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


Bank shot

May 31st, 2018

The other day, I got a sinister and threatening letter from Bank of America telling me that “immediate action is required to update your information by June 20, 2018” or, I guess, the government would force them to buy another purveyor of failed subprime mortgages and stick us all with the bill again.

The thing that made this a head-scratcher is that the letter arrived at my home (not my corporate office), and seems to indicate that I, Lee Wochner, am a business. I am many things, but I am not a business. Corporations may be people, as we know, but this person is not a corporation.

I do have a corporate entity, but it operates under a different name — okay, you can find it here — and it doesn’t operate from my home address. So, shockingly, somehow this big banking entity has made a mistake.

I figured I’d do something about the letter, that something being visiting my longtime banking officer at Bank of America, because I also needed to order checks for my writing account, and I wanted to make sure the info was right since I no longer had any of the checks on hand. (I keep separate books, and therefore separate checks, for my income and expenses as a writer. I do this because it’s proper, and because the GOP controls the White House and Congress, and I want them having as little of my money as possible, and this proves the tax-deductibility of all those expenses. From some of the savings, I make repeated contributions to Democrats. So I think it kind of balances out.)

But before I could set up an appointment with my banking officer, Bank of America called me. (They must have answers to this form!) Unfortunately, the very nice but extremely solicitous and sloooowwww-talking southern lady named Helene called me right when I was on deadline, and right when I was 70% of the way through writing the thing I had a deadline on. My assistant asked me if I wanted to take the call, and I did, but I wanted to get off as quickly as possible before I lost the thread of what I was writing. So, about 60 seconds into Helene being very nice and very kind and very slow, I said, “I’m sorry, Helene, I’m going to fast-forward. You’re being absolutely terrific, but I was in the middle of something and I need to get back to it. So here’s the situation.” And then I laid out for her that I don’t own a business that runs from my home, the business I do own doesn’t operate under my name, and I don’t know how to properly answer the questions that Bank of America suddenly needs to have answers to, questions like “Country of legal formation”; “State of legal formation”; “Physical location” that to me sound, well, ill-intended. Why now? Did I mention my (justified) paranoia about Trump?

(Side note: Two days ago, Robert Reich said there were six political parties in America. Evangelical Republicans; Mainstream Republicans (i.e., Wall Street); Populist Republicans (Tea Party & Libertarians); Mainstream Democrats (i.e., Wall Street); Progressive Democrats; and — wait for it — “Trump.” Yes, “Trump” was a party unto itself. Then, today, former Speaker of the House John Boehner, a guy who should know about these things, said there is no Republican party, that the thing he used to belong to is gone, and now there is only Trump. So you start to see why Trump colors my thoughts about so many things.)

Seven minutes of conversation with Helene revealed that she had no idea how I should fill out the form properly. Yes, I do some banking with Bank of America. I have several accounts with them and — full disclosure — also own some stock in the company. I like the convenience of Bank of America, I like my personal banker a lot, and whenever I feel they’ve overcharged me for something (some fee), I’ve made a call and they’ve reversed it. But this form was positively Kafkaesque. I had been invited to a special audience at the Castle, as it were, but there was no way into the Castle and no way to keep the mandatory appointment. Helene was sure that I own a business named “Lee Wochner,” which I don’t, but she could also see that I have a business relationship with Bank of America under another name and address, while I do have a personal banking relationship that operates out of my home address. So, really, there was no way to respond to Bank of America’s insistent query (both the letter and form, plus the phone call), because their baseline information was wrong.

This afternoon, after going to the swearing-in of a very good man (a close acquaintance) as the chief of police of a neighboring city, I stopped in to see Jackie, my banking officer. She’s been my banking officer for more than 15 years. She read the form, she logged in and looked at my account, and said something like “This is all wrong.” So tomorrow she’s going to call corporate, back East and down South, and try to straighten it out. She asked to keep the letter they’d sent and wanted to know if I wanted a copy. “It’s not my problem, Jackie. It’s Bank of America’s. So I don’t care.”

She also ordered new checks for my writing account. She suggested that I place the order for 42 checks. That seemed like too few. Then we confirmed how many checks I wrote in 2017: All of 19. (Everybody else, I paid online somehow.) So, yes, I ordered enough checks to last more than two years. That’s the state of banking today.


May 29th, 2018

Roseanne can say what she likes, but ABC didn’t have to keep paying her to say it.

Colin Kaepernick can say what he likes, but the NFL didn’t have to keep paying him to say it.

Neither was robbed of a fundamental right to speak, because each was in a contractual arrangement with a private employer.

I didn’t watch “Roseanne” — ever — and I don’t watch the NFL — ever. So I can’t get worked up about this. There is no free-speech lesson to be learned here.

The true lesson is this: Every large corporation and organization is now going to have to decide whether it is red, blue, or white.

If you’re, say, NASCAR, and your base is red, feel free to say what you think so long as it aligns with red.

If you’re, say, Starbucks, and your base is blue, feel free to say what you think so long as it aligns with blue.

If your base isn’t explicitly red or blue, say nothing having to do with red or blue.

That’s the true lesson.

Finished first draft

May 28th, 2018

Of all the feelings in the world, there is none that quite matches up with finishing the first draft of something you’ve written, especially when it’s something you weren’t sure you’d finish.

I’ve written 62 plays of various page count and in various stages of completion, of which 32 have been produced or workshopped. Every one of those, at some point or another, has felt impossible to complete. (And, you’ll note, I have 30 that I am theoretically still going to work on “when I get time or inspiration.” We’ll see about that.)

Some time during all that, I’ve also written about two dozen short stories. It might be more, but I’ve got 22 saved on this laptop — and, now, a 23rd. One that I started last August and worked on in the course of five writing sessions over five weeks. One that, throughout the process, I almost turned into a play. Maybe that seemed easier. I write one or two plays a year, but in recent years I don’t write a short story every year. Every time while writing this story, it was sorely tempting to turn it into a play.

Yes, there is a pride in doing something you didn’t know you could do. I didn’t know I could finish this story in a satisfactory way. (Satisfactory to me, anyway.) Now I’m just going to let it settle for a bit, give it a polish within a month, and send it out.

And, in the meantime, write something else.

Paper boy

May 26th, 2018

Being a writer in my era has meant a life of dealing with paper.

I’ve got two file cabinets filled with papers — many play scripts and developmental notes and drafts from various productions and readings and workshops, plus comic-book scripts and comic-strip scripts and essays and a well-into-it book about playwriting and many short stories and some poems and files of ideas and correspondence and copies of my reviews and God knows what else. That’s not even all of it. I have crates of papers from much earlier — I’ve been at this since I was a boy — in the former home office and in the attic.

I can safely say it’s been a weighty endeavor, because today I moved all of that paper, as well as those two file cabinets, from my corporate office to my writing office at home. Some of my papers have moved from Galloway Township, NJ (my parents’ house) to Ocean City, NJ (where I lived in the mid-80’s) to my first apartment in Burbank, CA, then my first house in Burbank, then to my second house in Burbank, then to my first corporate office, then to my second corporate office, then to my third corporate office (the company has kept growing), then, finally today, back home.

They seem to be getting heavier. Or something else is going on (I can’t imagine what), because moving them around is growing more taxing.

How can I have all this, when I’ve been writing on computers since my 20s? Well, you do printouts. And you edit by hand on those printouts. And then you keep various drafts to compare. And then you have correspondence. (Or, at least, you used to.) And here’s the big thing: You find out the hard way that digital records are never safe, so you always print out a copy.

Let me say it again: Digital files are never safe.

I know this, because I just lost some audio files I’d had for years. Why? Because they were done via AOL, and are no longer playable. (Although my good friend Joe Stafford, who owns some ancient tech, made a valiant effort to retrieve them for me.) One of them is my then 3-year-old son sending an audio file to Joe wherein he extols the virtues of the Flintstones movie.

Okay, you say, I couldn’t have saved those on paper anyway. Well, I have a whole bunch of plays and short stories from the 1980s and early 1990s that now read as .exe files. Why? Because, it turns out, they are on an old version of Appleworks, and now nothing will read them. Lucky for me — I have printed-out versions in my files.

Almost 20 years ago, Nicholson Baker wrote a book about libraries’ assault on paper as they switched to digital, and what was being lost in the process. His warning that some digital formats wouldn’t be playable in the future, and that the seemingly flimsiest format, paper, would prove to be the most durable wasn’t lost on me.

Digital has its place (he says, as he writes a blog post). But I still love paper, and not just my own. I own hundreds and hundreds of books, and I add more by the week. I love the feel of them and the weight. I love the snapping sound of closing a hardback book, and of running my hand across creamy illustrated paper. I love the smell of books and papers.

I’ll always be a paper boy.

A change in the weather

May 23rd, 2018

Everything really is topsy-turvy. Last night, I left London, where it was sunny and 71 degrees, to return to Los Angeles, where it’s cold and rainy. What gives?


May 19th, 2018

For the record, as an anti-monarchist, I dutifully boycotted that royal wedding today. We Americans did fight a war over this sort of thing, you know. My feelings about it haven’t changed.

The big event in London

May 15th, 2018

This Saturday night, there’s a big event in London that you may have heard about. It’s been getting a lot of international attention, and rightly so:  It’s always heart-warming to see notable people who really belong together become united in a ceremony.

This is the sort of once-in-a-lifetime event that I would regret missing, so I’m getting on a flight in a few hours and heading over to England so that I’m there for the big day on Saturday.

Yes, I feel truly blessed to have gotten into the only Pere Ubu tour stop featuring all nine band members on stage (!!!).

The last time I was in London, in 1999, it was to see a play of mine that was running in King’s Cross, and to have dinner with David Thomas, the lead singer of Pere Ubu, who proved to be kind, thoughtful, and able to drink me under the table. (I had a pint and a half, next to his four at dinner and two during my play.) I’ve seen him many times since then, but only at the band’s shows.

There’s always something big going on in London. While I’m there, I plan to go to the British Museum again (to my knowledge, the only museum that houses one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World), and perhaps the British Library, the Dunhill cigar lounge, and more than one pub and theatre.  I’m also given to understand that there’s some other big event in London happening on the same day as the Pere Ubu concert, involving other notable people being brought together, but I don’t plan to attend.

As for the concert, I’m wishing the band the very best, and I’m looking forward to all the beautiful music they’ll make together.

Art in unusual places

May 8th, 2018

More about David Byrne:  His online journal holds wonderful surprises. Today, he’s shared a story about a law office in Dallas that serves double duty as an art museum. You can check that out here.

Another artistic surprise:  When you visit his journal, note the popup at the lower left of your screen. It’s a music player. Every month, Byrne curates some musical choices that appeal to him, and every month I find something new and delightful to enjoy.

What Everybody’s Listening To At My House

May 7th, 2018

We can’t get enough of David Byrne’s new album, “American Utopia.” It’s on constant replay on the home stereo (such as it is), in my car, and in my head. (Fitting, for a former Talking Head.) It’s a terrific album, filled with fun weirdness.

It’s also provided a backdrop against which to note the evolution of what I’ll call David Byrne’s positioning. The David Byrne of the 1970s and 1980s, who evoked the jittery discontent of modern life through abstruse words and a highly neurotic sound, is long gone. The more recent David Byrne, heard here and on his collaboration with Brian Eno of 10 years ago, “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today,” is very direct in his concerns and somewhat homiletic. “Is this meant ironically? Is it a joke?” he asks in the liner notes re the title of the new album. “… These songs don’t describe an imaginary or possibly impossible place but rather attempt to depict the world we live in now. Many of us, I suspect, are not satisfied with that world — the world we have made for ourselves. We look around and ask ourselves — well, does it have to be like this? Is there another way?” Byrne was similarly earnest on that surprisingly upbeat disc with Eno, and has gone so far as to launch the blog “Reasons to be Cheerful,” which promulgates the good news from around the world about Economics, Education, Health, Culture and more. If you fear that, say, Climate Change is hopeless, you’ll want to turn here. I don’t think it’s just because he figures we can’t handle any more bad news. Somehow, David Byrne, who always seemed emotionally remote, has become a warm-hearted social activist.

Three weeks ago, I took my wife to Las Vegas to see Byrne’s show, at the gorgeous Smith Center, where the acoustics proved to be remarkable and the performance even moreso. In addition to reinventing his music, Byrne has set out to reinvent the stage show that accompanies it. Note, below, the absence of an onstage set or, even, the normal components of a live concert: no drum kit, no cables, no amps, no keyboard stand, no guitar rack, no foot pedals, indeed, no nuthin’ except the musicians and whatever they can carry. This is very much a marching band.






Rock concert? This didn’t seem like one. My wife said it was more like a combination of performance piece with music. Above, they set a mood for “Burning Down the House.” Below, note how the band, including the 65-year-old lead singer, plays dead while just the keyboardist carries on.


And, here, how he opens the show, simply sitting alone onstage and singing about the workings of the human brain.


That photo alone shows that Byrne is an interdisciplinary artist, not a rock musician. (As did this sensational and odd installation he put in the Pace Gallery in Menlo Park, which I went to see last year.) He’s a musician, yes, but also a visual artist, a film director, and a writer of non-fiction books, including “How Music Works.” His show is also tightly choreographed, and filled with joy — the joy of the music, and also the joy radiating from the performers who are delighted to present it.  In that same week, my wife and I saw another interdisciplinary artist, Laurie Anderson. (Byrne on Wednesday night; Anderson on Friday night at the Wallis in Los Angeles.) Byrne has said he won’t be reuniting with Talking Heads because that would be an exercise in nostalgia and he’s not interested in that. Laurie Anderson, meanwhile, is on what’s clearly a nostalgia tour:  a clip show of her greatest hits, of sorts — video bits; some spoken word; talk about past events; very occasional electric violin. It was disappointing to see such a provocative artist reduced to just showing up and pulling bits out of a hat, and even more dispiriting to learn that, when unscripted, she can’t tell a good story.

Byrne’s show featured eight songs from the (highly recommended) new album, eight Talking Heads songs, and six songs from his many collaborations over the years. If there are tickets left somewhere near you, you might want to get them. Maybe watching this recent appearance on “Colbert” will help convince you.

And now, an op ed from the most naive man in America

April 30th, 2018

This Republican pundit is shocked to learn that his side’s media outlets no longer want any content that isn’t 100% supportive of Trump.

“If, among those who supposedly cherish freedom of expression, certain widespread viewpoints become taboo, where does that leave us? In a dishonest media atmosphere.”

Gee, I hope this movement doesn’t leak over to Fox News, which always has news we can trust. Thank God we have a press secretary we can count on to share the truth with us.

p.s. Please note that this guy’s outrage manifested itself on the day he realized he’d lost his paycheck.