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


Blog

The upside of downtime

November 4th, 2021

Last night, I woke up three times. One time I figured, well, let’s see what’s going on in the news. (Nothing good, I can assure you.) The second time I did some work:  checked the financials; cleared some emails; reviewed the latest stats on a poll I’ve been following. The third time, I may have woken up simply to check the time: 5:50 a.m. Oh:  progress.

I wish I could say this isn’t typical. It’s been going on for decades.

My son, meanwhile, a strapping 19-year-old, assures me that once he’s asleep, he stays asleep. To his credit, he sounded more factual than boastful. I told him, “Check back in with me when you’re in your 50s.” Then I destroyed him in a game of 500 Rummy. I think the last time I slept a full night through was while Jimmy Carter was in office. (Through no credit to him.)

I cleared my schedule for today so I could go get a medical procedure. It was simply a test, although they kept calling it, shudderingly, “surgery.” They asked if I’d ever had surgery before, and I said no. Not even a colonoscopy? Oh, sure, I said, I’ve had one of those. Well, evidently, that’s “surgery” as well. The things you learn. I had always associated surgery with getting cut open. Now I think surgery is whatever they decide to call it when they can charge more.

This “surgery,” in which they’d take nice bright photos of a generous portion of my insides — without, as noted, slicing me up with a knife — required knocking me out. I don’t know how long they were videoing my interior, but to me the procedure worked like this:  one moment speaking to the doctor and the nurse, and the nurse saying that, okay, the anesthesia was starting intravenously, and the next instant my awakening to the proclamation that it was all over. I stumbled my way over to the restroom — no, thank you, I don’t need a wheelchair, for chrissake! — and then after that, stumbling my way out the door of the surgery center. (And, no, dammit, I don’t need a wheelchair for this either!)

Then I took my son, who nicely drove me to this procedure and waited around while people violated my personal core, out to lunch. Well, his lunch, my breakfast, my having been on orders not to eat or drink since the previous night.

After that — a great big breakfast for me, with eggs scrambled in diced ham, an invasion-sized pancake, a huge cup of water and  two cups of glorious coffee, I went home. And crashed. Because to some degree I was still anesthetized.

I woke up hours and hours later. Feeling completely refreshed!

Oh: This must be what it feels like to feel rested.

So now I’m wondering how I might go about getting more non-surgical surgery. Clearly what is needed in my case is anesthesia.  I’ve had a sleep disorder for decades, and have tried absolutely everything — but no one told me about the wonders of anesthesia! Mind you, I don’t want any maladies that actually require surgery (duh) and I’d rather avoid the trouble of going to that surgery center all the time, and I can do without the very pretty pink photos of my insides, attractive thought they may be. But if you know someone who can come over even just twice a month and anesthetize me, please let me know.

Halloween tally

October 31st, 2021

Halloween used to be a big deal around my neighborhood. Not any more.

Last year we had zero trick-or-treaters.

This year we had four.

And that’s because, twice, I ran out the door and chased after kids who were going to skip my house.

I wish I were kidding.

Why were the parents of the first two kids fast-walking past before I lunged out the front door to accost them with my cauldron of candy bars? Might have been the (okay, somewhat abrasive) music I was playing. (15-60-75, aka The Numbers Band.) Or maybe it was my vociferous mutts. Either way, the parents seemed genuinely relieved when I appeared reasonably friendly and reassuring to little Batman and little I-have-no-idea.

At ten after nine p.m., I figured, well, that’s that, at least I had two. So I got my dogs into their harnesses for their long-delayed walk. Of course, as soon as I got out the front door with my aggravating yapping critters, a gaggle of adults with two kids in tow who’d been poised to turn up my walkway started to run the other way. “Wait, wait!” I yelled after them, throwing the dogs back inside, grabbing the candy, and charging down the cement toward them. The kids took the candy, and I considered dispatching handfuls of it to the six adults, too, when suddenly I realized: I’m kind of insane with this.

Maybe I hoped there would be more kids because I thought more kids would equal less pandemic. Because, yes, I know there’s a pandemic going on. Still.

So now I’ve got a couple dozen pieces of chocolate candy bars left. I took the dogs for a walk, fed them — they chowed it down savagely like hyenas on a carcass — then ate my own belated dinner, then while watching Succession on HBO, I opened one of the candy bars, a miniature Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and ate it. The Hershey Company long ago having swapped out much of the chocolate for things like flavored oil, it didn’t even taste like chocolate.

Succession was pretty good, though.

Civic responsibility

October 28th, 2021

Tonight I spent four glorious evenings with six or seven friends and colleagues dedicated to the betterment of our community. We drank drinks (or not) and smoked cigars (or not) and talked about our long involvement in our community and how we could work together and with others to make it better… as we’ve already been working to do for five, or ten, or twenty years.

On Wednesday, with a different group, I got to have the same sort of conversation. (Minus the drinks and cigars. But with the same fellow-feeling.)

Today I was honored to also make a job offer to someone because I believe in her, and because I believe she’s both driven and kind. I’m impatient with the world, I told her, because I think we can do better, and that demands being both driven and kind, and I think she fits that bill.

So imagine my heartfelt joy at reading the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof statement about why he’s stepping off the sidelines — so to speak — and entering the public arena: “I hope to convince some of you that public service in government can be a path to show responsibility for communities we love, for a country that can do better. Even if that means leaving a job I love. Farewell, readers!”

This is a Pulitzer-prize winner, at the height of his profession, with 37 years at the New York Times, who can no longer cover the atrocities overseas without doing his level best to address those he comes home to, and so he’s running for Governor of Oregon.

Because I hope it will inspire us all, I’m going to copy his entire valedictory below (against my general belief that people should pay for journalism; and, yes, I am a New York Times subscriber).

I have great, great respect for Kristof for bucking the system to mount this campaign to right wrongs in his native land — and, no doubt, against whatever electoral machinations are in place in Oregon.

But additionally, I admire and share his general outlook: that the hooligans and horrors are equally offset, or even overmatched, with unrecognized heroes — people quietly determined to do the right thing. Put another way (as Kristof acknowledges): In the press, what bleeds is what leads… but there’s a lot to encourage us that goes under-reported, and un-noted.

So: If you’re hopeful, hold onto that hope. Most people are good people, and most people want the best for everyone else. Cynicism achieves nothing. Good people will always step forward. As the case of Nicholas Kristof shows us.

Here’s his farewell, from today’s New York Times. Please read it, and take it to heart.

My life was transformed when I was 25 years old and nervously walked into a job interview in the grand office of Abe Rosenthal, the legendary and tempestuous executive editor of The New York Times. At one point, I disagreed with him, so I waited for him to explode and call security. Instead, he stuck out his hand and offered me a job.

Exhilaration washed over me: I was a kid and had found my employer for the rest of my life! I was sure that I would leave The Times only feet first.

Yet this is my last column for The Times. I am giving up a job I love to run for governor of Oregon.

It’s fair to question my judgment. When my colleague William Safire was asked if he would give up his Times column to be secretary of state, he replied, “Why take a step down?”

So why am I doing this?

I’m getting to that, but first a few lessons from my 37 years as a Times reporter, editor and columnist.

In particular, I want to make clear that while I’ve spent my career on the front lines of human suffering and depravity, covering genocide, war, poverty and injustice, I’ve emerged firmly believing that we can make real progress by summoning the political will. We are an amazing species, and we can do better.

Lesson No. 1: Side by side with the worst of humanity, you find the best.

The genocide in Darfur seared me and terrified me. To cover the slaughter there, I sneaked across borders, slipped through checkpoints, ingratiated myself with mass murderers.

In Darfur, it was hard to keep from weeping as I interviewed shellshocked children who had been shot, raped or orphaned. No one could report in Darfur and not smell the evil in the air. Yet alongside the monsters, I invariably found heroes.

There were teenagers who volunteered to use their bows and arrows to protect their villages from militiamen with automatic weapons. There were aid workers, mostly local, who risked their lives to deliver assistance. And there were ordinary Sudanese like Suad Ahmed, a then-25-year-old Darfuri woman I met in one dusty refugee camp.

Suad had been out collecting firewood with her 10-year-old sister, Halima, when they saw the janjaweed, a genocidal militia, approaching on horseback.

“Run!” Suad told her sister. “You must run and escape.”

Then Suad created a diversion so the janjaweed chased her rather than Halima. They caught Suad, brutally beat her and gang-raped her, leaving her too injured to walk.

Suad played down her heroism, telling me that even if she had fled, she might have been caught anyway. She said that her sister’s escape made the sacrifice worth it.

Even in a landscape of evil, the most memorable people aren’t the Himmlers and Eichmanns but the Anne Franks and Raoul Wallenbergs — and Suad Ahmeds — capable of exhilarating goodness in the face of nauseating evil. They are why I left the front lines not depressed but inspired.

Lesson No. 2: We largely know how to improve well-being at home and abroad. What we lack is the political will.

Good things are happening that we often don’t acknowledge, and they’re a result of a deeper understanding of what works to make a difference. That may seem surprising coming from the Gloom Columnist, who has covered starvation, atrocities and climate devastation. But just because journalists cover planes that crash, not those that land, doesn’t mean that all flights are crashing.

Consider this: Historically, almost half of humans died in childhood; now only 4 percent do. Every day in recent years, until the Covid-19 pandemic, another 170,000 people worldwide emerged from extreme poverty. Another 325,000 obtained electricity each day. Some 200,000 gained access to clean drinking water. The pandemic has been a major setback for the developing world, but the larger pattern of historic gains remains — if we apply lessons learned and redouble efforts while tackling climate policy.

Lesson No. 3: Talent is universal, even if opportunity is not.

The world’s greatest untapped resource is the vast potential of people who are not fully nurtured or educated — a reminder of how much we stand to gain if we only make better investments in human capital.

The most remarkable doctor I ever met was not a Harvard Medical School graduate. Indeed, she had never been to medical school or any school. But Mamitu Gashe, an illiterate Ethiopian woman, suffered an obstetric fistula and underwent long treatments at a hospital. While there, she began to help out.

Overworked doctors realized she was immensely smart and capable, and they began to give her more responsibilities. Eventually she began to perform fistula repairs herself, and over time she became one of the world’s most distinguished fistula surgeons. When American professors of obstetrics went to the hospital to learn how to repair fistulas, their teacher was often Mamitu.

But, of course, there are so many other Mamitus, equally extraordinary and capable, who never get the chance.

A few years ago, I learned that a homeless third grader from Nigeria had just won the New York State chess championship for his age group. I visited the boy, Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi, and his family in their homeless shelter and wrote about them — and the result was more than $250,000 in donations for the Adewumis, along with a vehicle, full scholarships to private schools, job offers for the parents, pro bono legal help and free housing.

What came next was perhaps still more moving. The Adewumis accepted the housing but put the money in a foundation to help other homeless immigrants. They kept Tani in his public school out of gratitude to officials who waived chess club fees when he was a novice.

Tani has continued to rise in the chess world. Now 11, he won the North American chess championship for his age group and is a master with a U.S. Chess Federation rating of 2262.

But winning a state chess championship is not a scalable way to solve homelessness.

The dazzling generosity in response to Tani’s success is heartwarming, but it needs to be matched by a generous public policy. Kids should get housing even if they’re not chess prodigies.

We didn’t build the Interstate System of highways with bake sales and volunteers. Rigorous public investment — based on data as well as empathy — is needed to provide systemic solutions to educational failure and poverty, just as it was to create freeways.

In this country we’re often cynical about politics, sometimes rolling our eyes at the idea that democratic leaders make much of a difference. Yet for decades I’ve covered pro-democracy demonstrators in Poland, Ukraine, China, South Korea, Mongolia and elsewhere, and some of their idealism has rubbed off on me.

One Chinese friend, an accountant named Ren Wanding, spent years in prison for his activism, even writing a two-volume treatiseon democracy and human rights with the only materials he had: toilet paper and the nib of a discarded pen.

At Tiananmen Square in 1989, I watched Chinese government troops open fire with automatic weapons on pro-democracy demonstrators. And then in an extraordinary display of courage, rickshaw drivers pedaled their wagons out toward the gunfire to pick up the bodies of the young people who had been killed or injured. One burly rickshaw driver, tears streaming down his cheeks, swerved to drive by me slowly so I could bear witness — and he begged me to tell the world.

Those rickshaw drivers weren’t cynical about democracy: They were risking their lives for it. Such courage abroad makes me all the sadder to see people in this country undermining our democratic institutions. But protesters like Ren inspired me to ask if I should engage more fully in America’s democratic life.

That’s why I am leaving a job I love.

I’ve written regularly about the travails of my beloved hometown, Yamhill, Ore., which has struggled with the loss of good working-class jobs and the arrival of meth. Every day I rode to Yamhill Grade School and then Yamhill-Carlton High School on the No. 6 bus. Yet today more than one-quarter of my pals on my old bus are dead from drugs, alcohol and suicide — deaths of despair.

The political system failed them. The educational system failed them. The health system failed them. And I failed them. I was the kid on the bus who won scholarships, got the great education — and then went off to cover genocides half a world away.

While I’m proud of the attention I gave to global atrocities, it sickened me to return from humanitarian crises abroad and find one at home. Every two weeks, we lose more Americans from drugs, alcohol and suicide than in 20 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan — and that’s a pandemic that the media hasn’t adequately covered and our leaders haven’t adequately addressed.

As I was chewing on all this, the Covid pandemic made suffering worse. One friend who had been off drugs relapsed early in the pandemic, became homeless and overdosed 17 times over the next year. I’m terrified for her and for her child.

I love journalism, but I also love my home state. I keep thinking of Theodore Roosevelt’s dictum: “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,” he said. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.”

I’m bucking the journalistic impulse to stay on the sidelines because my heart aches at what classmates have endured and it feels like the right moment to move from covering problems to trying to fix them.

I hope to convince some of you that public service in government can be a path to show responsibility for communities we love, for a country that can do better. Even if that means leaving a job I love.

Reading through

September 28th, 2021

My house is a cornucopia of books. And like a legendary cornucopia, it is always filled to overflowing: Just as soon as I’ve finished a book, more arrive. Either I order them online, find myself while walking my dogs picking up tomes from the Little Free Libraries liberally scattered around my neighborhood, occasionally getting them gifted to me, or buying them from bookstores. Bookstores especially are Venus fly traps for me — I have to work to avoid them, even the little ones in airports and bus terminals and the like, because once I’ve stepped inside, I’m sure to be walking out with more books.

We have bookcases throughout the house, and they are all stuffed with books. I do read these books, by the way. Just not always as soon as I’ve acquired them. A friend told me that when we’d had a party here at some point, someone stood back looking at some of our bookcases and said almost to himself, “I wonder how many of these he’s actually read.” And my wife responded, “All of them.” “Really?” “Really.”

Well, yes. Because those bookcases are downstairs. Upstairs I have two bookcases of books I haven’t read yet. But plan to.

The Japanese have a word for the endless accumulating of books that you intend to read but haven’t yet and maybe never will. Whatever that word is, it applies to me. A few years ago, when I was out of town at a conference with a friend and colleague, we fell into a discussion about books because I recognized David McCullough (!) at a table next to us and thanked him for his books and then he joined us at our table. Of course, I bought McCullough’s latest book directly from him (the one about the Wright brothers, from which I learned a lot*), and had him sign it. That kickstarted the later discussion about books, in which I told my friend that I had 78 books waiting to be read. “You’ll never read them all,” he said. So, ever since, I’ve been making a concerted effort to reduce the number of unread books I have, the books waiting in the queue, even while new ones arrive. (No thanks to Julian Barnes and Jonathan Franzen, and the other living authors I follow who keep coming out with new books!)

(*including about the vagaries of fate, the development of the airplane being immediately traceable to Wilbur Wright lying bedridden for months after a hockey injury, which afforded him the time to study birds and their flight from his window.)

Today I finished The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, which I heartily endorse, and so, just before turning in for the night and after reading the requisite comic book or two, I went to get one of the unread books. I scanned the shelves to see what might interest me right now (generally, I look for a book unlike the one I’ve just read, in this case a novel set in India and the Pacific Ocean) and came across A Tale of Love and Darkness by the Israeli writer Amos Oz. This had been on my Christmas list one year, and my wife had filled the request for me, but I hadn’t read it yet. A memoir by a superb writer seemed like a great idea for right now.

I wondered how long I’d had this book.

It might’ve been four or five years since that Christmas.

Probably more like five.

I looked in the indicia to check.

2003. I’d had this new book almost eighteen years. Waiting to be read. In that timeframe, my youngest had gone from an infant to a strapping college student running an e-commerce business from my house. In that time, the book had been made into a movie — five years ago — and Amos Oz had died.

But, there’s been progress. I’m now reading the book. And remember the 78 books waiting to be read? I just did a count, and I’m happy to tell you that after five years of great effort, reading about 30 books a year, I’ve got the number of unread books down to just 94.

Double Fantasy

September 27th, 2021
K-rails

I’ve got a copy of Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams that I keep meaning to get around to, and now might be the time. Because while I can usually figure out where my dreams have come from, I have zero idea about the one I woke up from this morning.

The dream had two narrative elements. In one, I was hugging an actress I did a number of shows with back in the 90s, and I pressed myself very firmly against her, and she pressed very firmly back, and then we both knew we were off to the races. Mind you, this is a woman who stirred nothing in me at the time (and whose memory still doesn’t) and whom I’ve given absolutely no thought to in probably 25 years and whom Facebook now informs me lives outside the continental United States, so I’m unlikely to run into her. What was she doing suddenly in my dreams?

Even more baffling is the other narrative. In this one, I’m driving my car, and in the passenger seat is someone I’ve known for more than 10 years, and whom I wrote off about two years ago. I usually try to keep friendships (who doesn’t?), but at some point when I found myself deleting yet another shitty comment or retort or message to me off of social media, I had this sudden insight: “I’m friends with this person why, again?” And realized: Hey, I don’t have to be. So I unfriended and blocked her and that was that. But this morning, there she was in my dream in the passenger seat of my car; even in the dream, I couldn’t figure out why she was there, because I was done with her and happily so. Now she was in my passenger seat harping at me! Moreover, no matter which way I tried to drive, there was construction or a narrowing of roadway, or obstructions, or other things that kept me from actually getting anywhere closer to where I was trying to go. I kept doing k-turns, backing up, swerving, turning around, and otherwise making every attempt to get away and make headway on my (our) destination despite what looked like the aggravating and never-ending construction maze encircling LAX. Finally, our car got wedged in on both sides by mammoth k-rails that loomed over us and formed the tiny tip of an isosceles triangle of cement that I was now stuck in. My car, and we, were completely jammed in, our doors unable to open, and no way to turn or back out.

Without having read Freud’s treatise on dreams (yet), I believe I recollect that he’d theorized that dreams are “disguised fulfillments of repressed wishes.” If I have a repressed wish to see either of these women, it’s truly a revelation to me. Because I believe I don’t. He also wrote about manifest content, which is as it seems, and latent content, which is symbolic. If there are hidden meanings in these dreams, they are truly hidden, because I can’t figure how they relate to anything going on in my life or in my thoughts.

Which is why I’ll stick with the more recent and scientific explanation of dreams: that they result from a random reshuffling of our thoughts while we sleep, for easier retrieval later by the brain. Kind of like an automated backup system to the cloud.

In that context, I think I’ve just figured out just now while writing this where these came from.

On Friday night, I’m having a close, longtime friend over for dinner. He and I did shows with that actress, and have spent many many hours together over the past 25+ years, but during COVID I’ve seen him just once, and that was only a couple of weeks ago and briefly… which led my mind to extrapolate to the other woman, representing another friend who’d drifted out of my orbit.

Still not wish-fulfillment, though. Sorry, Dr. Freud.

The return of youth

September 26th, 2021

The latest innovation to come from Japan is the recategorizing of those under 75 as “pre-old.”

Japan is by far the world’s oldest nation, with more than 29% of the population 65 or older, compared with 17% in the U.S. and 21% in Europe. Efforts to get younger have gone nowhere. The birthrate is still falling and immigration has nearly ground to a halt with Covid-19.

Linguistically, however, Japan is at the forefront of change. Millions of people have learned they no longer are old, but merely “pre-old.”

That is the terminology suggested by both the Japan Gerontological Society and the Japan Geriatrics Society, which say the 65-to-74 range now should be called “pre-old age.” The government says the idea is worth looking at and has modified its annual White Paper on the Elderly to make clear it isn’t necessarily calling people in their 60s elderly.

Wall Street Journal, 9/24/21

I could not have been more delighted to learn of this yesterday.

No, I’m nowhere near 75, but if the people in their 60s and 70s just got recast as younger, then clearly I did as well. I’m now pre-pre-old.

I’m read to embrace my younger status.

  • Maybe I’ll re-engage with the club scene. (I’ve been away for some time.)
  • Or I could become a social-media influencer. Or finally get onto “League of Legends.”
  • Improve my workout for consideration in the latest “Baywatch” revamp.
  • And for God’s sake: Stop reading Henry James!

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.