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Thursday, March 30, 2006


Odd hotel room lamp
You mock me relentlessly
Stop, I beg of you


Wednesday, March 29, 2006


All hail His Royal Highness and his mighty conveyance, the Mazda.


Monday, March 27, 2006


I don't know what this movie is about but the billboards, like this one in Sherman Oaks are eye-catching.


Saturday, March 25, 2006


First, a note to myself. However convenient it may seem, never, ever eat at the Pig'n Whistle before a movie at the Egyptian Theatre. Even though it's right next door, the restored 1927 Hollywood haunt is sadly little more than an overpriced sports bar with spotty service and mediocre food. The only thing it has going for it is its proximity to the theater.

But with the good company of Cindy and friend Julia, last Thursday evening's plan of dinner and a movie at the famous theater was more than salvaged.

Before falling asleep that night, I made a decision. From now on when attempting a simile to convey how well two things go together, for example, "like peanut butter and jelly" or "like a horse and a carriage" or "like two peas in a pod," I will now use my own original comparison, one borne of last night's viewing of Night Moves (1975, directed by Arthur Penn, screenplay by Alan Sharp). From this point on, things that complement each other exceptionally well will be said to go together like Gene Hackman and a good screenplay. As with life's best combinations, wine and cheese, love and sex, the qualities of each individual element elicit and enhance those of the other.

As former pro football star turned private investigator Harry Moseby, Hackman is a kettle of ever-simmering water that periodically has the flame below turned all the way up forcing brief, instant boilings. As abruptly as it is raised, the flame is lowered again, returning him to his natural state of steamy readiness. Hired by Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward), a post-hysterectomy, alcoholic never-really-was actress to track down her troubled and troublesome black-widow-in-the-making 16-year-old daughter Delly (Melanie Griffith), Moseby is soon embroiled in a smuggling scheme involving B movie makers, a libidinous stunt pilot, an angry young mechanic and a mysterious and damaged beauty (Jennifer Warren) living in the Florida Keys with the runaway's stepfather.

Harry's damaged too. Some of it is his fault; some of it is just the cards that life dealt him. The milestones of his life are punctuated by a recurring scenario, one in which he makes good use of his exceptional intelligence, perception and skill to approach the accomplishment of something remarkable only to ultimately freeze up. Harry chokes when he most needs to perform. Abandoned by his parents at a young age, he wistfully admits to his wife that years ago he had tracked down his father, right down to the park bench he was sitting on. Harry watched him for a few hours but never spoke to him. Instead, he just walked away.

"Trouble is, after the first few feet, it's hard to tell whether or not you're jumping or you're falling."

Reminiscing about his Pro Bowl appearance from twelve years back, he describes his own stellar play, but also must admit that they lost the game in the end.

"Yeah, it stuck pretty good."

Harry's marriage is on the rocks, as well. Disillusioned by Harry's lack of success and general droopiness, his wife Ellen (Susan Clark) has an affair. They argue. She yells over the grind of glass in the garbage disposer,

"Turn that thing off! I can't hear myself think."

"Lucky you," Harry says.

Hackman delivers Sharp's lines with his unique mash of anger, regret, resignation and acceptance. It pains him to know that he's a failure but he recognizes that the pain won't change a damned thing. It's real. With Hackman you get the whole package. The tonal quality of his voice rings pitch perfect as the dialogue comes out through tightly gritted teeth or a mocking, shit-eating grin. The body language of his deceptively powerful frame matches his line delivery word for word. And the eyes serve as an ever present reminder of the lost, angry little boy discarded by his parents and left to not only fend for himself but to search for some semblance of happiness in this cruel, hard world.

Harry carries a chess board with him wherever he goes and sets up a move from a famous 1920s match. One player had victory within his grasp but overlooked one vital move, costing him the game. Harry observes, "He must have regretted it every day of his life. I know I would have. As a matter of fact I do regret it, and I wasn't even born yet." It's as if he's so conditioned himself to absorb blame and grief that he's able to take on the pain of others, of people he's never met.

The movie is loaded with great one liners. Ellen asks who's winning as Harry watches a football game.

"Nobody. One side's just losing slower than the other."

When Mrs. Iverson suggests that Harry join her in the bath, Harry cooly replies, "Maybe some other time when I'm feeling really dirty."

He comforts Delly with "I know it doesn't make much sense when you're sixteen. Don't worry. When you get to be forty, it doesn't get any better."

Harry equates foiling the Florida smuggling operation with finally achieving something in his life, the completion of a task. For once in his life Harry is going to see something through to the end even if it kills him. The film's final shot spells it all out for Harry as he drifts aimlessly with no one at the controls.

I don't know how else to say it except Gene Hackman rules. And when he's given a script as tightly wound as Alan Sharp's here, or Garry Michael White's Scarecrow or Bill L. Norton's Cisco Pike or David Webb Peoples' Unforgiven, we need to consider ourselves lucky to enjoy such a perfect combination.


Thursday, March 23, 2006



Tuesday, March 21, 2006


The Network Team recently announced a system upgrade. In light of the people with whom I work, I have added x4444 to my speed dial.

It reminds me of this exchange.


Sunday, March 19, 2006


You know how sometimes you go to a movie and you end up sitting near someone who exhibits some behavior that just distracts the hell out of you? Sometimes it's fairly benign – a noisy candy wrapper revisited every 8 minutes throughout Acts I and II, a chronic smoker's hack, an oddly feminine laugh coming from a burly mustachioed dude, the fermented odor of a Subway sandwich smuggled past the ticket taker. Most often though, the distraction results from the inability of some to tell the difference between how one should act while watching a movie in a theater and how one should act while watching Everybody Loves Raymond at home. These are two different things. This is me, the curmudgeon saying:


Recently Cindy and I discovered a new twist to this problem. What do you do when the entire audience is distracting?

Last week, after a tremendous Italian dinner at Marino, Cindy and I went to a screening of Network (1976, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch) directed by Sidney Lumet at the ArcLight in Hollywood. This now classic satire scorches the journalism industry, the television industry and the American public's preference for titillation over information. This is not a comedy. It has funny lines and humorous reactions but at its core it's using the world of television and its insatiable appetite for viewers to rip the skin off American culture and lay bare the depressing path we've chosen for ourselves. The humor is a tool that Lumet uses to show us how we are doomed. And worse, how we are doomed by ourselves.

What makes Network a classic is the amazing accuracy with which it foretold the future of television. In the movie, a sedate, traditional network evening news program is morphed overnight into an hour of sensationalistic, profanity-laced anger hosted by the news anchorman turned prophet Howard Beale. That Beale's sanity is in question or that perhaps the network has a responsibility to the American people greater than its need to increase its ratings is never considered by the executives. Their allegiance is sworn only to their shareholders. The result is a TV schedule saturated with sex, disasters, crime, and depravity all designed with one thing in mind – to keep the viewer watching. That is the one and only goal.

Beale says it best,

As I said, this is not a comedy.

I'm sure the audience at the ArcLight would disagree. Inexplicably, and I don't think this is an exaggeration, at least someone laughed at MOST of the lines delivered. At first, I thought they were just getting into the rhythm of the movie. Then I thought maybe it was nervous laughter. But as it went on and on, I got the impression that they just didn't get what the movie was about.

What made Network a hit in 1976 is that it was a warning, exclaiming "Look at where we're headed!" During the 80s and 90s, it resonated even more because we were right in the middle of seeing the warning becoming reality. Now in 2006, we have arrived. Television has become exactly the "circus" the Beale described. The generation that is now creating television never experienced a world without the circus. Perhaps that explains the ArcLight audience's laughter. It was a relatively young crowd (20s and 30s) and seemed to consist of a lot of people who work in entertainment. Perhaps they lacked the satire's context and therefore, just didn't get the point. Without any frame of reference, all they saw were a bunch of wild characters carrying on about something or another.

I'm afraid this would be the "somewhat dim L.A. crowd" to which Annie Proulx recently referred.

Despite the distraction and although the highlight of the evening was definitely the pasta, we enjoyed the movie. And Matthew Perry sat in the row in front of us. That makes two "Friends" that we've seen, the other being David Schwimmer. After the movie as we filed out of the theater, I eavesdropped on Perry and his date (?) as they walked right behind us. She was commenting on how Network is the kind of movie you can see five times in a row. Mr. Perry offered no audible reply.


Friday, March 17, 2006


In support of my theory that most of my co-workers are wackos, I submit the following.

The other day I had to use the men's room, the urinal to be exact. On my way down the hall, I passed Scott and Kathy.

Scott is a former executive who now consults. He used to be the boss of my boss. I know it isn't very charitable of me but every time I see him I secretly hope it's the last.

When considering my co-workers' various dispositions, tendencies, and idiosyncrasies, I always try to imagine their childhoods. Did they fit in? Did they try? Did they try too hard? I think Scott must have tried too hard and continues to today. He needs to be the center of attention but isn't equipped to do so with any grace or tact. He also wears bargain loafers that are too big for him and chews rubber bands because "it's cheaper than gum." I cringe when he walks behind me with the suction created by his leatherette Rockports snapping his insoles against his heels while the rubber in his mouth squeaks and squishes between his molars. It's what I imagine a gelatinous space alien would sound like as it plods down Hollywood Boulevard after the invasion.

Have you ever met someone who lacks the ability to end a conversation? I have. Her name is Kathy. Every personal interaction with her inevitably leads to awkward backpedaling. She tricks you into thinking that you've gotten away but then at the last second her vocal pitch heightens again and off she pulls you onto another tangent. With Kathy, there's always one more subject to broach, one more point to make or at least one more way to make the same point again.

So there they were in the hall, Scott and Kathy, sucking and squeaking and yammering. Scott was in full backpedal mode. Kathy was saying the same thing over and over again.

"The metrics were off. That's what they told me, anyway, when I called them last night. I spoke with Kent Barstow and he said they were off. The metrics. Kent told me they were off last night. I called them and found out that the metrics were off from Kent Barstow. He told me last night. Kent did. The metrics were off."

As I passed by, Scott started following me, a man-overboard hoping to latch onto a passing lifeboat. Into the men's room I went. As I stood at the urinal doing my business I could hear the conversation gradually moving down the hallway until it settled right outside the bathroom door. Scott's strategy was a good one. Lure Kathy to men's room door, place hand on doorknob, and she'll get the hint that the conversation is over. Nice move, Scott, I thought.

But Kathy just wouldn't stop. Her narrative was too damned compelling for her to stop. Obviously, she had yet to fully relate the experience she had the night before when, upon telephoning one Kent Barstow, she discovered that the metrics had been deemed off.

So when the men's room door swung open in Scott's final attempt to put an end to the situation, and I stood at the urinal more exposed than not, I'm not sure what was more disturbing, the fact that I made eye contact with a female co-worker while I was touching my privates or the fact that SHE STILL DIDN'T STOP TALKING TO SCOTT!

"Last night, I called and talked to Kent, Kent Barstow and he said that, hi Tom, he said that the metrics were off. Last night when I called."


Wednesday, March 15, 2006


After we bought our big ass couch, we needed a pair of end tables, very narrow ones that would fit in the space on either side of the couch. Rather than spend the next year looking for them, I just said to hell with it, I'll build them myself. Here's how it went...

Click here for bigger pictures.


Monday, March 13, 2006


Get your diagnosis and your prognosis all at once.


Saturday, March 11, 2006


It would appear that on at least one occasion, the good people at TRL Systems failed to fulfill the promise of their slogan.


Thursday, March 09, 2006


Enough already with the actors dying. In the last few weeks we've sent Don Knotts, Darren McGavin, Dennis Weaver and Jack Wild on their way.

If you remember Wild, it's likely from either his portrayal of the Artful Dodger in the movie Oliver! (1968) or that of Jimmy, the boy stranded on Living Island in Sid and Marty Krofft's trippy 70s TV show H. R. Pufnstuf. Upon Wild's death, I was surprised to realize that I own soundtracks to both productions.

The Oliver! one, an LP, doesn't mean that much to me. I couldn't have been more than five years old when I saw it with my sisters and remember that there was too much going on for me to keep track of. For one third of the movie I couldn't stop thinking about how strange the word "gruel" is. Then I became very curious about Nancy and her tightly corseted torso for another third. The last third I spent basically terrified of Oliver Reed as Bill Sikes, a fear that was strongly reinforced years later when I saw him in Burnt Offerings.

The H.R. Pufnstuf soundtrack, however, is an item for which I do have affection. It's a extended play 7-inch 45 with ten songs in a colorful paper jacket with illustrations and photos from the show. As I recall, Kellogg's had a promotion offering the record to any industrious children out there who could send in enough Kellogg's cereal box tops. Obedient cereal consumers that we were, my sister Jackie and I settled into a routine of eating, clipping, storing and counting. Soon it was off to Battle Creek for our box tops. Six to eight weeks later, our record arrived. I'm told that it is quite collectible these days.

Click here to see the record.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006


I see coyotes around my neighborhood quite a bit. The other morning about a block from my house I came upon this poor guy. The coyotes here have a tough time surviving so they often look haggard and exhausted, like the canine equivalent of homeless people. This one looked downright mangy. Its back leg was wounded, I presume in a fight with another coyote.


Sunday, March 05, 2006


Last weekend, Cindy and I had the pleasure of making dinner for friends Rex and Tracy. Tracy is the realtor who helped us buy our house. Rex and Tracy are aces – smart and funny and loaded with fun stories, including this one.

In 1967, when Tracy was a teenager living in Monterey, California, she and her friend somehow got press passes for the now famous Monterey Pop Festival, a three day rock concert featuring a stunning lineup of performers including the Mamas and the Papas, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, the Animals, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, the Who, Ravi Shankar, and making their American debut, The Jimi Hendrix Experience. On Sunday, the third and final day of the festival, Tracy flashed her pass and sat in a special section to listen to Ravi Shankar's three hour performance. As she settled in (literally with a flower in her hair), a striking young man sat down beside her. This man was Jimi Hendrix. He sat beside her for the entirety of Shankar's performance.


When Monterey Pop , DA Pennebaker's documentary of the festival came out the following year, Tracy and her friend went to see it, to relive the concert but also to see if they were in the film. Sure enough, during Shankar's performance, there was Tracy in a shot that clearly showed Hendrix seated right next to her.

Years later, wanting to share this experience with her child, Tracy took her daughter to see the movie so they could watch it together. To Tracy's surprise, the shot of her and Hendrix was not included. It had been edited out. When the movie came out on video, she rented it thinking the shot may have been put back in. No such luck. Tracy's daughter believed her mom, but seeing the shot would have really helped everyone.

Last year, an extended DVD version of the documentary was released. Boasting complete performances of many of the acts that appeared at the concert, the DVD seemed likely to have the lost shot of Hendrix, Tracy and the flower in her hair.

It does.

Need a house? Call Tracy.


Friday, March 03, 2006


An obituary is an odd animal. To summarize an entire life in a few short paragraphs is a task destined for failure. Yet we routinely expect, accept and forgive that failure, perhaps because we secretly hope that our own lives will be interesting enough that capturing it all in a few hundred words will be an exercise in reduction and not embellishment.

People of public note are subjected to having their lives even further condensed in the dreaded obituary headline. As if the body of the obituary isn't short enough, the headline is the abridged version of the summary – a logline for a life. How can decades of experience be captured in one such brief statement? The subjective nature of our interpretations of each other alone make it impossible to definitively say, "This was Bob and this is what his life meant."

Last Sunday, for example, towards the bottom of the headlines on CNN.com next to the Olympic highlights and the war update, something caught my eye.

McGavin, 'A Christmas Story' father, dies at 83

Darren McGavin, a veteran Hollywood actor for more than 60 years, did indeed star alongside Peter Billingsley and Melinda Dillon as the long suffering father in the 1983 nouveau Christmas classic movie, A Christmas Story.

Now don't get me wrong, I love A Christmas Story. To this day, when UPS delivers a package to my house and it says "Fragile" on the side, I can't help myself but remark to Cindy, "FRA-GEE-LAY! That must be Italian!" in honor of the scene where McGavin's Mr. Parker proudly receives his "major award," a highly disturbing lamp in the shape of a woman's fishnetted leg. Cindy usually laughs at my reference to the scene. Whether out of true appreciation of the humor or just to humor me and my own appreciation, it matters not. And when Mr. Parker battles the heating and electrical systems of his house, it reminds me of my own father's showdowns with the internal workings of our various residences. The recollection ALWAYS makes me smile.

To me, however, and I suspect to many others of my age (15261 days as of today), Darren McGavin will primarily be associated with one particular role, that of Carl Kolchak in the 1974-1975 ABC television series "Kolchak: The Night Stalker." Appearing first in two ABC movies "The Night Stalker" (1972) and the "The Night Strangler" (1973), Kolchak was the unlikely hero, the persistent and bumbling journalist of the second rate and budget-challenged "Independent News" service. Consistently defying the orders of his boss and the police in order to get the to the truth behind one supernatural horror after another (vampires, zombies, demons, etc.), Kolchak was like a nerdy rock star to me. Tooling around Chicago in his '65 Mustang and his wrinkled white suit, bent straw hat and grungy tennis shoes while thumbing his nose to every authority figure he encountered, in his extreme lack of cool he was somehow more real, more accessible than his bigger, tougher television peers like Mannix or Baretta or even Rockford, usually conceded to be the "everyman's crimefighter" of the mid 70s crime drama. Kolchak was dorky cool. Whereas McGarrett would barrel headfirst, snub nose .38 blasting through a killer's door, bolstered by his absolute faith in his self-righteousness, Kolchak fought his doubts and fears every step of the way in pursuit of something much purer and simpler than law enforcement. He just wanted to find the truth so he could tell others a good story.

Especially endearing and believable to me was the abject fear Kolchak brought to his own exploits. When he climbed the stadium stairs in search of the eviscerating Aztec cultists who he believed were responsible for cutting out the hearts of several young Chicagoans, I went along with him. And when, winded from the climb, he turned around at the top of the stairs and saw before him the masked and feathered killer wielding the ceremonial knife, my eyes grew just as wide as Kolchak's. Accompanying him as he inserted himself in the most terrifying situations in pursuit of the truth became a weekly ritual for me. And the fact that the terror was something I could share with the hero made it all the more horrifying. Here's a secret: to this day, a chill runs up my back and radiates into my shoulders at the mere recollection of the vampire's hand emerging from beneath the Las Vegas earth in "The Vampire." To merely say this show affected me is indeed an understatement of terrific proportion.

I think I even wanted to be Kolchak at one point. Then again, I also wanted to be a hermit after I saw Jeremiah Johnson and a garbage man after I saw our local sanitation workers hanging off the back of the garbage truck as it hurtled down Maplewood Road.

In the end, Kolchak succumbed not to the werewolf or the martian or even the devil himself but rather to the same demon that inevitably claims all television heros – poor ratings. Apparently neither was there anything unusual about McGavin's death. Natural causes were given as the cause of death according to the Los Angeles Times obituary, more appropriately entitled than the CNN article for me anyway,

Darren McGavin, 83; Prolific Actor in 'Night Stalker,' 'Christmas Story'.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Last year, I received a ridiculous amount of junk mail from Capital One. Not only is it a waste of paper, it's a pain because I can't just throw it away. I have to rip it up or shred it first. It seems like a small task but day after day, I got really sick of it.

This year I'm keeping all the junk mail Capital One sends me and Cindy. I'll post monthly updates and keep a tally over in the right hand column.



Total pieces of junk mail received from Capital One so far this year: 13