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


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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

Talkin’ books

June 14th, 2021

My pal Oleg Kagan writes a blog called Shelf Talks, wherein he interviews people about their bookshelves, the books on them, why they chose those books, and what they made of reading them.

As an inveterate reader, I was thrilled to be invited to be interviewed for this.

A few months ago, I sent Oleg 10 or 15 photos of various bookcases of mine. The bookcase he selected is pretty eclectic and sparked a fun conversation.

Here it is.

Chair today, gone tomorrow

May 31st, 2021

For weeks now, my wife and I have been on a fruitless search for dining chairs. I say this because the search has indeed gone on for weeks, and no, there has been no fruit.

I wouldn’t care about finding new dining chairs, except the ones we have are so broken and re-repaired that even if no one else ever notices, they reflect poorly on my self image.

  • Most of the spindles in the backs, which are intended to form a webbing that gently supports you, have broken over the years; once, I went to a hobby shop, found the same diameter, carefully painted them the same shade of hunter green, and inserted the new ones. This was not not-time-consuming.
  • More recently, the one-piece sides that serve as an overall frame as well as leg, pull apart from the seat back, despite my constant re-glueing on this attachment. This is happening on all four of them. Now, whenever I get up from one of these chairs, or even just walk by, I’m manually slamming these pieces together.
  • Lately, whole big pieces of the wood are cracking, which also occasions glueing and touching up with paint.

My thought about all this: I never intended chair repair to be another hobby. I mean, I still haven’t read the thousands of comic books I bought in the past year!

I should also note that the space in which our dining table fits is small, so it would be difficult to find another table that fits so well. The odds of finding a set that would work strains credulity.

So I’ve been on a hunt for new chairs. The complication: My wife has an (understandable) attachment to the dining table that came with these chairs, 25 years ago. That’s because she and our elder son personally restored it about 10 years ago, stripping and sanding it, and then staining it. I too admire its handcrafted polish. But I also want to sit on chairs that a) don’t embarrass me, and b) don’t hurt my aging ass.

This is why we’ve gone to, in my mind, countless furniture stores over recent weeks. “Countless,” to an impatient person who doesn’t exactly thrill to furniture shopping to begin with, amounts to four. One in Glendale (she wasn’t impressed); some sort of discount showroom in our own town that didn’t impress either of us; the loathed furniture store in town that promises much but delivers it late and assembled wrong; and Macy’s.

Why Macy’s? Macy’s because they sent us a book filled with furniture we could go buy — but then when we went to buy it, they had none of it. They did have one chair in stock that came close to matching what’s now our ancestral handcrafted table, but only the one. When I asked the furniture-department woman how long it would take to get those others ordered in, we had this exchange:

“How long would it take to get three more of these in?”

“Some time in August.”

“August?!?!?” I said. “I could be dead by August!” (Which, when you think about it, is rationally true. Would just waiting around for chairs to arrive be enough to keep me alive?)

She decided to hint at scarcity of supplies, which I’ve been reading about. “Sir, have you been in a market?”

“I have been in a market!” I thundered. “I’m in a market right now, aren’t I?”

My wife, accustomed to 37 years of my demands (which often work, to her chagrin), said nothing. Rather than wait for August, which may as well be the end of time, we went and had dinner.

And that’s the hidden cost to chair shopping: Not only do you not buy chairs, you buy dinner instead, which can cost more than the chairs. We wound up at a nearby sushi place — and here’s a free tip: at first blush, sushi places seem inexpensive, but don’t be fooled, because it all adds up quickly! So this particular time I came up with a clever solution to the costs of paying for dinner: insisting that my wife buy dinner. I was congratulating myself on my cleverness right up to the point when she pulled out the debit card for our joint checking account.

As we enjoyed our sushi — so fresh! and not on my dime, she having now gamely pulled out her own payment vehicle — my mind was rolling through all the coming weeks of chair shopping. When might it end? We’re having a new fence built, and the house painted, and a new oven installed, and converting one of our many rooms into a home library — where in all that would chair shopping fit? How would I ever write another play, with all this going on? There must be a perfect set of chairs for us out there somewhere — but how to find them in this lifetime?

Then, to the rescue, this morning, I got an email from a company offering chairs — dear God, how did they know? And why didn’t they know sooner? — and I looked through their website and found chairs that seem to match the sacred table! I flagged the page in my browser, showed it to my wife and, blessing of blessings, she agreed!

So I bought them. They’ll be arriving on June 9th.

I fully intend to live that long.

Old stars

May 23rd, 2021

Friday night at the gym while exercising my triceps on a machine, I found myself looking at a colorized episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show. “Looking at it” because I wasn’t precisely watching it — instead, I was admiring how much better colorization had gotten over the years (it looked quite natural) and wondering how I felt about this and whether or not it would be somehow better if it were still in black and white. Had this colorization damaged the original, or had it opened up its possibilities for younger generations?

Just then, a voice next to me said, “Excuse me, sir, are you watching this?” It was the fit young black woman from the front desk. 

“Oh, no,” I said truthfully, determined not to show my awkward delight at her nearness.

“What is this?” she asked.

“It’s the Dick Van Dyke Show,” I said. “Colorized.” 

She looked at me blankly.

“It used to be in black and white. From the 1960s. That’s Dick Van Dyke,” I pointed. “And that’s Mary Tyler Moore.”

No recognition.

“And that’s Carl Reiner. I met him a couple of times. He died recently.”

“Oh.”

“He was a major comic actor. And movie director.”

No recognition.

“Rob Reiner is his son.”

Nothing. Now I understood how my father felt when he would point out old timey actors from the 1800s or something in old movies.

“Rob Reiner. He was a major sitcom star, does a lot of character acting on TV still. Pretty significant film director….” I was fishing, then landed on it! “He directed The Princess Bride.”

“Oh! Cool!”

Finally, even though separated by 35 years, we had a shared cultural understanding. She asked if she could change the channel.

“Sure.”

While I resumed my workout, she flicked around every single one of five thousand and six channels, not finding anything. 

“See, this is why I canceled cable,” I volunteered. “Five thousand and six channels, and still nothing you want to watch.”

Finally she landed on something. It was a cooking show with a celebrity chef — probably the celebrity chef.

“My company is doing a project that involves him,” I said.

“REALLY?!?!?” she asked in a hushed but exclamatory tone. “Are you going to get to meet him?” 

“Maybe,” I offered honestly. I mean, there were no such plans, and he wasn’t flying in for his bit, but one never knows, right?

“I love him!” she said. 

Catching a glimpse of myself in a mirror, I increased my weights. Now I had somehow assumed my father’s role in pointlessly naming faded stars from distant ages. Meanwhile, I regularly use the Shazam app on my phone to identify every song that gets played at this gym.

This encounter also cleared up for me a mystery:  why every single TV in the damned place is always tuned to the Cooking Channel. Until now, I’d thought it was intended as perverse motivation:  that we should look at all these fattening foodstuffs and work out harder! 

Now I realized it was the reflection of a young woman’s ardor.

Things I had as a teenager that I don’t have now

May 22nd, 2021

In response to a question on Twitter:

  • Virginity
  • A copy of Fantastic Four #1
  • Funky teen boy smell
  • Naïveté
  • A redhead girlfriend
  • A Renault Le Car
  • A job at the Atlantic City Press
  • A basement
  • A rotary phone
  • A girlfriend’s broken-off fingernail preserved in a plastic bag hanging on my wall
  • An interest in reading science fiction
  • The belief that Salvador Dali was a great artist
  • An interest in reading Gore Vidal
  • Excitement about the movie “Caligula”
  • Sixty to eighty years ahead of me
  • Living aunts, uncles, and father
  • The belief that the kids at school really mattered
  • Mononucleosis

The end-of-the-month post

April 30th, 2021

So, no, I can’t end April with only one post. So here we are, with the end-of-the-month post.

I remember the years when I used to post here every day. Maybe I’ll get back to that. If it gives you any comfort* — because I’m sure you no doubt want comforting about what I’m up to — I will tell you that I’ve been very productive during our little global pandemic.

I wrote three full-length plays**, and one of them is headed into production now with an opening targeted for June. (More about that soon.)

I also devoted a lot of time to listening to, and interacting with, and researching even more about, the world’s greatest rock band.*** Time well-spent indeed!

I bought about eleventy-billion more glorious old moldering comic books from the 1940s through 1980s and carefully curated them right into my collection.

And I’ve been doing a lot-lot-lot of reading, and I’ve been working on some exciting projects and initiatives at my company, and I’ve even occasionally had friends over to sit in the back yard and smoke cigars and drink bourbon and talk about writing and the theatre.

And somewhere in all that, I went and got vaccinated. I hope you do that too, if you haven’t already.

And we’ve had lots of repair work done around the house and yard, even up until today, and even more scheduled, and… ugh.

I thought I’d just catch you up somewhat obliquely on some of these things before May hits us smack in the face in the morning. And at some point — perhaps this weekend? — I’ll write one of the two longish posts that have been floating around in my head for literally months now, one of which I’ve actually written notes for, and one of which I’ve taken a photo for. The former one involves the Bee Gees, while the latter one involves Philip K. Dick and Adam Strange.

Stay tuned!

* It actually gives me comfort, as someone raised very German Lutheran, and therefore tied to work. Work is my joy. My people, when we die, say, “I wish I’d worked more.”

** When asked how many of his plays were full-length, Edward Albee famously replied, “All of them.” (Even his 10-page ones.) But in this particular case, I mean a running time of 75-120 minutes.

*** Pere Ubu, of course! There’s always something great going on over here!

The post I was going to write

April 4th, 2021

This isn’t the post I was going to write.

The post I was going to write was going to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and would be thematically unified.

But this isn’t that.

When I was at the gym earlier, I had a different post in mind to be writing right now. But even as I think about that, what I’m really thinking is this:  Dear God, it felt glorious to be back at the gym! Hooray for reopened gyms! No this wasn’t the gym that had shit in the showers  — I quit that gym — this is the new gym, new to me and new to everyone, that had to close last year because you-know-why. And now it’s reopened, because you-know-what is subsiding. I was so happy to step across that threshold that if they’d charged a “convenience fee” at the door I just would’ve handed it over. I had a terrific workout, admittedly far superior to the one accomplishable in the setup in my garage, and thanked everybody there on the way out.

The gym’s been open for a week. Why did I wait? Well, on Friday morning, I got the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. The tradeoff:  You only have to go once (perfect for me, because I’m generally impatient), but the reported incidence of side effects is greater. Then, very late Friday night, I started to feel strange. Like, somehow I couldn’t make any sense of what was happening in “Godzilla versus Kong,” and I mean even more than the “plot” and “dialogue.” When the big battle ended with them joining forces against a common enemy — so unexpected! — and I was trundling off to bed, I started shivering hard, and then had a very flu-like not-great time all night, resulting in my not feeling great on Saturday. I don’t think I could even tell you what I did on Saturday. Oh, wait, I finished one game of Civilization VI (playing Trajan) and then immediately started another as Saladin. That was about what I could accomplish.

But today? Today I sprang awake, ready to do stuff! Like:  get over to that gym! Finally put things away, for God’s sake! And write a perhaps-one-day-print-worthy blog entry, something with pith and insight and clever word play. (This is what I aspire to, anyway.)

Four minutes before I got home from my workout, my wife texted me to say that “the painter” that I didn’t know would be coming would be at our house any minute now and did I want to talk to him. I suspected even then that she meant, “Do you want to grill and flambé him?” because that’s how she thinks I go about hiring contractors. That’s not my method at all. I just want to know what we’re getting, what our options are, how long it’ll last and for God’s sake how much it’s going to cost. I did take a liking to Robert, who spent a cool two hours on Easter Sunday detailing for us his 43-year-history as a house painter, starting with his emigration from Korea, then work in Colorado Springs, followed by Texas, and since 1987 Southern California. At age 29, he realized that he needed a wife “to cook and keep house” and so he got married. (At age 25, I got a wife because I liked her company. But people’s reasons vary.) He also volunteered that Koreans are reliable and hard-working. I actually think that many (most?) people are reliable and hard-working irrespective of nationality, but I may be in the minority on this one. Robert (not his birth name) will be getting me a bid, and we’ll see what it looks like.

(At one point, the post I was going to write was a litany of household improvements and repairs. I was already tallying it in my head:  the tree service was $4225, the plumbing was about $2,000, the new dishwasher and sink came in just under $1,000, the new fence will be $8,000 to $15,000, lord knows how much Robert will want… maybe I’m lucky and his kids’ college is already paid for. But I decided that I’d rather not think about it, let alone write about it.) 

Danny from the neighborhood also came over. Danny from the neighborhood is a short solidly built man originally from the nation below us who worked for the studios for years. I’ve been watching in fascination the past two weeks as he erected and stained a new fence on the property across the street. I’ve seen many, many fences in my life, around this country and in others, and Danny’s fence may be the nicest-looking one I’ve seen. So I called him over to give us an estimate on ours. The last bid we got was that $8,000-$15,000 one, and you would be right if you sense my hesitation at contracting that fellow, but it’s immaterial because he never returned our calls afterward anyway. The other unspoken pandemic problem:  finding available contractors. So many people have turned to home improvement as entertainment in lieu of actually going anywhere and doing anything that these guys are booked up.

By the time Robert and Danny left, two-and-a-half hours had slipped by. So it seemed like time to pull out some of that wine we bought last week on that tour of wineries.

Free tip:  If you ever want to get into the habit of spending a lot more money, one great way to go is to finally discover the difference between shitty wine and good wine. Shitty wine can be had for less than ten bucks, and sometimes for as little as two or three bucks. Our local liquor store ran a sale on cases of Spanish wine at $1.99 a bottle because it wasn’t moving, and most of it was corked. That is, after you could even get it open, and that would be with destroying the cork, the wine inside was bad. Meanwhile, the fabulous wine that rolls down your gullet and reminds you that there is love and light in the world, and that other delights await you? That wine costs many multiples of the cheap shitty wine. How do I know that? Because now I’ve bought it. And now that I’ve bought it, it’s already proving difficult going back to the cheap shitty wine.

After that one glass of the delectable pricey wine today, I switched back to water. Really trying to make this bottle last….

After that, I took our two neurotic uncontrollable dogs for a nice long walk. On that walk, I thought a lot about the post I was going to write. Now it was going to be about wine. As I watched the male dog urinate at length on his favorite bush, I wondered if I’d made a mistake sampling really good wine. Just how much was this going to cost me? Were we going to be offering this to guests?  I was balancing these questions against my impulse to go online and order a case of that one red of which we already have only one bottle left!

When the dogs and I got home from our walk and our run, I decided that I didn’t want to think about the wines either and I certainly didn’t want to write about them and that’s when I pulled the water out of the refrigerator.

Next project, after dinner, in this day of projects:  putting hundreds of comic books safely and securely into plastic bags with nice firm acid-free cardboard backings in them, and then organizing them in their storage boxes. Noted:  these boxes of comics have gotten a lot heavier over the past 40 years.  They certainly didn’t weigh this much when I was 18!

And then, because it’s Sunday night and that’s when you’ll find the best auctions ending, going on eBay to source more of these heavy comic books. And then, also because it’s Sunday night and that’s one of my nights to clean up the kitchen, cleaning up the kitchen.

So now it’s almost 11 p.m. and no, I’m not going to write the post I was going to write. What am I going to do? Do some reading, and probably get back to Civilization VI and converting the German cities to my religion; no, Frederick Barbarossa doesn’t like it, but if wants to do something about it, hey, have at it, pal.

Tomorrow’s another day. Maybe then I’ll write the better post.

Good news from the WSJ

March 29th, 2021

The big news is that, according to the Wall Street Journal, “Ship Blocking Suez Canal Is Partially Freed“! This is great news for people who were actively concerned about this, and also of some note to all the rest of us who were sure it wasn’t going to take long to resolve. At the same time, I confess that I don’t know what “partially freed” means — isn’t something freed, or not? — but I’m not so animated about this to register a red alert.

In other news, ever since my post bemoaning the hit-or-miss delivery schedule to my doorstep of the WSJ Weekend edition, the paper has reliably been there on Saturdays. While I prefer to believe that after seeing my post, which I tagged them with on Twitter, they swung into action, the realist in me thinks they’re just continuing their mind games by lulling me into false reassurance.