Archive for January, 2007

Midwesterners are getting ripped off

January 31, 2007

Pricing for fast food chains is pretty constant across the country.  5 chicken nuggets at Wendy’s cost $1, whether you’re in Maine or Nebraska or California.  But the rent, or property taxes, on a fast food restaurant in Beverly Hills must be several times higher than the rent on the same size restaurant at an interstate exit in Abilene, Kansas.  And employees are certainly more expensive.  Both will soon be hiked, but the national minimum wage is still $5.15, while CA’s is $7.50.  And since most of the raising and slaughtering and prepackaging of food in this country is done somewhere in the middle, I expect food prices are at least slightly lower in KS, where the beef and things don’t have to be shipped quite so far.So why can I buy a Jr. cheeseburger at Wendy’s in Los Angeles for only a $1?  Surely they aren’t losing money on it… Are Midwesterners being gouged?

And why on Earth does a single cheeseburger at McDonald’s cost 20% more than a double cheeseburger?

slept for 13 hours last night…

January 27, 2007

…and had some wacky dreams that involved a secret and mysterious hideaway on a remote mountaintop that got progressively more crowded with family members as the dream went on.  It was a bit like Lost somehow.

More frustrating is that in the dream I was working on a really brilliant play, but when I woke I couldn’t remember what it was about.

These are random thoughts

January 26, 2007

Just read Dave Eggers’ most enjoyable A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and thought the following:

He got there first. Like me, like my writing, what it was supposed to be, but with a more interesting story and more aggression, a manic streak at least twice as manic and flights of fancy gooier in their fanaticism and looser grammar, oh how I’d kill for that looser grammar and– How the hell did he have sex with 34 women? I haven’t had sex with 34 women. If I’d been born in my proper damn generation I could have had a bestselling memoir and lots of tragedy and sex.

Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky… it’s sort of about old people. There should be more things about old people. They’re neat.

On the set of Las Vegas two days ago:

Girl: “So, you have myspace, right?”
Me: “Uh.. yeah.”
“Headshots?”
“What?”
“Do you have your headshots up.”
“Oh. No. I’m not an actor.”
“Well what are you?”
“What am I?”
“What?”
“I’m a writer.”
“You’re too young to be a writer.”
“Well…”
“And too handsome.”
“Oh. Thanks.”
“You should be in front of the camera.”
“All writers have leprosy.”
“What? Can you write a part for me? Like a short?”

I have a fat neck

January 24, 2007

Target’s dress shirt brand Merona says so. Their medium size is defined as a 38-40 chest, a 15-15.5 neck and 33-34 arms, which is fine because that’s my neck size, except the sleeves are about 2 inches too long and the chest about 2 inches too big around. So I have a fat neck.

Their small size … to say it crushes my windpipe doesn’t really go far enough because I couldn’t even get the button fastened.  And its chest is listed at 34-36, which isn’t so good for me seeing as my nipple line is 37 inches around, but at least that’s a problem I’m used to.

Thankfully, they had a few things from Red Level Nine — which reminds me of Red Zone Cuba, a terrible movie and fantastic episode of Mystersy Science Theater 3000 — and they seem to specialize in us fat neckers.

The Homeless vs. The Nebbish

January 19, 2007

It’s not often that one gets a chance to move from one side of the country to the other, so I vowed to make the most of it. No one knows me in LA, no one knows my personality, no one has any expectations, so why not better myself while I’m here? No more awkward introversion, no more obsessing over whether I’m being interesting when I meet someone, and if I could stop doing that thing where I spend 15 minutes a day thinking about my fingernails, that would be great too. This is a chance for a whole new me!

Only there’s this: it turns out I am the way I am because I’m uncomfortable being any other way, and my discomfort rather overwhelms and smothers any desire to be a bubbly and well-adjusted person. But I did manage one mark of notable progress: now when my eyes meet that of someone on the street, I smile or nod.

I feel compelled, and slightly despondent, to note that this may not be a change at all but a matter of circumstances. In New Jersey or New York, if you nod at every person you pass, you’ll quickly end up with a sore neck and a collection of suspicious looks (at best). In Los Angeles County, while every “nice day” is subsequently followed by another “nice day,” no one walks anywhere unless they have a dog, or several dogs, or couldn’t find a parking spot within a quarter mile of where they’re going. Passing a person on a sidewalk out here is like passing someone in the desert: it’s so rare an occurrence you practically want to grab them, hug them, see that they’re real, impart to them your life story, and, if it’s a particularly sunny and delusional sort of day, try to drink them.


I was walking back from my local 24-hour drug store at night; in my plastic bag a can of meat that I’d soon regret buying, and a bottle of wine that helped with the meat. Halfway back to my apartment, I spied a real live actual person: a homeless man. One of the nicer things about LA, perhaps the only nice thing, is that the homeless people don’t freeze to death. This one was nonetheless wearing endless layers of frayed, filthy clothing, sitting guard by his shopping cart of priceless trinkets and invaluable nonsense, listening to music through a portable CD player with headphones. I too was wearing headphones, and I thought perhaps this bound us to some mad, music-loving insomniac camaraderie. These streets are ours, my friend! But before any of that occurred to me, I nodded, quite instinctively. If I’d thought about it more I’m sure I would have nodded anyway. This was a man before me, the only one I’d encountered or would encounter on my brief excursion, a living, breathing human with all varieties of feelings and smells. Why not acknowledge him? Why not treat him as I would anyone else?

The answer came in his response: “What the hell do you want!” It wasn’t the loveable consternation of an overworked, cigar-smoking New York newspaper editor with an ulcer and too many kids at home. No, this was the dirt-rub crazy kind of irritation. The curdled kind. Unhinged, manic, violent. The “if I had a knife right now…” kind.

I managed to repress my fear enough to maintain my speed, fixing my posture to give the illusion of self-confidence and turning off my CD player so that I might better hear footsteps behind me. I was pretty sure I could outrun him. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. He muttered something else that I couldn’t make out but refused to leave his post by the shopping cart.

The streets weren’t ours. They were his, and I had intruded. As long as no one makes eye contact, no one nods or says hi, no one acknowledges his being, Mr. Homeless is able to dehumanize himself, forget his situation, exist not just in a bubble, but in a separate reality, avoiding comparisons with the real world and thus evading acceptance of his failure. For a moment, I broke through, and the stark beauty and affluence of our reality hit him square in the soul, and who can blame him for reacting poorly? Maybe I should have showed him my meat can.

A few nights later, I went to a Laundromat. As I got out of my car, a man approached me.

“You here for the Laundromat?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“You leave a skirt in the yellow washer?”

“No.”

“Okay.”

He then proceeded to the bushes at the edge of the parking lot where he relieved himself.

I headed in and started loading the washer, all the while thinking I needed to find a new Laundromat, one with more hygienic employees, when the same man, now empty of urine, started shouting, “Anybody work here!” quite frantically, which was sort of a relief because he wasn’t an employee, and sort of not, because anyone that frantic had to have discovered a bomb in one of the dryers, and I started regretting never having designed a will, and – in a great display of irrationality – wondering if I’d left the iron plugged in.

There was no bomb. One of the washers was overflowing and spilling water all over where this guy was standing. It was then that I got a good look at him. He wore a wool skirt, a solid-colored button-down, a modest gold crucifix necklace, and plastic bags instead of socks. With all the skewed movements of a junkie, he was clearly homeless, though he seemed a bit more interested in our reality than Mr. Homeless the First a few nights earlier.

After shouting a bit more, he asked everyone individually if they worked there, except me, presumably because he saw me outside earlier. When he couldn’t find an employee, he grabbed all the newspapers sitting on the uncomfortable bench – first asking me if there were any sections I wanted to read – and put them down on the wet spots.

Later, he tried helping a woman who was struggling with a recalcitrant change machine, suggesting that she cover the slot with her hand after inserting the bill so as to block out the light, which apparently has something to do with something. She thought maybe this wasn’t such a good idea – it was a ten – and when he tried to do it for her, she snatched the bill back and stomped off.

Half an hour later he intoned some friendly words to me that I couldn’t make out. I smiled and nodded and didn’t ask him to repeat himself and regretted this for days. Here was this unfortunate man trying so desperately to interact with our reality, with any reality, and no one in the damn place would let him, me included.

Today I’m an extra on the set of a TV pilot called Miss Guided. The work is easy and ever so slightly glamorous, so it attracts lazy people and stupid people and jackasses. Also some of the most delightful and talented folk you’ll ever meet, but also jackasses. And the girl next to me, clad in typical goth clothing, is rambling on about how homeless people make $80,000 a year (on average! I don’t ask if that’s mean or median) and many of them are in fact not homeless, but are genius rich lazy panhandlers who have the system beat and have us fooled. She’s talking to someone else. The guy on the other side of her. He tries to introduce her to the concept of logic, and she keeps repeating “I’m surprised you haven’t heard this. Everyone I know has heard this,” as if she’s explaining that when you drop an apple it will hit the earth. She goes on, and gets into how her “daddy” pays for everything and she doesn’t need to work but being an extra is fun and she’s 24 and has never had a real job and never went to college even though it would be free, and I resist the temptation to clarify for her every aspect of her ignorance and stupidity, and I don’t know why I resist. Why do I resist?

I see her again later: she’s still yapping to the same poor fellow, still finding a way to be smug about her ignorance, this time saying that 9/11 might have been an inside job but no one can know for sure because there’s no evidence whatsoever (apparently the absence of acquired knowledge means the absence of facts in general) and again I don’t say anything, and instead think about my fingernails which are a little uneven and seem to be growing faster than they used to.

Dogs

January 18, 2007

I found myself really wanting a dog today, but with my wonky work schedule (sporadic, long hours) it isn’t possible at this time.  It occurs to me that many of the scheduling problems related to dog ownership would be solved by getting married.  Is this a lousy reason to get married?

Communists are red and pointy

January 16, 2007

I remember getting quite excited about an ad, ostensibly from the RIAA, meant to dissuade people from downloading MP3s.  This was about six years ago and I hadn’t really thought of it since.  But something triggered the memory and I looked it up and, yes, still funny:

communism

The History Boys

January 14, 2007

About 2/3 of the way through The History Boys, there’s a scene where the boys in question — a group of talented British schoolchildren on the brink of making it to Oxford or Cambridge — are being tested by three teachers on their admissions interview skills. A few minutes in, without any kind of reasonable provocation, one of the teachers (played by Frances de la Tour) stands up and begins talking about women’s place in history. I think it’s meant to be something of a rousing, feel-good moment, but I was left unroused, being too busy trying to figure out what it had to do with the rest of the scene.

Of course, it didn’t. The History Boys, a film about education, adolescence, and a snuggly sort of pedophilia, started out as a play and it shows through almost every piece of celluloid. That isn’t always a bad thing. The Big Kahuna was one of the stagiest flicks ever and was all the more focused and interesting because of it. But that story also had a linear logic to it conducive to cinema. The History Boys is the sort of play where people can break out into song or monologue or jump through time all within a scene. Which is fantastic. In person, that sort of thing is very exciting for its immediacy and because we understand the limitations of the theater. On film it feels unnatural. I don’t know if it’s the acoustics of movie theaters or what, but I am simply never, ever excited by actors reading poetry or singing songs on screen. Rarely is making speeches any better.

While an out of place monologue or two could be forgiven, the language itself appears to be the glue holding the play together (not having seen it, I’m giving the original the benefit of the doubt), and when the language fails, we’re left with a thin story with no narrative drive. Someday I might like to see the invigorating debate over education, the poetry recitation, and the snappy one-liners in person. But as a film, The History Boys is dull.

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