Thursday, April 30, 2009

Really Short Stories

I can't write fiction. If only. But I can come up with a couple of concepts. For example, what if you could clone yourself and raise the clone as you think you should have been raised; cultivating and grooming the talents you have, or you believe you should have had, would have had. The story would end in a bitterly comedic battle between the big self and little self, full of irritation and frustration.

Can't I just tell you that it's bitterly comedic? Do I have to do all that plotting and character development and so forth? Can't you just take my word for it?

Or what about: There's a wealthy man with beautiful home and grounds and family, and perfection in every waking direction. But this man also spends 8 hours a night sleeping with terrible scream-out-loud dreams. And pit this guy against someone with a nightmare of a waking life who dreams beautiful, sumptuous, glorious dreams every night.

God, that story would take so much set-up -- so many scenes, confrontations, dialogue and adjectives.

Just crawl into my head, ok? It's all there. Uh, don't crawl too far, or you'll see other kinds of stuff. Old clarinet lessons, arguments, shopping lists, dreams.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Art is Tra spelled backwards

Perspective, expectations ... that's the stuff life is made of.

I don't think sentimentality is ever cheap; it comes at a price. How many people felt tricked by the apparently pathetic woman singing her song, when it was sung for marketing purposes? How many hearts will be hardened for future songs. Who will now dismiss the next song, when it is, actually, truly sung?

How many will miss a good painting because they were duped into believing a 4 year old worked in oils, or a chimpanzee knew his watercolors.

Who has now been cheated of discovering the real thing.

Speaking of which, please check out my dog's ceramics. Sure, if an adult had been responsible for these creations, who would care? But it was a 12-year old boxer with bad intestinal problems. Fashioned when not burying bones or throwing up on the rug. She is working on a line of t-shirts and takes Paypal.

Monday, April 27, 2009

We Are Not Amused

Glamour puss.

I may have a few embarrassing habits – a few things I’d prefer not to share, most on a par with, but not related to, cheating at solitaire. But these naughty tics pale in comparison – vanish in thin air -- next to my need to create and poison the atmosphere with wretchedly disgusting doggy nicknames.

This springs to mind because I was busted this morning. Someone was hidden by a hedge as I skipped by with my dog singing, “Pooh bear is my new bear is my shoe bear…”

I have a lot of puzzles and stuff to do, so I was thinking about not leaving the house for a month anyway.

(Max Factor Phoebe courtesy of Pasadena Adjacent.)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Pasta with sausage and thoughts

So I was cooking up some Italian sausage and happened to glance at the package. Three months past expiration date. Oh sure, I had kept it frozen – after all, I picked it up from Trader Joe's, and no doubt these sausage were ready to expire as soon as they dropped in my ecologically-dubious canvas bag.

But still, what if they hadn’t frozen properly? Or maybe you’re not supposed to freeze sausage. Pork products -- what an embarrassing way to die. You spend decades of your life on games of chance, tempting fate, loving, leaving, losing, weeping, laughing, sailing, exploring … and how does it all end? On the business end of a bad wiener.

If the rumor is true and we do all die (my jury’s still out on that one; please don’t talk or try to influence my jury), at least put that pig in a cashmere blanket.

The yardstick against which all embarrassing deaths must be measured allegedly rests, as so many records do, with Stanford. A physics professor built himself an elaborate auto-erotic device, a master nerve center with tentacles of wire and plugs, suction cups, and … oh, I don’t know, it’s a guy thing.

Anyway, one day proved very unlucky. A lightning storm, or maybe a power surge, hoisted the professor on his own petard, electrically speaking. He was found, still attached to those he loved.

My mother was terrified of death, which in turn made her terrified of danger of any kind. I trace my fear of pork products straight back to her.

We kids were always getting carted off the the doctor for sniffles, and told don’t jump or cross or dive or do any of the things we all ended up doing in spades. (If you really don’t want your children to take chances, tell them to take chances.) One time, off the coast of Corona Del Mar, I had my own private lifeguard rescue and when I got on the beach, Mom slapped me hard. She had frightened herself straight into fury.

And of course, there is no justice. Mom, who took the best, best care of her insides and outsides, ended up with an insidious hereditary disease and died young.

Hemingway was famous for his concept of a clean fine death. Or a nice clean death. Or something like that. If I have to go, I hope it's not a suburban drop – car crash, for example.

Probably doesn’t matter, may not be an issue, may never happen at all. As I said, the jury is still out on that one. Well, truth be told, I'm the one who's out when the jury calls.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Curator of Shakespeare and Rose Gardens

Oh, envy, envy. Mixed with adoration. Mine.

The garden curators at the Huntington Gardens must have nice dreams and sleep tight and don't let the bedbugs bite. Each tour I think, no one, no one can tell a better story. But I'm wrong every time.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I doubt ergo I am still

What you reap you sow, and what you sow you eat. Sometimes the hardest thing about growing your own vegetables is having to swallow them. I don't much like leafy green things, or bulbous green things, or any green thing that isn't smothered in blue cheese dressing. So while I enjoy the idea of growing my own food in theory, I don't much like my own food in fact.

Still, I grow my own vegetables for a few reasons, some more justifiable than others. It seems like a nice tip of the hat to the planet. It does make me eat my greens. And there's a whole lot of smug self-satisfaction in talking about it.

And that last is important to admit and recognize, because there is a bunch of greener-than-thou sites out there, and many are developing a cultish following. A cult is never a fucking good idea, no matter how apparently benign the message.

I've watched one of our local sites grow into a minor international phenomenon. At first, the family told quaint tales of converting a house and yard into a tiny farm with an impressive yearly yield. Then they started showing pictures of themselves hand-wringing their laundry, reading by candlelight, and hosting "socials." Next they were gently asking for donations, "volunteers," and hawking a few green goods.

The message morphed, but gradually. It took a few years, and steady disingenuous posts on the website, but now they promote themselves as at the helm of a movement, demanding donations in the name of their "outreach" programs, which are all designed for you, understand, it's for you and your ecological salvation. Left to their own devices, they say, they would be happy to just stay at home and pick their greens and read Little Women by natural moonlight. But no, to save us all they must appear on major media outlets and events. And by the way, this website isn't free, the travel isn't free, and what money have you sent us lately? And buy something, buy something, because we're living greenthumb to mouth.

The web is a double-edged sword, and I found some of their history. And it looks to me as if the patriarch couldn't recruit people, gain a following, to a former, or splinter-group religion, so the family went in search of a new cause. Perhaps any cause would do. At least this one was edible.

Which leads me to Axxx.

Axxx was my best friend in high school, and surely the smartest girl or boy in any class. She could grasp anything and almost immediately -- calculus, history, law. I believe she got the highest SAT score in Illinois history. The only thing she couldn't do well was accept her parents' divorce. I don't know if it was the break up of a union she never questioned, or the fact her father left with her mother's best friend.

Axxx and I both graduated a year early and went off to the university. But within a year, Axxx broke apart. She got ill, so ill she couldn't walk, could barely breathe. I called her mother, and stayed with Axxx for a night or two until her mother came, and then didn't see her for years and years.

When we met up again, she made it very clear she had not joined a cult. The leader of the cult was Da Free John, aka Bubba Free John, aka Da Love-Ananda. Does it go without saying his reputation was infamous? Does it go without saying that sex was, allegedly, a main form of religious expression?

I'm sure, when Axxx first met this guy, he said something very reasonable and intelligent. Maybe even something rather brilliant, perhaps a single phrase he'd stolen from somewhere and practiced over and over. Something he knew young people, especially smart and broken young people, would want to hear. And on that solid foundation, he could gradually, gradually prop up some set dressing when she wasn't looking, and scrawl some two-bit philosophies across the paper-thin walls. Gradually, Axxx was eaten alive.

I sputter, as I try to come up with a word for this manipulator, and all such manipulators in the world.

My mom would read about a mass murderer, throw the paper down in disgust and lay down her invective: "That kook!"

So, ok, that kook.

Well, enough, and back to my planting. I have never been the smartest person in the room, but I've always had a healthy helping of green and leafy scepticism, which may not be the tastiest thing in life, but it has been good to me.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Squeeze The Day

Some days nothing comes to mind, nothing seems quite right, nothing goes quite right. You feel kind of empty-headed, and adrift. Sad, but not in a targeted way. And on those days, what do you do? Drive around, hike around, go around and around. Maybe you take your arse to the park. (I've decided to be British this week.)

Sit on Henry Huntington's favorite branch.

Look at the last tree, the absolute one and only tree remaining from some xxxx-cene era. And feel a bit depressed by everything that brings to mind -- not that it's the last tree, but that the world is so old and comes back to some slimy moss and this rather ugly tree.

A fellow walker told me to admire the inflorescence, figuring I would know what that meant, and I oohed and ahhed over a cheeky little bird.

And then I got home and looked up the word (the spelling of which was a wild approximation). And inflorescence turns out to be this.

Well now I'm not just mopey, I'm also stupid. Pretentious sod, he could have just said flowers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Words. They transport, crush, conquer, save. There is no power on earth like the right phrase at the right time. Perhaps I didn’t write, “The quality of mercy is not strained…” but I think I originated: “I have other plans,” and “It’s complicated.”

I suppose if I could pass along anything to subsequent generations, it would be the wisdom of a well-placed, “You have me mixed up with someone else,” “I can’t talk now, my dog just died, ” or “I guess I was drunk.”

The god-awful magic of language. Treat it respectfully, use sparingly. Remember, words are just the notes – you must write the symphony.

I’d like to go on and on and make this a respectable essay and maybe sell it somewhere. And I would, but I have other plans and it's complicated and my dog's not looking too chipper.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pass the Jello

As the market burrowed a new tunnel today, I thought about what I might do differently. Not differently from a personal finance perspective. I mean, which dead guys would I like at my dinner table.

There’s a book, written and quickly published during the darkest days of WWII, called Van Loon’s Lives. It’s a series of vignettes where two modern, middle class Dutch gentlemen invite a couple of famous six-feet under folks for supper. The logistics of the resurrection are pretty hazy, but somehow the dead traverse the space/time continuum for one evening of dining, drinking, and debate.

Some guest lists: Plato and Confucius. Montaigne and Rabelais. Cervantes, Shakespeare, and Moliere. Sir Thomas More.

You can find this collection of twee stories on my bookshelf, hidden behind Love in the Time of Cholera or The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

I’m sure the concept is not unique to Van Loon, and others have explored the fantasy of swapping philosophies and artistic theories with the likes of Kant and da Vinci.

But the thing is, if I could meet a few dead notables for an evening, I wouldn’t go the genius route. First of all, I'd spend much of the evening hunched over Wikipedia. More importantly, the great minds would just ignore me, so I’d drink too much brandy and say or do something totally inappropriate, like sit on Dante’s lap.

No, I’d put together a relaxed evening with my intellectual peers. Maybe Ward, Jack Tripper, and Aunt Bea.

Wait, before you too ignore me and I start drinking too much and sit on your lap, admit: The mysteries of the universe aren’t only held between the covers of a book. Consider: Why did the Cleavers keep letting Eddie Haskell in the house? And wasn’t that nickname a problem, even back then? And how about: Why was no one in Mayberry ever married? Isn’t it kind of creepy that everyone was a widow or a spinster?

Dead sitcom stars may not be to everyone’s taste, so I have some back-up plans involving dead athletes (not the ones who were actually good, more like the Fred Perrys who played tennis in trousers).

And inventors. Not of the internal combustion engine ilk, more like the guy who invented tube socks. Or paperclips. No telling where that discussion would lead, but I think I could hold my own.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

We Are Not Complete

And utter screw-ups at the Altadena homestead. Funny what a bit of leaf and flower will do. Happy Easter and all its variations. Stop by for prime rib; oh please, what's the worst that can happen?

Warning: Do not click to enlarge on any of the above. You'll see all sorts of things that you shouldn't.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Worked for them

Holidays make us slightly nostalgic, do they not? It's when craftsman houses and old-timey kitchens look particularly appealing, even if they hearken back to a time we've never actually known.

Why do we think people were so much happier, safer, and saner back then? Was it the simplicity of daily life? The well-established familial roles? The lack of gadgetry and gimmickry? Was it the belief in and availability of good government, good neighbors, and ...



Herbal restoratives

Vin Ordinaire

The innocence of childhood

I leave these questions to greater minds than mine. As some old guy with a beard once wrote:

"My childhood home I see again, And gladden with the view; And still, as memories crowd my brain, There's sadness in it, too/O Memory! thou midway world/Twixt earth and paradise/ Where things decayed and loved ones lost In dreamy shadows rise/ And freed from all/ That's gross or vile/ Seem hallowed, pure, and bright /Like scenes in some enchanted isle /All bathed in liquid light."

(You know those pictures of your great grandma and grandpa, where they look all stern and depressed? It's because they didn't have a toothache.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Easter Movie: Rewind

We only went to church a couple of times a year, so my dad made sure each experience would seem like eternity.

His formula mixed a lot of discomfort with a lot of driving. Then he stirred in a generous amount of what a European believed to be sugary American authenticity. It gelled painfully for several hours to become our memorable Easter Sunrise Services.

Up and at ‘em at 3 a.m., because we’d be driving for a couple of hours. Oh the agony of a rude awakening, groping for clothes and getting dressed in the cold dark, hungover … (What? Wait, wrong reel.)

Anyway, we had Easter outfits that we must have only worn that single time. Which is mind boggling to me, given my parents’ thriftiness.

Mom was the only one who didn’t have to participate in this ritualistic torture. She rarely put her foot down, but obviously down it came each year at Easter, because she stayed in bed.

I don’t know the denomination of the services we attended. Could have been anything. Distance and location were the only things that mattered to Dad. Upon arriving, we’d be given the playbill; everything that lay before us for the next two hours. Like any marathon, you most dread the starting line.

I could tell the choirs were professional because they sounded like a record. But since we didn’t know the songs, we couldn’t see the finish line, so they just seemed to go on and on forever. But finally, when the sun was in the sky and we were no longer half asleep, the minister would wrap the whole thing up, and we would shuffle back to the car.

And that was great news, because a huge breakfast waited at home. Ribbe, eggs, bacon, cheeses, bread, ham, strawberries, potatoes. The feast would start with rice pudding. There’s some Norweigian tradition of putting one almond in the pudding, and whoever finds that almond in their bowl wins money (probably no more than $1). I always carried the bowls from the kitchen to the dining table because along the way I’d dig my hand in each bowl to locate the almond and place said bowl accordingly.

I wonder if everyone realized why I always won. If so, oddly, this one time they let it pass.

(The bad girl is on the right.)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Altadena Homestead: Scared Straight

I visited some chap's gardening blog the other day and sat through a five-minute video on asparagus planting. Prepare the soil, mulch, dig, double dig, hill up, gently lay, blah blah blah.

I could have told him -- nothing on earth will respect you if you're always on your hands and knees. Be a man; kick a little asparagus butt.

Over time, I've learned a different approach to gardening, and coddling isn't part of it. It's tough love, without the love.

I shake my vegetable seedlings out of their plastic pots and onto a bench, and give them 'the talk.'

"Look," I say, "it’s nature vs nurture, and you’re getting nature. I’m going to drop you in a shallow pit, shovel a bit of dust on your head, and then it's up to you. I’m not going to tell you life is easy, because it’s not. Things will get cold, and hot, and wet, and dry. I’m not god, for christ sake, I have no control. You decide whether you want to live or die. Neither option is perfect. Even if you choose the former, I’ll be eating your children."

Self-respect -- it's what's for dinner.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Weekend Matinee: The Hucksters

Gable was pushing the upper register of his 40's in this movie, but still looked pretty darned good. And the movie was pretty darned good as well. Not an all-out expose of advertising, yes-men, and greed, it still got some digs in.

Greenstreet is rather brilliant, "Irr-i-tate, irr-i-tate..."

This is an early scene; I'd hoped to find the last. But this will do.

This movie is (carry the two, divide by eight, take the square root of...) about sixty years old, and advertising hasn't changed much. Nor have bosses.

In the final scene, Gable pours a jug of water on Greenstreet, and walks off the job and out the door. You know, just like real life.

Here you go

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Never forget 4/1, not on my watch

Disclaimer: This is not serious and no burgers were harmed in the making of this post.

Well, the good news is, I did get a job in public relations and it is with a Fortune 500 company. The salary is lower than I’d hoped, but there are all sorts opportunities for supersized growth and promotion. Plus, this job combines two things I love: Public speaking and dining. (Can you believe it? Eat your heart out, food bloggers.)

Microphones are scary for some, but as one with extensive experience in voice response systems (ok, answering machines, but my message is special and super long), I'm ready. (But believe me, I'm still practicing. We have -- gasp -- professional scripts and speeches. Can't wait to meet the writer.)

When you visit, I'll show you my office. It's small, but here's what's important: A room with a view. I sit next to a big window; I'm inspired already, watching the cars go by.

Admittedly, it will take awhile to re-adjust to the corporate grind. Back to the stringent dress code, the regular hours, the office politics, the hairnet. (One hand washes the other around here, but that doesn't shake me.)

Probably won’t have a lot of time for blogging, now that I’m back in the game. But unemployment was a bit of a pickle, so I know you’re happy for me. Future promotions? I'd say it's in the bag. Out of the frying pan and you're fired! (Company joke, I'll explain later.)

I don’t think I could have landed this job without everyone’s honest assessment of my abilities. Give yourself a patty on the back. Before I sign off, just remember, this is America and dreams can come true. Just stay off the special sauce and the world is your quarter pounder.

Uh, do you want fries with that world?