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A Considerable Town

FIVE HUNDRED people showed up in West Hollywood Saturday for a high school reunion, many waiting several hours to get their yearbooks signed by old friends. And coincidentally everyone had the same old friends: Lindsay and Sam Weir, Bill Haverchuck, Neil Schweiber, Daniel Desario and Kim Kelly, Coach Fredericks, and of course the squarely avuncular but dedicated guidance counselor Jeff Grosso. When the friends arrived in a yellow school bus at the Tower Records on Sunset, their classmates, who were lined up around the parking lot, went wild. Of course, this wasn’t any high school; it was William McKinley, the high school we all never attended, the essence of institutional adolescence that played host to one of the best — and most unfairly abbreviated — shows in television history, Freaks and Geeks. And this wasn’t a simple reunion, but the release party for the DVD collection of Freaks and Geeks’ one and only season.

Since NBC canceled the show four years ago — despite an avalanche of critical acclaim and a fiercely dedicated following that was apparently not big enough to overcome the networks’ loyalty to their true audience, Accounting — Freaks and Geeks viewing has been mostly limited to the bootleg circuit. The show was so full of carefully selected music — each episode had its own period soundtrack — that no one wanted to put up the money for all the clearances needed for proper DVD distribution.

But Freaks and Geeks was destined for an afterlife. In what may be the first grassroots DVD release effort, thousands of fans signed a petition that Paul Feig, the show’s creator, and Judd Apatow, its executive producer, used to convince Shout! Factory, a new distributor, to take on the project.

“I can’t tell you how much all this means to me,” said Arnold Freeman, a fan so dedicated he was invited by Feig and Apatow to contribute to one of the DVDs’ commentary tracks. Freeman wandered about in a state of euphoria. So did Tami Lefko, another fan who helped out by screening some 50 hours of footage for material to include as deleted scenes. The rest of the line filing in showed the diversity of Freaks and Geeks admirers: There were kids and adults, nerds and hipsters, and at least one stocky biker, standing next to a ringer for Thomas Nast’s Santa Claus. Tunes from the show played over loudspeakers: Carry on my wayward son . . .

Most members of the principal cast, along with the writing and producing team, were at the center of the store. Feig, dressed up and looking almost nervous, smiled like a kid who finally got that triumphant date for the prom. John Francis Daley, who had the misfortune to relive some of Paul’s worst high school experiences as Sam Weir, a 103-pound terrified freshman, surprised many fans by having filled out and shot up above six feet. (When prompted, however, Daley could still reproduce the show’s best visual accomplishment — Sam’s expressive facial language that wordlessly conveyed the 50 shades of dreadfulness that accompanied the ninth grade.) Dave “Gruber” Allen, the guidance counselor, was reassuringly unchanged. Still a longhair, amiable and amply bearded, Allen administered plenty of hugs to fans, and, I discovered, was likely to tap one’s shoulder while chatting.

There was a display of the box set, a generous DVD collection that is surpassed in generosity only by the special edition Freaks and Geeks yearbook, which, in its incredible devotion to detail, is probably the nicest DVD product ever created. Back in the parking lot, the exegetes were at work comparing signatures, deciphering messages in the yearbook, and pinning down continuity discrepancies from their favorite episodes. There is a very active message board on the Web site (www.freaksandgeeks.com), and some fans who’d communicated there for years were meeting for the first time.

“What do you post under?”

“I’m ‘The Vegan.’”

“No way!”

Lisa Sutton explained how she had snagged the second spot in line by arriving five hours ahead. Scott Leeds topped that, saying he had to make a plane back home to Bellingham, Washington. He had arrived that morning, and was flying out to make it back for school the next day. “I have a test,” he explained. “Can’t miss that.”

—Joshuah Bearman

In-N-Outlessness

There were three notable developments in my local, admittedly limited fast-foodie circle this past year. One was Tacos Villa Corona in Atwater Village staying open on Sundays. A second was the opening of the marvelously named Asparagus Pizza on Cahuenga below Franklin — I haven’t eaten there yet, but I looked into the issue and, yes, they do offer other toppings and, no, it isn’t the family name. Stranger than Asparagus Pizza’s mere existence, though, was the opening of a most unusual In-N-Out Burger in Glendale — an In-N-Out without a drive-thru. That is: an In-N-Out without an in and out.

 

Which is weird because the drive-thru is what In-N-Out is known for. The first In-N-Out Burger, founded in 1948 by Harry and Esther Snyder in Baldwin Park, was California’s first drive-thru hamburger stand. When Harry died in 1976, there were 18 In-N-Outs; today more than 140 dot California’s freeways and major thoroughfares, little roadside oases where weary commuters with a touch of the gourmand may find a simple, dependable menu, freshly made food and zero promotional tie-ins.

And yet, here is an In-N-Out where you have to park your car. (In a Mervyn’s parking structure, no less!) Facing this immanent, undeniable heresy, I experienced an episode of cognitive dissonance. Did this represent some new corporate strategy? Was In-N-Out turning its back not just on tradition but, even more unthinkable in Southern California, on the car itself?

I decided to make inquiries. I called corporate offices in Irvine and asked what the heck was going on.

“Our Brand Boulevard In-N-Out is actually our fifth location without a drive-thru,” Carl Van Fleet, In-N-Out’s vice president of planning, patiently explained in an e-mail a week later. “The first location without a drive-thru opened in Placentia in 1984, and there are also two in the Bay Area and one in Laguna Hills. So we really don’t consider a store without a drive-thru as a break with tradition. We just have a few sites where a drive-thru was not possible but we wanted to be there anyway. And most of our older stores have two drive-thru lanes and outside seating with a walk-up window, [so] I wouldn’t call them drive-thru only.”

So In-N-Out on Brand, in a very distinct minority, is a variation on the formula, kinda like the chain’s infamous off-the-menu items: the 4 x 4 (four patties, four slices of cheese), the Flying Dutchman (a Double-Double without veggies), Animal Style (don’t ask). Just as the Protein Style burger has no bun, or the Wish Burger has no meat, this In-N-Out has no drive-thru.

In a way, it doesn’t matter, because you don’t really mind having to stay to eat. I mean, look at the place: With its vaulted ceiling and huddled masses, this In-N-Out is unlike any I’ve ever experienced — it’s somewhere between a pleasant cafeteria and a brightly lit cathedral. The Snyder family may still print New Testament quotations on the bottoms of In-N-Out’s disposable drink cups, but the Brand location seems a celebration of an altogether different trinity: you half expect the giant windows facing Brand Boulevard to feature stained-glass representations of Double-Double, Fries and the Holy Coke.

They don’t, of course. What you see when you look out the window is traffic. And, if you watch closely, I’m told by the store’s staff, sometimes you’ll see the same car pass by several times in the span of a few minutes, a puzzled look on the faces of the driver and passengers.

They’re looking for the drive-thru, you see.

They ain’t gonna find it.

—Jay Babcock

Great Expectorations

AS I WAS COMPLETING a left turn onto Sycamore Avenue from a busy Beverly Boulevard, the driver of a baby blue Cadillac Seville pulled head-on into my path in an effort to get around the massive delivery truck waiting to make a right turn in front of him. I was able to stop, but by jutting into the middle of the street, M&M — my made-up name for the wigger driving what was most likely his pop’s hooptie — effectively pinned my shiny, 22-day-old Honda Civic between Baby Blue and a row of parked vehicles lining the curb. Accelerating would mean a game of bumper cars with consequences.

The driver’s-side window was tinted a few shades lighter than a limousine so I couldn’t tell for sure, but I’m guessing M&M was no older than 23. He had a faint beard and was reclined to the max in his seat. I think he was jostling a toothpick in his mouth. The hood of his sweatshirt was pulled down to his eyebrows, forcing him to raise his head when he finally decided to turn and acknowledge my presence, which he did only after I honked and honked again for not making an effort to let me pass. M&M then pointed his hand at me like it was a gun . . . Bang! That’s when I lost my cool.

I drew down my car window and spit a loogie at M&M.

Spitting at a person is low. It’s worse than a sucker punch because the recipient can’t react appropriately. How exactly does one deflect spit? Even though my loogie landed on M&M’s rolled-up window, he knew the real bull’s-eye was his face. Much disrespect.

 

Right after, the delivery truck turned, freeing up space for Baby Blue and me to maneuver out of our standstill. I continued down Sycamore. An adrenaline rush. A sigh of relief. Then, a double take in my rearview mirror: M&M was flipping a bitch on Beverly and coming after me. I sped up, then slowed down, then the pussy in me rationalized that I didn’t need the confrontation and sped up again, right past my apartment, before turning right onto Second Street and then right onto La Brea. The northbound chase was on.

In high school there was a group of us who did stupid shit like toss balloons filled with ketchup at moving cars and play chicken for real. Once, we pissed off a cowboy in a pickup truck and he chased us for miles, along the way firing his pistol just to scare us. This was in the backwoods of Colleyville, Texas, though, not a Hollywood thoroughfare, where there is safety, presumably, in numbers.

I lost myself in the music, the moment, I owned it, and temporarily eluded M&M. North of Beverly, however, he exhibited some skillful maneuvers to gain ground, swerving in and out of lanes, screeching and scrapping his way around other cars. Once aside me he veered Baby Blue close to my Civic, as if, like Craterface gouging Zuko’s Greased Lighting on Thunder Road, he was intent on doing some serious damage to my new ride. Colorful combinations of words spewed from his mouth. “Pull over, li’l bitch.” “. . . kick your muthafucking ass.” “You’re dead, punk-ass ho.” Realizing he was within spitting distance, I quickly closed my windows.

Then M&M tossed what must have been a lighter, judging by the impact and the mark it left on the passenger-side door, and swerved in front of me, his momentum causing Baby Blue to fishtail over to the other side of the street and face the opposite direction . . . the direction in which he kept going. The lack of lights and cameras confirmed for unknowing passersby that this wasn’t an action sequence for a low-budget film but instead real life, where one never knows who he’s fucking with.

—Michael Hoinski

Spoiled Mommy

I was reading the paper at the Rose Cafe in Venice when a well-heeled mother, very preggers, plopped her two small children — one about 4 years old, the other a sobbing, bellowing toddler — down on two tall stools and then left to stand in line for food and coffee. The toddler immediately started kicking the steel leg of the chair and intermittently yelling and howling. She came back and said something to him when the screaming got a little louder, causing him to cut his volume ever so slightly, but not entirely — probably because her version of the “firm hand” of parental discipline appeared to be more of a limp wrist. The moment she got back in line, the kid upped both his decibel level and his chair-kicking campaign.

I had a choice: Sit there until I got a migraine from the piercing howls duking it out with the high notes of Vivaldi blaring from the café’s speakers or take charge. I looked straight at the toddler and said in a firm voice, “You need to be quiet. It makes it not nice for all the other people here if you’re making all this noise, so please stop right now.” Miracle of miracles, he did. All it took was an adult talking to him seriously, a lone voice outside that vast sea of go-right-ahead mommying telling him, not cruelly, that I wasn’t going to just sit there and suffer his brat-hood. (Yo, mom — maybe your kid is testing you to see if you love him enough to give him the discipline he needs? Just a thought!)

My reward for my triumph in managing the unmanageable? His mother marched over to my table and demanded, “Did you just reprimand my child?!” Mustering an air of Gandhi-like calm (out of a less-than-Gandhi-like urge to bug her senseless), I told her I did. Her jaw dropped — all the way to the stretchy stomach of her chic L.A. yoga-mommy maternity wear. She launched into a bit of how-dare-you-ing and huffed, “It isn’t your job to reprimand my child!” Maintaining my Formica veneer of Zen, I agreed with her — no, it isn’t my job — and what a shame that the person whose job it is isn’t doing it, thus forcing the task on irritable strangers in cafés. Unwilling or unable to contest logic, she scooped up her offspring and took them to stand in line with her — far away from the odd Satan Girl who takes issue with having her eardrums exploded by toddlers when she’s attempting to read the newspaper in venues not clearly marked “Nursery School” above the door.

 

And yes, I know it’s fun to dress toddlers up in Petit Bateau and all, but kids do need discipline or they’re sure to become unmanageable brats in the short term, and their own worst enemies for the rest of their lives. Maybe just because you can afford to have kids, you shouldn’t necessarily foist yourself on them as a sorry excuse for a parent. Yes, there seems to be a child-trend — children as the hot new status item in Los Angeles. Have one, dress one, show it off on Montana Avenue! But as alluring as it is to join in the mommy-chic, perhaps women ill-equipped for the actual job of parenting might consider investing in a couple dozen Hermès handbags and a couple dozen matching Lincoln Navigators instead? —Amy Alkon


He Shoots, He Scores!

Amount received by Lakers players for each point scored during the 2003-2004 regular season (based on salaries):

Player: Salary ÷ Points Total Season = Amount Per Point

Kobe Bryant: $13,500,000 ÷ 1,557 = $8,670

Shaquille O’Neal: $26,515,000 ÷ 1,439 = $18,425

Gary Payton: $4,917,000 ÷ 1,199 = $4,100

Karl Malone: $1,483,000 ÷ 554 = $2,676

Derek Fisher: $3,000,000 ÷ 580 = $5,172

Devean George: $4,545,000 ÷ 604 = $7,524

Rick Fox: $4,549,000 ÷ 183 = $24,857

Slava Medvedenko: $1,500,000 ÷ 563 = $2,664

Kareem Rush: $1,096,000 ÷ 459 = $2,387

Luke Walton: $366,000 ÷ 174 = $2,103

Team Total APP: $65,000,000 ÷ 8,052 = $8,072

—Jon Alain Guzik


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