Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Another Short Film I Wrote"

In the early seventies, I wrote two short films – and by short I mean eight or nine minutes long – for a show called the Hart And Lorne Terrific Hour, Hart being my older brother and Lorne being his partner Lorne Michaels and the show being one of a series of comedy specials they wrote, produced and starred in for the Canadian national television network, the CBC.

That was a long sentence, wasn’t it?  Though chock full of information, you will agree.  Still, I apologize to anyone who became lightheaded reading it, due to an insufficiency of oxygen.  I shall now pause for a moment, so you can catch your breath.



The more well known of the two mini-movies – both structured as mock documentaries, was called The Puck Crisis.  You know how hockey-mad Canada is.  (Try not to think, “What else have they got?”  It’s insensitive.  Without being entirely incorrect.) 

Anyway, I responded to my home and native land’s passion for the game by delivering a “Special Report” courtesy of the CBC’s News Division, announcing that the hockey pucks growing in the fertile “Puck Belt” of Southern Ontario had contracted “Dutch Puck Disease”, the contagion having been brought in on the sticks of a touring Dutch hockey team.  Boring into the fundaments of the current crop, the bacteria, or pucktacoccai, had contaminated the entire harvest, placing the upcoming hockey season, due to a severe puck shortage, in imminent danger of cancellation. 

(See if there is anything in that scenario you would adjudge to be believable.  Amazingly, during the unscripted “Man in the Street” segment of the documentary, some “typical Canadians” appeared scarily unnerved by the possibility.)  

As a result of the “Puck Crisis” filmette’s scoring with the public, I was asked to come up with another “mock-doc” on a different subject.  (Retooling the concept but replacing hockey pucks with lacrosse racquets was rejected as being “not different enough.”)

I came up with was a story, which had been generally ignored by the media (arguably because it was entirely made up.)  It concerned Baffin Island, an, at the time, desolate and wind-swept Canadian protectorate way up in the Arctic Ocean. 

What happened was that the residents of Baffin Island felt they’d been insulted by the Canadian government when, after the island’s letter carrier’s hat blew away in a powerful, Arctic gust, the Baffin Island Postal Service applied for a replacement hat and was sent one that was four sizes too big.  The hat was returned with a request for an appropriately fitting replacement, which arrived in due course.

The replacement was even bigger. 

Some joke, eh?

Bristling at this display of governmental disrespect, a referendum is held, the results of which, by a wide margin, leads to the decision that Baffin should immediately secede from the Dominion of Canada.

The letter sent to Ottawa informing them of their departure was never responded to, due either to monumental indifference, or it fell out of the Delivery Pouch and was eaten by a walrus.  In any case, preparations got under way for the establishment of the independent nation of Baffin Island.

The first order of business was a contest to pick Baffin Island’s national flag.  The winning submission was a flag-sized rectangle of bed linen (only a prototype, it would be replaced by authentic flag material later), symbolizing the island’s preeminent characteristic:

“Snow on a white background.”

It was perfect.

Next, another contest.  That was how things were done.  No “top-down” decision-making here.  Direct democracy was the order of the day, with “open-to-all” competitions, with prizes, generally, homemade pies, or a side of caribou meat.

This competition involved a search for the newly minted country’s national anthem.  An early frontrunner for the honor was a reworking of Woody Guthrie’s classic, This Land Is Your Land, that went,

“This land is your land

This land is my land

It isn’t Thailand

No, it’s Baffin Island…”

The runner-up was an adaptation from Broadway:

(To the tune of “Oklahoma.”)

“Baaaa-a-fin Island

Where the wind comes right behind the snow…”

The winner , simple yet classic, reflected the island’s original British roots?

(Sung lustily, to the tune of “God Save The Queen”)

“Ba-a-ffin I-island

Ba-a-ffin I-island

Baffin Island.

Bum Bum Bum Bum…

Ba-a-ffin I-island

Ba-a-ffin I-island

Ba-a-a ffi-in I-island

Ba-a-ffin Island.”

With their snowy white banner (not to be confused with a flag of surrender) waving proudly from the flagpole and Baffin Islanders belting out their semi-original national anthem for the first time in history, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  (Those tears did not melt until early summer.)

Consistent with their preference for adaptation over innovation, when creating their native tongue, Baff-Lang, it was decided that, instead of inventing an original lexicon, Baff-Lang would be made up of words the people already knew – English words.  These words, however, would be given entirely different meanings. 

Re-education classes were provided, in which the citizens were given rigorous training in Baff-Lang “Word Conversion”:

TEACHER:  Listen carefully, class.  “The man put the pen on the table” is now:  “The chair put the shoe on the banana.”  Repeat?


TEACHER:  Very good, class.  Or, as we say now, “Mighty hat, snowshoe.”

Finally, a national industry was established, to generate much-needed revenues.  The question arose, “What does Baffin Island have more of than anything else?”, the question being virtually rhetorical, since the answer unquestionably is “snow.”

The final scene of the documentary, filmed in a large, refrigerator locker in Toronto’s meat packing district, chronicled workers boxing up various products manufactured from Baffin Island’s chief export. 

Conveyor belts delivered individual snowballs, which were packed twenty-four to a case in specially insulated boxes, and shipped to desperate suitors from tropical countries tested by their Beloved’s father, telling them, “Bring me a snowball, and you may marry my daughter.” 

Another big seller was to-be-assembled “Snowman Kits”, popular for Beverly Hills children’s Christmas parties which included instructions saying, ” PLACE CARROT NOSE HERE.” 

And, of course, there was the country’s biggest seller, glacier pure bottled water, which at the “Point of Shipment”, wasn’t really water, it was ice.  When it reached its destination, however, it was water.

The “Report” ended pondering whether an independent Baffin Island could possibly endure.  That question is still to be answered, but two things are no longer in dispute:

The Baffin Islanders are a proud and independent people.

And their letter carrier’s hat fits like a glove.

(Though it still, occasionally, blows away.)

Monday, July 30, 2012

"Taking Sides"

A recent article in the L.A. Times Business Section reported that a group of actors from the enormously successful sitcom Modern Family have banded together to demand a renegotiation of their long-term contracts, which they were required to sign on their agreement to accept the job, meaning before the show became a monster hit, and a moneymaking gusher for both the studio (Fox) and the network (ABC).

The report led me to dust off my “Lyric Writer’s” hat, and away we go.


A deal is a deal…

Isn’t it?

I mean, that’s its appeal…

Isn’t it?

When they sign on the line

With the contract, the actor


Now conditions have changed

They want upgrades arranged

For their fees?

I’m reviewing

The negotiation

Do the actors all deserve a boost in pay?

In a hit show


Should the pie be divvied up a different way?

Now pursuant to their agents’ advice

The cast demands a bigger slice

The “Money Men” begin to rail

They won’t kowtow to “Group Blackmail”

The performers strike for a new contract

If the answer’s “No”, they’ll refuse to act…

I think I better write another verse.

An actor’s career’s precarious

Their job options are rarely various

When they’re offered a deal

It’s unlikely they wield

Any leverage

The show’s offer, they take

With a smile, a handshake

And a beverage…

I’m reviewing

The negotiation

Is a steady job not way more good than bad?

With "hit series"


There’s no more fears

They’ll end up working for their Dad.

They deliver jokes to hefty laughs

Admiring fans want autographs

Eating filet steaks and fried potaters

In restaurants where they once were waiters

They’re riding high, but shows all end

Then it’s back to “Harvey” in South Bend…

Things may clear up if I write another verse.

Oh, nobody likes

"The Businessman"

Their investment adviser’s

Their biggest fan

The conventional view says employers are always

In the wrong

You will not hear their plight balladeered

In a Bob Dylan song…

I’m reviewing

The negotiation

When you’re in charge then you’re required to hold the line

There’s no “Fairness


This is business, and the two aren’t intertwined.

They dispute all talk of parity

They are not running a charity

The performers are well paid, for sure

(Though their bosses rake in way, way more)

And before that ironclad deal’s erased

They'll have the whole damn cast replaced

Yet the cast’s hope in one insight lives:

“They don't tune in to watch exe-



I think they’ll very likely work things out!


Friday, July 27, 2012

"Summer Times - Friday Night (Candle) Lights"

It wasn’t primarily a religious camp.  It was more of a…

Lincoln set the Negro free

Why is he still in sla-ver-y…

kind of a place.

Social justice was the “Specialty of the House.”  But we were also Jewish, meaning at least a minimum of religiosity had to be embedded into the camp routine.  And so, Friday Night – Shabbat Eve – Dinner was dutifully celebrated. 

(The confusing or inconsistent thing was that Saturday – Shabbat Day itself – was a typical day at our camp, featuring the regular activities of any other day.  The only standout element was that on Saturday mornings, they would serve freshly baked cinnamon buns, to commemorate our People’s wandering in the desert for forty years without…pastries.  Apparently, Friday Night Dinner completed the camp’s obligation to Judiosity.)

The Friday Night Dinner routine played out with uncharacteristic decorum.  There was a before-the-meal roundup at the flagpole outside the Mess Hall, and, when your unit was called, you would quietly proceed inside. 

No mad dash.  No pushing or screaming.  There was some surreptitious “fast walking”, in order to secure the coveted end seat at the table, providing expansive “elbow room”, rather than the elbow-rammed-into-your-ribs room you received shoehorned in along the bench. 

The mood was comparatively mellow.  A sweet-voiced, choir greeted us with soothing Hebraic melodies.  We found the Mess Hall, festively decorated with crepe paper Jewish stars, serving as hubs for spoking blue and white (the Israeli flag colors) streamers.  At each table, a stubby Shabbat candle stood in the center of a square glass ashtray, colorfully garnished with the leaf of a fern.

Once seated, you became immediately aware that the usual ear-splitting din was absent, replaced by a respectful, buzzing Friday Night hum.  For one night a week, you could actually hear what the person beside you was saying.  Whether you wanted to or not.

The breadbasket brimmed with the traditional (though here sliced) challah (egg bread), rather than the gummy Wonder Bread served at all the other meals.  You could easily tell the difference.  The challah’s crust was dotted with sesame seeds, and its constituency was an appetizing yellow.  I am not being facetious.  The yellow bread tasted significantly better.

Friday Night Dinner included a mandatory Dress Code.  The instruction was prescribed in our “Packing list.”  A complete wardrobe included Friday Night “whites.”

White t-shirt or blouse, white long pants or shorts, white buck shoes, if you had them (though no pink carnation; it was Shabbat Dinner, not the prom), or just white sneakers.  Also, of course, white socks.  Though, in fact, only the serious fashionistas had sneaker socks of any other color.  Usually, the American campers.

(One counselor, an agnostic, refused to wear “whites” to Shabbat Dinner, making a conspicuous statement by wearing gray.)

My mother never bought me white, long pants.  Where else was I going to wear them?  Lawn bowling?  What I wore instead to Shabbat Dinner – which were quite popular at the time – was a pair of “clam diggers”, tapering white, calf-length trousers, fastened by a red-and-white, braided rope-belt.  So attired, I was equally ready for Friday Night Dinner or a limbo contest.

After the traditional blessing over the wine, and the (which we said before every meal) blessing over the bread, the waiters wheeled out our dinner on rolling metal carts.  It started with some oleaginous chicken soup, followed roast chicken swimming in fat, a kind of Mazola-dusted fried rice, and some seriously overcooked green beans.  The refreshment of the evening was the sacramental wine “stand-in” – purple grape juice.    

Okay, you’re a gambler, assessing probabilities.  What kind of odds would you give against a hungry, young camper, dressed entirely in white, completing the Friday Night Dinner without sustaining some disfiguring blemish on his or her clothing as a result of consuming greasy soup, greasy chicken, greasy fried rice, slithery green beans and precariously spilly grape juice?

Nobody got out clean.


In the extreme unlikelihood that you did emerge unsullied, afterwards, during the Shabbat-appropriate “Sing-Song”, where the campers threw their arms around each other and swayed to melodies of brotherhood and peace, especially if you were not popular, your pals would release their slick-fingered grasp, leaving a lingering memento on the back of your t-shirt.

Since there was no “Free Play” on Friday night, and hence nowhere to race off to, the Dining Hall egress was generally orderly and calm.  Though there were a few miscreants who would bolt out regardless.  Maybe they were doing it for practice.

The “Evening Activity” involved Friday Night “Services”, though there was no actual praying involved.  Instead, age-appropriate presentations were mounted for the various units.  Though their plotlines involved international incidents such as the Hungarian Revolution, or passive resistance in India, in all cases, the “Services’” underlying message boiled down to, 

“If you get a salami from home, you have to share it.” 

Afterwards, the younger campers went straight to bed.  Older campers would move on to a debate on the issue, though, in reality, there is no defensible “other side” to salami-sharing.

There was a warming quality to the Friday Night Dinner tradition, a comforting end-of-the-week distinction.  Still, the event was not without its element of tension:

“Will the laundry get the food stains out of my “whites” before Friday?  If not, what am I going to wear?”

The Lord forgives many things.  But you can’t wear a plaid shirt to Shabbat Dinner.

Even if it’s your nicest one.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

"Second, Or At Least, Other Thoughts About The Screenwriting Template"

Yesterday, I wrote in a disparaging manner about a Joseph Campbell-generated template I was given by a movie studio executive who insisted it was the “One True Way” of telling a story.  Most specifically, “The Hero’s Journey” story.

Upon further consideration, I have moved to the position that I may possibly have been in error.

For those of you scoring at home, for the first time ever. 

The impetus for my possible mind-change takes me back to the fifties, not to movies, or to television shows.  Correction.  It was a television show.  Just not a scripted television show.

What I’m talking about is wrestling.  (Which, it turns out, actually was a scripted television show.)

During television’s infancy, wrestling was a ratings bonanza.  (Not to be confused with the western Bonanza, which was itself a television bonanza a decade later.)  

Wrestling was a natural for the fledgling medium – a crowd-pleasing hoot to watch, and comparatively inexpensive to produce.  It required no soundstage, nor money-sapping production costs.  The action was in full swing at the local sports arena; all that was required was to bring in the cameras.  Include a colorful cast of participants and a carnival barker “Whoa, Nellie!” announcer and, if you will pardon the sports crossover, you were off to the races.

A few names – to illuminate the young, and nostalgify the aging.  Pat Flanagan (Finishing Move:  “The Mule Kick.”)  Bobo Brazil (Finishing Move:  “The Coco Butt.”)  Canadian icon “Whipper” Billy Watson (Finishing Move:  “The Canuck Commando Hold.”)  And 609-pound “Haystacks” Calhoun (Finishing Move:  “Sitting on People.”)

The wrestlers were divided into two categories:  One category was the “Good Guys”, such as multiple champion Lou Thesz, “Argentina”, “Sweet Daddy” Siki, and Ricky Starr (“The Wrestling Rabbi.”)

On the other side were “The Villains” – Ivan Kalmikoff, Dick “The Bruiser”, the dreaded “Sheik” and “Killer” Kowalski – though once, to my eternal horror and dismay, I was informed by a Canadian pal colleging in Boston that “Good Guy” “Whipper” Billy Watson, whom I had once witnessed flip the cap off a Coke bottle with his thumb, reconfigured himself into a crazed, frothing-at-the-mouth “Villain” in Massachusetts.

Oh, “Whipper”, how could you?

Every match back then pitted a “Good Guy” against a “Villain.”  (Or, during “tag team” matches, two “Good Guys” against two “Villains.”)   The “Good Guy” fought clean; the “Villain” egregiously broke the rules by, for example, sneaking out a sliver of sandpaper secreted in the waste band of their trunks and, during clinches, unseen by the referee, rubbing the sandpaper viciously across his opponent’s eyes. (An atrocity inevitably followed, when challenged, by the “Villain’s” “personally affronted” – and always “Boo”-inducing, “Who, me?” reaction.)

So here’s where I’m going with this.

Each wrestling bout followed the exact same trajectory.  They’d fight evenly for a while, each wrestler eluding his opponent’s potentially devastating grasp.  Then, at virtually the same point in every match, things would change.

“The Villain” would gain the upper hand, often illegally, by, say, banging the “Good Guy’s” head into the metal post supporting the ropes – often, more than once – before the referee instructed him to stop. 

By then, the “Good Guy” was often dead on his feet, offering an opportune moment for “The Villain” to drop him to the canvas, with a trip, or a series of elbow bludgeons to the face, pin him for a count of three, and win the match.

At this point, things looked hopeless for the “Good Guy”, a certain loser despite the encouragements of the crowd, which, at least in the fifties, were not so perverse as to root for “The Villain”, despite what may be indicated on Mad Men.

With the groggy “Good Guy” on his back, his shoulders kissing the canvas, “The Villain” dropped down himself onto his dazed, and near-motionless body.

It’s a pin!

The referee counts off the seconds, slamming his palm rhythmically onto the mat.  Remember:  Three palm slams, and it’s over.

The ref counts “One!”

The “Good Guy” doesn’t move.


No reaction.


As the referee is about to slam his hand on the mat for the third and final time, somehow, from somewhere, the “Good Guy” summons the energy to bounce “The Villain” off his body…

And “The Comeback” begins.

Till, finally,

To the approving roars of the, God bless ‘em, not jaded fifties audience, the “Good Guy” subdues “The Villain” and wins the match.

Remind you of anything?
How about every action picture you’ve ever seen.  Die Hard, and its sequels.  Bruce Willis “down for the count”, turns the tables, and inevitably prevails.  “Jason Bourne” should definitely be dead by now.  But I believe there is yet another sequel on its way where – I’ll put money on it – he emerges from near-oblivion, vanquishing the evildoers once again!
In every one of my cherished westerns, at some point, it appeared impossible that the hero would survive.  But he always did.  And the “Bad Guys” were locked in the calaboose.ß
And it wasn’t only the only the “Morally Just” outcome.  There was an almost viscerally comforting element in the storytelling itself.  
Almost as if…
There was, indeed, “One True Way” of telling a story.
Movies from European countries may vary from this template, though even they put heroes in jeopardy and for the most part, they don’t die.  The difference is usually in the degree and nature of the victory, European countries preferring partial, more ambiguous resolutions, America tending towards ones with “Rocky” music backing them up.
Other countries’ – Asian or African – approaches may differ even further.  Just like their music.  You know, the “Doe, a deer…” musical scale sounds melodious to our ears?  In other countries – we may be jarred by their musical constructions, but they dance to them at weddings.  
But other countries aside, we seem to have an almost hardwired manner of constructing a story.  And any deviation from it seems “wrong.”
The question – and there is always a question – is this:
Is it possible to deviate from that formula and still succeed? 
Or are writers confined to the same old tree, with simply different decorations? 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"It Takes All Kinds"

A writer in his mid-twenties who worked on the staff of a show I was consulting on…we were waiting for the show runners to return from a “network notes” session after a table reading and, I don’t know how the conversation turned in this direction, but he told us a story about a female acquaintance who revealed to him that she’d had sex with George Burns when the comedian was a hundred years old.  Her explanation for this encounter was simple and unemotional:

“How often do you get to have sex with a hundred year-old man?”

My first thought upon hearing this story was, ”What an amazing variety of people there are in this world!”

On another occasion, this same fellow explained, with unquestionable sincerity, how, whenever he threw out any of his old underwear, he would first take a pair of scissors, and cut the underwear fabric into tiny, little pieces.  He explained this behavior in terms of a serious concern that his discarded underwear might somehow turn up at a crime scene, making him a prime suspect in the investigation.

My first thought on this occasion was, “Wow.  Two interesting stories from the same person!”  My second response was, “The idea of cutting up my old underwear to keep them from resurfacing during a criminal investigation has not for a second ever crossed my mind.”

As the blog post title says:  

“It takes all kinds.”

These thoughts came to mind while reading about the recent Colorado shooting spree, taking particular note of the spontaneous acts of heroism, including a twenty-one year-old girl named Stephanie who plugged a wound in her best friend Allie’s neck with her fingers, and refused to leave Allie’s side, as a fusillade of bullets flew indiscriminately around the theater.

People are different, not just in the “sex with a hundred year-old man” way or in terms of preemptive underwear destruction.  They are different in the equally rare direction of personal sacrifice, the conscious determination to put your life on the line to save another’s. 

I don’t know about you, but along with the admiration, reading about such selflessness conjures questions of whether there’s any semblance of that “different kind of behavior” in me.

I originally intended to end this post with that.  And then I thought about the shooter.

In the “It takes all kinds” evaluation?

He’s in there too.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"We Were Robbed Once"

“A home is burglarized in this country every fifteen seconds…”

is an automated call I frequently receive, as I sit at home writing this blog, awaiting my turn. 

I don’t know where that jarring statistic comes from.  It seems rather high.  I mean, I go for walks every Wednesday.  You would think with a burglary occurring every fifteen seconds, I would occasionally spot somebody, climbing out of a window, hefting a sackful of swag, like a reverse Santa Claus. 

I haven’t seen anyone!

Could I be living on the only safe street in America?  If I walked one street up, would they be making up for our good fortune with burglaries every seven-and-a-half seconds?

Why would anybody live on that street?

“Every time I look around, somebody’s climbing in our window.  We’re like the people on Halloween who run out of candy.  ‘I’m sorry, there’s nothing left!’”

Maybe that’s why they’re so fast.  They’re hitting a lot of “empties.”

Now before I get too “They’re scaring us for no reason”, as the above post title indicates,

We ourselves were robbed once. 

I didn’t put that up there simply to get your attention.   (Though if I were inclined that direction, I would probably have more readers.  “I SHOT BILL CLINTON!’”…with a camera.  Yeah, that’s why I don’t do that.)

Today, there is an octagonal sign on a tall stick embedded in our front garden that says, in vividly dark blue printing, “Protected By Paragon Security.”  We put in that security system after our house was robbed, a little over twenty years ago.  We have not been burglarized since. 

A testimonial?  Perhaps.  It is possible that the burglars, pressed to maintain their schedule of robbing a house every fifteen seconds, pass by houses with Security signs displayed out front.  (In which case, why not forget the security system and just buy the sign?) 

On the other hand, we may have been lucky for the past twenty-plus years.  The truth is, we almost never turn on our alarm system, except when we’re on an extended vacation.  Okay, sometimes, we do.  And you burglars are never going to be sure which times those are!  (Actually, we almost never do that.  Hopefully, blog-skimming burglars robbing houses every fifteen seconds, will be too busy to read the brackets.) 


Back in 1991, my stepdaughter Rachel was looking at colleges.  One under consideration was Lewis and Clark, which is in Portland, Oregon.  Portland’s not far from here, so we all – meaning, Dr. M, myself, and eight year-old Anna – decided to fly to Portland one weekend, and see the college together.

An Interesting Historical Note:  Rachel ultimately decided against Lewis and Clark, opting instead for Skidmore, in upstate New York.  However, if Rachel had chosen Lewis and Clark, she could have wound up rooming with Monica Lewinsky, who did choose Lewis and Clark, before moving on to a noteworthy adventure as a White House intern.

Returning home Sunday evening, we discovered that the window next to our front door had been broken – we actually found blood spattering among the shattered glass, offering us the glimmering hope that the burglar may have severed an artery breaking in, and subsequently died.  (That may be too harsh, but there’s a primal sense of violation attendant to a burglary that elicits a vengeful streak in the victim.)

Irreplaceable jewelry was taken.  Items of clothing, amongst them, a buttery-soft, red leather jacket, purchased on a recent visit to Florence, Italy.  And two VCR’s, or tape decks, as they used to call them.  (An Interesting Side Note:  The pilfered VCR’s were of the Betamax variety, a mode of machinery driven into obscurity by the rival VHS system.  Years later, I learned that in certain countries south of the border, the “head-to-head” had gone the other way.  There, Betamaxes were the “recording devices of choice”, thus pointing to the nationality of the burglar(s).  Our sole VHS machine was left alone.)

A police report, an insurance report, and a call to a security system company followed.  And as I said, we were never robbed again.  If you don’t count the monthly payments for the past twenty-plus years for a security system we almost never turn on.  (I said almost never, burglars.)

We were only robbed once.  (And most likely not by a pro, but rather someone working on our concurrent house remodeling, who would know we were out of town.)

I may have to amend that to, “We were only robbed twice.”  As research for this posting, I just went outside to double-check on the exact wording on the security sign in our front garden.

And I discovered it was gone.

When they talk about the burglaries every fifteen seconds?

That apparently includes signs.

Monday, July 23, 2012

"The Natural"

Friends invite us to an afternoon party, which includes organized rounds of bocce, played on the bocce court in their backyard.  These are good friends, whose financial status is reflected by their having a bocce court in their backyard.  Our backyard has grass and flowers.  (Okay, there’s a pool, but come on, it’s California.)

I’ve never played bocce before, but it’s pretty much like lawn bowling, which I’ve also never played before.  Googling “Bocce”, we learn the rules: 

Somebody tosses a little white ball (called a pallino) onto the court, after which the subsequently tossed (larger) ball resting closest to the pallino becomes the point to beat.  Proceeding in rounds (a round involving each team tossing four balls), whichever team scores a pre-determined number of points first – in our game it was seven – wins.  (If you are familiar with neither bocce nor lawn bowling, think “Curling”, and you’ve got the idea.)

I participate in games with a mixture of trepidation, a latent competitiveness, and the fear of calamitous humiliation.  (“What if I stink?”)  I am not a cheerful partygoer at the best of times.  Throw in “games” (“It’s ‘Charades’.  No pressure.  It’ll be fun.”) and I am praying for the flu.  (“I don’t want to contaminate the other guests, so I’d better stay home.”)

Our arrival is met by an energetic crew of valet parkers.  Two Bentleys are parked conspicuously off to the side.  (“I hope those are party favors,” I quip, to well-earned silence.)  Our (unwashed) Prius is hastily whisked away.  The Whole Foods parking lot is full of Priuses.  But this isn’t the Whole Foods parking lot.

We come in the front door, pass through the house, and exit into the garden, greeted only by a giant poodle, who, after a perfunctory sniff, radiates a message of indifference.  I don’t know.  Can you train a dog to smell status?

The guests are gathered in the backyard, which overlooks the Bel Air Country Club.  I may be maligning (or trumpeting a selling point of) that organization, but I am not sure Jews are welcome at the Bel Air Country Club.  They are, however, permitted to overlook it.  (“Wow!  Look where we can’t play!”)

Our host greets us with an enthusiastic “Hello!”, informing us that we are next on the bocce court.  My stomach immediately starts to churn.  Bocce may not be the Italian word for “nausea,” but the two are inextricably linked in my “jumpy place.” 

I casually, by which I mean deliberately, sidle over to courtside to pick up some sorely needed pointers.  I secretly register my “scouting report.” 

The ball rolls fast.

When our turn arrives, we step tentatively down onto the field of play.  We are introduced to our competition, a friendly woman who’s as nervous as we are, and her athletic-looking husband, who projects the confidence of a man who has won at everything he has ever attempted.

I am chosen to begin the game by tossing out the pallino.  Which I do.  I gauge the strategic advantage of tossing it far down the court or relatively close.  I decide I have no idea, and just throw the pallino out there.

My wife undemocratically determines that I will represent our team first.  I decide to cup my hand over the ball – larger than a baseball, smaller than a softball – and flip it towards the pallino, such that the backspin I put on it will keep the ball from over-running its destination, as the balls had done frequently in the game I’d observed.

My ball lands softly, rolling within inches of the pallino.  My first bocce play ever.  And it’s shockingly impressive.  I offer an immediate explanation for my success.


And I’m not being humble.  In my sixty-seven years on this earth, I have never been good at any sport.

As it turns out, this is about to change.

During the game – which we win – with the exception of one ball, which I toss too softly, all of my shots (of which there were perhaps a dozen) are astonishingly on the money.  Inexplicably, I have a natural “feel” for the game.  Nothing in my background would have predicted it, but, apparently,

I am really good at bocce.

The unfamiliar feeling made me giddy. 

Me – skillful at a sport.

It’s a transformative notion.  I feel floated to a magical, new place, The Wizard of Oz, blossoming from black-and-white into color.  Every shot I make is near perfection.  I can hardly believe it.  Who is doing this?  Who has taken over my body? 

Nobody.  It is me. 

I am kicking ass at bocce.

My success makes me wonder.  (Which makes me different from the naturally successful.  The naturally successful never wonder when they win.  They simply say “Thank you”, and carry home the trophy.)

What I wonder is this.  “Look what I’m good at that I didn’t know I was good at!”  Leading to, “Do I have any other gifts I am currently unaware of?”

I exclude any activities involving physical endangerment – parasailing and slaloming down a hill.  I did not wonder about those, because, even if I had the potential to be “world class” at them, I would still adamantly steer clear.  Why?

Because you could fracture your femur.

I want no part of hip-length casts, or life-long stabs of pain during inclement weather.

So those things are out.

Still, here I am, an entirely unexpected Bocce Master.  It is irresistible to ponder what else am I born to do, but have no idea I have a talent for?

Maybe I can really cut hair.  Maybe I have an inordinate gift for clog dancing.  I could have an instinctive rapport with aboriginal tribespeople.  Or an uncanny facility for needlepoint.    

Perhaps I’m a genius barrel maker.  Or maybe I can row, keeping perfect internal rhythm, never hitting the other oars.  

I could have “the touch” for selling life insurance.  Or an incomparable way with a quiche.  

I know I do one thing pretty well.  I can write.  But maybe there are things I am unaware of that I actually do equally well, or even better.  Who knows?  I could be a world-class taxidermist.

Being proficient at writing made me stop looking further, like the police after an arrest, curtailing their investigation.  Wait!  A really good detective?... Nah.   I could never say, “Police!  Spread ‘em!” with a straight face.

Still, if I was blindsided by my bocce gifts,

What else am I a “natural” at?  *

*  It just hit me.  It could have been "Beginner's Luck."

Friday, July 20, 2012

"My Favorite Superhero, And Don't Tell Me He Doesn't Count"

Summer movies bring Superheroes raining down on us like overpriced popcorn.  We’ve had the four-pack Avengers, Spiderman, I believe Batman’s on the way. 

It’s a taste issue, I suppose.  You either like Superheroes or you don’t. 

I do.

But not those Superheroes.  Or their unfamiliar-to-me ilk.

The identity of the only Superhero I am truly passionate about – and have been since my youth – will imminently be revealed.  But first, allow me to disparage the other ones.

“Who are you?”

“I’m ‘Bile Man!’  I heap odium and abuse on all I find unworthy.”

“Are you a Superhero?”

“Only to the cynical and bereft.  To others, I am merely a sourpuss.’”

I do not herein present myself as an expert on Superheroes.  When I was a kid, I read Superman and Batman comics, the odd Aquaman, and some now-lost-to-my-memory crime fighter who was allergic to yellow.

There’s your problem with Superheroes right there, and by extension, Science Fiction.  The premises of these enterprises seem to me entirely arbitrary.

“It’s a world exactly as our own.  Except they walk on their hands, and they worship a bicycle." 

(I know.  I need to acknowledge that there is bad Science Fiction and good Science Fiction.  Of course if I did that, it would take a terrible toll on my stereotyping.  Besides, unless I’m wrong, what makes it Science Fiction – good or bad – is that there are these imaginary, “I-don’t-think-I’ll-go-along-with-that-one” leaps.  Which, as the hyphenated, “in quotes” words reflect, has always been an obstacle for me.)

Conventional Superheroes – if that’s not a contradiction – all have “the sources of their strength”, and specific vulnerabilities.

“High-heeled shoes will bring him to his knees.  And you don’t have to kick him with them.  He just has to see them.”

“The source of his strength is Juicy Fruit Gum.”

“His arch nemesis is shoe polish.”

“Look out, Evil Doers!  He just ate some parsley!”

Why parsley?  Do the creators of these Superheroes give these selections serious thought?

COLLABORATOR:  “It has to be parsley!  Otherwise, it doesn’t make any sense!” 

CO-COLLABORATOR:  “Right on, Partner.  ‘PARSLEY POWER!  Whoo-hoo!!!” 

Really?  What if some fruit grower bigwigs got to them and said,

“We’ll give you a hundred grand to change ‘parsley’ to ‘pomegranate seeds’.”

CO-COLLABORATOR:  “Think about it, ‘Nerd Man.’  We could still keep the ‘P’ on the tunic.  Just change it from ‘parsley green’ to ‘pomegranate red’.  And we’d be up a hundred ‘K’.”

COLLABORATOR:  “I don’t know…I feel like I’ve suddenly lost my moorings.” 

Okay, I’m done with my mocking.  And I have to tell you, I had a really good time.


My favorite Superhero has absolutely nothing abnormal about him.  No energizing “sources of strength”; no crippling liabilities.  And he’s from right here on Earth, not another planet.  He was never bitten by anything and transformed.  And – a point that, for me, could easily seal the deal all by itself – there are absolutely no tights-with-a-bathing-suit-on-top-of-them involved.

My all-time favorite Superhero, a regular person in every possible way, is


Okay, he was raised by a family of apes.  But otherwise, he is just like you and me.

Except he can do anything.

Fly?  He swung from vines.  Invulnerable to bullets?  He just darted out of the way.  Strong?  He could throw lions!  (Both in the “wrestling” sense of taking them down, and he could actually raise them over his head and throw them.)  And as a bonus – at least for two movie Tarzans (Buster Crabbe and Johnny Weissmuller) who participated in the event in the Olympics – that Ape Man could really swim.

Tarzan could accomplish virtually any feat those souped-up Superheroes could pull off.  And without any kind of potion, accidental biting or extra-planetary enhancements.   Call him the Whole Foods Superhero.  All natural.  No additives.    

Just your every day Ape Man, who could do it all. 

(He ran through the jungle barefoot, for heaven’s sakes.  There’s a lot of pointy stuff down there.)

Did Tarzan have vulnerabilities?  Tons of them.  Anything that could kill a regular person could kill Tarzan.  But it didn’t let it stop him.  Which, to me, makes Tarzan the most heroic Superhero of them all.  I mean, how brave do you have to be to withstand a hail of bullets, when you know they’re just going to bounce off you?  I could do that.  And I’m not brave at all!

And, as if more proof were required to crown Tarzan “King of the Superheroes” –

No “Mental Anguish” whatsoever.

“Remember, Peter, with great power comes great responsibility” sends the young Parker fellow bouncing off skyscrapers in an existential funk. 

How would my favorite Superhero respond to such an ominous warning?

“Tarzan not understand.”

And he wasn’t being dense or sarcastic.  The man would truly not understand.

That was Tarzan. 

Pure power.  Pure heart.  Pure simplicity. 

And just try putting a pair of tights on the guy,

If you want to hear that bloodcurdling "Tarzan Yell."   


For me, the greatest Superhero of them all. 

Okay now.

Tell me I’m wrong.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"A Writing Habit, Tough To Break"

It happened as recently as not long ago. 

I had completed the first pass of my post about The Newsroom.  A “pass” means writing the thing, from beginning to end.  And “first” means…you know, I had never written it before, and now, I had written it once.  (I am a staunch advocate of the “No Reader Left Behind” policy, and am leery of losing any of you due to writerly esoterica, even at the risk of going overboard, which I may have done here, by defining the word “first.”)

What I do then, in my patented blogwriting procedure, is that I print this “First Pass”, I recline on the bed-couch in my office and I read it over, making hand-written changes – I’ve been known to make dozens of them, large and small – as I go. 

I then get up, return to my desk, and I transpose those hand-written changes onto my computer.  Sometimes, if I’m in a hurry, or I can tolerate sitting in my desk chair for an extended period of time, I will type the changes directly onto my computer, cutting out the “reclining on my bed-couch and rewriting by hand on the printed-up copy” step of the process.   

So much for the “What is your blog writing process like?” question, which, come to think of it, I am not sure I have ever been asked.

Okay, so here we go.


I read over my “First Pass” go back to the beginning, making numerous legitimate improvements – replacing “good enough” words with the “bulls-eye” words that had eluded the first time around, reformulating the structure, removing the boring stuff and the stuff that may “tip” (give away) the ending, focusing the concept, sharpening the execution, mining overlooked comedic possibilities – the regular stuff that I do when I’m rewriting, which, in these posts may involve half a dozen passes, or more. 

I am really very thorough.  You deserve no less.  As do I.  My name is on this, after all.

Reading over my first pass of “Big Earlo On:  The Newsroom”, I discover, to my dismay and discomfort, that there is a substantial section of it, about two-thirds of the way through, that is in serious need of revision.  I know you expect a professional writer to provide a more accurate description of what was wrong with the “aggrieving portion” than, “It stunk.”  But I don’t think I can be more accurate.  It just stunk!

I have made, maybe, fifty changes during my “First Pass” Rewrite, including a reworking of “The Bad Part”, the area most in need of my attention, I proceed to the end, making more changes along the way.  I get up from the bed-couch, I go over to the computer, I type in my changes, and I print up my “First Pass” Rewrite.


I read over my “First Pass” Rewrite, going back to the beginning, and revising as I go.   There are fewer changes in my “Second Pass” Rewrite.  (As there will be fewer still on my “Third Pass” Rewrite.  And onward down the line.)

I arrive once again at “The Bad Part”, feeling increasingly wearied by my efforts, but plowing ahead.  I rewrite “The Bad Part”, work my way to the finish, transcribe my “changes” onto the computer, and press “Print.”


I re-read my “Second Pass” Rewrite, again starting from the beginning, again devising changes as I go.  The post is getting closer.  Even “The Bad Part” is better.  But it’s still not any good.  My point is not clear.  Probably because I’m not entirely certain what it is.



I’m going through it again.  From the beginning.  And when I get to “The Bad Part”, it finally comes to me what to do.

I complete my “Fifth Pass” Rewrite.  I “Copy” and “Paste” it onto my blog.  I schedule it for publication. 

I am tired.  But I am done.

And that’s when it comes to me.

I am suddenly thinking back to all the “Rewrite Nights” of all the shows I ever worked on – including the shows I ran – vividly recalling the exact same situation

It was usually the last scene that needed most of the work, what was called the “block comedy scene” where it all blows up and then comes happily together, providing the funniest, most satisfying “The End.  See you next week, folks” ending we could come up with. 

We always came back from the runthrough, and no matter how much trouble we were in at the end,

We inevitably began the rewrite at the beginning. 

“Page One.”

We rewrote out way through the script, and by the time we reached the “The Bad Part”…

It was midnight.

Or later.

Why didn’t we go straight to the “The Bad Part” first, and make the smaller “through the script” changes later?  That I can tell you in one word:


It makes enormous sense to tackle the most challenging part of the script when you are fresh and at your most energetic, but nobody I worked with – including yours truly – ever did it that way.

Maybe there was good reason for always starting the rewrite on “Page One.”  Maybe the runthrough had inspired the writers to come up with through-the-script joke upgrades.  Maybe there were structural issues that needed tweaking.  Maybe one of the problems with the last scene is that it was not properly set up, requiring going back in the script and buttressing the infrastructure.

Or maybe it was just tradition.

But that’s how we did it.  Arriving bleary-eyed to face the work that most needed us at our best.

I am now reaching the end of this post.  Perhaps, when I read over the printed-up version, I will find an area that is egregiously troubled.

What do you bet I will take on that area first?

My personal advice?

I wouldn’t bet that much.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Just Funnin' Ya, Bub"

On my only visit to Saturday Night Live, I witnessed a sketch that has stuck with me for almost twenty years.

(Clarification for the Archives:  During its first season, Dr. M and I visited SNL, but for the Dress Rehearsal, which took place around six P.M.  When it ended, we promised Lorne Michaels we’d return at eleven-thirty for the actual show, which we sincerely intended to do. 

Instead, however, after having dinner and taking a short walk, we returned to our hotel and, while waiting to go back to the studio, we went to sleep. 

If I had needed any, this was determining evidence that my working on SNL would not have worked out.  “I know it’s the show, but Earl’s asleep in his office.  Do you think we should wake him?” 

That job was definitely not for me.)

The sketch that I still recall twenty years after the fact did not get enormous laughs.  But it was very clever – it might have been one of those “after 12:30” sketches, where they take more chances.  Its premise concerned an issue I have always been curious about.  

The Guest Host that night was Michael Keaton, post Mr. Mom, pre Batman Returns.  Keaton was featured in this sketch, playing a new employee being shown the ropes by his boss.  The boss informs Keaton that his workers are a relaxed, fun-loving bunch, who enjoy playfully teasing each other, so if the New Guy, Keaton, wants to fit in, he should jump in with some good-natured razzing.  Keaton replies, “No problem.”

While being introduced around the office, Keaton, following his boss’s encouragement, pokes fun at everyone he meets.

The “funny part” is, he is terrible at it.  His problem – in a phrase I would use as a show runner when a writer pitched a good but overly exaggerated joke – was,

“Too much gunpowder.”

Keaton’s insults were of the sledgehammer variety, drawing anger, rather than amusement.

(SPOTTING SOME FLAKES ON A CO-WORKER’S SHOULDER) “Do you have dandruff, or is it just snowing over your desk?”

(PASSING A CO-WORKER WITH OCULAR DIFFICULTIES) “I hope that guy’s not as lazy as his eye.”

(TO A HEFTY CO-WORKER)  “MAN!  You weigh a TON!”

Things do not work out, and the new employee is immediately sent packing.  After he leaves, the office erupts with a fusillade of insults at their “almost” co-worker’s expense, each of them “pitch perfect” in their ability to elicit laughter without injury.

The message is:  Some got it, and some don’t.

For the record, I ain’t got it.  I’ve tried.  The results are close, if not equal to, the bombs Keaton exploded in the SNL sketch.  No laughter.  Sometimes, an apology was necessary.  And in the most egregious cases, a gift.

I don’t know what it is.  Tone.  Touch.  Intention.  A twinkle.  Some people can pull it off, and some are well advised to steer clear.  Teasing is a dangerous undertaking, which can sometimes blow up in your face.  Worst Case Scenario:  A trial. 

My older brother unquestionably has the gift.  He can eviscerate people, while making them feel proud they’ve been singled out for attention.      

His most famous excursion occurred at the end of a luncheon, celebrating his son Bill’s Bar Mitzvah.  My brother M.C.’d the proceedings, and it was now time to call on Cantor Soberman, the synagogue’s longtime Assistant Cantor, to come up and lead the guests in a blessing after the meal.  Cantor Soberman was famous for his melodic but distinctly foghorn-sounding voice. 

As the cantor rose from his seat and headed towards the microphone, my brother filled the time by saying,

“You’ll have to forgive the cantor.  He’s has a cold for the past twenty-five years.”

The place went nuts!  My brother’s wife slid under the table in embarrassment.  I sat there, marveling at his chutzpah (The Audacity of Jew), envying a laugh that was bigger than the ten biggest laughs I had ever gotten added together, and wondering how he could get away with this and I couldn’t

Could it be genetic?  But then, how come my brother got it and I didn’t?  Of course, I’ve still got hair and he doesn’t. 

You see how bad I am at it?

I think a gift is in order.

Perhaps a hat.

Nope.  It’s still not there. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Genetic Thinking"

I recently met this guy who’s a Professor of Government and International Relations at Georgetown University.  The guy is a friend of our friend Ruth, who’s an artist.  Ruth has been commissioned to design a stained glass window and she wanted to photograph the professor’s hands underwater to include in the picture.  She asked if they could use our pool for the photo shoot, I said yes, and that’s how I met him.

The professor was easy to warm up to.  Our pool is covered to keep the heat in – we like our water temperature around 88 degrees – and the man immediately volunteered to help me retract the pool cover, a somewhat laborious process, but it’s not interesting, so I won’t go into it.

The professor radiated an energetic, upbeat vibe, which I immediately recognized from my not having one of my own.  It turned out he had written a new book, and would be delivering a promotional lecture on it that evening, and we were invited to attend.

Which we did.

The event was held at the home of some super-wealthy couple in Beverly Hills.  There was a gathering of fifty or so people of major means.  Plus us.   

Of Dr. M, Anna and myself, I am the least educated in interior design, but though I rank at the bottom of the decorating totem pole, even I could detect that our host couple had “missed” horribly with their furniture, their thinking being, 

“We have an expensive house.  This is expensive furniture.  So it fits.”

Incorrect, I observed smugly, compelled by envy to uncover an edge on my financial superiors.  Big money versus good taste?  I’ll take good taste every time.  

(Though I would ideally prefer both.)

The professor began his lecture by telling us that that morning, he had Googled “America In Decline” on his computer, and had discovered over a hundred and thirty-five million links.  I think they’re called links – places you could go, to read about America being in decline?  Apparently, there are over a hundred and thirty-five million of them.  Most likely, written by more than one person.  If not, man!  What an undertaking!

The professor started with their arguments – not all hundred and thirty-five million of them, but the recurring ones, supporting the premise of America being in decline – the deficit, the debt (which I am unable to distinguish), gridlock in government, the irreconcilable cultural divide, the polarizing media.  He took about five minutes chronicling these issues.

Then he made his “turn”, and for the remainder of his forty-minute talk, he refuted these arguments, asserting with what he called “cautious optimism”, that, though the current situation was unquestionably precarious, the Ship of State would find a way right itself, and things would ultimately be okay. 

The country would make it.

Two things come to mind here, though they’re really just the “heads” and “tails” of the same coin. 

On the one hand, I could not, with clarity, reproduce any of the elements of his encouraging argument.  His positive assertions flew right past me.  If they landed in my ears, if was merely for a rest, before moving on.

I know there were a lot of them.  And they sounded quite  persuasive when they came out of his mouth.  They just didn’t stay with me.

As if – I suggest – I was congenitally unable to hear them.

Turning things around, yes, this man was a respected scholar in his field, but it occurred to me, that his perspective on “The American Condition” was less a matter of study and consideration than of personal temperament.

In the way I appeared to be genetically incapable of absorbing his argument, the professor was genetically constricted from arguing any other position.

"Yes, but he had strong supportive facts."  I recognize the professor's "strong supportive facts." But there are facts out there to support anything.  Why was he won over by these facts?    

My observation totally fit.  The guy was energetic and upbeat helping me uncover my pool earlier that day.  And here he was again, energetic and upbeat about America’s future.  The man couldn’t help himself.  It was simply the way he was.  

Energetic and upbeat.

How seriously, then, should I take his pronouncements, which are, arguably, less a product of expert evaluation than a genetic hiccup?  The same kind of hiccup – but with the opposite message – that prevented me from taking anything he said in.

That’s the message I came away with from that talk, besides that super-wealthy people are not immune to furniture train wrecks.  Being me, I was incapable of incorporating what he was saying.  And being him, he was incapable of saying – or believing – anything else.  And, though we would both claim to be thoughtful people – him, professionally, me, freelance – our “carefully considered opinions” may simply be reflexive expressions of our genetic encryption.  

Concluding sentence?

His would accentuate revitalizing diversity.

Mine, the virtual impossibility of getting along. 

(I went back and put in “virtual”, so I wouldn’t seem too “out there.”)

(He probably put “cautiously” before “optimistic” for the same reason.)

Monday, July 16, 2012

"Summer Times - Canoe Trip Bedding"

I am going on a canoe trip.  Not because I want to be part of the group going on a canoe trip, but because I don’t want to be part of the group not going on a canoe trip. 

I am ten years old, but my twisted logic is already ingeniously on display.

As the departure date closes in, preparations get under way for the trip.  Though we had not left yet, trouble had already found me.

The list sent out as a guideline for what to bring to camp included “a sleeping bag.”  No clarifying specifics.  Just “a sleeping bag.”  You don’t sleep on the ground, the camp does not provide sleeping bags.  You bring your own.  And so I did.

I have no idea where it came from.  But I immediately noticed, when my cabin-mates unrolled their sleeping bags on the floor to start packing that

My sleeping bag was different.

My cabin-mates’ sleeping bags were made from a fabric that was sleek, and shiny and thin.  (Also, it turned out, light and waterproof.)  Checking the label, one would not be surprised to find the word “Monsanto.” 

These sleeping bags were not made from natural fabrics (which was impressive in the 50’s.)  They were hi-tech and they were cool.  If the space program had canoe trips, they’d have been equipped with these sleeping bags.  These were sleeping bags for the moon.

Mine, on the other hand, was not.

Rather than what appeared to be a forest-blending green, the sleeping bag that was sent to camp with me was a chocolate milk brown.  It was made of a natural fabric – cotton.  And it had stuffing in it. 

I had the only quilted sleeping bag in my cabin.  In fact, I believe that’s how they advertised it.


Well, maybe once.  But compared to my cabin-mates’ fit-for-space versions, mine was the sleeping bag equivalent of the plane the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk.  A rudimentary prototype, worthy of display in the Museum of Sleeping Bags They Don’t Use Anymore.

My venerable sleeping bag made me stand out.  As a camper who was bad at sports, and was unskilled at simulating fart noises with his arm, I did not need that kind of attention.

Everyone’s sleeping bag lay unrolled on the floor.  They all lay flat.  Except for mine.  Whose quilting puffed it noticeably higher. 

A canoe trip packing-checklist told us what we should bring along.  Underwear, socks, t-shirts, a pair of jeans, a long-sleeved shirt or sweatshirt for the night (and as protection from mosquitoes), pajamas, a flashlight, soap in a soapdish, a toothbrush (which you sometimes hung on a plastic strand around your neck) and toothpaste, with the cap twisted extra tight, so when you roll up your sleeping bag, it does not squeeze out over your clothing.  (Minty underpants produce tingling difficulties for the sensitive areas.)

Everything was laid flat on the top of the sleeping bag.  (You do not pack the clothes inside, you array them on top.  Just a tip, so you don’t embarrass yourself with experienced canoe trippers.) 

The goal was compactness.  The sleeping bags would be slipped vertically into large, canvas packs, sliding in comfortably with other canoe trip necessities, such as dehydrated food products (manufactured by a company named Gumpert) and, inexplicably, 48-ounce tins of Donald Duck Orange Juice.    

After the clothing and sundries were laid out flatly and evenly, the sleeping bags were rolled up as tightly as possible, and tied firmly in two spots, each about eight inches from the ends.  The sleeping bag were then delivered to the “Tripping Cabin”, to be inserted into the packs.

At least that was the plan.

I packed my sleeping bag as carefully as I could.  But when I rolled it up and tied it, it turned out to be twice as big as all the others, making it, using derogatory camp parlance, the “Fat Kid” of the sleeping bag fraternity.  This was not entirely my fault.  There is only so much you can compress quilting.

My counselor knew instantly that my sleeping bag, at least the way I rolled it, would not fit in the pack.  (Certainly not with those humongous juice tins.  There were little bags of Freshie, I’d complain – Canadian Kool-Aid.  We could have taken those instead, hydrating the refreshment with relatively pure water, paddled in from the middle of a lake.  Why didn’t they pack Freshie packets, instead of those three-pound tins of vile tasting orange juice, especially when drunk warm?  Of course, my rant was perceived as what it was – just me, making excuses for my hyperthyroid-sized sleeping bag.

(And also being sensible.)

There was no alternative but to try again.  But this time, with help.  I unrolled my sleeping bag, and with my counselor joining me on the floor, each of us taking one side, we rerolled the sleeping bag, making every effort to get it as tightly packed as we possibly could.

When we were done, we took a look.  The result was not quite even.  The side of the sleeping the counselor rolled was about twice as small as my side, making my sleeping bag look like a chocolate funnel, narrow at one end, and widening towards the other.  The counselor’s end would fit easily into the pack.  My end would have to stay behind.

Once again, we unrolled the sleeping bag.  This time we changed places.  Who knows?  Maybe the side I had rolled had thicker stuff packed inside.  Again, we began rolling, putting all our strength into keeping the thing tight.

Sure enough, another funnel.  But this time, in the other direction. 

As sensitively as he could, my counselor relieved me from further responsibilities, and, with the help of our Junior Counselor, they pressed, kneeded and tightened my sleeping bag into a reasonable circumference.  It was still considerably rounder than the other.  But it would – just barely – make the cut.

On the first night of our canoe trip, we camped on an island.  While unloading the packs, one of them fell in the water.  I may have had nothing to do with that mishap.  I no longer recall.

What I do recall was that my sleeping bag, and one other, had been part of the contents of that now water-logged pack.  Left in the sun, the other sleeping bag, made of Miracle Fabric, dried with startling rapidity.  As for mine, with its absorbent quilting, the sun barely made a dent.

During dinner, my still soaked sleeping bag was hauled up to the fire for further attention.  It sat there conspicuously as we ate, everyone knowing exactly whose it was.

In the end, it was the toastiest sleeping bag of them all.

Though inexplicably simultaneously still damp.