Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mary, Liz, O.J., and Kevin

I couldn't possibly be the only one to notice this but I'm too lazy to do the research. Has anyone noticed that the characters and much of the setting on the show 30 Rock practically mirrors those of Mary Tyler Moore? A comparison:

MTM: Set in local TV news studio
30R: Set in network TV studio.

MTM: Free spirited single brunette lead (Mary)
30R: Free spirited single brunette lead (Liz)

MTM: Avuncular older male lead with mostly platonic relationship to female lead (Lou)
30R: Avuncular older male lead with mostly platonic relationship to female lead (Jack)

MTM: Cerebral bald writer (Murray)
30R: Cerebral bald director (Pete)

MTM: Self-centered on-air star (Ted)
30R: Self-centered on-air star (Tracy)

MTM: Slightly ditzy blonde female friend (Phyllis)
30R: Slightly ditzy blonde female friend (Jenny)

There's no equivalent to Rhoda on 30 Rock. And MTM has no equivalent to Frank and Toofer or the secretary or Tracy's entourage. But other than Rhoda those are all minor characters.

What does it all mean? They're both great shows. That's about it.

Today is the beginning of basketball season. If you want imaginative predictions of every game go to Free Darko. Rather than the traditional team-by-team overly worded preview, I'll just offer a few general NBA predictions and stray thoughts:

1. Cleveland and the Lakers will play in the finals. The Lakers will win in 7 games.
2. The Western Conference playoff teams will be (in order of seeds): 1. L.A. Lakers; 2. Houston; 3. Portland; 4. Phoenix; 5. New Orleans; 7. L.A. Clippers; 8. Utah.
3. The Eastern Conference playoff teams will be: 1. Boston; 2. Cleveland; 3. Toronto; 4. Orlando; 5. Detroit; 6. Atlanta; 7. Chicago; 8. Philadelphia.
4. My team - the Minnesota Timberwolves - will finish 33-49. Kevin Love will be good. Al Jefferson will be better. Randy Wittman will be fired before January with the team at 10-31. New coach Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will lead the Wolves to a 23-18 record the rest of the way; he will wear Native American fringe-jackets on the sidelines. They will not regret the draft day trade of Mayo for Love. Not this year at least.
5. Former Trojan Nick Young will outplay former Trojan O.J. Mayo.
6. The Milwaukee Bucks will finish with the worst record in the NBA - 16-66 (sorry Jason).
7. LeBron James will be MVP; Derrick Rose will be Rookie of the Year.
8. I will attend exactly one NBA game.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Friendship For Everyone

According to this source among others, there will be a musical episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia this season featuring the Day Man and Night Man characters. Without overhyping this too much, I'll just say that the day that this episode airs will be the happiest of my life.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Some Things Stay In Place (5 Songs on a Saturday Night)

I'm sad that Levi Stubbs (the lead singer of the Four Tops) died at 71. He was one of the best vocalists ever and definitely my favorite of the Motown era. In Standing in the Shadows of Love you can hear what separates him from the rest: anguish and anger, pain and a tiny figment of hope. Listen to to Reach Out I'll Be There.

Or just watch this amazing version of Baby I Need Your Lovin (he's on the right):

And here's an amazing video of Billy Bragg's song Levi Stubbs' Tears in which he imagines the singer's pain as a proxy for someone else's:

Speaking of great vocalists, I have to say I like Adele (just saw her on Saturday Night Live). She sounds like November 1986:

Which reminds me of:

And just for the hell of it - the world's greatest rock and roll band:

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Death (and Rebirth) of Century Boulevard

(Note: This blog entry contains hyperbole. [Special thanks to the unknown flickr photographers from whom I stole pics 1 and 2])

This morning I drove to work on my new favorite street, Norton Avenue. It provides a convenient non-maddening "shortcut" from the Larchmont area to the 10 freeway. For a while I had been using Wilton Place as a shortcut. Wilton was a shortcut that I "discovered" in 2006. Apparently I wasn't alone. When people at work found out where I lived, they lowered their voice and asked me if I "knew about Wilton?" Yes, I assured them. They nodded in approval. But Wilton is dead now. Nothing can save it. There are too many cars. There are too many abrupt changes - from straightaway to curve to school zone to straightaway. Wilton Place is now the worst street in Los Angeles. Every morning there's a car illegally parked in the right lane, next to one of those ugly apartment buildings, likely belonging to someone who got lucky and spent the night but didn't know about local parking restrictions. Every morning, there's an angry man (not me) tailgating unnecessarily past the elementary school.

Norton Avenue, which extends from 3rd Street to Pico is my new morning home. (Note: Norton starts up again on the south side of the 10 and if you go far enough you'll find where the body of the Black Dahlia was found.) Then, it's just a short hop to underrated (on weekdays only) Western Avenue to the freeway.

I said that "nothing can save" Wilton Place. I'm wrong about that. Let me tell you a story about Century Boulevard, the main road from the 405 freeway to LAX.

In the eighties and nineties, Century was a busy street. One of the busiest I had ever seen. On my first trip to Los Angeles as an adolescent, I remember being awed by the wide boulevard lined with fast food restaurants, billboards, and sex shops as the family trundled along at eight miles per hour in our rental car (likely a Taurus).

Eventually word got around that everyone took Century to get to the airport, that Century was a permanent traffic jam. At mid-90s parties from Long Beach to La Verne, from Simi Valley to Santa Monica, word got around: Take Sepulveda. Take Lincoln. When it finally opens for traffic, take the 105. Hell, take IMPERIAL. But don't take Century. I distinctly recall a former co-worker named Patrick telling me in his New York-tinged Trinidiadian lilt "Only stupid fools take Century."

If you go to LAX via the 405, the most direct route is to exit Century and head west to the airport. It's always been that way and will always be that way. The laws of geometry cannot be changed. But the traffic-savvy southern Californians heard these cautionary tales about this particular road to perdition, this Hotel California of boulevards. Everyone heeded the advice of Patrick and other self-proclaimed traffic experts. They abandoned Century Boulevard. Eventually even the stupid fools abandoned Century.

Even Larry David went along with the crowd. In season 1 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, in The Baptism episode, Larry and Cheryl had to hurry to the airport. Cheryl wanted to go the logical, geometrical route (405 to Century). Larry wanted to take Lincoln from Santa Monica. Knowing that he married a woman who didn't like to be disobeyed, he asked Cheryl for "Lincoln Approval."

That was a long time ago. Today? No one uses Century. It's a Ghost Boulevard.  If you wanted a clean surface to eat off of, I would suggest having a picnic on the asphalt of Century Boulevard, perhaps near the intersection with Airport Boulevard. If you were a homeless person and needed a safe, well-lit place to sleep, I would point you to any of the crosswalks on Century between the 405 and the bomb-sniffing-dog-security check. No one uses Century anymore. Nobody. Oh sure, there's the occasional hotel bus and the random sex shop counterperson. And there's me. But that's about it. These days Century Boulevard near LAX is a beautiful well-maintained palm-lined boulevard, with wide lanes of pristine asphalt the only thing that separates one from the ticket counter and baggage check.

Where did everyone go? The masses are inching up and down Sepulveda at six miles per hour, losing their cell reception as they get stuck at the light in that creepy tunnel beneath the runway. From the south, they ride the 105 west to Sepulveda, creating a westbound traffic backup on the 105 for miles, all the way back to Prairie. From the north, they take Sepulveda or Lincoln. You know what Lincoln Approval gets you these days? Twenty minutes trying to get past the stoplights at Venice and Washington. All because of that new Costco, in my opinion.

What is the lesson of all this? Information will spread. Shortcuts will be shared via word-of-mouth. Secret traffic blogs will tell you secret traffic routes, imploring you to keep it to yourself. Nothing lasts forever. Norton Avenue will not last forever. Not because of what I'm writing. My hit count is so small (and half of you are in Wisconsin) that I doubt what I say will make a difference. Eventually, Wilton Place will get back to 2006 levels. The universe may be infinite but human behavior patterns are not.

Maybe this weekend I'll head to Century Boulevard. I have no flights to catch, no people to pick up. I just want to roll down that road, approaching the relaxed Pacific vista, remembering the California that was (and still is if you work hard to find it). I'll blast that Brian Wilson & Van Dyke Parks album from 1995 in my CRV, sipping pink lemonade, fanning myself with a vintage 1959 Dodgers pennant and staring up at the palm trees wondering which frond will fall next, hoping no one's picnic gets ruined.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Behind the Line

Watching the debate last night I came to a realization. I've always liked Barack Obama, from his impressive speech at the 2004 Democratic convention to his off-the-cuff campaigning for a failed California gubernatorial candidate on the steps of the university library across the way. He seemed like a bright passionate guy - spirited without being annoying, pragmatic without being dull. It was clear from the beginning of the campaign that I was voting for him - not Hilary Clinton and her Fountainhead undertones, not John Edwards and his TQM technique, not John McCain and his everything (how did such an interesting Daily Show guest and David Foster Wallace book subject turn into such a cranky ass?) No, I was clarly voting for Brack Obama.

Last night, Obama - at the point of greatest pressure, when the election seems like it's almost wrapped up, when he has the most to lose - didn't back down from a single tough question. He tackled abortion, the economy (I'll take that penalty-free 401K withdrawal you promised, Barack), William Ayers (really - try finding a college professor in Chicago who's not a reformed domestic terrorist) and did it coolly, smartly, inspirationally, and pragmatically. (Note: These are admirable traits) McCain, on the other hand, offered intellectually vacant sentences and scripted "zinger" comebacks that went nowhere. That might have worked in 2000 and 2004 but not against an opponent who can shoot you down with one well-thought-out sentence. Plus, he plays basketball and has lived in Hawaii, Kansas, Indonesia, and the south side of Chicago (all of which is pretty much analogous to Sweden, Egypt, the NJ/PA corridor, Minnesota, and the sort-of-east side of Los Angeles).

Speaking of Chicago - read my cousin's amazing account of a horrifying scene outside his apartment building.

I'll keep trying to push It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia on all of you until someone tells me I'm right. This show is the natural successor (companion?) to Curb Your Enthusiasm except that it features five egocentric inappropriate characters instead of one. Not only that but Kaitlyn Olson - Larry's sister-in-law on CYE - is one of those five people. Here's part one of her "I'm not a bus person" scene from a couple episodes back. It can't touch the scene I linked to last week (nothing can) but it does perfectly represent a certain kind of public transportation claustrophobia that everyone can relate to.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Early Nineties

There's a time that I keep hidden, in reserve until it's needed. And it seems that it's never needed. Yes if you're a careful reader of BpB, you notice that I speak frequently of my past, sometimes through the filter of pop culture or, more specifically, music and sometimes through no filter but my memory. Going backwards: In this blog and in my conversations with some of you, you learn about the early '00s - the marriage and its fall, the legendary incidents (Sbarro, The Anonymous Pop Star and the French fries, "Grandma's got a hot date tonight). You hear about the mid and late '90s - the "Amherst August" and its crisscrossing moving vans, the Hal Hartley years in Minneapolis apartments, Professor Edwards and the difference between relative and absolute zero, the night a runaway horse ran down First Avenue. You discover the '80s - the basketball obsessions, my job at the movie theater when Purple Rain and Ghostbusters screened simultaneously (!), wine cooler parties on Xerxes Avenue, the Billy Joel and Springsteen and Violent Femmes concerts, the Stellfox Duel, and Amy's red mustang in the Davanni's parking lot. And of course - Brea, '89. You even hear about the distant faraway years before then. Have I told you about seeing Muhammad Ali at a freaking McGovern rally and later procuring his autograph on a paper towel in the Allentown (PA) Airport, me and Patrick being dropped off with each other's parents in fast food parking lot meeting places in central Jersey, my mean first grade teacher making me stand out in the hallway because I wasn't singing freaking Frere Jacques with the rest of the kids (I didn't sing until '79), picking mangoes off the tree in Alexandria, Egypt. Yeah, you've heard it all.

But what's missing? If you read that last paragraph carefully, you'll notice that I didn't mention the EARLY NINETIES. Yes, these are the lost years that I dare not speak of, the time that spanned, to paraphrase Office Space, the best years of mid-20s. Why do I keep this time a secret from you - my friends, my ex-wife, my cousin, my readers - why indeed? Well, I really have no valid reason. Ostensibly it's to forget about a particularly strange and "difficult" relationship that spanned the years 1991 to 1994. (Disclosure: I did tell a "3/4 True Story" about one event during these years. But that one was sort of fictional.) Or maybe it's to bury the frustrating loneliness that consumed me during this time (but still - not like it went away). Maybe I made some bad decisions (like moving back to California in 1991, after a brief return to Minneapolis during the Twin Peaks years) that I spent too much time regretting.

Recently, two people from this time of my life have sort of re-entered my life, as much as being "friends" on a social networking site can signify life re-entry. One of these people is my ex-girlfriend. Let's call her Lauren. The other person is Lauren's friend Jennifer.

So, with the understanding that one or both of these people could actually be reading this, let me proceed in my discussion of 1991 to 1994. These were not bad times. These were not always good times but they were often interesting times. These were lonely times but they were also filled with odd trips out of town and freaky late nights in lovely L.A. These were the years when I first wrote good poetry and when Seymour entered my life as a skinny little white kitten. He's now a fat old creamsicle cat, my favorite creature in the world. Sure, I managed to live in bad apartments in three different cities (Monrovia, Newbury Park, and Ventura (the last being in '95/'96 but I'll count it anyway) but I lived in good ones in Pasadena and North Hollywood. I traveled to San Francisco and Seattle, to Monterey and Mexico, to Las Vegas and Phoenix, to Minneapolis and the hotels around LAX.

My social circle then consisted of three people: Lauren, Jennifer, and, toward the end of these years, my cousin Sharif, then matriculating at UCLA. Thinking back, there were a few memories that make me cringe. But in a good way. Lauren had a thing for trannies. She also had a bullhorn. The bullhorn worked in one of two ways: in the normal bullhorn way (speak into it and everything gets amplified) and a second function that wasn't typical of bullhorns: the bullhorn had songs pre-programmed into it that one could also play loud. So back to the trannies. Back in the day there used to be a lot of transexual and transgendered prostitutes working Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, roughly between Highland and La Brea (or, more vividly, between Shakey's and Del Taco). Lauren loved these prostitutes. She appreciated their beauty and their work ethic. She empathized with them. She believed in them. So she would open the window of my eventually stolen '91 Honda Civic and scream words of tranny encouragement into the bullhorn: "Woo-hoo." "I love you." "You're beautiful." If the phrase existed then she surely would have said "You go girl." Luckily it did not yet exist.

So there's that. She also liked to play the preprogrammed Hava Nagila on the bullhorn as we drove past Jewish pedestrians on Saturday evenings as they walked to temple. She liked to play the mariachi song as we drove past groups of Mexican people. She loved to play the German songs when we drove past anyone really. That's the bullhorn.

There were also the weekends we would drive up to San Luis Obispo, where Jennifer was attending college. Those were great, more normal times. We walked down Bubblegum Alley. We ate at Hudson's Grill. We saw The Fugitive (Harrison Ford version). (Brief aside: Lauren gave Seymour his name but liked to call him Harrison because of his resemblance to the actor.) We watched some strange local San Luis Obispo fishing show. Jennifer had a boyfriend named Bill. Lauren used to say Bill was boring but he seemed alright to me. Later Jennifer had another boyfriend whose name I can't recall. I think he was from Iowa.

I remember driving back to Los Angeles from San Luis Obispo on one particular occasion. Jennifer was driving back home with Lauren and me, to her Mom's house (I think) in Glassell Park (where, it's been told, the aisles of Sav-On were lined with pyramids of canned corned beef). I recall listening to Weird Al Yankovic and fucking Toad the Wet Sprocket. I remember Jennifer reading aloud from a book called 13th Gen about the generation after Generation X (the 13th Gen name never really took). But I remember being thoroughly entertained and interested in the generational differences and divides the author was describing and Jennifer was narrating. There was a bit of generational divide between me and them anyway - I was six or seven years older.

Back in L.A., Lauren and I saw lots of movies, mostly midnight shows on Friday nights (many at the claustrophobic and now dated Beverly Center theaters). It should be noted that Lauren nor I lived nowhere near the Hollywood/West Hollywood/Beverly Hills nexus we socialized in. She always believed it was important to leave the area where she lived (Highland Park and, eventually, Glendale... they ALL move to Glendale). So yeah we saw lots of movies. We even saw that John Ritter/Pam Dawber movie, whatever it was called. We had many late night meals at 24-hour restaurants. The ones that are still around (Canter's, Jerry's, Astro Burger), ones that have died unfortunate deaths (Beverly Hills Cafe, Pennyfeathers), and one that is still around but should have died a thousand fortunate deaths (French Marketplace).

Lauren didn't like to go out before 11 at night. She wasn't really a Goth but she admired them. What else did we do? We went to the Museum of Tolerance but not any of the other museums. We saw The Cure at the Rose Bowl in the afternoon. We saw Ween at the Jabberjaw on Pico at night (different night). We got into altercations with innocent restaurant employees (Sizzler, '94) and obnoxious restaurant customers (Jerry's in Encino, '92). We drove slowly past her ex-boyfriend's place on Edgemont in Hollywood (later the street of Jason and Monica). We went to a few parties at my sister's house (birthday parties for the kids mostly) but eventually we stopped getting invited. We lived through the Northridge Quake, the L.A. riots, and the O.J. Simpson Trial. On the night of the double murder (for which I'm only 98% certain was committed by O.J.), Lauren and I ate at Viva La Pasta on Wilshire and Bundy, blocks from the murder scene. Don't know why that's important but we ate there. Viva La Pasta was a small L.A. chain. Their hook was that you could get any one of their 30 pastas in combination with any of their 40 sauces, for a total of 1,200 different combinations. Anything you want! Viva La Pasta no longer exists.

After the relationship ended, my friendships with Lauren and Jennifer continued. Late 1994, 1995, and 1996 were filled with "friend" dates with Lauren, UCLA parties with Sharif, and time spent with the Mormon (another story, for a different time). I remember going to Jennifer's graduation during this time with Lauren, both of us in new relationships at the time (the Mormon for me, the Hockey-playing Goth for her). It was a bittersweet drive to San Luis Obispo. We had to share the same tiny bed in Jennifer's tiny apartment the night before the graduation. Which was odd. But it was a fun weekend. We saw a young man vomit in a Mexican restaurant (end of school year partying). We went to the wretchedly over-the-top Madonna Inn to check out the bathrooms (Google it.) We listened to Shudder to Think, the Judybats, and more fucking Toad the fucking Wet fucking Sprocket. Everything we listened to was on cassette. Later, we all went to Lauren's graduation in L.A. and, a short week and a half later, her mom's funeral in Glendale. That was the only time I was ever in Jennifer's L.A. house. I remember her new boyfriend (the one from Iowa) was talking too much. I remember the actor Harry Morgan was arrested that day for spousal abuse.

(Note: Does that Judybats album cover define sincerity circa 1994 better than anything you've ever seen or what?

Then we all went separate ways. Lauren eventually moved to (and from) Minneapolis while I was living there. The late '90s happened and then it all changed. I saw Jennifer one other time on one of my visits back to California (at the coffee house in Pasadena that was used for a scene in the first Brady Bunch movie). And then no word, from anyone, from me. I invented the fiction (sprinkled with only a tiny morsel of fact) that the early '90s were bad times and they should be purged from my memory. No, they were good times. I was surrounded by good friends who reminded me that not all...... (no I shouldn't finish this sentence; certain personal issues should only be discussed in private, perhaps in therapy).

Today Lauren is in Wisconsin. I don't know the details. She moves around (California to Connecticut to Minnesota to Hawaii to Wisconsin). Jennifer is in Pasadena, with a son and an Oscar-nominated husband. And having two more friends is fine with me. I wouldn't even mind hearing that bullhorn again.

10 Seminal Songs of the Early '90s (in no order but the order in which they come to me)

1. Girlfriend - Matthew Sweet
2. Lulu - Trip Shakespeare
3. Pain Makes You Beautiful - Judybats
4. London's Brilliant Parade - Elvis Costello
5. Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana
6. Under the Bridge - RHCP
7. Nothin' But A G Thang - Dr. Dre (feat. Snoop D. Dogg)
8. Summertime in the LBC - Dove Shack
9. Birthday Boy - Ween
10. That screen door song by Shudder to Think