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


Dog-bites-man massacres

October 1st, 2015

If you haven’t yet, please invest the 12 minutes to watch the President’s statement about today’s mass shooting, at a community college in Oregon. I say “today’s,” because we now have one every day. Given that these shootings are now business as usual, you may not have seen this.

There’s an old saying in journalism, that dog-bites-man isn’t a story, but man-bites-dog is, because the latter is so unusual. I remember when the Colombine high-school-shooting massacre happened in 1999, the news was not just awful, as today’s was, but also breathtaking. How could this happen? It was so massive, so unusual, so man-bites-dog. I was in an airport — in Colorado, I believe — and started making and receiving cellphone calls about the massacre, as every television station in the airport started carrying news about it.

Now it’s 16 years later, and we’ve made zero progress on gun violence, and we now reside in a time when there’s a mass shooting every day, so it’s not unusual. It’s dog-bites-man.

For the record, I like guns. I used to like them for hunting, and I’ve always liked them for target practice — either paper targets, or cans, or skeet. More than 40 years after learning how to shoot as a boy, I’m still a good shot. Most of my family shoots, most of them for target practice, some of them still for hunting. I’m not anti-gun. I’m anti-gun-massacres.

A few years ago, there was a study that showed that more gun laws equate with fewer gun deaths. Here’s some reporting on that. I don’t want all the guns rounded up. (That’s impossible anyway.) I want better profiling, I want a slower application process, and whatever else will help restrict crazy people from easily accessing automatic weapons and taking them to college campuses, shopping centers, movie theaters, and every single other place that we congregate.

I want the idea of mass shootings in this country to become unusual again.

Today’s cool art video

September 30th, 2015

For the past 25 years, Dutch artist Theo Jansen has created “living” sculptures, made mostly of trash, that traverse the beach in an amazing simulacrum of mammalian movement, powered by the wind.

This is only my most recent discovery of something artistically astonishing that I’ve been able to find through the wonders of social media. (Thank you, Facebook.) It happens at least once a day, and I’m always grateful.

More about Jansen and his creations can be found here.


September 29th, 2015

Jeffrey Toobin feels differently than I do about John Boehner.

Leadership is ultimately tabulated from results. I can’t think of any positive results for Boehner. But I still believe he wanted to do better.

Childhood’s end

September 28th, 2015

When I was in New Jersey recently I had the opportunity to take three of my great-nephews to their local comic-book store. I took some cash out of an ATM because I wanted to buy each of them something, and figured I’d spend about 10 dollars each.

All three of them were excited to be there (as was I, of course). The middle brother (aged 11, I believe) scored eight comics he wanted out of the dollar box; he was especially glad to learn about “Damage Control,” because he’d always wondered who cleaned up the messes left by superheroic battles, and to pick up an entire run of the miniseries for cheap was glorious. The youngest, who turned nine just this week, was interested in a lot of the things in the store, but decided he didn’t actually want anything. (I know:  remarkable wisdom in one so young. One of the things I want most at this point of my life is to be rid of some of the things I own, because it’s feeling like they own me. But it’s taken me decades of adulthood to realize this.) The eldest brother selected a small Transformer in a locked display case, and then said to me something I’ve been thinking about ever since:  ”We can say it’s my birthday present.”

I wouldn’t have said that, because I hadn’t known it was going to be his birthday a few days hence. And understandably so:  I see these boys once, or sometimes twice, a year. And I don’t think I’ve ever been there for the birthday of any of them. We’ve got a large extended family — my mother; my brother and his wife and their daughter and their son and their daughter-in-law; my other brother and his husband; my sister and her husband, and their daughter and her husband and their three children, and their son and his girlfriend and their son, and their daughter and her husband and their three children; plus myself and my wife and our three children. That’s 28 of us. This leaves out all the various aunts and uncles and cousins and so forth. Who could possibly remember all these birthdays? My policy is to send children random gifts when least expected, for maximum impact.

So when my great-nephew said, “We can say it’s my birthday present,” well… I hadn’t intended to get him one. But he assumed he was due one. And then I remembered what childhood was like. Childhood is that period of your life when you believe that people owe you something. I certainly felt that way at his age. When I was his age, I spent a month away from my parents staying with relatives in another state, and during that month my birthday came around. I got a card in the mail from my mother with some money in it — but I nevertheless fully expected a full-on birthday party upon my return weeks after the date. Forty years later, it takes no effort at all to conjure the shock I felt at no birthday party at all. I lurked around for two full weeks expecting at any moment for my family to jump out and yell “surprise!” and confront me with a full-tilt birthday party, with streamers and hats and balloons and a mountain of gifts — except I wouldn’t be surprised, because I knew, I just knew, all along that surely such an event would be coming any day now, there was no fooling me. Except it didn’t.

Which leads us to the pain of adulthood:  the slow dawning that no one owes you anything, that, indeed, if you are to get anything in adulthood, you need to get it on your own. Heirs and princesses and landed lords and movie stars and billionaires born with the name Trump don’t need to learn this lesson, but just about everyone else does.

When we got back to my mother’s house from our comic-book-store spree, I saw that the Chinese food my brother had ordered for dinner with our mother had arrived. As I sat down to eat, I fished out a twenty-dollar bill to give to him. “No, that’s okay. It wasn’t much,” he said. “Besides, you bought at the comic-book store.” Spoken like a true adult.

Citizen Boehner

September 26th, 2015

I have a number of friends who have been influential and highly placed Republicans. (I say “have been” because most of them have left the party. Or, perhaps more appropriately, the party has left them.) They’ve run campaigns, or served in significant roles in various statehouse or federal administrations. Two years ago, I was having lunch with one of them when I heard myself saying, “I kind of like John Boehner. I don’t agree with him, but I think he’s an American patriot. And I feel sorry for him.”

Yesterday, when I saw that he resigned,  while my Democrat friends were cheering, my heart sank. As I posted on one liberal friend’s Facebook page, “We’ll see how much you like what comes next.”

Vitriol isn’t new to American politics, and isn’t new to politics anywhere. (As the histories of ancient Greece and Rome attest.) But I wish we had less of it, and more focus on areas where viewpoints converge to fix actual problems. One of my former-Republican friends advises people to find the area of agreement and work on that. To do that, people have to stay civil. We could use more of that.

I’ve done my fair share of mocking political leaders I don’t agree with; lately, unless they’re truly vile or evil (same word, spelled differently), I resist. I woke up this morning again to find hundreds of my Facebook friends going on about John Boehner’s “orange skin” and his propensity for tears, and giving ha-ha-ha’s at him. Here’s what I feel I know about John Boehner:  because he came from humble origins, he was indeed frequently moved by finding himself second in line to the presidency; because he actually cared not only about the aims of his party but the needs of the country, he tried to wrangle a recurring heretic mob into agreement. Was he a successful Speaker? No. Will we like what comes next? No. Part of me believes that Boehner is doing this now so that he can go out on his own terms — refusing to shut down the government again, because now he’s free to work a deal with whomever he likes.

One of Boehner’s stated goals was to be an historic Speaker. I can’t find a previous example of a Speaker stepping down in precisely this fashion. So now he’s made history. It’s not the history he wanted, and not the one we should have wanted either.

Become a patron of the arts

September 23rd, 2015

Got a spare room?

I’ve got a middle-aged playwright friend who needs an inexpensive, temporary, new living situation somewhere in Los Angeles effective next Wednesday.

He’s a non-smoker, knows his way around a kitchen, seems to me like the tidy sort, and, as he says, is “too old to party to excess or many any noise other than typing on my laptop.”

I’ve been friends with him for 10 years, and know him to be a good person who is also extraordinarily talented.

Please let me know if you’ve got room, and I’ll make the introduction. He’s a good guy. Thank you.

The Jersey diet

September 21st, 2015

The other night, I caught an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s latest show. In this one, he was partaking of the foods of his native New Jersey, dining at some spots I recognize, including Dock’s Oyster House and the Knife & Fork Inn, both of which are in poor, bedraggled Atlantic City.

During the course of the show, and at various restaurants, Bourdain eats:

  • a cheesesteak
  • pizza
  • two hot dogs, with french fries
  • clam chowder
  • deep-fried fish, with more french fries
  • oysters
  • a lobster stuffed with crabmeat
  • an Italian sub loaded with meats and cheese, heavy on the oil
  • spaghetti with meatballs

The closest thing to a vegetable in there was the spaghetti sauce.

Last Monday night, I got back from a brief trip to New Jersey to help celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday. Over the course of four-and-a-half days there, I gained three pounds. This was while going to the gym on two of those days.

So maybe Chris Christie isn’t a glutton. Maybe he just eats in New Jersey.


Long live the king

August 30th, 2015


One day after what would have been his 98th birthday, I went to the official opening of “Comic Book Apocalypse:  The Graphic World of Jack Kirby,” an exhibit in the CSUN Art Galleries at Cal State Northridge, here in the San Fernando Valley. The show runs through October 10, and if you have any interest in comic-book art — and even if you don’t — I recommend you go.

I say that because you’ll gain a new and greater understanding of an artist whose impact can’t be — shouldn’t be — underestimated. Kirby wasn’t just a great comics artist, wasn’t just a great innovator, he was a brilliant mind who was able to create new myths for our time. Moreso than even Philip K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft, artists similarly stuck in a creative ghetto whose ideas seeped deep into our collective subconscious, Kirby created whole universes that are now accepted as givens.

While the exhibit covers the length of Kirby’s 50-year career, starting in the 1940s, it dwells on four particular series:  ”Fantastic Four,” “Thor,” the New Gods titles (“New Gods,” “Forever People,” “Mister Miracle” and Kirby’s run on “Jimmy Olsen”) and “Kamandi.”

To me, “Fantastic Four” remains the high-water mark; the example of a space-traveling team of science explorers who meet new cultures far and wide while striving to represent us in a noble fashion left an indelible mark upon me. The series also introduced: Black Panther and Wakanda, the Inhumans, the Silver Surfer, Galactus, Ronan the Accuser, the Silver Surfer, the Skrulls, Doctor Doom, and many more. All of these have already been in major motion pictures, or soon will be. All of them were primarily created by Jack Kirby.

(Kirby also co-created almost every important Marvel character from 1958 to 1970, and many, many important DC characters in the five years he was there as well.)

I was thrilled to see so much original artwork, some in pencil but most of it inked by an array of Kirby’s primary inkers (the delightful Joe Sinnott on “Fantastic Four,” Mike Royer on the New Gods titles and “Kamandi,” and the regrettable Vinnie Colletta on “Thor.” Seeing Kirby’s originals inked under different hands gave me the opportunity to discuss the different styles with my daughter Emma and friend Ross, who went with me. The exhibit includes several examples of Colletta having erased some of Kirby’s detail work underneath, so that he could finish the job more quickly.

I also learned some things. “Thor,” which began more as a modern-day Norse fable, transmuted into a trippy science fiction epic that featured the title character meeting embodiments of fate and the universe out in outer space. Few among us would take ancient Norse gods and put them in outer space, but that’s what a mind that worked by leaps and bounds did. What I learned seems obvious in retrospect:  that Kirby’s Fourth World saga was essentially a sequel to “Thor,” in which these gods were dead or dying, and new gods created, against the backdrop of technological advancement. (Kirby may have predicted the iPhone in creating the Mother Box, which is handheld and connects to all knowledge. Judging from the actions of my youngest, it’s impossible to wean someone off it.)

I tried to share with Emma what it felt like, at age 10 or so, to get treasured old “Fantastic Four” comics in the mail from mail-order king Robert Bell in Happauge, NY, comics that I had scrimped and saved and sent away for, how incredibly exciting it was to see a padded envelope waiting for me in the mailbox and knowing what was inside. This was before the internet, of course, before everything was available instantly, before instant gratification. Prying the staples off the outside of a padded mailer and opening its flap was like unsealing Tutankhamun’s tomb (with a similar scent of moldering discovery leaking out).

The dynamism of Kirby’s artwork never fails to impress. But it’s his vision, his wild inventiveness, his restless intellect, his brilliance in predicting and creating all these things that fascinate us (and drive the economy), that’s truly striking. That vision is so large it’s barely containable within the walls of the gallery.




Dyer, dying, dead

August 30th, 2015

Dr. Wayne Dyer has died.

My questions about him haven’t changed.

Provoking arguments

August 23rd, 2015

I took this yesterday. It’s catty-corner across the corner from Moving Arts, where we’ve been provoking arguments since 1992.