Wednesday, June 3, 2015

"The Stories We Tell"

There are times when you hear yourself tell your story.  For me, yesterday was one of those times.  The experience got me wondering.  Then got me writing those wonderings down.

Somebody asked me – on behalf of an acquaintance of his who produced them – if I’d be willing to be interviewed for a podcast.  I said yes, one, to get out of the house, and two, because I find situations where I can talk about myself irresistible. 

I mean, that’s what these daily blab-athons are primarily about.  The bar on such matters may be compassionately low, but I have never found myself less than endlessly fascinating. 

He said with a self-deprecating twinkle.

I am my favorite singer.  I am also my favorite raconteur.

I took Uber over to the guy’s house.  In the middle of the trip, “Driver David’s” GPS System conked out.  We arrived at my destination regardless, thanks to the car’s “back-up” GPS system – me.  I figured out where the place was. 

On Uber, drivers are required to rate their passengers.  My performance should have easily earned me “Five Stars.”

I went up to the house and I rang the doorbell.  It was answered by an affable, sturdily built gentleman with a dog.

While we were setting up, I asked my interlocutor about himself, so I could get a bead on whom exactly I was talking to.  It turns out Brian is a professional character actor who, as a sideline, produces podcast interviews involving show biz participants, his area of specialization being the seventies.  I qualified, having arrived on these welcoming shores – by plane – in 1974.

I took one sip of water, and was asked the first question.  I then turned on the spigot, and the deluge began.

When our conversation was over – I am jumping around here, but I’ll go back in a second – I related the story concerning a job interview I had near the end of my career with the president of Disney Television, where I was hoping to secure a multi-year “Development Deal.”

Standing at the door at the end of our get-together during which I had chattered on excitedly – though it could have been nervously; I was eager for one last lucrative payday – the studio president shook my hand amicably and said,

“You really ought to get out more.”

It felt the same way this time.  Throughout the interview, my speaking rhythm – not in tribute to the movie – was fast and furious.  Perhaps even more so than at my Disney interview.  If I needed to “get out more” when I was working, how much desperater did I sound when I wasn’t?

By the end, I felt like I needed something that rhymes with “desperater” – a “res-perater.” 

The specifics of my story were – understandably – familiar to me.  And to a large extent, to my readership as well.

(DELIVERED IN A BORING MONOTONE, THOUGH, RISING TO THE OCCASION, MY ACTUAL DELIVERY BRIMMED WITH BRACING ENTHUSIASM):  “I worked in Canada… my brother was Lorne Michaels’ writing partner… after they split it, Lorne brought me down to Los Angeles… He left town to create this variety show in New York, but I didn’t go… I got into half-hour comedies… Mary Tyler Moore, Taxi, Cheers, I was the first Executive Producer of The Cosby Show­ – I know nothing about his personal “activities”… I got a couple of shows on the air…  I had “Development Deals” where I watched the O.J. Simpson trial every day in my office…



Most of which could be found easily on IMDB.

But there was also an “underlying thread” to my manic blathering.  And that’s what caught my attention as I listened to myself.

In the course of my biographical narrative, I made prominent mention of what I considered to be the “high point” of my career.  For three years in the mid-seventies, I wrote eight scripts per season for the various series produced concurrently by the Mary Tyler Moore Company. 

I only wrote scripts. 

No late-night rewrites.  No dealing with actors.  No fighting with the networks.  It was a pure writing job.  Later, when I created shows and had to run them… I had to do too many things that “weren’t me”, and things sorta-kinda went off the rails. 

If you were listening for a “sound bite”, the “headline” observation of our entire encounter was this:

“I was bad at everything but the writing.”

In retrospect – I am talking about the moment immediately after it came out of my mouth so it was really fast “in retrospect”…

That sounded a little harsh. 

Now normally when you are being interviewed, you tend to naturally generate the most appealing version of yourself, not lying exactly, but fashioning enhancing, personal “adjustments” – a man looking in the mirror, tilting his chapeau at a slightly more rakish angle before heading out onto the street.

“I was bad at everything but the writing”?

What was the “appealing version” in that?

What immortalizing inscription was I carving on my commemorative statue?

Maybe it was,

“I am a Purist, hijacked by the Malevolent Forces of Opportunity and Cash.”

From this vantage point, that sounds like absolute nonsense.

Nobody made me do anything.  At the time, opportunity and cash were imaginably exactly what I was looking for.  Oh, and by the way, maybe I was actually better at some things that weren’t writing than I have come to believe I was.

Oh, well.  That’s my story.  (Now “Podcast Permanent.”)

It just made me wonder…

What exactly is my actual story? 


cjdahl60 said...

What's the name of the podcast that you were being interviewed for? I'd be interested in giving it a listen.

JED said...

I found it here: