Friday, October 31, 2008

Renewal and Pain in Aberdeen

At the end of our anniversary trip, Camille surprised me with a flight up to Washington to visit my best friend and brother in all but blood, Jeff. He and Tina and their two girls met me at SeaTac, just outside the terminal. Natalie (4) spotted me first, and ran over to give me a big hug. Alanna (2), once she saw it was safe, decided to imitate big sister. Arms spread, she ran directly into my legs -- and headbutted me in the balls. Thankfully, there was zero force behind the collision, else Tina would have had to explain while Unca Matt was writhing on the airport floor.
Jeff is an avid hiker. And if you lived as close as they do to the Olympic National Forest, with its miles and miles of crisscrossing trails through old growth rain forests and knife-edged peaks, you would be as well. He also lives a barefoot lifestyle, and does these hikes -- over dry streambeds and fields of gravel -- sans shoes. He's always arranged a progressively more difficult hike when I visit. This time, we'd be trekking up the most oddly-named mountain in the Olympics, Colonel Bob. The Colonel was a strenuous, five-star hike, an 8-mile round trip up switchbacks at a near 45-degree incline. Tina said the hike would kill me. It didn't, but the next day I was wishing it had.
. Captain Murder McCrazy-Hike
We started up the trail late in the morning, and ascended slowly but steadily all afternoon. It was a perfect day for a hike, nice and cool and overcast. As we climbed, the maples went from gold to orange and crimson, in stark contrast to the deep gray-green of the douglas firs and hemlock. A couple of miles up, we ran into a few late-season mountain hucklberry bushes in full bloom. Haven't had wild huckleberries ever, far as I can remember. The pace was backbreaking and exhausting, but I managed to keep up with Jeff for most of it. Not gonna let the barefoot monk outpace me.
About a half-mile from the summit, with Colonel Bob's rocky back in sight. we had to stop. We were running out of daylight -- we still had a bout two hours worth, but the final push would put us on the summit right as the sun disappeared. And if we hadn't made it back to Moonshine Flats -- an open flat break in the climb, maybe a mile-wide -- we would lose the trail back down the mountain. So we turned around. And that's where the pain really began. On the way up, my legs hurt, but it was that good, "you're getting exercise" kind of hurt. On the way down, it was that bad, stabbing "your legs are broken, kill me now, there is no God" kind of pain.
The view from about as high as we got
We made it past Moonshine Flats before sundown. The sun finally disappeared after we'd crossed the scree field and plunged back into the forest. And then it got dark. We walked the final two miles in near-total darkness. Once we passed Pete's Creek, it was inky-dark, and we brought out the flashlights. We got back to the car at about a quarter to eight, having just spent the last nine hours working out. The next day, my legs were in so much pain that I couldn't walk a downward slope without bracing myself.

And the next day we went out with the family. To a creamery to get some cheese, a smokehouse to get some sausage, and a farm to get some preserves. I picked out jars of apple butter and pumpkin butter for Camille. Those didn't make it through security -- had to check the bag. And it's a good thing, too, because if the TSA hadn't stopped me, I might have had access to my Terrorist Apple Butter on the plane. Good on you, Homeland Security.

We finished the day on Washaway Beach, south of Aberdeen on the Washington 101. It's the most rapidly-eroding spot on the Pacific Coast. The currents circling out of Willapa Bay keep eating away the coast of Cape Shoalwater; the beach has lost about two miles of land since the 1920s. I'd been there with Jeff before, to a spot where the highway juts out and abruptly ends, pointing out towards the ocean. It was a surreal spot, the literal place where the sidewalk (highway) ends. That point was gone on this visit -- the beach lost another 150 feet or so in a bad winter storm last year. We parked next to the "Danger: Eroding Beach and Tumbling Boulders" sign and picked our way down to the beach.

Best warning sign ever

Out on the beach, we spotted foundations of old homes, plumbing sticking up from the surf in several places. Found a crushed van buried in sand. A whale's spine, with vertebrae as big as dinner plates. The cab of a truck, the only part of it above the water, looking out towards the sea. And that's where my camera died, running around snapping pics. Jeff and I finished the night around a campfire in his back yard. My clothes came away smelling of soot and pine needles.

Cab of an abandoned truck on Washaway Beach

Jeff drove me to my folks' the next day. They'd just finished a service with some members of the Bach Choir, and were having a little get-together. Mom knew I was coming; Dad didn't, and it was a delightful surprise. My last few hours in Washington we spent on the deck, laughing and telling stories, with Mount Rainier in full view (he hides most days). Dad dropped me at the airport later, after a hour of dedicated Vancil Man time. A better way to finish the trip, I can't think of.

This unexpected trip was exactly what I needed. Relaxing it wasn't, not exactly. I'd describe it as centering, focusing. By the time it was over, I was ready to come back, ready to start up work again. It felt more like a pilgrimage than a vacation, a visit to a site of renewal. And I came away feeling refreshed, crippled, and sooty.

Thank you Jeff, thank you Tina, thank you Natalie and Alanna. Thank you Camille for setting this up, and Mom and Dad. And most of all, thank you Richard for giving me time with my best friend, in my favorite place in the world. I love you all.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Anniversary in Cambria

Monday was our seventh anniversary. We celebrated by heading to our favorite spot on the central Californian coast, the seaside town of Cambria. Whenever we do a getaway along the 101, we inevitably stop in Summerland, a tiny town just south of Santa Barbara, to eat. I don't know what it is about the town, but we've never failed to superbly well there, regardless of restaurant. This time we ate Stacky's Seaside's killer halibut and chips, and tried not to think about how long it took the halibut to get to California. Then it was back on the 101 for the long haul to Cambria, some 240 miles from Los Angeles.

We rolled into Cambria in the afternoon. Our hotel was the White Water Inn on Moonstone Beach. Camille had found us a fabulous deal that included hefty gift certificates to a couple of our favorite restaurants in town. After checking in, we went for a stroll on the beach boardwalk, with the sun glaring powerfully off of the water. And after a few minutes of breathing salt-tinged air and listening to the ever-present roar of the surf, I felt the knot in my brows start to relax. Cambria's coast is rocky and sharp, new by geological standards. A few tiny sand-filled coves fill in gaps in an otherwise unbroken stone shelf above the water. On the few bits of actual beach, the sand -- if you can even call it that -- is coarse and rough and multicolored, more like a handful of seeds. Much rougher than the fine Oregon sand I'm used to. But still beautiful. The ground cover around the boardwalk was full of birds and ground squirrels. One even came out and mugged for us.

"I'm cute. Give me a pretzel."
We dined that night at Linn's, a restaurant connected to a family of apparent berry moguls. They've got all sorts of garden and farm stores all over the area. Their claim to fame is something called the Olallieberry, a hybrid described as 2/3 blackberry and 1/3 raspberry. It's tart and not overly sweet, which makes it ideal for pies and jams. And wine, apparently. We both had Olallieberry deserts, I a pie and Camille a bread pudding. It was quite good, and tasted just like it was described: part blackberry, part raspberry. When our check came, we realized the waitress hadn't charged us for our drinks. We pointed that out. Our waitress told us we'd have some good karma coming our way, which is always a good thing.

We spent the next morning antiquing in town. Not exactly how I expected to spend it, but we actually had quite a fun time. And we got a good deal of Christmas shopping done. We lunched at the Blue Moon Cafe, a shop with an astounding array of powerful cheeses. This was a place we'd always go when loading up for a picnic, but we'd never actually eaten there. It turns out their sandwiches are just as good as their deli selection. Lunch was delectable. Afterward, we were pretty exhausted (we hadn't slept much the night before), so we went back to the hotel and crashed for a couple of hours.

We awoke in the late afternoon, with the sun again glaring off of the ocean. It was hot, too, mid-80s most of the day. We drove to the edge of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve and hiked the bluff trail along the ocean. All along the trial, every quarter mile or so, was a giant driftwood chair, a bench really, sturdy and solid and bleached by the sun. After the hike, I convinced Camille to drive up to the old Cambria cemetery. We got there as the sun was setting. This was the first boneyard I'd been to with zero ground cover of any sort. The headstones themselves went back to the mid nineteenth century, severtal of them in family plots. The spookiest thing we saw in the graveyard was a broken set of wooden wind chimes, hanging silent and still above an unmarked grave. Creeeeepy.

Weird blossoms in the cemetery

Dinner that night was at The Sow's Ear, our favorite restaurant on the coast. Camille had their incomparable chicken and dumplings. I had a grilled chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese, kalamata olives, and roasted red peppers. Diagnosis: delicious. Dinner came with their delightful flowerpot bread. It's just like how it sounds: They jam a couple of dough balls together in a flower pot, bake it, and serve it in said pot. We were seated in a cozy corner of the restaurant, right next to two couples who were also celebrating their anniversaries. They dragged it out of us that we were there on our anniversary as well. The owner took our picture and gave us dessert for free. Rather quick return on that good karma.

The morning of our final day, we went for a hike along the boardwalk, and then drove about ten miles north towards San Simeon to see the elephant seals. This time of year, the juvenile seals have returned to the beach to rest. They just lay there under the sun, barking and rolling and pressing into clusters of blubber and fur. The ever-present (and often quite fat) ground squirrels were extra-cute, competing for the tourists' attention and snacks, but people stayed pretty focused on the seals. Then the midday sun came out, some 90 degrees, and put the bake on us. We bade the seals and the squirrels goodbye and started the sad trek back south.

We stopped in Los Osos to visit a friend and former co-worker of Camille's. She and Camille went off chatting while I got to sit and play Lego Star Wars with her three-year old, Brody. And I use "play" in the broadest sense of the word, since it mostly consisted of following Brody's orders. In the game, you can collect "money" in the form of Lego blocks; when you die, your Lego money fountains out and is up for grabs. Brody kept saying "I want money, I want money" over and over. Then he turned to me and said "I want your money" -- and killed me. And stole my money. He's effing three. Learned a valuable parenting lesson there: No video games for kids until they've learned not to crap their pants.

No trek to the Cali coast is complete for us until we've visited our favorite winery, Kelsey See Canyon, not far from San Luis Obispo. There was quite a party of people in the tasting room when we arrived, so we spread our blanket out back and picnicked in the shade while the winery's peacocks meandered about. We're wine club members, so we get to taste for free. We bought a bottle of their famous apple chardonnay. This is the first trip to/near wine country where we didn't need a box to haul back our purchases. Only two bottles this time. Good for us.

It was the late afternoon now, and the sun was starting to droop. On a whim, at the last moment, we decided to detour to Solvang for dinner. We arrived right as their farmers' market was closing down. Unfortunately -- or, more accurately, thankfully -- we were all out of cash, so we couldn't (over)spend anything on the organic honeys and giant strawberrys from the local farms.

We wandered into a high-end antique shop, a place I'd been before, with hundreds of grandfather clocks -- some over 150 years old -- everywhere. There wasn't a wall without a cluster of clocks. I asked the owner if I could take some pictures, and she said yes. So while Camille chatted with a sales clerk and tried on a variety of jewelry (including a $21,000 ring), I ran around snapping pics of amazing clocks until the camera's battery died. Ugh. But I got some wonderful pictures of some pretty machinery. The owner told me that they'd provided several pieces for the filming of The Time Machine. I believe her. If Grandmother Clock ever gets off the ground, I'm so bringing the production team to this place.

It does seem a bit odd to me that I've started to enjoy antiquing. Maybe I'm growing up. Don't tell Mom.

Some of those amazing clocks

We ate dinner at the Bit O' Denmark, and it was there that Camille sprung quite a surprise on me. No, she's not pregnant. But she and her father did arrange to send me to Washington for an extended weekend as a delayed birthday present. So today -- a day I thought I'd be resting and getting back to work -- I'm packing to fly out this afternoon. And Jeff and Tina are picking me up, which means (burn codes allowing) I'll be deep in conversation around a bonfire by midnight tonight. I can't wait.

High on the news, the drive back to L.A. was easy. We rolled into town at 9pm and were asleep about an hour later. It's been a long time since I've felt so relaxed after a mini-vacation, since we never get away for more than a couple of days at a time. Cambria is a dream, a picturesque town on the edge of the water with no noise other than the ocean. I remember a walk I took the first night we were there. The sky was alive with light -- I haven't seen that many stars in years. And I felt a sense of ultimate peace and tranquility, a timelessness an a re-centering of self I usually only catch a glimpse of while meditating. It was a trip I will remember for the rest of my life, those few days by the sea with my wife and best friend. I love you, Sweetie. Here's to fifty more years.

And here's some more pics:

Cambria from the Fiscali Ranch Preserve trail

A juvenile elephant seal returns to the beach at Piedras Blancas

"Pay attention to me!"

Those creepy wind chimes in the graveyard

Hiking the hills above town

More clocks (I got a ton of pics)

My Lovely

Monday, October 20, 2008

Seven Year Itch

Today is our seventh anniversary. That's 2,557 days together as a married couple after you factor in the leap years.

We're off to beautiful Cambria on the central California coast. It reminds us very much of the Oregon coast, our favorite vacation destination for years and the place we honeymooned. The California coast is different -- rockier and warmer, with a sharper slope of beach into water -- yet still beautiful and relaxing. Expect many pictures.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pitching Hopjockey: Part 2

So it's been a couple of months since I mentioned what's happening with Hopjockey. The last update -- which you can catch up on here -- had us waiting to hear back from the genre network. We finally heard back, and it was a pass. According to the Agent, the Exec we pitched thought there really was something special about the show ... but (and there's always a but) they already had a competing project in development that targets a similar audience. Ah, well.
[Quick note: I still can't disclose who exactly is involved. But the major players on our team are the Heavy (Emmy-award-winning producer) and the Agent (the Heavy's representation). They're how we're getting the meetings.]

Still looking for a home.

So, yeah, that was a let down. But we shouldn't be discouraged, the Agent assured us. Because we had another pitch coming up, at the strangest of places: An animation network. A channel that specializes entirely in cartoons -- a "cartoon network," one might say. All right, another pitch! Though we weren't exactly sure how our show would fit in there. Our show is a live action one-hour. But a pitch is a pitch, and we wouldn't even be getting a meeting if the project wasn't a potential fit. And the show would work animated ...

Now, I'll be honest. I didn't expect anything to come of this. I've watched the network in question -- some of my favorite shows air on it -- and there's really nothing like Hopjockey in their lineup. I didn't see how it could fit, but maybe they would. Then, the day before we pitched, the Agent filled us in. The animation network is looking to produce some live-action shows, to bridge the gap between age demographics between their daytime and nighttime programming. And our show fits right into the niche they're looking to fill.

The pitch itself went pretty damn well. The humor was there, and the ease of interplay between us and the execs. Maybe it was that the guys we were pitching spoke sci-fi and instinctively understood what we were pitching -- I was able to use terms like dimensional rift and Cthulhuian without explaining them. Maybe it was that I still really didn't expect anything, so I was more relaxed than usual (the lack of an earthquake helped). But about halfway through the presentation, when they started asking us questions you don't ask unless you're interested, I started to think "hang on, this might just catch."

They asked what the toys were the hopjockeys got to play with, the equivalent of the Ghostbusters' proton packs. Potential merchandising? They asked whether the show could work in a high school setting instead of college. Yes, of course. It would fit perfectly into an Exeter-like private school. "I see," they said, "like a sci-fi Harry Potter?" "Of course," we answered, "what an astute and clever observation. You are by far the most knowledgable and -- dare I say it -- sexiest executives we've ever met."

So it went well. Better than the big network pitch, and definitely better than I expected. And so we sat back to play the Waiting Game, whish is played in two- to four-week intervals, the shortest measures of time Hollywood uses. Sure enough, two weeks after the pitch, we heard from the Agent. The Exec we'd pitched had read my sample piece -- the pilot for Fred, Prince of Darkness -- and wanted to read a longer one. So the agent sent him Pwned. As he put it, "Seems like [the network] is interested and still vetting the writing first."

So where is Hopjockey right now? Pretty much exactly where I left you last time -- waiting to hear back from the network, while said network considers my writing. It's the strangest feeling knowing you're being evaluated on something you completed months ago. Like being quizzed when you're not in the room. Or auditioning in a sensory deprivation chamber. I don't care for it much. I keep second-guessing myself, wondering if the samples are strong enough. And they were both strong enough to get optioned, so that bodes well. And at least they're reading them. And it's also been about two weeks since we last heard from the Agent, so maybe will be coming soon.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


So last Saturday, October 4th, I got older. Thirty-one this year. Now I'm firmly mired in the thirties. At 30, there's still some wiggle room, some deniability -- you can always think of it as the very end of the twenties (you know, 'cause when you count in tens, 10 is part of 1-10, and 20 is part of 11-20, that sort of thinking). Can't fudge 31, though. I don't mind. There's plenty of cool stuff about being 31. For instance, my age is a prime number. Haven't had one of those in eight years. I've also been 21 for ten years now. And that's worth celebrating ... *uncork*
The birthday itself was nice and relaxing, in stark contrast to last year's birthday, which spanned an entire weekend. Camille flew my two best friends and their wives (who are also best friends) down to surprise me with a coronary. The BBQ party had something like forty people in attendance; I still haven't read all the books I received. I have read all the calendars, though. This year, I wanted something small and simple, quiet and predictable. Something respectfully lame. That's what I got, and it was perfect.
My parents sent me a trippy-cool painting of an iguana. Don gave me a copy of Watchmen, which to my geek shame I had never read. Camille cooked an amazing dinner for my birthday: chicken marsala with mushrooms and capers on a bed of arugula, with pasta and pinot from Kelsey See Canyon, our favorite winery. I don't remember the exact type of mushrooms that were in the dish, as I'm not normally a mushroom guy, but these were amazilicious. And for breakfast the next morning, I got lazy man pancakes. The recipes for both are on the cooking blog Camille shares, Cooking Kama Sutras. Ah, good eating. A gift that will remain around my waist for years to come.

That amazing birthday dinner. I got to do the dishes.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Epic Job

I've taken a part-time job at Epic Level Entertainment in Studio City. If that name sounds familiar, it should -- it's the production company of John Frank Rosenblum and Cindi Rice, co-producers of The Gamers: Dorkness Rising and the same people who optioned Pwned. I'm manning phones and taking care of sundry office duties. It's easy enough. Most of the time, I'm alone -- I rarely see my boss-friends, who commute from much, much farther away. I'm reminded of my time at the PLU writing center, when half the time I had no appointments and nothing to do. I got a lot of extra writing done at the writing center. And I'm feeling the itch to fill said time productively. Like, say, by updating my blog. And on other things, like writing content for an eventual Vancil website. More on that later.