Monday, November 30, 2009

What Swedes Know That You May Not

Even if you don’t play golf, everyone should own at least one golf club. In fact, you may not be aware of this, but the golf club was actually invented way before the sport of golf itself. So many people received golf clubs as Christmas presents and housewarming gifts, that some enterprising soul designed a game around an accumulated collection.

Way before there were links in Scotland, golf clubs beat the bushes and flushed out game, but one needn’t go so far back as that. As recently as the last century, golf clubs have been used to: Scratch backs, floss rhinos, clear drains. It’s also handy as a rose trellis, pool cue, nose-hair remover, and opener for those stubborn pickle jars (hence the nickname: Widow’s Helper).

Of course, most importantly, the golf club is a safety device, famous for saving countless people from quicksand, drunken pool parties, and 20-story suicide attempts.

And now I’ve learned that, in case of a car accident, reach for the club. Leave it to Volvo. You’re going to laugh, but I would have called 911. How many lives have been lost to such ignorance? It’s probably in the Saab manual as well, but if you plan to rescue someone from a dented SUV, reach for the trusty golf club and crush the car’s back window before taking any further action.

Though no scientist, I'm guessing this quickly releases the deadly fumes.

So you can keep your bandages, and CPR, and first-aid kit. Next time I hear someone shout, "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up," I know what I'll grab.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Brush with Genius

I met Martha Argerich last night. We were sitting in a roomful of people, and there was an argument. I maintained Argerich was the greatest pianist of the last century – better than Cliburn, Gould, Richter, and that other guy.

Turns out this was Martha’s farewell tour and final concert. She looked increasingly nervous as others discussed how the final concert should be carried out. I started getting nervous when I found out I’d be accompanying her, both on piano and tonette. I hadn’t rehearsed at all! This could ruin everything. Maybe I could just play really, really softly.

Frank Sinatra sent over a huge gift basket full of liquor, and I asked if it’s ok to have a drink before the concert. That started another argument, but I believe the upshot was no.

We got in a van to drive to the concert venue, and I noticed the lipstick was rather hastily smeared across my mouth, so I tried to wipe it off. I asked Martha, when she heard a piece on the radio, how soon did she know it was hers. She hummed Figaro, and said, “There. By the fifth note.” She said she planned to take English lessons, though I told her she spoke without an accent. “I know,” she said, “But I often have trouble finding the right word.”

Argerich plays Ravel

Argerich plays Chopin (If you're really interested, this last lets you compare her version to Horowitz's.)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Caviar Empty

Oh my god, I must look like hell. Sorry, but what do you expect? I spent the night sleeping around.

You probably saw the ads. WalMart, Target, Sears, they all invited us over at midnight to “camp out” next to our purchase of choice, and then lay down the cold hard cash in the wee hours of the morning. Camp out, what a quaint phrase. They meant shack up, but couldn’t say it in print.

You never know a man until you sleep with him; how true. The same, trust me, goes for household appliances. Oh sure, you might be momentarily dazzled by the Bissell Spray n Vac, but will it last? The Kenmore sub zero muscle-fridge ? Nothing like a little midnight camaraderie to find out whether that relationship should stretch to the next level.

Because it’s shocking really, how so many of us think we desire something, only to feel shame once we have it. That beige sofa loveseat combo? What was I thinking? All my friends hate it. Don’t even get me started on the stainless steel convection oven. Two words: obsessed and possessed, but then I was probably drunk at the time.

My advice? Think long and hard before you invest too much of your time and effort. Sample lots of appliances. Though initially you desperately crave that hunky industrial strength electric juicer, it may be the old fashioned reamer you take home to meet mother.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving memories: Lessons Learned

The first six months of grammar school – the early years -- comprised a slow, thrilling autumn crescendo that would culminate in the clash of cymbals known as Christmas break. We could feel the rumble of the kettle drums once the first brown and red tissue paper leaves hit the bulletin board.

After Halloween, more instruments would join, as we made unlikely and anatomically incorrect turkey cutouts by tracing a pattern around our palm and fingers. The thumb was the head, and after that it was really every turkey for himself. Only the class artists – the left-handed kids -- could make it look like anything other than a hand, so the rest of us tried other pursuits. Poetry, perhaps, with all its attendant license:

“On Thanksgiving Day/That’s when we all say/Hurray for the Mayflower, Nina, and Santa Maria/That’s why we are so free –Awww!”


“Thanksgiving Day is here/Roll out the Burgie and we’ll have some beer/And if you don’t have one too/It will be like a cow that can’t say moo.”

We played pilgrims; not the actual, dour, religious fanatics, of course. No, we knew only about the ones who wore tall construction-paper hats, fell in love with Indian maidens, and shared Jiffypop and cupcakes with their native brothers and sisters.

Thanksgiving kicked off a series of parties. Though predominantly a protestant school, we could all sing the Dreidel song, and Hanukah was next on the docket. With Christmas, though, would come a sense of melancholy followed by an endless stretch of months until summer finally arrived.

There would be little to look forward to in-between Christmas and summer -- just a sprinkling of holidays that included strange stories about little boys who cut down trees, and the mystery of why anyone would want to search for a hardboiled egg.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Minor Inconvenience

A typical Sunday, one with which we can all identify. You might chase the ball for a minute or two, then again, you might not. You might dig up a raccoon pierogi, then again, maybe you're still full from breakfast. You might consider peeing along the perimeter of the yard, or you might just want to take a nap instead.

The world seems to be nothing but a series of delightful choices.

That is, until a barbarian shows up at the gate. Your (devoted!) friend D has brought her husband's steriod-enhanced Ridgeback puppy into your palace. Best to dispatch this giant, whiney, slobbering object as soon as possible. The game is afoot.

Move close, but stay just inches away until Ridgeback acts up.

Walk near, then walk away until distracted Ridgeback pulls and complains and thoroughly annoys owner.

Left flank attack.

When Ridgeback loses all decorum, take the dominant position.

Whisper in her ear: Phoebe is the queen, Long live the queen.

Rinse and repeat.

Friday, November 20, 2009

We get letters

It’s been a long time since I posted a homestead update. Floods of email arrive daily – how are the crops, what are you growing, what are you wearing ... I’m gratified my little project has generated so much interest and enthusiasm.

Oddly, and perhaps you’ve noticed, my most avid fans prefer to comment anonymously. This, from Anon #52, “Are you planting lettuce this year? PS, I want to suck your toes.” This from Anon #173, “Thought you’d like to know that’s not a carrot in my pocket.” Here’s another: “Will you come over and squeeze my tomatoes?” (Oh wait, that's from my Uncle Henry in West Virginia.)

Anyway, on and on. And I think this just goes to prove, though there are lots of informative organic gardening books and pamphlets on the market, nothing beats my own little chatty account and shared experiences.

I’m not going to say things have been a failure this year; we’ve decided to go for quality rather than quantity. Surely there’s a poem out there about how one perfect Damask rose affords more pleasure than a field of hybrids from Home Depot. In that vein, one perfectly shaped mescalun leaf is more beautiful than a huge plot of whatever it is my neighbor seems to be fiddling with. I don’t know about you, but I’d hate to have to spend as much time as he does picking produce. And clearly I won't have to.

Feed the stomach at McDonalds, that’s my advice. My little plot will feed the soul.

Must fly. Anonymous #568 just asked whether a banana is just a banana. Philosophy is not my strongpoint, but I’m sure my county extension agent knows the answer.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sin of Emission

Devotion takes strange turns. I have loved poets and artists. I have loved doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs. All pale when compared to my plumber. No matter how messy our past, my plumber and I have a present and a future. Since I bought this house, Don and I have been joined at the hip, or thereabouts.

You think your best friend knows you? Your priest? Your dog? Small, Russian fingerling potatoes. It's your plumber who knows you inside and in. If you live in an old town with a 1920 sewer system, then your plumber has confronted the real you, the essential you, and probably most of the essential neighborhood as well.

A call to Don is like stepping into one of those confessional booths. Not sure what he says exactly, but to me it sounds like, “Tell me what is wrong, my child.” And I say, “Forgive me Father, but it’s something sinful and icky.”

I had Don over last week for one of those horrendous jobs that’s too humiliating to put in print. Let’s just say there was an intimate gathering of all the neighborhood secrets in my bathtub. A couple of months ago, another house had these secrets seep ... well, never mind. Yes, we’ve got us some sewer problems in the High Dena.

Oh, he never groans or complains, but, though he smiles, Don’s eyes have the permanently wounded expression of one who continues to see too much of life and it never gets any better.

I sit in my office as he fights the underworld. My dogs paw at the office door to get to Don, because they just love him and think that’s probably the best job in the world and wonder if he needs an apprentice. Lord knows, the boxer especially enjoys the homework.

And then I hear water running and stuff flushing and Don whistling, and that means the crisis has past. Time to turn down the Bach and stop biting my nails. Time to run out to praise the man I worship; time to write all those zeroes. Time to be at my most gracious, smile my biggest smile, and in other ways imply, life up here isn’t all shit.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside a Double Double

There are some things I’ll never understand – Stonehenge, advanced algebra, beading.

Quantum mechanics, quantum physics, or quantum all by its lonesome. How a radio works, the concept of black holes, religious fanaticism.

Why we’re born. Why we die. Why men of enormous girth water the front lawn wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and a St Christopher’s medal.

I don’t believe women are from Venus, more sensitive or more emotional than men. Psychologically, individual human beings differ from each other, the sexes, not so much. But there’s one soft and squishy brick wall I can’t get through: The amount of belly real estate each sex will share with the casual public – women calculate in square inches, men round it off to the nearest acre.

Evidence is everywhere. On a Sunday afternoon, driving through the pastoral streets of Pasadena, I’ll see enormously inflated, hairy male stomachs doing yard work, oblivious to the fact they are making women like me gag and spill Sausage McMuffin down the front of our muumuus.

Gain five pounds, a woman goes tent shopping. Gain fifty pounds, a man tucks in his wifebeater and cinches his belt at the kidneys.

It’s not that men lack vanity – they, after all, invented the combover. I think it’s a manufacturing defect, you know, like one of the blind spots on a Range Rover. No need to recall the whole model, but do alert the owner.

And if the owner should choose to do nothing about it, sadly we’re all at risk.

Friday, November 13, 2009

This Won't Take Long

I laugh really, really hard. Not just loud, but athletically. I don’t just laugh, I pound the table, stamp my feet, snort. Spew cocktail peanut and cracker crumbs across the table. Possessed and exorcised at the same time. Worse yet, if there’s the slightest suspicion that any scrap of humor was my invention, I bellow my appreciation to the clouds.

How wrong that is, on so many levels. Ever since I was ten years old, I wanted to be a quiet, sophisticated wit who could say something just killing, and acknowledge such brilliance with one raised eyebrow and that little half smile. You know the one – that cool little twist to the lips, like an Emma Peel or James Bond. “So, my dear, you [insert deadly humor], isn’t that true?” [eyebrow lift, lip twist.]

Instead, I’m all gums and long teeth, braying and spraying, regardless of the company, regardless even of what I’ve said. Sometimes I’ll give myself a round of applause as friends look on in amazement.

Brevity isn’t the soul of wit, you can have one without the other. Still, it’s a start. My humor is not a stiletto, able to reach the heart with one lethal jab. Mine is a larger instrument, an axe with a loose handle, that when swung, tends to break all the jelly jars at once. But you've got to admit, it’s over quickly.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Path Not Taken for Awhile

Eight years ago, this house was a scenic spot on my favorite run. It’s in the southern area of Pasadena, not far from the Ritz. Or whatever they call the Ritz these days. I never considered the house beautiful, maybe it had been originally,in the 20s or 30s, but too many owners had imposed too many ideas involving too much plaster and stucco. Still, no one could tamper with the basics: Large property, beautifully situated, vast view, privacy.

Regardless of the messy front, the house belongs in the mansion category – and, as one might say of a bad face lift, the sides and back are still of interest. Eight years ago I would have guessed…five million? Maybe more.

About the time I moved from the (adjacent, i.e., not rich) neighborhood, the new owners had developed an obsession with knock-off statues. Lions and tigers and bares. The bares were mostly Roman or Greek, mostly women. The grass was brown as always, but I recall pipes and columns laid out across the acreage, presaging a grand project.

When I left the area, I just forgot about it all.

I don’t know why I took a run down that road today, but I did. The house is for sale. I jogged up and down the street a couple of times, then happened to lean against the main gate for a rest. And I happened to note there was no lock on the gate. And I happened to lean a bit harder. And it happened to squeak open. Well, hallo, and I accidentally tumbled inside. It was one of those long tumbles that took me through the front yard and the back acreage, and, whoa, up to the front door, down to the service porch, reeling up a balcony, then twirling around the hall window until I was nose to glass. Balance is so tricky on a hillside.

The statuary is the least of the problems today. Foreclosure is the main one.

How odd to get up close and personal with an area I had cared about in the past, for whatever reason. I mean, how odd to visit shoe to step, forehead to glass. And what had they done. What had they done? Home Depot steps lead here and there, and the green green grass, shockingly, isn’t vegetable or even mineral. Let me put it this way, don’t light matches anywhere close to the lawn.

I felt thrilled, I felt sad. Like meeting a famous old racehorse that everyone has so forgotten, they don’t even lock the paddock.

Don’t worry old chap, I said, and brushed off a layer of leaves from the porch. Someday someone will shine you up and no one will ever know a plaster Venus posed on Astroturf by your front door.

And I sat on the steps and thought about a lot of things, just so the old house would have a few secrets on me. Just so we'd be even.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Of Mice and Women

You know how it goes. Though my day was filled with poetry and beauty, there loomed the matter of the dead rat.

My cellar is pitch black, and I get to it by opening the trap in a bedroom closet. Then I scoot my butt over the opening, and stretch my legs down to reach the top stair while holding on to either side of the closet floor so I don’t freefall into the pit.

It’s a dark trail often leading to a dark deed. Down below is where you’ll find the furnace, air conditioner, water heater, mice and the mouse death machines. I once opened the trap for the Water & Power guy and he stared down this porthole to eternity and said, “You’re kidding, right?”

I would put it off. I could ignore it, but my dogs were now sniffing around the closet and the heating vents incessantly, which meant something fascinatingly dead down yonder lay. “We got it!” they seemed to say. And their sniffing irritated the hell out of me, partly because it forced me to acknowledge what lies below, and partly because the dogs never sniff out the rats when they’re alive. You got it? I got it, lazy assholes. So I locked the useless beggars away and down I went, with a double grocery bag so I could turn my head as I upended the bodies (Stuart and Remi) from the death chambers.

And no, it’s not as if I can’t get anyone to do this for me, paid or unpaid. But somehow it seems important, if I’m pulling the trigger, I take care of the aftermath. And I think it’s bad form to begin a phone conversation with, “About my dead rat…”

Besides, I am not a handy person. I can’t unstop a tub, fix a leak, replace a board. Killing rats is about the only thing I’m good for around the house. Diana the Huntress may have had bigger fish to fry, but I think we could trade a few war stories.

Earlier in the day, I led a group tour around The Huntington. Somewhere near the Lotus Pond we ran across a dead mouse by the side of the road. One of the women squealed and grabbed the arm of the nearest gentleman. Everyone knows a dead rat outside the house bears no resemblance to a dead rat inside the house. They are not the same animal, they have different genetic codes. So I suspect the woman had just been looking for any old opportunity to meet this handsome single man. They ended up spending the rest of the tour in each other’s company. Something may happen between them, or something may not. But if it does, I will become part of their personal landscape – forever tied to the day they first met. Me and their dead rat. That was the poetry part of the day.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I’m All Ears

My IPod is in critical condition, or the device that poses as an IPod, so I’ve been hiking with my ears exposed for all the world to see. Which isn’t such a bad thing. They’re cute and shapely ears, why shouldn’t they march boldly and proudly, innocent of instruments, unadorned, unashamed, in the sunshine.

Do I take this opportunity to listen to the birds in the brush and the wind in the trees. Unfortunately, no. I listen to myself. Ever been on a 5 mile hike with a total windbag who won’t shut up for a second? Welcome to my world. And it’s not as if I haven’t heard it all before.

Like yesterday, up the Echo Mountain trail, the sky was so clear I could see to Catalina Island, Clear as a bell, I thought. My mom used to say that. She used a lot of American clich├ęs. But why that expression? I know what it’s supposed to mean, but why bell? Is it because the bell’s tone is so pure? Or because bells are so loud you can’t ignore them? Slept like a top, another favorite of hers. Weird. Raining cats and dogs. Hmm, because large drops go SPLAT, like a poodle dropped from 5,000 feet?


What about “donkey years.” Well, who the fuck cares, nobody says that anyway. But exactly how long are we going to have to live with “outside the box?” The first person to actually say it could have slapped a patent on that puppy and made millions. Now all he can do is try to convince his kids he was the one who made it up. Good luck. What about “shit eating grin?” riddle me that. At least “eat shit and die,” makes sense.

Red-tailed hawk. Oh, missed that one.

Really, unless you’re Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams or something, you’re better off coming up with a stupid catch- phrase – from a posterity perspective. Think of all the great novels from the 1970’s and 80’s that are out of print, and yet “Baby on Board” will never die.

Tree again.

Slogans, T-shirts, and bumper stickers. That’s where English majors go to die. English majors with a science minor. Gravity, it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law. I’m an English major, you do the math.

That fish with the Jesus and the fish with the Darwin – I’ll bet it was the same guy.

Don’t come a knockin when this van’s a rockin. Carpenters can screw. Beer drinkers do it bitter.

There’s a coyote, but don’t bother me now, I’m with stupid.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Dating Carbon

Though some slinky gowns grace my closet, I haven’t been invited to anything really spiffy for awhile. So imagine my flush of pleasure when IT arrived: The invitation to join Visa’s elite, the Black Card Club.

Never heard of IT? I’m not surprised. As Ashlee said (she’s the director of Customer Experience, by the way, and her name is just super cool), Visa extends this invitation to only 1 percent of all United States residents; that means only 4 million of us will squeeze into this Polo Lounge. So if you haven’t received your invitation yet, quit thinking it might be lost in the mail. Get real. You’re mastercard material.

Anything that’s worth anything costs something. And the black card, I mean Black Card, has an annual fee of $495. But before I hyperventilated on that, I read what Ashlee had to say, and of course she’s right. The Black Card is not another piece of plastic, because – it’s not plastic at all! No way, it’s carbon – a patent pending carbon card. And wait, it’s not a credit card; it’s a buying tool, guaranteed “to get you noticed.” It’s a buying tool, guaranteed to get you noticed, designed for those “who demand the best life has to offer.”

How did she know? How did she know, that even while I cut into a brick of Trader Joe cheese and slice a hunk of Ralph’s French bread, in my heart and in my head, I still DEMAND THE BEST LIFE HAS TO OFFER. Your net worth isn’t counted in dollars, it’s counted in tantrums.

So I wonder, what’s the first thing my buying tool can buy me? A membership to my buying tool? Then I can start to enjoy my 24-hour concierge service and exclusive rewards program promising luxurious perks. The letter is kind of hazy on the kind of service and perks coming my way, but I guess I’ll know who to call if my ceiling leaks again this winter.

There’s one thing of which we have no doubt, and that is the elemental composition of this card. Ashlee mentioned it at least three times (apparently some in the polo lounge are a bit thick-headed). But I get it. We’ll be an item, my Black Card and me. We’ll enter a fine restaurant or Ross Dress for Less and the cashier’s face will be bathed in awe when I say, “I assume you take carbon?”

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Eevie ivy over, a pocketful of clover

Spanish dancer do the splits,
Spanish dancer do the kicks,
Spanish dancer turn around,
Spanish dancer touch the ground,
Spanish dancer get out of town quick!

With the last day of grammar school, I packed up my jump ropes, never to jump rope again.

I don’t know why some things last and others don’t. Surely, I worked as hard on jump rope skills as I did on my tennis serve. I knew all the rhymes, could beat almost anyone at double-dutch and double jump and triple jump and relay jump. I could jump for hours, glassy-eyed and high as kite while singing little girl Gregorian chants.

In came the doctor,
In came the nurse,
In came the lady with the alligator purse
Out went the doctor
Out went the nurse
Out went the lady with the alligator purse

One could practice solo, with a personal little rope that had ounce-weights attached along the length to whip up a decent speed. But the big stage was on the school playground with two girls twirling two ropes, with me -- the star, the center of the universe -- jumping in the middle. After the rhyme, the ropes would speed up, and the audience would chant: one,two,three,four,fivesixseveneight,niteeletwe… We called this “jumping the count.”

Boys couldn’t jump rope, they just couldn’t. They lacked timing, coordination and grace. We girls would fall on the ground, positively shrieking with laughter and derision whenever they tried. The ropes trapped the boys like flies in spiderwebs, and the cool boys – the Terry Emerys for example -- chose to ignore the game entirely.

I L-O-V-E love him,
I'll K-I-S-S kiss him,
I'll H-U-G hug him
In the p-a-r-k park park park.

For whatever reason, I think jump rope fits in the box labeled “For little girls only,” a space it shares with Nancy Drew, slumber parties, blood sisters, Shetland pony rides, and feeling like the center of the universe. Sometimes, while foraging for something else, I run into this box and recall what it was I originally had hoped to find.