Monthly Archives: May 2006

extra! extra! mrs. frances best stays for week-end!

5/16/06

I’m lovin’ the recent troubles the Bush Administration has been getting into – for a quick précis, you can’t do better than Jon Stewart’s brilliant video clip about the phone tapping surveillance scandal perpetrated by the Powers That Be. When I say I’m lovin’ it, it’s because I don’t actually care that much about the topic. Yes, it means that BushCo™ has officially rolled up the Constitution and smoked it, but I confess this is an issue that doesn’t get me enraged like so many others do.

Perhaps it’s because I think it’s funny how many billions and billions of phone calls they have to go through – kids whining to their mothers to pick them up from violin lessons, ninth graders gossiping about the new cute kid in biology class, old farts complaining about their goiters, and then me leaving messages on Lindsay’s answering machine about his basketball skillz. They say it’s the biggest database in human history, and you know what? They can have it.

Its effectiveness in fighting terror has got to be downright laughable. I can’t imagine a terrorist stupid enough to discuss plans on either a landline or a cell phone, and even then, did they get the guy from NUMB3RS to come up with an Aural Algorithmic Syllable Enhancement Matrix© to weed them out? No, this is a nice time to watch our Administration twist in the wind, and I’m feeling nothing but good old-fashioned schadenfreude as our Simian-in-Chief’s numbers sink into the roaring ’20s.

It was on my mind today, however, when I went through some of the research materials I gathered while writing Tessa’s book. Here is a detail from the local Columbia County paper printed May 12, 1939:

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Man, talk about surveillance! You couldn’t do ANYTHING without the locals finding out!

How about Hughes Dearlove entertaining his twin brother from Oriskany? Can’t Georganna Steuerwald spend “part of last week” with relatives in peace? And for the love of god, can’t you leave Pearl DeGrosso and her “operation” alone? Big Brother in 2006 is scary, but in 1939, if you got hemorrhoids, you might want to hide in your larder.

god waited patiently in the days of noah

5/15/06

We just got back from visiting Tessa’s family in Cambridge, MA, and though it’s always wonderful to hole up with them for a few days, I really do have to say something about the weather: UN-FUCKING-BELIEVABLE. We found ourselves in Boston in the middle of the worst continuous rainstorm with the most flooding since 1938, even beating out The Perfect Storm in buckets of water dumped. I know a blog about the weather has a half-life roughly that of unrefrigerated haddock, but you people should really experience this.

The worst part, as I’m sure you can imagine, is the dreariness. It’d been raining for five days before we got there on Saturday; it rained all weekend, and the forecast promised three more days of it. It’s all anyone could talk about. We stopped at a pizza joint outside Harvard Square, and the old ladies and cops sounded like they wanted to kill themselves.

We keep telling ourselves to soak it in, because once we go back to Los Angeles, we won’t see another raindrop for four months. The sun, especially for those of you living in the San Fernando Valley or in the flats of Hollywood, can have its own sort of oppression; when you see a big bank of clouds in August, you find yourself wishing it towards you.

But here and now, it’s a lot to take. When we got back to Columbia County this afternoon, a freak band of clouds split up, and the sun came out for forty minutes. It was unthinkable joy, just pure delight. When we were kids in London, we used to joke about the BBC’s weather forecast: they would call for “sunny intervals,” which literally meant forty-five seconds of sunlight. When the sun would break through, someone would shout, and we’d all run outside and take a picture of ourselves, thus all the shots from that era are incongruously sunny:

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during a “sunny interval” at Michelle’s birthday party, London 1977

So during today’s sunny patch we took Lucy to meet the cows, who she adored. But we couldn’t stay out long, because something worse than abject sun or neverending rain came along. A brutal bout of it, too. Apparently the worst piece of weather humans can experience, leading to uncontrollable anger, depression and suicide, is wind. Thank god we have each other to huddle around.

island of la grande jatte

5/14/06

I’ve mentioned it before, but the Speaking of Faith audio programs on public radio just keep getting better, and inspired some pretty basic questions before we went to bed the other night. One of the oldie but goodies is “how do you reconcile unthinkable evil in a religion with a beneficent God?” – you know, the one that always flummoxes the 9th graders in their Introduction to Theology class.

SOF tackled the question, and many interviewees of several religions said, basically, that all things are measured against evil, and thus any Deity is necessarily defined against how bad the world can be. I can buy that, I suppose: the worthiness of our entire lives is based on consequence – if there were no choice, then things would be utterly boring, and god knows there would be no Art.

However, if you take Occam’s Razor and then ask the question again, the Razor will say this: if we know there to be unthinkable evil, and don’t necessarily have evidence of a cognitive Creator, isn’t the more likely answer “we don’t actually have a cognitive Creator”?

This is where religion breaks down for me – Agnostics (and their rude dinner guests, the Atheists) have this bad rap of being godless jerks who hate all religion. In fact, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. My agnosticism tells me that ALL religions have an equal chance of being true. I consider the world/universe so big, so beautiful, so ineffably wonderful that I have accepted that I will never know who created it or why I am here.

I think we’re all on a Need To Know basis with our Creator, and while I have immense respect for many religions, I’ve always found most of them to be unbelievably presumptious. To have a book that explains where we are from, where we are going? To have a belief system about the afterlife? I find these things unspeakable, and like describing the color blue, the harder you try, the more you’ve lost me.

And so I have forsaken religion because I think these things are too big for me, AND I’M OKAY WITH THAT. I don’t need any guide, any reasons. Some people do; that’s fine, but I get all the God I need when the buds open on cherry trees, when Jerry Stackhouse dunks on Cherokee Parks, when my lovely daughter took her first breath. I prefer to think of our meaning as a pointillist picture, thousands of dots that come into focus when you aren’t trying.

But here’s a problem: as any of my friends can tell you, I’m a BIG SUCKER for RITUAL. I crave tradition and repetition of “sacred” acts almost to a fault. I am always moved to tears at the little rituals my friends have, the songs my school sing, the oranges in the stockings and the stories about my brother Kent as a toddler.

Take, for instance, the UNC Swim Test. This week will be the last time it will ever be required, and I think that’s a horrible shame – not because I loved the fuckin’ swim test, but because when we all got up there in our trunks, we were re-enacting something that 20-year-old classmates had done for a hundred years. When something like that is lost, it is lost forever.

There is some special thing that used to be done at UNC from 1818 to 1907. Some great tradition that made everyone laugh and spun stories for generations. But in 1907, some too-cool seniors decided they’d never do it again, and the last ones to remember died twenty years ago. What was the tradition? I have no idea, and nobody ever will.

Part of our annual celebration at the farm is just making sure that my friends and Tessa’s friends have a High Holy Day. It may be silly, we may never play Jarts, but by god, it occurs. It happens. Even the worst ones are pretty damned good.

Being agnostic really sucks for those of us who crave ceremony. Religion not only provides answers for those who need them, but it also means you get together and say things, mean things, that your forefathers said and meant for thousands of years. How are the rest of us supposed to compete? I admit that’s one part of the Church, whatever yours may be, that makes me lost with envy.

yucky old blanket

5/11/06

This has been a nutso week for us in New York, which means I’ve neglected my duties on the blog, but I just wanted to say a quick word about my brother Sean, whose birthday was today. We both consider ourselves lucky to have married such incredible women who not only put up with our peccadilloes, but find us charming – and recently we both started playing golf at the same time, so that we can talk shit outside rather than over email.

Along with my sister Michelle, we all feel like we were POWs of the same prison, i.e., my family’s house during the ’70s and early ’80s. Curiously enough, I felt like I was a terrible big brother to both of them, so venal and miserable that I fought them for every scrap of comfort there was to be had. Our relationship had deteriorated so badly by the time we were teenagers that we got into a fight with actual rocks and huge clods of dirt – our grandmother, babysitting at the time, called us “simpletons,” and if you knew Klea Worsley, you knew we’d really fucked up.

Sean had friends and girlfriends from day one, and if you’ve read any sample entry from this blog over the last four years, you’ll know that I did not. However, despite our shared but utterly separate misery, Sean always made me laugh more than any motherfucker on earth, and when we got older and the unbelievably moronic battles from 1983 sloughed off like dry snakeskin, we had the instant advantage of each others’ company.

Nobody else knows what we went through, only the three of us, and occasionally my older brothers Steve and Kent. It’s so important to me, this commiseration, that I’m a little hellbent on making sure Lucy has a brother or a sister. We will think about another kid when she turns three (that’s the plan, anyway) but it won’t be the atavistic longing of my ex-Mormon loins. It will be because I think it’s a terrible loss to miss out on the adult relationship of siblings.

Yes, the Battle of French Fries in the back seat of the car from age 6 to 16 is an UNBELIEVABLE DRAG, but in most cases, it really does mean everything in the world a few decades later. I can say it now: I really am thankful for wanting to kill my brother for telling Eric’s sister I had a crush on her, now that we are much older, know all the stories by heart, and are very much alive.

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good stories only happen to those who can tell them

5/10/06

We saw a wonderful little play tonight in the Village (The Mistakes Madeline Made) and it served as an unrelated clarion call to me and Tessa about what kind of writers we want to be, and what kind of life we want to have.

Moreover, it reminded me that I have not answered the question that has been asked in the comments section for six months now: what the hell is going on with our TV deal? First, I should say that there are two reasons I’ve been so stupidly coy about it – first, T and I are writing partners and since she doesn’t really have a say on this blog, it wouldn’t be fair to represent her on here. Secondly, you have to play your cards extremely close to your chest in the business for your own survival’s sake.

There are other people who keep blogs about being in the entertainment industry, but many of them do it anonymously, and I’m sure several are in producerial positions where a blog can only help. I think we’re in a position where any gossip, story updates or… anything on here has the possibility of getting in our way. As you might have guessed, keeping this blog alive despite any ability to talk about our current livelihood has been fairly excruciating at times.

However, most of the networks will be announcing their new shows for the fall this week, and though our particular show won’t be on it, I have to say that we got farther in the process than any first-timer dared dream. Just getting a script deal – meaning that a major network paid us handsomely to write a pilot – still raises hairs on the back of my neck. You can go decades without getting that far, and we did it in our second season of being in LA (and our first season when we knew, sorta, what we were doing).

It was a script that was loosely autobiographical on Tessa’s behalf, and we’ll definitely revisit it over the next few years as other projects take shape. Having this under our belt also greases a few wheels, and we’ve committed to giving television our full attention for the foreseeable future. I mean, it’s fun, right? As I constantly say, we’re in the midst of a mini-Golden Age, and the electricity going around the television studios these days is pretty thrilling.

In the meantime, we are in New York City, filling up with the stunning humor and intellect of our friends, saturating ourselves with amazing stories acted in front of us by fearless artists, and watching Lucy awaken to the world with wonder. When we work, we are tucking away unheard-of ideas, snippets of dialogue and bizarre plot twists for the next season, beginning in a few short weeks.

Oh, and I didn’t answer another question: the secret in the barn wasn’t a huge deal or anything, but I found a note left in pencil fifteen feet up on one wall, on the second floor:

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Altered in Photoshop for clarity, it says “Henry Haywood, Aug. 9, 1891.” It took me months to find out he was an eighteen-year-old carpenter’s apprentice who no doubt climbed an old ladder and signed his name while nobody was looking, just so a piece of him could live on into the future. 113 years later, I found it.

But what if it had been a clue to something else? A message meant for a future owner? A treasure, a warning, a story? Stow that thought away, and use it for another project.

first of the Mohicans

5/9/06

It’s harder and harder to pull off surprise parties as you get older, as the subtleties of your actions, even if they are the tiniest bit off, can resonate as profoundly odd. We did manage to surprise Tessa at Scottadito tonight; she always suspects I’m up to something in the 2nd week of May, but she’s never sure quite what. Sometimes I surprise her with an ice skating adventure, sometimes I give her an iPod, and occasionally, I propose marriage.

This year I gave her something two entire years in the making: a book I wrote and illustrated called “The Almost Entirely True Story of Knob Hill Farm.” Our place in Columbia County was once a “guest house” called Knob Hill Farm, built in 1818. I began the project as a 1st Wedding Anniversary present (you know, the “paper” anniversary) but instead, I went down the rabbit hole.

For months I scoured the upstate public libraries, pored through baptismal and birth certificates, leafed through countless ancient maps in Massachusetts, studied the local Indian tribes, and put the pieces together going back to the seventeenth century. Finding the original ledger for the farmhouse goods dated in 1823 sealed the deal, and we even uncovered a secret in the barn. I managed to whittle it down to 25 pages with photographs, and when I finally finished it – about eight minutes before her surprise dinner – the massive bête noire lifted.

There’s a ton of cool stuff in there, but you know how I like picture re-creations. I’m a real sucker for ’em, I tellya.

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above: Bob Nelson Sr., 1959; below: me, 2004

ellen valentine

5/8/06

When you read this, it will be the birthday of a particularly cool chick I know, a woman that I refer to as “my wife” when I really want people to get out of my way. She got mad at me a few weeks ago when I said she stopped reading my blog, because she thought it made her look unsupportive. So she really does still read it (as long as I’m not delving into another futile discussion of politics) and I wanted to tell her out in the open that she is the coolest chick since Cleopatra, Helen and Penelope.

She says that her birthday has been rendered somewhat meaningless with the birth of our little punkinboots, but I think denying your One Special Day makes you not only a masochist, but a commie. If anything, she needs her birthday more than ever, because so much of our mental energy has gone into The Bug. We promised that we would never become the kind of parents that lose themselves in Utter Babyland, and having a great birthday is the best vaccine.

I loved the recent story that quoted a study saying if stay-at-home moms actually got paid for their work, they’d get $131,121 a year. If that mom had another job, the overtime work of also being a mom at home would net $85,876. What makes that study so cool is how specific the numbers are; no fucking around!

I’m assuming that study dealt with absentee or “I work all day so don’t bother me” dads, but even if it didn’t, a man’s inability to understand the core of a woman is disturbingly shabby. I’m not trying to be all twee and boring, but I largely gave up comparing myself with Tessa after three weeks of dating. All I can do is put forth my best, and occasionally hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Thirty-something years ago in a hospital room in Texas, my girlfriend sprang forth in a Taurus with Leo rising. Over in San Jose, I was just beginning to form my preference for the female gender. Oh, thank god they collided!

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Tessa and Sandy, 1970-ish

slipping a mickey

5/7/06

We’re back in Brooklyn, NY and COULD NOT be happier. The weather here is astounding and a quick jaunt through Prospect Park and 7th Avenue with Lucy answered many soul questions I didn’t know were being asked.

I could go on and on, but here’s the deal: on the plane flight out here, just before takeoff, I took a Xanax pill and washed it back with some crappy champagne they were offering. Usually I can get 2-3 decent hours of sleep out of such a medicinal treatment, but – as of this morning, I slept thirty-one out of thirty-six hours. Unbelievable. I fell asleep mid-sentence while talking to my wife last night.

Tessa says it’s because I’ve been running and lost a bunch of weight and my body mass is different. I say the flight attendants were giving away free champagne because it had unprocessed heroin in it.

Either way, I have been floating in a dreamscape and not exactly the most Johnny-on-the-spot father and husband. I feel like I need to go out and hunt bison for my family to make up for it. So that’s what I’m doing instead of writing a blog. See you when I’ve got some meat!

knowing the way to san jose

5/4/06

Before we go back to New York for a month or so, Lucy wanted to show everyone what she learned to do last week!

And only a few minutes later, look how much better she got!

Yeah, YouTube automatically turned them sideways, but whatever – I’m so proud of our little girl!

pair of 45’s made me open my eyes

5/3/06

The subject of “tantrums” came up a few days ago, which I imagine is the spectre beheld by every new parent whose cute little McCuddle Bumpkins begins the inexorable march towards brief bouts of existentialism. I should know, apparently mine were the stuff of legend. Every family member my senior loves to spin tales of my Poison Squirrel Dances© and the various onlookers who thought I’d surely ingested three gallons of paint thinner.

We’ve had no tantrums with Lucy, who by most accounts is passionate, but not to pointless abandon, and usually resorts to her rest state of giggling before long. But we do have to think about what kind of parents we’ll be, now that we live in the age when “I’ll give you something to cry about” is no longer approved by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

It’s the fine line, right? The space between “draconian rulemaker” and “anything goes” must be wide enough for all of us to walk; the former creates kids that lash out against authority in fits of self-destruction, and the latter creates kids who wander through life in vague fits of despair because they have no boundaries against which they can bounce off greatness. Or variations on those themes; you get my point.

Our own upbringing was better and worse than both of those: I felt like we were praised a lot and punished a lot, and occasionally for the same act. The mercuriality of our hosts rendered my brothers and me a little unfit for society, but that’s for another blog.

This I do know: I hate any rules being imposed on me whatsoever, but I have historically craved an obedience to a higher structure. This was thrown into sharp relief at my fraternity in college: the Chi Psi Lodge, a ragtag group of intellectuals who wanted to take over UNC, take over the world, and find some girl who would have sex with us, in that order.

As much as I despised the goose-stepping Southern faux military thinking of my prep school, I was more than happy to fling myself at the mercy of my elders at the Lodge; in fact, I think my passion for deference verged on the homoerotic. When I was elected Assistant Social Chairman my sophomore year – which meant cleaning up for a year before actually assuming any duties – I ADORED throwing away beer bottles until 4am because I truly believed I was contributing to the magic of the place.

One night, my junior year, an elder Chi Psi named Marty Clark and I found ourselves talking to the same very lovely girl. Getting drinks, I told him I was thinking of asking her to our formal, when he looked down and said he was thinking of the same. With glee, I told him that I respected him as an Elder Bro and that he should do it. He went on the date and stayed with her a few months, while I pined a little, but somehow the pain felt good. It was for a purpose. In that moment, I understood the medieval self-flagellators who lashed themselves with chains to promote inner ecstasy.

I know when I mention fraternities on here, 3/4ths of you roll your eyes, but if I hadn’t had that experience with those 150 guys, I may never have understood men at all. As it was, it took me years to become fluent, as the Gribster will surely attest. Especially in my later years, when I got complacent with success and began to act like Kurtz from “Heart of Darkness”.

Yesterday, I started going to a pick-up hoops game in Rustic Canyon, and though I was being über-deferential, I nearly got into a fight with a guy who was jawin’ his face off at me. His implacable rudeness, after two attempts at ignoring him, made me want to take a tire iron to his kneecaps. These people sniff me out. So I have both these authoritative problems going on: deference and belligerence in equal parts.

What happened when I was a kid to make this so? Well, scratch that – who cares? The better question is: what kind of parent can we be to Lucy so that she sidesteps these problems altogether? How can we deal with her tantrums and our limits while making her feel part of something bigger, not so shut-off, not so stuck on her precious solipsism like her father?

Today “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” came on the stereo, and she bounced up and down like a mosher circa 1992. I thought how wonderful it would be if she learned to play bass, but then I thought, fuck that. There’s always chick bassists – why can’t she play lead?

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