Sunday, May 31, 2009

Banana check

You're worried about your investements. Sorry for the delay. The county extension agent has been experimenting extensively with loquat-enriched fertilizer and forgot all about the economic implications. I stepped in. It. Scientists needs a lab; a lab needs a shovel.

According to our economic indicator, we’re no longer making a shaky and unsupported race to the top, but we are finding opportunities to grow in new directions. Are we happy?

Note on a blog award that was so very sweet:

Petrea was the first blogger I ever visited, way before I ever considered doing such a thing myself. And now I've met and continue to meet brilliant people. Thanks P.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Time and Henry Huntington

By the beginning of the last century, Henry “Edward” Huntington was a very rich man. But how anticlimactic to hear the actual dollar figure. You know, historically speaking, $15 million was a lot back then, but now it just sounds like a bad stucco job on the wrong side of the Santa Monica boardwalk.

So let’s try visualization. It’s 1903. You own 11,000 acres of prime California real estate, 800 of which are contiguous acres in Pasadena. You find -- east, west, home is best – Pasadena has grabbed your heart. You tear down the existing ranch structures and hire Myron Hunt to build a new residence (some call it a palace), and a landscape architect to develop a series of exotic gardens, often purchasing full grown specimen plants.

Oh, you also have your own railroad that stops at your gate to deliver the plants as well as the statuary acquired from around the world. It will take the next seven years to complete everything to your satisfaction.

No rush. Seven years comes and goes, but life is long and the world is big and your fortune has quadrupled. You won’t actually take up residence in this particular location for yet another five years.

That’s Henry Huntington.

This is also Henry Huntington:

Imagine you love a beautiful and charismatic woman, but the woman is your uncle’s second wife. Good thing you know the value of patience. As was said re: another famous, vaguely incestuous incident almost a century later, the heart wants what the heart wants.

It’s 1900, and fifteen years into the marriage, the uncle dies. Thirteen years later, Arabella finally agrees to marry you. To the impartial eye, she has changed. Now in her mid-sixties, she might be described as obese. She's nearly blind. You will only ever see her in black, because Arabella has vowed to always wear mourning and always wear her late husband's wedding ring. Though she too has a great fortune, this fortune will not be merged with yours, and is intended as a legacy for her (some say illegitimate) son.

The heart still wants.

You add more gardens. Plants with large, perfumed blossoms that Arabella will be able to see, and if not see, smell. Redesign, change, improve, restructure, anything -- anything.

After the marriage you write your sister: "I can never tell you how very happy I am. Belle is so sweet. Good and kind … I am going to be very happy in our new life. In fact, I feel that I am just beginning to live.”

Belle has a green parrot that can imitate her perfectly. Often while you and Belle entertain, and that is usually limited to close friends and family, the parrot will call out “Edward, Edward, hurry up! Come up here! Come to bed!”

Even the very rich haven’t found a way to live forever. “Edward” and Belle are buried together. You can find where, it’s down a long, tree lined lane, just beyond the orange grove, with a good view of the San Gabriel Mountains.

I finally give my first Huntington tour next week. In preparation, I tried to further research the life of Huntington the man. There was only one book on Amazon. The reader review described Henry Huntington as dull and dour, and who, unlike WR Hearst, had nothing compelling happen in his personal life.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A conclusion is simply the place you got tired of thinking

No matter how a story starts or middles, there are only a few possible conclusions: Wilting confusion, hasty wrap-up, or a one-two punch.

Kundera always delivered, and EB White (read Stuart Little. I’m serious). Richard Ford. So too Harriet Doerr.

Never heard of her, you say? How can that be. But I know it can be, because several uber-well-read friends and acquaintances admit no familiarity with the name or her three books – one which won some big prize all the way back in the 1990s.

I found I'm quite happy working on a sentence for an hour or more, searching for the right phrase, the right word. I compare it to the work of a stonecutter -- chipping away at the raw material until it's just right, or as right as you can get it.

Harriet Doerr wrote three books. That’s it. But then, she didn’t start writing until she was 72 years old.

I think of what it is like to write stories. It is a completion. It is discovering something you didn’t know you’d lost. It is finding an answer to a question you never asked.

She was the granddaughter of Henry Huntington, railroad millionaire, of Huntington Library and Gardens fame (and boulevard, and hotel, and city and…). For a time, Harriet lived in the Pasadena El Molino, Europe, then Mexico. Then back to Pasadena. Some authors are difficult to quote. Doerr’s one. Her one-two punch needs the whole story, and the story isn’t just a set-up for the punch.

The rest of our dates that summer were unexceptional, consisting of movies and long, aimless drives at night. We headed north, east, south, or west, making here a right turn, there a left, circling one, or two, or three blocks at a time, passing dark houses and closed stores, and sometimes coming back to start again.

This was territory we knew and, at the same time, could scarcely recognize. It hung in space between heaven and earth.

She died in the 1990’s, in her 90s. But really, unless you’re a relative, only the work matters. I suggest starting with her collection “Tiger in the Grass.”

Two weeks after Great-aunt Alice died, Theo found a note in her bed table drawer. It must have been written on various occasions, months ago. The separate lines, penned and penciled, slanted independently across the page. For a moment, he thought it was a verse, unpunctuated.

Theo, it was headed.

Your father’s Mesopotamian journal might
Perhaps the piano tuner should
The Helen Trabel roses need
I had hoped

Maybe you’ll read these lines and shrug and think, well, that wasn’t so great. That's only because you're at my conclusion and we're tired of thinking. With Harriet Doerr, you really have to take it from the top.

Note: Dates are approximate. My fact-checker is on eternal vacation.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What's it worth to you?

I couldn't have a steady diet of this. Or could I?

Old time tinted postcards, orange-crate art. I have a small collection (well, ok, maybe ten, and of those, two are missing). Sure, it's bland, but sometimes I like to picture myself in a scene such as this, under a pastel sky, sitting in a deco dining car, riding through the old California.

But bland would eventually make me misbehave. I'd have too much champagne and needle my traveling companion. Derail the train, steal the oranges.

But nevermind about that. Actually, this is about collections. You know, collections of orchids, teacups, Nancy Drew, fine old wine, ceramic frogs. I knew someone who knew someone who collected old doors. Not The Doors, doors.

I always wanted to be so captivated by some subject that a collection would naturally arise. As a child, I tried rocks once. Went out in the backyard and picked up a bunch and put them in a shoebox, then compared them to the pictures in a library book for identification purposes. All were granite.

Next came coins, but of course those were regularly plucked out of the cardboard display for juicy fruit gum and butterscotch lifesavers. (Speaking of which, who the hell stole my collection of two silver dollars?)

I have four first-edition books, generously given to me: The Prime of Miss Jean Brody, Nexus, and Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, and As They Were.

They're no longer worth anything as collectibles because I've read and re-read them. Bent their spines, dog-eared some pages, lost the dust covers of two. But they're still valuable to me.

I don't know why, in collections of old things, the goal is pristine. I'd rather have a Bauer pitcher that actually saw some use; the patina from generations of human hands, a chip, a scratch.

Which brings to mind the hand-tinted postcards -- in terms of value, they're supposed to be innocent of stamp, postmark, or handwritten message. By god, those are the best parts! The really old ones might just be addressed to a name in a city. "Miss Caroline D. Barnes, Watkins, Ny." And the messages are poignant. "Dear Mother. I promise to write more soon. This is just to say I love you. Your son, Robert."

So I guess, I don't understand most collections at all. Or better yet, it means I can always get mine cheap.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sweet Nothings

So I’m cleaning up a couple things in the front yard when I hear a voice on the other side of the hedge, “Giving away any succulents?”

Well, no, but…

I walk out to take a look. A skinny man with a walking stick, T-shirt, and belted shorts . White socks pulled calf-high. “My wife and I got some succulents for free at the senior center, and so we decided we’re going to tear out the grass and plant our yard in succulents. Need plenty more”

I remember my aloe arborescens. “ I’ve got aloes. You’re welcome to unlimited cuttings.”
He looks disappointed. “Oh, we got them all over the place. They pile up faster than garbage.”

Uh, ok. I figured I could spare a few sedums, so I take him over to that bed. “Those?” He snorts. “We’ve got those everywhere. And that, and that, and that one over there too. Never liked that one.”

“I don’t know what these are called,” I say, showing him some large-leafed succulents that I believe are rather rare. “But you can have several if you like.” His eyes take on a faraway expression, obviously rising above something distasteful.

So, I don’t know why, but now I’m desperate. “I’ve got senecio mandraliscae, ” showing him the blue, low growing groundcover. “Some people call them blue French fries, or blue fingers.”
One side of his mouth pulls down into a sneer. This offering is not even worth a rebuke.

I start backing into my yard for a quick getaway, but he follows, taking his time and looking around. “Well, that’s kind of inner-esting ,” he says, pointing with his walking stick.

Well yeah, it’s my 15-foot tree aloe.

“Might look good near the pool. And that’s kind of nice over there,” he says, again with the walking stick. Okay, that my big bush of blood red irosene that has been three years in the making. It’s not for donation, and besides, it’s not even remotely a succulent.

“You seen that lady who lives up the street, with that front yard full of succulents?” he asks. “Now, she really knows her stuff.”

“Oh, you’re right about that,” I tell him, opening my front door and jumping inside “Well, good luck with your garden.”

He shrugs, turning his head to take in the whole front yard. “Well, I’ll tell my wife what you’ve got.” Suddenly his face beams with a gentle smile, like a man does when he’s telling you a sweet sweet lie. You know, I love you babe, but don’t wait by the phone…

“My wife, she don’t get out much, but we might stop by one day. ”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sleep? Well...

Why do classical music stations play Shostakovitch and Bartok at 2 a.m. Why, at that hour, musically-speaking, do they move furniture, test the chainsaw, and wake the chickens?

Meet your garden-variety insomniac, springing from a long line of midnight roamers on the distaff side.

When I was a kid, I had nightmares. Scream in your sleep, wake the house, get into bed with mom and dad nightmares. My brother had them too – and he was a sleepwalker to boot, so we might find his five-year old, racecar- pj’d ass screaming bloody murder in the basement or on the front lawn. A couple of Munch portraits we were, and for no apparent reason. We lived in the suburbs, on the golf course, for god’s sakes. At that age, what fear did we face – flank steak for dinner? A broken retainer?

The nightmares went away, maybe along with the innocence and helplessness of childhood, but not the chronic insomnia.

When courting sleep, I’ve never taken anything stronger than an aspirin or glass of wine except once. A friend gave me something – ambien or lunesta. (I love marketing. How about Uncon-shush.) I slept ok, but the next morning I found a weird still life on my kitchen table -- one badly dented tea canister with a screwdriver punched in the top, a butterknife, and a hammer.

Don't ask me. But never again. I have problems enough.

So it has really always been about the radio versus my endless yammering internal nocturnal narrative. I know, instead of complaining about the KUSC programming, I could just pop in a CD. But for some reason, it has to be live – a soft voice in the dark that’s speaking right now.

If only I could find a late, late night baseball game. As a little kid, nothing sounded so sane and soothing as the second half of a baseball double header on the AM dial. Lovely, boring baseball. I feel sleepy just thinking about it.

“Low and inside, ball three. He steps back from the plate. Let's see who's warming up in the bullpen... Hey, how about some Farmer John sausage. Always fresh, always delicious; nothing is better with eggs than Farmer John sausage. You'll find them in your grocer's freezer. And he swings, strike two. Full count...”

Sure, nightmares are nothing but illusion. But then, so is safety.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

This is about gardening, mostly

In the used car trade, there’s the phrase “TV side.” That’s the best looking side, the one you want to show in the ads.

Everything and everyone has a TV side.

Take my homestead. I could show you the raised bed with thriving tomato, bean, and pepper plants. The raised bed is surrounded by some David Austin roses, night-blooming Jasmine, espaliered apple, quince, rosemary, living lawn…

And then we wander over to the crash and burn side. It’s a bit like a moonscape over here. The melons consider whether this planet is worth the effort. The corn clearly is heading back to Oklahoma, in spirit. The surrounding grass is, to not put too fine a point on it, dead. Close to here is where Albert shits out seeds after eating ten pounds of loquats a day. That dog puts on a lotta weight come fruit season.

I don’t know what went wrong. But then again, I don’t know what went right. Well, that’s not strictly true. I now know by the obvious results what worked and what didn’t.

So what I mean is, afterwards, I figured it out. And that’s fine to figure things out, we spend half our life trying to figure out what went on before.

But it doesn’t change anything. I posit these same conditions will never occur in the same place at the same time ever again. And if you use an old template for current conditions, the mistakes you make will be worse, just because you are so sure, this time, you’re right.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Life As A Celebrity Blogger

On balance, I'd say the Altadena Event went pretty damned well. For my part:

There were some crowd control issues. I had to ask Petrea (left) and her entourage to stand back

I wasn't jealous

Instead, I spent my time, wisely, in self promotion

In spite of which, some people feigned total indifference.

When things got hectic, I had an escape route

It was actually a very good turn out as the night went on, and congratulations to the Altadena Arts Coalition, and thank you to Websters and the other merchants for putting this together. Let's do it again.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Altadena Wallflower (And EVENT)

You know I’m not one to complain or criticize. Live and let live; just allow me to gather my rosebuds while I may. But, in the interests of full disclosure, I have taken a couple of well-deserved swipes in the general direction of Downtown Altadena.

While the surrounding communities shine like jewels in the foothill crown, Altadena has a dandruff problem. Many liquor stores (and not of the wine shop variety), gas stations, one ugly-ass grocery store, trumped in ugliness by a nearby Rite Aid. Oh yeah, a burned out bank that sat vacant for like two years.

And that’s too bad, because these eyesores hide some real gems -- shops, galleries, restaurant, coffee house...

The profile may change. Altadena Arts Coalition, "a coalition of local artists and business owners dedicated to improving Altadena's economy and culture," is sponsoring an actual downtown event this Friday, May 15th, from 4-9, on Lake Street between New York and Altadena Drive. Art, photography, antique car shows. Food, portraits, animals, music, well—what more could you ask for? Bring the family – you know, Emily and Jacob.

A few bloggers will be participating, including OpenMouthInsertFork, Altadenablog, Altadena Daily Photo, Pasadena Daily Photo, and me.

I sat next to Petrea once before on one of these things. “Oh, Pasadena photo, I love your site,” everyone gushes. They turn politely to me and ask, “So, I take it you hike or something?”

Come join us. Bring moral support. Maps available at Webster’s.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Smell that rose a mile away

Let’s make a small wager: Four canines named Molly live within a mile of your house.

Do you know why half the dog population answers to Molly? I have a trickle-down theory --After five or ten years, popular baby names make a downward spiral to the wet nose trade. For example, recently I’ve shaken as many hands of golden labs as college grads named Megan.

Apparently, for the next decade when we meet a child, an educated guess should pin it with an Emily or a Jacob. Call either name twenty years from now and you’ll be looking at the business end of a Labrador with a tennis ball.

It’s funny how most parents think their child is special, yet insist on labeling it with the most currently common name. Baby-name books are huge sellers, we all give them at showers, but apparently never bothered to open the cover and discover there’s only one page. “Great Baby Names 2004. Page 1: Emma.”

Want your kid to stand out at birth? How about Mortimer. Gertie. Dudley.

When I was in grade school, the teacher finished half our roll call with “Lynne,” and the other half with “Jim.” (Digression: The leader of our fourth grade gang was a Lynne – I staged coups to topple her reign, but these were only temporarily successful at best. Lynne had white-blond hair in a high pony tail, and she was the fastest runner in school. I would have died to have that pony tail. Unbeknownst to her, we were fierce rivals. That all ended when we became best friends a year later.)

“Karin,” was singular state-side, but still, I thought it frightfully dull, especially since no one pronounced it correctly, and my severe speech impediment didn’t help to clear things up. “Did you say Kaylo, dear? Perhaps you meant Carol?” I wanted something with at least three syllables, I guess so I could really mangle it. Claudia and Stephanie were appealing.

In the hopes of allying myself with a famous Karin, I discovered Isak Dennison (Karen Von Blixsen). No, she didn’t spell it right, but it kind of made the whole odyssey of my name worthwhile all the same.

Martin Amis wrote that Tim Henman never had a chance at winning Wimbledon because of the “Tim” curse -- no Tim had ever done anything of historical significance. Amis was no dummy (“Martin” sports a decent history). Mexicans, particularly, are mindful of the importance of a significant moniker. Don’t tell me you’re not expecting impressive results from a Jesus or an Angel.

African Americans took a lot of comedic heat when some children were given brand -spanking new names. Initially I thought, “Well, that can’t be legal.” It seemed the equivalent of making up your own numbers or counterfeiting money. But then I warmed to the idea. You created that kid, you can call it any damned thing that crosses your mind.

Which might lead to another trend. Why not name your child after a favorite craft, or hobby or food? You know, Wainscoting, Tune-up, Pomme-frites.

Anything, anything but Emily and Jacob.

I’d like to continue this train of thought, but I have to turn my attention to Christopher and Michele. They need worming.

Friday, May 8, 2009


Ok, we'll get back to everlasting life after this brief intermission.

For now, we'd rather talk about Gary Cooper, wouldn't we? K's a fan, so is Bandit. And I'm sure we're not alone. Drop-dead handsome, droll, sweet, and that fucker could ride (Gary, not K -- at least, not to my knowledge). Did all his own horseback stunts.

Weird that youtube has any scene from the obscure Gable films, but all I could find on Coop was the do-gooder stuff everyone knows, like High Noon, Meet John Doe, Mr. Deeds... Ho-hum.

I'll name one film that's far far superior, and two others that are not great, but really interesting: The Westerner, The Hanging Tree, and Along Came Jones.

The Westerner has humor, romance, riding, and Walter Brennan and Cooper in bed.

Unfortunately, this is all I could find. Pity you have to miss the dialogue, 'cause it's brilliant. Oh, but he's a pretty man, is he not. Watch that balance on horseback, it's impossible. And he's riding a true cowboy horse -- a big pie-faced, roman-nosed quarter. With a split ear bridle. And a plain old curb bit. and his hand is dead quiet on that horse's mouth. But now I'm gushing.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I'll eat anything

I may shun religion, but I do believe eternal life is right around the corner. At Sav-On.

Usually, the live-forever theories involve nutritional supplements. Amino acids, wheat grass, melatonin, flavanoids -- been there, swallowed that. The latest miracle is resveratrol, a polyphenolic found in grape skins, peanuts and certain berries. Resveratrol mimics the effects of an almost-starvation diet, and tricks the body into releasing a "survival" gene.

But hold off, they say, resveratrol is very much in the experimental stage. I say, it worked on yeast and worms, so get thee to the pharmacy and don't spare the horses.

Ach, back to the stable. Turns out whether in a supplement or wine, elimination is the big problem. We just pee it out. And scientists won't release it in drug form for another decade if at all.

Which leaves us to try an actual near-starvation diet. Preliminary trials look promising and there are communities of people who have been on the regimen for at least the past few decades with good results (i.e., they're breathing).

It will require self-discipline, an existential leap of faith, and lots of gum. I may have to take up smoking.

And that's not all. When most people sign on to this, starvation is but daily. I have some catching up to do. I'll starve twice a day. Maybe 9 to 12, and part of the afternoon.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A link is as good as a nod

Admittedly, I know nothing about what makes a blog appealing. It's an art, not doubt. And some people are brighter than others.

Current philosophy seems to side with lots of links within a blog. I don't get it. But then, I don't get a lot of things. Isn't a link an interruption? Something that jolts you out of the writer's thought process?

All that time in college when I was ignoring footnotes , I had no idea everyone else in the class couldn't wait to get to them. "Screw that Gatsby, what does Bunny Wilson have to say?"

I do understand that once in awhile, when it's really germane, or specifically identifies the work of someone else (so I'll remove the art blogs from my tantrum), a link is useful. But sprinkling links just for links' sake... doesn't that show, kinda, insecurity with one's own content?

Maybe I'm just in a bad mood. I tripped on the trail and my dogs are howling. Anyone got a crutch?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Blogger challenge update

Update 5/5: Must read:

Update: Check out PJ. You'll be glad you did. Promise.

Some female bloggers are getting tagged to explore the following theme:
“If I could have met with a mentor on a weekly basis when I was a teenager, I…”

Miss H tagged me, among others. Don’t miss reading hers. It's quite brilliant:

So, “If I could have met with a mentor on a weekly basis when I was a teenager, I…”

…wouldn’t have heard a word. It would have been yet one more voice in that background buzz of adult counsel and caution.

A smart mentor probably would have told me:

· Math is fascinating
· Don’t mix your drinks
· Learn basic plumbing
· When you meet a man named J, just keep walking
· Get your degree in life sciences
· Try to separate true excitement from the hormones
· Try to separate anything from the hormones
· Older men are not really interested in your welfare
· Drugs made only Rimbaud a better poet
· And, by the way, you’re not a poet
· One day there will be a company named Microsoft; buy as much stock as you can.

Someone could have told me these things, maybe someone did. But it wouldn’t have mattered. I listened to movies, books, music, poetry -- but I never once listened to advice.

(With any luck, we’ll get Julie, Tash, PA, and PJ to spill some beans.)