Archive for the 'Life' Category

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Legacy: He Insures JUSTICE!

For the past week and for the next five weeks, I am in my company’s training program. I’m in a hotel about 70 miles from home, but it looks and feels like the midwest suburbs. When people complain about suburban sprawl, they complain, knowingly or not, about this place. It’s not that it all doesn’t look nice, I just can’t tell where one strip mall ends and another begins. 200 yard across the parking lot from the AMC 30 cinema, there is another multiplex with 22 additional screens. That’s 52 screens sharing one parking lot. But no one’s showing “Bellflower,” (just for example)?

All of this to say, I recently finished the first draft of a screenplay, so I’m writing a short film as a kindof creative wasabe before jumping into re-writes next week. Taking a page from a combination of current circumstances/goings-on, the short film concerns an insurance adjuster handling claims for damage done by a superhero from the brand new, wildly popular, destined-for-greatness card game “Sentinels of the Multiverse” (I obtained permission for the use of their characters).

Well so last night as I was outlining the story – God-willing, it will be under 15 pages – it occurred that a hero or villain’s insurance policy would have to be different from a regular policy, and I needed to understand before I wrote it what coverages, exclusions, and conditions were present in the policy, so that I don’t have to figure it out during the writing. So, as an exercise, I created some specific, applicable portions of the insurance policy in question, from the Greater Good Insurance Group, a premiere insurance carrier for high-risk, costumed clientele (including [for additional premium] the sidekicks, wards, protégés and the like who may reside with them), and their moral counterparts. Here’s what I’ve got:

Please refer to your Greater Good Insurance Group, Inc.’s  S-27 Heroic-Form Homeowners Insurance Policy  – 09/2008, which states in part:

Section-I – Exclusions

We do not cover the Dwelling, Other Structures – including hideouts, caves, fortresses, lairs, anti-aging chambers, and the like – nor Personal Property, if the damaged items were intended for use in whole or in part for any of the following:


#1. Serious Criminal Activities – As stated in the Definitions for this policy, “Serious Criminal Activities” are any criminal activities above a normal Misdemeanor offense or which could be punishable by death.

#2. Overthrow of Government – Any use of covered property, in whole or in part, for the proven purposes of the overthrow of any governmental agency, whether local, state, national, or international – and also including governmental and international peace-keeping or organizational agencies – shall be excluded from all losses under this policy.

#3. World Domination – Any damage to property during the planning, building, scheming, conniving, or any other similar preparation with the provable purpose of – or any direct attempt at – total world domination, takeover, destruction, anarchization, or other similar effort will be excluded under this policy.

For all Exclusions, any loss to covered property NOT being used for the overthrow of government or world domination, damaged as a result of any excluded damage caused to property, will be covered under this policy, unless that property NOT being used for the overthrow of government or world domination in any way necessarily impeded the stoppage of the overthrow of government or world domination (e.g – Damage to personal property in a room – as well as any part of the walls, floor, ceiling, and framing members of the room itself – NOT being used for overthrow of government or world domination, but which shares a wall with a room being used, in whole or in part, for excluded activities or measures, which was necessarily destroyed as the best or only means of access to any property being used, whether in whole or in part, for the overthrow of government or world domination, is also excluded by these policy provisions).

As well, any personal property in any room being used, either in whole or in part, for the overthrow of government or world domination, will be considered to be aiding and abetting the excluded activities or measures, so long as said personal property resides in said room.

Section-II – Personal Liability

We will cover accidental direct physical loss, damage, or harm caused or inflicted by you toward any individual(s) not named on the Declarations Page of this insurance policy and to public or private property – whether residential or commercial.

We will also cover intentional direct physical loss, damage, or reasonable harm caused or inflicted by you toward any individual(s) not named on the Declarations Page of this insurance policy and to public or private property – whether residential or commercial – provided that such person(s) or property posed a legitimate, provable threat – whether latent or operative – to the Greater Good of all Mankind, as outlined in Section-I – Exclusions of this policy.


More Than a Feeling

I read this article by David Brooks – “If It Feels Right” – in the New York Times the other day, and it made me wary and then it made me think. Lacking the usual implication of impending apocalypse at the hands of “youngsters”, Brooks pretty calmly suggests that people my age lack any real guiding sense of morality or ethics that goes much beyond doing what feels right at a given moment. The article contains quotation after quotation from my generation, claiming to know as little as possible about as much as possible. I went to college, so the perspective isn’t all that surprising.

It’s true that there are things we simply won’t ever know; and it’s true that admitting you don’t know is better than pretending you do know. But that’s not what this is. My generation, by-and-large, likes to camp out at the openings of the trails past generations spent their lives navigating; only, we couple it with a cynicism that scoffs at effort, unless we know precisely where the path will lead us (and a stupidity to think we deserve to choose what we’ll find at the end).

So there you see my default position: annoyance at my peers. But the article, while not giving them a total pass, significantly relegates the burden of blame to mostly general lack-of-maturity/ lack-of-experience type charges, which, okay I agree that those are true, but then you also have to discuss the growing syndrome of 20-somethings intent on acting like teenagers for longer and longer, and so eventually you still arrive at a place where some responsibility has to be laid at the feet of those who have the ability to grow up, just not the desire (and sometimes maybe not the incentive) to.

Interestingly, the article states that “the study says more about adult America than about youthful America.” Now that could just be interpreted as the classic blame-it-on-the-parents argument; but the more I thought about it, the more I perceived an air of validity and truth to it.

I Think the Sheer Fact of This Movie is Judgment Enough

I just started reading the Book of Judges, which, you may or may not know or care, many scholars believe was written by Samuel, whose mentor, you may or may not know or care, was Eli. And it turns out that Eli’s relationship with his sons contains an interesting parallel with Joshua and Israel. Both Joshua and Eli were incredibly esteemed by their communities for their leadership and guidance. But both also failed to train the generation that followed directly after them, in the ways of the Lord.

Joshua failed to prepare the next generation of Israelites, who, we learn, were not brought up in the knowledge of the Lord or what he did for Israel; Eli had two sons, whom he let basically get away with everything, until they pretty brazenly took the Ark of the Covenant (which essentially contained the Lord’s essence…just read the Bible) into battle – which was forbidden – where they promptly got it stolen before they were both killed. There’s a sad, poignant moment in 1 Samuel, chapter 4, when Eli, old and blind and alone, is sitting along the side of the road, waiting for news from the battle. He is filled with regret for not raising his sons better, and he knows the news isn’t going to be good, and he’s right.

All of this has made me think. I agree that a lot of late 20th Century parenting did a bellyflop of a job when it came to preparing their kids for adulthood, and they may be responsible for creating the seeming allergic reaction to personal responsibility. But the kind of wholesale moral relativism/individualism has just as much to do with a youth culture that saw an opportunity and just ran with it. This is all, as well, to say nothing of the roles innumerable other cultural variables (e.g. 9/11, increasingly techno-driven society, etc…) play in this whole matter.

And yet. I was a little bothered by how one-sided the article was. I kept waiting for them to share some perspectives by responsible young people who are engaged and intelligent and thoughtful, as opposed to merely the lethal combination of opinionated and outspoken. I know that other side exists, because I know them. They have brilliant ideas. They are wickedly funny. They understand technology and how to use it in uniquely creative ways. They hold jobs, they have ambitions, they don’t flinch at monogamy.

But the biggest difference between them actually isn’t probably that they make any fewer mistakes, it’s that they’ve stopped romanticizing their mistakes so unrelentingly damned much.

Waiting in Line

The father ahead of me kept glancing toward the back of the store while Sandy scanned his items. His son stood at the back of the cart looking at the vast number of purchases.  I waited to buy toothpaste, facewash, some cereal (the alternately healthy-sweet Raisin-Bran Crunch and Cinnamon Toast Crunch), a 12-pack of Cherry Coke Zero and a traveling toothbrush holder for the trip to North Carolina tomorrow night for Josh’s wedding. I admit, my supermarket line choices have always been suspect, at best.

I had this issue, too.

The father to the son: “Tell her we have to go. Doesn’t she know that? Tell her we’re already up here paying for things.” This kid who’s maybe 13 whipped out his cell phone to deliver the message. Progress. When I was his age, I’d have had to go searching for my mother through the aisles, inevitably distracted by some basketball cards or the magazines – I remember an affinity for Sports Illustrated for Kids – and by the time I’d returned to the check-out line, my parents would be standing there waiting for me now, my mother having found whatever towels or salad-dressing or unappetizing food I didn’t want to eat that she’d been looking for a minute ago.

The father seemed really impatient, and I felt kindof sorry for the boy, in his black-white-and-red basketball shoes/blue basketball shorts/slightly-different-toned blue LA Clippers t-shirt. He’d clearly dressed himself in as close to an actual basketball uniform as he could. His unfashionable insistence on preserving the mono-chromatic symmetry of short-and-jersey made me feel a particular kinship with him. He was probably frustrated by anything that kept him from playing basketball, but that could be a nostalgic projection, too. The father picked out a three-pack of multi-colored Fruit-of-the-Loom boxer-shorts from the conveyor belt as it inched forward in tiny spurts. “Not these,” he said to Sandy, like she’d sneaked them into the pile. He handed them to the boy. “Go put these back. Just put them…anywhere.” I wondered if he coached the boy’s junior league basketball teams or if he was the kind of no-nonsense father who thought sports were a waste of time. I didn’t see where the boy put the boxers.

Up walked the mother and she immediately started loading the mountain of the store’s filled official red-on-frosted-white plastic bags back into the cart. She looked at me like it had been a really long day already, and it was only about 3:30, which the father announced like they were behind his official-and-implied-but-probably-unstated schedule. “I’m sorry about all this,” she said.

“No, it’s fine.”

“We just had a fire and we lost everything, so.”

“Oh no! You know, I used to work for an insurance company. I used to handle this type of thing all the time.”

“Oh yeah?” she said and kept loading bags, while the father asked whether that was the particular clothes iron they wanted to get or not. The boy had been looking at the trinkets they always have near every checkout, I think he knew he had been relieved of duty now that the mother had come. He came and stood at the side of the cart. “We even had to buy him a new PS3,” she said. “We’ve never bought this much stuff before.” The total was something around $324, and I’m not sure if they bought the iron, which the father said was either about $49 or else $79, I don’t remember.

“How’d it start?” I asked.

“We don’t know,” the mother said, her eyes searching. “The fire department just said it was accidental.”

“Is your insurance company taking care of you?”

“Yeah, they are! They gave us $10,000 today to start. The fire happened yesterday. We’re staying in a hotel, now.”

I’d heard her exact tone so many times before, working for insurance companies. Few situations feel more helpless than a massive fire. It’s a little different when they know the cause. There’s a sense of understanding, that there’s a defined reason for what happened. The fuse-box shorted or the toaster malfunctioned while the children were using it or it was a grease fire or someone left the candles burning near the drapes. Having a reason starts to restore a sense of control over your life, it gives you a picture in your mind of what went wrong and what you can, if nothing else, hope to avoid in the future. I can’t imagine how infuriating not-knowing would be, I’ve just heard it over-the-phone. On April Fool’s Day of 2008, back in Kansas City, I handled a five-level house-fire in a claim that went on for over a year. The cause of the fire was highly suspicious, and the owner kept trying to get us to pay to remodel his whole house, instead of rebuild it. It was a total fucking nightmare of estimates and revisions and multiple contractors and unending contents and storage units and revisions and supplements and finally, when he kept asking for more money and extended deadlines, my supervisor and I made the guy and his contractor come into our office, sit down, and explain to us what he’d done with the money we’d already paid him. It was one of the few times me and that particular supervisor were in complete agreement. He was a nice guy, though.

“Good, I’m glad they’re treating you well,” I said.

The mother smiled and loaded the last of the bags. They conveyor belt slid my things forward, and Sandy scanned them. I haven’t done insurance in almost a year, but tomorrow I have an interview for a full-time position with a company I was a temp for, for eight months last year. I saw the family-of-three in the parking lot, and I almost went over to them to remind them to keep all of their receipts and to be as detailed as they could possibly remember on their contents list. They were almost done loading everything, and the father was hurrying them along and already getting in the car, himself, so I let it go. I hope everything works out for them, and I hope the boy gets to play basketball again sometime soon.

The Deck-athalon

I’ve come to expect certain things from my friend and personal trainer, Shawn Richardson. Like walking into the gym, seeing that sly smile creep onto his face just before he says, “Hey Bud-dy. You’re going to hate me today.” We’ve been working out together for over a year, and in that time, it’s evolved from something designed to help me slightly progress in one area or another into a weekly test of all-out endurance, which he basically designs to push us both in vast, unrelenting ways.

And which also, it should be stated, I sometimes fail. A couple weeks ago, he decided we’d go running barefoot on the pavement in 90+ degree heat. It took I’m-going-to-guess one-tenth of a mile before I was yelling, “Fuck! Shit! Ow! Fuck! OW!!! Fuck! Fuck! FUCK!” and then scampered into the grass, because my feet were actually starting to burn (and still hurt the next day). And yet isn’t it odd that somehow I felt like I had messed up or let Shawn down, because in the presence of such bold and unabashed craziness, a sane person will begin to feel like they’re the outsider.

So, anyway, moving on, our most recent workout was what I’ll call “The Deck-athalon.” You start with a deck of cards. Now of course, there are four suites, all with cards ranging from the TWO to the ACE. Each suite has two workouts, one workout for odd-numbered cards, one workout for even-numbered cards, with the JACK representing 11 (odd), QUEEN being 12 (even) and, just to ruin the sequence, KING being 15 (odd). So, that said, here were our exercises:

Pain Does-SO Hurt.

(NOTE: “HSPU” = Hand-Stand Push-Up)

Notice there that an ACE = a one mile run (in shoes). There are four aces in a deck. The workout ends when all cards have been drawn. Except but also, there are two JOKERS. And each JOKER doubles the number of reps from your previous workout, on top of that workout’s card count itself. To wit: If I draw a SEVEN-of-Diamonds, I have to do seven kettle-bell swings (times 2), so fourteen kettle-bell swings. Not bad. So I do those fourteen. Then I draw the next card: JOKER. I double the fourteen and do twenty-eight additional kettle-bell swings, for a total of forty-two. Which means for those thinking ahead, if you were to draw an ACE and run a mile, and then draw a JOKER, it’s another two miles. And then if by some mystical occurrence of cosmic hatred, you draw the second JOKER right after that, it’s another four miles, for a total of seven miles, plus three more ACES apart from that (None of which ACE-plus-JOKER stuff happened, it’s worth pointing out, but the fear that it could makes every time you draw a card a nerve-wracking moment). So, then here’s how our cards came out:

Feel the Burn(ing Hated For Shawn).

And now here’s how the workout started:

Jack of Diamonds: 22 Kettle-Bell Swings (11 x 2) (per arm)

Nine of Hearts: 9 Sandbag Lunge-and-Twists (per leg)

Five of Clubs: 5 Dead-Lifts

Ten of Clubs: 10 Single Arm Ring Rows (per arm)

Two of Hearts: 2 Landmine Tosses (in which you have a long barbell with one end butted up against a wall, and the other weighted with a heavy weight; and literally throw the side-with-weight up with one arm, then move to catch it with your other arm, sortof pendulum-esque but not quite) (per arm)

Seven of Hearts: 7 Sandbag Lunge-and-Twists (per leg)

Ace: One-Mile Run (1 of 4)

Eight of Diamonds: 8 Hand-stand Push-ups

King of Clubs: 15 Dead-Lifts (this was terrible)

Queen of Spades: 12 Renegade Rows (in which you do a) pushup, b) right-arm row with a dumbbell, c) pushup, d) left-arm row with a dumbbell [all of which equals exactly only ONE]) Or here, watch this guy:

Six of Hearts: 6 Landmine Tosses (per arm)

Nine of Diamonds: 18 Kettle-Bell Swings (9 x 2) (per arm)

Ten of Hearts: 10 Landmine Tosses (per arm)

Ten of Diamonds: 10 Hand-stand Push-ups

Keep in mind, that’s only 14 cards, meaning (with Jokers), there are 40 more exercises to do after this, including three more miles run and nearly all of the single-arm ring rows. The workout ended with the following sequence, which if you’re feeling like having fun you can reverse-transpose to the cards they were: 12 Hand-stand Push-ups/ 14 Kettle-Bell Swings/ 28 Kettle-Bell Swings/ 15 Sandbag Squat-Jumps/ 10 Kettle-Bell Swings/ One-Mile Run/ 30 Kettle-Bell Swings/ 6 Single-Arm Rows/ 4 Single-Arm Rows/ 12 Landmine Tosses/ 7 Dead-Lifts/ 8 Single-Arm Rows/ 3 Dead-Lifts/ 12 Single-Arm Rows.

The point of this whole spiel being not any kind of look-at-me-I’m-so-great type deal (since for every exercise involving weight, Shawn did a significant amount more weight than I did, and if one were watching the two of us working out, chances are one might unknowingly avert their eyes from the sortof-fit guy as they look upon the super-cut, Greek-statue type Shawn), but more of a progress report. I can do things now, even just going to the gym one day a week, trying to run at least one day, playing Ultimate Frisbee, that I couldn’t even begin to do a year ago. I’m unquestionably stronger now, and I have a better understanding of what I can and can’t do. There are lots of things in both camps, and the whole point of training with someone isn’t to become as strong as they are or to beat them, it’s to see their example, listen to their encouragement, and let them push you to as you start to learn how to push yourself.

A few weeks ago, Shawn and I were working out, and we had finished our, I think, fourth round of exercises. It was kindof the stopping point for the day, but I could tell that, despite my immediate inclinations, I had more in me, so I said, “I know I might regret this, but I could go another round.” The fact that I could say that and that I did are two definitive markers of the progress I’ve made. It’s not as purely visible as a six-pack of abs, but it is a physical, observable difference, which is the whole point of it anyway.

**You can check out Shawn Richardson on his twitter-feed here. He’s pretty dope.

This I Swear to All

I’ve seen The Decemberists five times now (six if you count the time me & Beej saw a Colin Meloy solo show in Lawrence): never in the same venue twice. KC, MO (The Uptown Theatre); NYC (Central Park); Lawrence, KS (Meloy Solo @ Liberty Hall); STL (The Pageant); LA #1 (UCLA’s Royce Hall); LA #2 (The Wiltern). Maybe that’s not so strange, but it seems to be, if nothing else, accidentally eclectic (please note I’m aware that many people have seen their favorite bands in numbers that approach or exceed triple digits). Of the venues, St. Louis’ has the best layout. Also of note that I tend to buy multiple tickets & take friends with me to see the shows. I’m perpetually introducing this band to people.

Which and a few Saturdays ago was no exception. Ashley’s new to their music in general the past couple months and Adam came aboard only in 2009 when we threw on “The Hazards of Love” during our drive out west. I warned her “I’ll probably be singing the entire time, I hope that’s okay.” (The word “probably” being an intensity-of-band-love moderating term with no basis in reality and no chance of not being surpassed.)

I’ve been listening to The Decemberists since 2006 and it’s a rare-but-true case where the first song of theirs I ever heard remains my favorite. Sometimes a thing can hit you so hard you kindof absorb it into you and the force of it all is stamped onto your outlook. It just so happens, too, that that’s what “The Engine Driver” is all about to me. It and they’ve been a mainstay on my iPod & in my car ever since. I’m that guy who scours the internet looking for lost tracks and B-sides, obscure performances and band interviews. Who owns four band t-shirts (brown-2; gray-1, maroon-1) and pre-orders their albums from their site so he can get a limited-in-number autographed CD booklet. Who sings along to every word of every song not because he’s sat down to memorize them but because he’s listened to all the songs that many times.

Full disclosure: My musical history is weak-to-totally-abysmally-embarrassingly-bad. I don’t retain song names. It takes me a nice long while to get music in mind and remembered. I can’t tell you the frontman for 90% of the stuff I like, let alone the band’s other members, or who supplied guest vocals or played guitar for two tracks on their last album. I haven’t listened to enough of The Beatles or Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash or The Who or Pink Floyd or Van Morrison or Van Halen (I used to not know the difference) or The Beach Boys or The Doors or Billy Joel or Elton John or Bruce Springstein or The Smiths or The Rolling Stones or anything Phil Spector produced or Motown or blah blah blah these are just the first ones who came to mind. One time an ex-girlfriend and I got in a sizeable and enjoyment-of-day-ending fight in a Pizza Hut when I overreacted to her shock at my not recognizing certain songs. She was right that I didn’t really know anything, I guess I just mishandled the waves of judgment she heaped on me for my sins of omission.

There are multitudes I don’t know and will probably never know, but I do know The Decemberists. They are of course known for their hyper-literate lyrics and exuberantly complex arrangements. That’s why I fell in love with them. I eat $10 words by the handful, and complexity, ambition, and (oh yes) indulgence create an Artistic Bermuda Triangle from which my interests will probably never escape. The Decemberists do it with such a high success rate, too, that I’m perpetually standing back in awe. From “The Mariner’s Revenge” to all three parts of “The Crane Wife” to the cover-to-cover brilliance of “The Hazards of Love,” plus “The Tain” and the deconstructo-playful “I Was Meant For the Stage,” they’re topping themselves every album.

Their new album, “The King is Dead” is so different musically that it’s no different at all. It’s stripped down. It’s simple. The longest track isn’t even six minutes, and most come in at around three. Because there comes a time when the challenge is no longer excess but restraint; when the bigger risk is one of style not size.

“Here we come to a turning of the season,” is the first lyric out of the gate, setting the tone for the album’s lyrical and musical themes. The whole thing has a more American folk feel, and I love how thoroughly a sense of place dominates the album, in that first song, “Don’t Carry It All,” – my favorite track on the album, it perfectly marries the focus on setting with an abundant declaration of the purposes of community – and later in the album on June Hymn.

Opening Act: "Mountain Man"

I love how different “The King Is Dead” is from anything they’ve done before, and yet how comfortably it fits into their canon. There were slight shades of it toward the end of “The Hazards of Love,” the songs alternate between brawlers and bawlers (to borrow a bit from Tom Waits). Songs like “Calamity Song,” “Rox in the Box,” “This is Why We Fight,” and another favorite of mine, “All Arise!” really move and have a propulsion to them; and the “Hymns,” and something like “Rise to Me” remind you how at ease Colin Meloy’s lyrics are, how like a blanket by a fire during a rainstorm the songs feel. Few songs I’ve heard capture the feeling of a season and place – on the earth and in life – like these. They go to different, unique places you don’t normally hear about. And then hey what is “Dear Avery” anyway? Is it about a dog? I think maybe it is but I don’t know.

The concert was wonderful, of course. They dipped into every album and even an EP, and they played seven of the ten tracks from the new one. This may be the first time I didn’t hear “O Valencia,” and it was nice to know they had enough that they didn’t have to.

Here’s the breakdown (by album, not order):

Castaways and Cutouts: “Grace Cathedral Hill”

Her Majesty, The Decemberists: “Los Angeles, I’m Yours,” and “Red Right Ankle”

Picaresque: “We Both Go Down Together,” “16 Military Wives,” “The Engine Driver,” and to close the first encore “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”

The Crane Wife: “The Crane Wife 3”

Always the Bridesmaid EP: “Days of Elaine”

The Hazards of Love: “Won’t Want For Love (Margaret In the Taiga)” and c’mon of course “The Rake’s Song”

The King Is Dead: “Don’t Carry It All,” “Calamity Song,” “Rise to Me,” “Rox In the Box,” “Down By the Water,” “June Hymn,” and “This Is Why We Fight”

You know, I’ve said it before and it should perhaps just become my raison d’etre but there’s nothing better than listening to great music with a pretty girl. There were some sightline issues to figure out, but just being able to hold someone’s hand during songs I love is for me an ultimate luxury and comfort.

Just before they played their eight-minute ode to sailors and revenge, Colin told the crowd to practice screaming like they were being eaten by a whale, and as everyone yelled like banshees, I hear Ashley go, “What in the world?” Like I said, she’s relatively new to the music, but soon she followed suit, joined in, and bellowed like a pro. And then what a great final moment it was when they all came back onstage for a second encore to play just and only “June Hymn.” The disparity between the two songs could not have been greater, and it was perhaps a knowing nod to the fact that both are a part of the band’s appeal: the brazenly complex and the utterly simple.

And above all it’s really really great music.




How Successful Are You at Identifying the Success of Things (i.e. the success of this pie chart re: your success re: success)

Over the past 18 months, I’ve applied to what has to be over 100 jobs for work as a production assistant/crew for various films, shows, companies, et al. Have yet to obtain so much as an interview from these efforts. Then last Friday, I gave my roommate’s friend, Tom, who needed a couch to sleep on for a few nights, my resume to pass on at Top Chef, where he’s doing Art Department crew work. I emailed my living room around 11pm. At seven the next night, I got a call to report for work in twleve hours. This is the way things work. This is the way people get work.

It’s nice to be working. Even though I’m just a lowly PA. And that I have less-to-no-time to shoot the documentary for the next two weeks. And that I work twice as many hours to make slightly less money than I’d make during that same day substitute teaching. Regardless. It’s an industry job and a stepping stone and the craft swervices are totally wonderful for once.

Even when you know you’re where you need to be, it’s hard to stay there when other things pay much better and have perks of their own. Resigning yourself to the beginning of the path to your goals is much more difficult than just changing your goals, and it’s easy to overlook movement that is intangible as non-existent.


It Takes Forever to Set Up That Kitchen

It’s not that the work itself is hard to do. Basically set-up/ clean-up. Scraping labels off of jars and cans. Using the lift to cover sky-lights with tarp. Moving wood piles so someone else can set up a green-screen. Sweeping. Starting at the bottom requires a kindof self-induced double-mind-trick. It takes enough of a daily absence of mind that you don’t blow your brains out because you’re not where you want to be, as well as just enough presence of mind so you don’t forget why you’re doing this grunt-work and putting up with such a wilfull lack of recognition by your employers that you, too, are a human being (e.g. that you are given a single 30-minute lunch break smack in the middle of your 12 1/2 hour shift; or that when you’re sent to purchase a “non-nasty” Ginger Ale at a grocery store that is actually an Office Depot and then drive around (at speeds exceeding the legal limit) looking for any damn place that sells Ginger Ale – since, you assume, that if they are petty enough to send a person out to look for Ginger Ale, they’re also petty enough to chew off your ass should you dare to return sans Ginger Ale – you will be bitched out for being gone too long).

The Perks (small consolation though they are/ little fulfillment though they bring):

1. Craft Services: You might expect an irony like a food show having terrible food for the people creating it but no, it’s wonderful. Not only do we have a wonderful woman creating all sorts of interesting/delicious things (salmon/chive cream cheese? Don’t mind if I do!), they don’t skimp in the soda/snack/treat departments. We have name brands and huge quantities. There are literal palates of Fiji water cases in the warehouse. And Coke Zero. And All colors and creeds of M&Ms.

Not Quite Like This, It's Reality TV After All

2. Right Place, Right Time: My second day I did a soda run in one of the brand-ass-new 15 passenger Chevy Vans. From then on, I’ve been a driver nearly every day since. When choosing between wandering aimlessly around set looking for something to do so I don’t feel like the ONLY one without a specific task OR sitting in a heated/cooled van w/ ample supply of snackery, iPod & reading material sometimes transporting people, often waiting, occassionally sleeping – the choice is obvious. Friday I got upgraded to a Lexus hybrid w/ one of those cameras that comes on when you back up to help steer into tight spots.

Or yesterday, I led a caravan of Lexus hybrids from south of L.A. up north of the valley, then west to Sunset and all the way back. We were filming B-roll footage of the vehicles all over the city. But because they didn’t want to identify us as the drivers (perhaps they were technically “supposed” to use Union drivers? Pure speculation as semi-sure hunch), I had to keep my visor down, which meant that I was driving on the freeway and down Laurel Canyon and across Sunset Dr. spaced only about five to ten feet from the camera vehicle and unable to see any traffic. For about five hours.

3. Playing Well With Others: Because careers in this town is built mostly on relationships and connections, the more you get along with people, the more you make friends, the better your chances. That sounds almost cynical but it’s pretty obvious when someone is only interested in themselves. They ask what you’ve worked on so they can tell you how much they didn’t like working on that but I bet you never worked on ______, well I just did, it was awesome and so am I. Ugh. The point is, so many people are trying to make it, it’s easy to default to a standoff-ish competitive mindset. But the more you talk to people, the more you see how similar your situations are. You find someone to go to lunch with and hey, now if they hear something maybe they’ll let you know, & vice versa.

4. Taking Advantage of Opportunities: The majority of this post is being written while I’m sitting on set (rare enough) essentially babysitting an entrance so no one interrupts filming. In this spot I’ve sat for going on four hours. I’ve been writing. I’ve been tweeting. I’ve been reading. Most people do nothing. But more than that, let’s go back to Friday. I was driving the chefs from their hotel to the interview space and mostly they buried their faces in their phones, but one chef (whose name/sex/race will remain anonymous on the way-off-Broadway chance someone from the network puts out tracers for signs of…whatever) got in the car, immediately asked me about my tattoo and was extraordinarily candid about his/her disdain for the show. Earlier I’d driven a producer over and he/she’d explained the way they do interviews for the show. Each contestant is grilled for about two hours on every detail of the episode and while not coached what content to say is told how to say things. the formula is undoubtedly helpful for editors trying to piece things together. It’s also stiflingly unoriginal. The chef: so he/she’s telling me how much they don’t want to do the interviews because they take forever and never want to hear anything interesting, and in a moment of not-a-small-amount of gumption, I said, “Let me ask you something, why did you agree to be on this show?”

“I have no idea. Some bullshit my manager or publicist told me.”

I asked if he/she wished they were back at their restaurant. “I’m not at the restaurant. I speak, I teach, I go and try to inspire people.” Unbelievable. What a let-down this must be compared with their usual job. On the other hand, though, it takes the pressure off. We talked about how relaxed he/she can be, since they’ve got nothing to lose and don’t care about losing. And their perspective about it struck me as incredibly applicable to my own situation. “The contest is not the opportunity. The opportunity is to say something -that hopefully won’t get cut out – that makes someone watching think about things in a new way.” That, and the charity he/she was playing for are the reasons to keep going. Maybe someone will be interested in the charity and get involved in some way. Maybe they’ll be struck by one of the dishes created and try something new.

I won’t draw the lines for you, since I think it’s pretty clear that things can feel the same way whether you’re a P.A. or a Master Chef (he said as he penciled an incredibly thick line underneath it all). The hope is this will lead to more work; that I’ll make connections and keep working. At the same time, I’m wary of getting stuck in a sea of twelve hour days that drain my energy and cut off any chance of being creative outside of work. I love being on set, but being an Assistant Director or a producer on some bullshit reality show won’t fulfill me. At that point – and I’ve no doubt this happens all the time (in TV, movies, wherever) – there’s nothing interesting or challenging or even very artistic about it all, and the pursuit you began because you were moved and charged and passionate turns into every other kind of soulless work.

For now, I think about David. As in King David. My Men’s Group went through 1 Samuel and we’re currently studying 2 Samuel. Do you know how long it was from the time David was told he would be King by Samuel to the time he was crowned King of Israel? 17 years. Ten of those he was on the run from Saul. Sleeping in the mountains, living day-to-day, in a constant state of turmoil, with nothing to hang onto except the promise from God.

The point is, of course, that that’s enough. I don’t even have that, though. God hasn’t sent any well-respected interpreter to tell me I’ll make it. I have only the direction from God I’ve perceived through interpreting experience through the prisms of prayer, reflection, and the input of others. I don’t know where I’ll end up. I don’t even know if I’ll get the kind of opportunity I feel I deserve. There’s no guarantee. But here I am. And here I go.


Note: Should go w/out saying but the quotes from the chef may not be exact. Was driving when he/she said them, sans recording device. I wrote them down as soon as I dropped him/her off. Hopefully I was accurate to the letter, but at the very least, I paraphrased well.

New Day Today

Tomorrow too.

There’s a lot going into this post. It was a long weekend. It was good, but I was off and I was angry and I was making mistakes and being rude and inconsiderate and just pissed off to people I love.

Hey McNutty!

I said “fuck” a lot more than I usually do (which so-fucking-what?) but there was something behind it that isn’t usually there. Uh oh. Now this is going to sound silly: I finished Season 5 of “The Wire” last Friday (own the box-set folks, you just have to), at which point I immediately downed the special features. Some people think the final season veers off and contains choices its characters wouldn’t really make, particularly McNulty. I disagree. There is a moment when his partner – the ever-cigar-chomping Bunk – is scolding him for his actions and McNulty says, “They don’t get to win, we get to win!” That line contains untold reservoirs of anger and bitterness and rage – at the crime itself but also (moreso?) at the equally broken system in place and people in power to stop it. I can’t tell you how much I identified with that moment. It’s a callback to a monologue another character screams to inner city thugs earlier in the series, but it encapsulates his character. There is a particular brand of discontentment and failure and understanding that is McNulty’s alone. It’s the reason he remains the show’s “lead” character or at least central figure. “The Wire” in whole often echoes that perspective thematically and in many of the other characters’ story-lines. It’s the kind of thing that makes your chest go tight; the singular moment when your heart both swells with love and breaks in despair. McNulty lives that moment day after day.

So okay maybe I was a little pissed off. So much is broken it’s hard to know which way to move and which shard of glass will hurt your foot the least.

Be Afraid, For He is Awesome

On Tuesday I start filming a documentary about my friend and personal trainer, Shawn Richardson. I’ve never made a documentary before, and it’s been a while since I had to film anything myself. In the midst of occasional substitute teaching (Presbo!), looking for industry/permanent work, and a full workload of self-imposed writing, this will be a totally new experience. Which meant getting reacquainted with my camera. So today I struck out to a nearby park, intending only to film test-footage and work on camera movements, but after about 30 minutes, I started looking for details. I walked the entire park shooting bits and pieces as I went. By the time I left, I felt so much better. Calmer. Less constricted. I had to get outside myself, focus on other people, a whole community enjoying the beautiful weather on an important day.

I thought of looking up some MLK quotes, but it’d be a sham. I didn’t watch “The Wire” because of him or go to the park because of him. It just worked out this way and maybe it just often does. Truth and goodness and community don’t occur because of earthly or human perfection. That’s not what happens on this side of life, and it’s frustrating. We are neither the authors nor perfecters of our salvation or faith. But they exist in us and between us when we seek something outside ourselves together, regardless of how desperate the state of things has become.

So I made it into a short video; a mini-doc, if you will. I set it to a song off The Decemberists’ new album The King is Dead (which how appropriate?!) called “Calamity Song” (Again!).

So, as you saw… There’s all sorts of issues with the mini-doc, short as it is. Should have got more signs, sleeping people, bicycles, runners, skaters, food, smiles, laughing, feet, et al. I spent two hours there is all, and didn’t have the idea to even try to do anything with the footage until I was already gone, and by that point it seemed somehow wrong to go back. Nonetheless, lessons learned.

It Has Come to This

February 2019
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