Monday, February 26, 2007

Oscar Obsession

Approximately one billion people watched the Oscars last Sunday. I was not among them. (This is practically a sin when you live in Los Angeles and purport to be part of the entertainment industry.) Instead, I spent the night working on my computer and whenever I would find myself online, I would see a new Oscar headline. By the end of the night, I noticed the following headlines listed on Yahoo news:

*Scorsese finally basks in Oscar triumph
*Iraqi vice president escapes bomb blast
*Snow knocks out power, cancels flights
*Court: Serbia failed to prevent genocide
*Bush to warn Pakistan on combating militants

Let's see, we have genocide, an assassination attempt, people trapped in snow without power, and, oh yes, Scorsese finally wins an Oscar.

I have nothing against Scorsese, but I have everything against this horrible celebrity-obsessed culture that we're not only living in, but are exporting throughout the world.

All night long, the only changing headline was the constant Oscar update. And, of course, it always received top billing.

Are the Oscars entertaining? Rarely. Occasionally there may be an interesting or emotional moment or two, but are those moments worth slogging through three to four hours of bland television for? No. If the Oscars were a television series, it would have been canceled by now. The only thing that keeps it going -- its celebrity. Where else can you find Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood, Beyonce, Will Ferrell, and Helen Mirren in the same room at the same time?

I'll admit I've never been a big fan of the Academy Awards. I don't think I ever watched the whole epic fiasco until I moved to L.A. At least going to Oscar parties reduced the pain of the typically four-hour marathon. There you can usually find other equally bored people to talk to. But I can no longer feign any interest in that either. Quite frankly, I would rather be boiling my own legs and then eating them in a stew than sit through another Oscar broadcast.

I should probably be thankful that the Oscars managed to finally knock Anna Nicole Smith from the news. I don't know how much more courtroom controversy I could have taken. Or the unending saga of Britney Spears going in and out of rehab, shaving her hair, and acting like white trash. I'm sorry, she isn't acting like white trash; she is white trash. My mistake.

Ultimately, I know I'm complaining. But it bothers me that these news stories are so incredibly pervasive that I can't, despite all my best efforts, avoid them!

I think I'm also stymied because, and you may not have noticed this lately, the United States is at war -- on two fronts no less -- and you'd hardly notice because of our celebrity-obsessed headlines.

I realize we have always had entertainment during times of war, but it constantly amazes me how deeply the news of Iraq and Afghanistan is buried in the media. How many people are even aware that "coalition forces" (a completely politicized term to begin with) are shrinking?

Last week Britain announced the reduction of their forces by one third. Denmark is removing its 460 troops by August. Even Lithuania is considering removing its 53 troops. Really? Lithuania can't even commit the equivalent of a Boy Scout Troop?

The coalition is quickly becoming a coalition of one!

So who will be left? Americans. And what are we doing? We're watching the Oscars.

Of course, without war, we wouldn't have anything to make movies about. Right now, most of liberal Hollywood is against the war, but in five years they'll be making movies glorifying it. And they will win Oscars.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Iran: A Modest Proposal

It's recently been reported that America's high school dropout rate has reached a staggering thirty percent. I pondered the fate of America's youth as the country's blue collar jobs are being outsourced to overseas manufacturers and our underpaid service jobs are going to immigrants who are willing to work for low wages, often paid under the table. The only option left for our dropouts is the military, where they'll end up providing little more than cannon fodder for wars in the Middle East. Recent speculation of an invasion of Iran only reinforced this belief.

Then a better solution occurred to me: we should export our high school dropouts to Iran!

For years, Muslim terrorists have been infiltrating this country, now it's time we turn the tables on them. The State Department can supply passports to our teen dropouts so we can flood Iran with America's disgruntled youth.

As for the dropouts, we simply tell them we're sending them to the beach for spring break (after all, it is a country with a lot of sand). What rebellious teen wouldn't want to get as far away as possible from their parents and family? Best of all, he or she will be going with many of their dropout friends. It'll seem like summer camp to them.

Once they arrive and find out that there isn't a drop of alcohol within a thousand miles, they'll start going crazy: vandalizing public buildings, shoplifting, trespassing, stealing cars for joy rides, and maybe even rioting. In other words, all actions they would normally take in the United States; but under this new plan they'd be putting a strain on the Iranian infrastructure instead of taxing the American system.

Suddenly, money designated by Iran to arm their military, build their nuclear power plants, and fund jihadists would have to be diverted to the new social problems of cleaning up tagged buildings, counseling pregnant teens, controlling public lewdness (which in Iran is any woman showing more than her eyes!), and adding more patrols to maintain order and keep delinquents off the streets at night.

Last year, the U.S. government leaked that they threatened Iran with nuclear weapons. They did this because they know the U.S. cannot possibly sustain a military invasion at this point; U.S. troops are already stretched too thin. Besides, by invading and dropping bombs we only reinforce the world's hatred of Americans. But if anything should happen to the visiting American "tourists" would only make the Iranian government look bad.

The war on terror has often been described as a war of cultures. So why not infiltrate our own culture war by sending over our youth armed with iPods and Sidekicks?
Instead of becoming a burden on our society our dropouts will instead be viewed as patriots and pioneers, young warriors on the frontline of culture building and democratizing the Middle East. Instead of being dregs, they'll be heroes!

Best of all, it won't have to end with Iran. With such a high dropout rate, the U.S. will have plenty of failed teens ready to infiltrate Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, United Arab Emirates; and don't think we didn't see you hiding in the corner, Qatar!

It's not as if there isn't precedent. After all, didn't England export its criminals to Australia? And look how well that turned out! Now it's a popular tourist spot. Perhaps a hundred years from now, instead of fearing kidnappings and beheadings, people will actually enjoy visiting the Middle East.

My only fear is the possibility of a backlash. While American youth is often rebellious, they are also easily swayed. Who's to say that five years down the road we won't be faced with a new problem of converted Muslim expatriates returning to demand prayer in school, an end to abortion, and generally blurring the line between the separation of church and state? Then again, would that really be so different than what the current administration is doing?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Personalities I

Los Angeles breeds uniqueness. Undeniably there are many interesting, and sometimes strange, characters inhabiting this city. Here are just a few that I've met or known during my decade here.

Sparky, as I like to call him, was born in the wrong era. A comedy writer and performer, he would have thrived during the days of Vaudeville. Somehow he landed in L.A. with a job in radio, where he continued working for years until two conglomerates finally managed to squeeze all the life out of the medium. He continues to write, currently for an animated children's show, but he has to supplement his income with a full time job. Quick witted, humorous, and yes, old fashioned, I'm certain his talents would have earned him a solid career in an earlier era, where he would have fit right in with the Algonquin Round Table.

Cletus Price was so confident that he would be a monstrously successful actor that he never really tried. Born into a semi-wealthy family, he never had to work for a living. Used to having things handed to him, he moved to Los Angeles and sought out his yes-men (and women) who were willing to smile and nod at anything he said, usually while enjoying a meal that he would buy.

Cletus would often write affirmations in large script and post them throughout his apartment. One sign simply read: 6,000,000, the amount of money he presumably wanted to sell his movie for. After years of not being cast in a blockbuster movie (mostly because he never auditioned for anything), Price finally financed his own film in which he wrote, starred, directed and even co-edited. The film never sold. Because yes-men surrounded him, no one ever told him that he couldn't act. Or write. Or direct. Or edit.

I met Sadie in a pool hall off of Fairfax in Hollywood. Beautiful, artistic, and talented, she had just moved to L.A. from Seattle. She spent the next few years as a struggling actress and writer until finally, an opportunity called her back to her hometown in Iowa. Unfortunately, the rift between her and her boyfriend tore viciously open as they debated moving to the Midwest. It was more than their relationship could take.

Some people find their success only after they leave this town and that is Sadie's story. After running her own business, a bohemian coffee house, she gave it up and headed east, this time to Manhattan. There, she took root and blossomed. Currently, she has her own yoga studio, has been featured in dozens of magazines and articles, and recently signed her first book deal to write The Road Trip Guide to Your Soul. Success for her is only beginning, but already it's been great.

If you come to this town with a time limit, you're not going to succeed. That was the Quitter's first mistake. He moved here with his girlfriend who hated this town (who could blame her) and gave him three years to succeed while she supported him. Three years later, they moved to Northern California so she could take a better job. However, when you deprive a man of his dream, he'll never be happy or satisfied and within a year they broke up. Broke and despondent, he couldn't afford to return to the city of angels, so he moved in with his brother and continued writing.

As the months passed, the Quitter took stock of his life: he was single, in his thirties, with little success and a leech for a writing partner. Shortly before he disappeared, we had many conversations in which he expressed his growing doubts. I sensed his anxiety, but I, along with the other writers he talked to, didn't share his fear.

The Quitter's exile from Hollywoodland was self-imposed; one day he just became unreachable. It is my own theory that he severed his old ties so as not to be reminded of the sting of failure. However, in doing so, he stung his friends with his sudden absence. It's one thing to abandon your dreams; it's another to abandon your friends. The first is tragic, the second unforgivable.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

I Was Here...

I have a love-hate relationship with Los Angeles, my adopted city of residence. I moved here 11 years ago filled with dreams, ambitions and aspirations. Those dreams haven't faded, but are now surrounded by a thick juicy sauce of jaded bitterness.

Mmm, tasty!

I moved here three years after the Rodney King verdict incited riots and flames and martial law. I moved here 16 months after the Northridge earthquake. I moved here less than a year after O.J. tried to run for the border.

I'd like to say that I arrived after the fires, but those occur yearly. Los Angeles burns and hardly anyone pays attention.

I was here when I nearly sold my first screenplay. Again and again and again.

I was here when, in a scene reminiscent of the film Heat, two armed gunmen shot up North Hollywood. I watched live coverage as masked, armored bank robbers fired fully automatic AKs at police, civilians and news choppers.

I was here when I decided to leave. Supposedly, the first year in Los Angeles is the most difficult, but for me it was the second year. I was never more at peace than when I decided to leave town. I knew I would eventually return, but I had to get out before it broke me. I thought I would travel, maybe take six months or a year away from the madness. I read Kerouac's On the Road in anticipation of my upcoming road trip.

I was here when I decided to stay. The proverbial carrot was once again dangled before me. A writing assignment came my way just when I needed it.

I was here when (insert celebrity name) got away with (insert heinous crime).

I was here for El Nino. The hills that were once on fire now became mudslides and sinkholes.

I was here when Hal Gefsky, a retired agent, invited me to a monthly lunch at the Fairfax Farmer's Market so I could hear a group of fascinating octogenarians congregate to share fascinating behind-the-scenes stories of Hollywood.

I was here when I tried to film a documentary about them.

I was here when I failed to finish the film.

I was here when Ovidio Assonitis, a crazed film producer, flew me halfway around the world so I could visit Sri Lanka and meet Bandula Jayasekera, the man who offered me this column.

I was here when I met artist Rob Steen and we began collaborating on projects.

I was here five years later when Rob and I finally sold our first graphic novel, Afterlife.

I was here a few weeks ago when a car chase ended down my street with a stolen vehicle overturned and smashed, debris littering the intersection. No one was seriously injured.

I was here several years ago when a different car chase ended in a man's suicide three blocks away. Los Angeles loves car chases.

I was here when the Democratic Convention came to town and police sprayed protestors with rubber bullets.

I was here when I learned about a group of crazy cyclists called the Midnight Ridazz who take over the streets of Los Angeles for no other reason than to have fun.

I was here when I decided to jump out of a plane from 13,000 feet in the air.

I was here when I fell in love. Twice.

I was here when I started to hate writing.

I was here when I remembered why I loved writing in the first place.

I was here when I realized I wouldn't ever stop.

I was here when I finally sold my first script. Co-written with Nick Angelo, it's on DVD somewhere, but so far the producers haven't bothered to give us a copy. Why should they? We only wrote the bloody thing.

I don't know how much longer I will remain here, though I certainly don't want to live the remainder of my life in Los Angeles. That would be tragic. But for now, I've made my peace. For now…

I am here.

Sunday, February 4, 2007


Around the 20th anniversary of my stepfather's death, I found myself visiting his grave for the first time in many years. I had long since left my hometown and moved to the smoggy shores of California. However, I found myself thinking about him more and more, and the significance of his two-decade absence was burning a hole in my heart. When I visited his grave, I broke down and wept. This completely surprised me; I hadn't expected it to hit me so hard. As I sat on the grass staring at the stone marker in the ground, I thanked him for coming into my life. Even though it had been twenty years, I could still remember the very first day we met.

My mom and I were living in Hillbrook Apartments at the time. Most of my early childhood memories centered around this sprawling community of buildings. The playground, the central meeting point for all the kids in the area, was just outside my building. It seemed as if everyone I knew resided in these apartments. Not just my friends, but my mom's friends as well.

Since divorcing, my mom had put her personal life on hold and wasn't looking for a relationship. When friends of hers invited her out for drinks, she knew they were trying to set her up with Chuck. When she heard he was in the U.S. Marines, she couldn't have been less interested. She decided not to go.

Later in the evening, my mom's friends called to ask if she wanted anything to eat; they were stopping for fast food on the way back to the apartment. Again, she declined. An hour later, Chuck called to personally invite her over since they had picked up something for her anyway. She reluctantly agreed and walked down the hall to their apartment.

After an evening of entertaining stories and jokes, Chuck walked my mom back home. Outside of the doorway he said, "I think you're the one." Having been out of the dating game for so long my mom wondered, "The one what?"

Despite my mom's reluctance, Chuck's natural charm won her over. A whirlwind romance ensued in which he often drove the long distance from where he was stationed in Quantico, Virginia to Cleveland, Ohio for weekend visits.

During this time, he took me to baseball games, taught me how to ride a bike, and showed me how to fish. He would turn a simple drive down the street into an adventure by either popping in an eight-track tape so we could rock out with air guitars and drums; or by pretending the car was a helicopter and we were cruising through the air on a vital mission for the President (whom he had actually met while on duty with Marine One, the Presidential helicopter).

It didn't take Chuck long to propose to my mom, but because he knew he had to serve a year overseas, they decided not to marry until he returned. He couldn't wait. Halfway through his tour, he flew halfway around the world and married my mom.

For her, it was the fairy-tale romance she had always dreamed of. She finally found the joy that had eluded her in her first marriage, a wedding of convenience due to a youthful indiscretion (namely the inception of your humble author).

After a short honeymoon in Niagara Falls, Chuck returned to the Philippines to complete his tour. It was a dark, rainy autumn afternoon when we drove him to the airport. Three weeks later, he was dead, killed in a helicopter crash during a combat training exercise.

When the Marines arrived at our apartment door, I knew something was wrong. The news sent my mom into hysterics. For some reason, I didn't cry. As a child, I'm not sure I understood the permanence of death. I walked down the hall and told our friends.

I don't remember much about Chuck anymore. What I do remember mostly comes from the stories my mom has told me. Yet, I have a few vivid memories of him, including the Sunday afternoon we first met. I had laid out every comic book I owned in the apartment hallway so I could sort through them. They stretched from the bathroom door to the kitchen. He listened attentively as I told him about the stories within their pages. He listened in a way that most adults didn't. That was just one of his qualities I've attempted to emulate in my life.

It's been nearly thirty years since Chuck entered our lives. He left almost as quickly as he arrived. Each year, my mom still makes a pilgrimage to his grave. Even though she has since found love with a man whom she's been with for over 25 years, Chuck left an indelible mark on our souls.

For me, it's strange to think that I've spent more years on this planet than he was ever allowed. I outlived him and continue to do so with each passing moment of my life. In some ways, his short life is a reminder of carpe diem; seize the day.

Of course, it's impossible (not to mention impractical) to try and live every day as if it's your last. But there are times when you just need to live, embrace the moment, and tell the people in your life how much you love them. I don't do it often enough. This column is for you.

Stormcrow Hayes reflects in Los Angeles, CA, U.S.A. For more information visit

Omnivorous Mind

Recently, my friend Nzingha Clarke and I were waiting in line to hear Bob Mankoff, cartoonist and cartoon editor for The New Yorker magazine, speak at the L.A. Public Library. As we stood around talking, it suddenly occurred to me that I should make her the subject of one of my columns. She is, after all, one of my favorite people in Los Angeles.

I met Nzingha in 1995 shortly after I moved to the smoggy city. It's fortunate that I met her when I did because shortly thereafter she moved to Amsterdam where she lived for the next 18 months. Because she is a nomad, she is constantly moving throughout the world. Fortunately, Los Angeles is one of many places that she calls home, and so she frequently returns (though it seems she's never here for very long).

When I first met Nzingha, she was a film editor. It is a title she has long since abandoned. Currently, she is a writer, and one of the finest writers I know.

As we stood in line, waiting to be seated for Mankoff, the woman next to us joined in our conversation. I mentioned Nzingha's writing talents and she asked Nzingha if she'd been published. Sadly, and through a massive miscalculation in the publishing world, she has not. (I'm referring to her fiction as she has been published in other capacities.)

The following day, however, I called Nzingha and demanded, "Why haven't you been published?" She responded with a long answer that I promptly ignored (after all the question was only posed so I could answer) and said, "Do you know why I think you haven't been published? Because you're not trying hard enough!"

I was being facetious.

I think one of the hallmarks of a great short story, or any story for that matter, is re-readability. I have read almost all of her stories over and over again, including my favorite, "Katie and Pell," which has to be one of the most dysfunctional love stories ever written. Sometimes that story simply calls to me in the middle of the night and if I don't have time to read the whole thing (her short stories are actually quite long for the form), then I can often take solace in reading excerpts. Any excerpt will do -- they're all good. Because Nzingha knows how to write -- and she does it well.

I think one of the reasons she is such a fine writer can be deemed from this anecdote:

While waiting in line, I noticed Nzingha had checked out a book before the lecture. The book fell into the generic category of chick lit (in other words, literature for women; slightly elevated fare from a Harlequin romance, but nevertheless, fluff).

I was befuddled. "Why are you reading this?" I asked.

"I have an omnivorous mind," she replied.

It's true. I don't know anyone with such a diverse field of knowledge rolling around her brain. This woman voraciously devours books at a breakneck pace. She reads through the night while most people sleep (she doesn't seem to require much sleep herself) and she reads everything: fiction, science fiction, horror, the classics, poetry, biographies, non-fiction, in essence, whatever she can get her hands on that interests her. And she finds everything interesting, from cloning to kung fu.

Lest you think she's some kind of bookish introvert who rarely leaves her room, she is also a rock climber, hiker, cook, editor (film and words), former actress, drag racer (she's addicted to speed; her mantra is "Faster!"), journalist, world traveler (she's lived in New York, Paris, London, Amsterdam, and along the beaches of Mexico), avid football player (soccer to the Americans reading this), tour guide (she knows the best place to get a Thai iced tea, when a new art gallery is opening, or when someone interesting such as Mankoff is speaking), and she throws the best dinner parties I've ever attended.

Perhaps you're wondering why I'm bragging so much about Nzingha Clarke, a writer you've never heard of? I assure you, it's strictly ego. Not hers, mine. Because once she becomes a famous and award-winning author I want to be able to point back to this column and shout, "I TOLD YOU SO!"

(Remember, folks, you heard it here first.)

Of course, my own ego has nothing to do with this one simple fact -- she's that good. When she is published, be sure to read her. Then be prepared to fall captive to her words. They come from a very omnivorous mind -- and it never stops feeding.

Stormcrow Hayes watches kung fu movies with Nzingha when she lands in Los Angeles, CA, U.S.A. For more information visit Coming soon, you can read about Nzingha at

Top 10 manga of 2006! listed AFTERLIFE as one of the top 10 manga of 2006!

An absolutely beautiful, downer of a book, Afterline is one of the two OEL releases on our list. It tries to answer these questions: "What happens if the afterlife contains no heaven, hell, nirvana, or any sort of rewarding concept at all? What if, when you died, you simply entered a domain populated by every single being that ever died….ever?" You can imagine how crowded it would be, and some of the visuals of different theologians, world leaders and saints all gathered around trying to figure out what happened are disturbingly humorous.

The real meat of this book lies in the monologues Stormcrow Hayes gives some of his protagonists, particularly one soul who pretty much feels like he's been had. You won't come away from this book feeling great…but you will come away with some new ideas to think about, and that's never a bad thing.

Also, Afterlife won the YALSA award for its reluctant readers program. I think that means we'll be stocked in libraries all across the country!