Friday, September 30, 2005


LA is now . . . en fuego

Not to stomp on the memory of Dan Patrick's beloved Sportscenter catchphrase, but as you might have heard, the hills above LA are not alive with the sound of music; they're actually, literally on fire. Fabulous.

Our Woman in LA and I are actually just fine at this point. We can smell smoke and burning mountain brush in the air around our house, but other than that, we know about as much as you do from watching the news.

Well, except for a couple of small points:

1) The fires are centered in the Valley community of Calabasas, which also happens to be the capital of the porn world. That's right. All those houses used as backdrops for your run of the mill Vivid Video or Jenna Jameson extravaganza are now in danger of smoke and fire damage.

You now have my permission to start making jokes about flammable lubricants and implants.

2) Though the fires are strongest in the Valley near LA County/Ventura County line, they have spread to other parts of metro LA, as well. Some meat stick set a brushfire up near Burbank last night (making it the closest fire to the Wieland residence). And, of course, someone set a hill ablaze in the impressively named Inland Empire.

As you may recall, the IE makes up most of LA's ex-urbs. The communities where Erin Brockavitch found poison in the well? They're in the IE.

When I was growing up in southern Ohio, we had an area like this, too. We called it Kentucky.

Well, anyway, parts of the IE (near Pomona) are on fire. I saw the smoke myself when I came back from a meeting in the desert last night. But luckily, nobody in the IE has been hurt. According to the local news, the only casualties have been 37 chickens.

That's right. Chickens.

No word yet as to what's happened to the "flame-roasted" chickens. But I have an ugly, ugly feeling that someone in Pomona or Claremont or Montclair or Upland is calling them "good eating" even as I type this.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


"Tonight . . . Nothing will be revealed . . ."

This show LOST - and its devotion among fans like Our Woman in LA - is getting waaaaay out of hand. Last night, the damn show almost caused a marital crisis in the Wieland family home.

Picture this. I get home from a late meeting, grab a bite of dinner and do some writing on the new script. Nine o'clock begins to roll around, and the wife is perched on the easy chair, shaking with anticipation. She's been waiting all week for this, she tells me. Haven't I heard the ads? This week, the fate of everyone on the island will be revealed . . .

Now, my feelings on this show are well known to readers of this blog. LOST, as far as I'm concerned, has two more episodes now. After the season finale, where we learned that the big deal hatch in the ground led down . . . with a ladder and everything, I'm just about as fed up as I can be. So the four-episode rule is in full effect.

But last night was one of the four. And right about 8:45, three channels on our cable system went out . . . NBC, ABC, and FOX. Which means no LOST. And the wife goes ballistic.

Keep in mind, we could have watched virtually anything else at 9. Like the all Good Will Hunting all the time network known as BRAVO. Or one of those kind of ooky sex shows on HBO (seriously, guys, don't the people on Real Sex skeeze you out?). Or whatever.

But no.

So I'm tearing apart the TIVO, calling friends to see if they can tape it, while she's giving me the evil eye (as if I did this on purpose). EVERYTHING WILL BE REVEALED, DAMMIT. A call to my friend Rick reveals that in fact this problem is not limited to the Wieland household, but instead to the entire Adelphia cable networks.

Repeated calls to Adelphia resulted in me being hung up on more times than I can count. The wife is getting angrier. We're pulling a second TV out of the closet, frantically seeing if we can rouse Channel 7 to check on those 44 stranded castaways on Gilligan's other isle or whatever. No dice.

Finally a call to Julie Granata, who now only lives a five minute drive away, hooked us up. Frantically, the wife and I shake off the jammies and put on clothes. Race downstairs to the Wielandmobile. Tear through the streets like the cops chasing someone more dangerous than OJ.

So Steph missed the first 20 minutes, but caught the end. Rick's bringing over a tape of it this weekend when we watch football, so we'll get to see the epic first 20.

And guess what? Absolutely nothing - NOTHING - about anything was revealed. It might even go down as one of the most uneventful and dull hours of TV in history. The television equivalent of stalling. Even Our Woman in LA was outraged, and she's not the one who has to put the TIVO back together again.

I'm warning you, LOST. You're on the clock. Two more episodes. After that, I might be looking for a way to disable Channel 7 on Wednesday nights at 9.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Hearkening back to my homeless relief days . . .

For a couple of years after finishing grad school, Our Man in LA worked for one of Chicago's better-known homeless relief agencies. For all my complaining during those years, it was a pretty cool job. I raised funds that went directly toward homeless and near-homeless people getting a permanent roof over their heads, not to mention getting the services they needed to get a job, get off drugs, and so on. In the later years, I even became a part of the group's Public Advocacy team, helping other non-profits all over the Midwest learn to provide services and raise funds for homeless relief.

So it was with a great interest that I read the following story in the LA Times:,1,2289231.story?coll=la-headlines-california

Apparently, four suburban police departments in the LA area stand accused of picking up homeless and mentally ill people in their communities and dumping them in the middle of LA's Skid Row, which is just east of the downtown business district.

LA's skid row is something to see. You get just a few blocks away from the skyscrapers and $1,000 suit crowd, and you're in the middle of a Third World country. Garbage on the streets. Storefronts pocked with graffiti, bullet scars, and the like. Whole communities of people living in cardboard boxes.

Apparently, in the LA area, it used to be a common practice to dump those people deemed to be society's refuse right there. But now the city is fighting back, bringing news of this practice to the papers.

In Chicago, where Our Man in LA used to hang his hat, this kind of behavior was rumored and whispered about, but I never saw it proved. But here's the interesting thing about the Big Windy. During the 90s, when I worked in the homeless relief world, Chicago's downtown was going through a renaissance. Big condo buildings were going up. Low income housing was going down. The homeless population ballooned to more than 50,000 by some estimates. And, like in LA, the rumor was that the police would sometimes pick up the homeless and mentally ill folks, and move them out of gentrifying neighborhoods.

Only here's the interesting part. The cops didn't take them to skid row. Chicago's skid row - once on Madison and Monroe west of the Kennedy - had been turned into high rise and brownstone condos, not to mention the usual array of Starbucks and high-end boutiques. All but a few formerly low-income enclaves were gentrifying. Don't believe me? Look at Uptown these days.

So the cops allegedly dumped their homeless folks in the suburbs. Not the upper crust North Shore ones, where business leaders and rich folks - the kind of people who might move back downtown once their nest was empty - lived. Instead, it was to the low income ones - North Chicago and Waukegan, some of the communities in Indiana, and so on.

Like I said, none of this was ever proved back in Chi town. But I have to believe if it happens in one metropolis, it probably happens in another. We live in a country with a whole lot more homeless people after the disasters in Louisiana and Texas. Let's hope that the light of those disasters can result in us finally having leaders - on the local level as well as the state and national levels - who really want to take care of our own.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


The Top 5 . . .

I know that everyone does a top five list or a top 10 list of things to do and see. I'm really behind the curve. Mea culpa, mea culpa.

There, I'm guilty. Still, I figure I can update something like this on a weekly basis. So here's the weekly Top 5 things that I'm reading/seeing/obsessing over . . .

5) Everybody Hates Chris. Again, I know everyone's raving about this new show - which, for my money, is the only sitcom this side of Arrested Development and Curb Your Enthusiasm that I feel like watching. But I still feel the need to chime in. First off, this sitcom bubbles with sweetness. Like the classics in family sitcoms, it tells stories of people who genuinely love each other, albeit in the least treacly ways possible. When I watched the first episode this past week, I thought it was strong and funny, something I would continue to watch. Then when it was over, I flipped over to the second half-hour of Joey, and I realized just how poor most of the other sitcoms are these days. So I'm glad to have a couple of goodies.

4) James Robinson's Starman series. Comics fans, I know you're already aware of this bad boy, but it's so good that it deserves another clarion call. I've been re-reading this series in trade paperback form over the past several weeks, and again I am blown away. For the uninitiated, Starman tells the story of Jack Knight, a young man whose dad fought bad guys as a member of the Justice Society of America (precursor to the Justice League) from the 40s to the 70s. Jack doesn't have any interest in joining the "family business", until its thrust upon him. As a reluctant hero, he defends Opal City, travels to the stars, and takes part in a series of truly great adventures. But that's not the reason to buy the book. This is a story about fathers and sons, how they relate to one another and learn from and even rage against each other. It's also about collecting, about Generation X's obsession with cool stuff of the past and present. Starman only lasted 80-some issues at DC Comics, but that's because writer James Robinson wanted it that way. This is a super-hero story with a very concrete beginning, middle and end. It's been fun to watch Jack Knight grow from obnoxious 20-something to responsible 30-something and family man all over again.

3) The Constant Gardener. Sure it's heavy and depressing. Sure the wife and I left the theater thinking we need to do more about the poverty and disease afflicting people in Africa. And sure, it didn't make for the most light-hearted date night ever. But it is a terrific film. A year or two back, I thought that Director Fernando Merielles' City of God was one of the best flicks I'd ever seen. I still do. And this sophomore effort tells me that I'll go see anything this fella wants to put on the screen. Bravo.

2 (tie)) Mustard Seed Cafe. Just around the corner from my new home in Los Feliz. Already, the wife and I have found a fave new place to grab a weekend meal. Sure, the portions are a bit large (but we can share), but the Rosemary Turkey burger is outstanding, the salads fresh and amazing, and the Mustard Seed Omelet to die for. Plus there's the atmosphere. This is just a great place to pull up an LA Weekly and a coffee cup and spend a lazy, sunny Saturday or Sunday.


Blue Blood by Edward Conlon. Don't know how many true crime fans there are out there, but this book just floored me. The son of an FBI agent and the latest in a long line of cops, Conlon graduated from Harvard and then elected to make his career as one of New York's Finest. His book follows his days on the Job from walking the beat in Bronx housing projects to earning the gold shield as a Detective in Manhattan, then back to the Bronx. Frequently hilarious (as when it describes recruiting and keeping street informants) and occasionally heart-wrenching (like when Conlon is called upon to sift through the rubble of the World Trade Center after 9/11), Blue Blood qualifies as a love letter to New York. No lesser critics than Joseph Wambaugh and Ed McBain hailed this as the best memoir of a NYPD officer ever. Who am I to argue?

1) The Cincinnati Bengals. We're 3-0, baby! OK, OK, you're thinking I must be drunk or something. But understand this: I'm a football guy. Grew up in Ohio, birthplace of the professional game. Cut my teeth attending games at the legendary Horseshoe in Columbus. Went to grad school in Austin, where people bleed burnt orange for the beloved Longhorns.

So it's torn me up the last 15 years as Ohio has seemed to go without a professional football team. Well, no more, baby. Let's hear it for Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, and the new and improved defense (I'm talking about you, Deltha O'Neil!). Fifteen take-aways in three games! Holy Cow!

I'm not unrealistic. I know we've just beaten the Browns, Vikings, and Bears - not exactly the cream of the crop. I'm not out there proclaiming that the Bengals are headed to the Super Bowl. I'm from Southern Ohio. I would take a playoff appearance and splitting the series with Pittsburgh. It can happen. I can feel it.

Oh, and yeah, I know the Bengal uniforms are terrible. But if they win in them, I'll take it.


A new morning ritual

All right, so it's clear that Our Man in LA is not a born blogger. Over the summer, I've averaged just more than one blog entry per month, and that's no kind of good. So I really am going to try and get more entries out there. One a day if I can muster it.

It's not like the last few weeks haven't been event-filled. There have been clashes with senior management in the workplace, scripts completed in the home office, new ones begun, a move to a new apartment, and, most recently, a visit to the Urgent Care Center that proved more harrowing than it was supposed to.

At any rate, those days are over now. The boss that we call "Hurricane Peter" has left for his sabbatical, and things in my life are calming down.

That's why I wanted to share my new morning ritual with y'all.

You see, in the new Los Feliz digs of Our Man and Our Woman in LA, we've got a balcony off the master bedroom. It looks out on a tiny, well-maintained Japanese garden, and next to it, a Spanish Mission style Catholic church. In the distance, you can see downtown LA to one side, and the Hollywood Hills to the other. Crane your neck in the right direction, and you can see the Griffith Park Observatory (also visible from the living room).

For those of you interested in the film history, that's the spot where James Dean first met up with Natalie Wood in Rebel Without A Cause. Gorgeous building, poised on a hilltop.

So anyhoo, each morning, Our Man in LA gets the LA Times off his doorstep, pours himself a cup of java and makes a plate of breakfast and adjourns to his personal linai from about 7 am to 7:30 am. The sun is shining, it's usually still a brisk 65 degrees outside, and you get some sun and what passes for fresh air before starting the day.

Pretty much, it's what we imagined when we moved to LA. And now it's here. Love the new digs. Love the new neighborhood. Bars, restaurants, movies and bookstores a short walk away. The legendary Hollywood Arclight Dome just a short drive. This is the good stuff.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


It ain't the years, honey; it's the mileage . . .

It took three hours and seventeen minutes, but we did it. This weekend, my lovely wife and I traveled across the country to Virginia Beach to run our first ever half marathon. We'd been training for a little while - running the odd 5K and 10K here and there - but for Labor Day weekend, we ran 13.1 miles along the Virginia coast.

Was it for a cause? More or less.

It's been three years since my mother-in-law was declared cancer-free. She needed to celebrate, and we needed to be a part of it. A whole bevy of my wife's family was on hand, running the race: my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, down from their new home in Jersey; Steph's uncle, up from Florida; and my mother-in-law herself, driving up from Raleigh to the annual Rock n Roll Half Marathon.

Steph and I ran the race in lockstep. We'd agreed before we started that we wanted to start and finish together. While we didn't break any records, we finished - and like everyone in the party, we finished under four hours. It was a good, solid first half marathon for all of us.

Besides just being proud of it, though, I have two interesting (at least to me) observations from the run.

First, it truly is amazing how these things get into your blood. Back in Chicago, neither Steph nor I were runners. We might jog on the treadmill a couple of times a week, but it was to work off Friday night's pizza or Saturday's Thai food, not something we did for fun.

And after we finished the race on Sunday, we both thought this was the last real race we'd do. Maybe a 5K or 10K sometime in the far future. But nothing bigger than that.

By the time we were boarding our flight (back to LA via Dallas), we were already planning the next several races - starting with the Venice 5K in December, then maybe another half marathon some time in the first half of 2006.

More than that, we were strategizing. We already knew what we'd do differently for the next 13 mile race. We figured out how we could break the 3 hour barrier - run the race faster, smarter.

All of which is to say that it's in our blood. We'll be doing another one real soon.

Second, it amazes me the way that the half marathon is such a "Fred Astaire" kind of activity, when all along I pegged it as a "Gene Kelly" one.

Don't know what I'm talking about? Well, follow me . . . for just a second.

If you know your American musical movies, you know the difference between Kelly and Astaire, the two greatest of all time. And if you've seen them dance, you know the difference between the two men. Kelly looked like a top notch athlete all the time. He moved across the screen with a strength and grace that you, as the viewer, knew you couldn't capture for yourself. Clearly, the man had spent his life making himself this great.

Astaire, on the other hand, made it look simple. No matter what movie you see, Astaire seems to be saying, "Hey, it's not that hard. You could do this too. Just grab yourself a girl and glide across the stage. You can make your feet fly."

I mean, there's no question. Astaire was every bit the athlete that Kelly was. But he made it seem possible. You identified.

And that's what happened during the half marathon. As Steph and I made our way through the course, it became clear. This race wasn't just for the amazing, tremendous athlete. And even if it wasn't effortless, finishing the race was possible. We could run it, too.

The top runner on Sunday finished the 13 miles in an hour and three minutes. That I'll never do. That's the Kelly way. Amazing to watch. But I chose to follow Astaire this time around. Steph and I held onto each other, believed in ourselves, and made our feet fly.

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