3/30/14

I'd Hate To Have To Paint It.

I once made a living as a mime.

This was a long time ago. "Twenty years and twenty pounds" I tell people, but I haven’t had a job since that’s been as challenging, memorable and fun.

Seaworld of San Diego has this ongoing Seal & Otter show that’s been around in one form or another since the sixties. The show changes story and format every few years, but I'm not going to talk about the show today. Instead, I’m going to tell you about Michael and John. Those are two guys who met each other one day long ago, but I'm the only one who finds it ironic.

Until now, because you will too when I’m done.

Michael was a former Ringling Bros circus clown who’d been hired as a mime but then promoted to show producer. He was a funny guy, and by that I mean he was hysterical. He still took the stage once in a while to fill-in when someone wanted a day off and when he did, he'd hand the audience their balls on a platter.

One day I only had a few people show up. The stadium held 1200, so when you only have 12 people sitting there watching you perform that’s one percent, and that’s enough to be a downer. I went out and did some of my funnier bits for them but it basically sucked and they applauded politely as if to say, “HAHA, very nice, now get the hell out of the way and bring on the dancing otters.”

I left the show feeling kind of drained and ran right into Michael behind the scenes. He was carrying his clipboard while wearing a tie and showing appropriate concern that I seemed blue, and not the bouncy, happy mime I was supposed to be. He asked how the show went and when I told him about the 12 people he told me about an audience he had only a week earlier when filling in for someone else.

He said it was cold and drizzling rain, and he knew it’d be slow, so he hoped nobody would show up and he’d not have to do a show. But there they were, two teenaged boys and a girl who climbed to the very last row at the top of the 1200 seat stadium, sitting in the drizzle and waiting to be entertained.

So he entertained them.

He pretended to be a mountain climber when he first came out, swinging an invisible pick and pulling on an imaginary rope to make his way up to them. That ate up the first five minutes of his routine so once he got up there he stood on the empty bench in front and offered up a silent yet panic-stricken prayer to his muse for ten minutes of inspiration. It came.

He said he didn’t know how it came or from where, but dammit.. he was funny! Those kids laughed and clapped and had a great time, as Michael stood on that bench and did silly shit that he couldn’t recall when telling me about all of this a few days later.

His point was that if I’d just trust my muse to let inspiration flow through me, I’d be able to do it for one, one hundred, one thousand or a million people.. just let it be. Obviously, I’ve always remembered the story because it had an impact on me. This happened in 1988.

Fast forward to 1998. Dorian and I lived in Ashland Oregon. I was doing sound design for a local theater group and a young guy named John was doing lighting. After we’d finished our show set-up one evening, he came over to our place and we sat around drinking beer and swapping stories.

Turned out he was from California. Turned out he visited SeaWorld once with some friends.

Turned out it was while on spring break in 1988.

I’d told John I used to perform at the Seal & Otter Show as a mime, so he was telling me about the mime he saw. He said it was a drizzling Monday and the place was empty. After he and his two friends made their way to the top of the stadium the mime came out and did some kind of mountain climber bit to get up to them, followed by ten minutes of delightful comedy on the bench directly in front.

John, his buddy and his buddy’s girlfriend all thought it was hysterical.

After he told me this I asked, “Did you guys see the mime in another part of the park later and go up to thank him for doing a whole routine just for you?” Yes, they did. Michael had told me about that part too; how the three kids came up to him later and said they really appreciated him doing the entire bit just for them.

I told John about Michael and his inspirational story ten years earlier. Here we were, a decade later and 500 miles further North, sitting in stunned silence for a few minutes until Dorian finally laughed and suggested that perhaps now would be a good time to go buy a lottery ticket. I did, but I didn’t win.

Steven Wright once said, “It’s a small world, but I’d hate to have to paint it.”

Me too.



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3/27/14

The day I almost killed Gwyneth Paltrow

The LIFE IN HOLLYWOOD Series

Photo by Andrea Raffin

Back in the days when I worked as a dispatcher at the Hollywood & Highland complex in Hollywood, I was one of several guys who sat in the camera surveillance room all day to watch people on video monitors.

When someone would do something bad, like shoot someone else or steal a pen, I’d call the police or send a security officer to deal with it, depending on the severity of the crime.

While on a break one day, I walked by the boss’ office and he called me in. His name was Jim Chaffee, and he’s still one of the best bosses I’ve ever had. His shock of red hair set over a freckled face was a bit impish, in a Howdy Doody sort of way. I’m pretty sure Jim would shoot me if he knew I called him Howdy Doody on this blog, so I hope he doesn’t read this. He got that a lot.

But I had great respect for him, mainly because when he introduced himself to us while the security team was first being assembled, he confessed that he used to be the head of Disney security but had to step down because of a nervous breakdown. I don’t mean Disneyland, or Disney World, or Disney Studios; I mean he was the head of security for the entire Disney corporation, and Mickey Mouse drove him insane.

So here he was, candidly telling us about it, explaining why he was once head of security for a huge corporation like Disney but was now the head of security for what is basically a glorified mall, and I liked him instantly.

He liked me too, I think, because he always gave me cool gigs. We did a lot of overtime, working at private parties and events that were held on the property, and I was often asked to show up in the evening so I could stand around in a suit and look like a secret service agent while celebs walked the red carpet and schmoozed at the parties.

You always see those guys in the background when event photos are snapped for People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, US, etc.. and I was in all of those at one time or another.

After calling me into his office on this particular day, Jim asked if I’d like a special assignment on Wednesday, which was two days away. I said maybe. He said it was driving Gwyneth Paltrow around and doing whatever she asked. I said “Hell yeah!”

He didn’t give me any specifics because he didn’t have any, beyond the fact that some production company was taping a TV show, Gwyneth was a guest, and I’d be her on-camera escort. Jim had asked me to do this on Monday, so Tuesday took about a week to go by. On Wednesday morning, I arrived on time at the appointed place and, sure enough, there was Gwyneth, getting her picture taken.

I’d arrived in uniform and an observant assistant figured out that I was probably the security guy who’d been assigned to her so he approached me, asking, “Are you the security guy assigned to her?” He pointed at Gwyneth.

“Yes I am,” I said, and then I pointed at Gwyneth.

“Good,” he said, “Go down into the fifth level of the parking garage and get one of your security carts. When we finish this segment, we’ll all be down there to meet you.”

He actually pointed at the elevator door, like I didn’t know where it was, just like he’d pointed at Gwyneth Paltrow as if I didn’t know who SHE was. Real high opinion of security people, this guy.

I got one of our carts and fired it up, which sounds more impressive than it really is since it was an electric golf cart. About ten minutes later, the elevator doors whooshed open and the whole crew came in – including Gwyneth and a particular British actor who I didn't know would be a part of this whole thing, Alan Cumming.

The director of the TV show came over to me and asked, “Are you the guy who’ll be taking Gwyneth and Alan around the parking garage?”

Well, I didn’t know until that moment that it’d be Gwyneth and Alan, and I didn’t know we’d be staying in the parking garage but, yeah, I was the guy.

The director took all of three seconds to give me my directions. “Just take them around like they can’t find their car. They’ll tell you where to go. Got it?”


Gwyneth jumped in beside me and extended her hand. “Hi, I’m Gwyneth,” she said. I think it’s cool when celebrities do that when they know perfectly well that you know who they are. It’s courteous and, trust me, not all of them are like that. Martin Sheen is just about the nicest guy in Hollywood. He does it, and then he pays your utility bills for you – as long as you’re not a Republican.

Alan jumped on the back of the cart while the director got onto another cart with a driver and cameraman, then away we went, off to look for Gwyneth and Alan’s allegedly lost vehicle.

The director’s cart paced alongside ours while the camera stayed on us as we zoomed through the parking garage, up and down levels, left and right, cutting through rows of vehicles while the two of them shouted at me, “This way! Now here! Turn LEFT! Turn RIGHT!” It was thoroughly zany.


At one point, I must have gotten too excited or something, because I took a ramp a little too fast and put the cart up on the two right wheels – which almost pitched Gwyneth out onto her butt. Alan and I grabbed her and pulled her back in, with the camera rolling all the while. That is where I almost killed her. It wasn’t much, really, but it makes for a good post headline, does it not?

Shortly thereafter, I had to stop for a car backing out of a stall so Gwyneth looked over at the lady driving and said, “We’ve lost our car, we’re so retarded!” I could tell that the lady recognized her, but it was unclear as to whether or not she approved of the use of such a non-politically-correct phrase being uttered by one of America’s sweethearts.


We eventually found the car and, of course, it was a black Range Rover. I had a suspicion that they knew the location of it all along. We said our goodbyes and, as they got into it and drove away, Gwyneth turned and blew me a kiss.

While on a break the next day, and passing by Jim’s office, he called me in (he did that a lot) and asked what the Gwyneth Paltrow gig was all about. I told him everything except for the part about almost killing her, because he liked me and I wanted to keep it that way.

He asked if I’d found out what they were taping. I hadn’t, so he gave me the number of the production company – which I called – and a nice man on the phone explained that it was for a talk show that Alan Cumming would be hosting on the Oxygen channel and that Gwyneth was his first guest in the pilot episode.

UPDATE: For years I thought this had never aired. We looked for it on The Oxygen Channel without success and never found anything online. That is until one morning in August of 2012 – TEN YEARS LATER – when Dorian was looking at Alan Cumming’s blog and found it in a listing of projects Alan has worked on. It’s fairly awesome to see this a decade later, having never seen it at all. I come in at 6:47..



Note: Of course, the segment where I drove them around in the cart is edited down for time, and they took out the part where Gwyneth shouts “we're so retarded!” for the obvious reason. Another interesting thing is that, at about two minutes in, she actually complains about winning an Oscar.

The Life In Hollywood Series continues with:
Me and Joss (on meeting Joss Whedon and not realizing it)



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3/26/14

Don’t be a FLY! ..or a Walleyed PIKE!

I once worked at a hotel with a poolside bar where I noticed all of these little plastic bags half-full of water hanging overhead. They were all around the perimeter and spaced about two feet apart.

“What in the heck are THOSE for?” I asked the bartender.

“Oh, they keep the flies away,” he said.

“How do they do THAT?”

“The flies see with hundreds of little lenses in their eyes as they fly around,” he explained. “The optics of the light that passes through the water in the plastic bags somehow throws off their perception and confuses them.”

It must be effective because I never did see a fly at the poolside bar, but I always thought it was because the prices were too high for little critters who basically eat shit all day long.

“Stupid flies! Don’t you know it’s just a trick? It’s not in your way and it’s not going to hurt you and you can’t drown in it because it’s sealed up in plastic bags! It’s just a con! You’re being SCAMMED!”

I would have said this to the flies directly but the plastic water bags are so effective there weren’t any out there. I’m sure that if I tracked some flies down in an area sans plastic bags half full of water, they probably wouldn’t know what I was talking about, so they’d just land on me and vomit.

This reminded me of a study I heard about years ago, where they (presumably fish scientists) put this walleyed pike (that’s a fish) into a tank that had a glass wall dividing it in half. They put another little fish, a minnow, which is what walleyed pikes like to eat, into the other half and, as the walleyed pike would go after the little minnow, it’d smack into the glass wall with a big cartoon “BOINNNNGGGG!” and suffer aggravating humiliation as the cruel fish scientists would point, laugh, and make fun of the poor walleyed pike.

This went on for some time, like, days or weeks or months or something, until finally the poor, humiliated walleyed pike had had enough of being treated so disdainfully just because it was hungry and all it wanted was dinner, so it gave up.

It stopped going after the little minnow, much to the little minnow’s relief, I’m sure. So, do you know what happened next?

I’m sure you do, being the smart, sassy, savvy, intelligent readers that you are!

The fish scientists removed the glass and the walleyed pike swam around the little minnow without bothering it. It did this continually until it eventually died of starvation.

“Stupid Walleyed PIKE! Don’t you see that they took the glass OUT! You could eat the little minnow after the glass was GONE! It was all a TRICK! You were SCAMMED!”

I don’t think this would really be any kind of decent story at all if I didn’t attempt to use our friend the fly and our friend the walleyed pike as examples of how we can be blinded to opportunity and finding success that’s right in front of us because of something that’s holding us back.

It’s probably something that we can’t see because it’s made of glass, and they (presumably God or the Devil or someone) took the glass out long ago, but we are so used to the glass being there that we’d rather starve to death than eat our little minnow because we don’t want to endure humiliation again.

OR.. we have these HUGE bags half full of water hanging all around us, and even though it’s just WATER, and it won’t HURT us, and it just HANGS there, we avoid it because it’s confusing and scary.

I say fly right in there, and LAND on the plate of half-eaten nachos! INDULGE YOURSELF! You only live for, like, two days! And EAT THE LITTLE minnow, despite what’s happened in the past and how many headaches you have from bumping into that damned glass! JUST DO IT ALREADY, because, guess what?

THE GLASS IS GONE!

Life’s little lessons are all around us, my friends.. in fish, in insects, and in nature itself.. and you don’t have to work for a hotel with an outdoor poolbar or become a fish scientist to observe, learn, and apply.

“Carpe Diem Carp,” friends.. Seize the daily fish.



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3/20/14

TARGETing the SNACK-BAR

There’s a brand-new TARGET store here in San Francisco!

YAY!

So I went shopping with Dorian and spent the better part of the evening in there while she grabbed a cart and zipped away.

I didn’t sit down immediately though.

As usual I headed for the electronics department to peruse music, DVDs, and crap like that while she headed for the clothes. I engaged in electronic crap perusal for a good fifteen minutes or more before finally heading to the snack bar. Only an hour and a half left!

She was still in the clothing section looking for basement bargain deals when I got there. I know this because we have cell phones and I called to let her know where I was, just in case she impulsively decided to grab the first thing she sees and then (HAHA!) check out.

But she won’t do that because we need things, and somebody in this family has to invest some time into finding them and then carefully scrutinizing one brand of product against another in a side by side comparative analysis to determine what’s going to be the best deal, before returning to the shampoo section just before checking out because we’d forgotten the conditioner.

Yes, I said we, because apparently I can forget all kinds of things as I sit there snacking on muffins, pizza, eggrolls, cookies, orange juice, and coffee while judging the morbidly obese Americans who walk by for their lack of self-control.

I must give her props, or kudos, or whatever one must give one’s wife though, when she works so hard to get the best deals AND makes sure we have what we need AND she reads this blog. Yes, I would certainly not be the best candidate if our two cats held an election to decide which of us was going to go to Target for kitty litter and cat treats.

If elected, I would grab the first bag of kitty litter I see and, upon zipping home so that I could go online and fire-up YouTube (that wombat is actually playing that piano!), it’d be discovered that it’s made of radioactive waste material with chunks of broken beer bottles mixed in.

The cats certainly wouldn’t go near it.

On the other hand, if she was elected to go get the kitty litter, she’d spend at least a half-hour determining which size to buy after first calculating the matrix of sand balance to clay integrity along with the rate of absorption factor. Eventually she’d settle on the imported cedar chips with alabaster sand that had just arrived from Morocco at only $22.00 for a half pound bag.

The cats won’t go near that either.

After I’d been in the snack bar for a while my cell phone rang and it was her, calling to tell me that she had everything we needed. So I tossed away my empty coffee cup, orange juice carton, two pizza plates, eggroll wrapper, cookie envelope and one blueberry muffin cup and waddled to the check-out stand to meet her.

The 17-year-old cashier, who really enjoyed following the rules, informed us that she couldn’t sell us the box of Merlot that Dorian had carefully picked out because she was only 17-years-old and you have to be 18 to sell alcohol to people.

I told her that we’d never really thought of wine in a box as alcohol but, being the good girl she is, she stuck to the rules. We had to wait for the old man to come and ring us up and he walks really slow, so by the time he got there the girl was 18 but he rang us up anyway to make it worth his trip.

We eventually arrived home and got the new Moroccan kitty litter poured into the pan so that the cats could sniff it before going off to pee on our bath towels.

Good thing she had shopped carefully and bought the right kind of cat pee stain remover.



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