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


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.


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.


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:


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,

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.

Day one

January 1st, 2023

Especially for southern California in our era of creeping climate dread, this will sound like apostasy, but: Okay, I’m good with the rain now. It can stop now. That’s quite enough for now. Thank you. Especially since some of my friends at last night’s party said, “Uh, Lee, you’ve got a problem here….” and pointed me to the water dripping onto the couch and floor from my downstairs ceiling. They wanted to know what I was going to do about it. Here’s what I wasn’t going to do: Go out in the driving rain, clamber up onto the sheer roof and do anything up there at about 11 o’clock and especially not when I’d already had a few drinks into me. So what will I do? Call a roofer. Seems like the thing to do.

Today I’m cleaning up from last night’s party, in stages. Just don’t feel like doing it all at once. So: Let the dogs out, and carry some recycling out to the bin while doing that. Walking through a room and tossing some trash. Fixing breakfast and dumping half-finished drinks into the sink while it’s cooking. Yesterday I said to my son, “You want to know what I’m doing tomorrow? Nothing. As in, No work. Nothing.” So that’s my approach for day one of the new year. Just lots of reading, and some writing, and doing the mega sudoku online.

Not the worst way to start the year.

The night before the night before the new year

December 30th, 2022

On the night before the night before the new year, I’m not working on my new play, and I’m not working on anything in particular, but I am thinking about all the things I’ll be working on in 2023, and about all the things I did in 2022, and about what I’m going to say about those things here, and what I’m going to forget to say.

Once thing I did in 2022, effective last week, was get a divorce. That wasn’t something I had ever foreseen doing. It wasn’t even something I was eager to do. But it was something that became inevitable, and I’m glad that my ex-wife and I were able to do it amicably. I still care about her, and I imagine I will always care about her, and I certainly don’t want anything damaging almost 40 years of almost entirely positive memories of our relationship. She said pretty much the same, but more eloquently: “We’ll always be family, you and I just won’t be a unit any more.” That’s pretty good, and I’m hanging onto that. Although, honestly, it takes something out of Christmas when 40% of that always-family is in one state, and 40% is in another state, and 20% is in Korea.

Speaking of Korea, one thing that happened in 2022 was that my son, my U.S. Army son, got stationed to Korea. Good for him. During Covid, he and his fellow soldiers spent a lot of time quarantined in barracks first in Georgia and then outside Seattle; judging from his texts and photos, Korea looks more enjoyable.

In 2022, I started a play that I’m still deep into. Usually I write one or two a year; this year it’s not even the one, but at least it’s a lengthy one and I think it’s a good one.

And I read 28 books, some good…

(The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy; The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston; both of Elizabeth Strout’s exceptional novels about Olive Kitteridge)…

…some of them terrible: (The End of Men, by Christina Sweeney-Baird, seemingly written by a naive but eager 10-year-old; and, astonishingly, Falconer, a true dud of a novel written by John Cheever of all people)…

…and some of them in-between, most spectacularly A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara which at 900 pages is intermittently badly written and frequently laughably over-the-top in cataloging the tribulations of its hero, who manages to avoid only the plague of frogs, but which is at other times compelling and authentic, so much so that one wonders if two different people wrote different sections, or if the author has a split personality.

In 2022, I went places.

I went to England, and not just London this time. London, yes, where I saw a middling play with some terrific actors, but also Birmingham where I got to meet a good Internet friend in the flesh and where he and his wife and I stayed up ’til 3 in the morning drinking wine and talking in an evening I never wanted to end, these being good smart interesting people. (I knew I was in the right company when I went into the bedroom where they kindly put me up and I scanned the bookshelves and saw that I’d read fully three-quarters of the same books, and that the others were on my to-read list.) And then we made a pilgrimage to Canterbury to see the world’s greatest rock band, Pere Ubu, and then from there I went to Brighton and spent a few days in the lovely entertaining company of another good friend who very kindly devoted an inordinate amount of her time to showing me around a fascinating city I never would have visited but for her.

I also went to San Diego for the annual Comic-Con, and also to San Diego for a much smaller comics fest, and to Atlanta with a beautiful woman, and to New York to see clients and friends, and to New Jersey to see family and friends, and to Hawaii (a place I’d never wanted to visit, it being bereft of metropolis, but a place I really enjoyed nonetheless), and to St. Augustine, Florida on business with the added bonus of seeing my beautiful and smart daughter (and where, to her delight, we got to visit the Museum of Torture, which left me wincing, and also a 17th century Spanish army hospital, which also left me wincing) and to Denver with a good friend to see a show and drink some drinks, and probably other places too that now slip my mind.

In 2022, I turned 60. It was as much a surprise to me as it seemed to everyone who proclaimed nicely, “Sixty! Really? You look so young! I never would have guessed!” (And I don’t even pay these people.) I don’t know how I could be 60 when I still feel 34 inside, although every morning the mirror is happy to educate me on this subject.

My mother called me last week to say how much she enjoyed the Christmas gift I sent her (a Hickory Farms meat-and-cheese selection, she being happily a meat-and-cheese-eating lady of German extraction), and I said, “Mom, I’m 60! Can you believe I’m 60?”

She said, “Well, how old am I???”

I said, “Mom, you’re 97.”

“Ohhh, wow!”


She also told me that her leg hurt. “What did you do?”

“Oh, I had a shot of whiskey. Now it feels fine.”

Right-o. I come from good stock. The sort of stock where everything’s fine, we’ll all be okay, and no one should make a fuss.

And that’s my expectation of 2023 in general. Sure, I have my goals, and I also have my plans. But 60 years have taught me that you can control only so much, and that you can control almost nothing except yourself, and then not even enough of that. Still, one way or another, in general, everything’s fine and we’ll all be okay.

So: 2023. Here’s to it.

Dreams from this morning

December 17th, 2022

In the first, I’m with two other people who are waiting to work on some project with O., a woman I haven’t seen in person since 1995. She’s got some sort of scientific lab out in the woods — the sort you’d see on television or in a horror movie — and we’re now just inside, waiting in an industrial corridor outside a locked door that will lead farther inside. Finally, impatient as ever, I try the door and find that it’s now unlocked. I open it and call out, “Hello? Hello? O., are you ready? We’re coming in,” and I and my companions start to head down some steps into what looks like a large basement complex and see a figure — but it turns out to be a pizza delivery guy, who is leaving through a separate door farther back. Was O. waiting for the food to arrive until inviting us in? Or going to eat it before admitting us?

In the second, my friend B. has had surgery. Someone (I think his wife) has told me it’s gone well, but not to tell anyone. Now I’m in a recovery room of some sort, the type where you might find victims of a disaster who’ve gotten triage, and it’s filled with such people and their moans, and a woman in the far corner with a bandaged head says, “I just wish we had news about B.” I say, “Well, he’s out of surgery—“ and the woman sitting on my left, I think my friend Amy, nudges me to keep quiet, so I add, “— but that was days ago. My information is old. Sorry.” 

2:47 a.m.

December 1st, 2022

Yep, still awake.

And despite all attempts to be otherwise.

Sure wish I didn’t have to be up at 7.

By the way, I’m posting this in bed from my iPhone. Because why not?