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Friday, November 12, 2010


I WANT TO DIE PEACEFULLY in my sleep, like my Uncle George, not kicking and screaming and clawing at the backseat like my cousins. - Old Teamsters Joke

We were tooling along Hollywood Boulevard on a bright, only semi-smoggy day, when Chris said, "Isn't that the movie joint that almost killed us?"

He was indicating the Pantages Theater, where we had once fallen a little too deeply in our cups with a girl whose name I'm too much of a gentleman to remember. I don't remember the movie either, but it was so bad we had nipped at a flask of brandy more than we should.

"We ought to have taken a fucking cab," Chris said.

"With what money?" I said. "We'd already hocked my accordion and your Luger and even if we'd had anything left there wasn't a pawn shop open at one in the morning."

The near early demise of Bunch & Cole that we were speaking of had occurred sometime in the early - going on the mid - Sixties. Chris was home on leave from the Army and we had gone on a royal toot that had left us physically and financially whacked out.

On the way home from the Pantages, we were all stunned into silence by the booze and the awfulness of the flick, and after a bit the girl fell asleep, head on my shoulder. Soon I, too, drifted into nearly permanent Slumberland.

At some moment Chris - who was driving - nodded off as well. Suddenly, I was jolted awake by a horrible screech of brakes and one of Newton's Really Scary Laws Of Motion was shoving me and the girl forward. I dug my knees into the glove compartment, held tight to the girl, and looked up just as the car met the freeway's chain link fence.

Chris' car was a 1960 Bonneville which weighed well over four thousand pounds, not counting the weight of two big lugs named Bunch & Cole, plus the girl, who although shapely, was not petite.

We were probably going at least 65 mph when the Pontiac and the Chain Link Fence decided that a First Date was more than enough time to get to know one another, and attempted to mate.

The car plowed on and on, ripping through the fence, a suddenly conscious Chris grasped the wheel, meanwhile doing his damndest to ram the brake pedal through the floorboards.

My knees felt like they were buckling the dash, but I held onto the girl, pushing away, away, away from Newton's firm desire to mash us against the windshield. (Did I mention that in those days nobody outside a race track possessed seat belts, much less wore them?)

I looked up just as the main cable running along the top of the fence cut the roofline - just where the roof and the windshield met.

It went through it like a cheese-slicer through Mozzarella, and I watched in awful fascination as it transformed into a horizontal guillotine, just missing our heads, but taking off the roof.

And then we were motionless. No sound but the ticking of the engine cooling in the night air.

The girl said, "Wow!"

My reaction, but in fewer words and cleaner language.

A wild thought of great selfishness popped up: at least we were in Chris' car, and not my brand new tastefully blue Ford Ranchero with the black vinyl interior and really cool radio that automatically hunted for the best rock and roll stations.

Then reality and a modicum of humanity returned and I said, "Everybody okay?"

Everybody was, including Chris, who said, nonsensically: "I thought you were fucking driving, Cole."

I heard sirens in the distances, so I started plucking leaves from trashed freeway landscaping, saying, "Chew some leaves quick. Maybe they won't smell the booze."

Thankfully, the cops who showed up just seemed happy that the three shaken kids who looked like they came from nice homes, were miraculously unhurt. Underscored by the car roof that was peeled off all the way to the trunk, with the freeway cable still taut against the underside of the remains.

Eventually, Chris' mom and dad came to get us - accompanied by their pretty 13-year-old daughter, Kathryn, whom I would marry some fifteen years later.

Those events flashed through my mind as we passed the Pantages Theater, former venue of a film so awful that it had almost killed us. I know Chris was thinking the same thing, because he said, "What a stinkeroo."

Then we were turning left on Cahuenga and a minute later we were surrendering the BMW (the successor, many times over of the ill-fated '60 Bonneville) to a valet outside the Cahuenga Theater, where Joe Piscopo's new movie - Dead Heat - starring Joe and Treat Williams, was being screened before a group of Hollywood Big Shots.

We non-Big Shots were there by invitation of the two producers who had hired us to write the next Joe Piscopo movie. As I mentioned in the previous episode (Screwed By The Mouse), we were under the gun timewise because of the looming Writers Guild strike.

Dead Heat proved to be a very funny movie and when it was over, Joe was there to shake hands with everyone. When he got to us, one of the producers said, "These are your new writers, Joe. Chris Bunch and Allan Cole."

Grinning, Piscopo asked, "Which is which?"

Chris pretended to look confused. Turned to me, saying "You're Bunch, right? So, I must be Cole." Shook, his head. "Wait, wait, you're Cole and I'm Bunch. Or, is it my turn to be Cole? And your turn-"

Piscopo laughed, clapped my partner on the back, saying, "I've heard all about you, Chris. And I see that every word of it is true. We chatted briefly, then he said, "How about you guys come out to Jersey and visit with me? I'd like to set the movie there, and we could scout locations, drink beer, shoot the breeze, and get acquainted. What do you think?"

Chris mock frowned, replying, "Gee, I don't know, Joe. We only just met. Hope you don't think we're that easy."

Then Piscopo did the damndest thing. His features started to change and suddenly we were looking at somebody who sort of resembled Robert De Nero. DeNero/Piscopo fixed us with a glare and shook a finger at us. He said, in a perfect De Niro voice, "What? You lookin' at me? You lookin' at me? 'Cause if you're fuckin' lookin' at me, then youse'd better get this straight... I'm the fuckin' comedian around here. Get me?"

We broke up. Laughing to beat the band. Finally, Chris managed to gasp through laughter, "Gotcha, Bobby!"

Piscopo transformed again - back into himself. Huge grin on his face. This was when Joe was at his biggest - ripped with muscle. But instead of looking menacing, or formidable, he came across as a big goofy kid. We liked him immediately. And it was quickly agreed that we'd visit him in the wilds of Jersey.

The nice thing about flying on the Studio's dime is that it's champagne and canapés all the way. Rich Piscopo, Joe's younger brother, met us at the airport and soon we were humming along in Joe's spanking new, tricked out 4X Ford Bronco that had all the trimmings... tow package, roll bar, chrome running boards, power this and power that, topped off with a blast-the-windows-out stereo system.

Remember that Bronco.

As we drove along the turnpike, we filled Rich in on the project. Basically, the storyline was about a small town Jersey kid, who ends up being a cop in New York, mainly working undercover. (Using Joe's formidable talents as an impressionist.) He burns out there, nearly loses his partner in an operation, does lose the bad guys, then quits and heads home. This all happens in the first few minutes, because the real story - and adventure - takes place in his home town, which is being ruined by big city developers.

Rich said, "Joe's notion is to turn Long Beach Island into his character's home town. It's practically empty in the off season, plus the Pine Barrens are right across the Causeway."

"The Pine Barrens?" I said. "Chris and I are in the middle of researching that area back during the Revolutionary War days. It was a total wilderness. And full of pressed German soldiers who'd deserted the British Army."

"It's still pretty much a wilderness," Rich said. (A former teacher, he was helping to manage Joe's career.) "Smaller of course. And those German soldiers married into a lot of Irish families, and some of their descendants still farm the area. There's bogs all over the place. Some wild, but most run by cranberry canneries. Ocean Spray is big here. And the people... well, wait until you meet them. You'll never know you're only a few minutes away from big city life."

"Bogs?" Chris said. He grinned. "Don't the Wiseguys use Jersey bogs to dump people they've whacked?" Rich agreed that they did. Chris looked back at me. "We can do something with those bogs, Cole," he said.

I said, "Remind me not to eat any cranberries while we're here."

Soon, we were driving through the pine barrens, and they were just as Rich had advertised - the woods were thick, the air scented with pine, the road was empty, and besides the lights of a few farm houses off in the trees, the sole illumination was the bright moon overhead.

Then, it was across the Causeway, pleasure craft and fishing boat lights winking in the distance, and a sparkle from the homes of the natives. And then we were moving down quiet avenues, through the shadows of empty beach cottages, until we finally came to the Piscopo family retreat.

When we exited the car, Rich said, "Hope you guys don't mind, we're just going to get some pizza for dinner."

At that moment the cottage door opened, and we heard - quite distinctly - the voice of Jerry Lewis call out, "Ehh, you want we should have some anchovies with that?"

The light came on and there was Joe Piscopo, wearing a muscle shirt, big arms crossed like Mr. Clean. But when he spoke next, out came the voice of Dean Martin, singing:

"When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore..."

Well, we were just floored. Goggling at him like fools. But before we could speak, he strode toward us, and in the dead-on voice of Frank Sinatra he sang, "Strangers In The Night, exchanging glances...."

But Chris had his moves back and before Joe could go on, he said, "You wouldn't want my mother to hear that. She hates Sinatra. My Dad, on the other hand, thinks he's great. So you'd be stuck in the middle of a big Bunch family fight."

Joe was caught short. Then he started laughing and it was bear hugs all around. We trooped into the house, where Joe popped some beer and we gathered around a big dining table, drinking, and exchanging insults, while Rich called for some pizza - with Bunch's order fresh in his mind that there was to be "... no fuckin' anchovies... I hate anchovies...."

We stayed up to all hours, unaffected by jet lag, swapping stories and lies. Chris and I were intent on getting a really good handle on Piscopo. The movie we were doing had to be tailored just for him, calling on his comic repertoire to the Nth degree. It wouldn't be a role than anyone else could step into.

Joe told us that he and Rich were the sons of a successful attorney, whose dad had his heart set on Joe following him into the business.

"When it was obvious that their son was a clown, and would always be clown," Joe said, "they got behind me all the way." He drank some of his beer, reflecting. Then grinned, "Course, my dad still teases me, sometimes, asking when I'm going get a real job. And I come back with...' Come on, Dad. I need people, not law books. And then I give him this..."

And Piscopo's face takes on a whole new look - very feminine and somehow familiar, but not Joe Piscopo familiar. And he belts out in a perfect impersonation of Barbara Streisand: "... People who need people.. Are the luckiest people in the world..."

Another slug of beer. Back to normal voice. "Stops him cold every time."

There was a National Enquirer-worthy scandal percolating at the time about Joe and his former baby sitter, and he said that, yeah, he understood why people were mad at him. But, he really loved the girl and intended to marry her - when his divorce was final. (We met her later at their engagement party at Spago's in LA and she was/is a knockout!)

The only thing going around that really ticked him off were rumors that his muscular physique was due to steroids. He told us he'd been lifting weights since high school (West Essex High in Jersey - Go Knights!), and that in the early 80's he'd been stricken with a deadly form of Thyroid cancer. Underwent all the treatments, chemotherapy, etc. and was told that even if he was cured, there was a good chance his voice would be ruined forever. And there would go his career.

"Never mind that I hate all drugs," he told us. "But anybody who thinks I'd put steroids in my body, fooling around with the chance of tumors, or whatever, has got to be just fucking crazy, or ignorant, or both."

DISSOLVE TO: NEXT DAY - THE CRACK OF FUCKING DAWN... I hear somebody doing a bad job of trying to be very quiet moving about the cottage. Whirr of a blender. (Protein shake?) Beat, beat... Front door opens, closes, car engine fires up. Back to sleep. Awakened by the smell of coffee some hours later.

Chris was grumpy and red-eyed, ditto yours truly and Joe's more sensible brother, Rich. Joe, meanwhile, was whizzing about like a hyper active kid. Informing us that he'd already been to the gym, lifted weights, then it was on to a five-mile run in the sand.

He did a couple of impersonations, but stopped when Chris raised a hand. "Do anybody you like," he said. "Andy Fucking Rooney. Barbara God Damned Streisand. Whatever. But if you make with the squeaky-assed voice of Jerry Lewis - hung over though I may be - I will double turkey stomp your Jersey ass and sink your body in some fucking cranberry bog along with the stinking Wise Guys."

"Here, here!" Rich and I chorused.

It had been a long speech for a hungover Chris Bunch, and he staggered to the fridge, got a beer, popped the top and gulped the whole thing. Stood very still for a couple of beats - arms outstretched for balance - while the world revolved around a few times.

When he felt steadier, he said "Okay. You can do Jerry now... if you absolutely, positively feel fucking compelled."

Joe chuckled. "What's the matter, don't you like Jerry Lewis?" he said.

Chris glared. "Let me put it this way," he said. "Anybody the French love, I loathe. And dumb... Jesus... the Froggies are dumb... after all these years living next to the Germans you'd think the French would've learned that if you invite a German for dinner, better set the table for ten thousand."

In a Froggie waiter's voice, Joe said, "Will monsieur require one tank, or two with his café?"

The day commenced with a trip in the Bronco across the Causeway to the Barrens. It was an even more amazing place in the daylight. Impenetrable forest, broken here and there by country lanes, stretches of cranberry bogs, and a whiff of manure coming from some farmer's field off in the distance.

Chris said, "Man, some of these woods look really old. Wouldn't be surprised if a forest buffalo stuck his head out of the bushes. Not how people think of Jersey at all."

Joe, who was driving, said, "We get a bad rap. We're like second class citizens, stuck between two major cities, New York and Philadelphia." Waved an expansive hand at the wilderness, "But look at this, man." Took a big breath of the pine-scented air. "Beautiful. Beautiful. Love to ride my bike here."

Chris perked up. "That's right," he said. "You're into motorcycles." Chuckled. "You and Springsteen. Ought to start your own club - the Jersey Outlaws." He turned to me. "Maybe put the character on a bike," he said. "Make it his main ride."

I glanced around, liking what I was seeing. The twisting road, occasional farm vehicles lumbering along. "We could get a good car versus bike chase out here," I said. "Put it at night, and it could get really scary." I was thinking of sparks shooting out, as our hero's bike leaned into a curve, metal parts grinding against the pavement.

Here and there we happened upon small, wood-framed businesses tucked into the trees and we stopped to visit a few of them. The people were agog that a famous Star had happened among them, and addressed Joe shyly. A few came up to him not just for autographs, but to thank him for the nice things they'd heard him say about his native state in TV, magazine and newspaper interviews.

We lunched at a restaurant next to a country store and the waitress was almost giddy in Joe's presence. But, he was amazingly gracious; the perfect gentleman, coming across as just an average... well, you know... Joe.

The general store sat well off the ground and it was ringed by a big porch, where the old timers hung out in bib overalls, smoking pipes, or spitting tobacco. They eyed us warily, although they clearly recognized Piscopo. They reminded me of taciturn old timers I'd met in remote little villages in Wales.

In other words, they took a bit to warm up. Joe did it gently, buying a few things in the store, then we sat on the steps drinking soft drinks and chatting quietly. When he thought it was time, Joe addressed a few questions at the elderly gentlemen, cracked a few jokes, and pretty soon there were toothless smiles all around and we were made welcome.

One of the men passed us a clay jug of what proved to be home brewed cranberry brandy, and it was amazing stuff. Chris honked some down, eyes tearing up, and he passed it on to me, gasping, "That'll clear the grease."

Off we went again, winding our way back to the island, laughing and joking, a little high on the cranberry brandy. We started talking cars and Joe bragged on his Bronco. His first four-wheel drive vehicle. It soon became apparent that when it came to cars, he was strictly a city boy.

And that became doubly apparent a minute later, when he shouts, "Let's try this baby out!" Whips the wheel over, and charges off the road.

I shout, "Wait, Joe!"

But, he keeps going, bounding into the underbrush. And I mean, bounding. Rich and I were in the back, and the Bronco's springs were more than a little lively and we go bouncing, bouncing, bouncing, and Joe goes faster, the Bronco jerking back and forth, and our heads are being slammed against the roof.

"Fucking stop, Joe!" I shout. "You're gonna kill us!"

Then Chris realized that Joe had sort of lost control, and he reached over and turned the ignition off.

We came to a sudden stop.

"Aw, Jesus," I groaned. Then, to Chris, "Take the keys, Bunch. You fuckin' drive."

Joe was chagrined, as you might imagine. He apologized, but couldn't help but giggle now and then; reminding me of Mr. Toad in Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Finally, he cozened Chris into handing over the keys and he very... gently... eased out of the woods, onto the road again.

All was forgotten, except for the bruise on the crown of my head, and pretty soon we were cruising back along the Causeway onto Long Beach Island.

We poked around here and there, checking out different sites for possible locations. There was a little Marina and we decided on the spot that Joe's character would have an old boat, which he would live on. So, this was really coming along. He was a burned out ex-cop, who drove a motorcycle and lived on a boat. Throw in a love interest and the bad guys and we would have our movie.

Joe said, "I know just the place for the bad guys."

He took us to the back end of the island where there was a huge old house crouched on the dunes overlooking the Atlantic. Joe said that it was a (very expensive) summer rental, and that we could probably get it pretty cheap off season.

The rear entrance of the house was surrounded by tall fences, perfect for our Mr. Big villain to post his thug guards.

"For the big blow off," I said, you could maybe bring that little boat in at night, swim ashore and rescue the girl."

Joe laughed. "Hey, that's right. Us Leading Men get the girl, don't we?"

"Bang my partner's head on the car roof again," Chris warned, "and you'll have to settle for a nice lady sheep with long eyelashes."

"Remember what I said about who the comedian is around here," Joe admonished him.

"Okay, okay," Chris said. "I get it."

But I made him trade seats with me, just the same, and climbed in next to Joe. Piscopo reversed out of the alley and headed to a sign that said: Beach Access. There was a smaller sign beneath it, that I couldn't quite make out.

When we got there, I thought we were going to park, then walk across the dunes to the front of the house.

Instead Joe gave another one of his mad laughs, shouted, "Four Wheel Fucking Drive," and stepped on the gas.

Now, anybody who has ever driven on sand knows that four-wheel drive isn't worth a diddly squat, unless you stop, let some air out of the tires, then proceed on flattened out, sand-gripping tires. It soon became obvious that Joe was not cognizant of this bit of automotive lore, because he continued forward, barreling toward the sand just as I shouted - too late:

"Joe, wait!"

He didn't wait. Kept going, and now I could see the smaller sign, beneath the one that said, Beach Access.

The words flashed by me, something about pedestrians only, and much larger letters reading: $200 Fine For...

And again I made with the, "Joe, wait!"

And he didn't, and now he was moving out on the sand about forty feet or so, waves crashing ahead, and he gives another wild laugh, gooses the accelerator, and suddenly the rear tires start to sink.

Again, with the rules of driving on sand. If you start to sink, stop! Don't accelerate! The faster the wheels turn, the deeper you'll dig in the vehicle.

One final, futile attempt: "Joe, wait!"

But he tromps on the gas and a split second later we were dug all the way down to the crankshaft. Wheels spinning uselessly in the sand.

"Shit!" Joe said.


We piled out of the Bronco. Looked things over.

"Oh, man," Joe said. "We are really stuck!"

We all agreed with his diagnosis. Looked around. Every house on the beach showed nothing but empty windows. Nobody home for miles.

"Okay," Joe said, "we just need to find a phone, you know?" (These were the Neolithic Eighties, when we had barely mastered fire, much less invented cell phones.)

We tromped off the beach, then started investigating the neighborhoods, moving along several streets, all of which presented the same houses with empty windows.

Joe said, "Maybe we should make this a zombie movie." Waved at the spooky houses. "Perfect place for it."

Finally, we saw a house with a kid's bike outside. Hmm. Another good sign: the glow of a TV set reflecting in the window.

As we walked up the steps, Joe said, "Maybe I'd better go first. They'll think we're a bunch of thugs, or something."

He knocked at the door. A minute later, a pretty young woman opened it. She looked at Joe, then at us. A little tentative at first.

Joe said, "Excuse me, ma'am my name is..."

The young lady broke in, eyes going wide. "Oh, my Gosh," she said. "You're Joe Piscopo."

Joe blushed. "Yes, ma'am," he said. "See, we're in sort of a fix. My car's stuck out there on the beach and..."

The woman said, "Come in, come in. Oh, my. Oh, my. Nobody's going to believe this."

We entered and Joe said, "If I could just use your phone, ma'am. We'll get right out of your way."

But, the lady wasn't having any. In a flurry, she told us that (a) she was sorry the house was such a mess. (actually, it was spotless) (b) Her husband wasn't going to believe it when she told him. (He didn't) (c) Her kids were asleep. (They were, but not for long) and (d) Would we like some coffee or something. (Yes, please) And finally, (e) The phone's in the kitchen.

She led us to the kitchen, where we sat around the table, gratefully accepting coffee, while Joe looked up the number of a towing service. There was only one and since this was an offseason weekend, the Yellow Pages said this would be an emergency call. He called. The guy who answered didn't believe it was Piscopo talking, so Joe put the lady on who knew the guy and told him it was okay.

Then the call was done and while Joe joined us over the coffee, the lady phone her husband. Much excited chatter. Now it was her turn to hand the phone to Joe to swear to hubby that he was who she said he was.

Minutes later, we going out of the house to meet the tow truck. By now, the kids were up and dancing up and down in excitement. As we stood on the front steps, we suddenly started seeing people coming down the street. Whole throngs of them. Cars were coming up, and dumping still more people out.

I whispered to Joe, "Maybe we're actually in that zombie movie!"

The people crowded around Joe, grinning shyly, snapping pictures, shoving scraps of paper and notebooks forward for him to autograph. He was very gracious to one and all. Signing his name. Standing beside people for the pictures. Making jokes about how stupid he was to get himself stuck in the sand.

At one point, he indicated me, and said, "My buddy, there, told me to stop. But I didn't listen."

Then we went down the street, the crowd following us, numbers swelling as we progressed. Joe joked that he didn't know that many lived on the island full time. More laughs. At the Beach Access sign the tow truck was waiting.

A Fat Boy got out. Too-short tee-shirt, belly hanging out. Smiling, but it was one of those avaricious smiles you recognize right away. Like one of those greasy losers from high school, who would just love to stick it to you if they had the chance. And this guy was seeing his chance, in handsome, successful Joe Piscopo, with his adoring crowds, and expensive new Bronco stuck in the sand up to the floorboards.

Turned out he was the only guy in miles with a tow truck built to rescue folks dumb enough to drive - illegally - on the beach. And that'll be three hundred bucks, Joe.

We were startled. Three hundred dollars!?!

Joe shrugged, reached for his wallet, "Okay, I was stupid. Guess I deserve this."

He whipped out a credit card, but Fat Boy shook his head. "Cash," he insisted. "Only take plastic from locals."

"But we're locals," Rich broke in. "Our family has been coming here for years."

Fat Boy chuckled. "Well, I don't know you."

Some of the people came forward. "But, he's Joe Piscopo!"

Fat Boy shrugged. "I hear lots of famous people are broke. Maybe he's broke." Turned back to Piscopo. "Gotta have cash. Upfront."

Joe patted his pockets. Didn't have that much cash on him and it was a long way to the island's sole ATM machine. We all dug in and came up with the necessary. Joe handed it over to the driver, who grinned, climbed into the truck - fat bobbing in a way that reminds you that gelatin is made from the by-products of elderly herd animals.

We were about to follow the truck, when a four-wheel drive black and white police vehicle pushed through the crowd.

I heard Fat Boy shout, "Oh, yeah. Forgot to say. I called the cops."

Joe tried to look good natured about it. He even made with a Cagney impersonation: "This is it, boys. I'm for the Big House."

Laughter from all of us, including the two cops who came strolling over from their vehicle, huge grins on their faces.

Well, they joked with Joe, who joked back. And by the time the Bronco was hauled out of the sand, and he'd signed the ticket for the no-driving-on-the-beach $200 fine, plus gave the cops autographs, the local press had shown up: a young reporter, bearing a camera.

Joe said some amusing, self-depreciating things to the reporter. Let the cops restage the ticketing for the camera, then posed more shots.

And then we were on our way, waving out the window at the nice people of Long Beach Island.

When things had calmed down, Chris, who was not easily impressed, told Joe, "You are a gentleman and a scholar, Joe Piscopo."

For a change, Joe didn't have a comeback. He seemed bewildered by this out of the blue compliment from a guy who was clearly not one to throw around compliments.

Joe said, "What'd I do?"

Chris said, "Everything right, babe. Everything right."



The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort.  However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out.  Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think. And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.    

Friday, November 5, 2010


"A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on." 
...............Samuel Goldwyn (1879-1974)

There was a light rain upon LA as we headed out to the ass-end of Burbank, where, appropriately enough, Michael (Not The Walt) Eisner and his seven dwarfs held forth over his daily Gong Show.

Chris swerved to dodge a fish-tailing Mercedes, got the nose straightened in time to avoid another Merc, then got stuck beside a huge Cinemobile. He cut his eyes this way and that, but it was hopeless. The traffic wasn't going to allow us to escape the river of freeway goop being thrown up by the wheels of the Cinemobile.

"Fuck a bunch of Disney," Chris said. "I don't like those sons of bitches as it is. So why the hell do we have to drive through the fucking rain to see them? It's like fetching the stick for your own whupping."

"In a word," I said, "Money."

"Shit, Cole, we've got enough money," he said. "We could go, maybe three months without another gig. Three months to do sane work, like writing novels."

"Yeah, but what about the strike?" I reminded him.

"Aw, hell," Chris grudged. "That's right. We're maybe gonna withhold our services, yet again, to teach those conniving Studio Fuhrers once and for all not to mess with us writers."

"Not 'Maybe' strike," I said. "Definitely strike."

"Yeah, yeah," Chris said. "Whoopie shit." He took a hand from the wheel long enough to pump a fist. "Solidarity, Brother."

Don't misunderstand from the above that Chris was anything but a union stalwart through and through. He liked to boast that his railroadman grandfather used to pepper scab trains with buckshot when on strike.

"If we can get some post-strike gigs set up," I reminded him, "we'll be able to replenish our bank accounts when it's over, instead of starting from ground zero."

"Yeah, yeah," Chris grumbled.

I pressed on: "Last time we were forced to go to work for fucking Irwin The Towering Toupee Allen at Code Dead." (See episodes 28-39)

"Don't rub it in," Chris said. "I'm the poor sap who fielded the money call.

Then he saw a hole in traffic, performed some maneuvers worthy of a NASCAR driver, and got out from under the Cinemobile. He sighed and settled back, mood improving.

Driving in the rain in LA is dangerous as hell. It rains so infrequently that nobody knows how to handle actual weather. Some Angelinos claim a light rain is worse than a torrential downpour. No quarrel from me. A light rain provides just enough moisture to float months of petroleum products to the freeway surface, making everything slick as a newly Zamboni'd ice rink. One errant brake-tap guarantees a spin that'd stress the skills an Olympic figure skater.

"The thing is," Chris said, "I grew up thinking that everything Disney did was pure, unadulterated, genius."

I snorted. "Give me a break. You just liked how Annette Funicello looked in that tight, white sweater."

Chris turned his head just enough so I could catch the sneer. "What, and you were hot for Tommy?"

"Okay, okay," I said. "When you are a kid, everything Disney is a wonder. But when you get older..." I shrugged... "Knew a lady once who got stuck on the Small, Small World ride. She was ripped on psilocybin at the time, and went round and round with those squeaky voices going 'It's a small, small world,' over and adfinitum over again."

Chris shuddered. "Enough!" he said. "Keep going and I'll upchuck in your lap."

"I have to admit that I'm as leery of this deal as you are," I said. "We've had to jump through Uncle Walt's hoops before."

"Still pisses me off about Scrooge McDuck," Chris said.

"A real McBummer," I agreed.

Uncle Scrooge was a definite sore point. A few years before, Disney had hired us to turn a Scrooge McDuck comic book serial - a takeoff on Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves - into a three-parter for the Ducktales TV series. The episodes had been so popular with the Neilson-metered kiddies that Disney cut the three-parter into a straight-to-VHS animated movie. Unfortunately, writers who do animation lack the protection of the Screenwriters Guild. So, we not only didn't get paid for the feature (about ten times more than three animated TV episodes) but we didn't even get any onscreen credit.

Forcing cheer, Chris said, "On the other hand, we got paid okay on that Disney World gig."

This was true. We'd been hired to write a scenario for one of the Epicot rides in Orlando. It had been fun - it was a new sort of writing experience - and had paid decently. Although the checks took an interminable time to come.

Gloom returned. Chris said, "I just don't want to write Disney, blood, sweat and baby urine garbage, then have to fight them for each and every fucking dime they owe us."

"Look on the bright side," I said. "We're meeting with Michael Ovitz's brother. That ought to protect us at least a little."

We'd recently signed with CAA, the hottest agency in town, whose boss - Michael Ovitz - was fast becoming a legend. (In his own mind, as it turned out.) It proved to be a foolish decision, and I can only blame The Weasel (See: We Save Flipper From A Tuna Can), whose squeaky mannerisms and low cunning drove us to drink earlier and earlier each day. It was our livers or the Wease, so we dumped the Wease.

"What's the mark's name?" Chris asked.

"Mark," I said.

He snorted. "No, no. What's the asshole's name."

"The asshole you are speaking of," I replied, "is named Mark. Mark Ovitz."

Chris chortled, "Who's on first, blah-blah."

It was still raining when we reached the gates of Disney Studio, which was on Buena Vista, just off Bob Hope Drive. A frowning gate guard leaned out of the shack, the frown disappearing when he saw who was in the car.

"Bunch and Cole," he exclaimed. "The fuckin' Blues Brothers!"

A tall black guy with a leading man's profile, we recognized him immediately.

"Shit, you used to guard the gates of MGM," Chris said. (See: The Movie Rock Mogul) "Way over in Culver City. What the hell are you doing here?"

The guard shrugged. "Lousy hours," he said. "I need a more flexible schedule, so I can make the auditions, you know?"

"Still on the comedy club circuit?" I asked.

"Check it out," the guard said, then struck a comic pose: "What's the difference between a Movie Star and God."

We said we give up.

He said, "God doesn't think He's a Movie Star."

Laughter all around.

The guard preened a little. "Heard Robin Williams swiped it already," he said.

One of the nice things about being acquainted with studio gate guards - plus crossing their palms with occasional bottles of Scotch, whether it's a holiday or not - is that you get to park in the very best spots. In this case, he had us pull up next to the guard shack, then called a buddy who whisked us over to the Administration Building in a covered golf cart.

The grounds surrounding Disney Studios were like no other. The place looked more like a big park, with many newly-planted trees and the greenest lawns in all America. There was one big area in the center that boasted a By-God Bandstand right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. You almost expected to see musicians in band uniforms, and a big damned tuba sticking out of the center.

"They have picnics there at least one weekend a month," the driver said, indicating the bandstand "All the employees and their families are invited."

"What fun," Chris said, not meaning it.

"Uh-huh," came the noncommittal reply from the driver. "The Big Boss is usually there," he went on. "Mr. Michael Eisner. Gives a speech about family values and all."

"So, not showing up isn't really an option," Chris surmised.

"That'd be a guess," the driver said. Flat.

He let us out at a portico, where we could walk the rest of the way shielded from the rain. We stopped a second and looked at the empty bandstand, with its family-friendly seating.

"Right out of a Stepford village, don't you think?" I said.

"That'd be a guess," Chris replied in the same tone as the driver.

We turned to walk on, but Chris came to an abrupt halt. "Holy shit, Cole!" he said.

"What?" I said, looking around. "What?"

Chris pointed ahead. "Would you look at fucking that?!?"

I looked. Gaped would be a better word. For there before us was the newly-completed entrance to the Team Disney Building. Whole barrels of ink had been poured into the Trades describing the magnificence of the building, said to be designed by Mister Michael(Not The Walt) Eisner, himself, representing the future of Disney as he saw it.

They had dubbed it "whimsical," and "colorful." Eisner's brainchild was said to "pay homage to Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs." Here, let me quote from The Hollywood Reporter: "... The front facade is a Post-Modern interpretation of the Parthenon, with dwarfs nearly 6 meters (18 feet) in height, holding up pediment and facing the pedestrian plaza and reflecting pool..."

Got all that? Especially the part about the eighteen-foot dwarfs? All seven of the sons of bitches: Sneezy, Sleepy, Dopey, Doc, Happy, Bashful, and even, By-God Grumpy.

Now, imagine them all standing there. Now, imagine that it's raining. And the water is channeled perfectly from the roof, flowing over the dwarfs, spurting out waist high in seven perfectly formed streams.

And they are grinning out at you (except for Grumpy), looking exactly like they are all - heigh ho, heigh ho - taking a joyful Group Piss.

"Michael Fucking Eisner," breathed Chris reverently, "and the Seven Pissing Dwarfs!" Shook his head. "And here I fucking thought I'd seen it all."

We laughed our heads off. Laughed and laughed until a couple of Security guys popped out to look us over. We just waved them away, held our sides and kept laughing.

Eventually, we recovered. Sort of. With occasional snorts of laughter, we made our way through the dwarf piss storm into the building. Got checked by the Security guys, who were looking worried about us. Soon a secretary fetched us to the offices of Mark Ovitz, Boy Wonder.

The secretary caught us snickering and grinned. She whispered, "Saw the piddling dwarfs, did you?"

"We did, we did," Chris said and we nearly lost it again.

She held a warning finger to her lips. "Mr. Eisner's on the warpath about it," she said. "He's terrorizing all the guys in the Gong Show just now."

"Yeah, yeah," Chris said. "We'll be good." More uncontrollable snorts of laughter.

Just then Mark Ovitz came rushing in, out of breath. "Sorry to keep you, guys," he said, then escorted us into his office.

"How was the gong show?" Chris asked.

Mark jumped. Then: "Aw, geesh, you know about that, huh?"

The whole Town knew about it. Every day the young production execs filed into Esiner's office, then one by one, got up and pitched a project. You had to do it in three minutes flat. Sitting on Eisner's desk was big brass gong that he'd had especially made. If he didn't like the project, or if you ran over the allotted time, he'd conk the gong with a wooden hammer and the gong was of such high quality that everybody on the entire executive floor heard your humiliation loud and clear. There was even an employee Gong Pool, betting on who was going get it this time.

Chris said, "You get gonged today?"

"Nobody got gonged," Mark said. "We had to deal with a big crisis."

"You mean the pissing dwarfs?" Chris guessed.

Mark sighed. "You noticed that, I suppose?"

"Hard to miss," I said. "Especially if you don't have an umbrella."

Mark looked frustrated. Said, "I don't know what the heck it has to do with us. He's..."

The rest trailed off. Mark looked nervously about, perhaps wondering if the place was bugged. From what we'd heard about Michael (Not The Walt) Eisner, it might very well have been. Then he shook it off... almost literally... like a puppy climbing out of the water.

He said, "Never mind, that's somebody else's problem." He shuffled through some papers, trying to get back on track. "Anyway, I'm glad you guys could make it. Especially, in the rain and all."

Chris and I exchanged looks. Nodded agreement. It was my turn in the barrel.

"It's like this, Mark," I said. "We're really not all that hot on doing this project. Disney... you know... Kid shit... It's not our style."

"That's exactly why I asked for you," Mark said. "I told your agent that the last thing I want is some sort of Flubber, deal. Or, Herbie, The Love Bug baloney. I want this thing to have some... you know... balls."

He shifted, uncomfortable using the word in connection with a Disney project. Mark seemed like a nice enough guy, in a wimpy sort of way - no fire-breather like his older brother, Mike Ovitz.

"But without using that sort of language, right?" I said.

Mark grinned. "Yeah, General Audiences all the way," he said. "But with some... you know... heart!" He gave his chest a manful thump by way of illustration.

I looked at Chris. Another nod.

"Okay, but we have to be up front with you," I said. "We've got a gig right now."

Mark nodded. "Your agent said it was a Joe Piscopo movie, right?"

"That's right," I said. "The gentleman's agreement we have with the producers is that we have to get the first draft in before the strike. So that pretty much lets out any other project until later."

Mark said, "We can live with that. We want it good, not fast." He chuckled. "Besides, I'm sure you guys won't be turning your minds off during the strike. You'll be at least thinking about this project, right?"

"Could be," I said. "Thinking isn't against Union Regulations."

Chris came in - "Tell him about the other deal, Cole," he said.

Mark looked at me quizzically. I said, "We have another offer. From Gerald McRaney's company."

"But we're offering ten grand more," Mark pointed out.(Obviously our agent had filled him in more than usual. Something that we reflected on later.)

I nodded. "So, what's this project all about?" I asked. "All we were told was that it was some super hero thing. Two hour movie, back door pilot for a TV series."

Mark told us the deal. I really don't recall what the hell the thing was about. It was a father/son super hero thing. I-Man? H-Man? XYZ-Man? Who knows? It's not that my memory is shot. Although it may very well be. It's mainly because of what happened afterward.

However, I got some verbal guarantees about the script. Such as:

"Okay, one thing Chris and I have noticed," I said, "is that Disney has a habit of sticking a fucking dog into everything."

"Or a fucking monkey," Chris said.

I fixed Mark with a glare. "No fucking dogs, right?"

He nodded. "Okay."

Chris jumped in. "Say it, Mark. No fucking dogs."

Mark glanced around for bugs again, took a deep breath and got it out: "No... fucking... dogs."

"Swear it," Chris insisted. Grinning, but Mark could tell he was serious.

Mark giggled and raised a hand. "I, Mark Ovitz, swear no fucking dogs will be required in this script."

"Don't forget the fucking monkeys," Chris demanded.

Mark was getting into the spirit. Raised his right hand higher still. "I, Mark Ovitz, swear that no fucking dogs - or fucking monkeys - will ever be required in this script."

We shook on it. Agreeing that Chris and I would pass on the McRaney deal to take up the Disney super hero project. And that it was understood that we wouldn't be starting the script until after the writer's strike.

"Not a problem," Mark emphasized. "Not a problem."

The rain had stopped and the dwarfs were no longer pissing when we left. Went home. Spent the next few days getting ready for a location scouting trip and bonding session with Joe Piscopo and his brother, Rich, in New Jersey. Returned from Jersey. Wrote the Piscopo script - titled: Jersey Exit - and got it in just time, because a couple of days later the WGA blew the strike whistle and the walkout commenced.

The Great WGA Strike Of 1988 proved to be the longest in Guild history. Five months and seven days. That's a week longer that the previous record-holder, the strike of 1960, and seven weeks longer than the most recent strike in 2008.

Fortunately, Chris and I not only had enough dough banked to survive, but Sten was starting to pay off decently, the paperback of Reckoning was doing well, plus we spent those months working up a massive book project that we called The Shannon Trilogy. But, more about the Shannons later.

The longer the strike went on, the more the pressure intensified. The Studio Bosses brought incredible pressure to bear, spurning any attempts at compromise. Nothing but reruns on television. Movie projects cancelled left and right. The Studios put the word out that they'd pay top dollar to any writer who crossed the line and defied the Guild. Never mind, if you got caught, you'd be banned from the Guild for life. Or, if you were a writer trying to break in, working as a scab would guarantee that the Guild would never allow you to become a member. Meaning, no jobs ever.

"And rightfully so," Chris said, when we got the word. "I hate fucking scabs."

Rumors were rife that writers and producers were meeting in parking lots at night, where paper bags full of money were being exchanged for scripts. I don't know about midnight parking lot meetings, but Chris and I turned down a great deal of cash from a certain producer to do scab work. So that part of the rumor was true.

Then the Studios started invoking the force majeure clauses in their contracts, cancelling projects that had been agreed upon prior to the strike. It was a stupid move. When the strike ended they'd have to start from ground zero to get things on the air, or on screen. But the Guys With The Big Telephones are well known for cutting off their noses, just to show you how tough they are.

We weren't too concerned about our Disney deal, because we'd shaken hands with Mark Ovitz, brother of one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. He'd assured us that the whole idea was to get us on board so we could go right to work on his project when the strike ended.

The first sign of trouble came when Chris looked up from his keyboard one day and said, "You know, Cole, we never got our start up money from Disney."

He was right. We'd signed the contract several days before the strike and were owed seven or eight grand for on-signing money. We'd gotten the Piscopo story money and first draft money, but nary a sign of a check from fucking Disney.

"Maybe call Pariser," I suggested. Marc Pariser was the guy who'd brought us on board at CAA.

Chris called. "Yo, Pariser," I heard him say, "where's our fucking Disney money?"

Chris frowned. Whatever Pariser was saying couldn't have been good news. "Well, Jesus Christ, Marc," he said, "strike or no strike they should have sent the money. It was due on signing. And we fucking signed."

A long sigh. "Okay, okay. Give 'em a call."

Chris hung up. "Shit," he said.

"I take it there's going to be a delay," I said.

"Eisner's the main guy whipping the other Bosses on," he said. "Plus he's laying people off right and fucking left to make an example. Pariser says give a shout in the Business Affairs office and all you hear is a loud fucking echo."

"Let me guess," I said. "He's blaming the layoffs on the writers. Get everybody pissed at us, because we don't want to take a cut in pay."

"You got that right," Chris said.

Another long sigh. Then we both said fuck it, and went back to work.

A week or so later, the phone rang. Normally, it rang a lot, but during a strike the phone becomes frighteningly silent.

"Probably a picket duty call," Chris said.

But, we both must have had a sense of foreboding, because neither of us picked up.

I blinked first. Got the phone. "Bunch and Cole... Allan Cole speaking..."

A woman with a refined voice said, "Mr. Cole? I'm calling from Michael Eisner's office?"

My eyebrows must have climbed to the ceiling, because Chris immediately sat up straight, sensing that some shit was about to hit our personal fan.

I said, "If this is about the project we have with Disney, ma'am, we're not allowed to talk about it. Guild rules are very clear on that."

The woman said, "Oh, it's nothing like that." Which meant, it certainly was. "Mr. Eisner just wants to invite a few prominent writers to visit his office tomorrow afternoon for a little chat."

I said, "I think I just told you that chatting is not allowed."

The woman ignored this and went on. "It's just an informal get together. Mr. Eisner wants you to hear first hand his side of the argument in the current dispute."

I said, "We have a committee of writers who are officially representing us, Ma'am. Plus a professional union negotiator. He should speak to them."

"Well, Mr. Eisner would like a more informal talk," she went on. "Just you and... um.. Mr. Bunch, and five or six others. Then, if you choose, you can pass on what Mr. Eisner has to say to your colleagues."

I said, "By chance, would any of these other writers you are inviting have new contracts with Disney?"


"Ma'am?" I pressed.

I heard her clear her throat. Then she said, "I believe that's the case, Mr. Cole."

I said, "Okay, well, please tell Mr. Eisner thank you very much for the invitation, but we definitely won't be able to make the meeting."

More silence. More throat clearing. Then, "I'll tell Mr. Eisner. Thank you, Mr. Cole and goodbye."

She hung up. I stared at the phone a minute, then replaced the receiver.

Chris said, "What's up?"

I told him. Chris shook his head. "Run, Bambi, it's Eisner," he said.

I was so ticked off I couldn't even work up a laugh. I said, "I'd better call the Guild."

Which I did. Chris listened to my end, then when I hung up he said, "Better call Pariser and fill him in."

I did this too. Pariser sounded weird on the phone. Hesitant. Very unhelpful and definitely uncommunicative. Later, we learned that CAA, which was supposed to be totally on the side of their clients, looked more fondly on Eisner and his boyos than was good for us writers. This proved out down the road when the big boss, Mike Ovitz, left the agency for a zillion dollar deal with Disney, thanks to his old buddy, Michael(Not The Walt)Eisner.

After the call to our Fearless (ha!) Agent, there was nothing to do but get back to writing books.

Dissolve To: A week later. I hear mail being pushed through the front door slot. I wander out, scoop it up, debone the pile, separating bills and ads, then come up short when I see an envelope with the Disney logo on the left hand side.

I take it back to the office. Chris can tell something is up. I sit down, slice the envelope open, and pull out a single sheet of Disney stationary. There's only two or three sentences on it. Short sentences.

Bottom line: Payback courtesy Michael(Not The Walt)Eisner.

Basically, the letter said that the company was exercising its force majeure - do not pass go, do not collect $200, go directly to jail - rights and was cancelling our contract.

At the bottom of the page was a drawing of Mickey Mouse in his Fantasia Wizard's Cap, waving out at me (Hi!) with a big grin on his face.

Beneath that were the words: Just Another Bit Of Magic, From The Magic Kingdom.

Chris said, "What's up, Cole?"

I couldn't help it. I started laughing.

"Jesus Christ, Bunch," I managed. "We've just been fucked by The Mouse."



The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort.  However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out.  Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think. And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.