Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


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last request of 2018

December 31st, 2018

I just got another email request for “The Screw Iran Coloring Book.”

I couldn’t give these away in 1980. Now that they’re relics, there’s low but persistent demand.

 

 

Saturday night

December 30th, 2018

Last night I decided to take my wife out to dinner and a show.

“You know this is an Italian restaurant, right?” she said to me while we sat in our booth and awaited our entrees.

I did know it. So what?

“You always say you hate Italian food.”

Hate being a strong word, I usually reserve it for a few select famous people in government. But, no, I generally don’t like Italian food. In my mind, trout (which I usually order there) or seafood with pasta isn’t “Italian food.” It happens to be food I like that one can find on the menu of this Italian restaurant.

Over dinner, she showed me her nail polish.

“See this? This is my favorite nail polish. I get it at CVS.”

She and I have been frequenting the same CVS in our city for the 30 years since we moved here. I can’t speak for all CVSes, but ours has always been a little lacking in basic store management:  things are stacked in the way of foot traffic; aisles get rearranged so nothing is ever visible from any direction; cashiers approach their registers like they’ve never seen one before; and of course there’s the nine-foot-long receipt that I so hate that I now refuse to tell them my phone number lest I get handed one.

“So now I go to CVS to get this nail polish,” she continued, “and they’ve discontinued it.”

“What do you expect?” I say. “It took them 30 years to figure out how to line people up to pay.”

Which is completely true. It had been unclear how to approach the checkout area, so people would clump into little groups, trying to figure out the right angle of approach. It was not unusual to have some of us waving each other in: “Oh, go ahead.” “No, I think it’s your turn.” “No, isn’t it you now?” Now, finally, they’d laid down carpeting with big arrows on it, and set up guylines. Other stores somehow manage without arrowed carpeting and stanchions, but CVS needed everything. I’m surprised they didn’t lay in a cattle chute.

After dinner, we walked over to the nearby comedy club. Larry Miller — this guy — absolutely killed me. Granted his whole routine had a certain relevance, being  about the difference between men and women, and very helpfully laying out how irritating some wives can be when their husbands are driving, and I’m in his debt for his doing so within earshot of my wife so that she could take it in and perhaps see just how relevant it was, but beyond that it was very very funny. Trust me on this. After that, I was blown away by Jimmy Brogan. This is the second time I’ve seen Brogan, who for nine years was a writer on the Tonight Show and 30 years ago took over for Joan Rivers when she left her own talk show, and I think he’s a genius. He doesn’t have a lot of written material — he just wings it, off interactions with audience members. Over the course of about 30 minutes he can remember what was said by about 20 different people at different times, weave them together, call back to them, and not only make it an ongoing bit but also build it and have an instantaneous comeback the first time. That’s a real skill. The only other comic I’ve seen who can do this as well is Dame Edna (high praise from me), and I told him that.

We got home, and I spent a little time again trying to build up Sumeria against the competing demands of India and my own people who insist on more amenities. (They should try their luck at CVS.) Then I went upstairs and told my wife that I’d like the dogs to sleep downstairs, for exactly the reason you imagine.

“They’re going to be mad,” she warned.

Like I cared. These dogs get two walks a day, a spacious back yard, lots of treats and toys, run of the house, and a personal cook who keeps prepared meals for them in our refrigerator when she isn’t buying nail polish at CVS. And unlike me, they don’t work 60 hours a week for that.

“They’ll be just fine down there,” I said.

She lured them down there somehow (I think by going down and opening the refrigerator) and that was that. Except a couple of times after that, she said, “They’re probably cold down there” (amidst their bedding and blankets atop our expensive leather couch? doubtful) and “I wonder what they’re doing” and, finally, “I’m sure they’re plotting revenge.”

In the morning I came downstairs and opened the door to the main part of the house and the dogs sprang into action like I’d been missing for years. The big one was wild-eyed at the thought that maybe my wife was immediately behind me somewhere and he could get to her. I closed the door to upstairs behind me and let them out the back door into that spacious yard but not before seeing a little pile on the tile area downstairs. Well, I thought, when you gotta go, you gotta go, and at least the little one left her load on the tile, where it’s easily cleaned up.

Over breakfast, I sent settlers over to the Roman continent, which got me a fierce warning from Emperor Trajan. My wife came down to talk to me and then stopped cold, lifted her foot and showed it to me. On the bottom was a large messy clod, courtesy of the bigger one.

She said, “I told you they’d be mad.”

Updating a Christmas tradition

December 24th, 2018

Doin’ it up right this time.

(By the way, on the right, no, that’s not what happened to Blitzen. It’s summer sausage.)

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Shit happens

December 23rd, 2018

My gym just changed their towel policy. The new policy is:  They now don’t provide them.

I last wrote about this particular 24 Hour Fitness in August, in which I noted that I’m effectively paying for soap but not getting it. Now I’m effectively paying for towels, but not getting them either. Next I’ll be paying for weights that are no longer there. In anticipation of this change, because they notified members in advance that they’d be eliminating towel service, I’ve been stealing two towels each visit. Rationalization:  1. I’ve been paying for them; 2. I’m saving them from the dump; and 3. their communication that they’ve made this change to “help save the planet” is baloney — it’s to save money.

I was there a few days before the end of the towel policy and had a nice workout, ending, as always, with a deliberative stay in the steam room spent ignoring someone’s too-loud hip-hop beats  pouring from his ear buds (advice:  invest in hearing-aid stocks now) and then a nice soak in the whirlpool bath.  I grabbed one of my soon-to-be purloined towels and headed in for a shower.

In the corner of the floor of the stall I chose there was a wadded-up roll of soaking wet shop towels — you know, those brown coarse cardboardy thick paper towels that you find at gas stations and in gyms like this, where you use them to wipe down equipment you’ve used. It wasn’t in my way, so I didn’t care. I was well into my shower when I had a sudden thought that maybe I should look at those shop towels on the floor a little more closely… and, sure enough, they weren’t shop towels. It was actually a pile of human feces. It was very effectively posing as soaking-wet wadded-up shop towels, being the same color, but it was absolutely a pile of shit, and now started to smell like it. I rinsed off quickly and got out of the shower.

After making sure I had scalded every square inch of myself clean, I got dressed and grabbed my stuff and went to the front desk. A young woman there saw me coming and saw the towel I was stealing and said, “Do you need a towel?” (Nice of her to offer.)

“No,” I said. “I have some bad news for you.”

“You’re leaving us?”

“No,” I said. “I thought we were in this together, for the long haul.”

She laughed, and then she said something I had not expected:  “Is there poop in the shower?”

“Uh, yes, there is.” I couldn’t believe it — had they already seen this and not done anything about it?

“Which stall?”

“It’s easy to find. It’s the one with shit in it.”

She smiled to show that that would be true. Then she said, “We’ve had a lot of that. People are mad about the towel policy.”

“So their protest is to shit in the showers?” I’ve been to several protests in my life, but what sort of protest was this? Who were these guys? Had I run into them around here?

“We’ll take care of it,” she said. Then she called out to an unlucky guy working across the way. “Adam! Bad news:  I’ve got another one for you!” Adam didn’t look happy.

I’m re-evaluating my membership.

In case you were worried

December 20th, 2018

A public entity that I can name later and that approached me about having a part-time role with them ran a security screening on me. I just go the results.

  • I have no reportable records with the Los Angeles County criminal court.
  • I have no reportable records in the National Criminal Database.
  • And, hey, it turns out that I’m not a registered sex offender.

The first time I had clearance like this was in 1984 when CBS hired me to help them cover President Reagan’s appearance in Hammonton, NJ during his re-election campaign. I was cleared. Literally had FBI clearance for several years.

Until now, the most recent time was in 2000 when the University of Southern California ran a check on me prior to hiring me to teach. I must have passed — never saw the report — because I taught there for 10 years. I think that was the most recent time — but who knows who might have run a check on me since then?

All things considered, you should feel safe to associate with me.

At the same time, I wonder what tests like this would have turned up about Les Moonves, or Bill Cosby, or Harvey Weinstein, or then-Congressman Anthony Weiner, or if they were even run.

Maybe we need new tests.

 

Not on my Christmas list, #1

December 17th, 2018

AnusChocolates

Edible chocolates in the shape of my anus.

(Or anyone’s anus.)

Imagine the sampling:  “Hey…! This chocolate tastes like ass!”

Just how important music is

November 26th, 2018

I’ve been reading an interview with founding Pere Ubu synthesizer player Allen Ravenstine and just came across this. It’s an exciting — and sobering — reminder of just how important the arts are, and music in particular. When people are deprived of it, they’re willing to risk everything for it.

I’ll tell you one of my favorite stories. We used to play a club in Berlin called the SO36. It was a very small place and it had almost no ventilation in it. It would fill up and it was so steamy in there that condensation would form on the walls. And I remember one night getting up on the stage and the opening moment of the performance was a woman throwing a shoe at us. And it was just un-bear-ably loud! It was so loud in there, it was painful. And at the end, I went up to the soundman and I said ‘why does this have to be so loud? What is that about?’ He said ‘well, it’s because the club is right up against the Wall. The kids in East Berlin sneak in to the buildings on their side of the Wall to listen to the music.’

And Cutler was the one who had me read a book called The Bass Saxophone Player. It’s a fascinating story about how in the Second World War, the folks that lived in the occupied territories would sneak off into the hills on the weekend and they would get into these little clubs, hotels and they would put on zoot suits and stuff and they would spin the stuff that was going on over here, like Benny Goodman. And they would dance to it and they would have a lookout watching the road and when the Gestapo would come, they would jump out of their zoot suits and put on their folk costumes. And the band would play folk music and they would dance to that to hide what they were up to. And the idea that… you would risk your life to hear some kind of music… just unbelievable. And so that story was always fascinating to me- those kids were risking their necks, sneaking into these abandoned buildings to hear this. And this club (Ubu was at) was cranking the music as loud as it was so that there was some chance that they could hear it on the other side.

I consider myself lucky that I’ve never had to risk getting shot in order to listen to music I prefer.

The whole interview, which references the birth of post-punk, a clash with Devo in the early 70s,  and Ravenstine’s unexpectedly huge influence that he still doesn’t fully comprehend, can be found here. If you want to get a sense of what it might be like to be in a band for years, and touring the U.S. and Europe, with a boatload of differing personalities, you’ll find this interesting.

Marriage, a 2-minute play

November 23rd, 2018

Him (wearing flip-flops):  I’m going to walk to the office to check the mail, then on the way back, I’m going to stop in at Smart & Final to pick up good coffee. Coffee that you can drink black and still enjoy.
Her (getting a bag):  Here’s a bag.
Him:  I don’t need a bag. I’m just getting the coffee.
Her:  Get bacon, too.
Him:  We don’t need bacon.
Her:  We don’t have bacon.
Him:  We still have bacon — you said you took it out of the freezer. I’m not doing the grocery shopping. I’m doing that tomorrow. I’m just walking to the office, then on the way back, I’m stopping in and picking up coffee, because I can already imagine how I would feel tomorrow morning if I got up and there wasn’t any drinkable coffee.
Her:  If you drove, you could get the bacon, too.
Him:  I’m walking, but If you want me to get bacon, I’ll get the bacon.
Her:  No, that’s okay.
Him:  It’s okay?
Her:  It’s okay. We have that pound I took out of the freezer.

(A beat.)

Him: Okay.

(He moves toward the front door.)

Her:  Oh. Can you get a can of turkey gravy? A big can?

(Pause.)

Him:  Sure. (A beat.) So… I guess now I need the bag.
Her (handing it over):  Here you go!

 

Mode of being

November 14th, 2018

Well, Eddie, that’s almost my name. But it’s definitely my joie de vivre.

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With great career comes great gratitude

November 13th, 2018

Of all the tributes to Stan Lee that I’ve read in the past day-and-a-half, it’s Gerry Conway’s that has touched me the most.

Conway succeeded Stan Lee in scripting Spider-Man at age 19 (!!!). He was a significant comic-book writer for Marvel from 1971 to 1977 (and a minor writer for DC for three years before that), and thereafter became a major comics writer elsewhere, before transitioning into television. So he knows what he’s talking about — and he attributes his entire career to the jolt given him by an early issue of Fantastic Four — and, therefore, to Stan Lee.

What I most appreciate about this piece is that he looks at Stan unsentimentally — noting the shortcomings many of us saw — but comes away recognizing just how essential Stan Lee was to revolutionizing both comic books and pop culture.

What, according to Gerry Conway, was Stan Lee’s most significant achievement? Making it cool to want to work in comics… and to love comics.

“Nobody aspires to play in a rock band if they’ve never heard of a rock band. The Marvel Bullpen of the 1960s was comicdom’s first rock band.

“That was because of Stan.”

Spot on.

You can read the rest of the piece here.

‘Nuff said.