I woke up a few mornings ago feeling out of the loop. Way out. Again. I don’t want to make a big deal here; feeling out of the loop is part and parcel of living in Los Angeles and working in the media-industrial complex. (You might say that living for forty years in the San Fernando Valley is like getting a Lifetime Achievement Award for being out of the loop.) Still, compared to writing for television, the movies, hip magazines, and now the blogosphere, authoring books can seem like living in what the late Douglas ("Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) Adams called the “unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy.” (A book signing/reading attended by more than five people is a crowd. The average is two.) But still no reason for alarm. Just as being slightly overweight, losing brain cells every day, and a couple other chronic conditions I know I have but can’t put my finger on at the moment, I’ve learned to live with it.
This time I lay in bed next to my wife, in that twilight haze between being grateful to see another dawn – I’ve sworn to live to 110, but no reason to be arrogant – and wanting to shut my eyes, put the pillow on my head, and sleep until well past noon. Suddenly, a vertiginous sensation of disconnect, discontent, and the certainty that wherever it is at, I’m not there, clutched my guts in its ham fists and refused to let go. I flashed back immediately to the previous night’s dinner conversation with a thirty-something couple, both hot, hot, hot with entertainment industry potential, who were so sure they were in the loop to stay that they believed their children would be born with silver loops in their mouths.
On the other hand, maybe the Vietnamese shrimp and beef platter was just bad. The restaurant, a funky joint with pretensions to pretension, was a block south of Victory in . . . Sherman Oaks. But come on. Anything north of Magnolia is still really Van Nuys, no matter what they’re calling it these days. Talk about trying to get into the loop.
But looping back to the loop. I felt desperately out of the loop and I need to be reassured by my wife the minute she rolled over. Between a grunt and a stretch as premeditated as trying to snake your arm around your date at the drive-in, I said: “I feel sooooo . . . unh . . . out of the loop.”
“Out of the loop.”
“We’re out of soup?”
“Are you awake?”
I could tell she'd be interested, though, because despite her eyes being closed and an occasional soft snore, our usual morning routine consists of telling each other how we slept and what aches and pains occurred -- in excruciating detail. Just yesterday she said, “I had to get up three times in the middle of the night, the cat wouldn’t shut up, and my neck hurts from sleeping on it wrong.”
“Sorry,” I said. “Do you, uh, remember when you punched me?”
At our age it’s gotten so that my wife and I are looking for designer mini-white boards to hang above our sides of the bed so we can just check off pre-written complaints instead of actually talk about them. We have little enough time for conversation, so why spoil it?
But the loop. I hear you saying, “If you know what it feels like to be out of the loop then you must at one time have been in the loop. That’s more than most people get. Quit complaining. It’s better to have looped and lost than to never have looped at all.”
Clever. But you don’t have to actually know what you’re missing to feel like you’re missing something. All you need is someone to tell you that you don’t have what you want – nay, need. That’s why we have an advertising industry. And it’s free. Pretty soon you’re telling yourself you’re nothing without the newest fruit and vegetable dryer from Ronco. Make your own beef jerky, to boot.. Match point. Game over.
My wife got up, but I stayed under the covers. Why start the day? After all, I had nothing to do, anyway, except finish a book proposal, edit an interview, repair the goddamn sprinklers, ingest way more than my daily recommended dosage of blogs and news sites, reconfigure my Treo 650, and reschedule everything for after the weekend. Who can work when they feel so out of the loop?
Then the phone rang. It was my friend Bill, calling from Chicago, to fill me in on his latest hot project. I listened then cut him off. “You’re so in the loop,” I sighed.
“I’m not in the loop,” he said. “I’m in Hell.”
Maybe he was right. We may think of getting to Heaven as being in the ultimate loop, but correct me if I’m wrong, Hell is the one with the circles, right. Seven of them.
I let Bill go back to his book.
I called a novelist friend, Carrie. A recent immigrant to Los Angeles, she was more forthcoming, not to mention articulate in a way Angelenos don’t feel they have to be. She actually tried to define the loop. “Is it inclusion in a powerful circle? Information you can use to get ahead or hurt people, or both? A feeling of being respected for your work beyond your peers, of having access to opportunity? Of forward motion? Is there only one loop, or different loops for different pursuits? And loops for each generation. Niche loops?”
A joke about the only loop to avoid being the one some of us have hanging from the high rafter in the garage occurred, but I left it dangling.
“I left New York to get out of the loop,” she continued. “Or at least wanting to be in the loop. I was very proximate to the loop. I hung with all the young fact checkers and writers. You only had to read the New York Observer to be in the loop. Now they’re big editors and authors – all of them obviously in the loop. But trying to keep up with the loop exhausted me. In fact, it kept me from doing the one thing that would actually put me in the loop – which is to write. So I resigned from the quest, recovered from my obsession, and got busy. Now I feel even more out of the loop. But one day . . .”
I let her go back to work, too.
I’m a contributing editor of Playboy and have been since 1981. I have done more than a hundred interviews for the magazine – as well as many others since 1971. Now I mostly write books; I’ve written or co-written twelve. If I were the guest host of SNL and Don Pardo had just announced me, I’d run out on stage, wait for the applause to die and say, “Great to be here. What a week. Man, hosting the show is nothing like writing my last book, “The Mailroom,” or my new book, “All For a Few Perfect Waves: The Audacious Life and Legend of Rebel Surfer Miki ‘da Cat’ Dora” – coming from Wm Morrow in Spring 2007.” Then you’d clap wildly and I’d act surprised and embarrassed and grateful – and pray you would have known me without that insincere bit of self-aggrandizement and ass-covering they always force you to do.
But whether talking to Bill Gates, Cindy Crawford, Martin Scorsese, or Jerry Seinfeld; whether I was backstage at an Eagles concert in 1976, or still thrilling to Neil Young cranking an encore medley from “Rust Never Sleeps” in 2006, from front row seats; whether young writers actually want my advice, which I’m happy to give, or someone asks me to sign a book – I have never felt in the loop.
I just know I’m missing something. There’s a brass ring out there waiting to be grabbed and taken home. My needs for loopdom are simple: I just want to be able to shop at Whole Foods without feeling like I really belong at Ralphs. Oh, and I want all those health freaks who smell like barley and patchouli, blocking the aisles in their muscle shirts and leotards, to melt on the spot like a warm, scrumptious Cinnabun. There’s a place I dream of where there are twenty words for “brilliant”, but none for “anxiety.”
I want to be in the loop even though as my friend Carrie says, it leads to “a constant state of lack and need. A gross existential solipsism. A hunger that when satisfied only makes you more hungry because the loop, the information and inclusion that supposedly makes you happy, is, like a wave, ephemeral. Or, to be more prosaic, tomorrow’s birdcage liner.”
I know that the urgency of wanting to be in the loop is what makes it feel so important, even thought it’s not. But that’s not important right now.
So imagine how I felt that very afternoon a few afternoons ago, when I got an email from Kevin Roderick asking me – why me? – to contribute to this blog. I’d never fancied myself a blogger and even my own website ( www.tellmeeverything.com ) states “No opinions all of the time” at the very top. Kevin’s invitation gave me pause: as someone without opinions who would rather drive off a cliff than get into another pointless political argument – see you at the voting booth, my friends – I thought he’d written to the wrong David Rensin. “No politics, no rants,” Kevin wrote, further on. “Just write whatever you want to. No editing.”
Whatever I want to? No editing? Then it hit me. Maybe I am in the loop after all. A new loop. A loop where one could loop the impossible loop. Wow. Wow . . .
I told my wife. “Great,” she said, clearly happy at the prospect of returning to our usual morning loop of describing actual aches and pains, and not existential migraines. “How much are you getting paid?”
Ah. The liberation of writing for free. A loop no one wants to be in. And it’s mine. All mine. Well, sort of.