Monthly Archives: September 2003

9/29/03 I am the perfect

9/29/03

I am the perfect combination of someone who appears to be doing everything, but in actuality is doing nothing. Even better, exactly the opposite is true as well. When I did a stint as a caterer for The Bashful Butler in Los Angeles, I worked blindingly fast and got everything done so that I could stand around and space out. Of course, all my superiors saw was me spacing out, so many talks were had with my uncle (the owner) and my mom, all that shit.

So at the next gig, I finished my job early as usual, then picked up a rag and wiped random surfaces as I spaced out. The following day, there was all this talk about how I’d “really shaped up” and had a “new attitude.”

I began to carry this rag around the job at all times, wiping rails, parts of trees, backs of chairs, the steering wheel of the catering truck, anything I could get my hands on. All the while staring blankly into space. By the time I left, I was one of the most requested workers. I wiped the fuck out of that place.

Now that I don’t have to lug hot-boxes around Pasadena anymore, I’m not sure if I’m doing it right. I seem to have accomplished a fair amount of stuff: I’m twice-published (one actually sold a few copies), I’ve written a novel, three screenplays, and countless magazine articles. I’ve arranged more than fifty music pieces for McGraw-Hill currently being played in schools around America. I wrote all the songs for a Shakespeare musical, I’ve written trailers for 25 or so blockbuster movies, and I just wrote and co-directed an entire independent film.

And yet it doesn’t look like I’m doing anything. And getting work can be harrowing, especially in the writing business. I have trouble getting calls returned, and I’m basically a charming dude. Perhaps this blog is that rag, the one I used while catering, a way to polish random surfaces so I can look busy to myself, until I figure out what I was supposed to be doing.

9/28/03 My Trip to Hinckley,

9/28/03

My Trip to Hinckley, New York

by Ian Williams

My friend Laurie is from a small town in upstate New York. She doesn’t like it very much. Bad things happened up there when she was young. When we got into the car, a storm appeared on the horizon in the direction we were going.

We got there pretty quick. We were supposed to plant bulbs in the ground for her mother. On the way to her house, we passed what she called the After School Rape Hut. It was scary.

Her parents turned out to be very nice, but the dog wasn’t. I learned something new! If you put baby powder all over your flower bulbs, the squirrels wont dig them up. Tessa and Laurie planted 100 bulbs all over the yard. I think they were going faster than usual.

Then we had chocolate pie and went to Remsen. This is the town right next to Hinckley. They had a parade! Actually it was called the Barn Festival of the Arts. They had candied almonds, soy candles and macram trivets. Tessa said a lot of the stuff was “crap.” But there sure were a lot of people there!

I got a brick of horseradish cheddar cheese. I have to take pills with cheese because I’m “lactose intolerant.” My tummy makes weird noises if I don’t take the pill. And then it gets very unpleasant in the room. I don’t want to talk about being lactose intolerant. It’s not funny!

It turns out that Remsen is a town built by Welsh people. Everyone there is from Wales. I am too. So is Laurie. We are both called Williams. So we took a picture of Laurie and me in front of the Welsh Dragon and the “Williams Oil Company” sign. Tessa said “this is not a very flattering picture of you.” Meaning me.

It was getting late so we said goodbye to Laurie’s parents and “hit the road.” On the way home we got really hungry. We remembered seeing a Cracker Barrel somewhere. Then we found it. George said “Cracker Barrel is where all the crackers eat.” I got the chicken-fried chicken and a pancake. It was good! Then we went home.

I liked Hinckley, New York. Perhaps we will go back sometime. At least I know where the flowers are.

9/26/03 I went over to

9/26/03

I went over to Michelle’s apartment to pay respects to Zooey, the 16-year-old purr machine that has given a good name to cats since Reagan’s last term. I don’t think I was prepared to see him. Usually a 20 lb. butterball of a feline with a full-body fright wig, Zooey had lost 9/10ths of his body weight, and stared motionless into middle distance, his eyes dead, only a faint heartbeat and the occasional nudge for comfort. I encourage everyone who reads this to go over and check out Michelle’s blog from September 24, which describes Zooey’s last day on this earth, and is probably her finest piece of writing.

Zooey cuddles in Michelle’s arms an hour before the end

Zooey was older than some of you reading this blog, older than 90% of my friendships, and the last of what we had come to call the Class of ’87. That year was probably the worst in terms of my parents’ divorce; two years out, and things had only gotten worse, the money dried up, I was nearly failing out of Carolina, Sean was actually failing out of high school, and Michelle shaved one side of her head and wore a “Bread Not Bombs” T-shirt that fully disguised her burgeoning womanhood. My family, what was left of it, lived in four different houses that year.

It is at times like these that you can’t have enough friends, and they don’t always have to be human. In that year, Kije, our yellow lab, was born, and played an influential role in all of our artistic lives. He sat through my various rock outfits and farted up a storm; Sean credits him for a number of stage gyrations he perfected throughout the 90s.

Michelle in 1987 with puppy Kije and Franny the cat

Kije in 1991 with Salem’s dog Bear on Franklin Street

Kije was joined later in ’87 by Franny and Zooey – the names most picked by literate pissed-off teenagers – and while Franny peed on everything in sight, Zooey became the Fred Rogers of the animal kingdom. Michelle also got a cat she called “Lovecat” after the Cure song, an animal so bereft of personality that it hid under her bed for months at a pass, only to emerge in time to scratch somebody and draw blood.

My own present, given to me by my mom for my birthday, was Sergei the Ferret, a fuzzy slinky of delight who is one of three animals written into the Chi Psi charter, and quite possibly lived the happiest, longest, fullest life of any animal in the otter and mink family.

Sergei sleeps, 1993

In 1987, we also had four mice that Lovecat ate, and two doves that went bald by flying into the top of their cage every 30 seconds. We also had a German Shepherd named Amber that was so stupid we had to let her loose on a farm.

Lovecat’s acid veins didn’t last long, nor did Franny. But Sergei the ferret lived to be almost nine, unheard-of for his species. He died quietly in 1995, having written some of my favorite columns.

Kije died a few days after 9/11, fourteen years of loyal service under his collar – in Sean’s words, he slipped away while so much sadness was in the world, always full of grace, as if to not create any fuss.

And now Zooey, who was born when I was 19, is the last of the class of ’87 to go. There are many times in your life when you are reminded of your adulthood: leaving college, marrying, visiting old haunts that whisper of your youth. But the unspoken milestone is the day when the last pet from your adolescence is gone, and when that unceasing face of forgiveness, the one that saw you through your rants, your awful relationships, your teenage whirlwind, is no longer there to add continuity. The Class of ’87 was that for us, and this blog goes out to all of them, even the mice.

9/25/03 They say it’s always

9/25/03

They say it’s always darkest before the dawn, but it’s pretty dark before a storm too. These are strange days in our careers, and while everything looks impenetrably hard and callous, losing hope is not an option.

I was told, when I pitched the script, that it wouldn’t work as a “pitch,” I had to write it. So I wrote it, and then I was told that the script was too weird, and I had to make it. So I made it, and the description of it wasn’t easily pigeonholed, so I was told we had to show it. Then we showed it, got raves from a test screening audience, but still, they say they don’t know how to market it. So it appears that the only way to win is to think of it, pitch it, write it, make it, test it, and then screen it in front of an adoring crowd. Can the planets line up quick enough?

Some people come up with a pitch and say “it’s ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ crossed with ‘2 Fast 2 Furious'” and then a company says “here’s two million dollars.” This is not the path I chose, and now we are in those dark days either before a dawn or a storm.

Is it possible to work on something so hard for four years and have nothing come of it? My sense of fairness, along with my belief in it, does not allow me to contemplate such a scenario. That would be so awful, like a creeping death, a missing child that never comes home.

9/24/03 I know hearing about

9/24/03

I know hearing about the halcyon days of one’s college youth can be like listening to paint dry, but UNC’s Lab! theater was (and is) cool enough to warrant mentioning here. I credit the Lab for two things: one, showing me and 22,000 other students that it was possible to put on a professional play without the help of any adults; and two, allowing Tessa and I to get married.

I’ll get back to that second part, but I just need to mention how fucking great the Lab was in its day. Nothing but a black box theater in an ancient Drama building, the Lab was built into the old student union where Andy Griffith used to perform his skits in front of adoring crowds during pre-WWII Carolina. By the time I got there, it was an anything-goes experimentation center for whatever the post-adolescent mind could dream up. The first Lab show I ever saw was “The Real Inspector Hound” by Tom Stoppard, and I was hooked.

At a performance of “The Bacchae,” starring a very young, very pumped-up Fred Weller, then-18-year-old Tessa slithered over my shoes as one of the Dionysian sprites, and we became friends later at the cast parties, and then in the English Department. The Lab became the testing ground of future acting studs like Fred, Billy Crudup, Laurie Williams and Laurel Holloman; directing studs like Tessa, Tom Cole and Eric Rosen; and even backstage wizards like Walt Spangler and network anchors like Laurie Dhue. Google them all if you must, suffice to say they’re some of the best in the business, on or off Broadway. You see the faces of Chris Briggs, John Bland or Greg Miller all the time, even if you don’t know their names yet.

In the spring of my (first) senior year, I finally developed the nads to audition, and got the lead in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” which was a huge hit, due in some part by the score, arranged by my mom and played over the speakers as we sang (she was to score the Pink House for us thirteen years later). Every cast member in that show was brilliant, and I finally felt as though I could be funny in a large crowd. Tessa, of course, missed the show because she was dating some other dude and probably had Comp Lit homework.

Years later, my brother Sean ended up at Carolina, and promptly wowed the crowd with “La Bte” and then a hugely successful run of “The Fantasticks.” Mac Rogers, who wrote the Lucretia Jones play I mentioned yesterday, started his career in the Lab with three big works of his own. By the time my 12-year sojourn in Chapel Hill was over in 1997, the Lab had been a truly sacred space where anything was possible.

Billy Crudup, me, Paul Goodson and Alison Michel during “Charlie Brown” at the Lab in 1989

the Lab now

Thomas Wolfe, our UNC forefather and a spiritual father to the Lab, said “you can’t go home again,” and he’s right: when I visited the Lab space last year, it had been ripped to shreds and rebuilt in the form of a Howard Johnson’s conference center. I was so depressed that I snapped a picture and ran out of there. The Lab still exists somewhere else on campus, but I have a hard time believing it retains the magic, without any interference from the ham-fisted Powers That Be. There’s only so long you can get away with something.

But there was one lasting legacy: in the summer of 2000, Tessa and I hadn’t seen each other for many years. While perusing the Lab! Alumni page, she came across my name, and said to herself, “I hope that Ian is okay – he’s really the kind of guy that could end up in a dark room getting stoned for years on end.” So she wrote to me.

Date: Thu, 25 May 2000 00:41:17 EDT

From: Tessa B.

To: Ian W.

what are you up to? where do you live? what’s happening in your life?

…and I wrote back:

Date: Thu, 25 May 2000 00:03:11 EDT

From: Ian W.

To: Tessa B.

Just waiting for the right to ask you to marry me.

9/24/03 As I was packing

9/24/03

As I was packing up for the trip to Brooklyn, I was carrying my camera and felt compelled to take a picture of myself in the mirror. Yes, it was self-indulgent, but it leads me to Today’s Blog Topic: Support the Home Team!

1. Great Northern Knitters – This is a small company located on the awesome Canadian maritime province known as Prince Edward Island. I don’t know where they get their sheep, or what kind of bender these local knitters are on, but the sweater I’m wearing above traps heat better than the Space Station thermal panels. Tightly woven together by the nicest P.E.Islanders on Queen Street, I highly recommend that you get yourself one of these things for winter. Yes, it’s muggy now, but it won’t be for long. Tessa has an oversize cream-colored pullover that makes her look like Miss October 1975. Yay!

2. The Fleece Circus – While we’re on the subject, one of my best friends Jon is not only an Emmy award-winning sports producer, but he and his wife Lisa have been making some of the best fleece clothing – especially for babies – that you can get in the fine U. S. of America. Their site isn’t totally up yet, but click on the link above to get their information. They gave us a “berber weight” fleece blanket for Christmas that was the kind of thing you fall asleep underneath in about .03 seconds.

3. 1st Rochdale Cooperative – Lord knows I didn’t know about this until I did the research, but you can power your New York City apartment entirely by wind. Just go to the site, fax in your application, and in a month, you start getting bills from them instead of ConEd – and the price is exactly the same. Yes, I’m polluting the fuck out of Brooklyn by using my air conditioners all the time, but at least I’m not using coal, uranium, or Latvian slaves to do it.

4. The Lucretia Jones Mysteries – This is as home team as it gets. Mac Rogers has written a fun-as-hell twist on film noir and the Thin Man movies and put Jordana Davis as the lead detective, with my brother Sean as, well, a variety of insane roles. All three of them play different parts in total tour-de-force reminder of what can be achieved off-Broadway. It’s up for three weekends only at the Gershwin Hotel, and you’ve missed one of the weekends already, so click here for tickets and have fun.

Oh yes, you get a free brownie. I think Jordana makes them, and they are excellent.

9/22/03 Things We Are Merely

9/22/03

Things We Are Merely Lucky For Having

1. A north star. You know, due to the “precession” of the Earth (it wobbles on its axis) it’s just dumb fucking luck that all of us live in a time when the north pole happens to be pointing at a bright star we call Polaris. I don’t know how many countless lives have been saved by people orienting themselves to the North Star, but there could just as easily be absolutely nothing there, so consider yourself lucky, ingrate.

2. Survivable seasons. We are exactly the right distance from the sun to keep the seasons from totally sucking. Today in New England was a very obvious “beginning of autumn” day, in which you are reminded that there will be no more swimming in local watering holes, thank you very much. A few nervous trees have already entirely changed color, looking a bit like the dorky kid who is already in his seat, waiting for the exam. Winter is weeks away, and while it can be right miserable, it is survivable. I pity those people living in places without seasons, almost as much as they pity us for having them.

3. A huge moon. Our moon is totally out of proportion for a planet our size, so big that it yanks the oceans around without our approval. But some crafty Norwegians have figured out how to turn the tides into hydro-electric power, so now we can have the moon start working for us for a change, god dammit.

4. Orgasm. I mean, it doesn’t have to feel that good. It just does. We’d probably procreate anyway, just to keep our progeny going, but the orgasm is really a nice treat that is denied all the other animals. Ha!

5. Humor. Yes, yes, it lowers your blood pressure and makes cancer patients live longer and all that shit, but really – why should anything be funny? Was there a mandate set forth that humor was necessary for the race? God is entirely unfunny in the Old Testament, boringly earnest in the New Testament and on crack in the Book of Mormon. Since when did everything have to be so amusing?

6. Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitors. I’m feeling just fine, thanks!

Pardon me while I stand in the closet and shut off for the night.

*zurt*

9/21/03 When the power used

9/21/03

When the power used to go out, you always assumed something was wrong with your household fuse box; now, you assume that half the eastern seaboard is in a state of powerless chaos, and either terrorists or the decaying infrastructure of America’s power grid is to blame. We’re not sure what happened here on Saturday, but the second everything shut off, we were ready with candles, flashlights, a crank-powered shortwave radio and five giant jugs of Berkshire Mountain Spring Water.

Since we had about fifteen minutes of sunlight left, I went and watched the sundown, unsure how much light we were going to have for the weekend.

Then Tessa and I went to the top of our hill, where we both said goodbye to her father, roughly two years to the day after he died. I’ve written about it before, but I may well be the last person Blakey ever met and actually remembered. That’s about all I can say about my relationship to him, whereas Tessa has made a fabulous film about their relationship. It’s enough just to be present and accounted for when the person you love needs closure and commiseration with someone gone from their lives.

When my childhood friend Laura Miller died a few years ago, one of her cousins, Amy Wellso, said that people can always be brought back to the room by mentioning them and telling stories about them. Normally I pooh-pooh such talk as flaccid hooey, but it got me thinking: who, really, is the person next to you? Who are the people in the room with you right now? You only believe that they are there because you can “see” them, you can “hear” them when they talk, and everyone else in the room has (silently) agreed that they are indeed there.

But in this complicated world of sensory illusion, they are only “there” because you believe they are. It’s a very strong and irrefutable belief, but a belief nonetheless. So when you talk of someone who is not there, remember the way they smelled, things they have said, or theories they have proffered, it’s not really that much different, sensory-speaking, than them being there. Sure, they are unable to respond, but I think any being from another dimension would find that to be merely quibbling.

So I began to agree with Amy Wellso. When I mentioned the pioneer spirit and technophilia of my grandmother at my wedding, 200 people saw her for a brief moment, and by some definition, she was there. Occasionally, a curled-up sweater on the floor, in the corner of my eye, becomes my cat Elgar, who died in 1984. I could have sworn he was there, and if your senses are to be stretched, in a way, he was.

9/19/03 I really do like

9/19/03

I really do like the culture surrounding film festivals, in the same way that I actually enjoyed summer school: there’s nothing quite like Total Immersion in a particular subject. Film festivals have mediocre movies, great parties and fantastic food, and we talked our way into one this evening at Woodstock.

We originally came up to watch Jamie Block play a small comeback gig at Legends (“gateway to Woodstock,” we were told), and it was a great reminder of how little Block has lost since his anti-folk days. On the last song “Rhinoceros” he attempted to rip the strings off the acoustic guitar, but stopped just shy of creating a scene. Needless to say, we whooped and hollered.

Jamie was recently signed by Gill Holland to sonaBlast! records, a marriage of old friends that was so obvious I can’t believe we didn’t think of it sooner. I was honored to play on a bunch of tracks for the new album, so I have a vested interest in it making a splash, other than the desire for Jamie to get his due in the fickle music world.

And I’ll say this about Gill: he may have his detractors (like I do), but nobody has shown such grace, fortitude, good humor and energy in the face of frustration as he. After making a big splash in the indie world with Hurricane Streets, he made a spate of well-reviewed and important independent films that ultimately made him no money. He constantly gave his time and lent his name to many projects that wouldn’t have had a shot otherwise. And though he may have spread himself too thin at times, he never lied about what he could do for you. Now he has crossed from the 2nd most cynical business in the world (movies) to the most cynical business in the world (music) and retains his childlike passion for it all.

me and Gill on fall break in 1989; us again last year at the 24-hour plays

At the after-party we saw Natane with Liev Schreiber and his brother Pablo (who was also an early Pink House favorite – now he stars on HBO’s “The Wire” and rocks), so Jamie and I schmoozed and drank cosmopolitans out of cheap plastic cups. One good thing about marrying well is that people like talking to your wife better than they like talking to you, so both Tessa and Susan went off to make their myriad friends while Jamie, Gill and I talked shit. Since we’re not allowed to have a separate cigar and scotch room after dinner, that’s going to have to suffice, yo.

9/18/03 I think I remember

9/18/03

I think I remember some old Paramount Pictures promotional photograph showing a bunch of studio execs turning around, cigars in mouth, in their special screening room – so I recreated it today. That’s our art director Rick Gradone, post-production supervisor Kim Ludlow, effervescent Tessa, editor Jessie Weiner, soundtrack contributor Jamie Block, and yours fucking truly.

We had an “industry screening” of The Pink House today, which basically means we cleaned up a really good edit of the film, found a kick-ass screening room with surround sound, and played it for some influential folks in the business who could really help us. How did it go? Well, I began thinking this movie was funny about 6-7 weeks ago, and the new edit is even better, so actually, I like sitting through it. Tessa has to get up and wander off or else she turns into a fidgety, hyper-worried monster. Much laughter was had by all, and I can truly say we put our best foot forward. As for the opinions of important people, we’ll know more in the days ahead.

But for the first time, I have seen this movie as being “worth it” no matter what happens. We created this complicated beast, full of plot, animation, laugh lines, melancholy, surreality, 1930s garb and pink flour – and now it is on the screen, makes sense, and it’s, you know, humorous! It evokes humor! When you watch it, you are overcome with distinct feelings of mirth. Them’s the truth. I feel, along with Tessa and the other brilliant minds in the above picture, that nothing could happen with this child we created and we would still feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

A $3 million distribution deal would be cool too.

I just thought I’d throw that in there.