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

Day 82

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The email I secretly hoped to not get came late last night.  It was three words that sent chills down my spine: “We hiking tomorrow?”  I ignored it at first, but it came again, and then a third time.  Finally, I chose my words carefully in responding: “Yeah, sure.”  It was the pseudo-weekly hike up Runyan Canyon with my former and maybe future boss, a good buddy who co-created the show I worked and maybe will work on, me, and my two big dogs.  I dreaded the hike for two reasons: 1) it’s difficult and despite my spending two weeks in a place known for its hiking, I spent more of my time eating dessert than wandering the desert, and 2) it was a little too “Hollywood” for me.  Although I am trying to gear up for hiring season, hiking with tv writers past buff shirtless celebrities and their buff shirt-wearing dogs seemed very depressing to me.  My wife, ever the voice of reason and ever the voice of wanting to be alone, convinced me to go.

The hike, of course, was great.  Yes, it was 90 degrees and the air was as brown as the shirtless celebrities, but none of the three of us really wanted to spend that much time talking about business.  The thought that our show wouldn’t come back would have varying effects on each of us.  The stakes for me, who didn’t create the show, were lowest, but the thought of starting over on a brand new show with brand new people with brand new flaws who would be exposed to my flaws, is daunting.  After doing the perfunctory, “what have you heard?”, we quickly stopped being work-friends, and just became guys.  And as guys we submitted to guy talk: vacations, baby-raising methods, tummy problems, American Idol, Oprah… until we finally got to the top of the hike on a hill over-looking what must have been the entire LA-basin sitting under a thick brown blanket.  We worked our way down the hill and said our goodbyes, happy that we had our non-Hollywood Hollywood moment in the safety of each others’ company, agreeing on two things: that we were in a terrible business, and that we would see each other same time next week to complain about it.  Appropriate man hugs and we were off on a separate ways.

My big events today were two meetings with two show-runners for two different shows on two different networks.  The meetings were to take place on opposite sides of the city so I gave myself around an hour to commute between them.  The only tight part of my day was that I only gave myself an hour to get home from my hike, shower, grab a quick lunch then get up to my first meeting.  Knowing that I was on a tight deadline, I stopped off to surprise my wife who was grabbing a coffee with some friends.  After saying a couple of cute things and kissing my wife hello in a way geared to arouse jealousy among her friends– though the expressions on their faces read more like, “what’s that smell?”  Finally one asked the natural question, “Oh, aren’t you working?”  To which I give the usual response– no I’m on hiatus for four months and quickly add, “but it’s not paid.  It’s actually a very stressful time.  It’s a terrible business.”   Blank stares.  I then kiss my wife goodbye, race home, hop in the shower, giving myself exactly enough time to eat lunch and get to my first meeting five minutes early.  But first I played on the computer for 15 minutes.  I then looked at my watch, said a minor curse, then ordered ahead to the restaurant I eat at every day.

As I grab my lunch, barely having enough time to eat it safely, I’m flagged down by an– acquaintance is a strong word since I forget her name– pseudo-acquaintance who has the funniest story to tell me.  I tell her I’m actually in a rush so she continues, “I’m at this restaurant and I see someone reading a script for Desperate Housewives. So I approach him and say, ‘That’s my favorite show!” and he says, ‘Thank you, I’m one of the writers’!” “Wow, that’s a great story, I didn’t see it coming, but I’m actually in a big rush to eat.” “So I ask if I can ask him a couple of questions, since I also want to be a writer, but he tells me he’s in a rush to eat.” “Hmm, because I’m also in a rush to eat.” “So I just said, ‘I have some incredible ideas, can I tell them to you?” “That’s something.  Okay, I’m really in a rush…” “But he doesn’t have time so I just start telling him my ideas for his show.  And he says he can’t listen to them…”  “Look, I’m really, really busy, I can’t really stay and listen right now…” “So, how does that work, Jeff?  I have the funniest ideas, but I don’t know how to get them on tv.  If I give them to you, can you write them and I’ll give you a percentage of the money?”  I take my salmon salad to eat in the car.

So, this is what I go through several times a week: people coming up to me and telling me how funny they are and asking how to get stuff on tv, as if you just need a drive on pass to a studio lot and some wacky friends, family and co-workers.  I will grant you that most television is not great, but I will also tell you that chances are if you are not a tv writer, you would not be good at writing television.  I have friends who are in finance and not once have I gone up to them and said, “let me tell you how I would merge those two companies.”  I’ve never suggested a new way for my dentist to clean teeth or my accountant to account.  Why? Because it’s not my job.  I’m not sure why everyone assumes they can just do mine?

My first meeting of the day– to which I arrive 15 minutes late and complain of the traffic– is with a good friend of a good friend of mine who hasn’t been a writer for that long, but had an interesting life and pitched it to a network and sold it and turned it into a pilot.  Okay, fine, so it does happen sometime, but very rarely.  We spent 10 minutes talking about the show, and the next hour or so talking about how soul-sucking the business can be.  He then had to leave to buy a new breast pump for his girlfriend who just had a baby.  If he uses it in the show, it’ll be free.  I then looked down and realized that if i left at that exact moment, I would be exactly on-time for my next meeting.  So I stopped at the Coffee Bean for a frozen coffee drink.

I then ran to my car and plugged the address into my car’s navigator.  I’m useless without it.  I literally use it to come home from wherever I am, even if it’s at the supermarket I go every day.  I don’t know why, but I have zero sense of direction, maybe because I’m so scattered.  It’s funny because I’m not good at languages either, I wonder if it’s the same side of the brain.  My hamstrings hurt.  Where was I?  Right, I was in luck because even though I had assumed the meetings were on opposite sides of the city, my navigator told me that the next meeting was only 4 minutes away.  Even with extreme traffic, I had plenty of time.  And then… disaster: the navigator announced I had reached my destination in an abandoned warehouse in downtown LA.  I follow my navigator blindly and she betrayed me.  I then call up my agent’s assistant– the same one I had made gentle fun of earlier in the day because he always engages me in small talk.  “Hey, Marcus, it’s Jeff.”  “Oh, hey, Jeff.”  “Hey.” “Hey.” “How’s it going?” “Pretty good, you know, busy.  How about you?”  “Is Steve in?” “Yes.  Would you like me to get him for you?” “That’d be swell.”  So after ridiculing him for being a human being who actually tried to engage me in a conversation, I now called him panicked and asked if he could tell me where I was going.  No one in the world, not least of whom me, would have blamed him if he gave me directions to the center of Gangland.  But he didn’t.  He carefully listed each turn, assuming for some reason that I was paying attention.  I finally confessed that it was a lot for me to process with my scattered brain, so if he could just stay on the line as kind of an On-Star guide, that would be awesome. Against every human instinct, he directed me exactly to my destination and I said, “Thanks” in the same tone as if I had asked him for the time.  If I remember, I’m going to send him a nice gift.  Why do my hamstrings hurt so much?  Right, the hike.  Where was I?

So I got onto the lot which covers a 100 acres and is where the Wizard of Oz was shot but somehow does not make the cut of things that were important enough to be included in my navigator, and the guard asks me if I know where I’m going.  “Absolutely not.”  He then proceeds to show me a map, and point and gesture wildly and my mind is racing a thousand miles a minute to try to remember what the show was about that I was about to meet on.  I know it was a comedy about a wacky office or a dysfunctional family, and that I liked it, but I couldn’t remember why.  The guard then finished, “Okay, got it?”  “Absolutely.”  I walked fifty feet and was completely lost, passing soundstage after soundstage, film warehouses, sets being carted out, racks of feathered clothing being whisked by, actors on cell phones passing old posters of actors on regular phones.  I had no idea where the hell I was going and I thought, “why do I even do this job?”  I then asked a security guard in a golf cart if he knew where the Judy Garland building was and he said he would take me there and he raced me across the lot because I seemed like an important person.  When we got there I jokingly asked if he’d pick me up in a half an hour and he sincerely said he’d try to.  I checked my watch: 10 minutes late– dammit! and ran inside a building that was fitted with the old seats from Yankee stadium, and dogs running free through the halls.

I sat down with my second meeting and talked for 10 minutes about the show he had written and then an hour and a half about our career paths that led us to the table across from each other.  I told him of my job as an investment banker, then a food delivery guy, horrible temp jobs where I was threatened that I would “never temp in this town again” and countless other horrible jobs and horrible bosses.  He told me of his jobs as an assistant in an investment bank, a runner, a production assistant, of a job where he had to walk a half a mile through snow from his parking spot to his office.  We then started talking about how horrible show business was until one of us noticed it was almost six and he had to get to his band practice where he’s a backup vocalist for a Neil Diamond tribute band.  He asked if I could let myself out and I said of course.  And as I walked over the sleeping dogs, past the vintage video machines, I went to the bathroom and caught a look at myself in the mirror: unshaven, wrinkled shirt, dusty baseball hat that says, “Life is Good” and thought… “You schmuck” and hoped out loud that my run in this “horrible business” would last forever.


Written by 100daysoff

May 5, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Did you forget to breathe?


    May 6, 2011 at 7:13 pm

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