Wednesday, November 28, 2007

We're NOT Rich, Beee-yotch!

I have bumped into Robert Redford. He is not necessarily a friend of mine. I, my friends even if I had “arty” glasses and a “fancy” no Robert Redford.

I ask for your forgiveness.

It's a bit cold this norning/afternoon here in NYC—about 38º degrees instead of the unseasonable fifties/near-sixties of the last few days and I've been very busy the last 48 hours—pre-occupied I guess with finding just the right accoutrements for the weather.

You see, I'm going to be outside for awhile. Been outside a bit already, in fact. I've ducked inside a green logo-ed national Coffee mega-giant to post along with a few friends who also want to warm their hands a touch.

One of the assembled just got through bitching of course about the cost of the coffee another member of the group bought.

“We shoulda brought a Thermos.”

“Thermos? Who's got a Thermos? I haven't seen anybody carry a Thermos in 20 years.”

“Funny how that kind of coincides with the spread of this place.”

“Ha. Ha. Think they'd be cool with one person gettin' a large coffee, and a small empty cup with it? Y'know. Just for a little souvenir?”

“ those old, Grecian urn “We Are Happy To Serve You” cups?

“Yeah. They'd just eat that up. One coffee...two cups, please. What?'s for an uh...ironic souvenir. Heh-heh-heh—Whaddyamean Get thefuckouttahere?

I tell my fellow warmth seekers that this place was an old Greek coffee shop fifteen years ago. I remembered it well, because the place we're about to go back to after this fuel-up used to be the old Columbus Circle convention center. It was 10 Columbus Circle to be precise. TV shows and films used the building as a production facility. I worked on a show out of there for 2 1/2 seasons and abused that little 24-hour coffee/gyro spot like crazy. Robert Redford was shooting “Quiz Show” two floors down from us. I remember seeing him leaving late one night when I was heading out for a late-night coffee run. We all had to wait on a long line to sign out in the security guard's guest book.

“Man...I'm just goin' across the street for coffees. I'll be right back. I have to sign in and out every time?” I said to the guard. “I'm comin' right back.”

“Every time.” came the robotic reply.

I went back to the end of the queue, nearing Redford about three people in front of my “spot”. I was sighing as I trudged back and saw him looking at me with a “Sorry” look.

I was a little stunned, but I looked back, and for some reason gave him the “high sign” from “The Sting”—the fingertip brush against the nose. He returned it with a little smile. Brush with fame.

Ten minutes later, I'm back in the building with four coffees. A few cents shy of $3.60 total. 80¢ each with tax. Imagine that? Four coffees—medium—for less than four bucks.

That was a long time ago.

The Greek coffee shop is long gone. The “green giant” has its space now.

So is 10 Columbus Circle.

What has replaced it is the new-fangled glass giant that is the Time Warner Center.

And that's where the Writers Guild picket line is today...which is why I'm here.

I's a little cold out here, so I'm wearing a leather jacket today. Picked it up about nine years ago. Nice one, too. Listed for about $250 I recall. I got it for $69 at a place called Daffy's here in NYC. It's decently warming.

But I could use a scarf. A nice, fancy scarf. And maybe, as the late fall sun's angle is blinding at this hour...maybe some arty glasses, too, 'cause you know that's how we do...

About 75 members of Writers Guild East set up a picket line at Rockefeller Center, just above the fabled ice rink. Picketers chanted: “No money? No downloads. No downloads? No peace.”

Many of the writers said that they expected to be out of work for a while. The tourists and office workers who walked by rarely stopped at the curious sight of writers holding signs that read, “On Strike.” For a time, the pickets chants were drowned out by the roar of the crowd that was assembled for the “Today” show across 49th Street.

All of the trappings of a union protest were there — signs, chanting workers, an inflatable rat, and a discarded bag of wrappers and cups from Dunkin Donuts. The rat was borrowed from Local 79, an AFL-CIO laborers’ union, and commuted in from Queens.

But instead of hard hats and work boots, the people on the pickets had arty glasses and fancy scarves.

I couldn't find my “fancy” scarf. But I know where I can get one. You get 'em at the same place most people do in town.

From a street vendor. For about five dollars. The same amount it costs for a pair of “arty” glasses. Fake Ray-Bans, fake Pradas, and Armanis—all five dollars. Leather gloves? Seven dollars. Right next to the coarse leather cell -phone holders and fall-apart, candy-colored iPod headphones. But first...I'm chipping in for coffee. The scam's goin' like this—we're gonna ask for the extra cup instead of the corrugated sleeve.

“It always slips...I'll pay extra for the empty cup.”

And you know what? Fuck the scarf. No, really—fuck the scarf, and the asshole Times writer who brought it up.

Better yet? Let Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Serenity) have at 'em:

Reporters are funny people. At least, some of the New York Times reporters are. Their story on the strike was the most dispiriting and inaccurate that I read. But it also contained one of my favorite phrases of the month.

“All the trappings of a union protest were there… …But instead of hard hats and work boots, those at the barricades wore arty glasses and fancy scarves.”

Oh my God. Arty glasses and fancy scarves. That is so cute! My head is aflame with images of writers in ruffled collars, silk pantaloons and ribbons upon their buckled shoes. A towering powdered wig upon David Fury’s head, and Drew Goddard in his yellow stockings (cross-gartered, needless to say). Such popinjays, we! The entire writers’ guild as Leslie Howard in The Scarlet Pimpernel. Delicious.

Except this is exactly the problem. The easiest tactic is for people to paint writers as namby pamby arty scarfy posers, because it’s what most people think even when we’re not striking. Writing is largely not considered work. Art in general is not considered work. Work is a thing you physically labor at, or at the very least, hate. Art is fun. (And Hollywood writers are overpaid, scarf-wearing dainties.) It’s an easy argument to make. And a hard one to dispute.

My son is almost five. He is just beginning to understand what I do as a concept. If I drove a construction crane he’d have understood it at birth. And he’d probably think I was King of all the Lands in my fine yellow crane. But writing – especially writing a movie or show, where people other than the writer are all saying things that they’re clearly (to an unschooled mind) making up right then – is something to get your head around.


“The trappings of a union protest…” You see how that works? Since we aren’t real workers, this isn’t a real union issue. (We’re just a guild!) And that’s where all my ‘what is a writer’ rambling becomes important. Because this IS a union issue, one that will affect not just artists but every member of a community that could find itself at the mercy of a machine that absolutely and unhesitatingly would dismantle every union, remove every benefit, turn every worker into a cowed wage-slave in the singular pursuit of profit. (There is a machine. Its program is ‘profit’. This is not a myth.) This is about a fair wage for our work. No different than any other union. The teamsters have recognized the importance of this strike, for which I’m deeply grateful. Hopefully the Times will too.

Thank you, Joss Whedon.

I won't front. Whedon notes that the “poncey” writer's manque is a tough one to defend. We write. We don't tar streets, or heft swollen trash bags into ooze-dripping trucks. We write. We wrack our brains looking for the right sequence of words and situations so that a show, or a movie, or whatever we're writing kind of works. We don't always succeed. The same way a tarred street will sometimes go soft and gooey a month after being laid, or how you'll come outside to see a trail of embarrassing trash from your curb to the street. We do fuck up. But for the most part, we sweat the details, and pour our hearts and souls into this stuff because in the end, if we're lucky—our names go on it—for ever and ever. When you think of a particularly bad episode of a show you've seen—especially a famously bad episode, it takes all of twenty seconds to Google the culprit's name. The pitiful beast's author.

That's forever, baby. And that author knows it. Imagine your worst work fuck-up being findable and attributable to you by anyone with a 2600 baud modem.

So you work hard to not have that happen to you. There are hacks among us, but the vast majority bust our asses...big time.

And believe it or not, not just as writers. A large majority of the writers I know can't make ends meet on what they make just as a writer. They have a nine-to-five doing something else. Some work as copywriters in publishing. Some work in retail. Others bartend, Two others I know work as a cable TV repair technician and IT troubleshooter respectively.

Another one works for the Parks Department, pruning and mulching trees damaged by storms.

Only one of 'em swings all the bills alone. The rest are either married or significantly-othered up, so expenses are shared. Nobody I know is rich.

So we split coffee. The arty glasses are counterfeits. The fancy scarves, a little pilled, like the ones I bought at the corner of 32nd and Broadway two years ago. A gray one and a camel one. They're somewhere in the house...I'm sorry—the apartment. I'll make sure to dig 'em out so as to not disappoint our little proletariat scribe friend from The New York Times. Once I do, shall I sport the Snoopy/Baron Von Richtofen Look?

Or maybe...I dunno, kick that ironic filmmaker dude from “Rent” style?

I'll figure somethng out, I guess. Till then, I'l just have to be myself.

(“Arty” glasses bought on the street near Broadway and Canal three years ago. Five dollars, of course.)