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.

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.