Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Linked Out

It’s not you, it’s me...

The (supposedly) professional Industry network Linkedin began barraging me with e-mails a couple of years ago, and in a moment of weakness, I signed up. It was something new, and I was curious as to what it was all about – and what I subsequently learned is that for me, it’s of no use whatsoever. I’ve long since forgotten my site password at this point, but the ghost of Linkedin continues to haunt me. Every few weeks I get a request from somebody I've never met (on line or off) to “connect on Linkedin,” an invitation I silently decline. It would be simple to accept, but truth be told, I’m a bit weary of all this social networking. Facebook is bad enough -- changing all the settings around every month or so for no discernible reason other than that young Mr. Zuckerberg apparently seems to enjoy watching us all dance like virtual puppets at the end of his long digital strings -- but Linkedin?

I don’t think so.

What’s worse, Linkedin seems to reach out on its own, without the individual members even knowing about it. When I got an invitation to connect with one of the set dressers on my show last season, I waited until the next day at work to ask her how she used Linkedin.

“I don’t,” she said. “I never sent that invitation. Ever since I was stupid enough to join I’ve been trying to get the hell out of Linkedin.”

That was my “aha” moment. Since then I rarely bother to reply to these invitations. With no way of knowing whether an actual human or Linkedin’s clever algorithm made the request, I see no point. Besides, including me in a list of professional industry contacts isn’t going to do any newbies out there any good. I never was a DP, and no longer work as a Gaffer or a Best Boy – I’m just a juicer now, a lowly Morlock toiling far below the line in the dark shadows of the Industry food chain. For someone I’ve never met and do not know to think that adding my name to their list of Linkedin contacts could somehow help advance their careers is absurd.

This doesn’t mean I don’t care.* I hope all my readers go on to enjoy wildly successful careers in the business, and if you’ve got any questions I can answer, use the comments section or the Gmail link on this blog and I’ll do my best to help out. Just don’t waste your time asking me to connect on Linkedin -- and if you (or more likely, the insidious algorithm) insist, don’t take it personally when your invitation results in the sound of silence. No offense is meant by my non-response, and none should be taken.

Hey, I’m just an old dog who doesn’t have much use for all these bright and shiny new digital tricks.


* Nor will I ever underestimate the power in a few timely words of encouragement...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Gears of Karma

C’est la vie say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell

(Chuck Berry)

The gears of Karmic Justice generally grind with maddening deliberation in this troubled world, offering little satisfaction for those of us who would rather see wrongs righted with a little more alacrity. Villains usually do get their comeuppance bitch-slaps in the long run, but such justice can take a while to unfold. Meanwhile, bad things keep happening to good people for no coherent reason at all.

Every now and then, though, those cosmic gears manage to produce a very satisfying -- if unexpected -- justice in a more timely manner.

A recent post here discussed the sad side of my show getting picked up for a second season: those crew members who did not rejoin us on stage. Some left by choice, others due to an unfortunate cascade of circumstances, but two of the stand-ins were let go – fired – for stated reasons none of the crew could understand or accept. They were both professional stand-ins who knew their job and did it well, but the Powers That Be way up the production food chain ordered them gone, so they disappeared.*

Hollywood has never been known for loyalty, but this was ridiculous. Those two stand-ins just got hosed, which pissed off everyone on the crew – including, as it turned out, our lead actor, who didn’t learn that his stand-in had been fired until our first day back on set. To this actor’s everlasting credit, he hit the roof, then called the execs responsible on the carpet and demanded that his stand-in be re-hired. The following Monday, that stand-in was back with us on the show.

Stand-ins occupy a unique and awkward position on a production. Neither fish nor fowl, they’re not really part of the technical crew nor are they actual cast members, but they are an essential cog in the machine of a television show. If “their” actors aren’t willing to go to bat for them, they’re shit out of luck – which is why we were all very glad to see justice delivered and this stand-in return to the fold.

But that left the other stand-in – who subbed for our lead actress – out in the cold. Still, those Karmic Gears don’t always grind in a linear fashion. Being very good at her job, she quickly found a new home on a much bigger broadcast network sit-com, where her real talents were soon noticed. Last week she got a major break in the form of a speaking role as an actor on her new show. Finally, this hard working stand-in got a chance to spread her acting wings and fly on screen. For her, this is huge – a major increase in pay for the week and a big boost to a late-blooming acting career that must have seemed like it would never come.

And if she hadn't been fired from our show (however unjustly), none of this would have happened.

Which just goes to demonstrate that in Hollywood, opportunity can come in many disguises. Anything can happen at anytime, and what feels like a soul-crushing disaster can in fact be the sound of a golden door being unlocked and opening wide. If you keep pushing, doing a great job, and showing people what you’re capable of, good things can happen. This is a useful lesson for everyone in this industry -- young or old -- to recall.

Sometimes those Hollywood dreams really can come true.

* If you think that job is easy, you don’t understand what they really do...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Wednesday Inbox

An e-mail dropped into my inbox the other day with the following short Utube video titled Film School or No Film School?

Ah yes, the eternal question for which there is no answer.

I didn't go to a real film school, but attended an institution of higher learning that offered just enough film classes to spark my interest, lure me away from the more rigorous (read: useful) fields of academic study, and eventually take me down the glittering road to perdition through all nine circles of the modern day Dante’s Inferno we call "Hollywood." Although a sketchy education in film isn't much help in the art of juicing (indeed, it can be a hindrance if you don't know when to keep your mouth shut), it's nice -- as happened at work last week -- to be able to carry on a conversation with one of the show's writers at the craft service table about the films of John Ford.

Not that this short conversation added any numbers or moved the decimal point on my paycheck mind you, but man does not live by bread alone.

The e-mail was from a recent NYU graduate who has -- with a fellow (if opposite coast) film school grad -- formed what they're calling National Film Society. That's an awfully big name for what seems to be a rather small organization, but hey, mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow. A description of NFS in their own words:

"The National Film Society is a new media studio co-founded by filmmakers Patrick Epino and Stephen Dypiangco, who've decided to take their talents to YouTube. They produce original content, showcase amazing works, interview talented creators and make fun of each other as much as possible."

I have no idea if attending one of the elite film schools is really worth the horrendous expense. It's hard to justify borrowing $120 grand to get a degree in the filmic arts unless you really do have what it takes to become a very well paid writer, producer, directer, or cinematographer-- and I know people who have become all of the above without benefit of a degree from a film school. But if you've got the money and the desire, why not? Especially if after you've spent all that money and still can't get a job, you're able to retain your sense of humor.

As you'll see in Steven and Patrick's short video, they have a lively sense of fun, and don't take themselves too seriously. That, I like. Good luck, guys.


More good listening: Monday night's "Fresh Air" on NPR featured two interviews that will interest fans of "Breaking Bad," one with series co-star Aaron Paul, and the second with the show's creator Vince Gilligan, a man who -- as far as I'm concerned -- has been walking on water out there in the New Mexico desert for the past four seasons. Altogether these two interviews are less than an hour, and worth every minute of your time.


Yet another e-mail this week alerted me to a blog called Hollywood Oracle. In their own words, "The Hollywood Oracle is committed to delivering informed, insightful advice about how to make a successful move to Los Angeles and work in the entertainment industry."

Advice from those who have walked this path can be useful for any young Hollywood dreamer. Take a look -- you just might like what you find. And if you forget to bookmark it, there's a permanent link under my Industry Blogroll over on the right side of the page.

And those are your tips 'o the week. Check em' out...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Thrill is Gone

Once upon a time – a few years out of school with a head full of Hollywood dreams – I loved nothing more than to bust my ass all day or night on set, then hang around the truck after wrap sipping a beer while listening to “war stories” from veteran crew members. Work was fun, with every day on set a new adventure. Later, while working as a Best Boy, then Gaffer, I was one of those telling the stories, but now -- after so many years toiling under the shadow of that big white Hollywood sign -- when my work day is over, I just want to go home. At this point, working on location or in a studio sound stage is just a job.

The thrill is gone.

If this is supposed to bother me, it doesn’t. I’m at least fifteen years past harboring any serious ambitions for this business, and although I didn't get around to everything I'd wanted to at the start, I did a few things I'd never even dreamed of, met a lot of great people, and had some big fun in the process. At this point my only remaining goals are to do a professional job every day, have as good a time as possible with the crew, and make it across the finish line on my own terms under my own power. The latter is not a given. This kind of work is physically punishing, exacting a heavy toll on one’s body over time. I know several fellow juicers who were forced to retire early due to an accumulation of job-induced physical maladies that finally made it impossible for them to answer the bell -- and I’m not interested in joining them in the Permanent Disability Club.

That's why I'm making my last stand in world of multi-camera sit-coms, which is the closest thing I’ll ever find to a safe harbor. But if working these shows is an order of magnitude easier than being tied to the whipping post of episodics or features, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. A lot of lamps need to be hung and powered on that pipe grid every week for a sit-com, and there’s usually only two of us (with some help from the ground crew) to make it happen. This is real work, and it gets harder every year.

Still, there’s something to be said for sucking it up, ignoring the pain, and finding a way to get the job done, whether that means walking the set walls, working atop a twelve-step ladder, or performing the occasional (and highly illegal) EVA when necessary. There’s a very real satisfaction in meeting such challenges – quietly, with nobody else noticing – on a daily basis. It means I can still do the job, pull my weight, and really earn my weekly paycheck.

That much is essential. Should the day ever come when I look around and realize I’m just dead weight on the crew – no longer able to fully contribute – I’ll drop my tool belt for the last time and walk away.

All this doesn’t mean I’m not still interested in what’s going on with the present and ever-evolving future of our industry. I haven’t withered into one of those bitter, don’t-give-a-shit dinosaurs whose sole remaining joy in life is playing Dr. Buzzkill on every job – the sour curmudgeon who’s forever telling everyone in earshot how fucked everything is now and how much better it all used to be back in the good old days -- but there’s no denying that the magic which drew me to Hollywood in the first place has pretty much evaporated into the LA smog. Mostly this is a matter of time and experience -- the cumulative weight of all those years on my shoulders. When you’re young, Hollywood is a bright and shiny place full of endless possibilities, but time has a way of narrowing the horizon and the path ahead. Ride the roller coaster long enough, and you come to know every twist, turn, and stomach-churning drop on those rails -- and along the way, where all the bumps and bruises are.

But you also learn to adapt to the unique rhythms of each job, how to pace yourself over the course of brutally long days, and -- most importantly -- you learn what matters and what doesn't on set. When to walk and when to run. You also learn to deal with change – and I’ve seen a lot of changes in this business over the years. If things weren’t necessarily better back in the day, they were a lot simpler when most stage and location productions ran on Direct Current electricity, and carbon arcs were the state-of-the-art BFL. Film ruled the movie and episodic television world, while video was left with the sloppy seconds of sit-coms, soap operas, game shows, news, and sports programming. Alternating Current now dominates the film and television industry*, HMI’s and high-output fluorescent lamps are standard equipment for location filming, and the digital video revolution has shouldered film into an ever-shrinking corner of the biz. By the time I take off my gloves for good, 35 mm film may have joined the daguerreotype on the ash heap of history, and LED based lamps could well be reshaping the foundation of set lighting technology.

The changes have been dizzying, but the more things change, the more they stay the same.** I see this time and again in some of the new Industry blogs that have popped up in the last year or two. Although everything about the Industry continues to evolve at a rapid pace, young people still come to the business with the same enthusiasm and commitment that brought me to Hollywood so many years ago.

I thought about this while reading a post by a recent college grad-turned blogger describing his experiences working with some local pros on an indy film in the San Francisco Bay Area. Having worked in varying capacities on several projects (including extra work), Jessie M. seems to be honing in on Grip/Electric while keeping an eye on a possible future in the camera department. In this latest job, he finally had the opportunity to learn what it means to be a core member of the crew on a real film -– a heady feeling I remember well -- and it seems the young man is now well and truly hooked, for better or worse.

The irony in writing a post titled “The Thrill is Gone” that references another blog post called “The Novelty Never Wears Off” does not escape me, but it's just a matter of viewing the business from opposite ends of the Industry roller coaster. Jessie M. is just starting his wild and wooly ride, while the finish line of my own Hollywood journey looms closer every day. In thirty years, he may understand and share my current state of mind – the thrill fading away – but maybe not. We’re all different, with our own approaches to life and the biz. Still, entering the film and television world is a bit like the experience of young love; a hot, all-consuming fire that feels like it will burn forever. The passage of time cools every fire, but if you manage to avoid the jaded bitterness that afflicts some Industry vets, all that heady excitement can evolve into something deeper and more resonant -- something you can’t even separate from your own self.

The thrill may be gone, but I still walk onto the set with a smile every day. After all these years the Industry really is in my blood -- and if going to work is no longer much of an adventure, it's still a pretty good job. Besides, I couldn’t wash Hollywood out of my system if I tried. This town and the Industry that made it are a part of me now.

That much, at least, is forever.

* Somewhere, Nicola Tesla is dancing on Thomas Edison’s grave.

** Let’s face it, all the clich├ęs are true...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Wednesday Grab Bag

A hopelessly lame poster, but the movie might be worth the price of admission for fans of action films...

Picture for a moment a successful movie director known for putting big budget action movies on screen that made lots of money for Hollywood – four of which grossed a cumulative total of more than $700 million worldwide against budgets adding up to $200 million and change. Whether you loved or hated Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, Deep Blue Sea, or Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, enough people bought tickets to earn half a billion dollars in net profits for the Hollywood system.*

You’d think a record like that would garner the man a certain degree of respect in this town, but there’s a giant stinking turd floating in this director’s otherwise profitable Hollywood punchbowl: Cutthroat Island, a pirate movie that cost nearly $100 million to make while bringing in only $10 million at the box office -- a flop of such magnitude that it’s now considered the biggest bomb in Hollywood history.**

When this movie came out in 1995, it smelled like like a bomb in the making to me – not because I knew anything about the story or director Renny Harlin, but simply because it was a pirate movie being released at Christmas. Who the hell wants to go see a goddamned pirate movie over the holidays – or anytime, really? Even back in the day when pirate movies were good they weren’t all that good.***

The stink of this bomb has lingered, forcing Renny Harlin to live and work under the dark cloud of epic failure ever since – which provides an interesting background to his latest cinematic effort, 5 Days of War, a drama set amid the chaos of the bloody invasion of Georgia (former member of the Soviet Union) by the Russian military in 2008. The trailer looks interesting, if somewhat predictable, and given Harlin’s resume, the movie probably work well as an action film, if nothing else. I'll say one thing -- the trailer looks infinitely better than the incredibly crappy poster above. If that poster was all I knew about "5 Days of War," I'd never go see the film -- it looks like something from a bad B movie in the 60's.

If that's the best this movie's marketing people can do, Renny Harlin better buckle up for another ride down the Hollywood toilet.

At any rate, the story of how the production came to be filmed on location in Georgia – with a name cast (including Val Kilmer and Andy Garcia, among others) who lived in a farmhouse sharing one bathroom for the duration of the shoot -- is fascinating, as is the recap of Harlin’s up-and-down career in his interview on this week’s podcast of KCRW’s The Business. In the digital age, they really don't make movies this way anymore, and Renny Harlin deserves some credit for pulling it off.

At barely twenty minutes, this one is worth a listen.


I heard a terrific interview this week with Margo Martindale on NPR's "Fresh Air." I first noticed her in the short-lived "The Riches," a flawed-but-gripping cable drama with Eddie Izzard and Minnie Pearl a few years ago, then couldn't take my eyes off her wonderfully repellant performance as The Worst Mother in the World in "Million Dollar Baby." Margo has been nominated for an Emmy for her spooky-good portrayal of Mags Bennett, the folksy-but-deadly matriarch of a back woods Kentucky family that lives way outside the law in the most recent season of "Justified." As always, she inhabited that role as if born to it.

The Emmys may be something of a trash award (although not nearly so lame as the pathetically hopeless Grammies), but they mean a lot to those who are nominated. Older, heavier actresses rarely get to shine in an Industry spotlight so focused on the young and sexy, and after hearing her story, I'm pulling for Margo to win.

This is a wonderful and surprising interview on so many levels. It's nearly forty minutes long, but that's a good thing -- and it's definitely worth the time.

Check it out. If there's an ounce of humanity in you, you won't be disappointed.

* All figures from the IMDB. I’ve seen none of these movies, and have no idea if they’re any good.

** Thus taking “Heaven’s Gate” and “Ishtar” off the hook.

*** The subsequent (and utterly astonishing to me) success of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series is yet another example of why I’m a juicer and not making big-buck decisions in the executive suites...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

As Seen on TV

“United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs.”

Excerpt from Patrick Henry’s last speech

Tomorrow being Sunday, I should be dissecting some aspect of the film and television business here -- and truth be told, I’d been planning to put up such a post until I noticed the date of this particular Sunday: 9/11/2011.

Ten years after the Day that Changed Everything.

I’ll leave that post for another week. This is not a day to discuss the ups and downs of working in Hollywood or anywhere else.

Much has been written and said about 9/11, with countless television retrospectives airing throughout the week bringing it all back like a stiff slap in the face. Here on the West Coast, I awoke to find the madness already underway -- the first tower down and the second soon to follow. Like everyone else outside New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, I followed the day-long nightmare through the lens of television, watching those monstrous billowing clouds of death roll down the streets of Manhattan enveloping so many tiny fleeing humans like something in a horror movie. But there was no CGI this time – it was all too real.

The images from that morning are seared into our collective consciousness, joining so many other tele - visions I’ll never forget: the grainy 8 mm Zapruder film, Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald in the belly a few days later, the Challenger explosion, the wreckage of the Marine barracks after that first truck bomb in Beirut, Pan Am 103, and the fiery destruction of the space shuttle Columbia as it broke up entering the upper atmosphere.

So much shocking man-made death, destruction, and misery right there on TV.

All were stunning events in their time, each a gut-punch to every American, but 9/11 was larger still -- big enough to unite us all and most of the civilized world for a few weeks.* Given the social, economic, and political schisms we’re experiencing today, it’s hard to remember the feeling of unity we shared then. The temporary nature of crisis-driven unity precludes any sense of togetherness from lasting long, but it's discouraging to see just how far we’ve fallen from that brief state of grace. A decade later we are united only in our disunity.

That’s not just a crying shame, it’s a dangerous state of things.

But here we are, ten years and counting, still mired in two foreign wars and a “war on terror” without end. Indeed, as the anniversary draws near, the news media is buzzing with “credible but unconfirmed” reports of terrorist truck bombs intended to anoint Sunday with blood by striking another blow to New York and/or Washington. We can only keep our collective fingers crossed that these reports prove false or that the would-be bombers will be caught or neutralized before carrying out their plans. All we can be sure of is that a lot of people are working overtime to make sure nothing bad happens -- and more power to them.

Those at Ground Zero, the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania ten years ago know the reality of that day ten years ago in a way the rest of us can only imagine. Similarly, those who have served in the military, Foreign Service, or the many NGO’s in Iraq and Afghanistan since then understand the ramifications of 9/11 in a very personal way. The rest of us experienced – and continue to experience – it on television.

I hope it stays that way. I also hope, however futile it might be, that we could stop yelling at each other and put our collective shoulders to the wheel to make this country a better place over the long run. Such troubled times leave us standing at the crossroads holding the future in our hands. If we choose the right road in making sound, reasoned decisions over short-term expediency, we just might work our way out of this mess – but taking the wrong road in succumbing to fear and ignorance will send us down a very dark road from which there may be no return.

The decision is ours, the stakes high.

On this day ten years later, maybe we should recall the words of Patrick Henry. Think about what we share in common as Americans, not those issues that divide us. Should we make the wrong decisions, the resulting avalanche of catastrophe won't be confined to our television screens this time, but will hit us all right where we live.

So choose wisely.

* The only other moment of comparable unity in my lifetime was the first manned lunar landing in 1969, a much happier occasion.

(Pardon this quasi-political interruption in the regularly scheduled programming. We'll be back to normal next Sunday.)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Money Machine

Like Randy Newman said, "It’s Money that Matters"

The goal of every commercial (non-PBS) television show -- broadcast or cable, scripted or unscripted, drama or comedy -- is to become a money machine. Once a show attains that lofty status, it can feed a lot of people for a long time. For an actor or producer atop the food chain, that money machine can buy a monster McMansion in a gated community and fill the six car garage with expensive German automobiles. For the rest of us, the machine will pay the rent or mortgage, make the monthly car payment, and keep the fridge full of food. Call it "trickle-down economics" if you will, but everyone employed by or connected to a successful show will prosper so long as the money machine keeps running.

Every successful show – and by definition, any show that earns a second season has achieved a certain level of success – experiences growing pains from one year to the next. If the first season is something akin to a blind stumble through a minefield, the second season feels very different while facing the same challenge of attracting and maintaining a big enough viewing audience to avoid the sudden death of cancellation -- the network’s way of saying “you’re fired.”

Studios will often cut a lot of slack to a brand new show, giving them a break on equipment and stage rentals with the unspoken but implicit understanding that if the show does well enough to reach that second season, the largesse will vanish faster than a five dollar bill dropped in the abyss of downtown LA’s infamous “Shitter’s Alley.”

From the studio’s viewpoint, turnabout is fair play: after helping a brand new show find its legs and stand tall, they expect a return on their investment now that the money-machine has survived to enter a second year on its own two feet.

Production companies don’t always fully understand or appreciate the dimensions of this unwritten deal. Consumed and distracted by the pressures of running the Season One gantlet, they sometimes assume that the same nurturing kid-glove treatment from the studio will continue -- but Hollywood doesn’t work that way, a hard lesson the producers of my little cable show are beginning to learn. Faced with considerably higher second season rental expenses, our UPM has been grinding the grip and set lighting departments hard to minimize costs over the first two episodes. I don’t know for sure, but imagine the other variable-expense departments (set dressing, props, and wardrobe) have been tied to the budget-cutting whipping post as well.

It wasn’t so bad for the first episode, which had only one swing set – but episode two called for four swing sets. Depending on the area involved and the action required, we'll use up to twenty lamps of varying sizes to properly light a modest three wall set, which is why the UPM’s head spun around in a full Linda Blair 360 when he saw the lighting order. He was not a happy man, but there wasn’t much we could do to ease his budgetary pain. Our job is to light every set so that it and the actors look great -– that’s our bottom line -- and if the production company can’t afford it, then something else will have to give.

My guess is money will be pulled from future shows to cover our suddenly-bare asses right now, while the writers are urged to craft scripts that make full use of our existing permanent sets rather than setting scenes in extensive (and expensive) swing sets over the weeks to come. Not that we won’t still need more equipment to tweak the permanent sets as well -- that never stops -- but a few additional lamps here and there are nothing compared to what's required to light new swing sets. Still, this semi-rosy futuristic scenario depends on the writers behaving themselves and doing as they’re told – and anybody who knows writers will tell you that’s a lot like herding cats. It can be done, but believe me, it ain’t easy.

What makes this situation rather awkward is that we on the crew can’t seriously bitch about all this pressure to minimize our equipment because – will wonders never cease -- we actually got a Season Two raise from the standard five-bucks-an-hour-under-scale-fuckyouverymuch cable rate of last season. We’re still not up to full scale, but four additional dollars per hour sweetens the weekly paycheck rather nicely. Although this was rumored to be in the works as we came down the stretch last spring, I never believed it would really happen – so this juicer will not squawk about our shrinking equipment budget. We'll get the job done one way or another in the hopes that a third season -- inshallah -- might finally close that last one dollar-per-hour gap with full union scale.

My little cable show will never be a big network money machine, but even if it isn’t perfect, at least we've made significant progress. In such tough times, when so many people in this country would kill for a job like mine, I’m just happy to be here.

And while on the generally distasteful subject of money, I’m happy to report yet another miraculous occurrence on this job.* Attentive readers might recall my dismal trail-of-tears futility and endless defeat at the week-ending post-show ritual of Dollar Day. My spotless record of failure in this tradition is unrivaled among my peers – everybody I know has won Dollar Day at least once. Not me. Despite the countless one, five, ten, and occasional twenty dollar bills I’ve fed into the big plastic jar over the past thirteen years of working in sit-coms, never has mine emerged a winner. When it comes to serial losing, I’ve been right up there with Al Smith and the Chicago Cubs... until last Friday night when the lovely star of our show reached her delicate, perfectly-manicured hand into the jug of five dollar bills and pulled out the one with my name on it.

Was I stunned? Was I shocked?

Is the bear a Catholic? Does a Pope shit in the woods?

For me, this was right up there with an alien spacecraft landing on the White House lawn, nice guys finishing first, or Rush Limbaugh taking to the airwaves to urge that his legions of followers acknowledge evolution and global warming as accepted scientific fact – in other words, a sure sign that the the world has turned inside-out and the Apocalypse Draws Near.

And so a week that started out rough and only got rougher ended up pretty well. As we head into our first short hiatus -- me with thirty utterly unexpected five dollar bills in my pocket -- I’m beginning to feel pretty good about Season Two.

* I know, it’s bad form and a sign of poor upbringing to openly discuss money, but being abandoned at birth and raised by wild goats in a leaky, drafty barn, I never had the opportunity to learn proper manners at good old Pencey Prep. I have thus labored under this crass and splintery cross ever since...