Thursday, July 30, 2009

That's All She Wrote

I love to say I have writer’s block, because that implies I’m a writer. It also excuses the years in which writing was absent from my life altogether.

Come to think of it, I developed writer’s block at a very young age, perhaps as young as four, which I believe qualifies me as a child protégé.

With few exceptions, this block accompanied me through most of adolescence and well into the teen-aged years. I did become a poet at age 16, and continued on with no encouragement at all, demonstrating my great strength of character. These early poems also show tremendous focus, as all were about boys.

The muse of writer’s block paid me another long visit, this happened after college. It sat on my shoulder while I wrote technical and corporate manuals. While I wrote checks. With a block this lengthy and impenetrable, I see myself joining Dickens on the prolific spectrum, with him on the teeter, me on the totter.

So the twenty novels I didn’t write dealt with, of course, the eternal issues. Love in the time of swine flu; the struggle of man to find meaning and morality in a godless universe.

I was going to say the benign indifference of the universe, but Camus already gobbled up that phrase. Ever notice how all the good phrases are gone? “..borne back ceaselessly into the past.” I could have written that. Unfortunately, writers are a greedy lot, especially the dead ones, using up all the resources without a thought for how we’re supposed to write a whole book with the meager combinations that remain. With the scraps they left behind.

Monday, July 27, 2009

To a friend who is on the loose in France

A little old world culture is good for the soul. I’ve been to Paris on my own several times and well remember Paolo and Adrian and Alain and Louis and Roberto and Jacque and Robert and Claude and Claude and Claude.

Anyone been to the Louvre? I've heard that's also worth a visit.

Vraiment, elle fait la magnifique photographie. Voici le link.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


I ran by a house last night and almost tripped over a Christmas tree. Despite tinsel and a few Styrofoam balls, the tree showed its age -- the last six months had not been kind.

Though not the best housekeeper in Altadena, a dead tree, or any other decaying body, would have caught my eye by April at the latest.

My mother never taught her kids the finer points of housecleaning, believing our time should be spent on education and in pursuit of a stable profession. She dearly hoped the muse of dentistry would touch one of us on the shoulder. Or orthodontia – why not reach for the stars? Can’t blame her. I had an intimate relationship with the reclining chair and nitrous oxide as early as 10 years old. Poor Mum, she must have justified the expense as part of my apprenticeship.

Anyway, back to housecleaning, I don’t like it, but I do it. Usually with some sort of bribe involved – Snickers, for example.

I hired someone to clean on a weekly basis when I broke my leg back in 2006. This arrangement worked out ok for a couple of months. E would (sort of) vacuum and dust and polish and (definitely) gossip for four hours each Saturday. I learned she was divorced, remarried, born again, and that her three grandkids lived with her in a motel -- two angry boys who were in some sort of juvenile-psychiatric program, and one girl.

Once ambulatory, I kept her on , partly because E needed the money, but mostly because of her granddaughter. Alizza was 11 years old. She did homework at my kitchen table, then went outside to sketch my dog. I’d take her to the park and she’d tell me stories about life with her brothers. I didn’t want to get involved, so I worried in an uninvolved sort of way. “Alizza,” I’d tell her. “Your brothers shouldn’t push you off your bike.” Or “Alizza, your brothers shouldn’t hit you. Tell your father [he lived in another state, with a new and improved family]. And if that still doesn’t work, I’ll tell someone.”

Back from the park, we’d find E on the phone, or at a nearby garage sale. E now spent the four hours on Saturday in a variety of pursuits, none of which involved cleaning my house. So I started thinking of the weekly payments as a donation to Alizza.

This could have stretched on for a long time, and my worry might have morphed from uninvolved to involved. Who knows? But a few months later Alizza went to live with her father.

This bit of history nags at me, as one of many things I’ve left undone or could have done better.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Party of One

Damn, just when you think things can’t get any worse. And I was having such a good time, just my plastic dry cleaner bag and me. Whooping it up, we were. As soon as you find an economical source of fun, one person has to ruin it for everyone. And there’s an American flag on the bag, so this is probably part of the Constitution or something.

While considering other party game options, I wrapped my head in a plastic newspaper bag and what do you think? Printing as large as life: Warning: May cause suffocation.

Ever in search of a good time, I was going to spray some Raid down my throat, and whoa cowgirl – guess what? It’s harmful if swallowed AND I can’t spray it in my eyes, which was my second choice. See? One person. Ruin it. Everyone.

So I bought a pack of cigarettes, but I’m not stupid. Even without the warning label, I know not to inhale. The plan is to stick the lit end in my ear, and there’s nothing on the label about THAT, so let the good times roll.

Monday, July 20, 2009


When man first walked on the moon I was not impressed. As a kid, the moon held no particular fascination for me; men had been in space and rockets and orbiting something or other since as far back as I could remember. Walking on the moon seemed a logical next step.

The only things that really stuck in my mind were earlier stories about the dogs who died while in orbit, and failed attempts by the Russians resulting in dead people floating around out there.

Still, I recall my whole family in front of the television watching the event. And the next day the news kept repeating the one small/giant step line as the first words from the moon. I knew that was false. The first words had something to do with walking on cotton or marshmallows. I couldn't recall the exact words because my sister and I had been locked in a deadly game of Scrabble at the time.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hey Big Boy

Albert the lab has really progressed in the courage department. Though still afraid of most household appliances including the coffee grinder, he’s no longer afraid of most men. His attitude adjustment owes much to Phoebe the boxer. Phoebe is boy crazy. Boy insane maniac crazy, provided the boys are of the human variety.

Given half a chance and opposable thumbs, she’d bleach her hair, paint her toenails, and sneak out the bedroom window for a night of gin and roofies.
Phoebe can play lots of games, but hard to get ain’t one of them.

Her crushes are not confined to the men she knows. For example, occasionally, some guys will come to the door, holding a handful of Snickers and a Xerox’d calling card, and they’ll say in a monotone, “Will you buy a candy bar to support our group and keep us out of gangs?” Well, Phoebe just thinks they are so cute, and will jump five feet in the air, inviting them into the house to play. “I’ll show you where we keep the silver!” she barks, in utter ecstasy of anticipation. Before I can read the card, and to her intense disappointment, the guys just back away and mutter, “Wow, nevermind.”

My plumber was here yesterday, and I had to rescue Don because Phoebe was trying to make out with him under the kitchen sink.

She’s an untamed heart, is Phoebe. Also a rescue, Phoebe just never thought the less of herself for it. I could have trained her better I suppose, but what’s not to love about an unbridled spirit -- unless you’re a plumber, or anyone else who smells of earth and sweat and can be pinned to the ground for an extended French kiss.

As the fearful worship the brave, so Albert worships Phoebe. He plays the queen's consort (if someone who licks her own butt can be considered royalty). And if she thinks men are ok (well, better than ok), then maybe so, but just don’t take your eyes off them. And don’t take your eyes off that ceiling fan either. It’s now on the summer setting – going counter clockwise – and this change from clockwise to counterclockwise has proved deeply disturbing. Maybe it’s the sound, maybe the shadows, but Albert slinks through that room, eyes glued to the fan, a look of dread suspicion on his long lab face.

He wouldn't cross the room for a million milkbones if his wizened goddess weren't barking for him on the other side.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Some Days

Some days belong to you, and some days don't. And when it's not your day, everything will cost a little too much, hurt more than it should, last a little too long.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Altadena rules

Altadena has myths by the shovelful. For example, legend has it, just a few years ago some real estate developers airlifted a few blocks of residential stucco and accidentally lost their load on the way to Orange County. So today we have a little bit of suburban heaven that squats and sweats at the top of Lincoln Avenue in Altadena, smashed into a hillside that once held court to bridle paths and hiking trails.

In the parlance of the suburbia of my youth, this is called a “sub-division,” large houses on small lots, celebrating a barren landscape where trees will grow eventually, but not in our lifetime.
La Vina simmers in the summer at a crest of the San Gabriel hillside, too worried about coyotes, not worried enough about wildfires. The place is gated, so only residents can complain they’ve been once around the block too often.

Another myth that’s been circulating forever says the Altadanish are too independent and proud to allow annexation by Pasadena, or even more obscurely, to allow incorporation. If we’re a proud and independent people, I’d also lay wager we’re lazy and cheap. So we remain, part of the county of Los Angeles, at the mercy of an assemblyman who doesn’t even live here.

South Pasadena incorporated near the turn of the last century, with a grand total of 500 residents. It has grown some but not much, relative to other SoCal cities, and has been able to stop freeway construction that would cut the little city in half.

I fear, in our current state, Altadena nature will lose all the big fights. On the upside, we can vote to decide whether a cell phone tower should resemble a plastic pine or a plastic palm.

Monday, July 13, 2009


To my mind, restless legs is not a syndrome, it’s a lifestyle.

Impatience rules my life, and always has. I have a friend who finds this highly amusing – calls me the Now Girl – and he’ll always try to slow things down a bit just to watch me jump out of my skin. Anything, everything can lose its luster if a delay is involved.

As a kid, I lived with a polar opposite. My mother was slow and very deliberate and precise in her thoughts, speech, and actions, and it positively made me scream. “What’s so hard about finding your key and opening the car door? Why does it take you five minutes to snap the purse shut? Are you really going to chew that apple for three hours? ”

What? What? Oh, I see, now I sound weird and obnoxious. Well, this too will pass -- quickly. Guess who enrolled in yoga?

The first yoga class was this Saturday. I showed up with a beach towel (who needs a mat?) and my $15. The plan: a little chanting, a little lotus, a little breathing, a little competitive contemplation.

Guess again; it wasn’t that kind of yoga.

You ever see pictures of the contortionists in India or in a circus, and it’s just fucking gross to witness a human body turned and twisted thataway? It was that kind of yoga. And I had sat my little ass right down in the middle of the front row, for all the class to see.

I won’t go into the total humiliation I felt after the first half hour of the two hour class. The inability of my foot to wrap around the back of my neck, my head to wrap around the back of my knee, to hold a pose, any pose for more than five seconds. To drink my vitimin water without drooling.

By the second hour, I just ended up doing a lot of backbends, regardless of the actual class exercise, because that’s my only decent point of flexibility. When I told the instructor I’d be back next week, she was genuinely surprised.

Sunday, everything hurt. Monday everything still hurts. I don’t know how you’re supposed to meditate, contemplate, think all these great thoughts when everything hurts. But I’ll find out. I intend to turn this yoga disaster around -- center my being and find my quiet place -- so fast it’ll make your head spin.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Sleeper

Let me preface this by saying the following relates to my writing career. (Of course it does, otherwise I never would have used the word "preface." Instead "So anyway" would have sufficed.)

I had a date with a walnut cheese roll and a box of Triskets -- a celebration for my new-found fitness. (What? What? It’s new, I found it and it's mine to do with what I like.) One shouldn’t eat just before going to sleep, but if not then, when? With all this running and hiking, I take a meeting with my appetite somewhere between 11:30 p.m. and midnight.

And then bring on the weird-ass dreams. The 9 p.m. run in conjunction with the midnight feast stirs up the serotonin something wild.

The only bad thing about a dream is that, while internally compelling, it’s impossible to communicate the full impact afterwards. Try, even with people who really love you, and they’ll find some way to interrupt your story. Or, worse yet, they’ll tell you one of theirs.

The nightmares of my youth visit only once a year or so. Mostly my dreams are kind of like My Dinner with Andre, but I get the good lines. Brilliant stuff. I woke up and jotted this down, because it solved all my artistic problems: “You must write a sentence backwards and forwards.” Inscrutable advice; advice inscrutable.

Scientists of the pragmatic and prosaic variety say dreams are just a way of giving order to our daily life. At night, we churn our waking experience and longing into some sort of narrative. Which makes sense, but not all sense. How does this explain the nocturnal visits from a beauty, fear, and wonder much greater than that you’ve ever seen, Horatio?

Some of my favorite dreams wake me up because I’m laughing so loud. Bolt upright in bed, laughing so hard, tears are streaming down my face. Unbeknownst to the waking world, something hilarious, no, uproarious, is happening in the sleeping noggin.

So anyway, where does this lead? To the conclusion that I'm fun in bed? How dare you. I can assure you, no one ever accused me of that. Nonononono, this means I need to set goals -- as in, I should make it easy for the general public to find me unconscious.

This helps. Or this is Julie's choice.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Living on the edge

A few snaps today from the Echo Mountain Trail. Coincidentally, more hiking over at Pasadena Adjacent and Toadberry.

I like going uphill, because I concentrate and compete with complete strangers. (you can click to enbiggen the two above.)

I hate going downhill because the pressure is off and I lose focus. Like today, on the way down, I was wondering why No Country For Old Men just didn’t clean up at the Oscars, nothing else was even close. And whether the hacking at the White House just happened to include the IRS. And if there is a god, why the heck doesn’t …


(Just learned that the famous rock climber, John Bachar, died when he fell at Mammoth. There's an old video clip here that shows him at work.)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Don’t get me wrong

Two things: My horse had a fungal infection on her neck, and I was going to a picnic in the afternoon. So I dashed into Ralph’s for a couple of bottles of “reasonably priced” Tequila (they were just going to end up in margarita syrup anyway) and a tube of Fast Actin’ Tinactin. If you own livestock, you know Tinactin is the best thing for equine skin rash.

So there I was, in a long 4th of July line, and some of us struck up a conversation and found we had a lot in common. We talked about local trails, self-employment, movies, the state of education, blah, blah, blah.

Then it was my turn to put my prospective purchases on the rolling belt. Here’s the thing: Don’t you look at what other people are buying – at least, surreptitiously? And put two and two together?

Without thinking, I plunked down the jugs of Senor Something and the medicated ointment. Each by itself, perhaps, would not have made a statement. And certainly the statement would have been quieter had not the family-size tube of Tinactin announced its intentions in screaming red caps. STOPS JOCK ITCH FAST! SOOTHING RELIEF! I pretended to accidentally knock it for a one quarter turn. SPECIALLY FORMULATED FOR GROIN AREA. One more turn (as the conversation had definitely wound down) NEW ECONOMY SIZE RELIEVES CHAFING AND BURNING. I was scared to make that forth turn. What might it say? Have some cheap tequila while the penicillin kicks in?

I paid the cashier, but thought I’d offer my new friends an attempt at an explanation.

“You see I have this horse...”

Oh, never mind. I left quickly. I always liked Vons better anyway.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Walking Altadena: Lower Westside

Four distinct aspects comprise Altadena: The wealthy, the bohemian, mountains, and blight. The first three intersect somewhat, geographically. While most of the mansions are on the east side, the McNally “summerhouse,” for example, can be found about dead center of town. The old Busch estate rests in Millard Canyon to the upper northeast. Bohemians are scattered almost everywhere, with lots of movie people – set decorators and art department mainly – hugging the hills. The exception is Blight.

Blight reigns supreme in the southwest corner of town, and doesn’t seem to cross any boundary. It also doesn't appear to have any vestige of a more genteel past, so perhaps it traveled a trajectory straight from wilderness to poverty.

It’s a pocket that, if it ventures out, goes to war with another pocket in northwest Pasadena. Just about any local murder that isn't strictly a family affair, takes place in this battlefield.

An argument can be made that Altadena has two downtowns; one can also argue Altadena has no downtown whatsoever. But let’s say we weigh-in in favor of the former. There’s the mid-town downtown and the lower westside.

In terms of real estate and commerce, the westside downtown is equal parts liquor stores, churches, empty storefronts, and cemetery. (Mountain View Cemetery actually hosts some wealthy chaps -- Professor Lowe, Wallace Neff, etc. -- but last I heard, they weren't allowed to take it with them.)

The westside has two main drags – Fair Oaks and Lincoln Boulevard, contained by Harriet street to the north and Woodbury to the south. Down Lincoln and Fair Oaks, you can run across children slapping dogs, mothers slapping children, fathers slapping mothers, or maybe I’m just always there at the wrong time. No one seems to pay much attention to all the slapping. It’s probably safer that way. Or maybe it’s just not unusual enough to garner interest.

When it comes to lethal violence, apparently no need to wait for the cloak of darkness. How eerie to find out that while you drove down Fair Oaks on the way to Old Town Pasadena or to meet the 110 freeway, a murder actually occurred right behind you, or beside you. You know this, because you read it in the next morning's paper.

Unless you're an actual denizen of the area, you're relatively safe because the rage is directed internally.

I walked down Fair Oaks today, and took my dog along, an unnecessary precaution. There’s almost no foot traffic, and what foot traffic there was had no interest in me.

On Fair Oaks, my dog shied away from some feral dogs, who paid no heed to our activities. They were just hungry is all, and camera-shy. The people most decidedly did not want their picture taken. I’m glad I asked first, because even the question was met with quiet hostility. So I was starting to feel like a failure, because if I were Kevin or Ken Mac, my camera could catch the heart of blight. But I knew I hadn't really caught anything but storefronts and signs and didn't even have a face to put with it all. Then I saw a couple with a stroller.
At last, something touching. Hope springs eternal and love among the ruins. I put on a big smile and ran right up to them and said, "Oh, I'd love to take a picture of you and your ...


In the grand or awful scheme of things, I don’t know if this stretch of Fair Oaks qualifies as a mean street. Perhaps just a sad street. It's somewhere near that crossroad, and probably swings both ways.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Sow What

For zucchini, they look almost good enough to eat.

They’re heirlooms. Of course the downside is, any zucchini still tastes like zucchini, even when it sports jazzy zebra stripes. These have a very fancy name; I don’t know what it is – but I’m sure there’s a “de la” in there somewhere.

One can’t just grow a plain old pumpkin anymore. It has to be “Field Hybrid: Muscade de Provence.” These days we trade little gram-weight envelopes of seeds as if we were trading – well, you know. And out of the earth, the very well treated earth, stuff, edible (though not always eaten) stuff, pops up.

Oh wait, this one's not edible. Don't be deceived by the vegetable coating.

I lived in thirty rentals or borrowed or otherwise-owned houses from the 1980's to the mid new century, and if a flower, a blade of grass ventured out of the dry cracked earth, I never noticed. They went their way, and I went mine. Actually, for all I know, maybe the earth wasn’t dry and cracked, maybe some lushness existed at one place or the other. Just didn’t notice at all.

But in the middle of this current decade, all flush with brand new pride-of-ownership, an insidious addiction took hold. I fell in love, the mad kind. The flora kind. The house wasn’t much and stayed that way, but nothing was too good for the garden.

I eschewed Home Depot, and ordered plants from Oregon, Napa, Wisconsin, but mostly a Florida nursery that specialized in exotics. Moringa Oliphera, Canonga, Boronia Megastigma.

Waves of infatuation followed. Old world roses, weird fruit trees, Australian natives, succulents, cacti, and finally, fragrance. Aglaia, osmanthus, clematis, six different kinds of jasmine, magnolia coco, Burmese honeysuckle, and more – so very much more.

Then one day I woke up and the spell was broken, the urgency dissipated. I installed automatic sprinklers, rather than carefully watering by hand. I stopped pampering the tropicals and let them face their own facts (as in, we have no humidity in Altadena). I was now both sated and even a little disinterested.

Passion is funny that way. Passion is funny in a lot of ways. As in, if I could have consciously chosen my passions, my life would have been very, very different. No judgment implied.