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


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I have a mouth, but I can’t scream

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

(With apologies to Harlan Ellison.)

Another day of nothing to say. Or, rather, no ability to say it. Worse, I’m starting to sound like one of Krapp’s recordings in Krapp’s Last Tape.

Over on Facebook, a friend asked if the NyQuil SEVERE had any impact — yes, but only in separating us from some money. Other than that, no. Another friend speculated that I had shouted my voice away cheering the triumph of the Los Angeles Kings last night; no, but had that been the case, this would be The Kings Speechlessness.

Lacking the desire to go do anything substantial, I filled the day mostly with puttering around. I don’t even own a putter, but somehow I got it done. I:

  • made breakfast for my youngest, using those damn extra large eggs
  • restacked the newspaper sections from the previous week that I will absolutely for-sure read at some point this week
  • filled out an online survey that promised me some “points” of some sort if I would weigh in about sushi; I was game at first, but as it wore on, I started commenting on the length of the survey and dropping in whole stanzas from John Donne’s No Man Is An Island (although at least if you were stranded on that island, you would be qualified to render an opinion on raw fish)
  • dipped back into the Mediterranean diet book that I will positively be following very soon now
  • played an untold number of games of Risk on my iPad, with absolutely no concern for the other-colored peoples of the computer world as my red horde crushed them
  • did some writing (with more planned for later)
  • watched Alien (the first one) with my two younger children and my 15-year-old daughter’s male friend — notice I didn’t say “boyfriend,” although they were twisted together like a tangled phone cord over on the couch from which I was averting my gaze; in this latest viewing of this now shockingly 35-year-old movie, I felt that the future never looked so antiquated before. Evidently when we’re traversing the galaxy picking up alien parasites, we’ll still be wearing Converse sneakers, drinking coffee out of mugs, using everyday cat carriers, and landing multi-trillion-dollar spaceships using computers running DOS on green screens
  • went back over my household budget — always a good time; when I had no money, I wasn’t troubled by things like this, but since having some money, I haven’t wanted to send any of it anywhere if possible – and noticed that AT&T is gouging me again; looks like between our U-verse plan (cable, one phone line and Internet) and our cellphone family plan we’re paying $440 a month, or $5280 a year. (And that’s without a smartphone bill for me — that’s billed to my company, at that address.) If I’m spending $5280 a year for something, I expect it to have a gas tank. The AT&T battle resumes on Monday!

I think I’ll go back downstairs now and rustle up some dinner. Just a little exertion on that refrigerator door and I’ll be able to choose from all the carefully labeled meals my wife left inside. Over dinner, maybe I’ll read a few of those newspapers — because for now, conversation is definitely out.

Ironic reading

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

A hilariously
pretentious
reading

(of a poem exalting
the commonplace)

and therefore
missing
the point.

Suffering in silence

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

 

Day two — well, at this hour, three — of speaking incapacity. At the moment, I can’t even make a squeak. I can whistle through my teeth for the dog, but other signals for attention, as to my children, involve either waving my arms around or snapping my fingers. Yes, they hate it too.

As mentioned before, my mother’s cure for everything is a shot of whiskey and off to bed. That absolutely will work for everyone if they are patient, because either they will get better or die in bed. But I’m not that patient. (I did try bourbon the other night; I slept straight through, but woke up unable to speak. So: a mixed result.) My preferred lifelong cure, the thing that seems to fix everything internal, is NyQuil. Ah, NyQuil. It may taste horrible, but when it comes to curing illness, it smells of success. We, unfortunately, have been out of NyQuil.

Tonight, my wife brought home something new:  NyQuil SEVERE Cold & Flu Nighttime Relief. (The all-caps and the slight italics are by way of them.) Well, it certainly tastes severe. Now that I’ve downed it, we’ll see if I wake up feeling less severely pissed off at being voiceless.

I will say that two-plus days of this situation has given me new insight into the character of Marvel Comics’ mute monarch Black Bolt, whom I mentioned yesterday. Where once I thought he was noble and regal and strong, now I know he’s unspeakably angry at having to sit there quietly while the royal family pelt him with questions he’s unable to answer; at least, that’s my experience now, whether I’m reading or watch TV or playing Marvel Ultimate Alliance with my children on the xBox — my family have plenty of questions for me that demand immediate answers! Grunting or moaning to signal that hey, remember?, I can’t answer you? doesn’t achieve anything, so finally I just lie here simmering. No wonder Black Bolt occasionally feels the need to war with the Skrulls — battle is the only thing he’s got to say.

Back to the NyQuil SEVERE Cold & Flu Nighttime Relief. Now that this exists, nobody will be buying NyQuil regular. We’re Americans. Once the bigger, bolder version becomes available, that’s where our dollars go. Think about it:  If you’ve got a cold or flu, aren’t you sure that yours is SEVERE, and therefore the SEVERE cure is what you need? Even if you aren’t sure that yours is SEVERE – why risk it? Why limp along with regular NyQuil when you can buy SEVERE? It’s akin to eggs in the supermarket:  I like the medium-sized eggs because I don’t want all my daily cholesterol at once, and I have a conception that the smaller ones are tastier. Every once in a while, I’ll find an orphan carton of medium-sized eggs sitting disconsolately among the eggs that, like husky boys’ pants, come in Large, Extra Large, and Jumbo. But most times, no. No medium-sized eggs. (In fact, no small eggs, either, so just where do these smallest of available eggs get their designation as being “medium”?) No, just these ostrich sizes. Because, given the choice, who on Earth would want something smaller or less SEVERE?

Tomorrow, I will have more to say about some things, perhaps including these. I just hope I’m able to say them out loud.

All quiet on the home front

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Revelation for today:  It’s really boring being home sick.

I don’t know why so many people apparently like it. I admit that at times it has seemed romantic in the abstract — oh, stay home and read books all day, or watch movies, or, I dunno, finally file all the paid bills — but in the reality of the situation, it’s the equivalent of that blank screen or blank sheet of paper to a writer:  daunting. With all this time on one’s hands, no matter how you fill it, it seems purposeless.

This must be what faces those who “retire.” I put it into quote marks to remind myself of the alien nature of this concept, and that I never intend to do it. All the men I know who’ve retired died shortly thereafter; the women lived on to share stories of the old times spent with those men.

So, yes, I’m home. And writing. Ignoring the hacking cough and the cotton-stuffed head and the ringing ears and my near muteness. How does Black Bolt rule an entire race without being able to utter a syllable? I have a newfound respect for Medusa’s powers of interpretation. I should add that since developing this total laryngitis, late last night, my abilities as a mime have increased dramatically. I gestured to my wife that when she went shopping I wanted some Le Petit Ecolier cookies — we call them “Little Paul” cookies at my house, because of an inferred resemblance to a friend — and pointed to the milk-chocolate version still hanging around the house. She replied, verbally, that she thought I preferred the dark-chocolate version; in reply, I moved my outspread arms up and down to simulate a balance scale, indicating that they were of equal value to me. She rolled her eyes and trundled off to the store.

Last night was the first indication that I might be facing trouble today. I went out for dinner to Faith & Flower with my friend Doug, in for the day from Austin, TX. I had already had a hacking cough; as the evening wore on and the restaurant transcended slowly into more of a downtown club, we found ourselves competing in volume with the music. By the time we parted ways on the platform of the subway station, I was capable of only a shrill twisted squawk. At home half an hour later, I couldn’t make even that sound. My kids gleefully went around imitating me.

It’s difficult to get what you want easily when you can’t say anything. But Skype has helped. I Skyped my assistant to ask him to bring my laptop and some papers to me at home, and they arrived promptly. I’ve been texting. Now I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do tomorrow — I’m presiding over a board meeting tomorrow, my last as chair. As curatives, I’m downing all the potions my wife is prescribing. If I still can’t utter an intelligible word tomorrow, I guess I’ll have to ask my friend Barry to serve as my Medusa.

Money laundering, Part 2

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

You may recall that the dry cleaner at first tried to charge me $95.20, I told them it should be $78.22, they countered with $72.07, and we finally settled upon $74.35.

I just logged into my bank account to pay some bills and see that they charged my debit card for a total of $67.88.

 

Money laundering

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

The dry cleaning travails continue.

After leaving the two dry-cleaning services written about previously, I found one I liked. It was next to my new office (well, then-new office; we’ve moved again since then), the service was good, and the owner was friendly. Unfortunately, late last year he developed cancer. I found out about this when he showed me the golf-ball-sized nodule on the back of his neck, which made me shudder and gasp out loud. He got that removed and beat the cancer, but he didn’t have health insurance — and so, in addition to running his dry-cleaning business, he set about working another job in an attempt to pay back everything he owed to the hospital and everyone else. Ultimately, he sold his business, and for not much. He had been a (small) client with my company, and when he came in to settle his final bill, my business partner and I looked at each other and then told him he didn’t owe us anything.

The new owner I wasn’t so crazy about. All of the customer service people were replaced with people who didn’t know what customer service was. Plus, they kept breaking the buttons on my pricier shirts. Now armed with some inside knowledge about dry cleaning, thanks to the writing I had done for the previous owner, I knew the cause:  They were using a heat press to dry my shirts. It’s a faster, and therefore cheaper, process. It also frequently stresses and then cracks buttons. Whenever I pointed this out, they gamely offered to replace the button they’d broken, either with one from somewhere else on my shirt, or a mismatched one from a drawer full of scrap buttons. Thanks. Thanks a lot.

After trying another dry cleaner, which charged about double what I’d been paying elsewhere, I got a coupon in the mail from the place where the three teenaged girls argued over who would have to wait on me. I figured those girls had to be gone by now. So I dropped off 24 shirts and a suit, with the coupon. The coupon was clearly marked to save 15% on laundry for shirts. The girl didn’t take the coupon.

“Don’t you want the coupon?” I asked.

“We don’t need it.”

“Then how will they know to take the 15% off?” It wasn’t like she had scanned it or anything.

“I wrote it onto your receipt.”

“Right,” I said. “But I won’t have that when I come back. All you ever ask for is a phone number. That’s all that any dry cleaner ever asks for.”

“That’s okay,” she said. “I wrote the 15% off on your receipt.”

“Which I’m keeping,” I said. “Where is your record of it?”

“On what I wrote.”

“But if I don’t present that to someone when I pick up my clothes?”

“Oh, we’ll still give you the 15% off.”

“You’re sure?”

“Oh, yeah. It’s in the system.”

Tonight I went to get my clothes. The girl who greets me, a different one than the one from two days before, rings it up and says, “$95.20.”

That seemed too high by far. “Did you take off my 15%?”

“What 15%?” she asks. Of course.

“When I dropped those 24 shirts off, I presented a coupon for 15% off.”

“Oh. Do you have it?”

“No. But the girl on Sunday said it’d be in the system.”

“No, I don’t see it.”

“Okay, well, I did. Honest. You mailed me a coupon, and I brought it in here with me when I dropped off the 24 shirts.”

She has no record of that, of course, but goes to see an older woman who approves the discount.

Now she says I owe her 80 dollars and something. I tell her that it costs $2.65 to launder a shirt — I had checked on Sunday — and $10.25 to dry clean a jacket and a pair of pants, and one of those 24 shirts had been silk, which costs $6.95 to dry clean, so my total should be ( ( (23 x $2.65) + $6.95 x .85 ) + ($10.25 x 2), which equals — here, I admit, I pulled out my iPhone — and since there’s no tax on a service,  I tell her my total should be $78.22. She looks at me like I’m Stephen Hawking for being able to figure that out. Then she looks plaintively at the older woman who trundles over to supervise.

The older woman starts over from the beginning, and I walk her through my computation. Have I mentioned that at this point a line is forming behind me? Moreover, I have a cold I’ve picked up from one of the several coughing/sneezing members of my family, so one would think I’d rather be home implementing my mother’s traditional Mollie Wochner cure for anything (a shot of whiskey and to bed). But I don’t see why this is difficult, I feel I’m entitled to my discount because it was the coupon offering that brought me in here, and I also have the vague notion that I’m doing a service to this company by instructing their employees in math. The woman runs through it all again, and then announces that I owe $72.07.

“No, it’s $78.22,” I say. Now they’ve gone from overcharging me to undercharging me.

“No, $72.07. Because of your 30% off .”

“What 30% off?”

“Thirty percent off dry cleaning a suit. It was applied to the two pieces of the suit.”

“Why am I getting that?”

“Because you brought in a coupon.”

“No, I brought in a coupon for 15% off, and that was on laundering shirts.”

“Oh. Where is that coupon?”

“I don’t have it! The girl said she put it into the system!”

“It’s not in the system. But she did put in 30% off both of those suit items.”

“But you don’t owe me that!”

“Well, I’m sorry, but it’s in the system. So your total is $72.07.”

Finally, we compromised. Mostly because I was ready to pass out onto the floor. We settled on $74.35. I don’t know why. She asked me to sign a slip of paper saying they had given me that “discount.” I said sure. Whatever. At home, I gave a cursory review to a few of the shirts and didn’t see any broken buttons, so that’s an improvement. But I really don’t feel like haggling over the price of professional laundry.

 

Progress

Friday, June 6th, 2014

My good friend Tom emailed me this tonight:

“Found out from an article about Echo Park that there was a part of the neighborhood referred to as ‘Red Hill’ because it’s where the leftists, socialists and communists tended to congregate. Now it’s called something else and there’s a new trendy, upscale restaurant in the neighborhood called Red Hill. And that’s America folks.”

At all costs!

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

 

The above is taken from an email sent to me by Marvel Comics soliciting my interesting in buying an immediate download of #3 of their limited series “Original Sin.”

Let me just say that Marvel isn’t kidding when they promise, above, “ANSWERS AT ALL COSTS!”

I’m amazed by the pricing of these “Digital Special Editions.” To send you, essentially, nothing – and certainly nothing that you can own, or share, or gift — they are charging SIX DOLLARS AND 99 CENTS.

When it’s a music download, I can make up to 6 copies. I can burn a copy, or digitally transfer a copy to another device, or share with a friend. And because it’s music, I will listen to it over and over for years.

This comic “book” download would get one, and perhaps two, readings, restricted to me. No way to share, unless I feel like lending my iPad around. (I don’t.) This digital comic book is both overpriced and untransferrable.

Of course, it’s only overpriced if not enough people buy it. I have no way of knowing if, say, 30,000 people will pay $7 for this — in which case Marvel would pocket $210,000 almost completely net because they’re just repurposing existing content at almost no cost.

But I’m flabbergasted at their audacity. No idea if they’re right from a business perspective to be so audacious.

A couple of years ago, I read four books on pricing within the space of two months. Pricing,  and therefore price negotiation, it shouldn’t surprise you, is based upon a perception of fairness. (Google “fairness in pricing” and read at your leisure.)  So that while yes I know that the 12¢ comic-book I grew up with is far in the rearview mirror, it nevertheless strikes me as unfair that a non-physical comic book would cost seven bucks, and that’s just one of at least eight and more likely probably 30 issues, counting tie-ins, that you’d need to buy to read the complete story.

Two weeks ago, when I was in Nashville, I went to the Grand Ole Opry. While I came away with my personal dislike of country music fully intact, I was impressed with the quality of the production and especially with what an egalitarian bargain the evening is. On the evening I went, I saw 10 acts (each plays just 2-3 songs — mercifully), and ticket prices started at just — wait for it — $29.50. I bought a ticket for 42 bucks and got killer seats. (And, meanwhile, I’m seeing four semi-broken acts from the 1980s at the Greek Amphitheatre later this year where my middling tickets cost $87 each.)

The Opry is fairly priced — more than fairly priced — and so is the Greek. But the digital comic book, at seven bucks, isn’t. How do I know? Because I won’t buy it. As the saying goes, “Everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it.”

Flight patterns

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

I flew out of Los Angeles this morning for five days of business and pleasure in Nashville, Tennessee. Tucked under my arm as I walked through LAX was a paperback copy of a book I’d always mean to read, “The Bell Jar,” by Sylvia Plath.

While I was checking my bag outside, the next lady in line leaned forward and said, “Oh, what are you reading? ‘The Bell Jar.’ Hm.”

Inside, while she was ensuring I wasn’t a terrorist hiding explosives in my iPad, the blonde TSA Agent scanning my boarding pass and license said, ” ‘The Bell Jar.’ How is that?”

A few minutes later, the pleasant and attractive sandwich girl selling me a severely overpriced comestible for my longish flight said, “Now what is that you’re reading? ‘The Bell Jar’? Is that any good? Should I read that?”

I couldn’t figure out any of this special treatment. Yeah, I’ve got a book — so what? Had they all heard of “The Bell Jar” and this was their chance to ask about its merits? Then I started looking around — all up and down LAX and, later, all up and down the aisle of my particular flight, and noticed that I was the only person with a book. No one else I could see anywhere had so much as a magazine, or even a newspaper — they all had smartphones or tablets — but I had an actual book.

I started to feel like the last carrier pigeon, with everyone else watching me take flight.

On the plane, a moon-faced lady with a black mop of hair in a Little Lotta style and upper arms like dappled ham hocks and sporting an Angry Birds wristwatch with a thick black rubberized band, wedged herself into the seat between me and the old lady in the aisle seat. The moment we ascended into the clouds, she dredged her smartphone from a crevasse somewhere on her person and took a photo across the frontage of my face and out the window. There was nothing out there but clouds, but she captured them.

About 10 minutes later, she took another one.

Throughout the flight, as she munched down a six-ounce can of roast almonds, a bag of PopCorners (“The new shape of popcorn!”), a perfunctory apple, and absolutely everything proffered by the flight attendant, including pretzels, cookies, and nut-substitutes, and, yes, topping it all off with the requisite Diet Coke, she continued to snap photos through the window.

I imagined the slide slow for relatives later:

“At 9:50, I flew through this cloud. … See this cloud? We flew through this one at 10:05. … This cloud here, this is really great — 10:17…..”

When she wasn’t doing this, she had her Kindle reader fired up. So that she could play Angry Birds.

What was it again that drove Sylvia Plath to suicide before “The Bell Jar” could even be published? Had she lived, this bookless experience would have killed her.

Letting Go — tomorrow night

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

Tomorrow night, I’m reading an original piece that I just finished writing 5 minutes ago, “Letting Go of the Dead” as part of the Shine storytelling series. The event runs from 7:30 to 9:30 at the YWCA at the YWCA Santa Monica/Westside, 2019 14th Street, Santa Monica CA 90405 . Come join us! Here’s where you can find out more info.

 

Years ago, I did a lot of readings such as this. More recently, I haven’t had the time. But the beauty of agreeing to do one is that inevitably you wind up writing something new. (At least, I do.) Tonight I gave the opening remarks at a civic event here in my adopted hometown of Burbank — which occasioned my writing a couple of pages today about leadership, pages that I wouldn’t have written otherwise. And, now, I’ve got 1350 words on the subject of death and letting go, told in what I hope is a trenchant but lightly comic style. So as to keep it  a “bright story of positive change.”