Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"The Way Some People's Minds Work"

You hear about the problems with the new Toyotas. You put your foot on the brake, and the car doesn’t stop. This is not a feature you appreciate in a car.

I don’t drive a new Toyota. I drive an eighteen year-old Lexus. Though it is made by Toyota.


I pull into the parking lot at a nearby mini-mall. I drive around, looking for a parking space. Finally, I spot a car pulling out. I pull into the vacated parking space, which faces a major thoroughfare, and I drive up to the front of it.

I put my foot on the brake.

My car will not stop.

I press harder on the brake.

The car still will not stop.

I press down more urgently.

It continues moving forward.

I’m beginning to panic. Apparently, my car’s age, and the fact that it has never done this before – and that it’s not a Toyota – are not relevant factors. I am driving a rogue Lexus.

And I am going to die.

Any moment, my car will plunge uncontrollably into the major thoroughfare, where I will be immediately crashed into by oncoming traffic.

Oh, woe is me. I’d paid little attention to the news reports. I wasn’t driving a Toyota. I was certain I was safe.

And I was wrong.

As it turns out, dead wrong.

Though not conventionally religious, I begin saying my prayers.

Only then did I, belatedly, realize…

That my car was not going forward. The truck beside me was backing up.

(A paralleling, though less life threatening, incident, confirming the anxiety-triggering mind-set, destined to permanently undermine my wellbeing:

I am standing over the sink in the master bathroom. I look down. There are swirls of brown (my color) hair liberally adorning the porcelain. My immediate conclusion: I am suddenly and irreversibly going bald. When I tell her, Dr. M informs me she’d been cutting her bangs earlier in the day.)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Story of a Writer - Part 30E"

In a classic western, a Bad Guy gang member gallops to the marshal’s house in the dead of night, reins in his horse, dumps the lifeless carcass of the marshal’s deputy brother at his front door, and then races away.

One night, shortly after Kristin debuted on NBC, I heard a heavy-sounding parcel bang against my front door, then drop to the porch. I opened the door, as a car sped away. I picked up the parcel. It was a bulging manila envelope. I took the envelope inside and curiously opened it. Inside, was a thick stack of clippings of Kristin reviews.

They were all terrible.

I never found out who delivered that package. It was very strange.

I just skimmed the stack of reviews. To do any more would border on masochism. Apparently, everyone hated the show. A show I thought was professionally produced, skillfully performed and pretty darn funny.

Is it possible that I missed something?

The show’s “terribleness”, for example? Is it possible, because I was too close to the project and working so hard on it that I’d lost sight of the “Big Picture”? Is it possible that over the years, while I was focusing on trying to make the best show I knew how, the standards had so drastically changed that what I saw as good was now actually awful?

The scathing reviews were disturbing. And highly disorienting. If I were the type, I’d have poured myself a stiff drink. Instead, I didn’t.

I did a mental post mortem. We’d had a multi-talented star. Kristin Chenoweth was attractive, she had comedy-friendly timing. She could also sing and dance, which she’d done for years on Broadway, to tumultuous acclaim. To me, that was a bonus, unique elements we could incorporate advantageously into the show.

Many of our cast members were New York-trained actors. This is a major plus. Actors with backgrounds in the theater were conditioned to the idea of making the material they were presented with work, rather than reflexively calling for rewrites.

(A Brief Explanation: In the theater, the script, contractually, belongs to the writer. If the writer’s unwilling to rewrite, the actor has to find ways to make what’s on the page work. In television and movies, the writer, contractually, owns nothing. As a result, producers can demand unlimited revisions, which continue until they come up with something the actor can do.)

Stage actors come to work with bags of helpful tricks that they picked up working in the theater. I remember, one scene called for Kristin to tap dance on a coffee table. The actress Kristin knew a problem-solving strategy. To keep from slipping, she first poured a can of Coke over the surface of the table. Try and find a Hollywood actor/waiter who’s familiar with that one. They may have spilled Cokes in their previous line of work, but it’s unlikely they tap danced on the spillage.

We’d had the talent. We’d had experienced writers, many of whom went on to noteworthy success. We’d had a breathtaking set conceived by an award-winning art director. Our music was composed by a highly regarded Broadway composer. We’d had a magnificently stocked Crafts Services table.

What exactly had we done wrong?

I still don’t entirely know. But a large part of it concerned the issue of tone, style and sensibility.

You work with the elements you’re given. Kristin, the character, was a generational throwback Rather than symbolizing the twenty-first century female, Kristin, the character, was more like a Doris Day movie character from the early sixties – unironic, trusting, Pollyannaishly bubbly and unswervingly morally upright.

This is not necessarily a problem, until you consider what the competition was offering. During the same period Kristin was being aired, Jerry Seinfeld was whining about his new masseuse girlfriend, who treated him to unbelievable sex, but refused to give him a massage. The Friends, in one not untypical episode, had a brother and sister (Monica and Ross), about to have sex (with different partners) in the same apartment, wrestling desperately over the last available condom.
Such behavior was totally alien to the character of Kristin. Flexibility would not have been the answer. We couldn’t simply adjust to current sitcom sensibilities without obliterating the character on which the entire series was grounded. (Not to mention that some of us were not a natural fit with current sitcom sensibilities.)

At its core, Kristin was, arguably, dated. Even the positives turned out to be negatives. The actors’ bags of tricks seemed stiltedly “theatrical”, the comic timing, calculated and contrived. As for those unique offerings of singing and dancing, it turned out the audience didn’t miss those elements in the more successful situation comedies.

Kristin had its chance and failed. The price of that failure was substantial. The lifeless carcass that landed heavily on my front porch that night was my career in television.

Too much?

Well, that’s how it felt.

Monday, March 29, 2010

"Story of a Writer - Part 30D"

Years ago, I wrote this “blackout” (a short, one-joke vignette) on a Canadian television variety special called The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour (Hart, being my older brother, Lorne being Lorne Michaels). It went something like this:

Two men are standing on the sidewalk, looking up at the construction site of a new skyscraper.

Man One: Look at those guys. They walk on those girders a hundred stories up like they’re walking on the sidewalk.

Man Two: They’re from the Caughnawaga tribe. They’re famous for not having acrophobia.

Man One: Acrophobia? What does that mean?

Man Two: It means that when they fall off a hundred-story building, they don’t feel dizzy.

In the series, Kristin, Kristin works for a big-time New York building developer. I personally knew very little about this arena, but, as a result of the above “blackout”, I knew this: Whenever they build skyscrapers – going back to the Empire State Building – they always hire members of the Caughnawaga tribe – based in Quebec, Canada – because of their apparent immunity to a fear of heights.

I used that information to construct a story for Kristin. To wit:

One of the “regulars” on the show is a willful, amoral temptress, whose job is to rent out office space in her boss’s newly constructed buildings. Because she’s that kind of person, one evening, the temptress elevators to the top of the skyscraper-in-progress, carrying a bottle of champagne, and, to be delicate as well as concise, leads one of the Caughnawauga construction workers astray.

The following morning, the building developer hears there’s a problem at the worksite. A Caughnawaga has “disgraced himself” on a girder a hundred stories up with the company’s resident temptress. His tribal brethren, many of whom are relatives of the unfaithful Caughnawaga’s wife, are now refusing to go back up and work with him. And the debauched Caughnawaga is too ashamed to come down and face the music.

The result: A complete work stoppage. If the situation persists, hundreds of thousands of dollars could be lost to construction delays.

A tiny, slightly silly, incident accidentally triggers an enormous mess. One of my favorite kinds of stories. And also, I believe, funny.

After it was filmed, there was a serious question as to whether this episode would ever be broadcast. Can you guess what that problem was?

You’re a winner if you said, “Drunken Indian.”

Remember? The temptress had plied the Caughnawaga with champagne before they had used the girder as a motel room.

You can’t do that. Who says? NBC’s Standards and Practices Department.

The “Standards” department is comprised of men and women, whose job is to pore over every script, line by line, searching for words, behaviors, points of view, issues of taste, suggestions, insinuations or hints that might offend some unspecified members of the television viewing audience.

(This is no trivial matter. A surprisingly few irate letters, written to the network, or perhaps, to a sponsor whose ads appear on the offending program, can get that program thrown off to air. Or, in the case of a potentially offending new show that has been mentioned in the media but, as yet, has not been seen, it can be kept from ever getting on.)

The “Standards” people were disturbed by the idea of an Indian drinking alcohol, or, at least, disturbed on behalf of viewers who might be disturbed. (Content controversies know no ideological bias. Though it’s generally conservatives who complain, the Left – case in point: “Drunken Indian” – is hardly immune.)

It didn’t disturb the writers. We were not exploiting the issue of Native American alcoholism. The champagne drinking was a natural component of the story. A man and woman have a couple of drinks, and some crazy stuff happens. It’s a standard story element. Check out it’s Complicated.

(Soapbox Moment: To me, true equality allows members of any race, gender or ethnicity to behave in an unfortunate manner. We weren’t singling any group out. It was simply an imperfect human being, messing up.)

The Indian actor playing the role was not disturbed. We asked him to let us know if there was anything in the script that made him uncomfortable. He said, “Okay, Chief.” (He didn’t say, “Okay, Chief.” He just said “Sure.” But I would have been tickled if he’d said, “Okay, Chief.”)

Nobody was concerned. Except the person whose job it was to be concerned.

I suppose I could clumsily have inserted that the Caughnawaga was aware of his alcoholic proclivities, but had been seduced by the charms of an office-space-renting femme fatale. But I doubt if it would have made any difference.

“Drunken Indian.” Ehhh! That’s the “buzzer sound.” And the buzzer means, “No can do.”

I once ran into a guy who no longer worked in television. I didn’t recognize him. He understood why I didn’t recognize him.

“It’s because I’ve stopped seething.”

“Drunken Indian” and similar television battles.

It can make you so crazy, it will alter your appearance.
Happy Passover, to those so inclined. It sure great to be out of Egypt, isn't it? I'm tellin' you, I couldn't carry one more hod.

Friday, March 26, 2010

"Story of a Writer - Part 30C"

I have one thing left over from yesterday’s post on casting, which I didn’t include, because I had reached my quota of anti-network-executive venom, and I didn’t want to cross the line and run the risk of appearing unduly hostile to network executives, rather than being just hostile enough.

I had a deal with CBS, wherein I would write two pilot scripts, and, due to the (temporary) clout I had established by delivering a hit show called Major Dad, the network was contractually obligated to “green-light” one of them into production. I’ll tell the end of the story first. The project I’m about to talk about was rejected (for reasons I will shortly explain), resulting in my second project (called Island Guy) being “green lit” instead.

The project that was rejected, entitled The Voice of Firefly, concerned a single, female programming executive who flees the New York rat race, where her career advancement seems permanently blocked, for a job running a “Mom and Pop” television station in Firefly, North Dakota. The idea intrigued me. Fish out of water. Big City versus Small Town culture clash. A microcosmal depiction of show biz mishugus (craziness). It had a lot going for it.

This time, the casting process worked magnificently. We had three wonderful candidates for the leading role. (The networks, at least back then, required producers to bring in three actor-options for each of the major roles in the series.) I would have been thrilled to have any one of these women approved.

The three actresses came in one at a time, and auditioned for the CBS president - whose name was Jeff - and the other CBS executives. When they were finished, Jeff announced that he was unhappy with all the candidates. Not just unhappy, intensely unhappy. “Impossible to change his mind” unhappy. Unhappy to the point of vehemently proclaiming, “I will not have these women on my network!”

Who were these totally unacceptable women? Well, one of them went on to enjoy a solid career in half hour comedy. The other two found jobs on a little hour-long hospital drama called ER. Their names were Sherry Stringfield and Julianna Margulies (now back, starring in The Good Wife.

Okay, anyone can make a mistake. You can watch gifted performers audition, and say, “Yeah, they’re good, but they’re not right for the part.” You can say, “They’re not exactly knocking my socks off.” But when you’re in a room watching unquestionably talented actors perform impressively, and your response is, “I will not have these women on my network!”, you are definitely going out on a limb.

And the problem was that in this case, the guy was terribly, terribly – I don’t want to say “dangerously” because nobody got killed or anything –


Being wrong is not a crime. Though it can often cause as much damage as a crime. Going out on a limb is acceptable, and even praiseworthy. The key is, you have to have some idea of what you’re talking about.


We wrote an episode of Kristin, where the payoff of the story involved someone suddenly pulling a gun and shooting one of the “regulars” on the show. The thing is, they weren’t really shot, not even in the theatrical sense. What was going on was an unrepentant practical joker was being paid back by his victims’ playing an even bigger practical joke on him, that being the apparent homicide.

John Markus, whose show Kristin was, and I agreed that, though risky, it was an exciting idea. We believed it would work, both dramatically and comedically. The studio executive assigned to shepherd the show, however, disagreed, vehemently proclaiming,

“Guns are ‘death’ to comedy.”

Again with the “vehemently proclaiming.” Here was a person with minimal comedy experience, who was not only disagreeing with comedy professionals, but guaranteeing failure. Nay, disaster.

Were we certain that the “moment” would work? There is no certainty in comedy. That’s why comedians drink. And take drugs. And bite their nails. And pop antacids. And knock around their significant others.

Choosing a career in comedy commits you to a lifetime of uncertainty. All you can do is rely on your experience and comic instincts, and take your best shot. If you succeed, it’s “Hat’s off!” If you fail, it is best for your loved ones to be somewhere else.

John and I stood our ground. We believed in our decision, though it didn’t stop us from being extremely nervous. If we were wrong, things would get very quiet in that studio. Our reputations were on the line.

Well, sir, when the gun went “Boom!”, it did, indeed, get very quiet in that studio. But at the precise, comedically timed moment, when the “deceased” popped up and revealed themselves to be unhurt, the place went nuts, an thunderclap explosion of surprise and delightedness. Laughter, cheering, tumultuous applause. The “moment” had worked beautifully. We had pulled the thing off.

I have to commend myself here. Not for my judgment being vindicated – that was as much a relief as a revelation – but for my deportment. No gloating. No “Nyeh nyeh nyeh nyeh nyeh!” I let the moment speak for itself. And I left it at that.

The studio’s executive’s response? I don’t remember there being one.

As the cowboys say, “Sometimes, you eat the ba’r, and sometimes, the b’ar eats you.” There are no guarantees. But there are people who are likely to know and people who don’t have a clue.

Before you go out on a limb, it’s useful to recognize which one you are.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Story of a Writer - Part 30B"

Kristin was about a sunshiny, eternally hopeful Oklahoma girl who comes to New York to become an actress. To support herself while she pursues her dream, Kristin works as, what they used to call a secretary, for a successful, risk-taking, building developer – a Donald Trump type, but with less hunger for the spotlight, and normal hair.

The parts of the series’ regulars had all been cast, except for one – the role of the developer. We were looking for an actor who could play the polar opposite to the “Kristin” character, who was energetic, perky and, most importantly, exceedingly – some might say excessively – moral, the result of her intense – some might say fanatical – religious commitment.

It was the classic American match-up – the small town “straight arrow” versus the New York City “whatever it takes.”

Hard as we tried, we could not find the right actor for the part.

A digression is now required for me to explain the insanity involved in the casting process during television’s “Pilot Season.” Even though Kristin was not technically a pilot – contractually, the show had been guaranteed a slot on the schedule – still, it was competing against pilots, being produced at the same time, for the best actors from the finite number in the talent pool.

Let’s start with “available.” Some actors are theoretically available, in that the show they’re currently working on is about to be canceled, freeing them to take another job. However, there are certain network presidents who view the television business as a “zero-sum” struggle – meaning, “If your network gains, then mine automatically loses.” Guided by this philosophy, these network presidents will retain a contractual “hold” on an actor, even though they have no further use for them, until after “Pilot Season” is over, keeping them “off the market”, and, as such, unavailable to the competition.

It would be wrong to say that network presidents are entirely lacking in natural gifts. Unless you don’t see uncaring ruthlessness is a gift.

Aside from that charming strategy, “Pilot Season” casting’s biggest problem involves too many jobs chasing too little top-line talent. Which brings me to the major “I don’t get it” of the entire process.

First, the standard disclaimer: I’m not in it anymore, so I don’t know if they still do this. But when I was working…

You see all the actors the casting director determines are suitable for the role. There is no one left to bring in. The best people available have already come through, and none of them has precisely fit the bill.

What’s the natural thing to do?

If you really like the show – it demonstrates real promise in every regard – and the only thing that’s keeping it out of production is that you’re unable to cast one of the roles, it seems to me the smart, albeit disappointing, thing to do would be to delay production until that right actor comes along. What do, or at least did, the networks do?

They abandon the show entirely.

They threw it away. They loved the idea, but they couldn’t cast one of the roles? “See you later.” No, not “See you later.” “See you. Never!

I recall that with All In The Family, some series regulars were re-cast, I believe, at least partly, because the project had been moved to a different network and they were “retooling” and trying again. But this situation is the rarest of exceptions. Traditionally, you fail at your first effort in the casting process, and that show is history.

Why is it like that? If they believe in the show, why don’t they postpone production and try again later? I have no idea. You’ll have to ask them.

As a television veteran, you’re aware that this is the deal, and you don’t want your show to go away. You believe in the show. You’ve invested your time, your effort and your creativity in getting it to the point of production. You want it to have a chance. Plus, of course, you want to work. If the project goes away, so, parenthetically, do you.

We had auditioned all the proposed candidates. None of them were right. Well, one guy was right – Anthony LaPaglia. (This was before Without a Trace.) LaPaglia hit all the right notes for the character who would play opposite Kristin. He was physically imposing, gruff without being frightening, subterraneally human, adept with the comedy, and “on the money” as an actor. He reminded me of Ed Asner, portraying Lou Grant. Unfortunately – I was told this afterwards, I wasn’t there – LaPaglia’s network audition was disappointing, and he was dropped from consideration.

We had nobody. Meaning the Kristin project was headed for oblivion. Then, an actor, whose series had just been cancelled, unexpectedly became available. We brought the guy in. He was charming, handsome, funny and smart. Eureka!

We had found our Male Lead. We knew the network would approve him. The show was saved.

The trouble is, he was fundamentally the wrong guy.

The actor lacked the necessary (comic) intensity, bringing, instead, a lighter, less “dangerous” quality to the role. If we were making a musical comedy version of Kristin, he would have been perfect. (The guy could easily have starred as Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls.)

With the decision to cast him, the “titanic clash of opposites” element, which would have given the show its engine and its essential balance, was permanently out of the picture.

We made other mistakes with Kristin. But miscasting the “Male Lead” – though it kept the show from disappearing – was, arguably, the most damaging decision of all.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Story of a Writer - Part 30"

I’ve been holding back writing this, because it’s nearing me to the end of my story. At least my story as a working writer who got paid. Plus, the project was not successful. I’m not entirely sure why. Those two things may very well go together – the demise of my working career, and my uncertainty as to why we failed. Somehow, without my noticing, I may have lost my touch, consigning me to a writing group to whom paychecks would no longer be written.

Or, it could have been something else.

Kristin was a half-hour comedy, starring the Broadway musical phenomenon, Kristin Chenoweth. We filmed thirteen episodes, but NBC only aired six. They used to say, about filmed episodes that were never broadcast, that they turned them into “guitar picks.” Now shows are shot “on digital.” I don’t know what they turn the unaired chips into. Maybe Doritos.

Ignorance. It’s a wonderful thing.

My involvement with Kristin began in a similar fashion to my involvement with Lateline. Both shows involved John Markus, a writer I had hired on The Cosby Show, where he remained and flourished long after I had left. John’s subsequent invitations for me to participate in projects he was involved in reflected his appreciation for the opportunity I had provided him, as well as an awareness that I, maybe, knew something that could be helpful. I am grateful for his efforts on my behalf.

John, who lives in New York, had – I don’t actually know how it happened – but as a result of things that took place before I showed up, NBC had guaranteed thirteen produced episodes (meaning no pilot needed to be made), of a series that would star Kristin, be created, written and run by John, and be released through the auspices of Paramount Television. Who had a “Development Deal” with me.

That’s how you get a job. I was affiliated with the project through two connections – my deal with the studio, and my relationship with John.

The option to participate was mine. Of course, there’s always the “We’re paying you weekly and you haven’t sold anything in quite a while” issue hanging over your head, but no pressure – beyond the unspoken one – was applied. I could have told the studio, “No.”

Though they were paying for my lunches.

John sent me the script he had written. The first time I read a script, I try not to pre-judge. I relax my mind and let the material pour over me, allowing my response to it to be spontaneous and true. John’s a good writer. I had liked his script a lot. After that initial reading, however – and there’s no way to may this sound not arrogant – I was confident I could make it better.

My reaction was a compliment to John’s efforts. Aside from “breaking the ice” and actually getting something on paper – a noteworthy achievement on its own – John had created a series that made me think, “This is a really good start. I like the concept, I am excited by the star that’s attached, I feel comfortable with the tone and type of humor he’s going for”, all of which pressed the “Excitement Button” in my head, that makes me believe I can help move this idea further in the direction the writer’s indicating he wants it to go.

This doesn’t always happen. Actually, it hardly happens at all. Generally, I read a pilot script, or a series proposal, and it’s like, “Yeah, no.” Which means, at least in my opinion, that the work the writer’s doing here, is, uh, terrible.

There is also another reaction: “I get what they’re going for. But it’s not for me.” This response occurs more frequently than “Yeah, no.” It’s not that I’m picky. I have a limited range. Another reason I’m at home writing a blog.

With Kristin, as with Lateline before it, my reaction was the opposite. What John had written made me eager to get involved.

The next step was to re-read the script – a script that had triggered my enthusiasm – and wait for the place in my head that does these things to inspire with ideas that I believed – because that place in my head invariably comes through – and I hoped John would agree, would enrich and enhance – without altering the writer’s intention – what had already been done. (A three double-dash sentence. I believe that’s a record.)

Next: The importance of casting. And getting it wrong.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"A Unique Kind of Entertainment"

There’s a kind of entertainment that’s simply mesmerizing in its awfulness. You know it’s a train wreck, but you can’t keep from looking.

I’m not talking about reality shows, where entertainment seems indistinguishable from public humiliation. I don’t watch those shows. In reality shows – like the early rounds of American Idol – untalented people, oblivious to their lack of ability, seem happy just to be on television. And the audience watches these shows – I have to be careful here, for fear of offending these shows’ regular viewers – to be honest, I don’t know why they watch them. They seem to take pleasure in seeing people making fools of themselves.

But I’m not talking about that today, or maybe ever, because when I do, I sound incredibly old. What I’m talking about is entertainment delivered by people who’ve practiced and practiced, honed their skills to the point where they’re ready to present themselves to the public.

And they’re terrible.

Years ago, on a trip, Dr. M and I bought tickets to a small traveling circus, performing in a Northern Italian town, called Como. We love small circuses, our favorite being The Pickle Family Circus, based in San Francisco. This one was called The Togni Brothers Circus. (The “gn” is pronounced like “ny.”) We saw flyers everywhere; we had to go.

It was a stormy night. Hardly anybody in attendance. The threadbare circus tent had numerous holes in it. There were buckets placed under each of them to collect the downpour. This was not a fancy circus.

Almost as soon as we were seated, I was startled by an unexpected arrival that jumped into my lap. It was a chimpanzee. Wearing a costume, I can’t remember what, because I was in massive shock. When I declined to have my picture taken with it, the chimp abruptly departed. Though his distinct aroma remained on my clothing.

Here’s what we didn’t know, and found out later. Some days before this performance, the Togni Brothers had had a huge fight, leading to an acrimonious parting of the ways. The problem was, the departing Togni brother had taken with him the most talented of the circus’s performers, forming what could not inaccurately be called “The Better Togni Brothers Circus.”

Leaving us with the worse one. No amateurs. They had all practiced. But, as would shortly be evident, they had not practiced enough.

The jugglers dropped everything they juggled. The horses would not rear up on their hind legs. The bear refused to dance. And you know that stunt where the guy jumps on one end of the teeter-totter, sending the guy on the other end of the teeter-totter backflipping into the air, and winding up seated in a chair on the end of a tall pole? Not even close.

It was a never-ending series of debacles. You kept thinking – make that “hoping”, make that “praying” – that the next act would be better. And they weren’t. After a while, your eyes are begging you to close them, so as to erase this excruciating carnage from their sight. But you can’t. You have to watch. Why? Because you may never see anything like this again.

And then you do. A decade or so later. Before you’ve entirely recovered from the last time.

Two weekends ago, we attended a rodeo in Palm Springs. I love going to rodeos. It gives me permission (I shall omit from whom) to wear my cowboy hat outdoors, on an occasion other than Halloween. Even on Halloween, there has to be a party involved. I can’t wear it making a Halloween-day run to the Convenience Store for milk. Which I would. If there were not these restrictions.

Cowboy boots are another matter. I like the idea of cowboy boots, but they hurt my feet when I wear them. As a result, on our trip to Palm Springs, I did not pack my cowboy boots. I told them we were going to a wedding in Chicago. I hate lying to my footwear, but the alternative was a permanent crippling.

I had been to other rodeos. One was on an Indian reservation in Escondido, just east of San Diego. The participants in that rodeo had been very skillful. Though my fondest memory was not of the action in the ring. It was of a brown Labrador Retriever appearing out of nowhere, and sitting at my feet.

The Palm Springs rodeo was not like the Escondido rodeo. It resembled The Togni Brothers Circus. And I don’t mean the good one.

The first event was Bronc Riding. In Bronco Riding, the rider must remain on a bucking bronco for eight seconds. The rider’s score is determined from a combination of staying on the bronc and the degree of difficulty involved in so doing.

If memory serves, nobody won the Bronc Riding competition. The riders were either bucked off before eight seconds – and therefore scoring no points – or they were disqualified for some rules-breaking infraction – and therefore scoring no points. In the Bronc Riding competition, every participant scored no points.

The big excitement in the Bronc Riding event came after the ride. After each ride, the bucking broncos had to be rounded up before the next ride could begin. Sadly, the two cowboys assigned to this task had a really hard time doing it. The audience was thus treated to eight seconds, or less, of bronc riding, followed by twenty minutes of trying to catch the horse.

The next event, Steer Wrestling, went a little better. Somebody actually won it.

It wasn’t because they had the fastest time. It was because the other contestants were either unable to catch up to the steer, or, if they did, they were unable to wrestle it to the ground. The only one who succeeded was declared the winner.

We didn’t stay at the rodeo that long. There’s only so much failure I can handle. I would like to have seen the final event, the Bull Riding, but the bulls seemed so unconcerned by the upcoming encounter, they were leafing through magazines in the corral. Having witnessed the earlier events, I had little difficulty believing they were correct.

We left just after the Cowboy Mounted Shooting, where riders race through a course, shooting balloons from horseback.

They actually did that one pretty well.

Monday, March 22, 2010

'Earl Fantasy Number Three - 'Earl Pomerantz Entertains at the Whilte House'"

This is another in a series of my fantasies about things that will never happen. In some ways, fantasy is better than reality. You can fantasize anything you want. In reality, the thing actually has to happen. And it usually doesn’t. You also can’t get hurt in a fantasy. Though it’s not entirely clear sailing, as we are about to discover.



“Mr. President, and Madame First Lady. I am honored to be here tonight. I am very proud to be an American. Even though it took me twenty-five years to become a citizen. When I got here, Ford was president, so there was really no rush.

It’s amazing. I’m standing, like, ten feet from the President of the United States. That’s quite a job, being president of the United States. (TO THE PRESIDENT) I don’t know how you do it. I mean, you look calm and relaxed, but I know, inside, your head’s going,

healthcarehealthcarehealthcare….IraqIraqIraqAfghanistanIraq….theeconomyconomyconomyconomy…thevotesthevotesweneedthevoteswe’renotgonnagetthevoteshowdoweget thevotes!!!

I can feel it from here. (ADDRESSSING THE FIRST LADY) Is he like that all the time? Between us, does he ever come upstairs and go, “I don’t want to do this anymore!” I’m reading your eyes – he does! I bet that all did. Well, maybe not the last guy. (AS GEORGE W.) “I’m havin’ a blast!

You know, when I got the invitation to entertain at the White House – and, believe me, that was like, “How did that happen?” I mean, I sent a few bucks to the campaign. I expected, maybe, a card on the holidays with your signature stamped on it. But, this is, like… I’m voting for you again!

Where was I? Sorry, I’m a little nervous. I usually just perform in my head.

Oh, yeah. When I got this invitation, I immediately started thinking about what song I should do. This is embarrassing, but all I could think of were black songs. Not because you’re black… Well, yeah, no, it is because you’re black. You can’t help it. It’s where your mind goes. Like when Seinfeld was dating an Indian woman, and all he could think of was “scalper” and “reservation.”

All I could come up with were black songs. “Under the Boardwalk.” “To Sir, With Love.” (SINGS) “Don’t know much about history…” I also happen to love those songs. That’s why I learned them in the first place. It’s amazing how many of the songs I happen to love turn out to be black…I’m pandering. I apologize. Wait! If it’s true, is it still pandering? (A BEAT) Mr. President?


Will you stop it! It’s starting to get annoying. (TO THE FIRST LADY) Does he wear one of those “bitey” things, so he doesn’t grind his teeth?

Okay, so I finally picked a song. It’s a black song. But it was written by Jewish people, so it’s a little bit you, and a little bit me. It’s a Blewish song.


I know it’s not an encouraging sign to apologize before you start, but this could be a little tricky. Not because I’m not a great piano player. I’m not. I have stone fingers. And not because I don’t read music that well have to memorize everything. And not because I’m old and I sometimes forget what I memorized. That would be true with any song. But this song has a particular difficulty. To pull this song off, I have to transform myself into three things I’m not. I have to become black. A woman. And a musical instrument. Yeah, during the ‘break’, I’m a trombone.


I’ve practiced this song a lot, but I’ll tell ya, it’s a rare thing when I nail all three. Who knows? Maybe tonight I’ll get lucky. (EARL RAISES HIS HANDS OVER THE KEYBOARD, THEN STOPS.) If I do pull this off, you’re not obligated to jump to your feet or anything. (HE PREPARES TO PLAY, STOPS) I’ll know if you’re impressed. (PREPARES TO PLAY, STOPS AGAIN) Because I’ll be impressed. Okay, here we go.


‘I’m just a woman, a lonely woman,

Standing by the weary shore.

I’m just a woman, who’s only human

One you should feel sorry for.

Got up this morning, along about dawn

Without a warning, I found he was gone…’


‘Why should he do it, how could he do it?

He never done it before…’


‘Am I blue? Am I blue?

Ain’t these tears in these eyes tellin’ you.’


Am I blue? You’d be too.

If each plan with your man done fell through.’


‘Was a time, I was his only one

But now I’m, the sad and lonely one…’




‘Was I gay, till today

Now he’s gone, and we’re through

Am I blue.’






‘Am I blue.’

Polite applause. The obligatory “Good job.” And I’m escorted out of the building.

Friday, March 19, 2010

"Milestone Weekend"

There’s a person named Anna

She’s a girl, not a boy

Her Dad’s from Trana

Her Mom’s from Illinois.

Her b.f. is Colby

Her kitty cat’s Tiki

We had a bird who flew away

That the girl had named Cheeky.

She was born in Santa Monica

One state lower from Oregin

She has a friend named Veronica

But her best friend is More-gin.

She’s the arbiter of style

She’s the Queen of all Crafts

She bakes chocolate pecan pie

And she always makes me laugh.

She recently told me –

And you could have hit me with a truck –

“‘Twenty-seven’ is the year

When you life starts to suck.”

I am sure she’ll perk up

Though she’s temporarily downhearted.

She may think the fun’s over

But she’s just getting started.

She may still be searching

But it’s beyond all disputing

That wherever Fate takes her

Her old Dad will be rooting.

The Twentieth of March

Is the day of her birth

Our wedding anniversary’s

On March the Twenty-firth.

Two momentous occasions

With not a single day’s break

Leaves us toasting our marriage

With leftover birthday cake.

I can’t say much about her

Because of her profession

She’s a psychologist, you see,

And it’ll mess up the session.

Just one small exception

Which I hope she’ll forget

I just can’t help relating

This most telling vignette.

I drove home one evening

And it wasn’t a mirage

She took my bachelor-bought art

And hung it in the garage.

A perfect example

Of compassionate palery

She didn’t throw it all out

She made a great garage gallery.

Two wonderful women

Who bedazzle my life

One is my daughter

The other’s my wife.

(There's a third woman, Rachel,

Who ranks equally high

But her birthday is not

Till the eleventh of July.)

The birthday’s twenty-seven

The anniversary’s twenty-eight

It’s the first day of spring

It all adds up to “Great!”

Happy birthday-anniversary weekend.

I love you forever.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"A Retroactive Regret"

This is, like, a lesson. A lesson I never learned. But kind of wish that I had.

There’s this character in Catch-22, who keeps asking Yosarian to fly with him, but Yosarian refuses, because the guy keeps crashing his plane and getting hurt.

For those of you who don’t know Catch-22, it’s my Number One book of all time. Funny and true. My favorite kind of writing.

In Catch-22, the main character, Yosarian, is always trying to get out of the war, because he’s certain he’s going to get killed. When Yosarian asks the doctors to discharge him on the grounds that he’s crazy, it’s explained to him that, if a person wants to get out of the war because they believe they’re going to get killed, they’re not crazy, they’re sane, and being sane, they can not get out of the war. That is what’s called “Catch-22.” To which Yosarian replies,

“That’s some catch, that ‘Catch-22.’”

A guy wants to be let out of the war because he’s certain he’s going to die, but being certain he’s going to die disqualifies him from being let out of the war.

That is some catch, that Catch-22.

And as if Yosarian doesn’t have enough problems, there’s this guy who wants him to fly with him, but Yosarian refuses, because he keeps crashing his plane and getting hurt.

Near the end of Catch-22, the guy who keeps crashing his plane and getting hurt crashes his plane again, but doesn’t get hurt. Instead, he climbs into a rubber dinghy, and paddles to Scandinavia. And out of the war.

It turns out that, all those times the guy was crashing, what he was really doing was practicing crashing. Having perfected the maneuver, he had engineered his escape, guaranteeing his safety. Retrospectively aware of what he’d been up to, Yosarian, whose single objective was to get out of the war, realizes too late that he should have flown with the guy.

Many times in my career, I turned down opportunities, because they looked like trouble. Too hard. Too stressful. Too much responsibility. Too many demands on the weakest elements of my personality. There wasn’t a moment’s thought about it. I heard what they wanted, and I immediately said, “No.”

It was short-term thinking. “Why do I need the aggravation? I don’t. Thank you, but, not for me.”

Looking back, that approach appears to have been a mistake.

If I’d said, “Yes” instead of “No”, I could have discovered that it wasn’t too hard. I could have learned to manage the stress. I could have grown into the responsibility. I could have worked on the weakest elements of my personality.

I didn’t do that. The “long view” perspective never entered my mind. And though things turned out fine, a part of me wonders what might have happened

If I’d flown with the guy.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"A Stickler For The Truth"

Early in my career, I had a boss who was known to be a notorious – unless you view it as a good thing, in which case he was a legendary – Ladies’ Man. A colorful character. Single, ingratiating and rich. Master of the Grand Gesture, he once took a woman to Europe on their first date.

One Monday, he comes into work limping. Over the weekend, our show’s softball team had played another show’s softball team, and, while playing shortstop, my boss had strained his knee making a spectacular play. Or so it was described.

Something told me there was more to it than that. So I continued probing.

“How did it happen?”

“I haven’t played baseball in years. I was really out of shape.”

“But how did it happen?”

“I guess I didn’t warm up properly.”

“Ah. But how did it happen?”

“It was a ‘do or die’ play. I went to get the ball, and when I turned to make the throw, I wrenched my knee.”

“I understand. But how did it happen?”

He paused. He sighed. His face reddened. And he finally let it out.

”There were girls watching! It happened because there were girls watching. Okay? Are you happy now?”


I had gotten what I was looking for. It was very satisfying. You see, I’m a stickler in this regard. That’s why I pushed the guy. I wanted to get the truth.

Some people might question my behavior, offering alternate explanations:

“You were resentful of your boss, and you were looking to stick it to him.”

“You envied his success with women, and you wanted to embarrass him.”

“You’re an unpleasant, little creature who revels in the misfortunes of others.”

To these suggestions, I say, “Interesting, but incorrect.” I was merely looking for the truth.

I’m almost certain of it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Living With Irrational Beliefs"

This story could easily be filed under: “Old Guy Bewildered By New Technology.” But my interest today lies elsewhere.

Of course, I am bewildered by new technology. Though that’s not necessarily an age thing. I have contemporaries who revel in every new invention and “app” that comes along. I, on the other hand, feel like I was sick when the innovations started to happen, the upgrades kept coming, and I fell further and further behind. So I gave up.

I have a cell phone, but more than ninety per cent of the time, it just sits on a counter in my kitchen, “recharging.” You can tell how much I use my cell phone by the bill – eighteen dollars and forty-three cents a month. Which, when you think about it, is a substantial sum for something that just sits in your kitchen. My sink doesn’t cost anything.

And then there’s TiVo. TiVo’s not new. We bought the recording device almost as soon as it came out. I even used it for a while. But then I started getting electronic “letters”, saying something was wrong with the system and I didn’t understand what they were talking about but I know something was wrong – because they told me something was wrong – so I didn’t use it anymore.

My daughter, Anna, who doesn’t live here anymore, would come over and TiVo stuff she likes, which explains the accumulated episodes of Gossip Girl and 90210. That was another reason I stopped TiVoing. The recording apparatus was out of space.

The truth is, I wouldn’t have Tivoed anything if I didn’t get disquieting “letters” and there was space on the recording apparatus. The real issue is this. I want to watch shows when they’re actually on the air. The idea of watching shows when you feel like watching them? I’m not comfortable with that.

I happen to believe there’s a difference between watching shows when they’re scheduled, and watching them after they’ve been broadcast. (Maybe if they invented a machine where you could watch shows before they’ve been broadcast, I might buy one, but before you race into your garage and invent one, I’m telling you, I’m not making any promises.)

Here’s one problem. There’s a show you really want to see, but for some reason you’re unavailable for its original broadcast, so you TiVo it.

Now you’re available. You can watch what you TiVoed. The thing is, while you’re watching the TiVoed show, you’re missing a show that they’re broadcasting now.

You can TiVo the show you’re missing, but when you watch it, you’ll be missing something else. And it goes on and on and on.

You’ll never catch up. It’s impossible.

Admittedly, there are times when there’s nothing on TV you want to watch. You could watch your TiVoed show then. The question is, during that time, what would you have been doing instead? You’re always doing something, even if it’s taking a nap. You watch your TiVoed show, and what happens to the nap? You’re caught up in your television viewing, but you’re one nap behind. And if you needed that nap, you could easily fall asleep watching the show. Then you have to watch it again, and you’re even further behind.

Another thing. Even though America’s not sitting your the living room with you, there’s still the sense that, “Millions of people are watching this show, just like I am.” It’s an exhilarating feeling. A nation, watching together.

You watch with millions; you watch alone. Are you telling me that’s the same thing?

And when it comes to ballgames, don’t even talk to me about it. I would never watch a game that had already been played. I know the advantages. You can “fast forward” through the boring parts and the commercials. With Lakers games, I could “fast forward” to the final two seconds, and watch Kobe Bryant take the deciding shot. I admit, watching two seconds is better than slogging through two and a half hours that take you to the same moment. I just can’t do it.

That game is over. People know the final score. They’ve moved on to other things. And so have the players. They’re out with girls. The win, the loss, it’s already been recorded. And I’m just sitting down to watch it? The game has entirely lost its meaning.

To me, watching a previously broadcast show, especially a ballgame, there’s a distinct “old meat” smell to it. The odor of “over.” I don’t want that odor in my house.

I’m aware that what I’m saying is irrational. But I believe it. Which brings me to my point.

I’ve heard myself, in reference to the political arena, go nuts over people who truly believe things that make no sense whatsoever. I’m incredulous at how they can do such a thing.

It turns out, it’s not that hard.

Monday, March 15, 2010

"The Insanity Persists"

You think you have your negative impulses under control, because you know they can be harmful, but it turns out, at least in my case, when it comes to certain impulses, I don’t.

That first sentence could take you to a lot of interesting places. Not this time. This is just about me, being crazy, thinking I’ve gotten over it, and finding out I haven’t.

It happened on a recent trip to Phoenix. We went there to visit old friends, and catch some Spring Training baseball. It rained on the day of the game we had tickets for, I believe, the only time it rained there all winter. But we still got to see the friends. Friends are more reliable than baseball. A friendship is rarely “called, due to inclement weather.” If it is, you learn something important. Those people were not good friends.

Our hotel is located on land owned by Indians, but it doesn’t have a casino. A nearby hotel, with almost exactly the same name as the hotel we were staying at, does have a casino. We’re familiar with that hotel, because we made a little detour there before going to our hotel.

They shouldn’t have hotels with almost exactly the same name. Travelers can get confused. I mean, you can actually take your luggage out of your car and have it driven away, and walk up to the Front Desk to check in, before you find out you’re at the wrong place.

Then you need to have your car returned, and reload your luggage. And tip the guy five bucks, for parking your car in a hotel you’re not staying at, and then bringing it back. The five bucks was less for his efforts, than a reward for his not laughing until after we pulled away.

What about the craziness? You promised us craziness.

That was pretty crazy.

No, that's just dumb. We want actual craziness.

And craziness you shall have. Early one morning, I’m standing outside the hotel, waiting for a friend to pick me up, to take me to his gym to work out. Though I finished my post-surgery program, I retain the “Rehab Mentality.” If I don’t exercise every day, the nurses will yell at me.

Standing next to the hotel is a cactus, I don’t know, maybe ten feet tall. This was not a plant. I mean, sure, it was a plant, but not a “plant”, as in “prop”, as in, “They’re tourists visiting Arizona. Plant a cactus in front of the hotel.”

The beauty of this hotel is that, situated on Indian-owned land, unlike the adjacent non-Indian-owned land that was seriously built up, there remained acres and acres of wide-open spaces.

Surrounding the hotel were vast expanses of untouched terrain, looking exactly like you expected it to, an idyllic tableau of Southwestern perfection. The Cisco Kid could have ridden by on his horse, Diablo, and you wouldn’t have batted an eye. Cisco’d have fit right in.

Seeing that cactus took me back a number of decades. It was my first visit to Los Angeles. I was twenty-one, attending the Bertolt Brecht Summer Theater Workshop at UCLA. On a free weekend, I was invited to a classmate’s friend’s beach house. The beach house included a screened-in porch, with a magnificent view of the ocean. The porch also housed an elaborate collection of miniature, potted cacti. Little cacti. Four to six inches high.

Some helpful background. I’m from Toronto. In Toronto, if someone has a little potted cactus in their house, it is made out of rubber. These cacti were real. I had never seen one before in my life.

So what do I do? I do what anyone would do who’s never seen a cactus before. I wrap my fingers around it, so I can see what it feels like. Anyone would do that, right? Your curiosity would require it.

It turns out, that was the wrong thing to do. And if I’d given the matter the slightest consideration, I’d have known that in advance. Cacti have pointy spines coming out of them. And if you wrap your fingers around one, those spines will embed themselves in your body. In substantial numbers. Which is precisely what they did.

I quickly withdrew my hand, but nowhere near quickly enough. I looked down, and bristling up from my fingers were dozens of needle-like spines that were formerly part of the cactus but were now sticking out of my hand. I stood there on that porch, extracting cactus spines one at a time, while my classmate explained to his incredulous friend that I was from Canada.

I had learned my lesson. Or so I thought.

Decades later, I’m in front of this hotel in Arizona. And standing there, waiting for my friend to pick me up, I realize that it’s taking all the willpower and self-control I can muster…

Not to grab a hold of that cactus!

What’s wrong with me?

Friday, March 12, 2010

"I Once Hugged A Blind Guy"

During the early seventies, I was working on a ninety-minute talk-variety show in Canada. We taped a hundred episodes in three months, shooting two shows a night, three nights a week. The show rarely offered an “A-List” roster of guests. Case in point: On ten of our hundred episodes, one of the performers on the show was me.

(This isn’t about that, though if you’re interested in the type of stuff I did, you can check out “Interview With A Giraffe” on this very blog. The material actually works better on the page, since I look nothing like a giraffe in person, which kind of messes up the effect.)

As one of the show’s writers, my job involved pre-interviewing the guests, so the host would know what talk to them about on the air, and to write introductions for the performers. Being entirely inexperienced in this type of writing, every introduction I wrote ended with, “Will you welcome please…” until the producer got mad, and I began alternating it with “Please welcome…”

Due to the inferior status level of our program – and this always felt odd to me, and even a little creepy – our talent list included almost exclusively, the children of famous entertainers. Not the performers we knew and loved, but their less well known, and sometimes considerably less gifted, offspring.

We had, not Frank Sinatra, but Frank Sinatra Jr. Not Tyrone Power – which would have been weird, because by that time, he was dead – but his daughter, Romena. Not the immortal Nat “King” Cole, but his daughter, Natalie. Later, Natalie got bigger – which would guarantee that we wouldn’t have gotten her – but back then, she was still just a famous person’s daughter.

Our show also featured second tier comedians, like London Lee, whose comedic “hook” was that, instead of growing up poor like many comedians of the day, London Lee was very wealthy. Or at least, in keeping with “guest motif” of the show, his father was. Apparently, London Lee’s dad made his fortune as a slum landlord, because his first joke began: “The people in my father’s building were so poor…” An acquired taste. We’ll leave it at that.

Now we get to my story. Another cohort of our show’s guests were major talents whose hey-days of popularity were now behind them. I remember meeting Robert Alda, (Alan Alda’s father. It went both ways on our show. We got the parent, or the kid. We never got “the guy.”) Robert Alda had worked in a Marx Brothers movie (After forty years, he still seethed about the Marx Brothers. “Unprofessional.”) He later starred on Broadway in the classic musical, Guys and Dolls.

Our show was also honored by the appearance of the great nightclub entertainer, Billy Daniels. I recall Daniels walking into our production offices and asking, “What’s goin’ on?” Our producer said, “We’re looking for talent.” To which Daniels self-deprecatingly replied, “You’re gettin’ close.”

And then there was Al Hibbler.

I didn’t know much about Hibbler, except for two things. His signature number – his biggest hit, and the song he’d being performing on the show – was “Unchained Melody.”

The other thing I knew about Al Hibbler was that he was blind.

They had saved him for closing. And here’s how it went.

A bar stool stands in the middle of an otherwise empty stage. His assistant escorts Hibbler over to the stool. Hibbler slides himself up. An assistant director hands him a hand microphone. They both leave the stage. And there he is.

A man, alone, singing the song that made him famous.

“Unchained Melody.” A heart-shattering ballad.

Ask any singer. Slow songs are the hardest to perform. Unlike with a fast song, you can’t just get carried along, your delivery protected by the driving rhythm. Singing a slow song, you have to fill every moment, with a steady voice, and emotion-filled meaning.

Hibbler delivers the song exquisitely. Sure, as his “money” song, he’s sung it a thousand times. But that’s not always a plus. When you perform a song a lot, there’s the risk of “throwing it away”, meaning, like, “I’ve done this a thousand times. Who cares about this time?”

Hibbler doesn’t do that. He delivers the song as if his career was on the line, and his mother was watching. It’s like he’s singing it for the first time. He doesn’t rush. He doesn’t force the emotion. He just sits on that stool, squeezing every ounce of feeling out of each word and musical phrase. I stand behind the cameras, dumbstruck. I am watching an artist, hitting it out of the park.

He finishes the song. The studio audience erupts. The director “cuts” the cameras, the taping is over. But the audience continues to roar.

And that’s when I did it.

Impulsively, I race onto the stage and throw my arms around Al Hibbler, accompanying my embrace with a tearful, “That was beautiful.”

I don’t know what got into me. I’m not normally a demonstrative person. I just had to go. Not for a second considering the consequences.

I mean, be Al Hibbler. You’re blind, you just finished performing, and, suddenly, out of nowhere, some stranger has his arms wrapped around you. That’s got to be startling, don’t you think?

The man could have justifiably lashed out. I wouldn’t have blamed him. Also, you know, I had no idea what Al Hibbler was like. He could have been a mean, blind guy. Who knew how to protect himself. He could have really hurt me.

I didn’t consider any of that. I couldn’t help myself. I was enchanted by the moment.

Fortunately, it was okay. Hibbler’s response to my appreciative assault?

A chuckling “Heh, heh, heh.”

There’s this phrase I use when I’ve witnessed a superior accomplishment. And not just for the things I know about; it could be ballet, or painting, or a sumptuously prepared meal. You can sense excellence. And when I’m in its presence, I invariably say the same thing:

“I like it when it’s good.”

Sometimes, I get carried away.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"The Certainty of Belief"

Eddie Izzard came out on stage. He’s my favorite comedian right now, and we went to see him in concert. Sometimes, he performs in a sequined dress. This time, he wore jeans and a jacket with tails. Not animal tails, tails like orchestra conductors wear.

Eddie Izzard talks about a lot of things in his act, from the use of elephants in warfare to what it was like playing Scrabble before the invention of words. But, as in a therapy session, there’s something ringingly significant about the first thing that comes out your mouth. The first thing that came out of Eddie Izzard’s mouth that night was this:

“If God existed, he would have flicked Hitler’s head off.”

An hour or so later, between two wildly unrelated subjects, he suddenly interjected,

“You pray for something, and it happens. You pray for something, and it doesn’t happen. That sounds very much like ‘random.’”

Two funny observations. You can’t help but be tickled, imagining some all-powerful Being placing his Giant Thumb over his forefinger, then releasing the forefinger, and flicking Hitler’s head off. And there is goes, bouncing along the cobblestone.

And those three sentences on prayer capsulize the absurdity of the praying activity. A pithy dismissal of “Dear, God, let me have this.” Or “not have this”, in the case of some disease you’d like God to take away.

But when he did those jokes, I watched Eddie Izzard’s face, and I listened to his voice.

He seemed hurt.

And alone, abandoned, and scared.

Which he covered with irritation and a lofty disdain.

(Author’s Note: There is always the possibility I misread the whole thing.)
Izzard wanted God to flick Hitler’s head off. And since God didn't come through, he feels royally upset. It occurs to him that his belief in a Supreme Being – which we all have at some point, I can’t imagine people are born atheists – has been entirely misplaced. And he decides that he’s not going to believe anymore.

He will no longer believe in the existence of God. That will show him.

“That will show someone you believe doesn’t exist?”

“Shut up!”

Izzard’s not the only comedian who seems irate with a God he is certain does not exist. On his HBO series, Bill Maher frequently “goes off” on the foolishness of believing, cranking up his wrath against organized religion and the devastation it delivered in the name of whatever God they were slaughtering people to honor. That stuff's just ugly.

The second part, I agree with entirely. Organized religion has a lot to answer for, from the “we’re holier than you are, so we’re killing you” mentality to selling “indulgences” to their followers, bribes to get into heaven, paid to ordained hucksters who have no control over the matter.

The first part, I’m not as enthusiastic about.

I’ve heard Maher equate the belief in the existence of God to the belief in the existence of Santa Claus. To which, I reply, in my fantasy where I’m a panelist on his show,

“It’s not the same.”

“How do you know it’s not the same?” he retorts, with patented Maherian indignation.

To which I reply,

“We know where the presents come from. We don’t know where we come from.”

You can hear some murmuring from the crowd, but nothing overt, because it’s his show and his audience. Still, there’s no denying that I’m right. Why? Because we know where the presents come from, but we don’t know where we come from.

In my fantasy, Maher appears chastened but unbowed.

“I still think it’s a load of shit”, he replies, saving face, without disputing my argument. And saying “shit”, ‘cause he’s on cable.

I’m not a believer. Sometimes, I wish I were. I envy their comfort and community. And their certainty. Maher derides such certainty as a passionate belief with no provable evidence.

And I think, “Who does that remind me of?”

Oh, yeah.


And Eddie Izzard. The difference is, true believers have a look of contentment on their faces. While atheists just look damaged.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Where Did It Come From?"

An actor named Peter Riegert was playing a scene in an episode I had conceived for Lateline, a comedy series created by John Markus and (now Senator) Al Franken. Peter Riegert is a fine actor who, among other skillful portrayals, starred in Local Hero, one of my favorite movies of all time.

(In Local Hero, a big oil company sends representative Riegert to buy up an entire idyllic coastal town in northern Scotland, as a future site for a new refinery. The twist is the townspeople can’t wait to sell out, but pretend they don’t want to, so they can jack up the price. Local Hero is a gem.)

The Lateline scene, which takes place on a “movie set”, is being played inside a Dressing Room trailer. Because of space limitations, only the actors and the cameraman are in there. The rest of us are outside, listening in on headphones.

Briefly, the set-up for the scene is that Rob Reiner’s directing a blockbuster “disaster movie” called The Seventh Plague, about an infestation of locusts, and Al’s character, Al Freundlich, a Lateline investigative reporter, originally hired for one scene but kept on as a consultant, has caused the movie to go hideously over-budget by insisting that every element in the production be scrupulously accurate.

Riegert plays the head of the studio, who’s come to the “location” to find out what’s going on. In this scene, Reiner is explaining how Freundlich’s interference has caused multiple delays, sending the movie’s budget skyrocketing out of control.

The scene is played impeccably. Two pros at the top of their game. I am absolutely thrilled. It couldn’t have been better.

When the shooting’s over, Riegert emerges from the trailer. I walk straight up to him. I have never met the man before, but I want him to know how I felt about his performance. I shake his hand, and I tell him this:

“When I see my work come alive, through an actor who understands exactly what I had in mind, I am reminded of all the times when it didn’t.”

There was a big thunderclap of laughter. A truth had just been spoken, and everyone seemed to realize it. I stood there, amazed. Not because I was the center of attention – that’s always enjoyable – but by the experience itself.

Something magical had taken place.

I had made no decision to go up to the man. I simply went. I had not prepared what I was going to say. I hadn’t intended to say anything.

Not knowing what I was going to say, I could not have predicted the reaction, but the big laugh was a confirmation. It told me, “You got it right.”

The experience felt deliriously bizarre. It was almost trance-like. I opened my mouth, and the words came tumbling out. I heard myself starting a sentence, with no idea of where it was going.

The perfect words, in the precisely right number, in exactly the right order. I could never duplicate that kind of clarity in my writing. In fact, what I wrote up there, it’s a “to the best of my recollection” approximation, not exactly what I said. What I said was substantially better.

I don’t remember what I said. In writing, you can only get close. Even when you’re recalling your own words.

What I remember is standing there, a witness to my own talking, as much an audience as everyone else. I was only the medium. The words simply passed on through.

The question – for the questioning mind – is: Where did those words come from?

Who formulated that exquisite compliment? Not me. I’m not that articulate. Or that timely. When I say a wise thing, it’s almost never in the moment. It’s in the car on the way home.

“Where did those words come from?” And while we’re at it, since that’s just the stand-in for the deeper, more serious question:

Where did we come from?

Is it possible it’s the same place? And, if so,

What place is that?

I find myself pussyfooting around the religious arena, because, you know, who wants to offend people? Especially concerning religion’s most fundamental issue – the existence of God. To be honest, I’ve been wanting to tackle the “existence of God” issue for some time.

Doesn’t every blog talk about that?

Maybe I’ll take a crack at it tomorrow.

If “de Lawd” spares me till then.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Everybody's A Writer"

That title?


I’ve told my kids that sarcasm is the dialect used by people who don’t have any power. That’s me, in this situation.

Everybody thinks they’re a writer. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

I admit I’m a little prickly on the subject, my personal history as a relatively successful television writer riddled, as it was, by run-ins with network and studio executives, people who had no discernible writing abilities, telling people who had considerable writing abilities what do. A background of this nature can make one a little touchy when it comes to the criticism of their work.

What happened, Earl?

I’ll tell you what happened, Italics Man.

I got rewritten by my Internist.

That’s right. My Internist, a man of medicine, but not writing,

Rewrote something I had written first.

What is his writing experience? He writes prescriptions nobody can read.

Yet, that guy,

“Dr. Illegible”,

Rewrote me.

You’ll have to excuse me. I’m still fuming about it. Here’s the back-story. I’ll keep it short, ‘cause it’s not that interesting. I may send it to my Internist to see if I’m telling it right.

More sarcasm? You betcha.

Okay. Fourteen weeks at a mandatory, medically supervised cardiac rehabilitation program prevented me from training at my regular gym. My personal trainer, Eve, informed me that if the gym got an explanatory letter from my doctor, they would extend my year-long contract, so I wouldn’t have to pay for the time I was absent.

So, fine. I need a letter from my Internist. Now I’m figuring, my Internist is a busy guy, his days filled with telling his patients they’re deficient in some essential nutrient or other, and they need to take supplements he just happens to sell out of his office. That’s not fair. He’s a good doctor. (Though he does sell supplements out of his office.)

But it’s not just that he’s busy. I am generally uncomfortable asking people for favors, and this is unquestionably a favor, since it’s not a medical service I’m asking for, it’s a way for me to save a few bucks at the gym.

I formulate a plan. The plan is to write the letter myself, and then fax it to my Internist. The doctor signs the letter, faxes it back to me, I send it to Eve, and she presents it to the gym. Problem solved. Problems make me anxious. But I immediately relax when they’re solved.

This one will soon be solved.

I write the letter. I fax the letter to my Internist’s office. Later, that day, a letter is faxed back. It is not, however, my letter with the Internist’s signature on it.

My Internist has made a few “changes.”

I couldn’t believe it. My Internist had rewritten my letter. Why? I have no idea. I don’t diagnose ailments. You’ll never hear my saying, “That sounds like gallstones to me.” Diagnosing is doctor’s work.

And writing

Is writer’s work.

I was too steamed to sit down and compare our two letters, to see what exactly he “improved.” I should have. I’m sorry. If I had, I’d have tangible evidence, rather than just my word for it, that nothing was substantially changed. A few words here and there. Some adjustments in emphasis. Nothing major. Nothing – in my view – necessary.

Like many an externally mandated revision, the material had been rewritten “sideways.”

My Internist had clearly found my original effort lacking, and since – and it’s admittedly true – his signature would be at the bottom, he felt required to give my deficient letter his own personal “punch up.”

Maybe he felt, “Earl hasn’t been working in a while, and he’s gotten a little rusty. I’m going to take a pass at it, and give this letter what it’s so obviously missing.”

It never ends.

It doesn’t matter that you’re off the playing field. “Indignity” will find you wherever you are.

And when he does, he will ruin your entire day.

Monday, March 8, 2010

"Earl Fantasy Number Two"

I have in my head somewhere a handful of fantasies of things, which, due to age and a congenital lack of courage, I will never get to do. I mentioned one on my birthday: Sing a medley of western theme songs at the Cowboy Hall of Fame.

That might have been fun. Strapping on that six-gun my friend Dennis brought me from Tucson, and almost got arrested carrying it onto the plane. I’d have come out, wearing my authentic blue-and-white checkered shirt with pearl snaps instead of buttons, my beautiful cowboy boots that only hurt when I wear them, and a truly knockout cowboy hat. I mean, that hat could walk onstage and inspire a standing ovation all by itself.

“Up on your feet, Boys. We’re in the presence of a classic cowboy hat.”

Yeah… (SIGH)… that would have been something.

I announced that the next fantasy I’d tell you about would be “Earl Pomerantz Entertains At The White House”, but I’m not ready for that yet. I’m still fiddling with my “play list.” I hate to disappoint the president. But he’s a pretty busy guy. He probably doesn’t even know I’ve rescheduled.

Earl, this isn’t real.

Back off, Italics Man. It’s a real fantasy.

Instead – and this is a departure for fantasies, though not my fantasies – I present a fantasy which, in some ways, I wish had happened, but having seen it played out in my head, I’m extremely glad it didn’t.

Earl Fantasy Number Two:

Earl Pomerantz Reads Excerpts From His Recently Published Book

I’ve written two books that weren’t published. One is my cowboy book, Saddle Up!, which I occasionally excerpt, for mostly my enjoyment, on this blog. Saddle Up! presents a series of “first person reminiscences” – I put that in quotes, ‘cause they’re not really first person reminiscences, I made them all up – by actors, including animals, who, for years, played the same roles in western movies and TV shows – “The Sidekick”, “The Bad Guy”, “The Good Guy’s Hotheaded Brother”, the “Stampeding Buffalo”, who, along with eleven others, were required to simulate an great herd, by continually running past the camera – each time pretending to be a different buffalo – as the director, through adept camera placement, tried to turn twelve buffalo into a multitude.

Publishers tell me nobody cares about westerns, so that one’s in a box under my desk.

The other book I wrote is a political commentary entitled Both Sides Make Me Angry. I thought I had some interesting things to say, but, apparently, that’s not enough. It turns out, for people to care about your opinions, you have to be a person with an acknowledged expertise. Or a Kardashian.

There is a third book – he went on, referencing books that are available nowhere – and that’s Story of a Writer, created specifically for this blog. A book agent encouraged me to allow her to show it around. I had no interest. Why? Well, for one thing, she suggested that I needed a catchier title. The agent’s suggestion – edging toward an instruction – provided a glimpse of what would be required. One whiff of “selling mode” and I was completely turned off.

I’d like to have a book published. However, my fantasy about it revealed that, reading excerpts, a traditional part of the book selling process…

Train wreck.

I’m a terrible reader. Part of it’s a vision issue. I don’t see well – far, close, or side to side. That third limitation is the crux of my reading difficulty. When normally sighted people read, their peripheral vision tips them off to upcoming words and phrases, allowing their reading to flow smoothly and naturally. For me, however, I’m reading away, and suddenly it’s like…”Whoa, where did that word come from?”

(I have a similar problem as a passenger in cars. I’ve been known to jump when a vehicle emerging from a cross street flashes into my line of sight, terrifying the driver, who believes we are about to crash. No crash. Blessed with regular peripheral vision, the driver has already considered the emerging vehicle. It is only my type of peripheral vision that makes the vehicle appear to have shown up out of nowhere.)

The other problem with a public reading is, you know, you write something, you re-write it, you re-write it again, you massage it, you tweak it, you polish it, and then, finally, you let it go. You feel like you’ve done your best. Still, inside, there’s this nagging suspicion that a “better” version may still be out there.

Assuming perfect vision, I would still have trouble, because, as I’m proceeding, the “better version” would suddenly pop into my head, and I’d be unable to ignore it, because it’s a better version. Inevitably, the words on the page and the improvement I just came up with would crash into each other coming out of my mouth.

You can imagine what that does to a reading.

Fantasies. Wish fulfillments, and wish fulfillment warnings.

Both are comforts in their own way.

Friday, March 5, 2010

"You're Not Funny"

When I was in High School, I read an essay by a Canadian writer named Stephen Leacock, making the point that you can tell a person they’re stupid or unattractive and they can generally handle it, but if you tell them they don’t have a sense of humor, they’ll get noticeably upset and may even do injury to your body, more or less proving they don’t have a sense of humor, but you’re better off not telling them that, because of the likelihood of their hurting you even more.

People are touchy about their senses of humor. And Stephen Leacock was writing about civilians. How much more touchy are the people who do, or would like to do, humor for a living.

Hearing “You’re not funny”, especially from a credible source in the “funny field”, can end your dream of a career in comedy right then and there, the logic on the matter being sparklingly clear:

“The comedy business is for people who are funny. You are not funny. The comedy business is not for you.”

The trouble is, though the logic may be sparklingly clear, the evidence on which the conclusion is based is not, the problem being, “How can you accurately designate whether a person is funny?”

Does everybody have to laugh, before a person can be declared “funny”? Not necessarily.

COMEDIAN: “Everybody laughed.”

HIS CLEAR-EYED BEST FRIEND: “Not the owner of the comedy club.”

If the person that matters remains stone-faced, you are classified: “Not funny.”

COMEDIAN: “But everybody laughed.”


So that’s one way to be “not funny” – if you’re not funny to the person who matters. Another way to be “not funny” is by doing material that’s not appropriate for the audience.

COMEDIAN: “I don’t understand it. My ‘I ran over a dog’ story always gets screams!

HIS CLEAR-EYED BEST FRIEND: “Not at a PETA convention.”

Then, there’s the timing issue. Not the joke-telling timing, the when-you-tell- the-joke timing.

Too soon:

“Did you hear? The “Challenger” just blew up.”

“I guess they weren’t up to the challenge.”

Too late:

“Speaking about Jayne Mansfield…”


I’m sure there are other reasons for being incorrectly labeled “not funny”, which I have neither the time nor the inclination to come up with right now. The point is, “funny” is a delicate business. I, for one, have always been aware of that.

Let’s, for the moment, say that I’m funny. I don’t want a debate on the matter. For the following anecdote, it is necessary to assume that I’m funny. We can have a referendum on it at some future time.

Okay, I’m funny. And I’m working on this CBC (Canadian national television) series called Music Machine, as the “funny music critic.” (Would they hire a not funny guy to be the “funny music critic”? So – proof – I’m funny.)

We’re sitting in the Dressing Room before a taping, “we” being the show’s band, the eponymous Music Machine, and myself. (I believe I used “eponymous” correctly. But I could be wrong.)

Having pre-recorded their musical numbers earlier in the week, the band has no further duties, other than to lip-sync to the pre-recorded soundtrack in front of the cameras. As a result, the band is totally relaxed. And smoking pot.

They offer some to me. I say, “No, thank you.” Not out of principle, but because I did not pre-record my hilarious monolog. I have to perform it live, in front of the cameras, as well as an assembled studio audience. Understanding that “funny” is a delicate business, I require that my “funny apparatus” remain unencumbered by mood altering substances. I need my brain exactly the way it is.

And I was right. During my performance, I found myself accessing my brain on numerous occasions, always grateful it was available to me, rather than humming distractedly, or intensely considering where I could score some Cheetos.

I always knew “funny” was a delicate business, but I was not aware how delicate, till I visited to a Northern Ontario mining town called Sudbury. I’m sure you’ve all been there.

A friend of mine was teaching English at a community college in Sudbury, and he hired me, I think, for a hundred dollars plus expenses (which, I believe, is what Rockford used to get) to come up and talk about comedy writing to a gathering of future miners. I said, “Sure.” You don’t turn down an opportunity like that.

I was scheduled to speak to nine classes over two days. And here’s what happened. I’d talk to one class about what I do (which, at the time, was writing a weekly column for a Toronto newspaper), and the kids are howling. I am on fire! I mean, I’m doing Bill Cosby imitations, and I didn’t even know I knew how.

At the end of the period, as they changed classes, I overhear a departing student tell an arriving student, “You’re gonna love this guy. He’s really funny.”

The new class comes in, I start again, and…nothing. Not a laugh, not a titter. I’m bombing in front of the Miners of Tomorrow. The kids are staring at me, thinking, “I thought he was supposed to be funny.”

I felt dumbstruck and shocked. I mean, you knock it out of the park with one class, and minutes later, before a not discernibly different other class – a dribbler to the mound.

As Fred Willard declared in A Mighty Wind, “Wha’ hoppin’?”

One thing that “hoppin’” is a lack of experience. Professional comedy people can be funny more consistently. And they have tricks to “save” themselves when they’re in trouble. I relied on my natural abilities. The results of my efforts? Decidedly mixed.

Decades later, in some Sudbury tavern, fistfights will still break out on the subject.

“The guy was funny!”

“The guy was crap!”

The truth is, I was both. Though I hope the guy on my side got in some good shots.

Hey, I flew up to Sudbury. The least they could do was chuckle.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"A Memorable Turning Point"

This story may sound like nothing to you. But to me, it was something. A big something. So big, in fact, that it took me 536 posts to finally let it out. I don’t really want to write about it now. But if I don’t, it will irritate me until I do. Thoughts are funny that way.

It happened about five years ago. Now, closer to six. I’m standing outside a supermarket-sized stationery store, about to go in. I stop, and ponder the moment. Wrong. I didn’t stop. The moment made me stop. And, while stopped, I pondered.

The moment was right to make me stop. I was at a turning point. It needed to be appropriately marked.

After thirty years of regular employment, I was no longer working for money. Apparently, show business had a meeting and decided I was done. Nobody wanted me. It was time for me to go.

Hey, it’s their business. They can do whatever they want. And they wanted me unpaid and at home.

I was labeled “out of sync with the marketplace.” Show business doesn’t pay people who are “out of sync with the marketplace.” Or provide them with an office. And a secretary. And their own personal parking space. And unlimited “long distance.” And free lunches at the commissary.

Or this thing.

“This thing” was always part of the arrangement. Not the most valuable part, or even close, but it was automatic. There was always unlimited this. You could use it in the office, you could take it home. Nobody cared. You did studio work at home, you needed “this.” They said “Take as much as you want.” Or at least that was implied.

Now, all that was finished. No more studio “perks.” No more “this.” The arrangement was over. The “this” deal was gone.

Endings are hard. Beginnings? Remember the first day of school? Beginnings are like that. First page of your notebook, you write really neat. It’s a fresh start. You’re hopeful. There’ll be neat writing forever.

Endings mean change. People hate change. Even when it’s for the better. Look at the resistance to health care reform. “You don’t want affordable health care?” “We’ll stick with what we have.” “You ‘have’ terrible health care.” “It’s what we’re used to.”

I had no choice in the matter. The change was externally imposed. I was hurt. I felt lost and alone, adrift on a sea of uncertainty and regret.

Was it my fault? Had I done something wrong? “No. A change in fashion. It’s nothing personal. Leave your key on the desk.”

And now I was here, standing in front of a stationery store, starting a new chapter in my life. Oh, well. Onward and upward.

I took a deep breath, and went inside.

I bought three reams of copy paper for my printer.

I walked up to the cashier,

And for the first time in thirty years…

I had to pay for the paper myself.

The one sign of hope?

I bought three reams of paper.

I guess I thought I still had something to write.

(Author’s Note: To those who wanted to do what I did but it didn’t work out? I’m sorry if this sounds petty. Believe me, it was really big at the time.)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"A Final Comment On The Olympics"

I watched curling for two weeks. And I still have no idea what they were doing.

I knew some stuff from before. I used to watch curling in Canada. Curling is a winter sport, and I’d watch anything that would keep me from going outside.

(I drew the line at French-Canadian bowling. I’d hear the announcer describing a “sept-dix split”, and I had to get up and go find my parka. Watching that was a screaming admission that I was throwing my life away.)

My earlier viewings of curling made me relatively clear on the basics. I understand how you scored points. It’s like marbles or shuffleboard. A player on one team delivers their rock, hoping to get it closer to the center of the concentric circles than the other team’s rocks. To protect their scoring rocks, they position “guard rocks” out in front, so the other team can’t knock them away.

I know about the “in-turn draw” and the “out-turn draw.” That has to do with the direction you twist the handle attached to the top of the rock before letting it go. The way you twist the handle reflects your desire for the rock to “curl” in or “curl” out.

I understand the “sweeping.” The sweeping brushes away the debris in front of the rock, allowing it to slide faster. If that’s what you want, you sweep. If your rock is sliding at the appropriate speed, or too quickly, you don’t sweep. Also, if one team’s rock looks like it’s going to slide through the circles and therefore score zero, the other team sweeps, to insure that that happens.

I know there are ten “ends”, which are like innings, during which the teams take turns delivering their rocks, and that if there’s a tie after ten, you go into extra “ends” until there’s a winner.

Through the entire two weeks of watching on television, I learned virtually nothing more about curling than I already knew. I learned that, if a team has the last shot in an “end,” you say that that team has the “hammer.” And that was it.

Being observant, I noticed a couple of things on my own. I noticed, to my amazement that, though the “sweepers” went hurtling down to lane, seemingly not looking where they were going, never once did they trip over a rock that was already in place. I would have fallen over everything.

Another thing I noticed: “Those Swedish women are big!”

Other Olympic sports were easy to understand, even for the novice. In the speed events, you watched the times. The athlete with the fastest time, won. With figure skating, it was the judges’ scores. You could disagree with those scores, but you knew they were the deciding factor.

I never saw the Biathlon before, but I got it right away. It’s skiing and it’s shooting. (It’s like they were short one event, and it edged out skating and yodeling.)

Not that there aren’t subtleties in every event that experts would be aware of but would pass me right by. There were tons of those. But for the most part, what you knew was enough to allow you to appreciate what was going on.

An essential element in curling is the player’s “touch” when releasing the rock. The “touch” determines the success of the shot. It’s a delicate maneuver. The right “touch” and the rock does exactly what you intend it to do. You’re a little “off” with your shot, and your teammates – though they pretend not to be – are really mad at you.

But as important as “touch” is, even more important is strategy. The plan behind the shot. That’s where the bulk of the time is taken. The shots themselves take twenty-five seconds. The rest of the time, the players are huddling, to decide which type of shot to try. Sometimes, a team calls a “time out” for a more extended discussion. That’s how vital strategy is to curling.

The announcers covering the curling competition – I believe there were three of them – would debate strategy along with the players. They would all articulate their positions, usually differing ones. But here’s the big problem.

The announcers discussed their various strategies in the language of connoisseurs of the game, believing it appeared, that the viewing audience was as knowledgeable as they were.

Why would they think that? It’s curling!

I recognized a few words here and there. They were speaking English, but in a different and, to me, undecipherable dialect. It was like eavesdropping in a bar where they only speak Gaelic. It sounded familiar, but the gist was frustratingly out of reach.

They were arguing strategy, the most important element in curling. And I had no idea what they were talking about!

This is what it sounded like to me:

ANNOUNCER NUMBER ONE: “What I think they should do here is to…(articulating 'Strategy A', which they don’t explain)…so they can…(articulating the hoped-for outcome, which they don’t explain)…without…(verbal static, featuring incomprehensible – unless you’re an expert in curling – groupings of words.)

ANNOUNCER NUMBER TWO: “I get what you’re drivin’ at there, but, to me, that’s extremely risky. The best plan here is to…(articulating an equally incomprehensible 'Strategy B'.) That way they can…(total gibberish)… while at same time…(more verbal static, but with an upbeat tone, indicating a desirable effect.)"

ANNOUNCER NUMBER THREE: “You guys both have a point. But if I were them, I would…bibbity bobbity boo…making certain to…wee-oo, wee-oo, wee-oo…while keeping my opponent from…abba dabba dabba, said the monkey to the chimp.

I spent hours and hours watching a game, whose strategy the announcers made an inadequate effort to explain.

I want my hours and hours back.