Archive for April, 2007
As my wife and son and I were walking back home from BART last night, I was listening to the last few minutes of the game on our "emergency" radio (oops -- hope there's some juice left in those batteries!). What a game! What a finish!!
The eighth-seeded Warriors are now up 3 games to 1 over the top-seeded Mavs.
April 30th, 2007
Gotta blog quickly this morning, before running off to rehearsal. But being speedy is actually quite appropriate for tonight's show (at 7:30), as my guests -- swimmer Natalie Coughlin and extreme skiier Jonny Moseley -- are both Olympian gold-medalists. They have other things in common as well: both are local kids made good, both are proud graduates of Cal-Berkeley, and both somehow suppressed the urge to mock my obvious athletic inferiority (though I do have to say that my reflexes in bocce are unmatched).
April 30th, 2007
It was halftime by the time I got back from rehearsal last night -- and yet somehow, even in my absence, they had done really well in the first two quarters. With me now stationed by the radio, following the game fervently, the second half turned into a blowout.
The Warriors now lead the best-of-seven series 2-1.
In related news, gravity has reversed itself throughout the universe and Splenda no longer makes you have to go to the bathroom all the time. ...
April 28th, 2007
About a decade ago I got a call to come in and audition for a movie. The filmmaker was legendary video artist Lynn Hershman Leeson, who was preparing to shoot her first feature film, Conceiving Ada. The audition was a very strange, dreamlike, and oddly pleasurable experience: I read a few lines from the script, Lynn smiled enigmatically, asked me to read some lines for another character, she smiled enigmatically again, and then we chatted for a while -- not about her film, just about stuff. I vaguely remembered being offered tea and sweets and some point. There was none of the typical pressurized, cattle-call vibe that you usually get at auditions. Even though I was even obscurer than I am now, and Lynn was already celebrated in the art world, she treated me as a colleague.
As it turns out, there wasn't a part for me in Conceiving Ada -- though there were parts for the sublime Tilda Swinton and Francesca Faridany, among many other fine actors. But that didn't really matter to me -- I felt that, with my audition experience, I had participated in the project anyway.
Cut to a few years later. I was working on my first feature film, Haiku Tunnel, with my brother Jacob, when I got a call from Lynn: she was working on a new feature herself, a sci-fi exploration of contemporary life called Teknolust. I went in and had another dreamlike, pleasurable "audition" -- and this time I ended up in the movie. Even better!
Now jump a few years further. One day Lynn invited me out to brunch in the City and told me about this friend of hers, an artist named Steve Kurtz, who was caught up in a nightmarish, Kafka-esque situation: He had woken one day to find his beloved wife, Hope, dead. He called 911, and when the paramedics came they saw these petri dishes with what looked like it might be scary stuff in them. (Actually, it was harmless biological material that he was using for an art project.) By the end of the day, Steve was in FBI custody, his house was sealed off, and his wife's body impounded. Amazingly, even though everyone now knew that the stuff was harmless, Steve was still facing a possible 20 years in jail.
Lynn was determined to get the word out about Steve's plight by making a movie. For legal reasons, Steve couldn't talk directly about his case, so she was asking several actors she knew -- including Tilda, Peter Coyote, Thomas Jay Ryan, and me -- to tell the story in a film that would be part documentary, part dramatization. Working, as always, on a shoestring, that's what she did -- and the result, Strange Culture, is a beautiful, moving call to citizenly action. It rocked Sundance this year, then the Berlin Film Fest, and now is having its Bay Area premiere as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival. (I'll be attending the first screening tonight at 6 at the Castro.)
I fervently hope that with the movie's continued dissemination, so many people become aware of Steve's situation that he will be released from this nightmare. In the meantime, his long-delayed trial is scheduled to begin by summer of 2008, if not sooner.
April 28th, 2007
... because I wasn't listening to the game (I was at rehearsal). My bad!
April 26th, 2007
The #10 bus!
Someone at the Magic Theatre recently hipped me to its existence. My new monologue, Citizen Josh, opens at the Magic on (yipes!) May 19, and we started rehearsals last week. The challenge for me is how to get there.
I love performing at the Magic -- it's a great, storied, theater, and it's at Fort Mason, one of the most beautiful spots in the world. But as a (still) non-driver, my options in getting there from the East Bay are all a bit clunky. The first leg definitely involves taking BART to the City. But after that, the possible routes diverge.
Take the #30 Stockton bus? Well, that would work -- but man, it stops and starts and stops and stops and -- and it doesn't even exactly go to Fort Mason! Same for those brave, clunky buses that inch along Van Ness -- your #47's and your #49's, for instance. It kind of sucks to be nauseous even before you get the theater (that's the playwright's job!).
Now, what I'm building up to -- and I'm very excited about this! -- is to get off BART at Embarcadero and then bike to Fort Mason. Everyone tells me it's a lovely, quick ride, and involves a maximum of one killer-ish hill. I just need a little more time to prepare for this option, emotionally and mentally. My main fear isn't the hill, it's the glares from my fellow riders on BART. People get really peeved at bikes on BART sometimes! I have witnessed not just glares but also actual shouting matches. Some really gnarly bikers will even respond to a glare with an impassioned rant -- about how it's their right to be on the train, and they're saving the world, and so hey man, get over it! And I agree with them, for the most part. But ... but ... well, I don't like being glared at! And I'm not a good BART-ranter! So ... I'm building toward the Ultimate Bike Option, and will implement it shortly.
But in the meantime, as I said, I heard about the #10 bus. I took it yesterday for the first time. It was magical! I got on downtown -- the bus, as if by intuition or divine grace, was pulling up just as I arrived at the bus stop. The driver was really nice; I asked her how long it would take me to get to Fort Mason and she said, "Not long." Then, smiling, added, "Trust me." I told her I did trust her and took my little transfer thingie.
A few painless minutes later we were already in the Marina! My driver packed up her things and got off, exchanging pleasantries with another woman driver who took her place. I gathered from their conversation that my driver's mom was ailing, and that she'd be taking some time off to care for her. The new driver expressed her best wishes. I didn't hear everything they were saying, but they spoke in the rhythms of collegiality and friendship, and I was moved.
The new driver hung a Trader Joe's bag of snacks next to her seat, and we continued on. A couple of stops later, a third driver got on -- not to drive, but to ride, and to talk with my new driver. This third woman was raucous, loud, and funny. In her constant stream of chatter, she began pretty much every observation with "Girl? ..." In fact, the first thing she said when she got on the bus was, "Girl? You would not believe what happened to my pants today!"
Now, I don't know about you -- but that's the kind of opening line that gets me leaning forward a bit. I mean, what had happened to her pants?
Well, I had to wait to find out. With a certain amount of decorum, Driver #3 looked around the bus, noted that there were still several passengers, and then added, semi-sotto-voce: "I'll tell you when I get off."
By a few stops later, it was just the two drivers and me. And apparently the third driver decided that I was to be trusted. (Hah!) So she went into an elaborate explanation of the pants situation -- involving a completely ripped seam right up the butt, and a providential second pair of pants that she had brought with her to work and was now wearing under her Muni pants.
Driver No. 3 got off a couple stops before me -- and as she debarked, she was passing along some information about an excellent Mexican caterer who was the sister (or something) of another driver they both knew. (Apparently, Driver No. 2 was arranging a big gathering -- I didn't hear what it was, but decided to imagine, happily, that she was about to get married.)
Driver No. 2: "Why didn't you tell me about her before?"
Driver No. 3: "Girl? I'm tellin' you right now!"
Even after the door shut and we were pulling away, my driver was yelling, "Give me that number!" I wanted to say, "I don't think she can hear you," but I was too busy trying not to look at the back seam of Driver No. 3's pants as she walked away.
So we got to my stop -- the last stop -- and I said thanks to the driver, who gave me a nice smile, and then made my way to the Magic.
Cut to about an hour and a half later, and I'm back at that stop -- actually, across the street, where the route starts. Again, magically, as I arrive the bus is about to depart. And it's still Driver #2! I see her get out of the bus and head into a little concrete structure that I imagine is a bathroom/locker room for Muni drivers. As she comes back to the bus, she's on her cellphone, going over catering stuff. (So she did get that number!) She opens the bus and waves me on -- indicating with her eyes that no, I don't need to show her my transfer (a wonderful gesture of complicity and trust).
She adjust her Trader Joe's bag, shuts the doors, and we rumble off, with me -- again -- being the only passenger. What a lovely feeling! It's how Donald Trump must feel in his limousine -- well, at least it's how I hope he feels!
A couple stops later, who gets on but ... Driver No. 3 again! "Girl? I got to make this transfer -- let's go!" Now she sees me. With great mock drama: "You again??! What's happening to me?? Where am I??!" Then to No. 2: "Girl, hurry! I gotta make the 39!"
At the next stop a bunch of people -- clearly stunned and exhausted after a day's work -- clamber on. Driver No. 3: "Hurry! Hurry! Quick!" They smile, though tiredly.
"Girl? There's the 39! The 39!! Honk your horn!!!"
My driver dutifully honks, but the 39 doesn't wait -- and No. 3 isn't pleased. Shaking her fist: "Damn you, 39!!!!"
Passengers are grinning: this driver is one of us.
By the time we got back downtown, the bus was packed with commuters -- though it no longer contained No. 3, who was presumably still waiting for the 39 and trying not to move her legs too much, lest the pants situation should worsen. As I got swept out the rear exit with the flood of people who were also transferring to BART, I wasn't able to get back up front to say goodbye to my driver. But maybe I'll see her again today.
Ah, the #10 again! I can't wait to get an update on the catering and the pants.
April 25th, 2007
A dear friend of mine, a Buddhist, went to India a few years ago and met with a really high-up guy in that discipline. He described this fellow as being, in some ways, the opposite of a stereotypical "wise man": he was accessible, down-to-earth, informal, ebullient, and yet also ... wise. Having spent a little time with Walter Murch, my guest on tonight's show (at 7:30), I think I know how my friend felt.
A three-time Oscar winner, Murch is revered in the film industry as one of its greatest editors. But what's most striking about talking with him is the breadth of his interests, and his fantastic enthusiasm for making connections -- from science, music, philosophy, literature, you name it. It's as if his mind is overflowing into his surroundings; delighted, you just try your best to keep your balance as you ride his brainwaves. I could talk with him for days -- in fact, if someone could arrange that, please let me know!
In the meantime, you can enjoy his thinking as recorded in two extremely cool books: his concise, witty, mystical primer on editing, In the Blink of an Eye, and the delightful, compulsively readable The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film -- a series of wide-ranging discussions with the novelist Michael Ondaatje. Can you say "Ondaatje"? I can't -- but I'm way jealous of how much time he got with Mr. Murch. ...
Get the podcast, download now, or stream the video (requires Real)
April 23rd, 2007
Just got a very reasonable email from a viewer:
I am watching your show right now. Am I alone in seeing the absurdity of you exploring the "greening" of Berkeley while holding a DISPOSABLE FAST FOOD CUP AND LID?
That is one of the things YOU can do. Stop using disposable cups.
Absolutely right! Lots of habits to change in these challenging times.
April 23rd, 2007
Yeah, it's only one game -- but holy moley!!
April 22nd, 2007
One of the curiosities of my New York childhood was that my Bronx-bred father's dream was of one day owning a sailboat. Nobody we knew owned a sailboat. Nobody we knew had even sailed in a sailboat. True, my dad and his dear friend Mo Kranz had been transported by sea to the Philippines during World War II. (This trip was notable, in family lore, for several things: (1) Dad claimed that he was the only one on the boat who never got seasick. (2) Dad's suggestion to a shipful of nauseated sailors was that they try bending their knees, as he was doing. (3) In response, many sailors apparently threatened to pummel him if they ever stopped puking long enough to do so. (4) Dad converted Mo to Marxism on this trip. (5) When the sailors, nervous and stir-crazy after a long time at sea, got into a massive fistfight, Mo clambered onto a table and said: "Comrades, let's all look at this problem dialectically!" (6) In response, several sailors threatened to pummel Mo, who was fortunately whisked away by my dad.) But clearly, that vessel had not been a sailboat -- so how to explain Dad's obsession with sailing, which (as far as I could tell) was anyhow a sport for those of a much higher income bracket than ours?
Anthony Sandberg recently gave me some clues. The founder and president of OCSC Sailing in Berkeley, he's a big bear of a man -- and he's bursting with an infectious evangelism for sailing. A friend of his had read my account, in this blog, of Project Quixote, my family's project to bring wind turbines to the Berkeley Pier (among other forms of renewable energy) -- and he'd emailed me to suggest that Anthony might be able to take us out on the Bay and give us another perspective on the Pier and on wind power. A short time later, Anthony and I were in direct email contact, and he had -- with a generosity that turns out to be typical for him -- offered to take me, my wife and son out on one of OCSC's 50 sailboats.
Question: How do you turn down an amazing offer like that? Answer: You don't.
It was a magical experience! Anthony is just a wonderful guy -- a visionary and a mensch. As soon as he started showing us around, I knew that we were in great hands. And what a story he told! As we gazed from an office balcony onto the beautiful shipyard around us, he explained that back in the '70s the whole place had been -- literally -- a garbage dump. Back then, showing great foresight and fortitude, he squatted amidst all the garbage -- and was eventually rewarded with the land that he and others cleared and transformed into OCSC. They're now the top-rated sailing school in the country, which is pretty cool. But the thing that most impressed me was Anthony's passion for doing good. Nonprofit groups meet regularly for free at OCSC's offices, and there's all kinds of interesting stuff going on there. But above all, what really gets Anthony going is the prospect of people -- especially kids -- getting massively involved in sailing the Bay. And, as he explained to me, sailing can be surprisingly affordable; it's not, as I'd assumed, only a sport for the Thurston Howells of the world.
My wife and son and I gingerly boarded a beautiful sloop, accompanied by Anthony and two pals of his. (Based on this experience, my assumption is that like him, all of his friends are insanely accomplished -- these two guys had come up with, like, 50 world-class inventions between them. I felt like such a slacker!) It was a perfect day, weather-wise: crisp and clear. Anthony expertly directed his friends as they dealt with the sails and such. (Yep, you won't be getting any correct terminology from me here -- I was way too preoccupied by this novel experience to even think of taking notes.) We motored out to the open water, and from then on in we were powered entirely by wind. Wind power! It's hard to describe how cool it feels to be propelled entirely by this most fickle-seeming of elements. It keeps changing direction! and strength! And the sailors continually adapted. Success at sailing -- as in jazz and democracy -- seems to depend on a combination of expertise and improvisation.
May I brag on my nine-year-old son for a bit? (Thanks.) Soon after we started our sail, Anthony and his pals encouraged him to take the wheel. And -- admittedly, with a bit of help now and then -- he ended up steering for almost our entire two-hour trip! He really seemed to have a feel for it! I had a happy premonition that not only might my son end up getting his driver's license before I do, but he might also be the first to get a sailing license (if that's what it's called) as well! No one was more thrilled than Anthony. He pointed out that on this spectacular day, in this Bay that offers some of best sailing conditions in the whole world, there were only two sailboats out on the water -- ours and another from OCSC. (Though I should note that there is, apparently, a thriving sailing community in the Bay Area, made up of many fine schools, clubs, and other organizations.) His dream, he said, was for the Bay to be filled with sailboats helmed by kids; he wants sailing to take its place with bicycling, skateboarding, etc., as a common recreational option for urban youths.
That's not a vision that I would have understood before this afternoon. But now, as we headed back toward the Berkeley Pier -- where, in my quixotic dreams, there might one day be a wind farm to supply perhaps a third of my city's peak-time electricity needs -- it made a lot of sense. Sailing calls on its practitioners to master a whole set of crucial life-skills: leadership, organization, adaptability, and a respectful intimacy with the power and whims of nature. Thanks to Anthony Sandberg's generosity, my interest in wind power had spread from the land to encompass the waves as well.
To be sure, Sandberg is a sailing zealot. Count me now among the converted.
April 22nd, 2007