Sunday, February 28, 2010

Life Above the Big City

Once a month in Altadena, we swap home-grown produce.

Kris called a taxi.

And brought a friend.

Always worth the effort.

On a separate note -- Tim, Debbie, Susan, and I would like to invite you to our Second Annual Altadena Blogger Picnic in the Park, March 20th. We'd love to see you.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Flop two, dough well done with cow to cover

When I want a good breakfast, you can keep your quiche, crepes, and omelets. All I want is some good old fashioned hash-slinging, the kind of plate John Garfield and Lana Turner would shove across the counter before they offed her husband.

Two eggs over easy. Rice if you’ve got it, hash browns if you haven’t. And save the country potatoes with sprigs of rosemary for someone who doesn’t know any better.

Give me two sausage. Not those reconstituted links that look like something a little mutt squeezes out on the sidewalk.

I mean two juicy bangers that spit grease when they hit the fry pan. A thick slice of sourdough, and a cup of honest joe. Cream served in a tin, jam in a jar.

This is for The Restless Chef, who despairs of finding anything fit to eat around Pasadena in the early morning. I think I’ve found the place – Mary’s, on the little funky winding street up the hills in Sierra Madre. If anyone knows the proprietors, tell them if they buy me and Dez a breakfast, I’ll write a good review. And if they don’t, I’ll write an honest one.

Looks like, if we don’t eat there too often, parking’s free.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Exotic is a relative term. Growing up, we were all so alike on my street -- pale, Northern European types, kinda smart, kinda athletic. Exotic required nothing more than, say, red hair, a Cuban mother, or double-jointed thumbs.

The neighborhood held few mysteries for us. Even our houses shared the same floor plan. Most dads worked for a corporation, most kids belonged to a team – swim team, tennis team, forensics team. Most moms didn’t work, they volunteered.

Parents planned for two children, one of each. When that didn't work, a third attempt often proved successful. And if not, the family settled on three of a kind and a dog.

The McGillicutts broke all the rules. To begin with, they didn’t look like any of us. They were tall, I mean, really really tall, like sequoias in the middle of a citrus grove. My dad, normally an imposing presence, looked small next to Mrs. McGillicutt, his head thrown back and hers forward when they talked, like student to teacher. And Mrs. McGillicutt did not wear the regulation fluffy Clairol bob, her hair formed a massive shiny black bun on the back of her neck.

Then there was religion. In the land of casual protestants, the McGillicutts were practicing catholics. That’s why they had so many children, my parents explained, and why they continued to have more children – a total of six boys and one girl -- even though two of the kids, Brad and Brian, had a genetic form of retardation. That’s what it was called at the time.

I could go on and on. Mr and Mrs were rocket scientists, but even better, the Mr. had six toes on his left foot. Something he showed us on our demand.

Aside from Brad and Brian, members of the McGillicutt tribe weren’t smart, they were crazy brilliant, including my friend Maureen. At a sleepover, Maureen would attempt to discuss particle acceleration while the rest of us took the Do Boys Think You’re Cute? quiz in Tiger Beat. Maureen was a 9 year old learning the beauty of calculus, the rest of us were 9 years olds learning the effect of scotch tape on frizzy bangs.

In spite of it all, because of it all, aside from it all, the McGillcutts were easily the most popular family around. They brought a huge sweetness to the neighborhood; a giant chocolate chip to our oatmeal. They enthusiastically liked all of us, we enthusiastically liked all of them and their swimming pool. Because of the sweetness and the pool, and because two of the boys were slow, we didn't hold the rest of the family's massive intelligence against them. It all averaged out.

As rude little hellions, we yelled “Retardo!” across the playground when someone of our similar talent screwed up. But we never yelled that to the two brothers, anymore than Maureen would have yelled that to us, or their parents to our parents.

These were the single digit years, when we just started to learn that, around any corner, we might find ourselves far ahead or far behind. Pain and grace waited everywhere, even in the middle.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Upper Arroyo, pre-flood

I have a simple philosophy. Fill what's empty. Empty what's full. And scratch where it itches -- Alice Longworth

Upper Arroyo, post-flood.

Anything that comes easy, comes wrong -- Josephine Tessier

All philosophies, if you ride them home, are nonsense; but some are greater nonsense than others -- Samuel Butler

Friday, February 19, 2010

Some dogs

Some dogs star in movies, have their own business cards, and bring home the baco-strips.

Some dogs smoke too much pot

and never graduate from junior college.

Some dogs beg to differ with Freud

There are such things as accidents. They happen all the time.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Love me

Let’s take a shower, I’ll wash your back, oil you up, grease your stick, buff your rear. Relax, just think about injecting while I pump.

You’re looking good, real good, but how old is that rubber?

It was my fault I took you for granted. I thought you were cheap and easy; I couldn’t see the dark side -- the tough, mean, dangerous side. You’re a very, very naughty boy, and you’re exciting in a brooding, gray plastic and fabric kind of way. Now when you get all quick and anxious on me, I won’t laugh. You mean business, I'll tighten the strap.

If you promise not to run away, I’m going to treat you right, rub your front, blow you inside and out.

Anything you want, go as crazy as you want babe, just be nice to me. Don’t get over excited, don’t run away. From now on, mama’s going to pay close attention to her big bad wheel.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine Hangover

I find the lack of reality in most romantic films quite distracting.

Take Casablanca. How come characters constantly order champagne yet never drink it? No sooner do they call for champagne than they’re pushing chairs back and stalking out of the room. So then the overriding question isn’t who loves whom, but what the hell do they pour at Rick’s? No one ever walks out on Dom Perignon. You’ll notice Rick himself orders only scotch, and he asks for the bottle.

Perhaps it’s a good thing they’re not drinking much. You see any cocktail snacks on those tables? I don’t think anyone eats. Ever.

Is it only me, or is The Third Man a great love story? How it captures love’s irrationality, love’s inconvenience, misplaced loyalties, missed trains. Of course, it’s just as fanciful as Casablanca. That final walk – Anna’s too beautiful, Holly’s too cool. And in real life, zither music is never a good idea.

The End: The Third Man

Friday, February 12, 2010

Crossing Over: Foothill Freeway, Southside

Did Henry Ford, Firestone, and fossil fuel conspire to drive public transportation out of Los Angeles? Maybe, but maybe they got a push from the enemy -- the electric trolleys, Henry Huntington’s Red Car system.

In the early part of the last century, Huntington’s hand held more than a deck’s worth of aces. He owned the Southern Pacific, or major shares in it, and he owned the Red Cars. He laid the tracks, straight to his door and the door of his friends. Huntington also owned a great deal of real estate; one can do the tycoon math.

So the automobile brought some measure of independence to the common man in Los Angeles, Pasadena, and thereabouts. Allowed him to express lese majeste, give Huntington and his ilk the universal roadsign. What’s a few blown tires and dusty roads compared to autonomy? How good did it feel when no one could tell you where to go or what time you had to leave to get there.

And eventually freeway architects would speed past the best the railroads and trolleys and electric cars had to offer.

But the romance of the open road left broken hearts along the way. Romance will do that.

There are two one-way streets that sidle up to the Foothill Freeway, the 210 freeway, the dividing line between the Denas, the freeway that connects us to all points north, east, south, west. During the daily 300-minute rush hour, most drivers use the side streets to hop hopefully on the freeway, then limp, sadder but wiser, off again.

You may be more observant than I, most people are. So I never noticed what lined the street south, parallel to the 210, until I left the car and walked it. Some things live, some thrive, some died, some are just fading away. In the context of what came before, it kind of makes sense.

Next installment, next month: Foothill Freeway: Tracking the Southside

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Only Thing to Fear is Fear Itself – But That’ll Do

I can identify with Sara Palin’s low-tech crib notes. For a high school French final, I copied conjugated verbs on my upper thigh all the way to the panty line. The guy next to me failed, but I passed.

Unfortunately, this technique doesn't help most of us when forced to speak in public. At such times, the problem isn’t remembering the point, it’s voicing it. Pushing the point up the throat, convincing it to take that leap of faith off the tongue.

Public figures, teachers, preachers, and other blow hards can do it, just because they’re always doing it. Face the same fear often enough, it goes from frightening to downright boring.

But for those who speak to a large audience only on rare occasions, the body tends to betray the spirit. An invisible hand grabs and strangles the throat, and another invisible hand shakes the brain up and down like a snow globe.

I thought about this recently, while comfortably in the audience during a public hearing, watching one or two speakers make rather a hash of things. I felt a patronizing sympathy. As one who has done her fair share of public speaking , I chose to identify with the times I amused and charmed -- when I had been saying essentially the same thing to a similar group of people day after day, week after week.

But buried deep among my many, many humiliations, were the times I made a speech when woefully out of practice. When the words I had to say were perfectly fine, but I couldn’t find the breath to say them. And then my body would whisper, “I’ll save you!” sending a series of adrenaline torpedos. And then we'd bomb.

You’d think the body and mind would prop each other up in time of need, because really, when it comes down to it, all they’ve got is each other. But usually they’re at cross purposes; each with an opposing agenda. That’s the major reason I’m not my own best friend. We have so little in common.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Down came the rain

Devil's Gate Dam, post-flash flood, mid-afternoon.

(Bonus Photo: Petrea at Pasadena Daily Photo was nice enough to forward the following "before" shot. The orange floats are there to keep the big bits -- three trunks and so forth -- away from the dam. You can also see the growing sinkhole in the middle.)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Pleasure of the Sierra Madre

You go to New York for the show, Paris for the food, Pasadena for the Rose Parade, and Sierra Madre for the blow dry.

I’m not sure if I trust a city that has 12 times more hair salons than gas stations, but maybe I’m a tad jealous. You might call Sierra Madre our sister city – we live right next door. Of the two of us, Sierra Madre’s the college prom queen, and just a little too full of herself. We, on the other hand, have to repeat our last semester at Debbie Dootson Truck Driving school.

I’m only talking a comparison of downtowns here. The center of one is a cobblestone town square with a watchtower, and the center of the other is the Arco station. The major restaurant for one offers California Cuisine and high-end wine tasting; for the other, it’s the Bucket of Cluck, and that was closed by the Health Department.

But at least we in Altadena are not pathologically concerned about our bangs. To keep all the hair salons and spas of Sierra Madre afloat, the population of 11,000 needs a cut and a color every two weeks, and the babies better be getting electrolysis. If your embryo needs a facial, this is the place.

No, we in Altadena are a simple people. We have one salon for 45,000 people. Sometimes it takes years to get a bleach job and permanent wave.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


When I’m not busy socially activisting, I like to peer in the backyards of the rich and unfamous.

Would it were everything that goes to seed looks as beautiful as an old forgotten tennis court. See the Gatsby whites, hear the martini shaker?

“Love?” she asked.

“Yes, it’s love,” he answered.