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


Blog

Weather or not

January 17th, 2023

Happy non-raining Tuesday from Los Angeles.

Yes, it’s been not-raining for about half a day now, and with any luck that’s going to go on until spring.

How much rain have we had, here in “it never rains in California” California, where it’s been raining for literally weeks? On Saturday alone, downtown LA got just under twelve inches of rain. The downpour was dramatic, and the water holes deep. When I went to my dry cleaner’s, there were dolphins cavorting in the parking lot.

Oh, I should mention that the roofing company has been out to my house to address my leaking roof six times. Once to bid the job, once to do the job, once to inspect the job and find it wasn’t done right, and, through a series of miscommunications on their end, three times on Sunday afternoon and early evening by three different people to re-tarp my roof while waiting for the rain to end so they could redo the job. I’m now waiting for visit number seven, in which they will redo the job, this time with the supervisor onsite. I did text the seemingly nice young man who sold me this job to say, “Jonathan, you see how this looks, don’t you?” He offered me $300 off the job and assured me that they’d fix it. One way or the other, I guess.

I checked in with my friend Paul back on the east coast for a weather update. Paul, you may recall, is my friend who likes to post idiosyncratic weather updates that far outstrip anything offered by AccuWeather. His methodology involves looking outside, and sometimes taking a photo of what outside looks like, and also reporting on what it was like walking from the parking lot into his place of work, or back again. I enjoy these, and I know I’m not alone. Dorothea Lange had nothing over Paul’s photos of the stark Atlantic City coastline. So I asked him why no weather reports lately, because I’ve been missing them. He said, “We haven’t had any weather.”

Well, we’re about to have some weather here again. Better brace for it. It’s going to get cold. Local authorities and the Los Angeles Times have advised people to dress warmly and seek shelter and heating. I just hope everyone sees this advisory. 

Why they left

January 12th, 2023

The Thursday morning dream:

I woke up at around 5 a.m. to go take a leak.

But I wasn’t fully awake, because as I got out of bed I was extra careful not to step on anyone.

That’s because I thought there were other people sleeping in my room, scattered around the floor. One just next to my side of the bed, one at the base of the bed, and then more all the way to the hallway and to the bathroom. Maybe in my dream they were refugees from all the flooding, I don’t know. But I didn’t want to step on anyone.

When I got into the bathroom and turned on the light, after I relieved myself, I could see there was nobody else there. But now I was sad they were gone. Where had they gone? Why had they left? What had I done wrong?

And then I had a sinking realization: “Oh, no…. I wonder if I was snoring again….!”

Truth about Jeff Beck

January 11th, 2023

I saw guitar hero Jeff Beck, who died today, play live in 2013 here in LA. He opened for Brian Wilson — and, um… I thought he was kinda dull. I didn’t wish him dead, though!

He might have wished some harm to Brian Wilson & Co., though, given what he later said about that tour, in an interview that may provide a clue about Mr. Beck’s underwhelming performance.

Brian Wilson, by the way, sang off-key. I am second to none in my love and admiration for Brian Wilson and his music, but when Mr. Brian Wilson (!) sings flat, that’s the night I call it quits in seeing him “perform.” And that’s exactly what I did: told my friend who’d accompanied me that I loved Brian Wilson so much that, no, I could never again go see him perform because I’d never forget the sound of Brian Wilson ruining his catalog for me.

On a happier note, Roger Daltrey of the Who remains in fine fettle, and is somehow still a dynamic singer at age 78. You may feel reassured and ready to enjoy his live shows with abandon. Ditto Micky Dolenz, a mere 77, who still has the pipes, and is on a never-ending tour where he now sings “Hey, hey I’m the Monkee…”

If there’s a rock n’ roller you want to see play live, especially an elderly one, I wouldn’t wait. And given the rock n’ roll lifestyle, it’s amazing that some of them are still around.

Wonderful world

January 10th, 2023

Our brains are programmed around routine. There’s safety in routine, and greater likelihood of success, whether it’s sheer survival or merely the overall eventual payoff on daily accomplishment.

But at the same time, we’re gifted with the ability to react, to respond, to immediately take things in when needed.

I just had an incredible experience. Surely one of the most notable experiences of my life.

I was just leaving my house, our Biblical rainfall having ceased, temporarily, and decided to take a photo of the new lakes that have formed in the front yard so that I could send it to my ex-wife. Lining up the perfect shot placed me at the perfect angle to see…

A gigantic ball of lightning strike the street corner just opposite me. 

This ball of lightning was as large as a 10-by-10 room, pure white, and struck the street corner like a flash of energy in a science fiction movie. At first I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at — why was there a giant globe of whiteness over there? — and then the sonic boom! hit, shaking the ground and setting off every car alarm in the neighborhood. Amidst the blaring and the shock of the event, my legs turned to jelly while my brain sizzled with excitement. 

Up and down the block, figures emerged from their houses. My next-door neighbor, Dev, a single dad in his 40s and a good guy, said, “Lee, are you all right?” Farther down I could see the retired teacher, my neighbor of 30 years, standing on his walkway looking my way.

“I’m fine,” I said. “But what was that?” I asked, knowing very well what that was. I just didn’t know what else to say.

“Lightning,” Dev said.

Of course. I’d just seen it.

Now, I’ve been in lightning storms in my life. They weren’t infrequent were I grew up, in southern New Jersey, and one split the mimosa tree in our front yard when I was a boy, neatly cleaving it in half. In 1995 when I was in Fayetteville, Arkansas for a month on a playwriting fellowship, I was up on a mountain in the middle of the night during an especially thrilling lightning storm, one that filled me with ideas and energy, an event I think back to often. But I’d never seen lightning up this close, and at this size.

It was an amazing thing to see.

It was a reminder that while we humans can and do control a lot, there are larger things in the universe that we do not control, cannot control.

And it was a reminder that life, and existence, are filled with wonder.

Sign of the end times?

January 9th, 2023

The former front man of the Sex Pistols, best known for “Anarchy in the UK,” has released a single that’s a ballad about his love for Hawaii. 

Crazy fun

January 8th, 2023

You can never be sure what equals fun for other people.

I know someone — okay, lots of someones — who think Disney land/World is the pinnacle of fun. For them, a Disney visit is truly a visit to a magical kingdom, one that suffuses you with delight and joy. Meanwhile, if you want to see me quickly spiral into a squall of rage, drop me into either of those places with their densely packed, stultifying forced sense of cheer as your lifeforce drains away while you interminably wend your way nearer the Haunted Mansion and question whatever bad decision led you to this place at this time.

So, no, I don’t want to go there. Ever again. No matter its legions of fans. And good for them; I don’t care. It’s just not for me.

At the same time, it’s unfathomable to me that not everyone feels the chest-bursting excitement I do when I see vintage comic books from the 60’s and 70’s. Just thinking about them now is giving me gooseflesh. Reading them is part of the enjoyment, of course, and also touching them, and smelling them, and holding them in my hands… and now I’m suddenly thinking about women. My love of comics may be a bit extreme. In any event, visiting a comic-book store or, oh lord, the San Diego Comic-Con? It’s like visiting Mecca.

So everyone has their own idea of fun. A day of antiquing? No fun. Mountain climbing? Um, no. Meanwhile, I like camping, and canoeing, hiking, and pushing my limits at the gym, and reading Wallace Shawn’s essays. I find addressing a crowd of people to be fun, and that’s most people’s foremost fear:  public speaking.

What brought this to mind was my most recent appointment to what is many, many people’s least-fun place:  the dentist’s office, on Friday. In my decades in dental chairs, the care and treatment and repair and replacement of my teeth has purchased more than one Learjet. Some of my dentists have been good and some of them bad and at least one was an incompetent charlatan. At this point, I think I can tell the difference between good dentists and bad dentists, so when I tell you I’ve been with my current dentist for eight years, that should tell you something. I think he’s terrific, and so is his staff. This dentist is someone who friended me on Facebook, has given me his personal cellphone number, and who one time came in on a holiday weekend when I had snapped a tooth and, on that holiday weekend when he came in just for me, found a way to permanently glue the broken tooth back together and into my head. (Free advice:  Don’t gnaw on the end cap of a turkey drumstick. Bad idea. Even if you have my dentist.) My plan is to stay with him until death do us part.

Though I’ll spare you the details of my procedure, you’ll get an idea from how I recounted it to a client later (much later, after the numbing had worn off and after I’d had a good lie day). My client was referring to an issue in a way I thought wasn’t the best light in which to put it, mostly because by implication it created an unfair and, I think, unjust impression of what’s actually an improvement. So I said:

“I had a dental appointment earlier today. That’s what they called it:  a dental appointment. If they’d said they were going to saw my tooth in half with a power tool and then use pliers to wrench the pieces out of my head, I might not have gone.”

He got my point.

Once the drilling and sawing and wrenching were done, as well as the flying of my spittle all over and down my neck, I was turned over to my dentist’s assistant, C., a young man I’ve come to like. He’s modest, friendly, capable, professional, and a bit on the short side. He told me what would come next.

“Okay, now I just need to make a new temporary tooth for you.” 

“What could be more fun?” I said. Most of my retorts are delivered blankly — even close friends have told me they’re unsure of my tone, and please remember my comic hero is the expressionless Buster Keaton — but I’m not sure how C. took this.

“For me,” he said, “this is fun.”If I’d any doubt before that I was in the right place (and I hadn’t), it was all gone now. Anyone who spends 40 hours a week vacuuming out the insides of someone’s mouth while his boss is applying a drill one inch away, and then cleaning up the associated offal, had better like it.

Thursday

January 5th, 2023
  • Got up this morning to find that the tarp I’d installed in attic was doing its job, but now water was dripping down below from a new source and additional swaddling was needed to keep water from running down from that new source. As I climbed up and down from that ladder up into the hidden room beneath my roof, I had visions of accidentally knocking over the ladder and winding up trapped in there. So I took my iPhone with me on each trip so I could call someone if needed. “Hey, Siri! Send help — I’m stuck in the attic!”
  • I yelled out a Hallelujah when the rain cleared and the sun came out! But then that was over within minutes and now it’s raining again.
  • Today, I got only one vote fewer for Speaker of the House than Donald Trump did, and I was elected to the position just as frequently as Kevin McCarthy was.
  • Not once so far this year have I accidentally written “2022.” Not once.
  • In writing a marketing email, I did my best to channel my inner James Brown before realizing sadly that I have no inner James Brown. But: I feel good! Like I knew I would!

Dripping with suspense

January 4th, 2023

I have a close friend of 40 years who has made it his job to report on the local weather back where he lives. Most days he’ll upload a photo with a bit of commentary, or a screenshot from Accuweather. It keeps both of us entertained, but I’ve been riding him about this for years.

Now I’ve become him.

Not only am I doing hour-by-hour check-ins on the weather — via apps, and news services, and also by just looking out windows or plunging headfirst into the torrent myself — I’m also talking about it constantly, writing about it here, and openly fretting about it.

Because:  It’s been raining here in Los Angeles for the proverbial 40 days and 40 nights… and my roof is leaking.

On New Year’s Eve, it was a drip-drip-drip down into my family room that drew a friend to summon me with a wheedling entreaty:  “Uh, Leeeeee… I think you’ve got a problemmmmm here….”  Seeing the water plopping onto one of the couches and then splashes onto the floor, and tracing its descent from my ceiling, spotted with water, was unsettling. But, while distressing, it seemed containable. I mean, it would dry out, it wasn’t like it was a cascade of water, and how often does it rain in L.A. anyway? This is a desert ecosystem, and we’re in a drought.

But that was already after a week of steady rain, and now it’s four days later and the rain has reached cyclonic intensity, and we’ve still got tomorrow and also next week of more rain forecast.

I was at my office today, writing an email about all the good things going on in the world (truly!) and how we should worry less about what we cannot control (honest!) when my son texted me to say 1) he’d locked himself out and could I come home and let him in; and 2) oh, by the way, now it was really leaking down into the family room and I really should take a look.

#2 above got me to drop everything I was doing and race home. Clever boy.

Sure enough, water was coming down in a highly disconcerting manner, kerplunking onto the floor and splashing in a way that sounded like trouble. I got up onto the couch and touched the ceiling and it felt soft. Not what one wants to feel in one’s ceiling. So I went outside into the squall and entered the garage, fetched a ladder, hauled it inside, climbed up and opened the hatch leading to the miniature attic whence the leak was descending and thereupon confirmed my suspicions:

It was leaking precisely from the spot where we’d had the house re-roofed eleven years ago…

….which was the same spot where the contractors we’d hired to add a second story onto this house 20 years ago had built a roof cricket, which has sporadically leaked ever since, and which they themselves had tried to fix twice.

I started to feel that vein throb in my head. You know, that big throbbing vein that we all get that pulses explosively when we’ve reached a boiling point about something that truly warrants an overflow of piping hot liquid, with steam coming out of our ears. That thing. That head-bursting vein, like something out of a Warner Brothers cartoon. But:  my daily practice of stoicism (and it’s “practice” because I’ll never fully arrive) came into play, and instead of boiling over, I called out to my son like Joan Crawford in “Mommy Dearest,” “Dietrich! Bring me the tarp!” He dutifully retrieved the tarp we had outside under the pergola, I placed it under the area where water was streaming in, I shaped the tarp so that water would have a large sink into which it would pool, and I instructed him, “Check this every few hours and when it’s nearly full, drain the water into a bucket. And then on Saturday, the one day when it won’t be raining, we’ll weigh down a tarp on the roof and get a roofer to come out.”

I also instructed my son to pull the warranty on the most recent roofing job out of my files. When I got home and read it closely I discovered, to no surprise, that the warranty provides coverage for manufacturing defects of the shingles. In other words, the roofing company provided no warranty. Shingles are shingles — what defect could there be? Whoops, we made one batch from cardboard?

So, the plan for now is:  monitor and drain, put that additional tarp directly onto the roof itself on Saturday, and call a roofing company. The Stoics would be proud:  I’m in control over what I can control, and I’m emotionally letting everything else go.

Further consolations:

The checkout lady at my local supermarket tonight, when I shared my story with her, told me she was in the same situation with a leaking roof, and so did a longtime friend today, via Facebook. So I’m not alone in this struggle.

And, and even bigger consolation of sorts: All those beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright houses we love to look at, designed by one of the foremost architects of the 20th century? On every single one of them, the roof leaks.

Noted

January 3rd, 2023

Like probably every writer ever, I make little notes on scraps of paper about things I’ve thought of, or thought about, or overheard, that I thought would be useful later.

Useful in a play. Or an essay. Or a blog post or even just a Tweet.

And then, again like probably almost every writer ever, I lose track of these notes. They wind up in my car, or on my nightstand, or if I’m lucky on my desk in the writing room, or if I’m unlucky in pants pockets that wind up in the washing machine.

Sometimes, it’s months or even years later when I find them. And then comes the real work: trying to figure out what they mean. The Egyptologist Champollion had an easier time figuring out hieroglyphics than I have with some of these.

One recent note reads, “Last time he got his line wet.” Now, see, with that one I’ve helpfully added “The last fishing trip” to remind me that this was a friend’s story of the last time an old fella got taken out on the ice for a final fishing trip. What I liked about it was that phrase, “it was the last time he got his line wet,” and I figured it would be useful in the play I’m writing.

Another note says, “Leonardo.” Not having anything to say about DiCaprio, I know that’s about da Vinci — but I don’t know what it’s supposed to prompt me to remember.

(OH, holy cow, I do now! I was floating my personal observation that the supposed polymath Leonardo was actually a genius in only one field — the arts — and a disaster in others, such as armaments. Which tied in with a discussion about Elon Musk, who hubristically decided that because he’d succeeded in one or two places he could succeed in all.)

“Publisher v. platform.” That one I know — it’s for a little commentary I made about Twitter’s difficulties, which might lead me to write about it.

Others say:

  • “circulator pump”
  • “a period of hard choices”
  • “not just returning to ‘the good old days’ where they were”
  • “black dress shoes”
  • “PREHISTORIC CREATURES with a vicious bite”
  • “Super Nice Hostility”
  • and so forth

Today, determined yet again to manage a cleaner desk and going through papers and sorting or trashing or shredding them, I came across a folded sheet of notepad paper with columns of numbers, and three letters across the top: “L,” “M,” and “D.”

Then I looked at the date: last September.

And I realized it was the score for a game of 500 Rummy with my son and my mother.

Looks like I won.

A death with dignity

January 2nd, 2023

Went to the gym today. Not as crowded as I’d feared / hoped. “Feared” because when it’s packed and you’re standing in line for equipment or weights, your workout can take twice as long. “Hoped” because I’m always rooting for the new people who arrive at the gym every January armed with determination. As for me, an hour at the gym put paid to a lower backache so profound it was cranking my hip around as well. 

When I got home I found out on the Internet that Cai Emmons, a novelist and playwright I’d met through Twitter a few years ago, had ended her life with dignity. After just under two years of fighting ALS, she’d announced in advance that today would be her last day. 

Here’s the email from her that some of us woke up to this morning:

Farewell

Dear Friends and Readers,

Happy New Year! I feel an unexpected optimism about what 2023 might bring. I’ve seen promising signs recently of the backlash of love against hate, and I think that backlash is likely to grow. No one can say for sure, but my fingers are crossed.

It is January 1st, 2023 and I am planning to depart from life as I’ve known it through death with dignity on January 2, 2023. I have had a rewarding life and I love everyone who has been a part of it. Remember me with joy.

My body has become so weak that I have lost agency over my life and need help for most activities. We all have a line we draw in the sand regarding how much helplessness we can take, and I have reached mine.

I do not dread death. In an unexpected way I have come to look forward to it. I have no idea what awaits me–my only regret is that I won’t be able to share it with you.

The timing of my demise is odd because my career is currently in an upswing. Since 2018 I have published five books, and I am completing a new one now. There is interest in turning my blog posts into a book; a Hollywood producer is interested in optioning three of my books; and a documentary film is being made about me. It is not a bad way to go out, though I regret that I won’t live to see these efforts fully realized.

I can also see from my perch on the cusp of death that no amount of worldly success matters in the end. It is such a cliché thing to say so, but the thing that means the most now is human connection, friendship, and love in all its manifestations. I have a feeling that I’ll be returning to haunt a number of people–in a good way. So be on the lookout for me!

I encourage you to keep reading my books and to look for a new book (as yet untitled)–or books–from me down the line. My blog will be active until my death, and it can be found on my website www.caiemmonsauthor.comMediumFacebook, and Twitter.

So, farewell all, and thank you for the various ways you have supported me. Whether I’ve met you in person or not, I feel entangled with you all.

Much love,
Cai

I want to acknowledge here the legislators in the state of Oregon who 25 years ago wrote Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act into law, which allows terminally ill people to end their lives sensibly. I wish it were federal law, but I’m glad it exists in at least some places.

I didn’t know her well — not at all really, just through exchanges on Twitter — but I also have to note the clarity that her terminal diagnosis seems to have given her, and the bravery with which she approached her final days. All those words written these past two years while dying! And all the warmth that flowed through her interviews and her postings.  

Seems like a good way to go.