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


Extremely affordable housing in a tough market

August 1st, 2016


I have friends looking to buy a house. Here in Los Angeles, that’s a pricey proposition. But why pay $650,000 and up, when you can have this creative starter home for a mere one dollar?

(Not counting towing fees. And no, AAA won’t handle this — it weighs 10,000 pounds.)

It’s spacious — because it was designed to replicate living in space.

And if the zombie apocalypse, or nuclear armageddon, or The Purge comes, I can think of no safer place.


Sunday evening

July 31st, 2016

Whaa? Hmph? Oh, sorry. Just recovering from that bachelor party. All I can say — and all I should say — is that a party must be going well if it runs ten-and-a-half hours, until 4:30 a.m., and some remaining participants are sorry to see it end “early.” And I’ll add this:  surprisingly, as everyone agreed, going from beer to whiskey to vodka to tequila does not necessarily lead to a hangover. Who knew? The big takeaway:  my endless gratitude, again, for good friends.

Yesterday (what commenced of it after 11:30 a.m.) the bachelor and I went out to “breakfast,” then I uncharacteristically but understandably lazed around for a while. (Hours.) Then my wife and I and another couple went to see the Pasadena Pops perform a night of Sinatra music at the LA County Arboretum. Every time I hear Sinatra (or a Sinatra tribute), I’m reminded of the time my father went out and bought a cassette tape of Sinatra’s greatest hits and gave it to me to see if he could win me over. In retrospect, I regret how churlish and dismissive I was — the old guy was making a real effort, an effort I now understand all too well as I try to educate two of my own offspring on the endless joy supplied by America’s premier musical act, Pere Ubu.

Today at the gym, whatever channel is playing on the elliptical took a break from “My 600 Pound Life,” which I and everyone else at the gym find extremely motivational. Instead, it was a special episode of “Intervention,” featuring 48-year-old Tammi, who drinks three pints of vodka a day and whose five sisters won’t talk to her, and who, with the complicity of a boyfriend who is equally disgusted with her, sponges off the pension of the boyfriend’s elderly mother, who owns the house and lives with them. I didn’t care much about Tammi, or the fact that her daughter wouldn’t stop by on her way to the prom so that Tammi could see her in her prom dress (no, her kids, who live with their father, don’t really talk to her either), and I have zero sympathy for the grown man subjecting his elderly mother to life with Tammi and the distress and disorder she creates around her, but I sure feel sorry for the old lady. Which made me grateful again for my sister and brother-in-law, and the rest of our family who take such excellent care of my 90-year-old mother in southern New Jersey.

After the gym, I went grocery shopping, trying to make sense of the various implorations being texted to me by my wife and two teens, for special kinds of cereal, or certain laundry scents, or fried chicken, or whatever. My daughter wanted “dumplings,” but then said they aren’t “dumplings,” they’re more like gyoza, but then added that they aren’t, and they might be called “pot stickers,” by which time I was sure I had no idea what she was talking about, and then she said they were in “the freezer section” (never mind that there are three “freezer sections” at our local Ralphs), and then clarified that these dumpling/gyoza/pot stickers are in the freezer section near “the snacks,” which clarified nothing because I couldn’t find frozen snacks and don’t believe they exist, unless pizza is a snack. Finally I found competing bags of heavily processed-seeming Asian-copying (i.e., in no way actually Asian) edible things that, incredibly, had a litany of descriptors on each bag that completely matched with dumpling/gyoza/pot stickers. It seems that even the manufacturers of this “food” can’t decide what it is! I bought both bags of stuff, because even though they were similarly described, they looked completely different, and I didn’t want to get this wrong for my daughter. Want to know why? Because she’s made sure I could see her in every one of her prom dresses, that’s why.

When I got home, I found she’d made a stir fry for dinner (thanks!). Then we settled down for a nice hour of father-daughter time, watching people get terribly mistreated in prison in “The Night Of” on HBO.

If only next weekend holds such charms.


Rising art prices

July 29th, 2016

Yesterday, I posted a story wherein I never got paid for creative work — but now the publisher wants to know if they can reprint it and put it behind a paywall.

Here’s a somewhat similar story, but with a big difference. The photographer in this story has just sued Getty Images for licensing out, for considerable fees, images that she had donated to the Library of Congress.  The amount she’s suing for? One billion dollars.

Had I gotten paid, in 1982, my fee would have been $25.

But, as they say, the principle remains the same.

The bachelor finale

July 29th, 2016

It’s been 30 years since I planned a bachelor party. When my friends and I had that particular night out, it ranked high on the sleaze factor — and let me say once again, I’m glad that social media didn’t exist back then. At least two episodes from that night still make me cringe, and I’ll be keeping them to myself, thank you. (At one point, the groom-to-be memorably turned to me and said, “Is this supposed to turn me on? Because maybe I’m gay.”)

Tonight, five of us are bidding farewell to our good friend Trey Nichols’ bachelorhood. Next Saturday, he’ll be walking down the aisle with an absolutely lovely, cheerful, funny and smart woman who is also a rocket scientist. When we wonder if something takes a rocket scientist to figure out, we ask her. She’s quite a catch.

Two of us at tonight’s festivities were in attendance at that other party 30 years ago. We’re no longer in our early 20s, and I believe the youngest person tonight (my nephew) is 41. My goal in planning this event tonight was to ensure that the bachelor has a great time with good friends, and that it includes just enough borderline or somewhat-over-the-line inappropriate behavior that it qualifies as a bachelor party while still allowing the actual wedding to go forth. I know he’s worried about this (and he should be), but I care about him the way truly close friends do and I’ve done my best to make this X-rated but not, say, “Caligula.”

The next bachelor party I throw will no doubt take place in a rest home and include a screening of  “Cocoon” while doing shots of warm milk.

My Jack Davis story

July 28th, 2016


The great caricaturist and comics artist Jack Davis died yesterday at age 91. He was an important contributor to Mad magazine, a frequent and notable artist for a lot of advertising and many newsstand magazines covers of the 1970s, 80s and 90s — and also the man who drew perhaps the single most objectionable comic book of the 1950’s in the eyes of the United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, known popularly in some circles as “the Wertham commission.”

That story, “Foul Play!” ran in the May-June 1953 issue of The Haunt of Fear. It concerned a baseball team that decides, after it’s been cheated of its victory, to avenge the death of a teammate by  murdering his killer and playing baseball on his remains:  intestines form the baselines, lungs and liver form the bases, his heart becomes home plate, and of course his severed head is used as the ball.

One can see why, in 1953, at a time when juvenile delinquency seemed like a craze that needed to be stopped, this caught some attention. The story was written up in Dr. Frederick Wertham’s book, “Seduction of the Innocent” the following year, and ultimately led to the creation of the Comics Code Authority, as well as a lot of comic-book burning. (More about that in a minute.)

(And if you’d like to read that notorious story, click here.)

In 1982, twenty-nine years after “Foul Play!” was published, I had the occasion to interview Jack Davis. I’d gotten the assignment from The Comics Journal, where I was doing a lot of writing at the time. I was living in New Jersey then, so a friend and I drove to upstate New York to visit Mr. Davis in his home. A Georgia native, Jack Davis proved to be rather a quiet man of genteel Southern manners — and a pleasant but somewhat dull interview. At this point in my writing life, and somewhat influenced by the snotty tone of the magazine I was writing for, I had gotten the hang of agitating people to spark up an interview. I’d gotten into a real argument with legendary Batman and Green Lantern writer Denny O’Neil (which led to a strong interview, as well as a brief friendship) and I would go on to provoke people in a variety of ways for several years in many other publications. But Mr. Davis was too nice for my shenanigans, and someone who would be impossible to provoke, and, however informative about his artistic process,  not altogether terribly interesting. And, frankly, although I’d read many of those incendiary EC comics from years before, and issues of Mad, I was the wrong guy to conduct an interview that would reveal the previously uncovered aspects of his career and his history; we touched on a lot of it, but at age 20 I just wasn’t well-informed.

Throughout the 1980s, The Comics Journal printed everything I wrote for them — except that interview. They didn’t run it, and I didn’t blame them. And because they didn’t run it, they didn’t pay me. But, again, I understood. It wasn’t interesting on its own and wasn’t fitting as a piece into a larger editorial theme.

Then in the early 1990s, five years after I’d moved to Los Angeles, someone I’d gone to college with told me that the magazine had (finally) run the interview, and that he’d read it. I couldn’t believe it. The magazine hadn’t sent me a copy, or paid me. (And, in late 2008, after they kept republishing some of my other pieces without permission or pay, I sued them. They finally paid me, and sent me published copies.) I couldn’t get the issue anywhere, and my friend had lost his. I called the publisher, Fantagraphics, and asked for a copy, and was assured that one would be sent. It wasn’t. I wrote to them as well. This went on for a while… and then, finally, I gave up.

Then, today, I got an email from someone at Fantagraphics, asking if they could reprint the interview online, now that Jack Davis had died. I said sure — if they send me a copy. Even a scan. Something! It’s been in (and out) of print for almost 25 years and I still hadn’t seen it — now I’d just like to see it. So, I responded that yes, they can post it, but I want them to send me a copy, because their content is hidden behind a paywall. (Meaning that once again they’ll be making some money, however little, without paying me.)

I figured that I now know what it took for me to see the interview:  for the interviewee to die.

But just now, on a whim, I checked the “settlement package” that my attorney sent to me in January 2009, forwarding from Fantagraphics copies of the book they’d reprinted me in, as well as a check — and found, tucked in there, two xerox copies of the interview with Jack Davis. So I’ve actually had it, at least in a xerox form, for seven years. I just now read it, eagerly.

For 30 years, I’ve remembered only one moment in our interview that had real spark in it. I had asked Mr. Davis about “Foul Play!” and the Senate hearings into comic books. He told me they were televised. (I hadn’t realized that.) And that after listening to the testimony, he had gotten up and turned off the television, and he and his wife took all of his comic books — all of the published copies of his work — into the back yard and put them into a pile. And burned them.

He burned all of his work.

Of course I asked him why, and he said something like, “Because my art was contributing to juvenile delinquency. It was wrong.”

That, to me, was the heart of the interview. Here was a workaday artist, a man who drew on assignment, who’d made most of his career in commercial art, who’d brushed up close with the sort of art that actually provokes a reaction — and he’d recoiled, rejected that experience, and turned away. I pressed for more details — how did his peers feel about that? Did he have more feelings about it? What did his wife say? Did they tell their friends and family? And so forth. But he wouldn’t say any more about it. When he’d burned those comics, he’d left provocation and controversy — the things that some of us actively seek in art — behind for good.

I just checked the published interview. Three times. It’s not in there. Somehow it didn’t make it into print.

Thirty years of waiting, and it’s not there.

I’m wondering if the only record that we have that Jack Davis, an important comics artist in the history of the medium, burnt his own work in his back yard because he felt complicit in harming America’s youth… is this very piece you’re reading.


Don’t sweat the Brexit

June 24th, 2016


I got up this morning and screamed, “Sell everything!” I put my house on the market, gathered up the guns and ammo, loaded up the vehicles with water and canned goods, and got ready to set off for the mountains. After all, the English, who clearly are at the root of all of the world’s economy, controlling as they do some fraction of 2.5% of the world’s economy, had voted to pick up their Crackerjacks and go home!

Then I read this, from my friend Jane Beule of financial planning firm Griffin Black.

So now all of us have more time to work on our doomsday prep. Newly advised by Jane, I started unloading the minivan.

Next week:  Those Killer Bees — they’re getting closer!


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.