2006: Through the Looking Glass


In the words of Ok Go, here it goes again...

2006, is this what you had up your sleeves at the end of '05? You didn't seem to have a running theme - how Bollywood musical of you. Unpredictable? Always. Boring? Not so much. Is 2007 getting ready to roll out the punches and give us a similar ride?

In the past year I have written about getting older, the loss of a beloved job, the loss of a loved one, the lifespan of a script in Hollywood, the not-so-bleak side of unemployment, the finer side of new employment, red carpet rendezvouses, new friends made, staph infections defeated, namedropping, road tripping, and the near-orgasmic phenomenon that is Pinkberry.

Before you could say "Michael Richards anger management," it all came and went.

2006: That One Big Blur. Where the hell did it all go?

Madonna ruled the arenas (and a certain African orphanage). Al Gore scared us with some melting glaciers. Lance Bass came out. Will & Grace went in...to that TV Hall of Fame in the sky. Shampoo and moisturizers were banned from airplanes (What next? Snakes?) The Mark Foley scandal was the IM read around the world. Tom was booted from Paramount. Rummy was booted from the Pentagon. Google bought YouTube. Two major TV networks became one. Pretty in Pink turned 20. Pirates 2 was HUGE (still scratching my head on that one). Baby Suri was the paparazzi's Holy Grail. Mel Gibson got a mug shot. America voted for the wrong American Idol...again. Marissa Cooper died. Paris got a DUI. Laura came back to Luke. And the inevitable occurred: the Crocodile Hunter got killed by one of his documentary subjects, Rosie returned to daytime, the Democrats made a comeback, and Britney shed the baby weight along with that excess waste of a rapper-deadbeat (but sadly gained a Hilton).

Thus a toast to the highlights: the good, the bright, and the most excellent. If you haven't experienced this year's best, I urge you to log off MySpace, get out from under your rock and do so. God didn't invent Netflix, iTunes, and TiVo for nothing...

MOVIE PICKS OF '06
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^


1. Little Children > The captivating Kate Winslet and the swoon-inducing Patrick Wilson are Massachusetts suburbanites who get hot and heavy in Todd Field's follow-up to In the Bedroom. This haunting/disturbing/funny commentary on life behind picket fences and Pottery Barn curtains will stir up emotions never felt before from a film this year.

2. Friends With Money > Not only a brilliant slice of SoCal life, but a wonderfully acted comic drama about desperate housewives and husbands living in the land of the rich and unstimulated - West L.A. (now on DVD)

3. Little Miss Sunshine > Gut-wrenching. Painfully funny. Possibly the best ensemble in any film this year. Steve Carell gives up his drama virginity and emerges a victor. Paul Dano: a portrayal that turns teen angst into an artform. And finally: another reason to love Rick James's "Superfreak". On DVD December 19.


4. Children of Men > What is the sound of the only living baby on Earth crying in a London battlefield? Answer: one chilling effect that will never cease to haunt you. Alfonso Cuaron's devastatingly gorgeous portrait of a world gone mad in an all-too-near future was the first film this year that left me wanting more. Clive Owen stars as a reluctant hero who must protect the last pregnant woman on the planet, Julianne Moore plays a libertarian terrorist, and Michael Caine turns in a hippie-dippie perf that is both funny and tragic. Some of the most breathtaking one-take shots in recent memory.

5. The Prestige > Wolverine and Batman play dueling magicians in Christopher Nolan's time-jumping tale of deception and dead canaries in the 1890s. The twist is right in front of your eyes, and even if you do guess the ending (like moi), you're never disappointed.

6. Babel > Proudly produced by the very company I work for (no bias whatsoever), this cross-cultural collage grips you from the first scene and never lets go. Rinko Kikuchi steals the film as Chieko, a Japanese deaf-mute who painfully learns the rules of seduction while figuring in a global police investigation. Oh yeah, Brad Pitt's in it too.

7. Cars > Another pixel-perfect Pixar treasure whose characters have more depth and charm than all the human casts in most films released this year. Now on DVD.

8. The Devil Wears Prada > Awesome soundtrack. Gorgeous locales and wardrobes. And a divine performance from the flawless Meryl Streep. On DVD December 12.

9. American Dreamz > A much-needed satire to give us Americans a kick-in-the-ass wake-up call about the country in which we claim to be proud to live. Now on DVD.

10. The Departed > The performances outbang the gunshots in Scorsese's latest tale of cop-on-cop corruption and redemption, this time set in a vicious Beantown.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:
11. Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson in Hard Candy > Don't let the little-girl looks fool you; Page delivers an unforgettable perfomance in one of the most intense jaw-droppers of the year. Wilson (hello again) plays an online predator who faces a certain snip-snip causing grown men everywhere to squirm in their seats. Now on DVD.

12. Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls > And you - and you - and you - You're gonna love her.

HOLY SHIT, IS THAT FELICITY? Keri Russell in the nifty Mission: Impossible III

HOLY DEJA VU: Superman Returns

WHY, HOLLYWOOD, WHY? Awards go to:
- The Revenge of the Nerds remake (thankfully scrapped by Fox Atomic)
- Owen Wilson in You, Me & Dupree
- Anything starring Jesse Metcalfe

BEST TRAILERS/TEASERS OF THE YEAR: Grind House, The Prestige, The Hitcher, Spiderman 3, Little Children, The Hills Have Eyes 2.


TV PICKS OF '06
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

1. The pilot for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (NBC) > The best opening ten minutes of a series premiere since Lost debuted over two years ago. Fast, funny, and fierce - it's the best commentary on the current state of American television. That said, Aaron Sorkin makes me want to become a better writer.

2. America Ferrera in Ugly Betty (ABC) > You just want to hug her.

3. The View (ABC) > Thank the daytime gods for bringing back La O'Donnell, who's surprisingly more articulate than ever. Their Hot Topics segments have never been funnier, never been more shocking, and never been more brutally honest.

4. Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi) > Criminally overlooked by the Emmys, the daring second season finale was everything network dramas wish they could be, and the two-hour third season premiere was just as pitch-perfect.

5. Veronica Mars (UPN/The CW) > Still sharp. Still ridiculously underrated. Kristen Bell shines as the now-collegiate detective who has a trio of mysteries to solve before May sweeps. Let us pray that The CW gives her three more eps for a full-season order.

6. The Book of Daniel (NBC) > Even if I hadn't worked on this one-of-a-kind, short-lived, darkly comedic drama, I'd still applaud it for its sharp writing and brilliant cast (Aidan Quinn and Susannah Thompson and Ellen Burstyn? C'mon!).


7. Heroes (NBC) > Who knew NBC would be responsible for giving us this intelligent epic drama, which is basically an indie-flavored X-Men? Standout perf: Masi Oka as Japanese nerd Hiro (if only the producers had replaced the "r" with a "k"). Cheers to the network for the full-season pick-up.

8. Heather Goldenhersh in The Class (CBS) > Kooky is an understatement. Heather's Lina Warbler is a scene-stealer. First, getting accidentally run over by the dork who likes her (on their first date), then dressing up as a wheelchair-bound Teddy Roosevelt for Halloween, Heather's punchline deliveries get me every time and makes her stand out in an ensemble that's mosty made of cardboard. Where the hell did she come from?

9. Dexter (Showtime) > Michael C. Hall sheds his Six Feet Under persona and shines as a serial killer we love to love. Don't worry. He's a serial killer who hunts down other serial killers. See? It's great.

10. "Bang," the November 5 episode of Desperate Housewives > Hand Laurie Metcalfe an Emmy now for her show-stealing turn as a woman scorned who holds half the cast hostage in a supermarket. And a nod as well for the fierce Felicity Huffman who, in one scene, stands up to the psycho suburbanite after getting her hands bloody.

THE NEW, HOTTER EIGHT IS ENOUGH: ABC's Brothers & Sisters.

SHOWING WRINKLES: FX's Nip/Tuck.

THERE IS A GOD: Fox cancels plans to air OJ Simpson's If I Did It.

WAIT A MINUTE... NBC renews Howie Mandel's contract.


MUSIC PICKS OF '06
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

1. Under the Influence of Giants > The Bee Gees + The Killers x Scissor Sisters = An awesome debut album.

2. Christina Aguilera's Back to Basics > You heard me rave about her delicious blend of soul, gospel, jazz, and early 90s hip-hop during the last half of the summer, so of course it's going on here. LIMEWIRE NOW: "Makes Me Wanna Pray," "The Right Man," "Oh Mother," and "Slow Down Baby." Oh hell, just get the whole damn thing.

3. "Stars Align" by Kaskade > Blare it in the car as you're driving through the city at night. Sink into the beats. Succumb to the hypnotic vocals. Fantasize about being in your own cool music video, surrounded by cocktail-swigging glitterati and unironic hipsters partying in a nocturnal wonderland.

4. "S.O.S. (Rescue Me)" by Rihanna AND "Promiscuous" by Nelly Furtado with Timbaland > Undeniable Bootyshakers of the Year.


5. "Chocolate" by Snow Patrol > From their 2004 album, a marvelously melancholy single that resonated this year with the 25-30 set thanks to its addition to the soundtrack of Paul Haggis's The Last Kiss. ALSO WORTHY: "Chasing Cars."

6. Mylo's Destroy Rock and Roll > The sparkling debut album by the Scottish DJ with a flair for minimal 80s synth and moody electronica. Elton John's even a fan. LIMEWIRE NOW: "Otto's Journey" and "In My Arms"


7. Keane's Under the Iron Sea > Forget the Radiohead comparisons. These lads from the UK brilliantly succeeded with their sophomoric effort. LIMEWIRE NOW: "Atlantic," "Nothing In My Way," "Is It Any Wonder," and "Crystal Ball"

8. "Ceylon" by Madita > I still have no idea what this devastating UK import is about, but it covers all the H's: hypnotic, haunting, and hella good.

9. "Finally" by Fergie > I can't believe I'm placing this Black Eyed Pea beyotch on here, but she surprised me and critics alike with a decent solo album, especially with this terrific torch song that brings out a vulnerability we never knew she had.

10. "What Goes Around..." and the "Lovestoned" interlude by Justin Timberlake > From his overly produced and overly flashy FutureSex/LoveSounds, these two understated tracks stand out and come close to achieving the soulful greatness of 2002's Justified. Said interlude cleverly cribs from The Book of Coldplay, implementing a nifty guitar riff. HONORABLE MENTION: The album's title track is a nice electronic/near-New Wave homage to Prince.

BONUS:
11. "Trains to Brazil" by Guillemots AND "Hard to Beat" by Hard-FI > Two electrifying rock singles from the Brits. "Trains" is brassy, emotional and moving whereas "Beat" might as well be describing its own catchy rhythms and danceability in its own title.

HERE'S HOPING THE REST OF THE ALBUM'S BETTER: Gwen Stefani's "Wind It Up" (or, "Hollaback Girl, Part Deux")

DARN CATCHY POP SINGLE OF THE YEAR: JoJo's "Too Little Too Late"

DID WE REALLY NEED THEM Awards go to:
- Paris Hilton's "Stars Are Blind" (Ears. Bleeding.)
- Jessica Simpson's "I Belong to Me" (Make it stop!)
- Brooke Hogan's "About Us" (Pass the vomit bag.)

...And there we have it. Study it. Learn it. And perhaps you too can achieve a true state of pop nirvana.

For the last night of the year I plan to enjoy the great indoors with some good friends and some good booze. Who needs the noise and crowds?

Remember: A) Don't forget old acquaintances. B) It's okay to break resolutions. And C) most importantly, keep those gift receipts because those 30-day return policies can be a bitch.

2006 has left the building.

Hello '07.

H.P.M.

A Winter Wonder



Why is every one-hit wonder who appears on a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float to promote a single that's already heavily rotated on Top 40 lamely called a "singing sensation"?

What's with America's obsession with dog shows?

Who is Sylar and where did he come from?

These were just a few questions that struck me while basting my 11-pound turkey on Thankgiving morning. Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera apparently drained their pool of adjectives to describe every singer who appeared in the rain-soaked holiday fest. NBC apparently loves showcasing purebreds and their proud owners. And I apparently believe that saving the cheerleader will indeed save the world (Go Peter Petrelli!).

The holiday was spent at my apartment, candying yams, preheating the oven, dusting the furniture, slowly turning into my mother. Dinner for five started around four, and three more guests showed up for dessert later in the evening. Three pies and one round of Trivial Pursuit later, the stuff-a-thon ended.



"It's Friday. And it's black."

The day after...The scene: South Coast Plaza, the largest mall in Southern California. The time: 1pm.

I was pleased to discover that my parking karma was still kickin' when Swaga and I found a space for my Focus within five minutes of entering the massive ocean of cars that was the South Coast parking lot.

Walking shoes laced up, we rendezvoused with Karim and dived into the retail mess. We hit the heavyweights first - Bloomie's, Saks, Coach - and realized our budgets could hardly skim off the prices of a scarf, let alone a leather keychain. My tolerance for the heavy foot traffic and runaway strollers wore thin when I nearly collided with an Asian woman who thought it would be wise to suddenly stop in the middle of a busy pathway and scan the crowd for her family...Or when two women blocked the escalator trying to decide, as if the fate of the world rested on their shoulders, whether they should go up or down...Or when a little boy decided to break free from his mother's peripheral vision and climb a store security scanner as if he were in a McDonald's Playspace.

The only damage brought to my wallet that day was a mere ten dollars carved out for three bottles of anti-bacterial hand soap from Bath & Body Works.

As the holidays draw near I find myself longing for some East Coast winter chills. However, with the way L.A. has been freezing up lately, it looks like I'll have to start bundling up earlier than expected. Angelenos are starting to turn blue, and it's not because of the ridiculous wait for the newly renovated Griffith Park Observatory.

When I do make it back to see the fam I'll enjoy the pre-Christmas frenzy that usually involves forcing my mother to listen to the mix CDs I burned for her and calling my father to let him know we'll be bringing pizza home for dinner - all while sitting in a frigid 2001 Daewoo Leganza that smells of Pepp-O-Mint Lifesavers and is parked in the packed lot of a Bronx or White Plains Target, where we will rush to purchase last-minute items for the cousins, nieces, and nephews. Then it's off to said pizza pick-up and home where we'll stay up 'til the wee hours - not to catch a glimpse of that red-suit-wearing fat man - but to watch DVDs of films my parents neglected to see at the megaplexes this year.

During this holiday visit I will also attempt to get in touch with those peers I haven't seen since the days when Britney wore underwear, Donald Rumsfeld was credible, and MySpace was a just glint in Tom's eye.

I recently heard through the IM grapevine that a high school friend of mine, now an assistant VP at a powerful corporation where his dad is an investor, recently got married to his Ivy League sweetheart, the daughter of a doctor from Long Island. The ceremony took place in Westchester. The news made the pages of The New York Times. The annoucement reeked of yuppie supercouple. At first I didn't know what to make of the news because A) I haven't given much thought to this high school acquaintance in quite some time and B) I have removed myself so far from those days and those individuals that I can't fathom what their lives must be like in 2006 compared to 1996.

But good for them. Everyone deserves their own brand of happiness.



I know several guys from my high school (don't forget: the all-boys prep factory) who have continued the jacket-and-tie tradition and gone off to work in the hallways of corporate institutions with words like Morgan, Ernst, and Associates in their names. While they fraternize among the Wall Street players and Brooks Brothers regulars I find myself frolicking with players of the sweatshirt-and-sandals kind. They wear their blazers with matching cufflinks for the office. I match mine with a pair of meticulously scuffed jeans. They sip wine at stiff black-tie fundraisers. I enjoy a vodka Red Bull and the beats of a celebrity DJ at a function celebrating the DVD release of a starlet's modest box-office hit.

It makes me wonder what I'll face when I RSVP to my 10-year reunion in a mere 16 months from now. The expected transformations have become somewhat cliched now - the jocks bloat and bald, the nerds bloom into babe magnets, and the rest fall somewhere in between modest success and boring contentment. I will go with an open mind, expect the unexpected, and of course, catch up with my posse and talk shit about others behind their backs.

Pass me an eggnog latte.

My Christmas wishlist is ready and available. Any takers?

Happy Non-Denominational Holiday,
H.P.M.

**COMING VERY SOON: The blog that will save your life - my Year-In-Review.

What Would The Supremes Say?

I would have loved to have been the fly on the wall in the room where this record deal was made...

From www.planetrighteous.blogspot.com:

The video is very low concept: "Hi! We're Westlife. That's Diana Ross back there, doing the 'Diana Ross.' We're standing on this here stage. We're singing the shit out of this song on this here stage, or at least, Mark is. Now we're done. Thanks for watching!"

Overall, the song is schmaltzy and the video is boring as hell (unless you're a big fan of pensive sexxxxxxay glances from Irish lads), but...

THE REASON YOU NEVER KNEW YOU LOVED THIS VIDEO: occurs at 2:38, when Miss Diana Ross begins her full-on transformation into the Dark Phoenix. Enjoy:

Renaissance Woman



Tuesday. November 7, 2006.

The news arrived at our office at 1:40PM PST. A co-worker's husband called from his cell phone while driving on the 405 Freeway. The annoucement had come over the radio.

"Britney Spears filed for divorce from her husband Kevin Federline."

The jolt was felt throughout the offices of Anonymous Content. Phone calls were immediately made. IMs quickly popped up. MySpace bulletins were promptly posted.

Forget the elections. A major shift in the pop culture universe had just occurred. You could hear the gasps around the globe as reporters from US Weekly, Access Hollywood, and TMZ were just handed on a silver platter the very juice they were craving for.

Let us reflect.

To say this was inevitable would be like saying Neil Patrick Harris was going to come out of the closet. Um, duh. It was a denouement even Shaggy and Scooby could see from a mile away. The world was waiting for it to happen. It was the ginormous pink elephant in the room that was bound to be noticed and dealt with.

A part of me feels for the girl (note: not a woman). But then a part of me knows this can only be a sign of things to come. One word: comeback. She's got the hot, new post-baby body. She's clipped off that excess baggage of a hubby. And now it's time to write some songs about it, dammit. Perhaps some new club tunes about taking shit from no one and lashing out at the man who done her wrong. World, meet the newly independent Britney Spears. I can see the new album cover now. She's striking a pose with a that trademark mischievous glint in her eye. Renaissance Woman, out in stores Summer of '07.

Our girl has managed to keep herself in the public eye yet again. Message boards are already heating up, congratulating her on the good riddance ("Girl, what were you thinking to begin with?"). Needless to say, a new chapter in pop history has begun.

And once again we will be bombarded with the magazine covers, the he-said-she-saids, the Perez Hilton posts, the exclusive interviews. Way to go, America. You've found something more worthwhile on which to spend your time instead of visiting the polls and choosing which propositions can clean up your streets and schools.

Me? I still plan to stop by my neighborhood polling center and attempt to keep the Governator from making California a bigger political punchline. Then I'll skip the gym and rush home so I can watch the speculations and soundbites on the Breakup of the Year on Entertainment Tonight (sorry, Ryan and Reese).

It won't be a messy divorce. Quick and clean is what I predict.

K-Fed, meet the curb. Get used to your ass feeling sore for a while.

H.P.M.

Baby's First



After living in this city for more than four years, you would think I usually get in on some movie premiere action every once in a while. Sure, I've come close to experiencing the red carpet treatment in the past (see: last year's Star Wars - Episode III afterparty where I cut JJ Abrams in line at the sushi bar), but never have I truly lived through the complete cinematic hoopla...until now (curtain rise!).

My unabashedly Hollywood weekend started on Saturday as a background actor for an independent Tori Spelling movie (not a typo) and ended on Sunday night as an attendee of the L.A. premiere of Babel.

Many folks in this town make their living as extras in film and TV. One can roll in some decent dough simply by standing next to Jim Carrey in a pivotal restaurant scene or in a supermarket watching Felicity Huffman get shot by Laurie Metcalfe (By the way, that Desperate Housewives hostage episode? Holy Emmy consideration!).

My old Venice roommate was frequently featured in Scrubs and had a couple of scenes in the Brittany Murphy rom-com Little Black Book. The schedule is flexible and the hours are sometimes tedious depending on the production. If there ever was a job that gave enough free time to read Atlas Shrugged cover to cover and complete a few sudoku puzzles in the process, it would be working as a background actor. Most the day is spent sitting in a "holding room," munching on cookies and slurping up stale coffee from Costco.



My work as an extra in Kiss the Bride was for no pay, and my ass later hated me for it. Hours were spent sitting in uncomfortable pews of an Episcopal church located in Van Nuys, the armpit of the Valley. The director, C. Jay, and I worked on the Hot in Hollywood benefit back in August (see Under the Influence), and he had sent out a call for help, looking for friends and acquaintances to fill up St. Mark's for a wedding scene in which our gal Tori gets hitched to guy who's actually in love with the best man (oh the shenanigans!).

Armed with my trusty hardcover novel, I sat in the holding room, which was an auditorium connected to the parish's elementary school, and got acquainted with a redhead named Johanna. We were introduced to each other by our friend-in-common Michael, one of the actors in the movie. Together we spent several hours, take after take, watching Tori walk down the aisle, throwing rose petals at the wedding party, and feigning surprise when the climactic bombshell was dropped at the altar ("Oh no he didn't!"). I'm pretty sure you can catch me clapping for the couple as Tori runs by and hops into the "Just Married" pick-up truck.

And I'm pretty sure you can catch the little pregnancy bump hiding under Ms. Spelling's dress.



Sunday was said premiere in Westwood. I went stag, arriving early so I had enough time to check in, snatch up some complimentary popcorn, observe Zach Braff catching up with Casey Affleck a few rows away, say a quick hello to Alicia (Silverstone), and realize just how skinny (and gracefully aged) Jacqueline Bisset is in person.

Naturally the movie started late. The director, Anonymous's very own Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu (21 Grams) introduced Brad and Cate and the rest of the cast, spouting out words of gratitude and appreciation for everyone involved in the continent-spanning project. Applause, applause, the curtain lifted.



Rinko Kikuchi stole the show as Japanese deaf-mute Chieko, a Tokyo teen on the verge of sexual self-discovery. After watching her powerful scenes I had an urge to hop on an American Airlines flight to Japan, load up on E, and spin the neon night away in an underground techno dome.

Leaving the theater emotionally drained and craving some sustinance other than the oily Styrofoam that passed for popcorn, I searched the sea of exiting attendees for a familiar face from my company. No such luck. Everyone was making a mass exodus to the Hammer Museum two blocks away where open bars, free sushi, and a live Moroccan band awaited them.

Mr. Pitt, where could you be?



Molly met me at the entrance to the party (she couldn't make the film portion of the program), and together we did a lap around the huge courtyard. Salma Hayek to the left. Bradley Cooper to the right...My boss straight ahead.

Coincidentally Kathleen was the mastermind behind the whole soiree; she was producing the event. Molly and I congratulated her on a job well done, and then it was off to hunt down Gael Garcia Bernal. Molly refused to leave the grounds until she saw her man In. The. Flesh.

People hovered by a large white partition that stood as a barrier between the VIP section and the rest of the party. Apparently Brad was hanging out behind it, chatting with studio-looking suits and old ladies who were just delighted to be in the company of such a "handsome young man." No Gael. Molly's patience was wearing thin. Before I could imagine her shouting "Gael? Gael? Where are you?" across the venue in a fit of desperation, both of us got distracted by the decadent dessert bar. Thankfully my friends have tact and know how to keep cool in a hectic Hollywooden environment. The digicam remained in my blazer pocket. In no way whatsoever was I going to take it out and humiliate myself in front of co-workers by playing Japanese Tourist.

The night wound down and I was getting a little tired of passing the same smootchers during our walk around the bars. Gael was nowhere to be found. Molly's buzz was wearing off. And I tried to fathom how much money went in to this spectacle (perhaps enough to pay off the student loans of a dozen college grads?).

We viewed the crowd from our ledge on the second floor. Beams of light and projection stills from the film flickered above the throng of moneymakers and movie mavens.

"I'm ready to call it a night," I said. And with that, we made our exit.

A neglected TiVo was waiting for me at home.


Taking a moment of silence for Mr. Rumsfeld,
H.P.M.

Yay Democrats!

A Bloody Good Time

I love a good decapitation in the afternoon.

'Tis the season to be bloody. Now's the time when my DVD player heats up from the countless Friday the 13ths and various 80s slasher flicks I play in order to get in the ghoulish mood for October 31. Forget those post-Scream, PG-13 remakes that dominate the current box office. I prefer my horror visceral, unabashedly budgeted at three dollars, and in the words of Jada Pinkett Smith, featuring dumbass white chicks with Aqua Net hair "gettin' their dumb white asses Cut. The. F**k. Up."

I will not bow my head in shame for owning DVDs of the following:

1988's Cheerleader Camp: See short shorts-wearing Leif Garrett run from a pom-pom-carrying killer in the woods. Money shot: Ditzy Pam gets a pair of gardening shears shoved through the back of her neck.

1987's Return to Horror High features George Clooney in a role (as an actor named...George) that sees him getting butchered within the first ten minutes of the movie. Horror High was kind of ahead of its time, laying out the blueprints for Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven's 1996 slasher satire. It was about a movie within a movie about murders that may or may not have taken place years ago. Nifty idea, but poorly executed. Bonus points for casting Maureen "Marcia Brady" McCormick as a cop who becomes infatuated with body parts.

1986's April Fool's Day sorta plays like a collegiate version of Ten Little Indians. A group of college seniors are invited to stay at a friend's island manor for the weekend. Pranks abound, and then the bodies pile up. If you're savvy enough, you'll notice Biff from Back to the Future as a jock who gets his throat sliced in a booby trap.

And then there's the Sleepaway Camp trilogy about a hermaphrodite killer who targets misbehaving kids at a summer camp. Of course it was a blatant rip-off Friday the 13th - but with that crazy gender-bender of a twist.

Speaking of Friday, the Jason Voorhees franchise saw many famous faces pass through the rotting gates of Crystal Lake as well. The throat of a post-coital Kevin Bacon gets impaled in bed. Corey Feldman saves his sister from a machete. Even Crispin Glover gets in on the action - he gets a meat cleaver to the face while his hand is corkscrewed to a chopping board.

Since All Hallows Eve falls on Tuesday, this upcoming weekend will be chock-full of parties where girls will most likely dress up as their favorite sluts and guys will most likely attempt to emulate Johnny Depp in all his swashbuckling glory.

I will be in attendance, donning an attention-grabbing outfit I created all by myself. To reveal my costume now before Halloween would destroy the element of surprise (and stir up a frenzy of copycats, I fear). What I can say is that I had the chance to preview it last weekend at an early bash where the reactions were great. I believe the words, "awesome," "clever," and "timely" were uttered by the partygoers I befriended while trying to avoid the potent mystery punch.

This year a part of me would also like to revert back to my 10-year-old self and experience trick-or-treating in L.A., specifically in the hoods of Beverly Hills and Hancock Park. God only knows what kind of goodies are given out. Godiva dark chocolates wrapped in crisp twenty-dollar bills? French truffles laced with fruity liquors? One thing's for sure: Expect none of that 99 Cent Store shit on Beverly Boulevard or 3rd Street.

Just the other day I consumed a twenty-dollar cupcake. They were made by one of our production managers who owns his own specialty cupcake business. A box of four costs just $75! If you're wondering if they're topped with Swarovski crystals, think again. If you'd like proof, go ahead: http://babycakesonline.com/

Whatever happens this weekend, I will not forget to "fall back." I'm sure one more hour of sleep will be needed after Saturday night's festivities at Matt's 666th Halloween Havoc. Mix CDs will play. The Monster Mash will be performed. Vodka will be had. And faces will redden (well, mine at least).

Enjoy the early darkness, kids. Look both ways before crossing the streets. Avoid those unwrapped treats...And go see Babel which opens in select theaters, produced by my employer (we're proud - plug complete).

If you don't, I'll probably just blog about it later after I attend the L.A. premiere and hang out with Brad Pitt.

Boo.

H.P.M.

A Love Letter

Sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a love affair.

I'd say it started somewhere in the mid-90s. In no way was this love at first sight. My interest was simply piqued. A glance here, a laugh there. As the years flew by, the more I gave myself to the relationship the harder I fell, the deeper I fell, in love.

Entertainment Weekly and I have been going on strong for a healthy ten years now. Those who label it as another "mass-market mag" should be pitied for their lack of open-mindedness. They don't know anything about the pleasure EW brings me. Every week I revel in the joy of ravaging its pages from cover to cover and absorbing new pop wonders previously unfathomable to me.

EW satiates my hunger for pop culture news like nothing else can. It has changed me, especially my writing, prompting my own readers to urge me to land a job at the publication. Oh, how I long to be an official member of the EW family!

So, why not a love letter to EW (or to those editors and writers who have shaped me into the pop culture connoisseur who blogs before you)? An ode to those keepers of the pop culture gates, the brave men and women who go out of their way to report "summer movie body counts" and just how many units the latest Rascal Flatts moved in its first week...

Ahem...

Dear EW,

To call this a love (fan?) letter is like calling "Veronica Mars" just another teen drama. My appreciation and respect for you and your contribution to society goes beyond adjectives.

I first met you in the early-to-mid 90s. I have memories of those early days when you featured something called a velociraptor on your cover promoting some "Jurassic" flick. I remember your transition from a lower case "e" to a large-and-in-charge upper case "E". I recall being intrigued by an upcoming Alicia Silverstone starrer entitled "Clueless" while studying your Spring Movie Guide of 1995.

We normally see eye to eye on important issues: How vital "Ain't No Other Man" is for any Summer of '06 mix CD...Why we're adamant about "Battlestar Galactica" getting some frakkin' Emmy recognition...Who should be rightfully cast in that upcoming "Dallas" movie.

And then there are few times when we tend to butt heads on other topics: The polarizing aspects of "Little Miss Sunshine" (you say crap, I say gem)...The enjoyable stupidity of JoJo's "Leave (Get Out)"...the list is short.

EW, I feel that we are on the same wavelength. We can finish each other's sentences: "'Footballers' Wives'...blows those Wisteria women off the Astroturf!" We can predict what will happen in the universe (Ms. Witherspoon, meet Oscar). And together we feel the pain inflicted by poorly made decisions and prolonged absences from the spotlight (Where for art thou "Sports Night" and Rachel McAdams?).

Allow me to get a little Annie Wilkes on your ass: I own your pop culture quiz book. I auditioned for your VH1 World Series show. I save certain issues knowing they will be worth something...someday. I am not just a "number one fan." I am an imaginary freelancer who has tons of insight to offer and share with the pop culture-peckish public. Because let's face it: we need a little Hot Topics to blanket us from the harsh realities of this schizo world we live in.

I am you. You are me. Let's be daring, team up, and take over the world one Muggle at a time. Owen? Dalton? Lisa? Ken? You game?


Yours truly madly deeply,
Hiko Mitsuzuka

*References available upon request.

Lost Angeles

"This city's killing me. I want, I want, I want everything."
- "Los Angeles" by Sugarcult

Hardly in the four-year history of these chapters have I received such passionate responses like the ones I received from "The Cooke Book." The issue of New York versus Los Angeles is a topic of debate I find fascinating: Who has it better, Manhattanites or Angelenos?

But now, I'm over it. I don't care anymore. There is no clear answer. That debate has ended. Chapter 67 wasn't even written to argue which Coast is better. The intentions behind it were not to bash NYC. My words were a letter to those who stubbornly believe New York is the only place in the world to live a real life, a reaction to the attitude I still get from those (mostly NYers), who talk shit about where I currently reside and appear to leave no room for compromise. I was talking to the natives who have unfortunately never stepped foot outside the border. (To those New Yorkers who HAVE travelled and still regard their homecity as the best place in the world, I nod and acknowledge your opinion. You went out in the world, experienced the New and Exciting, and arrived at your own backed-up conclusion. Golf claps.)

Leaving home and moving off to the other side of the country doesn't make me special. Adventurous, maybe. And I would love for others to be just as adventurous...NOT to give up their lives and move away, but to travel.

Ahem, soapbox please...I strongly believe travelling is one of the best things we Americans can do. It expands the mind and brings the whole world closer to understanding each other via experiencing new ways of life and finding common ground that's usually hidden underneath layers of bullshitty ignorance...Okay, I'll step down now.

Repsonse from New Yorker #1: "You're right about NYers getting over themselves. Every born-and-raised NYer needs to move away for a while. They need to get away and learn how to love and appreciate a new city in order to appreciate where they have come from. You're also right about returning to your self-made family on an opposite coast. As nice as nostalgia is, it's refreshing to see everything that you have built for yourself from scratch."

To be fair, this New-Yorker-turned-Angeleno also claimed NYC as the greatest city on the planet. She said "Being back in what you consider a concrete jungle leaves me with a very different feeling. Crashing with my friend in the East Village for a night, or meeting a work buddy for a cosmo in Chelsea, always leaves me with a yearning to live in Manhattan. I know in my heart that L.A. only has a hold on me for a few more years before I am drawn back."

In my email I had made sure I didn't generalize and point a finger at ALL New Yorkers. "The Cooke Book" was also a result of the conflicting feelings that hit me whenever I return to the East Coast. Do I see myself living back there? Would I be just as happy? Maybe, maybe not. Right now I know the answer is no.

Me: I love NY, always will. When I was younger, I remember answering "a yuppie" whenever asked "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I had visions of living and working in the city, enjoying the hustle-and-bustle of it all. I was obviously influenced by what I saw in yuppie classics like "Baby Boom," "Big Business," "Wall Street," and "Working Girl." Knowing that I lived twelve miles from that town they call the Big Apple, I thought about following in the footsteps of Gordon Gekko and Tess Harper. Then, all of a sudden, I did grow up, and my passions evolved into something else and led me somewhere else. I still have no idea if I'll ever return because I have invested and enjoyed so much in a place I have never before dreamed of living.

Response from New Yorker #2: "As another fellow NY transplant...I just feel like I don't have a home...I've learned to embrace L.A...I still hate driving, I'd much rather prefer to hop on a form of public transportation or in a taxi than to have to deal with parking with multiple cars heading to one destination."

So, to reciprocate the sentiment from Chapter 67, I have decided address some "cons" that outsiders easily pick out and pose to us L.A. folk:

1. "Don't you get tired of driving everywhere? Isn't it pain to spend money on gas, car insurance, etc?"

To which I reply, "Yes, sometimes. But if I lived in New York, I'd probably spend the same amount of money on the higher rent, taxi fares, and monthly Metrocards. It all balances out."

2. "Isn't everyone fake, and don't they just care about making a name for themselves in the business?"

To which I reply, "Those of us who have managed to keep our souls learn to see through the plastic facades. Some of my closest friends here in the City of Angels aren't even in the industry. I guess I'm lucky in this sea of starfuckers to have found these genuine folk who care about more important things. Of course, I'd be lying if I didn't say there are some of us who also revel in the trivial and superficial...but with tongues firmly planted in our cheeks."

The list could go on, but the point is: You make the best of what you're given. You adapt and learn how to live with what you have. Blah, blah, blah.

On to the lighter notes...

What I'm loving these days: The Sugarcult song (quoted above), Rosie on "The View," pumpkin pie latte ice blendeds at Coffee Bean, the Japanese nerd on "Heroes," "Anytime" by JoJo (should definitely be her next single), the oddly appealing blahness of ABC's "Brothers and Sisters," my black corduroy Calvin Klein blazer purchased for twenty bucks at the Palm Springs outlets, Kate Winslet's performance in "Little Children," and Wolfgang Puck's minestrone.

What I'm hating: the sniffles I can't seem to shake, Flavor Flav, the unbearable parking situations at the West Hollywood Pinkberry, the woman at the gym who leaves her W magazines draped over the treadmills, the fact that Ashlee Simpson is on Broadway, and HBO's release of all five seasons of "Six Feet Under" in a mega-boxed-set (after I just bought the first three separately).

There you have it, people.

Go off and be well.

Happy Halloween.

H.P.M.

Dawn of the Disney

My first trip to the wonderful world of Disney was in the summer of 1986. I have vague recollections of a rented pale blue Chevrolet hatchback, giving my mother the silent treatment for not buying me a chocolate sundae, and an extravagant dinner in Cinderella's Castle where I got to meet the princess herself.

My second experience was in 1993. My great aunt Anna treated me and my mother to a vacation during which we pushed her around the theme parks in a rented wheelchair. She later accused us of trying to kill her by breathlessly running her around in the Florida heat and humidity. She drove us crazy to the point where we fantasized about the untimely collision of her runaway wheelchair with an oncoming Snow White tram.

1998 saw me, fresh from high school graduation, flying down to see Mickey and friends once again, this time with the parents, my aunt and uncle, and my cousins. Torrential rain in Epcot. My father falling asleep during a 3-D Muppet attraction. My mother playing a ghost as a volunteer in an audience-participation special effects show...These were just a few memories taken from that summer.

Now, twenty years after my first encounter with the Mouse, October 2006 will go down in the Disney World history books as the time I saw a friend I've known since kindergarten take a giant leap into adulthood by tying the knot in a chapel across the lake from the Magic Kingdom.

The Fairy Tale Wedding ceremony took place in the Wedding Pavilion at the Grand Floridian Resort. The reception followed at Epcot, underwater at the Living Seas. I'll get to the lavish details later.

First, some things I noticed during my fourth visit to the Happiest Place on Earth...

Much like Vegas, Disney World is that great American destination where one can witness the Great American Fat Ass. If you want further proof that America is the fattest country in the world, feast your eyes on the wonders of the Muffin Top, a term I've picked up from the refreshingly kooky Amy Sedaris, which describes the roll of fat that usually hangs over tight pants or (denim!) shorts. The number of Disneygoers who are warriors in the Battle of the Bulge is astounding. And it certainly does not help that these theme parks offer fried Everything and chocolate-covered Anything at every corner (at ten bucks per serving no less).



My accomodations were supplied by the folks over at the All-Star Movies Resort, or as I like to call it, Disney's Rooms-With-No-View for the Budget Conscious. We were the poor folk housed all the way at the end of the boulevard, beyond the thicket of trees, shoved to the side like a forgotten child, the one with the pool "under construction."

As I stepped off my Disney Magical Express shuttlebus, on which I watched a video showcasing the 893 things I could do and see during my stay, the noise in the hotel lobby hit me - muzak versions of Disney movie theme songs. You can't escape it once you pass the gates of D-World. It's all-encompassing - In the lobby. At the food courts. In the restrooms. On the tram rides. I was itching for the iPod and some new tunes from The Killers. Instead, I got "A Whole New World" as my greeting song. And as I write this, it has never left my head.

I checked in at the front desk, where a heavyset cast member with a nametag reading "Jason" ("from Sarasota") asked for my ID. After showing Jason I was "from Los Angeles," I was given a map of the grounds and the card key to my room..."Any questions?"

"Yes," I answered. "Do you have a gym?"

Jason stopped typing on his keyboard, gave me a brief Are-you-kidding-me? look, and replied with a curt, "No."

As I turned to exit the lobby I could feel Jason's stare on my back and hear his un-Disney thoughts: "L.A. freak."

On the way to the room I stopped by the resort's gift shop to see what overpriced treasures it had to offer: Pirates, pirates...and more pirates (Damn you, Jerry Bruckheimer). I'd like to meet the person who thought placing coolers of beer and wine in the rear of the shop was a brilliant idea. Now Dad can get drunk, hit on the underage princesses and piss off Mom on the way to the Animal Kingdom! Or maybe Grandma can load up and make indecent gestures at Aladdin...who knows?

The resort was pleasantly modest. We stayed in the cute Love Bug complex, complete with Herbie parked out front for photo ops. Once I dumped my luggage onto the bed I flipped on the TV to discover that half the channels were Disney-themed. Radio Disney. The Disney Channel. Adult Disney (kidding...imagine?). If I had seen any more footage from the Hannah Montana concert special while channel surfing I was going to run outside and decapitate the Donald and Daisy statues in the garden.

A visit to Downtown Disney's Pleasure Island was on the schedule for Friday night. I met up with Susan, the bride, and Scott, the groom, and their group of friends outside the ticket booths for the clubs. Drinks in hand, we bought our tickets to the nearest venue. Mannequins Dance Palace is a large warehouse-type known for its rotating dance floor and sweet cocktails. We spun 'round like a record to Jessica Simpson and Christina Aguliera remixes that would make any circuit party boy scream.



Slightly hungover on Saturday morning, we rode a Disney Transport bus to MGM Studios. There, I enjoyed the brand-spankin' new security procedures the parks have recently adopted. Not only do they scan your park pass and check your bags at the turnstiles, they take an imprint of your index finger using a device straight from the "CSI" prop room. Just as I was expecting a retinal scan to follow, I was ushered into the park. I watched moms and dads behind me go through the same terrorism-proofing (because God forbid the terrorists blow up Mr. Toad's Wild Ride). Our integrity and identities as Americans will just be shattered to pieces if Osama ever struck terror in the hearts of every rider on Honey I Shrunk the Audience.

Erica and I walked the park, looking for the rest of our party. We all met up at the Rock'n' Rollercoaster, an in-the-dark thrill ride set to the music of Aerosmith. Thankfully I managed not to throw up the Mickey Mouse ice cream bar I devoured earlier. Next, we walked over to the imported-from-Paris stunt show at the back of the park where squirrels came out of their hiding to feed on fallen french fries. I later imagined the little critters returning to their lairs, breaking out into a chorus line, and singing their praises to the fast food gods in the kind of choreographed number you'd find in an animated Pixar musical.

It could happen.



Afterwards, we spotted Minnie and Goofy signing autographs for a crowd of impatient, sugar-fueled children. This is when Erica, having worked at the resorts back in '02, shared a dirty little Disney secret: Mickey Mouse...is a woman. Since the character is five feet tall and is constantly surrounded by kids, it is difficult to find a male actor who fits that description and has that level of tolerance.

Would that make Minnie a lesbian?

Later in the day we hopped on a boat that took us to Epcot, where the Food and Wine Festival took over the World Showcase. Get drunk in Germany! Get sloshed in Mexico! Puke your brains out in Japan!

Puke, no. Toasted, yes.

I savored a glass of green tea plum wine in China, munched on a meat casserole in Africa, sipped on chianti in Italy, and sampled a soft-baked pretzel just outside Norway, where every cast member on Maelstrom is blond and named Bjorn.

Sunday was the day of the wedding. After eating a pathetic salad for lunch at the House of Blues in Downtown Disney I bussed back to the hotel room, donned my cheap suit, and made my way to the Grand Floridian Resort, where a horse-drawn Cinderella carriage was to bring Susan to the resort chapel.

This girl I've known since kindergarten, this friend I've seen through high school dances, sweet sixteens, and various kinds of adolescent drama was getting hitched. I was my normal nostalgic self and couldn't help but reminisce about days gone by.

Whatever...on to the party and free booze.

All of the guests were placed onto a motorcoach and driven to the underwater reception dinner at Epcot's The Living Seas. We rode through the back entrance, allowing us a behind-the-scenes tour of the park. It was as uneventful as any backlot tour. Walt Disney's cryogenically frozen head was nowhere to be seen.

The bus stopped at the last building. Uniformed figures with guiding glowsticks led us into a hallway, down a flight of stairs, and through a dark lobby-like space. You'd think we were protected witnesses being led through a labrynth of shadows by the F.B.I.

Pluto, I don't think we're in the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow anymore.

The dark silence was soon broken. A sound so frightening, so hair-raising, could be heard at the end of the corridor. I stopped in my tracks, the dread creeping up my spine. Do we dare go any further?

"Good God," I whispered.

Kool and the Gang's "Celebration."

It was blaring from the pair of speakers the DJ set up in the aquatic party room. Honestly, I would have preferred to have a pitbull gnaw on my testicles than be forced to dance to this tired tune from the 70s. What next? Donna Summers's "Last Dance" at the end of the night?

I felt the urge to go up to the guy and say, "Listen buddy, this is my tenth wedding. I know all the musical tricks you have up your sleeve. Why don't you spare us the disco torture and shake things up with a little Ludacris?"

We ate. We drank. We danced. We drank. We waved to the scuba divers who swam by with the schools of fish and sea turtles. Mr. DJ pulled a few surprises by spinning a little Pussycat Dolls with a dash of Justin Timberlake. "Thank you," I whispered, giving him a thumbs-up from my seat.

The magical evening continued. Erica caught the bride's bouquet. I caught the garter belt (two weddings in a row, thankyouverymuch). Toasts were made. Conga lines were formed. Cake was had. Susan and Scott were celebrities surrounded by their own private paparazzi.

We returned to the resort stuffed, drunk, and exhausted beyond words. Mission accomplished.



And then there was Monday. A farewell breakfast at the Grand Floridian ended the long party weekend. Since my flight back to Los Angeles was in the evening I had time to kill in Downtown Disney. A souvenir here, a souvenir there, and my wallet was finally emptied. My throat started to feel sore. My sinuses were acting up. It looked like the weekend was finally paying me back. By the time I landed at LAX, my head felt as if it were going to burst.

Apparently what happens in Disney follows you home from Disney.


[sniffle]
H.P.M.

The Cooke Book

A self-proclaimed New York Snob, Elizabeth Cooke doesn't believe in living anywhere else.

A youth of the 60s, she is a follower of Kerouac, a hater of Bush, and would marry her packs of Parliament Lights if it were legal. With a mop of red hair and a penchant for black sweaters, Liz is one of those liberal kool kats you'd spot in old photos from the original Woodstock in which she could be testing out every drug known to man. It wouldn't be hard to imagine her knocking back shots of whiskey at an underground jazz club somewhere in the West Village, swaying to the tunes of a saxophonist named Johnny K and bopping to the bass in a haze of smoke (of course, back when you could puff on cancer sticks in New York establishments).

Her signature rasp of a voice stands out among the faculty of Iona Preparatory. Liz, or Ms. Cooke to her students, teaches English and acts as a moderator of the drama club at the all-boys high school located in the northern heights of New Rochelle. She instructs an array of academics - dumb jocks, bookish loners, closeted artists - yet she silently knows who will succeed and do her proud in the future. She has her "special boys."

+ + +

The 1:15 a.m. Metro North train leaving Grand Central usually arrives at the New Rochelle station at approximately 1:47. My day in the city had ended. My stomach was filled with the tasty cuisine of Elmo, the Chelsea restaurant that introduced me to the passion fruit cosmo, and I was coming off the high of Magnolia Bakery cupcakes and seeing Jake Gyllenhaal walk down Bleeker Street.

Just as I was about to let the iPod lull me into a disco nap, I caught a glimpse of reddish brown hair and heard that unmistakable voice, that distinct smoker's cough.

"Ms. Cooke?"

Before she could walk into the next car in search of a seat, Liz Cooke, follower of Kerouac, hater of Bush, turned around and did a double take.

"Oh my God," she rasped.

"Hiko Mitsuzuka. Class of '98?" The woman has seen a lot of boys pass through that prep factory in the past eight years, give her a chance.

"Of course! Oh my God." She turned to the bald gentleman who was carrying her jacket. Her husband, Gus. Another member of the Class of Woodstock '69.

The woman who was sitting in the row across from me got up and offered the seats to them so we could talk further. The "talk" was more of a review of names we knew from way back when. She asked about who I kept in touch with (sadly, a few), who was doing what (jobs, not drugs), and most importantly, what the hell have I been doing since I kissed those graffiti-free hallways of Iona goodbye. Turns out I was only one of two guys from my circle of friends who had moved off, out of town, out of state. When Ms. Cooke ("You can call me Liz now") learned of my move to La-La land, she seemed a little surprised and asked the two questions that always hit me when I come back to New York: "You like it? Ever think about moving back?"

I told her I loved it. I can't imagine not living there.

"Wow, that's good. Normally, I don't hear that. Me? I can't stand California." Spoken like a typical New Yorker. "You roller skate to the hottubs?"

Liz went on to repeat this bizarre roller skate comment later in the conversation. Apparently she thinks all Angelenos favor a good roll on the beach and pruning of the fingers in boiling water. As she stuttered off a list of more names from our past I noticed how she rocked back and forth in her seat, the glaze in her eyes.

My high school English teacher was drunk...or something else.

"Gus and I are coming back from watching a friend play a session in the Village. You'll have to excuse me. I'm a little out of it, if you know what I mean."

Cut to my mental images: aging hipsters wearing berets and porkpie hats, smoke clouds, shots of whiskey...

I had to stifle a laugh. If the boys of Iona could see this now.

Liz beamed over my class, saying how special my group of friends were (damn right we were). I flashed back to our AP English class trip to Broadway to see Christopher Plummer perform in the one-man "Barrymore." There was the Tom Stoppard play in Hudson Park. The readings of Allen Ginsberg during an October thunderstorm. The acapella spring musical we endured ("My Favorite Year," if you're wondering, in which I played a Phillipino boxer who was married to a brassy Jewish matriarch). My first fall play, a quartet of one-acts in which I had a non-speaking role as a supermarket shopper in "Ten Items or Less." My first cast party during which the boys participated in a Spice Girls lip-synch-off with the girls of The Ursuline School. Speech and debate tournaments. New Year's Eve sleepovers. Reading "The Great Gatsby" and briefly romanticizing over the glitz of 1920s high society. Shouting out the lyrics to Meredith Brooks's "Bitch" during dress rehearsals in the school gymnasium...

It is one thing to take a stroll down memory lane, but when the memory floodgates are opened, one flies down what I like to call the Nostalgia Highway.

And after this past weekend, I could have used an EZ-Pass.

I see a pattern developing during my visits to New York. Regardless of the nature of my trip, I will always run into at least one person from my past who will ask me those same questions I faced on that late-night commuter rail.

Here's the thing. The first day back is always the same. The jarring differences between both cities hit me. At first, the idea of living in New York (city or elsewhere) loses its appeal to me. Sure, the energy is contagious, but the enclosure of the buildings can be stifling. I prefer some open flatlands now, the idea of driving out to places and seeing the scenery change, not feeling trapped on an island made of concrete and glass. I know some New Yorkers who never venture out beyond the George Washington Bridge. To them, travelling to Jersey is out of the question; Long Island is the beachy country to frequent during the summer. To them, I say go beyond the twenty or so miles. Realize there's a whole country out there. NYC is arguably the center of the world, and if your pride is as big as Ms. Cooke's, I mean Liz's, it's the center of the universe. You have good reason to feel that way. But may I suggest toning it down a notch. Open your mind and acknowledge the unexplored gems the rest of the nation has to offer.

Frankly, get over yourselves.

Wake up and notice why Manhattanites are starting to migrate out of the city. It's an ironic move. New Yorkers boast about how great they have it, piquing the interest of newbies who move in to see what all the fuss is about, thus increasing the demand for new condominiums and high-rises (I never witnessed so much construction before) and increasing the dollar signs on property leases. Then, it's out with the old, in with the new.

New York Friend #1: "I have everything I want within walking distance."

To which I reply, "Wonderful, but how many times can you stomach the same Thai take-out, the same artsy coffeeshop, the same neighborhood pub, the same face you want to avoid on the subway?"

Walking in the city will eventually bring you past the same landmarks...and then you have to walk back home. Sure, it's good for the heart, all that cardio. But there's a benefit to all the driving we do here in the City of Angels: We go further, we see more. Those aging NYC natives are getting the picture. They want to see more as well.

I'm a sucker for nostalgia. Every street I turn down in Westchester serves me a flashback. Central Avenue: checking out the then-new Barnes and Noble in Hartsdale to buy Anne Rice's "Queen of the Damned" on a frigid winter night. Wilmot Road: walking in the mud on the side of the road during a rainstorm to catch the bus down on North Avenue. Quaker Ridge Road: shelling out five bucks to walk through the New Rochelle Chamber of Commerce's annual Haunted House and worrying I wouldn't make it back home in time to catch the network television premiere of "A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child" (oh TiVo, where were you in 1992?).

And then I return to Los Angeles. I see the friends I have made, the unofficial family I have adopted, and I am welcomed back into the fold. I am surrounded by a rare few who share my trivial obsessions with the giggle-inducing references of "Veronica Mars," the random delight taken from a forgotten Jefferson Starship single, the totally odd sighting of Al Pacino in the West Hollywood Target, and the rejuvenation Rosie has thankfully delivered to "The View." Yes, we're industry freaks. Get over it.

To say that I'm bicoastal is to repeat myself. That chapter was finished a while ago. What I am now is something different. What I am now is open, ready to catch the fastballs of the West that will propel me into the New, into the Next. What I am now is home.

And for the record: I've never gone roller skating. And hottubs? They're called Jacuzzis. And I love 'em.


H.P.M.

*Did I mention? Liz hates blogs too.

An Open Book and Last Kiss

A disturbing trend is popping up in bookstores across America.

It is something that has bothered me for some time, and being the formerly enormous bookworm that I am (God, I was such the sad sight in the seventh grade), I feel an obligation towards tomorrow's semi-literate generation to address this matter.

The "quality" young-adult novels I obsessed over during the early 90s are on the verge of extinction. The books my peers and I enjoyed not so long ago are hardly visible among the shelves of every Barnes & Borders throughout the land. No longer do the names Francine Pascal, Christopher Pike or R.L. Stine grace the uncracked spines of paperbacks. Instead, oversized softcovers with increasingly large fonts and flashy images of teen fashionistas, mystical creatures, and drugged-out deviants are taking over the reading sections that used to be found near the "baby" books. It seems as if the retailers want to avoid insulting their young readers by forcing them to hover near "Where's Waldo" and "The Berestein Bears."

While I do appreciate the clever cover art and more sophisticated subject matter of today's young-adult novels, I worry that the serialized teen thrillers of yesteryear will completely vanish off the shelves. How many frickin' fantasy volumes featuring domesticated dragons and young warriors can one reader stomach? Next year Harry Potter will hang up the broomstick and bid adieu to Hogwarts; let it be! Do publishers really think readers will come back for the next rip-off over and over?

"Toto, I don't think we're in Sweet Valley anymore."

The epidemic goes beyond the fantasy genre. It looks like the publishers are grooming a new generation of chick-lit fans and "Sex and the City"-holics as well. Series like "The A-List" and "It Girl" flaunt attractive bodies in party atmospheres and fab dwellings, never skimping on the doses of melodrama. These superficial selections are the literary equivalent to "Laguna Beach."

The language is even more daring nowadays. Characters scream expletives and make sexual references usually reserved for a "Nip/Tuck" script. And since it is a pre-req to have cafes in bookstores nowadays, the kiddies are getting high on caffiene while skimming the pages of "Rhymes With Witches" (an honest-to-God title I spotted).

And it's not like I still read these quasi-novels. I just like to walk by the YA stacks and glance at what new releases are out there. Please. I have graduated to big boy books. I have. Pay no attention to that R.L. Stine sitting on my living room shelf...

My Sunday trip to the new Borders superstore in Century City was an eye-opening visit. First and foremost, I headed to the Seattle's Best Coffee cafe to receive my free Rewards-members-only 12-ounce drink. Trying not to be rude to customers as I chatted with my mom on the phone, I made my way past the new James Patterson table and around the bargain bins to find the YA books ironically nestled in between Romance and Sci-Fi/Fantasy. A few titles jumped out at me ("Ooh, a new Buffy novelization based on events occurring after the series finale"). The new hardcover from Ned Vizzini, "It's Kind of a Funny Story," sat there, dying to be purchased with my 25% off coupon. I did what I had to do - pluck it from its nest and give it a new home in my library.

Seriously though, the guy's a refreshing new writer. He's a 25-year-old former prep-school kid from NYC who knows someone who knows me. I'm still a little shady on the connections, but we're MySpace pals and I am a fan. His last novel, "Be More Chill," was on many top-10 lists (including my bible, Entertainment Weekly), and I'm sure some movie producer is adapting the shit out of it right now. It was one of the best books I had read in a long time: http://www.amazon.com/Be-More-Chill-Ned-Vizzini/dp/0786809965/sr=8-1/qid=1158885842/ref=pd_bbs_1/002-8720577-0386448?ie=UTF8&s=books

I left Borders disappointed that none of the novels I grew up with were prominently displayed for all to peruse. That girl holding the seventy-eighth installment of "The Princess Diaries" will never be thrilled by the character-driven whodunit that is Christopher Pike's "Final Friends" trilogy. The skateboarder-lookin' muppet frantically searching for trivia books on Tony Hawk will never know about the social commentary hidden within the pages of Todd Strasser's "The Wave" (who remembers that haunting Afterschool Special?).

When you get down to it though, the fact is: I'm aging and losing my grip on something I loved and enjoyed years ago.

Getting older is certainly not a pretty thing. Just ask Paul Haggis. Last night at the Arclight I caught "The Last Kiss," the Zach Braff downer of a dramedy whose trailer I've been playing once a week on Quicktime. I enjoyed the film. Blythe Danner was typically superb. That opening-titles song by Snow Patrol still plays on repeat in my brain. However, the film's message about turning 30, letting go of an age of innocence, and confronting identity crises took a backseat to the other theme that slapped me in the face:

Men are whiny pussies.

Warning: Spoilers ahead (but if you've seen the trailer, this doesn't give away much)...The four male characters of the film (five, if you include Tom Wilkinson's dad role) are afraid to face reality. Eric Christian Olsen (Kenny) doesn't mind ice fishing and bedding every hot Pussycat Doll applicant who crosses his panty-littered path. Casey Affleck (Chris) doesn't want to live in a loveless marriage with his baby's mama because she's always criticizing him and the baby's always crying. Michael Weston (Izzy) is depressingly desperate to get his long-time girlfriend back and ends up leaving town on a road trip to Mexico. And Zach Braff (Michael) is so scared shitless about committing to his pregnant girlfriend of three years that he literally flirts with disaster in the form of co-ed Rachel Bilson, who, in one scene, pathetically tries to mimic Natalie Portman's kookiness from "Garden State" but gets the movie's most thought-provoking line: "The world is moving so fast now that we start freaking out way before our parents did...because we don't ever stop to breathe anymore."

Thanks, Rachel. Note taken.

And mentally filed away.

Off to be whiny,

H.P.M.

Confessions of a Namedropper

While I stood next to a giggly Kathy Griffin and shook hands with Lance Bass and his reality-TV leftover of a boyfriend, I spotted Howie D. of the Backstreet Boys getting ready in his VIP booth for the birthday cake that was being carried across the dancefloor where Nicole Ritchie's boyfriend spun some beats. Kevin, AJ, Nick and the younger Carter, Aaron, started singing "Happy Birthday," the rest of the club chiming in over the throbbing bass.

Rewind for a minute: My friend Rex invited me to be his plus one at the Dorough Lupus Foundation party at LAX, the Hollywood "club of the minute." His publicist, the energetic Mina, got us past the VIP line and slapped some bracelets on us for the open bar. Several people stopped Rex as we inched our way through poseurs and pee-ons, shouting out "Lloyd! We love you, man!" Needless to say, those toting their miniscule digicams just had to take pics with him, proof that they got to meet one of the stars of "Entourage."

Little did I know my evening would end up resembling an episode of the HBO comedy.

Go ahead and roll your eyes. I certainly did. To tell you the truth, I didn't know what I was getting into when I accepted the invite. A small spectacle it was. Another vapid get-together disguised as a noble charity event. I'm too lazy to go over all the details because I now believe that none of it matters. I could go on and describe my dinner at Oprah's birthday party (in an alternate universe, of course) and know that it serves no purpose whatsoever.

The dropping of famous names is an unofficial tradition in Los Angeles you simply cannot avoid (same for New York, I'm sure). Halle Berry likes Body Factory protein shakes? Better go get yourself one! You're with the Metcalfe party? Sorry, Jesse's running late with the rest of this posse, so please wait in line with the rest of 'em. Kate Bosworth ordered a large green tea yogurt at Pinkberry? Shut up! SIDEBAR: Pinkberry is all the rage here in L.A. Lines out the door. All-natural yumminess. It deserves its own chapter someday.

And I feel like a little part of me dies inside every time I have to resort to this practice. It's as if my soul slightly withers when I try to prove my importance to some shallow creature whose career is steeped in Hyping Up The Trivial. But it feels damn good once you get past that velvet rope. It feels good to be validated in your selection of non-dairy dessert. The self-esteem gets a boost. The chin rises a little higher. The heart blackens just a little.

I consider my namedropping a necessity for these chapters. It comes with the description of the scenery. How can you describe a forest without mentioning the trees?

Labor Day weekend did not consist of any big names, but there were places and things to note. Saturday: a trip to Palm Springs to raid the Desert Hills Outlets (I look forward to debuting my twenty-dollar Calvin Klein blazer in New York at the end of the month). Sunday: Brunch at Mani's Bakery (I happen to know one of the co-owners) followed by a macrobiotic dessert at M Cafe on Melrose, a self-treated screening of "Step Up" in Century City (Channing Tatum doing his best ghetto-Neanderthal act), a Hot in Hollywood committee dinner at the home of one Ms. Lisa Field, and a late-night visit to the Abbey with my friend Matt, who just returned from Hawaii and wanted to do some much-needed catching up. Coincidentally enough, both of us were on antibiotics during the past few days, so no alcohol was consumed...

Here's where I interrupt my itinerary breakdown for some backstory: The antibiotics were prescribed to me due to the staph infection I caught last Wednesday. What seemed to be a spider bite near my elbow grew worse, and it was painful to rest my arm at my desk. Cassie, my boss (God love her), and the rest of my co-workers looked after me, advising me to go to Urgent Care before the bump on my arm grew to the size of a golf ball from Hell. On Thursday I left work early to check myself into the Beverly Hills Urgent Care center, where a doctor poked a hole in my arm with a needle and drained the nastiness from my lucky limb. And to top it all off: my old insurance policy lapsed, and my Anonymous Content plan doesn't start for another three weeks. Perfect timing, no?

Monday was mostly spent on a sailboat parked in Marina Del Rey, munching on various barbeque goodness and salt-and-vinegar Lays. Said nautical vehicle belonged to Jenn's friend Rae and her rock singer hubby, Cashew, of the Prix. Again no alcohol was consumed, but I think the sun got to me, which couldn't have been good for the medication I was taking. Eek. The rest of the evening consisted of scarfing down meatball and zucchini pizza in Silverlake while watching the enjoyable bitchiness of Mandy Moore in "Saved" and the flawless complexion of Julianne Moore in "The Forgotten."

Ephiphany of the Week: While pumping my legs on an elliptical machine at the gym, situated between two blondes, I noticed the one on my right reading an US Weekly from 2003. First I thought, Did she have nothing better to read while pretending to burn calories like the rest of us? Then, I realized the magazine could be the perfect time capsule for future generations to discover. Think about it. One issue can speak volumes about our culture of the time - what we wore (back in '03 porkpie hats were the hot item), who was popular (Cameron Diaz dating Justin Timberlake? C'mon!), and what was a must-see at the theaters (Johnny Depp as a pirate? Nah!). Imagine how mindblowing it would be to dig up an issue of People from 2006 in 2032 (that is, if the world hasn't blown up or been submerged in water by all the icecaps by then)? Ephiphany done.

Next...

With summer finally behind us (overrated, if you ask me), we look forward to what passes as foliage, the boxes of Halloween candy lined up in stores (seriously, I already have my costume picked out), and the eventual, good-ol' American chaos we call The Holidays.

Just think: 104 days 'til Christmas.

Start shopping. Like, now.

H.P.M.

Under the Influence


There is "worn out." There is "tired."

And then there is flat-out, ridiculously insane exhaustion.

'Tis 2:28 AM on Sunday morning, August 13, and I am attempting to start a new entry based on one of the most mentally and physically draining days of my life. I must finish before the vanilla-coated Tylenol PM kicks in.

Previously on "Hiko"...I had mentioned that I was a coordinator for a celeb-filled event called Hot in Hollywood, a one-night-only show benefitting the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Last night was the main event. Picture me with a headset and clipboard, running around like a beheaded chicken on cocaine and you might come close to visualizing what I went through. I was in charge of 80 volunteers. That's 80 people whose names all sounded the same, 80 individuals for whom I was responsible, 80 pairs of eyes that would turn to me whenever they had a question ("Who do we let into VIP?" "Does the ATM machine in the lobby work?" "Where's the cash bar?"). And it didn't help that my fifth week at Anonymous had been my busiest (Boss in Bucharest, insurance drama with our XBox shoot, etc).

On the menu: Making sure Jaime Pressly's dressing room was perfectly scented with candles and bouquets. Sending two volunteers to get four cases of bottled water to replenish the green room. Running out of parking passes in the VIP lot. Trying to find a handler for Shar Jackson (yes, the former Mrs. K-Fed) who was scheduled to deliver a statistics speech on AIDS among women of minorities (the one heavy moment of the night). Catching a glimpse of the actor from "Passions" who performed a disco number with an actress who's starring in a new network drama premiering this fall. Checking in with my security guys to make sure the VIP rooftop cabana didn't fill to capacity. Checking in with the front house to make sure tickets were selling. Checking in with Matt Czuchry from "Gilmore Girls" to see if his stalker was waiting for him backstage...Checking my pulse to make sure I wouldn't fall into cardiac arrest.

Three years ago I had been an attending volunteer at one of these types of events. And now, as a Man With A Clipboard, I was exposed to the underbelly of the dog-and-pony show. Running on the fuel of popcorn I had consumed earlier that afternoon at a screening of "Pulse" (Godawful, in case you're wondering), I moved my feet and darted to and from each post throughout the crowded venue. Yes, it was hell, but at the end of it all, we raised over $70,000. We brought awareness to hundreds of people, touched thousands of lives - all that feel-good crap.

And of course, it wouldn't be a Hollywood benefit without gift bags. Here's where I cut to the chase - nothing to write home about. Just rest easy knowing I can get $75 off my next session at Hollywood Tan.

I did make new friends and acquaintances out of this spectacle. My MySpace profile got a few extra connections out of it as well. And all of this is why my butt was firmly planted on the couch in front of the TV all day Sunday.

'Twas the beginning of the end of a blink-and-you'll-miss-it summer.

Most of my summer was spent obsessing over a new rock band I discovered on iTunes as a Free Download of the Week. Under the Influence of Giants debuted in stores last Tuesday, and I am seeing them perform live for a third time this Thursday. Hello, I am a Giant junkie.

Last Thursday I saw them perform at the Key Club on Sunset with Jenn. The kids waiting outside were just that...kids (Unfortunately it was an all-ages gig). Dressed to the nines in slutty-peasant one-pieces, as if lifted from an episode of "Laguna Beach," or worse,"The Hills," these material girls stood on the curb like they were practicing poses for certain future nighttime jobs. Jenn and I looked at each other and shook our heads trying to comprehend the motives of these born-in-1990 Paris wannabes. I had a good laugh.

The show started near 11. Aaron, the lead singer who could be the love child of Mick Jagger and Barry Gibb, encouraged everyone to dance and stay for the afterparty which was originally guest-list-only (naturally, I've attached a pic). I later managed to get my poster signed by David, one of the guitarists and backup vocals, while geekily informing him how I bought their album with the bonus remix disc that is available only at Best Buy.

Luckily my obsession has now been redirected at the film "Little Miss Sunshine" (it's going on my top 10 for '06) and Christina Aguilera's "Back to Basics" (same for music).

There are few albums one highly anticipates, and when said album is actually purchased, little does one know that some expectations can be shattered.

Or swiped into oblivion by a wrecking ball.

Ladies and gents, if you thought Miss Christina Aguilera-Bratman could NEVER top the masterful "Stripped," please think again. "Back to Basics" is the most mesmerizing melting pot of jazz, soul, hip-hop, and sweeping Danny Elfman-esque orchestration (yes, you read that correctly) ever to fall upon listeners' ears. To simply call it a pop album would be like calling Mount Rushmore a pile of rocks. Normally, I wouldn't push a CD (let alone a double-disc) so strongly, but "B2B" deserves the praise it has been receiving from reviewers. Bow your heads in shame, all you Rihannas/Nelly Furtados/Cassies of the world. And Christina? Get your dress and acceptance speech ready for the 2007 Grammys.

I'm sure my next obsession is waiting for me around the corner of next month, but while I dwell in the present I shall continue to ride out the rest of August like the nagging bull that it is. And by "ride" I mean "check the following off my calendar": attend a dinner with the HIH committee, a red-carpet benefit at LAX (the club), a Michael Kors party on Rodeo, a screening of "Snakes on a Plane," a rock concert in Echo Park, a work luncheon at Ivy by the Shore, a guest-list-only function at Geisha House, get-togethers for the Emmys and VMAs (can anything top the suckage of last year's mess in Miami?), and finally...three more birthday parties.

Bring on the long nights, the chill, the dead leaves. Bring on the launch of The CW.

I'm ready for fall now.

H.P.M.

Bicoastiality

Three weeks ago...

Shoving four dollar bills through the slot to the woman behind the
bulletproof glass, I say "Two tokens please."

"Tokens?" The attitude hits me, and then I remember.

I am handed a Metrocard instead. Ah, yes. No longer does the New York City
Subway run on tokens anymore. I have been away for so long now, I forget
that things have changed. They always do.

"The only constant is change." - BT

Summer in New York. Return to my roots.

The first thing that always hits me when I walk off the plane is the smell. And the humidity. L.A. this ain't. Then, it's the same: I maneuver my way through foot traffic to reach the curbside area so I can jump into my father's moving Nissan as my parents inch their way pass taxis and driverless limos. Hugs and kisses will have to wait once we reach the Thruway Diner for a late-night nosh and park the car.

And things have indeed changed...

Trump is building more skyscrapers in my "little" New Rochelle. Condos have
gone up by Five Islands Park. The Food Emporium has transformed into an Equinox. The white picket fence leading to the entrance of my parents' apartment has been ripped out of the ground; a water fountain now stands in a patch of gravel. And that blue house over on Davis? Red.

My five-day visit to the Right Coast started with a subway ride into
Manhattan on Friday. Walked Broadway in the torrential rain. Ate some
doesn't-taste-like-this-anywhere-else pizza. Met friends. Hopped from bar to
bar. Three beers and three cocktails later, I found myself scarfing down chocolate chip pancakes at a diner on the outskirts of Hell's Kitchen at two in the morning. I woke up a little after nine on the Upper West Side hangoverless and craving an old-fashioned bagel with fat-full cream cheese. Nothing tastes like that carby goodness smeared with Temp Tee as you're riding a bus to catch your subway ride back to the Bronx.

Saturday saw me flashing back to my high school days (ah, those 90s) as I watched my valedictorian cousin Lauren (the one who was diapers last week?) deliver her speech and bring the family (well, more like her dad) to tears. She blew the rest of her class out of the academic waters - full-tuition scholarships, a summer program at Oxford, and other credits that couldn't fit on the graduation program. Diploma in hand, she posed for pics under an umbrella outside Blessed Sacrament Church, where I had received my first penance, communion, and confirmation years ago at the elementary school just around the corner. I remember the school masses, the readings up at the dais, the giggling behind hymnals as my classmates and I listened to a bum
fart and snore his way through the rehearsal for our first communion ceremony. If that church could talk...

Sunday was the party at Villa Nova Restaurant in Pelham, the same catering hall where my cousin's baptism party was held eighteen years ago. More memories there. A sweet sixteen party in the fall of '96. A graduation bash on the second floor for the Class of '98. Wedding showers. Birthday parties. One thing they had in common: the awesome baked ziti and white wine. Yum and yum.

More family. More fuss. More food. It was an exhausting day.

My Tuesday fllight back to Los Angeles took off from JFK on time, and as I sat back in my seat, cradling Anderson Cooper's memoir under my arm and listening to the neighboring Australian couple excitedly whisper about Brendan Fraser sitting in the cabin ahead of us, I wished I had had an extra day or two to spend in New York.

All of that melancholic reminiscence flew out the pressure-sealed window once I landed in L.A. I had work to look forward to, acquaintances to call, friends to lunch with, resumes to pimp, RSVPs to make. Like a salmon being thrown back into a rushing stream, I jumped back into my network and caught up with all the buzz.

Now, back to my regularly scheduled programming...

This past Sunday I accepted a day job working on the breakdown crew for a vintage auto show on Rodeo Drive. Kathleen hooked with me up with gig and together we arrived on the scene. Lunch for the crew was supplied by the Luxe Hotel. We ate wraps and sipped some iced tea on the penthouse balcony which overlooked the boutiques and trendy trattorias of the Beverly Hills block.

What followed was one of the most fabulous evenings of my life...

We were the last two to stick around and make sure Rodeo Drive was returned to its
normal chicness. After a little shopping in Guess? I met Kathleen back at the Luxe, where the hotel manager, the ultra-suave Jersey-born Jonathan, had bought us a round of drinks for "working so hard out there." I gladly accepted my French Martini and joined Kathleen, who had already befriended a pair of cocktail-swilling Austrailian women on the sidewalk patio.



Lindy and Rhonda were children's fashion designers from Melbourne who were in Los Angeles via New York for business. Both were elegantly dressed and appeared to have had a penchant for pinot noir. Realizing our Thai dinner plans in Hollywood would fall through, Kathleen and I ordered some appetizers and chatted up a storm with the friendly Aussies. Rhonda gushed over her wonderful children, all in their 20s, and Lindy bragged about her precious 9-year-old son. Rhonda soon insisted on buying us another round, and who were we to turn down more free booze? We raised our glasses, smiles all around. "Here's to meeting fabulous new friends," Rhonda toasted.



Conversation ranged from exotic cities we've visited to criticisms on the current administration in the U.S. I had the pleasure of introducing the ladies to the creamy decadence of mac 'n cheese; Lindy couldn't get enough of the food orgasms. Jonathan brought out more bottles of wine for all to enjoy, "on the house" nonetheless. I ran to the restroom to do a quick costume change and show off the new tee I had purchased earlier. Everyone loved the fabric and design. Dessert was a caramelized pear tart a la mode, compliments of the chef, and I was sure my stomach would stretch out the shirt to a new size.

We made sure our waitress, Martine, was in on the fun as well. She sat down for a minute to share her excitement of moving to New York City to pursue a career on Broadway. We all wished her luck and continued to revel in the magical feast that was laid out before us. More chatter followed. I entertained the table with my 40-year-old-woman-who-goes-to-Heaven joke. Rhonda and I talked music. Lindy told Kathleen about the joys of motherhood. Pictures were taken. Business cards were exchanged.

By the time I finished my second martini, Kathleen was finishing her third and the ladies were on their second bottle. It was nearing midnight, and the bill arrived. Rhonda took it before anyone could argue and charged it to her room. I was utterly grateful and hugged Rhonda farewell as she and Lindy left to return to their rooms and prep for their morning flight to the East Coast. Kathleen, Jonathan, and I remained, taking in the night, the quiet of Rodeo Drive, the amazing generosity of two fiftysomething fashionistas from Melbourne. Who knew the day would end like this? Would we keep in touch? Or was this just a once-in-a-lifetime experience to cherish and jot down in a diary? I will hold onto their contact info in hopes of communicating with them someday. Perhaps a future trip Down Under? Maybe a rendezvous in Manhattan over more martinis?

God, what a night. What could top it?

Certainly not tonight, which was the release party for "The Devil Wears Prada" at iCandy. The open bar was the only incentive to go. After two Smirnoffs, Karim, Pearl, and I quickly became bored of the scene (what, no Anne Hathaway cameo?), bailed, and met Swaga and Kerry for frozen yogurt down the street. My buzz soon wore off after tasting some Carbolite raspberry truffle and oohing over the cute puppies that walked by us on Santa Monica Boulevard. It seemed as if everyone was out for a walk on this
longest day of the year.

Tomorrow I hope to trek out to The Viper Room on Sunset to see an awesome new band perform. Under the Influence of Giants is straight out of Thousands Oaks, California, and I can't get their first single, "Mama's Room," out of my head. Picture a new millennium Bee Gees with an indie rock flavor. Pretty catchy. They are the latest addition to my personalized summer mix album (track listing to be found on Myspace). I highly suggest Limewiring or iTuning them sometime.

And whatever you do on there, avoid the new Paris Hilton single, "Stars Are Blind." I cringe even as I write this. Winner of the Most Overly-Produced Piece of Ear-Bleeding Noise Pollution of 2006. Someone, get it off the radio - please.

And in an attempt to squeeze more infotainment into this chapter, I gladly share with you these final tidbits: The Snow Patrol music video/trailer for Zach Braff's September drama, "The Last Kiss" is available to watch on his website. Looks like the perfect companion film to "Garden State." I am officially psyched...."Footballers' Wives" started its fourth season on BBC America with spousal abuse, a rape, and a baby smothered to death by a Pug (brilliant)..."The Lake House" was a disappointment (Sandra, come on!)...Nelly Furtado is the Beyonce of Summer '06...Madonna's Confessions World Tour was the best concert I've ever experienced...and I've gotten a
new haircut...well, more like a buzz...

School's out, kids. Wear sunscreen.

H.P.M.


"Sometimes I get the feeling that I'm stranded in the wrong time, where Love
is just a lyric in a children's rhyme, a soundbite." - KEANE


...And on the Seventh Day God Created Coachella

Lessons learned this past weekend:

1. Kanye West enjoys A-Ha's "Take On Me" and can pull off a mean Molly Ringwald two-step.

2. Sigur Ros is a moody Icelandic band that will never be found on my iPod.

3. Daft Punk= sonic orgasm. If you have the chance to see them spin live, do so.

4. The Del Taco outside Palm Springs has shitty 24-hour drive-thru service.

5. The lead singer of Franz Ferdinand can channel Jim Morrison very nicely.

6. Depeche Mode is genuinely awesome, and Dave Gahan rules.

7. After six straight hours of standing in a pit of sweat, shoving, and secondhand bong smoke, a beef gyro with teriyaki sauce and a cold bottle of Pepsi at 11:30pm is heaven on Earth.

Somewhere, miles past Palm Springs, there's a place called Indio where tens of thousands of alternative music fans from across the Southwest gather on a vast desert field for the annual 2-day festival known as Coachella, a 21st-century Woodstock (only more corporate-driven and wi-fi-friendly).

Thanks to "I've-never-won-anything-before" Karim, I enjoyed a free ticket to the 2006 shenanigans (Mr. Shah was the 30th caller on KROQ last week). Loaded up on PowerBars, sunscreen, and Fiji water, we took Sydney, my Focus (apparently naming one's car is an epidemic spreading among twentysomethings nowadays) for a two-plus-hour drive into the desert.

The line for parking extended onto the highway. All walks of life were gathering for the musical buffet that was lined up for the day. The sun finally broke through the haze. The heat was rising.

First, the merchandise booths, where 25 bucks went towards a nifty green Coachella tee. Next, the "jungle" dome. I call it "jungle" because of the fake vines, leafy plants, and misting fans that stood as decor as well as the thumping drum-and-bass that attracted plenty of shade seekers. Scantily clad interpretive dancers frolicked and humped their way through the seated crowd. After filling our hedonist quota for the year, Karim and I toured the rest of the grounds -- the standard hot dog/hamburger/gyro/kabob stands, the mechanical two-seated Ferris wheel, the metalwork sculptures on display, the two-dollar bottle of water (those working the gates confiscated any beverages from our backpacks...grrrr).

Soon enough we made our way to the Sahara tent, the ginormous venue (think: airplane hanger) for all of the DJs that were to spin throughout the day. Perry Farrell from Jane's Addiction was on stage sharing some vocals while Hybrid mixed some tracks behind him. What had to be the world's largest disco ball spun above our heads. As expected, there were lasers to accentuate the whole affair.

Next door was the Internet tent where I cooled off with a quick e-trip to MySpace to let my 400 friends know where I was. Everyone and their high-as-a-kite cousin did the same.

Next stop was the Coachella Stage to catch a few acts leading up to the headliners. Common went on shortly after 4pm. I think the sun burned my eyelids off at that point.

As soon as Kanye West took the stage, that one-of-a-kind odor permeated the air. You know what I'm talking about. Several people in the thick crowd were passing around those "special cigarettes." Parliaments they were not. Needless to say, Kanye rocked (can a hip-hop artist rock?). He opened with "Diamonds Are Forever" and go the masses jumping for "Jesus Walks." Mr. West had me rolling with laughter when he prefaced "Golddigger" with the following allowance: "Okay white people! This is the only time it's okay for you to use the word n****r." He then shared some of his favorite tunes, a pleasantly diverse arrangement ranging from 80s pop to early 90s soul. A-Ha suddenly blared from the stage, and everyone screamed when he mimicked Molly Ringwald's dance from The Breakfast Club. The man totally won me over.

Sigur Ros was the band from Iceland. I didn't get them. At all. Singing in moody gibberish, I asked myself, "Am I really listening to this?" According to Ms. Jennifer Carno and my bosses at work, they are "fucking amazing." Apparently one needs to appreciate them in a smaller, more intimate venue.

Franz Ferdinand came to the rescue with an awesome set mixing stuff from their old and new albums. Security guards started tossing free water to the crowd. I eyed one of them to aim for my reach. An incoming Crystal Geyser flew over some heads, struck my palm, and bounced off the head of a guy next to me. "Oops, my bad."

Depeche Mode arrived at nine. A large silver orb occupied one corner of the stage, flashing the words "pain," "love," "peace," and "suffer." A marquee scrolled out a "Hello" to the fans. By now I was a sardine squished beyond belief, my arms pinned to my sides, body odor enveloping my private space. I knew I couldn't take any more. Dave Gahan and Co. finished their third song when I "peaced out" to Karim, hopped over the barrier with a little help from a security dude, and made my way through what seemed like a thousand sweaty strangers, Depeche drones deep in a trance.

I collected my wits, breathed in some fresh air, and devoured a beef gyro on the way back to the giant Sahara tent where Daft Punk was prepping for their closing show.

A sizable crowd had already gathered. The chanting began. "DAFT PUNK! DAFT PUNK!" Suddenly, the synthesized notes used by the aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind announced the arrival of our otherworldly entertainers. The curtain opened. Two robotic spacemen wearing metallic helmets stood at the top of a neon pyramid. The roar from the crowd was deafening. The French DJs, whose identities still remain unknown, boomed into their set with "Technologic" surrounded by a grid of glowing triangles. A wall of lights flashed behind them. It was a performance -- and experience -- for the music history books (and countless MySpace bulletins).


I bounced along as I watched couples of all orientations move together in unison, as if they were all connected. And they were. It was one of those magical moments that simply connotes unity and love. I met a couple from Mexico who shared a portion of the barricade I used to stand above the crowd. They were just happy to be there.

While I made my way out of the tent, Daft's "One More Time" began. I sent a text to Karim to meet at our pre-planned rendezvous spot in front of the jungle dome where we had started our Coachella journey. On my way I stopped at a Haagan Daz wagon to scarf down a late-night treat. I looked up into the night and saw beams of light shooting up into the heavens forming one giant spectral tent over the entire festival. The spotlights were strategically positioned around the grounds. It felt as if I were truly on another planet, perhaps in another galaxy.

I wonder if Daft Punk had an actual spaceship parked nearby.

Ready for M:I III,

H.P.M.