Friday, July 28, 2006

A Pasadena all-girl’s elementary school put on a little show this week. Their summer drama class performed musical numbers from three Broadway plays. The kids were singing and dancing in full costume, doing their best to remember their funny lines and complex choreography moves. The show was as adorable as you can imagine. And in case you can’t imagine, all the kids’ parents were there, armed and ready with their fancy digital video cameras, capturing every moment.

Some of the girls had genuine talent; others wowed the audience with their attitude. But they all seemed to be having fun, thanks in great part to their drama teacher. She stood on the side of the stage, smiling and laughing with them, and occasionally nodding encouragement to the shy ones. It was obvious the kids loved her.

And it reminded me of the plays I did as a kid. Thank goodness I didn’t grow up in this video age, so I don’t have to relive my goofy acts, but just replay them in my imagination. Maybe they wouldn’t that embarrassing. In any case, I wasn’t going to pursue acting, but that’s not what these things are about. I remember how much I appreciated the good teachers I had, the ones who helped to give me the self-confidence to perform publicly. Most of those Pasadena girls won’t be destined for Tony Awards, but I guarantee they won’t forget this exciting chapter of their lives. Or at least not the songs.

The numbers were pretty catchy: “It’s a Hard Knock Life” from Annie, “Forget About the Boy” from Thoroughly Modern Millie and Hairspray’s “Can’t Stop the Beat”. But by the curtain call, I had a different song running through my head. The tune was interrupted by one of the beaming parents who peered away from his camera long enough to look at me and say, “Which girl’s yours?”

I pointed to the kids’ instructor, my Cute Girlfriend.

As his video recording resumed, so did the chorus to the song in my head: Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher.”

Monday, July 24, 2006

We hit the beach. Ogling the sunbathing bikini babes, nearly tripping over the families with their beach blankets, foldable chairs and plastic-protected Ipods. My friend Mike and I didn’t even bring towels. Although he did have a backpack, which contained only one thing -- as we got near the water, he pulled out a rolled-up rubber raft.

Mike had called me fifteen minutes earlier, saying he just bought this thing, and we oughta go out to the water, take it for a ride. I was just sitting in my sweltering apartment, trying to decide what to do next -- read, run, write… re-work this stupid blog post about riding ocean waves as some kinda metaphor for the unconscious… what the hell? Go to the beach for real? Count me in.

Knowing Mike and me, it’d turn into another pissing contest -- I regularly kick his ass at Scrabble, but he always practically makes me puke on bike rides, and yet I never got to collect my brunch for out-climbing him on the Santa Monica stairs. But this would just be a day of fun in the sun.

“The pump to this thing is broken,” Mike said. A lame excuse, I thought, for him to give it a blowjob -- huffing and puffing into the raft’s nozzle to start inflating it. Seeing Mike on his knees providing mouth-to-nozzle resuscitation…there were too many wiseass remarks running through my head, so I turned away and decided to acclimate myself with the ocean.

The water was cold at first, but quickly refreshing. Relatively clear, not too murky -- a few kelp beds here and there, and a pretty decent medical-waste-free day.

I went back to see that Mike was done, exhausted. He had breathed all the life he could into this craft. It was a yellow one-man dinghy. Mike was a man green around the gills.

I felt the boat; it was kinda puffy, soft. So was Mike, who said with a gasp: “you blow it up more if you want.”

“Awright,” I said, “but don’t get too excited watching this, Mike.”

It only needed a little more air. Inhaling through my nose and exhaling out my mouth into the nozzle a few times, I quickly got it to be full pressure. The sides were taut. Yeah, yeah. I blew the thing ‘til it got hard. Anyway, the boat was ready for action.

Couldn’t say the same about Mike. He was still catching his breath, so he let me take it out for the first run.

I realized why he hesitated to use the raft right away. It was hard work. Mike had no oar for the boat, so I laid inside on my stomach and paddled with my arms to go out to sea. Mike was wading into the water and moving about as quickly as me, laughing at my frantic futile flailing.

Fortunately, I improved my technique and started moving forward, getting further out past the foam. The Pacific waves bobbed the boat up and down, and then, the Big One loomed in.

A seven-foot swell took the boat high above the other bathers near shore. I grabbed ahold of the stings on the side of the dinghy, pulled myself close to the craft and just rode, baby. Yee-hah. As the wave started to break, I plummeted downward and quickly thought there was a possibility I could get flipped over and slammed against the ocean floor. Not only could I get sand up my cowabunghole, but I might even die here.

Whatta way to go.

As I crashed close to shore, I found myself still upright in the raft, drifting back and forth in the shallow salty sea. Excited like a little kid, I shouted over to Mike, “Did you see that? Did you see?!” He nodded yes, but I don’t think he caught what happened next.

I looked up, and at the edge of the sand was a lifeguard. He stood there with his red buoy rescue toy, trying to appear all authoritative and shit.

“Bring it in,” he said. Well, yeah, I was gonna. Had to dump all the water out of the inside of the craft. Otherwise it was like a floating kiddie pool out there.

“That’s not allowed.”

What? The boat? Why? ‘Cause it might bang into someone? I looked around at the boogie-boarders paddling around with impunity. A half-mile north were all the surfers. You get hit in the head with a fiberglass board, trust me, it’d hurt more than a rubber craft filled with my hot air.

But I saved my breath and just gave him a look. He said, “No inflatables on the beach.”

So I guess his girlfriend couldn’t join him, I muttered. David Hasselhoff strutted away to hassle someone else and I plodded inland.

Michael row your boat ashore. Hallelujah or whatever.

A minute later, Mike came over for his turn to ride the raft, but I pointed up the beach at the lifeguard, repeating the rules of the Baywatch Bee-otch.

“Shit, I didn’t even get a chance to try it,” Mike said.

“Sorry.” I undid the nozzle and began to squeeze the life out of the little lifeboat. “Go for a swim. I’ll pack this thing up, deflate it and all that.”

Mike stomped his foot in the sand. “Yeah, sure. That’s the easy part.”

Friday, July 21, 2006

The summer heat collects in my apartment the way kids at ComiCon in San Diego this weekend collect Mr. Spock action figures, or explanations for why they like the Star Trek episode featuring Frank “The Riddler” Gorshin as one of guys with the black and white faces who look like the cookies at the Kosher bakery. At which point I hear Captain Kirk’s voice in my head:

“You must… learn… to. Stop… making. So many. Geeky… references.”

I’m trying to fall asleep, but my mind is racing from one thought to another:

Speaking of Kosher bakeries, my dad used to stop at this place on Long Island off the Southern State Parkway on his way home and pick up a blueberry pie for me knowing I love blueberries even though I told him blueberry pie isn’t as good as blueberries themselves -- ripening in a sweltering summer heat like now -- and besides, the bakery had these rude Russian women who never understood his weird jokes like when he sang this silly tune called “Matzoh Balls and Gefilte Fish” which he insisted wasn’t a made-up ditty, but an actual song by Slim & Slam, and years later, when the record company released their work from the 1930s on CD, I bought it and found that he was right -- coupla brothers singing jazzy riffs about Jewish soul food -- except the tune was completely different, though not necessarily any better than Dad’s version.

And dammit, now that stupid song is in my head. “Matzoh balls, gefilte fish, makes you order up an extra dish. Put a little horseradish on it, makes it really mella, oh yeah, them matzoh balls can really knock you out!” Cue the xylophone solo…

Gotta sleep, gotta sleep…

But what am I gonna do when I get up tomorrow? Am I gonna attend that ComiCon thing? Look for my next TV gig and tell people my show is airing and if you look really closely at the bottom third of the screen where they scrunch the credits, you can see my name if you don’t blink? Is ComiCon worth the drive down southern California? If I were The Flash, could I run there faster than you could blink? Would it take longer than my name appears on your TV screen? Do these questions make me as geeky as the Spock collectors? Or more like The Riddler?

One thing I won’t do tomorrow is try another Red Bull. It didn’t taste that great -- someone told me it tasted like liquid bubblegum, but it was more like carbonated caffeinated crap but wow did it pack a REM-robbing wallop, and it doesn’t stain your teeth like my black-as-Frank-Goshin’s-right-side espresso. Hey, did they ever make an After-School Special about caffeine addiction? I oughta write that. Hell, I oughta write something. Since the TV gig and finishing the book, I’ve been slacking lately. My blog is been as spotty as -- well, if the black-and-white-faced aliens intermingled, what would their offspring look like? Spotty? Zebra-ish? Do the half-faces break into quarters like on the BMW logo? If they miscegenate enough, maybe could use someone’s forehead as a chess board.

Maybe I need to stop trying to ponder the mixed genomic results from fictional interplanetary species. I mean, if I’m trying to be Gene Roddenberry and Gregor Mendel all at the same time--

Here I am again using geeky references and forced similes…

And then I sense it coming. Sleep. You ever have that feeling? When it approaches like a, well, like an ocean wave…

Every summer I put off learning to surf. I don’t know why. Probably because I have too many other things on my mind. But this isn’t something to think about, just to do. Or mabye it’s both. In any case, my procrastination doesn’t make sense because I’m here in LA and I love body-surfing. I used to do it as a kid with my friends back on Long Island. We’d go to Jones Beach and immediately splash out into the ocean, bobbing up and down, treading water, looking out at the horizon, waiting. We’d see a wave coming and think it might be a good one, so we’d swim inland, hoping to catch it just right and ride it in. Sometimes, our timing was off and we’d miss it. Usually, though, it’d be a fun little adventure. Though it might not be the one. I know surfers talk about this -- maybe that’s what they mean by the seventh wave, but often we’d lose count waiting for that perfect swell.

And when I’m trying to get some rest, I sometimes suddenly feel that heavy sleep come like that wave, a force of the universe. And then, it doesn’t matter if I try to ride it; it’s bringing me in, regardless. No sense fighting this unstoppable force. I just let it take me over. I’m actively passive.

I don’t know if I’m describing it right -- but when I awake, it’s like I’ve been washed onto the beach, exhilarated, satisfied. I don’t need to go back out in the water, or try to go back to bed.

So in my moment of clarity -- the Big Cahuna of Consciousness -- I try to write about it…

Until reality kicks in like a bad episode of my TV show with the scrunched down credits lasting less than the drive down -- not on the Southern State on Long Island past the rude Russians or Jones Beach but south in this state to San Diego -- to ComiCon kids collecting Gorshin gobbledy-gook geeky gefilte fish references overheating my brain like the summer weather ripening the delicious blueberries…

Monday, July 17, 2006

Click on the image to make this rare political cartoon expand like a Hezballoon.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Gene at work and I finally had a chance to grab lunch and shoot the shit about the TV gig and whatever. I asked what he was in the mood for and he said, “You know where I wanna go.”

Gilbert’s, the Mexican joint down the street. I hesitated because I had been there the night before with my girlfriend. After spicy tamales and strong tequila, my stomach felt like it had been banged around like a piñata.

Then again, that was Gene’s favorite place and with the job winding down, who knows when we’d get a chance to do this again. But that’s not the reason I didn’t object.

I didn’t want time spent with my girlfriend to change my behavior with everyone else, unlike so many people I know (or used to know).

Off to Gilbert’s we went. I was parked closer, so I would drive.

As we approached my car, Gene said, “Hey, Mike, I appreciate it, but you don’t need to open the passenger door for me.”

Jeez, I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I had to admit, I always open it for my girlfriend, and it was becoming a habit with everyone.

“That’s nice, but don’t expect me to lean over and open the driver’s side for you,” Gene said. “That’d be kinda gay.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A little while back, the supervising producer stopped by my office just to let me know that even though my last few weeks here at the job would be slow, I shouldn’t feel guilty. This is the nature of these TV gigs -- you can be really crazed some days, and others you’re paid to just be there for the sporadic bits of work that come up. The rest of the time, I was told, I can do my own thing, writing, job search, etc.

I know I should be happy to have such a cool work environment and so much free time. But frankly, I wish I was much busier here.

Not that I necessarily need more to do… but when I’m not procrastinating from real work, I find it nearly impossible to blog.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

I was surprised when my sister didn’t call me several times July 4th weekend, but she made up for it with a catch-up call during the week. But her chatting (and commiserating about the usual frustrations with our mom) were soon drowned out by other loud sounds. I asked what was all that other noise and she said that the previews were starting. She was talking to me in the movies?! No, she said, they hadn’t started yet. Trust me, our conversation wasn’t that important to interrupt the trailers (which are usually better than the main feature). If I were at the theatre with her, she woulda been pelted in the eye with a handful of Sno-Caps.

That’s my sister. I thought maybe this phone-phobia was just me, but my cousin (visiting from out of town the week before) observed the over-communication. In her thick Long Island accent she said, “Gawd, Julie, you don’t hafta cawwl your brutha so awwften!”

Most of the time, I don’t mind, really. I enjoy our conversations, and appreciate that she cares so much. But sometimes she cramps my style. To illustrate this, I have to go back yet another couple of weekends.

No wait, first I gotta rewind to a year ago. She called me on a Friday night starting off with “Where’s Zuma Beach?” and then filled my head with the fear that she might have driven off a cliff in Malibu.

Since she was going on that annual retreat again this year, I told her to check a map, leave before dark, and well, don’t bug me. And she complied. She only called me the next night to say hi and that her trip went well, and she was cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway, heading home. Great. She kept talking on the phone as she drove, which would normally be fine, but I had to interrupt her babbling. “Julie? Julie… Julie! I’m sorry, I can’t really chat right now. I’m… with someone.”

“’With someone’?” The cute girl I was having dinner with poked fun at me after my sister hung up.

I explained that if I told my sister I was on a date, she’d ask all sorts of questions, and I prefer to keep my personal life personal, and the cute girl laughed, ‘cause she said she’s the same way, and told me about her family’s foibles.

I hoped she’d really understand about mishuganah mischbuchas, because I felt bad that my cellphone had been blowing up all evening… with calls from my family.

See, sometimes my mom abuses the phone with me too. I’d be at work, sitting through screenings of our TV show with the executive producer, and feel my pocket vibrating the whole time. The caller ID says it’s Mom, but she won’t always just leave a message. She’ll redial and redial and redial. I finally duck out (hopefully not to the EP’s chagrin), thinking it’s some kind of emergency. “I can’t find my glasses,” Mom will say when I call back. Or, “I’m all out of cigarettes.” I roll my eyes, take a deep breath, and try to get her to understand that these are not worthy of getting my immediate attention, but she’d just go off on some other tangential complaint. What can I do? The poor ol’ lady has dain bramage.

Which might explain why she was always mixed up about when I was coming to visit. When my sister took that trip in Malibu I decided to take that weekend off from seeing Mom, but that only meant she'd call even more often.

“What time will you be here today? I’m really craving some Kosher deli.”

“Mom, it’s Wednesday. I usually come on Saturday, but not this weekend, remember?”

“Oh, right. I get mixed up.”

“That’s okay. We’ll be there next weekend and we’ll take you out for a nice pastrami sandwich. Next Saturday. But I’ll talk to you before then. Okay?”

“Okay,” she’d say. “See you tomorrow!”

So when I was on my date and Mom called twice, I didn’t answer. When my sister called a minute later, I thought maybe it was some emergency -- or mama drama -- that Mom passed onto my sister, who was away on her trip, so Julie contacted me to see if I could handle it.

But it wasn’t. Everything was okay. Now, could I please have dinner with the cute girl?

Then my phone went off. Caller ID said it was my sister again. Why? Why?!

I ignored it. Let it go to voicemail. But it didn’t. Instead it buzzed in my pocket again. Julie was hitting the redial. Well, she’s not my mom who can’t help herself and over-dramatizes every trivial thing. If my sister was desperate to get a hold of me, it must have been important. This is why I’m reluctant to turn off the phone. There have been deaths and illnesses in my family in recent years -- you never know. I apologized to my date and answered.

“If I’m on PCH and I want to get to the 10 Freeway,” Julie said, “do I take this ramp road off the side?”

I gritted my teeth. “No, that’s the California Incline. It takes you onto the surface streets in Santa Monica. Just stay on PCH for another mile and you’ll see signs for the 10.”

What would have been the worst that could’ve happened if she didn’t talk to me? She’d miss the turn and have to double back? Or maybe she would’ve had to check a friggin’ map beforehand, like I told her to, dammit? No, better she interrupt my life, get in touch with Mikey, the dial-a-direction dude. She was mixing up her real-life brother with the Thomas Brothers. And knowing I’d interpret her repeated-redialing as something serious, she was becoming the Girl Who Dialed Wolf.

I was livid, but played it cool because I didn’t want to explode in front of the cute girl. Amazingly, she didn’t seem to mind the pressure-cooker about to erupt in my head.

In fact, she found it amusing as I mentioned how Julie never even comes out to the west side. How she makes fun of me and my reluctance to leave the 310 area -- but I do, and constantly visit her and her haunts in Hollywood or venture to the Valley. But she’s been to my place twice in two years and that was only because we had family in town who wanted to see my apartment, so she joined them. But otherwise, does she ever come out to sunny Santa Monica? Well, if she did, she’d wouldn’t have to bug me for directions when driving on the damn Pacific Coast Highway!

The next weekend, my sister and I did go see my mom. I spent the whole day with them, we had a nice time, but driving around and the usual family agita wore me out.

On Sunday, I woke up looking forward to Mike Day. No work, no family obligations, I could relax. Not to say I’m unproductive. I usually do some writing, get some exercise, run some errands. But I can blow them all off if I wanted. That particular Sunday, I just wanted to stay in bed with the cute girl after another wonderful date together. Perhaps partially because I turned my cellphone off the night before.

But I stupidly turned it back on and, lo and behold, there was a message from my sister. Maybe I should be flattered. That she missed her brother so much that a whole day together wasn’t enough. Okay, I sighed, what was up?

“Hi, it’s me. I was wondering if you could do me a favor. Call me back.”

Now, I’ve had a discussion with my sister about favors. She said I need to be more gracious when she asks me for things. Maybe, but I say it’s always an obligation. And often, she can do these things herself. Like when she said setting up her TiVo would be too confusing and insisted I help. I replied only if she helped set up my DSL. “I don’t know how to do that,” she said. Back atcha, Sis. But, yeah, of course, I eventually came over and fiddled with the wires on her entertainment center so she’ll never miss an episode of The Gilmore Girls. And sure, it was nice to help her out, but these requests are kind of intrusive.

Case in point: now I had this “favor” hanging over my head. Julie had just gotten some new furniture and probably wanted me to come over and move shit around or something. Who knows? It was my one day to chill out. I didn’t wanna even think about it. I told myself I didn’t hear the call and went back to bed. An hour later the phone rang again. The voicemail message said, “Where are you? I haven’t heard back from you. Are you okay? I’m starting to worry…”

I squinted my eyes and did an impression of Cameron Frye from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. “She’ll keep calling me… she’ll keep calling me…”

Turned out, there was some furniture store she needed to contact, and they were located in Santa Monica. Or maybe they used to be. They weren’t answering the phone. Could I swing by and see if they were even still in business?

Remember what I said about my sister never coming out to my side of town? Thing is, I was on her side of town. That’s where the cute girl lives. So I was no closer to the store than my sister. But she didn’t know that and later, when I went home, yeah, I checked it out (the store’s out of business). ‘Cause I’m crazy.

But I’m not sure who’s the craziest. My mom with her stroke-induced insanity?
My sister with her mobile-technology-addiction? Me from dealing with these wacky women? Or my cute girlfriend?

I mean, if I’m nuts to put up with Mom and Julie, then she must be really nuts to put up with me.

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