The View From Away: There's a vacancy at the 'Hotel California'
After several weeks of consulting on a couple of television series in California, it's good to be back in Maine for Christmas.
The consulting itself was tremendous. One of television’s best-known directors, Jamie Widdoes (you may remember him as Hoover, the fraternity president in “Animal House”) co-created and directed a web series I wrote for. Comedy writing works the same way in the new medium, but Jamie is pioneering new camera techniques that make shows faster and cheaper to shoot and better to look at. It was exciting being in on the ground floor of a new era. It must have felt a bit the same way to be in Hollywood when movies started to talk.
The other show was more traditional, but no less satisfying. Shooting in front of a live audience comes with its own set of challenges, such as the writers having to rewrite the script as a group during production weeks. There is nothing quite like the atmosphere of a true comedy writers’ room. It continues to be a privilege to be a member of that community.
While in L.A., I finally figured out why the Eagles’ song “Hotel California” is wrong. I’m living proof that not only can you can check out of the Hotel California, but you can also leave. It simply takes years because by the time you realize that wherever you came from is better, you’re addicted to the weather.
There is something not right about a place with no frame of reference for the seasons. It changes your concept of time, for one thing. Years before I went there to live, I read a description of southern California (attributed to Al Jolson, but who knows?) as a “place where you get up to the sounds of birds singing, take a dip in your pool, drink a glass of orange juice squeezed from your own orange tree, lay down to take a nap in the sun, and when you wake up, you’re 65.”
Native Californians say they do have seasons, but they’re wrong. They don’t know what a season is. They call rain “winter.” Rain is not winter. Winter is what my wife texted me about a couple of weekends ago (and I paraphrase): “At least a foot of snow last night. Too deep to get out of house at front and side doors. Had to use sliding door in back.” I think she wanted to commiserate about shoveling the driveway or something. I didn’t get all the details because it was my turn to putt. And yes, I acknowledge there is something not right about that, either. The point is, Maine has winter. California does not.
The bizarre factor of SoCal is, if possible, even higher. They spend so much energy creating and exporting illusion out there, they can’t tell the difference any more. I drove by a billboard every day on my way to work, an advertisement for Cher’s latest recording. It isn’t really a photograph, although photography must have been involved at some point. Cher is wearing either lingerie or an evening gown. Her face looks like a satellite photo shot through enough gauze to supply a pretty good-sized hospital. Her hair is a shade of blonde unseen since the death of Jean Harlow. Her face, if indeed it is her face, appears surgically altered, airbrushed and Botoxed into a Mayan death mask of expressionless.
Nothing remains of the icon everyone knows, the beautiful, animated, funny half of Sonny and Cher, the Academy Award-winning actress, the bright, witty talk show guest of today. In it’s place is a picture of something Madame Tussaud would send back for a more lifelike rendering. And here is the kicker: the name of the album is “Closer To The Truth.” What truth exactly? The only truth I could see was some marketing department has no idea who Cher is and no conception of how to sell a record to someone over the age of 25.
On the positive side, it was 10 days before engaging in my first full-blown road rage incident, a personal best for me. It may simply be because traffic has ground to such a complete halt that nobody is moving fast enough to get mad at. They still have the car horns, though, or as I like to call them, The Rageinators. Less than 24 hours into the trip, somebody leaned on his horn longer than the total time I have been honked at in Maine because I decided not to be the third car through a red light so he could be the fourth. I let it pass. I’m chalking it up to maturity.
I wasn’t as generous with the guy who almost drove up my tailpipe for having the nerve to signal and execute a lane change while he was on the same highway. Those people deserve to be taught a lesson by someone selfless enough to make sure they aren’t allowed to pass them, or anyone else, for a few miles.
My wife and I disagree about this. But she wasn’t there.