Why the Internet is Winning

I do most of my shopping online because I live in Los Angeles, and Los Angeles excels at making everything much more difficult than it needs to be. Film shoots beget street closures beget gridlock beget aneurysms. If you somehow make it to the store, you find a Thunderdome atmosphere overstuffed with people enraged it took them 20 minutes to find a parking spot, and you are in their fucking way. No, thanks. I’d rather be a shut-in.

But I received a Barnes & Noble gift card from my mother for Hanukkah, and I thought, “I haven’t been to a book store in awhile. I used to love going to book stores, and I miss them a lot. This will be fun.” I found myself in Santa Monica on a recent Sunday for a brutal and bloody afternoon of War of the Ring with an old friend. After the battle cries ended, I ventured to the Santa Monica Promenade, an ongoing social experiment pitting an army of homeless people against an invading horde of tourists in a crowded outdoor mall. Who will win?

I avoided the car-pinball parking structures and managed a street spot near Barnes & Noble. Signs announced that I would be towed if I didn’t move my car by 5 PM. It was 4:15. I had plenty of time. Or I should have. I walked down the street, into the store, past the not-smiling security guards and up the two escalators to the Science Fiction & Fantasy section.

WoolFirst item on my list: Shift by Hugh Howey, the follow-up to his completely captivating Wool. (I lost more sleep to this book than any in recent memory, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Drug pushers should take lessons in addictiveness from Howey.) Given the holidays had just passed, I didn’t expect fully stocked shelves, but I found inventory thin enough to make Calista Flockhart envious. No Shift for me.

I did manage to find a few titles after poking around. With only one book left on my list, I set out to find Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. I have been reading her blog a lot lately and was super-excited to read her bizarro life stories in book form. I rode the two escalators back down to the ground floor, thinking that’s where Humor lived. Nope. A sales associate led me back up to the second floor, located the section and a hardback copy of the book. I had wanted paperback, and she told me I could find it downstairs on a display table. I rode the escalator back down, wandered around and found a table with hardback copies – no paperback.

Time ticking away, frustration building, and tow truck images flashing through my mind, I decided Allie Brosh would have to wait. I queued up to pay and soon found myself face-to-face with a gentleman who asked me if I’d found everything okay. “Actually,” I said. “I’m looking for a paperback copy Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, and I couldn’t find it.” He actually sighed. And then he said something like, “You can’t come to the front of the line and then expect us to help you find something. You need to talk to customer service over there.” He pointed a customer service desk near the elevator. He continued, “Do you want to go talk to them now?”

I can’t say that’s his exact quote, but it was the gist. He had asked if I had found everything I needed and then refused to help me find anything. The guy was a dick. If I remember correctly, he also had a goatee and a beret… a fucking beret.

I paid and walked over to customer service. To their credit, they weren’t dicks. The kind woman told me to go back up to the third floor and look for a table called “Laugh Out Loud,” and I’d find the book there. So I rode the two escalators back upstairs, checking my watch, now imagining calling my girlfriend, asking her to drive an hour to get my car out of a Santa Monica impound lot. But I wanted that book, dammit.

Hyperbole and a HalfI wandered the third floor for awhile, checking every table I could find for “Laugh Out Loud.” No luck. I wasn’t laughing out loud. I was getting “Muttering Under My Breath Angry.” I eventually told another customer service associate what I was looking for. She sighed loudly and said that they had taken the “Laugh Out Loud” table down, but she guessed that customer service on the first floor didn’t know that. Apparently, customer service had divided into warring clans, and I was to be a non-combatant casualty. The woman called first-floor customer service, and then I rode more escalators. And there, sitting on the customer service counter, were paperback copies of Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half. Holy fucking shit! I grabbed one, paid for it, and got the hell out of there. And no, I didn’t get towed.

I used to like stores. I spent much of my young adult life working retail – fond memories, mostly – and am sad to see that world eroding away. But this visit to Barnes & Noble couldn’t have been a clearer indicator as to why. Lousy customer service and poor inventory don’t make happy customers. The whole process of buying a few books took over a half-hour, many sales associates, two loud sighs and probably twenty escalator rides. It would have taken five minutes online.

P.S. Hyperbole and a Half is completely hilarious and great, well worth the effort to locate. I had to set the book down five times just reading the first story because I couldn’t stop laughing. Brosh’s sharp wit and ridiculous illustrations support surprisingly poignant and insightful stories, all of them worth your time. Get it!

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Waiting for the Guy

Our landlord said the guy would be here between 8 and 9 this morning. It’s 9:07, and he (assuming it’s a he) is still not here. Is he ever going to show up? Is he okay? Should I call someone? The coffee isn’t helping. I should probably drink less coffee. Definitely should drink less coffee.

Our apartment has stuff that needs fixing. The grout around our bathtub is disintegrating. In my mind this means the walls and tile will erode away, and the tub will eventually fall into the earth. Granted, water damage is more realistic, but I’d rather not deal with either scenario. In addition to the tub, the support mechanisms under a kitchen drawer broke a couple months ago. I fixed it by propping it up with a commemorative DVD tin of Repo Man. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t say “fixed.”

Repo ManI could probably repair some of these things myself, but we rent. And I’m not good at repairing. Our landlord would rather send someone out than have me make things worse. I recently tried to unclog our bathroom drain with a stick-thing I ordered from Amazon. I’m pretty sure the stick-thing just shoved the blockage farther down the pipe and plugged the drain completely. This did not make our landlord happy.

So now I wait. I’m fine with idle time, but I’m trying to be less idle these days. I’m diving back into fiction, but it’s been a painful process so far. As we all know, a surefire way to manifest the guy would be to start trying to write something. So no fiction. This will likely derail all attempts at writing for the day because creativity can be a fickle and fragile thing.

I can’t do laundry because our laundry room elsewhere in our apartment building. What if the guy comes while I’m putting my clothes in the wash? And what could be worse than missing the guy?

I also can’t go anywhere because we have a dog. Her name is Sparkle. Sparkle HATES it when anyone comes to the door. She loses her fucking mind. UPS: “Hi, I’m a nice delivery person bringing you that cool thing you ordered from Amazon.” Sparkle: “Die, motherfucker! Die! Die! Die!” She’s all talk, though. As soon as anyone comes inside, she just wants to say hello and hang out with them.

9:17 AM

Multiple guys arrived. I explained the problem, and the guys are now working with gusto. A painter is also scheduled to come by tomorrow. Shit is happening!

I should probably work on my patience. I should probably also write.

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Put Your Phone Away

Please? I was really excited to see this movie, and now you’re ruining it. The light from your phone illuminates the theater like the beam from the Luxor. It’s distracting, and it rips me out of the experience of enjoying the film. I can clearly see that you’re texting someone, and I can almost make out the words. You put the phone away after a minute, but then it’s back out moments later for more texting.

Texting

I whisper a couple times, “Can you please put away your phone?” You ignore me, of course. I say it louder, “Put your phone away!” You look back angrily, as if I’m bothering you. But you’re bothering me and everyone else, and you don’t have the right. You’re not home in your living room. You’re in a crowded theater full of people who have paid real money to watch this film. Instead, we’re watching you text.

A few minutes later, I go get a meek employee from the concessions stand. She tries to talk to you, but you insist on standing up and getting in my face, threatening me. You put your hand on my arm, and I shake it off. The theater employee intervenes, and I go back to my seat. The employee and security talk to you for awhile in hushed whispers while you glare at me. By now, you’ve completely wrecked the movie for me. The ruckus we’ve created has probably ruined the movie for many of the other folks in the theater, as well. Thanks for making me into an asshole.

At least you keep your phone off for the rest of the film.

As the credits roll, you get up, come over and say something about wanting to see me outside. I do my best to ignore you, and you go away eventually. I always watch the credits because I like to see the names of everyone who dedicated so much time and energy to make the movie, the movie you just ruined. This also buys me a little time. Maybe you’ll cool off. Maybe you’ll go away. Leaving the theater, I request a refund and ask for security to escort me to my car. People can be crazy, and you’ve clearly demonstrated you’re a hothead asshole with something to prove. I’m not a fighter, and you might have a knife or worse. Fortunately, you’re gone. And that’s the end of it.  Until the next time I try to enjoy a movie at the theater, that is.

Will you put your phone away? Please?

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Write Some More

2012, you did me right.  I got engaged to the girl of my dreams.  My sister had a beautiful and healthy baby boy.  My brother married a wonderful lady.  I wrote a bunch.  I worked with cool friends on a job I really enjoyed.  I visited Seattle, Portland and Connecticut, and I partied in Vegas and Disneyland.  I watched some awesome and inspiring films.  I shared a lot of nice memories with family and friends.  And I’m still alive.  All in all, I’m happy and thankful for how it went.

2013I have a lot to look forward to in 2013 (like actually marrying that dream girl), but I’m struggling with my writing direction.  I know I’m not alone.  With New Year’s resolutions comes pressure to change and make shit actually happen.  Maybe I’m just in my head, but I can’t seem to get my feet planted to push forward.  I’ve spent way too much time on the internet hamster wheel these first couple weeks and not enough time doing the real work.  I even grew a mustache.  If that’s not a cry for help, I don’t know what is.

Currently, I have three completed specs, two pilots and a novel.  I also have two scripts I’m revising.  Response to one has been positive, and the other one needs work.  I have a couple scripts out to a contest, and I’ve got a couple more up on InkTip.  I’ve also been sending out queries.  I got a nibble today, but it’s been otherwise quiet.  Some days, I might as well be folding letters into paper airplanes and tossing them into the Grand Canyon.

I know I need to revise my current scripts, and I will.  I also know I should keep querying, despite the seemingly futile emptiness of it.  And I will.  But should I keep writing new specs?  What’s the point of writing specs if no one reads them?

Should I be focusing my energy on treatments instead?  Should I double-down on queries?  Should I get back to prose?  Write shorts?  Buy a camera and shoot my own thing?  Learn to draw and create a web comic?  Should I?

I know the answer: I need to keep doing what I’m doing.  Not to say that I shouldn’t try other things, perhaps broaden my portfolio a bit, but that doesn’t mean putting aside my current projects and past work.  I will keep writing because that next script could be the one that kicks open the door.  Even if it doesn’t, it will be a little better than the one before it, and I will continue to learn and grow as a writer.  I saw small progress this year; I have writing samples I didn’t have before, and I even made a couple worthwhile contacts.  I just need to keep working and building, and more good will follow.

This is an almost impossible business to break into.  I often imagine a city dotted with glowing screens across from screenwriters who are smarter, more educated and better connected than I am.  And they’re not just here, they’re spread across the world.  How do I compete with them?  How do I stand out?  I keep at it.  I keep on.  I write, and then I write some more.

And I shave off this ridiculous mustache.

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