1. You’re cooking on the stove and a GREASE FIRE breaks out. What do you do?

a) Cover the pan with a lid, smothering the flames.

b) Try to eat the food, even though it’s clearly mostly burned. End up ordering pizza.

c) Take your family out to McDonald’s.

d) Take your family out to an especially nice restaurant. When your spouse asks you why you chose such a nice place, try to pretend it’s not to an apology for all the times you might’ve ruined dinner before, or any time she’s gone to bed disappointed with you, in want.


2. You head to The Cantina, your favorite college bar, with a couple of girlfriends. You’re talking to this cute guy Brett who you’ve been eyeing during 2nd Semester Spanish. After putting your margarita on the bar, you head to the bathroom. When you return and continue sipping, you feel suddenly lightheaded and drowsy. Hay carumba, you think. Something must be wrong. What do you do?

a) Better make that next one a vodka soda.

b) Better make that next one a vodka soda, and a water.

c) Grab your girlfriends. You’ve been drugged. While you can, tell them you think Brett was the one that drugged you. But please, don’t say anything to him. You don’t want to be that girl. I mean, you‘d totally lose your chances with him, whether it was true or not.

d) ….

3. You wake up in your bed at 4 a.m. after only two pathetic hours of sleep, and notice the thick, metal ceiling fan 10 feet above your forehead beginning to rattle. Dust drips down from the corners of your room. You are encased in overwhelming dread as you realize what is happening: there is an EARTHQUAKE. Your girlfriend next to you turns on her side and looks you in the eye. She asks, “Do you even care that I can‘t sleep right now?” What do you do?

a) Say, “How was I supposed to know that? I was asleep.”

b) Whisper, “Of course I do. I was so worried about you that I wasn’t able to sleep myself.”

c) Scream, “Jesus Christ. Is it always about you? We have to get out of here. There is an earthquake happening!”

d) Lean in, silently wrapping your arm over her side, and pull her in close.


4. 8th grade. Middle school. Do you remember it? A CHEMICAL FIRE breaks out from a freak explosion in the chemistry lab. Kids are running down the hallway dripping in bright blue flames, clutching their backpacks as if trying to catch the bus. You look down and some of the fire has been thrown onto your pant leg. Jessica is watching you, horrified. God, you remember Jessica. The flames creep up your pants, and as you look at her, her luscious, plump skin, her cleavage peeking rhythmically over the top of her shirt (as she tries to inhale the remaining oxygen from the room), your loins become enveloped in the chemical heat. Your heart feels like it is on fire. What do you do?

a) Take a deep breath. There’s nothing to worry about. Your body’s just going through changes you may not understand right now.

b) Make a joke about it. Girls like jokes, right? Have you heard the one about being burned alive.

c) Whatever you do, do not let her look down at your pants. She will run, screaming, and will never forgive you for expressing your true desires.

d) If the fire has not spread to any of your other clothing, strip off your pants. Make out with her right there on the hard, linoleum floor, writhing among the casualties.


5. You and three coworkers get stuck in an elevator. One of them is Brad, which is terrible, because you’ve been avoiding him ever since you slept together after the office Christmas party and he moved back with his ex-wife a week later. Between the four of you, all you have is two pieces of granola, a cigarette, a lighter, a travel mug. You have no idea how long the elevator will be out of order. You need to ensure your survival and get help. What do you do?

a) Hit the “emergency” button. After about an hour, it becomes clear that no one is coming to help. This stresses you out, so you smoke the cigarette. Brad gives you a look, because that asshole knows you’ve tried to stop smoking before.

b) Midway through the cigarette, Brad gets the idea to set off the smoke alarm with the lighter. You curse yourself for not thinking of such an obvious solution. You only started smoking again because of his ex-wife bullshit. Now he’ll certainly get the Account Manager job instead of you. Unfortunately for Brad—but you’re not sure you mind—he couldn’t get the lighter to set off any alarm. Serves him right.

c) Twenty-four hours pass. Two of the coworkers have urinated in the crack between the elevator and the door to your disgust. All four of you sit on the floor among the stink, and Brad is beginning to look sincerely fatigued. You know, relationships are tough, scary, all of them. As Brad sits against the wall, his knees facing skyward, his eyes closed to the fluorescent lights beating down from above, the sweat beads are undeniable. Surveying your inventory you begin to think, Wow, this travel mug is useless in this situation. Why was it even mentioned? Why are we locked in here? You begin to believe it is some sort of design. You, Brad, and the other two guys did something to deserve this. What did you do? You must all tell each other. You begin to spurt out everything you’ve ever done wrong, anytime you were confused and scared, anytime you felt unsafe in your own skin, looking into the eyes of a friend. The hours pass. Brad interrupts you. “I’m done listening to you.” “Screw you, Brad,” you say. He says, “Fine, but I want a turn to confess, too.” You say go ahead. This should be good. “The first mistake that comes to my mind is how I treated you,” he says. “I never should’ve gotten rid of you like that.” You immediately look at your feet, tucked barefoot under your skirt. “I didn’t know how I felt about you. It was scary. If I wasn’t so reckless with my actions, with my feelings, we would never be locked in this elevator like this.”

d) You begin to feel for him. “It’s okay,” you say. “I was reckless, too.” You reach out your hand to him because you notice his eyes begin to water. “Don’t cry,” you say, because you believe you know the answer to the question that keeps repeating, over and over. You get on your knees, and crawl to him. You gently rest your hand on his shoulder and with your other hand reach into his left pocket. Inside his pocket is a sheet of paper with a combination of numbers and letters lying upside-down at the bottom of the page. It’s the answer key. He had it all along. You just had to reach in and get it out of him. The elevator melts away, and for the first moment in a long time, you finally feel safe.


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Last year I went to Los Globos in Echo Park with my girlfriend to throw my name into a hat and have the chance at telling a story on stage for The Moth, one of the most widely recognized nationwide storytelling events. I didn’t invite any friends, because although I rehearsed and wrote and planned, there was no guarantee I’d get to do anything other than enjoy some great specials on Red Bull drinks.

We happened to go during Red Bull’s 30 Days in LA (which, incidentally, is starting up again), so the show, while free, was packed. Usually everyone gets a turn. This time, there was twice the turnout of a usual StorySLAM event. So if I did go up, I had an audience.

Look at that crowd. Look at those hipsters light bulbs.

Of course, instead of assuming I would go up, I ordered a price-so-low-that-you-have-to-get-one Red Bull vodka, and immediately regretted it once I downed most of it and my foot nervously pounded the floor like a tiny soft jackhammer. My name was called and as I waited to walk on the stage, suddenly realizing how jittery I felt, I wished I’d been responsible and simply had a few shots of vodka instead.

Just kidding. Nobody wants shots of vodka.

Since your set could only be five minutes, I had been tightly gripping my iPhone all week, using the voice recorder to get the story under that running time. Trim this section, cut that section, figure out what’s important, what’s the beginning/middle/end… It was certainly fun for a writer. I was prepared, but a bit off-base. It seemed that night everybody just wanted to talk about fucking: where they did it, how they did it, whom they did it with. Instead, I was about to talk about time I exploited homeless people.

Good reading the room! Check out the video below. The effects of the Red Bull are obvious.


I’ve transcribed the story below for you readers out there:

My first job in LA is on Skid Row. I’m visiting from Boston on an internship. I’m 20 years old, and filmmaking to me is art, and authenticity, and honesty. And I’m so excited because this movie is about a girl who’s run away from home, and she’s living on the road with homeless people.

I don’t really know much about LA, but I’m headed downtown, and suddenly downtown is looking kind of scary a night. And it’s an overnight shoot. I finally get to the set. I’m part of the art department, so I’m going to be setting up the set, all the tents and all the homeless blankets. And I’m also running interference, which means you have to keep people from entering the filmmaking.

I ask a fellow PA. “How do I do this?” And she just says, “If people look too interested, just tell them you’re working on a tampon commercial, and then they’ll lose interest.” So I’m like, “Okay, that sounds not really helpful, but thank you.”

We get to the site and throw the truck against the sidewalk and unload all the tents. The art director says, “Let’s hurry this up, because the longer we’re here, the more we’re in danger.” And I’m like, “What do you… what do you mean?” And she says, “Well, we’re in the worst part of LA. Just so you know!”

And you know, I probably look like I’m 12 years-old-at the time, so I’m kind of scared. I realize all of the homeless people are just around the corner from us, just rows and rows of actual houses and tents and trash bags. And I feel like once they get a whiff of people with wallets around the corner they’re going to just tear us apart like a zombie brigade. And so we’re trying to get things done really quickly because we’re on the front lines. There’s only four of us and the rest of film crew hasn’t shown up yet, so it’s just us and the zombie apocalypse. We’re throwing down the tents, and then one guy comes out, and I’m like, here we go. We’re told to ignore him, and we ignore him. Eventually the art director says, “Get out of here.” And he goes away. And I’m thinking, okay, crisis averted.

The tents we’re setting up are newly bought. They’re like, from Target or something. They don’t look like they’re old, so my job is to take this tank thing and spray it down with water and grit and basically just ruin these tents, and I couldn’t help but notice that just around the corner are real tents and real trash bags and stuff that people are actually living in. And here we are, just ruining this nice new stuff. But I figure it’s for sanitary reasons, so I’m like, okay, whatever.

Another homeless guy comes around and I ignore him, but he’s right behind me as I’m ruining this tent, and he says, “What are you doing?” I start to feel guilty. The art director takes care of him and he leaves, but another one comes, and I’m kind of feeling overwhelmed like the enemy’s at the gates. But then the art director starts talking to this guy, and she’s talking to him like a five year old. She says, “We told you to leave. You’re not supposed to be here. Get out. You’re not listening.” He slowly walks away and I’m thinking, well, we’re actually in his spot. This is where he lives.

When we get done with the tents, she looks at them and says, “I don’t know if this is good or not. I have an idea…”

So I’m spraying, and she brings one of the homeless people back and starts to talk to him like a real person. And I’m thinking, well, that’s nice. But then I hear her say, “Is this realistic? Can you help us? Does this look like a place you would live?” And I’m shocked, and pretty embarrassed. But the guy, to his credit, he’s kind of excited somebody’s talking to him. So he says, “This one looks too formal, this doesn’t look good.” So she says, “Thank you.” She says to us, “Destroy this all.”

So we do. We tear it up, we spray it down and we throw chairs everywhere. But I see the conflict on this guy’s face, because he’s finally being used but he’s just watching us destroy something he could’ve used. And we’re not helping them at all, you know. We’re just using them. At that point I felt nauseous. The rest of the film crew came and I finally felt safe, but I’m wondering whether I should’ve ever felt unsafe in the first place. And I think I realized then that filmmaking in LA wasn’t going to be about truth. It was going to be about making things smooth and contributing to the illusion.

I walk across the street. I sit down and watched the ironies unfold. This guy kind of pops up next to me, out of the blue, out of nowhere, and he says, “Are you guys shooting a movie?” And I’m a filmmaker now, essentially, so I tell him the truth. I look him straight in the face, and I say, “Well, we’re shooting a tampon commercial.”

And he believes me, and he goes back inside, and he loses interest.


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Still, my heart. Do not
Try to love this thing.
It is a dead end, dead
Before the chance, before
Even the touch of regular air.

Still, my body. Do not
Work too hard to give this baby.
Water on a brick
Does not grow flowers. The brick stays a brick,
And cracks when it falls.

Still, my mind. Do not
Panic at this dead chunk inside.
They’re working to remove it,
And after, you can shed yourself
Of this tumor inside.

Still, my I. But my I can’t help but wonder why
And mourn a dead, just a little pound
Spilling out: My dear daughter,
First try, first kiss, my first love now blacked.
Heavy hole, and the next I fear will be another blank

Weight inside, another bad egg and another,
And instead of trying again, the terror of
This cancer will linger and tumors will continue,
And instead of two it will just be me,
Forever alone filled with tumors, my husband forever alone.

Still, I can’t let that feeling become. I will
Push against despair, because I know
Life continues, so
My heart, my body, my mind,
Be still: and push, push, push.

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Last week I launched the beginning of my travel blog and YouTube channel, Vagrant Tourist. I will be migrating all travel-related posts there, and maintain this blog for everything else–updates on my film projects, editing projects, and writing projects (Yes, poetry, yes! Who’s psyched?). Unfortunately, I never really began to write here regularly, something I kind of regret. I mean, BENCARO.COM had everything. Sharing options, related posts, a whole damn color scheme. Why did I let it rot!? Why did I squander its love!?

YouTube Banner ( 2

Why did I never write in BENCARO.COM?

I had so much trouble launching this blog the way I wanted it, and, while this might peg me as dense, I could not wrap my mind around what I would focus on, what categories to feature in the posts vs. what content to feature in other pages. Mind boggling. With the launch of Vagrant Tourist, I will be happily able to distinguish between putting on a cool, journalistic face over there, and getting a little more personal over here. It’s a great relief. Let’s talk about what will be here from now on, in terms of categories:

Film – Updates on screenwriting, directing and editing projects.

Food and Drink – All of the LAWeekly articles I wrote up will probably live under this category.

Poetry – Straight up.

Writing – Here’s where things get interesting. This will be a mix of creative writing, including fiction, non-fiction, journaling, and yes, poetry. I’ll throw poetry in there, too. Hope you’re okay with that.

Anything travel related will be at VT site.

So what’s Vagrant Tourist?

My idea behind Vagrant Tourist was to make a Vice-like brand (both blog and YouTube channel) for travel. Worldwide, Vice does some important and, you know, some not-so-important work. While I might not be investigating anything as, um, interesting as “How to Make Korean Poo Wine,” perhaps that’s okay. Both IFC and Onion launched Vice parodies recently. In a promo for Edge, Onion’s new show, a white guy in his late 20’s stands in a dilapidated middle eastern town and faces a woman in a hijab. With a concerned look and a serious, action-hero tone, he asks her, “When was the last time you got high?” I think it’s safe to say people are amused by Vice’s skater-attitude hang-ups.

That said, while the subject matter might be lampoonable, their documentary production is a classy affair. I love the run and gun shooting style and minimal music. There’s only the slightest touch of voiceover editorializing and producing. It’s barely there. Gone are news correspondents trained to speak like Harvard-graduated robots, or conversely throw on leather jackets to signify that they’re “adventure journalists.” Many Vice correspondents are models, musicians, or young journalists whose chief assets are their willingness to experiment. They don’t seem to interview their subjects, but rather talk to them.

This is the style of writing and video I want with Vagrant Tourist. There’ll be videos about my trip to Asia, but also about stateside hikes, walks, street art, whatever looks visually interesting. I’ve also got some great footage of Nguyen Tran, chef, owner and banana suit-wearing personality of the restaurant Starry Kitchen, to show me some of his favorite eating spots in the Valley. There’s all sorts of stuff in the pipe.

Hopefully, the site split will help me focus both sites, and give me some incentive to throw some new posts more both here and over at Vagrant Tourist.

If you haven’t yet, check out the new site, and subscribe to the YouTube channel!

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I always tell friends
when I’m helping them move

Three things that cause people the most stress
are death, divorce, and moving

I think it helps.

And with that logic

If a friend of mine dies, I’ll make sure to tell myself
Hey man, don’t worry about it

People get stressed about this.

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...such as only two rolls of sushi.

Here’s a study that belongs in a Malcolm Gladwell book. Researchers found that when people were presented with chocolate, popcorn or hand cream (please don’t eat hand cream), they sampled less off red plates than off any other color. Wait a minute. Is this the “one, weird trick” that helps you cut down a bit of your belly every day? I reached out to Adam Alter, author of Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces that Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave, about why red could have this de-appetizing affect:

Since red is usually associated with “danger and prohibition” (Think parking signs – and then remember to move your car), this might have tipped off the samplers to curb their sampling.

Adam Alter, author of Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces that Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave, offered Squid Ink another possibility. “Certain colors are also generally more appetizing than others: reds and greens are more appealing, for example, than blues and purples, which are rarely found in natural foods.”

It’s possible that by making the plate more appetizing, the products appeared less so.

Should you chuck the good china? Read the full article for why that might be a bad idea.

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Hipcooks class

After realizing I was living next to the Best Thai grocery store in Los Angeles, I decided it was time to make use of it. Scouring the net, I found the Hipcooks “Thai Two On” cooking class (Their most popular class was “Thai One On,” but after cringing every time I read the name, I just couldn’t do it). Luckily class seemed geared toward culinary idiots like myself, so I grabbed my friend Rosey, we strapped on our aprons and wrong-turned our way downtown. (Rosey is definitely the name of the girl you want to put an apron on and take to a cooking class with you. If you don’t have a friend named Rosey, Suzy, Judy, or possibly Joyce will do).

What did I learn? I learned how to make my roommate uncomfortable by filling my pantry full of bottles of fish sauce, galangal spice, and a massive block of tamarind, all of which I have little plan but the best intentions for. So far, everything tastes great in eggs. (Except the tamarind, which I’ve been pulling apart and eating raw). But really, you should read the article on LA Weekly where you might learn a bit about the class rather than a bit about my avant-garde home eating habits. Really, I’m ahead of my time.

  A few classmates pretend they're okay with using their pinky fingers to taste things.
A couple of my classmates pretend they’re okay with using their pinky fingers to taste things.

Since spices are so prominent in Thai cooking, we spent a lot of time slaving over a massive mortar and pestles to grind up the raw ingredients, looking like an army of miniature apron-wearing Gandalfs. The food turned out delicious:

By far the best dish was the Chiang Mai sausage skewers, ground pork patties seared into compact, little sausage shapes. Another highlight was the Thai me up! rum cocktail, a bright, creamy concoction of mint, coconut milk, ginger beer and a secret weapon, vanilla bean paste, more raw and flavorful than vanilla extract.

Chiang Mai "sausage" skewers
Chiang Mai “sausage” skewers. Just look at that sear. Look at it.

Really, I was blown away by those little sausage guys. The sear provided a delightful crunch which lent itself to a fatty, complex flavor reminiscent of salty-sweet potato chips. Check out the full article for more details on the class, as well as a recipe for a rum drink so good you won’t even mind that it’s called “Thai Me Up! rum cocktail.”

 LA Weekly – “Hipcooks: Where to Make Friends, and Cook For Them (Recipe)”

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Pork chop with apple slaw and polenta. Pork chop with apple slaw and creamy polenta.

The Beverly Garland hotel is going under the knife, doing a 20 million dollar renovation and reemerging as “The Garland” this May. It’ll be newly redesigned, featuring retro and colorful decor and an all new restaurant by Chef Warren, previously of Westside Tavern. The hotel wants to get the menu right, though, so in the interim, they’ve set up Warren’s Blackboard, a modest but upscale restaurant that changes their menu twice a week through a patriotically democratic process. Choose your own adventure! I wrote about it for LA Weekly:

Warren’s Blackboard blackboard is updated a couple times a week based on customer’s wishes. With your bill, you’re handed a feedback card reminiscent of something you’d see at a family restaurant chain: “How would you rate our service? What dishes were your favorite? Is there anything you would change about your dining experience?” The difference from say, Red Robin, is that Warren’s Blackboard listens.

So far, because of the “winning” feedback, displayed like award ribbons on a bulletin board by the entrance, Warren’s Blackboard has implemented less salt, more fish entrees, more vegetable appetizers and another dessert. Other suggestions looked like flame wars from a Crossfit message board: One guest suggested “Make more vegan friendly” while another “Less vegan friendly. More steak!” Not a challenge at all.

The most popular dishes will likely be incorporated as the permanent Front Yard menu later this year, possibly with a price hike. If you’re interested in tasting the cooking, I’d go now.

Read more: Now Open: Warren’s Blackboard at the Beverly Garland

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