I've been struggling with a sore and scratchy throat since last week. My voice is hoarse. It's tough to talk. I've been popping throat lozenges every hour or two.
Although, to be honest, in some ways my croaky voice has been useful. People think I've been screaming a lot. Which, for a writer in the middle of producing a television series, isn't such a bad thing.
Last week, when I could bark out a word or two, a studio executive I know heard my voice and then asked, in a tone that was a mixture between respect and dismay: "So, um, have you been yelling at your writing staff?"
For the record - as if you needed to have me confirm it - the answer is "No". I'm a nice guy. I don't yell. I've been known to make a quiet withering comment or two, but mostly I'm even-tempered.
But there was something in his voice, maybe it was fear, maybe it was respect that made me want to chuckle darkly and say something like: "I just needed to send a message. About discipline."
I knew I couldn't pull that off. Instead, I just smiled enigmatically and coughed a bit. But I could see that the message had been received. He gave me a wide berth when I saw him next.
What I have, according to a doctor, is something they used to call "Las Vegas Throat".
Let me clarify. In Hollywood, when people say "according to a doctor" they don't mean that they, personally, spoke to a doctor. They mean someone they spoke to once spoke to a doctor, or spoke to someone who spoke to a doctor. Or watched an episode of CSI: Miami or House, and from that gleaned everything they needed to know about the causes and the cures of a raspy voice.
"Las Vegas Throat" is what Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack would get back in the early 1960s, when they all headlined in Las Vegas, at the swanky and storied casino resorts with those classic show business names - the Dunes, the Tropicana and the Desert Inn. The dry desert air, the nightly shows - and, let's be honest, the endless cigarettes and the binge drinking - did a number on the chief instrument of every singer, the voice.
Los Angeles is mostly desert, too, despite the swathes of emerald green lawns and lushly landscaped golf courses. And since I've been spending more time out in the San Fernando Valley - that's where the studio is, set against the dusty and brown hills, blasted with dry desert wind - and less time closer to the beach, where I live, it's likely that the parched air and my general tendency to talk, a lot, all day, has resulted in my being able to do an uncanny imitation of an old Fiat that refuses to turn over, no matter how many times you turn the key.
That's really the cause. You'd think a writer wouldn't have this kind of problem - we're all supposed to be alone, hunched over our keyboards in chunky sweaters and lukewarm coffee cups. In television, though, we're all in a room together, talking about stories and pitching dialogue. And if you've got executive producing duties - like me, for instance - there are meetings and conference calls and all sorts of moments where it's expected that you'll pipe up, contribute to the conversation, and hold forth. In other words, for a job called "writer", there's an awful lot of talking.
But with a Las Vegas Throat, talking is hard. After a sentence or two the voice starts to rasp a little more, the old Fiat starts creaking. And if you're me, you get frustrated - and, probably, a little cranky - and it starts to show. So I guess it's only natural for a studio executive to deduce that the crankiness came first and caused the Las Vegas Throat, instead of the truth, which is that it happened the other way around.
Here's what I've learnt, though: if people think you're a screamer, it turns out, they get out of your way. They're a little afraid of you. They start to worry that you'll turn your high-volume temper their way. And when a studio executive thinks twice before calling you to deliver some script notes, or complain about your budget overages, then your day is measurably better.
Here's what else I've learnt: there are a couple of very effective cures for Las Vegas Throat. They come in pill form and in a liquid. A doctor told someone who told someone who told me that either one of these medications can restore your voice in half a day.
I'm still on the fence. On the one hand, my throat is killing me. But on the other, I'm enjoying a phone that doesn't ring.
Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood