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


Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

Citizen Boehner

Saturday, September 26th, 2015

I have a number of friends who have been influential and highly placed Republicans. (I say “have been” because most of them have left the party. Or, perhaps more appropriately, the party has left them.) They’ve run campaigns, or served in significant roles in various statehouse or federal administrations. Two years ago, I was having lunch with one of them when I heard myself saying, “I kind of like John Boehner. I don’t agree with him, but I think he’s an American patriot. And I feel sorry for him.”

Yesterday, when I saw that he resigned,  while my Democrat friends were cheering, my heart sank. As I posted on one liberal friend’s Facebook page, “We’ll see how much you like what comes next.”

Vitriol isn’t new to American politics, and isn’t new to politics anywhere. (As the histories of ancient Greece and Rome attest.) But I wish we had less of it, and more focus on areas where viewpoints converge to fix actual problems. One of my former-Republican friends advises people to find the area of agreement and work on that. To do that, people have to stay civil. We could use more of that.

I’ve done my fair share of mocking political leaders I don’t agree with; lately, unless they’re truly vile or evil (same word, spelled differently), I resist. I woke up this morning again to find hundreds of my Facebook friends going on about John Boehner’s “orange skin” and his propensity for tears, and giving ha-ha-ha’s at him. Here’s what I feel I know about John Boehner:  because he came from humble origins, he was indeed frequently moved by finding himself second in line to the presidency; because he actually cared not only about the aims of his party but the needs of the country, he tried to wrangle a recurring heretic mob into agreement. Was he a successful Speaker? No. Will we like what comes next? No. Part of me believes that Boehner is doing this now so that he can go out on his own terms — refusing to shut down the government again, because now he’s free to work a deal with whomever he likes.

One of Boehner’s stated goals was to be an historic Speaker. I can’t find a previous example of a Speaker stepping down in precisely this fashion. So now he’s made history. It’s not the history he wanted, and not the one we should have wanted either.

Become a patron of the arts

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Got a spare room?

I’ve got a middle-aged playwright friend who needs an inexpensive, temporary, new living situation somewhere in Los Angeles effective next Wednesday.

He’s a non-smoker, knows his way around a kitchen, seems to me like the tidy sort, and, as he says, is “too old to party to excess or many any noise other than typing on my laptop.”

I’ve been friends with him for 10 years, and know him to be a good person who is also extraordinarily talented.

Please let me know if you’ve got room, and I’ll make the introduction. He’s a good guy. Thank you.

The Jersey diet

Monday, September 21st, 2015

The other night, I caught an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s latest show. In this one, he was partaking of the foods of his native New Jersey, dining at some spots I recognize, including Dock’s Oyster House and the Knife & Fork Inn, both of which are in poor, bedraggled Atlantic City.

During the course of the show, and at various restaurants, Bourdain eats:

  • a cheesesteak
  • pizza
  • two hot dogs, with french fries
  • clam chowder
  • deep-fried fish, with more french fries
  • oysters
  • a lobster stuffed with crabmeat
  • an Italian sub loaded with meats and cheese, heavy on the oil
  • spaghetti with meatballs

The closest thing to a vegetable in there was the spaghetti sauce.

Last Monday night, I got back from a brief trip to New Jersey to help celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday. Over the course of four-and-a-half days there, I gained three pounds. This was while going to the gym on two of those days.

So maybe Chris Christie isn’t a glutton. Maybe he just eats in New Jersey.


Long live the king

Sunday, August 30th, 2015


One day after what would have been his 98th birthday, I went to the official opening of “Comic Book Apocalypse:  The Graphic World of Jack Kirby,” an exhibit in the CSUN Art Galleries at Cal State Northridge, here in the San Fernando Valley. The show runs through October 10, and if you have any interest in comic-book art — and even if you don’t — I recommend you go.

I say that because you’ll gain a new and greater understanding of an artist whose impact can’t be — shouldn’t be — underestimated. Kirby wasn’t just a great comics artist, wasn’t just a great innovator, he was a brilliant mind who was able to create new myths for our time. Moreso than even Philip K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft, artists similarly stuck in a creative ghetto whose ideas seeped deep into our collective subconscious, Kirby created whole universes that are now accepted as givens.

While the exhibit covers the length of Kirby’s 50-year career, starting in the 1940s, it dwells on four particular series:  ”Fantastic Four,” “Thor,” the New Gods titles (“New Gods,” “Forever People,” “Mister Miracle” and Kirby’s run on “Jimmy Olsen”) and “Kamandi.”

To me, “Fantastic Four” remains the high-water mark; the example of a space-traveling team of science explorers who meet new cultures far and wide while striving to represent us in a noble fashion left an indelible mark upon me. The series also introduced: Black Panther and Wakanda, the Inhumans, the Silver Surfer, Galactus, Ronan the Accuser, the Silver Surfer, the Skrulls, Doctor Doom, and many more. All of these have already been in major motion pictures, or soon will be. All of them were primarily created by Jack Kirby.

(Kirby also co-created almost every important Marvel character from 1958 to 1970, and many, many important DC characters in the five years he was there as well.)

I was thrilled to see so much original artwork, some in pencil but most of it inked by an array of Kirby’s primary inkers (the delightful Joe Sinnott on “Fantastic Four,” Mike Royer on the New Gods titles and “Kamandi,” and the regrettable Vinnie Colletta on “Thor.” Seeing Kirby’s originals inked under different hands gave me the opportunity to discuss the different styles with my daughter Emma and friend Ross, who went with me. The exhibit includes several examples of Colletta having erased some of Kirby’s detail work underneath, so that he could finish the job more quickly.

I also learned some things. “Thor,” which began more as a modern-day Norse fable, transmuted into a trippy science fiction epic that featured the title character meeting embodiments of fate and the universe out in outer space. Few among us would take ancient Norse gods and put them in outer space, but that’s what a mind that worked by leaps and bounds did. What I learned seems obvious in retrospect:  that Kirby’s Fourth World saga was essentially a sequel to “Thor,” in which these gods were dead or dying, and new gods created, against the backdrop of technological advancement. (Kirby may have predicted the iPhone in creating the Mother Box, which is handheld and connects to all knowledge. Judging from the actions of my youngest, it’s impossible to wean someone off it.)

I tried to share with Emma what it felt like, at age 10 or so, to get treasured old “Fantastic Four” comics in the mail from mail-order king Robert Bell in Happauge, NY, comics that I had scrimped and saved and sent away for, how incredibly exciting it was to see a padded envelope waiting for me in the mailbox and knowing what was inside. This was before the internet, of course, before everything was available instantly, before instant gratification. Prying the staples off the outside of a padded mailer and opening its flap was like unsealing Tutankhamun’s tomb (with a similar scent of moldering discovery leaking out).

The dynamism of Kirby’s artwork never fails to impress. But it’s his vision, his wild inventiveness, his restless intellect, his brilliance in predicting and creating all these things that fascinate us (and drive the economy), that’s truly striking. That vision is so large it’s barely containable within the walls of the gallery.




Dyer, dying, dead

Sunday, August 30th, 2015

Dr. Wayne Dyer has died.

My questions about him haven’t changed.

Provoking arguments

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015

I took this yesterday. It’s catty-corner across the corner from Moving Arts, where we’ve been provoking arguments since 1992.

Shine on music

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015

Why do I love the music I love?

Tonight at 7 p.m. in Santa Monica, I’ll be one of the five storytellers addressing this question. (Most specifically in my case the music of Pere Ubu.) It’s my second appearance in a program of live storytelling called Shine. Here are the details, if you’d like to come join us.

The other night, my wife said, “Why are you doing this?” (Somehow neglecting the fact that I’ve been doing readings, speeches, talks, and what have you pretty much my entire life.)  Before I could respond, one of my kids said, “So he can get people to listen to Pere Ubu for 10 minutes.”

Precisely right. It’s missionary work.


Famous food

Friday, August 21st, 2015

For a few years now, since seeing the eatery profiled on television by Anthony Bourdain, I’ve been trying to eat at Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco. I love seafood, and I respect Mr. Bourdain’s opinion and revere his smart and smart-alecky New Jersey attitude about food and its particulars while enjoying the company of newfound friends. Any attachment I can make to the Bourdain lifestyle, I take.

It shouldn’t be difficult to get into a public restaurant, but Swan has proved challenging. Their hours are limited, lines are long, they don’t take reservations, and although I’m in San Francisco two or three times a year, I’m not always in that end of town. Plus, the place seats only about 10 people.

But I have made efforts.

The first time I went to Swan, they were closed unexpectedly for maintenance. This was probably two years ago.

The next time I went to Swan, driving in from Burlingame (home to SF airport), they were closed. It was a Sunday and I hadn’t realized they are closed on Sunday.

The third time I went to Swan, the line was too long and I could see I’d never get in.

The fourth time I went to Swan, I actually got in line and was going to get in! A shiver ran through my being. Unfortunately, I had to use the restroom. I asked someone to hold my place and said I’d be right back, and dashed across the street to the Chase bank that I knew to have a public restroom in the lobby. When I returned, I discovered that someone had taken my place and that Swan had closed the line right behind that place. In other words, I would have gotten in. But now the line was definitively closed. I did speak with one of the proprietors about my predicament, and while he sounded sympathetic, he also sounded as though he’d heard variations of this excuse many times and wasn’t falling for it. I decided not to get irritated about this, because I wanted to preserve the charm of eating at Swan some day, and because having the grail has little value if you haven’t endured a grail quest in order to get it. So I went off and had middling pizza instead.

Then, yesterday, I found myself in San Francisco again, on business to see a client’s show and with a friend and colleague in tow, and said to him, “Hey… have you ever eaten at Swan Oyster Depot? Do you like oysters?” He hadn’t, and he does, so off we went, walking just over a mile of San Francisco’s extreme peaks and valleys, until arriving at the nondescript but legendary little diner that serves oysters and not much else. We got in line, and a mere 20 minutes later, we were encamped inside on shaky barstools that surely date back to the joint’s opening in 1912. I ordered a beer, clam chowder, a combination salad (lobster, crab, and I don’t know what, atop shredded lettuce), and of course a plate of mixed oysters drawn from both our majestic shores, topped off with San Franciscan sourdough bread and pats of butter straight from the frozen north. All was deeply good.

Later, checking out the LA Times online, I was astonished to note that that very day, the Times ran a story calling Swan Oyster Bar “The Best Place to Eat in America.” Not the best oyster place; not the best place in San Francisco; not the best place that week; just The Best Place to Eat in America. Now, while I certainly enjoyed Swan Oyster Bar, and the complete satisfaction that came from finally getting in and ordering any damn thing I wanted, and paying $145 for the pleasure of lunch for two, this was not the most spectacular meal I’d ever enjoyed. I recall fondly one evening in the Aria in Las Vegas where the waiter brought out sample round after sample round when he decided he’d just taken a shine to my business partner and me. (Mostly to her.) I also recall a splendid experience with my wife at a major seafood house in San Francisco where the $300 we plunked down for dinner was richly rewarded with serving after serving of truly divine finny treasures and drinks. But the offerings at Swan, much as I enjoyed them, reminded me of a line from one of my own plays:  ”It’s like first sex. You finally got what you wanted, but now you’re a little disappointed.”

Plus, to be picky, the Best Place to Eat in America is not Swan Oyster Depot, or any other place that posts dollar signs next to food names. The Best Place to Eat in America is my mother’s house. As anyone who’s eaten there can attest.


Fantastic television

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

I’m not sure I feel like seeing that new “Fantastic Four” movie everyone is panning.

What I’d really like to see is the unaired “Fantastic Four” TV series from 1963.

A somewhat famous bit

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

My friend Jan Munroe (that’s him second from the right), actor extraordinaire (also skilled in mime, juggling, clowning, etc.), was on one of those late-night shows the other night that you’re not watching, in a bit with Kevin Bacon.

But I’m not sure that Jan, who was in a very big movie with Mr. Bacon, enjoyed being called a “bit player.”

Here’s the story.