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


Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

Imperfect settings

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

Donald Trump, as someone who doesn’t pay his bills, and who denies saying just about anything he’s said, knows a thing or two about falsehood, cheating, lying, and manipulation. He’d fit right in at these 6 Infamous Places of Political Corruption.

The scariest thing I’ve heard this Halloween season

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

On Saturday night, my wife and I went to a Halloween costume party. I knew one or two of her friends a little bit, but got to meet a lot of smart, interesting people — who were dressed up as Alice from Wonderland, a pair of breasts, a secretary from “Mad Men,” and so forth. It was a low-key affair with food, drinks and conversation. I had two beers then switched to water, so the wife could drink whatever she wanted and I could drive us both home if needed.

Long after most people had left, a new guest showed up. He was a youngish black guy, friendly, but not wearing a costume. He brought up politics — the issue I had strenuously avoided all night — when he loudly announced that he couldn’t vote for the “warmonger” Hillary Clinton, and so he was going to vote for… Jill Stein.

Then he proceeded to tell us why.

For the record, Jill Stein is a whackadoodle who supports all sorts of discredited anti-science theories. She opposes vaccination, but supports debunked “alternative therapy” medical treatments, which is especially distressing for a medical doctor, and doesn’t show the slightest understanding of how our economy or our national security systems work.

As he went on in his fervor for Jill Stein, he also wandered into other conspiracy theories, fashionable and not. If you hadn’t heard that the Rothschilds control the world; that the FDA is poisoning us as part of an experiment, or that (somehow) Mummer Gaddafi had had something to do with most of that (?) that you were just uninformed.

I couldn’t help drawing him out. I started asking questions, and getting straight-faced answers. Whenever I gently tried to rebut something, he replied that anything I said was just “philosophy.” “No,” I said, “it’s a fact. I live in the fact-based universe.” “There are no facts,” he said, “just philosophy.”

By this point, my wife was making serious frowning faces at me and jerking her head toward the door. But I wanted to hear more.

“I’ll tell you a fact,” I said. “If you put your hand in there–” I pointed to the fire pit we were sitting around — “it’ll burn. That’s a fact.”

“That’s philosophy!” he said.

I asked him to define “philosophy,” but he couldn’t.

I have to say, he never grew belligerent, and he seemed like a friendly, if animated, guy. He kept checking to make sure that we were okay — even while everyone else around the circle grew very uneasy at this exchange. At one point when he was afraid he’d overstepped because he caught my wife’s strained face, he leaned over to give me a friendly fist bump to show solidarity, even though he was somewhere in the eighth dimension and I was still on planet Earth.

Finally, when he said that Bill and Hillary Clinton had eight “hurricane machines” strategically positioned at various places around the globe, a young woman near me leaned in and said, “WHAAT? Why  would they do that?!?” Right-o, because the Clintons, if self-serving, would never wantonly damage their property.

At some point, I grew tired of talking to him. As the proverb goes, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will also be like him.” My fun exhausted, I agreed to leave when my wife strenuously suggested it again.

In the car, I said to her, “He seems like a nice guy. He’s not stupid — he’s done a lot of research and a lot of reading, just all of it bad. He’s just terribly misinformed.” Here was a guy who had seemingly read every crackpot theory on the internet, I told her — and believed all of them.

My wife looked at me. “You just met 75% of American voters.”

And that, less than two weeks before the election, was the scariest thing I’ve heard this Halloween season.

A yuge amount of money, just yuge

Monday, October 17th, 2016

Twice, this piece on Politico says that a conservative PAC is spending “$500,000 million” on just this one GOP Congresswoman’s re-election. That’s… um… half a trillion dollars. Or, as I think of it: even more money than Trump lost in any given even year.

(Update:  They’ve corrected it. Now the PAC is spending “only” $500,000 — to protect a GOP House member in normally ultra-red Utah.)

Strange dream, #19,710 in a series

Monday, October 17th, 2016

I just awoke from a dream in which I ran into David Hasselhoff at the opening of a 24 Hour Fitness location, where he’d been hired as the head fitness instructor.

During this opening event, the company’s young CEO  posed for pictures while water-sliding into the mouth of a live shark.

I complained to Hasselhoff about the latest 24 Hour Fitness brochure, produced for the event, because it was hold with claims but had no real data to back up any of them. I also told him I enjoyed him in “The Spongebob Squarepants Movie.”

Hasselhoff confided that he couldn’t bend down to talk to me because of a bad back, which caused me to wonder how he’d gotten hired at 24 Hour Fitness. He also told me that he found me intimidating. I didn’t mean to be.


Paper of record

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

Here’s something I have been monitoring throughout the day.

Of the top 17 stories on the home page of the Los Angeles Times website, not one of them is about the passing of Gordon Davidson, the founding artistic director and producer of the Mark Taper Forum, and, for a bit, the Doolittle Theatre, and ultimately the Ahmanson Theatre and the Kirk Douglas Theatre, all while in the same job with Center Theatre Group.

Yes, the story is on the LA Times site, but it’s way way way down the bottom, and small.

This is a real head-scratcher to me.

Say what you will about the perceived importance of theatre in Los Angeles — but Gordon Davidson was a leader in remaking the entire cultural landscape of Los Angeles. Yes, there was some small theatre, or touring theatre, before Gordon Davidson. But after Gordon Davidson, it was at least arguable that Los Angeles was a theatre town.

He was hired expressly to try to bring culture to downtown — and because, at the time, in 1969, no one of any significance would take the job of helming (and founding) the Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles being perceived as a backwater.

It’s because of Gordon Davidson that the theatre and television worlds got hold of playwright and screenwriter Jon Robin Baitz, Gordon being instrumental in his career. It’s because of Gordon that Luis Alfaro was introduced to theatre, and emerged with the career he has. Without Gordon, would we have gotten these plays (all developed or premiered at the Taper):  “In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine,” “The Shadow Box,” “Children of a Lesser God” and, especially, Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America.” All of these transferred to Broadway, and all of them went on to great acclaim.

I’m glad to have known Gordon Davidson, somewhat and slightly, for years, and I’m sorry to know that he’s left the room. He enabled me to see many great plays that have informed my thinking and my life, including “The Persians,” directed by Peter Sellars; “Slavs! Thinking About the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness” by Tony Kushner; “Angels in America,” also by Kushner (in its workshop presentation! before Broadway); many, many great plays by Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett and Edward Albee and other “absurdists”; “Fences” by August Wilson, in a production starring James Earl Jones; an utterly wonderful production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” starring  Glenda Jackson, John Lithgow, Cynthia Nixon and Brian Kerwin; and so so so much more. I can’t even begin to remember it all.

Somehow, to the paper of record here in Los Angeles, his demise is just passing news.

To the rest of us, it represents a shooting star crossing above the firmament.

Here’s the obit from the NEW YORK Times.

When, on Facebook earlier today, I bemoaned the bad placement of this story on the LA Times site, a friend who works for the LA Times commented, “But — but — Kim [Kardashian] got robbed today!” And, indeed, that was highly placed news.

Gee, I don’t know why Los Angeles is frequently depicted as a shallow province.


Points of light

Saturday, October 1st, 2016

Every day, the news we scan is filled with misery, blight, blinkered thinking, and the petty but punishing misbehavior of the narrow-minded. (Whether they are running for President or not.)

So I thought I’d share this story that I came across tonight, of a woman who in the 1980s and 1990s personally cared for hundreds of dying AIDS patients  who’d been abandoned by their families. They had no one else — but they had her. She tended to them as best she could; in the most maudlin farewell party imaginable (but a necessary one) she filled out their death certificates with them because otherwise she’d have no family information on them; she personally interred their remains in her family’s cemetery plot; she did all of this with no recompense; and she kept their information in a Book of the Dead she began because no one else cared.

And no, this wasn’t in San Francisco or New York City. This was in Arkansas. Which adds bravery to the list of her characteristics, as others frequently pointed and stared.

Why does this story seem special? Because it’s the sort that’s rarely reported. I once knew someone who, unpaid and at personal cost, cared for someone she barely knew who had no family and who was dying, slowly, from Lou Gehrig’s Disease. I also remember a friend who left a well-paying job as a Fortune 500 corporate attorney so that she could offer free or almost-free legal services to the indigent immigrant community of Los Angeles. There are others I could add. I’m sure you have stories like this as well. They just don’t make the news very often.

That doesn’t make this woman’s accomplishment — the tremendous gift she gave to these hundreds of abandoned and painfully dying men — any less significant.

It’s just to say that she isn’t alone, and we all need to hear more stories like this one, about The Woman Who Cared.

The LAST person to defend Trump

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

Yes, I watched the debate last night. Then dug in for an enjoyable evening of reading comments on Facebook and Twitter. Yee haw.

This morning, a friend of mine posted this on FB:

“Believe me, when I say I am the LAST person to defend Trump, but to everyone that is focusing their energy on mocking him for saying ‘Bigly,’ go back and listen again (if you can stomach it). I could be wrong, but I think he’s saying ‘Big League.’ ”

I’m not going to defend “bigly” — which is not in Webster’s New World Dictionary or Webster’s New World College Dictionary, which I consider the sources for proving (or disproving) such matters; however, I should note that “big lie” is in there, and perhaps that’s what Trump was fishing for. Of course.

But, going to the heart of the matter while parsing the language, I still don’t think my too-generous friend is on firm ground.

  • Because I think the LAST person to defend Trump would be one of those ex-wives.
  • Next-to-last would be all those vendors he screwed.
  • Then it would be all the employees and all the lenders shafted in his six bankruptcies.
  • Then it would be his GOP rivals who didn’t cave.
  • Then Bill, then Hillary, then Chelsea.

(I’m sure I’m forgetting others.)

Comparatively, and with all due respect, by the time it gets to my friend, he’s practically a supporter.



About walls

Friday, September 23rd, 2016


“Walls are for hiding behind. Americans don’t hide.” So says my friend the writer and performer and patriot Ernest Kearney. Check it out here.

This is irony, Alanis

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

Last night I had a splendid time as an attendee at a rooftop business event in Hollywood where we got to discuss arts and entertainment (theatre, the movies, music and more) while savoring the catering and drinking drinks and watching the sun come down on the Hollywood sign. It was  truly an evening that reminded me, a backwoods transplant, of why I’m so grateful to Los Angeles.

I also had the good fortune to win the prize drawing, held just for showing up, and in addition to winning tickets to a musical, a $50 gift card to Sprouts supermarket and a $25 gift card to the Grub restaurant in Hollywood, I got a whole boatload of goodies from Paramount, including a poster for what’s probably the worst major motion picture I’ve ever seen (“Noah,” in which Noah fights CGI rock monsters, and later has a knife fight with a rival tribal leader inside the ark; I read the book that this movie was based on, and I don’t recall those scenes being in the book), seven DVDs, and the full complement of giveaways dispensed at Comic-Con this past July for the premiere of “Star Trek: Beyond”: a bundle of Blu Rays from the “JJ-verse,” a commemorative premiere t-shirt, pin, hat, and lanyard, and also the director’s cut of “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan,” which includes the deservedly famous line (I’ll try to emulate Ricardo Montalban’s delivery here) “Kork! From the heart of dark-nesssss, I SPIT at theeeee!” All of these “Star Trek” things are now in my possession, putting me momentarily on an equal par with this universe’s foremost “Star Trek” expert, Larry Nemecek. (That is, until I put them on eBay.)

One of the people I spent a lot of time talking to is a very smart, passionate theatre guy whose record and whose commitment to the form speak for themselves. We discussed the recent stupidity of the actors’ union (for which, I predict, all of the Los Angeles stage actors in that union will be quitting it), and gentrification, and theatre attendance, and, of course, because this is Los Angeles, parking. We had a great talk and lots of laughs.

Through it all, I found myself trying not to stare at one long stray black hair descending from his left nostril. As we talked, it wagged back and forth. When he smiled, it rode up a notch. When he exhaled, it fluttered in the wind. Sometimes, it just stood up and saluted me. All of this was unbeknownst to its bearer, but for me it provided a distracting subtext. There was no polite way to point it out, but a nagging voice in my head wanted to tweeze it or cut it or ask him to stuff it back up into his nose. Earlier in the day at another event (I go to a lot of events), a female friend had gently unfolded a flap on the right lapel of my jacket. When a beautiful woman grooms you, no one resists. (At least, I don’t.) But no man wants some guy at a cocktail event to grab hold of the hair in your nose, or even to bring it up.

I talked to some other people at the event, including politicos I’d already met, and theatre people I hadn’t seen in a while, and then made my excuses and went downstairs and retrieved my car from the valet, dropped the top, and drove home through Hollywood to perfect temperatures. A nice ending to a nice event. I got home and excitedly unpacked my treasures for my kids, showing them the DVDs and the tchotchkes and openly discussing which of the friends I’d seen “Noah” with to “gift” that poster to. I watched an episode of “American Horror Story” with my daughter, then went upstairs to brush my teeth before bed. I got out the tooth brush and the toothpaste, applied the latter onto the former, looked up into the mirror — and saw for the first time an incredibly long, black, rat tail of a hair hanging down from inside my right nostril. It looked as long as a finger and nearly as thick. It had been there the entire night.

Not Monkeein’ around

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016


Much to my own surprise, last Friday night I went to see The Monkees again, this time on their 50th anniversary tour. Four years ago, I had publicly pledged not to see them again — you can read about that odd evening here — but the moment it was announced that Mike Nesmith would be playing with them, for the only time on this tour and for the last time ever, my friend Richard and I, the same Richard who went with me four years ago, decided to buy tickets.

And y’know what? They were terrific.

This was very much in the spirit of The Beach Boys’ 50th Anniversary Tour, in which the remaining living Beach Boys (Brian, Mike, Al, and I guess we’re still counting Bruce) put on an incredible four-hour show for which my friend Trey and I had 4th row center seats, in an experience not only worth the trip to Dallas, but also one that remains seared in my memory bank of positive experiences. That night, the Beach Boys were generous of spirit, played and sang together, and Brian Wilson even seemed to know where he was at times.

Whereas, in 2012, the Monkees seemed like strangers who’d arrived on the same stage by accident, this time the three principals seemed like they could be (or could have been) in the same band. They harmonized; they played together; they deferred to each other. At some point, it dawned on Mike Nesmith that he was actually having a good time. A smile spread across his face and he relaxed into the music. He played probably half of the evening’s songs with them, including a stint of six songs in a row during the second set that culminated in a solo performance of a song they’d once recorded that he’d envisioned in a different way. In his capable hands, “Circle Sky” was a blazing centerpiece, as it should have been. Most importantly to me, he played and sang “Me and Magdalena,” from their new album, which is one of the most achingly beautiful and haunting songs I’ve ever heard. The combination of the song, the timber of his voice, and the pangs of his 12-string Gretsch, transports me. All together, they played 32 songs, and then they were done.

Except they aren’t. Kind of. The tour now goes on, without Nesmith, which left Richard and me puzzling over what that non-Nesmith experience must be like. Diminished, for sure. (Evidently, on the rest of the tour Micky Dolenz sings “Circle Sky” and he is joined by Peter Tork for “Me and Magdalena.” I will go to my grave happy not to hear that.) I ventured to Richard that the contribution of Nesmith’s sound grounds what would otherwise be a flyweight pop contraption; Richard went perhaps further and said that he lends them credibility. I think that’s true. Dolenz can sing, but somehow there’s an authority to Mike Nesmith’s vocals, his songwriting, and his guitar playing, that lends credence to the whole enterprise. Without any intended slight to the band’s powerhouse songwriters such as Carole King or Neil Diamond, without Nesmith, the Monkees are like Herman’s Hermits, with more hits. I wonder if people catching the rest of the tour will even suspect what they missed.