Tuesday, February 26, 2008


There's a garish orange-and-blue careerbuilder.com van parked outside my window. In honor of the van and the Cal State Fullerton Titans, I've redesigned my blog colors. Don't worry. It's likely only temporary.

I think I need to visit San Francisco soon. This album and especially this song have made me miss the place. (Yeah I know there should have been a comma or two in the previous sentence. But everything I tried looked wrong.)

My favorite player on my favorite basketball team has a poetry blog. It's really good.

I can't really complain about the Oscars. I suppose if my second favorite director(s) (and third favorite film of the year) beat out my favorite director (and favorite film of the year), it's not so bad. They should have won for Barton Fink though.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

4 Links

American Music Club has a new album out today. I'll have to spend the next week listening to this and ignoring other music, friends, responsibilities, etc.

Gerald Green of the Timberwolves blew out a candle on a cupcake and dunked a basketball in Saturday's NBA Dunk Contest. Pretty cool.

My 4th favorite blog. It's about baseball and statistics, as well as progress and those who wish to impede it. Co-written by the guy who played Dwight's cousin on The Office.

And why writing novels isn't always the cure for what's wrong.

Friday, February 15, 2008

City To City

(I've made a correction to the original post. I had said that the Iliad Bookshop was closed. It's still very open. It just moved a few blocks away.)

In the summer of 1995, I got the phone call telling me my father had died very early one Tuesday morning. The call stirred me out of sleep and sent me into the world changed, confused, and, most of all, very sad.

I usually picture myself alone when I got the message. But I wasn't alone. My then-girlfriend was next to me when I got the news. And though she had to leave for work soon after, she did give me the requisite sympathy and support. I don't know why but I usually delete her from the memory.

Mostly, from that day and the day after, I remember where I traveled. Sure, there were the phone calls to work, to relatives and friends. Sure, there were tears. But I remember specific destinations, places I traveled alone (mostly). Cities.

I did a lot of driving around on that Tuesday and Wednesday. It didn't occur to me until today why I chose to get in my car and go away.

I was living in North Hollywood, just down the street from Odyssey Video and it's unrelated neighbor, the Iliad Bookshop. The former specialized in porn; the latter in fine literature and rare books. My first move, after the phone calls, was to get coffee and read the paper. I needed routine and back then, the coffee/paper routine was just starting to take shape (it continues today.) I drove down Camarillo Street and Hollywood Way to Burbank, where, in a nondescript shopping center there was a little independent coffee shop, the name of which I can't remember. It was the name of a person. A woman's name. I remember getting a mocha and some kind of pastry. I remember reading about the Los Angeles Raiders' impending move to Oakland. I remember feeling numb (not about the Raiders). Today, that coffee shop is a Starbucks.

After coffee, I drove around the San Fernando Valley, sticking to the closer and uglier streets. There were Lankershim and Magnolia Boulevards. Cahuenga, Vineland, Tujunga, Moorpark. I went home to make some phone calls, making plans for lunch with my cousin and my then ex-girlfriend. We ended up eating Indian food in West L.A., at a place on Wilshire that still exists but no longer looks appetizing when I drive past. Eventually, just my cousin and I watched a movie in his UCLA dorm room. The fact that the main character - a Middle Eastern man in midlife crisis - looked a lot like my father made me a little sadder. But I liked the movie and appreciated the simplicity of a videotape in a dorm room in midday.

I couldn't sit still. I drove from one part of Los Angeles to another. I think I drove to my aunt and cousins' house in Anaheim. Maybe that was the next day. I just knew I didn't want to be home. Sitting. Thinking. Better to be in motion. In retrospect, laying on the couch with then-kitten Seymour may have been a better choice.

The day after the phone call, I went even farther. If there's one thing my father was known for, it was his lack of fear of change. He was a man who appreciated the movement from city to city. In his life, he went from Alexandria to Cairo, Hamburg, to Stockholm, back to Egypt, to (the suburbs of) New York and Philadelphia, to Minneapolis, to Singapore. Back to New Jersey for his funeral.

In my childhood, my father liked to take the family out for weekend drives. When we lived in New Jersey, we could often go into New York City. We went to comic book stores and Arab groceries. We went to Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. Maybe the Bronx. We went to the Guggenheim and the United Nations building. I remember all the flags in front of the U.N. I remember the tour inside, with the amazing little walkie talkie/headphone combinations that made seamless translation a possibility in 1974. When we lived in Pennsylvania, we drove to Philadelphia a few times but my Dad preferred New York and we'd take the two hours to go to the big city instead of the 45 minutes to go to the smaller one.

Sometimes, we'd even go farther. There were the relatives up in Wellsville, NY (near Buffalo). There was Florida. There was Montreal, where we toured the then nine-year-old Worlds Fair site. I remember futuristic architecture and amusement park rides that would never end. And signs in French and English. We would almost always drive. Eventually, there were flights - to Europe and Phoenix. But in the beginning, it was the car.

But I'm going back too far. This is about 1995, not 1976. The day after the phone call, I made the odd decision of driving to San Diego. I never thought about why but today it came to me. It seemed so obvious. I don't know why I hadn't figure it out before. Just as my father drove to other cities out of curiosity or boredom, I chose to drive to another city. And when you're in Los Angeles, the one place that qualifies as some other city is San Diego.

There was a lot of traffic on the way down there. I listened to sports talk radio as Raiders fans bemoaned the loss of their team. I may have listened to music but I don't remember a single song. Which is strange. When I got to San Diego, I just drove around and got lost. In retrospect, I realize I drove past the uglier parts of San Diego (Mission Valley, the northern suburbs) and didn't even get close to the cool parts of town. That didn't matter. I just wanted to drive. I don't think I did anything when I got there. After a while, I just drove back. Traffic was worse. The Raiders fans were angrier.

I got home late at night. I'm sure my cats missed me. There was a message from my boss, telling me to take my time before coming back to work. Eventually, there was a funeral on the other side of the country and applications to grad school (which took me to other cities). And today I still think of moving, from here to there. To new places and old ones. Planes replace cars. Can't sit still, probably should.

It was this song (specifically the line about the phone call in the morning) that got me thinking of all this stuff. I'll go back to thinking about other stuff, like my trip next week to another city, like my drive last weekend to Palm Springs. Meanwhile, in my home in (regular) Hollywood, Seymour sits around and doesn't go anywhere and looks pretty damn happy.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Recently, I told an interesting story about a professor and an illness. Speaking to a friend earlier today, I recalled two more stories about the statistics professor I'll call "Lynne."

Once, Lynne was trying to explain to the class the difference between "theoretical zero" and "absolute zero." Theoretical zero, she explained, is like "a black dairy farmer in Iowa." Absolute zero is like "a man with ovarian cancer." I hadn't thought of this explanation in over 10 years... until today. Wow, she was a genius.

Another time, I was working for her as a T.A. One of the students in the class had impaired vision and had asked me that his tests be printed in a larger font. When I told her this, she got out her little green grade book with the intention of noting this fact next to the student's name. She was trying to think of what to write next to his name. "Blind" would have been an overstatement. So she thought for a while and said "let's just call him 'special.'"

When it came time for the first test in this class, she printed the "special" student's test in 12-point font, while the rest of the class got 10-point. In other words, it wasn't much bigger. She also placed the special test in a special envelope. Anyway, the student took the test and he asked if it could be a little bigger next time. Lynne proceeded to print the next test in a ridiculously, offensively large 36-point font. I don't really have an ending for this story. I think we eventually settled on 18-point for the final exam. The point is... when you think of this incident and the strep throat story, Lynne was what you would call "insensitive."

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

10 Things I Did in the Nineties

1990: Worked a temp job at a graphic design/printing company in Minneapolis. When bored, I would find a quiet corner in the warehouse and write poetry on expensive paper. My supervisor listened to Garth Brooks every day.

1991: While working for a high concept General Mills-funded gourmet food delivery business, I delivered food to the editor/publisher of the Utne Reader. He didn't tip me. He lived in a Linden Hills mansion and he didn't tip me. He was the only one who didn't tip me. Haven't bought the Utne Reader since.

1992: Had a fungal "growth" removed from the area between my thumb and forefinger on my left hand. Not as bad as it sounds. The surgery happened in Glendale.

1993: Wrote two poems called Bakersfield and Marbles. They changed my life. I've since lost them. Anyone have copies?

1994: Went to the Cal State University-Los Angeles library with my then-girlfriend. We looked through back issues of the Los Angeles Times to see if an evil man named "Michael" was ever arrested on sex crimes in the early 80s. Couldn't find anything.

1995: Watched the Pittsburgh-San Diego AFC Championship Game in a Las Vegas Travelodge, rejoicing in the Chargers' clutch win because I had money on it. My friend Jim, whom I was traveling with, enjoyed his new glasses from the Lenscrafters at the Fashion Show Mall and calculated how we could get the rental car back to Burbank with exactly no gas left.

1996: Lived in Amherst, Massachusetts for exactly 12 days. Drove to Boston once when I was bored. Still the only time in my adult life that I did not live in Minnesota or California.

1997: Went on a date that involved this restaurant, this movie, and the Museum of Questionable Devices. I have to say - that was one of the best dates I ever had. Too bad things didn't work out. Could it have been you? Hard to say.

1998: Went out on a date on a Saturday (saw Saving Private Ryan). Never dated her again. Went out on a date on a Tuesday. Dated her again, got married to her. The girl from Saturday later dated the ex-boyfriend of the girl from Tuesday. I'm now working on screenplay with ex-boyfriend of the girl from Tuesday. The funny thing is.... I don't think either of them know of the connections. You see, the date from Saturday who later dated the ex-boyfriend of my ex-wife swore me to secrecy, not wanting to blow her chances with the new guy. We discovered this connection when we ran into each other while seeing a 70s cover band called Two Tickets to Paradise. She later worked in a record store and sold me (on a Thursday) the only Eels CD I ever bought.

1999: Performed cover versions of U2's Lemon, the Beach Boys' Good Vibrations, Billy Joel's We Didn't Start the Fire, among other songs, in a basement in West Milford, NJ.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

There Will Be Blood

I've had a few discussions about There Will Be Blood with a friend. He didn't like it.I loved it. Of course, I've liked/loved Paul Thomas Anderson's films to varying degrees (Boogie Nights is the best film ever made, Magnolia is in the top 30, Hard Eight and Punch Drunk Love are pretty damn good too.) But I'm not biased, I swear. I went into this movie with high expectations but still a little put off by the setting (the early 20th century, in the always overrated "Old West"), the essential story (oil vs. god), and the fact that one character is in every scene. I always thought there was too much Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love (John C. Reilly should have gotten the lead) and I'm still not sure Mark Wahlberg was the best choice for Dirk Diggler (John C. Reilly should have gotten the lead) so I was unsure how well Anderson would use his leading man.

So I had some uncertainty going in. Then, from the first harrowing scene underground to the final scene in XXX XXXXXXX XXXXX, I was awed - by the acting, the writing, the music, the editing, the camera work, etc. It was beautifully made, well made... perfectly made. It's a movie where specifics are hard to come by in review. It truly was an amazing experience. That's why I'm a little surprised that some people didn't like it.

But then I try to explain why I liked it - why I liked the story of one man consumed by greed, ambition, power, and NOT love. And I think about it. And I grasp for the explanation.... until.... it hits me. This was the same movie as Boogie Nights. A man. Consumed. Greed, ambition, power, and not love. A movie about an industry (oil, porn), about California (Central Valley, San Fernando Valley), and yeah I have to state the obvious - gushing phallic symbols (oil derricks, Diggler) directly leading to money, power, greed. etc.

Sure, you can say (and everyone has said) that Anderson owes a lot to other filmmakers. Yes, Scorsese used the nightclub tracking shot. Yes, Welles tracked powerful man's rise and fall and abandonment of child. But Scorsese used too much montage and Welles didn't use enough. You can criticize Anderson for a few things (e.g., liking the music of Aimee Mann way too much) but knowing what to do with his influences and undeniable skills isn't one of them.

Back to the two films and their undeniable parallels. One is an ensemble film. The other is the opposite. I think Anderson, when making Boogie Nights, gave it the seemingly happy ending everyone (including me - all 11 times I saw it on the big screen) wanted. (Spoiler alert for a film made 10 years ago but I shouldn't assume everyone's seen it) Dirk and Jack reconciled, Buck got the stereo shop, Jesse had the baby, Reed's a magician. Everyone but Todd is happy. (BIG SPOILER ALERT for the new film) But not all stories should have happy endings. Power and greed and money corrupt. Sometimes, they just make you develop bad habits and crash your cool cars. Sometimes, they make you do truly awful things and you watch as the world - your world, the one you built from the below the ground up - ends. Abruptly.

(Now it's safe to read again if you haven't seen it.)

Go see this movie. If you've seen it already, see it again. If you're an Academy member, don't try to talk yourself into Viggo Mortensen and just give it to the Irishman. For Best Picture, do not talk yourself into No Country For Old Men (fine film but not even close). For Best Supporting Actor, write in Paul Dano. And for the Actress awards, do what you want because there were pretty much no women in There Will Be Blood.

So is it better than Boogie Nights? No. But that's okay. Only one film has ever come close. Very close.

Monday, February 04, 2008


So my general malaise has been replaced with a phlegmatic cough that just won't go away. When this is all over, I know I won't want to drink a citrus-based juice beverage for the rest of the fiscal quarter.

If I had to make a Top 12 song list right now, 11 of them would be songs from the Vampire Weekend debut album (with Walcott at #1) and the 12th would be Lily Allen's cover of Don't Get me Wrong. No other album has simultaneously reminded me of the summer of '85 AND the spring of '99.

Good Super Bowl. Now the real sports season starts. The basketball-only months!

Work to do.

Friday, February 01, 2008

I Always Tell the Truth

There's no better new song out there than.... Oxford Comma by Vampire Weekend.

The Lakers just traded for Pau Gasol. That makes things interesting.

The Super Bowl this year is a tough one for me. On the one hand, we have the arrogant annoying ubiquitous Patriots going for perfection. And then there's the Giants, with their Manning brother at QB and their "history." How can I choose between two teams from (the areas around) Boston and New York? Can't we just have a 0-0 tie? Can't we just have a Raiders-Vikings Super Bowl? Okay, I need to be objective. Patriots 34 Giants 17. Tom Petty sings I Won't Back Down when he should sing Refugee.

Funny video here.

(After my post yesterday, I seriously gave thought to the possibility that the disappeared professor I was writing about could very well be.... dead. It's as likely an explanation as any. I hope not. She still has some teaching to give. I think.)

I like the turkey burger and mashed potatoes combo at the 101 Coffee Shop on Franklin in Hollywood. It's flawless.

Just listen to that Oxford Comma song and try not to like it. Can't be done. Yes, they steal a hook from Summer of '69 but they do it in such a subtle Paul Simon-y Graceland/Balancing Act-first album/Andrew Gold/Jay Ferguson/Charm of the Highway Strip sort of way that forgiveness is possible.

And the ending is sublime.