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


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.

Ironic reading

June 14th, 2014

A hilariously

(of a poem exalting
the commonplace)

and therefore
the point.

Suffering in silence

June 14th, 2014


Day two — well, at this hour, three — of speaking incapacity. At the moment, I can’t even make a squeak. I can whistle through my teeth for the dog, but other signals for attention, as to my children, involve either waving my arms around or snapping my fingers. Yes, they hate it too.

As mentioned before, my mother’s cure for everything is a shot of whiskey and off to bed. That absolutely will work for everyone if they are patient, because either they will get better or die in bed. But I’m not that patient. (I did try bourbon the other night; I slept straight through, but woke up unable to speak. So: a mixed result.) My preferred lifelong cure, the thing that seems to fix everything internal, is NyQuil. Ah, NyQuil. It may taste horrible, but when it comes to curing illness, it smells of success. We, unfortunately, have been out of NyQuil.

Tonight, my wife brought home something new:  NyQuil SEVERE Cold & Flu Nighttime Relief. (The all-caps and the slight italics are by way of them.) Well, it certainly tastes severe. Now that I’ve downed it, we’ll see if I wake up feeling less severely pissed off at being voiceless.

I will say that two-plus days of this situation has given me new insight into the character of Marvel Comics’ mute monarch Black Bolt, whom I mentioned yesterday. Where once I thought he was noble and regal and strong, now I know he’s unspeakably angry at having to sit there quietly while the royal family pelt him with questions he’s unable to answer; at least, that’s my experience now, whether I’m reading or watch TV or playing Marvel Ultimate Alliance with my children on the xBox — my family have plenty of questions for me that demand immediate answers! Grunting or moaning to signal that hey, remember?, I can’t answer you? doesn’t achieve anything, so finally I just lie here simmering. No wonder Black Bolt occasionally feels the need to war with the Skrulls — battle is the only thing he’s got to say.

Back to the NyQuil SEVERE Cold & Flu Nighttime Relief. Now that this exists, nobody will be buying NyQuil regular. We’re Americans. Once the bigger, bolder version becomes available, that’s where our dollars go. Think about it:  If you’ve got a cold or flu, aren’t you sure that yours is SEVERE, and therefore the SEVERE cure is what you need? Even if you aren’t sure that yours is SEVERE – why risk it? Why limp along with regular NyQuil when you can buy SEVERE? It’s akin to eggs in the supermarket:  I like the medium-sized eggs because I don’t want all my daily cholesterol at once, and I have a conception that the smaller ones are tastier. Every once in a while, I’ll find an orphan carton of medium-sized eggs sitting disconsolately among the eggs that, like husky boys’ pants, come in Large, Extra Large, and Jumbo. But most times, no. No medium-sized eggs. (In fact, no small eggs, either, so just where do these smallest of available eggs get their designation as being “medium”?) No, just these ostrich sizes. Because, given the choice, who on Earth would want something smaller or less SEVERE?

Tomorrow, I will have more to say about some things, perhaps including these. I just hope I’m able to say them out loud.

All quiet on the home front

June 12th, 2014

Revelation for today:  It’s really boring being home sick.

I don’t know why so many people apparently like it. I admit that at times it has seemed romantic in the abstract — oh, stay home and read books all day, or watch movies, or, I dunno, finally file all the paid bills — but in the reality of the situation, it’s the equivalent of that blank screen or blank sheet of paper to a writer:  daunting. With all this time on one’s hands, no matter how you fill it, it seems purposeless.

This must be what faces those who “retire.” I put it into quote marks to remind myself of the alien nature of this concept, and that I never intend to do it. All the men I know who’ve retired died shortly thereafter; the women lived on to share stories of the old times spent with those men.

So, yes, I’m home. And writing. Ignoring the hacking cough and the cotton-stuffed head and the ringing ears and my near muteness. How does Black Bolt rule an entire race without being able to utter a syllable? I have a newfound respect for Medusa’s powers of interpretation. I should add that since developing this total laryngitis, late last night, my abilities as a mime have increased dramatically. I gestured to my wife that when she went shopping I wanted some Le Petit Ecolier cookies — we call them “Little Paul” cookies at my house, because of an inferred resemblance to a friend — and pointed to the milk-chocolate version still hanging around the house. She replied, verbally, that she thought I preferred the dark-chocolate version; in reply, I moved my outspread arms up and down to simulate a balance scale, indicating that they were of equal value to me. She rolled her eyes and trundled off to the store.

Last night was the first indication that I might be facing trouble today. I went out for dinner to Faith & Flower with my friend Doug, in for the day from Austin, TX. I had already had a hacking cough; as the evening wore on and the restaurant transcended slowly into more of a downtown club, we found ourselves competing in volume with the music. By the time we parted ways on the platform of the subway station, I was capable of only a shrill twisted squawk. At home half an hour later, I couldn’t make even that sound. My kids gleefully went around imitating me.

It’s difficult to get what you want easily when you can’t say anything. But Skype has helped. I Skyped my assistant to ask him to bring my laptop and some papers to me at home, and they arrived promptly. I’ve been texting. Now I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do tomorrow — I’m presiding over a board meeting tomorrow, my last as chair. As curatives, I’m downing all the potions my wife is prescribing. If I still can’t utter an intelligible word tomorrow, I guess I’ll have to ask my friend Barry to serve as my Medusa.

Money laundering, Part 2

June 11th, 2014

You may recall that the dry cleaner at first tried to charge me $95.20, I told them it should be $78.22, they countered with $72.07, and we finally settled upon $74.35.

I just logged into my bank account to pay some bills and see that they charged my debit card for a total of $67.88.


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.