It’s not terribly surprising I was adamant about Santa Clara being my home considering my family left Santa Clara for San Diego a mere six months before I wrote this entry. In contrast, it astonishes me that 47 years later, I still regard Santa Clara as my home – despite the fact I never lived there again. Realistically, hasn’t LA – where I’ve lived the last 47 years – earned the right to be called home?
Yeah, objectively, no doubt about it. Emotionally, not so fast. I grew up in Santa Clara, it will forever be where I spent my childhood, it’s the backdrop for all my highly formative memories and experiences.
Unfortunately, the Santa Clara I regard as home ceased to exist shortly after I left. I’ve covered this in other blogs (July 18, 1969, August 26, 1969) and I’m loathe to repeat myself. Still, Santa Clara’s metamorphoses into Silicon Valley fascinates me.
Someday I’d love to write a historical novel about Santa Clara. I’d approach it as a multi-generational saga about a family who own an apricot orchard, tracing family members and the city itself as it evolves to Silicon Valley. I’ve been warned family sagas are out of fashion but by the time I finish, they might be all the rage again.
To develop new talent, the DGA accepts applications to their Assistant Directors Training program once a year. The lucky few who ace the test and then the interview spend the next two years as salaried AD trainees on films or TV shows. Completing the program earns you membership in the DGA and a shot at a career in production. The odds of success are approximately 2.5 percent, I think. My math hasn’t improved since I failed the test in 74.
A few ADs transition to directing. Walter Hill was an AD trainee on Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run. However, it was his writing skill rather than his AD experience that broke him into directing. More typically, 2nd AD leads to 1st AD which leads to Production Manager, and then if you’re lucky and so-inclined to co-producer, line producer or producer. These are hard to get lucrative jobs that often require ungodly long hours. I didn’t take the test again.
My sister Janet didn’t pass the first time either but she applied again. On her second attempt, she won an interview but didn’t get selected. Undeterred, she went back for more and applied again. Her tenacity paid off – she got in. As a trainee, she worked on 9 to 5, the series Vega$, a quirky Jeff Goldblum pilot called Tenspeed & Brownshoe and various TV movies and mini-series.
As a 2nd Assistant Director she worked on Rocky IV where she cast my son Christopher as one of Rocky Jr’s friends… he ended up with several lines in the scene and is still earning residuals. Currently, she’s a Co-Producer/Production Manager on the Judd Apatow Netflix original series LOVE. She also serves on the Assistant Directors Training Plan board (which has evolved since 74).
In college, her dual major was French and American Culture. Who would’ve guessed she’d wind up here?
Twice nominated for Primetime Emmy awards, Janet remarks, “Boston Legal didn’t win but happy to be there & nominated.”
Being both director and mom, Janet is trying to convince her son, Connor, to say “Bye, Dad” to the actor (a stranger) in the upcoming scene for “Sisters.” He’s not going for it. She’s begging!
When I read entries like this, I regret writing some incidents down in such detail. Without a diary, my little hissy fit during an otherwise fine evening would be long forgotten. What set me off that night?
Anderson’s ribbing – which I heard as ridicule – probably felt like an assault given how thin-skinned I was. I hadn’t learned the best way to handle teasing is by mocking myself first. Most people respond better to self-deprecating humor than temper tantrums or prolonged pouts.
My deeper motivation for disappearing was to punish my friends for ignoring me, something friends shouldn’t do to friends. Leave it to a narcissist to grossly over-estimate the pain my absence inflicts on everyone in my orbit (because the world revolves around me). Would it make you more sympathetic to know my need to be treated like I’m special arises from low self-esteem? I’m no one until I’m reflected in someone’s admiring eyes.
Eventually I outgrew this self-defeating behavior. I saw the light when I dated a histrionic guy whose need for attention drained every last drop of my respect and affection. I saw how toxic I could become, if I didn’t shape up. I never wanted to affect someone else so negatively. Unfortunately, by the time I wised up, most likely I already had – for which I’m truly sorry, if that helps.
When I wrote this, I’d known my in-laws for less than a year but so far everything I knew was fabulous. They’d fit right in at one of Jay Gatsby’s wild parties or a formal meet-and-greet with a sitting US President. (No exaggeration – through them, J and I met Gerald Ford when he was in office.)
Other than J’s and my marriage and their own 40-plus year marriage, Chet and Flo had little in common with my parents. No value judgment is implied; they were different but neither one of them was superior to the other. Their strengths were in different areas.
John’s parents were more sophisticated and cosmopolitan than mine. They had more books in their house. They drank, they smoked, they went out to dinner and threw parties. They played a mean game of bridge. Florence was a joiner, an active voice in clubs and charities throughout Fresno. Born a privileged San Francisco socialite, she was confident with a strong sense of self but never a haughty snob. She could make anyone feel like her new best friend. She was so entertaining, so easy to talk to, even a deeply reserved introvert like myself stayed up till 4 AM because it was fun to hang out with her.
John’s father was the ultimate family man, a good thing for the father of seven to be. CD was the first grandchild for John’s parents and mine – consequently, he was deluged by love and attention from both sets of grandparents. Sam and Alex got their fair share, too.
Did CD favor the Rowells or the Knutsens? He looked a lot like John as a baby.
As he grew, so did his resemblance to my father.
But, then again, also the resemblance to J.
And perhaps a smidgen of a resemblance to me.
Which family had the more dominant genes? I call it a draw.
What a classic example of freaking out about something that isn’t close to happening. From the sound of this entry, I wasn’t even babysitting when I started down this terrifying path of “What ifs?” That said, on more than one actual babysitting job, my parents had to deliver Janet to calm me down – and I hadn’t even seen movies like Halloween. (They hadn’t been made yet and even if they’d been available, my parents forbade us to see horror movies. Their attitude was, “If you still want to see this gore when you’re 18, fine. Until then, you don’t need it.” Given my propensity for hysteria, I can’t argue with their wisdom.
This tendency to extrapolate the most dreadful outcome of any given situation was a curse in romantic relationships. If a guy didn’t call me on time, I convinced myself he was losing interest, intended to drop me, hated me, was madly in love with my worst enemy. Once these ideas took hold, it was hard to release them and I turned into a needy clingy nutcase.
Lucky for me, one area where catastrophizing is an asset not a liability is film and television writing. When writing a movie of the week, you look for the worst possible alternative. If a husband checks out the hot divorcee down the street, odds are his wife will be dead by the first commercial break. The more trouble a writer can hurl at his hero, the more dramatic and emotionally involving the story. The principle works in fiction – not so much in real life.
In late February 1969, my clinical depression escalated. (See November 30, 1968) My part-time job at California Book couldn’t save me but it staunched the bleeding. It forced me to adhere to a schedule. I only worked 16 hours a week, but it was my first job and I took it seriously. It didn’t infringe on my social life since I no longer had one. I didn’t miss it.
The major symptom of my despair was a total lack of interest in anything. Anhedonia is the technical term. It means “an inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable … including the motivation or desire to engage in activities.” It took enormous effort to shower. If I also washed my hair, I was too spent to go to school. Not so long ago I could do both – wash my hair and attend school – but not anymore.
I knew I wasn’t living up to the curse of my so-called potential. My parents were disappointed, although they never said so. It was nothing compared to how much I loathed myself.
The last thing I needed was more time in bed to think. That kind of self-centered contemplation was like swimming through quicksand – there was no way out, only down. The answer was activity, to get out of bed and out of the house. I knew what to do, but I lacked the energy – and the desire – to do it.
Writing about my year of depression is about as much fun as living it. I do it because so many people get stuck in something similar. In the thick of it, I felt alone and empty. It might’ve helped to know I wasn’t. If you’re depressed and read this, remember – you’re not alone or empty either. Things get better. Hang on.
From today’s vantage point, life looks simple in ‘64 but it didn’t feel that way then. I obsessed over what other people thought of me (which they didn’t, much). Subtle shifts in friendship sent me reeling. I stewed about my performance in school. I wanted to be number one in everything but I was afraid to be best at anything.
My need to be number one began in ‘53, when my parents shattered my fragile 2-year-old psyche by bringing my sister Janet home. I got their message loud and clear. If I’d been a better baby – cuter, smarter, more entertaining – they wouldn’t have needed another baby. I ran outside and bawled my eyes out.
They flat-out refused to return her. Over time, I discovered she – and later Joyce – had some good points. Little sisters were easy to trick. Gradually both of them became fun to talk to. In fact, it was easier to talk to them than anyone else in the world.
Because we knew which buttons to push, emotions ran high. They could cut me to the bone, infuriate and inspire me, rouse my jealousy and my compassion. On balance, we shared more laughter than tears.
I trust them with my deepest secrets, my darkest self. When I fail and feel all is lost, my sisters raise me from the dead. They’ve got my back when I need them most. They love me when I don’t deserve it, believe in me when I give up. They’re the wind beneath my wings, my bridge over troubled waters. They light up my life. You get the gist.
Maybe all things considered, what my sisters give me is bigger than the narcissistic wound Janet inflicted. Maybe gains always come with pain. Maybe I should stop whining about what happened 63 years ago.
The script I refer to here turned out to be my breakthrough spec script “At 17”, inspired by and loosely based on the brilliant Janis Ian song of the same title. I didn’t have the rights – I don’t know if anyone actually did – but ABC was developing it as a Movie of the Week (MOW).
My former boss at NBC, the late and much lamented Len Hill, was one of the ABC executives in charge of MOWs; my sister Janet was his assistant/secretary. He told me if I could write a brilliant script in the next ten days he’d consider it equally with the scripts the network paid for. Ten days isn’t enough to write a great script from scratch under any circumstances and it wasn’t the best of times for me. My son CD was 14 months old but well on his way to the terrible twos.
Nonetheless, I gave it my best shot. The tension was so high I threw up on some of those late nights (gross, I know) but – with Jani’s assistance – I finished it. I don’t think Len or anybody else expected me to do it.
The problem was – it wasn’t good enough. The network preferred the writer who cashed their big checks. The rejection was so devastating I gave up until my pride and desire for revenge resurrected me. “I’ll show you,” I thought. “I’ll do a great rewrite and prove you were wrong to dismiss me.”
Did I succeed? I think so. Although the film never got made, it was optioned three times and garnered interest from directors like Martha Coolidge and Amy Heckerling. Years after Molly Ringwald aged out of playing a teen-ager, she told me she would’ve loved to play one of the parts. To say the least, I would’ve loved for her to play it but my script didn’t reach her at the right time.
That’s the way things go. Big ups, big downs. Victories won, battles lost, it’s hard to quantify wins and losses when script quality is so subjective and the industry’s in constant flux. The bottom line is, were those ten sleepless days and nights worth it when I failed to get what I wanted? Would I do it again? Hell, yes. If I had my life to live over, I’d try harder, reach higher and risk bigger losses. The only way to fail for good is giving up.
Yolanda moved in with us in 1984. She loved Chris, Sam and Alex with everything she had – especially Sam, although she never admitted favoritism. The tip-off? She always referred to Sam as “the princess.” Alex was Ahni and Chris was Goose because that’s how the princess pronounced their names. Yolanda balked at calling us John and Kathleen; we were forever Mr. John and Mrs. Kathleen.
She confided her cancer to the princess, who stepped up. She drove Yolanda to all of her doctor’s appointments, sat by Yolanda through every chemo, visited every day when Yolanda was hospitalized. The rest of us pitched in but the princess earned Yolanda’s second nickname for her – my angel.
On Friday February 10, Yolanda’s doctor estimated she’d live thirty days. She had thirty hours. When she drew her last breath at 1:30 AM, we all understood it was for the best. Her pain was excruciating, cancer terminal, death inevitable. No surprises. We knew where this road led.
Except we didn’t, not really. We’re in shock. All day I shushed our dogs so they wouldn’t awaken Yolanda – as if anything could. Three fat cats looked increasingly concerned – where’s our Fancy Feast? ‘Where’s the human who opens cans?
The light is on in Yolanda’s room. For a second, I think she’s there. I haven’t been in her room alone in years. Everywhere, pictures of our children – framed on her bureau, taped to the wall, stacked in photo albums. She carried their photos in her wallet. She loved it when strangers thought they were hers. Was I jealous, did I worry she’d spirit them off to El Salvador? No. If anything, it endeared her to me. If I couldn’t be there, who better than someone who loved them like they were her own?
On a sheet of paper tacked above her bed she drew a cross and scrawled, “Please god please god no cancer. Please god no cancer.” A purple spiral notebook was scribbled with recipes. She saved expired coupons for things she didn’t buy. A few of her clothes trailed price tags, waiting to be worn. Whoever clears my room when I’m dead will find comparable artifacts.
The photos we leave behind show what we did. Fragments of incomplete projects remind us of all left undone, bits and pieces of Yolanda. I should have known her better, more deeply, sooner. I don’t know her sister’s name or phone number in El Salvador and I don’t speak Spanish even if I did.
So what did I know about Yolanda? She made the LA Times her own personal illustrated blog. She drew devil’s horns on basketball players she hated, basically everyone but LeBron and the Clippers. She trapped a rattler outside our door by slamming a concrete slab down on its head. (I would’ve been dead from heart attack.) She didn’t drink, smoke or party. Her modesty did not permit her to wear shorts, swimwear or sleeveless blouses – ever.
She loved our forays to Costco – “the big store” – but recently I was too busy to take her until she was too weak to go. There are so many things I meant to say – should have said – but didn’t. I hope she knew – I think she knew – how much her kindness meant, how her patience and loyalty changed our lives, how many others – my sisters, parents and friends – grew to love her like we did and always will. How much we’ll miss her smile, her red coat, her curly hair, her commentary on current events (you thought she’d stop at sports?) in the LA Times, all part and parcel of the boundless heart and infinite capacity for love we knew as Yolanda Hernandez.
We’ll meet again, Yolanda.
(I’m not trying to make a political point about immigration. However, since Yolanda was an illegal immigrant when I hired her, here are the facts. She always worked, either caring for the elderly or children. She neither asked for nor received welfare. She became a US citizen in the early 90s. For the next twenty years plus, she paid taxes like everyone else. In other words, she writes checks to our government without cashing checks from them. Our country gave her something more valuable than food stamps – a chance at a better life. The way I see it, she was lucky to get into our great nation – but not as lucky as we were to get her into our family.)
Because I’m a pastor’s kid (PK), my father confirmed me – married me – and baptized my children. Every time I stood in front of the congregation and looked into his eyes, tears welled and I teetered on the edge of complete meltdown. I wasn’t sad, just overloaded with emotion. The same thing happens when I think about him now. The memory of my father officiating at CD’s baptism makes me reflect on unique aspects of life as a PK.
When I was two years old (before the Alien Baby emerged, and ruined my life), my father took me with him to give communion to rural parishioners. Halfway through the ceremony, his communicant’s eyes wandered so he turned to investigate what caught their attention. It was me, toddling behind, imitating his words of blessing and passing out imaginary wine and wafers.
We acted out Bible stories to amuse ourselves. The Good Samaritan was a favorite. My father played the battered victim near death by the side of the road. I took on multiple challenging roles ranging from a snooty priest to a snotty Pharisee and a self-absorbed Levite. Basically, I pretended not to see the dying man by the side of the road. At this point my sister Janet, bobbing with excitement, took center stage in the starring role of Good Samaritan. Between you and me, a monkey could have played her part. All she needed to do was hoof it as far as the kitchen and ask Mommy for a glass of water. When she accomplished this feat, dramatic tension peaked. Invariably she paused – and guzzled most of the water, saving a few drops for our dying dad. And I’m the one who got typecast as being selfish?
Sometimes Janet and I played Israelites in search of manna. Confused about what constituted manna – was it vegetable, legume or dairy product? We agreed it probably resembled chocolate chip cookie dough and hid globs of it in the sofa cushions for the Israelites to discover and devour. Who knew about salmonella in the fabulous fifties?
(Future blogs will explore other aspects of growing up P.K.)