31 July 2007

what a revolting development

One of the glories of being me (and trust me, the list of said glories is as long as it is strange) is the ability to dismiss pretty much any setback as trivial and irrelevant. In some ways I'm like a Weeble toy (OK, more than a few ways) in that I can get bumped and knocked around and still I'll wobble and right myself and maintain the same stupid expression. (I am, by the way, also safe for ages 3 and up, and I am dishwasher safe).

Part of this ability is likely due to flawed wiring between the ears: some people look at failure as a sign of failure, while I often look at it as an inspiration for amusing comment. So few succeed in life, after all, while most fail, so why not find a way to get some use out of the more common stuff of humiliating defeat than to hang your hopes on a harvest of success which likely will never come anyway?

I don't mind falling face down, as I'm experienced and accustomed.

What utterly confuses me is success. Knowing as I do the position and motion of every molecule in the Universe gives me the secure understanding that we are all doomed to lonely ignominious soul-crushing defeat and despair, yet sometimes the Universe will play truly dirty pool and throw the foulest jape of all: success.

Like today. I sort through the mail, toss out the 3 pounds of assorted useless crap, and at the bottom of the stack I find that thin one-page note from the Nicholl Fellowship folks, surely that same "thank you for playing *DING!* next?" note Greg Beal sends out to 95% of us suckers, er, I mean entrants into the Nicholl lottery.
"Dear Mr. Nicholson,

Congratulations! You have advanced into the Quarterfinal Round of the 2007 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. In doing so, yours is one of only 254 entries to survive the First Round."

Well there's a new kick in the old wedding tackle.

How the hell is a card-carrying Gold Circle Member of the Piss and Moan Club supposed to handle such an announcement?

For now I'll likely stay the course and just carry on: "scratch butt, look vaguely annoyed, find something pointless to waste time upon."

But I gotta tell ya: these be strange waters we now sail.
"hope" is a four-letter word B

29 July 2007

california squirmin' -- the early bit of the tale

It's odd to contemplate, but for a guy who genuinely feels a million miles removed from Hollywood, I seem to be reporting from there more and more frequently.


As we did last summer, my oldest son and I spent a week in California for Boy Scout summer camp. Last year was at Camp Whitsett in the Kern River Valley of the Sierras (gorgeous), and while there, most all the other CA troops remarked "oh, then next year you've got to go to Camp Emerald bay, right? Right?"

"Uhh... right. Sure."

Camp Emerald Bay, as it turned out, is a camp on Catalina Island, a camp for which there is a long and imposing waiting list.

Unless you have attended another Western Los Angeles Council camp the year before.

Such as Camp Whitsett.

So our little Boy Scout troop again loaded up and headed west. Some 52 scouts and leaders in full geek dress left home in far west-side Houston at 4:30 am, met at IAH at 6 am, then loaded onto a Continental 757 and headed into LAX on 15 July, where we hopped on a charter bus, slid south down the Harbor Freeway and loaded onto a huge hydrofoil ferry to Emerald Bay along with some 500 other scouts and leaders.

Catalina was a truly bizarre yet beautiful place. The approach was almost exactly like the arrival to Skull Island: a dark sea draped in mist, and then a looming rocky coast materializes out of the gloom, and suddenly you see an island, with primitive structures and strange sounds.

Our troop's assigned campsite was 25 surplus cabin tents set under a grove of towering (and condemned) eucalyptus trees in a dusty ravine immediately behind the camp's main compound. For a week we slept on creaky failing military cots and dusty thin mattresses, with just a fluttering flap of musty canvas to protect us from the elements (quiet still clear nights in the low-60s—damned near Arctic conditions to us Texans used to 80 degrees and hordes of mosquitos).

We swam (damn but that water is cold!) and hiked and ate uniformly bad food (hey—it's a Boy Scout camp. You were expecting haute cuisine?) and snorkeled (seriously—this water is fucking cold!) and hiked some more and snorkeled some more (Christ Almighty—I can't feel my testicles! Seriously!) and had a truly wonderful week of camp. We canoed 7 mils around the island in huge war canoes, landed on a rugged rocky coast in something far too much like the landing in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, slept on the sand under the stars, canoed back the next morning as the sun peeked over the horizon, mountain biked over hills and around seaside cliffs overlooking bays filled with gorgeous sailing ships... a great time.

Meanwhile, the camp also had four free email terminals, meaning I had at least some sporadic communication with an entirely different world waiting almost over the horizon. In the evenings, I could climb the small rise behind our camp and look northeast to see the long low line of orange lights which glowed in Los Angeles....


The final day of camp was insane. We rose at 6 am to get all scouts packed and loaded for the return ferry trip. Due to our tight air travel demands, our troops bags had to be handled differently than the rest of the camp's. so I and another leader from our troop had to be on an advance party to the ferry by 10 am, where we were the end of the loading snake: I had the dubious honor of handling every single fucking dufflebag and backpack loaded onto the ferry that day, stacking them in a teetering reeking dusty wall of unwashed glory. Toward the end of the process, I was on my belly atop the 7 foot tall stack, dragging bags into the last little bit of space between the stack at the ceiling, working myself into a nasty sweat which totally soaked my canvas scoutleader uniform and then caked it with dust and sweat-salt.

We arrived at San Pedro, were marched off the ferry first—"would love to hang around and off-load, but we got a plane to catch, snookums..."—marched onto our waiting charter bus, hauled ass 20 minutes north to LAX, dumped off onto the sidewalk, and I then ensured that every last one of the campers was checked in and through security, and then, in a repeat of last year's camp experience, I waved "so long, suckers!" and split off from the group to morph from Scoutleader Man into Screenwriter Man. As I smiled and waved to the last adult to disappear through the security checkpoint, I sighed and then sprinted into the nearest restroom to swap costumes.

[For those curious about such things: yes, you do get some curious and not entirely welcome stares if you enter an airport restroom in full-on Scoutleader dress and start stripping off your clothes like a man on fire. I claimed one corner of the restroom as my change area, and proceeded to take a sink-bath in my gym shorts in an LAX men's room. In ten minutes I came out wearing tattered cargo shorts, flip flops, and a t-shirt reading "i'm really excited to be here."]

Hopped the shuttle to the Enterprise rental counter. Picked up my pre-reserved Chevy Cobalt suckwagon. Turned onto the 405, cranked KROQ to catch the final three or four orgasmic minutes of "Three Days" by Jane's Addiction (and warmed at the welcome irony) then cracked a window and sucked in another heady snootful of that glorious LA air tinged by eucalyptus, jacaranda, and monoxide.

A twisted grin danced around my face. "I'm BAAAAAAA-AAAACK...!"

PART 3 — DAY 1

Believe it or not, my fellow Scout leaders look at me with some concern and confusion.

No, it's true.

In the west-Houston area where I normally operate, the world is nipple-deep in engineers and financial analysts and various other decent educated and wholly dependable such folk. What we ain't got is screenwriters. In fact, when word got out to the rest of the leaders that I am, in fact, an actual serious screenwriter, the guys would stroll past my tent slowly and peek in at me with an odd curiosity: "wow... so that's what one looks like? That's wild...

They were all very interested and supportive and encouraging (in their way), but there is still an odd sort of distance. if I were an exchange student from Helsinki or Tonga I think I'd get some similar treatment. On teh one hand they recognize that I am humanoid and familiar, yet on the other they suddenly are left sorting though a long list of questions they are burning to ask yet somehow just a little to unsure to actually pose. ("So is it true that all screenwriters are godless Commie man-lovers?").

Among my "normal" peers, I am The Odd One 'cuz my prayers are directed not toward Texaco or Exxon or BP, but towards Hollywood.

Yet here's the fun part: among my Hollywood peers, I am... (wait for it...) The Odd One due to the fact that I live in some faraway foreign land called "not Hollywood" yet seem absolutely serious about this screenwriting career. If I were a blue whale who lived in a wheat field outside Omaha I doubt I could seem much more odd and unfathomable to these people.

So when I start working the cellphone to alert The Usual Suspects that the giant enormous B again plods in their midst, there is always a strange slightly surprised and unsure tone in the back of the conversation. Perhaps that curiosity is part of what little charm I can claim to have over those jaded seen-it-all bastards who dwell in the City of the Angels: I'm always just alien and strange enough to rate some tiny splash of attention and notice.

So I wasn't entirely surprised that dinner plans were quickly set up to meet a bunch of LA pals that night down in West Hollywood. It wound up being a group which looks much more impressive in hyperlink form: "bucket of love" Brett, big bad Bill "sex in a submarine" Martell, longtime pal Susan "blah blah blogging along" Bays, impending book star Deb "everybody I shot is dead" Chesher, and even the sixty-dollar story notes man his own self, Scott the Reader.

I was crashing at Deb's place for a few days (though now a longtime Angeleno, she's Canadian by birth and therefore cursed with a nasty streak of niceness and generosity. Trust me: she's making great strides in overcoming this flaw.), so we swung by one of Martell's secret roosts, picked up The Big Man (and His Big Bag) and blasted down into Hollywood to hook up with the others at Lucy's El Adobe, a cool legendary Hollywood Mexican dive which seems to have become my home away from home. I think I've been to Lucy's at least as often as LAX now, as all my LA pals insist on "introducing" me to this cool old school dive they just know I will love.

We whine and dine on the patio and have a grand old time of it, talking about the writing biz and breaking in and horror stories we've heard and observed and endured, and then giggle at the bizarre and ill-advised actions and strategies. I badly want a t-shirt which reads "schadenfreude rocks". Beers and 'ritas and stories flow merrily 'til we look up and realize the restaurant is largely empty save for the waitstaff sitting around, yawning and glancing at their watches, so we settle our tab, say what various goodbyes we need to, and then wander our separate ways.

My day had begun in a tent in a dusty island campsite on a Pacific island, and was ending with me grinning at the faintest hint of beer buzz beneath the humming neon and the midnight moon in a Hollywood parking lot.

It was a very good day.
navel of the universe B

25 July 2007

back on the chain gang

The weird ten day ride through SoCal is now complete, with only a few mild bumps and rattles along the way.

Overall, an excellent trip, but more on that later.

For now, tons of emails to send...
somewhere under the "S" in Texas B

15 July 2007

gone again... skip to my lou...

Off again on another wild-assed adventure.

This one skates past LA, spends a week on a Pacific island, then ends up back in Hollywood.

Game on.

12 July 2007

havin' us some fun tonight

So right before we went on vacation to the Caymans, I lost my cellphone. As best I can determine, I either left it on the counter of a local supermarket or left it on the roof of the car while fumbling for keys. Repeated calls turned up nothing, and we could never find the damned phone. I called the wireless company and they confirmed no activity, so we deactivated the account until I could get a replacement phone up and running.

I tracked down a used near-duplicate phone I could get going for right around 50 bucks, so that was painless enough, but what has not been painless has been teh reconstruction of my address book and contact list. Saved in thye memory of that now-lost-forever phone were something like 100 numbers, with more than half of them direct lines to various LA producers and agents and other such Folks An Aspiring Writer Might Like To Know.

Most of the numbers I can reprogram in from saved emails and chatlogs, but there are some which will be difficult to replace unless the reclusive personalities inquestion re-volunteer the info.

Mainly it's just a huge pain in the ass, as it means manually rekeying a hundred names and numbers using the tiny keypad of a cellphone and the clunky multi-key coding used to input alpha text info into such devices, and of course as soon as I think I've entered all of the truly critical names and numbers I remember someone else I need to speak to, and I have to go digging through the computer to track down that info one more time.

Adding more urgency to the task is a impending trip to LA (Catalina Island) for Boy Scout summer camp, which might then include a few days of networking and buttkissery 'round Hollywood proper. Half of my LA names and numbers are still waiting to be re-entered, and I leave for SoCal pre-dawn Sunday and have at l;east four days of work to get done in the remaining two days.


04 July 2007

a tiny dab of metablogging

Why do some bloggers moderate the comments left by readers?
Surely there's a good reason, as I see too many intelligent people doing this, but for the life of me I can't really see what point there is. if some raving wingnut decides to try and post a comment, does moderating really spare you any work? It seems to me that it creates work in that you now have to consider and deal with every message and comment rather than the one or three curiously moronic ones which might normally appear in a year's time.

The other odd effect it creates is (IMO) a sense of hand-wringing paranoia, as if the blogger just can;t handle the idea that someone might (gasp!) say something unflattering or off-topic and requires a sort of vetting process to protect the gentle eyes and sensibilities of their readers. I've deleted maybe 4 or 5 comments from my blog in three years. I very much doubt that anyone reading here even could be stunned by something so mundane as words on a screen, so my decision to edit (or delete) is usually based upon the question of "is this spam or not?"

I dunno. Maybe my abject lack of popularity and relevance here safeguards me from teh sort of abuse and spam which pushes others to use comment moderation, but for now... it just seems weird.


Does anyone even use sidebar links?
I'm linked to maybe two dozen other blogsites, but increasingly I wonder if the links I provide aren't about as useful and well-received ast the click-through ads on a search engine page. Yeah, yeah, people see them—sorta—but does anyone actually use those links? I find I use them a lot—I end up treating my blog page as a sort of home page from which to get to the blogs I want to check on—but I find I seldom use other people's sidebar links, and I can find little evidence to support the notion that anyone else is using mine.


Discussion of politics bores me
Yeah, yeah... freedom of speech and all that. "weeeeeee." I'm thrilled that there are people out there who feel motivated to talk about their favorite candidates or political positions, but I hate that I have to wade through that ceaseless stream of warm air just to possibly find some kernel of interest or amusement on some damned fool blog site.

Face it, kids—if you were really that interesting or insightful, you'd likely have a panel-based show upon which to appear, and you'd not need to slum with us land-lubbing locals.

Stick to subjects you understand and are competent to comment upon: recipes, movies, the weather. Leave the political snarking to people who both know what the hell is going on and who have demonstrated some prior ability to snark in an entertaining manner.


"Good comment"seems harder and harder to find these days.
I recall a time when there were loads of witty folks patrolling around eager and ready to leave useful interesting responses, but now I see a lot of folks for whom even a basic sentence seems a major effort.


I dunno. I was never a huge fan of blogging, but if I were tasked to start today, I'm not sure I would.
cranky B

01 July 2007

back in the saddle again

Well, my week in the Caymans is now done.

One week in which I did not see the internet, did not send of receive any emails, made two phone calls and received none, opened no mail, read no news, saw nobody I knew aside from own immediate family... I basically sat on my ass and read, or snorkeled or swam or ate. And just looked at this view and grinned (taken while eating a sandwich on the patio of our condo).

The Caymans remain an odd mix of overlooked Caribbean paradise and (increasingly) hyper-luxurious accommodations for that class of people for whom "price" truly is never an issue. Beachfront condos sell for 2 and 3 million. Bill Gates owns a penthouse in the biggest fanciest place in town. Paul Allen's 150-foot yacht sails into town a few times a year. Half the folks you spot are wearing wristwatches which cost more than an average family sedan.

Seven Mile Beach is being developed at an incredible pace, with new construction going pretty much anywhere they can manage to get a crane onto the site. Hurricane Ivan supposedly devastated the island back in 2004, but you'd never know that unless you drive away from the beachfront area around to the less touristy sides of the island where you see things like cinderblock shells of homes with the roof entirely gone... huge fallen trees tumbled into stands of driftwood facing an impossibly gorgeous line of surf... ramshackle huts made of corrugated tin and plywood where native families play in yards of freshly swept sandy soil.

The Caymans were discovered by Columbus in 1503, and in some parts of the island it looks like nothing has changed since: tangled mangrove swamps, white sand beaches facing sky blue shallows protected by reefs and rocks 300 yards from shore, almond trees hanging out over the water, royal blue waves smashing into hellish ironshore rocks that slice through your sandals like a hot knife. It wasn't until the development of an international banking scene in the early '60s that anyone other than sailors and sea turtles had much any reason to even notice the place.

Now... hardly a day goes by that you don't wake and find three or four monster floating skyscraper cruise ships have pulled into Georgetown Harbor during the overnight, and armies of sunburnt plodding tourists are marching down the beach and down the main drag, plastic shopping bans in hand as they buy shirts and rum and jewelry and lotion and head out for a day laying on what surely has to be one the most perfect beaches in the world.

At our condo, a pair of manmade rock breakwaters extended 100 yards out from the beach, providing cover and habitat for all sorts of sea life. We found that if we paddled 30 yards past that into the open water and then turned right, there was a reef circling all the way down Seven Mile Beach at a distance of 50-200 yards from shore, in water between 6 and 20 feet deep. One day we trekked down to an especially gorgeous spot on Seven Mile—"Governor's beach," next door to the Governor's Residence—and spent the day paddling around a particularly gorgeous coral head where we'd be surrounded by a hundred silver chub and yellow-striped sergeant majors. Three-foot long emerald parrotfish crunched at the reef. A 6 foot stingray glided by at one point, a small shoot of foot-long squid patrolled alongside me for 10 minutes, and a four-foot barracuda glided past just six feet in front of me at one point. I popped to the surface at one point and realized I was alone, in the ocean, in 20 feet of water, a quarter mile from shore. I giggled, and dove back into the water.

Stingray City remains simply one of the coolest experiences on earth. A totally clean and barren sandbar submerged in four feet of crystal clear water in the middle of the central "bite" or bay on Grand Cayman, tour boats anchor and people wade into the swimming pool like waters to find themselves surrounded by 50 or more southern stingrays who are now so familiar and comfortable with humans that they swim up to you and bump into your chest and back, clamoring for handouts, the oceanic equivalent of stray cats or park squirrels. The rays are so unthreatened that they are content to be handled and caressed and even lifted from the water by visitors. I had a large 4 foot ray that seemed to like me, so I lifted her in my arms and kissed her on the point of her snout as she gently flipped her wingtips and stared at me with those odd cat-like eyes common to sharks and rays. There are other places where swimmers can interact with dolphins, and surely that is a wondrous experience and one which I would love to know one day, but there's something just so damned alien about these rays... they look like something from another planet, and as i was sitting there dancing slow circles with this creature, I couldn't help but wonder if she was as fascinated by the weird creatures she was seeing as I was.

Or, hell, maybe she just likes the free handouts of chopped squid. Whatever—it's an amazing experience, and I was thrilled to see all my kids in the water, giggle and getting these bizarre creature and getting one of those memories that sticks with you for the rest of your life.

Another great day involved a 3 hour jaunt around the beach side of the island onboard "The Anne Bonnie" a three master pirate ship crewed by guys in pirate garb who growl and make the kids swab the decks for a few minutes as they hear tales of the real pirates of the Caribbean who were among the first to find any profitable use for the Caymans. We dropped anchor in 40 feet of gin-clear water, they ran out the prank, cued up the music, opened the bar, and we spent 90 minutes diving from the plank (and the upped deck rails) into the Caribbean. As my oldest said, "if you'd told me that at some point I'd be jumping off a pirate ship into the open ocean and not even thinking about it, I'm not sure I would have believed you."

All in all, a pretty damned excellent adventure, made all the more excellent by the daily return to our condo where I was free to crack open a beer from our fridge and think about how excellent it all was as I looked at sunsets like this one (where the Anne Bonnie sails past on a sunset booze crooze loaded with cruise ship visitors...).

Sometimes... life ain't too shabby.