Though I write from the love of what I’m writing—be it book, blog, or movie—it’s always with a slightly heavy load. And that would be the chip on my shoulder. I’ve never lost that feeling that I want to prove something to the doubters, some of whom I’ve barked about in my ever-growing list of blog posts. Now that I think about, I should probably thank them for their role in my daily motivation.
Perhaps another day.
It’s spring. And in Southern Cal, with April comes a sporting event called the Long Beach Grand Prix. Now before you click off thinking I’m some closet gear head about to apply wax to some warm ode to car racing, think again. Not a fan of the sport. Nascar. Formula One. Indy. I find little to nothing about the sport at all interesting. Hell, in Days of Thunder, not even Tom Cruise, Jerry Bruckheimer, Robert Towne, or the late greats Don Simpson and Tony Scott made racing the least bit enthralling for me.
So what do the Long Beach Grand Prix and that aforementioned big fat chip on my shoulder have to do with anything worth chirping about?
Two of my cousins, Brian and Steven, were once involved in the Long Beach Junior Chamber of Commerce. The Jaycees as they’re called are a service charity, raising money and muscle for local causes. At the time, the L.B. Jaycees were responsible for distribution and sale of collectors programs for the Grand Prix, with a healthy chunk of the profits earmarked for the needy. I was asked to volunteer a long weekend of bib wearing, program hawking, and shouting over the ear-splitting scream of Indy cars and their wide-open throttles. They were three-quarter-day gigs with the promise of free cold Budweisers at shift’s end in the Anheuser-Busch hospitality tent. As well as a swell excuse to hang and talk trash with my cousins for a couple of nights.
What could possibly go wrong?
Considering the annual attendance at the Long Beach Grand Prix tips out at around two hundred thousand race fans, what would be the odds that I’d run into a copious number of old friends, college pals, and acquaintances? My guess would’ve been on long odds—on par with Jean-Claude Van Damme winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in an Adam Sandler comedy.
I would’ve been wrong.
There I stood at the bottom of a grandstand wearing swim trunks, a t-shirt, flips flops, and a cheesy, blue, change bib. Under my arm was the stack of glossy collectors programs I was loudly shucking for five bucks a copy. I had, what salesmen called a “hot corner.” And business, I’m glad to say, was peppy. Every half hour, it seemed, I had to dive into my nearby carton of reserves for another armload of product.
Suddenly, as if from out of a fog, appeared a couple I knew from across my San Fernando Valley apartment complex. I grinned and greeted them.
“Wow,” said my neighbor.
“Right,” I laughed. “Small flippin’ world.”
“Sellin’ programs, huh?”
“Five bucks per,” I retorted. “Want a couple?”
My neighbors bought a program to share, smiled awkwardly, and moved along. I thought nothing of the encounter other than the coincidence of it.
An hour or so later, another group of acquaintances landed on my corner. These were peeps I knew from a weekly social gathering-slash-self-help-class I’d been attending on Tuesday nights. Rather than being greeted by smiles, I found myself confronted by a mix of shock and embarrassment.
Hellos were exchanged. Equally as awkward as those of the last duo I’d ran into.
“Tough times, yeah?” one of them offered.
“Not at all,” I sunnily replied. “This is for charity.”
“Sure, sure,” said another. “I’ll take one.”
The lot of them bought a program each and moved on to their assigned seats. This was where the realization hit me.
Oh my God. They think I’m doing this as a job?
Now mind you. Short of illegal drugs, I have nothing against slinging anything for the almighty coin. Money is money. And nearly all that we do to earn it is an honorable endeavor. But at the time, poor pitiful Doug was under contract as a screenwriter at Warner Brothers. I had an office, a parking space, a healthy weekly salary, and more than a few miles of earned respect. Even more significant, nearly all who’d stumbled onto my program-shilling charity act knew as much.
Therefore… the tales of my employment success… both looked and smelled like bullshit.
Then, from out of the throng, appeared an old college girlfriend on the arm of her newest guy. I forced a happy-to-see-her mug. Her face registered more shock than surprise. As if to say, Oh look. I used to date this loser. I’ve clearly moved on to a better class of man.
I wanted to protest. Right there. Set her and that arm candy stud-muffin straight. I’m not a failure. I’m so ballin’ that I can blow an entire weekend, as well as my eardrums, on peddling programs for charity.
Alas, there was nothing to say. At least nothing that wouldn’t sound offensively defensive. And what did I care anyway? One day I’d have movie credits to fall back on. Or so I’d hoped.
I’ve posted before about living and breathing in that odd netherworld between making a living as a screenwriter without having an actual credit to prove as much. It makes certain folks wonder what one really does for a living.Yet hindsight’s my teacher, here. During that part of my life between those strange bookmarkers, I encouraged that ever-growing chip on my shoulder to grow into a demanding taskmaster, pushing me ever harder to elevate my work ethic.
That chip is still there. And so it will remain as long as I imagine I have something to prove—be it a script, book, or my next blog.
The night before the race finale, while cooling both my heels and eardrums around my cousin’s barbecue, I recall lamenting. Someone suggested that on Sunday I should wear a baseball hat with a billboard that read “Show No Pity. I’m Doing this Shit for Charity.”
We all laughed. Publically, I felt kinda vain for worrying even the slightest over what anybody else thought of me selling programs for money, charity, or even beer. That said, I popped an ice-cold can of Budweiser and silently toasted the chip on my shoulder. Forever may it remain.