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


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Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

Breaking with tradition

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020

Any other year, I and between three and eight pals would now be tumbling out of a tightly packed minivan and into Comic-Con down in San Diego. But, this isn’t just any year. No, this is the year of the pandemic, when the Con is virtual (and, let’s face it, not really “the Con”) and I’m posting this blog from my bedroom. Insert sad-face here.

It is nice to see, though, that the convention center is missing us, too. Comic-Con has been held at the “new” convention center since 1991, so my relationship with the Con, which I started attending annually in 1988 predates that of the convention center. I hope we’re just taking a breather here and this isn’t the end of the relationship. I gather that the convention center feels the same way — hence this video.

Yes, I’ll attend some virtual panels. (At the very least, Scott Shaw!’s Oddball Comics presentation, tomorrow at noon.) And I recognize, in all fairness, that at least this year all eleventy billion people who’d like to go to the Con can finally get in. And although I can’t paw through hundreds of thousands of delicious decades-old comic-books at the Con, I did receive a couple dozen in the mail today courtesy of my pursuits on eBay. But what about poker parties in our hotel room? The virtual Con has no way to make up for that annual tradition!

What’s next

Sunday, July 19th, 2020

This weekend, as with most weekends recently, has been consumed with straightening up my comic-book collection and working on my new play. I’m slowly running out of thousands of old comic books that still need to be paired with nice plastic bags and boards and carefully slid into comics storage boxes, and I also may finally be running out of ways to rewrite the same 119 pages, at least in a way that theoretically improves upon them. I’ve already got more delicious rotting old comic books on their way to my house, courtesy of eBay and Mercari, and at some point I suppose this play will be done.

This morning I had a very nice surprise on the weekly Pere Ubu live show on Patreon when the band’s manager, the smart and very talented Kiersty Boon, sang me happy birthday, which even earned a nod from David Thomas. Again, a nice surprise. If you’re not on the Ubu Patreon platform yet, you’re going to want to watch that and much here, so here’s the link. Earlier in the week, I had posted on Facebook that all I wanted for my birthday was a new-new Pere Ubu album (a new one having just come out a month or so ago), at which a fellow fan and friend remonstrated, “Oi, Lee! You’re such a greedy boy!” But on the show, Kiersty and David announced that there is now indeed a new-new Pere Ubu album available for download, proving yet again that when you want something, you should put that want out into the universe in order for it to happen. In retrospect, I wish I had wanted Donald Trump out of office for my birthday.

While doing my self-appointed chores today (laundry; work on play; straighten up more comics; complete the online Sudoku Mega; pick more avocados from our tree for my wife to barter at work), I still found time to take on a bunch of objectivists, libertarians and crackpots on the Facebook page dedicated to the late Steve Ditko, best known as co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange and as an acolyte of Ayn Rand. The thread started when someone posted a lunkhead op-ed claiming that the nation had met its ruin because we weren’t adhering to the most extreme sort of religious evangelism, and equating protesters with rioters (never mind that the nation was founded protesters who rioted, and that most of us who have protested several times in our lives have never once rioted). When, finally, after much back-and-forth between myself and several other people posting, the original author admitted that he’d never even read the thing he linked to, for which he then got eviscerated by others, I declared victory and left the discussion. But not before one of the commenters assured us all that if he were in charge, this rebellion would be put down fast! I offered that Google could provide driving directions, should he gather the momentum, and that in the meantime he should beware paper cuts while reading those old comics.

Whenever I finish a TV show or movie or book, I get an email from Netflix or Goodreads asking me “What’s next?” Y’know what, guys? When I know, you’ll know. Let’s just leave it at that. Especially in 2020, no one knows what’s next.

Last night’s minor accomplishment

Wednesday, July 1st, 2020

Last night, playing “The Last of Us Part 2,” I had only 3 bullets and no health packs left, but was able to take out 5 paramilitary, 3 runners and 2 clickers. Pretty good, right?!?!?! Went to bed pretty proud of myself.

These days, we’ll take these accomplishments where we can get them.

Carl Reiner, R.I.P.

Tuesday, June 30th, 2020

The obit just now in the New York Times for Carl Reiner details his many, many talents:  screenwriter, novelist, director, actor, comedian, political commentator, and probably a lot more.

What they don’t mention is what a great host Reiner could be.

As I wrote about here twelve years ago, I went to the memorial service for a guy I knew and liked, my writing professor Bill Idelson, only to discover that Carl Reiner would be the “emcee.” (Or whatever one calls someone who officiates a memorial service.) Of course it made sense in retrospect — Bill had been one of the writers on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” in addition to playing Herman Glimpsher, Rose Marie’s diminutive suitor on that show. (In an odd coincidence, about 20 years ago, I produced a play that featured Seemah Wilder, never realizing until he showed up that she was Bill Idelson’s wife. Yet another case of “everybody knows everybody.”) I wrote about Bill’s (highly entertaining) memorial service here.

In the years since, I’ve been following Carl Reiner on Twitter; he’s been amusing at times, and certainly life-affirming (he’s got a new book coming out, posthumously now, completed at age 98), and certainly livid about the current occupant of the White House.

But now I’m left wondering:  Who will they get to host Carl Reiner’s memorial service? Who could possibly live up to that standard? The only other Renaissance entertainer I can think of is Steve Martin.

Today’s awful insight

Monday, June 29th, 2020

If Trump drops out, we run the risk of Pence winning and the Dems losing the Senate.

If Trump stays in, we run the risk that he actually wins.

This is like the worst episode ever of “Deal or No Deal.”

Joe Sinnott, R.I.P.

Thursday, June 25th, 2020

I was sad to learn this morning that Joe Sinnott had died. He was 93, and that’s a reasonable amount of time for anyone, but he touched my young life and left a lasting impression, not just as the premier inker on “Fantastic Four,” but also in my one personal encounter with him.

When I was 11, I met both Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott at the same table at Phil Seuling’s comics convention in NYC. I told that story near the bottom of this longish blog post three years ago, and how awed I was to meet Kirby — and how very kind Mr. Sinnott was to me. 

This was one of the most meaningful encounters of my life — the only time in my life I’ve been awed in anyone’s presence, matched with a moment of incredible kindness and attentiveness from his artistic partner. These guys were heroes to the men my age who were boys back then.

Later, I’ll update this post with the sketch Mr. Sinnott did for me.

Snappy answers to a stupid question

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020

Just now, I said to my wife, “Okay, I’ve got a call tomorrow night at 6, then we can do the grocery shopping.”

Her:  “What do we need to do the grocery shopping for?”

She starts to list all the food we have. At some point, I break in with, “We’re out of bread.”

She asks, “What are you going to use bread for?”

And that’s when I channel Mad magazine‘s “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.” It’s just hard to undo all that adolescent training.

  • “What was I going to use bread for? Oh, make a sculpture.”
  • “Fill my gas tank with it.”
  • “Patch a hole in the wall.”
  • “Attach strings and wear it as a mask.”

Finally, laughing, she says, “Okay, okay, that’s not what I meant. I mean, what do you need it for?”

I look at her crosseyed, because that’s the same question.

Finally, I explain to her that, yes, I am a bread eater. I admit it — I am someone who eats bread. She has somehow missed this over the past three decades, but it’s true and there’s no use hiding it. I am a consumer of bread.

Not only that, I eat bread in many different ways. Sometimes I will toast it and then put a spread on it of, say, butter or preserves — or both! Other times I will stick meat and/or cheese between two pieces of it, and may add mustard or some other condiment. I have been known to slide bread under an egg and eat it that way. Occasionally I will even stick bread into the oven with butter and garlic powder atop it, bake it for a little while, and then eat it that way. I’m sure there are many more ways that I eat bread.

“Okay,” she says. “We can go grocery shopping if you want to.”

“I don’t want to,” I say. “But we’re out of some things — including the bread.”

And then she tells me what else I could have instead of the bread. Evidently, we’re well-stocked on bread substitutes. Like, somehow, rice counts.

Praise and gratitude

Monday, June 15th, 2020
Every day, the Academy of American Poets will email you a “poem of the day” if you sign up for it. They run the gamut from the 19th to 21st centuries, and from the well-known to the never-heard-of. I found today’s, by Angelo Geter, particularly resonant — because it’s about gratitude and praise.
 
I also appreciated what he said about it, because this is where I am as well:
 
“I wrote this poem about six months ago, around Christmas time. I was in the midst of mourning and grieving some loved ones. When I was walking, I remember feeling that in the midst of hard times and as negative as this world can seem at times, you still have to praise things. So this poem focuses on praising the things you should praise, and also praising the things you shouldn’t, such as being a headstone or not being in a police report. So that was the inspiration behind this poem. Praising in the midst of all this chaos.”        —Angelo Geter
 
Here’s the poem.

 Praise

Today I will praise.

I will praise the sun

For showering its light

On this darkened vessel.

I will praise its shine.

Praise the way it wraps

My skin in ultraviolet ultimatums

Demanding to be seen.

I will lift my hands in adoration

Of how something so bright

Could be so heavy.

I will praise the ground

That did not make feast of these bones.

Praise the casket

That did not become a shelter for flesh.

Praise the bullets

That called in sick to work.

Praise the trigger

That went on vacation.

Praise the chalk

That did not outline a body today.

Praise the body

For still being a body

And not a headstone.

Praise the body,

For being a body and not a police report

Praise the body

For being a body and not a memory

No one wants to forget.

Praise the memories.

Praise the laughs and smiles

You thought had been evicted from your jawline

Praise the eyes

For seeing and still believing.

For being blinded from faith

But never losing their vision

Praise the visions.

Praise the prophets

Who don’t profit off of those visions.

Praise the heart

For housing this living room of emotions

Praise the trophy that is my name

Praise the gift that is my name.

Praise the name that is my name

Which no one can plagiarize or gentrify

Praise the praise.

How the throat sounds like a choir.

The harmony in your tongue lifts

Into a song of adoration.

Praise yourself

For being able to praise.

For waking up,

When you had every reason not to.

 

Angelo Geter

Buying stuff in person

Saturday, June 6th, 2020

What with the lockdown and everything, I’ve been feeding my comic-book habit the past three months via eBay. As package after package of moldering old comic books has arrived at my house, I have reassured my wife that, yes, every one of these packages has included incredibly good investments that would continue to accrue in value throughout my life and be worth a pot of gold after I was gone. Then I’ve run upstairs with them to quickly extract the comic books and read them.

Today I drove past my local comics shop and discovered — they were open! So I promptly went inside (enmasked), seized upon my longstanding order of new comics that awaited me, and spent an hour picking through six boxes of old comics on offer at the outrageously low and somewhat unjust price of only one dollar each. When I was done, I hefted 124 of those up to the counter along with my new comics, and dropped about $165 at the comics shop.

How refreshing to buy things like this in person! And while observing curve-flattening pandemic precautions. The store had the fashionable plexiglass shield protecting me from the cashier and me from him, and I did my best to circumvent the other five shoppers allowed in the store at the same time. (At one point, a gentleman brought an actual child into the comics shop, which I believe put us at the illicit number of seven people. Or maybe 6.5, given that the kid was small. But someone left almost immediately.)

The previous night, I had gone and gotten a haircut. Yes, a haircut. It had been 10 weeks since my last haircut; at this point, the only way to get the hair off my face and behind my ears was to plaster it down, and also to disguise the effect by growing a distracting full beard. My wife had offered repeatedly to cut my hair, but I begged off, confronted daily with the evidence of the haircut she’d given our teenage son. I had texted my favorite barber, a young man named Danny who somehow seems to have studied barbering in the 1950s, given that his shop plays Rat Pack music and that he will offer you a beer while you’re getting your hair cut. Last time I was there, I spotted actual, real, old comic books in the reading pile, just like when I was a kid in the late 1960s. When I texted Danny to see if he had reopened, his texted reply squealed like a little girl:  “Lee! Yes I’m cutting hair again! Just started back up on Tuesday. What day and time would you like to come in???” This was the sound of someone eager to cut hair, and to book actual revenue for the first time since Q1. On my visit I discovered that some things had changed — the waiting area was now roped off; I was robed with a plastic sheet that was disposed of when we were done; and I wasn’t offered a beer now because I had to wear a mask during the entire procedure — but when I saw myself in the mirror I actually looked like myself again, and tipped Danny forty bucks atop a thirty-dollar haircut.

“You want any change?” he said, looking at it.

“Nope!” I said, still marveling over my miraculous transformation from the prehistoric figure of only 30 minutes earlier. The effect was like the shock ending of a “Twilight Zone” episode.

After lugging all those comic books to my car in a very large two-handled bag that Leland the comics clerk had found under the counter, I drove over to All About Poke about a mile away. This represented the first time since March that I hadn’t eaten a lunch made from my stores at home. (Other than that time I hunched on the curb at the local supermarket like a derelict and ate out of a bag.) I ordered a medium poke bowl with a base of half brown rice, half salad, with edamame, krab meat, octopus, spicy tuna, albacore, carrot shreds, cucumber slices, green onion, cherry tomatoes, and masago, dressed in a sauce of yuzu ponzu and mustard shoyu, and topped with sesame seeds and furikake. Yum yum yum. I eagerly paid my $14, tipped a couple bucks more, and headed for my office to enjoy that while checking the mail and printing out a script I’m reading for a playwright.

While eating, I reflected on all the glorious errands I was now able to do, now that reopening was underway and so long as we retain precautions. I had even dropped off my dry cleaning. Boy, was that guy happy to see me. An immigrant from, as far as I can tell, seven different Middle Eastern countries that he once named for me upon request, he had just moved his operation to this new location, and then watched his business plummet when it was shuttered. I couldn’t imagine his anxiety level. It had been months since I’d seen him — but what dry cleaning could I have had? Since March, I’d had exactly zero in-person meetings. It had taken three months to generate four shirts that required his laundry service because I don’t do ironing, and one that needed stain removal because I was clumsy with lunch one day. It wasn’t much, but when I handed it over, his eyes glimmered with hope.

After lunch, and still filled with the excitement of crossing off all those to-do’s taunting me, I texted my wife and suggested that I swing by and pick her up to do the grocery shopping. The supermarket was having a sale on a number of things we buy, plus I’d been stockpiling coupons. She agreed, so I swooped in, judiciously hid my monster comic-book haul upstairs while she wasn’t looking, and picked up the coupons and her and also the list we’d prepared. I work my grocery list like a maniac, carefully planning what I’m going to buy, and just where the discount comes from; I have codes for coupon (cleverly, “c”) or newspaper (“p,” for “paper”), or digital coupon (“d,” but I may be giving too much away now) to help ensure that I get all the appropriate discounts. Then I watch for those in-store specials, and I also use my son’s employee fob, which gets us another 10% off a whole host of things. As an example, the flavored seltzer water that I like, normally $3.99 a 12-pack, was on sale for $2.77 a 12-pack (“p”), which, when added with my $1.25 coupon (“c”) made it a tremendous bargain. Meanwhile, my wife wanted the seltzer water she prefers, which was by comparison something like thousands of dollars for a few scattered skinny cans, so I reminded her of how diligently we need to feed our retirement plan. “Oh, like those comic books,” she said, which unfortunately required me to remind her again that those are investments, while there is no lasting return on overpriced seltzer water.  By the time we checked out, we’d purchased what the register tape showed to be over $300 in groceries for about $230, and then my coupons brought it down to $188. I also made sure to get my gas-mileage points, which can reduce the cost of a fill-up by as much as $1 a gallon.

We made one last stop, to the local liquor store. I picked up a bottle of malbec for me, and a bottle of chardonnay for her, and a sixer of stout for the two of us. Yes, our supermarket sells alcohol, but we like to support the corner liquor store. We’ve grown to know David, who owns it, and his staff, and we like them all, and we like that they feed treats to our dogs when we bring them by. I also wanted to cash in a winning lottery ticket. “I’ve won a million dollars!” I proudly exclaimed, hoisting my Loteria ticket aloft. With a skeptical look, David ran the card across a laser scanner and revealed that I’d won five bucks. The tab for the alcohol was $38, so he wanted to know how I was going to pay. I pulled out a credit card for our purchases on the counter, and said, “But I want the five bucks in cash.”

And that’s how, when I got home from providing $478 in service to the local economy, I came to have five dollars in my wallet.

Signs of the times

Sunday, May 3rd, 2020

Because there are no events, no plays, no concerts, no open bars, and therefore nowhere to drive to, my walks all around town continue.

Yesterday evening, I walked to our local supermarket, Ralphs (yes, again), this time to pick up the most important staple:  coffee. Yes, we still had mediocre coffee (the kind my wife drinks:  that stuff that comes in the jumbo red plastic tub), but I drink my coffee black, so I like it to be actual coffee. Imagine my dismay upon waking up and discovering that the real coffee, the kind I buy and brew, was gone. Turns out that my 17-year-old discovered there’s a difference. “Hey!” he said later, when I asked him about it, “your coffee is better!” So now I’ll be buying twice as much of it, I guess.

So, I decided to walk to Ralphs. My wife proceeded to write up an entire shopping list.

“I’m walking,” I said, after looking at it. The last time I told her I was walking to Ralphs, which is a mile away, she asked me to bring back two 12-pound hams. This time she had a list that ran the length of the paper, and included things we didn’t even need, like toilet paper.

“We have a case of toilet paper,” I said. I know, because it’s sitting unopened on the landing leading to the upstairs bedrooms.

“Just in case,” she said.

She also wanted two bottles of hazelnut creamer, kalamata olives (okay — those were for me), maybe a roast, and other things I couldn’t imagine carrying home in my arms in the dark for a mile.

“I can’t carry all this.”

“Okay,” she said. “Then just one bottle of creamer. Just get the one. Do you want a backpack?”

My plan was similar to the one described here:  Visit to the ATM across from Ralphs to get cash, use that cash at the cigar shop in that strip mall so I’d have plenty of cigars for the week — and especially for the exciting cross-country virtual cigar party my friend Doug was going to host tonight! — and then go over to Ralphs, make a deposit at the other bank’s ATM in there, and buy coffee. Coffee and, I guess, whatever else I could carry. My wife outfitted me with a black backpack usually reserved for hiking. Now I really felt like an apocalyptic wanderer stocking up on provisions. At Ralphs I got two boxes of salad, one bottle of creamer, a jar of olives, two bags of good coffee, a bag of chips that were free because I had a coupon, and a couple of other things. I slipped them into the backpack and headed back home.

One thing I’ve noticed in these pandemic perambulations  around my neighborhood is colorful chalk messages written on sidewalks. Some appear written by children, some by adults. Sometimes they are words of encouragement, like “hang in there” or “we’re all in this together.” (I’ve seen each of those.) Last night, I came across this one:

yay

At first, I wondered if we’d had a visit from my friend Joe, who lives in Atlantic City and who in my 37 years of friendship with him has always been known to say, “Oh, yay!” But Joe would never leave out the “Oh,” and certainly never the exclamation mark. Still, it made me think of him, so I texted him the photo and he happily made it his cover photo on Facebook.

Other messages are demanding. Tonight, while walking my dogs in a different direction, I came across this:

PutYourPhoneDown
Yes, it reads “Put YouR Phone DOWN.” For the record, my phone was down, and in my pocket — that is, until I came across this and took a photo of it.

Signs like these are all over town. They are our time’s version of the hobo signs left to advise other drifters in the 1930s that the house behind this walkway had a nice lady who would feed you, or would offer work, or had a vicious dog to avoid.

When I got home last night finally with the groceries, I checked my phone to see how much I’d walked that day. I had walked to my office in the morning to conduct my playwriting workshop (virtually, of course), then walked back, then took the dogs for a long walk, then, as I said, walked a mile to Ralphs and then a mile back — and all of that added up to 10,369 steps.

“I just cleared ten thousand steps today,” I told my wife. “We’re always told that we’re supposed to walk ten thousand steps a day — but this is crazy! Who has time for this?” Leaving aside the fact that I average eight miles a day of walking every year at Comic-Con. But that’s Comic-Con! Have I said how much I miss the gym? I miss the gym. I can burn twice as many calories, and more enjoyably, and there’s a sauna, a steam room, and a jacuzzi. And then I drive home.

My wife was eyeing me as I pulled the meager groceries out of the backpack. “It’s like the London Blitz,” she said, watching as I produced two bags of coffee. “Ye got any chocolates in there? Nylons?”

I could’ve bought those at the supermarket — but I couldn’t have bought a single cleaning product. The entire aisle had been stripped bare — again. Anything that might kill germs or disinfect in any way was nowhere available.

Which is definitely another sign of the times.