Monthly Archives: February 2009

Little Big Man

I got a call a few weeks ago about an old script of mine, The Big Break. I get calls about it every once in awhile. I wrote it after my first pitch trip to LA. It’s about a hack writer from Boston (he writes things like kung fu fighting mimes) who becomes the biggest writer in the industry when all the other writers die in an earthquake. Haven’t, obviously, sold it but I’ll never fail to take a meeting.

Maybe I should rethink that.

I’ve had meetings in opulent office and oppressive rooms; top flight restaurants and greasy burger shacks; the upper most floors in hotels and motels where I feared touching the floor.

I’ve dealt with fawning and blustering people; ones who were in it to cast their mistress; others who had the money but not the brains of an athletic sock.

So, as you can see, I’m ready for anything.

I meet this guy in a mid-range restaurant, not a chain but not far afield. I could tell almost immediately that this guy was a wanna be writer. I know that because he must have had more pages of notes on the script than actual script pages. He wanted to change so much I asked why he was interested.

“Why don’t you just write one of your own?”

“I’m not a writer. I’m an idea man. That’s why I’m a producer.”

Oh, I understand now. He has a large bowl of affliction alphabet soup and can’t squeeze out the concentration it would take to pound out ninety or a hundred pages.

It didn’t take long to figure out that he was also an ‘amaducer’. That’s what I call amateurs who don’t have what it takes to be a producer.

We chat for a while and, while I offer to sell him the script so he can do whatever he’d like with it, that’s not what he wants. I’m sure he doesn’t know exactly what it is he wants so he starts to toss a fit. Not a big one, he’d be too embarrassed for that, but one that proved all he wanted to do was toss some money at his ego.

I’d had enough so told him so. I told him maybe he should take some of his money and hire someone with production experience because,

“You shouldn’t put a little dick in the big chair.”


Amazingly, you don’t find many films with curling or table tennis storylines but when you put them together they make a funky, bad ass movie night.

Men with Brooms

The cartoon ‘The Wild’ had a scene where there was curling that was pretty funny but I didn’t see anything but that clip.

Balls Of Fury

Odd Day

Not my oddest, I’ll admit, but pretty damn odd even for me.

It started with my having to deal with a stupid person. Not average, ‘oh, they may have trouble understanding how water can be hard AND soft’ person. I’m talking ‘playing fetch with a dog, faking the throw, hiding the ball behind your back which confuses and astounds the animal’ dumbfounded.

You know that look dogs give you when you pull this trick? For the eighth time in three minutes? That confused, startled, asphalt dull, six degrees lower than room temperature look? Yeah, that stupid.

After such a joyous start what else would you expect of my day? Oddness as I’ve previously stated.

We’re pitching TV show ideas. Pitching is tedious, odious, atrabilious work to me. Which is why I’m not rich. I can’t wrap my head around talking about something which the person I’m speaking to has read or at least had someone draw pictures of so they could understand.

It’s a good thing I’m not the lead on pitching. Mainly I’m left alone to do re-writes and things of that ilk. Not that that often makes sense (I was once asked if I could make a character a black nun. The character they wanted to change was a Mexican drug lord) but it’s a task I am capable of.

But today’s request was odd even for this industry.

“Chris,” is how trouble often begins. “We need you to flesh out an idea.”

“K’. What?”

Turns out I was requested to write an entire thirty minute script. Okay. By the end of the day. Yeah, okay. For a reality show. Yeah, okay, huh?

Ummm, am I missing something here? The show we pitched wasn’t one of those scripted reality shows. It’s why we like the idea. Very little writing involved (“Hi, I’m Flaubert Von Estersmoten, welcome to Idiots Who Can’t Live Off Camera!”). We’re lazy but we want money.

“A script? Dialog and scenes? For a reality show we summed up in less than twenty five words?”

“By Five.”


I did it though. I figure if I’m allowed to bitch about pitching I have to bite the bullet on something.

Later I walked into a TV studio to do a shoot. The crew was there, I was walking in with the producers, our name was on the scheduling board, it’s a simple procedure done often.

“What are you doing here, Chris?” Asked someone who, obviously, knows me. Although it may not sound like a stupid question it is. He is also quite friendly with the producers of said show standing right next to me. So, I look this guy, who runs the place, by the way, and say,

“I’m here to do the commentary track for the DVD release of my colonoscopy.”

I love when their eyes vibrate due to brain shift.

Just when I think my day is winding down I get a frantic call from a friend. He’s doing some project and wants me to see a guy he’s auditioning. Why am I involved if he’s auditioning him? It seems the guy lives here so wants someone he trusts (funny how often last minute favors hinge on trust, huh?) to see the guy read.

Be still my heart! I don’t think the old ticker can handle it!

I ask, because I’m trusted, who and where. Turns out the guy will be at a restaurant down the street. Fuck. I figure I’m going to be dealing with a waiter who’s going to squeeze me in between delivering the appetizer and entree.

I ask who the guy is and he says, “Bob.” I ask what he looks like and he says, “Big.” Oh yeah, I know him.


But, this time it’s odd with beer.

“Chris.” A guy pats me on the shoulder. It takes a second for me to realize I knew this guy twenty years ago. He wouldn’t remember me because, what I’m sure of is, he wouldn’t remember much from that time in his life.

I’m sure if you’ve a fan of a certain very famous TV show you’d recognize him. He wasn’t a major character but had some pretty memorable scenes.

After bitching about the copy of the script his manager gave him (if he said “Why didn’t they just give me sides? All I need was sides. They gave me a full script but I wanted my sides.” one more time I’d wished he was a waiter just so he had to go to the kitchen to get sides and I could catch a break) we get to the part where the reading was to commence.

We got to that point because I took his script (which I’d never seen nor knew anything about) and pointed out where in the script his character had to speak.

Somewhat calmed, he told me he only had about twenty minutes before he had his set. Turns out he was doing two shows tonight. He asked if I wanted to stay, I asked how much his set had changed in twenty years.

I’m not sure but I had a feeling my invitation was withdrawn.

He started reading and, holy fucking shit. Don’t get me wrong, I have dyslexia but this guy’s reading ability was not very good.

It wasn’t that he was doing a cold reading, it was the fact he was having trouble pronouncing almost every word. I could feel him struggle but he finally got through it.

When he looked up I didn’t know how I was going to report this. I could tell he knew what I was thinking and smiled.

“Don’t worry, I can do the part. I’ll have someone read it on tape and I’ll learn it that way.”

A work around! I know all about them.

Then, after asking, again, if I wanted to stay for his set, he had a question for me.

“Was the script as bad as I think?”

“Worse. But then you’re talking to a guy who had to write a script for a reality show today.”

“That’s odd.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying all day!”

Less Chatter Please

When it comes to getting payment from customers the first thing my boss said to me was,

“Take money from anyone who wants to give it to you.”

Good off the blocks advice really.

That said, I don’t care why you want to pay. All I need is the account you want the money to go to. That’s all I ask. Not too much actually. But, you know what? They always want to share more.

Please, to all those who want to share when in a transaction with a stranger, don’t. We don’t care. Honestly, I wish I was kidding. I wish we were nicer people. But, sadly for you and your verbal diarrhea, it’s the truth. You tell us what you need, stop talking, we tell you what we need from you to get you what you need, you give us that information and, this is important so, please, pay attention: stop talking!

We don’t need to know anything else. Let’s go back to the old days when it was name, rank, and serial number. When did it become name, rank, serial number, and childhood trauma which caused your life to spiral so out of control you are in a situation where you feel the need to unburden to someone who only wants to get you away from them? Don’t you have family? Therapists? Invisible friends?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not only saying this to get to my end. This is for your benefit also. You see, we want to like you. I’m not kidding. It makes our lives better if we do. But, you make it almost impossible. So, please, just name, rank, and serial number because the more you speak the more the chance things will go wrong and we are left with no alternative but to think less of you.

I bet right about now you’d like an example, huh? Good thing I have one, huh?

Woman: “I’m taking care of my sons stuff because he’s away. What does he owe?”

It is very admirable that you are taking care of your child’s business while he’s away. I know you want everyone to see that you are a wonderful woman. Yes, although your ‘son’ is over fifty years old, it’s so very nice of you to pick up his slack while he’s away. But that is not helping me do my job.

Me: “What’s the name on the account?”

I know better than to ask for an account number so I go to the one thing I’m sure she’ll have to know.

Woman: “Hold on.” She turns her head from the phone and calls. “Phil! What’s the name on the account?”

See how quickly good feelings go away? Just three seconds ago I was holding her aloft in admiration. Now, it turns out she’s been leading me on oh these many seconds. Can you see, dear customer, that I’m doing this for you? We don’t want to hold you in disdain, you force it upon us.



Serial number.

The President

If I haven’t mentioned it before it’s probably because I didn’t mention it, but, I truly don’t care about your political affiliation. I don’t care about your theories or sexual peccadilloes either but none of those things seem to deter people from getting on their pews to spew.

The door opens and a guy comes in. As you’ve no doubt found, that usually signals the start of a bad moment in my life. Not that this was notoriously bad, he’s a nice guy, but he’s so laser dot specific in his denouement as to render him effectively boring.

He is not a liker of the current president. He wasn’t a liker of him when he was a senator of a state he’s not from either. I’m sure if he knew he lived in Somerville when he went to college around here he wouldn’t be a liker of that either.

After his usual rant about congressman Barney Frank (who, I never bother explaining, isn’t even his congressman) I settle in to the damage Obama has done to this country in his first twenty six days.

“Can you believe how far the stock market has dropped since he got in?”

“Do you know how many jobs have been lost since he got in?”

“Have you noticed gas has gone up since he got in?”

I’m sure he had something to say about it being Obama’s fault for the shitty super bowl commercials this year but, as you’ve no doubt noticed if you’ve been hanging around here for any length of time, I’d lost the ability to listen quite some time ago.

“I’m telling ya, he’s the worst president I’ve ever seen.”

I’m too well trained to bite as the badinage grows ingravescent but I also know I can’t allow it to go much further (due to my fear of actually being bored to death). I smile and try to assuage his frazzled mind.

“Relax,” I implore him. “You’ve just got a touch of baracknophobia.”


For lack of a better term, that’s what we call certain people who partake in our services. We had to come up with a simple, easily remembered term instead of saying,

“The guy with his fly always down who smells like tuna.”


“The lady who hates me because I look like her ex-husband.”

To get a crazy tag, you can be the guy who sings, loudly, when he’s in the building; the woman who talks, loudly, from the time she opens the door until she leaves without ever making sense; or the guy who called the cops because he said I was stalking him (I’m not sure if he did it loudly but I assume there was a modicum of volume). The reason? He saw me in the city he resides in and every time he visits the company.

I’ll give you a clue to tell if someone is a crazy. They have an immense distrust of the post office. So if you’re ever wondering if someone’s a crazy, mention the post office. That’ll put any doubts to rest.

The reason for this dissertation is to guide you through dealing with a crazy. No matter what their problem, you deal with them all similarly. Sure, the woman who calls me a different name each time is different than the guy who asks me to look out the window before he leaves to make sure a guy in a blue cap isn’t out there, but, you must remain sane. . .I mean the same.

Never disengage. Once they have your attention I don’t care if they’re giving away grilled cheese sandwiches and HD TV’s behind you, stay focused. If you disengage you will have to start all over because the canary in the coal mine of their mind just thought of a solution to global warming (weird, but it always has something to do with soup). Maintain eye contact, forge ahead, and never let them see you reach for a weapon (that just angers them).

When they interrupt, with pertinent or, most likely, non-pertinent babble stand firm and use hand gestures. No, not that one. That one sends them into a vortex of biblical proportions. Just a quick hands up, hands down will suffice. All you’re doing is attempting to keep their attention. Like Hannibal Lecter conducting after gutting the cop. NEVER make a fist when gesturing because, depending on their medication, they may poop.

Also, be ready for the long haul. They have time yet have no concept of it so settle in. Be prepared to repeat yourself without letting it frustrate you. Pretend you’re the drummer in a Ramones cover band. Count off, one, two, three, four, pound out the 4/4 beat and repeat.

I know you can perfect these tasks. I have faith in you. But, if you ever find yourself faltering, you are only human after all, remember that, unlike your crazy, most people are happy when you arrive not when you leave.


A guy walks in in a fairly agitated state. I’m so used to people walking in in a variety of states I pay no attention to his stammering. All I notice is a hundred dollar bill shaking around the air.

As I contemplate the butterfly effect as it would relate to a flapping hundred dollar bill (a hundred dollar bill flapping in Boston causes financial institutions country wide to collapse) his voice breaks through the din in my head,

“. . .and then she asked if I was looking for a date!”


I quickly deduce that somewhere around the front of the building someone is plying her trade. Once I assure him she was a freelancer with no connection to our establishment I tried to get to the cause of the agitation.

“What’s the problem? Do you need change for the hundred?”


Went to a work get-together of my girfriend last night. This was the first time I’d meet her co-workers. She vacillated about whether I should go. I didn’t care either way. She’s a believer in the separation of work and personal which I agree with.

When I’d go to a work thing there’d always be someone who said they didn’t know anything about my personal life. My response was,

“That’s why they call it a personal life. It’s none of your business.”

They’d either laugh and press me on it (which never ended brightly) or get insulted and walk away. It really was one of the few times I’ve never liked when a joke worked.

But she’s worried someone will pry a tidbit of information out of me. It’s a female dominated industry and you know how they can be!

I laughed and said,

“Relax. I’m a verbal ninja.”

She knows it’s true but still has trepidation. It’s not my life we’re playing with here.

There are only three guys there. I know one of them, a neighbor of a friend. I sit next to him after introductions (and veiled ‘We’re gonna break you!’ threats) and let the noise overtake the room.

The louder the room, the less likely they’ll get around to me. As long as someone has the floor I’m white noise. That works for me. I’m happy just sipping my beer.

Every once in a while someone would peer down the table to remind me I wasn’t going to get away unscathed. I’d return their look until they turned away.

Somewhere in the middle of a story the guy I wasn’t sitting next to was telling about the first time he and his wife had sex his wife looked down to me and said,

“You’re next!”

I smiled, locked eyes, took a tiny sip of my beverage, and said, low, fully annunciated, with the correct amount of malevolence,

“Bring it on.”

She startled back but quickly regained her composure. My girlfriend, seated to my right, laughed as my response was passed around the table. As each women heard it they’d turn to me. And I was always there to return the attention. Until they looked away.

It didn’t take long for them to go back to piling on the other guy. He was more than willing to be lowered into the snake pit due to the fact he was working the pulley.

I knew the time would come again when someone would set their scope between my eyes. A woman sitting next to the host pointed at me, got the hosts attention and said,

“We haven’t got Chris to say anything.”

The host shook her head and said,

“I don’t know. He scares me.”

My girlfriend thought that was the funniest thing ever.

I sat back with my rapidly emptying beer and said,

“All in a days work for a ninja.”

Jokes Are Bad

Or at least my jokes if my exchange with a guy is to be believed.

I write monologue jokes for a show and happened to be in the studio for the shoot. I never do that. I just stay home staring at my check. But this time I happened to be in the area having dinner so stopped in to say howdy.

After the show an audience member was talking to the host. He called me over and introduced me as the guy who wrote the joke there seemed to be an issue with.

The guy laid into me about a joke about the president. It was rather innocuous seeming joke but I’ve come to the conclusion there is no such thing.

No matter how soft a joke there’s always going to be someone with a pie hole full of bile.

I listened to the guy for a moment (glaring at that pussy ass bastard of a host) before stopping him. I explained that, although he’s entitled to his opinion, I don’t have to spend my private time listening to him whine.

Of course he doesn’t stop so I stop him with,

“Jokes don’t kill people.” I say leaning in. “But a comedy writer with a chainsaw will.”

The Meeting

I ran into someone who asked if I was who they said I was. As always, in that situation, I asked if they were a process server of any kind. After checking to make sure his ID matched the name on his business card, I said yes.

I know you may find it foolish, a tad paranoid, for me to react so oddly to such a simple question, yeah, okay, you got me. I really just do it to fuck around. Three seconds into the bit my girlfriend, probably wishing it was a warrant so they’d whisk me away to the Grey Bar Hotel and Anal Rape Emporium, tells me to shut up and tells the person I am who they’re asking about.

Spoil sport!

But there are a few reasons I’m hesitant to blurt out the response right off the bat. People who come up to me like that in places I’ve never been, who don’t ID themselves as to where they may know me from like,

“I’m Wendy from Life With Buck.”

“I’m Hector, we worked together.”

“I’m Evan, have you found jesus as your personal savior?”

Give me reason to be cautious. There are basically four things people remember me from. So, if you fall into one of these categories I’ll explain why I may or may not remember you but still, to avoid an unpleasant scene, you should give me something to go on:

Tennis: No, I won’t remember you if I taught you or played with as an amateur. Your name might ring a bell if we toured at the same time but unless we were close or you’re super famous so everyone knows your name, after thirty years, chances are slim.

Visual/Audio Media: Yeah, um, hit or miss. I might be shaken into memory of what we did or how we did it, but, unless we’ve been in touch, I’m probably not going to remember.

General Life: If you’re not in my email list or speed dial, no fucking way.

Readers: This is the reason I’m more inquisitive than my fellow man.

Don’t get me wrong, in the first three, I’ve been prodded into recognition, but, with readers (and please, don’t get me wrong, I write to be read. I like many of the people I’ve met through my work, as hard as that is to believe) the only way they’ll recognize me is if they’ve searched out my visage.

I don’t put a picture on books or this site. Not that I’m not devastatingly handsome (aside from girlfriend: he’s right, he’s not) but it has nothing to do with my work. There are a few pictures out there but, and here’s my point, you’d actually have to type my name in to get it. As much as I can understand doing it out of curiosity the fact that, many hours, days, months, even years after the fact you still carry in your head my image.

And I’ve met people who’ve done just that.

In real life I’m fairly personable, bordering on friendly-like. Some have said friendlyish but I’m the one typing this and I like like. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s a solicited (how else would I get it?) opinion about how it is to meet me.

“He was funny and friendly,” said Dan McCaffrey. “I didn’t really expect that after reading him for so many years. He let me buy round after round and never once did he offer to buy. . .”

As you can see, nice as he is, Dan tends to go on some. So, to keep my story flowing, I must edit him.

When I’m asked that question (in case you’ve forgotten what it is due to Dan’s long-windedness it’s ‘Are you Chris Zell?’) it only makes me blanch when 1) I’m in a place I’ve never been to before. 2) They use first and last name. And the one that bothers me most 3) they seem happy.

What that means is they know it’s me because they’ve seen me. That scares me because, if I’ve never been in the place before, no one should know my name (the anti-Cheers) nor what I look like. So, in my limited experience, I’ve learned (because I’ve asked) they know it’s me because they saw me on the internet.

Many times it ends up a pretty simple and easy exchange. Yes, hi, thanks, I’d love a drink. Pleasant. Why am I even writing this if it’s that nice? Because I said ‘many times’ it’s like that. Not ‘all the time’ is it like that.

There was a guy who came up to me and asked if I was going to be in the restaurant for a while. I told him probably not long enough for him to go home, fetch his copy of the book and get back here. So I wrote down a business address and told him to send the book and I’d get it right back to him.

Again, I know what you’re thinking, seems pleasant enough you egotistical dirtbag. And, again, you’d be on to something. It wasn’t even when a big ass package arrived at my office. It wasn’t even when I opened it and t-shirts, posters, books and print outs of a couple of pictures fell out. The moment I knew it turned weird was when I saw the very specific, block lettered notations on each item as to where, what, and what color ink (he sent markers) I should use to sign them.

But, whore that I am, I followed every direction and got the package back to him that very same day. To this day, every eight to ten months I get a package from him. He prints out this blog so I know I’ll be having some specific instructions from him on this story! Hi, Pete!

Don’t worry, I’m not telling tales out of school. He knows what I think. You think I could hold in that I think this is a strange? Damn, you gotta start paying attention!

Then there are the ‘big fan’ types. I don’t even know what that means. I think of the people who read me as snarky people who like to know there are people out there keeping the snap flag flying. I’ve been very fortunate to have contact with many readers and, holy sheep shit, Batman, these people make me laugh more than I ever could them.

That said, I ran into a ‘big fan’ the other night. After I stop my girlfriends snickering at the fact that anyone would read me much less admit to it, I start talking to the guy. He asks the standard questions (where ideas come from, is it hard, does you girlfriend always question the sanity of people who like your work?) and it was pleasant but I could tell he expected more.

That’s something I’ve noticed quite often. The expectation of seltzer down my pants (I’ve never done that but I did use cheez-whiz. It’s a long story). I’m not a comedian (I love the art, have done it, write for them but don’t need or actually want a roomful of strangers loving me. I’d have to guess the stench would be overpowering), I’m not a clown, I sit in a room and type. Sure, I probably have a hour or two of material I can just wring out of my head, but I’m usually not in an area where I can just rip off a tight twenty. Or as photographers have found, I don’t have a jesters hat or rubber chicken in my house so when they come in they usually end up shooting a normal, unfunny picture. I probably should come up with a few moves but, truthfully, I’m too fucking lazy.

I could tell this guy wanted something from me. And I didn’t need the pressure. So I figured I’d do what I do best. I’d rip him a new asshole. I didn’t want to, nice enough guy, but if he’s read my books (as he said he did) and reads here (Hi, Evan! Did you notice I used your name as a character?) I’m pretty sure there was some expectation of ugly.

“So, Evan, big fan eh?” I say.

“Yes, I’ve read both books. I sometimes pick them up just for fun. I’ve even got some for friends”

“Nice, nice to hear, Evan. Do you keep them in the bathroom? I’ve been in some houses and seen that.”

“No! no, I keep them on my book shelf in my room.”

“Good, good. When I check the ones in he bathroom I always find pages missing. Damnedest thing.”

I’m sizing old Evan up. I still don’t know what I’m going to do him. I don’t think I want to make him cry (bad for sales). Then I think of it. The one thing only a ‘big fan’ would know.

“Evan, now only a big fan would know this, so think hard. What’s the one thing in each book on page 63?”

Now poor Evan just about shit. He felt as if he should know, the way I set it up, but, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t make the connection. After a few minutes of stumbling I told old Evan to take some time and think about it.

We shook and Evan went back to his friends. I didn’t pay much more attention to Evan until about an hour later. He comes up behind me, holding both my damn books opened to page 63 with an expression halfway between exasperation and murder.

“I’ve been looking and can’t figure it out. What is it?”

Holy fucking shit. Evan is standing there holding out these books wanting me to tell him what’s the same on each page. It’s about now I feel bad for the things I do. You see, I just tell jokes. Sure, people get fucked with but they all deserve it. But Evan here, no, just a nice guy who maybe I should have just told a few jokes to because what I have to say isn’t going to be as satisfying.

“Now, Evan, I didn’t expect you do go all the way home to compare the books. I thought you’d sit there for a few minutes, have a beer, then come over and ask me what the hell I was talking about.”

“Well,” Evan said. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Words, Evan. They both have words. I was just fucking with you because that’s what I do.”

Evan looked at me for a minute. I felt bad but, damn, if I apologized for every joke I told I’d have no time to type them down. It was then Evan closed both books and broke out in the biggest grin. He shakes the books in my face laughing,

“I should have known! I didn’t get it until right now that you’re just an asshole!”

“Yes! You get it!”

I buy Evan a beer while signing his books. Then it dawns on me, maybe I’m not perceived as just an asshole through my writing. Maybe people mistake it for joshing. Maybe they have to actually meet me to understand it fully.


Evan’s just an idiot!