Dear Kindly Person or Persons Curious About 'Bored to Death,'
Just got my coffee and feel sort of in good spirits. I should be in good spirits more often, but I'm not. Why? I'm not depressed or nervous, but I usually exist in some psychic land betweefn those two states. It's like they both pull at me - on one hand despair and on the other anxiety - and I end up in the middle, sort of neutrally confused and off-balance. Emotionally, I'm like Belgium.
But Belgium is a nice country. I once spent nearly two weeks there touring that small nation with writers from France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. We were part of this extended celebration of Valentine's Day called Saint Amour and we would go to a different Belgian city each night and give readings. It was rather surreal, but for twelve consecutive nights, I read my essay "Bald, Impotent, and Depressed." It's not the most romantic story, but it was the best I could come up with as far as approaching the theme of love. After I read, I would do the "hairy call." I "hairy-called" my way across Belgium. It was a hell of a good time.
One night, this lovely, female Dutch poet, who was part of our troupe, attacked me in the wings of one of the theaters where we were appearing - she was somewhat wonderfully mad - and the attack, which was like something Kato would pull on Clouseau in the Pink Pather movies, escalated into a strange make-out session...Years later, she found me in France, when I was there for the publication of one of my novels, and she leaped out of the shadows of my hotel hallway, shocking me and surprising me, just as she had done in that theater in Belgium, and attacked me again. I sort of miss her.
Anyway, I digress.
Last night I had dinner with the director of our first two episodes, Alan Taylor. A longtime Manhattan resident, Alan moved to Fort Greene, Brooklyn, after filming our show. He was so smitten with the neighborhood that he was drawn to it powerfully, like Gatsby to Daisy's green light. I do worry that Manhattan has suffered a complete cultural brain-drain, but I imagine that soon enough, people will rediscover Manhattan and forsake Brooklyn.
We had dinner at Chez Oskar in Fort Greene, which is owned by the painter Charlotta Janssen. I've known Charlotta since the late nineties from when I would host burlesque shows and she, like a female Toulouse Lautrec, would sketch the dancers and the whole scene.
So for years we would always run into each other - I went to a few parties at her loft and she would also do sketches at The Moth where I would tell stories - and then when we were scouting locations for episode 1 of 'Bored to Death,' I ran into her at Smooch Café, which we ended up using. I mentioned to Charlotta that we needed an apartment for the "Jonathan Ames" character and sure enough in a building that she owns there was an empty studio that was perfect. So that's where we filmed Suzanne moving out in episode 1 and where Jonathan rediscovers Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler, which propels him to be a private detective. Later, for episode seven, "The Case of the Stolen Sperm," which I will be discussing shortly, we recreated that apartment on our sound-stage.
My whole point is that last night was a lovely reunion with Alan and then Charlotta, who came and joined us. She gave me a card for her new painting show at NY Studio Gallery, and she showed me pictures of her magnificent work on her iPhone. She and my dear friend Patrick Bucklew are my two favorite painters in New York.
So there we are. Where are we? Those two lines are from my novel The Extra Man, but serve as a good and confusing transition to discussing "The Case of the Stolen Sperm." I will now open the script and go through it, as I do each week, citing allusions and illusions and delusions.
Ray's talk of onanism in this opening scene expresses rather accurately my feelings on the subject, the whole lancing-the-wound business that is. I've often felt that human sexuality - well, my human sexuality - is completely driven by psychological problems. On the other hand, cuddling and wrestling with dogs is perfectly lovely and has to do with the human need for physical contact and affection. Thus, I'm all for cuddling and dog-wrestling, but, for me, the jury is still out on sex. Unfortunately, I'm forty-five and probably won't figure out sex in my lifetime, which, as I type this, is deeply annoying. Just last night, as I walked home from seeing Alan, I felt rather blithe and happy, but then thoughts of mortality came in, the knowledge that I'm just renting this body and won't always be able to walk in the Brooklyn night, that some day I'll be turned off and thrown away...
Anyway, I wish I could live in my privileged confused state about sex and everything else forever. When I was a teacher at the University of Iowa, I would say to my students, late at night, as I was being a very bad role model, "I want to be immortal forever." I would throw in the forever to cover my bets.
Ozzie's is a classic Fifth Avenue, Park Slope café. Years ago, I had a beautiful girlfriend who lived right near it. For some reason, I had a real intense phobia about using this young lady's toilet in the morning. That's often difficult for me - using a toilet in close proximity to a lover - but with this young woman it was extremely pronounced. So I would rush out in the mornings - she must have wondered at my brusqueness - and I would dash to Ozzie's, order a coffee to not seem too insane, and then sprint into their toilet and conduct my private humiliations privately. As a thank you, years later, I had us film there and I hope it brings in some extra business.
Ray's whole clenching-of-his-anus talk is something I do. I clench down there and then I remember, from my studying of yoga twenty years ago, to breathe. So I breathe through my mouth down to my anus and the whole body relaxes. The only problem is that I do this about every two weeks. The rest of the time I'm starving, as most of us are, for oxygen. If people remember to breathe, they feel a lot better.
That's my voice on the intercom. It's my Hitchcockian cameo for the season. I sound terrible because I have a very nasal and melancholic voice, but we were in the editing room and we needed someone...
In the apartment, I have Jonathan find a Kombucha because I do like to drink those things. Trilogy is my favorite; I love anything with ginger. On this day of shooting, Zach showed up with tendinitis in his knee, so we had to write into the script this idea that he hurts his knee while fleeing the Hasidim. If you look carefully, though we did the best we could in the editing room, Zach is limping just about the whole episode. He hurt his knee cycling around Brooklyn.
I really wanted to showcase this beautiful Brooklyn location. When I first saw it about twenty years ago, before I knew Brooklyn too well (though I had come here as a child to visit my grandparents), I thought it was so spectacular and I remember thinking, "This is the Arc de Triomphe of New York!"
Zach valiantly limped his way through this scene and we were all worried that we were making his knee worse, which we probably were, but we needed that shot!
My old friend, John Hodgman, makes his series debut in this scene and he's fantastic. The line from his review of Jonathan's novel, "Next time, Jonathan, try writing with both hands..." is actually an approximation of what a reviewer said about my fourth book, My Less Than Secret Life. I thought it was such a brilliant put-down - implying that I was engaging in onanism while typing - that I had it put on the postcard that was printed up for the book. It was an anonymous review from a trade publication, so I never knew who wrote it, but I really admire that one line.
I love the chemistry between Zach and Heather Burns in this scene, the way she throws herself so lovingly onto his chest. She's like a starlet from a silent picture, and then I really love how she raises up when Jonathan lays out his plan to undo this injustice of the stolen sperm.
I wanted to get the Williamsburg Bank building into our season since it so dominates the Brooklyn horizon. Also, I once came up with something called "The Most Phallic Building in the World Contest" and I was inspired to do so by the Williamsburg Bank.
How it happened was this: Several years ago, for Slate magazine, I wrote a week-long diary and at one point I wrote about the Williamsburg Bank and went on to say that having it in Brooklyn was "like being in a locker-room with Shaquille O'Neal - you can't help but look." If I wasn't lazy I would find the actual essay and quote myself directly, but I'm lazy.
I went on to say in the diary entry that the Williamsburg, in addition to being like Shaquille O'Neal, was the most phallic building in the world. Well, soon thereafter, I was flooded with emails from all around the world, telling me of other, supposedly more phallic buildings. People were outraged that I had labeled my hometown Brooklyn building the most phallic and the responses were so numerous that I decided to hold a contest, which my friends at Cabinet Magazine hosted for me on their website. You can see the results here. I was the sole judge of the contest, but I was impartial, as you will see, and did not play favorites...
George's slanderous comment that Richard Antrem (Oliver Platt) has a mouth like the anus of a starfish is something I stole from my novel Wake Up, Sir! Is it plagiarism when I steal from myself? I do this sometimes in 'Bored to Death' to leave little hints to the people who have been kind enough to read my books over the years and also, especially in this case of the starfish anus, when it's a line I particularly like and which I'm anxious to recycle.
Originally, I wanted Jonathan and Ray to trek all the way up to Smith College to find the last lesbian couple on the list, but that would have involved shooting them getting on the Fung Wah bus in Chinatown and we didn't have time for that. So we went with our subway map transition shot, which I really like, and we had the guys go to Ditmas Park, which is a spectacular Brooklyn neighborhood. I have one of the ladies mention Rosemary's Baby, because that's one of my favorite movies of all time, and I have Ray mention Crohn's Disease because I know two people with that particular affliction.
We don't linger on it too long with the camera, but Dean Haspiel's rendering of "Janet to the Rescue!" which recreates the adventure of episode six, is quite wonderful. I didn't have time to script out that drawing for Dean, as I had with the other drawings during the season and with our graphic novel The Alcoholic, so late one night, I think while we were shooting episode six, I dictated to Dean, over the phone, what I wanted in each panel and he did his usual beautiful job. Dean always takes my descriptions and then elevates them to a whole other nutty level. You can see the full drawing on the website here.
Well, that's all I have. I want to thank the wonderful Donick Cary, my co-writer for this episode, as well as thank Nicole Holofcener who did a magnificent job of directing.
All the best,
PS To hear the hairy call, click here.
Posted 12:00 AM | Nov 2, 2009