x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

That rustling sound? It's your pre-verbal psyche

There¿s something about being a writer - especially a Hollywood writer working on a television show - that attracts the kind of person for whom lunchtime becomes deeply important.

For the most part, writers on a television show in production don't go out to lunch. We don't have a lunch hour to go out or anything. We eat together, all at once, like livestock.

Livestock, that is, that orders out from good restaurants.

So if you want to play a cruel joke on a room full of writers who are working on a television show, here's how you do it:

About lunchtime, stand just outside the door to the writers' conference room and make loud rustling noises with a few large plastic bags.

The entire room will stop what they're doing, heads will cock towards the door as if the room were full of labradors, and someone will say, "Hey. I think lunch is here."

And then you walk in with the two empty bags, and the entire room will deflate in misery. Lunch isn't here. It sounded like lunch noises, but it wasn't lunch. If you're into that kind of practical joke, the look on the faces of a room full of crushed writers is pretty priceless.

There's something about being a writer - especially a Hollywood writer working on a television show - that attracts the kind of person for whom lunchtime becomes deeply important.

From what I understand about Freudian psychoanalysis - which is next to nothing, but stay with me - it all comes down to what happened during childhood, or what psychiatrists call the "pre-verbal" stage.

Whatever happens during that time, when you're about two years old, before you're talking, is apparently life-defining.

It doesn't matter what, really. It can be little stuff: a toy was taken away abruptly and now you're a clingy and possessive spouse; a parent momentarily disappeared from view and now you find it difficult to express emotions; or maybe you bumped your head on a rocking chair and are spending the rest of your life avoiding skis.

The event imprints into your pre-verbal psyche, and that's that. You're just that way now, and no amount of money is ever going to be able to change that.

The pre-verbal stage - those difficult years before we can speak and make ourselves understood - can't be much fun for a writer. For us, the opposite of talking isn't listening, it's waiting. So the little infant writer must feel incredibly frustrated hearing all of these people around just chatting away but not being able to say something, anything, to the adults crowded around the high chair.

For a writer - especially a comedy writer - bottling up all those nasty little asides and sarcastic bons mots must be especially irritating.

I can't imagine it was much fun for me, although the whole point of the pre-verbal stage is that you can't really remember it, even though it controls you.

But for most writers I know, whatever it was that happened in that phase had something to do with food, because when writers aren't complaining or preparing to complain or waiting for you to finish talking so that they can talk, they're thinking about food, and where it is, and when it's coming, and when did the assistant go to get it?

Food - its ordering and delivery, especially - is pretty much the main event for any writing staff. Where are we ordering from, what kind of cuisine is it, will it travel well from the restaurant to the conference room. It's hard to overstate, even though it seems like I'm overstating it, just how important that little break in the day is.

When lunch comes, it's like getting a little present. It's wrapped up in a styrofoam box. The little utensils are bundled together with a napkin. If you order, as I do, a lot of little things with little sauces and dressings, it's like getting a really cool toy - the kind you can play with for a while and then eat.

And it all happens about 1pm, which means that about 11.30am or noon the ears start tuning themselves for the noises of lunch - the rustling and the bags and the squeak of styrofoam and the sound of the assistants setting out the cartons. Even the smell announces itself.

We're all a little like that. It's not just television writers who look forward to that, who anticipate the small joy of opening up a box of food, of marking the midpoint of the workday. It's not just television writers who perk up around lunchtime. But for some reason, television writers are just more fun to tease about it.

Something happened to them in their pre-verbal days. Maybe someone took away their food. Maybe someone forgot to feed them. Or maybe someone played a cruel joke on the little infant in the high chair, going through all of the motions of feeding - the plates and the spoons and the packages - and then putting down an empty plate.

I'm sure it was funny at the time. But like all practical jokes, it had irrevocable consequences.

Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood. On Twitter: @rbcl