Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"The Big Question"

Though hardly the biggest question.  I mean, it’s not up there with “Is there a God?” or “Did I eat the last ice cream bar or is there still one left in the freezer?”  These are cosmic questions, one of them unanswerable, the other answerable by looking in the freezer.  (But it’s, like, downstairs, and I’d have to actually move.)

However, if the “Siren Song of Show Biz” is crooning temptingly in your ear, the Big Question – “big” because the decision will determine the direction of your life, and your potential happiness – is “Should I go for it, or should I heave a surrendering sigh and give it the Big Passeroo?”

It’s funny – in the sense of “funny” being interesting, or at least curious in nature.  I could be entirely off the mark here, but it is hard to imagine that facing the question, “Should I go into show business?” is the equivalent of facing the question, “Should I go into pharmacy?” or “Should I go into chartered accountancy?”  Am I sorely mistaken here?  Or is one question not substantially more agonizing than its counterparts?

Let it be understood that I am suspiciously skeptical about exalting one line of work over every other occupational endeavor.  There’s a soupcon of bragging to it: 

“We took the plunge.  And boy, is it wonderful!”

Bragging has always been a red flag for me, signaling the cover-up of a darker reality.  New Yorkers famously brag.  So do people from Texas.  And whenever they do, my first reaction is, “What are they hiding?”  (Wall-to-wall squalor?  The highest execution rate in the country?)

When show business is enthroned above all other professions, I wonder if what its participants are unconsciously confessing is, “This business is so agonizing – to make it, to stay in it, to achieve your goals without selling your standards and principles down the river – we’re going to pretend that it’s worth it, and if you decided otherwise, you have indisputably missed the boat!” 

I recently experienced an enjoyable visit from a man (and his vivacious wife) who I had last seen almost forty years ago.  (I know.  Only an old person can write that.  And don’t think it is not accompanied by an “Oy.”) 

The couple lives in Toronto, and they were passing through L.A. on their way to visit their daughter and her family in New Zealand.  The man and I had met as fellow cast members of a college review (written and directed by SNL impresario Lorne Michaels.)

The man had clearly harbored show biz aspirations – he had, in fact, been offered, as he revealed to me during our visit, a “foot-in-the-door” opportunity.  Instead, however, as many do, he opted for the security and respectability of lawyering. 

He confessed that he had never cared for his selected profession.  But he’d done it.  (Along with writing several books and, after retirement, jumping into a second career as a private detective.)

You could sense that, though pushing seventy, the man had not entirely made his peace with “The Road Not Taken.”  And spending time with a person who had “gone the other way”, while perhaps pleasant, had to inevitably rekindle stirrings of regret.

Which returns us to the Question of the Day, slightly altered by the personalizing:

“Why me, and not him?”

The answer – as the answer to most questions of import generally are – is complicated.  I cannot possibly enter my visitor’s mind.  (How exactly would I get in there?  Up his nose?  Through his ear?  Not down his throat, that’s going in the wrong direction.) 

If I were to simplify this investigation – as I am now about to do – I would boil down the decision as to whether to take a flyer into the realm of entertainment to one inescapable reality:

“I couldn’t do anything else.”

This observation can be taken two ways.  “I couldn’t do anything else” could mean – and for many people does mean – “My heart and soul are so immersed in the pursuit of a career in entertainment, I could not imagine doing anything else.”

The alternate interpretation of “I couldn’t do anything else” – the interpretation I believe applies to my situation – is the literal one:  I literally could not do anything else.  I had one aptitude only.  Done! – decision made.

So there you have it.  I had to do what I did.  Because I was functionally incapable of doing anything else. 

My visitor had options.  And he had chosen The Law.  Though a part of me feels this may be too simplistic a wrap-up, a slightly larger part of me directs me to conclude that, if you are chronically wrestling with the question, “Should I or should I not go into show business?” the unspoken message there is you shouldn’t.

The people who jump in believe that they never had the choice. 

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