Thursday, April 29, 2010

The gesture

Justice is a tough master. Or mistress. Or wherever you make your bed, that’s where justice lies. Toughly. Sweating, with a blindfold, cuffs perhaps, and those cute silk scarves, and … where was I? Oh yes, lying with justice.

But you know, justice is kind of choosy about the company it keeps. Surely the whole world waited as justice concluded a 10-year investigation of an Olympic athlete and finally stripped her of the Bronze medal for, well, something or other that happened in something or other. Then there was the exhaustive study, all the way to the Supreme Court, as to whether two pieces of wood nailed perpendicular to each other 75years ago could continue to exist in that configuration, in their original location.

But isn’t that just like justice? It will chase you to the ends of the earth for an old library fine, but when it comes to the forces that busted up the entire United States economy, well, you can find justice over there by the speeding tickets. Justice hasn't much taste for the big score, it prefers the neat and dainty gesture.

It’s easy to forget that justice is an invention and not a discovery. Justice may prevail from time to time, but it's no fire, water, or wind. Still, invention allows for reinvention, so I've got a suggestion for Arizona. While rounding up all the dangerous characters, beware the guys in three-piece suits who greet each other with a cocked thumb over an extended forefinger. It's a Goldman Sachs gang sign and means Gotcha.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Novel impressions

The best first lines are like a long tall drink on a hot summer day -- they beg a chaser. “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

Let the canned goods alphabetize themselves, says I; here’s a book that needs reading.

I put the Bible at the other end of the spectrum. “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” That looks more like an end to me. Of course every author should know where he intends to go, but I suggest playing those cards closer to the vest. We know the deck is stacked, just don’t be too quick to tell us how.

Perhaps my religious education wouldn’t remain so sketchy if only the Bible started with, oh, maybe…

“Call me Noah.”
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” thought Eve.

Sure, the Bible is one of the all-time best-sellers, but that’s less impressive when you consider the number of salesmen.

Lewis Carroll says it best, “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop."

And as I pound away at a work or two of my own, I've come up with a couple of axioms:

Don’t start reeling before you bait the hook.
Once you bait the hook, cast it before it starts to smell.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Huntington Gardens, after the rain

Diligence is a good thing, but taking things easy is much more restful.
- Mark Twain

I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.
- Mark Twain

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Large Impressions

When we were ages three to six, my dad read us a bedtime story every night. But we didn’t waddle with the likes of Puddle Duck or Winnie the Pooh, we jumped head-first into American literature – Steinbeck, Jack London, and best of all, Mark Twain.

My dad had no time for baby stories. He wanted to understand the country he had chosen, so he learned as we learned. And every night, at the end of the chapter, we’d shout “More! More!” tucked in a warm bed while listening to Huck wax philosophical in a Scandinavian accent. Dad was discovering America, we were discovering words. And all Dad’s kids became writers, in one capacity or another.

Mark Twain died a hundred years ago today.

Good night, sweet ornery princes, the both of you.

Mark Twain, on writing:

God only exhibits his thunder and lightning at intervals, and so they always command attention … You thunder and lightning too much; the reader ceases to get under the bed, by and by.
- Letter to Orion Clemens, 3/23/1878

I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English--it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them--then the rest will be valuable.

I conceive that the right way to write a story for boys is to write so that it will not only interest boys but strongly interest any man who has ever been a boy.
- Letter to Fred J. Hall, 10 Aug 1892

One gets large impressions in boyhood, sometimes, which he has to fight against all his life.
- The Innocents Abroad

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dude, yeah, I got a Dell

My laptop computer is one only in the sense you might consider balancing a Kenmore refrigerator on both knees. When I unpack my equipment at the coffee shop, most people think I’m the lunch truck.

I bought it a year ago, on the cheap from Dell second-hand store – the graveyard for computer equipment. The Dell store is a warehouse for gifts from Nana, machines so ugly and clumsy that anyone with an ounce of cool doesn’t even remove the bubble wrap.

The design on the lid looks like something from the Bounty Paper Towel Country Kitchen collection, and the whole mess weighs in at somewhere between a fat beagle and a mastiff. I can only sit at a double-wide table – one that comfortably accommodates a microwave.

When I fire Nelly-Belle up, she kind of wheezes like a pack-a-day Pall Mall smoker after a rough night. Then she throws up a dim screen where WIFI may or may not be working, depending on Nellie’s rheumatiz. Because the fingertip controls are stiff, she navigates with a walker – a giant red mouse that could use a couple of tennis balls under the chassis. All I need now is to bring out the Discman.

The power cord is further humiliation, something so bulky I might be planning a little gardening work, leaf blowing and hedge trimming, in between chapters.

Well, like any other piece of equipment, a computer is only as good or bad as the person who uses it.

The guy with the iPad at the next table is giving me a look. Oops, forgot to put my Princess phone on vibrate.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

I Beg You

Dogs and cats are a lurking household danger, according to a new report showing that pets cause all kinds of injuries related to falls.

…Dogs are the biggest hazard. Causes of injuries include "tripped while crossing the street with my dog," "walking dog and fell up steps," and "fainted while training my dog."
–Live Science Magazine

I don’t doubt that last one a bit. Just the other day, I broke an empty bottle of scotch when I crashed face down on the floor. Yes, it was all Albert’s fault. I’d been trying to teach him to sit.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


This is the Lanterman House, built by the founding family of La Canada. The last to live here were the two bachelor Lanterman brothers, Frank and Lloyd. The last to die was Lloyd I think, in the 1980’s, and now the house is a small but charming museum.

Papa Lanterman built the house of poured concrete as a safety precaution. He feared wildires. Not all the masonry was reinforced, however, and could have proved lethal in earthquake country.

Damn it, if it’s not one thing, it’s another. And that “another” is always the thing you didn’t worry about at all. Guard against fire, you get clocked by a Steinway. At least, I’ve found that to be the case (she said, banging her head vigorously against the wall).

A ghost.

Riff Raff.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Some say why, I say why not?

"The most ballyhooed effort is under way in Texas, where conservatives have pushed the state school board to rewrite guidelines, downplaying Thomas Jefferson in one high school course, playing up such conservatives as Phyllis Schlafly and the Heritage Foundation and challenging the idea that the Founding Fathers wanted to separate church and state." – Steven Thomma, McClatchy Newspapers

I was born in 1985. I’m 5’9” and 110 pounds in my stocking feet. If you doubt that, you’ve just never seen me when the lights are off and I’m in stockings.

As an only child, mine was a pampered life, most of the year spent at our country estate with my horses and spaniels. Summers I lived with grandmama and grandpapa at the seashore. I trace my love of entertaining to those Halcyon days at Malibu. Dinner for 2, dinner for 200, it’s all the same madcap, marvelous party to me.

In high school I worked hard at the usual occupations – coursework, cheerleading, virginity. I didn’t just say no, I knew how to say lots of other things too, like “You’re cute, but not now,” and “Maybe when my parents leave town.” That’s why everyone called me Sunshine.

I earned my doctorate in nuclear physics from Stanford, and worked part time as a Victoria’s Secret model to pay my own way. It wasn’t my plan to actually make a career in the sciences, but if the writing thing didn’t pan out, at least I’d have something to fall back on.

Needless to say, when I received the Nobel Prize for a genome theory I thought up while doing a little light housework, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Or a ton of bricks. As you know, all it takes is a vacuum and both fall at the same speed. That, in case you didn’t notice, was my mischievious sparkle deflecting attention from my enormous intellect.

I bought Microsoft in the 1980s. In the 90’s I sold Microsoft and bought Apple. I shudder to think there’s someone out there who did the reverse. How can she sleep at night?

I predicted the Nasdaq bubble, then the real estate bubble. Friends who do not call me Sunshine call me Bubble Dancer.

Let’s not look at history as, according to Napoleon, a lie agreed upon. Let’s just say history is a ladies’ and gentlemen’s agreement, with plenty of individual opportunities for us all.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Did we learn anything?

Most puya are indigineous to the mountains of Peru and Chile. The puya inflorescence pictured here is about 9 feet tall, and the “grove” at the Huntington should be in full bloom within the month. Certain puya varieties, and this may be one, can take from 80 to 150 years before producing the first flower. When finally in full flower, the colors are incandescent. I don’t know if Mr. Dinosaur gave these to Mrs. Dinosaur, but their look and habit indicate the primitive.

Speaking of primitive, rare, and educational, the only footage left from the infamous Albert post. His hat trick:

Friday, April 9, 2010

Someone told me Albert's post might be misconstrued

So we took it down. He'll be back when he's finished sulking.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What we want

To save money, Hetty Green ate her oatmeal cold. Rather than squander soap, she only washed the hem of her garments. When her young son injured his leg, she dressed him in rags and carried him to the charity ward.

Dubbed the Witch of Wall Street, Hetty died in 1916, the richest woman in America. In relative terms, when individual wealth is compared to the overall GDP at a given time, Hetty ranks a little below Bill Gates and well above John D. Rockefeller.
Her son, leg amputated after lack of proper medical care, dedicated his life to squandering the family fortune. It wasn’t easy. Eventually even his toilets wore diamonds.

How much life do we spend just trying not to be our parents. To what ends of the earth would we not go.

I grew up in the subdivisions, the equivalent of today’s gated communities. No matter where in America we moved, the same three or four models followed us across the country: French Provincial, English Tudor, American Colonial -- each distinct from the other primarily in the roofal and garagal areas. The street names always sounded like air fresheners: Lavendar Hill, Heatherton Road, Cedar Glen. “Lemon Mint Lane -- Oh, isn’t that beautiful?” My mom would say.

Things could never be new enough, we could never change houses fast enough, for Mom, who spent her childhood in old homes with old things. Our houses functioned more as placeholder than home, what with the rolled out sod and shoulder-high trees. By the time all the painting was finished, it was time to move.

If you can’t go home again, then which of the dozen or so places can I not go home again to? I began to wonder what it felt like when roots ran deep.

When our family drove through a town, the real part of town, 3rd Street for example, on the way to our air-freshener avenues, we’d pass old craftsman or farmhouses built around the 20’s or 30’s, houses that looked like they just might have an Atticus Finch somewhere close by, houses with giant sycamores in the front yard, and tire swings, and people on porches.

I knew families that moved around the country made more money. That I would go to college was a given. With every new city, our future became that much more secure. And families that didn’t move, well, they were the people on porches. Still, I envied them – oh many things. The tree tall and strong enough to support a swing. The porch with its sofas and chairs, a place to sip ice tea on hot summer evenings with the same neighbors, year after year.

It never occurred to me that the kids on porches might have some dreams of their own. Dreams different from mine. Dreams of new houses with the smell of fresh paint and new sod. A place free of baggage, where everything, even treetops, seemed within reach.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The geography of James M. Cain

About a mile west of Suicide Bridge, Eagle Rock rubs its eastern shoulder against Pasadena.

Here, the 20's and 30's are preserved


or hanging by a thread.

Sometimes the postman rings twice

Then leans against the bell

And finally walks away