Don Fried — Playwright & Author

Archive for the ‘Musings of a Crusty Old Fart’ Category

turtlesThis morning there was quite a nice little piece in the Boulder Camera about all my theater activities and the book launch and reading coming up next Sunday for “Ups & Downs: The (Mis)Adventures of a Crusty Old Fart and His Bouncy Son as they Trek Through the Alps.”

Good news, right?  But half-way into the piece, it says, “He’s also involved in Rising Stage, a local troupe devoted to new plays.”  Which was true the last time I spoke to the columnist, but since my acrimonious break-up with the Boulder Chapter of Colorado Dramatists is no longer the case.

Now I’m sitting here absolutely certain that my former colleagues at Rising Stage have already convened a meeting and (having finally stopped holding hands and humming and opened their eyes — and in the few minutes they can spare not talking about what a big, cruel world it is and how much they’re going to do to save it, very little of which they actually do)  are talking about how I intentionally falsified the truth in my mania for self-aggrandizement and what an asshole I am!

I’m bracing for a scathing email to come winging over the wires any minute.  I’ll reply and explain what happened, but it won’t do any good.  Once you reject the true touchy-feeliness, you will be consummately evil.  In fact, you will always have been consummately evil, no matter how long before the breakup you had a cordial relationship.

Am I being paranoid?  Of course.  But it’s not like it’s not justified.  And it’s not like it’s something I can stop.  When will I ever stop agonizing about the fact that not everyone is going to love me?  Probably never.

I’m resolved to the fact that there will always be an ample supply of people who are angry at me.  Because the one thing I will never do is to stop sticking my turtle-head out of its shell and making progress.  And seeing my little turtle backside in front of them is one thing that a lot of turtles in the world just can’t stand.

500-pound-gorilla3When I was a kid, I was so focused on what I was doing and what I wanted, that I tended to ignore everyone who I didn’t think would be of immediate use to me. All too frequently, that resulted in my footprints being on people’s foreheads. Yeah, I was a self-centered jerk!

Now I spend a lot more time trying to be nice – or at least helpful – to everyone. Mind you, I’m still not what most Boulderites would define as a nice (read “enlightened”) person. I’m not nearly enthusiastic enough holding hands and singing Kumbaya for that. It’s just that the older I get, the more evidence I see that “What goes around comes around.”

Don’t get the idea that I believe in divine justice, either. But if there are lots of people who “owe you one” then sooner or later, some of it is going to be repaid. And since it’s a mighty complex world out there, you never know who it is who can do something nice for you, so you’d better be nice to everyone.

And the converse is true. If you are an asshole to enough people, it’s bound to come back to haunt you. (See my gloating post, “May they all get halitosis . . .”)

What brings this to mind today is a column by John Moore, the theater columnist of the Denver Post. He came to see Friday night’s performance of “Separated at Birth: The Lincoln/Darwin Plays. (My play, “The Debate” is one of the works in “Separated at Birth” and I’m acting the part of Darwin in it.) I’d expected to see a review of the plays in the Sunday paper, but instead there was a piece about the fact that at the recent Colorado New Play Summit, a panel of theater leaders from throughout the U.S. had spoken with such delight about the impending fall from power of theater critics in traditional print news media. (“Death of Criticism: Careful What You Wish For”)  Moore calls it “grave-stomping,” and part of the piece details the many benefits that critics provide the theater community.

I tend do agree with him, but I can certainly understand the reaction of the panelists. Theater critics are renowned for being frequently brutal in their reviews of plays and the people who create them. Either they have had so little regard for those people that they just don’t care, or they thought that this is the way to sell more newspapers and magazines. Probably both.

Contrast this with a critic who has reviewed several of my plays (to avoid being accused of pandering, I won’t mention his name). That critic always manages to be gently even-handed in his reviews, pointing out the good along with the bad. The audience gets the idea, but even when a review of my play was less than glowing, I couldn’t help but feel fairly treated and supportive of the columnist.  That’s just to show that there is an alternative to brutality in theater criticism.

But that’s the exception, rather than the rule, and now that print media is in crisis, there are seems to be an inexhaustible supply of people lining up in gleeful anticipation of stomping on the graves of the theater critics.

So let that be a lesson to all you 500 pound gorillas, you muscle-bound beach bullies. All the rest of us may be 98 pound weaklings today. But you may not 500 pounds and muscle-bound forever.

bulldozerFor a couple of months I helped start up a Boulder chapter of a Denver-based playwright’s club that I’m a member of.  I’ve now parted company with that group.  It was either that, or we were going to come to blows.  Part of the reason is that  I’m not enlightened enough to breathe the same tantric air that they do.   (See “If you’re not as caring and sensitive as I am, I’ll smash your face in”).  Even worse is the fact that I’m not willing to flagellate myself publicly and admit that my refusal to accept the “true way” is a catastrophic personal failure on my part.

In actuality, though, a lot of the conflict is based on my aggressiveness in marketing myself and my writing.  What a lot of beginning writers don’t realize — I certainly didn’t — is that a large part of getting started in this business is making a name for yourself.  There are countless stories of great works of literature that were turned down by the first 40 publishers they were submitted to.  How many more are out there molding in drawers (does an unread manuscript mold on a computer disk?) or already decaying in landfills?

I submitted the first plays I wrote to dozens of theaters, and got turned down nearly as often as I got ignored.  I realized that there must be some key difference between me and Tennessee Williams.  Other than the fact that he was a great playwright and I was writing crap, I mean.  A press agent!  Of course!

Being naturally frugal, I decided to become my own press agent and went on a concerted campaign to market myself.  As my writing improved and I started to get  productions, I took responsibility for letting everyone — local theaters, newspaper columnists, radio hosts, people I sat next to on the shuttle bus to the airport —  know who I was and what I was up to.

And lo and behold, it started to work.  In the past year there have been quite a number of newspaper articles and radio interviews about me and my work.  And more importantly, when I submit plays to theaters, especially in the Denver area, instead of always getting rejected or ignored, sometimes people want to talk to me.  And those discussions sometimes turn into productions.

I went to a play at the University of Colorado the weekend before last and afterward went up to congratulate the graduate student who had directed the production.  When I introduced myself, she immediately said, “Oh, you’re the playwright, aren’t you?”

But as nice as it is to have some recognition, that’s not why I do it.  I have no intention of writing for the next 20 years and then dying, either for my work to disappear without a trace or to be discovered after I’m gone.  Instead, I’m going to see my plays produced and my books published.  I’m willing to take responsibility to make that happen, and marketing myself and my work is a critical part.

So it’s too bad if there are people who think I’m a shameless self-promoter. I am.  It even says so on the banner at the top of this page.  And I’m not going to stop.

And it’s too bad if those people don’t want to play with me because of it.  I’ll see them on Broadway. Oh, wait!  I won’t see them there, because they’ll still be in Boulder.  With their eyes closed, breathing meaningfully into significant parts of  their bodies, and complaining about the fact that they’re not getting anywhere with their writing careers, but that aggressively promoting themselves isn’t the true, touchy-feely way.

hippiesI’ve written before in my blog about how Boulder is one of the world centers of new-age sensitivity and touchy-feelihood and the fact that I frequently get into hot water here.  Well, I think I may have really put my foot in it this time.

Last Wednesday I had a reading of the first draft of my “Postville” play at a little playwrights’ self-help group that I’ve been helping to start up in Boulder.  Boy, was that a bad idea.  I guess I should have realized that I wasn’t going to fit into this new group when, at the organizational meeting, a large part of the discussion by the other attendees was about how sensitive and caring they all were.

“I’m just so concerned about the injustice in the world I could cry.”

“I’m twice as concerned as you are, and I’m in touch with my inner-self and the cosmos as well.”

“How could you even think that you are as concerned and active as I am?  I keep my thermostat at 46 degrees all winter and eat only things which have fallen off of trees, and my carbon-use footprint is lower than that of a Kalahari bushman.”

OK, that’s not an exact transcript of the discussion, but believe me, it gives you the general idea.

At the reading of my play there were 10 people, 3 of whom had been to at least one of the meetings before, 6 acquaintances of mine that I had invited to listen to the play, and me.

There had been some talk at the organizational session about doing a short writing exercise at the beginnings of the meetings, but I had asked the regular members to skip it this time because there were so many outsiders and because reading my play was going to take over 2 hours.  No, they were going to do it anyway.

So the facilitator had us spend 5 minutes (it seemed like hours) with our eyes closed, breathing meaningfully into various parts of our bodies.

“Breathe into your toes.  Breathe into your feet.  Breathe into your thyamus glands.”

Then we were allowed to open our eyes and were instructed to write whatever came into our minds, without letting our “inner editors” interfere.  I’ve heard from several of my friends who were there that they were absolutely appalled at being invited in under false pretenses and forced to participate in a sensitivity ritual like that.  I agreed with them and could only apologize.

What is it with so many touchy-feelyers that they are so oblivious to the fact that others may not be interested in being subjected interminably to rituals like that?  It’s like being accosted by a religious fanatic who harangues you interminably and won’t take no for an answer.

And even worse with the “sensitive and concerned” of the world is that so many of them are bullies!  If you don’t believe as they believe, and do exactly as they do, you are clearly an inferior human being and you deserve to be tied to a stake in blazing sun on an anthill.  Or at least ostracized until you publicly admit the error of your ways and demonstrate that you have reformed.

I’ve let the other members of the playwriting club know just what I thought of what went on.  I don’t think they’re going to invite me back any time soon.  That’s just as well, because they’ve managed to get my entry visa into the People’s Republic of Boulder rescinded.

moving-manI’ve spent the last two weeks in Austin, Texas, helping Rhonda move apartments.   We’re not unfamiliar with the drill, having moved 12 times in the first 5 years after we were married.  At this point, after 37 years of marriage, our move count is somewhere in the upper 20s.   As you can imagine, with all that experience, we got pretty good at it.  After some of those moves, we had every box unpacked and every picture hung on the wall the same afternoon.  And one time we actually had a party in our apartment the evening of the move!

Rhonda has always been incredibly organized, but I developed a lot of my skill working for North American Van Lines out of Wilmington, Delaware for a year while I was in graduate school at the University of Delaware in 1972-73.    Try carrying furniture and boxes up and down stairs for 40 – 80 hours a week while you’re going to school.  That’ll cripple you or get you into fantastic shape.

Many nights during that summer, I would get home from a move after 11 pm and get to bed after midnight.  Then I’d have to be up before dawn the next morning to make it to the depot by 6 a.m.  so we could drive somewhere, load a house all day, drive somewhere else, and unload the house all in the same day.  One week we loaded, unloaded, or drove for 72 hours straight.

So it’s not surprising I ended up a little schizoid.  The few hours of sleep I did manage to get at home were filled with nightmares.  A truck would drive by outside our window, and I’d slide off the bed and try to pull the mattress off the box spring, with Rhonda screaming and beating me over the head with a pillow.

In those days Rhonda was a very light sleeper.  Our clock radio had electron tubes, and Rhonda would always wake up to the click of the clock, before the unit had warmed up and the music started.  She’d turn the clock off, and lean over and kiss me on the cheek to awaken me.  And I’d crawl out of bed and get ready for work.

One night, I was awakened by a slap across the face instead of a kiss.  “OK, ” I thought, “she’s in a bad mood today.”  So I got up, got dressed, and ate breakfast — all in the dark as I did in order not to awaken her again — got in the car and headed off to Wilmington.  About 45 minutes later I arrived at the depot and found it closed.  It was only then that I looked at my watch.  It was 2:15 a.m.  Rhonda hadn’t awakened to the click of the clock radio.  She was rolling over in her sleep and slugged me.  And I was so exhausted and programmed to work around the clock that I had gotten up and gone to work.

All those memories came back to me this past week.  Although we were hiring someone to carry the heavy pieces of furniture, we were doing everything else ourselves.  For 4 days, Rhonda packed boxes and I carried them and small pieces of furniture down the stairs and loaded them into our van.  Then we drove to the new apartment, and I carried them back up the stairs at the other end.

The first day or two were really rough.  You see what happens?  You’re minding your own business and suddenly, 35 years later, you’re not in the kind of shape that you were when you were 21.

But then, miraculously, it started to come back.  I made literally hundreds of trips up and down those stairs, and by the end I was able to do it all day long, carrying two boxes at a time ON MY BACK.

I briefly considered going out and trying to find work with a moving company.  But then I realized that with my plans to become a professional boxer, my moving career will have to wait.

A couple of days ago Rhonda and I rented two superhero movies — “Iron Man” and “Hancock.”  It got us to thinking about what superpowers we would choose.

At first Rhonda said she’d always wanted to be able fly.  But then she saw a movie actress who had recently starred in a superhero movie being interviewed on TV.  That actress was asked the same question and she said that her choice would be to be able to eat as much as she wanted without gaining weight.  Rhonda immediately changed her mind.  She now wants to be “Consequence-Free Gluttony Woman.  After all, she says, how much time would she spend flying.

I’ve thought about it for a few minutes  (very few), and here are some ideas of the superhero I’d like to be.

1.  Able-To-Sleep-All-Night-Without-Getting-Up-To-Pee Man: self-explanatory.

2.  Loud-Music-Revenge Man: able to cause boom boxes, car stereos, restaurant and store radio CD players and radios which play loud, obnoxious music to be inserted into the anal cavities of the people who play them.

3.  Comeback Man:  able to think up clever comebacks at the time they are required, and not hours, days, or weeks later.

4.  Genitalia-Enlarging-Spam-Reversal Man:  causes the genitalia of people who send out spam offers to enlarge my  genitalia to shrink with each spam shot they send.

5.  Lawyer-Destructo Man: needs no explanation or justification.

You get the idea.

Let me know ideas for superpowers you’d like to have.

When I was still in the business world, there was an expression I used frequently when I was counseling people who worked for me.  “You’ve got to choose which train you want to stand in front of.”  In other words, it’s a big tough world, and there are lots of things in it that you may not like, or are patently unfair, or just plain stink.  But you can’t spend all your time tilting at windmills, so choose your battle.  It also implies that, like Don picasso_don_quixoteQuixote, when you do choose your battle, there’s a good chance you’re going to get knocked silly.

My wife, Rhonda, is moving this weekend, and for the last several months she’s been looking for a new apartment here in Austin.

(A short digression here:  Rhonda has big problems making decisions and agonizes over everything endlessly.  Once she does makes a decision, she second-guesses it — forever.    These days I kid her that one of the benefits of her going through menopause is that she’s getting a little scatty and has finally stopped agonizing over which color towels she chose for the bathroom 30 years ago.  She really appreciates that.  By the way, I’m just the opposite; once I’ve made a decision it becomes the correct decision and stays that way — forever — often in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.)

Getting back to choosing an apartment in Austin.  We’ve discovered that most apartment complexes in Austin refuse to let you see a copy of the lease agreement until the day you come in to sign it.  And in most cases, they won’t let you sign it until the day you are moving  in.  I’ve objected to this strenuously, but have gotten little sympathy.

“How am I supposed to know what I’m committing to?” I ask.

“You can read the lease when you sign it,” they respond.

“And if I want to have a lawyer look at it?”

“Bring the lawyer with you.”

Right!  Picture it.  You’ve got the moving van and 4 moving men double parked outside the leasing office at $150 an hour.  And the lawyer is sitting next to you charging $250 an hour.  And you decide you don’t like something in the lease.  Something like, say, the fact that the lease explicitly denies any obligation on the part of the lessor to provide a habitable dwelling, but that you have to keep paying rent in perpetuity.  (By the way, words to that effect were actually in one of the leases that I did manage to get an advance copy of.)  So you decide not to sign the lease, and there you are with your goods in the moving van at $150 an hour, making the rounds of Austin apartment complexes.  Which, of course, you’re not going to do, so you sign the frigging lease.

Do you get the impression that this is exactly what the apartment complexes want?  You bet your sweet ass it is.

Fortunately, most of the complexes will tell you in advance that they use the standard Texas Apartment Association lease.  (Which they also refuse to let you see in advance, but is available in 100 places on the internet.)  Unfortunately, the members of the Texas Apartment Association are the apartment owners, so the lease is strongly one-sided in their favor.

For many years, I tried to read (and, if possible, mark up) every contract I signed.  Every car rental agreement, every hotel check-in form, every software download form.  Sometimes, I even managed to get away with it.  But eventually, I started agreeing to whatever moronic things the  contracts wanted me to commit to.  I guess, like everybody else in the world, I’m relying on the fact that 90% of what is in those documents is  illegal and wouldn’t stand up if it ever came to court.

You’ll have to excuse me now, I’m going to go sign an apartment lease.  This isn’t the train I’ve chosen to stand in front of.