So who’s going to be the next head of the Writer’s Guild now that the president was forced to step down over eligibility concerns? Well, don’t look at me.

WGA eligibility rules are more convoluted than the script for “Chinatown” (I figured a screenwriting analogy was appropriate here), and with my nonexistent writing income lately, every year I’m afraid it’ll be the year I finally get kicked out. Okay, so getting kicked out wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. WGA membership costs a minimum of $100 a year, on top of the $3,500 I had to pay to join. In return, the guild provides a variety of protections and benefits to its members who are currently employed in the industry. The majority of members, who, like me, aren’t currently employed in the industry, get complimentary movie tickets, screeners and miscellaneous marketing materials during award season from studios who want their films to get nominated for WGA awards, and that’s about it.

Since I joined, I’ve paid the guild over $4,000 and probably seen about $500 in free movies. Still, there’s a moral boost in getting that new annual membership card in the mail every year. The card always comes at the butt-end of December, and every year, as New Year’s Day approaches, I start to panic, convinced I’ve been assed out of the one and only labor union I’ve ever been a part of. Then, just when I’ve given up hope, usually around December 29th or so, the card arrives, and I can go on enjoying free movies on an uninterrupted basis.

This year, I waited and waited, and the card never came. I hoped I’d find it in the stack of mail that I picked up from the post office when I got back from vacation, but all I got were about a thousand Christmas cards from people I’d neglected to send cards to, the kind of people who send their cards at the last minute just to make me feel guilty. This past weekend, I went to see “Cold Mountain”, and I tried to get in with my 2003 membership card. I mean, it was only January 3. I tried hard to plead my case. “I just got back from vacation, and I haven’t gone through my mail yet. The new card’s probably in there.” The manager was called, people behind me in line were getting annoyed, and I gave up and forked over the cash. I paid money for tickets to a Miramax movie in January, which is as sure a sign as any that my professional writer status had just officially ended.

Then, just to be sure, I called the guild membership office. The guy on the phone asked for my name and social security number, and I braced myself for official confirmation of the bad news. “I’m sorry, Jerry,” he said. “You should’ve received the new card by now. I’ll go ahead and mail one out today.”

It was even more suspenseful than usual, but amazingly, I survived. And now I have that 2004 membership card in my hand. I’ve managed to squeak out another year of credibility in the eyes of my peers. The DVD screener of “Seabiscuit” and Xeroxed screenplay of “Calendar Girls” will not be the last of my bounty. And now, to thank the guild for their generosity, I am about to begin my next writing project. It’s not a novel or a script or a TV spec.

It’s a check I’ll be writing… for $100.

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