I was stressed today. Yeah, I know, and the sun was warm today. It wasn’t the normal stress that comes with not having a clean garage– got that– or a job– ditto– but it was one of those days when I was on the defensive. (Oh, great, now you think I’m defensive.) It started this morning when I ran into a couple of guys I know from my religious community criticized me for something President Obama said last night. I responded, “Um… I know we look similar, but you know I’m not the President of the United States, right?” “No. But you support him. You’re a Hollywood Liberal Elite.” Okay, well, I live in Hollywood and I guess I’m liberal since I always say, “for here” when they ask me at Starbucks if my coffee is for here or to go and if I say “for here” I have to pay the sales tax, but it’s hard to make the case that I’m elite when I drive a 7 year old Prius that still has six year old food in the back seat and up until recently my wife used a ten year old diaper bag as her purse. But in any case, I am different from many of the people in my religious community who tend to be more Conservative. I lashed out, telling the people I was proud of my Hollywood liberalness.
Still stinging from that encounter, I went to an elite, liberal taco stand for lunch– where I paid sales tax– and on the way out I ran into a friend of mine from Hollywood– a fellow elite. We got to talking and he mentioned an event on a Friday night which I told him I couldn’t attend because I don’t go out on Friday night. The conversation quickly changed and we talked about religion and what I can and can’t do and by the end of our talk it was clear that he considered me a Right Wing Religious Fanatic. So there’s me in a nutshell: a Hollywood Liberal Elite Right Wing Religious Fanatic– more commonly knows as a HLERWRF. People in both of my worlds don’t understand how I can exist in the opposite world: people who are pious don’t understand how I can write for television where the stories are often about premarital sex and other things that the Bible would put in the “Bad” column, whereas my Hollywood friends wonder how a smart, funny guy like me would voluntarily submit myself to anachronistic restrictions. The answer, of course is… I just do.
It’s always hard trying to struggle in different “worlds”, but I have found that instead of feeling uncomfortable in either world, I feel very comfortable in both. I once heard a lecture from someone who said if you want to know what God wants you to do for a living, it’s what you’re good at. Now, I don’t know what this lecturer would have said if I told him I was really good at murdering hookers, but I happen to be good at writing sitcoms. And as for the anachronistic lifestyle, I don’t know what I’d do if I had to run full-speed for seven days a week without being able to unplug every Friday night for 25 hours. Having faith also not allows me to deal with the timeless questions like “why do big development deals happen to bad writers?” but allows me to be more grounded, which actually helps me to be a better writer. Most importantly– at least for my father– my religiosity has not negatively affected my career. In fact, if anything, I’ve had my most successful years since becoming more religious (God loves a good multi-camera comedy with a laugh track. Especially a “Flip Joke”, ie: NOAH: “I am not getting into that ark!” FLIP TO: INT. ARK DAY– NOAH LOOKS OUT A TINY WINDOW, SURROUNDED BY TWO OF EACH ANIMAL).
As I waited to pick up my son from school– a religious school in Hollywood that has as part of its parent body a sitcom actor, a well-known comedian, two famous screen-writers and me– I started going through the emails on my phone and noticed that my uncle had sent out a notice to our family saying that this was the 38th anniversary of his father’s– my paternal grandfather’s– death. Being the oldest of my cousins, I was the only one who really knew my Grandpa Harry who died when I was 7. Stories from his sons started pouring back and forth about my Grandfather who came over from Russia on a steamship in steerage in 1918 at the age of 13 with his three sisters and mother, not speaking a word of English, to find his father who had set up shop in America a decade earlier. Considering how many bags my family and I packed for our last two week trip, along with how many cell-phone sim cards and iPad data plans I had to purchase, and how many times I asked Shawni, panicked, “Have you seen our passports?! Wait, I found them.” it seems impossible that I came from this stock. But I did.
I only remember a few things about my Grandpa Harry: he wore a black Stetson, he smoked a pipe and he screamed a lot into the phone. I found out later in life that he wore a black Stetson because he was religious– a practice he mostly kept to himself, probably because where he grew up in Russia it wasn’t cool to be all publicly Jewish. I learned from this email chain that he worked 20 hours a day, 6 days a week since he was a young boy. And while he wasn’t as demonstrative with his kids, he was apparently extremely generous to members of his extended family, many of whom he paid to get out of Europe before the Holocaust. I spent the rest of the day reading stories about him pieced together from 50 year old memories, all of the stories painting a picture of the typical immigrant story, which even when lived through, must have transpired in black and white. From the emails it was also apparent that he loved me more than anything– his first-born American grandson– a fact that must have sat oddly with his own sons. I sometimes wonder what he would think of me now, wearing a “Life is Good” baseball cap instead of a Stetson and needing to use my GPS navigator to get home from my job Every. Single. Time. I’m not sure he would watch the shows I write: apparently he was a big fan of wrestling, and other than an ill-fated scene I wrote between Lee Majors and William Shatner on my last sitcom, I’m guessing my sensibilities and his wouldn’t align. Although I’m guessing he would say he watched them because he’d be proud of his son who’s living the American dream: a Hollywood writer/producer. And I’m almost possible that he would love that I took time off from that dream once a week, on Saturday, just like he did, and just like his father did. In other words, I think he’d be proud to have a grandson who’s a HLERWRF. And I’m proud he has one, too.