The passing of a radio hero

Mitchell Harding was one of the radio voices I would listen to at night in my bed through the earphones, late at night, after my parents were in bed. He was a voice on the legendary Hour 25 science fiction program at KPFK and later a constant voice on KCRW, where he did news programming.

I can hear his fatherly voice in my head even now. He was good to me over the airwaves. Rest in peace, sir.

http://www.laobserved.com/archive/2007/11/mitchell_harding_la_radio.php

That was tiresome.

Flat front left tire on the Long Beach Freeway in the beautiful city of Commerce this morning. Inconvenience; grime; noise; moderate danger; expense. Saving graces:

* The useful and free Freeway Service Patrol tow people, who rather than just taking me off the freeway so I could change my tire safely, changed the tire for me with high powered tools in about 90 seconds.

* Modern cars, which can take a front left tire blowout at highway seed without becoming the Grim Reaper’s Whirling Gondolas to Hell.

* Working spare.

good morning. well, morning.

It’s 0432 and I haven’t slept. This is almost entirely my fault for the luxurious and gin-fueled nap I had too late in the day.

So of course I’ve been Wikipeding. I was looking at information about actors, because I remembered hyniof pointing out years ago that David Lynch cast the antagonists from West Side Story as antagonists in Twin Peaks, and sure enough it’s Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn.

This reminded me of Amber Tamblyn, and of a “literary magazine” I saw at the B&N recently. Don’t remember the name of the thing, but it was very glossy and hip. It billed itself as some kind of “community project” and the front matter was touchy-feely and sweet in a way that reminded me of eTarded ravers.

And among its writers was Ms. Tamblyn, who also considers herself a poet. She’s not.

Also, the magazine had a picture of an anonymous pretty girl on the cover, which isn’t typical for literary magazines. For a moment I thought about submitting a William Carlos Williams poem and seeing if they noticed, but snark is a lot of work sometimes so I just had a Fatburger and went home.

I also read a lot of pages about Tolkien stuff on the Wikipedia and was too tired to correct typos. This reminds me that back in the day when I was an L.A. music lizard, Exene of X had this husband post John who was a poet or something. He’d show up at clubs and I think I saw him read, not sure. He was sort of annoying but mildly, and he had an unforgettably Scandihoovian name. And then I forgot all about the guy until he popped up as Aragorn in the film version of The Lord of the Rings and suddenly that weird Viggo poet person from the club scene was the object of 15-year-old-girl lust and mountains of slashfic. Now that’s just plain strange.

Similarly it’s weird when I hear Gary Calamar on the radio because he managed this band who were friends of mine in my early 20s and kinda hung out with us and had been the manager of the Licorice Pizza record store where they’d all worked. So he was Gary, that nice guy who was always doing something or other musical, and now he’s some kind of media presence. I bet he’d write better poetry than Amber or Viggo, too.

Maybe I should try sleeping again! Let’s see how that works.

Morning.

pigurines

I went to two doctors today, both for minor reasons. Both at Newport Center.

These doctors’ offices are full of very old, tremulously decrepit white men in cheerful retirement clothing. They’re in aloha shirts and khaki shorts and running shoes, slowly dying.

The parking lot has a very low clearance. This results in comedy with SUVs. One patient made it in driving a Suburban; another with slightly larger tires did not, providing a condensed symbol of the Californian relationship with cars and a satisfying crunchy noise.

The pharmaceutical rep in the waiting room was qualified as a fashion model: almost six foot, slender, leggy, cheekboned and coiffed. Thieves and murderers always send out the best courtesans.

I did not buy the pigurines in the pharmacy window.

Beep! click click click

ch linked me to this marvelous antidrug filmstrip from the 1970s. I have so many memories of filmstrips from my grammar school education.

To start with they were the bastard stepchild of movies, which we all loved. On a Friday afternoon we’d hope for a movie. At a minimum there would be entertaining footage of animals or cool science stuff, and if we were lucky we’d convince the teacher to play the movie backwards when it was done for double the movie time and the unstoppable belly laughs we got from watching birds walk in reverse, etc. But if the filmstrip projector came out, we were getting second best. Someone would have to thread the filmstrip into the machine and then help out by pressing the advance button.

Filmstrips were always about the most boring topic available. I remember seeing one about Where Borax Comes From, several detailing How the Indians Ground Up Corn With Rocks, a whole series on How Erosion and Silt Change Our World, and maybe fifty different social science filmstrips about How Some People Live in Big Buildings and Others In Little Huts and related topics.

But the most frequent use of filmstrips was to tell us things the teachers didn’t want to discuss. The nearest we got to sex education, for example, was an extremely medical strip about How Your Bodies Are Changing Now That You’re 12 Or So, with terrifying closeups of peach fuzz stubble and line art of Your Head With Squiggly Red Lines Signifying Emotional Stress. There were separate filmstrips for girls and boys. It was incomprehensible. And of course the drugs ones. I’m not sure I saw this particular drug filmstrip, but we had several on Not Taking Stuff From Big Kids Because It Makes Question Marks Fly Out Your Nose, also known as If You Light Something On Fire and Put It In Your Mouth, You’ll Grow a Leather Jacket and Die in a Car Crash.

I think nowadays teachers put in a videotape and dive under their desks when bad topics arise. But to this day when I hear an old antidrug speech I immediately go to that crappy narrator voice wobbling along with the tape, the piercing beep, and the hum of the fan on the filmstrip machine.

One day the teacher left it on too long on one frame while she explained something and the film caught fire. We all had to go outside while the Fire Department came to check it out. I got a face full of burning plastic film smoke and I was light headed for the rest of the day. Drugs are bad!

My Working Life: Mary Sue

For two years in the mid 1990s I was the manager of a hospital medical records transcription department. It was my first and only full-time management job. I was 30 and inexperienced, but I very much wanted to do the job well; in fact, the reason I took the job was that everyone would probably have been outsourced and fired if I hadn’t. That’s another story.

The time came when I had to hire a new person. HR put an ad out and I plowed through resumés, and found a few candidates worth interviewing. We had both an interview and a test, so anyone I hired would at a minimum be able to do the job without a doubt.

My first hire was Mary Sue (not her real name). She was a quiet, diffident woman about my age with a good resumé, obviously highly intelligent, and tested nearly perfect. She was eccentric; all medical transcriptionists are eccentric. Everything about her was buttoned-down. She had tasteful, conservative clothing without a button out of place, finely curled permed hair, the exact right amount of makeup, and a precise and muted voice. She played the subservient office lady role the whole way. Everything was an apology or a question, with the head tilted slightly to one side. She was so pale that “white” didn’t cover it; I think she was partly transparent.

I seated her in an empty cubicle and she began to silently churn out good work. I congratulated myself on a successful first hire! She always looked worried and hunted, but most of the people I worked with were functional neurotics and I didn’t think much of it.

A couple of weeks after she started I was talking to her at the photocopier and she mentioned that she hadn’t slept well the night before due to noisy neighbors. I made commiserative noises. “Well, I don’t know, it’s, worse, worse than that” she said mournfully. “How so?” “Well my neighbor. She is. I think you know, she is a prostitute. So many men coming and going all the time.” I paused for a moment. “Really?” I didn’t think of West Covina as being a haven of condominium whorehouses. “Oh I’m sure of it. I know. You know, we’ve had this before. It’s like it’s taking over.” I made some polite gesture and retired to my desk. Whoo, I thought. I’ve got a sexual paranoid on my hands. This should be entertaining.

A few weeks later Mary Sue showed up at my desk asking for a private conference. I closed both doors and we sat down. “I am having some trouble in the mornings,” she offered. “What’s up?” “Well, you know, Barry (a subject of a previous profile here). and T. and C., they work that same time. And they talk a lot and they’re loud. And it’s hard because I can’t get things done, and you know they aren’t doing anything. And then they’re really rude and mean to me. Barry came up to me at my desk and called me a bitch.”

I was shocked. First of all, I knew that the morning crew didn’t “do nothing”. Although I wasn’t there early I could see their workflow precisely. They were a bit slower than when I was there, but not more than reasonably. And I knew they were BSing around talking. They’d all known each other for 10 years and worked as a team at another hospital. And I couldn’t imagine any circumstance in which Barry would call someone a bitch. Finally, this wasn’t the kind of workplace where you couldn’t stop and chat for five minutes, either. If you didn’t let work pile up or mess with anyone, it was cool. I told Mary Sue that I’d stop in unexpectedly a few times to see what was up, and that if anyone was abusive to her she should log it exactly and I would take appropriate action. She was very grateful and teary and went back to her desk.

I did pop in unexpectedly early a few times over the next month. There were some embarrassing/comic moments when I saw people with their feet up on their desks expounding long stories to each other, but mostly people were just churning along doing their thing and waved a hello to me. “Hey, early guy. There’s bagels.” There wasn’t any loud boorish talking, or any sign of hostility to anyone.

About a month later Mary Sue returned to my desk. She was even more upset this time. Again she told me tales of the other morning employees harassing her, doing no work, and being loud. I mentioned to her that I was puzzled because I’d seen nothing on my surprise visits. She was silent for a minute or so and then said “Well, let me tell you it’s happening. They’re just like that. Those people are idle, it’s their way. I’m sure you know what I mean here. Those people. I knew you would understand.” Thunderbolt. I realized that everyone on that shift but Mary Sue was black. Oh crap.

I told her that if she had continued complaints she’d have to file a grievance with HR and/or talk to my boss, because I had nothing to go on based on the information I had. She looked terribly sad and betrayed, and said that she would do that, but that she had hoped I would understand the situation. I looked at her for a long moment and said “I think I do understand the situation, actually.”

I managed to call my boss before Mary Sue did. She (boss) shared my reaction. “Oh, SHIT. Barry? I don’t think so. Yeah, I’ll talk to her. Thanks.” I asked what the hell we were going to do; can you fire someone for being an insane racist? “No. But I can quit her.”

Over the next couple of weeks things were very tense. Barry came to see me and said “Well, I guess you know why I’m here.” “Yeah.” “I just wanted to say, I’ve been here seven years, and there’s been no trouble. Nothing. I just want to get my job done. I hope..” I cut him off “Don’t worry. It’s not going to be me.” He smiled and left. The others dropped by and this was repeated. Mary Sue barely spoke to me but occasionally would sit at her desk typing with one giant tear rolling down a powdered cheek.

Mary Sue quit at the end of two weeks. She arrived in my office in a portentous way and delivered a note to my desk, a generic quit note. As I read it, she intoned “I am pursuing other opportunities because both you and the Vice President have made it clear to me that serious problems are not taken seriously here.” I took the note and filed it, saying to the wall behind her “I can promise you they are, Mary Sue. Very seriously indeed.”

We had a pot luck the day after her last day. I brought the meringue cookies.

Annals of My Working Life: Barry

Early in my computer stuff career I worked for a small dotcom outfit that did work for entertainment companies. There were four principals who ran the place, each of which deserves his own article. Today I’m going to talk about Barry (not his real name).

Barry was a smallish, delicately built man with a careful tan. He wore Entertainment Executive Casual clothing of the 90s: those priest collar shirts, khakis, expensive loafers. He had been an exec at a big movie studio and this was his first independent company.

In most ways he was a stereotypical New York entertainment Jew transplanted to L.A., and like most smart people who are stereotypes he played it up. The result was a near-perfect reenactment of Woody Allen in Annie Hall most of the time. When I first started working there he took me out to lunch, and over a Reuben and home fries I got to hear a 90 minute oration on tap water. The tap water in New York was good, but then he came here, and he put a glass of tap water next to his bed and in the morning he saw all the disgusting sediment, and he only drank bottled water now. Yes, 90 minutes.

Barry was halting, diffident, nebbishy in conversation. He salted his sentences with “uh you know” and “if you see what I mean” and “okay, so, okay, so” and pulled his hands up to his face pointed down, like a chipmunk. He’d then rub them together rapidly, changing animals to become a grape-washing raccoon. His eyes darted around the room and he frequently turned away from people while speaking to them, or looked fixedly at some object while he talked.

He loved privilege and perks, and was careful to make sure that he got them all. When any swag or free tickets arrived in the office he was sure to be there to spirit them away. If one of the underlings managed to score something Barry would appear at the desk: “Uh, yeah, hello. So. Yeah, the items, that came from Paramount. Yes. Those are, um. I’ll need to, yes, thanks, take them.”

When something was on deadline (which was always), Barry would succumb to terrible anxieties. Often he would end up behind some hapless employee’s desk, mincing back and forth between two blind spots. “Hi, yes. Not wanting to um bother you! Just, I am trying to. If you could. Um, how is the timing looking for this. The agent, is, you know, waiting. Okay. Okay yes.” He could stand there, slightly too close, and wait for someone to complete a writing or graphics task for a good solid hour. If he felt especially worked up he might actually come up and poke someone unexpectedly, which caused at least one employee to snap and scream “BARRY DO NOT EVER DO THAT AGAIN GODDAMNIT”.

Barry was an aficionado of humor. The Simpsons were in their prime and we all had sound clips, which since he didn’t know how to do sound he envied. I remember him making me play the Harry Shearer Springfield Police Department Rescu-Fone thing over and over and over while he rocked back and forth giggling at my desk.

Barry was single and in great need of a date. And we had many beautiful women come through the office, some of whom were actors and others just pretty people in the business. One time in particular I was doing a kind of online interview thing with an unknown but steaming hot actress. She and I were BSing and horsing around joking with her agent person before we did this event, and Barry was back in the executive office. He kept leaning way, way over to get around his monitor so he could look at her breasts through his office window. Just as she left he rushed up and shook her hand and gave her his card. He then came over to my desk and talked to me about her “rack” for about 15 minutes while making chipmunk hands.

He had great confidence in his own comic skills and loved to do little impressions. One of his favorites was a disheartening racist Ching Chong Chinaman accent act which would make everyone in the room stare silently at nothing and the record player skip and all the cowboys turn around and look, every time he did it. At the time we were having trouble getting enough business from our clients and Barry was the man assigned to go lunch with people and get us gigs. At one Santa Monica soirée with moguls, he did the full Charlie Chan routine over drinks. The president of [redacted], an important movie studio, was his big target that night. Unfortunately the guy was married to a Japanese-American woman and took Extreme Offense. We lost the big account.

Barry made millions when the company was sold. He’d promised equity stakes for underpaid early employees but he lied. I hear he’s married now, and running some other internet thing. I bet his hands are still really, really sweaty.

It’s not easy, making real friends.

Just got back from seeing genericus play with Crack Sunday at the infelicitously named Hogue Barmichael’s. This is the bar next to the airport where airline pilots have 8 Cuba Libres, sway across the street into the cockpit, and pass out at the controls on takeoff, augering into the Upper Newport Bay in a 757 full of Disneyland returnees. They also have live music there!

All the elements of the weeknight show at the local venue were there. High school kids in a messed up van with stuff written on it, and a PA through which they mumbled. Grumpy bartender. Decent turnout for a late evening weeknight like this. There was a wacky woman who kept demonstrating her belching technique.

The cast inside the bar was familiar too. Some friends of the band, some fans of the band, some totally random people. There were the two Ghost World girls who danced and had a good time and were fun and nice. It seems that there are two girls like that at every show. There was a very happy backwards-baseball-cap guy with bad teeth who said to me “There’s lots of girls here to see these guys. That’s good! Hey, maybe only 15 people here but ten are girls!” There was the silent ponytailed sound guy.

The music is prog rock with a lead keyboard, which is very much not my style; I like maybe 10 songs total in this style of which maybe 7 are early Peter Gabriel solo songs. (“White Shadow” and “On the Air” are examples.) Fortunately genericus knows and likes this music better and plays it well. I couldn’t hear the guitarist at all. There were a few songs I was able to roll with and enjoy, and I have to say it was because of the bassline more than anything. I have major problems with the singer in this band, and it’s been hard for me to get past this previously too. They got better as the night went on, though, as you’d expect from a band that hasn’t played live in a while.

At one point the cheesy fog machine vomited out a load of cheesy fog directly over genericus‘s head and he looked up and was struck down by fear and horror for about 5 seconds; it made me wish I’d brought in the camera.

I left a bit early because I have been working on and off in 4 hour shifts for the last 24 hours and I was burnt.

The television over the bar first gave us a show in which grinning people handed each other gigantic fish. This was followed by sickly yellow salesmen infomershing, and finally by the end of Rain Man.

Cogito emo sum

I saw someone I have a lame crush on today. Later on she was in the same area I was, but kind of away and behind things with her friends. Every time I looked over there the sun was hitting her only and making her all shiny, because she was the saint in the painting.

vickajew and I gave friendly_bandit a short walk through the geopolitics of the last 25 years, but I don’t think he was grateful. In fact, he looked like he wanted to go live under his bed afterwards, which is sort of understandable considering the material at hand.

DZ came and talked at me for a bit. He claims his health is good and he hasn’t had a seizure in over a year and a half but he looks like a corpse. He sort of talked around the huge fights he’s had with his property manager, and the fact that his aunt and uncle bailed him out of his trailer purchase. He mostly made sense but sometime the digressions were pretty hard to follow. I seriously wonder how long he has on Earth, looking at him and hearing him talk. It’s hard to watch.

When I watch a Hollywood movie, you know with a hero and heroine and villain and sidekicks., I can never put myself in the hero’s role. Even as a fantasy, I haven’t cast myself as the lead before. I’m no villain either, because Evil is just lame, nor can I be the wacky sidekick for longer than about an hour. I think I’m the sacrificial guy who eats it in the last reel so that others may live. I always sympathized with that guy, the one who gets to say “It’s too late for me. I’ll stay here. RUN!” Even if he doesn’t get whacked, he has to stay behind and deal with all the bullshit. I am Claude Rains in Casablanca, or if I’m feeling especially butch maybe Steve McQueen in The Sand Pebbles. No ride into the sunset, but if I take one for the team people will think highly of me later.