It didn’t seem like that big a deal.
I was scheduled to have breakfast with a writer friend of mine, arranging a “where” and a “when” via e-mail, which seems to be what’s “done” these days – as the old people say – in lieu of phoning.
A subsequent e-mail from her informs me that the Writers Guild Magazine is publishing a major article on mentors (I had actually been interviewed for it months before), and since she perceived me to be one of hers, she wondered if it would be okay for a photographer to come by after our breakfast and take some pictures of us together, to accompany the article.
I am not entirely on board with this proposal, but what the heck, I say okay. A photo shoot requires me to select the appropriate wardrobe from my clothes closet which I am only hit and miss at, and to move back my daily blogwriting “start time.” But, a friend asks a favor, and if it doesn’t involve money or physical effort, I am more than happy to comply. Maybe “more than happy” is exaggerating, but I am at least willing.
Our breakfast is scheduled for eight-thirty; the photographer will arrive at ten-thirty. My friend arrives, and we walk over to the restaurant.
I order oatmeal and coffee. I know coffee’s not great for my blood pressure, but I consider it a reward for ordering the oatmeal. Despite five delicious-sounding varieties of pancakes on the menu, I deliberately opt for the wheat-free alternative. So bring on the coffee. And the “no extra charge” refills.
We return home in plenty of time to meet the photographer. But the photographer, arranged for ten-thirty, has not yet arrived. (He later explains that he was explicitly instructed not to arrive early, which does not explain why he arrived late.)
My friend and I pleasantly fill the waiting period by showing each other what we have learned on the piano. I play her the last three songs I have worked on, which I still remember, the hundred or so I have previously learned being as lost to my memory as the answers to last week’s crossword puzzle. My friend generously teaches me a blues pattern, which I am determined to incorporate into my repertoire. (I primarily play slow songs which, by their nature, do not require my fingers to move quickly.)
The photographer arrives. It is now eleven, so we’re at least an hour into “blogwriting pushback.” I decide to be okay with that. But inside, my inner “Time Manager” is insistently gesticulating towards the clock.
The photographer informs us that his crew is on their way. His crew? I thought this was three pictures, and goodbye. No – there’s a crew. An assistant photographer, a make-up specialist, the Creative Director of the magazine, and oh yeah, the Editor in Chief is coming to ask us some questions.
I was entirely taken aback. Five people? To take a few pictures?
What have I let myself in for?
(Note: We are talking about a man who, from a work standpoint, has been bereft of publicity for a number of years. And now I’m complaining about attention? I “get” the irony. And I want you to get that I get it. Though this awareness does not deprive me of my irkability.)
My writer friend gets makeup. Then I get makeup, from a young woman named Amber, with all that that entails. Sometimes, names just fit people. Either that, or one’s imagination is set free when they’re airbrushing your face.
We are posed together outside, sitting on the brick stairs that lead down to our garden. It is suggested that, as mentor, it might be symbolically appropriate for me to be positioned one step higher, and have my mentee looking up at me. I find myself not saying no.
(There are also pictures with us sitting on the same step; I hope they use of one those. But, you know. The professionals know best.)
After that, while my friend is being photographed separately, I am occupied in conversation with the Editor in Chief. The Creative Director videos a portion of our chat, for an accompanying online supplement to the article.
I am at my best, and at my most excruciating worst.
(Disclaimer: I drank a lot of coffee. Normally, before an interview, I would make certain not to, as coffee, in effect, not dissimilar to alcohol, tends to relax my inhibitions and loosen my tongue. Remember now, I was told that it was only a photo shoot. That I could easily handle; they cannot read “coffee” on your face. But now, somebody – somebody rather important – was talking to me. Which itself is an inhibition releaser. Very few people bother to do that anymore. And when they do, it is hyper-flattericious. One has a tendency not to hold back. And I mean, at all.)
I said a few smart things. Like I mentioned that I had recently studied NBC’s Thursday night comedy lineup, to try and understand what they were doing differently from the comedy of my era. When I was asked what I’d learned, I replied, “The icing is different, but the cake is fundamentally the same.” That was okay. An accurate articulation, colorfully expressed.
But that was the exception. Mostly, it was venting. Regular readers are aware of my “Playlist of Woe” – my career disappointments, powerful people who unfairly pulled rank, the big money I left on the table, the unfortunate career trajectory where good writers are required to move up the ladder to become less than capable show runners, my perception of myself less as a writer than as a performer who rarely performs – I spent an inordinate amount of time talking up my warm-up appearances on Taxi and Cheers, and how my monologue stole the show at my daughter’s star-studded school fundraiser. Topping it all off, of course, with the utter tragedy of my abandonment to obscurity.
I was entirely out of control, fueled by the lethal recipe of coffee and attention. I don’t know which part of my rant will be included in the article, but there is barely anyone I mentioned to whom I do not owe a sincere apology.
My non-stop logorrhea reminded me of a job interview I once had, at the end of which the studio president who had been in attendance said, “You really ought to get out more.”
As my extended Spewfest continued, I felt protected by one comforting thought. Drawing on my backyard surroundings, I spoke of having nothing to lose.
“What are they going to take from me? My plants?”
It was now, mercifully, time to shoot me. I was escorted to my “mark”, in our hallway, backed by our impressive-looking “Craftsman Bungalow” staircase. There was a “reflector” on the floor, angled to throw additional light on my beautiful punim (face). Before the photographer started clicking, Amber stepped in to touch me up.
I was now “ready for my close-up.” The directions flew fast and furious.
“Angle to the right.” – click! click! click! – “Chin down.” – click! click! click! – “Cross your hands over your chest.” – click! click! click! – “Now hands in the pockets.” – click! click! click! – “Look serious.” – click! click! – “Less serious” – click! click! click! – “Okay, smiling.” – click! click! – “Now pull it back.” – click! click! click!
I responded like the professional I wasn’t.
Our “photo shoot” had now reached the three-hour mark. I was feeling impatient. While simultaneously eating it up.
And then it was over. They thanked me, they gathered their equipment, and they left.
I went upstairs to work on my blog. It was more than four hours later than my regular starting time.
Oh, well. At least this time, I would not have to write about a spider, hanging outside our kitchen window.
Today something actually
Today something actually