Monday, December 31, 2012

The Fiscal, well, you know

It's true, I can't handle the truth; apparently I haven't handled it for years. If an annual income of $400,000 qualifies one as a member of the middle class, then what am I?

Hold your horses, that's what is known as a rhetorical question.

But accepting this new parameter of the middle class actually explains a great many things -- for example, why friends give me canned goods for Christmas. And socks, Crisco, motor oil. String. It explains why everyone else I know gets scarves and caviar and I get flashlight batteries and bottled water.

And as a result of the national debate, well, I'm suddenly questioning many things I've taken for granted. What if the average height in America is 6'2" and I'm (gulp) short? On the upside, maybe the average weight is 200 pounds. Yay! I'm skinny; you practically can't see me when I stand sideways.

Anyway, I've decided not to hang out with my middle-class pals tonight. If things go in their favor, I'll miss a great party. But if things go in the other direction, they might want to borrow my duct tape, and that was a present from a dear friend of mine.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

May your year be filled with wonder and curiosity.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

If it's nearly the end of the world as we know it

then what about my Groupons? According to the fine print, they're good until February. Seems we should have received some sort of alert; I would have cashed in my Midas tire rotation last week at the latest. Now for sure there's a line around the block.

I'm not one for corporate conspiracy theories, but something's rotten in the state of Denmark.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas music

When my neighbor's plastic wise guys hit the dirt, I know we're in for a bumpy ride. From past experience, each fallen chap equals 20 miles per hour in wind velocity; you do the math. The mighty wind's a blowin tonight, and we'll be lights-out in an hour or so, I reckon.

Come morning, the Jesus, Joseph, and Mary heads will be knocking on my front door. Fortunately, they're ever so polite, eat very little, and wait patiently until I return them to their proper torsos later the next day.

I like my neighbor, by the way. He's a smart, sweet guy; a teacher. The plastic Bethlehem is his only eccentricity, if eccentricity it is. It's for his kids. The front yard nativity scene is their tradition.

When I was a wee bit of a thing, my dad would sing this. And I don't mean sing like a glorious tenor; he sang in a broken baritone and couldn't carry a tune with a forklift. My father could speak five languages, but music wasn't one of them.

Still, I loved the sounds, I love them to this day -- the consonants that never meet and mate in English -- schl, skt; the long s, the long t, and vowels almost as strong as consonants -- the uuuu's, for example.

Up until the time I was six years old or so, I understood the language, I knew the words to this song. Today I'd need a translation, which I'm sure is readily available online. But then I'd lose everything worth saving. Oddly, for this memory to last, I can no longer know what it means.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The news monster

When I worked in the communications department at The Times in the 1990's, the paper printed a story about a man accused of molesting children. The story identified the man, complete with photo. We had the right name, right town, but two men with same name lived within a couple of miles of each other. And we had the wrong man.

Ours was the PR department, accustomed to explaining editorial content to a sometimes outraged group of subscribers. But no one -- not the publisher or editor -- expected us to explain, much less disguise or diminish something inexcusably, flat-out wrong. And so, we fell on the sword, painfully and loudly, publishing prominent retractions in our paper and others. The department head, Laura, made the broadcast media rounds. (She was the bravest woman I've ever known. You have no idea how scornful and gleeful competing media could be when The Times made a mistake of any magnitude, big or small, and this was big).

The story had violated the reputation of an innocent man and violated the public trust. It was a crime against journalism.

Today when all the online news sources dog piled on the tragedy in Connecticut, snarling and fighting over the freshest piece of the slaughter, many identified the wrong man as the mass murderer. Not only did some name the brother of the killer as the killer, some even published the photo of a man with the same name as the brother but unrelated to the killer in any way whatsoever.

Then, and keep in mind some of these are considered "reputable" news outlets, when facts came to light, all they did was update the tail end of their story, blaming their unnamed sources for misinformation. In some cases, the unnamed sources turned out to be Facebook. Or just each other. "We regret the error," they said.

And thank you for holding, your call is very important to us.

Once upon a time, if journalists went so far as to identify a mass murderer based on an unnamed source, and I can't think that would ever have been the case, but for the sake of argument let's play along, they would have been able to swear on their mother's life as to the veracity of this unnamed source. Then and only then would the possibility of printing the story make its way up the chain of command.

I don't know what kind of danger these men, misidentified by so many screaming headlines and photos, now face. I don't know what kind of danger we face now that speculation disguised as information travels around the globe within a matter of seconds. I don't know what kind of danger we face now that journalism is dead.

Monday, December 10, 2012

As the Brochure Says...

Bring your tool kit and your dreams.

You might also want to bring some antibiotics and a tetanus shot.

Open floor plan.

Electricity, almost.

Location, folks. It's going for $250 K. Bring your biggest tool kit and don't skimp on the dreams.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Dog Training

Teachable Moment, Definition: An unplanned opportunity that arises where a teacher has an ideal chance to offer insight to the student.

As some of you may know, I’m in the market for a second dog, a boxer dog, and no fewer than three friends have contacted me about the same dog -- a deaf, one-year old white boxer advertised on Freecycle.

I’m perfectly fine with the color and the age of the girl. I’m certainly down with the price. But the deaf part might prove a stumbling block. You see, while there are advocates of one training method or another – the clicker, rewards, the Koehler method, dominance, impression, and so forth – my school is strictly verbal.

As to how that works, we start with the basics, usually behavior-specific corrections: "Will you shut the fuck up," for openers; followed by "Will you fucking heel," and "Get the fuck down."

Once grasped, we can then move on to a more conceptual level of communication, such as, “Why did you fucking eat that,” graduating to, "What the fuck did you think you were doing."

As with us all, it may take years before the dog reaches some sense of probity, then and only then can we elevate the conversation to philosophical arguments, spur discussions regarding Cartesian dualism for example, with, "Do you ever fucking think," and, "Are you fucking out of your mind."

After we’ve truly bonded, reached that mystical state of mutual understanding, we can look in each other’s eyes and know what the other is thinking. "Oh fuck, you didn't," hangs in the air. But no words are needed. We just know it’s there.

Back to the deaf white boxer. I did look up sign language. Likely we’d get about as far as the index finger and thumb forming a C for both of us to lose the immediacy of the teachable moment. And at that point, likely I’d just say “Screw it, when you finish eating my underwear we'll play some ball and call it a day."

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Echo Mountain, above a rainy day

Debussy and Ravel feuded in public and in private. Their music had similar answers but each argued endlessly that it was wrong, so wrong, how the other had chosen to formulate the question.

They were related -- like big and little brother, first-born and next in line --  constantly encroaching on each other's territory. Eventually Ravel said, “It is probably better after all for us to be on frigid terms for illogical reasons.”

But both loved and protected Erik Satie. Their spiritual baby brother. Though, in reality, Satie was older than Ravel. Satie never threatened any borders, because he had a land of his own.

I'm just sorry Argerich never played this.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

On the street where I live

Well, strictly speaking, I don't live here. It's five blocks south, on Altadena's main drag.

"I can always tell when your writing hits a speed bump."
"Oh, really, how?"
"When your blog is picture, picture, picture."

D is a triple-threat. She can write, and cook,

and count. (By the way, I think the visual instructions on this sign are an accident waiting to happen.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

A visit to Big Blue, Part 2

Part 1 is here.

By now, I'm far less intrigued by this home than I am by my continued popularity in this august neighborhood.

Another walk around San Rafael last week brought more effusive greetings from the denizens. One gentleman in tweed called out, "Betty and Byron send their love!"

"And love to Betty and Byron!" I sang in reply. "We're due for a long chat at the club, over some dry martinis."

He looked puzzled, but nodded.

Albert and I hiked a steep private drive to catch a glimpse of the bubble house's back side. The blue butt, as it were. On the way, the postman smiled and gave a salute.

At the top of the knoll stand two impressive estates, each staking a claim, one to the east and one to the west. Rather than snap some pictures, I decided to play by the rules. As Albert and I made our way back down again, the owner of the east side manor was driving up, and waving so vigorously her car veered in our general direction; I feared we'd be killed by kindness.

I have two possible explanations for all the affection those in tweeds and the Bettys and Byrons throw in our general direction.

Explanation #1: Aristocracy is not a matter of money; it doesn't matter what you drive, where you live, what you wear -- breeding will out. A tribe recognizes one of its own. How to put this without sounding conceited? It's the way one walks, the set of the shoulders, the upward tilt of the chin, an aquiline nose. The ability to spell "aquiline" without autocorrect (work in progress). It's stature and bearing. Your mother told you to stand straight? Why, I have a broomstick stuck up my ass; always have and always will.

Explanation #2: I look like the local dog walker. They think Albert is their lab. Betty and Byron are cocker spaniels.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Brazilian Pianist Joao Carlos Martins

João Carlos Martins was on his way to becoming the greatest pianist of his generation. One critic said, "He has a tiny brain in each of his fingers." Best interpretation of Bach? The argument is still Gould versus Martins.

Martins lost the use of both his hands after a mugging, concussion, and a botched operation. If this was a particularly bitter pill to swallow, he never let on. Instead, Martins immediately turned to composing, conducting. Oh yes, and he taught himself to play Bach with what he had left -- three tiny brains instead of ten.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The other white house

If you start from my front porch and walk four blocks south and two blocks east, this is where you'll land. The house is for sale.

I've had dreams about this house, though it usually plays only a minor role. But the other night, I dreampt I bought this house for $350,000.

That's how you know it's a dream; the wide awake selling price has one extra zero.

The devil's in the details.

Nothing says great wealth like a two-foot high coffee cup. There's also a chess room inside, with pieces the size of fourth graders.

(More info on architect Qingyun Ma of Sunday's Titanic House in comments)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Art appreciation

There's this place I like to visit not far from where I live, about three miles by crow, six miles by Ford Fiesta, and much further away than that both financially and socially.

Al is my calling card to this extremely wealthy little hilltop. Because he's handsome in that generic black lab sort of way, when we walk the hood, people think we're neighbors. They beep-beep the horn, stop us along the way and say, "So good to see you again; it's been toooo long."

You're telling me.

"I know," I say. "And you look great!" And they generally do, too. Look great, I mean.

I drove up there yesterday, with Albert riding shotgun. On the way, it grew painfully obvious my shotgun had been rolling around in some dead organic material or another. I'm guessing squirrel, but then, I'm an optimist.

Oh Albert, I sigh, zooming down the windows, what will the neighbors think?

Albert doesn't mind the smell, dogs never do. They wear stink like merit badges, and favor a complex palette of odors -- odors that tell a dramatic story preferably one that ends in death and decay. We humans try to keep life's rich pageant out of our nasal passages.

We're better at the visual stuff. Dogs are not amused by complex images; Albert, for example, hates representational art, particularly animal statues. They look right, but smell wrong, especially the private parts. Should he eat, chase, fight, or hump them? Only after multiple visits to a particular statue can he finally relax his standards and enjoy a "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" moment.

A walk of a couple miles from the Rose Bowl brings us here. It looks like the aftermath of a violent head-on collision between the Titanic and a mountain cabin.

My favorite houses share a sloppy sentimentality, they're places where Jo, Amy, Beth, and whatshername could light the fire and wait for Marmee.

Mid-century moderns would die of shame if they ever had so much as a lace curtain or comfortable chair.

I can't smell this mid-century's private parts, but after multiple visits, have grown to appreciate what's going on conceptually. In a ceci n'est pas une maison kind of way.

Friday, October 26, 2012

John Cage

Ideas are one thing and what happens is another.
--John Cage

During my first and only year as a theater major at U of I, for some reason I was chosen to squire four members of the John Cage company around campus.

It was a thankless job as, first of all I had never heard of John Cage, and the four people spoke no English. They were from Albania or Guatemala or someplace I had no interest in visiting.

But I took them around for the day, and really don't recall many particulars. When we finally landed at the auditorium for their evening performance, only 10 people or so showed up and likely they were lost, looking for the cafeteria or something.

There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.
― John Cage

The concert consisted of the four standing at various points on the stage and two would open their mouths and make a sound, and two would open their mouths and not make a sound. And then they'd change positions. This went on for the better part of an hour. There could have been more to it, but I doubt it. Besides, I was on the payphone talking to my boyfriend.

It is not irritating to be where one is. It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else.
― John Cage

So I heard an old interview between Terry Gross and Cage tonight. And once I got beyond the fact that Cage sounded a lot like Vincent Price, he made sense, wonky sense to my sense of sense, but sense, nonetheless.

And I remembered the John Cage Company, and how I couldn't wait to ditch them. How on that night I tapped my foot and wrung my hands, because this was agony, when pleasure waited just a hopscotch across the quad away.

"If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all." -- John Cage

Finally, finally when I dumped these four at their dormitory, I raced to an apartment and jumped into bed with my beautiful boyfriend. Whoever he was.

Everything we do is music.
― John Cage

I hiked the Sam Merrill trail this week. Half way to Echo Mountain, I ran into a woman with a scarlet macaw on her shoulder. And I asked if I could take her picture. "Not me," she said, all flustered. "But you can take a picture of my bird."

"But I want a picture of you both."

"Oh no," she said, flinging out her arm so the bird perched as far from her as possible.

Further up the trail I came upon another hiker. “Hey,” I said, “That bird gave me a turn.”

“Oh thank god you saw it, too,” she sighed. “I thought the altitude was getting to me.”

We are involved in a life that passes understanding and our highest business is our daily life.
-- John Cage

Saturday, October 20, 2012

This Week’s Matinee: It’s a comedy. Bring vino

Gianni Di Gregorio wrote the screenplay to Gomorrah. He also wrote/acted/directed and probably sewed the costumes, cooked the pasta, and did everyone’s make-up in Mid-August Lunch.

One movie is an epic and ungodfatherly look at how the Camorra and gang wars have infiltrated most aspects of daily life in Naples and beyond.

The other film is a picaresque tale about a trustworthy, unambitious, middle-aged mama's boy ne’er-do-well, and his day in the company of four 80+ year old women. Shot, by the way, on a $400,000 budget.

See the first one if you’re a fan of Pasolini, Rossellini neo-realism.

But whatever your taste, see the second film. Trust me on this.

Mid-August Lunch (Pranzo di ferragosto) is a comedy about boundaries, ceding personal space to make room for each other. Grudgingly or willingly. Or grudgingly, then willingly.

We're going to rub shoulders in this life, that's inevitable. The only choice we have in the matter is whether to feel irritated or enriched by the experience.

The movie also features age – great age – women in their 80’s and 90’s. That's rare enough; rarer still, the women are characters for sure, but never cartoons, or dotty old fools. At a certain point, Di Gregorio pretty much turns the movie over to them. Actually, he has no choice.

After territorial wars over the kitchen and the television set, a great summit takes place around the table. So it’s also a movie about food. Ok, wait, maybe it’s a movie about hunger in all its manifestations, and nourishment.

Nothing much to offer via youtube, just this trailer (and skip the ad). The movie streams on Netflix.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Altadena gets its ghoul on

Either the Altadanish are creative or have way too much time on their hands.

On the other end of the spectrum, we also have the Ice Cream House at Christmas time. Which to some tastes may be even more horrifying.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Gentle Giant

Sorry about everything that is wrong with this photo, but damn the lighting, and full speed ahead.

These two guys were rescued during Thursday's thunderstorm. A friend of mine saved the pit bull, the pit bull saved the wiener dog. The little guy has a serious case of hero worship. You have a problem with pit bulls, tell it to the wiener dog. Be prepared for an argument.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

First Rule of Life: Don't Croak

At the Huntington.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Altadena Crest Trail: It's a Long Story

By the late 1980’s, the area directly north of Altadena’s Lincoln Avenue known as La Vina had seen better days. La Vina Sanitorium, an upscale tuberculosis rehabilitation facility founded in 1911, had closed its doors more than a decade earlier. Now there were no doors left to close. Or windows for that matter. Not much remained that hadn't been ripped from a wall, torn off a hinge, axed, broken, or burned.

Walking the grounds meant picking your way through vestiges of indeterminate medical leftovers -- cracked glass, hoses, broken dishes, test tubes, concrete pillars -- ruins so ruined one couldn’t tell if the remnants of this room or that had been used for examinations, operations, living quarters, or something mysterious an elegant convalescent hospital may have entertained, back in the day.

In other words, by the late 80’s, La Vina’s attractions were only evident to vandals and those who liked to stub a toe on the remains of recent history. Oh yes, and real estate developers.

Ultimately, the property was purchased for a housing subdivision. And in the early 1990’s, the new owner fenced off La Vina as construction got underway.

The fence, however, much to the surprise of those of us who weren't really paying attention, didn't just enclose what was left of the hospital, but considerable acreage around and above it as well. The fencing even severed a portion of an historic trail, one used daily by hikers and horseback riders – the Altadena Crest Trail.

No worries, said the developer. Once the subdivision is complete, we’ll reconnect the trail and make it better than ever, plus provide some open space recreational acreage. Everybody wins! Hooray, said the county officials.

That was almost 20 years ago.

There's more on Patch. But like I said, it's a long story.

Sunday, September 30, 2012


When it comes to basic home repairs -- audible drips, pipes that groan, drains that gurgle, and things that otherwise go bump in the night -- I'm not totally inept, thank you very much. I may not be a deft hand with the wrench, but I can switch on a stereo.

For the modest price of some decent speakers, over the years I've fixed the grumbling of the toilet, a rattle in my refrigerator motor, and the plunk, plunk, plunk between my shower and fireplace just by blasting Beethoven, Beach House, or Wilco.

Funny how they never teach these basic survival skills in school. The stereo works magic on a car as well. That annoying sound your brakes are making or the tap-tap-tap under the hood? Gone. It's all a matter of volume and adjusting the bass. Recently I silenced a squeak in the rear wheel with the proper application of some Screaming Jay Hawkins.

A disclaimer here: A stereo won't fix everything. I've found even Bartok won't repair a severed cable, fix a short, sew a button, or mend a broken heart. That's why god gave us duct tape.

Friday, September 28, 2012

I see it, do you?

They say the mind always searches for patterns. This looks just like a half-awake mastiff or sighing boxer to me.

Or maybe an angry old woman.

In actuality, it's a ... it's a ... (tell you later, gator.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


When I was a child, my father would take me to art museums. Not to make this sound like we visited an art museum every week, because we didn't, still we popped into one or another maybe twice a year. In Seattle, Los Angeles, the Art Institute in Chicago, and so forth.

But the thing that struck me then, and that strikes me now when I visit such places, even the Louvre, is that it's a very unnatural way to see a picture.

Because in a museum, you can't see a single picture, by itself; the picture has uninvited company, hung shoulder to shoulder with others it never asked to meet. And even if you want to concentrate on a single painting, that's very difficult, because you're distracted by the one on the left and the right, and the halls and rooms that follow with further pictures. My eye travels, gets confused.

These men and women, they painted their picture to be seen as the only one, all alone, with a real estate unto itself. Not next to a Leonardo or a Van Gogh, fighting for attention. There is a point where too much significance becomes insignificant.

I guess my favorite art museum was the one with the impressionists, in Paris. As I recall, the place had once been a train station, with uneven wooden boards as flooring. I liked it because the paintings had something in common, but most of all, I liked it because a man I loved in Amsterdam took me there. And I probably studied his back as he viewed the paintings more than I studied the paintings themselves. Committing him to memory, the way he stood, with his shoulders and head straight and tall, not doing the head cocking thing to imply that I might be missing something.

That day I burned his image into my brain. Purposefully. His back,the straight crop of his blond hair just above his jacket, the elegant pleat in the upper part of his jacket just between his shoulder blades. I see him still, standing there, in front of some masterpiece or other.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Yeah, I'm Back

I've been away a long time, on a job, feeding the monster. The news monster, and not the big one either, just a local, pocket monster. But really, the way news works these days, what's the difference, other than salary, awards, respect, and prestige.

It's all about shoveling the fuel as fast as you can. Regardless of size, the monster never chews, just gulps and belches and asks for more.

When the job finally ended last Friday, I thought I'd hop right back on the blog train. I was wrong.

When you spend all day and all night scouring the internet or attending meetings for more monster-fodder, the first thing to go is literary style -- your voice. The second thing to go is the butt. You spend all day in a chair, need I say more?

It's a Titanic effort to turn my mind from the act of writing to the practice of relaying information, and an equal effort to reverse course. Some people can dance between both sides of their brain; I have to get down on the mat and wrestle. My brain is slow to turn, but it's a reliable chap and eventually follows the compass.

I like my brain. Not to sound too Cartesian about this, but we've been friends for a long time. And though, from a young age, I've been told it could do more if pushed and shoved into more rigorous action, I kind of doubt that.

Though not the best brain in the world, it can do a lot of things, just not all at once.

When I ask the wheels to turn in a different direction, we get all physical about it, and hike heart-thumpingly long and fast. It helps the voice and it's good for the butt.

Property I found last week when feeding the monster. The agents were nice enough to let me snoop around today (with Albert) because they saw the post.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

We had what

passes for a flash flood in Los Angeles. And a little tiny rainbow.

Some Chabrier?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I have some things I'm just itching to say

About lots of stuff, including, oddly enough, Hemingway. If you scratch behind my ears (you know the spot) it will all come spilling out. (Just one more week of work.)

My time hasn't been wasted, though. I know how to embed a vid.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Altadena, the "New" Epicure Epicenter?

Local backyard farms and ranches have existed for years in these parts. It’s just now, everyone seems to know about it.

Excuse me, while I work on this hayseed. It's stuck between a rock and molar. Anyone got a penknife? A long fingernail will do ...

Is it funny or irritating that the media from outside Altadena are so jaw-droppingly dumbfounded to find we’re actually engaged in activities that coincide with a trendy movement?

“How can it be,” they gasp, “when Altadena is miles away from Silverlake!”

Yeah, well, we may not be Silverlake, but we're not exactly Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, either. (Not to cast aspersions on Moose Jaw, for all I know they may also raise their own chickens.)

Of course, the root of the problem is that those Altadenans who have always grown their own produce and hatched their own eggs never took the time to coin a word for it. More on Patch.

And my ever so sophisticated neighbor, Restless Chef, has a few words on the matter.