Monday, September 12, 2011

Oscar and Felix, Shelly and Digby, O.M. and F.U.

 Even though you once made a semblance of a living from television, enough so that you were a member in good standing of The Writers Guild of America (Western division), you were never fond of television.  Until the amazing David Simon venture, The Wire, the most significant thing you'd got from television was the financing of a Volkswagen sedan with a sunroof and FM radio, through the Writer's Guild Credit Union.

Although your brother-in-law was either top or second echelon set decorator for the iconic television series, Laugh-In, the politics between your brother-in-law and you was such that you made it a point not to watch Laugh-In until it was too late, which is to say that subsequent events made you wish you'd been there ab ovo, the skits and tropes committed to memory.

You were even more naive than Billy Budd when a natty, impeccable Englishman of about your age began appearing in one of your classes at the university, asking uncommonly bright questions, making memorable observations to the point where, despite his weekly uniform of crisp tennis whites, you began to see him as a considerable force.

It was not long before he began reading from a project he had in mind. The project sparked your imagination to the point where you suggested to him that it would make a good candidate for a television miniseries, say a six- or eight-part venture, set in a mythical tennis club.

Said natty,intelligent Englishman politely inquired if you would be interested in working on the development of said project.  At the time, in addition to your Billy Budd naivete, you were perilously broke.  To say that you were between projects would be making a severe euphemism of a disastrous reversal of fortune.


Your reply to the bright, crisp Englishman was swaddled in civility.  You did not, you said, have the leisure to pursue something as uncertain as a television project on speculation.

You thought that would be the end of it, particularly when the Englishman said he quite understood.  At next week's  class, he pressed a check into your hand.  The logo on the check was HBO.  The check was made to you in an amount that,given your circumstances, got your attention.

This set of circumstances came winging back to you across the years of knowing Digby Wolfe when, scant hours ago, the phone rang and he was thinking it high time one of us should contact the other, if only to reaffirm the kinds of affection that develop around mutual interests and pursuits.

You have had greater successes in the abstract than the actuality with Digby, although there is a work you both think has potential, tentatively called The Dramatic Genome.   Working on any project with Digby has been an intellectual stretch and joy, but it would be difficult for you to imagine two individuals with a greater range of dissimilarity in working process.

You adhere to the get it all down in a blaze of activity approach.  Digby is a sentence if not a word at a time.  While you are racing on to a new encounter or connection, he will pause dramatically. "Shel, don't you think that word back there should be in the past tense for greater clarity?"

You, of course, had raced beyond and are now looking for which particular word, back where?

re you'd been a fly on the wall if not a direct participant in the weekly writers' sessions of Laugh-In, seeing the incessant churn of situation.  Hearing his voice again, merging in the crucible of friendship, takes you into the landscape of dramatic construction, where individuals strain, as Chekhov's characters strained and, indeed, where Chekhov strained to make sense of things.  Although he did not say what you are about to articulate, he might well have.  The spectacle of individuals trying to make sense of things that are inherently senseless is an essential basis of humor.

Chekhov might well have said that.  James Digby Wolf might well have said that.  And here you are, fortunate to be in the middle of them, taking it in.

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