Tuesday, September 30, 2008

l'enfer, c'est les autres

The thing about coming back to Los Angeles after a long time away is that everyone has been really busy doing incredibly interesting, productive things.

As I sit here in my 90 degree apartment wearing boxers and a tank top and feeling totally languid and kind of worthless, I'm watching the season premiere of Chuck (edited, by the way, by my friend Matt, who worked a shot of our church into one of the establishing aerial shots) and thinking about all the impressive things my friends accomplished this summer while I was eating shrimp po' boys and having a romantic relationship with a mouse.

The following is a partial list:

- My friend Justin finished his short film LA Actors, which got into Palm Springs Shorts Festival, a festival that has personally rejected me more times than I care to count. I met Justin a week or two ago to watch a screening of the film at the Santa Monica Film Festival, which also, I'm pretty sure, has rejected me in the past.

- My roommate Stephanie had two pieces of her artwork on display at the "Untitled" art show in the warehouse district last weekend. Which I attended with Steph's brother Jason. We walked around and had deep insight into the photographs on display.

- My friend Terence produced an independent feature film (you thought those didn't exist anymore, but they do) starring Hal Holbrook this summer in Tennessee, and not a single person died of heat stroke.

- Tim, younger brother of Stephanie and Jason, got a job with Roadtrip Nation while he was living here in my room this summer, and is, as I write this, embarking on a cross-country road trip in a big green RV. FOR MONEY.

- My friend Katie, after raising funding and putting everything together herself, went to South Africa for five months and taught a film class for a group of South Africans, and is now co-directing a documentary about the film school. I will be writing more about this later.

- Last week, Katie drove down to San Diego with me, to attend a screening of Short Term 12 at the San Diego Film Festival. Katie cast the film, and I produced, and the uber talented Destin Cretton wrote, directed, and produced. Despite the fact that the film played without sound for about five minutes, restarted, played without sound again, and finally restarted and played with buzzy, blown-speaker sound, the screening was great. I hadn't seen the new cut of the film yet, and I thought it was incredibly good.

The star of the film is Brad William Henke (whose movie Choke came out in theaters this weekend.) He plays a staff member at a group home for teenagers. One of the cast members is his daughter Phoenix, who lived in a group home about a year and a half ago, before she was adopted by Brad and his wife Katelin (also in the film.) Destin rewrote the part for Phoenix, who is amazing in this, her debut performance.

Tania Verafield, Destin Cretton, Phoenix Henke, Katie Taylor, James Hansen, Brad William Henke, and me:

Here's the trailer, and you can check out the website at www.shortterm12.com:

After the screening, we celebrated with ice cream at Ghiradelli's. Brad Kester, the 1st AD, Destin Cretton, and Brett Pawlak, the DP:

Brad's making that same face in every picture I have of him.

You may think that I would be discouraged by all this rampant accomplishment. I'm not. Even though the only thing I've managed to accomplish so far this week is to get my iPhone to actually sync with the calendar on my computer. And to finally see Dark Knight. Because what you don't know is that Tim the Lawyer and I are meeting tonight to work on our outline for the Louisiana script. AND WE HAVE INDEX CARDS.

Plus I'm learning French.

Monday, September 22, 2008

home again, home again, jiggety jig

JoeThe next morning, we had breakfast in Holbrook, Arizona, at Joe and Aggie's Cafe. Brie got an omelette, and I got a burro, which is like a burrito, only more donkey-sounding. We kept looking at these two guys in another booth dressed like cowboys and debated asking for a picture with them, but decided not to.

It was nice to see Los Angeles finally showing up on the map:

Near Joseph City, Arizona:

Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona:

WalnutNear Flagstaff, The Walnut Canyon National Monument has preserved cliff dwellings built by a 12th century tribe referred to now as the Sinagua people, probable ancestors of the Hopi. It was incredible to stand on the edge of a canyon that's 600 feet deep and imagine what would it be like to live in one of the homes built into the steep cliffs hundreds of feet above the canyon floor.

Unfortunately, the trail leading down into the canyon and past the dwellings themselves was closed, as a huge boulder had fallen on the trail and crushed the little path and the rails. Instead we walked along the beautiful rim trail above the canyon:

After Flagstaff, we stayed on Route 66 where it diverged from the interstate, and drove through miles and miles of empty desert. A couple of times, we saw a series of Burma Shave signs. The first batch said, "TRAIN APPROACHING/WHISTLE SQUEALING/PAUSE!/AVOID THAT/RUNDOWN FEELING/BURMA SHAVE." The second said, "YOU CAN BEAT" and then "A MILE A MINUTE" and then:

Outside of Peach Springs, Arizona, we pulled over and climbed on top of a roadside mound of dirt to catch a glimpse of the Grand Canyon in the distance:

It was evening by the time we reached California and the Mojave Desert:

And night by the time we reached the official end of Route 66, at the corner of Santa Monica and Ocean. Driving into Los Angeles on a Saturday night after three months on the road, mainly in the South, and a week on an old road through tiny towns, was a lot more overwhelming than I expected it to be. There are so many people! And so many cars! And lights! And ads! And skinny jeans! I kind of wanted to pull a blanket over my head. But we mustered the energy to make it to the end of Josh's 30th birthday party and I wore a dress and pretended to be from Los Angeles, and it was nice to be home.

GroveA couple of days later, I walked to the Grove shopping area near my apartment to buy a gift for Bethany's birthday, and I stopped on the way to watch the fountain in the middle of the Grove. The streams of water are choreographed to music. There was some teeny song playing, with a chorus like, "Let's dance," and when it went into the faster-paced chorus, the fountain streams went crazy, like little water sprites rocking out to Miley Cyrus. It was really amusing and impressive. I looked around. A few people walked by, concentrating on their cell phones or their shopping, not noticing. But the fountain just kept dancing, putting on a show for no one.

I walked back home, trying out the New Orleans custom of saying, "Hey, how's it going?" to the people I passed on the sidewalk. They just looked at me blankly.

Friday, September 19, 2008

westward ho

Thursday morning was September 11th, the seventh anniversary of the worst terrorist attack ever on US soil. We spent the morning in Oklahoma City, the site of the worst terrorist attack on US soil perpetrated by one of our own.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial stands on the former site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which was destroyed in the bombing on April 19, 1995. Outside there is a chain link fence, originally installed to protect the site. Over years thousands of mementos have been left as tributes or tokens of remembrance.

Inside the fence, two huge bronze gates frame a long reflecting pool. The East Gate is inscribed with "9:01," which was the moment before the bomb went off, the last moment of innocence. The West Gate is inscribed with "9:03," the moment after the bomb went off, the first moment of terror and simultaneously of recovery as people flew into action to help one another.

To one side of the reflecting pool is a field of grass, the actual location of the Murrah building. oklahoma-city""168 chairs made of bronze and glass stand in the field, each with the name of a victim inscribed on the base. The chairs are grouped in nine rows, representing the nine floors of the building, and located on the floor where each person lost their life. Nineteen smaller chairs represent children.

Another poem that I love by Wendell Berry:
To my granddaughters who visited the Holocaust
Museum on the day of the burial of Yitzhak Rabin

Now you know the worst
we humans have to know
about ourselves, and I am sorry,

for I know that you will be afraid.
To those of our bodies given
without pity to be burned, I know

there is no answer
but loving one another,
even our enemies, and this is hard.

But remember:
when a man of war becomes a man of peace,
he gives a light, divine

though it is also human.
When a man of peace is killed
by a man of war, he gives a light.

You do not have to walk in darkness.
If you will have the courage for love,
you may walk in light. It will be

the light of those who have suffered
for peace. It will be
your light.

~ "Untitled"
by Wendell Berry

kentucky-club""In comparison to our sober, reflective morning, Brie and I had a kind of silly rest of the day. For lunch we went to County Line Barbecue in OK City, formerly a speakeasy called Kentucky Club that held poker games in private rooms. We had amazing barbecue sandwiches, and I don't think I ate the rest of the day.

We drove through Oklahoma in the pouring rain, stopping in Clinton to see a Route 66 museum. Each room was decorated for a different decade, and you could press a button on the wall in each room and a song from the era would play, Elvis Presley or the Beatles, etc.

Not a single one of the people in the gift shop (who wore Route 66 T-shirts and rode the slew of Harleys parked out front) spoke English:

We were trying hard to get to Amarillo by sundown so we could see the famous Cadillac Ranch, the row of upended graffiti covered Cadillacs buried in a field. (That's right, we drove from Oklahoma to Texas to Oklahoma to Texas.) When we finally located it, through an unlocked gate at the edge of a field off an access road, it was only sprinkling, but it had been raining steadily all day. We started to walk down the muddy path leading to the cars, and passed two men coming back. They were struggling to not fall down and told us to watch out for the slippery mud.

Folks, they were not joking. Walking down that muddy path was walking on black ice. Plus, the mud was slowly caking onto our flip flops, each step making our shoes heavier and heavier, so eventually it was like trying to lift a five pound weight with your toes while trying to not flick mud up onto your (and by "your" I mean "my") white pants. Brie looked at me and said I looked like I had hobbit feet. I was also laughing so hard I thought I might fall over.

My foot:

Brie's feet:

I had a lot of trouble getting into place in time for this picture, because I would set the timer, and then slog through the mud to get to Brie, and then the shutter would click before I got there:

I'm not even going to go into the story of trying to clean up with Wet Ones in the rain on the frontage road, sans pants, before getting back into the car.

That night we drove to Tucumcari, New Mexico, where we stayed for the night at the Blue Swallow Motel, a restored Route 66 motel. This time the proprietor turned the sign on for me:

Isaac's room:

The owner walked in with us to show us how the room had been restored but kept original materials, whenever possible, like the original bathroom tile and the original rotary phones from the 30's.

The owner, Bill, was so nice. He had his son help us with luggage, and lent us Windex when I needed it for something. I responded by Windexing him in the eye. Not on purpose.

Some other views of Tucumcari (which is, by the way, a Comanche word which means "to lie in wait" and is pronounced to-come-carry):

The route through New Mexico could be a bit rough at times:

Near Cuervo, New Mexico:


The dogs in the last picture were barking their heads off at me, but didn't attack. I was afraid I was going to have to make a run for it. We got back in the car, and were tooling down the little highway, when suddenly Brie yells, "Holy crap!" Which was a little disconcerting. She said she thought she had just hit a tarantula, so big that it was clear from the driver's seat, but so close that she couldn't stop. She wanted to go back and check, so we turned around, scanning the road for a gigantic spider corpse. And found it. It's probably already too late, but if you're squeamish about such things, I wouldn't look at this next picture:

And so Brie added to our list of things we've captured and killed on this trip. Sorry, Santiago. May your little spider heart rest in peace.

Tarantula guts notwithstanding, in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, we stopped for lunch, lured by effective wall advertising:

In Sandia Park, New Mexico, we stopped at Tinkertown Museum, the work of a man named Ross Ward, who was a carnival sign painter and whittler. The museum had walls made of thousands of glass bottles and exhibits like an expansive Wild West town, full of racial caricatures and manly women, but impressive nonetheless:

In one of the rooms was Esmerelda, one of those fortune teller machines like in Big. I dropped in a quarter and she jerked around for a minute or two and a card dropped in the slot. It had an Ace of Diamonds on it and read, "The diamond comes to tell the tale, that for you good luck will never fall." I thought, "Wow, that's... depressing. And doesn't rhyme." But then I realized the "i" was smeared, and it actually said, "good luck will never fail." Brie dropped in a quarter and it told her to stop sleeping in late.
I did all this while you were watching TV.

~Ross Ward

Also in the Sandia Park area, we decided to ride the world's longest aerial tramway to the top of Sandia Peak. As we were walking across the parking lot, I dropped my camera and jammed the focusing ring, so I spent most of the tram ride trying to shake off my bad mood. It was very pretty, and very quiet, which did help a bit.

In Albuquerque, we crossed the Rio Grande (not looking so impressive) and took the wrong frontage road leaving the city, and ended up dead-ending on a dirt road near a penitentiary. This was my fault; Brie had voted to go the opposite way.

An awesome old Route 66 bridge that's no longer functioning but is preserved by the state highway authority:

Owl Rock, west of Albuquerque:

We had to get off the winding desert Route 66 and get back on the interstate once the sun set. We were in a hurry to get to our wigwam before it got too late.

For a concrete wigwam, it was pretty comfy. A little chilly, and you couldn't really stand up straight in the shower, but what else would you expect? It's a wigwam. I couldn't get a decent picture of the inside because my wide-angle lens was broken, so you just have to imagine it.