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)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Parallax View

     And now for a boring old-guy harangue you'll doubtless ignore...

While working a long day on my home studio rigging crew several years ago, the conversation eventually meandered around to subject of age. When one of the young kids on our crew heard I was nearly 60, he slapped my back, a broad grin on his face.  

"You're almost out!" he said gleefully. "That's great!"

Well, yeah… but no. Under normal circumstances, the union allows a member to retire at age 62, but there's no point in doing so if you haven't yet accumulated enough working hours over your career to generate a decent monthly pension check -- unless you happen to be a trust-fund baby or have another fat source of income, neither of which are likely to be found among the ranks below-the-line. Anyone forced to rely solely on the tender mercies of Social Security in retirement runs the risk of spending their so-called "Golden Years" in a cardboard condo along the concrete banks of the LA River. And since I hadn't been on speaking terms with IATSE during my first fifteen years in Hollywood, I was nowhere near to qualifying for the union's full monthly retirement benefit.

I'm still not. That conversation took place more than five years ago, and although I've worked fairly steadily since then, I'd have to toil at that pace for seventeen more years to qualify for the maximum pension check -- and that, ladies and gentlemen, is out of the question.*

There comes a point of diminishing returns in every endeavor, and I'm almost there. 

That young juicer was a nice kid who meant well, but he got his union card at an early age with the help of his father, and already seemed to have assimilated his dad's attitude that reaching the end of a career is the true goal of every worker. 

I don't see it that way. Neither did Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said: "Life is a journey, not a destination," and as Hallmark-Cards corny as that sounds, I think the same is true of a working career. The adventure -- the fun -- is in slogging through the rough and tumble joys and horrors of the daily grind with your co-workers, even if that can take a while to understand.  

The end of a working life is just that -- the end -- and will come soon enough. It also marks the beginning of your post-work life, of course, but being old enough to retire means being old, and from what I've experienced thus far, that pretty much sucks. Still, it's the only game still dealing me in, so I'll just have to play those cards as best I can until the Grim Reaper finally rakes in the chips and turns out the lights.

So why am I blathering on about all this, boring the crap out of anybody still reading -- and who hasn't yet clicked over to see the latest at Shitty Rigs?

To provide some perspective, that's all, a parallax view for those of you still on the upward climb of your Hollywood journey, along with a word of advice. 

Don't get overly obsessed with your goals. Goals are just a way to measure your progress as you march down the road of life.  So long as you keep trying, you'll probably achieve some of them over the course of time -- but if and when you do grasp that brass ring, there will likely be another dangling out there just beyond your reach. And should you manage to grab that one, yet another will materialize in the ether, shiny and gleaming in the golden light of the dying day.**  

There's no end to it… until the end. Then what? 

It's all too easy to succumb to career obsession in this fear-based freelance Hollywood life of perpetual insecurity. Striving to achieve your goals is an essential part of that equation, but it can't be the only thing. Don't forget to smell the proverbial roses along the way, because the people you meet, the friends you make, and the problems you solve together at work are all part of the tapestry of your life. They're some of the blessings enjoyed by those of us who work in the film and television industry.

Pursue your goals, get better at your job, make more money, and bask in the warm glow of whatever success comes your way... but be careful not to slide into the quicksand of being dissatisfied and unhappy unless and until you've achieved those goals. Nobody can afford to ignore the future, but you don't want to dwell on the not-yet at the expense of the here-and-now.  Take a good look around every now and then to appreciate all you have and how far you've come. Enjoy the journey as it unfolds, because before you know it, everything you take for granted -- the entire backdrop against which your life has unfolded -- will begin to slip away and vanish, including the people.

And once gone, they're gone for good.

Don't worry about it if none of this makes sense to you -- it probably wouldn't have made any sense to me  when I was in my twenties, either. Since the beginning of time, the old have tried to warn the young about what's coming, but it's the nature of the the young not to listen. I certainly didn't when the oldsters wagged their bony old fingers at me back in the day... but now I see it from the other side. 

Maybe that's just how it is, how it's supposed to be -- each generation learning the hard lessons their own way, at their own pace. 

All I can add is this: time is a deceptively slippery commodity. The years pile up at an alarming rate, and one of these days in that distant-but-closer-than-you-think future, you just might find a smiling young person congratulating you on being "almost out" -- at which point you may feel the urge to warn him or her to enjoy the journey, not the destination. 

Maybe that young person will listen, maybe not -- and maybe it doesn't matter one way or the other.  

I've been gradually coming to terms with the reality that the end of my own Hollywood journey is finally in sight, and am more or less at peace with it. I'll take one more lap -- whether for another full season or just the next few weeks helping get a few new shows up and running for the Fall TV season -- then wave goodbye.  

That is all -- end of harangue. Now I'll just grab my walker, hobble to the front door, and yell at those damned kids to get off my lawn…   

*  Fuck it.  I'll get by one way or another, even if it means a diet of Ritz crackers, Alpo, and Two Buck Chuck.

** I had this post locked, loaded, and ready to go before listening to an interview with Danny McBride, who (much to my surprise) speaks rather eloquently to this very point.  It's a great interview, in which -- among other things -- McBride goes into detail discussing the process of writing his new HBO series Vice Principals...


longhorngi said...

Love this! I had a similar reaction to "retirement . Would love for you to read it.

Wayne Keyser said...

Well said, really

Michael Taylor said...

Longhorngirl ;

I read it -- I liked it. You have a great blog.


Thanks -- glad you liked it, and thanks for tuning in...