Tuesday, March 31, 2009

delete, delete, delete

And mea culpa.
To anyone who read the last post which is now history (tho I may send it to the New Yorker. Just for the heck of it). I'm not working the counter at McDonalds, or working anything at McDonalds. I was working April Fools Day. But I appreciate your kind comments and you are lovely people.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Blogger Picnic: For those who were with us in spirit or ... How Much Is Too Much Sangria?

We look like a disreputable chorus line. Photo from the Debbie Swanson Patrick collection.

Can someone take a photo that makes 50 people (in and out, off and on) look like six? Well, if anyone can, that someone is me. Read my booklet if you'd like to find out how. (I'll be shopping these photo tips and more to mags next week.)

But we did have enough food to feed a small, gourmet-inclined nation (sorry, no pictures of that). Drank lots of sangria (whoops, what happened to that shot?).

And we did raise a glass to all of you. A sweet and poignant moment that was entirely missed by this reporter's camera.

In any case, you were with us in spirit, and in spirits we were with you.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Met Afore, and Met Again

This only takes a second. Click here: Froggy Night

In my 20’s, I had a brief fling with a matchmaker. A boxing matchmaker, who was rather bigtime on the circuit. Still is; I caught his name in the news. We saw each other quite a bit for a short while. We traveled around, mainly to Las Vegas, to watch some of the fights.

I hated everything about Las Vegas, starting with the airport, middling with the mirrors on the ceiling and the sunken tubs, and ending with the characters. Even handsome boxers have faces that, up close, look like squishy silly putty -- especially around the eyes. Hey, what's that bit of cheekbone doing over there?

Besides, the fascination of boxing excapes me, especially from the front row.

And B wasn’t crazy about my lifestyle and friends either.

Perhaps most importantly, we were both shy and guarded in the same way. Conversation was difficult. We drifted painlessly apart.

A few years later and a few moves later, he located me for some reason, and wrote me a letter. A sweet and funny letter. I answered in kind. More sweet and funny letters travelled back and forth; sweeter and funnier.

And so we arranged another meeting. And damned if we weren’t frogs again; shy and guarded and without much to say.

Letters followed that meeting, and we were all sweet and funny again. Hello my honey, hello my baby ... We hooked up once more.


I don’t know who stopped writing first, probably me because sending a letter has always seemed like undue effort. The envelope, the stamp, and putting it in the mail and all. But it could have been him.

What does this little episode prove? I don't know; but perhaps one shouldn't pay too much attention to the fine print. Or you can't always judge the cover by the book. Something like that.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

¿existen los señores de la droga en su tienda? And Picnic

As to be expected, once word got out about the $2 million reward, Tijuana was teeming with people of all ages and sizes and sexes in search of the drug lords. I found one suspicious character. When I showed him my handcuffs he got really excited. But no. Turned out he just wanted to do some cosmetic work (on my car? On me? A package deal?)

Don't forget the Saturday blogger picnic in Altadena. Starts at noon. If I haven't caught at least one drug lord by then, my return trip will be both business and pleasure. I intend to snoop around the local Rite-Aid. (Duh, if you're looking for drugs, where do you go? The drugstore. If you're looking for a lord, where do you go? The church across the street from the drugstore.)

(As Tim at altadenablog continues to remind everyone, that's him -- on the far left.)There will be contraband -- SC makes a mean, mean, mean Sangria.

Monday, March 23, 2009

It's like the lottery -- someone has to win

I knew if I waited patiently, something would just fall in my lap. It's all about keeping your eyes open. Call me a go-getter.

When some people read in the NY Times that Mexico is offering a $2 million reward for the capture of top drug lords, some people shake the lead out. Some people lace up the New Balance, and put a few gallons in the Matrix, and start nosing around. Some people start asking the right questions at the right time to the right people.

Don't get too excited; it's not a done deal yet. But I see a new roof, professional pest control, and better food in a certain person's future.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Gone in 240 seconds

I was thinking about actors. Female actors, specifically, and why the famous ones from Europe are so much better than most of the famous ones from the U.S. Maybe, to begin with, in Europe they start as theater students; in the U.S. they start as models.

And really this is just an excuse to share one of my favorite scenes from the past ten years. It's Fanny Ardant as Mary of Guise, matching wits with Sir Francis Walsingham. The film is "Elizabeth." For those who have seen the movie, put all the ghoulish heads on sticks you want, and shoot them in a creepy cave. Ardant just sat in a chair and stole the entire movie in 4 minutes. (Geoffrey Rush practiced a bit of larceny himself.)

You tell me. Watch this

Friday, March 20, 2009

Trader Joe's: The cult

Whenever I start to complain about something, I have a certain friend who interrupts to say, "That would be perfect for your blog." That's what he says. What he's thinking is, "Aw, go bother someone else about it, you boring bitch."

So I will.

I plowed through my fridge, looking for something to eat, and the only offerings were pounds and pounds of frozen Trader Joe bags -- pierogies stuffed with squid lips, pizza with tofu-roni. For my international audience (that would be Julie), TJ's is a chain of highly successful grocery stores, owned by some mysterious German family; a family that keeps a VERY low Teutonic profile but employs some brilliant marketing strategies.

For no reason at all except their disingenuous newsletter and wood walls, TJ's has a reputation as a reasonably-priced gourmet outlet with strong organic-food tendencies. What's not to trust about this newsletter: I mean, it's written on recycled paper, sprinkled with childish illustrations, and chock full of corny text. "What Ho! Shrimp for $7 a pound? Avast me hardies. Dip your paddle to Trader Joes."

The thing is, TJ's is really a 99 cent store with better packaging, where managers wear Hawaiian shirts and bumpty-bump '60's tunes blare from the speakers.

"My boyfriends back and you're gonna be in traw-bull, heyla, heyla..."

Does anyone look at the snack ingredients? Do you really believe China practices sustainable fishing? Or Malaysia can teach us a thing or two about organic rice? Or flax seed can replace tortilla chips?

Still, you see all the San Marino matrons bagging their own groceries into their own canvas sacks, thinking they're taking one for the environmental team . But taking it tastefully. Truly, you can just see it on their satisfied faces as they pack up their own trail mix produced in India and coconut-battered shrimp from the Philippines. Good work, girls.

So why do I go? For the same reason as everyone else. It's dead cheap. And their Chilean wine becomes more and more drinkable the further down the bottle you go.

Then, getting back to my frozen supplies, why so much TJ? My problem is, I usually shop when I'm hungry. So, when I visit their sampling kiosk -- fried rice on a toothpick or a piece of turkey-wiener with Thai-lime and marshmallow curry sauce -- I'm starving, and anything tastes ok at that moment.

But not at any other moment. These delicacies are bound for a destiny of freezer-burn until I finally toss them away.

To make way for others.

But score one for my side. I make them pack my groceries. Double-bagged.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Thoughts while working on an article that's giving me nothing but trouble

When I worked...hmm, that's not right. I work today. Let's say, when I worked for, well, you know, money, there was a CFO/planning auditor who used to drive us crazy.

I was part of a project filled with some really bright, dissastified, and wonderfully snarky people. We created websites, IVR's, and software packages (Oh, I didn't do the actual programming, I mostly said yes/no to blue vs red, sprinkled in some text, and handled the user manuals).

Anyway, we project people had much in common: We didn't take ourselves too seriously, we were each pretty sure we were smarter than the guy sitting to our right or left, and we all planned to leave the company; someday, soon, as soon as we could ignore the next bonus check.

Meanwhile, we turned our drab little conference room into the poor man's Algonguin Round Table. We started with a cast of twenty-five. Three of us auditioned for Dorothy Parker, that was my main concern.

This auditor was one of the guys floating around until retirement, sent our way by the CFO to play with some legos until the time had come. He never missed a meeting, asked questions apropos to nothing in the modern world, and took copious notes.

One day he stopped showing up. Turned out Steve had liver cancer. We felt bad for him. Not really bad, just guilty because we had needled him, sad that eternity was up in his face -- just bad in passing.

And then we received a directive. Steve was to receive all meeting notes and screen prints, fed-ex'd to his house. And we were supposed to review his notes and suggestions in our weekly meetings.

About a month or two later, this back-and-forth was no longer necessary. Steve had died. In his bed, with our screen prints and his final suggestions.

Steve was a company man. It was time to quit.

And the roundtable? We learned time was time. I think within a year, we all quit too.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Take it or Leaf It

How stands the Altadena World Economic Barometer? Everyone wants to know. Or a couple of people do. Ok, no one does. Except our extension agent, who dug up the official tools for a new reading. (See that nose scar? He had to fight a shepherd of the german persuasion for the tools. He did it for you. A lot you care.)

Our banana plant, apparently dead in the water one month ago, is up another inch. Don't worry, you go have your martinis and watch your Mad Men. We'll continue to toil away.

No, no really. Enjoy your scampi. We're used to long hours and we know how to rough it. (Besides, there's a stimulis package around here somewhere.)

Monday, March 16, 2009

I know what you did last summer

When I open my Stories of John Cheever, pages spill to the floor from the broken spine. I don't know why, but I like it that way, constantly sorting the pages and shoving them back in. This wornout old shoe of a book never goes out in public anyway. I bought it in the early 80's, and have probably read most of the stories 20 times or more. They age well.

When Wallace and Cheever hit the same issue of the NY'r this month, Wallace got 10 pages (or thereabouts) and Cheever one or two. But the life of Cheever has already been examined so extensively, what more to say? Who left to quote? What else to show? The only things we're lacking are chest x-rays and blood tests.

And now it's Wallace's turn to be pinned to the table and split apart for the public autopsy. The betrayals have already started, in the name of ... well, what exactly, I don't know.

I confess. I read biographies of authors, lots of them. And not one has done anything but stain the author's work. After reading a bio, you second-guess the author's creations -- you begin to doubt the reliable narrators, the motives of characters.

A bio will never make an author's work better than it was originally. But I read them to satisfy my prurient interest in what a brilliant person drank and smoked and all the other stuff. Usually bios are at least 25% about sex.

I've read too much about certain authors that they're ruined for me now. Every line has an unintended footnote that I can't erase.

Some authors rise above the gossip whipped up and devoured in their behalf. Yes, it's rather fascinating that such a perfectly crafted and economically worded book as Great Gatsby could have been written by such an emotional mess as FSF. But does that bit of knowledge inform the text at all? No, it's just a momentary distraction from a clear-eyed, wistful story.

Friday, March 13, 2009

expressions of delight and dismay

One guy who worked for me used to say "Oh fudge," when something went terribly, terribly wrong. And he wasn't a little delicate fellow, he was a big, strapping, but very polite gentleman. So one day I said, "Oscar, everyone knows fudge means fuck. Why not just say it?" And he never said fudge again. Nor, I hasten to add, did he take my suggestion. All I had done was to put a little bit of pleasurable relief out of his reach.

My mother's favorite expression was shucks. But because she had a slight Norwegian accent, it came out as chucks. As in "Oh, chucks."

My dad, a devotee of "shit, " put the hard Scandinavian pressure on consonants, so it was more like "ShiTTTTT-e."

For great joy and great pain, I'm pretty basic and explode with a fuck and a shit on a regular basis. Crap, as a fallback position, and pig-fucker if I want a laugh.

Why, with my love of language don't I scream "It was the best of times it was the worst of times!" when the hammer lands on my thumb? More comfort, surely, can be found in that line. Or "Here we are on a darkling plane!" when the dog makes ill use of my carpet. There are a million great quotes at our disposal. Car won't start? "Oh, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!"

Instead, I resort to the F or the S or, to break out of these monosyllabic barriers, the CS word.

How fucking unimaginative is that?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Smooth Hiking

(Thanks for making me Miss Congeniality for a day. You guys really stretched it to the utmost limit.)

So, I was at botany class today, still working on my Huntington Docent merit badge. Why, I remember the first class, way back in October, when the instructor passed out a list of Docent perks. I turned to the woman next to me and chirped, "I don't believe it. We get free admission and a discount on coffee! This is ah-may-zing!"

Mrs. X gave me a truly puzzled look. Turns out she lives in one of the mansions nearby and is a major Huntington donor. She clearly wondered what I meant by discount coffee -- a good price on a plantation perhaps?

In this class, I'm the little match girl (older version). I'm the only one who is independently poor. But the other students are all so nice, and not a bit stuck-up. If anyone is a tad insufferable, it's me. For some reason, I know the botanical names of hundreds of plants, and for some reason, feel compelled to let everyone know it. "Sweet olive? Oh, of course you mean Osmanthus Fragrans." I even corrected one of the curators on the pronunciation of "Michelia." It just leapt out of my mouth, like a toad.

No real point here, except: Sometimes I'm treated rather rudely. Like at Rite-Aid or the DMV. And sometimes I'm given undeserved latitude. And lunch.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Small Wars And A Little Peace

I always thought that the truly gifted among us, the artistic geniuses, must have a level of comfort most cannot imagine. A justification for what they did or didn’t do; felt or couldn’t feel. Sure getting that big bugger out of their mind and into the world might be a trial, might take a lot of pain, a lot of hooch, a lot of lost love. But then again, getting little buggers out of the mind takes a similar toll.

Would an artistic genius ever sweat the small stuff, even recognize the small stuff, even acknowledge rain if it dropped through the hole in the ceiling. It's like the scales of justice -- there's truth and beauty on one side, and the termite problem in the kitchen on the other.

And how nice to be rid of the endless apologies in life. Sorry I smashed your car, burnt the roast, lost the keys, broke your heart.

How nice to be able to say: Yes, I messed up, but I was working on the 5th Symphony.

“Writing is easy. All you do is sit at a typewriter and open a vein.” And for the genius, it’s blood that flows. What if you pop open a vein and all that comes out is a jello shooter or 7 up. Well, now you’ve made a mess for no reason, and you’ll probably scar. And you’ll still have to clean up. There is no saint that guards the mildly gifted.

If you’re a genius, I’ll bet you know it from the get-go. And all those razors and blood-lettings are so much the 9 to 5 of your life, with fewer coffee breaks and no dental. Tough luck.

At night, you get the promise of history to snuggle up like a warm puppy by your side.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Box Step: Chick chicky boom

Desi and Lucy were nice enough to provide a cheery intro to a few Sunday boxer walks. This is what I sung to each, and they loved it, 'cause a boxer can rhumba! (Click, you won't regret it.)


Trixie. The Original Sally Sweet. She's the queen of Delancy Street.

Tyra, like many with a background in ballet, wanted a mirror.

And here's Cuban Pete. Like all smart, young, extremely handsome guys, he's a play-ah, and playing it cool. Thinks the world is his milkbone. chick chicky boom.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

I hate most of my friends redux

I submitted articles to NY, Smithsonian, and Atlantic Monthly this week, and you know what one of my friends said? She said, “Maybe you’re aiming too high.”

So I said, “Maybe that shirt makes you look fat.”

Honestly, women can be so bitchy. Maybe she needs yoga or something.

Don’t ever let her know I actually listened and took another stroll through Writer’s Market. Just let her worry about that shirt for awhile.

I shot my feet:
Western RV News - Some may think it’s hard to combine engines, curlers, Zuma Beach, and hot dogs in a 400-word think piece. But some aren't ready to get out on the highway.

I shot from the hip:
Bon Appetit – How many retreads can you slap on baked apples and roasted chicken? So I sent them, “Street Smarts,” a piece about road kill preparations and organic toothpicks.

I shot the clouds again:
Of the tippy top best mags I have yet to torment, there's The Economist. I remember when I actually subscribed to The Economist and proudly carried it around in airports and hotel lobbies. That magazine had huge chunks of text and no cartoons at all. Weird. Still, I did take on one article per issue, just in case anyone ever asked what I was reading. And I sent them ... well I won't say, wait for their shock to wear off.

I hate most of my friends

I submitted articles to NY, Smithsonian, and Atlantic Monthly this week, and you know what one of my friends said? She said, “Maybe you’re aiming too high.”

So I said, “Maybe that shirt makes you look fat.”

Honestly, women can be so bitchy. Maybe she needs yoga or something.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Calm down, you idiot.

Sometimes I have to speak harshly to myself or I just won't listen.

A dear friend of mine, a philosophy professor, believed (as others have) that we're bits of the universe conscious of itself. We have a gift, a gift of the senses and a sense of beauty. A transitory gift.

Where to spend this time and space? Sure, there are some worries one will never shake. Fears that will never shed. Geoff's didn't. He killed himself a few years ago. Doesn't mean his philosophy was wrong; he had a dark, dark night. Say, instead, a tree branch had fallen on his head, just enough to knock him out that night, he'd still be around to make fun of me today.

My classes at the Huntington resumed, and we had lessons in the Chinese Garden. Met a lovely man, the former student of a master gardener. This gentleman came all the way from China to prune the trees. He'd cup the tree, bend, crouch, stare, step back, consider. Next he'd select a branch, bend it, almost talk to it. Then, only then, would he decide. And sometimes the decision was to do nothing.

"How do you like it here?" I asked.

"It's almost spring," he said.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

News from the Banana Republic

Maybe it shrunk since the day before yesterday.

Do a bunch of math. Who called this 2% market uptick yesterday, your broker or my banana?

How is the economy really doing? The Altadena Economic Barometer is on the job.

One week has passed, so I contacted my team. The county extension agent was busy eating squirrel shit, but agreed to come by for an emergency measurement.

There was momentary confusion as we looked for our official tools -- I think he buried them. But we passed that hurdle by borrowing substitutes from a neighbor.

You can believe in voodoo (DJIA springs to mind) or you can put your faith in science. Look beyond the rot and the wilt -- we have grown two inches, and we're in the green.

The county extension agent was ecstatic. (He has Vanguard.)

Thanks to Mlle Gramaphone, we decided to gently celebrate. (Ours is the subdued version. We have promises to keep, and inches to go before we sleep.)

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Hail Mary Pass

Things look bleak today -- world-wide, economically-speaking -- so you know, why not try religion? I’m working from the public library, without a cup of coffee or bowl of soup in sight. This is penance. Some guy just finished coughing up a lower intestine at the next table. Prior to, the librarian shushed him, which I thought was rude, seeing as the intestine was only half way there.

Life must have been like this right before the Russian Revolution, though without palm trees and Kinkos.

I’m flipping through the 2008 Writers Market to see what kind of low-life pandering I might try my hand at. I’ve published in crap journals before; it wouldn’t be sinking to where this woman had never sunk before. At 35, I channeled a 60-year old man with triple bypass to get published in a health journal. So trust me, any ethics arguments you throw my way, I’ll throw them back ‘cause they’re just too small.

So many titles, so much time. I’ll tell you three that are totally out: “Fur, Fish, and Game,” “Conception,” and “Skin Disorders Monthly .”

Good God. (Remember this; we have a theme.)

Parenting Magazine has possibilities. I’m not a parent, but I’ve known parents. I had parents for heaven’s sakes. (please note: second nod to the Almighty.)

Then there’s the romance and dating trade. A pretty easy do, I would guess, though a few hits on the head with a hammer might speed up the writing process. Lord love us. (Third nod.)

And speaking of trades, trade journals pay pretty damn well. Take a look at “Bathroom Yearbook," an annual journal covering all monuments marble and ceramic, and “Bedtimes.” The latter gives a stern warning that all submissions must be from retail bedding professionals. Hmmm, I’ll let that one go. It’s my religious day.

So, throwing a dart at the Writer Market when the librarian isn’t looking, I hit Organic Gardening. They pay well, and they accept approximate stabs at some sort of vegetable amusement.

And, actually, what is gardening but digging a few holes, sticking some roots in the ground, and hoping for the best. I may not really understand a triple bypass, but I do know what amounts to a hill of beans. For Christ sake.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Long day's Journey to the Sunday Matinee

Get out the Goobers.

Today we feature 1931's Strange Interlude, starring Norma Shearer and Clark Gable, based on some god awful Eugene O'Neill play. (They can't all be Long Day's Journey, you know. Even Long Day's Journey probably isn't Long Day's Journey, but I just love Ralph Richardson.)

Norma Shearer is married, but has a fling with Gable's Dr. Ned Darrell (O'Neill had apparently run out of surnames). A baby results, raised as the child of Norma and her husband. Through the magic of white chalk dust, everyone ages, I don't know, five or six decades. And the child starts out as David Copperfield, but ends up as Marcus Welby. That's all I remember.

Except the soliloquies. You must click on this link to see the inner thoughts of our hero and heroine. (Here's what's strange about this interlude: the inner thoughts sound amazingly like those old coffee commercials where Ted never had a second cup at home.)