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Friday, December 30, 2005

OR HELL!

We stopped at the Chick-fil-A in Macon and picked up "The Good News Weekly" which contaied this nugget. I like the options they give you as to how to answer the "?"...





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Thursday, December 29, 2005

A COMEDY CLASSIC

From yesterday's Waycross Journal-Herald. I didn't know that the classic comedy weapon the "board with a nail sticking out of it" actually existed.





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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

NANA'S VCR

Cindy and I visit her grandmother and great aunt in Waycross, Georgia every Christmas. Setting their VCR so the "12:00" didn't blink used to be one of my annual chores till I got wise.





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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

US ROUTE 1 SIGNAGE

Cindy and I drove down to Jacksonville, Florida to pick up her sister Lisa. Here are some shots from the trip back to Waycross, Georgia.













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Monday, December 26, 2005

THE REASON FOR THE SEASON

Cindy and I are visiting her family in Georgia this week. Here's a photo I took Christmas night at the Chevron station in Waycross. I found the sign by the cash register helpful.





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Sunday, December 25, 2005

WITHOUT ANY FEAR

Remember how weird every little thing seemed in the months after September 11, 2001? How people were afraid to attend any event that involved more than twenty other people? How people stayed home for Christmas rather than fly across country? Remember what that was like? I do because I was one of those people.

Like so many others that morning, I watched the World Trade Center come crashing down live on television and then I got in my car and went to work. The scene on TV seemed so bizarre that my instincts took hold and told me to latch onto anything resembling normal, established reality. For once, the 101 served an emotion other than frustration. I called my mom ostensibly to "make sure she was OK," a ludicrous pretense considering she was in Newton, Massachusetts, recently rated THE safest place to live in the United States. More accurately, I called because I needed to hear my mommy's voice. I remember I asked her, and I can not believe I said this but I know that I did, "Why do they hate Americans so much?" In the months and years ahead I would learn, just how unaware I had been to ask such a naîve innocent question. I would come to think of myself as a sucker, as in "Sucka!"

Usually, Cindy and I spend the holidays in either the South or New England. But not that year. Looking back, I know it was irrational. Hell, at the time I knew it was irrational. I understood that I was more likely to die in the Earthquake of Earthquakes that is way past due here in Southern California than I was to die in a fiery terrorist-induced plane crash. But knowing that gave me no more comfort than the seat cushions they rent out to the nose-bleed crowd at the Hollywood Bowl. The recognition of my own irrationality made the thought of boarding a plane that holiday season no less terrifying. Logic was useless to me. It was like I caught a phobia bug, a six-month fear-of-flying. I figured it would pass.

It did as did the fear of attending large events, the fear of the mail, and the fear of vaguely swarthy types in ill-fitting suits who seem unaccustomed to American social conventions. But in the middle of it all fell Christmas and along with it, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Holiday Light Festival. Each year, the LADWP lines a mile of Crystal Springs Boulevard (one of the two narrow main roads that wind through the massive Griffith Park) with a light display that tries mightily to pay tribute to all things Los Angeles. There's a little City Hall and a little Hollywood Sign and a little LAX and a little Surfrider Beach and a little Santa Monica Pier. If there's a symbol that the rest of the world associates with Los Angeles, then it's duly represented here in red, green, blue and white lights. I'm surprised they don't have a little overpriced 2-bed 2-bath fixer and a little group of day laborers standing on a little street corner.

A few observations RE: the LADWP HLF...

• Rather than block off the road to make it a fully pedestrian affair, the roadway remains open so that if you want you can drive through the festival. That's right, it's a drive-thru. If you're among the minority that chooses to walk (as my friends and I did in 2001), the holiday cheer is mixed with a hefty dose of carbon monoxide fumes. The lights illuminate the bluish-white exhaust as it rises to about chin level and then dissolves like soap bubbles do after they pop. By the time you reach the large canopy of white lights and loud music indicating the end of the route, the joy is somewhat nauseating and requires a couple of Excedrin to bang it back.

• The year that California had its big energy crisis, the Holiday Light Festival wasn't scaled back by a single tungsten filament.

• We saw Rob Morrow driving through with his family. He didn't look particularly joyful.

So in lieu of Christmas in Georgia or New Year's in Maine, Cindy and I and friends Chris and Nick set out along the hard, dusty sandy path that ran alongside the road through the Holiday Light Festival on December 23, 2001. Alongside our Los Angeles brethren, we apparently were "doing our part" by going about our normal lives.Though unusually subdued, people seemed happy enough just to be participating.

I, however, did not feel as though I was participating. I felt more like a camera in the service of an extended dolly shot, indifferently recording the scene with all its happy clichés (the lights, the Santas, the carols) and dirty clichés (the dust/exhaust clouds, the bickering couples, the abusive parents). Like Laverne DeFazio's milk-and-Pepsi combination, the mixing of the absurd fantasy and harsh reality grossed me out and made me more and more tense the deeper into the park we walked. I remember actually thinking that at any moment a bomb could go off or I would hear gunshots or someone in the crowd would start to scream for some unseen reason causing a sweep of fear and panic and a stampede that could only end horribly. "4 DIE IN FESTIVAL STAMPEDE" THE L.A. Times headline would scream. But I trudged on not offering much other than the occasional acknowledgment that I recognized the odd incandescent representation of a well-known Los Angeles landmark all the while thinking, "OK, we're almost done. We're almost done. Where's that damn white canopy?"

And then, like a finish line, there it was, way up ahead but within eyesight. The canopy is a good 30 feet long and made of extra bright lights, all white, that light up everything beneath it so much that not only could you read under it, you could perform surgery. From where we were, the music was indiscernible but sent hollow echos bouncing off the trail-filled hills of the park, no doubt confusing the coyotes and deer that live there. For some reason, though, I didn't feel relieved to see the end up ahead. It seemed even more ominous than the rest of the trek. Was the canopy the likely target of some yet to be named evil-doer? Terrorist attacks often seem to have some element of "just when they thought it was safe, they were mercilessly gunned down" or "in the middle of the family celebration, the suicide bomber detonated his backpack" or "the school bus had just returned from a day-long field trip when the explosion occurred." Is that just coincidence or do the terrorists plan it that way as sort of an extra "up yours, infidels!" on their way out?

Each step made things eerier and eerier. Then the topper: I could make out what song was playing over the speakers. It was John Lennon's Happy Christmas (War Is Over), one that as a rule I only tolerate when escape is impossible. Don't get me wrong—I love the Lennon of myth, his timeless irreverence, the semi-informed cynicism, the unrelenting skepticism, the vicious sarcasm, the refusal to take anyone's shit lest he turn to shit himself. But this song is just too much, too harsh.

Almost all the lyrics, on paper anyway, are hopeful and benign.
So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
Ans so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young
But Lennon's anger bites through the good cheer like a starving, abused Doberman. "Merry Christmas, you sap," is how I've always heard it. And hearing Lennon's piercing rasp mocking us from above in the already tense circumstance of the Holiday Light Festival reminded me of the phone call I made to my mother on September 11th. I wanted to embrace the words at face value, to really believe that there was hope, for the weak and the strong and the rich and the poor, but Lennon's voice was loudly and clearly saying, "Sucka!"
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
It was mocking us for indulging in our insipid diversion, the lights designed to momentarily distract us from the horrible fact of a world crumbling around us the same way jingling car keys distract an infant from the fact that it's sitting in its own waste.

We made it to the end of the path and for that I was grateful. I needed a drink, bad. Cindy and I said goodnight to Chris and Nick and got in our car and headed home. Things were pretty quiet as we wound our way out of the park. Back on the 5, I opened with, "Sweetie?"

"Yes, dear."

"I don't think we need to do this again, do we?"

"Nope."

"Good."



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Friday, December 23, 2005

INFLATABLE HOMER AND ELECTRIC PALM

Christmas decorations seen in my neighborhood this week...







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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

SNAPPED ON THE WAY TO WORK TODAY

This guardrail snowman waits all year for Christmas at the Haskell exit off the 101 North.


I think this guy likes the Lakers.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

HALF SPEED

The other day the pain of an hour-long commute home was drastically reduced by an episode of THE HOLLYWOOD PODCAST. Host Tim Coyne asked his friend Dave to compile a list of the top ten guitar solos since 1975. As soon as I heard the subject, I began rifling through my memory banks for the guitar solos that I considered the best of the best. As Tim points out, lists like this are personal expressions of personal preferences. There's no one right list that will satisfy everyone. Everybody has their own take.

Post '75, hmm? I quickly started fleshing out the list with sure things...Stevie Ray Vaughan, Randy Rhoads...but from the moment I heard "Top Ten Guitar Solos," there was no question what my #1 would be: Eruption by Van Halen from their 1978 debut album entitled Van Halen. No deliberation was required. None whatsoever. And as Tim and Dave started their ascent up the list, I wondered where my #1 would appear, if at all.

When I was a sophomore in high school in 1980, my friend Kevin and I heard about "Independent Study," a deal where you could get class credit for doing some sort of project outside of school and then submitting monthly reports. Through a brother of a friend we found out that our "project" could be volunteering as disc jockeys at the Wellesley College radio station. Back then WZLY 91.5 fizzled its 50 watts out across a half mile radius, transmitting from Alumni Hall, an creepy, musty, beautiful 100-year-old auditorium on the campus of the all girls school. We signed up, took the FCC test and within a couple weeks had our own radio show, two hours every Friday night from 8 -10, "The Tom and Kevin Show."

This was a sweet deal. Think about it. Two 16 year old boys spending their weekends with college girls and getting school credit for it. OK, they were creepy, musty, not so beautiful Wellesley College girls, but college girls just the same. And on top of that, we got to hang out at the studio whenever we wanted. It wasn't a 24 hour operation so a lot of the time we had the place to ourselves. It sort of became our clubhouse.

The entire station was tightly contained in a converted office above the auditorium. There was a main room with some stinky, old chairs arranged around a steamer trunk. Against one wall sat an ancient, lumpy, creaky couch that served admirably as my bed on more than one occasion. Two shallow steps led up to Studio B which was no more than a former closet that had one wall replaced with soundproof glass so you could see into the main room and into the main studio. Studio B was where we made promos for our show. From there, a door led into Studio A, the main studio, a square room about 8' x 10' where the actual broadcasting was done. There was a sound board, two turntables, a cart machine for promos, two sets of headphones and two microphones. The walls were lined floor to ceiling with record cases that held a collection that had been building since the early 60s. The DJ's chair was an office chair that could not have been less than 50 years old, all metal and springs with a single piece of crispy, dried out leather stretched across the seat. It creaked if you moved so you had to try to stay still while the mike was open.

It wasn't long before our friends wanted in. First, my friend Dave got is own show, then Ray. Ray's on air persona was Razor Cough. He played a lot of Cramps and Killing Joke.

My friend Dave and I had both started playing guitar about a year before. We liked a lot of the same music and a lot of the same guitarists so we had a friendly (occasionally not so friendly) competition throughout high school to see who could play what first. Inspired mostly by Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin but limited by our average sized hands and a remarkably unstudious approach to technique, we didn't have much use for the music of the day. By 1980, punk as we knew it had come and gone and although we still pledged allegiance to some bands like the Clash, in terms of guitar playing all our heros were from 10 to 15 years before, the hippie years.

That is until we heard Eddie Van Halen.

Obviously we had heard Van Halen on the radio, but for some reason the pure mastery and originality of Eddie Van Halen's guitar playing hadn't registered. Maybe because the radio hits were such great pop songs that they just seep into our brains without even letting us know what they're up to. Sneaky bastards. That's how you end up 35 wondering how it came to be that you know all the words to Peaceful, Easy Feeling. That's how it was the first time I really listened to all the guitar that goes on in Van Halen's version of You Really Got Me. I reeled and wondered, "How the hell could I have listened to this so many times and never heard THAT?"

Dave rushed into the radio station and grabbed me. "You have got to listen to this. It will fucking blow - you - away!"

Dave bolted into Studio A, ignoring Bob the jazz DJ who did a four hour show on Sunday afternoons. Bob was as close as we came to a professional on-air personality at WZLY. He was a DJ from way back and really knew his jazz. As the result of a recent car accident though, queries of which he deflected with the same ease with which he delivered stories of meeting Chet Baker and Art Pepper on the same day, he had his jaws wired shut in order for his wounds to properly heal. Pro that he was, Bob never missed a shift and never mentioned the incident on air. If he had an audience at all, they didn't seem to mind the fact that he spoke as if he were resting the entirety of his body weight on his chin.

"Tht wz Naht Kng Cll snkng 'Wn I Fll n Lvv.'"

Dave went directly to the shelf of records second from the floor against the far wall, the V's, and pulled out Van Halen, recognizable by the quadsected cover featuring individual photos of the band members each posing in their own absurb and, in retrospect, really gay way. Emblazoned in the center is the famous VH logo, a powerful symbol indeed that has been etched into countless surfaces by countless people.

Into Studio B we went. Dave flipped on the power to the small auxiliary board, slapped the LP on Turntable 1, cued up the second track and turned the volume pot to 8. And then it started. Eruption.

Dave was right. Right there in Studio B of a radio station in a converted office in a century old auditorium at an all girls college in eastern Massachusetts, Eruption fucking blew - me - away. Clocking in at a mere minute and forty seconds, never before had I heard any single instrument played with such ferocity, power, speed, and control. I won't even try to describe it here, so certain am I that no assemblage of words can approach recreating the expansion of my consciousness that took place at that moment. All I'll say is this. It was as if the boundaries of possibility as I had known them had opened up like a retractable roof, revealing that in fact there was an entire universe beyond those boundaries, a universe full of small, far off points of light that indicated a scale of distance but on closer inspection revealed that this open space went far, far beyond what I could even see. There were no longer any limits to what was possible. If one man was able to express so much in one minute and forty seconds, then surely there was nothing that couldn't be done in the span of an entire lifetime.

I'm no doctor but I'm pretty sure that over the next ten days, our association with those one hundred seconds would in most psychiatric circles be considered and so termed, clinically speaking, "an obsession." We listened to it over and over and over again. Every moment the circumstance of which didn't preclude further aural examination of this recording was filled with its playing and replaying. A cassette was hastily dubbed from the WZLY copy of the entire LP and our rewinding skills became so finely honed that we could consistently stop the tape and hit play at the exact moment the drums pound out the start of the song, just before Eruption's opening power chord.

The obsession grew. I needed to isolate one particular part of the song. Essentially, the last part of the recording features 26 seconds of a melody built on triplets, sets of three notes played in rapid (as in machine gun) succession and timed as though they were one single note. The triplets start low and work their way up the guitar neck in quick increments before cascading back down and then crashing into a swirl of feedback and a full octave drop. That's how Eruption ends.

I had an idea. I would make a tape of just that part of the song. And then I would tape that one part ten times in a row so I could listen to it over and over without having to rewind.

You'd think that would be enough, but no. After all, this is obsession we're talking about here.

Back at the station I dug out a dusty old turntable that I had noticed sitting behind a weird marble endtable next to the lumpy couch. This turntable had a strange feature, a setting for 16 rpm, almost exactly half the speed at which a normal LP played. I hooked a tape deck directly to the turntable, and on the same cassette that I used before, recorded that one section another ten times in row only this time at the 16 rpm setting. I took the tape out to my car and listened to it on the stereo. The sound was other-worldly. Even slowed by half, the notes still flew by at a blinding speed. The sound was more that of a bassoon or oboe than a distorted electric guitar. The reverb was magnified. The effect of listening to the endless loop of notes climbing up the neck and down the neck and up the neck and down the neck was soothingly meditative, even hypnotic.

When I got home I took a label and pressed it on the cassette with my thumb. In black Pilot pen I wrote simply in all caps HALF SPEED. That was 25 years ago.

Tim Coyne and his friend Dave wound their way through the "Top Ten Guitar Solos Since 1975" as I wound my way through the parking lot that is the 134 as it slides past Griffith Park into Glendale at 5:30 on a Tuesday in December. I was surprised to find myself in such consistent agreement with Dave's choices. There was Stevie Ray Vaughan. There was Randy Rhoads. But we were pretty close to #1 and no mention of Eruption. Either I was really in sync with these guys or else I really wasn't.

3, 2,...

And there it was. Dave's pick for the best guitar solo since 1975 was in fact Eruption by Van Halen. I smiled and felt a strange combination of validation at the hands of a complete stranger and utter, ridiculous nostalgia for a time when things as simple as a piece of music mattered so much. I think it was a good feeling but a little like receiving a lifetime achievement award when you feel like you haven't even started your career yet.

The next night I looked under a bunch of plausibly obsolete VHS tapes in a box in the garage. There were the remains of my once impressive tape collection. I shifted the tapes around like the box was one of those sliding grid puzzles you have when you're a kid. A couple more shifts and the tape revealed itself. The ink from the Pilot pen was worn but still legible. HALF SPEED. I took it out and looked at it and then put it the armrest of my car. I'd listen to it the next time traffic was backed up on the 134 in Glendale. That turned out to be today.





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Thursday, December 15, 2005

DESPITE VALIANT EFFORT, BUSH UNABLE TO PROVE HE'S NOT AN ASS

Yesterday, President George W. Bush delivered his fourth and final speech designed to define the U.S. "Plan for Victory" in Iraq. As usual, listening to Bush speak left my head swirling in a vortex of confusion, frustration and general disbelief (this man was elected President of my country? Twice?), but yesterday's speech gave me something new, something unfamiliar, a feeling of dare I say, conciliation towards the President. Shudders ripple through my bones. Let me explain.

The Bush of these four speeches is a man reaching out. Granted, he's a man with no arms, but nevertheless, one that's trying to reconnect with a public that has turned on him, and viciously so. So what if Stumpy here is only admitting his mistakes once the love affair is over and the newly minted ex-girlfriend is shutting the car door and starting the engine. He is to be commended for doing what, among many others, I have been waiting for him to do since that initial round of looting took place in Iraq after U.S. forces took Baghdad. First, he admitted that pre-war intelligence regarding Sadaam's possession of weapons of mass destruction was wrong, and then he took responsibility for basing his decision to go war on that same faulty intelligence.

He did. I swear. I saw it on the TV.



This, for me, was a moment of great personal hope, a moment that unfortunately lasted as long as it took for Dubya to take a breath and deliver three more sentences.



In other words, the intelligence turned out to be wrong, but even if I'd known that, I still would have invaded Iraq.

Hang on. That's an admission that all the way back in 2002 and early 2003 when all that wrangling over U.N. resolutions was taking place, the validity of the WMD threat was irrelevant to Bush's ultimate commitment to go to war. And worse, Bush knew it at the time. That supports accusations that he made up his mind much, much earlier than he admits. To me, that basically makes him an imperialist who feels totally justified in picking off governments he doesn't like.

How's my conciliation going? Not well, I know. The olive branch is withering in my hand.

As for the current situation, let's review the President's "thinking" on why we're in Iraq today:

  • On September 11, 2001, terrorism became the #1 threat facing the United States.




  • The insurgents in Iraq are trying to take advantage of the instability there (weak government, weak security) so that they can use Iraq as a base from which to plot and launch attacks against on U.S. soil.
  • The presence of the insurgency makes Iraq the central front on the war on terror.
  • We can't leave until the Iraqis are capable of preventing the insurgents from making Iraq a terrorist base of operations.

See that space between points one and two? That's a big, gaping hole in Dubya's logic. The reason for the instability in Iraq is that we went there in the first place. Say what you want about Sadaam, but the link between his regime and the kind of international terrorism that nailed us on 9/11 has never been satisfactorily proven. bin Laden once tried to contact Sadaam back in 90s but got blown off, remember? By saying that regardless of the validity of the WMD threat he would have gone in anyway, Bush is only left with the threat of terrorism theory as justification for the invasion. Not only was the fake threat (WMD) not real, the real threat (terrorism) wasn't real either. Someone needs to tell Dubya that there are plenty of opportunities for him to make an ass of himself; he needn't go looking for more.

So, imagine this. You're in a car driving on a mountain pass. You have a passenger, a trusted friend sitting next to you. The vista that stretches out over the cliff to your right is breathtaking. You're coming around a bend when you see another car in the oncoming lane. "LOOK OUT!" your passenger screams, causing you to swerve off the road, over the cliff and down the mountain side, eventually reaching the bottom where your crumpled vehicle comes to rest upside down. Bloodied and dazed but still alive you turn to your passenger who, too, barely clings to life and ask, "Why did you scream? The car was in the other lane. I wouldn't have hit it."

"I know but I thought it might turn into our lane. I'm so sorry. I was wrong and now we're going to die."

"That's OK," you say with your last breath. "I was going to drive off the cliff anyway."


BONUS LAPSE IN LOGIC

In response to critics who say that the U.S. presence in Iraq makes America less secure, Bush said,



Perhaps we need to remind Dubya of the terrorist attacks in Riyadh, Amman, Madrid, and London, all of which took place after the war began on March 20, 2003. The innocent victims of these attacks may not have been American people, but they were people just the same.



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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

ITALIAN GEM ARRIVES FROM BRISTOL

A recent pursuit of mine came to an end last week when a package arrived from the U.K. Inside was the 1969 David Bowie Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola/The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud 45, albiet the counterfeit version. Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola is a special version of Space Oddity produced just for the Italian market. The cool thing about it, besides hearing Bowie sing in Italian is that an English-to-Italian translation wasn't even attempted. Instead, the Italian version tells a completely different story with lyrics provided by the immortal Ivan Mogul. Never heard of him? Me neither. The music track is identical to Space Oddity; only the vocals are changed. Here's an Italian-to-English translation of Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola which in English means "Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl."

My mind just took off
One thought only one
I walk while the city sleeps

Her eyes in the night
White lanterns in the night
A voice that talks to me who will it be?

Tell me lonely boy where are you going to,
Why so much pain?
You lost without doubt a great love
But the city is full of loves

No lonely girl no no no
This time you are mistaken
I didn't just lose a great love
Last night I lost everything with her.

But her
The colors of the city
Of the blue skies
One like her I'll never find again.

Now lonely boy where will you go?
The night is a big sea
If you need my hand to swim
Thank you but tonight I would like to die
Because you know in my eyes
There is an angel an angel
That now does not fly any more that now does not
fly any more
That now does not fly any more

There is her
The colors of life
Of the blue skies
One like her I'll never find again.


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Sunday, December 11, 2005

BOOK REPORT: COMFORT AND JOI

COMFORT AND JOI
Joseph Dougherty
iUniverse


Have you ever been so bored watching a scene in movie that your attention begins to wander in the direction of the actors in the background? Have you found that often they are more interesting than the principal actors?

Look at them back there, sitting at their table waiting for their food. What are they talking about? They look like they might be arguing, but about what? She seems to be reprimanding him in some way but he'll have none of it. I wonder what he did, or what she thinks he did.

And what of the actors? Are they hired for their ability to act or to merely fill in the scenery around the main characters? Who are those people?

Thankfully, Joseph Dougherty in his lovingly conceived and constructed book Comfort and Joi examines one such actress, Joi Lansing, the unearthly beauty who spent over two decades exceptionally filling in the background. Dougherty shines in this solitary trip into film, film history, and how one seemingly small player can have a lifelong effect on one man sitting in the dark.

If you spend enough time watching movies, you can't help but become aware of how movies are made, the logistics of it all. Yes, there is a script and actors who tell a story. But then there's the rest of it. There are costumes and makeup and hair and sets and lights and props and all the decisions that are made as to their use. There are the extras, too. When we see people lurking about in the fuzzy background of a scene, it isn't by accident. These are professionals doing a job. Like any other actor, they've been cast for their talent and looks and placed in the scene for a purpose. Director's soon learned that Joi Lansing's jaw-dropping beauty could only improve a scene, even if all she was doing was waiting for someone to get off the phone. That, combined with an uncommon professionalism, afforded her the chance to work with, among others, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh and Orson Welles. Yes, that's her in the famous three minute opening shot of Welles' Touch of Evil, sitting in the white Chrysler convertible.

Joi Lansing was gorgeous. I must admit that I had to go online to see the photos of this woman that so seized Dougherty's imagination that he wrote a whole book. In a word I was flabbergasted. I've seen pinups and bombshells from the 50s and 60s and they differ in slight ways – this one's breasts are bigger than that one's but this one's got a prettier face than that other one – but in the end, they're all just pinups and bombshells. Lansing however, differed in a not so slight way. A confidence exuded from her that made the others look like amateurs. The photos show a glimpse of it. Its full glory exists on celluloid. It is a look of total awareness of the effect she had when she walked into a room. Powerful. Beyond sexy. Welles described her character in his 1958 television production of The Fountain of Youth as "One of those creatures who stands for something greater than talent, greater than beauty."

Comfort and Joi is a joy to read. Smartly, it's not a biography. Instead it's a recounting of a November weekend spent by the narrator alone at some friends' beach house in Oxnard, California, the purpose of which is to view all of Lansing's films and hopefully come to a greater understanding of why this woman has had such an effect on him. The book bounces from in depth descriptions of movie plots and Lansing's roles in them, to the memories they arouse in the narrator, each a perfect story of its own. The book goes further than narrative, though. Never short on speculation, Comfort and Joi asks big questions about where we fit in our own lives. Are we the stars of our own movie or are we in the background of someone else's? I was rapt.

PREVIOUS BOOK REPORT: THE SECRET LIFE OF THE LONELY DOLL: THE SEARCH FOR DARE WRIGHT




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Friday, December 09, 2005

THE OBP

Rajneesh leaned in and took a pinch of my shirt between his index finger and thumb.

"What material is this? Is it silk?"

He was very interested, almost entranced by the texture as he rubbed the swatch between his digits, as if some mysterious power lay between the threads. He could harness that power if only he could determine what the garment was made of.

"I don't know," I tried to reply politely, but I'm pretty sure my wariness leaked out at least a bit.

The day before, a manila folder containing three birthday cards, each positioned under the flap of its corresponding envelope was distributed throughout the department, so that each employee who wasn't born during the last half of November or the first half of December could add a personal well-wish and signature. I've always been really bad at those. Something about knowing that all your co-workers will see whatever you write is stifling. It’s a lot of pressure to be witty in a very small space. I usually cave and just write, "Happy Birthday, [insert birth-person's name here] ! - Tom" That's what I did the day before and then passed on the envelope.

Today we all received this email:



Quite ominous if taken out of context. Fortunately—and by fortunately, I mean unfortunately—I knew the true purpose of the invitation.

When I see a depiction of the office birthday party (OBP) on sitcoms, I'm always struck by the inaccuracy. On television, the OBP includes:
  • the employees who are a little too excited
  • the employees who feel the need to make speeches
  • hats
  • gifts
  • singing
  • applause
I've been at my current job almost six years and it's been my experience that the real OBP is much more mundane than the TV version. I've been to many parties in my life, from teenage candlepin bowling fetes to debaucherous keg-based affairs at college. To include those events in the same genus as the OBP is unreasonable. In fact, nothing that transpired in the boardroom between 2:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. in the most general of terms could be fairly considered a "celebration." A "recognition?" Eh, that still exaggerates the level of participant effort and interest. I'll settle for "acknowledgment" as the most defensible description.

The office manager left in the morning to get three pies from Marie Callender's – one razzleberry and two banana creme. Usually the only memorable part about the OBP is the food, whether for its goodness, its badness, or its averageness. We all remembered the razzleberry being really good the last time although none of us could remember for whose birthday it had been served.

I quickly sampled both pies, scraping the last globs of whipped cream and pastry crumbs off the yellow plastic plate with my spork. I wadded up my napkin before tossing the whole lot into the small office wastebasket which would soon be overflowing with identical sets of refuse. A soon-to-be former manager was holding court on the other side of the room, endowing his soon-to-be former legions with a lesson in the history of New York City's boroughs. I stood with my hands behind my back, quietly determined to ride out the festivities.

That's when Rajneesh started in.

"It looks like silk."

The day before I had gone to a department store on my lunch break and bought a black dress shirt. I find something really appealing about the way brand new, never-been-worn, straight-from-the-manufacturer dress shirts look. They come folded like some kind of origami piece held together by countless pins that hide within the fabric, revealing their secret locations only with teeny tiny silver pinheads that peek out mid-sleeve or inside the cuff. The collar is held in place with a structure of cardboard, plastic and more pins. And the material never again looks as good as it does the day the shirt is purchased. This particular black shirt had a sheen to it that reflected light off the deep black of the fabric. Cool, I thought, and brought it up to the counter.

"No, it's not silk. I don't know what it is, but I'm sure it's not silk," I told Rajneesh. I think I bought one silk shirt in my life and found it to be a pain in the ass although now I can't recall why.

"I think it's silk." Ranjneesh was now annoyed and taking a stand. His tone was reaching a level with which I wasn't comfortable, so I just smiled while basically ignoring his last remark. I just wanted this OBP to end.

"What is it?" Rajneesh's voice was now a full octave above where it was when the conversation started.

"I don't know, man. It's just a shirt." Now I was trying to fight back with some annoyed vibes of my own.

"You don't know? What do you mean you don't know?" The interaction was definitely escalating. Was he actually being confrontational about my inability to identify my garment's material? Was he insulted by it? Indignant? Maybe it was cultural. Maybe where he's from, a man's choice of textiles indicates something important about his character like a particular belief system or something else so foreign to me that I can't even imagine it. Or maybe he had too much pie and was hosting some chemical conflagration in his brain. His eyelids started to almost pulsate up and down, exposing more of his eyeballs as he continued to look the shirt up and down. I leaned back and away just a bit, fearing that his next move would be to reach behind me and grab the collar so he could read the label. The pressure got to me and I offered an opinion I hoped would satisfy, dousing his rising ire and ending this conversation.

"I think it's cotton," I said.

Big mistake.

"Oh, no, no! No, no, no, no, N-N-NO! That's not cotton! That is NOT COTTON! How can you say that's cotton? Cotton is totally different. Totally different! No, it's not cotton. Certainly not. No, it's silk. I'm positive it's silk. Yes, silk. Definitely."

He was flummoxed and not happy about it one bit. I was freaked out and now my eyelids were pulsating. Speechless, I just stood there and waited which turned out to be the right approach. I waited and waited for Rajneesh's agitation to dissipate, to run its course and deflate like a balloon with a slow leak. I stood there quietly and looked straight ahead as blankly as I could. Soon, Rajneesh's gaze dropped to the floor as he mumbled, "Yes, I'm sure it's silk. Yes. Definitely."

Eventually, I sensed something and took the opportunity to insert myself into another nearby conversation which lasted about four minutes before concluding with, "That's why it's called the Bronx," indicating quite clearly that this OBP was over.



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Thursday, December 08, 2005

BUSH RESPONDS TO CRITICISM

In his December 7th speech, President Bush outlined the progress that is being made in Iraq. Using the cities of Najaf and Mosul as examples, the President responded to criticism of the Coaltion's perceived rigidness and inability to alter its plan for Iraqi reconstruction. In a previous post, I made these very criticisms myself. Bush's speech addressed some of these concerns:

"It used to be that after American troops cleared the terrorists out of a city and moved on to the next mission, there weren't enough forces -- Iraqi forces -- to hold the area. We found that after we left, the terrorists would re-enter the city, intimidate local leaders and police and eventually retake control.

"This undermined the gains of our military, it thwarted our efforts to help Iraqis rebuild, and led local residents to lose confidence in the process and in their leaders.

"So we adjusted our approach. As improvements in training produced more capable Iraqi security forces, those forces have been able to better hold onto the cities we cleared out together."

And quoting Senator Joe Lieberman, Bush later said,

"Does America have a good plan for doing this, a strategy for victory in Iraq? Yes, we do. And it's important to make clear to the American people that the plan has not remained stubbornly still but has changed over the years."



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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

PROPOSED BILL TO CRACK DOWN ON PEOPLE WHO LIKE BUSH

Congressional debate takes place this week regarding the merits of a proposed bill designed to protect Americans from the increasingly brazen acts of violence perpetrated against the U.S. in recent times. Part of a broader initiative to keep Americans safe, the bill has been called the first battle in "The War on Cronyism."

This afternoon, standing before a large banner with the slogan "Cronies are Phonies," the bill's authors said, "Patronage and nepotism have always been deeply woven into the fabric of American politics, but Michael Brown? Harriet Miers? The time has come for America to stand up to the cronyists and say, 'Enough is enough.'"

Brown, the former head of FEMA accused of failing to provide adequate response to hurricane Katrina, lacked any emergency management experience before receiving his appointment. More recently, President George W. Bush nominated Miers, a longtime friend and counsel to the President, to fill the recently vacated seat on the Supreme Court. Ultimately, Miers declined the nomination when the opposition pointed out that she actually has never been judge.

The bill aims to prohibit the political appointment of candidates who have "demonstrated a past or present affection for the President." The bill's language is anticipated to be a sticking point and wrangling has already begun over whether the term "affection" indicates a feeling of "endearment," "ardor" or just "a general hankering" for Bush. Lawmakers were in agreement, however, that Miers' "crush" on the President was strictly out of bounds.

Reaction throughout the House was swift with a majority appearing to support the bill bolstered by a rumor from a source high in the Administration regarding the circumstances surrounding Laura Bush's ascension to the title of First Lady. Though not yet confirmed, it has been suggested that Mrs. Bush once dated the President.

"People have to understand that this isn't a schoolyard shouting match," one Representative remarked. "Giving out political appointments to some girl you took to the prom and diddled in the back of Daddy's Skylark is a direct attack on the average American's sense of fair play. If we lay down now, what kind of message does that send to the rest of the world? I'll tell you what kind, that we're soft of cronyism."

Meanwhile, a small group of citizens marched outside the Capitol building holding signs that read, "Crony Baloney!" "Friends Don't Let Friends Have Jobs!" and "The End is Near... Thanks, Cronies!" No arrests were made.

Standing on the Capitol steps, a particularly impassioned veteran of federal politics wept before the cameras and pleaded, "If we don't look the enemy straight in the face, if we don't accept this challenge, then we all lose, and the cronies will have won."



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Monday, December 05, 2005

SNAPPED ON THE WAY TO WORK TODAY

There's a real comedian living in Atwater Village.





Who says the industry makes idols out of our celebrities?
This is one of the smaller (really, it is) ads for 's hair and abdomen that currently grace Los Angeles.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

THE WAR IN IRAQ: A FAITH BASED OPERATION

A while back I decided to make a change in my life. Weary in mind and body from numerous failed attempts to ascertain how George W. Bush's mind works and why so many people support him, I decided to try something new in the hope that it might lead to something approaching understanding. I decided to give Mr. Bush the benefit of the doubt with regard to the war in Iraq. A bold move, indeed.

After all, where do I get my information? The newspaper, the television, and the internet? Not particularly reliable sources at this point in time. Maybe the President's right, I thought. Maybe things are improving in Iraq. I mean after all, they have had two successful elections and another one is coming up in two weeks. The Sunnis are voting. Almost all the bloodshed is occurring within the relatively small Sunni Triangle. Maybe most of Iraq is stable. Maybe the Iraqi security forces are getting closer to being able to take over operations. Maybe schools are reopening, electricity is being restored, life is getting better for the average Iraqi. It seems unlikely that a medium like television, or what it has become—little more than a titillation feeding tube that rewards the viewer for watching commercials by parading a series of bloody, sexy, and/or disgusting images across the screen every few minutes—would suddenly become a source of accurate, reliable information capable of making sense of a complex situation. Besides, even if it could, why would TV make the effort to get the story of what's happening in Iraq right? I mean, what would be its motivation? Job #1 is selling soap to Joe Meatball and Suzy Housecoat, so get those reporters off the air and let's get back to supermodels eating bull's...oh, wait, what's that? An update on Jessica and Nick? We'll go with that.

So armed with my new outlook on Dubya, I started reading the transcript of the speech he gave yesterday. I have to say before I started reading, it felt pretty good, being all blindly-following and supportive and Patriotic. It takes all the pressure off. It was relaxing like that warm feeling in your ears after a swig of whisky. I could just sit back and nod in agreement with everything. What could be easier than that?

Damn. It wasn't to be.

I got through the first part OK. He started off with a joke. Fine. Not all that funny but at least it wasn't offensive. I got through the next part where he's thanking all the people for being there. Nice. That's polite. Barbara must be very proud.

I liked his breakdown of the three main groups of enemies that face the Coalition forces in Iraq:

"The enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists, Saddamists and terrorists."

Good. I get that. Know thy enemy. I like this. Very methodical, very logical.

But then he started talking about things that actually matter and my blissed-out daze dried up and blew away. My ears were still warm but not in a good way. By the time he concluded his assessment of the rejectionists, it was clear that Dubya was harshing my buzz bigtime.

Here's the thing about Dubya and ironically it's the thing that people either hate about him or love about him. It's that he knows what he knows. He makes up his mind on an issue based on how he feels and once that opinion is formed, you can forget about anything ever influencing it in any way ever again. Some call it faith, but I call it stupid.

Did I just call George W. Bush stupid? That's not very charitable of me. Let me put it another way. Dubya seems to be guided through life not by an ability to think critically but rather by an abstract set of rules that define situations in terms of good and evil. These rules most likely originated from a combination of sources including his church, his parents, and those who have helped trot him along through his political career. He is extraordinarily confident in his ability to use these rules to decipher complex situations and, when action is required, to distill them down to a choice between a right way to proceed and a wrong way to proceed. He never questions his assessments or their consequences. He never re-evaluates. Simply put, once his mind is made up, there's no changing it.

And so yesterday, despite the fact that only 35% of Americans approve of his handling of the war and 54% say the invasion has been a mistake, Dubya refused to adjust his view of how this conflict will end.





and finally this:



World affairs as complicated as the current situation in Iraq require more than this blind faith. Where are the new ideas? Where is the creativity? In the end, is mere perseverance our most effective weapon? What is victory, Mr. Bush?