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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

THAT GREAT ACOUSTIC BREAK IN THE SKY

During the 90s, I used to play guitar in an acoustic band back in Boston. Acoustic Break we were called. Actually, nobody ever called us that because practically no one even knew we existed. We used to play at a handful of bars down by Boston Garden. We played early, around six or seven o'clock, to the after-work crowd on their way to Celtics or Bruins games.

There were three of us in the group. Myself, Jack on guitar and lead vocals, and Al who played bass and sang. I've got the worst singing voice that has ever existed in the history of man so I just shut up and played the hell out of my guitar. In addition to our gigs, we would practice in Jack's basement. Over the years we drank a lot of beer and played a lot of music.

Eventually, Jack moved to the Cape so logistically, keeping the band going became difficult. But we tried. Al would come by my house once a week after work and pick me up in his rusted out Volvo and we'd drive down 495 to Wareham. We'd stop at the liquor store near Jack's house and pick up a couple of six packs. It doesn't sound like much, and what it does sound like is pretty hokey, but these were good times. Really good times. Hanging out with good friends and playing music. Joking and laughing. Alternately needling and defending each other.

A few years back, Al moved to Texas and got married for the second time. I moved to California and lost touch with both him and Jack but tracked them down about two years ago. Jack replied once, maybe twice, but Al and I continued to email each other anecdotes, opinions, memories back and forth. Al's wit was very dry. Arid. A dustbowl of humor. And as easily misinterpreted as email can be, somehow his humor came through to me loud and clear, never muddled or confused by the usual impersonalness of email.

Last week I received the first email ever from Al's wife Carol. She was writing me and "5 others" to let us know that Al was dead. I had known it was coming for a while. It was the typical story of a tumor being eliminated followed by hopeful monitoring followed by the disease's reappearance.

It wasn't long before I thought to myself, "I wonder if Jack knows. I wonder if I should tell him."

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

THIS DON'T LOOK RIGHT

This is our new fancy new couch that we just bought. Actually, that's not true. We didn't just buy it. We bought it over two months ago. And actually, it's really not true because this is the couch we're sending back which means technically it's not ours at all. Maybe just temporarily. I'm not going to go into a whole rant about subpar furniture deals. If that's your thing, then check out The Squeaky Wheel. However, this is the second one of these couches we've had to send back. The first one arrived scratched six weeks after we paid for it. We had to wait another month to have it replaced with this one. It looks just a little crooked, no?

Anyway, the saga continues. The replacement for this one should be here in another month.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

ZUMA AT SUNRISE

Cindy is away this weekend visiting her sister in Boise, Idaho. I find myself filling my time with a lot of activity, probably because I don't feel lke just sitting around the house by myself. I also don't sleep much or very well when I'm not with Cindy so I got up before the sunrise this morning and drove out to Zuma Beach in Malibu. I started to run north along the water's edge at 6:23 and went as far as I could before it seemed like the private beach properties were right on the beach. I didn't want to interrupt anyone's breakfast. The houses along this stretch of beach are phenomenal, by the way. Then I turned around and came back. Facing south I could see the sun rising over the Santa Monica Mountains, splashing light onto the waves. After I made it back to where I started, I took some photos. I also took a few on the way home on Kanan Road which cuts through the mountains to get back to the valley.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I REMEMBER BROCK PETERS

I remember Brock Peters, born George Fisher, who died yesterday here in Los Angeles. I remember seeing him in a million roles in a million television shows. You may not know it, but you remember him, too. He was one of the countless recognizable if not easily named actors dubbed "character actors" who popped up regularly on television dramas throughout the 70s and 80s.

Yes, he did work in film, appearing in scores of movies over the last half century. And indeed, his most famous and perhaps greatest role was that of the accused Tom Robinson in the classic American film To Kill A Mockingbird. Sci-fi fanatics will point to his work in a handful of Star Trek movies and television series.

To me, however, he will always be the guy from all those TV shows I grew up watching. I'm talking about all the cop shows, private eye shows, the medical shows, the shows from which I have collected still photographs and press releases which now hang in my office. Peters appeared in Mission Impossible, It Takes a Thief, Mannix, Longstreet, The Streets of San Francisco, McCloud, Baretta, Medical Center, Police Story, The Bionic Woman, Quincy, Magnum P.I., and many, many others.

Being African American, Peters belonged to an even more narrow subgroup of character actor: the black guest star. With his deep voice and clear enunciation, and later with his graying temples, he infused his characters with dignity and humanity. Because of the times – during the 70s it seemed like a guest character never just happened to be black; if he were black, the story must be centered around race – his roles often called upon him to elicit sympathy if not outright guilt from a largely white audience, to point out the injustice of the racism in America. His characters struggled for respect in a world that denied respect at every turn. His distinguished look and carriage got him roles of black men in positions of some authority. Doctor, politician, administrator. And often fighting the system of which he was a part. With uniquely expressive features, Peters had one of those faces perfect for the closeup of the small screen. While delivering his lines, his eyes, nose and mouth would tick and dance a physical interpretation of the words that brought out the pathos of his character's plight.

During the summer of 2003, I was lucky enough to see Brock Peters in person at a screening of "To Kill a Mockingbird" at the Orpheum Theater on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. It was part of the L.A. Conservancy's annual Last Remaining Seats series. The Orpheum, if you haven't been is one of the classic movie palaces downtown built in the early 1900s that has been beautifully restored to much of its original grandeur. Peters came on stage that night to a tremendous standing ovation to which he reacted with humility and appreciation. At the time, in such an elegant atmosphere, with the hall filled thunderous applause, I thought to myself, "It's like I'm watching all of the characters he ever played finally get the respect they fought for."

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

THEY WALK AMONG US

As you may know, I work in a pretty corporate environment which includes a tall building, a lot of cubicles, a lot of computers, usernames and passwords, endless gossip (which I'm about to share with you), filthy refrigerators, varying standards of personal hygiene, massive egos, narrow minds, shocking inefficiency, bald men, balding men, go-getters, clay-footers, beeps, bells, and buzzes of all kinds. But most of all, what we have where I work, is kooks. Here, I'll be focusing on one in particular. A young man who in the short span of just a few months has taken over the title of "Most Troubling Co-worker." I speak of Belatz.







First, let's be clear. After careful consideration by myself and several collegues, it has been determined that Belatz is a member of the undead. Zombie or vampire? We're not sure yet. But somehow he walks among us despite his obvious pulse-related challenges.

Belatz was hired as an Information Architect which basically means he tries to make web sites easy to use. At the time he was hired I was in the middle of changing positions so I've had just one work-related interaction with Belatz. That was the time he explained to me that all my work is wrong and referred to himself no less than three times as "expert." I find it's a good rule to no trust anyone who starts a sentence with "I'm an expert in..."

In any event, my co-worker Kevin was driving to work one day and as often happens here in Los Angeles, traffic came to a complete stop on the 101 freeway. Kevin looked over to his right just in time to see Belatz lighting up a bowl in the lane next to him. He exhibited the classic stoner hit-taking posture too, with the hunched shoulders and the neck retracted like a turtle and the Bic lighter cocked straight down into the pipe. Apparently, turning a traffic jam into an opportunity to smoke pot is something else he's an expert in.

Kevin is socially fearless. That's one of the things I like about him. Were it me, I probably would have pretended like I didn't see a thing. Not Kevin. Instead, he rolled down his window and yelled, "Belatz!" No response. No reaction. Belatz's windows were up and we suspect he was jamming to some sweet, vintage live Foghat at the time so he was utterly unaware that he was being watched.

"Belatz! Heeeeeeeeeey, Belatz!!!"

Nothing.

Later, at work Kevin stopped by Belatz's desk and cheerily said, "Hey, Beltaz. I saw you this morning on the freeway. Say, I didn't know you smoked a pipe."

Belatz stiffened, his mind retreating to the simplest if not most reliable defense – denial.

"That wasn't me," he uttered in a low register.

"Yeah. Yeah, I didn't know you smoked a pipe," Kevin reiterated with his patented folksiness.

The ire was rising within Belatz now. The thing about denial is once you use it, you're committed to it.

"You...did not...see me!" he repeated, emphasizing each word equally.

"Oh, OK. OK Belatz. I guess that wasn't you," Kevin feigned. "I guess that wasn't you smoking a pipe in the brown Nissan on the 101 this morning. My mistake."

Belatz behavior continues to baffle us. This episode is merely one of many that have led us to conclude that Belatz at best is confused about what is appropriate behavior in a workplace like ours and at worst is going to take some horrible revenge on us all someday. But to be honest, it's characters like Belatz and all the other kooks I work with that make getting through the day just a little easier. Maybe it's the zombies and vampires that we work with that make the rest of us think we're normal.

Friday, August 19, 2005

STARS, SHOOTING AND SHOT, SIGHTED

In the past week I have seen Donny Most at Starbucks and Barbara Eden in Gelson's Supermarket. Barbara looked good in her little pink get-up. Donny looked like happy old man. He has white, white hair now, but he was laughing and seemed to be having a good time so I'd say he's "still got it."

I also saw a meteor this morning while I was running. It was awesome. It was perfectly comet/sperm shaped and really streaked across the sky. It was nothing like a shooting star. Shooting stars seem more like they just drop out of the sky. This was more like something right there in front of you IN the sky.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

TREMENDOUS ADVENTURE IN EATON CANYON

Today I went on a nature hike into Eaton Canyon, a spot at the base of Mt. Wilson in Pasadena. Living in such a major city, it's easy to forget that places like this are around us. But they are!

Cindy had to work and I didn't feel like staying at home since the weather was so nice. My neighbor had told me about a waterfall he took his daughter to in Pasadena but I couldn't remember the name of it. In trying to find it on the web, I came across Eaton Canyon and decided to check it out instead. It took less that 30 minutes to drive there from our house. I parked the car and walked toward the Nature Center which is where the park ranger sits surrounded by displays, literature and the ubiquitous donation slot. Before I got there though I saw a directory with a map. No sign of the falls but at the end of the parking lot there was a tiny arrow that said "to falls." I considered getting more explicit directions from the ranger but didn't, figuring it would have to be clearly marked. So off I went.

The hike starts out very easy with big wide paths. Soon I came upon the stream which was potentially quite wide – the river rock extended probably 50 feet across – but the waterflow itself was not very formidable. So I kept going and going and going. Following the trail became more and more of a challenge the deeper I got. The path kept ending so I had to cross back and forth across the water in order to keep moving forward. It was all rock hopping. I felt like a mountain goat. It was neat though to find that skill remaining in my body's memory after years of non-use.

The geology was amazing. HUGE rock slides. The stream would bend around and around so the rock kept revealing itself in quite the dramatic fashion. Finally, after an hour I reached Eaton Canyon Falls, a fifty foot waterfall that cuts through the rock and into a large pool of crystal clear, cold water. It was awesome. There were maybe ten other people there. I watched two young brothers swim and listened to them scream at how cold the water was. I closed my eyes for a bit and just listened to the rushing water.

I stayed for about twenty minutes and then headed back. It took me an hour to reach the falls from the car but only 40 minutes to get back. My rock hopping skills had improved to the point where I was cutting back and forth across the water quite nimbly.

Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera but I plan on returning with one later in the summer. Here's some one else's photo.

Friday, August 12, 2005

MANDATORY ANTI-SEXUAL HARASSMENT TRAINING ABSURD

Today I attended the Anti-Sexual Harassment training class as required by the company I work for. What bullshit. Although I often favor irrational thought and the absence of logic in life, the severe stupidity and non-sensical premise on which this "training" is based frustrated me to no end.

The basic premise of the hour-long class was this: we are all adults here at this company and we all know what is appropriate behavior and what is not. Therefore, to maintain a work environment free of sexual harassment, all we need to do is behave appropriately.

As the nice lady teaching the class explained this, the dialogue started in my head. Well, I thought, if everyone in the company had the same standards for appropriate behavior and acted accordingly, then, yes, no one would ever be offended. But of course the truth is that everyone has different standards. What is humorous to me might be offensive to someone else. And if everyone DID have the same standards for behavior, then the notion of sexual harassment wouldn't exist and we wouldn't need to take this lame class.

But I kept my thoughts to myself. The class continued. The nice lady broke us up into groups so that we could each come up with two examples a piece of verbal, non-verbal, and physical harassment. A coworker of mine who I don't know was eager to participate and offered answers to all the nice lady's hypotheticals. He seemed to be "getting it" according to the nice lady. Others participated as well. As the conversation progressed, one smart-assed response after another rattled around in my brain. Eventually, Ii couldn't take it and tried to just zone out altogether.

But then she said this.

"If you see coworkers behaving in a way that you think others might find inappropriate, it is your responsibility to bring that behavior to the attention of your manager."

At that the guy who had been participating the most winced at the nice lady and said, "What?"

The nice lady repeated.

"If you see coworkers behaving in a way that you think others might find inappropriate, it is your responsibility to bring that behavior to the attention of your manager."

"Why should I have to do that? I don't want get involved with everyone else's business. I've got enough to think about. I just want to come in, do my work and go home."

Now you're getting it, I thought.

At the end we had to take an absurd quiz which more than anything tested my ability to make sense of double negatives.

"True or false? Your employer is not liable if an employee does not report possible sexual harassment."

Huh?

After the class was over and we all waited for the elevator, we all agreed to never speak to one another again in order to protect the integrity of the workplace.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

MY MAD WOODWORKING SKILLS

Good news! We have something to put our stereo on! Well, almost. I built a cabinet for it and am in the last stages of finishing it. A couple more coats of polyurethane on the shelves and THAT will be done. It was a lot more work and a lot more time-consuming than I thought it would be but, I think worth it in the end. Staining wood is fun. And I'm not just talking about the fumes and the danger involved with oily rags. It's cool to see the patterns in the wood come to life.

Of course, now it has become obvious that we need a pair of very narrow end tables to go on either side of our stretch couch. I think there's about 7 inches on either end so they're going to have to be REALLY narrow. Hopefully, we can find something simple that fits. If not, dare I say, I might have to make something.

Bad news! Our frigging couch is still in front of the house on the street!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

THE CITY IS TURNING US INTO WHITE TRASH!!!

To make room for the new couch we had to put the old one on the back deck. We thought that was very white trash. That is until two nights ago when we put it on the street in front of our house. Now that's ghetto. The city told us to pout it there before six AM and that they would pick it up during the day. I snuck off to work in the morning and returned that evening to see the couch still sitting in front of the house. Our neighborhood is very low-key and I've seen many other couches in front of many other houses so it's not a big deal, but it's still embarrassing as hell. It sure looks bad. Plus, someone must have had some interest in the cushions because the covers have been removed. WEIRD!!!

CITY EMPLOYEES: PLEASE TAKE OUR COUCH!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

THE COUCH THAT ROARED

Our den redesign is approaching completion, although having just written that I'm realizing how much this is more beginning than an end.

It all started months ago when Cindy and I sat on our 8-year old half-price Macy's floor sample couch and heard an undeniable creak. The weeks that followed included squeaks, cracks, pops, boings and groans. Finding a worthy replacement was an adventure in itself that included trips to many warehouses. We ended up getting a couch from the same store where we got our dining room set. It arrived last week (slightly damaged – "bastards!").

This couch is a good foot and a half longer than the old one so some rearranging was required. We decided the best thing to do was to basically flip the room so the couch is where the TV was and vice versa. We have surround sound so speakers needed to be repositioned. I thought I was so clever when we first moved in carefully running the speaker wires behind the baseboards and inside the walls. Well, of course all that had to be re-done. Anytime you put holes in the wall, it means days of patching, priming and painting and waiting for things to dry. Last night and today I put on the final coat of paint and cleaned the floor. Finally, finally, finally we can put the furniture back in and, gee, relax on our new couch. We still need to figure some things out – we need a carpet, we need to decide on a place for our 20 feet of LPs, we have nothing to put our stereo on – which is why I'm now feeling like the project is really only now getting under way.