17 May 2018

It’s Da Bomb

When I met Matt in 1994, I was in the process of buying a condominium. I lived there about five years before moving into the house Matt bought for us. I liked condo living. It was a small complex (about 24 units) and everyone knew everyone. Quite of a few of the units were used as rentals, so my neighbors kept changing.

The neighborhood was generally quiet. One night, I was sitting on my balcony and I heard a domestic quarrel of some kind in the distance (several houses away). A woman was shouting “I hate you, I hate you.” Fair enough. People fight. Then, I heard this scream of terror, like the woman had been stabbed or something. Of course, I called the police. They arrived shortly and I gave them a statement.

My condo unit shared a landing with the unit next door. While the policeman was standing there talking to me, my neighbor’s baby began to cry. The officer gestured to the sound, as if to say, “Is this what you heard?” (Because I am clearly that stupid.) I politely told him, “no.” But, he turned and knocked on the door, I guess to see if my neighbor had heard anything.

The door opened to a cloud of smoke – if you know what I mean. The officer asked to come in and speak to the neighbor, who replied, “Now’s not a good time.” (Duh!) The officer insisted and then things got real really fast.

The next thing I knew, our complex was surrounded by police cars, a fire engine, an ambulance or two and sundry other vehicles. The police went door-to-door telling us we all had to evacuate the premises. I spent the night at Matt’s.

Turns out, my neighbor was busted for smoking weed – and lots of it. On searching the unit, police found several pipe bombs loaded and ready to go. That’s why we were evacuated. They arrested the husband.

I was allowed to go back to my unit the next morning. A couple days later, the next-door wife came to my unit. She was crying, almost hysterically, apologizing for what her husband had done, etc. They moved out shortly and I never saw them again.

I imagine the police never did find out the cause of the screaming woman I called about; but I wonder what would have happened if chance had not intervened on my neighbor’s activities.

06 April 2018

The Great Hollywood Studios

There was a time when film studios were a dime a dozen. They’re still about a dime a dozen (even adjusting for inflation), but only a handful of the classic studios are still in operation. My husband, Matt, and I made it one of our goals to visit each of these classic studios at least once. We just got back from our tour of the last studio on our list.

Separately, and before we met, we had both visited Universal (1976 for me; circa 1979 for Matt). It has long been mostly an amusement park, but a tram did take my family and me around some of the behind-the-scenes elements. I understand it remains mostly an amusement park, although still a functioning studio.

We hit the jackpot with Warner Bros. and our visits in 1996, 2009 (twice) and 2012. We did the short two-hour tour first ($45/each) and spotted the three women stars from the series “Friends”; then the longer five-ish hour tour ($200/each) that included visits to the prop house, the costume house, travels along the famed back lot streets and lunch in the studio commissary (on the first day of shooting for Christopher Nolan’s “Inception”) and a brief spotting of Johnny Galecki (smoking!), star of the series “The Big Bang Theory.” It was an expensive, but totally-worth-it all-day tour. We returned to Warner’s later that year to attend a taping of “The Big Bang Theory” and then again in 2012 for a taping of “Two Broke Girls.”

Later in the day of our 2009 trip to Warner’s for the long tour, we zoomed over to the once-glittering MGM Studio (now Sony) for a taping of “Rules of Engagement” -- the first time we attended the taping of a television show. Even though neither of us had ever seen this particular show, we did want to experience a taping and this was the only show where we could get tickets. Little of their famed back lot still remains, but we did get to see fragments of some of it.

We had a wonderful backstage tour of the Disney Studio in 2015 ($65/each). It doesn’t really have a back lot any more (what it did have is now a parking garage), but many films are still shot on the grounds, especially “Saving Mr. Banks.” It was really amazing to see the work areas where animated films were made, Mr. Disney’s office, and other sights rarely available to the public -- including the superb archives. (You have to be a member of Disney’s “D23” to even buy tickets for the tours which are only done a few times each year.)

Finally, there was our recent tour of Paramount this year ($178/each). This tour was totally worth the money. It included many departments where we were actually able to speak to employees, watch special effects being made, see historic costumes and props -- and lunch in one of the rehearsal stages. We walked historic New York streets, saw behind the facades of the “buildings,” and learned a lot about the studio. (As an added bonus, I got to meet Matt Lanter of TV’s “Timeless.”)


Top row: 2009 Warner Bros. VIP tour (our second tour). Here is part of the back lot dressed for the short-lived TV series “Eastwick”; a WB VIP Studio Tour ticket; our return to WB to attend a taping of the once-funny TV series “Two Broke Girls.”

Bottom row: Matt and I (fresh from my heart surgery) at our 2015 tour of the Disney Studio; the keepsake badge given to all tour attendees; our recent tour of famed Paramount Studio (including what was once known as the RKO Studio).

06 February 2018

The Best Super Bowl Adverts for 2018

As we sat watching the Super Bowl commercials, I was a little disappointed that so few of them seemed to have been created with any great humor in mind (Bridgestone Tires’ 2008 entry of a squirrel vs car in “Scream” for example). Then, I started to realize the humor had mostly given way this year to companies showing examples of how they are giving back to the communities they serve. Yeh, I know how you might think this is self serving; but I like the idea of a company touting not its product (directly), rather, how they help others.

Here are my picks for the very best Super Bowl commercials of 2018.

Verizon “Answering the Call” A brilliant match up of a telephone-service company connecting people who were rescued from some disaster with the people who did the rescuing.
 

NFL “Dirty Dancing” I love watching straight guys try to dance. They are so uncoordinated. But this parody was perfect. I really don’t even know what it was a commercial for -- football? Who cares.  

Budweiser “Stand By You” My husband thought this was smug, but again I like a company showing how it gives back to the community. I had heard about Budweiser doing this after one of the hurricanes. I think they should show how they helped out. Fresh water is of major importance after a disaster. I don’t care where it comes from, as long as it’s clean.

Weather Tech “American Factory” A company touting that it built its new company building right here in America. My husband said they should have bought and repurposed an existing building. Perhaps, but if a company makes the decision to stay in America to give Americans jobs, then they deserve praise.

Tourism Australia “Dundee” Thought this was an advert for a real movie. Started to get the inkling it was a parody, then sat back and loved it. Lots of work and forethought went into making this a special call to visit the land down under.

Hyundai “Hope Detector” Have to admit to something in my eye during this one: the car company gives a portion of each sale to fund childhood cancer research. They brought unsuspecting Hyundai purchasers together with the people whose lives were saved by this research. Nice.

Kraft Foods “Family Greatly” Kraft put out a call for people to share what “family” meant to them. Then, Kraft put these photographs and videos together into a commercial. I like how they illustrated the various meanings of “family.”

13 January 2018

Convergence

I’ve long been a fan of genetics. I studied it in my high-school’s gifted program for four years and then in college. For obvious reasons, evolution (the poor cousin of genetics) also holds a fascination for me.

One element of evolution I find most fascinating is a thing called convergence. This is where two very different life forms come to the same solution for the same problem without there being any direct link between them. For example, flight: pterodactyls flew and archeopteryx flew. Same solution, but these species are not related. They came to the solution from different paths.

Convergence was an important element to me and my journalism career. It’s essentially the “two sides to every story” thing. For example: you find a body on the ground at the base of a tall building. How did it get there? Did the person fall from a window? Was he shot and fell? Did he just finish lunch down the street and have a heart attack at this spot?

I was surprised to realize that convergence remains important to me now that I write novels. As the author, I can create any solution to a mystery that I want. The fun part for me is sending clues to the reader to make him think the solution is coming along one path even though those same clues can be read to come to the solution through a different path. A surprise plot twist, as it were. I never started out any of my novels with this in mind, yet they nearly all have this element. It’s not a twist for the sake of a twist; rather, a twist that has been slowly crafted from the first page for the reader’s ultimate enjoyment .