Friday, April 21, 2006

R.I.P. Bucky, 1990-2006

I'm very sad to report that my special little man Bucky is no longer with us. Anybody who knew Bucky knows that he beat the odds all his life. He was the runt of the litter, having started his life with a traumatic experience when a 300-lb. woman lost her balance and squashed two of his litter mates right before his eyes. More than once upon laying eyes on his skinny and arthritic frame for the first time people would ask me, "what's wrong with that cat?" Bucky did have his issues, being unable to find the litter box regularly and hissing at ghosts, but he was a constant source of amusement and affection for me. It's hard because he was living in Richmond with my mom and I wasn't able to be there for his last moments. What is it with people and their pets, the way we grieve so hard for them? I didn't cry when my dad died, and I was in the room with him, but I've been bawling like a school girl since hearing the news of Bucky's demise.

Despite that black cloud the week has been good. I spent two full days working on a short film with Lisa Johns. She just graduate from USC's writing program, and this week they were holding a banquet to celebrate the 25th anniversary of James Ragan's tenure as program director. Lisa decided to interview a bunch of students and faculty and came to me with a mess of footage and over the course of two days and one up-till-6 a.m. night, we put together a nice little 7-minute tribute film. It's reminded me of how fun putting a video together is, and, to be honest, it's reminded me that I'm pretty good at it. Lisa showed the film at the 350-person banquet and it was very warmly received.

On the heels of this I've just been hired for my first job as a cameraman. Tomorrow I'm to go film a band at Angel's Stadium in Anaheim who are performing at the Indie 103.1 Inkslinger's Ball. In addition to the traditional numerous stages with up-and-coming bands, this festival features a bunch of tattoo and piercing booths to insure that everyone under the age of 25 in America has a tattoo and/or piercing. Hopefully I won't get too drunk after the filming and end up with something ridiculous like "IRISH WARRIOR" tattooed across my chest. The pay is shit, but I'm excited about doing a good job and hopefully parlaying it into more work as a cameraman, which is one of the main reasons I came out here. I'm a little nervous because I've never done anything like this before, but barring any technical glitches I'm confident I can do a good job. We'll see.

Didn't get the job as the researcher for the Discovery Channel show. At first I was mightily disappointed, but one of the skills I've been working on is shaking off disappointment and moving on. Something else will come up. What's happening to me out here? I'm feeling uncharacteristically optimistic and confident. Tomorrow night I'm going to see the Brian Jonestown Massacre at this cool space downtown with this woman Susan I met at a brunch last Sunday, and tonight I'm going to see a movie with Lisa Feinstein and her roommate Laura, two women I was introduced to through a mutual acquaintance. I seem to be gathering a lot of female friends, which is cool with me because I like women, especially smart and interesting ones.

The voice-over class is going well and this week we got our first samples on CD. Everyone knows that feeling they get when they listen to their own voice on tape, and for me it was no different. Of the six things I recorded I thought one was pretty good, so I've got quite a bit of work to do if I want to seriously puruse this. On Wednesday my writing group went to a poetry reading at the downtown library, which is an amazing space and a place I hope to spend more time. Sunday I'm driving down to Palos Verdes for dinner at my sister Carrie's friend Beth's, so the weekend will be full. I'm of course still worried about money, especially after doing my taxes this week, but like I said, something will come up.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

C'mon Creed!

It's finally started to get warm and sunny out here and feel like what I thought Southern California might feel like. Remember when I was hiking through Griffith Park several times a week? It hasn't been nice enough to do that for a month and a half. I know what I'm doing tomorrow.

This has been an interesting week. Friday I went to a French Film Festival at the Director's Guild of America. The film we wanted to see, "The Black Box", was sold out so we were forced to see the French version of "Top Gun" (Pete said, "French Top Gun? What, did the pilots surrender at the first sign of trouble and then collaborate with their captors?") It's nice to know the the French can make big dumb movies just like the Americans. Perhaps the defining moment of the movie came when one of the French pilots finds out that the super-hot and slinky female American pilot used to be a stripper! So what does she do? She strips! On the wing of a plane! In front of all her co-pilots! That will keep your professional standing intact. It was so dumb that I almost (almost) couldn't enjoy her modified pole dance. Afterwards I was talking to Guilyane, who is French, and she told me that 90% of all French film is just like that. The moral: there is crap everywhere and there are morons everywhere. Then why do all the French treat all Americans like idiots? Perhaps the highlight of the festival was in the lounge afterwards where I met and chatted with Carl Weathers, Mr. Apollo Creed himself. He looks pretty much like he did back in the day, thanks, I suspect, in no small part to a team of dedicated surgeons and regular botox injections. I shook his hand and told him I was a big fan, but I refrained from dancing around and shouting "C'mon Creed!" a la Clubber Lang in III. I doubt that he would have even noticed, though, as he was too busy macking on Lisa, so once I noticed this I backed away and gave him room to do his thing. I am happy to report that I am taller than Carl Weathers.

Sunday I played some basketball with Ryan and Matt and Dave, part of the Skylar crew. We had a good time, played for a few hours, then afterwards I went to Skylar's for tacos and then on to a club called Spaceland to see a band and hang out with Lisa and Sasskia. The band is called The Molecules and features the aforementioned Guilyane. I liked them. They play a brand of (to borrow of favorite term of Lisa's) "shoe-gazing" rock along the lines of My Bloody Valentine and Blur. The bar is festooned with salvaged satellite dishes to add to the spacey feel. At the end of the evening Sasskia provided us with avacados from her father's avacado farm.

Monday I found out that I had booked my first catering gig for Passover on Wednesday. This meant I had to go out and find my Bistro outfit, which includes black pants, black tie, white shirt and a black vest. I'm sad to report that the pants I purchased were 38s, because Leon is Getting Larger! (two points for whoever can name the movie reference). I managed to find everything but the black vest, so I stopped by Bloomingdales on my way to Beverly Hills last night where they did indeed have a black vest. It was last year's and thus on sale for only $125. I declined, and went to the job sans vest, so I was a little nervous going in. The job was located in a gated community in Century City, but it was much ado about nothing as Wendell, my supevisor, said don't worry about the vest. It was relatively easy work, serving the seder dinner and then doing dishes afterwards. Wendell and I chatted all night about what we're doing out here. He's an interesting guy who is going great guns for the Hollywood thing. He's got five feature scripts that he's written, is doing a lot of extra work and has networked his ass off trying to make connections. He told me about this thing called "Woodland Film School" where you pay $75 and go to a studio for a day and they bring in agents, directors, producers, casting people and actors to basically answer your questions. I'm going to go and check it out. Wendell is also studying sword play hoping to get work in action movies. He promised me he'd send me his comedy script which he described as the "black Odd Couple" about a couple of cousins who live together and work as dog catchers. I made $140 cash for the night, which I think is pretty good.

Yesterday I applied for a job at World of Wonder to be a researcher on a pilot being developed for the Discovery Channel called "Big Years." They need people to research events that happened in certain years and then they do a sort of year in review show (I think). Anyway I e-mailed Skylar about it so he promptly made a phone call over to WOW and when I got home last night I had an e-mail from WOW asking me in for an interview today. So I've got my first job interview in L.A. tonight at 5:00. I was told under no circumstances to wear a suit, but I that should look hip and nice. Hmmm. It's come to my attention this week that I have zero fashion sense, and I am walking around broadcasting the fact that I am a wonder bread rube from the midwest. I shall seek to change this but I've spent so many years resisting contemporary fashion that I've got my work cut out. I kind of nervous about the interview but I got a haircut yesterday and last night when I told Wendell I was 38 he looked shocked and said, "Wow man, you look young!" So I got that going for me. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Re-Doubling My Efforts

The last week has been a mosh pit of activity for me, starting with my trip back to Columbus for the fantasy baseball draft. Truth be told, the fantasy draft was merely an excuse to go back and see everyone, which I managed to do with just a few regrettable exceptions. Thursday night I saw Tom Wilk, Pete, Jody, Ben, Akhim, Erin, Mike, Bob, Jason and Jenny. There was dinner at El Vaquero and beers at Larry's after. Larry's has changed. I was wondering if it was just that night, but after asking around it seems that the musicians, artists, hipsters and scholars that once populated Larry's on any given night have given way to a younger, more collegiate crowd. I leave town for two months and my favorite bar completely transforms. What's up with that? I also got to see Kirk and Kate and the lovely Audrey Moon Robinson, now aged 3 months. Friday afternoon was whiffle ball and basketball, and Saturday was the greuling 9-hour draft, which is the crown jewel of the weekend. Everyone sits around, peering over draft sheets like a 19th-century law clerk trying to keep track of who's available and who's gone. I didn't prepare at all, so it's probably not fair that my team, The Ohio Huge, is in first place after the first four days of the season. After the draft Steve Guinan broke out a bottle of Johnnie Walker and we danced around to Madonna's "Like a Prayer." then a few of us went to the Top and had steaks. Sunday Bob made brunch and I got to hang out with Mike for a couple of hours. An excellent weekend all around, but it has left me missing my friends and the community I left in Columbus even more since I returned to LA.

But there was no time to lay around and feel sorry myself once I got back. Monday at 10 a.m. was the sign-up for the next Groundlings class which concluded last week, and then I had to return home to polish up my Irish essay for the reading on Monday night. I'd also promised to re-double my efforts at making connections out here once I returned from Columbus, so I sent a dozen e-mails to various people. One of these was my friend Doug, who is a professional voice-over artist. I told him I was interested in pursuing voice-over work, and one of his pieces of advice was to take a class. He said he had one in mind and that he'd tell me about it when we get together for a beer later this week. So I worked on the Irish essay, went and picked up Lisa and headed to Santa Monica for the show. The show, called "Spark," is an evening of personal storytelling where each story is loosely based on a central theme. The theme for our show was "Green" so we heard environmental green, marijuania green, green around the gills, green of spring and my Irish green. I was nervous, as I always am before a reading, especially because I thought my essay was just too dark and depressing. But the night went off without a hitch, and I think people really enjoyed and responded to my piece. I got a few laughs at the beginning before hitting then with the really gooey stuff at the end. Quite a few came up to me afterwards to discuss it and tell me it had an impact on them. So that was very nice, especially considering that I'd spent the better part of two weeks on it. Of course, what I read on Monday bears almost no resemblance to the first draft I sent the producer, just another reminder that for me, writing is all about rewriting. A couple of people asked that I post it as a blog entry so I'll try, though it might be too long.

After the show at the reception Lisa was talking to the guy she was sitting next to and he mentioned that he was teaching a voice-over class. I butted in and said I was just talking to a friend of mine about taking a class, so I asked him about his and told him about the advice Doug gave me. Taking a shot in the dark I asked, "do you know Doug Gochman?" he laughed and said of course that he used to teach this very class with Doug and that he would be putting in an appearance. This, it turns out, is the very class Doug was going to recommend for me to take. The instructor's name is Reed and he told me he had one spot left but that the class started the next day. So I signed up on the spot, afraid of invoking the wrath of the gods who so clearly wanted me to take this class.

So the first voice-over class was last night and it was a total blast. It's held at a place called Pacific Ocean Post, which is apparently the premiere post-production sound studio in L.A. The class has seven people in it, two men and five women. Reed spent the first part of the class giving us an overview of the class and the V.O. world, and then it was into the trenches. We gathered in a studio with our own engineer (who records everything and will give it to us on CD later), and one of us goes into the booth, straps on the headphones, and reads the copy Reed gives us (everybody gets different copy). Reed sits out in the room with everybody else, pushing his magic button to talk to the person in the booth, giving tips and directing the performance in certain ways. Everybody in the class was really good, sounding like the could already be professional voice-over artists. It was really fun and because it takes place in the kind of studio where actual V.O. work is done, it felt very real and practical. We each read twice. Here is the copy I read for my second go in the booth:

"You know what to do when life gives you lemons. But what if life gives you…rib bones? Artichoke peels, corn cobs or a pineapple top? We think the best thing to do is make them go away. That's why there's the new Evolution Series disposers. With the new MultiGrind and SoundSeal technologies you can grind almost any food waste…And hear almost nothing."

I was told I did a good job and that i have a rich voice that "sounds like somebody you know or would like to know." Both compliments, I hope. If all goes well with this class I'll get a good demo out of it and then maybe, maybe, some V.O. work.

Money is now officially an issue. I've enough left for basically three more months of slacker free time, then it's out into the street for me. Had an interview at a catering company this morning and should be working my first party next week on Passover. I really want to start making money but I'm still so scared of having to work 9-5, not having done it for so many years. But I will when the opportunity arises and it will probably be good for me. For now, time to get back to the Rescue Me script, which I basically shelved to work on the Irish essay. It's rained every day for the last two weeks here, and it was warmer in Columbus last weekend than it's been in L.A. What gives?

A Wee Bit of the Irish

“Dan O’Dair. That’s about as Irish a name as I’ve ever heard.” I can’t tell you how many times a person I’m introduced to responds with just that. “Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling!” I get that too. And it’s true in terms of lineage and ancestors and Ellis Island and all that, that I do have a green tint to my otherwise red American blood. My father, Robert Baldwin O’Dair, sprung from good Irish stock in Yonkers, only a couple of generations removed from potato famine immigrants. My mother grew up in the working class town of Sandusky, Ohio, with one foot in and one foot out of the Irish diaspora. So it’s there, the Irish in my genes and in my past, but as far as the culture goes, the heritage, the religion, the identity, I’m about as Irish as a box of Lucky Charms.

While it’s true that I don’t eat corned beef and cabbage, speak Gaelic, attend Mass or even know what a claddagh ring is, there are parts of me that are undeniably Irish: the love of a lyric line, a natural predisposition toward laughter, an irascible fighting nature and a latent sense of Catholic guilt that plagues me despite never having been confirmed. I’m not sure this makes me in any way Irish, but I seem to have a particular affinity for redheads. But unfortunately, the one characteristic I share with most of the men in my family is the one trait the Irish are best known for: the drinking.

By all accounts my family history is littered with alcoholism, “a wee bit of the thirst” as Frank McCourt called it in Angela’s Ashes. I gave McCourt’s story of his father’s descent into drink to my dad, and when he gave it back just a few days later I asked him what he thought. “Didn’t get very far,” he said. “Too familiar, too depressing.” On my father’s side alone the history is bleak: his father was an alcoholic, his grandfather was an alcoholic, his two brothers were alcoholics, and my cousin John just vanished one day, presumably ending up on skid row somewhere. And, of course, my father was an alcoholic. He was the kind of drinker they call “functioning,” leaving the house every morning at 7:30 a.m. to attend to his successful medical practice, then returning home each night with an extra fifth of Cutty Sark to insure a sufficient reserve for the evening’s consumption. He’d have one drink - rocks, no soda - before dinner, then retire afterwards to his den to read Dick Francis novels and listen to Beethoven and Bach and consume anywhere from two to six more. I can’t remember my father ever being a bad drunk, hitting my mother or abusing his kids or anything like that. His drinking was a nightly descent inward, an attempt to numb himself from whatever, or whoever, it was in his Irish past that was too painful to take sober.
For me the drinking started early. I got drunk for the first time when I was 14 and got sick from16-oz. Bavarian “pounders” later that same year. On New Year’s Eve of my sophomore year I arrived at the party late and had to settle for drinking a bottle of Black Tower wine. The resulting spasms of vomiting prevented me from even smelling white wine for the next ten years. It was the thing in my midwestern high school to form t-shirted groups your senior year, and ours was the not-so politically correct NAABD - the National Association of Anhiliated Beer Drinkers. All of this prepared me for the steady consumption of my college years, which continued unabated into my young adult life in Chicago, Washington, DC, then back to Columbus for graduate school.

But while I was the next in a long line of drinking O’Dairs, I only heard about the others through occasional offhand remarks. My dad never really talked about his childhood. This was never more clear to me than the summer day my family had travelled to Martha’s Vineyard for my cousin Barbara’s wedding. It was a rare opportunity for me to get to know the O’Dair side of the family, for my father did his best to keep us segregated from his siblings and my cousins. The day was beautiful, sunny and bright, with the reception taking place on a cliff overlooking Massachusetts Bay. My father looked uncomfortable all afternoon but I was having a great time, mingling with my semi-estranged cousins, glowing from an endless flow of keg beer. When I spied my father, also drunk, looking ready to leave, I said, “Hey Dad, I’m asking around about you, getting the scoop on what you were like as a kid!” His reaction was not what I expected. He turned beet red and, visibly shaking, shot out a reflexive punch that connected with my shoulder. “You mind your own business!” he barked.

Although my dad was reticent on his past, I have learned something about the family history, thanks mainly to my mother, who has appointed herself family historian. She recently gave me a hand-colored dageurrotype of my great-great-great grandfather, Mortimer Roach Murphy, and it might as well be a picture of my father. Captain Murphy was a refugee from potato-famine Ireland, and after settling in Manhattan he joined the New York 69th Irish Brigade, serving with distinction in the Civil War. His obituary from the May 2, 1881 Sunday Democrat reads, in part: Captain Mortimer Roach Murphy succumbed to a wound to his left lung suffered during the battle of Fredericksburg. Morally and physically Captain Murphy was a model man, combining the simplicity of a child, the gentleness of a woman, the coolness and courage of a brave soldier. God rest his great soul and help his poor widow and six young children. The resemblance to my dad is striking, especially in the bright, worried, determined eyes, eyes that I myself have inherited. More than a century later my father would also succumb to a wound to his left lung, inflicted not by a single musketball but by hundreds of thousands of cigarettes.

But before the cancer claimed him, my father, like his father before him, got sober. For the last five years of his life he didn’t drink a drop. Perhaps it was his example that led me to quit drinking starting on my 30th birthday. I was in my last year of graduate school and I was tired of going out every night, getting up at noon the next day, shaking off a hangover and having but a few productive hours before the next party started. So I quit, in part just to get things done and in part to win some hard-earned approval from my father. But the extra closeness I’d hoped to obtain through mutual sobriety would have to wait until our deathbed visits, when we’d play chess, read Frank O’Connor stories and talk about his life. After he attempted suicide via a morphine overdose he asked for my forgiveness. When I said there was nothing to forgive, I could see in his eyes that he was grateful.

That last year of graduate school sobriety turned into another and then another, and before I knew it I hadn’t had a drink in five years. Toward the end of the fifth year I started to think that maybe I could safely rejoin the ranks of the drinking, and so on my 35th birthday I tentatively sipped a beer. That was 3 1/2 years ago, and so far so good, but let’s be honest here: with my family history, with my history, chances are very slim of me drinking socially for the rest of my life without developing a problem. But maybe those chances are improved because every time I lift a drink to my lips I think of the slippery slope I’m perched on and of the generations of men in my family who have tumbled down it.

I’m a smart person yet I do incredibly stupid things. My family tree is teeming with alcoholics yet I still drink. My father died of lung cancer and yet I still smoke. Why? Is it weakness, addiction, or just the vain attempt to fill the darkness passed down from generation to generation? For me I think it’s even simpler than that: every time I take a drink, smoke a cigarette, or play shitty golf I think: I am my father’s son. There’s an intimacy in that that I did not feel enough of when he was alive. But I know now that writing this is a kind of confession, one that’s made me realize that those slim bonds are not the stuff of true intimacy, and that smoking and drinking are not what made my father who he was and are not what make me who I am. I’d like to think the things we truly share are intelligence, character, bad golf and, like Captain Murphy, a gentleness hiding beneath a protective facade. So if I am like my forebears in those ways, then I guess I am terribly, terrifically, inescapably Irish.