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

Day 80

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“How’s this for an idea, jackass? How about next time don’t spend a good portion of your meeting with the network making fun of shows they spent months of time and millions of dollars developing.  And while you’re at it, maybe next time be a little less candid about how you think their jobs are easier than yours but yours pays so much more than their jobs so you would never switch.  And if you’re taking criticism, I would avoid crapping all over television in front of people whose job it is to make television.”  Those are the objective observations I would make about my first network meeting of the season.  Now, in my defense, I have always been brutally honest, for three reasons: 1) I think it’s refreshing and helpful for people to know what people are really thinking, 2) it’s usually funny and done in a way that’s not mean-spirited; and 3) I’m somewhat of a jackass.

I remember my first job as a professional television writer.  At the time I was a professional Food Dude, making $35 in change (some Canadian) and IOUs selling botchulism from a cooler when my partner and I were asked to help punch up a pilot by two senior writers who were helping out on it.  I remember these guys being pretty old– looking back they were probably 35 or so– and very seasoned.  They were teaching at a Writers Workshop that my partner and I were involved with and I got their attention– unintentionally– by asking several wise-ass questions.  They then asked if we wanted to help them out on a pilot– I’m sure I had a wise-ass response, but they followed through on the offer.   We met a few days later in the first professional writers room I had ever been in, working with the first professional writers I had ever met.  This was clearly our big break.  The writer of the show, an extremely famous writer, handed out copies of the script he had worked on developing for several months as part of a multi-million dollar deal.  He gave us 20 minutes to read the script and then we met back at the table.  “Any thoughts, questions, notes?” the famous writer asked, not really wanting or expecting responses.  People shook their heads, “No, I think it’s great.  You’ve done it again.  Really made me laugh.”  I raised my hand.  “Yes, you at the end of the table who smells like egg salad.  Did you have a question?”  “Not really a question.  I just didn’t really find it that funny.  And the girl characters sound exactly the same on the page.  Can you tell me what the difference is between them?”  That night I got my first phone call from a professional writer which went like this, “Great job today.  You pitched some really, really funny jokes.  BUT YOU CAN’T COME INTO A ROOM FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER IN YOUR CAREER AND TELL A GUY WHO SPENT SIX MONTHS WRITING A SCRIPT THAT IT SUCKS.”  “But it did suck.”  “I know it sucked.  But that’s not your job.  Your job is to like it and maybe add a couple of jokes.”  “I added seven jokes.”  “It doesn’t matter.  That’s not how it works.” “Am I fired?”  “No.  You added seven jokes.  Good work today.  Now shut the hell up tomorrow and say you love it.”   That moment could have ended my career, but instead defined it, and I still come out of meetings sometimes feeling just a little bit nauseous.

My day today was divided into two parts.  The latter part was the meeting which I just described, which while not my best meeting, was not my worst.  These are the people I hope to someday (soon) write my own show for, and they can be rest assured that if it sucks, I’ll tell them.  Since my meeting was at 4, I had the whole morning free, especially since I called in sick to my workout– I put myself at around 60% better, although I had to end a phone call with a book publishing agent because of a seven minute coughing session that I believe got him sick through the phone in New York.  In order to prevent such a recurrence at my meeting– God forbid I do something inappropriate like cough when I could be crapping on my potential employers’ livelihood– I filled my throat with every holistic and herbal healing berry that Whole Foods had to offer, then washed them down with a half a cup of Dayquil.  If my agent reports back that he heard the meeting went poorly, I will tell him about the medicine and then say, “What meeting?”  Anyway, my lingering cold notwithstanding, between dropping my son off at school, another meeting with the principal of the school regarding a project I volunteered for, meeting my wife for lunch, and my seven and a half minute phone call with a publishing agent, I had around three hours to kill.  Three hours is not enough to begin to make a dent in any of my larger projects: garage, basement, body, but it seemed like the exact amount of time necessary to do something I had been avoiding for over a year: cleaning the fish tank.

Even though my wife and I have had success raising animals higher on the food chain– we are currently on our third, fourth and fifth dog and have had a least half a dozen other dogs live with us– our record on invertebrates and cold blooded animals is atrocious.  We have killed a whole variety of fish, lizards, hermit crabs and plants, not out of malice but out of neglect.  For some reason, the fish in my daughter’s five gallon acrylic fish tank refuse to die.  You’re supposed to clean the gravel once a month, and I have cleaned it exactly never.  In fact, the gravel line has risen approximately two inches since we got the tank three years ago.  We feed the fish when we remember and always too much and the filter looks like the lint filter in my fraternity dryer that used to catch fire at least once a semester.  Yet the fish still live.  I’m half expecting one of them to walk out of the tank one of these days with the new pod-feet and lungs that this toxic environment forced him to evolve into.  The reason I decided to clean the tank is not only because it seemed like it would be a good accomplishment, but because my wife told me that it was making my daughter’s room stink.  The disturbing thing is, that we never noticed that before.  In fact, when we came home from our vacation I walked into my house and was blown away by the overwhelming smell of dogs.  I asked our housekeeper if she (having had nothing to do for two weeks, yet doing less than that) noticed that the house smelled like a kennel.  She smiled and said, “no.”  More depressingly, within 48 hours I no longer smelled it either.  I think that was the case with the fish tank as well, so I decided to change it while I could still smell the problem.

When my wife saw me take out a series of syphons and scrubbers, a bucket, two gallons of water, a strainer and four towels and head upstairs she rightfully got nervous.  “What are you doing?”  “I’m cleaning out the fish tank.”  “Maybe we should call someone.”  “We don’t need to call someone.  I can do it.  Besides, I’m not sure if there are even any fish in there anymore.”  I got upstairs, laid out the towels– remembering what happened last time I tried to do this– and took out a siphon connected with six feet of tubing.  I know there’s some weird way to use physics to get the water to go through the siphon without having to suck on the end of it, but it took me the first of my three hours to try to figure it out before getting nauseous and then quitting.  I then decided to get the water out manually using a flower vase.  My wife asked the obvious question: what the hell are you doing?  I said I’m removing the most of the water so that I could pour out the gravel and clean it and then scrape the tank.  “Shouldn’t you take the fish out first?”  “Dammit, Shawni, will you please have a little faith that I know what I’m doing?”  I then stared at the half-empty aquarium and decided that she was right.  “Okay, fine.  But I would have come to that conclusion myself.  Where’s the net so I can scoop out the fish?”  “I don’t think we have a net.”  “Then what do we do when the fish die?” “I don’t know.  I think they just become part of the bottom.”  “Oh, for goddsakes.”

I then went shopping, the think I have become most comfortable doing over my time off.  I went to Petco in search of a net and new gravel, and what I found was even more wonderful: for $65 there was an electronic gravel sucking cleaning thing that was guaranteed to clean any gravel.   It was about two feet long and came with batteries: it was a no brainer.  Even though it seemed expensive, it says on the box it saves money in water purifiers (I’m supposed to use water purifiers?) and since I could use this while the fish were still in the tank I didn’t need a net, so that saved $3.99 right there.  I asked the woman at the counter if it worked– she seemed like she knew a lot about fish because she said, “Welcome to Petco”.  She said her friends had one and they seemed to like it.  She assumed I had a large aquarium because of the size of the vacuum I was buying.  “Nope.  Five gallons.”  She told me this would be too big for that.  I told her I hadn’t cleaned my gravel in six months to garner her reaction– she made a disgusted face so I decided not to tell her the real answer was three years.

I ran home with the vacuum, with only 15 minutes before having to head to lunch with my wife– sushi ironically– and happily put the GravelSuck3250 together.  I LOVE gadgets.  I’m the least handy guy in the world, but give me a gadget and I go nuts.  I placed towels down everywhere and carefully put the machine into the tank– I was leaving nothing to chance.  I then hit the power button and realized I left two things to chance: 1– this was WAY to big for my tank and the water started squirting out the top of the gadget which was 8 inches above the tank, and 2– the Gravelsuck3250 had met its match in terms of filthy gravel.  In fact, the only thing the machine “guaranteed to clean any tank” did was to make my tank very angry.  I then shut the machine off and did what I do best in these situations: I stared at it.  I then looked at my watch and noticed that I needed to leave for lunch if I was going to be at my meeting on time.  I left things as they were and on the way out I told the housekeeper, “Listen, there’s a really disgusting mess up there.  I don’t pay you enough to do that nasty work, but I’m going to ask you to clean it up.  Okay, I gotta go meet Shawni for lunch.  Good luck.”   I gotta think when I closed that door she muttered the Spanish word for “jackass”.



Written by 100daysoff

May 3, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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