Finally, A Perc From My Job!

April 29th, 2003

I’ll be brief, because it’s late (enough), and I have miles in the morning. I just got in from a screening of ‘X2: X-Men Unite’ at 20th Century Fox’s corporate screening room.

Finally, a perc from my job!

There were a dozen people there. The theater held 24 people. It was a brand-new print. The floor shook when stuff blew up. It was really amazing. And the film itself was cool too. It’s really well acted, for a bloackbuster, and fairlu nuanced for a film based on a comic book. And in it’s way it’s kind of touching and meaningful, believe it or not. Deep and simple, no. But watching the millions and millions of gears that keep this film moving so seemlessly is really a treat. Hollywood does have it’s skill set.

Back home now, I’m fighting the urge to buy a 15G iPod. I keep waiting for them to get cheaper, but they only get better. And with the iTunes Music Store, Apple may finally be onto something. We’ll see how long I can resist. I think it’s futile. But there would be something sad about finally being able to run to music. I wouldn’t hear the birds and the water and the — I know I know — cabs and horns and tired screaching and jets flying and… we’ll see. Now though, a grapefruit for desert (I miss ice cream), and off to bed. G’night.

Sleepless

April 28th, 2003

Monday. Couldn’t sleep. First it was the sugar buzz from fat-free yogurt. Then it was trucks on 10th Avenue. Then my neighbors came home and stomped around upstairs, all laughter and “shhhhhhh!” Then it was my allergies: eyes itching, sticky, couldn’t breath, headache. Finally said ‘fuck it,’ at 5:30, and got out of bed.

Logged on and checked the news: nothing. Ran — not fun. Went to CVS — toothpaste and Kleenex. Took laundry in — good work! (It’s only been a month since I did laundry last.) Went to work. You get the idea.

Special thanks, though, to Justin callin’ in from somewhere in Ohio with props for “Crash Site” and “Summer’s Gone.” Just when you think everyone’s forgotten, no one’s listening. And damned if m’ man didn’t play my “What’s Playing” game! Check his shiznit out:

CD: ‘Crash Site’
DVD: ‘Almost Famous’
TV: Everwood
Radio: John Mayer, “Why Georgia”
WWW: usatoday.com
Text: Conversational Chinese 301

Read the word ‘Breathless’ on my website tonight (before falling into the pool of my own reflection and drowning), then went into the livingroom, picked up my guitar and tried to turn it into something. Every chord sounded like every other chord I’ve ever played. Abandoned the pursuit when my father called from an interstate somewhere in Indiana, then went back to reading other people’s blogs.

So… now… me, back to bed. Pollen count is 11.8 out of 12, so it should be another miserable night if tossing, turning, wheezing. Sleep tight, wherever you are.

Documentary

April 26th, 2003

I woke from a fitful sleep to the sound of grinding metal. A mere 150 feet across the street at precisely the elevation of my bedroom window, workmen are cutting, hammering, welding and power-sanding the immense iron structure supporting the huge wooden barrel that supplies water to the Interboro Continuing Education center. It’s an agonizing sound, coupled with the din of traffic, the LaGuardia landing pattern, and my upstairs neighbor practicing his French horn.

And so I set out running towards Central Park through the cold spring drizzle. Once inside the park, the city slipped away. I ran along The Lake, twisting, turning and climbing over the empty wooded path. I heard only the rain on the leaves, the patter of my feet on the pavement, and the sound of my breath. I saw flowers of every color, birds of every stripe. There, in the small sliver of the city, all was well with the world.

Back home now, the workers seem to be on break. Joni Mitchell, Simon and Garfunkle, Nick Drake, Van Morrison, and Bob Dylan are on shuffle in the living room. I’m drinking coffee, and scanning movie listings to idle away this rainy Saturday. I’m going to catch a documentary downtown, “A Decade Under the Influence,” Ted Demme’s portait of 70’s Hollywood.

Next week, the Tribeca Film Festival has its second run, and I’m planning on taking in some panels, especially the one on documentary filmmaking with D.A. Pennybaker (who shot Dylan’s “Don’t Look Back”), Chris Hegedus (“Startup.com”), and — oddly enough — Steve Rosenbaum, my brother’s former boss, and thusly, the man partly responsible for my being here in New York City.

Both of which, hopefully, will inform my aspiration to follow through with my Mister Rogers documentary, “Mister Rogers & Me.” I had given up on it after his death, but have recently been considering how to make it happen without him, how to portray him, to ‘spread his message,’ without him addressing the camera. I’m sending a letter to his wife Joanne this week, and am hopeful. I hope to get to Nantucket for a weekend in early summer, prior to my annual Labor Day sojourn, to shoot some footage for a trailer. In my mind, the film begins just as the stoy ends, that is, I’m imagining the narrative structure of “Mister Rogers & Me” to follow the essay I wrote the day he passed away (read “Mr. Rogers: Deep & Simple” to see what I mean). I want to do it, to make it, for me, my family and friends. For him. And if it gets bigger, and is seen by more people, terrific. But I want to do it for the right reasons, for deep and simple motivations.

Stay tuned…

Easter Weekend Epiphany

April 20th, 2003

There’s a horrible squeaking on my rail car, Amtrak Acela Express #2214, bound from Philadelphia to New York City. But at least I’m sitting down. I left Paoli Station, just minutes from my mother’s bucolic suburban home, at 6:15, almost four hours ago. But it’s Easter Sunday, and all the good Catholics were returning home, so it was standing room only. 30 minutes later, by Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, I’d had enough, and opted off the train in favor of a few Grey Goose and tonics with a friend from high school. So now I’m on the train, three drinks and a tuna salad later, pondering a visit to the cafe car for another drink.

So… what did I do, what did I learn, what is my Doogie Howser epiphany from this Easter weekend?

Well, I was motivated to come home by a dinner invite from great old friend. She’d been recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, just days after another old friend (my God, we’re only barely 30!) was diagnosed with breast cancer. So just an hour and a half after leaving work, I was in downtown Philly, looking up at Billy Penn, wondering why I didn’t know my way around a city I grew up just 15 miles from. And wondering just what all these frosted-haired and GOP-ish Philadelphians did with themselves in this vacant, concrete town.

Dinner was fun. It was disorienting to be around these people with whom I’d spent so much time so many years ago. How do they remember me? Who do they think I am? Aspiring rock star? Aspiring media executive? Aspiring filmmaker? Stoner? Former stoner? The guy who got his jaw broken? I’m reminded of ‘The Breakfast Club.’

“Dear Mr. Vernon: We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it is we did wrong, but we think you’re crazy for making us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.”

The answer is always ‘All of the above,’ And was thusly in the aforementioned scenario.

Saturday morning, I met one of the guys and ran in Valley Forge National Park, bastion of all that is good and right in suburban Philadelphia. It is, in fact, the very place that George Washington and the Continental Army spent the winter of 1773 waiting out the British. It is, in fact, the place that I had sweaty summertime car sex (yes, vinyl seats) with my high school girlfriend. It is, now, the place I crave to be to run. The Kenyans run there, the guys who win the Marathon over and over and over. ‘Train hard, win easy,’ they say, climbing the sloping, waist high grassy hills. The air was cool and sweet. My lungs burned. My calves ached. It was great.

I spent the afternoon zooming over country roads in my mom’s Mazda Miata, singing U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” imagining that some day this would be my home: huge green lawns, old stone houses, sheep in the backyard, a studio in the barn.

This morning, I ran again, solo. There are two mountains in the park, Mt. Joy, and Mt. Misery. Today, I tackled Joy, and only flirted with Misery, tracing the shadows along Valley Creek, looking out for trout in the shallow pools. Back home, I surfed cable (hey, I don’t have TV in New York), read the Sunday New York Times (allbeit with no City section), and idled the hours away on the back porch in the sun. My heart slowed, my blood pressure slipped, and I felt myself settling in.

“Do you know where we are?” my annoyed seat mate just inquired. “New Jersey,” I said. The train has been stopped for over ten minutes. The conducted has warned of “technical difficulties.” The air smells like bathroom. It is hot. It is neither fast, nor convenient, as the flashing sign overhead suggests. I am, however, at least 30 miles closer to home. And I assume that, sometime between my buzz wearing off, this journal entry ending, and the start of the new work week, I will arrive in New York City.

My Doogie Howser epiphany? Well, I’m older, I guess, by 54 hours anyway. Reborn? Resurrected? Maybe, just a little bit. I guess that’ll have to do.

Random Notes

April 17th, 2003

I’ve sat down to my Powerbook a few times this week to update The Daily Journal, but found myself lacking anything of real merit to say. I realized tonight that there are a few loose threads to sew up, some unfinished business to tend too…

First, the fun stuff: my music. As you’ll recall, I recorded some new live acoustic tracks a few weeks ago. I refer to them as the ‘JFK/LAX Demos,’ being as they were written over the last 12 months as I flew back and forth from New York to Los Angeles. I expect that some of the songs (certainly ‘California’ and ‘Intent on St. Paul’) will make the next release, whatever it is, and whenever it comes, but for the meantime I wanted to share the mp3s with you. I’ll try and offer up some cover art tomorrow for those of you who are into that sort of thing.

What else? The War. Weeks ago, I was reading about it every day, writing about it every night, and worrying about it every minute. Last week, after the statue ‘fell,’ my dad calls again goes, ‘So what did you think of those pictures from Baghdad?’ Well, I thought lotsa’ things. Like that it was a Hollywood War, a ‘Wag The Dog’ war, a staged start, and a staged finish. As it began, I was concerned with the anger it would create internationally, the repercussions on the ‘Arab street.’ I will, however, give the military credit: it appeared to be an evolved war (which I acknowledge is an oxymoron) in it’s attempt to minimize collateral damage. And it was swift, as wars go. So I hope we were doing the right thing with good intentions. But I remain dubious.

Other random notes:

I just finished watching John Sayles ‘Sunshine State,’ a brilliantly assembled and nuanced ensemble film. I’m onto the director’s commentary now.

I’m taking the train to Philadelphia tomorrow to have dinner with some friends from high school, and decompress a little bit in the rolling green hills of Valley Forge.

I love the new Pete Yorn record. Buy it. It’s just $7.99 at most record stores this week (a trick to goose it’s first week’s sales).

I got my haircut tonight very short.

Every Racer Has Story

April 13th, 2003

Today was a stunning day: bright sun, cloudless sky, crisp air. I ran the Niketown Run for the Park with my brother, his wife, and 4700 other runner. It was a shorty — 4 miles in 29:29 — but I ran it pretty quickly for me (7:22/mile). And standing at the finish, I was reminded why I love running so much. I love watching people dig that deep for something. Every racer has a story, everyone’s there for their own reasons, fighting their own fight, racing their own race. Myself included.

Back home, I cooked us brunch, we read the Sunday New York Times (the real reason God took Sunday off), and I felt Jen’s tummy as their baby-to-be hiccupped inside, which was amazing. Then I hopped on my bike (a purple Cannondale M900) and rode up to Riverside Park (not far from where they shot the end of “You’ve Got Mail”) where I hung out with my cousin Brian, his wife Roxane, and their 2-year-old Nora, who is just as cute as can be. It was a perfect day in the park: kids everywhere, puppies, smiling couples. I had dinner with my mom and Chris and Jen, took the subway home, read some more paper, and now here I am talkin’ to you.

It was a good weekend, the kind you wait all winter for, the kind Nora Ephron makes movies about. My windows were open, my apartment was clean, I felt pretty healthy, pretty happy. Generally, I can’t complain. Anyway, who would listen?

Stay Tuned

April 12th, 2003

My windows are wide open. Outside, the chirp of birds and the buzz of traffic in equal measure. Looking up, the sky is bright blue. It’s 6:22 p.m., and the sun has yet to set. Finally, it’s springtime. And not a moment too soon.

I went to the Knicks game last night with bassist Tony Maceli. Not long into the first quarter, he asked me what’s up with my music. ‘Are we ever gonna’ perform again?’ he asked. He doesn’t know. You don’t know. And truthfully, I don’t know.

It seems like a long time since I’ve talked about it. I can tell you this: I knew I’d take a hiatus after last year’s Summer’s Gone Tour, I just didn’t know how it would manifest itself, or how long it would last. Well, it manifested itself in a) everything I play on guitar sounding rote b) every lyric sounding like a retread. It manifested itself in not rehearsing, not booking shows, and not really wanting to.

I did demo new songs in January. And I have had ideas: within the last few days, I’ve jotted down new lyric ideas, and recorded a few new melodies. And I just did my taxes, grounding me firmly in the financial reality of this singer/songwriter sideline of mine.

I will continue to record, and release CDs in limited runs. So stay tuned. I can assure you that there will be more to hear, and I can assure Tony that we will rock again.

The Graduate

April 9th, 2003

Today began on Continental flight #369, seat 14B (the middle seat, a.k.a. “riding bitch”), arriving Newark, New Jersey, from Las Vegas, Nevada. I fell asleep just moments after takeoff (23:00 PT), and slept soundly until just seconds before landing (7:00 ET). I staggered off the jetway, stumbled zombie-like to Starbucks, grabbed my bag, got my car, and slept all the way to 56th & Tenth.

I dragged my bags upstairs, walked into my apartment (‘Nice place,’ I thought to myself), and lay down for a 45 minute power nap before work. I slept longer than I planned, woke in a flurry and walked bleary-eyed to work. There, nausious from unrest, I attempted to blend into my surroundings and get back to the day-to-day of MTV News. Meanwhile, on CNN, Baghdad fell.

I’m home now. My apartment is clean and quiet. It’s dark outside, still cold like winter. I’m spent.

I was exhausted with Las Vegas by the time I left last night. I was tired of talking about business models, revenue streams, broadband, wi-fi, gigabites, leveraging assets, digitizing video, on demand, in demand, MTV, CNN… you get the idea. I mean, I asked for it; I asked to go. I wanted the weekend. I wanted the sunshine. I wanted the morning run in Red Rock Canyon. And, to be fair, I wanted the career experience.

The National Association of Broadcasters experience reminded me of one thing: “The Graduate.” Mr. McGuire says to Benjamin, “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? … Plastics.” I mean, that’s it. That’s all there is.

Some guys sell LED news tickers. Some guys sell coaxial cable. Some guys sell nonlinear video editing software. Some guys sell plastics. Me (by day, that is, ‘cuz you can always buy a record to support the alternative), I sell editorial content, aka the stuff between the ads. And that’s crass, and oversimplified, and maybe a little pessemistic (which I think I should be afforded on account of exhaustion), but fundamentally, that’s it.

And so I tell myself that this is growing up, this is adulthood, this is why they call it work. And I look forward to those moments when the air is cool and fresh, the sky is blue and streaked with sun, my heart is bursting from speed, my legs burning from pace, and my mind clear for the peace.

What Freedom Feels Like

April 7th, 2003

I went running early this morning in Red Rock Canyon in the mountains west of Las Vegas. It was, in short, as beautiful, peaceful, and awe-inspiring a place that I’ve been to in months. It was stark contrast to the faux-opulance I’ve been taking in here in Vegas, but the entire experience helped me better appreciate the giant neon flags waving over The Strip.

As I drove back to my hotel amidst the startling blue western sky, past the sandy buttes and deep crimson, Pete Yorn playing full blast, I think I finally got it; I think I finally smelled, finally saw, and finally remembered just what freedom feels like. And I think I finally do get what we’re fighting for.

Which comes with added irony here and now: I’m in my room 350 feet or so above The Strip, the sun is setting, the Treasure Island pirate show is booming below, and on MSNBC they’re reporting that Saddam may be dead. In a way, I couldn’t be in a more American place, for better and worse.

Las Vegas is the American Dream. It is a city built from nothing. It is a city that for all intents and purposes — save for the inginuity of man’s engineering wit — shouldn’t be here. It is a city that promises the possibility of instant wealth; instant transformation, where a poor kid from Tupalo, Hoboken, or Roanoke can put on a pinky ring, grab a mic, and make good. I honestly don’t know what to make of it all.

At the end of the day, I’m still shocked and awed at the utter grayness, the complete complexity of life.

On Hold With Wayne Newton

April 6th, 2003

I’m on hold with the Wayne Newton Theater. It’s Sunday night. In less than an hour, I will bow before Mr. Las Vegas, Mr. Excitement, himself. I’m in The Venitian Hotel, 33 floors above the famed Las Vegas Strip. Everyhere I go in this town, every set piece and gold-plating I take in I think, ‘This is what we’re fighting for?’