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

Day 94

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I woke up this morning so grateful that it was Saturday and I wouldn’t have to talk to my agents or check my email or go on-line to see which shows got picked up and which got cancelled.  As I lay in bed, finally relaxed after a long stressful week, my clock radio clicked on, reminding me that it was only Tuesday.  I quickly grabbed my iPhone that was next to my bed and went on-line to see which shows got picked up and which got cancelled and whether or not either of my agents responded to the last furious email I sent before I went to bed.  All my late night emails to my agent follow the same format: “[Sincere thanks for your hard work]. [Self-righteous rant venting frustrations]. [Lofty goals]. [Passionate case to aim higher which is subtly deprecating]. [Apology for subtle deprecation]. [Sincere thanks for hard work]. [Closing that implies I want them to do more].”  Thankfully, my agents are not as emotional as I am, especially my Senior Agent, so the emails do no harm and are hopefully not forwarded around the office.  I usually receive a phone call later in the day responding to the gist of the email, but since I thought today was Saturday, I was relieved to not get that call.  When I found out it was Tuesday, I left a message for my agents to call me.  That is my morning cup of anxiety that fuels me for the day.

Tuesday, as we know by now, is the day that my wife and I take a class on spirituality together.  It is a much better way to start the day then by, say, checking my email then leaving a message for my agent.  In fact, this class is supposed to provide a counter-balance to that.  A chance to put in perspective what I do for a living, in favor of finding what’s truly important.  I once had a friend tell me that the only thing we can control in a given situation is how we react in that situation.  And we want to react in a way we can be proud to tell our kids about.  Now, since my kids have seen my entire spectrum of paternal emotions from mild-frustration to severe frustration, I usually don’t have a lot of success in exercising those object lessons in the context of parenting.  However, I have had a couple of instances in work where I was really proud of how I reacted.  The one that most comes to mind is the last pilot I (almost) shot, which was an autobiographical show about a man who is deep (deep) down a good person, but often comes off as a jerk.  It was called Mr. Nice Guy and it was completely miscast with an actor who had no internal sense of anxiety.  Ironically, I thought that by firing him I would get him to react in a frustrated way, but he even took that news in stride.  In hindsight, it was an opportunity for me to have a big break as a show creator, but the day before we were set to shoot the head of the network called me in to a secret room above the stage.  I asked the person who was sent down to summon me, a low-level exec named Richard if I could bring a friend with me to hear what I thought the notes on the runthrough would be, but Richard said, “No, this meeting is just you”, in much the same way that Tom Hagen told Tessio that Michael Corleone would not be driving with him to the meeting with Barzini.  It was at that moment that I knew I was being set up for a plug-pulling.  “Can you get me off the hook, Richard?  For old times’ sake?”  “Can’t do it Jeffy.”  I remember walking into that room, the sound of my footsteps echoing on the painting cement, and seeing the entire network sitting on one side of the table, with a space for me on the other side.  The head of the network told me he was pulling the plug on the show– the main actor didn’t work and it was killing the material.  I told him he was right, I had sensed it myself and tried writing around it, but ultimately this was the write call.  It wasn’t personal, it was business.  I thanked everyone in the room for their support and they thanked me for being a mensch.  I said I had one request, please try to bury this story, I really don’t want to see the headline in tomorrow’s trade publications reading, “No More Mr. Nice Guy”.  The head of publicity told me she was way ahead of me.  As I remember the story, on my way out I was handed a copy of the next day’s Variety which read, “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, but in the real version I had to wait until the next day to see that headline.

Today’s lesson was in the same vein.  It was that the only thing we can control is our ability to make ourselves better people.  This desire for self-improvement was what separates us from other animals.  Now, I have friends and family that believe that animals and humans should be treated the same, but guess what?  That’s stupid.  Animals are not the same as people.   People are more important.  Don’t think so?  Then I’d like to see how one of my hardcore vegan friends would react if they got on a flight and the pilot was a cat or an owl.  Here’s further proof that animals are not the same as people: I have been walking my dogs now for over three months and they have taken a total of zero pees and zero poops on the hike.  I have taken at least a dozen leaks on the hike.  Today was the most glaring lack of bathroom going: my Boxer sniffed around, her anatomy clearly ready to poop, and actually started to squat before being distracted, then straightened up and carried on and walked another mile and a half, hopped back into the car and went home (I drove because dogs can’t drive).  Contrast that to me who yesterday had to go so badly that I ran into Whole Foods, straight to the bathroom, and did my best impression of Mr. Bean trying to lay down a toilet seat cover– every time I turned around the automatic flusher would go off, sucking paper seat cover after seat cover into the toilet.  Without going into detail, I finally achieved my goal (which involved me having to stay out of the electric eye of the toilet like Tom Cruise in “Mission: Impossible” which wasn’t pretty but was an ingenuity not seen in the animal kingdom).  Anyway, where was I?  Yes, what separates from the rest of the animal kingdom is our ability to improve ourselves.  And as part of that, our ability to distill what is in our control, and what is not.

I had lunch today with an old friend, Tom, a business acquaintance whom I hadn’t seen in way too long.  I had jumped at the chance to meet him for lunch just to put a business lunch on my iCalendar, which I knew would be repeated by this faulty technology at least 2700 times making it seem like I was booked up for the year.  And while the lunch was supposed to be business, the conversation quickly turned to life: being married, fear of not being able to provide for our family, getting older, staying relevant.  He then confessed to me that he was suffering from anxiety and followed it with a question that proves that Tom doesn’t know me as much as I would think, “Do you ever get anxious?”  Over the course of the lunch he asked me several times to try to make the face I made when he asked me that question.  Of course I get anxious: Anxium ergo Sum: I fret therefore I am.  During our lunch my phone rang and I saw on the caller ID it was my agent.  I didn’t even think– I just clicked Ignore– wanting to connect with a friend, making a choice to stay in a moment that was really important.  I left lunch and went back to my car to make the dreaded call, hearing in my head my agent giving me bad news about my potential deal.  But as usual, my agent surprised me.  He didn’t have any news and didn’t expect to have any news for at least another day.  Instead we talked briefly about the job market, what I was looking for, what he as an agent was going to try to do and what I should do, which for the time being, was nothing.  For me, nothing is the hardest thing for me to do, but it’s often the most important.  We both hung up the phone knowing that we could only control so much of what was going to happen, but with me trying to focus on how to react to whatever the outcome is.

At the end of the day, after hiking my constipated dogs, I got home, exhausted and headed into my house– where I am under no illusion that I control anything.  My kids greeted me at the door with the “Daddy!” that I have been training them to do since they were in utero, and I watched them do their homework, proud of the little human beings they were becoming.  When it was time for bed, I took my son upstairs and lay with him despite his protestations that he wanted Mommy and instead of arguing with him or trying to control him, I let him wear himself out, trying to teach him the subtle lesson that you don’t always get what you want and me the subtle lesson that sometimes the best thing to do is nothing.  I am due to find out more about my job offer tomorrow– if it’s in line with what I was hoping for– or if it’s not.  Either way, it’s out of my hands.  What I do know is that I’m going to try to react in a way that I can brag to my kids about– hopefully not in our new one bedroom apartment under the freeway.  And I’m going to use my last six days– and hopefully the thousands after that– to strive to be a better person.  Because as a human being, that’s all I got.


Written by 100daysoff

May 17, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. The bathroom scene had me in stitches–thanks!!!!

    Vanessa Dolby

    May 18, 2011 at 11:55 pm

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