November 30, 2000 — The adventure begins.
For weeks now, I've been waiting for a meeting to be scheduled. It has to do with a new TV project with which I am to be
involved. Since I'm looking forward to the project, I'm looking forward to the meeting, without which the project cannot proceed.
Good news: I receive an e-mail telling me the meeting is finally scheduled — for January 8.
Bad news: It's in Germany.
The company funding the project is based there. Instead of its execs coming here, as I had hoped, the producer and I are supposed
to go the mountain.
Now, a trip to Germany — with first-class accommodations all the way and someone else paying — wouldn't come as Bad News to
some people. That's because some people like to see the world, whereas I like to go to New York, Las Vegas, my house and practically nowhere
else. I'm 15 months shy of fifty and, apart from one appearance at a Comic Art Festival in Victoria, British Columbia, I have never been
outside the U.S. of A. (At this moment, neither has the president-elect of my country.)
There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that my concept of Hell would commence with having to sit on an airplane for
fourteen hours. About six is my limit. Seven and I get fidgety. Eight and I want to get out and walk. Secondly, I have a long
list of food allergies and often have trouble getting something edible in restaurants where everyone speaks English.
Most of all, I have minimal interest. And whenever I've thought it might be nice to visit foreign lands, I'm always stopped by
friends and their horror stories. People who travel — at least, among my acquaintances — always brag about how awful they had
"...so then our flight was diverted to Heathrow, where the pilot had to land on instruments. That's how bad the weather
was. We couldn't even leave the airport. We had to sleep on the floor there for three days and, meanwhile, our luggage was somewhere in
"That's nothing. One time en route to Denmark, we were stacked up for three hours, then we had to land in Norway to refuel
and then we flew back to Denmark where we circled for another two hours...and I had dysentery the entire time..."
"God, that reminds me of the time I got food poisoning in Sri Lanka. They took me to this hospital where nobody spoke English
until this priest came by and stopped them just before they took out my appendix..."
They relate these Tales From The Crypt and then someone always turns to me and says, "You oughta go to Europe, Mark. You'd love
What's to love?
December 3, 2000 — I've been asking, "Is this trip really necessary?" They've assured me it is...so, just in case,
I'd better start the process of obtaining my first-ever passport.
A handy website at www.travel.state.gov furnishes all sorts of seemingly-useful info. I'll need two identical photos of myself in
the approved passport photo style and size. I will take them and two forms of I.D. to a passport acceptance agency where I'll pay not only the
standard fee but also an "expedite" fee in order to get my passport in under six weeks. I'll also need to take a filled-out copy of the form
which I download from the website and fill out. Already, I'm starting to feel cramped in that airplane seat.
December 4, 2000 — I hike to my friendly neighborhood Sav-On Pharmacy where, they advertise, one can get passport photos
in five minutes.
They lie. Fifty minutes is more like it.
At first, the processing machine — which looks like a big arcade-style videogame — refuses to process. This, I take
as a sign from God and/or Kodak that I should not be leaving the country. The store employees convene and discuss various means of repair,
ranging from intricate rewiring to full-scale disassembly and analysis. They finally decide to just kick the machine until it works.
So the manager kicks the machine for a while and then the assistant manager kicks the machine for a while. Various other Sav-On
employees kick the machine, as do several passing customers. The pharmacist even comes by and spends a few minutes kicking the machine while
heart patients wait for their Digitoxin.
Apparently, the touch of a man of medicine is all it needs because the contraption does finally start printing out passport
photos. Unfortunately, they are not of me.
The first set outputted is of an elderly black man. "You don't look like that," the clerk says, as if somehow I'm the one who has
screwed-up here. The next set is that of a young woman in her twenties. I am not that, either — or at least, I wasn't, last time I
Nor do I possess any of the next few faces that emerge from the Magic Passport Photo Processing Machine. Is this device perhaps
divining hitherto hidden personalities? Is it perceiving long-repressed faces of Evanier?
Naw. Another quick conference of Sav-On staffers finally yields an explanation for all those kissers that are not mine: The
machine has been jamming for days now. Photos-to-be-processed have been going in but not coming out.
Finally, when mine went in, the others all decided to flee in terror — or maybe it was all that kicking. They're finally
ejecting and, sure enough, way at the end of the queue is maybe the worst photo ever taken of me.
Oh, well. At least I have my photos...and, to apologize for the long wait, Sav-On gives them to me free, along with a coupon for
half-off on my next prescription. I probably won't use it, though. I'm afraid that if I go in there with some ailment, everyone will
start kicking me.
December 5, 2000 — I go to a convenient passport application acceptance agency which I selected from a list on the
convenient website. Unfortunately, a lady there informs me that applications are only accepted between 10 AM and 1 PM — which, needless
to say, is not convenient when you get there a little after 2:00. Gee, website, thanks for telling me.
December 6, 2000 — I return between the hours of 10 AM and 1 PM and the same woman who runs the passport application
acceptance agency refuses to accept my passport application. "We don't take those Internet forms anymore," she announces. Once more, the
website has let me down. As I fill out all new forms, she tells me that if my application is approved — and she makes that "if" sound
very unlikely, indeed — I will receive my passport on or around December 26.
I'm handed off to a gent who reviews the paperwork and studies my passport photos which, he tells me, don't look very much like
me. "Thank you," I reply to what is maybe the nicest thing another man has ever said to me. I probably should have gone with the shots of
the old black guy.
"Going to Germany, huh?" the passport man says. "I've been there." And before he has me swear my application is the God's
Truth, he makes me listen to the story of how he had diarrhea the entire trip, plus the airline lost his luggage, and the plane was nine hours late
and got re-routed to Lisbon...
"But," he tells me, "You'll have a great time."
December 18, 2000 — The government seems to be in a hurry to get me out of the country. My passport arrives
And apparently, the processing involves some sort of doctoring of your photo because it now looks even worse than it did before.
It looks like my face was sculpted out of Play-Doh and then, just before the picture was taken, someone dropped me.
I'm now imagining myself somewhere aboard the Orient Express. An efficient-but-swarthy official comes by to check my papers and
announces, in an accent of no known locale, "This does not look like you." And I have to crush my head in a vise in order to pass muster.
December 21, 2000 — The adventure stops.
A phone call informs me that the project is off. It is perhaps telling that my first reaction is not, "Oh, no! I just lost
lots of money and the chance to do a show I'd very much wanted to do." My first reaction is, instead, "Oh, boy! I don't have to go to
At least, not the first week in January. It turns out that there were two German firms interested in the project and the
producer's people are entering into talks with the other. I ask what happened to the first one and am told, "They're having some severe
problems." Hey, maybe we could send the Sav-On staff over and have them kick the company for a while. That would fix things.
January 7, 2001 — Today is the day I was supposed to leave for Munich. Instead, I'm leaving for four days in Las
Vegas. I may take along my new passport and demand that someone stamp it, because it looks pretty damn empty. And I paid an "expedite"
fee for this thing.
January 9, 2001 — I log into Ye Olde Internet via a laptop in my room at Harrah's in Las Vegas. An e-mail informs me
that a meeting has been set up with the other German company on January 23...and I find myself slightly (and perversely) disappointed that I won't
have to go there for it. In fact, they're coming here...to Vegas! They'll all be here attending the N.A.T.P.E. convention, which is a
gathering of folks who buy and sell TV and video programming. Looks like I'm coming back here in two weeks.
January 23, 2001 — I fly in for one night, they put me up at Mandalay Bay, and the producer's lawyer and I have dinner
with the head of the second of the German TV companies. Some time after we order but before the appetizers arrive, he opens negotiations on the
proposed show's budget and profit distribution.
By the time shrimp cocktails put in an appearance, it is clear that we will concur in neither area. Basically, he wants the show
done for about the price of the dinner we're having, and for his company to get 110% of the profits.
This theme is explored during entrees and dessert. By the time the check comes, we agree that we'll try to work out the terms of
a deal, but we all know that we never will.
Oh, well. At least the steak is good.
January 24, 2001 — I meet for breakfast with the lawyer. We are utterly in accord that the previous night's meal
will not lead to acceptable terms. It had its educational benefits but otherwise, we're back to Square One. He and I share a cab to the
airport and marvel that the amount on the meter roughly coincides with what we'd have made off the German deal.
February 7, 2001 — Nothing happens.
March 22, 2001 — Nothing continues to happen.
May 11, 2001 — Nothing continues to happen. In fact, nothing has been happening for some time now.
September 3, 2001 — I watch a little of the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon, make some calls, take a walk, write a
little on another project, answer some e-mail and roast a turkey in my new George Foreman rotisserie. Oh, yeah — and nothing continues to
September 11, 2001 — Something happens...not about the TV deal but about the real world. I actually haven't thought
much about the German project for some time now but today, somehow, it seems even less important.
October 11, 2001 — Nothing is happening with regard to the TV project. Again.
November 30, 2001 — Happy anniversary.
December 22, 2001 — A friend who's dropping off a Christmas present says, "Hey, whatever happened with that TV thing you
were gonna do with that German company?" I tell him the whole story and he asks, "So it's dead?"
"'Dead' implies it was ever alive," I remind him. "I'm not sure the spermatozoa ever got anywhere near the ovum on this one."
"You must be crushed," my friend says, well aware that, once upon a time, I very much wanted this one to happen.
I tell him no and can see that he doesn't believe me. That's because he isn't in show business and doesn't realize that we grow
accustomed to seeing a high percentage of all projects fall through. What's more, projects usually fall through, not with anyone saying "No"
— that would be too easy — but with nothing happening for so long that the matter's forgotten.
This is true, even when dealing with real producers who have real money...with folks who are smack-dab in the middle of projects that
do go forward. I was once involved with a series that the head of CBS wanted to do — interest that was so real that The Hollywood
Reporter announced we were going on, Monday evenings at 8.
We didn't...and no one ever said no. It just kept getting postponed and put off until we all just accepted it as a de
facto no. Happens all the time.
Matter of fact, it happens so routinely that a policy of guarded pessimism is often a good idea. Those who believe every
"possible" will grow up to be a "definite" spend too much of their lives being let down. Better to apply a healthy (but not abrasive) dose of
cynicism to every situation. This way, instead of constant disappointments, one can enjoy the occasional happy surprise.
I explain this to my gift-bearing friend and he says, "But you must be upset that you went to all the trouble of getting that passport
that, knowing you, you'll probably never use."
"Not too upset," I tell him. "I think I'd be upset if I went all the way to Germany and then things fell apart." Then I
add: "Maybe the worst part is that, back when I thought I was going, I started writing a column in diary form and now I don't have a finish for it so
I can't run it."
He says, "Aw, print it anyway. Your readers will like it." So I decide to give it a try but, of course, I do so under my
policy of guarded pessimism.
Matter of fact, I've been thinking: The Sav-On is open late. Maybe, before I send this off, I'll take the manuscript over there
and have them kick it for a while. Couldn't hurt.