Transcript: My Holiday Cure for Greed
Rob Long wants money 364 days a year. Today he asks you to support a charity in L.A.
This is Rob Long with Martini Shot for The Ankler.
When you reach a certain age, you stop getting Christmas presents. Good ones, anyway. Someone will give you socks, of course, or something equally last-minute, but when you turn the corner on 30 or 35, suddenly children start to appear in the family and Christmas becomes all about them.
I hate that.
And not because I don't like kids. I love kids. But I also love presents — especially the smaller, heavier ones that sit under the tree and positively glow with the promise of high value, expensive stuff — but when Christmas rolls around, I know I'm not going to get anything that doesn't come from a bin close to the register.
One year, though, I had an idea. I got everyone in the family to agree — just for the adults, of course — to a Secret Santa scheme. We'd put our names in a hat, draw a name apiece and buy a gift — something substantial, I whined to everyone — for that person. And we'd keep it all secret until Christmas day.
They agreed. I wrote the names down, found a hat and we made the draw. Everyone seemed to be happy with who they got and I reiterated that this was supposed to be a secret. Don’t tell anyone who you got, I said, maybe a little too emphatically, because…
About 30 minutes later, though, my brother looked up suddenly. "Rob," he asked, "Did you just write your own name down on every piece of paper?"
I had to admit that I had.
I tell you this so that you know — if you already didn't — that I'm a selfish and horrible person, and that's not going to change, just because it's Christmas.
I'm in New York these days, and when I'm in New York, I go to church, which is the kind of thing that sometimes, when someone you know says it, you think, uh oh, here we go.
Like the next thing is going to be, and I want to tell you all about it.
I'm not totally sure why I'm going — I think it's because I decided a few years ago that if my curiosity led me in a direction, to go in that direction for a while, and in New York that led me to a really great church with some very thoughtful leaders and so there I am, sitting in church, trying to remind myself that I really do have enough, enough stuff, enough of everything. And the rest of the week, I'm ashamed to say, I think about money a lot, more money, more stuff.
Which I guess makes me fit right into the entertainment industry, where you'll overhear people who work in coffee shops talk about how this movie bombed or that TV show is a ratings disaster — even though one made millions of dollars and the other garnered millions of eyeballs. A little is never enough around here. Enough is never enough.
Here’s how I think of it. The human life can be neatly divided into two halves.
In the first half, when the phone rings, you think, "Oh, great! Someone's calling me!" In the second half, when the phone rings, you think, "Oh. Great. Someone's calling me.”
In olden times, of course, when the phone rang, it really rang. It wasn't just a 20-second snippet of some Taylor Swift song.
And the phone was a shared object — it could be for anyone, so when someone answered it, there was this delicious sense of mystery: Who's calling? Who's it for?
When I first started in this business, no one ever called me. This was because people in Hollywood only call other people for one reason: for money. Oh, sure, there's always a surface reason — will you please hire my client; will you please hear my pitch; will you please appear in public eating lunch with me — but the throbbing sub-woofer bass of each of those tunes is: I want money.
But when you're just starting out, you really aren't in any position to do anyone any favors at all. As a young writer on a television show, you don't have any jobs to give out, any pitches to hear, and you eat lunch in the office, with the rest of the staff.
I remember coming back to the office from a run-through in the early days of my career, checking the little plastic telephone message slip carousel we all used to have, and my little compartment was empty. My boss's was full of messages that said, essentially, I want money.
His phone call returning policy was pretty loose. He didn't return them all. And he didn't feel guilty about it, either.
At some point in my career, though, people did start calling me. And it's then that you need to come up with a telephone call returning policy. Because, honestly, most of the time the answer to the question "Can I please have some money?" is no, you can't. I don't have any.
I'm not hiring any writers because our pilot didn’t get picked up. Our show was cancelled. I'm not hearing pitches because I don't hear pitches. I pitch pitches. I have no jobs to offer, no money to pay your client, and no immediate prospect of having any of those things.
Why do you want to have lunch with me?
Returning every call is exhausting because most of the time — and I'm speaking purely statistically here — the news isn't so great. Which means that if you get 20 phone calls a day from agents and managers and assorted other folks who want a job on your about-to-be-dead project, all you do all day is say to people, "no, sorry, that's not going, we got cancelled, they hated the pilot, right, sorry, I failed.” So by the end of the day, you're just like, thoroughly depressed.
But one of these days, I know in my bones, that someone is going to call me to offer me money, rather than ask for it. And I do not want to miss that call. Because when I see a field of grass, I know there's a four-leaf clover in there somewhere.
Because, again, there are two kinds of people in the world.
The first kind, when they hear a knock on the door, they think:
The second kind, when they hear a knock on the door, they think:
And for a lot of us, we started out the first kind but we're slowly realizing we're turned into the second kind. We've turned into people who hear the knock on the door and instinctively think, this cannot be good, this cannot be fun, this cannot be something I should be grateful for.
I'm not totally in the second camp yet, but I can feel its powerful gravitational pull, especially after many years in show business and a bunch of bruising strikes and something called mini rooms. I mean, everything in show business has changed radically except for someone sending you an email to set up the notes call — that, they won’t get rid of. That they still do.
So I can feel myself saying, This again, instead of This again! Especially as I prepare to head out into the marketplace next month with my shabby little wares and notions and ideas and want to remember what someone told me years ago, that all of the things that weigh me down or make me exhausted about the business I'm in — selling, writing, and producing television shows — are, and I know this is a cliché, but it’s a cliché because it’s true. These are all privileges.
They're cool. I get to walk into network and studio offices and tell little stories; I get to get notes; I get to be in casting and editing and do late night rewrites. Not This again, but This again!
Easy to say. But — and this may be what my younger friends call, with deadly simplicity, a generational issue — hard to do.
Maybe it’s because when you get older, you think you know everything. You’ve seen everything. You’re smart and experienced and you know just how this deal or this script or this production or this phone call is going to go.
But there’s still a lot of things I don’t know. And I need to be grateful for that, too.
Once I needed about 20 gallons of exterior paint in a certain color, something called Dark Granite, and so I made what I thought was a logical move: I went to Home Depot and asked them if they had Dark Granite in stock.
Which of course they didn't. Because that's not how paint is sold these days. What they have in stock is lots and lots of neutral paint, which they then add pigment to, and that's how you get 20 gallons of Dark Granite. I thought the pigment came in little vials or something which they mixed in, but the guy, who spoke to me like I was an idiot, which I was, and am, explained that this is not how colors work. He actually ended up describing what light is, and color is, and what a rainbow is.
I didn't know that, of course, because I am a writer in the entertainment industry and I don't know lots of things like that. I don't know how to mix concrete. I don't know how to file corporate taxes. I don't know how to drive a semi. I don't really know how money works. I mean, really.
But what I needed was paint, in a certain color, because I was joining a bunch of volunteers to paint the outside of My Friend’s Place, a homeless youth agency in Hollywood, which I've been involved with for decades. And so as humbling as it is to walk into Home Depot and look like a total idiot because I don't know things, it's even more humbling to paint the outside of My Friend’s Place and realize there's a lot more I don't know.
I don't know what it's like to be cold. I don't know what it's like to have been betrayed and abused as a kid by every adult in my life. I don't know what it's like to carry all of my possessions on my back. I don't know what it's like to be alone and vulnerable in a dangerous world.
The youth they serve at My Friend’s Place, unfortunately, know all about that in deep and unwanted detail. And the staff that mans the place — that runs the pre-natal care classes, that offers up case management, that hands out the burritos and the water bottles and, at the very least, just a little bit of kindness on a rainy day — they know things, too.
They know how to coax a suspicious and wounded young person into a conversation. They know how to initiate a small connection that may lead to a visit with a doctor, some drug-abuse counseling, the first steps towards life stability.
I don't know how to do any of that. I know — barely — how to make sure the act break has enough jeopardy, or how to fix the set up so the joke works better.
Look, you know where I'm going with this. This is that message in the phone message carousel asking you for money.
And I know it's the time of year that everyone comes to you with a cause and a mission and an ask — and I know we all have things and places that we support.
But My Friend’s Place is something amazing. It's a small seat-of-the-pants agency in Hollywood doing something hard and daunting — getting young people off the streets, rebuilding trust after years of abuse, doing what it takes to provide the tools for a life beyond misery and danger and into the normal stuff that we all complain about but that are really anchors in our lives — a job, a place to live, a support network of friends and family, plans for a future, a warm meal, a shower — and as hard as that is, it's what My Friend’s Place excels at.
It's why My Friend's Place doesn't just need your money, it deserves it. It spends it wisely and effectively, and these days when most of us aren't feeling flush ourselves, that's not a small thing.
I know, I know. This time of year, especially during a particularly confusing time in our business — to start talking about how blessed and lucky we all are — all of us toiling in this baroque, over-the-top industry, and how there are some people who don't complain about the bottled water and the network notes and the streaming residuals, who do difficult jobs for way less money. I know. I know. But you know what I mean.
I mean, for me, anyway, that I'm lucky. I'm lucky to be able to complain about the things I complain about here. I'm lucky to have worked for so long in a business designed to break your heart.
You can find out more about My Friends Place by going to myfriendsplace—all one word—dot org. It's a hugely effective, grassroots, growing, amazing place doing hard, hard work: helping young people get off the streets, get healthy, get safe, get educated, and get back into better, stronger lives. If you're looking for a small, effective, efficient, worthy place to give your money or your time to, My Friend's Place could be your place.
So, Merry Christmas, my fellow lucky ones — my wish for you is that when the phone rings, you pick it up with joy and gratitude. There’s a four-leaf clover in there you know. Probably.
And that’s it for this week. Next week, it’s the start of a Happy New Year. This, again. For the Ankler, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.