Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Did you hear the one about…

…the Vietnamese masseuse in a Tustin massage parlor who allegedly offered the additional service of a handjob for $40 more and who has insisted on her day in Orange County Superior Court to absolve her of the misdemeanor-level charges?

That’s the trial I was almost empaneled on as a juror today, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Admonished by the judge at the outset that we jurors were required to uphold laws that we might find wrong or in need of improvement, he suggested that writing our legislators was the way to address that—not by judicial activism by a loose cannon jury. The voir dire process also hinted that there might be an accusation of entrapment by the undercover police officer and that the officer may have even waited to make the arrest until after receiving the “bonus” service offered.

Early in the jury selection, and after a number of routine questions directed at all 12 seated prospects (and audited by the remaining 33 prospective jurors), I was picked on by the defense attorney to answer a hypothetical question about the honesty of law enforcement officers and if it’s ever possible that a policeman might treat a suspect unfairly. I responded that “people are people, there are honest ones and dishonest ones.” He probed further, asking what motivation an officer could possibly have to treat a suspect unfairly or unlawfully. I paused, then said, “perhaps bigotry.”

That had to have been my “death sentence” as a juror on this trial, as I was the third prospective juror bounced by the Assistant District Attorney (the others seemed to be for financial hardship of a multi-day trial) who probably feared I might be onto what might turn out to be the crux of the case—the word of a lily-white Tustin’s finest on a sting operation against a Vietnamese-American immigrant trying to make a living. Obviously, I was too risky to retain on the panel.

All I know about the case are those sketchy details, but I might have spoken up about my misgivings about policing sexual acts between consenting adults and the wisdom of spending taxpayer dollars to prosecute them had the judge not told us up front that those could not be concerns of ours in deciding the guilt or innocence of the defendant. The law is the law, and our role as jurors is to base our decision entirely on the legal evidence presented to us in court—nothing else.

The judge did use the “p” word, and while prostitution may be the oldest profession, I’m also not sure I agree it’s entirely a victimless crime in all circumstances. Certainly there is much transporting of young women and men across borders to become virtual sex-slaves, a horrific act that should be prosecuted. And unregulated prostitution obviously risks the danger of spreading disease. But, please…a little “extra” hand in a licensed massage parlor in Tustin is just not the same thing in my book.

Until next time…


Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Leap

On Wednesday, I mailed a letter to about 150 of my friends and associates locally, followed by an e-mail blast to at least another 100 or so Friday afternoon, informing them of my plans in light of my departure from the Laguna Playhouse and thanking them for their past friendship & support of me and the Playhouse. (I still have others to contact, so please don’t feel badly if you haven’t yet heard from me.)

I don’t intend to post my letter here, but if you are desperate to read it, you’ll find that Orange County Register theatre critic Paul Hodgins reproduced it in its entirety on his blog at http://artsblog.freedomblogging.com/category/theater/.

Late yesterday, e-mails began to arrive here from well-wishers—some short and sweet, but others with longer commentaries. In fact, Alison pointed out to me last night that there was a common message running through several of the e-mails—even the same word, “leap,” cropping up multiple times.

That seemed a fitting theme for this morning’s blog post, in which I’ve decided to quote a few of these friends of mine (hopefully they won’t mind!):

“I'm happy that you've made the leap into the unknown abyss of self-realization and I'm sure it will bring you nothing but success and fulfillment.”
--Tom Swimm – Artist

“You’ve come a long way baby.”
--Verna Rollinger, Laguna Beach – longtime (now retired) Laguna Beach City Clerk and local activist

“I know your new creative ventures will be a huge success...it is incredibly stimulating to fulfill your dreams”
--Pat Kollenda, Laguna Beach – Arts Commissioner & local activist
(Pat was the President of the Board of the Laguna Playhouse who hired me in 1990.)

“This is a moment of change to celebrate. You are going to be incredible. The world will not know what hit them.”
--Randy Gener, New York City – Senior Editor, AMERICAN THEATER magazine

“I have pretty much retired from reviewing, FINALLY…I do love living in San Diego and don't miss the traffic of L.A. at all.”
--Rob Stevens, San Diego - longtime Los Angeles theatre critic, founder & producer of the annual “Robby” Awards

“I took the leap myself. In 1992, I left a dream job as Creative Director/EVP of Ocean Pacific, (then one of the largest garment companies in the world) to become a documentary filmmaker tracking global trends. The next 10 years were surprisingly, (exhaustingly) successful and in 2002, again feeling the need to get back to creative roots, I decided to close the film company and pursue my first love, photography and writing.
After 5 years, there is not a day that goes by that I don't appreciate where I've been and how that influences the path ahead. You are entering into wild new territory. Enjoy the scenery. Live fiercely.”
--Suzi Chauvel, Laguna Beach – Artist

“I'm a bit envious about all the exciting new projects you get to undertake now that you are "untethered," as you say. I loved Dennis Collins' remarks about why he stepped down as head of the Irvine Foundation after 10 (?) years -- he thought it was important to "re-pot" oneself every few years to grow new roots and see what might bloom from them. It reminded me of the policy of the Ford Foundation to limit program officers' assignments to only 3-year stints before they rotate to different program areas. It changes how you approach the job to know that you have a finite timeframe for accomplishing things.”
--Kathleen Costello, Executive Director, The Gianneschi Center for Nonprofit Research, California State University, Fullerton

Finally, when I had coffee with my friend Paul Freeman, a former Laguna Beach Mayor, earlier in the week, he told me that almost everyone he knows in our age range (50+) is either making a total career change or giving it serious thought.

I guess I’m just assuming my fated role as a member of the baby boom generation!

Until next time…


Friday, July 27, 2007

DVR (aka TiVo)

The last two nights have been unusually humid for Southern California, making what would normally be a pleasant (or at least tolerable) temperature, around 78, uncomfortable enough to motivate us to turn on a fan, but not the A/C.

Under these conditions, we’ve reviewed some of the TV shows we’d DVRed (well, why can’t I make that a verb? Wordsmiths everywhere have already approved “TiVo” as a verb.)

Big Love was the first on our list, so we watched it. Several months ago, I asked a Mormon friend if he’d watched it yet; even though he hadn’t, he certainly had heard a lot about it, and wasn’t exactly that interested in seeing it—particularly due to the polygamy angle. I told him that I thought he should check it out—first, because he’s extremely open-minded when it comes to theatre anyway, and second, because he wasn’t likely to find much to be offended by in the show.

I told him that Big Love proved that one wife is more than enough, and that I would never want to have to handle one, or in the case of Big Love’s central family, two additional wives. He laughed and agreed.

We followed Entourage last night, and this show is generally so well crafted—from writing to acting to direction—though there were moments of tedium and puzzlement in the episode we watched. Ultimately, I wondered if Entourage exposes an extreme segment of Hollywood in the way that Big Love does of Mormons. Yes, yes, I’m sure that characters in Entourage can be found there, but I suspect much of it is overblown for comic effect.

We’re big fans of Deadwood, and looked forward to David Milch’s new series, John from Cincinnati. We’ve tried hard to like it, but find that it really falls flat—not that there aren’t some redeeming qualities. But largely, it’s boring in a way that Deadwood never was and lacks the larger-than-life characters that dominated the post-modern Western and made it so compelling.

Until next time...


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Independence Day

You may have picked up David McCullough’s book 1776 around Independence Day, like I did. I had read his biography of John Adams a couple of years ago, and learned much I had not known about that founding father. In 1776, McCullough takes a different approach to chronicling a piece of our nation’s history—though, effectively, it winds up being a one-year-in-the-life-of biography of George Washington.

McCullough doesn’t whitewash the reputation of the general, but reveals his many failings: misplaced trust in generals who worked under him, tactical misjudgments, ill-timed decisions and hesitant strategies. That the environment was so different then, that his ragtag army was no match for the well-trained British and Hessian troops and their experienced leaders, that communication was difficult and intelligence almost non-existent are mitigating factors in his overall assessment of Washington.

After Washington’s remarkable success in securing Dorchester Heights in March, which led to the British withdrawal from Boston, there was nothing but failure and retreat for many months. Attrition among his ranks, the British capture of some of his generals, and catastrophic mistakes in attempting to defend Brooklyn and Manhattan sent the Continental Army zigzagging north along the Hudson, through New Jersey and into Pennsylvania, with the British in hot pursuit. The Congress abandoned Philadelphia in anticipation of the arrival of British forces, and the prospects were bleak.

At the end of the year, with Washington camped on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River and a force of Hessian mercenaries lodged on the New Jersey side, there was a brief respite. It seems that conventional wisdom at the time among European military strategists was to defer major engagement during harsh winter conditions, so instead of continuing to drive Washington’s men further, British commanders took a hiatus.

This may not have been understood by Washington—indeed, while the British seemed to know everything about what the Continental Army was doing (thanks to so many Loyalists among the citizenry), Washington had little success in securing information about his opponents.

But one thing he was certain of: he could not retreat indefinitely. He desperately needed a victory to regain the morale of his troops, the waning confidence of Congress and, indeed, the salvation of the fledgling nation.

On the night of December 25, Washington directed a successful surprise attack on the Hessians in Trenton, and continued in the following days to Princeton, overcoming a British detachment there.

Though the Revolutionary War continued for five more years, McCullough’s thesis seems to be that its second year, 1776, was the turning point—at least in terms of Washington’s military leadership. Much of it was accomplished through trial and error, but whatever mistakes George Washington made during this difficult year, the portrait that emerges is one of a man who had great integrity.

Until next time…


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"The Yiddish Policeman’s Union"

Michael Chabon is one of those authors who somehow succeeds at being both a compellingly entertaining storyteller and a master of prose that ranks as great literary art—and that is no mean feat.

Instead of arrogantly subjugating his tale to demonstrate his rhetorical prowess, as is the case with too many other hot writers, Chabon proves you can have your cake and guide it into your bride’s mouth without shoving & mashing it, too.

That’s not to say that his newest book, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, doesn’t push the boundaries almost to the breaking point. Nothing succeeds like excess, as they say, but every time I began to find Chabon’s stylistic flourishes a bit cloying, precious or overly self-conscious, he ambushed me with such delightful surprises, maintained a breakneck pace of storytelling, managed to pay homage to and parody noir-ish conventions and enveloped me in an imaginary world so bizarre-yet-still-familiar that I found myself retracting every critical objection—though maybe not every occasional “groan.”

In brief, the setting is Sitka, Alaska, a temporary homeland for the Jews created when they lost the Israeli war of independence in 1948 and were forced to emigrate. The sacred and profane co-exist uneasily in this claustrophobic territory hemmed-in between mountains and sea, as evidenced in homicide detective Meyer Landsman and a cartel run by, of all people, a Hasidic sect and their beloved rabbi.

The speculative nature of the world he’s created brings to mind Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, of course, but Roth’s book suffers in comparison because it takes itself so seriously in order to make a point (I still liked that book, also). Chabon, on the other hand, is unafraid of allowing his whimsical anarchy to lead the reader to draw his own conclusions about the world today and how—or if—it could even have been any different.

Until next time…


Monday, July 16, 2007

Welcome to my new blog!

Whether you're a first-time visitor or followed my Laguna Playhouse blog for the past ten months, I hope you'll find at least some of what I have to say interesting enough to check in again on occasion. The subjects will most likely be theater, books, television and film, but don't be surprised if I take a detour. Your feedback is also welcome.
Until next time...