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


Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

Choc it up to Dali

Thursday, December 29th, 2016

I’ve watched this about a dozen times since coming across it. It’s Salvador Dali, in 1968, hawking Lanvin chocolate. Clearly, Dali was a man of taste.

The good old days

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016


A friend emailed me photos of glorious U.S. cityscapes from 100 years ago. The photo above is of my old stomping grounds of Atlantic City, in 1915.

The architecture is stunning, but the living seems problematic. In our haste to glorify the past, we seldom stop to think about the implications.

Put another way:  I’d like to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

  • Little or no indoor plumbing.
  • Unreliable transportation.
  • Unpaved streets (I had enough of that growing up where I did).
  • No penicillin.
  • Few clothes. (All those beautiful clothes in the photos comprise about 1/3 of those people’s wardrobes.)
  • Low wages, and little chance for upward mobility.
  • Poor entertainment choices — no movies or recorded music or video gaming or virtual reality. In fact, no Monopoly yet either.
  • Human flight not invented yet.
  • No space travel or space exploration.
  • Greatly reduced lifespan. (Average life expectancy for a male in California now: 78.33 years. In 1910: 48.4 years) Ouch!
  • And — you’ll appreciate where I’m coming from here — no Internet.
Still, I enjoyed looking at the photos! So I thanked him for sending them.

I wouldn’t want to live in Narnia, either. But the illustrations can be just as fantastic.

100% certain prediction for 2017

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

Putting on my prognosticator’s hat, and scrying from my crystal ball, I can confidently predict that in 2017 many more people will die — including celebrities. Somehow, their celebrity does not translate into immunity.

Shocking, no?

X’ing out the Xmas gifts

Monday, December 19th, 2016

There’s no cheer in getting crap you don’t want for Christmas.

Now that I’m at a point in my life where I don’t want anything, except time, this is more apparent than ever.

Yesterday in our house, we wrote our Christmas letters to “Santa.” (I dutifully make copies for further examination before mailing them to “Santa,” whose address stunningly matches my own.) On my Christmas letter, I wrote down four books. I want them. I want to read them. And then I want to walk past them, for decades I hope, as they gather dust on my bookcases, openly visible to guests who can then see that I’ve read them. But beyond that, I don’t want anything. Except more time to live, and enough time alone to write.

Today, as we were spending far too much on good Christmas gifts for the people we’ve created over the years, my wife said, “Is that all you want? Really? Just the four books? Nothing else?”

I said, “Tell me what else I need.”

She then tried making a list drawn from two categories:  things I actually need but should buy myself (and, you guessed it, those things are socks and underwear), and things that we just bought for the house but that for some reason she thinks would otherwise have fallen onto my Christmas list, like a 13-piece furniture set for the living room. Because really, what man other than Liberace wouldn’t put that on his Christmas list? But, since we’d already bought that, she said with resignation, “I guess you really don’t need anything.”

It was about five years ago, I think, that we decided not to buy any more crap for ourselves or the other people who live with us, and to make it explicit to others who might give gifts, “Thanks, but we don’t want any crap.” Given the choice between receiving nothing, and receiving cute/fun/zany/useless gifts, we’d rather have nothing. And if it’s something we needed, we probably already bought it ourselves.

Lately, I’m on a mission to get rid of things. Things that are broken, things that no longer have any function (if they ever did), and all the clutter that accumulates like dead skin in the air of a busy, populated house. However, I do my best to check with my wife before just tossing something because otherwise, when at some point she realizes that something is missing, no matter how useless, bent, broken, shabby, pointless or dilapidated it might be, she turns into something from a Korean horror movie. (And if you’ve seen those, you know that the horror never forgets or stops pursuit.) Tonight I was looking for something in a cluttery drawer and pulled out a much-chewed faded orange sippy cup that my 18-year-old daughter attests was hers when she was 2. Before throwing it away, I asked, “Do you think your mother will miss this?” She said, “Probably.”

Last Christmas, my wife received a copy of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. She frowned when opening it, rightly suspecting that it was a gift from me, but she and I both wound up reading the book and quoting from it. Despite the obvious insanity of the author, who advises that you wish a personal farewell to each item that you get rid of, the book has made a real impact on us (as I mentioned here). If something doesn’t “spark joy in my life,” I thank it and wish it away into the trash or a donation pile. I have a recurring fantasy of jacking my house up to an extreme tilt, and having all the contents tumble into the bed of an enormous truck that would just cart it all away (my having first removed the books and comic books, naturally). Some day, I hope, my house will be so empty that I can make my own Ingmar Bergman films in it.

Given this desire to purge, and to not replenish by receiving, say, the Groot car charger, for Christmas, I was delighted to learn today that 100 years ago there was an actual movement that honored the same values at which I’ve arrived. Oh, how I wish to join The Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving.

Free comic cheer

Monday, December 19th, 2016

On a day when Donald J. Trump officially gets elected president of the United States, and the Russian ambassador is assassinated in Turkey, I think we all need to look at the 50 comic books that are going to be available to you for free on Free Comic Book Day next May 6.

So here they are. Enjoy.

Season’s greeting

Saturday, December 10th, 2016

Yesterday at 5 p.m. I got a reminder on my phone to go pick up my dry cleaning. I especially needed it because I would be giving remarks at a swearing-in ceremony today and I figured I’d need one of those shirts. So I set off to drive the couple of miles to my preferred dry cleaner.

On one of the local surface streets, a two-lane affair incongruously named Whitnall Highway, I found that I was inching along behind a very slow-moving maroon SUV. So when the SUV slowed down even more in order to go over a rather unnecessary speed bump, I pulled into the left lane, passed, and left it behind me.

I kept driving for a while before I began to gather that the SUV was now following me.

When I got to a street light and turned left, it turned left.

When I got to another corner, a small side street, and made a right and it followed me onto that small side street, I was sure.

Finally, I pulled into my friendly local dry cleaner’s, a small business run by a husband and wife who, finally, were able to leave various war-torn Middle Eastern countries behind and arrive in the United States. (I asked the husband at one point where he was from, and got quite a detailed list of the wars and turmoil they’d left behind.) I got out of my car and as I was closing the door, the maroon SUV pulled up behind me on the street. I heard a voice and turned around to see a snarling, twisted-face middle-aged woman absolutely consumed with anger.

“You fucking piece of shit,” she said.

“What?” I said. I said “what” because I couldn’t figure out what else to say.

“You heard me,” she said. “You’re a fucking piece of shit.”

Whether or not that’s true isn’t best determined by me myself, so I sauntered over to learn more.

She hurled more imprecations at me, claiming that the source of her misery was my having passed her. Legally, I might add, and at the speed limit. What I am sure to be true is this:  She is the source of her own misery. If she’s unhappy because I passed her, one can only estimate how she reacts to more consequential things. Her response to this was so great, that I have to figure she exerts a planetary gravitational pull that sucks terrible things into her life. As a friend of mine said today when I told him about this incident, “This is the sort of person who, if a satellite fell out of the sky, it would land on her.”

I approached her window.  Honestly, I was so curious, all I wanted to do was figure out why she was having this response — and maybe using it in a play some day. But as I drew near, she looked alarmed and unsure what I might do. So she started to roll up her window and drive away. I shouted out the only thing that came to mind, the thing that seemed most appropriate and most sure to torment her:  “Merry Christmas!”

What I did not do — and probably should have — was that when she launched into her pointless pursuit of me, pointless because I wasn’t trying to evade her and because she accomplished nothing other than further contributing to the ruin of her own day, when she was chasing me to apparently try to teach me some lesson about passing people (?) — she had run a red light.

Deconstructing Time

Friday, December 9th, 2016


Here’s why, being more than just a photograph of the (shudder) President-elect, Time’s “Person of the Year” cover makes a subtle statement about power, conspiracy, and impending crisis.


The good people

Monday, December 5th, 2016

I wish I could find the video I saw recently where Penn Jillette said something like this:  “There are about seven billion people on the Earth… and about seven billion of them are good. They’re good people.”

I believe that too.

We shouldn’t believe the perpetual “news” story, courtesy of social media and whatever’s left of the mainstream press, that everyone is out for himself. It just isn’t true.

In that light, I share this story, which I just grabbed off a friend’s LinkedIn newsfeed, of a man who spends more than half his income saving people from jumping off a bridge, with 321 saves and counting.


Holiday spirit

Monday, November 28th, 2016

I got an invite to an event that’s on “Noveymber 29” — so that’s like a holiday event with the oy vey already built in.

Making up for almost-lost time

Sunday, November 27th, 2016

A dear friend of mine had surgery not that long ago that still leaves her tired. When I picked her up today to go see the matinee of a new play, she said she wasn’t sure she’d be up for an early dinner afterward because she hadn’t been able to take a nap. We agreed to play it by ear.

The play was terrible.

As is usually the case with this sort of thing, you can tell within the first few minutes just how bad it’s going to be, if not sooner (like, before it even begins). In this particular case, the acting in the first scene was what I’m going to call “neurotic New Yorker” over-the-top, with all of the intended comedy falling with a thud all over the audience. Every scene afterward seemed like it was from an entirely new and different play: a human crawls onto the stage play-acting as a kitty cat (complete with lines); cheerleaders for some reason show up and dance around; there’s a searing melodrama between a strident young woman and her overbearing and two-dimensional Trumpist father; and a young actress takes on the additional role of “Grandma” in a performance ripped straight from “The Carol Burnett Show,” minus any shred of comic ability.

At intermission, my friend turned to me and said the magic words, “Do you want to just leave?”

She was checking first to see if I thought it was as horrible as she did. Maybe she was just being courteous, but the idea that she wondered if I might be enjoying this play cast a certain pall over my conception of our friendship. Surely she knew me better than this:  Of course I wanted to leave.

For lots of reasons, I’m not somebody who’s generally eager to leave during intermission. Yes, it seems rude to the actors. Also, sometimes there’s something that bears watching — a performer, an unanswered question, a clever bit of writing that lends hope to the future. (But not in this case.) And, finally, my not wanting to be a hypocrite; I say this as someone who at one point produced just enough bad theatre that he’s aware that nobody sets out to do crummy work.

But the perk of leaving at intermission was obvious:  Now we had time for an even earlier dinner. So we went out for sushi and talked about all sorts of things, and at one point remarked that we’d been friends for more than twenty years now. She brought up her retirement planning; I floated the idea of cashing out all sorts of things in a far-flung future. When you put those sorts of things into perspective, as we did, along with her life-saving surgery and my frequently thinking back to my friend who died last year — then it becomes awfully easy to leave during an intermission so you can make better use of the time you have.