Monday, June 27, 2005

Two of the many things I’ve been juggling lately: job search and family schtuff. As Homer Simpson would say, “I'm like that guy who single-handedly built the rocket and flew to the moon. What was his name? Apollo Creed?”

Still trying to land that TV writing gig in Santa Monica -- get paid to be creative, and only a mile away from home? Because it would be so cool, I was willing to jump through hoops.

A couple of weeks ago they wanted me to come in for an interview, but I didn’t find out right away because that was the day my grandmother and uncle died. When I got back to the woman at the job, she suggested that maybe this was bad timing for me. Bullshit -- I wanted to make this happen. I raced over to their office before I got ready to go back east. That meeting went great -- they gave me a copy of the show, asked me to write up some clever dialogue and voice-overs for it. So I took my laptop with me to New York. I was scribbling notes on the plane, left the family gatherings early to type it all up… took over my cousin’s computer and e-mailed it out, along with some writing samples (including some stories from the blog). Since they rushed me with a Friday deadline, I thought I’d hear something the next week, but nah, Mikey’s gotta twist in the wind for a while.

Finally, they asked me to go in for a second interview with the executive producer… where I learned the position was part-time. Huh? News to me. Can’t quit my day job for that, sorry. But they said they loved my submission and had some writing they needed done on nights and weekends and I acted super-enthusiastic to do it. Though, to be honest, I didn’t get such a great vibe from the place. Do I really wanna script this shallow shit? Well, yeah. I mean, I’m confident I can write for any TV show, find the creative challenge anywhere, but do they know that? Ahh, who knows anything? Maybe I’ll still wind up working there…

All this got me on an emotional rollercoaster. Excitement about new possibilities, mixed with my mental bluesman singin' his ballad: Why can’t it woik out for po’ Mikey? Onliest big changes in his life is when kinfolk get sick an' die... Then out comes the pity police telling me to suck it up, maggot. Boo fuckin’ hoo...

Meanwhile I was planning a memorial for my grandmother. A nice informal tribute -- a lot of people showed up, we read some prayers, ate way too much food (shrimp with lobster sauce -- Grandma’s favorite), told some funny anecdotes about her…

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I mentioned that to me, she was simply the sweetest little old lady. Above is a photo from before I was even born -- that baby is my big sister. That’s how I always knew Grandma, doing things like knitting me stuff -- not ugly dorky sweaters, mind you, cool-lookin’ ones that girlfriends wanted to steal from me.

Or a classic situation was when she’d come over for the holidays with her home-baked goodies. My favorites were these white meringue cookies with chocolate chips. Everyone knew I went crazy for ‘em, so they’d snatch the tin out of her hands: “Don’t let Michael bogart the Grandma Whites!” As soon as they were gone, she’d whisper, “Michael, here,” revealing a second container. “I baked a special stash just for you.”
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But it occurred to me that this woman had a full life long before I was around. Born in 1914 -- that’s the same year World War I broke out. She lived through the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, World War II… then in the 1950s her husband died and she had to raise 3 kids on her own. No help from her relatives. Grandma had to take on extra jobs without much experience. Hell, she had to learn how to drive a car for the first time… in her 40s. But somehow she did it.

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And if I thought she had it hard, one of our family members found this photo of her grandparents. Taken in Russia around the turn of the 20th century, it may be the oldest photo of my family. My great-great-grandparents are seated in the middle, with nine of their ten kids. The mustached guy second from the right is Grandma’s father.

Like many young Jewish men at the time, he was conscripted into the Tsar’s army. But the guy was no soldier. He fell asleep on guard duty and got thrown in prison. There, the Russkies discovered his real talents -- as a tailor. So they sent him off to make uniforms for the military. Since he was assigned to a lower security work detail, he was able to escape, and worked his way and walked west through Europe until he made it across the pond to Ellis Island.

He settled in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where he started one of the first and most successful department stores. He became a very wealthy man… until his partner swindled him and bankrupted the company. The partner went to jail, and my great-grandfather, humiliated, left town and moved to Newark, where he started over again, and raised three kids, the oldest being my grandmother.

Talk about emotional rollercoasters.

I’ve never been a proponent of reassuring someone who’s down by comparing their woes to those less fortunate. Sure, you’re not getting shot at in Iraq, or starving in Africa. But you’re still entitled to be a bit disappointed if you got your third speeding ticket this week and they’re impounding your Hyundai or you discover that your girlfriend is schtupping your chiropractor or something.

I guess the point is to keep it all in perspective. Or maybe the point is that if you persevere, while recognizing the importance of family, things will somehow work out.

Or maybe, as Homer would say, there is no point. Just a buncha stuff that happened.


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