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Friday, October 28, 2005

ALL HALLOWS EVE OF RECKONING - PART 2

I remember my Reckoning. I think I was 14 and I knew I was pushing it. But like an ex-con who just wants to pull that one last big heist before going straight forever, I resolved to go for one last night of Halloween candy-hoarding glory before facing the fact that I was too old to take part in the Trick-or-Treat tradition anymore.

My friend Arthur and I conducted strategy meetings days in advance. Our goal was simple: hit as many high quality houses as possible in order to maximize out total volume of candy. We planned our route with this in mind. Stay to the south and west of Abbott Road, to the north of Wellesley Ave., and to the east of Seaver Street. That basically formed a triangle, not unlike a piece of candy corn, filled with small streets – the highest concentration of middle-aged, well-to-do residents who were most likely to have the best candy and were least likely to delay us by inviting us in to "chat." For some reason, old people keep the bowl of candy in the kitchen instead of right by the door, so they always invite you in. Creepy, yes, but more to the point, too time-consuming. We agreed to avoid certain houses altogether due to the advanced years of the occupants. We were on good terms with most of the dogs in that neighborhood. Our costumes were non-binding and extremely lightweight for maximum speed and mobility. I think Arthur was an ink spot and I was a paramecium. Our bags, Big Brown Bags from Bloomingdales, were specially selected for size and sturdiness. They were big and had heavy-duty loop handles that wouldn't break even under tremendous strain.

We were at the height of our trick-or-treating abilities, grizzled veterans with the skill, experience and poise to attack the town, conquer it and bring home the mother of all candy lodes before retiring forever.

All went according to plan. Forest Street bisected our territory and served as our main corridor. We split up and covered individual streets, meeting back on Forest periodically to report any anomalies - houses with especially good candy or any with substandard portions. We criss-crossed back and forth at a breakneck pace, our bags growing heavier and bulkier with every passing block.

Ding Dong.

"Trick or Treat!"

"Well, hello there, young man. And what are you supposed to be? Some kind of jellyfish?"

"Trick or Treat!"

"Are you out all alone? Don't you have any little friends?"

"No, ma'am. Are those Smarties? I'll have five, please."

"Well, you shouldn't be out all alone, although you do look tall enough to take care of yourself."

"Is that a bowl of Blow Pops on the banister behind you?"

"A bean bag chair! That's what you are, right?"

"Paramecium, ma'am. These are for my little brother. He's sick and can't come out. Lyme Disease."

"A pair of what, now?"

"Gotta go, ma'am. Later!"

After just two hours, we had collected more candy than on any other Halloween of our lives. My Big Brown Bag was so full, I was sure I would have a bruise the next day where it kept banging against my right leg as I walked. At the end of Forest Street, Arthur and I congratulated each other. We weren't giddy, though. We were proud of ourselves, but also more than a bit wistful at the prospect of the end of this chapter of our lives. Fourteen is about the age when you first start to notice things coming to an end. New things take their place, but you've lived just enough to be able to look back and recognize that all that's left of some parts of your life are your memories.

We agreed to tally up the take at our respective homes and report back to each other in school the next day. We said goodnight. He took Washington Street towards his house. I turned back up Forest Street to take the path through Phillips School field and then up the hill to my house. I remember being struck by how quiet it was. Everyone else, I figured, was sticking to their own neighborhoods. There was no one around. No traffic. Only the buzzing from the amber fluorescent street lights overhead. Or maybe the buzzing was in my head. I felt dizzy from the sense of gratification pulsing through my veins.

I was just about to turn left onto the path when I heard the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of bicycle wheels behind me. I didn't look back, even when I heard "Excuse me," from a friendly sounding voice. Instinctively, I moved over to the left to let the bicycle pass me on the right. That's when I felt the bag ripped from my hand, the sturdy handle well up to the violent task and in an instant, the thief was fifteen feet up the sidewalk, a perfect silhouette on a ten-speed, skillfully balancing body, bike, and bag as it all raced away. Stunned, frozen, breathless, I watched as the silhouette shrank and shrank and eventually dissolved into the darkness ahead. I stood there motionless for what seemed like minutes. Finally, I looked down at the palm of my right hand, my fingers creased with red lines from holding the tremendous weight of the bag. The blood beneath my skin was already starting to dissipate and return to its rightful place.

"Nothing," I thought. "I've got nothing. That asshole just took everything."

I raised my hand to my forehead and covered my eyes. My face felt hot. I didn't feel like crying. I just couldn't believe what had just happened. Was it real? Was any of it real? It didn't seem real and yet when I looked for the bag of candy, it was no where to be found.

"Fu-uck."

I turned left onto the path and headed through Phillips School field. I cut through to the Greeley's driveway, a super steep climb over crumbling asphalt, decaying pine cones, and crunchy, dry maple leaves. This would be a lot harder if I sill had that bag, I thought.

ALL HALLOWS EVE OF RECKONING - PART 1

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

ALL HALLOWS EVE OF RECKONING - PART 1

At some point in every trick-or-treater's life, one must look at oneself in the mirror, look deep, deep beneath the gummy scar and glow-in-the-dark fangs, beneath the gnarled witch's wig and the magenta fake blood and ask, "Am I too old for this?" The All Hallows Eve of Reckoning, let us call it.

During our first two years in California, Cindy and I lived in a part of Los Angeles called Silver Lake, named after a man-made reservoir from which hills rise on the east and west sides. Silver Lake Boulevard and West Silver Lake Drive, our street, surround the lake. Back in the day some beautiful modern homes were built up there in those hills, Schindlers, Neutras, at least one Lautner. Cindy and I used to take walks and check them out before returning to our modest apartment on the first floor of a Spanish duplex. Keith lived on the second floor as he had for the previous 13 years. When we moved out he divulged the reason for his extended tenancy – an outrageously low rent, unheard of in Los Angeles. When I drive by the old place I look up the driveway and see Keith's Honda still there. Make that 18 years.

Our particular stretch of West Silver Lake Drive and some of the streets that branched off of it REALLY got into the Halloween spirit. Never before have I seen such intricate and painstakingly constructed holiday-inspired lawn scenes as I did during the two Octobers we spent there. I'm not talking about dummy witches straddling telephone poles or plastic door wraps with "Happy Halloween" printed on them. I'm talking about what amounted to theatrical sets lovingly crafted by frighteningly talented people. Saguaro cacti became multi-armed spike monsters, normally manicured yards became cemeteries, corpses crept from their graves, and entire homes were transformed into hellish tombs of horror all for delight of those children who dared to venture out into the dark each October 31st.

And venture out they did. You'll think I'm exaggerating but each Halloween we were there, easily two hundred kids came to our door looking for candy. Apparently, it's a tradition in that neighborhood. They shut down a few of the streets and the whole place becomes an outdoor spooky festival. Parents come from all over just to have their kids trick-or-treat there. The first year, we were woefully unprepared, buying just three bags of candy. Depleted of treats in less than an hour, we were forced to turn out all the lights and hide in the back of the house until the doorbell stopped ringing.

The next year we were ready. We had our own little party and asked everyone to bring something to hand out. We took turns answering the door. It was fun and the kids were all cute and nice and polite and well behaved and beyond any reproach whatsoever. We had high-tech killers (the mask from the Scream movies with actual real fake blood streaming down the outside), low-tech classics (the traditional hobo with the stick and handkerchief over the shoulder), the monstrous (a child who I think actually was part bat), and the adorable (one kid who admitted sheepishly that even he didn't know what he was supposed to be). Those kids, God love 'em. May they enjoy these ghoulish festivities until their All Hallows Eve of Reckoning is upon them.

There was one trick-or-treater, however, whose Reckoning I fear came many years ago only to be summarily dismissed. The doorbell rang and I answered. A group of maybe five kids eagerly chimed "Trick or Treat," handfuls of sweets their reward. One by one they thanked me and shuffled aside until the last one stepped forward.

"Trick or Treat," came the voice from behind one of the cheap plastic masks you get from the RiteAid, the kind with the micro-thin rubber band held in place by two staples. I think it was a skeleton mask, but I was distracted by the voice. It was awfully low and jaded sounding. I looked for a costume but only found Wranglers wrapped around a suspicious paunch. A Dickies jacket stained liberally with white paint covered a stocky frame. I peered a little more closely at the mask which was a little too small and didn't completely cover his face. And then I saw it. The mask was failing to conceal a full beard. This was no child before me. This was a full grown man who apparently worked as a painter during the day and supplemented his diet by posing as a child on Halloween. I felt both impressed and sorry for this guy, so I gave him a handful of chocolate and sent him on his way. Here is someone who must know he's too old for Halloween but refuses to give in. He has met his All Hallows Eve of Reckoning and scoffed at it. You have to respect that. Or if not respect, then accept it and move on.

ALL HALLOWS EVE OF RECKONING - PART 2

Monday, October 24, 2005

THE NEW HALLOWEEN

Last year, our doorbell rang just once all Halloween night. We opened the door to a gaggle of children all different ages. About ten were at the door. An equal number milled around in the street, apparently waiting for the initial glut to dissipate before making their approach to the bowl of Snickers, Milky Ways, and Three Musketeers Cindy and I give out each year. Why is the smallest size called the "Fun Size?" Wouldn't it be more fun to have a really humongous Snickers? What's so fun about wishing you had more chocolate?

I looked below at the painted, magic-markered, wigged, masked, fanged, eyepatched, sequin-spangled (this is Los Angeles, after all), pork-pie hat-topped, sword-wielding, prosthesis-wearing, and generally supremely festooned children ranging in age from I'd say 4 to 12. Unfortunately, the excellent execution of their costumes only accentuated the relative weakness of their "Trick or Treat" which had the unmistakable murmur quality of something they were forced to say by their parents. It kind of dribbled off their lips like a bloop of unattended-to spittle. Odd, I thought, but then immediately remembered having the same reaction last year. As I meted out the booty, bag by bag, vampire by Wookiee, I sensed an impatience among the crowd, but not an exuberant one like "Gimme, gimme candy so I can go get some more from the next house!" but more like, "Let's get this over with so Mom will get off my back and I can get back my AIM and my PSP."

What happened? When did Halloween become a chore?

I looked out into the street and saw easily twelve adults forming a crescent before the curb. They watched closely as each child dutifully said "Thank you" and sternly reminded the ones that didn't that they should. One proud daddy, now that his flash had warmed up, asked a little girl dressed in pink nylon, wire wings and a tiara to go back and pretend to get a second candy bar. Take two, and this time with feeling, please.

"Back off, dude. This is her moment, not yours," I said.

Actually, that's not what I said. What I said was, "Oh you're so beautiful! Are you a fairy or a princess?" But what I was thinking was why is this guy even here? Halloween used to be about kids running amok all over town WITHOUT adult supervision. That's what really made it fun. Think of it. Kids going door to door demanding candy and the parents forced to obey. It was one of the few times of the year when the kids ruled over the adults. The fact that you got to dress up like a pirate and go home with a pillow case full of sugar was just the nougat in the caramel. Why do today's parents feel the need to supervise? Is it really more dangerous out there or has CNN and Fox News and Dubya brainwashed us into thinking that although ours is the greatest nation in the world, you probably don't want to let you kids out of your sight until they're old enough to, well, to give up trick-or-treating altogether? And while you've got your camera out to take that photo of little Ashley, get a shot of that guy handing out the candy. He looks a little suspicious.

What a shame.

With all the sugar transactions completed, and the appropriate oo-ing an ah-ing dispensed, the parents herded their kids back into the street and on to the next house. That's when one mother looked back and said to me and Cindy, "Next year, we'll have to get you two out here."

I'm still trying to figure out what she meant by that.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

OJAI

Cindy and I celebrated a recent milestone by taking off for a day/night/day. We drove through the orange groves and pumpkin patches north to Ojai and stayed at a nice little place called the Green Iguana. 24 hours and a lot of food later, we returned.

Click here to see some photos.

Friday, October 21, 2005

EARLY 90s SKETCH OF ME IN THERAPY

Back in the early 90s, I used see a young, enthusiastic but ultimately distracted psychologist once a week. We were both pretty green, me at talking, she at listening. At some point back then I drew this sketch. That's me blabbing away and keeping an eye on the clock.

Click here to see the big picture.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

I MUCH FEAR TROUBLE IN THE FUSELAGE, FREDERICK

The legend of Belatz may be reaching its conclusion. The gossip-monger in me should be sorry since he's been such an inspiration, but the survivor in me likes oxygen and sunlight too much to regret the impending closure of the Belatz file.

To recap, Belatz was hired here last spring. After some time with us, this self-professed "expert" on "computer usability" explained that when he graduated from one of the Cal State schools, the CIA tried to recruit him. Outraged when their solicitation was declined, the CIA began a campaign of intimidation and disinformation regarding Belatz's mental competence and personal history. They altered his records to include time spent at a mental institution where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and forced to take mind-altering drugs. Ultimately released, Belatz remains to this day surveilled and tormented by the United States government. Once in an open field in Bulgaria, Belatz looked up into the sky and saw the planes, the planes that were photographing him from 20,000 feet.

This is Belatz's story and he's sticking to it.

Shortly after this tale made the rounds here at work, my associate co-collegue Kevin saw him smoking pot in his car on the way to work on the 101 Freeway. His angry denial unwittingly prompted us to dub him "Most Troubling Co-worker." Since then his very special behavior has included such nuggets as:

• Walking into the office of the one of our Senior Vice Presidents and accusing him of spreading rumors about Belatz's drug use. [Note: The hapless and confused SVP had never even seen him before.]

• Commenting to another SVP on the elevator, "Boy, you're really fat. Look at your stomach, how far out it sticks. I could help you to lose all that fat."

• Walking around the office with a gigantic jar of dill pickles, the kind you see on the deli counter at the grocery store, offering them to everyone while dipping his entire hand into the pickle juice to extract one briny cuke after another. Hapless and confused co-workers were disgusted and creeped out when Belatz raised the mammoth jar to his lips and took a healthy slug of salty, acidic slurry. He kept the jar in the kitchen fridge for weeks.

• Telling the Chief Technology Officer (who has a Ph.D. in Computer Science) that should he have any questions for Belatz, that he has an "open door policy." In actuality, Belatz has a no door policy since he works in a three-walled cubicle like the rest of us.

• Wearing shorts to work. Not baggy cargo shorts, but the short shorts like tennis players and basketball players used to wear back in the seventies. He was asked to go home and change.

• Walking into the office of the owner/president/founder/CEO of the company (while he was in a meeting no less), handing him a piece of paper with a random series of lines drawn on it, telling the president that this was something he should "really take a look at," and then walking out. Hapless and confused, the president followed up with a co-worker of Belatz's but never received any explanation as to the drawing's significance.

• Leaving a tiny post-it note on the monitor of a co-worker (not his boss, mind you) declaring that he'd be "taking a few days off." He returned a week later.

• Accusing several people of "looking at him funny."

Actually, you can't really blame him for that last one. It's hard to fight the temptation to look a member of the undead when one is looking at you. Did I mention that he's undead? I'm sure I did.

These bizarre behaviors, riotously inappropriate though they may be, pale in comparison to his actions yesterday. Yesterday he outdid himself. Here's the story as it was told to me.

Belatz, obviously agitated and upset which is not uncommon, came in and sat down at his desk which is situated against one of the walls along with several others separated only by short half walls about four feet high. These walls are favored because they allow co-workers to be hear each other easily. They are also unfortunate for the same reason. Almost immediately, he began loudly accusing the new Chief Financial Officer, who fortunately was on the other side of the building, of following him into the bathroom and masterbating while Belatz was taking a pee.

Let's all take a moment, here and think about that.

Belatz's immediate co-workers quickly filed into their boss' office and unanimously explained that they could no longer tolerate this bizarre behavior. Belatz was sent home for the day. That's a good thing but today I fear that the day of reckoning may be upon us. Will he return? If so, what will he intend? See, my desk is one of the ones nearest the lobby door. I sit with my back to that door.

Monday, October 17, 2005

MORE MAD WOODWORKING SKILLS

We needed new cases for our LPs so I fashioned a couple out of pine. It was fun but took a long time.

Click here to see photos.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

WRAPPED IN CELLOPHANE

If you had told me when I was 16 that someday Cadillac would be using Led Zeppelin to sell their cars I would have laughed and laughed and laughed. My eyes would water and turn red (or redder) and I would double over from the pain in my side from the abdominal strain. Soon I would have trouble breathing and the laughter would turn more into wheezing and gasping and without proper oxygen flow, I would start to convulse until my legs would weaken beneath me and I would lose my balance and fall to the floor, where, heaving and writhing, I would start gagging, my face darkening and swelling as the pressure of air and blood inflated my head. Soon a full body spasm would take over. No air getting through at all. Just a twitching, swollen, blood red mass squeaking on the floor. Then it would all end suddenly as my head would pop like cherry tomato.

Yep, that's what would have happened had you told me at 16 that someday Cadillac would be using Led Zeppelin to sell their cars.

It's been three years since I first heard the unmistakable boom of Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" used as the sonic exclamation point on an ad for the Cadillac CTS. I'm sure it's working out great for both the car maker and the musicians, and I suspect that Zeppelin's legendary manager Peter Grant even from the grave somehow got a taste of that sweet action. But as someone who grew up believing that rock and roll is created by artists and advertising is created by confidence men, seeing the two become one makes me cringe. Literally, physically cringe.

Before the world lets out a unanimous groan at the thought of some old guy lamenting the loss of some childish, outdated counter-culture ideal which I now suspect was the product of the same sort of careful marketing devised by businessmen trying to cash in on the hippie optimism of the day ("They're singing about peace, love and understanding. I can sell that!"), let me just say this. I understand the reality of the situation. I understand that radio no longer exists. It has been replaced by one long commercial for cheap credit consolidation and Viagra. I also understand that to make up for that loss and to get their product out there, record companies have mined alternate channels such as television shows, computer games, and, yes, commercials. I understand the logic of it all. But that doesn' t mean I like it.

I never really got into the Doors. Maybe it's because when I was small I was alone in the basement one night when "Riders on the Storm" came on WVBF. The combination of Jim Morrison's creepy baritone and the rainy sound effects freaked me out. Or maybe it's because there was a guy in high school named Bob Dugan who had the Doors logo emblazoned not only across the hood of his Plymouth Barracuda but also across his right bicep and I couldn't help but think he'd regret it someday when he discovered that the music that really spoke to him was Human League. After all, Bob's only human. Despite my disinterest in the band, when I read that the Doors drummer John Densmore had refused to allow the band's music to be used in, you guessed in, Cadillac ads, I felt like I was seeing something quite rare in the modern corporate arena: personal integrity. The car maker offered Densmore and the other two remaining band members $15 million for the use of "Break On Through," but Densmore refused to allow the deal to go through, explaining,"That's not for rent." So here's something I never thought I'd say. Nice going, drummer from the Doors! Your sloppy drum rolls and fills have always irritated me, but I respect your loyalty to your art and your principled rejection of greed. You didn't sell out and to me, that means a lot.

This past summer I went to see the nearly four hour director's cut of Woodstock. A high point of the movie is Santana's performance of "Soul Sacrifice." It was genuinely hypnotic to watch Carlos Santana slowly raise the crowd above the farmland, and whip them around and around with his music. It was as close to true magic as I've ever seen. Not a trick, but actual magic.

One morning last week over breakfast, Cindy half sarcastically asked, "Do you want to go meet Carlos Santana at Macy's?" nodding her head toward a section of the L.A. Times. Upside down I saw a large ad with a sepia tone photo of a deliberately posed Carlos Santana. He looked blankly at the camera. He looked defeated the way the lion in the glass cage at the Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel sullenly looks out at the fat, shorts-wearing, fanny-packed tourists.

"He's selling his collection of fragrances for men and women," Cindy explained.

I cringed. Literally, physically cringed.

But as far as I know
They may even try to wrap me up in cellophane and try and sell me
Brothers help me, and dont worry about lookin at the storm
Jimi Hendrix
Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Thursday, October 13, 2005

HONK IF YOU LOVE TECHNOLOGY

Back to important things like the restroom situation at work. I walked in on Monday to do my usual business. After two cups of coffee and a 20 mile commute, you can guess where my priorities lie when I arrive on the 14th floor. Our one men's room boasts two urinals, identical except that one is about a foot and a half higher than the other, and two stalls, identical except that one is about two feet wider than the other. Folks, I'm a stall man. I take privacy wherever I can. Brotherhood is all good and well but when I'm holding mine and you're holding yours, I prefer a metal door with a little dead bolt between us, thank you very much.

This morning it was business as usual for Tom for L.A. Off the elevator, past the reception desk, into the restroom and into the stall. I did my business and reached for the flush handle as I always do – with my left foot. But as my Doc Marten approached the chrome, what can only be described as a defensive honking reverberated off the tiles. It sounded remarkably like a Canada goose like we used to have back in New England. They were everywhere. Golf courses, industrial parks, softball fields. One of the few things I liked about Waltham was a walkway that stretched alongside the Charles River. From the north side looking east there was a terrific view of the deep red brick of the old Waltham Watch Company Building. At certain times of the year, often after new goslings had hatched, tons of Canada geese would make the banks between the walkway and the river their home. A goose will let you get pretty close but if you get too close, it will either put its head down to the ground and hiss like a cat or it will rise up, flap its wings and honk. When this would happen to me on the banks of the Charles, I would recoil in fear much like I did when this toilet honked at me at work.

The regular chrome handle has been replaced by an automatic fllushing system. An electronic sensor with a ominous black eye does the required sensing. It looks like a shark's eye, no depth, no soul behind it. I suppose I should be grateful that I no longer need to worry about encountering other people's specimens when I enter the stall, but the truth is I feel like some element of power has been taken away from me. The bastards, whoever they are, have taken another piece of personal control away from me. I no longer own my own flush. The almighty and all-powerful sensor does. Yet another machine has been deposited in my world for my own good, no doubt. Freed from the shackles of having to expend my limited brain power on remembering to flush, now I can focus on more important things, like productivity I suppose. Maybe someday they'll outfit cubicles with little bathroom stalls so we can just keep on working through it all.

[Note: Associate co-collegue Kevin is convinced that the black eye actually houses a camera and that our peeing is being monitored.]

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

TRAFFIC POLL ~
LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK

In front of the building where I work there's a large intersection. There's a lot of traffic both automotive and pedestrian. If you need to make a right hand turn and there are pedestrians on the corner to your right waiting to cross, the etiquette (and the law for that matter) is that when the light turns green, pedestrians have the right of way so you have to wait for them to get out of the way and then you go. Makes sense.

Well, the other day at lunch time I was waiting for the light to change so I could make a right hand turn. There were no pedestrians waiting to cross in front of me. When the light changed to green, I started to make my turn. I was in the crosswalk when out of no where came a woman sprinting down the sidewalk trying to get to the intersection before I could make my turn so that she could cross in front of me. But it was too late. I was already too far out in the intersection so I just kept going past her.

I'm pretty sure the woman thought I was a fucking asshole for doing that because she gave me a dirty look. Also, she screamed, "FUCKING ASSHOLE!" and slapped my car as I drove off. She frightened me. I just kept going but I had to wonder if I should have stopped and said something back. Should I have taken the time to explain my side? Should I have called her a name back? What do you think I should have done? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

KUDOS!
TRUE AMERICANS DO THEIR DUTY

I know, I know. This is long overdue. Apologies for not taking care of this important piece of business sooner.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the Americans, the real Americans, the thinking, rational, and decent Americans who refused to listen to the nay-sayers and the gloom-and-doomers, the Americans who believed in the principles set forth by this great nation's founding fathers, the Americans whose faith in this country's limitless potential never wavered. These brave Americans twice stood up and did what they knew was right for this great land of ours. In honor of these blessed souls, I wish there were a way to double capitalize the "A" in Americans because, let me tell you, these folks deserve it. In fact, if we could double capitalize the "A" and make the rest of the letters regular capital size so that they were bigger than regular lower case letters but still smaller than the double big "A" because if they were all double big, it might look like an abbreviation or, what do they call it, an acronym, which it's not, although I bet if we put our heads together we could come up with something clever. Anyway, you get what I'm saying. If we could make a bigger "A" in a way that reflects the decency of these fine Americans, then I'd be all for that.

Of course, the Americans I speak of are the wise and compassionate and blessed Americans who voted for George W. Bush. With Supreme Court appointments pending, foreign constitutional elections coming up, and assorted domestic challenges in the news, now might be a good time to review some of the major accomplishments of these red-staters. To quote our able leader, "Yer doin' a heck of a job."

The Environment: Take That, Nature!
This week, Congress approved a bill to change the Endangered Species Act, thereby removing many outdated and unreasonable restrictions on land developers, one the nation's neediest groups. These changes include the elimination of over-reaching protections for plants, animals and habitats as well as the lifting of a requirement for ESA compliance for the spraying of pesticides. In addition, tax-payer dollars would be used to pay developers to comply with existing laws. To any reasonable person, these changes make sense. After all, what do pesticides do? They kill bugs. That's a good thing, isn't it? Think about it. When you're out in the backyard on a Sunday afternoon standing over the Weber One-Touch with a plate of burgers in one hand and a can of Kingsford flame thrower in the other and the neighbor's wife is telling you how good you look in your "Kiss the Cook" apron with the spatula holster, and a mosquito lands on your nose, do you think some bug lover from the Endangered Species Act is going to jump out from behind the rosemary bush and gently shoo that bug away? Guess again, Chef Tell. That mosquito's proboscis is headed straight through your dermis to get some of that fine Michelob-infused blood of yours while Mrs. Jones is hightailing it back across the petunias to her own house. Pesticides are good. A lot of decent Americans grew up, went to school, got jobs and lived out their whole lives in states where pesticides were used plenty. Many of those states are red today, God bless them.

The War in Iraq: Democracy Rocks!
Some people accuse the President of making up his mind on issues first and finding the reasons to justify his decisions second. Some say this indicates a rigid close-mindedness and a fundamental inability to think creatively. If the President's explanations of why we need to pursue war in Iraq demonstrate anything, it's that he is actually one of our most creative thinkers. First, it was Weapons of Mass Destruction. Check. Today we live in a world in which Iraq has no WMD. Then, it was bringing democracy to the Iraqi people. Done and done. Iraqis have embraced the principles of democracy so heartily that they are willing to die for it. To date, approximately 25,000 Iraqi civilians have shown that level of commitment to the cause and about 2,000 American soldiers have shown them the way. Democracy? Check. Next up, a new Cold War. Steely-eyed and well-groomed, the President last week said that now the war is about keeping radical Islamists from taking over the region from Spain to Indonesia. Meet the new Cold War. Same as the old Cold War. If the ability to so skillfully and frequently change the reasoning behind the American presence in Iraq isn't creative thinking, then I don't know what is.

Medicare Benefits: Another Use for Wilderness
The President has made it easier than ever for the sick and the elderly to receive quality healthcare. Older folks enjoy the mental stimulation of being put on hold and hitting the redial button. It keeps their minds sharp and their bodies fit. And since we need to reduce government spending in order to pay for Katrina and Rita, why not make use of some of the Arctic Refuge by relocating some of the really older and sicker folks out there. I don't mean house them there. I mean set them outside. What better tribute could we give them than to send them on to the next world secure in the knowledge that they're serving their country by not consuming any more of our precious drugs.
[Bonus: It snows a lot up there which logistically speaking is a good thing.]

Tax Cuts: Giving Credit Where Credit is Due
Our democratic way of life is based on good old capitalism. It's a kind, fair system in which each citizen has the right to look down on those less fortunate. The more people to whom you are superior, the more you deserve the riches of the land. After all, you earned it. It only makes sense. Therefore, the President's tax cuts, by rewarding the toughest, the luckiest-to-be-born-into-their-family, and the most famous Americans, fuel the economy and keep it going in the direction that works best for everyone. After all, wealth isn't a privilege nor is it a right. It's your duty as an American to step on as many people as you can as you climb that ladder of success in the pursuit of happiness. And if you really want to be patriotic, stomp on some fingers to make sure they stay down.

And so, red-staters, all Americans owe you immensely. Goodbye to the endangered animals. Goodbye to pesky pests. Goodbye to Allah. Goodbye to all the old, sick, poor people, whose memory we must honor by making it easier for them to go. Thank you, thank you, thank you. How can we ever repay you for bringing us a leader like George W. Bush? We are a prouder, safer, stronger nation than ever before and we have your wisdom to thank for it.

Not to sound greedy but, what can you possibly do as an encore? What other tricks do you have up your sleeve? A new election is only a couple of years away. Who is that lurking in the shadows of the heartland somewhere between Mt. Rushmore and the Ozarks? Mr. Cheney? Condi? Is that you? Come out, come out, wherever you are!

Friday, October 07, 2005

CO-WORKER'S DRAWING OF HAWAII

Associate co-collegue Kevin went to Hawaii for vacation. He just got back this week. Here is an oil pastel drawing he did of the beach. Cool!

Click here to see the big picture.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

JUST PLAIN PECULIAR

OK, this was odd. This morning on the 101 I drove past a car with a California license plate that said "JEDI VI." About five minutes later I drove past a car with a California license plate that said "JEDI IM." No doubt a conspiracy of some sort is afoot.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

VISCERAL RETENTION

Music is magical. It can soothe, yes, but it can also call you out on your bullshit. It can touch you so deeply and so specifically that it brands your innards, scarring tissue, permanently attaching itself to the events, major and minor, of your life. Sometimes a song reveals an eerie ability to understand you better than you do yourself. It can let you in on all sorts of secrets. And such permanence. It stakes little flags throughout the timeline of your life so that when you hear a song that affected you long ago, like the smell of a neighbor's house or the taste of tequila, it transports you back, right back to exactly the same spot in time. You hear the sound and you know precisely what you were feeling, where you were, what was happening when it first burned itself into your soul.

When my dad died on St. Patrick's Day of 1990, I didn't have much going for me. I was in mid-sabotage of my relationship with my girlfriend. I didn't have a job and relied on my parents to pay the rent. I was four years out of college but behaving like it was still sophomore year. Part of me knew that I needed to make massive, violent changes in my life, but a much more powerful part was bullying the other part into submission. I had whittled my friends down to the unfortunate few who could still tolerate me. Worst of all, I felt there was no hope for me. I felt like I was waiting at a bus stop without a schedule to tell me when or even if a bus was coming. I was sure that I was the weakest, most defenseless person I'd ever known. Could I be any more pathetic?

It would seem that I saw my dad's death as an opportunity to find out. I tested the limits of my depression for about a year. And the soundtrack to that depraved adventure into the depths of self-abuse was Neil Young's Freedom. Alternately punk-abrasive and hippie-mellow, that album poured out of my CD player and washed across my clammy, hungover skin hour after hour, day after day, keeping me company while I waited around to see what would happen next. The days grew longer and the dogwood buds burst around me. After a while, it got hot and sticky and the air conditioner propped up on the sill of my bedroom window tried mightily to battle the rising temperatures. By September, my girlfriend had had enough and vanished one weekend while I was away. I came home to find the apartment mostly empty with only dust and crumbs and pennies on her side of dresser drawers. But the sounds of the album were still there, accompanying me on endless, destination-less drives through Wayland, Acton, Sudbury, and on two manic days of sleepless wall painting. Winter came, then spring, and somehow from the depths I began to emerge. There was Neil Young's straining falsetto, still there to see me through, to keep me company. There was his twangy Les Paul to bounce me along my way. Like a whiff of ammonia, the rawness of his screeching voice helped bring me to.

Now safely in the rear view mirror, that time has taken on a golden, slightly sheened patina. The last fifteen have put that one year in a context that I almost cherish. Horrific though it was, it was ultimately necessary. I see that now. And although I hope never again to be so low, now when I hear a snippet from that album, it makes feel nauseously warm.

Neil Young came out with a new CD last month. I bought it the day it was released.

Monday, October 03, 2005

WILSHIRE WEIRDNESS

Yesterday, I drove from Wadsworth Chapel at the Veteran Affairs campus to LACMA. A straight shot up Wilshire Boulevard though Beverly Hills. I came to stop light a few blocks north of Rodeo Drive. On the north side of the road I saw a seemingly clean woman sleeping on a bench surrounded by seemingly unclean plastic bags full of clothes and empty cans and bottles. The woman looked supremely happy. Not sure how to calculate those brain inputs I turned to look the other way. On the south side of the street Dyan Cannon skittishly walked two tiny dogs past a bank. She looked very threatened and exposed. Then the light turned green so I just drove off and left the happy woman on the bench and the threatened woman on the sidewalk.