Wednesday, June 29, 2005

It's been a while since I posted a cartoon, and I thought I'd create something new. But I'm rusty and I dashed this out quickly, so pardon my scribbliness. Click here for a larger version -- it might look better. Or worse. SMN

Monday, June 27, 2005

Two of the many things I’ve been juggling lately: job search and family schtuff. As Homer Simpson would say, “I'm like that guy who single-handedly built the rocket and flew to the moon. What was his name? Apollo Creed?”

Still trying to land that TV writing gig in Santa Monica -- get paid to be creative, and only a mile away from home? Because it would be so cool, I was willing to jump through hoops.

A couple of weeks ago they wanted me to come in for an interview, but I didn’t find out right away because that was the day my grandmother and uncle died. When I got back to the woman at the job, she suggested that maybe this was bad timing for me. Bullshit -- I wanted to make this happen. I raced over to their office before I got ready to go back east. That meeting went great -- they gave me a copy of the show, asked me to write up some clever dialogue and voice-overs for it. So I took my laptop with me to New York. I was scribbling notes on the plane, left the family gatherings early to type it all up… took over my cousin’s computer and e-mailed it out, along with some writing samples (including some stories from the blog). Since they rushed me with a Friday deadline, I thought I’d hear something the next week, but nah, Mikey’s gotta twist in the wind for a while.

Finally, they asked me to go in for a second interview with the executive producer… where I learned the position was part-time. Huh? News to me. Can’t quit my day job for that, sorry. But they said they loved my submission and had some writing they needed done on nights and weekends and I acted super-enthusiastic to do it. Though, to be honest, I didn’t get such a great vibe from the place. Do I really wanna script this shallow shit? Well, yeah. I mean, I’m confident I can write for any TV show, find the creative challenge anywhere, but do they know that? Ahh, who knows anything? Maybe I’ll still wind up working there…

All this got me on an emotional rollercoaster. Excitement about new possibilities, mixed with my mental bluesman singin' his ballad: Why can’t it woik out for po’ Mikey? Onliest big changes in his life is when kinfolk get sick an' die... Then out comes the pity police telling me to suck it up, maggot. Boo fuckin’ hoo...

Meanwhile I was planning a memorial for my grandmother. A nice informal tribute -- a lot of people showed up, we read some prayers, ate way too much food (shrimp with lobster sauce -- Grandma’s favorite), told some funny anecdotes about her…

grndma2 copy
I mentioned that to me, she was simply the sweetest little old lady. Above is a photo from before I was even born -- that baby is my big sister. That’s how I always knew Grandma, doing things like knitting me stuff -- not ugly dorky sweaters, mind you, cool-lookin’ ones that girlfriends wanted to steal from me.

Or a classic situation was when she’d come over for the holidays with her home-baked goodies. My favorites were these white meringue cookies with chocolate chips. Everyone knew I went crazy for ‘em, so they’d snatch the tin out of her hands: “Don’t let Michael bogart the Grandma Whites!” As soon as they were gone, she’d whisper, “Michael, here,” revealing a second container. “I baked a special stash just for you.”
grndma1 copy
But it occurred to me that this woman had a full life long before I was around. Born in 1914 -- that’s the same year World War I broke out. She lived through the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, World War II… then in the 1950s her husband died and she had to raise 3 kids on her own. No help from her relatives. Grandma had to take on extra jobs without much experience. Hell, she had to learn how to drive a car for the first time… in her 40s. But somehow she did it.

rusnew copy
And if I thought she had it hard, one of our family members found this photo of her grandparents. Taken in Russia around the turn of the 20th century, it may be the oldest photo of my family. My great-great-grandparents are seated in the middle, with nine of their ten kids. The mustached guy second from the right is Grandma’s father.

Like many young Jewish men at the time, he was conscripted into the Tsar’s army. But the guy was no soldier. He fell asleep on guard duty and got thrown in prison. There, the Russkies discovered his real talents -- as a tailor. So they sent him off to make uniforms for the military. Since he was assigned to a lower security work detail, he was able to escape, and worked his way and walked west through Europe until he made it across the pond to Ellis Island.

He settled in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where he started one of the first and most successful department stores. He became a very wealthy man… until his partner swindled him and bankrupted the company. The partner went to jail, and my great-grandfather, humiliated, left town and moved to Newark, where he started over again, and raised three kids, the oldest being my grandmother.

Talk about emotional rollercoasters.

I’ve never been a proponent of reassuring someone who’s down by comparing their woes to those less fortunate. Sure, you’re not getting shot at in Iraq, or starving in Africa. But you’re still entitled to be a bit disappointed if you got your third speeding ticket this week and they’re impounding your Hyundai or you discover that your girlfriend is schtupping your chiropractor or something.

I guess the point is to keep it all in perspective. Or maybe the point is that if you persevere, while recognizing the importance of family, things will somehow work out.

Or maybe, as Homer would say, there is no point. Just a buncha stuff that happened.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Bags, aka R*affi, had this e-mail exchange with me regarding his short film:

Bags: Yo Mike, do you mind if I use your face on the cover of the DVD? Here's a mock-up...

Michael: Go ahead, but my mopey mug ain't gonna move 'em off the video shelves.

B: The Swedish women's bikini team just ordered a dozen copies based solely on the one-sheet.

M: Why you buttering me up? What, you need me for reshoots or something?

B: No, I'm almost done with the mix. By the way, I'm billing you as your character name: "Michael Mark*ham as himself". That way you can keep your anonymity when you talk about the film on your weblog.

M: Aha. That's your angle.

B: Hey, we could use the publicity...

M: Okay dude, but I think you overestimate my readership.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Conjunctivitis, what’s your function?

I’ve got pink eye. It’s a bit gruesome. Wanna see? Don’t look at this if you’re squeamish. I can’t look ‘cause my eyeball hurts. Otherwise, I feel okay. The rest of me is, well, in the pink. I’ll be fine soon... or wear an eyepatch. Arrgh, Mateys. Arrgh.

It's always something, eh?

Doc gave me a prescription, but I haven’t met my lousy insurance deductible, so I had to lay out the fifty bucks myself... for a tiny little bottle of eye-drops. I expect this medication to make me better fast... and give me X-ray vision.

Friday, June 17, 2005

What's the story, Morning Glory?

Here's one for ya:

Many years ago, I was employed as a production assistant on movies, music videos and commercials. It's shit work -- running around and getting lighting equipment or buying fried chicken dinners for the crew and cat food for the director's pets (or sometimes vice versa).

One job was on a McDonald's commercial. There's a fake restaurant out in Pomona where they film half the ads you see on TV. The weirdest part isn't being on a sterile non-working fast-food kitchen set, prepping the tastiest looking fries you've ever seen and never eaten... it's going into the men's room and having Ronald McDonald at the next urinal. When he's in costume and make-up, he's contractually obligated to stay in character -- upbeat and friendly -- even when he's pissing two feet away from you. I've said it before, folks, when the schvantz comes out, the mouth should stay shut... especially if the latter is covered in red makeup (and who knows, maybe the former, too). I don't remember the conversation he was trying to make, but thank goodness he didn't say, “Super-size me.”

The best thing about these jobs was the other production assistants. Fellow writers or actors trying to make some bucks while they try to make it. Usually we knew more about the biz than our bosses. Most PAs were hard-working, ambitious talented up-and-comers. Or at least they were good for a few laughs.

Like Lou. Pretty-boy actor -- he kinda resembled Peter Facinelli -- with more looks than brains.

We were at the production office for the Mickey D's gig. Lou asked me to help guide him as he maneuvered the tremendous camera truck out of the parking lot.

He needed to make a three-point turn. So I was waving him back to give him room to go forward. Using just hand signals: Back, back... yeah, keep coming... okay he was getting close to another car... I put up my hand in the “halt” gesture.

Lou kept going in reverse. I made the fist gesture -- was that the signal for stop? But he kept on coming... Giant ten-ton truck looming in on a fiberglass station wagon... closer, closer...

I had been silent up 'til then 'cause it was summertime, and the windows to the production office were open to stay cool. I figured the others in the office didn't need to hear me shouting directions over the truck's noisy motor. But by now, all the paper-shufflers heard the truck continuously backing up: Beep, beep, beep, and then: “Stop! Dammit, Lou, STOP!” and then: CRUNNNCH!

Lou finally stopped, with the truck pressed up against the back of the wagon. The rear window stayed intact, but the glass splintered into a panel of jagged criss-crossing lines.

The production team rushed out to see the commotion, especially with me and Lou going ballistic on each other:

“Lou! Didn't you see me telling you to stop?”


“You didn't see me going like this? Or like this?” I frantically re-made my open-palm halt and closed fist gestures. I dunno, maybe the international hand signals for ‘stop’ is your thumb up your ass...

Lou said, “As I started to turn, I couldn't see you in my side mirror. You gotta make sure I can see you, Mike.”

“Gee, I'm sorry, Lou. I was too busy keeping my eye on the ever-closing gap between you and the car. Guess I was hypnotized by your impending demolition derby here...”

And then the owner of the car rushed over. The director.

“What the fuck did you assholes do to my new Volvo?!”

KSSSSSSH! The glass panel finally disintegrated, cascading into a million shards.

Amazingly we didn't get fired. Maybe it was because while we apologized, we also pointed out that it wouldn't have happened if the lazy-ass self-important director hadn't left his vehicle parked illegally in the handicapped spot.

Lou and I just had to drive the busted up car to Beverly Hills Volvo, get the director a new loaner. Five minutes into the drive, I was still rattled by our recent fiasco, but Lou just started cracking up.

“You shoulda seen the look on your face, Mike. You were all, ‘Didn't you see me telling you to stop?!’” Lou imitated my anguished expression, contorting his mouth and furrowing his brow. “‘Didn't you see me going like this? Or like this?’”

I gotta say it was kinda funny, seeing the actor's impression of me. Then he stuck out his tongue and did an exaggerated version of my hand signals: open palm, closed fist, heavy metal horns, middle finger extended, jerk-off gesture...

“Hey, watch it!” I said, still chuckling. His hands were off the steering wheel and the car was swerving into another lane. Two accidents in one hour?

“Have it your way.” Lou grabbed the wheel and cut the Volvo onto a side street.

As he pulled into a parking lot, I glanced at my watch. Yeah, we had hours to kill, plenty of time for a little detour.

“‘Have it your way’ was Burger King's slogan,” I said, getting out of the car. “We're working for McDonald's.” I tried to think of their ad campaigns.

As we left the demolished Volvo and walked toward into the establishment -- “Crazy Girls Topless Gentleman's Club” -- I suddenly remembered an oldie but a goodie:

“You deserve a break today.”

Thursday, June 16, 2005

We just had an earthquake here. Not too big -- 5.3. Still, I felt the whole place swaying back and forth. I thought it was just me having flashbacks from last night's margaritas.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Short list of simple pleasures from Long Island:

● Local TV and newspapers (since when did Newsday become such a rag?) have lots of coverage of the Yankees. Great, except it’s all about how much they suck this year.

● My cousin has two excellent retrievers. One is a Labrador named Oakley, so named ‘cause they picked him up in Oakland. I call him Shadow, ‘cause he’s a big black thing that follows you everywhere. My cousin sic’ed him on me one morning, but I was too cranky for the happy slobbery hairy thing. “Stop bothering me. Get outta here!” A second later, he was gone. Total silence again. When I woke an hour later, he sprung up from the foot of the bed -- he’d been quietly waiting for me. Weird -- I said the same thing to a chick once and got a completely different reaction. Frankie, the Golden, is 12 years old and falling apart. Poor girl can’t even climb the stairs. It probably doesn’t help that my cousin feeds her bagels, making the pooch such a porker. Still, you haven’t seen anything so funny ‘til you witness her excitedly waiting for a bagel, doing the Fat Dog Bad Hip Shuffle.

● My other cousin has a dog, too. A boxer. Imagine taking a bacon double cheeseburger with the works and chucking it against a wall, watching it ooze down in a trail of grease and special sauce… That’s what this dog looks like. He’s ugly and too rambunctious, but I still liked ol’ Meatface.

● I saw a cardinal. Yeah, so what? Well, we don’t have them out in LA. Both coasts have crows and sparrows and doves (above is one of those doity filthy boids outside my home), but it’s been years since I’d seen a cardinal or blue jay except for baseball games.

● Speaking of which, I went to Shea Stadium. Interleague. Sat 10 rows behind the home dugout. Ishii pitched well for 5 innings until the Angels started clobbering the ball. Wasn’t just his fault; Mets’ defense was terrible. In fact, their whole team stinks. Almost as much as… yup, the Yankees. They got shut out by the Cardinals (see how I came full circle with the bird theme?).

● Still, the day wasn’t a total loss. At the park, I had Nathan’s hot dogs and French fries, and Carvel ice cream. I did it purely for the nostalgia. Last week I didn’t go hungry for a second. See, at a wake perhaps you drink drink drink, but my people pay our last respects by noshing on platter after platter of cold cuts and knishes. Our hearts are empty but our stomachs are full. Full of gout-inducing Jewish soul food.

● I visited my old neighborhood. Hadn’t been back in 8 years. All the new people there had fixed up their houses. I visited the one of the only original neighbors still left -- their interior still looked the same, decorated in ‘70s and ‘80s furniture… there was that same piano she gave me lessons on when I was little… Outside, the trees seemed to be in fuller bloom than before. And at least there were some trees left. The surrounding areas used to be wooded and undeveloped… which only allowed us kids to develop all sorts of scary ideas of what lurked there… Now, every acre seemed to have a new colonial or split-level ranch. What do kids get scared of today? Inflated real estate prices?

Still, as much as I enjoyed visiting the ol’ stomping grounds, it was good to get back to Cali back to Cali. Outside my home, there’s plenty of ugliness and beauty too.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

"Hey, zis Honoria? [pronounced like gonorrhea] Yeah, it’s Sal. Who ya think is callin’? Whattaya think I’m doin? Tryin’ to get da fuck outta New Yawk. Get back home an’ go in my fuckin’ pool. So dja heahh? Some muthafuckas broke inta my house the otha night. Nahh, that’s okay, they caught da pieces o shit. Cops’ll take care o’ dehhr asses."

And what Sal doesn’t know is that the guy sitting next to him at JFK airport is transcribing his loudmouth cellphone conversation.

New Yorkers… You can’t make this shit up. You should see my family.

Well, I suppose they’re my family. But after spending the first hour with them on Long Island, I thought: There’s no way I’m related to these people. I don’t look like ‘em, don’t act like ‘em, don’t talk like ‘em… and I’m positive I don’t think like ‘em. Then again, I’m not the only one of us to ask: How did a bunch of east-coast Jews get such a large contingent of white trash?

One of my cousins shared with me the same question, and then she added, "but after a while they grow on ya." That’s true, too. I have dozens of first cousins and first-once-removed… I lose track. Some disappear for decades… and when these weirdos come out of the woodwork at family gatherings, well, let’s just say they make for interesting character studies. I may elaborate later. But I like the cousins we’ve stayed in touch with. Equally bizarre, but they’ve been "oh my gawd, awesome, hy-fuhhkin’-sterical".

This is my dad’s side of the family, the ones dealing with my uncle’s funeral. The story regarding my grandmother, my mother’s mother… well, there is none right now. My uncles (Mom’s brothers) said Grandma wanted to be cremated, but that was news to me, my sister and Mom. I could’ve sworn Grandma had a plot next to her husband (who died before I was born) in New Jersey. Turns out his relatives owned the land and since they didn’t like her -- which I find extremely baffling, considering she was the sweetest, most non-offensive woman I’ve ever known -- they gave the plot away… or something… I dunno. Confused yet? Wait, there’s more…

My uncle also explained that since Grandma outlived most of her friends and contemporaries, and the few other family members are spread out all over the country, and that we’re not religious or sentimental people ("we celebrate life, not death"), and since everyone already had "closure" with Grandma… having a traditional service or gathering in her memory wasn’t immediately necessary and could wait ‘til we all got together again in a couple of weeks.

Sound like bullshit to you? Yeah, me too. But my uncle’s a great guy, even when he’s schpieling schpurious schpecious schmaltz. So for a variety of reasons, my sister and I decided not to create a family fight about this unceremonious brush-off. We’d go out east and think good thoughts about Grandma while we mourned my father’s brother. After all, his funeral arrangements weren’t half as complicated.

Or so I thought. Here was the very first conversation I heard when I joined the crazy cousins:

"Daddy wanted to be buried in the Jewish cemetery."

"He was in the Navy, served in Korea. He could have a free burial in the military graveyard."

"First of all, that’s all the way out on exit sixty-eight, okay?"

"So? You don’t wanna do it ‘cause it’s an lousy half-hour drive on the L.I.E.?"

"No. That’s not the main thing…"

"Hell, take Nawthin State, it’s even fastah."


"You want, I’ll drive the fuckin’ hearse to the VA cemetery."

"Will you let me finish?"

"Fine, what?"

"Daddy hated the Navy!"

"Oh yeah."

"Now gimme the numbah for Beth Shalom."

The funeral for my uncle was a well-done, dignified affair. The eulogy talked about his quirks -- many of which were like my dad. They mentioned his catchphrase, which they applied to his attitude about life: "This is delicious."

Some of the talk was heartfelt, some was euphemistic, a positive take on underlying tension within his clan. Made me thankful that my nuclear family was comparatively much less (sorry to use this meaningless word) dysfunctional. I just tried to think about Grandma.

But you know what was really running through my head?

The whole time I was walking through the graveyard, looking at the tombstones: Schwartz, Finkelstein, Grossman, Goldblatt… I began to imagine a new take on the old horror movie formula: Jewish Cemetery Zombies! "Oy, get back here, ya schmendrick! Lemme nosh on your brain! I don’t care if it’s not Kosher. Vhat?! It’s not enough of a shanda I’m walking the earth again with my bad hip? Where you goin’ bubbalah? Oh, Mr. Not-so-Undead is too good to visit his decaying flesh-eating great aunt Sylvia?!"

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


My grandmother died last night. She passed away in her sleep. 91 years old.

Once I heard the news, I did everything I could last night -- arranged a few things and made lots of calls, mostly leaving messages. I told my mom in person, and she handled it well.

When I got back home, I couldn't sleep, so I dug out some old photos of Grandma... I was gonna write a little about her... but finally got tired again and went to bed.

Then about an hour ago, my sister finally got back to me -- our uncle died this morning. He was 73.

My mother's mother and my father's brother.

We're all sad, but not devastated. Both of these things were expected. Grandma was in and out of the hospital all year, and in the last few months became extremely frail. Even when I talked to her last weekend, though she sounded fine, she alluded to being ready to go.

And my uncle had lymphoma, like his father, his oldest brother and younger sister. Though my aunt survived the chemo, it wasn't working for him, and it was only a matter of time. We knew this -- my sister was back east to see him one last time.

I had seen my uncle a couple of years ago; he stayed with me when he was in town for my dad's headstone unveiling. The similarities between the two brothers was uncanny -- loud, funny Bronx boys with tremendous hands. I couldn't find a picture of my uncle, so I hope it's not too weird to show this one of Dad and Grandma, from about 20 years ago.

upstny copy

Friday, June 03, 2005

Recent conversations with friends reminded me of old conversations with my dad:

When he and my mom first moved, he told me he liked Vegas, that the new surroundings were a welcome change from the cold weather of New York. Not to mention that damn bumper-to-bumper Long Island Expressway… And can you believe what those bastards at LILCO were charging to light the house? Here, it was warm all year ‘round and there’s no state tax in Nevada…

Yeah, yeah. I waited ‘til we were away from my mom and asked him what he really thought. He sighed, checked no one was listening and said, “What the hell are we doing out in the desert? Jews don’t belong in the desert. The Negev, maybe. Maybe. Otherwise, Jews belong in a cold shtetl eating pastrami sandwiches and washing it down with a Dr. Brown’s cream soda.” Way to fight the stereotype, Pops. “Do you know,” he said, “most of these supermarkets don’t carry halvah?”

Somehow he adjusted though. Before long, the curmudgeon was notorious around town, leaving a wake of people stunned and often bemused by his in-your-face attitude. I’d go run an errand for him -- say to the car dealership or the pharmacy, wherever -- mention I was Harvey’s kid and their face would light up. “Oh, your father… what a character.” Then they’d relate their bizarre encounter with the old man.

I was there for one such interaction. We were going to visit one of his buddies from the sports book, a professional gambler who just moved into a gated community. We were going over so the two handicappers could bicker about the best method to bet the Pick Six at Pimlico.

Dad drove up to the gate and told the security guard his buddy’s name. The guard, who was maybe in his late 50s, didn’t hear him, so my father repeated himself. The guard said, oh, okay, sorry, and joked that he was getting hard of hearing.

“Yeah, you’re getting old!” Dad took a drag on his cigarette. “When you get old, the hearing goes, your eyes start to go… Tell me: How’s your dick?”

I was mortified. I just hoped my father’s seniority made this joke okay… But it was more in the way he said it. A real Bronx flippancy in the tone…

The guard laughed. He said, “Well, now, that’s working just fine.”

“And that’s all that’s important.” Dad exhaled smoke through his nose.

As we drove on, I peeked in the rear-view at the guard. He was still chuckling.

Then I turned back and looked at my dad. Somehow he just made yet another friend. The misplaced Jew in the desert did it again.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I was comparing prices on the DVD of Seinfeld. Order from Amazon, where it's cheaper but you pay for shipping, or sign up for the bookstore first-time (for the 10th time) discount, or risk it being scratched from the second-hand audio-video store where all the high school kids spend their summer job trying to look shockingly weird, yet I just wanna tell Pierce-Fetish Girl with the pincushion face and Tattoo Boy with the scrawny gangrenous arms not to waste their minimum wages on frivolous body adornments.

Then it occurred to me -- fuck Jerry Seinfeld. I'm not giving him any of my money. He'd just blow it on another car. So what if the fourth season was when it got really good? I can see the reruns on every stinking cable channel for free, or whatever travesty Adelphia is charging me now.

But back to Seinfeld -- fellow Long Islander transported to LA, but he spends his fortune on a stupid car collection, buncha hunks of metal and fiberglass that sit in his airplane-hangar-sized garage and just get rubbed with a diaper. His Maserati can't go thru a bottleneck on the 405 any faster than anyone else. Might as well drive a Ford Fiestavus like the rest of us. Shit, if I had his money, I'd buy me a big ass hoopty and pay some out-of-work actor without a SAG card but with a clean license to chauffeur me around so I could sit in the back with a laptop and work on my TV pilot (but more likely blog) from the road.

Or I'd buy up all the land around my apartment -- I wouldn't move out of this rent-controlled place -- no, I'd just bulldoze the neighbors so I could look straight out at the sky and palm trees. No obstruction from other rooftops, covered with antennae and satellite dishes reminding me of the poorly-serviced utilities, getting rich off of reruns of Seinfeld, and putting residuals in his pocket too, while I'm debating about a lousy 35 buck DVD set.

Man, I hate the first of the month. Too many bills to pay.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by