Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year’s Eve: Party Tips

Wear something special.

Make a friend.

Make lots of friends.

Bring a dish.

Love yourself.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Saving Grace

D, originally from the Czech Republic, moved here when he was 25. Naturally, English wasn’t his first language; I think it finished a distant fourth.

We were together for a couple of years -- one short, one long. Though he lived and worked in English, D thought, conceptualized, and dreamed in something else. We fought our battles on my one and only playing field, English. At worst, I could always win on a technicality.

To conclude a serious discussion, when we were either extremely frustrated or charmed with each other, I’d wrap things up with something really scathing or really sweet. D couldn’t do a change-up. His last pitch was always, “That’s the truth and I’m not kidding you.” Only it was more like, “I’m not keedeen you.”

If I felt like it, that fell right in my strike zone.

To be fair, had he insisted we play the game elsewhere, in French for example, my zingers would have been in the realm of “You giant goat of shit!” or “Dear, you be sweet mutton with me.” Yeah, and that’s my second-best language.

The idiosyncrasies that so delighted us early in a relationship were the very ones that came back to haunt us two years later. He grew tired of my easy-breezy ways, and I grew frustrated with his blatant, unashamed love of money, as well as the appalling accent. He ceased to be cute. Well, on balance, the sweet mutton side in us both had all but disappeared.

After much experience, experimentation, and observation, I think couples in long-term relationships have three things in common: Kindness, forgiveness, and patience. Also, when an argument starts to get ugly, giving way once in awhile. The self-control to bite one’s tongue, even though you’ve got a comeback that’s so good, oh so good. But you know what? If a couple goes the distance, a sincere and lovely distance, the first thing to leave is the last word.

I don't think I'll ever find that state of grace; certainly, I'll never leave a good phrase unsaid, at whatever cost. But I like to know such grace exists. That’s the truth and I’m not kidding you.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Winter Dreams

I wished for a high-def flatscreen with satellite and 264 animal channels.

I wished for yoga lessons, a mink blanket, and a course in anger management.

I wished for a new tennis ball.

What did we get? Vitamins. Merry, Happy Christmas everyone. Hope the holiday is sweet, and may all your pills be wrapped in honey. p>

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pressure on the Pier

Would you jump off a bridge just because your friends did?

Yeah, well maybe, if they were attractive friends. And sufficient alcohol were involved.

I’ve been to two parties this season where classical music became a topic of conversation. Beethoven vs Brahms, Debussy vs Ravel, blah, blah, blah. The only thing everyone agreed on was Mozart . Overrated, they said; a necessary step in the evolution of music of course, but too light to travel well. So I, too, gave his corpse a kick.

And have no idea why. I like the guy. I could have said something like, “Please don’t criticize my friends to my face.” But no, I’m a little insecure when it comes to my knowledge and appreciation of the great and notsogreat composers. In this arena I’m the product of self-education and a bad teacher.

When I tell people I grew up in a household that listened only to classical music, that isn’t strictly true. I grew up in a household that barely listened to music at all, but when they accidentally did, the music was classical. By default. The only records the parents had were in these 40 pound albums that must have belonged to grandparents in the old country who didn’t want them either.

So that's the music I played on my Sears stereo. If a dollar or two came my way, likely I’d take it to the drug store and buy a bargain classical album, the cheaper the better. The cheapest usually had a gypsy girl dancing on the cover, don’t ask me why. But the tunes made me happy, sad, sometimes frantic with excitement and energy, other times they kept me safe from night terrors.

All the above still holds true. Beethoven, Debussy, Grieg, Bach, they never get old. Nor does Mozart.

Argerich plays Mozart

Mozart guitar

And again

(photo from Shorpy's)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Kings of the Road

When I was growing up, my family took two trips a year, one in summer, one in winter. Lucky us, we found the four corners of the earth in North America, so our mode of transportation never varied. No planes or trains, strictly automobile.

It’s fair to say our family suffered in the area of short term memory. Weeks before each trip we’d be bouncing off the ceiling with excitement, forgetting the hours, days, we’d spend on the freeway, trapped in a car with each other and dire consequence. We’d forget Dad would lose his explosive temper, mom would take blame for navigational mishaps, and we kids, confined in the back seat, would bicker, pinch, scratch, bite, and sucker punch one another until somebody finally cracked and took a grievance to the front seat. We kept that wheel spinning until...

“You want me to pull off the road now? Is that what you want? You want me to turn this car around and go home? Is that what you want?”

Last week I walked a length of the Foothill Freeway -- the Freeway that splits Pasadena in half and claims responsibility for some of the city’s current prosperity and decay.

During the 1960’s and 70’s, the interstate designers and engineers were kings. They promised and delivered freedom to families such as mine. We reciprocated by hitting the open road and patronizing whatever towns came between us and the Grand Canyon.

Interstates were designed for travel -- to distract and delight the car-bound family with hillside vistas and the comfort of a six or eight-lane freeway. Interstate designers wanted us to see the USA in a Chevrolet, or a Ford or a Mercedes. These great freeway architects and engineers, they cared about us; they wanted to create the best ride and views their boundless popularity and power and our money could buy.

They cared about us, but only so long as we stayed in the car.

They cared about us least when we were at home. Particularly if that home stood in their way.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

This Time It's Personal

Ok Ken Mac, I'll see your Christmas rifle and Klompen, and raise you one suggestive power tool, a threesome, and a lecherous Santa.

(Images from Found in Mom's Basement and somewhere else that I've forgotten)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fair Oaks Avenue: Going South

(Note: This is part of a continuing attempt to chart what was once the major artery through the heart of the three Denas. Earlier installments here and here)

In our last episode, we stood at the war torn boundary that separates Southwest Altadena from Northwest Pasadena.

Now we cross the Woodbury divide, and, at this juncture, see little difference between Altadena and Pasadena. Failed markets, junk stores, churches. If empty lots can also fail, they do it here. There’s a deserted, dilapidated cottage courtyard that someone, for some reason, wants to keep. Nostalgia? Lawyers? Penance? The sign intrigues – Who are these mysterious people constantly pestering the owner, desperate to get their mitts on a handful of dry rot?

Several gangs have spilt blood in this general vicinity. The Denver Squiggly Road, for one. Some gang names sound almost fanciful, like the title of a Children’s story. Chilling, in a Chucky kind of way. Most of these gangs are offspring of the Crips, Bloods, Pasa Rifa, and a few other notables.

Shootings can take place at noon or midnight, doesn’t seem to matter. And right through the middle of the battleground you’ll see babies pushing carriages that have other, littler, babies inside. That’s a hell of a ticket to pull in this lottery.

Continuing south, the next stretch of Fair Oaks provides every service needed to usher you, inexpensively, out of this mortal coil. A community health clinic, convalescent homes (“We Love You At Any Age”), funeral homes, a notary public. Plan your exit properly, soup to nuts, you won’t even have to cross the street.

Smack dab in the middle of this is a brand new housing development that I believe Pasadena government points to with pride. The construction is impressive, to this untrained eye anyway, but it shines an even brighter light on misery. Like a party hat at a funeral.

When walking the three or four miles from Woodbury to the 210 freeway, Fair Oaks seems to be a half-forgotten project, one that’s picked up with a sudden flush of enthusiasm now and then, and dropped when the work proves too much. More work than is possible, more work, anyway, than mere carpentry can solve. You can find a couple of promises that were kept, but you'll find many that were broken, and more still that were never made.

Back in the day, the 1920’s day, this part of Fair Oaks housed some prosperous craftsmen. It was also part of the electric car line that would ferry millionaires up to their summer mansions on Mariposa Street in Altadena. For its current state, most long-time residents blame the construction of the 210 Freeway and eminent domain.

They may be right. Today, if it tried, the 210 freeway couldn’t seem more like the Berlin Wall, a hunk of cement separating poverty from prosperity.

Next visit, next year: Over the wall.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Loss Leaders

I’m glad to hear the Bush Administration misplaced 20 million emails; now I don’t feel so bad about losing my house keys. And you can throw in all those sunglasses as well.

When I think of the intolerance others have shown when I’ve searched for keys, well, it makes my blood boil. But now I have the perfect retort: “What are you so mad about, it’s not like I’ve done this 20 million times.”

5,000 times, maybe. Which is less than a drop in the official statistical bucket. If 20 million is the new yardstick by which all loss must be measured, 5,000 times means I didn’t really lose any keys at all. Mathmatically, from a key-loss perspective, I'm practically a virgin.

Most of my life has been spent in the company of orderly people, and they can’t understand why my keys are never on the hook labeled KEYS. Or why my shoes never sleep together, or what the hammer is doing on the dining table, or why the ladder is still in the kitchen.

These are very difficult questions for a disorderly person to answer. The closest I can come is that things, things that don’t breathe, have no weight for me. Once their momentary utility ends, they cease to exist. They disappear. Mine is a life free of clutter.

Whereas my neat and orderly friends, their life is spent in the service of demon clutter -- they spindle, stab, staple, fold, file, label, worry, pack, unpack, and pack it again.

My friends and I, we’ll never fully understand each other. We’ll always be impatient with each other. My friends will never concede that finding the order you want takes as much time as finding what you want in disorder.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Holding All The Cards

I have never been one to receive a lot of Christmas cards. Maybe because I’ve never sent one; not one, ever. Oh, I’ve purchased cards, even signed them with inspirational and personal notes. “I saw this quote from Walt W and thought of you…” or “As Emily D once wrote…”

But one cannot just buy and sign cards, one must send them as well. Aye there’s the rub, as William S has said. And mine languish in the desk, facing an unhappy Memorial Day of discovery and disposal.

My popular friends, on the other hand, practice the rule of reciprocity and reap the rewards, with Christmas cards four or five deep, straddling those show-offy strings that stretch from one room to the next. They accompany this garish display with a little disingenuous grousing -- 'Wherever will I put all the cards that are sure arrive tomorrow?'

One year I received a career-high of fifty Christmas cards, and that was only because so many people worked for me, plus I padded the count with anything received via professional affiliations such as Radio Shack and my dental hygienist. Most years the tally is far more modest.

Join me, and let’s blame my childhood.

The parents made a huge deal out of Christmas cards, and maintained a mailing list the size of a Dickens novel. Card selection started around October when they’d visit shops and flip through albums full of samples. For all that, Dad and Mum made pretty much the same choice year after year -- someone on the card would be drunk. For example, Santa in a martini glass singing “Bingle Jells.”

(Ah, what can I say? We Bugge's are a simple people who don't mind a shot of eggnog now and then.)

As a family, we would spend days addressing hundreds of envelopes by hand. This was to add the personal touch; strangely, I always thought, since the cards were embossed with a pre-printed “From the Bugge’s.” on the inside. But I think I get it now. The envelope said we cared, the card said we had money.

Virtual Christmas greetings offer an alternative to the card-challenged such as me, but even those need an address. Maybe I’ll just do a general post. You know, recycle the picture from one of the cards I received this year, and maybe add an inspirational message.

"God bless us everyone.” I saw this Charles D quote and most particulary thought of you.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tiger by the Tale

I can openly belabor the Tiger Woods story because I’m not a serious journalist.

If I were a serious journalist, my editorials would have to wear the cloak of indifference, as in “I'm only using the Tiger Woods story as a way to examine the prurient interests of the American public."

And then maybe I’d invite another sober commentator on board, especially if this were NPR, BBC, or PBS, and we could spend an enormous amount of time discussing our mutual distaste at the story’s prominence in the news. “So that’s three waitresses, one party planner, two models, and a porn star? And there’s speculation he did them all at the same time? Tell me Scott, I look at these pictures and wonder; Why does the public seem to care, because I certainly don’t.” “I can’t say, Noah, because I certainly don’t care either. Especially about the porn star.” "Yes Scott, I believe she starred in Diary of a Horny Housewife, and I most particularly and emphatically do not care about that."

Wall Street Journal got in the game by pretending to cover the business aspect of the case -- the effect waitresses, models, and porn stars will have on future endorsements; will Gatorade pull the plug on the Tiger juice (big mistake, I think. Sure to be a collector’s item, even though everyone seems to have some).

It's almost refreshing to see the story covered by the goofy news outlets like Fox and TMZ. At least there's no pretence; they know their viewers like a little heavy breathing.

And after all, journalism, even the moderately good stuff, has always traded in death and destruction, and when that’s in short supply, sex and scandal. You can only sell what people will buy. If this weren’t true, everyone would have a subscription to The Economist.

Just see how many times Climate Change has clawed its way into the Google top ten list. That only happened, briefly, when there was some breath of scandal about Russian secret service and emails. Now, had those emails been written by porn stars, that story would have had legs.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Admittedly, my house needs a little work. Some roof patching; perhaps a whole new roof. Lateral sewers. Then there’s the cosmetic stuff. The three-foot hole in the drywall by the bedroom that occurred when – well, I don’t think I’ll tell you how that happened. And about the kitchen remodel, we won’t be breaking ground during this administration.

One may think dogs, or children, or even grown men and women whine, but that’s nothing compared to the irritating, insistent, incessant sniffling of a house. “My head hurts, I’ve got a draft, My feet are wet, There’s a pest in my pants.” Wah, wah, wah.

Dear God, why did I ever leave the league of renters? Sure, I felt pretty smug about it three years ago, when my house had appreciated four-fold in 6 years, but that unfolded one quick year later.

It’s true, if you lock in your mortgage, the basic monthly rate never goes up, but everything else does. Insurance, taxes, utilities. And you get the added bonus of personally dealing with termites, dry rot, paint, plumbing, and the band of merry thieves each problem spawns. And it never ends, I tell you, it never fucking ends.

Albert the Lab got one of his semi-annual bladder infections, so I called the vet and asked to renew the antibiotic prescription. They agreed, but only if I collected and delivered his urine sample. For a dog that doesn’t usually care where he slings his pee or who knows about it, he got strangely shy as I chased him around the yard with a Merry Noel teacup.

In between rounds, I took a seat on the back steps, the ones that are in need of some carpentry and reinforcement. I thought about all the other things we chase in life that we really don't want. We chase them because someone told us to, or we didn’t have time to think it through properly. I’d put a high-paying stressful job in that category. And to that, add a devastatingly handsome husband or two, Labrador piss, and a small circa 1923 house.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Weekend Matinee

I’m pretty sure the seed from which I sprung -- as it came zinging out from space, escaping the purgatory of non existence and eternal mystery -- had specific delivery instructions. Something to the effect of, “Deliver to English landed gentry; don’t spare the horses.” Blame the mail. Something got mixed up amongst all the bills and ads for free roofing estimates. The package bound for Kent landed at an apartment in Washington.

No wonder I was a fussy baby. My first words were, “Where’s my god damned pony?”

So of course I like movies about the British Aristocracy. Austen? Everyone’s seen Austen. What about the Shooting Party? If you’ve screened Pride and Prejudice one too many times (Margaret) try something old, something new. And, on a personal note, I met James Mason shortly before the film came out. Not MET, just met. I was dating someone from Disney at the time, and this Disney guy was a bit of the all show. Everytime his Jag pulled out of a parking space, it left a trail of nuts and bolts. But I’ll always remember him fondly, because, due to him, I met one of life’s great charmers

Mason and Gielgud in the Shooting Party

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Crouching Tiger

The Tiger Woods publicists, the best apologists money can buy, have had a full week to craft an apology. And given the challenges, it's not bad. I see four points they hope to convey: Family man, really sorry, go away, let’s all hate the media.

I think they waited this long, praying for some international calamity to share the heat. But no mushroom cloud bloomed over Omaha. Just more disclosures on their own side, all the more tantalizing because they’re coming out drip by drip. Better a big bang; get it over with at once.

So the best spinners in all the land desperately grabbed this linchpin: “I let my family down.” A phrase typically employed to apologize for more modest disappointments, as in, we didn’t make it to Disneyworld this year, or I missed my son’s Pop Warner Football game, or my daughter will have to go to junior college.

Now we learn this very elastic phrase, “I let my family down,” stretches to include fucking a succession of cocktail waitresses over a number of years while the wife was home with the children.

The apology goes on to say:
“I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings behind closed doors with my family.”

How’d you like to go to that Christmas party? I’ll just leave my fruitcake by the mailbox.

On balance, and on the other hand, and to be fair, when I think of some of my transgressions in this life, and there have been some doozies -- really, I cover my head with a veil just at the very thought of -- oh, never mind. What was my point? Oh yes, when faced with the fall-out, there was no elegant phrase at my disposal. No team to buck me up and argue my virtues, as in, “Sure, that happened, but she once rescued a kitten.”

Still, membership in the club of unfamy has its privileges. I could always leave town for awhile. Hole up and hide out. Because, other than those involved, the rest of the world was a safe haven. No one else really cared. Thankfully, no one else thought it any of their business.

Monday, November 30, 2009

What Swedes Know That You May Not

Even if you don’t play golf, everyone should own at least one golf club. In fact, you may not be aware of this, but the golf club was actually invented way before the sport of golf itself. So many people received golf clubs as Christmas presents and housewarming gifts, that some enterprising soul designed a game around an accumulated collection.

Way before there were links in Scotland, golf clubs beat the bushes and flushed out game, but one needn’t go so far back as that. As recently as the last century, golf clubs have been used to: Scratch backs, floss rhinos, clear drains. It’s also handy as a rose trellis, pool cue, nose-hair remover, and opener for those stubborn pickle jars (hence the nickname: Widow’s Helper).

Of course, most importantly, the golf club is a safety device, famous for saving countless people from quicksand, drunken pool parties, and 20-story suicide attempts.

And now I’ve learned that, in case of a car accident, reach for the club. Leave it to Volvo. You’re going to laugh, but I would have called 911. How many lives have been lost to such ignorance? It’s probably in the Saab manual as well, but if you plan to rescue someone from a dented SUV, reach for the trusty golf club and crush the car’s back window before taking any further action.

Though no scientist, I'm guessing this quickly releases the deadly fumes.

So you can keep your bandages, and CPR, and first-aid kit. Next time I hear someone shout, "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up," I know what I'll grab.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Brush with Genius

I met Martha Argerich last night. We were sitting in a roomful of people, and there was an argument. I maintained Argerich was the greatest pianist of the last century – better than Cliburn, Gould, Richter, and that other guy.

Turns out this was Martha’s farewell tour and final concert. She looked increasingly nervous as others discussed how the final concert should be carried out. I started getting nervous when I found out I’d be accompanying her, both on piano and tonette. I hadn’t rehearsed at all! This could ruin everything. Maybe I could just play really, really softly.

Frank Sinatra sent over a huge gift basket full of liquor, and I asked if it’s ok to have a drink before the concert. That started another argument, but I believe the upshot was no.

We got in a van to drive to the concert venue, and I noticed the lipstick was rather hastily smeared across my mouth, so I tried to wipe it off. I asked Martha, when she heard a piece on the radio, how soon did she know it was hers. She hummed Figaro, and said, “There. By the fifth note.” She said she planned to take English lessons, though I told her she spoke without an accent. “I know,” she said, “But I often have trouble finding the right word.”

Argerich plays Ravel

Argerich plays Chopin (If you're really interested, this last lets you compare her version to Horowitz's.)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Caviar Empty

Oh my god, I must look like hell. Sorry, but what do you expect? I spent the night sleeping around.

You probably saw the ads. WalMart, Target, Sears, they all invited us over at midnight to “camp out” next to our purchase of choice, and then lay down the cold hard cash in the wee hours of the morning. Camp out, what a quaint phrase. They meant shack up, but couldn’t say it in print.

You never know a man until you sleep with him; how true. The same, trust me, goes for household appliances. Oh sure, you might be momentarily dazzled by the Bissell Spray n Vac, but will it last? The Kenmore sub zero muscle-fridge ? Nothing like a little midnight camaraderie to find out whether that relationship should stretch to the next level.

Because it’s shocking really, how so many of us think we desire something, only to feel shame once we have it. That beige sofa loveseat combo? What was I thinking? All my friends hate it. Don’t even get me started on the stainless steel convection oven. Two words: obsessed and possessed, but then I was probably drunk at the time.

My advice? Think long and hard before you invest too much of your time and effort. Sample lots of appliances. Though initially you desperately crave that hunky industrial strength electric juicer, it may be the old fashioned reamer you take home to meet mother.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving memories: Lessons Learned

The first six months of grammar school – the early years -- comprised a slow, thrilling autumn crescendo that would culminate in the clash of cymbals known as Christmas break. We could feel the rumble of the kettle drums once the first brown and red tissue paper leaves hit the bulletin board.

After Halloween, more instruments would join, as we made unlikely and anatomically incorrect turkey cutouts by tracing a pattern around our palm and fingers. The thumb was the head, and after that it was really every turkey for himself. Only the class artists – the left-handed kids -- could make it look like anything other than a hand, so the rest of us tried other pursuits. Poetry, perhaps, with all its attendant license:

“On Thanksgiving Day/That’s when we all say/Hurray for the Mayflower, Nina, and Santa Maria/That’s why we are so free –Awww!”


“Thanksgiving Day is here/Roll out the Burgie and we’ll have some beer/And if you don’t have one too/It will be like a cow that can’t say moo.”

We played pilgrims; not the actual, dour, religious fanatics, of course. No, we knew only about the ones who wore tall construction-paper hats, fell in love with Indian maidens, and shared Jiffypop and cupcakes with their native brothers and sisters.

Thanksgiving kicked off a series of parties. Though predominantly a protestant school, we could all sing the Dreidel song, and Hanukah was next on the docket. With Christmas, though, would come a sense of melancholy followed by an endless stretch of months until summer finally arrived.

There would be little to look forward to in-between Christmas and summer -- just a sprinkling of holidays that included strange stories about little boys who cut down trees, and the mystery of why anyone would want to search for a hardboiled egg.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Minor Inconvenience

A typical Sunday, one with which we can all identify. You might chase the ball for a minute or two, then again, you might not. You might dig up a raccoon pierogi, then again, maybe you're still full from breakfast. You might consider peeing along the perimeter of the yard, or you might just want to take a nap instead.

The world seems to be nothing but a series of delightful choices.

That is, until a barbarian shows up at the gate. Your (devoted!) friend D has brought her husband's steriod-enhanced Ridgeback puppy into your palace. Best to dispatch this giant, whiney, slobbering object as soon as possible. The game is afoot.

Move close, but stay just inches away until Ridgeback acts up.

Walk near, then walk away until distracted Ridgeback pulls and complains and thoroughly annoys owner.

Left flank attack.

When Ridgeback loses all decorum, take the dominant position.

Whisper in her ear: Phoebe is the queen, Long live the queen.

Rinse and repeat.

Friday, November 20, 2009

We get letters

It’s been a long time since I posted a homestead update. Floods of email arrive daily – how are the crops, what are you growing, what are you wearing ... I’m gratified my little project has generated so much interest and enthusiasm.

Oddly, and perhaps you’ve noticed, my most avid fans prefer to comment anonymously. This, from Anon #52, “Are you planting lettuce this year? PS, I want to suck your toes.” This from Anon #173, “Thought you’d like to know that’s not a carrot in my pocket.” Here’s another: “Will you come over and squeeze my tomatoes?” (Oh wait, that's from my Uncle Henry in West Virginia.)

Anyway, on and on. And I think this just goes to prove, though there are lots of informative organic gardening books and pamphlets on the market, nothing beats my own little chatty account and shared experiences.

I’m not going to say things have been a failure this year; we’ve decided to go for quality rather than quantity. Surely there’s a poem out there about how one perfect Damask rose affords more pleasure than a field of hybrids from Home Depot. In that vein, one perfectly shaped mescalun leaf is more beautiful than a huge plot of whatever it is my neighbor seems to be fiddling with. I don’t know about you, but I’d hate to have to spend as much time as he does picking produce. And clearly I won't have to.

Feed the stomach at McDonalds, that’s my advice. My little plot will feed the soul.

Must fly. Anonymous #568 just asked whether a banana is just a banana. Philosophy is not my strongpoint, but I’m sure my county extension agent knows the answer.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sin of Emission

Devotion takes strange turns. I have loved poets and artists. I have loved doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs. All pale when compared to my plumber. No matter how messy our past, my plumber and I have a present and a future. Since I bought this house, Don and I have been joined at the hip, or thereabouts.

You think your best friend knows you? Your priest? Your dog? Small, Russian fingerling potatoes. It's your plumber who knows you inside and in. If you live in an old town with a 1920 sewer system, then your plumber has confronted the real you, the essential you, and probably most of the essential neighborhood as well.

A call to Don is like stepping into one of those confessional booths. Not sure what he says exactly, but to me it sounds like, “Tell me what is wrong, my child.” And I say, “Forgive me Father, but it’s something sinful and icky.”

I had Don over last week for one of those horrendous jobs that’s too humiliating to put in print. Let’s just say there was an intimate gathering of all the neighborhood secrets in my bathtub. A couple of months ago, another house had these secrets seep ... well, never mind. Yes, we’ve got us some sewer problems in the High Dena.

Oh, he never groans or complains, but, though he smiles, Don’s eyes have the permanently wounded expression of one who continues to see too much of life and it never gets any better.

I sit in my office as he fights the underworld. My dogs paw at the office door to get to Don, because they just love him and think that’s probably the best job in the world and wonder if he needs an apprentice. Lord knows, the boxer especially enjoys the homework.

And then I hear water running and stuff flushing and Don whistling, and that means the crisis has past. Time to turn down the Bach and stop biting my nails. Time to run out to praise the man I worship; time to write all those zeroes. Time to be at my most gracious, smile my biggest smile, and in other ways imply, life up here isn’t all shit.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside a Double Double

There are some things I’ll never understand – Stonehenge, advanced algebra, beading.

Quantum mechanics, quantum physics, or quantum all by its lonesome. How a radio works, the concept of black holes, religious fanaticism.

Why we’re born. Why we die. Why men of enormous girth water the front lawn wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and a St Christopher’s medal.

I don’t believe women are from Venus, more sensitive or more emotional than men. Psychologically, individual human beings differ from each other, the sexes, not so much. But there’s one soft and squishy brick wall I can’t get through: The amount of belly real estate each sex will share with the casual public – women calculate in square inches, men round it off to the nearest acre.

Evidence is everywhere. On a Sunday afternoon, driving through the pastoral streets of Pasadena, I’ll see enormously inflated, hairy male stomachs doing yard work, oblivious to the fact they are making women like me gag and spill Sausage McMuffin down the front of our muumuus.

Gain five pounds, a woman goes tent shopping. Gain fifty pounds, a man tucks in his wifebeater and cinches his belt at the kidneys.

It’s not that men lack vanity – they, after all, invented the combover. I think it’s a manufacturing defect, you know, like one of the blind spots on a Range Rover. No need to recall the whole model, but do alert the owner.

And if the owner should choose to do nothing about it, sadly we’re all at risk.

Friday, November 13, 2009

This Won't Take Long

I laugh really, really hard. Not just loud, but athletically. I don’t just laugh, I pound the table, stamp my feet, snort. Spew cocktail peanut and cracker crumbs across the table. Possessed and exorcised at the same time. Worse yet, if there’s the slightest suspicion that any scrap of humor was my invention, I bellow my appreciation to the clouds.

How wrong that is, on so many levels. Ever since I was ten years old, I wanted to be a quiet, sophisticated wit who could say something just killing, and acknowledge such brilliance with one raised eyebrow and that little half smile. You know the one – that cool little twist to the lips, like an Emma Peel or James Bond. “So, my dear, you [insert deadly humor], isn’t that true?” [eyebrow lift, lip twist.]

Instead, I’m all gums and long teeth, braying and spraying, regardless of the company, regardless even of what I’ve said. Sometimes I’ll give myself a round of applause as friends look on in amazement.

Brevity isn’t the soul of wit, you can have one without the other. Still, it’s a start. My humor is not a stiletto, able to reach the heart with one lethal jab. Mine is a larger instrument, an axe with a loose handle, that when swung, tends to break all the jelly jars at once. But you've got to admit, it’s over quickly.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Path Not Taken for Awhile

Eight years ago, this house was a scenic spot on my favorite run. It’s in the southern area of Pasadena, not far from the Ritz. Or whatever they call the Ritz these days. I never considered the house beautiful, maybe it had been originally,in the 20s or 30s, but too many owners had imposed too many ideas involving too much plaster and stucco. Still, no one could tamper with the basics: Large property, beautifully situated, vast view, privacy.

Regardless of the messy front, the house belongs in the mansion category – and, as one might say of a bad face lift, the sides and back are still of interest. Eight years ago I would have guessed…five million? Maybe more.

About the time I moved from the (adjacent, i.e., not rich) neighborhood, the new owners had developed an obsession with knock-off statues. Lions and tigers and bares. The bares were mostly Roman or Greek, mostly women. The grass was brown as always, but I recall pipes and columns laid out across the acreage, presaging a grand project.

When I left the area, I just forgot about it all.

I don’t know why I took a run down that road today, but I did. The house is for sale. I jogged up and down the street a couple of times, then happened to lean against the main gate for a rest. And I happened to note there was no lock on the gate. And I happened to lean a bit harder. And it happened to squeak open. Well, hallo, and I accidentally tumbled inside. It was one of those long tumbles that took me through the front yard and the back acreage, and, whoa, up to the front door, down to the service porch, reeling up a balcony, then twirling around the hall window until I was nose to glass. Balance is so tricky on a hillside.

The statuary is the least of the problems today. Foreclosure is the main one.

How odd to get up close and personal with an area I had cared about in the past, for whatever reason. I mean, how odd to visit shoe to step, forehead to glass. And what had they done. What had they done? Home Depot steps lead here and there, and the green green grass, shockingly, isn’t vegetable or even mineral. Let me put it this way, don’t light matches anywhere close to the lawn.

I felt thrilled, I felt sad. Like meeting a famous old racehorse that everyone has so forgotten, they don’t even lock the paddock.

Don’t worry old chap, I said, and brushed off a layer of leaves from the porch. Someday someone will shine you up and no one will ever know a plaster Venus posed on Astroturf by your front door.

And I sat on the steps and thought about a lot of things, just so the old house would have a few secrets on me. Just so we'd be even.