Monthly Archives: August 2006

labor day epidural

8/30/06

A few pictures before I let you go off on your Labor Day Weekend:

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Lucy loves her momma, her Aunt Jordi and her Aunt Michelle

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she also loves making new friends, like Hilary’s daughter Stella!

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11am on the West Side Highway last Friday – first rain I’d seen in four months

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Sean and preggers Jordana after the Fringe show

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Tessa and me in front of gay porn hut on Christopher St.

See everyone next Tuesday, and have a holiday blast!

went to their maker impeccably shaved

8/29/06

This is going to be another chapter in my lifelong treatise on Dorks, but a trip to New York City in the middle of a Los Angeles summer can throw the subject into stark relief. We saw a number of great shows in Manhattan this trip, namely Sweeney Todd, Air Guitar and The Further Cuteness of Hank and Lucy.

Except for the latter, a true current of dorkdom, in all its fabulousness, runs through the work. “Sweeney Todd,” which is basically about a barber who kills everyone who comes into his shop, was a revelatory experience: the entire musical was orchestrated by the actors themselves, dragging around cellos, tubas, violins and oboes depending on the song. And this music is no walk in the park – littered with key changes, time-signature craziness, and a touch of opera, it was a tour de force on behalf of everyone in it.

Times may be changing, but I don’t think LA would appreciate the show because it’s a town that doesn’t particularly value its dorks. In order to play Tobias in “Sweeney Todd,” you would need to take violin for at least twenty years, piano for ten, voice lessons for a decade, be an accomplished actor, LOOK like an actor, and then make people cry eight performances a week. That limits your potential cast down to a handful of people, and I guarantee all of them come from attic rooms and basements and vast stretches of childhood without friends.

Across town, “Air Guitar” is a much more complicated play than it would seem. It concerns the story of a schlub named Drew who wants to be a famous solo guitarist, but only comes into his own when he picks up an invisible instrument and starts winning Air Guitar competitions around the country.

What’s fascinating about this show is that Drew is a dork, whiddling around with his own turgid, navel-gazing music in the darkness of his YouTube-like bedroom, and is only accepted when he parrots the adulatory shredding of his alter ego Ulrich and another guy named, of course, Jammin’ Bread.

But there’s several levels of dork going on here: Drew himself, and then the actual band Gods of Fire playing the actual music right behind the actors on stage. Further behind them is my brother Sean himself, lyricist Jordana and playwright Mac, all of whom (I don’t think they’d mind me saying) are dorks themselves, having sacrificed good portions of their upbringing in order to wow you. It’s a meta-meta-experience that was not lost on me, and getting 24 good laughs in was only gravy.

Why do I mention all this? I guess because in an age of irony, an age of parody, of tangential references and constant nostalgia, our generation has done a pretty piss poor job of coming up with something original to say. The fact that hipsters have now fully embraced nerdism in every aspect of culture means that the actual dork is harder and harder to come by. Which is infinitely sad, because they are the ones that will provide the creative fuel to get us through the first half of this century. They will be Lucy’s heroes, they will make her friends laugh, they will write the songs that make the whole world sing.

So I say a HUZZAH to the cast of “Sweeney Todd,” to Sean, Mac and Jordana, to everyone who is still hellbent on creating new work, discontent to rest on laurels, not satisfied with the easy joke or lazy sarcasm. I hope I’m keeping up my end of the bargain too, and may we never grow complacent.

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Sean and I pose in front of the Playwright’s Sidewalk plaque in front of the Lucille Lortel Theatre

daydreams answered

8/28/06

Just before the evening of August 6, 2000, I was coming off a suicidal bender. I’d just spent three years in Los Angeles becoming so humiliated by my own character and feeling so dipped in shit that I’d basically given up anything resembling the future I’d hoped for. As a last-ditch maneuver, I’d accepted a position as the Web Editor-in-Chief of one of the last remaining dot-coms in New York City, moved all my stuff across the country overnight, and crammed it into Lars’ East Village apartment.

The day before the job was to start, I fell down a set of subway stairs and herniated a disk, putting me in bed for a week and then walking only with a cane. On August 5, 2000, Lindsay Bowen asked me to write one of the 24 Hour Plays and I said sure, I wasn’t capable of sleeping anyway. Stuck at 45 Bleecker Street in a humid playhouse, trying to think of a subject, I held aloft my tiny vial of white painkillers, and then it all flooded onto the page.

The show was set for the next evening, and I called a bunch of friends, one of whom was Tessa. I hadn’t seen her in three years, and she wrote back saying she was meeting her sister upstate. Fate had to wait another month.

Anyway, I was confident the script was clever enough, but you never know with these things. I nervously showed up to the performance wondering how on earth Sean, Seth and the rest could possibly memorize a whole 10-minute play in a few hours. I sat next to my mom, and then – they let it rip. It was completely unfair that Sean got to say my words, because nobody on earth makes them sound the way he does, but by the end, there was applause during speeches, and by the last blackout, the place went fucking crazy. There was a roar from the audience.

And in one millisecond, seven years of laboring in embarrassing obscurity, every bad date I’d ever been on, the nights staring at the ceiling, the throbbing pain between L5 and S1 on my back… it all went away. My life, from that moment on, turned a corner. Sure, we all had to go through September 11 and I had to have a nervous breakdown and go on drugs, sure sure, but that tiny little play provided a pivotal moment that changed everything.

I got Lindsay to ask Tessa to direct a 24 Hour Play the next month, and my wife and I have been hanging out ever since, but I always wanted to share that moment with her, and never could.

Until Saturday night, that is. They did a Best Of week of the plays, and were kind enough to include mine, and again, Sean and Seth hit it out of the park exactly as they’d done six years earlier. The original Madeline, who was played by Sarah Clarke (who then went on to be the deliciously evil Nina on the first three seasons of “24”) was replaced by Maggie Hoffman, who brought her own wonderful intensity. At the end, it felt so amazing, not because they’d pulled it off once more, but because my mom was again on my left, and Tessa on my right. Dorky writers rarely get the chance for such redemption, and believe me, I don’t take it lightly.

For our part, we all went out and got hammered until 4am:

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back table L to R: Kelly, Tessa, Joy, Brandon. Front table clockwise from left: Jamie, me (with girl drink), Danielle, Michelle, Steve, Scotty, Mac, Ehren, Seth, Maggie, Katie

More on the trip tomorrow, including AIR GUITAR!

i love your work

8/24/06

As evidenced by a little movie you may have seen, Lucy views all computers as a delivery mechanism for her bestest friend in the whole wide world, Hank. Just imagine how excited she was to go to Brooklyn and see the boy in person!

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state tree: sugar maple

8/23/06

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Kirsten G., Nancy P., Charlie R.

We attended a very small party today on the Upper East Side populated by a fair number of people I really like: Geraldine Ferraro, Nancy Pelosi, Charlie Rangel and our own ray of hope from New York, the lovely and brilliant Kirsten Gillibrand. Seeing Ms. Ferraro was a real treat because she was a hero of mine back in grade school – my parents wasted no words telling me how miraculous it was to have a woman this close to the White House. She looked great, and was charmingly deferential to the task at hand.

Nancy Pelosi has had her detractors, even by those on the left who feel like she hasn’t attacked BushCo. nearly enough, but her articulation of the Six for ’06, the Democrats’ new contract with Americans, had this old broken heart beating a little faster. She and Gillibrand talked about alternative fuels, but never mentioned the environment: to them, it’s a matter of national security, and more specifically, it’s a matter of jobs in New York’s 20th District. We have tons of farms that could create ethanol and biodiesel, and Albany boasts one of the country’s best fuel-cell manufacturers.

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Pelosi also said something I hadn’t realized: as of last week, we have now officially been in Iraq longer than we were in World War II. That’s a stunning bit of trivia. Unbelievably tragic, too. And there’s no end in sight, not as long as certain people are in charge.

Kirsten was funny, concise, smart and so personable that I swear all readers of this blog – even those of you of the rightish persuasion – would be voting for her once you left the building. And of you who care should donate to her campaign, not just because Kirsten is a beacon of light in these dark political times, but also because her opponent Sweeney is a big-time JERK who called Kirsten “just another pretty face.”

Sweeney doesn’t just get drunk with fratboys on the weekend even though he’s in his fifties, he also finds time to screw veterans out of their benefits, bilk senior citizens out of affordable medications, continue a deep friendship with Jack Abramoff and convicted felon Tony Rudy (which puts him in the unique position of supporting sweatshop companies in the Far East that perform forced abortions), take money from Walmart, and receive almost $50,000 in donations from war profiteers like Lockheed Martin and BAE (the second largest contractor in Iraq).

He has one of the worst environmental records in the history of New England, scoring a hard-to-get ZERO PERCENT with both the American Wilderness Coalition and the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, while taking thousands of dollars from electric utility interests like ConEd and Entergy. Seriously, his voting record on the environment makes him look like a Who’s Who of the Apocalypse.

Remember those Republican thugs pounding the doors of the city hall rooms during the Florida vote recount of 2000? Sweeney was one of the main ringleaders, leading Bush to call him “Congressman Kick-Ass.” Remember “push polls,” where a “pollster” calls you up and asks questions that degenerate into personal attacks on a political opponent? Sweeney is doing that right now. THIS GUY IS MY CONGRESSMAN! HE HAS TO GO!!!

Anyway, I’ve come to look at the 2006 election differently. I will never allow myself to get heartbroken like 2004 ever again. I will never overestimate the American electorate as long as I live. I have zero faith that progressives will be able to turn the tide, and no matter what the poll numbers, I remain convinced that the Republicans will pull something in October that will solidify another win.

It is because I’ve come to this conclusion that I can help in this race with an open heart. With no expectations, I find I’m more excited to do it. It’s a total Sisyphean task, but like Albert Camus, I must imagine futility with a smile. I will go door to door for an awesome woman who remembered Tessa from three years ago and gave her a huge hug – not because I have faith in the outcome, but because it feels undeniably right.

la grande pomme

8/22/06

We arrived in NYC in the late afternoon, and I’d taken a Xanax to get over being the cramped Lucky Pierre of a center seat, so I’m feeling a bit woozy as I post here late at night. I went and saw the first of the 24 Hour Plays where my brother did an awesome reprisal of Dan Kois’ play “The Rumor,” which was especially newsworthy since the show started at 11pm, and Sean’s got his own fish to fry all week.

Just like last year, same week, we stumbled upon the best weather of a summer that was, by all accounts, cruelly hot. It’s in the 80s, but pleasant, none of that nad-drenching horrorshow that accompanies temps in the 90s and humidity nearing 100%. For her part, Lucy stumbled down 9th Avenue like she owned the place, stopping to point out people wearing shoes. The funny thing about shoes; a lot of people wear them. Especially in Manhattan.

It has been long enough since our last extended stay that I am no longer feeling like we exactly live here anymore. I don’t feel like a Californian either; we’re in some liminal state of homelessness. Walking through the West Village tonight, I certainly knew where everything was, but I have lost the kinship I used to share with the other working stiffs I knew from the endless subway rides to the dot-com job.

I’ve often pretended to still live in places I’d long left – when I went to college at UNC, I still kept a post office box in Tidewater, VA just to have a constant connection. We have an apartment here, but it’s rented out, and thus not ours. The day will come when we have to make a decision, if only for Lucy’s schooling, but for now, we’re very much floating.

qwertylicious

8/20/06

So it seems Snakes on a Plane failed to live up to “an unprecedented tsunami of internet hype” and slunk to… well, #1 at the box office, but not as #1 as some people had predicted. Of course, this cued a bullshitload of stories all with the same premise: the Internet didn’t live up to its reputation as a cultural barometer.

Seriously, when are people going to stop writing these pieces? When an “online phenom” doesn’t pan out, so-called “real” reporters relish the ineffectiveness of the Web – and when someone like Ned Lamont wins the Democratic primary in Connecticut, the same reporters say it was masterminded by the “angry left” clacking away on blogs and liberal forums.

Either tack is completely reductivist and marginalizing to the power of an internet community. When are these journalists going to learn that the internet is not substantially different than any other mode of communication, and it’s mostly full of normal people without an agenda? There was no vast online excitement generated for “Snakes on a Plane” other than the natural rancor reserved for something so stupid. People talked about it because the title itself was the entire pitch for the project, which inspired equal parts rejoicing and shit-talking. It was just parallelism in action; nobody actually had a dog in that fight.

Likewise, journalists like to mystify the Lamont victory, but it had virtually nothing to do with some online cabal. As Susan’s plea to newspapers editors says quite well (conservatives, shield your eyes):

***Get over us, for crying out loud. Cut loose with a minimal travel budget for a reporter for a day or two – enough to cover meals at Denny’s, a night at Motel 6, a rented Taurus and admission to a county fair – and go talk to some “real Americans.” Surprisingly, they’re going to be saying the exact same things that are said in tens of thousands of comments and diaries here each week: We’re sick of the status quo and we want something done about it, damn it. And I guarantee you, not one in 100 would have heard of Daily Kos or MyDD or AmericaBlog. Yet they somehow managed to vote out an incumbent senator anyway. Go figure.***

There was a day when the internet was nothing but spasmodic computer science majors swapping DOS files; that was called 1979. There was also a day when the internet was 85% yucky guys trading Star Trek fan fiction on Usenet; that was called 1992. Now my Auntie Donna is reading this blog in Pleasant Grove, Utah at the age of eighty-seven, wincing when I use swear words (sorry, A.D.!) And let me tell you, my journalistic friends, if Auntie Donna is reading, the internet is now America.

I’ve got a word for you, newspaper writers: you’re a bunch of mediumists. You think there’s only one or two respected ways of disseminating information, and the internet remains this Wild West of crazy YouTube videos featuring suicidal Russian urban gymnasts and bloggers wearing nothing but disheveled underpants. What you don’t realize is that your stories about how the Internet is a marginal place… is mostly being read on the internet.

The day will come when it will be considered criminal to fell trees for reading material. All books and periodicals will be on a screen of some sort, the kind you can unfold from your pocket and stretch out to the size of Interview Magazine. I’m proud that folks like Jerry Salley and I wrote the first words some people in the South ever read on the internet, and never looked back. I used to love the feel of a magazine, and the black oily ink of a fresh newspaper, but like a lot of nostalgic habits, I’m moving on.