Monday, October 31, 2005


Halloween descends on the City of Angels

That sounds pretty ominous, right?

Well, whatever. What's actually scarier, from my point of view, is that it's approaching 89 degrees on Halloween day here in LA, and I'm already hearing predictions from my co-workers that it will take me more than an hour to get home tonight. Terrifying indeed!

The reason for the traffic is simple. Every year at this time, the ghouls and goblins converge at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and La Cienega for one of the hugest and most amazing outdoor Halloween parties you'll feast your eyes on. And since it attracts folks from miles around, all the neighborhoods within spitting distance of West Hollywood (including both the one where I work and the one where I live) are clogged at every artery.

Last year, Our Woman in LA and I trekked out to the giant bash, with buddies in tow. This year, we're looking for a far more tame All Hallow's Eve. We've got some work to do around the house, and we're relaxing from a long and full weekend.

Saturday saw the end of Steph's show CLOUD CUCKOO LAND at the McCadden Place Theatre in Hollywood, after about an eight-week run. The final performance was one of the best - if not the very best. It was great to see the cast go out with a bang.

Sunday included a memorial service for the mother of Writing Group pal Lis Fies. Lis' mom passed away a couple of weeks back, and about 40 of the family's friends made it out to celebrate both a life well lived and an amazing struggle against cancer (as chronicled in the Eisner award-winning web comic "Mom's Cancer").

On a lighter note, Sunday also gave the wife and me a chance to celebrate Rick Porter's birthday at Mexico City in my neighborhood. Good food and good drinks to punctuate the weekend.

And of course, there were sporting events. So much for my bold predictions that Northwestern might actually stand a chance against Michigan. Indeed, the Mildcats returned to their usual form against the Wolverines, and lost the game in fairly sad fashion.

But at least my other teams sallied forth admirably. Texas spotted Okie State 28 points in the first half, and then came roaring back to win the game in Stillwater, mostly on the back of QB and Heisman candidate Vince Young. Ohio State seems to have mostly bounced back from its losses against Texas and Penn State, pounding Minnesota.

And then of course, the Bengals beat the Packers by a more narrow margin than I would have liked. Not a lot to make southern Ohio proud in that game. Let's see . . . the ugliest uniforms in any professional sport? Check . . . a crazed moronic fan jumping onto the field? Check . . .

Sigh. At least it's a win. I'll take it. I'd just like to see the Bengals make the playoffs.

Friday, October 28, 2005


Rolling into the weekend

After a week of gray dreck, the sun's starting to peek out from behind the clouds here in LA. You can almost make out a thin ribbon of Pacific from my office window. Seems like as good a day as any to start the weekend.

No one thing occupies my frontal lobe today, but I do feel the need to share a couple of premium links with you, the reader.

First, if you're like me, the last couple of presidential elections have been pretty annoying. I mean, I certainly didn't want W. anywhere near anything of importance either time, and yet, I found myself wondering if there wasn't somebody - anybody - better qualified than the jokers my party felt obligated to put up.

I mean, let's see here. You're trying to court red state America, and you hold your convention in Boston. Then while there, you nominate a guy who sounds even more like a child of privilege and who can't give a straight answer to any question. And the guy's from Massachusetts, too! Come on.

Incidentally, in red state America, Massachusetts means "East California".

Anyway, in the last couple of days, I've become aware of a little-known third party candidate. I don't know if I can get behind this guy's new campaign, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I was intrigued. Check out this link. I think you'll agree that a lot of Americans would be happy to kneel at the feet of this former military man's strong leadership:

A couple of other ones, too. I was on the website of one of America's finest news sources, and this opinion piece reminded me of something wise old sage Brian Sharpe once said. Read on:

What is it that Brian said, you might ask. I believe the exact quote is: "Behind every sweet pop love song, there's a terrifying ditty about a creepy, murderous stalker just waiting to get out." Or something like that.

One more from the same news source:

Amen, brother.

So here we go, rolling into that weekend. I've got a lot on my plate. Our Woman in LA's show closes this weekend, so I'll be in the audience for their last two shows. Plus, there's the matter of buddy Rick Porter's birthday to celebrate, and a memorial service for the mother of writing group pal Lis Fies.

Not to mention, there's football on, and I have a good feeling about that Northwestern-Michigan matchup. Not sure why. But I do.

So I'm more than a little scattered this afternoon. Whatever. There are worse things. It's sunny and warm outside, and I have the whole weekend ahead. To quote Lin Bremer, "It's Friday, and it's great to be alive".

Wherever you are, here's hoping you enjoy your weekend. I'll see you on Monday.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


One of those six or seven special moments

My boss cries at the office sometimes. He's in his late 50s and looks like Don Rickles, wears suits that are frequently stained and occasionally has a pretty long nose hair.

But the man cries like a baby at those times when he and his girlfriend (who, alas, also works here) don't get along. When the relationship isn't going well, he sobs. Weeps even. It's one of those low, mournful cries that you see in movies.

And as new world male as I might be, as sensitive as I might be, the public crying is a little bit uncomfortable to be around.

That's because I'm still enough of a traditional guy to believe that there are only a few occasions on which you should ever, EVER witness a grown man crying. I'm not talking about tearing up and needing a moment. I'm talking about crying, weeping, blubbering. There's very little call for that.

Basically, there are the old standby reasons for men to blubber publicly:

1) Death of a loved one. This needs no real explanation. Of course, you're allowed this one.

2) Momentous occasion. If you're witnessing the birth of your child, the marriage of someone you care about deeply, or even are being reunited with someone you haven't seen for a gazillion years, you're allowed.

3) Prognosis negative. If you get some bad, bad news at the doctor, well, you get an out.

4) Old Yeller or Brian's Song. If you don't cry at these, you're a freaking robot.

Then there are a couple of new ones:

5) Worldwide calamity. If you cried watching the events unfold on 9/11, you're human. Of course you were affected. Move on.

6) Boston. If you're a Red Sox fan of a certain age, and you watched your boys put it all together last year, you deserve a good hearty cry.

Which brings me to #7, new as of today:

7) South Sider. Let's say you're a White Sox fan for your whole life. And your dad was. And your granddad was. Maybe even his dad.

You might not know what town in some other country your people came from, but you'll sit in the nosebleeds to watch the Sox play Kansas City. You've taken the red line south of the Loop. You've had a drink or two at Jimbo's.

You've listened to your old man complain about the football Cardinals who left the South Side in the 50s, and how he's never completely forgiven the Halas family for taking over the town - '85 Bears or no '85 Bears.

Then today, or last night, or whenever it hits you, cry like a little baby. This is yours. You deserve it.

For a lot of guys out there - myself included - sports connect you to your friends, to your family, to emotional connections you might not be socialized to have. A couple of years back, when Ohio State won the Fiesta Bowl and the BCS championship, for a moment there, I was reconnected to my father, even though he's been gone for 11 years.

The Buckeyes were his team, and on that day they felt like mine, too. And we were connected again through the religion of sports. Maybe it was just a game - maybe they're all just games - but when you're a fan, you're connected through a chain of true believers.

When your team wins, it doesn't just win on that day for those guys on that field, or in that stadium, or for the people watching on TV, listening on the radio. That team wins for all the guys (and women) who have always believed, who stick it out in lean years and good. Hell, even for the ones who toy with being fair-weather fans but at the last minute decide to hold on.

There's nothing wrong with temptation, after all. You can watch other teams play in the Super Bowl, for crying out loud. Just remember your boys (or girls).

Today, for the much-maligned South Siders of Chicagoland, it's easy to do. Your boys are champions. An 88-year curse - if there ever was one - is lifted.

Cry your eyes out. Go Sox.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Before the parade begins, taking issue with the truly windy . . .

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past month, or unless you just don't follow sports at all, you know that the Chicago White Sox are one game away from winning the World Series - thus ending an 88-year drought on the South Side of the nation's so-called Second City.

Moreover, if you know Chicago fans and media, you know the extent that the city and its denizens bang the drum of long-suffering sports fans, desperate for a title.

Today in the LA Times, J.A. Adande, a columnist and former sports editor of the Daily Northwestern (located at Norris University Center at Northwestern U., Evanston, Illinois), takes issue with this kind of talk. Apparently, Chicago sports fans, he notes, have forgotten about their six NBA championships during the 90s, not to mention the 1985 Bears team that won the Super Bowl and seems to come up in casual conversation in the Big Windy almost as often as moaning about the Cubs and Sox.

Anyway, read on . . .,1,1803067.column?coll=la-headlines-sports

I'm rooting for the Sox to win it all this year. It'd be cool. It'd probably force the Tribune and the local Chicago TV stations to notice the other baseball team in town.

But I have to agree with Adande here. If you want to hear true fan lament, call my cousin Tom - a lifelong fan of the Indians, Browns, and Cavaliers (and now defunct Cleveland Barons of the NHL).

Of course, he also lives in Columbus, Ohio, now - where he suffers through Blue Jacket games and endures the pain of being an Indiana U. grad in an Ohio State town.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


About that comics exhibit . . .

Here's the link to the Masters of American Comics exhibit coming next month to the Hammer Museum in LA:

There are some fans out there concerned about this kind of exhibit, in that it creates a kind of canon of comics creators viewed as the "greats". These critics are worried that this might be an attempt to take the square pegs of comics art and force it into the round hole of universally accepted artforms.

Not to mention the fact that a lot of great comics professionals aren't included this time around.

As for Our Man in LA (who can't wait to go), I'd argue that this is how it starts. Sure, a canon is exclusive. Sure, it excludes a lot that's great out there. But it's a start. Let the critics out there claim they know who's good and who's important and who's not. At least then we start to look at an art form that just 15 years ago was being reviled as "low culture".

There are dozens of other writers and artists who will make it into the canon eventually, I promise. God knows I have my favorites who aren't represented. I believe that some of them (Bill Watterson, Jeff Smith, and so on) will make it.

Consider this. There was a time when Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Thurber, Faulkner, and Nabokov weren't part of the literary canon. They came.

Just because there is a canon doesn't mean that all other works are meaningless. They're not. Give it time, folks. Just be glad this art form is finally recognized.


Another Tuesday, another Top Five . . .

The sun's starting to peek through the clouds and marine layer out here in the Southland, leaving the gray and ugly cold weather behind. Seriously. We're talking low 60s out here. 50s at night. I had to turn the heat on last night.

But that's all over now. Getting sunnier, getting warmer. And just in time for the Tuesday Top Five. So without further ado, here we go:

5) The Complete Peanuts. I can't say enough about this series, produced by the good folks at Fantagraphics with much input by Chip Kidd. As you know, I'm a huge Charles Schulz fan. In my mind, Schulz is the greatest American comics auteur of all time - a giant in the world of American arts. These books, which are beautifully rendered and realized, provide you the consumer with every single strip of the Peanuts epic - from 1950 onward.

I just picked up the third book in the series this weekend - the one with Pigpen on the cover - and it's just fantastic. At this point (the mid 50s), we're starting to see the characters develop into the really complex and multi-faceted individuals we all came to know and love. This is the volume where Linus gets his security blanket, where Pigpen comes on the scene, and where Snoopy takes another step toward becoming the force of nature he would later be. Amazing, amazing stuff - and just in time for tonight's broadcast of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown."

As a side note, the Hammer Museum in LA is starting an exhibit in the next few weeks about the comics in America. In an article in the LA Times this weekend, one art critic suggested that the comics may be the closest thing to American classical art and literature (in the same way that American classical music is jazz). I agree. And if that is the case, all the more reason to pick up this volume. Schulz is a master, the same way guys like Coltrane and Davis are masters of the American classical music.

4) Niko Niko Sushi. Another great restaurant not four blocks from the new Wieland homestead. It's situated in a tiny storefront across Vermont from the Dresden. Sure, the place is more than a little claustrophobic inside, but once you get a taste of a sushi roll, you forget all about it. Seriously, it's some of the best sushi I've ever had.

And a word about the rolls themselves. First of all, they're among the biggest I've ever seen. More than a mouthful, and Our Man in LA has a pretty big mouth (just ask his friends). For our first visit to the place, the wife and I feasted on a vegetable roll brimming with arugala and avocado, a spicy shrimp roll with a massive kick, and a shrimp tempura roll that was nothing short of outstanding. Difficult to get your mouth around even one piece, but definitely worth the struggle.

3) Trouble is my Business by Raymond Chandler - and specifically the two short stories "Goldfish" and "Red Wind". Every mystery buff knows a little bit about Raymond Chandler and his famous fictional detective Philip Marlowe. Marlowe's been a star on the big screen, played by the likes of Bogart, Mitchum, Elliot Gould, James Garner, and even Danny Glover. Some have been good or great movies, some poor. But on the page, Marlowe helped re-define the way America viewed itself through jaded eyes in a violent world. Old Phil wasn't a detective like the guys on CSI or like Holmes over in Merry Old England. He didn't solve murders and crimes by a systematic evaluation of clues. No sir. In Chandler's not-very-nice world, Marlowe was always able to determine the truth because of his fundamental understanding of the nature of man, and of good and evil.

In Goldfish, our hero departs the mean streets of LA for the Pacific Northwest on the trail of runaway thief who possesses a pair of pearls the size of ping pong balls (and don't mean that figuratively, neither - no double entendres on this site!). In Red Wind, Marlowe is beset by hot Santa Ana winds as he navigates his way through the City of Angels. His goal is to learn the truth about a man murdered at his neighborhood bar, a man who might have been blackmailing a high society dame. It's all good stuff - with a punchy prose style that made Chandler famous.

It bears mentioning here that in the book's introduction, Chandler writes that there's no such thing as a classic mystery or crime novel - that there's no such thing as one novel or set of novels against which all others in the genre will be measured. For my money, Raymond was a little too modest. It's his work - and Hammett's - against which all crime novelists will always be compared.

2) il tramezzino. It's a cute little restaurant out in the Valley, and I thought it was time that Our Man in LA had something to say about the infamous 818. Sure, Marcellus Wallace might not have any friends out there, but this place is pretty cool nonetheless.

The wife and I headed to this spot smack in the middle of Ventura Boulevard in Studio City yesterday after a meeting over in Sherman Oaks. It's your basic chilled-out Tuscan set restaurant. Comfortable, friendly, with a good deal of inside and outside seating. Good food, good atmosphere, a place worth coming if you're looking to get away from the hustle and bustle a little bit.

The desserts at this place are imported from Italy. The standard sandwiches and salads all have a little Italian kick to them. The servers and the customers can sit back and enjoy a slightly more relaxed pace. It might not be the kind of place where you want to go on a tight lunch hour - you'll get impatient and cranky. But if you have time, if you're looking for a breather - and if you want to be out in the Valley - well, it's your place.


Before I get to my number 1 of the week, I do want to mention the sheer number of things that were runners-up to my weekly Top 5. Both my Northwestern Wildcats and Mighty Mighty Texas Longhorns got considered. Texas is now challenging USC in the polls, and you know that's good. Northwestern is fighting for the Big Ten championship, something that comes along once every five years.

Then there were the White Sox - just two games away from giving Chicago its first World Series win in just about anyone's lifetime. But I've written about them a bunch, and I feel like I should save my energy for when the games are over.

There's the aforementioned Hammer Museum exhibit on American comics - featuring the likes of Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes. I can't wait to see it. There's the oral history of the groundbreaking comics series WATCHMEN in this week's Entertainment Weekly. If you haven't read it - or God forbid, if you haven't read WATCHMEN - get out there and get it done, fool!

All of them deserve their mention. Most of them would have qualified in a different week. But this week has been a good one.


1) ELIZABETHTOWN, the new movie by Cameron Crowe. Now I know that even putting this on the list will offend all manner of intelligentsia. This is being called a mammoth failure, maybe Cameron Crowe's worst film. I couldn't disagree more.

Folks, the best thing that Cameron Crowe does is capture universal experience and mood. He mines our pathos, finds comedy in our most heartfelt and saddest moments, and yes, makes a kickass soundtrack for it along the way. And that's what he does here.

Starting out with two actors that I never had much faith in - in Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst - Crowe wrings the best performances either has ever made. In telling us the story of a desperate failed executive happy to wallow in his own misery, who then is forced to deal with the responsibility and reality of his father's death, Crowe has hit a home run. I don't care what the critics say. This is a great film.

Is it Crowe's best movie? No. That honor, for my money, goes to the also deeply personal ALMSOST FAMOUS. Second place belongs to Lloyd Dobler and his dare to be great situation in SAY ANYTHING. Then comes ELIZABETHTOWN.

For the record, I think Crowe's worst movies are the ones featuring Mr. Cruise. I am no fan of JERRY MAGUIRE or VANILLA SKY. And that's precisely because they lose that personal edge. None of us are Tom Cruise (even Cruise himself, these days). Not in the way that we're Lloyd or William or Drew.

The main characters in all of these films are basically stand-ins for Crowe at one point in his life or another. But because the man clearly has a sense of what's important to all of us, they stand in for each and every one. Who hasn't felt the longing of Famous' William Miller? Who hasn't felt like Lloyd Dobler standing there on the lawn, hoping that a song might convey the feeling he knows he can't put into words?

If you haven't, that's sad to hear. If you have, you'll feel more of the same in this movie.

It's not a perfect film. Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer's roles seem to be made for another flick. There are other glitches here and there. But it's deeply personal and highly important. It's a reminder of how unstable we all are at the most difficult times in our lives. And it reinforces our understanding of the human need for the occasional solitude and the occasional connection to others, maybe even after they're gone.

Can't wait to get the soundtrack.

See y'all tomorrow.

Monday, October 24, 2005


On the football front . . .

I suppose that it wouldn't be right for me to blog on a Monday and not talk about the weekend's happenings on the gridiron. Mea culpa. And here goes.

Basically, it wasn't a perfect weekend, but it was better than average.

I look at it this way:

1) Northwestern, home of the Wildcats and my undergraduate alma mater, scored themselves a spot on the AP and Coaches polls this weekend with a mammoth win over Michigan State (49-14). Dude! So now the once Mildcats are on the move. They only need one more win to hit a bowl game this year, but somehow I think they might get at least a couple more.

Sure, the rest of the schedule isn't pretty - there's Michigan this weekend, followed by Ohio State and Iowa before finishing the season against the Fighting Illini. I think the Cats can take Illinois without much problem - and that's good enough for a berth in the Motor City Bowl against whoever wins the MAC. But I think they'll get one or two more than that. Ohio State's not likely; it's in Columbus and the Cats upset the Buckeyes for the first time in more than 30 years last season. But Michigan and Iowa? Not sure. I feel like one of them could go down to the Cats.

All of this said, however, what I want most is for Northwestern to go to a bowl game and win it. When I was a student there, we hadn't been to the Rose Bowl since 1949 (when we were still the Fighting Methodists), but at least we had won that game. In the 90s and the new century, there have been four more bowl games - one Rose, one Citrus, one Sun, and one Motor City. And four losses.

So go Cats. And let's finish the job.

2) Texas, home of the Mighty Mighty Longhorns and my graduate alma mater, not only destroyed rival Texas Tech 52-17. No sir. They not only cemented their standing in the polls (still #2 to USC). But they also stole votes from the Trojans, who beat up on a terrible Washington team.

More than that, this is the last big team the Horns will face until the Big 12 championship game and (hopefully) a return to the Rose Bowl for the national championship. The Horns are hot. Vince Young is just about incredible. And maybe, just maybe, Mack Brown finally has the monkey off his back. Maybe he'll prove he's not the John Cooper of Texas.

Keeping fingers crossed.

3) Ohio State beat up on Indiana. There's not much to say here. I like Indiana, too, but it's nice to see the Buckeyes winning a game they ought to.

And then there was one bad outcome:

Bad 1) The Cincinnati Bengals went down 27-13 in a matchup against Pittsburgh that wasn't as close as the score suggested. So here's the bad news. Carson Palmer was a mess. The defense couldn't match Pittsburgh's running game. Kind of a dreadful game in the rain and muck of southern Ohio.

On the other hand, here's the good news. The Bengals are still 5-2 and should have enough in the tank to make the playoffs for the first time since 1990. I'm a fan. I have to think about this realistically. The team is coming right along. They're not an elite team yet, but they are on the move. Pittsburgh is an elite team (probably the second best team in the league right now), and they took the boys from Cincinnati seriously for the first time in 15 years. We're seeing the rebirth of a good solid rivalry that's been erased by years of entropy in the Queen City.

When the Bengals come up against Pittsburgh later this year, it'll be tougher. They'll fight harder. The rivalry will get better. In the 80s, the AFC Central teams (Cleveland, Houston, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati) used to beat up on each other year in and year out. It was always an exciting fight to the finish. It's a slightly different division now, but those days are on their way back thanks to this matchup.

And by the way, where do I rank the Bengals in the NFL right now? Well within the top half. Behind Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Denver, New England, and maybe tied with Jacksonville in the AFC. Frankly, if I were a guessing man, I'd bet on the Bengals joining those teams in the playoffs. I'm not sure about San Diego.

But whatever. I'm no expert. On the other hand, I wouldn't have picked Minnesota for the Super Bowl, sex cruise or no.


Weekend's recovery

It was bound to happen, you know. It's not even the first time.

Here it is, after 7 p.m. on a Monday night, and I'm still recovering from the weekend, the truest sign I know that I'm not 19 years old anymore. The worst part is, it's not like the weekend rocked. There were no mega parties, no kegs of beer, no forgotten methods of getting home. None of it.

Worse, it was work-related.

Saturday morning, my employer (a large national non-profit of no little eminence whose name I will not repeat because it would be indiscreet - but which most of you know) held its annual walk, one of the two or three primary fundraisers held across the country. Our Woman in LA and I arrived at Hollywood Park racetrack at 5:45 a.m. to do our duty as volunteer manpower.

All in all, a successful time. We raised almost $80,000 more than last year - and on a dreary, rainy day in Los Angeles. Celebrities walked in force. Participants grinned and celebrated the fight against the terrible disease. I won't get into the petty stuff . . . like how I saw management from my office depart about 15 seconds after the walk was over; or how the departing development director (and my outgoing boss) yelled out in front of a group of walkers and volunteers "This is my last one! I won't have to do any of this anymore!"

Good show, that one. Nice work.

Whatever. The point is that the event succeeded. And Our Woman in LA helped make it happen. She ran the "kid's corner", where walkers could dump their kids before they walked. I schmoozed with the sponsors, making sure they were happy. And then, when it was over, we loaded and unloaded the trucks, making sure we were successfully out of there. Hats off to my colleagues who made it happen.

But by the time we got home, at about 4 p.m., both the wife and I were totally, utterly pooped. Unable to move. In worse shape than after the half marathon.

The rest of the night was a blur. Longtime pal Hans Noel was in town to give a talk at UCLA. He came to Steph's show, and then the goal was to party the night away after. No dice. When the show let out at 10:30, the wife and I were unable to move. Going to a party became going to a bar, which in turn became grabbing a snack and a beer at Fred 62, and going home to grab slumber.

Depressing, I guess. None of this would have affected me thusly in my younger years. Today, though, I'm just plain tired.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


This is just freakin' sad . . .

I'm not even going to bitch about LOST today. I could. Seriously, this one might have been the worst ever. Bad, bad, bad. More stuff about how Sun and Jin met? Great. It's a bad sign when Jin's team up with Echo (the most language-challenged partnership since Frankenstein's monster met Tonto) is the most exciting thing going.

But anyway. No complaints. See you there next week.

But I do have something that provides me with a peculiar combination of rage and sadness. Oh yes.

It seems that a new reality television show is coming our way quite soon. This one is called Pros v. Joes, in which ordinary folks from around the country who don't have anything better to do but desperately want to be on TV (paging William Hung!) will compete in athletic contests against retired professional athletes.

It's not a good concept. It makes me sad. And so on.

But what makes it worse is the lineup of truly great athletes who have agreed to take part or even be regulars on this program. Seriously. Jerry Rice is going to be on. Bo Jackson. Herschel Walker. Randall Cunningham. Jim McMahon will be there for the Bears fans. Clyde Drexler.

Those guys were great in their day. Do they really need the cash? Should we be sending them a check for $40?

Look at the rest of this list:

Dominique Wilkins
Muggsy Bogues
Brandi Chastain
Tony Dorsett
Karl Malone

And that's not all! There are others, too. Seriously, guys, don't do it. You deserve dignity. You deserve pride.

Well, OK, maybe not Karl Malone. He's a punk ass pretender who folded in the playoffs every year the way the French fold in a World War. How come Stockton's numbers went up in the Finals and yours went down, Karl? Then moving to the Lakers and getting into a public tiff with Kobe . . . AAARGHHH.

But Goldberg? There are lines of dialogue in my film THE REST OF YOUR LIFE about that cat. Professional wrestler, sure, but reality show personality? And according to those commercials, Bo knew every sport ever (except hockey). You don't deserve this.

So yeah, Karl. Take the show. But Tony? Jerry? Randy? But the rest of you?

Say it isn't so.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Paging Steve Perry . . .

I've been beating myself up a bit lately for not talking more about music in the blog. Mostly, I don't know anything about music after, say, 1996. But it feels like if I'm going to talk LA, I should talk about it's music scene, too.

I'm not doing that today, either. But there will be a soundtrack.

Ahem. Hold on, I'm waiting for the CD to cue up . . .

Just a small town girl, livin' in a lonely world
She took the midnight train goin' anywhere
Just a city boy, born and raised in south Detroit
He took the midnight train goin' anywhere

I learned this morning that the World Series bound Chicago White Sox, who last won a World Series before my wife's grandmother was born, and who have fewer fans out there than Ashlee Simpson at a DMX concert, have adopted a theme song for their post season. It is, in fact, Journey's "Don't Stop Believing".

More to the point, during the series, they have asked former Journey frontman Steve Perry (who may or may not still be suing the other members of the band) to come to the clubhouse and meet with the team for inspiration.

A singer in a smokey room
A smell of wine and cheap perfume
For a smile they can share the night
It goes on and on and on and on

All things considered, it's not a bad song for this baseball team. No song brings a Generation Xer like me back to his or her youth like this one. All I have to hear are a few synthesized chords, and I am transported back to the middle school years. Baseball is all about the past remembered, and the song does that in spades.

Plus, more than a few of the South Siders I've met in my day smell of wine and cheap perfume.

Sorry, cheap joke.

Strangers waiting, up and down the boulevard
Their shadows searching in the night
Streetlight people, living just to find emotion
Hiding, somewhere in the night

The one bummer that I can find in the whole theme song selection is this. Probably the closest thing to a celebrity fan that the White Sox have is former Styx front man Dennis DeYoung. Woof.

OK, cut out the laughing. Imagine being Mr. DeYoung. You were part of an 80s/90s pop synthesizer band, too. You had hit songs, too. Now you go to the games each year, and for payback, your beloved Sox have chosen a song by a rival band? A rival band from the Bay Area? A rival band from the Bay Area that still tours without its former lead singer and plays venues like the Virginia Beach Rock n Roll Half Marathon? A rival band from the Bay Area that . . . well, you get the picture.

Working hard to get my fill,
everybody wants a thrill
Payin' anything to roll the dice,
just one more time

On the other hand, if I'm the Sox, what Styx song do I choose? Honestly. For those of you who barely remember Styx, or don't remember which band was Styx and which was Rush (and who can blame you?), Mr. DeYoung's band had hits that included, "Lady", "Come Sail Away", and "Mr. Roboto". Oh, and "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man Song)".

Nope, not a winning theme song among them. Perhaps the Sox chose wisely after all. Whatever. If it helps them win a series, I'm all for it.

Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends
It goes on and on and on and on

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


The Tuesday Top Five

Nothing can keep me from delivering my Top Five to both of my readers! No, sir! Not the gray skies and chilly weather (low 60s) in LA! Not the crappy environment at my day job (there's a whole drama today regarding our Memory Walk and a Lucille Ball impersonator - no joke)!

Nope. None of it. Not even my protests and general malaise can keep them from hitting the cyberspace. So let's get right to it.

5) Comic Book Crossover Events. Normally, these are a huge pain in every red-blooded comic book fan's collective ass. This is how it works. One of the big two comics companies (Marvel or DC) puts out a story that claims it will "shake the (DC or Marvel) universe to its very foundations!" You read that heroes and villains will die, that worlds will be forever changed, that the status quo of the characters you love will never be the same.

And, of course, in order to follow the series, you will have to buy all 8 issues of the crossover series, plus all the tie-ins to regular titles.

Needless to say, these crossovers usually blow. You end up buying titles that you would never purchase otherwise to find one panel of one page that ties in. And usually the heroes and villains that bite it are pretty far from major. Usually they're characters who either a) only show up in these big crossovers because they don't have their own title or team membership; or b) had their own title, but it was cancelled; or c) had a team membership over a decade ago, and nobody really cares.

That said, I like both of the crossovers that Marvel and DC have out there right now. In House of M, Marvel's crossover, the now-villainous Scarlet Witch has remade over the world to give those she loves - including Magneto and the members of the X-Men and Avengers - their fondest wishes. When the heroes have fought back, demanding the "real" world, she's struck again and . . .


OK. She's made it so that the Marvel Universe now only has about 200 mutant characters, as opposed to the thousands they had before. Some prominent characters will lose their powers and disappear. Others will have to go on without their teammates.

What the hell? It's interesting at least.

DC's Infinite Crisis just got started, but it looks good. Basically, it's a sequel to 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths. Again, all forms of comic book reality are breaking apart. But this time, the heroes of the DC universe aren't unified to combat the threat. Batman has broken up the Justice League - and all the members hate each other. Wonder Woman is wanted for murder. Superman is having a crisis of faith. And the villains are getting together. Basically, our heroes are screwed.

4) It's a two-way tie:

A) White Sox in the World Series. I know I've written about this already, but it just bears mentioning again, for a number of reasons. On the one hand, I'm really happy for the team and for both of the Sox fans in Chicago. It's great to see a team rise above everything and finally overcome years of disappointment. I'll be rooting for this team in the World Series no matter what. They deserve it. After spending most of September looking like the ultimate in choke artists, they're bringing the fall classic to my former hometown.

On the other hand, the White Sox going to the Series just exposes another in the arsenal of curses afflicting their cousins on the North Side. For years - all the time that I lived in Chicago and since I moved away - I've heard about how the Cubs are a cursed franchise. The Billy Goat kept them out of the Series. The black cat in '69. That fool Bartman a couple of years back. The team claims more curses than a certain Scottish king in Shakespeare.

I don't hold much with curses and that team, frankly. Most of the team's history, the Cubs have been so awful that they've been mathematically eliminated before June. I have my reasons for being skeptical. But now I wonder.

See, what greater curse could there be than having to watch a team across town celebrating, without the fans, the newspaper support, the bar scene, and so on. This, my friends, is the unkindest curse of them all. Whatever has offended the baseball gods his really cut them deeply. Maybe Mark Grace or that Woo Woo Wickers guy sacrificed a goat to Satan in the friendly confines. Maybe there's something even more insidious.

Doesn't matter. The curse goes on. And if the White Sox win, we'll know the Gods are really angry.

B) Steve Lopez's columns in the LA Times this week. Great stuff. Here's the link:,0,6898544.column?coll=la-home-headlines

Basically, Lopez is in the midst of a week-long series down on LA's infamous skid row. All week, he's interviewed the people who live there, from the pushers and prostitutes to the mentally ill to the police and other authorities who try to maintain order there.

Over the past few weeks, Skid Row has received some attention, as it's been revealed that a number of LA's suburbs dump their poor and homeless there. Lopez has created a picture of this place, and today he spends some time showing us some of the heroes who dwell there. They include a doctor working the area's primary medical clinic, and an outreach worker who pulled himself up from the dregs of homelessness and drug addiction. The stories are harrowing.

As a side note, there's also a cool column in the Calendar section about filmic portrayals of journalists, in the light of movies like Capote and Good Night and Good Luck. My feelings on this subject are well known, but check out the article.

3) The Formosa. Had a few drinks at this place on Saturday night with my buddies after a performance of Steph's show. What can I say? The Formosa's a landmark in LA. It's stupid cool with atmosphere to spare. Since the 30s, the place has been a hangout for gangsters and movie stars (Mickey Cohen and Veronica Lake, to name a couple) as well as hipsters and other Angelenos.

It's hard not to dig the mix of train car and Mandarin decoration in the place's interior. If you want a taste of what LA must have been like in the 30s and 40s, this is the spot. While Chicago might have its Green Mill, the Formosa stands for what LA used to be without losing its charm and cool.

In fact, remember LA Confidential, a movie that should have won best picture a few years back? Great scene in that flick in the Formosa. You might remember that part of the film's plot centered on a group of prostitutes who were made up to look like movie stars. At one point, a couple of detectives make their way to the Formosa's nightclub scene, and one of them spots someone who's a dead ringer for Lana Turner. So he approaches the woman, chews her out for being a whore made up to look like Turner, and end up getting a drink thrown in his face - because she is, in fact, Lana Turner (hanging out with mobster Johnny Stompanato).

Well, that's the Formosa. Cool, dark, all atmosphere. Decent drinks (I wouldn't order anything out of the ordinary, but they mix decent G&Ts and regular martinis). The food's just OK, but that's not why you're there.

2) School Days by Robert B. Parker. I've been a fan of Parker's since somebody handed me a paperback copy of his second Spenser novel, God Save the Child, back in the 8th Grade. I was a fan of detective TV shows back then, and I was looking for some detective novels to whet the appetite. Parker and his sleuth Spenser delivered, and I've been a regular reader ever since. Now, after more than 30 novels, I still love the character and look forward to catching up with him once or twice a year.

Most people know Spenser, incidentally, because of the really mediocre TV show that came on while I was in high school, Spenser: For Hire, starring Robert Urich. Not a great show, but Avery Brooks was super cool as Hawk, Spenser's tough-as-nails associate. Urich was fair, as was the rest of the program.

But the series is really terrific. Parker deserves his reputation as a modern heir to the Hammett, Chandler, and MacDonald school of hard-boiled American detective fiction. Spenser is smart and funny, tough and honest, and possessed of one of code of ethics and conduct that would do any knight of the Round Table proud. He is a good man in a bad world - a true expression of Chandler's feeling that "Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean".

One of the things that fans of this series have come to love and hate over the years is the family of characters with whom Parker has surrounded Spenser. There's his occasionally difficult paramour Susan Silverman; the aforementioned partner in crime Hawk; more or less adopted son Paul Giacomin; and a gaggle of cops, mobsters and assorted toughs. Oh, and a dog.

In School Days, most of these characters are not on the scene, and we're left with Spenser pared down to his own devices. He investigates a Columbine-like crime in an exclusive Boston suburb, and as always the dialogue crackles, the action is fun, and we're glad to have Spenser around.

1) Aquaman Fever. That's right. Two comics items in one blog. It's craziness!

If you grew up in the 70s, you no doubt remember the Super Friends, Hanna Barberra's cartoon take on the Justice League of America. Year in and year out, the show featured five main super heroes on the team: Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman. Of these, Aquaman was the lamest.

Even if you liked him, you had to admit it. He usually caught a ride with Wonder Woman in the invisible plane. His own jet ski seemed lame. They didn't always need an underwater guy.

Later in the series, they added a bunch of other characters: Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, the Atom, and some politically correct characters (Black Vulcan, Samurai, El Dorado, and Apache Chief), as well as the Wonder Twins. Later still, they added teen heroes Firestorm and Cyborg.

Still, Aquaman was among the lamest. Don't believe me? Check out this website - funny as hell look at our heroes:

So lame was Aquaman that the creators of the new Justice League cartoon chose not to make him a regular on the series. He shows up occasionally, sure. Like when there's a threat involving WATER.

The rest of the time, they don't need him as much.

But apparently, he's not so lame out here in Hollywood. In fact, over the past six months, there have been not one but two major appearances by old gill-head in the popular media.

First, on the very funny HBO sitcom ENTOURAGE, up and coming celeb Vince Chase has been cast in a big budget Aquaman film, directed by James Cameron. Every episode, we've been treated to challenge upon challenge as Vince has tried to live up to the orange and green tights of our hero - from mastering the harpoon to dealing with the fans to overcoming a romance with the actress playing Aquagirl.

Funny, funny stuff.

And then this week, on the WB's Smallville, young Clark Kent will meet up with a college-aged Aquaman, who takes a shine to young Lois Lane. Oh, and young Lex Luthor wants to understand how he talks to fish or . . . something.

It doesn't really matter. With Superman AND Aquaman, how can good help but overcome evil (and, since it's Smallville, sell indie rock CDs and Abercrombie clothes).

I wouldn't go so far as to say that Aquaman's on the rebound just yet. He's played for laughs on Entourage, and probably should be on Smallville, too. But I'm here to wonder aloud whether old Aqua might not be the boomerang super-hero of 2005. Is he DC Comics' Teri Hatcher? You know, we thought the career was over, but now she's back? Is he the Keanu? Still working even though we should have forgotten about him ages ago.

We'll see. But for now, I'm pretty sure that crime in the undersea kingdom of Atlantis is under control.

Monday, October 17, 2005


Gray skies in LA

And that's not a misprint. No, sir. Dark, rainy skies hang over Los Angeles today, and it's not even February. Temperatures are only rising to the mid 60s today - and it won't be sunny and in the 70s till mid-week. Ye Gods!

This can only mean one thing. A team from Chicago is going to the World Series, and the Gods, not knowing how to deal with something like this, have turned the world upside down. Crazy, crazy talk.

In all seriousness, congrats to the White Sox, finally breaking past that barrier of mediocrity and making it to the Big Show. Let's hope that you'll find some fans for the next series of 7.

All in all, I'm coming off a pretty good weekend. Got a chance to celebrate one buddy's birthday, and to hang out and get drinks with another. Then came yesterday, and that greatest of all modern inventions:

The Lazy Sunday.

That's right. For only about the third time in our married life, Our Woman in LA and I spent Sunday chilling out, taking naps, and not doing much else. The critical stuff (a conference call with her theatre company, her working the box office for her show's Sunday matinee, paying the bills) were knocked out early. That left watching classic movies on DVD (Steph has a crush on Orson Welles, so she's seeing CITIZEN KANE for the first time), reading the paper and the week's run of comic books, and rejuvenating the spirit a little.

A couple of other notes:

1) Besides the aforementioned White Sox, it was damn near as good a weekend in the world of sports as you can have. It's a rare, rare thing to log a perfect weekend - one in which all your teams win, unless you're one of those pathetic band-wagoners who starts liking teams the minute they begin to win.

For me, this was just about there. The mighty, mighty Longhorns dispatched Colorado and hated nemesis and all-around smug traitor Gary Barnett with ease, proving that there would be no letdown from the thrashing of Oklahoma. Ohio State beat Michigan State, and stayed in the running for the Big Ten championship. UCLA continued its unbeaten streak. For that matter, my alma mater's team, the sometime football powerhouse Northwestern U. Wildcats (official motto: we don't need defense, not ever) defeated the Purdue Boilermakers.

So yeah, NU and Ohio State could still win the Big Ten. Hell, as an NU grad, I'll take a trip to a bowl game. How about a bowl win in the Motor City Bowl or Gallery Furniture Bowl??

Sure, Michigan won, but at least they took down Penn State in a heartbreaker. Sure, USC won, but at least that game against Notre Dame was exciting as hell.

Oh, yeah, and the Bengals came back to win against the Titans. In Tennessee. The Bengals are 5-1. Crazy times.

2) If you're into the sports minutia, as I am, you might want to check out my buddy Rick Porter's new web blog at this site:

Over the course of the NBA season, Rick will be tracking scrub bball players who log a "billion" in the box score, meaning that they play one minute of a game and have no other stats (points, fouls, assists, you get the picture). Back in college, Rick had a wall of shame of sorts, where he hung Hoops basketball cards of as many scrub players as he could find. Now, in the new century, he's creating a new cyber-wall of NBA mediocrity.

Ought to be fun stuff.

Friday, October 14, 2005


Girls and comics? Ridiculous!

OK, one more post before the weekend.

As most of you know, I'm something of a comics geek. And I'm married. Comics and girls don't always mix, but Steph is a gamer.

She is very supportive of my comics habit, and she's been really supportive, even though the comics are definitely not her thing. She can name all the members of the Justice League and a good number of the X-Men. She knows the difference between Marvel Comics and DC. That's perfect. She even has a preference, hero-wise: she likes the DC guys because they're classics that never go out of style. Marvel, she says, has characters that are cool, but they look dated over time.

Kool and the gang.

But I would say that Our Woman in LA is not always comf in the comics store. The folks who run the place sometimes skeez her out. The other customers can make the place uncomfortable.

She once went to a comics store in Chicago, looking for a cool gift for my birthday. When one of the clerks tried to sell her a statue of Batman as a vampire, she felt like maybe she was in the wrong place.

So anyway, Johanna Stokes of has written a column about how comics stores could actually reach out to that elusive female audience. I checked it out and it brought me a smile.

Check it out:

If you've been begging your baby to join you in the comics store, at least now you might know what to look for.

And I agree. The life-sized Spidey statues are creepy.


Calling all Homers out there . . .

So I'm sitting here at the office, on a fairly blah kind of Friday. It's 80-some degrees and I can see the ocean from the office window. Not a bad day, no. But not a busy one, either. I'm a couple of days behind on the new script. I've got a busy weekend coming up.

And so what does my mind turn to? Well, college football, of course. What else?

I heard a really cool and compelling discussion on sports radio the other day. Now take a close look at that sentence - you're not likely to see it again.

Whatever. Basically, the host had been getting all these calls from college football fans, saying all the same things they normally do around this time of the season. Namely, proclaiming that the conference where their home team plays is the best, the strongest, and can beat all those mamby-pamby other conferences.

Now I'm a bit of a homer myself. I've been known to argue this very thing. Growing up, I didn't even know there was a debate about the college football national champion. To me, it was always the team that won the Rose Bowl. My reasoning was thus: The Big Ten is better than everyone else, and so whoever wins that (usually the winner of Ohio State-Michigan) goes to the Rose Bowl, and whoever wins that game is, without question, the best.

It never occurred to me that somewhere else in the country, there might be a Southwest Conference fan who thought the same thing about the Cotton Bowl champ. Or a Southeastern Conference fan who felt the same way about the Sugar Bowl champ.

Well, actually, the host said, all the big major conferences are exactly the same. Exactly. Sorry to burst the bubble. The SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac 10 are identical, more or less.

(Sorry Big Least fans, but your guys are a step below. South Florida? But I digress.)

How so, guests on the show asked.

It's like this, the host explained.

1) Every one of those conferences has an undefeated team that's head and shoulders above the rest: like USC in the Pac 10, Virginia Tech in the ACC, Georgia in the SEC, Penn State in the Big 10, and the mighty, mighty Texas Longhorns in the Big 12.

2) Each one has another good team that's just a notch below: UCLA, Florida State, Alabama, Minnesota or Michigan State(but probably Minnesota), and Texas Tech.

3) They all have one big name program that's a disappointment this year: Arizona State, NC State, Tennessee, my beloved Ohio State Buckeyes, and Oklahoma (heh heh heh).

4) Each has some junk at the bottom: Arizona, Stanford and Washington in the Pac 10; Duke, Clemson, and Wake in the ACC; Kentucky, Miss State, and Ole Miss in the SEC; Indiana, Illinois, and Purdue in the Big Ten; and Texas A&M, Kansas, and K State in the Big 12.

5) In the middle there for each of them are some decent, bowl-worthy but not championship teams: Cal and Oregon; Miami and Georgia Tech, maybe Virginia; LSU, Florida and Auburn; Wisconsin, Michigan State, even Northwestern or Michigan potentially; and Nebraska, Colorado, Baylor (!) in the Big 12.

Are there little differences this year? Sure. USC is probably the best team of all. Penn State seems a little weaker than the other big winning schools, but on the other hand, the Big Ten's worst is a little better than the other losers (Go Hoosiers!). Of the mid-level teams, Miami's probably the best.

Whatever. They're all the same. Some other time, we can debate whether the Big East is the same as any other mid-major.

Have a great weekend. See you Monday.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


LOST, but with some support

Sigh. Last night, as readers know, should have been the last time I watch ABC's hit drama and source of annoyance LOST. Earlier this year, following a particularly irritating finale to the show's first season, I promised that I would give the program only four episodes this year, to either shape up or ship out of the Wieland family TV lineup.

Frankly, the show didn't shape up. Last night's episode was every bit the annoying tease that the previous week's show was. And so on.

But last night, Our Woman in LA stacked the deck against my natural inclination to growl at all things about Locke and co. She hosted a Lost get-together. Six or seven of our friends descended on Casa del Wieland to watch. So it's not like I could storm out of the room when the show got ridiculous, is it?

But this ended up working out for me. See, at least two of my guy friends - Eric and Nick - were on hand, dragged out by their girlfriends, who, like my wife, are addicted to the show. And they share my opinion of the program. Hell, they're more eloquent about it, too.

"This fucking show," Nick said, when Jin's ability to speak fluent English was revealed to be part of Hurley's dream.

"Lost is the television equivalent of blue balls," Eric said when the program failed - for the umpteenth time - to reveal anything of moment.

Finally, I had company. Somebody else is annoyed by this show. Somebody else feels compelled to watch and yet hates himself for it.

"Every week, I complain about this show," Nick said. "And then I'm there to watch it again the next week."

Horrible, isn't it? I mean, really. What is it about Lost? It's as addictive as heroin, but you never get high. Great googly-moogly.

So anyway, the wife is going to try and get this crew together again next week - whether at my house or someone else's - to watch the show. Which probably means, much to my dismay, that I'm going to be watching Lost next Wednesday, getting frustrated with it, and then watching it again the week after that. Crap.

"Worst episode ever," Nick said as he and the gang headed for the door last night. "See you next week."

Exactly. Grumble grumble grumble.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


If the Smurfs stop gassing up SUVs, then Gargamel has already won . . .

Coming in late today because of a truly awful day on the work front. One of these days, I need to write one of those tell-all books about the non-profit industry. But for now, it's blog time.

So a couple of things have come to my attention from the world of comic books and cartooning this fine Wednesday, so I thought I'd share:

First, the world of the Smurfs might never be the same after this story coming out of Belgium:

Apparently, Peyo, creator of the little blue guys that live in mushrooms, teamed up with UNICEF before his death to make an adults-only movie where warplanes destroy the Smurf village. I mean, sure, it's an anti-war statement, but it verges on the, say, alarming and crazy.

Also apparently, Gargamel and his mean old cat Azrael were not behind the warplanes. And the piece does not include any Smurf retaliation, like possibly a Dirty Dozen a la Smurf. If it had been up to me, once the Smurf village was razed, you would have seen a team of 12 Smurfs putting together an elaborate plan and getting those bad old warmongers.

This, by the way, proves that I'm an American. I see war movies in everything.

But seriously. Imagine Hefty Smurf in the Lee Marvin role. I don't know if I can name 11 other Smurfs, but let's try. How about a team with Papa, Brainy, Smurfette, and . . . aw crap, well a bunch of them.

I'd watch that.

Second, Fantagraphics is releasing its fifth Peanuts collection this year - printing a number of cartoons that have not seen the light of day since the late 50s/early 60s. If you'd like to see them, and consider the reasons that they have not made it into the popular canon, read this:

As you all know, I'm a huge Charles Schulz fan. But I can see the point of the blogger. By 21st century standards, nobody wants to hear that Linus has a weight problem, Schroeder is exploring his sexuality, and so on. And what was Linus doing out there on the snow?

Finally, INFINITE CRISIS #1 hits stores today - the sequel to 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths. Back then, the DC Comics Universe had a, well, infinite number of earths, each with a distinct group of heroes. The super-heroes of World War II were on one world. Shazam and his crew on another. On Earth X, the Nazis won World War II and the good guys were like a resistance force.

And so on. Well, the original Crisis shoehorned all those worlds into one earth, with the big DC characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and so on) fighting crime in the present day. But there have been real continuity problems ever since.

So now, Infinite Crisis is here to try and fix them. We'll see how it goes. I expect there'll be a heavy body count by the end of it, but maybe some good story-telling to go along.

It never hurts to hope, I guess.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


The Tuesday Top Five, Week Three

Sorry to be getting to this a little late in the day this Tuesday. It's been meeting central in the office today, so there's been so little time. But I haven't forgotten about the three or four readers who occasionally peruse my Tuesday Top Five. No, sir.

And I haven't cheated you with this week's list. Given the time of year, it would be really easy to put an entry like this one:

"5. Halloween Candy. Yeah, folks, not one but two people in my office have out the baskets of candy for the Devil's Night season, and there's no finer way to spend a 3 p.m. break from work than to rummage around for the spare mini Kit Kat or tiny bag of peanut M & M's."

Note: Not a real entry.

I also have been feeling guilty for not doing more with music in the blog, mentioning it or whatever, especially since the Club Bally's I attend is just blocks from the famous Capitol Records building. But alas, I can't. I don't know much about new music except what I hear on the radio, and I can't recommend something when a) I don't know the words; or b) I haven't heard the album.

So when I considered doing a listing of the Killers song that currently burns up the radio dial, I relented. After all, for all I can tell, the lyrics to this particular ditty (don't know the title, either) are: "Coming out of my head and I am feeling just fine and I am . . . it started out with a kiss and how did it . . . it was only a kiss"

That's no good. For all I know, those aren't the words at all. It might not even be the Killers who sing it.

So here's the real Top 5:

5) The Los Feliz Movie Theater. Just two blocks away from the new Casa del Wieland, and better than that, it's everything that you could ever want in a neighborhood movie house. Matinee prices that go all the way to 6 p.m. even on weekends. Free refills on popcorn and soda. First-run cool movies (playing right now: History of Violence, Thumbsucker, and In Her Shoes).

Our Woman in LA and I went there to see In Her Shoes on our date night Saturday. It was Steph's turn to pick the movie, but it was a decent outing. You can't go wrong with Toni Collette and Shirley MacLaine, even if Cameron Diaz was out of her depth.

But the theater was super cool. Small and intimate, but clean and well-maintained. Cool designs painted onto the walls. No odd smells that usually accompany the tiny movie house. AC that's cool but not too cold.

How could a man in LA do anything but love it? And I didn't even mention its proximity to places like the HOUSE OF PIES, The infamous Dresden, and a bevy of other Los Feliz attractions.

Another win with the neighborhood.

4) Gasa Gasa Girl by Naomi Hirahara. A friend at work passed this along to me. It's a fun, fairly standard murder mystery taking place in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood. But what makes it stupid cool is its protagonist. Mas Arai isn't your standard hard-boiled PI or drawing room Sherlock type. He's a 70-something survivor of Hiroshima, now working as a gardener in the So Cal suburbs of Pasadena and Altadena. His English varies between fair and poor. He's lived a tough life. And he makes the roller coaster ride of this mystery worth taking.

In this book, Mas travels from LA to New York to visit his daughter and her family. Daughter dearest is, of course, caught up in a web of murder, misplaced family allegiances, and Japanese-American relations that stretch back to the World War II internment camps.

I'm a sucker for a good mystery novel, and this is one. The characters are fun, the pace is fast, and I came away feeling as though I'd learned something about Japanese-Americans and even gardening. Cool stuff.

3) DA Giannino. So one half of my date night Saturday took place at #5, the Los Feliz Theater. This was the setting for the other half.

DA Giannino is a cool little Italian place set back in a tiny shopping center on Hyperion and Griffith Park. We're talking Ground Zero for the Silver Lake crowd. So it's got your mixed crowd - middle class families, hetero and gay couples, the odd hipster here and there.

But what a great location. Excellent food, good wine, terrific service, and best of all, affordable prices. We're talking the kind of cuisine that gets a little dangerous if you're trying to eat healthy. But if you're looking to go out in style . . . dig in.

Slabs of garlic bread to die for. Amazing pasta and seafood. And the lightest Caesar dressing I've ever tasted. Can't wait to go back.

2) The University of Texas Longhorns. I know that I've already covered these guys earlier in the week, but some times you can't help but burst with some pride.

Over the past five years, the Horns have been a terrific collete football team. Poised in difficult games, fit with amazing, pro-level athletes at nearly every position. Last year, their game against Michigan in the Rose Bowl is without question one of the five most exciting football games I've ever seen. If you want to know the other five, let me know.

But they couldn't climb the mountain. They couldn't dispatch their most hated rival - the University of Oklahoma Sooners. Since Bob Stoops' arrival in Norman, my boys from Austin just could not get it done. Not in five tries.

This is, by the way, the second time in my life that I've seen a beloved fan appear perfect except when under the glare of a most hated foe. And I really, really don't want to talk about Ohio State's record against Michigan during the John Cooper years. No need to.

It's torture.

But not this week. With a 45-12 whooping, the Horns crossed the threshold. Don't talk to me about Oklahoma not being great this year. Doesn't matter. 45-12. That's all she wrote.

And this is all I wrote: Hook em, Horns!

1) Cafe des Artistes. I know, I know. It's a two restaurant Top Five, something never done before. On the other hand, there have only been three of these things.

This place just had to make the list. Tucked away on McCadden just south of Hollywood Boulevard. You'd never know that you were so near to all the action of the boulevard. It's silent outside. Beautiful, but quiet. And yet, drive (or walk if you feel like it) just a block south and a block east, and you're right in front of a Scientology center.

See? Hollywood is there, right around the corner if you're looking.

Keep this in mind. The intersection of Hollywood and Highland is just a few blocks away. That's the closest thing we in LA have to Times Square or Clark and Division. Bright lights, beating sound machines, and so on. Yet here we were, on a darkened street, hanging out in a cool little bar and restaurant, its sign partly obscured by Ivy. We were off the beaten track, but still in a cool place, still in Hollywood.

Anyway, on to the place. Went there on Friday after Steph's show (Cloud Cuckoo Land, see last week's list) with some of the cast and the writer. Good food, tremendous drinks, and the coolest atmosphere around.

Our Woman in LA told me it was decorated the way she'd like to decorate our house. Which is to say Italian tiles, a huge fire place, dim lights all around, an open window looking out into a well-maintained courtyard. It's just a gorgeous old house, and a great place to hang out.

It's so cool that I'll even forgive the strange Rutger Hauer-looking bartender with an attitude. It didn't affect the evening at all. Some night, if we're kicking back with a drink, I'll tell you the rest of the evening's story. But that's not what we're here for now. This is the Tuesday Top Five - cool things to read, to see, places to go in the City of Angels. I'll get to the story later.

Suffice it to say that when it comes to Cafe des Artistes, we will definitely be back.

So that'll do it for this addition of the Tuesday Top Five. See you here next week, folks. Hasta.

Monday, October 10, 2005


I'm a sucker for a cool quote . . .

Our Man in LA brings you this special nighttime blog entry to share a little something in the cool quote department. I've always wished that I was one of those guys who could recite Byron or Shakespeare or some other great artist just from memory, just with the drop of a hat.

Well, I can't. But when I find one, I generally like to record it somewhere so it won't be easily forgotten. So here goes.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I've been re-reading James Robinson's truly amazing Starman comic book series over the past several weeks - in trade paperback collections that allow me to read each story arc together. Starman was hailed by TIME as the "best written comic book around" back in the late 90s. As I've mentioned, it's a story with a very definite beginning, middle and end. It's a hero's journey as noble and true as anything from "legit lit".

Without spoiling too many details (because if you haven't been reading this, you really should), in the end of the final volume, SONS OF THE FATHER, our hero, Jack Knight finally retires his role as super hero and seeks his happily ever after in a place other than Opal City, the metropolis he has protected, and with Sadie, his great love.

Our Woman in LA and I left Chicago last year after we both spent more than a decade there. Moving on from a place . . . and from people you love is tough to do. I've never seen the feelings you get on the day of such a move so well summed up as they are here. So I've decided to share.

So here's the quote. You can find it in Starman #80 on the final three pages, or in SONS OF THE FATHER on pages 150-152:

"I'm numb. I thought this would be more emotional. There was a time I never would have given up my city. But now the die is cast. I find I do so without the creeping terror I'd always imagined. Sadie. I'm going to be with Sadie . . . . And suddenly the city's spires, while beautiful . . . Are only that . . . .

"I take my boy to see his grandfather one last time. And all those who bore the name between my father and me. I pack the things that matter and leave the things that don't. Then I make like a banana . . . and split.

"As I feel Opal . . . my wonderful Opal ebbing away, I start to cry. But I manage not to look back.

"For I've more to see on the road ahead."

Good night and God bless, to pals and friends and family. And rest well, Jack Knight, wherever you are.


Football Gods to Wieland: Not so fast, my friend

By the time that Our Woman in LA and I headed out for our date night on Saturday (dinner at a cool Italian place in Silverlake and a showing of "In Her Shoes" at the Los Feliz Theater), I felt pretty good about how the football gods treated me.


1) The Texas Longhorns finally - FINALLY - defeated their arch-rivals, the Oklahoma Sooners after five tries. Not just beat them, she-lacked them. 45-12! Hook em, Horns! It was so one-sided that ABC in Southern California switched over to the Michigan-Minnesota game because "it was more competitive".

Don't underestimate the importance of this one to Longhorn faithful like Our Man in LA. Losing to the Okies for five straight years is like General Zod actually getting Superman to "KNEEL" before him . . . in Action Comics and Adventures of Superman. It's like being forced to watch repeat viewings of Passenger 57 without getting drunk.

It's no kind of good. But now the Horns have done it. And order is restored.

2) Northwestern - against all odds - defeated Wisconsin (the team that beat Michigan) in a game that featured not one minute of defensive play. 51-48 was the final score, and I know it sounds like halftime in the NBA. Could the Cats stumble into a bowl game. Well, probably not, but at least we beat the Badgers . . .

Sub-note about the game: At least once during the offensive struggle between Wildcat and Badger, ESPN commentators noted that Northwestern's got quite a home field advantage. Speaking as a graduate of that august institution, I would like to say:

"It does?"

No, really. Are you serious? Because it's not like any number of squads haven't had their way with the Cats over the years. I know that students there now don't celebrate victories over Illinois by dumping the uprights into Lake Michigan anymore, but seriously.

Which reminds me. Is it just me, or do football commentators these days feel compelled to explain to you that even the most decimated opponent could always come back and snatch victory from the jaws of . . . well, death. Not even defeat. Death.

Oklahoma was down by three touchdowns late in the third quarter and hadn't scored one all day. Still, Keith Jackson and co. were talking about how those crafty Sooners weren't out of it. Keith, are you worried that people will turn away? Do you not get paid as much if they do?

Sheesh. Anyway, back to the original topic.

Also winning on Saturday: Indiana (where everyone in my family went to college) beating the snot out of Illinois, and UCLA proving they're for real against Cal.

The downers came late in the day and on Sunday. Ohio State lost to Penn State - a team that's supposedly back like a bad cold or a clingy ex-girlfriend. And on Sunday night, the hometown Bengals finally lost their first game of the season - to Jacksonville.

Feh. So it wasn't a perfect football weekend. But it's hard for me to be really upset about the Bengals. Fact is, in recent years four wins might be a fine season total for that team. This year, they still look like a top contender. They have Tennessee next week, and I think they can take them.

As for the Buckeyes, well, shucks. Here's the big question I take from that game:

When a team you love (Ohio State) is playing a team you hate (Penn State), and the hated team wins, do you feel worse because your boys lost or because the Cossacks and other nefarious perpetrators won?

Yeah. I'm not sure, either.

Friday, October 07, 2005


Pomona, California, you're on the air . . .

I'm still trudging through "Larry King" mode from yesterday. I apologize, and I assure you that I have not taken to wearing suspenders. As we roll into the weekend, I'm plagued by thoughts that aren't big enough for a good-sized blog. So I'm stuck with quick hits.

So away we go . . .

1) Well, first of all, there are still wildfires raging through Southern California, but they're not making the local or national news anymore. That's because they've moved from the Valley of Porn (aka, San Fernando Valley) to one of my least fave places on earth . . . the impressively named Inland Empire. That's right. As I type this, fires are cutting a swath through mountainous scrub brush and semi-desert rural country about 60 miles east of LA.

Now I'm not a religious guy. Sure, I got good grades in theology back at Archbishop Alter High, but that doesn't really qualify me. But I think these Inland Empire fires might well be signs that God exists.

Because if there is a God, and he's had to drive through the Inland Empire on the way to the desert, he knows it's among the most boring stretches of desolate hell that ever existed. Stopping in towns like Redlands, Pomona, and Montclair only drives the point home. You don't want to be there after the sun goes down and the sea of lowbed trucks take to the road.

OK, so I know that God doesn't have to drive from LA to the desert. He's God. He can do whatever. But I figure He'd like to drive from time to time. Why not? Why shouldn't He be in a retrofitted '66 Mustang GT convertible with no mileage or rust that somehow has a hybrid engine and thus doesn't screw up the environment? Seriously, if you're a deity, why not?

OK, so maybe you're a non-believer in "Roadtrip God". But if wildfires start to destroy the desolate brown crap fields of Indiana near I-65 (from Gary to, say, Lebanon), I'll be convinced. That's the only worse stretch I've ever seen.

2) Anyone remember those questionnaires that used to get sent around via e-mail back in the late 90s? You know the ones. You'd open up an e-mail from a friend, only to find that said friend had sent you a chain letter telling you information about him or her, and encouraging you do answer all the same questions.

Still don't remember? Reggie Newton's got one such questionnaire on his site. It's asks you about stuff like your living arrangement, what you think of ouija boards, whether you eat broccoli stems, and so on.

The only kind of e-mail I got more frequently in the mid to late 90s were top 10 lists of reasons men and women were different. These were usually written by women who, near as I can tell, had just endured a particularly ugly breakup.

Anyway, I caught up with an old pal from college last night and went out for a few drinks. Fun times. We hadn't seen each other since graduation 11 years ago - not so much by choice as by circumstance. We've both had busy lives, lived in different places, and managed to keep up more or less via friends in common. Whatever.

Eleven years is a lot of ground to cover over a couple of beers. A third of our lives, for Cry-eye! And this is the kind of interaction where the questionnaire might have come in handy.

Don't get me wrong. We were decent conversationalists. We slogged through without notes. We knew enough to get the ball rolling.

But tell me that you haven't been in one of those situations where this isn't the case. Maybe you're at a high school or college reunion, and you run into one of those people whose last name you never knew. Or maybe you're in an airport, a Trader Joe's, or a ball game, and you see someone that you don't want to avoid but about whom you haven't thought in a million years.

This is where the questionnaire comes in. "Chris, how have you been?" they'll say. You hand over the questionnaire and give them a few minutes to read it over. If they've come prepared, maybe they have one of their own. You read, and then form questions.

Sure, it'll be awkward at first. Give it a chance, though. Because once you start using the questionnaire, you'll get questions like this:

"Chris, I notice that you don't care for ouija boards, but do eat the stems of broccoli. Do you feel like karma might bite you in the ass for that?"


"Chris, I notice that you're fed up with LOST and think someone ought to beat Locke within an inch of his life for saying quasi-zen bullcrap all the time. Do you like Terry Quinn's other work, like the Stepfather movies, or that episode of Miami Vice?"

You get the picture.

Think it over. Otherwise, those questionnaires are just taking up cyberspace.

3) As I've typed this, I've been listening to one of my favorite radio stations from Chicago - WXRT. They've been hosting a live concert from a Potbelly sandwich place in the Loop, which seems sort of ridiculous to me. Then again, I never really liked Potbelly. It's just a sandwich place, folks.

Anyway, I've really only been listening to hear legendary end of the week catchphrase. But I think with the time zone change, it's probably too late in the day. So I'll step in for Lin here and wish you all a great weekend.

And remember, like the man says: "It's Friday, and it's great to be alive."

See you Monday.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


News and notes, cheers and jeers . . . or WHATEVER

All right, here goes with my best Larry King in USA Today impression. You know what I'm talking about. He gets about 10 column inches to just write down stream of consciousness bon mots and bits of et pour poi humor.

For example, this is what an average Larry King USA Today column looks like:

"This Harriet Miers nomination is heating up in Washington. And speaking of heating up, I hear she's a whiz at making chocolate chip cookies . . . Don't look now, but former Punky Brewster Soleil Moon Frye either lost a parent to Lou Gehrig's disease or had a baby. Either way, I saw her leaving Cedars-Sinai Hospital on Friday . . . Right now, I don't think there are two better college football teams out there than Alabama and UCLA. And for the record, my Super Bowl picks are Pittsburgh and Minnesota . . . Cameron Diaz is teaming up with Aussie actress Toni Collette and Academy Hall of Famer Shirley Maclaine. Should mean Oscar Gold . . . Of course, if you want me to go to a movie, put Goldie Hawn, Susan Sarandon or Renee Russo in it. Rrrrowr! . . . Have I mentioned that I like carrot juice?"

Note: This is not really taken from a Larry King column. Or is it?

So here go the notes:

1) Episode 3 of LOST aired last night. That means there's only one more before I either cut bait in outrage, or decide to suck it up for another year . . . and ultimately am outraged again. Last night was a step in the right direction. Katy Sagal of Married with Children appeared, playing the love interest of low-rent Yoda wannabe Locke. Liked her. Liked her a lot. Frankly, I always thought she and Ed O'Neil deserved better than a lifetime and Al and Peg Bundy (though I realize it's not like they were forced to do it for free - and I always thought that the show would be a lot more entertaining if cousin Ted the serial killer showed up).

There was still a lot to hate on the show. The last fifteen minutes gave me the angry shakes. A lot of faux drama polluting the waters. And the Others just bore me to tears.

But there were things I liked about it - like the filmstrip about all the experiments going on on the island, someone (namely Matthew Fox's Jack) treating Locke with a healthy dose of sarcasm, and Sayid's last line of the night.

For the record, Sayid's line was: "This argument is irrelevant." Bingo, Sayid. Bingo.

So I don't know what I'll do. The biggest cliffhanger awaiting me next Wednesday is whether I'll put myself out of this LOST misery.

2) Finally worked out at the Bally's nearest to the new Casa del Wieland this week. It's the one on El Centro in Hollywood, aka Club Bally's. Just imagine a driving drum machine beat, black lights flashing across the ellipticals, and a trough in the men's and women's locker rooms for those using the bulimic approach to the Bally's 30-Day Challenge. Imagine that and . . . well, you don't have it at all.

Basically, it's just a gym like any other gym. The only thing about my new Bally's that screams Hollywood is the line of cars trying to get in. Sure, it's more crowded than a street featuring the latest Lindsey Lohan car crash, but it's still just a gym.

3) I've been feeling kind of guilty about not doing more about music in my blog (and especially in my Top 5). Mostly, I'm not much of a new music kind of guy. This I realize. When I'm not listening to books on tape, Jim Rome or ESPN on the radio during the commute, I'm pretty consistently listening to CDs that from the mid-90s and earlier. This week, the most played CD has been Michael Penn's No Myth, one of those albums that I obsessed over in college (though not to the degree that I obsessed over virtually everything by the Replacements and Natalie Merchant). Don't get me wrong - I still love the Penn CD and always will. But now that I live in LA, I suppose I should listen to something newer . . . or at least figure out how to work my iPod.

4) On the comics front, please check out this website: It won't be the lightest reading that you ever do, but it could be some of the best. Brian Fies wrote and drew a brilliant, loving look at his mother's fight against incurable lung cancer, and how this fight spilled over and affected his entire family. It's the first web comic to win the coveted Eisner Award (though sadly, it won right after Will Eisner's death - meaning it was among the first awards not presented by Eisner himself). And it's fantastic.

Brian's younger sister Lis went through the Professional Screenwriting Program at UCLA with me, and so she guided me to the website (Mom's Cancer is being collected in book form later this year). And I got a chance to meet Lis' mom at our graduation. She was a very cool lady, possessed of more spirit than most of the people at the graduation. Lis is a great writer herself, a member of my writers' group, and keeps a pretty hilarious blog at Check it out.

Alas, Brian and Lis' mom died this past week after her long battle. It's a sad time for the family, but the web-based stories and comics that both Lis and Brian are putting out there celebrate their family's struggle and perserverence. I for one am glad to have witnessed it.

5) On a less personal note, I saw today that the national media started to pick up stories of the way local police agencies have chosen to dump the homeless downtown on Skid Row. According to the LA Times today, one very big problem is that the city's Chief of Police and the County Sheriff have very different ideas about how to deal with the homeless.

Check this out:,0,4040252.story?coll=la-home-headlines

Maybe it's just me, but this seems to be a pretty important issue. Maybe we should all get on the same page, folks? Do you think? Or do we like looking like fools for the national media? Again.

You'd think the police out here would learn something after OJ. And the Rampart scandal. And after shooting that guy's car down in South Central 200 times and telling the press that they "weren't trying to kill him".


6) Go White Sox (see, I told you I was going to jump around). If you guys make it to the World Series, maybe you'll be successful enough to move to another market (Memphis, Norfolk, Portland, Vegas, Columbus, etc.) where fans will actually attend your games.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Aw, see, those cops aren't DUMPING the homeless . . .

This article from today's LA Times counts itself as one of the most vexing things that this particular white liberal and new Angelino has read in a while:,0,3581498.story?coll=la-home-headlines

You see, those suburbs of LA who were taking homeless and mentally ill people from their municipalities, transporting them to LA's Skid Row, and then giving them a figurative kick in the ass and driving home - well, they've got an excuse now. They're claiming that Skid Row happens to be the place where most of the city's services and low-income housing is, and so they're actually doing these poor people a favor by dumping them there.

See, they're nice suburban police officers. Really. No, seriously.

Really? REALLY? Jesus Christ.

I don't even know where to begin. OK, how about here? How about the fact that cities and their governments exist to serve the needs of the people. So if you've got poor people in your community, you need to serve them. Not bus them away to someplace else.

Back in my homeless relief days, we called this type of behavior NIMBY-ism. In other words, people want the homeless and mentally ill served and assisted, only NOT IN MY BACKYARD. This is the way community selfishness leads to whole classes of people being marginalized. It would be disgusting if it weren't so common and boring.

Truly, what can we expect in this country. Former First Lady Babs Bush was recently quoted as saying that the people evacuated from New Orleans to the Astrodome were actually enjoying their stay, because they were mostly poor, and this was a step up.

Man. Some people just cry out for a karma smackdown, don't they?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


The Tuesday Top Five, Volume 2

So I figure that I might as well keep going with the Tuesday Top 5. It might be a little predictable, but I might as well embrace the "hobgoblin of little minds" and be consistent. So here goes.

You might notice that today's Top 5 is more than a trifle book-heavy. I do apologize. It's been one of those strange weeks. I haven't gotten out to much in the way of new restaurants, and Steph and I didn't make it to the movies over the weekend. I realize that I'd like to say more about music in a Top 5 like this, but since I tend to buy about one CD per year, I don't know what I'd say.

So this is the book-heavy Top 5. Take it for what it is:

5) The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. One of the best books I've read in a long time, and a terrific view into a culture that I know very little about. If you don't know this one, get to know it quick. In its first part, it follows the story of two boys growing up in Kabul in the days before the war with the Soviets, the rebellion of the Taliban, and its modern status as war-torn rebuilding nation. In the second part, it follows one of the boys growing up in America, coming of age, and returning to Afghanistan to face some of the most truly frightening personal demons that I've ever seen. Kite Runner is Hosseini's first novel, and the man is a master. It delivers gut punch after gut punch. He sets you up and then forces you through the torment of characters who grapple with worlds that they didn't make but shaped them nonetheless. Few books have shaken me like this one.

4) My Name is Earl and The Office. From the sublime to the ridiculous. Forget about Must See Thursday, NBC. Will and Grace might still provide a chuckle here and there (between gratuitous guest spots), but Tuesday now takes its rightful place as the center of the peacock network's comedy. Earl is nothing short of a blast - a single camera comedy populated by hilarious figures undertaking ridiculous problems. And The Office is - well, it fits perfectly in that new genre of "so true that it's really uncomfortable" comedy, along with two of my other fave sitcoms - Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arrested Development. People are talking about the death of the sitcom, but of the shows I watch on TV right now, five are funnies (Curb, Arrested Development, Earl, The Office, and Everybody Hates Chris). One is a drama (Lost), and I'm looking to unload it but quick.

3) Chicago Noir, edited by Neal Pollack, and specifically the story "The Oldest Rivalry" by Jim Arndorfer. I first met Jim Arndorfer as an 18-year-old freshman, at a Daily Northwestern party at a Mexican restaurant. Everyone else was drinking margaritas and beer. He stood there in a long coat and drank Canadian Club from a bottle. I asked him how it was. He growled, "I'm not drinking it for the taste!" And so began a friendship.

Over the years, I've marveled at Jim's writing skill, and shared his twin obsessions with football and the hard-boiled school of American detective fiction. He introduced me to James Ellroy and Andrew Vachss. I could never convince him to check out Robert Parker, but I found more success with Michael Z. Lewin (still one of the funniest of all American detective writers). On Sundays, I could always expect to find him glued to the Packer game, rooting against the hated Chicago Bears.

It also bears mentioning that I almost burned down his house on his wedding day, but that's a story for another time.

In "The Oldest Rivalry", Jim tells the story of a Packer fan driven to the murder of a Bears fan at the Lake Forest Oasis on I-94, just north of the Big Windy. That, coupled with the loneliness and occasional self-loathing of the protagonist, would be enough for a solid modern noir tale. But Jim takes another step that gives the story an additional layer of texture. His characters muse on the nature of rich and poor in Chicago, Wilmette suburbanites against working class "Grabowskis". As in many a classic crime story, he uses crime and suburban largesse to shine a bright light on one of the Windy City's biggest conundrums: namely how a city so obsessed with its working class image and rough and tumble heritage can still be ruled by a wealthy group so far removed from that reality.

I also want to take a chance to mention the book's introduction by Pollack, who also attended Northwestern during my tenure there (though I only knew him a very little). Pollack talks about the change in Chicago during the Daley years from noir metropolis to picture postcard of the Lakefront. He discusses the ways that the city's dark shadows and rough edges have disappeared, only to be replaced by identical faux red brick condo buildings and Trader Joe's outlets.

For two years, I lived in the city's Uptown neighborhood - a place that proves Pollack's theorem about the city. When I started dating my wife, I wouldn't let her walk down the streets by herself there. Prostitutes and crackheads still populated the side streets near Broadway between Wilson and Lawrence. Uptown owned the street with the per capita highest murder rate in the city (which is saying something, since Chicago became the murder capital of the country during those years).

But today? Uptown has a Borders and a bevy of Starbuck's outlets. Chain restaurants. And I can't afford to buy a place there, even if I wanted to. Is it good for the city? I'll argue that another time. Whatever. Still, Chicago shouldn't be without a little bit of its own brand of noir. I'm glad that Arndorfer and Pollack are there to provide it.

2) Cloud Cuckoo Land, a play by Scott Davis Jones. I'll probably get flagged by both of my regular readers for putting this very fun show, playing for two more weeks at Hollywood's McCadden Place Theatre, on the list. See, it seems that Our Woman in LA is assistant director on the project, so this looks like nepotism.

Well, whatever. I really like the play. And if you're in LA over the next two weeks, you should check it out.

Cloud Cuckoo Land is a modern re-interpretation of Aristophenes comedy, The Birds, re-mastered and re-imagined as a satire of modern politics and lifestyle. It features a number of great performances, witty dialogue, great costumes, and swell production values. I've seen it four times now, and I still laugh out loud.

1) A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. I don't know if this should count for me as a book or as audio, since I listened to the unabridged version in my car going to and from work over the last couple of weeks. It doesn't matter, really. For the record, it was read by Ron McLarty, who played Sgt. Frank Belson on Spenser: For Hire, and who reads pretty well.

I initially picked this up because I've read that Paul Newman and Robert Redford are considering adapting it to a film. If made, it would be their third on-screen team-up, and likely, it would be Newman's "retirement" film.

If you don't know the story, here it is. A few years back, Bill Bryson, an American journalist who had been living in England, returned to the US and wanted to "re-discover" the country. So, teaming up with his high school buddy Steven Katz (a small time criminal, alcoholic, and occasional neer do well), he decided to walk the entire Appalachian Trail, which stretches 2200 miles from Georgia to Maine. There, he would witness America's natural beauty, not to mention its people, and have time to commune with his old buddy.

Now, I'll admit readily that I would pay $10 a ticket to see Newman and Redford walk through the woods and snipe at one another. But I got an added bonus from this very cool book. You see, I'm not a camper or a wilderness guy. Never have been, never will be. My wife and I think camping means a night in a Holiday Inn.

But this book made me aware once again that America, in addition to being a very large place, is a beautiful one, amazing in the varied nature of its terrain. There's still a lot for me - and I imagine a lot of folks - to see in this land. Bryson writes a valentine to the country in this book. I was glad to read it.

But it's not all serious, either. I've never laughed out loud at a book on CD before. But I did here. Here's hoping that it does end up on the screen with Butch and Sundance trudging through the wild. What a great ride to take a second time.

So there you have it. That's this week's list. Enjoy.

Monday, October 03, 2005


Old is new

I watched a lot of sports this weekend - college football, pro football, and so on. It was hard to pry me off the couch. And no matter what I watched, I was reminded that we've returned in both the college and the pro football game to someone's idea of the "good old days".

Think about this. My hometown Cincinnati Bengals are 4-0 for the first time since 1988, the year they played in one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever. So what that the teams they've played are the NFL equivalent of St. Rita's School for the Deaf (which used to regularly beat my junior high basketball team, by the way). They're 4-0. Other teams that haven't been heard from in years are also on the mend. The Redskins are 4-0. The Buccaneers appear to be back.

Sure, the Steelers, Eagles, and Colts never left, but there's a very definite late 80s kind of feel to the game right now.

In college ball, it's even more so. I went online today to look this up. It's fascinating. It's the early 70s again. Check out this article from the LA Times that notes the stunning rebirth of four "traditional" football programs - all of which have been away for a good while.,1,4293192.story?coll=la-headlines-sports

When you're done, check your google and look at the AP poll from the early 70s, when Our Man in LA was in the process of being born and learning to crawl.

Some will argue that a lot of teams at the top of their game in college football never went away. Indeed, Michigan's seemingly been in the Top 25 since the mid-40s (much as it burns me as an Ohio State fan). But for the most part, these traditional teams had receded for a few years here and there. Schools from Florida rose up; the usual powers receded. It wasn't that long ago that places like Ohio State, Texas, USC, and Oklahoma were struggling to make bowl games.

I like the tradition of it all. For my money, every year the Rose Bowl should pit the winner of the Ohio State-Michigan game against the winner of the USC-UCLA game (with Iowa, Wisconsin, Washington, or Arizona State occasionally getting in for variety).

Likewise, the Orange Bowl should always have Nebraska or Oklahoma playing Florida State or Florida. The Sugar Bowl should always have Georgia, Tennessee, LSU, or Bama playing the winner of the ACC or Big Least. The Cotton Bowl should be major again, and it should always have Texas or A&M playing Notre Dame. I don't know about the Fiesta Bowl - throw whoever's left out there.

Why not? It couldn't be any worse than the pissing and moaning that goes on in the BCS.

Anyhow, I'm glad to see the traditional powers back. I hope to wake up some day 30 years from now and see them all still around, beating each other over the head for my entertainment.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?