When jeffandrus.com debuted on the world wide web in 2000, the first piece I posted was a short story written fourteen years earlier, Return of the Hun. I palmed it off on poliitcalmavens in May of 2007. The story is about a drunk out-of-work screenwriter who is a post-modern resurrection of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Pat Hobby character, another drunk, out-of-work screenwriter but in a classier time. A number of people have questioned my sleazy homage to Fitzgerald, wanting to know about the writer behind the character, as well they should. There are actually two writers—The Real Me and Toxic Jeff. We’re a team. And one of us would like to clear up some misconceptions.
A young lady I recently met came back from logging onto my site and gushed, “You’re famous.” Anyone who knows the screen trade, knows that can’t possibly be true of any American script writer, but I don’t believe in bursting people’s bubbles, or as the narrator of Return of the Hun would say, “I try to reinforce Mr. and Mrs. America’s dreams.” Within hours of my putting on an enigmatic smile and shrugging modestly, another new acquaintance, fresh from the opening pages of my novel Malibu Palms said, “You and the drunk guy who’s telling the story, you’re really the same people, aren’t you?”
My answer was quick: “I don’t work on boats, I’ve never solved a murder, I’m not trying to quit.” As usual, though, there is a longer and more complicated answer.
In my thirty years as a screenwriter I never wrote about myself. Didn’t care to. Wasn’t asked to. It was always he, she and it doing this or that. Sometimes they exchanged catchy dialogue.
Initially, I was hired to put third persons into comedies that ranged from features to series pilots, and included live action and animation for kids. Ten years of ever-dwindling paychecks went by before I realized I had to do what my agent at the time implied he wasn’t: “Resurrect your own career.” That became another agent’s saying, “You’ve always been known for action-adventure.” By the end it was potboilers and tearjerkers. The last gasp was sports specials.
At the turn of the millennium the people who had hired me were either dead or retired. The up-and-comers weren’t about to take a chance. In the entertainment industry youth wins all the prizes, and most people handing them out are childish. It didn’t make any difference that I had reached my mid-fifties with my inner child as immature as ever. My agent Lawson “I thought he was dead” Beavers said I was a Wooly Mammoth that needed to adapt to the new order and change the perception people had of me. He said, “Hook up with a young partner producers can relate to, much younger, preferably female and the darker the better because the big shots are Jews who feel guilty.”
He actually said that. I thought, OK, I’d sure like a Jewish agent, but I’m a pro; pros do what they have to do. I vetted candidate after candidate for the opportunity of becoming my writing partner. I was willing to share most of my good ideas, but she’d have to do the typing and take second billing afterwards because, hey, a ghetto girl should kiss my derrière for giving her a break, excuse my French.
Lawson broke silence again after seven or eight months. I was trying to tell him how happy I was about my progress when he cut me off with, “You mean no one wants to be your partner?” By then it was too late anyway. I had already jumped the career track by creating a web presence sans the tender mitigating effect of a feminine scrivener.
Looking at the blank fill-in boxes on MySpace had been like confronting the first page of a screenplay re-write. The big differences were that one had print on it, the other didn’t, and no producer was paying me to add character complexities to mud wrestlers. The profile questions were about my interests, my favorite music, my most memorable movie, my mood.
Color me strange. I held my breath and typed the first word.
For a moment I wondered whether that was really a word. It could be just the first letter for Indiana or Indigo. I worried about that until I realized it was first person singular!
I think…I wrote hesitantly…the music died when Gene Autry did.
The Aswan High Dam of selflessness broke. A veritable tsunami of creativity washed away the Malaysia of my third person writing.
After giving my orientation as basically married but interested in women who aren’t picky, I came across the phrase, “Create Your Own Blog.” Woah! That was like saying, “Do you want to be the Sheik of Arabee and tell everyone to اللعنه تذهب نفسك?”
I weighed in with my views and opinions, sometimes stuck to facts and gave the straight dope, which were remarkably like my views and opinions. I kept after it day after day, casting my pearls before swine, or if you will, chndering like an Australian into the Pacific and going right back for another Foster’s. Hate mail was swift in coming.
Dear sexist fascist pig,
You and your pals George Bush and James Dobson are the reasons why thinking people hate Christianity and will never vote Republican. You should have never been born.
You whining liberal prick. I wish I had aborted your father.
They were angry with the wrong person. By force of long habit I used every trick of third person stories to write about myself. I was alternatively polishing the gemstone of The Real Me, making myself, if possible, more charming, or irradiating this old lump of clay with fiction, creating Toxic Jeff.
Every time Toxic Jeff shows up as narrator, there is a grain of truth from The Real Me. Often when The Real Me tells a story, Toxic Jeff leaves sticky fingerprints. There must be psychological reasons for this mixture, but we’re happy-go-lucky guys either way and wouldn’t understand if you told us. We think we are more driven by Art. Whether in fiction or non-fiction authors must cut and paste, underline this, italicize that, edit and emphasize, balance the ying-yang with the sturm und drang.
For those mouth-readers who need a jacket blurb to explain a book, I will give you clues to how you can differentiate us. Generally, one can spot when The Real Me is in Fantasy Land by the story’s narrator mentioning that he went to USC. (Note for people who went to the University of Southern California: there is the University of South Carolina whose graduates already know that the initials could apply to your alma mater.) The Real Me spent his undergraduate years at Stanford, as well as in some other institutions. It was at Stanford that a fellow student explained the Pancake Theory of Knowledge, a kind of Avogadro’s Number for the liberal arts, that I describe in Krumline to the Rescue (Politicalmavens October. 2007). I couldn’t remember whether his last name started with a C or K, which was one reason to get fictional, but the accidental email that sparks the story really did appear on my computer one day. Having flunked Economics, I felt I needed to redeem myself by answering the email. But no, I hadn’t accrued gambling debts in college.
The truth meter goes up for Typing for the Pope. It takes some dips with The Sporting Life (Politicalmavens February 2007). The only reason truth takes a dive in any of my writing is that there are some people on this earth that even Toxic Jeff wants to protect because they could beat the crap out of him.
My agent, Lawson “I thought he was dead” Beavers is one who might hold a grudge. I have a friend who is a former Marine who told me about a colleague at work who was as close to him as a brother. My friend had the unfortunate duty of having to testify against his friend in court. The long sad story boils down to the headline, “Closet Coke Head Murders Wife.” World, meet Mr. Lawson Beavers, no longer serving time in the Big House but out and about in the screenplay Crazy chasing ambulances. The transition from attorney to agent was a snap. I just needed to indicate that my agent wasn’t swift about returning phone calls. Hence the nickname “I thought he was dead.”
Of course, in thirty years I’ve had number of agents, and Lawson “I thought he was dead” Beavers is a highly exaggerated compilation of the very worst traits of a mere handful.
Toxic Jeff is an ass-kisser. As such he knows he depends on The Real Me for his very existence, so he steps aside from time to time when I want to get serious, as in The Wedding, The War and The Speech and An Unknown Soldier (Politicalmavens August 2007). Whatever delusions of adequacy I have about being a humorist, they depend on my taking life seriously.
“Oh, look! The clown has a tear in his eye!” I heard that an exhibition of Tretchikoff paintins in South Africa and felt the comment could apply to me if I were in grease paint and had on a fright wig. Or as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles put it:
People say I’m the life of the party Because I tell a joke or two. Although I might be laughing loud and hearty, Deep inside I’m blue. So take a good look at my face. You’ll see my smile looks out of place. If you look closer, it’s easy to trace The tracks of my tears.
My freshman roommate Larry Doors had “Tracks of my Tears” looped on his tape recorder. It played over and over in our room. A girl had dropped me. I was failing Chemistry. I believed in the Vietnam War. I just didn’t want to go myself. I felt like the swill of creation. Sadness was my middle name.
That’s got nothing to do with being serious, though.
Toxic Jeff is a raging alcoholic whereas I never drink beyond excess. He has been married three or four times whereas I’ve been married to the same woman for forty years. (Though come to think of it, the girl I saw weeping at the altar has morphed into at least half a dozen women.) Toxic Jeff embraces change he can believe in, and he voted for Clinton twice. Contributing to why The Real Me will never work in this town again, I slammed my fist on the table at a Malibu dinner party and declared, “Anyone who voted for Bill Clinton a second time might as well have been sodomizing the Devil!”
See? I’ve just done it. I pretend like I’m writing about a real event, but The Real Me would never use the word “sodomize” in mixed company. No, ma’am, especially when there is a good old Anglo Saxon equivalent that the children can understand.
The first time I was aware of Toxic Jeff raising his head to howl at the Muses was in the short story Return of the Hun. In what is meant to be fiction, there are two points of solid fact. Squishy solid anyway.
The first is that the title refers to the story within the story. It is the film the narrator has written, and if it is to get made, he must satisfy a certain starlet named Tawny Golightly with revisions. In reality that fictional film was a series idea that Michael Van Landingham, Clarence Felder and I pitched to John Ritter’s manager.
Most recently Clarence has starred in All for Liberty, a film co-produced, co-written and directed by his wife, Christine Weartherhead. (By the way, when the narrator of Malibu Palms, tries to put words around what great acting is, he was inspired by my watching Chris in a play, stunned that whomever that lady on stage was, she couldn’t be the neighbor I took walks with.) In the past Clarence was a character actor who appeared in movies like The Last Boy Scout and The Hidden. The Hidden is a cult film for which kids in the hood always recognize him on the street and say how great he was as a police chief taken over by an alien who kills for kicks. (News flash: President Johnson’s War on Poverty - We Lost.) Clarence’s TV credits are as long as an orangutan’s arm, and because he had co-starred with Ritter in a short lived series called Hooperman, we were in the office of Ritter’s manager, smiling and nodding and pulling at our forelocks.
Michael was a Newport Beach surfer who went to high school with Clarence’s wife. Chris called Michael The Van Man. He was a car mechanic, a Maytag repairman, the founder of a Lake Tahoe writer’s conference, a clerk in photocopy store in New York City, roommate of a nobody actor named John Hurt, and co-founder with Oakley Hall II of Lexington Theater Company in the Catskills. Later Michael was instrumental in the creation of Capital Repertory Theatre, Albany, New York. When he tired of being a deficit fundraiser, Michael hopped his motorcycle and pointed it toward Los Angeles. He took over development for Chris-Rose Productions where I was working on an HBO movie.
Two of the six producers and the first director, whom I write about in Whatshisname Transforms a Young Life (Politicalmavens November 2006), all got fired. So did I. The reason was that the production company was run by… No need to name names. Let bygones be bygones, to coin a phrase, because Hell could freeze over and they still might hire you. Anyway, I was long enough on the project for Michael and I to go through the medicine cabinet in the executive washroom and discover Mr. Nameless was taking enough controlled and illegal substances to think my script was a writhing bug-filled horror. No wonder he fired me. The good that came out was that I became friends with Michael and met his wife, Susan Overstreet, an Orange County layout artist for biker magazines.
She had just given birth to their son, Willy. Michael was re-flooring their living room for their homecoming when he passed out. It was kidney failure due to a genetic defect that had killed his father when Michael was ten years old. Dialysis followed. I was visiting Michael during one of his thrice weekly runs at Hoag Hospital when we hit upon the series idea of two assistant professors accidentally bringing the Scourge of God from the Sack of Rome and planting him in a southern California college where he fits right in. We called it Return of the Hun.
Between dialysis runs, Michael carried a notebook organizer that he modified to hold his numerous medications. It pulsated with a small warning light to indicate times to pop pills. The light touched off the paranoia of Ritter’s manger who thought we were tape recording our meeting. I’ve tape-recorded lots of meetings. No big deal. But this time, as we were shown the door, it was certain that Clarence would not be playing The Hun to Ritter’s post-modern Professor Higgins.
The second fact is that I once spent an evening with an actress who really did have fifty-four pages marked for revisions in a script I had co-written. She asked me if I would modify scenes that had her lying down because, as she fetchingly explained, she was of an age when she no longer looked as hot on her back as she once did. I was smitten with her honesty.
End of real story.
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