Saturday, October 30, 2010

826


In my professional life I’m known as the “queen of after-school homework centers”—that is, I study homework help programs offered by public libraries after school. I am, of course, also a big fan of homework assistance provided by other agencies, including
826, a national nonprofit co-founded by author Dave Eggers eight years ago. 826 combines pop culture, celebrity (as well as non-celebrity) tutors, and fun to make homework attractive to kids who might not otherwise get the help they need. There are two 826 outlets in L.A.


Judd Apatow, one of our favorite filmmakers, is also a big fan of 826 and, in fact, held a big fundraiser a couple of years ago to help launch the Echo Park Time Travel Mart, one of 826’s wacky storefronts. He’s also donating the proceeds from his new book I Found This Funny, which was released last night at another big fundraising event. We were there.


The event was held at the Writers Guild of America theater in Beverly Hills, one block from Kate Mantilini, the single best restaurant in L.A. for spotting celebrities—plus the food is fabulous! We arrived early enough so we could eat dinner before joining the festivities. No surprise that Judd Apatow was there, too, sitting two tables away from us. We watched as people came over to pay their respects and exclaim their excitement about the night ahead. We, on the other hand, played it cool and focused our energies on eating. We then walked over to the theater.


There was no red carpet—unusual for an event that promised star wattage—but there was a gaggle of autograph-seekers standing outside the front door. They took one look at us and quickly went back to talking among themselves. Obviously we were nobodies. We then entered the theater’s lobby and were greeted by the happy din of a couple hundred people drinking and having a good time. These were the VIPs—mostly young hipsters, dressed in black—who had paid top dollar to attend. We did not pay top dollar, so were handed copies of Apatow’s book and told to find a seat in the theater. The show started 30 minutes later.


After a short film about 826’s Echo Park site, Dave Eggers got the ball rolling by introducing Apatow, who riffed a bit before introducing standup comedian Aziz Ansari (Tom on the TV show Parks and Recreation). Ansari was hilarious, talking about dating in L.A. and why men his age (27 years old) should not be parents (very funny, but unrepeatable in a PG-rated blog!). He was followed by Ryan Adams, a young country-rock singer who apparently hasn’t performed on stage in a while. I had never heard of him, but did enjoy his folksy style.


The highlight of the evening, though—and, quite frankly, one of the main reasons we went—was Garry Shandling, Apatow’s comic mentor, whom we’ve seen several times. Shandling was a riot, dispensing deadpan dating advice to Aziz Ansari and commenting on current affairs. His best line of the night: “I see Sarah Palin is thinking of running for president. I guess the Mayans were right about the world coming to an end in 2012.” He also said he didn’t care if Muslims built a mosque on the site of the World Trade Center, because there is no such thing as sacred land in Los Angeles. “Except, of course, the La Brea tarpits, but even there the buildings are a little too close to the edge.” Ahhh, L.A. humor!


The other highlight was Randy Newman, who sang a few songs, including our anthem “I Love L.A.” Afterward I grumped to Tim that the audience should have burst into spontaneously singing during “I Love L.A.,” but then decided they were probably all too young to know the lyrics.


The evening ended with former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham singing four of his greatest hits. Why he needed a different guitar for each song was beyond me, but the audience didn’t seem to care. They gave him a rousing standing ovation when he was done.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Halloween!



The power went out at the house a couple of nights ago, so we experimented with our new camera, taking photos by candlelight. We look like two jack o' lanterns!

Have a festive Halloween!!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Michelle Obama

One of the best things about California elections is that big-name politicians inevitably come to Los Angeles to stump for their favorite candidates and causes. Former President Bill Clinton came to UCLA three weeks ago to support gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown. President Obama appeared at USC the following week. Though I saw Obama back in April, I was too busy to see him and Clinton this time around. I did, however, make a point of getting a ticket to see Michelle Obama and vice president Joe Biden’s wife Jill earlier this week when they campaigned for Senator Barbara Boxer’s reelection.

The event was held at the historic Wilshire Ebell Theatre, not far from our house. Doors opened at 5PM, so I got there fifteen minutes early. The line (mostly women) was already around the block. It was an interesting group: young and old alike from all ethnic backgrounds. The woman standing next to me was a conspiracy theorist who, for much of our wait, described in great detail why she believes the Bush administration staged the 9/11 attacks. I just stood there and smiled.

Then there was the woman behind me who kept saying how excited she was to be there. I finally bit and engaged her in conversation.

“I’m excited, too,” I said. “I’ve seen the President before, but never the First Lady. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.”

She then told me she had seen Condoleezza Rice speak the night before at the Saban theater, located in the heavily Democratic Beverly Hills area. “I was surprised there weren’t more people there,” she commented.

“Well, it was the westside,” I pointed out.

“Oh, yes!” she laughed. “Well, it was a good event anyway. Condoleezza told us about her childhood and was just fascinating, until she started talking about ‘weapons of mass destruction’ . . .”

“And then you started to roll your eyes,” I guessed.

“Exactly!”

While we were on line, several people with clipboards came around to check us in and give us our wristbands. There was a great deal of flurry about who got which color wristband. We decided the colors corresponded to the amount of money each person paid to attend. The conspiracist, who, like me, was given a blue band, insisted on a green wristband so she could sit with her friend. They apparently thought the green seats would be closer to the action. I didn’t care where I sat just as long as I got a seat. (I stood for four hours when I saw the President in August.)

It was every woman for herself when we got to security. And thank goodness, too, because my blue wristband entitled me to a 7th-row seat! I have no idea where the green wristbands ended-up.

I sat between a young volunteer from San Diego, who was working on the Boxer campaign, and a woman my age, who took notes throughout Michelle’s speech. At 6:30PM, the president of the Ebell of Los Angeles, a women’s philanthropic organization, gave a brief history of the theater. She was followed by the head of the local chapter of Organizing for America, Obama’s grassroots campaign group. It dawned on me then that this was more a recruitment event than it was a rally in support of Barbara Boxer.

Rhythmn and blues artist Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds was next. I don’t know him, but the audience went wild, practically swooning at the sight of him. He sang a couple of songs and then (finally!) Dr. Jill Biden emerged, looking beautiful and energetic despite what must have been a very long day. She introduced her “good friend” Barbara Boxer, who enthusiastically spoke a while, before turning the stage over to the person we were all obviously there to see: Michelle Obama.

The First Lady is quite an imposing figure—extremely tall, athletic and confident. (Boxer, who is so short she famously stands on a box when she speaks, looked almost like a child next to her.) Michelle started her speech rather deliberately, talking about her family and calling herself “Mom-in-Chief.” She then spoke about the plight of other families in the country and how her husband is working to improve the state of the economy. The more she spoke, the more passionate she became, till the theater took on the air of a revival meeting. Individual audience members yelled out their approval. I’ve attended many political events in my time, but never one like this. Michelle Obama was, quite simply, amazing. In the end, the three women—Michelle, Jill and Barbara—embraced as the audience roared. I’m guessing lots of new volunteer campaigners were recruited by the time we left the theater.

Walking to my car, I suddenly spotted three SUVs, flashing lights and zipping across Wilshire Blvd.

“There she goes!” I yelled to a crowd of strangers standing on the corner.

We spontaneously burst into applause and waved good-bye.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bridge School Concert


I’ve been a fan of rock legend Neil Young for more than three decades. I, of course, have always loved Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, arguably the most popular of all the bands he’s played with. But it wasn’t until I heard his solo album Harvest in the late 1970s—many years after it had been released, by the way—that I became a huge fan. I have followed him ever since. We don’t always like all of his music, but Tim and I have seen him perform on stage countless times. Each concert is as youthful and as memorable as the one before, even though Young is now well into his 60s.

An outspoken liberal, Neil lives in northern California on a ranch close to where counter-culture author Ken Kesey once lived. For the past 24 years Neil and his wife Pegi have organized a benefit concert for the Bridge School, which Pegi helped found in the mid-1980s. The concert traditionally attracts megawatt artists, like Bruce Springstein, Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Sheryl Crowe, Jackson Browne, and The Who. The announcement of each year’s lineup is always highly anticipated. Although I’ve wanted to go forever, the thought of schlepping all the way up to Mountain View for a concert was never appealing. That is, until I opened the newspaper one morning last month and read that Buffalo Springfield, Young’s first band, was reuniting for this year’s Bridge School benefit. We had been wanting to visit Tim’s brother, who lives in Sebastopol, north of San Francisco, anyway, so we bought tickets to the concert and made plans to fly up on Saturday, even though all weather reports were predicting a wet weekend.

We landed in Oakland at 9:15AM. The sky was cloudy but dry. We congratulated ourselves for having such good fortune. By the time we got to Sebastopol, however, the skies had opened up, pouring down rain through the night and into the next day. The concert started at 2PM on Sunday.

We spent the night with friends in Bodega Bay and then left at 10AM to head south to Mountain View, where the outdoor Shoreline Amphitheater is located. The drive was harrowing. I am not the most adventurous driver even in the best of weather, so my brain was on major “red alert.” My biggest fear was crossing the Golden Gate Bridge at the height of the storm; but surprisingly the bridge ended up being the least scary stretch of all, even though (as you can tell from the photo) we could hardly to see the other side!

It took us nearly three hours to drive 100 miles, but when we arrived in Mountain View the sky was only partly cloudy. Could Neil Young possibly control the weather, too? We were ecstatic, though I took my rain parka along just in case. I also convinced Tim to buy a cheesy $5 parka when we were paying for our souvenir t-shirts. And, lucky, too, because about 30 minutes into the concert it started to rain and pretty much didn’t stop till we were back in the car several hours later.

The audience was fairly mixed: some young people, but mostly folks our age or even older. Tim was thrilled when a woman came up to him and said he looked like Mike Love of the Beach Boys, though I didn’t think that was much of a compliment!

The musical lineup was incredible: Kris Kristofferson, actor Jeff Bridges, country legend Ralph Stanley, Elvis Costello, Leon Russell, Elton John, Pearl Jam, and, of course, Neil Young and Buffalo Springfield. Bridges sang a couple of songs from his Oscar-winning movie Crazy Heart, while Stanley treated us to some old-time country standards, which drew a standing ovation. Tim was most moved by Kristofferson who, even though sounded kinda creaky, can still break your heart singing “Me and Bobby McGee.” video

With all the rain and marijuana smoke in the air, we pretended we were at Woodstock, though we doubted garlic fries and pulled pork sandwiches were part of that particular outdoor festival!

The Bridge School concert is typically an acoustical event. Still, Elton John and Leon Russell, who just released a joint CD together, managed to rock the theater with their pianos and unplugged band. It was wonderful seeing the white-maned Leon pounding the keyboards after walking on stage using a cane. Elton, too, looked fabulous and sounded as good as the last time I’d seen him playing at his now historic Dodger Stadium concert in 1975. They brought the house down.

Russell and John were followed by Neil Young’s protégés Pearl Jam, whose music we don’t know, though they did open for Neil when he was touring in 1993. We went to that concert, but stood outside the arena until Pearl Jam was done because their music was just too damn loud. Playing acoustical, though, was much easier on the ears—so much so, I might even buy a couple of their songs on iTunes.

After a break, the stage was then set for Buffalo Springfield. We had by now been sitting in the on-again-off-again rain for six hours, but it was well worth the wait. Although the first couple of songs were a bit shaky, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay and Neil Young then launched into their biggest hit, “For What It’s Worth,” and we were suddenly transported back in time. The young woman in front of Tim turned around and asked him if Buffalo Springfield had originated that song. “YES!” he answered incredulously as I joyously sang along with the lyrics.

The set ended with “Bluebird,” another big Buffalo Springfield hit, before Neil, who had briefly played with many of the acts throughout the concert, invited all the performers back on-stage to join him in singing his anthem, “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World!” The audience sang gloriously in unison. It was the perfect ending to an unforgettably phenomenal day. I can’t wait to see who Neil Young plays with next year.








Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Traveling with the Lakers

OK, so maybe I'm exaggerating a bit. We didn't actually travel with the Lakers. But the team did play an exhibition game in Las Vegas last week and Tim’s station did broadcast its pre-game shows from there, so he had to go, too, to run the radio equipment. Plus there was the promise of attending a party with the team, so I tagged along.

Even though I’m not a big fan of today’s Las Vegas (we prefer the glory days when Frank and Dino ruled The Strip), we did manage to have fun. We stayed at the Luxor (you know, the giant glass pyramid that shoots a blue beam of light from its pointy top every night), because that’s where the shows were being broadcast. The hotel is now 15 years old and well past its prime, by Vegas standards. Still, our room (a huge 18th-floor suite the size of our house!) was comp’d because Tim was on the job, so who’s complaining.

We don’t gamble, but did wander around the casino in awe, ogling all the wacky new slot machine games: I Dream of Jeanie, That Girl, and even my beloved Star Trek, which I would have played except it was too damn complicated. I also schlepped next door to the Excalibur in hopes of finding some Arthurian artifact to admire, but the entire place was horrible—cliched, schlocky and stinking of cigarettes, like all the other casinos in Vegas. If there was a real King Arthur, I'm sure he’d be spinning in his grave at the thought.

The highlight of the trip was visiting the Atomic Testing Museum, a fascinating little place chockfull of exhibits about the nuclear bomb tests that took place in the Nevada desert in the 1950s/60s. My fave was the display of cereal boxes, comicbooks, etc., celebrating the “atomic age” of the period. I also loved the Ground Zero Theater, which looks like the inside of a bomb shelter. I won’t say more, in case you ever go, but be prepared to be “blown away!” Tim was working, so I went to the museum with my cousin Linda (yes, she of the famous Awkward Family Vacation photo), who now lives in the Vegas area. It was great catching up with her again.

Meanwhile, back at the Luxor, Tim and I hurriedly got ready for the big Laker party at the Mirage. The invitation said to dress “business casual,” so I wore my longish black “Lucy dress” with white polka dots. The party was very crowded with mostly male radio sponsors and women wearing short, slinky cocktail dresses. (We apparently were the only ones who got the memo about “business casual” attire!) We saved our appetites for what we thought would be a big spread, but instead were greeted by pasta, chicken wings and tiny wrapped hot dogs. Luckily it was impossible to hear my stomach growling for all the loud, pounding rap music being blasted at our heads. Yikes, I felt old!

After mingling a bit, we decided to stand over to the side so we could watch the crowd. Occasionally we’d see a tall head emerge from the rest and Tim would tell me which Laker it belonged to.

We were just about ready to leave, when suddenly there was a hubbub to our right. “The Laker coach is standing right behind me!” Tim whispered.

Sure enough, not only was Phil Jackson joining the party, but so were several Lakers, including Ron Artest, one of the most popular players on the team. At first, no one noticed them, but soon we were surrounded as people started madly taking pictures. No doubt we’re probably on lots of people’s Facebook pages this week!

Starving, we left in search of food as soon as the flurry died down. Our great Laker adventure was now officially over.

We drove back to L.A. the next day.


Cute dress, but not cocktail attire!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Awkward Family Vacation Photo

I don’t usually get sucked into these types of things, but I just couldn’t help myself.

Do you know the website “Awkward Family Photos”? Well, if you don’t, you may want to take a look. The point is to show the world various photos that you'd probably otherwise hide in the back of a closet somewhere. Quite frankly, I don’t think most of them are all that interesting. But I did become rather obsessed last week with Virgin Atlantic’s “Awkward Family Vacation Photo” contest, partly because the winning family from California would be awarded a free flight to and from Orlando, FL, where (of course!) Disney World is located. Not only did I enter, but I entered my all-time favorite childhood photo of my sister Vicki and me (with our beautiful cousin Linda).

I only remember taking one long family vacation when I was a kid: a two-week car trip to northern California in 1966. I was 12 years old. We drove to Yosemite (via Fresno and the bizarrely strange Underground Gardens, which Dad just loved) and then over to the coast (Hearst's Castle, Monterey, etc.). Somewhere along the way we snapped this photo, which in our family is famously known as “The Denney’s Picture.” Can you guess which one I am?

Enjoy!





Oh, by the way, not only did I not win the contest, I don’t think the photo even made it onto the website. But no matter. I did receive a coupon for 33% off our next flight to Orlando. Could there be a trip to Disney World in our near future?