Friday, March 31, 2006

House Arrest

Oh Man! Martha Stewart, I feel your pain.

Last month, my cousins came down from Santa Barbara in their huge vehicle and we went to LACMA. Since they are from out of town, I offered to drive. Traffic was terrible and driving was not fun. Besides, it was President's Day.

After our museum visit (And LACMA is pretty great), we were on our way home and I was heading East on Sixth...something I never do...and I needed to make a left turn. So, I was coming up to Hauser and I was all, "Wide open, let's pound this baby through Park La Brea."

I made my left. Then, the cop started following me. I heard the occasional "Werp" of his horn. The lights flashing. Could it be me?

I pulled to the side. The officer asked me, "Do you know why you're being pulled over?"

I had to say, "I have no idea."

"You made a left at a sign that is posted--No Left Turn Between 4-7PM."

I said, "I didn't see anything like that."

"It's there."

(I drove by later and checked it out. It is there.)

Then I said, "Does that 4-7 thing apply on holidays? It says except for Sat. and Sun. right?" (That’s what most of them say. I inferred.)

And he said, affably enough, "Yes."


I don't do well with authority figures in Jack Boots. And as the cop handed me the ticket, I said, "I guess LA has to make their money somehow."

The friendly cop took off, heading north through the Park La Brea complex. I kind of love Park La Brea, but that wasn’t enough to lift my spirits.
I was cranky, but ultimately apologizing for being cranky since I didn't want my cousins to feel too bad, since I was doing them the favor of driving. "No good deed shall go unpunished."

So, after I calmed down, and my cousins went on their merry way back to that good-air-infested Santa Barbara, I just accepted that I had to go to traffic school so I wouldn't get a point against my license. And, I figured I would just actually go to one of those eight hour sessions. At least there are people there. I hadn't been to traffic school since the mid-nineties, when I lived in Santa Monica. I remember a girl with one of those knapsacks made out of a teddy bear.
I remember it was a long day, but oddly fun in a proletariat kind of way.

But then, I got busy and we’re going away next week for two weeks and I realized I couldn't give up a whole day to traffic school, so I decided, "Okay, I'll do it online."

It took me three days. Granted, just an hour or two each day. But three days! It was awful. Eight sections. And there are tests after each section. And you have to get nine out of ten questions right. And at the end of all the sections, there's a final test of 50 questions. And they embed things into the text and ask questions about those, to make sure you're really reading it. One of the embedding things was an off color joke about Michael Jackson. “Why did Michael Jackson go to the Wal-Mart sale? He heard that kids pants were half off.” I can just imagine the pasty, fat white guys chortling over that one out there in Missouri when they put it into the text of information.

Bad jokes aside, you have to plod through all that text, because the questions are annoyingly more difficult than you'd think. And, if you go too fast reading through it, a window pops up and says, “Slow down.”

I did learn a few things. First of all, if you drive a motorcycle you DO have to wear a helmet. I also learned that you can make a LEFT ON RED if you are turning from a one-way street into another one-way street. And, any child under six years of age or sixty pounds has to be in a car seat. Alcohol Blood level: .08 or less okay. If you are 21 or younger: .01

But after reading tiny print for hours on end (I swear, I felt like I was reading the ingredients on the back of a diet bar), never once did I read, "Don't make a left turn if it says No left turn 4-7PM except for Sat. & Sun."

I made one bad turn and I had to reread every thing about driving that you sort of know but don't care to revisit on screen. It was like being imprisoned in my own home. I got an 88% on my final test. I cranked through it quickly and did not check my work. I had to get out of the house.

24-7 Traffic School

Thursday, March 30, 2006

March 30, 1974

Nanny moved. I did so much unpacking. I slept over. It's a nice apt. Man am I tired. I'm writing this on March 31 because I didn't have it with me March 30 because I slept over. Goodnight.

I will never forget the weekend I moved my grandmother into a senior citizen apartment. She had been a widow for about six months. She was living with us, sleeping on a schnazzy cot in the finished basement. This nice apartment became available and she moved. This weekend was the first weekend of her life where she was going to be living alone. I stayed with her. I remember that she put a towel on the goldish-green couch and then some blankets. Eventually, this couch was covered with the see-through plastic covers.

On Sunday (the next day), when it was time for me to go, Nanny kept talking. She was nervous and she didn't want to be left alone. I felt awful leaving her there alone.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Italians

Nanny and Poppa lived in Yonkers. (Antoinette DeFranza and Salvatore Porcello)
Antoinette, also known as Netty, was the first born child of Italian immigrants from Ariano Irpino, about an hour outside of Naples. DeFranza means from France. Apparently, the DeFranzas were French Huguenots who fled during the 1600’s. Great Grandma DeFranza was a Protestant when she arrived in this country, living in Newark, New Jersey. Since all the other Italians went to Catholic church, she dropped her Protestantism and became Catholic. Salvatore was born in Sicily and came to the United States by boat in 1904 when he was two years old. He worked in a carpet factory and a boat factory. Severe asthma plagued him for most of his life.

Nanny was an amazing Italian cook. I was her favorite grandchild. We traveled to Italy together in 1979, when I was 17. On an American Express bus tour. While visiting Assisi, we happened to run into friends of mine from high school, Megan and others, who were on a school trip.

The two youngest children are my cousins, Scott and Christina. Today, Scott sells cars. Christina is a hairdresser in Florida.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Irish

Uncle Eddie died of lung cancer when in his forties. After WWII, he moved in with his parents and never left again.

Grandma and Grandpa Cummings (Louise Veronica Dietrich and Joseph Alyosius Cummings) did not have teeth for as long as I could remember.
Together, they made delicious turnips, mashed potatoes and Legs of Lamb.

Old Friends

There have been requests.
And visitations.

I would at first like to say that my old friend, Bart, has moved in with his girlfriend, Susie, into her lovely home in Valley Village. I helped them move. This was two weeks ago and Susie pointed out that I didn’t mention it on the blog. How dare I move them, spend a whole day, and not write one little word? Well, here it is: I am so glad I helped Bart move into your place, Susie. Bart seems very happy. And I think it’s very cool that you two were able to mix your furniture and lives together in what seemed to be a pretty low key first day. Bart got a little tense when Susie and I started declaring how we should pack the moving truck. Our idea was against Bart’s plan. I picked up on this rather quickly and I backed off and just started loading the goods onto the front median strip of grass near the truck. I figured, “Let the lovebirds figure it out. I’m just the muscle.” My favorite part of the move was when the wacky neighbor with the bad back insisted helping with the unloading. And it became all about finding special light boxes and throw pillows for her to carry. She was harmless, however, I had this weird fear of her. I guess you could call it “Lady-alone-in-a-tiny-rental-with-mountains-of-cats-who-will-do-anything-including-helping-the-neighbor-move-in-her-boyfriend-even-though-she-has-a-bad-back-because-she-so-lonely-syndrome" aversion. For my reward, Susie served delicious dry salami and cheese with very tasty bread. It was worth it. I haven’t moved anyone in years. I found it very refreshing. I was glad for the physical experience and the drizzling rain at the end.

My old friend Megan, who lives in Queens right down the street from our NYC love room, really wanted more info about career lady. As did my sister-in-law, Rebecca. This makes much sense. Both of these women are artists, and artists struggle terribly with career, career identity, career time, lack of career, career in motion, career stalled, career in the toilet, career at the bottom of the wine bottle, career delusions and career funk-in-general. I was going along fine with my career plans, sort of, when I hit a very nervous wall of dread. So, my friend, Lisa, who is quite persuasive, if not even a bit overbearing in this area, got me to go to her Wednesday night group sessions. I like groups. Always have. I feel there is safety in numbers. And, I’m a camaraderie kind of person. I will say this—Barbara Deutsch--you can check her out online at dbapproach --has tools. But honestly, what’s even better than her tools, is Barbara Deutsch. Sure, we talk about things like, “Shift to the side when making the pitch. It’ll change your energy,” and “Be a host, not a visitor,” and “If you feel unsafe, provide safety,” and “As far as money goes, make the ceiling the floor,” and “If you are a wreck, get somewhere private and say BRING IT ON while you punch your fist into the other open hand,” and “Make decisions as if you were twenty-one years old,” and “If you get some crappy rejections, you won’t melt,” and “If someone speaks to you in a disrespectful way and you let it ride, you are then training them to continue to treat you in that way,” and “Be interested, not interesting,” and “Whenever you have a repetative negative reaction during similar situations, just think of it as the alien monster on your face and say THERE’S THAT THING I DO, and the alien, so recognized, will slither off,” and “Go into the positive pain of things that you want to avoid,” etc., and they are all great things. And I use them. But what’s even better is that Barbara is genuine, she’s a true champion. And somehow, it doesn’t seem like an act. She seems to really like to help people. It’s a fascinating experience. And all the neurotic, cool people are doing it.

On Thursday, my old friend, George, from my childhood, came to visit for a long weekend. It was pretty amazing. Something about hanging out with your best pal from the early years is just so sweet and reduces life to its simplest components. Plus, it helps that George is really cool, knows who he is, is a solid, loving presence on earth for his two sons and his wife and in-laws, is extremely curious and clear headed and articulate and is totally game. When I moved to Suffern as an eleven year old and having had a history of very few friends (other than my guitar and my fish), George showed up and he quickly wedged his way into the life of my brother and I. Soon enough, the three of us would build forts, put pennies and bullet shells on the train tracks for the trains to flatten, collect things, take busses to the good shopping center in New Jersey, shoplift, smoke cigarettes and everything else. George went to the Catholic school right across the street from our public school. He got out about fifteen minutes before we did and he’d wait for us in the parking lot in his maroon Catholic school uniform and we three would walk home together. When I was a sophomore and he was a freshman in high school, we shared a locker. George was always pretty happy and easy going. He still is. He bought two stuffed monkeys for his kids at the Arclight gift shop.

Friday, March 24, 2006


I would feel so much safer and happier if my house would plummet in value and other people could buy homes. In desirable places.

I would feel so much safer and happier if the poor people in this country had health care that would really care about their health. So then, I would be surrounded by people who were at least starting from a neutral place.

I would feel so much safer and happier if the wage I earned for anything at all was closer to the wage everyone else earned.

I would feel so much safer and happier if I was not measured by how rich I am and I was not shamed for how rich I am not or anything else like that.

I would feel so much safer and happier if people would give the homeless what they need: homes.

I would feel so much safer and happier if a virus wiped out the need for people to control each other with weaponry.

I would feel so much safer and happier if the economy of our country was not based on spin and acquisition and the enslavement of needy nations.

I would feel so much safer and happier if I could walk down the street and look people in the eye with ease and positive regard without feeling the possibility of recriminations or gun shot wounds.

I would feel so much safer and happier if the air that I breathe was not green.

I would feel so much safer and happier if all those S.U.V. commercials would not be aired on television.

I would feel so much safer and happier if Uncle Bucky Bush was found guilty on charges of war profiteering.

I would feel so much safer and happier if the federal government would treat me as a citizen with the same rights as married men and women.

I would feel so much safer and happier if people would recognize how God cannot save them from living paycheck to paycheck.

I would feel so much safer and happier if people would try something else. Anything else.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Coming Out of the Closet

I admit it. I've been seeing a Career Champion.

It's true. It's so 2004, I know. But it seems to be helping. There she is, this warm, intuitive woman, holding court in her condo in The Valley. And we, as a group, sit around and talk about what we are each trying to accomplish. And this woman, Barbara is her name, homes right in on what's going on, what you need to do, what the block is and even more importantly, how to adjust your perception of the situation.

For me, a gloomy gus, worrying about getting old and having accomplished nothing, this is extremely helpful.

The first evening I went, I was critical. I found fault with the silly LA-ness of it all, the condo-feel of it all, the sunshine-pounding-up-the-ass of it all, but I tried her techniques, and they worked.

I was able to get through more phone calls, emails and meetings than ever before. Even having fun doing it.

Results: My plays are being shuttled to Steppenwolf. I have two readings coming up. The door is open at a publishing company for my book. And most importantly, I don't feel like I've been dragged through the mud. I feel, somehow, intact. This is very new.


Worth the effort.

And, somehow, the condo in the valley is starting to take on a certain charm and warmth of spirit.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Neocons are Weird

Beyond being aggressive, greedy morons, what has come to light these days is that Neocons are just plain odd.

If you met a guy in a bar and he told you that he thought it would be a great idea to go into Arab territory and try to make them over in our image, you'd just think that guy was weird.

If you met another guy in a bar and he told you that global warming is just a theory, you'd think that guy was downright freaky.

If you met yet another guy in a bar and he told you that the only way to achieve any goal is to stick to your guns, no matter what reality was telling you, you'd just feel bad for the obsessive schnook.

These guys are bizarre. They are weird, freaky, obsessive oddballs. And the nation is waking up to just how weird they are.

Monday, March 20, 2006

March 21, 1974

I bought a venus fly trap. It's gonna be cool. Today was the first day of spring. It rained. It's rained every first day of spring for 4 years now.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Santa Bummer

This weekend, we made our yearly visit to Santa Barbara to see our wonderful friends, Joe and Vibeke. They live on top of a hill, surrounded by live oaks. Every minute with them is pure grace and enjoyment. The view to the North is enormous, looming mountains. The view to the South is The Pacific Ocean. The property is a designated conservancy, so the trees are very old, twisted and huge and the whole experience of being in this environment is what one might think it is to live in a painting of a natural idyll.

And now, the war.

Joe’s neighbor, an elderly woman who owns many acres that are not yet developed, has a son who is in the military and works in special operations. He told Joe, over a year ago, “Don’t believe anything they tell you. This is a Civil War.”

Saturday night, we went to a wine tasting party. Which was great, spirited fun. The house was beautiful, a Spanish revival. The man of the house was a wonderful chef with three piercings in each ear lobe, the decorative baubles having made the lobes floppy over the years. The food he served was mostly Middle Eastern and delicious. The attending wine tasters (and we tasted eleven wines) were of various races and dispositions. The uniting joy of the evening was wine #9. Amid the revelry, a healer, Lissa, laid her hands on my upper chest and cured my acid reflux. I am not sure she knew I needed healing in that area, but her hands went to the pain, automatically, and so I am happily cured.

And now, again, the war.

Lissa and I spoke at length. She is extremely intuitive. And being an intuitive—and I share some intuitive qualities (which might be why intuitives come at me in droves)— Lissa and I spoke, sans boundaries, at length. We eventually landed on my “big shift” that is about to happen and how I should just let it happen. But before we got there, she and I talked about how painful it has been to live in a country that is in the throes of an aggressive war. We are like children who cannot take the truth. It’s too upsetting. It is too painful.
One thinks of My Lai.

My Lai

No More. Friends, no more war.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Welcome to the Neighborhood

So often people will ask, "Where do you live in LA?"

And easily enough, I can say, "Hollywood," or "Just off Melrose," or "Near Melrose and La Brea," and that's all pretty good. But my little neighborhood of four blocks does not feel like Hollywood, exactly, nor does it feel like Melrose (We're on the quietish end). What it does feel like, sort of, is Hancock Park, which is adjacent to us on the East side.

Sure, our houses are much smaller. But the vibe, the air, the well maintained front yards, just sort of feels like a mini Hancock Park.

So from now on, when someone asks me where I live, I'm going to say, "Hancock Park Junior."

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Jewrina My Dreams

Two big Hoorays for the Juden!

First of all, Gloria Steinem on Bill Maher. She’s still sassy, smart, pulled together and right on. You look at her and all you can think is, “You did it, sister.”
Gloria Steinem was the keynote speaker at my alma mater not long after I graduated. I remember getting a copy of her speech from Tufts. And I was quite impressed.
Here it is:

Tufts Commencement

I think men are still unnerved by her. It’s fascinating.


Happy Purim!

Today, while on my five mile neighborhood walk that passes by the homes of many an Orthodox Jew, I saw all sorts of rabble rousing going on. Kids in costumes. Faces painted with funny designs. Children all excited like it was Halloween. Houses were shaking with old Hebrew folk songs. Visitors entered the houses singing. It was so fun. I stopped a mother and her gussied up kids and I asked her, “What is the name of this holiday?” And she said “Purim. That’s why everyone is dressed up so crazy.” She was the happiest Orthodox woman I’ve ever met. She appeared joyful when talking about her scampering children. I think these Orthodox people should celebrate Purim bi-monthly. Way to go, Esther!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Just a Note about a Society Based on Competition

I believe the ills of competition outweigh the gains.

Now, I am not saying that competition is not inherent in most relationships, in a web-like fashion. It is. And to let it run free, might be the best thing.

But people suffer greatly because of it. Physically and mentally. Free market? Sure. But in the end, when there are thousands of homeless men living in the streets of downtown Los Angeles, doesn't it seem like, well, one should help these losers? When asthma afflicts one out of every three children in industrialized farming areas, the children are weakened. Is this their fault? In a man-driven evolutionary experiment, are we choosing for certain types of resistant lungs?

Do we set up a society that breaks people down and then we blame them for being broken?

There's a strain of Calvinism in our nation which righteously blames the weak for their weakness. This is too bad. Sure, the weak are weak. But is it their fault? Could they have ended up otherwise? And can we all go to work and eat our big fat hamburgers knowing that there is all this suffering going on?

It's just so brutal.

I am no savior. And I have done nothing to help the throngs of suffering humans. I am looking at the big picture. When we, as a society, won't truly help the drug addicts, the alcoholics, the mentally ill stragglers on the streets, the kids who can't breathe the air, then who are we? It seems that the enormous amount of privately held money really should be taken and used for these people. It seems that the enormous amount of privately held money is a form of theft. And it needs some serious recirculation. Especially these days. The richest people in this country are the richest ever. Poverty levels are rising every day.

This must be changed. There must be redistribution. End of story.

As far as incentive goes. It won't be harmed. Future Edisons and Einsteins really want to figure things out. Those people are motivated by very strong forces, stronger than the thrust of the market economy. And if business is thwarted a bit, because heavy taxation reduces incentive, then I say, "GOOD!"

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Ask the Dust

We didn’t want to see a movie about guns or car chases. But we also wanted to see something big and luscious.

So, we went and saw Ask the Dust. At the Arclight. First of all, the best thing about Los Angeles is the Arclight movie theatre. The assigned seating, the restaurant in the enormous train-station-like lobby, the sound system, the Goobers.

The movie is written and directed by Robert Towne (Chinatown) and is based on John Fante’s masterpiece, Ask the Dust. It has mood, mood, mood. Shot on location in South Africa in a rebuilt 1930’s Bunker Hill with City Hall CGI’d into it, the whole thing is so evocative of that desperate era.

Colin Farrell, as writer Arturo Bandini, is ridiculously cute and gives off fine ass shots. Salma Hayek, as waitress Camilla Lopez, is a gorgeous wonder, in full naked beauty in the bedroom, the ocean, you name it. It’s sexy, moody, lovely, and the acting is fine. Not amazing, but very good. Salma being the stronger of the pair. Colin with the better hair.

The basic idea is both of these characters (a Spic and a Dago) want to find wealth and whiteness in Los Angeles. And they fall for each other. Their alienation from a prejudiced society pushes them together. Their emotional needs and anger provide the glue. Arturo’s money as a writer provides the means. But what lurks in this tale? I dare not ruin it for you!

A very unstrung Idina Menzel plays an odd extra love interest, with burnt thighs, the hysteria of a Jewess having fallen from East Coast middle class society into a career of housekeeping in Long Beach. She is desperate and has quite a run-in with a sizable earthquake.

So very rarely do we get to see adult movies. This one is not perfect. Takes a bit to get going. But you’ll be thankful for the slowness. You’ll love old timey Laguna Beach and floppy downtown Los Angeles.

Great music. Beautiful Art Direction.

Romantic, desperate, lovely, grainy and sexy. Worth it.

Ask the Dust

Thursday, March 09, 2006

March 10, 1974

Mommy came back from the Poconos. We recorded spooky noises. Good night.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Gas Sign Suction Cup

Today, while driving along Beverly Boulevard in the cleanest, most wonderful winter air, I passed a gas station and a man was using a very long pole with a suction cup on the end of it to move the numbers around on the price sign.

He moved the numbers from the Super Unleaded up to the Leaded. He moved the Super Premium up to Super. It struck me funny to see gas prices rise right before my eyes.

The suction cup worked on the Physics principle of suction, unsurprisingly. The poler slammed the suction cup down and the air was pushed out, so the air pressure outside the cup became greater than the pressure inside, thus making a clamping experience. Then, after he moved the number into the next position, the operator pressed on something near his hand on the pole and the suction was released. He repeated this a few times, moving the numbers into new positions. And the numbers called out from their new locations, announcing to the world the increased cost of fuel.

I hope gas prices continue to increase. Maybe fewer people will drive. Or maybe not. There is so much mass transit in New York City, yet the streets are always clogged with cars.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Peru & You

A very close friend, Joe Braunwarth, and his two children, Zak and Maya, have ventured off to Peru for an extended visit of a few months. This is their blog.
Please enjoy it. The permanent link will remain on my blog.

Escape from Reality

Friday, March 03, 2006

Tsotsi: Baby on Board

South Africa. You can have it!

The setting of Tsotsi is so grim that the story gets lost within it.

Looking at that mess that is the extreme poverty of South Africa, one can only say, “Sure, Tsotsi finds his heart, not unlike the Grinch, after he ends up with this baby. And he does change. But damn, that South Africa is a mess. Someone do something!”

I must admit, I have felt somewhat answer-free lately when it comes to the big questions in life: Why are we here? Why is there suffering? Why don’t I look better in shirts with collars? And having no answers does lead to a certain level of discomfort. (Religion really is the opium of the masses. Pass me the works!)

So, this movie, in its full glory, was just so tough on my particular system. Random pain meted out by a thoughtless universe? Yikes on that shite!

However, the acting is nuts-amazing. And there are about three moments of pure kindness in the movie that make you cry. And seeing that Africa, in any movie at all, is always interesting.

Athol Fugard is quite a sturdy writer. And these savages do grow into nobility.
Not for the squeamish.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Truth

When considering the path of mankind's journey, Truth is something we revere as long as it is firmly set in the past.

In the present, it is the billions of lies that push life forward.
"That shirt looks good on you." "You're doing a great job." "We must fight for freedom." "I Love you."

Then, someone has to figure out the truth among all the constant lying so it can be recorded. Hopefully, the historians and the artists who are doing that job are very discerning.