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


We only read it for the interviews anyway

October 12th, 2015

Just announced: Playboy is nixing fully nude photos from its magazine.

In other news, “Car and Driver” will now show only drivers.


October 12th, 2015

Here’s that video from Colbert about nobody wanting to become Speaker of the House. It’s still funny (and still kinda not funny).


October 11th, 2015

The other night on a friend’s recommendation I recorded Stephen Colbert’s show to catch a bit he did on the multi-car pileup that is the House Speaker’s succession. (Or, I guess, secession. For two men in a row.)  The piece was indeed hilarious.

I wound up watching all of the show (although fast-forwarding a rather empty interview with James Corden who, yes, can sing and dance, but who seems to have nothing to say) and then came upon the musical guest:  Halsey. I recognized her song, “New Americana,” which is at #95 on the U.S. charts but constantly on my radio, and decided to learn a little more about her. I looked her up and learned that she’s 21, grew up about 30 miles away from my birthplace, and is biracial, bisexual, and bipolar. And then it occurred to me that, even 10 years ago, any one of those three would have disqualified you for any number of things; now you can be on network TV and mention all of it in your official biography.

Meanwhile, the GOP is acting far crazier than any of the bipolar people I know.

Ho hum, another campus shooting

October 9th, 2015

A friend of mine just posted this on Facebook:


ME: There was another shooting.
THEM: I’ve heard about that already.
ME: No, you’re thinking of the first shooting this week.


So that’s how I heard about this latest shooting. It happened in Texas, where I hear they’re armed to the teeth in their own defense, so I’m not quite sure how this could have happened.

Oh, well. I guess it’s all just the natural order of things. We shouldn’t worry about it, because clearly there’s nothing anyone can do.



Way annoying, pal

October 9th, 2015

Yesterday I was leaving a meeting in the city next to mine, Glendale, at 5:30. The trip to my house is only 7.8 miles, but at 5:30 on a weeknight it may as well be 70 miles as traffic floods the 134 freeway, the main thoroughfare linking the two. A quick glimpse down onto the freeway below the ramp I was approaching confirmed the worst:  cars backed up like carpenter ants in the rainforest. With that sort of automotive buildup, a trip that’s normally 15 minutes could take 45 or longer, and I really really needed to be home by 6ish so that I could take my daughter to this much-loved theatrical event.

So I turned on Waze.

Waze, as you probably already know, is a community-sourced traffic app that directs you along the best route. At times it has saved me crucial time over Siri (the default of Apple’s Maps, which I run through my phone) or over my own idea of how to go. Last year, the only reason my friend Paul was able to get me to Philadelphia airport on time was because Waze foresaw a terrible traffic jam and redirected us. At other times, Waze leads me through more treacherous swamps than the route to becoming the next Speaker of the House. Yesterday, I turned it on and it directed me to make an immediate left — “get away from the 134!” seemed to be the command — and head on down to the 5, which turned out to be great advice. I made it home with time to spare.

Unfortunately, when I was stopped at a red light en route and saw a message come up, I hit what I thought at a glance was a dismissal button for an alert. In actuality, it was an inducement to change the voice of Waze, from whatever nice lady had been directing me… to the voice of Jay Leno.

I need to switch this back pronto.

Now, I don’t mind Jay Leno (what do I care?), but I’ve never been a fan. I don’t think he’s funny. And I find I like him even worse when he’s telling me where to go and how to get there.

When he first came on, he advised me to check out other cars around me owned by people who are even bigger losers than I am. Thanks. That’s hilarious.

And then there’s this repeated bit of advice from the Jayster:  ”Make a left, pal.”

I don’t like being called “pal.” Especially by people I don’t know. I hadn’t thought of Jay Leno as snotty — I haven’t given him much thought at all — but when he’s reduced to a voice, bereft of whatever facial charm he may have, he sure sounds that way. This is not a good vocal tone when traffic in Los Angeles (or anywhere!) already has you feeling like you want to ram other people with your car.

Even worse was when he started calling me “Sparky.” “Merge right, sparky!”

But even even worse:  now, again, minus the clamor of a late-night talk show and band and drummed up audience surrounding him, I noticed that Jay Leno has a rather low voice (often represented as squeaky by impressionists, but not on Waze), and a thicker Boston accent than I knew. So I also found him to be hard to hear and hard to understand. Whomever Lady Waze is, I can hear her and understand her. Jay Leno? In addition to not understanding how people find him funny, I now just can’t understand him.

A quick online search reveals that the Jayman (how do you like that, sparky?) will be voicing this only for a month. So I could invest the time in disabling him and returning to the delightful voice that guided me without having an attitude about it. Or I could wait three weeks until, thankfully, Jay just goes away.

Just as he did with NBC.

Which means… even though we think he’s gone, he may be back.

I guess I need to disable him.


Snappy answers to burning questions

October 8th, 2015

I can’t ever keep them straight, so let’s see:  Is today a Jewish holiday?

Nothing’s more important than fame, and how much like us the famous are, in so many ways. So let’s find out:  Which celebrities have your disease?

And, most importantly, is Abe Vigoda still alive?

The ancients would have killed for such easy information.

Booked up

October 5th, 2015


I’m usually reading a novel and a non-fiction book at the same time (as well as, of course, comic books), but right now I’m between novels.

I finished “Nora Webster” by Colm Toibin (which I completely recommend; it’s one of the most deeply felt and deeply moving novels I’ve read, on a par with “Anna Karenina” by that Tolstoy guy), and then, unfortunately, read “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen, which seemed both shallow and false (and occasionally badly written).

After reading two novels newly bought while ignoring the stacks towering alongside my bed and overfilling the bookcase next to it, I had the idea that perhaps I should pick a book out of there and read it. Because, y’know, they are stacked and placed there to be read.

Except a closer examination revealed that I had already read almost all of them. Except, that is, for “The Nightclerk.”

“The Nightclerk” is a “cult classic” from 1965 that seems to promise, judging by the cover image and the jacket copy, to be a forerunner of “A Confederacy of Dunces.” To wit:

“J. Spenser Blight — ‘the fattest man in American literature’ — whiles away the long night hours with a number of passionate pursuits: reading twenty-five-cent paperback erotic epics; cutting up old magazines; and, above all, reminiscing about his impossibly beautiful and equally corrupt wife Katy. Blight dreams of his long-lost travels with Katy around the world to exotic erotic climes, recalls how he rescued her from the clutches of a Hollywood bogus mogul, and dwells fondly and at length on Katy’s subsequent career as a caterer to the sex-fantasies — the comic-trip erotic desires — of customers Blight brings home to her. …”

Read closely, and you’ll find the problem I had fully identified by page 21: no forward motion. Even in the synopsis, Blight is “whiling away time” while dreaming and reminiscing. If I’m going to read a book that involves dreaming and reminiscing, its author should be named Proust. That, plus the tiresome writing style — acid-induced late-60′s quasi-hipness — sent me back in search of a novel.

So now I believe I’m going to try again, for the third time in recent years, to read the expanded version of “Creation” by Gore Vidal. I read the original, Herculean-length version, when I was 19; the Atlas-sized version has thus far daunted me. That, plus with 30-odd additional years of reading wisdom behind me, I now see that Vidal doesn’t know how to set a scene well or give dimension to his characters.

So, perhaps I won’t be reading that. Which means, I’m open to input. Because I believe I’ve read every other novel in the house. At least every one that doesn’t have dragons in it. (Those belong to other tenants.)

Who is the worst CEO in history?

October 4th, 2015

I’ll give you a hint: She’s running for President.

Awful Depot

October 3rd, 2015

Like many writers, I have had a lifelong love affair with office supplies. As a young boy who was not only writing but also acting as an earnest amateur publisher, I would save up my money to go to the mom-and-pop office-supply store in the nearest town, plunking down my money for onion-skin typing paper, Letraset, Liquid Paper, and even a new font style for my IBM Selectric II if I’d managed to save the eight bucks needed for a new font ball. The store was small with a limited selection, and the prices were dear, but I was glad to have it.

You can imagine, then, my delight when Office Depot arrived upon the scene. I loved Office Depot. The store was massive, the selection deep, and the hours long, meaning you could breeze in, get what you wanted, check out quickly, and be gone. And really, that’s all that I ask of any store: have what I want, and let me buy it. But that is only barely the Office Depot I’ve been encountering lately, and certainly not the one I witnessed today.

We’ve had a little home-office shuffle in my home, my having belatedly realized that I could never recapture access to the “office” in our house once it became the nesting place of the home computer fated to do nothing but host “League of Legends” tournaments commanded by rotating shifts of my three children. Morning, noon, night, breakfast, lunch and dinner, even during midnight snacks, the “office” and its computer is constantly engaged in battles between trolls and spacemen or something like that. Finally, two weeks ago, the question came to me: “If I’m the one paying the bills (with my wife), then why am I the one sitting outside writing in the cold and dark?” Then I realized that one of my offspring effectively had two rooms — he had his “room,” and he had the “guest room” that he’d moved into because it was larger and had better cable. So I gave him his choice: he could have his room, or he could have the “guest” room, but not both. He kept the latter, and I set about transforming the former into a new home office, one where there’d actually be office-like things happening in it.

Which, today, led me to Office Depot. I went there to secure three items: a new task chair, a new printer, and a ream of paper for said printer. I picked out a task chair with ease, securing one both firm enough and cheap enough for my tastes. The printer took a few minutes longer, as I dug around online via my phone to read sundry reviews, finally selecting a model from Brother that prints in color, scans, faxes (because that’s so important), will print on both sides of a sheet, is fully mobile- and wifi-enabled, and will butter my toast if I like. Plus, it was sixty-nine bucks. A bargain. We pull a boxed unit from the bottom shelf, my adolescent son hefts it and we head to the counter with it, and also with the purchase tag for the task chair, a ream of recycled paper, and a pack of inexpensive plastic mechanical pencils that said son insists on as some sort of recompense for his slight application of labor. There’s no one in line and we march right to the front, sure we’re soon to be on our way. We’re greeted by a cashier, a woman with unfortunate teeth and her hair pulled starkly behind her who looks to be in her early thirties, who scans the printer and the ream of paper and the packet of pencils. Then I hand her the pull slip for the task chair.

“Has anyone pulled this for you yet?” she asks.

“No,” I say. “I just brought the slip here.” I suppose if anyone had been working the furniture department, I could have asked someone, but my son and I had been the only ones out there, nomads drifting through a sea of empty chairs.

She jumps onto a little microphone dangling from one ear. “Juan, I need a chair pulled from the back.”

A guy from halfway across the cavernous store yells, “We already got it!”

The cashier looks behind the register and sees another boxed and disassembled chair of a different model, pulled, I gather, for someone else. “Oh, they already got it!” she tells me.

“No, that’s not mine.”

“Oh, but it’s right here.”

“Yes, but that’s not mine.”

She gets back on the mic. “We need a chair.”

“It’s right behind you!” Juan yells. He’s otherwise engaged in standing around talking to another Office Depot employee, a young woman, at a printing station where no one is printing.

“That’s not the one,” the cashier says into the mic.

“That’s the one from the slip!” Juan yells.

“That’s a different one,” she replies.

“We checked the slip!” he yells back.

“It’s a different one!” I yell.

“We checked it!” he yells.

She gets back onto the mic. “I need a chair, a 532613.”

Juan is still standing there, off in the distance, glowering in our direction. But now I get the sense that something is happening. Maybe. In the meantime, the cashier wonders if I mind standing aside so that she can help the one other customer in the store that six people are assigned to not helping very much. I say sure. An attractive young Latina, so tiny I could tuck her under my arm and walk her out unnoticed, buys some highlighters. I envy her because she doesn’t need anything pulled from the back. She pays and leaves and I wonder where she’s off to and start daydreaming about all the other things I could be doing right now. Cigar? Drinks? Writing? Reading? Changing the seal on the upstairs toilet? It’s a long list.

Time goes by. We draw closer to Daylight Savings Time. Geese flying overhead shift direction. The oceans ebb and flow.

I finally say, “Is anything happening?”

“Oh, yes,” the casher says. “Someone’s getting it.”

More time goes by. My arteries harden. Finally, yes, by God, a different person, certainly not Juan, Juan who believes I have somehow made some mistake because goddammit there’s already a chair behind the counter and why don’t I take that one?!?!, a different man, strawberry blond and thickish with a ruddy face, makes his way up to the counter with a box carrying a disassembled chair all ready for my assembly.

“It comes in blue and in pink,” I say. “I just want to make sure that’s blue.”

“It’s blue,” this man says.

“Aww….” my son volunteers, for some reason.

On the far horizon, Juan turns away at the injustice of my getting the chair of my request, deciding, I’m sure, that he will never, ever, no matter what anyone says, put away the other one waiting forlornly behind the registers, because I just should have taken it.

The cashier pulls out her scanning wand and scans the chair and I hand her my Office Depot Store Purchasing Card.

Now, the Office Depot Store Purchasing Card is a card one uses to make purchases at Office Depot. This is implied by its name, emblazoned on the front, and verified in greater detail by the smaller print on the back. It is tied to my Business Development Account. I hand it over to the cashier and she looks at it quizzically. Figuring I’d head her off from seeking guidance from Juan or anyone else, I offer:

“That’s my Office Depot Store Purchasing Card. It’s tied to my Business Development Account.”

She slides it through the swiper at the register, and then says, “That’ll be $169.93.” And then waits pensively for payment.

“No, that’s my Store Purchasing Card,” I clarify, even though she’s holding it in her hand and, I believe, reading it. “I use that to purchase things, and Office Depot sends me a bill. And then I pay it. It works like a credit card.”

(I realize that in print this sounds mean. I wasn’t being mean. I was stating the obvious. Because the situation called for it. But when one states the obvious it frequently sounds mean or sarcastic. If anything, here it was just desperate. Because I was eager to go back to leading my life. Elsewhere.)

She’s puzzled. “Then why is it asking me for you to pay?” “It” means the register. She believes the register is instructing her to get cash (what’s that?) or a credit card from me.

“I don’t know,” I say. And I don’t. Because I don’t work at Office Depot, and I’m starting to wonder if anyone else there does either. I’ve handled every conceivable aspect of customer service myself — selecting the task chair and the mechanical pencils and the ream of paper and the multifunction printer — without a hint of assistance from anyone, or even the offer of assistance or aid. Now what I’m trying to do is transact this deal, under terms that Office Depot previously suggested to me: “Here, use this Store Purchasing Card we’re mailing you.” Which I’ve done. For years.

I start to imagine leaving everything there at the counter, but then realize I want these things today, and if I head over to Staples I may be in for another situation like this (one never knows), and just then, after the cashier does some gabbling with the cashier stationed next to her (no customers over there either), and just before the scowling Juan can make his way to the register to set me and this co-worker of his straight, she says, “Oh, wait, I figured it out,” and hits some onscreen button that I see is blinking like the warning lights on a melting down Japanese reactor, a button that has so clearly been demanding for some minutes now that it be pressed that one would have to be completely shut down to outside stimuli in order to miss it, and she sighs with relief and gratitude at her own success in completing the transaction. She says something to the effect that I should come back again some time soon and I say “No problem,” which all of my children recognize from me as a sarcastic response, and we make our exit, weakened but alive.

Later it strikes me that I’ve seen this sort of customer service before. It was at a place called Radio Shack. Ah, yes, Radio Shack, where in order to purchase a D battery, one had to agree to volunteer one’s full name, address, zip code, phone number, blood type, and Mom’s favorite recipe, a place where no one actually knew how anything worked, including especially how to ring you up and get you out.

Yes, that place. Office Depot, at least the one near me, is now like that place.

Dog-bites-man massacres

October 1st, 2015

If you haven’t yet, please invest the 12 minutes to watch the President’s statement about today’s mass shooting, at a community college in Oregon. I say “today’s,” because we now have one every day. Given that these shootings are now business as usual, you may not have seen this.

There’s an old saying in journalism, that dog-bites-man isn’t a story, but man-bites-dog is, because the latter is so unusual. I remember when the Colombine high-school-shooting massacre happened in 1999, the news was not just awful, as today’s was, but also breathtaking. How could this happen? It was so massive, so unusual, so man-bites-dog. I was in an airport — in Colorado, I believe — and started making and receiving cellphone calls about the massacre, as every television station in the airport started carrying news about it.

Now it’s 16 years later, and we’ve made zero progress on gun violence, and we now reside in a time when there’s a mass shooting every day, so it’s not unusual. It’s dog-bites-man.

For the record, I like guns. I used to like them for hunting, and I’ve always liked them for target practice — either paper targets, or cans, or skeet. More than 40 years after learning how to shoot as a boy, I’m still a good shot. Most of my family shoots, most of them for target practice, some of them still for hunting. I’m not anti-gun. I’m anti-gun-massacres.

A few years ago, there was a study that showed that more gun laws equate with fewer gun deaths. Here’s some reporting on that. I don’t want all the guns rounded up. (That’s impossible anyway.) I want better profiling, I want a slower application process, and whatever else will help restrict crazy people from easily accessing automatic weapons and taking them to college campuses, shopping centers, movie theaters, and every single other place that we congregate.

I want the idea of mass shootings in this country to become unusual again.