Monthly Archives: May 2016

Chapter One

Dearest reader,

There will come a time (very soon I hope) where I’ll have the opportunity to share my book with you in its entirety. But in the interim, I thought I might commemorate the holiday weekend by giving you just a little taste.

Printed below you will find the first chapter. Here’s hoping that it whets the appetite… Because an entire five-course meal is on its way.

Please to enjoy,

MPMchapter one

“‘For a while’ is a phrase whose length can’t be measured. At least by the person who’s waiting.”
– Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun


Caleb Worthington was so sick and fucking tired of waiting. He’d been a teenager for going on four years now, and he’d spent nearly every waking moment waiting for something. There was the abstract, big picture stuff like “waiting to become an adult” (whatever that meant) or “waiting for the day he understood girls” (if that was even possible). But it was the smaller, more incremental stuff that really got to him.

Like take his first pubic hair for example. It took 13 years, three weeks, and six days for it to finally appear. And that wasn’t even the worst part. He had to wait an additional three days before the second, third, and fourth pubes decided to show up, which meant that he’d spent an anxiety-ridden 72-hour period wondering whether he’d be known for the rest of his life as “The Genetic Freak with One Pube”.

And that was just the beginning. He’d waited (quietly) for his voice to stop squeaking like a dog’s rubber chew toy. He’d waited (and waited) for a growth spurt, which had finally come the previous summer, thereby rescuing him from life as a Hobbit and (temporarily) preserving his fantasy of one day playing in the NBA. And he was still waiting for the day when he’d be able to grow a thicker mustache than his grandmother.

His life was a giant calendar that extended infinitely out into the future, each day filled not with appointments or plans, but with question marks. How long would he have to wait to kiss a girl for the first time? Or to touch a boob? Or to finish inside something other than an old gym sock? The only way to find out was to wait.

More than anything, though, Caleb waited for the day when he’d be free. Free of the daily mounds of homework his teachers threw at him. Free of a social ecosystem that he neither fit into nor understood. Free of his mom’s proprietary blend of over-protectiveness and nagging. Free of, well… All of it.

He knew it was just a pipe dream, of course. Being a teenager was like living in a totalitarian dictatorship. You went to school when you were told. You did your chores when you were told. And you spent half your fucking life waiting for the bus.

It felt like Caleb was always waiting for the bus. And today was no different.

There he stood with all the other pathetic, license-less freshmen and sophomores, watching the upperclassmen whiz past in their cars, blaring music, smoking cigarettes and reminding him of everything that he wasn’t.

And the waiting was only made worse by the relentless, late afternoon sun. Caleb’s ash-gray T-shirt featured pit stains the size of Lake Tahoe, and there was a reservoir of sweat slowly pooling in the boxers beneath his black jeans. It felt like he was standing in a tide pool.

But just when Caleb was about to reach his breaking point… Just when it felt like he couldn’t wait another fucking second… It happened.

He heard it first: the sound of the motorcycle’s engine ripping through the parking lot like a chainsaw. And then there he was, idling in front of him on his jet black TT 650 Triumph: his dad flashed a half-smile, his beard inching up the right side of his face.

“What’ya waitin’ for, kiddo?” he said. “A written invitation?”

Caleb turned to the braces-riddled freshman standing next to him: was this really happening? Her awed, metallic smile suggested that it was.

“Sh- Shouldn’t I wear a helmet?” Caleb asked, hesitating ever so slightly.

“Not unless you plan on ratting me out to your mother,” his dad smirked.

It was all the reassurance the boy needed. Without another thought, he hopped on the back of the bike and wrapped his arms around his father’s midsection. And just like that, the waiting was over.

The motorcycle shot out of the parking lot like a missile. A moment later, Caleb’s dad was weaving the bike through traffic, passing the many cars that had passed the boy just a few minutes earlier.

Caleb felt the wind in his face, and the life-force of his father radiating in front of him. And suddenly, he was transported back to his childhood. Back to when he’d sit atop his father’s shoulders – on top of the world – weaving through the crowd after a 49ers’ game.

A red light turned green, and the motorcycle took off down the Alameda in a blur.

This must be what it feels like to be a man, Caleb thought. This must be what it feels like to

Suddenly, Caleb heard the screech of the bus’ brakes, and he was right back at the bus stop:

Backpack weighing him down. Sweat pooling in his boxers. Waiting.

The bus’ doors folded opened, and the herd of the car-less began to push past him, as he stood there in a daze, trying to stave off reality for a few more seconds. He could still hear the roar of the motorcycle’s engine in the distance.

“Hey! You comin’ or what?” the bus driver shouted, stamping out the daydream once and for all.

“Yeah,” Caleb said, “sorry.”

There was no motorcycle. Of course there wasn’t. Caleb hadn’t seen his dad in almost five years.

* * *

“Did you check your mirrors?”


“Are you sure?”


With each question, Caleb felt his body grow tenser. He fidgeted in the driver’s seat, avoiding eye contact at all costs. As a teenage boy, the only thing more emasculating than being given a driving lesson by your mom was being given a driving lesson by your mom in an empty parking lot – in a mini-van. It was like driving a boat. With a vagina.

“So, what’s behind us?” his mom asked.


“I want you to tell me what’s behind us.”

Instinct took over and Caleb turned 100 degrees in his seat to look out the back of the car the old fashioned way. Given his mom’s tone, he half-expected to see a pack of wild dogs behind them. But all he saw was more parking lot and a few unoccupied office buildings in the distance.

“In the mirror, Caleb! Look in the mirror.”

Caleb wasn’t sure which mirror she was talking about, so he tried to look everywhere at once.

“I have a glob of mascara in the corner of my eye,” she said, leaning in to get a better look. “And you know how I know that? Because the rear-view mirror is pointed directly at me. So, I’ll ask you again: did you check your mirrors?”

Janice used a tissue to stamp out the rogue mascara. It didn’t matter whether she was in an abandoned office park or at a restaurant sitting across from (yet another) first date, Caleb’s mother always wore eye make-up. “Show me a woman with a smoky eye, and I’ll show you a man who burns with desire for her,” her stomach-curdling motto went.

“Well?” his mom said, her “smoky” eyes back on him.

Annoyed, Caleb yanked the rearview mirror in his general direction.

“There,” he said, the parking lot now stretching out behind him in the mirror’s reflection – only slightly askew.

“What do I always tell you, honey?”

Janice leaned over and tweaked the mirror another quarter of an inch. Caleb’s entire body clenched. He was ready to explode… But he said nothing.

“Caleb, what do I always tell you?”

Caleb mumbled something unintelligible through gritted teeth.

“I can’t hear you.”

“Safety is no accident.”

“Exactly. Now, let’s put the car in gear, but remember to keep your foot firmly pressed against the brake, okay…?”

Instead, Caleb closed his eyes in the hope that he might re-open them and magically find himself somewhere else. Anywhere else. It wasn’t just his mom breathing down his neck. Or the mini-van. It was simpler than that: he was scared shitless. He was probably the only 16-year-old on the planet who wanted no part of learning how to drive.

“You are such a pussy, Worthington.”

The words of Caleb’s long-time nemesis, Bryan Byrnes, echoed through his head. Bryan took every opportunity to remind Caleb of his “pussy-dom”, and he’d had more than a few chances, as the two had been classmates since junior high. Over time, the sentiment gradually drilled down deeper and deeper into Caleb’s psyche until it was no longer just a childish insult; it was an accepted reality.

“Caleb,” his mom said, “are you listening to me?”


“What did I say?”

“You said to keep my foot on the brake when I put the car in drive.”

But even that didn’t satisfy her. When Caleb finally reached for the gear shift, Janice pressed her hand against his knee to ensure that he maintained sufficient contact with the brake pedal.

“Mom, I can do it myself.”

“Go ahead. Put the car in gear, honey.”

Caleb shifted the car from Park down to Drive.

“Let go of my leg.”

Caleb’s eye-line moved from the parking lot down to his lap, as he bucked against his mother’s grip. He pushed his knee into her hand causing his foot to come off the brake pedal. The car began to roll forward.

“Put your foot back on the brake!”

“Let go of my leg!”

The moment his mom’s hand came off his knee, Caleb’s right foot rushed back toward the floor and connected with a pedal… The gas pedal.


The mini-van lurched forward with a screech. As the car picked up speed, a strange mix of adrenaline and terror rushed through Caleb’s body. A panicked Janice reached over and grabbed the steering wheel, causing the car to swerve wildly to the right.

“Brake! Hit the brake!”

But Caleb couldn’t hit the brake. His foot felt like it was super-glued to the gas. His vision was starting to blur. And all he knew for sure was that there was a baby tree encased in a cement planter rushing toward him at warp speed.


To be continued…

Buried Treasure

Timecode: 16:50 – 17:08

There’s an old adage that says no matter how many times you’ve seen a great movie (or read a great book), you always notice something new (and wonderful) each time you go back to it. Honestly, I didn’t think that was possible with AFGM – not because it isn’t great¹, but because I’ve seen it so many goddamn times². But boy, oh boy, was I wrong!

Last week, while I was studying the on-screen chemistry between Kaffee and that apple, I stumbled upon a small (but hilarious) detail that I’d never noticed before. And so, in true A Few Good Minutes fashion, I’m devoting this entire post to those 18 seconds of screen time and what they can possibly tell us about the greatest movie ever made³.

We now join our scene already in progress…

Kaffee has just been dismissed by Galloway, and Sam decides to stick around to explain away Danny’s devil-may-care attitude — ostensibly, to smooth things over with Jo (and possibly, to keep her from telling his boss, Captain Whitaker, that he and Danny are a couple of maroons):

He’s a little preoccupied. The team’s playing Bethesda Medical next week.

Tell your friend not to get cute down there. The Marines in Guantanamo are fanatical.

About what?

About being Marines.

About being Marines

It’s a great exchange, highlighted by the dismissive, matter-of-fact tone that Demi Moore delivers the last line. But there’s something even more amazing going on in the background. When Kaffee leaves the office, he turns right and heads off down the hallway (out of our view). But if you look closely, you see him re-appear in the doorway a beat later, heading the opposite direction (translation: Danny’s so out of it, he went the wrong way). Here’s the Zapruder-esque footage to prove it:14hsm8

It’s the kind of comedic touch you’d expect from Buster Keaton or Lucille Ball. But what’s more important (at least for our purposes) is to think about the possible reasons for Danny’s about-face. (Do note, however, that whichever explanation you choose likely says more about you than it does Kaffee…)

Explanation #1 (a.k.a. the simplest explanation): Danny is just that oblivious.

Supporting Evidence: We’ve seen him look to Sam for explanations about everything from fence-lines to Colonel Jessep’s resume during the last two scenes. And while Kaffee certainly enjoys playing up his confusion for comedy’s sake (ex. “Was that 0600 in the morning, sir?”), it’s safe to assume that he legitimately has zero idea who Jessep is.

Explanation #2 (a.k.a. the MJ explanation): Danny has a Michael Jordan-esque will to win (at least when it comes to softball), and all he can think about is beating Bethesda Medical next week.

Supporting Evidence: Anyone willing to hit that many grounders to such a stone-handed doofus (a.k.a. Sherby) isn’t playing “just for funsies”. Insert obligatory Kaffee-Crying Jordan meme here:Kaffee Crying JordanExplanation #3 (a.k.a. the “he’s finally met his match” explanation): While he’d never actually admit it, Kaffee was thrown off his game by Galloway’s “my jurisdiction is pretty much in your face” speech — either because she’s the first person to ever call him out on his bullshit, or because he’s sexually attracted to her (or both).

Supporting Evidence: Given what we’ve seen of his interactions with Spradling, Sam, and Captain Whitaker, Kaffee certainly hasn’t been pushed up to this point. So, at the very least, Jo’s “you’re gonna have to go deeper than that” comment is not something Danny’s heard much of in his professional life. And in the scene still to come, where Galloway calls him out yet again (this time in front of his entire softball team), he’ll allude to being sexually aroused by Jo’s take charge, dominatrix vibe.

While it’s easy to default to the simplest explanation, I tend to lean towards Explanation #3, and here’s why:

Danny can’t be that oblivious; not unless this is a different movie, and it’s being directed by The Farrelly Brothers or The Zucker Brothers (or any other brothers known for incredibly broad comedy). Sure, Rob Reiner has superb comedic chops (and Cruise gives us some memorable comic moments in the film), but at the end of the day, this is a story that we’re supposed to take seriously (even if the main character is doing everything in his power not to up to this point). So, the idea that Kaffee would head the wrong direction simply because he’s not paying attention just doesn’t fit the tone that the movie is going for.

Even more to the point, Tom Cruise is a great actor. And like all great actors, his performances are defined by the unique and specific choices that he makes. Those choices aren’t arbitrary; they’re always acutely motivated.

And that’s why, until Tom Cruise tells me otherwise, I will go to my grave convinced that the only explanation for Kaffee’s about-face is behind Door Number Three: Jo actually managed to get under his skin a little.


¹I mean, c’mon, why would I be writing this blog if it wasn’t?
²Rough estimate: 35 times from start to finish (with plenty of other, partial viewings).
³Military courtroom drama division.
And he’s not alone. Right, Michael Douglas?
Tom, if you’re reading this, you can reach me at

Rewriting Step Twelve

There’s this parable a mentor of mine once shared that has always stuck with me. It goes something like this…

A man is walking down the road holding a gold coin in each of his hands. The man worked hard to earn his coins, so he grips them both tightly to ensure that a) he doesn’t drop them and that b) no one can take them from him.

A little further down the road, however, the man comes upon a field that is littered with gold coins. I mean, we’re talking like a Scrooge McDuck swimming pool of wealth¹: gold coins as far as the eye can see.scrooge swimming in money

There’s only one problem: the man’s grip on the two coins that he already has is so tight that it’s impossible for him to pick up any new ones. [Insert Price is Right loser music here.]

So, yeah, you probably don’t need me to tell you the moral of the story, but just in case the links above sent you down a YouTube click-hole that ended with five consecutive installments of Carpool Karaoke, I’ll make it simple for you: you’ll never be able to acquire more (wealth, love, opportunity, et al.) in life if you spend all of your energy trying to protect what you already have.

Sure, it’s possible that if you loosen the grip on what you have, someone might come along and take it from you. But if you trust (yourself, the world, the universe, et al.) enough to let go, you open yourself up to even greater possibilities.

I’ve been thinking about the story (and its underlying message) a lot lately, though not because I’m holding any actual gold. As a matter of fact, it’s the exact opposite: it’s what’s out of my hands that has it on my mind.

As you might recall, I’m in the familiar position of waiting to hear back about a project I’ve recently completed. And the longer I go without a substantive update, the more I can feel myself tightening. It’s not just my grip around some metaphorical coins, either; it’s my entire body slowly curling up into the fetal position, closing itself off from any potential danger or harm.fetal-man

Ashamed as I am to admit it, it’s a feeling that I’ve become well-acquainted with over the years, as it’s the twelfth and final step in “My 12 Step Creative Process²”:

Step 1 – Out of a sudden burst of inspiration (not unlike The Big Bang) comes a new idea, around which a universe of possibilities can form.

Step 2 – That universe (i.e. all of the characters and story details) slowly comes into focus over time. (*Note: this process typically proves most fruitful when I’m showering, driving, people-watching, actively brainstorming with a friend, and/or in the moments immediately after I walk away from my computer or before I fall asleep.)

Step 3 – I excitedly pitch others (i.e. friends, managers, rando’s on BART) on my semi-formed idea in order to gauge interest. (*Note: only proceed to Step 4 if Step 3 isn’t met with crushing silence and/or the phrase, “Huh?”)

Step 4 – Open a new document and immediately save it (even though it’s still blank) under the project’s working title and let a sense of accomplishment wash over me.

Step 5 – Stare at the blinking cursor atop said document until drops of blood form on my forehead³.

Step 6Masturbate furiously to help alleviate the intense anxiety I’m feeling about “having to write something extraordinary”.

Step 7 – Slowly but surely get a few sentences down on the page. And very slowly build from there…

Step 8 – …once momentum is (finally) achieved, do everything in my power to keep my ass in the chair until said momentum is extinguished (and I hopefully have some pages).

Step 9 – Finish the fucking thing.

Step 10 – Pretend to be excited about the notes given to me by others…and then very slowly let go of the idea that my story is “extraordinary”, before using said notes to help make the story better. (*Note: this will typically involve repeating Steps 2 through 9, but particularly Step 6.)

Step 11 – Release the finished product “into the wild” to see what people think and immediately commence Step 12.

Step 12 – Curl up into the fetal position to ward off any potential passes, criticism, or negativity.

It’s taken some time (and plenty of tissues), but I’ve slowly come to accept the fact that at least 10 (and probably 11) of these steps simply come with the territory. I’ve just heard too many other writers describe their processes similarly to think I’m abnormal (at least for a writer, which granted, isn’t saying much).

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Step 12. Because the truth is, if we were to personify Step 12, it would look an awful lot like the man from the parable: so worried about the bad things that could happen to him that he closes himself off to the good things that may be just around the corner.

I mentioned this a couple of weeks back, but it bears repeating in this context: we all acknowledge that creating anything of value requires an openness and vulnerability on the part of the creator; what we often forget, however, is that we have to remain open and vulnerable even after we release our creations into the world. For me, this second part has always produced far more anxiety, because it can feel an awful lot like leaving your face exposed during a heavyweight fight…or a Ted Cruz concession speech. I mean, you’re just asking the world to cold-cock you, aren’t you?


…or are you?

Sure, it can feel that way sometimes, especially when you’ve endured your fair share of rejection. But do I really believe that my dreams are Millhouse (weak, feeble, and pathetic) and the universe is Nelson (just waiting to beat the shit out of ‘em)? I don’t know, man. That sure makes me sound like the schizophrenic homeless guy who’s always marching up and down my street, screaming that the world is out to get him.

Isn’t it possible that the world is just a tiny bit more receptive than that? That the decision-makers in Hollywood and the publishing world, who could be reading my material this very second, are looking for a reason to say, “Yes”? That they want nothing more than to read the byproduct of “My 12 Step Creative Process⁸” and fucking love it?

Maybe I’m just falling victim to the rhetorical nature of the questions, but you know what? I think the answer to all three of them is a loud, resounding “Yes”. And if that’s the case then Step 12 has to be re-written.

It should probably go something like this…

Step 12 – Exercising as much patience as is humanly possible, slowly let the audience for your story come into focus, never forgetting to stay engaged, excited, and open. Be prepared to share even more of yourself when the time comes. And in the meantime, resort to Step 6 as needed.


¹I’m taking some creative liberties with the parable to allow for some sweet YouTube linkage.
²Trademark pending. (But I’m confident that it’ll come through, because I have to be be the first person to ever come up with a 12-Step Program, right?)
³Shout-out to Ernie Hemingway, who I’m paraphrasing here.
Redacted for confidentiality reasons.
Also redacted.
Pun not intended, sicko.
Okay, it was intended that time. #sorrynotsorry
Trademark still pending. I’m really starting to get worried, you guys…

Danny Appleseed

Timecode: 12:59 – 16:49

Commander, Lt. Kaffee’s generally considered the best litigator in our office. He’s successfully plea bargained 44 cases in nine months.

One more and I get a set of steak knives.

If you’re a dedicated reader of this blog¹, you may remember that I said Kevin Pollak was the perfect scene partner for Tom Cruise. Well, I was wrong, ladies and gentlemen. Because there is, in fact, another co-star that helps Cruise soar to even greater heights in AFGM. And no, it’s not Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, or Jack Nicholson. I’m speaking, of course, about the juicy, Red Delicious apple² that Kaffee has a torrid love affair with during his first meeting with Galloway.Apple in the mouth

There’s just no denying it: the first half of this scene is a fucking master class in how business³ can enhance a performance. And as such, it absolutely warrants requires a thorough, bite-by-bite, A Few Good Minutes breakdown:

Kaffee arrives at Galloway’s door with Sam at his side and the apple already down to the nub. I have to assume that Danny skipped lunch to hit Sherby a few more grounders, and this apple is all that’s standing between him and dangerously low blood sugar.

• And yet, lo and behold, that “same” apple is a good 15-20% less eaten when he walks into the office (continuity error alert!) We’ll get to why that is in a second, but first, a couple of important questions: how much apple did Tom Cruise have to eat before they finished shooting this scene? And did he have to camp out in his trailer later that afternoon because of it?

• Back to the magically more-intact apple for a second. Why would Cruise trade out flimsy apple #1 for the beefier apple #2, you ask? Because he wanted to achieve peak “pig at a laua” comedic effect when he puts said apple in his mouth (pictured above), while searching his briefcase for the crumpled up piece of paper that he jotted Galloway’s name down on.

• It also gives us a spectacular, “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” moment a second later, when Cruise turns profile to the camera and there’s a giant, glistening smear of apple juice across his cheek.

• Then, the second he’s invited to sit down, he grabs a chair, takes a thoroughbred-level bite out of the apple, and doubles down on the business by licking residual apple juice off of his hand.

• Before the scene is over, he actually goes to the “apple in his mouth to free up his hand bit” three times: first when he knocks on the door, then when he’s searching for Galloway’s name, and finally, when he passes the Dawson & Downey file to Sam (like it’s a hot potato) upon receiving it from Galloway.

• And then there’s the coup de grâce: with the apple finally finished, Cruise’s eyes dart around the room looking for some place to dispose of the core. This gets Demi into the act, as she fishes the garbage can from beneath her desk and offers it to Cruise with a glare that says far more about how she feels about Kaffee than any dialogue ever could. The business is so good that you could watch the scene with the sound muted, and you could still understand their dynamic.

• Okay, I lied, that wasn’t the final final blow, because everyone knows that when you eat a juicy piece of fruit by hand, your hands become a sticky fucking nightmare! And don’t think Tom Cruise – the everyman of everymen — is going to let us forget it. No, sir! He resorts to the same “Miyagi hands” approach that every last one of us has used while trying to unstickify our hands when there’s no water, soap or paper towels available.Kaffee rubbing hands apple

I mean, my god! Give the man his due. Forget a set of steak knives, Cruise deserves an Oscar and a paring knife made of Valyrian steel for that performance. (Oh, and throw in one of these while you’re at it; they make apple pie-making a fucking breeze!)

Taken as a whole, Kaffee’s tête–à–tête with the Red Delicious helps to pound home (one final time before the story really gets rolling) both his boyish charm (because, really, what’s more boyish and charming than a farm boy gnawing on an apple from the orchard?) and the nonchalance with which he treats everything work-related.

The key turn in the scene, however, comes when Kaffee tries to wriggle his way out of Galloway’s interrogation by giving her the Dave Spradling treatment (he of the oregano prosecution):

Right. Is that all?

Lieutenant, this letter makes it look like your client had a motive to kill Santiago.

Am I correct in assuming that these letters don’t paint a flattering picture of marine corps life at Guantanamo Bay?

Yes, among —

Am I further right in assuming that a protracted investigation of this incident might cause some embarrassment for the security counsel guy.

Colonel Jessep, but —

Twelve years.

I’m sorry?

I’ll get them to drop the conspiracy and conduct unbecoming. Twelve years.

You haven’t talked to a witness or looked at a piece of paper.

Pretty impressive, huh?

You’re gonna have to go deeper than that.

When Spradling told Kaffee, “I don’t know why I’m agreeing to this” when they settled the oregano case, you could tell that it wasn’t the first time Kaffee’d heard that line before. Given his considerable charisma and that aforementioned charm, it’s probably safe to assume that Kaffee’d heard that line non-stop in the 9 months since he joined the Navy: from JAG lawyers at the end of every plea bargain and from D.C. co-eds before every last call.

But not this time. Not on Jo’s watch. I mean, say what you will about her as a litigator, but no one can question Joanne Galloway’s ability to crawl up a lawyer’s ass. Her jurisdiction is — and always has been — IN. YOUR. FACE. So, buckle up, Kaffee: you’re in the big leagues now.Jurisdiction is in your face

Oh, and you’re dismissed, by the way.always forget that part

I know, I know. You always forget that part.


¹Shout-out to my folks!
²You could potentially talk me into it being a Jonagold, but to anyone who thinks it might be an Empire or Gala, please, do us both a favor and stop reading this blog immediately.
³For the uninitiated, “business” refers to the physical actions an actor performs in conjunction with their dialogue.
Because we all know that apple juice is a diuretic, and that apples are high in fiber, which is good for, you know…
Or is it a metaphor for him trying to dispose of the Corps and all that it stands for??? Just kidding, guys. I’m not a crazy person!
Not a real word
And paired with a few spoonfuls of peanut butter, of course, because an apple with some peanut butter is basically the perfect snack!

What Steph’s Taught Me About Writing

“Everybody’s given a certain skill set, a certain talent, a certain passion… Find what you’re passionate about in this life and work at it every single day.” – Stephen Curry

Long before he was a two-time MVP or a world champion, Stephen Curry was just a scrawny kid who found that life made a little more sense when he had a basketball in his hands. He was never The Chosen One. He wasn’t anything like Mike. And nobody – not even his own mother – thought he was destined for greatness in the NBA.Stephen curry as a kid

When he was a senior in high school, a grand total of one Division 1 school offered him a scholarship to play college basketball. Yes, you read that right: the greatest basketball player currently walking the Earth was ignored/passed over by 346 college basketball coaches, because they thought he wasn’t/wouldn’t be good enough. And this was a kid whose dad played in the NBA for 16 seasons!

But Curry refused to let rejection or disappointment slow him down. Instead, he took the sole scholarship offer extended to him (by tiny Davidson College) and continued to work his ass off. Three years later, he was the seventh player taken in the NBA Draft. His struggle, however, was far from over.

Not only was he selected by a moribund franchise (the Golden State Warriors), he spent the first chapter of his professional career hobbled by ankle injuries. Despite his talent, it was an open question whether he’d ever be able to stay healthy long enough to make an impact in the league.

But not even Curry’s own body could keep him from greatness. He just kept working. And working. And working…

…and now? Well, here we are:Steph 2 MVPs

It’s easy to get distracted by the shot-making and the ball-handling and the downright fucking wizardry, but the most amazing thing about Curry is his work ethic. His relentless drive to get better. And while you and I may never know the rarefied air that he’s reached in his profession, that doesn’t mean we can’t draw inspiration from his story. Because if you’re anything like me, you know what it’s like to have a dream; and you also know what it’s like to struggle (and struggle and struggle) to achieve it.

When I was a senior in high school, I wrote my first humor column for the school newspaper. Even now, I can still picture the faces of my classmates as they walked down the hall reading what I’d wrote, laughing their asses off. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever come to feeling what it’s like to dunk a basketball¹, because all I could think as it was happening was, “Holy shit! I did that!”

It was the moment that I found my passion.

Ever since, people have told me that I’m incredibly lucky, because some people — maybe even most people — never do. And while they’re probably right, there’s something they overlook in that calculus: just because you have a passion doesn’t mean the universe is going to wrap its arms around you and support it. Quite the opposite, actually.

The universe is like that friend we all had in college who smoked way too much pot: it doesn’t give a shit about anything. It’s not for you or against you. It just is, man.

So, when you have a dream – especially a big dream like playing in the NBA or writing a hit movie or best-selling novel – the odds are stacked against you, because there are a million other people out there dreaming the same dream. I mean, shit, most of the time, it can feel a lot like this:batman climbing out of pit

And it’s not like passion and talent provide you with some magic potion that teleports you to the top; they’re merely the two hands that can help you climb in that direction.

But there are no guarantees. No matter how much you want it. No matter how much you believe in yourself. Ascension is — and always will be — an open question, because you never know if your next foothold will support you…

…or if you’re destined to reenact the opening scene from Cliffhanger.

You may rise or you may fall, but in the end, it doesn’t matter whether you string sentences together for a living like I do or toss an orange orb through the ole basketball ring like Steph. All you can control is the work.

And if you keep working, who knows? Maybe one day you’ll fire up a (figurative) 40-footer with six-tenths of a second remaining and…


¹Unless you count that 8-foot hoop in my backyard.

My Kind of Case

Timecode: 10:57 – 12:58

That flight to Cuba, was that 0600 in the morning, sir?

Fresh off of smoking Dave Spradling like a dime bag of oregano (whilst conducting infield practice no less), Kaffee is in desperate need of a more formidable adversary (not to mention a semi-competent second baseman¹). Luckily for him (and for us), he’s arrived at the pivotal moment of any great story: the Call to Adventure.

As Joseph Campbell laid out in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in the classic monomyth, our Hero must receive a call that “disrupts the comfort of [their] Ordinary World and presents a challenge that must be undertaken.” Or put another way: as much as he may want to, Danny can’t spend his whole life hitting grounders through Sherby’s legs. Not if he’s going to be the star of the greatest movie² of all-time, anyway.

But that doesn’t mean that Kaffee is going to like getting the call; he’s what Joey C.³ would call a reluctant hero. So, it only makes sense that he shows up late to the very meeting where his “Call” will be announced to the world a conference room full of co-workers:No excuse Kaffee

Excuse me, sorry I’m late.

That’s alright, Danny. I know you don’t have a good excuse, so I won’t force you to come up with a bad one.

Thank you, sir.

My favorite part of this exchange is the inherent insinuation that Danny is not only chronically late, but that he’s offered up one ridiculous excuse after another as to why. A few possibilities (listed in order of ridiculousness):

5. Janelle forgot to tell him about the meeting.
4. He thought the meeting was at 0900…in the evening.
3. He had to give Sherby a ride to work, because Sherby’s bike was stolen – again.
2. He was hitting grounders to Sam’s baby.
1. His dad died — again.

With the perfunctory excuses dispensed with, Captain Exposition Whitaker wastes no time getting down to exposition business: “Seems you’re moving up in the world. You’ve been requested by Division.”Requested to do what

“Requested to do what?” Kaffee asks in what may be my favorite Tom Cruise line-reading ever. The bemused distaste with which he asks the question makes the mind race with potential requests Kaffee might have in mind. A few possibilities (listed in order of ridiculousness):

5. Board a boat.
4. Clean the latrine.
3. Fire Sherby.
2. Teach Sam’s baby to say her first word.
1. Throw the game against Bethesda Medical next week as part of the Division’s (super secret) softball gambling operation.

Instead, Captain Exposition Whitaker gives us the lowdown on the Dawson/Downey case with a helpful assist or two from the one, the only, Lt. Sam Weinberg. And just in case we weren’t completely convinced that Kaffee doesn’t take anything (not even an assignment from Division) seriously, he exhibits the telltale sign of a man who doesn’t take anything seriously: he doesn’t have a pen to take notes with. But Captain Codependency Whitaker not only comes through with a writing implement, he also hooks Kaffee up with (equally reluctant) co-counsel:Sam no responsbilities face

Work with Kaffee on this.

Doing what? Kaffee’ll have this done in about four days.

Doing various administrative… things. Back-up. Whatever.

In other words, I have no responsibilities here whatsoever.


My kind of case.

Tom Cruise has had a lot of scene partners over the years, but there’s something about Kevin Pollak’s lowkey energy and wry comic delivery that provides the perfect yang to Cruise’s yin. Over the course of the film, the two of them also prove incredibly adept at portraying a relationship that you see all the time in the real world, but almost never on screen: colleagues that work really well together, but aren’t so close that you’d ever confuse them for actual friends. Case in point: neither Kaffee nor any of Sam’s other co-workers ever refer to his baby by name (even when she’s on screen later!) And you get the feeling that Kaffee couldn’t come up with the kid’s name even if you handed him this and spotted him about a hundred guesses. It’s a small detail, but an expertly observed one by Sorkin.

But back to the pride of Pioneer High for a second (that’s Pollak for those not familiar with his educational background). The man’s had quite a career as a character actor, but you’d be hard pressed to top his four year run from ‘92 to ‘95. He followed up AFGM with a delightful mix of comedy (Wayne’s World 2 and Grumpy Old Men) and drama (The Usual Suspects and Casino). And it should have come as no surprise either, as his performance as Sam is a perfect blend of both. (Plus, I mean, the guy’s always had range.)

He deserves a pat on the back. And wouldn’t you know it? That’s exactly how the scene ends.

Pat on the back gif


²Military courtroom drama division.
³What Joesph Campbell’s friends called him, obvi.
Which also happens to be the alma mater of four of my cousins.
Speaking of impressions, on his Chat Show, Pollak shared that during the climatic Kaffee-Jessep courtroom confrontation, he actually sat in for Nicholson (off-camera) when they were shooting Tom Cruise’s sides, and he performed all of Jack’s lines AS Jack.

Judgment Is Calling…

I’ve spent the better part of the last two years thinking and plotting and writing and revising and editing and obsessing my way to the 330 pages that make up my first novel.

And I’ve spent the better part of the last five (ever since my life caved in on itself) in regular therapy, reflecting and conversing and soul-searching and journaling my way to becoming a person not only capable of writing an emotionally vulnerable 330-page novel, but a person whose self-esteem won’t be entirely predicated upon that novel’s success or failure¹.

Or so I thought. But then the phone rang last week, and all that hard work and self-care flew right out the window.Flew right out the window

When you’re a writer (or an actor, or really anyone working in Hollywood), your phone is like a loaded weapon: every time it goes off, there’s a chance you might die (or, at the very least, your dreams will). The phone isn’t just a communication device; it’s a career barometer. Did that producer like your pitch? Did that showrunner like your energy? Did the studio like your re-write? You’ll never know for sure until your agent or manager calls, because trust me, nobody in this town will ever give you a straight answer face-to-face².

And when you live in a world where a few chords of Marimba can signal a life-altering phone call or (another) painful rejection, you can become quite the Pavlovian pooch.Pavloian drooling dog.gif

Instead of drooling, my conditioned response typically involves some mild tachycardia³ and an adrenaline kick from my sympathetic nervous system. I also answer the phone as fast as humanly possible.

(Quick sidebar: I’ve learned that the urgency with which I answer a phone call is inversely proportionate to how secure I feel about the relationship I have with the person calling. For example, when my mom calls, I am often more than happy to let it go to voicemail. Whereas, if a girl that I’ve just started dating calls, I will answer immediately, i.e. thereby eliminating any chance of her having second thoughts, hanging up, and never calling me again.)

Needless to say, when my manager called last week (on the heels of reading my post about waiting), I answered on the first ring. And before we’d even exchanged pleasantries, my head was already spinning with the countless ways that I could improve my book. The same book that we had both decided was ready for public consumption (after the aforementioned two years of revising and editing and…)

He wasn’t calling to ask me to make changes, of course. He just wanted to give me a quick update: he’d sent the book to a well-regarded lit agent, who he thought might be a good fit to help shepherd us through the publishing world. As it had only been a couple of weeks, he hadn’t yet heard back from her, but it was a first step (on what will surely be a long journey — no matter how it turns out).

But my mind couldn’t focus on the journey; all I saw was my ship (a.k.a. my book) sailing off into uncharted waters. And I wanted more than anything to dive into the water and try to drag it back to the safety of the harbor.

“When an agent or manager reads something, they’re not expecting it to be perfect, right? I mean, they’re looking to see potential, obviously. But you’d never read something and not wanted to give the writer notes, right? You wouldn’t expect it to be, like, a finished product right out of the gate, would you?” I somehow managed to ask in one breath.

“Uhh…” my manager said, clearly unprepared for my avalanche of insecurity, “it- it really depends, ya know?”

What he didn’t know (what he couldn’t know) is that earlier that morning I’d received a text from my cousin, who’d had a chance to read my book over the weekend. His feedback was overwhelmingly positive, but he did have one small criticism: he felt like the story took a little while to get going. And, of course, me being a writer, all I could focus on was the criticism.

Distracted by work for most of the day, I was able to sweep the critique under the rug. But the moment I heard that an important decision-maker now had the opportunity to arrive at that same conclusion and tell me that she had zero fucking interest in ever representing me as a result, well… That’s when I started to panic a little.Beaker panic

Look, there’s no getting around it: when you work in a creative field, there comes a point where your work has to be judged (whether it’s by decision makers, collaborators, or audiences). But I don’t care how many times you’ve gone through it, it’s never easy. You think asking someone on a first date is a leap of faith? Try asking them to spend their time and energy (and quite possibly their money) on a story you cooked up in your imagination. That takes some serious chutzpah. Because let’s face it: no matter how great you feel about the work you’ve done, there’s always a question dancing in the back of your head:

Why do I deserve an audience? Or more to the point…

What makes me so fucking special?

Answering these questions can be a tricky bit of business for two reasons:

1) They’re inherently rhetorical, and even more to the point, self-flagellating.


2) They present a false choice. The authors and screenwriters of the most successful books and movies aren’t “special”, and their stories don’t “deserve” an audience; they just find one.

Among the many prerequisites of writing anything worth sharing is an openness: to your ideas, to your emotions, and to a potential audience who might one day share the journey with you. In other words, there is no art without vulnerability.

But the thing I think we sometimes forget is that we have to remain open even after the creating has taken place. (Even when our only impulse is to curl up into a ball and protect ourselves).

We have to march right back to the edge of the cliff and leap. Again. And again. And again.leap leap leap.gif


¹Of course, as all of that therapy and soul-searching has taught me, the definitions of “success” and “failure” are always self-imposed.

²Basically, if “The Industry” was someone you were dating, they’d break up with you by sending a text…to your friend…and have them do it for them.

³a.k.a. an elevated heart rate.

a.k.a. butterflies in my stomach.