My CSI airs on March 10th
My episode of CSI, titled "Compulsion," will air on CBS on March 10th. If I did my math correctly, that's next week.
. . . I think I just peed a little.
My episode of CSI, titled "Compulsion," will air on CBS on March 10th. If I did my math correctly, that's next week.
. . . I think I just peed a little.
I ran in a 5K at the Rose Bowl with my entire family yesterday. Originally, it was just going to be Nolan and myself, but Anne got interested, and then Ryan decided to round it out to a full-on family event. Anne's friend Michelle joined, too, and so did our friend Amanda. We were a full-on team!
There were thousands of people swarming around the Rose Bowl. Some of them had funny things to say.
There were about 1500 people ahead of us in the runners' starting corral, and another 5000 or 6000 in the walker's area. The sun felt warm on my face, and I wondered if I'd made a mistake wearing my long-sleeved shirt.
"Do I have to stay with you if you're going too slow?" Nolan asked me.
I told him that he didn't, and we all agreed to meet under the giant American Airlines balloon that was set up on the South Lawn when we were all finished. We stretched, did some ridiculous looking jumping around to get the blood pumping, and waited for the race to start.
The gun went off, and the kids broke away from us after about six strides.
"Wow! Look at them go!" Amanda said.
"Yeah, I suspect we'll be catching up with them around the second mile," I said, as we passed a troupe of Japanese Taiko drummers. For reasons that I'll never fully understand, Taiko has always inspired me at a cellular level. It's like those rhythms get into my nanosoul, and I started out a little fast as a result. After about 1/4 mile, my Garmin Forerunner was chirping at me that I needed to slow down, and I'd pulled far away from Amanda, Anne, and Michelle. Still no sign of Nolan and Ryan, though.
I felt pretty good, considering that I hadn't put my shoes on in over 5 weeks, due to an incredibly annoying injury in my groin that showed up suddenly in December and sidelined me until . . . well, until yesterday. I cruised along for the first mile, smiling at people, announcing "On your left!" and "Looking great!" to the little kids who were running with their parents. I felt good, emotionally and physically. I loved it that I was out here on a Sunday morning with thousands of people, and I loved it that I was in my first race of 2005.
I sent some mental probes along my body, to see how I was doing:
Truth be told, I shouldn't have run yesterday, and I may have put myself right out of the San Diego marathon this year (my quads are so sore today each step aches — but in a good way!) by running through the pain, but I desperately
wanted needed to spend some time with my family. Since November (except for a brief break around the holidays), I've spent more time down at ACME than I've spent at home. When I have been home, I've been working so hard to meet my writing commitments, I've hardly had any time to just sit and visit with Anne and the kids. I've been redlining for weeks, and I'm creatively exhausted. Whenever I get a free moment, I want to spend it with my family, but my free moments have been few and far between.
Just short of mile one, I felt the first twinge of pain in my right hip. (Hey! Maybe I've got a little bit of Gunslinger in me!) "Look," I told my body, "we're just doing 5K, and our pace is 10 minutes/mile, so relax, okay?"
"Yeah, probably not," my body said. Pain began to radiate around my hip and up my chest. Right around 1.3 miles, I had to slow down, and at 1.5 miles the pain was so intense I had to walk.
Goddammit! For the first time since it happened two years ago, I really felt like I was in my thirties. I mean, in my bones, in my heart, and especially in my muscles.
A cheerful voice behind me called out, "On your right!" As a woman in her 60s wearing a pink "I'm a survivor" T-shirt jogged past me, putting everything into perspective.
"Doing great!" I said when she was ahead of me. She didn't look back, but flashed an enthusiastic thumb's up.
I walked quickly for a few minutes, and when the pain began to subside, I tried jogging lightly. I went slowly but steadily, and caught up to Ryan near mile two.
"Hey! How are you feeling?" I said.
"My knees are killing me," he said, "and Nolan ran faster than I've ever seen him run. He was all the way up in the front, where there were only ten or fifteen people, when I had to walk."
"Well, you want to run with me?" I said.
"I don't think so," he said. "I'll see you at the finish."
"No way, kiddo. This is why I came out here today." I thought.
I slowed and walked with him.
"What are you doing?" He said.
"I'm walking with you!" I said.
"Oh. Cool." He said. He is so fifteen right now, I can't tell if "cool" means "cool" or "you're so lame, Wil," but I was happy to walk with him.
We moved slowly through a few other walkers, and a man jogged past us, pushing his 3 or 4 year-old daughter in a jogging stroller.
"We're doing great, daddy!" She said with a huge smile.
"We . . . sure . . . are . . . honey," he said.
Right around mile 1.9, Amanda caught up to us.
"Hey, I know you!" Ryan said.
"How are you guys doing?" She said. She's been training for the LA Marathon, so this is nothing to her.
"My stupid hip is giving me a really bad time, but other than that I'm fine." I said.
Ryan told her about his knees, and we did a little speed-walking for a few minutes, until I saw the water station for mile two at the crest of a little hill.
"I'm going to run the last mile," I said. "I'll either see you guys at the finish, or you'll step over my body in about 3000 feet."
They wished me well, and I began to jog. I extended my arm — just like a real runner — as I passed through the water station. A smiling middle schooler pushed a dixie cup into my hand and said, "Great job!"
"Thank you!" I said, as I dumped the water over my face and head. I was on the Western side of the Rose Bowl now, heading South. The sun was in my face, and I began to regret wearing my long sleeved shirt.
The Rose Bowl has been involved in several landmark moments in my life, most of them when I was a teenager living in La Crescenta: When I was fourteen, I attended the Depeche Mode Concert for the Masses there, and when I was fifteen, Darin taught me how to drive a stickshift in his VW Bug . . . right in the parking lot that was now on my left. My hip was on fire, and I was beginning to feel dangerously warm, but I smiled. This is a great way to spend a Sunday morning, I thought.
When I rounded the penultimate corner in the race, I was breathing hard. The sun was beating down on me through a magnifying glass, in classic Warner Brothers carton-style, and I pushed my sleeves up as far as they could go. I sprayed the remainder of my water over my face, and immediately felt better. I turned North and checked my Forerunner: I had less than a quarter of a mile to go. Surprisingly, the pain in my hip, groin and ribs wasn't that bad. I didn't have the mental cycles to determine if it had just been renice-ed to 19 by /wil/bin/adrenaline so I could finish, but I I've learned that there are times when you just don't ask questions. I was in the final 1000 meters! Music and cheering filled the air.
I set my eyes on the finish line, and the noise of the crowd faded away. Pretty soon, all I could hear was my heartbeat in my ears and the pounding of my feet on the pavement. With about thirty yards to go, I heard a familiar voice calling out: "Go Wil! You're almost there! Go! Go! Go!"
I blinked my eyes and looked off to my right. There was Nolan, grinning broadly and jumping up and down. It was pure, concentrated mojo. I raised one of my hands up and made it into a fist. I pumped it in the air at him.
"Yeah! Go Wil! Go Wil!" He cheered. My heart swelled, and I finished the race running on air.
I crossed the finish line and got my time: 34 minutes. Not bad, all things considered. I my body ached, my throat was dry and my heart pounded fiercely in my chest. My 3.1 miles felt more like a marathon, which is a sad commentary on my current level of physical fitness, but I did it! I ran slower than my marathon training pace, but I did it! I
wanted needed to spend some time building memories with my family, and I did it!
When I got off the course, I collapsed into the grass and caught my breath. After a few minutes, I stretched. The pain in my hip was slowly coming back (I guess The Writer got hit by the van after all), but Nolan's cheering echoed in my head, and there wasn't any pain at all strong enough to break through that wall of joy.
Eventually, I made my way over to our meeting place. Ten minutes or so later, Ryan and Amanda came over.
"What was your time?" I asked them.
"Thirty-six," Ryan said. "What was yours?"
"Nice job," he said. I ran this comment through my fifteen year-old to English filter, and got "Nice job [Sincere.]"
"Thank you, Ryan," I said with a grin.
Behind us, on the other side of the giant American Airlines Balloon, about fifty people were Jazzercising. Outrageously loud europop music assaulted us, but the Jazzercisers seemed to enjoy it.
I always thought Jazzercise was an improv joke, you know? Like Bigus Dickus, but it turns out it's a real thing, and the people doing it were having a really good time. When the music went out, (presumably because the girl leading them whooped and blew out the mixer) they kept right on going, while she said things like, "Up to the left! Up to the left! And attitude! And attitude! Left! Left! Give me attitude! Attitude!"
Anne, Michelle and Nolan walked up together.
"I learned something today," I said.
"What's that?" Anne said.
"Apparently Jazzercising is all about attitude," I said.
She sat down next to me.
"How'd you do?" I asked her.
"I totally ran the whole way!" She said. She was the happiest I've seen her in weeks. She's been under a lot of stress and pressure lately, and there's nothing I can do about it, so seeing her smile and relax nearly brought tears to my eyes.
"I'm really proud of you, honey," I said.
We talked about our times, and I turned to Nolan.
"I loved it that you were cheering for me, Nolan," I said, "Thank you."
"Of course," he said. I haven't had to use the teenager-to-English translator on him yet, even though he'll be fourteen in August (!) and I hope I never do. (Yeah, I know, I know . . .)
"What was your time?" I said.
"Twenty-four minutes!" he said.
"Holy crap, Nolan!" I said, "That's fast!"
"Yeah, it was fun," he said. "I think I finished pretty close to the top."
"Gosh, you think?" I said.
The Jazzercise music started up again.
"What the —" Anne said.
"Attitude," I said, "plus loud europop equals Jazzercise."
We snacked for a few more minutes, picked up our gear from the gear-check, and headed back to our car. As we crossed the street, thousands of walkers streamed across the bridge and turned into the final stretch. They were a sea of pink shirts, pink hats, pink balloons, pink flags. They were singing and shouting, and having a great time.
"Oh my god," Anne said, "Look at all those people!"
"We are totally part of that," I said. "I'm proud of us. All of us."
In recent months, I've sort of indirectly come face to face with my own mortality, and the mortality of the people I love.
Like it or not, death is the price of admission into this life, and one day all we'll have left are memories.
We made some wonderful memories yesterday.
I've got a huge trip report from the WPT Invitational slipping around in my brain, but so many incredible things happened while I was there, I'm still trying to get my head around it. I scribbled down as many notes as I could when I got home, but things keep coming back to me (huge things, like Gus hansen walking up to our table with about 200K in live chips, and spilling them all across our table and all over the floor, and talking with Greg Raymer and Andy Bloch, like we were just some guys hanging out . . . it goes on and on) that I had forgotten. It's like my memory of the event is a room, filled with things that represent each cool thing that happened, but when I look at one of the things to remember it, a flash goes off and I can't see anything else for a while. When the blindness fades, I see something else, or maybe a few other things, and then the flash pops again.
Something like that, anyway.
My friend Chris came down and sweated me while I played. He took copious notes and as of this writing has the first two parts of what will certainly be an incredible poker story up at his website.
From Part One, and the "I wish I'd written that!" department:
I have to paint out this scene for you... the security guard opens the rope line for you, and you walk up a large decadent staircase, past marble columns and wall mural paintings. You turn the corner and make the past few steps up, and start to see people milling about. The last few feet finally reveal people conversing and hob-nobbing, and you start to realize that you recognize *everyone*. Celebrities, poker professionals, personalities... you can't walk 5 feet without seeing someone you've idolized or appreciated from afar. You step through the doors into the tournament room, where you're allowed to walk amongst the giants of the gambling world and act for just one day like you kinda sorta deserve to be there. And nobody questions who you are or sneers at your somewhat dubious manner of earning your place... they're just happy you're having a good time.
I do believe that if someone had told me I was dead and had gone to heaven, I would have believed them.
I mean, Jesus is right over there.
I've got a Dungeon column due today, plus an audition for an Xbox game (w00t!) so I don't think I'll get my version of the trip report up until the end of the weekend, at the earliest.
In my audioblog, though, I have a trio of reports. They're mostly there to jog my memory (without the flashbulbs, I hope) but they may have some entertainment value on their own.
I made the mistake of watching the last 40 minutes or so of my Hollywood Homegame last night. I actually felt sicker watching it than I did when I played. I'll write up what was going on in that game, too, when I get some time. Short version: I never caught anything, when I finally *did* catch something (KJ) and I was clearly beaten (AJ, A on the flop) I just couldn't throw it away. I looked like such a fucking dipshit amateur tool moran, I deserved to lose right then and there.
At least I didn't lose my monkey, though. No matter what, I always have my monkey.
Everyone knows that Hunter S. Thompson put a bullet through the back of his head over the weekend, and a lot of readers have wondered why I haven't commented on his death.
I found out late Sunday night, and I didn't have net access until late Monday afternoon. By the time I got online, anything I would have said had already been written by much better writers than myself.
I didn't want to be one of those people who posts about an event just because everyone else is posting about it, and I didn't want to just say, "Me too."
But goddammit! I hate it that he's dead. I hate it that we'll never get to hear what he thinks about current events. He's one of the people who made me want to be a writer, and I hate it that I will never have the opportunity to thank (or blame) him.
Last night, I sat in my kitchen and spun the dial on my shortwave radio, trying to find a numbers station (the Spooks mailing list and rec.radio.shortwave both said that E10 had been loud and clear on 6930 over the weekend and I missed it) when I came across a really cool little tune. It sounded like something I'd heard years ago from Voice of Russia, or Deutsche Welle. Though I was really hoping to hear a different tune, (like The Lincolnshire Poacher or Cherry Red), I left my radio tuned to that frequency and imagined that it originated in some obscure station on the other side of the globe . . . because that's why I listen to SW: there's something undeniably romantic and mysterious and wonderful about tuning in a broadcast from thousands of miles away. I don't know many people who listen to SW, and I don't personally know a single DXer, so I feel like I'm part of something that's sort of below the radar (er, via the ionosphere.)
Anyway, the song continued for several minutes, and I still couldn't figure out what it was. I don't have a current WRTH and I didn't want to walk all the way to my office to google the frequency, so I just listened. When the song ended, a woman's voice came on . . . and all my romantic images were shattered. It turns out I was listening to Los Angeles wacko Dr. Gene Scott's SW broadcast. The woman announced that Dr. Scott had died earlier in the day, and urged listeners to get to the phones and send in their money. After a minute or so of this, the tune started up again.
Yeah. The cool music I'd imagined coming from some former Eastern Bloc country was actually coming from my own city, from a guy who was part of the background noise of my childhood.
For those of you who didn't grow up in LA, Gene Scott was a staple of UHF television. He was a televangelist, who (in)famously rambled for up to twelve hours at a time, about all sorts of crazy shit. The camera often framed him from the chin to the top of his ever-present Indiana Jones hat, giving him this look that was equal parts creepy and kind of cool. As far as hucksters go, he's no Robert Tilton, but for pure entertainment value, not even Wally George could beat this guy. You damn kids today probably don't watch UHF television, but when I was a kid, my friends and I would stay up late at night and watch this guy through the static on channel 56 or 62 or whatever, and just wonder what the hell was going on.
The freaky thing is, just a few days ago I wondered aloud when Gene Scott was finally going to shuffle off this mortal coil. Which brings me to the moral of this story: my thoughts control the future, so watch ouut.
Or maybe a better moral is: even if you don't find the numbers station you're looking for, spinning the dial in your kitchen is a good way to spend an evening.
. . . and that's not a euphemism.
I wrapped CSI on Wednesday. A brief audioblog about it is here.
I watched the show last night with Anne and the kids, and drove them crazy with comments like, "Oh! Behind that wall is where the craft service table is!" and "See where that corridor curves? That's the end of the set and if you take a right you'll walk right out of the stage." and "Jorja Fox is even more beautiful in person." and "I was totally in that set on Monday!"
They endured my enthusiasm with patience and good humor. Heh. Anybody else see it? It was seriously the most disturbing episode I've ever seen.
Lots of people have asked what flavor of CSI it is, and when it will air. It's the original CSI (the one in Las Vegas) and it was apparently going to air the first week of March, but it looks like CSI is going to be preempted by March Madness, and it will air later.
But! You can see my World Poker Tour Hollywood Home Game on the Travel Channel on Sunday February 20th. I hardly ever caught cards that night, and I hope I don't look like a total dope when it's cut together.
I'm playing in the WPT invitational in less than a week, and I haven't sat at a poker table since November . . . I haven't played NLHE in even longer, and I don't know when I'll have time to get my game back up to speed between now and then. I have figured out that I need an extra four hours in each day, so I have time to write, be a husband and stepfather, and play poker and D&D. Can someone get on that for me? Thanks.
My latest Games of our Lives is up. This week, I look at a Space Invaders bootleg called Cosmic Monsters:
Let's be honest, okay? You take the Earth for granted. We all do. But a horde of Cosmic Monsters have turned their greedy, multi-faceted eyes on our Big Blue Marble, and they're determined to bring their unique brand of alien terror to mankind! Luckily, you've got three shields and a missile base that moves left and right. Though the Cosmic Monsters are numerous, they don't have the most advanced battle plan, so be prepared for them to move from side to side as they drop closer and closer to Earth. And since saving the planet may not be enough for you (it is the '80s, after all), you will be rewarded with points, hundreds and hundreds of points, which you can use to... uh... impress your friends, or something.
Sketch is doing really well! I'm leaving in about twenty minutes to take him down to the kitty cardiologist for a re-check, but I am very hopeful that he'll get a check-plus from his doctor. He's eating, grooming himself regularly, and his breathing is between 24 and 36 (depending on how much he's been playing with his Kitty Hooch mouse, of course.)
My friend Kevin is in an art show at the Richard Heller Gallery Saturday night. Kevin is a fantastic artist, and all you Westsiders should check it out.
Oh! I'm officially added to the lineup at the Creation Grand Slam show in Pasadena March 11 - 13. You'll notice that March 12 is a Saturday, which means if you're coming to town for the convention, you could take a field trip to Hollywood that night and catch me and two other EarnestBorg9 cast members in our supermegaawesome sketch comedy show Acme Love Machine.
It's raining here, and there's a pretty strong breeze blowing across my backyard. There's a tiny hummingbird with a shiny green breast sitting on a telephone wire that connects to the eave just above my office window . . . the wire's moving all over the place, but he's not letting go for anything. That's cool.
After a week on CSI, it's no mystery why this is the number one drama on television.
Everyone I've seen is fiercely dedicated to the success of the show. The actors know and care about their characters, and how they interact with each other. When they're called to the set, they come immediately. They are prepared: they know their lines and they talk with each other and the director about the scene.
The attention to detail at all levels is meticulous to the point of obsession. Yesterday, I walked around the stage, and looked at the set decoration. Every bit of paper on the wall was from a police department. The magazines in one of the offices aren't just Las Vegas Showtime guides, they're Las Vegas Showtime Guides from this freaking year. When the makeup department turns me into Walter, I sit in the chair for half an hour while I get scabs and scars and dirt and track marks and scrapes and cold sores and all sorts of other things applied. It would be easy to just make my hands dirty, but there's a beautiful logic to the makeup: this scrape leads into this scab, this bruise has a track mark in the middle of it. This streak of dirt ends on my finger, so there's black makeup applied beneath that nail, and it's thicker than the gunk beneath the next fingernail. Will the audience notice? Probably not. If the audience is marvelling at how realistic my dirty hands are, we're in trouble dramatically . . . but all those details add up unconsciously to make the show real. I know as an actor that it's helped me inhabit Walter at a cellular level. In fact, Walter is the first character I've played in my entire career where I have been able to completely abandon myself and totally commit to becoming another person . . . and it's the most fun I have ever had.
The production office gives DVDs of the recently-aired shows to all the department heads so they know what's happening in the various story arcs, and every single person that I've talked to is proud of the show. I get the sense that this is more than just a paycheck for the people who bring the show to life, they are part of something special, and they know it. CSI could be exclusively about solving the crimes, and it would still be entertaining . . . but it's the development of the characters, and they devotion with which the actors bring those characters to life that sets CSI apart from its countless imitators.
Friday night, I overheard two of the regulars talking about an episode from a year or so ago.
"Man, I remember the day we shot that," Actor A said. "It was the end of a long day, I was tired, and I just wanted to go home."
Actor B said, "Yeah, we've all been there."
"But the scene really suffered because of that," Actor A said, "and I vowed that I would never let it happen again."
The hours are long, and the crew frequently works "splits" where you shoot some day exteriors as well as night exteriors. I've worked splits before, and they pretty much suck if you want to have any sort of life outside of work . . . but I haven't heard a single person complain.
Fun fact: there's wireless in all the stages where they shoot CSI. Sad fact: my iBook's hard drive had a seizure, so it's currently at Apple General Hospital and I can't use the WAP at the studio.
I can WarChalk the studio when I get to work today, though. :)
What an amazing day!
Working on CSI is as cool as we all think it is. In fact, it's cooler. The cast, the crew, the director, the writers, the producers . . . everyone is incredibly cool! I know that I'm only on the show for a few days, but I left the set tonight feeling like I belonged there. Wow. It's the way people told me we made them feel when they worked on TNG, and that's pretty cool.
Turning into Walter was really fun, other than the extreme pain that came with my wig. Because I did a stunt tonight (I have to be very careful, and not give any of the plot away, so bear with me) my wig needed to be "anchored" to my own hair. To do that, they hair department put this stuff called hair glue on me, and twisted my real hair into little bundles that they secured with rubber bands. Holy shit did that hurt. Then they put the wig on me, and used pins to "anchor" the wig to those little hair glue balls that happen to be attached to my scalp. Believe it or not, it's actually as fun as it sounds!
The director (who fucking rocks!) and I decided that Walter has this dangerous volatility to him, that is a result of the voices in his head. Walter uses drugs and alcohol to quiet those voices in his head . . . but it's not working as well as he hoped it would. In fact, it's kinda making it worse. Okay, it's really making it worse, and playing that was just too much fun. Of course, because I'm in a serious makeup and costume thing, it's that much easier to totally become this guy.
We shot out in Northridge tonight, in this über suburban area, and I *really* wanted to wander around the streets in my Walter clothes and makeup, shouting at people that only I could see. I was going to take bets on how long I could get away with that before someone called the police . . . but it turned out that I had real work to do, so that will sadly remain just an idea. Maybe next time.
This neat thing happened tonight. One of the crew came over to me and said, "It's like you're getting paid to play."
"Yeah, I didn't work all last year, so I could save up for this part," I said, only half-joking.
But it's true. I'm having so much fun, and I had this great Moment of Clarity™ tonight after a particularly good take: "This is why I wanted to be an actor", I thought, "I can't believe how lucky I am!"
I've made some notes, and I'll do my best to write a cool blog about the day, but it's past midnight, and I have to be back on the set tomorrow morning, so I'm going to sleep now . . . right after I wash all this hair glue off my head.
My second Games of our lives column hit the web this morning. It's about one of my favorite weird arcade games, Make Trax.
Yesterday, I told one of my friends that I felt really good about this job, but I didn't want to think that this is some huge "I'm back!" deal, where I buy into all the bullshit hype that Hollywood likes to sneak into your drink when you're not looking.
"I am hyper-aware of not believing my own hype." I said. "So much, I often don't stop to enjoy it when good things happen."
He thought a second and said, "It's a simple matter of not telling everyone else how cool you feel and then re-evaluating the following day. For me often times success mitigates itself the next day."
He is extraordinarily successful, and does about a million cool things a day, so I think he knows what he's talking about.
"I guess what I mean is, all these people e-mail, and comment, and tell me that they're pulling for me, and hoping that one of these things finally works out. Now that it's happened, I feel like I've lived up to their belief in me." I said. "Do you know I mean? Or do I sound like a total dick?"
"Nah, that's it." He said.
So, I hope my friend is right. I want to take a moment and say:
Thank you. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for supporting me the last few years, while I've
sort of really struggled to figure out who I am and where I'm going. Thank you all so much for sending your thoughts my way while I worry about Sketch. Thank you to everyone who has left a comment, or sent an e-mail, or blogged about CSI. I know that this is just one stop along The Journey, and the hype is certianly not going to my head . . . but I think I would be a fool if I didn't stop and enjoy it just a little bit.
Okay, a lot :)
Things continue to be Balanced, though. Sketch hasn't improved at the rate we thought and hoped he would. Though he doesn't seem to be uncomfortable or unhappy at all, and he's eating regularly, his breathing is still very high (between 44 and 50). He responds to his diuretic, but I'm worried about the stress it's putting on his little kidneys. He is going to be re-checked tomorrow morning and we'll know more . . . but I'm still scared. He's been sleeping on my chest every night since he came home, and my heart aches when I face the reality that he may not be doing that much longer.
So I'll have a whole bunch of emotional turmoil, which I'll use to bring Walter to life when I shoot the episode, which I just found out starts tomorrow afternoon for me.
I'll write as much about the experience as the production will allow, and I hope to update my moblog and audioblog frequently, as long as it doesn't get in the way of work.
I am very proud of the production, especially because I know how much hard work goes on behind the scenes to research the original TV show, and recreate the experience as faithfully as possible for the audience.
Seven days ago, the only thing I could think about was my cat. We didn't know what was wrong with him, we didn't know how to treat him, and we didn't even know if he'd ever recover.
He spent the entire day with his vet, and I spent the entire day wondering . . . well, if you read WWdN for the last week, you know.
In a tangible example of "life must go on," I had an audition on Monday afternoon of last week. Though I felt like I'd rather just stay home and stare at the phone, the call was for a producer's session on a fantastic show that I love, so I called on all my acting experience, temporarily set my worries aside, and drove to the studio.
It was 4:30 when I got there, and the skies were getting stormy. I had to park at the bottom of a hill, and walked to the gate through a bitterly cold wind. On the way up the hill, a twentyish girl driving a Prius pulled up next to me and shouted across her passenger seat, "Excuse me! Are they making us all park in that lot down there?"
I wanted to reply, "No, I'm just walking all the way up this damn hill in the freezing cold because I want the exercise and possible pneumonia." But she was cute, and she smiled at me. So I said, "Yeah, I think so," and kept walking.
She thanked me and backed down the hill into the lot.
When I got to the guard shack, I was breathing heavily. I couldn't help but think of Sketch as I told the guard where I was going.
"What's your name?" The guard said.
He scanned down a long list of names, found mine, and crossed it off.
"Do you know where you're going?" He said.
"I haven't been here in a long time," I said. A year ago, I would have felt weird saying that, but the familiar feeling of angst wasn't there. "My priorities have changed." I thought.
He gave me directions to the other side of the lot. A short walk later, I signed in below someone named "Dane," and took a seat. The waiting room was little more than a long and narrow hallway with chairs lining both sides, reducing the walkway to about ten inches wide. In an alcove at the end of the hallway, a copy machine duplicated scripts with a familiar ka-chunk! whirr ka-chunk!
The cute girl turned heads as she walked in. "That hill is murder in heels," she said to me.
"I'm glad I wore my Converse," I said.
"Sure, rub it in." She said, coyly.
"Is she flirting with me?" I think that this is a universal truth: no matter how stupid in love a guy is with his wife (and we all know how stupid in love I am with Anne) when a cute girl flirts with you, it makes you feel good, like you've still got something worth flirting with. I said nothing and blushed.
A very young casting assistant came out of the office and looked down the sign-in sheet.
"Are you Dane?" He said to me.
I almost laughed out loud. "No. No I'm not." I said.
"Who are you?" He said.
It was one of those moments where time comes to a complete halt, and a thousand things race through your mind:
"Who am I? I'm the guy who's been acting longer than you've been breathing, kid."
"I am Sparticus!"
"Are you serious?"
"Ah, this is my place, and I've just been put in it."
I heard the distant ka-chunk! whirr ka-chunk! of the copy machine, and I knew that time would soon be returning to its normal passage. I didn't feel insulted, or embarrassed, or anything unpleasant. "Am I offended? Should I be offended? Where's that Prove To Everyone voice? Where's that Voice of Self Doubt? They live for this sort of thing . . . Huh. That's weird. I'm not offended. I'm actually amused. Yeah, this is funny!"
"I'm Wil Wheaton." I said with a grin.
He looked down at the list. "Oh, here you are! Okay, Will. Did you bring a picture?"
I haven't needed to bring a picture to auditions for about a decade, but I didn't tell him that.
"I did not," I said, "But I can have my manager send you one if you need it."
"Oh, it's not a big deal. They just like me to ask." He smiled warmly. "Oh! The script describes this guy as 'a real eager beaver', but the producers don't want you to play it that way. They want you to make it a little more dark."
"Thanks for the heads-up," I said.
"No problem. You're on deck, right after Dane." He lowered his voice and added, conspiratorially,"if I can find him." He walked down the hallway, found Dane, and took him into the room.
"Nice kid," I thought. Immediately followed by, "I can't believe I'm thinking of a twenty year-old as a kid. I am so . . . old? Lame? Both? Yeah, both. Ha."
I sat back down, and looked at my sides. The scenes were short, and I was already off book, but it just felt wrong to not look at them, especially with this new information about the character. This show is very well-written, so making the adjustment from Eager Beaver to Dark Beaver was simple. I just made up a slightly different backstory and gave myself a different "want" in both scenes (In most scripts there's usually a character who wants something, and another character who helps him or stands in his way. The drama or comedy comes from their interaction) It's much more fun to be dark than it is to be eager, anyway, and I had a lot of real life Darkness in my life to draw upon last Monday.
Dane came out, I went in, and I did my thing. I was dark and scary. The producer told me to adjust a little bit less dark, so I did, and read the scenes again.
Everyone in the room was extremely kind and gracious, which I didn't expect . . . I mean, this show is so popular, people are practically stepping over the corpses of their competition just for a chance at auditioning . . . but everyone there made me feel comfortable, welcome, and like they respected the effort. "Whether I book this job or not," I thought, "I won't take this for granted. These people are a class act."
The one hundred percent honest truth? I had fun. I had a fucking metric assload of fun reaching into this character's soul and pulling him out of my guts. Remember when I wrote about how you're not supposed to give a shit? Well, a gave a lot of shits, but I didn't feel like it was life-or-death to nail this. I honestly had so much more on my mind, I just went up there, did my thing, and thought, "Well, here's my take on this guy. Hope you like it."
"Thanks for coming in, Wil," one of the producers said to me, "you did a really nice job."
Usually, "really nice" is Hollywood code for "do not darken my door ever again," but there was a sincerity in his voice, and he didn't have to say anything . . .
"Thank you," I said with a smile. I wanted to add, "I love your show, my kids love your show, and I appreciate the opportunity to read for you," but I kept my big mouth shut and stuck to The Plan: Well, here's my take on this guy. Hope you like it. I walked out of the room, and dropped my sides in the first recycling bin I saw. It's a post-audition ritual: my way of letting go, because at that point, it's totally out of my hands anyway.
"Careful when you walk back down the hill." I said to the pretty girl as I passed her.
"Are you kidding me?" She tapped one of her heels with her fingertips. "These fuckers are coming off as soon as I get out of there!" She laughed. She struck me as one of those rare women, like my wife, who call her shoes "these fuckers" and drink beer, and watch the playoffs, and are entirely charming and beautiful. We're lucky to have them in our lives.
I laughed with her. "Break a leg."
I walked out of the building, and into a strong wind. The sun was setting, and the building, white when I entered, was pink. Reflected in its windows, golden clouds raced from West to East across the deepening blue sky toward the impending night.
I walked quickly back to my car, and drove to my meeting at ACME in Hollywood. The clock in my car read 5:21. Anne had picked Sketch up at 5, so I called her to check on him. When she didn't answer, I feared the worst.
"I'm on my way to ACME," I told her voice mail. "Call me as soon as you get the message and let me know how Sketch is. I love you."
Ten minutes went by. I called again and left a similar message. Five minutes after that, I called Ryan at our house.
Me:"Is mom home?"
Ryan: "No. She's with Nolan."
Me: "Is she getting Sketch?"
Me: "Tell her to call me when she gets home if she hasn't talked to me already, okay?"
Me: "Thanks. I love you."
He's fifteen and doesn't say "I love you" very often, but that's okay. I know he does.
The sunset, off to my right, was particularly beautiful as I crawled down the 5 in rush hour traffic. The storm clouds were heaviest behind me and to my left. Normally, I'd take time to enjoy the juxtaposition, but while I'd been focusing on my audition, lots of worry about my kitty had backed up, and now it was coming out.
"Should I blow off going to ACME and head home? Yes. Yes, I really should go home. I'll go East on the 134 in six miles, and just go home."
For the next several minutes, I looked at my phone over and over again, certain that I was going to miss the call, equally certain that when the call came, it would be Anne's voice, bravely trying to stay steady, while she gave me The News.
"Oh god. What am I going to do? What am I going to do if he has to be put to sleep? This isn't fair! He was fine on Friday morning! Why is this —"
My cell rang.
It was Anne. "How did your audition go?"
"Fine. How's Sketch?"
"Please say he's okay."
"He's not doing well, Wil. His breathing is really heavy, and his eyes look scared. I wish we had known to get his ultrasound yesterday." I could hear the fear and worry in her voice. She was doing her best to keep it together for me. She's incredible, my wife.
I drew a deep breath and felt a strong wave of grief and worry shudder through my body. I didn't know it, but I would get very intimate with this feeling over the next seven days.
"Should I just come home?" I said.
"It's not going to make a difference. I'll call you if anything changes."
"Okay," I said. "I should be home around nine. Take care of my fat guy."
"I will," she said. "When do you think you'll hear about your audition?"
"Well, I think it works pretty soon, so maybe tomorrow or Wednesday, I guess."
My phone chirped twice: call waiting.
"I have another call. It's Chris [my manager]."
"Maybe you got the job," she said.
"I don't know. I'll call you when I know what's up."
"I gotta go. Give Sketch some love for me. I love you."
"I will. I love you too," she said.
I clicked over. Chris wanted to know how the audition went. I told him about it, and about Sketch.
"I hope your cat gets better," he said. "I'll call you as soon as I know anything from casting."
I went to ACME, even though I really felt like I should have been home. I got back shortly after nine, and ran into my bedrooom. Sketch was on my floor, looking like each breath would be his last. I opened my mouth to tell him I love him, and sobs came out instead. I cried myself to sleep while he struggled to stay alive on my bedroom floor, and took him to the vet the following morning. On the way home, I got a call from my manager.
"How's your cat doing?" He said.
I told him, and we spent a few minutes talking about animals and what they mean to us. Most managers have earned their stereotypical image as Armani suit wearing ponytails who end every conversation with ciao! but Chris is antithetical to That Guy. More often than not, I call to talk about an audition, or ask a question about something work-related, and we end up talking about our kids. It's fairly common for me to call him, end up talking about report cards, and have to call him back to ask about the project I'd called about in the first place.
"Well, not to abruptly shift to business, but how tall are you?" He said.
"How tall do they want me to be?" I said.
"Seriously. How tall are you?"
I told him, and pointed out that it's pretty easy to make me one or two inches taller with the right shoes.
"Hey, if you put me in really funky shoes, like James Brown shoes, I could even be four or five inches taller."
He laughed, but I laughed way too hard and way too long for the joke. Now that we knew what was wrong with Sketch, and how to treat him, I laughed more out of relief than anything else.
"Why do they want to know how tall I am? Am I going to lose another role because of the way I look?"
"Quite the opposite," he said. "You made a great impression up there yesterday. They like you so much, they're considering you for a different role in the show."
"Really?! What role?"
"Well, that depends on how tall you are. Let me call them back, and I'll call you when I know something."
I hung up, and I didn't think about the audition again until later that night at ACME.
After we'd been pitching material for about an hour, a friend of mine sat next to me and said, "Are you okay?"
I told her about Sketch. "I'm emotionally exhausted right now."
"I understand," she said. "I'm really sorry."
"Thank you," I said. We talked a little bit about work, and I told her about the audition.
"Oh my crap!" She said, "You're totally going to book it. I just know it."
(This is something that actors always say to each other. If my friend Greg auditions for a wasabi commercial, and he's the only 30ish white guy in there among a hundred Sumo wrestlers, I am bound by the actor's code to tell him, "Dude. You're totally going to book it. I just know it.")
"Well, we'll see." I said.
I watched a lot of really funny sketches (especially Ethan's — we're lucky Travis doesn't grade on too steep a curve), put up a mildly amusing one of my own, and raced home so I could sit up most of the night worrying about my fat little guy.
Early Wednesday morning, I spoke with Sketch's vet: he was improving. I spent the morning working on my Onion column, and did some re-writing of my mildly funny ACME sketch. Around eleven or so, the phone rang. I felt the too-familiar surge of adrenaline before I saw the caller ID. It was my manager.
"Wil? It's Chris."
"What's up?" I said.
"How's Sketch doing?" He said.
"His vet says he's getting better."
"How are you doing?"
"We're not out of the woods yet, but at least I can see the path."
"Okay . . . so how are you doing?"
"I don't know, Chris," I said. "Okay, I guess."
"I understand." He paused, we both shifted gears. "Well, I heard from casting."
"You won't get the official offer until later today, or maybe tomorrow, but they wanted you to know that you're going to get the job."
I sat up in my chair.
"Yes. It turns out that you are exactly the right height. You're playing a homeless guy who . . . let me read it to you . . . 'has been talking to the voices in his head for years, but has just recently started talking to them out loud. He's a suspect in the murder.'"
I jumped out of my chair. "Wait. Did I get a bigger role because of my acting?"
I could hear the smile in his voice. "I think you did. They wanted you to have something more challenging and complex to do."
I did a little dance in my living room, where I run back and forth and shake my thing. Riley saw me, and ran across the house to my side. She didn't know why I was excited, but she danced with me anyway before she got really interested in chasing her tail. She's good like that.
"Chris, this is . . . this is just . . . holy crap!" The reality of this job was sinking in. "For years I've been told, 'you were the best actor but . . .' and 'we loved your acting, but . . .' this is just so cool! Can I blog about it?"
"Well, until we get the official offer, you can tell your friends and family, but you shouldn't put it on your blog just yet," he said. "And starting right now, they don't want you to shave, so you look good and scruffy. Can you grow a beard?"
"Uh . . . in some spots, I can grow a beard . . . ish . . . thing." I said.
He laughed. "Just do your best."
"It's all I can do," I said. "Chris, I can't believe this. I think this is the first time in years you've gotten to call and tell me that I actually booked a job!"
"Congratulations, Wil," he said. "I'll talk to you later."
I hung up the phone, and that's when it really hit me:
I'm going to be on CSI.
I have said it out loud to my friends and family, and even though I just wrote it down, it still feels surreal.
Holy shit, I'm going to be on CSI!
The past seven days have been some of the most turbulent days of my life. While I celebrated the first installment of my column "The Games of Our Lives" in the Onion AV Club, and started the second run of What's My Line? Live On Stage at ACME, I felt excited and happy . . . but through it all, I was constantly worried about my cat Sketch.
The doctors who treated him were wonderful, and encouraged me to call every few hours to check on him, but whenever I started to dial the phone, my hands got cold and my heart raced. Would this be the call where they tell me how sorry they are, but he suddenly took a turn for the worse and they did all they could but . . .
Fortunately, my worries remained just worries, and he continued to steadily improve all week, and he's finally home. Right now, he's sleeping in his favorite spot in my bedroom, between the curtain and the window into the backyard.
His doctor wants to recheck him in five to seven days to determine how his kidneys are doing, and take another x-ray to see how his lungs look. With that information, he'll be able to let us know if Sketch will be on a diuretic, and if so how often. He's going to be on heart medication for the rest of his life, and there's a good chance that it will prevent him from getting fluid in his lungs again, so we'll see.
Right before we left the vet, he told us that we should watch Sketch closely, and if his breathing becomes labored or rapid, we should give him a diuretic right away (easier said than done -- Sketch hates taking pills) and give him a call. It's weird. A week ago, whenever Sketch walked past me in the house, or I saw him on the couch or under the dining room table, I'd just say, "Hi fatguy!" and keep on doing my thing. Most times, I didn't even stop to pet him. Since he came home this morning, I've been checking on him three or four times an hour (it would be more, but I don't want to stress him out too much) just to make sure he's still alive. I stand in the doorway and watch his breathing, and I keep checking his dish to see if he's eaten. I've been a basketcase all week, and I thought that getting him home would put everything back into its right place, but now that he's here, I realize just how much of an old man he is (about 65 in human years) and how fragile his life is.
I haven't blogged about how much I've cried this week, because anyone playing the Joy of Tech drinking game would probably have cirrhosis by now . . . but I've had a week of puffy red eyes and shoulder shaking sobs because, honestly, this ordeal is about much more than just Sketch. I told Anne the other day, while we walked Ferris and Riley through the fading light of a magnificent Winter sunset, "I have been such a mess this week, worrying about Sketch, and it's tearing me up to know that I'm going to have to go through this with Biko, and Ferris, and Riley, and again with Sketch someday. I have always known that I would outlive all our pets, but if I'm such a mess when I face his mortality, what am I going to do when my parents die? Or what about my brother and sister? I don't want to even think about it, but I can't help it. What if I outlive you? What if something happens to you like a car wreck or you get cancer or you fall down and hit your head or —"
She took my hand and said, "I don't know."
Neither do I. In times like these, when I realize how complicated and precious our lives are, I long for those days when the biggest problem in my life was choosing between watching Scooby Doo and playing Legend of Zelda, or what shirt I was going to wear to school.
I guess I have to find a balance between taking nothing for granted, while not spending each day thinking about the inevitable loss of the people I love. I guess life is as simple, and as complicated, as that.
In the middle of the night on Saturday, when Sketch was in the emergency vet and we didn't know what was wrong with him, I walked into the back yard, looked up into the stars, and asked The Universe to take care of him. Some people call it a prayer, some people call it focusing energy, other people call it the final refuge of a desperate man, but I asked, and my fat little guy (whose spine is currently as bony as Monty Burns) pulled through.
I'm so grateful that Sketch is home, and relatively healthy. I am so grateful to the doctors and vets who diagnosed him and nursed him back to health. I am equally grateful to all of you WWdN readers who have virtually held my hand this week. It's given Anne and me a lot of comfort to hear all the success stories, and to have so much kitty love and mojo.
I have big news, which has only added to the emotional roller coaster that I've ridden so violently this week, but I'll announce it on Monday. Right now, I need to go kiss my wife, and then stand in the doorway and watch my kitty sleep.
Sketch's vet told me that his lungs are clear, he's bright and active, and he's looking strong . . . but his kidney levels are still elevated from the lasix, and he isn't eating.
It really worries me that he's not eating, but I hope it's just because he's tired of being in the hospital, and he wants to come home and sleep on
my his bed.
They told me that I should come down and visit him, because maybe he'll eat for me. Sketch has always been a stubborn cat, but he's extremely affectionate, and I'm hoping that when I get down there and give him some love, and tell him how excited we all are for him to come home, he'll perk up and chow down.
I'm scared. I don't like it that he's not eating.
Sketch is clearly feeling all the monkey (and monkey-kitty) mojo. I just talked with his vet, and he told me that Sketch is doing much, much better. He's almost completely out of congestive heart faliure! His vet told me that Sketch ate food overnight (as far as we know, he hadn't eaten all weekend), and that he was out of oxygen, sitting up, looking around, and being "very, very talkative."
I talked with his vet yesterday evening, and he told me that Sketch's lungs were about 2/3 less filled with fluid than they were on Saturday, so he was responding very well to the lasix, and his breathing was down to about 24 from as high as 50 or 80 (sorry, I can't remember exactly what it was) when we brought him in yesterday morning. It was the news I was hoping to hear, and I burst into tears of relief when I hung up the phone. I made a bit of a spectacle of myself, but I didn't (and don't) care. My fat guy is getting better.
It was kind of surreal last night to sit in the theatre at ACME and pitch my sketches for the next show. The word "sketch" was said about a thousand times (duh) and each time I heard it, my eyes filled up. I think I'm going to write a sketch about it, though. It could be pretty funny, once I clean up the gallows humor.
He will get a cardiac ultrasound later today, or early tomorrow, depending on how he's feeling, and then we'll know what his heart disease is, and how to treat it. I know he's not out of the woods yet, but there are rays of hope shining down all around us, and the path is very clear.
Thank you for all your comments and e-mails. This has been a rough few days for me and my family. Each time I've heard from someone who had a similar experience with their cat years ago, I feel a little more hopeful that Sketch will be another one of those cats who rang Death's doorbell, then ran down the walkway laughing before He could open the door.
I just got home from the vet.
The whole drive down there, we sat in some of the worst LA traffic I've seen in years (at least it felt that way . . . my perception was obviously skewed by grief and worry) and Sketch howled and panted the entire way, so I scritched his little fang face, and told him how so many kitties and monkeys were pulling for him, and how we were getting closer to the doctor who would take care of him and help him feel better. The truthis, I was trying to convince myself more than him. By the time we got there, he was breathing so hard he wasn't even holding his head up, and I was convinced that he was going to die before I could get him into the waiting room.
As soon as we walked in, a tech came over and put him into an oxygen cage to help him calm down and breathe, while Anne and I waited to talk with the doctor.
After a few tense minutes, the vet came in, and told us that Sketch has congestive heart failure, and that's why his lungs are filling up with fluid. He said that this is a common condition in Maine Coon cats, and he's treated it many times before. It was very reassuring to hear so much confidence from the vet. At least now we have an idea of how to proceed.
We still don't know what brought it on, and until we perform the cardiac ultrasound, we won't know for sure, or how to treat it. The vet told us that he can drain Sketch's lungs with Lasix, and when Sketch calms down, he'll be able to do the ultrasound. He's pretty sure it's hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, though, and he told us that he just saw a kitty this morning who he treated a year ago, who looked just like Sketch when she came in. I don't want to have false hope, but Anne keeps saying, "I just don't think it's Sketch's time to go," and I desperately want to believe her.
The really sad news is that, even after his lungs are cleared out, we won't ever be able to reverse the damage to his heart, and he will eventually die from it. If we *are* able to drain his lungs and figure out what's wrong with his heart, he should have good quality of life, though he'll spend the rest of it on medication.
The really encouraging news is that the vet knew right away what was wrong, and how to get Sketch comfortable and stabilized. He told us that once a cat is stabilized from this sort of thing, it's very rare for them to worsen or die. So we're hopeful, but prepared for the worst, as well.
You know that saying, "Prepare for the worst, hope for the best"? When you're actually doing it, it's a lot harder than it sounds.
The doctor wants to take things slowly with Sketch, so he doesn't stress him out and make things worse, so right now we're just focused on making him comfortable and getting his lungs clear. Once that's done, we'll do the ultrasound, and then we'll get a better picture of what comes next. I doubt we'll know anything for at least 24 hours.
I want to thank everyone who has kept Anne, me, and Sketch in your thoughts. Your comments and e-mails have meant a great deal to us (even Sketch, who only reads at a first grade level.)
I'll post more when I know more.