getting my brood on

Here’s why I’m worried about my prospects as a writer: great writers, at least as they’ve been portrayed romatically, not only are able to write when their personal lives become unhinged, but actually produce their best work in their darkest days. Me–not so much. I have been moved and awed by the personal revelations written under extraordinary circumstances here–the bravery from people willing to lay their lives bare in print.

Yet when I am facing challenging times, that spigot seems to be turned off.  When I brood, I can’t seem to write. But isn’t that exactly when I should write?

I tend to plan my brooding–it’s not an organic thing that just comes over me. For instance, I normally buy one pack of cigarettes at a time, never a carton, because after all, if I buy a carton of cigarettes, then I would have to call myself a smoker, and I like to live in the delusion that any given pack might be my last. But a few days ago I bought two packs, because I intended to brood.

I’ve always loved ‘tortured’ artists. The notion of abusing oneself as a path to brilliant creative work really grabbed me, as I imagined myself scrawling bits of genius on the back of an envelope or a napkin while surrounded by overflowing ashtrays and empty bottles while listening to Billie Holiday, or Karen Carpenter. Unfortunately, I don’t quite have the hang of it. Mostly because I’m too OCD  to let that kind of righteous squalor accumulate.

Also, I can only write at the computer–when I do scrawl notes, my penmanship is so godawful and the notes are so sparse that within an hour they become indecipherable to me (what did I mean by ‘elephant religion’?–I think that says ‘elephant’). And lastly, when I’m in hibernation mode, I just…tend to not feel like writing. I find that being in a funk takes up most of my time. So basically I become Charles Bukowski, but without the literary output, sitting in a very tidy apartment.

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psycho roommate quiz

I love living with the girlfriend, but there are moments when I fondly remember living alone. And that it kinda rocked. Drinkng milk from the carton, deciding to listen to all my Carpenters cds on shuffle and repeat, or just have one of those days when I don’t see any reason to get dressed (I know– I led a rich, full life)And I was lucky, because I only had one psycho roommate.

Now in my experience, psycho roommates don’t usually seem psycho when you first meet them, but then you see that one quirky behavior that used to be just goofy but now seems to be proof of profound mental illness. I’m gonna tell you about two roommates, but (here it comes..wait for it…wait for it…) there’s a catch! Only one of them was really a roommate of mine and you have to guess which one!

Greg smoked a lot of weed, which was one of the reasons I thought he’d be a cool roommate. I figured there would always be pot in the house, and we’d laugh a lot. What I didn’t realize is that if you’re not stoned, stoned people aren’t nearly as interesting. Now if Greg were a typical pothead, he would eventually get really quiet, nodding off while watching a ‘Becker’ marathon . But Greg liked to talk when he got stoned. Constantly. About nothing.

“Dude…I made up a new word! This doctor was talking about the knee reflex, and I was thinking you should call that a kneeflex!” “Dude–they should make a cologne that smells like a new car so that women think you’re rich!” Then I got to witness that perfect storm where stupidity, laziness and THC meet. I come home one day, he’s got a bag of pretzels on his right, a bag of mini-chocolate on his left, and he’s nodding. Then he takes a handful of pretzels and a few of the candy bars and shoves them all into his mouth at the same time.

He chews and nods, all the while gesturing to me in that way that says “No–hang on–I got somethin’ here”. Finally he announces that what he’s got is the “greatest snack food idea ever”. Chocolate-covered pretzels. After I explained to him that they…had already been invented, he called me an asshole, went into his room and slammed the door. I had never seen a stoner get that upset about anything, and from then on things between us were always a little tense.

Jim was my roommate during freshman year at UCLA. He was a computer genius who had designed some important software when he was 17. What he hadn’t done is learn how to interact with other humans. He didn’t speak for the first three weeks we lived together, and while quiet can be good when you’re studying, this was creepy-brooding-antisocial-No Country For Old Men quiet. He spent his time hacking into the university mainframe to play this early role-playing game. This guy was such a freak that he gets access to every student’s personal file AND DOES NOTHING WITH IT!

He was also such an oblivious slob that when I had company, I threw a large blanket over his half of the room, forming a hideous blob-like sculpture, which even at that was less likely to scare a date than the piles of fast-food wrappers, beer bottles and underwear beneath the blanket. I didn’t have to kick Jim out, though. Fortunately, the university did that, and when they did, he put on mountain-climbing gear and proceeded to rapel down the side of our eight story dorm building.

So, who did I really live with? Who’s fictional? Why am I asking  rhetorical questions? Just knowing that there are Gregs or Jims out there who are just a Craigslist ad away from masturbating in the room next to me makes me appreciate my drafty overpriced studio I had in Chicago.

It was a marginal neighborhood (apparently the real estate term is ‘partially gentrified,’ which means you can still buy crack on the corner but you can also get a vanilla latte with it), but despite the occasional mouse and the one cockroach I spotted in my kitchen (who I’m convinced was some sort of scout), there were things I really enjoyed. Like being able to cook naked.

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eek!

I love all of God’s creatures. In theory. I don’t however, want to live with any of them in my apartment, particularly tiny animals that  scurry or skitter or crawl. A large animal, if it somehow got into my apartment, would, at most, scare the hell out of you the first time you saw it. If I came home one day and there were an elk standing by the fridge, I’d freak for a minute, but then we would reach one of those uneasy ‘Wild Kingdom’ truces as I calmly walk around him and make a sandwich. Each of us keeping an eye on the other, but as long as I don’t threaten the elk, we could, I suppose, coexist until I lured the elk outside.

Which brings me to the mouse. They’re cute, mice. But they scare the shit out of me. Irrational, bone-shaking terror. First of all, they’re not content to just scare you the one time. After they scare you , they run away and can scare you again. Anywhere, anytime.  Just because I saw him under the sink doesn’t mean I’m safe at my desk. Said mouse can simply scurry along the wall and show up at my feet as I’m writing this. And I know they’re really small, and I know they don’t attack people. But somehow I feel all it will take is one rogue mouse to leap from the floorboards to my throat and I’m a goner. All the other mice will see this from a crack in the plaster or under the microwave or inside an envelope (because they can freakishly shrink in size!) and then–it’s on. Forensics teams will spend days trying to match hundreds of tiny bite marks.

Now don’t give me that ‘they’re more afraid of you than you are of them’ crap, because in the animal kindgdom, they fight through the fear. Mr. Lion might be initially startled by Mr. Gazelle, but he finds a way to push past the fear and eat the gazelle. ‘They just came in to get out of the cold’. Great, nice to know I’m running a mission for rodents.

So one morning last winter, I dragged my ass to the bathroom for my morning ablutions, and as I’m peeing (a detail probably not necessary to the story), I glance in the direction of the shower and notice there’s something in the tub. And it moved. Now when I first wake up, I’m not very coherent, so I actually did that cartoon double-take where I literally shake my head and look again. When it moved again, this time trying to crawl up the side of the tub. Quickly flipping through my recollections of biology class and the Discovery Channel, I realized it was too big to be a roach, and too small to be a raccoon. Waking up a bit more now, I know that between roach and raccoon therei’s a lot of possibilites (is it a lemur?). When I finally realize t’s a mouse, I also realize I have no idea what to do with that information.

Do I make myself look really small or really big–no, that’s for bears. Do I try to kill it–get all alpha on its rodentine ass? Because then I have a dead mouse to deal with, and the ick factor goes up exponentially. Chase it around my studio for a while? Here’s what I decided, folks. I stepped back from the tub, and as I backed up, trying to look as little like…cheese as possible, I grabbed a towel and my toothbrush, and backed out of the bathroom. And then I shut the door. Understand what happened here. I made the conscious decision to CEDE an entire room to the mouse. I was apparently playing some inter-species game of Risk, and was trying to isolate the attacking mouse army, Not my proudest moment as a man.

A friend came by to toss the mouse outside, but that night I was still a little rattled. Thought about leaving a light on, but couldn’t remember if mice were maybe attracted to lights. But in the dark, I heard the skittering. Little evil mouse feet. I was sure I would wake up and see them lining the perimeter of my bed, all along the headboard like some outtake from ‘Willard.’ I grabbbed my cane and put it by my bed, apparently thinking that somehow I would be able to swat the oncoming horde and they would then worship me as their king. But my crowning touch came into play when I realized that there was no actual door separating the…mouse area from my ‘bedroom’, just a door frame. I fixed this by placing a pile of clothes from the hamper on the floor in the at the boundary between the ‘kitchen’ and the ‘bedroom’. I guess I thought, ‘Well, mice can come through the cracks in a wall, but they’ll never get past my inpenetrable barrier of fabric.

I haven’t seen any other mice since then, frankly because they understand who’s in charge here. This is my house, dammit!

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let’s all go to the movies

I love movies, but I don’t get to many of them. Too much money for marginal product–spending ten bucks for a comedy movie with ten laughs is like spending fifteen bucks for a cd with four good songs. The reason people illegally download music is because buying music is too expensive.

In fact, if studios want to stop piracy, they should make movies cheaper. I think you should pay when you leave the theater, whatever percentage of the ticket price you think the movie was worth. You think the studios would keep turning out crap if their average take per person was eighty-three cents?

Major studios are relics, at any rate. I actually think the days of the Zanucks and the Goldwyns, as much as they may have squelched some visionary work, were better for the movie industry–for the fans. I don’t if any of you remember the Lily Tomlin-John Travolta vehicle (a poor word choice, since it implies it went somewhere) ‘Moment By Moment,’ which featured a horrifying hot tub encounter between the two leads. In the days of the big, mean studios, a guy in a suit would have taken the writers to lunch at the Brown Derby, and said “Interesting idea–but Lily does comedies, not romance.” That movie would have never happened.

Part of the problem is the deadening of the American film palate.  Some of the greatest films in history would never be greenlighted (greenlit?) today–too ‘talky’…too ‘complicated’…not ‘high-concept’ enough. Basically, the male American movie-going public likes two things in their movies–breasts, and explosions. I suppose that’s three things, because I’m not sure how well a movie featuring only one breast would do. But two breasts and some explosions–that’s box-office gold. If someone could made a movie about breasts that explode, it would be more popular than ‘Star Wars.’

I personally think that if a movie isn’t deep, it oughta be fun. If it isn’t deep or fun, then it’s just fifty million dollars that could have gone to Habitat for Humanity.  And if I’m watching at home, I usually give a movie the twenty minute test. If a movie hasn’t captured my attention in twenty minutes, I turn it off. I have seen five to fifteen minutes of more movies than I can count. Which is why I love surfthechannel.com.

Apparently Sweden has comparatively liberal copyright laws, because a site based there called SurfTheChannel has every movie and tv show ever filmed available for free. Okay, maybe not every, but oh my god do they have a lot. I’m not sure I should even be telling those not ‘in the know,’ but it’s THE GREATEST WEBSITE IN THE UNIVERSE. Missed a movie that came out last month? Loved the sitcom ‘He and She’ that only ran one season? It’s probably here. Now some of the movies were recorded by a dude with a cell phone in the front row, but they’re free! Just know that if you see a new movie has been added, watch it right away or you will see the dreaded phrase ‘removed for infringement.’

And before you start saying ‘Hey–you’re a creative artist…aren’t these people just stealing? Shouldn’t the people who did the movie be paid?”, let me just point out that for the VAST majority of movies being ’stolen,’ the people involved have already been paid. A couple of times. And there’s stuff you can’t buy, even if you wanted–I’d love to have a dvd of the first season of the second remake of ‘Twilight Zone,’ but I haven’t seen that at Blockbuster yet. Realistically, if I want to have a few friends over for a marathon of  bootlegged “Lou Grant,” I don’t think Ed Asner will have trouble paying his mortgage. And, not that this will stop the flaming outrage, but I do feel guilty about it.

Since I discovered surfthechannel.com, I haven’t been sleeping a lot lately. It’s been sensory overload–like an epileptic on Red Bull in Vegas. And I’ve been having strange dreams. Here’s the weirdness: I’ve had more than one dream which featured a celebrity–IN A CAMEO! Famous actors appear in my dreams, but they don’t have speaking roles. I’m in some surreal library/delicatessan/army recruiting office, and there’s Corbin Bernson! Understand–he’s not part of the ‘plot’ to my dream, he’s just…there. A couple nights ago, the thing I remember is that Christopher Meloni was in my dream–for no apparent reason. He wasn’t a part of the story–he just showed up in some of the scenes. Any amateur shink wanna take a shot at that?

The Chris Meloni dream is not the strangest dream I’ve had lately. When I was still working the day job, one night, in my dream, I woke up to my alarm, took the train to work, sat at my desk, took the train home, and got ready for bed. I had a dream in which nothing happened. In a world of infinite possibility, my mind created a dreamscape identical to my actual life! Now that’s wasted time. I felt almost cheated when I actually woke up.

My favorite film genre–movies where entire cities are destroyed, by aliens, some space virus, or some combination of cataclysmic natural disaster. Not sure why, but I get a real kick out of seeing places I’ve been to slapped around, and I find myself strangely inspired when all of society’s hopes rest on the shoulders of a b-level movie star, like Tom Skerrit, or one of the Quaids.

‘Volcano’ was great, simply because a volcanic eruption is one of the only horrible things that hasn’t actually happened to Los Angeles. And ‘Earthquake In New York’–if cars blowing up are cool to watch, it’s exponentially cooler to see the Guggenheim Museum crumble, or the Statue of Liberty slowly topple into the bay. Unfortunately, that movie screwed up by wasting the first hour giving us the personal back stories of the people who would ultimately be buried in the rubble. Just get to the destruction–let’s see some iconic landmarks collapse already! The best of the bunch is, for my money, ‘The Day After Tomorrow,’ which manages to include multiple natural disasters, a cautionary tale about global warming, AND Randy Quaid! Tell me it wasn’t great to watch a tornado turn the Capitol Records building into a bunch of building-sized frisbees.

I’m also a sucker for old-school monster movies, but I’ve always been curious. Before CGI, when aliens were actually hard-working, unappreciated working actors in green costumes, one thing was a given. It was always “Attack of the Fifty-Foot” something. What I want to know is how was it decided that fifty feet was the height at which a genetically-mutated, nuclear-fallout-created anything becomes threatening to mankind? Did studios say “Well, a seventy-five foot tall broccoli stalk is just silly–nobody’s gonna buy that. Make it fifty feet tall and you’ve got yourself a movie.” I mean, wouldn’t a twenty or thirty foot tall thing that’s not supposed to be twenty or thirty feet tall be just as scary?

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drawing a blank

I’ve typically dismissed horror stories about social networking sites as so much Luddite paranoia, partly because, as a relatively unknown comedian and novice print humorist, it probably wouldn’t hurt my career to have someone stalking me. I need visibility. Hell, I’d give you my social security number if you told me you liked one of my shows.

But now, I understand the dark side. I get an email tonight from someone who apparently found me through classmates.com which led him to MySpace. I think I registered for MySpace two years ago, never went back because it seemed to skew a bit…adolescent for my tastes, and though I have joined Facebook, I still don’t check MySpace because I really only need one black hole of time-wasting in my life.

Here’s the thing. He was a high school classmate of mine, and I DON’T REMEMBER WHO HE IS. At all. His name did not ring even the tiniest of bells. Forget about being afraid of being tracked by some creepy, deranged,  obsessed psycho–it is FAR more frightening to realize that someone who liked me well enough to get back in touch after thirty years has dropped entirely from my memory. I mean, what else have I forgotten? Because, if I’ve forgotten it, obviously I wouldn’t know I forgot it.

The worst part of this is that I replied to him and tried to (ever so light-heartedly) get him to jog my clearly age-enfeebled memory. Iwrote–“catch me up.” His email back to me was three long paragraphs about his life (and it sounds like we could really connect based on what he’s been doing) and that of another (apparently) mutual friend of ours whom I ALSO DO NOT REMEMBER.

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angela

My friend Angela called me again today. She’s called every day for the past six or seven months, sometimes twice a day. She rarely leaves a message. I use the word ‘friend’ loosely, since I don’t know Angela’s last name or even what she looks like. I do know where she works though. Angela is a collections agent with Capital One.

Now you all know Capital One.The company that gives credit cards to people who can’t get credit cards because their credit sucks? Their catchphrase is “What’s in your wallet?” (what’s in my wallet? NOTHING! that’s why i need your credit card!)…anyhoo, you’d think they’d know how unlikely it is that the kind of person who actually need a Capital One card would ever have enough money to pay them back, but Angela believes in me.

You would also think that a 21st century financial company would have the technological savvy to understand cell phones and caller ID. Considering the number of companies to whom I owe money, I tend to not answer calls if the number starts with 800 or 888.  See, none of my friends have toll-free numbers. But here’s Cap One, thinking ‘Maybe this time he’ll pick up. He’s probably just busy figuring out how to pay us back.’ I can picture the supervisor saying”Angela–try him again–he’s gonna be home eventually.” As if after five hundred calls, I’m gonna pick up the phone and say “Ok, how much do I owe you Got it. I’ll send it out today.” I really should answer it one of these days, just for fun.

“Hello? Oh–hey Angie. Yeah, I guess you’ve been trying to get a hold of me for a while now. Sorry, I’ve just been really swamped. No, no it’s not you. It’s me. I just feel like you’re pressuring me. ? Ang, if this is about the money, I gotta tell ya–I just don’t have it. I know, I know. I let you down. Anyway, look–I gotta run. But call me anytime. Yeah, you can call me tomorrow. I may not be able to pick up, but just leave a message”

But my dear Angela never leaves a message. She has her friends do that. I particularly like the British chick that calls to say she’s from ‘Alliance Solutions’ (a collection agency) and would “really appreciate’ a call back. She always sounds upbeat in that kicky, Euro way, sorta like Emma Peel from the Avengers. And who wouldn’t want to call her back? I mean, she’s offering solutions. And she’s from…an alliance.

Actually last week, I accidentally answered. I didn’t have my glasses on, thought the ten digit number was a friend in Seattle calling, and I answered. It was my girl Angela. She didn’t sound very happy with me. She finally gets the chance to talk to me, and she takes this tone with me. All scolding, and judgemental. The conversation taught me one lesson: I would be a crappy spy, as I tried to pretend that I was my own roommate.

“Is this Michael?” “Uh, who’s calling for him?” “This is Angela.” “Uh, this is his roommate–let me see if he’s here…–no, sorry, he’s out.” “Do you know when he’ll be back?” At this point, Angie’s already on to me, but plays along like an expert criminal profiler. “No, sorry, he’s not very good at communicating (what?)–can I give him a message?” “It’s a personal matter.” Now for some reason, i continue the charade. “Well can I tell him what it’s about?” At this point, she’s done playing games. “Why would I tell you if you’re just his roommate? And I think I’m actually talking to Michael Dane.” I had no idea what to do. Hands sweating. Head spinning. Then, my masterful comeback. “No, this is…his roommate.” Her response? “Are you sure you’re not Michael Dane?” Atthis point I’m not sure of anything. Realizing she’s seen through my clever subterfuge, I decide there’s only one thing I can do. I hang up. She hasn’t called me in over a week, and I miss her.

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