Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Enough with the Hitler

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld shouldn’t take all the blame for this; he’s just the most recent person to use this annoying analogy. He told an American Legion audience that today’s anti- Iraq war people are like the crowd that appeased Hitler in World War II.

Liberals have compared the Bush civil liberties agenda to Hitler’s.

The administration keeps comparing enemies to him. Saddam Hussein? Hitler. Kim Jong Il? Hitler. That psychotic in Iran? Also Hitler. Opponents of the Iraq war? Like the people who appeased Hitler. Democrats? Like those guys who made shoes for Hitler. Nicole Ritchie? Like a skinny Hitler.

I suspect we do it for two reasons: first, it’s a quick way to draw attention to a problem; second, we want to believe our times to be as pivotally historic as the era of the Greatest Generation, who defeated the modern-day fascists of World War II.

Enough already. Every event isn’t WWII and every bastard in history isn’t Hitler.
Here’s how I feel: saying “Hitler” to make your case is like adding a dirty word to make a joke funny. It’s artificial, and only adds shock value.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

“Where is line for coffee, please?”

That’s a line from “Moscow on the Hudson,” in which Robin Williams plays a Russian who defects to the USA, and discovers, in America, you don’t stand in some line waiting until it’s your turn for the one available state coffee. Or, as Yakov Smirnoff might put it, “In America, coffee waits for you!” In the movie, Williams’ character ends up fainting once he sees the overwhelming assortment of coffees available to him.

I was thinking of that movie tonight, during my third hour of waiting for my prescription to be filled at my pharmacy. I had phoned in four days earlier to request a refill; a couple days later, yesterday, I had dropped by, only to wait about 2 hours to be told they were out of the medication but would have more today.

Then, I called the refill service, and was told the prescription was ready. So by the forty-five minute mark tonight, after watching the staff search for my “ready” prescription, along with those for another 7 waiting customers, I was ready to leave. I asked them to give me a call when they had something for me to pick up.

This is America, so my first thought was, competition—let’s try another pharmacy! Then, I realize, without wanting to, I already have tried most of them. I moved to my current pharmacy a few years ago, when the service at the local Rite Aid deteriorated to open shouting matches and security dragging away customers.

I moved to a Savon, which was better, and was also closer, so in a pinch I could easily go home and come back. My Savon had originally been a Thrifty Drug. Those don’t exist anymore. Neither do Savons, now in our region; they’ve been taken over by CVS, which is where my recent Wagnerian prescription adventures have been unfolding. I’ve been to Walgreen’s and waited up to an hour to buy film. It seems unlikely they’d be a faster alternative.

Two questions came to mind—what about our parents—yours and mine? What if I was in a condition where this wait comprised most of my waking day? And the other question—please, tell me the psychotics get better service.

To comfort myself, I went to a supermarket. For some reason, the gleaming aisles of food reassure me. There was no line for coffee, but there was a 15-20-minute wait for checkout. It’s up to you if you want to pay a dollar an ounce for summer raspberries—but how long should you have to wait for the privilege?

I’m not some guy advocating the “good old days.” In the “good old days,” folks would die at 55 of “natural causes.”

Make no mistake—the Soviet Union was a disaster by every measure—morally, financially, ethically—from the ethnic and political genocides of Stalin, through Chernobyl, through their “state-run media,” they managed to create the worst of both worlds—they removed the incentive that capitalism provides, and treated the working class to generations of misery at the same time.

Which makes me worry whenever our way of life starts to resemble theirs.

Whew. I got through this without even referring to FOX as “Pravda.”

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Newsmakers: Pluto

The other day, TWAMSIAM, (This Will All Make Sense in a Minute), had a chance to sit down with the former planet, now reclassified “dwarf planet,” Pluto.
We met at Marix Playa, a trendy Santa Monica eatery, just a short drive from his beach retreat in Malibu.

Despite his recent troubles, the Orb was all smiles.

“Heyyyy…there you are!!! Listen, you gotta try the Amarillo scramble—eggs, smoked cranberry turkey sausage, fusilli pasta tomatoes, basil and a little cilantro.”

Dapper in his ascot, smoking jacket, protective gel wrap, and classic Wayfarers, P ordered for the table.

“Gee, another writer. I wonder what you want to talk about.”

“Has it been crazy?”

“I will say this—you guys are so focused on Mars and Martians and Mars candy bars, it’s always a shock when I hear from Earth. But now the attention is overwhelming.”

“And how has that been for you? You’re not considered a very—“

“Yeah, I have a reputation for being cold.”

“And with the media hounding you..?”

“I finally caved. For years Neptune has been telling me to hire a publicist. So PMK handles most of it now.”

“Have you seen the coverage?”

“People are gonna write what they’re gonna write. Entertainment Weekly says I’m cavorting with “X-71v3k,” which isn’t even an asteroid. X-71v3k couldn’t climb its way out of one of my craters, but supposedly we’re a couple. Right. Meanwhile, US Weekly says I’m too small because I’m anorexic."

“But, in fact, you have been removed from the list of planets in our solar system.”

“And why? Because of my physical size? Ridiculous! How about other criteria? I know—why not pick the planets with the largest orbits, huh? See how Mercury likes that one!
“Look—this isn’t the kind of thing you debate. You spend a few million years going around with eight other planets, you build a relationship. Sure, I’ve always been a loner. But in my secret heart, it felt good to be in a family.

“We were a great solar system. I know I didn’t make every meeting, and I’d go off in my own direction—a middle school teacher in Dayton, OH, a Mr. Gritzinger, talks about “Pluto’s wacky orbit.” That’s fine. The kids love me. But you have to understand—that Yellow Fireball is so far away, sends me very little light or warmth, and still controls every move I make.”

“So, you have issues.”

“It’s hard. Especially since the weigh-in was unfair. Five, ten orbits ago, I was much bigger. But you know how it is—you miss a few meals, you take off your overcoat, play some ball, go for a shvitz, and all of a sudden, they’re measuring you when you’re down a few tons. And they’re measuring you all the time. No advance warning. Geez-- I’m not a cyclist, y’know.”

“Okay, Plu, so what do you do now?”

“Relax, pal. I’m gonna do what I do. You think because some peanut-sized guys on some fat sloshy planet—no offense—change your rank, you think that changes anything? I’m Pluto, man. I’ll do my thing—rotate, orbit, or I’ll just chill. And you know what? Those astronomers are still gonna want me; they’re still taking my picture every chance they get. I don’t need a little dog in my lap or a music video to make that happen. People still love the Pluto.”

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Does This Mean Mike Cuellar Wore Lingerie?

The guest on tonight’s Angels Pregame show on 710, KSPN (ESPN Radio for Southern California), was longtime Angel and Oriole infielder Bobby Grich. I may have missed a word or two; I was driving. But Grich told a great story about his minor league days in Rochester, New York, with the Rochester Redwings, Baltimore’s AAA team.

He said that one day, after the team had played 21 games in 21 days, they were desperate for a break from the bus trips and the wear and tear, so they snuck into Richmond’s ballpark, where they were scheduled to play that night, and got the sprinklers to soak the field, turning it into a swamp.

The game that night was cancelled.

Sound familiar? It should. That exact scenario is featured in the 1988 hit movie “Bull Durham,” starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.

By the way, on that Rochester Redwings team, Grich played shortstop. His double play partner, the second baseman…was Ron Shelton—the writer and director of “Bull Durham.”

Only now you know… the rest of the story.

Grich said this is the first time he’s publicly mentioned that his teammates pulled the prank—Richmond officials never tracked them down.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Bruno Kirby and Oatmeal

Bruno Kirby, the actor who created characters who were always specific and charmingly idiosyncratic, always made his scene partners look good, whether it was Billy Crystal in “City Slickers” or “When Harry Met Sally…,” or Matthew Broderick in “The Freshman,” Albert Brooks in “Modern Romance,” or Robert DeNiro in “The Godfather, Part II.”
But I have a personal reason for my sadness at Kirby’s sudden passing, just three weeks after being diagnosed with leukemia. He was 57.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I went to breakfast at a place called John O’Groats. Terrific oatmeal, omelets, a great little breakfast joint—always a line on Saturday and Sunday mornings. And a fun place to go on weekend mornings to see who woke up together from the night before.

So, I’m one of the folks waiting outside, and I see, and hear these two guys talking animatedly…and I knew they were actors, but wasn’t sure who they were. A tall African American guy, and a little pipsqueak, and they both look familiar, but where did I recognize them from?

They’re really babbling, and really glad to see each other. I hear dribs and drabs of their conversation. “Hey…yeah, I just got back” “What have you heard?” “What did he tell you, because I had a lot of fun…” stuff like that, that any actor might say to another, but I didn’t know that then. I remember feeling, wow, this really is LA—where people are energized by their work, and anybody you run into could be a budding star.

Sixth months later, up on the screen, I knew what they’d been talking about. There they were, Forest Whitaker, and Bruno Kirby, in “Good Morning Vietnam.” They are both spectacular in the film—Whitaker playing the soldier who looks up to Robin Williams’ character, delights in his rebellion, but then gets fed up; Kirby, as the ultimate anti-Williams—a strict-by-the-book Army broadcaster, who thinks polkas are far better than the rock music Williams wants to play, and finds his self- interview with “Frenchie” hilarious.

You want a good laugh, watch Kirby dig himself in, deeper and deeper, as this autocratic and intensely “petty” officer.

Kirby had a unique gift—I think everyone who enjoys his work thinks they’re the only one really “getting” how good he is.

Thanks, Mr. Kirby, for the work, and that great first rush of LA excitement.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Yakky Doodle

Reason #347 that I love my life: I just had an voiceover audition with an actor named Jimmy Weldon. Jimmy's from Dale, Texas, and has done a great many roles —and he’s been on shows like “Dallas,” “The Waltons,” and in the 50s, he worked on “Dragnet” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

I didn’t know any of that—never heard of the guy. We just read this script, which called for a real authentic feller from a 1940s or 50s western. He nailed it.

In the script, I believe he was rasslin’ a varmint.

Doesn’t matter. Anyway, I told him what a great read he’d done. Somebody mentioned that he was "the famous Jimmy Weldon," and he broke into the voice that he’s probably best known for—Yakky Doodle, a little duck who used to appear with his pal, a big dog named Chopper, in their cartoons on “The Yogi Bear Show.” He still does the voice perfectly all these years later. After the audition, I told him, “It’s pretty remarkable to meet someone who’s been making you happy since before you could even thing straight.” We hugged.

He’s a joyful guy, and you gotta love the duck!


People of Hollywood, brace yourselves—the kids are bored. Yes, according to the Los Angeles Times, the 12-to-24-year-olds, what advertisers probably call the “middle-aged” audience, feel under-entertained.

Before your first teardrop hits your hankie, don’t forget, that’s an age range when all of us claim to be bored—the age when we first stare at an open, full refrigerator and say, “There’s nothing to eat here!”

Still, I think this is partially a product of what we in the Biz have been up to for the last fifty years or so. We’ve learned that, the more conflict in a script, the more people will watch.

So, in a comedy, instead of Rob and Laura fumbling their way toward teaching Richie about the birds and the bees on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and then asking Buddy and Sally to help solve the problem, we now have b-plots and c-plots, where other characters may have unrelated adventures during the half hour, giving us more story.

In drama, we keep raising the stakes. Instead of a sheriff having to duel a single bad guy, we have law enforcement teams trying to stop serial killers. The body count goes up, the level of danger goes up, and we find it hard to look away.

We build the stimulation level—more explosions, fewer clothes. We make it all portable, so that you can be entertained at any place, at any time, in more formats than ever.

And now, with all the growth in internet sources, video games, endlessly overlapping sports seasons, bombardment with movie trailers and tv show promos, podcasts, the young folk are bored.

This represents the most hopeful news I’ve heard in a long time.

And here’s your happy ending: in another Times story, the movie biz is being told that a lot of young people would rather “go do something” than watch another movie.

And let us say, “Amen.”

Watch It

Driving Laurel Canyon, the narrow passageway from the Los Angeles basin to the San Fernando Valley, you’re reminded of why canyon driving is so wonderful. I took that route today, and I should mention, this was a non-rush hour experience, so I was moving along, not creeping in bumper-to-bumper.

It shouldn’t be this nice an experience. After all, for large sections of this winding, hilly road, it’s one lane in each direction. You can go from bright sunshine to near darkness in a few yards, making visibility a roll of the dice.

Today I realized—in Los Angeles, a canyon drive is one of those rare drives where you actually must pay attention. I know, everyone should always watch the road, but in L.A., many of the roads and boulevards are so wide, and the sunshine is so bright, you feel as though you can see forever, and unless a comet comes at you from above, you can be casual about watching the road.

Not in a canyon. Even driving 25 mph, you can’t sip your drink—you’ll either spill uphill or down hill. And you can’t look away—the twists and turns are too tight. The phone reception is only so-so, and even if yours is okay, your sense of self-preservation in a canyon alters the normal cellphone driving dynamic. You’ll actually drive better at the expense of missing a piece of conversation.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

"ABC--Airway, Breathing, Circulation"

I renewed my CPR certification with a class today—it’s required, if I want to keep teaching exercise classes, which I do.

I’m always glad to learn the information, which has changed each time I go. The teachers are the kind of people who would spend their spare time teaching other people how to save lives—generally, they’re very nice folks.

Yet each time I go, I become even more frustrated. Here we are, getting together to learn a technique that we hope we never have to use. We can’t practice it on each other in class, or “rehearse” with friends or family, because if you don’t need right now, it would be dangerous to do so.

Studies say that we won’t remember many of the details of how to do it just 3 months from now. And even if we do, only 5-10 percent of CPR recipients survive.

Then comes this punchline: we already have a way to drastically improve those odds. There are brands of portable defibrilators that not only apply the appropriate electrical stimulus to rescue the patient, but also give you step by step instructions so that if you’re old enough to hear and follow directions, you can use the machine.

CPR, and basic life saving courses would still be valuable—defibrilators are only part of the solution and don’t, for instance, resolve respiratory problems.

But, more people in America die of heart disease than of anything else. And defibrilators should be prominently displayed all over the place in this country. If I had to guess why they’re not, I’d say it’s either about the cost, the desire to avoid the subject or emergency, or the fear that such a display would be considered a “downer” to the general public.

I understand those concerns. Still, learning to do the chest compressions, and other CPR stuff on its own, I feel like I’m stuck in a time warp. Like I’m learning proper technique for the bucket brigade, because people just don’t like hydrants.
So come on, people! Let’s find a way to make them “hot”! If you know a celebrity has a heart condition, stay near by with a defibrilator! Somebody make em sleek, and call ‘em “iFibs”! Until we do, let me remind you of this awful but true fact—as of right now, if you have to have a heart “event,” and you’re not in a hospital, the safest place to be is also the tackiest place— any Las Vegas casino, where they have defibrilators, and they’ve saved about 18,000 lives since putting them into use.