Monday, April 23, 2018

"Stranger In A Strange Land"

I shall talk about one play.

Runners on first and third in a close contest late in the game.

The pitcher toes the rubber.

The runner steps out of the box, disrupting the pitcher’s delicate timing.

The batter digs in.

The pitcher steps off the rubber.

Tit for tat.

Pitcher and batter return to position, tensely locked their adversarial "chess match."

The catcher calls for a fastball, the speedy delivery buying him time should the runner on first attempt to steal.

The first baseman nudges the bag, shortening the baserunner’s lead, in defense of a possible “Pick-off.”

The third base coach surreptitiously signals both the batter – “hit” or “take” – and the baserunners – ordering a predesigned play.

The runner on third stretches his lead, raising concerns of a possible “double-steal.”

With his glove shrouding his mouth, the shortstop relays instructions to the second baseman, determining responsibility for covering the bag.

The third baseman "cheating" in, anticipating a possible “Suicide Squeeze.”

The outfielders position themselves consistent with the habitual hitting proclivities of the batter.

The runner on third gauges his chances of scoring on a sacrifice fly., including in his calculation the traveling distance of the fly ball, the direction it takes the pursuing outfielder, their evaluated “arm strength”, their own foot speed, and the outfielder’s ability to accurately throw the ball home.

The pitcher receives the signal, his gripping the baseball determining its velocity and its spin.

The pitcher goes into his windup.

Sending the ball towards the home plate.

And that’s all on one play. 

There is actually a lot more.

But that’s all I personally understand.

By frustrating contrast…

The symphony concert I am attending is concluding.

The audience roars in delirious approval.


And I have no idea why.

Friday, April 20, 2018

"Answering Yekimi's Question About Working On 'Amazing Stories'"

I have probably written about this before.  But since I have this annoying habit of giving my posts titles that are so incomprehensibly opaque – I have no idea why I do that – it is easier to write it again than to plunge into a protracted and likely futile blogatorial search.  

Wow.  The computer did not underline “blogatorial” in red this time. I guess it finally gave up.

“He makes up words. Why bother?”

Anyway… let’s see.

My first recollection concerning my experience working on Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories– to my mind, a mistakenly revelatory title compared to more carefully branded but similarly themed Alfred Hitchcock Presentsand The Twilight Zone – was that, while driving to my first story meeting, my 1978 PeugeotDiesel was rear-ended by Joan Collins. Notthe famous DynastyJoan Collins.  The vehicularly negligent Joan Collins who rear-ended my car. 

A distraught Ms. Collins explained that she was distracted because she had just learned she was pregnant. I replied, “Congratulations.  My back hurts.”

Thatwas my introduction to Amazing Stories– an unfortunate mishap that “totaled” my Peugeot.

Numerous weeks and trips to the chiropractor later, I drove my new Saabto Universal Studios for my rescheduled story meeting.  How did I acquire this coveted assignment?  I and the show’s producers – working directly under Spielberg – had the same agent.  Plus, I later discovered though I no longer recall how, Spielberg had asked Jim Brooks, whom I had worked with on the MTMseries and Taxifor a recommendation of a capable comedy writer and Jim Brooks had proffered my name.  (Which he may nothave had he known I employ unfunny words like “proffered”, a guaranteed instant disqualifier.) 

Steven Spielberg’s production compound looked like the Alamo.  As I entered the building, I felt as nervous as its historical counterpart’s threatened inhabitants.  Not that it was surrounded by the Mexican army, but its “Generalissimo” (JawsE.T. – Spielberg’sscreen credits, notSanta Anna’s – was equally daunting.

I met the show’s producer’s – whose subsequent claim to fame was creating Northern Exposure – who pitched me a story called… Oh, man.  I gotta look it up… hold on a second, will ya?

………………………………………….

………………………………………….

“Fining Tuning.”

(That took a while but you’re worth it.)

(Note:  Almost all the episode story ideas derived from Spielberg himself, though unlike any previousseries I had worked on, where producers regularly provided freelance writers with story ideas but allowed them to receive a combined “Story” and “Teleplay” credit, Steven Spielberg appropriated “Story” credit for himself. Along with the accompanying “Story” payment. I guess it was a matter of,

“I need a few more thousand to make it a billion and this “Story” money will really help.”    

Anyway…

“Fine Tuning” involved teenage boys who, for a High School science experiment, rejigger a television so it can receive programming from outer space.  (Discovering in the process that faraway galaxies “pirated” The George Burns and Gracie Allen Program and I Love Lucy, only the performers were robots.)

Here’s the thing.

I had never written a “single-camera” episode before – my experiential forte being writing “multi-camera” shows filmed before live studio audiences – and I was fearful of handling the transition to the more “visual” comedic format.

My imaginatorial “high point” occurred when I wrote this scene where the “Producer-Aliens” land in Hollywood for some show biz “reconnaissance” – and the ultimate kidnapping of comedian Milton Berle back to their planet.  

The visiting extraterrestrials, decked out in loud, “Vacation-Issue” Hawaiian shirts, are on this “Bus Tour of the Movie Stars’ Homes.  And here’s the “good part” I made up.  For them, “taking a picture” involves blinking their eyes, followed by a hanical whirring sound, followed by the developed snapshot emerging “Polaroid-Style” out of their mouths.

Look at me, doing “Visual Comedy”!  (The exclamation point denoting my continuing sense of personal satisfaction.)  Which Spielberg perfectly produced.
“Fine Tuning’s” positive reception led to anotherassignment for an episode entitled “Mummy Daddy.”  (“Story by Steven Spielberg.”  “Teleplay by Earl Pomerantz.”)  Thatone seems more frequently remembered, although my preferential favorite is “Fine Tuning.”

“Mummy Daddy” involves an actor, playing the lead role in a “Monster Picture” filmed in a rural Southern location, racing to the hospital – still in costume – when his visiting pregnant wife suddenly goes into labor, all to the unnerving consternation of the terrified “locals”, finding a “Mummy” running amok in their veritable backyards.

When handing in the “Second Draft” of “Mummy Daddy”, I was asked, “Do you want
to meet Steven?”, which I misheard as, “Do you want to meet Jesus?” 

The man walked into the room, shaking my hand and praising me effusively for “cracking’” the story, a feat they were unable to accomplish “in-house.”

I replied, “We do that in ‘half-hours’ every week.”

(Though I am not sure I said “Thank you.”)

With the exception of a “downer” denouement I will not bother to go into, thatwas my experience on Amazing Stories.  I was not directly involved in the production.  I wrote two scripts at home, I handed they in and they made them.  I met Steven Spielberg one time, and he was nice to me.  

Thank you Yekimi for asking about that.

It reminded me of that “Polaroid” bit from “Fine Tuning”, proving, adopting a theater critic’s review of iconic composer Richard Rodgers’ only foray into also supplying the words (for the musical No Strings)– 

“Amazing Stories does not definitively prove that Earl Pomerantz cannot write movies.” 

High praise indeed.

Who knows?

Maybe it will inspire me to try again.

Nah.  Probably not.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"Original Or Snooty?"

In the course of yesterday’s post, I wrote:

“… trying to digest a “replica” brisket sandwich, which bore a passing resemblance to brisket but missed badly on the flavor.”

Then, during the rewrite process, I changed “missed badly on the flavor”to “missed egregiously on the flavor”, believing I had upgraded that sentence fragment, no writer deliberately intending to make their work worse.

But then I wondered.

Maybe I didmake it worse.

At least for somepeople.

Last night, I was reading a book review about the relationship between writing and alcoholism, where, while  explaining her difficulty accepting the democratizing humility at the core of A.A.’s “Twelve Step Program”, a writer/alcoholic confessed, 

“My whole life I’d been taught that something was good because it was original.”

“Original”, in that context reflects the writer’s uniqueness.  And consequently, their literary worthiness.  Thereby proving, by not too distant association, their own personalworthiness, the reasoning going,

If you are not “distinctly original” but are instead “indistinguishably ‘human’”,

What exactly is the purpose of you?

The discovered quote kind of woke me up in my head, reminding me of two things:  The way I was taught to appreciate writing, and following its example, to write myself...

And the hit CBSpolice series Blue Bloods.

I have been wanting to write about this for some time, but I did not quite know how until now.

I am not trying to make judgments here.  What I am considering’s just alternative ways of communicating with an audience. (Though it is unlikely to be the sameaudience.)

Theoretically, I should not likeBlue Bloods.  It is, as Ed Grimley might say if he were a television critic, “as contrived as “contrived” can be, y’know.” 

The patriarch Reagan, is a policeman who rose to Police Commissioner.  His son – Exactly the same thing.   His son’s children– the three males all became police officers (one of them “killed in action”) and the daughter, though not a police officer, is an Assistant District Attorney, so she’s alsoin law enforcement.

Question:

Does that really happen that much?

I mean, there areother jobs out there.  

Even if you’re Irish.

Blue Bloodsfans – and they are numerous – do not care about the contrivance.  They like the show.  The Reagans are on the right side of the law.  They eat “Sunday Dinner” together.  They say “Grace.”  Their credo is, “Family first.”

And they talk like regular people.

They are not “smarter than the room”, like the shows that win prizes.

They instead arethe room.

I enjoy Blue Bloods, finding it a welcome break from shows that make me feel slow in the head.  (Obvious but Often Ignored:  There is surprisingly little entertainment value in “I don’t get it.”)

Never ducking a cliché, Blue Bloods, instead, embracesclichés.  

Does that make it “bad writing”?  Dialogue consistent with the educational and cultural levels of the depicted characters? How is that “bad”?

Blue Bloodstalks the way mostpeople, rather than graduates from elite universities, talk.  No slathered-on irony.  No arcane literary references.  No “air quotes.”  (Unless they are mocking people who use“air quotes.”)

Here’s a partial list of what characters on Blue Bloodssay with a totally straight face.

“I’ve got your back.”

“It is what it is.”

“Tell me something I don’tknow.”

“What comes around goes around.”

And many, many more.

And not onceare they facetiously “putting you on.”  

Blue Bloodsis mass entertainment.

And, when it speaks to the audience, it actslike it.

It seems to me we didn’t.  

Believing “something was {only} good if it was original.”

We, of course, wanteda mass audience.  

So why didn’t we talklike them?

Before I began this, I went back and changed “missed egregiously on the flavor”back to “missed badly on the flavor.”

Hopefully, I have learned a lesson.

Though only time will definitively tell.

Man!

Did I really need “definitively”?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"Flexibility Versus Predictabiliy"

I don’t know. *

(* I can pretty much start every blog post I write in that fashion.  It’s not a pose.  I really don’t know a sadly astonishing number of things.  Including, with any degree of certainty, the following.)

In an effort the mine miniscule statistically-grounded advantages the current fashion in baseball is to require ballplayers to be more flexible in their responsibilities than ever before in the National Pastime’s long and tradition-bound history.

This is baseball, a game known for hewing to longstanding procedure, where, if, for example, you found another ballplayer occupying “Your spot” on the bench, you could shoot them and nobody would call the police.

“He was sitting in my spot.”

“Well okay then.  The man was playing with fire.”

That’s only a minor exaggeration.  Ballplayers – and likely players in all sports – cling to their habitual behaviors – including, it’s been reported, their underwear; I mean, you’re on a personal hot or team winning-streak, you leave them on till they totally shred.  (Or the “ju-ju” demonstrably wears off.)

Now, however – and this won’t be entirely about baseball, as, to a degree, we all, I believe, have deeply entrenched habits – stop here a moment and imagine some of your own, including “Oh, no, not me.”  Reflecting a deeply entrenched habit of denial.   

Today, the emerging sabermetrical “Whiz Kids” of baseball require fielders to play numerous positions from game to game rather than one, hitters to be prepared to bat in different slots in the batting order, and infielders to occupy unfamiliar locations, playing the “shift.” 

These “rules”-busting innovators also require – especially in the “post-season” – pitchers to take the mound after fewer days of rest than they have been regularly conditioned to, and – with the relief pitchers – to pitch longer and be brought into the game earlier than they once unwaveringly anticipated.

“Everyone comes to the ballpark, knowing exactly what role we’re expected to play”?

Gone.

THE TEAM “CLOSER“:  “I used to only come in in the ninth when we were protecting a lead and there is nobody on base.  Now I don’t know when I come in.  Well I do.  I come in whenever they tell me to.  And I really don’t mind that.  Even though I have never done it before in my entire career.”

Really?

In a game steeped in formerly rigorous routine, how is this suddenly okay?

I know it is definitely not okay for me.

(Here’s where I “universalize” this chronicled exercise, using myself as a “Guinea Pig” example.)

And by the way, I imagine some ballplayers are fine with this strategic upheaval.  Though the game’s “Big Names” are likely left to their comfortable regimens, even there, there are individual preferential differences.  Confirming my tried-and-true dictum, “Some does, and some duzzn’t.”  For me personally in this regard,

I duzzn’t.

A Recent Case History:

We went to Disneyland during “Spring Break.”  (My medal for “Grace Under Stupidity” is currently in the mail.)  We stayed at the aforementioned “Disneyland Replica Hotel”, where everything was a duplicate of something actually real, a motif extended into the theme park itself.  We had ice cream that tasted close but not quite like actual ice cream.

One advertised advantage to hoteling on the Disneyland premises is that, for an hour after seven in the morning, registered guests get a head start on access to all the rides, the gates not opening to “Day Visitors” until eight.

What that meant was, we had to get up at six, go downstairs and line up – there were, amazingly, already hundreds of people ahead of us – for our seven o’clock “Advance Entry” into the park.

Which we did, enjoying – if you exclude the incipient nausea – five rides before the “Gates Opening” waits for them became agonizingly prohibitive. 

The thing is,

I always eat breakfast at seven.  Or very close to thereabouts.

And at “very close to thereabouts” that day, I was a captive visitor to the hurtling Cars ride, screaming, “I want to get off!”

At least most of me was.  Another part of me, wired to “Nutritional Expectations”, was whining,

“What happened to breakfast?

In our exuberance – or at least the exuberance of the younger members of our party – we took full advantage of the “Early Start”, enjoying – for noteworthy exceptions, See:  Above, or yesterday’s post – five rides before – some time after ten – we found a place open, offering something to eat. 

It was not a restaurant; it was a theme-painted “Convenience Store.”  And the best available dining alternative was

Pretzels.

So…

Not only had I missed my habitual “Eating Time” by more than three hours,

I was having pretzels for breakfast.

For the sake of propriety, I shall eschew the alimentary consequences of this “flexible” behavior.  Suffice it to say…

There were some.

And they endured for some time.

Perhaps the thing about flexibility is,

It is a good idea to be flexible about everything.

Including flexibility itself.

Sometimes it’s more advisable to follow your regular routine.


With an unsubtle emphasis on “Regular.”

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"Is It The Place That Changed... Or Is It Me?"

Preempting Answer:

It’s both.

I never liked Disneyland’sfast rides that whip you wildly around every turn.  (Including the “Teacups”, where you whip yourselfwildly around.)

Over the years, the rides have become faster and whippier.  

What then were my chances of liking them better?

After struggling through the Carsride, which started benignly but gradually increased to the “Let me out of here!” speed of an actual stock car race – I (unwisely) tried a few otherattractions, all of which I handled with the oppositeof consummate aplomb.  

Or intestinal comfort.

I elected to pass on “Ladybug Boogie”, encouragingly described to me as being a “baby ride”, the description suggesting there were babies out there who were braver than than Iwas. 

As I watched from the sidelines, I wondered, “What kind of baby would not immediately upchuck their “Formula” riding ‘Ladybug Boogie’?”

And I would.

Here’s me, being “old” about Disneyland– which I once excitedly dreamed about – but not necessarily incorrect.

The new theme park rides, generated from recent Disneyhit movies – as they always havebeen – seem to have lost – as perhaps the movies themselveshave – their trademark mesmerizing “enchantment.”  

The attractions I continueto seek out, like, “Pirates of the Caribbean”, and “The Haunted Mansion” – which are acceptably queasy on the “Pomerantz Scale of Nauseatic Inducement” – contain more skillfully planned “magic” than rides named after contemporaryDisneyblockbusters, which I find to be unimaginative variations on “We will make you throw up.” 

Or come perilously close.

Which, judging by the extended lines for those attractions, 

Mostpeople seem to enjoy.

I guess because the jolting experience is temporary.

Although for me, while I am experiencing it, that “temporary” feels like it is never going to end.

Before Ido.

Making my most rewarding experience on our recent Disneyland visit the benign but always reliable 

“Jungle Cruise.”

Where I not only had fun but learned an unexpected lesson about comedy.

Contrasted with funnyjokes – which can easily become dated – cornyjokes apparently have a permanent “Shelf Life.”

It seems to me that the insistently corny “Jungle Cruise” “script” has not noticeably changed in over fifty years. And people still laugh.  The way you laugh at cornyjokes, but they laugh.

(FLOATING BEHIND A WATERFALL)

CRUISE GUIDE:  “Ladies and gentlemen, the most exciting sight of all – the ‘back side’ of water!

I think the reason people laugh at corny jokes is that, unlike realjokes that become gradually passé, these jokes were unabashedly corny in the firstplace, placing them in a special category of comedy – the “Immortality” category.  

I mean, they‘ve been doing basically the same material on “Jungle Cruise” for half a century and people – including me, a comedic professional – are still simultaneously chuckling and groaning.

“Funny” is precariously “time sensitive.”  

“Corny” appearsto be forever.  

Come back in fifty years and they will stillbe doing “the ‘back side’ of water.”

One word about the Disneylandrestaurant cuisine.  Okay, morethan one word.  

The menu includes selections from the major food groups… if the “major food groups” are pizza, spaghetti, chicken nuggets and hotdogs.  

It’s like the official Disneylandnutritionist is eight.  I can imagine them, like, four feet tall, their professional lab coats dragging along the floor, going,

“Spaghetti’s a ‘Super Food.’ For real!”  

It is troubling to write this without sounding inexorably septuagenarian.  The Disneyland’s souvenirs and confections are labeled “Artisan”, “Crafted” and “Hand-Crafted.”  As opposed to what– “Nose-Crafted”? 

And there are my usual extraneous “noticings.”  

A posted sign next to the hotel pool reads:

“Maximum Capacity – 109 people.”

How, I wondered, did they arrive at that “Maximum Capacity” number?  The hundred and tenthperson got in and the swimming pool blew up?  You think about these things… if you’re me… trying to digest a "replica" brisket sandwich, which bore a passing resemblance to brisket but missed badly on the flavor.

You see that?

Grumpy!  Grumpy!  Grumpy!

Which reminds me, I found a character-exposing t-shirt with the emblazoning:   

“Guaranteed GRUMPY”– showcasing the curmudgeonous dwarf of the same name – “It’s not a Mood; it’s a Lifestyle.”

Busted.

Finishing cornily – but genuinely heartfelt – it’s not the placethat matters.  It’s the people you’re with.

If I had not been in the company of almost-four-year-old Jack during “The Haunted Mansion” attraction, I would have been absent when he reacted to the ride’s ominous “Voice-Over” introduction with:

“He said he didn’t mean to frighten me.  But he didmean to frighten me.” 

For me, that’s worth the price of admission, right there.

As long as I steer clear of “Ladybug Boogie.” 

Monday, April 16, 2018

"Come With Me..."

“Come with me to the most magical place on earth…”

Walt Disney?

No.

Marv Waxman.  My “Grade Ten” classmate at Bathurst Heights Collegiate and Vocational School, billboarding his “Oral Composition” on his recent visit to Disneyland.

The first kid anyone knew who had been there.

And now, he was telling us about it.  In an (embarrassing) overwrought delivery, contrasting his normally serious demeanor (auguring a future ascent into U of T medical school.)  Going seriously against “type”, Waxman waxed poetically about visiting the fabled and fabulous “Magic Kingdom.”  (In a place where they never have winter.)

I desperately wanted to go.

A dream – which was a wish my heart made – that was finally fulfilled when I was twenty-one.

While attending The Bertolt Brecht Summer Theater Workshop at UCLA, I was invited to join a group of fellow thespians on a day-trip to Disneyland hosted by a generous classmate who had previously worked there.  Due to her “emeritus” status, she was accorded complimentary tickets to the park, for her and all of her guests.

I got excited again, just writing that sentence.

I know not everyone likes Disneyland.  To many, it’s just a big, fake fantasy theme park.

Well first, “Duh!”

And second – although first for me – I like big, fake fantasy theme parks.  Given the choice, I would happily live in one.  (Some might say I already do.)

For me, Disneyland was like exploring an enormous “Pop-up” book, an enchanted Earlo roaming its oversized pages.  (Or, Disneyland was normal-sized and I was “Honey, I shrunk the Jew.”) 

Disneyland was colorful acres of “Can this possibly be real?”  My previous closest experience in utter amazement was a full-sized statue of Hopalong Cassidy made entirely of butter, displayed at the Pure Foods Building of the Canadian National Exhibition.  This oleaginous marvel left me rubbing my incredulous eyes.  (Come on!  A chiseled buttery statue of your favorite cowboy?)    

My first trip to Disneyland combined two of my favorite elements:

The experience was as thrillingly memorable as I’d imagined.

And it was free.

I have gone back on numerous occasions.  At least one of then, I have already mentioned, involving Anna taking me there on my 65th birthday, where, with authorized certification, they allowed “Birthday Boys” (and girls) in free.

(There is something about that tantalizing arrangement that has a mesmerizing hold on me.  I gained ten pounds eating available accompanying dinners on studio “Show Nights.”  The food was terrible.  But it was free.)

Two Disneyland stories:

The first…

Wait.

I am flipping them around.

Somewhere in my late forties, we met my friend Shelly and family – recently featured in the chronicled weekend trip to Arizona – at Disneyland, where I was dared to try Star Tours.  And before I knew it, I was lined up for a ride I’d showed active resistance to ever visiting. 

Because I am squeamish, easily nauseated and wimpishly fearful.

I am forty-something years old.

And there I am –

Succumbing to a dare.

Jumping over the specifics, including an angst-boosting moment where riders have the opportunity to bail – which I should have taken have but didn’t – I am hurtling powerlessly through what are essentially two frightening elements combined:  A rollercoaster barreling through pitch dark.  I hear a voice – which is mine – wailing what I am confident are the last words I will ever be heard to say:

“I am going to die.”
Well – evidenced by this current communication –

I didn’t.

But throughout the remainder of the day, strangers came up to me, asking, in solicitous voices, responding to my visibly greenish complexion,

“Are you okay?”

I said yes, but I wasn’t.

I shall finish, recounting a “Milestone Moment” in a Dad’s life – the first time I took my daughter to Disneyland.

Anna’s, like, about three.  And we are traversing the castle entrance into the park. 

I could not be more excited.

Dad and daughter, her little hand in mine,

Visiting the “Magic Kingdom.”

As we proceed toward Disneyland’s “Main Street”, unable to check my emotions, I turn to Anna and exultantly blurt,

“Anna!  Where are you?”

To which I expect an exuberant,

“DISNEYLAND!!!”

But instead, she calmly replies,

“I right here, Daddy.”

I am now back at Disneyland, for a three-day stay with immediate family and visiting Chicagoans.  (Although, as yet, not Golda.  That one’s coming.  (Knocking the replica “Craftsman” wooden dresser beside this faux marbleized desktop.  Everything’s stylized in this hotel.  The decorative motif is “Old-but-actually new.”  Call it the "Disneyland Replica Hotel.")

I have no idea what’s ahead here, though it is certain to supplement the mounting Disneyland lore.

I just hope no one dares me to ride anything else.

Older – yes.

But wiser?


I wouldn’t count on it.