July 31, 2006
Los Angeles ArtWorks Center for the Performing Arts
Dear Mr. Apathe,
Here, in answer to your telephone call earlier today, is the first number you requested I tackle for “I Own Malibu.” I am a little anxious about your plan to make the story of Mel Gibson’s arrest and reaction a “rollicking comedy,” as you put it, but as I said, I’ve got no steady income and I was flattered to be approached.
Here goes. The swaggering protagonist is sprawled on the front seat of his car staring at the flashlight of a deputy sheriff, when he begins to sing in a rebellious tone.
Officer I’m suspicious of your motives
Son, you’re messing with a star
A star of immense proportion
A star who doesn’t give a flying fortz who you are
Who are you to test my sobriety?
You must be some second-rate
Twerpy wimpy faggy phony errand boy
Sent by the Israel Consulate
GIBSON LEAPS FROM THE CAR AND CONTINUES SINGING
I own Malibu
What kind of Jew are you
To think the Zionist conspiracy could apply to moi?
That’s not among the lessons I learned from Pa
And tell Sugar Tits over there
She’ll never see me in my underwear
I got Christian folks to see and better things to do
I own Malibu
THE SHERIFF’S DEPUTY ATTEMPTS TO MAKE GIBSON TAKE A FIELD SOBRIETY TEST, BUT GIBSON BREAKS AWAY AND SINGS TO THE AUDIENCE:
If God wanted Jews to share Malibu with me
He’d have built them a settlement
He’d never countenance a Yid bringing my car to a skid
And asking me questions ‘bout the speed I went
Jew-boy fess up to what’s at play
You’re pissed that Israel can’t get its way
So you take it out on a superior race
Who can remind you in Aramaic as he spits it in your face
THE SHERIFF’S DEPUTY WRESTLES GIBSON INTO A PAIR OF HANDCUFFS, BUT GIBSON, HIS BODY ANCHORED, CONTINUE TO POUR OUT HIS HEART
I own Malibu
And I can hold my liquor, too
In fact it makes me a truth-teller, helps me connect the dots
Between the Protocols of Elders and the world’s trouble spots
What kind of Jew are you?
You can’t imagine what I’m gonna do
I’m gonna be more self-righteous than Angelina and Brad
I’m gonna fill the Hollywood Reporter with self-serving ads
Catch the next jet to Jerusalem and meet up with Dad
Enlist a thousand celebrities in the Million Jew March
THE SHERIFF’S DEPUTY REMOVES THE HANDCUFFS AND, WITH ANOTHER DEPUTY, BEGINS TO SHOVE GIBSON INTO THE BACK OF THE PATROL CAR, BUT GIBSON RESISTS LONG ENOUGH TO PROCLAIM:
And after all that, Deputy Kike,
The unwashed masses will like
Me a lot more than they like you
‘Cause I . . . own . . .Ma-li-bu
GIBSON’S HEAD DISAPPEARS INTO THE CAR
Please let me know if we’re heading in the right direction.
As long as I can remember I have loved history. I find it both liberating and consoling to realize little has not happened before in some variation or another. It is a filter through which I view not only current events, but often relationships as well. Yet truth be told, one of the major advantages to actually being paid to write about the past is that it provides a fabulous excuse not to deal with the present.
The other day I broke one of my rules of Westside survival: don’t go east of La Cienga during the work week. But I had a good reason, it wasn’t peak traffic time and I was able to catch up on the news by listening to NPR. The first report I heard was Arnold lambasting LAUSD as “horrible.” Now I am no great defender of the district, but he went on to say that if their leaders were in the private sector, they would be fired. Does he not read the business pages, let alone the front pages of almost any newspaper? If a CEO drives a company into the ground, he is handed millions of dollars, often after the business has been subsidized by taxpayers. How has this mystique of a hard nosed private sector survived the last decade? As I am pondering this, I am distracted by Juan Williams reporting on the White House and the Middle East. Ok, so it is supposed to be what the White House is thinking (now there is both an oxymoron and nonsequitur in a single phrase) but not one word of the report differed from what Tony Snow would read off a teleprompter. Only because it is a journalist mouthing the words, it adds the aura of objectivity. I start to give mental kudos to the neocons for attacking NPR programming because it clearly is working when my cell phone rang. My friend is also in her car so I ask if she is hearing what I am hearing.
“Oh no,” she responds without a hint of doubt, “I don’t listen to NPR. They are anti- Israel.”
That was enough of the “real world” for me that day thank you. I happily returned to my desk, put Gershwin’s piano reels on the cd player and ensconce myself in the summer of 1928. Piles of copies of Film Daily, Motion Picture News, cables, memos and letters from various archives combine to illuminate who is doing what to whom. Instead of dealing with current realities, I can write about corporate representatives being added to the Boards of film companies, First National “swinging the axe” as they cut their budget by 30 percent and over at Keith Albee Orpheum “a machine gun squadron has turned its attention to agents and bookers, executing many of each, with more to follow.”
See what I mean. Change the name of the companies and the news could have lifted from today’s newspapers. The only difference is I know how it turns out.
This is author Cari Beauchamp's first post at LA Observed — or on any blog. Click for her bio.
For 39 years—from the 12th grade until the middle of 2004—I wrote in the dialect of journalese. I communicated through crisp, direct, no-frills sentences and paragraphs. I wrote, I edited, I coached, I taught--all in that mother tongue.
Then I stopped. I quit the newspaper where I’d spent almost three-quarters of my adult life. And suddenly I felt the tug of another dialect.
It was music, and I wanted to speak it. It did not demand conformance with libel laws or certain length limitations or fairness. All it demanded was a sensation: Wooooooooosh! The moment when your lyrics immediately replicate what just happened in your heart.
I’d been singing with a band of fellow amateurs for the last few years. I’d written songs (again, amateurishly) most of my life, but I rarely showed them to anybody—that was a dialect in which I had little confidence.
But the nice thing about getting older is that eventually you just flip off your insecurities, and so one day last year, on the cusp of 58, I made a proclamation similar to Jesse Jackson’s I-am-somebody decree. I said: I am a songwriter. Not only am I a songwriter, but I am a singer, and I am gonna record my songs.
I bought a relatively cheap digital eight-track recorder and recorded many, many, many mediocre versions of my songs. It was reminiscent of learning a new language, not merely a dialect: Just when I thought I had the variables down, I’d learn there was a new variable lurking out there. What I wanted was the wooooosh between a non-verbalized impulse and the words that describe the impulse. That wouldn’t insure the song was good. But it would give me something emotionally valid to work with.
I wrote a song about a loopy guy who tells the DMV he’s handicapped—broken heart, girlfriend dumped him—and thus needs a parking plaque. I wrote a song about my friend Louis’ desire to act spontaneously. I wrote a song about forever being “almost there…trapped by proximity,” never truly achieving. I wrote a song about spite, about a band that chases the big E chord in the sky, about fixing what’s wrong with soccer—but never with the wooooosh. Those songs never just came to me, rapped on the door and forced their way in. I wanted what I’d enjoyed, on good days, with the dialect of journalese: immediate emotional connection.
And then I was flying back home from Vegas last month and the expression “low expectations,” central to my life, surfaced during an inner monologue and—whoooooosh—I grabbed my pen, pulled the white air-sickness bag out of its pocket and soon beheld my personal proclamation:
My shrink says to me: “You’re a happy little guy
All my other patients whine, could you please tell me why
Nothing ever gets to you?”
I said “Doc, it’s a simple equation.
I greet every day with
I learned early that I am cursed.
I learned early to expect the worst
This two hundred I’m paying you for our weekly assignation
Is a waste that fulfills my
When life gives me lemons, it’s lemons they stay
When I go to trial I don’t get off like O.J.
When I come on to a woman she rejects me at first sight
I expect nothing, and I’m always right
My message to you, Doc, and to all your clients
Is to form a close, unholy alliance
With adversity, loss, disappointment and fear
Make ‘em your friends, have ‘em over a beer
Out goes Mister Righteous Indignation
Let’s welcome home Mister Low Expectations
(I attached a spoken ending that warbled thusly:
“You want to know where all the good times went, baby?
They were never here to begin with.
It’s a jungle out there—and they just cut down your tree.
That’s all right, have a glass of wine on me.
Just remember: the glass is half empty…”
I didn’t know if it was good or bad and I didn’t care. It was the woooosh I was after.
I can’t imagine pouring this out on any other site. In my imagination, a high percentage of people who come to laobserved are writers, accomplished, aspiring or otherwise. You know the torture. As a contributor, I’d like to visit this struggle occasionally.
Meanwhile, if anybody’s interested in hearing that song, send me a message and I will e-mail you an mp4 file made on i-Tunes software. (I’m keeping my expectations low.)
Bob Baker promises to sing a future item for Native Intelligence. Here's his bio.
I like fashion magazines, I admit it. I've had a subscription to Vogue for as long as I can remember and still look forward to discovering it in the mailbox. (Conversely, when it should be there and isn't — or worse, when I suspect that our postal carrier dropped it off two streets over again — my mood sags a little.) Recently, I let In Style lapse after giving it a tryout in the second slot for a couple of years. Too many vapid Rebecca Romijn spreads for me. I switched to Harper's Bazaar, a magazine I had only occasionally bought. It never spoke to me like Vogue, but at least it wasn't another celebrity devotional posing as a fashion rag.
So who adorns the cover of my first issue? Lindsay Lohan — yes, on another magazine cover, this time posed as a fashion waif. On this month's cover, just arrived? Britney Spears, pregnant and coyly naked, propped on what looks like a slab of marble. Inside, there are more naked Britney pictures in a spread the editors call One Sexy Mother. Sigh. Harper's already has my money, so I will probably scan the next issue to see if they came to their sensibilities. I'm not hopeful, though. Once a magazine gives fashion-icon staus to tabloid celebrities whose style sense is manufactured for them, can there be any going back? I already see the "No" box being checked on the renewal card.
I woke up a few mornings ago feeling out of the loop. Way out. Again. I don’t want to make a big deal here; feeling out of the loop is part and parcel of living in Los Angeles and working in the media-industrial complex. (You might say that living for forty years in the San Fernando Valley is like getting a Lifetime Achievement Award for being out of the loop.) Still, compared to writing for television, the movies, hip magazines, and now the blogosphere, authoring books can seem like living in what the late Douglas ("Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) Adams called the “unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy.” (A book signing/reading attended by more than five people is a crowd. The average is two.) But still no reason for alarm. Just as being slightly overweight, losing brain cells every day, and a couple other chronic conditions I know I have but can’t put my finger on at the moment, I’ve learned to live with it.
This time I lay in bed next to my wife, in that twilight haze between being grateful to see another dawn – I’ve sworn to live to 110, but no reason to be arrogant – and wanting to shut my eyes, put the pillow on my head, and sleep until well past noon. Suddenly, a vertiginous sensation of disconnect, discontent, and the certainty that wherever it is at, I’m not there, clutched my guts in its ham fists and refused to let go. I flashed back immediately to the previous night’s dinner conversation with a thirty-something couple, both hot, hot, hot with entertainment industry potential, who were so sure they were in the loop to stay that they believed their children would be born with silver loops in their mouths.
On the other hand, maybe the Vietnamese shrimp and beef platter was just bad. The restaurant, a funky joint with pretensions to pretension, was a block south of Victory in . . . Sherman Oaks. But come on. Anything north of Magnolia is still really Van Nuys, no matter what they’re calling it these days. Talk about trying to get into the loop.
But looping back to the loop. I felt desperately out of the loop and I need to be reassured by my wife the minute she rolled over. Between a grunt and a stretch as premeditated as trying to snake your arm around your date at the drive-in, I said: “I feel sooooo . . . unh . . . out of the loop.”
“Out of the loop.”
“We’re out of soup?”
“Are you awake?”
I could tell she'd be interested, though, because despite her eyes being closed and an occasional soft snore, our usual morning routine consists of telling each other how we slept and what aches and pains occurred -- in excruciating detail. Just yesterday she said, “I had to get up three times in the middle of the night, the cat wouldn’t shut up, and my neck hurts from sleeping on it wrong.”
“Sorry,” I said. “Do you, uh, remember when you punched me?”
At our age it’s gotten so that my wife and I are looking for designer mini-white boards to hang above our sides of the bed so we can just check off pre-written complaints instead of actually talk about them. We have little enough time for conversation, so why spoil it?
But the loop. I hear you saying, “If you know what it feels like to be out of the loop then you must at one time have been in the loop. That’s more than most people get. Quit complaining. It’s better to have looped and lost than to never have looped at all.”
Clever. But you don’t have to actually know what you’re missing to feel like you’re missing something. All you need is someone to tell you that you don’t have what you want – nay, need. That’s why we have an advertising industry. And it’s free. Pretty soon you’re telling yourself you’re nothing without the newest fruit and vegetable dryer from Ronco. Make your own beef jerky, to boot.. Match point. Game over.
My wife got up, but I stayed under the covers. Why start the day? After all, I had nothing to do, anyway, except finish a book proposal, edit an interview, repair the goddamn sprinklers, ingest way more than my daily recommended dosage of blogs and news sites, reconfigure my Treo 650, and reschedule everything for after the weekend. Who can work when they feel so out of the loop?
Then the phone rang. It was my friend Bill, calling from Chicago, to fill me in on his latest hot project. I listened then cut him off. “You’re so in the loop,” I sighed.
“I’m not in the loop,” he said. “I’m in Hell.”
Maybe he was right. We may think of getting to Heaven as being in the ultimate loop, but correct me if I’m wrong, Hell is the one with the circles, right. Seven of them.
I let Bill go back to his book.
I called a novelist friend, Carrie. A recent immigrant to Los Angeles, she was more forthcoming, not to mention articulate in a way Angelenos don’t feel they have to be. She actually tried to define the loop. “Is it inclusion in a powerful circle? Information you can use to get ahead or hurt people, or both? A feeling of being respected for your work beyond your peers, of having access to opportunity? Of forward motion? Is there only one loop, or different loops for different pursuits? And loops for each generation. Niche loops?”
A joke about the only loop to avoid being the one some of us have hanging from the high rafter in the garage occurred, but I left it dangling.
“I left New York to get out of the loop,” she continued. “Or at least wanting to be in the loop. I was very proximate to the loop. I hung with all the young fact checkers and writers. You only had to read the New York Observer to be in the loop. Now they’re big editors and authors – all of them obviously in the loop. But trying to keep up with the loop exhausted me. In fact, it kept me from doing the one thing that would actually put me in the loop – which is to write. So I resigned from the quest, recovered from my obsession, and got busy. Now I feel even more out of the loop. But one day . . .”
I let her go back to work, too.
I’m a contributing editor of Playboy and have been since 1981. I have done more than a hundred interviews for the magazine – as well as many others since 1971. Now I mostly write books; I’ve written or co-written twelve. If I were the guest host of SNL and Don Pardo had just announced me, I’d run out on stage, wait for the applause to die and say, “Great to be here. What a week. Man, hosting the show is nothing like writing my last book, “The Mailroom,” or my new book, “All For a Few Perfect Waves: The Audacious Life and Legend of Rebel Surfer Miki ‘da Cat’ Dora” – coming from Wm Morrow in Spring 2007.” Then you’d clap wildly and I’d act surprised and embarrassed and grateful – and pray you would have known me without that insincere bit of self-aggrandizement and ass-covering they always force you to do.
But whether talking to Bill Gates, Cindy Crawford, Martin Scorsese, or Jerry Seinfeld; whether I was backstage at an Eagles concert in 1976, or still thrilling to Neil Young cranking an encore medley from “Rust Never Sleeps” in 2006, from front row seats; whether young writers actually want my advice, which I’m happy to give, or someone asks me to sign a book – I have never felt in the loop.
I just know I’m missing something. There’s a brass ring out there waiting to be grabbed and taken home. My needs for loopdom are simple: I just want to be able to shop at Whole Foods without feeling like I really belong at Ralphs. Oh, and I want all those health freaks who smell like barley and patchouli, blocking the aisles in their muscle shirts and leotards, to melt on the spot like a warm, scrumptious Cinnabun. There’s a place I dream of where there are twenty words for “brilliant”, but none for “anxiety.”
I want to be in the loop even though as my friend Carrie says, it leads to “a constant state of lack and need. A gross existential solipsism. A hunger that when satisfied only makes you more hungry because the loop, the information and inclusion that supposedly makes you happy, is, like a wave, ephemeral. Or, to be more prosaic, tomorrow’s birdcage liner.”
I know that the urgency of wanting to be in the loop is what makes it feel so important, even thought it’s not. But that’s not important right now.
So imagine how I felt that very afternoon a few afternoons ago, when I got an email from Kevin Roderick asking me – why me? – to contribute to this blog. I’d never fancied myself a blogger and even my own website ( www.tellmeeverything.com ) states “No opinions all of the time” at the very top. Kevin’s invitation gave me pause: as someone without opinions who would rather drive off a cliff than get into another pointless political argument – see you at the voting booth, my friends – I thought he’d written to the wrong David Rensin. “No politics, no rants,” Kevin wrote, further on. “Just write whatever you want to. No editing.”
Whatever I want to? No editing? Then it hit me. Maybe I am in the loop after all. A new loop. A loop where one could loop the impossible loop. Wow. Wow . . .
I told my wife. “Great,” she said, clearly happy at the prospect of returning to our usual morning loop of describing actual aches and pains, and not existential migraines. “How much are you getting paid?”
Ah. The liberation of writing for free. A loop no one wants to be in. And it’s mine. All mine. Well, sort of.
I've known Kevin for years, since we were both ink-stained wretches at the Los Angeles Times. Then he went off to write non-fiction books and I took the low road and started writing crime novels. When Kevin launched L.A. Observed, I got hooked. It was a wonderful procrastination ritual. I'd sit at the computer, intending to write the next scene in my book that was due in four months, but somehow I'd find myself checking L.A. Observed instead, clicking through on lots of interesting tidbits. I'd walk downstairs for lunch, then have to check L.A. Observed before getting back to work. And so on.
When Kevin asked if I'd like to contribute to L.A. Observed, there was this weird moment where I felt like I had fallen into a looking glass. Me? On the other side? I sit at the desk in my walk-in bedroom closet all day, making stuff up. Occasionally I'll run an errand. Then my two kids come home and it's like the Tasmanian Devil from the Bugs Bunny cartoon, a whirling, eight-limbed cloud of dust, scabs, Lego, homework and dinner. At night, after David and I read to them and put them to bed, I write and I read some more. Then I get up the next day and do it again. With the exception of that maniac Charles Bukowski, and he's dead now, most writers I know lead pretty sedate lives. Especially if, like me, they're under contract from Scribner to turn in a book each year. Right now, I'm also editing an anthology called "Los Angeles Noir" that's coming out from Akashic Books next spring, so I'm swimming in a sea of words.
But it's high summer now, and my thoughts have turned to...apricots. Proust had his madeleines. I've got apricot jam. We had a tree in our backyard growing up, in North Hollywood, and it gave heaps of smallish, mottled, roseate apricots that I only learned much later, as an adult, were a variety called Royal Blenheims. They are the nobility of their kind, and sadly have been eclipsed in recent years by bigger, hardier strains that look perfect but lack any real taste. You pretty much have to go to a Farmer's Market to find Blenheims anymore. But it's so worth it.
That's why I found myself in the car last week, girding for a 1.5 hour rush-hour trip from the Valley to Santa Monica. The traffic was so bad, especially at the 101/405 connector, that I jotted down one-third of a new short story while inching along and managed to plot out the entire thing in my head. I always keep a notepad and pencil in the car. I don't think I was being reckless, certainly not any more so than a cell phone user. OK, so maybe that's not a good analogy. But the traffic was just plain stalled.
Why do I drive all the way out to SanMo? It's because Cirone Farms is at the market now, with cases of the best apricots in the city. They come down from See Canyon in San Luis Obispo County. I've given Michael Cirone more than a hundred bucks for 'cots in the last couple of weeks. That buys me three boxes. And he's so honest, God bless him - I handed him a $100 bill last week, thinking it was a $20, and he pointed out my error. So I love him and his mottled fruit too.
When I get home, I have to haul the 'cots in the back way and stash them in the garage fridge so David doesn't see.
"I think you went a little crazy with the apricots," he says the next day. He's right. There are jars of frozen jam filling the freezer, pots of
half-cooked jam in the fridge, boxes of apricots waiting to be 'rendered' and apricot cobblers and crisps for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The kids don't seem to mind.
I tell him he just doesn't understand. Apricots have a very short season. By next month, they'll be gone. Until 2007. You only get a two-month window. That's why I make the jam. So that long after the leaves have fallen from the trees, and winter has settled in, I can reach into the freezer and resurrect a golden bit of summer, spread it on a croissant, on oatmeal. I love homemade apricot jam so much that I put it in my most recent novel, "Prisoner of Memory." There's a whole page in which my heroine, Eve Diamond, reminisces about the summer ritual of making jam with her Russian grandmother.
People have come up to me at signings and asked if that scene was autobiographical. Yup, I tell them. We could tell, they always say. Because we used to make jam too, in our youth. And that's just how it was. We beam at each other across the book-strewn table. We're like a secret Blenheim society. From back when LA was a younger, more down-home place, and people had time to put up preserves.
I'm thinking maybe I'll photocopy those pages from my book and bring them to Cirone's booth this week, show him what his fruit has inspired. I don't know if he reads much, maybe he's too busy overseeing his 70 acres of trees. But just maybe, he'd get a kick out of it.
Let me say at the outset that I have mixed feelings at best about so-called “reality TV.”
I was putting together a nice career as a writer of one-hour television dramas in the late 1980s when, during a brutal five-month Writers Guild strike, the networks and production companies began scrounging for ways to fill air time with writer-proof shows – that is, programming that could be slapped together without the aid of union writers and, for that matter, actors and directors wherever possible. Through the years, this programming has spread across network scheduling charts like kudzu. Besides the fact that the shows tend for the most part to be garbage, their success has taken the wind out of the guilds’ sails and made it harder for writers like me to make a living.
I’ve largely refused to even watch “unscripted” or “reality” shows, terms I have to put in quotes, because as everyone either knows or can figure out easily enough, these programs are plotted, shaped and written like anything else. Not by guild writers, but by people with titles like “segment producer,” working under adverse conditions without benefits.
"Survivor?" I interviewed its creator Mark Burnett for a laudatory piece in Variety once, but I did so without ever having watched a whole episode of the show.
"Cops," the series that Fox put on the air as a direct result of the 1988 strike and that is still running 18 years later?
Never seen it.
"American Idol," Nielsen’s top-rated primetime program for the past two years?
Maybe 10 minutes.
Still, when the WGA asked members to walk a picket line this week to help bring "America’s Next Top Model" under guild control, I wanted to help. The writers of that show work long hours without earning residuals or other benefits, while the startup CW network and the show’s production company, Anisa Productions, reap huge rewards from having a runaway hit on the schedule.
Not only that, but I see the issue of whether or not these courageous writers can unionize a tentpole hit like ANTM as a key test of my guild’s viability. Which means I consider it very important for the sake of future creators of TV content, not to mention my own pension plan.
So yesterday I made the 30-mile trek from Oak Park, where I moved two years ago when putting my kids into good public schools became more important to me than hanging out at industry events. Yeah, I also wanted to escape the 105-degree heat of the Conejo Valley for the relatively balmy Westside where, okay, I admit it, I snuck in nine holes at Penmar before heading to the picket site outside the Anisa offices.
For some reason, the WGA hasn’t pushed for a massive turnout at this week’s action, but the supporters who do show up are treated right. Guild workers hand out t-shirts and caps to picketers, and are manning a catering truck with free Starbucks concoctions and cookies .
I grabbed a picket sign – one of the vintage “Writers Guild Strikes” ones from ’88 – and showed it proudly to the passing traffic near Santa Monica and Sepulveda. There were about two dozen of us – ANTM writers and their supporters – and we marched and schmoozed for an hour and a half before the session was cut short for a planning meeting the show’s writers needed to attend at guild headquarters.
Am I happy about fighting to help “reality” writers whose rise in the industry helped cut my own employment prospects drastically?
Well, yeah, I guess I am.
Because let’s face it, America wants “reality” shows, at least the good ones. Producers and networks that figured that out deserve all the success they can get for creating and airing content that people like.
And so do writers.