Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Clearing Online Hallways for Books

As a writer, I should embrace Facebook more, with it seeming to be the center of the social network universe. When I finish writing my second book and hopefully have a publisher interested, I will. I'll create a page for the book, I'll promote it widely, and I'll hope that that will bring in more readers.

But I don't like it much. I log in every day, I chat briefly with acquaintances, I begin my daily status updates, of which there aren't many, with "Good [morning, late morning, afternoon or late afternoon, depending on what time it is], life's pleasure seekers. What are your pleasures today?" I believe there should be bigger focus on personal pleasures and that's my way of trying to draw them out. But even though I scroll through the updates on my account, sharing a few funny captioned pictures, commenting on other status updates, and, in the evenings, seeing what t-shirt Teefury will be selling (futilely hoping that it'll be one of the t-shirt designs I've wanted badly for months now), I feel like it's the online equivalent of walking through crowded middle and high school hallways. Look here, talk to this person, avoid that one, try to cozy up to this one, race for this one, see what that one's up to, and make sure you get to class on time. The bell's going to ring. The latter today is about generally not spending too much time on Facebook, lest you don't get done whatever you need to do.

I wasn't very social in middle or high school. I had acquaintances, and my first girlfriend in 7th grade, but I never participated in those hallways. I just watched them in awe, how they could be so crowded five minutes before the bell rang and then just a minute before the bell rang, they thinned out quickly. I was more of an observer even then.

But now I have a choice. I don't have to get to class. And until I have another book to promote, I'm not going to spend as much time on Facebook as I used to. I still need it to search for certain people who worked on any of the Airport movies, or at least family members in some cases, but I can't fathom continuing to walk through those hallways, pretty much watching time become dust.

I decided on this because despite ongoing research for my book, I've been spending less time on the computer. Books have been the cause of this, and not only the ones I've been using for research. I started reading The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty yesterday, and finished it toward late this afternoon. I got much more out of traveling with Smithson "Smithy" Ide on his cross-country bicycle journey than I do with anything on Facebook. This is not going to be a soapbox declaration of how books are so much better than Facebook or more worthwhile than spending so much time online. I'm still getting a lot of use out of the Internet, not just with my work, but also learning more and more about New Mexico. For example, on another New Mexico blog I found, called I Love New Mexico, the blogger, Bunny Terry, also read The Secret of Everything by Barbara O'Neal and says, "Whereas “The Lost Recipe. . .” was set in swanky Aspen, “The Secret of Everything” is set in a fictional town (listen folks, this place is so Taos/Santa Fe you’ll instantly recognize it) in northern New Mexico." To learn that Las Ladronas in the novel actually exists in some form makes me even more psyched to eventually travel throughout New Mexico.

The point of all this is that I want to strengthen that deep satisfied feeling I have when I read books. I'm still debating whether to add The Memory of Running to my permanent collection, because it truly fills the soul with goodness, with a desire to maybe take a trip like Smithy's, but perhaps not so extensive. That wonderful, wonderful novel led into Brimfield Rush by Bob Wyss, caused by Killer Stuff and Tons of Money by Maureen Stanton, about flea markets and antiques. She mentioned Brimfield Rush by Bob Wyss, and I ordered it, along with a novel, Brimfield by Michael Fortuna that she also mentioned. Yes, I read about the real thing in Stanton's book, and am reading about it in detail in Wyss's book, but I want to see what a novelist sees about the biggest antiques show in the United States.

It could also be motivated by the fact that I have a massive load of books in my room that I want to read, but mainly, reading as much as I am right now, I feel like I can do anything with my writing, and I need that feeling to be ever-present. Plus, I want that feeling to be larger than the planet even during the times when I'm not writing a book. This is the best time to get back in the habit of reading often. Not that I don't read enough as it is, but I want it a lot more. It's also why now, I really only watch Jeopardy!, and The Big Bang Theory when new episodes air on CBS. I haven't even caught up on Smash since the pilot, and I only occasionally tune into The Good Wife, despite my previous enthusiasm.

I've always tried to step back into my book world in the past, but it never worked out with shows to watch on TV, spending time online, idly writing. This time, it'll stick.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

This is Why I'm a Writer

I subscribe to an e-mail newsletter called The Toilet Paper, which publishes every five or six days, unless there's a holiday such as Valentine's Day, in which case a special exception is made and a newsletter appears.

It's worth the wait because those behind the newsletter know write well, with subtle humor.

Today's issue was called "Stupid Skool Roolz", about edicts put in place by two states that could very well turn off future teachers from either those states or the profession entirely. The quote in the issue was from English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton:

The best teacher is the one who suggests rather than dogmatizes, and inspires his listener with the wish to teach himself.

I've written about Andy Rooney influencing me in my writing by me trying to write exactly like him, finding that I couldn't, and learning what writing style is. I've briefly mentioned Natalie Goldberg, whose books, including Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life, made me excited to write because I could write about anything! I have to write often in order to be effective, like any writer does, but Goldberg showed me the fun in it, the freedom that comes when you go through any topic, any memory, in words. Her living in Taos, New Mexico also likely planted the state in my mind when I was 10 and 11, and that was a process that exploded with The Secret of Everything by Barbara O'Neal, which makes me want to visit New Mexico. But Goldberg started it.

However, teachers on paper only go so far. In 11th grade at Hollywood Hills High School in Hollywood, Florida, I had exactly the kind of teacher Lytton describes in that quote.

Her name was Roberta Little, an English teacher, but one different from what English teachers are generally known for with grading essays to the point of nitpicking and a host of analyses of books and plays that make you wonder if the teacher in front of you actually enjoyed the book or play. Shouldn't they be analyzing dramatic effectiveness or exploring the motives of characters in order to illuminate those not-so-clear parts?

Mrs. Little did all that and much more. I had her for the latter half of 11th grade, and in that one semester, she presented Julius Caesar, A Raisin in the Sun, The Great Gatsby, The Scarlet Letter, The Glass Menagerie, The Crucible, A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner, and Hal Holbrook in Mark Twain Tonight!. She showed the 1970 movie version of Julius Caesar (with Jason Robards as a zombielike, utterly passionless Marcus Brutus), the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby, A Raisin in the Sun, the Paul Newman-directed version of The Glass Menagerie, starring John Malkovich, Joanne Woodward, Karen Allen, and James Naughton; the 1995 version of The Scarlet Letter, the 1996 version of The Crucible, and, of course, Hal Holbrook in Mark Twain Tonight!.

It seems impossible to do all that in one semester, but Mrs. Little knew exactly how to do it: Bring the students along. Seek their opinion about what they believe to be the meaning of a work. Foster conversation that brings even more depth to what's being studied. Find out what they liked and didn't like about it, and never make them feel low about either. Give your own opinion, but don't let it be the word of law in the classroom.

I remember spending a few days in her class going over Faulkner's A Rose for Emily. I don't remember the exact discussion, but I looked at those words, absorbing the dark atmosphere of the short story. I do remember her going over it section by section, exploring motivation, descriptions of settings, character traits, and I learned that every word can be crucial to the telling of a story, and that what one writer sees, another writer may see it differently. In fact, writers beyond what we were reading weren't needed to show that. Just me and my classmates alone were enough to show that each viewpoint differs, and offers something most important to learning about this: There is no one way to interpret a story. It's going to be seen differently by being filtered through varied experiences in one's life. Certainly my classmates sitting behind, in front of, and all around me had not lived the way I lived and could always be counted on to talk about something I hadn't even considered in the story. Mrs. Little always made sure there was time for that kind of discussion. She wanted a symphony of different voices with one story or play in common, and she got it every time.

A teacher like that is also made by their love for the material, and Mrs. Little had that more than any other teacher I had had in any subject. When she was preparing to show Mark Twain Tonight!, I think there was an excerpt of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the way she described Twain's time made me feel like I was there in my imagination, like I could know that river as well as Huck did. When we watched Hal Holbrook in that 1967 TV special, I admittedly laughed when my classmates laughed, not sure where I should laugh, but watching the special over and over again in the years after, even having it now on DVD in my collection, I get the jokes now and I understand Twain quite well, because of Mrs. Little. She made me want to learn more about who Twain was, what he wrote, and why he was justifiably famous.

We spent a week or two reading The Glass Menagerie. She gave out parts to my classmates and I, and then switched them around after a few pages because it was a lot to read. I remember wanting to read Tom, though I don't remember if I did. No matter who read what, this is the reason I want to write my own plays. Mrs. Little didn't suggest that we read with any kind of vocal inflection, though some of my classmates tried it, the more enthusiastic ones. That's not to say that I wasn't enthusiastic about it. I'm an introvert who can be extroverted unassisted, when I feel it, but I like my introverted self best.

I credit some of Mrs. Little's teaching for The Glass Menagerie being my favorite play. We dwelled in that St. Louis apartment for quite some time, and I loved that deep sadness and regret that emanated throughout those rooms, which is a weird thing to say, I know, but being that I find the imperfect nature of things far more fascinating than any pursuit of perfection (safe to say that I don't like Martha Stewart), I loved being in that apartment in my mind, examining what the characters were after, and why Amanda Wingfield kept dwelling on the past, trying to reach for some former glory that she could never have again.

John Malkovich is the other reason The Glass Menagerie is my favorite play. In 10th grade at Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines, my English showed the 1992 version of Of Mice and Men, which starred Malkovich and Gary Sinise, who also directed. There's that scene where his Lennie towers over Curley, the ranch hand, his hand curled over Curley's hand, nearly breaking it. That angry look that Lennie had in that scene is what made Malkovich one of my favorite actors. I guess it was destined, because when Mom and I went to that summer morning movie program at GCC Coral Square Cinema 8 in 1993, we once came out of the theater that was showing whatever animated or kids movie it was, and the paper marquee in between the two doors outside that theater was for In the Line of Fire, which co-starred John Malkovich as the assassin. I wanted to know what it was about, but since it was rated "R," and I was nine years old, I had no chance of knowing then. I've since found out and Malkovich is just as impressive in that one.

I would like to see The Glass Menagerie on stage, and have seen clips of stage performances on YouTube, but Malkovich's Tom Wingfield is the best to me because here is this man who so clearly wants to see the world, to do something more than just working in a warehouse job, but he feels stymied by his overbearing mother and his need to take care of his emotionally crippled sister Laura, brought on not only by her physical disability, but also Amanda, expecting more and more and more and never letting Laura figure out who she is. Of course, Laura could use a push into figuring it out, but not the way Amanda does it.

Malkovich gets to who Tom is right away with the opening monologue, drinking from a flask and smoking, weighed down so heavily by silent guilt, and his Tom simmers and boils until he can't possibly take it anymore. Would Tom have been better off if he had done like his father, seeming to live a detached existence and then leaving his family behind? Maybe, but being that Tom is also a writer, there are certain things in the soul that tie us down to wherever we are, a need to remain there for whatever may happen, or because that's our specialty in our work. I don't really know. I'm just letting my thoughts flutter. But because of Malkovich, I borrowed often for weekends that videotape of The Glass Menagerie that Mrs. Little used, since she had checked it out of the school library, and I had special permission since my mom worked as an assistant there.

There's no way I can aspire to be Tennessee Williams inasmuch as I can aspire to be Neil Simon. I can't. I'm not either of them. But learning about emotion in a play, about character development, about the devices used in plays, made me want to try writing my own. I want a setting like that St. Louis apartment, but of course a setting filtered through my own experiences. And it's because of Mrs. Little that I think this way, that I embrace creativity and have never let go. It's why I spent $22.98 at Amazon Marketplace for a rare VHS copy of The Glass Menagerie, since it may never come out on DVD. I've been waiting for years.

That tape sits in front of me right now, a symbol of Mrs. Little's continuing influence. I spend time in a lot of places in my head, right now the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas in Primm, at the Nevada border, but I always remember that classroom, and the discussions, and that sense of being welcome to say whatever was on one's mind about those plays and those stories. One comment could lead to an entirely different discussion about them, and that's what made it worth it. It's why I'm a writer and I never give up, no matter how hard it gets.

Know Who I Am Through My Seven Favorite Movies

My seven all-time favorite movies, as ranked, are:

1) Mary Poppins
2) The Remains of the Day
3) The Jungle Book (1967)
4) The Swimmer (1968)
5) The Fabulous Baker Boys
6) 84 Charing Cross Road
7) My Blueberry Nights

What's not on the list is as much indicative of who I am. The James Bond series is my Star Wars, but holds no place here, nor does Demolition Man, which I believe is a rather intelligent action movie (and also imparts the great pleasure of watching Wesley Snipes have a lot of fun in his psycho role), nor Tron: Legacy, which I love, love, love for its imaginative dystopian setting, the same reason I'm also a fan of Blade Runner.

Given a choice of movie, I don't lean toward action or violence. If violence serves the plot of a movie well, as it does with Tron: Legacy and the Bond series, as well as the Bourne movies, then I'm ok with it, but I'm not going to choose it all the time.

These seven movies have a lot in common with who I am. They take in their settings slowly and appreciatively, sometimes to haunting effect. Mary Poppins has the Banks house, Admiral Boom's roof with the time cannon, the park and the chalk pavement pictures which leads Mary, Bert and Jane and Michael into that world, Mr. Banks' bank, various streets of London, a view of the London skyline, the streets of London, and of course at the beginning of the movie, all of London when Mary Poppins is sitting on a cloud. The Remains of the Day has Darlington Hall and also where Stevens the butler (Anthony Hopkins) travels to in the Daimler, The Jungle Book has the jungle, The Swimmer has the neighborhood swimming pools that Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) decides to use to swim home, The Fabulous Baker Boys has some of Seattle, and parts of Los Angeles made to look like parts of Seattle (The locations don't matter as much in this one, but the settings are so evocative, and I love the scene in which Jack, Frank and Susie take a road trip to their New Year's Eve gig), 84 Charing Cross Road has the bookshop and some of New York City in the late '40s on, and My Blueberry Nights sees Norah Jones in a relatively quieter part of New York City, then on to Tennessee, and then to Las Vegas.

I love exploring wherever I am. It's why my favorite memory of attending classes at College of the Canyons was every Friday afternoon at 3:50, after my cinema class was over, when the entire campus was empty because it was Friday. After walking around the second floor and some of the farther parts of the campus, including the Student Center to see if anyone was in the cafeteria, I walked out of the main campus and along the sidewalk, next to two of the parking lots, and at the one nearest to the large double digital signboards, there were people setting up for that weekend's car and RV show. Every Friday, I'd always see many cars parked there for show.

My list also boasts of many unique characters, Mary Poppins chief among them. Stevens the butler in The Remains of the Day sets aside his own hopes and desires to be the most upstanding butler he can be for Darlington Hall, and when he vaguely taps into those hopes and desires, it's far too late, because life has moved on without him, and he missed his chance years before, though didn't realize it until the trip he takes. Baloo the bear in The Jungle Book is one of my fictional heroes, because of how easygoing he is in his life. Ned Merrill in The Swimmer is unique in his pursuit, though it leads to dark, dark corners of his life. Jack Baker, one half of the Baker Boys piano duo, just goes through the motions of performance with his brother, while his real passion is playing jazz piano in a club. Helene Hanff in 84 Charing Cross Road is an out-and-out bibliophile, and naturally a writer, and her correspondence with Frank Doel of the Marks & Co. bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road is what makes her one of my heroes. She exudes pure love of books, and it shows in every single letter. And I still don't know what made Norah Jones take the role of Elizabeth in My Blueberry Nights, but it shows why she should find other movies in the same thoughtful vein. Elizabeth endures a painful one-sided breakup, and decides to travel, finding work as a waitress at a diner and a bar in Tennessee, and then as a cocktail waitress at a dumpy casino in Las Vegas. She's not the only most interesting character, though; Natalie Portman plays another, a poker player who believes in not trusting anyone, emotionally closed off from the rest of the world, but who finds a kind of kinship with Elizabeth.

Most important to me: These movies take time to tell their stories. Now, I usually prefer books over movies because I want to be completely enfolded in the stories told. I want to see what characters see, know what they know, and sometimes know what they know, only to learn that what they know is not actually true. I get the same feeling with these seven movies. Mary Poppins is 2 hours and 19 minutes, because any longer would be overdone and any shorter would be criminal because Walt Disney's London (filmed entirely on soundstages) is one that I love to explore. It's the same with The Fabulous Baker Boys. I never get tired of the gradually strained dynamic between Jack and Frank Baker because there's so much to explore within it, from appearances, to their piano-playing styles, to Jack's piano skills versus Frank's, to where they perform and where they live.

I don't take time in my writing, because if I did, this entry would be so many pages that you'd click off in frustration. That's what editing is for. But in my life, I love to take time to look around me, to look closely at small flowers in shopping center parking lots, to admire the community of birds and crows that swoop down after brunch and lunch at La Mesa Junior High to pick at whatever the kids have littered the grounds with. And that's while I'm looking at the school building directly across from the office, imagining myself in New Mexico, because that building feels like architecture that would be in New Mexico.

This list hasn't changed in three years and I doubt it will in the years to come. These movies fully represent who I am and how I live my life, and any movie to be added to that list would have to be what these movies are to me. Since I watch less movies than I used to, none of these are in danger of being upended.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Finding a Happy Anachronism in Online New Mexico

I burned out at the end of writing What If They Lived?. I had tunnel vision, and it was all I could think to do with my days, since I had a deadline of about six months after I started my research. Luckily, that deadline was extended twice, but I spent more time researching, writing, and worrying about making the deadline than pursuing any interests I vaguely remembered having before I began that book.

I can't do that this time with Mayday! Mayday!: The Making of the Airport Movies. It can't be the center of my universe and all I live for, even with my personal deadline, beginning on March 21, my birthday, of being published again by the time I'm 30.

So I'm reading other books at the same time, such as Watergate: A Novel by Thomas Mallon (Mallon does what Ann Beattie couldn't do in Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life: Bringing vast personalities and emotions to the historical figures of the Watergate scandal. He doesn't dwell on them endlessly like Beattie did with Pat Nixon, without doing anything with her), and I'm of course thinking about Las Vegas and Henderson, intending to also read soon the books I have about Vegas, and I'm also thinking about New Mexico. I want to travel throughout that state in the years to come, and I want to know what New Mexican culture is like. I want to know what binds Natalie Goldberg, my first writerly influence through her books, to Taos, New Mexico. (I think that's what planted New Mexico in my mind when I was 10 and 11.)

I want to know as much of its history as I do Las Vegas's and Henderson's. I want to hear music by those who are so entrenched in New Mexico, as residents, who have absorbed the land, the light, the weather, the sounds, the places, the populations, everything. And the music is what I'm pursuing first.

I found one website called Mitch's New Mexico Music Connection, with listings of musicians who embody various genres. There's a lot of them to explore here, and through them, I'll also be learning about other cities in New Mexico besides Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos.

And then I found the website for KANW, 89.1 FM, New Mexico Public Radio in Albuquerque. In the middle of the night, they've got "New Mexico Spanish Music" running for 3-4 hours, seven days a week. And there's also NPR's "Morning Edition," "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross, and every Monday morning, a half-hour program called Report from Santa Fe, about important issues emanating throughout New Mexico, the audio from the televised interviews.

There was one show on the KANW schedule that seized me, one that's not even local to New Mexico.

There are some shows that don't require that you listen to them in a certain place. I think that's true of most radio shows online now, but take the example of my family and I listening to Las Vegas radio stations from here in the Santa Clarita Valley of Southern California. We can hear them, they come in clear, but it's not the same. There's a big difference between listening to them on the radio in the car from which you can see the tower of the Stratosphere Casino and Hotel from afar, and listening to them in a neighborhood and surrounding area that has clearly given up on itself, where people just want to be left alone and don't want to do anything to make their community more livable. I would make an effort if I felt like this was my community.

This is why I rarely listen to the John Tesh Radio Show online or find a station in the U.S. that's playing it at that very moment. I discovered it in Las Vegas. That's where I want to hear it. That's where it means a great deal to me.

But what I found on the KAFW website is really something. It seems like an anachronism with the wide availability of audiobooks, but it feels like a calm oasis in the midst of the noise and rush of what we are: It's The Radio Reader, hosted by Dick Estell, who has been doing this since 1964, taking over from previous figures who had kept this going since 1936. 75 years now.

For half an hour each day (though he records a week's worth of shows at his home in East Lansing, Michigan), Estell reads from a book. That's it. That's as simple as it gets. Tomorrow, on radio stations in 16 states (including New Mexico), he'll begin reading The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks. That'll last until March 28, and the next day, he'll begin The Litigators by John Grisham, taking him nearly to the end of April.

This is what Estell does. He reads to people. They turn on the radio and they listen to him read. The website claims a listenership of over one million. And this is how he does it now, recording on a laptop, and uploading it to a program that distributes his show to the radio stations that put him on the air.

I'm always fascinated by what people devote their lives to, be it fishing, or pinball, or culinary pursuits, or endless road trips, or diners, or reading books to people on the radio. I loved reading about the people profiled in Killer Stuff & Tons of Money by Maureen Stanton, who devote their lives to antiques and flea markets. Antiques are what actor Barry Nelson (The first James Bond in a visual medium, in 1954 on CBS in Casino Royale, and Captain Harris in Airport, as well as the manager of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining) devoted himself to after he retired from acting. I love books like Stanton's because here I am, a writer and voracious reader who loves Jeopardy!, The Big Bang Theory, The West Wing, movies, the video game Galaga, pinball, and so much else that would flood this entry out of its space, and here are these other people, in other states, who live their lives quite differently, either in antiques or some other pursuit that keeps them living every day.

And I think about Dick Estell in the same way. There's nothing on the website that indicates why he does this, but it looks like he's made a good life from it, and that's what matters most. Here I am, looking over this entry again and eyeing a book on Amazon called Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey by William Least Heat-Moon, and there in East Lansing is Estell, perhaps set on another recording session in the morning, possibly reading more of The Litigators, if he isn't done with it already. The world will forever interest me that way.

Addendum at 11:35 p.m.: I mentioned fishing, and a few minutes ago, I found a blog through Google called Southern New Mexico Explorer, about one guy's experiences fishing, hiking, and camping in Southern New Mexico. I am not that adventurous, so I will happily live vicariously through him. I will also read every single New Mexico blog I find.

Friday, February 24, 2012

It's One of Those Days...

It's one of those days that I wish I had a season pass to Six Flags Magic Mountain, and that Six Flags Magic Mountain was open today (It's on a winter schedule, which keeps it closed during the week). I got up at 10:29 this morning and found it warm enough to want to go there, with a jacket for the later hours of the day, ride Ninja a couple of times, and just walk through my favorite areas, including the greenery towering over the pathway to Rapids Camp Crossing, which is near the entrance to Tatsu. It's a rare feeling of nature in a valley not readily known for it.

It's one of those days in which I don't feel like working much on my book. I'm going to finish reading Killer Stuff and Tons of Money, and then see what pops out at me as I look at what I got in the mail this week and what's sitting on my former DVD shelves, which I'm using for those books I want to read almost immediately.

It's one of those days, actually the only day, in which complete peacefulness has settled on the Santa Clarita Valley. Nothing about it is annoying, nothing about it can make the day worse, because the day's already the best it can be.

It's one of those days that I'm glad I've never veered from a Monday-Friday feeling of the week that I've had from years of school, community college too, from Dad working as a teacher and Mom working in the school system as well, and it's what I'll continue to have hopefully as a full-time campus supervisor after we move to Henderson. I like how the weekend looms on Friday with bright flashing lights attached, promising great things to come. It doesn't always happen, but it feels good. I'm game for changes throughout my life, but I like having a vague structure in the background. This is it.

It's one of those days for this song!!! I'll never stop living in the '90s.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Back at a Favorite Place, But with a Major Problem

Before beginning tonight's musings, I need to correct part of yesterday's entry, in which I said that three days is way too long for me to read one book. I left out 800+-page biographies, such as the one I'm reading about FDR by Jean Edward Smith, and the new biography of Eisenhower, also by Smith, which is 766 pages up to the acknowledgements. I can get through over 200 pages in a day, if I really like the book, but 766 pages in three days is impossible for me.

I went to bed at 1:55 this morning, feeling more settled than I usually am when I go to bed, because I'm thinking of many things, mostly the book, such as interviews still to do, interviews I've done, thinking about the questions I still have for which I'm seeking answers (I keep having to remind myself to open up those files whenever I'm writing interview questions, since I watched all the Airport movies anew when I began this project and took notes during them), the book proposal I'll be writing, the query letters as well, and not so much near-panic now as it was when I wrote my share of What If They Lived?. It's more like mild concern. I'll get it all done. But it still takes me just a bit of time before I fully settle down before I go to sleep. This morning, I hadn't done as much work as in past days, so while I was thinking about some of the work, I simply stopped thinking about it and settled down and rested. Sleep came, along with quite possibly my most favorite place in dreams.

I've described this place before, but not as well as I believe I can. It is exactly as written in that link, such a calm presence. There's clusters of shops all around, like a shantytown, but not spreading out in every direction. There's space to walk past the shops, sometimes dirt roads, sometimes sidewalks. It's random. And it's all mine.

In the first dream I had which involved this wonderful place, I met a girl that I liked and she felt the same way about me. I showed her around this place, and after it got dark, we went to the convenience store near where I live here in Saugus, which also has a pizza takeout joint, and that's about all you'll find on this side of the street. The girl, whose name I didn't know, started becoming more and more overbearing. Nothing she suggested for the future, just her nature right there, demanding that we do this and that, and I couldn't take it. I had to get away from her. I sped up the hill to what I thought was my neighborhood, but it wasn't. That speed was incredible, faster than anyone could dash up that hill, with houses whooshing by me. I stood there after reaching the wrong neighborhood, looking at a house under construction right in front of me, trying to figure out what to do. Was she looking for me? Could I dash to the next entrance to other developments, hoping to find my neighborhood, without her finding me?

I woke up right when the phone rang. It was Meridith calling Mom to let her know that she and Dad arrived at work. That means it was 7:25. I had slept a little over five hours, but was still too tired to get up. I wanted to so I could force my body to adjust more, but I gave in, and fell asleep again.

This time, I was inside a casino with various sun designs. Sculptures, carpeting, paintings hanging on walls, suns painted right on walls. I encountered Al Pacino as Willy Bank from Ocean's Thirteen. Pacino wasn't playing the guy again, he was the guy. He owned this casino. But he was much more benevolent than he was in the movie, though he had the look of "Don't mess this up," and so did some of his associates. He was trying to come up with a name for this new casino, and I thought of "Million Suns Casino," (Because of all the sun design), or "Aztec Casino," because I think the Aztecs worshipped the sun.

Willy didn't think much of either name and continued walking around with his associates. Unlike the Chinese-themed casino he was so keen on in the movie, he seemed relaxed with this one, a project to be enjoyed and not to be used to lord over the other owners on the Las Vegas Strip. It looked like semi-retirement for him.

And then I woke up again, at 11:24. Better than 12:30, and I'll keep rolling it back. Tomorrow morning, I may have to force myself up whenever I wake up just to get myself back to where I want to be, but this was a really good sleep, the nicest I've had in months, even with the overbearing girl. I would like to go back to my favorite place, definitely without that girl. But this time, I'd like to actually go inside some of those shops. I don't want to try lucid dreaming, since I do enough work during the day, and would rather hand myself over to my subconscious so I can get to sleep. But I hope my subconscious is aware of my desire for deeper exploration and brings me there again someday.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I Feel Better

Yesterday was the last of it. I got up after 12:30, in time for breakfast to be lunch and to see if the mail came with more books for me. I found myself with the shortest hours I ever encountered. Not any change in the season or rotation in the earth causing it, but just the day moving faster and faster, and me doing very little. Six hours later, it was already dark. I couldn't call any of the agencies I need to in order to see if I can get any of the interviews I need by saying that I only need 10-15 minutes, which will be fine if I can get these particular people, including, hopefully, a producer of two of the Airport movies and the director of Airport '77. Also no response from the agency that handles actor David Warner, who played flight engineer Peter O'Neill in '79. But by the time I thought to make those calls, it was already past 4 p.m. Not that I called, but I know people are getting ready to go home by then. And I had only been up for four hours! This was ridiculous!

A schedule like this also didn't leave me much time to read. All my time was focused on this project, and when could I possibly open up a book either related to this project or one that I'm reading on the side? The one on the side didn't matter so much since it was Lost and Fondue by Avery Aames, the second of her Cheese Shop Mystery novels. The problems with this novel which have made me not want to read the next one, is that her characters are crushed together this time at a fundraiser to the extent that not only is it hard to extract them (It's not hard to tell who is who, but there's not enough room to know them again like it was in The Long Quiche Goodbye), but the mystery felt overdone. All this urgency for this? Yes, it was bad, but even though this appeared to be a functioning Ohio town, everything seemed to stop at the sight of murder. Again. To me, Aames doesn't have the ability to keep a town running even as the investigation goes on. It's like the old sitcom trope of wondering if some of the people you're watching have jobs, and how they're able to afford what's in their apartments. It's distracting.

So, with having done nothing to contribute to the progress of my book, I decided that getting up after noon wasn't worth it anymore. I needed more time, even if it's just to read a book not connected to my work. I went to bed a little after 2 a.m. instead of 3:30, and woke up a few minutes before 7. Nearly five hours, and I couldn't get back to sleep after Dad and Meridith left for work. Sleep wasn't going to come back just because I was trying to will it back, and it was clear that my body was adjusting to this new schedule, so I eventually got out of bed, at 8:24.

Mom was surprised. She thought I had a phone interview to do. I told her that I went to bed earlier, and then had breakfast. Breakfast at breakfast time. That was another part of the problem, eating for the first time a little after 12:30, and then having lunch around 2:20 or so. I needed to spread out that time, and spread out my day.

I couldn't get through the rest of Lost and Fondue. I stopped at page 151, with 141 pages to go, completely frustrated with the lack of further development of these characters. The well-researched cheese knowledge wasn't enough to keep me stuck to this novel. Saveur magazine occasionally has articles about cheese, and they're a lot easier to get through.

I put that in the Goodwill box, went to my room and picked up I Thought You Were Dead by Pete Nelson, which I had been eyeing all the time that I was reading Lost and Fondue. Three days. If I'm not entirely wrapped up in my work, three days is way too long for me to read a book. I wanted to read I Thought You Were Dead because it's about a writer dealing with so much in life, such as his father's stroke, with his dog Stella to keep him as steady as he can be even with hanging out at Bay State Bar often. The premise here is that Paul and Stella can actually speak to each other. Yes, Stella actually speaks. The author doesn't make such a big show of it. It happens. They're that connected, and that's what made me want to read it, because I'm that connected to my dogs, like they are to me. They don't speak like Stella, but I know them as if they could.

This is one reason I'm going to continue going to bed earlier: That book was 288 pages. I read it all today. I liked it that much, and it also felt so good to be reading like this, just sitting there, becoming absorbed in this story. I've missed that, and yet I seem to keep letting it slip away. It's part of being a writer, it's what I have to keep doing, and it's what I should keep doing. So there's a book to write! It can only get better if I keep reading while I write it. It's strange that I have to remind myself of this, but I think I also need to stop reading a book if it's not working for me. I shouldn't have stayed with Lost and Fondue that long. What I liked so much about the first novel in the series was so obviously gone from this second installment and that should have been enough to make me leave it before the first witness was interviewed. There's some writers who say that you should read everything, even junk, so you know what not to do. I don't agree with that, finite lifespan notwithstanding. Because if you read what you like, then you become inspired by it enough to study and take in what the writer has done, and filter it through your own work. That's how it's always worked for me. I don't want to suffer through a bad book just to see what not to do. I think that's already apparent in the first 20 pages I've crawled through in any bad book.

I felt tired while sitting on the couch in the late morning, but I shook it off with a snack and I was awake again. I was good for the rest of the day. And it felt like an actual day today with a lot of hours to do what I wanted to do and what I needed to do. In the summer 2004 issue of The Paris Review, Haruki Murakami said that he goes to bed at 9 p.m., getting up at 4 a.m. to write for five or six hours. I can't do as he does, and I certainly can't go to bed at that time. It's not how I work. But he has a routine about his day and I need to click into that again. I can't feel listless like I did yesterday. I need more of today.

And so I shall continue pursuing that, and within a few days, I'll have it down. My body and mind will be better for it. I felt it already today.

Ethereal Fascination at the Largest Flea Market in the United States

I just started reading Killer Stuff and Tons of Money by Maureen Stanton, which I've had in my stacks since it came out last June. Stanton examines the antiques trade through a dealer named Curt Avery (Names have been changed), and it's utterly fascinating.

Right now, she's at Brimfield, "the country's largest outdoor flea market and antiques show." She's helped Avery set up his space and people are walking through, looking for certain items, such as a one-legged man who, for thirty years at Brimfield, has asked for cast iron cookware. But I love this image the most in this chapter:

"A girl in her twenties breathlessly asks, "Musical instruments?" as she moves quickly from table to table. I hear her voice like a lyric, "Sir, do you have any musical instruments?" A polite, almost plaintive call that fades as she hurries along the rows."


Outside, In My Head

Rolling the garbage and recycling bins back to the garage yesterday, after the recycling truck lumbered through the neighborhood, there was a slight wind, and I looked around, wondering if Southern California had been better before all this had been built, these houses, these streets, these street lights. Was there more of a sense of adventure on blank hillsides? It felt like the wind was a lament, missing that past, if there was such a past (and some history I've seen of the area suggests that), and mourning a future that can never be. A year after we moved to Southern California, when we were moving from Valencia to Saugus, Dad and I made multiple trips from our old apartment to our new house and back, hauling in boxes that didn't need to be packed in the moving truck. At the intersection before turning right to go up that hill and then back down to Copper Hill (or whatever the name is, since I've only paid attention to such things when I need to take the bus somewhere), I looked to the left and those mountainsides were completely empty. No lights. Then gradually, one housing development popped up, and then three, and then what looked like 40. It's prevalent throughout the region. Build and build some more and build again until you're absolutely sure you can't put another apartment complex in the parking lot of a 7-11. You'll find the past in books, but not in front of you. The museums are tucked away, hidden from view, where they belong.

I didn't begin to think about Las Vegas or Henderson after mulling over all that. In my mind, I went to Baker, to the true beginning of the desert in Southern California, to the Grewal Travel Center, with the gas station out front, the convenience store on one side on the inside, and the small food court on the other side. I thought about that night on the way to Henderson when we found that the food court was closed. Fortunately, we had eaten at Wienerschnitzel in Santa Clarita, and it's lucky we didn't wait until we got to Baker. I'd never seen the place like this, with the counter areas dark, the lighted signs and menu boards turned off. I stared longer than anyone probably should stare at A&W, TCBY, Pizza Hut and Subway signs. Actor/playwright/short story writer Sam Shepard, one of my heroes, has lived in the desert and has it so deeply ingrained in his soul that I thought about him as I looked around, and also thought about the distance outside this food court/convenience store. Who could live in Baker? Who could find enough in the businesses and the landscape to want to live here? This could be where one settles if there's nowhere else to go, but then it has to be a pretty desperate situation.

This is all that Baker is. The 2010 census pegged the population at 735. Those people may have their reasons, and I'd sure like to know what they are. But I never will because I don't think I could stay for that long. I need a library, I need things that I love surrounding me. I love desert landscapes, but give me something more to them. I'm not talking about the overgrowth that Southern California has experienced over the years. A desert town is fine with me if there's a connection there, reasons that a population has to keep its town vibrant. That may not be fair to Baker, because maybe it does have those things that I don't see since I don't hang around long enough. But middle of the evening at 9 p.m., getting out of the car and feeling that fierce chill, like opening a freezer door in the frozen food section at a supermarket and stepping inside, how could anything want to thrive there?

But I still feel something. I don't have the desert experience that Shepard has, that compelled him to also write three masterful short story collections that I go back and forth on buying for my permanent collection, but I want to try it. I want to write a play, and I want to set it in the Grewal Travel Center. I have one character sketched out, and three or four more I don't know well enough yet. You would think that it would be useful to take photos inside the Center, but I haven't for three reasons: One, when I looked around, I wasn't thinking in terms of a play, until I was back in our rented Kia Soul, writing furiously in my composition book. We had to get to Henderson, so I couldn't go back inside to take photos.

Second, Dad's reconsidering his strategies in looking for a job in Las Vegas and Henderson, which may include going back there for a few days while he and Meridith are off for spring break, so he can actually meet people, have them see him face-to-face, instead of seeing about jobs from a distance, which is the way it has to be for now since he's working here. I may get my chance to take photos.

And third, I have the full layout of the Grewal Travel Center in my head. I know where both claw machines are, I know where chips and candy are on the convenience store side, I know that there are two regular restroom stalls in the men's restroom and one handicap stall, and I know that on the food court side, A&W comes first on the far left, TCBY in the middle, Pizza Hut near the far right, and the restrooms are near Pizza Hut and to the left of Subway. I also know that there are those coin-operated machines with stickers and temporary tattoos and other cheap doodads, one next to the food court entrance in the back, facing A&W, and another directly across from A&W. I've not found any stickers I want from either of those, but I like seeing what there is every time.

When I began thinking about writing plays in 2008, I had so many fanciful ideas, and I filled up a folder on this computer with every idea I could think of in 37 Microsoft Word files, believing that one of them had to lead me to fame. They would be filled with such dramatic ideas, and monologues that had the power to keep audiences in rapt attention. I would be lauded for my artistic choices and wordplay that goes down so easy, yet gives audiences a lot to think about.

I was full of shit.

One thing I completely ignored back then was timing. No skilled actor could have memorized the monologues I wrote without fainting from exhaustion. An actor has to breathe and so does the audience, yet the audience still has to be engaged enough to want to know what happens next. There are fellow human beings performing in front of them, completely inhabiting their characters, and the audience needs to relate to them by some glance, some line that rings true, some action that might make them look inward, see themselves in any of the characters on stage. And if a character is pure evil or has bad intentions, there still has to be a glint of humanity there. They can't just be faceless like so many bad guys in an action movie. It works for an action movie. It doesn't work for a play.

After What If They Lived? was published, I took a break from my aspirations of playwriting fame to figure out what book I wanted to write next. With that figured out now, I calmly went back into that "Plays" folder and looked at what I had hurriedly written many times over. I couldn't be doing this because I wanted fame in some artform. It's nice, and so is money, of which I still hope to make a decent amount one day (decent, not obscene), but I have to want to write a play because it defines me, it helps me grow as a writer, and it makes the world seem new to me every day, with something different to explore.

Another idea I've had has been done once or twice before, but not how I've thought of it. I researched it and even bought one of the plays that takes place in the same setting as mine (Three one-act plays, actually, making up an evening of theater) to see how it was done. I wanted my play to be two one-acts, with two different sets of characters: A teenaged boy and girl, and a man and a woman. I wrestled with the timeline and originally decided that they'd be an hour and a half to two hours apart, which wouldn't seem to matter in a play, but where these characters are, it does, since one pair meets at 11 p.m., and another at 1:30 a.m., and the event they're at only happens once a year, and just once for the teenagers.

The major problem I had was my initial insistence that these characters be connected somehow, that the audience finds out through one pair that both pairs are related. I wanted to keep the conversation between one pair mysterious enough that when the other pair talks, the audience puts it together. I don't think there would be gasps throughout the theater. Just murmurs of understanding.

But at what expense to the characters? Would I be spending so much time trying to set up the slight puzzle that I ignore the traits to be established in each character to make the audience want to know more? Would the characters just be puppets to my intentions? That can't happen. If the audience doesn't connect with the characters, that's it. You close after one performance, if you're lucky.

Last week, I figured out what to do. I don't want to spend time creating this puzzle for the audience to gradually figure out. I want to spend time with my characters, getting to know who they are, what they believe, what they want, what they still hope for even as regrets pile up. So now there's only one pair. I won't say which pair because I'm still working this out. But I do know that the first act is set at one of my most favorite places in the world, and the second act is at a place that I don't have quite the huge love for that I do for that first place, but which I admire just the same because without it, that place I hugely love would not exist. Obviously, there won't be faithful sets of either one because that would be insanely expensive, but it will be described enough in the dialogue, and have a few props to represent it, that the audience will get a sense of where they are.

Even without characters fully created, I already have the title of this play. I worry about whether the first part of it sounds sarcastic, but I can only answer that once I start writing this play. I know that it works, though. It covers both acts, the crux of the plot, and even suggests hope where there wouldn't seem to be any in light of years that have passed and disappointments that have been experienced.

In my mind, as I watch the trees rustle from the wind, I'm at both settings for this play, and I'm also thinking about what I can look forward to: Months spent reading two-character plays. I love the thought of it, particularly because I bought a few when I had thought up this play in its previous form. I hadn't opened them then, just stored them away, but I had a good excuse since I was co-writing What If They Lived? at the time. Even while working on my second book, I want to start on this, and try simultaneous writing projects. I'd like to be surrounded by words all the time, and not just by reading.

So maybe Southern California preferring to ignore its past and make a future full of endless housing developments isn't so bad. Until I'm gone from here, it lets me dream widely just by spending a bit of time outside.

Monday, February 20, 2012

I Feel Like I Can Have the Entire Universe

The day began late, a little before 1 p.m. (I work further into the early morning hours than I should, so I end up going to bed by 3:30. I have to bring myself back to a more reasonable time soon), with an important e-mail in my inbox: "How about 4 pm today?"

I've been thinking about this conversation, ever since it was suggested. It was a conversation that could either be very beneficial for my book, or could make me move on to my next book because without what this person has, I don't have a great deal to go on for my book.

Chores for those three hours beforehand: Gathering the garbages from around the house, bathrooms too, taking that and the kitchen garbage out to the bin in the garage, putting the latest recyclables into that bin; sweeping the patio and collecting the dead pine needles and putting that bag into the garbage bin, rolling the bins to the curb for pickup tomorrow, and washing the dogs' tray, water dish, and food dishes.

During all this, I'm thinking about what's to come. I need to establish that if this is to go forth, I want to be sure that I'll get my share. But do I express that a few minutes into the conversation or see where this goes before I chime in about that? I'm protective of this idea. It took me months after What If They Lived? to figure out what I wanted to write next. And the one idea I came up with before this one didn't pan out because I let the books I purchased for it sit around for weeks. Clearly I wasn't as interested in that idea as I thought I was. This is the one that makes me get out of bed every morning and get to work. Would I still have that feeling after this conversation?

4 p.m. comes and I dial the number. Time to see what can be worked out. I hope for the best, but I still need to be cautious. I've been working on this for a few months and I'd like to see it through.

You know the Star Gate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey? Imagine that for two-and-a-half hours. That's what this conversation felt like to me. I held on to what I want for my book and heard ideas that I hadn't even considered, ideas that could strengthen what I had already thought was pretty strong by the Airport series alone. What I learned lets me go deeper into memories that didn't mean as much before I talked to this person. I merely watched some of the TV movies that were named. It was part of being an aviation enthusiast in my teens. But to give them more attention? To show how Airport didn't just give birth to the disaster movie as we know it, but also what else it caused in the same style? That could really work!

I have to be this vague right now. I'm so excited about these new possibilities that I had to write something, but there's a lot of work ahead, a lot to arrange, a lot to plan, and an outline to hammer out. If any writer tells you that writing is easy, they're lying. But it is exhilarating when you're writing what makes you glow with pure happiness, and it makes the work a little less difficult. It's still a challenge, but it can be done!

This conversation made me feel that I can have the entire universe, and that I will write the other books I want to write. It'll still be quite a while before I can begin to write one of the chapters for this book, but as long as the research is there, it'll work. This is why I exist, and it's time to show it!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Death's a Bitch, But We've Got to Keep Living

George Furth, the playwright most well known for Company, who co-starred as art critic Gerald Lucas in Airport '77, died in August 2008 at 75 years old. No family.

Producer Ross Hunter, who found Airport to be the most satisfying experience of his career, had a life partner in set decorator/producer Jacques Mapes, a relationship that lasted 40 years. Mapes was an associate producer on Airport. Hunter died in 1996, Mapes in 2002. No family from either of them, and there couldn't have been anyway, not at that time. The DeGolyer Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas has the Ronald Davis Oral History Collection, hundreds of interviews Professor Davis conducted with actors, directors, screenwriters, playwrights and others, of which Hunter was one and talks about Airport. The head of public services at that library is looking into it for me, and it's the only way I'll know directly about Hunter's involvement. Anything else I can find out about Hunter and Airport has to come from those still alive who were involved in the production, or biographies of those long gone, or their families, if they have any.

I've no complaints because this is the biggest puzzle I've ever had to put together, and I love it. I love figuring out the chronology of the making of each movie, and which insights will fit where.

But it's sobering. I called the phone number of Michael D. Moore, the second unit director on Airport '77. I spoke to a very old man who I couldn't understand very well. Age is catching up rapidly. Here's a man who was the second unit director on Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Ghostbusters II, among such a long, long list of credits, and who knows how much longer he'll be here? I could only gather that he can't do an interview with me. He didn't sound well, and I wasn't going to press for another time. He's entitled to whatever dignity remains.

I know it happens to all of us. One day, we simply won't be here anymore. When I found out that George Furth left behind no family, it felt like I was looking into a gaping black hole that absolutely could not be illuminated. Nothing could be made clear. This was it. What Furth was is what he left behind in his plays and in his acting career. There's nothing else but that to glean from him.

But when I got off the phone after talking to Moore and trying to understand what he was saying, I was shaken. How much longer will he be here? It doesn't sound very long. What haunts me more is that the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress chooses 25 films each year to be preserved forever, yet there's nothing like that for people like Moore. The films will remain, and Raiders of the Lost Ark is in that registry, but what about Moore? Couldn't someone or some ambitious group, for the sake of history, have interviewed him about his career, learn about his part in the films he contributed to? Raiders was Spielberg and George Lucas, and also screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, and the cast, and director of photography Douglas Slocombe, and the editors and the casting people and the special effects artists and the set designers and the carpenters and so many others.

This is where it gets into murky territory, because different films are important to different people. But I mean Hollywood entirely. There should be more of an effort made not only to preserve the movies themselves, but also the history behind those movies and other movies too. There are many great historians making exactly that kind of effort, but thinking about people like Moore, it feels like it's not enough.

The Academy of TV Arts and Sciences seems to be doing this for their industry through the Archive of American Television. And maybe there is a concerted effort brewing to do the same for the movie industry that I don't know about.

I don't know. Maybe I'm overreacting. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has the Margaret Herrick Library after all, without which I would not have been able to make great progress from the start on research for Mayday! Mayday!: The Making of the Airport Movies. But on the Archive of American Television website, I'm looking at a list of professions that include designers, directors, sound professionals, stylists, on-set/location professionals, film and video post-production professionals, and many others. Movie history should be as accessible as this, especially as technology becomes more advanced. But then, those resources are reserved strictly for researchers such as myself. Not the public at large. There's also audio commentaries, but those are selective, depending on how a studio feels about a certain movie, how likely a hit it will be, and other factors.

Ironically, I can't do what I'm calling for. None of the books I want to write after this one are about movies. I was toying with the idea of a biography about a charismatic actor who's not one of my favorites, but who I admire, but I don't think I want to pursue that right after this book.

I know that most people aren't as interested as I am in this history. They go to the movies, they have favorite movies, but they don't dig into them like I do. They don't have an obsession with a movie series they've watched since they were 11 that's led them to write a book about the making of those movies.

I'll do my part, though. I'll dig through the history I can find of the Airport movies through books I've read and still have to read, interviews I've conducted and still have to do (I got a few e-mails today from people who worked on Airport and people who worked on Airport '77 who agreed to interviews), files I've looked through and still have to look through, and newspaper articles I've read and still have to read, and work my hardest to make sure these stories are known. Those who worked on these movies, who are long gone, should live on. This is my attempt at that, besides all the other reasons I've previously mentioned for writing this book.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Another Instance of Being a Consumer Magnet?

Dad and Meridith had the day off from work today, a furlough day, meaning neither of them get paid. It's California's futile way of trying to save money in the budget that may have been there in the years that California was in good financial standing, but I always got the sense that this state has the habit of spending too much too fast. This is the result.

I'll never understand furlough days because if you're hired to do a job, and you do it well, you expect to be paid. That's what a job is. I always get this feeling that if I tried to dig further for the reasoning behind this, I'll end up with Rod Serling sitting next to me, telling me to take it easy and that it'll all work out.

Anyway, we went on a few errands in the early evening, sans Mom since she wanted to rest today. After the 99.99.999.9999 Cents Only store, we stopped in Sprouts for bananas, bagged spinach, and my favorite fat-free lemon chiffon yogurt from Cascade Fresh.

I've been hooked on this yogurt for a few months now. It doesn't have a this-is-so-obviously-a-manufactured-taste to it. Lemon puree is mixed into this yogurt, along with a few very tiny lemon pieces. When I started buying this yogurt regularly, the row for it in the yogurt section was always stocked, alongside Cascade Fresh's blueberry, strawberry, cherry, and vanilla yogurts, and others of the same brand that I barely glance at when I'm getting my yogurt.

Today, just like last Friday, the row of lemon chiffon yogurts was nearly empty. I don't think I can chalk this up to it not being replenished fast enough because all the other Cascade Fresh yogurts are sitting there, fully stocked. I had to reach way in the back to get two of them. And my arm had plenty of room to reach for them.

It's been gradual. The first few times I got this yogurt, there was always enough for me to grab, and then every time after, a little less and then a little less, and still a little less. I hope it's not an instance of Sprouts phasing this one out because it doesn't sell well. I'd say an empty row like that shows that it's selling very well. And I think I may be doing my part as a consumer magnet again. Never mind that it's fat-free, as there are a few other Cascade Fresh flavors sold there that are also fat-free. I have a feeling other shoppers have picked up on what I love about it.

It doesn't look like the company is giving up on the flavor either. It's still listed on its website, and I found out that it's also available in a 32oz. container. Sprouts has Cascade Fresh's 32oz. containers of blueberry and strawberry fat-free yogurts, and I wish they'd stock the 32oz. containers of lemon chiffon. An empty row like that should indicate that they should sell it. I'm hoping a supermarket or two or more in Henderson has thought of this. I need this over there too.

This is the only time I ever think about those who might have bought my favorite yogurt. Dieters, I'm sure, and people who like the tart flavor of lemon. It doesn't say anything about those who do because there is a sweetness along with the tart. It's a double-sided yogurt. The calorie count has to attract a few others as well, with 110 of them per serving. That's another reason it attracts me, since I have it as part of my lunch.

It'll be interesting to see what next Friday brings, now that I'm really paying attention to this.

[Note, again: I wasn't paid by Cascade Fresh for this post. I get enough out of their yogurt as it is. But looking at this, and my entry from Thursday, I clearly need to move on to another topic before I begin extolling the subtle complexities of Kleenex. Luckily, I have no idea what those might be. But there may be something in the yearly frustration of peeling the foil from refrigerated Cadbury Creme Eggs and then having to fingernail-scrape the pieces that remain stuck on the shell. It's that time of year again. I've just gone through it.]

My First Public Guest Post

G, over at Bloggerati, showcased my first public guest post yesterday! Read it and see what you think.

And if you're thinking about being a guest blogger, see what G has going on. Not only will your post be prominently featured, G is a master at formatting. I look ok on my blog, but man, I'm very sexy over there, dressed in black, with indentations I never considered before. In my daily life, I can't pull off an all-black outfit (My personality and collection of brightly-colored message t-shirts prevent me from doing so), so it's wonderful to live vicariously through my words.

Thanks for this, G! I'm here for you for any future guest posts.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Anatomy of a Starkist Lunch Kit

Walk with me into a mostly empty Walmart Supercenter a little while before it begins to get crowded on a Saturday afternoon. There's one or two people looking at produce. Two or three people are in the clothing section. You can't see how many people are in the health and beauty aisles because we entered closest to the food aisles, but there's probably four or five people there, spread out amongst those aisles.

We'll go into the cereal aisle because it's one of the widest in this part of the store. In a second, you're going to see one of three things happen: A few people are going to pass by one end of the aisle, or a few people are going to pass by the other end of the aisle, or a few people are going to come into this aisle that you didn't think this store had right now what with how empty it looked when we walked in.

It's not you. It's me. It's always been me, or, rather, me and my family. We always attract people. The line's been empty at Chronic Taco and we walk in to order, and as we do, six people walk in behind us. We take an empty checkout lane at Ralphs or Pavilions or Sprouts or Trader Joe's (which doesn't seem possible because it is Trader Joe's after all), and three or four people line up behind us with their carts. I don't know why this happens. I don't mind it, but do we have something in our personalities that people sense as something good to be near? It's never that other checkout lanes are crowded. There's a few open at a time. But they always line up behind us. It's not coincidental. It happened when we were in Henderson too. I bought a toy food truck at Smith's (hot dogs, burgers, and sodas, with four little hot dogs lined up on one counter, three drinks lined up on the other counter, and two burgers and fries lined up on the back counter), and three people lined up behind us to check out. In fact, I said to Mom and Dad that we could go to the Strip at that very moment, and help Las Vegas's economy recover quickly. I would have suggested testing it, but we had a lot to do in Henderson. But I do think the Henderson economy benefited from us visiting.

I don't seek this. It just comes. And I don't mind it, except when it impinges on what I like to eat.

Last Saturday, we went to the Walmart Supercenter on Carl Boyer Drive to do some food shopping, and I remembered that I needed the Starkist chunk light tuna salad pouches that I like for lunch during the week. In the tuna aisle, I found a crowd (though not caused by me or Mom or Dad or Meridith), and none of the pouches. They'd all been taken, along with what seemed like all the Starkist chunk light cans.

It's a sign of the economy, I know. People are looking to get protein more cheaply. I also know that this Walmart doesn't restock quickly, but on a Saturday afternoon, this was inexcusable.

I kept looking through the shelves, hoping that the regular chunk light Starkist pouches I found might also have a few tuna salad pouches. Nothing. Meridith dug through the bottom shelf and found a few of the chunk light cans, so that was a relief since I needed more and I was not going to go without tuna in any form.

Mom then saw the lunch kits Starkist has. The tuna salad pouches are in there, sealed with a smaller foil pouch of crackers, a napkin, a spoon, and a mint. Nearly $2 for this, so I took one since I wanted at least one pouch.

I had the kit today, putting the tuna salad pouch in the fridge after breakfast because I wanted it to be cold, and I really want to know what the thought process was in putting this together. Because whoever did, whether it was one person with a marker and a dry erase board, or a group of people that should be paid more because they deserve it, really knows lunch.

During the week, breakfast gets the body going. Cereal, juice, toast, fruit, a quick egg concoction, whatever it is, it makes you more awake than you already are and pushes you to the entrance of the day ahead.

I've always seen dinner as the heaviest meal of the day, with more time to experiment, order takeout, try a new recipe, or just heat something up in the microwave. There's usually nothing pressing that comes after dinner, so there is that ease of going for what you want, even if it's a few hundred extra calories.

Lunch is that bridge between both. You have to eat, and if you're at work, you have either 30 minutes, 45 minutes, or an hour for it. It can't be too heavy because you have to go through the rest of your workday, nor can it be too light because your stomach's going to distract you from your work.

The Starkist lunch kit knows that balance. There's the protein in the tuna, some grain in the crackers, and I guess a little sweetness in the mint, though I wish they'd change that. A mint is not an entirely neutral candy. I don't like mint, but if they changed it to a butterscotch candy, which I like, not everyone likes butterscotch. Easy to see that you can't rely on a decent dessert with this kit, but that's probably not the point. The point is the convenience of lunch in such a lightweight kit.

The tuna salad is as I've always known it to be, with bits of water chestnuts to give it crunch. Open the cracker pouch and you'll find that they've got a plastic compartment of their own, six crackers sitting in two stacks of three next to each other. The little plastic tray is as flimsy as it gets, in keeping with the correct belief that lunch isn't about deep concentration. You have to eat and move on.

The plastic spoon, which has an opaque smoky look when you peek through it, and the napkin are why I wonder about who decided what to put in this package, namely because I want to know who made the napkin and the spoon. The napkin is exactly what you'd expect a lunchtime napkin to be. It'll pick up a little mess, but not everything, because that's all anyone really expects to make at lunch. The spoon is not the kind of clear plastic that'll snap if you bend it back far enough. When you bend the spoon back far enough, the handle bends with it.

I really want to know how much thought was put into this, if lunch habits were studied, and how many meetings went into creating this kit for production. I don't think Starkist would ever tell me, but they accurately pinpointed the feeling of lunch with this kit. My sole beef remains with the mint, but not only because I don't like mints. Open the blue foil and you'll find a blue mint trying so hard to become a teal color. It looks like a sample toilet freshener, too small to use for an actual toilet, but the same kind of shape. Meridith said that this kit used to have a striped mint, which seems more appropriate for this, but it looks like they wanted to keep with the blue the packaging has.

Having only bought the kit for the tuna salad pouch, I wouldn't buy it often. I never have crackers with tuna. I only eat the tuna, either out of the pouch or the can, and then I usually have a rice cake with peanut butter after. But Starkist is doing something right. I never thought any company thought hard about lunch beyond providing the necessary products for it, but here is proof.

[Note: Starkist didn't pay me in any way for this entry, nor provide a coupon to get the kit for free. This was all me, another example of how my mind will go anywhere for a topic.]

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Stuck. Here's a Link.

It's 11 minutes past 11 right now, and I've got the perfect tonic to the Teachers Tournament on Jeopardy! (I saw the first game and the only use I got out of it was finding out that there'll be an American Experience documentary on Bill Clinton on PBS next week. Finally. Took them long enough to get to the decade I grew up in): Episodes of Jeopardy! from 2005, Tivo'd off of Game Show Network. They run them every night during the week at 11, and 6 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday. I've got seven episodes stacked up and I can probably roll through five of them before I head to my room for the night.

Yet, I finished Buffalo West Wing by Julie Hyzy this afternoon and immediately started Affairs of Steak, the latest in Hyzy's White House Chef Mystery series. The bad news is that it looks like the next one will come out next year (Unless she wrote a Christmas-themed one, which would be nice so I don't have to wait as long). The good news is that I'm only on page 42 and have 235 more pages to savor.

I really really want to continue reading it, but then I also have those Jeopardy! episodes I really want to watch. I did enough research tonight, searching for a few other people who were part of the Airport movies, so I can take the rest of this time to do what I want. So now it's a competition.

While I wait for that indecision to sort itself out, over at Bloggerati, G posted the interview questions that I answered and sent back. My guest post, which I sent with my interview answers, will be up tomorrow.

And the winner is Jeopardy!. I can blaze through 60-70 pages before I go to bed, so both work out for me tonight.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Disappointment on Jeopardy!

Before the Final Jeopardy clue that ended the College Championship tonight, there was a commercial for the Teachers Tournament, which begins tomorrow.

Great. Another tournament.

The College Championship took up the first two weeks of the month. I was hoping that the regular games would return. And now I've just found out on the Jeopardy! website that the Teachers Tournament will take up the rest of February.

I don't like the tournaments. Sure, the Teen Tournament is useful if I've been feeling particularly dumb watching the regular episodes preceding it, but the tournament contestants all come from one age group or profession. They've got the same shot as the players during the regular games, but it's the commonalities I don't like, especially in the College Championship where some of the students believe that they're so funny at their respective universities, their undeniable wit will carry over to the real world on Jeopardy!. Those quirks tend to be vastly annoying, and they probably exaggerate them even more because of the prestige of being on Jeopardy!.

I respect how far these college students and teens and teachers have come to make it on Jeopardy!, but I have greater respect for the players who are on the regular games. They come from different states, they have different jobs and different skill sets. It's more interesting to me because you don't know where the champion is going to come from. On Monday, January 23, there was a poker dealer named Kirby Burnett who won $27,600 in his first game. He lost on his third day with $27,600 (The guy who beat him had $28,000 and was the new champion). When he first appeared in the introductions, you wouldn't think he would be the one who would win. Generally, we expect these champions to have a bright look about them, like Ken Jennings and many others who have won weeks at a time. I liked Kirby because he had this slightly grizzled look about him, like he had seen a lot in his lifetime and being a poker dealer, I have no doubt. Here was a guy who had clearly taken a lot of time in his life to read and learn a lot. It was a lot of fun to watch him for those reasons.

I make an exception in my dislike of tournaments for the Tournament of Champions, which collects the highest-scoring players who have played for a great number of days or won their respective tournaments, such as I think it will be with Monica Thieu, a sophomore at the University of North Texas who won the College Championship. But there's the difference. Most of the players for the Tournament of Champions come from the regular games. They still come from different states, and still have different jobs and different skill sets, but the stakes are much higher. They have to work harder because of their opponents. I doubt Monica can be as quirky in that group as she was in the College Championship.

With February gone, I hope March has room for the regular games. I'd like to see more Kirbys for hopefully a long time before they decide to do whichever tournament comes next.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Soon-to-Be Second-Time Guest Blogger Watches Where He Puts His Feet

For the past two days, besides more research and preparing for a phone interview that I'll write about after it happens, I've been answering a set of interview questions and writing a guest post for G, who occasionally comments on this blog. After writing a guest post for Janie Junebug's private blog (Janie's given me permission to repost my entry on my own blog, so I'll do that once I'm done writing everything I want about Henderson, since it falls after coming back from there), I read that G was looking for guest bloggers. I went back and forth on it for a few minutes, wanting to write one, then asking myself if I really wanted to commit time to someone else's blog. Then I thought I should because how else is my blog to become more widely known, as I want it to be while I'm writing Mayday! Mayday!: The Making of the Airport Movies so potential agents and publishers can see that I've not sat back and let time pass since my first book was published. Then yes, I should. What's a few days of making sure that my writing is readable for others?

When I first wrote reviews for Film Threat, I was careful and very cautious. I wanted to make sure every thought was expressed clearly, that there weren't any sentences that sounded like they were written in a rush, that there was enough attention to grammar and punctuation that I didn't sound like I had a half-formed brain. Therefore, my early reviews expressed what I wanted to say, but they were stiff, more concerned with looking good than being lively. It's a reasonable reaction to being in a new position like that one, and as I wrote more and more reviews and months with Film Threat became years, I loosened up. I had fun with some of my reviews. I enjoyed writing interviews because most of it was a copy-and-paste job, straight Q&As except for the introduction, which was easy to write.

I spent three days writing my guest post for Janie Junebug. One day was for the writing, and the other two days were making sure I wrote well everything I wanted to say, and that every word and punctuation mark was in the right place. Reaction to my guest post on Janie's blog shows that my writing didn't read like I was nervous, but I was a bit nervous. With Film Threat, I knew who read the site: Movie buffs, independent filmmakers looking for reviews of their movies and short films, people who love independent film, people who hate independent film, and people just curious about what independent filmmakers have produced. In short, everyone who read the site was there for the reviews and the columns offered. That never changed.

With guest posts, I'm reaching different readers every time. I don't know who will be there. I hope they'll like me. But I have to make a decent impression every time because I'm there behind those words. I'm giving myself to those different sets of readers every time, telling them to see all of me right here. I'm letting it all out.

I'm not done yet with my guest post for G's blog. I haven't even gotten to the crux of it yet. Many more paragraphs to go. But even as I begin to feel for the end of my post, I keep scrolling up to the top of my Word file, reading my answers to G's interview questions. Does this read well? Have I said what I wanted to say in this answer? Can I leave this answer as it is or is there some word that has to be added to the third sentence? Letting go of these answers and this guest post is a little more difficult than letting go of this entry because this is my blog. I can put my feet up wherever I want. I do read other blogs, but I don't know the layout all that well. I have to be polite, make sure my hair is combed, and don't act like I can just put my feet up on the coffee table on top of the magazines.

It doesn't stifle my writing. Janie can attest to that. But I do admit that I put a little more effort into those guest posts because I'm in someone else's house.

You'd think I'd be nervous about the phone interview I have at 11 this morning. But I don't get starstruck. Reviewing movies since I was 15, up until I was 25, and having lived in Southern California for eight years, actors have jobs to do just like I have my job to do whenever I'm a substitute campus supervisor. We do the work and we get paid.

The interview is for Mayday! Mayday: The Making of the Airport Movies, and this actress was an extra on the fateful Trans Global flight, the interior 707 set on stage 12 at Universal. It meant five weeks of solid work for the actors chosen. You might be surprised about who it is, considering her place in television history, but that's all I'll say until the interview is done.

And G, I promise not to put my feet up where they don't belong.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My Biggest Regret in Eight Years of a Southern California Existence

In early April 2009, my family and I went to San Juan Capistrano for the day, where I would either live or retire if I loved Southern California, which will never happen. And I would have to be wealthier than I am now for that to happen. A lot.

I was so smitten with the everlasting peace of the area, a sense of history that will never fade, that I wrote an amteurish poem about my feelings. I looked up that poem today to make sure I had exact what I saw in San Juan Capistrano before I sent a message to author Kate Buford on her website about a few things dealing with Burt Lancaster that I'm seeking for my book.

Mom, Dad, Meridith and I walked around that downtown area, next to railroad tracks, passing what looked like many historical houses. Then we walked through Antique Row, which bears many antique shops, and we stopped at what looked like the largest one there.

I love antique stores. I don't collect them, but it's that deep, abiding respect for history in those stores that I feel so strongly in my own work, that'll keep me in nonfiction for years to come, continuing to explore the history of various things. At that antique store, I went into a small room off the main floor at the front of the store which held old issues of Time and Life magazines, along with other magazines that I don't remember because there weren't as many of them as those two. On a small table in front of me was a carefully wrapped set of envelopes for $12. I went back and forth on whether I wanted them, because in the upper right-hand corner, "Burt Lancaster" was stamped in blue. I e-mailed Buford because I thought that the envelopes were stamped "Burt Lancaster Productions," but he started Hecht-Lancaster, one of the first production companies run by an actor, and one of the very few to last in that time period, which then became Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, and after that ended, he started Norlan Productions (A combination of his wife's name, Norma, and his surname), but nothing in Buford's biography indicated in later years that he started a production company called "Burt Lancaster Productions." I think those envelopes indeed said "Burt Lancaster," but I wanted to make absolutely sure with Buford that that was probably the case.

I didn't buy those envelopes. And sitting on the couch today, finishing Buford's biography, I thought about those envelopes. I don't know if Burt Lancaster ever touched them or even saw them, but surely he had to have ordered them. I didn't need that kind of proof, but I think I just wanted a piece of the history of an actor who figured so largely in my teenage years by being in the first Airport movies, minor as that history might have been.

There is one thing that sort of makes up for it. At the Academy library in Beverly Hills, you're given the option of requesting photocopies of pages of documents you're poring over, whatever you need. You pay 50 cents a page, plus a mailing charge, and you receive the documents within a few weeks after your visit.

I requested that 10 pages be photocopied, and with a 75-cent mailing charge, that came out to $5.75. My visit to the library was on January 10, and I received a gray catalog envelope containing my photocopies on January 25. A few pages pertain to special effects production for Airport, especially about snow effects. But the document that made my heart flutter were call sheets for The Concorde: Airport '79, detailing the production schedule for Tuesday, January 30, 1979, the sets to be used, the actors required along with times for them to be in makeup and then on set (George Kennedy, Alain Delon, and David Warner weren't needed that day because the Concorde flight deck set wasn't being used), and call times for various crew members, including the cameraman and the camera operator, air conditioning on stage 12, and a dialogue coach. On the first page, there's a "special note" that states: "Cold weather gear for the Utah shoot will be handed out today. See Lambert Marks." That was for the crash sequence at the end of the movie. Utah stood in for Patscherkofel in Austria.

I've still got so much to do for this book that'll give me many thrills, but the biggest thrill thus far was getting the photocopies of these call sheets. All the years I watched the Airport movies, and I have part of its history. I could never imagine such a thing when I first watched these movies over and over on videotape. I noticed the effort that had gone into them with actors and special effects and all that, but not to this extent, not to pull apart each movie and see what's inside. I've kept these photocopies in their original envelope and I'm keeping it safe. I may want to use the call sheets as photos to be included in my book, but those are rights to seek much later, once I'm well into writing it.

I wish I had those envelopes, and I think it'll always remain my biggest regret of these eight years. Which goes to show that if you find something that relates to a major part of your life, grab it. Don't think about it. Just grab it.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Returning to the Love of the Work

Today I returned to my research full force. I'm nearly done with Burt Lancaster: An American Life by Kate Buford, and though I'm still questioning if I need to read all the pages of all the books I bought for research, I'm beginning to see the value in certain circumstances, such as it is with lead roles, like Lancaster's in Airport.

I decided to read the entire book not because of the research, but because I wrote an essay about the 1968 masterpiece The Swimmer for a collective Online Film Critics Society book that never happened. That was my first time doing research for anything of mine that was going to be put into print, even though it didn't happen, so being completely new to researching for a purpose way beyond getting a good grade in a history class, I overresearched. I tried to watch all of Lancaster's movies, and read all of John Cheever's works. I checked out a collection of Cheever's letters, and also watched every other film directed by Frank Perry, who directed The Swimmer. I had no idea what I was doing, but I thought this was the way to do it. I ended up framing the essay as a memory of when I first saw the movie in 2002 on Turner Classic Movies not long before I graduated high school, and how it affected me so, looking at a life so clearly squandered when I was just getting ready to figure out what I wanted to do with mine.

Having seen a lot of Lancaster's movies for that essay (which I still have and am deciding what to do with it, either find another outlet for it or post it all here), I wanted to see what Buford had written about them, because when I first checked this out from the library, I only went into the section about The Swimmer, nothing else. Ironic, considering what I had done for research, but this was only an essay.

The keyword that comes to mind a lot for Mayday! Mayday!: The Making of the Airport Movies is "context." I can't just say that Ross Hunter bought the rights to Arthur Hailey's novel, then hired George Seaton, hired the actors, hired the crew, and then they made the movie. I have to know what interested Hunter enough to turn Airport into a movie. I have to know what made him want to hire George Seaton to adapt the novel and direct it. I have to know why these particular actors were cast and if there was anyone else considered for Lancaster's role of Mel Bakersfeld, Dean Martin's role of Vernon Demerest, Jacqueline Bisset's role as Gwen Meighen, and so on. Moreso, why did Dean Martin, Burt Lancaster, Jacqueline Bisset, and all the others want to do it? To give just a little bit, I found out on my research visit to the Margaret Herrick Library that Bisset was under contract to Fox at the time and was loaned out to Universal for this. From the Q&A transcript of the screening that the Academy had in 2006 as part of its "Great to be Nominated" series, I also learned that Bisset doesn't remember much about the production. Actors' lives are indeed very busy.

In Buford's biography, I found out that the cinematographer of Airport had worked with Lancaster on two previous movies, one his directorial debut, The Kentuckian, and the other a six-week stint for Judgment at Nuremberg, though it doesn't sound like Lancaster had spearheaded that project as he did with The Kentuckian. He was fulfilling an obligation. So I wondered: Was that cinematographer suggested by Lancaster for Airport, or was that producer Ross Hunter's decision? Furthermore, Hunter wanted to have the major actors wrapped in three weeks' time, so perhaps Hunter was the one who had decided on Laszlo. Lancaster didn't sound all that involved, particularly because he didn't like the movie, calling it "the biggest piece of junk ever made." And yet, Hunter's power at Universal had severely dwindled because of costly failures like Sweet Charity that found Universal spiraling toward bankruptcy. So either he had decided on Laszlo and had to seek the approval of higher-up executives, or one of those executives thought of Laszlo, though that seems doubtful. But wouldn't you know it, Airport became the biggest hit of 1970 and saved Universal from ruin.

Then there's Whit Bissell, who worked with Lancaster on Brute Force, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and The Birdman of Alcatraz, who was in the Airport cast, yet didn't work with Lancaster. He was the passenger seated next to Helen Hayes' Ada Quonsett on the fateful Trans Global Flight 2. Was Bissell put forth by Lancaster or was this Hunter again? I'm inclined to believe this was Hunter because Buford gives barely three paragraphs over to Airport, and if Lancaster had been slightly more involved, I think Buford would have found it because this is a very thorough, meticulous, detailed biography of Lancaster.

Reading a healthy chunk of Buford's biography wasn't all I did today. I spent some time in happy disbelief of what I was doing. David Warner played flight engineer Peter O'Neill in The Concorde: Airport '79, so I contacted the L.A.-based management company that oversees him, requesting an interview, figuring also that he might be surprised to find someone not interested in talking about Titanic, as it might very well be for him when the 3D rerelease comes out in April, being that he played Billy Zane's henchman.

I also contacted The Gage Group, which handles Stefanie Zimbalist's career, to confirm that she received my phone number as was requested. I need to interview her father, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., about his role as Captain Stacy in Airport 1975, so I thought it best to contact that agency and seek her out, since her father has no contact information online.

Then came one of the biggest steps I will ever take for my book, one of the two most crucial: I contacted the publicist at Hal Leonard who oversaw the release of Trust Me, George Kennedy's memoir, requesting an extensive interview with Kennedy. I need an extensive interview since he was in all four movies and I have a lot I want to cover, especially about producer Ross Hunter and director George Seaton since they're long gone, as well as director Jack Smight of Airport 1975 (Tomorrow I'll contact the company that manages director Alec Smight, his son, but many perspectives are always interesting), and countless others. He's as important to me as Monica Lewis, who's the widow of the late Universal executive Jennings Lang, who shepherded the three Airport sequels, and I learned while skimming the pertinent parts of Lewis's memoir that Lang was thinking about a made-for-cable-TV Airport sequel, but that never panned out. I have to know if he left behind any records that indicated what that would have been about. I think that would be as much a revelation to me as it was to read the ultimately rejected Airport 1976 script at the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library. I also really really need to compliment Monica Lewis on her performances in Airport '77 and The Concorde: Airport '79. It didn't matter that her husband was the executive producer on '77 and the producer on '79. She fashioned two completely different roles, one as the caring flight attendant and the other as a well-known jazz singer going back to Moscow for a homecoming concert, acting opposite Jimmie Walker. She's been a singer since the 1940s, so she knew how to make that voice float, brief as her singing was in that one.

I've still got so many more people to contact, including Erik Estrada and Walker, who I found out has a website, so that'll make it easier. And there's the Vizcaya in Miami, which served as the exterior of the Stevens' mansion at the beginning of Airport '77, that I have to contact to see if they have any historical records of that particular shoot, and I've also got to contact the American Airlines C.R. Smith Museum in Fort Worth, Texas because I didn't get an answer from them via e-mail about whether they have historical records of Charlton Heston and Jack Lemmon training on the 747 simulators for their roles in '75 and '77, respectively. I know that both of them did it (Heston talked about it in his published journals, and Lemmon talked about it in a featurette made to promote '77 at the time of its release, the script of which I read at the Herrick Library), but I'm hoping to find more details. Oh, and Boeing too! I've got to contact them because producer William Frye went to them before '75 and '77 went into production, asking for advice and insight. They told him, before production on '75, that the mid-air transfer was crazy, but Frye, Smight, and company did it. He went back to them before '77, and they asked him, "What are you doing this time?," prefacing that by saying, "I'm not sure Boeing is always happy with me."

That I have to contact the manufacturer of the 747, my favorite plane, is a huge honor and one that still stuns me, which is probably why I haven't done it yet, also because I've got other calls to make first. I was reminded constantly today of why I want to write this book, why I'm doing all this research. It's pure love of the work, of delving more deeply into what still fascinates me after all these years. And to think that this all started from renting the first Airport on videotape (Yes, VIDEOTAPE, young ones) from a Blockbuster in Coral Springs on a rainy night when I was 11, which led to owning all four in a four-tape set with its own box to house all of them. This just makes the movies even better for me.