Diary of a Late Bloomer
The first comment friends and family make when they discover that I’m working on a second (or third) memoir, is “Oh, that’s great” – followed almost immediately by the question:
“Am I in this one?”
When I mention that they say this almost immediately, I mean literally in the same breath.
“OH THAT’S GREAT AM I IN THIS ONE?”
No comma, no pause.
Really, why bother indicating interest in my artistic goals? Why bother congratulating me on my work ethic, or my desire to tell the tales of a life poorly lived? Clearly, this question demands an immediate answer, one that cannot wait for such trivial, seconds-burning matters as a compliment or expression of support.
Some seem excited at the prospect of becoming (well, in their eyes) a literary icon. Finally, they’ll have earned that largely undeserved 15 minutes. These are the ones who assume that Chris Hemsworth or Jennifer Lawrence would be the obvious choices to play them in the movie version.
Others gasp slightly or take on a somewhat menacing demeanor, likely fearful that I’m about to portray them as a troll who lives under a bridge. Veiled threats are made: “Did your dad ever find out about that loan you took out in his name?”
The people I’ve known the longest are generally the ones most concerned, since I’ve had a lot of time to accumulate dirt on them. People you’ve known since you were a teenager or young adult are the ones with whom you tended to do the most memorable stupidest things – like getting bad perms and wearing parachute pants, pounding long island iced teas and then falling out of a taxi, having sex with a stranger in a deli, or snorting coke and throwing up in a dumpster.
I didn’t do any of those things, of course. Okay, I didn’t do all of those things. But my friends did. And now, they’re a little nervous.
You see, this new memoir begins when I’m 16 – just the age when you start making really bad decisions. And my third memoir, which I’m working on now – covers my later 20’s and 30’s in Los Angeles, a time when most people grow up, but we, fortunately, did not. (Clean living does not make for a good story.)
I once asked my friend Kurt – when we were in our 20’s and going out in trashy overalls to a bar in West Hollywood, “When are we too old for this?” and he replied, “30. Definitely 30.”
Then, when we were in our early 30’s and going to a party at a gay bar in New Orleans in our underwear, I asked again. “When are we too old for this?” And he replied, “40. Definitely 40.”
I used to have an agreement with my older cousin that if either of us was walking through West Hollywood wearing Spandex when we were 50 years old, the other was allowed to drive by and shoot him. Luckily for him (?), he passed away of cancer at 49.
Most likely, by the time the third memoir is out, everyone will calm down, because most of the stupid mistakes and unfortunate life choices will have been made and exposed. And then they can get back to asking the really important question:
“Are you making money off me?”
I’d sooner stab myself in the eye than do a reading at a bookstore.
Don’t get me wrong: I love bookstores. And I love giving others the gift of hearing me read aloud. (Perhaps that’s why I’m not asked to appear more often.)
I just hate what’s required to deliver a worthy crowd of buyers.
Generally speaking, unless you’re J. K. Rowling, no one is camping out on the sidewalk to hear you read. No one is rushing the bookstore like vampires at a hemophiliac convention. They’re not having to add extra security when 12 people – including a homeless dude who thinks the self-help section is the men’s room – are listening to you tell a story about your best friend throwing up behind a dumpster after you fed him cocaine cut with baby powder.
For those of us who don’t have million-fan followings, bookstore events are stressful.
With that in mind, I herewith present to you:
An Author’s Bookstore Reading Checklist
- Gather dirt on friends. When dropped casually into conversations, this information can be used to subtly influence their decision to attend. (“I know what you mean about being crazed. I’ve been fending off gossip all week about some woman you were seen sucking face with at Chez Louis. People can be so nasty.”)
- If your circle consists of friends whose hands (and other parts) are clean, refine the art of begging and pleading. I find that statements like, “If I don’t get 50 people at my reading, I’m going to set myself on fire right next to the adult coloring books.” Guilt is generally effective, especially if they’re Catholic or Jewish. No one wants a burn victim on their conscience.
- Wine works. Most people – even those who haven’t cracked a book since Green Eggs and Ham – will show up for an event where free hooch is served. And research shows that drunk people buy more, even if they tend to wander off in search of the toilet right in the middle of your literary climax.
- When all else fails, pay. There are randos you can hire on Craigslist to show up and act interested. Tip: pay AFTER the reading, and be sure they haven’t replaced the title page that you would normally sign with a parole form.
My new book just sold to Audible. I guess you could call it, Excuse Me – the Ears Edition.
I’m really excited about this, because my first book was never made into an audiobook. Now, I feel like I’ve arrived. It means my words are good enough to be spoken aloud, like the Gettysburg address or a felony conviction.
I don’t know yet if I’ll be reading it or if some actor will be playing me. If it’s someone else, I hope he’s audibly hot. I’m thinking Channing Tatum. But funnier.
If it’s me, I’ve already made up my list of actor demands for the recording session, which include an unopened bottle of water and lunch from Chipotle. I wanted to demand chili from Chasen’s (like Elizabeth Taylor did when they were filming Cleopatra in the 60’s, and they had to fly it over to her every day), but Chasen’s closed like 20 years ago, so it probably wouldn’t be that fresh.
If the role isn’t played by me, it might end up feeling a little weird, driving around and listening to my life as told by someone else. But maybe that will give me objectivity. I’ll be able to step back and think, “Wow, this guy is f***ed up!” without all the attendant worrying about what I should do about it.
It’s sort of thrilling to think that my story might provide hours of ear candy for truckers trying to stay awake and people working their glutes on an elliptical. Maybe I’ll save a life. Or create some really tight butts. Either one is exciting. (As you can see, the bar is somewhat low.)
Finally, I can say, “Why, yes, I’m an Audible Author.” Then I can sniff with superiority at the brilliant authors whose substantive tomes on subjects like the war in Syria and reproductive rights were not produced on audio.
Sure, they have the intellectual upper hand. Sure, they have the moral and philosophical upper hand.
But I have an audiobook.
Playing field: LEVELED.
I met my first agent, a few years back, at a writer’s conference in Maui.
She was young and blond and beautiful and straight.
I was not.
At the time, the Maui Writer’s Conference did this brilliant thing: they’d have you post the first 10 pages of your book online, and the various agents and editors who were attending would read the submissions in advance and let you know if they were interested. (They later stopped doing that, probably because, for the agents and editors, that’s a shit ton of work just to snag a free trip to Maui.)
But I was thrilled: two agents had already requested the full manuscript of my memoir before I got to the conference. And I was determined to meet both of them and win them over with my charm enthusiasm desperation.
One of the agents, Becka, who was with William Morris Endeavor (WME, as they’re known), was speaking on a panel on the first day of the conference. After the panel, I crept up nervously to introduce myself. She took one look at my name tag, and before I could say a word, she threw her arms around me.
“I love your book!”
These words were, to me, the equivalent of saying, “Move over, Chris Hemsworth, there’s a new hunk in town!”
I never even bothered to meet the second agent.
Becka sold my first book to Penguin. The brilliant Amy Einhorn (The Help and lots of other bestsellers) was my editor. The book got a 4-star review in People Magazine and was featured on the Today Show. Various celebrities blurbed it.
Then WME’s TV division took over, and it was optioned by Sony Pictures Television and Adam Sandler’s production company. My book was being developed as a sitcom.
It was everything I had ever wanted.
And it all was about to fall apart.
After the book was optioned, they sold the pitch to ABC, and a pilot script was written.
But the elements that made the book unique (an OCD, temperamental mother, a son who pretends to be Endora from Bewitched) had been removed or toned way down. (This criticism is, incidentally, NO disrespect to the very talented people involved. I’m sure there were reasons.)
So, ABC picked up The Goldbergs instead.
The TV series was dead.
Then book sales stalled.
Then Becka decided to quit the agent business and move out of New York. And I was passed along to another agent at WME, for whom I was the ugly stepchild. And I don’t mind being a stepchild, but I draw the line at ugly.
We had lunch in New York, and I pitched him on a follow-up memoir I was working on.
“Nah,” he said. “What else you got?”
What. Else. You. Got.
Those four words sent me staggering off into the wilderness. For a long time. I felt just like Jesus, but without the sandals and bad hair.
Nobody wanted what I was selling.
“Well,” I reassured myself, trying to find a bright side, “at least I have my day job.” Which was reasonably creative and didn’t, on most days, make me want to gouge my eyes out with a fork.
You can probably guess what happened next.
After 15 years, the department I managed was shut down and I was laid off.
I was now out of work, with no literary agent and no future in publishing. I had not only struck out, I had lost the entire game. (Yes, I’m using a sports analogy and I can barely swing a bat. Sue me.)
Fortunately, even though I had decided nobody wanted another book from me, I had continued to write, and finished the second memoir.
I had also written a handful of children’s books, which resided in the metaphorical “drawer” next to the memoir.
Then, one day, something happened.
My favorite way to take a lunch break was to eat at my desk, and then go lay down and read for a while. So I decided to pull out the second memoir and re-read it.
And as I did, a little voice inside me said, “Send this out”.
So, I queried several agents.
And within a few weeks, I had a new agent, at Curtis Brown.
This wonderful woman is, essentially, a brunette Becka – adorable and smart and has such great bedside manner I’d let her operate on me.
And now, that second memoir is set to come out in May.
I guess the moral of the story is, when it comes to diligence, be like me. I never, ever stopped writing.
But when it comes to taking criticism, DON’T BE LIKE ME. One guy who doesn’t get you does not mean nobody will.
And really, don’t you want your own phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes story to tell at high school reunions? Talk about a backdoor brag.
I have a candy dish on my desk at work.
This was something I initiated when I first started at my job years ago. It would, I thought at the time, encourage my co-workers to feign interest in me for at least as long as it took them to plunge their sticky hands into the bowl and snatch a Snickers bar.
And indeed, it worked. People from all over the floor stopped by to pretend to ask about my day, to tell me their problems in excruciating detail, and to generally stick around just long enough to assuage their guilt at using me for chocolate. I developed relationships – albeit ones predicated on giving people free shit – that I might not have otherwise.
But then, something began to happen.
People would come in to grab “just a taste”, as they would whisper when I was on the phone, and then, when I looked away to Purell the receiver or polish an award, they’d grab three more “tastes”.
They’d announce that they had been sent by a laundry list of people who were having chocolate emergencies, and would scoop up enough candy bars to require an insulin pump.
And I would come back from lunch to find the bowl – which had just been filled up that morning – empty. Save for some weird streaks apparently left by someone attempting to lick it.
Okay, maybe I’m just being petty. After all, isn’t human interaction what we all crave? Aren’t emotional bonds and friendships what life is all about? Aren’t those gifts that more than offset the cost of some stupid Milky Ways and Butterfingers?
And really, what is a moment where a co-worker tells you about her uterine cancer worth? How can you assess a “value” to someone sharing the story of her boyfriend stealing all her stuff and leaving town? What possible “price tag” could you assign to someone who texts you the photo of the girl they just hooked up with on Tinder and then comes in to give you, pardon the pun, the blow by blow?
I’m gonna say $29.95.
So that’s $89.85. This candy costs me about $250 a year.
The rest of these greedy bastards better pay up.
What song do you want played at your funeral?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I hope it’s not an omen. I mean, I eat right, work out, and play tennis. (Yes, I’m sporty now. Shut up.) But you never know. And I’d like to be prepared. I mean, everyone will naturally be distraught and devastated, and I don’t want them screwing this up.
So I started asking people for ideas.
My best friend suggested Highway to Hell, which I thought was a little rude. If anybody’s in the carpool lane or selling oranges on the offramp, it’s him.
One of my employees recommended Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead. I’m sure he was kidding, and for the moment he still has a job.
And then, last night, I was re-watching an episode of Smash, the TV series from last year about the making of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe. And Katharine MacPhee sang the finale number from the show (after Monroe dies), called Don’t Forget Me.
THIS, people, is a funeral song. It will yank the tears right out of your unsuspecting ducts. And it has a BIG finish. This is no plaintive, molasses-slow Wind Beneath My Wings ballad. It’s an 11-o’clock number that positively screams standing ovation.
And really, don’t you want people to stand, clapping and whistling, when you’re dead?
At 6:25 a.m. this morning, I was on the elliptical machine in our guest room, minding my own business, when suddenly, I appeared to be riding a bike on a Tilt-a-Whirl.
This was immediately followed by the thought everyone has during an earthquake: “Am I about to die, or can I finish this?” Followed immediately by: “Thank God I’m not sitting on the toilet, because, I mean, really.”
As the morning wore on, friends from around the country began to text and send Facebook messages.
“Are you okay?”
“Oh my God, is your house still standing?”
“That must have been soooo frightening.”
“I’d be scared shitless right now.”
I sighed. It was a 4.4. Yeah, it was a shock, for about ten seconds. Then, you walk around the house, straighten a few picture frames, and go back to working your glutes.
At first, I blamed the media for whipping this minor earthquake into a media event, terrifying out-of-towners with nightmarish notions of crumpled buildings and flattened cars.
And then, I realized the truth: those friends and family in the Midwest and east weren’t traumatized. They were enjoying a well-deserved moment of revenge, a chance to rub our sun-kissed noses in our perfect California weather. It was, plain and simple, a chance to even the score.
But that’s ok. We here in LA understand your petty, small-minded behavior. And we forgive you. After all, 19 feet of snow in one winter will do that to a person.
I work at a big TV network, which, as you can imagine, is a nonstop orgy of glitz.
Yesterday, for example, I was walking past a friend’s office when she called me in. She and two other women were whispering urgently. Maybe they’re trying to decide who to invite to the Emmys this year, I thought. After all, isn’t that why we work in such a sophisticated, glamorous business?
“How may I provide excellent service?” I asked.
“As the token ‘mo,” my friend said to me, referring to the fact that I am, weirdly, the only gay guy in the department, “it is incumbent upon you to do something about the straight guys around here. They dress like they’re attending a monster truck rally.”
I sighed. It was true. The men in this department tended to dress as if they were fleeing a burning hotel at 3 a.m.
“What do you want me to do about it?” I replied. “I try to serve as a model of good taste. I can’t exactly ram it down their throats.” (I expected one of them to thank me for teeing up that line, but nothing.)
“You need to hold a seminar.”
Here, then, is my four point tutorial on DRESSING FOR SUCCESSING.
1) Dockers should only be the province of men for whom said waterfront pier provides employment.
2) Shower sandals are considered footwear only by those attired in bath sheets.
3) When a shirt is marked down 80%, all those people who didn’t buy it are trying to tell you something.
4) If you believe that your work apparel should express itself with clever phrases and puns, remember that you’re barely interesting enough yourself; pretty much no one wants to hear from your clothes.