Monday, January 30, 2012

It's good to be a kid again

We had a hard time keeping the really tall kid in the striped shirt out of the sandpit.

After a while, we just stopped trying. After all, it was a winter afternoon, the sun was shining, and we didn't have a care in the world.

Visit Steve. That big kid can shoot a cactus.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Word (smithers)

A friend of mine recently posted an article about the possible mental health benefits of psilocybin mushrooms. Some scientists believe the chemical compound found in the fungus can reverse certain types of depression. So we had a brief exchange as to whether the mushroom wouldn’t make one vomit profusely, actually intensifying whatever sense of depression one was feeling at the time.

I’m not saying my question sprang from any personal experience, or that her answer did either. After all, either one of us might want to work for Rite-Aid or run for president someday.

Then again, judging from our last two or three presidents, it appears one can admit to a couple of drugs on the resume. If memory serves, these drugs would be cocaine and marijuana. But the language of the admission is vitally important. For example, a candidate would never say he had taken a few bong hits in his time or snorted nose candy. No, they have to say they once, “experimented” with drugs. Because this brings to mind a scholarly and clinical environment, where the inhaler is surrounded by people in lab coats carrying test tubes, rather than a roomful of undergrads in ripped denim shorts waving a straw from MacDonald’s.

Which then led me to think of an easy way some people could dress up a few things on their resume. They could say they experimented with shop-lifting, for example, or experimented with breaking and entering. Newt experimented with whatever the male equivalent is to nymphomania. He also tried monogamy, several times, but each of those experiments proved unsuccessful.

In any case, the admission always has to end with an apology and a word from our lord. God is the vital ingredient. The whole thing has to wind up with God and God’s forgiveness. So far, God has been unavailable for comments.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Very short dog tale

When my dad died, I left a guy, bought a house, and got a boxer.

My very first dog was a boxer, when I was a kid of maybe 4 or 5. At that age, I had a lot of time to myself. Can’t say how much exactly, but in retrospect, I expect pretty much. I remember dialing the number of neighbors we once knew in far off towns and states.

“Hi!” I’d say.

“Why, my goodness, is this Karin?” they’d answer.

I would call the operator from time to time. He or she was always nice, and I’d ask if they had ever seen a boxer with pink nose. Our boxer had a pink nose. One operator in particular that I remember answered, “Well, no I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dog with a pink nose. Where’s your mom. Can I talk to her about your boxer?”

I don’t know how long this operator and I discussed boxers and pink noses, but I do recall it was a very satisfying conversation.

My boxer’s name was Box. Likely I was to blame for that, but can’t say for sure. I do remember his dog house, which was a perfect replica of our house, same colors, design, trim and everything. My dad built it. It had a mud room, and a main room, with a rubber flap in front that you could push up on to its roof.

When there was rain and lightening, and this was Seattle so probably almost all the time, Box and I would sit side-by-side in the main room, my arm around his shoulder, and it seems his was around mine – but that’s not physically possible, is it? In any case, we watched the weather together.

And sometimes, when the wind would change – south to north, we’d get drops of water on our face. And I’d lick his face and he’d lick mine. Is that gross? It didn’t seem so at the time. It doesn’t seem so now.

When my parents brought home a new baby, another family came to take my dog away. They arrived in a station wagon, and it took some work, getting Box in the car and keeping me out. But much as we struggled, Box and I, we knew this wouldn't turn out well, that ultimately, we had no real say in the matter. Finally, there he was, locked inside, leaping from back to front and side to side. They drove him away and we never saw each other again.

Many years later, and actually many dogs later, I got another boxer. Sometimes Phoebe and I would sit on the front porch when it rained, and we’d watch the weather. I’d have my arm around her shoulder. And she had her arm around me. Or so it seemed.

There's a perfectly wonderful boxer who needs a home, and Petrea at Pasadena Daily Photo and I hope to guide as many eyes in his direction as possible.

So visit Patch to meet Vinnie, a dog who is practically perfect in all possible ways.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Big cocks and other birds at the Arboretum

While the glamour boys copped some rays

The young guns spread their pin feathers. "Hey baby, come back to my place? I've got a wine cooler with your name on it."

"Please baby, please baby, please baby."

"Are you a model? You look like a model. A super model. I've got the keys to my brother's car and my parents are out of town."

It was a beautiful day, but I don't think our little cock got lucky.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

As the crow flies

They're enthusiastic, intelligent, and socially evolved. They’re also loud, messy, and opportunistic.

They’re crows.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been seeing more and more crows around Altadena over the past couple of years. Some mornings my camphor tree plays host to 50 crows -- that is, if they can win the daily battle against the parrots for squatting rights. The parrots can out scream them, but my money is usually on the crows. They seem better organized and more patient. One particularly successful tactic is the stealth attack, which startles the parrots into a state of orgiastic hysteria.

Ordinarily I welcome birds to my yard; the more the merrier, but I always had a thing against crows, maybe from living in the Midwest. But the more I learn, the better I like them.

Crows are all over Altadena, but then, they’re all over everywhere, and can claim relations in every continent except Antarctica.

They believe in close knit families. You might say they take family values to extreme – perhaps absurd -- lengths. The kids are spoiled, coddled, and remain emotionally immature for quite some time; apparently many will hang around the house sponging off the parents until well into middle age. The parents don’t seem to mind,
More on Patch

Monday, January 16, 2012

Overheard, while walking the dog

"Are you still on the phone?"
"I thought you were going to help me plant the lettuce!"
"I am!"
"Well then, get out here!"


"Are you still on the phone?
"Don't lie to me -- are you on the phone or not?"
"I'm almost not!"

Friday, January 13, 2012

Drug of Choice

Internet addiction causes changes in the brain similar to that normally seen in people addicted to alcohol and drugs such as cocaine and cannabis.

Sufferers have a hard time reining in their use of the Web, and typically spend unhealthy amounts of time online, to the point that it impairs their work or family life. Denied access to computers, Web addicts may experience withdrawal symptoms

-- CTV News, Discovery, and Fox News

I find this news so distressing, I immediately google “Internet Addiction." There are 40,000 entries, including a link to Wikipedia, where, I'm sorry to say, the data looks pretty darned solid. But I like to do my own due-diligence. I cross-check with,, and a guy who blogs from his basement in Omaha. The last vehemently disputes the findings of the other two. He suggests the truth is buried somewhere in Obama's birth records, easily accessible if we all don helmets covered in copious amounts of aluminum foil.

Continuing with the research, I post “Do you have an internet addiction?” to my Facebook Friends. I’m working through the 30,214 replies. The jury’s still out, but most of them say “no.” What a relief.

Except, I suddenly notice, among my Friends there are only 10 names I recognize, and I played dodgeball with half of them.

Now I’m on Amazon, looking up Cannabis. All things being equal, I figure I'll choose my own addiction. I’ve found 50 dealers -- 16 new, 28 used, and 3 collectable. At first glance, Amazon is more expensive, but they promise next day delivery. Plus, the second-hand markets sneak in lots of shipping and handling costs.

What’s a body to do? Thank god for Yelp.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

They shoot horses, don't they?

But best not do it with a canon powershot.

Oh, I'm so sorry I didn't get this right --if only I hadn't been so lazy. This is Nikon territory. Next time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

We get letters

Recently, a reader took exception to one of my Patch columns. Oh, why be so modest -- she takes exception to almost everything I write, but prefers to send her comments to me, personally and offline.

“Shut up already," she wrote. “Enough complaining about Altadena. I like the town, just the way it is.”

Really? Well, what about the new second-hand store?

“I found a dress.”


“I get a discount.”

Store-front churches?

"What's wrong with religion? The thing is, Karin, I moved to Altadena because it is Altadena. It’s funky, and not an imitation of any other place. You don’t want us to be,” and here she sneered, “another Sierra Madre, do you?”

Well, no, of course not. Just … maybe. Sort of, a little bit.

“Because if you really like Sierra Madre so much, why stay here?”

She has a point. If downtown (more on Patch)

Sunday, January 8, 2012


She always looked me or anyone else straight in the eye. She took each person's measure, but kindly. Phoebe saw everyone in their best possible light.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What I've been doing

I've written 19,800 words. Who would have thought I knew so many?

Here's the the first couple pages of my long essay or short book. I'm putting this up so I'll stop fiddling with the first 1,000.

Gang way:

Every so often we raise a candle to a new and improved age of enlightenment.

And whenever society reaches a general consensus as to what constitutes one better mankind or another, we convene a kangaroo court for all the famous dead guys. The verdict rarely goes in their favor, but then they never put up much of a fight.

It’s not a bad thing, digging up and hosing off the past, running a tongue over the rough edges, giving the latest version of humanity a chance to point a judgmental finger at what came before. It helps keep the past on its toes.

But this is an exercise we only practice with half our history.

When it comes to the other half, and that would be women, only a few historians bother to buff the surface or even wash the windows. Instead, we view significant females through the same old glass, scratched and ancient though it may be. And with all that patina, they’re practically invisible. You can, without fear of contradiction, write almost any words in their dust.

Most women who shaped history didn’t end up making history, or rather, never crashed the mostly masculine party held in history books. You could argue that it’s hard to right the wrong now, since significant women were rarely recognized as such in their own time and so little was saved. Another reason for the continued lapse, for the ellipses in the chapters, isn’t the inability to unearth the stories, just the inconvenience of doing so. If you keep the story flat, it’s easy to store. No need to make room and send some of the old stuff packing.

In historical accounts of Collis Huntington, the power behind the first transcontinental railroad, and his nephew Henry, Arabella -- the wife of both, successively of course -- generally gets stowed in the trunk labeled southern belle or femme fatale. Lately, she’s been called a trophy wife, as if that gives a fresh spin to the story.

A pretty facile dismissal for someone who, in her time, was not only one of the wealthiest women in the United States but also one of the premier art collectors in the world.

Just a few historians have attempted to pry into Arabella’s life, and only a couple have done so with any imagination. It takes imagination because there are so many gaps, intended and otherwise, in the Caroline Belle Arabella Duval Yarrington Worsham Huntington Huntington story.

She influenced the lives of the two men who shaped Southern California, and she influenced, maybe determined, how they did it, more importantly, whether they chose to continue doing it at all.


We probably have Arabella to thank for any polish Collis Huntington acquired during the last twenty years of his life. Which wasn’t, according to most of his biographers, much.

It’s likely Collis Huntington loved only two things in life – power and Arabella, and probably, ultimately, not in that order. She redeemed Collis, not in the eyes of the public, but he purported to care little or nothing about public opinion anyway.

In 1870, after a decade of building railroads, making his fortune, robbing the U.S. treasury, holding the sword of Damocles over two of his three partners and before letting it fall, Collis Huntington was worn out. In one of his rare moments of introspection, he wondered why he had bothered at all. He was feeling his mortality, and either wanted out of the whole business, or wanted something, someone to make it seem worth his while. Collis Huntington wanted the universe to give him a sign; a justification. He wanted a son.

Perhaps this explains his initial attraction to a fifteen year old girl. A girl who may have been poor, probably unmarried, likely deserted. In any case, she was undoubtedly and unequivocally pregnant.

The girl, once named Caroline, now called herself Belle. She wasn't Arabella; not yet.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Matinee for New Year's Week

If you’re among the 1% unimpressed by a parade and football, i.e., motorized flowers and a bunch of blokes who can’t find a civilized way to travel in opposite directions, I have a movie you might like.

Gosford Park. It streams on Netflix.

I don’t know how I missed this film first time around. It’s not an Upstairs Downstairs retread.

Even if it were, I shouldn’t have passed on the film, not when it’s directed by Robert Altman and the ensemble cast includes Maggie Smith and Charles Dance.

Truth in advertising, I could spend a whole day watching Maggie Smith do anything -- read a book, eat toast. She captivates me. If Maggie’s face and voice can’t steal the scene, her hands will do the dirty work. Her hands are a law onto themselves; they float and flap and punctuate the air with exclamation points, question marks, ellipses.

Clip one

Clip two

You can view Gosford Park on many levels. Master-servant, almost romance, half-assed mystery. But mostly it's about the bargains we make with others and ourselves, and the stories we invent to justify them.

Charles Dance, as the aristocrat, only gets off the odd line or two. Like when his wife is sobbing for the dead man and he says, “Would you quit sniveling! Anyone would think you were Italian.”

(In case you’re not familiar with Dance, I found this clip. I knew him from Bleak House, Nicholas Nickleby, and Rebecca, and had no idea he’d spent time in the trenches doing action flicks.)