Sunday, September 28, 2008


Stirrin’ Up the Ghosts
It happens without fail; a venerable stadium or sports arena comes to the end of its lifespan and no matter how flawed or frayed it’s reputation or viability over the course of its advancing age, a flood of emotion and sentimentality always swells within the public and the press.

Now I’m not usually given to parroting news articles I read for use as blog subjects. However this morning while in the midst of our Sunday A.M. ritual of coffee, quiet conversation and the Sunday Tennessean newspaper, I became aware of something that I’m really not sure I knew before I read it. The more I read, the more emotional I became. Twinges of sharp sentiment filled my chest as the story brought to the surface memories that had lay dormant for years.

If you have any more than a modicum of awareness about the current doings of Major League Baseball, then you know that world-famous Yankee Stadium closed its doors last Sunday night. The New Yankee Stadium will open for business next spring in is new location right across the street from its esteemed predecessor.

However New York’s ‘other’ baseball team, the Mets, despite its own storied past, is also getting a new stadium next year. But I’ll be damned if I was aware of it.

The author of the Associate press article I read pretty much assumed that; his opening line: “By the way, Shea Stadium is closing, too.”

The article went on to celebrate the stadium, located in Flushing Meadow, NY, a place not only rich in sports history as the home of the Amazin’ Mets of 1969, but also that of the old American Football League’s New York Jets, who upset the NFL’s Baltimore Colts in Superbowl III that same year behind Quarterback ‘Broadway’ Joe Namath’s ‘guarantee’ of victory.

Several other non-sporting events dot the landscape of Shea’s forty-four year history. Of the most notable were The Beatles groundbreaking first U.S. major outdoor stadium concert on August 15, 1965, and the October 3, 1979 Pope John Paul II visit in which the Pontiff supposedly stopped a steady rain by the raising of his hand.

That wasn't the only miracle seen at Shea; in the summer of 1969, they seemed to occur there on a nightly basis. A team that had up to that point been the joke of Major League Baseball would finally come of age; and in the process, ignite the love of sports in a young boy observing, nearly a thousand miles away in rural Indiana.

(My) Amazin’ Mets
Given that I’m such an unabashed California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels baseball fan, and have been exclusively for thirty years, it’s not something I’ve spent a lot of time talking about, my onetime affection for the New York Mets. But for a period of about ten years, beginning in 1969, I ate, slept, drank, and breathed the New York Mets. They were my introduction into the phenomenon of sports fandom.

In ’69, when I would turn thirteen years of age, I really wasn’t all that much of a sports fan; of course that fact wasn’t because I hadn’t been surrounded by it. In my sports-mad family, my Dad was a big-time Chicago Cubs fan; my elder brothers pulled for the Cincinnati Reds. But if anything, my baseball allegiances fell in the direction of the New York Yankees, due to them being the favorite team of my best friend at the time, my Cousin E. He was by far the most influential person in my life during my early adolescence. Between my 3rd and 7th grade years we were inseparable; I looked up to him like a big brother. So naturally, as E rooted for the Yanks, I rooted for the Yanks. But at the end of the day, I was just imitating someone whom I respected; I really don’t remember having any sense of connection with the Yankees or any other team. I was just tagging along with the bandwagon.

And then along came Jimmy Qualls.

Urrrghhh…Freakin’ Jimmy Qualls.

A career minor leaguer in the Chicago Cubs system, Jimmy Qualls spent a grand total of two-and-a-half seasons in the big leagues, amassing 141 at-bats strung out over 63 games. To say he was a marginal player is an insult to margins. Nevertheless, his 15 minutes of fame are fixed in the annuls of Baseball history.

The day after one fateful game, on July 9, 1969, a newspaper article changed my life. The game it reported launched an obsession and perhaps a miracle as well.

Tom Terrific
In 1969, Tom Seaver was a young 25 year-old pitching prospect in his 3rd season with the Mets. He had already had two back-to-back 16-game winning seasons for a horrendously mediocre Mets franchise that was now finally beginning to open some eyes with their better-than-expected start to the season. They were chasing the division-leading Cubs, who appeared to be the class of the National League, and hosting them at Shea Stadium for what would turn out to be a pivotal series.

Seaver was magnificent that night, mowing the Cubs down inning after inning. After eight rounds at the plate, the Cubs still hadn’t managed a baserunner. Tom Terrific, as the New York press had dubbed him, carried a perfect game into the ninth. Three outs to go, to achieve the rarest of pitching feats.

After getting the first out on Randy Hundley’s failed bunt attempt, up came Qualls. No one in the humongous crowd of 59,083 thought that the little-known rookie was any match for Seaver, but on this night, he was.

Qualls laced a soft line drive into left center field for what would be the Cubs only hit — or baserunner of the game. The Mets won 4-0, but Seaver lost his perfect game bid. Nevertheless, that performance by the Mets’ young ace is unarguably regarded as the catalyst game of the Mets’ pennant run. After having trailed the Cubs for the division lead by 8 games on July 4th, this victory fueled them into overtaking Chicago and going on to win their first Word Series title.

But the next day, when the Associated Press reported the story of Seaver’s near-immortal game, it was painted as if Obi-Wan Kenobi was explaining a ‘great disturbance in the Force.’ How dare this little pipsqueak deny Tom Terrific of his date with immortality! Jimmy Qualls name became mud in the New York media and in my mind as well.

I read the article, reprinted in the local newspaper, not because I cared about the Mets at that point, but rather because of the front page-of-the-sports section photo of Tom Seaver, displaying his now-famous knee-drag delivery, making a pitch during his one-hit performance. The photo’s caption read, “A very determined young man.” That description intrigued me, so I read on, becoming entangled in the drama of the story, so beautifully crafted — albeit one-sidedly so — by the New York-based writer.

How could you not root for a talented, determined young man like Seaver, leading his team, once the laughing stock of baseball, to a date with destiny?

This is my first and most lasting memory of Shea Stadium, although I didn’t know anything about the place at the time. I would however know plenty before the season was over, as I immediately became a Mets-Maven, and most accurately, a Seaver-Sycophant.

Everything went right for the Mets from that point forward. The Impossible Dream would be realized. New York would go on to win the division, the National League pennant, and finally, capture the World Series title from the heavily-favored Baltimore Orioles. I was on Cloud Nine. The Mets were MY team, and WE had won it all.

Kinda screwed over my expectations for future seasons though…

Life in a New Citi
Shea Stadium has seen its last game. Unfortunately, the Mets of 2008 couldn’t pull off the magic act of their predecessors of 39 years ago. It came down to the last game of the season, Sunday. Had the Mets won they would have forced a one-game playoff to determine the NL Wild Card team in the playoffs. However they fell short in their last stab at bringing an October game to their venerable home field.

But they’ll just have to wait until next year, beginning a new chapter in a brand new state-of-the-art ballpark, which like the New Yankee Stadium is slated to be ready on Opening day of 2009.

Unfortunately, the construction of the new Citi Field just beyond the outfield walls were all the Mets faithful had to look forward to after Sunday’s final game at Shea Stadium.

Photo courtesy Nick Laham/Getty Images

The new ballpark, will (initially at least) carry the corporate brand of financial giant Citicorp. Citi Field is currently under construction in the parking lot of Shea Stadium, which will be razed over the winter.

It’ll be bigger, more comfortable for fans as well as players, and should provide an exciting new element for the Mets faithful.

I always dreamed of one day attending a game at Shea, now sadly, that’s never gonna happen. But I may be able to eventually take in a game at Citi Field, hopefully before they tear it down.

I’ve decided that if that opportunity ever presents itself, I want to try and figure out where, in what will be the parking lot of the new stadium, the old one once stood. It’d be kinda cool to at least imagine that I was standing in the spot where the old pitching mound was; where Tom Seaver and his mates plied their magic so long ago, when the Mets truly were ‘amazin.’

Here’s hoping on behalf of Mets fans that some of those ghosts still roam the meadow.


Friday, September 26, 2008

A Different Point-of-Hue: L.A. Stories 2008
(Part IV)

Road Rage.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering when I’m gonna go off. Given the gloomy title and even gloomier Prologue, perhaps you’ve been anticipating that I’d eventually get to the bad part; that I would launch into some kind of Hell-A tirade. Perhaps you were waiting for me to start spouting off about how ‘in my day’ things were different; how life was so much better in the paradise that once was my beloved SoCal.

And in the beginning, when I first returned home and began pondering what to talk about in this series, you would have been correct.

Meh…chalk it up to jet lag.

Fact is, I was tired — physically and mentally — upon returning from a nine-day vacation to the old homestead. There was never a point at which I regretted going; but I now have considerable regret over perhaps spreading myself a bit too thin while I was there. However, that in no way was anyone’s fault but mine alone — and to be honest I really don’t see how it could have been avoided in the first place. Any other course of action would have meant missing out on seeing someone, and I’d have had none of that.

I love my friends; it’s one of only two legitimate reasons for returning to California as often as I do — save for the far greater purpose of spending time with my Dad and Step Mom. But even after the sad day arrives when my folks are gone, I will still make that trip as often as possible to visit my friends, and to reconnect with the abundant memories of an absolutely awesome childhood spent there.

But then again, not every moment on this trip was exactly what you’d call, awesome.

Traffic — the bane of most working folks in the greater Los Angeles area — was an absolute nightmare. One would certainly have a reasonable expectation of dealing with that when visiting Los Angeles. However this time it really caught me by surprise. I thought at first that it might have simply been the fact that three years had passed since my last visit; that I had been away long enough to somehow forget what L.A. traffic was really like.

Nah. I remembered.

I remember what it was like driving the freeways of Southern California for eighteen out of the twenty-two years that I lived there. I especially remember what it was like back in the mid-80s through the early 90s, when I was driving from Long Beach to the San Fernando Valley nearly every day of the week.

It was bad then; horrendous even, but at least it was somewhat predictable. Rush hour was well-defined; and barring some kind of catastrophic event, like an accident (the occurrences of which are surprisingly rare — a tribute to the skill of SoCal drivers), if you factored in the time of day, you pretty much knew how long it would take to get from point A to point B. And perhaps that’s still the case; but if so, the formula has changed.

And yes, this presented a problem for me on this trip.

As a SoCal resident, one of the things I always prided myself on was knowing the heartbeat of L.A.s freeway traffic patterns — inasmuch as my own sphere of personal travel was concerned, of course.

Not many people drive all of the freeways, all of the time. However that Long Beach/North Orange County-to-Downtown L.A.-or-The-Valley route was one that I knew well. To a lesser degree, but still with a certain amount of familiarity, were the traffic rhythms of Long Beach to the Hemet/Palm Springs area, where my folks retired to in the late 1980s. This was also a path I had worn well over the years.

Bottom line is, I had no reason to expect any dramatic changes in the traffic patterns this time around — but I got ‘em anyway. In the more recent trips I’d taken, in 2000, 2004 (twice), and again in 2005, it seemed to me that things had for the most part stayed the same in the 13 years since our relocation to Nashville.

I especially remember thinking, during that 2005 trip, how little the experience had changed, and what a perverse pleasure driving in congested L.A. Freeway traffic brought back to me. I’m sure I didn’t expect it to stay the same forever, but even the logical anticipation of it getting worse didn’t prepare me for what I experienced on this visit.

It may not have been ‘Road Rage,’ but it was close.

In a State of Flex
I noticed the heavier traffic right off the bat, soon after I arrived on Thursday afternoon. One of the things I had purposely done was to try and take a middle-of-the-day flight; one that wouldn’t force me to leave Nashville airport first thing in the morning for the outbound leg, but also one that didn’t depart so late in the day as to place me right in the teeth of afternoon rush hour traffic upon my arrival at LAX.

Fortunately there has been a longstanding flight on Southwest Airlines’ schedule that I’ve taken before, and was able to do so again this time. Not only is it a non-stop, it leaves Nashville at 12:05 PM and arrives in L.A. at 2:20 PM. I figured that would give me ample time to get my bags, catch the shuttle over to the car rental agency, and pick up my wheels for the week, all before 3:30 PM — the traditional start of rush hour as I had known it in all my years of driving in L.A.. And when I say, ‘the start’ of rush hour, I mean the very start, as in medium traffic, and few if any slow-and-goes. Under those circumstances, it should have taken no longer than 30-45 minutes tops for me to get to my where I’d be staying for most of the week, at my friend Cindy’s place in Cypress.

Heh; and guess what’s changed in L.A. over the past few years?

Enter the wonderful world of Flex Scheduling. It’s nothing new or even that novel a concept. It’s been around for years; but apparently it’s now in wide use in Southern California, according to Cindy.

She says that now, instead of most people working the standard 9 to 5, more and more companies are allowing their employees to stagger their hours to dilute traffic concentration, in an attempt to thereby avoid the traditional tie-ups of the work-a-day rush hour traffic pattern. The upshot of all that being, instead of coming to work at 8 or 9 AM, some people are now coming in at 6, 7, 10, or 11’oclock in the morning, and going home at 3, 4, 7, or 8’oclock in the evening.

The concept is sound…in concept, anyway. Spread out the concentration of peak traffic and you have less congestion, right? Except for one little detail that seems to have thrown a monkey wrench into the works: the obviously increased traffic volume in Southern California.

Well, in my day…”
I haven’t taken the time to exhaustively research it, so forgive me if I make assumptions that aren’t the strongest from a perspective of merit; I’m only going by what I’ve observed, what I’ve been told by longtime residents, and what I have discerned through logic applied to the reality of the situation.

There are just a GOB more people in SoCal now than there used to be!

And because of this, despite the flex scheduling, the effect of traffic is now actually much worse, because rush ‘hour’ is now six hours long!

I assure you, it’s not my imagination. The reality is that you seriously have to plan your travels more wisely now than ever before to avoid getting snarled in a sea of red tail lights. If you’re not well en route to where you need to go (of any considerable distance) by 2:30 in the afternoon, more than likely you will deal with rush hour traffic.

Yep, the place they called ‘Paradise’ is more crowded than ever. The only thing one needs to point to as proof is the cost of real estate — supply vs. demand, baby. The more people looking for a place to live in a given area, the higher the prices will be. And the cost of a place to lay your head has never been so high in SoCal as it has been since the mid-90s.

Square feets have always been worth their weight in gold in L.A.; that’s been the case since the late 70s. I was there, so I can say that authoritatively. I watched the average price of what most people would consider a nice house in a decent neighborhood rise from around $75,000 to $125,000 in a matter of 2-3 years in the early 1970s.

The reason? There were a few chief ones back then. First and foremost was an economy that sent America’s Auto Industry scrambling. A new term for the upper Midwestern industrial region along the Great Lakes was coined in the late 70s: The Rust Belt. Many of the recently-displaced factory workers of that era arrived by the thousands, searching for a piece of the new California Gold Rush: the Aerospace Industry, spawned by the heightened military budget of President Ronald Regan’s first term of office.

There was also the massive influx of Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees; the so-called ‘Boat people,’ who fled to the U.S. following the withdrawal of American troops in Southeast Asia. The vast majority of them wound up in Southern California, adding even more coziness to our little corner of heaven.

That was just the beginning.

Prices continued to climb before seeming to level off somewhat throughout much of the 80s and into the early 90s. But that wasn't any help for us; we couldn’t even afford the 20% required for a down payment on what was a then-average price tag of $200K for a 3-bedroom home in Long Beach. Eventually, due this and other unacceptable conditions in which to raise a family, we left SoCal for the greener pastures of Tennessee in 1992.

And as if real estate wasn't crazy enough at that point, it went completely nutso over the next few years.

The L.A. market had softened for the first time in decades, and apparently that's all it took for whatever it was that had been ailing it to get well like never before. By the mid-to-late 90s, home prices began to jump — dramatically.

The 1200 square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath cracker box in Long Beach that we’d rented for eleven years, which had been assessed at a value of $205,000 in 1990, was suddenly worth $500K. Until recently, those appraisals have continued to climb; bestowing mansionesque value to dwellings that were by any other standard, modest homes at best. The ‘million-dollar house’ was no longer the exclusive domain of the 90210 zip code. The exception had now become the rule.

But aside from the obvious assumption that every property-owner in SoCal had suddenly discovered oil in their back yards, back in Nashville, the question on my mind was, ‘how?’ and ‘why?’

I mean, at the time I left Southern California, I wasn’t the only one. Large numbers of families were fleeing L.A. for the promise of a more affordable life elsewhere. The blush had fallen off the rose, so to speak; it just wasn’t worth the struggle for a lot of people. Multitudes relocated to places like Seattle, Phoenix, and (of course), Nashville and the Southeast.

But as I said, something happened just a few years later. Something changed and sent folks streaming back into the area. There’s no other explanation for the sharp up-spike in property values.

There simply seem to be more people living in Southern California now than at anytime that I’ve ever known. Housing trends would certainly bear that notion out, as the cost of real estate has so famously shot up to the record levels seen over the past ten years.

So the question is, where did all these extra people come from? I can’t say authoritatively. As I mentioned, I haven’t researched this thing as I normally do when I make my famous wild generalizations. And I’m gonna keep it that way. No sense in spoiling a good yarn with needless facts.

Obviously I’m kidding here, but the reason I’m not all that concerned about taking a stab at the answer by my own self is that the authority I do have on the reason is pretty solid, and it makes perfect sense.

Blame the Mexicans
No…not really. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. But actually, to a lot of folks, that might seem like a plausible suggestion.

The truth is that over the past 30 years, the influx of illegals crossing into California from south of the border has been practically unabated. It couldn’t HELP but play a role in the growing population of SoCal, and by way of extension, participate in the increased traffic and higher housing prices as well. And that’s not just my opinion, but that of a number of residents I spoke to while I was there in August. These people are not bigots, and really don’t begrudge the idea of their new neighbors being there. They’re just pragmatic about the whole thing. The fact is that ther ARE there, and somehow, local government officials are just going to have to find a way to make it work.

Personally, while I can see the logic, I still don’t understand the necessity for the circumstances that SoCal’s overpopulation has wrought in the years since I left. Yes there are more people now. Yes that will naturally express itself in a higher cost of living, higher traffic volumes, and lower boiling points for the tempers of everyone involved.

But to pin it all on the illegals is ridiculous. And I guess this is where the rant rears its ugly head in this story.

The hardship of living in Southern California is not in dealing with longer rush hours and tighter traffic; it’s financial. It’s being forced to pay in excess of 40% of your monthly take-home on housing. It’s being forced to submit to a ridiculous interest-only, ‘Prime +’ or another stupidly-flimsy creative financing vehicle just to try and buy a house there, only to find that you really can’t afford those $3500-a-month payments after all, and you default on your mortgage.

However and whomever is responsible for the obscenely steep increase in home values that have made life hell for nearly everyone over the past 15 years should be shot. And no, I’m not talking genocide on the Mexicans. I’m talking about the mortgage bankers and real estate speculators who just this week nearly brought down our economy single-handedly.

In the movie Wall Street the saying ‘greed is good’ entered our pop-cultural lexicon. But it wasn’t Gordon Gekko who first coined that phrase; it was the blood-sucking real estate industry in Southern California, who has been perfecting it since the 70s.

It’s what drove me out of the state, and it’s what began the trend that now threatens our entire financial system.

Believe me folks, I’m as much a capitalist as the next guy, but I hate greed; I hate exclusivity; I hate injustice. And to see how much worse the cost of living has gotten in my former homeland this past trip just made me want to puke.

Don’t mind me…I’m just blowin’ off a little steam. I’m not offering any answers — ‘cept maybe the part about shooting the bankers and real estate developers.

But seriously, something’s got to give out there. I think what we’ve seen here nationally this past week, that it’s obvious just how thin that bubble has become, and that we need to do something before it bursts.

So that’s it. Rant over; on to happier subjects…

(Hmmm…seems I’m saying that a lot lately, huh?)

Next: Et Cetera ‘08

Thursday, September 18, 2008

So Long, Spymeter

Tracking Betrayal
It’s a hard thing, dealing with betrayal. It elicits an emotional response unlike any other: simultaneous shock and sadness, quickly evolving into anger.

Some betrayals are obviously worse than others; and while this one may not rank right up there with marital infidelity, on a more general, personal level, the violation isn’t too far off the mark.

Hopefully I’m not making too big a deal out of it all, but I’ve been really bummed, disappointed, and saddened by what I’ve discovered over the past few days about a company and a product that I used to trust.

Y’know it’s amazing how we anthropomorphize things; just look at people and the love affair they have with their Macs. As a consumer society we’ve become so enamored with ‘our’ products we use in the course of our daily lives; those inanimate things that bring us comfort and joy, especially if we have any kind of ‘history’ with them. The longer we’ve used them, often the deeper that relationship grows. The loyalty can be fierce, or warmly passive, as in our dependence on something so common as a chair: we’re confident that it will be there every time we take that leap of faith we call sitting down — the act of falling backwards onto something we can’t really even see at the time.

But what if the chair breaks and we wind up flat on our ass? What’s our reaction? Who’s responsible? Whom do we accuse? Do we blame ourselves for unwisely assuming our former four-legged friend would support our weight, despite the fact that it had performed the feat perfectly numerous times in the past?

Of course not; we blame the chair.


Sometimes it’s like that in the virtual world too.

We depend on things like web sites, computer programs and hardware to work as they’re supposed to, and when they don’t, we become frustrated and angry, even if they’ve for the most part been a dependable, consistent part of our daily lives.

Take the Internet, for example. There’s nothing more frustrating than waking up one Saturday morning to discover that you ‘have no Internet,’ right? And far more so when you find out the reason you have no access is because ol’ Butt-crack Bobby, the construction worker, dug up your underground coax line with a backhoe.

Now that’s bad enough, but imagine how pissed you’d be to learn that he did it on purpose?

Me and My ‘Meter
Those associated with this blog for any length of time know how fond I have always been of ‘my’ Sitemeter. It’s that little bit of web-counter tracking code that many of we bloggers use to ascertain details about those who visit and frequent our sites.

I have a number of times written fondly of my attempts to gently bring out into the open a number of ‘lurkers’ on my blog; those of whose existence I learned only through seeing them in my Sitemeter logs; they’d visit but never comment. However through these public invitations to coax them out of the shadows, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by my ability to get them to finally speak up and contribute. I like that

I just think it’s fun to go through the Sitemeter logs and try to imagine who my visitors might be and speculate as to what brought them here. It satisfies that basic human instinct that I have in great abundance — mean, curiosity!

And as those of you who use it know, Sitemeter is (or was) the greatest thing since sliced bread. It’s simple, easy to navigate, reasonably comprehensive in the types of basic information it provides via the ‘free’ account (which is how I’ve always rolled). There’s also a paid service that provides much more in-depth statistical analysis and broader features, but I’ve always been happy just to have the ability to know where my visitors are from, when they stopped by, and what referrer (search engine, web link, etc.) brought them here.

So WHY did they have to go and mess it all up?

I am now in the process of converting my three blogs from Sitemeter to its chief competitor, Statcounter, in the wake of the inauspicious ‘upgrade’ of the Sitemeter web site this past weekend (Sept 12-14, 2008).

It was a disaster by anyone’s description.

Fortunately for everyone who uses them, they immediately rolled back to the previous version of Sitemeter within hours of the new launch debacle of the new interface Sunday afternoon; one that they had never even bothered to beta test with ACTUAL USERS.

To their credit, the new interface did offer a wealth of information that users never before had at their disposal. However it was so counter-intuitive and clunky, the thing was virtually worthless (no pun intended).

I was extremely frustrated, but refrained from taking my frustrations out on the company directly; however my show of restraint was apparently in the vast minority. It’s now obvious that the company’s customer service forum was absolutely inundated with complaints and the incoming hate e-mail was off the hook.

But that aside, I still assumed that it would all shake out eventually, so I stepped back, watched some football and revisited the situation later that evening. It was only then that I learned the rollback was in process and realized the level of hell that must have broken loose.

So I did a little digging around the Intertubes to gage the reaction. I figured that any response so drastic must have sent at least a few bloggers screaming straight to their keyboards.

And this is what led to my current action; my decision to say sayonara to Sitemeter. It’s not because they experienced a major gaffe in execution of an upgrade attempt — hell, I hope I’m not that unforgiving.

Nope, this was something that was most likely related (more on that later), but not obviously so. But much more importantly, what I found shocked me, saddened me; infuriated me. It opened my eyes.

To Catch a Thief
Sure, I was all about the frustration with the Sitemeter upgrade alright, but not the one; not the one that happened last weekend.

I did a little Googling to try and unearth recent reaction to what had just happened, but didn’t find any right away. Instead, the material I came up with was over a year old; several blog references from the spring of 2007, revealing the non company-publicized news that Sitemeter had teamed up with SpecificClick, one of the better-known (and most despised) spyware/tracking cookie companies.

Now I was hot!

I learned that I had for the past 18 months unwittingly been serving up spyware to all of my blog’s visitors, and had myself been spied upon by this piece-of-crap excuse for web technology. I just sat there, my mouth agape. I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

And then it hit me like a wet mackerel across the chops. In their advance e-mails and site blogs, Sitemeter, in touting the coming new features of ‘Sitemeter II,’ touted new information-gathering capabilities for its customers that would employ visitor demographics reports as well as ‘User Interest Reports,’ that would reveal “what categories of content people are reading when they are not on your site,” promising to “find out what your visitors’ real interests are.”

I had read that several months ago and it didn’t really faze me at the time; I figured that all these new bells and whistles would be lost on my being a ‘free’ user who used only a fraction of the available features Sitemeter offers its ‘paying’ customers; I pretty much dismissed it without really taking the step of logic to realize just how the aforementioned new features would be employed.

Well, Sunday night was my V-8 moment. I immediately checked my cookie list in Firefox and sure enough, there was SpecificClick.

To assure myself that the illicit cookie wasn’t placed there by a site other than Sitemeter, I cleared out all the cookies in my browser and surfed around a few other sites and checked again.

No SpecificClick!

Then I went to my OWN blog, waited a minute and then again checked a third time, and sonofabitch...there it was, back again.

Needless to say I was livid then, as I am to this minute, 72 hours later.

A Breach of Trust
Sitemeter, I’m sad to say, has betrayed the spirit of the Web in my opinion, and that sentiment is spreading rapidly, especially in the aftermath of their aborted upgrade debacle. They’re taking on water faster than the Titanic.
So I’ve decided. Sitemeter is out; StatCounter is in.

I’d heard good things about StatCounter over the years, but was already emotionally invested in my trusty Sitemeter. I know it’s silly to think of it in those terms, but I considered Sitemeter a true partner in my blogging life. If they’d gotten a dollar for each time I’ve visited their site over the past forty-eight months, well...I’d be broke and they’d be a heck of a lot richer than they are today. Maybe then they wouldn’t have felt the need to do this deal with the devil; but I doubt it.

I suppose that’s really the root of all this: the apparent need to profit at the expense of not only their customers’ (and by extension, the blog-browsing public’s) dollars and cents, but also their privacy.

I don’t begrudge any company the legitimate attempt to gain an honest return on their products and services, but not when it involves the unwitting acquisition of the personal information of its users.

These SpecificClick cookies record and categorize the browsing habits of the web browsers they spy upon, allegedly transmitting that information to Sitemeter’s customers for use in augmenting and/or creating topical content to better attract and interest the violated party who visits their blog or other web site; a pretty audacious means to a purportedly innocent end.

For one thing, that’s a fairly diabolical way of gaining the upper hand that absolutely NO ONE would approve of if reported of in advance to the user. It’s no different than illicitly reading someone’s diary for the purpose of currying favor with them by catering to their innermost hopes and dreams.

However beyond the out-and-out distastefulness of that flavor of data mining, there’s also no guarantee that the collected data will stop there. There is no way I can believe that anyone who could stoop to that kind of technological subterfuge would refrain from using it for other purposes, such as the selling of it to a third party or some other unscrupulous end.

Call me paranoid, but as it is I have enough of a battle on my hands in the battle to retain my freedom, my identity, and my integrity of choice.

Losing my Cookies
So, as of this post, Sitemeter has been officially dispatched. I’ve removed it from my Blog code and it is no longer tracking the visits of this blog’s users.

I now use StatCounter exclusively, which also uses cookies, but not ones that follow you around like a slimy private eye.

Unfortunately, regarding the Sitemeter/SpecificClick spyware problem, that’s not where it ends. I’m obviously not the only one ever used that Benedict Arnold-ware utility. More specifically, a number of my friends and Blogsville neighbors have used it for as long as I did, and likely will continue to.

So the hassle remains; unless all my friends join with me in kicking Sitemeter to the curb, I’m going to have to make it standard procedure to constantly cleanse my cookie roster each and every time I visit their sites — which is not an idea I relish. I hardly expect that anyone besides myself would necessarily follow me down this path I’ve taken. Maybe they don’t see this kind of thing so passionately as I do; maybe they don’t care. And be that as it may, whether or not they do it’s neither my business nor my place to lay such a burden on them.

Making the switch to StatCounter has, admittedly, been an adjustment. I’ve been using it for nearly a week and I like it okay, but I’m just sayin.’ It’s actually a more powerful tool than Sitemeter (at least in its own ‘free’ version). Many of the features it offers free-of-charge are only available in the paid version of Sitemeter, and that’s a nice perk indeed.

However the interface is taking a little getting used to. It’s not that it’s so bad, or that Sitemeter’s was so good; it’s just that it’s not what I’ve been used to looking at for the past four years; and every time I do, I’m once again reminded of why it is I’m looking at it in the first place — because I’ve been betrayed — and that still bums me out, even now..

So I guess the bottom line is, it’s going to be a painful transition — perhaps not drastically so, but uncomfortable nonetheless.

Not that There’s Anything Wrong With That…
Again, to any of you who believe that he doth protest too much, believe me, I’m almost in agreement with you. However in this case, it’s really not that I have anything to hide, it’s like my dearly departed Step Mom, Maxine used to say, “It’s the principal of the thing, dammit!”

Those records of your web site visits hither and yon, around the Interwebs my well never wind up in some shadowy Homeland Security database, but then again, who’s to say they won’t? And even if they don’t, it just doesn’t make it right for anyone to keep tabs on you like that. Again, call me paranoid, but I’m funny about my freedom that way.

So if you’re still into SM (not that there’s anything wrong with that…), fine. Stay with them. I’ll gladly take the time to purge the beasties from my browser after I leave your site. But if you really want to send Sitemeter a message — as I do —letting them know that it’s NOT okay for them to pursue this unscrupulous tactic — then I’d invite you to join me and make the switch to StatCounter or any of the other dozens of similar web traffic utilities out there that won’t spy on you or your blog’s visitors.

It’s up to you, and I’ll like you just as well no matter what. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Now back to some hopefully happier subjects…


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A Different Point-of-Hue: L.A. Stories 2008
(Part III)

I just love it when a plan comes together.
Okay, I have to say going in, I’m probably gonna embarrass a couple folks, but that’s something else I do — call it a gift — I love to tell people how great they are. I just don’t think most folks get enough of that; but that’s not why I do it. I do it because I feel like it. And it’s my blog, so sue me, aiiight?

Anyway, sometime around February 17, 2008, I read the comments in another post on Kay Reindl’s blog, Seriocity. It was yet another offering from a fellow TeeVee industry person, which understandably, is pretty much the norm.

Now I would say that most of the folks who comment on Kay’s blog are either working or aspiring writers themselves; her stuff has a way of attracting those types of folks. Some are more compelling than others. Some have an axe to grind, joining in with Kay on one of her famous industry rants; others may offer support or mild disagreement with her subject du jour. Then again, some just sorta come off as folks who just like to hear themselves talk, but…judge not… I guess, said the pot.

But in this particular comment however, I did not derive any sense of the latter intent. The setting was soon after the WGA strike had ended in February as most everyone was stopping by to offer well-wishes to Kay in addition to expressing the relief they themselves felt in returning to work after being out on the picket line since November.

The fellow commentor in question wasn’t a writer, but he sure seemed to know how to spin a nice paragraph or two. He mentioned that he was a lighting technician, a juicer; a ‘below-the-line’ member of the industry.

Being the industry-jargon virgin that I am, this was a totally new wrinkle on my melon. “How funny,” I thought. “What a cool nickname.” As I read on, he mentioned that during the strike he’d kept quiet, but now that the strike was over he felt it was time to comment.

He went on to talk about the importance of solidarity from this time forward between the so-called ‘Above-the-Line’ segment of the industry, among which the WGA is a part (along with directors and producers), and the ‘Below-the-Line’ segment: the craft and technical services personnel (including lighting and camera operators, film editors, sound technicians and make-up professionals).

This so-called ‘line of demarcation between power and no power’ was apparently somewhat of a sore spot early on in the strike, as the below-the-liners were out of work, and truly powerless as they were forced to sit on the sidelines and wait out another union’s strike.

Perhaps it was the diplomatic way he put it, even quoting Kay’s arch nemesis, Craig Mazin, in the process. Maybe it was that cool nickname. Or maybe it was that shameless plug he slipped in for his own blog there at the end of his schpiel (not unlike what I had done in my initial comment on Kay’s blog a year earlier, BTW). But whatever it was, my interest was piqued. I copied his web address and visited his blog, and as I mentioned earlier, became immediately hooked on Blood, Sweat, and Tedium: Confessions of a Hollywood Juicer.

To be honest, I had already thought about possibly trying to meet Kay at some point in the future, though it really seemed like a longshot, given the obvious obstacle of geography — and the even more obvious potentially creepy Internet blog fan factor. I mean, why in gawd’s name would she want to meet me? I knew that my intentions were honorable, but would that certainty go both ways?

I’ve gotta give my wife Michelle credit; she didn’t even bat an eyelash when I told her I was going to meet Michael and Kay for brunch on the Sunday after I arrived in town. Now had I not mentioned Michael, well maybe we would have discussed the matter a little more. But the good news is, we didn’t have to.

Once I knew for sure I was going to be able to make the trip I contacted Kay and floated the idea. To my utter shock, she said she thought it would be fun. I then contacted Michael and over the course of a few days, synchronized our three respective schedules.

Hey Big Boy…Why don’cha come over and spend some time with me…
In order to make things as convenient as possible for her, I had asked Kay to choose the place to meet. To my delight she chose the landmark Bob’s Big Boy Restaurant on Riverside Drive in Burbank, just a few blocks from NBC and Walt Disney Studios, and about two miles from the record company where I used to work in the early 90s. Finding the place wouldn’t be an issue, even for my senior moment sense of direction.

In thinking about traveling to the meet I had actually relished the idea (yeah, that’s what a nutcase I am) of retracing the commute route that I used to take to get to work from Long Beach to Burbank. I was sure I wouldn’t have any trouble remembering it.

But sure as shootin’ I missed one of the three freeway exchanges required to get to my destination. In the stretch where the I-5, the 101, and I-10, all converge, I took the 101 instead of the 5, which took me toward downtown Los Angeles instead of northwest toward Burbank and the San Fernando Valley.

I immediately realized my error, but my first opportunity to get off and turn back around was about four miles in. That, along with the fact that the same exit wasn’t available going the other way, meaning I would have to overshoot AGAIN and turn around a second time, meant that I was now 15 minutes behind schedule.

We had agreed to meet at Bob’s at 10AM, and I left Cypress (in North Orange County where I was once again staying at my pal, Cindy’s place) at 9:00am, assuming that traffic would be light on a Sunday morning. Fortunately I was right. When I got myself tuned around, just past the Downtown Civic Center area, I glanced at my watch. It was only 9:25 AM. I had gotten all the way from North Orange County to Downtown L.A. in less than 30 minutes! That as much as anything is a pretty good indication of just how drastically L.A.’s suffocating traffic can affect commute times. And it wasn’t like I was the only car on the road either. The difference was, there were no bottlenecks due to the lighter traffic, unlike the circumstance as it would be 24 hours later and more than likely was 24 hours earlier.

At any rate, I knew I would at that point probably be right on-time, which I was.

I know I had driven past that Bob’s dozens of times in years gone by, but I really couldn’t see it in my mind’s eye when trying to remember just where it was. However I knew I wouldn’t miss it when I saw it. Sure enough, it stuck out like a beacon as I came around the bend on Riverside Drive in the light of a sunny SoCal Sunday mid-morning, and at once the entire scene came flooding back into memory.

Kay had said the landmark restaurant had become one of her favorite places over the past year, as with its close proximity to the TeeVee studios it had become a sort of hangout for the writers during the strike.

Bob’s restaurants carry some history with me as well. The stores in Long Beach, including the one near my parent’s house where my sister Janice worked in high school, were the quintessential ‘cheap date’ destination throughout my teen years. That and their great coffee made it one of the prime late-night-java and/or-early-morning-breakfast haunts where my friends and I liked to meet.

Unfortunately the franchise began to die in the 80s and four of the Long Beach area restaurants had disappeared by the time we moved to Tennessee. It had been a very long time since I’d even seen a Bob’s Big Boy, let alone dined at one.

Michael had thrown me a shout on my cell while I was en route, telling me how to recognize him; I returned the favor. We all must have arrived within seconds of one another as there was no one standing in front of the restaurant doors as I was pulled into the parking lot. However, by the time I got out of my car and walked the 15 yards or so to the front entrance, there was a man and a woman standing there facing each other talking. The guy was wearing a ball cap matching the description Michael had given of the one he’d be wearing, so I made the split-second decision that I was either going to make a complete ass of myself, or a grand entrance — one of the two.

Like I said…caution to the wind.

Sixpence None The Richer Reunited - April 2008
“Nice Shirt.”
This image of my coolest shirt EVAR courtesy of someone else out on the InterTubes who thinks he’s as cool as me...
I approached the couple rather quickly and neither really seemed to notice me until my head was practically between theirs and I quipped, “So, I guess this must be where it’s all hap’nin, right?”

They both reared back a little at first, no doubt wondering who this weirdo crashing their conversation was. Then I saw Michael’s eyes light up as he smiled and pointed at the t-shirt I was wearing, which I had described to him on the phone earlier. It features the heads of sixteen retro Marvel Comics Super-Heroes, including The Fantastic Four, Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk, The Silver Surfer, Thor (God of Thunder), and The Inhumans; A very cool shirt indeed if you’re a comics nut like me, not to mention instantly recognizable, which is why I wore it and why Michael was pointing and smiling.

“Nice shirt,” they said, nearly in unison.

So immediately following the formal introductions and handshakes, we proceeded on into the restaurant, where we inquired about a table outside on the patio, of which there were several available. It was just the setting I was hoping for. The receptionist walked us out; we sat down and started talking.

I doubt that that goofy smile left my face for the entire two-and-a-half hours we were there.

Above the Line meets Below The Line meets What’s My? Line
It was perfect. Two new bloggers whom I’d only known via their words floating through cyberspace, who live in L.A., whose blogs I have grown very fond of and who seemed to be extremely interesting people, had actually agreed to meet with me pretty much out of the blue.

Only in Blogland, folks, only in Blogland. No matter how many times I do this, it still blows me away.


The aforementioned two-and-a-half hours seemed like about 25 minutes. The conversation never lagged. We talked quite a bit about The X-Files, a subject that I was particularly keen to get Kay’s opinions on, and which will also be the sole subject of a future post. Yes, I’m an X-Phile, and I unlike Kay, still think the series still has legs as a feature film franchise. But I’ll get into all that at a later date.

Needless to say it was all highly interesting. We talked about the strike briefly, but it seemed to me that it was a subject Kay and Michael just would have assumed be left in the past; and that was fine with me; far better to look forward than backward, I suppose.

Kay and Michael offered details of their daily lives in the business. Kay is of course right now in perhaps her busiest time of the year, working ten hours a day on scripts with her writing partner. They call it, “being in the room.” And when you’re in the room, you don’t run out to pick up the dry cleaning at lunch time. You’re there to write. Lunch comes to you; you don’t go to it.

As I mentioned earlier, Michael is also well-acquainted with 10-14 hour workdays. He related a few anecdotes on the matter, giving insights to some of the stories I had already read on his blog.

So despite the fact that Kay, as a writer, is regarded as ‘above the line’ and Michael, as a lighting technician, is ‘below the line,’ they both work their respective bums off.

When it all comes down to it, the only ‘line’ that matters is the bottom line of getting a project created and sold to the networks, and hopefully, on to TeeVee. It’s a rough business; brutally competitive, and one for which those who involve themselves in it are absolutely required to suffer for their craft. There is no easy path to the staying power that everyone seeks, but when achieved, the rewards obviously are tremendous.

I’ve experienced a small sampling of that type of frenetic activity in the record biz, but nothing like this. In my experience most of the unrealistically short turnaround times of my former profession were artificially if not arbitrarily so. However with TeeVee, there are so many more people involved in the process, it’s pretty tough to imagine how they could get it done any other way. It’s a high price to pay, and I say god bless those who can submit to the taskmaster’s whip and succeed where others have failed.

Horsin’ Around
The conversation inevitably gravitated to one of if not the chief passion (outwardly anyway) in Ms. Kay’s list o’ favorite diversions: Horse Racing. Seems it’s not just a passing fancy with her but something she’s been into her entire life. I was astounded at her intimate knowledge of the breeding process and physical indicators that horses give off to lend credence to whether or not they’re in top form on any given occasion. I wish I could have been more conversational on the subject; I just sort of sat there and listened, not being able to do much else than nod my head.

I did manage to relate my memories of the great Triple Crown horses of the 70s, Secretariat, Seattle slew, and Affirmed; three horses who won that great triumvirate of races, all over a mere five year span from the mid-to-late 70s.

Kay mentioned something that I wasn’t aware of; that prior to Secretariat in 1973, there had been a twenty-five year gap since the previous TC winner. That’s why it was such a phenomenon to see it happen again, twice more in the next five years, including consecutive years in 1977 and ‘78.

I admitted to figuring in my enormous naiveté that such a string wasn’t that big a deal; that it almost seemed commonplace to someone like me whose only knowledge of the Sport of Kings was pretty much limited to what I read in the sports pages following the big races.

However Kay went on to give a brief synopsis of why the Triple Crown is such a rare feat, and why now, 30 years removed from Affirmed as the last horse to accomplish it, we may well never see another one, due to changes in the way horses are trained and their value as commodities for breeding purposes. Fascinating stuff.

Eventually the conversation turned to baseball, and Michael talked about his affinity for his childhood local team, the San Francisco Giants. Kay of course bleeds Dodger Blue.

I was stayin’ out of this one, yo.

The Juicer floated his opinion that the Dodgers, who had recently re-acquired pitcher Greg Maddux, had done so primarily to keep the Giants at bay during the NL West Pennant stretch run, as the Dodgers played their arch rivals six times down the stretch in the final weeks. You see, Maddux has more wins again the Giants than any other team in his imminent Hall of Fame career. It was a very interesting proposition, just like 99.9999% of all the other things that came out of the mouths of these two very entertaining, talented, and intriguing bloggers.

Shortly after 12:30 PM, Kay received a phone call on her cell and realized how much the time and coffee refills had gotten away from her. I think we could easily have talked for another hour, but it was a good point at which to call it a wrap.

She obviously had things she needed to do with this, as her weekly routine in the midst of script season obviously leaves only the weekends for errands and other personal business. I knew going in that Kay would probably be mindful of how much time she could spend, but was very happy to notice that up to that phone call, she never once looked at her watch.

However now she needed to go, and actually, I did too; I had also received a call earlier during this marathon confab from my friend Az. He and I were loosely scheduled to get together later that afternoon once I got back to Cindy’s and he was calling to touch base.

So we all threw down some cash for our breakfast and coffee, then made our way towards the door.

After a few ill-fated photos captured in front of the huge trademark Big Boy statue near the restaurant entrance, we took leave of one another, thanking each other for a wonderful time. I was particularly gratified that Michael made the point to thank me more than once for putting it all together. I was just relieved that they didn’t say...“I’ll call you,” if you know what I mean…

So I called them instead.

As I was preparing to get back on the freeway, I dialed up Kay to again thank her for taking the time out of what I knew was an extremely busy time for her. I really appreciated it.

The ride home was a no-brainer, as my mind went on auto-pilot, tracing my old work commute. It was a great day, and a tremendous opening weekend for my nine-day L.A. vacay.

Next: Road Rage

Thursday, September 04, 2008

A Different Point-of-Hue: L.A. Stories 2008
(Part II)

Another Shot in the Dark
I dunno. Maybe I’ve always been this way. Despite the fact that I’ve never considered myself much of a risk-taker, I had a brief-but-memorable stint as lead singer in a garage band when I was in fifth grade; and I don’t recall the two ensuing public performances I had in that endeavor being overly scary. Then in eighth grade I ran for student council, delivering my campaign speech from atop a chair I had to stand on because I couldn’t see over the freaking podium; yeah, that was sorta fun too.

Then I subsequently spent fifteen years of my life as a competitive gymnast, swinging around on the rings, taking my life into my hands on a daily basis even after a missed dismount in a college meet once left me with a broken back; I never had a second thought about quitting.

Off and on throughout my adult life I’ve done a limited amount of public speaking, and can’t remember the last time I’ve felt intimidated in a crowd of strangers. All of these things, I’ve been told by folks over the years, take a bit more nerve than the average person possesses, yet I’ve never thought of myself as overtly courageous, in public settings or otherwise.

My son Shawn has rock-climbed El Capitan in Yosemite and bungee-jumped off 150 foot-high bridges; now that’s courageous — or dumb — I don’t know which.

The fact of the matter is, I’m somewhat of a ham; a reserved ham, but a ham nonetheless. I’m not afraid to walk up to and talk to someone, regardless of the situation. I don’t like to be embarrassed anymore than the next guy, but if I want to meet someone, I’m generally willing to toss caution to the wind.

As the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I mentioned in the previous post of this series the story of how I met Michael (A.K.A. MakeMineMike). I sought him out because that’s just what I do. It works for me. I’ve never been the type of person whom people flock to (unless of course I’m walking down the street waving around a wad of Hamiltons in my fist — but that doesn’t count), and that’s fine; I don’t take it personally. I’m rather used to it at this point in my life. For better or worse, I’ve come to decide that most circumstances in which I have a problem with someone acting or not acting a certain way around me, it’s usually ME that has the problem — not the other person. I realized early on in my adult years that if you wanna have friends, most of the time you have to make friends. You can’t expect them to always come to you.

Friendship needs to be cultivated, and the first act of cultivation is preparing the soil. Next comes planting the seed. Where and how it grows from there is solely up to how well it’s maintained.

But that’s a discussion for another time. This is about taking chances.

My initial meeting with Michael was a shot in the dark. I had no idea whether he’d go for it or not. I really didn’t see any reason why he wouldn’t, but I was certainly prepared for it if he had declined.

Well, I decided to do it again this trip, four years later.

Tuning In
A year ago last February I stumbled quite innocently across a blog whose subject matter was about 180 degrees from my own. The author was a TV writer (the abbreviation hereto be forevermore rendered as ‘TeeVee’ in her honor). And the shows she’s been a part of weren’t just any shows, but ones I had actually watched and liked.

Her site is entitled Seriocity, and her name is Kay Reindl.

Of particular interest to me was Kay’s involvement in one of the shows of Chris Carter, a name you might recognize as the creator of The X-Files and Millennium, two widely-acclaimed Fox Network series that leaned decidedly toward the sci-fi/paranormal side of the aisle.

Kay was one of the primary writers during seasons two and three on Millennium, a haunting and dark paranormal drama that I got into a bit late but really enjoyed during its run in the late 90s. In addition to her work with Carter, Kay has more recently been involved in the series revival of The Twilight Zone, USA Network’s The Dead Zone, and the recent and critically-acclaimed-but short-lived CBS sci-fi offering, Moonlight, to name a few.

Her latest project is a series that will debut this fall in syndication, based upon Wizard’s First rule, a rather Lord of The Rings-esque fantasy series of books by Terry Goodkind. It should be an interesting challenge for Kay and her writing partner, Erin.

But her resume was only a fraction of her blog’s appeal for me. Kay’s a no-nonsense kinda gal, with a free-flowing, conversational style of writing that’s as hip and fun as it is engaging. She talks about lots of different things, namely her eclectic taste in music, her longstanding love of the Sport of Kings, and her unfortunate (…sorry Kay…) affinity for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Equally interesting was the inside scoop Kay dished out in her blog on the joys and frustrations of getting a TeeVee series to market; from concept to pilot, to having a show picked up by the networks. It may have been old hat to many of her readers, but I found it extremely fascinating.

However those who were involved or affected by the recent strike involving the Writers Guild of America television writers may know Kay’s blog for something else — her active and spirited involvement as a proponent of her union’s position during the WGA work stoppage of late last year. Kay’s blog quickly morphed from a personal home for her off-work idlings to one of the industry’s hottest destinations for strike opinion and dialogue. She was well-versed in the points of contention between the WGA and the Networks, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP), and she didn’t spare the salvos in meting out her opinion on the matter.

I watched her comments grow exponentially during the late fall of 2007, as more and more writers (as well as a few AMPTP trolls) came by to offer their support or derision. It was a fascinatingly educational experience for me (to say the least), as it seemed I was one of the few consistent non-TeeVee industry frequenters of her site during that period.

Going in I had no idea how old she was, but I knew she was wise well beyond her years, confident, and seemed to be a pretty fun person. I really wanted to see what she was like in person.

But Kay wasn’t the only one I wanted to meet.

Fresh Squeezed
I’m sure guys in his line of work get a kick out of the various and sundry attempts by outlanders like me to guess exactly what the term, Juicer actually refers to as the industry moniker for Hollywood lighting technicians.

I intended to ask him about it, but it never came up.

Were I to proffer a guess, I’d imagine the nickname has mostly to do with the idea of the lighting techs providing ‘the juice,’ or electrical power, to a film set via the installation and positioning of those heavy, powerful, hot-as-H-E-DOUBLETOOTHPICKS lamps that illuminate a scene for the cameras; making what would otherwise be a shadowy, nondescript setting appear amazingly bright and naturally lit.

Juicers are as integral to the look and quality of a TeeVee show or feature film as the cameramen who employ them, because they’re the ones who give the camera something to see.

But then again, after reading Michael Taylor’s blog, Blood, Sweat and Tedium: Confessions of a Hollywood Juicer a little while, I began to think that perhaps ‘Juicer’ really has more to do with the analogy of what happens to an orange during the process of having its nectar extracted.

Perhaps they should call ‘em, ‘Juicees’ instead.

Lighting work is hard, physical labor, and the one thing I’ve learned over the course of the nearly a year of reading his blog, these guys don’t get paid nearly enough; they certainly don’t get the thanks they should receive, nor the respect, nor the job security. Along with their other ‘crew’ brethren, they’re among the first ones to arrive and the last ones to leave a film set. They typically work 12-to-14 hour days, sometimes on only straight pay. They’re also the first ones to feel the brunt of studio politics brought to bear by a change in director, producer, and certainly, the Director of Photography of a particular project.

And as if their incessant physical toil isn’t bad enough, they oftentimes also serve as the undeserving targets of temper tantrums by insecure, egotistical actors or directors; some of whom have had lighting crew members fired just for looking at them out of turn.

Again, as with Kay’s blog (through which I discovered Michael Taylor’s site) this glimpse into a life — from inside an entity that the average Joe has absolutely no true connection to — was absolutely fascinating to me.

AND…the guy’s an incredibly good writer as well, which even more than the subject matter, is what grabbed me by the throat. I was hooked after the first read. Michael’s eloquent, lilting narrative style is one pathway that I never tire of traversing.

Kinda makes me wonder if he’s not on the wrong side of ‘The Line.’

Needless to say, I was very interested in meeting Michael as well. And I figured if I was trying to put together a meet with Kay, why not attempt to get together with them both at once? Thankfully, he was up for it too.

Next: ‘Above the Line’ meets ‘Below the Line’ meets ‘What’s MY Line?’

Monday, September 01, 2008

A Different Point-of-Hue: L.A. Stories 2008 (Part I)

Getting right to the good part…
I told you this series was going to be different. Instead of proceeding in chronological order as per usual, I’m skipping right to the good part. And while that’s not to say that this was the only circumstance of vactioney goodness I encountered on this trip to my SoCal stompin’ grounds, it was, by acclamation, the bestest of the best.

I spent nine days in Southern California, from Thursday August 21st through Saturday August 30th, however if I had only the time on this trip to spend one day there, it would have been Thursday, August 28th, hands down. It was, after all, the reason I decided that to come to California this summer in the first place. It would be the one event that I absolutely could not miss.

It was the conclusion of a fairy tale come to life, and I am elated that I had the distinct pleasure of being a party to it all, from the beginning. The subplot featured a Hollywood ending, but the beginning was 3000 miles away in Long Island, New York.

The Evil Empire vs. Showtime Ugly
There was a time early on in our Blogland encounters when I didn’t know what to make of this guy. To be honest, I didn’t like him all that much at first blush, and rather brushed him off as just another blowhard devotee of The Evil Empire.

Four and a half years later, I found myself traveling two thousand miles to attend a Jewish wedding in Topanga, with a New York Yankees yarmulke on my melon.

I’m speaking of course, of my dear friend, Michael, and his recent nuptials to the lovely Randi. It was a New Millennium union that could have only happened in Blogland.

Given our first exchange, no one is more surprised than moi that Mike and I became friends. After seeing his name in the blogroll and comments sections of numerous bloggers during the initial weeks of my introduction to the medium, our first encounter was in the comments section of a fellow blogger and mutual friend, Leese, sometime around July of 2004.

Leese lives in the Bay Area and is a huge fan of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. One day she wrote a post about how much she hated the Los Angeles Lakers, the Kings’ chief Western Conference rival, and a team that I’ve been a rabid fan of since I was in the 8th grade. I guess I teased her a little bit in the comments of that story, but in…y’know…a good natured, friendshippy sorta way.

Long story short, Michael perhaps didn’t see it as so much a ‘good-natured’ ribbing, and in Leese’s defense, made a crack about how obnoxious L.A. Lakers fans were, adding the fact that he didn’t care so much about basketball, since he was a Yankees fan, but was bothered by Laker fans’ behavior nonetheless. I of course shot back something sarcastic involving the Bronx Bombers and black kettles, and we both left the encounter wondering what kind of jerk that other guy must be.

But aside from the raising of each other’s macho sports fan dander a bit, Michael’s and my little barb-fest caused us to both independently look into each other’s blogs, to get a better read on what the other was really all about. As for me, I discovered that we ran in the same blog circles and were linked on practically all of the same sites. It was only natural that I should seek to find out what made this MakeMineMike guy tick.

So I start reading his blog and came to find out that, hey, the guys’s a sportsfan, he’s into comics, and he’s a great writer, so how bad could he really be? At the same time, Michael began to read and comment on my blog in kind, and a comfort level between the two of us was forged.

However, there are comfort levels and then again there comfort levels cleverly disguised as tolerance levels. I wanted to find out which one was which in this circumstance.

And it just so happened that I had a way of doing that.

A Shot in the Dark
I won’t go into all the particulars of how it happened and what was said, but basically, I contacted Michael on a hunch that he might be willing to meet while I was in L.A. for my second trip of 2004, in August. I was coming out for my 30 Year High School Class Reunion, and seeing as he was one of only two SoCal bloggers I knew at the time, I thought it’d be cool to see if he’d accept an invitation for a face-to-face.

He did, we hit it off and the rest is personal history.

But this is where I feel it necessary to inject a bit of a disclaimer. I don’t claim to be Mike’s BFF, and would never want to place that kind of a tag on anyone I’ve only physically met less than a half-dozen times. I also would never dream of placing him in that kind of a position with regard to me. But we’ve talked on the phone a lot over the past four years; covered a lot of ground personal-history wise; worked through problems in both our lives; provided a needed ear for each other.

These are things that friends do for one another.

At the reception, Michael referred to me as his “spiritual advisor” to a couple of folks. I dunno about that. What I do know is that I have rarely been so proud to see the fruition of another man’s obvious happiness as I did last Thursday evening. It was an awesome sight to behold, because I know how long and sincere was the quest to obtain it.

If I had anything to do with Michael finding his soulmate it’s only that I always sought to encourage him to be true to his own heart; to never settle for less than what he knew was the ‘right’ woman, the one God had reserved just for him.

I knew that his character was bulletproof, as was his upbringing, and that he was destined to be forever bound to the one (nevermind the Matrix wisecracks, aiiight?). Nothing else would have been right for him; no one else would have fit into that Randi-sized hole in his soul.

Strange thing is, I didn’t know Randi apart from her blog. But when she and Michael met, the way he spoke of her made me feel as though we were already old friends. It had to be right; it was just too perfect: I mean, two people, growing up in the same area on Long Island, moving 3000 miles to the other side of the continent, only to find each other at an ‘L.A. Blogger Meet ‘N Greet?’ You’ve gotta be kidding me! This is Oscar-worthy stuff here, folks.

My wife Michelle and I will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary next March. As anyone whose read this blog knows, things haven’t always been perfect, yet we’re still together and are now even closer than we were twenty years ago.

I believe I can be so bold as to say that I have a little knowledge on the subject of finding ‘the one.’ I would like to think that I know the type of mindset it takes to accept nothing but the best in a marriage. And I believe I know how to identify the characteristics of a man’s heart that make those decisions possible.

I see those characteristics in Michael; I sense the same in Randi; and I have no doubt that they will be extremely happy together.

I also know that if he screws this up, I will personally come to L.A. and kick his ass.

But all seriousness aside, what a great evening it was! You’ve probably already read about it on other blogs, but the soopergenius of the Photo Booth; The dueling Yankees and Mets (Randi’s faves) yarmulkes; the four-page full color wedding comic book program that Mike so brilliantly illustrated, the cupcakes in lieu of a wedding cake; the wonderfully appointed garden wedding and reception facility at the Inn of the Seventh Ray in Topanga Canyon; all these things along with a wonderfully heartfelt and emotionally enthralling ceremony delivered by Rabbi Feinstein combined to create one of if not the best wedding experience I’ve ever witnessed — and I’ve been to a LOT of weddings.

The Lone Fly in the Ointment
Just like ants at a picnic, it seems there always has to be one little bummer to dampen most any otherwise positive experience.

I mentioned it earlier in the opening of this series; I somehow left behind the cheap, old digital camera I brought on this trip at my table at the reception. Not only did it have the pictures I took of the reception and ceremony at Mike & Randi’s wedding, but also those from nearly a week’s worth of other events and friend-meets that happened prior to Thursday night.

Needless to say, my head is still drooping about that one.

I’m hopeful still, but not optimistic that the camera will still turn up and be returned to me by either the Inn’s staff or someone who was sitting at my table that night, which fortunately for me (as it means I have a way of contacting them) was the specially designated ‘Bloggers’ group.

So… Will?...Nina?...Jenn?...Hilary?...Nannette?

Any love, guys?

But even if the pics are indeed lost, the memories will live on. It was a great time for all; I had a fantastic time meeting and hanging with some extremely funny, bright and engaging folks. But most of all, I got a chance to witness something that always brings me joy:

The good guy got the girl.

Next: Another Shot in the Dark