Sunday, March 31, 2013

Second Thoughts

Funny thing happened on my way to sunrise service this morning -- I missed both the service and the sunrise. The flesh wasn't willing and the spirit had second thoughts.

So I visited Pasadena's Suicide Bridge instead -- at a decent hour, around 11 a.m. Bridge built: 1913. Destroyed by earthquake: 1989. Resurrected: 1993.

Until the turn of this century, the mouth of the bridge featured some fantasy cottages dating back a hundred years or more, and in a delicious state of decay.

I should have captured them before they were lost and gone forever, but I didn't. The recent replicas lack soul.

Although, although, if one could find a back way, and squeeze the tractor between the railings, throw the arm out as far as it could reach and shoot blindly, if one were so imprudent as to do such a thing, it might be possible to find an original cottage, lovingly restored.

Suicide Bridge got its nickname back in the 30s. The real name is Colorado Street Bridge, and it's protected, or we're protected, by something called a "suicide-prevention guardrail" now. Judging from the height, I don't think it prevents so much as asks, "Are you sure?"

Though I missed the "He has risen," celebration today, I tossed a rose off the bridge in memory of others. Really.

I don't know what happens to the dead, but then, I don't understand the secret of seeds or the mystery of static cling. When it comes to death, the worst-case scenario has always seemed probable, but perhaps I lack imagination. Anyway, it's Easter, so here's hoping, and ...

a testimonial.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Being Where

When Chopin's Opus 10 #3 played on the radio, I took it as a personal invitation from the universe to leave my taxes for yet another day.

(Sorry, if prefaced with some jarring ad or another):

I didn't know this was Cliburn at first. As you see, we're missing his great presence on the video. By the time Cliburn recorded Chopin, he had stopped playing in public. Eventually he stopped playing in studio, eventually he stopped playing at all.

Cliburn started big, as big as a New York Ticker Tape parade, bigger, for a moment, than the whole Cold War. And that was the problem. Critics who made a living living off of him, found they'd spent all their superlatives. And they got paid by the word.

So what was left but to bring out the other half of their vocabulary. That Cliburn's Beethoven couldn't part the Red Sea or turn water into wine. How disappointing the Schubert. And a few years later, they said, maybe the great Cliburn isn't great after all; maybe he just had one exceptionally good day in 1958, Moscow.

Cliburn left the stage and studio for the next twenty years, though close personal friends say he still played every day, for himself.

On his last tour, this century, a comeback, he collapsed on stage. Paralyzing stage fright, according to some reports, as this probably made better copy than cancer.

As for Chopin, Chopin said of this piece which he wrote in his early 20's, "I don't think I'll ever find such a beautiful melody again."

That's the thing with artists -- they have to go find things; even when it's dark and they're all alone. Find what they're looking for and then find a way back again. There's no help for them, really. No one knows where they've gone. And until and unless they come back, no one knows where they've been.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Miss Altadena: Contestant #3

This is Peanut. According to her Miss Altadena application, Peanut is a full-blooded Golden Retriever. To this we say, yes, like the Golden Retriever, she has a tongue and four legs. Peanut tips the scale at a little over 15 pounds, and is only a foot tall on a good day. We've submitted her purebred claim to our commission for further review.

Peanut, who hooked up with Janet, her owner, a year and a half ago, has been circumspect about her past. From what Janet has been able to piece together, Peanut graduated from high school and went on to enroll in a liberal arts program at a local community college. And then, as they say, the screen goes dark. A romance gone terribly, terribly wrong? Substance abuse? Who knows. But with the help of Janet, Peanut has pulled her life together.

Turn-on's: Barking at people I know really really well.

Turn-offs: Anyone who calls me Shorty.

Special Talents: Carpentry. "When Janet leaves the house, I carve and craft doggy doors. Check out my latest entry leading from the kitchen to the back yard. I also aspire to something more sophisticated; I'd like to sink my teeth into the trim around the windows and baseboards."

What say you, Judge?

When first we met, I found Peanut attractive (in spite of her name). Carpe Diem, I dove for her nethers, and she bit my nose. When I drew back -- as you would too, in a combination of hurt and confusion -- she bit my ankle. I'm sorry, call me punctilious, but Really! When one member of a pair lacks any sense of etiquette, where's the common ground? I tried to kick her to the curb, but she wouldn't let go.

Verdict: Pass

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Contestant #2: Are You Miss Altadena?

Meet Louise. Louise was a teenage runaway and high school drop-out. When captured and jailed by the authorities, things looked pretty bleak. Then an interested party stepped up to the plate and agreed to a foster care arrangement; this later led to permanent adoption.

Louise is currently working towards her GED, though the year of graduation remains elastic.

Turn-on's: "My owner Susan, also Susan, and Susan"
Turn-off's: "No Susan"

Louise hopes for a career in the beauty industry. She has a talent for deep-cleansing facials, "Humans don't pay enough attention to their pores." She can also lick the real estate between your forehead and chin within a matter of seconds, so it's possible the mini-facial may prove her forte.

What say you, Judge?

Louise bears a passing resemblance to someone I once loved, but this girl has too much history for my taste. She obviously ran with a rough crowd, and my pal Barkley says she throws wild parties when Susan's at work. We spent a brief afternoon together, and I found her language absolutely shocking. Plus, Louise shows no interest in playing catch or fetch, all she wants to do is wrestle. So now when she visits, I just sneak away. Go to my quiet place and look for my balls.

Verdict: Pass. Next!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dogs: In Search of the Next Miss Altadena

This is Ruby H, a debutante from East Altadena. Ruby is a three-year old Rhodesian Ridgeback and heiress. After two years with a private tutor, she graduated college, majoring in manners.

Turn on's: "My fluffy beds (one in every room), door-to-door limo service, weekly visits to my groomer, shampoo, conditioner, clean teeth, quiet walks along the beach, world peace, farting."

Turn off's: "Dogs who come on too strong and dead squirrels."

Quirks: Doesn't steal food; refuses to bark excessively. Comes/sits/stays on command.

What say you, judge?

I find Ruby sadly lacking in curiosity and initiative, and she's reluctant to engage in adult conversation. Additionally, she didn't offer me a single cookie even though cookies were on the counter in plain sight, something I consider not only rude but counter-intuitive. While her farts are nice, they're not what you'd call exceptional; and her breath and fur smell funny.

Verdict? Pass.

Next contestant: Louise C of West Altadena

Sunday, March 17, 2013

This time, it's impersonal

I hate hospitals and courtrooms, one reason I never entered the medical or legal profession. I'm not crazy about doctors or lawyers either, so that's another. Not that I've made such great career choices. Stress and distress, for the most part, I've fallen into one unpleasant way or another to earn a buck. Shoot, at one point I had to spin why nothing says love like a fully-paid burial insurance policy.

From an aesthetic perspective, my dream job would be something outdoors and benign -- forest ranger, for example, landscape architect, utility meter reader.

And really, honestly, I'm most drawn to the last, as a career. Don't know why I never thought of it. I'd be perfectly happy walking door to door, checking gas and water usage, fiddling with words on the side.

Meter readers enjoy fresh air, exercise; they don't have to deal with surly bosses or disgruntled customers.

Just learned our local gas utility will replace our meter readers with the ADVANCEDmeter, a device that transfers our daily gaseous habits to -- well, I don't know where. The pamphlet doesn't cover that part. But according to the pamphlet, this change is to our advantage. The ADVANCEDmeter will clear up some really complicated and scientific shit, like, "Gas usage increases during cold months as your furnace and water heater use more energy."

Well, slap my ass and call me Charlie.

According to reliable sources, the meter exchange will cost consumers $1 billion in rate hikes. But, says the pamphlet, it will also "take 1,000 SoCal Gas vehicles off the road every day ... operational savings will be passed along to customers."

I did some quick and dirty math. By wiping 1,000 meter reader jobs from the SoCal landscape, we consumers can start laughing all the way to the bank in 2033.

So I called the number on the pamphlet and put my name to the installation deferral list. Something we can apparently still do until the Public Utilities Commission undefers us (an inevitability, sighs the pamphlet). And this ineffectual gesture probably does nothing more than add an additional item to my personal/consumer/professional report card accumulating in the cloud: Doesn't work and play well with others.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Altadena Cool: The Coffee Gallery

I drink coffee strictly for the drug. It's a foul-tasting beverage to my way of thinking, be it dripped, pressed, or percolated, whether hatched from artisanally roasted beans or Folgers Instant.

That said, I like the Coffee Gallery. The Coffee Gallery is what Starbucks pretended to be back in the day -- with saggy sofas and cast-off chairs; a comfortable and welcoming shabby that doesn't go all chic when your back is turned.

The Coffee Gallery has the usual caffeinated suspects, offering every manner of coffee, plus light refreshments, and, sometimes, entertainment. Like the bluegrass music this past Sunday.

Bluegrass smacks of the Great Depression to me, but likely I've seen too many Capra and Preston Sturges movies. It has roots in Celtic music, yet is assertively American and militantly unpretentious. The lyrics don't sugar-coat what lies ahead in life's great pageant; things will go horribly and irredeemably wrong -- floods, famines, prison, betrayal, desertion. Loss of love and life, that's a given.

And the style of singing -- the polar opposite of opera. Opera opens its mouth and flashes the tonsils. With bluegrass, the lips are pursed, stoic, and hardly move, as though the story is almost more than the heart can bear.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

We've Got Class(es)

Today, I received the following email message via my local sustainability/gardening club:

Learn-By-Doing: Saturday, 9:30am to 5pm, $28.00

Be prepared for some note taking and some light to med hands-on work. We will learn about removing lawns, applying permaculture, weeding, garden care, mulching, composting, and building with "Urbanite" (broken concrete).

Please Bring:
Work gloves, sturdy shoes, garden tools, bottled water, lunch

If available bring:
Wheelbarrow, shovel, pick, rake, etc.

Learn by Doing ... is that brilliant or what? I'm toying with the concept, but instead of charging $28, I think I'll offer three classes at $10 a pop, with an incentive for students who sign up for the whole package -- maybe I'll let them vacuum my living room or polish my car or something.

As for the classes themselves, this is still in the planning stage, but see what you think.

1st Class

Be prepared for some note taking and light-to-med hands-on work. You will learn to remove both crusty and viscous material from plates, glasses, and cups. We'll also teach you to dry dishes with something called a "towel," and to set a festive holiday table using household “Urbanite” (broken china).

What we'll provide:
Soiled kitchenware, grease, urbanite

Please bring:
Towels, detergent, glue

If available bring:
Adult beverages, etc.

2nd Class

Be prepared for some note taking and med-to-med hands-on work. You will learn how to apply a foamy spray-bottled substance to windows. Once you've mastered that technique, you will also learn to clutch a soft piece of paper in your hand and move your arm in a counter-clockwise direction. Eventually you'll see trees and sky and things! If that sounds unbelievable, don't take my word for it -- visit our testimonials. Should time permit, we'll explore the synergistic relationship between duct tape and window sill "Urbanite" (wood rot).

What we'll provide:
Dirty windows, urbanite

Please bring:
Windex, paper towels, duct tape, scissors, trees

If available bring:
More adult beverages, etc.

3rd Class

Be prepared for some note taking and med-to-heavy hands-on work. You will learn how to apply shampoo to a Labrador retriever. In the process, you will also learn all about the Labrador teeth and jaw design, plus an effective "stop and release" command, and what to do with a steaming pile of “Urbanite."

What we'll provide:
Dog, shit

Please bring:
Shovel, bags

If available bring:
Jello shots

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Great Cliburn

A friend and I were at a concert last weekend and apropos to nothing really, I said, "Cliburn could die any day now." And Cliburn died the following Wednesday.

I couldn't always tell the difference between one great pianist and the other. Oh, I could recognize tempo of course, but not touch. Not until Cliburn.

When I first heard Cliburn, I mean, really heard him, it was back in the 90s, on the radio. I was driving away from a laundromat, rather at loose ends and without a particular destination. But magic visits or it doesn't, no matter where you are or what you're doing. It can hide all year long and then spring to life when you're washing your clothes after leaving a man, for instance. Magic's coy that way.

So this radio program played an old recording of Cliburn and Tchaikovsky's 1st, second movement. I'd never heard pearls dance before, dance in a mountain stream -- one pearl at a time to begin with, and then generous handfuls of pearls, pearls that sparkled in the sunlight and spray, pearls that bounced from rock to bank and bank to rock.

And suddenly it seemed right that pearls should, eventually and after all, fall back in the stream and drift softly away.

To this day, and in every aspect of my life, I have a problem distinguishing the bad from the good, the indifferent from the great. But I can always recognize Cliburn -- his touch and timing.

Let me say from the outset, the sound quality on this video is really poor. And you can get a wonderfully remastered recording. But I like the clip anyway, for his concentration, expression, and hands. All of which I take, personally.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Before you feed yourself

feed your guests. Or they'll follow you from the bedroom window

To the kitchen

To the den.

Without a proper breakfast, they'll spy on you.

And share some vicious gossip with the neighbors.