Thursday, December 29, 2011

Why add fool to the fire

If you ever want to hate your house, and I don’t know why you should but we all get strange cravings from time to time, just hire an inspector to look at one little thing. Like the face boards out front, or the drainage out back. Or the fireplace in the middle.

As for the last, I hired an outfit, one highly recommended by folks I trust, and A and C came by, sweet-smelling and handsome (oh yes, they were) at 8 a.m. (oh yes, they did).

“Nice,” said A, patting the brick monolith on the thigh. It looks solid.”

While C cleaned the fireplace, A climbed up on the roof. And that’s when things went south.

“Kar-een!” he said (A is German). “Kar-een! I must show you something.”

And he climbed down the ladder and played back some photos. “Who did this…this – what’s the word to describe the flashing around the chimney, I could say it in my own language …”

“Abomination?” I’m a walking App for the missing word or phrase, thanks to immigrant parents.

“Yes,” he smiled, impressed. “Exactly. Abomination. Let me tell you why we have a problem…”

Well, two things, here. First of all, on a yearly basis, I have some new roofer walk the house and tell me how every guy who ever nailed my shingles has been either an idiot or a scoundrel. I expect they’ve all been right about that.

Secondly, when it comes to almost any problem other than nouns and verbs, I don’t want the back story. I don’t want, for example, to hear all about the history of the Roman sewer system just because my bathtub won’t drain.

Similarly, I don’t want to feign interest in gunky spark plugs or my dental x-rays. I don’t want to look at my dog’s hookworms under a microscope. Why must these people continually parade the incidentals of their disgusting job in front of me, as if I didn’t have my own disgusting job to do. Just hang a dollar sign on the problem, is my motto, and I’ll take two aspirin and think about it in the morning.

But of course, no one cares what I want. For three hours today, it was nothing but, “Kar-een! Kar-een! Come here! I found something …” Of course, that last sentence never ended in “fabulous.”

The estimate to fix all these problems is … well, I don’t know how they say it in German or English, but the French have a word for it.

After they left, and as I was hanging a painting above the indoor structure which we will now refer to as the giant brick easel, it turns out A left the check behind. So twenty minutes later:

“Kar-een, it's me …”

And then, twenty minutes later, he came back again.

“Kar-een, I have a question …”

And then six hours later he delivered a 24-page pictorial of my naughty fireplace. Amazing service, really, from a company that requires a three-week wait for the initial appointment.

Anyway, A could have saved himself the fourth trip of the day. When many, many thousands of dollars stand between me and cozy, cold and bleak looks mighty appealing.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Pretties for you

It's been a rough year for Santa, so apparently some of you are just going to have to learn to share. It's all about quality, not quantity.

Now let's see, how about we start with:

For PA.

For Susan Campisi, Brenda, and Musebootsi.

Three words: No Vet Bills.

For Mlle Gramaphone and Mr Earl

Now that they're both community activists, it's time somebody listened to them.

For Des, Petrea, Bec, and Katie

Why, it's practically like having your own personal sous chef.

More to come

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Let's see... and this card says...

From Santa to Margaret.

I talked to your secret Santa, the one who warms his moccasins at your tipi. He said he thought you might like the complete works of Jane Austen, first edition, delivered by Collin Firth personally.

"Oh, no no." I said. "A few lousy books and a washed up British actor for the mother of your children? The wife who just this week nursed you through a temperature of 98.68?"

So I sent him out shopping again, in spite of his 98.63 fever.

And what your Santa has for you under the tree,

is, as they say, the stuff dreams are made of.

Presents, for more of you, tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


I'm kind of possessive about my hometown

Make that, fiercely possessive

And it's my plan

To get all up in the face

of those who fail to treat my wild and wooly place with the proper respect. More on Patch.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Willpower – Just say no

It has recently come to light that willpower isn’t a muscle after all; at least, not a muscle like the ab or the quad or that underachiever charged with governing the whole Louisiana Purchase known as the gluteous maximus.

Willpower doesn’t increase in strength with constant exercise. No, an entire day’s allotment of willpower is just a few pinches of fairy dust, dangerously depleted by the mere act of getting out of bed in the morning.

Every time you exercise willpower, you've weakened your ability to resist any other temptation that comes along. Use it, you lose it.

In the morning, should you pour milk rather than cream in your coffee, reach for the oatmeal instead of the doughnut, subject your teeth to a vigorous flossing, then by noon you'll be trading jello shots with the underemployed stockbroker you met at the gas station.

This revoluntary discovery in the realm of willpower explains a great many things, doesn’t it. Why, when you give up smoking, you can’t find the forest for pizza boxes. Or when you go cold turkey on online shopping, you find yourself staring at the bottom of a bottle of Mojito Premix.

Common wisdom seems to indicate (and here I’m talking about this week’s common wisdom, not that soiled, lipstickstained wisdom from a year ago), the only way to ensure you always have plenty of willpower in the hopper is to yield to the very first temptation and stay in bed.

Maybe one day the scientific community will come up with a way to trade willpower credits – borrow from the monk who drinks only water and lives on 900 calories a day, for example.

Until that time, don’t stop with one bear claw on Christmas morning. Then, when something serious comes along, like the chance to reconstruct a 30-year old childhood argument during Christmas dinner, you can smile to yourself and reach for the gravy.

Willpower – it’s not just for breakfast anymore.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What's This?

Hint -- over 120 years old, seen while on a second tour with Manny Rodriguez of Lincoln Heights. Thank you again, Manny. Father Tom was a highlight, as were the best short ribs EVAH cooked in red sauce with cactus slices at El Huarachito on Broadway.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Pot Luck

How often can I show up at a holiday gathering with my baggy of Kandy Kane Jo-Jo’s, while others bring their loaf of homemade lemon bread, Angels on Horseback, beef on a skewer with a Dutch-Indo peanut sauce fondue?

I don’t know, pretty often I guess. At least this Christmas season and maybe the next, and then I might need to regroup.

Everyone always takes a Jo-Jo, whether they eat it or not. It’s the gesture that counts.

When I was growing up in one particular city, my best friend was part of a musical family. They all played piano, but one daughter also played flute, another guitar, violin, and so on. For whatever reason, which will always remain a mystery, this family surrounded me like a warm quilt. I was loved and petted, falling somewhere between an adopted sibling and a favorite cat.

The parents parented me, “How are you coming along,” they’d ask, about this and that. And then, “How are you coming along on the clarinet?”

“Good,” I lied. I was used to lying if it would show me a favorable light, and I don’t remember conscience ever waving a hanky to stop me. “My teacher says I have talent!” My teacher had never hinted at talent. I didn’t play, I honked.

“Of course you have talent,” the mother or father of this family would say. “You are a most gifted girl.”

It’s not that my own parents were cruel, they were just hard, hard on me. I think my parents thought I’d take a compliment too personally, or too much to heart, then stop trying to stretch beyond a compliment.

I wouldn’t get to spend the actual holiday with this family, the family of my best friend, though they always put forth the offer. In fact, when my own family moved to another state, they asked my parents if I could live with them, which of course was out of the question.

But anyway, this family and I spent tween holidays together; they were the pillow for my head.

Then, one night, they planned to have a great many guests, and asked that I bring my clarinet to accompany them all on a piece. Prokofiev? Chopin? That I don’t recall.

“You can do it, Karin,” they said. “E Natural, A, E, and F. We’ll give you the sign.”

“No,” in this instance, wasn’t in my vocabulary. Nor was the clarinet in my vocabulary, but still, I showed up on the appointed day, when the family played their instruments most beautifully. Every few measures or so, I came in to honk.

After the recital, my humiliation was so total,so truthfully total, it was practically liberating. I remember, so clearly, thinking, what the hell, now you know, now you know.

“Let me tell you,” said the mother that night. “You hit a rough patch or two, I won’t deny that. But you also played the prettiest E Natural I’ve ever heard. It brought tears to my eyes. Your teacher is right, you have talent.”

I don’t think I’ve ever lied since. With held information, yes, but never lied. Except at certain times with certain men, where the relationship was so exclusive we closed the doors on all intruders, even truth. But that's something else altogether.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Oh, my wild sweet Hahamongna

To set the mood, scoot Mr. Haendel up to 5:50. (What? You find that excessively difficult? You can complain to the management, though they're generally out to lunch and unresponsive.)

Anyway, we're here to make a point. That LA County and the City of Pasadena are very busy these days turning this

Into that

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It Takes a Village

We can either approach a natural-born emergency as individuals or as a community.

There’s something redundant, inherently inefficient, when we all plan to meet a disaster wielding the same tools.

Some of us should be charged with stockpiling batteries, lanterns, generator, a pantry full of canned goods, water, and closets filled with extra blankies.

Then some of us should have a car full of gas, a case of wine in the trunk, and a list of addresses where we can find the aforementioned stockpile.

This can only work with true foresight, effort, and sensitivity. Remember: Not everyone likes Chardonnay.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Power and other failures

On Thursday last -- Altadena’s first full day without heat, light, telephone, internet -- I think we all expected power to return at any moment. Rather than wring my hands and fuss with the light switches, I decided to leave town. As they say, a watched pot never boils.

Driving down the tree-littered streets, we all seemed to be on our best behavior. Take, for instance, the out-of-service 4-way traffic signals. Everyone stopped and waited patiently, waving the other driver through.

“After you.”

“No, please, after you. I insist.”

I returned at 8 p.m. to a dark house. Apparently the pot hadn't really cared whether I watched it or not.

On the second day without heat, light, telephone, Internet, I, as well as other neighbors, found there were only three local activities at our disposal – raking leaves, asking if anyone had heard anything, and going toe-to-toe on indoor temperature. "Your house is 50 degrees? Why, that’s practically a sauna. My house is 38." "38 degrees? Paradise. Ours is..."

More on Patch.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Out West

Once upon a time, the Santa Ana winds were like the Indians in an old John Ford Western. 30 Indians would descend and surround a wagon train, whoop it up, then for no apparent reason, race up the hill and out of frame.

Time for pioneer ladies to wipe the dirt from a child's face and the menfolk to do the menfolk things -- fix a wagonwheel or something. Then you'd see 300 or 3000 Indians biding their time at the top of the ridge.

That was your father's Santa Ana -- a wind that would blow down the mountains, wreak some havok, then inhale mightily back up the San Gabriels, to sit for awhile, discuss evil deeds in deep voices, before the grand exhale.

If last week is any indication, the wind has moved beyond strategic battles; once it arrives, it won't leave; it won't stop to strike a pose, hold a powwow and rest the horses. It will just come down the hill. Down and down the hill, relentlessly.

No time for you to boil water and plenty of it, tether the cow, check your email.

Five days without heat, light, phone, communication.

And the Cavalry? We still have one, of sorts. It will swoop in to rescue the towns. Not in alphabetical order.