Saturday, December 31, 2005

Quick run-down of my trip:

My pal Mike broke his foot doing something extreme -- stepping out of his apartment (that's how Evel Kneivel did it too, I'm sure). So Mike suggested that maybe I shouldn't come up and hang out w/him in Portland. He'd have a cast on and need to be on crutches or in a wheelchair; it'd be hard to get around. I said if I can wheel my mom places all the time, I could certainly handle the big gimp, too. But forget me handling him as gently. I had fun rolling Mike down hills, speeding him into brick walls, pushing him down a flight of stairs...

Like when we visited Portland's gorges with the waterfalls and cliffs, or went up to Fort Vancouver, Washington so I can say I crossed the border into a new state. I did the same a few months ago, going from West Virginia into Kentucky. Now I only have about a dozen states left to see. Watch out, North Dakota.

Powell's bookstore (like on the wool hat I sometimes wear) is awesome. I woulda bought ten times more stuff than I did, but that woulda meant schlepping it in my suitcase. I don't mind heavy reading, but prefer light traveling.

We hung out a lot w/Mike's high school friend Mike and his cool wife and adorable kid. The 3 Mikes tried to see Munich, but it was sold out, so I had to see King Kong again. Freaked me out the second time, too.

And Mike's family welcomed me like one of their own. His grandfather was a sweet guy who looks like James Cromwell -- which explains why Mike can't accept the actor as a bad guy in movies like L.A. Confidential or The Longest Yard. His family fed me way too much and even gave me some Xmas gifts to fit in. Like a pocketknife to peel and eat the bark offa trees, which I've joked is whut them there kintry folk in the Northwest done do. Or maybe make Spotted Owl Soup?

Then I went to San Francisco to see my cousins and continue eating everything in sight. I had Thai food with them in the Haight, crepes w/Aimee, ever-lovable Emily and Varla in the Mission, Chinese food in North Beach, Senegalese food somewhere else in the rain...

It poured most of the week, so we mostly just hung out, played with the dogs -- my cousins' three slobberers, and Varla's cute carpet walruses... Tried to see Munich, but it was sold out again -- I refused to see Kong this time -- so we finally found another theatre showing Spielberg's movie... Good film, good low-key vacation...

In fact, it was a great last week of the year. I'm thankful to my hospitable hosts, providing comfort and shelter for a lost soul on the holidays and from the winter storms. It's raining here in LA, too -- so much for coming back to clear weather, but it's still good to be home. I'm just reflecting on the year, making resolutions for '06... and cherishing the one day of sunshine I had, of all places, in SF.
Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Let's Make a Vacation!

Michael, you have an unexpected week off work, and you can spend it:

Hanging out at home, saving money and doing those things you enjoy: writing, running and relaxing while no one's in town, all the while going stir crazy 'cause no one's in town... OR... spending your holiday bonus on a last-minute trip to Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, CA, visiting friends and family and getting a spectacular change of scenery.

Which will it be? Chillin' in sunny Southern California? Or chilly in the damp Pacific Northwest?

I'll take door number 2.
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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Colorful volcanic glass: a geologist’s dream, right there in the parking lot gravel.

My head feels like gravel now. So damn tired.

I had a rough couple of days -- on Monday my mom felt a pain in her side which she thought might be appendicitis. Maybe she was overreacting... or maybe she should be safe rather than sorry.

Unfortunately, the emergency room at Valley Presbyterian Hospital seems to lean toward the idea that people shouldn’t bother coming in unless they’re dying. Otherwise, they make you wait… eight hours on Monday, and over nine hours Tuesday.

On Monday, the aide who brought Mom to the hospital had to leave after waiting all day. I had called everyone to say I was on my way up there, left work early, but no one relayed the message, nor told me when she was dispatched, so when I got to the waiting room after fighting rush-hour traffic, she had already gone back home. She figured she'd wait and see how she felt...

Then Tuesday, Mom was complaining of the same pain -- was it serious, or just a pulled muscle or lingering indigestion? Who knows? Her primary physician certainly couldn’t tell… well, maybe he could, if he ever returned any of our calls.

So she had an ambulance take her (can’t wait for those bills from the Fire Dept. to come so I can promptly ignore them and their collection threats) and waited again.

My sister and I weren’t sure if we should go up and stay with her… we felt a little bad about it but, being veterans at this kinda thing, didn’t know if it would’ve helped. Probably not. If I had gone there, I would’ve ended up killing someone in that hospital. I certainly went ballistic to them over and over on the phone: “I know it doesn’t seem severe, but don’t you people care that you’ve got an elderly crippled woman sitting there for a grand total of 15 hours and counting?!” Unbefuckinglievable.

She went in around 5PM Tues… and they saw her at 2:30AM Wed. morning. It wasn’t appendicitis; it was a pulled abdominal muscle as I suspected. But my sister and I were both up most of the night trying to get her examined and later trying to arrange for a cab ride for her to get back.

Mom seems to be fine now. I’d say all’s well that ends well, but… you know how many times we’ve been through something like this in the last few years? Sigh.

Otherwise things w/me are great – lots of fun stuff going on, including last night’s LA Blogger Meet 2… with such cool people as Hilary, Annabel, Paul, Keith, Joel, Amandarin, Tamara, Dave and Eve... am I forgetting anyone? Good times, but after the other two days, and a few vodka-rocks last night, I’m too damn tired to elaborate.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

To retaliate for my Christmassy cartoon, Steve drew this:

I wasn't trying to emulate him with the goatee; I was just hoping not to resemble a halogen lightbulb... Oh well...

Monday, December 19, 2005

I have this friend of a friend, Henry. Good guy, I just don’t get to hang out with him much. But last weekend a bunch of us were sitting around talking about movies… and he’s seen everything. I mean everything. He’s a film-buff on the old stuff, much more than me, but on the new movies, too. Henry sees every damn picture that comes out.

I asked him how – and why – he sees ‘em all. He said for his job. No, he’s not a video store clerk like Quentin Taran-geek-o. Henry works for the Motion Picture Association of America.

I said, “So, you go into work, you sit in a big theatre with a bucket of popcorn, and sit through the latest, say, historical epic, or Alf: the Movie, or American Pie 69 and when it’s over, you just say, ‘Hmm… PG-13. Now where’s my paycheck?’” He shrugged, yeah, basically. I said, “How do I get that sweet gig?!”

It helps if you’re a parent. The MPAA likes its employees to have kids, so that when they rate the films, they’re concerned about the children and all.

Yeah, but even though Henry fathered a punk-ass kid or two, doesn’t mean he’s all sweet and civil and looking to further family fucking values. He hated those Cheaper by the Dozen/Yours, Mine & Ours/We Have a Buttload of Kids & Wacky Chaos Ensues Crapola. One of his favorite films this year was The Devil’s Rejects, for chrissakes.

I suddenly had an idea for a movie: A schlock-meister filmmaker’s latest work gets an NC-17, which means no theatre will show it... so he tries to work for the MPAA to affect the ratings, but they won’t hire him unless he’s a parent. He needs a kid, so he “adopts” some child for some reason – y’know, pretends some street urchin is really his son or something. Then he gets the job, and then gets all his smut Z-movie buddies’ movies approved with G-ratings and it changes the face of cinema… or at least wacky chaos ensues… oh yeah, but at least he learns to be a dad and have good values. It’s Big Daddy meets Ed Wood. Or Bad Santa meets Bowfinger.

Yeah, that idea sucks. For so many reasons. It was off the top of my head.

Besides, the spec screenplay market sucks, too. Even good ideas don’t get made. We talked about the latest batch of movies. Hell, in the last month I rented a buncha DVDs of flicks I missed during the summer… and they were all unoriginal. Dukes of Hazzard (TV show), Fantastic Four (comic book) War of the Worlds (remake – I really hoped the aliens would eat Scientology-Boy and Dakota “Creepy adult-child” Fanning).

It’s hard to get an original script to the theatres without it being by an auteur director. There were a few successful exceptions (40-Year-Old Virgin, Mr. & Mrs. Smith), but mostly, the powers-that-be are scared to try something unless has a built-in recognition. Imagine there were no original King Kong, and then trying to pitch a movie about a giant ape that falls in love with a blond chick and goes berserk in NYC? Without the iconography, they’d throw you out on your monkey-ass.

I rented Bad News Bears, wondering why the hell they remade that gem. It’s not even like the 1976 Walter Matthau version is dated. On the DVD’s extras, it seems that everyone involved with the new movie felt the same way. Director Richard Linklater, Billy Bob Thornton, and the writers weren’t the ones who came up with the idea – or lack thereof – to do the remake. In their discussions, I got the distinct impression that Paramount just thought this would be a good thing, and the filmmakers all figured, well, it was gonna made with or without them… might as well try, see if they could do it justice and collect a paycheck.

The movie biz is tough. And Henry and the MPAA only rate movies; they don’t affect the slate of films to see. Which is one of the many reasons my pitch was god-awful.

I think I have better ideas, better scripts, and so do my friends, including Henry. You gotta love writing to keep at it; you certainly can’t do it just for the money. That’s what the day job is for, like Henry at the MPAA (though I still think it’s a sweet gig). For now, he'll have to sit through and rate other uninspired creations instead. Maybe someday the studio execs will take more chances on original ideas… but that would probably require them not worrying so much about… well, collecting a paycheck.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Holiday shopping yesterday, I went to pay for something in cash, when I noticed among my money, I had a $1 bill with the name “Britney” written in pink ink and with girlish penmanship.

“Hm. I think this dollar was autographed by Britney Spears,” I said. “I bet she signed it after it was stuffed down her G-string.”

The cashier looked at me, and I realized I had just uttered that aloud.

“Was that gross? Sorry, let me get you a different dollar.” I started digging out my wallet again.

“It’s okay,” the cashier said. “As long as it doesn’t have any Federline on it.”

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Hey kids! Wanna be like me? Creating crazy comix for your cronies?

Don’t. People will expect it you to do it all the time… you’ll become the Cartoon Kid, silliest scribbler in the West. Draw, Kid, Draw!

Like Steve at work, file clerk by day and instrumental-only musician by night. I inked some goofy picture on a post-it by his desk once and he demanded I do another or he might “lose my paycheck envelope” next billing cycle. “Oh,” he said, “and make it something Christmassy.”

Here ya go, Steve-O. Merry Sketchmas and happy holidoodles.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Five little things that make me happy:

1. I saw King Kong last night -- excellent. To nit-pick, it was too long (over 3 hours) -- too much set-up (we get it: there was a Depression in the ‘30s), but once they got to the island... wow. Incredible sequences, some of which are my repeated nightmares in movie form, and I don’t mean Jack Black’s over-the-top performance. But I really liked Naomi Watts -- less screamy than Fay Wray and less ditzy than Jessica Lange -- she oughta get an Oscar nomination... also the makeup & effects people... and not just for the ape and dinosaurs and other monsters, but the fact that Naomi’s lipstick and mascara never got ruined.

2. I got some praise from a respected writer friend. I had just finished a section I felt good about, so I hesitantly shared it, knowing he’d be brutally honest, but he “got it” -- he said he really appreciated the way I interspersed the dialogue and narration, provided information without being expository, used plants and pay-offs subtly but still kept it simple and funny. In fact, he asked if I could hold onto the pages as a guide for his own writing. Helluva compliment. Now, if I can only get accolades like that from people who could pay me...

3. They didn’t riot in LA. There were rumors that it would happen if Tookie Williams got executed. That it would lead to, as Dr. Dre once said: “Bloods, Crips on the same squad, with the Ese's thumpin, it's time to rob and mob.” But don’t worry, gangsta rappers will still find inspiration somewhere...

4. People at my job were concerned that if there were riots, they wouldn’t come to work today. And this afternoon is our office holiday party. So I guess it’s good that it’s still on. Free food and booze. But honestly, if I have to listen again to the suits give touchy-feely speeches about how much they care about everyone, when I doubt they even know the names of most of us peons, well, I might do the rioting.

5. Less than 3 weeks ‘til Christmas... songs stop playing over and over.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Took my mother to the movies the other day -- saw Syriana, which was just okay... fascinating topic and good performances, but a film about the politics and business of oil needed a narrative that was a little more... slick. Anyway...

We went to the Sherman Oaks Galleria, like, for sure, ya know. As usual, I drove to the valet parking area where it's a quick elevator ride up to the restaurants and theatres. Valet parking there is free for the disabled. We're talking about my mom here; the extent of my mental instability is still under debate. So I hung my handicapped placard from the rear-view and as I pulled up, the parking guy said, "You can park it yourself if you want, there's plenty of spaces."

Okay. We got there early, so I wasn't surprised. But as I circled through in the garage, I saw the guy was mistaken -- all the handicapped spots were filled. I think other physically-challenged people had the same idea: get there sooner and avoid the rush of afternoon mallrats.

I swung back around again to the valet. The guy wasn't there at the moment, so I started the regular routine: parked, opened the trunk, got out the wheelchair, set it up, wheeled it to the passenger door to help my mom transfer... Tell mom to wait 'til I get her situated before she can light up another cigarette...(I won't let her smoke in my car, so the ol' lady was jonesing.)

The guy came back, annoyed, repeating to me that I could've parked it myself. Guess he didn't want to do his job that day. I told him there weren't any spots. In a huff, he pointed to a row of empty spots. Those are regular, I said. I needed a handicapped one. And not because I'm blind. I could clearly see had I parked there I wouldn't have room to get my mother out of the passenger side... as I was struggling to do with her just then, while she stubbornly searched for a pack of Salems in her purse.

Valet-dude still wanted to argue. He told me there was ample space on the passenger side, since the all the spots were empty.

Yeah, right now, I said. But by the time we got back, there'd be another car there. It'd be filled up. Y'know, with all the Christmas shoppers. Spreading good will and holiday cheer and all that, right, Sir?

He started to repeat his original objection, just as I was placing my mother into the wheelchair ("1, 2, 3... stand up. Pivot. Okay, you can sit back down... yes, and then I'll find your lighter...").

Then I said, "Look, Sir, you see what I'm doing here? I need room for this. That's the purpose of a handicapped space. They're near the entrances and they're wide, with those blue stripey things painted on the ground next to the spot, so people have space to get in and out. When they arrive and when they leave." I started to hand him the keys.

"You have an oh-six sticker?"

At first, I didn't get what he meant as he stood there coldly, looking at my car. Then I realized. So that's what this was about.

"Oh, yeah, my placard's expired. I know," I said. "I'm waiting to get a new one."

It was good 'til late '05, I believe, and I'm in the middle of the whole process: Get an authorization from her doctor, send to the DMV and wait 6-8 weeks for the new ones to come in the mail.

My mom's clearly paralyzed -- only has one good leg, and this guy wanted to be a stickler for the sticker... Fine...

I said to him, "one moment...", went to my trunk, where I keep a couple of planks to use as a makeshift ramp when one isn't available and I need to wheel my mom over a curb or short set of stairs. I took one of the boards out, went over to the guy, showing him the 2X6 piece of wood... by swinging it hard and low like a cricket paddle -- WHAM! Right in the kneecap. As he went down, I said, "oh are you hurt? You need help?" And when he nodded yes, I shrugged. "You expect me to believe you? Where's your valid handicapped sticker, bitch?!"

Okay, that last paragraph didn't really happen... I just forced a smile and told him to please park the damn car, thank you very much, Sir.

See -- my mental stability shouldn't be in question, but sometimes, man, sometimes...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

No Slamdance in Utah next month, and now I’m not going to the Caribbean again as I had hoped either. For a variety of reasons, the trip didn’t come together this year.
I’ve been there -- usually Antigua, but other islands as well -- probably over a dozen times now… and ever since I learned to SCUBA as a teenager (in the above shot, I think that’s my sister underwater about to pull a surprise Jaws attack on me), I try to get in at least one dive each visit (like in St. Croix, below).
Oh well, I’ll plan something else soon. And I guess these pics fit in with the theme of "Half-Naked Thursday". So, that's something.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Hey gang. Hope y’all been good. Thanks for the comments; I really missed you all too.

I was gonna further explain – if not illustrate – the reason for my hiatus. But blogging about blogging – or not blogging – isn’t the most bloggerific blogging a blogger can blog.

I’ve just been trying to do some other writing, that hopefully doesn’t repeat the same word over and over. Start some new projects, finish some old ones. Throw spaghetti strands against the wall and see what sticks. Pecan pie works better.

Speaking of projects, Bags told me eventually he’ll get his short film (featuring yours truly) on one of the internet film sites. I’ll keep you posted. This decision followed him learning that “Consumed” didn’t get into Sundance. Didn’t surprise me, but I was a little disappointed we also got passed on by Slamdance. That woulda been fun. Slamdance is the alternative festival for truly low-budget unknown works. Robert Redford hates it, ‘cause isn’t quite as hypocritical as his starfucker shindig, which calls itself independent but really serves as a showcase for A-level actors “slumming” it for SAG minimum.

Yep, every January, half of Hollywood shifts its schmooze east to Utah. Mormons and morons unite. There are usually a couple of good flicks every year, but with all the bullshit and hype I’m surprised anyone can make the distinction.

I remember several years ago when I worked for an entertainment attorney who joined the Park City pig-pile. I thought I’d have an easy week back in LA with that empty suit outta the office, but he’d call every two minutes asking if we got another fax about an agency party or talent management mixer.

Funny, I thought Sundance was about the movies. I said to Schmuck-O: “Don’t you have anything else to do while you’re there?”

“Of course,” he said. “I’m going skiing with the guys from William Morris tomorrow.”

That was the year the movie Pi won the Sundance Best Director Award. Months later, Schmuck-O was trying to sign Darren Aronofsky (who later did Requiem for a Dream). I heard him on the phone, telling Darren he thought his film was brilliant, and they should meet soon…

When he hung up, I said, “I just saw that in the theatre a few weeks ago. Did you really think Pi was brilliant? It had some interesting concepts and style, definitely innovative, but…”

“Never saw it. Think you could get me a copy of it somehow?”

Typical. I was glad Aronofsky eventually signed with someone else. But I wonder if was because that lawyer wasn’t as much of a bullshitter as Schmuck-O, or just a lot better at it.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

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