Friday, August 03, 2007

The German Annexation, Life's a Beach, and The Bourne Ultimatum

I barely slept on Monday night due to a tough bout with insomnia. I was tired Tuesday morning and managed to write for a while as I listened to Medeski, Martin & Wood with John Scofield. I had a lunch scheduled with my buddy Ryan, a writer who has been a film reviewer over the last few years. He and his wife Kim just had a baby three months ago. We met up for lunch to catch up... and to see the baby.

Ryan suggested bld on Beverly. It wasn't until a day later that Nicky pointed out to me that the bld stood for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The posh eatery is a spinoff from Grace by their owners Neal and Amy Frase. The first thing that you notice about bld is the abundance of light in the eating space. The large windows provide the diners with a lot of light. Sometimes I'm irked by the lack of lighting in eateries. I always had a theory that skecthy restaurants lowered the light so you couldn't see how bad the food was -- or to save money on electric bills. I hate eating at places where you need a flashlight to read the menu and to see your fellow guests... especially during daylight

Their specialty is a wide selection of freaky cheeses and charcuterie. We skipped that and ordered sandwiches. I got the ball rolling with a fried egg sandwich, which seemed to be a popular dish since Ryan and Kim ordered the same thing as well. It was served with a side order of hash browns with chorizo. Nicky got some sort of pasta concoction that she said was very good. For dessert, I went with a raspberry sorbet. We talked about a lot of things including the two month beast of an assignment in Las Vegas, random movies that Ryan had to review, and random baby things like the sheer amount of spit and saliva a baby unleashes in a given hour.

After a long lunch, we headed back home and completed our search for an apartment to rent in Barcelona. Apartments tend to be cheaper alternatives to hotels in Europe, especially for stays of a week or longer. The hotels closest to the Barcelona Casino were booked solid and the closest hotels with vacancies were about the same distance that the apartments that Nicky had zeroed in on near the Santa Maria del Mar Church. The apartments were much cheaper too. Nicky had spoken to one of the rental agents and locked us in a great rate. We'll have to cab it to the casino everyday, but I dig the part of Barcelona we're staying. It's about a 10-15 minute walk from La Rambla.

We were both given a flat rate to cover travel expenses for two assignments in Barcelona and London, which means we book our own hotels and flights. If we want to stay super cheap, we can pocket the difference. If we want super extravagance, we pay the difference. I think we found a sweet deal with the Barcelona apartment, of course, it could totally suck when we get there. Regardless, after she booked the apartment, Nicky seemed super excited that we were going to be having our own place for a week and a half in Spain.

We headed over to Swinger's for a late dinner. I ate a patty melt and ordered German chocolate cake for dessert. Our waitress was a cute 20-year old actress/part-time waitress. When she asked Nicky is she wanted anything, she said, "No thanks. I'll just annex his cake."

She walked away then whirled around and asked Nicky if she meant to use that pun, "You know, Germany... and annex?"

We pegged her for a ditz. It turns out that she actually had a brain.

* * * * *

I woke up early on Wednesday and wrote for two hours while I listened to the latest Wilco album. I ripped bingers with Showcase before he left to walk dogs. I woke Nicky up so we could go to the beach. We headed over to O'Groats. I ordered the usual French Toast and bacon. Our waitress just brought me the bacon and I waited for ten minutes before she brought over the French Toast. By then, I had finished the bacon and Nicky was half-way through her breakfast. I should have stiffed her or ratted her out to the owner. But I did neither. She's in her 60s and still slinging hash for a living. I cut her some slack.

It was cloudy in Hollyweird when we left to drive up to the beach. By the time we got up the Pacific Coast Highway to Zuma beach, the clouds started to "burn off" as Nicky would say.

The first hour still had partly cloudy skies that gave way to sunshine. I forgot to use sunscreen on my face and got a little burned. During the three plus hours we were on the beach, I read an entire book... a biography about one of my favorite writers.

When we got back home, I had an idea for a short story idea for Truckin'. I sat down and churned out as much as I could before I had to get ready for dinner. Nicky finally finished up booking the last leg of our European trip. Hotels in London are super expensive, which is part of the reason why we went for the cheapest alternatives for Barcelona. Renting an apartment in London was harder than expected (couldn't find anything within our price range and near the casino we'd be working at) and it seemed inevitable that we'd have to book a hotel (for 15 days!) and spend the bulk of our travel budget on London accommodations. I made the command decision to pay a few extra dollars for the convenience of a five minute walk to the casino instead of having to take the tube or a taxi to/from work everyday. Taxis are pricey in London, so even though we'd save a few bucks renting an apartment or hotel on the other side of the city, we'd more than make up a few bucks in money we saved from cab fare and extra time we saved by have a shorter commute. That meant more time for us to sleep.

We met Showcase and his girlfriend Tina for dinner. She just finished working on a film (a bad Nick Cage flick) and had two weeks off before her next job. We all caught up about everyone's summers and talked about random shit at Angeli (also on Beverly). Nicky picked the Italian eatery that had great personal pizzas. I skipped wine and ordered a bottle of Fin Du Monde (a Quebec beer that tasted more like a Belgium beer).

* * * * *

On Thursday morning, I rented an international phone and switched my calling plan on Verizon. I had been wasting money by sticking with a plan that gave me a ton of minutes that I didn't use. I locked in a new plan that would save me $40 a month.

I wrote for a bit and started to answer a slew of email. I'm way backed up and I might have to break my one hour a day email rule in order to read and answer everything that had backed up since the summer began.

We ate breakfast at Nick's Coffeeshop. A couple of undercover cops walked in. I wonder what they were staking out today? Drug Bust? Human Trafficking? Gangs? People committing fashion faux pas like wearing socks with sandals?

We headed to the beach after breakfast. I made Nicky stop off at the bookstore so I could buy a new beach book. I ran in and out in less than five minutes. I bought Chuck Pahlaniuk's collection of short stories called Stranger Than Fiction. The lady at the check-counter was confused and thought that the book was the basis of a film with the same name. It was just a coincidence, I told her. The film and the book had no connections whatsoever.

The weather in Malibu was about the same as the day before... partly cloudy with the sun breaking out around 1pm. Except that it was super windy and a little chilly. We picked a spot and started reading. A group of four Scandi tourists wandered by. Two guys and two girls. They all wore jeans. One guy had a video camera and the other guy had a serious camera with a pretty big lens. The girls snapped photos with their cellphones. The had their jeans rolled up as they stepped into the Pacific Ocean, took a few photos, and then left.

On the weekdays, it's common to see tourists (not dressed for the beach) show up and wander down to the water's edge to snap a few photos or take a walk around. The day before, a group of Middle Eastern looking men were lying on a blanket. They were in pants and longsleeve shirts and stood out from the rest of the beachgoers.

I finished my fourth beach book in less than a week. I also read about 50-60 pages of Augusten Burroughs' Dry before I gave up on it. I re-read one book (Into the Wild) and re-started another (Under the Banner of Heaven). In NYC, I only get a chance to read books on the subway. In LA, I only get to read books on the beach.

That would be the last time I get any beach time on for a while. My plan to fully decompress from Las Vegas worked. In the past it took a month to 6 weeks to get back to a normal mental head space and finally get some rest. All the time on the beach worked. In about two weeks time, I was almost back to pre-WSOP standards. I'm still about a week or so behind in actual catch up work and have a ton of shit to prep for my upcoming trip... but overall, I'm much better than the previous two summers.

After the beach, I did some research on Amsterdam apartments and did my laundry. We left to drive to Santa Monica for dinner. I wanted to try the burgers at Father's Office. Except that the place was super crowded and we'd have to wait an hour for a table. Since El Cholo was around the corner, we headed there and were seated right away. I went for the Burrito Dorado which was a beef chili burrito.

When I got back from dinner, I bought a new travel power adapter - which will work in 150 countries. I wrote for an hour or so with the Dodgers-Giants game on the TV in the background. Barry Bonds failed to hit that "homerun" he's been waiting to hit for a couple of weeks it seems. He didn't do it at home in San Francisco. He didn't do it in LA and it looks like he'll be due this weekend in San Diego.

We saw 12:01am viewing of The Bourne Ultimatum. I wondered if the theatre would be crowded. Nicky didn't think so and talked us out of going early. We bought tickets online and the theatre was less than five minutes from the apartment (during the day, the drive would take about 15-20 minutes depending on traffic). We arrived at 11:40pm and there was a line out the door. The movie theatre is two stories inside a glass building. We could see the massive line starting from the second floor and snaking down a flight of stairs and outside the theatre. We were towards the back of the line. One of the pimply-faced kids working the theatre said that they sold all 264 seats for the Midnight show. By my estimation, we were 250th and 251st in line.

We considered bailing and coming back at 9:50am. However, once we got into the theatre we managed to find two seats next to each other that wasn't in a bad spot. The crowd was dominated by guys and the audience was buzzing. I rarely go to flicks on the opening day and aside from Snakes on a Plane, I have never been to a Midnight opening to a movie. Since everyone there was a fan of the franchise, there was plenty of clapping at certain moments after Bourne kicks people's asses or kills them by crushing their windpipe with his bloodied hands.

The Bourne Ultimatum was one of the best flicks I saw this summer. Plenty of non-stop action. Lots of foot and car chases. Lots of close-quarters fighting. I dunno what particular style they use, but I read somewhere that a lot of the moves are similar to Brazilian street fighting. A lot of close punching and wrestling moves to disarm weapons.

The Bourne Ultimatum starts off in Moscow. It takes place in London, Madrid, Morocco, and New York City. The rooftop chances in Morocco were pretty intense. Go see for yourself. That's the last flick I'm going to see during my time in Hollyweird.

Next stop... NYC.

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