Monday, April 14, 2014

Memorial





This past Saturday, I held a memorial for my mother, and for my father, both of whom recently passed away.  I really didn’t want to do it at first for a number of irrational reasons.  I thought about the amount of work that it would take to do it well was one of them.  I thought of the trouble it would cause all of the family and friends to fly or drive in for the memorial.  The other thing that I was hesitant about was writing and reading my own speech.  Where would I begin?  I just wasn’t sure how all of this would be accomplished or if anyone really wanted to.  Luckily, a friend of the family sat with me at lunch one day and made some suggestions.  I wrote a few down and ran off with them, in the next few days calling and researching how all of it would be done.

And as the weeks passed, and this and that got done, and as I discovered that along the way, I witnessed people stepping out to help, that it wasn’t so hard.  Just like writing my eulogy; a rough draft of what I wanted to say, then hammering it together in a few more writing sessions, the whole vision eventually came to fruition.  The perfect venue, the perfect preparations, and the perfect group of people.  And on the day of the memorial, when people I had not even thought of inviting had reached out to me to see if they could attend (of course they could), I was happy to see many of my cousins there, and my mom’s cousins, the Schneiders for example, who I hadn’t seen in years, and more extended family. 

The family friend who had sat with me at lunch, Carol, had said something that took a few days for me to digest.  It was a truth about our society’s life these days; that the only time there are large family gatherings are when something big happens.  A wedding, a funeral or memorial, a graduation to a lesser extent.  And as the weeks went on during the planning, it made me think of how important family gatherings are.  And how the memorial would be one of these.  And she was right, not only about the magnetism that an event like this has, but also as to what I think she suspected all along; that I would end up loving it.  And she was right. 

The day was a wonderful tribute to my parents and to their legacy as people who cared and watched out for their family and friends.  I enjoyed each and every speech that family and friends made, and I felt honored that they would all show up to pay tribute to my parents.  And so the closeness of the family continues into 2014.  I’m one of the lucky ones. 

And here now is the eulogy wrote and read for my parents:

 _________________________________

I’d like to thank you all for coming today to this memorial for Marcia.  I know that looking back, the years go so fast.  At one moment, someone is so much a part of your life, and then in what seems to be just the next moment, they are gone.  And so when we gather together like this, it helps us to remember those who have left us as they were for so long in our lives; a constant presence as a friend, an aunt, a sister, a teacher, or a mother who most definitely shaped us and how we view the world. 

And so, I’d like to start by quoting a recent episode of the show, Parenthood, in which there was a family gathering at the dinner table and one of the siblings said, “Any reason for the family to get together is a good reason, no matter what it is.” 

At the time my dad passed away two and a half years ago, we had a lot going on with my mother, and there was no memorial for Bill.  So today, I will speak about both of them as they were to me; my parents. We’ve got a few people on the memorial program that would like to give a remembrance, followed by some written condolences, and then we’ll open the floor up to anyone who would like to say a few words.

Marcia made a great an impact in so many areas; from her unending commitment to children and their families who needed advocacy, to her devotion to her own family and friends. 

The way I remember her, from very early on, was as a mother who tried to help me understand myself and my world around me. She had as spectacular gift in being able to fully listen.  For instance, she would sit our little round breakfast nook table, eating her salad, while I might tell her of some current struggle.  And she would listen.  She often tried to have some sort of suggestion to give me a push off with at the end, which was always helpful.  But the important thing is that she was all-ears and all-heart when it came to being there for someone.  I hear so many people sadly talk about how their parents were either absent physically, or psychologically, and that their feelings were not taken seriously.  This was not the case with my mom.  She valued other people’s feelings and validated them, which helped a person move to the next step.  And I always felt that she cared.  Even after I moved out of the house to go to university, whenever I came home to visit, my mom always wanted a private catch-up session in her den to find out how I was doing.  My own in-house therapist.  Thank you mom!

Marcia was so psychologically minded that she always looked behind what was being said and done by people to better understand their behavior.  Motivations in people were a key factor to her.  This ability she had to understand what was going on behind the curtain so to speak and where to look, took a kind of mind that thoroughly empathized with the deep needs that people had from their own youth.  This helped me to realize that when people act in ways that are not necessarily their high water marks in life, there may be extenuating circumstances beyond what is obvious to the world that may be leading to their behavior.  In other words, she taught me compassion.  And it was the compassion she had throughout her life, for which all of us in this room loved her, and for which we found her irresistible.  We were magnetized to her in order to get the “Marcia” take on things.  Inevitably, it was often during a talk with her about some topic, which would realize some new nugget of insight, that one could walk away with and ponder for a few days, and could lead one to some self-resolution. 

But it wasn’t the political issue, or the latest news item, nor the latest trend that would really interest her.  What lit Marcia up was a discussion about something personal, something human, emotional, and problematic.  For this was my mom’s sweet spot of passion and this is where her genius would kick in. She had the ability to somehow hone in on the real issue underlying whatever problem one was discussing with her.  And that is a rare gift, and a very fortunate one for those around her. 

Marcia was of the opinion that one should find things out for oneself.  Now, I didn’t always appreciate this so much growing up, because I would have loved for someone to just give me all of the answers, from which I could pick and choose what seemed to be the best option from a stance ‘observation.’  But it was her insistence on the idea that one should learn by trial and error rather than cerebrally guessing at choices that gave me the sense that I had to discover things out on my own, and that the phenomenon of failure is absolutely an option and is to be expected along the path of finding one’s way.  This was completely in line with her Master’s Thesis, “Play as Adaptation,” in which she and her research partner, Ruth Pierce, put forth that active, hands-on, learning is the most useful experience in a human’s development.  Her theory that, the only way you will know if you like something is to try it, would help me discover music, art, running, and the pursuit of learning just for learning’s sake.

When I was interested, yet cautious, about doing something that would stretch my experience, my mom would motivate me, saying, “Find out how you can do it.  There is a way.”  She would say, “You’re a very good looking, energetic young man, so just right off the bat you have a lot on your side.  Just find out who you have to talk to to get in.”  She knew to remind me to use my strengths in my life, which has been helpful ammunition for me to carry with me.  Her view of the world was one of expansion and self-awareness, and about broadening one’s self, and that the discovery of introspection will always lead to growth. 

I was very fortunate to have a mother who was also a child development specialist.  And her work with other children never interfered with our relationship.  For a child who from his very early life experience was sensitive to feeling “left out,” an adoptive mother who was giving a lot of attention to other children could have caused some problems of confidence, and yet, she navigated this expertly.  She constantly talked about various children’s cases she worked on at McLaren Hall and other facilities with the utmost passion and dedication, and yet, she always somehow made me feel that I was her prize.  And I was always deeply touched by how much she loved all of her nieces and nephews, and all of their children. 

In 1984, when I decided to completely dedicate myself to finding my natural sister, a situation that could have been awkward for many adoptive parents, my mom and dad were supportive of my efforts and regularly asked me how my search was going.  And after six months when I found my sister, my parents were proud of me and were excited to meet her.  I am very thankful to them for that.  They were selfless in this. 

And my dad, Bill.  He was such a fun dad to have!  Every time I’d walk into the house, he’d greet me with, “Well, hello Fred,” as if I had shown up to some convention he hadn’t expected to see me at.  He was always curious about everything, and I think that when he adopted me, he started to see things through a child’s eyes.  I remember him squatting down with me at the Museum of Natural in New York, as we were looking at a monstrous blue whale that was suspended from the museum ceiling, and appreciating how it must have appeared to me from the point of view of a small five year old boy.  He had an interest in how things worked; puzzles, gadgets, and other quizzical dilemmas, which later grew into an interest in past societies.  He said that when we all went for a week-long trip with my elementary school to see dinosaur remains in Arizona, something got sparked in him with regard to a sudden interest in paleontology and archeology.  He always loved that this interest in him arose so incidentally.

Do you know that when my dad was a boy in New York, his dad, who was a doctor, would say the most outrageously scientific sounding things to him.  For instance, if my dad skinned his knee and his father was putting ointment on the wound, my dad would invariably ask what it was he was applying, and his dad would say, “Well son, this is Compound Refrigerated Fluid Extract of Effervescent Ecoromaboli.”  I’m afraid my dad was doomed to be curious about everything after that.

Having this engineer, journalist, archeologist father was beneficial to me in that if we started talking about pretty much any topic, instantly there were a couple of encyclopedia volumes and a map splayed out on the family room table so that we could research together the facts and locations of where all of this had occurred. Though we didn’t travel together at all out of the United States, my dad and I went around the world many times over with his atlases and his descriptions of other cultures.  I literally can't look at a city-grid, or an abandoned structure, without intuitively sensing where the railway ‘right-of-ways’ were, or wanting to know what the structure’s earlier usages were.  Thank you dad!

And as for the sweet part of my dad, when he felt emotional, he would tell me.  Weather it was a story in the paper that he saved for me about some extraordinary situation, or a movie he had seen that made him tear up, he would say, “Fred, you have to see this!”  He often told me that his favorite moment in a movie was in the 1946 film, “Stairway to Heaven”, in which David Niven, in order to cheat death, goes up to heaven to argue his case before a heavenly court.  When Niven arrives in heaven, he sees a hound sitting nearby, and he says, “I always HOPED there would be dogs (up here).”  If that’s the case, then I know my dad is on a heavenly beach somewhere throwing tennis balls for Willie to chase into the ocean surf, and I know that my uncle Jeff Herrman is also riding cousin K.C.’s mini-bike into that same ocean surf.  That actually happened, by the way.  

Bill made the sweet part of himself accessible to me, and I appreciated this in him, for I haven’t come across a lot of fathers who were like this with their sons.  His love for me was very strong, and I always felt it.  I’m sure that people in our midst must have felt like he talked about and doted on me WAY too much.  My ears were always burning, and I didn’t mind it at all! 

I have one regret of my own regarding my father.  During the time that I was working at Disney Feature Animation, he was always trying to get me to do a docent tour of the old historical buildings in downtown Los Angeles.  I won’t bother telling you about the extraordinary pressures of being in crunch time on various feature productions, but the result was that I never found a good moment to accept his invitation.  And for that I am sad; I would love to have done that tour with him.  But it’s just one of those things that I will remember as to how similar we were in our interests and curiosities. 

I was just extraordinarily fortunate to be given the gift of these two people. 

My first realization of how strongly I bonded with Marcia and Bill was during the time just before my adoption.  As many of you know, Marcia had been my nursery school teacher when my natural father died, and then she and Bill decided to adopt me.  During what would seem to me to be a somewhat lengthy battle between the Herrman’s and a social worker who wanted to adopt me as well, I was enrolled in an elementary school on Crescent Heights Boulevard due of it’s proximity to the social worker’s home, where I was to stay during the weekdays.  With all due respect to the social worker, and trust me, she is due a lot of respect for what she had previously done for my natural father and I, I remember how much I didn’t like living with this social worker, and inversely, how much I enjoyed being with Marcia and Bill when I would visit them on the weekends at their Crestview Drive home during this temporary arrangement. 

One school day during recess, I was standing in an elevated portion of the school playground, which overlooked directly onto a small residential street, when Marcia and Bill drove by in their blue convertible Fiat Spider, with the top down.  I suppose they had been curious to see the school was that I was attending during the weekdays.  They stopped, looked up and saw that I was standing on the other side of the fence above them, and they waved at me.  I waved back at them listlessly, and then, they drove away.

I remember how desperately I wanted to be with Marcia and Bill in that moment.  I was in love with them, and I wanted to drive off with Marcia and Bill in that little Fiat to go exploring the city together.  And as you know, in short enough time, my wish came true.  I gained two parents who loved me, plus an aunt Lane and uncle Jack, an aunt Isabel and Uncle Roger, and an aunt Mary and Uncle Jeff, each of whom have very strong families with some of the most interesting, motivated, and respectable people I’ve ever met. 

The funny thing is that occasionally throughout my relationship with my parents, I used to tell them how thankful I was that they adopted me.  It may sound corny, but I really did.  I would just blurt it out, “Thank you for adopting me!” In return, my parents would say how much I invigorated their lives; that when I became their son, I brought a whole new dimension into their marriage.  I’d say, “Yes, but you SAVED MY life!,” and then they’d always give a laugh and an, “Oh well, we all came out the better!” 

But I don’t think they ever really got it; that they had such an impact on one particular child’s life, the trajectory of his future, the richness and fullness of acquiring knowledge and the everlasting sense that one always has options, in being given the gift of a family full of love, being shown what a good friend is and in my being able to seek out my own true friends that would last a lifetime.  My experience and my parents’ experience in that way don’t seem comparable.  I intuitively know that I experienced the greater impact in the whole transaction. And I don’t really know if anyone can understand it like I do since I lived it first hand.  But I have my mom and dad to thank for all of that.

And so the last six? seven? eight? years have been very tough for me and for all of us who loved them.  To see two smart, vibrant, complicated people who used to travel the world, work hard, and indulge their respective passions and hobbies, and to then at first slowly, and then rather quickly lose their faculties.  It was a hard thing to see because the rapid declines they experienced seemed so unlikely happen to such smart and worldly people.  But they did, and being there with them, and for them, was the best that I or anyone else could do, because that’s what they would have liked.  They wouldn’t have wanted to be alone through it all, and they weren’t, thanks to a lot of you’re here today, especially Carol Cole.

And lastly, a couple of special moments with my mom. 

One time, back when Marcia was my teacher at the nursery school and I was four and a half years old, I remember that it was raining, and I was looking out the classroom window, gazing at how everything was getting wet outside.  She came over to me, knelt down, put her hand gently on my back and asked me how I liked the rain.  I didn’t answer because I didn’t talk much in those days, but rather, just kept looking out. It was a quiet, private moment for both of us. 

Then recently in 2013, I was visiting her small assisted living home in Westwood while all of the other residents were out on a field trip.  Marcia was in one of her uplifted moods, and she and I were sitting on the front room couch looking out of the window together.  It was windy outside and it reminded me of that day forty-four years earlier, another quiet moment together and watching nature do it’s thing.  And as she looked out of the large living room window, she reacted to the wind exclaiming, “My goodness!”  I said, “Yes mom, it’s very windy today, isn’t it?”  And she said with wonderment, “It sure is.” 

And I looked at her and thought to myself, “What a sweet women you are.”

Thank you mom and dad for everything you did for all of us who knew and loved you.  I will miss you both forever.



-And now, cousin Jeff Golden would like to say a few words...

____________________________________________________



Sunday, February 9, 2014

Marcia K. Herrman - 1927-2014

My mother passed away tonight peacefully after a multi-year struggle with dementia at the age of eighty-six.  She was a wonderful and caring woman who did a tremendous amount of good for the child development profession, lived for her family, and changed other people's lives, including adopting a son named Fred and giving him love, opportunity, and someone he could always trust.  She is in a better place now, and I will forever miss her.  I love you mom.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Rolling Over Los Angeles

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As I was driving down the 405 today, I noted the extent of work that they are doing with widening the Sepulveda pass freeway and how much congestion there typically is.  It took a good 15 minutes longer in my estimation to get over the hill and back than it should have, and it’s been that way for months.  It’s always a lot of fun, right?  Braking, starting, stopping, going, a driver decides to shoot into your lane in front of you thinking he’s going to get ahead of things.  It’s just very busy these days on our roads.

I have seen archival photos of the Sepulveda pass being cut through the hillside, and also photos of the freeway newly opened with just a few cars passing through.  And, not to linger in the past, but it gets me thinking from time to time how incredibly beautiful the greater city of Los Angeles likely was back in the day when the Arroyo Seco Parkway was the only real highway in the area, and when one could drive at a speed that allowed viewing of the surrounding mountains and areas without having to have laser-like focus of what’s in front of one to not miss that nanosecond when a collision could occur.  It’s exciting to have a vibrant, thriving, and most often, chaotic city, and I think I were living in a quiet town in the mid west I would miss the variety of options there are for activities and meeting different people.  And yet, from a pure transportation point of view, it sure would be nice to be able to gander at the rolling hills and the open vistas from parts of the city such as if there were just a few people on the roads at any point in time. 

I remember that I got lucky one Saturday about ten years ago.  I was driving eastbound on the Santa Monica Freeway (Interstate 10) just around the Washington and La Cienega overpasses, and for some reason at about 10:30am that morning there was almost nobody in any of the lanes in my vicinity.  It had rained just the night before and the sun was peeking in and out of the puffy clouds rolling low over the L.A. area, and the wind had swept out all of the smog making for an extremely crisp, clear day.  The city had a rather blue tint to it, such as that of a cold mountain environment.  This weather gave me the opportunity to look around side to side in my car and fully appreciate all of the folds and variants in the landscape around me for a good ten miles.  

I could see the different levels on which the houses sat radiating out towards Beverly Hills and Hollywood as I looked northward out of my driver’s side window.  And as I looked out of the passenger side, Baldwin Hills seemed to be sitting just off of the freeway by a few feet.  I could also see the buildings on Wilshire’s Miracle Mile standing at attention in a sea of busy, swirling neighborhoods street alignments that hugged the uneven topography. The Santa Monica Mountains (and it’s subsection of the Hollywood Hills) aren’t the only hills in the Los Angeles basin, though they often seem so because they are so obviously perched between the city side and the valley side.  With the clarity that I had that morning, it was more akin to being in a low flying helicopter and having a three dimensional perspective of the land at differing depths as I moved eastward. 

Those few moments have lasted a long time for me.  It may sound silly, but they have gotten me through the frustration of being on the Hollywood Freeway northbound and being clogged in the Highland/Hollywood Bowl traffic of the Cahuenga pass, or of being on the 405 northbound and just sitting stuck around Sunset Blvd.  During those moments, several things come to mind.  

I think of pretty much anyone who is visiting our town from out of state and wondering, “How in hell could anyone put up with this kind of congestion and overpopulation all of the time.”  And I’ve also heard, “People are so caught up in their own world and guarded out here in L.A.  It’s all about who you know and the business.” I have a deeply empathetic understanding of that viewpoint having been born here and knowing how the culture has changed.  However, because of that experience I had that ten or so years ago, I am able to often get myself past the temporary discomfort of the traffic and the craziness that happens in some places and say to myself, “Yeah, but do you know what and interesting and diverse city I live in?  There are so many people from different parts of the world here, and there are so many different types of terrain in just a few square miles.”  I realize I sound jingoistic on a state level, but California really is an amazing state in it’s resources and in it’s people. 

You could buy a house up in the hills and be nestled in a quiet, hard to discover neighborhood.  Or you could live at the beach and take strolls on the boardwalks of southern California beaches, or you could live in the desert or the mountains within an hour of the city.  The best thing for me is that since I love diversity in the things that I do, it’s all here for me.  On one Saturday, my girlfriend and I could look for starfish in a Malibu lagoon, or we could go for a hike in one of the myriad of the hill trails that are around the city, or drive to the snow or to the desert.  And the real point is, if we got up early enough, we could easily do those four things in one day AND see a movie or watch one being filmed.  One of my favorite things is forgetting that I am not that far away from the city when hiking around the L.A. area. 

So, the next time I’m stuck in traffic, which undoubtedly will be tomorrow, I will again think to myself of the time I got that perspective of Los Angeles in a way I hadn’t before.  Perhaps someday I’ll take a ride in an actual helicopter and fly around the southland to get the kind of view I’ve been imagining is out there.  That would be a lot of fun and very informative as to the relation of parts of town to each other.  I am certain that I always shorten the distance between the valley and the city in my mind, but that flying over it would really show how much earth separates the two metropolitan areas. But if I were to go up in a helicopter, it would have to be a professional pilot with many hours of flying experience.  I wouldn’t go up in a helicopter with Pee Wee Herman for instance.  I just think he would be too distracted a pilot. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Johnny Paid Some Cash

I've always loved the sound of Johnny Cash' voice.  But here's something I didn't know until last night as I was perusing around the internet as usual.  Johnny Cash took a lot of  "Folsom Prison Blues," melody and lyrics from a song written two years earlier by Gordon Jenkins called, "Crescent City Blues."  If you listen to them one after another, it's clear that Johnny Cash shouldn't have done it.  He ended up having to settle out of court for $75,000 paid to Jenkins.  All that said, I'm still a Johnny Cash fan. 

Here is the side by side of the two songs.

Here is the Wikipedia article.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Two Verses

Somewhere inside something there is a
Rush of greatness, who knows what stands in front of
Our lives, I fashion my future on films in space
Silence tells me secretly
Everything
Everything...

Eyes look your last
Arms take your last embrace
And, lips, oh you the doors of breath
Sealed with a righteous kiss...
The rest is silence
The rest is silence
The rest is silence...


-James Rado, Gerome Ragni, William Shakespeare
& Galt MacDermot (music)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Precambrian PDA Era


Just the other night, I was listening to the Tim Conway, Jr. show in KFI as I was driving home, and Conway alluded to some ad or comic strip of a man sitting on a bus, reading the ingredients of a shampoo bottle.  The inanimate bottle says to him something like, "Looks like you forgot your cell phone, didn't you?" mocking the man’s boredom. The piece made light of the measures we all used to take to keep ourselves occupied when having to wait out some of life’s less exciting moments during the pre-iPhone (or name your favorite device here) era. 

And as a slight tangent, it reminded me of the fact that sometime after I graduated from university, but before I got a full time job, that I worked for a courier service that serviced mostly escrow companies in West L.A., the Palisades, and the Hollywood Hills.  We (drivers) all had our Thomas Guide maps as expected for the time and had mastered the motion of flipping of pages from city quadrant to city quadrant in order to find roads marked in font so tiny that I would in no way have a chance of deciphering them nowadays without reading glasses. 

The way that the drivers communicated with the dispatching office was via old, black, crackling two-way radios.  Yet, as I was starting my part time driving at this company, the pager phenomenon had just been born into the world.  A lot of the older drivers wanted no part of it and kept to their radios, but me, always having been tech fascinated (I won’t go as far as calling myself tech savvy), I opted for the new belt-clipping pager.  Yeehaw!  To be contacted simply through the air somehow. That really was amazing to me at the time!

However, this meant that in every instance I finished a delivery, I had to make sure to have coins on my person to call into the dispatch office from a pay phone and let them know that I was "clear" or whatever our term was at the time.  Then I'd sit around in my car waiting for my pager to go off maybe eating a bran muffin with some juice and listening to the news on the radio to pass the time.  One gets very good at understanding the Los Angeles traffic patterns in this type of work, and so KNX traffic reports were an essential part of my hourly diet.

The nightmare, of course, was when an address was wrong or merely impossible locate, such as in the serpentine roads of the Hollywood Hills. Contacting the office in this scenario often meant leaving the area in which one had been driving around lost in and finding a pay phone to get either a corrected address or proper directions.  The office then often had their own difficult task of locating their client, and once accomplished, there was the drive back up into wherever it was to give it another try.  This all took a lot of time.  Had we even had the notion that something called cell phones and GPS would be arriving in the future, well, I don't know if we would have continued with all of that analogue map and payphone nonsense, but rather, would have put all of those extra coins on our persons into those future companies' stock.

And so, with all of the criticism of PDA’s and cell phones that have been made by people (myself included) who say that these devices take people’s attention away from being present to the world in front of them and interacting with real people, I do have to admit that for those times that I have to sit in the lobby of the AAA to get my registration tags completed, or when I have to wait for a client who is twenty-five minutes late (which happens about every day for me, by the way), not having to read a shampoo bottle or calculate the number of floor tiles of the room I’m waiting in sure makes life during those times a bit more bearable. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Dishwasher Loading

In my house growing up as a young boy through my early adulthood, my mom would have people come over for dinner, serving various dishes.  She could never finally sit down at the table it would seem.  She was always anxious about how her meal would turn out; if the bread were baking too long, the turkey too thoroughly, or if everyone had enough of everything, and so, constantly ran back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room even while people had been seated comfortably for a while.  “Oh, it looks like you need a small fork.  I’ll get it.”  “Oh, salt…just a minute!”  "Oh, cranberry sauce: I have some of that.”  Then the protests; “No Marcia, I can get it myself, please sit at the table; you’ve done enough.  You’re making me feel guilty,” an aunt or a niece might say.  But my mom would come back with a hardy Jewish mother’s, “No, you sit, I’ll have it in no time...just...sit!” and my mom would run back into the kitchen and get the fork, the salt, the cranberry sauce or what have you.  It would eventually take my dad to beg her to sit with a broken, crackled, “H-o-n-e-y…please sit down with us...,” and that would motivate her?…give her permission?....Whatever my dad's pleas were to her, she would finally find her place at the dining room table with the rest of us.  That was her own mishigas. 

I think that she always found it hard to put on these dinners, as often as we would have them.  After dinner parties at other people’s houses, she would often comment, “It’s so easy for her,” meaning, hosting a dinner party comes so naturally to ‘Barbara’ or whoever’s house she might have been at.  But whatever that fear was never stopped my mom from hosting others at our table.  We had many happy meals and occasions at that long, oval table.  Many liberal political discussions, often over my head, went on in these settings between my cousins, aunts and uncles.  And I, who was never much one for long family visits at other people’s houses, always enjoyed the festivities at our house. 

And as the tummies got stuffed, and the people got full, tired, and ready for some TV, especially my uncle Jack, who as soon as he was satiated would make a quick transition from the dining room to the family room couch, the used dinner plates and setting began to pile up in the kitchen.  I was always a good helper and made sure to get all of the settings made it into the kitchen efficiently.  Perhaps this was because I know how my dad’s head was organized about the cleaning process.  For as useless as my father was about helping in the pre-meal preparation phase (my dad’s main task before people arrived was to get a dress shirt on), he transformed into a cleaning machine with complete control and organization of the entire post-dinner pipeline.  Restoring things to their original condition and place was what my dad was all about. 

The cleaning of dishes was definitely a pre-defined, quantifiable process for him.  There was a beginning, middle, another middle, and then an end to it all.

Step one began with the moving of the used dinnerware from the dining room into the kitchen.  Heavy plates on this counter, glasses over there, and utensils into the plastic basin in the sink for pre-soaking. “No Fred, not there. Glass items are going near the toaster.  Put bowls near the stove for now."  "Yes, father," I would respond with unwavering obedience (...no, just kidding...I was never formal with my dad). 

Pre-soaking, step two, was very important to him, and every item went through some form of it.  He would either set the dishes temporarily into the plastic basin, or they would get rinsed off well enough that they could at that point be considered clean.  I don’t ever recall there being a speck of food on an item going into the dishwasher.  I remember through the years hearing comments directed at him such as, “Well jeez Bill, you don’t really need to get them that clean if they’re going into the dishwasher.”  Their comment would generally be answered with a simply wry smile back from him; nothing more.  Oh, how little this person really knows about my dad and his dish washing paradigm.  Nothing was entering the dishwasher with food remains of any sort on it. 

Step three was loading the dishwasher.  And here for me was the proof that there is a real thing as an art to dishwasher loading.  He himself referred to it as an art on several occasions.  There were many things in my life that my dad was once good at, but that with age, I either rose to the level of his ability or even surpassed, but loading the dishwasher was not one of them.  My dad had the uncanny ability to so tightly pack a dishwasher, yet allow enough room for the water to run through it, once accomplished, everyone knew never to question him on the topic again.  And believe me, I tried many times, sneaking in ahead of him to load a full set of dinnerware into the dishwasher, only to find out from his subsequent rearranging things that I wasn’t even close.  In hindsight, my attempt had looked like an inebriated derelict had happened upon a pile of dishes and a dishwasher.  I along with my mother, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, all who had tried to see if we could crack the geometric code for optimal dishwasher loading, discovered that this was truly something my dad was a natural at. 


There is a good reason that my father excelled at this.  It took me a while to make the connection, but recently it dawned on me.  My father was extremely good at solving puzzles.  All kinds of puzzles.  Word puzzles, geometric puzzles, mind teasers, all of those things.  When I was about thirteen years old, someone gave him a really strange plastic puzzle that was in the shape of a circular column.  It had about twelve levers on top that acted on locks to gates within the puzzle, allowing various discs at differing levels of the contraption to open and shut.  The idea was to get all of the levers from the radius of the puzzle into the center of the puzzle, or vice-versa, if you had already completed that phase.  My dad quickly discovered a very complicated pattern as to how the levers would need to be moved to unlock all of the levels.  It might have taken something like 127 moves.  But he figured it out that night that he got it.  The next morning he showed me the contraption with all of the levers now positioned at interior of the puzzle.  I'm sure he felt satisfaction in seeing my face go white.  I could not begin to imagine how much trial and error action it took for him to figure out that there was even a pattern at all, and then to accomplish the puzzle in such a very short time.  And so loading the dishwasher was child's play in his mind.   I think that accounted for the wry smile mentioned earlier. 

And so when step four finally arrived, unloading the dishwasher, often the next day, I or whoever was around to assist, would gaze in amazement yet again at how many dishes had been so masterfully loaded, and at how completely clean they came out on the other end. 

Dishwasher loading; it weren’t no fun and games in the Herrman household!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sandwich Shop

At about 1:00pm on the afternoon of this Wednesday, I parked my Jeep and walked into a local submarine sandwich shop here in town and scanned the large order board already knowing what I was going to order.  I stood at the wide white Formica counter with several other patrons standing side by side. To my right was a pudgy young man with cropped hair in beige shorts and a black shirt, who had just ordered a turkey sandwich waiting with hands in his pockets while the workers bees scuttled around their side of the counter.  He got his order and then promptly left.

To my left were two large Caucasian guys, one about my height, and other very tall; maybe 6’4”.  Both were well-built construction workers, and both about forty years old.  The one closer to my height was dark haired, clean shaven, had blue jeans, contractors boots and a red t-shirt on, while the larger guy had a three-day old reddish brown beard, boots, jeans, and a light red and black flannel short sleeved shirt over a t-shirt.  He also had a headband holding a roost of hair out of his face. 

As his shorter buddy left the counter to sit at a table, I was distracted when I was asked what I wanted by a shop worker. “Full Italian, light everything, and a large Coke,” I directed.  Then my head turned back to the giant guy to my left again.  Below his sleeve on his right arm was one of those spirally tattoos that people get as a kind of band halfway between their shoulder and their elbow.  His bicep alone was huge. And as I snuck this second look, I said to myself, “This guy has to be a Van Halen fan.  There is just no way he doesn’t crank the VH in his truck. And I’m guessing that truck has giant tires with dried mud sprayed on the side fenders and a lift kit.”

Just then I heard him speak for the first time, pitching his head of hair back to his buddy at the back of the room who apparently hadn’t finished ordering.  “What d’you want on it, bro?”  “Everything!” his buddy answered.  And I said to myself,“That it! He’s exactly as I had hoped he would sound.  That raspy 1980’s Van Nuys home grown, blast KLOS in his Trans-Am, let’s go hit Zuma Beach and party dude.  A David Lee Roth disciple.  And this guy’s a big specimen at that!  He ain’t losing any fights tonight!”

His order was rung up and he sat at the eating counter where his friend was already sitting.  The eating counter in this place is against the far wall from where you order, and then it angles perpendicularly to an adjacent left wall.  It’s a small shop, so everyone’s kind of huddled together.

“Okay, anything else?” the guy at the counter asked me.  “No.”  “For here or to go?”  I thought for a second.  I didn’t have any appointment until 2:00pm, and I’m really kind of curious to hear these guys talking. The sociologist in me?  The writer in me?  Or just a pining for something to remind me of a familiar place and time of years passed…so, “I’ll take it for here.” 

I brought my lunch to that adjacent section of the counter with the two guys just off of my right shoulder.  I laid out some napkins, popped my Coke top off, unwrapped my sub, and I bit into it.  Oh, so good!  They always make great subs here.  And then I started keying into their conversation.  And anyway, how could I not being only about two feet from them? 

“Yeah, Pete said they caught some good Marlin off Cabos.”  The smaller one said.  “Dig that.  You goin’ down there again?” asked the big one.  “Soon as I get more days off.”  “I’m with you bro.”  Funny too because I would have taken them for surfers, not so much sport fishermen.  But maybe they were both.  Shows you my profiling ability.  A few seconds of silence passed by and the big one said in a most understated, yet earnest David Lee Roth voice, “Great sandwich shop.” 

Images of Syrian broken bodies and fighting, Bashar Al-Assad with Charlie Rose, and President Obama making speeches quickly swirled around in my head from the last few days’ media coverage.  Then I took another look over my shoulder at these two guys eating their subs, had another swig of my Coca-Cola, looked down at my sandwich, and I thought to myself, thank God there are still guys like these around!  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Emergency Alert Messages on Cells

My opinion about the Emergency Alert System as they are used via cell phones is that these alerts should only be use for situations where the masses of people are in physical danger.  That could include impending aftershocks from earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, a mass shooter on the loose (as in Hollywood and in Santa Monica not long ago), flash flood warnings, the North Koreans landing on our shores, an impending missile strike or terrorist hit, etc.

The use of the Emergency Alert System for Amber Alerts and other crimes is an overstepping of the system both because they are not crimes that threaten great numbers of people’s physical safety, and also because their use in this regard will make the EAS a commonplace occurrence that will make people, say in business meetings, react with, “Oh, it’s just another one of those damned things.”  That’s a bad idea for an EAS system’s credibility.

Amber Alerts and various other crimes (car-jackings, other types of kidnappings) have plenty of other outlets such as radio stations and the Internet to get the word out.  In addition, specifically for Amber Alerts, those people receiving the Amber Alert on their cell phones who are not driving can’t really do anything or won’t remember it later if they are driving, and those who receive the information while they are driving are being pressured to break the law, look down at their phones and start reading texts from the EAS while they are driving.  There are enough Cal Trans signs around our freeways to provide Amber Alert information in a much safer way.  For, when the time comes that my cell phone screeches with an EAS message that an asteroid is fourteen minutes away from hitting the western San Fernando Valley, I don’t want to say to myself, “Oh, I’ll check that later.” 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Eavesdropping

One of the apps I got a while back, because my radio scanner that I’ve had for a long time is kind of becoming limited in it’s own way, is a scanner app on my iPhone.  Unlike a radio scanner, an app scanner allows you to listen to transmissions of all sorts from all around the world.  One can choose locations in most counties in every state in the US, and can also choose transmissions from many cities all around the globe.  It’s such an advantage with a scanning app since you aren’t limited to your own areas.

Well, one evening about ten nights ago I was going to sleep and I started listening to transmissions from various countries, popping in and out of a lot of them.  I should add here that the transmissions include different channels that vary from EMT, police, fire, city maintenance, to ham radio, marine, and various types of relay channels.

After listing to various European and South American, and even a couple of African channels, I started poking around the UK (since they speak English and I was ready to actually understand a conversation by then), and then went to a couple of channels on the Island of Man.  And one of those channels was a ham radio channel into which I was suddenly listening to two older men talking.  They each had a steady cadence in their voice, sounded like they were in their 60’s, and after listening a while, I realized that one was on the Island of Man, while the other was somewhere in the interior of England of maybe southern Scotland.  I could tell because they referred to being “on the island” a lot about one of them.  As I listened, I imagined a light rain in at least one of their locations.

So it was like 1:30am my time, and I’m listening to these two men taking turns in their ham radio conversation, carefully executing their part of the conversation, then a small gap of silence, and then the other would start to reply.  The one on the island was discussing at first some kind of unrest or protest that had happened in the last couple of days on the island.  And after a few minutes, the conversation turned to talking about neither one of them having ever left their homes (the Island of Man and England/Scotland presumably).

They started talking about the United States and the things they had heard about it in a way that was really strange for me to hear.  One of them said how they heard that traffic was so bad that it took people in the US two hours to get anywhere, and the other replied that cities like Chicago are so dirty that who would want to go visit it anyways.  They both agreed that they were perfectly happy not having done traveling abroad.

This was so strange for me to hear, or to witness real time I guess is what I’m saying, in that these two older men who sounded like they were probably blue collar people, but expressive and thoughtful enough in how they spoke, had never left their homes their entire lives.  And here I was listening to them without their knowledge in the middle of Burbank/Los Angeles.  I felt like saying, I know what it's like where you are, but you don't know the US (because you've never been here).  I was just so surprised that neither had ever attempted to go anywhere their whole lives.  It was just a strange thing.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Nashville Blowout

One of the most memorable nights for me, both as a music aficionado and a rock and roll fan, was when I happened to be in Nashville back in about the year 2000.  I, as most people visiting that city, ended up on Music Row one night, excited to see the new and upcoming performers.  I went into one venue, which was larger than I expected, a boxy room with a raised stage and a stairway that led to a second level where food was served at semi-formal tables.  The building was in good condition with wood grain bannisters and a flavorful décor of music acts.  However on this night, no act was performing.

So I continued down the street, peeking inside pubs and music joints.  The next one I found had a stage that was along the left side of the room, directly opposite a long bar.  There was a young man in a black cowboy hat singing his own songs as he strummed his acoustic guitar.  He was lanky and looked like he seldom got any sunshine on his skin, but I immediately respected him in having the balls to get up there and just push his music during whatever fifteen minutes they allotted to him.  For that’s how Nashville is.  You just have to get yourself out there on the floor and perform with confidence.  Until you can do that, you have not hope for anything.  It takes a lot of practice and experience to get comfortable doing your thing.

As his set ended, and chairs and microphone stands began being moved, I finished my rum and Coke and decided to wander out and down the street some more.  This time, I found a gritty bar; the hole in the wall you might find on Sunset Strip on Hollywood.  The decor here; there was none.  Just a bar that curved away from the dark green wall about a quarter way into the pub, and then took the rest of the length of the left wall all the way to the back.  On the right side of the room were chairs and tables with a slightly elevated black stage, maybe a foot high, that was set in front of the front windows of the room and slightly to the right wall.  At the back of the room was a very narrow stairway that led up and back, then across the back wall to a loft area, that probably housed storage supplies for the bar.  Under the loft was a short hallway that had a back service entrance.

The room was maybe about a third full and there was a country band finishing up their first set bringing energy to the room with a guitar, bass, drums, fiddle and singer.  It was a Thursday night, so though it wasn’t a weekend evening, there were enough people looking to start the end of the week early.  The music ended and I got myself another rum and Coke and settled in at a small table near the front of the place adjacent to the beginning of the bar with people walking in and out of the place behind me.  I listened to people talking, mostly about work and about people in the community.  Then there were others who talked about having played places and gigs.  It seemed like a mix of blue-collar workers and semi-professional musicians hanging out there that night to take some stress off.

I looked around my surroundings and noticed that the windows in front of me that lead out to the street were part way opened.  They tilted in on hinges and let the cool air from outside ventilate the place nicely.  I hate stuffy places, so I felt content to sit here a while for the band to come back and start another set.  It was about 9:30pm.  I looked around more, and I noticed plastic safety floor coverings that covered cables and ran from where the stage hit the right wall of the pub, around the inside perimeter, under the staircase, and out the back entrance.  I thought to myself, “Man, they must have some bad fuse boxes in this place if they had to get electrical from outside every time a band plays.  What a pain in the ass!”  It seems like either bad planning, or like an owner who never felt like upgrading the place.

About half way through my rum and Coke, I watched as the instruments on stage were taken off by staff leaving large covered cabinets behind that I had not noticed until this point.  “So was that the end of this band?  Did I just miss it all?” I asked myself.  In a few minutes, a few new amps were brought up, along with a new, larger drum kit and extra microphone stands.  “Oh, maybe just a new band then.  That’s fine.”  I had a good seat and had found a lively pub.  I would just wait.

More minutes went by, and I talked with a couple of guys at a table near me about Nashville being such a good music town.  They seemed nice, and I could tell that they were local.  I watched as a large man, and I mean a very large, muscular man, came up from the back of the establishment and closed the front door.  They weren’t at capacity.  Nowhere near.  That was strange.  Were they going to charge for the next band, and would I need to get my wallet out or would they think I had snuck in or something?  I didn’t know how it worked in Nashville.

There was a bit of chatter back and forth between this front door man and some other bouncers who had suddenly appeared from the back entrance. They were all huge, tall, muscle-bound, with blue jeans on and back short-sleeved shirts, which accentuated their upper body width and rock solid biceps.  Then the front door man pulled out a hand counter from his pocket and opened the front door back up.  It appeared as if they had counted everyone in the room, and then had again allowed people to wander in as before, but this time counting.  Maybe Thursday nights were more popular than I had reckoned.  The room was still only about a third full as I called it.

Another ten minutes went by and another rum and Coke appeared in my hand when two roadies, band workers, whatever you want to call them, came up to the stage and pulled a black tarp off of the cabinets that had been sitting against the back of the low stage against the right wall and against the front windows of the joint.  As the tarps fell, there appeared four Trace Elliot amp stacks on the left by the wall, and four Hi-Watt amps in front of the window.  The sight of these instantly gave me chills as they would anytime, because my favorite rock band, The Who, used just this configuration of amps for John Entwistle and Pete Townshend respectively.  On top of the each stack of cabinets were sets of lighted compressors and tuners of sorts…I don’t know what they were exactly, except that they brought a beautiful technical lighting into a room that was as plain a pub as pubs can be.

So what exactly was happening?  Was there a well-known country star dropping in to play that night?  It had to be someone who could afford such gear I thought to myself.  Well, however it would go, I had picked just the right spot to sit with a clear view of the stage, near the bar and not far from the window for fresh air.  I wasn’t going anywhere.  My barhopping was done for the night.

So I sat for just a few more minutes, bantering back and forth with the guys near me and some other people about who could be coming onto the stage.  Several stars were brought up by the locals who could be touring just then, and I thought to myself, it really could be anyone just wanting to get out and play.  It didn’t have to be someone directly on tour just at that moment.  But guessing was useless.  We’d soon find out.

Now three rum and Cokes into it, I was feeling a bit of a buzz and slowed down.  I enjoyed the feeling of being out on the Nashville town on Music Row on a night that was now starting to sprinkle a little outside.  Here I was, comfy inside and ready to see a show of some sort.

Just then, a short man came out with jeans and a simple t-shirt, walked right past me and hopped on stage.  I immediately felt light-headed and dizzy, as I looked straight at Roger Daltry grabbing the main mic from the mic stand.  I couldn’t believe it.  It was him.  Before I could think of a reason why he might be here tonight, he said, “Hi there.  I’m Roger.  We’ve been a bit secluded lately and we like to get out here and there and play a little music with friends.”  I was dumbfounded.  “We?”  What was he talking about?

Behind me came another man carrying a bass guitar.  I didn’t recognize him, but I did recognize the guitar.  It was a black Status Buzzard bass. As that was registering in my head, John Entwistle walked behind that man and up to the left side of the stage to claim his bass from him.  Entwistle plugged in and hit a note or two that sounded like monstrous electric guitars.  One of the guys at the table to my side had to grab his glass as it started vibrating it’s way off of his table.  I didn’t need to see my own face to know that it was flush.  Everyone else in the room was looking at these two people wondering what was happening.  And then from behind me, Pete Townshend walked in and up to the stage with a plump bald man carrying two Fender Eric Clapton Signature Stratocasters; one red and one white.  Pete put on the red Strat and went to the other mic and said, “Hello everyone.  We’re just going to play a few songs tonight.  These old men don’t want to get rusty….” And then I didn’t catch the rest of what he said as he pitched it in some sort of faux cockney accent.  He then strummed his guitar in pre-performance preparation with quick struts.  John Rabbit Bundrick, the keyboardist they often used, walked up to the stage and stood behind two keyboards that had been squeezed onto the rear right of the stage behind Townshend.

Zak Starkey, the drummer, then walked from the other side of the room up to the stage, put a drink down behind the drum kit, adjusted his seat and hit the snare drum and his hi-hat with loose, yet persnickety precision.

Everyone was sitting up straight in their seats, and some stood momentarily, not knowing if it was appropriate for such a small venue, then sat back down.  I looked to the back of the room and people were standing.  I also saw people whipping out their cell phones to take photos and to text people, presumably letting them know that The Who was in their local pub.  And that’s what all of the cables running the pub’s cement floor were about.  Extra voltage.

My head whipped back around just in time to see John Entwistle take a sip from his liquor glass with nimble fingers setting it down on his cabinet, and then over to Pete Townshend counted off, “two, three, four,” and the sound of their instruments blasted the room.  They opened with, “My Generation,” those big chords and busy rhythms rumbling through us.  A room that was just a few moments ago, vacuous enough to let the various specific noses of bottles and chairs moving, was now barely able to contain the thunderous noise of the band.

They apparently had guessed right for what equipment was needed for the room, because thought it was loud and earth-moving, it was not overloaded or too hot.  We could hear the various colors of each of the instruments.  Townshend’s guitar was sharp and crisp sounding, the individual drums’ intonation clear, and Entwistle’s electric blue shimmering bass separated very nicely.

They went onto play songs from their early days, such as, “I Can’t Explain,” “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,” “Kids Are Alright,” and then onto songs from, “Tommy,” “Who’s Next,” "Quadrophenia,” and "It’s Hard.”  Pretty much after the first few measures of, “My Generation” having started, everyone stood up and pushed towards the front row of tables near the stage.  How could they not?  Once in a lifetime. And as the songs went on, the door quickly got a steady stream of people being counted by the door guard, and then shooting in to grab a drink from the bar and watch, “The Who.”  It was a pretty funny looking crowd in my eyes, having come from visiting venues near where I live in Los Angeles.  There were lots of guys and ladies in blue jeans and cowboy hats, and then a mix of more slick industry people started to mix in as word got out about who was playing.

To my surprise, both Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney, the country superstars, came in, likely through the back entrance since I would have seen them come in to my right if they had entered the front door.  By the time I spotted them, they both had beers in their hands (obviously well before McGraw went sober), and they were already getting blasted and singing with the Who songs.  It was good to know that two friends could just have a good old time watching some music together.  They got progressively trashed throughout the night, and later I would see Faith Hill with a girlfriend in the back of the room briefly.  I don’t know if she ever successfully found her husband.

The front doors locked as the place got filled to capacity, and then there appeared at the front window a wall of people looking in and listening through the opened portions of the window plates.  It was raining lightly outside when Roger sang, “Love, Reign O’er Me.”  And even though that’s a different kind of rain/reign, it felt well timed.

I could see that The Who was enjoying this small venue.  And it occurred to me that a few months earlier, perhaps six months ago, I had read that The Who had played a small pub back in the U.K. that they used to play when they were young, and so I presumed that perhaps they enjoyed popping into a small venue to play to a smaller group of people.  This was just fantastic on every level.  We could all watch their hands playing guitar and drums and see their facial reactions to the audiences’ reactions.  It was a relationship that fed on itself.

I looked back to see that two bartenders also looking somewhat sloshed.  I thought they weren’t allowed to drink when working?  Maybe for special occasions when The Who plays your pub.  There was someone standing on the bar at one point during, “Who Are You.”  He was completely off balance and eventually slumped onto the bar and was removed to a corner of the bar to sleep it off.  “I remember throwing punches around and preaching from my chair. Well, who are you?”

The night was magical and ended at about Midnight with The Who finishing with “Eminence Front,” and then Pete, John, Rabbit and Ray all making their way to the bar to refresh their drinks.  People were shouting and applauding while the band refilled.  Then, as Pete walked past me, he shouted out, “Okay, there’ll be a couple more and then we’ll be too pissed to see our own feet!”

They got back on stage and played, “Naked Eye,” “Guitar and your Pen,” “Young Man Blues,” and “Pure and Easy,” as their encore set.  The people in the pub were so into it, so mesmerized, all sharing this moment together with The Who.  I think the band enjoyed it just as much. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

"Farewell"



A couple of days ago, I was sitting at my computer, and I thought to look up one of my favorite moments in an animated film, “Farewell,” from the film, “Pocahontas.”  Since I worked on the film, I have always loved Alan Menken’s music and scoring in it.  I found on YouTube that someone had loaded up the ending scene with the whole “Farewell” soundtrack score synched to the scene, instead of using the film's own sound.  This meant that there was no dialogue or sound effects in this instance.  It was nice to watch it this way for two reasons.  One was that it felt like a retrospective.  Having the dialogue and sound effects put a slight buffer between me and the film, which made it feel removed, as if looking at it through a window, as does the period in which I worked on it feels.  Secondly, Menken’s score is much clearer without any other sounds, and I enjoyed the richness of the orchestration and arrangements.



"Farewell is very special to me, not only because Alan Menken so beautifully combined the various musical themes from the film together for this emotional crescendo like only he can, but also because I happened to accompany my Associate Producer to Alan Menken’s recording session for this scene at Todd AO Recording Stage in Studio City.  I don’t know why my Associate Producer did it, except that he was very generous, but he asked me if I wanted to sit in the middle of the orchestra while they recorded to picture.  And I don't mean on the mixing board side of the glass, but on the stage floor between all of the instruments.  I accepted of course, and there occurred an experience that I will never forget.  The music was all around me, rich with every instrument in the orchestra.  They did several passes including some to get the godly choir singers’ parts recorded.  So when I listen to that “Farewell,” I know that I am literally sitting in the middle of the music at that moment; very special.  I wouldn't otherwise believe it except that I was there.

My reaction was strong.  It brought me back to when I was working with the huge team of artist and production management on a project that was just on the heels of “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King.”  It made me realize how all of the apparatus was still in place from the four previous films before “Pocahontas.”  All of the ridiculously talented 2-D artists, all of the producers, the make-shift warehouse type buildings, the catered dinners for overtime workers, and Alan Menken himself.  They had the best directors, supervising character leads, clean up leads and painters, all on "Pocahontas."  It was literally my dream come true.  I had seen a background painter named, Cristy, on a Disney Animation special on television well before I worked at Disney, and now I was talking to her in person.  I recall walking down the hall between our two connected buildings and seeing Alan Menken in front of me.  I told him how much I loved his music, and he thanked me sincerely, putting his hand to his heart, in acceptance of the complement.  I'm lucky I didn't pass out that first time talking to him.





And it got me to thinking the past few days, how much I miss that world.  I worked on many animated productions after this, but at some point, maybe a movie or two thereafter, the Broadway inspired theatrical animated movie went the way of the wind.  Then, after that, so did traditional animation.  Both of these have been revisited in some form or another, but there really have not been any full attempts to make a high quality romantic animated musical since the mid 1990’s.  Did the audiences feel they were too formulaic?  I think I remember reading criticisms about that. Did kids begin to desire adventures that were more akin or translatable to 3-D video games? 

Any of these might be true, and it’s okay.  Art forms change and move on.  But I must say that I miss them with my full heart and soul.  I miss the music, the clever ways that songs were written to describe romance ("If I Never Knew You," "Beauty and the Beast") and the world that the characters lived in ("Under the Sea," "Be Our Guest"), and I miss the traditional drawing.  I miss walking into an animator's room and seeing her or him flipping their animation paper and being buried in model sheets.  I miss seeing Glen having his hands covered in charcoal as he's hammering out a few story boards on his own, or hearing Eric's laugh as he comes up with some ideas for a scene he's issuing to an animator.  I miss seeing Cristy walk around with an apron covered in paint smudges, and I miss seeing the line outside of Vera's door to get tips on clean up keys, or Ann sitting in the blue light of her Color Models station.  How beautiful was all of that?  Very.  More than I can properly describe here.  I'm still not sure that The Walt Disney Company should have been paying me to witness all of this.  Animators and Clean Up Artists didn’t only animate (as if that weren’t be enough).  They took life drawing classes and worked on dimension, perspective and maintaining model during their training time.  There was a lot of pride and love in their years of art schooling, and their learning never stopped. This was a very complicated and deeply earned skill set that these traditional artists developed through enormously difficult and time consuming work.



I think back to some of the films that I worked on after, “Pocahontas,” and though I enjoyed every one of them, some of them were missing something; the music basis and the romance.  That’s what I love.  So I think to myself today, “How could the traditionally animated musical be brought back? “What kind of project or property could necessitate all of these skills and styles of presenting a story again?"  "How could I bring such a thing together?"  I'll have to think much more on this.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Crumbling Thoroughfares

I have harped on this before, but it is astonishing to me how poorly the street maintenance and sidewalk conditions are kept in the City of Los Angeles.  And by this, I don’t mean, within the other smaller incorporated cities such as Burbank, Glendale, Beverly Hills, Pasadena, Manhattan Beach and the like, but rather in all of those cities that have those designated names such as Van Nuys, Sherman Oaks, McCarthy Circle, North Hollywood where they are actually a part of the City of Los Angeles.

It is clear that the city of LA doesn’t have the funds to keep up with the needed repairs, but how did this occur?  I was visiting my mother at Ronald Reagan Hospital not long ago, and I parked in that area of Westwood just west of Gayley, but east of Veteran, and to see the war zone-like condition of the sidewalks was just appalling. 

I know the city has more important issues to get over, such as how much of that Christopher Dornan reward money will be paid out.  But for a city that is so much in the public eye to shirk it’s responsibility to keep it’s streets and sidewalks safe and passible is I think a bit shameful.  And while I realize I could offend a lot of people who do currently live in the City of LA, I would hope that any feelings like that would be turned into trying to push the city council to get on the ball with these types of things.

I showed a house today in Valley Village on a street called Van Noord, which is just west of Coldwater Canyon and in the block north of Moorpark Street, a very nice neighborhood, and as I was waiting for my clients to arrive, I suddenly realized how uneven the concrete was that I was standing on.  This is but just one element of why I have chosen to live in smaller incorporated cities in the southland for the past twenty years.  Any of these neglected characteristics and services within a city generally indicates deeper flaws in how the city government and resources are run.  One generally doesn’t see these problems sitting idly in cities such as Burbank and Manhattan Beach.  They are run well, are responsive to calls, and are not overwhelmed by their own sheer size. 

It takes a while to realize this I think, especially for newcomers to the city.  I always wonder how if I moved to another town such as Sante Fe, Portland, or Austin, how long would it take for me to digest these types of nuances within a particular city.  And as for my own insight and understanding of the City of Los Angeles, well, chalk that up to being a native I suppose.  I spent the first five years of my life in the West Adams district of Los Angeles.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Gray Skies to Blue

A native Californian friend of mine who was working in Munich, Germany back in about 1989, and who described the skies there as a perpetual kilometer-think cover of grey clouds, wrote me in a letter at that time with a section that said, "Oh, how I pine for the warmth of the Southern California sun!" It made me laugh to myself, not only because it was a little overly poetic, but also because I was living in an ocean front apartment in the old Sea Castle on the Santa Monica boardwalk just south if the Santa Monica Pier for $480/mo and had access to exactly what he was desiring.  After reading his letter, I immediately went out barefoot onto the warm sand and played around on those gymnastic rings by the pier under blue skies!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Pizza Size


Strange thing, the pizza size issue.  A lot of the pizza places don't measure their pizzas the way you'd think they would.

This is what happens often when you decide you would like a pizza.

Ring ring…

                      Pizza Guy
Main Street Pizza.  How can I help you?

                          You
Yeah, I’d like to order something to pick up.

                      Pizza Guy

What would you like?

                           You
How ‘bout a large pizza.  How much would that be with three toppings?

                      Pizza Guy
Thin crust or thick crust?

                            You
Hand-tossed.

                       Pizza Guy
That would be $18.67.

                             You
How about an extra-large?

                       Pizza Guy
Then it’d be….$20.49

                              You
How big is the large and how big is the extra large?

                        Pizza Guy
The large is eight slices, and the extra large is twelve.

                               You
But how big is it?  Not how many slices.  How many inches?


                         Pizza Guy
We don’t really go by inches.  It’s eight or twelve slices.

                                You

Yeah, but you could slice a pizza up into a million pieces, and it doesn’t mean anything.

                         Pizza Guy
Well, yeah, I now.  But we go by slices.  I mean, probably about twelve inches or something.

Maybe you don’t go this far in your pizza conversations, but I have.  If you think about it, it really is meaningless to talk about numbers of slices.  I suppose of a soccer mom is trying to feed eleven kids after a game, she might be satisfied by such an answer, and I certainly wouldn’t lose any sleep over the subject.  But one has to wonder how and when the general public became satisfied with a “slices” answer as opposed to an “inches” answers.  Most people are obviously are fine with it because the pizza places seldom get the inches question.  They always seem a little befuddled when I ask them.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The, “I Really Couldn’t Say at the Time,” Factor

I’ve noticed something that has probably been going on for a while, but was driven home to me as I was watching a few events that have happened in the news.  I’m calling it the, “I Really Couldn’t Say at the Time” factor.  

I found myself watching “Dateline,” not long ago with a segment about a woman named, Sarah Jones, who had at one time been a cheerleader for the Cincinnati Bengals.  She later became a teacher in a high school, where she met a seventeen year-old student, who she began a sexual relationship with. 

The county prosecutor got wind of the sexual relationship and began an investigation that lead to charges of statutory rape and culminated in her conviction.  The aspect that really got my attention was that during Dateline’s ongoing interviews of her before the trail, she continually swore that nothing inappropriate ever went on.  That was, until she later admitted that she had been having sex with the student.  When Dateline asked her, “Why did you so strongly deny that anything had gone on right in front of our cameras?”  She said something to the effect of, “Because there was an ongoing case in progress.  I just couldn’t say I had done it when I was pleading, ‘not guilty.’”

And then we have Lance Armstrong.  Did you see him on CNN shows such as Piers Morgan towards the end of 2012, vehemently (CNN.com’s word) denying any nefarious doping activities?  He seemed to have gone on a number of television shows, under the guise of promoting his cancer organization’s work, to deny any doping of blood transfusion experiences.  And now he’s admitted it to Oprah. 

Now, I know this seems obvious; that when someone is in trouble, their attorney is often going to tell them not to admit that they have done wrongly in many cases.  But when someone chooses to do open interviews with the media and so adamantly declares that they are innocent, well, you’d think that this kind of behavior is reserved for those who are truly innocent.  You would think it’s the guy who was put in jail and really wasn’t responsible for a crime who would try to get his word out to the media as a sort of hail-Mary to get some attention brought to his situation. 

And inversely, one would think that the person who really did commit a crime, and has been advised by their attorneys to claim, ‘not guilty,’ would keep a bit of a low profile.  But this may be a growing trend.  To flat out lie to whatever-million people on television.  It’s so disappointing that Lance Armstrong and others would take it that far and would deny for that long, just to see if they could get away with it. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Stereophonic Sound

Since we went through the Holidays recently, I was thinking about when I was younger and we would have Christmas and Hanukkah in our house and about the gifts that would be sitting there around the tree. 

And what were the most impacting gifts for me?  Hmmm.  I think they were the gifts that afforded me some kind of new freedom.  The first one that comes to mind was when I was about fourteen and there was a yellow Raleigh ten-speed bike waiting for me in the morning.  It was exactly what I had wanted at that age, and it looked so huge and adult. 

Imagine back then too, that there were no helmets required for riders of my age.  How did my parents shore up for themselves both the fun of giving me a present like that, which overjoyed me, with the worry that it could be so dangerous if used improperly, not to mention all of the mindless drivers around the city. 

But I suppose that is all part of parenting. 

I thought on it further.  What other present made such a change in my life, and then I remembered.  When I was about thirteen, my parents bought a stereo-receiver and speakers for me.  It too was something I had wanted, but I couldn’t have imagined the change it would make.

When I set it up in my bedroom and turned it onto either KMET or KLOS, the two big rock music stations in L.A. at the time, suddenly the room was filled with high fidelity sound.  The space was transformed from a dull area of objects and posters to a warm nest bustling with music, D.J’s and advertisements.  A new world had opened up in my room. 

I remember having a similar experience later after I bought my first car, a dark blue 1973 Chevrolet Camaro with a chrome shark grill.  I had saved just enough to purchase the smooth looking ride, but didn’t have money left over for a radio.  And gas at seventy-five cents per gallon was SOOO expensive!  Oh, how I wish…  

But after maybe about two months, I saved enough working at Hughes Market as a box boy to finally install a stereo into the car.  And again, there it was.  That amazing flourishing of sound in that space that had been until then so dead with the drone of a shifting transmission. 

I take it for granted now.  Having music fill whatever space I am in when I so desire.  But it was such a great change at the time.

Monday, November 12, 2012

What It's Not

-This is not a poem about when you break an Oreo cookie in half, and part of it is still stuck on the white and you have to pull it off with your teeth.
-This is not a poem about how a shoelace starts to tatter at its most anchored points.
-This is not a poem about the cold and wet the underside of a rock is, nor the feeling that there might be something that could bite or sting you living creepily underneath.
-This is not a poem about why your seatbelt occasionally doesn’t recoil to fit your body’s contour, and so you have to tug on it to get its attention.
-This is not a poem as to why the word “its” without a comma is actually the possessive form of the word.
-This is not a poem about why every time you finally sit down at the end of the day to have dinner, the phone rings.
-This is not a poem about how you end up manually going to the same website often, yet you fail to simply bookmark it for yourself.
-This is not a poem about already being in the shower and realizing that you didn’t bring the new bottle of shampoo with you.
-This is not a poem about cleverly marking your place in a book, and then spending three minutes looking for your marker when you reopen the book.
-This is not a poem about what kind of crazy maze of sewer systems exists under the streets that you drive every day.
-This is not a poem about walking past a place you used to work early in your career, and it’s now a completely unrecognizable entity such as a condo.
-This is not a poem about how 92% of the items stuck to your refrigerator door are notes and numbers, which are irrelevant.
-This is not a poem about the difficulty of getting the correct mixture of milk to cereal.
-This is not a poem about how there are about three pieces of clothing you own which are the most comfortable to wear casually.
-This is not a poem about how each elevator should have their call buttons distributed at a radius far enough away from the doors so that you can press them on your way and not have to wait standing there.
-This is not a poem about how you have realized that two or three times earlier in your life you thought of an idea that someone else has since made millions on.
-This is not a poem about how when you are flying back home from a trip and are approaching your home city, you think to yourself, “Wow, I live most of my life in this tiny little section of the Earth.”
-This is not a poem about really knowing the number of miles you can probably get out of when your car’s gasoline indicator is hovering over the empty line.
-This is not a poem about the variations and clusterings of common boys’ and girls’ birth names tracked over decades.
-This is not a poem about how high over sea level you actually are at any point when you are inland, and if there were a cliff right next to you showing your actual height over the ocean’s surface, it would freak you out.
-This is not a poem about life and the universe as we still aren’t able to comprehend.

For, this is not a poem at all.  It is about nothing and the undefinable.  That which goes on forever with no boundaries, but at the same time, doesn't exist.