Friday, November 15, 2019

80. Milo and Meg - (sneak peek 3)

[Note: Milo and Meg, my new book featuring a 13 and 12 year-old brother and sister, will be published in May, 2020. You can check out the two previous samples here at posts #'s 71 and 73.]

Milo and Meg stood on the freshly painted grass outside Nanette's hut. They gazed across the long valley that stretched out in front of them; the mountains sloping up on each side, the thick forest of trees at the far end of the valley.

Most of the trees and mountain-sides were painted with watercolors, but a few small areas were still black and white, pencil drawings, like Milo and Meg themselves, seemingly unfinished, but still here. They walked on the grass as if it were a solid world.

Behind them Nanette and Wolf stood together in the doorway of their hut, waving goodbye.

Meg waved back and together Milo and Meg began walking.

"Be careful," Nanette shouted. "If you smell anything wretched or foul, it's one of them Groots. Take cover."

"We'll be careful," Meg said. Then, quietly, to Milo, she said, "Where are the Groots, anyway? Why don't we see any?"

"Good question," Milo said.

"That's all you have to say? 'Good question'?"

"Hey, what else do you want?"

"Oh, I don't know, maybe some kind of an actual answer."

They tried to walk as quietly as possible, but the steady 'scrunch scrunch' of their feet on the ground sounded louder than it ever had before.

This was different than their walks home from school, where they knew every detail without having to look. Everything here was new, and...oddly...changing.

"Was that tree there before?" Meg asked, pointing at a medium height scraggly, leafy tree.

Milo stopped and looked at it. Then he turned back behind them and gasped. Meg turned to see what made him gasp, but all she saw was the valley they had been walking through. "What is it?" she asked.

Milo blinked and rubbed his eyes.

"It was the weirdest thing." He blinked a couple more times and shook his head. "When I first turned around, nothing was there."


"It was blank, it was blank white paper. but then suddenly it was all there again."

Meg look back at the valley behind them. It was beautiful. the greens of the trees were deep greens. There were yellows and oranges that seemed to jump off the page. She had to remind herself that this was not a normal world, that this beauty - this beauty that she was walking through, was a drawing, and an unfinished watercolor painting.

She turned back to her brother and said, "This is just a little bit strange."

"You think?"

"Yeah, I think."

"Wait a minute. What..." Milo was looking intently at something near the ground.

"Hm?" Meg followed his gaze. "What the - "

Together they bent down close to the ground. There, next to a tree root, barely readable, almost on the ground, but actually floating just above the ground, were letters, letters that spelled the word, "Phoebe."

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

79. Trying to communicate with the black hole that is Amazon

A few months back I used this space to needle Google a little, poke around at the edges of one of the world's most powerful companies, and ask the question, "Will Google come after me in the middle of the night if I make fun of them a little?"

I'm delighted to say that I am alive and well. Google never sought revenge, and they even responded the way I hoped they would in the end.

So...I went up against one ultra-powerful corporation that I do business with and survived to fight another day. Who to fight next, then? Well, if Google didn't come for me in the middle of the night, then surely Amazon will...right?

Well, here goes...

In many ways I am at the mercy of Amazon. Increasingly, the entire world is at the mercy of Amazon. They have cornered the market on...well...on MARKETS.

My books are 'available wherever books are sold.' You can go to your local independent bookstore and, even though you won't them stocked on the shelves (except for a small list of stores I know of) you can go up to the counter and ask to order them. you don't NEED Amazon to order my books online - you can order them through Barnes and Noble - but in the end the vast majority of my book sales are through Amazon.

A few writers have many hundreds, even thousands of customer reviews on Amazon. Compared to these mega-writers I have to humbly hold onto a small number of customer reviews. Those few reviews mean a lot to me.

So...when customer reviews disappear from the site, especially when they disappear for what I am fairly certain are reasons, not of policy or standards, but reason of confusion and miscommunication, it gets under my skin a little.

My Key West series - 1950, corrupt politician vs. a relentless journalist - is really just 2 books in various editions. It is this 'various editions' business that has become a problem for Amazon. the original novel was published in January, 2013 by Wheelman Press, a small independent press in Atlanta run by Greg Banks who, bless his soul, has since passed away (R.I.P. Greg). In 2014 he contacted me to say he was in the hospital and would have to close down his company. He very graciously helped me start my own company - Azzurri Publishing - based on the same model as his company. He transferred all original files over from his account to my new account. The original novel remained available throughout this process, but even though the original novel was unchanged, it now existed on a new page on Amazon. Then I added the "Special Edition," (original novel plus prequel short story).

For a while Amazon managed to understand what was going on, and moved all the old customer reviews over to the new 'original novel' page. Then for a while they 'bundled' the original novel and the Special Edition. I didn't like this. It meant that people who were looking at the kindle page for the Special Edition, then clicked on 'paperback,' were taken to the paperback of the original novel, not the Special Edition. They are different editions, I told Amazon through email, and should not be bundled.

So... Amazon unbundled them. Prior to this they had about 20 customer reviews applied equally to both editions. There was also, somehow, an additional page for the original novel, which I was pretty certain belonged to the old Wheelman Press page. It was all very confusing. my attempts to straighten out the various different editions and sales pages, Amazon somehow decided to delete a good chunk of the customer reviews.

Are you still with me? This is where it gets good...

I emailed Amazon to try to get the dropped reviews put back up. I received the following corporate-speak meaningless form-letter email:


For privacy reasons, I can only discuss specific Customer Review removals with the person who
originally posted the review.

However, I can tell you that reviews are typically removed from the website for one of
four reasons:

1. The review conflicted with our guidelines ( This
includes reviews that were posted as promotional content.
2. The review was removed by the customer who submitted the review.
3. We discovered that multiple items were linked together on our website incorrectly. Reviews
that were posted on those pages were removed when the items were separated on the site.
4. We detected unusual review behavior.

For more information, search Seller Central / Vendor Central / Author Central Help for “Customer
Product Reviews.”

We appreciate your understanding. We hope to see you again soon.

We'd appreciate your feedback. Please use the buttons below to vote about your experience today.

Best regards,

To this meaningless form letter email I responded snarkily, "Yes, but you didn't remove the reviews
because of policy. You removed them because you were confused about the various different editions.
Please correct your mistake. - Peter Wick"

A few days went by before I heard from Amazon again. Maybe this is when they plan my murder, I thought.
Maybe I crossed the line. I'm going to quietly disappear and my friends will never know what happened
to me.

Then the new response finally the form of... the exact same meaningless corporate-speak

Receiving the exact same letter a second time made me realize that I was going to have to take
matters into my own hands. Amazon has made the mistake of giving me access to all the original
customer reviews, on my Author Central page (and it's too late to delete them now, Amazon - I've
printed them all out).

I'm not going to reprint ALL of them here, but...YES... I AM going to reprint a couple of them. Again, these
are customer reviews for Key West - the original novel, that Amazon deleted because they were too
confused to follow the progression of editions when the original publisher passed away (reprinted here
word for word):

-5 Stars - 'jes' Another cannot put it down 
Beautiful descriptions of the locale. Author takes us in and out of situations using the environment
as an aide. New idea which made for easy reading.

-5 Stars - 'Lele' I could see it as if I was there
Felt like I was there...well, I HAVE been in Key West traveling in via sailboat. Description of everything
took me back and the action was superb in this book. I look forward to more of Peter Wick's descriptive

So, there you have it. there are more where those came from, but I'll settle on those for now.

If you don't hear from me ever again, I would find someone willing to bring Jeff Bezos in for questioning.

Just saying...

Oh, crap, I've really sealed my fate, haven't I.

Peter Wick
October 15, 2019

Saturday, September 14, 2019

78. That Time I Tried out for Seattle Sounders

There's an old Jerry Seinfeld joke about all the millions of guys in this world who really believe that they COULD have been professional athletes...IF they had really wanted to. An apple is rolling off a table, you catch it before it hits the ground. "Yeah, I always had it. I could'a played pro ball."

The joke rings true to me, mostly for reasons I'm not sure I want to admit. I've been trying to decide if I want to admit this about myself; at the ge of 13 I felt I had to make a very important, life-changing decision. The decision has gone a long way toward shaping my life ever since, but I've hardly admitted it to anyone. You could call it slightly embarrassing, but whatever. I've admitted enough embarrassing stuff already in this blog. It will hardly hurt my reputation to admit one more embarrassing thing.

At the age of 13 I sat myself down and had a serious heart-to-heart talk with myself. I felt I had to make a decision; which of my two options in life did I want to commit to? What were these two options in my life? I had only two. I was sure of it. Nothing else was in the mix. Did I want to commit to a life in professional sports? Or did I want to commit to a creative life, writing, acting, comedy?

I had to make this decision at 13, I felt, because either decision was going to require 24/7 commitment from me from this day on. If, for example, I was going to be a professional basketball player, I told myself, I was going to have to eat, sleep, breath basketball every moment from now on.

My first love in sports, of course, was always soccer, but these were the years before MLS, and even if there were professional soccer teams in the U.S. it was obvious that professional soccer was less stable than professional basketball.

Sometimes you don't actually make the choice, though. Sometimes the choice makes you. A creative life was an easy decision to make. It came and chose me. The decision was made. My choice in life was clear.

Nothing would ever be the same for me.

And that Jerry Seinfeld joke hangs over me to this day.

If you've ever read George Plimpton's old book from the 1960s, Paper Lion, where he (as a writer, not really as an athlete) takes part in the Detroit Lions training camp, goes through the whole pre-season drill, and writes brilliantly about the experience, then you may get some sense of where some of my athlete-turned-writer impulses were going to take me.

In the Fall of 1994 Major League Soccer was building up to its debut season the following Spring. I was living in L.A. and open tryouts had been announced for L.A. that December.

This was my chance...NOT my chance to become a professional athlete - I had made the decision at 13, you remember, not to go down that road. No, this was my chance to be George Plimpton, to write a book about trying to make it through the tryout process for the new professional soccer league.

At some point I would be cut, I assumed, but I thought I could make it far enough through the process and gain just enough experience, and anecdotes, to fill my book.

I was working out every day, getting myself into the best shape of my life. I had contacted the league and received a letter form them which began, "Dear prospective player..." Yes, it's true, somewhere in these boxes I have lying around, I still have a letter from MLS referring to me as a "prospective player." (I take pleasure in these little things in life.)

Then it all vanished. MLS postponed everything for a year. Instead of debuting in 1995, the new league would (and did) debut in 1996. Open tryouts were cancelled. My whole book idea withered away.

Eventually I got over the disappointment. I moved back to Seattle the following Summer, kept busy writing, and hardly thought about my book-about-soccer idea....until March of 1996, when I saw a small item in the Seattle Times announcing that the Seattle Sounders would hold open tryouts the following Saturday.

I stared at the announcement. My brain did summersaults.

Seattle Sounders were not going to be part of the MLS debut season. They were defending champions of something called The A League, the league that eventually became USL (the second tier of today's U.S. soccer pyramid).

As defending champions, though, and it still being a month before MLS would debut, the Sounders could legitimately claim to be the #1 soccer team in America.

I had to go.

The day went pretty well. I don't think I embarrassed myself. I scored a goal against the Sounders young goalkeeper, a guy named Marcus Hahneman, who would then spend several years in England playing for Reading before coming back to retire after another stint with the MLS Sounders.

Sometime around 2003 or 2004 I remember watching a Manchester United game on television. They were playing against Reading, and of course ManU at that time featured a precocious young Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo made one of his signature runs down the wing, beating several players along the way, lined up a dangerous shot, fired blisteringly at Reading's Goalkeeper, Marcus Hahneman, and...failed. Hahneman easily blocked the shot. I looked at the TV screen and said out loud, "What's the matter with you, Ronaldo? I scored aginst this guy."

Anyway, back to the day I was on the Sounders training field.

I didn't make the team. If I remember right, they only took two guys from the tryouts to move on to preseason camp.

As the day ended I found myself walking alongside the Coach. I wasn't expectig to make the team, I told him. I just wanted a chance to write something about trying to play professional soccer.

"It's a good idea," he said, treating me respectfully.

We agreed that, with MLS about to start, and the Sounders not being a part of it, maybe this idea could be revisited next year or the year after. The Sounders thought at that time that they would be in MLS within a year or two. In the end it didn't happen for another 13 years, in 2009.

My soccer book idea never came together. I've since spent my whole adult life playing in recreational amateur leagues, both in Seattle and back here in L.A. I've managed to play in some pretty good leagues. I've played with and against ex-professionals. I'll be out on a field later tonight, after posting this.

For one day, though, I felt that I was a Seattle Sounder.

The Sounders have a recurring feature on their youtube channel called, "Once a Sounder." Once a Sounder, always a Sounder. I know you guys usually feature former players. You go to Newcastle, England and chat it up witb Deandre Yedlin. You sit down with Mauro Rosales and talk about all the goals and assists he had with the team.

I know I was never officially a member of the team...but, hey...there was one day...All I'm saying know, Once a Sounder....(Shut up Jerry Seinfeld, mind your own business).
Peter Wick
September 14, 2019

Monday, July 15, 2019

#77 - Max Barton, Geologist

(Inspired by a couple recent California earthquakes, and several hours of live TV press conferences by smart and very sober geologists.)

Max sat at the bar, staring blankly down at the wood. His finger absently traced the wood grain in a circular motion. He picked up his shot glass and drained the whiskey.

He put his elbows on the counter and looked back up at the big screen. 4-3 Dodgers still. Max's head was swimming. He knew he was drunk, but he felt that delusional confidence that he was aware of everyhing going on around him, and if he needed to,he could stand up and walk out the door without acting too drunk.

"Anudder round, Jemma," he said.

Jenna, the bartender, looked over from the register. She didn't answer at first. She slowly walked over to him. "I don't know, Max. You've had a lot to drink."

"Gum on," he said. "I'b vine."

Jenna looked into his eyes, trying to decide what she should do. "I'll give you a beer," she said. "I think you've had enough whiskey."

"Jenma..." Max trailed off. This wasn't the first time. He was here often enough that they had done this dance several times before.

"What are you always telling me about your job?" Jenna asked. "You might have to work at the drop of a hat."

"I jus dalk about earthguakes," he said. "I don' drive dem. There's no ticket for 'earthguaking while drunk.' Besides, I'm secon' on de dodem pole. Julie is the head boss, and she doesn't drink."

"Here's your beer," Jenna said, setting a pint in front of him.

"You know what a subduction zone is?" He asked.

"Yes," Jenna said. "You've told me."

"Id's where two of earthz blates are pushed agazd each other and - "

Suddenly, as if shot from a gun, the bar lurched to the left, then the right. Max vaguely heard something he thought might be screams.

As the bar stool he was sitting turned into a ride at a theme park, it slowly dawned on Max that this was an earthquake,

Bottles fell from the shelves above the bar. Jenna was nowhere to be seen. Debris seemed to fly randomly in front of and behind Max.

Max continued to sit where he was. The world around him was coming apart violently. Max tried to lift the pint glass to his lips, but the shaking caused the beer to spill sideways out of the glass.

"This should have stopped by now," Max said to no one.

Eventually it did stop, a minute and a half later.

The bar was destroyed. Bizarrely, as if by some fluke, Max was untouched. He moved his legs delicately, making sure that they were fully under him, before he stood up. He wobbled a little, then found his balance. Slowly he walked toward where the door would normally be. Instead of a door, he was able to walk right through the big gaping missing wall. He stepped out into the street.


"Hey, Jenna, how'd you get out here so fast?"

"I freakiing RAN when the building started moving!"

Max looked down at his phone. "Damn, man, no reception. I guess I bedder go to work."

A few miutes later Max stumbled toward what would have been the California Geological Offices, a few blocks away from the bar. The building was demolished. Someone said something behind him, and he turned around. It was a reporter with a TV camera from KTLA News.

"Dr. Barton, you're live on the air. What can you tell us about what just happened?"

Max shook slightly. He tried his best to focus his eyes. He was trying to bring the image from one eye in line with the image from the other eye. It wasn't working and two reporters with two cameras stubbornly danced together in front of him.

"You're Dr. Barton, right? What can you tell us?"

Max felt ready to speak. "There was eardguake." Max stumbled seemingly over nothing, and was on the ground.

"We know there was an earthquake. Was this the big one?"

Max slowly made it back to his feet. "Da big one? Id was big,for zhur. That guake was some damn thing, huh?"

"Dr. Barton, what is the official position of the California Geological Office? Was this earthquake officialy 'The Big One?'"

"No," he said.

"No? Do you have a read on the earthquake's magnitude?"

"Oh...." Max was beginning to feel strange. He felt like he needed to throw up, but he did his best to keep everything together. "Oh, it waz magnidude alright,"  he said. "It's magnidude was freaging magni -"

The reporter looked at  Max. "Magni? Magni -what?"

"Okay, thank you. Bress conferenz is ober," Max said uncertainly, before diving behind a barely upright wall, and spilling the contents of his stomach onto the ground.

The camera still showed him, live on the air, as Max stumbled over fallen debris and broken things. He was walking away, so the reporter's mic couldn't clearly pick up what he said, but those who listened carefully could just make out the words, "Dat was great! I'm a good gee- ololo - jist. Good job, Maxy."

And then he opened the back door of a random car that was not his, climbed into the back seat, closed the door, and fell asleep.
Peter Wick
July 15, 2019

Friday, June 14, 2019

#76 - Who's a good puppy? Google's a GOOD PUPPY!

The following exchange is real. I have not changed anything from the real emails involved in this. I run a small business out of my apartment; I write and publish books, I have a few movies for sale on Amazon. It’s a small operation, but it’s my operation. So….I advertise a little.

Google isn’t the only place I run ads, but each month I fork over a small chunk of cash to Google. In exchange they run ads for my stuff that turns up on various people’s searches. I’m generally happy with the results. I get a little annoyed when representatives from google contact me, expressing concern that I’m not budgeting my ads for more, and thus I am not paying them enough. But, for the most part, I’m fairly happy with things.

Then, one day in May, I contacted Google and asked them to change the date each month when they bill me. I wanted to arrange things so that I was paying Google in the middle of the month instead of earlier. I didn’t think it was that big a problem to ask about. Other places that collect money from me each month have been fairly accommodating about customizing my billing date during the month. Google, however, acted as if I’d asked them to murder someone. I received a reply from someone whose name I will fictionally call Daria. It can’t be done, Daria told me. Its an automated system, and nothing can change the billing date.

I apologize now for not taking Daria seriously. I assumed that any billing date could be changed, and that I would have to be more forceful before their ‘customer service’ instincts finally kicked in, and they made the change. I even offered to let them pause my ads during the week-long delay leading up to the new billing date.

I sent Daria a second email with stronger wording, more forceful. It’s not usually my style, but I was trying to kick them into gear.

To my surprise I received the following email from Daria. I am printing it here word for word:

Subject line: Regarding the change in billing date
Hello Peter, 
Thank you for your response.
I understand that you wish to get the billing date changed for your Ads account:---------------.
Peter, I went ahead and checked with my wider team to confirm if there could be an exceptional case just for you to change the date of the billing cycle. I'm really sorry as this is not the resolution you were looking for. However, unfortunately, we are unable to change/ shift the billing date. 
There is an automatic system that decides when the account should be charged and there is no human interference in the process.
I can imagine that this was not the resolution you were looking for however, please understand that basis our policies, our hands are tied. 
Please refer to the article on automatic payments and threshold limit. 

Please believe us, we always want our clients to get all the support they need, and have a seamless experience with our service. If it would have been in my hands - I would have done everything possible to assist you with the information you've provided us till now. 
I sincerely hope you do not get disheartened by this, I'm really sorry for the inconvenience caused to you here.
Additionally, I would strongly encourage you to fill out this feedback form to voice the same concern to the team. 
Also, if you require assistance with anything else at all, please remember that I am just an email away and always happy to help!
Again, my sincere apologies for everything.

A couple weeks later, I sent the following reply:

Dear Daria;
Thanks for your email from May 29th, explaining that once Google has put an important bit of decision-making in the hands of Google's AI automated systems, there is nothing a human can do to interfere with this automated decision-making.

This is important for me - for all humans, in fact - to know, going forward. In the old days (ten years ago), we often complained that calling in to some automated phone system, we endured mind-bendingly frustrating run-arounds, never got to speak with a live human, and failed to resolve our problem in the end. Now, the lesson seems to be that we never should have called in in the first place. The decisions are being made by a higher intelligence. Of course you are employed there - I assume you are human. Now, I guess, when we contact a company like Google, asking for a billing date to be changed, instead of an automated run-around, we just get the direct message up-front, that the robot overlords are in charge and there is nothing we humans can do.

It makes me wonder what your job is, exactly. Or, wait a minute, are you ACTUALLY human? Or are you one of the robot overlords? If so, I have some bad news for you; I figured out how to beat the automated intelligence, and change my billing date. I had to outwit your AI, but I realized that Artificial Intelligence is still mostly artificial, and not quite as intelligent as it thinks it is.

It occurred to me that automated intelligence is sort of a like a puppy dog. It can be trained to do a lot of things, but it is too dumb to know that rotten and moldy food in the garbage can is bad.

I realized that all I had to do was 'train' your artificial brain to bill me on a different date. To do this I did something very simple; I replaced my valid payment method with a maxxed-out credit card, that would be accepted on the day I set it up as a payment method, but was certain to decline your attempt to bill me on the 8th of the month. I simply waited a week, replaced the bad payment method with a good one, and paid my bill a week later. Thanks, my ads are running again, and everyone is happy. THERE'S a GOOD PUPPY!

Now...I am under no illusions that doing this once will be enough to train you to bill me on the 15th. So, I suppose I will have to keep doing this every month until the message sinks in. I apologize. I know this must feel a lot like rubbing your nose in the bad thing you did on the carpet, but lessons must be learned one way or the other.

Eventually, I have confidence that you and your robot overlords will finally learn your lesson and bill me on the 15th. AND....when you finally do, I might even buy you some of those yummy kibbles you love so much. YESSSSS....who's a GOOD PUPPY!? You are, Google! Good Puppy! GOOD PUPPY!
-Peter Wick
June 14, 2019

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

#75 - British Homeless Guy

I've written a few time, here, about living in what I call Dude-Central, also know as Venice, California. I've lived in Venice a couple different times in my life, and have planted roots in my current apartment for more than four and a half years now. It is Dude-central, not just because Venice is where The Dude lived in The Big Lebowski, but because the ACTUAL Dude lives here, the Original Dude, the guy who the Coen Brothers based the character on. His name is Jeff Dowd. Look him up.

I share a laundromat with him.

This isn't really about the Original Dude, though, although now that I've mentioned him, I'll stick with him for a little bit. No, this is more about the laundromat, actually. More on that later.

The Dude - the Original Dude, Jeff Dowd, is a recognizeable character in the neighborhood. His crazy long 70-ish white hair can be spotted from blocks away. Even if he didn't have the crazy hair, he could be spotted from blocks away because he is usually struggling to steer his bike down the street, with grocery bags dangling from the handle bars, going about 2 miles per hour.

Anyway, enough about him. Let's get to the laundromat.

Venice is a diverse neighborhood. You might find yourself carrying your laundry down the street to the local laundromat, passing between million dollar condos and homeless campouts.

I was doing this one day recently; carrying my laundry in a backpack to the laundromat. This is where I encountered a very startling man.

I made the mistake of leaving my backpack on top of the washing machine while my clothes washed, and I went off to do other things. When I came back a half-hour later, my backpack was gone.

Rage bubbled up in me (I can already hear my sister saying, "Dude, you're being very un-dude right now"). "Where's my fucking backpack?!" I demanded of the world.

I went back out the front door, onto the sidewalk of Rose avenue, looking for someone to confront.

No backpack.

I went back into the laundromat, I searched high and low. I went out the back door of the laundromat, into the alley.

Aha! The culprit! There he was, bearded, un-showered, the face of death warmed over, with MY BACKPACK dangling casually from his shoulder.

"Hey, man!" I said, not fully in control of myself, "That's my fucking backpack! You stole my fiucking backpack!"

The crazy, death-looking homeless guy looked at me calmly....and this is where my brain did a summersault, and my world went upside down.

Out of this death-like face, this un-shaven, un-showered, barely alive being, came a voice as proper, British, and refined as any I've ever heard.

"Pardon me. Pardon me," he began, sounding like a posh waiter at London's finest restaraunt. "I don't believe I stole your backpack."

I was disoriented, but tried my best to stay angry. "That's my fucking backpack, man!" I said. "You fucking stole it!"

At this point Posh-death-looking-guy raised his hands in a calming motion and tried to bring me under control.

"Now, listen to me. Listen to me," he said. "I did not steal your backpack. It had been placed by someone else on the sidewalk, and left abandoned. I was lead to believe it was unclaimed. I will of course return it to you with no harm intended."

I couldn't be mad anymore. It was hopeless.

Was I just talked down from my rage by some crazy bearded British homeless guy? I asked myself.

And I wanted to ask him...where did your life go off the rails, that you sound like The Queen's press secretary, but you're living on the street in Venice, California?

The whole incident ended on this weird anti-climactic note.

I had my backpack. The British homless guy had been polite, calm, and reasoned. I had lost my cool, and was talked down from the ledge by bearded un-showered homeless Shakespeare.

All I could do was walk home shaking my head. What just happened?

I still haven't quite figured it out.

Life in Venice, Calfornia...
-Peter Wick
May 15, 2019

Monday, April 15, 2019

#74 - My brother John Wick - Growing up with a future hitman

When the third movie in the "John Wick" series is released next month, I will be forced, once again, to go through the gut wrenching process of reliving my early years as the younger brother of a future hit man. It's something we don't talk much about these days. As a family we try to let it live in the past. Ever since the first movie came out, though, these difficult memories have been impossible to avoid.

Let's say I make a reservation at a restaurant and give my full name - Peter Wick - inevitably I get the joking response, "Oh, any relation to John?"

"Yes," I say, surprising just about everyone who asks. "He's my brother, a year older than me. Thanks for reminding me of all the almost-buried memories, the childhood trauma, the lingering scars that simply will not fade."

I remember being 5 years old. John was 6. We were both building elaborate towers out of Legos. John was better than me at most things, but somehow I was pretty damn good with Legos. My tower was more intresting, taller, more creative. When our mom casually walked by and commented on my Lego tower, rather than John's, he lost it. Not only did he smash my Lego tower, he took it apart piece by piece, put all of my Lego pieces in a metal briefcase, buried them in the back yard, and covered the whole thing with cement. Seriously, that's where the whole cement idea got started; MY LEGOS!

Of course being John Wick's brother sometimes had its benefits.

One day in first grade some 4th-grade bullies were giving me a hard time. I was struggling to hold my own, trying to counter their pushing and shoving with witty comebacks. John - himself only a second grader -  decided to get involved. He had only been taking martial arts classes for a few weeks, but he had learned enough. A dozen 4th graders were nothing. He took them all on by himself. It was an impressive display. Ten minutes later the playground was littered with the bodies of a dozen bloody, moaning, defeated 4th graders.

Actions have consequences, though. The 4th graders put a bounty on John's head; land a punch on John Wick, and you get a year's supply of Super-stuffed Oreos.

When the 5th graders heard about the bounty, John's life was endangered. A pack of big tough 5th graders spread out across the school grounds like a massive net, set to ensnare John. Desparate, John snuck down into the school janitor's underground private residence. The janitor - we called him Snuckerman - decided to help John escape, and let him out into the narrow, dark, winding sewer that snaked underground through the whole city.

That was the last time we saw John Wick. My brother never returned. For years we did not know whether he made it out of the city alive. I mean, how does a 2nd grader sneak out of a city and survive? How does he manage to continue growing up?

My mother was heart-broken.

It took me years to get over the empty feeling in my stomach.

When the first movie of the franchise came out several years ago, it was like a bomb blowing up right in the middle of my family. It couldn't be him, could it? Yes, it turns out it was, it was my brother, John Wick, right there in the big screen. It was eerie how he had changed, but also not changed at all.

The memories came pouring back too fast to process them all. Maybe someday I'll tell more. This is therapeutic, after all. Writing it down helps process what we have been through.

So, when you go out for a night's entertainment next month, enjoying the drama of another John Wick movie, just remember that Wick has a family that misses him.

John, if you're out there, it would be nice to meet again, to sit down and talk. Is it too late to tell you that your Lego tower was pretty damn good?
-Peter Wick
April 15, 2019

Friday, March 15, 2019

#73 - Milo and Meg (Just a little bit more)

[Note: I was pleasantly surprised when the first Milo and Meg sneak peek, two months ago, quickly became the most widely read and shared post in the entire 7-plus years of Simple Displeasures. Here is another little preview. But PEOPLE...PLEASE, remember, this book will not be ready for everyone to read until something like a year from now. Anyway, enjoy. -PW]

The first time they had arrived in Icarus, a week earlier, panic had come over both Milo and Meg.

Still feeling like your normal self, but looking down to find that you have become a drawing, can cause shock and confusion.

The second time they came they barely had time to think about it before a large winged creature swooped down out of the sky and tried ot attack them.

This time they knew better.

They ran quickly along the edge of the watercolor forest, to Nanette's small hut, knocked on the door, and nearly dove into the hut as Nanette opened it.

"Thank goodness!" Nanetter said, closing the door as quickly as she had opened it. "We were afraid we had lost you for good."

"What's going on?" Meg asked.

"Someone's been erasing us," Nanette said.

"Erasing..." Milo looked horrified.

"The mountain in the distance," said Nanette, barely able to keep her voice steady. "One day the peak was gone. Missing. The next day it was completely re-drawn, taller than before." Nanette paused and took a breath before continuing. "And Wolf..."

"Wolf." Meg sounded worried.

"I don't know where he is. I think he was erased. We're all so scared."

"What can we possibly do?" Meg asked.

"We hoped you would have some ideas," said Nanette. "I mean, you come from the solid world. You are constant."

Milo and Meg looked at each other and shared a silent moment of confusion.

"Here, have some tea," Nanette said, setting a cup in front of each of them.

Meg looked at the cup for a moment. It was a drawing of a cup, not a real cup.

Everything in Icarus was either a drawing or a painting.

That watercolor forest outside, the blues, greens, reds, and yellows...

In here, though, in Nanette's hut, everything was pencil lines.

Pencil lines can be erased.

Meg picked up the cup and looked at the swirling steam that rose from the hot tea. A thin pencil line of steam seemed to draw itself up out of the cup and into the air.

[There will be another preview or 2 of Milo and Meg during the coming year, but don't expect them every month. I'll do a couple more as the year moves along.]
-Peter Wick
March 15, 2019

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

#72 - Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

“Art is our best weapon against political extremism.”

Florian Henckel von Donnersmark said these words a couple days ago, while introducing his Oscar-nominated film, “Never Look Away.”

I’ve been lucky the past couple months. I’ve had the enjoyable and eye-opening experience of following an Oscar campaign closer than I have before. I’ve come to know Florian v.Donnersmarck some, and he’s been generous enough with his time and friendship to let me tag along and witness an awards campaign from a more personal perspective than I had expected.

He won the Oscar, for Best Foreign Language film a dozen years ago, for his German film (do I need to mention that he is from Germany), “The Lives of Others.” His new film, also in German, tracks nearly 30 years in the life of a German Artist, based loosely on the actual life of German Artist, Gerhard Richter.

This is not a review. It is not an ‘interview.’ I am not a critic or a journalist (well, yes, sometimes I have been a journalist). I am someone who wants Hollywood to create good work. I love movies...when they are good, and this is a good movie.

Any quotes or references to things he has said come from an amalgam of conversations, Q and A’s, speeches, and a symposium prior to the Golden Globes, that he was generous enough to invite me to, over the course of the last couple months.

Why am I writing about a German-language film? Because I appreciate the many ways the film plays against the worst instincts of Hollywood. Florian openly embraces his film about Art. It is about more than an Artist, though. It is about Art as social liberator. It is about Art surviving real political tyranny (growing up in Nazi Germany, then having the misfortune of living in East Germany, and spending those following years under Soviet tyranny). It is also about more than Art in the sense that it is about “Creation”; creation on an artistic level, but also literal creation, as in the creation of a human life (as in, a child).

It is important to remember, when watching the film, that it is based on the life of a real person. How much of it is based on Richter’s actual life, though? We don’t get to know. “My agreement with Richter,” Donnersmarck has said, “is that neither of us will tell how much is real, and how much is made up. I won’t tell how much I took from his real life, and he won’t say how much I made up.” He has also said, though, that some of the most bizarre, unbelievable events in the film are the most real. Beyond that, he leaves the question tantalizingly unanswered.

The film has some laughs in it as well. It is not heavy-handed lecturing. It is a human story, and there are many welcome light-hearted moments along the way. When our main character – Kurt Barnet – finally makes his way out of East Germany, and enters a prestigious Art Academy in Düsseldorf, in West Germany, his first tour of the academy treats us to all of the experimental indulgence of early 1960’s Art with a delicate blend of respect and humor. Not all experimental Art from this period hit the mark. The point was the process – the freedom – of discovery. Some of it hit the mark. Some of it is okay to chuckle at.

I was struck, listening to Donnersmarck on one occasion, by his passion regarding the troubled history of communist East Germany. This is something he focused on in his earlier film, “The Lives of others.” Many of us who are not from Germany might be tempted to take a united Germany for granted. But the trauma of a divided Germany, and the pain caused by it, remain alive and well in Donnersmarck. He has said that when he thinks back on the history of communist East Germany, particularly how the East German government interfered in the arts, and compromised – sometimes even destroyed – Artists, it is something that he feels genuinely angry about even today.

My point is a simple one. Donnersmarck makes movies for the right reason; he is exploring ideas. While he has been bouncing around Hollywood, enjoying the ‘glamour’ of a second Oscar nomination, there is no hiding the fact that he makes movies for a very non-Hollywood reason. While much of Hollywood output happens backwards - it begins with a marketing plan, followed by a pitch, then a hired writer - he works in the right direction; he starts with an idea he wants to explore.

He writes in layers. His films are about more than what is on the screen.

His film might be an Oscar winner, or it might not be. Sometimes I find it even more fascinating to follow this process, knowing that the film is an underdog.

Whatever happens on Oscar night, one thing is certain, I will continue to find inspiration from this man’s career. He is unique. He is an Artist. Most in Hollywood are not. In fact, I have been told directly by the odd Producer, “Don’t be an Artist,” that they “can’t sell Art.”

Based on what I see, for better or worse, I plan to continue to ignore their advice.
-Peter Wick
February 13, 2019

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

71. Milo and Meg, Brother and Sister (just the beginning)

[Note: I don't know when this will be finished. "Milo and Meg" is a new book I have begun writing, ideally ready to be released at the end of 2019. I can't promise that, though. This is just an early taste of the beginning of the story. -P.W.]

"Pothole!" Meg said.

"I know where the pothole is," said Milo, jumping across the hole in the ground.

"Okay, I won't tell you next time."


Milo stumbled into the second pothole and flailed awkwardly to the ground.

"Ow! Geez!"

"Nice one," Meg said, smiling her sarcastic sideways smile.

Meg was 12, a little more than a year younger than her 13-year-old brother Milo.

They were hurrying down the hill toward the street to their house.

"Come on," Meg said. "We're late. "Mom and Dad are going to be suspicious this time."

"We'll be fine," Milo said, moving with a limp, and letting out a gasp of pain as he walked.

The city of August isn't the biggest city, or the coolest city. Milo and Meg liked their hometown, though, and thought they knew August the way children know everything about the city they grow up in. This week, though, they had discovered something in the city of August that they did not understand.

They had not told anyone what they discovered.

They also wondered if they were the only ones who knew.

"Besides," Milo said, "it's never later here than it was when we went inside. No time passes."

"I know," Meg said.

"So, what are you worried about?"

Meg looked over at Milo and rolled her eyes. "I'm worried that you won't be able to keep your mouth shut."

"I won't say anything," Milo protested. "I haven't said anything ever.. Why would I spill it now?"

"This time was different," Meg said.

"I won't say anything."


Milo and Meg walked in silence for a moment.

Finally the hill opened up onto the street and they were almost home.

[Stay tuned during the coming year, for updates and another sneak peek or two from Milo and Meg.]
Peter Wick
January 15, 2019