Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year’s Eve: Party Tips

Wear something special.

Make a friend.

Make lots of friends.

Bring a dish.

Love yourself.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Saving Grace

D, originally from the Czech Republic, moved here when he was 25. Naturally, English wasn’t his first language; I think it finished a distant fourth.

We were together for a couple of years -- one short, one long. Though he lived and worked in English, D thought, conceptualized, and dreamed in something else. We fought our battles on my one and only playing field, English. At worst, I could always win on a technicality.

To conclude a serious discussion, when we were either extremely frustrated or charmed with each other, I’d wrap things up with something really scathing or really sweet. D couldn’t do a change-up. His last pitch was always, “That’s the truth and I’m not kidding you.” Only it was more like, “I’m not keedeen you.”

If I felt like it, that fell right in my strike zone.

To be fair, had he insisted we play the game elsewhere, in French for example, my zingers would have been in the realm of “You giant goat of shit!” or “Dear, you be sweet mutton with me.” Yeah, and that’s my second-best language.

The idiosyncrasies that so delighted us early in a relationship were the very ones that came back to haunt us two years later. He grew tired of my easy-breezy ways, and I grew frustrated with his blatant, unashamed love of money, as well as the appalling accent. He ceased to be cute. Well, on balance, the sweet mutton side in us both had all but disappeared.

After much experience, experimentation, and observation, I think couples in long-term relationships have three things in common: Kindness, forgiveness, and patience. Also, when an argument starts to get ugly, giving way once in awhile. The self-control to bite one’s tongue, even though you’ve got a comeback that’s so good, oh so good. But you know what? If a couple goes the distance, a sincere and lovely distance, the first thing to leave is the last word.

I don't think I'll ever find that state of grace; certainly, I'll never leave a good phrase unsaid, at whatever cost. But I like to know such grace exists. That’s the truth and I’m not kidding you.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Winter Dreams

I wished for a high-def flatscreen with satellite and 264 animal channels.

I wished for yoga lessons, a mink blanket, and a course in anger management.

I wished for a new tennis ball.

What did we get? Vitamins. Merry, Happy Christmas everyone. Hope the holiday is sweet, and may all your pills be wrapped in honey. p>

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pressure on the Pier

Would you jump off a bridge just because your friends did?

Yeah, well maybe, if they were attractive friends. And sufficient alcohol were involved.

I’ve been to two parties this season where classical music became a topic of conversation. Beethoven vs Brahms, Debussy vs Ravel, blah, blah, blah. The only thing everyone agreed on was Mozart . Overrated, they said; a necessary step in the evolution of music of course, but too light to travel well. So I, too, gave his corpse a kick.

And have no idea why. I like the guy. I could have said something like, “Please don’t criticize my friends to my face.” But no, I’m a little insecure when it comes to my knowledge and appreciation of the great and notsogreat composers. In this arena I’m the product of self-education and a bad teacher.

When I tell people I grew up in a household that listened only to classical music, that isn’t strictly true. I grew up in a household that barely listened to music at all, but when they accidentally did, the music was classical. By default. The only records the parents had were in these 40 pound albums that must have belonged to grandparents in the old country who didn’t want them either.

So that's the music I played on my Sears stereo. If a dollar or two came my way, likely I’d take it to the drug store and buy a bargain classical album, the cheaper the better. The cheapest usually had a gypsy girl dancing on the cover, don’t ask me why. But the tunes made me happy, sad, sometimes frantic with excitement and energy, other times they kept me safe from night terrors.

All the above still holds true. Beethoven, Debussy, Grieg, Bach, they never get old. Nor does Mozart.

Argerich plays Mozart

Mozart guitar

And again

(photo from Shorpy's)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Kings of the Road

When I was growing up, my family took two trips a year, one in summer, one in winter. Lucky us, we found the four corners of the earth in North America, so our mode of transportation never varied. No planes or trains, strictly automobile.

It’s fair to say our family suffered in the area of short term memory. Weeks before each trip we’d be bouncing off the ceiling with excitement, forgetting the hours, days, we’d spend on the freeway, trapped in a car with each other and dire consequence. We’d forget Dad would lose his explosive temper, mom would take blame for navigational mishaps, and we kids, confined in the back seat, would bicker, pinch, scratch, bite, and sucker punch one another until somebody finally cracked and took a grievance to the front seat. We kept that wheel spinning until...

“You want me to pull off the road now? Is that what you want? You want me to turn this car around and go home? Is that what you want?”

Last week I walked a length of the Foothill Freeway -- the Freeway that splits Pasadena in half and claims responsibility for some of the city’s current prosperity and decay.

During the 1960’s and 70’s, the interstate designers and engineers were kings. They promised and delivered freedom to families such as mine. We reciprocated by hitting the open road and patronizing whatever towns came between us and the Grand Canyon.

Interstates were designed for travel -- to distract and delight the car-bound family with hillside vistas and the comfort of a six or eight-lane freeway. Interstate designers wanted us to see the USA in a Chevrolet, or a Ford or a Mercedes. These great freeway architects and engineers, they cared about us; they wanted to create the best ride and views their boundless popularity and power and our money could buy.

They cared about us, but only so long as we stayed in the car.

They cared about us least when we were at home. Particularly if that home stood in their way.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

This Time It's Personal

Ok Ken Mac, I'll see your Christmas rifle and Klompen, and raise you one suggestive power tool, a threesome, and a lecherous Santa.

(Images from Found in Mom's Basement and somewhere else that I've forgotten)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fair Oaks Avenue: Going South

(Note: This is part of a continuing attempt to chart what was once the major artery through the heart of the three Denas. Earlier installments here and here)

In our last episode, we stood at the war torn boundary that separates Southwest Altadena from Northwest Pasadena.

Now we cross the Woodbury divide, and, at this juncture, see little difference between Altadena and Pasadena. Failed markets, junk stores, churches. If empty lots can also fail, they do it here. There’s a deserted, dilapidated cottage courtyard that someone, for some reason, wants to keep. Nostalgia? Lawyers? Penance? The sign intrigues – Who are these mysterious people constantly pestering the owner, desperate to get their mitts on a handful of dry rot?

Several gangs have spilt blood in this general vicinity. The Denver Squiggly Road, for one. Some gang names sound almost fanciful, like the title of a Children’s story. Chilling, in a Chucky kind of way. Most of these gangs are offspring of the Crips, Bloods, Pasa Rifa, and a few other notables.

Shootings can take place at noon or midnight, doesn’t seem to matter. And right through the middle of the battleground you’ll see babies pushing carriages that have other, littler, babies inside. That’s a hell of a ticket to pull in this lottery.

Continuing south, the next stretch of Fair Oaks provides every service needed to usher you, inexpensively, out of this mortal coil. A community health clinic, convalescent homes (“We Love You At Any Age”), funeral homes, a notary public. Plan your exit properly, soup to nuts, you won’t even have to cross the street.

Smack dab in the middle of this is a brand new housing development that I believe Pasadena government points to with pride. The construction is impressive, to this untrained eye anyway, but it shines an even brighter light on misery. Like a party hat at a funeral.

When walking the three or four miles from Woodbury to the 210 freeway, Fair Oaks seems to be a half-forgotten project, one that’s picked up with a sudden flush of enthusiasm now and then, and dropped when the work proves too much. More work than is possible, more work, anyway, than mere carpentry can solve. You can find a couple of promises that were kept, but you'll find many that were broken, and more still that were never made.

Back in the day, the 1920’s day, this part of Fair Oaks housed some prosperous craftsmen. It was also part of the electric car line that would ferry millionaires up to their summer mansions on Mariposa Street in Altadena. For its current state, most long-time residents blame the construction of the 210 Freeway and eminent domain.

They may be right. Today, if it tried, the 210 freeway couldn’t seem more like the Berlin Wall, a hunk of cement separating poverty from prosperity.

Next visit, next year: Over the wall.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Loss Leaders

I’m glad to hear the Bush Administration misplaced 20 million emails; now I don’t feel so bad about losing my house keys. And you can throw in all those sunglasses as well.

When I think of the intolerance others have shown when I’ve searched for keys, well, it makes my blood boil. But now I have the perfect retort: “What are you so mad about, it’s not like I’ve done this 20 million times.”

5,000 times, maybe. Which is less than a drop in the official statistical bucket. If 20 million is the new yardstick by which all loss must be measured, 5,000 times means I didn’t really lose any keys at all. Mathmatically, from a key-loss perspective, I'm practically a virgin.

Most of my life has been spent in the company of orderly people, and they can’t understand why my keys are never on the hook labeled KEYS. Or why my shoes never sleep together, or what the hammer is doing on the dining table, or why the ladder is still in the kitchen.

These are very difficult questions for a disorderly person to answer. The closest I can come is that things, things that don’t breathe, have no weight for me. Once their momentary utility ends, they cease to exist. They disappear. Mine is a life free of clutter.

Whereas my neat and orderly friends, their life is spent in the service of demon clutter -- they spindle, stab, staple, fold, file, label, worry, pack, unpack, and pack it again.

My friends and I, we’ll never fully understand each other. We’ll always be impatient with each other. My friends will never concede that finding the order you want takes as much time as finding what you want in disorder.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Holding All The Cards

I have never been one to receive a lot of Christmas cards. Maybe because I’ve never sent one; not one, ever. Oh, I’ve purchased cards, even signed them with inspirational and personal notes. “I saw this quote from Walt W and thought of you…” or “As Emily D once wrote…”

But one cannot just buy and sign cards, one must send them as well. Aye there’s the rub, as William S has said. And mine languish in the desk, facing an unhappy Memorial Day of discovery and disposal.

My popular friends, on the other hand, practice the rule of reciprocity and reap the rewards, with Christmas cards four or five deep, straddling those show-offy strings that stretch from one room to the next. They accompany this garish display with a little disingenuous grousing -- 'Wherever will I put all the cards that are sure arrive tomorrow?'

One year I received a career-high of fifty Christmas cards, and that was only because so many people worked for me, plus I padded the count with anything received via professional affiliations such as Radio Shack and my dental hygienist. Most years the tally is far more modest.

Join me, and let’s blame my childhood.

The parents made a huge deal out of Christmas cards, and maintained a mailing list the size of a Dickens novel. Card selection started around October when they’d visit shops and flip through albums full of samples. For all that, Dad and Mum made pretty much the same choice year after year -- someone on the card would be drunk. For example, Santa in a martini glass singing “Bingle Jells.”

(Ah, what can I say? We Bugge's are a simple people who don't mind a shot of eggnog now and then.)

As a family, we would spend days addressing hundreds of envelopes by hand. This was to add the personal touch; strangely, I always thought, since the cards were embossed with a pre-printed “From the Bugge’s.” on the inside. But I think I get it now. The envelope said we cared, the card said we had money.

Virtual Christmas greetings offer an alternative to the card-challenged such as me, but even those need an address. Maybe I’ll just do a general post. You know, recycle the picture from one of the cards I received this year, and maybe add an inspirational message.

"God bless us everyone.” I saw this Charles D quote and most particulary thought of you.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tiger by the Tale

I can openly belabor the Tiger Woods story because I’m not a serious journalist.

If I were a serious journalist, my editorials would have to wear the cloak of indifference, as in “I'm only using the Tiger Woods story as a way to examine the prurient interests of the American public."

And then maybe I’d invite another sober commentator on board, especially if this were NPR, BBC, or PBS, and we could spend an enormous amount of time discussing our mutual distaste at the story’s prominence in the news. “So that’s three waitresses, one party planner, two models, and a porn star? And there’s speculation he did them all at the same time? Tell me Scott, I look at these pictures and wonder; Why does the public seem to care, because I certainly don’t.” “I can’t say, Noah, because I certainly don’t care either. Especially about the porn star.” "Yes Scott, I believe she starred in Diary of a Horny Housewife, and I most particularly and emphatically do not care about that."

Wall Street Journal got in the game by pretending to cover the business aspect of the case -- the effect waitresses, models, and porn stars will have on future endorsements; will Gatorade pull the plug on the Tiger juice (big mistake, I think. Sure to be a collector’s item, even though everyone seems to have some).

It's almost refreshing to see the story covered by the goofy news outlets like Fox and TMZ. At least there's no pretence; they know their viewers like a little heavy breathing.

And after all, journalism, even the moderately good stuff, has always traded in death and destruction, and when that’s in short supply, sex and scandal. You can only sell what people will buy. If this weren’t true, everyone would have a subscription to The Economist.

Just see how many times Climate Change has clawed its way into the Google top ten list. That only happened, briefly, when there was some breath of scandal about Russian secret service and emails. Now, had those emails been written by porn stars, that story would have had legs.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Admittedly, my house needs a little work. Some roof patching; perhaps a whole new roof. Lateral sewers. Then there’s the cosmetic stuff. The three-foot hole in the drywall by the bedroom that occurred when – well, I don’t think I’ll tell you how that happened. And about the kitchen remodel, we won’t be breaking ground during this administration.

One may think dogs, or children, or even grown men and women whine, but that’s nothing compared to the irritating, insistent, incessant sniffling of a house. “My head hurts, I’ve got a draft, My feet are wet, There’s a pest in my pants.” Wah, wah, wah.

Dear God, why did I ever leave the league of renters? Sure, I felt pretty smug about it three years ago, when my house had appreciated four-fold in 6 years, but that unfolded one quick year later.

It’s true, if you lock in your mortgage, the basic monthly rate never goes up, but everything else does. Insurance, taxes, utilities. And you get the added bonus of personally dealing with termites, dry rot, paint, plumbing, and the band of merry thieves each problem spawns. And it never ends, I tell you, it never fucking ends.

Albert the Lab got one of his semi-annual bladder infections, so I called the vet and asked to renew the antibiotic prescription. They agreed, but only if I collected and delivered his urine sample. For a dog that doesn’t usually care where he slings his pee or who knows about it, he got strangely shy as I chased him around the yard with a Merry Noel teacup.

In between rounds, I took a seat on the back steps, the ones that are in need of some carpentry and reinforcement. I thought about all the other things we chase in life that we really don't want. We chase them because someone told us to, or we didn’t have time to think it through properly. I’d put a high-paying stressful job in that category. And to that, add a devastatingly handsome husband or two, Labrador piss, and a small circa 1923 house.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Weekend Matinee

I’m pretty sure the seed from which I sprung -- as it came zinging out from space, escaping the purgatory of non existence and eternal mystery -- had specific delivery instructions. Something to the effect of, “Deliver to English landed gentry; don’t spare the horses.” Blame the mail. Something got mixed up amongst all the bills and ads for free roofing estimates. The package bound for Kent landed at an apartment in Washington.

No wonder I was a fussy baby. My first words were, “Where’s my god damned pony?”

So of course I like movies about the British Aristocracy. Austen? Everyone’s seen Austen. What about the Shooting Party? If you’ve screened Pride and Prejudice one too many times (Margaret) try something old, something new. And, on a personal note, I met James Mason shortly before the film came out. Not MET, just met. I was dating someone from Disney at the time, and this Disney guy was a bit of the all show. Everytime his Jag pulled out of a parking space, it left a trail of nuts and bolts. But I’ll always remember him fondly, because, due to him, I met one of life’s great charmers

Mason and Gielgud in the Shooting Party

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Crouching Tiger

The Tiger Woods publicists, the best apologists money can buy, have had a full week to craft an apology. And given the challenges, it's not bad. I see four points they hope to convey: Family man, really sorry, go away, let’s all hate the media.

I think they waited this long, praying for some international calamity to share the heat. But no mushroom cloud bloomed over Omaha. Just more disclosures on their own side, all the more tantalizing because they’re coming out drip by drip. Better a big bang; get it over with at once.

So the best spinners in all the land desperately grabbed this linchpin: “I let my family down.” A phrase typically employed to apologize for more modest disappointments, as in, we didn’t make it to Disneyworld this year, or I missed my son’s Pop Warner Football game, or my daughter will have to go to junior college.

Now we learn this very elastic phrase, “I let my family down,” stretches to include fucking a succession of cocktail waitresses over a number of years while the wife was home with the children.

The apology goes on to say:
“I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings behind closed doors with my family.”

How’d you like to go to that Christmas party? I’ll just leave my fruitcake by the mailbox.

On balance, and on the other hand, and to be fair, when I think of some of my transgressions in this life, and there have been some doozies -- really, I cover my head with a veil just at the very thought of -- oh, never mind. What was my point? Oh yes, when faced with the fall-out, there was no elegant phrase at my disposal. No team to buck me up and argue my virtues, as in, “Sure, that happened, but she once rescued a kitten.”

Still, membership in the club of unfamy has its privileges. I could always leave town for awhile. Hole up and hide out. Because, other than those involved, the rest of the world was a safe haven. No one else really cared. Thankfully, no one else thought it any of their business.