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This Life Will Self-Destruct In 30 Seconds

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

For years I’ve marveled at the frequency with which people self-destruct. My memory easily recalls a slew of names – Mel Gibson, Lindsay Lohan, Al Campanis, Charles Barkley, Prince Phillip, Larry Craig, Mark Foley, Sarah Palin – politics is rich with blunders and easy-to-refute-lies. Almost daily our wired-in-world reports some celebrity, sports star, or politician rushing cliff-edge like a lemming, unable to help himself (herself) from destroying his (her) career. In all fairness a sharp mind, wisdom, or a familiarity with Standard English have never been prerequisites for Hollywood stardom, sports fame, or a political career. But what truly baffles me is how often I do the same thing (which eliminates being rich or famous as a cause). If the metaphor of shooting myself in the foot were literally true I would not be able to walk to the cliff. I’d have to wheel myself up to the edge. No doubt I would get there too. But this is a blog and not a confessional (I’m not Catholic anyway), so I’ll limit my revelations.

Years ago Fox Television put into production a script I had written titled Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye. Actor Jason Priestly, at the time famous for his role on the series, 90210, had a fan at the network with the power to greenlight productions. He was willing to let us make Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye if Priestly directed and acted in it. Like many other actors, Priestly longed to be behind the camera.

The TV movie was my first experience as a writer/producer on an actual production, but I quickly discovered (a) how little input the writer has during production and (b) how much rewriting is involved due to weather, set changes, budget, and director’s whims. At the same time I was rewriting scenes for the production every night (really!), I also was writing a new TV movie for NBC (my day job). It was the busiest and most financially rewarding time of my career. Perhaps I could not handle the  success or the demanding schedule or my own ego (is all the above an option?). One night while having dinner with Priestly, Fox executives, the real producer, and others, Priestly and I got into an argument. I don’t recall over what. Priestly often fell asleep while in meetings or on the set of the production. If only I had done the same that night at dinner. But I didn’t. In my frustration I flipped a breadstick I had picked up to eat. It sailed toward Priestly. The chatter around the table died as quickly as if someone had called out, “Quiet on the set.”  The next day I was banned from the set of my own movie.

Now, this incident might be forgotten had I not on many occasions over the years made similar blunders, most recently in an e-mail exchange with the publisher of my first novel, Claws. I don’t consider myself dishonest, although at times my blunders have nudged me to lie. I don’t consider myself unintelligent. I have degrees and IQ tests that say otherwise. I don’t even consider myself unwise. Sometimes others seek me out for my counsel. So why, I wonder, do I seem hell-bent to self-destruct?

For that matter, why are so many of us inclined to self-destruct? Is it because of childhood trauma (my family was not particularly supportive)? Is it because of guilt (Catholics and Jews do not have a monopoly on it)? Is it because of the fruits of karma (Buddhist karma both lets you off the hook and hooks you at the same time)? Or is the reason for self-destruction built into our DNA? If you have an answer, I’d like to hear it, and sooner instead of later, before I do something else stupid. Thirty … twenty-nine … twenty-eight … could you hurry, please?



The Rock vs. In Cold Blood

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

Many people tell me they don’t read fiction. They tell me that they prefer true stories. They even tell me that they only watch reality TV (although many friends, especially in the Buddhist community, claim not to watch television ever). To all of these people I say this: truth and fact are not synonyms.

When people tell me they only read or watch true stories, what they are really saying is that they prefer to read or watch stories inspired by real life events. They want a non-fictional basis to their fictional material. There is in fact nothing in print or on the screen that is not edited, shaped, and altered by the process of writing, filming, or even verbal story telling. The very act of reporting an event changes the event being reported. Have you ever listened to two people report on what they saw while watching the same event? Which version is factual? Story telling is a montage of life experiences. Events are selected and shaped. This is true of both non-fiction and fiction.  To do otherwise (with apologies to James Joyce) makes for a tedious, boring story. Try taping actual conversations while sitting in Starbucks or while at the airport and transcribing them. Listening to the recordings or reading the transcripts is excruciating. I’ve done it.

Recently, while preparing food, I was listening to an NPR station in Los Angeles. The program featured a story about Truman Capote’s famous book, IN COLD BLOOD. The book is often called ‘the’ masterpiece of non-fiction narrative and rightly so. The NPR report said that significant parts of the book also are made up (aka fiction). Capote used details that are simply not true – details that he knew were not true. The big question for the reporter, therefore, was how much of what Capote claimed to have happened that cannot be proven, such as the relationship between the two killers, is fact or fiction? My question is this: does it matter? Do we not feel that you have entered the corridor of evil when you read Capote’s book? Do we not feel a sense of a time when senseless murder shocked people differently from how it impacts people today? Do we not learn something about crime and punishment? Do we not suffer or grieve or weep?

The first book I published was a memoir, a story about a man who was an aviation disaster investigator. To the best of my knowledge, I did not write about events that did not occur. On the other hand, most of the names in the book are fictional. The legal department insisted on it. If we knew for a ‘fact’ that the person is named Ken, we still had to call that person Kevin or …. The non-fiction narrative I co-wrote opens with a scene inside a house on Christmas Eve. The man is doing whatever and his wife is reading to their son. The man gets a phone call telling him that a helicopter has crashed. The man and the woman talk. They put on their coats and leave the house. Does anyone reading the chapter believe that there was a tape recorder running in the living room? Does the reader believe someone was taking notes? The conversation and actions of the characters dramatize what the subject of the memoir remembers looking back many years later. The words spoken, the actions of characters, and the thoughts and feelings expressed were made up (though inspired by a factual event).

Perhaps you believe that Survivor is real, that the cameras are turned on for an hour a week and that people do these amazing things during that hour. Perhaps you never wonder about the other six days and twenty-three hours. Perhaps you even believe that wresting is real, that The Rock actually hit someone in the face with his elbow and did not draw blood or break bones. Perhaps you think that we truly know what President Lincoln said to his wife in their bedroom in 1863. If you do … but you don’t, do you, really?

Nothing I am saying here excuses people who write fiction and claim the work is non-fiction in order to appeal to an audience who prides itself on not reading fiction; the same  holds true for those who will watch documentaries but not feature films. (I grew up in the Missouri Ozarks and do not know of a truer portrayal than in the fictional book and feature film, WINTER’S BONE). Writers, filmmakers, and other storytellers lie about their work because they know it is easier to sell books and movies to you, the public, by fooling you than by being honest. I’ve written both non-fiction and fiction books; I’ve written non-fiction and fiction screenplays. I even got fired as the screenwriter on a biographical movie for writing about what really happened and by using the “actual” words of the character (found in letters written by her). I wrote facts. The producers wanted something else: a bigger truth.  So did I when I wrote the thriller novel (some call it a horror/thriller) CLAWS.

CLAWS is based on an actual event that occurred in 1995, but I did not write about the State Police hunt or the man and women who ran Ligertown and went to jail because of animal cruelty. (To learn more about the 1995 events as the inspiration for CLAWS look for an upcoming blog at <www.premierdigitalpublishing.com>). In writing CLAWS I wanted to explore a truth that is not found in facts. The truth I wanted to write about is found by delving into human behavior. The truth of my novel comes from reporting how people behave under duress or while in love or faced with hard choices. To me, the only truth worth writing about is the truth of the human heart. In my experience fiction often is truer than fact when it comes to exploring human actions and emotions. Now that’s a real fact!

 

 



Here Kitty, Kitty

Monday, February 25th, 2013

 

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My thriller novel CLAWS is about cats – lions, tigers, and   ligers. Anyone who is reading this blog probably has read my novel or at least knows about it, which means you may know something about ligers too. They are real animals. A liger is the offspring of a male lion and a female tiger. Breed a female lion with a male tiger and the offspring is called a tigger (a silly name).

Ligers (long i) are approximately forty to fifty percent larger than either a lion or tiger. They can weigh one thousand pounds. They have longer teeth, longer claws, and more power than either parent.My novel is filled with information about the speed and power and habits of various large, wild cats. If you have ever wondered how fast or far lions can run, or the power and speed of a tiger’s paw when striking, or the pounds per square inch of a lion’s bite, or how much meat a liger requires each day, it is in the book. Somewhere.

I really have seen ligers – a few males, a couple of females, and one baby liger. I scoured liger websites. I talked to people who fed and cared for the cats. And in the end, after all the research, I created fiction. As a writer, I may say ten things about ligers. If nine of them are factual, it makes the tenth more believable. What is fictional in CLAWS? As far as I know, there are no purebred ligers. There are no reports of a male and female liger reproducing. But could they exist? And if they did exist, what then?

Here’s another fact: ligers would be the most deadly big cat to roam the plains or jungles if in fact they did roam the plains or jungles. But ligers do not exist in the wild. Lions and tigers rarely share the same habitat, and if they did, they would fight instead of f**k. Having said this, if you visit Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, if you go to where in 1995 lions, tigers, and ligers actually did escape into the woods and fields, there are residents today who will insist that some of the big cats still are out there. You may not believe the locals, but the story does make you to think twice before setting out to hike the area.

 

 

 



Brave New World

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

In early February I traveled to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I realize that many people think traveling to Mexico is reckless at best, suicidal at worst. While I’m aware of the depraved violence that has taken root in Mexico, I also know that San Miguel de Allende is neither a border town nor located on a major drug trafficking trail. I felt safe, but I still was careful. (Seven or eight years ago I drove a Honda SUV from Los Angeles to Chiapas, Mexico, a journey I would not undertake now). Instead of flying into the small, neighboring airport in Leon, about an hour away from the colonial city I intended to visit, I had to fly from Los Angeles to Mexico City. Arriving too late to get a direct bus from terminal norte to San Miguel, at the airport I bought a ticket on a first class bus (Primera Plus) to Queretero where I could hire a taxi to travel the final half-hour and deliver me to my doorstep.

The Mexico City airport is large, and I wheeled two bags (one with 500 tea bags, a dozen bottles of vitamins, and a handful of natural fiber toothbrushes that a friend requested) along tunnel-like corridors as I looked for my bus. Usually, when I’m in foreign airports – Bangkok and Guatemala City come to mind – I’m amazed at how old, dirty, and inefficient most airports in the USA seem in comparison. But the airport in Mexico City did not feel new or shiny, even though it is brightly lit with shops, food stalls, and money exchanges. Toilets, however, are difficult to find. Out of breath (the city is high and has horrible air quality) I finally found the exit to my bus. An armed guard checked my ticket before waving me through. I rode an escalator down one floor and found myself outside (although not on the streets). There was a line of people at a security check.

I know that trains in the USA started security checks a few years back, but I seldom ride trains in the USA (since they are slow and expensive) and haven’t taken a bus across country since … the disco era? I surrendered my luggage, and it was passed through the same kind of X-ray machine used inside any airport. I was commanded to remove my jacket and hat and then my belt. I emptied my pockets. I walked through a metal detector. After clearing the metal detector a young woman in a uniform then patted me down in a manner that was – thorough. I’ve had dates that fondled me less (many of them). Finally, clothed again and (I admit) slightly aroused by the young woman’s careful attention to my anatomy, I checked my bags to go in the luggage bin, and then I boarded. As I settled into my reclining, first class bus seat, I thought about what I had just experienced. I thought about living in Mexico. I thought about how everything I had experienced was designed to search for guns. Then I thought about all the states here in El Norte rushing to pass legislation that will allow almost anyone to carry a concealed gun. I wondered if I would feel safer on a US bus knowing that half the passengers are armed with semi-automatic guns.  Well, I didn’t really “have” to wonder about it. I won’t.

Mexico is poverty-ridden, corrupt, and dangerous. But the country actually does not feel crazy. I wonder how long I will say the same about my own country (or maybe I already started believing we’re all crazy after 2001). Even so, I wonder how long it will be before US bus drivers replace “welcome aboard, folks” with “okay folks, lock and load.” Now that is crazy!



Teenage Zombies

Friday, January 11th, 2013

At last, here is a short blog.  After all, how much does anyone really know about zombies?  Or teens?  Or how texting became a zombie plot?

First, a confession: I’ve tried over and over to watch the AMC television series about zombies in an apocalyptic world.  “The Walking Dead” is, as I recall, the most popular series on cable television.  Friends who watch it assure me that the program is great.  So why can I never get through the pilot show?  Why can I never get beyond the first little girl wandering around with her zombie stare?

The answer I’ve come up with is texting.  Teenage texting zombies, that’s what stops me from watching “The Walking Dead.”  I only realized this recently, when I was in Los Angeles over Thanksgiving and the weeks leading up to Christmas.  While in Los Angeles I stay on 4th Street, a few blocks from the famed Farmer’s Market, my home away from home, and The Grove (an homage to the fakery of Las Vegas).  Actually, I like The Grove.  There is a great bar there called The Whisper Lounge, numerous restaurants (try the fries with mayo at Morel’s French Steakhouse), a wonderful Apple store, a giant bookstore, a multiplex cinema, and other shops that I frequent.  There also are teenagers – like everywhere – all of them walking blindly, usually three or four across, eyes downcast at their smart phones, thumbs twitching, texting away.  It is up to us, the non-texting pedestrians with our oh so silent thumbs, to dodge around the texting zombies to avoid a collision.

The texting teenage zombies are (I admit) a big reason I have resisted getting a smart phone, although my family members, texting Missourians, but not yet zombies, make fun of me.  Hey, I am not a Luddite (look it up).  I’m writing on my 27” iMac, own a laptop, iPod, Kindle, and will soon purchase an iPad.  But I am fearful of turning into Clint Eastwood’s grumpy old man (the only character he plays anymore), so I’ve finally decided, here in the new year, to give in.  I’m getting an iPhone.  Like, really soon, although this transformation scares me.   What if my brain deteriorates to single letter usage? What if I turn into a you-know-what?

As for the TV show, I’m going to try watching the pilot again, before dark, and with a glass of Bushmills (Irish whiskey) in hand.  Maybe even today!  (I’ll text about the outcome)  OMG!!!



Space Poop

Friday, January 11th, 2013

Last month I went to see the space shuttle Endeavor.  Endeavor, you may recall, was built to replace Challenger after it broke apart during its 1986 launch, killing the entire crew.  Many of you likely watched news coverage last October as Endeavor struggled to navigate the Los Angeles streets.  The final journey of the shuttle (Orbiter Vehicle Designation OV-105) ended at the California Science Center in downtown Los Angeles.  Endeavor’s first flight was in 1992.  It lasted nine days.  Its last flight was in 2012. In all, Endeavor made twenty-five space flights, spent over 296 days in orbit, and traveled 122,883,151 miles.

My friend and I bought tickets (we were allotted an hour in the exhibit) and stood in line.  About twenty minutes into to our hour we were led through a hall, down some steps, into another hall, and eventually into the exhibition room (no sign of the space shuttle yet).  The exhibition room was crowded with visitors as ethically diverse as Los Angeles (older white guys being a minority). Many families with children had come to the exhibit. I liked seeing that. It felt hopeful that kids might grow up knowing something other than Angry Birds.

My friend and I separated as I moved quickly from one exhibit to another, although I did linger over the exhibit of an astronaut’s personal kit.  What does a person take into space?  Not much, it turned out.  In addition to toiletries, the kit, which resembled the hanging bags sold by travel companies, with lots of little pockets, also contained a family photo, a miniature football, a beautiful tiger’s eye mala (Buddhist rosary beads) blessed by the Dali Lama, and a few other mementos.  I felt like I was looking through my host’s medicine cabinet.

For five bucks you could get in a space trainer and be rocked wildly back and forth.  I passed on that since I’ve always gotten sick on the merry-go-round.  There also was a video montage of every US space flight.  It was – oh hell, I admit it – heartwarming, so I watched it for a while.  I then noticed a large crowd directly ahead of me.  Whatever the exhibit was, the crowd never seemed to thin.  As soon as three people drifted away, five more crowded in.  After a struggle I finally got close enough to see what the main attraction was.  Drum roll!!!

It was a toilet.

Okay, let’s be honest.  Anyone who ponders being on board a space ship sooner or later wonders how you go to the bathroom.  NASA understands this, so the centerpiece of the exhibit was the space pooper.  It looked like a cross between a stainless steel throne and an electric chair.  There were various footholds (zero gravity) and handholds and a circular, small opening.  Actually, the contraption appeared complicated, and it must be since NASA provided an instructional video with two guys giving detailed instructions on how the space pooper worked.

Basically, water floats in space, so urine, aka pee, has to be forced to move in the direction you want it to move, downward, away from you.  Here’s how they do it: you clamp a hose onto your space suit (there’s a hook up for it in the crotch), pee into the hose, and air pressure pumped into the hose causes the urine to travel downward and be captured in a container.  I believe they recycle the liquid for other uses in space.  Don’t ask.  Yes, ladies, you can stand up and pee while in space (if you long for that experience).  Interestingly, men had only one shape and size of hose – like one size fits all socks.  But women had three different attachments to choose from at the end of their hose: oblong, oval, and round.  Despite having seen a large number of women naked (though not so often anymore), I’m still pondering these three shapes.  Oh yes, the same attachment works, ladies, whether standing or sitting.

Space poop – the video explained – is more complicated to deal with (yes, NASA uses the word “poop” in the instructional video).  Now you may have seen the image of someone squeezing toothpaste out of a tube while in space.  The toothpaste comes out of the opening and does nothing.  It doesn’t fall.  It hangs there.  It floats.  So how do you direct toothpaste, or space poop, since this is not about toothpaste, to where you want it?

Like urine, the solid waste must be forced away from the human body and into a container by air pressure.  The waste goes into bags, is stored, and brought back to earth.  No mention was made of what happens to space poop after the return.  (Memo: double-check those moon rocks bought off E-Bay).  Nor did the video, thankfully, have a graphic demonstration of the space pooper in action.  One little girl, perhaps hopeful for a demonstration, kept pushing the button to restart the video, so it took a while to see the entire explanation.

Did I mention actually seeing the space shuttle?  Well, I did.  It is covered with tiles.  There are no windows on the sides.  It’s pretty small compared to a 757 airplane.  It doesn’t look new or shiny.  It’s sort of plain.  Yet, there is an awe factor, knowing where it has been and what it has done.  So while I write humorously, I hope, about the most visited exhibit being Space Poop, I’ll end on a more serious note.  If I had one wish in the world that I could realize, it would be to travel in space.  A visit to space shuttle Endeavor almost certainly is as close as I will get to realizing my wish.  It still gave me chills.  Good chills.



Grandma Sex

Friday, September 21st, 2012

While having lunch recently with a neighbor in Maine, we started talking about the love life of older people, people like us.  Maine has the oldest population of any state, so it’s not an unusual subject here.

As I tucked into stuffed haddock I began telling my neighbor about Gary, a man I knew in San Miguel de Allende.  Gary was in his mid-60s when I met him in Mexico.  He had spent most of his life in the San Francisco area, but moved south after the millennium.  Gary didn’t speak Spanish.  For that matter, he didn’t like Mexicans very much.  What he liked about San Miguel de Allende, apart from the cost of living, the food, and the climate, were the women.

San Miguel de Allende has a plethora of attractive, graying gringas.  Most of them seem to have money and claim to be artists.  Gary had it made there and never lacked for a female companion, even though he ignored the majority of older gringas.  All of Gary’s companions were at least twenty years younger than he.  It wasn’t that Gary was rich and handsome either.  He had a bit of money, but nothing special.  He also had a thin fringe of white hair and a paunch.  But Gary knew how to woo women. He would cook, travel, attend art shows and concerts, dance, go to parties.  Gary had stories to tell.  He was a charmer.  If I used his real name you could Google him.  Gary was a big light-show artist in the San Francisco rock scene in the 1960s/70s. He toured for years with a famous Bay area band and had bedded some  rock and roll goddesses, including Janis Joplin.

Another thing about Gary is that he got high nearly every day and had done so for over forty years.  When I met him he was heavy into oxycontin and tequila.  Gary loved his drugs, and he loved the company of women.  For that matter, so do I, love women.  As for drugs – been there, done that.

One day Gary and I were sitting in a café in San Miguel de Allende ogling women young enough to be our daughters – at least.  While we were fantasizing, I noticed an attractive older woman and pointed her out.  She had dark hair turning gray, a handsome face with character, and a way of moving that said she was comfortable with herself.  Gary scoffed.  “I don’t want no grandma p****,” he said.

I left San Miguel and didn’t see Gary for a year.  By the time I returned, Gary was in love.  All he wanted to talk about was the new woman in his life.  Finally, I was invited to Gary’s house for dinner and to meet the girlfriend.  I recognized her immediately.  She was the “grandma” walking past the café the day Gary and I had lunch, the day of Gary’s infamous quote.  Darla was from Texas.  She was divorced, had money, and was my age.

Over the next year, Gary and Darla fought, made up, fought, made up, fought ….  Each time they separated, Gary was devastated.  He even went cold turkey for Darla, no more oxycontin, no more tequila drunks.  It didn’t help.  They still fought, made up, and fought again.  Finally, Darla dumped him.  The only woman close to Gary’s own age that he ever dated was the one woman to break his heart.

Gary never got over Darla.  He did drugs again.  He pursued younger women.  He died two years ago in San Miguel de Allende.  Alone.  There is a moral here, I guess.  I’m just not sure what it is.  Personally, I no longer date.

 

 

 



How Salma Hayek Almost Killed Me

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

A map of greater Los Angeles looks like a Picasso painting created wearing a blindfold, and I lived an area where Los Angeles and Beverly Hills swap streets like the artist swapped body parts on his canvas. I lived there because I worked in the Industry. If you have to ask “which industry”, you may want to stop reading now.

I was a television writer, good but not great, and I was moderately successful for a few years. Mostly, I wrote teleplays, movies made for television. Sometimes I wrote my own stories. Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye was an original noir mystery I penned. It got made. Another original script, All Circuits Are Dead, was sold but not made; the same goes for adaptations of true stories, Rolling Stone, Razor Ribbon, and teleplays based on books, Raven Stole The Moon, to name but one. I got paid but the TV movies never got produced. The average then was something like one out of every seven screenplays/teleplays sold got made. Most people who write screenplays and TV scripts never sell any of their work.

I was halfway through my ten-year career when I pitched CBS a story about Ingrid Bergman. The beautiful and talented Swedish actress is best known for her role as the star-crossed lover in Casablanca. I wasn’t interested in a biopic of Bergman’s rise from obscurity to fame or her brush with Bogart. What interested me was the story of her love affair with Italian film director Roberto Rossellini. Scandalized, Bergman would abandon her daughter, her career in Hollywood, and her adopted country to marry Rossellini. I took the project to a classy African-American woman at CBS. I won’t mention her name. She liked it, sold it to her bosses, found a producing partner, and scheduled a meeting.

Out meeting was held on Sunset Boulevard in LA. Very little of the Industry actually happens in Hollywood, which is a tourist trap and generally seedy unless you live in the hills. It was hot that day. As I parked and made my way to the conference room I was preoccupied, but not with the heat or Hollywood. These people were paying me $85,000 to write a script and making a good impression was foremost on my mind until I entered the room and saw Salma Hayek.

You see unbelievably beautiful women on the screen all the time. The key word is unbelievable. Truth is, you can take an average looking woman off the street and give her a Hollywood makeover, and she’ll look like a star.  The people that work in hair and makeup and lighting and costuming are that good. Another truth is: if you see these beauties in Whole Foods or grabbing coffee at Urth Café or find yourself on the same guest list at a Bar-B-Q, in real life the screen goddesses usually disappoint you. On the other hand, half of the waitresses slinging burgers and beers in LA are natural beauty queens. The same can be said for Hollywood actors too, fashion model faces abound, but guys don’t figure in my fantasies. Salma Hayek did. If God has a mold for female beauty, he used it with Salma.

Somehow I didn’t stumble or drool when we were introduced. The CBS executive was there. Salma’s producing partner, another woman, her face and name now forgotten, was there as well. Everyone deferred to Salma anyway.

It was hard to know where to settle my eyes while looking at her: beautiful hair, beautiful face, and comic-book-fantasy chest. Ten minutes later, with my eyes ready to cross and stay that way, I realized that Salma not only is beautiful, but she also is smart, shrewd, and strong.

I performed my dog-and-pony show and everyone smiled and said the right things. These were the early days of the project, a time in Hollywood where everyone plays nice.  But Hollywood isn’t about being nice; it’s about illusion.

I’ve lived in New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles and have said to friends: New York is about money; D.C. is about power; and Los Angeles is about the illusion of money and power. I no longer remember if this analysis is original or if I borrowed it from someone else. Anyway, it felt true when I lived in LA, and it still feels true.

Midway through our meeting I began to sweat. I’m not a person who usually sweats unless it’s 110 degrees or I’m on the elliptical machine pumping away to Choctaw Bingo on my IPod. My vision began to cloud not long after the sweat glands bubbled over. Before long, my left arm felt tight, like air was being pumped into it. It got so tight that Ringo Starr could have banged out a beat.

“Oh god!” I thought. “I’m having a heart attack because I’m staring at Salma Hayek’s breasts.”

I don’t remember the rest of the meeting. I must have remained coherent because the project went forward. But as soon as I could escape from the meeting room, I drove straight to the Bob Hope Health Center on La Brea Avenue.

My doctor saw me quickly, so you can imagine how bad I must have looked. I think my blood pressure was like 212 over you-could-die-any-minute. I answered all of his questions, but nothing was different about that month or that week or that day: I eat well and exercise and don’t smoke and drink moderately and am generally fit. The doctor concluded that my faulty genes finally had caught up with me, that hypertension was literally in my blood. I didn’t mention that the trigger to activate these flawed genes had been meeting the most beautiful woman in the world. I left sometime later with a prescription for medication, which I still take, and instructions to give up caffeine (I did).

I would have other meetings with Salma Hayek, and before each of them, I would take a double dose of my medication to be safe. Finally, the screenplay was finished, and we met in the same conference room so that the same women could offer advice and voice concerns. They did both: does Ingrid have to leave her daughter? Well, she did. I don’t think this sounds like Ingrid, they said. Uh, actually, the dialogue is a direct quote. And so it went. They didn’t want Ingrid Bergman; they wanted the illusion of Ingrid. Salma was nice but firm in what she wanted. So was I. In Hollywood, might always beats right. A day later, I was fired. It was the only time in my career I got fired.

I never saw Salma Hayek in person again, but I’ve followed her career. Recently, I had a houseguest in Maine who came loaded down with magazines and for unknown reasons left behind a copy of something called Style. Salma is on the cover. She looks beautiful but Barbi-doll-fake in that airbrushed magazine way. If ever a woman doesn’t need a makeover, it’s Salma Hayek. She’s far more beautiful in real life, dangerously beautiful in fact. I ought to know.



Parlez-vous Geek?

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

Last Friday I had a two-hour lesson on how to maintain my new web site.  I understood it about as well as French verb conjugation, but with luck, maybe I’ll not destroy the site.  What I need now is a lesson in the etiquette of social media – Emily Post for the Tweet Generation.  The proper placement and use of silverware are easy compared to deciphering the rules that govern texting, tweeting, posting, linking, and e-mailing.  I confess – I ask people not to text me.  Texting make me feel like I’m in the sixth grade passing notes to a girl named Bev and hoping that she’ll do a flip on the playground so I can see her underpants (although I have no understanding of why I want to see her underpants).  To date the longest text I’ve sent has been – LOL.

Instead, I e-mail frequently, although I’m told e-mail is so yesterday.  Not wanting to be stuck in the Apple Lisa Age, I’ve added Facebook and Linkedin and Twitter.  Someone on my Facebook home page – is that right, ‘my home page’? – recently posted daily updates about their ten day colon cleansing diet.  TMI, right?  There are rules for what is interesting and informative and what is TMI, isn’t there?

I also got an e-mail from ‘a friend.’ Okay, she’s over forty and I’m, well, older.  So we e-mail.  I was ready to respond immediately, but then I thought, “E-mail isn’t the same as texting or IMing or tweeting.”  I started to ponder the fine line separating ‘overly eager’ from ‘indifferent’ when e-mailing.  How long do I wait to respond?  Two days?  Does waiting three days mean replying is a chore?  How long before you need to make up excuses?  Is waiting longer than a week to reply like saying FO?

Last week I tweeted.  It was not as exciting as Bev’s underpants, but I felt fine about losing my Twitterginity – at least until I thought, if a tweet lands in cyberspace and nobody reads it, is it still a tweet?  Does that mean I’m still – you know?  And here’s another thing that baffles me.  Ninety percent of the people I’m ‘linked to’ are ‘friends’, so do I post the same message on both?  Why is it called a ‘wall’ anyway?  Look, all I’m asking for is a little help, maybe an APP called ‘Parlez-vous geek?’.  I mean, GMAB.  Is that right, GMAB?



Roll Away The Stone

Monday, June 4th, 2012

A little more than a month ago my father died unexpectedly. He was eighty-three. Can death actually be unexpected at eighty-three? My dark suits were pressed and my white shirts ironed. I had a black Armani tie a friend had gifted me. But while my clothing was ready, my mind was ill prepared for death, for my father did not seem old to me. He was not an easy man or a warm man, perhaps not even a nice man. To me he was simply my father, and my father never seemed old. Old people act differently than he did.

In Maine I have a neighbor who is seventy-six. I see him stand outside his tiny condo smoking a cigarette and then go back inside to suck on his oxygen tank. I believe I hear him creak when he walks. There is a worn-out look in his eyes. He has that old person smell. He is really old.

How could my neighbor be old and my father not old? For that matter, how do we know when we’re old? Was I old at forty? Fifty? How about now? What if you never want to play golf or go fishing? What if you have no career or regular job to retire from? How do we know we’re old?

A few years ago a friend asked me this same question. “How do you know when you’re old?” he said, and I replied, “You’re old when you think about death more than sex.”



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