I walked out of my hotel room in Washington DC this morning and was hit in the face with 200% humidity that was hanging onto the 89 degree air. The air was thick with the smell of far away thunder and close-up urine mixed with a random meat being cooked from an unlicensed food truck. In other words, it was perfect. It reminded me of my days living in New York, swimming to work through the oppressive heat, feet sticking to the melting tar with every step and then the worst part: a random drop of water hits your bottom lip and you look up and there’s not a cloud in the sky. Where did it come from? WHERE DID IT COME FROM?!
As much as I love Los Angeles, New York will always be my first love. Maybe because I went there to get drunk as a kid in college, or maybe because I was poor and in my twenties there and it’s always great to be poor and in your twenties, but I love all of the sights and smells and sounds and tastes, especially in the summer. It’s something that my wife, who grew up in the oppressive verdancy of Oregon, can’t understand. I remember telling my wife the story of how I once bought a knish from a street cart and asked the vendor if it was hot. He picked it up with his hands, saw that it WAS in fact, hot, blew on it, then offered it to me. I gave him $1.25 and took it. My wife asked why I would possibly eat that knish after the borderline-homeless vendor blew on it, and I said, “There have been horrible things that have happened to every single knish in that truck. I saw what was probably the worst thing that happened to that knish, and I’d rather go with the devil I know.” My wife is still making a face, and I’m betting thinks of that story every time she kisses me.
As I continued walking this morning, I passed a mirrored window and saw myself walking on a city street in a business suit for the first time in over 20 years. I often wonder what it would be like to see a picture of me from the future. Had I seen this picture, assuming I could get over the 20 years of wear and tear on my body, I probably would have assumed I was still an investment banker. It probably would have made me sad to know that I never accomplished my dream of becoming a writer. That was my dream: to become a professional comedy writer. I am living my dream.
Yet it doesn’t feel that way, not always. If it did I would be perfectly satisfied, and clearly, I’m not. There are moments, to be sure, when being a writer seems like the best thing in the world: the pay is great, I don’t risk physical injury except for eating related disorders, and the rest of the world thinks it’s really cool. Well, everywhere except Washington. Washington is an industry town, just like Detroit where the industry is poverty and depression and Hollywood where the industry is entertainment and depression. Here in Washington the industry is politics. In fact, I have never been in an environment where my resume garnered less of a reaction. “What do you do?” “I’m a writer.” “Oh, what kind?” “Sitcoms.” “Oh.” “Friends”. “What?” “I’m sorry, I thought you were going to ask if I wrote anything you would have heard of.” “Oh. No.” “I wrote for Friends. The tv show. Friends.” Blank stares as if I had just eaten a knish that was sucked on by a Pakistani vagrant. As a funny side note, I ran into Senator Al Franken today from the great State of Minnesota and I introduced myself. “Hi, Al, I’m Jeff Astrof. I’m also a comedy writer.” He walked away. I was immediately put off, but then realized, he’s probably thinking of himself as a Senator now, not a comedy writer. The truth is, I’m not familiar with any of his Senating but he’s a good comedy writer.
I also get that you don’t necessarily want to be defined as a comedy writer. I mean, I don’t. I had a friend announce in front of a group of people that I was the funniest person he’d ever met, while I was signing a credit card receipt. Now, unless I had the perfectly-timed fart, there was nothing I could do at that moment to procure a laugh. I wasn’t even the funniest person in that group at that moment. So if I’m not a comedy writer, what am I? I ran into a couple of friends from college in DC who were surprised to see me in a suit, having gotten religious, not covered in my own vomit. You see, when they knew me in college, my persona was closer to John Belushi’s in Animal House (thanks again, Dad, for spending $80,000 on getting me an Ivy League education). So I’m definitely not that guy now– mostly because I’m too tired and I don’t drink beer by the pitcher anymore; one apple martini has me singing “Drift Away” before my wife tells me I’ve had enough. So… am I a religious guy? A light weight drinker? A husband? A dad? A guy who’s not funny when signing for the check? Am I a guy who’s even interested in defining himself? The answer, of course, is that I’m all of those things, yet none of them define who I really am. I think who I am is defined by my actions.
When I first started writing this journal 100 days ago, I set out very practical goals: lose weight, clean my garage and write something that will help further my career. The practical gave way to the philosophical as I dealt with issues of fatherhood, being a good husband and dealing with being out of work. While these philosophical issues are much more important than the practical ones, since I set out the practical goals for all to see, I think it’s only fair that I address them and give a candid evaluation of my progress.
Lose weight. Twenty five pounds to be exact. Total and complete failure. I have done several thousand Burpees, the exercise that prisoners do that makes you think, “huh, maybe I could be a prisoner if it got me into prisoner shape”, and for a while I ate like a cave man. But I’m not going to embarrass myself or the scale by weighing myself. I definitely got more muscular, and in the right light, there’s the essence of an “ab” on me, but I can’t say that I’m in tip-top shape. In fact, I am just in average, pre-production shape, my skin remaining elastic for late night rewrites where someone orders pie for dinner. Grade: D.
Clean my garage: Cleaning my garage saved my life and maybe my marriage. If I had to rate the most important days of my life it would be: wedding, birth of child one, cleaning garage, birth of child two. There were some casualties in that I threw out or gave away everything that wasn’t nailed down– perhaps even my daughter’s frozen umbilical cord– but it was worth it. Grade: A+
Writing: I wrote an amazing pilot about a workplace comedy where the work place just happens to be Assassins. Unfortunately, I wrote it in my head. I started writing the first scene one day, and then think I threw it out when I cleaned the garage. I don’t count my time as a total failure work-wise because I managed to write every single day in this journal. I told a lot of the stories I wanted to tell about my life, and got to bare my soul a little each day. I also got an offer from an e-publisher to publish my blog as a book and I will get paid in “internet dollars”. “What are internet dollars?” “Dollars that can be used for the internet?” “So I can buy stuff with them?” “You can buy the internet.” “Isn’t the internet intangible? “Exactly.” Grade: B
So, where does that leave me at the end of 100 days? My biggest success– the garage– was accomplished in one afternoon. What about the other 99 days? If I look at these 99 days just as a list of my actions– or accomplishments– it was a complete waste of a third of a year of my life. I didn’t cure anything or invent anything, or even create anything that can be used outside of the internet, which, quite frankly, I still can’t understand. So maybe I can’t be defined by my actions, or else I’d be a failure with a clean garage.
I’m guessing that when I eventually go through this journal, when I strip away my actions and minor achievements, what will be left will be my true essence, which are my feelings. I am anxious. I am emotional. I am impulsive. I am searching. I am trying to be a good person, or at least a better person. I am crazy and above all, I am crazy about my family. Someone told a friend of mine that this journal read like a love letter to my wife, and if that’s what comes out of this, then that’s just fine. My regret about these 100 days is that they didn’t quite make it to my anniversary which is the day that changed the universe forever for me. I married so far out of my league that I became religious just so I could pray harder to God that my wife doesn’t figure out that she can do better than me.
But it’s also a love letter to my children. Sasha, my little angel, if there is one thing that has come out of these 100 days that is almost as important as having a clean garage, it is that I am learning to accept you on your terms, not mine. You are a blossoming flower and it hurts my heart so much when I think about how much I love you, and how much I have already damaged you. And it’s going to take more than 100 days but I’m going to work on being, well, less me around you.
And Caleb, you are all the best parts of me distilled into an incredible little boy who will make an incredible little father some day– we don’t have a lot of height in our family, so stay funny. You are a special child and have a magic to you that keeps me from strangling you. I guess I should probably work on that, too.
And as for me? Well, I have ten more Burpees to go before my 100 days are over, then it’s time to prepare for my 13th job in 20 years. It’s funny what happens when you live your dream– you get another dream. I really thought I’d have my own show on the air by now, but I’ve been a co-pilot on other peoples’ shows for the last ten years at least. But I can’t complain. At least not to you. Because my 100 days are now officially over.