Monthly Archives: July 2002

7/21/02 You know, if you


You know, if you pick the right angle to go across it, New York is a big goddamn state. I learned this the honest way tonight, leaving from Columbia County at 7pm, determined to sleep in a different Commonwealth by night’s end. So here I lie at the Ramada Inn in Erie, PA at 4am, unbowed by the deceptively wide girth of New York. Sure, people talk about “the City” and “upstate” and the “finger lakes,” but there’s a whole other chunk of New York where there aren’t even gas stations. With the Land Rover running on kerosene fumes, I finally pulled into a tiny village with one drunk guy manning a press-key register – thank god they had Super Unleaded, since the Rover is a prissy car that can’t take the hard stuff.

I think I got everything done I was supposed to do at the farm, which is a rarity for me. I even put up Japanese Beetle traps, which caught about 50 of the suckers in the first hour. I don’t know how much of my small, disturbed readership has had truck with Japanese Beetles, but they suck. They’ll destroy any flower they can get their metallic little hands on they’re the entomological equivalent of the Borg.

We had a great weekend at the farm, just the three of us younger kids, strangely sans our romantic others. Michelle doesn’t really have a romantic other, but I have faith that’ll change sooner than later. She’s off to take a 9-week first aid trek across America it was a huge deal to be asked, and is something that will mean a lot to her

7/20/02 Why is it that


Why is it that I view the farm as a place to relax? Every time I come up here, I fancy myself “kicking back” and “letting the shit hang out, yo” and such, but more often than not, I’m involved in hours of backbreaking labor. Don’t get me wrong, I love being up here, but a brief sojourn to a swimming hole today reminded me that it was the first time I’d just sat and enjoyed nature without a pressing secondary activity

7/19/02 Sean, Michelle and I


Sean, Michelle and I drove up to Columbia County this afternoon, and the bogged-down traffic made for a perfect four-hour session of gossiping about pretty much every friend we have, and of course, every family member. Apparently there is some discussion that a particular couple in our extended familial tree is about to get divorced, an act for them – that seems as inevitable as the rain.

Naturally the discussion turned to Sean’s own failed marriage, something that we conjure every week or so when we’re low on other topics. Sean still keeps in touch with T_____, even four years after she cuckolded and humiliated him time and time again, even as she still lies and leads others down the usual well-worn gutter of failed Hollywood relationships. I partially understand why he continues to keep in touch with her (my own desire to keep friends, even unreliable ones, for decades makes it seem less nuts) but it works Michelle into a fine froth.

Michelle pretty much hated T_____ from Day One, back in 1991, when the three of them toured together with the Citrus Singers all over the world and got to know each other’s foibles, pore by pore. I had an excruciatingly difficult time with T_____ myself, for personality reasons, but I always had a respect for the way she overcame her background and sought to better herself. It turns out “bettering herself” was the whole point for her, fidelity and shame be damned. It takes a drive that surpasses kindness into cruelty for her to have escaped her family’s vacuous lunacy, but I am disgusted that she had to use my brother as the first stepping stone.

T_____, me and Sean at the beach during a hurricane, circa 1993

When I think of her, all I can think of are the loud lives of desperation that middle-of-the-pack actors radiate throughout the sad, beating heart of Los Angeles. There are 24,000 T______s living between Venice and Los Feliz, all of them thinking they are one party invite, one one-night stand, one chance appearance on Change of Heart away from stardom. And that’s what it is to these people: stardom. They can’t think about anything else, which is why they went to LA instead of New York, where they might have a shot at actually “acting.” Sure, they’ll go to workshops and do little showcases in front of C-minus casting directors, and gossip about auditions after yoga, but these folks live off the invisible heat emanating from an alternate life where they are already famous.

I’ve directed a movie, which, even if it’s a failure, gives me pretty good perspective on getting parts in a film (and if The Pink House is a success, you better have listened to every word I say, beeyotch!). If I were an unknown woman actor in the five-year range north or south of 30 years old, I would be single-minded, almost to the point of medication. And this would be the schedule:

– start your own work-obsessed community of writers, directors and a few, carefully-chosen fellow actors and have a relentless schedule of new works. One of your writer or director friends will get a movie eventually, and you will be in it. meet like clockwork.

– stop fucking drinking. stop it right now. even if you don’t drink that much. you can fucking drink when you have something to celebrate. if you want to drink, go work in investment banking; those motherscratchers drink all the god damned time.

– do not go to any parties to further your career. a good party is fine once or twice a week to keep yourself from going batty, but going to parties every night to ostensibly “meet industry people” is the quickest way to utter, hopeless defeat. Sure, you’ll get a lot of cards and numbers (especially if you have big tits) but NONE of them will lead to real work.

– go on as many auditions as you can, and expect to get none of them. you need to be seen by as many people as possible, but not for the reason you think. you need the input of strangers to make yourself a better actor, and you get better every time you set foot in a strange room.

– extend your social circle as large as you can, and take your intense writing/directing coterie to Big Bear or La Jolla to pound out a show or two. importantly, always take one or two people with you whom you don’t know entirely – they will tell their friends and build up heat around your endeavors.

– if you date for love, then date for love… but if you’re dating for fun, don’t date another actor, even if they’re really hot. they can’t do anything for you, and they’re usually self-obsessed, crazy and come saddled with a myriad of affirmation issues. like the eviction man said in Roger and Me: “one poor person marries another poor person, you end up with two poor people.”

– lastly, try to be really good. take the advice of non-actors seriously when it comes to your performances. don’t let your ego get in the way of getting better. take classes and study yourself on film. On “The Pink House,” we had 61 speaking parts, and two kinds of actors: our friends, and the persistent. and we will work with the talented ones again, believe me.

There, I just saved you $21.95. You won’t need to buy that book.

7/18/02 Tessa left for Texas


Tessa left for Texas today, off to help her mother, whose house in the Hill Country was among those lifted off its moorings during the awful floods that ravaged the area a couple of weeks ago. Sandy’s guest house was moved about ten feet to one side, and the water was five feet deep in the cottage. The place is pretty well fucked, and Tessa went down there to move her mother out of Texas as much as anything. What’s interesting to me is that we spent a week in Center Point, TX a few days after September 11, and I thought, “jesus, nothing could ever possibly happen here…”

me, Tessa’s mom Sandy and Tessa atop Mt. Greylock on Sept. 4

Our apartment in Brooklyn is normally huge, but it feels like an airplane hangar without Tessa here. I forget how little room I actually require, and the kind of shoeboxes I was accustomed to living in. Every once in a while, I think back to my lifestyle up until she and I got together, and I’m stunned at how badly I ham’n’egged it for so long. When I moved to NYC, I took the place with Lars sight unseen, and sleeping on a loft four inches from the ceiling seemed perfectly acceptable. Now I have to think for three: me, Tessa, and the weird nether-space our relationship takes up. Oh yeah, and the dog, but Chopes is happy with being stuck in a kennel anyway. It makes him feel secure. O, Chopin Tessa’s gay, twisted, sensitive, conflicted dog.

They say “clothes make the man,” but if that were the case, I’d have played basketball a hell of a lot better tonight. On eBay I acquired my beloved Vince Carter Nike Shox hoop shoes, which have a “medial-side anti-ankle inversion TPU structure” and a “a full-length Phylon midsole.” I brought my “maximum-traction herringbone exoskeleton” and promptly bricked about seven lay-ups, whiffed countless jumpers, consistently lost my man on defense, and one time I dribbled the ball off my “gleaming synthetic shroud lace cover.” Fuck.

7/17/02 Some may find my


Some may find my habit of recreating pictures to be fairly depressing. After all, not many people look “better” to themselves as they age, unless you happen to have gone through a caterpillar/butterfly-like metamorphosis or lost a ton of weight. The thing about getting into your middle thirties is that you start to take on the physical characteristics that define you as “old” and make you visually unappealing to anyone under 25. There’s just something about you that’s creepy to them the same way you felt about 35-year-olds when you were their age. I suppose this aversion to age has its roots in primal Darwinian survivorship; you want your mate to be able to stick around for a long time to help raise the kids. It may also be disheartening to learn that a man’s “biological relevance” ends at 27 in our species, meaning that there are usually enough healthy males younger than him to make his existence irrelevant, at least procreation-wise.

Having dealt with my biological irrelevancy eight years ago, I’m more interested in the aging process, and not just stuff like how bad my back hurts now. I like watching my friends go through a “nesting phase,” trying out a “existential crisis” or two, or even “I’m dating a 20-year old this summer” syndrome. Pictures are one way of looking at us age, and the videotape of the “General College” reunion I described in last night’s blog gives some broad strokes to work with.

Basically, everyone looks the same as they did twelve years ago, except now they all look like they’ve been filled with about six liters of water. Everyone’s cheeks, necks and bellies are waterlogged, gurgling from one scene to the next. Notable exceptions are Tessa, who looks about fifty times better now; her best friend Jason, who lost his Roland Orzabal haircut and got buff; and Todd Walker, who went bald but now manages to look even better, like a young Ed Harris (who, incidentally, was my babysitter in the early ’70s betchya didn’t know that, huh?).

The jury is out on my own changes the last few years, which have been rough on me emotionally. I’d be interested to know if one’s mood can affect one’s visage in the long term, much like Tessa’s grandmother Nonnie has etched deep lines of worry into her forehead from decades of anxiety.

This is me in the fall of 1996, having turned 29:

And this is me a few weeks ago, having turned 35:

Six years between them, and though something is different, it’s hard to tell exactly what. Perhaps that little Darwinian push that tells 20-year-olds that better breeders lie elsewhere. Maybe it’s the eyes with six years’ more information being processed. Maybe it’s six liters of water gurgling around. Or maybe I’m just squinting back at 1996, trying to find my relevancy.

7/16/02 I might as well


I might as well admit it: this it “retro week” on the blog. I left my digital camera upstate at the farm, so I can’t illustrate the things that are happening this week, which is fine, because so far I’ve done well just getting to the living room. Most of the last three days has been spent going through boxes in my office: giant, unopened behemoths containing both the mundane and crucial mixed together on the “pure” setting. I found my passport next to a receipt for a USA Today purchased at the Louisville airport in 1999.

I lug so much crap around with me that I’m surprised I haven’t taken on some sort of celestial gravity. Fortunately, the farm has acted as a shit repository, but I promised Tessa that I’d go through it and throw away stuff that won’t be missed. When she saw the amount of detritus stacked up in the garage on Beachwood Avenue, she actually cried. Tears came out of her eyes. I filled up a U-Haul trailer.

The thing is, everything gets used eventually, even if it is the spark of a tangential idea that leads to a great turn of phrase, or an old pamphlet that reminds of a screenplay I’m supposed to write. I regret that there is 70,000 lbs of this stuff, but it does have its place in my life. The key is to distill it down so that only the germinating idea seeds are left. Akin to “thinning out the pumpkins” so that the vines grow stronger, I guess.

Speaking of lugging things around for 12 years, we watched the “reunion” episode of UNC’s General College soap opera, which supposedly tied up a bunch of plot lines left hanging well-nigh through the decade of the 1990s. Mostly, it was just fun to see Tessa on film, both now and back in 1988. Her bangs back then had their own agenda, flying north-northwest and thither and yon. She had big hoopy earrings, wore her Oxfords with the collars up, and had a “shra-shra” accent inherited from her father.

“General College,” like most artistic endeavors at UNC, created way more brilliant professionals than it should. From humble beginnings (playing coke whores at the Student Union), GC’ers have gone on to helm “Guiding Light,” become respected agents, artistic developers, and commercial producers not to mention the careers of Tessa, Billy Crudup, Dan Cortese, and yours fucking truly.

7/15/02 Whilst dicking around in


Whilst dicking around in my office tonight, I came across two boxes that haven’t been opened in the better part of two years. Besides the usual depressing stuff, I found the playlist for the cover band my brother Sean and I were planning in 1994. It has to be seen to be believed:

Honestly, I don’t know we pulled any of these off with just two guitars and two voices. Specifically, “Goody Two Shoes” by Adam Ant must have sucked, and I refuse to believe we were serious about playing “Round and Round” by Ratt.

But the medleys are pretty terrific: “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” segue into “You Don’t Want Me Anymore”? “Moondance” into “Summertime”? Musical sweetmeats, I tellsya. I recall our covers of Duran Duran’s “Is There Something I Should Know?” and Elvis Costello’s “Oliver’s Army” were pretty awesome, as well as “Brandy” [which, of course, segued into “Jenny (867-5309).]”

That cover band was a rare but horrifying miscalculation into the hearts of my generation, who were by then much younger than I had thought. In 1992, Matt and Jon and I had actually earned thousands of dollars playing shit like “Dance With Me” and “I’m Alright” (the “Caddyshack” theme) to throngs of adoring fraternity and sorority houses in Chapel Hill. However, two tiny years later marked an incredible “cultural memory” difference in the students at UNC. Folks who had loved “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” in 1992 were replaced by vacuous morons who looked at us like we were from Neptune in 1994. Of course, college juniors in 1992 were eleven when that song came out but in 1994, they had been eight, and had no cultural recollection. These “mini generations” are fascinating and frustrating all at once, like the microclimates in an otherwise cohesive San Francisco sunny day.

So our 1994 model cover band died a quick death, and we concentrated on doing original stuff, and then due to my overbearing perfectionism, that died a quick death as well. From that moment forward, I never collaborated with anyone else, making my own tortured, solipsistic 4-tracks until my buddy Jamie Block asked me to join his band. We’d talked about playing together since about 1987 and until I left to make a movie and he left to make a fortune on Wall Street, we had a lot of fun playing NYC gigs. The year 2000 started miserably for me in Los Angeles – I was friendless, alone and pissed off

7/14/02 The thing about having


The thing about having short(ish) hair these days is I can’t dress up like a woman anymore. I guess I could make a really scary bull-dyke transsexual or something, but my heart wouldn’t be in it. Indeed, one of the sad things about getting older is the lack of opportunities to get dressed up at all, and I don’t mean putting on a tie or a tux. I mean parties where you wear crazy-ass shit, smear rouge all over your body, and pretend to be something you are definitely not. We had a Halloween party last year during one of those stupid terrorist alerts JUST so I could dress up as William Henry Harrison (our 9th U.S. president) and Tessa could be Mary Tyler Moore. The joke in that getup was “Tippacanoe and Mary Tyler Moore too” which would only be partially funny to American History grad students, but at least we’re trying, for chrissake!

The cross-dressing thing is just a lark – lest my small, disturbed readership think I’m some sort of basement Ed Wood but I confess it’s way more fun than it ought to be. I was an Indie Rock Chick for Halloween 1994, complete with nose ring, baby Gap dress and tights, and I got “hit on” by the dude who ran the 7-11 in Chatham County, NC (which made me consider the night a success). My friend Sage Hamilton took a picture of me that night, and when they got the film back, her ultra-Southern mother looked at my image and said, “oh, that unfortunate woman.

In Chapel Hill, there was always a reason to dress up for one reason or another, I found myself as a “Clockwork Orange” droogie, John Lennon in the “Beatles for Sale” era, the Heatmiser from “The Year Without a Santa Claus,” Amadeus’ bastard brother Ed Mozart, and about five really horrifying women.

Usually, Chapel Hill’s best getups are a group project, and no, I’m not talking about three sorority chicks dressed up as “black-eyed peas” or “white trash” and thinking they were fiendishly clever. Ours were brilliant. One of them was the recreation of the cover of “Abbey Road,” but the best was the representation of the entire cast of “The Dukes of Hazzard”:

Clay as Bo Duke, Matt as Luke, Jon as Waylon Jennings, me as Grandpa Jesse, Shay as Daisy Duke, Frisch as Cooter, and Lindsay as Boss Hogg. Not pictured: Ted as Flash the Dog

Okay, so we didn’t have Roscoe P. Coltrane or Enos, but given that it was the coldest Halloween in history, we showed incredible nads pulling it off at all (Clay said his hair was in “full Wopat“). It was a weird Sunday night Halloween, and people downtown were getting a nasty kind of drunk. In my only act of willful battery ever, I actually had to knock a guy unconscious with Cooter’s toolbox, but that’s only because he jumped on Daisy Duke and then drunkenly lunged for my testicles. I felt bad because he was so wasted, but if you’re dressed up as someone else, pretty much anything’s possible.

a random ’70s party: me, Stephani Holzwarth and Doug Bryant, circa 1991

7/13/02 Chapter XVIII of the


Chapter XVIII of the never-ending tome called “Projects for the Columbia County Farm” was in full swing today, as I sanded the floor in what will someday be the library. Any of you who have operated a rented floor sander knows what kind of dreary work this is, especially in a place like ours boards laid in 1867 don’t respond so well to being fucked with. The floor is puddled with sixteen coats of paint and polyurethane, most of the planks are bowed in the middle, and several of them are hammered into the floor with some sort of ancient nails that rip the sandpaper all to hell if you don’t bash them within an inch of their lives. Three abortive attempts into the ordeal, I put on the “super grit” sandpaper – you know, the kind the hardware sales clerk only lets you have with a prescription

7/12/02 Before the “pledge marathon”


Before the “pledge marathon” drowned out any chance of decent public radio broadcasting on my drive up to Columbia County, I heard an astonishing bit of news about arthroscopic surgery on knees: basically, it’s a useless procedure. A double-blind study over the last ten years has shown that patients who get the surgery do exactly as well as those who get a “fake” surgery (where, I assume, they make little scars and douse it with saline solution). Coming on the heels of the recent revelations about the neck-and-neck efficacy of antidepressants and placebos, it begins to make you wonder exactly which medicines work the way we think they do. It’s a bit scary for doctors and patients alike, because any time the placebo effect works, we’re tapping into our unconscious abilities to heal ourselves, and there’s nothing more unnerving to Westerners than flaky, holistic, touchy-feely solutions when there’s so much laser surgery just waiting to be had.

The placebo effect is also hard to harness, as it relies on deception, and there’s not one doctor in the world who will risk the malpractice suit of a fake surgery, even if it works. But jesus, does it work – apparently, the subjects of the knee experiment were actually told that many of the surgeries would be fake, and yet the placebo still did as well as the real thing.

This raises some fascinating stuff: first off, it illuminates an incredible lack of unity in our mind-body connection. The placebo effect only works because we want so desperately to be well – yet at the same time, left “unmedicated,” our conscious finds a way to keep us sick. I assume our longing for health comes from a survival instinct, but our ability to stay sick is more mysterious. I imagine it’s a lack of self-understanding, a belief that we’re far removed from the mystical times when we could heal ourselves. But now, give us a sugar pill, call it “Zyxafifor” or something, and we can stave off cancer. Other cultures must find us laughably inept at self-knowledge.

But what is the one thing that unites all of these fabulous placebos together? I’d say it’s the hour or so of time spent on the patient the surgery, the physical therapy, just the fucking attention may be all we’re really looking for. When a psychopharmacologist prescribes a medication, and a doctor performs a surgery, what they are really saying is “I understand you hurt, and I believe you, and I believe you enough to use my skills to make you better.” Since sickness is such a subjective thing (we can never truly express how bad we feel to others), it is only through the active belief of a respected figure that we can actualize our pain, and if Freud is right, that alone can make it go away.

This isn’t to say that all drugs are suspect. My sinuses are only unblocked when I spray Afrin into them, and my mom’s hip actually does need the oil changed. But I accept that everything I feel from the Celexa may be induced by my own character. I begin to feel anxious, and then I stop, telling myself, “you can’t feel anxious you’re taking a powerful, expensive drug!” and sure enough, it stops. It could all be a sham, and maybe Sean’s knee surgery was also a sham, but this I know to be true: I was miserable, then I took a pill, and now I’m not so miserable. Sometimes the destination is the destination after all.