Sunday, January 31, 2010

I give a counterintuitive (Update)

Results of City Council Meeting

I’m not going to say the staff and consultants behind the Haha plan are a shifty lot. But their presentation to city council was one long rebuttal before any arguments had been made. Defensive, rambling, non-professional. I can’t help but think by stretching their presentation out to OVER AN HOUR, they hoped people would leave or they’d befuddle the council.

And is there really anyone in the world who can’t work powerpoint? If you’re going to use that old chestnut, at least know how to turn the darned pages.

But council asked cogent questions, and obviously already knew about the public concerns. And while the overall design plan was accepted, very important additional work will be done and language added. I can’t say all the trees will be saved, but they will be the subject of a new environmental impact review, taking into account habitat displacement from fire, etc. – something the staff had not wanted at all.

Democracy makes for some tedious meetings, but seems to work at this level. At least in Pasadena.

(For a much more complete look at environmental and open space issues around our way, visit Greenward Civitas. A smart and thoughtful site.)

Original Post
“Counterintuitive.” It’s the polite way of saying fuck!

You’d think with most of Angeles Forest burned and destroyed, the last thing on the City of Pasadena agenda would be to cut down trees in Hahamonga Park. Healthy trees that apparently have the original sin of not being original to the area, or more importantly, stand in the way of two bikes riding abreast. Live trees that are home to hawks and sparrows and all that draw us back to the charred hills. It just counterintuitiveling blows my mind.

These trees are the good guys. The peppers and palms have been a refuge for hikers and riders. They don’t encroach. They don’t throw wild parties and sow seeds throughout the Arroyo. At their worst, these trees give us shade and beauty in the dead heat of summer, and wet their whistle only when the rain falls. No one has the right to counterintuitive with them.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope I misread the city’s plan for Hahamonga – that it doesn’t plan to destroy wildlife habitats in service of native plants. Sacrifice nature to make a nature center.

I hope others who love this little patch of green and wild land will watch what happens at the planning meeting tomorrow. I’m speaking just for myself here, and my interpretation may be way, way off.

Nothing could make me happier than to return from the meeting tomorrow and admit I misread the whole thing; that I got it all counterintuitiveling wrong.

The Pasadena City Council will be considering the Hahamongna Annex Plan on Monday, February 1, 2010 at 7:30 pm in the City Council Chambers in City Hall, 100 N. Garfield St.

Pasadena Daily Photo (who writes on the subject today), Bellis, and I will be there, and surely many many more. Will let you know how it goes.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Learning Curve

When I was in grammar school, a non-curvaceous, non-brunette, non-British version of Emma Peel, my dad made a rare stab at playing Atticus Finch.

Dad loved his children, provided for his family, would have laid down his life to protect the lot of us, but he didn’t really know any particulars, like exact age or grade or eye color. In fact, other than summer vacations, the kids, and that would be me mainly, only held center stage when Mom snitched. And then there would follow a bit of a bellow and slap.

Anyway, at 11 years old, I cut my spy teeth investigating suspicious neighbors. I and my recruits spent some afternoons on a grassy knoll with binoculars, taking copious notes on one particular house that was a source of grown-up gossip. I guess I must have gotten caught or something. Perhaps when I snuck into the house for evidence – the details escape me.

Instead of the usual “Oh, for God’s sake!” this time Dad decided to sit me down for a chat. There are many fine professions in this world, he told me, and I should consider my choice carefully. It might lie at the altar my mother worshipped – orthodontia -- or it might involve international espionage. But before I chose, there were some things I should consider. He gave me his copy of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. “Let this be a lesson to you,” he said.

Lord knows, my friends and I had already seen everything from Thunderball to Valley of the Dolls, so anatomy and its creepy purpose held no surprises for me. But where Dad hoped I’d see the tough underbelly of the CIA, I only saw long paragraphs. What I didn’t see were pictures of beautiful people or beautiful places, so the book became a TV tray, a resting place for sandwiches while I watched The Avengers.

By the time I gave the book back to Dad, he had both forgotten I had it and that he was Atticus Finch. All he knew was that The Spy Who Came in from the Cold had peanut butter and jelly stains. “Oh, for God’s sake,” he said, as he returned to his reality, and I to mine.

I don’t think I’ve ever returned anyone’s book without some sign of life on it. Let that be a lesson to you.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Olympian Thoughts

My parents didn’t watch sports, but they did watch the Olympics, only because Norway generally gave a good account of itself in winter. As a child I found this rather embarrassing, not because Norway won a lot of gold, but because it only won gold in the sports no one ever heard of -- events involving snowshoes, moose hide, and fish. While glamorous ski jumpers aspired to a Telemark landing, it wasn’t the guys from Telemark who tried to land it.

I’m of course old enough to remember the Olympics during the cold war era, which was the primary reason I did watch it. We in the West were the good guys; the communists took steroids. And for awhile, that had an element of truth. You could instantly identify the woman swimmer from East Germany; she looked like Schwarzenegger in a one-piece. At the other end of the spectrum, the female gymnasts from the Soviet all had the body of a child and the face of a grandmother, and when they talked it was at a pitch only the family dog could hear. Not sure which drug was responsible, but I’m guessing it’s banned now.

Back then, we had a dog in the fight – it was called the West and Fair Play; honest amateurs suiting up against the cheating professionals. We didn’t stop to consider that all our athletes seemed to work for the post office. We just knew the rivalry was so riveting, any contest seemed worth watching – grass growing, water boiling.

But then the Berlin Wall fell; everyone moved everywhere. Now the Austrian skater was born in Belarus. Denmark picks up a gold thanks to its citizen from Croatia. There’s only an us when there’s a them, and there’s no them there. And while this may be good for world peace, it wreaks havoc with the popularity of Curling. It also eliminates any reason to watch skaters dressed in cast-offs from a high school performance of Cabaret.

About the only thing left is to get involved in the inevitable stories involving the individual athletes. The guy who lost his mother, father, and both legs in a plane crash and came back to learn to snowboard on his nose.

Or, come the summer Olympics, we can spend the time speculating why the seedy male gymnastic coach from Romania is always hugging and kissing and holding those little, little girls. But really, we should have been wondering about that one for a couple of decades now.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


A few pictures from the High Dena today. We have some time to melt and towel off, and then more storms expected next week.

(Don't miss the action from the real photographers. To see different takes on our snowy caps, check out Glimpses of South Pasadena, The Sky is Big,Palos Verdes Daily Photo, East of Allen, Altadena Daily Photo.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

It's not me, it's you

Powerful weather is like a really great F---love. After the first wonderful night, it’s just repetition, all noise, leaks and drainage problems. Yes, I know we whooped it up yesterday, but now I’d really rather go out for a run or see my friends. I’m starting to worry about the aftermath, the repercussions. For some reason I forgot how much laundry was involved. Dirty should remain a figure of speech.

I’m tired, and you won’t let me sleep. And now you say you’re coming back tomorrow. And tomorrow. For your future reference, pounding on the door is not cute. I’m already planning an exit strategy; it may require the authorities.

And just so you know, my dogs don’t like you either.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

To Go

“Glen W. Bell Jr., an entrepreneur best known as the founder of the Taco Bell chain, has died. He was 86. Bell died Sunday at his home in Rancho Santa Fe, according to a statement posted Monday on the Taco Bell Web site.

The Irvine-based company did not release a cause of death.” --AP

What, is that last supposed to keep us guessing? I’ll take binge drinking for a thousand, Alex.

Well, well, well, 86 years old. Not bad. And I think we can be fairly certain where he chose not to eat.

I never knew his name, but surely Glen was a patron saint of all stoners. The alchemist of the slimy green and red sauce crowning the SPLAT of fat slapped inside the hard shell taco. Some days, te just quiero’d it, you know? and nothing else would do. I grew up on North American fast food, and would have eaten fried hamster tongues so long as they swam in thousand island dressing. My first, relatively greaseless taco south of the border was a revelation. “Can I get some mayo?” Educating this palate was every teacher’s nightmare.

But, eventually, when I became a woman, I put away childish things like Der Weinerschnitzel and Pup and Taco. Still, sometimes, yo quiero the taste of my youth and head for The Bell on south Lake Street. A burrito stuffed with ground brown stuff, and green and yellow vegetable and cheese substitutes. “Transfat, my good man!” I shout to the pimply party at the window, “And don’t be stingy, baby.”

So here’s to you, Glen. I understand you were a pretty nice guy and gave lots of money to charity. Glad I was able to do my part and have the thighs to prove it.

No matter how rich you may be, there are only so many sips in the straw. And you were right. Metaphorically speaking, we all want fries with that.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Don't Look Back

I took a seat at Beantown Coffee Shop and clicked for two hours without stopping. Revise that: Stopped for coffee. Revise that: Stopped for more coffee and a bathroom break. Revise that? Later. Click.

Clicked as I ignored distractions. Clicked as I ignored conversations -even the midwife interview taking place at the next table. Revise that: Tried really hard. Revise that: They do what with umbilical cords? Revise that: Seriously?

Clicked as l looked at the screen. Clicked as I looked at the ceiling. Clicked as I looked out the window. Clicked as I looked at the folding card on the table: “If you’ve come here to work, buy something.” Clicked as I bought something. Mostly clicked, “revise that.”

I clicked 2,000 words in two hours.

Will try this experiment again weekly. Revise that: Monthly. Revise that: Maybe. Revise that? Click.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cry Me a River

Cross Creek, the movie, is one of my favorite fairy tales. Based on autobiographical sketches by writer Marjorie Rawlings (The Yearling fame), it bears some similarities to Out Of Africa except Marjorie lives in the Florida bayou, and her crops don’t burn, and she doesn’t get syphilis.

Plus she’s not saddled with Robert Redford; Marjorie’s boyfriend is Peter Coyote, one of the most understanding gentlemen to ever walk any continent. Marjorie is downright crabby when she first lands in Florida, and crabby for a good while after that, but this gent loves her instantly and steadfastly. And he can fix cars.

But ok, good things happen to good people and bad people and crabby people. I assign this film fantasy status based on something else: Successful home improvement and typing speed.

When our heroine first sets eyes on her new abode, it’s a termite-ridden shack with a leaky tin roof. Within 30 movie minutes, the place is ready for Architectural Digest. And she did it all herself. “Well, Mr. Baskim, if my house needs painting, I’ll paint it.” “I don’t need your help Mr. Baskim, if the roof leaks, guess I’ll fix that too.” We never actually see Marjorie on a ladder with roofing nails in her mouth, but it rains a lot in the movie and no one seems damp inside. And, as the fireplace is in constant use, I suspect she’s pretty handy with masonry as well.

But painful, so much more painful for me … Marjorie writes 12 hours a day, and by that, I don’t mean holding her head in her hands or agonizing over a paragraph. No, she starts out the morning click, click clicking without pause, and after we dissolve to the evening, damned if she’s not still click clicking away. And if someone interrupts, she stops long enough for some repartee, and then without a moment’s hesitation, its back to the click clicking.

This I find a bitter pill to swallow.

I’ve never click click clicked in my life. I write three words and go out and trim the roses. Come back and erase the three words, write three new words and go for a drive. Erase those three words, and so on. I’m a person of few words only because they’re always disappearing.

Oh, enough complaining. How does the phrase go -- I wept when I had no shoes until I saw beggars weren't riding. Well, something like that. As I review the list of Marjorie’s accomplishments and blessings – award-winning novels, productive orchards, charming house, understanding boyfriend, lack of venereal disease -- I find we have one thing in common.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

See Your Chuck and Raise You a Johnny

US currency isn’t doing well these days, and I attribute that to an image problem. Our bills are stuffy, formidable, the same grayish-green, same creepy Dali pyramid with the eye on top, twelve references to the denomination. 1!1!1!1! 1!1!1!1!ONE!ONE!ONE!ONE!

I take that last as an insult. The pound note only gives you four chances to get it right.

But then, British currency has problems as well. It’s hard to respect cold hard cash when it comes in shades of tequila sunrise, pink, and blueberry. Maybe that’s why the Brits never made a decent gangster film. “Hey Cedric, let’s go score some lilac.”

But pound notes have a few things in their favor. The Queen, for instance; she’s alive, and far more attractive than any of our dead presidents. Plus, each bill has a little trivia lesson on the back. My favorite is Charles Dickens on the 10 pound note. Oh sure, he looks like he went buggy riding with the top down and just lost his favorite tooth, but still – how classy that a country should so honor its authors.

Perhaps the US dollar would regain some respect if we leveraged the popularity of more current personalities. Justin Timberlake, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp.
I’ve been playing around with some design concepts. A few discreet changes might reinvigorate trading. Especially if we include bubble gum.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Judging Covers

I'm a regular at several libraries – Altadena Public, Pasadena Central, City of Monrovia, Allen Street Laundromat.

Yes, I’ve been doing laundry at a coin-op ever since my own washer met the business-end of a bad spin job. Laundromats are ok; cheap and easy, and I can run errands during the suds cycle. But clothes won’t walk to the dryer by themselves, not when they’re clean, anyway. So with 20 minutes to kill, I usually rifle through the titles in the free book bin, most of which have been donated by a local sorority.

Hats off to that group and the job they're doing, by the way. Thanks to their example, I’ve donated quite a few books to this bin over the months, books in fabulous condition, books that are still wrapped in cellophane, some with Happy Birthday Karin! written on the tag. "Gulag Archipelago," for example, and "Self and Colonial Desire."

Many of the books from the sorority are in similarly excellent shape. Why the pristine copy of “Love in the Time of Cholera” seems to tempt no one can be explained -- disease of any sort is a hard sell, particularly one that's so difficult to shake. I am, however, stumped by the unpopularity of Andre Breton's "Surrealist Manifesto," and “The Illustrated Life of Marcel Duchamp.” One day, two copies of "Being and Nothingness" appeared in the bin at the same time -- I made half that donation. Go figure, they're both still in there.

Books don't only have to serve the soul, you know. Some of the offerings assume an unexpected importance around the coin-op. “One Day in the Life of Ivan Ivanisovich” proves sufficiently heavy to permanently prop open the pay toilet door, and I saw a woman use "Life of Pi" to mop up her fabric softener.

Well, I'm going to move away from the library for now. The salon next door just donated an armful of old Soap Opera Digests and things could get ugly.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I Heart Journalism

If Warren Beatty were on a train with 300 starlets and the train traveled 600 miles from Vienna to Minsk at 40 miles an hour, how many women could he nail. Show your work.

Or let’s say he stays on that train for a lifetime. The numbers alone rivet. I’m not a math whiz, that’s Brenda. But consider this, if the gent gets an early lead and doesn’t have hobbies such as model airplanes and origami, the equation is something like ((75-14) x 365)) x 12. That’s forgetting the threesomes and orgies so let’s just cube the whole thing.

Because, face it, who isn’t insatiably curious about the sex life of a 75 year old man. But only one cutting-edge paper had the guts to tackle the topic. I for one am glad the Los Angeles Times took the lead and slapped the story on page one of the website. Lesser news outlets might shy from stories of historic significance, but not my hometown paper with its proud tradition of journalistic excellence stretching back to the 1890s. And if any other major paper pretends to scoff at this coverage, it’s pure jealousy. They had the same 50 years to get to the story.

Now that my paper has taken this giant step, who knows what they’ll dare to cover next. For example, I’ve heard some wild tales about Lassie. Oh come on, you’ve heard the rumors and don’t tell me you’re not dying to know.

Hmm, ((16-1)x365))x8 ... well, you do the old dog math.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


This happened without premeditation.

I played a couple of sets of tennis from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Came home, poured a glass of wine. Put my feet up, shuffled through some bills, played my messages. Phoned a friend. That must have been at 2:15. Talk to Shirley, she’ll verify the call.

After throwing aside my Allstate invoice and into page three of my VISA novel, I flicked on the remote and heard the five most painful words in the English language:

“I love you, Old Yeller.”

I’m tough. You know I’m hard as nails. I’m harder than the nails they nail nails with. But now, I’m … I’m … goo. I’m blubber. (Not the fat kind, the salty kind. Ok, sometimes the fat salty kind, but not this week. I’ve been on the Mark Bittman diet.)

“You crazy, wonderful dog.”

Look away, I told myself. No good can come of this. But I was powerless, and watched the rest of Old Yeller to the bitter, bitter end. I was ten years old again, sobbing when I read the book, when I read the line, “I put the gun to his muzzle and pulled the trigger.”

I cried tears, silly Disney tears. Albert, my lab, stopped chewing the extension cord and rushed to my side. Phoebe, my boxer, dropped the yogurt container back in the trash and did likewise. Like Old Yeller, they sensed and reacted to their human’s distress. Plus their human was eating apples per the Mark Bittman diet, and a well placed lick might put an apple core in a certain dog’s future.

My current dogs are good, maybe even great. But my personal Old Yeller was someone else. A red dog I got when I left home at 16 and he died when I was 32. We travelled from Illinois to Ohio to Seattle to Portland to California, and I still dream about him. Bru had such a big, wild heart, he feared nothing. He was the Huckleberry Finn of dogs, and wandered everywhere. Never met a man, woman, or child he didn’t like or a dog he couldn’t fight.

Maybe, given enough years and emotional distance, I’ll write about our adventures someday.

Ah, who am I kidding. There will never be enough miles.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year from Echo Mountain

I beat absolutely everyone on the way up except him. We took turns taking the lead, but he won on the very last incline. He was pretty proud about that until I told him I was hiking with a broken toe. Looks sceptical, doesn't he?

Echo Mountain was the site of a huge luxury hotel at the turn of the last century and could only be reached by donkey, foot, or an engineering-marvel of a trolley. Feet still work.

The hotel lasted a scant few years until fire took it down. But the hill remains a good place to go when you want to dream big.

On the way down I met a neighbor and we finished up the hike together. Also ran into someone else you might know.