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Short Takes

Breakaway Bottle as Magnum Opus

July 10, 1988|DICK RORABACK

You see it on TV all the time. Someone (the Queen of England most readily leaps to mind) is christening a ship or boat. Trying to christen one. Wielding the requisite bottle of champagne like a stunted shillelagh, she earnestly whacks away at the bow--and whacks and whacks and whacks--until, exhausted, she hands off to a hefty equerry to administer the coup de grace . More often than not, the whole sordid process leaves christener drained and christenee dented and disfigured. . . .

Flail no more. Ray Vellozzi has come up with a solution.

Vellozzi tried it last month in San Diego at the christening of Stars and Stripes, the new Americas Cup catamaran. More precisely, Gloria Deukmejian, first lady of California, tried it with Domaine Chandon's bubbly and Vellozzi's bottle. Bingo! First swing and the bottle smashed beautifully. No harm to Mrs. D., no harm to the boat's bow.

What it was was a breakaway bottle designed by Vellozzi at his Van Nuys company, appropriately called Hollywood Breakaway.

"(Skipper) Dennis Conner wasn't about to have his boat bashed by a real bottle," Vellozzi says. "Domaine asked me to duplicate its bottle. They put their own labels on it, added their own champagne. It had to be a little flat; carbonation builds up pressure. Even a real bottle, you shake it up and smash it, you've got a hand grenade. To re-create the proper fizz, then, the foam, you just add a couple of drops of Joy dish-washing soap. . . .

"Anyway, it went like a dream. And the beauty part is that the breakaway won't cut you, even if it gets in your eye. It's a very low-grade hydrocarbon plastic. I make the glass for the film industry: the windows they jump through, the beer bottles for bar scenes.

"Hurt? Hey, I could break bottles on your head all day."

Thanks, but no thanks.

Student's Book Becomes a Novel Mystery

It was a straight novel--"Almost Normal" by title--not a mystery novel, but a mystery nonetheless. The book, the judges agreed, was worthy of UCLA's Shirley Collier Award and the $5,000 cash prize accruing to it. Just one little question: Who wrote it?

Submissions to the UCLA English Department had been anonymous, the author's name in a sealed envelope attached to the manuscript. Somehow, the envelope became unattached. In a word, lost.

A Daily Bruin reporter was asked to summarize the book in hopes that the author would come forward. Meanwhile, teacher/writer/critic Carolyn See also limned the plot for her creative-writing class. Voila.

Student Nancy Freund recognized the work. It was by Patricia Vernier, a classmate in another writing class, this one taught by Brian Moore.

Contacted in Colorado, where she was vacationing, Vernier was ecstatic. She'd already published a mystery novel, "The California Factor," but "that was just pop fiction. This one is serious." This one is about two couples in their 30s "who have difficulty finding a profession that they can love, devote themselves to."

Art imitating life. Vernier herself had majored in philosophy at UCLA in the late '60s and early '70s, then switched to a physics major, for premed studies. Then dropped the physics because "I liked it but didn't love it. I was 22. I couldn't see physics or medicine as my whole life. So I dropped out. . . . It was a long time later that I dropped in again, just to take classes with Brian Moore, whom I admire."

Has Vernier found a profession she loves? "Oh yes," she says. "Writing. Writing fiction."

Ferreting Out Lethargy in the Land of the Lotus

The month is already a week old when Alan Caruba is tracked from his home in Maplewood, N.J., to a hotel in New Orleans. Caruba is in Louisiana on business, and relaxing for a nanosecond in his hotel room. One thing he is not doing is watching TV. ("Turns the mind to mush," Caruba says.)

For a moment or two, Southern California is on his mind. It's where most of the TV shows originate, to be sure, but Caruba doesn't hold that against us. "At least you're doing something, not just watching something." Mainly Caruba, founder of the Boring Institute, is considering, then rejecting the idea of a Southland chapter. July is, after all, National Anti-Boredom Month ("It's even listed now in Chasen's 'Annual Events,' " Caruba gloats. "It's an official month!")

Though it's tempting, Caruba turns down the idea of an L.A. chapter. "We'd have to have boring meetings, put out a boring newsletter, the whole nine yards," he says. "Too boring by half."

Anti-Boredom Month began four years ago as a spoof, "but like all spoofs, people are taking it seriously," Caruba marvels. "It really has gotten to be a problem. I get letters from all over the U.S. I tell them, 'No matter how old you are, you can overcome boredom. I sent them a list of 25 remedies, some of them obvious but all of them centering on one battle cry: 'Participate!' Do people know how many organizations where they live are desperately seeking volunteers?

"Or hobbies. Whatever happened to hobbies? Learn an instrument, collect stamps, audit a college course, climb a mountain. No excuse to be bored, especially in California. But turn off the TV!"

Caruba, meanwhile, has grown slightly famous with his annual list of the most boring people in America. This year's nominees? "I don't want to tip my hand," Caruba says, "but just between us, Bill Cosby and Geraldo Rivera are way out in front."

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