Today I begin my tale. I’m starting right in the middle and going from there. I have no idea if I possess the skills for such non-chronological writing, but this is free and I can always edit it later. I give you…
Offerman, the Oinkster and eHarmony
I find parking near the Oinkster, a pastrami and burger place in Eagle Rock. I am meeting someone here and it hasn’t really yet sunk in that this is actually happening. Not just that I am about to have lunch with a celebrity, but all of it.
The week before, I had gone on my first date with a woman who I knew in my gut I would marry. My 30 years of loneliness were over, I just needed to convince her. Tonight was going to be the second date, and I was like a pressure cooker waiting to explode. I could not wait to get out to Claremont and see her again.
That was enough to make that day an interesting one, but that was later. Where we’re at right now in the story is earlier that day. I’m standing in front of the Oinkster. I’m meeting someone fairly famous here, especially to this crowd. I suggested it as a meeting place because my friends and I frequented it and my buddy, who knows everything about every movie and TV show, knew that this particular actor was a fan of the Oinkster, which is why I suggested it.
It took me a second to realize they were walking right toward me. One face I had only seen on Facebook, the other on TV. One guy is tall and skinny, glasses and goatee. That’s Martin. He’s a writer, softspoken has a kindhearted smile. The guy next to him is shorter, has broad shoulders, is wearing the kind of flannel a lumberjack would wear (a legit lumberjack, not a Silverlake lumber-sexual), on his face, big dark aviators rest on a button nose and his head is covered in a knitted beanie. A strange outfit for a typically hot day in Eagle Rock. This, I assumed, was his “out in public” disguise. But the glasses could not hide the thick, intense eyebrows, one raised slightly higher than the other, nor would they even come close to covering the dense mustache that flowed like amber waves of grain from one cheek to the other, creating something so recognizable it was like a celebrity with a second celebrity attached to his upper lip. He put his hand out to shake.
“Nick Offerman,” he said.
Three years earlier I’m on my first eHarmony date at Universal Citywalk. I meet her under the giant guitar and we go get sushi. Then we walk around. When we get to the magnet store full of magnets covered with crass and tacky jokes on them, my date reads them aloud to me one by one. The more terrible they are, the hard she laughs at them, and the harder I try to fake a chuckle. So begins my journey to find love in Southern California.
I had moved here in a late 90’s model two door Toyota Tercel, which I had packed every last inch of space with whatever belongings I could fit, then sent everything else I owned off to the dump or Goodwill. I spent all day packing, then I left Oregon City, Oregon, where I lived in a small attic, to pursue my Hollywood dreams. My younger brother Isaiah (six years younger to be exact) helped me pack. He was renting a room in the same house, which was owned by two brothers. We cleverly called it the house of brothers.
I liked driving at night. I was a night owl, which can sometimes mean a lonely person who doesn’t like to face people and account for their rapidly growing obesity and lack of any sort of career. In this case it did mean that. I hugged my brother goodbye and got in the car to drive off. Of course I forgot something a few minutes later and had to run back in. I don’t remember what the thing was, but I’ll never forget walking back in and finding Isaiah crying harder than I had ever seen. He had impressively held those tears back when we hugged goodbye. I gave him another hug and said goodbye again, this time it was a bit harder, but I didn’t cry.
I was in a sort of shock. I hadn’t let it sink in that I was moving a lot farther away than anyone in my family ever had, and that I really had no idea what I was going to do with myself. I hadn’t considered the possibility that I would really be missed by anyone. I was headed for the unknown. My only plan was to make it to the small bedroom I rented near San Fernando that I found on Craigslist, owned by some people I had never met but seemed nice enough. Beyond that I had no idea what I would do.
I put my iPod (yes, pod) on shuffle and Randy Travis’s Three Wooden Crosses came on. (Yes, Randy Travis) Sometimes a sappy country song with the cheesiest of analogies is just what the soul needs. I had never really listened to the lyrics of that song, but that night I did, and they were stupid yet wonderful as expected. Then around verse three there comes a plot twist in the story of the song about a prostitute who finds Jesus, which has nothing to do at all with my situation even a little (at least I hope not), but, regardless, I cry my eyes out all the way to Corvallis. The hamfisted lyric makes it all hits me at once. I’m heading to Los Angeles, leaving that little attic and the house of brothers behind. Realizing how much I am going to miss my brother, and mad at myself that I had been so blind to how he looked up to me, that it would affect him so much when I left, that the pitch that got optioned happened to be something we made together, but a move to California wasn’t in the cards for him, and that making something together had meant so much to him. I didn’t see that coming. All I ever assumed was that everyone was fine without me, and if I rotted in my little attic that would be just fine.
I made a few stops over the next couple days to see family and friends in Eugene, Coos Bay, Lakeside and Langlois as I headed down the coast. I remember the morning I left Langlois to make my final drive to California, the song that came on my iPod was Bonnie Tyler’s “Faster Than the Speed of Night” (yes, Bonnie Tyler). Again, it had nothing to do with what was actually happening in my life, but it just felt right.
I headed down highway 101, all along the majestic sea cliffs until the trees got massive and red. It felt perfect. The weather was amazing and the scenery was so glorious it helped me believe the world was made by a God who thought things through and wasn’t just doing a Jackson Pollock with scrambled space feces. But did he have a plan for me?
I arrived at 2:00am. The drive had taken longer than expected, either that or I just hadn’t done the math. I met my new landlords/roommates when my arrival prompted their two little squeaky dogs, Chuck and Gypsy to yap at me with throat splitting ferocity in the wee hours of the night. Here I stood before this short little jewish couple, a six foot tall stranger with a big red goatee, weighing in somewhere in the range of 340 pounds. Those were the days I avoided the scale so I didn’t have to find out how bad it had gotten. I was the heaviest I’ve ever been, probably outweighing Chuck, Gypsy and my new landlords combined. Despite my threatening appearance, they let me into their home.
The bedroom was probably about 10×10. It had a day bed, which was perfect for me because that was when I usually slept, though my feet had to hang off of the back end, poked through the bars surrounding the bed due to its small size. I came in and crashed on the little bed and when I woke up I realized that I lived in California now. In a little town called Kagel Canyon. Maybe the town’s awkwardly feminine name was a sign. Maybe I would find the woman of my dreams. I started unpacking the Tercel. I was moving in.
We find a table in the back patio area of the crowded Oinkster. It’s one of those tables that purports to be two tables, but are so close to each other we might as well be sitting with the table next to us. Nick slides into his seat and I see the guys next to us nearly choke on their pastrami when he takes off his sunglasses.
This meeting is happening for the simple reason that everyone has been telling Nick he should be Axe Cop, and everyone has been telling me Nick Offerman is Axe Cop. Neither of us knew the other’s work very well before that. But Nick had fallen in love with Axe Cop when his writing partner, Martin, had introduced him to it. He spent the entire lunch speaking of two things: Axe Cop and his wood shop. It was clear the man loved his woodshop and for him there was a connection. As Axe Cop has been known to carry a reader to a place where you feel like a kid again, where the rules and cynicism of the universe need not apply and all you care about is being awesome, that is what the wood shop is to Nick Offerman. It brings out his kid-like glee. It is everything Hollywood is not. It’s real, and the joy in it is real.
Somewhere in the proceedings, Nick Offerman spills a container of mustard on his pant leg. I don’t remember how it happens, only that I have the stupid and obvious realization that even famous dudes with perfect mustaches sometimes spill mustard all over their pants. Something we should all know without needing to actually witness it firsthand.*
And yet, at the forefront of my mind was my date tonight. I was texting her, she was texting me. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about my lunch with Offerman. It was a huge deal. But I’d experienced forms of recognition and success related to Axe Cop for the past year or so at that point. I’d had little to no success in the realm of dating and looking for love. Finding it was making me realize that success in the realm of romance was something I longed for, and had deadened my belief in so much that it had outweighed any kind of desire for success in comics or TV shows.
I had moved to Southern California because I had pitched a TV show created by Isaiah and me called Snub Nose and Pug, and it had gotten unexpectedly optioned by Cartoon Network. (I will be posting the entire pitch on my Patreon page for $2+ patrons this week) Though I was warned that an option can mean very little, I took it as a sign that I needed to make the jump. I had known for years that I would need to move down to southern California if I ever wanted to do the kind of stuff I like to do for a living. This opened a door. I had management now, I had a TV show optioned and an open door at most of the networks to pitch ideas.
Upon moving to California, I began pitching more TV show ideas and going on eHarmony dates. For a time, I was using both eHarmony and Match, but I found I had better luck with eHarmony because I knew that I was not looking for a hook up, I was determined to find a wife, and eHarmony is the place for people who are looking for marriage. Between hollywood pitch meetings and online dating, both exploits felt extremely similar. All the imagined romance of either was lost in the process. When you imagine your first date with someone, or yourself going into a pitch room at Cartoon Network and pitching your TV show, the image you have of what it will be like is so much more fantastic than it ever actually is. Instead of feeling like I had reached some high point of success or achieved something or had made it to some place, some new level in a video game I had always longed to arrive at, it felt like I had come to the bottom floor of a very crowded building with one small elevator and very little chance of moving up. A place you might be stuck in forever and if that was the case, it was crowded and lonely at the same time.
I went on date after date and pitch after pitch. Lunch with execs and lunch with eHarmony matches. I wore the same outfits to both, prepared for both in the same way, and felt the same way at both. I felt like I was one in a sea of a million options. I could see in the eyes of the person across from me that they did not see in me anything amazing or unique, but that I was one in a line of many, many choices who stacked up well in some areas and pretty bad in others, averaging out what I had to provide to a level of mediocrity not apt to inspire any real excitement in potential mates or showrunners. My first dates felt like job interviews and I began to wonder if it was even possible to find love this way. Could romance even find its way into such a robotic process?
It was in my second year in California that I quit eHarmony, pitching and shelved the graphic novel I had been working on about a crime fighting rock band. I had spent a whole year on it and I hated it. But a new idea had struck me for a comic called Bearmageddon, so I started writing that.
About a year later I was in the thick of Axe Cop going viral. (There’s a big gap there which I will fill in later.) I decided to try eHarmony again. It was like round two. I had been hurled into a world where I was doing pitch meetings multiple times a week. Suddenly everyone wanted a meeting with the Axe Cop guy. They wanted to meet me, though they didn’t really want anything to do with Axe Cop. They just wanted to see if I could apply the same viral magic to whatever they were making. No. Of course not. Still the pitches and the dates felt the same. I was still just another guy who, to the execs in Hollywood was the hot thing this week and to the girls from eHarmony just another match to sift through.
Offerman did his best to wipe the yellow gunk off his leg with a stack of napkins, and continued to speak about woodworking and Axe Cop. The fumble didn’t make him miss a beat. His enthusiasm was unstoppable. He was in the midst of his own recent success with Parks and Rec and he told me he had learned how important it is to just be you. He said that throughout his non-successful years in Hollywood, they had said he was too intense looking, they didn’t like how he came off. But it was these same attributes that eventually became what people loved about him and landed him the role as Ron Swanson. I think he liked Axe Cop because it was me and my brother just being us, not trying to get noticed, not a TV show pitch, it was as real as crisp, curly, hand-planed wood shavings.
We did not know at that point what would become of that meeting, only that we were interested in working together on something involving Axe Cop. Martin was going to work up some kind of pitch and we would go from there. I felt like I had found someone who actually wanted to make Axe Cop because they loved it and not to cash in on its online success. We shook hands and said our goodbyes, and I got into my car. I was now driving a green 2005 Toyota Camry. Four door. I’d just experienced proof that a Hollywood meeting can be full of genuine excitement about something real and doesn’t always have to feel like an eHarmony date.
My date that night went even better than expected. Neither of us wanted it to end. We walked all over Claremont, ate Mexican food and had a good time poking fun at a pretentious art gallery. The guy running the gallery recognized me as the creator of Axe Cop and Bearmageddon, which made me look pretty famous. This has only happened to me a handful of times in my life. I was crazy in love and had found the woman I would marry. I went home that night shocked to find that not all eHarmony dates have to feel like hollywood meetings.
Next time: The Day We Played Axe Cop
*I had said this was beer in an earlier version of this post, but Martin read this and reminded me that it was mustard. Now I wonder what other details have been altered in my memory.
Ethan Nicolle is the co-creator of Axe Cop, writer/artist of Bearmageddon, animation writer and maker of children’s books. www.EthanNicolle.com