Wednesday, July 31, 2019

"Michiana Dispatch"

Years ago, on Major Dad a character I created – who was like me – complained about camping,

“I don’t ‘get’ camping. ‘Hey, we’ve got some spare time. Why don’t we go someplace and live worse than we usually do?’”

That’s us, in Michiana.

The natural setting? Even a “chronic complainer” can’t complain about that.  It’s the Primeval Forest, with unpaved roads.  Green.  Lush. We saw deer – a mama and her baby – the first hour we were here.  (We told them to stay away from the roads.  We’d hate to see those guys lying down.)  

Oh, and the air!  If someone here visited L.A. they’d take one breath and go, 

“What did you doto it?”

Michiana is sun-dappled Paradise.  (If Paradise was green and lush and all its streets were named after Indian tribes.) 

But then there’s the cabin.
Okay, this is our fault. We don’t come here that often.  We do not give it adequate attention.  If the cabin were children, the “Authorities” would take it away from us and give it to nicer people.  That does not live two thousand miles away, and shows up only biannually.

Expecting it always to be perfect.

Which it inevitably is not.  

Once, flying all day to Chicago and then driving to the country, arriving late at night, we were unable to get in.  Heavy rains had swelled – swollened – swellened – the said he was in bed.  He finally agreed to come out when we reminded him he was a “24-hour Locksmith.” 

Another time, while setting things up, I slid my electric piano from its encasing box, and a mouse suddenly jumped out.  


People actually go, “Eek!”

These stories building to the crescendo I ‘ve been trying to avoid but no longer can,
This year:

Our only toilet is broken.

You’ll have to admit, this is not “Oh, he’s such a snob.”

Our only toilet is broken!

This is not, you need to “go” and there’s nowhere to go.  This is, you may need to “go” sometime, and that option is not on the table.

Less urgency, perhaps, but more tension.

There are a lot of things here you can do without. Once, our water heater went kaput. Inconvenient, but we “made do”, heating water in big pots and pouring it over each other in the shower stall.  

Romantic, but scalding.

But when a toilet overflows when you flush it, there is no available “Plan B.”  

Except to go to a restaurant when you’re not hungry, so you can use their “facilities.” 

Or this.

Which happened last night. (So I guess there’s alwaysa “Plan B.”)

Imagine this.  Or, if you prefer not to, don’t.

You get up in the middle of the night, feeling “the need.’  You go outside.  Not to a “privy.”  But to actually “go” outside.

It’s dark.  No one’s awake.  There is no,

“He’s old.  Let’s wait up, and we’ll see him ‘do it.’”

I’m alone.

In the forest.  (Sufficiently far from the cabin.)

Hoping mosquitoes are dozing, because… never mind.

That’s what it’s down to. A man of means and two Emmys, “going” outdoors.
Oh well.  At least I now know the secret the age-old conundrum:

“Does a Jew pee in the woods?”

The answer is, 

“Did I have any choice?”

Written awaiting a plumber.  

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

"It's All Under Control"

I am sitting at a red light at the steep, upward (if you still need that if you say) incline of La Cienega Boulevard and its “T-ing” cross-street Sunset Boulevard, my foot pressed on the brake…

… and my other foot pressed on the gas pedal.

DMV DRIVING EXAMINER:  “That’s an automatic ‘Fail’!”

Shut up.  I don’t drive anymore. 

Why do I have one foot on the brake and the other foot on the gas pedal?

Because I am deathly afraid that when the light turns “Green”, during the time I switch from the brake to the gas pedal, my car will roll back into the car sitting behind me.  This way, I can lift my foot off the brake, and my other foot is already on the “gas.”

What’s that about?  Besides “Vehicular ignorance”?

It is about control.

I want to be in total control of my car.  And if I use one foot, my concern – involving a loud crashing sound and the exchange of “pertinent information” – is that I won’t be.

The need for total control.

The same reason I was unwilling to take drugs.

The psychedelic perception of three-dimensional things suddenly dissolving before one’s very eyes – a liquid Chihuahua, perhaps – would be the ideal description of “losing control.”  And I did not want that.

Even though I was assured that “Loss of Control” was exactly what was required to creatively ascend to “The Next Level”, the implication being, if didn’t, I wouldn’t.  And I would be left behind by my bolder associates.

I hate having to defend – and pay the price for – being eminently sensible. 

Which, to me, ties the previous and current stories together.

I think.

Though I am doing this without drugs.

So I could be laughably superficial.

Flash Back to before my arrival in Los Angeles.  I am working on a talk-variety show in Toronto called Everything Goes, co-writing one hundred episodes in three months – which primarily involved typing, “Would you welcome, please…” before every “Guest” introduction – and performing self-written comedy in ten of those episodes. 

(The show was hosted by comedian Norm Crosby, who was, I believe, the only professional talk show host who was functionally deaf, meaning he would ask prepared questions and then pretend to hear the returned answers.)

I include salary because it comes into play later.  On Everything Goes, I was paid five hundred dollars a week for the writing, and two hundred-and-fifty dollars per performance, which essentially meant that I made seven hundred-and-fifty dollars a week, to date, the most I had ever received in my fledgling career.

Half way or so through production I get a call from Los Angeles.

Lorne Michaels, whom I had previously worked for and had subsequently transplanted to the States is wondering if I am interested in writing for a Lily Tomlin special he is producing. 

(Lorne had shown Lily a short film I had written for one of his comedy specials in Canada.  Lily had apparently liked it, and asked Lorne to invite me to work on her special.)

I was flattered and excited.

But also eminently sensible.

“How much would I be getting for the job?” I inquire.

“Twenty-five hundred dollars for four weeks.”  (That was, of course, “American money”, but we shall keep that out of the equation.)

Being “eminently sensible”, my immediate reaction is,

“I’m making more than that here.”  (In the comparative time period, I would make three thousand on Everything Goes.)

I then “eminently sensibly” say, “No.”

Allow that to sink in for a moment.


I had opted to work on a meaningless trifle in Toronto over collaborating with a comedy genius – Lily Tomlin – in “The Show Biz Capital of the World.”


Because I wanted control.

As in,

“How dare you offer the wished-for ‘Chance of a Lifetime!’  When it comes to ‘career trajectory control’, that’s my job.”

And I slam down the phone.  (In my head.  In real life, I politely say good-bye.  And go back to writing “Will you welcome please… Frank Sinatra Jr.”)

I know that’s all crazy.

But that’s exactly what I did.

For me, the unsettling move up was too fast.  Using a “car analogy” again, if the freeway “Speed Limit” is 65, I drive a more comfortable 47.

DMV DRIVING EXAMINER:  “That’s another…


(It appears the American “Gun Culture” has rubbed off on me.)

As luck would have it, “Fate” fortuitously intervened.  The same week Everything Goes was cancelled, Lorne Michaels calls again, explaining that the previously postponed Lily Tomlin special was scheduled for production and wondering if I wanted to work on it now.

And I reversingly say, “Yes.”

(Years later hearing this story, my daughter Anna observed,  “Hey, ‘Opportunity’ knocked twice.”)

It appears everything can be taken to unreasonable extremes.

Including ultimate control.

Leaving the decision of “when to do what” up to the individual.

Who may, on occasion, be the wrong person to make it.

Monday, July 29, 2019

"The 'Trip' Not Taken"

“You don’t know what you’d have done if you had done what you didn’t do.”

(Me, not on drugs.  Though sounding suspiciously like I am.)

I am listening (on CD) to Graham Nash’s memoir, Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life.  The man took a whole lot of drugs, inspiring some exceptional songwriting.  (E.g., “Teach Your Children” and “Marrakesh Express.”)

I took virtually no drugs.

Today’s Wondering:

What comedy “brilliance” did that keep me from writing?

It is not a serious wondering – more a theoretical pondering – because I did okay without drugs.  Which kind of fit, because the audience I wrote for did not take drugs either.  Who knows? I might have “drugged” myself right out of mainstream entertainment. 

More specifically, that whole scene, Man.  It just wasn’t me.  (For example, I hardly ever said “Man.”)

I don’t like “losing my mind.” 

What would I use to recover it?

Offered marijuana before the taping of a Canadian television show I would soon perform “live” on by a band who had pre-recorded their songs and didn’t have to remember the words just make their lips pretend that they did, I politely said “No”, explaining, pointing to my skull,

“My brain’s in there.  I am going to need it when I go on.”

That was… I don’t know what that was.

Sensible rationale?

Scaredy-cat copout?


“I’m not ‘chicken’.  I just don’t want to.”

Dance around that for a while.

Or don’t.  And get on with your “straight arrow” existence.

Which I did.  And I have.  And am likely to do so in the future.  (If you take drugs when you’re old, when they wear off, you are still old.)

Graham Nash’s testimonial backing rekindled that “crossroads conundrum”:

“To indulge, or not to indulge?”  (And why call it “indulging”?)

Triggering this cautionary (though maybe prejudiced) anecdote.

(Note:  I apologize for the “name-dropping.”  It’s just, the people involved subsequently became “names.”)

Having recently just arrived in Los Angeles, I was living in the Chateau Marmont Hotel, a rundown fleabag that sometime later got trendy.  (And proportionately more pricey.)   Lorne Michaels, who had brought me down to work on a Lily Tomlin special, also lived at, what he pretentiously pronounced, “The Chateauowwww” – I can’t accurately delineate it, but it was hideously snooty.

Anyway, I am ensconced in my spare chamber with a small fridge in the closet, (making my clothes smell like leftover corned beef from Greenblatts) when there is a surprising knock at my door.

It is a non-working Sunday.  Lorne Michaels stands in the doorway.  And he is telling me this:

“Lily and I and some friends are going out to the desert to ‘do mushrooms.’  Would you like to come with us?”

This was not a tough call.

I politely said no.

And with that, a potential “life-changing experience” slipped through my fingers, as Lorne bade me farewell, and went off to nirvana.

A few hours of-no-regrets-whatsoever later, there is a surprising knock at my door.  (Am I ever popular.  Two door knocks in one day.)

Standing in the doorway is Lorne Michaels. 

Looking considerably less chipper.

He instead appears dazed.

And disturbingly distraught.

“They took Gary (filmmaker Gary Weis) to the hospital.  I think he’s dead, but they won’t tell me.  I’m a little messed up.  Would you mind sitting with me till I ‘come down’?”

I walk Lorne to his room (which was a lot nicer than my room), considering the “fun” I had recently turned down: 

“Magic mushrooms”, and an ambulance.

In time, Lorne returns back to earth, bolstered by reports that Gary Weis was not dead.

To be fair, Graham Nash’s “drug stories” are demonstrably more encouraging.

I don’t know.  “A guy who didn’t”, casting aspersions on people who did?  (And wildly succeeded?)

The fact is, there are creative risks I kind of wish I’d attempted.

But “mushrooms” or “acid” – would they really have helped me?

I will now sit with that question.

Till I drug-freely “come down.”



I’m just gonna have lunch.

Friday, July 26, 2019


I hope musical instruments can’t read.  Or that someone who can will not nastily spill the beans.  I will write quietly so I am not overheard.  Keep it down. This is a clandestine operation.)

Do you remember the Seinfeld episode “The Barber”, where Jerry secretly switches to a new barber, because his longtime barber’s no good?

That’s where I am right now.

Not about barbers.

But about pianos.

I have owned the same piano for over 35 years.  It is an English “Knight” piano.  Used by the Beatles.  Not that exact piano.  Though it felt like it played “Yesterday” all by itself.

“We ‘Knights’ stick togethuh!

I have been around pianos all my life.  Though I can barely read notes, and my fingers refuse to relax, that does not seem to deter me.  It deters me from playing successfully.  But I don’t seem to care.

Graciously, neither, over years of marginal improvement, does my piano.

And yet, I am cruelly casting it aside.

Not because it’s outmoded, or because it’s a “Senior.”

But because it is irreparably “unwell.”

The last piano tuner diagnosed a “cracked board”, causing most of my frequently played notes to buzz, ring, and run deafeningly together, making the songs I play sound more unnamable than usual.

“Is that song unrecognizable because of you, or the piano?”


In the somber tones of a doctor delivering “bad news”, I was informed that my “Knight” piano had unequivocally reached “the end of the line.”

That was two years ago.

Was there a miraculous recovery?


I just could not pull the trigger. 

A thoughtless metaphor for what had to be done.

Then, last weekend, telling the piano… telling it nothing, leaving it agonizingly in doubt.  Pianos aren’t stupid.  They know they don’t sound like they used to.  But they pretend not to hear it.  As, for two ear-denying years, did I.

Now it’s just time. 

Sneaking furtively into the piano store, we saw a beautiful “upright.”  Tall.  Mahogany brown.  Polished to a “take-me-home-I’m-your-new-piano” fare-thee-well. 

When I sat down to play it, you could actually tell what I was playing.  The individual notes were so clear, it was like

“So that’s what pianos are supposed to sound like.”

Cheap shot.

But accurate.

With a sense of elation – where a sense of betrayal belonged –

I bought a new piano.

A “pre-owned” new piano.

But without a “cracked board.”

Later that day, I went downstairs with a tape measure, to make sure the arriving “replacement” would fit the designated alcove.  I could sense my venerable piano’s suspicion.

“What’s going on?”

“Nothing.  Just measuring stuff.”

You hate to lie to your piano, especially one so generously forgiving about my playing.  But what was I going to say,

“Thanks for the music.  You’re out”?

I know.  

I’m scum.

And I feel like scum, continuing to practice, awaiting the “New Fellow’s” arrival,

Plunking the keys with murderous fingers.

But that’s how it goes.


Broken down.

Considerably past its prime.

Today, it’s the piano.

Tomorrow, it’s…

Not me.  Though that’s also appropriate.

Tomorrow, it’s my 27 year-old Lexus. 

Which I no longer drive.  And is imminently slated for donation.

There is good news, however.

I got a new Hawaiian shirt.

And did not throw any of my old Hawaiian shirts away.

It’s not the same. 

But I like to end on an “up.”