Wince Country

Sometimes, wine country is “wince” country – as when one inadvertently refers to one’s sommelier as one’s “dealer.” An acquaintance had me over to preview galleys of his forthcoming aeronautics tome and offered me a glass of wine. This is standard procedure when dulling the critical faculties of those of us in the media and particularly effective, I’m sure he assumed, when dealing with me – or at least my besotted persona, which I had left drying out somewhere before it could hang me out to dry. When I declined, the author insisted. “My dealer says it’s a tremendous wine,” he said. I raised an eyebrow and countered, “You mean your sommelier?” The author claimed he had said “sommelier” in the first place. I reiterated. He did the same. Awkward silence. I accepted his wine before the creeping chill in our conversation overtook the room as I gamely thumbed through his spaceship book.

When gossiping with a woman I know from the medical profession (tales of patient woe sans names, of course), she recounted a situation in which a client stated his preference to take his pain medication intravenously. When he was informed that “shooting aspirin” would be inappropriate in his case, the client admitted that he sought the needles so that he might extract wine samples through the corks of bottles stowed in his cellar. The doctor declined but was curious and asked why the man needed to sample the wine. “To taste the future,” he said in a menacing tone, then slurped at his fingers for added drama before dashing out the door. Continue reading “Wince Country”

To Live and Drive in LA

Zoom.Whenever one meditates on the Hollywood “Dream Factory,” it’s difficult to resist making facile jabs at its inevitable nightmares. From the ground up, these include the fact that the entire place is paved, as if it were hermetically sealed the way that nuclear test sites are capped with cement to prevent glow-in-the-dark weeds from sprouting. On top of this artificial crust is the traffic – an endless, sputtering circuit of automotive free radicals, each going in its own direction, which, at any given moment, will also happen to be your direction. No matter where you’re going, don’t even consider tugging your turn signal remotely verso. Of the two hard and fast-rules in Los Angeles, “Never try to make a left turn,” comes right after “Never put your own money into a movie,” though the first is generally more costly. Many have joked that working in the entertainment industry can cost you your soul, but making a left in Los Angeles can cost you your life. I suppose the thinking goes that to yield to a left-turner is to forfeit one’s place in the order of the cosmos, thus thwarting one’s dreams and ambitions as the left-turning interloper assumes your spot on the way to “Making It.” Thus, the average Los Angeles commuter would just as soon T-bone you than let you in. Continue reading “To Live and Drive in LA”

Hollywon’t Drive Again

At 2:30 p.m. last Wednesday, FilmArt3’s Raymond Daigle was burning our show reel to DVD. I had to hit the road in half an hour if I still hoped to pull into Abe Levy’s Hollywood Hills driveway in time to at least have a glass of wine before getting adequate beauty rest for the next day’s meeting. It’s been two years since I’ve had a legitimate reason to be in L.A., though as any indie filmmaker knows, there are plenty of illegitimate reasons to visit the City of Angles.

As for the means of travel, I drove. Or at least attempted to drive. I had forsaken the option of catching a commuter flight (Horizon Air now offers a ride on a dual-prop Bombardier out of Santa Rosa, which I realize now I should have taken), I heard a friend of mine was working a shoot in the Bay Area and could use the ride south. Whenever business travel takes on intimations of a road trip, especially a relatively painless one, my adolescent fixation on Kerouac rumbles back to life. I’m no “road dog,” more of a “sidewalk dog” or, frankly, “sidewalk ferret,” but I’m a romantic when it comes to the premise of a picaresque adventure. However, I learned late that my pal’s itinerary had changed, so I was I left to make the drive solo. Then my car wouldn’t start. Then my wife’s car wouldn’t start. Since I couldn’t fathom renting a second rental car (the Contessa took the first), I bummed a ride … with my dad.

Retired and between bouts of re-reading “Beowulf” or the “Aeneid,” Lord Howell had not only the time, but mercifully, the inclination to pilot my adventure. My father has that particular inborn wanderlust that imbues ribbons of asphalt with strange allure. Despite our consanguity, that gene was apparently lost in the folds of my genetic road map. Most days, there’s no place I’d rather be than Nomaville (apart from perhaps the late ‘80s). That said, I acclimated to Los Angeles long ago, having inhabited a handful of addresses on both the east and west sides, and as anybody who has lived there will attest, you can leave L.A. but L.A. never leaves you. The effect, in a word, is intravenous. Which is to say, to a wine country sidewalk ferret, it’s addictive.

It’s the geography of Los Angeles that most frequently invades my slumber. The vast web of intersecting avenues and parallel boulevards that grid Los Angeles will sometimes suddenly and explicably cross for reasons long lost in the archives of its city planning department. Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards do this at Hillhurst, right on the cusp where neighborhoods Los Feliz and Silverlake meet and where, inexplicably, the rental market diverges in favor of Los Feliz landlords. This particular concrete conundrum is no weirder, I suppose, than having double sets of number streets rippling sequentially from the historic Sonoma Plaza. Imagine a topography in which First Street East and First Street West managed to intersect, contorting the surroundings like those computer-generated grids depicting the gravitational pull of black holes. This is why, as a rule of thumb, it takes an hour to cross from the beach to downtown (10 miles) or simply motor down the street. This is also why I assume the Missing Persons sang “Nobody walks in LA” (I will not conjecture why Randy Newman sang “I love L.A.”). I don’t love L.A. For me, it’s more like a “friends with benefits” proposition.

Lord Howell doesn’t love L.A. either, at least not while I’m navigating.

We could be villains

“Purple prose,” as they say, is the province of green writers, which I readily admit I once was. Purple and green were also the school colors of the continuation high school I attended for, like, half an hour, whose mascot was a goblin. In point of fact, it was the Green Goblin of Marvel Comics fame, which is probably one of the few times a learning institution employed a comic book villain as a mascot. Of course, this was due largely to the campaigning of the student body, a motley crew of small town malcontents, most of whom went on to become comic book villains themselves. In my experience, would-be comic book villains pale considerably when compared to actual villains, so I suppose I can’t fault my putative alma mater (or “trauma mater” as we would later joke) with unleashing any real woe upon the world. The villains hewn from my continuation school, were, like myself, merely bench-warming for darker personae. Our brand of malice manifested mainly in faked accents and hovering over a single cup of coffee at the café until the steam-queens showed us the door. Suffice it to say, there was nothing tucked into our black trench coats except for perhaps a Walkman and a mix tape of other bottle-black misanthropes who had the wherewithal to strap on a guitar. But those, alas, were simpler days, which likely accounts for the tepidness of our later villainy.

Consider my old pal, Gabe J., who spent the summers of both his freshman and sophomore years repeating the algebra class he habitually cut to spy on the girls’ swim class. Hypnotized by the balletic sploosh of young women cavorting aquatically inspired Gabe’s transformation into “Aquette,” a bikini top stretched across his shaven chest and a slitted swim cap pulled over his eyes. His evil superpower? Simply his costume, which caused motorists to compulsively honk at him.

Jake G. made a small fortune selling Now-And-Laters (taffy-like squares that were the cornerstone of pubescent diets in the 80s), but who knew the candy would become his calling card once he mastered the art of time travel? Well, not time travel as such -– Jake, or “Chronicas” as he came to be known in annals of criminal lore, developed a superhuman ability to be late. His chronic tardiness defied the laws of physics – even if he arrived early, he invariably managed to be late through some rift in the space-time continuum he had discovered. A suitably evil application of this talent has yet to be discovered, or if it has, Jake “jussst missed it.”

Annie B., the flannel-clad girl who reeked of mentholated cigarettes and colored styling mousse spent the entirety of her junior year suffering from terminal boredom. It was only later that she realized that she had developed the power to inflict boredom on others. Now known as “Anna Ennui,” the cat-suit clad “temptress of tedium” gives new meaning to bored stiff, often leaving her victims with an overwhelming desire to get between the sheets and sleep.

Raymond D. put the sin in cinephile – or at least tried to when he emerged from Continuation High, re-invented, as “BetaMan” who constantly trumpeted the superiority of Sony’s Betamax video cassette recorder over the more popular VHS. Betaman began stalking garage sales and thrift stores, ever on the prowl for orphaned beta tapes for – as he ominously says while tenting his fingers – “the collection.”
I, of course, devolved into Daedalus Howell, the “scrivener of doom,” whose penchant for writing overwrought and sentimental satires has been the bane of readers in several major markets. My evil genius is that I’m neither entirely evil nor a genius, but somehow, through machinations too lurid to recount, remain, humbly at your service.