I’m not a fan of network television. Most of my enterprise of late has been expended on exploring the possibilities of new media. Moreover, by mutual decree, my wife and I banished the television into our guest room. To wit, when she gets the jones, the Contessa downloads episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” on her laptop and cuddles up with Dr. McDreamy on the chaise.
I got my fill of TV doctors when in Los Angeles and a project of mine got some traction with ER’s Dr. Carter. He told me that on a flight once, a passenger had a heart attack and everyone looked to him as if he could do something about it. “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV,” would have been the line, but alas, the actor’s tasteful nature won out. Despite my disinterest in the prime time med-set, I cannot resist occasionally looking over the Contessa’s shoulder. This is what I witnessed last week: a character on “Grey’s Anatomy” pondered whether to visit Napa or Sonoma for his wine country vacation. Now, I’m a proponent of local tourism – it wasn’t so long ago that I was a tourist myself, by strictest definition (though I had heard the word “drifter” muttered within earshot). However, I’m sure that like me, many locals draw the line when fictional characters come to visit – not the actors who play them, mind you – but the characters themselves, unfettered by their creators, loosed upon the town sans plot, sans motivation, sans restraint while playing TV doctor in local B&Bs.
Imagine the cast of Pirandello’s “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” but with scalpels; or the stray Tom Baxter from the “Purple Rose of Cairo” padding the Plaza in blood-soaked scrubs. Now imagine sitting next to them at the girl & the fig, while they banter in pseudo-jargon bereft of any substance because they’ve also arrived without scripts (which, with a looming writer’s strike, is a very likely premise).
Perhaps my reticence to accept any more “magical realism” in the wine country comes from professional selfishness. I’m admittedly 40 percent fiction myself and the rest of me is a pastiche of post-consumer waste and cultural arcana. I obscure the seams with ambition served raw. All things considered, the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau has cause to rejoice. The “Grey’s Anatomy” mention amounts to a million dollars’ worth of national exposure – a fine salvo for the Wine Spectator’s rather galling report that Healdsburg is the “new Sonoma.”
Why fictional characters would prefer Sonoma over Napa is likely reflective of the tastes of their non-fictional writers. Speaking as a mostly non-fictional writer, I chose Sonoma in large part for the sheer caliber of the non-fictional readership. My fictional readership (the one that lives in my fevered imagination) is vast, but not as clever. When I quipped to them at a recent award ceremony, “I’m not a reporter, I just play one in the newspaper,” the line received only wan smiles in return. I explained the difference between a writer and a reporter is the same difference between truth and fact – but again, nada. Fine, I admit this is a rather nuanced notion, akin to President Clinton’s infamous rationalization that “there is nothing going on” between him and his intern based “on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” (remember when our leaders had language skills?), but I had hoped for a warmer reception from my own unconscious. Perhaps it was like that moment a few weeks back when a woman asked me to sign something, but didn’t have a pen. When I reached into my coat pocket for mine she remarked, “Of course! What’s a writer without a pen?” I replied, “A metaphor.”