Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Of all my husband's characters, the one with which I identify most is Wolverine. The one which I think is or was closest to his own view of himself is SwampThing.

SwampThing was the $1000 answer in the D.C. Comics category on Jeopardy! last night. I think Swampy was the only non-golden age character in the five questions up there represented by five pieces of artwork--and two of the characters were from Batman (Dick Grayson and the Penguin.) Green Arrow and Plastic Man were the other two.

SwampThing could also have fit the category of words introduced in the 20th Century in the same round.

Vacation, What Vacation?

Memorial Day Weekend was one event after another. We were invited to two birthday parties, one "great to see you in L.A. for the weekend" party, and went to one touring Broadway show and one blockbuster film showing. Exhaustion canceled out one of the birthday parties, but we managed everything else.

"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" was an absolute delight. There was a bit of me in most of the characters on stage (except for the spelling part--I can spot misspelled words but I've always had a unique approach to spelling, as one of my college profs put it), so I was hard pressed to side with only one character to win. My husband had his Broadway debut last year as one of the guest spellers, but I wasn't on that trip. If you live in Southern California, it is definitely worth seeing with the original Broadway cast at the Wadsworth Theatre on the VA hospital grounds during the next month while it is here.

We finally got to see "Pirates of the Caribbean 3" on Monday morning at a 10 a.m. show. We figured we could get there and get good seats and then still have the rest of the day for other important things (like taking care of the Arabian Prince.) Our friends Ted and Terry have written an action-packed and entertaining film with one of the most heroic women characters since they put a sword in the hands of Catherine Zeta Jones in the first of the recent Zorro films. Ted and Terry pointed out that it isn't Will Turner on the hero's journey in Pirates, it's Elizabeth Swan.

I've been a fan of Keira Knightly's since "Bend it Like Beckham." I'm told she's also a Padme body double in the first/fourth "Star Wars" film, but she made no impression. (Let's face it, only Liam Niesson and Ewen MacGreggor did because they were able to transcend George Lucas' inability to direct live actors.) I even liked her in the ill-reviewed "King Arthur." She does know how to handle a sword, which is a good skill for most women.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Boys Behind the Pirates

We went to see our friends Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio interviewed at the Writers Guild of America, west, Inc. theater last night. Like the one last month with Harlan Ellison, the event was a benefit for the WGAw Foundation.

Ted and Terry have a little film opening today called "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End." We've known them well since 1993 when Ted sat up 'til 4 a.m. talking to us in the lobby of an hotel in San Francisco--mostly about Len's career. They were nominated for the Hugo Award for writing "Aladdin" for Disney. Len was the designated acceptor for the Hugo for someone that year. As often happens, we took them under our wing (it was their first World Science Fiction Convention) and they've been in our lives ever since.

We've watched them grow from that first success into the A-list Hollywood writers they are today. It hasn't been all smooth sailing (talking about Godzilla might make them cry), but that first Zorro with Antonio Bandaras, Shrek I, and the Pirates movies have cemented their bankability in Tinsel Town.

For a year back in the late 90s, Terry held a once-a-month salon at his house in the Hollywood Hills. He had to discontinue them when they became over-run with friends of friends of friends, but they were a huge mix of up-and-comers, journeymen, and wannabees from all parts of the entertainment industry. The biggest downside (except for what it must have cost him to pay for food and drink) was the lack of safe parking on that stretch of Mulholland Drive. I was certain that we'd get hit by a car coming around a curve as we walked back to our vehicle at 1 or 2 a.m. Another factor was the climb up to the house from the street. I swear the driveway was at about a 65 degree slope. When the sprinklers would go off, the walk back down was treacherous. To avoid climbing to the house when I was on crutches, we actually drove up once. I felt like the car was going to flip rear over nose on the way down, it was so steep.

When Pirates 1 premiered, the boys made sure we got to attend. Len and I shared Ted and Kim's limo to Disneyland and we walked the red carpet with them between Jane Seymour and Danny Bonnaduce. That was a night to remember. (Len had actually gotten to go on set when they were filming and met everyone except Johnny Depp--and yes, that does mean he's met Orlando Bloom. Grrrrr.) The best way to go to Disneyland is in a limo that drops you off behind the Lincoln exhibit and picks you up near the statue of Walt in the middle of the park. And, oh yes, you are one of only 3000 people in the park for fun. No waits on the rides and you can do the Indiana Jones ride twice in 15 minutes (because it does take a while to go through the maze.) Also, that night had the best food I've ever eaten at Disneyland.

We've had a lot of fun together over the years, but as Ted and Terry's star has risen, we don't get together nearly as often as we would like because these guys are always busy. We managed to corral Ted and Kim for dinner during the brief break between the finish of principal photography on Pirates 2 and the start of principal photography on Pirates 3 and then a year flew by. We saw Terry a few weeks ago for a dinner which Ted missed because the invitation was caught in a spam filter (why e-mail is unreliable.) Last night, we all bemoaned this lack of contact.

I've corralled them to doing the second of the "Creative Voices" programs for me at Pierce College sometime in October. I think it will be an excellent opportunity for students to get insight about the process of collaborative writing, a very different animal than the solitary writing of Harlan Ellison. I'll have dinner with them that night, but I fully expect to spend quality time with both of them well before next October.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Riding Lesson

Last night, I took a lesson in my Cadillac of a dressage saddle for the second time. I feel like I am bouncing on the back of the horse and that the saddle makes a terrible squeaking sound. I suppose that will get better as the saddle breaks in, but until then, it is a bit disconcerting.

The horse seems mostly happy with the saddle unless it slips into his shoulder blade. Then he does what my friend Melinda calls "the flamingo." He lifts his left leg and stands on three feet. Because I don't see it very often when I ride the western saddle, and I used to see it when I rode in my other dressage saddle, it suddenly struck me that he's been trying to tell me something. In fact, when the saddle is placed correctly, he's fine. It was only after I had ridden for a while that he did it and we discovered the saddle had slipped. I may have to spring for that more expensive, newer model girth to keep things where they belong.

I had a lot of trouble keeping my toes turned in while moving my hips forward last night. Practice, practice, practice.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ellison Aftermath

So far, no one has come after me with a pitchfork and torch, so I guess that Harlan didn't offend anyone that much last night at Pierce College. Early responses to the two talks have been positive, and the president of the college sent me a thank you at 6 a.m. He got as little sleep as I did last night.

Yesterday's talk revealed something I didn't know about Harlan: he met wife #4 the last time he spoke at Pierce 30 years ago! That was a short-lived marriage (not, I hear, the shortest) and he met Susan a little less than 10 years later. They've been married for 21 years come September.

I probably could have done without him repeating the story I first heard on "Politically Incorrect" about a part of his body falling off in the cold on New York. Bill Maher's face was priceless--I just buried mine in my hands. That's Harlan. He's always politically incorrect. He would have preferred a different reaction from some people in the audience when he told a story about an act of dishonesty. I always find it amazing how some people can be oblivious to their own rudeness or boorishness, and there were some folks in the audience who were.

I did feel sorry for one girl in the afternoon audience who was target by Harlan (the key to dealing with his needling--a part of his performance--is to show no fear), but most of the boys handled the ribbing quite well. I was particularly pleased with one of my own students who gave Harlan a priceless jumping off point. He asked Harlan "How did you become one of only 29 Grand Masters?" Harlan asked him "Do you know what a Grand Master is?" My student replied "Not really, I think it has something to do with the KKK." My culturally Jewish friend and my husband nearly fell on the floor laughing about that concept. Then Harlan went off in that direction. It was very, very funny and Harlan brought it up again in the evening appearance.

Harlan signed until about 12:30 a.m., which was about 2 1/2 hours after he finished his evening talk. He called our house about 1:15 a.m. to say that he left his leftovers in my car. (The President had taken us out for dinner between the two events. The restaurant was wonderful, not far from the college, and therefore in our neighborhood.)

The night air has left me with a sore throat and sniffles and if I didn't have to teach today, I probably would have taken the day off. The official last day of classes in Friday. I sincerely thought we had a whole week more before exams, but graduation is June 5. How my kids will ever get done is beyond me, especially with the lack of equipment and time at the printers.

I am so tired I no longer care about the state of the house.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Waiting for Harlan

Harlan Ellison should arrive on the Pierce College campus within the next half hour to give two performances. I've written an introduction, but I think it is inadequate. What can you say about a man who needs no introduction in most of the places he's ever been?

It's going to be great. And if it isn't, there's still 5 hours until the next session!

If you happen to be passing Woodland Hills at 3 or 8 today, drop by and catch Harlan. It is an experience you will never forget.

This Old House, Part 4

O.K., so now it is Tuesday and no work has been done on the kitchen since Saturday. After a brief panic, the fluorescent lights went in and my husband says we are the only house in Woodland Hills which can be seen from space. Visit his blog and see what else he's saying.

Rumor has it they've moved the pipes in the way of my window, so I will get the window into the living room. I'll believe it when I see it.

Meanwhile, I can use the sink, which is only temporarily hooked up. The counter was cut wrong and is 3/4" too short. Bill is having it recut. The sink and fixtures look great and I love having a spray hose. Someday I'll get to use it.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

This Old House, Part 3

Victory can be so short-lived. Len agreed to the window to the living room and we open the wall to discover a pipe and a supporting beam in the friggin' way. Looks like the end of that plan, much to my disappointment.

For a brief point, it looked like we were back to track lighting again for the kitchen, but I think we dodged that bullet. Len got carried away with the decision to go fluorescent and bought units which were in frames that matched the spice rack Bill put in last fall. I had really expected him to go out and buy utilitarian versions which would permit Bill to do whatever needed to be done to make them work. My big concern was the mounting, but I figured Bill could insert cross-supports if necessary. Well, the expensive units Len bought have a box which needs to go on top and would normally be set into a dropped ceiling, which we don't have. Sigh. But Bill's figured out a work around, after the passing panic that they needed to go back to Lowe's.

The new fan/light combination is very bright.

I wonder if I will have a sink again by the end of the day.

Friday, May 18, 2007

This Old House, Part 2

After reading my brilliant blog, I guess, the spousal unit relented and is willing to permit Bill to open a window over the sink into the living room. Hooray!

I can't believe how much bigger the kitchen looked with the cabinets out. It still looks pretty good with no top cabinets installed yet. My friend Karen and I discussed this and she said that she realized even tiny British kitchens looked large because they did not have upper cabinets. I need the storage space, so that is definitely NOT an option.

We went to the Lamps 'R' Us last night and almost immediately agreed on the new fan for the living room which has lights (the current one does not.) It will go over the area where we have our dining table. Then we spent a hour trying to figure out a solution to the problem with lighting the kitchen.

We didn't have enough head room for hanging lights that would offer diffusion (the high point of the exposed rafters is in the living room and reaches to a 12' or so point.) The track lighting just doesn't light evenly enough and is pretty warm once you get enough units in to light the room. Eventually, we gave up and went on to Lowe's to see what they had to offer.

I decided to look in the kitchen area of the store when inspiration hit near the counter samples: large fluorescent units which can fit between the rafters. So we'll put 2 2' x 4' daylight balanced units in and that gives me skylight without skylights. Len immediately agreed that was genius and when we got home, we chose the two spots for installation. They should also be a lot easier to keep clean than the track lighting has been.

The elves will be very busy today. Bill says he has to get the job finished so he can go on to other work.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

This Old House

My kitchen is the the back yard. And the side yard. And the garage. And the living room. And my office.

After a six-month wait, the handyman finally arrived with my new kitchen cabinets and:

1. I can't have the low to the floor toe-kick drawers because the support wall won't support the unit and now he's got to drill through the cabinets into the slab--no room for low to floor kick drawers.

2. I won't have two pull-out cutting boards because he missed that in the discussions. THAT I know we talked about--even Len remembered it. We will have one large one now, and possibly a smaller one right next to the range in the top of the smaller cabinet that will hold drawers there.

3. Len won't let me have a window over the sink into the living room. I gave up on my hopes to have it open under the upper cabinets into the living room and have a dining counter on the living room side where our ugly, big-but-not-big-enough dining room table sits (which we almost never use because Len's never met a surface he doesn't insist on covering with stuff.) But I did hope he would see reason and logic and let me open up the window over the sink. I HATE standing at the sink looking at a wall. It is so friggin' claustrophobic. I love having a sink that has a window looking outside, but we can't reconfigure the kitchen to do that, at least not without tens of thousands of dollars in plumbing work and a long construction period. Besides, Len would never stand for it. So, I will continue to stare at a wall. In my house in Virginia, I looked out into the front yard and the street. Where I grew up, we looked into the back yard, as did my grandmother's kitchen. This would be so much more cheerful. I guess he doesn't mind because boys look at the wall when they use a urinal. They like the comfort of boundaries. Very limiting. He won't even let us put it in with shutters, so he can close the window if it makes him feel more comfortable. You'd think he'd like to be able to watch TV while he does the dishes (the window would give a clear view through to the televisions, but no. Since Bill has to take down the sheet rock to make way for additional support and to enclose wires, this modification is a no-brainer and would definitely increase the value of the house. No woman would have bought the house we live in because of the way the kitchen is laid out.

The other problem with our kitchen is that it is very dark. It is lit by two track-lights, a small florescent over the sink, and an inefficient sconce in the corner by the old oven (it still works, and isn't that old, but I got my new range with a HUGE oven for Thanksgiving), but if you open one of the upper cabinets there, it blocks the light! So I will get to look at new kitchen lighting and a light for over the dining room area tonight after work. Bill wants to add skylights, but that doesn't add light at night, when I am most likely to be in the kitchen. I'd like a skylight over my bed, but I don't need one in the kitchen. I've heard they are prone to leak, anyway.

With the new cabinets, I'll be able to get my Kitchen-Aid mixer on the counter-top (the old upper cabinets were a tad too low for it to fit.) And I should have enough room for my glassware. If only we could get rid of more coffee cups.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Musical Chairs

Len and I are subscribers to a series called Reprise! at UCLA. Len's a musicals fanatic whereas it's a form I enjoy, but I'd probably equally enjoy a staged comedy or drama. Reprise! was originally billed as rarely revived musicals in a limited mounting--no costumes, no choreography, done on-book. This is no longer the case with Reprise!, but they've added "Magical Musical Mondays," a one-night stand following an opening weekend of Reprise! where the performance is on-book in an in-concert style. The players dress in black, the chairs are lined up behind music stands where the players can set their binders. The orchestra (when needed) is in the background.

We have front row, slightly off-center seats for Reprise!, a benefit of our long-standing status as subscribers. Since we bought MMM seats for only two performances this year, where we sit varies.

On Friday night we saw "No Strings" with Scott Bakula from the front row. Last night, at MMM, we saw "It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman" from dead center in the second row. We won the lottery on that one, because in the first row with MMM, you can miss seeing the actors because of the podia.

"No Strings" is the only musical Richard Rodgers did alone. That's a good thing. I love Rodgers and Hammerstein's work together--I'm really familiar with all but two of the works listed in the program. And I've enjoyed many of the productions he did with other co-writers, "Two by Two" having a special place in my heart since I did get to see it with Danny Kaye in New York in June, 1971 (very funny performer, said to be an SOB in real life.) The production of "No Strings" was terrific and Bob Mackie did the costumes--which should give you a clue as to how far from the "limited productions" Reprise! has traveled. The performers were all very, very good, particularly Matt Ashford who is more familiar to me from his work in "Days of Our Lives" (Len's addiction, I've never liked the soaps) than as a stage performer. Scott Bakula, of "Quantum Leap" and "Enterprise" fame, has had a stellar career on the stage as well.

Nevertheless, I hated the show. I hated the book. There were only two characters--the Vogue editor and the heiress who stole the show--that I liked. And usually I really have to like spending time with the characters to enjoy the show (have I mentioned how much I hate "Sweeney Todd," one of Len's favorite Sondheim's?) But boy are those Bob Mackie costumes worth the price of admission. On the other hand, you shouldn't leave a musical singing the scenery, as Len likes to put it (a criticism we had of "Lion King," which has memorable songs but a lousy story line. Do you realize the show-stopping "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" means that the kid is wishing for his father to die?) All in all, an evening probably not worth the price of admission.

On the other hand, the Superman musical was a hoot. Len saw the original cast in New York in 1966. He remembered it not fondly, but hey, it's a comic book show. The tone was more 60s Batman slightly campy than the more respectful way the material is treated these days, but it was much better than Len's 40 year memories made it. Much, much better. We had a great time.

When Len saw the original, Jack Cassidy played the egotistical reporter (except for Lois, Clark, and Superman, none of the characters are from the comic book, so there's no continuity to worry about.) Last night, Patrick Cassidy revived his father's part. We've seen Patrick a number of times on the stage in L.A. and he's always good. He was a particularly good Bobby in "Company" and we saw him and his brother Shaun sing two of the princes' songs from "Into the Woods" at an all-Sondheim charity benefit earlier this year. The rest of the cast was equally excellent and there was a very nice posture transformation from Superman to Clark Kent which, with the glasses, makes it quite clear who's portrayed at any point.

The music really sounds like mid-60s American (as opposed to British Invasion.) Len only recalled "You've Got Possibilities" (originally sung by Linda Lavin, I think) as being a break-out, but the rest of the numbers were bouncy and toe-tapping. I just might have to find the CD.

The other fun of Reprise! and MMM is who else is in the audience. On Monday, we saw comedy writer Bruce Vilanch and Shirley Jones (not together), two people we've met on other occasions. Bruce is clean-shaven these days, perhaps a hold-over from his time on Broadway in "Hairspray." Shirley Jones, as always, looked great. Len also said he saw Angie Dickinson. On other evenings we've seen Noelle Neill (Len will be joining her in Metropolis, Illinois next month for a big Superman convention), Jason Alexander, Jayne Meadows, and her now late husband, Steve Allen (yes, we've been attending Reprise! for years.)

The Superman musical definitely made up for "No Strings." We're looking forward to next year's Reprise! season. They've added a show, so now we'll get four instead of three. I'm hoping "Lil' Abner" will be as much fun as Superman was.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Passing Time

I can't believe it has been almost three weeks since I last wrote. It isn't that I haven't wanted to, but I'm not able to log on at home on the high speed line and catching time at lunch is hard, especially on the days that I teach, because I don't get lunch on those days.

Plus, I've been busy getting the Arabian Prince moved to his new, less posh, but less stressful, digs. They aren't perfect, but they are in a relatively quiet neighborhood in the north west San Fernando Valley a few miles closer to where we live than the previous place. And the wind is far less intense, meaning I should be able to get on him more often. We did a lounge-line lesson last night and he was just fine. Noisy parrots (there are lots of feral parrots in Los Angeles) and dogs notwithstanding.

The new place has seven horses and three llamas, Whoopi, Queen (for Lahtifa), and Zsa Zsa. Zsa Zsa is cream with peach spots, the other two are brown/black. I think they are a hoot. They move silently and smoothly. They have eyes which look at you with the wisdom of ancient days. Their feet look like the missing link to birds or dinosaurs. Think ostriches with fur and four legs. They make strange chirping noises and when they get angry they hiss and spray spittle at each other. The movement of their ears really makes them look like aliens. I'm not sure how long they will be at the ranch (the Arabian mare who was kept in the same stall was moved last weekend to Atascadero and they are expected to follow,) but I am looking forward to photographing them. I did a series of shots the other day, but the sun was going down.

I've also been very busy planning the first "Creative Voices" program for Pierce College. Our first speaker is Harlan Ellison (who else?) The program is at 8 p.m. on May 22 at the Performing Arts Building, and it is free. We're going to have Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, who wrote Pirates of the Caribbean, Zorro, and Aladdin, for our next program in the Fall.

Harlan is an amazing public performer.

My husband's been getting nudged by the readers of his blog for falling down on the job. Truth is, he's been out of town working as an expert witness for the past couple of weeks and preparing before that. He's got plenty more visitors than I do anyway. Last Saturday night, at dinner with friends (including the afore-mentioned Terry Rossio), Michael Cassutt told him when to the day he had last posted. I'm impressed that Michael pays that much attention to Len's blog. Michael's one of my favorite writers of prose (I recommend Red Moon), and he's had plenty of television credits as well.

Tuesday evening we had dinner with a couple of friends we haven't seen in about 18 months at a Mexican restaurant called Sol y Luna. Great guacamole and margaritas. It's in our neighborhood and it was jammed--surprising for a weeknight, but then I saw the happy hour sign. It was well past happy hour, but I guess folks just stick around. Parking is a real problem. If not for the walk home, it would make more sense to walk the mile from our house rather than deal with parking. Unfortunately, most of that walk would be on the street. Sidewalks are at a premium in Los Angeles. Pity.