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


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Calling all copy editors

Sunday, December 27th, 2015

Dear Los Angeles Times, I write about you out of sorrow, not anger. (Far be it from me to kick you while you’re down. I am rooting for you, Los Angeles Times.) But in the spirit of love, I have to ask, Do you still employ copy editors? Is there anyone — even one person — assigned to read the paper before it goes to print?

I’ve read only half of the Arts & Books section so far this morning. I’m going to keep reading, but it’s going to be difficult to forget these two things I’ve found already.

Here’s the second-worst thing I’ve found, in the Ask Amy column, where Amy advises a person not to tell her (or his) boss about future plans to leave the position and move away:

Work toward your goal, and once you have protected for your own downside you can disclose your plans to everyone.

Fine advice, if you can understand it. In this use, “protected” is a transitive verb, meaning it requires an object. Without that object, the verb makes no sense, and we’re left to wonder just what should be protected. Herself? Her own ass? Let’s see what happens if we supply our own potential objects for this verb.

“Work toward your goal, and once you have protected humankind for your own downside you can disclose your plans to everyone.”

“Work toward your goal, and once you have protected Cthulhu for your own downside you can disclose your plans to everyone.”

“Work toward your goal, and once you have protected Ted Cruz for your own downside you can disclose your plans to everyone.”

Really, it could be anything.

Granted, this was in the Ask Amy column, but given her response, I wouldn’t Ask Amy anything. She can’t communicate. You might Ask, but her response is a Zen riddle. Perhaps a copy editor should have caught this and inserted the most likely object:  “yourself.” Now it would read, “Work toward your goal, and once you have protected yourself for your own downside you can disclose your plans to everyone.” It’s still clumsy, because, again, Amy’s no writer, but it’s more intelligible. Maybe the best response Amy could have written would have been this one:  “No. Don’t.” Which is awfully direct — but I have to think that anyone who writes to a newspaper column to seek advice on whether or not to tell her boss months in advance that she’s considering moving to the big city, and that therefore said boss should strongly consider hiring the new applicant for the assistant position who would be ideal for taking over her job, well, I think that person needs a stern talking-to. About not being a bonehead.

That was the second-worst thing I found in today’s paper. Here’s the worst-written thing I’ve found. (So far. Bear in mind, I’m only a few pages into today’s edition.)

In a roundup about the 2015 edition of “Best American Comics,” Carolina Miranda writes of one artist:

“Originally born in Ireland, David Sandlin moved to the U.S. as a teenager and now lives in New York, where he teaches at the School of Visual Arts.”

Okay, hands up, who knows what David Sandlin has in common with Jesus. Anyone? That’s right — each of them was born more than once. Jesus was born, died, and then was born again as a grown man coming back from the dead in a cave. David Sandlin was originally born in Ireland, and then I guess he was born somewhere else (it goes unnamed), and then he moved to the U.S. Given his two births, Sandlin must be an interesting character. I was born only once (that I know of), and I don’t remember it at all. I’d like to ask Sandlin about his own experiences.

I wonder if the unfortunate construction of “Originally born in Ireland…” is actually the result of bad editing (as opposed to no editing). Or if it is indeed Carolina Miranda’s mistake. If it’s the latter, it’s the sort of mistake that we all make at one point or another, and I’m sure she winced when she saw it in print. I enjoyed the rest of her piece, and was thrilled to see alternative comics given a two-page spread in the sadly dwindling newspaper — but now the big takeaway is the glaring error.

More of these errors were caught and corrected when newspapers could afford more and better copy editors.

Sometimes I wish I could read the way most people read. But mostly, I wish we had more and better editors.

The shape I’m in

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

 

Recently I had an injury that was only getting worse. This was despite my steady application of my mother’s remedy for all ailments. That’s right, I was ignoring it.

To be accurate, Mom actually has two treatments she prescribes for whatever ails you. They are:

  1. Tell yourself you’re fine, and it’ll just go away;
  2. Take a shot of whiskey and go to bed.

These have served her well. At age 90, she’s still robust and stern and will gladly set you straight if you don’t stop it right now. (Whatever it is you’re doing.) So for the past two or three years, I’ve been telling myself that this leg problem was just fine and that it would go away. Unfortunately it hasn’t, and treatment #2 hasn’t made a dent in it either. In the past couple of weeks  the pain had grown so distracting l that I felt like the guy in the Magritte painting who can’t see around the apple. So, reluctantly, I turned to a different sort of healer, the sort with no reported success in our family history. I called a doctor.

I’ll set aside for the moment just what it took to get in to see said doctor, a doctor on my “plan” (whatever that means), and one whom I’m theoretically entitled to see. I will say that I made this call in early December, explained the situation (“I’m healthy and fit — except I can barely walk! It’s excruciating!” and was offered an appointment on… February 23rd, a full seven weeks later. “But… I can’t walk!” I repeated to the young woman on the phone. As with most people I’ve encountered in positions of low authority, she was eager to flaunt her power to disappoint. “We can prescribe medications to alleviate the pain,” she chirped. Evidently, it was okay if my leg fell off, so long as it didn’t hurt so much will it do so. So I called the same doctor’s office in the neighboring city, poured on as much honey as possible, made a friend, and presto! got an appointment for the next day to see the very same guy.

I’d been to this doctor for this same condition two years before, when he gave me a cortisone shot and told me that this problem, which feels somewhat like a buzzsaw cutting into my right flank, would go away. “It’s bursitis,” he said. Eventually it would clear up. And he was right. But he never said that it would come back. In fact, it’s never fully gone away; it’s always lingering there, waiting to reassert itself, like the Clintons. Sometimes it’s more powerful, while other times it’s just nagging away at the edge of my perception until it gets its way. Again, like the Clintons.

The doctor asked me what I was doing that was causing bursitis in my right leg.

“What do you mean?” I asked. How do I know? I didn’t even know it was bursitis.

“You’re doing something to aggravate it.”

“Walking on it,” I said.

“Something else.”

“Everything I do with the right leg I do with the left leg. The left leg is fine.”

“But you’re doing something.”

“Again, walking. And seriously:  I use both of these legs in tandem. When I’m using the one, I’m using the other. It’s not like I’m hopping around town just on the right leg.” This line of questioning seemed like an exact replica of his fruitless interrogation from two years earlier.

“Well,” he said, “You’ll figure it out. In the meantime, I’ll give you a cortisone shot for now. And then you’ll be fine and it’ll just go away.”

(Shades of my mother!)

So, two years later, same mysterious diagnosis — “You’re doing something!” — and same temporary treatment plan:  immediate alleviation, followed by a long period of hoping. Which calls for ignoring the time-honored saying “Hope is not a plan.” Given that I could barely stand let alone walk, and that my wife had taken to referring to my perambulations as “hobbling around,” meaning that now I was visibly lurching around town like Quasimodo, I opted for this incomplete treatment plan. At least it was something.

A few minutes later, a raven-tressed assistant in her mid-20’s was dabbing antiseptic wipe onto my bare flank while both of us tried to overlook the fact that I was mostly undressed in the crucial areas during this treatment. Then the doctor interrupted our special alone time to return with a needle filled with what looked like window sealant, which he injected deep into the internal cracks of my walking apparatus. He readied his exit, but not before giving me a final instruction:  Don’t go to the gym. For two to three months.

Now, I do my best to breeze through life. Really. But my best is pretty miserable; just the way I hear our language getting used is enough to wind me up. To the degree that I can seem calm and collected,  it’s because I go to the gym. Four times a week. The gym is my release valve. After 15 minutes of stretches, 45 minutes of cardio, half an hour of lifting, then the sauna, the steam room, the jacuzzi and a shower, I’m too bedraggled to have any stress. In fact, I’m so de-stressed, you could probably run over my sternum with a tank and I wouldn’t have it in me to worry about it. The idea of skipping the gym for two to three months seemed impractical in the extreme. I’d have to take up heroin.

I explained detail that there was no way I could lay off exercise for two to three months. Then he offered a compromise:  that after three weeks, I could take walks. Was he really suggesting that not only could I not go to the gym for up to three months, I shouldn’t take walks for three weeks? Why not order me up a wheelchair? Why not just put me in a home now and get it over with? Why not shoot his glue gun into my brain and be done with it?

“You don’t want to aggravate it,” he said. “Or do permanent damage.” This sounded reasonable. Even if it was advice about a condition that he’d assured me for two years now would just magically go away.

So…. I stayed away from the gym. For two weeks. In those two weeks, my stomach and my brain immediately lit up with the idea of “Vacation!” Like: “Hey… if we’re not going to the gym… we’re kind of on vacation! Let’s live large!” So for two weeks I just ate and drank whatever. Cookies? Hand them over. Popcorn? I’ll have three bowls, thanks. Late-night cereal? Sure — and two servings. No, don’t cut the fat off the ham. More butter, please! And crack open some more wine while you’re at it.  You’re not working out at the gym while watching their constant reruns of “My 600 Lb. Life.” Just eat and enjoy.

Two weeks of this and I felt like I was sinking into a bog. I was loaded with stress, and with food. I was notably less cranky now that nobody was spearing my hip with every step, but my brain and my entire being felt clouded  and anxious. Finally I got some advice from another medical person about cardio and routines I could do that would in no way involve putting weight on my right leg, and so on Sunday I went back to the gym, feeling very much like Moby Dick pulling into harbor.

After my workout and my shower, I crossed paths with the standing scale in the men’s locker room. My plan is to live as long as possible in good health because I have a lot of things I’d like to do and see, including attend Dick Cheney’s trial in the Hague. (It’s on my wish list.) So I weigh myself on this scale at the gym every time before getting dressed, to keep tabs on my progress, or lack thereof. Overall, the scale has reported happy news to me all year. (Setting aside that trip to New Jersey, The Weight Gain State.) But now it looked at me with sinister intent. “Oh, no,” I thought, “this is going to be bad.” I got on, naked in apprehension after  two weeks of eating crap and doing nothing, and found that… I’d lost four pounds. I got off the scale, zeroed it out, got on, set it again, and I’d still lost four pounds. As the French say, Incroyable! (And they know something about eating.)

The ways of the body are mysterious.

Sufficiently caulked, my leg isn’t hurting me any more, so I’m back at the gym, while being careful not to exercise that leg needlessly. But I haven’t changed my recent (over)eating habits, freshly armed with the excuse that, well, it’s the holidays. Regarding my weight loss, I don’t have an explanation. I do know that I haven’t eagerly shared it with the people I know who are working hard to lose a pound or even an ounce and getting nowhere. I’m sure that the story of my Christmas miracle — the miracle of weight loss through gluttony and sloth — isn’t one they’d appreciate.

Today’s music video

Monday, December 21st, 2015

This morning’s Los Angeles Times included a story announcing that “Miley Cyrus is back!”

Some of us hadn’t been aware she’d gone anywhere. In fact, not only has she been omnipresent, it has seemed impossible to get rid of her. So I don’t know what they’re talking about.

When one hears of Miley Cyrus, as one is forced to do, given her co-dominance of the news with Donald Trump, one often also hears that she has stolen her act from Madonna. But I think there’s an even earlier antecedent, one who first laid those well-worn tracks (as it were). And below, you find the truth, in this delectable demonstration of music and dance.

On the shopping block

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

This year, my wife and I planned a Thanksgiving dinner for 13 people: our five family members, plus eight guests.

On the day before Thanksgiving, I realized that we had only four dining chairs. A conclusion that should speak for itself, but here goes: Where would the other nine people sit?

Before I address that, we should ponder why a family of five has only four dining chairs. One could also add onto that, Why does a family of five also have a dining table actually intended for only four? What message is being sent here? About 25 years ago, I wrote a play called “Uncle Hem” in which a dysfunctional family of five has only four chairs, with one clearly and tyrannically reserved for the domineering female head of the household; throughout the play, the other four are constantly jockeying for a place to sit (or be) in that family. At the time, I had no idea just how prescient this play would be, although in the play it seems intentional, while in my family’s case, at some point my wife and I bought a four-person dining set and then never got a new one as our family grew. This seems to have served us well enough, especially when our eldest was off at college or living elsewhere, and when we’ve had a guest or two, we’ve added a padded folding chair. But eight more people? Unless they wanted to sit outside on patio furniture for their Thanksgiving meal — an idea my wife floated! — we’d need more chairs.

Which is how I came to join Costco last month.

First, on that day before Thanksgiving, I called around at party rental houses seeking rental chairs. When I told them that I needed them for Thanksgiving, I was laughed at. Evidently, one reserves party rental chairs much further in advance during a heavy party-rental-chair season. So it became clear that I’d need to buy them — which was fine. We entertain frequently and hey, perhaps people might like to sit down now and then. I texted my 13-year-old and offered him lunch of his choice if he’d accompany me to Costco. He agreed, I drove home to pick him up in my wife’s minivan, and off we were.

After 20 minutes of circling the Costco parking lot like a carrion bird waiting for someone to die in the desert, we got lucky as a spot was vacated by an Asian couple screaming at their children in a shrill and unrecognizable language. Inside, Costco proved to be just what I’d feared: an overwhelming, overstuffed, impossibly impassable hive of shopping frenzy. I thought, This is like a pyramid in Ben Carson’s mind, but instead of being stuffed with grain preserved for millennia, it’s stuffed with people elbowing each other out of the way for goods. But, yep, I found what we needed right away —  padded folding chairs that readily passed my personal comfort testing — and so after joining Costco on the spot, I commandeered a long sleigh-like cart, loaded up the chairs, and carefully steered the sleigh through narrow lanes, edging around crowded display pits and huddled masses of shoppers. Much like the 1970 Ford Country Squire station wagon, the sleigh proved impossible to see over; whatever lay ahead of that extended hood and, gracious, down by the wheels, was most definitely terra incognito. Nearing the register, a robust frazzle-haired middle-aged woman wheeled around and shrieked at me, “STOP HITTING ME WITH YOUR CART! THAT’S THE SECOND TIME YOU HIT ME!” I apologized, and then said, “If you’d said something the first time, maybe I wouldn’t have done it the second time.” Which just added to her visible frenzy. I paid for our purchase — cash or Amex only!, the ways of Costco being arcane to us — and we headed home to unload.

Since then, I’ve returned to Costco twice and both times have been unable to park. I suppose I could ride a bicycle there, but given that the entire point of Costco is to overburden yourself with purchases, how would I get any of it home? The “enterprise” membership to Costco cost $110, meaning that those $14.99 chairs thus far have actually cost me $28.74. I hope to be able to park at Costco some time again in the next year so that I can buy other things just to lower the per-item cost of those chairs.

Yesterday, my wife and daughter and I went grocery shopping. I floated the idea of going to Costco. My wife, who had been excited when I joined Costco, said, “You want to go to Costco? NOW? You’ll never find parking! There’s nowhere to park!” My daughter, who went with me on one of those fruitless trawlings of the Costco parking lot, grimaced at the thought. “NO!” she said, “NO! I don’t want to go!” The previous time I had been headed to Costco, my youngest had insisted that I pull over at the next corner, immediately, and drop him off so that he could walk one mile home instead of going to Costco. Idea for updating Dante: There’s the 7th Circle of Hell, and below that, there’s the Costco Parking Lot.

So, yesterday, my daughter and I went to Target instead. Target (or “tar-shay”) is the other approved shopping destination of blue staters. Yes, we are stereotypes. We will never get caught dead in Walmart or Kmart, and Sears remains iffy, but Costco and Target are approved, acceptable alternatives. At Target, we loaded up on La Croix. La Croix is the approved beverage of blue staters. Twenty-five years ago, when I worked at 20th Century Fox, I learned about Perrier and Pellegrino, which, at the time, I couldn’t imagine drinking. Now my family is deeply into La Croix sparkling waters, and especially the abstruse flavors such as pamplemousse and, newly discovered yesterday!, mure-pepino (a.k.a. blackberry-cucumber). This may all be filtered with radioactive waste, for all I know, and it definitely gives me gas, but it’s a thrill to sample it blindly over ice and try to figure out what faint flavor this overpriced carbonated water contains. It deeply thrills me in some way that when I was back in southern New Jersey in November, my sons and I discovered that not only did local supermarkets not carry La Croix, no one had heard of it. This seemed like a victory for our sophisticated tastes and a reminder that I’d been right to leave provincial South Jersey behind decades before. (These self-congratulatory feelings, however fleeting, explain the triumph of upscale branding, in which it’s better to say a drink has the flavor of “pomme-baya” rather than “apple-berry” and also why our house is filled with Apple products. You’re welcome, Apple shareholders.)

After piling 10 cases of La Croix into our cart, we headed for the kitchen section to review griddles, my having thrown away our griddle that morning when I noticed its surface coating shredding off into my eggs. I found a perfect new griddle hanging on display at the price of $29.99, and then did something I don’t believe I’ve ever done before — I fired up my Amazon app to see what the same thing would cost if ordered online that very moment. Amazon claimed that the griddle is “normally” $45, “normal” being some time period that I don’t believe ever existed, but that it was available right that moment for $20.99. Which meant that I was going to pay a 33% premium if I wanted it right now. I thought about this and decided two things: 1) I didn’t want to wait 1-2 days to have a griddle, this being an instant-gratification culture and therefore a delay in purchasing seeming frankly un-American;  and 2) it seemed deeply “unfair” to shop at Target, which is assuming all those brick-and-mortar costs, so that I could buy at Amazon. (Leaving aside whether or not it’s “unfair” for Target to try to charge me more.) So I bought it, feeling very blue-state-good about doing the right thing. Never mind that one of the reasons we went to Target is because at our local Ralphs supermarket La Croix is $4.29 a box, which seems unreasonable to me and would therefore limit my enjoyment of kiwi-sandia and other flavors, and at Target it’s $3.69, and so, yes, we’d made this trip to save $6, and we’d just overspent on something else by $9. Proving once again that price may be important, but branding is paramount.

Emma and I checked out with our purchases and started to wheel our heavily laden shopping cart outside when we noticed it was raining. This is newsworthy around here. Not just raining — pouring. Well, not to worry. We’d just wheel the cart to our car, which I’d parked to the extreme west, past Lowe’s and Staples, so as to avoid the Costco-like infuriating parking lot of misery and death that fronts Target. We got oh, about half a block away, just to the edge of Lowe’s, and were not yet soaked through, when we came upon a post-apocalyptic collection of abandoned shopping carts, a sight right out of “The Walking Dead.” Now I had a sinking feeling. “Um… I hope our cart is going to make it past here,” I offered. Because at some shopping centers, carts have sensors that prohibit their moving too far away and getting stolen. “I don’t think so,” Emma said. And, sure enough, we then ground to a halt. We couldn’t move the cart one micron. It was like trying to plow a field by shoving a Kenmore dishwasher ahead of you. So Emma pulled up the hood on her sweatshirt and waited while I ran off into the rain to retrieve my car. When I got back, the closest I could park was 30 feet away, so there we were, shuttling cases of La Croix and that griddle in the downpour.

When I hear some people excitedly offer up plans to “let’s go shopping!” I can’t figure out their enthusiasm. And I don’t think that’s going to change.

A., Ken A.

Monday, December 14th, 2015

Last night, I took my two sons and my 87-year-old retired-CIA-agent friend Ken to see the latest James Bond flick. It’s our routine: I take Ken to see all the spy films, and then he tells me what they got wrong.

Of the recent remake of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” which was well-reviewed but with warnings that it was “slow,” Ken said, “Too much action.” Too much to be realistic, in other words.

He very much liked “Bridge of Spies” — as did I! — except for the part when a CIA agent pulls out ID to show to Tom Hanks’ character. “We didn’t have that,” Ken said. Of course — because then they would have been identifiable.

Re “Spectre,” Ken found the death count unrealistic. “The first thing they told us,” Ken said, when he was initiated into the CIA in the 1950s, “was don’t kill anybody.” I pointed out that James Bond has a literal license to kill, but Ken was unmoved. He did like the special effects, though.

Not having a great expertise in the actuality of spycraft, I’m free to enjoy these films completely. I am, however, well-versed in the realities of being a certain age. I could not buy that Daniel Craig, who at this point is only slightly younger than Ken, could jump 30 feet from the parapet of an Italian villa then run to his car, get in and drive. I have no doubt he could make that jump — and die. Or crush his spine. Or lie collapsed in a heap on the cement below, his ankles and legs broken. But jumping and running in his perfect designer suit and his dress shoes? No. Craig and I are similar ages and build and lately I find that I’m surprisingly careful walking down my two front steps.

Even more than that, I don’t buy the fashion. In fact, I can’t buy the fashion, and neither could James Bond. Either a British civil servant makes far more than I would expect — and why hasn’t their conservative government put a lid on that? — or his wardrobe is pure fantasy. Mind you, I was enamored with every bit of everything he wore throughout the movie. I liked the chukka boots, I loved the khaki biker jacket from Matchless, and I admired every one of the suits (from Tom Ford, a designer so extraordinary that, according to his website, he lives in three cities — quite a feat, heretofore accomplishable only by either Doctor Manhattan or Doctor Who). I wanted all of it. Even the sunglasses, and I don’t wear sunglasses. I raced home to jump online and see what it all was, where it could be had, and how many Swiss bank accounts I’d have to raid. Happily, GQ of course did an entire spread on 007’s wardrobe. Well, the sunglasses alone are $405. Granted, that’s to cover both eyes, but still. The jacket is $1325 (when converted from British pounds), so perhaps I’ll keep a lookout for it at Nordstrom Rack.

Or, I could buy knockoffs.

Just now I found this knockoff site, which claims, “This brown James Bond Suit is a reproduced version that is inspired from the Hollywood Movie ‘Spectre’. Daniel Craig wore this Brown Suit in Spectre as James Bond.” But, see, here’s the thing. I don’t know if they got the stitching right, but I do know they didn’t get the wording right. Not only did he not wear this suit, saying it’s “brown” shows that you don’t understand at all. True designers would call it “dun” or “ecru” or “saddle.” Not BROWN, for God’s sake. When the entire point is CLASS — unattainable class, in the historically formidable and oppressive British manner, a manner that says we have THIS and you have NOUGHT, using the word BROWN signifies that you have NOUGHT, and your knockoffs are no doubt NOUGHT. (See how I’ve used “nought” rather than “naught”? That’s because I’m using a British term — i.e., I’m working within the subtleties of language, as one could do with fashion knockoffs. If one were better at it.)

On the drive home, Ken regaled us with tales of actual spying, including one where he and his colleagues sat in a stadium in Austria where they knew the KGB would be. They went there expressly to watch from afar with binoculars and to write down who was there. This is not the sort of thing I’ve seen James Bond do in any of his dozen-plus films, but granted, he’s MI6, not CIA. As they scanned the crowd and found their opposing number, detailing each face, Ken and his cohorts came onto the last one — and that one was holding binoculars, scanning Ken and his group, while someone next to him jotted down names. That’s the sort of irony that would make for a good spy film from the Coen Brothers, but not for a Bond film. Moreover, I got the impression that everyone involved was just wearing whatever they were wearing, and that everyone could afford it.

Fuck, yes

Saturday, December 12th, 2015

Mary Norris (The New Yorker’s “Comma Queen”) on the thrill of profanity in print, which is something I know a bit about. A couple of weeks ago, a playwright friend of mine announced proudly that a play of his had been included in a collection of works for middle-schoolers. I said, “Do you think I should submit? If I take the word ‘fuck’ out of… um… ALL of my plays?”

(Which is not quite the case. For three years running, I’ve had a play performed at the annual Moving Arts holiday party. The first two years, the plays were rigorously clean, just because I didn’t think those particular characters would sling around the eff word. This year, because my characters were plotting a backstabbing school board race, I said fuck that. This play, “Campain,” will not be appearing in a collection of works for middle-schoolers.)

One of the parts of Norris’ piece that I especially enjoy is her noting that highfalutin’ people have made proper use of unmentionable words, including Pushkin, Lermontov, Dostoevsky and others making hash with Russian forms of “cock,” “fuck,” “cunt” and the other usual favorites. Why have these otherwise respectable and noteworthy figures done so? Because these expressions make language fun. You know it, and I know it too.

Speaking of which, the excerpt below may show why in college when presented with my choice of semester-long tutorial, I chose Chaucer (much to my ongoing delight). Here’s a bit of bawd from the bard, from “The Summoner’s Tale” in The Canterbury Tales. The next time you hear someone railing against “kids these days,” remember, this was written by a grown man, a fucking government official and courtier, about 1386, for the enjoyment of his peers:

“Lo, hear my oath! In me shall truth not lack.”
“Now then, come put your hand right down my back,”
Replied this man, “and grope you well behind;
For underneath my buttocks shall you find
A thing that I have hid in privity.”
“Ah,” thought the friar, “this shall go with me!”
And down he thrust his hand right to the cleft,
In hope that he should find there some good gift.
And when the sick man felt the friar here
Groping about his hole and all his rear,
Into his hand he let the friar a fart.
There is no stallion drawing loaded cart
That might have let a fart of such a sound.
The friar leaped up as with wild lion’s bound:
“Ah, treacherous churl,” he cried, “by God’s own bones,
I’ll see that he who scorns me thus atones;

“New” Batman v. Superman trailer

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

Batman’s never looked so good as here. Plus, it’s so retro!

Enough is more than enough

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Six weeks ago, I posted “Ho hum, another shooting.” By some estimations, there have been almost four dozen more mass shootings in America since then.

It appears to be too much to ask that elected representatives do something about this. One of my friends on Facebook theorized that the gun lobby effectively owns Congress. But you know what there’s even more of than NRA supporters?

Parents.

And parents, especially middle-aged parents with children in college, or with grandchildren out and about, tend to vote in large numbers. So if Congress is afraid of alienating the gun lobby, maybe the best solution is to make them more afraid of alienating the parental lobby worried about their offspring getting shot up.

So now I’m encouraging everyone to join Everytown for Gun Safety.

As I stated back here (in reference to another of the 355 mass shootings so far this year in the United States), I’m not anti-gun. I actually like guns. I’m anti-gun-massacres.

Everytown for Gun Safety (note from the name: they’re not “taking guns away”) has a common-sense platform for reducing gun violence. The organization was formed by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats and, perhaps most importantly, mothers who were sick and tired of shootings.

Please visit their website by clicking here, learn more — and join. Because when our political power outweighs that of the NRA, we’ll be more likely to stop mass shootings.

Wisdom

Saturday, November 28th, 2015

This morning in my playwriting workshop, when, in one of the plays being read, a character said he’d have to take another one to Las Vegas, I asked, “How far away is that?” I wanted to know because facts provide context, and propel motivation and therefore story. And I didn’t know how far that drive would be, or what the ramifications would be, because I didn’t know where this scene was set.

“It’s set in Area 51,” someone volunteered. (Not the playwright — I ask playwrights to remain silent, listening while their scenes are discussed.)

“Was it established where Area 51 is?” I asked, “because not everyone knows.”

There was a general murmur that of course everyone knows where Area 51 is. “It’s in Nevada!” a few people offered.

I turned to a young woman in the workshop and asked her, “Do you know where it is?”

“I have no idea,” she said.

“It’s in Arizona,” I said confidently.

“Oh, okay,” she said.

The guy next to her — a very smart person, like everyone in this workshop of eight very smart and talented writers — said, “Is it? Really? I thought it was in Nevada.”

“Nope,” I said, “Arizona.”

“Hmph,” he said, reconsidering.

By now there was pure outrage from the people who definitely knew that Area 51 is in Nevada. “See how easy that is?” I said, scanning the looks of puzzlement. “I’ve already got almost half the room convinced. Just by making shit up — but sounding convincing.” It’s a playwriting trick, making people sound confident, but it’s also handy in real life. The sound of conviction carries far, even when there’s nothing beneath it.

Remember that the next time you watch one of these presidential debates.

App-alling

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

You know those seemingly innocent, fun Facebook apps that do things like revealing your “Most Used Words”? Here’s why you might not want to use them.