Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

At the end of each year, our family always wish our friends a New Year of health, happiness, and peace. And we mean it. We also know that while we can eat right and exercise and all those things aimed at keeping us healthy, we have no control over catastrophic illness or accidents. We can only do our best. And we can behave in ways that should lead to happier lives but there are still those events that rob us of that goal or the vagaries of our egos that lead us to sabotage our own happiness.

Now the issue of peace is a bit trickier. Many of us simply cannot understand why fellow human beings insist on waging war or carrying out terrorist acts on our fellow humans. I know that it is often done in the name of religion or freedom or some other catch phrase but it seems to me that the taking of other people's lives, or enslaving them, or subjecting them to any form of harassment is simply wrong. We teach our kids that it is wrong to bully other children. Why is it that we cannot convince our political leaders and the religious zealots of the world that it is equally wrong to bully groups of people or even other nations?

So, in wishing those of you who pass this way a Happy New Year, I hope that all of us will work, pray, cajole, vote and do anything we possibly can do to move this fragile planet in the direction of peace. Oh, I wish everyone health and happiness too, but if we continue on the path of violence and destruction, health and happiness are rather moot.

I know this is not my usual upbeat view on life. (My wife calls me a Pollyanna.) My optimism seems to be for my immediate, daily existence. But when it comes to the future world in which my children and grandchildren will live long after I am gone, I get more and more disturbed by what I see around me and on television and in the papers. Today's world is getting to be a much less pleasant place to live.

Enough of this downbeat sermon as 2007 comes to a close. Let the smile return to my face. Let me see the intrinsic goodness in humankind in which I have so ardently believed.

Have a very Happy New Year and a year of health, happiness and, most of all, peace!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bob Welsh (1933-2007)

Bob Welsh was a friend of mine and one of the most unique people I have ever known. Often described as being "crusty" or a "curmudgeon," both of which he was, he also was one of the most delightful, fiercely independent individuals I have ever known. And I only really knew him in one aspect of his life, his love and interest in theatre. He was a phenomenal performer as is his wife Gloria Maxwell with whom I have shared the stage in 2 productions. He was an unselfish actor who could play comic and serious roles equally well. He had an unbelievable sense of timing on stage.

Cancer had taken over Bob's body and life. He fought it valiantly for many years but finally decided several months ago that enough-was-enough and decided that there would be no more treatments. I last saw him a couple of months ago along with fellow old f—t actors Ron Rudolph and John Brigante. Bob was obviously very sick and we knew that his remaining time with us was very short. But he was the gracious host and raconteur, telling wonderful, funny, theatrical stories with that beautiful twinkle in his eyes. As usual, he regaled us with tales of his life along the way. I don't know if our visit helped Bob, but he sure cheered us up. He was going to leave this life exactly as he lived it; on his own terms when he was ready. His last breaths were taken on December 6 with close family at his side.

At a memorial yesterday, I learned about parts of Bob's life about which I knew little. His role as a nurturing father who made sure his 4 kids would grow up as self-sufficient thinkers. His love of political debate especially with those, like me, whose views were so different from his. His long battle with the IRS over the payment of income taxes. His achievement as a Life Master in Bridge. His acceptance of all people at face value, never looking for ulterior motives. His genuine love of people. Listening to the comments of his family and friends, I wished that I had known him for more than just the past decade.

A friend is gone but will not be forgotten. As I sit here thinking of Bob, I can hear his distinctive voice starting yet another story, "Let me tell you about the time. . . " Bob Welsh already is missed by all of us who knew him.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Bit More Hillerman. . .

A couple of weeks ago I came across another Tony Hillerman novel, Skeleton Man, which I had not yet read. I like Hillerman’s mysteries, partly because they provide insight into Navajo Culture as they follow the exploits of Joe Leaphorn, Jim Chee and the Navajo Tribal Police. In this particular novel, there is an added dimension of coming to understand Hopi culture as well,

It was a good and quick read; just right for my morning walks. But Skeleton Man left me feeling a bit empty. There just wasn’t the same level of mystery that I have come to expect of Hillerman’s books. What was going on seemed fairly clear cut; the only real excitement came toward the end of the book and the resolution of the conflict between the “good’ and the “bad” folk.


Now I am turning to an interesting novel written by one of Donna’s many cousins. Actually, when I ordered it, I thought it was a memoir, not fiction. The book is Rub Up: Musings of a Navy Corpsman by Mitchell Rycus.

It is based on Mitch’s experiences in the Navy during the Korean War period. I’ll hold off on substantive comments until I finish the novel other than to say that it is obvious, to me, that it is autobiographical.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Milestones – SAG and Post #200

This being my 200th post since starting the blog on February 23 of this year, I thought it fitting that I add a 2nd milestone to the day. I have just returned home from the offices of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). I turned in my membership forms and paid my initiation fee. Just over 13 years after I first got up on stage at the age of 56, I am now a member of two of the three major actors unions. My AFTRA membership was effective December 13, 2006 and the 1st anniversary of that event was a partial contributor to my finally qualifying for SAG.

Obviously, I am grinning broadly today. As a rather late blooming actor, I feel that I have paid my dues (figuratively as well as literally) and earned my membership in the guilds. Like most other actors, I do not make a living performing but I know that the varied experience gained since I first set foot on stage has brought great joy and a sense of fulfillment to my life.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Banners Everywhere – Part I (2007 Holiday Season)

People around here like to hang banners outside their homes. And they change them with the season. I thought it might be interesting to occasionally feature banners I see along the way. [It's titled Part I because I may well repeat this exercise as the months and banners change.}

So, I took my old Sony camera with me again this morning and shot pictures of the banners along my walk, most of them hung specially for the holiday season. The first 2 are on the houses of our next door neighbors:

Around the corner, there lives a veterinarian who is actually flying 2 banners although it is hard to see both because of the overgrowth of foliage:

Other holiday banners included the following:

Now, not everybody had holiday banners. With the annual Rose Bowl coming up on New Year's day, partisans in the neighborhood displayed the colors of the favorites:

That's the University of Southern California (L) and the University of Illinois (R)

A San Diego Charger fan got his word in too, although, in recognition of the holiday, both of the following banners appeared on the house:

Finally, there was one house displaying 2 banners from upstairs windows, rather than hanging them out front:

Enjoy the banners of the season as seen in my neighborhood. And my best wishes for a wonderful holiday and a new year filled with health, happiness and peace to all who pass this way!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Oh, What a Beautiful Day. . .

Today was one of those magnificent days that remind me of how much I enjoy living where we do in southern California. It was crisp weather for us; probably in the high 50s or low 60s. The sky was a breathtaking blue. My daily walk was a true pleasure and I offer up 3 pictures taken along the way.

The first is the view looking down from the top of Via Zumaya in Palos Verdes Estates toward the Pacific Ocean:

The second is of a pile of rocks in a field at the end of Via Barcelona. Every time I pass this was, I think that a neighbor provided a stone blanket over the grave of a pet that died but I really have no facts to back up that thought:

And finally, turning left from the rock pile, I was looking out along a canyon:

Yes, those are the kinds of views I am treated to when walking on clear days. And, for those who read the previous post, I have replaced the photo of the "Peacock Gate" (shot from my cell phone) with a much better one taken with my camera today.

Even after 26 years living in southern California, I still am not totally adjusted to this kind of weather for the holidays. But I do like it.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Peacocks. . .Animate and Inanimate

I spotted some peafowl in front of a house where some construction was going on while I was out walking a couple of days ago.

It wasn't a spectacular view, but it got me thinking about a house about ½ block away from where I spotted the proud birds. It's a house that was built by people who obviously loved peacocks. [I think I mentioned in an earlier post that folks either love or hate these loud, brash creatures; you just don't find many people who are neutral about them.] I could not get a picture of the etched glass front door but I did get the following photo of a large wooden gate toward the side of the house.

We have long admired this gate although the family that had it erected no longer lives in that house. While wooden peacocks are not as majestic as the real thing, in my opinion, the gate adds a bit of class to the neighborhood. In fact, as I recall, it was in this driveway several years ago where I first saw a peacock with his tail feathers fanned out fully. Unfortunately, I did not have a camera with me that day but I will always carry the memory with a smile.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Deja Vu "Commercial"

I received a phone call Monday evening that led to a booking to work on a commercial shoot yesterday. But the Casting Director (CD) who called was a little evasive about exactly what the commercial was about. Even the e-mail that came Tuesday evening was less than clear on exactly what was being advertised. So I googled the production company and discovered that they specialized in political commercials and many of their clients held a political viewpoint that was far different from my own. I was a little uncomfortable but son Seth reminded me that I was an actor and it was a paying job.

Then the proverbial light bulb went off. The company name sounded familiar. I looked back at all my bookings for 2007 and discovered that I had worked for them before. Last April, I posted the commercial on the Indian Gaming Compacts in which I appeared. Well, those compacts had passed through legislative process and are now on the February, 2008 ballot as referenda to be considered by California voters. At that point I felt a little better.

When I arrived at the crew parking site yesterday morning, people were still a little evasive. Finally, when we were on the van transporting us to the set, a mansion in East Pasadena, the CD confirmed that the commercial was for the Indian Gaming Compacts and revealed that the secretiveness was because the central figure in the commercial which we were about to shoot was none other than Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Oh, and we were warned over and over during the day that we to take no pictures and to turn off our cell phones with cameras.

The shoot was a lot of fun. I even got a chance to see again 2 of the Morongo Indian representatives who I first met in the shoot earlier this year. And, in addition to my usual spot in the background, I was given a 2-word line (along with a bump in pay) that was shot separately from the gathering that was at the heart of the days proceedings. I might get a picture of my brief moment under the lights if the official still photographer actually does e-mail me one of the pictures he took as they were setting up "my scene."

So, if you live in California, when you are being inundated with political commercials in January, in one of those supporting the Indian Gaming Compacts, you just might catch a glimpse of The Ancient One dramatically uttering the words, "Senior Citizens." Well, maybe not really dramatically. . .but it was a line and I remembered it for all 3 takes they did of the scene.

Yesterday was a good day and I had had a chance to work with a number of old and new friends.

Added note (December 21, 2008): I reread what I had posted above and realized that I really didn't say anything about the Governor other than he was there. Actually, there was no great excitement on the set. He arrived mid-afternoon, came to the set where we had been positioned, delivered his lines over several takes, shook hands with a few of the people there and left. I am not one of those who is "star-struck" by him as are too many of the political folks who seem to gush when in his presence. My only surprise is that he appeared to be significantly shorter in stature than his appearances in film and TV would suggest. And I did notice that, in shooting his part of the commercial, they used camera angles shooting up toward him which will make him look taller than he is. In summary, there was nothing more special about his presence than there is with any other name star.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Arghh!!!! Ahh!!!!!!!

Arghh!! You know, it's that feeling when something goes wrong. I had that feeling last night when I went looking for my cell phone and it was nowhere to be seen. I called it from the house phone several times but never heard the sound of its ring which is not terribly unusual because reception inside our house is rather spotty.

I hate to admit that I feel absolutely lost without my cell phone. Not that I use it all that often, but I am comforted by its presence. And most of my acting jobs usually start with a call to my Nokia 6102. It is there for me when I need it. Where could it be?

I then began backtracking my day from the moment I last remembered the phone in my hand until I got home. I went back to Torrance Memorial Medical Center; I had last used the phone as I exited the Cardiac Rehab Center and turned the ring back to normal from silent as well as read a text message from my oldest son. I rewalked back up and down the steps I had used as I descended from the 5th floor after my workout. I checked the elevator in the parking structure and the area where I had parked. And before you wonder about it, yes, I thoroughly checked the inside of my car. I then drove back to Costco where I shopped before coming home. No luck in the parking lot, in the store, at the exit or with "lost and found." I finally came home thoroughly depressed. There's that "Arghh!!!!" again.

This morning I prepared to stop in to see a client of mine and then head on down to the cellular store to buy a new phone. I just had to have one with me and it could not wait. I commiserated with myself about the arduous task of re-entering all the saved numbers. I thought sadly about the stored photos that were contained on the SIM card in my phone. I was resigned to having to get a new device and start over again. As I was leaving the house, I decided to exit via the garage; that was the way I came in when I got home from Costco yesterday. Then a thought crossed my mind. Yesterday was trash pick-up day in our neighborhood. After I brought in the groceries yesterday afternoon, I went back outside and brought in the empty trash barrels. In the garage, I picked up one of the barrels and. . . .there it was, my Nokia 6102.

Ahh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Need I say more; I was whole again.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Trees Along the Way. . .

On this morning's walk, I was fascinated by many of the trees along the way. I'm not sure why although it might have been the framing provided by the sky. All of the following pictures were taken on my cell phone along Via Castilla and upper Via Zumaya in Palos Verdes Estates.

Oh, a footnote. . .generated by the last photo. Lots of folks in this area hire tree trimmers to shape some of the trees and keep them looking fit and trim. And I did brighten a couple of the pictures to make them a bit more visually pleasing. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Linking an Author’s Development. . .

I finished Steve Berry's Alexandria Link and it was a wonderful read. This was Berry's 5th book, following on The Templar Legacy and being populated with many of the same characters (e.g. Cotton Malone, Henrik Thorvaldsen, Cassopeia Vitt, Stephanie Nelle) who were major protagonists in the earlier book.

There are two aspects of these books that draw me in. First, the characters are human, not superhuman. By that I mean they have the emotions of real people and those emotions color their actions, no matter how heroic they may be. Secondly, in the blending of fact and fiction, Berry presents us with stories that are plausible. He starts with what is known historically and embellishes it with a tale of what could have been the case. He selects topics about which there has been historical and theological controversy and weaves wonderful, thoughtful mysteries that keep the reader on edge. We can imagine for ourselves how different the world might have been if the stories had been true, or the new fictionally discovered "facts" had been uncovered for all to see.

One other factor that made The Alexandria Link interesting to me is that I picked it up just after reading Berry's first novel, The Amber Room. The contrast in writing between the two is amazing. It was clear how far Berry has come as a writer. I don't mean that as a criticism of the first novel. I do mean it as a compliment to the author's evolution in story telling. The first book was very good. The Alexandria Link was much better and more satisfying. The characters were developed more fully. Their participation in the unwinding story moved forward naturally. I never felt that anything was contrived in any way. I think we should read author's first and latest novels side-by-side more often. It really allows us to see how they develop in the way they exhibit their craft.

Alas, the "books-to-be-read-shelf" is bare for the moment. It feels strange to embark on my daily walk empty-handed. It's time to get to the bookstore and obtain more fuel to feed the mind's appetite.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Major League Debacle. . .

The report on Major League Baseball made public yesterday by Senator George Mitchell offers an equal opportunity indictment of everyone involved in baseball; players, team management, the players' union, and MLB itself. Personally, I was surprised at some of the names "mentioned" in the report. I remember a colleague of mine some 40 years ago who, although speaking in a different context, said that, "It is really tough when you discover that your gods have clay feet." Regardless of any future action, or inaction, too many baseball heroes have been forever tainted, even if they used performance enhancers before they were banned.

How could this happen? Is it the added pressure that is placed on players who used to just enjoy the game? Is it the millions of dollars per year offered to the highest achievers as long as they maintain their "numbers?" I, for one, have never understood why people need to earn such outrageous sums of money that they could quit today and never have to work again. [In fairness, I feel the same way about upper management in corporations; I am not just blaming athletes or high powered agents.] What has happened to our sense of what is important in life? Both of the daily newspapers I read (Los Angeles Times and Daily Breeze) had front pages today filled with Mitchell's report and local reactions but nothing about the war in Iraq, or gasoline prices, or the impact of the housing market on the economy. Maybe I should be happy; nothing of real importance was there to upset my morning reading today.

Yes, I know that Major League Baseball will survive. Yes, I know that just because names have been mentioned, that is not the same as proven fact. Yet, in the wake of what our national pastime has become, I am afraid that like Mighty Casey, baseball has struck out.

Let's see now. It's only a bit over 2 months until spring training begins. Then I will be able to begin to see how my beloved teams (Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers) were improved by their off-season acquisitions. And I too will truly believe what is written on one of my favorite T-shirts:

Batter up!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Icy Memories. . .

As I watched the news reports of the ice storms in the Midwest, old memories came sharply into focus although I am not certain of the exact year. It was in the mid-1970s. I was living in Springfield, IL. I remember that it was Good Friday and the temperature hovered near freezing and it started to rain. And it continued to rain most of the night. I was living on South Park Street, a block north of Washington Park. The cracking sounds I was listening to on the telecasts these past few days were just like the constant sounds heard that night as branches laden with ice simply snapped off the trees. Sometime during the night, the power went out.

When I went outside in the morning, it was beautiful! Ice covered branches are a sight to behold, not unlike this picture I found that was taken in Springfield this week.

But it was also treacherous. Everything was a sheet of ice. Power lines were down everywhere. And even when the temperature warmed, there was still the lack of electricity with which to contend. As it happened, the weight of ice on the wires tore the neck where they connected to the back of the house right out from the wall. It would be about 8 days before I had my electricity restored.

At first, it was an adventure. Food was cooked in a Weber Grill; at least as long as there was unspoiled food to cook. The first night, heat came from a fire in the fireplace. I remember waking to a smoked filled room about 5:00 a.m., apparently from a burning log that had rolled forward on the hearth. Opening windows helped clear out the smoke but did nothing to keep in any warmth.

Three days after the storm, power was restored to the neighborhood; but it would be about 5 more days before I could get an electrician out to reconnect the lines to the house. Fortunately, the lady next store had her power restored and she let me run a very long insulated extension cord from her house to mine. That provided one electrical outlet to connect to extension cords to the most necessary items (refrigerator, radio, a couple of lights) until the repairs were done to the house.

Yes, these memories of 30 years ago came back as I watched TV the past few days. I truly feel for those affected. I know the helpless feeling of being without electricity. I remember that discovery of how little we can do without power, including not being able to turn on the TV or radio news to find out what is happening. It is a very lonely, lost feeling. Today, all we can do is hope that the lives of those who are affected can be restored to normal as quickly as possible.

Another Trolley Photo. . .

For some reason, whenever I am in San Diego I take pictures of trolleys. (I guess it's sort of like all my neighborhood peacock photos.) So, below is a shot taken on an overpass down the street from our hotel when we were there over Thanksgiving.

Ironically, I've never taken a ride on the trolley. Maybe on our next trip.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Snowcaps. . .if you can see them

Below are (not very good) photos of snow capped mountains as seen from The Ancient One's car as he was driving down Hawthorne Boulevard this morning from Palos Verdes to Torrance. I present them because they represent one of the things I love about living in the L.A. area at this time of year. While the mountains generally are no even visible, in the days following a good rain all is clear, sometimes spectacularly so.

Oh how I wish I could have taken these from my camera rather than the cell phone. But of you squint hard enough, you to might be able to enjoy the vista.

I do like my snow at some distance. In this case it is probably about 60 miles away.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Hanukkah, or is it Chanukkah?

Tonight is the 5th night of Hanukkah. Starting on December 4, the 8 day Festival of Lights began early this year. Well, not really; it begins every year on the 25th of Kislev on the Jewish Calendar which is a lunar calendar. That is why it seems that Jewish holidays change every year. A full story of Hanukkah can be found here.

There are also different transliterated spellings of the holidays name; thus the title of this posting. Hanukkah and Chanukkah are the most usual ways we see it spelled in English, depending on who is trying to write the Hebrew word in our alphabet. I won't try to explain the pronunciation of "ch" here. If you haven't learned Hebrew or a guttural language, it comes out as a "k" or "h" sound depending on the word, but neither comes close to the true "sounds-like-clearing-your-throat" sound of the "ch."

Many see Chanukkah and Christmas as being related because they fall roughly at the same time and involve gift giving. But when I was young, there were no gifts given on Hanukkah, other than some "gelt," a small amount of money given to the children. Don't worry, I was not deprived of gifts as a child. My parents simply gave them to me on Christmas, "observing" the secular, commercial nature of the celebration in this country.

In our house, Donna takes great pride in decorating for the holiday. Below are pictures taken outside the house of some decorations and a lit Star-of-David which sits in a front window.

The inside of the house is decorated too! Much of Donna's Hannukiah collection (Hanukkah menorahs) is displayed on the hearth in front of the fireplace.

And the coffee table has another Hannukiah and lost of dreidels (a top like toy).

The family room counter also is well decorated this year.

And one last photo, that of the dining room table, taken just before friends in our Havurah arrived for the annual Hanukkah party on Thursday evening.

So there you have the visual presentation of Hanukkah in our house. And the food was wonderful too! I tried to keep my cardiologist happy by avoiding the traditional potato latkes, sneaking only 2 during the meal and using apple sauce instead of sour cream as the garnish. But to no avail, just looking and thinking about them led to a 2 pound weight gain overnight.

As this holiday season progresses, I wish a Happy Chanukkah to all. And may the coming year be one of peace and good health. Gut Yom Tov!

Friday, December 7, 2007

A Touch of Blogophobia . . .

I guess I have a touch of blogophobia, or what we used to call "writer's block." I have plenty of topics in my head and lots of pictures taken over the past 2 weeks residing in the camera BUT I just haven't had the energy to write much the past couple of days.

Yeah, I know! By writing and posting this I am exhibiting just the opposite of a block. No, this doesn't count; this is just a space filler in hopes that regular readers will continue to check in when I do have something to say.

Well, maybe this weekend. I do have to clear my head of all those thoughts that are swirling about. Happy Chanukkah!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Little College. . . (Reprise)

One last short post on the CSUDH production of The Little College on a Hill (which closed November 18). The photos from the show taken by Tom Marinello are now on his website found here.

The only picture I will include here is one of The Ancient One as President Leo Cain during a protest rally. The three actresses seen in the photo are (l-r): Sunee Foley (Young Pam), Brandy Harris (Student-Michelle [partially hidden]) and Amber Jackson (Young Stella). We are all on a podium that stands about 6 feet above the stage. At the moment this was taken, President Cain was voicing his anger over proposed cuts in the state's higher education budget in 1967.

Okay, that's the last I'll say about the play. But do stop by and see Tom's photos at the link above.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Who Is This Baby?

Rummaging through old family photos, I came across this picture:

The picture was taken in 1938. The photographer was my father. I believe he was using a Speed Graphic camera (which 15 years later I used as a sports photographer for my high school newspaper). On several occasions over the years, this photo was entered in school baby picture contests. It always won. My father was a great photographer who did all his own photo processing in a darkroom in our basement. And this post gets me closer to the original intent of this blog; to reflect on our family history and leave a written/visual archive for my children and grandchildren.

Okay, enough for the not-really-a-mystery; the picture is of The Ancient One at a very tender age. I guess that is today's bit of shameless self-promotion.

And I Even Learned What Amber Is. . .

I finished Steve Berry's novel The Amber Room and along the way I learned what Amber
is ("fossil resin or tree sap that is appreciated for its colour") if the entry in Wikipedia is accurate. I also used Wikipedia to learn about the Amber Room that is at the core of this international thriller. The book was enjoyable and moved quickly, even with all the "factual" information it contained. Berry aided the reader by a "Writer's Note" at the end of the novel that helped separate that which was historically accurate and what was the product of the novelist's fictionalized storytelling.

Now that I have completed my 2nd Steve Berry book (I previously read The Templar Legacy), I move on to his most recent novel, The Alexandria Link. It is another novel of international intrigue that centers on the search for antiquities.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

“Noises Off” at PVPHS. . .

After getting in some holiday shopping this afternoon, Donna and I went to see Michael Frayn's Noises Off, the Fall play at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School (PVPHS). We have been to almost every production of the school's Drama Department for at least the past 12 years; Alicia and Seth were students there and Seth currently is the department's Technical Director.

In his Director's Notes, Jim Bell points out that after having first seen the play in 1983, he added it to the list of shows he wanted to do. He related a story that he heard that playwright Michael Frayn came "up with the idea for the play while watching one of his own plays from backstage. He thought what was going on backstage was funnier than what was being performed out front for the audience." And that is apparently what led to the writing of this wonderful farce.

The 9 students in the cast did an outstanding job. Farce is not easy to perform; it requires both physical and mental agility and a great sense of comedic timing. I resist singling out any single actor or two because "good" farce requires a true, unselfish ensemble performance. I suspect that most high schools would have difficulty staging Noises Off. However, PVPHS always seems to have an abundance of outstanding student actors and this production was no exception.

This afternoon's performance was both wonderful and a particularly fun experience for those of us in the audience who have worked in live theatre at any level. Bravo!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Spicy Cement. . . .

A bit of whimsy today as a new month begins. I must admit that I am borrowing from something #1 son does now and then over at BillyBlog. He will take a scrap of paper with writing on it that he has found along the way, offer it up on his blog, and speculate as to what possibly was going through the mind of the person responsible for the writing.

As I was walking this morning, I spotted a business card lying in the street. It was back side up and someone had written on it:

It appeared to be a short shopping list reminding someone to purchase "PVC cement" and "Red Hot Chilys" [sic]. I assume that the "1/2 pint" refers to the chilies. I wondered what this could possibly mean. Is it possible that spicy PVC cement does a better job than when it is blandly applied?


Friday, November 30, 2007

This Old Body. . .

This old body just isn't what it used to be; it is really dragging today. It just doesn't handle long work days like it did 30, 20, 10 or even 1 year ago.

Yesterday was my 4th and final day working as an extra on episode 2.6 of the FX show Dirt. This time it was a dual role; that of a passerby during the daylight hours and then back in my tuxedo as a studio executive after dark. The day started pleasantly enough with a very civilized call time of 10:30 a.m. at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. It was a relatively easy drive getting there since morning rush hour had passed. But I ended up spending 14 hours on the lot, finally wrapping at 12:30 a.m. this morning and getting home about 1:15 a.m.

That is why I am dragging today; that and my inability to stay away from the constant, rotating food choices (mostly unhealthy) offered up by one of the best craft services guys I've ever met. But it was a fun shoot and for once I can't wait to see the episode when it plays sometime early in 2008. It has many strange and unique twists which I cannot divulge here. Even if I could, to do so would take away from the viewing experience.

So, now to get some rest and move on to the last month of a too quickly passing 2007. Another year (and birthday) just around the corner. If I can just use the next month to lose all the weight I gained in the last 10 days! Now that's a pipe dream, isn't it!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Feeling Cinematic History. . .

The current extra work I have been doing on the TV show Dirt has given me my first opportunity to work at Paramount Studios. A couple of days ago, I noticed small display cases posted outside of each of the sound stages. For example, one of the pictures I took with my cell phone is the case outside Stage 11 which was serving as the "extras holding area."

While the photo isn't easy to read, it shows a list of films shot on Stage 11 over the years. It includes Son of Paleface (1934), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), and Ship of Fools(1962). At the bottom, it states that this stage was constructed in 1929.

Reading this display case put a whole new perspective on my experience. As much as extras tend only to be window dressing for the central action being filmed, I had a feeling of becoming part of film, or in this case TV, history. I thought about the many cinematic stars who had passed through this same space and how much I enjoyed seeing many of the films listed there. I felt part of something much bigger than the small part I was playing in one episode of a TV series.

Then, yesterday we were shooting on Stage 30. As the extras left the set, we were diverted to an exit one stage over. When we came out, I saw the door and awning pictured below. We were leaving through the entrance to the set for the Dr. Phil show. Apparently they were not shooting there this week. But again, there was that feeling of being part of a larger entity, the entertainment industry if you will.

A final impression that also comes from this week's work. On Monday morning and afternoon, we were shooting a scene outside the theatre on the Paramount lot. It was near the front gate where striking members of the Writers' Guild (WGA) were picketing the studio. There was the constant din of car and truck horns as passing drivers signaled their support for the writers. The noise was good to hear and reflected what virtually every actor I know feels about the strike and our hopes that it is settled soon with a fair deal for the writers.

I am recalled for tomorrow which should be my last day on this particular job. And I'm still wearing the tuxedo and pretending to be a studio executive. I wonder what lies ahead next.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A View from the 110

I worked as an extra on the FX series Dirt again today. It was a glorious clear day and I took the picture below from the Harbor Freeway (I110) on my way to Paramount Studios.

The view is looking north at downtown Los Angeles with the mountains seen in the distance (which, in and of itself, is a rarity). And the sky is absolutely cloudless with only minimal haze. The picture was taken at approximately 8:00 a.m. from my cell phone.

Why take this picture you ask? Well, you just don't see such clear views very often in L.A.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I Should Have Believed the Title. . .

Elizabeth George's What Came Before He Shot Her is the first of her many novels I have read. While I did enjoy it, I let myself be misled by the blurb on the back of the paperback edition of the book: It starts, "A kind and well-loved woman was brutally and inexplicably murdered. . .and her death has left Scotland Yard shocked and searching for answers." I thought I was sitting down to read an interesting murder mystery and would see how Scotland Yard went about finding the killer. But the shooting did not occur until page 654 of the 700+ page novel and, for the reader, there was no mystery.

Actually, I realized the deceptive nature of the blurb before I reached page 250; perhaps a bit later than I should have. But by then I realized that the novel was the backstory, i.e. all that happened leading up to the shooting. The novel does offer interesting and perceptive psychological insights into growing up on the "wrong side of the tracks," in London. It contains incredible detail into the lives of what is best described as a broken and dysfunctional family living in the worst of circumstances and facing the worst results from being in a poverty ridden, outcast minority environment. We see the implications of growing up facing discrimination and learning from birth to never trust the authorities, even those who actually mean well and want to help. It was a disturbing, revealing story and truly dealt with what came before he shot her.


Now I move on to Steve Berry's first novel, The Amber Room. Previously, I read his The Templar Legacy and thoroughly enjoyed it. I expect a similar reaction to the intrigue surrounding this search for treasures that disappeared during World War II.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Aftermath. . .

We awoke this morning to news that a new brush fire was burning in Malibu and many homes had already been burned. Additionally, on our return drive home from San Diego, we saw evidence of the impact of the fires from several weeks ago. The following pictures were taken from the car while driving north on I-5 through Camp Pendleton, a major Marine Corps base. The first looks off to the east where the primary color is black on the burnt out mountainside.

The 2nd photo shows one of several places where the fire burned right down to the edge of the highway.

Once home, we again, as was the case during the first fires, could smell the smoke from the Malibu fires about 30 miles away. It was a bit of a somber end to what otherwise was a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with Donna's family in San Diego.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays when you just have to be with family. So this morning we headed to San Diego where Donna's parents live in an assisted living community. But it was a little different this year; for the first time in my memory we had our Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant. In addition to Donna and me and her parents, Alicia and Seth drove down from L.A. to be there along with a young cousin who not long ago moved to L.A. from Tokyo. Donna's brother Ron and his 2 daughters joined us. We chose a restaurant we knew and liked, the Jamacha Grille in El Cajon. And it really was a wonderful dinner except. . . they ran out of pumpkin pie; so we headed back to Ron's home where we were served up our annual pumpkin pie portion as made from scratch by his older daughter.

It was different but it was good and I discovered one major advantage of going out on Thanksgiving; there are no leftovers on which to gorge oneself. The amount I consumed this year was both appropriate and probably would bring smiles to the faces of my doctors.

As an aside, as we were finishing our meal, my cell phone rang. The call came from Brooklyn with greetings from oldest son Bill (whom some of you know as BillyBlog) and daughters Shayna and Jolee. They also had a restaurant Thanksgiving and said the meal was delicious even though the place at which they celebrated ran out of turkey. Somehow, running out of turkey seems un-American to me. What is this country coming to?

I hope all of you who stop by had many things to be thankful for on this very special day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

They Cleaned Me Up Nicely. . .

I worked yesterday as an extra on Dirt, the TV series starring Courtney Cox which will begin its 2nd season soon on the FX network. I must say that they did clean The Ancient One up nicely for his background role of a studio executive.

It was a long (nearly 15 hour) day on the Paramount Studios lot. And, as is usually the case, it was a lot of fun with about 80 extras working the shoot, most of them dressed up in formal clothes. The shot for this episode will not end until next week and I am already called back to work on the 26th. For ongoing information on Dirt and the schedule of episodes for season#2, check out the information on the IMDb website.