Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Embarrassed Dog

When I was a kid, we had a poodle named Pete. Poodles are pretty smart, and with smart goes sneaky.

Now, there was one place Pete knew he should never go: my parent's bed. He never even tried to violate that rule - it was as sacred as being housebroken.

Or so we thought.

On one particular evening, as the family gathered for dinner in the kitchen, we became aware that Pete was conspiciously absent. When the family gathered, it meant for Pete numerous opportunities for handouts. I walked out of the kitchen into the main hallway of our two story home, and caught just a glimpse of Pete as he reached the top of the stares, and walked slowly into my parents bedroom. He was the sort of dog that walked around with the self assured swagger of a dog secure on him home territory - but there was something too cautious in his step as he disappeared from my view.

I decided to investigate. I crept up the fifteen steps, and paused just by my parent's bedroom door. Slowly, I peered around the corner. There, in the middle of my parent's bed lay Pete on his back, waving all four legs back and forth in some sort of hyper ecstasy. I watched for a few seconds, still undetected.

"PETE!" I suddenly yelled, startling my dog and snapping him out of his dreamworld. Immediately he flipped over onto his feet. He stood on the bed staring at me for a second, then leaped off the bed barking, dashed by me and leaped again down the stairs. For the next five minutes, he ran around the house in a frenzy, barking non-stop, overwhelmed in doggie humiliation.

Pete made himself scarce. He couldn't stand to face us until the next day. We pretended it had never happened.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Love of Violence

I act as an "artist in residence" in the "Documentary Studies" classs as San Pedro High School. At the moment, students are in the process of choosing the four documentaries that will be produced this semester. One of the most thought-provoking concepts proposed by the students asks why human beings - and in particular young people - are attracted by violence. Why are violent video games and gory movies popular? Why do kids gather in droves to watch a voilent fight, yet rarely interfere? The classroom discussion today explored some of the possible factors: family life, society, and the media's influence. Is our attraction to violence something that is a symptomatic of modern society - or basic human nature?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Driving Blind

If you live and drive in Los Angeles, you're no stranger to the seemingly neverending rush hour traffic that has taken hold of our freeways. Unless you can be off the roads by 6:30am, and back on by about 8:30 pm, you'll run into jams during at least a portion of your route.

I've been in my car at 11:30 am, running what I think is a quick errand - instead, I found myself crawling along the freeway at 10 miles per hour. A twenty minute trip becomes a forty-five minute trip. This madness quite often extends to major thoroughfares. There's no avoiding it; there's no real effort among our politicos to address the problem. The mayor recently proposed an extension of one of the Metrorail subway lines all the way to the ocean. If the funding's found, it wouldn't be complete until nearly 2020. It's an expensive partial solution to a huge and growing problem. By the time that line is complete, the rest of the city will be in near gridlock.

During the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, there was a widespread effort to encourage businesses to stagger work hours so that the freeways wouldn't be overburdened with rush hour and Olympic event traffic. It worked - the freeways didn't get overwhlemed - in fact, they were better than normal.

As I sit in my car, listening to my old recordings of Jean Shepherd on my IPOD, I wonder why true vision is missing among the leaders of Los Angeles. In time, their negligence will drive people away from L.A. in droves.

Monday, February 20, 2006

New Ebay Victories

My recent Ebay purchases include two items in particular:

1 - A commemorative polo shirt issued on the occasion of the opening of the "Jean Shepherd Community Center" in Hammond, Indiana. Finally Jean Shepherd was honored in his home town. I thought this was a unique Shepherd artifact related for my collection (which really only includes records of his old radio shows and a few books).

2 - This HO scale (1/87) model kit:

As a kid, I built a model just like this (it's probably still around somewhere) for my model train layout. There are still very few models of modern-looking homes like this, which was manufactured in the 60's. With the skills (and patience) I have now, I'll super-detail this new home with the tiny details and lighting that make it seem authentic. I'm in the very early stages of developing another layout, for which I've purchased a number of structure kids already (I'm finishing work on the first of them now). More on that later.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Charles Dickens

Another creative inspiration is Charles Dickens, author of such classics as "Oliver Twist," "David Copperfield," "Great Expectations," "Tale of Two Cities," and "A Christmas Carol." Dickens is sometimes referred to as the first "cinematic" author. Rich characters, entertaining plotting, and clear detail have made have made his work perrenial favorites since they were written in the mid-1800's.

Dickens was also a social activist, as well. "Oliver Twist," for example, was a condemnation of the treatment of children in 19th century England. The hardships that Oliver Twist experienced reflect in essence Dickens' traumatic childhood; he wrote what he knew about. He wrote out of passion and strong beliefs of the good and eveil in his society.

Dickens isn't an easy read. 18th Century prose tends to be verbose and sometimes melodramatic. Much (but not all) of Dickens work requires serious dedication to complete - but for examples of memorable characterization and masterly plotwork, Dickens is a brilliant choice.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Jean Shepherd

If you're familiar with "A Christmas Story," the early 80's film about a boy in the 1930's wishing for a BB gun for Christmas, you would recognize the voice of Jean Shepherd, who narrated the film. "A Christmas Story" is based on his writing. His true legacy, however, extends far beyond that one film. He was a prolific author, he's been called the man who created "talk radio," he's been responsible for numerous other televsion and movie projects, and was even the inspriation for several other films.

Shepherd's greatest body of work was his radio program: from the 1950's to the late 1970's, he entertained New Yorkers and other easterners with nightly commentary on everyday life and stories that stretched back to his childhood. He was a master storyteller - "Christmas Story," as great as it is, only hints at his skill. I include him among my major creative influences.

If you want to hear some great storytelling, you can find recordings of his programs both at www.flicklives.com, a tribute site created in his honor, and the Jean Shepherd Archives, which includes hundreds of recordings of his radio program.


I just saw a commercial that gives new meaning to my initials, RLS. It seems those letters also represent an afflication called, "Restless Leg Syndrome." It sounds pretty annoying to me. The good news - there's a new medication available to help battle the dreaded RLS. In fact, the commercial ends with a plea for the viewer to "help put RLS to rest."

I think I just felt a chill in the air....

Monday, February 06, 2006

Westfield Los Angeles

It seems that in the last few years most shopping malls in the Los Angeles area have been acquired by a company called "Westfield.." In this area alone, Topanga Plaza has become Westfield Topanga, the Woodland Hills Promenade has become Westfield Promenade, and the Sherman Oaks Fashion Square has become - you guessed it - Westfield Fashion Square. With the Westield name comes a Westfield overhaul, a transformation that makes every mall a beige, upscale clone, down to the vertically mounted flat screen video screens mounted in strategic locations continuously advertising the latest movies and assorted mall products...

To be fair, Westfield has taken some tired-looking malls and made them more attractive, but when they hold so many mall properties in such a close geographical area, I think they're taking their mall formula a bit too far. There's no creativity, no tweaking of the Westfield experience to provide the visitor anything unique. Visit a Westfield mall anywhere, and experience the same look and the same stores. There doesn't seem to be even the least acknowledgement of the indivdual areas each mall reflects.

I'd hate to imagine a pre-planned community managed by Westfield - a true homogenized American community.

Saturday, February 04, 2006


What I was a boy and we moved to California from New York, my old friends soon became just a memory. Writing letters or even occasional phone calls aren't that easy for eleven year old kids, and I soon lost touch.

Future generations, from here on out, won't lose touch in the same way. For years, we've heard about an online "community." Today, that community really exists. More often than not, it's an extension and expansion of social contacts in the real world. "MySpace" is one of the most popular communities. It offers a customizeable "home page," on which users can maintain their profiles, favorite music, video, and personal blogs. Just as important, other users can add public comments to their friend's "myspace" sites. Friends have an opportunity to learn more about their current friends and keep up relationships with their old friends. With the arrivial of real-time video and audio, some childhood connections may never be broken.

The much heralded "online community" is in large part an enhancement of real-world friendships. Each online teen today is developing what will evolve into a vast network of near-permanent relationships that will impact his or her life and career in ways we can't possibly anticipate. The internet as a widely used resource is still less than twenty years old. It's impact on the social fabric of this country won't be understood for a generation.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

King Kong - Review by Request

I've been asked to provode my opinion of yet another remake, "King Kong." Once again, I feel that this remake missed the mark. Filmmaking's hottest director, Peter Jackson, created this film as an homage to the original film, which he credits with inspiring him to become a filmmaker.

The new "King Kong" is a beautifully shot production, with visual effects that are, in many cases, nothing short of astounding (I thought the skyline of 1930's New York was especially effective). Everything, including the acting style, was presented to recall the filmmaking style of that era, as combined with the mega-budgets of the early 21st century.

What hurts this new "Kong" the most is it's length. At 187 minutes (over 3 hours), it feels overly long. This epic film also becomes an epic test of endurance. An adventure film should never drag. This does during the first half as the audience awaits the Big Show.

Consider "Raiders of the Lost Ark," which was, in a way, also an homage to thrillers of the same era. That film, according to the Internet Movie Database, was only 115 minutes long, and kept the audience on the edge of their seats throughout the entire film. Most three hour films would be vastly more entertaining at two hours. The new "King Kong," I believe, might have been a better tribute to the original at two hours - or, like the original, at an hour and 44 minutes.