I’m very excited to share with you the trailer for my new novel “Lost in the Fog”. Thus far I’ve received 226 pre-orders of my book, and I only need 24 more to fulfill my obligation with Inkshares to receive publication.
It’s impossible to describe how grateful I am for all the support I’ve received, but I will say thank you, merci, and mahalo!
I would be so appreciative if you can help push me over the top to the goal of 250 pre-orders. “Lost in the Fog” is set in San Francisco and is funny, dramatic, and will keep you turning pages to figure out the mystery of who stole the rare Matisse sculptures and why! The link is here and I hope you enjoy the trailer. Thanks!
La La Land won seven Golden Globes, the most ever by a single film in history. It also garnered fourteen Oscar nominations, tying the record for that, and won six. It was my favorite film of 2016.
Because of all those factors, and others I’ll explain later, I had to take a second, more critical look at La La Land. Many of my favorites have been nominated for Best Picture, but the only one I saw in the theater that ever won was The Hurt Locker. That made me think…had I just been charmed by La La Land or was it really that good?
After my second viewing tonight, I actually loved it even more. La La Land is really that good. The montage that ends the film is pure magic, and overall I can truly say it represents everything that is great about the movies.
After watching it on Blu-ray tonight, it also got me thinking why the film, which was originally praised by critics and audiences, received an inordinate amount of nasty backlash just before the Oscars. One of the biggest disses was an article that appeared in USA Today called “The Case Against La La Land”. I will always have complete respect for everyone’s opinion (and know that dissent is not only healthy but important), but I think the person who wrote the piece just didn’t get the film.
Unfortunately that article was just the beginning…there were others that mushroomed up just before the Oscars, which led to the surprising defeat of La La Land for Best Picture.
I’m all for varying opinions, especially when everyone is fawning over a film, and it’s always a good idea to take a second, more critical look. If it’s deserving, someone should take a few whacks at it. We should routinely question why the public have anointed anything “great”.
One of the arguments against La La Land, which I’d seen in a few articles, was that the main characters are thinly drawn. At their core, Sebastian and Mia have real, tangible goals that they are passionate about achieving. In drama, if you can make an audience believe that and also get them to root for their success, you have real, three dimensional characters.
You also don’t have to shove exposition and backstory about down the audience’s throat to make characters real. I’m on the Hemingway side that its actually the opposite . . . if you tell the story right and true, you can leave many things out and it will make it stronger (the “Iceberg Theory”). The goal should always be (no matter how you go about it) to get a viewer to connect emotionally with a character. If that’s accomplished then the writer, director, and actors (and everyone else who worked on the film) have done something special. And Mr. Chazelle, Mrs. Stone, and Mr. Gosling did something special.
I also completely disagree with the argument that many of the songs are “lackluster and dull” (quoting that USA Today article). I bought the soundtrack on iTunes the night I saw La La Land and the lyrics and music are excellent (“City of Stars” is something Cole Porter might have wrote back in the day). I still listen to it.
Maybe the majority of today’s audiences just can’t grasp musicals. Granted, it’s quite odd to see people just randomly break into song and dance. Or even if you can accept musicals for what they are in theory, a lot of people don’t know how to properly critique them because they don’t have the necessary knowledge/history of the genre to do so.
For whatever reason I have always loved musicals (Singing in the Rain, An American in Paris, and Guys & Dolls are three of my favorite movies). That being said, the first time I saw La La Land, as I was watching the first two numbers (“Another Day of Sun” and “Someone in the Crowd”) I was thinking “This is a bit weird” . . . here’s a musical and I don’t know the songs. That gut reaction is because we’re so used to singing along with musicals that have been around for a long time.
La La Land is completely new, and has original songs. Most people who come to thefilm have never heard any of the music. Would critics have preferred the scenes to have been scored with songs from “Grease” or “Hairspray” or “My Fair Lady”? I certainly wouldn’t.
I haven’t seen Moonlight yet (I really want to), and it very well may be the better film. But . . . and this is a big question to ask . . . why does Moonlight’s story rate higher on the importance scale than La La Land? Yes, it certainly seems more dramatic and intense, but should that matter? To me film transcends race, color, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, and all other categories you can name.
I think Richard Linklater (through the character Jessie) said it best in Before Sunset:
“So when I look at my own life, you know, I have to admit, right, that I’ve-I’ve never been around a bunch of guns or violence, you know, not really. No political intrigue or a helicopter crashes. But my life, from my own point of view, has been full of drama. And I thought, if I could write a book that, that could capture what it’s like to, to really meet somebody, I mean, one of the most exciting things that’s ever happened to me is to meet somebody, to make that connection. And if I could make that valuable, you know, to capture that, that would be the attempt.”
With movies (in my opinion), the goal isn’t to judge which character had it “harder” in life . . . in the La La Land vs Moonlight comparison of course it would be the latter. We should be examining drama, plot, characters, emotional connection, how it makes us feel . . . the heart of filmmaking. Yes, the stakes need to be high in order for a movie to be considered “Important”, but love and pursuing your dreams and passion and giving your all to whatever makes you feel alive, will always be some of the most important stories we can tell.
Either I was smiling at the magical dancing/singing/music/cinematography of La La Land, or I was astounded at how good the performances were, or I was hit with a dizzying nostalgia at my own days of trying to succeed in Hollywood. The film is extremely entertaining, but more importantly the subtext is rich and it has a lot to say about dreams, ambition, and the choices we make in life. It also isn’t spoon-feeding you a “message” . . . the film wants you to make your own opinions and thoughts about the price you pay for following your dreams.
If you haven’t seen La La Land, I highly recommend you check it out.
A little over fourteen years ago my first novel, A Model Community, was published.At that time I was living in LA and had written several screenplays, but had I failed to get them noticed by anyone in Hollywood. I was certain my novel would be my ticket to success, the thing to launch my career as a professional writer.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
While to this day I remain very proud of A Model Community, it went nowhere in terms of sales. If you go to the Amazon page, it’s ranked 233,312 in all books. While I still do get the occasional royalty check, it never even paid for one month of rent. Like the fate of all the screenplays I had written, mostly everyone ignored it.
Instead of starting my career as a professional writer, A Model Community almost ended it. Not too long after its publication I began working in hotels and in the profession of human resources. Unlike writing, this new accidental career was very good to me. I am grateful that I have had so much success in the hospitality field, but even more thankful for all the wonderful people I have met. I wouldn’t go back and change a thing.
But I still can’t let go of my dream of being a professional writer.
I have also never stopped writing. Since the publication of A Model Community in 2003, I’ve written one script, several short stories, one play, one more novel, and am currently working on a third book of fiction. My job as an HR Director takes up most of my time, but I’m able to find hours at night and over the weekend to write.
I finished the first draft of my second novel, Lost in the Fog, in 2008. Over the next five years I rewrote the thing over a dozen times, and finally declared it the best it could possibly be. And what did I do after all that hard work?
I printed it and shoved the manuscript in my desk.
It doesn’t take a $300 an hour psychiatrist to figure out why I didn’t try to do anything with Lost in the Fog. All of my efforts in LA to find success with my scripts and my book ended in failure. While I absolutely loved (and continue to love) the process of writing, the mass rejection of my work had taken a huge toll. Working on a project brought me so much happiness, but trying to sell it to agents/producers/publishers was just pure misery.
So here we are in 2017, and I have decided to do something with Lost in the Fog. A few days ago I listed it on Inkshares, a great company that helps writers reach their dream. If you’re able to get a minimum of 250 pre-orders of your book, they’ll edit and publish it. If your book gets 750 pre-orders, they’ll give it the full marketing and promotion treatment as well. Important to note that writers cannot fund their own book, so I’m not able to help my own cause.
Whoever is reading this blog post now, I would sincerely appreciate your support in pre-ordering a copy ofLost in the Fog. I’m very proud of this book, and I’m certain you’re going to think my comedic mystery set in San Francisco is a great read. It’s for those who enjoy classic crime & mystery capers but with a modern twist. In movie terms, I like to think of it asThe Big Lebowski meets The Thomas Crown Affair.
I thank everyone in advance of their support! You can pre-order a copy of it here! Mahalo!
I’m slowly coming out of the anger stage . . . still three more to go to acceptance. And more importantly, in so much doom and gloom these last couple of days, I never want to lose my sense of humor. Once that is gone the bad guys truly win….Thank you, Jimmy Kimmel, for reminding me of that.
There’s a film I’ve been thinking about which has brought that advice to the front of my consciousess. I’ve always loved “About Last Night”, based on David Mamet’s play, and there’s a great scene where Bernie (played by Jim Belushi) implores his friend Dan (played by a very young Rob Lowe) to :”Don’t ever lose your sense of humor. Don’t EVER lose your sense of humor”. Jim Belushi might not be a top thesbian, but he kills it in this part and the scene has always stuck with me.
Surprisingly (and disspointingly) there isn’t a You Tube link to this scene in the classic 1986 film. And if you want to watch its only available on DVD from Netflix and for a price (rental or purchase) on Amazon (I used to own the VHS of “About Last Night”, and I still have the DVD purchased at Ameoba Records in SF many years ago). Anyway, here’s the trailer of the film and a link to the video of the end credits song (which is basically just a montage of the film).
Thank you, 1980s and thank you, John Waite.
Getting back on point . . . over the last couple of days I kept hearing Jim Belushi’s voice in “About Last Night” (as Bernie) when he implores his best friend Dan to”Don’t ever lose your sense of humor”. The film was 30 years ago and that quote completely out of context to a political election, but nonetheless great advice and very relevant right now.
That’s all I got for tonight. While I might not like what happened on November 8th, I’m keeping my sense of humor no matter what. And in closing, here is a link to a video of French Bulldog puppies . . .
The fact that there are millions of others who got it complexly wrong doesn’t provide any solace on this dark night. Seeing the graphic on my TV set “Donald Trump Elected President” is like stepping into a DC Comics’ Bizarro World … or an alternate reality like The Man in the High Castle. The joke is now truly on all of us.
It’s now time for some serious introspection. I truly believed that the majority of this country would not vote for a candidate who spewed fear, hate, racism, and sexism. I truly believed that we had more character and would not ignore key human values of decency and kindness and rational thought for what . . . some hypothetical Supreme Court nominee or a political agenda?
I couldn’t have been any more wrong.
This is a bad flashback to the year 2000. I remember watching the election returns in a bar in Hollywood called the Frolic 2 (which is no longer in existence). The six or seven of us who stayed until last call were all just dumbfounded that the race was that close, and that Gore could actually lose. As the clock passed 2 am and the race still had not been called, the bartender let us stay and gave us beer for free (since they couldn’t legally sell it at that hour).
At some point we all came to the realization that nobody would be elected president that night/early morning, and we left the bar in a daze that had nothing to do with the booze. I remember walking back to my apartment on June Street with my good buddy Bradleigh, and we both knew we had just witnessed an ugly point in American history. But there was still hope for Gore to win.
As it got later in the game tonight and all signs were pointing toward a Trump victory, I was still holding out hope that Pennsylvania and Wisconsin would be close enough to warrant a recount. But it would not be, and Clinton conceded. And even if we got the recount like sixteen years ago, back then it still ended badly.
This is 2000 all over again, except at least back then you could say George Bush (even if you disagreed with his politics) held some core competencies to be president and was a decent human being. Trump falls short on both counts. What that man did during the election, even if half of what he said he didn’t really believe and it was only done to get votes, was embarrassing.
I didn’t think the good people of this country would endorse Donald Trump.
I couldn’t have been any more wrong.
“Anybody who thinks that it doesn’t matter who’s president’ has never been drafted and sent off to fight and die in a vicious, stupid war on the other side of the world — or been beaten and gassed by police for trespassing on public property — or been hounded by the IRS for purely political reasons — or locked up in the Cook County Jail with a broken nose and no phone access and twelve perverts wanting to stomp your ass in the shower. That is when it matters who is president or governor or police chief. That is when you will wish you had voted.”
-Hunter S. Thompson, from “Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness Modern History from the Sports Desk”
“Human evolution was at a turning point. Natural selection, the process by which the strongest, the smartest, the fastest, reproduced in greater numbers than the rest, a process which had once favored the noblest traits of man, now began to favor different traits. Most science fiction of the day predicted a future that was more civilized and more intelligent. But as time went on, things seemed to be heading in the opposite direction. A dumbing down. How did this happen? Evolution does not necessarily reward intelligence. With no natural predators to thin the herd, it began to simply reward those who reproduced the most, and left the intelligent to become an endangered species.”
-Narrator from “Idiocracy”, written by Mike Judge and Etan Cohen.
It’s after five a.m. on the East coast and the polls on the mainland will be opening soon. Here in Hawaii we’ll be the last state to cast our votes in this historic Presidential Election. While we’ll be making history in that we’re either going to elect our first female president or our most completely unqualified one, unfortunately those narratives are engulfed by another larger one.
This presidential election will go down as the nadir of American politics, where you felt thoroughly sullied just being a spectator of it all.
I’m not very political, and I’ve voted for both democrats and republicans in my lifetime. I am very happy to say I am the antithesis of being partisan, and I respect differences of opinion. When it comes to important decisions, I will learn as much as I can about it and make the most informed choice.
That being said, the fact that America is “this close” to electing a person who unequivocally would go down as the worst human being to ever lead our country, depresses the shit out of me. And I’m not talking about political party affiliation or platforms or anything associated with policy. Donald Trump is just clearly everything any decent person should be against. He’s a nefarious bully who preaches fear and hate and who has no interest in listening or being rational. He’s shown no kindness, and certainly has not exhibited an ounce of Aloha, a core value of the state where I now live.
I remember laughing a few times at the beginning of the Trump campaign, thinking it was so outlandish that such a buffoon was running for the highest office in America. This was primary season, where any nutter with enough money can get on the ballot. I remember thinking that it was funny, and I was certain the voters would be diligent enough in the vetting process to eliminate someone so unqualified.
But as we sit here on the eve of the election and ABC says it’s 47% to 43% Hilary, I am not in any way laughing now.
Although I still believe Trump has no chance on winning. The polls you see on TV and online and all the doomsayers who predict a Republican victory only exist to increase ratings and garner more clicks and likes. If you dig deeper into the analytics of the state-by-state Electoral College make-up, Clinton is going to be our next President.
By tomorrow afternoon Hawaii Time, the Donald will be preparing his concession speech. And it will be the most hate-filled, hyperbolic, and most insulting to our democracy concession speech in the history of presidential politics. And it will hurt your ears and eyes to listen and watch. You will cringe and feel embarrassed for him.
I can only hope this election will serve as a wake-up call to our country. And I think it will at least from a political standpoint for both parties. But if Donald Trump receives anything close to 40% of the popular vote, that speaks to an uglier fission that a “wake-up call” cannot fix. It’s already clear we’re a divided nation of politics, geography, education, income, and just about any other demographic you can create. But if such a hate-filled candidate can garner that much support, we’re in deeper trouble than I ever imagined.
Which makes me appreciate my adopted state of Hawaii even more than I already do. Where I live, there is such a welcoming culture and community. While there are differences in politics, at the end of the day you’ll never be judged by the affiliation of a party but what kind of person you are. There are core values to the people who live in Hawaii, and because of that I could never see this state voting for a candidate of hate . . . for one that has no Aloha.
And that is the only thing about this election that makes me smile.
Or rather, watching sports and rooting for your favorite team and linking your happiness or sadness to the outcome of a game that you are just a spectator to is not “real life”. Win or lose, you’ll still get up in the morning, get dressed, go into work, and deal with things that would be happening if that game never took place. If your team celebrates a championship or laments a failed playoff run, you will not be shaking champagne with them or patting anyone on the back in consolation in the locker room.
I’ve known this since I was young, and I am even more acutely aware of it now that I’m older.
So why do I still take sports so seriously? Why do I get so elated when my teams win, and descend into depression when they lose? Why did I get so upset a couple of weeks ago when the Red Sox lost to the Indians in the playoffs?
I’m sure it is tied into simple Freudian-type analysis. For most of us, our lives are devoid of the opportunity of glory of the larger than life variety. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While rarely epic, we still have the opportunity on a daily basis to make our significant others, family members, friends, co-workers, or even strangers happy. We should always have that as a goal, and when it happens should celebrate it as a great day. I surely do.
Glory should never be a pre-requisite of satisfaction, and such a concept is so far removed from our everyday lives we don’t even consciously seek it. But the Epic Moment, the (as Lloyd Dobbler once said), “Dare-to-be-Great-Situation”, is something we still crave on a deeper atavistic level.
If you’re lucky, you might get one in your life. Or if you’re blessed by the gods of chance, maybe two or three. But most of us will never experience something that fits the “according to Hoyle” definition of a Heroic Moment.
So for me, and millions of others whether they realize it or not, that is an allure of sports…the chance to witness and vicariously have a “Dare-to-be-Great” situation where you have ultimate victory. And “sports” is actually not the apt word for this. I can watch Tiger Woods playing golf and root for him, but at the end of the day I don’t really care if he wins or loses. The New England Revolution is the pro soccer team of the area where I come from, and while I hope they do well I have never followed them. Rooting for Team USA during the Olympics is fun and there’s national pride to give a tendril of emotional attachment, but those games/matches will never have the same meaning as ones by the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, and Celtics.
For the wins or the magic moments of a sporting game to mean anything to me, there must be a deep emotional attachment to the team and to the players.
This feeling cannot be faked. It cannot be manufactured after following a team for a few games or even a few seasons. You earn emotional attachment by investing your heart and soul into years and decades of following and rooting for the success of a team in which you have zero control over.
And if you’re lucky, well actually let’s just say “really f’n lucky”, you’ll get to see your team win a World Series, an NBA Championship, a Stanley Cup, or a Superbowl. And if you are “off-the-charts-stupid-lucky”, there will be amazing moments during that championship run that bring your team back from sure defeat. Walk-off homeruns, epic 4th quarter comebacks, three goal deficits erased against your rival, and maybe even an interception on the goal-line to get your team the Lombardi Trophy.
I’ve got to witness all of that and more in the last 15 years, and I am extremely grateful for this amazing luck. Four Superbowl victories (the last one I witnessed in person), three World Series titles, one Stanley Cup, and one NBA Finals victory. There has been Tom Brady and Big Papi and Paul Pierce and Zdeno Chara and a host of other legendary Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins that I have been lucky enough to have on my side.
As we head into the World Series, I wish the fans of both the Cubs and the Indians the best of luck. Chicago hasn’t even been to the Series since 1945, and it’s 108 years since they won it all! Cleveland made it to Game 7 of the Championship in 1997 (their last appearance), only to lose in the 9th inning to a then five-year-old franchise when they could not close it out. Their last title was 68 years ago!
I’ve been to Wrigley Field and still have that Cubs fishing hat I got there decades ago. I’ll be rooting for them, but at the end of the day with no true emotional attachment I am hoping for a competitive and fun World Series. But no matter what happens it’s nice to know that one team will make a long-suffering fan base collectively experience that Dare-to-be-Great-Situation, that ultimate feeling of victory.
I’ve been in a writing funk recently, so I’m going back to my old (and original) blog from 2007 for some material. I feel this entry is an apt one to repost, since my favorite football team played on Thursday and today I was left adrift with NFL games I truly didn’t want to watch. But this Sunday, unlike my choices from 9 years ago, I decided to read a book instead of subjecting myself to the shitty games that were broadcast here in Honolulu.
But fun to look back at a Sunday almost a decade ago . . .
Thursday, December 13, 2007
This year The Patriots have played many games out of the normal Sunday afternoon schedule. And while it’s great to see your team compete on National TV, it presents challenges. If you’re married or in a serious relationship, there probably isn’t much of a problem. You clean your garage, you cut the hedges, you go to the multiplex to that romantic comedy with your special lady friend, or you spend a little more quality time with your children.
But if you’re single and live in a studio apartment. . . .
My God, it really forces you to take ugly looks at yourself.
The Patriots beat The Steelers last Sunday, and it was their first normally scheduled game in the last month. The previous three contests were all played at night, and it’s made Sunday afternoons extremely taxing. Take for example December 2nd. Living in San Francisco, the only game on my TV set was the 49ers and the Carolina Panthers. I didn’t want to watch even a second of it, but for some reason I switched the channel to Fox. I guess my brain waves have been wired to pant like a Pavlovian Dog for QB sneaks and shotgun formations and safety blitzes.
But I regreted my decision quickly. Only three minutes into the game the announcers (guys I’ve never even heard of . . . the Z team of Fox) have referred to Vinny Testerverde as “The Old Guy” at least 12 times. They even put it on their graphics as San Francisco’s key to the game: “Don’t Let The Old Guy Beat You”.
And here are the highlights of the first quarter:
*San Francisco calls a timeout before they punt. *The timeout seems to be a genius move when Carolina muffs the punt and the 49ers look like they recover the ball. On the field the officials first signal SF ball and then give it back to the Panthers. *It looks like the officials blew the call, but The 49ers coach, Mike Nolan, doesn’t challenge. *Vinny, aka “The Old Guy”, has 1st and goal from the 3 but cannot score.
*It’s week 13 and the Panthers have yet to win a game at home.
I check ESPN hoping they’re showing The World Series of Poker. Instead it’s The Great Lakes Classic, a bowling event. Walter Ray Williams needs two strikes AND two pins to beat the immortal Mike Scroggins. This is tense. First strike wipes out all the pins quickly. His next strike is more dramatic, with the last pin wobbling before it falls. He only needs two more . . . and gets the win when he knocks down seven.
This is what happens when you live in a city with two bad NFL teams.
I shudder knowing the game after this will be the 3-8 Raiders. But I switch back to the “football” game. Here are some more stellar statistics:
*With 10:07 left in the half Carolina has used all their timeouts. *Testerverde throws a TD, and it’s the Panthers first TD at home in something like 80 quarters. *The 49ers somehow convert a 3rd down and keep a drive alive. Of course they end up punting four plays later, but damn they must have felt good about getting 10 yards in a series.
Back to bowling.
It’s now the women’s championship. It’s Carolyn Dorin-Ballard vs. Diandra Asbaty. Dorin-Ballard has a lunch lady vibe about her. She could easily be a tough aunt from your Dad’s side of the family that nobody fucks with. Asbady is actually cute, a red head with a nice smile who seems as if she enjoys drinking beer and, well . . . bowling. Both of these women have their names on the back of their shirts. Not printed, like a football player, but their signatures embodied into the material. When I notice this I flip back to the other game.
Trent Dilfer, who for some reason is the starting QB for San Francisco, gets sacked. It is only the 11th sack of the season for The Panthers. Dilfer then throws an INT which is returned for a touchdown. It’s 17-0 Carolina.
Could professional women’s bowling be better?
Yes. Yes it is.
Asbaty makes two strikes in a row. While I’m trying to figure out how old she is (my guess is 29), the announcers say she “has finally figured out the lane”. Figured out she was throwing a ball at ten pins from the same distance as every bowler does in the world? Is there a sand trap that creeped up without us noticing?
Then the announcer says that Asbaty wanted him to give a “shot out” to her grandmother.
Okay . . . switching to the football game Dilfer gets sacked again (The Panthers now have 12 on the season . . . my God- this is exciting). But I somehow pry my vision from the intense action and glance at the ticker tape at the bottom of the screen. The Dolphins lead the Jets 13-10. For a few seconds I ponder whether I’d rather be in Miami watching their winless club duel the hapless NY Jets. It’s a tough choice- their shit sandwich to the one that is now on Fox? There is no way to answer that question except to watch some bowling.
It’s too bad I’m not watching The Dude, Walter, and Donnie advance to next Round Robin.
Instead we’re now in the last frame of The Great Lakes Classic Championship. Asbaty needs a mark to win. They flash a graphic that says she was part of a NCAA Championship team from Nebraska in 1999 & 2001. That would put her at about 27 or 28 (I was close). I wonder how it would feel to date a professional bowler. Would she talk about 7-10 splits while in bed? Does she have a bumper sticker that says “I’d rather be bowling”? Could she drink me under the table?
And then Asbaty rolls . . . she gets a nine. I was hoping for somebody to yell “OVER THE LINE” and pull out their “piece” on the lanes. Mark it an 8! Am I the only one that cares about the rules?!!
No such luck. This is not The Big Lebowski come to life. One more pin and Asbaty is the winner. She gets it and is all tears. And then a guy rushes up and hugs her, who The announcers say is her husband. The dream is over.
With the “NFL Game” Dilfer has just thrown an interception with 1:24 left in the half. But Carolina doesn’t have any timeouts, and the “Old Guy” has to rush. The second quarter comes to an end after Vinny throws a ball that is astutely described by JC Pearson as being “way underthrown”.
It’s getting close to noon and I have yet to step outside. I would like to have the last hour and half back in my life, but I’ll simply have to use it as a good life lesson. I get outside for a walk and some lunch, and when I return I see the San Francisco 49ers were somehow worse than the Carolina Panthers today. Next time I will show more fortitude: when The Patriots are not playing on a Sunday morning/afternoon I will immediately leave the apartment.
Ten or twenty or whatever-even-year-anniversaries are easy opportunities to reflect on an important moment, whether it’s completely personal or a shared experience of the world. In a way it’s lazy, but I guess it’s human nature to repress things until we’re prodded by external forces (such as a calendar) to confront them. So here it is . . . fifteen years since September 11, 2001.
Has it really been fifteen years?
We all remember where we were. I was at 3270 Descanso Drive in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles I was scheduled to work at 10 am that morning at California Pizza Kitchen and awoke at my usual nine am, just enough time to shower and scramble and get in my VW Pasaat Wagon that would zoom me through the surface streets to downtown LA. I did the same thing every day.
But something was wrong.
That morning the phone kept ringing and ringing. I’m almost positive my roommate Fozzie was gone that day. I can’t remember why . . . the details are escaping me, but I think he had gone up to Ventura because I can’t remember speaking to him. But for sure nobody answered the phone and there had to be at least 3 calls.
The night before I had gone to Taix, the French place in my neighborhood that was an old- school upscale restaurant with this great retro lounge. I went there with a few of my CPK compadres to drink after our shift and watch Monday Night Football. I can’t recall who was playing, but I do remember flirting with the hostess and experiencing an overall feeling of fun. Our group in that dark lounge on Sunset Boulevard was a good one, doing shots and laughing and it was the kind of night, although very simple, that at 31 you’re old enough to realize how lucky you are to experience it.
But back to the wretched morning, Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I wasn’t hung-over, but the night before I certainly had too many drinks and not enough sleep. The phone rang several times and I was too tired to answer it. So when my alarm went off at 9:00 am, I hit snooze and tried to get a few more minutes of glorious slumber. When the clock radio went off again, something told me to listen to the answering machine. Nobody called us that early, and back then (when the land line was the only show in town) hearing the phone ring during the dead of night or early in the morning almost certainly meant bad news. When I got out of bed and listened to the answering machine, I heard the shaky and sullen voice of one of the lead servers at CPK. His name was Tirso and he said something to the effect:
“Hi, Mike. We’re not going to open today. I’m sure you probably know why. I’m calling everybody and, um, I don’t know if we’re going to open tomorrow.”
I immediately went to the TV. Just past nine am Pacific Time the Towers were already gone. It was all so terrible, but I sat there and watched for hours. I recall going online and getting the instant reaction to what was being called the worst attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor. At some point that morning I called my Mom, and I remember being scared and feeling so happy to hear her voice. I know I also called a bunch of friends, but other than my Mom I can’t remember any of the conversations.
After digesting more news on TV and online, I had to get out of the apartment. I had a basket of dirty clothes and took it to the laundromat. There was one other person there, the attendant, and we nodded to each other when I entered. I can’t remember if there was a TV there, but I certainly didn’t look at it. After loading my items into the washer I sat outside in one of the plastic chairs and just zoned-out in the sunny and warm day.
I’ll never forget sitting there, questioning myself on whether or not I should be doing laundry. I remember getting a flash in my head, imagining my future grandchildren asking me what I did on September 11th. I would have to look the kids in the eyes and tell them I cleaned my dirty socks and underwear.
But what else could I do? I was alone and I needed to get away, from the television, the internet and from the spot I learned the world had changed. A cute girl in her 20s walked in to do laundry at some point, and when she went outside for a cigarette we chatted for a few minutes about the shock of the day and she went back inside. I had brought my notebook with me that day and this is what I scribbled:
September 11, 2011
The World Trade Center is gone.
Six years ago I was on the top of one of those buildings in the outside observation deck, getting my photo taken and basking in the beautiful New York day. You know there were people on top when it happened. It sickens me to think of that.
I really haven’t been able to digest all this craziness. U.S. commercial planes smashing into the buildings. Thousands of people dying. Hijacked jets flying into the Twin Towers and Pentagon.
How do you react? How can one comprehend something that doesn’t seem real? It’s as if you’re watching a movie or a computer simulation. With such a horrendous act of terrorism on American soil how can life go on as normal?
How can it not?
Our best defense as an individual is to try and go on with our daily lives. Because what’s the alternative? Cowering in complete fear underneath our beds? Crying and moaning over the fragility of our existence? Yes, we need to understand the horror of today. Yes, we can never forget this fucking cowardly and insane act. But we can’t let these assholes ruin or even change our spirit of freedom.
As I wrote earlier, I need more time to articulate all of my feelings. Sitting here on the corner of Glendale and Fletcher in Los Angeles, I’m trying to keep it all together. Laundry is something that needs to be done in everyday life and I’m here doing it. Should I be with friends and loved ones now? Perhaps, but my family is 3,000 miles away, I don’t have a girlfriend, and I guess there is a big part of me that just wants to be alone and think and contemplate my life. Fuck . . . I don’t know what else to say now.
As much as I try I can’t remember what I did later that evening, but I definitely had a lot of booze. All I can recall is sitting on the back stairs, staring out to the skyline of L.A. and being spooked that there were no airplanes in the sky. At some point I picked up my journal and here is what I wrote later on that night.
Early Wed- 1:07 am
It might not be over.
Shit . . . I mean how can we be certain? L.A. is a huge fucking target, and nobody can know if we’re not next. I work on the bottom of a stupid skyscraper. And while the Ernst & Young Building isn’t a symbol of America it’s a tall goddamned building in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Do I even want to go near the place, or even such a major metropolitan area that could be attacked in all kinds of nefarious ways?
This is fucking ridiculous. I’ve seen the TV clips of the towers collapsing over and over and over again. It’s so insane. The sound gets to me almost as much as the images. Crunching metal and screams and the explosions. And the people jumping off the 70th floor, tumbling through the air while the buildings burn and smoke billows out of them. It can’t be real. It has to be some hoax . . . some reality show stunt.
But it isn’t.
ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, CNN, and the local stations are giving us the video reality of this tragedy round the clock since it happened. Although I might be 3,000 miles away from it, in the year 2001 that doesn’t matter. Live and in stereo . . . the country in flames for everybody to see. I hate to admit it but I’m scared.
What does it mean . . . what does anything mean??
Fifteen years later . . . I don’t think anybody has an answer. Or else you can only have the personal answer that works just for you. We mourn the people who lost their lives. We never forgot the horror.
I wake at dawn not knowing where I am. It is dark with a little bit of light sneaking through the shades, and the room is too big to be my apartment. While it only lasts a few seconds, the sensation of being untethered in time and space is both unsettling and enjoyable.
When I realize I’m in a comfortable bed in my room at the Magic Castle Hotel, I smile. I have another three hours before my buddy Jamie picks me up, and I’m quickly back to dreamland. After getting almost no sleep on the plane the night before, I feel rested and ready to start the day when the alarm wakes me at 8:30 am.
I pour myself a coffee in the lobby and Jamie arrives a little after 9. We’re on our way to the House of Pies, a classic breakfast spot in Los Feliz. Since the late 90s I’ve been to this restaurant dozens of times with friends or by myself.
Jamie and I get a booth and order classic breakfast fare. The two of us go way back, meeting as Freshman roommates at Bridgewater State College. We remained great friends even after I transferred to Boston University, and about a year after we got our degrees we moved to Key West, Florida. Jamie to begin his career with American Airlines, me to follow in the footsteps of Hemingway and Jimmy Buffett.
I eventually left Key West for film and TV studies at Emerson College in Boston, while Jamie stayed in the tropics for a girl and his job. Sometime later he would end up in Albany for a promotion, and I got on my screenwriting path. Knowing I wanted to move to Los Angeles after receiving my Master’s, I did my best to sell Jamie on joining me. Back then he was going through a bad break-up in upstate New York (different girl than Key West), and it didn’t take much convincing for him to apply for, and eventually get, a transfer to LAX in sunny California.
We talk about all this, of the strange coincidences and good fortune that led us to be roommates in three different states. Jamie never left LA, and had gotten married (and divorced), had a son, and was doing very well for himself still at American Airlines. Even though he had to work later on, we had about four more hours to hang out and catch-up.
The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena was on the agenda, but we had about an hour and half before their doors opened at noon. Since the entrance was just up the road from House of Pies, we drive into Griffith Park to the Observatory. That spot has always been one of my favorites in LA.
When I was a resident of Southern California the Griffith Observatory began a massive renovation in 2002. When I left LA in ’04 it was only half way to completion, so I never had a proper farewell. I finally got to see the newly refurbished Observatory on a visit in 2009, and I was very impressed. This is my first time back since then.
Jamie and I walk around the Observatory, taking in its wonderful architecture and the surrounding postcard vistas. We can see the Hollywood Sign, and hard to believe I had hiked above it yesterday. For some reason it seems like it was about five weeks ago.
From Los Feliz Boulevard it’s a quick drive to the 5 and then to the 134. I get a strange sensation I’ve actually missed these freeways and exits. It’s been twelve years since my last visit to the Norton Simon Museum and the city of Pasadena, and I feel a sense of pride I still remembered how to get there.
It was a bizarre detour in my life and career, but I was actually once an employee of the Norton Simon Museum. My job was to stand in the company issued grey pants, white shirt, striped tie, and blue blazer, and make sure nobody got too close to the art. My official title was gallery attendant, and I got paid minimum wage. I was one of three employees who wasn’t either retired or an art student at one of the local colleges.
While there were certainly a lot of negatives to the job (the pay, the utter lack of engaging tasks, school groups), I enjoyed my six months there. I’ve always loved museums and art, but outside a couple of classes in college I’ve been self-taught. The Norton Simon was an opportunity to spend a good portion of my week studying such a fascinating subject, and be paid for it. We were even able to take the headphones with the audio tour at the end of the day if it was slow. I did this often, and also talked to the tour guides whenever I had a chance. This spurred me to check-out art books at the library and continue my studying at home.
After examining and studying every piece in the Norton Simon when I was an employee, my favorite became Henri Matisse’s The Black Shawl (1918). This painting remains the piece of his (and of the museum) I admire the most, though I still cannot properly articulate why. The black and red colors draw you in, and your eyes focus on the alluring dark-haired woman in a beautiful dress. There’s movement in that painting, and the model, though not depicted realistically, is alive. But it’s much more than just the sum of the images, and I suspect there are Jungian forces at work on me whenever I stare at it.
Jamie and I started our tour of the Norton Simon the way I always thought you should (chronologically beginning with the Medieval, going through the Renaissance, the Baroque, the Impressionists, and then to the Modernists). The collection is outstanding, and you get to see the evolution of art through the centuries. By the time we reach the giant Sam Francis Abstract Expressionist mural, Jamie and I have been in the museum for two hours. I’d like to stay longer, but my friend has to get to work.
Before leaving we head to the Sculpture Garden, with the lily pond right out of a Monet painting. When I worked at the museum, whenever my rotation took me out there I would amble around and pretend I was in Paris. On particularly dark days of the soul, when I was feeling severely disappointed at myself for wearing that blue blazer, strolling around that garden would always turn my mood around.
Because it had recently rained, parts of the grounds were closed to the public. It’s disappointing I can’t take my old loop around the place, but we’re able to see a decent portion of it and snap a few pictures. I am so happy to be back after a twelve-year absence.
After leaving the museum I had originally wanted to go to Lucky Baldwins for lunch and a beer, as it was always one of my favorite spots in Pasadena. But with Jamie heading to the airport I had a decision to make. While I could have stayed in Pasadena and had an enjoyable day, I wanted to see more of the city. It was a short trip down the 110 Freeway to the 9th Street exit, and after circling around and saying our goodbyes, Jamie drops me off just before Figueroa Street.
I had three jobs (none at the same time) when I lived in LA. My first was Pizzeria Uno’s in West Hollywood, which is now a Wells Fargo bank, and I worked there almost a year before it closed. The museum was the third one, a brief six-month stint. I was now on my way to Job #2 and the place I worked the longest, California Pizza Kitchen at 7th and Figueroa. From 1999 to 2003 I stood behind the bar there and served pizza and beer and barbecue chicken salads, and until today I had never been back.
Even before I walk through the door, it’s all very strange. In my days there was an underground, open-air mall next door called 7th Street Marketplace. With a look straight out of the 80’s (think wavy neon lights), there certainly weren’t any big name brands and several retail spaces were empty. Now called Fig at 7th, the place is hip and modern and features a Target, Bath & Body Works, and even a Victoria’s Secret. Seeing it produced a Marty McFly-walking-into-Hill Valley Square-Circa-2015 moment.
When I step inside CPK, the décor is much different. The old, minimalistic black and white tile floors and bare yellow walls give way to wood, softer colors and lots of artwork. There are also televisions! When I was a bartender, there were none. I always resented missing out on some big games while I worked.
But the layout of the restaurant is the same, and when I take a seat at the bar it all comes back to me in a rush. There’s the same glass washer, the same taps, the same well, and the pilsner glasses are still the same. I look to the left and the little nook next to the bar has a couple of employees eating pizza on their break. That is where we would sit after the lunch or dinner rush for our breaks or to do roll-ups. And there’s the same swinging black door leading to the back of the house and the manager’s office and time clock.
After a thirteen-year absence, it’s nostalgia overload. I’m actually surprised at how much I’m affected by being there, mostly in a positive way. The bartender is very friendly, and I let him know about my history with this CPK. He tells me the name of his co-worker who has been there for fourteen years, but I cannot place this name to a face. However, in doing so I think of all the great people I worked with through the years, some of which I am still good friends with today.
I order a BBQ Chicken Pizza and add feta cheese (my go-to meal way back when), and get a cold beer. I think about how I was part of the opening team of the 7th & Fig CPK Team back in 1999. I also remember how Jenna Fischer, several years before staring on The Office, used to sit at my bar several times a week. At this point she was slowly building up her acting resume with smaller parts, but she was paying her bills by actually working in an office.
Jenna invited me to one of her plays called Nosferatu, and after leaving the theater that night fifteen years ago it was clear she was a very talented actress. During our talks back then she couldn’t have been any nicer or sweeter. I had such a huge crush on her. Unfortunately for me Jenna had a husband, and when he sold a script she was able to quit her job. I didn’t see her again until 2005, when I turned on the TV for the premiere of the American version of The Office.
I leave CPK with no agenda other than at some point to get to the revolving cocktail lounge at the Westin Bonaventure, and maybe have a few John Fante moments. Fante is one of my favorite authors, and I first read him right around the time I started working in downtown LA. After my shifts I used to walk the same streets he wrote about in his classic novel Ask the Dusk. That book is all about a poor writer’s struggle to become successful in Los Angeles, and even though it was published in 1939 I connected with it on many levels in 1999.
When I worked in downtown LA, the place was mostly a ghost town after all the business people went home. With the opening of Staples Center and the construction of some new apartment and condo complexes, there was some growth in the neighborhood by the time I left in 2003. In 2016 I’m amazed at all the shops and restaurants and bars, and also by the sheer number of people who are not office workers or homeless.
I head over to Pershing Square, and there are new murals and a café and the views of the surrounding skyscrapers and the Biltmore Hotel are as good as I remember. Yes, there is a distinct piss smell by the statues and I get asked for change several times, but I can’t remember this area being so clean and well-maintained. It’s nearing 5 pm and it’s time for a cocktail.
The Biltmore Hotel was built in 1923, and it’s one of my favorites in the world. While I always loved taking in the Spanish-Italian Renaissance architecture from Pershing Square, it’s the interior that truly blew me away. Stepping through the Biltmore doors, you’re hit with old school opulence everywhere you look – marble, grand ceilings, dramatic archways, ornate carvings, bas-relief and chandeliers just to name a few features.
I go straight to the Gallery Bar, and the bartender gives me a warm welcome and mixes me a damn fine Manhattan. I ask how long this place has been open, and the gray-haired gentleman informs me since the 80s (he gave a specific year, but the cocktails that are to follow erase it from memory). The bartender has worked there since day one (before that it was actually just a hallway in the hotel), and when I tell him he probably made me a Manhattan in 1999 he smiles.
I sip my cocktail, take in all the elegance, and once again think of John Fante. He would go on to be a successful screenwriter and novelist, but when he first moved to LA in the 1930s he was poor to the point of having to eat oranges for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is a passage from Ask the Dusk:
“I was passing the doorman of the Biltmore, and I hated him at once, with his yellow braids and six feet of height and all that dignity, and now a black automobile drove to the curb, and a man got out. He looked rich, and then a woman got out, and she was beautiful, her fur was silver fox, and she was a song across the sidewalk and inside the swinging doors, and I thought oh boy for a little of that, just a day and a night of that, and she was dream as I walked along her perfume still in the wet morning air.”
I walk outside thinking of the girl in the silver fox fur, and I head to the Public Library. Another gorgeous piece of architecture in downtown LA, I’d like to stop inside but time is not on my side. So I walk around the art deco building, thinking of all the great books I checked out from there in my late 20s, early 30s. It’s also the same place where a young Charles Bukowski discovered John Fante, and he wrote about that experience in the preface to Ask the Dust.
I then head up Figueroa to the Westin Bonaventure. On my first visit to LA in 1992, years before I would move there, I had drinks at the revolving cocktail lounge with my buddy Rich. As we spun around and drank our beers, the enchanting dusk gave way to the coal-black sky and sparkling lights of night. I remember declaring to Rich that I wanted to live in LA someday.
My next visit to the top of the Bonaventure would be as a resident of the city in 1999. For the novel I was writing I knew I wanted to set a scene in that lounge with the characters Tim and Jessica, and went there after my shift at CPK for research. I took notes of all I saw and heard while downing several beers, and this is part of what ended up in my book:
“Although only a few blocks up Figueroa, I was still exhausted when we reached the hotel. The giant glass cylinders gleamed at us, promising cure-all climate control.
“I’ve seen this somewhere,” Jessica said.
“I don’t know how they figured it out, but supposedly it’s the tenth-most-photographed building in the world. Last time I was here, this guy next to me wouldn’t shut up about that.”
A few moments later, Jessica and I were in the glass-enclosed red section elevator, hurtling up to the thirty-fifth floor. Exiting at the restaurant, we had to walk down a flight of stairs to get to the lounge. We sat down at a table next to the window …. I looked down at the rug. It was sort of an abstract rendition of geometry. You could find triangles, circles, diamonds and even commas.”
I take the same elevator to the top, make the same trek down the stairs from the restaurant to the lounge, and it’s possible I sit at the same table. While I stare out the glass window at the skyscrapers in front of me, I notice they’ve redone the carpet sometime in the last 18 years. That being said, it still seems dated. The place actually doesn’t look much different from my last visit before today, which was in 2004.
The Westin Bonaventure was high on the list of things I had to do before I moved from LA to San Francisco. I suppose it all goes back to that first visit as a 22-year-old, when I had a wide-open future where anything was possible. Sitting there in 2016 and sipping another Manhattan, it’s challenging to find the nexus between the kid who first went to the Bonaventure 24 years ago and the guy I am today. I know it’s there, and maybe more booze will help me find it.
In my attempt at recapturing my youth, I realize it’s 6:15 and I need to get back to Hollywood. I made plans with my friend Kristi for dinner at 8 pm, and there was one more place I wanted to check-out before we meet. So it’s back down Figueroa to the Metro Station at 7th Street, and it’s only a few stops on the Red Line to Hollywood and Vine. I used to do this same subway trek when I lived on June Street to my job at CPK.
I didn’t want this LA Trip to be all about the past, so I had researched some newer spots in the city. The one bar that stood out the most was Good Times at Davey Wayne’s. The owner created it as a tribute to his late father, and the place makes you feel like you stepped back in time to 1976. To get inside you have to walk down a driveway, enter a garage, and then open up a refrigerator door. This could all be precious or douchey or even Disney, but it’s not. Davey Wayne’s is just a cool local’s spot tucked away off Hollywood Boulevard that I enjoyed immensely. But with 8 pm getting closer, I can only have one beer and then I’m on my way to the Magic Castle Hotel for a quick change of clothes.
After putting on a new shirt, I ascend the winding road behind my hotel to meet my friend Kristi at Yamashiro, the iconic Japanese themed restaurant in the Hollywood Hills. Built in 1914 as a private mansion to house Japanese treasures, you are truly transported to another time and place once you step foot on the property. Surrounded by lush gardens complete with a bronze Buddha sculpture and a pagoda, the restaurant is a teak and cedar palace designed to replicate the ones of Kyoto.
The night before at Stella Barra we learned Yamshiro was closing, and Kristi, Matt, and I reminisced about all the good times we had there. Most of them involved our great friend Bradleigh, who passed away six years ago. It was Bradleigh who turned Yamashiro into a verb. It was the place he would bring dates to impress them, and he claimed he never failed to get lucky afterwards. Bradleigh would say he Yamashiro-ed the young lady after dinner.
There was no question we had to go there one last time, and Kristi was in agreement. Bradleigh was my roommate when I lived in Hollywood, and years afterwards she had the great pleasure of sharing an apartment with him. Over an outstanding dinner, the two of us shared stories of our friend who could be best be described as a combination of Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski. Bradleigh gave us some of the best times of our lives, and for that we are forever grateful.
Knowing this would be the last time we would eat at Yamashiro, Kristi and I go big and share the Himalayan Salt Plate. We both enjoyed our wagyu steak cooked on a 400 degree round platter made of mineral salt and slathered in garlic (back in the day neither one of us could have afforded such a dish, and we each appreciate this immensely). After Port and Molten Chocolate Cake for dessert (we were still going big), we walked around the grounds and took a seat on one of the benches to admire the views of Hollywood several hundred feet below. I’m very sad Yamashiro is closing on June 12th, but I am so happy I got to experience it one more time.
Kristi orders an Uber, and I take it with her to the bottom of the hill and get off at my hotel. During this short ride we hatch a plan to meet in one year, sneak into the complex on June Street where Bradleigh and I lived, and put a plaque next to the apartment door honoring him. It’s sweet drunk talk, but when Kristi and I hug just before I leave the car, she says she has a guy that can make plaques. I say I have a guy that can give us super-industrial strength epoxy, and we’re both looking forward to pulling off this caper in 2017.
I should probably just go to bed since I’m driving to Vegas the next day, but it’s only 11 pm and I want to squeeze out a little more fun on the trip. So I walk down to Hollywood Boulevard to the Roosevelt Hotel, which first opened its doors in 1927. When I lived here the place was obviously very historic, but like much of the neighborhood in the late 90s it had seen better days. Back then I would walk inside the lobby and public spaces just to get a feel of what old Hollywood was like, but the only patrons were tourists.
Things have changed. The Roosevelt has become a hip spot, and while I had read about that during my research, I wasn’t expecting the level to which it was true. I go to the Spare Room on the second floor, which is designed to be a Prohibition Style cocktail lounge with a couple of bowling alleys. The décor is super cool, and ditto you can actually bowl there. But it was definitely not my scene. There’s only a scattering of people my age, which in of itself isn’t an issue, but the music is very loud and this is clearly not a place to enjoy a cocktail alone. I love chatting up strangers over a few drinks, but it isn’t going to happen here. I drink my Bulleit over ice and head on down the road.
I’m good for at least one more drink, and I decide to continue the old Hollywood Tour by walking down the Boulevard to Boardner’s. It’s easily been more than a decade since my last visit, and I am happy to see the 1940s cocktail lounge still looks the same. Well . . . mostly the same. When I lived in LA it was a worn-down dive, but it has since been repainted and classed-up slightly. Though unlike the Power House, Boardner’s still has the same wonderful vibe as I remembered. On a Wednesday night there’s not a lot of people there, and while sipping another Bulleit over ice I allow myself to reminisce one last time about my days in Hollywood.
But now it’s time to start saying good-bye to Los Angeles.
Although I’d managed to cram a week’s worth of activities in 48 hours, I would have liked at least another day. I hadn’t even cruised Mulholland Drive or enjoyed a Ray’s Mistake at Tiki Ti or went around Silverlake (where I lived after I moved from Hollywood) or swam in the ocean in Malibu or Zuma Beach. I think of this while I walk back to the Magic Castle. When I reach Franklin I spot the moon and I stare at it for some time, buzzed and very grateful I was lucky enough to live in Los Angeles when I was young.