Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hollywood Ending

It's New Years' Eve and I can't find anyone to be nice to. No one is around. Even the homeless people I want to give my recycling to are not hanging out at their usual spot by the dumpsters in back of the corner liquor store. Mr. Foxypants and I will be ringing in the New Year by watching a marathon of MAD MEN episodes and eating Chinese take-out like the crabby shut-ins we are.

Okay. I admit it. I'm too lazy to find someone to be nice to today. I just want spend all day in relaxed contemplation.

Oh, why is it that I cannot talk about self-reflection without sounding like a self-involved twit?


I am a failure. As far as my 2008 pledge to be nice every day...well, I didn't do it. Finding 365 new and inventive ways of being nice for no good reason is much harder than I ever anticipated. That, and I'm a crappy memoirist, so even when I was nice, there were many days that I just didn't get around to writing stuff down.

But even though my resolve was shoddy, and my follow-though haphazard, being consciously and actively nice had many unintended positive consequences:

1. Not only did I pay down my debt, but unlike everyone else I know, I can actually say that I am better off financially than I was last year.

2. My charity allowed me to downsize my material possessions by a whopping 85% without feeling a sense of deprivation or guilt. In fact, I found the entire process liberating. Less things = less things to dust. Duh. Simplifying my life by getting rid of my stuff has brought me a level of mental peace I've not had in years.

3. Being nice has brought me new friends and strengthened my relationship with the friends I already had. There are many ways to be rich that don't involve money!

So, the experiment was a success?

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Umbrellas of East LA

She looked miserable.

Selling fruit as a curbside vendor in this city has to be a terrible job to begin with. All day long you face the rejection of hostile LA drivers, car exhaust, and a multitude of other annoyances that come with using a traffic median strip as your workplace.

I drove past the fruit seller on my way to the video store. She looked like a grumpy toadstool, squatting on a parched strip of parkway lawn, hunched under a small black umbrella that didn't even shade her feet, behind cardboard flats of mangos and sweaty bags of oranges. Today was one of those freakishly hot December days in Los Angeles that just makes me want to slap everyone who doubts the reality of global warming. The sun beating through my windows had turned my car into a sauna, so I knew that the fruit seller was not having a good time. She had perspiration stains that dipped halfway to the hem of her shirt.

Back at the house, I pulled a large nylon umbrella that I use to shade my chair on set out of the garage and put it in my car. I drove back to the fruit seller's corner and bought a flat of mangos before giving the fruit seller the big umbrella. "I thought this might give you better shade and it's very light" I said as I passed it to her. She took the umbrella exactly how she took my $5 bill for the fruit, without a word and without changing her sullen expression.

As I drove away, I watched the fruit seller in my review mirror. She tossed the big umbrella aside unopened and crouched back under her black umbrella. At that moment I realized that I had unintentionally insulted her dignity by bringing her unasked-for charity. I should have asked her if she wanted a larger umbrella before assuming I could just solve a problem for her. Or, maybe she's just rude. But the nice thing to do in this situation is to just assume responsibility so I don't repeat the possible offense to anyone else.

As I unpacked the mangos in my kitchen I discovered a surprise hidden in the bottom of the cardboard box:

A dozen cockroaches.

I spent the next 30 minutes, shoe in hand, staking out the corners of my kitchen and pantry, having visions of what horrible poisons I am going to have to bring into my house to conquer my possible future roach infestation.

That fruit lady sucks.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


I found a random rubber stamp in the garage that says "cinnamon."

Where did this come from and why do I have this?

Today I walked it down to my local vegan restaurant, which just happens to be called CINNAMON, and gave the stamp to the very startled counter girl.

Friday, December 26, 2008

I Wish I Had Thought of This!

In addition to a rash of people leaving presents and thank you cards on the doorsteps of fellow freecyclers, Leslie, a woman on my local freecycle group, has taken Christmas spirit one step further:

"Hope you all had a Merry Christmas. If you didn't get all the chocolate you wanted in your stocking, I have two Trader Joe's Milk Chocolate bars imported from Belgium.

Why Day 7?
Freecycle has been very helpful and generous to me over the years, so in the spirit of the season I am going around my house to find little presents that might brighten your day and give me the joy of giving it away...I will be offering 12 days of Christmas."

Wow! What a great idea. I wish I had thought of this!

I wrote Leslie a fan letter:


I'd just like to say you are awesome! What a great idea to pass along to other freecyclers! Thanks! I think I'm going to have to steal this one for next year."

She wrote me back:

"Yes, please feel free to freecycle the idea!! Spread the love...a ripple effect is awesome!

Here I am, spreading the love.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Paying (The Difference) Forward

December 19, 2008

I'm splitting the cost three ways on a $100 gift certificate for a journalist who has been indispensable to one of my projects this year. Yesterday, I sent the screenwriter, who is in charge of procuring the House of Pies legal tender, a check for $34.

I had a college room mate who ALWAYS shorted me on the extra penny whenever the bills were an odd amount. During the time we lived together, I probably spent only 80 cents more than she did on bills, but's the principle!

What irritated me most about that situation was that I never felt like I could confront her about her pettiness, without being, well, petty myself.

Since graduation, I've probably spent $8000 in extra one dollar increments on odd numbered payments because I was that annoyed by that extra three or four penny gouge I felt every month.

Today I received an email from the screenwriter: "You get extra points for sending the 100th dollar by sending in $34, not $33."

I'm pleased that he noticed my gesture, but sad that paying the difference is so unusual that he had to thank me for it.


December 20, 2008

Today I ran into Helen, a really old friend who I haven't seen in years, at Trader Joe's. She tells me that Pablo, the five year old son of two of our mutual pals is fighting cancer. Which is just the worst news. My heart just breaks as she gives me the horrible details of his chemotherapy.

Helen is running the direct donation blood bank for Pablo. Pablo is Type O. I am Type A+. I'm totally bummed I'm not a match, even though I'm too anemic to donate whole blood anyway.

Helen tells me that she's also short on platelet donors. "Oh my God!" I yell as I yank up my sweater sleeve, "Check out my track marks!" The two annoying women who were trying to shove by me to get at the German Wheat Beer, turn abruptly and skitter away before I can add, "I donate platelets twice a month!"

(Because there are no red blood cells in platelets--the clotting element in blood--it doesn't matter that I don't have the same blood type as Pablo).

I feel strangely honored to be able to donate my sticky blood product.

Go here for details on how to donate platelets to Pablo or another kid:

Go here to find out how you can help Pablo fight cancer:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Do Nice Gestures Make Up For Mean Thoughts?

I know I sound like a jerk when I say this, but Margaret is dumb.

She's that person who asks you for directions, but never writes them down, insisting that she'll remember them and then calls you in a panic when she can't find your house...even though she's been there a dozen times.

Maybe she's had a stroke that I've never heard about or was in some terrible accident that damaged her brain. No. Really. If I found out that she'd been lobotomized as a young girl...well, that would explain a lot.

I hate it when Margaret shows up to book club. She never reads the right chapter or, on occasion, even the right book. But, that doesn't stop her from asking endless questions about what happened in each book, because she can't be bothered to finish any text. She appears startled every time someone suggests that she actually read the book that is up for discussion. And by every time I mean EVERY ding dang time.

This evening, I packed a bunch of my knitted hats into my book bag. I was hoping to get some last minute holiday sales from my fellow book worms who are fans of my needle work.

Then I left them, by accident, in my trunk.

My own personal dumbness made me slightly more tolerant of Margaret during the book club meeting, even though she fell asleep for about ten minutes, woke up with a start, and proceeded to ask the exact same question that someone else had asked during her nap.

I was on my way out the door when Margaret walked up to me. She usually accosts me on the way out the door, generally with a question about what I thought of x, y, or z. She usually tries to argue some point that I made during the meeting, even though she didn't read book.

"I'm collecting hats and scarves for children who are going through chemotherapy," she said. "Would you make one for charity? Their bald heads get cold easy."

Margaret, who makes me crazy with her dumbness, is collecting knitted hats for children with cancer. I stand there with my mouth agape as I try and gather up the pieces of my blown mind.

Then I give her my three softest hats.


December 15, 2008

Today I heard the most delicious gossip. The Fat One, a producer who has been pure evil to me, cried every day on the set of his last movie. He just couldn't take the pressure.

I try and rid myself of the pleasure I feel in the small, petty little lump of coal that is my heart. Knowing that he suffers really does make me want to clap my hands with glee and jump around.

But it doesn't make me a nice person.


Friday, December 12, 2008


Yep. That's me!

Today, Chase restored my $100,000 line of credit.

Ah! It's so nice to be out of financial quarantine.

Maybe I will be able to fix up my house enough to rent it out next year and not be so reliant on Hollywood for my main source of revenue.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Happy Holidays! You're Fired.

My friend Elle called this morning to ask me for help on getting fired.

No. Not on tips on how to get fired, but for advice on how to deal with the production company you've given five years of your life to when they decide, two weeks before the holidays, to downsize your entire department.

They are offering her $25,000 in severance, which sounds like a lot of money, until you take into account the fact that they are trying to give her this in lieu of paying her a producing fee on a 100 million dollar feature film she set up.

Hollywood, the happiest place on earth.

I hooked her up with my lawyer, who's commonly referred to as "that terrorist," to work things out for her.

Apparently, things are already looking up for her. She just called to compliment my taste in lawyers. "Wow! He is so scary!"

It's good to be nice to others, but having a mean-ass attorney assures that others will be nice back to you.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Not So Secret Santa: Part 2 a.k.a NSSS:2

December 8, 2008

My friend from Bakersfield emailed me today. She's decided to take me up on my offer and allow me to give her my old VCR and treat her to the postage too.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Producer As Future Decamillionaire

Thomas J. Stanley, the best selling author of THE MILLIONAIRE NEXT DOOR was interviewed about what common traits decamillionaires (for those of you who didn't grow up in the seventies and experience the metric system that means people with at least ten million dollars) have. The number one trait of really rich, self-made people?


Which is apparently rich person lingo for the word "nice."

I was so excited when I heard this that I had to call my producing partner and tell her that Thomas J. Stanley, who is like the Jane Goodall of rich people, has shown in his expert research that people get really rich because they are really nice.

Nice guys do finish first!

At least the ones outside of Hollywood do.

I am thinking about my future integrity-driven wealth today in an effort to be less angry with one of my friends.

My friend, whose initials are Tom, is currently on unemployment. He divides his time lying on his sofa watching the Hitler, I mean History Channel and the Starbucks around the corner from his apartment where he has been writing the Great American Short Story that is sure to be published in McSweeneys whenever he gets around to finishing it. I've been able to look beyond his pretentious writing asperations, along with his propensity to bow and say, "Namaste" instead of "Thank you," and not think he sucks until now.

I have an annoying document that needs to be signed by a city employee whose office is 30 miles from my house. The city office is, however, conveniently located in the same building as Tom's Starbucks. I called Tom and asked him if I could mail him the document and would he then be so kind as to run upstairs and get the document signed by the city employee the next time he's over at Starbucks.

He said no.

Yep. He's that lazy *cough* busy. So busy that he can't take ten minutes out of his day to save me a two-hour drive.

As I write this I realize that I'm really mad at him. And disappointed.

I'm not disappointed in him, I'm disappointed in me. The niceness experiment has had an unintended side effect: it's forced me to realize that I chosen some lousy people to be friends with. Tom being a prime example of the self-involved twittery of many of the members of my social group. He has no problem asking me for favors all the time, often citing his extreme poverty. Can I loan him my car while his is in the shop? Can I bring an extra bottle of wine to his party?

For the last five minutes I've been thinking of all the favors I will deny him in the future because of his refusal to help me today, but I just now realize that Tom has another thing in common with a lot of my friends: Tom has ridiculous credit card debt. Tom is really poor.

Tom's need for immediate gratification has left him with so much credit debt that he's actually considering going home to England, so he can walk away from a $70,000 debt...which means that if Tom were a subject of Dr. Stanley's studies, Dr. Stanley would discover that Tom is part of the no integrity control group.

We are all the architects of our own destruction.

I am struggling not to think of ways to punish Tom, because he's already in Hell. He lives a hideous, boring, debt-ridden existence. And wishing bad things on people who I am angry at isn't, well, nice.

My nice act of today will be letting go of my anger toward Tom as I drive through traffic across town to deal with city bureaucracy. Believe me, this is proving to be much harder than playing not-so-secret Santa.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Maureen 2: Electric Boogaloo

The son-in-law of my recently departed neighbor called me this morning. I have a ridiculously productive kiwi vine that has overtaken my front porch and he was calling for permission to pick some for himself. I was actually really happy that he called me about this. His mother-in-law, bless her, had been a crazy food hoarder. Her house was always full of cases of past-sell-by date salad dressings and withered vegetables that she'd gotten from her friend at the grocery mart for free or pulled from the dumpster behind the corner bodega. Her last conversation with me, the week before she died, was about me bringing some kiwis around to her, so his request gave me an odd sense of closure to my relationship with his wife's mother.

My late neighbor was a nut. But, as a gardener, she was kind of a good nut to live next door to. She was constantly bringing me fresh tomatoes seedlings that had sprung up all over her yard (yay) and almost moldy bread (bleh) in trade for tiny apples from my tree or cuttings from my roses. I'm only too happy to continue my fruit-giving ways to a second generation of nutty neighbors.

This afternoon I found a sack of oranges on my front porch from the son-in-law's backyard tree. Sometimes being nice has immediate, and delicious, repercussions.