Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Lottery

Today I’m writing a cover letter to Amgen -- at least, that’s what I’ve promised myself. Not that myself cares whether I keep that promise or not. Myself is easy that way. Myself is no one’s fool. With millions of writers out of work these days, landing a PR job is like finding a grain of sand on the world’s longest beach.

Or perhaps more aptly, you know those baking hot summer days when you slosh a little sugary drink on the patio and ants by the million appear out of nowhere to dogpile on the drop?

But I’ll do the cover letter, just as soon as I divest myself of a little distraction cooked up on the way to the (coffee house) office.

I was thinking about all the highly successful people who graduated from my relatively small high school.

During my junior high and high school years, my family lived in Naperville, Illinois. This was the 70's, and all the families in one of its many suburbs had a father who worked for GM, or Exxon, or Boeing, transferred here and soon to be transferred there.

The lot of us took mobility as a way of life. We didn’t think it strange the way we commandeered some farming community that had been around for hundreds of years, and turned it into our own. Not even when, throughout our childhood, this process was repeated over and over.

Before we’d descend on a town, some far-sighted individual would have bought up acres and acres of farmland and turned it into hundreds of likeminded two-story houses where likeminded people of likeminded ages with likeminded jobs would flock. They, whoever they were, built us our own schools, malls, airports, tennis courts. Mothers and kids had instant friends. Which was good for the dads, because they were always at work.

Naperville had great schools, doctors, athletic programs. Sure it was kind of generic and boring, but some of us solved that through recreational pursuits – scholastic programs, junior olympics, drugs, sex. I ditched school so often, I could no longer let my mother sign anything because the school only had my signature on file. Most of us got good grades, and those who didn’t could ace an SAT or ACT (apparently residual words from chemistry lectures clinging to our undamaged brain cells).

The amazing thing about Naperville is the number of successful people who emerged from its high school in the 70’s and 80’s. Bob Zoellick, president of the World Bank, Paula Zahn, the Odenkirks, some computer billionaire whose name escapes me, just for starters.

I think I babysat for the Odenkirks when maybe two years separated the sitter from the sittee. I also think the father may have shot himself. There were lots of suicides in our town during the 70’s, an inordinate amount for a place that size, but I wouldn’t rush to judgement.

But back to the success stories. The first one to make good was Melanie. Melanie and I vied for some of the same roles in high school plays. I left high school at 16 or 17, and made my way to the University of Illinois. Melanie headed to New York. She tried her hand at modeling and was an instant success. I think she made the cover of Seventeen within a month of her arrival, to be followed by Vogue and Glamour, and whatever else was around those days.

A year or two later, I had dropped out of college to savor an exuberant lifestyle I would never again duplicate. And Melanie, Melanie was on all the magazine covers. But not as a model. A former boyfriend had murdered her current boyfriend, cut him into little pieces (at least, that's what I recall reading in Time or Newsweek) and carried him out of the apartment in a suitcase.

Melanie was a sweet girl, and I felt bad for her, especially when Time or Newsweek trotted out stories about a prostitution ring.

What happened to her? No idea. I lost touch with everyone in Naperville, just as I lost touch with everyone in towns prior and since. For blue sky kids, accustomed to moving from suburb to suburb, we shed old friends and grew new friends. All changed with the seasons.

I'd like to say I've learned a lot of things since then. But, nah. Of the few things I know, luck may turn on a dollar, may turn on a dime. But turn it will.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Official thermometer of the US Economy

Ok, here's how we stand today -- 44 inches of frostbitten, way too expensive, barely alive banana plant. We will take the temperature weekly. Should shrinkage or even death occur, you will not be spared the message. If, however, we see leaves of hope, that too will be shared.

You can choose to believe the head of the IMF (and he's smart, ah but then again, he dated one of my best friends), or you can choose to believe a banana. (Which has been better for your health in the past six months?)

The county extension agent is on site to ensure accuracy. Albert may be a dimwitted sonofabitch, but he's an honest one.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Yes we have our banana, we just have no bananas today

I know, you look at this title and think it’s another boring post about gardening. You are so wrong. Think outside those corrugated constructions. Or maybe, since all the unimaginative people have been bailing out of boxes and littering our landscape for the past decade, jump back in. That’s where the action is.

This is not another boring gardening post. This is another boring post about human interaction, physical exertion (no, not that kind), sweat (not that kind either), hope, desire (no, you’re still wrong), and patience.

Sometimes a banana is just a banana. And sometimes a banana is more than…well, at least equal to… especially if ice cream or warm buttered toast is involved…

Meet my new banana plant, hybrid Goldfinger.

Gold-feeng -ahhhh.

He looks little, brown and wizened at the moment. Actually, he looks dead; but then, you don’t look so hot yourself.

I bought him, after some ruthless dickering, for $45, mercilessly slashing the price by $5. “And I’m not charging you tax,” the nurseryman said, impressed by my brutal bargaining.

It was only while driving away I remembered there is no tax on edibles anyway.

Normally, I’ll make a few half-hearted jabs with a shovel, and then cram a plant into my hard, hard soil. If roots still spring above ground level, and they almost always do, I pile rocks on top. Some live, some die, some spend years in a coma – in fact, I consider my garden an illustration of many Darwinian principles. But that’s not good enough for my Goldfeengah.

I dug a real hole. My county extension agent helped in the excavation and measurements.

My county extension agent also took generous samples of the horse manure fertilizer for quality assurance purposes. After I tucked my Goldfinger in with some rich, rich compost, my county extension agent promised to return for further investigation. I will provide fencing and lawn furniture for his comfort.

In two months I should see a little green spear of hope. In ten months I should see some modest growth. In two years I should see fruit.

A pattern and timeline I see for many things in my life: Career, happiness, my 401K. A two-year window filled with work, hope, desire, and patience.

Plus a lot of shit.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Crazy Eights

Dear Mr. Fisher of Fisher Investments,
Can I call you Ken? I feel very close to you -- you put a personal note on the outside of the envelope (In cursive. I guess that means you only sent out a few of these). I'm pretty sure you have a mustache that will tickle when you kiss me on the cheek. I'm hoping I can come to dinner some time. Your return address is Skyline Boulevard in Woodside California. Sounds nice and cozy and wealthy; you have a craftsman perhaps? Or are you neo-modern. In any case, I'm sure you have a nice view and pour a mean pinot.

Your letter was very long and chatty, and I only posted a couple of pages here. Nice you told me you have a column in Forbes Magazine. I said to myself, "Oh, it's that Ken."

Knowing so much, and living in the sky and the woods and all, I'm sure time is on your side. I, on the other hand, have the nightshift at MacDonald's, so will cut to the chase.

200 MILLION PEOPLE IN AMERICA HAVE BEEN MAKING THE SAME EIGHT FUCKING INVESTMENT ERRORS? And you knew about this? AND YOU SAID NOTHING? You have a column, for christ sakes. You just sat on these hard eights for years and decided to spring it now?

I'm really rather irritated at you Ken. You've been a naughty boy. You waited until I lost a third of my investments before coming to me with your gold-leaf envelope and sweet talk and toast points and advice.

Ok, pour me another pinot and let me calm down.

Maybe I should be glad that our mistakes have been limited to eight. You could have said ten or a five hundred. But by specifying eight, the number is manageable. There's a path out of this mess, and Ken can light the way. Eight ways. We can all count to eight. Even after two carpentry accidents.

Ok, feeling better now. No one has to tell you how flattering it is to be part of your "private investment group." Knowing you so well, I'll be happy to disclose my investment size and send it along in your post-paid envelope. Can I do less? You ask for the favor of my reply, and it makes me feel all giggly and Jane Austeny.

In closing, I appreciate the book. I like books, and I guess you remembered it's my birthday (six months ago). But timing was never your strong suit.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Childhood Heros

When I was a kid, Sunday morning meant a grueling television schedule. We kept the volume low on all fronts, and made breakfast quietly. If parents waked up, we were on a one-way trip to Lutheransville -- a day spent in Sunday School with blunt scissors and paperdoll wiseguys.

Breakfast entree of choice was magically delicious. I ate only the marshmallow charms, and left whatever was remotely nutritious (or at least not dangerous) to dissolve in a bowl of red dye#3 milk.

To refresh the palate was Euell Gibbons, an itinerant vagrant. Gibbons pitched for Grape Nuts cereal. We liked him quite as much as the cartoons. Euell Gibbons lived off native plants and grasses, hopping freight trains to travel around America. At least, that's how we saw it. "These are waaaald hikry nuts," he'd say gleefully. At an age where we'd sample our own mudpies, any nut sounded ok.

Actually, we took all our TV Gods at face value -- Sheriff John, Chuckles the birthday clown, Hobo Kelly. Serial or cereal box, hand-covered ski sock with plastic lips, we were pretty easy. Kids are way too sophisticated for that stuff today.

Or not.

There are a couple of boys who live down the street from me, ages 2 and 4. Oh, and their daddy adores them; the three form an inseparable alliance. Hartwell and his brother loves them some garbage trucks. They tried to explain the fascination one day, but words failed to capture the monumental thrill of seeing that robot arm pop out the side of the truck and grab and lift the containers. Hartwell delves into his own private vocabulary when attempting to communicate something really important.

But no matter, I understood. And so does their father. If you're ever on my street on trash day at 7 a.m., you'll see the three of them, sitting on the curb, waiting for the show to begin.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Rescue Zorthian and let the boxing begin

Bet you didn't think I could tie Part Deux of Altadena's infamous Zorthian ranch

with a walk at boxer rescue today. Watch this.

Remember how Zorthian was known for his love of women partially or, better still LIVE, LIVE, TOTALLY NUDE? Today I had cocktails and nachos with some artistes infamous in their own right: Amber, Tangerine, Crystal, and Boom Boom.

Though liberal with the eyeliner (and who isn't?), most were on their best behavior. (Here are the first three. I have one of Boom Boom as well, but modesty forbids.)

Aside from the nude dancing girls, Zorthian was known for his reclaimed art. It might be good; it might be great. It might be a load of crap. To be honest, I have no idea. But here are a few shots of his art as I found it that day.

Many thanks to my friend Victoria, without whose help I would have been stopped half way up the trail. (She's one of those charming people.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The sweetest song ever written.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hoist! Hoist! My kingdom for a hoist (and that petard thingy they're supposed to have)

Everytime a workman comes to my house, he tells me what a horrendously inept job the last workman performed. So when a roofer came yesterday to repair some leaks, he shook his head in utter dismay. "Who was the last one to work on your roof?"

"Uh, it was you," I replied.

He climbed back up the ladder.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

That little monster

The tagline tells us, “Your calling is calling.” Why stop there? How about, "Your calling is answering."

And that’s only the second thing wrong with this site.

The first is their name, though I don’t hold their moronic name against them. Ten years ago, this shiny new job site pandered to those in their early twenties, looking for a or carpet-cleaning gig. Times have changed, and that profile no longer fits us, the great unwashed, but times changed in a very unexpected way, and we all had foolish thoughts ten years ago.

I say, call it anything, so long as it works. For those who have never had a day’s unemployment, the concept is simple. You post your resume and employers post job openings. Monster claims it will match your qualifications to job requirements. And voila, the perfect job for the perfect applicant.

My work history is pretty clear. So why do I get a match for Exxon CFO one day, and Arco cashier the next? And apparently I have some medical training – but only now and then. Thus I’m urged to apply for head surgeon of Kaiser Permenente on Monday and Rite-Aid delivery boy on Friday. I’m waiting to see an opening in the Obama cabinet, or alternately, an opening in cabinet making.

I’m not the only one pointing fingers around here. Recently Monster sent me an email titled “Avoid Common Resume Blunders,” obviously sensing disenchantment and trying to shift the bulk of the blame. I think my calling is calling me stupid.

But my answering is answering, so I clicked, and here are the resume sins according to Monster. And perhaps what they’re actually trying to tell me.

1. Too Focused on Job Duties
You’re boring

2. Flowery or General Objective Statement
You’re lying

3. Too Short or Too Long
They go on to say “There is no rule about appropriate resume length.” I’m supposed to figure out what this means? I’m calling my calling obtuse.

4. Using Personal Pronouns and Articles
“There should be no mentions of "I" or "me.”
Point taken. I use "I" and "me" in my resume, soon to be replaced with “a certain someone” or “herself.”

5. Listing Irrelevant Information
Strike, “I slept my way through Europe.”

6. Not Including Keywords
Sprinkle relevant keywords throughout the resume.” And they provide a list. I’ll save my retooled summary statement for a later post.

What doesn’t seem to realize, and perhaps my resume failed to make clear, is that I’m trying to match my work experience with my love of the outdoors.

Something in landscape design. Or meter reading.

Monday, February 9, 2009

See Spot, See Spot Run, See Spot Run from Fire

For me, blogging has not made the world smaller. But it has made it more familiar.

I talk (and sometimes it's a one-way conversation) with people from many parts of the world, so I think about areas that never occurred to me (much) before, and now they cross my mind almost daily. What's going on, what are you seeing, thinking?

Which brings me to Australia. I can't imagine what term will be coined for these fires eventually, but coined it will be, because that's the news business. No revelation here, but newspapers, sites, radio, thrive on disasters. Coming from the newspaper business, I know disaster sells at a nominal investment. Most of our offices were decorated with the front pages of horrific moments in history, because those moments were days of triumph; circulation surged.

But ok, the paper and the audience got what we needed, or at least, wanted. Information. So when I went to the NY Times and LA Times sites to find a map and information about the fires in Australia, instead I found videos, lots of videos. Because now that most of these news institutions are owned by pure businessmen, the philosophy is that we, the audience, can only assimilate stories and pictures that move across a screen, and are full of bathos, and are gone in 60 seconds. They truly believe this is what we want rather than, you know, news.

It took Julie's site at Sydney eye to give me any taste of what is actually going on down there down under. Including an absolutely brilliant picture of what was and will not be again. I encourage you to visit.

More than 200 lives lost, and countless homes. No rain in sight. For those with a few spare dollars, here's the red cross link for donations

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Pig Tales: Meat and Greet

Hi, I'm Kevin Bacon, of the Altadena Bacons.

I know, you thought, just for a second... Lots of people make that mistake -- it's the nose, I think. Plus, we're both hoofers and we're both Canadian.

Here's the Missus. Take a look at that Boston Butt. Squeal!

She was crackling good fun before the newborns.

You can see there's a few redheads in the pack that don't look at ALL like the old ham --

I tell her the mailman made a special delivery (Wait a minute Mr Porkman, wait and see). Snort, snort! Was he the other white meat? Snort, snort, squeal!I like to rib the missus once in awhile, makes her blood broil. But then I pickle the bottom of her feet and she grabs my loins

She has a little pork partum going on right now, and tries to rip the picnic from my shoulder, so we're sleeping in separate sties. But she's the pig of my heart, believe me. Just wait til you see her in lipstick.

Well, can't stop to talk, you and I both have some rooting to do. The squeaky pig gets the grease. Remember, it's Altadena hiker, the tenderest loin of all.

Chop chop.

(Contest entry for our friend Check out the competition.)

Friday, February 6, 2009

The bus stops here: Altadena, Zorthian Ranch

Fair Oaks Avenue is an offshoot of Huntington Drive in Alhambra. Traveling north, it grows in width and pride, cutting a straight line through South Pasadena. Continuing on to Pasadena, things get rough once Fair Oaks approaches the 210 freeway. And news gets worse.

At the gang infested border of Altadena, Fair Oaks makes a sharp right-angle before heading into the hills. Here it plays host to liquor stores and more liquor stores, and places where you can get a fast, small buck on a paycheck that may or may not be in the mail. Most of the Altadena crimes take place in this vicinity. Recently, a 90-year old woman was found dead in her home, beaten then burned, or burned then beaten. Not many people walk this part of the street, though some empty store fronts, strangely, so strangely, have quite a few customers.

It isn’t until you hit the hills that Fair Oaks Avenue relaxes again, sliding by a middle class section of homes, many fronted by that mono-dimensional rockery so popular in the 60’s. Any day of the week you'll find one house or another under siege by leaf blowers.

Fair Oaks dead ends where Zorthian Ranch begins.

Altadena reveres its characters. Zane Grey, Rodney King, Richard Feynman, Professor Lowe, Emily Harris, Zeke the Sheik … the brilliant, the crazy, con artist, criminal, the monumentally lucky, or unlucky. By Altadena standards, Jiryar Zorthian, hit enough criteria to be considered legendary.

Zorthian, an Armenian who escaped Turkey, was also supposedly an army intelligence officer in WWII, an expert horseman, a championship wrestler, an artist – and maybe he had been all that in actuality.

But I doubt he would have made the favorite-son list had it not been for his 45-acre mountaintop retreat. It had horses, dogs, goats, guests, a few structures and lean-to's, and a view straight out to the ocean. It also had huge amounts of jettisoned junk and trash, tossed carelessly into the canyons. Remainderings from salvaged-art projects. Enough to dam up one of the mountain streams until the County intervened.

But most of all, I suspect, Zorthian is remembered because of all the naked girls. And the wife who didn't seem to mind.

(More to come.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Just a quick flip through the scrapbook

To show you how deceptive some websites can be.

Edgy artist PA is actually a huge mouse fan, as is all the family.

Chris is also taking much (too much?) time away from his thriving networking business.

Tash, our aeronautics engineer, often calls in sick and sends the kids to an after-school program.

KenMac has never actually been to Greenwich Village, though he hopes to take his minivan up there some day.

Vanda really likes granite countertops, as well as some other decorating tips from the women's magazines. (The Jello salad was amazing.)

And Margaret ... well Margaret is taking a breather from her feminist essays and working on self-actualization.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

We're social animals

And naturally curious. As I work on something possibly or impossibly lucrative, I thought you might like to meet a few other bloggers on their home turf.

(I get invited out and over because I'm charismatic and popular. There's simply not enough me to go around. You, on the other hand, are probably accustomed to living vicariously. So enjoy, this one's for you.)

I kicked off the day with Miss Havisham. A little tea for me; I don't know what she was drinking. Whatever it was, it left rings on the table that she kept wiping with Pledge.

Petrea & Susan cornered me for lunch. The corner was small and uncomfortable and surrounded by dead, fatty yet indeterminate tissue.

Laurie & husband introduced me to their daughter and a couple of nephews (or nieces, I couldn't rightly tell). They made me take a matching ski sweater for Albert.

K wanted to show off his bachelor pad. I kind of liked his smoking jacket, but he said the velvet pants made him itch.

Mike & Earl continued their fight. "French poodles," one shouted.

Virg & I were supposed to go out for cocktails, but she was still getting dressed.

(You know, I can only make so many visits in one day. But I have family photos of everyone. TK, as they say, to come.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Seed Exchange at the Zane Grey Estate

Want that special invitation? You might have to dig some dirt.

Worked for me. (Nice machine; do they have wifi?)
I skulked around a bit. (Oh for God's sakes, I didn't take anything.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

I do bad things, or maybe not

Back home, we never studied or discussed the ten commandments. My family was middle-class suburban Lutheran, and the expression of our religion started and ended with Christmas lights.

According to our limited knowledge of the ancient texts, hell was painful, but heaven -- singularly unattractive -- what with harps, and no skis or athletics of any kind. So for our family, there had been generations of religious indifference (we were probably pagan anyway).

But the ten commandments is an interesting list of rules. And variable, if you do some research. No one in the world could come out 100% clean, so I figure this must be judged on a bell curve. I personally wouldn't have chosen some these rules above all others, but face it, even on my very best days, no one's worshipping me (Much. Oh but now I blush).

But back to the top ten. I'd take out the "shalt not covet" one (because everyone bloody covets something every day of their life), and replace it with Thou shall be generous. Hard one to keep perhaps, but worthwhile in effort.

In fact, I suggest taking out all the shalt nots, and looking at the shall side of life. "Thou shalt not commit adultery," becomes Thou shall treasure thy spouse.

I have some other suggestions, but well, you know, it's a work in progress. I've got another five or six days, right?