in child molesting”? You really don’t hear much of that. “I taught him everything he knows about selling corduroy pants”? A commendable achievement, let no condescension be inferred. But it is not an achievement that one would generally go out of their way to insinuate into the conversation. Unless they were attending a Pants Convention.

There is something special about show business. They call it “The Business.” Though I myself never have. It’s embarrassing. As well as pretentious. As well as insulting. What does that make every other enterprise? Presumably, not “The Business.” Suggesting that they’re, somehow, not as good.

I have always had a problem with bragging. To me, it’s a signal that underneath, there is something less than wonderful going on. People who constantly brag about living in New York? Instead of impelling me to immediately relocate to Manhattan, the insistent boosterism instead makes me wonder, “What’s wrong with that place?” I feel the same way about Texas. If a place is really outstanding, wouldn’t the word have spontaneously gotten around, without the need for an incessant barrage of geographical horn blowing?

Show business is special, but, as a career choice, it is considerably far from ideal. I will simply say “a lifetime of insecurity”, and I’ll leave it at that. And yet, Simon, who at some earlier period, was bitten by “the bug”, but, by his account, had fought it off, needed to hold onto that glimmer of what once was and could have been, had he not thrown his prodigious talents into mattresses, where he is currently battling a non-metaphorical predator, the bed bug.

Simon claims he has no regrets. But something in the way he said it, and its accompanying look into the distance, tells me that, at least occasionally,

He might have one or two.

Tomorrow, I will chew on the question of who ends up in show business, and why. Not that I definitively have the answers, but I will hopefully myself gain illumination in the effort.


Mac said...

I'd take the credit for giving someone a break in child-molesting, but selling cordoruy pants? No way, I don't want to be shunned by decent society.

I think it was Churchill (but God knows) who said of an opponent "He's a self-made man, and it's noble of him to take the blame." That's where I'm at, no-one's claiming credit for my career.

Looking forward to the next installment...

Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; I hope your lunch with Simon turned out a pleasant affair.