Sunday, July 1, 2007

FAREWELL, AVALON


Avalon Theater, Corvallis, Oregon, closed its doors for the last time last night. Targeted at folks who enjoy independent films that don’t necessarily feature high-tech gadgetry and over-the-top budgets, the Avalon was a pleasant break from the big multiplexes with their mega-hit films and over-priced tickets and snacks. I’m pleased to say the Avalon went out with a loopy, fun-filled bang.

Three performances were scheduled for the final day. Part celebration and part money-raiser, the proceeds were to be used to pay back-rent. At 3:00 CINEMA PARADISO was shown. Then at 6:00 and 9:00 pm THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW was to play. Hard to believe TRHPS is now 32 years old. It might be fun to take a trip down memory lane. Perhaps it will make no sense at all. Perhaps it will seem really stupid and dated. Perhaps it will make me feel older than dirt. Perhaps we’ll have a dandy time.

When we arrived at 5:30 for the 6:00 show, there were already people in line, wearing their costumes, carrying their props. Paul, the owner, came out about 5:45 and said CINEMA PARADISO was running a little late, so probably our show wouldn’t start until about 6:15. A little after 6:00, his staff came out with bottled water for everyone in line. The next update stated the show probably would start “somewhere around 6:30 or so.” This announcement was accompanied by popcorn and an explanation of what had happened with CINEMA PARADISO. Paul had received his copy from his distributor. When he ran it, he discovered the film was damaged and there wasn’t time to return it to the distributor and have a new one shipped. So he went down to the local DVD rental place and picked up a copy. Who knows what version this was, but the darn thing ran 3 hours! I’ll bet it was the Director’s Very Self-Indulgent Cut. Just a wild guess.

Finally, the CINEMA PARADISO audience exited the theater, looking as if they had just awakened from hibernation after an extremely long, harsh winter.

I had never been to this theater before, but I was absolutely charmed. Restaurant booths lined the sides of the theatre. There were several rows of standard theatre seating, but there were also couches and recliners. We found a particularly comfy couch at the back. The d├ęcor was just fun: crystal chandeliers hanging here and there without apparent rhyme or reason, a table lamp hanging upside down from the ceiling, its base affixed to the ceiling. Think a 60’s psychedelic coffee house mixed with the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, and you pretty much have the flavor of the place.

When the movie started, I could have sworn it was 1975 again. The audience shouted the same lines, had exactly the same props, wore the same costumes. It reminded me of an oral history that had been passed down from generation to generation. The list of props included rice, newspaper (preferably The Cleveland Plain Dealer), water guns, lighter/flashlight (I noticed last night, several participants opened their cell phones for light), noise makers, rubber gloves, confetti, toilet paper (preferably Scott), toast, bells, playing cars, condoms. “Let’s do the Time Warp Again…”

Just as the movie reached its climax, the projector broke down! Nobody screamed and yelled and had some stupid temper tantrum. In fact, Paul came out and asked if the audience would scream and yell as it might prompt them to work faster.

I know this could never have happened in L.A. People there are too impatient and equipment break-down of any kind is simply not tolerated. Dollars to donuts, some fool would file a lawsuit. The good folk of Corvallis, on the other hand, simply made every little inconvenience and delay a reason to prolong the party.

I’m so glad we had the chance to see the Avalon before it closed. Leaving, I turned to take one last look. I swear I could feel years and years of memories lingering there, as reluctant to leave as I was. Perhaps they will demolish the building – oh, I hope not – but those memories will live forever. Thank you, Paul! Thank you, Avalon!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

LADIES, START YOUR GROCERY CARTS!

Excitement mounts as Beijing prepares for the 2008 Olympic Summer Games. Certainly one of the reasons for this anticipation is the inclusion of Grocery Shopping as an official event.

In a nutshell, there are two phases to the competition. In the Compulsory round, the competitor is given a list of 48 grocery items, and she must locate and place them in her shopping cart. Whoever gets to the check-out line first wins that round. In the Artistic round, whoever takes longest at check-out, wins that round. The scores are combined to determine the winner.

In order to prepare the viewer for this event, we have taken our cameras (actually, we don’t have cameras, but it sounds pretty lame to say we have taken our pens and notebook) to Dubuque to follow Donna Dilbert, America’s great hope in this event, as she trains at her local supermarket in her quest to bring home the Gold.

When she entered the Piggly Wiggly, the staff and customers cheered her on. Go, Donna go! She was all business as she tested the cart, checking each wheel, making sure they all went in the same direction, not one of them veering off on its own agenda. Proclaiming her cart fit, she grabbed the grocery list from the store manager. As she studied it, the crowd’s enthusiasm grew. Go, Donna, Go! With a dazzling smile, Donna, mentally prepared and psyched, was off.

She snatched items off the shelf, tossing them into the cart, never even slowing down. Her pace was fast and steady. Whomp! There go the bagels! Whomp! There goes the casaba melon! Around the end of the aisle to the frozen food. Whomp! Sara Lee Cheesecake. Yum! Frozen okra. Bleck!

And then Donna stopped. A troubled expression frozen on her face.

“What is it, Donna?” an adoring fan asked.

“Capers,” Donna said. The moments were ticking away. Tick, tick, tick. “I don’t know where capers are. I don’t know what capers are.”

There was stunned silence. The fans had never seen their girl stopped before. Tick, tick, tick. They knew they couldn’t tell her the location. Suddenly, as if by divine intervention, a stock clerk piped up. “Wow, Donna, then you really are in a PICKLE Yep, a real PICKLE alright.” Picking up on his clue, Donna beamed and dashed off to the pickle aisle. She had lost valuable time. In a gutsy strategic move, she placed her cart sideways across the aisle so other shoppers couldn’t get past. She spotted the elusive capers, tossed them into her cart and was off again.

Checking and re-checking, she now had all 48 items in her cart and was off to the check-out counter. What?! She wasn’t first. Donna was now in third place. She could have given up, but she didn’t. Although it wasn’t likely, she knew she might be able to win enough points in the Artistic phase.

Throughout the checkout process, Donna, seemingly relaxed, chatted with the cashier. “Pretty earrings, Laverene. Where’d you get ‘em?”

Fans were shocked. Donna had gone through the checkout process too quickly. This wasn’t the way to win a competition.

Finally everything was bagged. “That’ll be $98.88,” said Laverne.

Then, and only then, did Donna open her purse.

“Oh my,” she said. “Will you look at this? All my change has fallen out of my wallet.” Racking up points as seconds ticked away, Donna scrambled around in the bowels of her purse, bringing up a quarter here, a nickel there. Finally, after eight minutes (Donna’s personal best), she counted out the money. Ninety-eight dollars...and I have the exact change…twenty-five, fifty, sixty, seventy, seventy-five, eighty, eighty-one, eighty-two, eighty-three, eighty-four, eighty-five, eighty-six, eighty-seven and eighty-eight!” She managed to add another important one minute and thirty-two seconds to her already impressive score. As Donna was about to close her purse, she uttered the absolutely winning words. “Oh, I forgot, I have coupons!”

And that, dear reader, is a true champion!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

THE BOOK IS FINISHED! -- WELL, SORT OF


It’s taken over five years, but I’ve finally finished my second novel, BOOBS OVER HOLLYWOOD! I should be jumping and leaping and twirling and doing cartwheels. Instead, I just want to retreat to My Beloved Sofa and cover my head with a blanket. Maybe even a wet one.

Alas, it also signals the real beginning of the work.

Now I must write this diabolical document called a Query Letter which will go to agents and/or publishers. The Dreaded Query Letter has very specific requirements: The first paragraph must hook in the reader, compel them to keep on reading. Within one sentence I have to capture not only the meaning of the entire 350-page book but I also have to demonstrate “a unique voice.” I suspect they don’t mean Fran Drescher’s voice. Paragraph 2 is a one-paragraph summary of the 350-page book. Oh sure, that’s easy. If I could have written the darn thing in one paragraph, I would have. It would have saved a whole lot of time and paper. Paragraph 3 is a bio, telling the reader why I am the only person in the entire galaxy who could have written such a masterpiece. Apparently this is not the time to be humble or modest. Paragraph 4 thanks the reader for their time and consideration and encourages them to send for additional material – like the book, for instance. ALL THIS MUST BE DONE IN ONE PAGE!

… I need to find another line of work. Perhaps hod carrier… Now, if I only knew what a hod was…

Secondly, I am required to write a 3-4 page synopsis of my entire manuscript. Strange as it seems, writing a 3-4 page synopsis is every bit as difficult as writing a one-paragraph synopsis!

…or how about shepardess?

Finally, I must check the submission guidelines of every single agent/publisher to whom I am submitting my book. Each agent and publisher has come up with their own diabolical, ridiculous set of guidelines. Some want just a query letter; others want a query letter and the synopsis; and still others want just the first page of my novel; others want to see ten pages, or three chapters or fifty pages; nobody wants to see the whole book; others would like me to do sommersaults backward through a series of flaming hoops while instructing a herd of elephants on the skills required to play the oboe; still others would like me to drop dead. And of course, I must enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope. See, you get the privilege of paying their postage so they can tell you that they want absolutely nothing to do with you. This seems to me to be the literary equivalent of pouring salt into a wound.

…maybe a sprinkler of fairy dust?

Okay, I’m ready to do a mailing. I’ve assembled The Dreaded Query letter, my synopsis, and whatever other cockamamie requirements the agents and publishers want. I also have that just-completed 350-page novel in front of me, which nobody wants to see. I assemble, collate, stuff, address envelopes and send my precious book into the world, which by now I am convinced is probably the worst book ever written in the whole history of the world. Actually, I’m not sending my precious book; I’m sending documents ABOUT my precious book.

…maybe putting the Inspected By labels into Jockey shorts?

And now I wait. And wait. And wait. When my writing partner and I wrote our first book LETTERS FROM CLEO AND TYRONE, it took St. Martin’s Press 18 months to get back to us. Good grief, I could have had two babies in that amount of time.
So, the question you must be asking yourself is why, oh why, did you ever decide to become a writer in the first place. It seems way too stressful. And it also seems you could go broke waiting for someone, anyone, to decide they want to publish you. And you would be right. Hmmm… Let me ponder this. This must be some reason I chose to be writer. Hmmm… I’ll have to get back to you on that one. Do you know anybody who needs a hod carrier? Do you know what a hod is?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

DIRTY BOOKS


Nowhere in any biology class, no matter how advanced, no matter how graphic and lurid, did the instructor discuss how books reproduce. In fact, I didn’t even realize that they did reproduce until I recently had to pack them all for our move to Oregon. Good grief! Where did they all come from? Did I really purchase all of them? If so, when did I become a millionaire? Or, oh my gosh, did I steal them? Did I go to friends’ homes and while they were in the kitchen busily preparing onion soup dip sneak off to their libraries and steal books? Did I tuck them into my jeans? Under my sweater? Did friends whisper behind my back that I had gotten so chunky and lumpy?

Since I do not believe I am either a millionaire (actually, I’m pretty sure about that one) or a kleptomaniac, the only logical, scientific conclusion is that books reproduce. Oh, sure, books all look so innocent and chaste lined up back-to-back belly-to-belly in their bookcases. But what happens when the lights are out and they are alone? Well, I maintain there’s a whole lot of canoodling and hanky-panky going on. With Henry Miller, D. H. Lawrence and the Kama Sutra in their neighborhhood, I’m guessing the sex is pretty hot and steamy. The moment the sun starts to rise, they dust off their dust jackets and arrange themselves neatly back on the shelves. Thirty days later, their pocket book children are born.

Now not only do I have to worry about where to store all these books, but I also have to concern myself with who is standing next to whom. I mean, you wouldn’t want delicate hothouse flower Emily Dickinson standing next to James Dickey, the author of Deliverance, would you? Or classy Mary Higgins Clark next to rough-and-tumble Louis L’Amour? I wouldn’t think William Faulkner would have a whole lot to say to Danielle Steel. Real romance, however, might develop between Philip Roth (Portnoy’s Complaint) and Erica Jong (The Fear of Flying). I also think Thomas Wolfe and Joan Didion would enjoy each other’s company over a cosmopolitan at a trendy New York nightclub. Truman Capote might get a kick out of Jackie Collins. I can see them attending a fancy costume ball gossiping about everyone under the sun. Samuel Pepys and Dominick Dunne might enjoy chatting over a glass of chardonnay about the famous and infamous. In fact, Capote, Collins, Pepys and Dunne should all get together. I'm sure they'd have a grand old time. Mystery writers might actually form a club where all sorts of relationships might form and flourish: Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, James Patterson and Janet Evanovich, gritty, gory Jeffrey Deaver and equally gritty, gory Kathy Reichs, Jonathan Kellerman and Faye Kellerman. Oh, wait… They’re already married. I wonder if they met in a bookcase somewhere. Oh, dear. There on the bottom shelf, all by himself, his face against the wall is J.D. Salinger. It seems nobody can coax him to come out and play.

I believe I’ve stumbled onto a phenomenon that requires far more study and analysis. Perhaps Playboy and Penthouse might want to investigate. Or how about a TV special entitled “The Secret Life of Books?”

Sunday, May 20, 2007

DESIGNER OCTOPUS



TO: Stanley Willis, VP, Critter Development

FROM: Linda Hamner

SUBJECT: OCTOPUS – STATUS REPORT

Dear Stanley:

As you know, I always try to maintain a positive attitude, but as project leader, I would be dishonest if I didn’t tell you how demoralizing this project has been for the entire design team. Designing new critters is becoming increasingly difficult. Chad argued that all the good, useful creatures have already been designed: oxen, horses, camels. All that remains are the whimsical and frivolous. As the only parameters we were given were that it must have eight legs and live in the sea, our work was certainly cut out for us.

First, we had to consider the critter’s shape. Cindy suggested square – a leg at each corner and a leg in the middle of each side. Brad opted for a long thin rectangular shape with four legs on each of the two long sides. Cindy and Brad got into a quite a row, Cindy arguing that Brad’s design was highly derivative of the centipede. She worried the centipede designers, who have always been such prima donnas, would whine we had stolen their idea.

Chad then suggested a triangle, but we couldn’t figure out a way to put eight legs on three sides. In a stroke of genius on my part, I offered a circle as a viable shape. The eight legs could be spaced evenly around the circumference. All agreed that the simplicity of my design was brilliant.

Next, we had to consider the shape and size of the head. The poor creature had enough going against it with those eight unwieldy legs. He didn’t need to be called “pinhead” on top of it all. We opted for a big head. A huge head, in fact.

Next came the body. Since it was getting late and everyone was anxious to get home to watch American Idol, we quickly decided it didn’t have a body. All those legs dangling down from that big old head would surely be enough.

It did occur to me as I preparing this report that the octopus could be used as a decorative windsock for the front porch or patio. You might want to run that by Marketing.

Cindy also suggested adding suction cups to the underside of each leg. She thought if the octopus became a popular icon – like Garfield, for instance – with the aid of the suction cups it could easily be converted in a car window ornament. It did occur to me that unless the octopus was downsized considerably, it would seriously limit visibility and prove to be a driving hazard. Between you and me, Stanley, I thought Cindy’s idea was pretty goofy, but you know how she pouts if she doesn’t get her way so I promised I’d include it in the report.

We did take a quick glance at our next assignment. A kind of large horse-like critter with a ten-foot neck. You’re kidding, right? Chad was predictably upset. We were able to calm him down with a double decaf non-fat mocha cappuccino laced with Prozac. Although I’m more focused and centered than the volatile Chad, I, too, must question what’s next. A tall, leggy orange bird that sleeps standing on one leg with his head tucked neatly under his wing? Or a huge potato-shaped mammal that lives in the Everglades with a propensity for doing battle with Evinrude outboard motors? What a card you are, Stanley! You slay me. You really do.

Regards,
Linda

Monday, May 14, 2007

SEVEN ODD THINGS ABOUT ME

Jenny, the multi-talented, funny, creative lady over at Miss Jenny's blog, challenged me to reveal seven odd things about myself. Hmmm… How can I possibly narrow it down to just seven? Ask any of my friends. They could list 100 odd things about me.

Well, here goes – in no particular order or significance.

1. In figure skating I can tell the difference between a triple axel and a triple salchow. I know what an Ina Bauer is. I even understand the scoring.

2. I desperately wanted to be an astronomer. Who knew it involved math? So then I decided to be a ballerina. That didn’t work out either, but I’m still crazy about those pink gossamer tutus.

3. I once was a technical writer for a major aerospace company. That fact should strike fear in anyone who knows me or my writing. Just imagine the possibilities…

4. I’m a really, really bad driver. It’s almost heresy to admit such a thing when you live in California. There, everyone thinks they’re Dale Earnhart Jr. – but with better hair and the 8” x 10” glossies to prove it. I was terrified of left turns and parallel parking. I did neither. Ever.

5. When my son was very young, he said to me, “If Santa brings Christmas presents and the Easter Bunny brings Easter eggs, who brings Birthday presents?” Without batting an eye, I said, “Why the Birthday Goose does, dear.” And he believed me! Then for the next five years, I had to have a friend call him on his birthday and honk.

6. Mayonnaise frightens me on so many levels.

7. I’ve always thought it would be hysterically funny to have a whole wall covered with ears. That’s right. Ears. Then when somebody said, “Oh, if only these walls had ears…” How delicious would that be?

I always said I wasn’t quite right. I double dog dare you to disagree!

Friday, May 11, 2007

HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!


Like all adult male children, my son, Brent, doesn’t call nearly often enough. He rarely remembers birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s Days or anniversaries. He can look pretty intimidating; he’s 6’4”, “buff,” has some tattoos, which are never acceptable to moms. But at least, no piercings are involved! Whew! Dodged that bullet.

Whereas The Saint and I always have our noses in some book or other, Brent is never happier than when he’s building something or taking something apart and then putting it back together again. But underneath that Harley-Davidson kind of macho bravura is the sweetest, most family-oriented, traditional guy. He’s the one who not only insists on a Thanksgiving celebration but does all the cooking! And can he cook! He and his father have always been competitive, so any family gathering is a contest to see whether father or son prepares the tastiest, most innovative dish while both protest that they’re not competing with each other. Right! Brent’s wife, Karen, and I are the lucky recipients of their competition.

Brent is one of those artistic, creative cooks who leaves the kitchen like a tornado just blew through. The Saint, on the other hand, is unreasonably neat and orderly. An unwashed pan can make him break out into hives. In this regard, he is not unlike “Monk.” Once, at Brent’s house, The Saint thought the refrigerator was “messy,” so he cleaned and organized it. Brent swears that he alphabetized the contents. Might not be an exaggeration.

When his dad, The Saint, was rushed into the hospital for a ruptured aortic aneurysm, the doc told me his chances for survival weren’t good. But The Saint, every bit as stubborn as his son, did survive. Brent just handled stuff for us. Everyday, practical stuff. This is one moment that I remember with great clarity and gratitude. He was horrified to discover I didn’t even have my own ATM card and insisted we go immediately to the bank and get one for me. The bank person told us my ATM card would be mailed to me in 10-14 days. Brent pulled himself up to his full 6-4” height and buffness and said in the nicest possible way, “Oh, she needs it today. I think you can find a way of expediting it, don’t you?” And he flashed that killer smile of his. Of course I walked out of that bank with a fully-operational ATM card.

Lately I’ve been a little blue. Nothing terminal, mind you. Just nostalgic and blue and missing my family. When this lovely Mother’s Day bouquet from Brent and his family arrived, I just sat down and bawled. But it was the good kind of crying. It was the kind of crying that said “He turned out to be exactly the son I always wanted.”

For all the moms out there, Happy Mother’s Day. Delight in your children and hug them tightly!