Friday, February 29, 2008

"As Mr. Sloman always says, there's no 'I' in 'team' but there is an 'I' in 'pie'. There's an 'I' in 'meat pie'. The anagram of 'meat' is 'team'... I don't know what he's talking about. Look, that's it."
--Shaun, Shaun of the Dead

We had to bring Oscar-movie-themed food to my friend's Academy Awards party last weekend. My ideas were punny but puny, like bringing a bag of Baby Ruths, as in Gone Baby Ruth Gone. Or a lot of Mentos, for Atone-Mentos, or -- wait for it... No Country for Old Mentos. Yeah, baby. When it comes to freaky phrases, I'm the Freshmaker.

But fortunately, my fiancée had a better idea. Meat pies -- like in Sweeney Todd. Great idea, as long as they're made with more traditional ingredients than in the musical... And then, where you gonna get 'em? We're in the US, not the UK. Santa Monica, not Sussex.

Turns out, there's the Tudor House in town. I've lived here for years and often went to the pub around the corner, but never knew about this British bakery. Since there's no barber shop above it, we figured it'd be okay.

Normally the words "British" and "baking" are oxymoronic, like "Great Britain" and "gourmet", or "English food" and "edible", but these looked good. (The picture above isn't theirs, but looks similarly savory.) Adelphia and I eyed the selection of meat pies: beef with potatoes, chicken curry, lamb vindaloo, spinach and cheddar... They were all tempting, but she picked out a half-dozen assortment to bring to the party. I suggested we buy one more. Adelphia thought seven was too many. Yes, but one was the perfect amount. For me. Right now.

Adelphia said no, insisting, and then laughed at me -- moping 'cause she made Mikey miss out on meat pie. She found it endearing. I was like a little kid who couldn't stand to wait for his instant gratification.

Hey, I'm not a little kid. I'm not. I just wanted one all to myself. Why do I have to share? Also, I'd like to point out, we had a few hours to kill before the party and after waiting, Adelphia got anxious and hungry and wanted to cut into one of the meat pies. But I made her wait, too. Pbbfllt!

Thing is, it wasn't that I couldn't have one right away, it was that I couldn't have it the way I liked.

If I had one for myself, first, at home, I could reheat it in the oven, then add some salt, pepper, maybe some salsa, taking big bites, even scarfing it down if I wanted. Then by the time the party rolled around, I'd already know what to expect. So I wouldn't feel a need to bug my host by suggesting he use the oven not the microwave. Or ask if he had any condiments. Or have to take a tiny sliver while secretly wanting more, but waiting politely for the guests consider trying that or some Pirate's Booty of the Caribbean or the perhaps the Ratatouille ratatouille.

So I focused my attention to the Oscar pool instead and I took home the cash. The next day, I went back to Tudor House and took home my own meat pie. Mmmm, meat pie. As expected, it was even more delicious. Some things taste better when you don't have to eat 'em while standing on ceremony... or Oscar ceremony.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A local movie theatre will be showing a marathon of all 5 movies nominated for Best Picture Academy Award this weekend. Great for film fans who need to catch up. Only thirty bucks and an endless bucket of popcorn. But if you really wanna impress your Oscar party friends this weekend, why waste more than half the day when in no time you can get the scoop (with minor spoilers) from your ol’ pal Mikey. You provide the popcorn.

No Country for Old Men: This was the first of these films I saw, and it started out strong. The Coen Bros. at their best -- the eerily open spaces of Texas reminded me of the chilling snowy expanses in Fargo, but Joel & Ethan don’t just make travelogues. I loved how most of the story was shown, not told, and when there was dialogue -- notably the coin-toss gas station scene -- it was just as riveting. But then the cat-and-mouse story abruptly ended, and it focused on old dog Tommy Lee Jones, moping and discussing the deeper meaning of all this. I suppose this was an artistic choice, perhaps returning the narrative closer to Cormac McCarthy’s novel. But the awkward film title was enough of a hint at the theme, thanks. At least they had an epilogue with Javier Bardem’s character -- you never get bored watching that menacing Mushroom Head.

: Excruciating soundtrack aside, I enjoyed Juno. Its merits go beyond the media’s comparisons to a tiny girl getting big, much like the movie making millions more at the multiplex than the mega-studio monstrosities. That normally gets my cynical Spidey sense tingling and I usually take issue with cutesy quirky characters, but the clever quips were limited to Ellen Page and her teenage friends. And the biggest surprise is learning the truth about the family planning to adopt Juno’s baby, especially Jason Bateman’s character -- anyone who’d consider leaving Jennifer Garner is a total douchebag. Ben Affleck, I hope you’re reading this.

Atonement: Loved it. Maybe I’m getting sentimental in my old age, or I just had something in my eyes during this entire movie. I wish I had read the book -- no, scratch that, I’m glad I didn’t, ‘cause the screenplay was surprisingly awesome. Unlike most of the films out there, this one understood the idea of telling a tale. Only at one point, the director (noticeably not nominated) seemed to be showing off with his sweeping uncut CGI’d scene of Dunkirk soldiers. But later, I learned the resonating reason for this British Saving Private Ryan shot and something irritated my corneas again. Atonement probably won’t win Best Picture, but it would if it were up to me… but only because Knocked Up wasn’t nominated.

There Will Be Blood: Seems to be the frontrunner for Best Picture. Just like American Beauty back in ‘99. Remember that? And then a year or two later most people hated that movie? Mark my words, soon everyone’ll be scratching their heads about this overlong crude oil epic, saying “What were we thinking?!” Maybe with some perspective, they’ll see how beautiful scenery of an gusher fire doesn’t make up for a meandering story. What was that movie about anyway? Plainview’s relationship with his phony half-brother, or his deaf son, or with Eli and/or twin brother Paul, who may or may not have been the same person…? Some would say all three. I say don’t know, don’t care. By the time that “I drink your milkshake” scene came around (and there finally was blood), I wanted to shake Paul Thomas Anderson ‘til all his self-indulgence seeped out and all that was left would be a film narrative worthy of Daniel Day-Lewis. His Oscar will be a belated award for doing a slight variation on his performance as Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York. Sorry, D-Day -- you deserved better than There Will Be Boredom.

Michael Clayton
: A fine film, but I liked it better the first time when it was called The Verdict.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Weekend Encounters:

1. On Friday, Adelphia and I went for our avoid-Valentine's-Day-crowd day-after-Valentine's Day dinner. Of course it was crowded by Valentiners with the same idea. Still, we had a nice romantic meal, and afterwards, decided to go out to a fancy bar, since we were all dressed up. She always looks elegant, but I for once was wearing a jacket and the new tie she got me as a V-Day gift. All a ruse to make her man more refined, I'm sure. But after checking out a couple of swanky schmancy sites, we opted to throw a few back at the Irish pub on the corner. We'd never been there before, but felt at home instantly. Maybe it's because we saw someone familiar -- a guy we always spot in Santa Monica. It's not weird we see him all the time at our happy hour seafood place. But after joking about how we're gonna get restraining orders on each other, we discovered that he's also from New York, and knows some of the same high school people as Adelphia. They chatted about their favorite hometown hangouts. It's like I always say, you've seen one Long Islander, you've seen the mall.

2. Browsing through franchise furniture stores on the Promenade, resisting the urge to add more potential clutter to our wedding registry, I spotted a woman I used to work with. In the split second I saw her, it dawned on me that she had seen me first, then ducked around a shelf to avoid me. Had I realized her evasive tactic -- as strange as it was -- I wouldn't have said anything, but I had already called out her name. So she stopped to talk to me, but it was it was an extremely awkward conversation. I recall she was always uncomfortable in her own skin, and now it was worse. Why? Because she was working at this store. She kept playing with her long hair and her sweater, trying to hide her lapel ID tag. And implying that she was shopping there, not working there. I never passed any judgment or gave her reason to be embarrassed. A job's a job. This was a step up from that corporate hell we both left behind. I tried to put her at ease and remind her I'm a writer. At least she had a job. Oh, she said, she also got her master's. In psychology. Great, I thought. Physician, heal thyself.

3. Monday, President's Day, I went for another run on the boardwalk and spotted Arnold Schwarzenegger riding the opposite way on a beach cruiser. When I told Adelphia about my celebrity/politician sighting, she was skeptical -- he wouldn't be out there alone. I said, hey, the Governator doesn't need protection. He'd just tell his bodyguards: "Ah'll... be... biking."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Planning a wedding is easy. Don't listen to those nuts on The Knot or the killaz on Bridezillas or that mess from Say Yes to the Dress.

You call a buncha vendors, you quickly learn which ones are weird or way too expensive, so you narrow it down to three, meet with 'em, make your decision and Boom! Book 'em, Bride-O.

My fiancée Adelphia would probably disagree since she's doing most of the discovery work; I just help with the decision. But even the stuff she's selected solo seems to follow the rule of three -- three florists to find the right one... And while she's been secretive about the wedding gown, I think she tailor-made her decision after a trio of try-outs...

Together, though, we took a look at three venues -- aboard a yacht in the Marina? Neat, but nauseous. Art nouveau rooftop downtown? Cosmopolitan, but claustrophobic. A garden by a stream in the mountains? Done and done.

Three photographers -- all talented, but we picked the one who was picture perfect for us. Three rabbis -- all mensches, but it was clear who was meant to tell us mazel tov.

This weekend we went to book our baker. I think we found confection perfection after only two selections. But did you know, when you're checking out these chefs, they let you partake in tons of tasty pastries? You sit down and they bring you plate upon plate, explaining "this is the lemon meringue, this is double chocolate, here's the banana coconut... oh, you wanna try the red velvet?" Sweet.

Screw the rule of three. We're checking out a half-dozen more. Hey, you can't rush (or sugar rush) into these decisions. Wedding planning ain't easy, y'know.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Cashier at Trader Joe's: That'll be $59.23.

Me: Man, I only came in for a gallon of milk and ended up with three bags of groceries. Here. (I hand her the cash.)

Cashier: Thank you. Did you find everything you weren't looking for today?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Yeah, yeah, so I lost the Bragging Rights. Big deal. I’ll win ‘em back.

Listening to ‘80s music with my fiancée Adelphia, we heard “Cum on Feel the Noize” by Quiet Riot and I misidentified the year it was released. She knew it came out it ’83, not a few years later, like I thought.

See, I distinctly recall getting the album, on cassette. It was a birthday or Hanukkah present from my mom after she asked me for gift suggestions. She later explained that she forgot the band’s name but recalled my description of the album artwork. So she felt awkward at Sam Goody, pulling aside some other teenage head-banger to help her find “some schmuck in an iron mask and a red leather strait-jacket.”

And sometimes you can judge a book by its cover, because most of the music on Metal Health was mediocre. This was before iPods so sometimes you got stuck with a whole crappy album when only one or two tracks were any good. I’m no musician, yet even I noticed the hit single had the exact same format as “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister. Simple, catchy anthem, first with just vocals and drums, then kick in the guitars, do a verse, chorus, verse, chorus, obligatory guitar solo, chorus with just percussion again, add guitars and repeat chorus ad nauseum. If I was getting jaded and wise to the magic metal formula, I figured these songs must’ve been released later in my youth, so I lost the Bragging Rights. Maybe this is why Adelphia mixed up the two bands and gave me the Bragging Rights a while back.

And why I figure I’ll get ‘em back soon.

Like this weekend, when discussing our parents and their effect on our tastes. Not music, but sports. Why I’m a Yankees fan and Adelphia likes the Mets.

For me, I was hooked in the Reggie Jackson/Billy Martin era Yankees, and got the support of my parents -- longtime Bombers fans. My father’s father, however, was not. Grandpa rooted for the NY Giants. So was my old man rebelling? No, Dad said didn’t get to see the games on TV, just heard ‘em on radio back then, and as a kid, took it literally when the Yankees played the World Series versus “Giants”. He didn’t think it was fair… Bronx boys competing against fairy tale monsters three times their size.

Adelphia said her mom grew up in Brooklyn. So of course she rooted for the Dodgers, but then they left for California. So did the Giants, and there was no way she’d root for the Yankees. Later she became a diehard Mets fan. In fact, if Adelphia had been a boy, she would’ve been named “Rusty” after Rusty Staub. “My mom loved him when he was with the Montreal Expos, and he was her favorite pitcher for the Mets.”

Wait -- what? “Rusty Staub wasn’t a pitcher for the Mets.”

“Yes he was.”

“If your mom wanted to name you after a Mets pitcher, she could’ve called you ‘Tom’ after Tom Seaver, or ‘Tug’ after Tug McGraw.”

“No, it was gonna be ‘Rusty’.”

“How ‘bout Jerry Koosman? Choose ‘Koos’ and you can’t lose.”

“Are you saying Rusty Staub didn’t play for the Mets?”

Heh-heh, I was reeling her in. “No,” I said. “Rusty Staub didn’t pitch for the Mets.”

“Yes he did. He was a pitcher.”

“No he wasn’t.”

“Yes he was!”

“Bragging Rights?”

She stopped. Thought for a moment. Then said, “First base. Rusty Staub played first base.”

And outfield, but why quibble? Ooh, so close.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Los Angeles isn’t exactly a small town; neither is Santa Monica, even. So you should be able to walk around in blissful anonymity, right? Especially if you’re a proudly unpopular anti-social son of a bitch like myself.

But lately I’ve been running into people I know everywhere I go. A work acquaintance at the Whole Foods. Another at the movies. Some hole in the wall restaurant, there’s that guy I did a film with years ago. And they’re always friendly and happy to catch up – it’s cramping my inclination toward cantankerousness. Oscar the Grouch didn’t want rays of sunshine illuminating his garbage can.

Good thing my bad moods hardly go away easily. They’re especially quick to return when I run slow.

Like yesterday. I got a late start, could only cover half the distance I wanted to, but felt too tired to even run the whole thing. Plus, I had to get back home soon but could only walk, and my sweaty shirt was making me cold. I had plenty of reason to scowl.

“Don’t look so down. It’ll all be okay.”

A man heading in my direction was talking. I should’ve known I’d run into someone on Main Street. I came up this way as a shortcut, but every other time I walk along this store-lined street in Santa Monica, I encounter another person from my past – a gal from grad school, a pal from production, Hal from Hollywood Park Racetrack, still handicapping the horses…

So who was this dude? An older guy with a gray mustache and an affable smile. I knew him, but then realized he didn’t really know me, he was just being outgoing.

“Say, aren’t you Seymour Cassel?” I pronounced it Castle, but I think it may supposed to be like Ka-SELL.

He didn’t correct me. “Yes, what’s your name?” He shook my hand, as if we were long lost friends reconnecting.

I told him my name, and explained I’d seen a lot of his films; I always enjoyed his work. He seemed to be genuinely appreciative of the compliment, which was refreshing.

I rarely give praise to actors or celebrities, even if I mean it, ‘cause they often seem so jaded from hearing accolades. Hell, even the Westside Rentals guy -- I told him he was the best thing at the LA Kings game, and he gave me a disinterested “thanks-that’s-nice-of-you-to-say” and went back to his spastic dancing on the street corner.

But Mr. Cassell and I had a pleasant conversation. His son is an editor, he told me, not the actor Vincent Cassel, whom I had just seen in Eastern Promises. And Seymour has been living in Santa Monica for over 20 years. We both agreed it’s beautiful. “Especially when it warms up,” he said. “You put on your shorts and a nice Hawaiian shirt and just walk around…”

“Or even in February,” I said. “You can still go for a run by the beach.”

I realized I wasn’t cold or tired anymore. We went our separate ways, after saying, “see ya around”, and I probably will. I’m even looking forward to it.

Dammit. Friggin’ friendly folks. Destroying my lack of faith in humanity.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

What to write about? My mind is consumed by the job search, wedding planning, or my daily exercise program, which serves as a kind of Prozac to the aforementioned anxieties. But who wants to hear about resume writing, rendezvousing with rabbis or a ridiculously-regimented running routine?

Well, where there's a Will there's a way. I was inspired by his recent post about George Benson -- whom I've seen in concert twice, even though I'm not much of a concert kinda guy, but I think those "smooth jazz" types are cool, and I'm up for any encounter with cool.

Maybe that's why I DJ'd a blues show at my college radio station. I learned a great deal about the music of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Sonny Boy Williamson. I always loved their music, but I also liked hearing them talk on the records. Who needs to sing when your talking voice is so awesome?

Muddy Waters would celebrate completing a good track by shouting "Woo! Yeah! I got that one down!"

On The London Sessions, Howlin' Wolf, with his electrifying raspy voice, had to instruct Eric Clapton and the other white boys on how to properly play one of his signature tunes -- "You come in wit' da BOOM!"

Fred McDowell explained that "They call me Missi'ppi Fred McDowell. But my home's in Rawford, Tennessee. But it make no diff'rence to me. I feel like I'm home when I'm in the Missi'ppi."

Perhaps my favorite is Sonny Boy Williamson, who can be heard being questioned on his choice of song titles, angrily threatening the producer, getting restrained by his bandmates and then yelling, "I'll get you, you son of a bitch! You don't need no title. You name it after yo' mammy if you want!"

Fun stuff. Too bad those musicians were all dead by the time I learned about 'em. Those are concerts I wouldn't have minded attending. Even better, I wished I could've met the guys in person, especially since some blues artists did in fact come into our radio station for interviews, recording sessions, and even to do promos. But I never got that kinda luck. I was out of town when B.B. King was available, so my friend interviewed him, and got him declaring our radio station was the best in New York. He didn't sound like a sell-out when accompanied by his guitar Lucille.

A promo I loved to use was when Champion Jack Dupree banged out some barrelhouse piano music while a radio tech whispered in his ear what to say. Of course it came out all wrong, and Dupree just winged it -- "An' that's a wonderful radio to listen to, when you lonesome. Or you been drinkin'. Ohhh, ohhh, tune in, tune in, tune in, when you been drinkin'. An' even if you ain't drinkin', tune in anyway. You can go to bed."

But once, after several semesters working at the radio station, I finally did meet a great musician. He was a jazz artist, not a bluesman, but that's cool by me.

I saw a striking gray-haired tall guy walking through our hallway and when he noticed a poster on one of the open LP lockers he said, "Count Basie -- all right!" The baritone of his voice shook the walls.

"Hey, I know you!" I said.

He looked at me, appreciative, but skeptical. "Well, I hope so," he said.

And then I realized I shouted not out of recognition for what must have been a distinguished musical career. Only later did I understand that this man sang for Count Basie over 40 years ago. I was embarrassed to admit how I knew him, but my hesitation must have given it away.

"You probably know me from television," he said.

I tried to recover, shrugging nonchalantly. "Well, I mean, of course, you were on The Cosby Show..."

He played one of the jazz musician grandpas -- Cliff Huxtable's father-in-law. But I couldn't admit that was my introduction to him, watching an episode at home with my parents. Fortunately, I remembered Mom and Dad identifying the crooner-turned-actor.

"But I know you're a jazz singer -- you're Joe Williams!"

His gaze became warmer. He grinned, winked and said, "That's right." And then he continued on.

I don't know if it meant much to him to be recognized by the younger generation for his music and not a silly sitcom. But I never forgot that cool encounter.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


3. When I was in college, the Giants were in the big game. Or maybe it was the Jets. Or the Buffalo Bills. Someone from the state of New York. And we left the city of New York, dragged by my friend Elmo Fingers the Wizard (long stupid story; don’t ask) to his hometown of Fairlawn, NJ. There, his family cooked the best, spiciest chili I’ve ever had. Maybe the Dallas Cowboys was the other team in the Superbowl, ‘cause I kept thinking that there’s no way Texas could be the chili capital of the world, after going to Jersey and getting my stomach lining blitzed with deliciousness.

2. Earlier, in high school, my football fan friends couldn’t believe I would skip out of suburbia on Superbowl Sunday to go into the city just to see a concert. Did they not understand? It was Motörhead! Halfway through our headbanging, lead singer Lemmy came on stage and growled to the audience in his British accent: “Do you bastards give a fuck about this pansy American football match-up?” This was before cell phones, of course, so we had no way of knowing the score. He referred to a scrap of paper in his hand. “Uh… Denver Broncos, 14, and… ahh, fuck it!” He tossed the paper and thrashed out the next metal song.

1. Tomorrow. Not just because the underdog Giants get a chance to upset the undefeated Patriots -- football payback for baseball’s transfer of power from NY to Boston. But my friend invited us over to glance at the game between long stints of playing Rock Band. Plus, he promised to break out the Johnny Walker Blue. Man, that’s good shit. Couple of drinks, and no matter the score of the football game or the video game, I’ll be rockin’ out as hard as Lemmy.

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