Thursday, November 23, 2017

My rock-n-roll night walking down the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles

With most of the LACoMotion conference I was attending in the books, I started my Saturday night walk down the length of the Sunset Strip by getting dropped off in my Lyft at the Roxy, starting on pretty much the far west end of West Hollywood. The place is famous for many things (including the wacky Will Ferrell comedy Night at the Roxy), but mostly for giving Pee Wee Herman his start, serving as the home base of John Lennon's "lost weekend" of the early 1970s, and being madam Heidi Fleiss's hangout in the 1980s.

I had planned to take public transportation but it was just going to be too long on the bus, so I endured the infamous Los Angeles traffic, exemplified most by this kind of excess (fast cars and Hustler mega-shop).

Next up, right down the street from the Roxy is the Whiskey a Go Go. Quiet Riot was on the bill this night, although such a show would be no match for previous ones, like when The Doors got fired as the house band after playing "The End." The Whiskey recently started a channel on Roku with lots of their best concerts available to view.

And then the old Tower Records, which, even though is sadly long closed, remains in place as an historical landmark.

And right across the street, there’s Book Soup, billed as "the bookseller to the great and infamous." Fittingly, it has a pretty killer selection of music books and albums.

Up next, I walk through Sunset Plaza, which is a strip of upscale shops, with every other person looking like someone who might be famous. I have less interest in this than I do the area continuing on eastward that gets back to being a little grungier. It also starts to look pretty cool with houses pocked all over the hills above.

Oh, and by the way, this is how all those huge movie and entertainment signs get posted around town. These guys were pasting this one to the entire side of this building.

The Fred Segal is supposedly a hot place to spot the stars, but I had little action to report. Perhaps 7 pm on a Saturday night is not quite the ideal time to be walking past.

Then the highlight of the walk might just be an overlook nestled back behind some buildings just to the east of La Cienega Boulevard, which runs straight south for as far as the eye can see. Off to the west you can see the skyscrapers of West L.A. and the UCLA area. Continuing scanning onward towards the east, it’s amazing to see just how far downtown is. I think of how it will be an epic trip back there, as the plan is to continue walking on Sunset another two miles until Il get to the Metro Red line.

Continuing along, I get to some famous landmarks for lodging, with this ungodly hotel and then the famed Chateau Marmont, where John Belushi died of an overdose and which was featured in Oliver Stone's movie The Doors.

There’s a long stretch for a while with not a lot except for a nice cool breeze in my hair and palm trees. Then I came upon a stretch of music stores that I bit my tongue to keep from going in, worried I would get lost and never want to leave.

Coming towards the end portion of my walk, I bypass In-N-Out Burger next to Hollywood High School. I’m getting so hungry, but I keep walking.

I know I should go to the hotel Roosevelt, with its rooftop bar, but I can’t stomach paying $18 for a not-very-good drink that everybody online says I would be in for.

Going from the Sunset Strip over to Hollywood Boulevard, I enter a whole different world. I wasn't expecting such a mass of people at the intersection of Hollywood and Highland. And of course, the stars on the Walk of Fame cover nearly all the sidewalks. The historical society apparently gets about $30,000 a pop (pay to play) so they will take you if you apply. I was perhaps most impressed by Stephanie Powers, right in front of a McDonald’s. Jonathan Hart would be proud.

Risking all, I ate next to the homeless kids at the Hollywood and Vine Metro station at a place called Wood & Vine. Not a great choice, but it got my stomach filled for what is a pretty quick Metro ride back to downtown.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Charles Manson dies, as the 1960s continue their long march into history

So weird, I was walking past the Church of Scientology tonight at the same time Charles Manson died. And had also been considering going to the Spahn Ranch before I came back to my senses.

This blog has made reference to Charles Manson no less than six times, now seven, since it began in 2009.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Devote 10 minutes to Margaret Atwood's meta-fiction

I haven’t read the Canadian great Margaret Atwood since I was in college. And I’ve been meaning to get back to her writing for a long time.

The Handmaid’s Tale from 1982 is first and foremost on my list of Atwood reading priorities - both the TV version and the book. But for now, I took a look at one of my old college English literature textbooks and found a short story titled "Happy Endings" by Atwood. I sat down and read it and thought it was so brilliant that I re-read most of it a couple of different times to family members visiting in town.

The story starts off: “John and Mary meet. What happens next? If you want a happy ending, try A.”

From there, Atwood gives different scenarios A through F. John and Mary have a picture perfect - or at least what many of us imagine to be the picture perfect life. But things start to deviate starting with scenario B. Mary is in love with John but John isn't in love with Mary. John only sees Mary at her house when she makes dinner for him. Her friends say that John is a creep and has been seeing eating out with someone named Madge. Mary ends up killing herself and John marries Madge, and they’re happy.

In C, John is an older married man who is in love with Mary but Mary is just having an affair with him and is in love with her boyfriend, who is her own age and who has a great record collection and likes motorcycles. John finds Mary with her boyfriend and shoot them both and then himself. His wife, Madge, eventually finds someone named Fred who she lives happily ever after with.

In D, Fred and Madge are in love but a tidal wave wipes out their neighborhood and a lot of people die, but they escape to live happily. In E, Fred dies of a heart attack and Madge carries out lots of charity work afterwards. In F and the end of the short story, Atwood seems to be saying that all stories have the same ending and that the important thing is how the stories get to those endings.

5 out of 5 stars. Everyone should spend 10 minutes of their lives reading this. And if you want to go deeper in analyzes the scenarios, check this out.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Best Magazine Reads: Beetle Bailey and Connecticut's "Cartoon County"

I've visited Fairfield, Connecticut before because some of my wife’s cousins live there. What I didn’t know about the outer New York City suburb is that it had been home to an inordinate number of famous daily-newspaper cartoonists.

Mort Walker (pictured to the right) is perhaps the most famous of the crew detailed in a fantastic article in the September issue of Vanity Fair. I rank his Beetle Bailey as one of my favorite dailies, up there with Archie, Garfield, Peanuts, and, actually, several other strips emanating from Cartoon County, including Hagar the Horrible, Blondie, Popeye, The Family Circus, and Hi and Lois. The place also has ties to Superman, Tarzan, Prince Valiant, and many others. It’s really pretty phenomenal.

The cartoonists lived different lives than the working men (and the cartoonists seem to have been all men) who headed into the city each day. They sat at home in their offices that smelled of sharpened pencils, tobacco, and whiskey, were pretty domesticated by their families, and only went into the city on Wednesdays to show off their latest works to various publishers and editors. Then sometimes they would go to gatherings with the other cartoonists to drink lots of Manhattans. And they played quite a bit of golf and took lots of naps. Pretty nice work if you can get it. Maybe that’s why “cartoonist” was always on my short list of potential professions!

The author, son of the Prince Valiant cartoon, notes that Cartoon County was a quirk in time. Cartoonists were rock stars, creating the most-read portions of the newspapers, up until the early 60s, when Hearst killed what the group considered its Mount Olympus, the New York Journal-American. Then later Wall Street further killed Fairfield County as an affordable place where cartoonists could live comfortably.

Even I remember a time when the newspaper would clunk down near the front door. I would run out to get it and grab the funny pages, and maybe sometimes the sports section, and throw the rest of it down wherever. At that point, I was a remnant of an earlier age, when just about every kid (and adult) couldn’t miss the cartoons each and every day, with the special, fuller, mostly-color Sunday editions being the highlight of each week.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Battle of the Sexes tries to reach the dramatic level of real tennis

Tennis has been one of my lifelong passions.

But there have been few tennis movies that have come close to matching the drama of McEnroe vs. Borg or Nadal vs. Federer or, heck, even Gustavo Kuerten vs. Sergi Bruguera.

I mean, how can you match the beauty and story of the likes of the above short on Guga's first French Open win or those of my other favorite men's players of all time (ranked):

10. Andy Roddick
09. Roger Federer
08. Pete Sampras
07. Bjorn Borg
06. Arthur Ashe
05. Rafael Nadal
04. Andre Agassi
03. Jimmy Conners
02. Gustavo Kuerten
01. John McEnroe

This week, Hollywood nearly reached the higher plane of actual tennis, when we caught Battle of the Sexes at E Street Cinema in Washington, D.C. As an interesting side note, we happened into free tickets because the Secret Service wanted to move us along in line so we wouldn't disturb the entrance of Mike Pence and Josh Brolin attending the premiere of Only the Brave.

I have to admit that Billie Jean King always got on my nerves, but when she was playing, I was far too young to understand the cultural significance of her off-court actions. She never seemed to be that exciting when I watched her play against the likes of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.

But I was too young to have known about the match between King and Bobby Riggs, played in the movie with lovable squirm-ability by the incapable-of-not-being-funny Steve Carell. And Emma Stone made me forget any of my biases against King, as she plays her with determined vulnerability.

This movie, like Hidden Figures and other recent historical dramas, should be enjoyable for just about anyone, whether you're interested in the actual subject matter or not.

For me, it's an added bonus that I have that tennis obsession. Now if only I could find the time to get back out on the court to win a few more competitive championships in TennisDC.

4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Geek Love, a great premise, started the wave of Carny fiction

For a literature major, my book reading has taken a backseat recently due to all the magazines I'm currently subscribed to and, of course, all the time I spend tossing the football and baseball with Jackson and doing "play with me" time with Zoey.

That said, I recently made it through a relatively gargantuan modern fiction classic (from 1989) by Katherine Dunn, which took her many years to write while living in Portland.

Geek Love, a National Book Award finalist, was a trailblazer at the time and set the course for all kinds of freak-show entertainment that has followed, from Rob Zombie's filmography to the Jim Rose Circus to American Horror Story to Stephen King's It.

The premise is the best thing about the book: A man and woman (Al and Crystal Lil Binewski) run a circus that has fallen on hard times. In order to take them to the top, they agree that Lil will start taking drugs in order to deform a whole slate of babies they plan to produce. That way they'll have the best freak show (or call it "geek" show) in the land.

The plan works, and they have Arty the Aqua Boy, Siamese twins Elly and Iphy, telekinetic Chick, and the story's narrator Olympia, a hunchback albino dwarf. Arty is the leader and Oly assists him. She actually tells the story from two points in time, when they are all children and just getting started to bring in the crowds and much later in her life, when she reflects on all her family being gone and watches over her daughter Miranda, who has a tail and doesn't know who her mother is, and certainly doesn't know she is the product of incest.

The whole thing is fascinating, but it drags on far too long. There is way too much descriptive language and Geek Love is easily a quarter-too-long. But a great premise takes it far, and it luckily played a major role in starting a horrifying genre that is tough to get enough of, at least for me.

4 out of 5 stars

And check out this great feature from WIRED about the cult of Geek Love lovers.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Best Magazine Reads: 10 nuggets from Rolling Stone's profile of the EPA's evil Scott Pruitt

There is a lot of incompetence in Donal Trumpland these days, but perhaps nobody should boil the blood of voters more than his EPA appointee.

Rolling Stone's Jeff Goodell profiled all his flat-out wicked deeds in Scott Pruitt's Crimes Against Nature, in its August 10 issue. It seems people wouldn't have to be classified as liberals or environmentalists to be terrified of this person's disregard for the EPA's core mission of "protecting human health and the environment," which has nothing to do with supposedly boosting the economy.

Here are 10 interesting nuggets from the article:

  1. Pruitt claimed the U.S. pulled out of the Paris global climate accord because it's a plot by European nations to stifle our economy. That doesn't account for the fact that you can count which nations of the world aren't a part of it on far fewer than the fingers on one hand.
  2. He claims that 50,000 coal-mining jobs have been created by the Trump Administration, even though only about 1,000 have been created in 2017, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Coal is dying and renewables are the future, creating jobs 12 times faster than dirty coal, but oil executives give a lot of money to corrupt politicians. Why portions of the public can't see that or can't be bothered to care continues to boggle my mind.
  3. He hasn't met with any environment groups yet. Big oil executives are the only meetings he ever takes.
  4. Very few, almost none, of the high-level EPA staffers have ever spoken to Pruitt or even gotten an email from him.
  5. After taking $62,000 from the poultry industry in his run for Oklahoma attorney general, he won and dropped a lawsuit against several major chicken producers for dumping their waste into the Illinois River. His opponent took no money from the industry and lost badly. I sense a theme here: it's "go figure."
  6. We often hear about his lawsuits against the EPA as attorney general. It's true, he filed 14 of them, including attempts to promote mercury pollution because "it doesn't pose public-health hazards" and promote more air pollution in national parks. Fun guy! Now you can basically be assured he's taking these similar kinds of stealth campaigns to a national, completely terrifying, level.
  7. Pruitt views fossil fuels not as the remains of dead plants and animals  but as "God's gift to mankind. Let's use them to power the world."
  8. One thing he's focused on at the EPA is removing climate data and scientific information from its website.
  9. The good news is, as Jimmy Kimmel says, "Put simply, Scott Pruitt is a piece of shit," and his lack of loyalty from anyone within EPA extends outside of the agency, even to Republicans and major climate deniers who think he doesn't have the wits to get any of their priorities, good or bad, accomplished.
  10. And back to the bad news, Pruitt is hoping to dismantle enough of the Earth as quickly as possible before he likely jumps the EPA ship in time to run for governor of Oklahoma in 2018 or for climate-boogeyman Jim Inhofe's Senate seat in 2020. 
Note to self, don't move to Oklahoma. And also maybe consider moving to Canada, where climate change won't be as harsh and as soon as it's set to be here at home.