Thursday, March 31, 2005

Whenever I miss New York, I try to remind myself not to glorify my time there. Yes, I had lots of fun living in Manhattan, but the city was freezing in winter, muggy in summer and dirty & dismal all year. Driving in LA traffic now is just as bad as commuting on subways then. At least here I’m in my own car, away from all those crazy people. But when I think back, I miss those NY nutjobs, too.

Like that guy who squeezed onto the crowded westside local and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, can I have your attention, please?!”

We all barely looked over. Just another pan-handler. He was wearing a baseball cap with googly antennae attached to it, and he carried a dented, rusty saxophone.

“I’m from Mars! My spaceship crashed here and I need get it fixed so I can go home. I will play you my planet’s national anthem until you give me some money to pay for the repairs.”

Gotta give the guy credit -- it was an original schtick.

“And I’m warning you: Martian music is terrible!”

He wasn’t kidding -- SQUAWWK! BLAPPPT! -- It was awful.

And we loved it. Everybody was cracking up. The visual was great, too, seeing this space alien about to burst a blood vessel blowing into this broken-old horn. KWEEESSCCH!

We all started to give him money -- compensating him for the entertainment, if not the flying saucer refurbishing -- when at the next stop, a transit cop came onto the train.

Nothing needed to be said. The guy backed off, stepping out of the subway car onto the platform. All the commuters groaned -- normally we’d appreciate not being solicited, but we had been enjoying this. Didn’t the officer have a sense of humor?

Just before the doors closed on our ear-splitting extra-terrestrial, the cop said to him, “Come back when you learn some Coltrane.”

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

This may get a little didactic -- not my style -- but perhaps the timing is right, with Terry Schiavo and all the talk about health issues. Maybe this has nothing to do with any of that. I’m just gonna say it anyway.

People, take care of yourselves. Of course, don’t do drugs or abuse alcohol. You know that.

But also, don’t fucking smoke. Eat right. Get some exercise. Stay healthy. Oh yeah, and… DON’T FUCKING SMOKE.

I’m not directing this at anyone in particular, but I can imagine the response: "Hey, Mike, mind your own business," someone might tell me. "I’ll do what I want. It’s my life."

That’s what I thought, too.

When I was a kid, I told my parents not to smoke. Showed them all the stats and photos of diseased lungs. Threw away their cigarettes. All it did was get them pissed off -- dammit, kid, get in the way of their nicotine fix one more time and we’ll see whose butt’ll get snubbed out. I could soon see I wasn’t gonna get them to quit; I was just giving myself aggravation, too. Hell with it, I decided. I’ll move out of this second-hand smoke-infested house soon enough and it won’t be my problem anymore.

Jump ahead 20something years. My mother is paralyzed, and somewhat mentally challenged, considering she lost a third of her brain to a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 63. My father died of a heart attack a year later. Maybe other factors contributed to this, but it’s not like puffing away on those coffin-nails for 40 years helped.

And guess whose problem it is now. Me and my sister have to take care of our mother and elderly grandmother, who used to be my parents’ responsibility.

I’m not mad at them for not listening to me; I just learned a lesson from all this. It’s why I try to be diligent about exercise and eating right, and get myself checked out thoroughly each year, considering the heart condition that runs in my family.

Hey, I could still get sick. I could also get hit by a runaway bus or squashed by a falling piano. And I won’t live my life in fear -- I’ll indulge in fattening foods, go out drinking now and then, sometimes I even sit too close to the TV -- but overall, if I can avoid obvious long-term health hazards… ounce of prevention…

Yeah, it’s your life. But you know what? It’s not just your life. Other people care about you -- even other bloggers -- and if something happens to you, we’re all affected.

We’re all gonna die someday. But why not postpone it? Do what you can to be healthy. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your family. And if you won’t do it for them… hell, do it for me.

Monday, March 28, 2005

My early years in Los Angeles, I actually lived in Beverly Hills. Not a fancy-schmancy house where I could borrow a cup of sugar from my neighbor, Aaron Spelling (and no, that wasn't an innuendo about his daughter Tori -- shudder). But in the 90212 area, in a nice apartment just south of Wilshire. It was still pretty expensive, but hey, it was safe and clean and quiet. I hated it.

One of my friends lived nearby. She loved it. She was a struggling film school graduate like me, but felt she should be enjoying the high-life, and insisted we eat at hoity-toity overpriced restaurants. (Twenty bucks for an omelet? It's a couple of fried eggs! Were they laid by a bird with botox injections or something?) I think she thought it would increase her chances of meeting some rich executive who'd buy her script, or buy her dinner, like Mike Ovitz or even Aaron Spelling (shudder).

I once managed to talk her into going to Larry Parker's restaurant, which was much more reasonably-priced. Still, only in Beverly Hills would the most basic diner be laden with celebrity status. Larry Parker was a famous personal injury attorney. The shyster must have been successful enough to open his own place, but every time I saw his snarling face in his TV ads declaring he'd get you the whiplash money you deserved, I thought of Lionel Hutz from the Simpsons: "Your Honor, I wanna declare this a bad court thingie..." You mean a mistrial. "Right. That's why you're the judge, and I'm just the law... talking guy..."

So while Larry Parker's had a standard greasy spoon menu, the joint wasn't without flavor. Pop culture images adorned the walls and the tables, and it had a jukebox that played videos on the TV monitors overhead. Although the music references spanned the decades since the '50s, for some reason the place became a hangout for the hip-hop crowd. Fine by me. My friend, too, once I lied and told her Tommy Mottola would often eat here. (I think this was after Mariah but before Thalia. Again -- shudder.)

The restaurant was pretty quiet at the time, so I was surprised when the waitress asked us nicely if we would move to an end table; she needed the open space for a guest who would be arriving soon. Sure, but what guest needed all this seating? Must be big, physically or otherwise...

"Oh, it's Hammer," she said.

MC Hammer? The guy who recorded that corny "You Can't Touch This" song? Got a generation of kids to wear balloon pants, made gajillions of dollars, then suffered a cultural backlash and went bankrupt?

This was a hip-hop hangout. Hammer's music was a national joke, especially in this era of gangsta rap -- I mean, did Dr. Dre or Ice Cube do Pepsi commercials? Did Tupac Shakur have a Saturday morning cartoon?

After we snickered to ourselves for a moment, I thought maybe we weren't being fair. Like in his "Addams Family Groove", Hammer did what he wanted to do, played how he wanted to play, danced how he wanted to dance... Perhaps he made some mistakes about money management, but this is America. A poor kid from the Bay area can make it big, hit rock-bottom, and perhaps rise up again. Especially if he's 2 Legit 2 Quit.

Our conversation was cut short by the cacaphony of a crowd coming in. At least 50 people pouring into the booths, and I just had trouble believing all those folks simply loved Hammer for his clever conversation. The man himself arrived, wearing black denim and watchcap, like he was the fifth member of N.W.A. So he'd gone gangsta now. But with that entourage and lack of street cred, he came off like some kinda "sucka MC".

Adding to the cheese factor, the waitress put Hammer's new song on the video jukebox. I hadn't heard it yet. Do you remember "Pumps and a Bump"? It made "Whoomp! There it is!" seem like Handel's Messiah, or Rapper's Delight. Up on the monitors was the video image of Hammer, gyrating poolside amidst bikini babes. This was the guy who sang about how "We have to pray just to make it today", now rapping about boobs and butts in an innuendo skimpier than that speedo he was wearing.

But all the people were into it and the waitress bopped to the beat as she brought our BLTs. Everyone was having a good time, including me and my friend, so I just hoped that Hammer could hinge his comeback on this "Rump Shaker" ripoff. That the Hammer hangers-on could stay on the payroll...

A few years later, Larry Parker's went out of business. Hammer's still around... if you count the first season of "The Surreal Life"... I lost touch with my friend after her quest to meet and date George Lucas turned into an unhealthy obsession. I moved into a cheaper apartment in Santa Monica, where it's dirty, noisy and sometimes unsafe. I love it here.

And whenever I find myself spending too much money, or if I'm, uh, "frontin'" and "trippin'" -- or trying too hard to use the hip vernacular, instead of just "keepin' it real" -- I think back to that day at Larry Parker's. All I have to do is invoke imagery of MC Hammer, whether in his genie pants... or that speedo. Shudder.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Gotta get back to drawing more cartoons. I mentioned before that I used to do little strips for a friend a couple of years ago, often parodying the latest movies that were coming out. Sometimes the films were so bad, I wondered what the hell the studios were thinking... [Click on images to enlarge 'em.]

If they wanted to produce awful crap, hell, I could make a few suggestions...

In conclusion: Must draw more. Movies often stink. Happy spring holidays.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Why do I hate Target?

Is it because it’s a big faceless Mart-strosity that ruins all the other small businesses? I heard that movie I [Heart] Huckabees had something to do with quirky characters protesting a similar franchise… but I didn’t see that flick, ‘cause I H8’d the cutesy title.

Around the same time the film opened, so did a new Target in West Hollywood, and everyone nearby was excited. The rash had spread to their neighborhood and they couldn’t wait to scratch.

Ahh, maybe I’m just being contrary. People love Target.

There were tons of shoppers at the one in Van Nuys last Saturday. I went ‘cause I needed a few things -- painted my apartment recently, and used up some sheets as drop-cloths, ruined my bath mat, and my alarm clock fell into a bucket of dark teal blue latex with an aqua matte.

Ooh, I could also use a new Yankees hat. And another coffeemaker. I only have four; this way I can go all week without washing out a single one.

No! I’m no impulse buyer. I won’t give into senseless consumerism.

I’m not the only one struggling with these decisions. A pretty young woman was quarrelling about kitchen appliances with her mother. The mom was gorgeous, too. Hot Mama was sayin’ that they didn’t need that blender. And Tight-Low-Rise-Jeans-Wearin’ Daughter was insisting it wasn’t that expensive.

I didn’t know exactly what they were saying -- and not because I was entertaining MILF and DILF fantasies -- they were speaking another language. Hmm, Portuguese? No, it was more guttural, lots of sh and cch sounds. Arabic, maybe. Such beautiful brunette babes, I bet they were Armenian.

I finally just asked, "Excuse me. What language are you speaking?" They looked at me strangely and said Hebrew. "Oh, that’s what I thought," I said. "Shabat shalom."

They smiled and laughed and wished me a happy Saturday/good Sabbath too. Now I was thinking out being the falafel in this family feast, within two slices of pretty pita. Ask ‘em, who’s your babaganoush?

Then I heard: "Mom, you don’t need those!"

"Don’t tell me what I can have! Mother, tell your granddaughter to stop bossing me around!"

It was in English. Angry English. My sister, mom and grandma. Three generations of crazy women snapping me back to reality. I love ‘em, but it ain’t easy listening to the argument du jour. Today it was whether to buy or not to buy, that is the question. It occurred to me that the only time I’ve been to this store -- spending an outrageous fortune -- is on our weekend get-togethers.

Ah yes. Now I know why I hate Target.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Chapter 5: Golden Deceiver

Dogs never get tired of playing fetch. Or tug-of-war. Baring their fangs, buried in a rag or a rope or whatever -- this is non-stop animal amusement. If a dog has its way, a tug-of-war could go on longer than Vietnam, the 100 Years War and the hype for the latest Star Wars movie combined.

I’d often find myself laying on my back, using minimal effort to entertain Max as he shoved his squeaky toy into my left hand and growled, demanding we go to battle again. Call me crazy -- or lazy -- but his slobbery mouth in my palm was not how I wanted to spend a Sunday afternoon. So I’d switch, put the toy in my right. Max -- being bred from a champion jumper -- would leap over me and try to snatch it back.

As spry as he was, I transfered the toy to my other hand faster. He’d leap over again, and a new game was born -- keep-away.

Back and forth. Back and forth. Max didn’t get bored with this either.

Until -- he stopped.

He took a moment, and looked upward, away from the object of his obsession. Max didn’t go anywhere; he was still in position to get the toy, but no, he was glancing away, off in the distance. So nonchalant.

“Oh, I guess you don’t want this anymore,” I said, and flexed the toy in a staccato -- Sq-sq-sq-sq-squeeeeak!

Max’s eyes turned in his head, trying not to look. Expressive eyebrows still feigning disinterest.

Though his nose was still pointed elsewhere, he didn’t fool me. All I had to do was watch the way his body weight shifted. It was subtle, but I could see him slowly, stealthily, lean on his haunches, back, back...

Pounce! He slammed onto my wrist, locking it down with his two front legs. My hand would sway wildly, but he had limited its range of motion. In a frantic flurry of fingers and fangs, Max came away with the squeaky toy.

Sure, I could’ve easily switched hands again, but the dog had worked so hard to match wits with his master. Look at him -- struttin’ around with his tail in the air on one end and his prized toy in mouth on the other.

The best part was, that swaggering would go on for a few minutes. I got to enjoy a little quiet time ‘til he’d shove his smug snout in my hand again, ready for round two.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Chapter 4: Pop and Pup

I wonder about telling all these anecdotes... maybe it’s not the manliest thing. Is it too "cutesy-wootsey" to write stories about dogs? Then again, Jack London did it. John Steinbeck, too. Is devoting this much attention to a pet something a tough guy would do?

Well, there was no one tougher than my father. Not to say he wasn’t sensitive, he just didn’t express it. Dad might acknowledge that the ending of It’s a Wonderful Life was heart-warming, but he was more likely to shed a tear when he missed hitting a trifecta in the ninth race at Belmont. If the ol’ man had an inner child, then that kid had a bad case of Tourette’s Syndrome.

"Ahh, fuck!" He’d say, "Mike, get this sonuvabitch the hell offa me."

Every night, Max would come over to my dad’s corner of the couch. Raise a paw to shake hands, then the other one, and then clamber up so that his chest was draped across my dad’s lap. Max knew he wasn’t allowed on the furniture (he slept on the floor in my room, never the bed); he just wanted to cozy up to the king of the castle.

The big misanthrope would put down the Daily Racing Form, snub out his half-smoked Salem, and patronize the pooch. "Awright, boy. Enough, you stupid dog." Give him a perfunctory pat on the head and then shove him off. For that moment, Max was happier than he’d been all evening.

I didn’t get it. I’d say, "Max, he doesn’t feed you. He doesn’t walk you. I don’t even think he likes you. Why do you bother?"

My dad shrugged and insisted Max recognized his inherent character. "The dog knows a good soul when he sees one."

Must be blind. That "good soul" wouldn’t let me go out late, just because I trashed that Buick Skylark two weeks after I got my license. Thing was a piece of shit anyway. And hey, I was a senior now, almost eighteen.

Wha’ever. I do wha’ I want!

But clandestinely. Had to wait ‘til everyone went to sleep before I could sneak out for all the cool parties. Quiet... put the shoes on outside... I was almost out the front door... when I spotted my dad in the living room.

I stopped, thinking he saw me... but he was in the middle of doing something. Something that was shocking to behold.

Dad was seated on the floor, petting Max, and telling him in a voice more sugary than he’s ever used on any of his kids: "Yes. You’re a noble beast. Aren’tcha? Yes, you are. A noble beast."

I don’t think I wound up going out that night. This was definitely better than any kegger or trying to score with chicks by sharing a bowl of jello vodka. I had learned why Max loved Dad so much.

The ol’ man was a closet wuss.

But with a dog like this, could you blame him?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Chapter 3: Sick as a Dog

Years after he was gone, my family would sit around and tell stories about our wonderful dog: Max was great, Max was cute, Max was funny...

My grandmother would say, “Max was dumb.”

She was then assaulted with a barrage of “No, he wasn’t!” and “Max was so smart!” and “Why would you say that?!”

I knew the reason why. It’s because of Grandma’s one distinct memory of him. I suppose it was hard to forget.

My parents had picked up my grandmother and brought her over the house for a visit. While they were gone, it seemed that Max had gotten into a bit of mischief. It wasn't apparent right away, but later they noticed that the bowl in the center of the coffee table was empty. It had been filled with rum balls.

So when my grandmother took a seat in the living room, Max came over to her with a strange expression on his face. The kind of look only a 70-pound dog could have after eating a half-pound of chocolate and alcohol.

I wasn’t actually there at the time; I was away for the summer. But I remember first hearing about it. I had called home collect from a phone booth, and asked how the family was doing. A moment later I fell on the floor of the booth, cracking up at what my mom had said:

“Max threw up in Grandma’s lap.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Chapter 2: Oy, Bad Boy!

Things are slightly different, being raised in a Jewish home, even for a dog.

For example, begging at the kitchen table is a bad habit, regardless of the household or the meal. But Passover dinner was a good time to teach our Kosher canine a lesson. We gave Max some of the bitter herb, which in the seder represents the hardships the Jews endured while enslaved in Egypt. For Max, it represented a rush to his water dish to get the taste of spicy horseradish out of his chops.

Other culinary indulgences were more enjoyable. It’s written somewhere in the Talmud that we members of the tribe must order Chinese food at least once a week. This meant an abundance of fortune cookies left over. My mom had a religious ceremony of feeding Max half a cookie every morning, reading him his fortune and then giving him the other half.

I failed to see how “Confucius say you will be productive and prosperous” applied to someone who chased his tail for hours on end, but yeah, it was real cute. Until we ran out of fortune cookies one day, and Max looked at my mom, confused, with his Mao Tse tongue hanging out.

And then there was Christmas time. Instead of staying home and dressing Max up as a reindeer like the Grinch did with his Max, we planned a family trip somewhere. Again, check the Torah on this -- Moses may have led his people to wander the desert for forty years, but I think they stopped off in Florida every winter.

But what to do with Max? Well, we could leave him with the breeder, who took dogs in all the time and was happy to do it. She was great; she had given me lots of helpful hints on successfully raising my puppy, housetraining him...

When we came over, she was delighted at how he had grown, what a good dog he was... Unfortunately, Max had never been at a house with a huge pine tree indoors. Poor little pooch didn’t get the concept of a Christmas tree, raised his leg, and took a piss all over the presents.

I looked at the breeder, shrugging apologetically. “Happy Hanukkah?”

Monday, March 14, 2005

I’ve written about my golden retriever a few times before. If I had kids, I probably wouldn’t talk about ‘em as much, ‘cause I doubt they’d be as cute or loyal. All this week, it’s...

Chapter 1: You Ain’t Seen Nuthin’ Yet

He just wanted to play. With everyone and anyone... and anything.

I don’t think Max even planned to hurt a cat when he chased it into the bushes. No, he simply wanted to romp and frolic, even if that scaredy-cat had its claws sharp and ready to shred him to ribbons, even if I was yelling no, even if the big goofball was choking himself on one end of the leash, yanking my arm off on the other.

He did the same thing when I spotted on someone’s lawn: “Look, Max, a garden snake -- whoa!” Had to hold the schmo back as he lunged at the thing which was slithering away, undoubtedly in terror of the drooling furry Frankenstein.

Max once looked up at me with those puppy dog eyes -- why didn’t the carpenter ants on the porch want to play with him? Uh, ‘cause you just squished your new pals with your big ol’ paws, schmuck.

Once in a while he did get to cavort with other dogs, but that usually ended in disaster. My uncle brought over his old mutt one brisk autumn day. Max wasn’t even a year old yet; she was old enough to be his grandmother, but hardly provided any kind of mature guidance.

We left the dogs in the backyard and in no time, she gave Max a crash-course on how to dig. He hadn’t done that before, but by the end of the day, the two of ‘em turned our backyard into Swiss cheese. Holes everywhere. From then on, the lawn was a field of detonated landmines.

And Max taught the old dog new tricks. He showed her that it’s fun to swim in our pool anytime of the year. A couple of fluffy beasts looking like drowned rats. And as they shook themselves off, I got a double dose of drenched doggie dowsing.

Following that afternoon, we headed into a rainy fall, and I felt like I spent the entire season drying Max off before he came into the house. Big tough hunting dog was scared chickenshit of the noisy hairdryer, so I had use up three towels on all that fur. That didn’t do the trick; he’d still roll around on the carpet, trying to get a smell back into his perpetually wet nose.

I’d just gone through this ritual a couple of times one stormy night, and then the crazy dog wanted to go back out again. Hell if I was gonna take him for a walk in that downpour; he could have run of the backyard, but he’d better enjoy it for a while.

Ten minutes later, I heard some barking. Too bad, Poochie, you’re not getting in so soon. But I started feeling guilty, poor dog stuck in that deluge. His barks almost sounded different, maybe because the wind was howling louder than him and the rain was battering the living room window.

I looked outside and saw a four-legged figure standing outside. In the gloomy storm, it wasn’t entirely clear, but... that wasn’t Max. Similar, but with dark brown fur. Maybe the wind blew down a section of the fence and one of the neighbor’s dogs got in the yard. I didn’t know there was a chocolate Labrador retriever in the neighborhood. Now I knew why Max was so anxious to go outside -- he made a new friend.

“Hey, buddy, where’d you come from?” I shouted at the window.


Wait a minute. That was Max. Covered in mud. The doofus had been digging in the yard again. In the rain, the dirt was probably loose enough for him to make it to China. They could have him.

He looked at me with his doggie smile, so pleased with himself in blackface. “Glad you’re havin’ fun, Al Jolson,” I said, walking away.

Minstrel Max didn’t need any animal friends. He could stay outside and keep himself entertained.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

My buddy Bags lives four blocks away, but we hadn’t hung out in a while, so I called him up and we met at the Thai place up the street. Over dinner, we reminisced about the great writing gig where we met, the crappy corporate peon work we’ve endured, and the good ol’ days, when we were both on the dole and could spend all afternoon guzzling coffee and reminiscing about jobs we didn’t have anymore.

Then we talked about what we were writing these days, and Bags said he’s just finished a script for a short film he plans to direct. He told me the idea; I said it sounded cool. Great, he said, did I want to be in it?

What, like an extra or something?

No, he tells me he wants me to play the lead. Was he shitting me? He gets me the script -- the character’s name is Mike. And his last name is similar to mine. Bags said my name sounded right for the guy; he just hoped I would wanna do it. He wrote the damn thing with me in mind. How could I say no?

I won’t go into too many details, in case this thing makes a splash at Sundance and I’d lose anonymity, but it’s an interesting short. The character has no dialogue, but he’s in every scene, reacting to it all. There’s a scene that makes use of his shaved head -- was that why he cast me? But that’s not entirely vital to the role. Bags said, “You’ve got this great expressive face.” Nice one, Mr. DeMille, prop up your actor like a good director.

I’m excited; it’ll be a blast. But what’s weird is that I didn’t set out to do any acting. My dream job is to be behind the camera -- write, hopefully direct, maybe produce... yet every now and then I get cast in things, and I swear, I never even had to sleep with the director... I've done some low-budget direct-to-video schlock or independent shorts. Bags has seen my work, as well as the indie feature I produced several years ago. Considering we made it for no money, it turned out pretty well, went to some festivals...

That's me on the set with the editor (looking through our 16mm camera). He and I produced the film with the director, with whom I wrote the script. Oh yeah, I played one of the leads in that film, too. Maybe I oughta rethink these career goals of mine...

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

"Girl Scout cookies on my ledge -- come and get ‘em!"

Takes about 5 seconds for these all-exchange-user e-mails to lure the cubicle critters away from their computers and caravan down to the corner office. Gathered together, people show restraint -- just one or two, thank you. But when no one’s lookin’, poof! Magic? No. Remember, matter is never created or destroyed, it’s converted into energy, or transferred into the partner’s fat ass by next week.

Each day the feeding ground is a new ledge location, the bait a new variety -- Tagalongs, Double Dutch Chocolate Chip, Low-fat Lemon Cookies... Everyone buy boxes and boxes but nobody wants to eat ‘em all. So they share, and then have enough of everyone else’s to make up for what they gave away. Actually, it’s kind of like a commune, a cookie kibbutz, if you will...

The thing that bugs me, though, isn’t the inevitable gluttony that comes every spring, it’s the fact that I haven’t seen a single Girl Scout selling these things. A cute wide-eyed tyke full of hopes and dreams telling us that we could help her troop go to Space Camp or whatever... who could resist? We’d all buy more than just a few boxes. It’d certainly be a more effective sales strategy than having their uncle or babysitter’s mother go around with the sign-up sheet. Reluctantly, I bought my Thin Mints from Ramon the copy guy.

I realize it’s hard in our society for kids to get around, go door to door like the old days, but things have gone too far. Perhaps the socialization of cookie-sharing is a good by-product of all this, but it turns my stomach to see that today, Girl Scouts are outsourcing their services, too.

Friday, March 04, 2005

How did I become such a pack rat? I used to move around so much, I never accumulated anything. Possessions are fleeting, I used to say. Now, my motto seems to be, "gotta save these, I might need 'em later."

Thing is, I've been living in the same place for a while, but the rest of my family was in transit, and all my stuff I stored with them came back to me. So my home has become a warehouse for... CRAP!

Why did I keep this old term paper I wrote at 3 in the morning on a typewriter (not a word-processor, mind you, a typewriter, so I couldn't make too many mistakes or move paragraphs around) about books I never entirely read... and got a 100 on it?! To prove I can bullshit a pretentious professor who raved about my work? Or to show that I was robbed of an education? (Actually, my mom -- a PhD on the subject -- got annoyed that I got away with that, and graded the paper herself... begrudgingly gave me an A-. Ha.) INTO THE TRASH!

What's with this -- every version of a screenplay I rewrote over and over because the producer attached had no idea what he wanted from the project but promised we'd get Bruce Willis and Antonio Banderas to star if I just tweaked that scene in the second act... again? ADIOS MUCHACHOS!

These notes on my gangster script, with biographies of everyone in this mob family, going back to the old country? ARRIVERDECI ROMA!

The list goes on and on. Folders of e-mail exchanges, magazines and articles, pages and pages of research about earthquakes, horse racing, assault weapons, baseball legends, Governor's Island, hurricane formations... trust me, this would make a great movie... BYE-BYE AND BUY BONDS!

And what about these old notebooks from high school and college and grad school? Like I need to keep all the details about Thaddeus Stevens or Planck's Constant, or Preston Sturges? Of course, every other page is filled with cartoons I drew when bored in class. Hey, some of these aren't half bad... hmm...

Better save these, I might need 'em later.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The comments on my last post inspired this one. I was reminded of a little episode from my college days.

There was a place in our neighborhood called Tom's Restaurant. It was the setting for Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner" (or the re-mix with DNA), and the exterior served as an establishing shot for the diner in Seinfeld. (Though the interior was filmed on a sound stage on Warner Bros. studios in beautiful downtown Burbank.)

Late one night, my friend and I went in to that 24-hour joint, amid our bar-hopping, desperately in need of rehydrating. We weren't gonna just ask for some water, so we went to the counter and ordered big glasses of OJ. Might as well get some vitamins and potassium to prevent that hangover in the morning.

The man behind the counter muttered something to a waiter. Pardon the cliche, but it was all Greek to me. A moment later, I learned what he had said was, "These damn rich college kids come in here and all they order is orange juice."

How did I know? I was whispered a translation by my friend --Ted Papadopoulos, who was born in Athens, but his family moved to New Jersey when he was five.

Ted told the man, "Don't worry, we'll be back in the morning for a huge breakfast." Except he said it in Greek, and we watched the guys turn redder than the ketchup bottles they were consolidating.

We all dined at Tom's lots of times during those college years. The food was good, and the staff was actually pretty nice. Especially since -- thanks to Ted -- we avoided any secret smack talk at my big fat Greek setting.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Last week I went to Schatzi on Main -- that’s the Governator’s restaurant. I’d been there before for dinner and drinks, but never for this event called the Alpine Mixer. I met up with my friend, who’s back from Germany for a visit. When she was living in LA, she would do this thing somewhat regularly.

I suppose it was fun for her to mingle with other people who sprechen sie Deutsches. Just like her, the folks at the joint spoke perfect American English -- passing me, saying, “Hey, how’s it goin’, man?” or “Hi, nice to meet you...” -- then they’d see her and start rattling away in that guttural “Alles klar, Herr Kommissar?

Now, I know this is reactionary and unfair. And it probably has more to do with me, and my long family history from decades ago... not to mention seeing too many Hollywood WWII movies... plus, chalk it up to my usual tendency to feel like an outsider, even among a fine, friendly group of people...

But I couldn’t help but imagine I was an undercover Jewish double-agent infiltrating the Gestapo’s meeting of German spies. I mean, half these guys reminded me of Peter Graves in Stalag 17.

I still had a great time, but... Ach du lieber! Was ist dieses?

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