Friday, December 30, 2011

'A Libertarian Speaks - Getting The Government Off Our Cars"

Where is our Constitution do they mention cars?

I don’t see it. But maybe you do. You with your passion for torturing the Constitution, to ferret out more and more ways for the government to interfere with our God-given liberties. That our Forefathers fought for. But God inspired them to fight for them, so He was definitely in the mix.

God doesn’t horn in on our liberties. God gave us the Ten Commandments. Ten. That’s it! It wasn’t “Ten Commandments…but that’s just for openers.” It was “ten and out.” After that, you were on your own. Can you imagine if our government stopped after making ten laws?

Now that would be a country!

How many laws are there anyway – local ordinances, state laws, federal regulations? I don’t know how many there are, do you? There’s a darn sight more than ten, I can tell you that! No wonder all our prisons are crowded up. There are so many laws, people don’t even know when they’re breaking them.

Our Founding Fathers believed that the government that governs least governs best. That’s what we need to get back to. The least government, with the least amount of laws.



Picture this. You’re driving along, and you come to an intersection. What happens? If there’s a stop sign, you have to stop. Okay, it’s only a few seconds, but by time is not the issue. The issue is, you are being forced to stop…against your will. You don’t want to stop at that intersection. The government is making you stop.

And then there’s those ridiculous stop lights!

Do stoplights intrude on our personal liberty? You bet they do. Stoplights say, “Red light! – You have to stop.” Do you want to stop at that red light? Of course, you don’t! You want to go! That’s why you got into your car: To go someplace. And being required, by government to stop every time you hit a red light is keeping you from getting there.

I say that’s outrageous!

Why do we need stoplights?

So that cars won’t crash into each other when they’re going through intersections.

There you go again, Black Type Man. Passing laws “for our own protection.”

I don’t understand. Do you want cars slamming into each other at every…

I’ve got the floor today, Blogger Boy. Okay?

Sorry. Go ahead.

It’s a question of principle. Our Founding Fathers understood that. “Stay out of other people’s business.” Our Founding Fathers understood personal responsibility. You come into an intersection, you keep your eyes open.

You think men on horseback ever stopped at intersections? “Whoa, boy. There’s no one a-comin’, but we have to stop anyway. That’s the law.” Men on horseback did not stop at intersections, because there weren’t no law. And there didn’t need to be. Another rider crossed your path, you worked it out.

They did not need the government to help them.

Now, I know the argument. Cars are more dangerous than horses. They can do more damage. You know what? They use that same argument when they talk about modern weaponry versus the muskets of the past. “Today’s weapons are more lethal; we must restrict the private ownership of guns. Bushwa! Our Supreme Court shot that one down. They should the same thing with stoplights.

The American People are hideously over-regulated, the government “protecting” us from every little thing. “Oooh, the water tastes funny.” “Oooh, the air is making me cough.” “Oooh, the tainted Spaghetti-O’s poisoned Cousin Charlie.”

What’s wrong with protecting ourselves?

Our namby-pamby “Nanny State” is weakening our self-reliance. What happens when the Russkies – well, maybe not them, though you never know – anyway, what happens when we’re under attack? Will we even be able to defend ourselves? I don’t think so. The government fights our battles for us. We have to fight for ourselves? It’s like, “How do you do that?”

I’m calling for a united campaign of civil disobedience. Shoot through those stop signs. Run those red lights. Sure, there’ll be casualties. And car crash noises at intersections. But that’s what war is – bloody and loud.

Join the insurrection! “Green light – Go! Red light – Go!”

“Bumper Cars For Freedom.”

Your grandchildren will thank you.


I heard that, Brackets Boy.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

"Location! Location! Location!"

On November 29th, on his highly acclaimed – and deservedly so – blog, Ken mentioned, in the course of a post about location shooting – wherein productions eschew the artificial confines of the soundstage to film scenes, or at least the exteriors of scenes, at actual locations, hence the name “location shooting” – I’m sorry, can anyone remember how this sentence started? It’s really a long way back.


In the course of his post, Ken mentioned that, for one of the series I created, Family Man, wherein, after Executive Producing The Cosby Show, I was invited by the then president of NBC to create a half-hour comedy about my own family – and here comes the verb – I instructed our set designer to reproduce an as close to a precise replica of my actual living room as possible, to serve as the onstage living room set for the series.

This was not hubris. Or maybe it was, but I had a rationalization that made it feel like it wasn’t hubris, so I was covered, or at least I felt covered. Man, I’m talky today, aren’t I? Do you think it’s because I just drank coffee?

Anyway, again…

I decided that, if, in the series, I was going to re-create a sitcomical more-or-less replica of my family – “more or less”, because I added one child, a son I don’t have, to represent “Earl as a boy” – restrict the show to stories that actually happened to me, either as an adult or as “Little Earl” – bring in some of my kids’ favorite playthings, stuffed animals and floating bath toys to decorate the various “rooms” of the “house”, invite my stepdaughter Rachel, then age 11, to the set, to make sure that her “bedroom” looked “right” to her, consistent with that commitment to accuracy, would be a living room – or, more precisely, a downstairs “Floor Plan” that looked exactly like our house.

I was trying to keep it real.

To make this happen, the set designer came over and took Polaroids, capturing our house’s interior layout and architectural design – which is called “Craftsman Bungalow”, though our version compares with the classic Pasadena “Craftsman”, “The Gamble House” (built for Gamble of “Proctor and Gamble”) like the main house of a mansion compares to the accommodations for housing “The Help.”

The set designer went the extra mile of taking a wide-angle lens and photographing the view, as seen through our back windows facing the ocean. This photo was later massively blown up, to be used as the “external backing” for the set. The “view out the back window” was exactly our view.

(Normally, set “backings” are generic. You call up some company, and they send you a “neighborhood.” Your show’s characters open their front door, and there it is. Sometimes, they even paint in a dog, whose intermittent barking is later inserted in post-production.)

To supplement these replifications, there was a subsequent shooting, at which a crew came out, set up a camera across the street, and shot footage of the front exterior of our house. These shots would be appropriately inserted at the beginnings of scenes, introducing action taking place inside the house.

(Normally, again, house exteriors are generic. If you toured the grounds of Studio Center – and you were old enough – you would encounter entire fake residential streets, on which you would instantly recognize the exteriors for My Three Sons and many other memorable sitcoms of the past.)

The production required exterior day shots and night shots, to be used for “Interior House - Day” and “Interior House - Night.” (In an early script for Best of the West, I once introduced a scene with “Interior Saloon – Dusk.” During production, our venerable Director of Photography, who had worked on Hitchcock movies, quietly sidled up to me and said, “On situation comedies, you’ve got ‘Day’ and you’ve got ‘Night’. That’s it.”)

Here’s this weird thing that I was unaware of until this film shooting took place. When they shoot exteriors of a house, the first thing they do is to come into your house and turn on all of your lights. I have no idea why they do that. I guess, “The lights are on” indicates, “They’re home.” But all lights on? I would never have all my lights on at the same time. In rooms nobody is in, are you kidding me? Do we have stock in the Electric Company?

Anyone living under my roof who left all the lights in the house on would immediately be drummed out of the family. Or at the very least be demoted to a lesser relative.

Yet that’s what the film crew insisted upon. I was seriously disappointed. A show whose basic intention was to be as true to life as possible, and every light in my house was on? Say goodbye “verisimilitude”, hello “science fiction.”

For some reason, maybe because he was required to be in some shots – entering and exiting the house –Family Man’s star Richard Libertini was on hand, and we invited him to dinner. As the crew filmed the house’s exterior as night fell, my family plus Mr. Libertini were gathered around the dining room table, Dr. M rising intermittently to bring things in from the kitchen, and others getting up to take an additional slice of pizza. Suddenly, there’s a knock on our front door. It’s the leader of the film crew carrying a complaint. What was the complaint?

“We’re seeing movement in the house.”

That was the complaint. The film crew was seeing movement inside a house where all the lights were on because the people were at home. That’s normal, isn’t it? I mean, if there are people in the house, why wouldn’t there be movement?

My logic was irrelevant.

“It’s ruining the shot.”

And there you have it. To satisfy the filming, every light in the house needed to be blazing. And if anyone wanted to move, they were required to crouch down, below the “sight lines” of the camera, so as not to be detected.

After that experience, though inquiries have occasionally been made, we decided we would never again use our house as a location.

It is simply not worth it.

Even if they paid us, the money would all go out in electricity bills.

Besides, Family Man was over twenty years ago.

With the passage of time, it is no longer that easy to crouch.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"Why I Need Newspapers"

The caption below the photograph of a story I read a few days back reminded me the reason I like, and more importantly, need, especially as I get older,


The story involved a federal court appeal hearing involving the California ballot initiative (read: referendum) concerning gay marriage. The caption under the accompanying photograph read as follows:

Charles Cooper, attorney…argues that appeals court should invalidate ruling that threw out the measure.

What the newspaper is offering, along with information, is a tongue twister for the brain. How many reversing negatives are mentioned or referred to in the above caption? If I’m not mistaken, four. They want to “invalidate” the ruling that “threw out” the measure, the measure being against gay marriage, which the court had ruled in favor of in an earlier decision.

The court said “Yes.” The initiative said “No.” The court invalidated the initiative. Now lawyers want to invalidate the decision.

I don’t know about you, but for me, getting up in the morning and being confronted by an intellectual challenge generously provided by my morning paper is positively exhilarating. It’s a thought puzzle. As we get older, the medical wisdom tells us, we need such stimulants to our gray matter to keep our brains from devolving into Silly Putty. And here’s a free one, right in the paper.

So there’s that – the cerebral workout offered by whiplashing headlines and photo captions. You decipher this mental maze and you feel like a winner.

“Look at that! My mind still works!”

Though you may need a little nap afterwards.

There’s another type of stimulation that newspapers provide. I’m not talking about the stimulation of the ideas in, say, the op-ed section. I actually, you may not be surprised to hear, prefer my own ideas.

The stimulation I am referring to is the welcome stimulation of my imagination, triggered by certain stories that appear in the paper.

For example, this one, printed the same day as the above caption:

“Judge must rule in Santa Clarita slaying and dismemberment case after a witness recants her testimony.”

This one really got me thinking. Apparently, a female witness who, as a teenager in 1995 had testified that she had been an eyewitness to a slaying and dismemberment, returned to the court,

And she took it back.

The defendant, who had been convicted as a result of her testimony, had already served fifteen years in jail. Now she’s saying, “Sorry. Got that wrong.”

Fifteen years later, the woman does a complete “one-eighty” on having eye- witnessed a slaying and dismemberment. This is where, thanks to this story that appeared in the newspaper, my imagination kicks in.

How exactly could this unusual occurrence have taken place?

Did the girl make the whole thing up? (“My life is too humdrum and routine. I think I’ll testify in court that I saw a slaying and dismemberment.”)

Was she looking into her neighbor’s window, and while thinking she was witnessing a slaying and dismemberment, she was instead watching her neighbor’s TV?”

Did she do it on a dare? (“It was either say I saw a slaying and dismemberment, or stick a lit firecracker up my friend’s dog’s butt. I was trying to help the dog!”)

Had her recently prescribed eye drops caused her to start seeing things?

Did she reverse her testimony, because she looked up “dismemberment”, and it said that “member” was a euphemism for penis, and although the body had been seriously chopped up, the penis remained attached, so, literally, it was not a “dismemberment” after all?

Was she just in a trouble-making mood?

Had she, in fact, had her eyes closed, and only heard later that someone before her tightly closed eyes had been slain and dismembered, leading to her incriminating evidence being stricken from the record as “hearsay”, and the defendant set free?

Was she just nervous in the courtroom, and when she was asked if she had witnessed a slaying and dismemberment, an anxiety-induced slip of the tongue led to a “Yes” response rather than the truth?

Did she confess to having seen a slaying and dismemberment, because the investigator who interrogated her was “really cute”? (“And I was hungry. I couldn’t wait to get out of there!”)

Was she simply getting back at the defendant for his unwillingnes to slay and dismember her?

Does she have a rare type if learning disability that forces her to say the exact opposite of what she actually means?

Did she misunderstand the question, thinking she was being asked if she wanted to see a slaying and dismemberment. (“Geez, I mean, who wouldn’t!”)

Did she accidentally enter the wrong courtroom, her “Yes” answer memorized and rehearsed, but it was for a trial down the hall where the question was, “Did you see the defendant steal a kazoo?”

Did she just think she witnessed a slaying and dismemberment, but upon further consideration, she realized they were just fooling around?

Had she been paid off to testify she witnessed a slaying and dismemberment, and now somebody else was paying her off to say she didn’t?

Does she, like me, simply have an active imagination?

The judge hearing the appeal for a new trial seemed to be enjoying this as much as I was reading about it. You could tell, because his response to the witness’s unexpected flip-flopping on having seen a slaying and dismemberment, was,

“Something unusual is going on here.”

I can imagine the judge biting his lip real hard, to keep himself from laughing.

Reading this story took, maybe, five minutes. But imagining the possibilities behind the story – hours of entertainment!

Provided by my morning newspaper.

Okay, you say. But couldn’t you get the same mental stimulation and imaginational enjoyment reading an online version of these stories on your computer? Undoubtedly, I could. There’s just one flaw in that argument.

I am never going to read newspapers on my computer. How do I know that? Because I’m me. End of story. And, more importantly, when newspapers go away, end of stories.

I need what newspapers provide. So as long as they stick around, you can count on my never abstaining from refusing not to read them.



There was another one in the paper this morning. This one was on the front page:

“Rash Of Tuba Thefts In L.A.-area Schools.”

“All they took was the tubas.”

I wonder what the piccolos thought about that?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"An Old Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words (and that's before inflation)"

My brother recently sent me this one. It's a picture of him and me at the pony carts in Jackson's Point, a resort community fifty miles north of Toronto, where you could rent a cart and drive around, unsupervised, anywhere you wanted. I mean, you couldn't leave town, or anything. The carts were only rented for half an hour. And the ponies had very short legs.

I post this for anyone wondering what I looked like when I was five.

Copies on sale on request.

Not really.

But how often do I get a chance to say that?

Even if it isn't true.

Monday, December 26, 2011

"Homework Assignment (While I'm Away)"

"Reason is the 'faith' of non-believers."


With attention to the limitations of both; wherein faith is unable to explain certain occurrences, and reason cannot explain others.

And an assessment of their rationale for those limitations:

"The explanation for those occurrences is (currently, the case of reason) beyond our understanding."

Friday, December 23, 2011

"A Belated Apology To The Princess Of Luxembourg"

Dear Princess of Luxembourg,

It’s been over forty years since I met you, while I was wrapping toys at Harrods Department Store during the Christmas season of 1967. You appeared to be slightly older than I, which would make you approximately…well, there’s no need not go into that. I just hope you’re still around to receive my sincere and heartfelt apology for my ungracious, though in no way intentional, disrespectful behavior.

As context rather than an excuse, allow me to provide you with some explanatory background. I was raised in Canada, a former British colony, as you know from your tutoring, and although Canadians are known for their good manners – at least compared to Americans – we have no tradition, at least no formalized tradition of status or class.

Canadians are an immigrant people. We (or our forbearers) all hail from other places. Some of us, me, for example, are Jewish, a religion that instructs us to treat all people as we would like to be treated ourselves, but bend a knee to no one. We’ve gotten into some hot water for that one, but what are you going to do? It’s in the Bible.

I was raised with a democratic (with a small “d”) spirit. At camp, we sang songs like, “I’m proud to be me, but I also see, you’re just as proud to be you.” We are all equal – that was the message. I used to lead a song called “We’re In The Same Boat, Brother.” What did it say? There is one boat, and everyone’s in it – children of immigrants, and princesses of Luxembourg.

That was my training. That’s what I believed.

For reasons too circuitous to go into, during the run-up to “Christmas 1967”, I found myself working at Harrods, wrapping toys for the holidays. The idea to do that came from a classmate in my acting class named Belinda Rokeby-Johnson. You might know her. She seems like she might move in your circles.

I was seriously in need of work. Belinda told me that, starting around the middle of October, her friends would always take jobs at Harrods, as the store took on extra employees for the Christmas rush. The reason her friends did that, Belinda explained, was so they could take advantage of the seventeen per cent “Employee Discount”, which they applied to the purchase of chinchilla coats.

Desperate for employment, I applied at Harrods, and I got a job. Not as a salesman; I did not have the wardrobe for that. I was assigned, instead, to an out of sight location – an airless, windowless storeroom, where with others of my undistinguished ilk, I wrapped presents purchased from the Toy Department, as they rolled in, collected in large wire baskets, on a ratchety, unstoppable conveyor belt.

I was not a great toy wrapper. I was slow, which could have meant I was meticulous, until you looked at my output and you realized I just stunk. At the end of the day, my nail, where the receipts were impaled after the wrapping of each toy order had been completed, always had the fewest number of receipts on it. Even though I consistently grabbed the baskets with the fewest number of toys in them, especially if they were small and rectangular toys, like a board game, or deck of cards, rather than a tricycle. Wrapping a tricycle could easily take me till Easter.

I am getting to you. I beg your patience.

Harrods had rules for their employees. We were not allowed to walk directly into the store. Those doors were exclusively for customers. Employees had to “clock in” in a building across the street, descend to a dark and winding catacombs, proceed through a tunnel under the road, climb some clanky, metal stairs, before unobtrusively entering the premises.

Once inside, employees were required to use the stairs, rather than the elevators and escalators, such conveyances, once again, being strictly “Customers Only!” As was the “Banking Hall” with its “Harrods Green”-upholstered couches, where store patrons would meet, before heading off to shop or enjoy a sumptuous lunch. Employees lunched in the subsidized “Employees Canteen”, situated on the top floor of the building.

My subversion was intermittent. Some rules I obeyed, and some, I didn’t. I had to enter from across the street, because I needed my “time-card” punched, in order to get paid. However, I threw caution to the winds, taking full advantage of the “Customers Only!” escalators.

Though I dined in the canteen, because it was cheap, I invariably took my meal-money savings, and proceeded to the Harrods “Smoke Shop”, where I bought an expensive Cuban cigar, which I then took down to the “Banking Hall”, where I puffed away, comfortably ensconces on one of the Hall’s overstuffed couches. If there was time left on my lunch break, I would, in the midst of the elegantly attired customers, kick off my shoes, curl up on the couch, and take a nap.

All right. Here we go.

On the last days immediately preceding Christmas, Harrods could no longer guarantee that the presents would be delivered on time. Therefore, after being wrapped – by myself and my cohorts – the customers were required to retrieve their purchases at a “Pick-up Kiosk”, and transport them home personally. This was particularly the case for presents that were intended to be mailed abroad. With Christmas closing in, their timely arrival was no longer possible.

Delivering the presents to the “Pick-up Kiosk” was my one chance to escape the lung-damaging dreariness of the “Toy Wrapping Room” and interact directly with the customers. Once, meeting an “Earl”, I asked, “What do you get for being an ‘Earl’? Do you get any special treatment, like can you park anywhere you want?” The “Earl” guffawed at my colonial silliness.

One day, I was delivering some purchases to the “Pick-up Kiosk”, when my ears were bombarded by the angrily raised voice of an unhappy female customer.

It was you.

What I rapidly gleaned was that, somehow, your presents had been indifferently wrapped, and inadequate for transport. And you were making a big fuss about it. I recall my first words in response to your tirade:

“Lady, you are giving me a headache.”

In quick order, I jumped in to help. I scooped up your presents, and invited you to accompany me back to the “Toy Wrapping Room”, where I assured you I would personally re-wrap your gifts to your complete satisfaction.

I escorted you “backstage”, a dank, under-lit tomb, where the dregs of society toiled in obscurity, wrapping Christmas presents for rich people’s children. I sat you down on a large roll of corrugated cardboard, distracting you with chatter, as I dutifully serviced your gift-wrapping needs. When the time came to tie the parcel’s bow, I recruited you to press down your impeccably manicured forefinger on the knot.

Though in highly unfamiliar surroundings, you seemed to be having a good time.

And so was I.

Finally, we were done. I escorted you back to the store, accompanying you to the exit. I said, “It was nice meeting you.” And that, I imagined, would be that.

You instructed me to wait. Then, you reached into your purse, and you drew out a five-pound note, handing it to me, with an “I appreciate your help.”

I immediately took offence.

“I don’t want money!”

It was deeply offended and righteously indignant. The money ruined my whole idea of what was going on. I thought we were two people, having an adventure. Humans beings from disparate backgrounds, thrown together in an unlikely encounter. I thought we were equal.


Whatever my fantasies, we were in reality, “The Fancy Lady and The ‘Nobody’ Who Wrapped Toys.”

You forced the fiver on me, saying, “Give it to your favorite charity.” And then, you were gone.

Moments later, a posse of high-ranking Harrods officials wearing striped pants and cutaway coats engulfed me, nervously peppering me with questions about what had just taken place. I told them, and asked them what was going on?

It was then I discovered you were the Princess of Luxembourg.

Sometimes, absorbed in myself, I neglect to check things out from the other person’s point on view. You weren’t trying to insult me with that tip. You were trying to be nice. Appreciative. In your continentally royal way.

And I was just rude.

Your Highness, I would like to, belatedly, say

I’m sorry.

It was a generous gesture, and I should never have reacted as I did. Full disclosure: The money never went to “my favorite charity.” I bought a cigar with it. But I imagine you knew I would. Well, not the cigar, but that I’d spend in on me.

You probably don’t remember any of this. I remember it all. Why wouldn’t I?

How often you meet a princess?

And tell her to shove her five pounds?

Well, not literally, but that was my tone.

I’m sorry, again.

And Merry Christmas.

Yours truly,

The guy from the store.


Tomorrow, Dr. M and I are going to London for sixteen days, a week of which involves an organized tour of theater and British culture. I am taking some I-Contraption with me, in case I decide to post when we're away. I have also left enough posts to tide you over till I get back. I don't know how this will play out. Being me, I cover all the bases. So either I'll talk to you when I get back. Or before that. I currently have no idea which.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"The Big 'I'"

Actors always made me feel good. Why was that? Because they were the only people I encountered who were more insecure than writers.

A lot more.

This nugget of comfort resurfaced in my consciousness when, in a response to Zaraya’s query about pauses, (the query, December 12, the response, December 14, for those of you scoring at home), I mentioned that some actors indignantly object to the stage directions written in the script, to the point of taking a “Magic Marker” and blacking them all out.

This always seemed a little weird to me. The stage directions these actors resisted so vehemently were written by the same writers who wrote the script’s words. The actors may not have approved of the words, or at least not all of them, but they didn’t bury them in black!

Actors who object to being told how to read a line (or when to take a pause) may feel they are justifiably defending creative boundaries, and who knows, maybe they are. I recently watched an interview with Morgan Freeman where he criticized directors who interfered in his acting process, explaining, in effect, “They hired an experienced actor who knows what he’s doing. Let the guy act.”

Point taken. I would happily “let the guy act.” If “the guy” was Morgan Freeman. Morgan Fairchild? Not so much.

It occurs to me that some actors’ objections in this regard may have less to do with the rightful safeguarding of creative autonomy than with an insecurity-driven need to protect the “Circle of Certainty”, a term I just made up.

Out loud – often very out loud – the actor is proclaiming, “Don’t tell me how to read a line or when to take a pause. I’m an actor. You write the lines. I’ll act them.”

Deep down, however, there’s the possibility, that, inside the actor’s brain – and we will steer clear of any evaluation of that particular organ – there’s a little voice, perhaps a not entirely confident little voice, saying to the actor,

Telling you what to do means they don’t trust you to do it right on your own. As an actor, who can never be sure about the choices you make, because acting is not math and there’s no definitive “right answer”, you must oppose any intrusion on your “Circle Of Certainty” with the adamant insistence that you know everything, because, being vulnerable to the possibility that you might not know one thing opens you to the possibility, not only in your employers’ minds but in your own mind as well, that you may not know anything.”

It’s like the clerics of old, who dug their heels in on the issue of whether the sun revolves around the earth, or vice versa.

“To be honest, we don’t really care what revolves around what? The thing is, when people start questioning our certainty, the whole operation come apart like a cheap cassock. The next thing you know, they’re questioning paying us money for their guaranteed entry into heaven. I mean, where would it end?”

So you nip it in the bud.

“Don’t tell me, Mr. Writer Man. I know!”

That’s one kind of insecurity. Where an actor can never admit to uncertainty. When you’re running a show, it’s a giant pain wrangling such nuisances. Truth be told, however, it could actually be worse.

It’s after midnight. I am fast asleep. Because it’s after midnight. And because I’ve been working myself to exhaustion, getting a pilot ready for the filming scheduled for the following evening.

The phone rings. Dr. M, who was also fast asleep, answers it. I deliberately sleep on the other side of the bed because of just such occurrences. In all my years, I have never received a “good news” phone call after midnight.

Dr. M says it’s for me. I roll over and take the phone, though not without a put-upon groan, which I hope the person on the other end of the line doesn’t hear, but on the other hand, the heck with them, they’re calling me after midnight.

It turns out it’s the star of the aforementioned pilot. The actor apologizes for the late night intrusion, but he’s been wrestling with a line reading and he needs me to tell him what to do. I immediately provide the answer.

“Go to sleep.”

But the actor’s insistent; he needs help. What he really needs, of course, is reassurance. Though likable and attractive, the actor ranks below the highest echelon of comedy practitioners, and he knows it.

“How do you want me to do it?”

“The way you think best.”

“I need you to tell me.”

So I tell him. Right, wrong, it didn’t matter at that point. I just wanted to get back to sleep.

“What did he want?” inquires a half-conscious Dr. M.

“He wanted his mother,” I replied, making a note to henceforth have a greater appreciation for the actors who obliterate my stage directions.

At least those guys never wake me up.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Your Presents Are Requested"

In honor of the “Giving Season”, I am reprising my story about the most famous gift-giving occasion in recorded history, and, by the way, one of my “Top Ten Favorite Posts.” (With – because it is impossible to be otherwise – some inevitable tinkering.) I hope you enjoy it. Or, for those who’ve been around for a year, enjoy it again. Maybe this time, you could get a group together and act it out.


Who invented holiday gift giving?

A guy with a store.

Too cynical? Maybe. Though perhaps not entirely off the mark. Historically – if we can regard the Bible as history, and who’s to say it’s less accurate than anything else written back then – the gift-giving tradition originated on “Day One”, if by “Day One”, you mean “Day One” of A.D. rather than “Day One” of B.C. I actually don’t know when “Day One” of B.C. was. Billions of years ago? It was way back, I know that. Anyway, that’s got nothing to do with this story.

Hovering over the event, from that very first occasion, there loomed the darkening presence of gift-giving anxiety, the gut-eating worry that your gift will resoundingly fall flat.

Allow us now to peek in on that initial foray into heartfelt but emotionally turbulent generosity.

Ext. Holy Land – Night

(Note: In the Jewish tradition, which was in force on this first day of Christianity, all holidays begin on the night before. I don’t know why. Maybe they couldn’t wait.)


(Note: Because I have no idea of their actual names, the Wise Men will herein be designated by the gifts they are delivering: Gold, frankincense and myrrh. Sorry for all the Notes.)


FRANKINCENSE: I could use some reassurance here.

GOLD: What about?



F: I’m concerned about its appropriateness.

G: What is it you’re giving them again?

F: Frankincense.

G: And remind me what that is?

F: It’s an aromatic gum resin.

G: Uh-huh. And you believed that was appropriate because…?

F: Frankincense is known to have soothing properties. I thought after the turbulence of childbirth, the participants might appreciate a calming influence.

G: I suppose. But have you noticed how quiet it’s been? – a starlit firmament, the absence of a breeze, not a peep out of anything? If I were a Weather Man – or a songwriter – I’d say, “All is calm, all is bright.”

F: You’re saying they won’t need a calming influence?

G: It seems somewhat redundant.

F: You’re right, they’re going to hate it! I know exactly what’s going to happen. They’ll be all nice about it and everything. “Look, Joseph – frankincense! What a beautiful present!” And then, angling for reassurance, I’ll say, “Are you sure you like it? I could take it back.” And they’ll say, “Oh, no, it’s perfect! We were just talking about how we were really low on frankincense and my husband said, ‘Maybe I should pick some up’, and I said, ‘Hold off a little. We might get some as a present’, and here we are! It’s like a miracle. I mean, it’s no ‘Virgin Birth’ or anything, but it’s still amazingly timely.” I despise that excruciating charade. I wish I had brought something else!

MYRRH: You wish.

F: Oh, yeah, I forgot. With you around, I am guaranteed no worse than “Second Most Terrible Gift.”

M: Well that’s not very supportive.

F: Your gift makes no sense whatsoever.

G: What was your gift again?

M: Myrrh.

F: Terrible!

M: It’s not that bad.

F: Oh, really? First of all, myrrh is also a gum resin. I mean, three gifts, and two of them are gum resins? These guys are going to have to be really good actors. “You can never have enough gum resin.” This is a train wreck!

G: A what?

F: It’s bad.

M: It may be okay. There is actually a substantial difference between my gum resin and your gum resin. Yours in an aromatic gum resin. And mine is a bitter gum resin.

F: (TO G) You know what bitter gum resins are used for?

G: No, what?

F: Embalming. He’s bringing them a burial spice. (TO M) I hope you kept the receipt.

M: In a little pouch inside the myrrh pouch. But the store’s in Turkey.

F: Remember now, you promised. I give my gift first. I go after you and it’s like, “Oooh, more gum resin.” No way. I want to be the first gum resin they get.

M: I don’t know, after my bitter gum resin, aromatic gum resin might be a step up.

F: I’m going first!

M: Okay! Okay!

G: You know, you Wise Men – and your behavior puts the title into question – are both making too much of all this. Remember: “It’s the thought that counts.”

F: Spoken like a man who’s giving gold.

G: What! It’s simply what came to mind.

F: Yeah, right, you big showoff.

G: You could have brought gold.

M: “Gold, gold and myrrh.” They’d certainly remember me then.

F: Why do you always have to be better than everyone else?

G: That’s not how I thought about it.

M: “Let’s see. What gift should I bring them? I know. Something that makes everyone else’s gift look terrible and cheap!”

G: It’s not a lot of gold.

F: (To M) Did you see the pouch it’s in?

M: The pouch alone is better than my present.

G: If you’re so unhappy with your gift, you should have brought them something else.

M: Like what?

G: I don’t know. Booties.

M: “Gold, frankincense and socks.” That’s much better.

F: Why didn’t you get booties?

G: Because I brought gold! Dear Lord – who was just born. Do I have to apologize for being the only one who’s bringing a decent gift?


F: You know, in truth, we have no idea who we’re bringing this stuff to. They could be loaded. They could open the pouch and it’s like, (BLASÉ) “Oh, gold. Throw it on the pile.”

G: Unlikely.

M: F’s right. Your gift could be the least appreciated gift of all.

F: “He put zero thought into it. ‘Gold. Done!’”

G: I think we should stop talking for a while.

F: You’re the boss, Mr. Moneybags.


M: Are you sure we’re going the right way?

G: I am following the star.

M: Maybe we should stop and get directions.

G: That’s not necessary.

F: Oooh, Mr. “Gold Giver.” Too good to ask directions.

G: Directions to where? Are you kidding me? We have no idea where we’re going!

M: Okay! Take it easy! You’re turning all red.

F: (TO G) Would you like a little frankincense to calm you down?

M: I’d like slip him some myrrh.

F: Oh. For “embalming.” I get it.

G: (DRYLY) Hilarious.

M: You know, all this bickering. It’s because of the presents.

F: You’re right. If only we could honor special occasions in a less competitive manner.

G: A celebratory song, perhaps.

F: Could that be because you’re an exceptional singer?

G: Well…

F: He won an encampment citation. The guy never stops.

M: Let’s just stick with the presents. And hope that they’re big resin gum fans.

F: That’s gum resin.

M: Oh.


G: (TO HIMSELF) Everybody likes gold.

F: Not if they’re loaded.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"257 Words"

Before leaving for London, I wrote a letter to the people living in the house in Hampstead where I lived for a time in 1967, asking if they would allow me to come into their home and take a nostalgifying look around.

What follows is a peek into a writer’s process, tracking my efforts to make my letter to these people as persuasive as possible. It will also bring into question the writer’s character. Am I admirably meticulous? Or terminally anal? The decision on that matter will be yours. Though if you choose “anal”, I may not agreee.

For maximum enjoyment, print up the final version of the letter, and follow along as I delineate my writing decisions. To add an interactive component, play along, imagining what you would do in my place. Make a game of it, with scoring, a winner, and perhaps even a trophy.

It’s fun for the whole family.

And it’s free.

Okay, here we go.

Two hundred and fifty-seven words.

And what they went through to become the following final version of my request:

Dear 10 Church Row Homeowner(s),

My name is Earl Pomerantz. I am sixty-six years old, and I live in Santa Monica, California, a sort of beachside suburb of Los Angeles.

From December 1966 till July 1967, I lived in your house, renting a flat on your top floor, with a roommate, and later, moving down to a large room on the floor immediately below. Since then, on subsequent trips to London, I have made pilgrimages to Church Row many times, standing across the street from your home, wishing I could ring your bell, and request a brief visit to my past. To date, I have abstained from doing so, for fear of intruding on your privacy.

Now, from the upcoming Christmas Day until the following January 10th, my wife and I will have the pleasure of being in London once again. It was suggested to me that an appropriate approach to the proposal of a visit was to put my request in writing prior to my arrival.

This is that request.

If you are amenable to my dropping by, so I can show my wife where I once used to live, and also engage in a personal exercise in nostalgia, please contact me at (my private e-mail address), and let me know. It is certain that such a visit would be a substantial highlight of our trip.

I hope this request itself is not too much of an intrusion.

Wishing you and your family Happy Holidays, and a joyful New Year.


Earl Pomerantz.

Okay, back to the top.

Dear 10 Church Row Homeowner(s)

I thought of “Dear The People Who Live At 10 Church Row”, but is sounded too cutesy. “To the Residents Living At 10 Church Row”, sounds like a foreclosure notice. “To Whom It May Concern” wafts the institutional vibe of a neighborhood fumigation announcement. I thought about “Hi, there”, but rejected it, as risking rubbing potentially stuffy English people the wrong way. I finally, though not entirely happily, settled on “Dear 10 Church Row Homeowner(s), bracketing the pluralizing “s” to avoid charges of “Man-of-the-house” sexism.

You see how complicated this is? And I’m still on the salutation.

I start with my name and my age, including the age to add weight to my request. “The man’s sixty-six. Who knows how long he’s got left?” I mentioned where I was from, including the more familiar “Los Angeles”, in case they don’t know where Santa Monica is. I could have said I was from Los Angeles, but that wouldn’t have been accurate; I’m from Santa Monica. Accuracy is important, don’t you think?

I informed them precisely when I lived at 10 Church Row, and alluded to the house’s layout, all to affirm my credibility, and by so doing, elude sounding like, “Hi, I’m a burglar, and I’d like you to let me in, so I could rob your house.” I then added,

“Since then, on subsequent trips to London, I have made pilgrimages to Church Row many times, standing across the street from your home, wishing I could ring your bell, and request a brief visit to my past.”

Can you imagine me, standing forlornly across the street? You’d let that guy in, wouldn’t you?

“To date, I have abstained from doing so, for fear of intruding on or privacy.”

Come on! I’m a sweetheart!

I then let them know when we’ll be in town, buttering them up, hopefully not too obviously, by saying,

“ wife and I will have the pleasure of visiting London once again.”

I could have just said we’ll be “visiting London once again.” But I wanted them to know it was a pleasure.

“If you are amenable to my dropping by…”

“Amenable”, a second shot at it, felt like a fine, English-sounding word. It was originally “If you are open to my dropping by…” But I thought “amenable” was more “burgundy smoking jacket with leather patches”, so I changed it.

“It was suggested to me that an appropriate approach to the proposal of a visit…”

First, it was “a polite approach”, then, for a moment, “a respectful approach”, then, finally, it was “an appropriate approach.” It seemed better. In a country where they say things like, “It’s just not done!”, “appropriate” fits right in.

Also, check out my modus operendi. I didn’t inflict my will on the issue. I solicited suggestions on how to handle things. Appropriately.

“I hope this request itself is not too much of an intrusion.”

That one gave me some concern. Was I being sweetly solicitous? Or was I sucking up, to the point of parody?

“Wishing you and your family Happy Holidays, and a joyful New Year.”

Generic but respectful, alluding subtly to Christmas by capitalizing “happy” and “holidays.” Possibly too subtle, but I had nothing to lose. Capital letters come cheap.

Finally, the “sign-off. “ At first, I didn’t have one. But then, I went back , thinking English people expect a “sign-off.”


Hardly original. But better than “Yours truly” – I have never understood what that meant – and considerably better than the alternatives, “Take care, you guys” and “I’ll see you around.” “Cheerio” didn’t not even enter the picture.

It took me twenty minutes to write the original draft of the letter and two hours for the revisions, the proportion being not that different than when I’m writing my blog posts.

Did I make it better? I hope so. But I don’t know.

Did I make it better? I hope I did. But I really don’t know for sure.

Did I make it better? I think so. But I may be fooling myself.

Did I make it better? “Two hours” to make it worse? I have to believe I did.

Did I ma…”

“Stop it!”


I’ll let you know if I hear back.