The Best Seat in the House

The Best Seat in the House

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by Allen Rucker

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Like the day Elvis died or O.J. was acquitted, the Tuesday you wake up paralyzed is not a day you soon forget. For writer Allen Rucker—baby boomer, husband, father of two, aging Hollywood also-ran—life started over that Tuesday when, at the age of fifty-one, he was struck by a rare disorder—transverse myelitis—that left him paralyzed from

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Like the day Elvis died or O.J. was acquitted, the Tuesday you wake up paralyzed is not a day you soon forget. For writer Allen Rucker—baby boomer, husband, father of two, aging Hollywood also-ran—life started over that Tuesday when, at the age of fifty-one, he was struck by a rare disorder—transverse myelitis—that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Why him? Was he being punished? Was it his stressful life? His frustrating career? Telling too many Christopher Reeve jokes? Dazed and paralyzed, he was forced to reevaluate everything, from the simplest bodily functions to the mysteries of the universe.

In a style that is at once funny and moving, The Best Seat in the House offers an unpretentious and unapologetic account of learning to live with paralysis. Without trivializing his situation, and without sermons or clichés, Rucker invites all readers, whether disabled or not, to identify with him for better or for worse. This remarkably comic and heartfelt book speaks to the fragility of life and to the resilience and adaptability of a single, ordinary human being. Lucky for us, this human being has a sense of humor.

At first, it may not look like the best seat in the house, but read on. You might be surprised.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rucker (The Sopranos: A Family History) has written many TV shows, including the 2005 Peabody Award-winning Vietnam documentary, Two Days in October. At 51, he became a victim of transverse myelitis, a rare neurological disorder that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Opening with an entertaining, sarcastic glimpse at the TV industry and his struggles to script amusing "patter for splashy Hollywood ego fests," he interrupts the fun with a chilling account of the two hours in 1996 when he suddenly became paralyzed. Learning to reprogram his life at L.A.'s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, he felt "fear, guilt, loss, more fear" and had crying jags plus the shame and embarrassment of bowel accidents. Listing a litany of "pride-bruising indignities," such as being gawked at and carried up stairs "like a beanbag chair," he explains how he confronted each new challenge. With many pages devoted to dealing with the "overly kind" able-bodied and their self-conscious attitudes, this potent memoir is also an effective how-to guidebook for anyone who is disabled. Rucker is a gifted observer-humorist, unleashing a straight-arrow honesty and a vibrant, penetrating wit while probing the most intimate aspects of contemporary life and human behavior. (Jan. 9) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Adjusting to life in a wheelchair. At age 51, TV writer Rucker was struck with a rare neurological and immune disorder called transverse myelitis, which transformed him in the space of an afternoon from a healthy, active man into a paraplegic. The paralysis predictably reordered his priorities, and he believes he's gotten a premature peak at the fate that awaits other aging boomers, who sooner or later will have to come to grips with a body that fails. Rucker frankly discusses his inability to control his bladder or bowel movements, stating that he never really knew what shame felt like until his first major scatological "accident." The onset of TM also posed a financial challenge; outfitting a house for a wheelchair is costly, and the author could not devote as much time to work as he had previously. These worries frayed the Ruckers' marriage, which had been strained well before the onset of TM, but they eventually found their way out of the thicket. Sex, meanwhile, "wasn't all that big an issue," he avers. The author declines to provide details about the couple's "renewed passion," except to note that it doesn't rely on any of the less-than-satisfying erectile dysfunction meds that would have "engorged" his penis without providing any sensation: "My engorged friend would function more or less like an inanimate marital device that happened to be attached to my body." As that passage suggests, there is no sentimentality on offer here. Paralysis isn't a blessing in disguise, Rucker writes: "It's not a blessing and there is no disguise." Yet for all the horrible losses, there were some gains. Not especially literary, and the occasional stabs at humor fall flat. But compelling nonetheless.

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The Best Seat in the House

How I Woke Up One Tuesday and Was Paralyzed for Life
By Allen Rucker

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Allen Rucker
All right reserved.

Chapter One

Sudden Onset

Please don't get me wrong. Living with paralysis is not like the disease-of-the-week TV-movie in which the Robert Urich character, having wrestled his demons to the ground for two commercial-filled hours, bravely gets off the floor and Frankenstein-walks across the room while his wife weeps and prays in the corner. I wish it had worked out that way, but it didn't. Paralysis is an often painful and confusing process that takes way more than two hours to get a handle on, and unlike a TV potboiler, the outcome is always in doubt. Just when you think it's time to bring up the music and roll the credits after a small victory--boom!--something untoward happens and you're reeling again. Sometimes you're lost, sometimes you're not, but you're never quite out of the woods.

Here is my life the day I became paralyzed. I was fifty-one, married with two sons, one in college and an eight-year-old at home, living in a big house in West Los Angeles, and pursuing my so-called craft as a writer of television specials and documentaries. I was at best an aging young Turk and at worst an aging journeyman, i.e., hack. I had made whatever mark I had made doing fringe television. First, in the 1970s, I was part of a guerrilla video group called TVTV (aka Top Value Television) which made satirical documentaries about publicevents like the Republican National Convention, the Super Bowl, and the weird seventies cult following of a fifteen-year-old Indian pop mystic named Guru Maharaj Ji. These shows were smart and well constructed and received a fair amount of critical acclaim. They didn't make any money, unfortunately, and the group broke up in 1977.

My next fringe success was a series of cable shows starring Martin Mull called The History of White People in America. Done on a shoestring, like TVTV, and featuring an all-star comedy lineup--Fred Willard, Mary Kay Place, Harry Shearer, and Michael McKean, with Martin as the David Attenborough of whiteness--this quirky faux-documentary look at mayonnaise-eating midwestern WASPs won awards and spawned two books, a line of greeting cards, and a tribute from the Museum of Television and Radio. I thought White People was my ticket out of the showbiz ghetto, but I was mistaken. Before it had reached the commercial radar screen, it faded. It became a small-c "cult classic."

But I did get my shot at the big Hollywood Lotto. With film director Amy Heckerling, I produced a television spin-off of Fast Times at Ridgemont High that lasted seven shows. I got my shot at writing and producing my own sitcom for HBO about working-class misfits starring Dwight Yoakam. (The pilot didn't quite work.) I got my shot at writing an original HBO movie called Hometown Boy Makes Good, a story of a guy who fakes medical school to please his small-town parents. (Anthony Edwards was great as the lead, but the movie disappeared without a trace.) I wrote other pilots and other movies, and they all went nowhere. By the early 1990s I had no career. I was just another schmuck in Hollywood, looking for any low-end assignment to pay the rent.

"Write a tribute show about a campy old TV series I've never seen and couldn't care less about? Sure, I'll do that. Sounds like fun!"

Actually, writing one-shot shows I didn't much care about gave me a new professional life. I started to bounce back as a "specials" guy. I wrote now-you-see-them-now-you-don't network specials, even some about campy old television series, like Brady Mania: A Very Brady Special. I wrote a music special about the 1970s and a nostalgic look back at All My Children. During the heyday of hard-hitting trash-reality fare, I helped write The World's Worst Drivers, Part Two (I had nothing to do with Part One). It wasn't the stuff of Peabody Awards, but I occupied a marginal niche in the Dream Factory.

This eventually led to awards show writing, a strange form of literary harlotry--part comedy, part exposition, part shameless cant. The acclaimed television producer Don Mischer aptly described this job as the TV version of skywriting. People see it for a split second, then go back to sunning on the beach. It's the kind of writing where if you do it well, no one notices. If you do it poorly, then the third-tier TV actor reading your words for the first time off the TelePrompTer at the awards show will look out at 10 million people and say, "Hey, who wrote this crap?"

At first it was fun making up silly comedy bits for freewheeling shows like the CableAce Awards, but a career of composing interstitial patter for splashy Hollywood ego fests is a career only a masochist could love. Struggling to come up with something clever beyond "Hubba-hubba, that is some dress!" or "Isn't this exciting? I can't wait to open this envelope!" for wit-challenged movie stars and then having their publicists give you comedy notes is like grabbing the short straw in the prison gang-bang sweepstakes. "You know, Phyllis doesn't think this copy is very funny and really wants to say something funny, so could you come up with something, you know, funny for her to say? Oh, and mention her new pantyhose commercial. Say something funny about that."

My greatest humiliation in this field came the night of my first assignment writing the annual special the People's Choice Awards. First off, this is a crowd-pleasing show, but it's not the Oscars. As an incentive to get stars to show up and thank "all you wonderful people out there, real, God-fearing people, the only critics who really count," the producers tell the winners in advance that they've already won. On this particular night, ER was a big winner and Anthony Edwards was a presenter as well as a recipient. I had written something for him to say. I don't really remember what it was, but (1) it . . .


Excerpted from The Best Seat in the House by Allen Rucker Copyright © 2007 by Allen Rucker. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

An award-winning writer for television, author of nine books of nonfiction and humor, and columnist for Ability Magazine, Allen Rucker has written three books on the HBO series The Sopranos, including the #1 New York Times bestseller, The Sopranos Family Cookbook. He lives in Los Angeles.

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