Wednesday, October 27, 2010


In keeping with my fancy tour of Los Angeles with the 99 cent store yesterday, today I did my laundry during my lunch hour. There’s a place that’s clean and close to where I work, and frees up other time I’d be taking doing it.

To tell the truth, I don’t really mind doing my laundry at a Laundromat. It makes me sit in one place for a block of time, usually where I can read. Today I read all about the sacking of Smolensk in “War and Peace” – beautiful – and then talked to a friend in Boston I’ve not been able to talk with because of the time difference, and various and sundry.

While I was reading about Smolensk being seiged, a woman came up to me and asked if she could trade a dime and three nickels for a quarter. She looked not so great – dirty dyed blond hair, when she smiled she was missing about one and a half teeth and the rest were browning on the side.

I never know what to do. I lived in New York for a long time, and there you begin to get an idea of who is homeless, who is crazy, who is angry, who it’s best to avoid. I always have a basic feeling of guilt. I don’t know what that’s about; I don’t know who this person is or what choices she’s made – it’s probably the wish that I could save someone and quickly realizing it’s not a problem I can solve. Feeling bad, for sure, does nothing. I got into an argument with a date once, who engaged a young man who had been laughing to himself, drinking all the milk from the thermos at Starbucks, and talking about how he just needed a break to be a star. The guy said “people like you are the problem” and that he just needed someone to talk to. I don’t know – living in close quarters you get an idea when someone has larger issues. Just spend some time in a subway car and you’ll see it in how people react when there’s something unsafe on the train. I think it’s a primal, felt response. I know I become guarded, but I'm working on it. Sometimes it's just painful to see someone else in pain. Though I'm sure that's probably projection as well.

I’m not great at ignoring people, though I had to do it in New York. One too many times of having someone follow me down the block calling me “big guy” or “chief” pleading because I met their eye, or told them I couldn’t help them. One friend even pointed out how do you give to one person and not another. You get a little hard-edged. In LA I mostly buy food if I see someone in need, but even then that’s not all the time by any stretch.

I gave the woman a quarter, and told her she could keep her change, it was fine. She wasn’t unstable, or dangerous, just having a very hard time. There wasn’t anything else I could do in that moment. She smiled and thanked me and said it was her last quarter, but her sentence trailed off as I went back to my book. To be sure, I would’ve done the same thing for anyone who asked for a quarter in the Laundromat. The quarter was nothing to me. But for some reason, this felt more complicated than just change.

Monday, October 25, 2010

99 cents

I had to pick up a couple of things at the 99 cent store. Cheap baskets. I go about once a year. While I was there, I walked around, picked up some soap and gum, batteries, and a box of Mike and Ike’s I don’t need.

While I was there, tooling down the pharmacy aisle (which, to be frank, scares me a little – I was even wary that the name brand sunscreen might be expired or close to it- probably only costs 10 cents to make so it’s probably fine, but nevermind) I saw a much older woman looking at the medications. I suppose this could bum me out, looking for discount medications, etc, at her age, but this is not a diatribe on health care.

Instead, it kind of struck me how we shop as a nation. I’ve known for a while we’re consumers – we’re bred as Americans to consume. Part of that is thinking that something’s wrong with us that can be fixed by buying something – cheap medication, hair care, fake body parts. We sell things and buy things – it’s what we do. But it was the strange feeling I got that no one was there with much of a purpose. People were endlessly browsing, picking up an item or two. It’s clear no one leaves that store empty-handed.

Shopping is certainly a pastime for many. I guess that the 99 cent store feels like it’s when shopping is a drug or compulsion of some sort. I’m sure that’s because most of the stuff really is crap. It’s amazing the amount of non-utilitarian cheap goods that are sold. Knick-knacks, cheaply made plastic objects. It’s like walking through a future garage sale.

Not that I don’t love it.

It just struck me today as some kind of odd place where lost people mill around looking for something to make them feel better. Of course, I suppose you could look at the whole planet that way. If you were cynical. Or more cynical than me.

This morning on the radio I heard a story about the decline of individual fishing as a livelihood lost to industrial fishing, and how the pollution from fertilizers and other industries are polluting the waters to the point that fish are going away in general. Jobs are lost, people can't make a living, and are turning boats into for here ventures for tours and parties - perfect.

And yesterday I heard a story about the marijuana growing economy in Northern California, where an entire town is dependent on the crop. If the laws are changed to legalize it, then the crop will move under the realm of bigger business and the entire town will more than likely go under, since there is really no other industry. There will be no room for individual farmers, because they can't match the price.

All this is just to say that there is free trade, which is great, but our seeming insatiableness and need for the cheapest possible items in as large a quantity as possible mixed with the profit motive looks like it’s causing us some serious problems. Are people willing to make other choices? Is it even possible to go back to some other model that doesn’t include enormous corporate conglomerates controlling our food and goods? I just read that Amazon was charging 9.99 for e-books for the Kindle, taking nearly a 5.00 loss on each book for the sake of the largest market share and future control. Then they were upset when a publisher told them it would not provide them content. They capitulated to raise the price, but put on their website that the publisher had a “monopoly” on their own content, so was forcing Amazon to raise prices. So Amazon can try to force them out of business, but when they actually try to do something about it they’re the bad guys. This is how business is run. I fear we’re actually coming to a place where there will be nothing but large corporate conglomerates that diversify just enough to skirt charges of a monopoly, all in the name of giving us the cheapest goods possible. Soon, we’ll have corporate monarchy – the few in power with the most money, and the rest of us in a servant class - at least those who aren't life coaches. That’s the bleak outcome.

I fear I’ve gotten off my point here a little.

It’s just interesting to watch people at the 99 cent store, and wonder what they actually need. I got what I went in for, and 7 more items. Still under 10 bucks. And I’m sure I’ll go back at some point.

Been a while

I have no shortage of things to write about, but I haven't been. That's about as simple as it gets. I even am behind on War & Peace.

So I'm pulling myself up by my bootstraps.

I saw the new Woody Allen movie "You will meet a tall dark stanger" this weekend. It was awful. Possibly one of the worst movies I've seen in the past several years. It ranks in my top five least favorite films ever. It's misanthropic, misogynist, nonsensical, and badly written. Some of the characters don't even make sense. Lucy Punch comes off well as a gold digger, and so does Anna Friel. Antonio Banderas is good, as is Gemma Jones. The problem, aside from the script, is Josh Brolin and Naomi Watts. I didn't like their characters, and I thought he, particularly, was just bad - lost, possibly, but bad.

Everyone in the movie had affairs, no one was honest, and the voiceover summation in the end actually said the only way to be happy at all in life is to be delusional. What a sad, sad, film. I know he's been uneven lately, but I like "Vicky, Christina, Barcelona". I keep hoping for a "Fanny and Alexander" from him, but it doesn't look forthcoming. Someone, take away the camera.

Meanwhile, I really liked "Social Network". Smart, well-acted, fast-paced. I don't know how true it is, but it's the perfect moment for it. The cast was uniformly great, and I was very impressed with Jesse Eisenberg. And Fincher. And Sorkin's script. Engrave the Oscar with that one.

I like "Howl" with James Franco, and want to write more about it - see previous post.

I also saw "Leap of Faith" at the Ahmanson. Raul Esparza was great - such a great voice. The supporting cast was wonderful, too. The show is servicable, with some good music. The weak link is Brooke Shields. She's likeable as an actress, but the role is not incredibly well-written. She would also not be my first choice for a put-upon, cynical single mother. I kept wishing for an actress with some real musical theater chops. She was drowned out by the other singers when she had to sing with them, and was bringing them down as well. Susan Egan would be great, I think. It's not an easy role - a lot of traps, and you just want someone who has a strong voice.

And a side note - the traveling choir was all in contemporary clothes, but the people of the town looked like they all bought one bolt of cloth in 1955 and dyed it different colors to make the same dress. Awful, ugly. It's shorthand, I know, but still...come on.

I saw "Glass Menagerie" with Judith Ivey at the Taper. Not sure I love the play, but she was really great. She made Amanda a real character - symapthetic and maddening. Heartbreaking. Patch Darragh was good, too, though I think directed a little over the top on the gay. Probably so the audience could not miss it, but still. He was good, though - wry. The concept was to keep it in the hotel where Tom is writing the memory play, so you never leave the hotel room. Unlike a regular production, where you're in the apartment, this took place in memory. That feels more true to life for me, but it also means the frame never leaves. You never forget that you're in a hotel with a drunk man rehashing memories. ON that level, it makes the play just that much sadder. Some beautiful writing, of course, and good performances. Laura's a hard one - that's all I'll say.

On the reading front, just started Joshua Ferris' "The Unnamed" which I'm excited about it. Great prose so far.

Excited to see "Venice" at the Kirk Douglas. And there's also a rare revival of Christopher Hampton's play Tales from Hollywood" that looks interesting, about Brecht and the foreign writers who wrote in Hollywood in the 30s and 40s.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


I saw Howl this weekend, which I really enjoyed - James Franco portraying Alan Ginsberg. The movie is put together from court transcripts, interviews, and the poem itself. I have more thoughts about it specifically, but the ecstatic nature of the poetry moved me. They mention Whitman in the trial, as the precedent for Ginsberg, who is another ecstatic poet. And today I did a marathon watching of "Angels in America", which has arias and ecstasy as well, definitely. It's a beautiful piece.
But it got me thinking about gay men and ecstatic writing - perhaps poetry is ecstatic by its nature. I am thinking of Williams here, too, having seen "The Glass Menagerie" recently to. The thought hasn't quite germinated but we'll see.
This week I'm taking off Wednesday through Friday to just have a "staycation". What I'm hoping it's shaping up to be is some time to write about these things. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


This is a Patty Griffin song I posted over on facebook as well. With the rash of teen gay suicides (6 in the past month that have made the news), I thought about this song. Normally, I would have issues with the F-word, but she uses it perfectly in this song - it's shocking and upsetting.

But further than that, as much as there is a lot horrible going on with this, DADT, Prop 8, it's important for me to remember how good it is for a lot of us in this country. Is it perfect? No. Is it as easy at it seems to be in Norway, or even Spain? No. But it is better than it has been probably ever. That's very important for me to remember, for a lot of reasons I won't enumerate here. But for my own personal journey, I know it's time to embrace it. In that, there's strength to get through all this negativity. I'm hoping so.