Monthly Archives: July 2005

i search the horizon…

7/30/05

FleetWeekGraphic(bl).jpg

I’m doing Monday’s blog on Saturday, because my brother Sean, sister-in-law Jordana, friends Lindsay and Mac are putting on a show, and it would be awesome if you could buy your tickets right now. Y’see, they’re trying the publicity stunt of selling out opening night on the first weekend of sales, and if they do, many balls will begin to roll.

What is it? It’s called Fleet Week: The Musical, and it’s a brilliant send-up of old musical genres with a twisty plot involving gay sailors who don’t know they’re straight, and straight sailors who don’t know they’re gay. It’s wicked funny, and you should go – its 5-show run starts Aug. 19th at the legendary Lucille Lortel theater in New York City’s West Village.

Need more excuses? How about here for the write up in Playbill? Or maybe you’d like a mention in the New York Times? Not big enough for you? How about Newsweek? As Lindsay says, “two cast members were voted best actor in past Fringe festivals, there are Bistro awards and OOBR awards strewn throughout — and, oh yeah, one of the cast is a TONY NOMINEE.”

It’s only $15, it’s going to be great, I’ll be at opening night if you want to meet, and if it sucks you can kick my ass (and then Sean’s). (And then Lindsay’s). But it won’t. This is going to be the toast of NYC’s summer off-Broadway season.

So in order for this to work, there are two deadlines: one is RIGHT NOW, i.e., before Saturday night at midnight. The other is before MONDAY at midnight. If they can sell out opening night (August 19) before either of those deadlines happen, then the P.R. cycle will kick in for them, and they won’t need my blog for any of this.

Click here to buy tickets, or call 1-800-965-4827. Even if you live in Seattle or Prince Edward Island or London, you could buy a $15 ticket and be supportive!

why because I said so

7/28/05

I came across two fascinating articles today that unwittingly cover the same territory – I urge everyone to read them in full, but just in case you’re lazy, the first is Steven Johnson’s brilliant takedown of Hillary Clinton over the “Grand Theft Auto” game fiasco, and the other is a New York Times article about brawling “cage fights” in South Dakota. Compare and contrast:

From Johnson’s article – “Isn’t it possible that kids no longer need real-world environments to get those thrills, now that the games simulate them so vividly? The national carjacking rate has dropped substantially since “Grand Theft Auto” came out. Isn’t it conceivable that the would-be carjackers are now getting their thrills on the screen instead of the street?”

From the New York Times – In Sioux Falls, people are 19 and 20 and 21 years old and looking for something to do, anything besides some youth program at one of the city’s 65 parks or another laser-light show… “There’s really not much in Sioux Falls to do,” said Anna Anderson, 21, a housekeeper wearing black clothes and matching nail polish at her first fight, on Saturday. “People should stop complaining. There’s a bunch of people who want to fight, so let them come here and fight and not cause other people problems. No one seems to get seriously hurt, but if they do, shucks for them.”

First off, I got the last legal copy of “Grand Theft Auto” on eBay, and the learning curve is insane. Forget having sex with prostitutes, I’m having trouble riding the bicycles. Also, it’s funny that the interior of this country is getting the reputation of being a gaggle of Red State meth-heads whose hollow lives are so devoid of meaning that they need to beat the shit out of each other in an octagon. Never mind that my nephews in Iowa City, Sean Patrick and Lucas, are among the most articulate, funny folks I know; the NYT eats the “flyover Americans are koo-koo” meme right up.

But back to the topic: I’ve always been a “let people get their ya-yas out in a safe environment” kind of guy, and my mom used to tell us something along the lines of “I don’t care what you do, as long as I know where you’re doing it” (a rule later rescinded by my father). I thought people who complained about violence on television and in movies were pathetic crones who didn’t get out of the house enough.

A bit of that has changed for me since Lucy showed up. Now I’m beginning to see the benefit of keeping her from seeing somebody’s head from being blown off as long as possible. The violence in today’s movies doesn’t hold a candle to the violence we grew up with – it’s a much more cruel, vindictive, merciless sort of beast with a cold core. And most Americans don’t give a shit, as evidenced by the week after September 11, 2001, when the number one movie was “Don’t Tell a Soul,” which featured a guy getting buried alive by an avalanche of sod.

It’s also hard to watch someone play Grand Theft Auto on the PlayStation when – at least in GTA 3 – you could wander into the “gay” neighborhood (full of Chelsea boys wearing wife-beaters and lisping) and smash open their skulls with a tire iron. I’m pretty hard to offend, but that came awfully close.

But shelve your emotion, because the facts don’t add up. All violent crimes involving kids of a game-playing age have gone SUBSTANTIALLY DOWN in the years since video games have been invented. These are the same years that saw the increase of ultra-violent movies. Perhaps Bruno Bettelheim had it right when he said that violent fairy tales – the ones that hadn’t been Disney-fied for toddlers – were actually good for kids, because it gave them an outlet for their darker fears.

I swore long before I had children that I wouldn’t be the whiny, overprotective nimrod keeping my brood from having any fun in a whir of bald-faced control-freakishness. Besides, the goddamn Baby Boomers already outlawed everything right after they went through it – who do you think pushed up the drinking age? Who clamped down on colleges so hard that frat parties resemble Presbyterian Ice Cream Socials? Who is behind the Abstinence Movement? That’s right, your friends in the Baby Boom generation.

How can I tell Lucy not to do the things I did? Well, it won’t be hard, because, to be honest, I was a good kid. I didn’t touch a drop of alcohol until I was 18, didn’t have sex until I was 21, and I’ve probably been actually high about ten times. Let me rephrase the question: how can I tell Lucy not to do the things her mother did?

Hee hee.

SandyTessa1975.jpg

Sandy and Tessa, 1975

In the meantime, my sensitivities are not video games or randomly violent films – they are things like “War of the Worlds,” which reminded both Tessa and me how impossible the Apocalypse would be with a baby in tow. I’m no big fan of the apocalypse anyway, as it would be totally unfair to Lucy, but anything involving our current obsession with the End Times makes me want to puke.

And lastly, pictures like these were hard before, but now when I see something like this, I need to hold Lucy to my chest and rock her until the pangs go away. Forget video games, movies and Midwestern cage brawls; that a world like that exists for some kids is truly offensive.

be prepared

7/27/05

Man, I’m sorry, but is Northern Virginia having the Worst Fucking Boy Scout Jamboree in History, or what? First, four scoutmasters died because of some freak electrical line falling on a tent, then hundreds of kids collapsed from heat exhaustion, and worse yet, they waited all day for their beloved President Bush to show up and he bagged.

Boy Scout Jamborees are unbearable suck-fests anyway, especially if your booth is something lame. When I was a cub scout for the Jamboree in Iowa, our theme was “The Magic Show,” and we delighted scouts and parents alike with our card tricks and sleight of hand. The line wrapped around the tent. The next year, however, our theme was “Mouth to Mouth Resuscitation,” featuring a dummy with inflatable lungs. Even the SUPER SCOUT DORKS told us to go screw ourselves.

That Jamboree taught me a valuable lesson, one I have not forgotten as we go into these pitch meetings in Hollywood: give the people what they want. They desire shiny things that blow up, make them scared, or capture their imagination. They do not want to put their mouth on a mannequin and simulate resuscitation, even if their lives depended on it. Besides, the mannequin mouth was disgusting from all our lips being on it, totally unsanitary by even 1977 standards.

My cousin Mark and I were doing Boy Scouts at exactly the same time, him in California, me in Iowa. He became an Eagle Scout, the highest rank, and even got one of the American flags that flew over the White House (they change the flag every day). I didn’t even make it past the Webelos, and I’ll tell you why: my den mother’s house smelled so unbelievably awful, so rank and foetid, that I fought back nausea every meeting.

The Boy Scouts in Iowa – and indeed a lot of the country – were led by the Mormons, so I felt like I couldn’t quit lest I let the extended family down. In fact, I loved being a scout, wearing the uniform to school on scout days, and getting all those merit badges for shit like learning what an “awl” was. But the smell was just too bad. I’m sorry, dad and mom, you really helped me with my rolled-up bandana, and the badges I got for planting trees in Hiawatha. But I’m glad I finally get to tell you why I quit: I spent most of the time in the bathroom breathing inside my shirt.

Ian2ndGrade(bl).jpg

two feet tall and rising

7/26/05

Oh, I guess I could have written a blog today about how well a big meeting went, and how we saw Reese Witherspoon at the Starbucks and how we have the only good weather in the entire country today – but then Lucy started standing up when we held her hands:

IanLucyStandsc(bl).jpg

…and that’s basically all we do nowadays.

hollaback 718

7/25/05

Damn, we own the New York Times, yo! First, all of you remember my article on Harry Potter and Hogwarts Headaches, right? RIGHT?!?!?

Anyway, we had my brother Steve quoted in an article two days ago, Tessa’s brother-in-law’s book was featured yesterday (pan down to Prince Edward, his new – and best – book) and now Sean and his company’s musical “Fleet Week” was mentioned today. Never mind that Dennis’ novel should have gotten a full-page review last year, and the article that mentions Sean’s musical is a little dopey: at least it means we’re all here on the paper of record.

SpringTreeBklyn2(bl).jpg

off Union Street in Park Slope

Speaking of New York, an old, great friend of mine is moving to Brooklyn in the fall and wanted to know where to live, as long as it was near the park. By “Park,” of course she means “Prospect Park,” which I would put up there with Regents and Hyde Park in London in terms of sheer awesomeness. When you are in the middle of Prospect Park, you not only forget you’re in a city, you might think you’ve died and gone to 19th-century Leicestershire.

My Brooklyn advice is this: Brooklyn Heights downtown can be very charming, but there is no greenery. Williamsburg closest resembles Chapel Hill and other college towns, but it has out-hipped itself so badly that a shithole apartment costs 5.8 billion dollars. There are other beautiful neighborhoods (Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Fort Green) but if you jones for the park, then you have three options.

Prospect Heights – it’s still mid-gentrification in some areas, but you can get reasonable rents. Just make sure you live damn close to Grand Army Plaza (gateway to the park) or else it will seem WAY too far away for a quick jaunt. Rents are still okay because the school district apparently sucks, but if you don’t have kids, you won’t have to worry about it. Trains: Q, 2&3, 4 (kinda)

Windsor Terrace – I know I’m late to this party, but this will be the Next Big Thing in Brooklyn. It’s right on the park, not far from a great moviehouse, and with a little luck, still very affordable. You might be able to get a nice little apartment there in the $1200 range for yourself. It’s too bad it’s not the Big Thing now, because the stores are kind of sucky and there isn’t much street life and personality. Yet. Trains: only the F, which blows.

Park Slope – I really don’t think there’s a comparison. Yeah, it can be prohibitively expensive, but there’s always a chance you could luck into something gorgeous for cheap – we know several people who did. 5th Avenue has hip restaurants, 7th Avenue has every basic need covered (and looks like northern London) and the streets therein are so pretty it could make you bust out in tears. If you really spent a month looking, YOU WILL FIND SOMETHING AND IT IS WORTH IT. Some grandma on Garfield Place will take a shine to you and rent her attic apartment for a song. Trains: Q, 2&3, 4, F

ITProspectFall2002(bl).jpg

Tessa, me and the family eunuch, Prospect Pk. 2002

So come on down and get a place in our hood! We got cheesecake waitin’!

child 2 of 5

7/24/05

I’d like to dedicate today’s blog to my older brother Steve, who turned fortysomething on Sunday, just in time to get in the Times and then get laid off the same day. Computer people of the world take note: he will not be underemployed for long, so grab him while you can.

A few things about Steve:

1. All pictures of him as a baby show a butterball turkey who smiled so much his eyes disappeared. This reversed course later in his teens when he became the most feared, draconian babysitter this side of the Khmer Rouge.

2. Once, when I was about ten, Steve sat me down at the piano and used the keys to explain how eventually Sean and I would be the same age, if we lived forever. Something about the convergence of time lines in an eternal future, but it horrified me and I ran off screaming.

3. Steve always gave the best birthday presents when we were growing up. They were always proactive gifts that either floated, flew or exploded. He once gave me one of those rockets that you fill with water and them pump with air. There are probably fifteen such rockets still in the rain gutters atop the house on 19th Street in Cedar Rapids, IA.

4. I’ve oft-said it before, but Halloween is my favorite holiday, mostly because Steve used to make me a robot costume every year out of an old box, spray-painted silver. There were working lights and a little print-out through a hole that said “TRICK OR TREAT,” all powered by one of those heavy 6-volt batteries (the costume’s only flaw). The adults used to put the candy through an input hole, and I’d say “THANK YOU VERY MUCH” in a robotic monotone. It would be another 15 years before a woman would go to bed with me.

5. Steve also has the fairly thankless task of running this blog for me, and stepping in when I’m on top of a mountain or on a remote island. He started this thing back in April 2001 (along with a Pink House blog) and although it took me a few months to start writing, if you enjoy the clutter-free layout, you can thank him. So happy birthday, Steve, and may you always have a tailwind.

SteveYounger(bl).jpg

around 1981(?)

prodding your cast

7/21/05

The lovely, talented and quite pregnant Virginia Heffernan has a great article in the New York Times today, catching the hoi polloi up with podcasting, and in doing so, refers to Prince Edward Island’s slim, amazing and very engaged Steven Garrity – and at the end, leaves the money quote to my very own brother Steve! I found the article damned resourceful, because I have no idea where to turn for podcasting, and Va. offers some good ones. I trust her judgment (even though she hates “Alias”).

Over the last few days I’ve considered having a podcast on this site, but maybe I’m just getting caught up in the podcast moment, which has to be the quickest mainstream adaptation of a techie idea since that doll that peed when you fed her with the bottle.

For weeks, I had no idea what a podcast even was – and then when I heard, I realized it was the same idea I had in Chapel Hill in the early ’90s when everyone was publishing “zines.” I thought zines on paper were useless, and sought to create an audio “tapezine,” a 30-minute show on cassette that would feature music I liked, a monologue, critiques, some poetry (not mine) and other aural hallucinations. The idea was, you subscribe by sending me a cassette, I’d record on it, then you’d send it back for next month’s tapezine to be recorded over it. Recycling! United Colors of Benetton! JUDO CHOP!

Of course, I made about two before the sheer workload broke my back, and it’s probably the same reason I can’t do something similar here: if I was to make a podcast, I’d treat it like this blog and take it seriously (well, maybe this blog is a bad example). Either way, tweaking the words for a podcast would mission-creep me into hell, and I don’t know if I told anyone this, but Tessa has this new 3-month-old friend that keeps waking us up.

I pretty much wrote this to Va. already, but I think podcasting is doomed in its present form. Sure, people like the IDEA of it, but when it starts cluttering their iPod with un-listened-to shows, they’ll gradually start unsubscribing. You see much the same happening with TiVo users who get frustrated and just delete everything one day, and cancel most of their season passes.

The only place to listen to podcasts, generally speaking, is during rush hour stuck in a car. A distant second would be playing them during housework. But nobody is going to sit down, stare blankly into space and listen to 2+ hours of ten different podcasts. It’s not a cultural phenomenon that lends itself to multitasking – you can’t listen at work, and if you have some semblance of a family, you can’t listen at home.

That said, I think my brother has it right: people will hook onto two shows and love them unabashedly. My favorite “podcast” isn’t really a real podcast, it’s the weekly download of “This American Life” from Audible and even those are beginning to pile up. And nobody – except truckers – drives as much as me.

I have an idea: why doesn’t someone read my blog in a really asinine, whiny voice, say “fuck” a lot, and post it as a podcast? I’d do it, but shit, it takes me seventeen tries before I get my answering machine “outgoing message” to sound just right.

there goes joe caparo again

7/20/05

Here in Venice, there’s this great place called Abbot’s Habit on Abbot Kinney Blvd, about three blocks away. They serve great soy lattés, have a fairly adventurous lunch menu, and is the hanging spot for a huge demographic of beach people, from 16-year-old skate punks to successful TV writers punching out scripts and surfing the wireless. At night, bands play, the open mic abounds, and the place stays electric.

The level of beauty – both male and female – that streams through the place is unfathomable. Like they said in “Swingers,” Los Angeles skims the top .01% of the gene pool and places them all here. I got in because my wife is hot and Lucy, well, she’s awful damned cute too.

I remarked that I really miss a place like this, and there is nothing, even in Chapel Hill, that comes close. Tessa promptly reminded me of two NC places that defined our generation at the time: The Columbia Street Bakery and the Hardback Café. It had been so long since I’d thought about them that they almost ceased to exist, but then memories flooded my brain.

flyer-beardsley.jpg

flyer for early Shinola show at Columbia St., 1993

I think you’d have to go back to the left bank of 1920s Paris or a bustling head shop in 1960s Haight to reach the level of artistic and social sophistication that the Hardback and Columbia Street Bakery had to offer. The two venues faced each other across the street, and it was an enviable nexus. Bands formed in booths, girls on the open mic became legends overnight, plans were hatched, road trips were begun, my friends and I plotted world domination, and the funniest stories ever were told.

The places had their quirks: the owner of Columbia St. had this insane dictatorial rule about how much salt should be in each shaker (leading to mass firings) and the Hardback seemed allergic to making money. But that was probably the last time I ever subscribed to a commune that I didn’t have to recreate. It was so awesome that execs from a major network came down to see if they could pitch a show based on the Hardback.

hardback.jpg

the day after the Hardback closed, people posted their goodbyes

We should have known then it was all over. A few months after the TV rumor, the Hardback shut its doors, and weeks later so did the Columbia Street Bakery. They were replaced by other venues: Martha’s Muffins, The Lizard and Snake, but now, even businesses that were the fifth replacement have come and gone. The last time I noticed, there was a Jersey Mike’s sub shop chain and a discount sushi place there, I think. I dunno, I was too bored.

Perhaps Ben Folds said it best when he wrote about our pal Summer Burkes:

…the Hardback Café closed down

Now we got Office Town

You shoulda stuck around.

opium tastes good

7/19/05

roberts.jpg

Look deep into my eyes. Look deeeeeeeeep into my eyes. My stare will convince you that all is well. Aren’t you feeling better already? Just wait a few minutes and the drug will kick in. Softly, softly. NOW don’t you feel better? Who said all that about Roe vs. Wade? Surely I won’t come after your precious little womb. That’s right. That’s nice. Just accept me, look into my vacant eyes and let it all pass away. Ahhhh. That’s my little pumpkins.

debralafave.jpg

No, look into MY eyes. Aren’t you slightly filled with desire? Sure, I did it with a 14-year-old. Maybe two. Maybe if you got me alone, well, anything could happen, couldn’t it? I’m pleading insanity, but mostly I’m just insane with longing. You wouldn’t find me guilty, would you, pooky?

rove.jpg

ENOUGH! LOOK INTO MY EYES. YOU PATHETIC LITTLE BASTARDS. ONE BAD NEWS CYCLE AND YOU THOUGHT I WAS DONE? HOW ABOUT A SUPREME COURT NOMINEE OUT OF MY ASS TO PUT YOU ON THE STRAIGHT AND NARROW? I STAND OVER YOUR CAULDRON AND I PISS IN IT. MY HEAD IS A VAST ORB OF OUTSTANDING INTELLECT; MY GELATINOUS NECK IS FILLED WITH REVENGE, AND MY ELEPHANTINE CHEEKS ARE STUFFED WITH THE GRISTLE OF THE NON-BELIEVERS. OH, YOU WILL FEEL IT. YOU WILL FEEL IT!!!

trippy(bl).jpg

i mean, like, “ew!”

7/18/05

Yes, sooner or later, it had to come to this: I’m here today to talk about The O.C. – yep, that “The O.C.”

Tessa and I are in the midst of pitching an excellent project to the Powers That Be, and as is with all such endeavors, we’re catching up on the big shows of the moment. Like all frickin’ snobs, I assumed that “The O.C.” was a pile of shit; the promo billboard that hangs over the Bowery gives off what the NYTimes calls the “soggy earnestness” of teen dramas, and I never watched a frame.

I’m here to tell you that I lie prostrate corrected. I would say the first fifteen episodes of the first season rank up there among the best serialized narrative in all television. A lot of it is Peter Gallagher, who is so infinitely cool that you wonder if he doesn’t ad lib most of his lines. He has a little moment in “The Hudsucker Proxy” that Sean and I still laugh about, and his turn in “Sex, Lies and Videotape” is villainy at its most redemptive.

Of course, there’s also Adam Brody as his son Seth Cohen, who is dead-on perfect as today’s hipster nerd and still manages to be utterly approachable. His asides and one-offs are killers 90% of the time. Everyone else is pretty damned good, too – Mischa Barton is fun to look at, and Samaire Armstrong (Anna, Seth’s other girlfriend from Season 1) is the girl I so DESPERATELY wanted to know in 11th grade (see yesterday’s post).

I say that I think the first 15 episodes are brilliant, because I just finished the 16th. “Jumping the shark” has jumped the shark as a phrase, but I sensed a moment in the 16th episode when something heretofore absent began to happen: I knew what was coming next each time.

They had been so brilliant, even working within the framework of “troubled kid enters rich enclave” fish-out-of-water cliché, but I never knew what line was coming next. In Episode 16, if you remember, new villain rich-kid psycho Oliver began his freakish manipulation of Marissa, and Summer sought to insert herself between Seth and Anna. Even the appearance of Kirsten’s black sheep sister Hailey was 2-for-1 at the Predict-o-Rama.

Yes, I haven’t seen the rest of the season, nor cracked Season 2 (out on DVD in a week). And keeping good plots going is freakishly hard; Tessa and I rented the pilot for “Dallas” on another recon mission, and it’s stunning how slow it moves. Shit, it takes Victoria Principal three TV minutes to park her car.

I haven’t given up hope on this series, and even if they’d quit after 15 shows, I’ll consider it the best TV I’ve seen this year or last. But perhaps asking for 27 pieces of magic a season is too high a bar for anyone. There was never a TV show with a flawless year, and it was exhilarating to see someone come so close.