Jeff Astrof has 100 days off. See how he spends them.

Archive for February 2011

Day 8

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It’s 9:30 on Sunday night, my wife and I are struggling to stay awake while the kids and their friends are running around the hotel with snow cones.  This must be what Egypt was like.

Spent the day in different classes meeting different people learning different things, but one thing has become clear: I can no longer tell how old people are.  The day started with me yelling at a 7 year old who was riding the escalator in a dangerous way.   He told me I probably did the same thing when I was his age.  He must have known I didn’t come from a high pedigree and was currently unemployed.  I told him I was way more responsible when I was 7.  He told me he was 11.  I muttered something about disrespect and left.

Shawni and I are getting ready to go out to a comedy show– at 10:30!  Who the hell goes out at 10:30?  Anyway, I just met our babysitter who is either gorgeous and 27 or cute and 15.  Either way, I shouldn’t be talking about her.

That’s pretty much all for today.  I’ve given myself weekends off for trying to achieve anything significant in the way of work– much as I did when I was at work.  The weekend is mine to give my kids things to talk to their therapists about when they’re older (they’re either 7 and 9, or 19 and 21).  The only other thing I did take on was the 100 Day Burpee Challenge, which was given to me by my sadistic trainer.  Basically, the idea is to do the number of Burpees corresponding to the day of the challenge culminating in doing 100 Burpees on day 100.   A burpee is the following according to Wikipedia which is never wrong (per Wikipedia’s definition of itself):

The burpee is a full body exercise used in strength training and as aerobic exercise. It is performed in five steps:

  1. Begin in a standing position.
  2. Drop into a squat position with your hands on the ground.
  3. Kick your feet back while lowering yourself without a pushup.
  4. Return your feet to the squat position while straightening your arms.
  5. Leap up as high as possible from the squat position with your arms overhead (you may not clap your hands above your head at the peak of your jump).

Not sure why I took on this particular challenge except that it had the word 100 in it.  Starting tomorrow I hit the ground running, break a new idea for a pilot, put up shelves for the garage and get back on the diet.  Either that or go to Legoland with the kids.  Either way I’ve got nine freaking burpees to do.



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February 21, 2011 at 5:51 am

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Day 7

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Day 7’s will typically be slow days for me as they are days off.  My family and I keep Shabbat so we spend our Saturdays without phones or computers or tvs, hanging out with friends and family eating things that kept my ancestors’ life expectancy at around 48 years old.

We’re spending this particular weekend in Orange County, Costa Mesa I think.  I’m never super comfortable outside major cities, and Costa Mesa is not a major city.  I believe Legoland is the closest major city.   In any event, we’re at something called LimmudLA which is a gathering of Jews of all shapes and sizes– let’s face it: both shapes and sizes– where we can hang out, listen to lectures and hope that the kids who just caused the hotel to shut down its escalators are not ours.

In truth, I like this event because there’s something liberating for kids in a hotel.  Hearing my daughter laugh out loud and run around with a new friend is worth almost any price.  Finding out that it was my son who caused the hotel escalators to shut down is a bummer.  But he’s so cute it doesn’t matter.

I spent the last two hours at the bar talking to a guy from Chicago who spent his year after college as a tank commander in the Israeli army.  The year after college I lived in a windowless apartment above a bar in Chicago where I was once awoken by my own urine hitting me in the face.  Anyway, this guy was very interested in the fact that I’m a sitcom writer.  He’s been under fire in Lebanon and he wondered how I dealt with the pressure of coming up with a new story every week.  FINALLY, someone understands how hard my job is.

Anyway, I sometimes take for granted that I have a really cool job, which I’m very grateful for and hope to have again in 93 days or less.  Still reliving my encounter with my Crazy Ex– on Friday.  While it would make an interesting twist if she went after my wife with a barbell in the gym– my wife whom she once accused of having her babies with me, by the way (cue Psycho music)– I’m hoping those two ships never pass.  I’m fairly certain I haven’t heard the end of her, though.

That’s all for tonight.  I hear my daughter laughing in the other room and I don’t want to miss that.  Oops, never mind, that’s her screaming at my son.  I still shouldn’t miss it though.

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February 20, 2011 at 7:14 am

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Day Six

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“Man plans, God laughs.  Unless He’s watching Cougartown”.  But seriously…

Today I had planned on talking about the chaos of Friday and how it leads into Shabbat and what that means to my family, and maybe touch on my hike with my dogs and the seldom seen triple pee.  But then it happened: I FINALLY RAN INTO MY (crazy) EX-GIRLFRIEND.

There is not enough space on this site– or maybe the internet– to explain how loaded this situation was.  My last relationship before my wife was so toxic after the first year that we knew we had to break up to save one of us from going to jail, or heaven (or hell).  And that’s why, after five and a half years we did break up.  The last time we saw each other before today was so dramatic and spectacular that it actually occurred in a real-time montage of horrible breakup things.  There was broken glass, car chases, death threats, over 400 vulgar messages, pictures with heads cut off, all culminating in me speeding backwards down a cul de sac with my Ex-girlfriend dangling from the side window threatening to kill me.  The actual story is much scarier.  If you have 45 minutes I’ll tell you sometime.

Anyway, that was around 11 and a half years ago and one of the reasons I believe in God is because in that entire time we did not run into each other.  There were near misses– there were sightings here and there from various friends, each one resulting in shivers running down my spine.  It got so bad for a while (up until last Tuesday) that if I saw someone with long curly brown hair and a slim frame I would freeze up and sweat.  Needless to say I was not going to any Kenny G concerts.

And then, today, on my way to meet my wife at the gym I pass by a middle-aged woman with medium length straight hair and a normal forty-something body working out on the hip abductor–adducter?–who said, “Jeff!”  Now, I have a TERRIBLE memory for names, but this is someone who is on my permanent “Do Not Fly” list.  It took me about 30 seconds before I realized it was Her.  I was speechless.  She introduced me to her trainer by saying, “This is my ex-boyfriend, Jeff”.  After over 11 years I was introduced as her ex-boyfriend.  I guess it’s better than her saying to her trainer, “This is him.”

Anyway, I have to get ready, the family and I are going away for the weekend– something else I could have talked about– but I haven’t exhaled in about three hours.  My (crazy) Ex girlfriend now works out with my wife.  HOLY CRAP.

My garage. Less scary than seeing my Ex

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February 18, 2011 at 9:33 pm

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Day Five

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Five days in, a few things are becoming clear to me: first, having to document my day definitely puts pressure on what I do during my day.  Not that anyone really gives a crap about whether or not I will clean my garage (I won’t) or whether I’ll get into shape (I lost 4 pounds– which isn’t that difficult since according to my fancy scale which I got last time I tried to get into shape, I need to have the caloric intake of a speedskater to maintain my current weight), but I should really care about how I spend my days.  A week from today I will find myself smack at the halfway point between 40 and 50– if I’m not in the second half yet, I’m certainly entering the last quarter of the really good part of life (I know, grandkids are supposed to be fantastic, but I’m talking about having to get up only once a night to pee.)  In any case, there’s something good about taking stock of what you did at the end of every day.  If today was one of the last 100 days of my life, is this how I would have spent it?  No, of course not, that’s a dumb question.  But it’s something to think about.

Another thing I’m realizing is that there’s really no reason for me to be late for anything since I’m making my own schedule which features huge gaps of time between dropping the kids off at school, hiking the dogs, lunch and dinner.  Yet, so far I have been late to every one of those things.  I’ve tried to tackle the punctuality thing before and I’ve narrowed it down either to genetics (I literally had a great aunt who was late to her own funeral– they shipped the wrong body up from Florida.  Not her fault, but not a bad cliche to go out on), or more likely, my need to feel anxiety.  It’s the solution in the petrie dish in which I live.  Being late gives me just enough stress to keep that familiar feeling– kind of like those bacteria that live in undersea volcanic plumes.  I’ve only been on-time twice in my life– once was a challenge from my boss at Montgomery Ward’s to get in before he did (I got in early to quit), and the other time was a challenge by my shrink who told me I would not be ready to “graduate” until I started getting there on time.  The next week I got there early and I quit.  Maybe getting there early represents quitting to me .  In any case, I’m going to try to be on time (as I write my post at 10:30 at night when I was supposed to get it in by 5:00).

In any event, the thing I did do today that I would do if it was one of the last days of my life was take my kids to a tennis lesson after school.  As I hung out with the other moms sharing recipes and talking about how hard it is to feed our kids, I got to see my son and daughter play the only sport I was ever really good at as a kid (and by good, of course I mean “Jewish good”  And by “Jewish good”, I mean “Jewish average” which is good for my not-so-coordinated family). When I first had kids I decided that I would give them tennis rackets as soon as they could walk, but sets of 100 days flew by until 7 and 9 years later, my kids are just starting to take tennis.  And with a lot of hard work, they too will be “Jewish average.”  But I feel lucky that I get to watch them get there.

Other things that happened today were another grueling training session which I crawled out of like FDR getting out of a bath tub (thank God I got there 10 minutes late or I literally think I would have died), lunch with a good friend, and getting dressed up to hear another good friend speak at an AIPAC dinner in front of 1500 people.  You know what?  Maybe this is how I’d spend one of my last days.

Shoot, I was supposed to meet my wife a half hour ago.  More tomorrow.

Jewish Average

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February 18, 2011 at 6:45 am

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Day Four

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It’s axiomatic for a sitcom writer that if you have the choice, never work for a showrunner who’s single or who hates his (or her) family– they won’t want to go home, and will keep you with them as a hostage.  The flipside is that work often provides a bulletproof excuse to stay away from home when the kids/wife/dogs are melting down.  In fact, I can confess that on more than one occasion I drove around the block several times before coming in, and once or twice parked in front of a neighbor’s house just to listen to sports radio for ten minutes before entering the Hot Zone (if I haven’t mentioned how much I love my wife, this would be a good place to do that).

I knew right away that my not having somewhere to go during the day would take its toll not only on me, but on my family who would have to bear the burden of having me around all day.  In addition to the usual torrent of anxiety I provide, my poor wife also has to now deal with me talking about my blog– I believe I’ve become a blog-hole, and if that’s not a word it should be.  (coining words makes you a blog-hole).  In any case, I’m specifically mindful of how my being around affects my kids, one of whom as a bit of a social anxiety thing going on.   A couple of weeks ago my wife attended a lecture by a parenting Expert (who has no children– hmm) and was sufficiently intrigued to set up a private appointment with us and the Expert.  Now, I have always been very suspicious of experts of any kind– when I was 10 years old I asked to get a second opinion from my dentist when he told me I had a cavity in my baby molar. (I caused a sufficient scene to not be allowed back to this dentist or that part of the mall.  Yes, I went to a dentist at the mall).  This parenting Expert immediately got off on the wrong foot by telling me that they had just been offered a reality show (holy cow is there anyone in Los Angeles other than me who hasn’t sold a pilot this year?)

Anyway, it turns out that this Expert knew their stuff.  This Expert dealt with many kids who had social anxiety disorders and described perfectly the personality of our child.  The Expert then said aloud what no one had dared, but what anyone who knew my wife and me secretly knew: it was MY fault!  That’s right, I was passing on a 3,000 year old heritage of anxiety to my child.  The good news was the Expert could help us.  Today was that day.

Coincidentally– or not– I had a lunch meeting (a lunch meeting is a lunch where someone else pays) with a colleague of mine who was sharing their own story of a socially anxious child, and we talked about how every kid has issues, we’re just more aware of ours than our parents were.  I was confident in knowing that I was taking a positive step later in the day by meeting with the Expert who would unlock the key to better communication between child and father.  Hell, I was so cocky, I was almost inclined to pay for myself and make it just a plain old lunch– except that making it a lunch meeting meant I was doing something for my career.

So my wife and I took our kids to meet the Expert, who broke the ice with a ten minute fart story– holy cow, is there anyone is Los Angeles other than me who isn’t getting paid $250 an hour to tell fart jokes?  In any case, it turns out that in addition to passing on my Anxiety gene, I also passed on the dominant trait of Suspicion to my child who quickly sussed out that this was not, in fact, a private class on how to make daddy a better listener, but was instead an Expert who was telling my child that they had a cavity in their baby personality.  The response was predictable– we’re not allowed back at that part of the mall.

The ride home reeked of betrayal, disappointment and anger.  Something that could have been completely avoided if I was back at work, getting paid to make my own highbrow fart jokes.   The good news is, tomorrow is another day.  The bad news: it’s only Day Five out of a 100.

Goals: Lunch meeting: achieved; Hike Dogs: rained out; Any sort of fitness: too sore from yesterday; Cleaning Garage: Are you really asking me?  Setting back my relationship with my child another six months: Check.

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February 17, 2011 at 7:12 am

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Day Three

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Today was a productive day.  Not in the way that I cured cancer or brought democracy to the Mideast or even was able to help my seven-year old with his book report on “Those Darn Squirrels” (that part of my day was a disaster, more about my inability to help with homework in the coming days), but aside from that I got a lot done.  Mostly in the way of errands: hiking the dog, taking my wife’s car to the dealership because the “Check Engine” light was on (it was because the gas cap was unscrewed– I’m not handy), getting a gift for my daughter’s friend’s 10th birthday.  All of these things are equally interesting– that is, not at all– so it’s up to me to find meaning in the 1% of my days off that I was given today.

I started my day (after being evicted from the kitchen for the “Those Darn Squirrels” meltdown– mine, not my son’s: “You can’t write about how Old Man Fookwire doesn’t like dogs when the book is about squirrels!  It’s in the title!”) by going to a lecture at my kids’ school given by the school’s headmaster.  One of the things I’m trying to do over my 100 days off is to become more spiritual and the guy giving this lecture is extremely spiritual.  In my business which is so focused on the material, I need to balance that with the spiritual (and who knows, maybe it’ll give me an idea for a show).  In any case, the headmaster told the story of a rabbi who used to dunk his head under water for several minutes so that he could appreciate breathing.  My first thought was, of course, “well, that’s not a show”, and then I thought, “Today, I’m really going to focus on my breathing”.

Fortunately, I had the perfect opportunity since I had an appointment with my trainer.  My trainer is a wonderful, gentle, soft-spoken Irishman who masks his torture of me with his gentle brogue.  As I mentioned, getting into physical shape is one of the things I really need to do over this break, and because of my personality, the only way I can do so is by using a trainer.  My wife took a picture of me yesterday and I realized that I look like the perfect “Before” picture.  Like, not “Lap Band” before, but like “Get 3 months free at Gold’s if you sign this guy up” Before.  It’s actually quite depressing– it’s like I haven’t gotten fat enough to be “charactery” but I won’t even dare try on a pair of jeans that aren’t so relaxed they’re practically sleeping.  The truth is, even at my fittest I’ve never been an “After”, but I’ve certainly been a “During” a few times in my life.

Unfortunately for me, the work environment of the sitcom writer was patterned after the veal pen.  We are trapped in small rooms and fed a near constant stream of bad, salty meals that are interrupted only by an equally endless supply of 100 calorie snack packs.  The only exercise we get is the walk to the golf cart that takes us the four blocks to the stage.  Add in the stress of having to be funnier than the guy next to you, it’s the perfect formula for becoming a human pear.  I remember one time when I was on “Friends” the writers were actually walking the 200 yards we needed to go (I’m assuming the golf cart was either broken or needed to be recharged) and a group of girls passed us and giggled “look, writers”.  I remember feeling pretty good about myself until I realized what they were saying was shorthand for: “look, chubby, pale Jews.”

In any case, today was my workout and my trainer did not disappoint me in disappointing me.  I told him that I was coming from a two mile hike and he responded sounding like a gentle Liam Neeson, “what you do on your own time is not my business.”  He then proceeded to torture me using a variety of rings and kettle bells and had me run an additional two plus miles between the 250 pushups I did.  Yet despite almost passing out several times and raising my body temperature to what must have been 130 degrees, I had a small smile.  It was either because I was having a stroke or because on some level I appreciated that, like breathing, one day I won’t be able to do this.  And even though I wished that today was that day, alas, it wasn’t.

Things to do today: Hike dogs– achieved, Go to Gym: Achieved, Clean Garage– who am I kidding?  Remember to breathe: Off and on.

Jeff-- Before


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February 16, 2011 at 2:06 am

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Day Two

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I remember having a conversation with my wife– who is a stay at home mom– that included me uttering the phrase, “Well, then what did you do?”  Like catching yourself in your fly, it’s the type of thing a man does once and only once in his adult life.   The truth is, I am much better as a person and much more efficient when I have set things to do.  Giving myself the task of documenting what I’m doing has put added pressure on me to make what I’m doing worthy of writing down.  I remember a character– I think in a Joseph Heller book, maybe “Catch 22”– who was a President who spent his entire Presidency writing his memoirs which meant the memoirs were about writing a memoir.  That, of course, is my fear: that my writing about what I’m doing will be the only thing that I’m actually doing.

With that as motivation, I set out to have a very productive day.  (Why I should need motivation to lead a meaningful day in my life is part of a bigger discussion and probably represents some serious spiritual deficiency on my part.)   Anyway, my calendar was full– with one event (I haven’t quite figured out how to program my iphone to not repeat events): lunch with my agent.  (I will try to stop using parentheticals after this one).    I figured preparing to meet with my agent would take up the morning, lunch would kill two hours, and then taking action on his advice would take up the rest of the afternoon until it was time to write about all the funny things my agent said.

Then, of course, life happened.  Got a call from my agent at 9:30 that lunch would have to be postponed: my Junior Agent had not reported back from a bachelor party– er, was busy networking for me– and would thus not be able to attend.  That means that my day, which was supposed to be focused on focusing on business would have to be taken up with the seemingly less-important things I also needed to do: clean the garage, hike the dogs, get into shape.  Unfortunately, the morning dog hike which I got to spend with my wife turned into a driving tour of the places that each of us used to live before we met our true loves (each other, I assume) which led into lunch with an old friend which turned into coffee with an old friend which brought me back home in time to write about my extremely productive day:  “Well, then what did I do?”

It was nice spending time with my wife, of course– it always is, really, I’m lucky that way– and it took my mind away from business, which was how I was supposed to spend my day.

And then I came home.  On my front step was a giant envelope from my lawyer.  (Quick: name your three favorite giant envelopes you’ve gotten from your lawyer!)  Inside this giant envelope, mocking me, was the reason why I have time off: it was four unsigned contracts for the “Untiled Jeff Astrof Project”– the pilot I had been working on all year.  The one that everyone loved– except the top guy who reminded everyone who loved it why what they really meant was they hated it.  It was like getting a wedding album in the mail the day after you get divorced.  “Oh, remember back then– how happy NBC and I were?  Look how cute I looked in my step-deal!”  Worse, I have to sign four copies of the dead contract, the cover sheet of which reads “You have told us that the project is not moving forward and NBC Universal Television has confirmed this.  Nevertheless, NBCU will not pay the… monies (is “monies” a word?)…. However because the project is not moving forward at this time…. I will then forward the signed agreements to NBC along with a letter reiterating that… the project is not going forward.  P.S.  Your agent skipped lunch with you because your project is not moving forward.”    The P.S. is subtext.

Anyway, that was Day 2– what started out as a day supposed to be about work ended up being a day about not working.  But along the way I had a nice walk with my wife.  Which is what I guess is what’s really important.

Goals for today: Lunch with agent — Postponed; Dogs hiked — Accomplished; Clean up Garage: Not even close.

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February 15, 2011 at 12:56 am

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