Monthly Archives: September 2009

time to make crullers


You know, when I made the offhanded comment a couple of days ago about the American school system’s 3-month summer vacation “allowing you to live somewhere else” if you had the means, the comments about my unwitting elitism struck an old chord. That particular chord, if we’re going to be honest about it, gets broken down into arpeggios that look like this:

a) I may have been under the poverty line for long time, but now that I have money I have utterly forgotten the way most of America lives

b) As someone who decided to forgo a “regular job” and instead turned to writing, I have very little understanding of the pressure – or even the benefit – of a day job

c) By living in ultra-liberal Chapel Hill, NC for 13 years, then ultra-liberal New York City, then ultra-liberal Los Angeles, I have almost no understanding of the thought processes of other Americans

d) By currently only having one child still in pre-school, I am patently unaware of how rigid life becomes when real school starts

… and so on. I can always offer rationale and spin yarns about how none of these are altogether true, but the fact remains: there has always been something intrinsic to my persona that says I’m “getting away with it” and, further, that getting away with it is annoying to those who aren’t.

In fact, there are so many things I don’t talk about on this blog anymore that it’s a testament to my frickin’ ego that I still think I have interesting things to say. Already I can’t talk about work, can’t talk about a number of specific people, but I also choose to omit a ton of other details about our lives because I just don’t want to deal with the judgment.

Tessa and I work very hard – each in our own way – to be successful in our current mode, which is writing for television and film. But it does offer us tremendous flexibility for travel, since we’re not required to physically be anywhere – as long as our computers plug in, our cell phones work, and there’s a decent shot at wifi, we could be salmon fishing in Labrador until the meetings start.

This is a choice I made a LONG, LONG TIME AGO. I looked at my weaknesses and strengths, and decided that I would be god-awful at a job that required my constant attendance from 8am to 5:30pm, unless it was something terrifically bizarre or a truly heartfelt passion. A few times, that did happen – in the early days of the internet, I was putting in insane hours and drinking lots of Jim Beam and loved it.

But that was the exception. For the rest of my 20s and early 30s, I was willing to be utterly broke with no health insurance, no steady gig, and constantly shifting fortunes, living in hovels with eight roommates and driving The Worst Cars in the World in order to maintain a basic freedom of schedule. In fact, I think “willing” is the wrong word – it wasn’t even an option. Doing otherwise was akin to death; hopefully a few of you know what I’m trying to express.

I had this life for a decade, until I’d built up a body of work (and contacts) that allowed our new gigs to bear fruit. I’m leaving out one major factor, naturally, but the basics are the same. I fought hard for this, both because we live in a country that doesn’t make it particularly easy on those who don’t get “real” jobs, and because I never really felt I had a choice.

And so I turn the question back on you. If you swallowed a truth serum, what would you say to this question: are you truly having the work life you wanted? I suppose the answers spread out like this…

1) Yes, it has challenges, but it’s basically awesome.

2) Sorta, but what I thought it would be is not exactly what it turned out to be.

3) Not really, but I have [insert reason here], so I’m stuck, and try not to think about it too much.

4) No, I fucking hate it, but lack the courage to do anything about it.

5) Actually, I’m able to compartmentalize work from my emotional life – work just makes money, and is a means to an end, and I don’t really get all of your emotional prissy-pantsing.

Or do you have a more interesting answer altogether? As always, you can be anonymous… I’d rather you write in secret than not write at all.

king philip cried out for green soup


This just in: President Obama wants to make the school year longer, and possibly the school day longer as well. I get the reasoning behind it: the USA has begun to lag dangerously behind the rest of the developed world in education, and our current system is based on atavistic rules stemming from farmer kids planting and harvesting crops.

Shit, if you want to cry for America’s future, just take a look at this test given to high school kids in Oklahoma: 77% couldn’t name our first President, and 57% couldn’t name the two political parties in America. These are the people we’re going to have to deal with for the rest of our lives, my friends. [UPDATE: this poll is most likely totally bogus -ed.]

But I don’t think lengthening the school year or the school day is the right thing to do; in fact, I think it should be shortened. School is like a regular office job in America – you spend vast, untold hours of the day doing absolutely fucking NOTHING. Before your start sending me emails, YES, I KNOW THERE ARE PLENTY OF EXCEPTIONS, but if most office workers were truly honest, they’ll tell you they could blitz through their work in two hours and go home, if only the Man would let them.

The same applies for school. The inefficiency of time is stunning. If school were radically rethought, so that students had an immersion course in two subjects for a month instead of seven subjects spread out over four, I’d bet test scores would explode.

Think of it: say October is Biology and Early American History month. You spend all morning for a month immersed in experiments/dissection/taxonomy, and all afternoon diving into the lives of the Mohicans, Henry Hudson, and John Peter Zenger. Put on plays, make videos, kick ass, nobody is left behind.


Hank Hudson, yo

Think it won’t work? Ever been to summer school? Lifetime math failures get A’s in summer school, and I was one of them.

Also, with the different schedule, you can start class an hour later when teenagers are actually able to function. I’ve mentioned this before, but school should never start before 9:30am, for a host of reasons linked in that blog entry. I mean, why does school have to be so goddamn miserable, when you can actually increase test scores, aptitude, sports and happiness by letting kids sleep another hour?

Here’s the other thing about lengthening the school year – the 3-month summer vacation is truly a national treasure. Not only can you actually live somewhere else for the summer (if you have the means), but those three months allow a teenager to reinvent themselves, especially if they didn’t particularly like the phase they were in. It’s a bit of a “reset” button.

I’ve done the European school thing, with the 6-week summer, and it sucked. Sure, the crazy month-long Easter break was pretty awesome, but give me the unending possibility of a vast summer over 6 weeks of impending doom anytime.

I dunno, maybe I’m the wrong person to ask. I fucking hated school and have spent years on this blog whining about it. But I thought school was a jail sentence, and if we re-imagined the whole thing, kids like me wouldn’t. We’d actually be psyched to throw ourselves in each subject, giving it 100%, immersing ourselves with the kind of intensity that comes from knowing it won’t last long.

anyways, what’s your position on east timor


So let’s do a mitzvah, shall we? The delightful Emma from the comments section has a request. The girl next door to her – a high school junior named Hayley – came over last night and said she’d been nominated for the Morehead Scholarship at UNC. As Emma says:

She is number one in her class, went to governor’s school for science this past summer, and went to Space Camp a couple of years ago. She is the number 2 singles player on the tennis team and plays on the #1-seeded doubles team (which is undefeated right now at 10-0), but her passion is softball. She should be all-conference in both tennis and softball this year. She is also a starter (point guard) on the girl’s basketball team. She serves as one of two students on a juvenile crime prevention committee with other members of the community.

She also has a recruiting video for softball here – which made me think… what if we could YouTube our applications to college? Kids today…

Anyway, Emma wants to put together a mock interview to prepare Hayley for the Morehead and wants to ask the collective wisdom of our crowd, “what questions would you ask a nominee in the interview?”

I’m the wrong person to ask, not just because I wasn’t a Morehead, but because I’ve always had serious problems with the scholarship and the way they run things. I’m not saying it isn’t a great scholarship – all things considered, it has to be one of the greatest opportunities offered to any high school student in America, no lie – but for some reason, it always made me crazy.

Back in the ’80s, I wasn’t the only one who bristled at the cadre of British sub-royalty who owned castles and got a free ride to the University of North Carolina, and repaid the favor by pouring Pimm’s apple liquor on anyone in the way of their drunken rampages. Of course, I changed my mind when I joined them in that pursuit (philosophical consistency not being one of my strong suits at the time) but I still understood the dynamic to be problematic.

Later on, as the leadership of the Morehead changed, the people they brought in as Morehead Scholars changed. The artists, goofballs, crazy thinkers, musicians and self-styled poets that made the program so interesting became a minority as more and more Future Bankers of America moved in. I might as well add that there were a lot more religious types, which I can complain about, because this is my blog.

It reached a defining moment last year when my wife – herself an artist goofball crazy-thinker musician and self-styled poet Morehead Scholar – was asked (like most alums) to go through the nominations and pick out the ones that seemed the most compelling. NONE of the kids she selected went to the next round. Demoralizing.

That said, the Morehead program is still unbelievably valuable to UNC – the outside influence of kids from other parts of the country, and the best and brightest from within the state – largely makes Carolina what it is. Without the Morehead, the Johnston, and the various other scholarships (not to mention el Deano), UNC might have just turned into Michigan with better weather.

So here comes Hayley, a valedictorian with a wicked arm from the crouched catcher’s position, an excellent slide into 2nd, and a degree from Space Camp. She’s the kind of gal we need. What would you ask in your mock interview?

first, do no harm


Those of you who are Facebook friends with my mom – a disturbing number of you, I might add – know that she was whisked to the emergency room a few days ago. Here is the story in her own words:


Notes from a Medical Gulag

Remember the train station scene in “Gone With the Wind” where the mass of injured, suffering soldiers are laid out in rows on the ground? Replace stretchers with gurneys, and that’s what it looked like in the Emergency Room of the “best hospital in New York City” this past week.

The ambulance paramedics wheeled me in after a scary “episode” at home in the middle of the night. I was going to be fine, with a manageable health issue, but I didn’t know it at the time. And I had no idea what the next 40 hours were going to be like.

I was evaluated, hooked up to monitors and IV saline, “admitted” and told they would take me upstairs as soon as they found a bed for me.

Now in a corner cubicle smaller than my coat closet, still on the gurney. Nothing like a bed, a gurney is narrow, hard, and uncomfortable. And the ER is cold. The lights are blindingly bright, the noise of beeping monitors, calls for help, moans, coughs, retching… I am really looking forward to going “upstairs” to a real (if still hospital-style) bed.

End of Hour 1: Nothing.

Hour 2: “There are no available beds but we’re looking.” (Feeling woozy but OK. Need sleep but waiting for the “bed upstairs “.)

Hour 4: “Still looking for a bed.” (Still awake).

Hour 6: Grateful that Sean has followed the ambulance bringing along one of my own pillows, my iPod full of music and books, and my phone. (Still no sleep.) “We’re still looking for a bed.”)

Hour 9: So many people in the ER that the halls are full, the aisles are full, there are no gurneys left, so people who can sit up are strapped in wheel chairs in nooks and corners. (Sean tells me I’m well off, since I’m next to a wall, and have only one other patient on the other side of my curtain. But she is barfing.)

Hour 12: (I’m a little hungry. But not completely miserable. Both ear buds in, listening to “A Team of Rivals,” alternating with Brahms.) “We’re still looking for a bed.”

Hour 14: (Cheered by Sean who assures me that what ails me is manageable and I’ll be upstairs soon and they are, yes, still looking for a bed.) Barfing lady replaced with moaning man who keeps asking, “What happened? Where is this place? Somebody!”

Through all of this, an inadequate but plucky and compassionate team of nurses, doctors, and helpers are doing their best to keep the place functioning. This includes the young male nurse who blew up a vein in my arm trying to find a place to stick another IV. “Oops! I’m so sorry.. You’re getting a little hematoma there, and I’ll keep an eye on it.”

As good as his word, he is back every half hour or so checking the swelling bulb of black and blue on my arm. “Not so bad. Call me if it gets worse.” Of course in the ER there is no way to “call” anyone. Jordana suggests that I throw my paper cup at the first medico who passes my alcove. Mostly I wait. “We’re still looking for a…”

Hour 17: Still nothing to eat, and nothing to drink tomorrow. Doing tests in the afternoon, but “We’ll find you a bed upstairs as soon as we can.” I call Sean nearly in tears. “My iPod and phone batteries are dying. And I have been stuck on a bedpan for 30 minutes. I’m not doing too well.” (A cleaning crew guy tries to find someone to help and can’t, so he takes the bed pan himself. What a guy!)

The tedium is sometimes relieved by the reality show just outside my little alcove. A huge, jolly African American man says he needs to go home and take care of his dog. (He has been brought in because he has no doctor, no insurance, but fainted on the sidewalk). He is released “against medical advice,” but becomes distraught when he can’t find “my special cane that I brought from Africa.” The overworked nurses promise to contact the ambulance crew.

Several overheard conversations go approximately thus:

Nurse: “Tell me why you are here.”

Patient: “I got sick. I have a bad (fill in blank).

N: Have you seen your doctor?

P: No doctor. No insurance.

(I’m totally miserable, but starting to feel really lucky.)

Hour 20: A weary Sean and Jordana appear with power cords and encouragement. (They are beautiful– better than an enchilada dinner and a feather bed. I can do this.)

Hour 23: I’m cold, but don’t ask for another blanket. They are out of blankets, and I wonder what they are throwing over the newcomers. (I begin to listen to “A Pinch of Snuff” and realize I’ve already read it. Switch to last weeks audio “New Yorker.” My back aches from gurney syndrome, but I know I’m relatively well off.)

Hour 29: A sweet nurse with amazing dimples brings me a cup of tea from the nurse’s lounge. Better than a raisin bagel with cinnamon cream cheese. “We’re still looking…”

All day I have been hearing loud thumps behind my wall. Apparently I’m next to the CatScan room. Not too loud, but who can tell in this din?

Hour 30: Lights are always on full. This is prison. I want a pencil to cross hatch the passing days on my wall. (I have a splitting caffeine headache. But the man in the next slot has cancer, and they can’t find him a bed upstairs. I decide not to bitch.)

Hour 31: “We’re still looking for a..”

Unhooked from monitors and IV’s I can at last walk to the bathroom. WA-HOO! Free at last! (Hematoma on my arm looks like I’ve been in a bar fight, but they say it’s OK.)

Hour 33: (Still trying to get to sleep. Switch to Ravel on the iPod, but even “Lullaby for Babes in the Wood” can’t compete with Catscan thumps, beeping monitors, moans, coughs, loud PA. I switch back to audio books. “Middlemarch.” If that doesn’t put me to sleep…)

Hour 34: Sean wants to know if he should come in. No, there is no place to sit. Almost nowhere to stand. The place is Gone With theWind again. Distracted from sore back and caffeine headache by panorama outside my alcove.

Patient wearing large hat, clutching big purse, sitting up on gurney. (I’m thinking maybe she collapsed at Bloomingdale’s) “My god,” she bellows, “I’ve been waiting TWO hours for a bed!” I think of new patient next door. Cancer man has been taken elsewhere, replaced by cancer/chemo lady who can’t keep anything down. I want to throw my pillow at purse lady.

Elderly lady lying on gurney on the aisle outside my cave. She is surrounded by three very concerned sons, lovely young men, none of whom look racially connected. The mom is old, but lovely. And I’m thinking either the sons are adopted or mom was really busy in her prime. The boys are so protective, so sweet to her that I want to tell her “Aren’t we lucky to have such sons!”

Cancer Lady’s daughter comes to see her, greets her with annoyed “What now, ma?” But she does go find a chair and sit by her. I know it’s hard…

Hour 36: “We’re still looking for… ” (By some miracle, I finally fall asleep.)

Hour 40:  Shake. “We’re taking you up to GI floor for the tests now.”

And an hour later I am pronounced OK and sent home.

Now I know this New York hospital is a victim of other hospital closures, and hospitals elsewhere may not be that spectacularly dysfunctional. I know there is an unimaginably huge national deficit. I know it’s “complicated” and all the other talking points. But I’ve been the beneficiary of free public health care in other countries, both as a resident and a visitor, and those systems are working. I know our own health care system is broken.

I am actually a grateful participant in a U.S, “Public Option”: Medicare. It doesn’t cover everything, so I pay for a supplement. And Medicare isn’t free, either. Around $100 every month is deducted fro my pitiful Social Security benefit.

I am in my mid 70s and still working. I also have an astoundingly wonderful family who are there in a crisis. I’m very lucky. Still, some months, when there are no royalty checks or contract work is slim, my income is down to poverty level.

That said, I’d be perfectly willing to be taxed on whatever I earn to provide universal health care for all the citizens of my country. For the same reason, I think it’s fair to pay for public education, even when I don’t have school-age children. I want to live in a country whose citizens are healthy and well educated.

When I look at some of the mean-eyed, slack-jawed, often unhealthily obese participants in the anti (fill in blank, but currently “health care”) rallies–many exhibiting semi-literate, misinformed, even misspelled, hate-filled signs and T shirt slogans–I feel that we are failing on both counts.

There is no hope of reaching these rally people, especially when they are egged on and misinformed by the wealthy, well-fed radio and TV rabble rousers, and even many of their lawmakers.

I just wish Limbaugh and Glen Beck, insurance execs, and the obstructionist lawmakers, could be forced to spend 40 hours on my gurney in the ER, with lines in their arms, stuck on a bedpan, surrounded by moans and cries, and barfing. Ironically they would be cared for, as I was, by fantastic medical workers who do a terrific job under impossible conditions.

But they, especially the well cared-for lawmakers, would have to encounter, first-hand, in the relentless bright light, the cries, the smells, the pain, the frustration, the need, the broken system they have the power to fix.

If only.



Linda and Sean unpack at the farm

you know the rules and so do i


SCENE: 20-year-old me is finishing up dinner at the Lodge at the University of North Carolina. It is February 1988, and everyone has left the dining room to prepare for the mixer that night. Suddenly, 42-year-old me fades in, right next to 20-year-old me, and tries to think of a way to not send the younger me into apoplectic shock.

42:  Hey. So let’s get this over with. I’m you at 42.

20:  What the FUCK?

42:  I haven’t got much time, and I know this is completely freaking you out, but you’ll just have to calm down and accept it.

20:  Calm down? I’m calm. Man, I always wished this would happen!

42:  You… wait a minute, what?

20:  Yeah! Getting into a time machine and visiting yourself! Are you kidding? I always swore I wouldn’t be the crazy asshole who refuses to accept it.

42:  So this doesn’t surprise you?

20:  Why, do I get much less flexible about this shit at your age?

42:  (mulls it over) Hm. Maybe. I hadn’t thought of it like that. (beat) Do you know that you take a bunch of pills before bed at 42?

20:  Why? I don’t have some fucked-up disease, do I?

42:  No, no. They’re totally awesome pills that solve a lot of problems. But I was just thinking the other day… you don’t need, like, six pillows to get to sleep and your back doesn’t hurt, does it?

20:  No, why?

42:  Never mind. Just mulling over my rigidity. (snaps back to business) So look, I’m not going to tell you what stocks to buy and what all’s going to happen, because if you don’t do things exactly the way you’re going to do them, you won’t end up where I am.

20:  And that’s a good thing?

42:  I won’t answer that.

20:  Well, you’ve already answered two of the biggest things.

42:  What’s that?

20:  Well, the second-most important thing is that you’re still alive, so that’s nice.

42:  What’s the most important thing?

20:  Are you kidding? I still have my hair!

42 sighs and rolls his eyes. 20 continues.

20:  Besides, you’re still the same weight, and aren’t all jowly or anything.

42:  Yeah, well, I mean… forty-two is a little different where I am. Oh, but you do get fat for a while.

20:  Fat? Like how fat? Dangerously obese fat?

42:  No, no. Just vaguely uncomfortably fat, you know, fat-necked pioneer ancestors

kind of fat.

20:  And then what happens?

42:  Part of it is those pills I was talking about. But hold on, I digress. I was going to tell you some things you should know, but if I remember correctly, you had some specific things you were worrying about right now.

20:  Um, yeah. First off, is Mom okay?

42:  Yes, don’t worry about her. Or Dad. I mean, worry about them like normal, but don’t go overboard.

20:  These heart palpitations I have, do they-

42:  They’re called P.A.C.’s or something. You finally have one while you’re wearing the Holter monitor and they confirm it. Totally fine, caused by stress.

20:  What about romantic stuff?

42:  Well… (stops, looks around, strains to hear something) Wait, is that “Never Gonna Give You Up” on someone’s radio?

20:  Yeah. The guy sounds like Kermit the Frog.

42:  Y’know, in the future, there’s something funny about that song that… oh man, that would take about four hours to explain. Anyway. Romantically, this is kind of a shitty school year, but it gets a lot better in the fall semester.

20:  Cool. There’s the whole virginity loss thing-

42:  Again, I wouldn’t worry about that. In fact, fairly soon, you’re going to have more options than you can deal with, and it might behoove you to show some valor and discretion. But you’re not going to, so fuck it.

20:  But… do I get married and everything?

42:  (smiles) I wouldn’t worry about that either.

20:  (horrified) Oh, fuck. I do, don’t I? Does it suck? Is it motherfucking JAIL?

42:  Man you have a lot to work out. Keep this in mind: you know older people always tell younger people “you don’t know dick!” and always call them egomaniacal shitheads with no sense of how the world works?

20:  Yes.

42:  Dude, you don’t know dick, and you’re an egomaniacal shithead with no sense of how the world works.

20:  Uh-huh. (points to 42’s shoes) And you’re so cool in the future that you’re wearing Keds?

42:  These aren’t Keds! They’re skater shoes. And they’re cool!

20:  Uh-huh.

42:  Okay. I swore I wouldn’t do this, but… (hold up an iPod Nano)

20:  What’s that?

42:  This little thing? It plays every song on every album you have ever owned, with room for about 147 more albums.

20:  (enrapt) Oh my god. No WAY. Who makes them?

42:  You know your Mac Plus?

20:  Yeah?

42:  That’s a hint. (looks at iPod’s clock) Shit, I only have a few more seconds. I’m trying to think of what to tell you that won’t give anything away, but also some advice you’d actually follow. (beat) I can’t think of anything.

20:  It’s okay. I mean, you’re alive, you have your hair.

42:  Things get very dark for you, a few times.

20:  I mean, I’m not kidnapped and tortured, am I?

42:  No, but that doesn’t mean things don’t get dark. However, there is… well, I’ll give you a hint. A little piece of light explodes the darkness. Along with someone you already know.

As 42 says this, he begins to fade into ether.

20:  What the hell does that mean?

42:  Gotta go! Be nice to all your friends – you still have them even here!

20:  So it all turns out, sorta, okay?

42:  Gotta go!

20:  Wait! Please… motherfucking please tell me Carolina wins a National Championship. We’re always ranked first and then go out in the Elite Eight-

42:  Patience will be rewarded! Go Heels!

20:  Go Heels!

He disappears. EXEUNT.

but I already WAS flossing


You are given a time machine for one purpose only: you get to go back and visit yourself at 20 years old for about five minutes. When you arrive, and your 20-year-old self is done freaking out, what exactly do you tell yourself as advice?

IanXY88(bl).jpg  IanLucyFarmLawn(bl).jpg

meaning THIS guy has to listen to this OTHER guy… (pics: 1988, 2007)

dog runs secondary break, film at 11


Okay, so nobody liked my movie from yesterday? FINE. Let’s try another, this time a commercial from AT&T featuring Lucy’s favorite human being not in our family, Tyler Hansborough:


Points of interest:

:01 – All shot in Chapel Hill, I believe. The flyer mentions Poplar St., which is in Carrboro, but since Tyler is from Poplar Bluffs, Missouri…

:08 – guy texting at a information board (set up by the producers, not actually there) just to the side of Old West Dorm. South Building in the background, with Playmakers visible behind stop sign (also probably fake). See here

:11 – and there’s Tyler with “friends” at Time-Out! At first I thought it was Sutton’s, but upon closer inspection, I smelled the chicken bones. Note local girl looking straight at the camera.

:14 – if they actually did all shots in Chapel Hill, I believe that’s the 2nd floor of Chi Omega. Ask me how I know.

:15 – fakest shot of the whole commercial. At first glance looks like Dook, but since they Photoshopped the trademark “five bars” motif into the background, I think it’s the church by the Morehead building, copied and enlarged five times. Notice the sloppy Photoshop job on the roof tiles.

:17 – girl is walking towards downtown, on the school side of Franklin Street, right in front of the President’s House. The sign for Battle Lane is obscured behind her, as is our house at Club 510, where Salem and I GOT ALL OF YOU DRUNK. See here for bird’s-eye view.

:21 – Tyler: “We found the dog? FUCK YEAH!”

:25 – here’s your inside joke, Carolina fans! The house number reads 112, and they’re at the Chi O house on Franklin – and 112 Franklin Street is actually He’s Not Here. The reverse angle on the next shot shows that weird little stone house on the corner of Franklin and Hillsborough.

:27 – That’s our guy! Love the “Basketball” shirt. Kind of like those sweatshirts that say “COLLEGE”.

Best part about this ad? It’s totally believable. I really do think Tyler Hansborough could find Lucy’s dog for her. Huzzah!

winner, palme d’or cannes


Y’know, here we are, stuck out here in California, pitchin’ television and movie ideas and waiting for huge corporations to spend millions of dollars on entertainment… when all the while, we were workin’ way too hard! Turns out there’s a way to make your movies without all the crazypantsing.

And so I’d like to share with you what I’m working on these days. Hope you like it!!!

Après-Tennis Tête-à-Tête
by: ecstasy426

audio is NSFW, BTW