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


The weekend


On Friday night I was supposed to go to the gym. “Supposed to” means that I had put it into my schedule, so that if I didn’t go, I had broken a promise to myself. On Friday I thought about this and decided that I didn’t owe myself any favors — what had I ever done for myself anyway? — so I broke that promise and went home instead to spend some time with my wife and our teenage son and daughter. Instead, my wife and daughter decided that they were going to the gym. This is the point in the story where, not wanting to be Alanis, I once again look up “irony” to see if this fits.

When they finally came home, we played Cosmic Encounter. Because I bought the first edition of this in 1977 directly from the game makers at a science-fiction convention in Philadelphia and have been playing it ever since, this game ranks as one of the best investments of my life. Certainly far better than my purchase about 15 years ago, of stock in a company manufacturing briquettes; the stock now being worthless, that money literally went up in smoke. We played two games, and I forget which alien race I was in each game, and I won one and lost one. Which is not how I like it to work. We’ve been a game-playing family through the ages, and throughout my childhood, my mother said, “Lee doesn’t like to lose.” Whether it was Risk, or Monopoly, or 500 Rummy, or whatever else, she’d note, “Lee doesn’t like to lose.” Finally, in a fit of exasperation, I said, “Who would like to lose? You know who likes to lose? Losers!” It’s still a head-scratcher to me. Regarding my 50% success rate on Friday night in Cosmic Encounter, I will just say “I’ll be back.”


Saturday morning I got up early, as I have most Saturdays for the past 24 years, to go lead my playwriting workshop. The plays from the nine other playwrights in the workshop run the gamut of subjects: there’s a historical play; a play somewhat in the vein of something by Rod Serling; a personal memoir; a comic look at a potential impact of Trump’s immigration policy; and others. We also bade a sad farewell to a playwright who, for career reasons, has to move back to New York. I will miss that guy — a lot — but he’s promised to come back and visit.

Afterward, I stopped by my office (I must check the mail every Saturday, must!, due to my lifelong obsession with the mail and what it might bring). Then I went to Boston Market. Boston Market is a fast-casual restaurant with semi-healthy chicken and sides that I like, like green beans and steamed vegetables. In my middle age, I’ve become somewhat of a tightwad about certain things. I love it when my supermarket of choice, Ralphs, mails me coupons (in the mail!); I eagerly tear them along their perforations and carefully organize them by date and tuck them into a little folder packet (also mailed to me by Ralphs) and otherwise treat them like little baby chicks. Then, on grocery shopping day, I will triumphantly present them all at Ralphs and wow the checker and my kids with how much I’ve saved and how many groceries I got for so little money and will also tell everyone assembled yet again that I am charging my groceries on my credit card that accrues airline miles and that I’m going to pay the charge the moment I get home and that by using this system I’ve already got 25,000 more airline miles this year and can fly anywhere I want in the U.S. for free. Yes, I have become that guy. What does this have to do with Boston Market? In perhaps the strangest promotion I’ve ever seen at a semi-healthy fast-casual restaurant, Boston Market offers buy-one-get-one-free meals on Saturday. So now I’m going there about two Saturdays a month. On this particular Saturday, I took the extra meal home, where no one expressed any interest in eating it — not my wife, my daughter, her boyfriend, or my son. Certainly the dog would have happily eaten all of it, but she just lost a pound or two when the kids and I were out of town for a week and the wife wouldn’t give her any “people food,” and I didn’t want to find myself back in the dog house.

Instead, I took that meal to the Pasadena Pops at the LA County Arboretum that night. As sponsors, my company has a 10-top table. Interestingly, once the rejected free meal from Boston Market was presented atop a white linen tablecloth, with Michael Feinstein and the Pasadena Symphony playing enchanting music and against the backdrop of a clear, warm evening, my wife and daughter became interested in the chicken, green beans, and macaroni and cheese. My wife also brought an array of snacks all made from figs (our fig tree has fruited), including fig cookies and fig bread and fig spread — I’m not exaggerating — and at least one of these was surprisingly good. At some point, Michael Feinstein introduced a song that I so thoroughly enjoyed (“Is You Is or Is You Ain’t,” recorded by Louis Jordan) that I promptly jumped onto my iPhone and bought it. He also delivered a striking impression of Louis Armstrong singing “Hello Dolly,” which reminded me that almost 30 years ago, I met its composer and lyricist, Jerry Herman, courtesy of my then-professor, the playwright Jerome Lawrence. Once upon a time, I didn’t much care about meeting people like Jerry Herman; now I look back and wish I’d taken some notes or something. As it is, the most I can remember about the encounter was wondering at the time whether or not Mickey Rooney was shorter.

After the show, my guests and I went to the reception briefly and then spent some time driving around and around the nearby mall in an effort to find the tucked-away illegal spot where my nephew had left his car.


I read the paper, uncharacteristically had a second mug of coffee, fielded an unpleasant email exchange, discussed family business with my family-business partner (repairs to her minivan; what to do with these rotten kids), and then our son clarified why he’d been so impatient to get into the garage and interrupt our business meeting: It had suddenly occurred to him that his older brother’s old Game Boy cartridges were in that garage somewhere, and could be sold at a local used-games store. Now the kid needed a ride. We negotiated a split — I wanted five bucks to drive him there and back, really, I promise you, because it’s my mission to impart the value of money and labor — and headed off for the store.

I was more than a little surprised when the handful of obsolete 15-year-old cartridges netted him $59.50. Rather than flat rate, I should have negotiated a percentage! When my ID was entered into their system, it turned out that I’d last come to this store in 2006, when his older brother was about the same age, so that he could sell off games even older than these. If we had a different president, I might imagine I could be making this same trip in another 10 years or more with a grandchild, but under the current administration all bets for the future are off.

On the way home, it being the weekend of National Chicken Wing Day, we went to Wingstop, where the lemon-pepper wings are very very good. (I offer this as free advice: Go to Wingstop and get the lemon-pepper wings. You’re welcome.) These were, as per usual, delectable. My only sadness: Noting that if we’d gone the previous day, on actual National Chicken Day, we could’ve gotten five extra wing pieces thrown in free! But, as you can see above, I was booked.

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