Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day, Mountain View Cemetary

To all who came before, remembered or forgotten.

Friday, May 27, 2011


Board games are dead now, aren’t they? Not that I mourn their passing. Board games gave us distorted values and unrealistic expectations; they led many of us to believe that life would be easy.

Board games fell into two categories: games of chance and games of strategy, but the skill set for either was surprisingly similar.

Almost all games of chance had a bank of some sort. Every bank needs a banker, and that would be me. And I learned that bankers not only make their own change, they can make their own rules and make their own math when they make their own change.

When playing games of skill -- cards, checkers, and chess -- I found a direct correlation between success and the number of times one could get one’s opponent to leave the room. “Can I have a coke, Linda?” rarely failed, and “Where does your mother keep the Oreos.”

In the event there were more than two players – Scrabble springs to mind – one had to employ multiple strategies, all of them hinging on the power to distract. Pets proved a willing accompliss. “Puffy, go get the Oreo. Wow, look at him go!”

They say all higher mammals play childhood games. Through play, we learn lessons in survival and psychology that we’ll carry throughout life. Such as, “If you have a good vocabulary but a tray full of vowels, go get a Q,” and “Make your own luck.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The fruits of exploration

I know a secret citrus garden

You have to wear your Wellies or the foxtails will getcha.

All the trees show their age, and probably date back to the original Altadena orchards. Drought, flood, snow, and neglect -- that's just business as usual for them.

Take your pick, no one lives here anymore.

I think of my dad. He loved to ferret out forgotten farms and fields. Once came home with a bag full of feed corn. My mom said, "Now what am I supposed to do with that?"

You can't explain it to the uninitiated and non-believers. Discovery is sweet.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Start spreading the news

Ok, I just sent in a fresh piece to the New Yorker, and if you don't see it published within the next couple of months, it can only mean one thing: The world really did end this weekend.

I can say this with confidence, because I compared my piece to the last three essays in Shouts and Murmurs -- objectively. To the first, I gave a 4 for execution and a 6 for artistic merit. The second earned a mere 3 and 1. The third one I gave a 6 and 8, but when it came to my piece, I couldn't hold up and wave two 10's fast enough.

I mean, I laughed really hard. And that was before I poured another screwdriver. Because after I drank that one, I sobbed uncontrollably. But humor is like that, you know -- touching.

It's been over a year since I sent the New Yorker anything. They must have wondered what had happened to me, though they haven't said as much. Maybe they're sulking.

In any case, I'm back. I can update all my profiles. Once again, I'm writing for the New Yorker. Or to the New Yorker. Oh, for or to, who cares. It's the New Yorker part that matters.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

He'll Be Back -- for his toothbrush

On the other hand, maybe he'll be forgiven. It wouldn't be the first time; it wouldn't be the hundredth.

Cheating in a marriage, on a family, isn't a felony, it's just a broken promise with one hell of a parking ticket. \

(And the upside is, those who lecture on the sanctity of marriage -- one particular idea of marriage -- may choose to lay low for awhile, especially if they have numerous sanctities under their belt.)

I was working for a company that exposed some of Schwarzenegger's indiscretions, etc, emphasis on the etc's, prior to his election. And we had to field some heat, lots of heat, from his supporters. Private life has no bearing... gossip mongers...mainstream media...blah, blah, blah. Then Maria came out to soothe the troubled waters and, well, everything -- it just went away. It stopped being a story, partly because it made people mad, partly because it didn't sell papers.

And partly, or mostly, it went away because people liked Arnold. He had a nice smile. The difference between a rascal and a liar is charm.

How much should someone's private life influence our opinion on public matters? How much of their business is and should be our business?

There's 10-year old boy who has been charged with murder. He shot his father. The father was a member of the National Socialist Movement, a neo-nazi group.

You can't separate private from public life. It's all just life.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Hike on 5/12/11

Bellis took me on an Angeles trail last week, Buckhorn Pass, I think. She knows all the names. It was a few days before the forest opened. Everything silent, save for our huffing and puffing in the thin, 7,000-foot air. At one point she leaned on her hiking stick and said, “Are you feeling this?” and I answered “Ah-huhh-huhh-huhh…” I like to be in front, but that made my heart thump thump thump in my ears.

We took a rest by a stream. I had packed hard-boiled eggs. We both agreed that an egg had never tasted so good. When we crossed the stream, she hopped from rock to rock. My shoes have no treads, so I just stepped in and waded through. Lucky for me, as the next mile or two headed straight up, in full sun.

“Tricky, these Armenians,” I said. And she asked what that meant. It was a line from It Happened One Night, and I would have explained, but it doesn’t pay to talk when you’re gasping for air.

“The main road is just around the bend,” she said. But it wasn’t that bend. “The next bend,” she said. It wasn’t that one either. Or the next. Or the one after that. Finally, I didn’t believe her anymore. But she didn't believe her, either.

Eventually we reached the main road. And everything stayed quiet, still, and empty. We walked for a mile down the center of Angeles Crest Highway. Thrilling, because no hiker will be able to do that again for the next hundred years.

Thanks Bellis.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Taking notes

Angelina Jolie has a new tat. Joining her others, including V MCMXL, which is the date of a famous Winston Churchill speech ("I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat"), her shoulder is stamped with map coordinates that correspond to the birthplaces of her six kids.
Yahoo news

Some stuff you just can’t seem to remember. Sure you can write it down, but hard drives crash, files burn, even notebooks get lost. I think that’s why more of us are turning to tats, not just as body art, but as permanent records of vital information. An imaPad, if you will.

My left arm isn’t just an underachieving appendage anymore, it’s a shopping list. And this has changed my life in small but significant ways. Now I never run low on bird seed, double A batteries, and Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. If something spills, there’s a Bounty paper towel to wipe it up.

My right arm has always been my body’s workhorse, so it’s stamped with daily reminders: Drink water, Vacuum under the rug, Floss. The longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates for where I might have left the carkeys.

My stomach has two stamps; one cautionary: The other white meat. And one inspirational: Celery, it’s what’s for dinner!!!

My entire right leg is given over to spiritual messages. A police officer pulled me over last week; he thought I was texting. But I wasn’t. I was just reading my thigh. So yesterday wasn’t the first day of the rest of my life after all. It's today. But if “Today is tomorrow’s yesterday,” that means today is never the first day of the rest of our life, either. It’s tomorrow. Until tomorrow is today, in which case it's practically yesterday...

Half way through my explanation, he let me off with a warning.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

High Tea at the Huntington Gardens

Squirrel giving two thumbs up to Puya...

A family from Canada, and then...

Unidentified riff-raff.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


If you're a sales professional in a high-end, retail store and want a customer for life...

When someone, me, for instance, walks into the gourmet, kitchen appliance section and asks whether you sell additional filters for vegetable juicers, the same juicers on prominent display near the cash register, open your eyes wide and blink, then drop your jaw and slowly shake your head from side to side in amazement. A "Huh?" is never out of place.

Granted, the skill takes time, but try some role-play. Pretend I just asked you to recite the periodic table. Backwards.

OK, maybe I'm a little on edge. Suffering a bit of withdrawal. You see, I'm going raw-vegan. Well, half raw-vegan and half cookie. It's dangerous to shock the system.

I've juiced more vegetables this weekend than I've eaten in the past decade. Than I've seen in the past decade. My raised beds are stripped bare. I'd juice the lawn if it weren't dead. I'd juice the carpet if it were green.

If my health continues to improve, someone might get hurt.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Long Day's Journey Through Childhood

Over breakfast with some friends the other day, one woman, a mother, brought up the social and peer pressures kids now face in kindergarten. She was particularly distressed by the little Lucrezia Borgia who rules, mercilessly, over her daughter’s 5-year old set.

Oh, no! said everyone, aghast, hearing tales of bribery, intimidation, and social injustice. Not in kindergarten!

Not in kindergarten? Where did these people go to school?

I remember kindergarten as a thrilling experience, and not because we wore daisy crowns or skipped through meadows. Kindergarten was a mine field, a hotbed of intrigue, alliances, deception, redemption, betrayals, all laced with spilled milk and sticky fingers.

For many of us, it was the first real taste of both freedom and confinement -- moving beyond the grasp of parents and into the vise like grip of peer pressure that would tighten with every passing year.
It was like getting thrown into the middle of a playing field without a ball. Without even a specific game. We had no rules, no object, no stated goal. In spite of this, we formed teams, and within our teams, we jockeyed for position. It was beginning to look like this whole life thing might be mainly a matter of position.

To this end, some of us developed, cultivated, specialties, primarily based on audience approval. For example, a public meltdown and temper tantrum over a piece of blue chalk could win genuine awe and respect, whereas a potty accident might ruin one’s entire social season.

My personal and most popular gambit was to correct the teacher, and this I did when she tried to teach us common German phrases. I already spoke German, so would helpfully point out any of her mistakes in grammar or pronunciation. “Miss Berry! Miss Berry,” hand waving wildly. “You’re wrong!”

This continued until she sent a note home with me one day. My father thought it so funny the story joined others in family legend; my mother, on the other hand, was appalled, and the homeschooling ended abruptly.

I don't think I felt ashamed; I'm sure I didn't. We were cute and sociopathic little puppies; doing the right and the wrong thing mostly by accident. Equally surprised by punishment and praise. Too young to read a moral compass, we put more of our energy into figuring out what it was adults wanted to hear. No wonder we needed a nap.

Back at kindergarten, I formed a posse, and recruited new members with shiny objects. We traded our glass jewelry and trinkets, not out of generosity, but to secure friendship, loyalty, and when necessary, to have something to take back again.

Niffer wore my pearls. Niffer wasn’t the brightest bulb, even I could see that. But I liked looking at her – so tiny and perfect. She'd do anything I said, so it was like playing with a living doll.

I met my first boyfriend in kindergarten, although I don’t suppose he knew it. I loved Todd Fisher. I loved Todd Fisher as much as I loved my dog – fanatically. Todd would walk to kindergarten with his holster and six shooter and white cowboy hat. He wore a string tie.

Todd stood apart, by himself on the playground, but he didn’t look scared or shy or anything. Just, I don’t know, somehow more knowing than the rest of us. He had big ears that stuck straight out from his head, and they’d turn red when the sun was to his back. I would slide my hopscotch marker way out of bounds, hoping it would land in his direction.

One day Niffer didn’t show up for hopscotch, she was standing with Todd in the playground. And when we all came inside for song circle, I saw Niffer wearing a string tie.

I cut her from my gang with a cold and surgical precision that I could only hope she noticed. As I said, Niffer wasn’t bright. Certainly not bright enough to correct a teacher.

Funny, at that age we may not have been able to count past 20, but that didn't stop us from trying to add things up.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Love Shack: Interiors

Just a few simple rules...

Mind your head...

Wipe your feet ...

Will you get the tea things while I ...

Open the window. The latch is a bit tricky ...

Nothing beats natural light.

Ok, I've got to go. If you want to hang out, don't forget to lock the door.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Why downsize...

When you can rightsize!

Following in the grand tradition of Green and Green, this Altadena charmer features tongue-and-groove construction, handcrafted cabinetry, riverrock fireplace, and sophisticated ventilation system.

Bring your toolkit and a little imagination. But hurry, this one will go fast.