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


Happy Days

November 14th, 2023

In his lifetime, Samuel Beckett was full of surprises, writing plays where nothing happens, where people are stuck in urns or in a giant mound, or in a rocking chair that rocks on its own, or where the only thing on stage is a talking mouth.

But nothing in his repertoire either dramatic or prosaic prepared me for this.

Beckett wrote that we’re born astride a grave. What he didn’t tell us was that he’d be using his Facebook account to serve as a porno site, doing it from beyond the grave, and also enjoying the photos of this Unnamable young woman so much.

I guess as Endgames go, Beckett could be doing worse.

Hidden agenda

November 13th, 2023

Last night over dinner, my girlfriend asked me what my biggest pet peeve is.

I rolled around in my head vocalizing the first to come to mind: always seeing the shoes of my 21-year-old son scattered around the house. There’s always a pair of his shoes resting beneath the island in the kitchen, always a couple of his slides inside the back door, and sometimes another pair of his footwear cast about in the living room or the family room, and frequently accompanied by damp-looking black socks that prohibit me from touching any of it myself.

But then I reflected further and my true greatest pet peeve swam into view: people who drive in the passing lane without any intention of ever passing. These people just roll along blissfully unaware of the long chain of us trapped behind them in a slow centipede of automotive slowdown. It’s the law that they should pass and then get the Hell out of that lane, but they never do. They simply toodle along, rapturously unthinking. In a better world, they would be pulled over and ticketed for this nonsense, and then only if they couldn’t just be tossed into some gulag and their cars trash-compacted into neat little cubes.

I shared that with my girlfriend, who listened sympathetically, and then I added the one about my son with his shoes. Both of those peeves have to do with the ignorance of others; it’s not willfully bad behavior, it’s just ignorant behavior. And then, because I do my best to be a communicator, I asked her what biggest pet peeve is.

She said, “People who don’t make the bed.”


Where I’ve been

November 12th, 2023

Old Blighty.

Just under three weeks of business travel, and then one week of being sick, and then a week of catching up on things. That’s what I’ve been up to. 

Spent a week in St. Petersburg, Florida, where I got to revisit the Salvador Dali Museum, which I’d seen with my then-girlfriend (later wife) almost 40 years ago when we were mere children operating on the mistaken belief that we were adults. On that first trip, I drove her new car over the parking block I was pulling up to, stranding the car atop it and sending a shot of panic through my system because we were broke college kids far from any sort of help. The only thing to do was what I did:  Drive the car forward, all the way over the cement block, and pray. After a bad scraping sound, everything turned out fine. No such drama this time, because I walked from the hotel. It also turned out that the Dali Museum had moved:  No longer a low-slung ramshackle building of a single story, it’s now a multi-level building proudly designed by a real architect and with big signs all along the way directing one to it. It was perfectly Surreal to return to a museum that was now in a different place; I like to think Dali would have approved.

Weeks later, even tonight, out with my girlfriend and a bunch of her friends, everybody’s asking me how London was. “Surprisingly,” I say archly, “it was cold and rainy.” That comes with the territory (and is why I carried a telescoping umbrella in my jacket pocket). This was my fourth visit, and every time I add something new; this time it was a river cruise on the Thames, and a walking food tour of the East End, which included a visit to the shop that originated fish and chips, and also a divey local restaurant serving the best Bangladeshi food I’ve ever eaten. I also got to see London’s longest-running play, The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie, which certainly felt longest-running just during my visit. It also wins for most obvious. I took my 21-year-old son with me on this London trip, and he easily guessed the “shocking twist” long before the end as well. 

Probably the most interesting thing I saw on the trip was a mob outside Parliament protesting the looming end of cash. As I was to find out, practically nobody is willing to take cash any more in London. Birmingham, which we visited for two days, proved easier, but in London whether it was a restaurant or a shop or any other sort of place where money would seem to change hands, most establishments reject currency; they just want plastic. The people protesting outside Parliament rightly pointed out that poor people don’t always have such things as bank accounts and credit cards; more alarmingly, they noted that if the government doesn’t like you, it can cut off your access to your digital funds. As for me, I took $1200 in cash to the UK, but converted only $500 of it to pounds sterling — and was damn glad to find a few places to pass it off, most of that in a restaurant in Birmingham. As it is, I came back with a £20 note that I’ll be mailing to a friend who was good enough to ship back to me a book I’d accidentally left behind; I’ll still owe him £5.15.

When asked about London on this trip, I mostly I say that I came back with a viral infection that ravaged my voice, dropped a hacking cough into me, and sapped my energy, even though I was determined to play through at work. (My business partner later awarded me a recognition for being Committed — but that was after she’d pointedly Sent Me Home.) It started on a Thursday, and when I still had it the following Thursday, and my ex-wife could hear over the phone that I could barely squeak out a syllable even though I could cough plenty loud, she said, “You’d better go to urgent care!” Which I did, and got a battery of tests and a diagnosis of “viral infection,” and was packed off to my pharmacy. Even a week or more after that, I’ve still got a bit of it lingering. My CPA said to me the other day that it’s impossible to travel any more without getting sick, but I dunno:  I’ve traveled a lot the past two years and hadn’t had a problem until now.

So, where to now? Unless something unexpected comes up, nowhere far ‘til next March. 

No-labor days

September 4th, 2023

Contrary to personal type, I did pretty much nothing all Labor Day weekend. Well, no work of any kind anyway. Didn’t even work on the play I’m writing (decided to do some submissions instead).

I did see the excellent production of the excellent play “Heroes of the Fourth Turning,” at Rogue Machine Theatre. It runs until October 2, and gets a “highly, highly, highly recommended” from me. A play that drops us into the deeply intellectual and passionately expressed arguments of conservative Catholic evangelicals during the Trump presidency, it’s brilliantly written and unnervingly well-acted. Yes, there will be walkouts (there were two behind me); go see it and don’t be one of them.

And I did things like go to the gym, cook a mean Irish lamb stew, read comic books, take my dogs for walks, pine after my girlfriend (still on a family vacation in Europe) and… watch several episodes of “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.”

If you ever doubted the importance of William Shatner in helping to launch the Star Trek phenomenon, this current show will convince you. Say what you will about Shatner, he fills every moment with something unpredictable. The lead in the new show, Anson Mount, is no comparison. Granted, Mount is saddled with playing Captain Pike, an anodyne character without a hint of flavor or spice, so dull that he is referred to by his own crew as “The Boy Scout.” But one could argue that the episodes where Mount is freed from this charmless character do even more to reveal his limitations as an actor, as in a truly childish episode where the crew is magically transformed into characters in a fairytale setting; tasked with playing a cowering quisling, Mount dives right into the cliched. In other episodes, you’ll see the setup for a reaction that he never quite brings. When one can remember Captain Kirk’s derring-do, his bet-it-all gambits, watching Pike shrug and smile wanly just doesn’t carry the day. “Star Trek: Discovery” at least had one strong season before sliding into juvenile concerns. Nine episodes in, “Strange New Worlds” starts off dull, then gets duller. When you’re reduced to doing a show that weakly rips off the movie “Alien” 44 years later but with far less suspense, isn’t it past time to try something new?

If Quentin Tarantino isn’t going to be allowed to rescue this franchise, can we find some other audacious brat somewhere to do it?

Coincidence or premonition?

August 31st, 2023

Nightmare the other night:

It’s approaching midnight and I’m in the dining area of my house, just inside the front door, speaking with my sister Lorie, who is apparently visiting from New Jersey and cleaning up after our late dinner. There’s a loud knocking at the closed door and Lorie and I look at each other; we aren’t expecting anyone. Neither of us moves. It stops. Then it starts again, so I steel myself and open the door and look out, but there’s no one there, just my porch, followed by endless pitch blackness. Lorie says, “They want you to go out and see.” But I don’t move.

Then I woke up.

Two days later, I’m alone in my company office recording a podcast episode over the internet. There’s a loud knocking at the office door. I tell the podcast producers and our guest that I need 30 seconds. I go over to the office door and open it and look out into the foyer. But there’s no one there. 

Sleep talk

August 29th, 2023

The other night, in a brief conversation with my girlfriend’s son, I volunteered that I had a polyphasic sleep pattern. Charitably, this means I sleep more than twice per day. Uncharitably, it means I wake up constantly.

Last night was typical.

Although completely wiped out from a very active day, including a full-on gym workout, I went to bed early for me (11 p.m.) and fell asleep even earlier than usual:  11:30. But then, of course, I woke up at midnight on the dot.


To play the damn New York Times Spelling Bee game, of course.

This game invites you to make as many words of four letters or more as you can from the seven letters they’ve chosen, making sure that you use the central letter at least once. Example:  Today’s letters were F,E,I,X,A,D and the must-use letter of T. From that, you can spell “Fixated,” and “diet” and “dieted” and on and on. If you score enough points, you achieve “Genius” level.

Whoever invented this has done me wrong, because I’m addicted to it. After all, it involves words and spelling, vocabulary and reading, i.e., just my principal interests in life. But now the problem is that I’m so excited about this game that my brain wakes up at midnight every night to play it instantly upon its release. When the letters offered are as common as, well, F,E,I,X,A,D and the must-use letter of T, I can finish it in about 20 minutes and go back to sleep. But when the letters are something like G,L,X,S,P,T, and Z it can take me 90 minutes or so.

To be fair, I had a polyphasic sleep pattern even before the diabolical New York Times Spelling Bee. At one point 10 or 15 years ago, I was waking up every 46 minutes for no good reason. What corrected that? A hypnotherapist who told me that while she couldn’t erase the behavior, given my brain’s need to know what’s going on at all times, she could reduce it to just once per evening. And she did! I’d go to sleep, wake up 46 minutes later, check my phone for the time, weather, and news, and go blissfully back to sleep. Given that eventually hypnotherapy wears off, she even programmed me to return after five years for a tune-up, which I did. When I called to book a return visit, you cannot imagine how eerie it was to hear her say, “Well… you’re right on schedule.”

Unfortunately, during the pandemic she moved out of state and I haven’t found another hypnotherapist for in-person sessions. (Yet.) Other attempted solutions, like THC oil, drugs and sleep aids, extra-heavy-duty gym workouts, and just lying there refusing to get up, have done nothing. Last night I awoke at midnight, 2 a.m., 3 a.m., 6 a.m., and then very rudely at 7:30 due to my alarm when I was actually well and good asleep, dammit.

Which also means that I was asleep from 11:30 to midnight, from 12:30 to 2, from 2:10 to 3, from 3:10 to 6, and from 6 to 7:30. Just to put a more positive spin on it. Also noted:  I got nine minutes’ sleep on my office floor in the middle of the day when I was so momentarily tired that I couldn’t think straight. Nine minutes may not sound like a lot, but it recharged me enough to make it to the gym at 6:30.

What’s the solution to this? I don’t know, and I’ve been searching for one most of my life. But part of me thinks I don’t really want to fix it. I feel terrific. I’m very happy in the relationship I’m in and with how my kids are doing, I’m getting loads and loads of good writing work out at my company, and I’m making great progress on my new play. Do I really want to tamper with that? 

Don’t know.

Maybe I’ll sleep on it.

Bound for glory

August 28th, 2023

My friend Adrian is shedding books. Not all of them, just some.

About 10 years ago, my friend Doug, on the other hand, got rid of all of his books. He now has a Kindle. But when he’s come to visit, he has stood and reviewed and admired my bookcases crammed full of books — and I don’t foresee my ever standing back and admiring whatever books he’s read on his Kindle.

The opposite example is provided by post-punk legend Tom Verlaine, of Television fame, who died some months ago and left 50,000 books. The brilliantly inventive singer and guitar-slinger seems never to have let a book escape his grasp. I might be willing to say that that’s overkill, having 50,000 books, but for my jealousy. My son tells me it’s accepted wisdom that if you have 1,000 books “you have a library.” I went and counted and although I’m drawing closer, I’ve just missed the mark. But I’ll never reach the heights of Verlaine, dammit.

My whole life, books have been my friends. Although I’ve argued with them at times, they’ve never argued with me. They’ve gone away for weekends with me, and had dinner with me, have gone camping with me, and have even climbed into bed with me. They are endlessly loyal and interesting.

Moreover, I’ve made friends through books. I met Doug of the Kindle 22 years ago this October when we were both at a conference and bonded over a book we’d both read. (And, yes, some whiskey.) Since discussing David McCullough’s biography of John Adams, Doug and I have talked about books for months and years, in California and in London, over the Internet and in person over bourbon and cigars. But through it all, I’ve been unable to keep myself from wondering where his books went, and where they live now….

A couple of years ago, when I was in England and stayed over at the house of Adrian and his lovely and smart wife Kathy, I knew I was in the right place when I saw the guest room: not just stuffed with books, but well-equipped with smart books, safe for me to say because it was mostly books I’d read, tastefully chosen to be sure, and the ones I hadn’t read I’d wanted to read but hadn’t gotten to yet. And on the nightstand? A book that Adrian was gifting to me, a book I hadn’t heard of, a great big thick wallop of a book, seemingly several thousand pages, which I found completely unputdownable. Adrian not only knows books, he seems to know me.

Thomas Jefferson so loved books that he shipped barrels of them back to Virginia from France. In fact, he so loved them that he died indebted — but some wise graybeard of the time had the brilliant idea of bailing out his estate by having the nascent U.S. government buy them, thus creating The Library of Congress. Or: Did Jefferson brilliantly plan that all along anyway, costs be damned? If you’ve been to the Library of Congress, you’ll note a much-deserved bust of Jefferson right at the entryway; this is why. No books? No Republic.

Even the thought of getting rid of books pains me. I know that times change. Case in point: So far as I know, no one is emptying their chamber pots into the street any more. So maybe we should be trading in our bound books for digital versions, so much more easily stored, so environmentally responsible. Maybe it’s a good idea for a good future. I just know that the one time I parted with books, when I was a penniless college student and sold my books back to the college bookstore, two things happened:

  1. My favorite professor happened by at precisely that moment as I was exchanging my hard-earned books for pennies on the dollar and looked at me sorrowfully and said quietly, “Monsieur Wochner, you are selling your books…???” Quel dommage, I was.
  2. I missed them so much that later I wound up buying the fucking things again, and at retail again.

I don’t want to judge my friends. If you have to prune, I get it. Doug went on an around-the-world motorcycle trip and couldn’t exactly have dragged hundreds of books around behind himself in a cart while traversing sub-Saharan Africa. Adrian is donating books to a good cause, keeping armsful, and will no doubt be stocking back up. As for Tom Verlaine, well, like Tom Jefferson, he died, so his books should go to someone else.

And, no doubt, when in 2025 I probably vacate the house I’m living in, it’ll be me trimming and purging. If I can bear it.

Unraveling quickly

July 8th, 2023

I signed up for Threads on its first day. Partly to check it out, and partly because since Elon took over Twitter, every new follower I get is a scantily clad sex worker with a linked porn site. Hey ladies, take it elsewhere — I’m already doing far better than you.

Day 1 on Threads was filled with messages of welcoming! Welcome to a new place, far better than the old place. Phew! We’re glad to be out of that place, with the jackboots in the street! We’re cheering on its demise! 

Day 2 found me unfollowing all sorts of people I never followed. Except there’s no way to unfollow them. So I started muting them. They may still be talking to me, but at least now I can’t hear them. The very first ones I muted had the last names Kardashian and Jenner. I am not kidding. At least in the previous place I’d never had to see these names or come across whatever they were pressing on us in service of peddling their empty fame.

Day 3 saw the beginning emergence of the radical grifters we’d been running away from, and also entreaties by people to try to keep this the sort of place we were hoping for on Day 1. Political strategist Mike Madrid of the Lincoln Project shared a thread reminding people not to interact with these mercenary mouthpieces because your engagement is precisely how they build their audience on new platforms. Someone else asked, Can we be nice here, at least? 

And I posted, “It took Threads all of 10 seconds to get overrun by celebrities and also discussions of a certain ex-president. What a refreshing change from that other platform!”

Barfday gifts

July 7th, 2023

My birthday is a week away, so it’s time for marketers who have my personal information to leap into action!

Quick poll. Which is better?

  • The restaurant that emails me a “happy birthday” with no coupon or offer of free dessert on my birthday or anything; or
  • Best Buy emailing me a $5 coupon which will buy… nothing… at Best Buy.

Both are marketing efforts trying to disguise themselves as birthday wishes.

The latter one is more transparent — and stupid. (And from a restaurant I’ve enjoyed.)

The first one is thoughtless — and useless. (And from a company I’ve always admired.)

For-never holding peace

July 5th, 2023

Yesterday, I posted about the ultimate dissolution of my longtime marriage to a very good woman. Truly. It just wasn’t working any more, and although I know that “we really don’t belong together any more” (her words months and months ago, and she was right), that hasn’t quelled my thinking about it, and never will. Again, I’m just glad that it ended amicably and that we’re still friends, with daily interactions through a game we play on our phones, and frequent texts, and sharing photos and memories, and the occasional phone call. She’s a good woman, a good person, a terrific mother, and someone who has brought me a lot of joy in my life.

Last night / this morning, during my usual “what time is it now?” bout of insomnia, I came across the piece below in the New York Times. This is the story of a 20-year marriage that ended very differently. I urge you to read it. The writer, an accomplished attorney and a notable figure (especially now that her story has been widely reported and widely discussed), doesn’t recognize the man she married and can’t figure out if she ever knew him.

Here’s the link, which thanks to the wonders of my paid subscription, will take you past the paywall.

She doesn’t know what to make of this seemingly harmless man with whom she had two daughters — daughters that, with her, he chose to abandon overnight and with whom he no longer wants any contact.

She doesn’t know what to make of him, but I do.

He is what we call a sociopath.

Sociopaths don’t care for others or their feelings; in fact, the feelings of others never enter their orbit. Sociopaths are concerned utterly with themselves. We’ve had at least one former president of the United States who’s evinced this behavior (and I submit probably at least one more), so you’ll recognize it. Her husband is, was, and will be a sociopath. How she doesn’t recognize it I don’t know, except perhaps as a self-protection that allows her to believe that he’s changed, and not that she married a deeply damaged person while never realizing it.

While I’m on about this marriage/divorce/separation topic, let me add the odd subject of Bill de Blasio and Chirlane McCray’s separation. Relationships go bust, as we’ve noted, and interracial relationships can be even more fraught; I’ve lived a bit of it, having been in more than one during my separation and ultimate divorce. You’re not quite sure if you’re being treated “a certain way” because it’s an interracial situation, or if it’s your imagination:

  • The head of the hospital addresses the white guy at the hospital holiday party first because he assumes this is the doctor who works for him, rather than the highly educated and highly compensated African woman with him.
  • Internal thought: Did that woman look at us funny because of the couple we are, or are we imagining it?
  • People assume that your significant other is descended from people of one continent, when actually she is descended from people of an utterly different continent halfway around the globe, and then make unspoken assumptions about who she is and how she’ll be.
  • Quiet discussion: Are we being served last because they don’t like us?
  • and so on.

I don’t have any insight into the de Blasio / McCray situation per se, except I find the terms of their “separation,” such as it is, peculiar (peculiar to me, at least):

“They are not planning to divorce, they said, but will date other people. They will continue to share the Park Slope townhouse where they raised their two children, now in their 20s…”

This is their business, and not mine. But I will say that it’s my experience that you’re either in, or you’re out. (And that applies to most things in life.) Staying married and dating other people might work for them — and it certainly works for others — but staying together in the same place they’ve lived for decades and where they raised their children, and dating other people, with all their other complications?

Marriage when it’s simpler than that is still pretty complicated.