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The sort-of-Writing Life

This is an archived version of the Journal. Links and pictures probably won't work.

6-26-99: Pies

With no work to do and a bowl of bananas aging rapidly on the kitchen counter, I decided to bake a banana cream pie.

I phoned my mother for her recipe. She tried to warn me away from the project as too advanced for my experience in the culinary art, which has previously consisted of heating Velveeta cheese in the microwave. I would not be swayed because, well, either I'm an idiot or I'm a starry-eyed dreamer, or maybe there's no difference.

Anyway, Mom's recipe in hand I set to work. I baked a graham cracker crust, sliced bananas, cooked filling from scratch, whipped up some meringue, assembled according to instructions and lightly browned the result for ten minutes at 350 degrees. The whole procedure took about three days, I think, and dirtied every bowl, every measuring spoon and every pan we own. The stack of dirty dishes looked like a Pottery Barn delivery plane had crashed in my kitchen sink. At the end of the ordeal, however, I had an object that nine out of ten scientists would agree, after careful study, must be a banana cream pie as it certainly wasn't anything else, at least, not on this planet.

The graham cracker crust crumbled into dust. The bananas turned brown and the filling never hardened and the meringue congealed into a crusty layer that appeared to be igneous in origin. I chopped through the meringue, scooped out some of the inner concoction with a spoon, plopped it in a bowl and, throwing caution to the winds, put a spoonful into my mouth.

It tasted great, proving that no matter how you abuse a mixture of sugar and eggs and bananas, it will somehow rise above its upbringing and become a useful member of society. Julie and I have been eating banana cream and graham cracker pudding all week (in case they ask you at the poison center).

Later in the week I drove to Burbank to rendezvous with Rob Humphrey and John Behnke at the AMC theater for the digital projection of The Phantom Menace. No film, pure video.

I was floored. I saw nary an individual pixel and no scan lines. What I did see was an extremely sharp, perfect image with no dirt or scratches or reel change marks. If this is the future of movies, I'm for it!

Which means, thanks to trickle-down electronics, the era of wall-sized television images at home is almost upon us. This achievement may be edifying (if you're watching a favorite movie) or horrifying (if you're watching Roseanne), but it will happen because we Americans like things BIG. Big cars, big busts, and big TVs top the list.

I also viewed the funniest, saddest, and most excruciating piece of home video, ever. I can't talk too much about it because, if the person who made it ever realized what has become of his tape, he would kill himself. Really.

It's an audition tape. I'm sorry, but I'm not going to describe it in detail, lest it be identified by the creator. Suffice it to say that it is the video equivalent of my banana cream pie, if my pie had exploded in the oven. The tape fails on absolutely every level. And yet, it was made with such earnestness...the actor aches so badly to be on television...that the ultimate result, even while the audience is roaring with laughter at the actor's incompetence and self-delusion, is tragedy. The tape is funny, yes. But it's also heart breaking. It is truly "pathetic."

What's worse is, this wannabe actor has become famous. Not to the general public, because no one, absolutely no one, would ever, ever, ever, ever hire him. But he is famous among casting agents. Every casting agent in Hollywood owns a copy of his tape. They play it at parties, after which people bemoan the cruelty of an industry that immortalizes the total, cellular, molecular...nay, the atomic degradation of a fellow human being. And then they beg to see it again.

So he has achieved the single, all-important goal of his be noticed. Thanks to that notice, he has become the very last person who will ever be hired in Hollywood.

Be careful, my friends.

Be careful what you wish for.

You may get a banana cream pie. In the face.


6-21-99: Some commercial endorsements

Two pieces of news brightened the week.

First came a glowing review of my Star Wars series from Tony Isabella, who writes a daily column on such matters. Especially flattering was Tony's description of yours truly as "one of the comics biz's most underrated and under-utilized talents." Or is he just saying that my career's in the toilet? Anyway, you can find the review in Tony Isabella's Journal. This link will take you to the back issues department where you'll click on #731 for June 16.

The second bit of news to add a smile to the lips was the official declaration that Divx is Dead. This terrible pay-per-view system foisted onto consumers by Circuit City and a bunch of Hollywood lawyers dealt a crippling blow to open-DVD in 1997 and confused would-be DVD buyers throughout 1998, as well as encouraging the more rapacious studios like Disney and Fox to support a format that let them take money from your wallet every time you watched one of their films on DVD, while neglecting the open-DVD market.

If you really want to hear me rail on and on and on against Divx, you can go here, or you can take my word for it that the death of Divx put a bounce in my step that still hasn't gone away (and it's beginning to attract curious stares).

On the other hand (the one I may have removed surgically) I'm broke. I have more than $10,000 in receivables but no cash. The grocery store does not yet accept receivables in payment for breakfast cereal...believe me, I've tried.

So, when the ironing board broke, and after I determined that a new one would cost $40, I decided to fix the old one instead. I drove to the hardware store for some kind of metal gluing stuff.

Of the various products with fancy modern packages that promise instant results, I selected J-B WELD for my project. I liked the packaging, which is funky, cluttered, and includes an endorsement from Paul Harvey who knows much more about gluing metal things together than I do. (Of course, your pet cat probably knows more about gluing metal things together than I do.) It wasn't Mr. Harvey's endorsement that sold me on J-B WELD, however, but a testimonial on the back of the package from "a Kansas farmer" who states: "It is even better than baling wire!"

I am from Kansas, and though I'm a city boy who's never actually seen baling wire, I have heard wondrous tales of the stuff. If you believe the legends, you could fly from Los Angeles to St. Louis in a jumbo jet whose wings are attached to the fuselage with nothing but baling wire. I told a passing clerk, "If this stuff's better than baling wire, it's for me!" "Oooh-kay," he replied, slipping away sideways.

I also liked the fact that J-B WELD "set up" in 4-6 hours. I do not like glues that set up "instantly." "Instantly" does not give you time to get unglued from things you accidentally find yourself glued to. For three months in 1993 I was identified at parties as "that guy with the plate glued to his forehead." Four-to-six hours gives you time to unstick yourself, even if you slip and bang your forehead (let us say) on a plate of glue.

Before I could J-B WELD the ironing board together, I had to remove the rust. For this task the instructions recommended "acetone." I do not know what acetone is. On a multiple choice test, I'd have chosen "A member of the 1960s R&B group, The Acetones." I do, however, know what Magica Rust Remover is...generally speaking. I mean, I don't really know what it's made of, but it's manufactured in Oshkosh, Wisconsin so I suspect it's some sort of cheese derivative.

Magica removes rust "like magic." The tube sports a picture of a magician magically removing rust from a handkerchief. I can only assume that his Vegas act in which he removed rust for awestruck gamblers was an enormous success, thus leading to this commercial endorsement.

Magica is also toxic as hell. If you get it on your skin, it burns. If you get it in your eye, buy an eye patch. works. I'm sure it will be banned soon, so stock up while you can.

Anyway, I removed the rust, J-B WELDed the ironing board, and held the two pieces together with a chip clip. I wish I could report on the success of this project, but the verdict won't be in for another fifteen hours, which is how long the J-B WELD package says it takes to know for sure. (Apparently "setting up," which occurs in 4-6 hours, is not the same thing as "actually working.")

Writing-wise, I worked like the devil on my Avengers script and emailed it to my editors, the lovely Eric and Julia Lewald, earlier today. I am now officially unemployed.

All reasonable offers considered.


6-13-99: Do something about this

Ellen Cockrill, Nancy Steingard and I pitched Welcome to Atom City to Fox Kids this week. Roland Poindexter, Terry (or maybe Teri) and Dave of Fox Kids listened attentively, laughed, participated, and definitely understood the proposed series. This is all I hope for in a pitch, that they understand the show. Whatever happens with that understanding after I leave the room is out of my hands and subject to considerations not generally confided to mere mortals. When we pitched to a woman at an Unnamed Problematic Network who seemed to be mentally organizing her sock drawer during the pitch, to whom I might as well have been speaking in a Pig Latin version of Tongues, and in whom there was no glimmer of recognition that we were talking about a "show" rather than a new process for molecular polymerization...well, you get the idea. It was not exhilarating. After that, the Fox Kids pitch was like a day at the water park.

I did receive insight into network programming choices recently, thanks to someone I know who sold a show to the above-mentioned Unfathomable Programming Network. Seems the network has paid big bucks for the right to air pro wrestling (WWF, I presume) and needed a high-testosterone show in which to air promos. So they picked up a Joel Silver production that is basically Starsky and Hutch in Las Vegas. And that, my friends, is how programming decisions are made.

I received notes to guide me through an Avengers outline this week, which I turned in on Friday. So I had a free Saturday to devote to a yard sale. We host killer yard sales involving several families and attracting huge crowds, thanks in part to the 16,000 cars that drive by Villa Strnadini every day. Traffic gets so heavy during these sales that we're thinking of adding valet parking. We've got the rules and bookkeeping down to a science, have a good time and manage to clean out a lot of former treasures (now junk) without making a trip to the land fill. The weatherman predicted a hot and sunny day, which we weren't looking forward to since we'd have to stand out in it for several hours, so of course the weather was cool and overcast...perfect for making deals on old appliances, costume jewelry and paint-by-number paintings.

Today Julie and I are playing "click puzzle" with the furniture, moving things about to accomodate a ten-year-old who'll be staying with us for a couple of weeks this summer. The object of a click puzzle is to move the little tiles around, using one available space to maneuver in. In Villa Strnadini, we not only have no available spaces, but we have several extra tiles, even after a yard sale. We have sold furniture, given furniture away, and yet it seems to multiply while our backs are turned. Soon we will be able to eliminate the walls of the house entirely and live inside stacks of furniture, rather like beavers inside a cozy den of twigs and branches.

Anyway, this activity will consume hours that I would rather spend watching bad old movies on videocassettes that I got at our sale while simultaneously (I do have an atom brain, remember) reading the comics I bought for ten cents each.

And so, life goes on. Precious moments slip from our hands like yesterday's baubles at a yard sale. Or maybe precious baubles slip from our hands like moments of time. Whichever way it goes, there's entirely too much slipping from hands going on and someone should do something about it. (Thank you, Mr. Benchley.)


6-8-99: Winners announced

I woke up on Wednesday morning feeling like a million bucks. There is nothing like being really, really sick and then getting over it to make you feel on top of the world.

Contest Winners Announced: Some of you may remember the latest Atom Brain Contest. If not, you could click HERE for a link if I'd bothered to link to it, which I didn't. Instead, you might click HERE, which is a photo I cribbed off the Internet, the winner of the 1985 "Not My Job" award, which seems appropriate in some obscure, tangential way.

Anyway, the answer was Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). I assigned each correct entry a random number generated for me by the late, great mathematician Pierre de Fermat (1601-1665), who was channeled into my head by my spiritualist, Madame Bambi, and a half pint of cheap scotch. Another random number was chosen by counting the words in the Lively Arts section of an old L.A. Times and dividing by four, the number of legs on a healthy dog, and dropping the remainder, another dog-related activity (my dog drops remainders all over the place). These numbers were compared using a process too scientifically complicated to explain, and the winners were determined to be:

Second Place Winner: Kris Boldis, who will receive a set of issues #1-6 of the new Star Wars ongoing series from Dark Horse Comics, signed by the author.

First Place Winner: Bob Miller. Lucky Bob will receive a set of issues #1-6 of the new Star Wars ongoing series from Dark Horse Comics, personally and individually signed by the author!

And the GRAND PRIZE WINNER is: Paul Ens, who will receive a set of ISSUES #1-6 OF THE NEW STAR WARS ONGOING SERIES from Dark Horse Comics, personally and individually signed by the author while sitting naked under a full moon!!! Yay!!!!

These comics recently sold at auction on eBay for $273,000 (plus $3 shipping). Congrats, guys, and don't forget to report your prizes as windfall income to the IRS.

Workwise, my Avengers cartoon went on hold because of unforeseen plot developments. I don't want to ruin the surprise, so let me merely say that the story now features a Very Special Guest Star whose toy sales needed a boost. The powers-that-execute (known as "executives") at Fox/Saban are puzzling over the new developments even as I type these words to decide if the portents are good or bad, a process which involves disemboweling a writer, not to read the entrails but just for fun. I'm waiting to see what their judgment is.

Meanwhile (is there any other kind of "while" and why are they all mean?) I've received notes from the winsome Ellen Cockrill, the elegant Nancy Steingard and the cute-as-a-bug Louis Feola at Universal Studios regarding the new Welcome to Atom City mini-bible and will be rewriting over the weekend for a pitch to Fox Kids on Tuesday.

So, children, until next week, remember: You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose, but don't pick drugs! (God I hate the nineties.)


6-1-99: I get screwed

One of the ways I know that I live in hell is the way I keep ending up commiting home projects.

Keep in mind that I was a great student...until I took shop. Something about entering a room full of work tables instead of benches, where you were actually expected to do something with the information you've soaked up, transmogrified me from a scholarly superstar to a hopeless incompetent.

The sugar scoop I made looked like something expelled in a car wreck, part of an exhaust pipe, maybe. I never did finish my lamp, which was a blessing to my parents who never had to find a place to hang it. ("I think that would look great in your bedroom, dear.") I never took woodworking. I think my family's health insurance had a clause prohibiting me from getting closer than twelve feet to a table saw or anything else designed to separate fingers from hands.

No, I am not handy. But I'm also not rich, which is how I keep getting sucked into these things.

Villa Strnadini is, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way, except that it's too small, the plumbing is clogged with brown gunk, the electricity is an item on the evening news waiting to happen, there aren't enough bathrooms or closets, and sixteen thousand cars roar past the front door every day. Also, there isn't enough shelf space, especially for a compulsive movie collector.

Julie had the brilliant idea to line my office walls with shelves that would go all the way around the room, overhead, to put video tapes on (having already filled up two bookcases with the things). I successfully installed two such shelves a year ago but room had run out and I needed three more.

I also decided to install two additional towel bars, not in the office of course but in the bathroom. I may not be handy but I know a thing or two, including the wisdom of not forcing wet, dripping houseguests to walk down the hallway to my office to find their towels. (This policy will change with the first supermodel to visit the Villa.)

Anyway, what I wanted to tell you about is the screws. The towel bars came without screws. After all, for only $25 each you can hardly expect the manufacturer to throw in screws. So I went to the hardware store to buy four screws. Naturally, the screws I needed came in packages of three, so I had to buy two packages and put the two extra screws in the little drawer thingie in the garage where all the other extra screws I've bought have ended up.

It's amazing to me how every single job requires its own unique screw. I have hundreds of screws in the little drawer thingie and none of them are good for anything. I always spend half an hour looking for screws and can never find enough for the job at hand and end up buying more, and there are always extras.

Anyway, with the towel bars successfully installed (by my rather loose standards), I worked away on the shelves. For reasons that are too tedious even for a Journal entry, I needed six more screws. Back to the hardware store.

Remember that the towel bar screws, of which I needed four, came in packages of three. Guess how many shelf screws, of which I needed six, come in a package. If you guessed "four," scoop up the kitty and go home smiling. To get six, I had to buy eight.

Screw manufacturers have this figured out somehow. I think they must use enormous nuclear-powered computers to anticipate how many screws are needed for which job and then to calculate exactly how many to put in each package so that you have to buy extras. I think they are in cahoots with the manufacturers of little drawer thingies to put your extra screws in.

If these conclusions strike you as the ravings of a feverish, overheated brain, it's because my brain is currently feverish and overheated. I don't know if it's the flu or food poisoning, but I've just pulled my head out of the toilet where I've been enthusiastically retching up the contents of my stomach and I think maybe two or three other people's stomachs as well.

Some people complain about diarrhea. Compared to vomiting, diarrhea is a gift from Santa Claus. Vomiting is also one very good reason to clean your toilet bowl regularly.

Last night, muscle aches set in that had me moaning and writhing in bed. My dear, saintly wife rubbed my complaining muscles, brought me a hot water bottle, aspirin and water, and then rubbed me some more. It's all part of that "in sickness and in health" business, as well as the dictates of a warm and caring heart. I can all-too-well imagine having to endure this sickness alone, and I don't like the idea a single bit.

Julie, I love you and I don't care who knows it.

Dear Reader (as they used to say back around the turn of the century) I am going to leave you now to revisit a corn dog I ate at a traveling carnival back in 1957.