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


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Money laundering

June 10th, 2014

The dry cleaning travails continue.

After leaving the two dry-cleaning services written about previously, I found one I liked. It was next to my new office (well, then-new office; we’ve moved again since then), the service was good, and the owner was friendly. Unfortunately, late last year he developed cancer. I found out about this when he showed me the golf-ball-sized nodule on the back of his neck, which made me shudder and gasp out loud. He got that removed and beat the cancer, but he didn’t have health insurance — and so, in addition to running his dry-cleaning business, he set about working another job in an attempt to pay back everything he owed to the hospital and everyone else. Ultimately, he sold his business, and for not much. He had been a (small) client with my company, and when he came in to settle his final bill, my business partner and I looked at each other and then told him he didn’t owe us anything.

The new owner I wasn’t so crazy about. All of the customer service people were replaced with people who didn’t know what customer service was. Plus, they kept breaking the buttons on my pricier shirts. Now armed with some inside knowledge about dry cleaning, thanks to the writing I had done for the previous owner, I knew the cause:  They were using a heat press to dry my shirts. It’s a faster, and therefore cheaper, process. It also frequently stresses and then cracks buttons. Whenever I pointed this out, they gamely offered to replace the button they’d broken, either with one from somewhere else on my shirt, or a mismatched one from a drawer full of scrap buttons. Thanks. Thanks a lot.

After trying another dry cleaner, which charged about double what I’d been paying elsewhere, I got a coupon in the mail from the place where the three teenaged girls argued over who would have to wait on me. I figured those girls had to be gone by now. So I dropped off 24 shirts and a suit, with the coupon. The coupon was clearly marked to save 15% on laundry for shirts. The girl didn’t take the coupon.

“Don’t you want the coupon?” I asked.

“We don’t need it.”

“Then how will they know to take the 15% off?” It wasn’t like she had scanned it or anything.

“I wrote it onto your receipt.”

“Right,” I said. “But I won’t have that when I come back. All you ever ask for is a phone number. That’s all that any dry cleaner ever asks for.”

“That’s okay,” she said. “I wrote the 15% off on your receipt.”

“Which I’m keeping,” I said. “Where is your record of it?”

“On what I wrote.”

“But if I don’t present that to someone when I pick up my clothes?”

“Oh, we’ll still give you the 15% off.”

“You’re sure?”

“Oh, yeah. It’s in the system.”

Tonight I went to get my clothes. The girl who greets me, a different one than the one from two days before, rings it up and says, “$95.20.”

That seemed too high by far. “Did you take off my 15%?”

“What 15%?” she asks. Of course.

“When I dropped those 24 shirts off, I presented a coupon for 15% off.”

“Oh. Do you have it?”

“No. But the girl on Sunday said it’d be in the system.”

“No, I don’t see it.”

“Okay, well, I did. Honest. You mailed me a coupon, and I brought it in here with me when I dropped off the 24 shirts.”

She has no record of that, of course, but goes to see an older woman who approves the discount.

Now she says I owe her 80 dollars and something. I tell her that it costs $2.65 to launder a shirt — I had checked on Sunday — and $10.25 to dry clean a jacket and a pair of pants, and one of those 24 shirts had been silk, which costs $6.95 to dry clean, so my total should be ( ( (23 x $2.65) + $6.95 x .85 ) + ($10.25 x 2), which equals — here, I admit, I pulled out my iPhone — and since there’s no tax on a service,  I tell her my total should be $78.22. She looks at me like I’m Stephen Hawking for being able to figure that out. Then she looks plaintively at the older woman who trundles over to supervise.

The older woman starts over from the beginning, and I walk her through my computation. Have I mentioned that at this point a line is forming behind me? Moreover, I have a cold I’ve picked up from one of the several coughing/sneezing members of my family, so one would think I’d rather be home implementing my mother’s traditional Mollie Wochner cure for anything (a shot of whiskey and to bed). But I don’t see why this is difficult, I feel I’m entitled to my discount because it was the coupon offering that brought me in here, and I also have the vague notion that I’m doing a service to this company by instructing their employees in math. The woman runs through it all again, and then announces that I owe $72.07.

“No, it’s $78.22,” I say. Now they’ve gone from overcharging me to undercharging me.

“No, $72.07. Because of your 30% off .”

“What 30% off?”

“Thirty percent off dry cleaning a suit. It was applied to the two pieces of the suit.”

“Why am I getting that?”

“Because you brought in a coupon.”

“No, I brought in a coupon for 15% off, and that was on laundering shirts.”

“Oh. Where is that coupon?”

“I don’t have it! The girl said she put it into the system!”

“It’s not in the system. But she did put in 30% off both of those suit items.”

“But you don’t owe me that!”

“Well, I’m sorry, but it’s in the system. So your total is $72.07.”

Finally, we compromised. Mostly because I was ready to pass out onto the floor. We settled on $74.35. I don’t know why. She asked me to sign a slip of paper saying they had given me that “discount.” I said sure. Whatever. At home, I gave a cursory review to a few of the shirts and didn’t see any broken buttons, so that’s an improvement. But I really don’t feel like haggling over the price of professional laundry.

 

Progress

June 6th, 2014

My good friend Tom emailed me this tonight:

“Found out from an article about Echo Park that there was a part of the neighborhood referred to as ‘Red Hill’ because it’s where the leftists, socialists and communists tended to congregate. Now it’s called something else and there’s a new trendy, upscale restaurant in the neighborhood called Red Hill. And that’s America folks.”

At all costs!

June 5th, 2014

 

The above is taken from an email sent to me by Marvel Comics soliciting my interesting in buying an immediate download of #3 of their limited series “Original Sin.”

Let me just say that Marvel isn’t kidding when they promise, above, “ANSWERS AT ALL COSTS!”

I’m amazed by the pricing of these “Digital Special Editions.” To send you, essentially, nothing – and certainly nothing that you can own, or share, or gift — they are charging SIX DOLLARS AND 99 CENTS.

When it’s a music download, I can make up to 6 copies. I can burn a copy, or digitally transfer a copy to another device, or share with a friend. And because it’s music, I will listen to it over and over for years.

This comic “book” download would get one, and perhaps two, readings, restricted to me. No way to share, unless I feel like lending my iPad around. (I don’t.) This digital comic book is both overpriced and untransferrable.

Of course, it’s only overpriced if not enough people buy it. I have no way of knowing if, say, 30,000 people will pay $7 for this — in which case Marvel would pocket $210,000 almost completely net because they’re just repurposing existing content at almost no cost.

But I’m flabbergasted at their audacity. No idea if they’re right from a business perspective to be so audacious.

A couple of years ago, I read four books on pricing within the space of two months. Pricing,  and therefore price negotiation, it shouldn’t surprise you, is based upon a perception of fairness. (Google “fairness in pricing” and read at your leisure.)  So that while yes I know that the 12¢ comic-book I grew up with is far in the rearview mirror, it nevertheless strikes me as unfair that a non-physical comic book would cost seven bucks, and that’s just one of at least eight and more likely probably 30 issues, counting tie-ins, that you’d need to buy to read the complete story.

Two weeks ago, when I was in Nashville, I went to the Grand Ole Opry. While I came away with my personal dislike of country music fully intact, I was impressed with the quality of the production and especially with what an egalitarian bargain the evening is. On the evening I went, I saw 10 acts (each plays just 2-3 songs — mercifully), and ticket prices started at just — wait for it — $29.50. I bought a ticket for 42 bucks and got killer seats. (And, meanwhile, I’m seeing four semi-broken acts from the 1980s at the Greek Amphitheatre later this year where my middling tickets cost $87 each.)

The Opry is fairly priced — more than fairly priced — and so is the Greek. But the digital comic book, at seven bucks, isn’t. How do I know? Because I won’t buy it. As the saying goes, “Everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it.”

Flight patterns

May 20th, 2014

I flew out of Los Angeles this morning for five days of business and pleasure in Nashville, Tennessee. Tucked under my arm as I walked through LAX was a paperback copy of a book I’d always mean to read, “The Bell Jar,” by Sylvia Plath.

While I was checking my bag outside, the next lady in line leaned forward and said, “Oh, what are you reading? ‘The Bell Jar.’ Hm.”

Inside, while she was ensuring I wasn’t a terrorist hiding explosives in my iPad, the blonde TSA Agent scanning my boarding pass and license said, ” ‘The Bell Jar.’ How is that?”

A few minutes later, the pleasant and attractive sandwich girl selling me a severely overpriced comestible for my longish flight said, “Now what is that you’re reading? ‘The Bell Jar’? Is that any good? Should I read that?”

I couldn’t figure out any of this special treatment. Yeah, I’ve got a book — so what? Had they all heard of “The Bell Jar” and this was their chance to ask about its merits? Then I started looking around — all up and down LAX and, later, all up and down the aisle of my particular flight, and noticed that I was the only person with a book. No one else I could see anywhere had so much as a magazine, or even a newspaper — they all had smartphones or tablets — but I had an actual book.

I started to feel like the last carrier pigeon, with everyone else watching me take flight.

On the plane, a moon-faced lady with a black mop of hair in a Little Lotta style and upper arms like dappled ham hocks and sporting an Angry Birds wristwatch with a thick black rubberized band, wedged herself into the seat between me and the old lady in the aisle seat. The moment we ascended into the clouds, she dredged her smartphone from a crevasse somewhere on her person and took a photo across the frontage of my face and out the window. There was nothing out there but clouds, but she captured them.

About 10 minutes later, she took another one.

Throughout the flight, as she munched down a six-ounce can of roast almonds, a bag of PopCorners (“The new shape of popcorn!”), a perfunctory apple, and absolutely everything proffered by the flight attendant, including pretzels, cookies, and nut-substitutes, and, yes, topping it all off with the requisite Diet Coke, she continued to snap photos through the window.

I imagined the slide slow for relatives later:

“At 9:50, I flew through this cloud. … See this cloud? We flew through this one at 10:05. … This cloud here, this is really great — 10:17…..”

When she wasn’t doing this, she had her Kindle reader fired up. So that she could play Angry Birds.

What was it again that drove Sylvia Plath to suicide before “The Bell Jar” could even be published? Had she lived, this bookless experience would have killed her.

Letting Go — tomorrow night

May 14th, 2014

Tomorrow night, I’m reading an original piece that I just finished writing 5 minutes ago, “Letting Go of the Dead” as part of the Shine storytelling series. The event runs from 7:30 to 9:30 at the YWCA at the YWCA Santa Monica/Westside, 2019 14th Street, Santa Monica CA 90405 . Come join us! Here’s where you can find out more info.

 

Years ago, I did a lot of readings such as this. More recently, I haven’t had the time. But the beauty of agreeing to do one is that inevitably you wind up writing something new. (At least, I do.) Tonight I gave the opening remarks at a civic event here in my adopted hometown of Burbank — which occasioned my writing a couple of pages today about leadership, pages that I wouldn’t have written otherwise. And, now, I’ve got 1350 words on the subject of death and letting go, told in what I hope is a trenchant but lightly comic style. So as to keep it  a “bright story of positive change.”

Today’s (documentary) music video

May 8th, 2014

When I was 15 and unexpectedly editing a rock and roll newspaper that was distributed free around Atlantic County, New Jersey, free records were shipped to my home by record companies with delightful regularity.

One day I opened a thin square box and pulled out an album with the odd title Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! . I slapped that record onto my stereo, was jolted and thrilled by a sound I’d heard nowhere else, and played that record over and over almost until the groove on each side wore flat. To this day, the Devo version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is the right one, and those Rolling fellows are pretenders.

So imagine my thrill that someone is, finally, making what I hope will be a definitive documentary about Devo. Here’s a five-minute preview, covering the origin of the band as a reaction and response to lackadaisical hippies. (Which just makes me love them all the more.)

 

What post-apocalypse sounds like

May 7th, 2014

What does Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road sound like when “transcribed” by a computer into piano music? Like this:

 

 

Sounds about right.

A reminder not to be so quick to judge

May 6th, 2014

Muscle memory

May 5th, 2014

 

A week ago, my company moved to a new location, about a mile and a half from the old location, but far removed from the enormous infrastructural upset about to be occasioned by a massive freeway project. To give you an example of the impacts of said project:  In March, the state agency put up signs announcing that starting in May, San Fernando Boulevard would be permanently closed. What was our address? 2319 N. San Fernando Boulevard.

Given that we were moving, I decided to make some improvements in my own office, things that would help me keep my desk from looking like a landing strip for paper debris, and that would help me streamline my day so that I can do more writing. (That is, when I’m not on the phone. A few years ago when someone asked my wife what I do for a living, she said, “He talks to people all day and they give him money.”) If you’re going to move, you might as well move everything into a better position at the same time. So:  we’ve moved the file drawers of my plays and essays and short stories and correspondence and other miscellany that isn’t readily needed into an alcove outside my office, and we’ve freed up more room within arm’s reach for things I use regularly. The interior designers have come in several times and made small adjustments and it’s gotten better and better. As of today, I can shred documents, print papers, use my laptop, and otherwise lay hands on all the necessary equipment of my daily endeavors with a mere swivel of my seat. The ergonomic accomplishment of this reassures me that, yes, we will be able to put people on Pluto quite comfortably and soon.

But here’s what hasn’t kept up:  my brain. So far, my muscle memory is outlifting all of that spatial engineering.

Every time I go to get my car keys, I reflexively reach over to the left — where they are no longer kept. The printer is no longer behind me, but that’s where I’m always reaching. The used paper I flip over and feed into said printer, to save both money and the environment? No, it isn’t in a drawer beneath the printer now, it’s in a drawer to the left of that. And on and on. I almost feel like I’m performing that exercise Andre Gregory recommends in My Dinner With Andre, where you use your non-dominant hand all day and thus reawaken yourself to experience — but go psychotic at the same time, because everything is complicated by sudden awareness.

What I’ve become newly aware of is just how strong muscle memory is — how quickly the brain develops shortcuts that speed up our processes but diminish our sensitivity to experience, and how loath it is to give them up. Sure, I could put everything back where it used to be, but where’s the progress in that?  As a thinking person, as someone who believes in mind over muscle, I refuse to give in. Which just leaves me wondering:  Although we know it becomes harder to remember things as we age, just how long does it take for your muscles to forget?

 

Dick Ayers, R.I.P.

May 5th, 2014

 

I was sorry to learn tonight of the death of comics artist Dick Ayers at age 90. Ayers drew or inked a lot of notable comics, including Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos and Fantastic Four, and he may have been the last surviving Marvel artist of the early 1960′s*. The comic I most associate him with is the original Ghost Rider, a Western hero who predated the motorcycle-riding Ghost Rider (and who was later renamed Night Rider to eliminate that confusion).

But that’s not the primary way I remember Dick Ayers. Dick Ayers was also the first, or one of the first, pro interviews I got for the comics fanzines I published in my teens in the 1970′s. He lived in upstate New York, where a young artist named Rich Mayone who drew comic strips for my fanzine heard about him and was able to get an interview. Here’s how Rich pitched the interview to me (and I’m paraphrasing): “There’s a guy around here, an inker, who did a lot of Marvel comics. Mostly Westerns, but still, it was Marvel.” As is typical with 14-year-olds, neither of us had any awareness of, and probably not much interest in, what this artist had been doing even five years earlier.

 

*update, two-and-a-half hours later:  (Other than a guy named Steve Ditko!)