Letters to Holly

Thursday, September 23

Choking Up at the Chicken Shack

I ran Tuesday as soon as I got home. I'm now using the new route exclusively as it's the trickiest stretch of the race. It tricks me at every turn. The other segments are upfront about their inclines. I still need to get new running shoes (my current ones sprung a leak in the fancy air supports), but the local sports store is, of course, not open when I'm in town. The run has gotten easier as I play with pace and breathing techniques, and I'll try it again Thursday night.

I did floor exercises (which sounds like an Olympic event) when I got home yesterday, and I feel like I'm getting traction in my efforts to tone up. Your Sis did not make it to the gym this time, but I encourage her to giddy up, time permitting.

The sidekick slept through the whole night for the first time, and that would normally be wonderful. However, when he awoke, hungrier than he had ever been before in his weeks-old life, he screamed like an air raid siren. Our bedroom was dead silent, then suddenly hosted a Nine Inch Nails concert. There may be me-shaped holes in the ceiling when I launched out of bed and crashed back to earth.

Your Dad came to the office yesterday, and I showed him how to install the carseat boot. Modern cars have little icons on the back seats telling us where the boot hooks are. Look at your seats. There may be as many as six circular icons back there. The boots click into place on the u-shaped hooks behind the seats there.

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Rarely, I decide to eat an actual lunch during my break. I usually window shopping and order from Starbucks. Yesterday, I decided to have lunch because I got a new book, the second West Wing script book. I ordered it from Amazon along with a few hundred nursing pads and the collected Little House books. To the Chick-fil-A!

The other West Wing script book I have begins with a forward, and it covers the creation of the show and the assembly of the actors. (Tidbit: CJ Craig was almost black, because the actress leading the hopeful pack was black. But then Alison Janey read for the role.) I really like Sorkin's prose work, and I wish there were more of it to be found.

This new book's forward begins with an award ceremony where the show racked up yet another in its astonishing and valid stack of trophies. Not all the actors are present because they're protesting their payroll, and Sorkin discusses how the contracts were first designed and why West Wing was so expensive and how that only became a problem when the show lasted longer than anyone expected. Sorkin talks about how the pay was eventually solved, and the show could continue. And just about then he got arrested for felony drug possession.

He is clear in his timeline about what happened and the degree of support he received from the crew and his management. And back to work goes Sorkin. The next episode to be written and cobbled together is for Halloween (weeks and weeks away), and Sorkin talks about having nothing in his tank for this episode. The producers want to include the holiday, but Sorkin thinks it's too cute. He can't find a way to make it work. And he's losing momentum from pounding out scripts immediately after his arrest and legal troubles (also, back surgery; also, a separation). But the Halloween script finally emerges, and the cast has a good readthrough, and things seem to be back to normal. And off to bed goes Sorkin. On Sept. 10.

In the wake of the next morning, everything is asunder. The studios shut down, fall premieres are pushed back a week, and no one wants to jump back to work. Sorkin has a bigger problem: He can't abide the idea of the planned premiere episode so soon after 9/11. It's the second half of a story where the president and Josh are shot, and both flash back to the start of the presidential campaign. The origin of the West Wing staff, in short. It's flashy and shouty, and it feels bad now. Sorkin doesn't see it as the needed diversion the studio argues it should be for the audience. It feels wrong to make people wonder if Josh is going to die, to make people again watch their TVs and wait to see if a shoe drops. It's too soon. The world this story takes place in, he argues, no longer exists. Everything has changed, and the show needs to acknowledge that.

So Sorkin timidly makes the rounds to his team about building a new season premiere. Something quieter. No guns or sirens. People talking and specifically talking about what happened without using the events for ratings. And the idea he had for the Halloween episode is reworked; instead of a group of trick-or-treaters talking to the president in the White House, they're now high schoolers during a lockdown. They will talk to the staff, ask Big Questions and process Small Answers. Everyone will. Sorkin gets green light from all involved. It normally takes six weeks to write and film and edit an episode. They did it in 12 days.

The script for that episode -- Issac and Ishmael -- begins with the cast talking to the camera. Instead of the opening credits and music, numbers for various agencies are shown. The cast explains that this will be a play of sorts removed from the show's timeline, and the stories will continue next week. Until then, here's our show, do what you can, and God bless America.

Here, I need to mention my recent readings on the World Trade Center. You might remember a fantastic New York Times package on the construction progress from Labor Day weekend. I pored over it as I threw back gallons of coffee. Among the principle-twisting arguments about the "Ground Zero mosque" were exclamations that the mosque shouldn't be built so long as WTC remains a sacred pit, a ragged scar that remains barren nine years later. And that's horseshit. After years of impotence and preening grandstanding, the WTC site is roaring with activity as the buildings reach skyward.

Just this week, I read the latest Esquire account of the progress, part of a series on the efforts to reclaim, redefine, and reopen Ground Zero. This account began before the building efforts, and I've read about the architectural nightmares involved in designing a memorial site that doubles as a business center on top of an operating train hub just yards from the river in the middle of the financial center of the country's largest city. Just as a design was finally submitted, the security agencies balked at what they deemed insufficient defensive standards. Not helping the cause were stupid gubernatorial appointments for the overseer (a man who had previously only run a bowling alley and a laundry), counter lawsuits over ownership, and budgets that threatened to make any advancement impractical.

Not today. That all was cleared up by a new administrator and the looming tenth anniversary of the attacks. The squabbling was squashed, and the trucks were loaded with the thickest cement yet designed for the construction of a bold and solemn complex that would welcome the mourning and curious and allow business to continue.

That kind of progress catches my breath. That's what affects me most when I hear people talking about WTC. It works to the benefit of many a talking head to refer to it as an eternal smoldering crater because we're supposed to be blinded by our pain and direct our rage against people who had no hand in causing death. But I've exhausted that well of emotion. It's dry. I remember everything of that day, and it's now filtered through the hope and resolve that the air above that site will contain people and utilities and materials employed to the end of normalcy and production. And we're getting there. We're finally getting there. That's what hits me now. And here's Sorkin writing about the same impetus: something must be constructed, and work must move forward. That's more inspiring than hand wringing and the tearing of raiment. We mourned. We paused. Now is the time to work, driven by spite for the bastards and hope for what comes next. We can stop saying "Ground Zero" and go back to "World Trade Center."

I'm reading this forward at the restaurant's outdoor tables and about to fall apart, and that won't do. I'm too old and too nerdy to be seen collapsing into a puddle. I close the book and throw away my trash and get back to my car and think about the comic script I need to write. If I ever write a memoir, it shall be called Don't Lose Your Shit at the Chick-Fil-A.

Sorkin is a really good writer.

Picture of the Day
Mazel Tov Cocktail from last weekend's derby bout. This is from the team's FaceBook page.

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