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Thursday, June 30, 2005
L.A. Story
Yesterday, I attended the annual Humanitas Prize luncheon at the Hilton by Universal Studios. I value Humanitas for its intelligence in making virtue and responsibility in screenwriting a financially rewarding decision for Hollywood writers and producers. The Prize was originated thirty-something years ago by, my former boss and now deceased, Fr. Elwood "Bud" Kieser. The banquet is always a well-produced affair, where one can rub shoulders with both idealistic passionate writers and jaded veterans from the creative side of the business.

Keynote speaker, Frank Pierson (Cool Hand Luke, Dog Day Afternoon) said some nice things about being a writer, and then launched into a sniping, self-righteous rant against the stupid people who are ruining America by trying to censor Hollywood and artists. These are the same stupid (did I mention religious?...Pierson did) people who completely over-reacted to poor Janet Jackson's bared-breast at the Superbowl. These same stupid people, are now on a dangerous crusade to purge all art and entertainment from any hint of human darkness or struggle. The stupid people, according to Pierson, who have completely politicized all of art and cultural life want all art to be depictions of goodness and light, and ("damn them!") they will put all of us in Hollywood in torture camps if we don't do their bidding! Or maybe even take away our BMW's!!!) To the barricades to make the planet safe for the Spice Channel and Hustler magazine!

Then, there was an acceptance letter from John Wells, who finally won a Humanitas Prize for an ER episode, after seven nominations. Wells' letter was another wild-worded warning about the (RELIGIOUS) forces of evil that have destroyed America's reputation in the modern world. Apparently, the whole frickin planet LOVED America as late as 1999, but the (damn! and stupid!)Christian Right has ruined everything by bombing everybody instead of letting a coalition of Hollywood writers and producers schmooze the angry terrorists. Again, Wells' tone was that the people who oppose his values, are stupid, evil, menacing, and, love this one, well-financed.

This is a kind of insanity. The suggestion that the Christian Right "politicized" art and culture has no connection with reality. Christians, as a rule, don't make art and culture. We have no power. But, it is a strange industry pathology for folks in this business to see themselves always as oppressed. They can't stop being the 1960's flower children, raging against the establishment. They haven't seemed to notice that they ARE the establishment now! Secondly, I rarely if ever hear Christians say they want entertainment to just be happiness and light. We are the ones who made The Passion of the Christ - slightly dark there - the box-office monster of 2004 after all. Everywhere I go, Christians are concerned to make movies that show the darkness AND the light in juxtaposition. Pierson and the elite legions at Humanitas were ranting against a foe of their imagination's own making. The people they hate don't exist...or if they do, they certainly aren't any one being listened to and followed.

My friend, sitting next to me, was working on her TV show outline during the speeches. She is smarter than me - who had nothing to do but listen to the raving. In response to my head-shaking wonder by the Hollywooders against the Christian Right of the Sith, she said, "Anybody who doesn't agree with their free-speech doesn't get any."

So, that was unpleasant.

I was glad Hotel Rwanda won for best screenplay. For the first time ever, Humanitas didn't give a 30-minute comedy Humanitas Prize. The Committee noted that comedies have been getting worse and worse and that they just didn't feel there was anything worth awarding $25,000 to. And I have to say, it didn't seem like a lot of the Gen X, up and coming, power brokers' audience was as enthusiastic about the anti-Red State raving as were the veteran Hollywood baby-boomers.

So, that was encouraging.

After the awards, I rendezvoused for a few moments with the iconic Hall sisters, and also to claim my free 30 lb. flower arrangement. (Humanitas always gives the table centerpieces away to whomever wants to lug them home.) I hadn't actually seen Barbara since last November at the CIMA Awards, so, I was excited to give her a hug and tell her, in person, that God has better things in store for her since Joan's demise. So, then, Barbara Hall said, "I have no way to get home." Karen had to get back to E-Ring so I chimed in, "I'll take you anywhere, Barb." It was settled then.

So, that was unexpected and nice.

There I was, full of happiness, getting to spend some actual face time with Barb, and also lugging my thirty pounds of flower arrangement toward the parking garage.

I knew we were in trouble when I didn't recognize the elevator to the garage. "Hmmmm," I said, my spider sense tingling, "I don't think I came up this elevator." Barb and Karen were engaged in a classic high-speed Hall exchange about Scientology and two baby tigers. Karen paused just a second to shrug, "There are a few different elevators." They went on while I could suddenly taste the banquet's chicken and poppyseed salad dressing rising in my throat. Karen waved good-bye and headed for another floor.

Barb and I got off and started walking. Barb was talking about surfing and spirituality, I think. I would have heard much more if I wasn't so sure I had never been on this floor of the parking garage in this present or any past lives. We walked along, the great showrunner and brilliant television writer, Barbara Hall, in her flip-flops and me, in semi-high heels and lugging the flowers. After a long walk, Barb said, "Where's your car anyway?" I gulped. "I don't remember."

So, that was frightening.

So stupid. Losing a car in a parking garage in L.A. is as bad as being late because of "traffic." It's something tourists do. It's completely uncool. It's much, much uncooler, when it is actually not cool, but hot and sticky in a fume filled parking garage and you are coercing a celebrity in flip-flops, to tromp around with you. It's particularly galling for me, who, if it wasn't for Jesus, would have started a religion to the Deity, "In Control."

Because it is Barb and me, our conversation moved from the way Satan influences human decision-making, to the potential for spiritual growth in Award banquets, to, you know, whether anyone has ever actually had a nervous breakdown in a Los Angeles parking garage.

So, that was cool and fun.

But our pilgrimage went on and on. Up and down aisles. Up and down elevators. Back and forth along the rows.

I can safely say part of me died somewhere on the oil spattered ground by a pretentious Ford that for one second I imagined was my Grand-Am. Kind of like the way wanderers in the desert see water.

We finally ended up accosting a couple of bow-tied clad valet guys. Barb, a much longer L.A. veteran than I shared her wisdom, "Be careful of men in white coats and bow-ties." I promised one of them, I'd always, always, always use valet parking in the future if they could help me find my car. So, eventually we got on one of the golfcarts. Barb sitting on the back with the flower arrangement, and me up front with the obliging but slightly sneering bow-tie wearer. Barb said cheerfully, "This reminds me of riding around the set on a golfcart." As Emily Dickinson wrote, "I envy the dead today..."

We found the car finally. Waiting right where I had said a hundred times it should be. We must have walked past it three times. It was more than odd. And then, we got on our way and spent another hour talking about God, life and Hollywood, while moving at the breathless clip of 15 miles per hour on the packed freeways.

I had too much fun, really, in a perverse and mortifying kind of way. Don't anyone EVER try to tell me the Divine doesn't have a sense of humor.

So, that was L.A. today.