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


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Strange dream of the Russian woman

December 7th, 2017

I’m at some sort of early evening outside barbecue awaiting the arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev’s wife. I’ve been emailing back and forth with her — we’ve grown to be close friends online — and now I’m looking forward to meeting her in person.

At some point, I have to be part of repairing a mid-size flat-bed truck so that someone else can drive it as part of this mission. I also drive it for a bit, too. But then I’m back at the barbecue.

Mrs. Gorbachev arrives.  She’s a middle-aged platinum blonde in a slightly tarnished white fur coat, standing apart on a small patch of grass near the barbecue pit. I introduce myself and she’s glad to speak with someone she knows. Black-suited secret service agents mill in the background. My daughter takes a photo of the two of us, Mrs. Gorbachev and me, and I have the idea to also get one with my daughter in it, but now there’s a line to see the former first lady of Russian (and the Soviet Union), and the man at the front of that line, who is also barely constraining a large dog on a chain, is growing irate and saying that he’d already been jumped in front of.

Having finished pleasantries with my friend Mrs. Gorbachev,  I go inside the nearby house to use the restroom and pass a television set that’s playing a commercial. It’s a commercial for pet food that mentions my daughter by name, and also shows her and her dog playing around. This reminds me that recently she’d won a contest to be the person featured in this commercial campaign. I also know that, resulting from my belief that dogs are dogs and should be happy with what they get, we don’t buy this pricy pet food at home, so now I’m considering, again, the hypocrisy over our family now being affiliated with this pet food.

I go into the restroom and I see the shambles created by dozens or hundreds of guests using a small, suburban bathroom. The trash can being full, a succession of people have stuffed their used paper towels into the sink, backing up the sink. I patiently pull all of that from the sink and jam it down into the trash can, and now the sink is back to functionality and I use the toilet.

Then I wake up.

Almost none of this dream bears examination or interpretation in the morning light. Except for one thing.

I assume the reason the dream featured Mikhail Gorbachev’s wife and not Vladimir Putin’s wife is because Vladimir Putin’s wife is the president of the United States, and I don’t want that guy showing up in my life, let alone my dreams.

Why I hate Trader Joe’s

November 20th, 2017

My wife wanted to know why I didn’t want to go do the Thanksgiving grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s. I would be perfectly happy doing it at Ralphs — I adore Ralphs, and especially the colorful and valuable coupons they send me — but Trader Joe’s? No. Sorry.

“You don’t like the TJ food or the actual store?” she asked in a text.

No, it goes much deeper than that.

  1. The parking situation is irritating. Outside every Trader Joe’s you’ll find about 100 shopping carts — and 50 parking slips. This to me means that they are intentionally creating buzz by showing how in-demand it is. My theory is supported by the constant sight of cars circling in vain looking for a parking space. God help you if you get one because the circling cars get so excited by the prospect of being able to park that they reach a frenzy that practically guarantees a collision.
  2. Trader Joe’s is made for browsing. I don’t want to browse for food — organic dandruff-dusted sugar cookies from Krygystan is not what I came for. I want to get what I came for.
  3. But it’s hard to do that, because whatever I came for, it’s not there. Either it’s too normal to be found at a Trader Joe’s — unlike, say, “Creamy Toscano soaked in Syrah wine” (an actual product featured this week) — or, if you do find something you like, they’ve discontinued it by the next time you get there.
  4. Because their signage changes constantly in (non-) cute ways, it’s impossible to find things. This is especially challenging to someone with a lifelong problem finding things. (That would be me.)
  5. I don’t want to think that hard about groceries — I just want them — and I don’t need to feel smugly superior in the experience of getting them. So the whole scene at Trader Joe’s with shoppers who are delighted not to be one of the great unwashed willing to slum it out at Ralphs is not something I enjoy.

Other than that, I think it’s great.

I don’t get a charge out of Vegas

November 19th, 2017

McCarran International Airport (aka “Las Vegas Airport”) has rows and rows and rows of seats with helpful charging outlets.

Well, they would be helpful — if someone wired them to electricity. Or plugged them in. Or something.

As I was reminded on Thursday, and again just now.

Grammar gone bad

November 19th, 2017

There’s a t-shirt I’ve seen for sale on the Internet that reads, “I’m silently correcting your grammar.” Whenever I share this saying with a fellow sufferer of synesthesia — those of us whose ears hurt when someone trips on the language — they smile and nod. I can’t speak for them, but I really do, honestly, try to keep my mouth shut. I love the English language and I know that it’s fluid, and I have a deep appreciation for regionalisms and the musicality of slang and patois, whether it’s Spanglish or gullah or good ol’ boy tongue or whatever we’d call the voice of Chaucer and Twain.

But just now I couldn’t help myself.

I’m at Chicago Midway airport waiting for my flight. Seated next to me was a dad and his wife and their three small children. One of the kids said she’d “sneaked” over to do something, and the dad immediately said, “Snuck.”

And before I could catch myself, and because we’d already had a conversation where he’d apologized for his rambunctious toddlers and I’d said, “It’s okay — I traveled with three of them myself,” I volunteered, “Actually, it’s ‘sneaked.’ ”

Some would say that both “sneaked” and “snuck” are proper (and that’s where Merriam-Webster lands, and I live by the AP StyleBook, which says “sneaked” is preferred), but “sneaked” has about 300 years of history on the latter — and it sure sounded to my ear like someone miscorrecting a child who was actually right.

The dad said, “Is it? Oh, okay,” in a nice way — he didn’t seem to mind at all — but what left me feeling crummy was the one kid who said, “Wow, did we video that?” because now he wanted a record of his dad getting corrected, which the other two children joined in on.

Next time I’ll just remember to stick with silently correcting people.

Unless it’s my own kids.

Annals of travel

November 16th, 2017

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I ask you:  What exactly is this thing for?

I’m staying in a rather nice hotel in a very nice area of Chicago — Lakeshore Drive, in Magnificent Mile — and am confronted, as one generally is in such a place, with this pillow log.

It is too stiff to function as a headrest.

It is too long to fold into a headrest.

It is too narrow and, again, immaleable, to serve as a body pillow. (If one were the type to use body pillows.)

So what is its purpose?

I consulted Mr. Google, who yielded this listing on, of course, Amazon, where one may buy varieties of this trunk of pillow. You will note that it is listed as a Marriott Hotel Decorative Bolster Pillow. (The accent on “decorative” is mine.)

So this thing is pure decoration. Because, lord knows, to the consumer, it’s useless.

But I think it has one other function. Its presence helps to justify the price of the fancy-schmantzy hotel. When you check into your room and see the decorative bolster pillow, you realize, “Hey! There’s a Decorative Bolster Pillow on the bed! Of course! Now I know why this room costs six times as much as Motel 6!”

(Well, that, plus the clean sheets. And the lack of toenail clippings on the floor.)

I will not be buying a Decorative Bolster Pillow for my home. Because I already know that that place is not a Motel 6.

Where’s Superman when you need him?

November 14th, 2017

Just when you think some things in the world can’t get worse… a comic-book convention gets shut down by an armed group.

Saturday / Sunday

November 12th, 2017

After leading my playwriting workshop yesterday, I drove down toward San Diego to see a couple of friends, a married couple who were in town. They’re housesitting, and here for a while, and they’re very good people I’d like to see more of, but they don’t live around here, and given what my schedule’s been like lately (as reflected in the dearth of posts), Saturday into Sunday was the only chance I had to see them.

As is the way with things, in Southern California at least, Mr. Google promised that the drive would take me an hour and nine minutes; instead, it took about two. This was late on a Saturday afternoon. Why was traffic backed up on a Saturday afternoon? Because traffic is always backed up. Years ago, my friends and I settled on this great idea to avoid traffic coming back from San Diego Comic-Con:  go see a movie early Sunday evening after the convention, and by the time it’d be over, traffic would have cleared. These days we still see the movie — but the traffic is pretty much 24/7. It never clears.

I stopped and picked up a nice bottle of wine — a red blend that the wine-shop owner strongly recommended and that my friends effused over after we opened it — and they grilled beautiful ribeye steaks from an upscale supermarket where I’m too cheap to shop, and paired them with squash and cucumbers and other delights. We swapped all sorts of stories from the past year, and thoughts about current events. Eventually, the husband and I broke out cigars, and his wife went to bed, and he and I sat out back under a heater and smoked those cigars and drank scotch and worked on the world’s problems while one of the dogs kept coming back to me with a tattered chew toy. After Tuesday’s Democratic sweep of just about everywhere, I was feeling hopeful, but truly no one knows what’s going to happen — with anything — so it’s all wait-and-see.

My friend is living in Germany right now; that’s where he came in from. He was surprised how relatively cheap it is. The nice apartment, the healthcare insurance, food, and other costs total out at $1800 a month. My mortgage alone is just under $4,000 a month. Our cable/internet/phone package runs $275 a month. Food — for four of us, sure — is $775 a month, and at that amount, people around here can’t believe that’s all I’m spending. The more he talked about Germany, the better it sounded:  great cultural institutions, nice people, high walkability and easy access to cheap public transportation…. “Sounds great!” I said. “All I’d need is about 1500 certain people to move there with me.” Because there’s a very good reason I stay in Los Angeles:  all the people here I get to work with and socialize with — theatre people, business friends, friend-friends, some family. Actually, there’s another great reason I stay in Los Angeles:  I love Los Angeles. I’m crazy about it. Really. It was having this discussion with my friend last night that helped crystallize for me that I don’t foresee ever living anywhere else. Never say never — as Sean Connery learned when he said he’d never play James Bond again, only to return as Bond in a movie called “Never Say Never Again” — but the odds seem slim.

We finally called it a night at 2:30 in the morning, so I went upstairs to the bedroom where I was staying and pulled out the book I’m reading, “Us Kids Know,” by my friend former student, JJ Strong. I downed one of what I call “Sleepytime Alleve,” with a seltzer water, because every joint in my body ached just from being alive. Around 3:15, I switched off the light and snuggled in to sleep, but kept hearing this nearby crashing sound coming from outside. It was somewhat regular, and infinitely distracting to someone trying to sleep, like something coming in and hitting something, and then pausing, and then hitting it again. Finally I realized I was hearing the surf crash onto the beach. I wonder if whoever first romanticized the pounding of the surf actually tried to sleep near it.

At 7:46, the dog walker arrived to walk the housesat dogs; I know this because the dog pandemonium woke me up. I drifted back to sleep, waking up a few hours later, checking the news and social media and my email and going downstairs for a beautifully cooked and served breakfast, before driving back. I left around 1 p.m. — a good time, I thought — checked my phone, and saw that Google was predicting an hour and nine minutes to get home.

It took about two.

A monk, a clown and a convict walk onto a porch…

October 31st, 2017

…And yell out, “Trick or treat!”

Much like the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the number of kids we get for Halloween can fluctuate wildly. Two years ago we had 110; this year we had 27. In addition to the monk, the clown, and the escaped convict, we had a toddler princess, a vampire queen, a dinosaur, a bunch of bananas (kids from the same family, I assume), a Harry Potter, the Evil Queen from “Snow White,” a failed attempt at the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, and assorted tries at terrifying get-ups. We had none of the most terrifying get-up — that would be Donald Trump as president — and also a middle-school kid who came as a bear. I found that one most puzzling:  Who goes out for Halloween as a bear? Where do you even get a bear costume? It’s things like this that really make Halloween the occasion for people to express themselves as individuals.

This Halloween coincides, as all Halloweens do, with my wedding anniversary. As of today I’ve been married for 30 years — to the same woman! When I shared this with somebody today he was dumbstruck — like he’d spotted a unicorn or a visitor from another planet, or even a kid who dresses as a bear for Halloween. “You should write a book!” he said in all seriousness. When he learned that I’m not originally from L.A., and that Valorie and I got married when we still lived in New Jersey, that lessened his shock, before he said, “But still!”

Our wedding was a big costume party at a rented hall that I’m told doesn’t exist any more. (Similarly, three of the theatres where I’ve been produced are no more either. One thing about living long enough:  You close down venues.) We didn’t tell people in advance that we were going to get married; we simply sent out invitations that read “You are invited to a masquerade ball.” Then, in much smaller lettering beneath that, it read: “Plus a wedding.” There was much initial tsuris about this among some family members — were we serious? marriage isn’t meant to be a joke! what if we’re the only ones to come in costume?!?!? — but on the day about 200 people showed up in costume. Today, a good friend of mine posted a whole bunch of photos on Facebook from that party. It was nice to see so many friends and family again:  Groucho Marx and Mae West, the Arab sheik, the jester, the knave, Gomez Adams, the flasher, and others. This was one ceremony where when the bride said her new mother-in-law was a witch, it was true.
Halloween2015Valorie had to work tonight (she saves lives three or four nights a week at our local hospital), so we exchanged cards and a kiss. We’re crazy busy this time of year, but we’re going to celebrate a little tomorrow night, heading out to dinner at Salt’s Cure, which made Jonathan Gold’s List of 101 Best Places to Eat in L.A. (while draining your wallet), then we’re seeing Ricky Gervais at the Dolby Theatre. And then we’ll take a trip in the spring, when our schedules permit.

This morning, I shared this photo on Facebook of us in our Halloween costumes from two years ago. Look how beautiful this woman is! I kept going back to it throughout the day. Meow! We took this photo just before heading over to the party of a couple who have since then sadly divorced. Realizing that just makes me feel all the luckier.

25 years of drama

October 30th, 2017

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Two Saturday nights ago, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the opening of Moving Arts. But, actually, it’s tonight that’s the 25th anniversary.

I won’t go into our history again — I did that five years ago on that earlier commemoration; you can read that history here — but I do have to note a few changes, and one constant.

  1. Tom Boyle, who was a big part of that founding, and of many years of my life, died a couple of years ago. I miss him and think about him most days. I’d love to talk to him about the current political situation, or the recent crop of movies or TV, or just play a game or share a drink, and I do try to imagine how those conversations would sound, but my imagination is a poor substitute for Tom himself. Because he was smart and funny and loyal, he was everything I look for in a friend. I’m glad I got to spend as much time with him as I did before he finally pierced the veil and stepped into the beyond. I will say that his death has made me appreciate my still-living friends even more.
  2. Since that post of five years ago, we’ve gained some new board members who have done a lot to move the organization forward. We’ve actually got cash in the bank. (Which should in no way deter you from making an end-of-year contribution — we’ll always need more, and cheerfully accept it!) At times in the past, the cash in the bank was about five bucks. Now, in 2017, we’ve got more than five bucks. Significantly more. It’s not a buying-a-house-in-Los-Angeles amount of money — nowhere near — but it’s not five bucks. That’s saying a lot for a small-theatre company in Los Angeles.
  3. Probably a year (maybe two?) after I wrote that 20th anniversary post, we were incredibly fortunate to land a new artistic director, Darin Anthony. He’s a talented director and a visionary leader and it’s my pleasure to do what I can to support him. Everybody else on the board feels the same way. He wants to do big things, and he’s inspiring the rest of us to help him.

Here’s the constant (and you saw this coming):

Twenty-five years later, we’re still doing new plays. Sometimes I ask myself if I ever envisioned, in 1992, that we’d still be here in 2017. I don’t know. I do remember wondering in February of 1993 if we’d be there in March of 1993. That was tough — and there have been many, many other financially tough times — but we’ve gotten through them all, and in some ways we’re doing better now than ever. And we’ve got big plans for the future. It’s an exciting time for Moving Arts.

Was it five years ago, on our 20th anniversary, that Steve Lozier and some others produced an event at the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax that featured celebrities doing roles from our first production? I can’t remember any more. But I do remember what we did two Saturdays ago:  We held a big house party in the Hollywood Hills that featured five short plays fully staged at different locations within that house. They were all new plays; the venue was packed (our biggest turnout ever for that event); and there were so many people having such a great time, myself included, that I actually sent out to get more alcohol delivered from the local liquor store. All of the plays were fun, and so was the event. At some point, I repaired outside up on the hillside terrace behind the house to share Cuban cigars with two other playwrights and have drinks and just talk. That cemented the evening for me:  new plays, great fun, and camaraderie among smart creative people.

That’s what we’ve been doing for 25 years: birthing new plays, and bringing smart creative people together. Every day you get to do that sort of thing is a celebration.

A suggestion for GOP members of Congress who oppose Trump

October 24th, 2017

Maybe stay and fight?

Even in an election you’re going to lose. Because then we’d really understand that, for you, it’s about country over party.

Or, how about this: switch party affiliation. Now. While you’re still in office.

Because, as someone noted on Twitter:

If McCain, Corker, and Jeff Flake want to stop Trump, they should LEAVE HIS PARTY.

52 Republicans in Senate

52 – 3 = 49 = no more majority

That’d make for real impact.