HOLLYWOOD—“Happiness must happen and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.” Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.
Last week I got a call from the Canyon News office, saying a TV
producer is looking for you. I hadn’t a clue what it could be about, my
suspense was complete. I was in the throes of anticipation, both paranoid and
rapturous. Perhaps my serial ”˜Night School,’ intended to be light and buoyant,
that has now revealed darker tints provoked the call. Maybe I was being busted
for cruelty to a fictional character. Well, the reason for the call turned out
to be the thing least expected.
I was being sought for my pie-eating contest credentials. Speed pie-eating is a hidden talent which would have remained forever undiscovered if my daughter hadn’t nudged me to sign-up for the pie-eating contest at LA’s famous Farmers Market, during its Fall Festival. Not once, but two years in a row. I chronicled the event “Notes of a Pie-Eating Champ,” October 26, 2012 and thanks to Debbie Supnik, a TV producer who reads the Canyon News, pie-eating has opened yet another door.
The first pie contest I won by not thinking about it, simply surrendering to it and giving my all to something I would never have dreamed of doing on my own. I was simply being fearless. Applause and adulation were far from my mind. The second time, my daughter and the wonderful people in Kips Toyland persuaded me to do it again, to defend my title despite my qualms as a budding diet guru and the seeming contradiction of public gluttony. The challenge was manifestly to not get hung up on losing. Well, I did it. More adulation, more applause.
The chronicle of this second victory opened up a gate which I first reached my making a wrong turn off Barham Boulevard. Now, instead of being spurned by security, I was greeted politely and ushered into Gate 4 at Universal Studios, where I’d been invited to participate in a televised pie-eating contest. Here, surreally nestled between Western Town and Europe town, is a perfect modern suburban house, which is the newly constructed set for the Hallmark Channel’s morning show, “Home and Family.”
I wasn’t the only one on the set to be studio struck. One of the shows’ producers, Seth, showed me pictures he’s taken at Universal Studios. “My first two months here I was snapping pictures every day.” He showed me iPhone pictures of the Bates Motel (a lot less menacing in full color) and “Bruce” the mechanical shark from Jaws. We shared the awe: to walk on this back lot where the great movie cowboys had skulked, strode, swaggered and staggered. To visit Europe, only a few steps away, so compelling under cloudy January skies, where Lon Cheney’s hunchback had limped—it is the stuff of dreams.
I found myself re-writing Shakespeare, “All the world’s a movie set.” And the thing is: hang around in the set long enough and it seeps in: Europe Town feels like World War I Europe, the Western Town feels like an Old West street. What a feeling. All thanks to a pie-eating contest I had made it, in Ray Bradbury’s apt phrase, describing his own passage from autograph hound that hovered outside the gates, to studio screenwriter who toiled inside, “over the wall.”
By the time I was called to the red-checkerboard tablecloth to devour a blueberry pie in a minute and a half, I hardly remembered my name; I was so full of awe from being in this iconic studio.
Who won the pie-eating contest? The host, Mark Steines, barely broke the crust; it was pathetic. On the other hand, Laura Nativo, “The Fairy Dogmother,” immediately thrust her face into the pie and got smeared by purple goo. An impressive amount got inside her, as well. When you lose you win, I say. Laura was declared the winner, and I got to be a gentleman about it. Listen, I was already a winner, spending a day with marvelous people in the magical confines “over the wall.”
P.S. Slo-mo replay afterward revealed a discrepancy in judging and I was declared the winner of the pie-eating contest. Wow! It’s three times.
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