Wednesday, February 22, 2017


He started in television, contributing to the most prestigious comedies of the day.

So did I.

He wore horn-rimmed glasses.

So, back then, did I.

He was Jewish.

Have you seen my “Birthday” picture?  Moving on...

He was born to write.

So apparently was I.

He was fiercely competitive with his, also a writer, older brother.

So was I.

He was chronically claustrophobic.

So am I.

He almost never reads fiction.

Neither, almost, do either.

He believes you can learn nothing from “genius”, seeing the construction more easily in the bad and the so-so.

I’ve said exactly the same thing.

He cringes visibly when someone tells him a joke, and can barely remember a joke himself.

So do I, and neither can I.

He takes great pride in his punctuality.

So do I.

He was a comparative latecomer to the sexual arena.

(“Do I have to admit this?”  It’s on the list.”  “O-kay.”)

So was I. 

Who was “he”?

Neil Simon.  (As I discovered in his book Memoirs.)

Neil Simon and Earl Pomerantz, though imaginably among writers of comedy not exclusively Earl Pomerantz, are considerably alike.  The unrelated-to-writing similarities, such as punctuality and claustrophobia, were, for me, startlingly “Him too?” 

And yet…

Switching subject matter… apparently but not really…

There are these prototypes in Major League Baseball, players who set the style – the pitching style, the batting style, the fielding style.  You see a young ballplayer, going through his preparatory paces and their recognizable approach suggests, “Man, that guy’s another…”, a revered giant of the game immediately popping to mind.

I shall, as an example, focus on one such prototype – the slick–fielding Venezuelan shortstop.  (Who were not always Venezuelan but the initiating handful of them were.)

It began in my recollection with Hall of Famer, slick-fielding Venezuelan shortstop Luis Aparacio, proceeding seamlessly to slick-fielding Venezuelan shortstop Davey Concepcion.  Aparicio won an impressive nine Gold Gloves, honoring the “Best Shortstop” of that particular season.  Concepcion himself garnered a not-to-be-sneezed-at four Gold Gloves.   Each of them had their own identifiable approach.

Later, it was Ozzie Guillen and Omar Vizquel who successfully embodied the slick-fielding-Venezuelan-shortstop prototype.  It seemed like there was always somebody, someone those who followed blatantly emulated, worshipfully looked up to and unembarrassingly aspired to become.

I experienced this phenomenon first-hand as the part owner of a minor league baseball team in South Bend, Indiana.  I saw the “A”-ball candidates for the majors, copying the signature moves of their perennial heroes.  And they looked pretty good doing it.  You could tell who they were imitating. 

None of them got out of the minor leagues. 

They were – at their level – respectable duplicates of their sparkling predecessors.  But, one way or another, they were never the entire package.  Stuff was definitely present.  But there was also, noticeably, stuff that was not.

Neil Simon abandoned television for the Broadway stage and subsequent feature films.

I remained in television. 

Neil Simon handled the crushing pressure of immediate rewrites.

I spent numerous “Rewrite Nights”, hugging myself and rocking inconsolably back and forth.

As he got older, Neil Simon risked all, jettisoning crowd-pleasing comedy for deeper and darker dramatic exploration.

Even here, with virtually nothing at stake, my continued M.O. remains, “Pleasing and amusing.”

The list of contrasting evaluations is, mercifully, truncated.  (“Allow me some residual dignity.”  “You go it.”)  But you can see what I’m driving at.  I am proud of my accomplishments.  Proud, bordering on "Was that really me?"  But I lacked some essential ingredients, which took a toll on my hierarchical positioning.

There are similarities. 

And there are differences.

The similarities get you into the game.

The differences decide who is the prototype and who is the replica.

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