Saturday, November 6, 2010


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Thursday, September 23, 2010


The Video Store is dead.

Yes, you may still see them hanging around your local strip mall, or taking up space on a soon to be vacant lot, but it's only a matter of time. Blockbuster, Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection yesterday, and I don't think anyone is surprised. What's surprising is that these empty stores are still hanging on for dear life even as I write this column.

It's fascinating, when you think about it, akin to watching one of those old casinos in Vegas being demolished; you see the explosion at the base, hear the rumbling cacophony...

Except that in this case, the casino hasn't fallen. A Blockbuster is still standing somewhere in your neighbourhood, the perennial Blanche Dubois of video entertainment, telling itself that the glory days are still here and even more glorious days lie ahead. 

But they don't. Why? To answer that question, it's time to offer this writer's personal history of his almost quarter-century old relationship with the beloved Video Store, which is now fast coming to an end. It's a tale of an elopement, a torrid affair, a loving marriage and finally, a slow and steady estrangement followed by the inevitable divorce. Oh, and death. Can't forget that. 

It all started back in 1986. I was 13 years old, and already a film junkie. I lived with my mother in a loft downtown not far from the cinema and theater district. At least three times a week I would make the half-mile walk to the movies, purchase four to five pounds of chocolate and coke, and be swept away by the dreams of Hollywood. 1986? Let's see... we'll start with a few of the good: Aliens, The Color of Money, Hoosiers, Big Trouble In Little China. Then there was the celluloid offal: Cobra, Clan of the Cave Bear, King Kong Lives, Let's Get Harry (brilliant title, though). 

But I loved 'em all. I couldn't get enough. Which is why, when I first heard about something called the video store, the drool pouring out of mouth hit the ground with an audible splash. What?? You can... what? Watch whatever movie you like AT HOME??!!! Oh, my.. I must join one... now. 

The problem was, we basically lived in Chinatown. The only video store anywhere near us featured all the best new releases from Beijing. They did come with subtitles- in Cantonese. Just in case your Mandarin was a tad rusty. My hopes were sunk. My life seemed lost, hopeless; I would never be able to watch movies on my terms, fitted into my busy adolescent schedule of backyard cricket and relentless, rapid-fire bursts of desperate masturbation. 

Then something strange and wondrous happened. We moved. Out of the downtown, away from the Yellow Peril, with its incomprehensible movies and delicious take-out, and into an actual suburb. Not a particularly nice one, mind you, but one featuring.... a Video Store. 

Not just any Video Store. The biggest, and only, Video Store I'd ever seen. Two levels. A bathroom. And more movies than one could poke a stick at. The best part? After a brief discussion with the manager, it was made clear that I be able to rent anything I liked.

A quick disclaimer here, in defense of my mother. She knew that I loved all kinds of movies, ranging from fluffy teen stuff right through to adult drama. Back in those days, when Hollywood still made movies for adults, many of these were given the strictest- and most exciting- rating: R. No one under the age of 18 would pass through those gates. I had always managed to get in at the cinema and mum saw no reason why it should be different here. So, with one quick note left on the brand new coal-fired Apple 2c computer, the entire universe of film heaven was opened to me. 

And a love affair began. New Releases was, in those days, the least exciting area of the store- I'd seen everything there was to see in the last few years, since I'd been old enough to go to the cinema by myself. It was the older movies that captivated, the really old ones, the ancient stuff- from, like, the early 80s, that I lusted after. That first night in the new house, my room consisting only of my creaky bed, a milk crate on which the beloved TV sat and, of course, our brand new Video Cassette Player, I inhaled the first three Rocky movies, having adored Rocky IV to the tune of five times at the cinema. I was shocked to discover that the first in the series was called Rocky, not Rocky One. Ah, well. Must be a misprint. Anyway, all three films went down the hatch that night, with hundreds more to follow within a few months.

Not all of which were, um... Hollywood films, in the strictest sense of the word. Having said that, many of them were probably made near Hollywood. Van Nuys, to be more specific. These European-style art films about the vagaries of love were to be found in an area at the rear end (couldn't resist) of the store under the heading, "Erotica". Erotica. Can you believe that? So quaint. Makes the eighties seem downright virginal. I don't recall seeing an erotica section in a Blockbuster store. Maybe if they'd included one, they'd be faring a little better right now.

I forgot to mention the small, dilapidated Beta section that I discovered soon after joining. Later transformed into the Laser Disc section. Last I heard it had become the Movies With Good Stories For Intelligent Adults Featuring Good Actors section. But no one rents any of those. 

But back to our adventure through history. Things basically remained unchanged for the better part of twenty years. Yes, VHS and, shockingly, Beta disappeared and DVDs took their place. I lived in Manhattan now and my local Video Store was, indeed, a Blockbuster. Not that I missed the Erotica section- I actually went on the occasional date now and, even more surprisingly, managed to fool a few hapless women into becoming romantically involved with me. Failing that, there was also the rise of a much larger Erotica section, an Erotica section that was infinite in size and even larger in grandeur: the Internet. Of course, it didn't have the same allure. Nothing can match the excitement and triumph of being a thirteen year-old boy surviving the humiliation and embarrassment of renting a pornographic movie and making it home and into his bedroom, undiscovered. The Internet makes everything too easy.

Then, sometime in the mid-2000s, a perfect storm arrived, one that would forever sever my ties with the Video Store.

Three elements came into accordance.

1.  I matured. Not much, but just enough to allow me to realize that most movies coming out of Hollywood were, in fact, crapola. As a result, amazingly, I stopped watching them.

2.  I made the terrible life choice of getting cable, and I found to my amazement that I could rent movies whenever I damn well pleased. Without a note from my mother.

3.  Sometime soon after that, Netflix arrived and, well... the rest is history, not only for me, but for most of you as well. I love getting my little red envelope in the mail. Cripes, I sound lame right now… and a little effete.

So that's it. Enjoy these dinosaurs while they still roam the earth. Pretty soon they'll be gone. Will we mourn them? Maybe not, but with each passing year it seems like there are less and less places where people go to browse for pieces of entertainment to take home with them. First the record store became extinct, then the small book store, after that the large-scale music store... and now this, with only the local library to follow.

There's nothing romantic about a Blockbuster, or any other type of Video Store. 

But only the coldest of us don't sadden, even for a few moments, upon hearing of the loss of an old flame. 

Goodbye, Video Store. I want to say you won’t be forgotten. But I'd be lying.

Pictures, from top:     Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY IV, United Artists, 1985.
                                  The VHS v BETA War Of The Early Eighties. VHS prevailed... for a time.
                                  The kind of Video Store that caused me so much anguish as a kid. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Magpie List

A writer and friend of mine here in Los Angeles, Eve Sturges, has a lovely blog called The Magpie List. Worth a look- anyone can make a random, spontaneous list of some of their favourite books, music and movies (I added TV- couldn't resist putting Deadwood and Ricky Gervais down).

Not only is it fun, but the blog is an interesting resource for anyone seeking ideas for their next book, album or Netflix rental:


Victoria and I were driving through the super-trendy part of West Hollywood the other day and I found my attention being diverted by a large billboard advertising beer (by the way, anyone else find it strange that we can be ticketed for texting while driving yet companies are able to put billboards by the side of the road that are designed to distract us?). It was very simple: two extremely attractive modelly
types – hell, why don’t I just call them models – in hip clothing and wearing designer sunglasses are looking at each other. Between them a massive bottle of beer has been projected onto the picture.  There was also a tag line; you know the type: “Budweiser… get shitfaced and homoerotic”, or “Stella Artois. Drink it and you’ll have boatloads of anonymous sex with unrealistically attractive people.”
Anyway, as I turned my eyes back to the road having driven blind for about seven seconds, a thought which many of you might find breathtakingly obvious struck me:

We are all obsessed with glamour.

Then the next thought hit:

We haven’t changed since medieval times. Since we all turned our faces up toward Kings and Queens.

America may have been founded on the basis of monarchic rejection, yet it seems we haven’t lost our fascination with and desire for lives filled with castles, jewels and the adoration of the great unwashed.

In fact, I would dare to say that the peoples of the region named the United Kingdom, with their flaccid yet wealthy monarchy still in place, are much less interested in their own royalty than we in the US are with our adopted “eminences”.

And who are some of these fortunate ones, these chosen few adorned with precious gems, riding in resplendent carriages, just out of the reach of the straining hordes who are so desperate for a glance, a brief touch, anything that they think might rub off on them, give them the slightest chance of rising up to that rarified class themselves sometime in the future?

Kim Kardashian.
Ashton Kutcher.
Snoop Dog (notice the correct spelling of the word).
Jessica Simpson

Yep folks, meet some of the American Monarchy, revered simply for the size of their bling. Okay, Snoop also has produced what some might call ‘music’, but if I’m not mistaken, his greater contribution has been the glorification of the degradation of women. I mean, golly, at least the members of nobility in other countries are educated, for pete’s sake. They can usually string a sentence or two together in tones resembling something other than monosyllabic grunts- Queen Elizabeth excluded.

But not only do we elevate anyone with enough cash to have their own reality show, we also seem to be willing to buy products because we see them in connection with complete strangers who only appear to be members of this fancied club. For all we know, that model wearing those four hundred-dollar jeans might be buried under a mountain of debt accrued from his cocaine habit, or maybe that Swiss watch ad in that fashion magazine was his first job, and he’s still living in a roach-infested hovel in Queens. But we don’t care. I’d be willing to say that we have become masters at the art of judging books by their covers, except for the fact that wait, we don’t even read books anymore. 

But it is true that for most of us, the proverbial clothes do make the man. Allowing for many exceptions, we have become a nation of the peasantry and the ruling class. Mansions are built, cars with price tags better reserved for houses are bought, entire armies of servants disguised as ‘entourage’ are maintained, and individual kingdoms and empires are built as more of us become ‘incorporated’, which sounds like something out of Invasion of The Body Snatchers and, if you’ve seen many of these people interviewed, that analogy might be closer than you think.

I’m all for living well. But we have to have standards, people. We can all change how we look at the world, and more importantly what we value in it, in little ways. Let’s start by refusing to be too impressed by shiny objects that we will inevitably tire of all too quickly- and that includes humans.  Who cares if Tiger Woods won a few rounds of golf- instead of hanging around a golf course and clapping while he lifted his heavy golden trophy and his heavier zillion-dollar check, we should have said to him 'a job well done mate, there’s an aluminium plaque waiting for you in a shed near the parking lot, we’re off to the pub.'

As Victoria once told me, a milk shake used to be considered a dessert, a treat; now we call it coffee and consume far more of it than is good for us. Let us consider the soap opera that is the affairs of dumb rich people who contribute nothing to our community in the same light- as a vice to engage in very occasionally.  Maybe then we’ll be freer to pursue our own destinies,  and realize that what any of us has to give might be shinier and worth more than all the jeans, sunglasses and bronzed muscle in Christendom. 

Pictures, from top:  The woman my father refers to as Sweaty Betty.
                                Snoop Dog... misogynistic imbecile.  

Friday, September 17, 2010


People often talk about living in a ‘state of grace’.

To me, on this day, that means loving what one does.

We all have things we love to do, those creative acts which bring us joy and fulfillment. For many of us, those passions have turned into career pursuits, carrying with them dreams, ambitions, goals. For others, these passions may never turn into lifelong professions, instead residing only in our private lives. Lastly, there are many, I suspect way too many, who simply yearn to do something but never take the first step.

The question is, outside of our everyday responsibilities which of course have to be met, why is it that we don’t always do what we love to do, engaging in those activities which consistently lift our spirit and give us the most joy? It is a given that at times our concentration and focus will become captured by other, more pressing concerns- if we are tackling issues of our very survival, for instance. But in the absence of obstacles to our self-expression and the practice of the rituals and tasks we love to do, why should we avoid them? Why should we resist their silent call to us? We all know that voice , that whispers crazy things to us, that urges us to expand, to express and propel our unique ideas, thoughts and feelings out into the world. This is the same voice that has inspired your greatest heroes in their respective fields to go out into society and make their singular contribution.

From what I can tell, the primary thing, aside from oppressive outside forces, that stops a human being from making that contribution is self-criticism and faulty paradigms around success and failure. When we have very specific ideas about what success means and how it must be manifested, anything not fitting that paradigm will cause discomfort, pessimism and even great degrees of shame. Many of us were taught at a young age that no meaning can be found in failure. On the contrary: failure can be of profound meaning, if we’re willing to look at it without judgement. Even better would be to experience it without judgement.

What a productive and joyous life we might lead were we to embrace the entirety of our journey, learning to love and be interested in our entire spectrum of experience as human beings. My most creative periods have occurred when I was willing to be non-judgmental about what I was producing. Not only that, my happiest days came when I made the choice to love what I was doing and everything that came with and from it.

I can already hear a doubting voice that might speak up and say, “that’s all wonderful, but what about when there are goals to be achieved, objectives to be fulfilled and deadlines to be met?”

The paradox is that those very same goals have the greatest chance of being attained in the most successful way when we are able to let go of resistance that comes in the form of self-criticism and judgment. By being unconditional with ourselves and the results which come from our creative work, we find a greater ability to be honest without being self-flagellatory, to be able to be constructively critical without condemning ourselves. 

Small children can teach us. Their creative prolificity can be awe-inspiring. We've all seen the parent who shoves a piece of blank paper in front of their child with a stack of crayons, saying "they'll be happy for hours." 

So can we. Next time you're feeling stuck while working on an especially meaningful project, I urge you to step back and love whatever work you've done up until that point. See the results of your labour as you would your own child's, and that will hopefully lead to passionate encouragement of yourself for more. 

The aphorism holds true:

"When we love what we do, we invariably end up doing more of what we love."


Thursday, September 16, 2010


Some interesting things going on in the world. Along with some boring things. Let's look at a sampling of both:

An interesting article on Mark Zuckerberg in this week's New Yorker, in anticipation of the film about him titled The Social Network. I'm expecting the movie to be decent, given it was written by Aaron Sorkin of West Wing fame and directed by one of my favourite Hollywood guys, David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). The article paints a conflicting portrait of the man; depending on your perspective, he could seem a heartless, brilliant opportunist or just a brilliant... opportunist, which has no pejorative connotation for this writer- it simply means that Zuckerberg had the creative genius to take advantage of an enormous opportunity, something any creative person aspires to do.

A terrific piece by Michael Moore about the controversy surrounding the construction of the Islamic community center near the former World Trade Center site, also known as 'Ground Zero', an idiotic Hollywood name if there ever was one.

If you want a different perspective on the world and the different jobs in it, hop on the back of a transmission tower worker at 1,768 feet. My girlfriend Victoria can't watch this without breaking out in a sweat. I'm guessing we won't be going bungy jumping anytime soon.

A fascinating couple of weeks involving issues around religion's place in an increasingly secular society. First it was the French ban on the public adornment of traditional Islamic veils, better known as 'Burkas', which has triggered an outcry of Muslim indignation in that country. Then it was time for that wonderful enabler of child predators, the Pope, to visit England at huge cost, as public services in that country, as in the US, continue to be slashed. Read this wonderful op-ed in Tuesday's Guardian by the president of the British Humanist Associaton on secularism in today's UK and the religious backlash against it. An interesting side note: Australia's recently elected first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, risked losing that election when she came right out and called herself an atheist during the campaign, saying that she respected all religions and was ready to work with religious leaders and her political colleagues who were devoutly religious. I look forward to the day when politicians in the United States are allowed to be non-religious.

In my humble opinion, all of these events fall under the heading of 'interesting', yet I promised you some boring stuff as well. How about this... my neighbour is in a 'fantasy league'. Question: why is it that people who dress up in cloaks and hats and role-play as druids and sorcerers are called nerds, while idiots who dress up in colourful sporting paraphernalia and role-play as owners or coaches of sporting franchises consider themselves cool? College football and the NFL season have arrived, and the 'fantasy leagues' have begun... I call on all nerds to arm themselves with real swords and clubs, go down to their local sports bar, crack some heads and earn some well-deserved payback.

Tail-gating, fantasy leagues and American football. Now that's boring.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Many US citizens and others from around the world take this day, September 11, to remember the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.

People will often say that days of remembrance like this are important so that we 'never forget' what happened in the effort to always be 'vigilant' and ensure that atrocities like the attacks of 9/11/01 'never happen again.'

I am in full agreement that not forgetting events of mass murder can be critical when attempting to permanently eradicate any possibility of their repetition. However, it is important to remind ourselves that it is how we remember, as citizens and as nations, that is one of the keys when it comes to avoiding future incidents of mass violence.

On September 11, 1973, the democratically elected socialist President of Chile, Salvador Allende, was removed from power in a military coup by his General Chief of Staff of the army, Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet went on to murder many of his political opponents and somewhere between 1,500-3,200 of his citizens by conservative estimates in addition to torturing around 30,000 men, women and children and interning around 80,000. 200,000 Chilean citizens have been said to have gone into exile. This violent, illegal military regime served up 17 years of misery to its people before finally coming to an end in 1990.

Why should this be relevant to all those who remember America's 9/11 on this day?

Pinochet was backed by none other than the USA. The CIA had given material assistance to an attempted coup in 1970 even before assisting in the successful coup in '73. Furthermore, it had also given aid to anti-socialist terrorist groups.

Would the coup have succeeded without US assistance? We'll never know. But we do know that the US was involved and directly supported, in secret, terrorist activities and a military takeover of an entire nation which resulted in the deaths of thousands and the suffering of tens of thousands more over almost two decades.

While there were no Chileans involved in the 9/11/01 attacks on New York and Washington, we must learn the lesson of the Chilean 9/11 when looking at other US acts of international interference since then which helped to create the kind of violent backlash which resulted in the thousands of dead being mourned today, whether it be the indiscriminate bombing and scorched-earth policy in Kosovo, to occupation of Saudi territory through to the murder and disenfranchisment of untold Palestinians through US backing of its client state in the region, Israel. I could cite many more examples (the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan should be self-evident by now) but the point is clear: as long as the United States continues to trample over the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens of foreign nations in an attempt to project its power in the name of 'US interests',  future terrorist attacks are inevitable.

We have a chance to change course. While thinking of the dead and their families today, we might also, for a start, think about lowering our defense budget, retreating from the Middle East and Europe, shutting down military bases overseas and ceasing to talk about this country being 'the greatest in the world', a phrase which implies the collective inferiority of the other 190 nations surrounding us.

We all want to ensure there are no more terrible days like September 11, 1973 and 2001. We have the chance as a people, through our language but, much more importantly, through the policies we demand,  to ensure that kind of lasting peace is a reality. For all nations.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


For those of you who read my blog entitled Redevelop This, you might be interested to read this article, another in the New York Times, this time from George Vecsey- really a sequel to the article whose link I posted in my column yesterday.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I've been having a nice little email get-to-know-you with a journalist at, the online home of Major League Baseball. Yes, for those of you who don't know me, I am a rather large baseball fan- figuratively, that is. Because of this, I sometimes find myself reading inane articles in the wee hours about this hitter's thumb and that pitcher's stint on the disabled list due to heightened levels of anxiety (that actually is quite an interesting phenomenon- could be tomorrow's column). While none of this consumption of sports reporting moves me forward in my spiritual evolution as a human being, occasionally I happen on an article that is actually pertinent to issues that do have real meaning for me and many others in America today.

The article in question was not exactly of that ilk; its pertinence rested in its ignorance of some of those issues. The writer, a Mr.Barry Bloom, gushed over the new Minnesota ballpark, Target Field. He spoke of how it would be a boon for the community, of the pleasure it would give the fans. Clearly, in this man's eyes, everything had been gained and nothing lost: "thriving communities, thriving franchises, happy fans."

Not quite, Baz. I sent him an email asking for clarification on exactly who he was referring to when he used the term 'community'. Certainly not the thousands of poor and working class residents who were relocated, or more accurately kicked out, to make way for the new stadium. Nor was he probably referring to the millions of people who may have benefited from the new schools, parks, health clinics and community centers that could have been built with all that public money. In all likelihood, Barry was probably referring to the super-rich corporations that received those funds to build the stadium and the sports owners and private vendors who will fatten their already bloated pockets by feeding and entertaining the mostly well-off people who can manage to buy a ticket and a bag of peanuts at the glitzy new stadium without jeopardizing next month's rent payment.

It's always fascinating to me how when local governments and the corporate media talk of 'transforming' a depressed urban area, it almost always results not in transformation, but destruction. Historical buildings tumble, poor residents with roots in the neighbourhood going back generations are kicked out and a new, 'vibrant' neighbourhood springs up. If you're not sure what I mean, I'll give you some reliable indicators: fancy, boutique hotels for the 'public', costing 200 a night and up. Brand new chain restaurants in shining malls and along paved promenades, offering 'local' flavours. Hey, an Applebys Caesar Salad made in Minneapolis is kinda local, after all. Brand new cookie-cutter apartment buildings offering 'local' housing. I love that- if you throw the word 'housing' at the end of a headline announcing the construction of a new apartment block offering million-dollar condos as part of an urban 'redevelopment', most people will believe something good is happening for the community.

It is. For a tiny percentage of the community, if you believe that word covers the entire population, not just the wealthy. I read a different kind of article today. If you vote, and especially if you're a fan of your local sports team, I strongly recommend its reading. Especially you, Barry:

These public-private projects do not help the community at large. There's no reason why people should have to spend enormous amounts of money on houses in prosperous neighbourhoods the moment they have kids, just so that child can go to a decent school. Enough with the insanity. Until we have good schools and hospitals in every neighbourhood, and health care for every person that doesn't bankrupt them, and decent public housing for people to live in and parks for children to play in, enough with the brand spanking new stadiums.

To borrow an old Arabic phrase, our priorities are ass-up and tits-backward.  Vote for leaders who tell sports owners that if they want a new toy that prints loads of brand new money for themselves and their buddies, that's wonderful. But they can build it without our help.

Pictures, from top:

The new stadium for the Arizona Cardinals, 67% of which was publicly financed.

The old and the new. The new Giants-Jets stadium, being built on public land, replacing the old one, which
the people of New Jersey are still paying back, with $100 million dollars still owed.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


In his book, A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle talks about how ducks manage conflict. After two ducks have  come together in a physical confrontation, he says, they both retreat to a safe distance, rise up in the water and shake their wings violently, thereby releasing all the residues of energy that have remained in their bodies as a result of the fight. Having done so, the ducks continue on as before, having regained their inner equilibrium.
If only the psychic and energetic upheavals caused by human conflict and confrontation could be surrendered as easily. Yet, with much work and a commitment to living without inner conflict (which means being willing to work through outer conflicts), they can be. Obviously it's harder for us- we are blessed and burdened with long memories, active imaginations and well-developed egos, which is all the more reason for us to find ways to move beyond the mostly petty disputes and judgements which crowd our thoughts and disturb our inner peace.
I have had the experience of driving and becoming irritated with another person on the road, blasting my horn and sounding off to myself, only to discover that the other driver was a friend of mine. How amusing it is to watch both of us go from a state of anger and bilious annoyance to laughter and joyful embarrassment upon recognizing our friend in the other car. This begs the question: how is it possible to be so ready to fight a war and then transform into gestures of love in the next instant? In moments like these it's very clear to me that our feelings about the people around us are a result of how we perceive them.
On a global scale, this is critical to understand for obvious reasons. But more personally, I have noticed in myself that I am less likely to venture out into the world with a sense of joy and freedom when I am perceiving that world as a hostile place, full of 'enemies' and  dislikable people who are ready to judge me harshly. Yet those same people can seem lovable and approachable depending on my outlook and mood that day. As an actor I have experienced enormous anxiety and reluctance to go onstage one night and a hyperactive eagerness and giddy joy to step out in front of an audience the next. All that changed was my feelings about the people and the environment I was moving into.
We all have goals. We all need to move in the world and make contact with others, whether it be in a supermarket checkout line or in collaboration with others, working together on the most meaningful projects in our lives. When we find a way to wish others well and extend love to them in whatever minute forms that might take, we will surely begin to feel that others are doing the same for us. All of us know the joy of basking in the loving embrace of our friends, knowing that we can be who we are and be fully accepted. The more often we're able to project that feeling with no thought as to how it will be returned, the more our world will grow and the more its abundance will be able to flow in.

Monday, August 23, 2010


I happened to be in my car a little more than I care to last Friday, but it turned out to be a pleasing experience: I was able to listen to Film Week on KPCC, the Los Angeles arm of National Public Radio.
I'm not a film review enthusiast; sometimes I might glance at a New York Times review when conflicted over what to see. Most of the time I end up being in agreement with the majority of their critics. But usually I prefer to go my own way when it comes to sizing up the latest films on offer. Having said that, Film Week is an excellent movie review show, as humourous as it is insightful and sometimes veering off the beaten track to explore deeper issues outside of the quality of the films in question that particular week. I was on hand to hear one of those discussions, held by Wade Major and Tim Cogshell, two critics for KPCC among other media outlets and hosted by Larry Mantle, the excellent host of Air Talk, the daily program which features Film Week.

The entire show was once again entertaining enough (the link to the entire podcast is at the bottom of this column), but the part of the discussion that caught my attention began when one of the gentlemen said what I and, I'm confident, many others have been thinking and feeling since the mid-90s:

"They don't make movies for adults anymore."

What proceeded was a conversation centered on the current studio system, the lowering of the average moviegoer's IQ and the completely irrational and incongruous ways in which studios assess profitability in the film industry. It was an exchange that, for me, couldn't have been more timely.

Recently my partner Victoria and I sat down to watch Kramer vs Kramer again. Although we'd seen it before, these movies never seem to lose their dramatic suspense. As we sat there, watching Dustin Hoffmann take us to the edge of the psychological and emotional cliff in trying desperately to keep his life together and hold onto his son, it occurred to me to ask the question: what are the recent equivalents of this kind of film, that is to say a film made on a medium-sized budget, with star actors of the highest quality, that not only was superb cinema but also highly profitable? I remember going to the movies in the 80s and early 90s and going down the list under the heading, 'now showing': there would be the requisite big-budget action/adventure films of course, in addition to the obligatory small child/teen movies. But in between, the meat in the sandwich, would be several movies made for... you guessed it... adults. These films were not adult films by nature of their genre; they took many forms. They were adult in tone and substance. And their rating confirmed that. Ever noticed how rare it is to see an MA or R rating these days? The reason will be known to most of you: studio execs are playing it safe, wanting the beloved 13-to-25 demographic to be able to see as many of their movies as possible.

Although the people in that age group may consume the most stuff,  they also, as a generality, have the shortest attention spans and the most superficial interest in the human condition. Movies used to tell us about that condition, but no longer in the vast majority of cases, which makes perfect sense: as we continue to focus more and more of our precious attention and resources on acquiring things, on the constant drowning out of our inner silence and feelings by the monotonous intellectual and spiritual junk food we now accept as 'entertainment', we find ourselves less empathetic, less fascinated by our and others' inner lives, and more interested in the superficiality of reality TV and the latest electronic toy which will give us that sense of self we lost somewhere along the way.

As a result, studios have to jump through more and more technological hoops to get these 13-to-25s, with their microscopic attention span, to the cinema. A vapid, paper-thin story containing loads of meaningless computer-generated images used to suffice. But, like all toys, the public grew weary of that. Now 3D has arrived and presto, every other big-budget movie can be 'enjoyed' through a pair of disposable plastic glasses.

Which seems just about spot on, given the disposable nature of most Hollywood films in 2010. And yet the numbers don't add up. As the gentlemen discussed on NPR last Friday, the average big-budget Hollywood film costs around 150 million dollars right now, and needs to make around 300 million to be able to call itself remotely profitable. Most of the movies which make a return of this amount are hailed as 'hits' by desperate, self-congratulatory studios in their press releases, while that rare species, the low budget movie that costs 1 million and makes back 5, is barely mentioned.

Which seems more sustainable? The so-called 'blockbusters' have gigantic marketing campaigns which make us believe that they are not only commercially successful but also relevant. Yet the reality is that many of them, proportionate to budget, are pathetic under-achievers and awful to boot, further alienating their core audience and guaranteeing that the rest of us will continue to spend our dollars elsewhere.

That truism is borne out in the numbers: this summer has been one of the worst for Hollywood in recent memory. Iron Man 2, Shrek 3, Sex & The City 2 (see a pattern here?), Robin Hood, Clash of The Titans and the embarrassing Prince of Persia all under-performed and, given their enormous budgets, will not make much money for their respective studios, most of whom passed on Slumdog Millionaire, a film made for 15 million dollars and is now into the many hundreds of millions in profits.

Clearly, not all films will succeed as Slumdog did. But what the people making movies in Hollywood need to understand is that they don't have to. Like many other elements in our global society today, Hollywood needs to downsize. The lust for movies that generate billion-dollar profits is creating a failed system for all concerned, evident in empty cinemas across the country. There are legions of us who love going to the movies and are ready to go tonight if films tailored to an adult mind and heart are made. It is an astonishing and sad indictment of our film industry that, for most people, the term 'adult film' only means pornography. I would suggest that the schlockfests mentioned in the preceding paragraph are much closer to pornography than their makers might care to admit- the pornography of glorified violence and token sex devoid of all authentic passion and/or tenderness.

So it's time to vote for change. Boycott movies that you know offer nothing. Don't be seduced into thinking that you 'have' to go see the next blockbuster because it's a 'big-screen' movie. There's only one criterion to satisfy in order to be called a big-screen movie: that it's good. That it affords us a communal experience that makes us more alive, not more listless and indifferent to the world. We all need to make a concerted effort to see good American films when they emerge, like the lovely Mother and Child, starring a radiant Annette Bening, wrinkles and all. This beautiful, engaging film cost 7 million dollars and so far has made half its budget back worldwide. Not much to inspire the creation of more films of its type and yet consider the untold hordes of moviegoers who were completely unaware of its existence and gifts; it is both sad and encouraging to know that if only a tiny fraction of this enormous group had seen a film like Mother & Child, it would have been a highly profitable commercial and artistic venture.

So vote with your abstinence and your engagement and never be afraid to be the party pooper who says in a loud voice, amidst all the gush and hyperbole, that the latest cinematic Emperor is, in point of fact, stark naked. 

Peter Finch said it best: "I'm mad as hell! And I'm not going to take this anymore!"


A hugely profitable film for adults. In brilliant 2-D. Go figure.

Pictures, from top:  Kramer vs Kramer, Columbia Pictures, 1979.
                                Annette Bening in Mother & Child, Sony Pictures Classics, 2009.
                                Peter Finch in Network, MGM Pictures, 1976.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Despite the constant upward surge of inflation and the continuing devaluation of the mighty dollar, there is still a lot one can do with ninety three clams these days.

Like almost filling up your gas tank, for starters. Or buying two grapefruits and a box of rice crackers at Whole Foods. Even better, you could make a donation to Meg Whitman's gubernatorial campaign: she's spent a hundred million so far and is still in a dead heat with a guy who's spent... about ninety three clams, but she has to save the three billion she's got left in her savings account for her failed presidential run in 2012,  so you'd really be helping the dame out.

Just a few examples. But there are other ways to blow ninety three bucks and last night, cloaked by a soothing Pacific breeze, with hope in our hearts and a rumblin' in our tummies, Victoria and I walked through the doors of Planet Raw, a supposedly trendy, all-vegan "eatery" (all who use that word in the absence of jest should be publicly flogged in the town square) in Santa Monica, a beachside neighbourhood here in LA.

I must preface what is to come with a qualification: we weren't expecting miracles. Years ago, I happened upon the perfect approach to maximize one's enjoyment (if that's possible) of this kind of culinary fare:

Keep your expectations very low.

How low? Well, it's surprisingly simple: expect that everything will taste like perfectly seasoned dirt, and work your way up from there. You'd be shocked by how pleasant vegan food can be when you don't assume it will be in any way satisfying. Heavens to betsy, last time Victoria and I ate at a vegan restaurant, we found some of the food to be almost decent. A stunner in anyone's book.

So it was in this state of passive acceptance together with girded loins and bored, pessimistic taste buds that we were seated at a table at Planet Raw, a strange moniker which could also have served as the name of a bondage club, which I think is perfectly appropriate, given the sadomasochism inherent in eating this kind of food on a regular basis.

The menu began with a full-page dissertation on the benefits of eating raw, organic food, the positive environmental effects, the geo-political and sociological ramifications and other facts and proclamations of global import. I understood the strategy; it was as if the owners were saying hey, the food you are about to consume may end up on the pavement outside at the end of the evening, but at least you'll be saving the world. It felt like the culinary equivalent of telling your friend that the blind date you're setting them up with has a great personality.

With sinking hopes, we surveyed the menu. It promised the world:  gluten-free spaghetti and 'meat' balls, warm lasagna (warmth seems to be a huge draw in the raw world) and my favourite, a bacon western double burger. Who needs meat, dairy and flour when you have these treats? Hope returned; my taste buds stood on tiptoes; Victoria and I looked across the table at one another and afforded ourselves a smile, the leering grin of diners anticipating dizzying, euphoric satiety.

After what seemed like an hour (although the waiters here didn't offer cow, they seemed to enjoy moving like them), our young aspiring model showed up, asking us if we were ready. You bet we were. I ordered the spaghetti and meatballs with a straight face, while Victoria went for the cheezy kelp noodles, after an appetizer of guacamole and chips.

We waited. Wheezing, dessicated homo sapiens surrounded us, proudly devouring their morally superior food, casting suspicious glances at us between wooden forkfuls of high-priced, designer roughage. They can smell our meat breath, I told Victoria. Nevertheless, we felt safe; these people could barely lift a water glass to their pallid faces without fainting.

Tectonic plates heaved. Continents shifted. Finally our guacamole arrived with what this establishment so cavalierly referred to as 'chips'. These small bricklets came in two varieties: one was a seeded cracker of some sort, which passed as edible. The other? No amount of hypnotherapy could have prepared me for this waking nightmare. The last time I had seen objects like this was when I tried to dig through the wall of a Tijuana jail cell- I'm sure these moistureless nuggets now gracing my plate had the same properties as those I had hidden from the guards on my way out to jettison them in the exercise yard. Concrete is vegan, as far as I know. I never escaped from that Mexican prison. I won't digress any further, except to say that forced sodomy on a grand scale was looking pretty good right now when faced with inserting one of these things into my gob.

But I did. Victoria stared, seemingly entranced by the horror show playing out on my sheet-white face. This was not taste; this was anti-taste, all the evil in the world pumped into one mortifying bite. I calmly placed the rest of the thing down on the plate, slowly took a sip of water and exhaled, a tiny sob escaping my offended lips. Victoria, having dodged a bullet, instead reached for the seeded crackers which, once buried under guacamole, were mildly acceptable.

Appetizer attempted, we sat back in our seats, already exhausted. We were like the boxer who returns to his corner after a bruising first round, his former feeling of invincibility suddenly transformed into doubt, introspection and, worst of all, fear. Heaven knew what awaited us.

Finally, the main course emerged. As soon as the plates hit the table, we knew that this meal could only have been constructed in Hell. My 'spaghetti in marinara sauce', as described on the soapbox disguised as a menu, was a sham, the greatest of hoaxes. Forget Nazi propaganda, forget Mao's 'Cultural Revolution', forget "I did not have sexual relations with that woman", forget even "mission accomplished"... this was The Greatest Lie, trying to pass itself off as dinner. I imagined a bunch of wise guys from The Sopranos showing up here, ignorant of the kind of restaurant they were walking into, and ordering the spaghetti and meatballs. Tony would take one bite, calmly put his fork down, politely pay the check and tell the guys that they were leaving. An hour later they would return to the scene, baseball bats in hand, and the next day Planet Raw would be a steak house.

Victoria wasn't doing much better. Her 'cheesy kelp noodles' were a modern disaster, right up there with the Greek economy and Kelsey Grammar's Macbeth. Victoria's face reminded me of my father's when we went to see A Night At The Museum. This was disassociation in its purest form, taught to young federal agents to prepare them for torture and interrogation. Victoria had disappeared, only her body remaining, shovelling the food into her mouth as her mind thought of puppies, tropical paradises and harems containing attractive men who cooked and cleaned.

I snapped my fingers, startling her back to our miserable shared reality. It was time to get the hell out of here, and based on the evening's experience I knew we had to start Project Runway on preparing our check now if we hoped to get out anytime soon. I hailed him and told him we were done. He asked if we wanted to box anything up to take with us. We told him we'd love to but were going to a party. He said he understood completely. I gave him my card and he left, saying he'd be right back.

That of course was 'right back' in vegan language, which we now knew meant at least ten minutes, during which time Victoria and I were able to each go to the bathroom and weep quietly, all the while nursing an ever-increasing hunger that would not quit. I dreamt of rare steaks topped with melted cheese and then layered on top with more steak, which was lovingly covered with steak-flavoured cheese. Not to be.

I returned to our table and there the total lay, winking at me: $93.20. We had spent ninety three American greenbacks on this fiasco. I saw the manager standing by the door, ready to bid us good night. Rage boiled inside me, courtesy of this con merchant and the people who employed him. It was time to burst the bubble, to pull the curtain back on this operation and say what most of this customers had to be thinking, that this was highway robbery and it had to stop. Now.

We headed for the door. He shook my mind, gave me a winning smile and asked how everything had been for us that evening.

I looked him right in the eye.

Stared deep into his burning soul.


Picture:  A standard entree at Planet Raw.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Yes folks, I'm back. Kind of.

My self-imposed sabbatical at an end, it's time to once again put my proverbial ear to the ground that is this American life; time to check the country's pulse; time to jettison asinine, redundant cliches.

What an introduction. My own writing suddenly reminds me of all those hack comedians who, stupefied upon entering the stage to a lukewarm, indifferent audience, revert to that most tired refrain, "anyone here from outta town?" 

The comparison is apt, people. For I truly am, in this moment, the archetype reborn, remade: I am the writer with nothing to say.

How did I reach this point? Shouldn't all of your encouragements, your compliments, your positive feedback have driven me on to even  greater heights? Did I not bound out of bed this morning and head for this computer like a vulture might swoop in on a carcass, ready to resume my role as literary watchman for the unwashed masses (for those of you who do occasionally wash, let that go by; for my English readers, don't even think of trying to protest)?

Sadly, the only carcass left in the room is me. It's extremely hard to write scathing political comment, brilliantly witty satire or profound, insightful thoughts on the self and its development when your mind's a blank.

But the problem's causes, its roots, must be investigated. How did this happen? How did I turn into the blog-o-sphere's (new term- feel free to co-opt it) version of Jimmy Fallon? How did I become such a blimbo?

Is it possible that my loved one, my Lady, the jewel in my crown, Queen Victoria, has so entrenched herself in my consciousness as my Muse that, in her recent absence, I have lost all creative facility? The woman left town a week ago; my blog went untouched for the entire time. This has to be the answer, an answer that exposes me for the fool that I am. She returns tonight; if I had only waited until this evening to reconnect with the globe via this column, I could have written something masterful, a bronzed edifice for our time. I see it now: Victoria spots me waiting at the security exit; she leaps into my arms; I drive her home and bring in her nine bags; she flops on the couch, turns on her favourite sitcom (whatever tired, dated comedic retread which happens to be on in that moment) and demands food and liquid refreshment; I hurriedly acquiesce, terrified of her disapproval; she eats dinner, tosses the gnarled bones at me and orders me to carry her to bed. My hopes rise, but alas, she is asleep before I've put her down. I am deliciously close to violating her in her slumber when the possibility strikes me of being asked to cook more food if she wakes; I leave her be and rush to my computer, filled with the creative impulse and the desire to write. Art ensues.

That is how it could, and would, have gone if I'd waited. But no. I had to show up this morning and admit my incompetence to all of you.

Which is why I'm thinking of retiring. I can't be dependent on the whims of a rapacious, salacious Muse who demands three 5-star meals each day. I'm going for the scorched earth policy; if I can't do this on my own, I'm not going to do it at all. Let's see how long this world keeps on turning without the likes of me. Where are you going to turn for your daily intellectual nourishment, huh? Not the newspaper; no one reads those anymore. Books? Useless, anachronistic piles of papyrus, waiting to be murdered by the digital age. And speaking of that age, maybe you think you'll just move seamlessly, effortlessly to another blog? Don't kid yourself- you're way too loyal to ever go behind my retired back. Let's face it: you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall.

So I suppose I'll keep going. Victoria will disembark and everything will return to normal.  Ideas will find their way back to my addled brain. Once again, I'll be able to attempt the creation of graceful sentences, with middling results. Politicians, Christopher Nolan and the creators of Dancing With The Stars will once again cower, seeking shelter. Universal equanimity will return.

But not for me. Victoria just called. I made the mistake of asking her if she'd be hungry after her flight this evening. The response was savagely immediate:

"Cornish game hen, freshly captured and roasted, ladled with a garlic and rosemary au jus, and served with sauteed baby carrots, potatoes au gratin and freshly picked spring greens tossed in a red wine and raspberry vinaigrette."

A few problems here. I haven't seen any Cornish hens in the gardens of my apartment building for weeks. I don't have a ladle. And it ain't spring. Not to mention the au jus and au gratin portions of the request. Anytime Victoria italicizes words like that over the phone, I know I'm in trouble. It means, "buddy, make this happen or else." Eerie.

So there it is. If you see another post in a couple of days, it means the hens were found, slaughtered and given the thumbs up by my Muse.

If another post doesn't show up, what can I tell you. Go buy a newspaper.

Victoria's dinner in pictures,  from top: 
                                              Baby carrots.
                                     The Hen, of the Cornish variety.
                                             Patooties Gratin.
                                             What the...? Oh for frick's sake, I said "jus"...

Friday, August 6, 2010


The Obama Administration's Labor Department has been releasing unemployment numbers that have been consistently troubling and considered poor news for the US economy: according to the most recent data, the official unemployment rate released by the Department stands at 9.6%, which is its way of saying that 9.6% of the 'labour force' is currently out of work.

Somewhere along the line, someone decided we needed another team of superheroes to root for, so they coined the term labour force. I imagine millions of people, resumes at the ready, eager to charge out into the world and get employed!, briefcases, tool kits and aprons being their weapons of choice.

The reality is just a tad more prosaic. If we all want to practice a little more integrity and intellectual honesty in thinking about and dealing with the unemployment crisis that is going on right now all over this supposedly First World nation, then we have to survey the landscape without blinders and accept the situation as it is. 

The labour 'force' is not really a force at all. It's something more akin to a large, inert mass. The only reason that Mr.Obama and his administration can bandy about numbers like '9.6 percent' is because that number does not include the vast, slumbering army of human beings who are no longer looking for work. If those people were included in the great Force, what would the national unemployment rate look like?

The National Jobs For All Coalition has published research showing that if those who have ceased to search for work were included in the unemployment figures, in addition to those who only work part time because they are unable to find full time work, the official unemployment rate would be 18.2 percent, almost double the current figure. To put it another way, instead of saying that 14.6 million people are unable to find gainful employment, we would have to raise that number to 29.1 million. 

Those extra millions that are not usually included in the official numbers fall into a relatively new category: 'hidden unemployment'. It is astonishing to consider that, even with the uncounted now being counted, we are still not taking into account the millions of people who have full time work yet are not paid a living wage, have no job benefits and work in horrible conditions. But that is for another day. The number of real unemployed is disastrous enough.

So why are these people not included in job statistics? Why does President Obama not address the situation, compassionate as he is, preferring instead to talk of an 'improving economy' that is slowly 'adding jobs'?

The obvious, and clearly correct, answer is political considerations. Of course the President has to paint as rosy a picture as possible in order to stay in power. But to truly see the scope of the problem, one must see the pattern that has emerged in the rhetoric and focus of all political leaders for many decades now. The issue of poverty in the United States has not and will not be spoken of, not in any kind of authentic, meaningful way. The main cause of that poverty, the ability to find consistent work paying a living wage, would therefore also be off the table.

Economists like John Maynard Keynes, together with FDR among others, believed in the idea of Full Employment, a term we never hear anymore, either from our political leaders or the corporate media that currently monopolizes our air waves. Although full employment was never close to being achieved, it was a unifying idea that had support for a time, and policies were enacted in an attempt to bring the American society, so devastated by unemployment during the Depression, closer to that reality. That idea has long since been eradicated from all political consciousness and what we have left is an acceptance of a society where tens of millions and counting will never find meaningful work with a wage that gives them the opportunity for an improving quality of life through decent living conditions and a high quality education for them or their children.

We now hear politicians talk of the problems within the job market being 'cyclical'. The cynical ignorance inherent in this kind of thinking and rhetoric is breathtaking. Anybody who has witnessed the massive, systematic laying off of our blue collar workforce over the last thirty years by hugely profitable companies knows of the great lie being told to us. Anyone who was watching closely while politicians, bought by multinational corporations, allowed for the exploitation of foreign workers and the termination of local ones in the name of 'free trade agreements' would also be aware of the reality. Finally, any citizen who wanders through the streets of US cities, witnessing the staggering number of the homeless and indolent in addition to the vast wastelands of Third World neighbourhoods would also have trouble believing that high unemployment was 'cyclical'.

It's time to accept the fact that large scale poverty and unemployment here in the US is not cyclical, it is structural. What do we do with the millions of under-educated people who want to work? Can we educate and 'retrain' them all? Of course not. How do we replace the gigantic portion of manufacturing, agricultural and other blue collar jobs that are never coming back? Will we continue to be content to allow that mass of 'insignificants' to remain hidden? Simply ignore the problem until it is pushing against our back gate, clamouring to get in?

We need new ideas and a new political consciousness that tells the true story of this country in this moment. It will require a massive downgrading of our defense spending. It will require a huge tax hike on the stock market, with buyers and sellers paying a tax on every transaction. It will mean that polluters will pay for every molecule of carbon they pump into our atmosphere, as well as all of us paying into the public fund every time we fill up our cars, until we get so sick and tired of paying for gas that we start to vote for improved public transportation systems, systems that will hire hundreds of thousands of people. It will mean that our governments federal, state and local start to think about ways to hire people that improve the conditions on this planet, from environmental cleanup and protection to being paid an effective wage in order to effectively teach more of our children and adults.

But let's begin with seeing the problem as it is. Realism does not have to mean pessimism. Write to your local congressperson, senator, city council. If you believe that your political leaders need to make a good faith attempt to solve these problems, or at least raise consciousness about them, tell them so.

I believe Barack Obama to be a compassionate force for good. But he also needs to know that he can't take my support for granted. We need to be on the lookout for political leaders who don't accept a band-aid, an aspirin and a good lie down as solutions to chronic social problems that have this country and a large part of its populace on its knees.

Picture: Cutbacks on essential infrastructure, such as street lights. Read this sad and disturbing article in
              today's New York Times.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


My girlfriend Victoria crashed her bicycle on Sunday. I could bore you with the moment-to-moment details of the event, but other than being painful and traumatic for her and extremely upsetting to me upon hearing her scream and then seeing her bleeding from several places while sprawled out on the street, the accident itself was simply the catalyst for the profound experience which followed.

I have many strong opinions and feelings around organized religion, few of which I will expound on in this post today, other than to state that I have always believed that people should be free to do whatever they please, as long as they are not harming others or themselves in the process, a belief that has placed me in direct opposition to the teachings of all religions, as far as I can tell. I, like most people, have been approached countless times by people working for their local church, bearing a great many pamphlets and brochures, asking me if I've found Jesus or simply wanting to start a dialogue, presumably in the hope of awakening some kind of curiosity in me about their particular religious practice. The question I always respond with in turn has not changed over the years; it is the ultimate litmus test for me and so far has produced unanimously similar results: "I have friends and family, whom I adore, who happen to be gay. Where does your  church/religion stand on homosexuality?" Initially most will try to dodge the question, pontificating on the abstract. Upon further pressing, they usually end up talking about how "we are all sinners" and that they're taught to "love the sinner, not the sin" or some such avoidance of the direct question that was posed to them. At that point, I usually tell them that when their church is ready to stop practicing bigotry and discrimination and is ready to embrace all people, I'll be ready to listen.

That may or may not sound severe. Sometimes my mood might not be so militant and in those moments I wish those people well and simply move on without comment. But my position does not change: I have always felt passionately about the harm that has been done to so many over the centuries, and especially our gay brothers and sisters in recent times, in the name of religion, 'morality' and 'righteousness'. Any time I educe even the slightest scent of bigotry, of separateness, of someone saying that they are in any way superior to someone else based on some mode of behaviour that they choose to follow, I am ready to oppose and denounce. I am not saying that this aggressive stance is always or even usually productive; it certainly does not allow for much conversation to occur, a result which has produced unfortunate moments in the past. But that has been my inner reality upon coming into contact with most manifestations of religion and its practice.

Victoria and I were on our way to brunch with friends last Sunday morning when the accident occurred. We were on Franklin St, a busy neighbourhood street here in Los Angeles, and she lost control of the bike and hit the pavement right across the street from the Metropolitan Community Church of Los Angeles.  I've noticed this church before in my travels; it is clearly an 'alternative' place of worship- one would only have to see the congregation gathered out front after a service to know that this is a place where everybody would be accepted. In retrospect, it certainly shines a light on my own heated sense of judgment and bigotry to note that prior to Sunday, I would never have felt any positivity for the place or the people who frequented it. If anything, I might have thought them fools for supporting and worshipping a god whose writings so clearly denounced them. But, as with anything, it's all in the interpretation.

As I raced to Victoria to lift her bicycle off of her, I noticed that we were surrounded with people. My initial impulse was to repel them, so that I could tend to my girlfriend myself. But as I examined the many cuts that she'd sustained, I heard a voice say, "I work at the church across the street. Do you want to come inside and sit down?"

We didn't hesitate. Of course we would like to come inside. Inside sounded comforting at that moment; the street no longer seems a friendly place when it's just come into contact with multiple body parts, including your chin. Without hesitation, someone agreed to watch the bikes as we were escorted across the street and into the church.

There was a lot of activity going on. It was Sunday, so of course there were services. It was around 1030 and we later found out that there was an eleven o'clock service, a little more "upbeat" as was explained to us and evidenced by the band that I saw setting up as we were headed to a quiet room with a couch that they'd allotted us. All around us were the same people you'd see anywhere in Los Angeles, ranging from straight to gay to transgender, from white to black and all colours and ethnicities in between. Coffee and snacks were on offer as people did what they always do in groups: mingled, laughed, teased and flirted.

But in the immediate circle that surrounded Victoria and I, there were only three human qualities that made themselves strongly felt: kindness, generosity and concern.

I highlight 'concern' because to me that quality, when freely expressed toward us, is so keenly felt. We all remember those who have cared about us deeply, who have taken the strongest possible interest in our lives and trajectories, who have put their arms around us and have told us that no matter what, they will be there in our time of vulnerability and hurt. These are the people we call first with our triumphs and who want to be first to our door in times of need.

But what is it to feel that from strangers? To see people so genuinely concerned for our wellbeing, so ready to forget themselves and attend to any need? We sat and watched as one person would come in with water, another with a kind word, yet another with a caring touch or glance. Then there was the man who had a medical background who brought a first aid kit and tended to Victoria's bleeding toe. "Stay as long as you like", they said. "Don't worry about your bicycles, they've been brought in", we were told and I was stunned to see that our bikes were sitting in the welcome room, taking up space as people were preparing to head into the church hall. The bicycles had been brought in, just as we had been brought in, into a circle of kindness and loving concern that, looking back, feels all too rare in this society.

None of this should be exceptional...

But it is. It throws into relief just how rare this kind of pure kindness is. I don't see it very often out in the world. I don't feel it often enough myself. People like Donald Trump are revered for their achievements, their ability to "get ahead". I even heard a fellow in the gym recently say that "you have to tip your cap" to people like Bernie Madoff, because they were able to exploit people's ignorance, even if what they did was wrong. This is a large part of the world we live in, where avarice, ambition and climbing the ladder are traits that are valued most highly, even when their expression might be to the detriment of our ability as human beings to extend kindness, generosity and compassion to others.

But not at the church on Franklin St that day. I felt what it was to be enveloped by those warm, human expressions of what is, ultimately, pure love. Am I now a believer? Not in someone's God.

Yet I am, as a result of that experience, simply a more powerful believer in the transformative power of our greatest renewable human resources: concern and caring for others and acts of kindness and selfless generosity. When I think of how overwhelming it was to receive those gifts, I was inspired to know how often I have the power to give them.

After an hour or so, we decided it was time to leave. I was compelled to embrace Bill, one of the people who had looked after us. I could barely speak as I tried to express my gratitude and amazement at the attention we'd received. He simply said, "that's what we do."

In that moment, I would have given anything for every person who has condemned homosexuality as a sin to have been able to walk in my shoes for the preceding hour. I am confident that, having had the same experience as I, they would no longer be so opposed to gays and lesbians having a presence in their church, or at their altars in marriage.

Romeo said it best:

"My love is as boundless as the sea,
 My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
 The more I have, for both are infinite."

Victoria and I felt the glow of that infinite, shining power on a chance Sunday morning. May it be exercised and felt by every one of us whenever we get the chance.

Friday, July 30, 2010


I've had a lot to say in the past about boredom and what passes for 'entertainment' in our society. This Op-ed in The Guardian today is a must read, especially for people who are so ready to embrace Attention Deficit Disorder as a common 'condition' among children:

Thursday, July 29, 2010


We take such liberties with those we love. Why is it that, at a random point in our relationship, we suddenly decide that our way of doing things and our choices must be those of our partner? Maybe, for some of us, that perspective, that we must know best at all times, was always present- dormant, simmering, ready to spring to life as soon as we decided that we'd achieved a deep enough level of intimacy with another person to be able to start influencing their lives on a regular basis.
The reasons for this egoic projection onto the ones we love are usually important in order to cease its continuance but whether or not we ever understand why we project our fears and desires onto others, the unavoidable, sometimes unpalatable truth is this:

We don't know what's best for someone else.

That can be a tough one for some of us, this writer included. How about this doozy:

No one's path is the same as ours, nor is their way of walking it.

Would we want it any other way? Would we want someone telling us how to live our lives,  judging and criticizing us for doing things our own unique way?

Of course we can have good ideas and suggestions for others that may help them to make optimal choices related to the expansion and richness of their lives, but ultimately anything we can tell someone else has to be personalized by them, for it to be of functional use. We all potentially have wisdom to share that may be of benefit to someone else, but even in the event of their receiving it, they still must internalize, personalize it and make it their own and therefore will apply it in their own way which by necessity will make its external manifestation different to ours.

This is the miracle of individualization. The miracle of life manifesting itself in untold, infinite ways. No drop of water will flow in exactly the same way, given the freedom to move in any direction. When we live from this perspective, fascination can flower within us and judgment swiftly ceases to be an exercise worth indulging in; instead, we open our minds and hearts to the reality as it is of others, not as we think it is supposed to be.

I took surfing lessons a year ago and two moments, repeated over and over again out on the water, stood out to me. The first is how patient the other surfers were, sitting out there on their boards. Having caught a wave, they would then return to their spot and wait. Just wait. I marvelled at all of these people, quietly and contentedly looking out to the horizon, their faces soft and peaceful. It seemed to me that they had accessed that inner state of acceptance. No amount of inner argument or screaming at the gods would bring them catchable swells any sooner. I asked myself, "how many of these people will get in their cars and start blasting their horns at other drivers? Exhale in frustration at amber lights turning red? Stew in dissatisfaction over something concerning their partners, friends, family?" What would it mean, I wondered, to take this easy respect and acceptance of the moment into their daily lives?

The other phenomenon that occurred, was a high degree of fascination. This, to me, is one of the most valuable and rich states of being that we can achieve and, sadly, is most often lost as children move into adolescence and adulthood. A heightened state of aliveness arising from a fascination of and excitement about the living moment, the reality occurring all around us right now that is wholly unique. For the surfers, each wave would bring its own challenges and opportunities. They could and did not want to take any moment for granted; no wave would be exactly the same, and they wanted to experience the journey of each uncommon ride fully. This may sound obvious but what would it be like to live more of our day to day lives in this state? To embrace the notion, which just happens to be absolutely true, that no moment is like any other. No person is unlike any other. No choice the same. No perspective.

We rise to these heights occasionally- in moments that we perceive to be of great import, either due to events that we find desirous or dangerous. But it is the moments in between that may matter more: really hearing our lover when they express who they are in each moment, seeing our friend as if for the first time, taking every possible opportunity to let go of all the noise and be sensually mindful no matter where we find ourselves. A greater practice of this art will allow us to feel more alive and to sense the immense potentiality of every moment that is given to us. It is the paramount antidote to 'same shit, different day.'

Acceptance. Fascination. Wonder. May we all be as curious and non-judgmental now as we were when we were children. We live in a world that has swung in the direction of defensiveness, cynicism and an all too frequently jaded view of life. But the joyous, spontaneous, fascinated part of us that is always ready to dance is always present, even when seemingly buried. It is present in us all right now, no matter how many 'cares and responsibilites' we may think we own, or whatever reputation we think we need to protect.

Cynicism grown from life's challenging, difficult lessons transforms into wisdom and vulnerability and openness from something perceived as weakness into great assets, allowing us to have richer, more meaningful inner lives.

We need only make the choice.

Monday, July 26, 2010


I had a disturbing dream last night.

I was sitting at a table with two strangers, discussing the plot of a movie. I can't remember its name but I do know that things were getting pretty heated as the two people sitting with me tried to convince me of the film's deeper meanings as I, dizzy, attempted to appear enthusiastic and interested in the discussion.

No, wait. That wasn't a dream. I know it wasn't, because I had my totem with me. It's a stun gun, and when I jam it up my toosh and press the button, one of two things happen. If I I jump three feet in the air and howl with pain, I know I'm dreaming. If I wake up in my bed in an intense state of arousal, I'm probably awake.

Damn.  I shouldn't have said 'probably'. Now we're back to square one. 

Why do people fall into the trap of thinking that there are hidden meanings and little treasures encoded into films like Inception? They did it with The Matrix, they did it with Star Wars and of course we all remember the ghost in the background in that scene from Three Men & A Baby (don't try to act all cool by feigning ignorance). People, get with the program: Christopher Nolan is laughing at us. He didn't re-invent the wheel here; anyone see the final episode of Dallas? For my early-20s readers, many apologies- you can probably order it on Netflix. Laugh if you must, but I don't think it's hyperbolic to say that the finale of Dallas will tell you everything you need to know about Inception. It also explains why Larry Hagman played the lead in the film. They're getting really good with makeup these days- I was wondering why Leo looked so jowly.

There is no deeper meaning to Inception. Heck, even Christopher Nolan doesn't know what the hell is going on here. Nor does he need to. In this era,  'cool' trumps anything else. If you don't believe me, just ask all the chumps who stood in line for the Iphone 4. In that example, cool even trumped having a phone that friggin' works. They're actually making a movie about a guy ( Larry Hagman has signed on to play the role) who buys a cool new Apple phone that takes him to another dimension from which he can't return because the phone crashes. It's called Reception.

The title is also strange to me. The definition of 'inception' in my trusty online dictionary reads: 'the act of graduating or earning a university degree, usually a master's or doctor's degree, especially at Cambridge University.'

....huh? Can't be right. I must be dreaming. Where's my totem? Shit. Victoria's not here. She's my other totem. Here's how it works. When I'm about to drop down into the very exciting, dangerous third level, I always have her present. When I need to know if I'm dreaming or not, I simply find a chair and sit down right next to her. I then proceed to rise. If she stays silent, I know I'm still dreaming. If she asks me to get her something from the kitchen, I know I'm wide awake and irritated all at the same time.

But back to our friendly writer/director and his choice of title for the film. There might be more to this after all. I just did some research and bingo. The man actually went to University College (fishy name, for starters) in London. Clearly resentful of not ever having gone to Cambridge University all those years ago. Furious, in fact.

So furious that the entire film is a f--- you to Cambridge's most famous graduate, Sir Isaac Newton.

Remember Newton's  First Law of Motion?

"Every body will persist in its state of REST (creepy).... unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it."

In the words of Homer, wow. How petty is this guy Nolan. Can't even obey the laws of gravity and simple physics. Has to disrespect someone just because they went to a better university, while trying to sell us on a completely false definition of a word. 

But for the sake of all you fans of the film, let's go along with the idea that 'inception' refers to the act of implanting an idea in dream state in order for it to take hold in reality upon waking. Here's some real world evidence of inception. I have even discovered the actual phrases that were suggested to these people in their dream life:

Lindsay Lohan:  I mustn't drink and drive. I must drink before I leave the party.
Barack Obama:  I can work with Republicans.
Le Bron James:  South beach, roller blades, hairless, latin men in thongs.
Tom Cruise:  I'm straight.
Tom Cruise:  Katie's smirk is not annoying.
Tom Cruise:  I'm five feet ten.
Tom Cruise:  I'm straight.

Just a few to tease you with. There are countless examples. Feel free to leave comments with your own if you've managed to decipher them. It's time to pull the rug back.

Victoria just asked me to get her more coffee, and I haven't even gotten up yet.

This is getting ridiculous. 

Pictures, from top:

Larry Hagman as JR, in Dallas, and brilliant as Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception.
Isaac Newton:  Dissed.