This Blog – Waste Of Time

I spoke with my friend Paul last night. I’ve written about Paul before. He’s the Raider of the Lost Archives (I love seeing that in type), America’s premiere producer of television DVDs.

Paul ripped into me pretty good.

“You don’t have to write about the crab cakes you had,” he said, “or the other things you considered ordering.” Too much detail! “People think you’ve got too much time on your hands.”

I sat and pondered that for three or four hours.

It is within Paul’s natural nature to be judgmental. Don’t read this and think he was being overly critical.

Then he said, “You should write a book.”

I should, shouldn’t I? This blog has taught me one thing I never expected to learn – I really enjoy writing. But a book? That’s a lot of work and more organization than I normally muster.

I’m not even sure how one writes a book? Do you start at the beginning? Do you make decisions before the first words of dialog are spoken? Or, do you just write and let the story develop in an organic way.

That last choice is too easy and straightforward to be the correct one.

It’s not like I haven’t thought about the prospect. Everyone is supposed to have at least one novel in them, waiting to get out. I can’t even come up with a concept! I have writer’s block before the outline.

I’m sure Paul will be upset I’ve written about writing. “No one wants to know what you’re thinking 24 hours a day,” he’ll say&#185.

One of the guys I work with has written a novel. I know he’s been working on it for at least five years. Obviously, there’s more to the process than I understand, because I can’t figure out how you could fill five years writing and rewriting.

Still, it’s an interesting thought, and as I said, I really like writing.

&#185- Wow, you can put words in someone’s mouth!

Twenty Two Years Ago Today

Helaine and I were married 22 years ago tomorrow, but one of our most memorable moments happened 22 years ago today.

Most of the out of town guests were staying at a hotel near Philadelphia. Helaine was there, in my room, with a group of friends. One of them, my friend Paul, had just produced a video, “Do It Debbie’s Way,” an exercise video featuring Debbie Reynolds.

OK, it probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

This was 22 years ago, before PCs and DVD players. Even VCRs were a little uncommon, but I managed to borrow one. We all sat and watched.

Debbie Reynolds was in the video (obviously) along with Dionne Warwick, Teri Garr and a number of moderately well known names. As I remember, the production looked like it cost about $12 to produce.

As we watched, eyeing the exercising celebs, Helaine turned to Paul and asked, “Is that Jackie Joseph?”

Paul was obviously amazed. It was Jackie Joseph!

OK – this begs the question (and Jackie, if you’re reading this, my apologies) who is Jackie Joseph? She is, maybe was, an actress of modest success. At that time her biggest claim to fame might have been she was the ex-wife of Ken Berry.

To Paul, purveyor of everything show business, Helaine’s amazing recall was nothing less than magical. He knew I was marrying well before – now I had hit the motherlode of wives!

Jackie Joseph. Who knew? Even today I’m astounded she pulled that out of the ether. Though part of the fun of our marriage is, she never ceases to amaze me.

The Rain Arrives in Los Angeles

Let me set the stage. Los Angeles has had a ridiculously rainy winter. If people haven’t been directly affected, they know someone who has, or are worried they might be the injured party the next time.

I’m not just talking about houses sliding down hills. There are lesser, nagging problems that come out when the winter is very rainy. Roofs leak. Poorly sealed doors and windows let in water. Trees and branches tumble. Drivers panic, because they’re not sure how to handle their cars on wet roads. It’s a mess.

The truth is, Los Angeles is not built for bad weather. Too much is outside. Too much is exposed to the elements.

So today, when the rain returned, you could see everyone clenching their teeth just a little. No one was anxious to repeat the hell of earlier this winter. Only 1/3″ more rain and this would go down as the 2nd rainiest ever!

We thought we’d take it in stride.

We started the morning with breakfast at the hotel. I had an omelet, which was stuffed full, but only OK for taste. On the other hand, the place we ate itself, Breezes, was excellent. It is tastefully underdone and expansive… and expensive. That’s a given here.

We headed out to a Disney’ish upscale, outdoor mall called The Grove. It is adjacent to The Farmer’s Market (which I remember Jack Benny talking about when I was a little kid) and CBS&#185.

The stores at The Grove are similar to those you’d see at a nice mall. While Steffie and Helaine looked around, I headed to Barnes and Noble. This is an especially nice B&N with a large collection of books on all matters show business, plus how-to’s on writing screenplays, teleplays and books.

As the showers continued, the Grove became less of a fun place to be. There’s little cover, so there’s no avoiding getting wet.

We ducked into the Farmer’s Market, where Steffie proceeded to by a t-shirt. The Farmer’s Market is the antithesis of The Grove.

Here all the stores are one of a kind. There are lots of food stands, plus produce and meats, and clothing. It’s an eclectic mix.

We tired of the Farmer’s Market quickly, especially since we had eaten already. Back to the car, we headed to the Beverly Center, not far down Beverly Blvd.

The Beverly Center is a huge mall. The parking is on the lower levels with the mall running on levels 6,7 and 8. The mall seemed too open and cold. Maybe that’s not a fair judgment for a mall. Something was missing.

I found the Sony and Bose stores interesting in that I wondered why things were so expensive? Sony espcially computers that seemingly doubled as works of domestic art. Call me crazy, but I really look at computers as commodities today… even though this blog entry is being written on my Sony laptop.

Dinner tonight was another notable restaurant, Spago, picked by Steffie. She had heard about it, and its appeal. Helaine and I had eaten there a long time ago. Back then, a busboy had spilled a carafe of coffee all over her white suit. No need to go on.

My friend Paul joined us for dinner. I met Paul back when I met Howard, at Emerson College. Paul is a producer, mostly concentrating of DVD compilations right now.

Back when we went the first time, Spago was a 2nd floor walkup, right on Sunset. Now it’s on Can&#245n, near Wilshire, in Beverly Hills.

It’s a large, dark restaurant. At the end of the dining room is the kitchen, behind a large expanse of glass. It is a very busy kitchen.

We all shared a smoked salmon pizza as an appetizer. For dinner I had a lamb dish. The lamb itself was excellent, but the sauce was a bit overwhelming and the potatoes were puny. My chocolate desert was very tasty.

We were told the menu was printed daily, meaning there was no reason to read specials. They were already on the menu.

If you’re reading this in the East, there is a West Coast practice that is somewhat unusual. All restaurants have valet parking – and the pricier the meal, the more expensive the parking. In the case of a meal like this, they’re really nickel and diming you to death!

We had been told not to expect any celebrities at Spago, and we heard right. It looks like an older crowd, mostly expense accounts , not at all Hollywood and splashy – at least not tonight.

We are going to one more LA restaurant Sunday, which does have a celeb reputation and where we’ve seen big time stars in the past.

Tomorrow, we head into the OC to see Cousin Michael and his family in Irvine. Rain is expected. California is much more fun in the sun.

&#185 – The CBS complex is usually identified by these words, “From Television City in Hollywood.” It is not in Hollywood.

21st Century Vacation Plans

With the winter soon over (isn’t that nice?), we’ve decided to schedule a spring vacation. We enjoy Southern California, have been there many times, and have decided to go again.

There’s a lot to be said about California. The weather that time of year is dependable. We have friends and relatives there. There’s lots to do. As long as the ground doesn’t shake too much, we’ll be happy.

Planning a vacation is different now than it once was. There are so many ways to make reservations and plans. We wanted to get the best and pay the least. That makes sense.

But how do you know? You don’t, is the simple answer! In fact, in many ways the best deals are structured in such a way as you know nothing – or close to nothing. You are buying blind.

Our plane reservations were a breeze. Southwest Airlines is very different from the other carriers as far as using free tickets is concerned. I can’t imagine being able to get three tickets ‘only’ six weeks before a flight on USAir or United or Delta.

We’re flying to Burbank&#185 instead of LAX. Burbank should make for an easier arrival and departure. LAX can be totally crazy and I’d like to avoid that.

Hotel reservations were another story.

Helaine had perused and found pretty good prices in the area we wanted to stay. Of course they don’t tell you what hotel it is they’re advertising, so there has to be a great deal of trust in deciding if your idea of a 4.5 star hotel is the same as theirs.

After looking and searching and looking again, we decided on a hotel we thought was either the Century Plaza or Park Hyatt in Century City. Good guess. It was the Century Plaza. Even if you’ve never been to L.A., you’ve seen this hotel on TV. It has a very distinctive sweeping look.

We got it for half the price the hotel advertises – though a friend immediately told me he could have gotten it for less. Nothing is simple. Nothing is foolproof.

Next step is to start lining up the places we’ll visit. That’s where my friends come in. This is their department in their city. Last time in, my friend Paul got Steffie into the first row on American Idol. They are not without influence.

&#185 – Burbank Airport was the actual location for the final scene of the movie Casablanca. Pretty much everywhere you drive in Southern California, you’re going to come across something you recognize from the movies or TV.

Calls at 1:30 AM Are Never Good News

I worked my normal shift last night, getting home around midnight. By 12:30 AM I was downstairs, on the sofa, computer at my side, watching some shows I had recorded&#185 while away in Florida. Helaine and Stef were asleep. The house was quiet.

Then, the phone rang.

I figured it was my Cousin Michael or my friend Paul. They’re the only two who would call at that time… though Michael would be calling on my cellphone not the family number that was ringing. I moved quickly to the phone, trying to catch it before it woke the girls.

It was Gil Simmons, one of our meteorologists at the station. I didn’t need him to tell me how awful he was feeling because I immediately heard it in his voice.

Gil was scheduled to work 5:00 – 7:00 AM on-the-air, filling in for Dr. Mel who already had the day off and was unavailable. Matt Scott, our other meteorologist, is in France. That left me.

The last time we got this far down the depth chart was 20 years ago when I stayed all night and did morning coverage for the arrival of Hurricane Gloria.

What are you going to do in a situation like this? I really couldn’t say no. I definitely didn’t want Gil to try and leave the house… not that he could. Yes was my answer. I was going to go back to work.

It was already too late to think of getting any sleep, so I killed some time and went upstairs to change from pajamas to a suit.

I left the house a little before 3:00 AM and made it to the station very quickly. As little traffic as there is at midnight… that’s like rush hour compared to 3:00 AM. The streets near my house were empty. There weren’t many more cars or tucks on I-91 as I headed south.

Every show on TV has its own individual format. As I walked in, I immediately headed to the producers and asked them to give me a little slack as I felt my way around this foreign ground and then headed to my desk to draw maps and update the forecast.

I was surprised at how quickly the two hours on-air went by. There are lots of weather hits and certainly a concentration on a very short term forecast – much more so than what I do at night.

I was back home and back in bed before 9:00 AM. Of course I still had my ‘real’ job! So, after a few hours of sleep, it was back at work.

I wouldn’t want to do it everyday, but considering the circumstances, working a double is doable.

I will be curious later tonight to see how quickly I go to bed after getting home. I’m saying this as if I have no free will in the matter, which often seems close to the truth. I can tell you with over four hours before quitting time, I’m dragging.

&#185 – What will happen to the word “taped?” With DVR’s TV shows will be stored on disk, not videotape. Still, we talk about “dialing” a phone number, even though we’re punching it out on a keypad.

Our 21st Anniversary

Much of November 26, 1983 is vivid in my memory. Much of it is a blur. You could say it was the pivotal day in my life – the day I married Helaine.

That I was even getting married was surprising. Years earlier I had put marriage on the same list with liver and opera – fine for people who had the desire, but not me. Helaine changed that for me.

Though it could be argued I entered matrimony kicking and screaming, I made an incredibly good decision those 21 years ago.

We were married in the suburbs outside Philadelphia. Friends and relatives, many traveling long distances, fought their way to the hotel on November 25th in snow! It wasn’t a terrible storm… in fact it was quite beautiful and gone the next morning. It was enough to give us a scare.

I rented a tuxedo for the occasion. Sometime the afternoon of the wedding, my friends Paul and Howard (though I suspect mostly Paul) got into my hotel room, took the black tuxedo and replaced it with something polyester and cream colored.

In an incredible leap of faith, I believed somehow I had been given the wrong tux and set out to get the right one. I panicked, called the store and went as far as getting in my car to drive an hour for the exchange until I notice another friend, Bob, lying on the hood, snapping photos of me and laughing.

At the time it was not funny.

Over time, that same tuxedo has showed up under similar circumstances at other friends weddings and (as I remember) even replaced one friend’s clothes in the suitcase he took on his honeymoon!

I’m not mentioning names because I don’t think these events happened with ‘current’ wives.

We had a beautiful, wonderful ceremony. In the photos my family is smiling and excited. They knew I was marrying a wonderful woman. Helaine’s family frowned and seemed apprehensive. After all, she was marrying me.

Everything went smoothly at the service. Even the flower girl, my now grown-up niece Jessica, walked the aisle admirably. It was only later I learned that she balked at first, only to be ‘gently’ cajoled by my sister.

I won’t tell you exactly what Trudi said to her, because I’m not sure there’s a statute of limitations on this kind of thing. As far as I can tell Jessie has grown up unscathed by the incident and my sister never faced formal charges.

My father-in-law threw a tremendous party for our reception. I remember remarking at the time how little I got to see of Helaine that night. We were constantly separated, seeing friends and relatives.

Even when the police came to tell my father-in-law his car was in a fire zone and it was going to be towed&#185, and when my grandmother collapsed and fell to the floor while dancing&#178, the party went on! It was an incredible night.

It is 21 years ago and yet in many ways it feels like we’re still newlyweds. How I could have been such a fool and resisted marriage (believe me, I did) is beyond me today.

This morning the doorbell rang and flowers, beautiful orchids, were delivered to Helaine. They are just a small token of the love I have for her – love that continues to grow, even after 21 years.

&#185 – My father-in-law claimed to have parked the car elsewhere. I totally believed him. It was all very puzzling to all of us then, as it is now. He moved the car, but it was weird.

&#178 – My Grandma Rose was very excited about the wedding. I was the first grandchild, which I suppose gave me a favored place in her life. She danced until she dropped, literally. An ambulance was called and she went to the hospital. Later she would say the hospital in Jenkintown, PA was the nicest she had ever seen and they had treated her like a queen. If it’s possible, the hospital was a positive experience for her.

The Mind as a Relational Database

One of the most powerful functions a computer can perform is to manipulate a relational database. How are two or more seemingly non-connected things related?

Our brains work very much this way. You think of one thing, which reminds you of another thing, which… well, you get the idea.

I was on the phone today with my friend Paul. I’ve known him for 35 years and we’ve been friends all that time. Paul has been referred to as “Raider of the Lost Archives,” because he has found obscure and often unseen television programs and found a way to get them on the air and make money with them. Good skill to have.

Over the past few years Paul has produced DVD compilations of old TV series. His joy, and what makes these DVDs stand out, are his special features where the original stars come back to comment today on what went on decades ago. It’s Paul’s work on the Dick Van Dyke Show DVD series and many others that make them so special and worth collecting.

He’s working on The Twilight Zone now. It’s amazing how many big stars appeared on the original Twilight Zone before they were big stars.

We were talking today and the conversation got around to a Twilight Zone episode that no one who ever saw it will ever forget, It’s a Good Life. In this episode, a pre-teen Billy Mumy&#185 is able to ‘punish’ people for their bad thoughts by ‘wishing them into the cornfield. I always felt it was incredibly creepy and judging by what I’ve read as I did a little research tonight, I am not alone.

Here’s where relational databases or at least their human equivalent come in.

As I was thinking of this episode, I thought of one of the actors, Max Showalter. Max played one of the neighbors,.. the man who played the piano. He’s in the credits as Casey Adams. I don’t know why.

Max was in a zillion movies and TV shows, He might be best known as the piano playing reverend who presides over Bo Derek’s wedding in “10.” He was also in Niagara, with Marilyn Monroe.

Max, who died a few years ago, was a Connecticut resident who came to the television station many times in the 80s and 90s. Other than being charming, Max was fun to be with because he had lived the ‘real’ Hollywood life when Hollywood was in its heyday and had stories about everyone.

Believe me, I’m not doing this on purpose, but this is how my pea brain is working today; finding relationships between unconnected names and events.

Anyway, Max came to the television station to promote an event. He was doing some sort of theater tribute in Chester, where he lived. He had convinced his long time friend, Debbie Reynolds to appear – and I believe there was even a retrospective of her films shown.

So, Debbie Reynolds, big time Hollywood star, is in our little TV station and she’s going to be interviewed on the news at 5:30. Diane Smith, who was anchoring that newscast at the time, wandered into the makeup room only to find Debbie there with a make-up kit the size of a large tool chest.

“Where’s the make-up man honey?” Debbie said to Diane.

I can tell you, though at the time Diane didn’t think she could tell Debbie, we don’t have a make-up man. Not knowing what to do, Diane said she’d get the news director. In this business everyone in the newsroom reports to the news director. He’s the chief. But Debbie was Hollywood.

“Forget the director,” she said, “bring me the producer.”

As it turned out, Diane ended up doing Debbie’s makeup – something she’ll never forget!

Anyway, this story came to me because of that Twilight Zone DVD talk. It’s funny how the mind associates.

One more Debbie Reynolds story before I go. It was 6-7 years ago at Paul’s son’s Bar Mitzvah. We were in Los Angeles for the reception at the Sofitel across from the Beverly Center.

Helaine and I were seated with… you guessed it – Debbie Reynolds. She’s a friend of Paul’s.

Meanwhile, in the middle of the affair we ran into people we hadn’t seen in years. So, I picked up the camera and motioned to Debbie. I’m sure she was ready to get into the picture, something I know she’s done graciously a zillion times. Except, now I have a picture taken by Debbie Reynolds!

&#185 – Billy Mumy later became Bill Mumy. At separate times, he and I both hosted Inside Space on the SciFi Channel.

To The Mall

There was some thought of visiting my friend Paul in New York this weekend, but when that didn’t work out, I asked Helaine and Steffie what they wanted to do. Mall.

Hey, I asked.

My friend Peter Mokover (gratuitous mention) summarized it properly on the phone. “Girl’s stores.” He’s right, that’s what malls are all about.

In many ways this is similar to gifts given to couples. Yes, it’s for them… but it’s really for her.

We headed out to West Farms Mall, about 45 minutes from here. First stop was Dunkin’ Donuts. I picked up a cup of coffee and the spied something new in the baked goods rack – Low Carb Bagels.

Low Carb Bagels! How is that possible? Is there anything less friendly to carb counters than a bagel.

I bought the bagel.

Before I left the counter I asked if there was any information on this bagel? Was it 10% lower, 20%, 80%? The woman serving me didn’t know. Later I went to the Dunkin’ Donuts website. No info there either.

The bagel was fine. It seemed to be coated with cheese. I’m really not sure. I just wish I could find out what it is.

We went to the mall. Peter’s right – girl’s stores.

I spent some time at the bookstore, Radio Shack and The Discovery Channel Store, but there’s nothing as compelling to me as Abercrombie and Fitch is to Steffie. I also made 3-4 calls to my parents in Boynton Beach. Hurricane Frances has them trapped inside. They’re comfortable, well fed and with friends, but without TV, computer, air conditioning or electricity.

Before we left, we had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. Wow. I have never seen a business built so much on merchandising. Even the menus had warnings about taking them, because they were for sale in the store… which you walk through to go inside.

My burger was good and the three of us split a “Volcano.”

Here’s the bottom line. It was really nice to spend the day with my family. It is a pleasure we don’t have all the time and I savor it.

Why Do I Do It?

I called my friend Paul this afternoon. We spoke for a while and then, he asked me why? Why do I write this blog?

Damn. Good question. I’m not sure why.

As has been pointed out by other friends, most blogs are boring. And, even as a blogger, I don’t read other blogs.

A story in the New York Times Sunday Magazine said the average blog was written by someone my daughter’s age, who quickly lost interest. A 53 year old blogger is beyond unusual.

When I try and intellectualize the blog, I realize I like getting my point across. At the same time, I’m frustrated that I have to stifle myself. There’s a lot about my family and workplace and politics, that I don’t write. I am jealous of those unencumbered by the necessary obligations of gainful employment.

Boy, would I like to write about politics right now.

I attempt to post something here every day. I haven’t been 100% successful, but I’m close. There are times when I’ve written, but really didn’t have much (or anything to say). The discipline of writing every day is a good thing. So, I force myself.

I now know a little too much about my own writing. It is very difficult to write a lot without developing a distinctive style. Style sounds like a good thing in the abstract, until you understand there’s a predictability in distinctive style. There are catch phrases and techniques that I overuse – even though I try not to. I’d like to be different every day. But, by definition, I am me every day.

I take great pleasure in revising and rewriting my prose. This might be the greatest gift of modern computing – the easy ability to revisit what you’ve just written.

I remember the first time I saw a word processor, “Electric Pencil” for the TRS-80 Model I. It was installed on a computer with no printer, but I still sat in slack jawed amazement as the first word wrapped to the next line. It only took a few seconds to understood the power that was being unleashed.

More than once, since I’ve been blogging, someone has suggested I write a book. Here I’m doing paragraphs at a time. A book is pages and pages and pages. And, the more you write, the more organizational skills (not a strong point for me) come into play.

For the time being, it’s fun to write and then be read by the few hundred of you who pass by here every day. Considering how I dreaded writing as a student, it is remarkable that, today, I find writing so satisfying

The Envelope Please

I have two friends in Los Angeles who I’ve known since college in the late 60’s. They are both in ‘the business’. It is interesting to watch them operate.

They have both laughed at the fact that I have a job where someone pays my health insurance and I get a salary while on vacation. The fact that I work with a multi-year guaranteed contract astounds them (heck – it astounds even me).

I love to watch them both wheel and deal. I’m probably a little jealous. They’re in a world of make believe and pressure, with the hint of glamour.

In Los Angeles, it’s not unusual to root against a friend’s success. Isn’t that weird? Luckily, being an out-of-towner, I can be proud of their successes.

Last night, my friend Paul won at the 2003 DVD Exclusive Awards:

Best Overall DVD, TV Program (including all extra features): The Dick Van Dyke Show