Order of the Good Write

That Magic Feeling When the Words Flow. A Blog by Debi Rotmil

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Stage 26, Paramount Pictures

The passage of time. Space capsules and long ago dreams.

I first walked onto the Paramount Studio lot in 1988  on my first trip to Los Angeles. Back then, I worked at NBC and was tempted to move out to Hollywood to work at the network offices in Burbank. It was so different there, I thought. Instead of the high rise buildings and dirty windows of Rockefeller Plaza, there were bungalows and low level buildings that looked out at bald hills and wide open sky.  Instead of subways and buses, there were cars and parking lots, promising independence from a train schedule and a place to park that freedom. My friend Larry was interning on Entertainment Tonight, which used to shoot on the Paramount lot, so off I went to visit him, with my mother (who joined me on this trip), to the stage where Mary Hart and John Tesh reported important stories about behind the scenes drama on the set of Dynasty or what Suzanne Somers was up to.

I remember walking onto the darkened stage. It likely smelled like a lumberyard because that’s what sound stages usually are – a construction site with lots of wood and tools. The temperature was cool as well – it always is due to the camera equipment. The set was dark. The only light came from the sunshine that poked through the giant opened door where we entered. Before I could turn around to leave, my mother found a light switch.

“Oh, here it is,” she said. With one click, the giant studio light fixtures started to heat up, each making a large banging noise as they flickered on to a blinding blaze through each gel.

I looked at my mother, who had a totally deadpan look on her face.

“What? It was dark.”

I though we were going to get in trouble. But, I’ll give her props. She saw the darkness, and found the light – despite possible union violations.

I decided not to relocate to LA then. Instead, I continued to live in New York, moving from my parents home in the suburbs to my own apartment off west end avenue on the upper west side. I fell in love with a city that was twenty five minutes away from the where I grew up. It was like waking up one day to discover the boy next door was a hottie. I lost myself in New York’s charm, letting go of the sacrifices, the rent and the noise. I explored the hilly terrain of Riverside Drive. I languished in the delicious food of Zabars, Flora de Mayo and Planet Sushi. My commute was a 20 minute walk to the Lincoln Center area where I’d stop off at one of the twenty Starbucks locations along he way. You know it’s love when you walk to work in a blizzard. You know it’s love when your stomach churns with happiness as the springtime flowers along the curbside bloom. You know this town makes its mark when you watch two towers fall from your office window,  and later the same day, walk through the crowd of wandering lost people who keep muttering, “What is happening to this world?”

A decade passed, and the flames of this love affair extinguished slowly. The energy exhausted me. The neighbors were too close, the apartments too expensive and small. The weather was harsh – always playing havoc with my hair in the summer, always biting my fingertips in the frigid cold. New York, a difficult lover whose seduction once had me in the palm of his hand, became abusive. I grew tired of his ways. His crammed subway cars, the angry faces he placed in my way. I fell in love with Los Angeles, my former crush. He had better living conditions, lower rent for more space, beautiful weather, mountains, valleys and ocean.

I broke up with my old flame New York for the promise of a better life in Los Angeles four years ago this month. He welcomed me with a one bedroom apartment for under $2000 per month and a used Prius. His palms trees and beautiful night sky held me safe. His blue, wide Pacific Ocean took my breath away. But as one sunny day folded into another, and the hot sun beat on the hood of my car so hot you could bake a sheet of cookies – sameness permeated. Dissatisfaction, that old familiar enemy, started weaving that melancholy I remember so well, creeping in with the dust of the drought, the vulnerability to crime, the dryness of heat and the car ride you always have to take to get to anywhere.

I miss my New York. I miss Zabars and Riverside Park. I fantasize about where I can live, knowing that New York City, so unaffordable when I first lived there – is now prohibitively so. Yet, I dream of an apartment near Riverside Drive or Morningside Heights. I imagine flying my dog and I across the country to a new home in my old metropolis. Maybe ditching the city itself, and going back to the suburbs to find a place with a backyard near all the familiar old places. I can train it via Metro North where I can still meet up with my old friend NYC for dinner or something. Maybe a movie. Catch up on old times on the Metropolitan Museum rooftop.

Yet, until then, here I am – at Paramount Pictures. The place that was once a tourist visit for me, is now my daily routine. Where MHappy Days and Laverne and Shirley, Cheers and Mork & Mindy, filmed on stage 26 – shows of my childhood and young adult years- were created just several yards away from where I sit everyday, all day – right here where I write. That L.A. courtship came true. But like all Hollywood romances, split ups are inevitable.

I’m thinking of asking for a divorce.


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The Emmys and Baseball Collide

Billy Crystal’s tribute to his friend Robin Williams was the highlight of last night’s Prime Time Emmys. What makes me proud is that Crystal’s memory of Robin was in my home baseball stadium, Shea Stadium. I’m a Mets fan, so it hit me right in the gooey part of my heart.  The tribute segment is above.  The Shea Stadium moment that Crystal refers to is below.

 It has recently come to my attention that Mork and Mindy was filmed in Stages 26 and 27 on the Paramount Studio lot, only a holler away from the building where I currently work. I’m sitting there now, writing on the sly, banging out these words during a few moments of down time. Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley were also filmed here – shows that are part an echo, lost in time. Back then, I was in middle school three thousand miles away in New York learning about earthworms in science class. I had a mad crush on John Ritter, and religiously watched Three’s Company, daydreaming of a life where I could move to Hollywood and walk along the sandy sunny beach of Santa Monica. That dream has come true, but it took a long time getting here. Sadly, John Ritter had departed by the time I arrived.

Last night’s tribute to Mr. Williams at the Prime Time Emmy Awards brought back more pain over the loss of this sweet, funny soul. As a fan of alternative comedy, and a past student at the New York training center of the Upright Citizens Brigade, I grew snobbish over the old guard of comedian who once inspired me: David Letterman, Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld…Robin Williams. My turmoil over Robin’s death is complicated for me. You see, in the last several years, just hearing that Robin would be a guest on a talk show would make my eyes roll. Yes, I’m terrible sad in this admission. The frenetic, one hundred miles an hour speed of his speech, once exhilarating, was now exhausting.  I’ve come close to the world of comedians, and easily realized that depression and insecurity runs their lives amok. It exists with comedian’s Twitter feeds that are mostly snarky quips in the guise of another persona, and it’s palpable in interviews where personal, hard-hitting questions get diverted with jokes and characters. The funny  is that crunchy hard shell comedians in which they swath themselves. It keeps people from getting too close, and from getting inside. Robin seemed to have that hard protective coating for days. It was hard to get answers from him; yet, when you did, it was a glorious, sweet realization about life shining with lovely pearls of wisdom. “Ah…”, I thought. “That’s the Robin I would love to see more.” He even said himself that his recent heart surgery made him depressed because they literary cracked him open and opened up his heart. That must have been horrendous for someone whose soul was in pain.

I took him for granted when he was on this earth. I forgot the joy he gave me in The Fisher King and Hook. I forgot the life changing moments in Dead Poet’s Society. I forgot the wonderful evening I spent so many years ago when I attended a Saturday Night Live Dress rehearsal when he was host.  (He was always on – even during the commercial breaks).

There’s this old song entitled For a Dancer by Jackson Browne that says it best:

“You were always dancing in and out of view. I must have always thought you’d be around. Always keeping things real by playing the clown. Now you’re nowhere to be found.”