Friday, August 9, 2013

My Brushes with Celebrity

Inspired a bit by a Jonah Keri article (within the last mention in this post appears).

While I have never been famous at any point in my life, I am one of those people who seems to have had many brushes with celebrities. Whether it has been through my jobs (working at two film studios helps), or just by living in Santa Monica, where celebrities appear all over the place, I've had my share of unique moments. So, in an off-the-top-of-my-head-somewhat-chronological order, here are some of the highlights:

Mike Kruczek: You never forget your first. Sure, most of you don't know who Mike is, but when you're a child living in the middle of Pittsburgh Steeler country, an event such as the backup quarterback showing up at your mall for a signing merited mandatory attendance. Sure, he only threw for 1185 yards for his career, but he was a Steeler, and I was seven. It mattered.

George "The Animal" Steele: After moving to Los Angeles, every summer I would come back home to Pennsylvania for a month or so. One of the highlights each summer was going to Steeler training camp at St. Vincent College. We would stand by the cafeteria, and when the players would come out from lunch, my brother and I would stand there and get autographs in little 3" x 5" notebooks. While there were a few highlights almost comparable (Jack Lambert fake-growling at us while he gave us autographs), nothing prepared us for the sight of professional wrestlers George "The Animal" Steele and Don "The Magnificent" Muraco. Even at 13, I knew that wrestling was fake, but I was a fan. Steele was known for being a man-child (just look at his picture), grunting with a painted purple tongue, and known for eating the foam out of the turnbuckle. My brother and I, giggling, walked up to Steele, wondering what weird noises would come out of him when asking for an autograph: "May I please have your autograph, Mr. Steele?" He turned around, and in perfect diction, said, "You most certainly have my autograph." Little did we know that his other job was as a teacher, and that he had a master's degree. You never know.

George Carlin: My favorite celebrity sighting. I was working at a yogurt store on Montana Avenue when I was 19, and while other celebrities had come through the door (I swear you were flirting with me, Barbara Hershey), I always made it a rule to never fawn over celebrities - they have every right to live a normal life without being bothered. But around the third time Carlin came into the store, I had to say something, as I grew up listening to his work, I went to his Carlin on Campus HBO special, he was an influence. So, I told him that I was a huge admirer. He walked out to his car, grabbed a couple of cassettes of his latest work, and told me to take a listen, tell me what I thought. I was on cloud nine. Any time he came in and I wasn't there, he'd ask, "Where's the red-headed kid at?" One of the nicest celebrities I've ever met.

Julia Roberts: At the last minute I was invited to my first movie premiere, Hook. While it was made clear that I wasn't famous (I walked down the red carpet, and the sight of all of the paparazzi dropping their cameras as I walked by was incredibly humbling), it still was one of those moments you don't forget, where you feel like you're in the inner circle. While I met several impressive celebrities that night (Steven Spielberg, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Costner, etc.), the one who stood out the most for me was Julia. We were about twenty feet apart, but it was one of the rare moments where I said to myself, "That is a movie star." The picture here doesn't even do justice - in person, you could feel her star power.

Charlize Theron: ...and in a similar situation...taking a temp job at MGM out of college, I started working premieres, the biggest being The Birdcage (where I talked to Robin Williams, very nice) and Goldeneye (where Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer buddied up to me to get better seats). The most memorable moment for me, though, was the premiere for a tiny film called 2 Days in the Valley. We were at Chasen's for the post-party, and most of the guys were looking to see Teri Hatcher, who was the female lead in the film. Charlize had a smaller, but incredibly memorable role (specifically for this), but when I saw her on the dance floor at the premiere, it was clear that she had the "it" factor. I'm surprised I didn't get in trouble for gawking and not doing my job.

Thomas "The Hitman"Hearns: Mandalay Bay casino, in town for the De La Hoya-Vargas fight. This day was memorable for two things: 1) my friend, seeing Lakers owner Jerry Buss with two young, beautiful ladies, yells "YOU ARE A PIMP!", causing the girls to blush and Jerry to raise his glass to him; 2) seeing The Hitman, one of my favorite fighters of all time. As I see him coming toward me, I am torn between telling him, "You are one of my favorite fighters," or, "You are one of the great ones." I shake his hand, and, stumbling through my words, say, "You are one of my favorite ones." Tommy, possibly punch-drunk or not caring, doesn't even hear it, but my brother and friends, they definitely did. "Favorite ones? Favorite ones of what? Black people?" I deserved my punishment.

Claudia Schiffer: Speaking of stumbling...the lovely model had a calendar signing at a bookstore, and I decided to go take a peek with a buddy of mine (but not wait in line for an autograph, no that wouldn't be cool). As I was looking at some books, I see Schiffer walk my way. I start walking toward her, trying to be cool, but as she gets near I trip over my feet and half-stumble in front of her. She giggles. I try to hide behind a bookcase.

Charles Barkley: While in Vegas, at the Bellagio during Super Bowl weekend, I got to see Michael Jordan play blackjack in the high rollers room, but I didn't get to talk to him. I did get to talk to Barkley, who knew my sportswriting buddy who was there with me. Charles gave me the Handsome Black Man Handshake, and was totally cool, far from the reputation he received during his playing career. I've always been a huge Chuck fan since.


Steve Martin: Technically, I've only met him once, in a flower shop, and we didn't talk, but like Carlin, he was a huge influence on me, and when he started on Twitter, I responded to a couple of his comments. He didn't retweet me or respond back, but that's not something huge (sidebar: my favorite Twitter experience was tweeting back and forth with my favorite female singer, Neko Case, while both of us watched Little Big Man). However, a few months later, Mr. Martin's assistant wrote to me, asking if he could use a couple of his tweets in his book. All I'd get is a free, not autographed copy of the book, but to be in the same book as a comedy legend, hell yeah!

Greg Maddux: So, I was at the wedding of my cousin in San Diego, and the best man was Greg Maddux, who played minor league ball with the groom. How was Greg's toast? Just like his pitching: efficient, not flashy, incredibly effective. You know what you're going to get with Greg Maddux.

If you have any amusing anecdotes to share, I'd love to hear them - drop a comment below!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Unfinished Sympathy

I have parts of five scripts done. Two are comedic, three are dramatic. The three dramatic pieces have been separate stories, but they've also been combined into alternate variations, with one turning the three stories into some kind of Robert Altman movie that goes on for three-plus hours and introduces 125 characters.

In case you haven't guessed, the key word above is "parts". Ideas have never been a problem for me. I can toss ideas around with the best of them. One of those random ideas turned into Frank Belmondo, which, let's face it, if you haven't read all of that, you're missing out on something so amazing, it caused more than one of my friends to say, "What?" I think if there is a Funny or Die producer out there that wants to take a shot on a web series about a former child modern dance prodigy with an old man's voice who turned into a has-been actor, I am willing to talk (don't steal, it's already registered). It's the closest thing that I've come to a fully-realized idea, and even that could be longer, tighter, better.

I keep coming close, but every time I get near the home stretch, my need to edit (and re-edit and re-edit), comes out, and I find myself reformatting it. Maybe it was due to rejection from script readers in my youth (oh, I am bitter of them). Maybe I am afraid of what might happen if I get something exactly where I want it to be and it's not enough. Maybe I just have ADD. Maybe I'm just a lazy shit. I'm sure it's a combo of all of the above.

I like to think that I can write. I like to think that I should be writing. Maybe I need to have a Misery moment, but maybe a happy version where someone more attractive than Kathy Bates (no offense) nurses me to (mental) health and turns me into a prolific writer. Hey, maybe that's a sixth story...

Thursday, January 5, 2012

20 Books This Year, #20, "A Fan's Notes", F.E. Exley

I had finished one of my New Year's resolutions a day-and-a-half before the end of the year, reading the F.E. Exley classic A Fan's Notes. I know for some people reading 20 books is a piece of cake - my brother, for example, probably gets through his 20th book around mid-April - but considering my attention span, combined with my interest in sometimes reading "heavy" books, I need to take my victories where I can.

There are people who say that Notes is one of the greatest pieces of American literature ever written, and I am certainly not going to dispute that fact. Following Exley's personal journey through failure, madness, drunkenness and his worship of Frank Gifford during his time on the New York Giants, Exley creates a compelling, dark, twisted world that is exquisitely written. The fact that he was even able to complete this book is stunning, as there could've been several times he could've given up and let himself wither away in a mental hospital (which he was in multiple times). Yet, here this book stands, surveying the wreckage.

I'm not breaking any news that this book is great. Many people have delved into this before, as I am sure what I'm going to say next has been, as well. I look back at some of my favorite writers of my favorite books, and the core behind them all is some sort of madness. Raymond Carver drank himself to death. James Ellroy had a frighteningly bizarre childhood and young adulthood, including the murder of his mother. Exley seemed to relish his insanity/alcoholism. Woolf and Hemingway killed themselves. Hunter S. Thompson lived perilously close to the edge for years until paying for it in the process. Pynchon and Salinger went into hiding for most of their lives. All had moments (some full careers) of genius, and all paid for it in the process.

It brings up the question: to be a truly great writer, does one have to sacrifice a piece of themselves in the process? Can one find greatness without it?


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

bests

Just like any pretentious blogger is apt to do (and, believe me, I've fallen into several of the traps that bloggers fall into), I feel the need to list my favorites for the year 2011. If something magically changes in the next several days, I will make a revision, but let's assume that the best I've read/seen/heard has already made its mark.

MOVIES

The Tree of Life
Midnight in Paris
Drive
Bridesmaids
Moneyball


If anyone knows me, the first two are quite obvious. Terrence Malick and Woody Allen are up there with the Coen Brothers on my short list. That being said, this would be the first Woody movie in years that I would consider to be great, and I'm as shocked as anyone that a movie starring Owen Wilson (not directed by Wes Anderson) would be near the top. For Tree of Life, there are just so many spellbinding visuals (not even bringing up the dinosaur sequence), and such powerfully-restrained performances, it brought me back to my childhood in small-town Pennsylvania. I didn't think Drive would make my top five, but the movie stuck with me. Bridesmaids was the funniest movie I saw this year, and, Moneyball - well, I'm a fantasy baseball nerd and it held up to my hopes (one exception - Philip Seymour Hoffman turning 6'3" Texan Art Howe into a bit of a schlemiel). The one movie I wanted to see that would probably be on my list is The Interrupters, but it had a very limited release in Los Angeles and I missed it. Just from the trailer, I know I'd eat that documentary up.

TV

Friday Night Lights
Justified
Parks and Recreation
Louie


The series finale of FNL brought the show to a perfect ending, although I'd be happy if they do follow through with a movie. Don't see it really happening, though. If not, I'll just settle with the fact that Eric and Tami Taylor might just be the best married couple in modern dramatic television.

Three scenes can make it all clear regarding the next three: the "Apple Pie" scene with Margo Martindale and Timothy Olyphant that ended season two of Justified; the drunken reactions of the Pawnee Parks and Recreation Department after drinking Snake Juice; when Louie opens up and tells Pamela how much he loves her, yet understands that it will never be.

MUSIC

The Whole Love - Wilco
w h o k i l l - tUnE-YarDs
David Comes to Life - Fucked Up

The Wilco one was a no-brainer for me and an incredibly biased choice, but it is their most fully-realized album they've done since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, so it has that going for it, which is nice. tUnE-YarDs became my treadmill album, which sounds like a back-handed compliment, but it's meant in the best way possible. In short, it grooved. The Fucked Up album is a little more difficult. Yes, the lead singer sounds like he gargles Hydrochloric Acid. Yes, it's loud as hell. But it's as ambitious and, in many ways, compelling as anything out there. It's more of a vote for being memorable than enjoyable, if that makes any sense.

BOOKS

Just Kids, Patti Smith
Popular Crime, Bill James
The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach

The Patti Smith book put me in its time and place more than any other book I read this year. Bill James' book was a strange, curmudgeonly experience, but altogether fascinating. Harbach had fully-realized characters mixed with a John Irving eloquence.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Frosted Pumpkin Pie Pop Tarts

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is pumpkin pie and its many variations. Whether it's the pie itself, or Cheesecake Factory's pumpkin cheesecake, or pumpkin ice cream, I'm all over it. So it was a moment of great excitement for me when Pop Tarts came out with a Limited Edition Frosted Pumpkin Pie version of their breakfast treat. To me, this was going to be the greatest piece of foodstuff ever invented, or the most vile concoction ever set forth on the universe. I didn't think there was going to be a middle ground.

I know your first reaction - Pop Tarts are nasty. I have to disagree. While they're not something I could eat everyday, a Frosted Cherry P-T, brought to the right temperature (just barely browned), is a quality sugar rush. While some of the flavors obviously should not be even tried (Hot Fudge Sundae), I was ready to dive in fully for the pumpkin pie flavor. In fact, I felt that it was my duty.

So, after all is said and done, are the Pumpkin Pie P-Ts a masterpiece or a disaster? Actually, neither. They're surprisingly sedate. I guess because the possibility of pumpkin pie filling overwhelming the whole thing was quite possible, they kept it minimal. Probably too minimal. The frosting wasn't too much, either.  It was...pleasant, but not thrilling. I am disappointed only in the sense that I was expecting an A-plus or an F. Instead, I got a solid B. It ain't Frosted Cherry, that's for sure.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bands I Want To See At Coachella 2012

I didn't make it to Coachella last year, so I'm sure that I'll have the itch to go this time around. That all depends, as usual, on the lineup.

Not that the people who organize the event care whether or not I go this time, but to make the odds better that I show up, here are some of the bands I'd like to see at the event, broken up into bands likely /possibly showing up to the event, and ones who would take some finagling, or perhaps a miracle, to attend.

LIKELY/POSSIBLE


PULP


Pulp got back together last year to play some of the festival shows in the UK this year, and it would make perfect sense for them to attend. Lead singer Jarvis Cocker has played the event in a solo capacity, so I feel like they would be on the list.


ST. VINCENT


This year, when Annie Clark was in town, her concert was on the same night I was going to another show (Wild Flag, I think). She's been on the list for me to see for a while, so she'd be a great second-stage, late-afternoon artist.


FUCKED UP


Honestly, I just want to see the first ten rows having no idea how to react. On the other hand, my fear is that the first ten rows will know exactly how to act, so I'll stand over on the side a bit, thank you. Check out some of their live videos if you want to see some spent energy. I'll stick with the artsy concept video for the link.



LOS CAMPESINOS!


I saw them a few years ago, and they were so good that I skipped The Hold Steady, who are traditionally known as a superb live band. I'd just like to see them graduate to a bigger stage. Here's a video of them all getting killed by twee.


IT WOULD TAKE A MIRACLE


TALKING HEADS


I know they don't seem to get along, but the Pixies didn't, either, and they pulled that off (and they're still cashing in...er...I mean, playing together...years later). Come on, David. One more time.


THE REPLACEMENTS


Rumor has it that this was a possibility until Paul Westerberg had an accident with a screwdriver, needing surgery. Any chance he's better now? Both Talking Heads and The Replacements fit into the category of Bands I Missed Seeing Live. Let me make it up in one weekend (and, yes, I know it won't be the same without Bob).


There are several other bands I could put on the overall list: eels, a Grandaddy reunion, Dum Dum Girls...I could always see Wilco or Radiohead. Since Sigur Ros isn't quite broken up, yet, they'd be nice to see. Who would you add to this list?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A General Reminder

Just reminding people that Albert Finney is a badass. That is all.