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


The bravest guy at Comic-Con

July 24th, 2014

In recent years, Comic-Con has become as well known for its crazed throng of attendees as for anything pop-cultural. Last night when the end of Preview night cleared the exhibit hall, the mass exodus was reminiscent of the mass of starving undead crushing Jerusalem in World War Z, members of the Con crowd determined to trample each other to gain a seat on the first shuttle rather than wait, oh, five minutes.

Against that backdrop, I saw a man coming the other way, with a friend to my left of him. I’m not exaggerating the crush of humanity semi-circling them, and couldn’t figure out why everyone was giving them plenty of room, or why they felt empowered to head in the wrong direction.

Then I noticed that the guy was blind. And that he had his right hand discreetly placed atop his friend’s shoulder for guidance.

Navigating Comic-Con is in itself challenging. Doing it sightless, and against refugee-scaled foot traffic? That takes guts.

The shirt not off my back

July 21st, 2014

As you may recall, I’ve been trying to find friendly, decent laundry and dry-cleaning services at a decent price. (Or, at least at a price that the provider and I can agree is correct.)

Last week, my wife said to me, “Hey, you should try that place at Buena Vista and Victory! It’s only $1.39 for shirts!” At other locations, laundering and pressing a shirt has run between $2.65 and an astounding $3.65 a shirt. These prices have driven me to wonder at times whether I shouldn’t get out of the writing/talking/creative-marketing business and into the laundry business. So $1.39 sounded good, perhaps even [he turns toward the camera looking wary] too good.

So two weeks ago, I dropped off a jumbo bag of dry cleaning — about two dozen dress shirts plus a London Fog jacket. Why two weeks ago? Because they told me the order would take a week to process — and, yes, that seemed like the rest of my life in dry-cleaning time, but to save more than a buck a piece it sounded comparatively good — and because I was busy and went out of town for a few of those days.

When I picked up my order, and paid the extremely low price of just over thirty bucks (!) for an order that, had it been placed with the upscale dry cleaner here in town, would’ve equaled the downpayment on a Maserati, the count wasn’t quite right. Counting tax, they charged me thirty-five-something; reference to the dropoff receipt in my hand showed a balance due of thirty-six-something. Shades of my last dry cleaner! (Again, see here and here.)

I said, “Are you sure you’re charging me enough?” (I know:  I can’t believe I said that either.) “My receipt says $36, but you’re charging me $35.” (I’m rounding for the sake of my sanity and because it’s late and I need to go read comic books soon so that I can regain that sanity.)

“$35 is right,” the woman at the counter said. “When you dropped off your order, we miscounted the number of pieces.”

Cue internal uh-oh in my head.

But I took my laundry home, figuring that at some point I’d notice if a shirt was missing.

Then, on Friday, when I was getting dressed and looking through my freshly laundered dress shirts so as to pull one sure to impress important visitors (or, at least, to distract them propitiously), I came across this:



No, this is not my shirt.

Not only would I not wear this shirt, to be thought of as someone who would wear this shirt is like being falsely accused of murder. Because someone who would wear this? That person has something wrong with them.

Yes, that is some washed-out shade of turquoise.

Yes, the shirt has stitching courtesy of a place that boils moonshine. And those stitches have huckered.

And, yes, those are epaulets. I last wore epaulets at age 14, and regretted it then. If I ever wear them again, it will be when I’m on safari.

Even if we were surviving an apocalypse — from zombies or intelligent apes or the Tea Party — I wouldn’t wear this shirt.

This shirt has an identity crisis. Too rough for business and too “classy” for changing the spark plugs in a tractor, it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Except it apparently no longer wants to be turquoise, because that’s wearing off. This isn’t a shirt I wouldn’t want to be caught dead in — this is a shirt I wouldn’t want to be seen wearing while alive. I’d have to leave the country.

But I still couldn’t figure out what I was missing. They’d sent me this — as an honest mistake? Or as a malicious prank? Either seemed possible. Then, last night, after a hard day of ordering my three children around painting my office on the weekend for free while I caught  up on important paperwork, I decided to reward them by taking them to a movie I wanted to see. (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” On a scale of 1 to 10 as a movie, it gets a 7; on a scale of 1 to 10 as an Apes movie, it gets a 15.) I went to pull out my windbreaker for this little excursion and that’s when I found it — missing.

Yes, my London Fog windbreaker — at a cost of $45, but a value infinitely greater than the off-blue-green monstrosity above — was missing. That was what I’d dropped off to the discount dry cleaner and not gotten back. Sure, I thought, they charge $1.39 a shirt — but at the complete cost of your jacket!

This morning, I drove over to the dastardly dry cleaner, homely third-party shirt in tow. I did my best to affix a smile. People make mistakes, after all. And this was one of them. I just tried to imagine what recourse they would offer because, after all, my windbreaker was gone. Would they credit me its value? If they did, would I want their credit? Did I want to come there again? If they offered me cash for it, and I took the cash, what dry cleaner would I try next time? I was tired of searching for dry cleaners! I have other things to do with my day, like complain about supermarket checkers and people who take forever to make a right turn even when there’s nobody in front of them. I marched into the shop, the off-off-(off-off) green-blue epauletted shirt held aloft like a dead rat, and told them that I’d picked up my order recently and somehow, somehow, this had been in with my clothing and that I was missing a jacket of a certain color.

“Oh!” the same woman at the counter said, “we have it right here.” And she went back and fetched it, bagged it, and handed it over, depositing it in front of me, it looking as cool and stylish and orange as ever.

I can’t imagine how anyone would think that someone with this jacket would wear that shirt. Yes, I feel insulted, but also richer for the experience. Because the shirts cost only $1.39 each.

Look! It’s the Black Keys on tour

July 21st, 2014

Proving once again that no, they don’t need a bassist.

(Just helmets.)


Indelible errors

July 16th, 2014

Here’s my favorite thing found on the Internet today.

Everyone deserves a second chance, but yes, some mistakes are forever.

Pretty vacant

July 14th, 2014


I came across these recently at Amoeba Records in Hollywood.

Unintentionally ironic? Or the ultimate eff-you, sneering at the mob while sticking us up for cash? In the postmodern age, it could be either. Or both.

In 2014, does the notion of selling out even exist any more?

As for me, I kind of like them. But to be true to the spirit of the band, you’d have to steal them, and that’s where I draw the line.

Sleeping easy at Comic-Con

July 14th, 2014

After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I was finally able, just now, to secure a room for myself and my compadres for this year’s Comic-Con, which is next week.

Unless you’ve tried in recent years to book a room anywhere near San Diego for the week of Comic-Con, you have no idea what an accomplishment this was.

That a Comfort Inn can cost this much is beside the point. One doesn’t price-shop successfully for this booking. (One can’t.) Staying 30 miles away, in Carlsbad, was no cheaper.

The success comes from being able to actually book the room, and to have it on the shuttle route, where the convention shuttles you around to various Con locations in town. The worse thing would be having no room; the second-worse thing would be having to drive into downtown every day when it’s packed with 150,000 people looking like a throng from “The Walking Dead.”


The New 52

July 13th, 2014

(With apologies to DC Comics.)

Nine hours ago, I turned 52 years old. It seems strange, for two reasons:

  1. It’s my older brothers who should be 52. That seems about right. Even though each of them is now in his 60s.
  2. I know it’s a cliche, but… I don’t feel 52. Part of me feels 32 — old enough to be responsible, but young enough not to outrageous. And another part of me feels 14 — the pre-Literature-degree part who still prefers apocalypse novels, zombie movies and comic books. (The part that feels 52 is my right leg — there is something going on there that still hasn’t been diagnosed properly.)

Want a sure reminder that it’s your birthday? Waking up to 90 or so “Happy Birthday” messages on Facebook will do it. One longtime friend posted, “…wondering… what the famous Mr. W. does on his birthday….” To which I responded, “Curses the hotel in-room coffee setup that has ONLY DECAF!”

I also got a Facebook birthday message from Jim Brochu. It read, “Happy Birthday, Didi.” After a moment of wondering if he was referencing Waiting for Godot, I replied, “Thanks, Sammy.” Jim then posted in reply, “That was meant for Did (sic) Conn. But Happy Birthday to you too.” Realizing that he meant Didi Conn, I replied, “You’re oh for two, Jim.” Then he just deleted it all. I’m left wondering if this will be the pre-eminent birthday memory I’ll carry forward for this year.

Plans for the rest of my day? Hit the jacuzzi on the second floor as soon as I’ve finished posting this. Get on with the remaining business of the day here in beautiful Oakland, California, then fly home. It’s the 52nd anniversary of my birth, and in some regard, that’s achievement enough:  I’m still here.

Strange allies

June 20th, 2014

It isn’t every day I wake up finding out that I agree with Rand Paul, but here he is, in today’s edition of  that bastion of liberalism the Wall Street Journal, explaining why the U.S. should get out and stay out of Iraq.

Two salient quotes. Here’s one:

In 1984, Reagan’s Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger developed the following criteria for war, primarily to avoid another Vietnam. His speech, “The Uses of Military Power,” boils down to this: The United States should not commit forces to combat unless the vital national interests of the U.S. or its allies are involved and only “with the clear intention of winning.” U.S. combat troops should be committed only with “clearly defined political and military objectives” and with the capacity to accomplish those objectives and with a “reasonable assurance” of the support of U.S. public opinion and Congress and only “as a last resort.”

Much of the rationale for going to war in 2003 did not measure up to the Weinberger Doctrine, and I opposed the Iraq war. I thought we needed to be more prudent about the weightiest decision a country can make. Like Reagan, I thought we should never be eager to go to war. And now, 11 years later, we are still dealing with the consequences.

And here’s the other:

Many of those clamoring for military action now are the same people who made every false assumption imaginable about the cost, challenge and purpose of the Iraq war. They have been so wrong for so long. Why should we listen to them again?

Indeed. Why?

Vocal support

June 18th, 2014

As of today, I’ve got some of my voice back, most of the time. Which overall is an improvement.

End of day Monday, after five days of quiet  querulousness, I gave up on our traditional family cure — do nothing and it’ll just go away — and took my wife’s advice, heading over to Urgent Care. What is “Urgent Care”? It’s what we used to call “The Doctor.” Seemingly back before the taming of electricity, one used to call The Doctor and go to see him. (And, yes, it was always a him.) See him that day because you needed to, because you were sick. Now, one goes to Urgent Care, because to see The Doctor requires a three-week lead time. How would one know three weeks in advance that one is going to be ill? Obviously, I don’t know.

My main complaint by the time of this visit was not the lack of speech — it was the piercing, drilling pain in my left ear, which even I could see was a related symptom. The Urgent Doctor diagnosed me with an infection, prescribed antibiotics and a viscous liquid that tastes only marginally more tolerable than NyQuil SEVERE Cold & Flu Nighttime Relief, and now I’m much improved:  able to talk in fits and starts, and no desire to jam a long sharp object into my left ear.

I’ve spent the time since then mostly catching up on everything left undone while I was lying around miserable the past several days. On Sunday, though, which was Father’s Day, I decided I had to be outside of this damned house! and had to do something with my kids outside. This was definitely a case of going stir crazy.

I wanted to go hit some balls and play catch, but discovered that my 11-year-old, Dietrich, had outgrown his glove. I took him and his 15-year-old sister to the sporting goods store in the mall and tried to find a glove with a shelf life of, maybe, one year, that would cost less than $75. And that was for a lefty. At times, this lefty business can be a bigger cost than you might imagine. Anyway, we found one. Dietrich and Emma also found something else they wanted:  air pistols. Y’know — BB guns. After cautioning them both about their proper use, I bought each of them an air pistol and we went home to shoot at an aluminum can, after one last whispery but stern warning against the improper use of even a target gun. After relating the no-nos, and the penalties, I told Dietrich:

“So you follow me, right? No shooting the dog or your sister.”

“What?” he gasped. “Why would I shoot the dog ?!?!?! ”

He’s a wry one. At least, I think he was being wry.

By yesterday, everything was looking up. My voice was showing signs of returning, and a former employee took my business partner and me out to lunch. The reason:  to thank us for the way we took a chance on her, five or six years ago, and launched her career. You hope you make a positive impact in people’s lives, but it’s awfully rewarding to have someone, years later, come back and confirm that you did. It’s also a little bit of paying back into the system, in honor of the people who helped you yourself years and years (and years) ago.

I have a mouth, but I can’t scream

June 14th, 2014

(With apologies to Harlan Ellison.)

Another day of nothing to say. Or, rather, no ability to say it. Worse, I’m starting to sound like one of Krapp’s recordings in Krapp’s Last Tape.

Over on Facebook, a friend asked if the NyQuil SEVERE had any impact — yes, but only in separating us from some money. Other than that, no. Another friend speculated that I had shouted my voice away cheering the triumph of the Los Angeles Kings last night; no, but had that been the case, this would be The Kings Speechlessness.

Lacking the desire to go do anything substantial, I filled the day mostly with puttering around. I don’t even own a putter, but somehow I got it done. I:

  • made breakfast for my youngest, using those damn extra large eggs
  • restacked the newspaper sections from the previous week that I will absolutely for-sure read at some point this week
  • filled out an online survey that promised me some “points” of some sort if I would weigh in about sushi; I was game at first, but as it wore on, I started commenting on the length of the survey and dropping in whole stanzas from John Donne’s No Man Is An Island (although at least if you were stranded on that island, you would be qualified to render an opinion on raw fish)
  • dipped back into the Mediterranean diet book that I will positively be following very soon now
  • played an untold number of games of Risk on my iPad, with absolutely no concern for the other-colored peoples of the computer world as my red horde crushed them
  • did some writing (with more planned for later)
  • watched Alien (the first one) with my two younger children and my 15-year-old daughter’s male friend — notice I didn’t say “boyfriend,” although they were twisted together like a tangled phone cord over on the couch from which I was averting my gaze; in this latest viewing of this now shockingly 35-year-old movie, I felt that the future never looked so antiquated before. Evidently when we’re traversing the galaxy picking up alien parasites, we’ll still be wearing Converse sneakers, drinking coffee out of mugs, using everyday cat carriers, and landing multi-trillion-dollar spaceships using computers running DOS on green screens
  • went back over my household budget — always a good time; when I had no money, I wasn’t troubled by things like this, but since having some money, I haven’t wanted to send any of it anywhere if possible – and noticed that AT&T is gouging me again; looks like between our U-verse plan (cable, one phone line and Internet) and our cellphone family plan we’re paying $440 a month, or $5280 a year. (And that’s without a smartphone bill for me — that’s billed to my company, at that address.) If I’m spending $5280 a year for something, I expect it to have a gas tank. The AT&T battle resumes on Monday!

I think I’ll go back downstairs now and rustle up some dinner. Just a little exertion on that refrigerator door and I’ll be able to choose from all the carefully labeled meals my wife left inside. Over dinner, maybe I’ll read a few of those newspapers — because for now, conversation is definitely out.