It is hard to believe that yesterday at this time I was halfway around the world. Or maybe it was today. Or maybe it was tomorrow. In any case, I’m back in LA after a 16+ hour flight. My wife– who was on the business end of three teenagers’ feet that were pounding out Israeli pop tunes on the back of her seat for 15 of the 16 + hours– said it was the worst flight she’d ever been on. Honestly, any flight where I land safely is tied for the best flight I’d ever been on. But I get what she was saying.
The flight was packed with people who were equally annoyed by their seats and the people they were forced to share them with. After two weeks with no laundry I had three pair of dirty pants to choose from, each of which had come between me and an animal at sometime during our journey: I had a pair that smelled like a camel, a pair that smelled like a horse and a pair that smelled like donkey. I went with donkey for obvious reasons. I’m still wearing them 30 hours later for reasons unknown even to me.
This was the sixth leg (third round trip) that my wife and I have taken of this trip with our kids, which means that we have had the following fight six times. Me: “I want the kids to get on LA time as soon as possible.” Her: “Okay.” Me: “That means that I want you to set your watch back 10 hours and pretend it’s that time.” Her: “Okay.” Me: “You’re just saying ‘okay'”. Her: “What do you want me to do?” Me: “I want you to get on board with this plan.” Her: “Okay.” Me: “So we have to keep the kids up as late as possible on this flight– until 5 a.m. local time which is 7 p.m. LA time, then get the kids to go to sleep. (BEAT) Why didn’t you say okay?” Her: “Because it’s an impossible plan.” Me: “Why isn’t education important to you?” Her: “Okay.” Me: “I don’t want the kids to miss a month of school because they can’t get on the right time.” Her: (Starts reading her magazine). Me: “Why aren’t you doing anything?” Her: “Because you’re being an (mouths expletive).” She was right, I was being a mouthed expletive, but last time we came back from Israel she promised to adhere to my plan and I woke up the next morning at 1:00 to hear the sounds of my wife and kids eating cereal in front of the tv.
Unfortunately, she was right, it was an impossible plan: there’s no way to keep the kids up late, and they immediately went to sleep on the plane. The woke up two hours later, around 4 a.m. over Bulgaria, watched A Fairy Secret for the 25th time which led to our second fight. Me: “Put them to bed.” Her: “How?” Me: “You know how.” She cringed. I was talking about the benedryl. My wife has a weird instinct that prevents her from drugging our children to get them to do our bidding. It must be maternal because it’s something we don’t share. She made a face as if to say, “I really don’t feel comfortable drugging our children”, and then, in case I didn’t read her face right, said, “I really don’t feel comfortable drugging our children.” Fortunately for me, at that moment, a friend of ours from LA– a doctor– passed by and said it was fine. The fact that he was a plastic surgeon/musician did not diminish his professional opinion. Also, seeing him on our flight made me feel much more relaxed: he didn’t seem like the type of guy to die in a plane crash. Anyway, with the plastic surgeon/musician’s blessing, I ripped open the prepackaged Benadryl spoon with my teeth like an addict ripping open his, um, prepackaged heroin spoon and handed it to Shawni who administered it to the kids. Within minutes my children were in a mom-induced coma, and Daddy took his Xanax leaving Mommy to deal with the tap-dancing Israelis.
I woke up two or three hours later over the north pole– I know that because the map showed our little computer plane over the north pole, and because I looked out the window and saw glaciers– and thought, they never mentioned the possibility of an ice landing, and even if we did land on the ice these donkey pants would not keep me warm. My son was still knocked out, and my daughter was up watching A Fairy Secret now for the twenty-sixth time. I woke Shawni up to tell her that Sasha was still awake, but at this point there was nothing I could really say that I hadn’t said before. So I repeated myself: “The kids are going to school tomorrow!” I don’t know why I was obsessed with my kids going to school in a stupor, but I took comfort knowing that every father on the flight wanted their kids to go to school, while every mother said, “we’ll see”.
Since my wife didn’t engage me in a fight, I decided to actually get some work done. Before leaving for my trip, I had scheduled a “general” meeting with a major network to take place three hours after I landed. It was typical me– instead of rescheduling for a time where I didn’t smell like I walked out of the Bible, I got them to commit to the soonest available time. My agent’s assistant had given me some pilots that the network was producing for me to read so I’d have something to talk about in the meeting, although there is no doubt that my appearance would dominate the conversation. In any case, I was tired and hung over from the Xanax and a little defensive– after all, these were all scripts that the network chose over mine to produce, the reason I was on this flight in the first place.
With this lethal cocktail of fatigue and resentment, I opened the first page of the first script and– HATED IT. It was such a retrograde idea– the idea that men were losing out to women causing men to go to extremes to get back their manliness. It seemed to be a theme of a lot of the scripts I had been reading this season, but this particular one somehow put me over the edge. I then made a decision that I believe in hindsight is a career destroyer. Not since I got drunk in Africa and decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in my Gap safari gear had I been so dangerously impulsive, but it was important. I decided to turn my network meeting into my “Network” moment when I would announce, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” and vent all my frustration at the pilot process and give a long rant about my theory about what’s wrong with tv. Shawni looked at me like I was crazy, but I told her that once I made up my mind to do something, there was nothing that could stop me. I was so invigorated by my resolve that I stayed awake for the next 8 hours of our trip, sporadically waking Shawni up to tell her that I wasn’t kidding.
The morning after my drunken binge in Africa the thing that saved me was a random trip to the infirmary in Arusha, Tanzania where I bore witness to an idiot American who was recovering from a pulmonary edema he got from trying to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro in his Eddie Bauer safari gear. Seeing that poor bastard there easily convinced me to give up my dream of scaling the Roof of Africa and destroying my lungs. What saved me from destroying my career was a call from my agent’s assistant that I retrieved when I got off the plane that the network needed to reschedule. I’m not sure what would have been more heroic or stupid, but I’m glad I didn’t do either destructive act.
The truth is, I’m exhausted, and irrational right now. But I also see the light at the end of my 100 day tunnel, which is hopefully a job that gives me longevity in a career that guarantees none. The thought that I may get on a bad show– or worse– no show at all, keeps me up at night. I need to be able to support my family doing the only thing I’m good at, and more importantly, I need to have a place to go during the day. But right now, when my body thinks it’s tomorrow morning, and my nose thinks it’s in a stable, I need to just relent and give into the fact that there’s nothing I can do, and rest on my tiny victory that my kids did go to school today. It was only for two hours and they both broke down crying when we picked them up after lunch, but these days, I’ll take my wins where I can get them. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get to bed. Where did I put that Benadryl?