Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy 2009, or as I call it, the Year of the Nephew.
My sister's doing great and her baby's beautiful.
In five minutes we got him making goofy faces. Can't wait to see what we can do in a year.
Mbaby4 Mbaby2c
BabyFace2 BabyFaceR Smirk

Monday, December 29, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire is the best movie I've seen this year.
I've seen, like, 7 movies this year.
But, still.

On a more exciting note, I think I'm gonna be an uncle tomorrow.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Why I keep waking up earlier than I really want to:

• That stupid thing called work. But hey, I'm on vacation, so I can sleep late, right?

• No -- the next day, we had to get ready for our Vodka Latke party.

• Hungover, we had to drive out to Nevada.

• In Vegas had to go to the bank bright and early, just to wait half the day for those schmoes.

• Then, our unrequested hotel wake-up call in the form of "Housekeeping!" at 8 in the morning.

• Back home, Nanette & Brent came by to do a kind favor... too early for me, but halfway through their early AM Baby-Em day.

• Time Warner Cable reminding us every three hours that our bill is due next week, despite the fact that I paid it -- clearly, their accts receivable dept. has time off but the automated Nag-the-Customer section never takes a vacation.

• I ignore the home phone at 9AM this morning, which stops ringing before the msg comes on, and then my cellphone goes off. It's my sister, maybe. Normally, I'd still let it go to voicemail... but I figure I better answer. "Are you having your baby?" I say. No, but she's making room in her apartment for when it comes and wanted to know if I wanted Dad's coffee table (no, I told her a hundred times) or that old rocking chair that's broken but could be fixed if we track down someone who knows how to re-cane the seat, but isn't that comfortable anyway (way to sell it, Sis). I had told her to deal with all this months ago, but too tired, I just sigh and tell her I'll stop by in a day or two to help her with stuff. But now...

Lemme sleep, willya?!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

As the year comes to a close, and entertainment writers sum up recent celebrity deaths, they quickly update their lists with recent passings like Eartha Kitt and that Johnny Cakes guy from The Sopranos. With so much bad news to mention, some fail to include (Entertainment Weekly) and others will mostly likely remember (The Academy Awards next year) one in particular of interest to me -- Nina Foch, who died a few weeks ago.

Most news articles talk about Nina Foch's acting career -- her film work was primarily done in the '40s and '50s. You might remember her from The Ten Commandments or An American in Paris. She also got a Supporting Oscar nomination for Executive Suite. Maybe you caught some of her TV work later on... or scattered appearances later in life. The last one I knew of was a bit part in 1993's Sliver as a real estate agent showing a condo to Sharon Stone. Nina Foch's name came up in recent years because of the popularity of "Inside the Actor's Studio" -- she was once married to James Lipton. (Maybe it didn't work out 'cause he didn't kiss up to her as much as every actor he's met since then, I dunno...)

But I remember Nina. She taught "Directing the Actor", a required class for the graduate screenwriting program. The two years I spent in film school, being new to LA and all, I don't remember much. I could barely tell you the difference between an F-stop and B-story, between mise en scene and denouement. But as anyone who's been in Nina Foch's class can tell you, it's just something you never forget.

Nina was the equivalent of a film school drill sergeant. Loud, caustic, and often despised. Well, I don't know if anyone necessarily despised her, but ask any student of her class and they'd all say, "Oh, Nina hated me."

There was a good reason for that perception. Nina picked on everyone. And she was brutal. Students were forced to act out scenes and receive scathing criticism from our irascible instructor, which wasn't always about one's performance. I recall her telling someone he had "an unhappy body". A woman with a cute nose was warned it would soon droop along with her breasts. I believe she told me I was "the biggest fucking pain in the ass" in the entire class.

There was a lot of big crass statements coming out of this little old lady. Sexual tension in a scene was described as "There's an erect penis between these two!"

Some believe that Nina became so abrasive to set herself apart from the sweet starlets of her time. Others suspected a certain bitterness, based on things she revealed about herself in class. She'd often grumble that she wasn't as attractive as the Rita Hayworths and Liz Taylors and Ava Gardners of her day.

Still, for us film school students, she was notorious. At the end of our first year, we had a party with an award ceremony, honoring achievements in our mostly god-awful student films. I won Best Documentary for my short on Sergio Aragonés, which I'd feel proud of, but there were a million categories, kinda like an Everyone-Gets-a-Trophy Day. And our awards were called the Ninas.

I remember telling Ms. Foch, who honored us by attending the Ninas, "You know what? I really learned a lot in your class." She responded with something glib and cantankerous, like, I should hope so, or way to go, genius, I'm glad they don't pay me to blow smoke outta my ass.

I expected such a retort, but I really hadn't foreseen how much I would mean what I had said. Nina's class was about directing and acting, but really, it was essential for the writer. We learned how to break down every line of dialogue, every moment in a script to its basic action or intention. It may seem basic but after all our analysis and practice back then, I find now that if I'm struggling with something creative to go back to Nina's teachings. Some of the articles that came out after her death cited all her former students who became prominent in entertainment, thanks in part to Film Field Marshal Foch.

You resent your drill sergeant during bootcamp, but you're thankful for the harsh training when you're stuck in the trenches.

Friday, December 26, 2008

I woke up to a surprise visitor at our door and Nanette & Brent laughed at me in my flannel pajamas. I'd be embarrassed, but it's 44 degrees, the coldest I think it's been here. And although it was 9:30 and I should've been up, I feel like these last 2 days of sleep are making up for months without it.

Especially this week. We started our vacation with our second annual Vodka Latke party. The latkes went like hot potato pancakes -- I wound up cooking 2 extra batches during the party (wearing an apron which is more embarrassing than the pajamas but less so than the dreidel antenna hat Adelphia wanted me to greet my guests with). I think everyone had a good time -- the fire was roaring, Tony Bennett and Klezmer music playing, people socializing, eating, drinking and I was sufficiently worn out for the next morning.

But there was no time to rest -- Vegas, baby, Vegas.

The drive to and from Sin City went fine, and I gambled like crazy and broke even. In fact, even my wife started to enjoy and understand craps and blackjack. Plus we had a few great meals and she got to explore the overpriced shops and our hotel had a nice view of the fountains at the Bellagio.

But that was about the only good thing about our hotel. Don't stay at Planet Hollywood. Why not, you ask? Where do I begin?

Our first room was dusty, had no towels in the bathroom, had stained sheets... on a bed lumpier than last week's oatmeal. So when we went back to check-in and asked for a new room, they were accommodatingly surly and gave us one that was half the size and reeked of cigarettes. Our third trip to the front desk got the manager to escort us to a room to make sure it had what we asked for, since we're so demanding as to expect a clean room that is truly non-smoking and consists of an actual bed and not a king-sized beanbag.

From there it was all downhill. We picked the hotel partially because it had a Trader Vic's. That's where my wife and I had our first date in Beverly Hills, although it's somewhat closed down there. We mentioned that to the waiter at the casino's version and he griped how theirs is nothing like that. The customers here know nothing, he said. When we asked for recommendations he advised us of the mediocre dishes on menu to avoid. I don't remember requesting what not to order. The food we did have was good but I was afraid our sour server was gonna commit suicide before the meal was over.

Planet Hollywood was also home to the worst buffet ever. I expect these steamer trayed entrees to be a bit bland in order to cater to so many people but this was ridiculous. How do you screw up scrambled eggs? Or make bacon taste like drywall? I saw other diners around us staring at their plates with disgust. Yeah, it's awful, but there's plenty of it. Adding to the unnerving experience it was the TVs lining the walls, showing informercials of reconstructive surgery. Y'know, where they interview a perfectly normal middle-aged woman with low self esteem and then display them "after" in a more pleasant background, with high-temperature, low-saturation lighting? Ahh, a meal and a show.

On checkout day, housekeeping pounded on the door every 20 minutes starting at 8 AM. And the complimentary valet service that they mentioned at the front desk? They might have mentioned that the waiting time was forty-five minutes. While I was trying to wait patiently, knowing it woulda been much faster to schlep our bags through the hotel & casino & around to the self-parking on the next avenue over, the drivers said this was nothing. Yesterday, the wait was an hour and a half. Why? Well, they have the cars in several different lots, they said. Where, in Laughlin? Reno?

And then there was the whole reason we went to Vegas. See, I was getting notices from Wells Fargo about a safe deposit box that belonged to my parents. I could've sworn that with all the craziness of my mother's stroke, and my father's death and moving Mom & Grandma to LA over five years ago, I had gone with my mother to deal with this. But it was so chaotic back then I couldn't be sure. And apparently, we still owned this box and I had to go to Vegas to empty it and close it out.

You might think this could've been exciting -- maybe my parents kept cash or jewelry in there. I know that sometimes my dad, who played the horses at the sportsbook, won big and took his winnings in casino chips rather than cash to avoid paying taxes on it. Then he'd just redeem some chips whenever he needed money. Perhaps there'd be the remnants of a big trifecta that, at the very least, could've financed my trip out there.

Most likely, it was gonna be empty like Al Capone's Vault. But like Geraldo, I had to check it out.

Whatta pain in the ass. This post would be twice as long if I detailed the ridiculous amount of effort I made to the bank to coordinate this. I didn't have the key, so they had to arrange for their vendor, a locksmith, to come and drill to get it open. They do this all the time. But the staff at this bank was overwhelmed with this task like we were breaking into Fort Knox and moved with the enthusiasm of the license renewal lady at the DMV.

I went out of my way to confirm what papers I needed, and that their vendor would be there when I arrived. (The first time I tried to set this up, preparing in early October for the weekend after Thanksgiving, it took 2 weeks of calling -- they never returned my calls, even the bank's manager -- to find out that their one and only vendor couldn't work that day.) I was sure that when I arrived at Wells Fargo, he wasn't gonna be there. But he was. He was a nice, competent guy. The bank, however, had no idea what they were doing. I needed yet a different form -- not the one they had me fill out in LA -- and it had to be faxed to and approved by their legal department. That would take a while. Sure, I have nothing better to do than wait around for your stupid mistake.

Neither did the locksmith. Oh, except for two other jobs. When he said he had to leave but would come back in two hours, I nearly went ballistic. But he had the decency to waive his fee. Yes, I was supposed to pay $125 for the drilling. You'd think the bank would eat the cost of this considering what fuckheads they were. So I took a deep breath and roamed around my parents' old neighborhood until they were finally ready for us.

Once I got inside the vault protected by high-security and low-IQs, I saw that the last time someone signed to get in there was my mom in May of '02. Yeah, that was with me. We had taken out some documents -- passports and birth certificates. What was left? Three empty envelopes, two stiff rubberbands and one paper clip. Score!

Oh well. We still had a good time. Now I think I'm rested up from it all. Plus Nanette was kind enough to move my wife's car while we were away and got a laugh in the process.

I'm gonna try to blog every day for this remaining week of the year, so stay tuned and see if I do better than my previous attempt. It'll be more entertaining than me in flannel PJs.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I know, I know. Bad blogger.

I won't bore you with a big list of why I haven't written.

I'll just bore you with one reason -- running.

One reason, two milestones. This weekend I did a 10K race and beat my personal best time by 10 seconds. It may not sound like much, but I'm proud that I keep getting faster as I get older. By the time I'm a senior citizen I'll be giving those Kenyan guys a run for their money.

And I achieved that by accomplishing my goal of running 1,464 miles since January 1st. That's four miles a day for every day of the year, and there's over 2 weeks to spare. I've admitted it before -- it's a crazy obsession... which, by the way, has kept me healthy and fit all year. I'm feeling great... although a little tired lately with my long work hours. But hey, that much exercise has burned about 150,000 calories which equals some good eatin'.

So I'll definitely keep running, but not quite so much or with such regimented dedication. There's other things to focus on. New goals to set.

Like maybe blogging every day this week...

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