Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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Writers with Drinks, Burritos, and Fries

A few days ago, I discovered that Javier Grillo-Marxuach, creator of TV's The Middleman, was coming up here for Writers with Drinks, a monthly literary spoken-word variety show. Javi and I met three years ago at an 826michigan event, and he seemed to like me. He sent me a nice message when I found him on Facebook last year, and he was excited to see me at Comic-Con, even wanting a picture. So I figured I'd ask if he wanted to get together for burritos before the event, just for kicks. I assumed he would have more important people to see in his limited time here anyway.

But, in fact, he was totally game. He just had to see about plans with his potential future sister-in-law—I loved that he used that phrase, just as I refer to potential future wives—and he would give me a call. Potential future sisters-in-law surely trump dudes like me, so when I didn't get a call on Saturday, I figured he'd made other plans.

But, in fact, a few minutes before I was set to leave, he called. We'd meet at the Make-Out Room (the venue for the event) at 6:30. Cool!

I got to the Make-Out Room twenty minutes early. There were four or five people in line for the event. One of them commented that they probably weren't the only ones who didn't recognize any of the names on the list. But! Javi! His was the only name I recognized. These folks were WWD regulars who enjoyed the events regardless of who was speaking.

Javi arrived from the left and greeted me. He said he'd seen a Puerto Rican restaurant somewhere—he's Puerto Rican—but couldn't remember where. I didn't know where it was either, but I was going to lead us to dinner. And we could play Count the Taquerías since we were in the Mission.

"You're a recent transplant to the area, right?" he said.

"I've been here for three years," I said.

"Has it been that long since Michigan?" Time flies! "And you were there with...Tamara?" I was! He commented that I still had my Michigan number, and I said that I didn't want to change it and have to tell everyone the new number. Plus, right now, my number had all these lovely 7s and 4s, and if I changed it to a 510 number, it would be less cool. I probably couldn't even remember it.

I gave it a try. "5-1-0..." And I couldn't. I seriously couldn't remember the rest of my number.

"That is some very hardwired resistance to change there," he said.

"Oh, I am very hardwired resistant to change," I said, as anyone who knows me can attest to. I said that a lot of people did that, though, keep their old number, right? I asked what his area code was from. Aha, but his actually was his neighborhood.

I pulled out my phone and checked the area code of someone else I knew who lived in L.A. He had the same area code as Javi. "Ah, yes, Rob is also [your area code]."


"Rob Thomas."

"Rob Thomas? The Veronica Mars creator?"


"Why do you have his number? I don't have his number!"

After I got over the hilarity of one television writer being jealous of me for having another television writer's number, I told him The Story. Well, I tried to tell The Story, but I kept fucking it up. Then Javi ducked into a shop to admire a bunch of dead fish. He liked the look of fish, which is why Admiral Ackbar was his favorite Star Wars character. I finally got The Story out, and Javi thought it was cool.

"Rob does have a reputation for being a good human being," he noted. That was nice to hear.

I'm not sure how, but Javi knew exactly which of the many taquerías we encountered we were actually eating at, La Taquería. We went inside, and I told him about the off-menu crispy tacos, which I had gotten and enjoyed. He asked whether my gastrointestinal system was all in order the next day, and I thought it had been. This time, I was going to try the chicken burrito. Javi went for carnitas. The place was kind of full. There were no seats inside and one table outside. It was a bit chilly, but we could brave it. Javi got dinner (aw) while I secured our table.

While we waited for our food, Javi adored the cute dog behind us. The dog had an owner; it did not just come and eat burritos all on its own. That would be a pretty cool dog, though.

Although Javi marveled at the size of his burrito, I said that they got much bigger. It was about half the size of most other taquería burritos I've encountered. And they only had pinto beans. The burrito was still tasty, however; the chicken was very juicy. We also had chips and guac, but the guacamole was without flavor and tasted like mashed-up avocado and nothing else.

I caught Javi up on my life in the last three years. He asked if I liked it out here, and I told him how much I loved the Bay Area since there's so much going on. And it's a place people visit, so I get to see people. He said that sometimes that can be a bad thing; when he moved out to L.A., it seemed like every weekend someone was visiting and wanted to stay with him.

He asked me if there were any good comic book stores around, and I recommended Dr. Comics in Oakland and Comic Relief in Berkeley. I didn't know where the comic book stores were in the City, unfortunately, but he liked to check out the local comic book stores and see what they were like. He told me about some of the ones in L.A., including one he described as "okay to bring your girlfriend to [if you're ashamed of being a comic book fan]," which he wasn't.

I made sure to show off my geeky shirt, which he approved of. He had considered wearing his geeky shirt but decided against it. Since there were a few sci-fi authors on the docket and it was hosted by the folks from io9, it seemed to be the right crowd.

He had made a Facebook post about the SF MOMA having an exhibition of the same artist it had had when he'd last been in SF twelve years ago, so we talked about art museums for a while. He told me about an exhibit he'd seen where they'd taken twenty-five John Lennon fans and had them all sing "Working Class Hero" and then played all the videos simultaneously on twenty-five screens, so it was like this chorus of singing fans. He liked it but could only take so much of it since they were fans, not singers. I told him about the cool exhibits I'd seen at the LACMA. He joked that he rarely goes to the art museums in his own city, but the first thing he did when he got into SF was go to an art museum.

I told Javi about writing for a television blog, which did grant me special access at cons. He asked what I got to do, and I mentioned various press rooms. The first and most impressive thing I could think of was, "I met Shirley Manson." Javi related an anecdote about Stephen Sowan, who played Wendy's boyfriend in the pilot. He was only in the pilot, but he ran into Javi later on and they caught up. One day Javi was just poking around on IMDb and saw that he'd been in the video for "Tell Me Where It Hurts." Where he had kissed Shirley Manson. How could he not have mentioned that?? "You lead with that!" he exclaimed. "'I made out with Shirley Manson!'"

We did talk some TV, of course. I mentioned the Middleman shout-out on Greek that Rae had told me about, and he said he'd been there. He was supposed to have a cameo, but time ran out. Alas! I told him about Party Down, and we reminisced about Freaks and Geeks. He admitted that he'd never watched Veronica Mars. He had worked with Kristen Bell, and she was wonderful, but—

"When did you work with Kristen Bell?" I asked quizzically, knowing both of their IMDb bios fairly well.

"I did rewrites on this movie called Pulse," he said.

WHAT?! "Oh..." I said. Seeing my reaction, he said that he wasn't ashamed; he'd been paid. "That was a terrible movie," I finished. It probably would have been more terrible without him! Ha, this was so amusing. I know these uncredited rewrites happen all the time, but it's always interesting to discover who had their hands in which movies.

He said that Kristen was great to work with, though. Very professional, came on set and did everything perfectly, same sort of thing other people who've worked with her have said. So that was nice to hear. I told him how nice she was to us during our set visit. Despite all that, however, he said he didn't feel a "primal connection" to her, and he needed that in order to invest in a main character, which is why he couldn't get into VM. Fair enough, I suppose. Guess it's another way of looking at screen presence.

I was going to buy Javi some pie, but we had to get back to the Make-Out Room, which was now pretty hopping. I paid my five dollars and got a ladybug stamp. At the bar, Charlie Jane from io9 was all dressed up. Javi said hello and introduced me, and then she said the four worst words you can say to someone you know: "Nice to meet you." We had only met a couple times, so it was all right. She's met a lot of people. Charlie Jane handed the writer a couple drink tickets so he could be a writer with drinks.

Down the bar, we ran into the aforementioned potential future sister-in-law and her boyfriend. Javi introduced me. They recommended the Blue Zephyr, which was a zephyr that the bartender had made blue. We weren't sure what was in the zephyr, but I thought I heard PFSIL's boyfriend say, "Vodka and sausage," which led to some jokes. (He had actually said, "Vodka and saké," which made more sense.) Javi was very excited about the Blue Zephyr, as there is nothing quite so entertaining as a colorful drink.

As Javi ordered, PFSIL asked, "How do you know Javi?"

An interesting question! How did I know Javi? I didn't really know Javi, per se. I went with, "We met at a television writing talk in Ann Arbor." Which was true. She complimented my shirt. I pulled my jacket back to display the graphic fully, but she said she knew where it went. Heh.

Because we were in a narrow space, we moved into the Make-Out Room proper to continue our conversation, joined by Monte, whom Javi said I may have exchanged Facebook messages with. He was quite offended by Javi's Facebook updates dissing the Museum of Modern Art and the quality of the city's ramen. Javi defended himself, noting that he had merely made an observation about the MOMA and the ramen had been approved by SFWeekly but was actually terrible. PFSIL's boyfriend knew where the most excellent ramen in the Bay Area was, though: Redwood City. (Actually San Mateo, he corrected later.)

Javi needed to go back to the bar area for something. "Do you think you'll be okay?" he asked us. I wasn't sure what he meant, but I thought the subtext was, "Will you all be okay talking to each other without me, the common person between you?"

PFSIL said confidently, "I think we'll be able to keep the conversation going." She was both serious and jokey about it; I was amused. And we did keep the conversation going, except I don't remember what about. No, wait, I do remember one thing.

She had mentioned that it was her birthday the next day. "Happy birthday tomorrow," I said.

"What are you doing tomorrow?" she said. I had no plans. "I'm having a waffle party at 11. You should come."

I was confused. "You just met me," I said.

"Yeah, but you know Javi, so you're good," she said, or something similar. "We'll let him decide. Oh, and it would be good if you could bring a girl. I like to have balance."

"Oh, I don't...know any girls," I said.

"That's okay. I'm just trying to keep it from being a sausagefest." Her boyfriend had no problems with its being a sausagefest. I was not sure what I wanted to do with my sausage.

When Javi returned, he wanted to send a message to a friend, and we all included our own messages. PFSIL wanted to know why she wasn't here. Her boyfriend said, "What up, G?" I wanted to say that too, but Javi told me to come up with something new. On such short notice, I could only say, "How you doing?" I didn't even give it the proper Joey flare. Javi typed, "sunil, whom you don't know, says, 'how ya doin.'" Ha. Then people messed around on Facebook on their iPhones because, as PFSIL's boyfriend said, "Why should we talk to each other when we can just look at things that have already happened?"

There was another woman Javi had mentioned to me at dinner, Bonnie, who he said "did what we do for fun but gets paid for it." She blogs for Lucasfilm! And I also may have exchanged messages with her on Javi's Facebook, which is how he introduced me to her. He introduced me to Annalee, whom I'd briefly met at Comic-Con. He also introduced his potential future sister-in-law. Bonnie heard "potential future assistant," which led to a whole round of jokes about people's roles. Potential future assistant to the sister-in-law? Potential future assistant sister-in-law? It was a hoot.

Without warning, Charlie Jane kicked off the program with a hilarious tirade as a representative of mainstream America. She urged gay people to "be more arch." And if you don't know how to be arch, "we made you two Truman Capote movies, so watch them!" The whole thing was hysterical. "We are generating mainstream culture twice as fast as you are subverting it!" she cried.

After her opening monologue, she introduced the first speaker, Kat Richardson, who made some endearingly bad puns and read from her fantasy novel. I couldn't really follow the reading, but every time she used the dialogue tag, "Hope twittered," I imagined Hope...Twittering. I had to suppress the urge to yell, "Hope Tweeted!"

Next up, Charlie Jane introduced poet Naomi Quiñones. It became readily apparent that her bios, though they had their roots in truth, soon became ridiculous and hilarious. This one led to one of the best lines of the night. She said that, seriously, when Naomi takes a shower and the mirror fogs up, she sees in the fog the shapes of wronged women throughout history, and they call to her to tell their tales and right their wrongs. She cannot ignore them. "She had to buy a four-way mirror just so she could have both haircare and social justice!"

I am not really into poetry, so Naomi didn't do much for me, but she was nice, and her poems did have a lot of strong imagery.

Next up was S. Bear Bergman, a genderqueer person of indeterminate pronoun. Bear read the title essay from The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You, called "The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You." That's how these things go. It was about a woman on a plane not wanting to sit next to Bear for fear of "catching The Gay." Seriously, she said she didn't want to "catch" something, and when the flight attendant asked her to clarify, she said, "The Gay." The essay was really funny, and Bear performed it very entertainingly.

Then, intermission! Javi came up and gave us a spoiler: his jacket was reversible. PFSIL wanted to go up closer to the stage for Javi's talk, so we did.

Charlie Jane gave another hilarious bio. The best part of Javi's was her proclamation that Javi is all his characters—and then she described various characters from The Middleman (when she described Lacey, Bonnie raised her fist and exclaimed, "Art Crawl!" so I did the same)—so much so that, you know, that show Herman's Head was actually about Javi, but the ignorant network executives didn't think that Javi's Head was alliterative!

Javi took the stage, and I turned on my recorder, which I placed on the stage. He began by saying that he felt like he should be wearing a smoking jacket...so, boom! reversible jacket power!

I am not going to post all the pictures here, but you can check out the gallery for the redundancy.

Javi was constantly asked whether he wrote "everything." Well, no, he didn't write everything. For instance, he didn't write The Mentalist, although he wishes he did. But what they meant, of course, is how much of what's on screen does he write in the script. Well, to show us just how much, he was going to read the teaser for the pilot of The Middleman.

And it was pretty glorious! For your listening pleasure, I present the Middleman pilot teaser as read by Javier Grillo-Marxuach. He shifted around as he changed characters. We learned that the Middleman was described in the script as "Jonny Quest with a five-o'clock shadow."

Javi is really good at reading his scripts. He is quite vivacious. It's very entertaining. And, well, he really gets into it:

Javi described this is a "total karaoke move."

I meant to pause the recording after the thunderous applause, but I fucked it up instead and missed the introduction to his next reading. I caught the end, however, which was this offhand remark: "Given the choice between haircare or social justice, I choose the one I could never achieve naturally." For his second reading, he read the teaser from an episode of The Chronicle called "Bring Me the Head of Tucker Burns." Now, you can listen to this one too, or, thanks to Bonnie, you can experience the glory in FULL IPHONE VIDEO!

Now I really want to watch The Chronicle.

The final speaker for the night was Mary Robinette Kowal. Charlie Jane said that she won the Campbell Award for best new writer, was a Hugo nominee, wrote a story called "Evil Robot Monkey," and was a puppeteer, so she seemed pretty cool. She gave us a choice. Did we want

A) one long story,
B) two very short stories, or
C) one very short story and a puppetry demonstration?


The story she read was "Death Comes But Twice." She gave a disclaimer: "I must mention that the narrator of this story is male. I am not." The story was about an elixir that allows you to die temporarily and experience heaven before being brought back, and it was really good! Very well written and clever. On the strength of that one story, I was ready to pre-order her upcoming short story collection, Scenting the Dark and Other Stories, but the hefty price for such a small book is giving me pause. I will have to see whether there will be cheaper editions, and I will definitely look out for her novels next year.

Then she gave the promised puppetry demonstration. With her boot! She demonstrated the four principles of puppetry, the techniques you use to bring an inanimate object to life

The first was focus, which meant that whatever the puppet was pointing at was what it was thinking about. She turned her boot upside down so that the foot was the head and pointed the toe in different directions.

The second was breath, or rhythm. You could convey different emotions by varying the speed at which the puppet moved. She had the boot discover the microphone three different ways with different rhythms. It was the same motion every time, but the boot had three different reactions.

The third was muscle. The puppet had to move as if it had muscles. So, for instance, if the boot were to jump without muscle, she could just raise it like it were floating. But that's not what really happens. She did a compress/expand, tucking the toe downward before allowing the booth to leap in the air, and it did indeed look more like it was jumping.

The fourth was meaningful movement. She said that the first thing people do when they get a puppet is make it bob its head up and down with every word. She didn't know anyone who talked like that. "Except Jack from Lost," she said. "That's why I can't watch that show." Ahahahaha. She showed us some examples of meaningful movement, which were more believable than bobbing a puppet's head up and down throughout the dialogue.

And that was a puppetry demonstration! It was so cool! I liked her a lot.

Charlie Jane closed out the show, telling us what we were going to wake up the next morning with no memory of the previous night, but we'd discover some strange marks, usually in the sternum area, and that was okay, it was literature.

After the event was over, and I went over to Mary and told her I really liked her story. She thanked me. I asked her if that story was going to be in the book, the book...that she had just read from. I think I did actually ask her that very stupid question. I also told her the puppetry demonstration was really interesting. I asked if she'd been to the Center for Puppetry Arts. She'd studied there! Cool! She asked if I'd gone before or after the renovation, and I couldn't remember whether it was two or three years ago. (It was actually four, so, yeah, before the renovation.)

She asked my name, and I gave it to her. "You're the second Sunil I know," she said.

"Really??" I said.

"I knew I'd get that reaction!" She smiled. I knew some other people who knew more than one Sunil, but it was an uncommon occurrence. She said that, curiously enough, she had never met another Mary.

She noticed my shirt and said it was "fantastic."

I gave her my blogger card since I thought raelee or actoplasm might enjoy interviewing her to promote her book. These cards are coming in handy, Rae!

The afterparty was at Frjtz, and we gathered outside. Bonnie and PFSIL resurrected the "potential future" confusion and began assigning roles, and somehow, I became Javi's potential future. When Javi was informed of this, he replied, "It is well known that I am transracial."

We also commented on my shirt. I liked it because the Wolverine silhouette was instantly recognizable if you knew Wolverine. Javi thought it could be Batman, Bob Kane-style. Perhaps it could be whoever you wanted it to be. "It could be a Rorschach," said Bonnie.

"It's not Rorschach," I said. Touché.

After Bonnie chided Javi for name-dropping Mark Sheppard, she started talking about seeing "George." That's what happens when you work at Lucasfilms.

"I've seen Lucas films," I said.

"Like in the distance, while driving?" she said.

"Lucas films."

"I see what you did there."

Finally, we began our trek to Frjtz, which took us up Valencia, which meant I could point out stops on the Mission Tour. My nerdy compatriots knew exactly the places I meant, as Annalee pointed out Borderlands before I did, Bonnie was hoping we would walk past Paxton Gate, and someone asked if my tour involved pirates.

Frjtz served crepes and French fries. PFSIL had declared, "I have not had my French fry quota for the day," and that would soon be remedied. We had a long table, and we claimed seats at one end. Mary had come as well, but she sat at the other end and I didn't get to talk to her again, which was too bad. PFSIL and I agreed that we should both get two different dipping sauces so we would have four sauces to try. She picked the pesto mayo and wasabi mayo, and I went with the Kalamata olive ketchup and curry ketchup.

The fries were thick and crispy, and the sauces were all...quite interesting. The pesto mayo was pretty good. The wasabi mayo didn't have a lot of kick to it. The olive ketchup certainly had olive flavor to it. And the curry ketchup also had a good curry flavor. The problem with all of them was the additive wasn't enough to drown out the base.

As PFSIL reached for her phone, she grazed my leg. "I'm not trying to feel you up," she said. "I'm just trying to get my phone."

"You can feel me up if you want to," I said. She said she'd have to check with her boyfriend. She checked. He found it a very strange request and could give no answer.

There were a lot of fries. We had both ordered large fries, but the fries themselves were large, and I began to feel fat after eating a bunch of fries, so I didn't even finish most of the fries I paid for. Yes, Reader, I, Cheapo Von Frugalstein, let food go to waste.

Javi was having a good time. He felt self-conscious about his reading and was glad there had been a "with Drinks" component. "No one who was sober enjoyed that," he declared.

I raised my hand.

"What, no, you had a drink, I saw you." I did not. "You had a Blue Zephyr!"

"You had a Blue Zephyr," I said.

"No," PFSIL joined in. "You had one!"

Monte corroborated her story. "I saw it too. If we all saw it..."


Just because I want to use the tag, I will note that I sat across from a guy named Kevin, whose connection to the proceedings was that he worked with Annalee at EFF. I asked him whether he knew Dave. He totally did!

"Javi!" I said. "Tell me about Avatar." A while back, he had changed his Facebook profile pic to one of him with Aang's blue arrow. I had no idea he was a fan.

Except...he wasn't. He hadn't actually watched the show! He had heard it was fantastic, and I supported that assessment, but he hadn't seen it yet. He just liked that Aang had that blue arrow, and he asked a friend to PhotoShop it in for him. What! I'd thought it was so cool that he was such a big fan that he'd drawn a blue arrow on his head.

"I'm disappointed," I said.

"Are you disappointed that I didn't watch the show or that I didn't actually tattoo my forehead?"

"Both," I sighed.

"I've disappointed him," said Javi. "It's like dinner with my mother."

PFSIL and her boyfriend had to leave, so they said their goodbyes. Not knowing how serious she'd actually been about her invitation to her birthday waffle party, I had not brought it up, even when Javi was waving around an envelope with her address on it. Future PFSIL feels bad about not giving me her address but also understands that it might have been awkward to remind her. She will put me on the list for future waffle parties or hiking. If I like hiking.

I moved down a seat to sit next to Javi, who motioned everyone at the end to also move down. We continued talking about television. He told us about the two pilots he's working on, both of which sound pretty cool.

After a while, it was time to disperse to a nearby bar, except most people were not up for it. There was general disbanding. Annalee said she would see me at the next nerdy event. Charlie Jane, Monte, Javi, and I went in search of a bar. Charlie Jane led the way and took us into the back of Dalva. I could only stay for a few minutes before I had to leave to catch BART, so I bid Javi adieu.

Javi is a pretty swell guy. He's friendly and funny, and I owe him pie.
Tags: being indian, food, girls, i am so awesome, it's a small world, javier grillo-marxuach, kristen bell, personal, pictures, pimpings, rob thomas, such is life, the middleman
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