Thursday, April 25, 2013
Détente Between California and Texas?
I used to hate Texas. I used to change planes at DFW on a regular basis and the airport was filled with faux cowboys in their ten-gallon hats named Billy Bob and Buckle Bunnies with their beehive hair-dos and glittering belt buckles worth the gross national product of a small Central American nation. Let's be honest; the face of Texas is not pretty. Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, Louis Gohmert, Steve Stockman, Ted Poe, George W, Karl Rove. An all-star lineup of almost every crackpot right wing crazy comes from Texas or is voted into office by Texans. So it was with some trepidation that I accepted an invitation to visit Dallas.
I expected to see the big hats; obnoxious drawls and hear "The Eyes Of Texas" blaring from every radio while the drivers shot their guns to signal they were about to make a left turn. Okay, I admit I was wrong. The Dallas I experienced is a wonderful city filled with great people. Modern, chic, hip and not a ten-gallon hat in sight. In fact, there were moments when I felt just as home there as I do in my state of California.
I went to Dealy Plaza to see the JFK assination site. Very bizarre. It's still hugely popular with tourists; the sixth floor depository museum was packed. (You can buy a Sixth Floor Depository Coffee Mug at the gift store. Really.) The most startling thing was how small Dealy Plaza is. There are two X's on the street to mark the spots where the shots hit President Kennedy. What was really amazing was how close those X's were to the curb where spectators lined the street that fateful day. At the most, the X's are ten feet from the curb. I cringed thinking of seeing the action so up close. It's part of Dallas's legacy and to their credit, they don't hide from it.
I also went to see the new George W. Bush Presidential Library. It's tremendous. Not figuratively, literally. I've been to three other presidential libraries and all of them could fit in the foyer of the Bush edifice. The reason I wanted to go was so I can have my picture taken in front of it while giving it's namesake a one fingered salute, which I did. But interestingly, while my friend was taking my picture a few construction workers, Texans all, courteously stopped their forklift so we could get a clear picture. And they smiled and waved. No anger, no one fingered salute back at me. I guess this is already a daily occurrence at the museum and they took it good-naturedly.
Food. Tex Mex is fantastic but so are the designer pizzas of shaved Parmesan, prosciutto and arugula. Yes, you heard me correctly. Arugula, the official leafy green symbol of California Lefties is also served deepinthehearta. And the waiter told us it was their most popular pizza.
The city is loaded with museums, aquariums, libraries, parks, street fairs. Nobody spoke like a cowboy (Or Louie Gohmert) and I didn't see a steer anywhere. Although I am pro gun regulation, I didn't see a single gun in a state where the politicians are proud that everyone is packing heat (Or so they think).
Dallas has a trolley car system that offers free rides around town. The trolleys come from all over the world and a biography of each is posted inside. We rode on one that was built around 1900 in Florence, Italy, spent ten years of service in San Francisco after seventy years of service abroad and then found it's new home in Dallas. Nice.
The people I met were great. None of them spit chewing tobacco on my sneakers. The acting students I met at the TBell Actor's Studio were creative, funny, talented and hospitable to this interloper from California. (Shameless plug: The best acting coach in the state is without a doubt Theresa Bell in Dallas. Numerous graduates of the school have gone onto to success in movies and TV.)
Now I'm not ready to dismiss all my predigudges about Texas. I only saw a sliver of the city and have no desire to ever visit the areas where people reside who vote for the Gomerts and Stockmans. I still can't stand the Dallas Cowboys, Rick Perry's corporate deregulation and the deep fried butter served at the State Fair. Unfortunately the ones who yell the loudest (on both sides) get all the attention and control the brushes that paint the picture of how we think of everyone in the state. I'm ready to admit that there are a lot of good people in Texas who share a lot in common with me and other Californians and toss away my stereotypical thinking.
Look, I know Texas and California don't get along. Texas gave us George W. We gave the country Reagan. I consider that a wash. To the Gomerts, Perrys and Cruzes and the people who voted for them we will always be the Hollywood, pot smoking, satanic, porn loving lefties. However, I all I met were people that would fit right in here on the left coast. I'm willing to extend an olive branch. We have a lot more in common than we know. Texas has their crazies and so does California but I'll bet the majority of each state are just plain old Americans willing to see the good in people rather than the worst. And if we can just get along, maybe there might be hope for Israel and the Arabs.
Maybe the key is arugula.
Saturday, February 9, 2013
The End Of NBC
Is NBC still a viable network? I asked myself that question last Thursday while watching the season premier of "Community
". At the orders of programming chief Robert Greenblatt, the quirky comedy with a dedicated following has been neutered to a shell of its former self, following the firing of creator Dan Harmon. What made matters worse was that during the show was a promo for the network's only arrow left in its quiver: "The Apprentice
" with Donald Trump who just recently rated barely above a c***roach as far as likability. Not just "The Apprentice
" mind you, but an all-star version starring the likes of D-Listers Gary Busey, Dennis Rodman and someone named Omarosa. This is the best that NBC can do.
I used to be proud to work for NBC. The peacock network stood for quality. Now it's just a joke. Innovative thinking is giving Betty White an hour a week to "Host" something called "Betty White's Off Their Rockers
", a show where elderly actors half heartedly say outrageous things and do incredibly stupid stunts to elicit some kind of reaction from the public. It's produced on a shoestring and it shows. The "writing" is negligible and the pranks are predictable and boring. In fact one feels sorry for everyone involved in producing this show. I have no idea who the target audience is because I watched it with my elderly mother and she turned it off after ten minutes.
" and "The Office
" are finishing up their runs with nothing worthy to replace them. Christina Applegate has rightly walked away from the mess that "Up All Night
" has become. Their prime time schedule is packed with tabloid reality shows like "Dateline NBC
" and "Rock Center with Brian Williams
." The "Today Show
" now lasts four hours. It's been years since something relevant or interesting has happened on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
" During sweeps, they run repackaged reruns of "Saturday Night Live
" in prime time. "Must See TV" has now been dumbed down to stand for weeklong quiz shows always starring Howie Mandel.
"Meet The Press
" which is now a weekly platform for John McCain to spout off his anger at the world has become irrelevant. Sports? Other than football, what have they got? The Olympics? Dick Ebersol turned them into a two week, jingoistic pre-recorded soap opera. Does anyone remember how the network cut the closing ceremonies in London short to air a preview of a sit com called "Animal Practice
", starring a monkey as a doctor, which tanked and was canceled a few weeks into its run?
How did all this happen? Mostly after the firing of programmer Kevin Reilly in 2007. He was followed by a series of company men who knew zero about entertainment and less about what people want to watch on television. The result is that someone as despicable as Donald Trump, who now only makes headlines as the leading "Birther" in America is their biggest star. Why he still has this embarrassment of a show is proof positive that NBC is on its last legs.
Years ago I predicted that the first of the "Big Three" networks to fold up shop and disappear will be NBC. The Ben Silvermans, Jeff Zukers, Jeff Gaspins and Robert Greenblatts of the world have made NBC the last desperate stop for producers. Seeing the hands on approach at the network do it's magic on "Community
" and "Up All Night
", it's no wonder most creators avoid the network like the plague. It is not that far a leap to think that the real powers that be will soon decide that being in the scripted entertainment business is a losing proposition. Combining MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, E! and USA programming (which costs a fraction to produce than network shows) and airing them on the NBC affiliates seems the cost efficient way to go.
February is sweeps month when networks save their best programming to air because the ratings will determine the ad rates they can charge for the coming year. This week NBC's best is a repeat of a Betty White roast and two nights of recycled "Saturday Night Live
" sketches. Apparently the network is embarrassed by their biggest star Trump because his quiz show will premier in March, conveniently far away from sweeps.
This is NBC. Is no one embarrassed at what the network has become? Is anybody watching anymore? More importantly, does anybody care? I certainly don't.
Friday, November 30, 2012
The Exorcist & Me
I never wanted to get into show biz. Actually I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I just knew that whatever I chose as a profession wouldn't have anything to do with math or chemistry (Two subjects I failed miserably in school). Whenever someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my default answer was an architect. I don't know why. It sounded very professional, girls thought it was cool and there was some creativity involved (Although I didn't realize it at the time).
During my sophomore year at American University in Washington DC, I noticed an ad in the Washington Post. It said that if you wanted to be in a major Hollywood movie, show up on the campus of Georgetown University the following Monday. Well since I was always looking for any excuse to cut class, my friend Jeff and I went.
Apparently there were a lot of show biz wannabes in DC that year. There must have been about a thousand of us who answered the ad. We soon discovered the movie that was being shot was the film version of the best selling horror novel "The Exorcist." Hot damn! Hollywood on the Potomac and I was smack dab in the middle of it.
For those of you who think "The Exorcist" is all about Satan and pea soup shooting from a ten year old's mouth, you're sadly mistaken. Okay, maybe you're not THAT sadly mistaken, but there was a narrative regarding Linda Blair's mother in the film. Played by Ellen Burstyn, she was an actress filming a movie on location in Georgetown (Staying at yes, that infamous townhouse). The scene we had been recruited to be in was a movie within a movie. Burstyn was playing a college professor trying to quell a campus riot. We were the long hired radicals.
My first moments on a movie set were magical. As I walked down the street to the Georgetown campus I passed the dozens of trailers, which housed offices, wardrobe trailers, light and sound equipment trucks and dressing rooms. Arriving on the quad, the library was bathed in gigantic arc lights. Real motion picture cameras on cranes were being lifted to the sky, their movements as graceful as trapeze artists at Circus de Soleil. Over in one area was the director William Friedkin, setting up a shot. Passing by to watch the action was one of the principals, Lee J. Cobb. Dozens of crew members were busy everywhere. The energy was intoxicating.
After signing releases, we were quickly divided up into four groups. One on either side of the library steps, one in front of the library and the others as disinterested students who would walk in and out of the shots. I was part of the group to the right of the steps.
After about two hours of waiting for something to happen and freezing our behinds off (It was winter and very cold) the assistant director approached our group. For what I felt was no apparent reason he asked us "Who here has a big mouth?" Well, being the introvert I am, my hand quickly shot up without thinking. He pulled me out of the group and told me he was giving me a special assignment. I was led to a balcony above the library steps where the main action would take place. Along with about five other lucky big mouths, I was told that I was going to play one of the protest leaders. I was also going to get a line to speak.
When Ellen Burstyn's character grabs a megaphone and implores the students to go back to class, I was to point to her below and yell "Bullshit!" which would ignite the protest. Wow! First time on a movie set and I had a line! Okay, not a lot of dialogue I grant you, but a real line none the less. We all got into place for rehearsals but by then it was time for lunch.
We were led to a tent set up on one of the athletic fields and had a delicious hot lunch of sloppy joes and mashed potatoes. Of course my friend Jeff (Who was relegated to being way in the back of the left side group) and I found a seat at a table near the principals and the director. We listened in rapt attention as they spoke of everything but the movie. Apparently they all were complaining about the hotel they were staying in. Still it was real show biz talk to me.
After lunch we rehearsed a few times and then it was time for the first take. I wasn't nervous at all, but I did lean over the balcony too far to make sure the camera could see me and almost fell. After the assistant director shouted "Action" (Just like in the movies!) the crowd of student radicals started yelling. It was a tremendous sound, more like a roar. Burstyn fought her way to the top of the steps below me, grabbed a bullhorn from one of the student radicals and started to yell at us. Now I was nervous. My directions were not to deliver my line until I heard the phrase "You've got to go back to your classes!" Maybe I missed it. I got panicky until I heard her finally say my cue and I croaked "Bullshit!" way too fast and not as loud as I was supposed to. "Cut!" I heard as the other confused rioters waiting for my line to start yelling stood silently, looking up at me in the balcony.
The AD addressed me through his bullhorn: "Hey! You up there! You've got to be angrier and louder with that Bullshit!" The eyes of the thousand or so at the shoot looked up to me as I smiled weakly and said "Got it." I felt like a dork. The others with me on the balcony looked at me with faces that said "And they picked YOU to deliver the line?"
Second take. The pressure was on. However, now I knew where my cue was and I yelled "Bullshit" loud and clear. As soon as I did, a tidal wave of deafening noise from the other students following my lead washed over us. Gotta admit, I felt pretty powerful. Well, it took two days to film the scene. With all the different angles to shoot, I must have shouted "Bullshit over thirty times. We got paid one hundred dollars for our efforts. Not a bad way to make a living.
I made the most of the lunch and dinner breaks and my proximity to the crew while eating paid off. I wrangled a job as a go-fer on the set for the rest of the exterior shots, which took about three weeks. For those of you who remember the film, I was there for the classic scene where the director of the "movie within the movie" is thrown down the huge flight of stone stairs to his death below. I was also there when the iconic picture of Max Von Sydow standing in the fog in front of the infamous townhouse was taken. (For the record, I was about twenty feet away on his right.)
Going back to lectures about constitutional law at American were anticlimactic to say the least after my brush with the business of show on the set of a major motion picture. "The Exorcist" is now considered the greatest horror film ever. I made the final cut. About fifteen minutes into the film, if you look very quickly, you'll see a few students leaning over a balcony above the library step. That's me, second from the left. And if you turn the volume on your TV up full and listen carefully, you can just about make out a deep voice bellowing "Bullshit" before it's drowned out by the hundreds of other radicals. I was hooked; the path to my future had been defined. Hollywood and I, as they say, began the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Sunday, October 28, 2012
The Doors Of Perception
I was listening to my iPod yesterday, which is filled with songs I love. However there are certain songs and artists that transcend that love. One was "LA Woman" by the Doors.
Maybe it was the moment I heard it, the state of mind I was in but damn, that is an amazing piece of music. The spirit it evokes, the beauty, imagery and sexuality it provokes is intoxicating. When I lived back east the Doors were the epitome of California cool. A darker version of the Beach Boys, they were the siren call to a generation of kids my age to go west.
"Light My Fire", "Break On Through", "Touch Me", "Riders on The Storm", "Roadhouse Blues" and even "The End" played with my young mind and showed me the possibilities that awaited outside the town I grew up in. I moved to Los Angeles and when I could afford it, bought the California male phallic symbol, a Mustang convertible. The first time I heard "LA Woman" in that car I was on the Santa Monica Freeway with the top down, the "Hollywood" sign visible on my left, living the dream. I sped up, as did most of the others on the road who were listening to it on the same oldies station. Exhilarating, almost to the point of orgasmic, this is what I imagined my life to become while I was shoveling snow out of other people's driveways growing up back east. And now that imagery had become my reality.
I got to know Ray Manzarek, the keyboard player for the group. A very nice guy, we met at my gym. Surprisingly we never talked music. Mostly current events and the stock market. But there he was, the man whose iconic keyboard intro to "Light My Fire" helped shape a generation, sweating on the elliptical trainer next to me.
And then there was Jim Morrison. A flawed but towering figure in the Southern California music scene of the sixties. Never got the chance to meet him, but I did do the next best thing. On my first trip to Paris I made a pilgrimage to the Pere Lachaise cemetery to look for his grave. I thought I'd be alone searching for him but the cemetery was filled with American tourists doing the same. A group of us, including the entire Wisconsin University swim team who was in Paris for a competition, fanned out searching for the elusive grail.
Ignoring the final resting places of Balzac, Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Moliere, Gertrude Stein and a virtual who's who of French artists, we finally discovered Morrison's small tomb. (The young daughter of a guy from Chicago found it first) The marble was eroding from the abnormal attention people like us were giving it and the writing on it was barely legible. There was a lot of colored chalk graffiti covering the monument. A bust of Morrison had been worn down by years of affectionate abuse by other fans. I stood there silently with the Wisconsin Swim team and the father/daughter duo from Chicago. The young girl had purchased a rose from a store outside the gates of the cemetery and we watched as she placed it on the tomb. She probably had no idea who Jim Morrison was at the time, but I'm sure the memory of that day is still with her and she is a huge fan of the Doors today.
Music, like art is what bonds us from generation to generation. Great music is timeless. Unfortunately somewhat of an afterthought now, the Doors made timeless music. And all it took to remind me was an iPod.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Learning to Love Hospice
My Dad is dying. We got word that his cancer was inoperable and he couldn't handle any more chemo or radiation. The doctors gave him three months at the most. That was last March, six and a half months ago.
One of his doctors started sending a nurse to the house three times a week. She took his vitals and asked how he felt. How did he feel? Depressed. Scared. Angry. After her third visit, the nurse sat us all down and said that it was really useless for her to continue. What we really should look into was hospice.
Hospice. The word itself conjured up deathwatches and other unpleasant thoughts. I would always tune out when someone else would talk about it. I didn't want to know. Reluctantly, we said we'd check into it.
On the Southwest Suncoast of Florida, the largest hospice is Tidewell. After the idea was planted in my mind, I started asking around about it. Everyone who had been through the experience raved about Tidewell. Yes, I should definitely talk to the hospice people.
Well, we did. I was shocked when the Tidewell representative told us what hospice entails. First of all, it's not just for the dying, it's for the living as well. Specifically the families. My Dad had told me that he didn't want to go back to a hospital or "some other place" to spend his final days. The hospice people told us that it was no problem for him to stay home. A lot of people make that decision. Whatever he needs, hospice will provide. Even if he needs a hospital bed, hospice will move one into the house.
There were certain conditions for enrolling in hospice: The patient can no longer go to the hospital (Which was fine with my Dad.). No calling 911 for emergencies. Call them instead. No medicines for cancer treatment. It had already done its damage, why put my Dad through ineffective and debilitating treatments? Made perfect sense. The hospice doctors would control his medications. By medications we're talking about painkillers, anti-anxiety, anti-depressives and appetite stimulators. My Dad liked the sound of that. Everything sounded too good to be true, so we signed up. It was the smartest thing we ever did.
Dad is watched by a "team" of specialists. Teri, the team leader, comes to visit at least once a week. She is in charge of Dad's overall situation. She orders the pills, fills his pillbox so he takes the right ones on schedule, takes his vitals and most of all talks to him and the family. Teri is a comforting presence. She doesn't minimize what is going on, but she does it in such a way that puts us all at ease.
Katy is in charge of Dad's personal hygiene. She stops by three days a week to help him shower, shave (Electrically) and do whatever Dad needs. Dad and Katy have a special relationship. They love to sing. Dad has taught her every Navy song from World War Two and she has taught my Dad a few contemporary hits. They even do "Chattanooga Choo Choo" complete with matching choreography. The highlight of each day is when Katy arrives. Her demeanor is uplifting and fun. Oh, and she's only in her twenties. A truly remarkable person.
Charlie comes once a week to give Dad a massage. These massages have become invaluable for Dad and he looks forward to his arrival every Tuesday. Charlie's demeanor is great. Having done this for countless other cancer patients, he knows just what to look for and how to relieve and explain the pain.
Kimberly is Dad's and our therapist. She calmly explains to anyone in the family who wants to talk to her about our fears, anxieties and problems with the situation we are in. A very soothing presence who knows just what to say and how to say it.
Tidewell even had a veteran come over and award my Dad for his service to our country. It might not sound like much, but trust me it was a wonderful moment.
To say all of these people are saints is an understatement. They're not only doing this for my Dad, but countless others simultaneously. I don't know how my family could handle the situation without them.
A few months ago I asked Teri the average length she spends with a patient. She said five days to a week. However she did have one patent who is starting his third year of hospice. Unfortunately, most people still believe that hospice is for the last few days of life. Nonsense. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most people call on hospice way too late when the situation is most dire. We were lucky to have a nurse tell us to start hospice early. I can honestly say that it is because of them Dad is going into his sixth month and still shows no sign of giving up.
Hospice is about dying with dignity. Being left alone in a hospital room is no way to go. Hospice is a very social, even fun experience. I don't associate hospice with death anymore. Yes, I know it will come eventually, but as they tell us, enjoy life while we still can. They give Dad the medicine to extend the quality of his life. While he is deteriorating at a slow speed, he still goes out to eat dinner once and a while. He eats like he's going to the electric chair (Yes, we can laugh about the situation.) He has his bad days, but those days would be much more numerous and a lot worse without hospice. (Teri and all the others are just a phone call away whenever we need them)
As I go through this experience, I'm suddenly aware that the word "hospice" is all around us. A lot of people have been through the experience and like me; they have nothing but enthusiastic gratitude for the service and the people.
Getting my Dad to hospice early is the best thing we ever did. It has indeed extended his life and has reduced his pain and anxiety immeasurably. I thoroughly recommend starting hospice care as soon as possible. It's worth it. I no longer fear the word "Hospice." In fact, I can't figure out how we did without it for so long.