Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Time for a little TUESDAY TOP FIVE . . .

Greetings from piping hot LA, where the temp reached 90 degrees today. For a midwestern boy like me, hot weather when the Christmas decorations go up just seems, well, a little weird. What the hell, roll with it.

And there's no better way to do that than to roll with the regular Tuesday Top Five. Really, today it's a top six, since I had too many things about which to pontificate. Must be the heat. So let's roll.

5) The Forgotten Man by Robert Crais. Just got into Crais' newest novel, about LA-based private eye Elvis Cole. Crais' writing fluctuates between chilling and merely exciting, with strong strains of pathos and humor throughout. If you haven't read this guy and you're a fan of detective fiction, you really owe it to yourself.

For the uninitiated, Crais (former show runner for a host of detective shows on TV) writes about Elvis, a literate knight errant type in the tradition of Parker's Spenser books. Elvis has an A-frame house in the hills, a vintage vette, and a smart mouth, but also a strong sense of honor and a major league violent streak (but only when might will equal right, you understand). His partner in detection is a former cop and moderately unhinged guy named Joe Pike. Through a dozen or so novels, these guys have toughed it out, evolving in ways you wouldn't have seen coming back in the 80s when the first Cole novel (The Monkey's Raincoat - also really good) showed up on shelves.

In this one, Cole takes a call in the middle of the night from cops on LA's skid row. A man's been murdered, but with his dying words, he claims to be Elvis' long-lost pappy. While our hero sweats out that mystery (could this really be his father? is he a suspect in the murder?), the case weaves its way into a series of murders in Temecula wine country and crosses the path of two serial killers on a cross-country jaunt.

Great, great entertainment from Mr. Crais. Check it out.

4) Griffith Park. Just a couple of blocks from the new Wieland homestead is one of the great joys of living in Los Angeles. In a more traditional American city, like New York, Chicago, or Boston, it's easier to have a central green area for the residents to enjoy. It helps define the city. Imagine New York without Central Park. You can't, can you? Same with Boston without the Common or Chicago without the lakefront combo of Lincoln and Grant Parks.

Folks visiting LA for the first time might imagine LA's take on the park experience might be the Santa Monica to Venice corridor of beach and surf. And great though that may be, Griffith Park is LA's real stab at a central piece of green.

And it's breathtaking. You've got hills and trails, gorgeous homes, a terrific amphitheater and observatory. For the past couple of months, as the wife and I have familiarized ourselves with our new Los Feliz haunts, we've taken to exploring the park.

It's one of those places where you find something new just about every time you head out. The trails wind through the Hollywood hills, giving you a knockout view of downtown and the West Side. And you get a workout, climbing up to the trails, hiking around.

Yeah, but how central is it really to LA? Pretty central. Close your eyes. Imagine LA as you've seen it in the movies. Got it? You know that there Hollywood sign? On the edge of Griffith Park. You know that observatory where James Dean showed his classmates that he was a rebel without a cause? Griffith Park. All those green hills you see above the city - that's part of it.

Another great thing about this new neighborhood.

3) I've got a tie here at 3, and both are from the world of entertainment. I couldn't decide which to go with, so I'm giving you the bonus. Here we go:

A. Neil Patrick Harris reborn and funny. Have you seen this new show HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER? Well, it's fine. Nothing special, frankly. And kind of disappointing to me because I'd heard that it kicked ass. And while it might kick JOEY's ass, well, you get the picture.

But Neil Patrick Harris is freaking funny on that show. As Barney, an obnoxious but nattily-dressed single guy, Harris makes the show watchable. The rest of the cast is fine, but the former Doogie Howser is all smarmy hilarious goodness.

Now, I'd prepared myself to laugh at the guy after seeing Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, in which Harris played himself as a frequently stoned, skirt-chasing dude who got "love juices" all over one of the heroes Honda Accord. But I figured Harris was just having a good time poking fun at himself. On the new show, he's the go-to funny guy, the sidekick who schtick keeps you coming back even after the main character leaves you cold.

B. The NBA. Pro basketball is back on starting with four games tonight. I'm a big fan of the league, even though it's taken some serious hits in terms of popularity for the past several years. Yeah, I know that there's no Michael Jordan out there anymore, or Bird or Magic. I know that middle Americans and red staters don't like to see the players all blinged out. And I know that marketers have been flipping out the past couple of years as A) Kobe Bryant went to trial for rape; and B) Small market teams like San Antonio took control.

But I like the league. I'm glad it's back. I want it to succeed. And I don't want the main topic of conversation about the NBA to be the stupid dress code issue.

With that in mind, I do have a couple of suggestions for what the NBA could do to raise the level of excitement. Sure, it would require David Stern to take over and do a few things that aren't particularly kosher. But on the other hand, it would raise excitement.

These are my ideas (you know, if I were all-powerful commish for a day):

* LINEUP CHANGES. By mandate of the league, a few small markets and have-not teams should have to part with star players. Sorry, Cleveland and Washington, but LeBron and Gilbert Arenas are going to play for Larry Brown and the Knicks. Emeka Okafor is headed from Charlotte to the Lakers. Kevin Garnett has to vacate Minnesota for the Bulls. And Steve Nash and Wally Sczerbiak must leave their teams for the Boston Celtics because, well, they look like they were born to wear Celtic green.

I'm not against the small market team, understand. But I am for league marketability. I'm not touching San Antonio or Denver or Indiana or Sacramento, or big teams like Philly, Miami, Detroit, Seattle, Houston or Dallas. Or even New Jersey/Brooklyn.

It's just a shame to see the big stars toiling in markets where they might never make the playoffs. If the NBA wants a new Jordan, it's hard to defend the idea that he's toiling away in mid-sized market teams that don't make the playoffs.

* TEAM MOVES. I like the Clippers way more than the Lakers, but it's unfair to have the Clips in the Staples Center. So I say, move the Clips to the OC, where they'll sell out every game and get a certain cache, like the Angels. No need to change the team's name even.


* ALLOW FOR MORE CHEAP SEATS AT MORE GAMES. That way, the folks who don't care about the bling bling can actually afford a seat. Use the Clipper model. Last year, my buddy Nick and I saw the Clips play the Spurs from courtside seats. Cost? $100.

This ends my first day as all-powerful commish. If I had two days, look out.

2) Mexico City. As I mentioned yesterday, Steph and I took good buddy Rick Porter out for his birthday on Sunday, and we finally tried this much-recommended place just a couple of blocks away from the homestead.

And it's awesome. Terrific regional Mexican fare. Oh, sure, they had the burritos and tacos that you can get anywhere, but this is a place known for its seafood enchiladas, for its fresh tamales that incorporate raisins and chocolate into their preparation. Of course, they're also known for their margaritas and sangria.

The wife and I both feasted on seafood - she had mahi mahi in tomatillo sauce with plantains, and I had shrimp in a tomato, caper, garlic, onion and pepper sauce. Tremendous. Not to mention just about a pitch perfect margarita on the rocks.

One of the joys of the new hood is finding new restaurants and bars that I can walk to. Maybe nobody is supposed to walk in LA, but when you have places like this just a stone's throw from the house, you're loving it.

1) Mike Allred's SOLO outing. I think that a few Tuesday Top Fives ago, I talked about DC Comics' new series SOLO. In it, DC (home of Superman, Batman and the like) give a comics pro (usually a writer-artist, but sometimes just an artist) free reign to write and draw anything they like with the company's stable of characters. It's 50 pages of whatever the artist chooses. Which makes it often pretty amazing.

A couple of months back, Darwyn Cooke, who is without question one of my four or five fave comics creators, did an issue. It was amazing. Stuff in there that would make you cry.

This month, Allred came on. I like Allred a lot - he's got a great off-balance style, quirky sense of humor, and really distinctive style. If you don't know his work on Madman, Red Rocket 7, and the Atomics, you should. If you haven't seen his greatly missed Marvel series X-Statix, then you've missed out.

But he's the guy who drew the adventures of Bluntman and Chronic for Kevin Smith's movie CHASING AMY (yeah, I know Ben Affleck was the character who drew it in the movie, but Allred really did the art). And now he's the guy doing a comics version of the Book of Mormon (called "The Golden Plates").

Anyway, this comic is fabulous. It tends more toward the comedic than the melancholy that we saw in Cooke's issue, but it's worth the read. His story about the Teen Titans battling the Doom Patrol in Bruce Wayne's penthouse, as told in "swingin' 60s" style and diction is a hilarious throwback to hepcat comics of the 60s.

Or remember Hourman? He's a Golden Age character who took a pill and got Superman-like powers for one hour. Well, what does that guy do when he's all-powered up and there's no evil afoot to fight? The answer's pretty hilarious.

Or what does an Adam West era Batman do when Robin takes off to fight crime on his own? Very, very funny stuff.

There's all that and quite a bit more. The best part about a book like that it gives comics fans a chance to look inside the brain of their favorite creators. Allred pokes fun at the conventions of this medium, but does so with a lot of love. If you've been reading comics for a long time - like me - you'll definitely get a kick out of this guy's power of super-humor.

And that's all he wrote. Six things this week that found themselves a spot in the Top Five.

See you tomorrow.

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