Saturday, August 28, 2010

The power of speech

When in the company of some, I can put together string after string of coherent words without breaking a sweat.

When in the company of others, I’m a Bulgarian refugee in New York, lost in the subway and stabbing my finger at a map. “I here, yes?” Verbs hightail it down the road and my hands alternately swat flies or shape elaborate castles in the sky.

To be fair to myself, in most situations I fall somewhere between Winston Churchill and a mime in a paisley suit.

My best guess is, one’s degree of verbal dexterity is partly education, but mostly the proper application of gas to the brain, and the flooding thereof. And the latter welcomes us to the wonderful world of interjections, the conversational equivalent of the Maybelline zit concealer. The well-uh’s, but-um’s, okay-then’s, and you-know’s. Or my own personal favorites, the friends that have carried me seamlessly through many an awkward lapse: So-so-so-so and Doncha-see.

What’s weird (and this is not an interjection, I mean it is strange, odd), one of the most memorable things about a person is how they fill the conversational spaces between constructed thoughts. Long after someone is gone, you may not remember a hundred quotable things he or she said; instead, what sticks in the craw is the annoying way he would clear his throat and say “That begs the question…” Or years later, you may agonize over the fact you slept with someone who would buy some time with, "Be that as it may..."

I wonder if Shakespeare, in between his qualities of mercy and roses by any other names, would scratch his chin and say, "The thing about it is..." At least for a special someone, those may have been his last syllables of recorded time.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

107 degrees in the shade

I won't take pictures of my homestead just now. My quarantined tomatoes droop on the vine – I grew a lot just to share, and now that I can’t, I’ve sort of lost interest in the whole daily irrigation side of things. I'm only 1/8 Italian, afterall.

And the cucumbers, now also quarantined, I grew more to share than to eat. I’m pickling some, but that’s so labor intensive. You have to check the pH on a daily basis and blah blah, blah. On the seventh day of tending these pickles, I realized I hadn’t wanted, purchased, or eaten a pickle since 1990. What was I thinking? Fuck pickles.

But outside my garden, it's beautiful tonight. The heat finally broke; I swear I heard it crack.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Global Warming: Now It's Personal

The only time you should use links on your blog is when you’re uninspired, lazy, or it’s 105 degrees in the shade.

I'm uninspired, lazy, and it’s 105 degrees in the shade. And I find myself not so much irritated as exacting.

I counseled Albert this morning when I tripped over one of his toys.

I did not let it pass when the 7/11 guys charged 5 cents too much for my Diet Coke.

I called So Cal Ed to let them know my electricity was out.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Price

Every once in awhile, and by this I mean every great once in awhile, some company offers me a gift if I promote their product on my blog. Barbecue equipment, patio knick-knacks, salt. I told a blogging friend I've resisted because it seems so cheesy.

But the real truth is, no one has coughed up anything I want. I'd chop my integrity into bite-sized bits and feed it to the cat if anyone offered me a vacuum cleaner.

I break vacuums as regularly as I used to break retainers. Tonight I cracked the handle on my Bissel, and not just any Bissel. This one is, was, the Extended Suction Lift Off Revolution Press And Grab Works Like A Magnet On Pet Hair Easy Empty Bissel.

Every two years I spend hundreds on a new vacuum. I've tried them all -- stick, upright, canister, bag, bagless. And it's not like I abuse them; they get plenty of time off. If you're a vacuum in my house, almost every day's a holiday.

My mom had the same Hoover for twenty years and it never went out on disability. She got it for her anniversary, I believe. All I ever got for an anniversay was jewelry. Try sucking up dog dander with a tennis bracelet.

Not that I'd scorn any gift. Unless it happens to be barbecue tongs, a plastic sundial, or salt.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Don't you feed that cat

or she'll never leave.

Newt has decided to spend the rest of the summer at Camp Karin.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Classics

I bought a can of Vienna cocktail wieners today.

When my sister was 7 and I was 5, my mother slammed a ban on all snack food. Our house would harbor no chips, Doritos, M&M’s. No Oreos, Little Debbie’s, no Sarah Lee. “Have a lovely carrot,” my mom would say, or “Mmm, this apple looks delicious.”

In our school lunch sacks, we slogged thick slabs of Slavic-sounding goodness topped with roast beef, horseradish, and country cheddar. No one would trade with us, of course.

My mom’s moratorium lasted until my brother made it to solid foods and he refused anything but Ho-Ho’s and Ding-Dongs. “He’s so thin; I can’t let him starve.”

But my sister and I, we grew up prisoners of the pumpernickel.

Except once every other month.

My parent’s bi-monthly cocktail party featured canap├ęs, candies, little puff pastries filled with creamy seafood. My sister and I were trotted out early on to pass the Planter’s. “Oh, honey, why don't you have just one,” someone would say. “Oh no,” we’d reply, loud enough for our mom to hear. “We’re not allowed. These are for you.”

“Aren’t you just the sweetest thing,” they’d sigh.

Soon my sister and I would retire to our bedroom and fall asleep listening to the waves of cocktail chatter. Bah-bah-bah-AHHHH HA HA HA HA-bah-bah-bah.

Early Sunday morning, we'd hit the ground running, straight to the living room. First on the menu was anything in a gray cocktail glass. The metallic glasses held the sweet drinks. In retrospect, I suppose the drink was a combination of gin and cherry liqueur, made particularly for ladies who didn’t like the taste of alcohol. We’d drain whatever was left in any glass, and find the tray with the reserves and drain those, too. Then, grabbing two fist fulls of cocktail nuts, we’d search for the holy grail: Vienna cocktail wieners.

How to describe a Vienna cocktail wiener? It’s almost baby food, shaped like a tiny sausage, about the size of a child's big toe, smooth as silk and full of salt and grease that melts in your mouth. You don’t even have to chew it, you just projectile it down your throat.

We'd wind up the morning with a digestif. The caramel drinks with fruit in them were pleasantly sweet and sour; the trick was to take a sip, hold it in your mouth and chomp the maraschino cherry before you swallowed. We had to hurry because it was getting late. We weren’t sure which would get us in greater trouble – eating snacks, or drinking from glasses that had other people’s germs.

During one of our orgies, our infant brother started to cry. Danger, danger. We rushed to his room. My sister knew her way around a diaper and began the changing process. But this time, his whatzit pointed directly to the ceiling and spewed like a fountain. I left the clean-up to her, because for some reason I was giggling and hiccupping at the same time and couldn’t stop either.

I imagine, stuffed with the goodness of Vienna and Kentucky and Scotland, we went back to bed to sleep it off. I can’t say for sure though, because my recollections get a bit fuzzy at this point.

Proust never had that problem, but then, all he worried about was one soggy French cookie. Just think what he could have done with a tiny weenie.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mr. Tomato Head

Certain things continue to elude me – good hair, sound investments, the pecan roll at Stucky’s. Up until this year, a bountiful tomato harvest was on that list. So wouldn’t you know, now with a hundred ripe red heirloom tomatoes and dozens of green ones waiting in the wings, I’m part of the Altadena fruit and vegetable quarantine.

Due to an oriental fruit fly or some such thing, the letter of this law says we can’t even take so much as a tomato sandwich outside our individual property lines. Some people are selling dime bags of the cherries on the down low, but I really don’t want to get involved in the vegetable underworld; I know I'd get caught.

Instead, I’ve peeled ‘em, cored, seeded, fried, roasted, baked, pureed, fricasseed, and spatchcocked ‘em. Now, what to do with the rest?

For your consideration:




--------------------------Historical re-enactments (Anne Boleyn)

-----Costume dramas (A Man for All Seasons, daughter and father)

-------------------------------------Slasher videos

-------------------------------------Comfort food.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


While walking my dog Albert yesterday, oh, maybe a mile or two from my house, a little boy came running down the sidewalk, arms stretched wide.

“Doggy, doggy, doggy!”

The father raced after his kid and swept him up in a protective hug. A death grip, really.

“My dog is friendly; your son can pet him,” I said.

“Oh no,” he laughed nervously and squished the kid to his chest. “I’ve heard horror stories; what happens when a child pulls a dog’s ear or the tail.”

And Albert gave one of his many horrifying faces where his eyes cross and his tongue lolls, like he’s one whisky shy of a coma.

“OK, then. Have a nice evening.”

Oh, I’m so glad I didn’t have a father like that. Don’t give your kid the gift of fear. Over the deadly sins, fear should reign supreme. It can eat gluttony for dinner and still have room for vanity and lust.

My dad passed me many crosses, including a bad temper, impatience, and the ability to make a really vile pot of coffee. But whatever my fears, they did not come from him.

Today is the anniversary of his death. Or maybe it’s tomorrow – neither of us were any good with dates. I swear he never knew my birthday.

But he got lots of the important things right.

And he was a looker, wasn’t he? I always thought so.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Midweek Matinee: Lion In Winter

British films from the 60’s fall into two camps: Those about the unsavory working class, and those about the unsavory royals.

Time has treated the former, AKA Kitchen Sink Drama, less kindly, probably because the dialogue isn’t much to – well -- speak of. Mum in the do-rag pushing the mop, and Dad saying, “Wot’s all this? Oy’ll show ye the back of me ‘and, oy wiw.”

The unsavory royals are much more fun. Lavish costumes, baroque scores, delightful anachronisms. There’s Burton mixing it up with the likes of Scofield, O’Toole, Richardson. And Redgrave with Hiller and York. Many of these chaps and chappesses had played the roles on stage, so gave effortless performances, comfortable in many skins.

But best of this category is no contest: Lion in Winter. Never has a dysfunctional family been so much fun to visit. And never has dialogue been so witty and English more beautifully spoken. Couldn’t find the clip for this, but whenever I watch the film, for days I mouth: “Out of curiousity, as intell-ek-tew-al to intell-ek-tew-al …”

Just ask; I’ll do it for you sometime. Better yet, watch the clips.

Clip 1

Clip 2

Clip 3

Friday, August 6, 2010


There’s cat in my neighborhood, kitten-sized and hairless, one of a tribe called Canadian Sphynx. She wanders in the open fields, with a little bell on her neck. Jingle-jingle, I hear up the hill. Jingle-jingle, I hear down the street. When I hear the jingle-jingle near my front yard, I put out a bowl of cream and whatever meat is left in the fridge. She eats it all, as though she hasn’t eaten for days. Hobo cats don’t last long around here; we see coyotes trot down the road with 20-pound Toms in their mouth, and we have hawks and owls. But this little girl, with her thin skin and no apparent weapons, has survived for years. After eating and drinking her fill, she curls up on my front step. Always, when I check back later, she’s gone.

Shortly after R left, to be more accurate, shortly after R left me, I moved in with Cathy and we both dropped out of college. We lived on the second floor of a creaky old house; we sent our rent check to Chicago because our landlord was serving time as a slumlord. I probably don’t have to tell you how great it is to be that age and have no one bother you about your noise, your dogs, the constant stream of guests. Plus, this place had the best front porch. We’d set up our Panasonic speakers and blast Tom Waits and Springsteen.

(Years later, Cathy and I chatted by email. “The neighbors must have hated us!” she wrote. This was a revelation -- We had neighbors?)

We lived on peanut m&ms, dinner dates, and whatever anybody else brought around. Cathy was the resourceful one. She knew how to cook. I remember my sense of awe the first time she fried up some bacon.

We had much in common. Cathy was a good poet, though didn’t write that much; I was a very bad poet, and prolific. We had lots of boyfriends. Her ex-boyfriends remained friends; mine lit candles and pushed pins in little blond dolls.

Cathy got stuck working as an aide at a nursing home. Because I had no skills, I got a good-paying job working for Tom, a millionaire. It was a general/limited partnership, some sort of tax dodge for his wealthy clients, and Pam, the office manager, spent half her time dealing with the feds and lawsuits. I just xeroxed and typed address labels.

Tom would have me out to the club to play tennis with his family – a wife, and a son my age. The first time, I showed up in black tights and daisy dukes. After that, his wife bought me several tennis outfits. Tom and his wife were ancient, mid-forties, I think.

One time Tom’s wife came to the office, sat on the edge of my desk and said to the window, “People think when you reach middle age, the love dies. My husband and I are more in love than ever.” Then she turned and looked straight in my eyes. I wanted to tell her not to worry on my account, but then, I couldn’t. She was telling me she didn’t like me.

I took my dog Bru to work, because Tom was usually traveling the country raising capital and Pam never chastised me for anything, unless I didn’t show up and neglected to call. (“Don’t ever do that,” Pam said once. “I called hospitals. I thought you were dead.”)

But sometimes Tom would pop in unexpectedly, and I’d shove Bru under my desk.

“Karin, did you bring that dog in here?”

Thwack, Thwack, went Bru’s tail, against the side of my desk.

“Karin, this is a business office. You can’t bring a dog.”

“Sure, Tom. I won’t do it again.”

And the next time, “Karin, I thought I made myself clear…”

Thwack, thwack.

I was no use around the office, but Tom didn’t care; he just dumped more work on Pam. He wanted to take me to Las Vegas, New York, London. He even brought brochures. “Actually, I’m still involved with someone, Tom.”

Thwack, thwack.

At one point Cathy had a boyfriend, a guy on parole. (Drugs? Theft? I think it was theft. Whatever. Cathy didn’t believe in judging people. ) She wanted to take him to Chicago to see a concert for his birthday. Cathy was my best friend and I was right to go the extra mile. Lots of guys have fed me, but for years and years, not one other girlfriend ever cooked me dinner.

Tom was out of town, but I called him and said, “I have to borrow your car, but I can’t tell you why.” I hate to lie, but don’t mind getting by on a technicality. He arranged that I pick up the keys and the car at his son’s house.

It was – I don’t know – a two hour drive each way? That sounds right. We enjoyed the concert. There were four of us – the boyfriend brought his friend, some guy in prison who had weekend or weekday furloughs, I forget which. To be honest, I thought this dating convicts thing was totally crazy. But Cathy was way crazier than I was – a good poet and a lapsed Catholic. Anyway, for me, it wasn’t a date, I did nothing more than kiss him on the cheek at the end of the night. Or I guess, it was early morning, by then. He was very sweet, and no older than I was.

I took the car back to Tom’s son’s place, the gas tank dead empty. Then I walked home.

A few hours later, around 8 in the morning, Tom’s son called. “Karin, the car reeks. Get some Glade and bring it over here now. Otherwise Dad will blame me.”

See, Tom’s son was an entrepreneur in his own right, and ran a successful, albeit illegal, business on the side.

So we sprayed the interior with two cans of Forest Mint, permanently killing all odors, including the Cadillac’s new car smell.

In any case, I had planned to quit my job that week. I needed to take some time to think about the future. Cathy was moving back home. I moved in with my boyfriend, D. My parents weren’t speaking to me at the time, but D’s family practically adopted me. Other people’s parents were always doing that.

Six months later, I moved to the west coast. I still didn’t have much of a plan, but I had a ticket. And I bought another one for Bru.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Copping rays with the hunks.

Some girls got a little enthusiastic. The one on the left was particularly problematic. Thank god for Steve and sailing knots. (Two words: Anchor hitch.)

What happens in Balboa, stays ... you know the drill.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Either commit to keeping a memory or kill it; don’t pack it up with the caustics and plead involuntary manslaughter.

R was a good man, and no doubt, still is. This one was all my fault -- if fault even applies, as that implies intention, some working knowledge of what I was up to at the time.

Another example of the one-offity of life's lessons. Oh sure, you can learn some things like driving a car or whistling that will come in handy over and over again, but understanding what went wrong with an individual you loved, when it's highly unlikely you'll meet such an individual again, well -- so you know, now you just know, and that's all.

Maybe next time you take things slower or step with greater care. Maybe next time you don’t rush through to the end, tripping over furniture and spilling all the champagne because you’re too excited to wait. If you’re lucky, it never is too exciting to wait ever again, because that kind of crazy should happen just once; unless you really are crazy, and then it probably happens all the time.

Others will follow – the appropriate and inappropriate, likely and unlikely. The fantastic likes to just drop by, but rarely answers invitations. It comes when you’re not looking and leaves when you are.

But, to my knowledge, there’s nothing to be done about that.

(Song heard on NPR yesterday. Like it?)