Monday, December 29, 2014

Hahamongna: Digging deep



I end every day of my life with some nagging question or other. According to recent studies, insomnia kills, so this nocturnal nagging-question thing is a bad habit, probably on par with smoking or drugs but without any short-term euphoria to recommend it.

Of the thousand questions I toss about -- just to peel a few off the top of my head -- the mystery of the stock market, the popularity of Garrison Keillor, and the City/County's desire to scrawl their bureaucratic graffiti all over Hahamongna Natural Watershed Park.

For those who don't know, Hahamongna Natural Watershed Park is a rough and tumble bit of wilderness that rubs shoulders with Altadena, La Canada, and Pasadena. Whatever rain falls on the Haha (3 inches last year, about 7 inches this year) sinks into the soil and recharges the Raymond Basin, or if need be, is held in check at the southern-most end by the Devil's Gate Dam.

Once part Flintstones-type rock quarry and part open space, the Haha is now a habitat for trees, owls, coyotes, wildcats, frogs, ducks, geese, hikers, camps, scouts, schools, horseback riders, photographers, mountain bikers. (Oh, and let's not forget the foragers. I took a hands-on class once, gathering edible greenery along the trails. For graduation, we made a salad. Let's just say, lots of bottled dressing -- that's the ticket.)

Anyway, what I've learned about local government, it's always open season on open space -- on nature of the natural kind if it exists within city limits. And the deck is stacked. Think Monopoly, except the game starts with your opponent owning all the real estate, hotels, banks, and utilities, while all you've got is the $2 house on Mediterranean Avenue and a tennis shoe.

Still, the tennis shoe triumphed a couple of years ago. The Pasadena bureaucrats took it hard, really hard, when public pressure lost them and their highly-paid consultants and committees a two-decades long battle to stuff the Haha full of parking lots, toilets, and soccer fields.

So, game-changer. Now a new set of hit-men and hit-women have come on board with a fresh group of hired guns. Last year and quite suddenly really, the county decided it's imperative to implement a drastic plan for silt removal to protect the dam's capacity. A five-year process that would denude acreage, drain lakes, destroy wildlife habitat, via 400 dump trucks scooping out the wilderness five days a week.

The public turned out in force, not just to protest, but to offer a viable and habitat-saving alternative. No go.

Our tennis shoe is in peril. Not to mix metaphors, I'm just incapable of doing otherwise, our tennis shoe is behind the eight-ball.

If you live in the area, and appreciate a bit of nature in your life, you might want to consider what 400 trucks a day over the next five years would mean to your quality of life. Here's a campaign, requesting contributions to save Hahamongna.

And if you don't live in the area, just keep an eye out for what might be threatened in your own backyard. Once these spaces are gone, they're lost and gone forever. If the five-year plan goes through, and Hahamongna is left a dusty, 850-acre hole, I guarantee one city or county council or another will get the soccer fields and hot dog stands it always wanted.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Christmas Memory, in F Major



Music did not run in my family, it fled. Screaming, arms raised, seeking shelter, mercy, from a storm of sharps for flats, and flats for naturals.

We had no piano; no one sang, or if they did, there would be some listener's hell to pay.

Just to give you a vague idea, after try-outs for fifth grade chorus, my sister, my beautiful older sister, was one of only two kids in her class of 25 who didn't make the cut. So every week, while 23 of her classmates trotted off to join 46 others for choral practice, my sister and Steve Melman spent two hours in study period.

That my sister would be so singled out, infuriated my parents, and gave them the very reason they needed to boycott all elementary school recitals for the rest of our born days.

Including mine. Compared to the rest of my family, I was practically Leontyne Price. But they never knew that. And even if they had come to my recitals, they still wouldn't have known that. Not sporting those tin ears, they wouldn't.

Amazingly, though, my parents owned an excellent sound system -- high-end, better than all our neighbors, with a Dual single play/semi-automatic turntable, and a TEAC reel-to-reel player. A lot of bang when you consider they only laid out bucks for three record albums. The demo tape came with purchase, and my parents never considered buying another.

"Come fly with me, come fly, come fly away..." That was on the demo tape. My parents hated Frank Sinatra. "You think that's good?" Dad would scoff. "Oh, turn it off, or at least, turn it down," my mom would say.

When buying this sound system, they must have run into one hell of a salesman; the kind of guy who, if you go shopping for a magnifying glass, two hours later has you signing a contract for the Hubble telescope.

But back to Christmas.

Of our three albums, one third was Mitch Miller's Sing Along With Mitch Christmas Album. Since we listened to this record for one full month every year for maybe six years, I can tell you everything about it, from Mitch's Santa cap on the cover to all the liner notes.

So one year, I guess this would be about third grade for me, I spent my filthy lucre ($1 or so) on a new Christmas album from the Thrify's bin. Some compendium by the Norman Tabernacle Choir.

As we sat down to a dinner, I timed it to play when we tucked into our ribbe and such.

"What is that?" my sister screamed. "It sounds like the Salvation Army Band."

"She's right," my dad said, holding his head."My ears are exploding."

"Who can hit a note that high? Can Heidi [our second Heidi schnauzer] hear it?" said -- I don't know -- someone I still hate.

I suppose I got rather weepy at this point. And my mother patted my shoulder. "Well, it was nice of you to buy this for us. Maybe we should give it another listen, try it later. But you know what I think? I think now we'd all like to sing along with Mitch."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Why I don't like rain


When two inches of water falls in the foothills, we get the vapors, and are liable to do any sort of crazy thing. Like lift a river rock and let it slide from the hands, directly on top of the left foot. Stuff like that.

And then you have two weeks where you've got nothing to do, but sit in a chair, moan, and watch the world go by.

But you know what the worst of it is? Depending upon where your chair is situated, you may realize things, things you've never noticed before -- for example, that painting of your grandmother, the grandmother you never met, but for some reason have the painting of, a painting that always creeped you out, because her eyes followed you around the room. Well, that painting has been looking over your right shoulder all these years.

And that's not the worst of it all.



The worst is -- after two weeks, you realize, the creepy grandma and you bear a striking resemblance.



Or maybe it's just the Excedrin PM talking.

Monday, November 17, 2014

November PSA: Who are you, and who are they?



It's funny, because I had planned to write something about what we dread, and why we shouldn't. I mean, we're all prepared for what we dread. We get out the catcher's mitt, strap on the vest, and crouch there, eyes trained on the pitcher's mound or third base.

But that which hits the noggin always sails from right field.

So, someone, somewhere along the line -- between the Altadena post office and its ultimate destination -- stole my check to a credit card company, and changed the name from XXX Credit Card company, to a Gertie N-something, and cashed it. Which at first I thought highly unlikely. I wrote the credit card company name in the Pay-to line, and the account number in the memo section.

But it turns out, it's relatively easy for someone to hijack your check and "wash" everything you wrote on the check except the date and your sig. Did you know that? I didn't.

The good news is, if your account has been robbed in such a way, you are not liable, and the bank's fraud division will pretty much handle the whole mess. The bad news is, restitution won't happen overnight.

Should check fraud happen to you, here's what I have to offer:

1. Call the bank. You'll be talking to someone off-shore. It'll be kind of awful, and you'll be left thinking -oh fuck, I'm stuck with the loss and have to lodge some lame claim at the local Sheriff's Department. Not true. Call. Get it on your file. Over and out.

2. Visit a living, breathing bank branch manager. Trust me on this -- whoever you meet will practically hold your hand and guide you through the whole process.

3. You probably won't see the $$'s returned for another month. And you'll have to cover the money in question during the interim.

4. There will be paperwork; you'll have to sign stuff. Time. It'll take time. And much as banks want us to do everything online, when it comes to anything they deem important, information must travel, back and forth, via US mail. Go figure.

PS: If you live in Altadena, apparently there's active theft going on in the mailboxes outside the Altadena Post Office on Lake Street. Don't know why the Sheriff's Dept hasn't addressed this issue. In any case, beware.

Additional PS: If you still write paper checks, gel pens are your best bet to fight the "wash." In Altadena, Hoopla! on Fair Oaks has them in stock, and owner Lori Webster specifically recommends the brand Signo. For more info on gel pens, check out the comments.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Butting in on the ass meme

Pound for pound, these are my favorite asses:






Friday, November 7, 2014

The horror, the horror



A few of you know, and the fewer the better, I'm going to give an ever so brief public reading next week. There will be seven of us who take the stage, and I'm not the main event, not by a long shot. If we were to compare this to a dinner party, I'd not be the Beef Wellington or even the mashed potatoes. Think celery sticks, olives on toothpicks, something like that.

So, intellectually I should realize, there's no pressure on me. And intellectually, I do. But try telling that to my the medulla & cerebellum, my lizard brain, my sympathetic nervous system which has always behaved way too sympathetically for my taste. Fight or flight -- that's what will be on my emotional menu come Wednesday.

I don't suffer stage fright, I have a raging case of stage horror. You know, slasher stuff -- audience in leather masks, chain saws, blood everywhere. Not sure why; I studied (let's make that "studied") theater for two years in college. And then one day it hit. Hit so bad, I'd walk on stage with a stone in my shoe so the pain of the stone would take my mind off the pain of performing.

It's senseless, ridiculous, I know that. My cerebral cortex knows that. But if you look at a map of the brain, the cerebral cortex, in relative terms, if laid end-to-end, is the size of a lesser Hawaiian Island, while the cerebellum, in direct contact with every moving part of the human body, could swallow the continents of South America and Africa and still hunger for a heaping helping of Antarctica.

But I'm going to do this. Partly because the sponsors were so nice to invite me, and swat aside my initial No's. And also, I'm doing this for others. Not for you, who think my fear is ever so silly and unreasonable and totally out of proportion. But for the few like me -- because, those who are like me and attend this reading, will never be afraid to read, act, or give a speech again. Those like me will always be able to recall my performance, hike up their big-boy and big-girl pants, and proclaim "I won't be the best, but, by god, I can do better than that."

(By the way, this flyer will be reconfigured to include the writer Kelly Russell. A friend of mine said today, "I can't wait to come because Kelly is reading. Ever since I heard Kelly read an essay, I can barely approach her -- she was just that good." Oh, fine, I thought, have a damn olive.)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Lessons



"In writing, you must kill all your darlings."

Faulkner said that, and he knew a thing or two.

My book is taking so long to write because I kill everything except my darlings. When I unearth a darling in a chapter -- something that seems quite lovely but unattached, apart from the topic or subject matter at hand -- I train my rifle on all the words that have come before.

When I finish this book, I figure what we'll have are eight darlings and 30,000 corpses.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Punctuation -- telling tales out of school



Lately, several friends have taken up punctuation-shaming via Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. Most specifically, they're comma-shaming -- pointing an unforgiving finger at the wanton orgy some of us share with the comma. I'd characterize their tone as experiment-averse and downright scolding -- preaching a single path to righteousness by resurrecting the middle school horrors of subjunctive and subordinate clauses.

Because really, when it comes to punctuation, who hasn't done the naughty, and done it more times than they'd perhaps care to admit. And sometimes naughty proves to be ever so nice, in the moment. So I wanted to weigh in, share some personal experiences.

Starting in high school, the comma and I indulged in an on-again, off-again promiscuous relationship. And still do, if it's late at night and we're a shot or two to the better or worse. We're not proud of this, nor about waking up the next morning to face the damage -- remembering what it was we said and didn't mean, meant and never said, boundaries crossed and laws broken. We part, embarrassed, refusing to look each other in the eye.

"Thanks for an interesting evening," says comma. "I'll see ya."

"Not if I see you first," sez I. "But don't lose my number."

You'd think my steady might be upset. But you'd think wrong. Let me tell you about the em dash, my em dash, the ever-forgiving em dash. I'm a fan -- no, the groupie -- of the em dash. The dashing em dash with his sly smile, white t-shirt, ripped jeans. A pack of Marlboros rolled up his sleeve.

The em dash knows a thing or two about straying from the straight and narrow, and always takes me back, once he gets home after sleeping with my girlfriends.

Charismatic, enigmatic, often sweet -- that's my bad boy. He can make sense out of nonsense, and charm most anyone except the semicolon. The semicolon looks down his patrician nose at the em dash, but the semicolon looks down on everyone; just another reason why he can't seem to get a date on Saturday night. Even with the promise of high class champagne, no one feels comfortable popping that cork.

When em dash and I again cozy up together, and I feel in a confessional mood, em dash just rolls a spliff and grins. "You're over thinking this," he says. "You want to strut your stuff with the comma now and again, I don't mind sharing. Be wild and go crazy.

"I trust you, you'll always come back."

What more can I say, but -- he knows me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Outsourcing: Glory Days

There was a time when I sold out, left the comfy world of communications foot soldier -- a job for which I was woefully underpaid, but loved and petted -- to make big bucks as a manager. (Both big bucks and manager being relative terms.)

My newspaper wanted to enter the brave new world of outsourcing. And of course, when outsourcing, the first group thrown to the wolves would be you, me, we the customer, ie, customer service. And, for whatever reason, the powers under the powers under the powers-that-be, decided I'd be the one to parachute into places like Dogspit, Texas; Deadfish, Wisconsin; Brokentoe, Nebraska; Deadcat, Kansas; with an extremely small but experienced team to lead the charge.

This resulted in a nice title, and the pleasure of meeting, and bringing together a rag-tag army of farm boys and girls -- grade school dropouts mostly, with the IT crowd who hated them, and the local management team that dreamed, if all went well, of one day snagging a job in Witchita or Omaha. Oddly, I thought at the time and think so to this day, the farm kids may have been educationally and dentally challenged to the extreme, but they were on the vanguard of tats, purple hair, piercings, computers, and knew their way around a bottle of Prozac.

"Do what you have to do, but make it seamless," my betters said, and then washed their hands of the entire operation. Well, put that among my many accomplishments -- we showed no seams. Just giant gaping holes that a convoy of tractors could ride through without ever seeing, much less touching, either end of the fabric.

Our LA customers knew the moment, the very moment, we made the customer service switcheroo; the moment their call was answered by a boy or girl who had effectively never left the farm or talked to anyone more cosmopolitan than a clerk at the mercantile.

"I'd like to know my balance."

"Give me a sec. Why, no need to worry ma'am, you don't owe nuthin."

The customers hated the new customer service, the new customer service hated the customers, local managers hated the company management, and the company management hated me. Well, actually, now I'm being modest. Everyone hated me.

"I don't want to talk to Wisconsin," the subscriber base would scream, and flood the publisher's office plus national and international bureaus with outrage.

(Little did they realize, soon speaking to someone in Deadfish would seem like a long lost dream. They'd beg to speak to Wisconsin. Or anyone within the continental United States. But we showed them; yes, a scant few years later, we sent all their complaints to Manila.)

One time I had to do a 12-hour turnaround from Deadfish to Dogspit. We were suffering a massive PR fallout from a literacy campaign, our publisher's pet project, an idea he'd "borrowed" from another paper. The campaign solicited donations and featured photos of Keane-eyed kids, with captions that read, "HELP ME READ." with the P and D backwards. Most of the kids in the photos were brown and black. The blow back was so intense, we opened up an overflow call center in Dogspit. I had to script responses and train the crew. Unfortunately, half the crew couldn't read, so we spent afternoons trying to memorize all possible scenarios, responses.

Naturally, when the calls came in, everyone scuttled the script and decided to improvise, speak from the heart. I monitored one call. Our front line guy said, "Oh no, we're not saying only black children are illiterate. We have pictures of white people, too. Everyone should read, Purple people, orange people, green people..."

I ripped off the head phones and thought how much life sucks and wondered what sort of rotgut the bars serve in Dogspit, and how early.

Friday, October 17, 2014

It's my party, and I'll lie if I want to



Are you getting spam calls? Here's my remedy.

If your caller ID says Out of Area, Directory Assistance, Abe's Construction, or something unrecognizable, pick up the phone and say: "Sheriff's Department." 90 percent of the time, they'll hang up and never call again. But if they do call back, or ask if they're speaking to Kari Buggy or whatever, then continue with, "This is the Sheriff's Department, South Pasadena Branch, please stay on the line."

Honest to god, I'm down from 10 calls a day to one every other week.

Try it; it's fun.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Measure of Success



Some skills you can master at any stage in life, and some you can't.

Those you can't, athletic pursuits mainly, blame it on physiology -- muscle development and muscle memory, a development and memory that must be locked-in prior to eight years of age (and that's being kind, I would set the bar closer to three or four), when you're still the Pillsbury dough-boy or girl, all squishy and malleable. Before your muscle, mind, and fear have assumed a lifelong prejudice to go one way and not another. Before balance becomes an immutable concept, and while the virtues of gravity are still open for debate.

Oh yes, you can start, take up, any and all -- skiing, dancing, skating, soccer -- at whatever age, but if past the early learning curve, you'll never be more than competent. In fact, competency becomes the aspiration. But if you're pursuing a lifelong dream, if you're a dream stalker, one who chased a dream because the dream never chased you, competency is a brave and noble pursuit. Heroic poems have never praised the merely competent, and j'accuse poetry for that lapse.

Which leads me to horses, and Ben Johnson, and of course, me, eventually.

In both Hollywood and on the rodeo circuit, Ben Johnson was considered the best rider in the world.

A cowboy from Oklahoma, Johnson fell into Hollywood by accident -- first as a wrangler, then stunt double. Other riders, the best of the best -- from the legendary Harry Carey Jr to Gary Cooper, said, and without jealousy just awe, that Ben Johnson was better than the best. Even John Ford loved him, and John Ford hated everyone. John Ford talked Johnson into taking some supporting roles in his films. "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" might be the most famous.

Ben Johnson never wanted to be a movie star, and he wasn't, but Ben Johnson did want to win a national rodeo championship. So he quit the movies, hit the rodeo circuit, and damned if he didn't get a National. After a year or so, he returned to films, saying, "It's necessity. All I have now is the silver buckle, $40, and an angry wife." (She didn't stay angry long; they were married for 50 years.)

So let's take a break. Here's a video, watch the action between 3 minutes/40 seconds to 6 minutes, and see what the guy could do, and do at a dead fucking run. (I won't apologize for the music, I didn't score it.)


Though Johnson did win a Best Supporting Oscar, he didn't think highly of his own acting abilities. "Everyone in Hollywood is a better actor than I am," he said, "but no one else is Ben Johnson."

I always wanted to be a great rider. It's the hardest thing I ever set my mind to, and I didn't come close. My horse bucked, spun, and reared all her life; she broke my hand, my leg; she gave me two concussions, and countless trips to the e-ward.

Even after 20 years together, I wasn't a great rider, or good, or even competent. After awhile, I accepted the fact that an excellent trail ride meant I stayed in the saddle.

Sometimes it's good to try with all your heart and soul to do something you'll never do well. Humbling, of course. But being the best at something shouldn't be one's only goal or only source of pleasure, nor should measuring yourself against the best and falling short always be a source of pain.

If you're smart, eventually you see success as a movable target. Elastic. Something that expands and retracts according to what you want to do, what you have the talent and ability to do, and then, finally, what you most desire to do. Sometimes success is simply the grit to try. Getting thrown and getting up, getting thrown, then getting up again.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

California Drought -- Soldier on



I don't know if our upper lips are stiff or just really really dry.

No, what am I saying? Come hell or low water, we are the many, the brave, the Angelenos; we'll keep our peckers up, alfresco.

For example, I now wash dishes in the garden so I can water plants without breaking any laws. Also, I take the face, hair, and apres-hike rinses outside. Seems to me, the full monty is just around the corner.

And why not? The water from the hose is warm, sometimes disturbingly so. Privacy isn't an issue; fortunately, before I even bought this place, good neighbors made good fences. Tall ones, anyway.

I cut my coat according to my cloth, and, if necessary, I can ditch the coat entirely.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Artisanal Excuses



"Artisanal: pertaining to or noting a distinctive and classic art or product made in small quantities, usually by hand and using traditional methods."

When I was a freshman in college, I met a nice-looking senior on the quad. Actually, he was the friend of my former boyfriend, once removed. We shared an hour-long conversation. We made out, a little. When he told me he'd been accepted at the U of I School for Dentistry, my first thought was, yuck. My second was, I don't care, you're really cute. Or maybe I have that order reversed. In any case, we mainly talked about foreign films. Wrapping up the conversation, he mounted his bike and asked for my number, which I wrote on a sheet of notebook paper.

He never called. Which was fine; I had three dates a day, we all did, and somehow squeezed in a class now and then, if there was nothing better on offer. We fell in and out of interest or infatuation in less time than it took to eat an Arby's.

A semester went by, and by chance, I ran into him at the library. He looked embarrassed and said, "Oh hi, I meant to call, but my dog ate my papers." The explanation was longer than that, something to do with having safeguarded my number between the pages of a textbook, in between chapters pertaining to the root canal and diseases of the gums, I suppose.

This was my first exposure to the Artisanal excuse. Something hand-crafted, clumsy and homely, certainly with a long proud history, probably practiced alone, then in company; refined, added to and subtracted from over the years. Based on tradition, yes, but improved with a personal twist.

"Give me a kiss," he said, "and tell me I'm forgiven."

And I thought, fuck you, Doctor Cavity, go suction someone else's spit.

The reason this sticks in my mind, resists the mental floss of sweet forgetfulness, is that recently an English professor friend of mine outlined some rules for new students, including, something to the effect of, "If you miss class, for god sake's, don't tell me that your grandmother died."

Well, I found this a complete shocker. You mean others have encroached on the grandmother excuse? My grandmother-excuse, which I've effectively trademarked? My poor grandmother, who fell on the sword more times than I ever made it to French class? My grandmother, the one who died before I was born? Damn these poachers. I invented the grandmother excuse. Molded, crafted it, year after year, spun it on the wheel, adding pigment here and there, bringing up the grain to a rich patina, worthy for all my future jobs.

Well, that's life, right? A narrow aspect for invention, and likely someone beat you to it.

I don't lie, much, but only because my lies have a very irritating habit of coming true. I'm not religious, don't believe in Karma -- and yet, if I call work and say my tire is flat, it will be flat, or the battery dead. If I say I'm sick, I get sick. On and on, my lies have proved unforgiving.

So I only hit on the already dead relatives. They've never complained. And now, usually, if there's some commitment I can't meet, I say, "*I just don't want to." It's a very unpopular response. On the upside, I'm healthy and my car starts.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Just another day in Altadena: Yogi visits Doris

(cr: Doris Finch)

When my friend Doris told me she had a bear in her backyard, I assumed this presented certain challenges in terms of etiquette. Is it ecologically kosher to offer a bear a tub of water? I know, I know, let wildlife be wild. But half our bears have been raised on the crap people leave behind in Eaton Canyon, and have eaten enough pizza to know that's not where a pineapple slice belongs. Besides have a heart -- the temps are in the triple digits.

"Water it did not need," she said, and sent this photo.

I think our bears must swap maps and post Yelp reviews of the best dumpsters and pools. "Doris and Tuck are a five-star, just don't overstay your welcome."

Monday, September 15, 2014

What we remember



For sure, I got spanked, as a child. Though spanked meant spanked, and didn't include any attendant device, such as a switch or a belt. It was a manual operation, and the hand never hit my flesh. Never my face; it was all on the butt, through whatever I happened to be wearing that day.

My mother, when she spanked, would grab my arm, and I'd run around her like a maypole, so she had trouble meeting the intended target, and after awhile gave up, exhausted. If Mom steamed about whatever my transgression might have been that day, then she'd tell my dad, when he returned from work. Dad could hit a target.

My sister, brother, and me -- we didn't have many moments of solidarity; but spanking was one. My sister never got spanked, because she'd swoon. My brother, he took some tush-time, but had the very good sense to scream and repent. They were the smart ones. I took my swats like a soldier, as in, "Is that the best you can do?"

When I was disciplined, usually they wanted me to give up the names of my co-conspirators. Not a chance. At the end of the exercise, the three of us kids would gather together, I'd pull down my pants, to see if we had a perfect five-finger red imprint on my bottom. If so, we'd giggle. "Yeah, I see it."

Which is also funny, because it's not like we lived in the Vanderbilt mansion, where the parents would retreat to the third floor. They must have heard us. And known, I made my siblings laugh.

Outlasting the spanking without a single sound from me, gave me, gave us, a sense of power.

The spankings stopped, entirely, by the time I was about nine years old. I like to think my parents realized we wouldn't recall the cause, only the effect.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The books and the dream



In college, and it was maybe midnight, perhaps a little later, when the DJ said, "Who do you think is the best guitarist, ever. Call and let us know."

I was all over the moon about this -- who? How should I cast my vote? John Mclaughlin, Julian Bream, my current boyfriend? Or someone definitely in the running, so my vote would actually count.

"Julie, what do you think?" I asked, all in a dither, flapping my hands, "I'm going to say Clapton. No, wait, maybe Jimmy Page." It seemed so important at the time; we were very high.

Which is sort of the way I've felt when the Facebook thingy has come around every so often, asking for a list of 10 favorite books; the ones that have influenced our lives. "Don't think," they say, "just throw out some titles."

Don't think? Books are my life. I read, therefore I am. Which is why I've tucked the question in my head since at least 2010, and every so often realized a title or two. Tossed one in favor of another; re-appropriated the one that's been tossed, and tossed the interloper. Then reconsidered them both.

I don't know how many books I've read, or partially read, in my life. Gotta be thousands. And really, the only way to excise this exercise out of my brain is to lay down a line in the sand.

The best bit of literary criticism I've ever heard came from Des Zamorano. When she read Breakfast at Tiffanys, at my suggestion, she came back with, "What I love about this book, is that as soon as I read the first two pages, I knew I could relax; I was in good hands."

Good hands.

A writer is a pilot. With the bad writers, the middling-to-serviceable writers, the maybe they'll write something good in the future writers, there are layovers. Times when the prose jolts you awake, and you find yourself stuck in an airport, drinking a watery Bloody Mary, eating a runny grilled cheese, and feel a taxi back home might be in order.

The exceptional pilots never stop -- they take you on a journey, on a dream, their dream, yes, but their dream becomes your dream. A dream you'll dream until the last chapter, the last page, and the final line. And then you crash.

The Glory of My Father and The Castle of My Mother - Pagnol
The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Kundera
Long Ago in France - MFK Fisher
Among Friends - MFK Fisher
Emma - You know
The Great Gatsby - Ditto
Mary Poppins - Travers
Breakfast at Tiffanys - Capote
Stones for Ibarra - Doerr
EB White (anything, it's all perfect)
Wodehouse (anything, they're all alike)
Cross Creek - Rawlings




Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Good Dog



Albert's had a rough day. He had to get all his vaccinations -- 3-year rabies, parvo, measles, mumps, polio. Ok, maybe not the last three, but something that sounds like Italian sandwich meat -- mortadella, portadella? Bortadella? He's whacked; too weak to excavate the trash, bark at the UPS, or chase the bird around the house.

Here's the good thing about Albert, why he is Prince Albert. Aside from food, inexpensive, non-prescriptive food, the guy only costs $100 a year in vet bills.

My other main guys, Bru and Phoebe, they cost the earth, or at least a mortgage payment, monthly.

With Bru and Phoebe, a visit to the vet meant a line of assistants bringing in the tomes, documentation of their doggy medical history -- volumes 1, 2, 3, 4a -- refer to notes in volume 3b -- and lay them "oofda!" next to the examination table. Heartworm, roundworm, skin cancer, ear balloons, bladder infections, fungus, athlete's foot, pancreatitis, kennel cough, allergies. And wounds, stitches from all the fights, and stitches ripped out after the fights.

Albert? The vet walks in with one single slip of paper, no thicker than a Ralph's receipt. His history: an embarrassingly pudgy year in 2010, perfect weight over the past four, and the current efficacy of all his shots.

"Albert looks great," Dr. Dawson says.

A hundred bucks. That's all.

When I found him in 2007, Albert looked at me and seemed to say, take me in and you won't regret it. Eventually. Eventually -- well, that was the key.

If I were to attempt an ROI, a cost-to-benefit analysis, weighing his powers of incredible indoor and outdoor furniture destruction those first three years, our toilet-training arguments, and what seemed an impossibility to ever get the god damned guy to heel, versus his perfect health, manners, and affable nature today, I'd have to admit he turned out to be absolutely right -- I don't regret it now. We had to stick around for the eventually.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Irritating stuff that doesn't matter



Blame it on the US Open. Blame it on the New York thunderstorm.

My plan for the day was to hike early (done), then watch a lot of athletically gifted people run around the tennis court while I drank beer and ate cheeseburgers.

But then, when rain shut down the Open, I left the house to hit the trail again. And that's why and only why I found this huge butt of an SUV blocking my walkway.

Yeah, I have a traffic cone there, during the neighborhood parties, to properly identify my walkway. It's pretty much my one way in and one way out of the house. But apparently, this GMC figured the cone just meant, hey, don't drive, in a perpendicular direction, through the front door or living room window, but as for your giant ass, feel free to park it wherever you like.

Certain remedies, tactics, came to mind. Eggs, soap. Doing that chalk-circle thing around the SUV and writing ASSHOLE PARKING -- but since this is in front of my house, I feared the asshole would be mis-identified. Then I thought about leaving a note, a scathing note, on the windshield. Something that started with "Dear Jerk," or "Stupid stupid head." Oh, I constructed many many versions in my head.

Thank god I'm a coward at heart. The car will be out of my life by tonight; the US Open has resumed play. Of all my best traits, it's the power of the coward that has saved my bacon, and who knows how many regrets, time and time again.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

You can't hurry love



When it comes to sex, fauna has nothing on flora.

Consider the dog. When dogs do it, their upper half appears totally unaware of what the lower half is up to. Judging from the boy dog's face, he's watching cartoons. And she, more contemplative, stares off into the ivy, wondering if that's where she lost her frisbee.

When the deed is done, they slink away in opposite directions, in tacit agreement to forget what just happened ever happened and to mention it to no one.

The plant world, on the other hand, knows no shame. Take the Amorphophallus titanum, for instance. Conveniently owning both male and female parts, the boy part works on his erection proudly, publicly, and for weeks, sometimes years, at a time. Growing two inches one day, four inches another day, and so forth, until reaching an impressive three to five feet tall. The female part doesn't help much to move things along other than handle the suspense with patience and grace.

Finally, the great day arrives. Well, actually, sometimes the great day never arrives, and the whole enterprise just peters out, as it were. But, should the great day arrive and the boy really gets it up, the girl blossom unfolds into a huge, dark burgundy flower. In celebration, the two let out one magnificent, unforgettable stink that can waft for miles. Those in the know say it smells like garbage, an outhouse, rotten eggs, or a piece of fish you left in the fridge while on vacation. Hence the common name: Corpse Flower.

The Corpse Flower bloomed at the Huntington Library this weekend. Thousands of people queued up on Sunday to catch some of the action.

As with both flora and fauna, while wooing and foreplay can take weeks, the climactic event often lasts but a few hours. I arrived 12 hours too late, and by that time found the exhausted Amorphophallus titanum smoking a cigarette, watching Breaking Bad reruns, and ordering take-out.

When I was there a week earlier, as a volunteer, staffing the information table along with a grammar school teacher, hundreds of people dropped by. Sex sells, and so, apparently, does a famously bad odor. In anticipation of the consummation, we had all sorts of drawings explaining the life cycle, including one that helpfully split the name of the plant into an English translation, including, just in case the plant hadn't already made this abundantly clear, the fact that phallus = penis.

When two little boys approached the table, the teacher slipped the English translation in a drawer, then went about her explanation using all the proper scientific terms, exchanging the word "phallus" for the equally correct, "inflorescence."

"Inflorescence, what's that?" they asked

"This, er, thing," she said, tapping the part in question with the eraser end of her pencil.

The two studied the drawings and samples on the table -- the corm, the spathe, the petiole, the inflorescence -- and then moved on.

"You know what I think?" the boy said to his friend, "I think it looks like a giant weiner."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Midweek Matinee: White Dog



Back in the 80's, everyone who loved movies knew Samuel Fuller, and everyone who knew Sam Fuller knew about White Dog. In theory. The film was so notorious, some studio, Paramount, maybe, ducked the controversy, swallowed the loss, and refused to release it in the US. I saw it in France. Loosely based on a true story, it's a movie about both a white dog and a White Dog -- a german shepherd trained from puppyhood, in a tradition dating back to the 1800s, to be a loving family pet for white people and attack and kill black people.

The film was shot for $7 mil, and often looks like it. So I won't defend some of the bad dialog, wardrobe, sound, and editing choices inherent to a budget production.

In spite of all that, it's a powerful film, and succeeds because of Fuller, the score by Ennio Morricone, and the four lead actors (Burl Ives, most definitely included, but Paul Winfield runs the show, breaks the heart). And yes, the movie is a metaphor, but Fuller dealt in slap-in-the-face metaphors -- think Hawthorne and Melville. Nothing coy; no digging required.

The film doesn't stream, but you can get the DVD at various sources. It's painful to watch, and maybe you won't. In which case, I've got a clip of the ending. To set this up: A young actress rescues a dog and they bond. But it's a white White Dog, and once she finds out, she takes it to an animal training center. Both men who run the center recognize the problem, immediately; Ives says kill him, Winfield, well, it's his Moby Dick.

The movie rarely strays from one note, one powerful note, pretty much the whole time. When you learn to hate at an early age, can such damage be reversed. Can you reprogram a mind?

Can hatred be removed, erased; or, once learned, is it just in transit? Always searching for a target.

White Dog

Sunday, August 17, 2014

To the light, kicking and screaming



In college, at least part of it, I lived in a very low rent district, about 10 or 15 miles away from my my daily destination, Westwood. I always felt safe; people within at least a three mile radius knew me. I had a largish dog who required walking twice a day, which is a good way to meet your neighbors. And those who didn't know me, well, I had a largish dog. Bru was jovial, fearless, intelligent, and an excellent judge of character. I made friends with anyone who got his stamp of approval. And if they didn't, well...

For instance, there was this man I rather liked, and Bru didn't cotton to him. The man came over one night, and Bru lifted up, put both paws on his shoulders, and the guy kneed Bru in the chest. Bru and I just looked each other and said, ok, he's fucking out of here.

Bru never steered me wrong, and I'll never have a dog like him again.

But back to this place I lived, while at UCLA. A place I've meant to write about, and will sometime, but that's not the point right now.

In the dumpster, fed by about 15 other apartments and cottages, one day I found Great Works of the 20th Century, a twenty volume set. I couldn't believe my luck. The books were so beautiful -- leather bound, about eight by six inches tall and wide, and three inches thick. With hand-tinted illos protected by gauzy silk.

Of course, these volumes were not in perfect condition, hence the dumping. A certain amount of water-damage, mold had occurred since their publication in 1902. But I reckoned a little magic with my blow-dryer might salvage the set. Still, over a couple of months, the sweet smell of decay increased. The only thing I could do was read what the 20th Century had to offer in the way of great works, as quickly as possible, before pitching the lot.

That's how I found Novalis. Never heard about him in any of my classes -- from philosophy to poetry to literature. I took a shine to him for many reasons, but most of all, because he shared, was the first guy who ever seemed to share, my contrarian way of seeing things, of survival, even. To whit: Disbelieve everything you're told, at first. Argue, always, every side, to exhaustion. Until either you believe what you're saying or have run out of arguments.

Here's how Novlis puts it: To become properly acquainted with a truth, we must first have disbelieved it, and disputed against it.

When it comes to Ukraine, the Middle East, and Missouri, so far, I don't believe anybody, anybody at all.

Monday, August 11, 2014

In my dreams



Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or maybe Bill Murray, and nine other guests are coming for lunch at 9 am. I not only agree to host the lunch, I insist upon it. But why? Now I have to clean, cook, set places. And the logistics of it all escapes me -- the table, for instance, seats only nine; someone will just have to stand; pour wine, maybe.

I stare out the second floor window for my guests. No one comes at 9. No one comes at 10.

And then, a group of men enter without knocking, carrying great bouquets of flowers. Of course, what was I thinking, this is a catered affair. They open picnic baskets full of, what? Oh, good stuff. Entrees, oysters, escargot. And now they carry troves of vegetables to the sink. My sink. My sink is kind of dicky. Sometimes it stops up. Perhaps I should tell them? No, if things go south, best I feign shock and surprise.

In the meantime, I need to move the bike and helmet out of the hall so Roosevelt can navigate the wheelchair, from living room to bathroom. There's also a pile of laundry in the hall, which I will cleverly disguise with a blanket.

My father, mother, Roosevelt, a recent boyfriend, and all the guests arrive. We sit down for lunch, but only women are at the table. I go in search of the men, and find they've gathered together in the bathroom. I knock on the door. No one answers.

I smell cigars. Oh yes, of course, they're having a pissing contest.

There's a neuroscientist, and probably more than one, who says that while we're able to cast, script, narrate our dreams, we're also the audience, the clueless audience. We stage and direct a big, big show every sleeping night, yet have no handle on what will happen, one page, one scene to the next. And we almost always wake to a cliffhanger.

Which would be ok, I guess, if we were looking at a mini series. But dreams don't work that way. All that scripting, plotting, intrigue, all those possibilities, they just end with a question mark or em dash. And vaporize.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

My struggle begins...

to read the first page.



We Altadenish have at least two things in common -- we're well-read, and we're cheap. Which means, among other things, when a book gets chatted up by The Paris Review, The Economist, The New Yorker, and so forth, we all race to the local library website and stake our claim. Me first! Me first!

Problem is, when it comes to cutting-edge fiction and non-fiction, Altadena Library orders just one single copy. That's because the library isn't funded by the fed or the state, it's funded by we, the people -- the citizens of my little town -- we, the cheap people.

So I've waited more than two months for My Struggle, by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard, a book which has captivated, even obsessed, much of the western world, literarily-speaking, including, I assume, whoever in Altadena butted ahead of me in the website waiting line. But now I finally have Volume 1 (there are 6) in my hot little hand.

The book has been compared favorably to some of the greatest works in literature -- works by Joyce, Proust, Faulkner, Rilke.

So what's stopping me; why haven't I cracked the cover? I'm daunted. Even a little scared. Look at that photograph. It's the face of a man who has seen it all. It's Klaus Kinski trapped in another Werner Herzog nightmare. Kinski may have died two decades ago, but it's Kinski all right, roused from the Big Sleep, risen from the dusty grave, and socked with the mother of all hangovers.

What fresh hell awaits?

I'll summon the courage to read My Struggle, of course. Partly because there hasn't been a great Norwegian author since Knut Hamsun (another party-animal),

And partly because I trust LA Times book critic David Ulin. Ulin loves the book, or at least, the first two volumes of the book. Ulin is humorous, plain-spoken and honest, even about himself. He admits he can't finish Proust. (It is my personal belief that no one ever has. We just make it to the madeleine passage and call it a day. Publishers know this, and no longer bother printing the entire novel. If you flip to the middle of Remembrance of Things Past, you'll find pages 500 to 1000 are filled with nothing but ads from an old Sears catalog.)

I'm not saying Ulin writes for the great unwashed. No doubt he's popular with the fully washed. But his light touch also appeals to the partially washed, people like me.

As I understand it, My Struggle has no traditional plot, as in ye olde beginning-middle-end/climax/dramatic arc. It's not a story of a story, but the story of a self. Or the story we tell ourselves, how we organize, perceive life's mostly random events. Who we are depends on who we tell ourselves we are. And going forward, who we choose to be -- either because of or in spite of what Camus calls "the benign indifference of the universe."

(Do you think it's presumptuous that I comment on a major theme without having read the first sentence?)

In any case, My Struggle is probably not everyone's cup of aquavit. But I'm plot-neutral or a plot-agnostic; for me, it's all about voice and character. When I read a book, the great payoff isn't knowing who killed Colonel Mustard or how he died. I just want, am always in search of, some fresh clue as to how we live.

Here's Knausgaard on Knausgaard: Over recent years, I had increasingly lost faith in literature. The only genres I saw value in, which still conferred meaning, were diaries and essays, the type of literature that did not deal with narrative, that were not about anything, but just consisted of a voice, the voice of your own personality, a life, a face, a gaze you could meet. What is a work of art if not the gaze of another person? Not directed above us, nor beneath us, but at the same height as our own gaze. Art cannot be experienced collectively, nothing can, art is something you are alone with. You meet its gaze alone.

Here's Ulin on Knausgaard: What we are getting, in other words, is not an epic life but one that, like every other life, is utterly ordinary — and yet, that is where its epic stature resides.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

MY PSA for the week: The IRS Phone Scam

Phone message I received this morning:

"Hello, this is John Smith of the Crime Investigation Unit of the IRS. The reason for this call is to let you know a warrant for your arrest has been issued against you and your physical properties. You and your properties have been under surveillance. You must call this number immediately to arrange payment, or the sheriff will appear at your home before close of business today: 206-414-4027."

I took this in stride, though my physical properties were all in a lather.

Later that day, the phone rang. "This is the IRS," I quashed the call.

The third time I heard, "This is the IRS ..." I picked up the phone and told John Smith to go intercourse himself.

Yeah, it's a stupid, funny scam, in line with the Nigerian Bank, your brother is in a Scottish prison and needs bail, kind of funny. But I googled that call-back number to find out just how prevalent this one is. This IRS-arrest gambit has bilked millions of dollars from people who can least afford it. Immigrants, initially; but given their success, now the masterminds have the whole thing on predictive dialing.

So here is my PSA for the month of July. Nothing puts the fear of god into naive citizens, documented immigrants, or undocumented immigrants like a threatening call from a GOV agency. So if you have friends who might be vulnerable to this scam, warn them. Whatever reservations you may have about the IRS, they do not demand payment or threaten arrest over the phone -- ever. And if anyone has an inside track to Home Depot, ask the company to post a warning message next to their pre-paid cash cards -- the cards are how the terrified victims are told to send money. That, or credit card, debit card.

Apparently, this scam is getting VOIP'd from India or Pakistan, so the caller ID actually shows up as IRS with the 800-1040 number.

Over and out.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Who is the tall dark stranger there



When I was four going on five, TV meant two things: Disney's Wonderful World of Color, and Maverick.

I don't recall any of the stories, really. Just Tinkerbell at the Disney opening, turning noir into glorious color. Ting-ting-ting. A transformation quite magical, considering our set was black-and-white.

And the beautiful Bret Maverick, someone I thought a dead ringer for my beautiful Uncle Fred. (Still do, though I haven't seen my Uncle Fred since he got out of prison in the early 80's.)

My parents didn't watch Disney with me and my sister. Mom was probably making cherries jubilee, and Dad out spraying the yard with DDT.

But we all gathered together for Maverick. So did the neighbors. We often watched Maverick at their house, on a TV that didn't need a whack on the head to come to order.

Every Maverick night (Sundays, maybe?) was a huge event for me. With my trusty steed King Emerald (plastic horse head on broomstick -- placeholder for times to come) by my side, I'd be dressed in my best cowboy clothes (hat, fringe jacket), a holster slung from waist to hip, or an approximation of waist and hips, given I had no hips, only a sizable Biafran belly -- a physiology which pushed the cap-loaded six-shooter somewhere near my knees.

Maybe I wouldn't even remember Maverick, except for one night. I had a front row seat, as always. And one of the adults (Tommy, he was nine), crept up to me and whispered in my ear, "Kiss him." My parents were not a demonstrative people, and I knew that I would probably get some words about this back home. But then Tommy said, "I dare you." So when Bret came on, I ran to the TV and kissed the screen. Everyone cheered and applauded; or so it seemed.

I'm sure I did get words back home. But it didn't matter. I had kissed Bret Maverick.



This is the other maverick, my Uncle Fred. (I'm the bald one.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Puppy love



It's a dirty nylon bone, something Albert unearthed from the backyard about a month ago. He now carries it with him everywhere -- to the couch, and into the office when I'm working; he naps with it, sleeps with it. He leaves it at the back door when he goes outside, and picks it up when he returns.

Albert's not a chewer or a toy-kind of guy. Even the tennis balls have to be traveling, at a decent clip, somewhere, otherwise he's not interested in the least.

This was Phoebe's favorite toy. I think it's called a dental bone or something cutesy, Denta-Bone, maybe. She gnawed and worked away at this thing constantly -- her challenge. She removed a few of the rubber spikes -- that was her personal best. Otherwise, this was the only thing she couldn't tear, deconstruct, or eviscerate.

So though this nylon bone may look dirty and disreputable to you, for Albert, it's a scrapbook, a sentimental song, a memory of the girl who taught him never fear the noise of fireworks, thunder, or gardeners. Her motto: Always bark back.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The sporting life



Really, I shouldn't comment on soccer at all. I have a handle on only a few precepts and regulations -- whatever I glean, every other four years during World Cup. This year, for instance, I learned: if you sink your bicuspids in a guy's shoulder, you're outta there, expelled, immediately, whole term. But break someone's back, you won't even have to take a note home to mother.

I like tennis. Maybe the refs aren't so buff, but I understand the rules.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Author, Author



Meet the always wise and ever witty Désirée Zamorano. And why should you, you ask? Well, not just because she's my friend, has a name like a comic book superhero, and mixes a mean Manhattan. Meet Des because she's an author and her latest novel,The Amado Women, published by Cinco Puntos Press, hits book shelves -- virtual and actual -- nationwide, today.

Here's Des, in a piece written specifically for this blog, about The Amado Women, family relationships, and the ties that bind and break us.


Love, Not Blood

I had stepped away from a conversation at a party and when I returned my friend said, “Can you believe she’s taking care of her brother? She doesn't even like him.”

I shrugged and said, “It’s blood, not love."

"You won’t believe it, that’s exactly what she said."

Those family ties that bind — like a barbed wire wrapped around your wrist or an incantation muttered at birth keeping you enmeshed and in a mess — yes, life can be all that.

Or like this: a terrible true story. My paternal family no longer talks to me. Maybe it’s I no longer talk to them — I’m not sure which. I know the root of it, but it’s like this strangely shaped boulder someone gave me twenty years ago, and I have to carry it wherever I go. At times I forget about its weight completely, at others I examine it, and wonder. Today I wonder at the level of immaturity that ran through all of us — at the missing invitations to funerals, at the blocked rapprochements offered across the years. Then I go on about my life at hand.

Family love and alienation are themes that I wanted to explore in my novel. The secrets we hide from each other, yet with a need to be fully seen; the way we can love a relative so much we want to pound on their door to let us back in their lives, yet cannot — the need too painful, the pride too unyielding — or the disinclination fueled by the demanding and mundane tasks of daily life. Funny thing about the quotidian: it is always interrupted.

Here we go, on our way, shoring up our things and putting lots of energy into an attempt to be safe, to be certain, when, as the Buddhists say, the only certainty is change. Watching change unfold in a novel, and the resulting emotional repercussions, sometimes helps us navigate our own actual lives. That is part of the reason I read, and also part of my motivation in writing this particular novel.

I sincerely hope you spend some time getting to know The Amado Women and that the family connections you maintain in your own life are for love.


Désirée Zamorano will be speaking at Skylight Books July 15, 7:30pm and Vroman’s July 30, 7pm. Find out more about Désirée’s novel and her events here.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Royalty

There are two kinds of songs in the world -- good and bad. There are two kinds of good songs in the world -- naughty and nice.

I had a friend, an accomplished musician, who was invited to sit in with the Gipsy Kings one time. He found the experience crushing -- sweat poured down his face as he struggled to keep up, while the Gipsy Kings just looked rather distracted and bored. Maybe wondering whether they could catch an earlier flight that evening, or if they stayed, what about dinner -- French or Spanish.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Pros: When beauty meets balls



I told my friends during this year's Aussie Open final, "Bet on the ugly guy."

Of course, Wawarinka wasn't, isn't, ugly. He just looks like a roofer or car mechanic; a really fit plumber with whom you can discuss the virtues of PEX versus copper. Most everyone in the ATP top ten could be a movie star. Wawarinka, on the other hand, would be the buddy of the brother of the guy who kills the zombies.

Which is why I thought he'd be a solid. It wasn't handlers who had paved his way to the grand slam title, it was his heart.

So much about sports these days is all about the close-up -- the steely gaze and flared nostrils across the net or down the field. May the best cheekbones win. It's what sells market share, it's what sells shoes. If you're both talented and lovely, the corporate sponsors kick start your career, place some long-term bets.

The inequity starts early. Supermodel competitors have the benefit of childhood interventions, grow up to the sport with the best coaches, camps, doctors, dentists, dermatologists, podiatrists, psychiatrists the deep pockets can deliver. Ordinary looking athletes have to make it on own their own steam. One can understand the corporate responsibility involved here -- the public wears what the models wear; plumbers just don't move the merch.

Had corporate scouts and sponsorships overtaken sports only two or three decades ago, I wonder if Seles, Navratilova, McEnroe, or Lendl would have made it to the top. I'm just talking tennis here, but it's in evidence on all the playing fields. The money supplies and follows the expectation that certain athletes will be equally good at both serving and selling, equally compelling on and off the field.

My World Cup soccer prediction -- in the end, whoever is deemed the hero will look absolutely sensational wearing a tux and Nike's, holding a glass of Absolut while placing one perfect cheek -- fore or aft, either will do -- on the hood of a Beemer.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Inside the Castle Green



If you're lucky enough to have a friend like Dianne Patrizzi -- and kids, it's best not to count on this, or think you'll win the lottery, or that your Twitter stock will rise, but still -- if a Dianne Patrizzi comes your way, well then, anything can happen. You may even get to tour Pasadena's legendary Castle Green while carrying a full glass of wine.



Without going into too much detail, Castle Green is from Pasadena's golden age; built in 1898, and to my knowledge, of all the grand hotels of the time, it's the last one standing.



















And now, allow me to introduce the Castle Green penthouse pet. He's a looker, right? We didn't exchange names, but he has my number. In fact, I'm pretty hopeful because he said, "Call you, babe," and we shook on it.

Thanks to The Friends of Castle Green and Castle Green residents for this Friday's event.

Monday, June 2, 2014

News and Paper



When I first snagged a job at a major newspaper, I didn't exactly cover a war, a riot, or even describe the deliciousness of an apple tart from the Santa Monica Farmers' Market. No, not exactly. Not remotely.

I worked on the fourth floor, and the newsroom was just an elevator ride away. Two degrees of separation, and a world apart.

Still, my job was all about words. I paged delivery agents when Mr. Green's paper got wet or Mrs. Smith's went missing.

This could have proved disheartening had I wanted to be a journalist. But I didn't want to be a journalist. While I'd written for trade and airline magazines, it was never my intention to get emotionally entangled or intimate with facts and truth. Sure, we could spend some nice times together, but we'd prove a difficult match for anything resembling a long-term commitment.

(That's why editors are so great, by the way. My editors have always double-checked my work. Which means I don't stand by my words, I can stand behind the ones who stand by my words. Every editor I've ever had has, when necessary, gone to the mat for me. Courage I've applauded vigorously from the wings.)

But where was I? Oh yeah, this job. Great fun, actually. When not at the pub, me and a bunch of other lit and lib art majors spent most of our time impressing each other with our delivery instructions, sending out pages like:

Throw up on porch;
Wrap it in plastic before you stick it in the box;
and,
Subscriber on vacation so put it in the rear until further notice..

Fortunately, most of the delivery agents had been around since dirt and could translate smart-ass into English and Spanish.

It took awhile to get out the journalism basement, figure out the combination and whatnot. But I did. Or didn't, now that I think about it. Others took up some heavy lifting on my behalf.

I'll miss the paper part of news when it goes away; my guess is that'll happen sooner than we think, newspaper home delivery is practically out the door as we speak. Then lots of up-and-coming lib arts majors will have to find another temporary job that offers equal opportunity entertainment.

If you thought I couldn't take a photo this good, you'd be right. This is courtesy of one of my favorite photographers, Kenny Mac at Greenwich Village Daily Photos. Thanks for the borrow.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Art in Altadena -- Take a bite

Food for the soul, guaranteed.



Temporary art installation at the very permanent and always beautiful Altadena Community Garden, Lincoln/Loma Alta, is open every Sunday, 11 am to 4 pm, through June 22. All are welcome, and it's free.











And really, if you live in any of the Dena's, you must drop by.

Visits also available by appointment. Thanks to organizer and artist Ben Pruskin for the tour (Ben of the rabbit Teenage Couple piece), and Liz Garrison for the alert -- more info here on her website. Though not part of this project, it's always good to check in with Garrison, a well-known LA artist, to find out what might be happening in your own backyard.

And since it's June, or just about, we should kick it with a summer song.