Friday, May 30, 2014


I received a bill today…wait, lemme go back a little.

Why do you do that?

Do what?

That "start and go back" thing.  What do you need it for?

It’s an artistic filigree. 

Is that what you call starting in the wrong place and being too lazy to go back and start again?

That stuff is for amateurs – deleting the first part and starting again – anybody can do that.  I keep things loose and natural, reinforcing the “illusion of spontaneity.”   

Some of find your "illusion of spontaneity annoying and transparent.  

What do you mean “some of us”?  I’m writing both of these parts.

Well then some of you must find it annoying and transparent as well.

Point taken.  And ignored.  Anyway, where was I?  Oh, yeah.   

I don’t have an iPhone.  Or an iAnything for that matter.  No, wait, I got a better one.  


What?  I’m supposed to throw away a superior idea in favor of “smoother storytelling”?  Be excited!  You are watching the creative process in action!  


Okay.  And this one, I’m staying with.

What I am offering comes in the form of an accusing finger emerging from the grave.  It’s like there’s a murder, and a document written by the victim is uncovered revealing to the world the identity of the murderer.  

You're right.  This is better.  It sounds like my interruption gave you time to come up with a juicier option.

Yes, but not all interruptions are equal.  This one, for example, just slowing me down.  


No problem.  Now…

If I am ever found dead in an alley, or anywhere else dead people whose homicides are of a suspicious nature are found, the first – and I would appreciate your passing this along to the authorities – the first people to take seriously as suspects are…

Verizon Wireless.

Why?  On SVU (which I don’t watch anymore), virtually the first question out of one of the crack investigator’s mouths is,

“Did he have any enemies?”

I have no enemies that I know of.  With the notable exception of…

Verizon Wireless.

Who, I believe, would be extremely happy if I were dead.

Why do they hate me?

Because I still have a flip-phone.

Why would they care about that?

Because I have the same “Phoning Plan” I had when I bought it.  And that phoning plan costs fifteen dollars a month.  Mine is likely one of the last of such plans that are still active.  It’s like having a “Rent Controlled” phoning plan.

Unless I change it, my cell phone charges will be fifteen dollars a month till I die. 

I know Verizon Wireless hates that, because when I took my phone in for servicing one time, they tried desperately to sell my an upgraded plan.  I adamantly said no, and they seemed very upset about it.  Upset enough to kill me?  All I know is, they were really angry.  And that was ten years ago.

What brings this to mind – beyond my natural paranoia – is that recently I received… okay, understand that for as long as I’ve had this phone…no, wait, before that… 

Boy, you are really "jumpy" today.

It’s Friday.  I need to first tell you that I almost never use my cell phone phone.  Because I’m home all the time and we have land lines where I primarily get calls from people and automated machines trying to sell me stuff rather than personal calls because I do not have a life. 

So relatively speaking, paying fifteen dollars a month for a flip phone that does little more than sit on a table in my hallway – at a hundred and eighty dollars a year – seems like an exorbitant amount of money.  I include this point in case your cell phone bills are substantially higher, and you cannot understand what I’m whining about.  Basically, my cell phone is a hood ornament that tells you the time.

Before ordering the “hit” – which I believe is their “alternative of choice” – Verizon Wireless has apparently chosen the preliminary option of driving me insane, in hopes, perhaps, that my madness will propel me to suicide, leaving their hands, in the “Letter of the Law” sense at least, spotless.

After years of receiving cell phone bills for fifteen dollars (plus tax and surcharges) a month, I was shocked and dismayed that my most recent Verizon Wireless cell phone bill was for eighteen dollars and ninety cents (plus tax and surcharges.)  Hardly a fortune, but a hefty increase nevertheless.  I would tell you what percentage that increase was, but that level of math is beyond my ability. 

I examined the bill for an explanation for this unexpected fee increase.  And there it was:

“Roaming Charges” - $3.90.

Now it’s true that during the month in question, I had actually used my cell phone once.  I had called Dr. M to pick me up from a play I had attended alone.  However, my understanding – and I am admittedly no expert on such matters – is that in order to be liable for additional cell phone payments, you have to either be calling from outside of your “Calling Area”, or you have exceeded the allotted number of minutes on your plan.

This was the first (and only) call I had made that month.  So I had not exceeded my “Minutes”, unless my ancient plan’s allotted number of “Minutes” was zero.  (I believe my actual allotted number of minutes was twenty.)  Also, since the theater I was calling from was no more than a mile away, I could hardly have incurred “Roaming Charges” unless my “Calling Area” was defined as “anywhere outside of my house.”

It appeared to me that the additional charge, designated as a “Roaming Charge”, had no justifiable explanation.  I considered calling them for a clarification, but I didn’t, figuring, “Why should I remind them that I am still alive?”  And allow them to keep me on the phone while they dispatch a Verizon Wireless-launched drone to obliterate me to a cinder. 

Clearly, these corporate behemoths were “messing with my head.”  Well, let me tell you something, boys. 

It is not going to work. 

I will never buy a new cell phone.  I will never upgrade my calling plan.  And now that I’m aware of the nefarious shenanigans you are up to,

I will never take that phone out of the house again

You’ll show them!

You bet I will!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

"An Essay-Style History Question"

“America is a country without parents.” 


I cannot believe my good fortune.  That is exactly the question I wanted!

I am telling you, dude, America is a country without parents.  They were “Absentee Parents”, to be sure, but they were parents nonetheless.  In that they gave birth to us like Portugal and The Netherlands did not. 

And then one day, fed up with what was perceived as intolerable “parental abuse”, the kids rose up and locked their parents out of the house.  (For those who aren’t following this, England is the parents and the Thirteen Colonies are the kids.  Is what I’m saying.)

The parents were good to the kids.  Or so they believed.  They provided them with their basic necessities (many crafted from raw materials imported from America at cut-rate prices), they protected them from trouble (“trouble” meaning the Indians, although, the kids would later learn that their parents were secretly paying the Indians to stir up much of that trouble, and they were not happy about that.  Nor were they happy with the onerous taxes England imposed, they said, to protect the Colonists from the Indians, whom it turned out they had been paying – arguably with American tax money – to make trouble.)

The kids had had enough.  In the spirit of Popeye, who would express similar sentiments a century and a half later, “That’s all they could stands; they could not stands no more.”

The thing is, in order to attain victory, “victory” defined by keeping their parents permanently out of the house, all thirteen children (Read:  “Colonists.”  Stay with me here) had to agree to the “lockout” and work as a unit to accomplish that objective. 

You cannot keep the parents out of some of the rooms while welcoming them into others.  It was an all or nothing proposition.  If even one kid wimps out, the parents are back in the house. 

And boy, are they angry!  (Meaning, if the insurgents did not hang together, they would most certainly hang separately.)

The older siblings – they’re solid.  They’re fed up with the parental exploitation and abuse and they know what has to be done.  It’s the five year-olds, and under, the smaller and the weaker offspring that are the problem.  Their attachment to the adult protection is stronger, making them more likely to whimper and weaken, due to their habitual need for their reassuring presence.

The waverers needed to be persuaded.  So they negotiate.  What do the weaker siblings want?  What can they promise that will entice them reliably into the fold?

The answer:


“We want equal rights with the Big Kids.  And we do not want anyone telling us what to do.  Ever!”

“Is that a deal breaker?”

“Yay, verily, it is.”  (And they aggressively stick out their lower lips to underscore that they mean it.)

Seeing no alternative and an urgent necessity, the Big Kids dutifully surrender to their demands. 

The result:

“States’ – sorry, I mean – “Kids’ Rights.”

When the war was won, the “country (now) without parents” jubilantly celebrated, the victorious youngster jumping on the beds and eating cookies for breakfast.  (And lo to anyone advising nutritional guidelines.)

It was total freedom.  The kids could decorate their rooms any way they wanted, and they could leave their discarded clothing all over the floor.  There was no “bedtime”; everyone could stay up as late as they wanted, and even watch television – or the Colonial equivalent of television which was looking out the window – before finishing their homework.  They had earned it, by vanquishing their parents.

No longer could anyone tell them what to do.

There were difficulties, of course.  For example, the communal areas – the living room and the privy – how would their maintenance and use be determined?  Would it be “mutual agreement” or “Everyone for themselves’?

The problem with a “country without parents” is that nobody is ultimately in charge.  Except the kids.  Any sniff of the Big Kids’ throwing their weight around, however, and you’ve got another rebellion on your hands, the “New Revolutionaries” drawing inspiration from the original rebellion, possibly even adopting their historically resonating nicknames.

One has to wonder if the more powerful siblings were ever truly serious about “Kids’ Rights”, or were they simply kidding around.  And by “kidding around” I mean lying to the less powerful siblings so they would acquiesce the plan.

To attain a certain objective, you make a promise you did not entirely take seriously, only to discover that you are stuck with the consequences of that promise because the people you originally made it to did.  And there is no governing authority to break the logjam.  (There’s the Supreme Court.  But, please.)

As a concept, “States’ Rights” is not necessarily bad.  (With the exception of the civil rights area, where it has never once been acceptable, and while I’m at it, P.U.) 

I read recently where Vermont will be experimenting with a Universal Health Care system.  That seems like a productive purpose for States’ Rights.  Let ‘em try it, and see how it functions.  If there are glitches, they can be tinkered with on a smaller, regional scale. 

And if it works out, then other states – whose citizens don’t want to die when they get really sick and they don’t have health insurance or their private insurers say “We’ve paid out enough” – will follow their lead.  Ditto for drug de-criminialization.  

Certain problems, on the other hand, logistically go "Ha!" at state-by-state experimentation.  If one state, for example, has tough gun-purchasing regulations while another state does not… well you can see where that’s going.  To be practically effective, the gun issue requires a national response.  And in a country without parents, where nobody can tell anyone else what to do…

I would not hold my breath.  (And hope the shooter chooses another theater in the multiplex.)

A family comprised entirely of self-governing children is a “natural” for a television series on Nickelodeon.

But as a template for a country…

It is a “Noble Experiment.” 

Which is not the same as saying, “It works.”

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"Keeping It Real"

“Real people in difficult situations.”
That’s what I like in my stories.  In the first series I created, Best of the West, that’s what it was all about.  That and the contrast between the actual West and the West of the imagination.  Combined with my reaction to the seemingly trivial “Mary Breaks A Nail” storylines featured on the later Mary Tyler Moore Show episodes.  As well as my love of westerns and my committed intention to create a comedy homage.  Okay, so there were a lot of underpinnings to the series, but “Real people in difficult situations” was a primary underpinning.  Or at least one of them.

For my tastes, real is preferable to unreal.  (No “talking horse.”  No playboy bringing home a parade of women when there’s a “Half-a-Man” living in the house.) 

This brings up the unasked but nonetheless interesting question:

“Can a story ever be too real?”

Let me stick with what I know:  Half-hour comedies.  For those of you in a hurry, the quick answer to that question is,

“I think so, yes.” 


Now, for those of you still with us…

I recall an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show during its seventh and final season
which involved Mary dating (the considerably older) Lou Grant.  The idea seemed reasonable (and therefore believably real.) 

Mary and Lou were unquestionably fond of each other.  They had a substantial amount in common.  Neither of them was relationshipally encumbered.  And neither of them was getting any younger. 

So they went out together, and, in the climactic scene, they kissed.  And it was…

To say the least…

(SING-SONGILY)  “Awk-ward.” 

Both for the characters (who actually acknowledged that in the scene), but more importantly for me, watching it. 


(Is about all I want to say about it, concerned that the word “incest” might unpalatably pop up.)


I recall an early (Season Two, or so) episode of Friends involving the awareness that some “Friends” had more disposable income than other “Friends”, and that this impedimented the range of activities that the “Friends” were able to comfortably all do together. 

The observation was true.  (As in:  Real.)  Some “Friends” (the result of having regular jobs) had more money than other “Friends.”  The thing was, highlighting that unarguable reality led to what was not one of the series’s most successful episodes, ranking, truth be told, unhappily closer to the “not at all funny” end of the “Ha-Ha-Meter” continuum.  

Too real; not funny.  Because, (once again SING-SONGILY:)  “Awk-ward.”

Next… (and finally)

In an episode from a later season of Seinfeld, single and “getting up there” Jerry and George make a pact to both propose to their girlfriends, a pact Jerry backs out on but George – and he is not at all happy about “The Backout” – doesn’t. 

It was not unreasonable to attempt such an episode.  The premise is grounded in Jerry and George’s realistic awareness of their predicaments:  their advancing years and their obsessive pickiness, rejecting women with “Man Hands”, “Low Talkers”, women who ate their peas one pea at a time and their candy bars with a knife and  fork. 

The thing is, when before on Seinfeld had Jerry and George ever reflected a realistic awareness of their predicaments?   

When also, for that matter, did the “Friends” ever before talk about money?  (Where, if they had not been “Rent Controlled” and bequeathed to them by their familial predecessors, the apartments we see them living in would be barely affordable to the actors playing the “Friends.”  Okay, that was an exaggeration for humorous intent – the actors could buy the whole building – but the observation in question is nonetheless on the money.)

Finishing off the list, when did we ever hear it mentioned that Mary Richards and Lou Grant had deep but unexpressed romantic feelings for each other? 

I don’t know.  I was too young to…


Was that then a rhetorical…?


Why didn’t those shows “go there”?  Because, when the show runners had their wits about them – which was considerably more often than not – they knew better.  (Note:  Misjudgments of this nature are usually found early on in a series’s development when they have not yet solidified their “Voice” or in later seasons when they are demonstrably out of gas.)

But wait a minute, Earlo.  I thought “real” was “The Gold Standard of the Comedic Underpinnings.”

I’m glad you’ve been paying attention, but it’s not quite that simple.  Here’s the deal:

“Real” is “The Gold Standard of the Comedic Underpinnings.”  But real isn’t.

I’m a little confused by that assertion.

What I am saying is, every series creates its own distinctive definition of reality.  The show is real, but only to a point.  When “too real” interferes with the “series template” – introducing issues concerning aging, loneliness, an unsettling disparity of income– the comedy, by those series’s terms, becomes suddenly (SING-SONGILY for the final time:) 


Which is fine if you’re Louis C.K., but not for the shows I mentioned, and almost everything else.  On Louie, “uncomfortable” (first cousin to awkward) is the template.  (So wait, then, it’s not an exception.  You see what I did there?  I thought I was offering an exception and then I realized it wasn’t.  Which is better!  “No exceptions.”  Unless you have one.  In which I shall be more than happy to consider it.  The successful All In The Family was often funny and awkward; that’s the only one I can think of.  And besides, they don’t make that kind of show anymore.)

This is the first blog post I have ever ended with brackets.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Yet Another Limitation To My Writing Range"

In a not entirely infrequent burst of manic Earlo-centrism, I once requested a friend of mine to imitate my voice, so I could hear what I sounded like.  (This was not before tape recorders; I am not that old.  I just never thought of doing it that way.)  I wanted to hear the effect that my voice had on other people and I had no idea myself, since, being inside my head, I was unable to hear me the way they did.

My friend’s imitation of me emerged disturbingly whiney.  I did not dispute his ability to imitate my voice, at least to the standard of a “Police Drawing” of a “Person of Interest.”  Nor did I impute any malicious intent to his efforts.  Though I did not know for certain, I had the strong albeit sinking impression he was doing a relatively accurate job.

I now knew how I sounded to other people:

Disturbingly whiney.

Suffice it to say, though I had specifically asked for it, I did not enjoy that experience one bit.  And I have never repeated it.  Nor, until this very moment, have I ever given a moment’s thought to altering how I sound.  I imagine it can be done.  I just never thought of trying.  You’d think that would be the logical next step.

“Your voice sounds disturbingly whiney.”

“That’s terrible!”

“What are you going to do about it?”


That’s kind of odd, don’t you think?  If somebody told me I had an offending booger – is there any other kind? – hanging from my nose, I would immediately take ameliorative action.  But reveal to me that my every pronouncement comes out sheathed in an annoyingly insistent moan, and I do nothing? 

How do I explain that?  To myself.  Or my therapist.  Which I do not have at the moment, but I have had in the past, where, speaking in my natural tone of voice, I must have inevitably whined disturbingly through every session. 

You’d think one of them would have said something.

But that’s not I’m talking about today.  Although, in a way, I am talking about it.

That’s confusing.

Let me explain.

Somebody – at my request – had imitated my voice.  And it was a less than enjoyable experience, a kind of self-inflicted, bad voice “outing.”  This brings to mind writers appropriating the less appealing characteristics of some family member or acquaintance and injecting them, invariably without permission, into their writing.

To my knowledge, I have never consciously done that.  In these sixteen hundred and thirty-plus blog posts, when I delineate other people – true, I am not doing fiction, so I try to stick conscientiously to the facts – but even here, unless they committed some unforgivable grievance against me – and even then I try to rationalize their behavior (a drinking problem, they were bullied as a child, they hate Jews) – I do not like to portray anyone in a way that is likely to upset them. 

As a setup to a story, I once revealed a person’s behavior which was not them at their best.  When it was brought to his attention, he asked me to delete it, and I immediately did so. 

That situation only happened once.  Though that could be because I am not widely read.

The stories I tell from my life involve actual situations (Duh!) where, if people’s behavior comes off badly, it’s because they behaved, identifiably, badly.  And I do not do a lot of those stories.  As far as fiction is concerned, when I wrote for other people’s TV shows, the series characters were already in place.  I simply followed the template.  As a result, you saw very little “me” in those efforts.  (If something about me inadvertently slipped in, it was inevitably cut by the show runners and replaced by something about them.) 

In the shows I created?  Well, let’s see…

On Best of the West, there was an eleven year-old boy who refused to go outside because of the life-threatening perils of the frontier environment.

That’s me.  If I had been hijacked to the West.

On Family Man, a seven year-old boy steals chalk from his classroom, and when his thievery is discovered, he pulverizes the sticks of chalk into powder so he would not have to return them to the school.

That’s me too.  That actually happened.

In Major Dad, an eleven year-old girl capsulizes the idea of going camping thusly:

“Hey, we’ve got a few days to kill.  Why don’t we go somewhere and live worse than we usually do?”

My sentiments about camping?  Not entirely, but there is something to that.

“I peed outside.”

“Isn’t camping the best!

My point here:  The negative traits displayed by the characters I created were drawn exclusively from me.  And nobody else.  And that preference continues to be the case in my blog.

DISCLAIMER:  “No reputations were damaged in in the writing of this blog post.”

Except the writer’s.

My mother, along with her myriad positive attributes, exhibited characteristics in the guilt-inducing department that could easily be exploited for comedic purposes.  I have never written a character modeled on my mother.  My older brother, who protected me in my youth – successfully as I am still here – is on a perennial lookout for moneymaking opportunities.  I have never written a character based on my brother. 

Why not?

I like to think it’s because I am nice, and I choose not to do that.

Did this predilection, like my parameters concerning taste, inhibit my writing range? 

Of course, it did.  But being fortuitously flawed, I had enough to write about, so I didn’t care. 

Bottom Line:

I did not like it when somebody imitated my voice.

I can’t imagine others liking it if I imitated theirs.