Bigmouth Strikes Again

Last month I had the opportunity to speak to a class of acting students about my work. Dean Armstrong—dear friend, colleague, and founding director of Armstrong Acting Studios—thought insight into my unique career in the arts would be of value to his students. Since the speaking engagement included a trip to Toronto, I couldn’t resist the invitation.

Toronto is one of my favorite places. Both the 2006 short and 2008 feature-length films of Repo! The Genetic Opera were filmed there, so I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the city. I’ve also made many lasting friendships north of the eastern U.S. border, including Dean (Repo! fans will recognize him as Repo Man’s “Thankless Job” victim).

Repo_Soundtrack

Even though performance is a big part of what I do—and I’ve worked with and employed my fair share of actors over the years—I’ve never spoken from an acting perspective about my profession. I suppose this is because I identify more as a writer and visual artist than ac-tor. Also: from a film production standpoint, those brief moments when the cameras are actually rolling often feel like breaks from work when compared against the years it takes to develop, assemble, and execute projects. As such, I was a little unsure how to approach a seminar geared specifically to thespians.

After brainstorming, the only thing I was certain of was that I wanted my seminar to deliver an experience for AAS students that was wholly different from that of the casting directors, agents, and actors that traditionally come to speak at the school… so I broke out the duct tape and plastic blankets, and got to it.

TheMoltingComic_Nunez

As a writer, I’m generally more interested in why people do what they do than how they do it. As such, I decided to kick off my three-hour evening seminar with a personal and creepy story about secretly drawing naked women when I was a schoolboy. I chose to share this tale because I believe it informs much of my present state and drive as an artist.

As has been the case with so much of my public work, the reaction from the classroom gallery to my dirty confessional seemed divided—especially when gauged by the furrowed brow on the father of the only child actor in the room—but as I went on to describe using primary passions to fuel success and find an authentic artistic voice, I think most in attendance came around.

TheTutor

In addition to attempting words and tales of inspiration, the T.O. visit afforded me the chance to visit old stomping grounds and reconnect with folks I hadn’t seen in years, including Dr. Berta Bacic (considering the motley band of degenerates that make up the majority of my friendship circle, it’s weird to know that any of my familiars are doctors… even ones residing some 2,500 miles away).

Berta owns and operates a dental practice in Burlington (thirty minutes outside of Toronto) and is about to open a second clinic in the city. In 2009, when I was in town for my first live Repo! shadowcast experience, Berta examined my much-neglected choppers and sent me back home to Los Angeles with a clean bill of dental health and a toothier grin. I blogged about the adventure in detail here.

Five years later—and five years since my last tooth exam—I again found myself strapped to Dr. Berta’s skillful chair.

Chair

Like a vintage vehicle, the older I get, the more maintenance seems necessary to preserve my banged-up chassis. An x-ray and a few minutes under The Scraper proved that my teeth were no exception to this declining motor standard as my mouth bore early signs of gum disease. If my jaw wasn’t already pried open, it would’ve surely dropped as Berta informed me of this.  She then said that four-hours of chiseling would be required to safeguard my not-so-pearly whites.

It’s strange to have hands and metal digging under your gums. It’s also strange to realize mid-treatment that your beard has gotten so out of control that the dentist needs to push your lip whiskers aside to properly do their art. Even more strange is leaving the clinic to kill time before catching a plane back home and finding that the only place within walking distance with Wi-Fi is a McCafé. Strangest of all is answering a phone call from an identified number (with post-dental numb gums) and hearing the voice of a relative you haven’t spoken to in years calling you from prison on a smuggled cell phone. Yes, this all happened.

X-rays

I want to thank Berta and Leigh Ann for tending to my devil-may-care mouth. If you’re in Southern Ontario and in need of dental nurturing, be sure to visit Dr. Berta Bacic & Associates. I also want to thank Dean and the students of Armstrong Acting Studios for making me feel welcomed, and for letting me ramble about things I love. To all my friends in Toronto, ’til the next time.

Any fair readers looking to share their own tales of joy and woe upon the dentist’s slab, please do so in the “Comments” section below.


Read more | Comments (8) | Apr 17, 2014

Obsessive-Compulsive Customs

This is what happens when you haven’t shaved since Christmas.

Beard

Yes, my face has all but disaBEARD. Aside from causing occasional difficulty when eating mess-prone foods, my evolving jaw fur has been nothing but rainbows—from the silent amusement it brings when friends can’t help but double-take, to the private joy my bathroom mirror beholds when I step out of the shower looking like a wet Scottish Terrier, to the fuzzy humor strangers hurl at me, like that sarcastic fellow who drove by me the other day and honked “Hey, Jesus!” as I was out walking my beard.

Lucky for him, my laughter and scorn were concealed beneath a curtain of stoic whiskers. His remark did prompt a daydream, however: a fancy of donning a crown of thorns, white robe, and sunglasses, standing in front of the Hollywood sign with a massive cross propped in my sidecar, charging tourists for photos.

TheMoltingComic_Monastery

Apparently, I wasn’t the only bearded guru on the road that fair day with visions of bilking passers-by. Moments after being accosted by the Jesus heckler, I was approached by a man in a turban with a thick Indian accent. He introduced himself as a face-reader. Honing in on my scruffy muzzle and advancing forehead, he volunteered a few positive personality predictions. He then offered to council me through some mystic turmoil that my features supposedly bore… for a small fee, of course.

From Jesus to mug-reading parking lot prophets, I wonder if these sorts of souls actually believe they have superpowers, or do they merely have faith in the credulity of fellow mammals? I’m not sure which is worse, but I suppose that both clergy and congregation alike suffer from a form of OCD; a belief that by ascribing meaning to ritual, they can wield control over that which is uncontrollable. Based on the abundance of psychic storefronts and media horoscopes, it’s a big club.

BadAssRussian_Gypsy

While I’m unimpressed by those who pretend to have supernatural knowledge, I also suffer from issues of control that often provoke equally bizarre habits.

A woman I dated years ago had a music stand in the center of her apartment. Hanging from the stand was a silver medallion; a sort of swinging necklace for the supported sheet music. Whenever I visited her, I was compelled to place the dangling medallion onto the lip of the frame from which it was strung. Each time, after I’d left, she’d drop the medallion back into the hanging position. This swaying vs. seated dance continued throughout our relationship. After a spell, she confronted me about my obsessive medallion meddling, which I was unable to stop since most of the time I was unaware I was even doing it.

Guardian-Bell-2

Over the past few months, even my beard has provided a bit of an obsessive-compulsive playground. I’m constantly stroking it, hunting for inconsistencies. Unlike the hair atop my head, my cheek and chin sprouts an array of colors and textures—from fair to coarse to red to blonde, and even a few ominous gray arrivals. My favorite variety, however, are when a cluster of hairs fuse together and grow from a single pore. It gives me great satisfaction and a sense of control to find and pluck these wiry nonconformists.

As a motorcyclist, I’ve been introduced to many of the road rituals specific to the cult of two wheels, including superstitious guardian bells. Bikers hitch these thimble-sized, jingle-makers to their bikes as ringing representations of guardian angels watching over them as they ride.

Guardian-Bell

I don’t believe in magic spells, beans, or bells, but I have two guardian ringers tied to my motorcycle. These protector chimes were gifts from people important in my life and I find their gesture and the symbolism comforting.

So… what strange rituals do you perform to get through the day? Palm reading? Numerology? Do you wear an assortment of charms? Do you refuse to wash a certain outfit because you’re afraid of breaking a perceived streak of fashionable luck? Do you have to eat food in a certain order or avoid stepping on cracks in the pavement? Have you observed others with strange tics or found instances where your behavioral quirks clashed with those of another? Spill your neuroses in the “Comments” section below.


Read more | Comments (46) | Mar 27, 2014

Spell Sexy

I prefer a woman with sexy syntax, a voluptuous command of language, and a mature tongue and hand(writing). Bring that buxom spelling bee brain over here… ’cause I’ve been a bad, bad speller.

TheMoltingComic_Nunez

Is speller even a word? It feels wrong, doesn’t it? I’ve heard people use it in sentences, but those folks are usually calling on the word as a way of declaring their lack of spelling prowess… so, if their orthographic skills are wanting and flaccid, why would their vocabulary be any better? There’s but one way to find out. To the dictionary!

As a writer, I find myself constantly referencing online glossaries, thesauri, rhyming dictionaries, historical resources, and the like. There is so much free information—and so many great writing tools readily available—that these easy-click services sometimes feel like a crutch. On the other hand, they often save souls with mediocre spelling skills, like yours truly, hoping to verify the authenticity of alleged words, like speller.

As it turns out, speller IS a word.

Speller (noun): a person who spells words.

TheMoltingComic_Fssshsst

I’m sure you’re asking yourself, why is this guy who plays devils in film, raises cockroaches, and rides motorcycles lecturing to me about spelling? Recently, I’ve been asking myself a similar question, which is what sparked the idea for this blog.

Over the past few years, one of my unofficial duties has been proofreading… reams and reams and readings to proof. I never asked for the job. I don’t get paid for it. I don’t particularly enjoy it. And I’m certainly no authority on English, yet I’m habitually tasked with this charge.

I think it’s because I’m thorough by way of vanity—i.e. I’m too vain to endure the notion that materials associated with my name might be perceived as illiterate.  I’m also humble enough to seek answers to things I do not know, like the word speller.

In spite of being cocky enough to be careful, and modest enough to be curious, typographical errors sometimes still slip through the cracks, like this undetected typo that made it’s way into print on the third issue of my comic book series, The Molting.

Ch3_Sp03_full

Can you CAKE me to school? Really? I proofread the chapter a dozen times and somehow missed this glaring mistake. Luckily, I’m reminded of it every few months by a well-meaning fan who sends me a message informing me of the misprint, often with a photo of the page attached as evidence.

Notwithstanding intermittent spelling misCAKEs, I get by. In fact, most folks assume me alphabetically cultivated even though I was raised in an environment where linguistics—and academics in general—were less than encouraged. Stranger still, my colleagues routinely look to me for copy editing, despite the fact that if called upon to represent them in a spelldown, I would most certainly fail.  More curiously, i find that the text presented to me to repair often comes from well-educated, so-called professionals in their fields, and their writing is usually a nightmarish butchering of the English language.

TheMoltingComic_Susie

Sometime ago, I read a book about the BTK serial killer who notoriously wrote taunting poems about his kills to media and law enforcement. The poems were trite and riddled with misspellings and poor grammar. The author of the BTK book described instances where the killer, Dennis Rader, would pause while penning his death notes, realizing that something wasn’t quite right with the words he’d chosen. These realizations were quickly dismissed by Rader who lacked the intellectual curiosity to further examine his work—or himself—when something felt wrong. In other words, BTK wasn’t stupid, just lazy and surface. The author went on to say that even when Radar was shown the correct usage of his incorrect words, it never translated into a personal connection that then resulted in a change in spelling habit.

I’ve seen a handful of humorous captions bandied about cyberspace stating things like “Before the internet, I assumed my friends knew the difference between to, too, and two.” I wonder if the word wrongdoers that are the butts of these sorts of viral jokes, recognize their shortcomings when they read captions like the example above? Or, like BTK, do they fail to make any personal connection?  Or do they simply not care?

TheMoltingComic_Tattoos

I’m not trying to draw a comparison between poor spelling and grammar and serial murder, nor am I attempting to marginalize those with clinical reading disorders like dyslexia.  I’m also not writing a post about words to pat myself on the back.  No, I composed this blog because I’m curious.  What is it that makes some of us inquisitive enough to learn from our linguistic misdeeds while others don’t? Especially with the amazing access to information that we presently enjoy?  And the fact that so many of our written words are now public?

Obviously, education—and therefore economics—play a huge factor in “book smarts”, but opportunity and memorization are different than curiosity… and I think curiosity… is SEXY.

By writing this blog, I realize that I’ve opened myself up to the red pen of any English teacher who may stumble upon this post, which I welcome… in the “Comments” section below. I also welcome comments from you, dear readers. Please share your own spelling sagas, embarrassing typos, favorite words, and titillating parlance tips and tricks.


Read more | Comments (40) | Feb 27, 2014

Odometers and Moveable Feasts

Last month, a good friend celebrated his 40th birthday at a cabin on a lake. Thirteen adventurous souls—including yours truly—ventured some 250 miles to spend a weekend at a vacation rental near Yosemite National Park. Since I was not the only motorcyclist amongst our merry band of boarders, a handful of us endeavored to make the trip a biker’s pilgrimage. Rolling five deep, we packed up our motorbikes, slid on our riding gear, and shot towards Bass Lake to observe our friend’s milestone holiday.

BassLake

Like the birthday bloke, my motorcycle was also passing a a significant milepost: the odometer on my Ural creaked past 6,660 kilometers on the first leg of our trip. Knowing that this evil distance marker was worthy of memorial, I planned my fuel accordingly so that we’d have to stop for gas just in time for a photograph.

Odometer

Yes, that’s right; I said kilometers. My stubborn Russian bike vill not conform to American standard of wehicular distance.

As you can imagine, this took some getting used to. My inadequate kilometer-to-miles conversion skills were the cause of a minor panic attack on the highway when I first took up the motorcycle.

Pack

Unlike cars and trucks, most motorbikes do not have gas gages to alert you when your tank’s low. Instead, they have a small fuel reserve. This reservoir exists to spirit choking, fuel-thirsty engines to nearby filling stations for salvation. So, as motorcyclists, you can either figure out your per gallon road requirements in advance of traveling, and refill accordingly, or wait ’til your bike putters out of gas and then use the reserve tank to make your way to the nearest petrol pump.

Motorcyles

I prefer the gasoline pre-calculation method, but on my first long motorcycle trip, being accustomed to American mileometers, I’d forgotten to account for the kilometer discrepancy. Thankfully, the error caused me to UNDERestimate the amount of fuel in my tank. At the time, however, I was certain I was going to run out of gas on a twenty mile stretch of station-less highway.

Anxiety aside, one of the things I’m enjoying most about riding a motorcycle is the constant learning experience of how your vehicle and body responds to various road and weather conditions.

Gang

Last November, for example, I journaled about my first experience with rain on a motorcycle in the post “The Road Less Traveled” and how I was ill-prepared. Luckily, it rains a total of maybe eight days annually in California, but I still made a point of being better equipped for the Bass Lake Birthday Ride and upgraded my gear to include biker thermals, warmer gloves, and a full-face helmet. I also purchased a snazzy pair of kevlar-lined jeans and waterproof biker boots.

Gear

This trip was my first experience with riding in a group and it served as a crash course on the road etiquette and tactics required to keep cars from breaking up one’s motorcycle pack. It’s harder than it seems—our group was separated on more than one occasion—but the basic philosophy is to stay close and in a staggered lane formation.

Blasting up the highway with four other motorcyclists, I couldn’t help but imagine the theme song from Sons Of Anarchy blaring. “Ridin’ over squirrels and lizard bones…”

Booze

The ride was both challenging and exhilarating and the weekend getaway was a blast, replete with a boat ride around the lake, bad magic, and a ridiculous lineup of booze bottles for a night of whiskey tasting.


Read more | Comments (8) | Feb 6, 2014

Can You Picture That?

This blog post cost me $200.

In the spring of last year, I received a letter from the legal department at Getty Images.  It was regarding the use of a photograph featured in my blog some six months earlier. Getty owned the image—well, part of the image—and was demanding that I pay $875 smackers as a settlement for the unauthorized use of their property.

The MoltingComic_Bwee-oo

Taking in the ten plus pages of legalese and corporate jargon, I was stung with a shot of conflicted feelings. On the one hand, $875 simoleons for the use of one low-res image on a personal blog that doesn’t generate money seemed like highway robbery. On the other hand, I had been caught using something that wasn’t mine.

I considered my options: ignore, pay, or fight.

TheMoltingComic_Abe

Option One: Ignore. Instinct told me that if I disregarded the letter, the case would disappear.

Considering the hotbed of copyright infringements that is the internet, I figured that a third party collections agency, working on commission for Getty Images, had probably sent out thousands of identical letters. The aim: shake easy money from the cyber tree. In other words, based on the law of averages, the agency would bank on a handful of recipients, businesses mostly, forking over the ordered cash, no questions asked. As such, they weren’t going to waste extra time or resources chasing down broke individuals like me. No, I could just remove the evidence from my blog (even though the settlement stated that ceasing use of the image didn’t release me from payment responsibilities) and act like the whole affair never happened.

Option One seemed an easy scenario, but something about it didn’t sit right, so I considered the next alternative.

TheMoltingComic_Susie

Option Two: Pay. As an artist trying to scratch out a living, who feels the crippling effect of internet piracy on his industry, a part of me said it was my duty to atone.

I strongly agree with Getty Images’ stance that just because something’s online does not make it free. To that end, unlike much of our generation, I pay for music and movies and am happy to do so… but then again, $875 big ones is a lot to demand for the limited use of a single photograph. I’ve spent less dough on entire professional shoots.

Even if the sticker price was reasonable, however, it’d be irksome to fork over that kind of moolah knowing that most of it, if any, would not be going to the photographer, but rather some bottom-feeding collection agency; the sort of firms that care only about infringements on intellectual property when it earns them an easy buck. Sure, they’ll go after individuals, but I doubt we’ll see them serving likeminded legal papers to any of the major image and video-sharing sites who generate billions of dollars hosting other people’s content without their consent, and for free. A wise friend of mine compared these sorts of collection opportunists to looters during the L.A. Riots who paid lip service to civil unrest over social injustice, but really just wanted an excuse to steal TVs.

Even if I had near a thousand extra dollars lying around to spend on a photo, indignation wouldn’t allow me to stomach such a transaction… so I explored my third, final option.

TheMoltingComic_Theatre

Option Three: Fight. After much soul-searching, it became clear that my issue with Getty Images was that the settlement demand seemed incommensurate with not only the crime, but with the times in which we live.

The fact of the case was, in September of 2012 I used an unauthorized image to illustrate a point on a free blog in the same way that so many of us do whenever we hit a “share” button.  To that end, I initially found the image in question on somebody else’s blog, and this version of the picture—unbeknownst to me at the time—was considerably altered from the one that Getty Images had claim over: the JPEG was a collage of two photographs, each photograph covering half of the other. As such, was Getty Images entitled to a 50% judgment?

Photographic rights have always been complicated to me. I believe the law states that if you took the photo, you own the photo. But, as a hypothetical, let’s say a photograph features a dog, wearing a handsome scarf, standing in front of a tall building. Presumably the photographer didn’t design the skyscraper, or the stole wrapped around the dog’s neck, and may not even own the pooch.  Would the architect, fashionista, and gay pet owner also have title to the theoretical photo? If so, how much? Further: in a modern context, portable devices and downloadable photo-filters and image-sweeteners have turned everyone into armchair paparazzi. With single-click gizmos dramatically shaping most photographs, what percentage of any modern image can truly be called proprietary?

TheMoltingComic_Principal

I reached out to Chris Bonifay, an attorney friend, for advise. He recommended I offer Getty Images a reduced sum to have them close the case. Based on cursory research, he felt that $200 shekels would satisfy them and protect me from future bindings. Even though I felt that $200 was over four times what the use of the image was worth, I made the offer.  Getty accepted, and my surly solicitor made sure my ass was covered—thanks, Chris!

I chalked the experience up as a costly reminder to be more conscientious when it came to circulating online imagery.  The $200 purchased not only piece of mind, but the ability to write freely about what I knew would make for a compelling online story.  So, yes…. this blog post cost me $200.

I should state that the goal of this entry is not to undervalue or marginalize the practice of professional photography. Many of my friends are photographers, and I love the art form. In fact, I’m in the developmental stages of major site renovations to TZ.com. This remodeling will include provocative new photographs of me and my work… so, if there are interested, potential shutterbug collaborators in the Los Angeles area reading this post, feel free to share portfolio links in the “Comments” section below.

TheMoltingComic_Trevor

More importantly, I’m interested in hearing opinions from photographers in cyberspace on the subject of this blog. Have you had your images stolen? What do you do to protect yourself while trying to make a living in the current, digital marketplace? Non-photographers: how would you have handled the situation if you received a likeminded letter from Getty Images? All opinions are welcomed.


Read more | Comments (12) | Jan 16, 2014