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Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Die Is Cast, Maybe

Thanks to a few bits of good fortune, I am probably going to form my production company, The Beefstake Mine Company, some time in the next month. I need to consult an attorney or someone else who is knowledgeable about these things to determine the proper form (I'm thinking probably either limited partnership or LLC), and then file the necessary paperwork.

Then the search for money can begin in earnest.

I already have a website devoted to the show that has script excerpts and the proposal of the show on it as pdf files. I think that and this blog will be two of the cornerstones of my fundraising effort. Feel free to direct interested parties to either.

The website, by the way, should have chat and messageboard functions working sometime soon. If you have any ideas about how I can pull this off, please feel free to post a comment or e-mail me. I'm very interested.

Monday, December 27, 2004

"If Five Will Get You Ten, Ten Will Get You Twenty"

All those years of scheming had to come to something. I have finally decided to form some sort of a production company, to be called The Beefstake Mine Company. I am working on the business plan for it, and hope to have it finished in time for the New Year. Unfortunately, this is not a kind of writing I enjoy, although I do try to work in a joke or two from time-to-time, just to keep my hand in.

If I can just wheedle a distribution deal out of PRI, I would have a bit more leverage on potential investors. Unfortunately, until then, I will have to rely on my wits and persuasive skills, neither of which is in long supply.

I will, however, say this: If you happen by this blog and if you also possess a wheelbarrow full of cash that you do not have earmarked for other endeavors, please feel free to e-mail through the link on my profile. I'd be more than happy to discuss a few pear-shaped propositions with you.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Pilgrim's Progress or Not So's You'd Notice

In the last few days, I have gotten back on track and have started converting the typescript fragment of "Plant Your Wagon" Episode Three into a computerized and digitized (but not bowlderized) form. Scene One is done and Scene Two is halfway there. After that, I step back into the void of having to make it all up as I go along. Such is the writing life.

I'm trying to figure out the business end of this whole thing. I'm going to try to write up some sort of prospectus to use in conning--er, I mean, convincing--investors. I'll probably end up with a prospectus, a PowerPoint presentation, and the air of a carnival barker. But sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

After Frank D. Gilroy wrote "The Subject Was Roses," he sent it around to the usual producers, but got no takers. But instead of throwing it in his lower desk drawer and moving on to his next failure, he decided to sell shares and raise the money himself. He raised $125,000 (this was in 1964) and got his show on Broadway. It ran for 832 performances and won four Tonys and the Pulitzer Prize.

This is my model.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

When in Doubt, Adjust

I have changed my proposal to PRI slightly. (I did this by e-mail the other day.) I am no longer asking them to fund the show, just to market it and distribute it. The Program Manager e-mailed me back to wish me luck on the fundraising end and to tell me that I should be hearing from her soon. Which would be great.

I think the money part may have been holding them up, but if I can get them to--even provisionally--agree to distribute the show, I'm pretty sure that I can find the money. I'm actually thinking about tryting to get investors or some venture capital to put into a production company. There are a lot of details to this, but the basic idea is to pay a return on the investment from sales of CDs and memorabilia.

The thing is, I'm just not a public funding kind of guy. I've been embedded in the private sector for over 20 years now, and I know that world, the money-grubbing, sell-your-mother-for-the-right-price world. These are the people I'm comfortable doing business with.

I guess it's a case of going with your strengths, right?

Monday, December 13, 2004

It's Been a Long, Long Time

December has not been my month as far as blogging goes. I've had the best of intentions and the driving desire to say "Look at me! Validate me!" that all good bloggers need. But I've lacked two things: time and energy.

As far as the show goes, there's not much to say, either. I haven't worked on "Plant Your Wagon" or heard from PRI. I am considering pursuing funding in new and different ways, but I don't know that it would be a good idea to get into that too much right now. Maybe it would. I don't know. Who has time to think anymore?

I do feel that, come what may, I need to make some kind of a move on this in the new year. It can't wait forever.

I'd like to at least get a pilot recorded as soon as possible. Excerpts from scripts or even scripts in their entirety are fine, but not as good as hearing the thing performed. I've come to realize that people reading the scripts can't hear what's inside my head; they need the help that comes from performance. Unfortunately, that takes money, which leaves me off right where I began. That's the funny thing about rabbit holes.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Firesign Theatre

This post is long overdue in several ways, and it comes about because I've taken time the last couple of nights to listen to a majority of the Real Video clips showing The Firesign Theatre at work on the show they did for XM Radio back in 2001-2002. A few minutes after listening to the three parts of “The Fuse of Doom” (which harkens back to one of my favorite albums, “The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra”), it occurred to me that I hadn’t provided a link to their website or to Planet Proctor or Fie, I say! Fie!

For those who are not familiar with The Firesign Theatre, I'll give a quick introduction. First, the Firesign Theatre is four guys, now in their sixties, who created a kind of audio theatre back in the late Sixties and Seventies that has never been successfully imitated or surpassed. They are Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman, and Philip Proctor. They came together by an accident of fate—much as some cosmic dust once came together to form our Sun, the heating system (A Firesign joke)—at an FM station in Hollywood back around 1966. Peter Bergman had a show on this station called Radio Free Oz and he was known as The Wizard. Phil Austin was on the staff. David Ossman had been on staff, had moved on to ABC, but still frequented his old haunts. Phil Proctor was (and is) an actor, fresh out to the coast from NYC who knew Bergman from their days at Yale School of Drama.

They didn’t start out by saying, “Hey! Let’s make ourselves into The Firesign Theatre!” It just happened and evolved. The chance came to make albums, and they did, with a vengeance. “Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him,” “How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All,” “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers,” and “I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus” all appeared between 1967 and 1971. Considering that they were also creating radio shows, performing live, and doing pretty much whatever they needed to in order to make a living, that’s not bad.

These albums are absurdist, sometimes surreal, and often flat-out, double-over-laughing funny. Two more albums from 1974/1975 round out the classics for me, “Everything You Know Is Wrong” and “The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra.”

Aficionados of The Fab Four or Five can toss around lines from these albums with a dexterity that would flummox even most Monty Python fans. These are comedy albums that withstand repeated listening. In fact, I’d say I’ve listened to “Dwarf,” “Bozos,” and “Giant Rat” over forty times each. “Giant Rat,” in particular, is interesting to me because (due to it being a Sherlock Holmes parody and due to the constant use of “cocoa” by the hero) it goes at a breakneck pace. (I’ve only recently come to understand that it is their tribute to the Goon Show, and I think they do Spike, Peter, and Harry proud.) However, the more you listen to it, the more it slows down. And more subtlety and ambiance comes to the fore. And nobody does ambiance like these guys.

In fact, back when I was invited to an acquaintance’s apartment by a mutual friend to play around on the analog four-track recorder he had just gotten, I immediately thought of The Firesign Theatre. And we worked together for two years and produced work good, bad, and middling, but we never became another Firesign Theatre. You can’t make these things; they happen on their own.

The scripts that I am writing for “Next in the Series” are not Firesign-like. Some are silly, some are a bit strange, but nothing like that particular world that is The Firesign Theatre. I had to make this my own.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

He's Back, and This Time He's Exactly the Same

Last night, I got out the script for Episode Three of "Plant Your Wagon" and started transcribing and redrafting it on the ol' PC. I'm back thinking about radio. The month off did me some good, I think.

In fact, yesterday was a good day for me in thinking-about-radio terms. You see, once I finish off "Plant Your Wagon," I've got a searing political drama (actually a searing political comedy) called "The Political Thing" to write. That, when done, will get me up to eleven episodes of a projected thirteen for the first series. Now, I've been bouncing around different ideas for the last two, and now I think I'm halfway there.

A few years ago, my wife and I were stuck in traffic and happened to notice a house by the wayside that had a sophisticated model sailing ship in the window and a rainbow flag over the door. Out of that justaposition of images, an idea was born.

So, I've been dragging this idea around with me for several years now, never quite being able to get it to jell into an actual story. And the bus I ride in the evening goes right past that house, although neither the ship nor the flag are there anymore. But still, it makes you think. So, anyway, yesterday, I'm riding past there, and I think, "You know, I should make this a story about the Bitlle and Bettle Joinsoin characters from 'Bitlle Joinsoin's Adventure Through the Watching Glass.'" (See, it's a story about an older couple who buy a rainbow flag without understanding its greater cultural significance.) Yeah! That felt right, felt good.

And then I thought, "As long as I'm cribbing characters from one of the existing scripts, why not crib Mel from 'The Anniversary Schmaltz' and his wife and his friend and make them the neighbors who extrapolate the wrong information from the rainbow flag? Brilliant! I love it!"

So, that's what I'm going to do. That will tie these three stories together, which is a feature I like, and allow me to do more with characters whose potential has not been tapped entirely yet. It's going to require a small amount of rewriting of "The Anniversary Schmaltz," but that's okay. It'll be worth it. And there were a couple of parts of that that I wanted to revisit anyway.

So, I guess it's "Once more into the breach, my friends!"

Monday, November 29, 2004

Did I Mention?

I was checking the official "Next in the Series" website this morning, and thought that I remembered that I had forgotten to mention a)that the website exists, and b)that samples from some of the scripts I've written are posted there as PDFs. These are the script samples that I sent to PRI with my proposal, along with a CD of old stuff from ten years ago, just to show that I know my way around a microphone.

Unfortunately, the script samples are not quite the complete collection. The sample from "The Tale of the Weekend Upcoming" has not been posted yet; neither has the proposal itself. The link to "Bitlle Joinsoin's Adventure Through the Watching Glass" is broken. My systems administrator--my nephew, Chris--is working on the problems. Since he works full-time as a high school teacher, is studying for his Master's, and insists on making time to spend with his lovely new bride, progress comes at a measured pace. Which is fine, I'm not complaining, I'm grateful for all he's done.

Still, feel free to take a look at the samples. There's no obligation, and I think they're entertaining. Nothing to be afraid of.

Or maybe I should take a different approach, the approach taken by WC Fields in "You Can't Cheat an Honest Man." Hurry! Hurry! See the World's Shortest Giant! See the World's Tallest Midget! Step right up! Don't be the last in your family to see these wonders! Hurry! Hurry! Step right up!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

This Just In

I got a return call from the Program Manager of PRI today, and I guess that not much news is good news.

She apologized for this taking so long, but apparently, she hasn't listened to my demo CD yet. She said she hopes to get to it soon. She also offered to release it if I wanted to submit elsewhere, but I assured her that "as long as it's still in the running, why get out of the race?"

Again she was very nice and is probably terribly overworked. Right now, I wouldn't be looking to get the show on the air before next Fall, which means I should be able to pull it off as long as I get word by March. January would be better, though.

In the meantime, I'm going to have to polish off the remaining scripts and keep my fingers crossed, which really slows down my typing.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Number You Have Reached Is Ignoring You

Since nine months is long enough to grow an infant, I figured that it was also long enough to make a decision on a radio show, so I up and called the Program Manager at PRI this morning. I called a little after ten, Eastern Time, which would be about nine her time. I got the voicemail, which indicated only that she was either on the phone or away from her desk, so I left a friendly message asking for any update. It is now pushing one, and no return call so far.

Now, in recent months, and no more frequently than once every two months, I have e-mailed her to try to get an update or to inform her of developments such as the Next in the Series website and this blog. In July, I sent a plain, old-fashioned letter with a self-addressed, stamped envelope asking for information. Nothing.

Now, today, it seems, I am getting nothing again.

It is one thing to get rejected. It is quite another to get ignored. I am considering my options, which include formally withdrawing my submission so that I can submit it to NPR. (I have their submissions guidelines bookmarked, just in case.)

And I thought people in Minnesota were supposed to be nice.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Extra! Extra!

Samples from the scripts I've written are up for viewing at the official Next in the Series website. The proposal I sent to PRI should be available soon. All are in PDF format for the convenience of the viewer. So, stop on by and give 'em a read! Your comments are welcome right here.

And if you do take the time to peruse them--Thanks.

The Technology Trap

Assuming that PRI has not, by that time, rained money down on me, when I return to working on radio scripts in December, I will be working on my laptop at work and the PC at home. My Olivetti (ironically, not the one pictured above) may stay out, but it will not be used for the last episode of "Plant Your Wagon."

Unfortunately, as long as I have to work at a "real job," I cannot get enough hours in front of a manual typewriter to get any work done. Some day, though, some day.

I posted the photo of the Olivetti Lettera 25 above (which I do own, by the way) because it is used on the sign-in page for to promote the damn "Write Your Novel in an Afternoon Contest." I find it interesting how the lowly manual typewriter is still a potent symbol of the real writer, I know I have the image in my head of the hard-bitten guy or gal slumped over a Remington, pounding out copy while a cigarette dangles precariously from his or her mouth.

What is the comparable image from today? A spiky-haired teen tippy-tapping on a laptop, headphones encircling his skull, GameBoy at the ready? A Starbucks-sipping metrosexual thumbing a Blackberry while waiting for his low-carb bagel? Something's not the same.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

PRI Watch 2004 Continues

Nine months ago today, I submitted the online application to Public Radio International (PRI) asking them to consider distributing and possibly funding "Next in the Series." Still no word.

A couple of days ago, I was pretty worked up about it and considered the possibility of calling the program manager and saying "What the hell?" Now I am more sanguine about it, but my mood changes day-to-day.

I actually did call last May to make sure that they had gotten the damn thing in the first place. I spoke with the program manager, who knew my name and seemed genuinely glad to hear from me. Other than confirming that they had received the proposal I had sent by mail, though, she was short on specifics. She said that it was being considered and that there was a backlog and that she hoped they would get back to me soon. I hate to see anyone's hopes dashed--especially in this case--but I'm afraid that's what happened.

And so another month has gone by without word, but no news is good news, or so they say. Maybe they're just waiting on some funding. I know I am.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Am I Blue?

On Tuesday, the state I live in, Georgia, went for Mr. Bush by a margin of 59% to 41%. This was no surprise to anyone; Georgia had been written off as a Red state since at least the mid-term elections two years ago. Neither major candidate burdened us with a visit, and our exposure to vile political ads was limited to those of local interest. My vote for Mr. Kerry was symbolic at best. Thanks to the Electoral College, my interest, my vote, my participation were pointless, and the only voters who counted were those in so-called “Battleground States.”

Our system is broken and our method of choosing a President is a mockery of democracy. Filtering the will of the people through the Electoral College is to the practice of democracy what light beer is to stout or porter: a pale, watered-down, flavorless substitute.

The two-party system is also broken. Why moderate Republicans don’t just declare themselves as Democrats, I’m not sure. Their beliefs are closer to the Democratic platform than the current Republican platform is. And the Democratic platform is further from my beliefs than ever before.

My mother’s father explained why he was a Democrat in the following way: “They’ll both steal from you, but the Democrats will give a little bit back.” I’m not sure that that is still true. As the years have passed and as the consensus has moved steadily to the right, so has the Democratic Party, and this abandonment of it liberal basis threatens to turn it into the 21st Century Whig Party.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I took an online test that showed the testee which political party or candidates the testee’s beliefs lined up with. And, although Mr. Kerry outscored Mr. Bush by some margin for both of us, Mr. Kerry was easily outpaced by the Green Party. And after Tuesday, after a lifetime as a Democrat, I am thinking of going Green.

Here’s the headline: “Reds Make Blue Green.” You heard it here first.

Monday, November 01, 2004

"Plant Your Wagon" on Hiatus

I finished the scene I had been working on for the past couple of weeks yesterday, but still have another 15 or 16 to go. Since today is the first day of the novel challenge, I'm going to put "Plant Your Wagon" aside in favor of "Michael Drayton, Detective Guy."

May God have pity on my heathen soul.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Script Update

Originally, I had hoped to complete the third (and final) episode of "Plant Your Wagon" by tomorrow. I needed somewhere between 15 and 18 pages. In the past week, I have eked out one page. Now, I'll grant you, it was a good page, but it still leaves me about 17 short. I somehow doubt (when a good writing day for me is four pages) that I'll get that done before it is time to start on the novel.

Since that's the case, I guess I'll just put "Plant Your Wagon" aside until December. And maybe by then, PRI will have come up with some moolah so that I can just worry about writing scripts every day instead of the procession of mundanities that pass for a job in my every day life.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Another Novel Approach

Well, I went and did it. As you may or may not be aware, there is a website site out there which is encouraging people to write a novel in the month of November. It has the unlikely handle of NaNoWriMo. The idea is to try to get 50,000 words of novel written between the first of November and the last. I have signed up to be part of this plague of literature.

In connection with this, is encouraging people who want to participate to do so through a blog devoted to their novel. In honor of this, I have created another blog called Michael Drayton, Detective Guy on which the novel will be written. (In theory.)

One and all are invited to keep tabs on the work-in-progress and to offer comments and encouragement.

In order to do this, I'm going to have to concentrate on finishing the third and final episode of "Plant Your Wagon" in the next seven days. I think that's possible. Then I will take a month off from writing radio scripts, although I do hope to keep up with both this blog and my contributions to Phil Austin's Blog of the Unknown.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

The Call

Many people have no idea what it is to be called or think that it is limited only to people who are joining a religious order or are seeking to persuade the unbelieving. There are other sorts of callings, though. However, this is not the way that most people find their jobs. Choosing a career usually has to do with chasing money or it seemed like an easy way to get through college or I just fell into it. This is sad to me, sad that most people never get the experience of being called.

I say this because it happened to me. When I tell people this story, they usually look at me like they've just watched me have a nervous breakdown. Since it is not an experience that they've shared, they cannot credit it. Since it did not involve deciding to shove Jesus down the throats of the unbelievers, they cannot find the proper context in which to understand it.

I was 14 at the time, in a strange period of my life in which the friends I had surrounded myself with and the activities we participated in (by this point, mostly scouting parties into the fringes of an area called Trouble) were losing their hold on me. Change was imminent, but I didn't know that. I was just some 14-year-old punk kid.

The catalyst in this story was my English teacher, Mrs Stachurski (nee' Miss Butterworth). Towards the end of 9th grade, she assigned us something that I, for one, had never been assigned before. She had us write fiction. Write a short story, anything we wanted.

A friend of mine had told me about a movie he had seen that George C. Scott was in, called "Bank Shot." It was a caper film about some people breaking into a bank. Being the lazy student that I was, I decided to steal that plot and write my own version of it.

I had study hall in the school cafeteria. There were about half a dozen of us in there, and we sat at the tables in the back, by the milk machines. I can remember starting to write and the feeling of exhilaration that built inside me. My mind raced and my pen flew. Instead of the drudgery that I had expected, I found joy.

As I've told people over the years, always to their disbelief, it felt as though the hand of God reached through the walls of Goff Junior High School, tapped me on the forehead with a giant finger and said "A writer thou art." Talk about your epiphanies.

A year later, I would step on stage in front of 2000 students and teachers in the high school play, sneak a peek at the audience, and think, "Well, this is just like home." Almost 20 years further on, I directed a sketch for a video demo I did with my former partners. After a day of scouting locations on the fly, choosing angles, and directing performances, I thought, "This is something I could do every day."

Neither of those days, however interesting as days in which to choose a career, could hold a candle to that day in 9th grade. I write because that is what I do. I'm a writer because that is what I am.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Only Way I Lettered in High School

I was about 14 or so when I discovered "The Groucho Letters," and it was with that discovery that my checkered career as a correspondent was born. As an adolescent, I didn't have many opportunities for epistolary brilliance, but I bided my time. At the end of my sophomore year of high school, a friend moved from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to Harrisville, a tiny hamlet out in the sticks. In the meantime, my folks had moved me (with them, of course) from Pawtucket to North Kingstown. Now, that distance may not seem very big for people from big places, but in Rhode Island terms it was the equivalent of lightyears. Since calling her would have meant message units on the phone bill and since message units made my father's blood boil, our best chance for staying in touch was the US mail. At last, my time had come!

From time-to-time, I would shape my half-witticisms into letter form and mail them off. For every two or three of mine, I would get one reply. Life was good.

As time went on, more friends went more places and for a time my correspondence bloomed to its fullest glory. Then, as will happen, the friends slowly became strangers and there were jobs to worry about and lives to figure out, and my correspondence dwindled to mostly a memory.

With one exception. This past weekend, I wrote to the adult version of that young lady I had started corresponding with so many years before. We're down to one or two letters per year now, each. The mad rush of life leaves little time for the well-crafted half-witticism, although the urge to correspond remains. I'm trying to correct that, trying to carve out some time each week for a few people in my life who I don't get to see or speak to as often as I'd like. Like most resolutions, the odds are against this one, but if I don't try at all, it will definitely fail.

And so I reach out, one envelope at a time, waiting for the ever elusive return.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Another One of My Big Ideas

I guess it was about a year-and-a-half ago that I came across a website used by a prominent (by current standards) radio dramatist to put forth his pronouncements on the medium and the craft. Among his many rules, he had specifically admonished the neophyte radio writer to avoid submitting any script to any producer of radio theatre that was typed using a manual typewriter. Now, the first thing that struck me as funny was the thought that anybody (including me) was going around sending out scripts typed on manual typewriters. I just couldn't see that as being a common problem.

The second thought I had was that this might be something of a short-sighted policy. I mean, there are well known authors who compose on manual typewriters. So, I e-mailed the Prominent Radio Dramatist and asked him if he would reject a script from, say, Gore Vidal or Don DeLillo because they used manual typewriters. He replied in the affirmative. I don't think he knew who DeLillo was, but I do, and I'd take a script from him if it were written on a napkin with a crayon.

And in that exchange an idea was born. Figuring that, after two or three series, I'd probably be getting burnt out on churning out scripts for "Next in the Series," I thought that maybe I could do a season called "By the Manual" in which I solicited scripts from authors who work on manual typewriters as well as throw in a couple of my own. In addition to Vidal and DeLillo, I know that Ian Frazier uses a manual. And now I've found out that Bob Dylan used one to write "Chronicles, Vol. 1." I have a couple of other names scribbled down on a slip of paper somewhere, and there's plenty of time to collect more.

Now, as a result of the postings on an earlier thread here, I'm toying with the idea of including the proviso that the scripts, in some manner, deal theme of technology and how it affects us. Other than that, the authors would have a free hand.

Sometimes an interesting idea can arise simply from wanting to give the finger to someone who seems like a pompous ass. And for that, I will always be grateful to the Prominent Radio Dramatist.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

You Don't Call, You Don't Write

I sent my proposal for my radio show to Public Radio International (PRI) on February 10, 2004. Since I sent it by 2-day Priority Mail, there's a pretty good chance that they received it on February 12, 2004. By the testimony of their website, their goal is to "respond to each proposal within two months of receipt." So far, in my case anyway, they are off by a factor of four.

Now, I'm more than happy to wait as long as it takes them to make their decision, but I have to tell you that the acid in my stomach has started percolating to a Latin rhythm. It's like waiting to hear whether or not you've won the lottery, but they just haven't gotten around to picking the last number yet. This is something I walk around with, wearing it like a lead-lined necktie. I wish I didn't, but I have to. And as much as I try to tell myself that each day brings me one day closer to hearing, the strain of having spent eight months in anticipation is quite tiring.

Now, don't get me wrong. I like PRI. I think we could have a beautiful partnership and that, together, we could make a nice dollar. I am not withdrawing my proposal or even beginning to think about considering withdrawing it. I'm just impatient to get the deal done and the contracts signed. There's much to be done and a good thing to be brought into the broadcast world. Let's just do it!

And I'd tell you about the shambles that has become of the schedule I did on Microsoft Project, but it's just too difficult to think about. No, no (sniff), I'm fine. That's just a fiber of asbestos in my eye. And I always get misty on anniversaries.

Monday, October 11, 2004

I'll Be in Touch

Every morning on my way to work, as I make my way up from the platform to the world outside Atlanta's Five Points MARTA station, I do my best to go through the same turnstile every morning. This started on my first day back on this job (after a year-and-one-half interregnum), almost seven months ago. And I'll bet that in all those days (excluding the occasional time I've gotten off at a different station in search of the wild donut) that I've only missed that turnstile two or three times.

The first time that this happened--I think because the turnstile was closed for some reason--I had a mild panic attack. I didn't want push my way through the next one over, but as I forced myself to, I thought, "What a strange reaction." Why in the world should it matter?

But then that's when I realized that that is how we make our ways through a very complex world. We look for touchstones. We fashion routines. As we make our way through the chaos of the average day, we look for anchors anywhere we can find them.

On my lunch half-hours, I'm currently reading a novel called "Old School" by Tobias Wolff. It's what the Germans would call a Bildungsroman, a novel of education. Set in a boys prep school in the school year of 1960-61, it's the first person narrative of a young man who is trying to understand himself as both an individual and as a writer. In the part of the book I was reading today, the unnamed narrator examines several of the short stories of Ernest Hemingway. And in the portion of the discussion concerning "Big Two-Hearted River," I found this:

You saw everything Nick did, in precise, almost fussy descriptions that most writers would've left out. How he drives the pegs of his tent until the rope loops are buried, and hold his pants and shoes in his hand when leaving the tent at sunup. How he dampens his fishing leaders. Exactly how much flour and water he uses to make his pancakes--a cup of each. I'd liked being in on all these rough solemnities but I had missed the fact that Nick observes them so carefully--religiously is not too strong a word--because they keep him from falling apart.

It's just funny that I had been thinking about these touchstones this weekend and then come across this passage today. And just for the record, I went through the wrong turnstile this morning.

Friday, October 08, 2004

The Vanishing Boy of Pacific Heights: The Sixties

Since I was born in 1959 and since my parents decided to move to San Francisco in 1963 and since I have two older brothers, I was able to experience the '60s in the manner ABC Sports used to call "up close and personal." I remember watching Lee Oswald being murdered on live TV. I remember the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I played softball with Yippies in Julius Kahn playground in the summer of 1969. (Despite their disinclination to use me, I singled to right in my only at bat. Not long afterwards, everybody else got the munchies and went home.)

But enough of my credentials.

Although the right wing commentators would have us believe differently, as a culture, we are still trying to make sense of the time between John Kennedy's inauguration and that lone helicopter lifting off from the embassy roof in Saigon. And while the right wingers do have some valid points to make about the excesses, they miss the good and the point of the good that went on.

In fact, I'm going to come right out and say that I have a problem with PJ O'Rourke and the ilk he represents. In the '60s, when it was hip, they were radical leftists. By the '80s, when it had become hip, they became radical reactionaries. And here's my message to all of them: Hey, according to actuarial tables you dolts have another 20 years coming to you. Still enough time to flip once more. Don't pull a Lee Atwater and wait until you have a brain tumor to come to your senses.

But enough of them. They are intellectual midgets who put more value in being "right" than in gaining wisdom or knowing Truth.

I keep thinking of John, Martin, and Bobby, and each sought to ennoble us--all of us, not just the most affluent or those who subscribe to a checklist of viewpoints. I think that the American liberal experiment that began with the New Deal died on a motel balcony in Memphis and in a hotel kitchen in Los Angeles. The idea that we were a community with common interests died and was replaced by the notion that we are merely a collection of factions with competing agendas.

A Republican President once said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." (For the record, he was not the current Republican President.) Julius Caesar used "divide and conquer" as the basis for his military theory. And since that horrible spring in 1968, divisiveness has reigned supreme and commonality of purpose has been lost to the mists of time. If the American Experiment is to have any lasting meaning, we have to again understand it as a common enterprise on which we are all embarked.

And I leave you with one final thought: Happy Birthday to John Lennon, wherever you are.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Return of Mr Controversy

I'm really not a true Luddite. I like the dishwasher. I like air conditioning. I like TV and CDs and DVDs. However, I think that it's a mistake to just accept technology wholesale, as we have done.

Most things that come with memory chips assume that you are an idiot. And while this might be true, I've found that in most cases it's not. I mean think about it. How many items do we deal with every day that attack our memory? There's speed dial, there's the thing in Windows that remembers all your IDs and Passwords. There's the favorites menu. (I've reached a point in which I can barely remember what most of the things on my "Favorites" are!) There are reminders and ticklers and alarms. There are PDAs. And memory, unfortunately, must be used, like a muscle, or it begins to atrophy. We remember less and so become more dependent on the machine.

My wife and I were having a discussion this morning about the influence of spreadsheets. Ask anybody. What's the best thing about them? They do the math for you. Again, math is good for the brain, and yet most people (myself included) will rely on a calculator or Excel if we want to add up a simple column of numbers. We calculate less and so become more dependent on the machine.

Quite often, high technology is a drug, and we have become a nation of addicts. Again, I'm no Luddite who wishes to wipe away all traces of technology. However, I think it would behoove us to be less accepting of all technology and to try being a bit more choosy in terms of what we rely on and what we don't.

I think another way to look at things is that having low tech alternatives is good for the national defense. I can tell you from personal experience that a manual typewriter keeps working even when the grid goes down. And don't even get me started on the pencil!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The Letter "CBS Sunday Morning" Dared Not Air

Back on August 29th, Ben Stein appeared on "CBS Sunday Morning." Mr Stein has started appearing quite frequently lately, espousing his opinions of the American scene. This is fine with me. I'm all for free speech, whether I like what's being said or not. The problem with Mr Stein, however, is that he makes arguments which are simplistic, shallow, and fundamentally absurd. His monologues are floor shows of lazy thinking, and if there's one thing I hate, it's lazy thinking.

His topic on that day was his vacation getaway in Idaho. Pretty harmless stuff, you say? Not after he spins it into a lot of political buncombe. I sent the following as the text of an e-mail to "CBS Sunday Morning," but they have not, as yet, had the wisdom to either read the letter on the air or to give me a job like Ben's.

In his commentary this past Sunday, Ben Stein showed that it is possible to still look through rose colored glasses even if you have an asigmatism, cataracts, and night blindness. First, I was taken with his statement that this idyllic and rural vacation spot in Idaho (which, by the way, thanks to his big mouth, will soon sag under the collective weight of thousands of TV-watching idyll seekers) is the place that we are pledging allegiance to when we pledge allegiance to the flag. I hate to be the one to break it to him, but the flag that we pledge our allegiance to flies over cityscapes just as regally as it does over the countryside. When we make that pledge, we pledge ourselves not only to the vacationer, the farmer, and the rube, but also the city slicker, the office worker, and the guy who sells hot dogs on 49th Street. Even Democrats and other dissidents are included in this pledge.

The second part of his rural rhapsody that raised an interested eyebrow was his depiction of the place as an enclave of the 1950s, a Lost Valley in the midst of turn-of-the-century post-modernism and moral relativism. The place comes across as a summery sort of Currier and Ives print, or perhaps as a Norman Rockwell caricature of an episode of "Leave It to Beaver." All the Moms wander around their self-cleaning houses draped in pearls, while the Dads, who wear ties even while showering, cheerfully spend the day working at some unnamed job "down at the office." The well-scrubbed, semi-literate children never bother their cowlicks or freckles over anything as dirty as the world and never chirp a sound harsher than "gee whiz."

Alas, back in the actual, living 1950s, things were a bit more complex. The prospect of nuclear holocaust held the world hostage, people's lives were destroyed by McCarthyism and a paranoiac fear of Communism, and Jim Crow ruled all those Americans whose forebears had hailed from Africa rather than Newport. As I understand it, there was even murder and spousal abuse and alcoholism. They even had bad news!

Mr Stein needs to learn, as do many of his friends and cohorts who are cavorting around Madison Square Garden this week, that the citizens of rural America are no more profoundly American than is the person who prefers to roam the wide open concrete, and that the 1950s were not an idyll, but merely another stretch of history that existed in space and time. And if he won't believe me, he should try reading Allen Ginsburg.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The Crow Flies at Midnight

To: All Conspirators
From: The Planning Committee
Date: Classified
Re: Conspiracy Update

We have several items on the menu, so I guess I’ll just jump right in.
First, I’d like to announce that this week’s conspiracy meeting has been cancelled. There will be no conspiracy meeting this week. One of the chief conspirators is taking his family to Disneyworld and would, therefore, have been unable to attend. This is a vacation he has had in mind for sometime and was cleared through the normal channels. Really. The forged paperwork backing up this claim is on file in The Conspiracy office, behind the third trashcan in from Front Street in City Center Park.

Second, I want to remind everybody that this year’s Lookouts and Fall Guys Picnic is only two weeks away. Sign up to bring a dish by leaving a note in the hole in the side of the oak tree just behind the grassy knoll. So far, most people have signed up to bring desserts, so we need a few more casseroles as well as someone to bring some soft drinks and chips. Forks, knives, guns and knockout drops will be provided by The Organization.

We regret to inform the membership of the passing of Shorty Levine at age 58. Shorty started getting nervous and therefore had to be killed. We encourage the membership to attend both the wake and the funeral, but please do not attend in a group as we did with Shakes Tamblyn. The group of us sitting together in one pack all wearing sunglasses made certain parties suspicious and they subsequently had to be killed. As we all know, inflationary pressures on assassination are currently pretty high and our ability to make it look like a coincidence diminishes as the number of people killed rises. So, take care and don’t go in until you see another member of The Conspiracy coming out.

Also, while you’re there, try to find out if any members of Shorty’s family are aware of our operation so that they can be killed, if need be.

Finally, I would like to say that this has been a very good year for The Conspiracy, that planning is coming along splendidly, and that specific assignments should be coming along soon. If you do not get your assignment in the next month, do not worry. That does not mean that you are about to be killed. Really. I mean, if you can’t trust your fellow conspirators, who can you trust?

Keep up the good work and let’s pull together to make sure that Operation Nuthatch is the best conspiracy ever!

Monday, October 04, 2004

Declaration of Principles

In "Citizen Kane," a young Charles Foster Kane composes a "Declaration of Principles" to publish in his newspaper. Since I make it a personal policy to clip as much as I can from the Orson Welles canon, I've decided to do the same thing for my radio show. Of course, Kane loses his way as the movie goes on, but all I have to say is this: "Don't worry, Jedediah. These will be kept."


1. I will never write characters who are six and yet talk like jaded 40-year-old comedy writers.

2. Ditto with old ladies.

3. If I'm ever tempted to compile a "clip show," I'll just shut the whole thing down since I will then be officially out of ideas.

4. I will never do commercials for Hawaii or Disney resorts or cruises or similar vacation-related venues camouflaged as an episode of my show.

5. I will never write a piece of dialogue such as, "Gee Dad, I'm really happy you decided to take the three of us to the Freak Festival even though Mom disapproves." Decent exposition is my guarantee.

6. I will never do a parody of "A Christmas Carol," even though I've had a corker of an idea for years that is more of a sequel than a direct parody.

7. I will never use the plotline about the unconventional cop teamed with a by-the-book cop.

8. I will never use any plotline that involves two people having to work or live together who start out hating each other, but develop grudging respect and then love.

9. I will never introduce some object or person who, although never referred to previously by anyone, turns out to be the favorite person or thing in the world to one of the major characters.

10. Once such a character or object is introduced, they will not then disappear like a Chilean dissident.

This is a start. I'll happily take nominations for more principles to be observed.

Len Foster Kane

Friday, October 01, 2004

Mr Controversy Strikes Again!

Well, I went through the other things that I've sent to The Times in recent months, and there really wasn't that much that made sense outside of the time and context in which it origianlly appeared. So, here I am, stuck for wordage and aching to be the kind of controversial loudmouth (each side of the political spectrum has its example) that people really sit up and pay attention to. What to do? What to do?

After much thought, I finally realized what heartfelt statement I could make that would best stir the embers in the ash heap of the reader's soul, and it is this: I prefer writing on a manual typewriter to writing on a computer.

There. You have it. When left to my own devices, I still write using a manual typewriter. Episode Three of "Plant Your Wagon" is being drafted on an Olivetti Lettera 35 that I bought new (that's right; they still make them) about a year-and-a-half ago. I also own a Lettera 25 (also new) that my wife gave me for Christmas a couple of years back. This is a great machine for letters (another discredited artifact that's preferable to its modern equivalent).

Now, you might be asking yourself, "Why on earth would this dimwit want to go back to the Dark Ages? What's he going to be in favor of next? Burning witches? Curing disease with the application of leeches?" However, I would assert that the rush to a digitized life has been frantic, hysterical, and ill-considered.

Let me list a few of the advantages I've found in using a manual typewriter. First, it never has to boot up, and it requires no password. The only thing I have to do to start it up is insert paper. No Windows A-Week-Ago-Thursday® starting up. No Instant Messenger, no indexing, no icons, no wallpaper. No adware or spyware. Just me and the blank page staring each other down in the duel of the ages.

Second, there are no distractions embedded in the machine, such as Freecell or e-mail or Instant Messenger or the friggin' pop-ups that I can't figure out how to stop. If I want to be distracted, I have to actually get out of my chair to do it, thereby at least getting some modest amount of exercise.

Third, since it doesn't have all the cut-and-paste editing options, I actually have to write carefully. I have to think through each sentence before I commit it to posterity. And having looked back over some of my posts here, I wish I could blog with a typewriter. Perhaps then there would have been fewer maze-like sentences and less camouflage for the meaning.

Fourth, if it crashes, that means that it's fallen off the table and on to the floor. Workaround: Pick it up and put it back.

Fifth, the keys move. They absorb some of the energy that I exert by pounding on them. My wrists hurt less.

Sixth, when I rewrite, I have to go from stem-to-stern. I can no longer just fiddle with one word here and one word there. Every part of the manuscript gets re-evaluated, each word, each sentence, the structure of the whole thing. Using a typewriter forces me to think.

Seventh, given a fresh ribbon and a reasonable supply of dryliner, I can produce a manuscript that is very easy to read. Also, I'm never tempted to put it in some strange font, such as Herzo-Govingian Slanty.

Eighth, it does what I want it to. It never repaginates. It never automatically makes corrections that aren't really corrections at all. It never loses my work if the power goes out. It saves my work as I'm typing it.

Ninth, it has the feature I call InstaPrint. One of the problems with word processing programs, one of the reasons why they actually slow down the work process, is that they separate typing and printing. My manuals join typing and printing into one smooth process.

Tenth, I can see the entire page I'm working on at a glance and can easily read every syllable. When I need to go back a few pages as a reference, I can thumb through the pages in a second or two. I'm not dependent on a machine to do my searching for me.

Eleventh, I am the software, goo goo ga joob. And I'm my favorite software package. My default settings suit me perfectly. I'm user friendly. Working with software is like learning an endless number of variations on the minuet with a very obstinate partner, a partner who gets to make all the rules and who rules with an iron fist.

Twelfth, my typewriter never tries to make me feel like a criminal just because I'd rather use "which" than "that" or because I might want to use the passive voice once in a while. I mean, come on! Get off my back!

Well, I guess that twelve is a good number to stop with. Maybe tomorrow I can defend the old fashioned missive or the card catalogue. Until then, to quote The Firesign Theatre, "Forward into the Past"!

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Between Iraq and a Hard Place

Dennis (interrupting): Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government! Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony!--"Monty Python and the Holy Grail"

Mr. Bush has presented his plan to change Iraq tout de suite into a thriving democracy, and his plan goes something like this: "Remember all that stuff that hasn't worked for the past 18 months? Well, we're going to try some more of that. And isn't that United Nations that I declared irrelevant all those months ago really a quite charming institution?" We have implanted a government of our choosing. (Is it a puppet government if no one sees your lips moving?) This government was granted sovereignty. (Can a nation have a sovereign government while occupied? Does a hostage have freedom when he has a gun at his head?)

Unfortunately, Mr. Bush and those who surround him have the strange notion that freedom is something that can be presented as a gift, like a pen-and-pencil set or a mountain bike. Like Monty Python's conception of King Arthur, the current administration has no notion that "power derives from a mandate from the masses"; they think they are the power itself.

Ever since the dreadful events of September 11, 2001, we have been witness to an administration that sees itself as lord of the manor and that is answerable to none, especially not to the grubby lot that they govern. In his speech following the attacks, many--myself among them--were hoping that he would call us--the people--to sacrifice some of our comforts and to serve on the Home Front in the war that inevitably lay before us. Instead, we were told to go shopping. "Don't worry," he said. "We'll take care of it. Don't you worry your pretty little heads one bit." And in that moment I understood that Mr. Bush did not see himself as the employee of the people, but as our ruler.

Throughout their stewardship in this dangerous time, this administration has shown itself to be composed of nothing but a bunch of overgrown children who see world politics as a big game of Stratego or, on a good day, Risk. Not understanding from whence their power derives, they wield it clumsily, like a four-year-old put in charge of a ballpeen hammer. And now they think that they can say a few magic words and constitute a legitimate government in Iraq. Can such a government--one formed at the point of a gun and that is dependent on an occupying force for its existence--succeed?

Again, I am reminded of the peasant Dennis in Holy Grail: 'Oh, but if I went 'round sayin' I was Emperor, just because some moistened bint lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!" Mr. Bush's "farcical aquatic ceremony," held just before the magical date of June 30th, was meaningless since the government that was installed did not derive its power from the mass of the Iraqi people. Hence, there is an insurgency, one rooted not in the wild theories of terrorists or the stubbornness of a few of Saddam's henchmen. It is an insurgency rooted in the desire of the Iraqi people to decide their own fate on their own terms and to not blindly accept a fate presented to them like a plate of cold cuts.

What we refuse to understand in the current situation is that, regardless of how well intentioned we are, we are the problem. The best way to defuse the insurgency is to put a plan in place to remove our troops as quickly and efficiently as possible. As our presence diminishes, so will the insurgency. There will be a risk of a civil war, but not a certainty of one.

Even if the January elections do come off, the result may not be what Messrs Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz expect. The people chosen in the election may decide to do as they damn well please and not as Mr Bush would have them. To me, if the Iraqi people insist on government of a theocratic nature, that is their business. If the Iraqi people wish to form a government that is split along sectarian and ethnic lines, that is their business as well. I doubt that Mr Bush would be quite so understanding.

A government imposed, regardless of the sentiments of those doing the imposing, can never rise above the level of tyranny. Since its power derives from an outside source, it can never be legitimate. Since it cannot stand on its own, it can never be sovereign. And that is why, day-in and day-out, the Iraqi people also quote Dennis and say, "Help! Help! I'm being repressed!"

Having It Both Ways

Okay, so it was only yesterday that I was on about not throwing my opinions in people's faces. After a good night's fester, however, I find that I have changed my mind. Why? Because it's my blog and I can do whatever I damn well please with it, that's why.

On a deeper level, the fact is that we live in very strange, heated, and volitile times, and another fact is that there's not much to report on the radio show yet. (PRI is still playing it close to the vest, the next script is crawling along line-by-line.) A third fact is that I've sent a number of editorials and letters to The New York Times in recent months, none of which has been able to rise above the flood of submissions they get every day. By using these, I can get through several days without having to actually write anything new and these pieces will not go unused.

The first of these pieces will follow later today.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

What Next?

Now that I've gotten that off my chest (and another birthday behind me), I can move forward with this blog. The question is, what the hell am I going to do?

Oh, I suppose I could just log on every day and be bright and witty and profound for a few minutes, but isn't that just a philosophical dead end? Of course, I could try just the opposite approach and tap into my natural reserves of tediousness and share this bounty with the world. However, in the long run, I would like having somebody besides me checking this out, so maybe a different approach is more appropriate.

I could harangue the world with my various political opinions, but isn't there enough of that going around these days? In fact, I've grown somewhat weary of having people I sort of know (you know, colleagues from work, the person sitting next to me on the train, the cars positively wallpapered with bumper stickers) throwing their opinions in my face. And expecting me to agree with them, because, in their opinion, if they believe it, it must be right.

As far as most people go, I don't care what you think. That's your business and, quite often, your problem. I won't bother you with what I think if you don't belabor me your thoughts.

This goes mainly for strangers and acquaintances. If we know each other well, then it's gloves off. It's bareknuckle time.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Plant Your Wagon, Part Four

The first innovation to the second episode of "Plant Your Wagon" that I made was to reprise "The Ballad of Sam Trellis." Since the idea is that the show will be on once per week, I figured that it wouldn't be a bad thing to kind of remind the listener of where we had left off. So, I wrote a new verse and used the same chorus, which seemed to do the trick.

The next four scenes involved little more than polishing the same sequence of scenes from the second version. The fifth scene started out with routine polishing, but I had, in the meantime, sketched out two songs, one for Judge Brand and one for the Sheriff. Judge Brand's song, in which he tells of what hard work it is to screw everyone else out of everything they own, seemed best suited to the scene. The Sheriff's song, which is about his conflict between wanting to be ethical and being on Judge Brand's payroll, was too personal for this particular scene. As of this writing, it is still be held in reserve for Episode Three, upon which I am now at work.

From that point on, I was pretty much making things up as I went along--my preferred method of composition. First I brought the action back to the flower growers' home, the Double Calyx ranch. I thought a bit more than we had originally about the character of Cookie, the elderly ranch hand who makes the meals. In the next two scenes, I was able, through his interaction with Sam Trellis, to bring out more sides to him than just being a crotchety old man.

I did have a goal in all this. I wanted the last scene to be one at the Guernsey Lilly saloon in which the townspeople mistake Holly's pacifist speech for a call to violent action. This last scene gave me a chance to bring Sam and Holly together as the love interests, which worked rather well, I think.

So far, I'm only four pages into Episode Three. I wonder what it will be like when I'm done?

Friday, September 24, 2004

Plant Your Wagon, Part Three

Again, I needed perspective. I switched gears and went back to work on what was becoming the dead end of "The Quality of Marcy." Once that ground to a halt, I thought I'd give "Plant Your Wagon" another read through in order to see if it was salvageable.

When I reread it, I was pleasantly surprised. Although it wasn't really good, it wasn't quite really bad either. The songs were fun, and there were good things here and there, but I needed to rethink it and get rid of anything that slowed down the story or made it needlessly complex.

As always, I started at page one and rewrote word-by-word. I wanted to highlight a character who hadn't even appeared in the previous version, a barmaid named Rosie, so, drawing on the many years I spent watching "Gunsmoke" with my Dad, I made her the owner of the local saloon. In the previous version, I had invented a new first scene which was set in the saloon. I added in Rosie, and tried to sharpen the dialogue.

The next major change had to do with the character of Sam Trellis. In the original version, Sam was the somewhat naive, somewhat incompetent employee of an East Coast flower seed and lawn ornament company owned by two German brothers. I retained this in the second version, but by the third version, I was ready to rethink it. It took three scenes to get Sam out of New York and on his way to Lonesome City, three scenes which barely moved the plot along and included passel of characters who would never figure in the rest of the story. I scrapped it all and started fresh.

I moved the company to San Francisco and made Sam the owner. Instead of Sam being the naive incompetent, I gave him an assistant, named Elias, to perform that function. Now Sam was showing a lot more of an edge, a shrewdness that I figured would help in later on in the story. I put him under the pressure of having his business fail, and replaced the three scenes with one scene in which he is getting evicted from his office. This gave him the impetus to just pack up and go to Lonesome City in order to set up shop there.

From that point on, it was mostly just a straight revision of the second version, which was, after further inspection, a pretty radical departure from version one. The only other significant difference was that, after filling out and smoothing out several scenes, version three reached the limit for Episode One five scenes quicker than version two had. Those would form the basis of Episode Two.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Plant Your Wagon, Part Two

George S. Kaufman once said, "Plays aren't so much written as rewritten." That really goes for almost any kind of writing (even the writing of a blog, if I--er, I mean, the writer of the conjectured blog--took the time to do so). "Plant Your Wagon" could be almost a case study on this statement.

This script originally took shape in the waning days of the comedy trio I was part of. In its death throes, Rule of Three hocked up any number of projects, "Plant Your Wagon" being one of them. Ever since I had first come up with "The Ballad of Sam Trellis," Mike and I had, separately, written some other songs and some bits and pieces of dialogue. For some reason, we eventually decided that it was time to churn out a script, so we weaved together the strands that we had on hand and created a bunch of new dialogue to hold everything together.

I think we took all of two days to do this. For structure, we borrowed liberally from the Hope & Crosby picture "The Road to Utopia," and made the whole thing a flashback told by an elderly Sam Trellis. Once done, we were quite pleased with ourselves and made a copy for our performing partner, who didn't seem quite as excited about it as we were. The script went in the vault, and Rule of Three lurched and crawled toward extinction.

As time passed, the thought of doing something with "Plant Your Wagon" stayed with me. I knew there was something worthwhile in it, and when other scripts failed to pan out, I figured that the time had come to dust it off and see what I had.

One of the best tools in the rewriting process is perspective, and the best way to get that is to put the script aside for awhile. Now, I'll grant you that putting it aside for ten years is a bit extreme, but it really gets you a lot of perspective. And the perspective that I got on this script was that it was more of an outline in draft form than an actual script. Everything needed development. The flashback narration needed to go. It needed to be less hurried. And the dialogue, as always, needed refurbishing.

The first revision I did stuck to the original rather closely, although I removed the flashback narration and turned it into a more straightforward narrative. I slogged through, bit-by-bit, until I had almost 30 pages done. I then asked my wife if should would mind if I read it to her (singing the songs is more effective than merely reading the lyrics). She agreed, and I started in.

About two-thirds of the way through, I stopped dead. It was terrible. It was stilted and brittle and not very funny. I put that version aside and thought it over some more. I was so shaken that I wasn't even sure if there would be a third draft. That beautiful inspiration I had in the shower so many years before might end up as just another fragment on the slag heap.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Plant Your Wagon, Part One

Let me tell you a tale of the strange way that ideas can evolve.

A few centuries ago, I had written a country western type song called "You Got My Woman." Although we hadn't yet tried recording it with the comedy trio, both my writing partner and I were fond of the song and would sing it regularly. Well, one evening, Mike told me that he had been singing "You Got My Woman" that afternoon while he was stuck in traffic on his way home from work, only he had changed the tune. (The original tune was inspired by--perhaps "stolen from" is the correct term--"Stand By Your Man.") He proceeded to sing this new version to me, and I had the new tune down in no time.

The next morning, we were scheduled to go to our compatriot's house in order to record something, probably a sketch. Mike was going to pick me up on his way. As happens with so many ideas, a great one occurred to me in the shower. The tune that Mike had sung had been bothering me because it was no longer a country tune; it was western. As I hummed the tune, suddenly a new lyric appeared in my brain. It went:

Out in the West, they grow petunias,
Chrysanthemums and roses red.

Well, that's something, I thought. Then another chunk appeared. And another. And then the chorus. Within five minutes, I had the entire song in my head. Furthermore, I knew what story it was a part of: It would be the first song in a musical that told the story of the range war between the cattle men and the flower growers.

I wasn't in the car more than 30 seconds before I started pitching the idea to Mike. He loved it. When we got our then-partner's house, we pitched the idea to him. Grudgingly as always, he allowed as it might not be a bad idea. But he did come up with a title: "Plant Your Wagon."

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Missteps (Not a '50s Singing Group)

It may have seemed, up to this point, that the writing of this series has been nothing if not a breeze. Like Alexander of Macedonia before me, I glide from victory to victory until all the world bows before my glory. The truth is this: Hardly.

I have now been working on scripts for this series for over two years, and I have seven complete scripts to show for it. Now, the biggest reason why usable scripts have accumulated so slowly is that I've had to hold down full-time jobs while still finding a spare moment or two in which to spend time with my wife and son. Writing scripts has been relegated to the same kind of level that some people reserve for things like building a ship in a bottle: it's been more of a hobby than a job.

That being said, I've also followed some scripts down blind alleys while I figured out, through trial-and-error, exactly what this series was going to be. There were three major diversions from the path, each abandoned for a different reason, each with a different future.

First, there was something called "The Amazing Three-Man One-Man Show." Originally, I had put it together as a possible corporate show for myself, my former writing partner, and another guy to do. (We had been a trio doing mainly audio comedy for a time. The comedy team had died by the time I put the draft of this script together, but I had thoughts of trying to revive it. However, I found out, rather painfully, that dead is dead.) It featured sketches and songs, and I figured I could cut it down to take up one episode of air time. I also thought about doing it live (the rest of the series will be taped and edited together like a movie) to give it the feel of a theatrical review. In the end, though, as the series veered away from sketch comedy and toward the telling of coherent stories, I decided to drop it. Maybe someday it will pop up in some form in a small theatre or cabaret, but that only time will tell.

The second dead end I followed was a script called "Such Is Life." In this case, I was adapting some TV scripts I had written (and rewritten) throughout the '90s and into the aughts. On its face, this scheme seemed like a natural. Everyone who has read the TV scripts has loved them. They have good dialogue and characters and an involving story. Unfortuantely, as I adapted the first episode into a radio play, everything that had been wonderful in the TV script evaporated and was replaced by material that was slow, talky, and sententious. This is an idea that wants desperately to be on the tube (and I mean TV, not the London subway system), and I intend to pursue making that happen. Once I can get "Next in the Series" up and running, that is.

The third dead end was with a script called "The Quality of Marcy." This is an idea that I stole from my wife. She had told me about an idea that she had for a rather dark short story that concerned a married couple dealing with a visit from the wife's ne'er-do-well sister. It struck me as being a great idea for a play, and a play with a lot of comedy in it, at that. Over time, Stephanie lost interest in the story, but mine continued unabated. Finally, she told me to go ahead with my idea, as she didn't think she would ever write the story. I'm still hoping that someday she will write her version. I think it would be quite good and very different from mine.

At first, I had started "The Quality of Marcy" as a stage play, but then decided to give it a try as a radio play. This is a script that has always come in fits and starts. I wrote the first seven or eight pages in one go (a huge amount for me) and then it lay fallow for weeks. Then another chunk came. And then nothing. Following this pattern, I was able to complete one entire episode and started off on the second.

I was actually a good distance into the second episode when I stopped work on it. I did so because, even though there is a lot of humor throughout it, the script had a very dark underbelly. This dark tone clashed with the tone of the other scripts, and I had to admit to myself that I wanted "Next in the Series," especially this first series of it, to be straight comedy. Since "The Quality of Marcy" was turning into the closest thing to a drama that I'm capable of producing, I decided that it was best to set it aside for the time being. I think I'm going to take what I've got (about an act-and-a-half of a three act play) and put it in stage play format. I think I was right in the first place: This story needs to be seen in a theatre.

These were the major digressions along the way, so far, and the amount of script I turned out on them is impressive. (At least to me.) I've written about 90 minutes worth of material, all of which is now held in reserve, waiting for another time, another medium.

Monday, September 20, 2004

The Road to Hell

About a lifetime ago, I had been slated, with a friend, to perform in a student film the child of an acquaintance was making. On the assigned day, my friend turned out to be sick with the flu. However, since I was doing without an automobile in those days, he very generously allowed me to borrow his car so that I could make the shoot. Everything went fine with the taping, which was followed by lunch at an Atlanta landmark called Manuel's Tavern. At the end of lunch, I went out to the car only to discover that the keys were still in the ignition switch and the doors were locked. Unfortunately, the most logical way of retrieving said keys was to call my friend, rouse him from his sick bed, and have him come down with the spare set to unlock the door. Which is what I did.

Having been such a bonehead put the thought in my mind that there was a good plotline in someone unwittingly disturbing a sick friend. At first, I thought it would do well as the main storyline of the sketch comedy show we were working on at the time, but as that concept died, so did the need for more storylines.

The thought kept with me, though, and when I started writing the Jerry and George scripts it bobbed back up to the surface. I wanted a third script out of these characters and I could see it with Jerry sick and George trying to help him. To add another level, I thought of doing a double parody by having Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in an adaptation of Dante's "Divine Comedy" called "The Road to Hell." I figured that it could be a movie shown on some classic movie channel and that it seems to be on the TV everywhere the boys go.

This script took a while to write, though. I started it off and wrote three or four pages before it stopped dead. After a bit, I decided to put it aside so that I could work on other things while I waited for the whole concept to gel. Everything I tried working on, though, failed to come together. (More of this at another time.)

After a few months had passed, I returned to "The Road to Hell." This time, words came in a torrent. Pages were written at (for me) lightning speed. And all I had to do was to listen to the characters. It's always the simplest answer, n'est pas?

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The Tale of the Weekend Upcoming

The life of this script begins, again, in the "Seinfeld" script that Mike and I wrote in 1993. There was a part of a scene in that script that involved the huge number of items that George was taking along on their purported trip, and I used that as my jumping off point. We had also, back then, discussed a possible second episode, and it was those discussions that I used in building the outline (even though I don't really outline) of the script that would become "The Tale of the Weekend Upcoming."

This again was a very easy script to write. I just typed the characters names and let them do the talking. I was able to develop the character of Jerry's girlfriend, June, who we met as a receptionist in "References on Request." I also added a character named Floyd, who is an acquaintance of both Jerry and George and is the closest thing that George can dig up as a date for a weekend at the beach.

Once, many years ago, I read an interview with George C. Scott in which he said that when an actor plays Shakespeare, that he should just "get on the train and ride." I have the same experience with writing for these characters. (Not to confuse my stuff with Shakespeare's, which I don't think is possible.) There's no struggling, no fighting. And, believe me, that's not always the case.

A footnote on this has to do with the title. Originally, I was going to call it "The Problem of Making Time." Then, while I was at work on the script, one of my wife's co-workers coined the phrase "the weekend upcoming" while in conversation with her. And what I considered to be the perfect title was born.

Friday, September 17, 2004

References on Request

As with so many things in life, this script started with a false start. Sometime during the halcyon days of 1993, my former writing partner approached me with the idea of writing a script for "Seinfeld," which was just then going from being a well-regarded, fairly popular program into being a phenomenon. We discussed plotlines for each of the four major characters and wove them around a central plotline having to do with the four of them going to a beach house together for a weekend. We even came up with the beginnings of a second follow-up episode to this one. (But more of that in a later post.)

Mike was particularly hot on this idea, so I suggested that we work on it the way that Ring Lardner and George S. Kaufman worked on "June Moon"; that is, he would write out a draft, I would mark it up, and then he could add in my edits along with any further changes he wanted to make. I was also in charge of writing the opening and closing monologues.

We followed this plan, assembled a script that we were pleased with, sent it to an agent who contacted the "Seinfeld" people. They informed him that they were no longer taking unsolicited submissions. And there it ended. Dead in the water.

Of the storylines we came up with for that script there was one, George's, that I always liked best. In that storyline, he went to interview with some temp agencies using a resume that he had faked by using only bankrupt companies as his former employers. When the time came to scavenge the files for material for "Next in the Series," this storyline seemed like a natural. Mike was otherwise engaged, but graciously allowed me to use whatever I wished to of our old material.

Of course, that story hadn't filled up the entire script. The scenes I would be working from took up only about half of it. But it was a strong basis on which to build.

My first challenge came in naming the characters. I rolled various alternatives around my head, but none took. Also, the characters actully seemed to want to be named Jerry and George. Those names felt right. Ultimately, I decided to just use those names until some better ones came up. They never did.

I've written three scripts featuring Jerry and George, and this one is the one that most resembles "Seinfeld." It opens and closes with them in a diner. Since I had the voices of two notable celebrities in my head while I was working on it, the tone of the dialogue is similar. Still, I hope that, with different casting, it will have its own life.

Rewriting in this case mostly meant opening up the existing scenes. (There's only one more scene in this script that there were scenes featuring George in the "Seinfeld" script.) I tried to polish the dialogue and enliven the supporting characters. In short, I tried to make it as good a script as I knew how.

This is a script that came easily. Instead of anguishing over every line, the dialogue flowed through me and on to the page. New complications and subtleties presented themselves as often as needed. It was great fun.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Bittle Joinsoin's Adventure Through the Watching Glass

Back before my former writing partner had come across the ad from the production company, I had drafted an audio comedy sketch I called "Surfing." Back then, in the misty mists of yesteryear, before the advent of guides and TiVo, we used to do something called "channel surfing." In this activity, the couch potato nation would point its various TV remotes (or "clicker" as some idi--I mean, people--insist on calling it) toward the TV or cable box and simply visit each cable channel in turn by using the "Channel +" button. After spending as much as several milliseconds on any one channel, we'd flip up to the next one and then the next one until either we found something that suited our fancy or would do until something good came on.

Mike and I had discussed this phenomenon several times and, influenced by The Firesign Theatre's "Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers," I drafted out several pages that moved back and forth between a man who was channel surfing and the shows that he was supposed to be watching.

Right about that time, Mike came across the ad in the paper for the production company, and he approached me about trying to come up with a script for them. I showed him what I had, we agreed on a basic concept, and were off. The material I had written became the basis for the first five or so pages of this new script. We then each went our separate ways and wrote various bits and sketches instead of working at the jobs we then had.

Toward the end of the week, we met a couple of times and stitched together the items we had each worked on, added in a couple of things from each of our files, and even wrote a rather lengthy bit together. By the end of seven days, we had a thirty-page script called "Exit 36--Paramus" and had some ideas for a second one.

Flash forward ten years.

While casting about for scripts to adapt for the "Next in the Series" concept (working under the assumption that it's easier to rewrite than to write anew), the script Mike and I had put together seemed a natural. I was originally going to work on it right after the script that became "The Anniversary Schmaltz," but was a little dismayed when I reread it and put it aside. I was also becoming more interested in telling stories and less interested in writing sketches, so I started working on the Jerry and George scripts instead.

After completing two of the Jerry and George scripts, I got stuck early on in the third one and decided to give "Exit 36--Paramus" another try.

In this draft, I tried to remain faithful to the original concept, although I did add a new character. I gave the main character, Bitlle Joinsoin (pronounced "Bill Jonson"), a wife named Bettle (pronounced "Betty"). This simple change allowed me to do away with having a character spend most of his time talking to himself and allowed me to add some dramatic tension by contrasting their individual tastes in television. I also polished the dialogue generally and tried to find aural equivalents to what had previously been visual segues and cues.

By the time I finished it, I knew that it still needed more work. In fact, it would need an entirely new draft. I put this second draft aside and returned to the third Jerry and George script.

When I returned to the script for the next draft, I found myself to be dissatisfied with it. I found that I wanted more of Bitlle Joinsoin's story and fewer TV parodies. In preparing my proposal to PRI, I had rewritten a scene in which Bitlle complains about his cable service over the phone to a customer service representative. In the "Paramus" script, Bitlle gets electrocuted when he tries to disconnect his cable himself. When next we meet him, he is entering the cable company's office singed from head-to-toe. In my rewrite, I changed the device to a satellite dish and had him fall off the roof while trying to remove the dish. (I felt that getting electrocuted while trying to pull the cable from the wall was far-fetched and wanted something more believable.) When next we meet Bitlle, he is in a hospital bed and is going to get the dish removed by talking to a rep over the phone.

As I reworked the scene for the proposal (drawing heavily on my experience as a CSR for MetLife), I pondered where the script went from there. In both the original script and my rewrite, the CSR tried to persuade Bitlle to not give up his service by showing him all the wonderful programming he'd have access to. The trouble was, since everything they were watching were parodies, there wasn't anything on that would persuade anybody to do anything other than to throw their TV out the window. It was then that I decided that, in the next version, I would jettison half or more of the material and play out Bitlle Joinsoin's story further.

The first scene, of Bitlle and Bettle watching TV with growing frustration, would remain. I did make some changes within it, however. First, due to a disagreement I had with our then cable provider (I won't say the name, but it rhymes with Bombast), I changed Bitlle's connection back to cable. His injuries then came when he pulled the entertainment center over on himself while trying to disconnect the box. I then moved the scene with the CSR (still set in the hospital) up, and ended it with the CSR having persuaded Bitlle to change from MegaComm cable to MegaComm satellite.

The final scene, in which Bitlle and Bettle wait for the guy from MegaComm come to set up their satellite service, was taken directly from my own life and my dealings with Bombast. In fact, there's about a page of dialogue that's almost a transcript of an actual "conversation" I had with some bubblehead who works for Bombast.

Throughout this rewrite, I was able to sharpen the dialogue, add bits of satire, and just improve the whole thing from stem-to-stern. I may never do a straight sketch show again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Script 7 Is History

Part 2 of the three-part epic, "Plant Your Wagon," was finished just a few minutes ago. It sure beat doing the work that is piling up on my desk. Now, on to Part 3.

The Anniversary Schmaltz

About ten years ago, Mike, my then writing partner, had come across an ad for a production company here in Atlanta that was looking for comedy shows to produce. We came up with a concept in which events would take place "six months in the future" and in which the sketches would be linked in some way or another--usually by free association or by having a TV parody take the viewer to a television in a living room--and the sketches would interweave with a straight storyline. The original version of this script was the second that we wrote as part of that pitch. (For the record, we submitted our stuff and never heard back. The "production company" was probably out of business by the time we got to the elevator.)

My first notion for the concept that came to be "Next in the Series" was to take that sketch comedy concept and adapt it to radio and see if I could sell it that way. I decided to start with this script because I remembered it as adhering to the original concept better than the first one. I asked Mike if he wished to be involved, but he declined.

Back then, in the olden daze, I had also written an audio sketch (called "Superhighway Robbery") that featured the same main character in the same situation. (A young man who leaves a business conference on the day of his anniversary sans present.) The sketch showed him in an airport dealing with a "cybernetic teller machine." And, although I think we originally intended to insert it into our script, I think we just plain forgot, and the scene was omitted.

My first notion in doing the adaptation was to find room for "Superhighway Robbery." I started out hewing pretty closely to the original script, just finding aural ways of presenting ideas that had originally been presented visually and doing a standard rewrite of the dialogue, which means removing anything trite, false, or unfunny and replacing it with allegedly better material. I also expanded the role of the main character's co-worker so that the guy, Mel, would spend less time talking to himself and have more pressure put on him at various points.

I also updated the technology a bit. We hadn't anticipated the rise of the cell phone--back then they were generally about the size of your shoe--and that gave me a chance to put a newer spin on a scene in which Mel tries to order flowers for his wife via a voice response unit over the phone. When I got to the point in which I was going to drop in "Superhighway Robbery," I was able to use him still trying to order flowers over his cell phone as a linking device to get him (and the listener) from the conference to the airport. I rewrote "Superhighway Robbery" to include the co-worker as a way of adding dramtic tension and polished the dialogue. Once that was done, I was left with the need to cut at least three minutes from the rest of the script.

It was at about this point that I started to better understand the theme, the idea that the reason why you're better off dealing with a person than a machine is because people are forgiving. This made itself felt soon enough, when I was approaching a scene showing Mel shopping for an anniversary present at the local mall while on his way home. I needed to be able to establish, aurally, exactly what kind of store he goes into for his present. In order to do that, I wrote a new scene in which he goes to a "holographic concierge" booth in order to get a recommendation.

Armed with a theme I really liked, I rewrote the next scene, which takes place in the store, to make one of the salesgirls into an animatronic salesgirl. I was having to cut sketches to make room for the new material, and the scrubbing and burnishing of dialogue continued unabated. I gave the wife a friend to chat with while she was at home preparing a surprise party for that evening.

The final challenge I faced was the ending. In the original, Mel wound up sleeping on the sofa in the family room having accidentally humiliated his wife at the party. Since the theme I was working with concerned the unforgiving nature of machines, I had the wife, having had the chance to calm down and get some perspective on the situation, offer her forgiveness. Instead of being trapped and alone, Mel was offered redemption.

At least, that's how it works on paper.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

And So It Begins

"Next in the Series" is the title I've chosen for a radio show that I am developing. The show is audio theatre that is devoted to the works of me, Len Cassamas. It's a comedy semi-anthology show. By this, I mean that I will not take a set group of characters and one basic premise, combine them, and flog them until every bit of value has been extracted. No. My show will have new casts and plotlines throughout the series, some staying only for individual half-hours and others arcing (to use the show biz term) over two-or-more episodes. Whatever it takes to tell the story, but, I hope, not a bit more.

And while I cannot completely guarantee that there will be no plotline concerning a by-the-book fill-in-the-blank and a free spirit fill-in-the-blank who start out as enemies, but soon develop a grudging respect which eventually lapses into them being either friends or lovers or both, I will do my best to avoid it. I have the same policy concerning cholera.

What is the purpose of this blog? I'm not completely sure yet. I'm going to feel my way through it. At the moment, I hope to keep the world (or the tiniest segment thereof) apprised of developments with the proposal I have submitted to Public Radio International (about which more later), discuss the genesis of the scripts and the production itself, get a few of my idiotic opinions off my chest, and just goof around. I hope some others will join in from time-to-time.

And so, let us begin.

I submitted a proposal to Public Radio International in February. Their stated turnaround time is "within two months." It's now been seven months, and they are still considering it. This is much better than a rejection, and I hope it augers well for things to come.

I've completed six out of the first thirteen scripts (which is what I pitched as the first series), with the seventh about a page away from completion. Two are adaptations of a sketch comedy show I developed with a former writing partner some years back. Three are single episode adventures concerning two fellows named Jerry and George. The sixth and seventh scripts are the first two-thirds of a musical comedy western. That is also a relic of my former writing partnership, as is the first of the three Jerry and George scripts.

Over the next several posts, I'll discuss the development of each script in turn.