Friday, September 29, 2006

On the Fence in L.A.

There are few places more surreal than Los Angeles. The Antarctic, maybe. The moon, perhaps. Now, it’s been awhile since I’ve visited the moon and the Antarctic, well, I’ve seen pictures, but they have one big advantage over L.A. – tougher gun control. And the exchange rate isn’t as bad. However, Los Angeles wins in the employment department. Everywhere you turn, people are working, quite a feat when the temperature and sun conspire to turn every waking moment into a happy siesta. You can’t be a Canadian television writer and not think about Hollywood at some point. The film and television industry in Canada doesn’t take you seriously unless you’ve slogged it out south of the border, regardless if you worked on execrable nonsense or not. If you’re so good, why are you not in L.A.? goes the thinking. It’s 2006 and we still think this way. I make the obligatory pilgrimage once a year, just to say, "I’m in L.A.". (I still put an L.A. address on spec scripts. Has gotten me a few gigs up here, I'm convinced.)

In L.A., people in Mercedes, BMWs, Porsches, Rolls Royces and less modest vehicles cruise the palm dotted roadways, all in a hurry. Either they’re going to work, are working in their cars or are going home to work. Even when they’re not working, L.A people work. Waiting is work, the hardest work of all. And right now a friend of mine is toiling away at nothing.

This friend, who I’ll call Ricky because that’s his name, has just wrapped his own television pilot. Right now he’s experiencing what is known as "being on the fence", the time between wrapping the show and waiting to hear whether or not the network will pick it up. If they decide it’s a go, Ricky, the actors and other assorted creative types will be employed for at least a year. If they pass, Ricky will have to fall back on the film projects he’s been neglecting. Either way, he doesn’t have to punch in for the night shift at the local sweatshop.

At the corner of Beverly Glen and Sunset, Ricky and Johnny, the star of his show, pick me up in Johnny’s BMW. I’ve never been in a car that talks. I’ve been on public transportation where people talk to themselves, but I’ve never had an inanimate object engage me in chat. Johnny’s BMW told him where to turn, how fast he was going, how good he looked. All the while, Ricky has his cell phone pressed to his ear. He’s not listening to the talking car, he’s clinging to his agent’s hope for the show. I hear things like "being in New York for the up fronts" and "start up in mid-season". Ricky has an agent, a manager and a lawyer handling him. No wonder he’s twitchy.

As a distraction, we go see a movie at Century City. Even a non-stop-Dolby-surround-sound-40-edits-a-minute film is not enough to pry Ricky off the phone. He bites his nails and nods intensely to the voice at the other end. It must be rough being a successful Hollywood screenwriter/show runner. Your manicure bills must be murder.

Back at Ricky’s chic abode, perch high in the Hollywood Hills, we settle in to watch hockey. Ricky gets CBC on satellite and is temporarily mollified by Ron Maclean. Ricky is Canadian by birth and American by necessity, as are most Canucks down here. Ron can’t distract Ricky anymore from the ringing phone. Ricky probably wouldn’t notice California sliding into the ocean at this point. He’s on the fence, on the phone. Ricky analyzes his caller’s every nuance, searching for meaning behind every pause or modulation of tone. Will the network order 13? 6? Anything? He’s driving himself crazy.

There’s nothing I can do except help myself to Perrier and go stand on the deck. The view is dizzying – Los Angeles sprawled below, in all its beautiful and harsh complexity. What better place to have your innards twisted by anxiety than this heady locale, the scent of lemon and eucalyptus invigorating the breeze. But I don’t think I’m cut out for the L.A. life. I’m too socially conscious, too modest, too Canadian. Besides I don’t know what to do with my tax rebate, let alone millions. I'm one of these freaks who actually loves winter. That’s what industry executives up here fail to factor in – some writers and performers choose to stay in Canada because it’s home. It’s sane, balanced, and one of the world’s best kept secrets. Sure, I won’t make millions of dollars, but I’ll make tens of thousands of dollars, enough to buy a metropass in Toronto. Sounds good to me.

I've decided to live through Ricky and his Hollywood success, while enjoying medicare up here. Besides, the L.A. Kings? Nobody but nobody cares about hockey in California. Or medicare for that matter...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Je Me Souviens Dawson

Go to: and look in their "news" section. I have a little piece in the September 21-27 issue.

Thank you.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

bon bloke, bad bloke

This isn't about being a DRO....After what happened at Dawson College I lost's a little piece in the meantime.

Bon Bloke, Bad Bloke

Tabarnak! Ostie! Calisse! Every couple of years or so I get it in my head that THIS TIME I’m going to learn French and that it’s going to be different from ALL THE OTHER TIMES. The detritus of good intentions line my bookcase – "Le Francais sans Detours", Le Nouvel Espaces (Cahier d’exercices) "A Vous La France!" and the conciliatory "Schaum’s Outline Series: French Grammar (third edition)". Now I like to think that I’m as smart as the next human being, perhaps even more so, but there are few things in life as ego deflating as trying to pronounce words like trottoir and remunerer in front of a classroom of adults who are inevitably BETTER than you. I have a hard time pronouncing certain English words – why do I persist in torturing myself with la langue francais? My most recent foray into Canada’s other official language is a weekly two hour bafflefest at a francophone centre run by the Somali guys down the street. They switch from French to Somali to English with ease. I’m hoping to pick up some Somali swear words. At least I’m fluent in Quebecois swear words.
I’m a transplanted Montrealer, a Torontonian by default. My parents were born and raised in Toronto (as were my grandparents and great-grandparents) but for some flukey reason, my dad went to McGill and never looked back. I don’t have a French bone in my body, yet the longings and romance of home keep me dreaming that I’ll return to my birthplace one day, a truly integrated citizen.
I had just turned the corner into the teenaged years when Bill 101 was introduced in the mid 1970s. French had to compete for my attention with a brave new world of intoxicants. Pot, acid and booze seemed easier to understand. French was relegated to the backburner (preferably to use for hot knives). Priorities.
Besides, you didn’t have to speak French back then. The Quiet Revolution, the FLQ and the subsequent rise of the PQ must have scared the crap out of my parents, but not enough that I ever heard them utter a word of French in the house. To this day I still have anglo friends in Montreal who don’t speak French. Granted their job prospects are severely limited and they’re on disability and social assistance, but they manage to get by speaking English seulement. I had some ambition though and as is cliché, I went west.
I did attend summer school one year when I was twelve. Some sadist of a teacher had recommended to my parents that they enroll me in a French immersion class in August. "Carolyn is a dreamer", Mrs. Langlois told my parents, "she stares out the window or doodles. Her doodles are good, mind you, but doodling will not get her far. Speaking French will." My parents, wondering how to pawn off their six kids for the summer months, signed me up immediately without my consent. "You need to speak French in Quebec," said my father, sucking back an O’Keefe’s, "we live in Montreal and it’s high time you buckled down and conjugated verbs". Without so much as a "mais non papa! pourqouis papa?" I was packed off daily to a remedial gulag
The teacher, a relentlessly cheerful, thin woman, made us stand in a circle. "Bonjour enfants, comme allez-vous". My fellow inmates, other fobbed off sad sacks, matched and even surpassed my wretchedness. The teacher treated us like slow children each and every day for five weeks, clapping with insane enthusiasm when one of us managed to string together a phrase like "Ou sont les toilettes s’il vous plait" and "A quelle heure commence le film?" "Merveilleux! Merveilleux!" she’d exclaim, her eyes wide with zeal. If her manic energy didn’t whither you, the dripping heat in the airless classroom would. I get depressed just thinking about it.
And yet I persist.
I persist because I believe in Pierre Trudeau’s vision of Canada (he was our MP in Montreal). I persist because I have the utmost respect for new immigrants who put aside their fear and learn English, who speak several languages, who enrich this country by living in Canada. I may not believe in my own ability to ever be fluent (or even semi-fluent) in French, but I’m motivated by subtle and subconscious yearnings. It’s a bitch of a language to be sure, with seven tenses and nouns that have gender (maybe that’s why it’s so sexy), yet I will persist. I have to keep trying, to keep my dream alive. To make up for lost time. To be the citizen I’d like to be.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

DRO will be DOA

Hello and welcome to my blog. I hope you enjoy reading this post.

First of all, if the moniker is a little on the nose, it's because I have to distinguish myself from that other Carolyn Bennett, the MP and doctor. While she may be more famous and accomplished, I get fewer angry constituents phoning me.
And I also get the odd royalty check in the mail. Last week I received one for $4.97. I went to town and bought some green peppers.

Riding the subway in Toronto opens wide the doors of perception. Case in point - I was reading the jaunty little rag Metro the other day while in transit and spotted a call for election officials. My riding is holding a by-election and I thought, why not call, for two reasons. 1) Any work would be in my neighbourhood and 2) it would get me away from starting on my second novel.

On a whim I phoned the Riding Office. Over the phone and in two minutes I was hired as a DRO. What's a DRO? A DRO is a Deputy Riding Official. I was told to show up at the riding office the next day for training. I already regretted phoning in.

If democracy really is in the hands of the people, god help us. After a whirlwind two hour crash course in the electoral process, I left baffled. That was it? Watching a video and reading two hand-outs? At least they gave me a manual to refer to on the day. I was being entrusted with the free vote. A DRO has the final say at any polling station. I can't even find the pen I was just using, never mind overseeing an urban voting station. No police check, no resume required - just a pulse and a flicker of cognition. Shockingly egalitarian. I must admit, I got a thrill when I had to take the oath. Too bad more jobs didn't require you to take an oath. I just hope I wake up in time to open the polling station.

What does one wear when representing freedom? I'm thinking jeans and a blazer.

I'll let you know what happens. The vote is September 15. I will end this entry right now because I have the distinct feeling I'm writing for nobody.