Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Assessing the Damage

Rain, neglect, then more rain, followed by a neglect so premeditated, so cold-hearted and vicious, I can’t look myself in the eye. Or maybe I can look myself in the eye, because anything is better than looking at this.

On the other hand, if you stand far enough away, on a mountaintop for example – no need to panic. How does it go, distance plus something equals something. No, maybe that’s time – time plus something equals something.

How about: “From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.”

Where's my annotated copy of Hollywood Noir? A couch plus Philip Marlowe equals no weeding.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor

We’re not born with a sense of beauty. It happens, around the time we realize we’re not everything we see; around the time we stub a toe on the itness and thatness of the world.

If memory serves, and sometimes it doesn’t, my early childhood was spent in the constant company of beauty, but it was company I took for granted. It was the only childhood I knew.

The realization that beauty is something other than myself crept up slowly and probably started with music. When Grieg’s Morning Song joined Peter Cottontail on my hit parade. Or maybe the first time I appreciated something that wasn’t edible or rideable or in any way useful or fun.

Take my friend, Niffer. She was five, and couldn’t read, throw a baseball, or count to ten. But she could do something I couldn’t do – she could be pretty. No matter how I tried, I could never make my lips tilt that way, the perfect bow and soft twist at each corner.

Niffer enchanted, effortlessly. Well, that’s one of the secrets of the enchanters – practice can make you better at some things, but it will never make you effortless.

I can’t believe Elizabeth Taylor is dead. Mainly because, didn’t it seem like she was always dying? Making headlines for being, constantly and surprisingly, undead?

I haven’t seen many Elizabeth Taylor movies. I find her early childhood movies rather unsettling– she carries the head of an exquisite thirty year old woman on the same body we all have at eight. Not that she looks “knowing,” just perfectly formed. In later movies, though her body changes, the face holds a constant note for the next two decades or so.

Must be fun to grow up and find you’re the most beautiful human being alive – or a credible competitor for that title, anyway. The big difference between our life experiences is, well, everything, but started on the day I discovered I wasn’t the rose.

She shared the rarified air with others who are most privileged from birth – the Einsteins, Mozarts. When your gift is beyond gifted, you don’t have to play a hand expertly or even competently. You just have whatever you want in the world, that’s all. That’s your normal; that’s your business as usual.

Taylor didn’t seem to mind when all her exquisiteness went away. When she was all caftans and bubble hair-do’s and bangles – looking not unlike a well-preserved grandmother from Miami Beach.

Maybe when you’ve been a rose for so long, you just know it’s there, branded, in your heart.

Yesterday, I read something Debbie Reynolds said. “Elizabeth loved her charity work, good-looking men and dirty jokes.”

And all of a sudden, I liked Elizabeth Taylor, and was sorry she died. We probably could have spent a nice evening splitting a cheesecake or a scotch. When it comes to earthly delights, maybe we shared some common ground.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

This old house

My big baby of a house is wetting itself again. I can't tell you the unconventional steps I've taken to dry its bottom -- Plastic sheets, rubber booties.

Pass the powder while I continue.

I think with the melting of the polar icecaps and other uber-obvious signs of climate change, Los Angeles will become -- oh, god help us -- Seattle. Yes, you heard it here first. In a few years time, we'll all be eating fish chowder for breakfast and driving Suburus. We'll Rosemal the bathroom, drink Aquavit, and have an inexplicable urge to tour a Boeing factory.

We'll tell rain jokes.

What did the Seattle native say to the Pillsbury Doughboy?
Nice tan.

What does daylight-saving time mean in Seattle?
An extra hour of rain.

A newcomer arrives in Seattle on a rainy day. He gets up the next day and it's raining. It rains the next day and the day after that. He sees a young kid on the street and asks, "Hey kid, does it ever stop raining around here?" The kid says, "How do I know? I'm only six."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

How we live

When I was growing up and living somewhere in or near the state of trouble, I quickly learned to implicate a friend. My parents wouldn’t kill me if I said this or that incident was the product of peer pressure. A simple lie could shrink a world of hurt into something more manageable.

And so, my parents chose to see me as an easily led, gullible little girl whose friends were all, no matter where we lived, a bad lot.

My report card from school may have said, “Karin is a leader,” but my parents were pretty sure they knew better.

And I could, by the way, blame a friend without getting the friend in trouble. My parents would never tell other parents they were raising a hellion. But I wasn’t really a hellion, just messing with the rules. Most of us in this country spend adolescence cherry picking the laws, mores, and courtesies we’ll choose to follow. At our peril.

Japan astonishes the world. In a time of chaos, they maintain a sense of communal order and incredibly good manners.

There’s no looting, they don't even push and shove. As one correspondent said, no one has to tell them to form a line, they just queue up, naturally.

Take the story of the vending machine.

This week a crowd of hungry, thirsty evacuees found refuge in a school auditorium. In the auditorium, there was a bank of non-functioning but fully stocked vending machines. Not one person rose up to smite the beast. Rather than break the civil law, or law of decorum, they chose hunger and thirst.

A journalist for the Economist who had lived in Japan for years said, essentially, that here in the West, identity is individualism. In Japan, there is no identity outside of society. And there is no society without rules.

Every lifestyle has its danger. Selfless behavior certainly is prettier to witness than selfish behavior, though both have their roots in survival. I can see arguments on both sides. Which is fittest, I don't know.

In times of crisis, sometimes it takes a hero. In Japan, I think a hero would heave a chair through the vending machine glass, liberating the chips and pepsi.

And sometimes, the hero is the village.

In California, when we have our Big One, the hero will be the group of disparate people who, eschewing personal safety, band together to save others. Vending machines won't present a moral dilemma for us. Everything will be on fire.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Speak Albert

I have an ethical and philosophical problem with certain commands, such as Come, Stay, and Sit. But I don't expect there's a better supermodel in the whole world.

They say, "Smile Albert," and I smile.

They say, "Give us the look, Albert," and I give them "the look."

"Lick your lips, Albert."

Yes, I'm a happy boy. But I have an inner life, too. Sometimes I think deep thoughts. Like, how can I get those tiny horses out of the TV. And, why can't I eat cat shit if nobody else wants it. And, why don't we spend the rest of our lives just playing tennis ball. And, why can't I take something out of the trash since you were just throwing it away anyhow.

And, how come, after all this time, you're still trying to get me to heel. Can't you understand, it's not going to happen. Not ever, not once. You could save yourself a lot of grief if you'd just learn this one simple lesson.

Friday, March 11, 2011

LA, out and about

This Bud's for you.

-- Within the same 24-hour span, East of West LA. We did not bump into each other's champagne of bottle beers.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Clocker's Corner

A couple of us met for an ad hoc breakfast at Santa Anita to watch the big boys and girls run.

"Shouldn't we be at home, writing?"

"Oh, I suppose."

"But then again, we need the inspiration."

"Monthly, at least."

"Did I tell you about the time I tried out as an exercise rider?"

"Monthly, at least."

"And the time I..."

"Have another sausage."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The dying swan

Even at a very young age I never let anyone else make up my own mind. So with very little encouragement from the outside world, early on, I decided I was pretty darned remarkable at – well, just about everything.

Take ballet.

You might think a skinny six year old with a giant Biafran belly would have qualms about the lines of her arabesque. Think again. I apparently had no body image issues whatsoever, and have the leotard pictures to prove it.

“Hold in your stomach, for Pete’s sake,” my mother would say. And that was the first piece in a long list of motherly advice I chose to ignore.

My future as a dancer faced greater obstacles than an impressive midsection. For openers, there never existed a glass of milk I couldn’t spill or a dish I couldn’t break. In other words, there was the little matter of grace.

But what my ballet lacked in finesse, it made up for in joie de vivre -- enthusiastic grand-plies throughout the house that left a trail of ceramic wreckage in their wake.

Even this challenge seemed surmountable. Didn’t seem like a challenge at all, really. Nothing is a challenge if you don’t know it’s there.

My ballet teacher was 150 years old, with scraped back black hair. Her face was white, her eyes were dark, and her mouth was red. She too had a thing about leotards, though modestly wore a diaphanous skirt over hers. Sometimes she’d strap on her pink satin toe shoes to demonstrate an Attitude en Pointe for a second or two, until gravity called her back to earth.

Her name wasn’t Madame Odlfdkfjski; it was Madame Thompson. Betty Thompson had a ballet studio in the basement of her house, adjacent to the laundry room.

And the reason she figures in this story is that my ballet survived every possible obstacle except her death. One week my mom drove us to Madame Thompson’s house, and no one opened the door. Her VW, though, was parked in front of the house and had a car cover on. We drove to class the following week, and the VW was still parked by the side of the road, but now the cover had a layer of snow and leaves.

Anyway, my guess is that no Natasha in Seattle could match Betty’s prices, so that was the end of my ballet career. Next stop was gymnastics, as someone’s older daughter offered classes in their basement. And this time I was good. Because in gymnastics your hands and legs can’t wave about in space, following their own unforeseen and capricious destiny. Your mind can't stand idly by; everything has to work together or you’re a dead duck.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A river runs through it, for now

You are not going to believe the derring-do I suffered for this photo. Unfortunately, effort doesn't always equal execution. Oh, well, you'll just have to trust me on this one.

We're in the Arroyo, south of Hahamongna, pretty close to where the river meets the road. Or a concrete gutter, at any rate. Where the river stops being a river, and becomes a conduit for lost tennis shoes, plastic bags, shopping carts.

Today, the saviors of Hahamongna Natural Watershed Park will be giving tours, from 9-12. I can't think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning.

Information is here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The waiting game

Columbia University Psychologist Walter Mischel conducted an experiment on a group of four-year olds. The children were offered a marshmallow, and told that they could have it now, or if they could wait, they could have two. Some children grabbed the marshmallow on the spot but many of them were able to hold off. Mischel followed up on the children as adults and discovered that those who didn’t eat their marshmallows that day were generally more self-motivated, successful in school and considered emotionally intelligent. Those who didn’t wait suffered from low self-esteem and were easily frustrated.
--Financial Highway

An important lesson that can only mean one thing: People who are self-motivated, successful in school, and destined for greatness have a natural aversion to marshmallows.

It’s like being born pretty or playing the trumpet by ear. Somethings you just can’t pretend; truth will out. This marshmallow hatred – many are called, but few are chosen.

Don’t take my word for it. Throw an elegant S'mores party in Washington, DC, for example, and what have you got? Obama, Clinton, and Zoellick by themselves in a corner, picking out the white bits.

Oh, this goes way back, to the beginning of time. Ask the historians. How often did they find Moses, Caesar, Genghis Kahn, or George Washington with a bag of Kraft’s finest?

I don’t agree that, instead of war, we should lock the world leaders in a room and let them duke it out. I say, lock all the world leaders in a room with nothing but hot chocolate and a plate of the puffy floaters. Let the weak sisters reveal themselves.

Not to brag, but I hate marshmallows, always have. And I'm so glad the measure of ultimate success has nothing to do with roast beef sandwiches and Fritos -- a sack lunch that never makes it past an 8 a.m. traffic jam on the 110 freeway.

(Your parting gift. I heard about these guys on PRI The World. Their music makes me feel all marshmallowy inside.)