Whenever I tell someone in Los Angeles that I'm a professor in a small college town, they say, "Awww," as if they've just encountered a particularly fluffy teddy bear. Then they whisper that their dream is to live in a small college town. This past fall, scads of television pilots explored this fantasy of small-town life, all written by citified writers who consider Malibu the boonies. Meanwhile, most of the professors I know have a screenplay adaptation in the drawer and visions of Paltrow dancing in their heads. So for those recent grads who are deciding whether to go glamorous or Gambier-ous, for those burnt-out TV/film writers and network /studio executives who are contemplating a career change, and for those professors who dream of Tinseltown, I have made a list of what life in L.A. will afford you vs. what life will afford you as a college professor in, say, Gambier, Ohio.
In L.A.: Agents will take you to dinner at The Ivy.
In Gambier: The provost's office will pick up the tab for dinner with a faculty candidate at Hunan Garden (as long as nobody goes crazy and orders the Peking duck).
In L.A.: You'll sip cappuccino at King's Road Café while sneaking peeks at Kyle Secor.
In Gambier: You'll sip cappuccino at the Red Door Café (unless it's Saturday; it's closed on Saturday and months with an "r" in them).
In L.A.: You'll shop at Barney's in Beverly Hills.
In Gambier: You'll shop at the Weathervane (the best place to find sweaters with autumn leaf appliqués!).
In L.A.: You'll be reviewed in "the trades."
In Gambier: You'll be reviewed in the Collegian (where the headline will be something like: MacLeod Play Takes Place on a Stage!, or, my personal favorite: Cabaret Combines Nazis and Musical Theater).
In L.A.: Your movies will be graded by Entertainment Weekly.
In Gambier: Your teaching will be graded by your students. (Three of the twelve will think you "grade fairly." Guess how many "A's" you gave out?)
In L.A.: You'll take strip aerobics in an airy studio wearing thigh-high boots.
In Gambier: You'll take a step aerobics class in a badly ventilated racquetball court (if the fitness instructor isn't sick).
In L.A.: You'll drive a Mercedes G-Wagon.
In Gambier: You'll drive a 1990 Camry (which is still very highly rated by Consumer Reports).
In L.A.: Your children will go to a prestigious private school
In Gambier: Your children will go to the Wiggin Street School, where your son will have a girl in his class named "Burgandi" (with an "i"), and two brothers named, respectively, Shawn and Sean (pronounced See-an).
In L.A.: You'll go to screenings.
In Gambier: You'll go to Rosse Hall (where Tony Kushner will give the lecture he gave at Denison last year, and Jane Smiley will give the lecture she gave to the Shakespeare Association last week, and E.L. Doctorow will give a brilliant lecture that might as well be in Romanian, for all I can understand.)
In L.A.: You'll go to star-studded, late-night dinners in Los Feliz mansions.
In Gambier: You'll go to 5:30 dinners at Weaver Cottage where you will be seated two tables away from the guest of honor, stuck between a bad haircut and a dirndl skirt.
In L.A.: As a successful comic playwright/screenwriter, you, like Paul Rudnick, will be asked to write the back page of the New York Times Magazine.
In Gambier: As a successful comic playwright/screenwriter, you will be asked to write the last page of the Alumni Bulletin.
Okay, I know what you're thinking. So far, on paper, L.A. looks a little better. But hold up:
In L.A.: You'll spend rush hour stuck in traffic on the 10.
In Gambier: You'll spend rush hour walking the dog on the Kokosing Gap Trail.
In L.A.: You'll follow strangers to their cars in Century City to find a parking place.
In Gambier: You'll find plenty o' parking (barring graduation weekend, acts of God, and some Amish guy with a buggy).
In L.A.: You'll obsess over the Emmys.
In Gambier: You won't give a damn about the Emmys (unless Allison Janney '82 wins).
In L.A.: You'll read the collected works of security expert Gavin de Becker.
In Gambier: You won't lock your doors.
In L.A.: You'll whip out the plastic at mega-malls and mini-malls.
In Gambier: You'll do your shopping in the Village Market where all you need is a good name and a signature.
In L.A.: You have to read the Los Angeles Times.
In Gambier: You get to read the New York Times.
In L.A.: Sooner or later they will fire you.
In Gambier: They can't fire you (even if you were to write a snarky piece in a college publication).
In L.A.: You'll find autumn is some crunchy leaves and the Santa Anas.
In Gambier: You'll find autumn is heaven.
In LA: You'll work for young people.
In Gambier: You'll work with young people.
In LA: You'll attend the Oscars.
In Gambier: You'll attend graduation and cry as you applaud your students processing down Middle Path. You'll cry again when they stand to applaud you.
In L.A.: They'll pay you.
In Gambier: They'll respect you.
-Wendy MacLeod is Kenyon's James Michael Playwright in Residence and an associate professor of drama. Her play The Water Children had a successful run in Los Angeles, where it was cited as the "most challenging political play" of 1998 by L.A. Weekly and earned six L.A. Drama Critics Circle nominations. MacLeod served as an executive story editor for the television series Popular and recently completed a screenplay of her play Schoolgirl Figure, which was commissioned by HBO.
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