Sunday, November 28, 2010

Christmas Lights

Compared to much of Altadena, my neighborhood is pretty conservative. Come October, we don’t have severed limbs on the lawn or bodies hanging from the pines. At Christmastime, you won’t find an inflatable Santa dolly on the roof. For winter decorations, the palette red and gold, ambiguous, from a religious perspective.

A while back, say three years pre-gentrification, in the early 2000s, a guy a couple of houses down from mine would put up a plastic Nativity scene. Whenever the wind blew, which it does at this time of year, the holy heads would pop off and go rolling down the street. “Hey Ronny,” I’d say, after a walk with the dog, “Moses is in the gutter at Punahou Road.” And he’d nod, thank me, and go fetch the head. My friend Matt, who loves it when I’m wrong, said, “Sweetheart, Moses? That was Joseph or a Wise Man.” Big deal, so Matt went to Catholic school.

Growing up, our family did not engage in garish holiday displays. No one in the neighborhoods did, though everyone put up some festive lights. My parents agonized over this – We had a front yard so manicured, so manipulated, it was practically Japanese. Mom and Dad would no sooner string up blinking lights than paint a Madonna on the garage door . How could we join in this singularly American custom without sacrificing artistic integrity?

Finally, Mom and Dad decided on dark blue and green lights to line the roof. At the first lighting, my sister, brother, and I stood in the glow, assessing the result. My brother said, “You guys look like someone beat you up.”

Sometimes nothing is better than something.

“I like it,” my friend from middle school said when she came to spend the night. “It’s creepy.”

(Questionable lighting choices aside, no one could build a snowman like my dad. That's me and my old man.)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Rescue Me

Any Thanksgiving when I don't poison the guests is a sucessful Thanksgiving to me. And while the tests haven't come back yet, so far we're sitty pretty.

I hope you'll visit my Patch column today. The piece is a compendium of thoughts, photos, and remembrances from blogger friends about their friends -- rescued dogs and cats. Quite simply, it's beautiful. I can say that, because I barely intruded at all.

(The guys in this picture didn't make the cut. Maybe because their heads were too deep in the kitchen trash, rooting out giblets. I don't know how many times I've told them: Beauty is as beauty does.)

Petrea is honoring her dog Boz today. You can find it at Patch or here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I don’t think that dour little band of pilgrims back in 1621 represents the cradle of American civilization. They were a sanctimonious cult that totally irritated first the English (easily done) then the Dutch (you have to work at that one). Maybe they stayed on in America simply because they didn’t understand the Abnaki words for “Go home.”

One thing about the Pilgrims, though, I approve of their menu and their holiday.

Today, in second grade pageants across the country, little girls in floppy cloth caps will be telling little boys in construction paper hats, “Speak for yourself, John Alden.” Then an out of tune piano will strike up Over the River and Through the Woods. (Yes, I checked with my friend who has two small kids. This is still all the rage.) And what the kids lack in perfect pitch, they’ll make up for in volume.

Tomorrow, it’s time to put olives on the tip of each finger and wait for the other families to arrive. When I was a child, the women blew in through the front door on a cloud of fur and perfume and laughing voices. The men wore suits -- but they’d get more interesting as the night wore on.

And when we sat down for dinner, there were two tables: one for adults, one for children. My dad would bring out the turkey on a trolley, and make quite a show of carving – all flashing knives and perfectly shaped pieces of dark and light meat. Oddly, he never used the electric knife my sister and I gave him one Christmas. I guess the batteries were dead or something.

The children’s table would get watered-down wine, and in addition to everything else, the drumsticks, the wings, and the wishbone.

I always won the wishbone pull. Am I the only one who ever cheated at that? Probably.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Let's get ready to rumble

We're country up here. Dusty overalls, dirty fingernails, toe jam.

But this weekend, Altadena got a thunderstorm and scrubbed its face.

Rinsed out the bits, washed behind the ears.

We clean up real nice if four sides, mashed potatoes, and a bird is involved.

Don't worry, Brat. I mean a really big bird.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On the market

You've written your resume. You poured a lot of effort into the page that will represent you, and you can't wait to distribute it far and wide.

Not so fast. Before you send that puppy out, check it for buzzwords, like "team player," or "detail-oriented." Or "accustomed to fast-paced environments. … Others include: Go-to person, exceptional organizational skills, People-person … Karen Burns, US News

To Whom It May Concern:

I have spent 20+ years in the workforce, and don’t worry, I’m not a team player. I don’t like people; I don’t even like my mother. And I’m not a player. I have no time to play; life is pretty intense right now. Gilligan might get off the island. And then there’s Mad Men. I swear, if it’s not one thing, it’s another.

If I hate playing, I hate details more. “Give or take a thousand whatevers,” that’s my motto, as is: “I’ll take close if you keep the cigar.”

I’m not accustomed to a fast-paced environment. Nothing makes me roll off the couch faster than a fast-paced environment. (Before we go any further, perhaps I should ask about some of your on-site facilities. For example, what is your position on leather vs naugahide?)

I never

Let me tell you what I do: I show up. Usually. Let’s say, not to get too legal about this: sooner or later. Sooner, if you’re throwing a potluck.

A few other areas where I can set your mind at rest:

I’m not a Go-to person. I’m a Got-a-dental-appointment kind of person
Nor am I a people-person. I’m a llama-person.

As to Self-starter. I tried to start myself once, and it made a lot of racket. Perhaps lubrication was an issue. I was asked to shut down the whole experiment immediately. And I did (See performance appraisal, 1998)

I’m not perfect. I do have:
• Excellent communication skills. Don’t make me blush. I invented “Who me,” “Are you kidding,” and “He did it.”

• Exceptional organizational skills. This is true. The way I organize things is nothing short of exceptional. It’s called a box, and everything goes inside. No, I don’t think inside the box, I can’t get inside the box; there’s too much paper.

Hoping you are in good health and spirits, I am available – well, hours vary, but keep trying –


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery

Been in business since 1881. No complaints so far.

Yes, this last one baffled us; and while I haven't figured out how/why he was murdered (nothing on google), I think I've got a handle on the last line: "Whose idea was this anyway," was probably something Matthew said whenever things went wrong. He would have been 42 this year.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Yours truly

Blogger friend Karen Klein (smart woman, even if she can’t spell her first name), is also a business writer for, among other publications, Business Week and the LA Times. And she’s funny, too. I mean, sometimes you have to plow through blah-blah-blah-stock, and blah-blah-blah-smart investments to get to the good stuff, but I know how to speed read.

Her latest post is about branding your business through your email, particularly in the sign-off. Karen currently uses: “Best,” but might branch out; take that next step. I suggested:

•Truly, madly, deeply,


•Yours, in the name of Satan,

I haven’t heard back, but for all her “Best,” she’s a lot busier than I am.

I find it kind of goofy when an email or even a letter starts with “Dear Karin,” because, Dear is rather personal. How did that Dear business even get started, particularly when writing to strangers? Might just as well say Darling or Sweet Cheeks or Pumpkin Head.

Actually, I’ve been married a few times and never ever called anyone anything other than his given name. (If I remembered it. And if I didn’t remember, I could cover up with “Mister” or “Hey you in the plaid shirt.”)

I have a theory that the more conservative in our endearments with the human animal, the more outlandish we are with animals of all other sorts. My business letter to a canine might have a salutation like, “Poo-poo-booby,” or “Sweet Good Bottom.”

Well, why not. It can’t come back to haunt me; Unlike one other animal I could mention, dogs know the art of discretion. They rarely kiss and tell.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hit Me

We spend a third of our day sleeping, and the majority of us spend the second third figuring out how to survive. Then we take another third to make all that sleeping and surviving worth the effort. Maybe we’d have a clearer picture if we didn’t live all the thirds in the same 24 hours. But we do.

Most of us, anyway. I’ve had a few, just a few, friends who were crazy rich. Born with millions of dollars in the hip pocket of their diaper. In the early years we weren’t so different. They’d step and fall, I’d step and fall. The major difference would be in our landing. But I developed cool little calluses on my butt, which would serve it well as I would fall many times thereon.

As would R, a friend who is dying right now. Save for a miracle, he has a few months.

I remember, before he was sick (long, long before), R, G and I discussed how, if one of us had some horrible, debilitating disease, he or she would jump off a cliff. Live fast, die young, etc. I think champagne (at the least!) had a role in our discussion, and as I recall, champagne was something the jumper would carry to the cliff. We made a pact: No heroic measures.

R is taking heroic measures now. He’s absorbing every humiliation a disease can throw at a human being, and he’s willing to try any whiffle ball the medical profession suggests he toss back. As to the lengths R will go to wring every second he can out of life, consider the respirator and the feeding tube somewhere at the starting line.

I think you can compare life to a card game, else why would it still be so popular. You get dealt a hand; you rely on smarts, strategy, looks, and on knowing your opponent. You try to seduce the dealer. And if things go south, and you’ve got guts, you stay at the table while they shuffle the deck. Because you never know. You just never do.

R was born with a pretty rough hand, but he turned things around. G, who took the gun to his mouth, had some aces that he squandered on the way. G walked away from the table; R refuses to leave.

The best R can hope for now is an unlikely, almost impossible draw to an inside straight. I think it’s very courageous he stays in the game. His very conscious will to live gives each of my 24 hours, even the sleeping and working part, a new significance.

Because R is right -- you never know. You just never do.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Oh, don't mind me, don't get up

It's just the maid.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lose some, lose some

When I found out my little Patch piece about a local art show was going up on Election day, I knew I'd be about as popular as a live reindeer at a Sara Palin luncheon. Don’t you love it when you’re right? Make that right and left.

Anyway, if during this week you’ve lifted enough glasses to celebrate your victory or drown your sorrows, here’s the link. It’s another example of the Altadanish opening their backyards, because that’s pretty much our only venue these days, to host a really nice event that features SoCal artists.

And if you do come by, you might find an ashtray in your mailbox. And you won’t know what that means unless you visit.

Until then, where’s my glass?