Archive for August, 2011

Gwyneth & Me: A Love Story

Posted in Uncategorized on August 17, 2011 by tom

So, Gwyneth Paltrow is really nice and shy and lonely.

I was working at the Letterman show, doing my job,and Gwyneth was on the show. She was so nervous! It was almost cute how scared she was. She called her mom.

Holy crap! Blythe Danner is Gwyneth’s mom, and Brighton Beach Memoirs is one of my favorite movies. I asked Gwyneth if I could talk to her mom, and she let me! Blythe Danner was so nice, although she was less than impressed when I tried to get her to say, “THERE ARE NO BONES IN LIVER!” or, “Where am I going? To a nightclub?” Or “I was the workhorse, YOU were the pretty one!!” I started riffing on BBM lines, but she wasn’t into it. I guess the movie DID come out 25 years ago, and she’s done a kabillion movies since then.  Great actress. Way underrated.

But she wanted to talk to Gwyneth again. So I passed the phone back. She was laughing with her mom. “Okay, mommy. I love you, too. Bye!” Then it was almost time. I got her onstage with Dave, and she killed. She KILLED! She was erudite and funny and just charming as hell.

Gwyneth was giddy when she walked offstage, and she gave me a big hug. She’s so tiny! I mean, she’s taller than I had thought, but so thin! Like a bird or something. I gave her a good, Hagridean bear hug. She thanked me for being there for her before the show. One of the interns was there, and Gwyneth grabbed my iPhone and handed it over. “Take a picture of us!”

I hate having my picture taken, but how could I say no, right? So she hugged me, and I could feel that smile of hers–I could feel it against my cheek, it was so radiant or glowing or whatnot.  And she held it, and the intern was dicking around with my iPhone, and I was starting to get antsy. Then, of course, I realized the problem is that I DON’T HAVE AN iPHONE!

So I was jerked back to being awake again.

I’ve never been her hugest fan, but I’ve always respected Gwyneth Paltrow as an actress. Not just for Shakespeare in Love, but for smaller, subtler roles. The Anniversary Party comes to mind.

I really do think Blythe Danner is an excellent, vastly underrated actress. As far as my Letterman job? Dave & I did work together, in the same sense that I used to work with the KCBS receptionist (ie, we both worked for CBS).

Gwyneth may be nice and friendly and shy in real life. I don’t know. I know she’s married and has two kids, and I know she has put out a cookbook my friend Jen likes.

It was a nice dream, and so real! Just on a lark, I picked up the DorkFone and checked my picture gallery–just in case.

You’ll never believe what was there! This!


I’ll tell you this: that’s the last damn time I chase jalapeño poppers with NyQuil before bed. Oh, and I’ll SURE as hell never trust an intern to take my picture with an Oscar-winner.

Have a great Wednesday, Gwyneth. Call me. 😉


Oh Time, You Skankwhore

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on August 17, 2011 by tom


Yesterday was the 34th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death.

I remember when I heard the news on the radio. I had to tell my mother, who was a huge Elvis fan. She was saddened, of course.

Years passed, and I ended up as production director for an Oldies station. Twice a year, on Elvis’ birthday and death anniversary, I was responsible for producing montages. I’d use sound bytes ABC Radio sent out–archived news reports, fan reactions, celebrity comments–and i’d get my own, calling different artists who’d known Elvis. I got to talk to Little Richard, Dion, Dick Clark, etc. Pretty sweet.

What dawned on me is this: Elvis died at age 42. In eight years, he will have been dead longer than he was alive.

The thought I had was how unexpected milestones arose during my journeys.

There are obvious, pre-programmed milestones, of course. At 16, we can drive; 18 we’re adults; 21 we can drink, etc. We have first kiss, first heartbreak, loss of virginity, marriage, kids…universal milestones that happen to us (or don’t) at different points en route.

What ended up seeming more significant were the soft milestones nobody mentions. When I turned 32, I was older than any non-celebrity Playboy Playmate. (Honestly, I think I was 20 the last time I bought a Playboy)

I remember breathing sighs of relief when I turned 28 and 34, because that put me past the 27 and 33 clubs. (Chris Farley, Keith Whitley, & John Belushi were 33 when they died)

In December, I will have lived here on my sandbar longer than I called my parents’ house home.

That one kind of struck me, though not too badly. I think it will hit me more profoundly when Elvis has been dead longer than he lived.

Elvis died when I was eleven. That’s really the point where I feel like I started running my life to some extent.

Ye gods, it wasn’t pretty. That was the year girls ceased to be cootie-riddled objects to be feared, and became suddenly alluring and mysterious. (That’s not changed a bit since then)

It’s an odd signpost in my life. I grew up listening to Elvis songs, and I was sad he died. I didn’t have that much invested in him. I hadn’t lived much. I was too smart for my own good. I knew God was in His Heaven, and I knew more about baseball and astronomy than any ten year-old should.

Since then, I’ve learned so much that I realize I don’t know crap about anything.

It’s funny how that happens. The more I learn, the less I realize I know. When I was a kid, I knew everything. Now?


Along this journey, I have had some tremendous adventures, good and bad. I’ve developed skills I never learned in school. I’ve seen people be utterly  extraordinary, both in wisdom and stupidity, kindness and cruelty, courage and cowardice, love and hate.

I’ve seen fire, and I’ve seen rain. I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end. I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend…

Oh. Sorry. James Taylor moment.

Circa 1977 Tom would not believe the crap 2011 Tom has seen and done. The DorkFone upon which I’m writing this boring piece would have blown 1977 Tom’s mind.

Some things haven’t changed. I still think Babe Ruth is the greatest baseball player ever. I still get goosebumps from seeing NASA launches and beautiful night skies. I still love Thanksgiving, if only for my grandmother’s cornbread dressing recipe. I still love big 60’s & 70’s muscle cars, thunderstorms, reading, and red velvet cake.

And dammit, Elvis is still king. 

Movie Time!

Posted in Uncategorized on August 13, 2011 by tom

I’ve always been bad with DVD’s. I’m good at watching them, and I’m reasonably good at buying them.  However, I am horrible about organizing my DVD’s and putting them away.

I don’t have a big collection–100 or so, maybe–but it was becoming unmanageable. It was time to rid my room of cat-over-knockable DVD’s.

So I bought this giant DVD storage book. The basic idea is that you put 2 DVDs’ cover art in windows on one side of each page. On the other side, you have four pockets. The end result is usually two movies or one TV season per two-sided page.

I really meant to file them alphabetically, but this was prohibitively daunting. I did end up with some pages that are alphabetically related–Sirens sharing a page with Serenity, eg–but this proved to be rare.

Just for giggles, here are some tomlogical pairings. Some are more obvious than others. Some could be valid for multiple reasons. Here we go. No wagering (Answers at the bottom):

1) Casablanca and Inglourious Basterds
2) Se7en and The Silence of the Lambs
3) American Pie and Forgetting Sarah Marshall
4) Garden State and V for Vendetta
5) The Dark Knight and Inception
6) Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz
7) Love Actually and Pirate Radio
8) The X Files and Charlie Wilson’s War
9) Juno and Napoleon Dynamite
10) Public Enemies and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

1) Nazis
2) Music by Howard Shore (also would accept “3 Oscars among the primary cast (Kevin Spacey w/2 & Morgan Freeman, Jodi Foster w/2 & Anthony Hopkins)” and “seriously creepy-ass films”)
3) Allyson Hannigan & Jason Segal are married in How I Met Your Mom
4) Natalie Portman
5) Director Christopher Nolan
6) Same writer-director team/1st two in the “Blood & Ice Cream” aka “Three Flavours Cornetto” trilogy
7) Writer director Richard Curtis (also would accept “Bill Nighy”)
8) Secret government plots
9) School lunchroom scenes (would also accept “quirky HS comedies w/auspicious Sundance debuts)
10) “Huge male stars playing bankrobbers in non-blockbuster films”

Anyway. That was my Friday project. Have a great weekend.

Der Tod des Träumens: The Death of Dreaming

Posted in Uncategorized on August 11, 2011 by tom

Germans have great words for things. Composer Richard Wagner recognized this, and thus learned German, specifically so he could write German operas. (Well, he might have had other reasons, but it made for a good sentence)

One of Wagner’s most famous pieces is called “Liebestod.” (Clip nsfw)

“Liebestod” means “love death,” the consummation of love in death, like Romeo & Juliet, or Tristan and Isolde, in Wagner’s case. Beautiful word, one which is more effectively explained by that short film* than by any translation.


I saw this picture the other day:

This photo captures NASA’s two modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carriers flying in formation. These beautiful planes are no longer needed to ferry the shuttle from California to Florida, since the Shuttle program ended, and in an effort to help my country wherever possible, I decided that I would volunteer to take one of these jetliners off of NASA’s hands.

Years ago, when I was deep in The Abyss, I had trouble sleeping. One of the few ways I could find to get to sleep was to imagine myself flying a large aircraft, representing my subconscious, blahblahblah. However, in the interests of efficiency, I chose instead a Lockheed L-1011 Tri-Star, like this:

Mine wasn’t painted in Saudia livery, but it was still pretty snazzy.

The tomlogic behind this was that I needed something big to haul all my baggage, plus I needed room to stretch out, and I wanted to have long range capability, just in case I was ever able to sleep more than 45 minutes a night. Also, I wanted a third engine aft, on the tail, which would enable takeoffs from shorter runways (hopefully meaning I wouldn’t take an hour to get to sleep if I had to wake up and pee).

Did I mention that I was deep in The Abyss at this time? This is how my thought processes worked.

Anyway, I liked the way the Tri-Star looked, and thus I chose one to handle my sleep needs. (It did a wonderful job, too: I never had any sleep related issues I could trace to the L-1011)

So, my brief flash of daydream when I saw the top picture of the two 747’s was, “I would love one of those, now that NASA no longer needs them.”

It took less than five seconds before the thought, “Nah. It would be prohibitively expensive to operate and insure, and I have no place to store it.”

Hi. I’m Tom. These are my dreams:

It’s okay. I wasn’t depressed by the thought, but rather sort of amused & bemused, simultaneously. Despite this post’s title, I still dream quite well, and my daydreaming is still amazingly agile.

Some part of me just laments the “grown-up” chiming in, unbidden. I guess it’s part of life balance, or koyaanisqatsi, the part that can appreciate the beautiful aria, and not just naked teenaged Bridget Fonda.

(Although, there is nothing wrong with the latter, not by the longest shot. I say this even though I could never lure her on to my dreamplane)

Safe flying, all.

*: The video comes from “Aria,” a film in which different filmmakers interpret different famous arias. Some of the short films are beautiful. Some are dramatic. One is funny. A couple are just horrible. This one is among the beautifully done, if you can stand to see Bridget Fonda naked (this was never a problem for me 😉 )

A Tale of Tom, Two Mavens, and a Couple Very Different Chocolate Factories

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on August 8, 2011 by tom

A couple weeks ago, I found myself caught in a Culture Maven cross-fire concerning Willy Wonka movies. Kelly staunchly supported the Gene Wilder 1971 version, while Jen argued for the 2005 Tim Burton film with Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka.

I loved the book when I was a kid, and I remember being disappointed when first I saw the 1971 film with Gene Wilder. It was fourth grade, the Friday night movie, and I couldn’t wait. It’s a testament to my parents’ saintlike patience that they didn’t sell me to gypsies for yelling at the screen.

Many years passed before I saw it again. I got a copy of the VHS, and, after multiple viewings–and with copious amounts of alcohol and stuff–I became a huge fan of the Gene Wilder film. Every time I heard “Pure Imagination,” my eyes got leaky, and I could sing almost all of “I Want It Now.”

The Gene Wilder version had defaulted its way into my heart.

In 2005, shortly after I got out of…that special resort ;), friend/sort-of-sister Abby wanted to take me to see the Tim Burton film. I went.

I hated almost eveything about it, from the latex-covered Oompa-Loompa(s) to the Michael Jacksony way Johnny Depp played Wonka.

Again, six weeks out of rehab, I would’ve hated any remake of a “Tom Drinking Classic.”

A few months ago, I heard “Pure Imagination” in a tv ad. Meh.

So when I saw the Tim Burton version in Wal-Mart for $5, I decided to give it another chance. And by golly…

Each has its own merits, to be sure, but let’s compare, shall we?

By this, I mean the distance from the opening credits to the factory gates. On this, I’d give the edge to the Burton one. We don’t get bogged down with “Charlie’s poor” overkill. We meet the family, get brief backstories on the other kids, and see Grandpa Joe get all excited with the golden ticket.

What we miss out on are unnecessary jaunts to Charlie’s school, his paper route, the stable where his mother washes clothes. Also, we miss several songs that the movie doesn’t need.

I should note that I would rather watch Charlie and Grandpa Joe dance around to “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” than go through the Burton film’s Wonka’s Dad as Dentist Nazi subplot.

Let’s look at the cast:

Augustus Gloop: Kind of a toss-up. Neither does much onscreen. I’d go with the remake Augustus, just because he zings Charlie, which shows more personality in that ten seconds than the 1971 Augustus does the whole film.

Violet Beauregard: I love Annasophia Robb. I think she’s an excellent actress. But the 1971 Violet wins hands down. She was funny and brash, especially when she told Veruca Salt, “Can it, you nit!!!” She also seems more like a gumchewer to me.

Mike Teavee: The 1971 Mike Teavee is an anachronism. He walks around with a cowboy outfit and cap guns. He wouldn’t last 5 minutes in 2005. Somebody would beat the shit out of him. It would be for his own good. Really. A complete doofus. Worse, I didn’t really like the kid who played him in 1971.

2005 Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry) is a complete bastard. He absolutely rocks. He’s a genius-punk, and I think the kid who plays him nails it. Completely nails it. The way he torments Willy Wonka by being such an insufferable know-it-all, why that’s worth a case of Mars Bars.

Veruca Salt:
I think 2005 Veruca does a really nice job. She’s bratty and loathesome. I have no problem with her performance.
But Julie Dawn Cole in the 1971 version was epic. The slow burns she does, the malice toward anyone who crosses her…she was like Bette Davis in a training bra, and she was among my earliest crushes. She’s my favorite character in the 71 version.

Grandpa Joe:
This is one of the two roles in the film where I don’t think you can compare, because the films were so different.

Grandpa Joe 2005 has less of a role. He’s a favorite grandparent, but GJ71 was almost a father to Charlie. In the 2005, Charlie has a father. Also, GJ71 has to sing and dance.

I think each Grandpa Joe earns full marks. I wonder what the 1971 film would have been like without a Tony, Oscar, and Emmy-winning vaudevillian as Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson was a rare triple winner).

Other Family:
2005. The mother in the 1971 version was just too sickly sweet for me, and the three other grandparents did nothing. In the 2005 film, they were really funny. When Grandpa George goes off on a swearing tirade against Mike Teavee, or when Grandma Josephine blurts out non-sequiturs, it adds a bit of spice to their cabbage soup existence.

Willy Wonka:
This is the other role I find impossible to judge. Gene Wilder hit a home run with his Willy Wonka, being subtly eccentric in a semi-musical. Johnny Depp plays up the crazy, which is where I remember Mr Wonka being in the book. I think Johnny Depp benefited from his close relationsip with Tim Burton. He knew he could trust his director, and I’m sure that helped him.

In short, I think each actor did an excellent job in the film he made. If I had to pick one, i’d probably go with Gene Wilder, just for the way he delivers, “Is the grisly reaper mowing??”

Peter Ostrum made one film. He’s a veterinarian now in upstate New York. He did a good job playing Charlie as the all-American kid. He had a lot of charisma, and–excepting that he was required to sing, and couldn’t carry a tune in a suitcase–he was believable and heroic.

Freddie Highmore’s Charlie is the greatest kid ever. He’s smart and kind, but not saccharine. His delivery and smile and tone are all perfect. He seems more like a real kid, too. Tim Burton has a gift for directing child actors, and Freddie Highmore is amazingly talented anyway.

In summation…
I like both of these movies. Where I think I would give the edge to the Tim Burton movie is this: the way Charlie was shown as a citizen of the world. 71 Charlie is shown almost supernaturally, like an angel. No, like Jesus. Think about it: he feeds the masses (the loaf of bread “banquet”), heals the crippled (Grandpa Joe arises after 20 years), and rises into heaven (the film ends with him high above the world in the Wonkavator).

Burton’s film shows Charlie as an extraordinarily cool kid, but he’s a part of this world. He wants the Golden Ticket, but he’s pretty adamant about selling it. It’s not overly dramatic. There’s no sense of predestination. In the family, Freddie Highmore-Charlie is doted on like an only child, but he’s not the breadwinner. He’s a real-world kid, not a fantastic ideal.

And the older I get, the more the 1971 Oompa-Loompas give me the collywobbles.

These are two very different takes on a classic book. The difference is that Tim Burton’s reboot thrills in the mischief the 1971 version misses. Even though I miss Julie Dawn Cole’s hot bratty presence, I’ll go for the one with the fun Oompa Loompas, the evil-genius Mike Teavee, and the Danny Elfman score.


Posted in Uncategorized on August 7, 2011 by tom


The big thing on the left-center? That’s our Moon.

In the bottom right? That’s Jupiter and its four largest moons, three of which are each larger than our Moon.

With the forced perspective in this photograph, our Moon looks pretty impressive.


This picture shows our world next to Jupiter. That big white dot in the first picture dwarfs our little blue marble, this world that seems so vast and unknowable, where all our problems so daunting and insurmountable are smaller than one storm on Jupiter.

I have to remember that. I have to remember that all my storms that seem so bloody huge are really just gnat poots compared to far bigger, more turbulent winds that blow elsewhere.

Happy Weekend from my relatively calm, safe, blessed little corner of the Universe.

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