Tuesday, April 30, 2019

"I Never Wanted To Be A Comedian"

I wanted to be a successful comedian.

This is akin though not identical to the old dictum:

“You don’t want to write.  You want to ‘have written’.”

In both cases your desire leaves something out:

The expressed effort required getting there.

In the old dictum, however, leapfrogging the required effort – that’s all that’s about.  You want to look at the pages and see words there, rather than enduring the process of filling them up yourself. 

That’s like “You don’t want to take your car to the case wash.  You want to ‘have taken’ your car to the carwash.  You want the clean car.  But without sitting on those uncomfortable benches, reading a “throw-away” newspaper while you wait.

By the way, the old dictum ignores the quality of the work.  Nobody dreams about “having written” abominably. 

“You don’t want to write.  You want to have written pure garbage.”

That is definitely not the idea.  Better a legacy of blank pages than a completed opus of literary awfulness.

(Maybe it is simply assumed that if you “have written”, the inevitable outcome is wonderful.  It is not “You want to ‘have written’”; it’s “You want to ‘have written’ beautifully.”  Though that may be inherent in the dictum and I mistakenly missed the assumption.)

Anyway, that – and my apologies for the meandering – is not the same as “I wanted to a successful comedian.”  It is not about skipping the effort. 

Or maybe it is. 

We’ll see.

First, though, even “successful comedian” is insufficiently accurate, as I would not want to be a successful “Insult Comedian”, a successful “Foul-Mouthed Comedian”, a successful “Stupid Comedian” or a comedian who scores big smashing a watermelon with a sledgehammer, spraying the front rows of the audience, provided with cheap raincoats to avoid lawsuits.

I want to be a successful comedian like Jerry Seinfeld. 

I recently watched a Netflix

Wait.  I forgot to add this:

And it is not about the money.

I think that needs to be said.

So I’m saying it.

It is not about the money.  Pondering my desire to be a successful comedian, the money, it’s, like, seventh on a list of reasons I would want to be a successful comedian.  Not that watching a successful comedian like Jerry Seinfeld performing in some massive auditorium I never considered how much he made for his hour of work while I watched an old episode of Gunsmoke, making nothing. 

Is it normal to think about that, watching a successful comedian’s comedy special? 

Hard to tell. 

I have always only been me.

Okay, back to where I left off.

I recently watched… you know what?  Let’s forget about that.

I see a successful comedian working before a worshipful audience, comfortably at ease, garnering big laughs – sometimes, it appears, more for being a successful comedian than for “That joke was hilarious” – his seamless delivery built from years of honing his material, his onstage persona, and well-timed delivery, making a King’s Ransom from an hour-rerun-length’s effort – okay, it’s the fifth thing I think about; sue me for exaggerating by two – walking offstage to tumultuous applause.  Forget “walking offstage.”  I would kill for the applause Seinfeld receives walking onstage.

It sounds like a good job, being a successful comedian.

Unfortunately, you cannot get that job.

There is no job, “Successful Comedian.”

Apparently – he said ironically – you have to work your way up.

Hmm.  Maybe this is about wanting to “have written.”
No, wait, it isn’t.  And I’ll explain to you why.

Being painfully honest with myself, if I could be a successful comedian without working my way up, I am not sure I would want to be a successful comedian anyway.
In fact, I am almost certain I wouldn’t.

So what is this about?


When my daughter Anna was four, she requested that we order her a hugely expensive hamburger from Room Service at a luxury hotel in New York and when it arrived she ate none of it.

“Anna”, I inquired, trying not to sound angry, “why did you ask for the hamburger if you weren’t going to eat it?”

To which four year-old Anna replied,

“I didn’t get it to eat, Daddy.  I just got it to look at.”

Similarly, it comes down to I don’t want to be a successful comedian.

I just like thinking about it.

Monday, April 29, 2019

"Post Facto Confession"

The relatively easiest posts for me to write – and I stress the word “relatively” because none of them are actually easy – and if I were “that kind of person” I would add, “And if you don’t believe me you can try it yourself” but I’m not so I won’t – the relatively easiest posts for me to write are about things that have actually occurred.

That’s what I did last time.  (“At Your Service”, 4/26/19.)  I took an event involving a company, informing me by mail that they are going to give me some money, offering available phone access for the recovery of that money, and then making that access unavailable for over two days, succeeding only when I called at three-twenty A.M. and even then it took three calls to finally get through.

I don’t like those people.  I’d have preferred if they’d instead sent me a letter saying,

“We have money for you.  And while assuring you otherwise, we are making the recovery of that money as difficult to collect as we possibly can.”

At least that would be honest.

Anyway, enough about the anonymous company I’ll call “Entertainment Partners.”  They may be partners with somebody but it sure wasn’t me. 

Posts like that are relatively easy for me to write because an event took place, and I simply told you about it.  Hopefully, in an interesting fashion, because the story itself – if it did not happen to you, and perhaps even if it did – is not inherently scintillating.

“But you told it so beautifully.”

Thank you.  Unless that was facetious.

Hey!  Where did they go?

My whole job with the story was connecting the narrative dots, with minimal embellishment, exaggeration, leaving stuff out, or moving stuff around.  I told the story, just as I experienced it.

“But you did mess with it a little.”

Oh, you’re back.  So was that facetious?

“Was what facetious?”

“But you told it so beautifully.”

And now they’re gone again.

Okay, I did mess with the story a little.  Most deliberately, I was aware, but neglected to mention, that there was an option of mailing in the request for the money coming to me.  I did not originally notice that alternate option, as it appeared on the back of the letter.  On the front of the letter, they said I could call them “seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day.”  The “mail-in” was apparently a backup, but the company assured me I didn’t need it.  And, indeed, I didn’t.  I just had to call in at three-twenty A.M.    

So the you have it.  Excluding the secondary tidbit concerning the “mail-in”, I somewhat altered the narrative.

Leaving me guilty of “somewhat.” 

Which leads to a television review of the FX miniseries Fosse/Verdon, chronicling the intricate relationship between genius choreographer Bob Fosse and dancer/musical star/Fosse’s ex-wife, Gwen Verdon.

In passing, the “biopic’s” review speaks specifically to the foregoing issue.  This excerpt is included because it is the clearest articulation of that issue I have ever encountered.

Written by Robert Lloyd (L.A. Times, April the 9th, 2019):

“Every person is a mystery, even to himself or herself, and even the most thoroughly researched biography (or, for that matter, autobiography, all narrators being fundamentally unreliable) is no more than a hypothesis, a theory of a case that can never be settled.” 


“Are you being facetious?” 

Yes.  (And I am not running away!)

That's so annoying.  I work hard, chronicling events as truthfully as I can.  And it’s “no more than a ‘hypothesis’”?  I might as well write fiction!


That’s me, blowing off steam.

There will be no fiction coming from me.  Though I do fictionalize somewhat.

And I felt it my blogatorial duty to come clean.

Friday, April 26, 2019

"At Your Service"

It began with good news.

I received a letter that was not a bill, or a reminder that I was due for my annual cardiologist’s appointment.

The letter is one page, printed on paper the color of the healthy flesh of some tropical fruit, possibly a guava. 

“Entertainment Partners”, who are responsible for disbursing residual checks for some of the production companies I worked for, was writing to inform me that

“Our records indicate that the following payroll check has not been cashed.”

They then offer a procedure by which I can get that uncashed check reissued, thereby receiving the monies – I love that word – they had previously sent me but that, according to their records, I had never deposited in the bank.

Let me be clear.  We are not talking “Lottery Windfall” here.  As the years pass, my residual payment amounts substantially recede.  Sitting in my home office is a check for eight-four cents, which I am not sure will pay for the gas to get me to the nearest Bank Teller machine to deposit it.

This check, the letter reports, is for one hundred and twenty-two dollars and sixty-four cents, which you will agree is not nothing.  You can comfortably deposit that without the bank machine chuckling at you.  Unlike

“Eight-four cents, huh?  And you are putting it in the bank, rather than buying some gum?”

The process for receiving my replacement check sounds easy.  I had to call the “Unclaimed Property Hotline”, tell them my nine-digit “Search Letter Number” and six-digit “PIN” number, both “appearing above” in the letter, plus give them the last four digits of my Social Security Number.

Easy-peasy.  I do as instructed and I will receive a hundred and twenty-two dollars and sixty-four cents.

Here is the essential issue of this financial transaction – the announcement that there will be no problem completing this process because

“This number (for the “Unclaimed Property Hotline”) is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

The words “For your convenience”, being implicitly “understood.”
Okay.  (And don’t get ahead of me.)

I call the number for the “Unclaimed Property Hotline”, knowing someone will be there because they said in the letter they would be.

The line is “Busy”, and I hang up.

“Okay fine”, I think.  A lot of people are calling about uncashed residual checks; I will call them back later.  No problem there.  The “Unclaimed Property Hotline” is available 24 hour a day, seven days a week.

A while later, I call back the “Unclaimed Property Hotline.”  The line is still “Busy.”  No announced “Wait Period.”  No recorded music to pass the time.  Just the “Busy Signal”, and that’s it.  I call again later.  No luck.

Over a 24-hour period, I call the “Unclaimed Property Hotline” maybe a dozen times, all with the same negative result – no progress whatsoever.  I am thinking, the “Unclaimed Property Hotline” may in fact be available 24/7, but it may as well not be.  “Unavailable” or “Busy”, I am still not getting through.

I call the “Unclaimed Property Hotline” again and again – every time, still “Busy.”  I am losing my patience.  Which may, putting a cynical “spin” on things, be the actual point of this frustrating exercise.  Could “Entertainment Partners” actually not want to reissue my residual check?  Do they hope I’ll go, “Forget it”, and give up?

These people do not know whom they are dealing with.

A retired television writer with time on his hands.

I re-read the letter, discovering that you can e-mail “Entertainment Partners”, but only if the listed “Home Address” in the letter is incorrect.  The listed “Home Address” in the letter is not incorrect.

I audaciously e-mail them anyway.

“Hey!  I can’t get through!

is the succinct gist of my e-mail.    

The next day, I receive a return e-mail from “Entertainment Partners” saying, in part,

“I am sorry you were unable to go through our automated hotline ” – Peter An.

My friend Peter suggests I call the “Unclaimed Property Hotline” at different times – apparently nobody gets through on the first try – such as late at night. 
Once again, they do not know whom they are dealing with.  (Besides a guy who says “Whom.”)

Last night, for unspecified reasons, I am awake at three-twenty A.M. 

I get up…

… and call the “Unclaimed Property Hotline.”

The line is still “Busy.”

At three-twenty A.M.

I try again.  “Busy.”  I try a third time.

Glory be!  I get an automated announcement!

As instructed, I excitedly “Press 1”, to submit my relevant information.

I am then told to enter my nine-digit “Search Letter” number “appearing above”, which I do.  Half way through, however, the voice says, I have not included enough numbers.  Which in reality means I have entered those numbers too slowly.  Why did that happen?

Because it is three-twenty A.M.

I memorize the nine-digit “Search Letter” number “appearing above”, punching it in as fast as I can. 

And I make it!

Now for the six-digit “Pin” number, which I flub on my first three attempts.

Hey, I’m tired!

Finally, I submit all the information required.  Having complied with their instructions, I am told it will take four weeks for “processing” before receiving my check.

That’ll happen, won’t it?

I mean, look how easy it was to get through.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

"Better Call Earl"

I don’t know whether to feel flattered or to bitterly complain.  I’m gonna write about it and decide how I feel later.  It’s a close call.  Let’s see where I land.

“Let’s see where we land.”

On the “Care or “Don’t care” continuum?

“The only continuum that counts.”

Point taken.  As I consciously – or it is self-consciously – proceed.

Here’s the thing.  Which I did not notice the first time but when it happened again I did.

It started with Anna, going back for some time.

You probably know this already, but a comprehensive report requires careful attention to superfluous detail. 

When somebody calls me, I can always tell if they are calling from their car, rather than from a place that stands still.  There is this giveaway “whooshing” sound, indicating the caller’s in motion.  “Ambient sound.”  And it isn’t their living room.

Normally, though unnecessarily, I assure you, my suspicions are confirmed after casually inquiring, “Where are you headed, Anna?”

It is invariably someplace.

Enjoying half-day “child-care”, Anna calls during free mornings, while running some errands.  The problem is,

I write in the mornings.

I am polite holding up my end of the conversation, chatting away till, “Dad, I’m there”, wherein the call abruptly comes to an end.  Occasionally, when the call is extended – due to bad traffic or a faraway errand – I say, as congenially as possible, “Anna, I have to get back to work.”

Ending such calls is not easy.  I mean, it’s not like she’s wasting my time.  “Wasting my time” is pretty much my post-career itinerary.  Besides, I am talking to my daughter.

The thing is, her call seriously interrupted my “Flow.”  Trust me.  This is an actual thing.  Bashing ahead, taking a break, then going back to where you left off?
You can’t do it!  

Something essential is not there.

Imagine a frustrated Beethoven composing the opening bar to his iconic Fifth Symphony, interrupted after the first memorable notes to answer the door, returning to the piano, and picking things up.

“Ba-ba-ba…………. what!!!

The measure of “Fatherly Devotion”?  

Choosing my daughter over my “Flow.”

Anyway, that’s what I’ve become – a traveling “Time Killer”, between “Here” and destinational “There.”


Then, recently, my brother calls from Toronto.  Tutored in “When not to call”, he helpfully phones during afternoons, when I have finished my work.

Our conversation goes predictably.  We compare ailments, like we are not brothers but Siamese Twins, auguring matching afflictions, the underlying belief – denied by experience but still clung to regardless – being that we are getting exactly the same things.  (Like our mother returning from trips, bringing us identical presents.  It’s like that, but with diseases.)

And then I hear this:

“Okay, (his wife) Nancy’s ready.  I gotta go.”


They did it again!

Bored, waiting or tiresomely en route… they know exactly who to call.

How did I get so lucky?

I don’t get it.

Do they enjoy talking to me?

Or am I fodder on “Speed Dial”?

A simple experiment:

If they called someone else, would I be jealous, or relieved?

To find out, I’d have to adamantly put my foot down, saying,

“I am not “Hold” music.  Call me when you actually want to talk.”


It is not my nature to do that.

Which may be why they call me in the first place.

I am available,

… and wimpy.