Saturday, August 26, 2006

What A Schmuck

Remember George, no man is a failure who has friends. Just beware of freeloading, deadbeat family members.

There are two things I used to be able to count on every holiday season: reeducating the gentiles on the meaning of Hannukah, and multiple viewings of the 1946 classic, "It's A Wonderful Life." There was a time when you could watch this classic piece of sentimental cheese on as many as 3 local channels at the same time, and I did. I used to be able to recite entire sections of dialogue. I marveled at the sighting of Alfalfa from The Little Rascals being cut out of a dance with Mary Hatch by a randy George Bailey. I rolled my eyes when George got excited by the prospect of making a whopping $20,000 working for Mr. Potter (because 44 years later, I was making the less than that at my first job out of college). I laughed at the cab driver/cop combo named Ernie and Bert, 22 years before "Sesame Street." And then things started going wrong. First, it was colorized. Then NBC bought the rights and suddenly, the world was robbed of a holiday tradition. One, maybe two, viewings was all we were allowed. So I bought it on DVD. But it just wasn't the same.

For a fun, :30 reenactment of the film done by bunnies, click

On to the subject at hand. I've watched this film enough to be something of an expert. I've analyzed and scrutinized every scene and every character. And I've come to one important conclusion: George Bailey is the biggest schmuck in history, fictional or otherwise.

Thanks to a wingless guardian angel named Clarence (AS2), George is allowed to see what the world would have been like without him. He was, in one way or another, responsible for the happiness of dozens of families and the lives of hundreds of others. Joan of Arc was a selfish bitch compared to George. Not one person in his life wanted for anything. And 99% of the time this was at his own expense, emotionally and financially. He risked bankruptcy for his friends, prison for his family, and this all led him to a suicide attempt. But the folks of Bedford Falls were, for the most part, grateful. Sure there was Tom, who wanted all of his money out of the Savings and Loan when the Great Depression hit; and Sam Wainwright, who didn't need George's help because he knew about the value of plastics long before Benjamin Braddock in "The Graduate." But there was one person who selfishly took advantage of all of George's generosity more than anyone else: his brother Harry Bailey.

As of the end of the movie, Harry Bailey had a truly wonderful life. Good looks, High School All American, college sports star, war hero, pretty wife, good job. All this for a guy who should have died when he was 9. George dove into freezing water and lost the hearing in one ear to save his brother's life. And the total lack of justice goes on from there:

Fact: When it was time for George to go off to college after paying his dues at the "dusty old Building and Loan", his dad dies and George's sense of duty leads him to take over the business, sending Harry to college. And George is stuck in Bedford Falls.

Fact: When it was time for Harry to come home from college to take over the B&L, he brings a wife ("Ruth Dakin Bailey, if you don't mind) and a job prospect. And George is stuck in Bedford Falls.

Fact: When war breaks out, Harry gets to do all the traveling George always dreamed of, becoming a war hero and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. All while George is stuck in Bedford Falls.

We all know what happened next. A liquor-soaked Uncle Billy misplaces $8000, sending George into a tailspin. He runs from Mr. Potter and Mr. Carter, the bank examiner (who wants to spend the holidays in Elmira), he yells at his family, screams at Zuzu's teacher Mrs. Welch, threatens and then gets punched out by Mr. Welch, drives drunk and plows his jalopy into a tree (owned by the one guy in Bedford Falls who seemingly doesn't know who George is), and contemplates suicide. Meanwhile, the whole town is looking for him.

Bear with me, I'm getting to my point.

Eventually, George decides he wants to live and he runs home. Waiting for him is the town of Bedford Falls, literally throwing money at him. George needs help? The town remembers all George has done for them and they chip in to the "Keep George Out Of Jail" fund. Annie the housekeeper adds in her divorce money ("in case I ever get a husband"). Mr. Martini "breaks-a open the juke-a box". Even Mr. Carter and the sheriff donate money. Then the climax of the film. War hero Harry Bailey shows up with Bert, the accordion-playing cop. And he offers up a toast, "to my big brother George Bailey. The richest man in town." Yeah? No thanks to him! Watch this scene again. How much money does war hero world traveler college athlete Harry Bailey donate to the cause? NOTHING!!!! He mooches some hooch and makes a toast. Hey Harry? It's pronounced "thank you." Your brother's life sucks and it's your fault. I wonder how long Harry hangs around before he goes back to Rochester or wherever his wife's family lives.

George Bailey. Nice guy. Biggest schmuck ever.

An angel gets his wings and a nice guy gets a lifetime of this.

Monday, August 21, 2006

That's Hypocrisy!!!!

The world is filled with things that are done in the name of political correctness or government regulations or just trying to please all the people all the time. Rarely do these things ever make much sense. So welcome to the first installment of:

That's Hypocrisy!!!!!

You ever try to watch your favorite movie on regular TV? There's the usual editing for time and squeezing in commercials and stuff. And language. You gotta take out all the offensive language. There are some things that we all can agree are offensive (the usual four-letter words) and some which are subjective (some networks won't let you take the Lord's name in vain). Then there's the case of the 1974 Mel Brooks classic, "Blazing Saddles."

Now, this is one movie which is so hilarious that it's still amusing even when butchered by network Standards & Practices. But my gripe is with the familiar "Beans around the campfire" scene.

I don't remember how old I was when I first saw this movie but here's the thing: no matter how old you are, farting is always funny. And multiple farts are that much funnier. So I'm watching "Blazing Saddles" for the millionth time and it's on some local channel and we come to this classic scene. And the men are eating the beans and each one stands up and I hear a horse whinnying. A horse whinnying? Bizarre, yeah, but when did farting become so offensive that it can't be broadcast? And not even the word...the sound effect!

Okay, but here comes the hypocrisy. Whoever is in charge of editing for broadcast determined that farting sounds have to go but the word "nigger"? That's all over the place. So we've finally come to a point in society where insulting an entire race of people is okay but hearing the sounds of people breaking wind is just too offensive for sensitive ears. In my opinion, that's hypocrisy!!!!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Like Piña Coladas?

I listen to a lot of music and I tend to overanalyze lyrics. So from time to time, I'll use this forum to rant about one song or another. Like the 1979 Rupert Holmes hit, "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)". This karaoke classic has the unique distinction of being the last #1 Billboard hit of 1979 and the first #1 Billboard hit of 1980. Or, to be more dramatic, the last of the '70s and the first of the '80s. Is there anyone who is unfamiliar with the lyrics? Click on the title above.

"Escape" did nothing when it was first released, but that was because no one knew it was called "Escape." Once it was renamed "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)", it started shooting up the charts. It tells the story of a guy who is bored with his current relationship. "I was tired of my lady. We'd been together too long." Too long? I wonder what "too long" is to this ADD case. And who is this person? Girlfriend? Wife? It's unclear in the opening line, "I was tired of my lady." In the third verse, the narrator refers to her as, "lady" and then, "my old lady" so maybe that means she's his wife. By the 5th verse, she's been downgraded to "my lovely lady." '70s songs always referred to women as "ladies." "Babe" was used a lot as well but "lady" was a biggie. But I digress. When the song starts, this guy is in bed with his lady. She's right there sleeping next to him. And he's so bored that he decides to look for another lady right in front of her. He opens up a newspaper (making sure not to wake her up, I hope), reads the personals (jdate being many years away) and his eyes fix upon one ad which is not only very suggestive, but it rhymes as well! You all know it. Sing it with me:

"If you like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain,
if you're not into yoga, if you have have a brain,
if you'd like making love at midnight in the dunes on the Cape,
I'm the love that you've looked for.

Write to me and escape."
(or maybe it's "write to me at Escape", like that's the name to whom he should respond.)

First of all, what's wrong with yoga? I know it's not for everybody but in 1979? I get the sense that yoga was very big in the late 70s but I don't know why.

So this chick (it's 2006, not 1979) is looking for someone very specific. He has to like tropical rum drinks and getting wet. He has to shun relaxation and be relatively intelligent. And he has to want to make love (because no one had sex in 70s songs, they made love) on a beach at night. So that last part pertains to, like, every guy reading the ad. No one's looking at that ad and thinking, "well I hate yoga and I like getting wet but the making love in the sand part? Yuck!"

Our hero decides he's the guy for this woman. And Mr. Thoughtful, who has started looking for a new lady less than 4 inches from his current lady sings, "I didn't think about my lady. I know that sounds kind of mean." Kind of mean? When he kicks her out of bed, will he put pillows on the floor to cushion the fall? But he explains himself: " and my old lady had fallen into the same old dull routine." Oh, well then. I didn't know that you were bored. I thought you were just a jackass.

And this narcissistic schmuck thinks that his response to the ad "wasn't half bad." He probably would have called it "friggin' awesome" but that didn't rhyme with the line, "took out a personal ad." So it turns out that he likes piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. He doesn't mention anything about yoga or intelligence but he's "not much into health food. [He is] into champagne." He also likes green eggs and ham (okay, I made that up). And things are so bad with his current relationship that he's "got to meet you by tomorrow noon." Where is this ad being published? In an age before internet and fax machines, he's got to write out the ad, call it into the paper and wait for it to be printed. Tomorrow noon? Maybe he's doing all this scheming in the morning.

Well, tomorrow comes in the 5th verse. He's gone to O'Malley's as requested in his ad. I'll chalk up the fact that this must be the only bar in town because he didn't leave an address to poetic license. So he's waiting and then she "walked in the place." And who was this perfect match? "It was my own lovely lady." Huh? His wife/girlfriend/whatever is the one who wrote the ad in the first place? And her response to seeing him there? "Oh, it's you." Even in a song you can hear the disappointment in her voice. But they laugh about it and all is well.

Now hold on just a minute. According to Wikipedia,
"the song ends on an upbeat note, showing that the two lovers have more in common than they suspected, and that they may not have to look any further than each other for what they seek in a relationship."

I don't buy it. These two schmucks deserve each other. First of all, the guy thinks he's so smooth looking for a new lady and all. But it turns out his current love was more bored than he was! She wrote the ad in the first place! So instead of, I don't know, having a conversation or something, they take out personal ads looking for something better. And in the end, they learn there is nothing better. They're stuck with each other. What if the guy didn't read and answer the ad? Would the woman have gone off with someone else? Is that where the tragedy lies; that this seemingly perfect couple could have broken up if fate hadn't lent a hand? I hope these two skip having laughs over a quick drink and head straight for a marriage counselor. These two...jeez, they make me sick.

But you have to admit, it's a catchy tune.

Stay tuned for my next rant. It'll be about Frank Capra's, "It's A Wonderful Life."

Monday, August 14, 2006

Rockin' The Suburbs

Before I moved into my current Xanadu in Towaco, NJ, I lived in a townhouse a mere 4 miles south of here. There was a slight bee problem once. I saw some bees flying into the attic from the outside of the house so I took it upon myself to check it out. And it was hunched over in this hot, sweaty attic that I saw the top of a beehive and about 7 or 8 hornets. Or yellowjackets. Maybe they were wasps. So armed with a flashlight and a can of some bee killer which sprays over 25 feet, I destroyed the apian menace.

A couple of weeks ago, I was mowing the lawn in the backyard and noticed some bees (I'll be using the ter
m "bees" as a catchall term to represent the yellow and black striped things flying around) floating over one particular part of the lawn. I got up close and saw them landing and crawling underground. Underground bees? Never heard of such a thing. So I went to the garage and dug through my suburban assault kit for some bee killer. Two cans of ant spray, some Yard Guard, mosquito repellant, weed killer....ah! Some Ortho bee spray. I aimed where the bees were landing but instead of spraying them with a powerful liquid jet, I unleased an expanding foam. It looked like someone dumped Marshmallow Fluff on my lawn. It wasn't very effective because I couldn't see the nest so I grabbed a shovel and started digging. The part of my brain that should have been telling me not to dig at a beehive with a shovel wasn't working right then but nothing happened. The bees were gone.

Yesterday I noticed some bees flying around the new retaining wall, right in the cor
ner by the garage. I love when they're bunched together. They're easier to kill. They kept swarming in from somewhere behind me and landing in about the same spot. I grabbed that can of foam and unleashed hell on the mini swarm. Again, I couldn't see the nest so this was more amusing to the bees than anything else.

So this time, I grabbed a small tennis raquet-like object and started swinging. I discovered a killer backhand! Actually, I should say that my backhand was stunning. Standing in the doorway of the garage, I'd wait for one to fly nearby and swing, waiting for that satisfying "thwack" of a bee hitting the strings. Then I'd look on the ground and stomp on my stunned victim. Mwah ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!!!!!! It was delightful!!!!!! But they still kept coming.

So I bought that spray I used in the townhouse. I don't know if it was working because, yes, I couldn't see the nest. But I unloaded the entire can in the spaces between the bricks. And then I started hitting them with the raquet again. And they still kept coming. Time for the big guns. Time for the hose.

I'm sure there was a time in my life when I was told not to annoy bees with a garden hose. But the
temptation was there so I did it anyway. And it felt great. Occasionally, one would fly nearby but it was unable to penetrate my watery defenses. Plus, I had a paddleball raquet. And then I got stung.

The tools of ignorance.

Yeah, I had it coming. I deserved it. But I don't remember bee stings hurting this much. To make matters worse, I dropped the hose when I got stung and it landed right on the handle so the water kept spraying. Right at me. If bees could laugh, they were doing it now. Hey bees, know what? Your stupid friend is dead! And it didn't hurt me that much. And my clothes will dry!

When I first moved to the townhouse in 1996, there were some issues with the new construction. And after everything finally settled, the contractor asked if everything was okay. As I joke, I said there were a lot of bugs around. He made a snide comment about city boys like me (?) needing to realize that there are bugs in the suburbs. What a douche bag! I was 28 at the time and for all but 2 years, I had lived in suburbia, killing moths and caterpillars and ants and stuff. I'll never get them all, but as long as there's a chemical in a can, I'll be there spraying away.

Hey you. Chipmunk. Don't think I didn't see you there. Digging in the mulch.
Yeah, by the tree. You're next buddy.

I think I'm channeling Carl Spackler...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Gotta Catch 'Em All!

If your Oddish is up against your Vileplume and your Raiku has attacked your Corphish and if you have any idea what I’m talking about, then Tuesday, August 8th was a day for you. It was Pokémon Day in Bryant Park. This New York park located on 6th Avenue between 41st and 42nd Street was partially closed off to allow the fine folks at Pokémon to celebrate their 10th anniversary. Holy crap, has it been 10 years? Feels like 50 years. Actually, that’s how long it felt to be there with my son, Aaron, and his friend, Dominick. But I really shouldn’t complain. I volunteered for this gig.

Treeko, Aaron, Torchic, Dominick

Enter the park at the northwest corner; push though some of the crowd and you see Pikachu (an electric-type Pokémon for those of you keeping score). And not just a statue of Pikachu or a creepy man in a suit. It’s the giant balloon from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade soaring overhead, locked down to the Bryant Park lawn but watching over the strategically placed statues of other, lesser-known Pokémon. One song says there are “at least 150 or more to see” but that song was written a long time ago. There are actually closer to 400. But it's kind of like the periodic table of elements ( There are the ones everyone knows. And then there are the newer, man-made ones which are just a bunch of bull.

And what festival in a park would be complete without lots of lines? The odd thing is that a lot of these lines were just so you could watch people play with Pokémon. We can watch kids play video games and trade Pokémon cards. I’m starting to think I can do this at home and it’ll be air-conditioned. Anyway, we’re in a line to get select Pokémon downloaded into Game Boys. Not a bad deal, actually. Hand over your Game Boy and choose 2 Pokémon to be downloaded. But after almost an hour, they cheerily announce that kids can only choose 1 because the line is too long. And Aaron and Dominick are okay with this! Maybe there’s some kind of magic in the world of Pokémon after all.

And then I freak out. We get to the front of the line and I’m herded out of the way so the kids can approach the table for downloading. Something is taking Aaron a long time. He’s really upset. Apparently, he’s in the wrong place. Oh he’s at the right place at the table. But in the game, he has to be at Pokémon City or something like that. And he has to free up space. This means less to me than it does to him. And the jackasses at the downloading table don’t know either. Or they don’t care. Aaron is stressed and he starts crying. And the yutzes are just staring at him.

People who know me know that I embarrass easily. I have a painfully low threshold for making a scene. But my kid is hysterical. And suddenly I’m reliving every uncomfortable moment of my childhood (paging Dr. Duquette...). It’s times like this when you discover who you really are. And me? I’m willing to make a scene for my kid! And I do. And I’m directed to a large, black, security guard-type who ends up helping Aaron. I never thought I had it in me, although I remember a time many years ago when I started a fight with a homeless guy on the A train when she was giving my mom a hard time.

So here’s where we stand. One hour on line, Aaron gets an Alakazam (a psychic Pokémon). Dominick gets a Latias (a dragon/psychic Pokémon). After a circuit around the park, we end up back on line to get more. This time, 90 minutes went by before Aaron got a Moltres (a fire/flying Pokémon). Dominick said he was going to get a Latios (another dragon/psychic Pokémon) but I don’t know if he did.

I can’t believe I’ve come this far in my story and not told you that I saw none other than Hulk Hogan! The Hulkster! I wasn’t aware that he was relevant to this crowd but whatever. He’s up there on the main stage, reading the proclamation from Mayor Mike Bloomberg that today is Pokémon Day in NYC (thanks, Mayor Mike) and helping introduce the group of finalists for the National Pokémon Video Game Championships. And he keeps on pronouncing it “Poké Man.” He also looks kind of thin. Aaron and Dominick don’t notice this at all. They’re too busy talking to other kids on the line and sharing video game tips.

The whole day would have been charming if it weren’t for the adults. I don’t mean the adults like myself who were there chaperoning kids. No, there were actual “grown ups” who were there to get free Pokémon swag and to trade war stories. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog would have done really well here. I overheard one guy telling another guy that he got a rare Pokemon from his girlfriend in Pittsburgh. Like this guy has a girlfriend anywhere, let alone Pittsburgh.


Dominick sharing tips with a kid. Cool!

Aaron sharing tips with a grown up. Creepy!

The guy on the left has the "girlfriend" in Pittsburgh.

These happy folks are off to the Video Game Finals.

They're being led by this woman. She's on stilts.

No shortage of creepy adults!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

La Revedere, Bucharest!

Day Fourteen: July 31, 2006
Departure Day

ADDENDUM: I neglected to follow up on the pencil sharpener search. It came to no real surprise to me that super AD Benita Allen had one in her bag. She even offered to let me borrow it for the duration of the shoot. I used it and gave it back to her because I don’t want the responsibility of holding on to the only pencil sharpener in Romania.

Did last night really happen? Was I really awake just a couple of hours ago? This will come back to kick my ass at some point later in the day. But for now, I need to pack. Fortunately, I had some laundry done at the hotel and for those of you who have done the same thing; you know that your stuff comes back folded in a way that no human could fold it. And slid nicely into plastic bags. So this helps in the packing process. And I didn’t have a lot of time to buy stuff so I don’t have as much cramming to do.

I went downstairs to have breakfast. I really didn’t want to eat alone (I hate eating alone) but I really doubted anyone else was going to be awake, especially since the call time for today is 1 pm. I’m the only one leaving today. So I sit down by myself and bring my laptop so I can at least look busy. I never know what to do when I’m at a table by myself. It’s like when you stand up and don’t know what to do with your hands. Do I cross my arms? Put my hands in my pockets? So I have the laptop and a breakfast buffet. And…pancakes!! Loyal readers remember my difficulties getting pancakes at the buffet so there you go. But now that I’m by myself, I feel awkward going up more than once. It’s okay in a group because no one notices the individuals. But all alone, I feel like people are noticing how much I’m eating.

I must remember to call my therapist.

Adding to my awkwardness, Tom and Tim (the famous Australian DP who looks eerily like Tim Mellors, Grey’s executive CD) have showed up. They said hello and Tom said something smarmy but I forgot what it was. Then they sat somewhere else but close enough that I couldn’t relax anymore, even with the harpist playing some Mozart music, which is used in a Baby Einstein VHS that Aaron used to have. So now I have those creepy images on toys moving by themselves stuck in my head.

With breakfast behind me, it’s time for my traditional walking aimlessly through the city. I really haven’t had the opportunity to check out Bucharest and I have some time before I need to leave for the airport. And since I’m on my own, I have no one to thwart my indecisiveness. So I wander through the hotel shops, looking for some crap I can buy. But this stuff is way too expensive. So I hit the streets and find…nothing. The liquor store is closed on Mondays. The place that looked like a hi tech game store was actually a small gambling salon. I even wandered into a supermarket, which was laid out remarkably like the Associated on 2nd Avenue and 48th Street. I wonder if supermarkets have sister stores in other countries. Anyway, I still haven’t purchased anything because I keep thinking I’ll find something better in the next place I go. This decision will come back to bite me in the ass later on.

Running low on time, I head back to the hotel to finish packing. I look one more time for my headphones and my contact lenses. No luck on either front. By the way, if any of you out there are heading for Toronto any time soon, please let me know. I’d love to get another set of those headphones. They were perfect and cheap and now they’re gone. I check out and my driver is waiting for me with yet another bizarre interpretation of my name. But this time, Liebowitz is spelled correctly. I guess that’s one of the benefits of being in Eastern Europe. But my first name was spelled “Michke.” Close enough,

So here’s the weird thing: this guy is dressed like he’s some hot property. Italian shoes with no socks. Light colored, lightweight pants. A blazer over a silk shirt. He’s right off of the cover of GQ if that GQ issue was from 1987. And he’s driving a Mercedes, but it’s a really crappy one. So I get in the car and as we’re leaving the hotel, the driver asks me, “Are you going to Tel Aviv?” What the hell? Do look that Jewish? Is it that scene from Annie Hall again where, to this guy, I look like and Orthodox rabbi? Wagner, Max. Wagner. I’m surprised he didn’t ask, “Jew going to Tel Aviv?” Not “are you going” but “Jew.” After some silence, he asks me what me name is. Odd, considering he was just holding a sign with my name on it, albeit spelled wrong. So I tell him and then there’s more silence. See, that question is usually followed by “oh, my name is…” So I ask him what his name is. Dolph. Figures, right? So I say, “nice to meet you, Dolph.” To which he responds, “Dolph Lundgren.” So I make a joke about wondering where he’s been since Rocky IV. I’m more amazed that he chose to reference a D-level action actor from the 80s. I guess he could have said Dolph Sweet from “Gimme a Break” which would have been funnier, but creepier.

Now Dolph is angling for a tip. I had every intention of tipping the guy but maybe he thinks I won’t tip or I’ll leave a crappy tip. The car is already paid for and I have some lei ready to give him. But first he tells me how little the average Romanian makes. It’s barely enough to get by. According to Dolph, he makes $200 a month. Then he tells me he makes $10 a day. Besides the fact that the math doesn’t add up, a guy dressing like him doesn’t make $200 a month. Unless he’s forced to wear these 80s castoffs because he makes $200 a month. Anyway, as if on cue, his phone rings. After he hangs up, he tells me it was his wife with new about his mom. Is she okay? I ask stupidly. Oh, she’s in the hospital. And so much money goes to the doctors taking care of him. Fine! Here’s your tip. Now go away!

90 minutes until departure. Time to blow all my lei. I start to look for something to eat and pass a vending machine that sells beer. Beer from a vending machine!!! Now that’s progress! As I follow the signs for food, I pass the arrivals and departures monitors. I notice that all the flights leave within 20 minutes of each other. That explains why the airport was so empty when we landed. They seem to have an afternoon rush and an evening rush. Going through security is going to be a bitch.

If I know it’s going to be a bitch, why have I waited for the last possible moment to try to go through? I have a leisurely lunch: Pizza Quattro Formaggio (and one of the cheeses is Bleu. Yuck.) and some water (with gas! Big gas!!!). I don’t board until 2 so what’s the rush? This is so unlike me. I’m usually the guy who sits around by the gate when I have hours to spare.

Meanwhile, I hear various PA announcements in various versions of English. Except the guy announcing an American Airlines flight to Italy sounds like Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine character. A male version. Weird. And the tones that precede these announcements? The familiar 5 tones from “Close Encounters.” That pretty much sums up the whole experience.

So I casually pay the check and stroll down to the security area. And there’s a mob scene. It’s a zoo. And it’s worse past the customs officials. It’s like when you sit in traffic at the George Washington Bridge. There are 15 lanes of cars which all have to merge into 4 lanes of traffic. It’s 2:05 and I have a 2:35 flight. Is there anything quite as exhilarating as the refreshing blast of adrenaline that comes with the realization that you may miss a flight? I’m really starting to sweat. It’s dripping off of me and I’m trying hard to look relaxed so I don’t get singled out on the security line. But I’m running out of time. And instead of asking someone if I can skip through the line, I stand there like some moist idiot who would rather miss a flight than cause a scene. I finally see a passenger run through with an airline employee. So I follow and latch on to whatever’s going on here. This passenger is on my flight. Okay, we get through security and as we run through the terminal, I see all of these shops where I should have been doing that last minute shopping I wanted to do. It’s not like I’ve never been to an airport before. I think I had this preconceived notion that there was nothing to do in this airport so I stayed by the food for too long.

Well, I make the flight. I have my business class seat and…what’s this? Oh come on, another delayed departure? This time it’s because they can’t get the luggage compartment closed. They have to call some Ionescu or another with a screwdriver. And we wait. And wait. And I’m starting to wonder about my connection in Frankfurt. Come on, I need to buy stuff!!! I have cash! Don’t take a check!

It’s 4:15 Germany time and making this connection is in serious doubt. However, we’re in a holding pattern over the airport due to weather and this is affecting all aircraft. So maybe. But now they announce that busses will be taking us to the terminals. And there are special busses for New York and Chicago. But I’m going to Newark. So I work up the nerve to ask a flight attendant to clear this up for me. I say “Newark.” She says “yes, New York.” Great.

So I fish around for my ticket. I’m not leaving at 4:30 like I thought. I’m leaving at 5:15. So there’s time to buy some last-minute stuff. Isn’t there? Well, we have to land. The bus has to load and drive us over to the terminal. I dodge the throngs of people to run up a flight of escalator stairs only to be met at the top of the escalator by two security guards waving their arms and speaking German (what did I expect? I’m in Germany). After resisting the urge to crap myself, I turn back to see if any of the other passengers are behind me. The eventually catch up and I’m able to slide through security. Time to shop? No, I need to find my gate. But to get to my gate, I have to take a shuttle to another terminal. And when I finally get there, the plane is boarding. I do a quick scan of the shops in the area and have no interest in surplus World Cup merchandise. So I board. And guess what? We’re delayed! G-d hates me.

I will say one thing for the bathroom on this plane: it has a window. I won’t go into the details of the image in my mind right now but picture it for yourself. Breathtaking.

I just turned off my phone because the flight attendant announced that we had to. And you know what? It was easy. I pushed a button and the phone shut off. So why is it so hard for others to do the same? They know they’re doing something wrong because their hunched into themselves, whispering as if they’re hiding from the Gestapo which, given our current location, may be true. Hey Heinz! Turn off the phone!

Welcome to Newark. So long Romania. So long Germany. Hello American immigration. It’s been a long 2 weeks. So what have we learned?

• Just because the calendar says it’s 2006, it doesn’t mean it’s true all over the world. There are parts of the world where it’s still 1990 or even earlier.
• You’re never as funny as you think you are.
• Alcohol is the great equalizer.
• Everything is funny when you’re tired.
• Romania is a great place to shoot. Just not yet. Maybe in 5 years or so.
• You truly don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I hate Starbucks but I could really go for a frappucino right now.
• A country that has so much meat makes a lousy hamburger.
• The nationalistic pride, which filled Europe in the early 20th century and led to World War I is non-existent in Romania. Communism fell 16 years ago and the country doesn’t know what to do with themselves.
• Capitalism is addicting. The hypermarkets here are very popular.

If you’re thinking of moving here, there are some things you shouldn’t bother opening:
1) A brassiere store. You won’t sell a thing.
2) A Judaica shop. When I left, the Jewish population plummeted.
3) A Cadillac dealership. Cars over 4 feet in length are rare in these parts.
4) A Smokenders' Franchise. They’re not interested.
5) A Fair Tourism Center. They don’t look at us as people willing to contribute to their economy. They look at as like fresh meat.
6) A place that sells maps to the stars’ homes.
7) A center for safe driving. If these people actually paid attention to what they were doing, accidents would increase. Somehow, being oblivious works for them.
8) An Alternative Uniform store. In Romania, there are the blue coveralls and the green coveralls.
9) An unsharpened pencil store. Unless you plan on selling pencil sharpeners as well, you’re going to piss off a lot of former communists who just want to do the daily Jumble or something.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Back To The Mountains

Day Thirteen: July 30, 2006

Okay, I had a major freak out moment this morning. You know when you go away sometimes and you wake up and it takes you a moment to remember that you’re not at home? That usually happens in the first couple of days of a trip. I’m on day 13. Let me back up. Last night, a bunch of us went to the bar at the hotel and had some drinks. I was exhausted and had one, maybe two drinks. And I was dozing off at the table, which, with this group of people, would never go unnoticed. Thankfully, Robert noticed and told me to go upstairs. Which I did. So I remember going upstairs. I remember plugging in my computer. I vaguely remember taking off some of my clothes. And that’s it.

Let me let you in on part of my bedtime routine. Relax; this isn’t going to get gross or anything. When I remove my contact lenses, I put on my glasses. And all of this takes place in the bathroom. Always. Because that’s where the saline is. And my glasses. And a mirror. And when I wake up, my glasses or right there next to me, within reach anyway (I must remember to call Lasik). Then I go into the bathroom, take off the glasses and put in the lenses. Pretty simple. I’ve been doing some variation of this routine since I started wearing lenses in 1984.

Well morning comes. I wake up a little later than usual because we have a late call today. I put on my glasses, pad off to the bathroom, take a shower, etc. etc. etc. And it’s almost time to go so I go back into the bathroom to put in my lenses. I have just enough saline left for one night. Amazing timing. So I take off my glasses and…

…the contact lens case is empty. In fact, it hasn’t been used. It’s laid out on a towel just the way housekeeping left it. So where are my lenses? Still in my eyes? No. Even if they were, I had my glasses on the nightstand. That implies that at some point, I took out my lenses and put on my glasses. Maybe my lenses got stuck behind my eyes. That’s happened before, but never with both lenses. And again, why would I have my glasses on?

I’m totally creeped out. I explain all of this to Liz and Sarah, the first people I see in the lobby. They can’t figure it out. I explain it to Robert. He can’t figure it out, though he does try. So I’m stuck with my glasses with the broken nosepiece until I get home. Fortunately, that’s almost here.

Okay, back to reality. I’ve been trying to use Romanian words or phrases wherever I can. Besides the fact that it’s interesting, it just seems polite, you know? I mean they all speak English (most of them, anyway). I should at least make an effort. People seem to appreciate it, including the crewmembers who made a big display of bowing to me and “offering respect” when I said “buna sera” (good evening) as I was leaving one night. This backfired this morning when I brought laundry down to the front desk. I said “buna diminatsa” (good morning). The lady at the desk answered me in Romanian. And she asked me lots of questions in Romanian. And all I could do was stare at her and hold up two bags of dirty laundry. Then she asked of I was Romanian. Has my accent gotten so good that people thing I’m Romanian? Or is the woman just an idiot? I’m also finally remembering that it’s “buna diminatsa.” For a few days, I was saying “buna diminantsia” which, Christian/Orlando tells me, means “dementia.” So I’ve been walking around the set saying “good crazy” to everyone.

I’ve also decided to take part of the day off. We’re doing Twister Dance today and that’s Robert and Liz’s project. They’re both here so there’s no reason to hang around. Stephanie’s going up to the mountains and doesn’t want to be the only English-speaking person in the car. So I decide to tag along. I ask Robert if it’s okay and he says, “Yeah, do what you want.” Huh? What does that mean? Is that a yes or is that a “sure, go ahead, take a day off when everyone else is working”? Either way, I end up going with Stephanie. I’m too freaked out about the lenses thing to worry.

Today’s driver is………….Lawrence! He’s a good guy with a decent sense of humor. His English is pretty good, although he doesn’t think so. So he points the car north and we’re on our way.

In the 2 weeks I’ve been here, it’s rained twice: the first day I went up to the mountains and now today. At least we can forget the gondola ride into the fog this time.

When we get up into the Carpathian Mountains, we see locals milling about, trying to sell cups of raspberries. The one that has approached us is really adamant and tenacious and unfortunately, the only English word he knows is “please.” Over and over…

We’re heading back to the castle that was closed when I was here a few days ago: Castle Peles (Peh Lesh), up in the town of Brasov (Brashov) or near the town of Brasov is very beautiful and was supposedly closed because some celebrities were coming through. Well the reason we never found out who those celebrities were was because there were none. Lawrence said he heard on the radio that there was a bomb threat. Now that’s an interesting story!

We pay our 12 lei and walk through the courtyard to the entrance. There’s a sign that tells us to ring the bell and then wait for someone to come. Stephanie thinks that’s weird but think about it: this castle is someone’s house. People don’t just come over and walk through. They have to wait for me to answer the door and let them in. Of course, I don’t charge people 12 lei to come into my house. Maybe I should start.

We walk in and right there in the front is a basket of those nasty slippers we saw at Dracula’s castle. But this place is much nicer so it seems worthwhile to wear them. Poor Stephanie is wearing flip-flops. It’s Liz all over again. Stephanie takes a picture of her feet. I take her camera and get a picture of the nasty basket. And I get yelled at for disobeying the “no photography” rule.

No pictures allowed but I will take notes for all of you. Or maybe I’ll look on the Internet. Our guide has some kind of speech impediment. There’s the Romanian accent and then the accent you get when you stuff marbles into your mouth.

Okay, we’re in. So Castle Peles was started in 1875 and finished in 1883. Already I’m surprised. I think of castles as old, dark, medieval places. This castle looks like a really nice house. And for 1883, it had a lot of modern amenities such as running water, electricity and central vac. Huh? Central vac? I had no idea that concept went back that far. Stephanie’s never even heard of it. Those crafty Romanians. Or Austrians. The castle was built by Austrians. The tour guide keeps pointing out where all the outlets are for the hoses. She seems very proud.

There are sections of the castle that were completely renovated or restored from 1975–1990 under Ceausescu. I keep hearing so many good things about him. Propaganda?

Also interesting: the fireplaces are decorative. They’re just as opulent as the rest of the castle but they have vents in them for the heating system. So when you stand in front of the fireplace, you still get warm, fire or no fire. There are a few spiral staircases as well bur they’re also decorative. What the hell? Is this a castle or a fun house?

Quiz time!!! Okay, we’re in the weapons room. There are inspirational quotes on the ceiling. One of them reads, “Nihi Sine Deo!!” What does this mean? Anyone? Buzz in, please. Times up! It’s “nothing without G-d.” Come on people, read a book.

There’s a fat guy in our group making all sorts of stupid comments. You know this guy. He’s on every tour. He thinks he’s a riot but he’s jokes fall flat. The usual stupid tourist comments. He’s making my usual stupid tourist comments seems unfunny.

Funny stuff: audiences with the king were held in his study. All participants were made to stand at all times. This not only ensured respect. It also ensured that no audience would last longer than around 10 minutes. This guy was brilliant. Way ahead of his time.

One wall of the library is fake. It hides a secret staircase, which leads upstairs. Well it’s not a secret anymore! I’m telling all of you!! I wonder: if people saw the king go in the room but never some out, wouldn’t they have to figure on a trap door or something? Maybe not. Maybe one of the reasons King Carol (other kings made fun of his girlie name) got to be king was because he was surrounded by a lot of really dumb people.

I still can’t understand this guide. Did she just say, “a mouse for eating”? Oh! “A mouth for heating.”

In the music room, there are three individual paintings representing the seasons. “But Michael” you say. “There are four seasons.” Right you are. But this didn’t matter to the royal couple. The king and queen wintered in Bucharest so they didn’t have a winter scene painted. See, now that’s just lazy.

One cool thing is these strategically placed mirrors. They’re hung on the wall right near any of the ceiling paintings so if you couldn’t get a glimpse of the ceiling, you could see all the detail reflected in the mirror. The queen had a LOT of free time.

Back at that Serbian place for lunch. Yeah, I know I’ve been here before and why should I start repeating restaurants already? Listen, we’re not exactly in the middle of restaurant row up here. Plus, Stephanie is a huge fan of Serbian food. It’s all she’s been talking about since she got to Romania (the preceding message is a lie). It’s still kind of drizzling out but we can sit outside because it’s covered. Stephanie wants to sit inside. She’s chilly. Fine. But we’re not just inside. We’re inside and upstairs. I feel like Frosty the Snowman when he first gets locked in the greenhouse. “Gosh, it’s hot,” he says in a moment of snow-packed understatement. We’re going to need beers and fast, I tell Stephanie and Lawrence about my hilarious encounter with the non-alcoholic beer, Schlossgold. I go on and on (as I am wont to do) about how it doesn’t even taste like good beer. And then Lawrence goes and orders one. After all, he has to drive. In Romania, like much of Europe, you can’t even have one beer if you’re going to be driving. I admire Lawrence’s commitment to keeping the car on the road and roll my eyes at yet another law we have in the US but which is so watered down as to be ineffective.

Tangent time. Why is it that so many laws in the US are based on compromise? Instead of saying no drinking, we say, “okay, you can drink a little.” Instead of no guns, we say, “okay, but just a few.” American laws are written by people like me who just want to make everyone happy. Instead of doing what’s right, politicians cum puppets do whatever the real people in power tell them to do. It’s embarrassing, especially when you have to tell Europeans that Americans can drink and drive. We can have a couple of drinks and get behind the wheel of a car and mow down some innocent kid and lose our licenses for 30 days.

Okay, I’m back. Where was I? Stephanie orders some kind of mixed platter of stuff (not the actual name) for the table. Sadly, we can’t identify much. Neither can Lawrence, except for the thick, peppery kind of thing called zakushka. Lawrence has ordered a whole dish for himself. You eat it straight or spread it on bread. It’s not bad. It’s certainly better than the salmon-colored cheese-like object, which tastes more like feet than anything else. When I go to places like this, I wonder if I’m eating some kind of authentic ethnic food or if the wait staff is in the back, watching to see if the stupid tourist actually eats the foot-cheese.

I ordered some kind of spiced/minced meat patty, which is basically like a giant hamburger without the bun, and a side of these boiled potatoes with onions. Lawrence is really impressed because I inadvertently ordered the same thing. Lawrence needs to drink less non-alcoholic beer.

Christ, it’s hot up here. Stephanie and Lawrence have hiked downstairs to use the restrooms while I sit up here all alone, waiting for my change (I’d forgotten that this place is cash only), marinating in my own perspiration. Stephanie finally comes back upstairs and says, “Wow, it’s hot up here.” Thank you, Princess Understatement.

Okay, it’s time to head into “downtown” Sinaia (Shee-nah-yah) for some crap shopping. Time is running out and we have to buy souvenirs for people. I specifically need a shirt and a beer stein. Maybe there’s a shirt and stein place. Sinaia Shirt and Stein? Hey wait! Sinaia Shirtenstein! I used to date her. We met at a USY function. Maybe I’ll buy some string. You know, some Sinaia Twine! Ha! The altitude is starting to get to me.

Back in the car. Sinaia should be Romanian for “flea market.” The downtown area is really 2 or 3 blocks of tschotschkes. I did manage to buy a shirt from an overly enthusiastic Irish guy who kept trying to get Stephanie to put it on. Now we’re taking a different route back into town. Lawrence says that the road we took to get here will be crowded with weekenders heading back into the city. Kind of like Montauk Highway on a Sunday evening, I guess. It’s 60 km to Targoviste, then 80 km back into Bufta, where the studio is located. Lawrence actually says that this way is longer, but much prettier. He’d do well in New England. How do you say “ayuh” in Romanian?

Lawrence is getting frustrated with all of the Dacias on the road. Dacia was the national car of Romania during the Ceausescu regime. They’re small, ugly, old and all over the roads. I’ve seen some billboards around for the newer ones so I guess they’re trying to adapt and stay relevant. And when Lawrence isn’t passing a Dacia, he’s weaving in and out of cow traffic. This road is definitely better than the other one in terms of numbers of cows sighted. They walk around here like stray dogs. I wonder if there’s a leash law in Romania. Probably not because I don’t even see any “curb your cow” signs. They are literally right in the middle of the road. I’m trying to take pictures and Lawrence likes to see how close he can get to the cows without actually hitting them.

We’re back in Bufta to check out the rest of the shoot. Stephanie heads for the bathroom, taking her purchases with her. These purchases include some very nice glass items. We were impressed that you could get something that nice so cheaply. I was considering buying one for myself but they were heavy and I didn’t want to try to get it back home. Well Stephanie won’t have that problem either. Soon after closing the door to the bathroom, we all here a crash followed by “oh f*ck!” I’m immediately concerned. I mean, Steph just cursed in front of everyone! Oh, and she broke the heaviest of the glass pieces. This sucks but it’s not tragic as she only paid about $15 for it.

So what did I miss today? I need to rely on my colleagues for an update. For one thing, there’s a pool here on the premises. James went swimming and asked Robert if he’d like to “borrow my bathers.” Robert may be a little traumatized. Borrow my bathers?

Witzy seems to be missing. There’s a stray dog walking around the set so maybe he ate Witzy. Sarah shows me some pictures she took of the cat curled up next to a big pile of hair. It’s cute and funny and a little sad if Witzy misses his mommy and uses the pile of hair as a surrogate. Poor Witzy.

You know you’re back on the set when Super AD Benita Allen yells something. A dog is barking somewhere in the distance. Benita yells out for someone to shut up that stupid, barking dog. I cringe because I’m waiting for the inevitable gunshot.

It’s late and we’re wrapped. Heading back to the hotel, we spot a fat man clad only in a pair of blue shorts, standing on the side of the road, looking like he’s waiting for a bus. About a mile further up, we see a similarly-dressed man sitting on the median, just reading the newspaper.

The plan is to go dancing tonight. Midnight in the lobby.

What a night. It started with the chaos of 9 people trying to get cabs. I end up in the first one with Kelly, Christy and Sarah. I have no idea where we’re going but Topher has told the driver so we’re off. We drive and drive and drive, through a gate, down a private road and up to what looks like a downscale Holiday Inn. We tell the driver this doesn’t look right but he insists it is and points in the direction of the music. Okay then.

We were right, this isn’t the right place. The music was coming from a wedding reception. So now what? I’m pissed because I’m thinking this driver did this purposely. Let’s see how lost the tourists can get!!! But I give him the benefit of the doubt when I notice that the name of this motel is the same as the road we’re on and the club we were going to.

So we call Topher and he gives us some more detailed information. We call a cab and the driver doesn’t speak a word of English. Only Romanian and French. French! I’m trying to formulate the words I’ll need to get us out of here. Meanwhile, Christy sits next to me, miming dance for the driver. Sarah calls Topher again and asks for someone Romanian who can speak to the driver,

We eventually get to this great place right on some water. I can’t remember the name (there will be pictures soon) but it’s not exactly hopping with activity. Of course, it is Sunday night. Some of us (not me) really want to dance and try to get the DJ to switch from ballads to something a bit more upbeat. He tells us he can’t and lists 3 different reasons:
1) They’re closing soon.
2) He’s going home.
3) The Chinese Embassy is nearby.
But he’ll take us to another place that doesn’t close until 5.

I can’t really get into detail of what happened next. The combination of music and alcohol has made dancers into all of us, including me. And I want whatever James and Topher have been drinking. Topher didn’t just come out of his shell. He stomped on the shell and ate the pieces. He and James can really dance and are completely uninhibited about it. The women in our group pick up on this and will only dance with them.

Some other stuff happened as well but what happens in Romania stays in Romania, at least until everyone’s pictures get distributed.

Back at the hotel just in time to see the sun come up. I’ve pretty much destroyed what was left of my “I don’t’ dance” excuse. Although I haven’t seen the photos. The last time I thought I was dancing okay but then saw evidence to the contrary, I stopped dancing for years.

I still have to pack.

Somebody’s In Big Trouble

Day Twelve: July 29, 2006

I realized that I’ve left many of you hanging with regards to the invasion of bugs in the hotel lobby. Let me include the text of a letter many of us received in our rooms just the other day (all grammatical errors are not mine for a change):

Dear Guest,

Please let me first take this opportunity to thank you for choosing JW Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel on your visit to Romania.

I would kindly like to inform you that during this summer season Bucharest is again faced with a particular situation. Due to the high temperatures, the entire city of Bucharest is challenged by a Spanish flies (“Cantharis” a small black beetle) incursion. You might have seen them around the premises or in very rare cases in the hotel.

We have contacted the local authorities which are also aware of the occurrence.

Fortunately as we have been informed, they are very clean and do not represent a danger to health.

We have also introduced appropriate measures accordingly but still as they are being able to fly, some of them are capable to enter through the windows if they are left open or through any other accessible areas.

Therefore we would like to kindly ask you to keep the windows in your room closed.

Thank you again for staying with us and for your understanding.

Yours sincerely,

George Miu
Front Office Manager

Nice note. Now I’m not sure if the beetles received the same note but ever since we got it, I haven’t seen one beetle in the hotel. It must have been the line about contacting the local authorities.

I’m still on a hunt for a pencil sharpener. I’ll survive if I don’t find one. It’s just the idea that a country like this doesn’t seem to feel the need to have one. It seems to be a foreign concept here. I wonder if, when people make the effort to look for one, they’re really looking or just pretending so I’ll walk away thinking that people care. I asked the front desk this morning, thinking that the answer might be different if I ask at a different time of day. Different time of day, same answer. They even called the Business Center but I wonder if they really called or just called that number to check the time.

Well today’s my day. After all of this watching over everyone else’s stuff, it’s time to shoot Big Trouble. And it looks like it might be a fun day. Someone’s already working with Teodor (the grandfather) on alternate lines such as “I’ll do your homework.” It plays really funny. Funnily? No, funny.

A few days ago, I mentioned Christy and Sarah’s trip to Comic Con, the annual dork festival out west. On the website, nerds who love this game enough to talk about it online mentioned how happy they were that Hasbro hired “booth bunnies” who, in reality, were just Hasbro employees. Well I found out today that the front page of the website features a picture of the one and only Sarah Barber, now admired by housebound nerds and muscular Romanian men and those are just the ones who are vocal about it.

Sarah’s the one on the right. I don’t know who the other two people are. I’m willing to bet that the guy on the left is a “fan” who now has enough photos of Sarah on his bedroom wall to alert any of the cops from any of the Law and Order franchises. Either that or I just insulted the head of some corporation.

There’s a stray cat on the set. Actually, it’s more like a kitten. Very cute. It’s sort of latched on to me, but that’s only because I keep picking it up and letting it sit on my shoulder. I look like a pirate with aggression issues. There are allergy issues so my new buddy and I make sure no one with allergies is near us. Although somehow I keep ending up next to Christy.

Director Tom, who isn’t happy unless he’s making some kind of comment or another directed at me has started calling me Flea, not for the Red Hot Chili Peppers’s bassist, but because I’m walking around with a stray kitten. Flea. Like that’ll catch on. But Liz and Robert have endorsed “Flea”, so that’s apparently a new nickname for me. Later on in the day, this changes to “Fleabowitz” and then, simply “Fleabo” to match the “Liebo” name many friends call me. Liz isn’t much for leaving things the way they are. Instead, she always searches for something to make whatever’s in front of her a little better. So it was no real surprise when she named the kitten “Witzy.” This evolved into a new cartoon series, “The Adventures of Fleabo and Witzy.” She can’t stop laughing at this. To be honest, neither can I. Reading this now probably doesn’t do justice to how fun it really was. Plus, Liz has this really infectious laugh so it’s hard not to join in.

We’ve started shooting “Big Trouble” and it’s not going as smoothly as I’d like. The dynamic that existed with the cast when they were just playing for fun seems to be missing. So does half the family. It’s only a little girl with her two brothers out on the set. So I summon for the dad who, I noticed, is sort of the ringleader of the group. He’s a bit goofy and everyone seems to feed off his energy. It’s around this time that Christy approaches me with a comment about the game play. Now, I can’t remember exactly what it was but I do remember her actually saying something about, “the mixed metaphor for game play.” Okay I get it Christy. You graduated college. Although so did I and I have no idea what she’s talking about. So we had a laugh about that and then Hemmingway punched me in the mouth (a very select few will get that reference).

By the way, Chariots of Fire’s real name is Albert. I know this because James (who has now become Jimmy Mac, thanks to Liz) has brought him over and introduced him to Sarah. I don’t know what James’s motivation is for this but it’s irrelevant. The question remains: Albert? This guy’s name is Albert? I’m not buying it.

Yesterday, we were eating lunch and marveling over how much we had done to that point, what with blowing up stuff and things like that. Robert mentioned that one of the worst feelings is when you break for lunch and haven’t even shot anything yet. That almost happened today. Lots of set up and lighting and stuff and the next thing you know, it’s time for lunch. Let me guess, chicken and pork. Yes!!!!!

We’re introducing some new things to the vernacular. The first is 35. 35 is similar to 86 as in “to get rid of something.” But 35 refers to the number on the shirt of the kid we axed from the Cosmic Catch shoot (see Day 9). So when something is missing or thrown away, it’s been 35ed.

Also, in celebration of the proliferation of the name “Ionescu”, we’ve coined the phrase, “not so fast, Ionescu.” This basically means, “Hold on there a minute, sport.” And we had our first “not so fast Ionescu” moment yesterday while shooting Yahtzee Turbo game play. We’re trying to get authentic reactions from these people. There’s a cute little girl and when she does something, we want the parents to look thrilled. But the actors playing the parents are taking this to bizarre levels, especially the dad who grabbed the girl’s head and kissed her on the cheek. Not so fast, Ionescu!

Now that I have a new nickname, I should mention that the list of Topher nicknames keeps growing. The latest entries:

1) T. Loose
2) T. Loose Lorette
3) Laurette T’ouffer (this is his NBA name. Robert has a specific spelling. This isn’t it.)
4) T. Lo
5) Jimmy Mac and T. Lo (Jimmy Mac is James’s nickname)
6) Topherescu
7) Chet (that one’s mine from our Canadian casting trip)

The Canadian cast is working out okay. The little boy, Tyson, is pretty shrewd. Between takes, he’s been upstairs playing Electronic Battleship. This is a newer version and he’s having a hard time learning it. Or so he says. He came down to the stage and approached Sarah, asking if she could help him play the game. She was flattered and honored and followed him upstairs. After a bit, I run up to see how it’s going. This kid is in love with Sarah. I keep imagining that he’s purposely making her reach for pieces and stuff. Smooth. So if anyone out there is keeping score, Sarah has attracted the interest of creepy Heroscape fan, Chariots of Fire and 9-year-old boy. And there’s still 2 days to go!

The thing that Topher is learning quickly is that no one is safe on our shoots. Every day someone is going to be on the hot seat, the recipient of some good-natured ribbing. Yeah, ribbing. I said it. After 12 days, young T. Lo is finally starting to smile instead of wonder why we’d make fun of him to his face.

Many of you haven’t met Topher. He has light blue eyes that always appear wet or slightly glazed. That’s a good thing. I’m trying not to sound like I’m in love with the guy or something. So we’ve picked on the glazed look thing and made fun of that. ‘Cuz that’s what we do. And just when you think he’s adjusting to all of this, Robert tells me that Topher approached him, took him aside and said, “Do you really think my eyes look glazed?” Ah Topher. We’ll make you one of us yet.

The day marches on at a snail’s pace. We’re finally up to the grandpa and we’ll be shooting close ups of his line readings. All day, we’ve been trying to get the cast to read directly into the camera. But Tom tells me not to get my hopes up with the grandpa. See, aside from being hard of hearing, he has cataracts. So Super AD Benita Allen is frantically waving a white piece of paper in front of the lens to focus poor Teodor.

The thing is, Teodor was the life of the party! Just when you think he’s not getting it or he’s totally out of it or something, he delivers a line or a piece of performance that cracks up the entire cast and crew. I’m developing a theory that this guy is not what he seems. I think he was a big shot with the Communist party during Ceausescu. The communism fell and he went into hiding. He plays the doddering old man but he’s probably a cold-hearted killer. I’m trying to get others on board with this theory but no one’s biting. Oh no! Teodor’s gotten to them already!!!!!!

So we wrap up and it’s time to head back to the hotel for a beverage. Stephanie wants to go upstairs and change her clothes. Into what? A ball gown? A prom dress? Stephanie always dresses to the nines (hang on, my computer just slipped back into 1926). Always looks like she’s ready to go out. Today was no different. It’s like the joke in Blazing Saddles where Lily von Shtupp says she wants to change from her tight body suit into something a little more comfortable. And then she comes out in something even more flashy and revealing. Not that Stephanie’s outfits are revealing. Far from it. She just has a great sense of style.

We’re all getting tired. At least I am. Robert wants to order another drink but he can’t. Not because the bar is closed but because, “it’s after midnight and he’s not allowed to have lime.” That’s what the bartender said. I have no idea what that means. Some things are better left unsolved.