I had already had the intention of dealing with this issue. Then I was asked about it by Ms. Zaraya, whose query on another matter I had tackled in the very recent past. I mention the fact that the idea for this post had already been dog paddling around in my brain to dispel the impression that I am playing favorites, or that Ms. Zaraya and I have become pen pals. I really wanted to write about this. Though thanks for asking, Ms. Zaraya. It encouraged me to get to it.
And here it is.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I lived in a hotel, which is less “Mr. Big Shot” than it sounds, as the rent in that place was a hundred and fifty dollars a month. During that period, which lasted four months, I ate at least once and often twice a day at Schwab’s restaurant, which was just half a block away, which means I could walk there, which was a godsend, because every time I came out of the hotel’s parking lot’s driveway, I faced a blind left turn onto Sunset Boulevard so dangerously terrifying, it made me want to go back to Toronto and take the subway.
Schwab’s was an old show biz hangout, verging on a clubhouse. People who had no partners to cook for them, and were unwilling to cook for themselves, or in my case, were unable to, because I lived in a hotel room with no kitchen, just a little refrigerator in the clothes closet, the vast spectrum of show biz strays, from visiting superstars to people who were “this close to getting myself an agent”, treated Schwab’s like it was a Boarding House dining room. Some of them never seemed to leave. They were the ones without jobs.
The “dividing line” was nine-thirty in the morning. At nine-thirty, the employed customers got up from the table, and went off to work. The others remained there, ordering countless refills of coffee.
I don’t know how long they stuck around – I just know that when I’d go back there for dinner, the people who didn’t leave at nine-thirty were still there. Sitting in the same booths. Not looking like they’d been anywhere else all day. Their skin betrayed a telltale Schwab’s pallor. It was a grayish-green.
One of the Schwab’s regulars was a writer who worked on the beloved variety show classic, The Carol Burnett Show. I don’t know who introduced us, it was probably Lorne Michaels, who was the only person I knew when I moved to Los Angeles. Lorne seemed to know everyone.
Dick, who worked with a female partner, was very successful and highly respected. I specifically mention that to indicate that Dick’s talent evaluations carried weight. What was his opinion about my career prospects, even though he knew little about me, and had never seen any of my work?
“You’re going to be okay.”
Dick’s prediction made me extremely uncomfortable. Which tells you the kind of person I am. Out of the blue, an established writer with an admirable reputation volunteers a positive prediction about my future. And all I could think of is,
“Why did he have to say that?”
For me, this was “asking for it.” The kind of prediction that God or Fate or Providence, or some other place in Rhode Island, gets wind of and as a reminder of who’s actually in charge goes,
“I don’t think so.”
I appreciated Dick’s thoughtful reassurance, but that’s not how I do things. What’s my “M.O.”? I establish low expectations and I surpass them. Later in my career, a guy who knew me in Canada and had little regard for my abilities said,
“I can’t tell you how surprised we all are by your success.”
That’s good. That’s what I like to hear. Somebody who thought I was useless, and I proved them wrong. Somebody, on the other hand who, before I even do anything, announces that I’m a shoo-in? That’s a burden. That’s pressure.
More importantly, that’s tempting Fate.
I hated that he said that.
“You’re going to be okay.”
The nerve of that guy! What was he thinking!
What was he mixing in for? If Fate, or whoever, got some perverse kick out of proving people wrong, I had the perfect strategy:
“I haven’t got a chance.”
It’s foolproof. Fate, or whoever, proves me wrong, and – Poof! – I’ve got a chance!
I don’t know why everyone doesn’t predict failure. It’s “win-win.” If you fail, so what? You said you would. And if you don’t fail? That’s good too.
I always predicted failure. And I generally succeeded. What can I tell you? It worked for me.
I never thought I would work. And when I was working, I never thought I would work again. I’ve been told I promoted that view so persuasively, my wife decided she needed to find herself a career, in preparation for my permanent unemployment. (Unfortunately, a career as a psychologist in a clinic whose patients pay only what they can afford will not support a network television writer (and his family’s) comfortable lifestyle, so it was helpful that my prediction proved incorrect.)
Admittedly, there was a point, starting when I was working regularly for the Mary Tyler Moore Company and continuing as my services were repeatedly in demand, where my employment concerns receded from the headlines. The fact of work became normal. At some point, unconsciously, I identified with the title of Mark Harris’s third novel in his classic baseball trilogy which Harris introduced with Bang The Drum Slowly.
The third book was called It Looked Like For Ever. The title referred to the trilogy’s protagonist, all-star pitcher Henry Wiggins’ vision of his baseball career – that it would go on forever.
It didn’t. And neither did mine.
Man! If I had only stuck with my negative predictions. Oh, well. There is the comfort of being right.
I’m like the hypochondriac who had these words carved on the tombstone:
“I Told You I Was Sick.”
Many years ago, a writer named Dick told me I would be okay.
He was right.
He just didn’t say for how long.