Let me see if I can paint the past week for you really quickly.
OCTOBER 29. Monday. We get to work knowing it’ll probably be our last week of work. We are frantically writing what will be our final script. Pencils down is coming soon. We are hoping against hope that a strike will be avoided. Everybody’s tense. Our show airs tonight, the third episode, and if it does as well as it has been going, we’re looking like we’ll get a full-season order. Everything you dream of as a working writer might just happen… just in time to walk out of the offices.
I debate for hours, literally hours, about finally going to a meeting to sign up as our official strike captain. I ask other people on staff if they’ll do it, or if they’re interested. Most people say to me that since I am sympathetic to every person’s situation in the room, and because I’m the most passionate about both striking and working, they’d rather I was the one in charge. Besides, I’m the one who’s had all of the information. And I’ve done this before. For years now. I walked the line with Top Model (I would love to post a link but my archives are terribly broken. Can someone help me fix Moveable Type? AB’s very busy with her strike duties!). I helped with the early organization for Comedy Central, which led to several shows going Guild.
[I just heard a group of high schoolers marching outside on their way home from school, shouting, “Strike! Strike! Right, left, right! Strike! Strike! Right, left, right!” Thanks for the solidarity, my friends.]
I go to the strike captain meeting. I ask several questions. I get a notebook. I’m in. It’s happening. I’m doing exactly what I resisted doing, because I know how involved I get. These past few days of updates should tell you, I can’t just do something a little.
OCTOBER 30 — Tuesday. The numbers for episode three were even better than we’ve had in the past two. This doesn’t usually happen. We get to work to find out that the network has picked us up for the back nine. This should be a huge celebration. This is celebrated very, very quietly. With a heavy heart. Because there might not ever be that back nine. Does this mean we have jobs to come back to when the strike ends? Not necessarily.
OCTOBER 31 — Wednesday. The script. The script. Keep working on the script. Try not to think about it. Try not to be upset. At midnight the contract expires. We have until midnight to get this script right. And then it might be pencils down. It’s tense. It’s frustrating. There is no good news.
Ironically, it was seven years ago today that I left Austin in my Honda Civic with Eric and Chris, headed to Los Angeles to try and make it as a writer and performer. I headed out with just about nothing, not even a script. Just a lot of hope.
I get an email from Eric. Pictures of his brand new twins. Our lives went in very different directions.
I won the football pool several months ago, and I have been promising the writers’ assistants and PA’s that we’d get together to spend it on a few drinks after work. It hasn’t calmed down for a second. Tonight, in the weird calm while we wait to find out if there’s a strike, we can actually get a couple of drinks. We’re sad, because this would have been a fun tradition. And now it might be the last time we can do it.
NOVEMBER 1 — The contract has expired, and we are asked to assemble that night at the convention center, one block from where I got married, to find out what’s going to happen. Seven years to the day that I arrived in Los Angeles, I’m driving on the same stretch of highway to find out that I might not have a job anymore. And that’s exactly what happens. A strike has been called. Like a punch to my gut. The crowd is rowdy, loud, anxious, knowing what we’re fighting for, not knowing what’ll happen tomorrow.
I remind myself that I’ve known this was coming for a year, at least. I knew about it when we were negotiating with Comedy Central. I knew this strike was coming when Top Model was thrown under the bus. I knew they knew this strike was coming. I’d been saving. I’d paid off my student loan during Mencia. My car was paid off during Hot Properties. I’ve got bills, I help my family back in Connecticut, I’ve got expenses I couldn’t have imagined just a few months ago. But I’ll be okay. For a little while.
We get an email from the Guild suggesting we clean out our offices by the end of the day.
NOVEMBER 2 — Friday. Last day. Comedy writers try to be funny about it all, but this is no joke. Every script change is critical. When someone pitches something lousy, or something meant to be crude, we shout, “Pencils down! That’s it! It’s in!” I joke that we should put up a card at the beginning of Act Four that reads, “It was during this time that the Writers Strike was called. This Act Four is a first draft, and all we could get out before Pencils Down.” And then just a chaotic five minutes of television, with people saying, “Joke to come” and “I’m supposed to do something here that justifies why I’m holding this prop that will be used in the next scene” and “Shit, I can’t remember what this joke was because it was pitched two weeks ago, but if we were allowed to go back through the notes and find it, I promise you what I was about to say here is seriously funny and makes the whole thing that much more enjoyable. Emmy!”
But we had to clean out our offices. And hug. And hope we’ll get to go back there soon. Our show was on a forced hiatus that week, so we couldn’t even say goodbye to the cast and crew. I loaded up my car with my things, and Jenny’s things, as she never got a chance to clean out her office. I hugged everyone and hoped I would see them soon, and not outside the building.
NOVEMBER 3 — Saturday. I am at the Guild for a three-hour meeting to find out how we’re mobilizing, what to tell everyone, how to prepare, what to say, what to do.
That night I join some friends for more strike talk. It goes late into the night.
NOVEMBER 4 — Sunday. I’m driving home and it’s two in the morning and I’m on the 101 south when a car swerves in front of me to reveal a car parked in the center lane of the highway. I slam on my brakes, but there’s nothing more I can do. Bam. My airbags go off, there’s a weird sound in the car, and traffic is going past me at ridiculous speeds on all sides. I’m okay, but that’s all I know. I’m alive. I don’t understand how. My hood is up by my shattered windshield. How am I okay?
I’m alive. The people in the other car are okay. Miraculously, a tow truck appears behind me and keeps anyone from smashing into me. I call stee, and he drives to where I am. They shut down the highway. Ambulances, fire engines. I see stee unloading Jenny’s things from the trunk of my smashed-up car into his car. The CHP tells me that there wasn’t anything I could do to avoid the accident, and that I’m lucky to be alive, and that everybody’s walking away from this thing. The woman who stopped her car on the highway says she got a flat tire and she was scared to move over, and just stopped her car. I fall asleep at five in the morning, after filing with my insurance company.
I can only sleep for a couple of hours. I’m up, jittery, anxious, still grateful to be alive. No car. Can’t go anywhere. People call to check up on me. Offer rides. Bring food. Be with me. Stay with me. I try to sleep, but I can’t. I make an appointment with my doctor. I don’t want to go to the emergency room. I want my doctor, because he’ll know if I’m okay. I have health care. Thank you, Writers Guild. I organize my team and we’re showing up on Monday morning. Alex sends an email: “Carpoolers. It’s not just a hit show, it’s who we are! I’ll pick you up in the morning.”
There are rumors that the strike will be averted before midnight. They negotiate from ten in the morning, until the strike is called on the east coast at nine pm. We get an email. Negotiations fell apart. STRIKE ON.
NOVEMBER 5 — Monday. I’m picked up, bruised and swollen, and I head to my gate. I hold a sign, direct traffic, and get things moving. I pass out shirts. I sign people in. I get into an altercation with security (see earlier post). I’m in strike mode.
Dan picks me up and takes me to the doctor. My doctor gives me a stern lecture, both on not going immediately to the hospital from the scene, and for being on strike. He sends me to an orthopedic specialist who gives me x-rays. He gives me the all-clear, and tells me I’m doing the right thing by striking. Beverly Hills, man. It’s crazy. He gives me Vicodin and says this: “Right now you’re in some kind of weird happy mode because you’re not dead and you’re busy with the strike. You have a lot on your plate right now, but I want you to know that in the next few days you’re going to be in a lot of pain, and the trauma of what you went through yesterday might hit you emotionally. It might start hurting everywhere, and I want you to be prepared for that. All this energy you have, all this passion… you might want to be aware that it might suddenly just end. And that’s okay. You were in a bad ass auto accident, and you really did a number on your body. It just isn’t letting you know yet because you’re focused on this. Take care of yourself.”
I start taking the Vicodin, but only when I’m not on the picket line.
So in one day I went from living the Hollywood dream to: No job, no car, and on drugs. I lived an entire True Hollywood Story in twenty-four hours.
And THAT’s why I’m fighting for residuals, pension and health care. Because in a flash, everything can change. I’m lucky as hell. I loved my car, but it saved my life. And as soon as I’m able to buy a car? When we’re not on strike? My ass is getting another Honda.