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


Blog

The nuisance of availability

September 25th, 2021

When did the PHONE become such a nuisance?

I’m taking a friend to the opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on Monday night and needed to confer with her re their COVID policy and other arrangements. So, of course, I texted her.

Then she texted back.

Then I texted her again.

Then she texted.

As this went on, it struck me that I could CALL her. So I did. Many rings later, she finally picked up.

“When did it happen,” I asked, “that we all agreed that we HATE THE PHONE? Remember back in the 1980s? We all would’ve killed for a phone! We were always looking for phones — especially pay phones — and trying to coordinate around calling each other! Now that we have a phone readily available at all times, nobody wants to use them for phone calls!”

We agreed that it’s a nuisance when someone calls us. I hate being called. And not just when my phone clearly marks something as SPAM. Even when it’s a friend! I’ll see the friend’s name come up (as it did with my friend M— the other day) and I’ll hear myself sigh audibly. “Oh, God, there’s M—….” Even though M— is one of my closest and dearest friends!

Is it because the smartphone has fooled us into thinking that we can master our own communication decisions? (Even though, clearly, it controls us?) And so getting “interrupted” by someone else’s need is irritating?

I remember back when we used to just call each other, in this way: “Hey, I need to find something out from S—. I’ll call him.” Now, I find that S— will text me, or I will text him, to see if the other might be up for a phone call. That’s right, we seek permission first.

At the physical office of my company, I practically jump when I hear the phone ring. That’s because it rings maybe once or twice a day… and we’re busy. The sound of a ringing phone is so rare that it’s unexpected. And it’s not like it should be ringing more often; it’s just that everyone emails us, or messages us on social, or we’re talking on Zoom or Skype, or the person texts us.

Is this phenomenon — hatred of the phone for actual phone calls — akin to the hatred of writing by hand? My handwriting is lousy (my very best handwriting was recently registered as indecipherable by close relatives), and writing by hand is slow and tedious compared to my keyboarding capabilities.

Which, by the way, is another reason I prefer to text: I can type a response quickly and PASTE IT right into a text bar.

What will be the next innovation, the one that leaves texting in the dust? Holograms? Or, heaven forfend, all of us connected in a neural net where we’re never left to our own thoughts? At the least for now the phones can still be turned off.

Dream of 9/6/21

September 6th, 2021

Woke up just before 4 a.m.

I was in some sort of abandoned old factory or other industrial building, with large open sections in the walls where glass had once permitted a view outside into woods.

I was up on a stage of sorts — a raised platform — and the man on stage who kept making requests of me, who kept trying to get to the bottom of my many odd unassociated talents and experiences, was, improbably, the actor and comedian Paul Reiser. 

There was someone else on the platform too, someone seemingly incapable of doing any of these strange assignments, assignments that incredibly lined up perfectly with my own life history. This other person was eager to please, but couldn’t pull any of it off; meanwhile, even with my limited skill set, I seemed able to play a significant role in all of it. And I found that I too was eager to please — to show how capable I could be.

One of the assignments, unbelievably, was to make sense of decades of Lucas automotive parts. Paul Reiser had all of these Lucas automotive parts (and perhaps this factory full of them) but couldn’t make anything of them. What was the function of each? What was the value of it all? How to sort, categorize, organize? It was a real head-scratcher… until I offered that, years ago, I sold Lucas automotive parts, and had developed a real interest in British cars (Lucas being a primary manufacturer for British cars), and indeed had even worked a deal to serve as a small-time local supplier of JRT (Jaguar-Rover-Triumph) parts when British Leyland was down on its knees and parts, including the notoriously unreliable Lucas parts, were nearly impossible to get in the U.S. I even offered a joke I’d written at the time, more than 30 years ago, when I was doing this work:  “Why do the British drink warm beer? Because they have Lucas refrigerators.”

Paul Reiser chuckled agreeably. But perhaps I should have left the idea of comedy to him.

Nevertheless, when I explained that all he needed was a database as the first step to organizing all this and turning it into cash, he was happy to enlist me in this endeavor… when something caught my eye outside that cinder block window. Outside the building, and just having emerged from the woods, was an ancient indigenous Indian — a dark-complected scowling man with thick black face paintings who was taking in the scene, and me in particular, with menace and dire warning. That was when I remembered the character Paul Reiser played in Aliens and that he couldn’t be trusted.

And so I woke up. Less than an hour after falling asleep.

Background on the dream:  Recent thought has it that when we sleep our brains shuffle our memories around for easier retrieval; the odd connections we make in our dreams are merely a side effect of this storage process. Sleepwalkers and lucid dreamers such as myself try to control what they’re thinking about before they go to sleep, because of the potential impact of those thoughts on their sleep experience. Three things before bed coalesced in this dream:

  1. I’ve been watching the Netflix show The Kominsky Method (which fell off a cliff after Alan Arkin left it); the final scene of the episode I was watching before bed featured Paul Reiser’s character scheming, and reminded me what a dolt Michael Douglas’ character is
  2. I’ve been thinking about my brother, whom I’ll get to see this weekend when I’m in New Jersey, and he’s the person who employed me in the exciting world of imported auto parts 40 years ago
  3. The 500th anniversary of the Aztec surrender to Mexico has been getting a lot of press here in California, and dovetailed with my reading of the incredible book 1491 (highly highly recommended); late last night I read a newspaper article where some parents are suing a school board, claiming that part of the literature they’re reading is an “Aztec prayer” and that teachers are trying to indoctrinate their children into an “Aztec religion”

All of this serves as a reminder that it’s probably best for me to stick to reading comic books before bed.

Same as it ever was

August 23rd, 2021

New Town Buffet has been open for 20-30 years.

Now there’s a new restaurant coming to New Town Buffet.

The new restaurant is called New Town Buffet.

Or, it might be a NEW Town Buffet.

Opinions vary.

Box office bomb

August 22nd, 2021
No thanks!

This is the dumbest promotion I’ve seen in a while.

As a streaming service, Paramount+ (until recently known as CBS All Access) is at best an iffy proposition. The “peak streaming” that it promises is shows generated by CBS, BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, MTV and the Smithsonian Channel. Hardly an all-star lineup. I have some idea of original shows on MTV because those are the ones I skip at the gym. Comedy Central? Well, if you’re really interested, the highlights are mostly available as clips on social media.

The service also offers some originals. Once upon a time, I subscribed to CBS All Access, so I have some familiarity with the lineup. I will grant them that “The Good Fight” and “Evil” are two terrific shows, both of them from the same writer-producers. But the Star Trek shows are very definitely a mixed bag; “Star Trek: Discovery” has more ups and downs than a roller coaster, and “Picard” was downright terrible. Seriously terrible. The latest adaptation of “The Stand” was laughably bad — miscast, never interesting let alone frightening, and so insipid that my wife and I suspected it was intended ultimately to air at some point on the safe-as-milk CBS. (Evidently, whoever did this show never noticed that pay cable / streaming grew up a bit with “The Sopranos.”)

I might resubscribe to CBS All Access — oops! Paramount+ — at some point just to watch “The Good Fight” and “Evil” and then quit all over again. But what I won’t be doing is resubscribing so that I can get… free movie tickets.

What we have here is an inducement to people like me who’d quit a streaming service to, for some reason, rejoin the streaming service so they can use eight free movie tickets out at a movie theatre.

Isn’t much of the point of streaming precisely not to go to the movie theatre?

Moreover, I have zero interest in seeing the movies they’re offering. I’m not 8 years old, and I’m also not 12.

What might work? A discount. Or a better pricing structure overall. Or my actually wanting to watch TV, which I mostly don’t. But I don’t think this is a bad promotion just for me. I think it’s a bad promotion: It’s like offering people a free tank of gas when they buy an electric car.

The good ol’ days

August 16th, 2021

Imagine yourself 30 years from now, looking back on our time now and sharing your personal reminiscences about these times to… your children, or your grandchildren, really just anyone decades younger that you.

What would you call these times?

That’s right, you’d call them “The good ol’ days.”

I know it doesn’t seem that way. Just scan social media, or the gossip among friends, or that truly horrific environmental outlook from the U.N., and on and on.

And yet, even with that, you’ll think of these days as “The good ol’ days.”

It always sounded like the good ol’ days from my parents: those times in the 1930’s and 1940’s when everything was bright and shiny and full of possibility. Everything, that is, except the Great Depression, and poliovirus, and World War II.

Family members of the 1950s have related to me how it felt to ride around in hot rods, go to the choc’late shop, wear poodle skirts, and that whole scene, and it sounds glorious indeed. Except for the Korean War, segregation, the threat of nuclear armageddon, McCarthyism, censorship, and so much more.

When you see movies that depict the bucolic past — times from the Dark Ages through the Renaissance, I always wonder, “Where’s the filth? Where’s the famine? How are they handling the Black Plague off-screen?”

I read enough history and play enough Civilization VI to think about what it must have been like being an ancient Roman, subject to the vicissitudes of that year’s emperor, or the whims of the Inca leader who utterly controlled your fate. How was it to be pre-penicillin, pre-effective surgery, pre- the Enlightenment, and the idea of human rights?

Yes, by comparison to every other period in history, these are the good ol’ days. At the very least, these will be our good ol’ days.

So if these are the good ol’ days, maybe we should take a moment to recognize it.

And whatever isn’t so good? We could just work on that. Try to make it better. Try to take care of the future.

So that those can be good ol’ days too.

Calculations

August 1st, 2021

Our conditioning to note only the bad things in life makes it hard for us to see the good things.

We get so consumed by everything that’s terrible (and there’s plenty, and always has been) that we have a hard time taking notice when something truly wonderful arrives in our lives.

I speak of course of the Popeye’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich.

How did I not know, before Friday night, just how glorious the Popeye’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich is?

What friends should have told me, but never did?

The Popeye’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich features a hearty serving of moist chicken breast marinated in Louisiana seasonings, then battered and fried in a buttermilk coating. That may sound like enough, but there’s more. The filet is served with barrel-cured pickles and a spicy mayonnaise on a buttery toasted bun. Moreover, it comes in a heat-sealed foil bag that keeps it piping hot until you get it home. Not that you’ll wait until you get there — no, you’ll find yourself gobbling it down in the car, as I did, unable to wait once you’ve had the merest whiff of the aroma that fills your auto. Even after sales tax, all of this comes to you for under five dollars.

How did I come to sample this?

For some reason, leaving the gym at 9:35 Friday night, I developed a hankering for a spicy chicken sandwich. Well, that reason probably had to do with a severe shortage of calories in my system, especially after my workout. But why a spicy chicken sandwich in particular? No idea. But as I got into my car, that’s what I wanted for dinner, as I mentally ran down a list of places to purchase one.

Burger King immediately came to mind, but I’d had one of theirs last year and it was pretty dry.

McDonald’s? Generally too processed.

Chick-fil-A? That was nearby, and so I actually drove over there before realizing that I didn’t want to navigate the crowd outside waiting to get in, and didn’t want to order from my car and wait in the parking lot. (And, yes, I’m aware of the political case made against them, which seems more complicated than generally reported. )

Then I realized: Hey, Popeye’s Chicken is near here, and I love their spicy fried chicken, which I have on occasion. They must have a spicy chicken sandwich.

Boy, do they!

Further context: As I said, this was a quick decision after leaving the gym. I’ve been going to the gym four times a week, plus walking (or running) my dogs every evening, plus tracking my calories. I’m trying to lose my COVID 5. As in, 5 pounds. I hadn’t gained any weight during the pandemic — in fact I had lost eight pounds… but I had lost those eight pounds in February and March when I was sick with a stomach ailment that left me unable to eat almost anything. The weight sure came off easily then. Unfortunately, once that got resolved, those pounds came back and brought five more with them, and I’m one of those people who believe that once you decide to just overlook the added five, they turn into ten, then twenty.

At the gym, I put in about an hour-ten, consisting of a warmup, then a solid 40 minutes on the treadmill, then weights. Treadmill time affords my only opportunity to watch TV (I don’t have TV at home). Nefariously, the gym generally runs The Food Network, which specializes in showing overweight bald guys eating food they shouldn’t while I’m trying not to fantasize about eating it myself. At my previous gym, the program that was on every single time I was there was My 600-Lb. Life, which as you can imagine was indelibly motivational. I haven’t seen it in years now, but scenes from it remain etched in my subconscious. These days, my gym is showing the Olympics. When you’re in your 50s, as I am, and you’re watching teenagers with perfect bodies compete on a screen right in front of you, it is you who suddenly feels like the star of My 600-Lb. Life.

So, yes, I’m going to the gym.

I will lose these 5 pounds.

By the way, a pound consists of 3500 calories — so if I short myself by an average of 500 calories a day, I’ll lose those 5 pounds in five short weeks.

Here’s where I should point out that my workout burns 475 calories.

And that the Popeye’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich contains 690 calories.

Maybe it’ll take six weeks.

Surprising returns

July 20th, 2021

I just had a visit from a retired colleague, T. This is an accomplished older person who ran economic development programs in various states and now, pamphlet in hand, had arrived in my living room to inform me that he’d started a company that plunges sewerage drain lines.

Yes, this was me waking up from a dream.

Also in this dream, I was expecting many, many checks in the mail — as I have been doing my entire life since I was 12 — but when the mailman brought the mail into the living room (as they are not wont to do, in my experience), it was only junk mail… but my newly giant-sized mailbox outside turned out to be overstuffed with garbage, as well as all the outgoing mail he hadn’t taken.

Meanwhile, I was politely telling T. that it was nice to see him and that I’d keep him in mind if I needed my drain line powered through, but I had to be somewhere in 55 minutes. (55 minutes: so specific!) Two other older gentlemen were in the corner having a somewhat loud chat and making themselves at home. T. took the hint and said farewell, and so did one of the others, whom I didn’t recognize, but after they left, the third man stayed to talk for a minute.

“I hope I’m in good stead with you and your family,” he said, or something like that.

I realized it was David K. A much older David K., my not having seen him in more than 20 years now. His hair was now a carpet of white, but he still looked trim and sounded amusedly ironic.

“No, David, we’re fine,” I said. “I always enjoyed seeing you. It’s nice to see you again.”

“So we’re okay?” he asked. “You’re not upset with me or anything?”

“Well,” I said, “I wish you hadn’t killed yourself. But otherwise, we’re fine.”

And it’s true. Decades later, I still wish he hadn’t killed himself.

We will deliver no wine before its time

July 16th, 2021

I belong to a wine service that promises you incredible wines at an incredible price if you allow them to bank some of your money each month until you’re ready to order. They’ve been banking my money for a while, I’m out of wine, and am trying to find a red zinfandel that I like as much as the one I discovered on this wine country trip — but at a price somewhat less than a car payment.

So, the other day, I placed my first fulfillment order. Twelve bottles, most of them variations of red zins, and also a scattering of white wines that might appeal to my wife.

Unfortunately, when I made this order, I failed to note the significance that my wife and son are out of state visiting my in-laws. Significant because, as the order confirmation warned me, someone would have to be home to sign for the shipment, which contains alcohol — but, now, no one would. The shipment, I was told, would arrive on Tuesday the 13th in a delivery from United Parcel Service. Okay, I figured, I’d work from home on Tuesday, and when the wine arrived it’d be a nice birthday present I’d bought for myself.

DAY ONE: a change in circumstance

At some point early on Tuesday the 13th, I received a message from the wine people that, no, the shipment would arrive on the 14th.

Well, okay. So I went into my office a bit late and figured I’d just stay home the next day, the 14th.

DAY TWO: suspicion aroused

On the 14th, I got an update telling me that the wine was out for delivery as of about 8 a.m. Great! I made plans to work from home and situated myself appropriately. So there I was, from 8 a.m. until about 4 p.m., working from the dining table about a yardstick from the front door, with the front door open and providing endless excuse for alarums from my voluble mutts as, well, anything, absolutely anything, transpired outside that might send them into tumultuous dudgeon. Eight solid hours of sitting and waiting — four times as long as a production of Waiting for Godot. Alas, much as with Godot, no wine. Continued checkins via the tracking number provided no new information except the repeated promise that the wine would be delivered by 7 that night. It wasn’t. In vain, I went outside to look up and down the street — but instead of catching sight of a UPS van, I saw a notice inconspicuously stuck to my door. Paraphrasing, it said “Sorry we missed you. We’ll try again. This shipment must be signed for.” (Yes, of course, we understand, because it contains alcohol.)

Now, I’ll admit that at some time in the eight hours between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. I walked 10 feet away to use my nearest restroom for about, oh, 48 seconds before hastily returning to my perch. This UPS guy, I thought, is very stealthy indeed! He hadn’t even alerted my aggravating yappy dogs, who greet even passing butterflies with zealous anger. He must be a ninja.

I then got this infuriating email from the wine company (not their fault, I know):

We tried to deliver your wine, but missed you.   According to the UPS delivery information, they made the 1st Delivery Attempt today, but couldn’t find an adult to sign for the package. We’re sorry for the inconvenience.

Yeah. I was hiding NEXT TO THE DOOR ALL DAY.

DAY THREE: mindfuck

So now I was heading into day three of waiting for the wine. Bear in mind that I don’t like to work from home. When I’m home, I want to do one of three things:

  • read, or watch something
  • write a play or blog post or something else
  • spend time with family or friends

(I also do home repairs and chores and general upkeep, but I said “want.”)

What I especially don’t want to do from home is corporate work. We have a separate office for that, away from my home. My dogs are unpredictable, and family members are usually home doing what people do when they’re nearby in the same habitat, which is walking around and talking, and I reserve home-time writing for my own creative writing.

On Day Three, I decided to reroute the delivery. I first tried to reroute it to my office — but UPS wanted $12.99 to do that. (Even though they were the ones who hadn’t successfully delivered it yet!) Where was the benefit — let alone the justice! — of free shipping, which I’d earned by ordering a full 12 bottles, if I’d now have to add 13 bucks to get it when it already should have been delivered to me?!?! This would only double my dissatisfaction. I then got a better idea, and created an entire UPS account and set it up to reroute this delivery to the local UPS store. I sat back, filled with pride at this maneuver.

Then I got an update that the local UPS store had rejected it.

And that my 12 bottles of wine were back on the truck.

Driving around in the 90-something-degree heat for another day.

At 7 p.m., I enlisted my next-door neighbor, now that he was home, in signing for my wine delivery on the off chance it might actually show up (because, hey, “it’s out for delivery”) and then, seething, decided on the spot that I was going to get a tattoo, my first and only tattoo, and that the tattoo was going to be the Chinese Tiger, from the Chinese Zodiac, because I was born in the year of the Tiger, and a true Tiger would never stand for this shit. I drove to a tattoo parlor in North Hollywood, had a nice conversation with a heavily tattooed bald man named Angel, and made plans, but learned that he didn’t have an opening until next week and left defeated.

The tattoo scheme thwarted, I drove to my office, checked the mail, came home, walked the dogs at length and in a direction that my neighbor wouldn’t see so he wouldn’t wonder why I wasn’t now waiting for my wine myself, and finally got home, left my front light on until 10 p.m., all the while with the tracking information assuring me that the wine was “out for delivery” and would be there by 7 p.m. — which had passed three hours earlier.

DAY FOUR: stratagems

I awoke early, having slept fitfully with dark dreams of just what I was going to do about this wine situation. Options included:

  • Stay home another day? But then how could I reclaim my self-respect?
  • Reach out to the wine broker. Make it their problem.
  • Fuck those wine people. The wine can just go back, I’m getting it all taken off my credit card, and then they can fight it out with UPS.
  • Sulk.

Finally, I decided I could do a mixture of options: I could stay home for a while, because the thing I had to do from the office today would be near the end of the day. That meant that I could invest the morning in working from home and in siccing the wine company on UPS. Which is what I did.

When the wine company sent me an email saying, “It’s on the way!” and then that email offered a customer-service email should there be any problem, I got on it.

“Is it REALLY coming???” I asked. “UPS says ‘out for delivery’ since 8:59, and I’ve been sitting here waiting. There’s NO update on their delivery status.”

Soon I was in an email back-and-forth with Matteo, who works for the wine company. Matteo told me this:

Hi Lee, 

Thank you for your email. I just spoke with the carrier and it seems that it was diverted to an access point store yesterday but they would not deliver to the access point location. I was told that the wine was on the truck on the way to your home; 07/16/2021. 

Please let me know if you have any further questions. If you feel that we have fully addressed your inquiry, will you please confirm that so I can close this case as resolved? 

Kind regards, 

In the ways of despairing people trying to bargain with the forces of destiny, I was now bargaining with Matteo.

“I stayed home all of yesterday and left my light on until 10 pm. They never came by. 
Please confirm that they’re coming to my HOUSE today .
I appreciate it.”

Then Matteo responded with this:

Hi Lee,

Thank you for your email. I was told that it was on the truck on the way to UPS by a UPS worker. I can just go by what I am told by the carrier. 

Which meant… what? That now the wine was GOING BACK TO A UPS DEPOT?

I’d sat at home for four days, my birthday long ago in the rear view mirror, all traces of wine in my abode now gone, and purchased wine undelivered, and me so consumed by this that all I could see in my mind’s eye or think about was this fucking issue of where is my wine?!?!? much like the man in the painting by Magritte who cannot see his way around an apple!

Me, waiting for UPS, but far more serenely than me

I dashed off another missive to Matteo.

“Wait — ‘on the way to UPS’ or on the way to my HOUSE???
I’m here at home waiting for it!
Please clarify.

Thank you.”

(Please note my ongoing civility. Even though while I was cooling my heels hanging out for four days for a simple delivery, entire nations were busy being born and dying.)

Matteo reassured me that it was coming to my house —

TWIST ENDING

— and, at 3 p.m., miraculously, UPS pulled up outside. Rather than wait for their further mischief, I ran outside and stood visibly on the sidewalk. The driver saw me, hefted what was clearly a box with branding of angelic wine on the side, and brought it to me.

“Were you my driver yesterday?” I asked.

“No! Wasn’t me!” he said quickly.

“Because I was here the entire time! Right by this door! Then yesterday he didn’t even show! I’ve been waiting for —”

“Wasn’t me!” he said again hastily, confirming in my mind that it was indeed him.

He set the box down and started to walk away.

“Wait!” I said. “Don’t you need a signature?!?!?”

“No!” he said. “We’re doing no-contact delivery. We just drop it off.”

(Missing: The scene where I kill someone.)

Before starting this epic post, which merely scratches the surface of this ordeal, I opened a bottle of one of the red zinfandels I’m hoping will adequately cover for the ambrosia I’m trying not to invest my retirement in. I let it air, then poured a glass.

Meh.

Sparks flew

June 27th, 2021

I enjoyed the new documentary “The Sparks Brothers” tremendously in a showing today with my elder son. The film, made by the obvious fanboy Edgar Wright, oozes with enjoyment of the band Sparks, an enjoyment I share. The style of the film is what I’ll call pop-collage — fitting for a band consumed with style and that has adopted different ones throughout their 50 years. It’s bright, entertaining, laugh-out-loud funny, and at the end joyous and moving. Deservedly, the reviews have been almost universally positive.

Almost.

Owen Gleiberman, in Variety, praises the film and also aspects of the band. But there’s one important thing he doesn’t like. Here’s his entire review, should you want to read it, but this seems like the summation:

“In fact, by the time ‘The Sparks Brothers’ is over, there’s only one thing you may not actually like about Sparks, and that (forgive me) is their music.There’s a reason why Sparks, after half a century, remained the pop music world’s best-kept secret. Their catalogue might be called ’25 albums in search of a hook.‘ “

Ouch.

This doesn’t leave me regretting the several Sparks albums I own, or my fond memories of seeing them on TV, or the numerous times I’ve seen them in concert, including in a tiny venue when it was just the two of them without a full band. His review doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm, and neither does my wife, who is of the strong opinion that Sparks “don’t know how to write a song,” and who whenever we’re riding together and one of the band’s songs comes on in my car will screech, “Ugh! Sparks! TURN THIS OFF!”

And sometimes, I do. Just for her.

Because we’re free to disagree.

And while as someone who not only admires the brothers Ronald and Russell Mael for their indefatigable devotion to their sometimes hopeless-seeming career but also enjoys their music and has at times proselytized on their behalf, I disagree with Owen Gleiberman about that music… I think he may have a point. Perhaps the brothers Mael don’t know how to write and deliver a hook… because hooks are associated with popular music, and their music is somewhat-known, but not “popular.”

I say this as a devotee of Pere Ubu, and Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, and Copernicus and the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, and Van Dyke Parks’ solo material, and Steve Reich, and innumerable other recording acts that have rarely if ever been “popular.”

These not-popular acts are popular with me. And with other devotees. Pere Ubu, especially, sounds aimed right at me. Whatever that is, it’s right for me. I felt that the first time I heard it. A friend said he turned on their album “20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo,” an album I consider one of their most accessible, and at the very beginning of the first song, his wife implored him to turn it off. Okay, it isn’t for her. That’s fine. I still get to have it. And I can’t ever get enough of it. And neither can some other people around the globe. There just aren’t enough of those people for the band to be considered mainstream.

So it doesn’t bother me a bit that Owen Gleiberman doesn’t like Sparks. Or, for that matter, that Robert Christgau, a critic who has hailed much of Pere Ubu’s catalog, positively pissed on their album “Why I Hate Women,” which I love. Having read all his Ubu reviews, I’ve decided that he likes his Ubu in a particular way, while I’m happy to journey with them wherever they go. It’s always an exploration, and this was one he didn’t come along for.

But.

Over on the Sparks fanboy page on Facebook, of course, there are people whose hair is on fire because Owen Gleiberman doesn’t like the band. At last count there were 55 angry comments about Mr. Gleiberman and his seeming ignorance; some of them are a losing soccer team storming the field. Some of them admonished him for not carefully listening to all 25 Sparks albums so as to expand his tastes before daring to write that review of the film. Reading through the thread of comments, I finally posted this:

“Y’Know what? It’s fine. He doesn’t like them. The idea that if only he’d hear more of it then he’d like it more is naive. I love Pere Ubu, the film ‘My Dinner With Andre’, and capers on my seafood — not everyone does. His opinion doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of Sparks one bit, and it won’t keep me up at night futilely trying to overturn it either.”

A few people thanked me for that, which was nice, but a fan named David remains Very Upset that the men in Sparks still can’t get complete and ultimate respect: “no man it’s not fine after 50 years to receive that kind of disrespect?!”

To which I replied, “Sure it is. Look at the slings and arrows suffered by Robert Crumb. Or Philip Roth. It comes with putting your work out in public.”

This shouldn’t have to be said, but I did say it there, so I’ll say it here as well: If every review had to be positive, what would be the point of publishing it — or of reading it?

In one segment of the film, it comes to light that Sparks did an album with Franz Ferdinand, another band I like, and called it FFS. I have that album, and I think it’s terrific — a collaboration between two bands with overlapping outlooks. That collaboration seems to have brought Sparks countless new fans in South America and Mexico, where Franz Ferdinand are popular. My son hadn’t heard that album, and on the way home said he’d have to get that, because the song played in the movie sounded great.

And that is one way to measure this film’s success: the number of adherents it’s going to add. Owen Gleiberman’s opinion won’t matter.

Now where’s the great Pere Ubu documentary?

1 day left for 7 steps

June 19th, 2021

My play 7 STEP PROCESS debuted last night, live on Zoom, where it went over better than I ever could have expected. More than 50 people stayed for the live virtual talkback, and flooded the cast and crew with questions and praise, making for an adventurous discussion about just what “theatre” is, especially when the actors have never even met in the same room.

I started writing that play in December precisely with the idea of getting it up on its feet — over Zoom — because not getting to do any theatre was weighing on me. Yes, I was writing all the time, but when you write plays, you want to see them get performed by actors. Plus, I wanted to explore this new medium of doing live theatre online, and turning the proscenium into a small rectangle on people’s computers. What would that be like? Would punch lines still work, in the absence of an audience? Plus plus, I wanted to write about change — because we’re in only the beginning stages of massive cultural and technological change, and not everyone is adapting well. (As we see in the play.)

The second performance starts in under an hour — and we’ve got audience members logging on from across the U.S. and other nations as well (which is thrilling) — but there’s still one more playdate, tomorrow at 3 p.m. Pacific, if you’d like to check it out. Here’s the link.

https://www.eventbrite.com/o/7-step-process-33397834725?fbclid=IwAR2PbSHkgg2cfokOCOIHSrYlN-Rr4CQ0nd1XCP3ZChA9XJWCqlpiV-B_pCk