the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Category: Los Angeles (Page 2 of 16)

Tea and Valentines

I was driving with Sophia today down the streets of LA when I noticed a couple, both in their late-sixties, on a street corner.  They were waving flags.   They seemed as comfortable with each other as any long-married couple.   The woman, her hair still as blonde as in her Beach Boys California youth, was draped in an American flag.

“You should take a photo of them for Instagram,” she suggested. Ever since she found out about Instagram, she has been both amused and annoyed at my habit of taking photos in public.

“I’m driving,” I said. “I can’t take a photo.”

“Sure you can. Go slow,” she announced as she grabbed the steering wheel. “I got the wheel.”

“Are you crazy?” I uttered, as the car weaved. “I can get a ticket for this!”

The streetlight turned red, and I pressed on the brake to stop the car.  I reached in my pocket for my iPhone.  The case got caught on my belt, so I removed the phone from the case.   The car windows were grimy with beach dust, so I pressed the button to open the driver’s window.  It whirled down.

Sophia waved to the couple at the corner.

“Hey, over here!” she yelled.

“Don’t call them.” I said. “They might not want their photo taken.”

Sophia laughed.

“They are standing on the corner dressed in American flags and waving flags, and you are worried that they don’t want their photo taken?”

The couple responded to Sophia’s plea, and they waved. The woman’s wave was reminiscent of a beauty pageant, as if she was still Miss West Covina riding a float in the 1969 Rose Bowl Parade.

I politely took their photo.

“Thank you!” I said.

“Who are they?” asked Sophia.

“I have no idea.”

The streetlight went green, and I turned left. As I rounded the corner, I was able to read a handwritten sign previously hidden from view.

Save America.  Join the TEA PARTY!

“Oh my God. I just said “thank you” to members of the TEA PARTY!” I said, speeding away.

If you aren’t familiar with the Tea Party movement in America, you should read —


It is now 9PM. I lost interest in whatever political point I was trying to make.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. A day to think about love.

And as much as I hate to admit it, what could be more romantic than an older couple standing on a street corner together, misusing the American flag for some insane political cause?

How many years have you been together, Tea Party couple?  Forty years?

In a year, my divorce with Sophia will be finalized.  We didn’t make it to forty years.  I’m alright with that, but I still envy the staying power of your love for each other.

More power to you, Crazy Tea Party couple.  Continue loving each other.   May that love soon grow a hundred-fold, even a thousand-fold, changing you from within, until you dream of draping that red, white, and blue blanket of compassion over us all.


Happy Valentine’s Day.


What Mario Lopez Taught Me About The Five Emotional Stages Of Divorce

Just because I haven’t been writing a lot on my blog doesn’t mean I haven’t been online. Ever since Sophia and I filed for divorce, I’ve been receiving advice from online friends near and far about how to proceed with my life.  Some of this advice has been as wise as that of Buddha, while other tidbits have been pure idiocy.

I should take up yoga.
I should keep my distance from Sophia.
I should have rebound sex with women born no later than the Clinton Administration.
I should take up French cooking.
I should write a book.
I should travel.
I should date nice girls.
I should not date at all.
I should run in a half marathon.
I should go to “Burning Man.”
I should get a tattoo.
I should start a blog for divorcing men.
I should start binge drinking  (another serious suggestion, proof that I have some really bad friends).

To complicate matters, I have my own internal voices putting THEIR two cents into the hat, and as usual — my head, my heart, and my dick are not on the same page.

This morning I had breakfast with Danny from Jew Eat Yet.  He has been a great blogging friend since 2005, a super-intelligent guy, with a broad range of knowledge.  I knew any advice that HE would give me would be something worth listening to in earnest, unlike some of my OTHER readers.

As we ate what is considered “The Best Pancakes in LA” (at Du-Pars), I talked about my hopes and fear, and some of the issues still remaining with Sophia.   Danny rubbed his chin, like a clever rabbi, and told me how divorce is like a death.  He explained that  I would need to go through a transition period of grief, namely the Five Emotional Stages of Divorce: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

I found myself unable to relate to what he was saying.

“You must still be in the denial stage,” he noted. “It’ll come to you.  Give it time and you will understand.”

Our conversation has been so weighty, and the pancakes so heavy in our stomachs, that we decided to take a little walk.   As we strolled over to the Grove shopping center next to the Farmer’s Market, we discussed the new fall TV season.   It was a relief to talk about nonsense.

We noticed a crowd gathering in the center square adjacent to the Barnes and Noble bookstore.   We went over to take a look.   It was TV personality Mario Lopez doing a remote for the show EXTRA, interviewing a few special guests, including the infamous Snooki from Jersey Shore.

Danny and I stood there for twenty minutes, watching the crew — the high strung producer, the bored sound man, the unionized grips eating donuts.  Mario Lopez seemed to be a seasoned professional.  The director would give him one quick rehearsal for each segment, and then he would jump right in.

As I admired Mario Lopez’s TV skills, I thought about my faltering Instagram photography.  In New York, I was taking fun photos of NYC life, but in Los Angeles, my photos have been  stale.   There are few opportunities for a spontaneous photo in a city where you are always driving in your car.

But here was an opportunity to redeem myself.   What could be more LA than a photo of Mario Lopez, with his perfect hair, teeth, and body?

I took dozens of Mario Lopez photos from different angles, searching for the ideal Mario Lopez instagram shot.  And as I melted there under the hot LA sun, I had a revelation.  It was as if God himself was sending me a message through the expressive facial gesturing of TV personality Mario Lopez.  When I looked at Mario Lopez speaking into his microphone, I was understanding what Danny had said earlier about divorce.   It was his face… Mario Lopez’s Hollywood chiseled face.   His facial expressions were like elements in a Powerpoint Presentation on The Five Emotional Stages of Divorce: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.






I understand.  And now I must move on to the next stage.   Thank you Mario Lopez.

The Inconsiderate Breastfeeding Woman

I’m writing this as a quick post in a local coffee shop because I’ve always wanted to get involved in one of those “breastfeeding in public” blogging debates, but I never felt qualified. I’m not a woman, and I rarely encounter women who I don’t know breastfeeding. But RIGHT NOW, at this very instance, as I type these words, there is a woman breastfeeding her baby in the coffee shop, no more than two feet from me. I am facing her. If I peer over the top of the laptop, this mother and child are right there… in my face. The mother is using some sort of paisley shawl covering her breast-feeding baby, but I think I got a teeny-tiny glimpse of something — not sure if it is her full breast or a white coffee mug.

Now, the question remains — as a full-blooded man — how am I dealing with this situation? Can I concentrate on my work? Am I distracted by this PDOBF (public display of breastfeeding)?

If I can be honest, I am finding this experience extremely unsettling, and I cannot look away. The problem is less the baby or the breast, but the bagel and cream cheese sitting on the woman’s table. Feeding the baby seems to require both of her hands — one to hold the baby and the other the shawl. Because breast-feeding is a two-hand operation, she is unable to eat her own bagel! So her bagel sits on a white plate, on the table, just waiting.

I stare at that bagel and cream cheese. I ogle it. Will she ever get a chance to eat it? She’s been feeding her baby for ten minutes already. How much does this baby need? The bagel is an “everything” bagel – the last one left at the front counter. I probably could swipe that bagel and run, and she would be unable to stop me, seeing that she is stuck with a baby at her breast. And hopefully, she would have postpartum depression, so she would be too depressed to chase me down the block.

This is all very uncomfortable. Please, women. If you ARE going to breastfeed in public, do not order your bagels with cream cheese until you’re FINISHED feeding your baby. I understand you have “rights” to do what you want, but when I think about those two round, juicy mounds of goodness, I can’t control myself. I want them in my mouth NOW! I’m sorry to sound crude, but bagels with cream cheese are meant to be eaten and enjoyed, not displayed for everyone to see, tempting the weak. Be considerate!

Now I’m stuck having to order a plain bagel.

The Passive-Aggressive Dentist

Several weeks ago, I had a dentist’s appointment.  Sophia’s mother passed away that week, so I had to cancel.  The dentist was not happy because he said “he was waiting for me.”  I rescheduled for the middle of July.

In the middle of July, my FIL went to the hospital, and I had to cancel again.  They were not pleased.   Maureen, the dentist’s receptionist said so on the answering machine.  Sophia called up the dentist’s office and explained the situation.

I rescheduled for yesterday.  Every day for the last week, leading up to yesterday, I would get a phone call at 3PM from Maureen “reminding” me about the appointment to “make sure” that I was coming to it.

Yesterday, two hours before my dentist’s appointment, I received another phone call from Maureen.

“Dr. Fine has to cancel your appointment today.  He has an emergency procedure he has to perform.”

“Uh, OK…”

“Is this payback?” I wanted to ask her.

“Yes,” I assume would be Maureen’s answer.

Sophia was able to get me an appointment for tomorrow.  This morning I woke up, feeling under the weather.  I told Sophia that I have a cold and I’m not sure how I will feel tomorrow.

“You’re going to the dentist if you have leprosy,” she said.

Flying Non-Stop

Vartan, my father-in-law, was taken to the hospital last week. The Cedars-Sinai Hospital emergency room was too busy at the time, so he was taken to a nearby hospital which is nowhere near the caliber of Cedars Sinai. Sophia was nursing a cold, so I drove down by myself to the hospital to see what was going on. It was 1AM.

By 3Am, Vartan had a room, but the nurses wanted to move him to ICU. The hospital was understaffed and lethargic. I excused it to the early hours. The patients seemed to come from lower income backgrounds. Was this my first taste of socialized medicine? I made a sarcastic joke on Twitter, saying that I was learning the health care hierarchy of LA: Cedars-Sinai for the movie stars, UCLA for the movie producers, and THIS hospital for the grips. (I was later told that the grips are unionized and have excellent health care) Maybe I should have said this hospital is for entertainment bloggers.

Two slight nurses came into the room to wheel Vartan to ICU. It took them ten minutes to unhook all the tubes and prepare his bed to be wheeled out. One of the nurses was having trouble managing the bed and the attached IV, so she asked me to help wheel the IV to the other wing. I was beginning to wonder if this woman was a nurse, or a receptionist doing double duty. It was an obstacle course to ICU, with wheelchairs in the hallway and humps that we had to maneuver over.

We finally reached the locked door of the ICU and pressed the intercom. A male nurse, the head of the ICU came to the door.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“We’re bringing that patient.”

“We don’t have a room ready. Or an available nurse.”

“Oops. So, what are we going to do?” asked the nurse standing to my side.

The ICU nurse started to laugh, spurring the others to crack up as well. I’m sure they were all tired, and the situation was absurd. Vartan was lying there, equipment sitting on top of him.

There was only one big problem with this funny scenario. I was there, helping with the move. And I wasn’t laughing, despite my reputation as a “humor writer.” I was wearing a blue sweatshirt, so perhaps the ICU nurse figured I was some orderly helping, and not the son-in-law of the patient.

“What the fuck is going on?” I said.

If you know me, that is not something I usually say.

“I don’t see this as particularly funny,” I continued.

“Who is he?” the ICU nurse asked the others, pointing at me.

“I’m HIS fucking SON!” I said. I know I lied a bit, but sue me.

The nurses suddenly became very serious.

“And is this the usual procedure –” I said, my voice getting louder, “– to have family members helping move the patient to the new room? Does anyone know what they are doing here?”

“Perhaps you would like to wait in the visitor waiting room.” said the male nurse, pointing at a room down the hall.

“I’ll wait in the visitor waiting room, after my father gets a fucking room and I see that you know what the hell you are doing.”

Within two minutes, they found a room, a nurse, and Vartan was hooked up.

Of course, the next day at the hospital, Sophia and I noticed that Vartan’s feeding tube wasn’t turned on. We went to look for the nurse, who was apparently busy absorbed in watching the finals of the World Cup… in the visitor waiting room.

I don’t enjoy being pushy. In fact I hate when circumstances force me to do that. It makes me reflect on other parts of my life, as if you are alone in this world, and no one really gives a shit, so you have to force your way into getting what you want. I don’t want to live my life that way.

On the way home, Sophia and I stopped at Ralph’s Supermarket to pick up some groceries. One of the items we bought was a package of cabbage. Sophia likes to make stuffed cabbage. After we paid, and before we wheeled the groceries out of the store, Sophia checked over the receipt. She always does this, and I never do. She is not as trusting as I am. I even get a little irritated at times in supermarkets, waiting for her to go down the list, making sure all the prices match.

“Aha,” she said. “She charged us twice for the same package of cabbage.”

Sophia showed the recipt to the checkout woman.

“I’ll fix it in a second,” she replied.

There were three more customers on the line for this checkout woman, waiting to be helped. The checkout woman helped the first customer and then started taking care of the next customer, a burly Samoan guy.

“Hey, what about our refund?” asked Sophia.

“After I finish with everyone on line. They were here first.”

“What do you mean? We were here first. You charged us for an extra cabbage!”

“I’ll be with you in a minute.”

“Who’s the manager?” asked Sophia, getting angry.

“Calm down, lady!” said the Samoan guy. “And don’t be so impatient.”

Now, normally, I’m not the type of protective husband who defends his wife no matter what, especially when the opposition has broad shoulders. Usually, I am the one calling Sophia impatient. But this time, she was right. I’m sure the Samoan thought he was right, too, and I realize that people can see the same situation in different, Rashomon-like ways. But, the hospital experience hardened my heart. I didn’t care about the other guy’s rightness. We were right. We were tired. We bought a package of cabbage. The checkout woman made a mistake. She should fix it FIRST.

I told this to the Samoan guy.

“Ralph’s Supermarket made a mistake,” I said. “They should fix it.”

“Big deal,” said the deep-voiced Samoan. “Haven’t you ever made a mistake?”

“I’ve made many mistakes. And when I make a mistake, I take care of it. Immediately. Especially if it is a business situation.”

“And why should I get punished. I’m the next on line.”

“This is not about you. This is between us and Ralph’s. Ralph’s is not my friend. They fucked up. They need to fix it. You should be siding with us, so when this happens to you, you will get prompt service.”

“You’re just being selfish.”

“No, sir, YOU’RE the selfish one.”

Whatever. Not exactly fighting words. I said a lot more nonsense, even quoting the Constitution. At the end, they returned our money, and the Samoan called us assholes under his breathe.

When we stepped outside, Sophia was so in shock at my bravado that she was speechless. If she wasn’t so tired from the hospital, and we didn’t have ice cream that could melt, I bet I could have gotten laid in the backseat of the car.

Later, that night, I decided to book my ticket to New York for BlogHer. I had been going back and forth, thinking about taking two different flights. One was on Virgin America, and was a non-stop. The other was on American Airlines, with an hour stop-over in Salt Lake City. The second flight would save me $70. Normally, I would go for the savings. But I hate stopping over on a flight. Was it really worth the savings of $70.

If you don’t speak up, you get lousy service in the hospital. If you don’t speak your mind, you wait in line in the supermarket, charged for an extra package of cabbage.

I’m flying non-stop.

The Zen Meditation Retreat Recap

My blog discussion about my fascinating one day zen meditation retreat with Karen Maezen Miller was cut short by the passing of Sophia’s mother.  Here is a quick recap of that memorable day from a few weeks ago:

The morning and afternoon were segmented into twenty minute periods of sitting meditation (zazen) in the meditation area (zendo).  There were a dozen other students signed up for the retreat, from all walks of life, from students to police officers.  During the meditation segments, we would face the wall and basically, uh, try not to think.   Each session was announced with the striking of the wooden han.  We had a choice of sitting on a map, a meditation bench, or a chair, and it was suggested that we try each of them at least once.  The mat felt the most “authentic,” of course, because it was the most uncomfortable, but by the end of the day, sitting in a chair was pretty nice.

Trying not to think while meditating was as difficult as you would expect, although I didn’t find it particularly painful to attempt.  It was relaxing to sit there and breathe, although it took me a while to understand “how” to breathe correctly.  The tense guy sitting next to me was desperate to “do it right” and was getting more stressed trying to achieve perfection than when he walked in that morning.   Karen Maezen Miller assured us that the act of doing the meditation was more important than doing it a specific way.  I had no preconceived notions, and wasn’t pushing myself to become a zen master, so I think I enjoyed the retreat more than the tense guy.  Los Angeles had a funny way of interrupting our quiet, with fire engines, vans playing Mexican music, and ice cream trucks passing by outside, but while he cursed under his breath, I enjoyed the distractions.

After each sitting meditation period, there was a period of walking meditation (kinhin), where we followed each other around the zendo in a circle, which reminded me of the movie Midnight Express, where the hero was forced to exercise in a Turkish prison.  Surprisingly, I enjoyed this kinhin more than the sitting meditation.  I’ve always been able to better “zone out” when I am walking or doing a repetitive motion.  I’m assuming this is the experience runners get during their runner’s high, or how knitters can knit for hours — where time seems to stand still.  I have frequently had this feeling when walking the streets of Manhattan, as the crowds of passerbys calm me, like waves in the ocean, and I  stop thinking about my life, letting myself become “one” with my environment.

The zen meditation retreat took place in a classic Los Angeles house in mid-city Los Angeles that had been transformed into a modest, but attractive zen temple.  Karen Maezen Miller wore a beautiful, priestly robe.   She had a contagious spirit that was both intense and gentle.  She was assisted by another instructor, a male of about thirty-five, who I assumed was not at the same level of knowledge, mostly because his robe didn’t have as many bells and whistles attached.  He had just completed a longer retreat, and seemed monk-like in his responses, although if you met him at the supermarket, you would think he is another typical LA resident, maybe a screenwriter.

The male instructor was responsible for showing us the rituals involved in zen meditation.  At one point, he taught us how to  bow to the statue of Buddha.  He assured us that Buddha was not a God, but a man, knowing that there might be issues with other religions.  I felt that he was purposely vague about the matter and I wasn’t sure why we we getting into this territory so soon,  especially since very few of us could  sit in the lotus position for more than ten minutes.

I bowed out of respect.  I’m sure no one would have cared if someone felt uncomfortable and didn’t bow.  I had no problem honoring the tradition, but I would have liked to have received more information about Buddha’s role in all of this.   I know Judaism has a strong tradition against idolatry.   I’m curious to understand the intersection between the science of meditation and the spiritual/religious aspects, and how well Buddhism plays ball with Western religion.

If I truly learned anything important about myself during the retreat it happened at lunchtime.  We were served a delicious vegetarian meal, buffet style.  We were expected to keep quiet during the eating period, in order to connect with the sensory eating experience.   I sat with the other students in the living room, eating our tofu and vegetables, being silent, averting the glances of the others.  I don’t remember ever feeling so uncomfortable.  Or, more honestly, I felt the discomfort of the others, like rays of negative energy surrounding me, and I had an overwhelming need to make a joke, to break the ice, and to make everyone feel at home, not for their sake, but for my own.  At one point, I couldn’t stare anymore at my plate anymore, and had to walk outside onto the patio alone, where I could finally relax.   I could be by myself.  I didn’t have this discomfort during the silence of the sitting meditation, because we were each alone in our tasks, like students in a classroom taking a standardized test.  But lunch IS traditionally a time for conversation.  The silence WAS deafening.

What did that discomfort mean?  I’m not exactly sure, but maybe it will help me understand why it is difficult for me to shut up when I am on Twitter, or I feel required to compromise when talking with another individual during a heated exchange.  I feel the energy of others, and my weak sense of self gets drawn into the vortex.  It is difficult for me to focus when there are others around, especially when I sense their agenda. This affects my work patterns.    I work best when I am in the midst of an anonymous crowd, like in Starbucks , or locked in my office like a cage, with the blinds drawn.  The minute Sophia walks inside the room and sits on the couch next to me, my focus turns to mush.  I KNOW she is in the room.

After lunch, Karen Miller Maezen asked us to wash the dishes and clean up after lunch.  Her latest book is all about the connection between zen and every day chores.   I wonder if she uses this technique with her children, to get them to clean her home.

It was a very cool experience, nothing like I expected.  I’m just not sure what to do with  I learned, if anything.

Zen 101

Yesterday, I went to a full day zen meditation retreat for beginners.  It was fascinating, and I will write more about it later in the week.  But today (this was written on Monday), I want to get this specific thought out of my head, putting it into words because I completely forget what I wanted to say, or even more likely, embarrassed to bring it up tomorrow.  I enjoy this type of “fleeting moment” writing, although it can also be scary, because people tend to see your writing as written in stone, as if each post was a manifesto, and not a mere daydream.  If I decide tomorrow morning to say that my life dream is to run with the bulls in Pamplona, please don’t run out and buy me airplane tickets just yet.   By the afternoon, I might have done a little research, or watched the utter chaos on a YouTube video, and completely changed my mind, and decided to go to Hawaii instead.  So, be aware that I spent most of the Sunday staring at a blank wall in silence, so this post reflects that unique (or crazed) state of being.  Today I might be all zen.  That doesn’t mean that tomorrow, I won’t go back to writing sex jokes.

Over the last few years, I have introduced you to my mind.  To my heart.  You have even met my talkative, and overly friendly, penis, who has written some blog posts himself.  But I usually keep my soul locked in the basement, like a crazy, dangerous, uncle.  I pride myself on my rationality and adherence to a scientific approach, and dismiss anything that smacks of the supernatural.  Even when I write about Jewish issues, it tends to be about cultural issues, more bagels than morning prayer.

Every once in a blue moon, I hear my uncle screaming in the basement, and I try to listen to his gibberish.  As much as I try to ignore the rantings of a madman, I do hear him, and his voice intrigues me.  How many wondrous stories have I read in the past where it is the madman who is the one with the most knowledge and awareness?

I was IM-ing with Schmutzie this morning, telling her about the retreat.  She said she was surprised that I would go to a zen meditation retreat.

“It doesn’t sound like you AT ALL.  What made you go to it?”

I was taken aback because I had no coherent story.  I didn’t have a real reason for going other than curiosity.  It just fell into my lap.  Sure, I read Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha” when I was in ninth grade, but I have never had an overwhelming desire to meditate.  I don’t read books about zen meditation.  I’m not even that attracted to Buddhism as a way of life.  I find the concept of karma a little creepy.  My “path,” if there is one, that brought me there  was completely random, rather mundane, and involves the most un-zen-like of all modern tools — Twitter.

One evening, several weeks ago, Sophia and I were arguing about the dishes.  I’m not embarrassed to mention this, because I assume that this is a common in every modern married household throughout the world.   Sadly, in my home, I am the one usually stuck with the chore.

After cleaning the kitchen, I took my angst out on whoever happened to be sitting on Twitter at 8PM on a Tuesday.

“I hate doing the dishes,” I wrote to whoever was there.  “Is there anyone who really LIKES doing the dishes?”

Another blogger chimed in and replied that I should read a book by Karen Maezen Miller.   She  wrote a book about viewing the mundane household chores from a Buddhist perspective.   I didn’t think much of this, but I noticed that Karen Maezen Miller also happened to be on Twitter.   So, I followed her, mostly as a lark.  I like talking with a weird assortment of folk.

I followed her and soon  I was “chatting” with her on Twitter, mostly making fun of her mellow spirit, as if I was playfully interacting with The Redneck Mommy rather than a zen priest.   And I was surprised that she always had a funny response.  Zen priests are not supposed to be clever, or even “get” movie references to the Karate Kid!

Curious who this woman was, I looked at her website, and discovered that she teaches at an LA zen center, and — just that weekend — was offering an infrequently-held beginner’s retreat!   So, I signed up.

Let me make it clear.  This is not a plug for her book, which I have not read.  This is an actual story of how an argument with Sophia over the dishes brought me to a place where I was facing the wall all day!

Without getting all LOST on you, I think you see where this is going.  The mystery.

At the end of the retreat, Karen Maezen Miller thanked the students, and said some “Mister Miyagi” type statements that you would expect from a zen priest.  She said that  she learned as much from us and we did from her.

What made my ears perk up was this — our meeting was not as random as it seemed.  We were brought together.

It was fairly odd that I was sitting there.  A random tweet.  A random comment.  A random encounter.  A random geographical commonality.

I wanted to fight what was bubbling in my head with every fiber of my being.   It seems so wrong for so many reasons.  Is it possible that everyone we encounter is part of a learning experience that is presented to us on purpose?  I’ve written about THE SECRET before, and HOW MUCH I HATE WHAT IT REPRESENTS.  How do you explain all the bad shit that happens to people?   Karma?  I hate that crap.  I even have a broken friendship over that stupid book.

But why we meet certain people and not others?   Of the millions of people who use the internet, why do I interact with YOU?  Is it all just random, or do we really get what we need, even if we don’t realize it?

OK, sorry.  I will try to be normal again tomorrow.

More later.

It’s a Wrap

The TCM film festival is over. It was a blast. There was such a varied audience at the screenings — from twenty-something hipsters to senior citizens. Thank you Jane Devin for the intro to the cool people at GM.

By the last screening, I was feeling very sentimental. My father was a big movie buff, and I saw many of these films for the first time on our old RCA TV, sitting with my father in his bedroom. He would have loved to see these classics such as Casablanca and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre on the big screen, in Hollywood. It was especially cool to see Tony Curtis, another favorite actor of my father’s, at a screening of Some Like it Hot.

My father always told me this story — which I only half believed — that he was stationed in Hawaii during the filming of “From Here to Eternity,” and was used as an extra in the famous fight scene between Maggio and Fatso (Frank Sinatra and Ernest Borgnine). Ernest Borgnine was at this festival, speaking about one of his other films. I tried really hard to meet him and tell him this story, but kept missing him by a few minutes.

There was one famous classic film actor who I avoided all weekend for the oddest “six degrees of Hollywood” reason. When I was in film school, I was making this twenty-minute student film, and cast this actress. By the second week, I wasn’t happy with her performance, so I hired a replacement. Believe me, it was excruciatingly difficult to do, one of the reasons I ran to “writing” and not “production” after graduation. The original actress was angry at me over my betrayal, and wrote me an email saying something like “You’re going to go far in Hollywood because you’re such an asshole.” Years passed. One day, I see a photo of this famous older actor who has appeared in 100 films with his new girlfriend, a much much younger woman — yes, her — the actress who thinks I am an asshole because I fired her from a student film. And there they were at the film festival together this weekend, still a couple — this famous actor and his long-time girlfriend who hates my guts. Do you think maybe she forgot about it by now? Do actresses every forget?

Anyway, for now —

— Hollywood has gotten back to business.

Across the street from the Hollywood Roosevelt, three working actors, Marilyn, Freddy Kruger, and Beetlegeuse discuss their latest screenplay at the Coffee Bean.

When I first stepped out of my house this morning, there was a new neighbor checking out my Buick Lacrosse in the drive-way.

“New car?” he asked.

“Kind of. I’m just testing it.” I answered.

I didn’t feel like it was necessary to go into all the details about my blog and the film festival. I was also trying to impress him.

“It looks like an upscale Lexus.”

I made note of his comment. I had never met this neighbor before, and for a second I wondered if Buick had paid an actor to come over, as a subtle hint that I should write more about the car on my blog.

The neighbor started asking me all these car-oriented questions. “What is the mph?” “How many cylinders?” Etc. I had absolutely no idea. I knew the car looked and felt good, and was impressed that the steering wheel could HEAT UP! Luckily, Sophia came out and DID know the answers, considering that she has a subscription to Car and Driver.

Afterwards, Sophia scolded me.

“Buick sponsored you to go to the festival. You should at least know SOMETHING about the car other than the fact that you can listen to Oprah on XM radio!”

She’s right. It’s time to start blogging with integrity. Today, I am going to be driving all around town so I can give you my honest opinion of the Buick Lacrosse. I have only owned Japanese cars since moving to Los Angeles. Will this car change my mind?

First up — I will play with all the cool buttons on the dashboard.

“Have you ever made out in the back of a car?” I asked Sophia.


“Yes?! With who? You never told me that.”

“Haven’t you?”

“Uh, no.”

I still haven’t.

You ever notice in car commercials and advertisements the person driving his car is always completely alone on the road?

Isn’t reality more like this? —

Four Movies a Day

In “A Star is Born,” the first film showed at the TCM Classic Film Festival, James Mason “discovers” Judy Garland and arranges for her to get a screen test. He tells her that her life is about to be changed by success and that she should never lose her soul to the chaos of Hollywood.

I could use a little bit of that advice on my second day of this film festival.

As my first sponsored blogging gig (I received full passes for two — entries to all of the films and parties — and a new Buick Lacrosse to drive all week, from the festival’s sponsor, Buick), I understand that I am supposed to be blogging about my experiences here, but the festival is so all-consuming from 7AM to 2AM, that it is almost impossible to find any time to write anything very good. Do film critics write on their laptops in the middle of the movie? So far, this film festival has been a blast, but if you have been to BlogHer, you’ll understand what I mean when I say it is also exhausting!

Here is a quick recap so far, as shown through iphone photos —

Thursday night was the red carpet opening, a screening of “A Star is Born.” The day leading up to the event was chaotic. We were supposed to drive our fancy new Buick to the event, but the care got lost somewhere near Phoenix, and we didn’t receive it until two hours before the screening. We still haven’t had time to fully appreciate everything this car has to offer. Sophia and I had other concerns as well — what to wear! I bought a new shirt, but then discovered that it required cuff links. Who owns cuff links?

I wore cuff links once, at my wedding. I did what I always do nowadays when I need advice — I went on Twitter and asked for help. A female blogger, a Martha Stewart type, suggested I create my own cuff links from two buttons and thread.

“It’s very easy,” she said.

Yeah, right. I opted to change my shirt.

I ended up wearing this. This same female blogger, seeing this photo, criticized me for looking “too conservative for the red carpet.”

I had an even bigger problem. Sophia wanted to dress the role of old Hollywood glamour, wearing her mother’s vintage jacket from 1950’s Russia. Although it had an authentic feel, something a star might have worn to the original opening of “A Star is Born,” the jacket was made of… uh, well, FUR.

I visualized Sophia and I stepping out of silver Buick, onto the red carpet, and immediately getting covered in blood from some zealot from PETA. I’m not sure Buick, my lovely sponsors, would appreciate this, so I begged Sophia not to wear it. Did I wimp out? Probably. Selling out to the man CHANGES YOU!

Off to the red carpet in our Buick!

Hollywood was all abuzz with the film festival. The headquarters was at the Hollywood Roosevelt, and most of the screenings were at the Chinese and Egyptian Theaters.

I impressed Sophia by proving once and for all that my feet are bigger than those of Kirk Douglas.

Here’s a little secret about the red carpet. It’s not really red. It is more “cranberry.”

Next time I dress like Alec Baldwin. I WAS too conservative.

On Friday, Sophia and I attended four movies. One of the was “The Producers.” I hadn’t planned to attend it because I had seen it so many times before. But when I learned that Sophia had never seen it before, I was curious to see her reaction. Hey, Mel Brooks — I chose you over a screening of “Casablanca!” Mel Brooks was there for a discussion, having just received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame earlier that day.

By the way, Sophia loved “The Producers.”

Sophia didn’t enjoy “The Sweet Smell of Success” with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, calling it “too dark.”

In the middle of the day, I met with a video crew, who filmed me driving all around Hollywood, talking about old movies and Buicks. Don’t laugh when I post this video! I was blabbing all over the place. Hopefully, they will edit most of it out.

I felt like one of those American Idol contestants making those music videos. It all happened so fast, that I hardly remember what I said or did. At one point, I was walking along Hollywood Boulevard like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, en route to the screening of the film (even though the screening was not really happening at the time, or even on that day). Hollywood!

Off to another day of movies. So far, it’s been a great experience, but I am a little dizzy. One of the oddest things is having people ask me about my blog, and having to come up with answers for “What do I write about?” Now I understand why you all put up those annoying “blog badges” on your blogs. There is something about wearing a badge around your neck that makes you more legitimate in the eyes of others.

“Your blog sounds fascinating,” some actress-type said to me, thinking that I was someone of importance, seeing that I had the exclusive all-access pass.


I think I fell asleep last night while Fred and Ginger were dancing cheek to cheek in a screening of Top Hat, but I’m not sure.

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