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


Turning up the heat

June 20th, 2016


Yesterday was a record-breaking temperature here in Burbank, CA — 109 degrees. Except today it went above that. All I can say is, I can’t wait for this global-warming hoax to come to an end. By the way, the photo above, of the temperature outside my car when I had to run a brief errand today, reads 108 degrees. It’s blurry because reality was starting to melt all around us.

Speaking of reality melting, the Senate just voted down legislation that would have banned gun sales to suspected terrorists. Let me repeat that:  a week after 49 people in Florida were murdered, and another 53 wounded, by a man that many of these very same Senators said was associated with terrorism (others have their doubts), the Senate said no to legislation to ban gun sales to suspected terrorists. Because, you know, why do that? It’s also notable that probably the least-voting member of the Senate, “Little” Marco Rubio, made the journey to Washington, D.C. in order to vote against the measure.

And what’s the state he theoretically represents?


A further trial for Kafka

June 15th, 2016

This is just the sort of thing that would have driven the famously neurotic Franz Kafka even crazier. Now his visage is condemned to always face city hall.

Bringing in the big guns

June 14th, 2016

I’ve been stewing in my anger from the Orlando shooting, and spent far too much time today online debating zealots who somehow still think ISIS is to blame — or, better, OBAMA. As I wrote to one, re the ISIS theory, “Let’s assume you’re right. And that’s an assumption — neither one of us knows. But I’ll capitulate. Can we ban the AR-15 now? Because even if the guy was from outer space, he BOUGHT THE GUN LEGALLY HERE IN THE SAME WEEK HE MURDERED PEOPLE WITH IT.” Rather than tackle that, my Facebook correspondent pivoted to blaming Obama, which prompted this reply from me:  “I hadn’t realized until now that the President of the United States was responsible for this massacre. I thought it was a guy with an AR-15. Thank you for the clarity.”

So it was that sort of day, with me venting my anger with no real purpose. Except momentary bursts of satisfaction, sure. (As opposed to the rapid-fire stream of killing pleasure afforded by the AR-15.)

Finally, I just decided to go to the gym and take it out on the weights.

But when I got home I saw this: now dozens of former military leaders — including generals — have banded together to create a new gun control group.

Take THAT, National Rifle Association. Now the big guns are aimed at you.

Said retired Marine Brig. Gen. Stephen Cheney, “Felons, domestic abusers, even known terrorists can buy a gun here without something as simple as a criminal background check. This has to stop.” Thank you, general.

Well do I remember what just the moms were able to accomplish with Mothers Against Drunk Driving. (Stringent new enforcement in 50 states.)  The gun lobby has alienated the moms, but also the dads, children, gays, government workers, and now even military leaders. Now we have a shot at reform.

And let me repeat, as I’m going to keep doing, I’m not against guns for hunting, or target practice, or self-defense. I’m against gun massacres.

Shooting for hope

June 13th, 2016


Yesterday morning I awoke to the news that someone had stormed into a gay club in Orlando, FL and killed about 50 people and wounded about another 50 and was holding some people hostage until finally the police were able to kill him.

You’ve already heard that story. I know.

You’ve heard it many times by now, with little variations.

Sometimes involving government workers as the victims, or people in an office, or shoppers, or people out for a movie, or even children.

I don’t have anything to say about this that you haven’t already heard elsewhere. I will just add that over the past day I’ve vacillated between being very sad about it and being very angry. Because it is never true that “nothing can be done,” I’m leaning heavily toward being angry.


Because this particular mass murderer had gays in his crosshairs, I thought I’d share this.

Yesterday, by coincidence, mere hours after I awoke to find that a man incensed about gay people had targeted and killed dozens of them, spraying them with bullets in a place they’d gone to drink and dance and meet each other, I went to see probably the foremost musical of our lives that celebrates diversity and difference, “La Cage Aux Folles.” I didn’t particularly feel like fighting traffic downtown to see it when what I really wanted to do was be angry on the internet and in my personal writing, but a female friend and I had set this date about six weeks ago, so I went. It turned out to be exactly what I needed.

Not just because “La Cage,” which focuses on a gay couple and their farcical adventures at their drag-queen nightclub, celebrates the basic human empathy that I believe dwells in most of us.

Not just because this particular production, courtesy of East West Players, one of the nation’s premier Asian theatre companies, is glorious. (Just the sheer professionalism of it all — the singing, dancing, acting, choreography, costumes, everything — was remarkable.)

Not just because I laughed large and loud.

But also because:  The makeup of the audience told me that the haters have already lost.

It wasn’t a “gay” audience. And it wasn’t an “Asian” audience. It was just an audience, an audience made up of white, black, yellow and brown, gay and straight, male and female, old and young. A mixed-race couple in front of me (Caucasian and Asian) had brought their son, who I figure is 10. Behind me sat a Chinese man with his elderly mother. A few seats to my left and a row ahead were a white hetero couple in their 70s. I saw a young black woman in the back, and also a girl strapped into an upright wheelchair. And on and on.

All of us were there, together, for a celebratory expression of tolerance, understanding, and joy. Big, pure joy.

Do I want things done about our epidemic of mass shootings? Yes. In the meantime, whatever happens, do I think it likely that anyone can turn back the tide of history —  especially now that sentiment travels instantaneously around the world —  that ultimately will draw us all closer together? No.

So I’m going to hold onto my rage — truly nurture it — so that the deaths of the people in Florida, and Colorado, and Connecticut, and Texas, and California, and practically everywhere else in the U.S., for whatever “reasons” the various shooters gave, aren’t for nothing. I’m going to talk to my Congressman about the legislation I believe in, and I’m going to send him some money, and send some other money elsewhere against other people. And I’m going to keep telling everyone:  I’m not against guns, and I’m not against hunting or target shooting or self-protection — but I’m against gun massacres, and this has to stop.

But while I’m doing all this, I’m going to hold onto hope. Because sooner or later, we will win.


Charity begins at home

June 10th, 2016



The other day, my daughter and I ran a carful of stuff over to the thrift store to donate it.

This is just the latest result of my having read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” over the holidays six months ago. Now if something doesn’t “spark joy” in my life, it’s gone. (Family members excluded.)

So, inside the car went:

  • a pair of crutches from when my son broke his leg or punctured a shin or something about 10 years ago
  • dozens of plush dinosaurs and monkeys and turtles and other animals from the bedrooms of my children
  • a lime-and-yellow checked blazer that I would now swear I never wore in public
  • must-have kitchen implements and utensils that were never cooked with
  • a Dell computer screen my youngest found on a street corner and excitedly brought home, never stopping to think that we’re a Macintosh-only household
  • the inevitable jumbo bag of mismatched pieces from pirate- or outer-space- or construction-themed Lego sets
  • and far, far more

In particular I noted a boxed set of four animatronic toy hamsters, and a matching set of a course or play set or something for them, and remembered this as one of those “must have” Christmas sets that a grandparent or other, or perhaps my wife, had exerted such energy on finding five or six or 10 Christmases ago because to not have this would mean that Christmas was a failure, that there would be no joy or glad tidings if somehow these generally impossible-to-find-at-the-time furry and fun fake little rodents were not found under our tree. They had been pulled out of their wrapping paper on that long-ago Christmas, and the responsible adults had done their best to coo and sigh in appreciative delight, but the faux hamsters had never been played with or, indeed, rescued from confines of their boxes. And recently, my elder son had tried to sell them on eBay, and Craigslist, and something called Local5, and even at a yard sale, but no one would buy them.

We pulled in the alleyway behind the monolithic thrift store and asked the people on the loading dock, two men and a woman, where to unload.

“Oh, you can put it right into the truck,” said one, pointing to a cargo truck parked near my car, with the name of the thrift store and its cause painted onto its doors.

“Okay,” I said. Although I was confused as to why these things were going onto the truck (perhaps for more sorting elsewhere?), I was giddy at the prospect of unloading all of this stuff — and more! — for the thrift store, where it would be sold on the cheap, with proceeds going to help the blind and the infirm. I positively vaulted from my car up to inside the truck bed and back down repeatedly, arms overflowing with donated goods, enthused and excited and envisioning a house with less stuff in it. And, again, an ultimately positive impact on those who are needier than I.

Finally fully unloaded, and my car sighing with relief, I asked the people on the loading dock, who had watched this operation while offering no assistance in loading or unloading, or, actually, appearing to do anything except cluster around the loading dock to, as they say, shoot the shit, about the receipts I’d like for my taxes. Proof for the IRS, along with the photos I’d carefully taken, that I’d made these donations.

They directed me to the front, where I had to wait a minute before getting handed three scribbled blue scraps of paper noting my donation. I pocketed those and ran back out to my car with my daughter in tow, feeling liberated and successful. Mission accomplished. Everyone was benefiting from this. I got back to my car and noted:

Those same three adults, on the loading dock, splitting up some of the proceeds from my donation. That quickly, they had divvied up the toys. One of them was back inside the truck, pawing through the other contents, making a quick assessment, while the woman and the other man played with the self-propelling toy hamsters on the edge of the loading dock. I thought about this for a moment — was I outraged? was this right? — and then realized I was somewhat in the position the ex-president Richard Nixon had been in when he learned that investigators were going through his trash and were within their rights to do so because, after all, it was trash. He had thrown it away. Once I’d donated these goods, they were no longer mine to worry about.

And that is how, after all those years, those Zhu Zhu Pets finally found a home.


Fringe appeal

June 9th, 2016


Starting today, the Hollywood Fringe Festival is upon us again, and I’m carefully marking my selections.

What’s the Hollywood Fringe Festival? It’s 2-3 weeks of new, engaging, offbeat, sometimes hilarious and wonderful but sometimes absolutely horrible theatrical events staged around greater Hollywood. To quote their website, “Each June during the Hollywood Fringe, the arts infiltrate the Hollywood neighborhood: fully equipped theaters, parks, clubs, churches, restaurants and other unexpected places host hundreds of productions by local, national, and international arts companies and independent performers. Participation in the Hollywood Fringe is completely open and uncensored.”

Which might explain how, one year, I was able to perform as a cynical crow in one show and, two years hence, a smart-alecky duck in another. (My acting abilities are clearly limited to playing one-note animals.)

The joy of the Fringe is not merely in seeing as many shows as you can — it’s also in feeling the vibe around town as you pass by theatres in Hollywood and see crowds milling around on sidewalks, even at 2 a.m., awaiting whatever the next performance is. It’s an exciting time for what is, to me, the most exciting art form.

Today, I bought tickets for my first two selections.

MyAlamoWarOn Monday, June 20th, at 7 p.m. I’ll be seeing “My Alamo War,” a one-man show written by and starring my longtime friend the playwright Ernest Kearney. Ernest is a fiercely talented and principled writer-performer whose work I’ve been following (and, one time, producing) for 20 years. Last year he wrote and starred in what was perhaps the most beautiful and heartfelt show I saw all year — a slideshow documenting his year or two managing a storage facility that fronted on Hollywood Boulevard in the 1980s. During that time, Ernest took at least one photo every day, and grew to know the people who passed by his workplace window. His story — and their stories — merged into a searing, funny, and deeply moving event that, if he ever repeats it, I will invite many, many people to. His new show concerns his “war” against the Tony and Susan Alamo Christian Foundation, a nefarious group whose awful booklets and pamphlets I’ve been collecting since the 1980s in order to keep my bile duct working. Ernest, who, as well as being funny and clever and a severely talented writer, is a fearless fellow, evidently engaged in some sort of guerrilla war against them for two years — and I’m eager to find out who won. My money would be on him.


designatedmournerOn Saturday, June 25th, I’ll be seeing “The Designated Mourner,” by Wallace Shawn at 5 p.m. at Theatre of NOTE. Close friends and long-time readers of this blog are aware of my deep interest in Mr. Shawn’s writing. (I’m currently reading his book of essays, where I find once again that I’m drawn to his writing while shaking my head at the “logic” of his arguments, or lack thereof.) I’ve read the playscript version of this play several times, and have seen the filmed version (which is very good) twice, and am looking forward to seeing it staged for the first time. In the play, we’re there for the moment when America (it seems) slides into being a banana republic and we’ve lost our cultural and moral anchors; it’s a world where no one will care any longer about John Donne. One could argue that we’re already there. But then, one could also argue that because the Internet has created access for everyone to everything, now more people than ever know about and appreciate John Donne. (And the latter, clearly, is my argument.) I don’t fully buy Shawn’s story of how the country will fall apart, but he may be having the last laugh under President Trump.

When I get the time, I’m going to do my best to squeeze in as much of the Fringe as possible. Some of it will be terrific, and some of it will be terrible, but the totality of those two or three weeks will be intoxicating.

Civilization for the win

June 6th, 2016

The video above, in which some guy starts out with nothing and builds a kiln and a hut out in the woods, has been getting a lot of shares across my Facebook wall, eliciting responses like “Wow — I want to learn how to do this!” and so forth.

Once again, I feel compelled to stick up for civilization.

We spent thousands of years getting away from any of this nonsense, and now, people who haven’t thought it through clearly express a yearning to return to the dirt and the sticks (and the bugs and the sweltering heat, and many more truly rural experiences).

I say, thank God we don’t have to do any of this any more. All the time I’ve saved from not having to do any of this — not having to build stone age axes, not having to contend with crawlies in the woods, not having to work in the muck all day on the off chance I’d be able to cook a stray lizard — has allowed me to read books, attend the theatre, write plays, travel, and enjoy time with friends.

I’m also glad not to be hunting and gathering. Which, as I understand it, consumed every waking moment.

Yay, civilization. For those who feel differently: Hey, your savage experience awaits. Head on out there.

Plot lines of your life

May 24th, 2016

At some point or other, and as along as they’re still living, you will once again run into everyone you’ve ever met. Sometimes we can thank chance for that (as I’ve seen every time I’ve visited Las Vegas in the past few years, including last week, and come across someone I know), and we can thank the Internet, and Facebook most specifically, for that. And when running into them, you can sometimes piece together elements of your life in new and surprising ways.

My childhood friend Keith Reamer, whom I haven’t seen in the flesh in 37 years, Facebook-tagged me tonight on a post about the Little Art Theatre, a single-screen movie house of the 1980’s that was tucked away back in the woods of Bargaintown, NJ. I wrote about that cherished movie house, and how much it affected my life, in this post from October, 2007. I thought Keith was just nicely tagging me because he knew I’d been a devotee of that space (as was everyone in that time and space who wanted offbeat or obscure film offerings).

No, it turns out that this remembrance of the Little Art Theatre quotes my piece on this blog — and then the author states, “Disconcertingly, this is the only direct recollection of the theater’s existence I can find online.” Disconcertingly because it was a big part of his young life:  He was the son of the owners. Which means he was the kid taking my tickets before showings.

He also mentions the Atlantic Film Society. When I was 14, Keith Reamer invited me to the premiere Atlantic Film Society event. The entry was a door in an alleyway in what I recall as a not terribly inviting area of Atlantic City; inside, in a small dark room, about 16 of us watched films screened from a portable projector (16 mm? 35 mm?), and one of the films shown was “La Jetee,” the inspiration for “12 Monkeys,” which scared the bejeebers out of me. I knew no one there but Keith… but over the years, I came to meet probably every other person who was in that room that night, including someone I later did a newspaper feature on (who, it turned out, also knew Keith), various friends, the woman who was to become my dearest college professor eight years later and, I’m now assuming due to the story linked above, the couple who later opened the Little Art Theatre.

Working backward from all this:  When I was 12 or so, I started writing letters to other comics fans with New Jersey addresses. We’d find each other through the letters pages of Marvel and DC comics or through fanzines. That’s how I meet Keith. Keith and I start doing fanzines together. He’s more interested in movies than comics, and invites me to the Atlantic Film Society’s inaugural screening. There, I meet a handful of people who will later make a significant impact on my life (what Kurt Vonnegut in Cat’s Cradle called a karrass, a “group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial links are not evident”). One attendee will introduce me to Theatre of the Absurd and will get me a scholarship in exchange for writing a play — which turned me into a playwright, and which led to graduate school, which is what brought me to Los Angeles. Two of the other attendees will start the movie house that happens to be the site of my first date with the woman who turns out to be my wife.

Without these odd connections, I might have become, say, an unmarried electrician living in Mullica Township, NJ.

Maybe not a bad life — but certainly a very different one.

Keeping trim

May 22nd, 2016

On October 19, 2003, my eldest son and I planted a tree in our front yard. (I remember the date, because I landed a client that day, the first client of what would eventually morph into the far larger business I still have.) Since then, what had been a stick with a ball of earth at its bottom has grown into a 30-foot-tall tipu tree that shades my lawn and has crested my roof.



This isn’t my particular tree, but it sure looks a lot like it. I got this tree as a sapling those 13 years ago after fierce El Nino winds uprooted our previous tree and felled it across my neighbors’ front yard, its limbs punching holes in their driveway and front yard and narrowly missing their house. (Had it fallen another way, I wouldn’t be writing this post right now.) As a replacement, the City of Burbank offered this tipu tree, because it offers a lot of shade that can cool a house and also cut down on utility bills.

It also needs trimming now and then. A lot of trimming.

In fact, here’s something I just found online:

Tipuana tipu is viewed as an invasive weed in some countries and is known for having a very aggressive root system. The tree roots can easily lift up concrete and asphalt. Precautions should be taken when planting near buildings, homes, or pools, as they are likely to be damaged.

Thanks, City of Burbank. Good thing I planted this near my home.

Regardless of its predatory (or Alien) nature, I still love this tree and do my best to keep it in shape. That’s why I was out there today lopping off branches by hand with a pair of loppers, hopping up and down a ladder, cleaning out my gutters, using the chainsaw when needed, and generally giving this tree the nicest and most necessary haircut since… well, I guess six months ago. I was also up and down that ladder out to the sidewalk, and over into my neighbors’ driveway because, yes, the tree has extended over the sidewalk and over into other people’s greenery. Invasive, indeed.

Once I’d cut out everything I wanted, I of course left all the branches and clippings and cuttings for my children to come break down and put into green waste. Why have children, if you’re not going to do this? They did a fine job, one of them gleefully trading these duties for the right to use the chainsaw occasionally (sure), and the other scowling at me while inventing reasons to need to go tend to the dog, who was utterly fine and needed no tending.

After that, I moved my cleaning crew into the back yard, finally sorting and cleaning up after a yard sale these children had held a few months ago.

Then I went inside and lay not he couch to take a break and the dog jumped up onto my chest… and suddenly it was 40 minutes later or so. Yes, I pretty much passed out, after just three or three-and-a-half hours of yard duty. That seemed strange, until I consulted MyPlate.

MyPlate is an app that tracks your calories — your caloric intake, and also what you burn off through exercise. (It had been called Livestrong, after Lance Armstrong, but for some reason they decided to change its name. Hunh.) Here’s what I learned:  that, according to MyPlate, trimming trees by hand consumes 400 calories per hour. Multiply that by two hours and you’ve got 800 calories. And that’s probably without counting the stair stepper — in this case, a ladder — or the back yard cleanup.

Which means that while I was trimming the tree, it was keeping me trim.

So tomorrow night:  it’s drinks and cigars with friends.


Moving forward

May 20th, 2016

I just got in from the staged workshop reading of a new play by an emerging playwright, at Moving Arts. It was incredibly rewarding to be in a space that a handful of us turned into a theatre in 1992 and to marvel that there it is, 24 years later, still open and operating and doing new work and doing a really, really good job with that new work. Many of the faces have changed, of course (including mine, when you think about it), but the spirit of doing adventurous new work and doing your best to make it good — that has stayed.

The playwright, who is a genuine talent and someone I’ve known for probably eight years now, said during the intermission that she’d been concerned during act one that the actors were holding back too much, so she’d just come outside from having “unleashed” them. That proved true. Because near the end of the play, the actor playing Apollo moved into a frenzy and threw himself against a back wall — a back wall that, as I knew, was actually a thin painted piece of wooden shielding hiding our electrical panels. Which promptly cracked in half, prompting laughs from the audience, as the play continued, broken skewed wall panel and all. When the play was finished, he came over sheepishly to greet me and two of his friends and I said, “Well, 24 years later, that was something new.”

But there was a lot that was new: the play, most of the talent involved,  most of the audience, and more. One thing that’s never gotten old:  doing what’s new.