Saturday, May 24, 2014

Happy Being Born Day, Bob Dylan

Los Angeles, CA

It's Bob Dylan's birthday. Here's a nifty remix of a classic Dylan song with a lil modern rhythm section.

The older I get, the deeper I dive into Dylan's archives. It's been a fun last few months exploring early 80s Dylan when the entire music world had pretty much written him off. It was a rough transition, yet Dylan someone survived the tumultuous 80s and one again re-invented himself just in time for the rocking 90s.

In 2011, I nearly died in a car accident. A couple of days later, I sat tenth row of a Dylan concert in Las Vegas. My pal Jesse May is a huge Dylan disciple and scored us the sweet tickets. Amazing sound at Pearl (at Palms). Dylan was perfect in the mix, so he didn't have a typical voice like "sand and glue" or like he was singing with marbles in his mouth. Most of the (older) crowd sat... except Jesse who rocked out the entire show in a pink suit and headband and doublefisting two cocktails... but I was in so much physical pain and jacked up on painkillers that I sat down too. Rocking out in my chair.

I was as close as I'll ever be to the man and I had one of those moments in life -- and they don't have very often, which is what makes them so monumental -- but I had one of those moments that I was so damn happy to be alive.... period. Want to talk about fully being in the moment? Well that 75 minutes with Dylan was just that. I was reborn in many ways that are indescribable and Dylan was a tremendous part of that transformation. I knew it was time for me to move on with my life. The Vegas and poker chapters were done, and it was time to start with something new. Inspired by Dylan's clear message, the emotions he stirred up inside me became a chain reaction, which in turn became the necessary fuel I needed to begin a new journey.

Man, I got to see Bob Dylan play for what could be the last time for me (my girlfriend and I actually saw Dylan last year at the Hollywood Bowl, but it was a meh show compared to blistering Vegas performance)... you never know when he'll hang it up and stop touring... so that evening was sheer bonus. Gravy. Lots of gravy. Every morning I thank God (or the Creator, or the Universe) for a second chance at life. But more importantly, I frequently go back to that Dylan show in Vegas with Jesse May.

Happy birthday, Bob Dylan.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Conversational Gridlock in the Land of Sunshine, Freeways and Botox

Los Angeles, CA

In high school, our homeroom (called "advisement") lasted 15 minutes. NBC late night programming dominated our morning conversations.  

I started watching Late Night with David Letterman to keep up with the inside jokes and "Top 10 List" by taping the show at 12:30am, an hour after my bedtime. I usually fell asleep watching Cheers reruns at 11pm, then woke up a half hour early to watch the highlights on my VCR and fast-forwarding through the commercials.

On Monday mornings, homeroom/advisement was devoted to recapping Saturday Night Live, which ranged from sharing our favorite bits to outright attempting to act out a sketch. By definitions, all Monday mornings suck but the devotion of my classmates to SNL made Monday mornings palatable.

Flash forward to this morning. I wandered over to the local diner and made sure I let the quartet of LA cops exit first before I found a seat near the front, which had the best (natural) lighting, something I preferred because I life to read a book, a real-life book with pages and everything, instead of ogling my phone like every other schmuck in the joint.

A trio sat in the front booth: middle-aged guy dressed like he was a 16-year old skater kid, plus two younger women, one of whom wore psychedelic yoga pants that had the same color scheme as Jimi Hendrix's Axis: Bold As Love album. Actually upon closer inspection, one of them was obviously from Botox City, a sure-fire clue she was at least in their 40s, yet she dressed also like a teenager. It reminded me of that line from Greenberg: "In L.A., all of the kids dress like superheros and all of the adults dress like kids."

I didn't notice the front booth when I walked in, but I immediately overheard their raucous conversation the moment I slid into my seat. They were semi-arguing about freeways and the quickest way to get from Culver City to Silver Lake. Trying to fade traffic is common chatter among native Angelenos, but this animated booth prattled on with exaggerated SoCal-accents.

I had a instant flashback to my high school homeroom... OMG... that booth was re-enacting a sketch from SNL, specifically The Californians.

If you don't watch SNL anymore, there's a really bad recurring sketch (so bad, it's fucking rad) called the Californians. It viciously mocks two things: 1) trashy afternoon soap operas with atrocious acting, and 2) how people in LA smugly speak to each other... never in complete sentences but peppered with driving slang. Every installment of Californians eventually includes multiple discussions on the fastest way to get to a specific destination, and which shortcuts (side streets and tertiary routes) will be the best way to avoid traffic.

It's funny because it's true.

A lot of viewers don't like Californians because they just don't get it. And a few locals don't dig it because they can't take a fucking joke. The rub is simple... traffic is ubiquitous in LA and almost all of SoCal... yet that's all anyone every talks about that does not include themselves.

My typical conversations in Los Angeles usually fall into three categories:
Q: "What did you think of the new Wes Anderson flick?"
A: "Jesus... traffic was awful."

Q: "What did you do this weekend?"
A: "Jesus... traffic was fucking brutal."

Q: "How's the latest draft of the screenplay?"
A: "Jesus, that traffic. Took me forever. And then I couldn't find parking."
I forgot to comment about the "parking situation" in the LA universe. Besides bitching about traffic, the second biggest complaint is parking... the lack of street parking, or how the valet guys steal everything.

Technology alleviated the traffic headaches for like a week before everyone else downloaded the same fucking app. Even when I look at different traffic websites or an app, the results are always the same... big fucking red streaks to indicate gridlock. Red streaks everywhere.

In a bastion of self-absorbed vapidness, the pinnacle of braggadocio is eschewing technology and relying on knowledge of the quickest routes and locals' shortcuts in a city paralyzed by gridlock. But, here's the rub... It ain't going anywhere. Yet, everyone likes to 1) complain about their former shortcut not working anymore, or 2) brag about knowing the best alternative routes. Dirty secret? In reality, #2 is not the case because the best-kept shortcuts are never truly revealed because if you gave up your sweet alt route, then everyone else will eventually take it thereby causing yet another traffic jam. Instead, they give you the "second-best" route.

For fuck's sake, I can't believe I'm writing about this. See, I've been corrupted and co-opted and I don't even drive a fucking car.

So the front booth...

I tried to convince myself that they were acting out the most recent Californians sketch from SNL. But after a couple seconds I realized my assessment was totally off base. One of two of them might have been actors, but they were not performing or doing a bit. Nope. This was real fucking life. And that was how they really fucking talked. The three loudly argued over the best routes. One of the women talked so fast I wondered if she was railing lines of Adderall at the table. Holy shit. I assumed her prescription speed kicked in? How is anyone that chatty at 8am, unless they've been up all night hoovering foam.

They were loud and annoying and I hated them instantly. I usually give someone five minutes to prove to me that they are a moron, yet in this instance it took all about 15 seconds to decide I would like to take three, dirty, rolled-up socks and stuff them into their yappers.

I chastised myself for being so judgmental. Buddha wouldn't have done that. Right? I should be more patient and tolerant, even in the land of the Californians.

Then again, Buddha wouldn't be sitting in a greasy diner trying to read a Joan Didion book while a bunch of highly-vexing hipsters and Botox queen argued about who had the best routes to Silver Lake.

"Like, when in doubt, take Fountain..."

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Unfunded (Fiction)

Los Angeles, CA

"Get it together man."

It's weird to see a grown man sob. It's even weirder to see it happen in the middle of morning rush hour. Crowded street. Downtown. Sure, it's by far not the weirdest thing I've seen in San Francisco. I mean, it was only 8:30am and I had saw enough freaky shit in the previous hour that could inspire a Todd Solondz screenplay and fill an entire book of Bukowski poems. Just five minutes in the Tenderloin is enough to give squares a serious bout of PTSD. The human grenades... step in one pile of human fecal matter and you're dunzo. Oh the horror, the horror. Human grenades... it's the hipster version of a IED.

"Hey man, I know this is tough, but you need to pull it together."

No one noticed him. The invisible sobbing geek. Waves and waves of pedestrians were rushing of to their jobs, whizzing past him while clutching Starbucks cups in their left hands and their phones in their right. Not paying attention, yet somehow not hitting him. They missed the guy losing his marbles.

"This self-pity schtick isn't getting you anywhere."

Self-awareness is essential to success, but when you venture into self-pitty-dom, it's really a shortcut to self-indulgent navel gazing, which is the worst form of passive-agro narcissism. Life is suffering. Buddha said that. It's something you have to accept, and once you do, everything else is cheesecake.

"Seriously bro. Pull it together. Otherwise, some SF cop is going to haul you off for whatever reason."

They don't treat the crazies with kid gloves anymore. Everyone is a potential terrorist. Even middle-aged tech pioneers. I sort of felt bad. Yeah, in one way he incurred a bad beat without any warning. But crying like a spoiled teenager isn't the type of behavior you want to see in a so-called industry leader.

"You want me to find you a cab to go home? Contact Uber?"

Tough finding a cab at that hour and Uber would be 3x surge. He was in no condition to drive. He couldn't walk a few steps without losing it. Sort of half-hyper ventilating and half silent-crying. Every couple of minutes he'd unleash a spastic jolt and his entire body shivered. Quickly and violently for a few seconds.

"Just go home. Sleep it off. You've been up for a couple days tweaking the new system and worrying about the presentation."

I was really worried he'd truly snap. Like really snap. Run back to HQ in full Rambo-gear and pull out an Uzi or something and spray the lobby. Do distraught non-government worker bees and non-HS students crocked on happy pills go on a rampage and unleash mass shootings? Does that still happen anymore? Or did we become so desensitized to the violence that it all blends into one long blurry news clip. There was a time in this country when "going postal" meant someone was on the verge of shooting up the work place. U.S. Postal workers were losing their minds and going nuts in the 80s. Too much mail in Reagan America. It never stopped coming and they got paid peanuts. They didn't realize that the entire system would become obsolete in a few decades with the rise of email and text messaging and dick picks via SnapChat. In the 90s, school shootings happened every few months that it became too common and matter of fact. In the 10s, violent outbursts and gun incidents occur with such frequency that each incident loses its paralyzing impact with 24 hours of the event. But postal workers and high school kids shared common ground... they both had a momentarily psychotic break with reality. Pressure cookers. The four walls around us can be immense pressure cookers. Something happens to people when they get wound up real tight and stuck in an undesirable setting and surrounded by bullies and egomaniacs on power trips and morons failing upward and the pressure to seem normal in an abnormal system. Add more stress with the inability to let shit roll right off you because it all digs in deep and finds a way into your soul through every crack on the outside of your broken shell of armor. Unable to see anything pleasant when confronted with the suffocating reality that the future offers up no hope, not even a ray of sunshine. The winter of discontent. It's everywhere. Drowning in freezing rain even though it's sunny and 80 degrees outside and majestic, azure skies with fluffy clouds that look like cotton balls on steroids.

"Look man. I've been there. It's like worst than your dog dying. But you can't take it personal. It's numbers and cents. Ones and zeros. It's not you... it's them. Forget about those fucking vampire squids. Just take the day off and come back tomorrow and we'll find funding elsewhere. Even if we have to Kickstarter the fucker. I won't let this idea disappear into the void. It's too good, too valuable to let go."

People take shit every day. Every. Single Day. And they suck it up. Take it like a man. Pros don't complain... they get the job done. Amateurs bitch and moan. But the pros rise to the occasion and act like a gracious loser and pretend to be a humble winner on the outside. It's just tactful and polite and professional. But sometimes people can suck it up and shine it on and pretend all the shit days don't add up. But it's a cumulative effect. One day, the weight of the world is going to buckle beneath you and you just hope no one gets hurt. But one day... they go over the edge. We also go over the edge eventually. It's how you return from the edge that matters. Losing it? It's not something that you see coming. It's just like in the movies. One day... everything seems normal until they just snap and lose it. Like that movie Falling Down with Michael Douglas. We used to joke that Falling Down was about a college classmate's future... how he'd hump a crappy job in the tech industry for a decade, get constantly passed over for promotions, exploited for low pay, until one day... WHAM... something clicks on the inside, or he's consumed by the darkness and the GO APESHIT CRAZY button gets flipped on.

"Whatever you do... don't drink. You never had much tolerance. Just go home. Pop a couple of Ambien and sleep it off. When you wake up, book a week-long vacation somewhere you can't get internet access. Then just relax. Read a book. A real book. None of the Kindle shit. Read a couple of books and take some more Ambien and sleep and reed as much as you can in that week. Then you come back, refreshed and focus, and ready to find new backers, otherwise, we'll go work on the next project. That's the plan. That's always been the plan. Take a shot and see what happens. If we fail, we go back to square one and try again. Same shit that has been happening for the last decade. Same routine. You stumble upon an idea then develop it. You figure out how to execute it as smoothly as possible and clean up as many bugs as possible. Then you shop it around to the pimps and bean counters and shysters and skull fuckers. If someone digs it, they'll cut you a check. If they don't... well, then fuck them. This is your life. You cultivate your ideas. You generate solutions for people with problems. You actually do something valid. You truly enrich people's lives. That means something. And you do it from nothing. You close your eyes and become one with the void. It's in the darkness where the message appears and then you run with it. Sometimes it's a hit. Most of the time it's not. Most of the time the shit everyone hates is the one thing that breaks through. Sometimes it's the stupid or silly or most basic thing you created that stand out the most. That's the way it goes. You can come up with the gnarliest ideas and execute them perfectly, but you can't control the marketplace. You can fill the void and offer up something that's in high demand. Or you can sit around and try to over-saturate the market with a watered-down version of the app du jour. You can add to the static, or you can fire off shots into the dark and hope you hit a bear straight in the testicular region."

He didn't want to hear what I had to say. My words went right through him. He didn't even laugh when I talked about the bear getting shot in the nuts. Oh well. If I can't pull him out of the muck, then it's up to him.

"Let's get off the street. Find a cafe, or donut shop. Sit down. Talk this out."

He started to walk away, but then he stopped and started emptying his pockets. Wallet. Keys. Phone. Random pieces of paper. Altoids tin. Small pill bottle.

"What the fuck, man?!"

I rushed over and picked up his wallet and phone... his two most expensive valuables... before a street person swooped in and helped himself. When I wasn't looking, he stepped off the curb and into the street. He wasn't there for more than a second before I heard a short horn burst, screeching brakes, and then a squishy thud. He disappeared... underneath the bus. Crushed. Annihilated. The driver of the Muni had about two seconds to react. The smell of burning rubber. The brakes. Hard to forget that odor. I heard the second wave of screams. One of the Starbucks cup clutching ladies looked up from her iPhone long enough to see the Muni collision. I missed the initial wave. Shock. Utter shock. Sound disappears during those moments and time slows down.

Monday, May 05, 2014

The Emperor Has No Yes-Men

Los Angeles, CA

Chuck Klosterman once joked that he's terrified he'd become one of those people who loses all touch with reality mainly because the people around him will be too afraid to tell him the truth (or to stop his outrageous behavior). This is how the Justin Beiber's of the world get exotic pet monkeys or Donald Sterling became a delusional hate monger that has to pay skanky women luxury cars in exchange for sucking his wrinkly balls while listening to him mouth off pathetic racist rhetoric.

Hey, a Lexus is a Lexus.  
Thank goodness I'm not surrounded by YES-MEN. My friend's often tell me NO a lot. Actually it's more like, "That's not the best idea. I mean, I don't think anyone will want to buy bacon-grilled cheese ice cream."

Surround yourself with sycophants and faux-friends then you'll find yourself in numerous "the emperor wears no clothes" scenarios. Buck naked. I see it happen all the time. LA is filled with those types. Anytime you see someone with an entourage, it's a ripe situation to have an emperor has no clothes moment. The bigger the entourage, the more frequent you'll see him naked.

Everyone needs to hear the straight dope. We've become an overly sensitive society. You can't speak the truth because it might offend someone or make them upset. When did we start taking everything so seriously?

The straight dope is what keeps everything in line. I see so many people embarrass themselves on social media on a daily basis (me included... especially me). The lack of filters and common sense astonishes me. That last minute chat is often the last line of defense before you walk out into the world buck naked, instead of trusting the people around you to step in and keep you from doing or saying something completely stupid.

That's why those tyrants (you're "either with me or against me" types) end up as pro-coaches and working in Hollywood or in some ultra-douchey corporate situation. In those orbits, there's a system in place in which YES-MEN and YES-WOMEN are promoted because they don't ever cross the boss and they keep their mouths shut. Careerism is one of most egregious forms of censorship. I've seen intelligent people bury their heads in the sand and remain silent in a situation where they know an injustice has occurred, but their too chicken-shit to lose their jobs so they don't call out the powers that be.

But life as a YES-type is a one-way (er, one word) world. The moment you utter NO.... it's all over. It only has to happen once and then you're out. Dunzo.

Sounds silly, foolish, and absurd. Yet, that's how total shitheads rise to the top. Serve the King or die. Say yes, never speak the truth, and you get to stick around to kiss the ring. Say NO and you're mince meat.