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


A revolutionary reading device

September 3rd, 2014

This could change the way everyone reads!

The reading report

September 2nd, 2014
  1. Now on page 321 of Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth. One question remains: Is it the worst novel I’ve ever read, or merely one of the worst? Given that it’s by a writer of otherwise extraordinary talent, it seems to qualify as the first.
  2. Read over the table of contents of this week’s New Yorker. Twice. Finally handed the entire issue over to offspring unread. Usually can find at least one “Talk of the Town” item, or a review, or a “Briefly Noted” worth engaging. Not this time.
  3. Still need to finish reading a script for a client. Also a stack — er, wait, four stacks — of books within reach waiting to be read. But, oh, the thrill of getting a new book to read. I keep salivating over the prospect of reading The Martian — surely a survivalist tale of the most difficult challenges.
  4. One third of the way through The Filth, a collection of the 13-issue comic-book title by Grant Morrison that I picked up at Comic-Con this year. Typical of Morrison’s latter-day comics, it’s equally invigorating and incomprehensible. Once upon a time, one could enjoy his inventiveness while also understanding what’s going on. But that seems to have been 10 (or 20) years ago.
  5. Various newspapers, mailings, magazines and other communications, including the latest issue of Inc. magazine, enumerating the “500 fastest growing privately held companies in America,” of which several at least are flat-out lying about their results. I’ve been to their websites, and if their businesses are anything like their online presence, they ceased to exist sometime during the first Bush admiseration.

More reading tomorrow, and every day hereafter.

The next day

August 17th, 2014

On Facebook, a friend of mine congratulated his brother Mike, who “built this Northern MN cabin for $4500, retired off the grid, collects rainwater from a roof irrigation system, eats berries, reads by candle light, catches trout & talks to the animals. He’s gone inside the world to grok its natural rhythms while the rest of us watch Netflix. Here’s to living life on one’s own terms.”

And I thought, that’s great. That’s really great. So, let’s say that’s on Monday. What’s Mike going to be doing on the next day, on Tuesday? My bet is: going batshit crazy.

Mike is entitled to do whatever he wants, so long as he isn’t, say, spending time in his hinterland chateau plotting to overthrow the government. But those of us who grew up in nature – who aren’t tourists who’ve moved there for some idealized bucolic existence – know that nature is more accurately not a place of “natural rhythms” where we can escape Netflix, but is more properly known as a place that swings wildly between being boring and deadly. Nature is a place filled with flying dusky things that like to bite or sting you, that either way want to eat a part of you. It’s a place where one wrong step plunges you into a sinkhole or crevasse you can’t get out of. It’s a place where if you’re not eating, something is eating you. It is also a place where it’s exceedingly hard to get a cold beer, let alone a roast beef sandwich or even a pillow. It’s a place where, when that glowing orb in the sky drops below the crestline, it becomes pretty hard to read, and the places to recharge your smartphone are scant. In short, nature sucks.

Oh, it’s fine to go there. As a tourist. Briefly. A week or two – or even a day (half a day!) – should suffice. Have at it! But when you get back to your campsite and hanker after that thing you forgot to pack – salt, or another book, or, my God, is there any water left in the cooler? — then you’ll remember all the reasons we as a people left this place behind millennia ago.

After our having spent thousands of years of trying to best it, to idealize it now is just stupid. It’s sentimental drivel. It’s not beautiful, and it’s not peaceful. It’s the ugly reality of striving after day-to-day existence.

Before you get the wrong idea, please be reassured that I love the rhinos. And the giraffes. And the lemurs and all those other things that live out there. I want them to survive. I want them to thrive! They may have these outdoors, now and forever. And I may want to visit them from time to time. But to live with them, to commune with them, seems to me to be like reducing myself to their circumstance. As they are without theatre, and music, and museums, and opera, and liquor stores, and cigar bars, and supermarkets, and 30% off sales at Macy’s, so would I be. This is antithetical to progress, and should hold no attraction for any of us.

I prefer to think of nature as this: Nature is the space between buildings. Because it’s the buildings that have made us into what we are.

It’s not actually that challenging

August 17th, 2014

As part of this ALS challenge, I have submerged a bottle of Chardonnay in a bucket of ice. And then I have emptied that bottle into myself.

The good news

August 12th, 2014

Yes, Robin Williams killed himself. And Lauren Bacall is dead. But here’s the good news.

What we remember

August 11th, 2014

What we will remember foremost about Robin Williams now will be his suicide.

At least, that’s what I remember most about people I’ve known who’ve committed suicide. Unfortunately.

Almost 15 years ago, a friend of mine took too many of his prescribed pills one night and downed a bottle of whiskey with them. He knew exactly what he was doing, especially given that he wasn’t a drinker. (Didn’t drink at all.) Here’s how I found out about it: a mutual friend called me and said, “Well, he finally did it.” This, after years of therapy and medication and other treatments.

I prefer to think of this friend another way — as being gifted with a sharp, dry wit (when my then-roommate asked how to get to Richard Nixon’s funeral in Yorba Linda, my friend said, “Follow your nose.”), with the ability to perform all sorts of odd voices and to replicate a vast array of animal sounds live on stage with that voice, and as a writer and performer who always made me laugh.

But, foremost, I think of him as someone who killed himself. As in, “He was so good that I wish he hadn’t killed himself….” The two sentiments are inextricably linked.

And that’s how we’ll remember Robin Williams: as the incredibly successful funnyman and actor who killed himself. It’s not a legacy I wish on anyone.

A man goes to the doctor

August 4th, 2014

That’s the start of many a joke. But you’ll have to tell me how funny you find this after reading it. This is a true story from a close friend of mine who is fighting cancer. My friend is doing well — he’s certainly in good spirits, and the scans he shared with me show great progress in treating the cancer.

My friend compares this situation to something out of Ionesco, and it certainly conjures up theatre of the absurd. But I think it would be funny if it weren’t depressing, or, maybe, depressing if it weren’t funny, so that makes it a bit more like Beckett. (Which I prefer on the stage, and not in medicine.)

Here goes:

OK, so even though I feel fine my Red Blood Cells and White Blood Cells and other things are completely out of whack.


One more transfusion (three units this time).  Hopefully I’ll be good for this coming Thursday.


Eugene Ionesco (the absurdist) comes to oncology


Arriving at Dr. M–’s office on Thursday I went to the receptionist’s desk and signed in as per usual.


Receptionist – Last name, please.


Me – [name]


Receptionist – Oh, you’re here for an infusion.  Just go right in to the center.


Me – No, I have to have blood drawn and see Dr. M– first.


Receptionist – I don’t see you on his schedule.  You’re just here for an infusion.  Go right into the infusion center.  Through that door there.


Me – No, I have a card that says I have an appointment with Dr. M–.  I have to have blood work done before the infusion and I have to see the doctor.


Receptionist – Well you’re not on the schedule.  Go on into the infusion center and they’ll draw your blood and take your vitals, and I’ll check with Dr. M– about seeing you.


Me – OK, but no one is supposed to stick a needle in me except George.


Receptionist – What?


Me – George told me that no one should put  a needle in me except him.  I am telling you what he told me.  Maybe you should check with him.


Receptionist – OK, just go into the infusion center and I’ll check with George.


Me – OK, thank you.


R– and I go into the infusion center and see the head nurse.


Me – I’m here for an infusion but I’m supposed to have blood drawn and then see Dr. M– before that.


Nurse – Uh, OK.  Have a seat and we’ll take your vitals and draw some blood and then we’ll see if Dr. M– is available to see you in here.


Me – OK.  George told me that no one is supposed to stick a needle in me except him.


Nurse – What?


Me – George told me that he is the only person who’s allowed to stick me with a needle.  I’m telling you what he told me.  Maybe you can check with him.


Nurse – OK, well take a seat and we’ll get your vitals.


We sit.  Nurse comes over with a tray to draw blood.


Nurse – It’s OK, I can do it.


Me – Uh, OK.


The nurse looks at my arms, chooses a vein in the left one, swabs me down and inserts the needle.


Nurse – There, that looks good.  Oh, the vein collapsed.


Me – George said he’s the only one who’s supposed to do this to me.


Nurse – OK, I’ll be right back.


She removes the needle, puts on some cotton and tapes it in place.  She leaves.


Ten minutes later . . .


Nurse – [name], go down the hall and see George.


Me – OK.


We get up and troupe down the hall, nurse in tow (I don’t know why) where George is waiting.  He sees the bandage on my arm.


George – What are you doing?  No one is supposed to stick you except me.


Me – I told them three times.


George – Never let them poke you.  Just come and see me.


Me – I told them.


George – If they tell you something else just get up and come down here and yell my name.


Me – They also said I had no appointment.


George – well you do now.


Nurse – he was only scheduled for an infusion.


George – He can’t be infused without seeing Dr. M– and doing his blood work.  That’s crazy.


No response.


We go into an examination room and I sit on the table.  The nurse sits down right beside me, looking at George as if to say, “OK, show me what you got.”


George pulls out a new needle and swabs, looks at the nurse and says,


George – You can go now.  I don’t need an audience.


Nurse – But, . . .


George – You can go.  You don’t need to be poking him anymore.


She leaves.


George – Don’t ever let them do this to you again.


Me – OK . . .


George picks his vein, inserts the needle, gets a good location and draws the blood.  No muss, no fuss.


The rest of the appointment went as usual.  Dr. M– came in.  We talked about Scotland, and movies and then he told me my blood work was in sad shape, and I wasn’t infused (as previously stated).  If I had let them do what they wanted to do I might be in very bad place right now.


George also told me to come and see him to put a needle in the next time I have a CT or PET scan done in the radiology center down stairs.  “Just come up here and I’ll put it in.  Don’t let them do it.”


Apparently George owns me now.

Best instruction from a volunteer coordinating waiting lines for this year’s Comic-Con

July 24th, 2014

To several hundred of us:

“Technically, you can’t be here. So don’t do anything, but move.”

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.