Saturday, April 13, 2024

124 - That's...ACTING!

I'm a little bit worried that readers will think this is totally self-serving, so I want to start by saying that the TV episode I am discussing terrible....TERRIBLE! badly conceived and terribly written, even cringe-bad at times.

I had not watched it in full since it was new 30 years ago. Trust me when I say, I watched you don't have to.

What we're talking about is an episode from the final season of L.A. Law from 1994. I was hired as an extra, a jury-member. It was a 3-day gig. I would not have any lines. Extras don't speak on camera. But I had been through my actor-training, and acting teachers will often remind you that acting is often just listening, listening and reacting.

So... I showed up on the set ready to listen and react. As terrible as the show was, sometimes I look at some of my reactions and think, "Maybe that was the best acting I've ever done in my life."

That has to be a joke, right? I don't really want you to agree with it...or do I? I mean, I have new stuff. Just in the last month I completed and released the full audiobook of my novel How To Confuse A.I. and, you know, it's voice only, but I think as a bit of voice acting it ain't too bad.

But back to the no good horrible terrible episode of L.A. Law, the episode that maybe, just maybe, was the best acting I've ever done.

Dark sweater, glasses, just off the lawyer's left shoulder.

The court case we were deliberating involved three mountain climbers. They were unexpectedly trapped in a blizzard, on the side of a mountain, for 22 days. One was in pretty bad shape, but the other two weren't far behind him. know, the two who were not quite as bad off did the only thing that made sense under the circumstances...they killed their friend and ate him.

As the trial played out, we sat through a series of lawyers - both prosecution and defense - questioning their way through the tragic story. It was gruesome at times. As an actor - as a jury member - I just tried to, you know, listen and react. So I'm just going to run a half-dozen screen shots in a row. that's me, this time in the dark red sweater, listening to different lawyers takes on the events at hand:

And then there's this one. Down toward the end of this row, with my hand to my mouth, looking like I'm about to throw up, this is my reaction directly after the prosecutor said something along the lines of, "Maybe you should have thought about that before you killed your friend, hacked off his leg, and cannibalized him."

Ladies and gentlemen...That's...ACTING!

And in the end this brings us to the close-up. I still remember that shot. They put the camera right on me. It was intimidating. Don't let anyone tell you that acting is easy. Having a big square camera lens right in your face, knowing that you have to ignore it, stay focused, and continue with what you are doing - listening and reacting - is a big deal. One of the defense lawyers was giving his summation. I had to stay focused.  Not only did I have to stay focused. I also had to put out of my mind the fact that I thought this whole story, this whole episode was absurd, bad, the result Hollywood pressures and deadlines taking precedence over quality writing or story-telling. But there it is. That close-up...

That, my!

Peter Wick
April 13, 2024

Thursday, March 14, 2024

123 - Driving (as a job)

 I don't know how Uber got my email address. I don't know why they thought I should be an Uber Driver. I appreciate the thought, I guess.

I've known a couple people who have driven for Uber, so I don't want to sound too annoyed. I don't actually need income from driving, but, Uber, you're missing the main point:

I must NEVER have driving as a job, ever again.

I did it back in the late 1990s. For six months I was a delivery driver for Pagliacci Pizza in Seattle. It did not end well.

For six months I drove around Seattle's University District, rolling through stop signs, parking illegally, making questionable decisions behind the wheel - usually for the sake of TIME, you know, since I had  to get back to the restaurant to get the next delivery.

Slowly, steadily, through the course of these six months, my previously perfect driving record began to take a hit. One ticket after another slowly began to accumulate. 

A single ticket for rolling through a stop sign might feel like a simple annoyance. Five tickets for rolling through stop signs is an alarm bell!

Driving too fast in a school zone...

I don't even remember every ticket. There were a lot of them.

Then there was the one that landed me in court...

It was a Saturday afternoon around 4:30pm. A football game had just ended. The University of Washington Huskies had won, and the traffic jam around Husky Stadium was intense.

I had just delivered a pizza, and needed to get back to the restaurant quickly, because the other driver scheduled at the time had called out sick. I was the only one. My mind was racing with illegal plans to get out of football traffic and back to the restaurant.

Unfortunately for me, Police officers were directing traffic at every important intersection. I wanted to turn left at 50th Street. An officer was in the middle of the intersection directing everyone to continue north. No turns were allowed. I was desperate, so I went north through the intersection as he wanted me to, but then I swung left into a gas station, and tried to get onto 50th that way. The next thing I knew, the officer was running toward me with what appeared to be steam coming out of his ears.

I hit reverse and began to back up, realized I probably shouldn't, stopped the car, got out, and prepared myself for another ticket.

He dropped 'Refusal to Obey an Officer' on me. A criminal misdemeanor.

Let me just say at this point that I do not have any criminal record. I am as clean as could be. This would have been the only thing.

I was scheduled for a court date. After bluffing my way into stating that I would represent myself at trial, the Prosecutor came back three weeks later with an offer to drop it to just an expensive traffic ticket. He offered to let the misdemeanor go away. I agreed. I have since bragged that I successfully represented myself in court. The truth is that the prosecutor just had too many serious cases to deal with, and did not have time for mine.

Then... six months into the job, after all the tickets, after the court case, after everything else that already suggested that I should not have driving as a job, came...the BIG FINISH!

It was one of those dark, drizzly December nights that make Seattle a slightly treacherous place to drive, especially, if your car has questionable de-fogging and the windows are covered with steam.

I was slowly trying to turn left from 42nd onto Roosevelt, I say 'slowly' because I could barely see through my windshield. I figured if I went slowly enough I wouldn't hit anything. Then I suddenly realized that there was a college-age girl dressed all in black on the crosswalk right in front of me.

Well, when I say, 'in front of me,' what I really mean is that...uh...she...uh...was bouncing off the front of my car.

Yes...I hit a girl with my car (going only 2 miles an hour).

I pulled to the curb immediately, ran to her, where she sat on the pavement, getting rained on and holding her knee. Another man helped me stand her up. she limped a little. We got her out of the rain and into a small hotel lobby on the corner.

Police came.

I took the blame. I admitted it was my fault.

Fortunately the girl was not seriously hurt. I had to set her up with my insurance, which ended up covering some small amount of physical therapy she had to do for her minor leg injury. We had to call each other as the therapy and my insurance were worked out. We talked on the phone several times over the next few weeks.

Weirdly, we started getting along pretty well over the phone.

We were getting along well enough that I started thinking to myself, "Hey, this isn't a bad way to meet a girl...hit her with your car."

Anyway...I stopped driving. The management of the restaurant pulled me into the office the next day and said, "Peter, we think you should move into the kitchen and be a cook."

I stayed at Pagliacci as a cook for several more years.

I have done a lot of driving since then. I've driven the north-south length of America's west coast - Seattle to L.A. and back - so many times I can't even count them. But I have never again driven as a job.

And I never will.

I think there is some official list somewhere that includes me among people who are banned from driving jobs.

So, sorry Uber, but I have to serve the safety of the public.

You're welcome, world...

Peter Wick

March 14, 2024

Thursday, February 15, 2024

122 - It's The Law

 In Baltimore, Maryland it is illegal to take a lion to the movies. This is a true thing.

This brings up the obvious question; who took a lion to the movies, and what did that lion do that made the city write a new law?

"Excuse me, sir, but your lion is eating the children."

"Oh, man, sorry. My bad."

"Yes, but what are you going to do about the children?"

"Um, well, uh, you can have one of  mine."

A Minnesota law states that it is illegal to cross state lines with a duck on top of your head.

Hm, this one, if you ask me, is a prime example of legal over-reach. I mean, the lion at the movies, I get that, but what serious damage can a duck on top of your head do, other than a little damage to your reputation?

In Nevada, apparently, it is illegal to drive a camel on the highway.

In Marion, Ohio, you cannot eat a donut and walk backwards on a city street.

In Myrtle Creek, Oregon, it is illegal for you to box with a kangaroo.

So, you know, do what I do, Anytime I want to box with a kangaroo I head up the freeway to the lawless town of Roseburg. Kangaroo boxing runs rampant in Roseburg. Have fun!

In Fountain Inn, South Carolina, there is a law still on the books from years ago, requiring horses to wear pants. At least I assume this law is from years ago. I could be wrong. Maybe this is a recent development. Maybe in the modern world of educated horses, they feel a need to get dressed.

In West Virginia, in the town of Wilbur, it is illegal to walk a lion, tiger, or leopard around town, even if they are on a leash. Wait a minute, let's go back to Baltimore, where you cannot bring a lion into a movie theater. Are you telling me it is NOT illegal, in Baltimore, to walk your lion around town on a leash? I lion likes movies, but at least in Baltimore I can take him for a walk on a leash.

Pack up, Simba. We're moving!

Peter Wick

February 15, 2024

Saturday, January 13, 2024

121 - The Pigeon In The Fountain Bed

 If you had told me, back in the day, when I was a teenager, that decades later we would be talking about The Pigeon In The Fountainbed, not only would I have told you you were crazy, I might have even been a little bit horrified.

There are few different ways I could tell this story. Let's start sometime in mid 2022, when I listened to my old friend Mark Arm on Marc Maron's WTF podcast. He spent an hour answering questions about the history of 'Grunge' music. He talked about his memories of Kurt Cobain and some of the shows he and the band Mudhoney spent on the road with Nirvana. He talked about his good friends in Pearl Jam and how they navigated the craziness of sudden fame so much better than Nirvana did (there are several videos on youtube if you want to see Mark performing as a guest with Pearl Jam - they're fun to watch!). Then, toward the end of the podcast, they went back to the beginning. Mark began talking about the teenage years, a decade before the Grunge explosion. They talked about Mark's first band, Mr. Epp and The Calculations (named for a high school math teacher). This is when Mark talked briefly about...well...about me.

"Peter," he said, "quit the band to be a writer."

He has mentioned this a few other times in interviews, and I always respond with a mix of pride, laughter, and yes, a tiny bit of embarrassment.

I've actually talked to Mark about this a little bit, and all these years later, he still thinks it was a strange moment; a rag tag band, who could barely even play instruments at the time, losing a member because I thought they would become famous, and this wasn't the kind of fame I wanted.

It might seem strange, but a decade later, when Seattle and Grunge were suddenly rewriting the history of music, I felt a little bit vindicated.

I grew up in a very musical household. My dad - who had once been a jazz saxophone guy before he ever met my mom (something he almost refused to talk about when we were growing up) taught saxophone and clarinet to high school band students. My mom taught piano lessons. I got a few occasional piano lessons from her, but never on a consistent enough basis (I was never a paying student, and often dropped down the list of her teaching priorities) to ever become any good.

But as a creative teenager who was drawn to writers, comedians and filmmakers, as well as ground-breaking musicians, it was a natural for me to fall in with this wild group of creative teenagers who, among other creative projects, wanted to buy cheap instruments and try playing punk rock.

There was a 'real' drummer in the group, and it was the real drummer's bedroom that became our practice space. The 'real' drummer, though, didn't want to be in the band at first, basically because he was really good, and the rest of us, well, weren't. So for a while I was the drummer, but not for the first thing we actually recorded. The first thing we actually recorded was a noisy, experimental improvised jam session, with me on vocals reading a short story I had written. This was The Pigeon in the Fountainbed.

We did it because a local radio station promised to play something from every tape submitted by a local band.

So we sent Pigeon to the radio station, where the DJ introduced the song by calling us, "The worst band in the world" (you can also read this little bit of history on Mark Arm's Wikipedia page).

After Pigeon had it's moment, everyone sort of moved on. The band got more focused on being a punk band. I played drums until I quit 'to be a writer.' The 'real' drummer eventually joined. Bands split up and formed new bands. Mark and Steve Turner (who was in Epp for its final year in 1984) formed Green River, which (this is way over-simplifying) eventually split up into the two bands, Mudhoney and Pearl Jam.

I never heard The Pigeon in the Fountainbed again for decades. I actually thought it had been lost. I didn't even have any record of the written short story (which I thought was ok, since it was pretentious and over-written, in that way teenagers are prone to over-do things).

Then it turns out, this past year, Smitty (original Epp co-founder) was collaborating with a production company working on a Grunge documentary for Showtime (this documentary is currently on hold due to Hollywood company mergers). Smitty had sent them the original Pigeon cassette tape, which apparently was still listenable, and they transferred it to a digital version. I was also in touch with someone involved in this documentary, and through this connection, we have been able to listen to The Pigeon in the Fountainbed for the first time in decades.

It seems strange to say it, but I kind of like it.

Maybe I'm a little bit biased. It's not really punk. It's more like a weird experimental alternative kind of thing.

So...SOMEDAY....someday, we will release this old thing out to the world.

Someday...stay tuned.

Peter Wick

January 13, 2024