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


Presidential credential

February 12th, 2019

I’m not going to be reading the memoir by Chris Christie, the former governor of my birth state, but I’m sure glad Matt Taibbi did. Here’s his blistering look at the book, and at just how the self-believed master negotiator Christie got so thoroughly strung along by Donald Trump. (Like, well, millions of other people.)

It’s fun to read this takedown of Chris Christie, who has deluded himself into believing he still has a shot at the presidency, but it can’t have been fun for Garden Staters to live through his governorship. Last I checked, the people of New Jersey remain divided on Chris Christie — split between those who hate him and those who plain loathe him. That’s what happens when you do things like close the state beaches to everyone — except yourself and your family.

My Super Bowl plans

February 3rd, 2019

When I was picking up my dry cleaning yesterday, the young woman asked me what my Super Bowl plans were.

“Not watching it,” I said.

She laughed. “That’s the best answer I’ve gotten yet!”

I hadn’t even been aware that it was going to held this weekend. On Friday, I happened to be listening to the radio in my car — and who does that, when he’s got a full streaming set of Pere Ubu? But I guess occasionally it happens — when some “news” piece came on about the big game. So that’s when I found out it was happening.

A couple of months ago, my family and I went to see the fantastic King Tut exhibit downtown at the Science Center. As we were parking the car, we saw all sorts of signage everywhere announcing the “Los Angeles Rams.”

“The ‘LOS ANGELES’ Rams?” I asked. It sounded strange coming off my tongue.

“Are they here now?” my wife asked. “When did they move here?”

Our two sons  didn’t know either. Finally, we asked a passerby who explained the team’s recent move. But still, we couldn’t figure where they had come from. We kept trying out other, former, names. “The Minneapolis Rams?” “The Oakland Rams?” “The St. Louis Rams?” None of them sounded right.

Later, we forgot about it. We just didn’t care enough.

Still, my wife had the best case of cultural unawareness. As we left the Science Center hours later, we came onto the plaza in the back, which abuts the back of the Coliseum, better known as the LA Coliseum. It seems more than 75,000 people.

“When did they build that?” she demanded. She was staring at all the Rams signage that was now all over it.

“About a hundred years ago.”

“No way!” she said. “I would have seen it before!”

Given that today is that Super Bowl, which promises to preoccupy many people now in the hometown of the Rams (wherever they just came from), my plan is to do grocery shopping right when the game starts. I’m betting I can cut the checkout time in half! So… see you later!

Good people

February 1st, 2019

The world is full of them. In fact, it’s most people. Don’t let Twitter — or anyone — convince you otherwise.

In today’s installment, we look at a woman in Chicago who personally paid to rent hotel rooms for homeless people who otherwise might have frozen to death. She charged 20 hotel rooms to her American Express card, and then other people joined her in this impromptu campaign. She never sought any publicity or any recognition, but I’m glad to share her name:  Candice Payne.

Here’s more about what she did.

Old music

January 31st, 2019

Elton John at Staples Center

Last night, I saw Elton John on his stop here in Los Angeles in his multi-date sold-our performances at the Staples Center as part of his “Farewell, Yellow Brick Road” tour, billed as Elton’s final tour. He wants to spend more time with his children, he told us from the stage, adding that this would be his last time playing the Staples Center.


Of course, he’s playing the also-in-Los-Angeles Forum tomorrow night. And the night after. And again. And then, yes, he’ll be touring the world for another two years, including a couple more stops back here in LA with multiple play dates each time. By the time he’s done with this tour, those kids won’t want to spend any time with him anyway. (I speak from experience.) But, no, he won’t be returning to the Staples Center. I came away from the concert liking Elton, but also thinking that he’s so good at splitting hairs that maybe he should be an economist.

I’m not really an Elton John fan. My wife’s a fan and so we went, and we had a fantastic time at the show, but I’ve never much cared for his music. I don’t like the songs that are too saccharine, and I actively hate the ones that to me sound like they’re perfect for playing at roller rinks. (“Crocodile Rock” typifies that sort.) In concert, he largely avoided the type I hate, and the saccharine ones were fortified with strong musicianship from his band. When the band took the stage, I wondered why Elton John needed three drummers. I found out. To my immense surprise, Elton in concert proved to be a rock and roll show, and a highly enjoyable one at that. He’s singing in a lower key these days, which in addition to keeping the songs singable by him, produces the further benefit of making the vocals sound bluesier. Attaching a powerful band to that — and Elton has a very powerful band — adds punch.

I looked it up, and Elton will be 72 in March. He looks good, although overstuffed, and is a generous performer. He played for three hours, apologized for not being able to play every hit (he’s had 50 songs in the U.S. top 40), and not only routinely left his piano to make bows and gestures from each and every corner of the stage in appreciation to all members of the audience in those far-flung corners, but also rode the piano around to various locations of the stage as one would a hovercraft. He’s a true showman.

By the time this tour wraps up, Elton John will be just shy of 74. My wife and I have concert tickets for two other shows this year:  Bryan Ferry in the late summer, and the Who in October. Just after we see him, Ferry will hit 74, Pete Townshend will also be 74, and Roger Daltrey will be 75. In this crowd, Elton John is a whippersnapper.

Valorie says we’d better find some younger bands to like, because these guys are going to be dead soon. I do have younger bands I like — hello, Broken Bells, where’s your new album and tour? Gnarls Barkley, are you still out there? TV on the Radio, what’s up? — but now seems a good time to express immense gratitude that the members of Pere Ubu are only in their 50s and 60s.

Sounds funny

January 28th, 2019

On the way to a party Saturday night, my wife told me a story in the car about some system she has to use at work. It was a long and complicated tale, and I tried to follow it, but once she said “DOS” I couldn’t follow any of it any more.

That’s because she said DAWSS and that’s how it’s correctly pronounced to me, too, and that got me thinking. Where we’re from, everyone pronounces everything correctly. It just seems to come naturally to people there to say things correctly. Unfortunately, our children, who are all California-born, have their own ideas of how things are pronounced. To them, this is probably pronounced DAHSS, even though that’s wrong, and, worse, even though I’ve told them it’s wrong.

These same children, two all grown up and one nearly so, believe that “compass” is rightly pronounced COME-pus when I know full well that it’s pronounced CAHMPus. Two of  them were snickering at me a few weeks ago when I said that something CAR-uh-lates with my experience and they said it CORE-e-lates. CORE-e-lates:  hah!

My wife and I are smart, well-educated people, and we’re certainly talkers, so I don’t know how our children wound up this way, mispronouncing everything.

The horror. (Which they pronounce HORE-ur!)

last request of 2018

December 31st, 2018

I just got another email request for “The Screw Iran Coloring Book.”

I couldn’t give these away in 1980. Now that they’re relics, there’s low but persistent demand.



Saturday night

December 30th, 2018

Last night I decided to take my wife out to dinner and a show.

“You know this is an Italian restaurant, right?” she said to me while we sat in our booth and awaited our entrees.

I did know it. So what?

“You always say you hate Italian food.”

Hate being a strong word, I usually reserve it for a few select famous people in government. But, no, I generally don’t like Italian food. In my mind, trout (which I usually order there) or seafood with pasta isn’t “Italian food.” It happens to be food I like that one can find on the menu of this Italian restaurant.

Over dinner, she showed me her nail polish.

“See this? This is my favorite nail polish. I get it at CVS.”

She and I have been frequenting the same CVS in our city for the 30 years since we moved here. I can’t speak for all CVSes, but ours has always been a little lacking in basic store management:  things are stacked in the way of foot traffic; aisles get rearranged so nothing is ever visible from any direction; cashiers approach their registers like they’ve never seen one before; and of course there’s the nine-foot-long receipt that I so hate that I now refuse to tell them my phone number lest I get handed one.

“So now I go to CVS to get this nail polish,” she continued, “and they’ve discontinued it.”

“What do you expect?” I say. “It took them 30 years to figure out how to line people up to pay.”

Which is completely true. It had been unclear how to approach the checkout area, so people would clump into little groups, trying to figure out the right angle of approach. It was not unusual to have some of us waving each other in: “Oh, go ahead.” “No, I think it’s your turn.” “No, isn’t it you now?” Now, finally, they’d laid down carpeting with big arrows on it, and set up guylines. Other stores somehow manage without arrowed carpeting and stanchions, but CVS needed everything. I’m surprised they didn’t lay in a cattle chute.

After dinner, we walked over to the nearby comedy club. Larry Miller — this guy — absolutely killed me. Granted his whole routine had a certain relevance, being  about the difference between men and women, and very helpfully laying out how irritating some wives can be when their husbands are driving, and I’m in his debt for his doing so within earshot of my wife so that she could take it in and perhaps see just how relevant it was, but beyond that it was very very funny. Trust me on this. After that, I was blown away by Jimmy Brogan. This is the second time I’ve seen Brogan, who for nine years was a writer on the Tonight Show and 30 years ago took over for Joan Rivers when she left her own talk show, and I think he’s a genius. He doesn’t have a lot of written material — he just wings it, off interactions with audience members. Over the course of about 30 minutes he can remember what was said by about 20 different people at different times, weave them together, call back to them, and not only make it an ongoing bit but also build it and have an instantaneous comeback the first time. That’s a real skill. The only other comic I’ve seen who can do this as well is Dame Edna (high praise from me), and I told him that.

We got home, and I spent a little time again trying to build up Sumeria against the competing demands of India and my own people who insist on more amenities. (They should try their luck at CVS.) Then I went upstairs and told my wife that I’d like the dogs to sleep downstairs, for exactly the reason you imagine.

“They’re going to be mad,” she warned.

Like I cared. These dogs get two walks a day, a spacious back yard, lots of treats and toys, run of the house, and a personal cook who keeps prepared meals for them in our refrigerator when she isn’t buying nail polish at CVS. And unlike me, they don’t work 60 hours a week for that.

“They’ll be just fine down there,” I said.

She lured them down there somehow (I think by going down and opening the refrigerator) and that was that. Except a couple of times after that, she said, “They’re probably cold down there” (amidst their bedding and blankets atop our expensive leather couch? doubtful) and “I wonder what they’re doing” and, finally, “I’m sure they’re plotting revenge.”

In the morning I came downstairs and opened the door to the main part of the house and the dogs sprang into action like I’d been missing for years. The big one was wild-eyed at the thought that maybe my wife was immediately behind me somewhere and he could get to her. I closed the door to upstairs behind me and let them out the back door into that spacious yard but not before seeing a little pile on the tile area downstairs. Well, I thought, when you gotta go, you gotta go, and at least the little one left her load on the tile, where it’s easily cleaned up.

Over breakfast, I sent settlers over to the Roman continent, which got me a fierce warning from Emperor Trajan. My wife came down to talk to me and then stopped cold, lifted her foot and showed it to me. On the bottom was a large messy clod, courtesy of the bigger one.

She said, “I told you they’d be mad.”

Updating a Christmas tradition

December 24th, 2018

Doin’ it up right this time.

(By the way, on the right, no, that’s not what happened to Blitzen. It’s summer sausage.)


Shit happens

December 23rd, 2018

My gym just changed their towel policy. The new policy is:  They now don’t provide them.

I last wrote about this particular 24 Hour Fitness in August, in which I noted that I’m effectively paying for soap but not getting it. Now I’m effectively paying for towels, but not getting them either. Next I’ll be paying for weights that are no longer there. In anticipation of this change, because they notified members in advance that they’d be eliminating towel service, I’ve been stealing two towels each visit. Rationalization:  1. I’ve been paying for them; 2. I’m saving them from the dump; and 3. their communication that they’ve made this change to “help save the planet” is baloney — it’s to save money.

I was there a few days before the end of the towel policy and had a nice workout, ending, as always, with a deliberative stay in the steam room spent ignoring someone’s too-loud hip-hop beats  pouring from his ear buds (advice:  invest in hearing-aid stocks now) and then a nice soak in the whirlpool bath.  I grabbed one of my soon-to-be purloined towels and headed in for a shower.

In the corner of the floor of the stall I chose there was a wadded-up roll of soaking wet shop towels — you know, those brown coarse cardboardy thick paper towels that you find at gas stations and in gyms like this, where you use them to wipe down equipment you’ve used. It wasn’t in my way, so I didn’t care. I was well into my shower when I had a sudden thought that maybe I should look at those shop towels on the floor a little more closely… and, sure enough, they weren’t shop towels. It was actually a pile of human feces. It was very effectively posing as soaking-wet wadded-up shop towels, being the same color, but it was absolutely a pile of shit, and now started to smell like it. I rinsed off quickly and got out of the shower.

After making sure I had scalded every square inch of myself clean, I got dressed and grabbed my stuff and went to the front desk. A young woman there saw me coming and saw the towel I was stealing and said, “Do you need a towel?” (Nice of her to offer.)

“No,” I said. “I have some bad news for you.”

“You’re leaving us?”

“No,” I said. “I thought we were in this together, for the long haul.”

She laughed, and then she said something I had not expected:  “Is there poop in the shower?”

“Uh, yes, there is.” I couldn’t believe it — had they already seen this and not done anything about it?

“Which stall?”

“It’s easy to find. It’s the one with shit in it.”

She smiled to show that that would be true. Then she said, “We’ve had a lot of that. People are mad about the towel policy.”

“So their protest is to shit in the showers?” I’ve been to several protests in my life, but what sort of protest was this? Who were these guys? Had I run into them around here?

“We’ll take care of it,” she said. Then she called out to an unlucky guy working across the way. “Adam! Bad news:  I’ve got another one for you!” Adam didn’t look happy.

I’m re-evaluating my membership.

In case you were worried

December 20th, 2018

A public entity that I can name later and that approached me about having a part-time role with them ran a security screening on me. I just go the results.

  • I have no reportable records with the Los Angeles County criminal court.
  • I have no reportable records in the National Criminal Database.
  • And, hey, it turns out that I’m not a registered sex offender.

The first time I had clearance like this was in 1984 when CBS hired me to help them cover President Reagan’s appearance in Hammonton, NJ during his re-election campaign. I was cleared. Literally had FBI clearance for several years.

Until now, the most recent time was in 2000 when the University of Southern California ran a check on me prior to hiring me to teach. I must have passed — never saw the report — because I taught there for 10 years. I think that was the most recent time — but who knows who might have run a check on me since then?

All things considered, you should feel safe to associate with me.

At the same time, I wonder what tests like this would have turned up about Les Moonves, or Bill Cosby, or Harvey Weinstein, or then-Congressman Anthony Weiner, or if they were even run.

Maybe we need new tests.