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Monday, February 27, 2006

COULD THIS BE JEFF BECK'S PRIUS?

I passed this parked car on the way home from work the other day.



Three questions come to mind:
  1. Would guitar legend Jeff Beck drive a Prius?
  2. If guitar legend Jeff Beck drove a Prius, would he be so vain and silly as to get a license plate that says "JF BECK?"
  3. If guitar legend Jeff Beck drove a Prius with a license plate that says "JF BECK," would he also make use of the Public Storage facility in Sherman Oaks?
What do you think?



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Saturday, February 25, 2006

THE REMAINS OF THE HOUSE

Los Angeles continues to surprise me pretty much on a daily basis. If I'm not seeing a palm tree whored up like a Las Vegas showgirl, then I'm watching The Shining in a cemetery with a couple hundred other people.

Unfortunately, not all the surprises are that good. Take for example, the careless and cavalier way people here dispose of buildings. In New England, things are built to last hundreds of years. And you almost never see anything being torn down (unless it's part of the largest and most complex highway and tunnel project in the nation's history). I won't even go into how big the problem is here – for more, go to the Los Angeles Conservancy's web site.

Instead, I'll show you one house in my neighborhood whose demolition began about a year ago. Reduced to just three standing walls, its remains stood defiantly for months. A recent spate of high winds claimed the front wall, but the other two refuse to budge.



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Thursday, February 23, 2006

A MOSQUE? WE'LL SHOW YOUSE HOW TO BUILD A MOSQUE!

Following yesterday's bombing of the Golden Mosque in Iraq, President George W. Bush promised that the U.S. would "work with the people of Iraq to rebuild and restore the Golden Mosque of Samarra to its former glory.”

Here are some preliminary plans...









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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

100K IN SIX YEARS

Yesterday, my 2000 Acura reached and surpassed the 100,000 mile mark. I know that doesn't mean as much as it used to but to me it's still a milestone to be recognized.





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Monday, February 20, 2006

ANOTHER CELEBRITY SIGHTING

The wife and I spent Saturday in Venice. As we crossed Abbot Kinney (shop/food-filled street) for the 80th time, two scruffy model-looking men crossed the other way. One of them looked familiar. At first I thought it was that guy that played the dj on Northern Exposure, but then realized it wasn't. Cindy noticed him too but neither of us said anything.

Later that night I turned on the Sci-Fi channel to see what the monster of the night was. Howling IV - The Original Nightmare was on. And who do you think the star of that movie is? Yep, the guy we saw crossing the street, Michael T. Weiss, probably best known as the star of the series The Pretender (1996-2000).



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Saturday, February 18, 2006

OPEN GRAVE

OK, I admit this is creepy, but I feel strangely obligated to creep out others in response to my own creeped-outedness.

This is a photo of my dead – sorry, recently departed friend Al's open grave. His wife sent it to me. At first I thought it was one of those ones where you put the body in standing up but then realized that he was cremated and the grave is where some of his ashes are interred.

As a good friend of Al's, I find it really disturbing to look at this hole in the ground.





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Thursday, February 16, 2006

CELEBRITY SIGHTING AT THE ARCLIGHT

One of my favorite movie theatres in Hollywood is the Arclight at the Cinerama Dome.

"Cinerama Dome?" you say. Yes. It's a geodesic dome designed by Welton Becket & Associates and built in 1963 to take advantage of the then revolutionary Cinerama format, an extremely wide picture that spanned the 32' x 86' curved screen. As is often the case here in Los Angeles, something once beautiful and revered slowly fell into disrepair and disfavor. Refurbished a couple years ago, the dome became part of the Arclight which includes several other screens and a cafe.

The Arclight is expensive. A Friday night screening including 2 hours free parking costs $14. But there are bonuses. Ushers actually take you to your assigned seat. "Welcomers" actually introduce the film to the audience before the film starts. No one is admitted ten minutes after the movie begins. And the seats, while not as comfortable as the ones at the Egyptian Theatre, are unusually roomy. [Note: for legroom, you can't beat the Vista Theatre, where they have removed every other row so you can really stretch out.]

Is it all worth the extra money? Beats me. I'm at the point where I don't understand why anything costs what it does. Truth be told, I'm just a combover and a pack of White Owls away from full-on curmudgeon status.

Last weekend, though we got an added bonus. Cindy, friends Julia and Chris and I went to see Brokeback Mountain (perhaps you've heard of it) at the Arclight. Standing next to us in line was Edward James Olmos.



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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

VALENTINE FOR THE WIFE

Click here to check out the valentine I made for Cindy.

HAPPY YOU, HAPPY ME, HAPPY V-DAY, DEAR!



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Sunday, February 12, 2006

REFLECTOR CAR

This guy really enjoys his reflectors.

This car is almost always parked behind the Gelson's Supermarket at Van Nuys Boulevard and Milbank Street in Sherman Oaks.




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Friday, February 10, 2006

FOR SALE: ONE HOUSE WITH BAD VIBES

Good news for me and Cindy. Our awful neighbors have a FOR SALE sign in front of their house. Halleluljah! Praise be to [insert your diety of choice here]! They're nowhere near as bad as the people who lived there before (a weird, gay threesome of abusive, collection-agency-dodging alcoholics and a mysterious older woman who I never saw once) and of course, they don't approach the depths of depravity of my New England sister's former neighbors, the now legendary Tolsens (rednecks aren't just from the South). Nevertheless, these are pretty bad neighbors.

A quick rundown of their violations of the code of good neighborliness:
  • DOG ABUSE
    A lot of people in Los Angeles own dogs. I'm not sure why because so few appear to like them. Many dogs are used as an economical alternative to installing an ADT or Brinks security system. Unfortunately, in our neighbors' case this meant keeping two dogs (Rotweillers?) in 4' x 4' wire cages 24 hours a day. They would bark and whine at all hours of the day, probably due to the fact that they were slowly going insane from being locked up all the time. Not once did I ever see these dogs walking freely. Eventually, one disappeared, then the other. A few months after that, one of the children walked down the street with two puppies on leashes. Last week I saw the poor pups being kept in the same 4' x 4" wire cages. It's very sad.
  • INSENSITIVITY TO CHILDREN
    One day I was working on the side of the house. The houses on our street are so close together that I was actually standing just a few feet from the neighbors' open kitchen window with just a fence in between. The neighbors' kids Keisha and Cameron were playing outside, below the kitchen window. Standing in their kitchen, the neighbors argued. The kids and I could hear every word. The impression I got was that she worked, he didn't, she resented his sloth, he resented her for resenting him. Like so many arguments, this one dealt with everything but the core issue. "It's like when you said that Keisha wasn't your baby!" Suddenly, Keisha and Cameron got very quiet.
  • TOO MANY CARS
    I know there's no law about owning too many cars, but come on. These people keep five cars. Only one fits in their carport so the rest sit on the street. Of course, a couple are SUVs and one is a truck with four wheels on the rear axle. All those cars make it hard for people to park.
  • RUDENESS
    This is a pretty tight neighborhood. You see your neighbors all the time and everyone pretty much either stops to talk, says hello, or at least waves. Not these neighbors. They see you coming and they look away. I'm an introvert but these people make me look like the life of the frickin' party.
  • CRAPPY WAY TO START YOUR DAY
    Each morning, we hear the same angry command: "Git in the car, boy!"
Let's hope for a quick sale. Anybody in the market for a house with really bad energy?



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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

INNOCENCE INTERRUPTED -
HOW JOHNNY DAMON KILLED A LITTLE PIECE OF A LOT OF US
Part II: Boston's Traitor

PREVIOUS:
PART I

Boston's Hero


I've gone back and forth on this. The pragmatic, more cynical part of me says it's all about the money. The Red Sox offered Johnny Damon a four year $40 million contract. The Yankees offered $52 million. As someone who makes a point of taking every sick day my company allows, figuring that if I don't, it's like working for free, I can hardly advise someone else to walk away from $12 million. Never in my life will I see that kind of money. All a guy like me can do is try and break it down into terms I can understand.

Let's say I had two companies making me two offers of employment. OK, that's a stretch right there, but let's say one company, where I've been working for five years is offering an annual salary of $40,000 and the other, a competitor, is offering $52,000. The purely realistic side of me says the choice is obvious. It might be awkward working for "the enemy" but let's get real. I've got to pay the rent, fix the car, and going out to eat more than once a month sounds pretty good, too. I'm taking the $52K. No question.

Life is more complicated than that. What are the other differences between the two jobs? Do I like the people more at one place? Does one have a nicer building to work in? Am I going to be more stressed out at one place? Will I be appreciated? Is the work likely to be more fulfilling? A lot of people in this situation not only discard the answers to these questions, they discard the questions themselves. They take the money. A lot of people take the money.

But there's another side of me that still believes as I did when I first started watching professional sports that the players are individuals only to the extent that they make up their team. When I was 9, my friend George from Maine's age, I offered unconditional support. I could never have booed anyone on my team no matter how poorly they performed. After all, that's when they need support the most, right?

30 plus years later, intellectually, I recognize the innocent quaintness of this structure. Now I'm nostalgic about it, about a simpler time when players stayed on one team for their entire careers and felt as committed to the fans as to the team owners, to the league, to themselves. Did such a world ever really exist, or is this just how I've embalmed the memory of all those pitches and all those hits, all that sunshine and all that green?

Accurate or not, its legacy lives on inside me, triggering a gasp as I read the December 21 headline. "DAMON LEAVES SOX FOR YANKEES!"

A few points that should be made:

• The arena of loyalty and obligation in professional sports is rife with double standards. Fans (like me) accuse Damon of betrayal, yet many of these same fans (not like me) literally boo other Red Sox heros out of town. So long, Mark Bellhorn. They charge Red Sox management with incompetence for letting a superstar like Damon get away, yet they hardly say a word as less flashy but more highly respected players who contribute as much if not more than Damon move on to other teams. Welcome to L.A., Bill Mueller. And when a player does forgo the bigger payday in order to stay loyal to the Red Sox, the media suggests that it's merely a ploy to influence future deals. Nice to have you, Bronson Arroyo. Where's the logic?

• I have devised the Crap Chart to explain the squatting order of those involved in the Johnny Damon deal.



• Damon's explanation of why he chose to sign with the archrival of the team for whom he has played for the last five years is garbled. As recently as January 31 on David Lee Roth's radio show in New York, Damon said that when it came down to it the Red Sox didn't want him as badly as the Yankees. But in the same interview he said that the Red Sox didn't believe that there was another offer being made to him. Those are two completely different scenarios. One suggests that the Red Sox' offer of $40 million was set in stone from the beginning and essentially represented a courtesy gesture designed to appease Boston fans and media when Damon inevitably left for a higher bidder. The other scenario suggests that the Red Sox' internal intelligence is so poor (or the Yankees' secrecy is so tight) that they were unable to determine whether an offer from the Yankees was on the table or not, the implication being that had they believed the Yankees offer was real, they would have upped their offer and possibly retained Damon's service. Whichever scenario is closer to reality, Damon is unwilling or unable to explain his decision.

Is he so required? If it were just us adults here, I would say no. It's his decision and his responsibilities lie with himself and his family. Who are we to ask him why?

But the problem is it's not just us adults. It's kids. Kids who loved him as a hero only to be slapped in the face. Kids who pledged allegiance to him and then watched him burn his Red Sox uniform, shave his beard and cut off his hair. To a kid, it's like he took off his Boston uniform to reveal the New York pinstripes that have been underneath all along. There's no more Santa Claus, no more Easter Bunny, no more Tooth Fairy, and Johnny Damon doesn't care about you, kid. Sometimes the people you count on most are the ones who let you down the hardest. Sometimes people are not who they claim to be. It’s a hard, adult lesson that Johnny Damon foisted upon countless unsuspecting kids like my friend George in Portland, Maine. And his parents are left holding the bag.

Upon receiving news of Damon's choice to not only leave the Red Sox, but to leave them to play for The Enemy, the Yankees, George's young mind tried desperately to process the situation. His brain flopped and floundered like a downy gosling struggling to waddle across a river bank, too young to fly, but too anxious to sit still. Betrayal like Damon's was unfamiliar behavior, recalibrating George's notion of that which people are capable. Entitled "People Are Not Always As They Seem," a new section had been added to life's rule book. George looked to his mother and asked, "How could someone do that?"
"It is tough, especially on the kids. My kids had a hard time dealing with it and I told them and they cried and I cried with them."
- Johnny Damon, 1/31/2006
Red Sox tickets went on sale a few days ago. I missed the initial go around so I had to enter my name in a lottery to win a chance at more tickets. Maybe I'll get lucky and win. Maybe I'll get even luckier and actually get to a game. And maybe a stroke of pure luck will land me tickets to the game on May 1, the first Red Sox - Yankee game of the year, Johnny Damon's first appearance in Fenway Park as a New York Yankee. Of late, stretches of my commute to and from work are speckled with daydreams of how such a thing would take shape.

There I stand with 35,000 other lucky bastards. Damon, clean-shaven and short-haired as required by Yankee management, steps from the dugout and heads for the on deck circle. The crowd is divided, some for, some against, but together generating a noise that sounds like a fleet of jet engines. I hold up my handcrafted sign, the one I made the night before. The sign has just two elements. In big red letters on a white background, a question, "How could you?" Below that, an enormous blown up photograph of George, his long, dark brown locks streaming out from underneath his Red Sox cap, straggling over both shoulders. I hold it silently, high above my head for the television cameras to see. The crowd is sustaining vocal thunder. As Damon loosens up, he takes in all the noise, not quite sure how to react. Suddenly, a smile breaks across his wide face, impossibly increasing the noise from the crowd. And when he knocks the doughnut off his bat and steps toward the plate, I set my sign down and start to clap and cheer more loudly than I have ever clapped or cheered in my life.

PREVIOUS:
PART I

Boston's Hero




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Sunday, February 05, 2006

INNOCENCE INTERRUPTED -
HOW JOHNNY DAMON KILLED A LITTLE PIECE OF A LOT OF US
Part I: Boston's Hero


How old should a boy be before he starts to learn some of the hard lessons of life? I don't mean lessons like:
Stubbing your toe is followed by about three quarters of a second of "stay-tuned-for-pain" before the pain is actually delivered.
or
If your throw your little sister out the window, you're probably not going to get dessert tonight.
I'm talking about the adult stuff. Love. Commitment. Loyalty. Support. Reliance.

Betrayal.

Many parents put off teaching these lessons out of an instinctive need to protect the child from immediate harm. Questions that begin with "why" worm their way into topics of human behavior that parents deem too dangerous to warrant further exploration.

"Junior doesn't need to know about that yet."

So they gloss over. They give things a caramel coating, all shiny and sweet. It looks great at first but over time, it cracks and molds and crumbles away and when that inevitably happens, the best parents take the time to gingerly guide their children from a world of wondrous innocence into a world of chilling reality.

But what are parents to do when life's hard lessons are shoved right in a child's face by someone else, a stranger perhaps, or the increasingly inescapable media? An outsider foisting adultism upon unsuspecting youngsters seems especially unfair, especially heartbreaking. The kids didn't ask for this. And the parents are left holding the bag.

Case in point: when Johnny Damon left the Red Sox to go play for the Yankees.

For those of you who don't know, here's a little background. The Red Sox are a baseball team. They play in Boston, home of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Aerosmith, and my mom. The Yankees are another team. They play in New York, home of Joel Rifkin, Son of Sam, and Tony Danza. To say that there is a rivalry between these two teams is like saying that Martha and George in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" don't get along very well. The history of these two teams is filled with brawls, melees, brouhahas, dust ups, skirmishes, scuffles, sucker punches, glove slaps, bean balls, brush backs, and mound charges. The animosity that exists is pretty much even on both sides. What is not however is their record of success. The Yankees have won 26 World Championships. The Red Sox have won six. Fans in Boston hate, really, actually hate the Yankees. This I know.

With sentimentality, I phrase the following sentence in the present tense: Johnny Damon is a hero to Red Sox fans. He played centerfield for Boston during the remarkable (that's a stupid word but it does as good a job as any at describing this particular event...I believe an event like this demands a entirely new word, one that can only legitimately be applied to the original event itself) 2004 season, a season which saw the Red Sox - Yankee rivalry rise to new, truly frenzied heights. And in the ultimate victory, there was absolute release for Red Sox fans, some who had literally been waiting an entire lifetime for this moment.

I won't attempt to recount everything that happened that year or how Johnny Damon became so beloved. Let's just say Johnny Damon was the guy that women wanted, the guy that men wanted to be, and the guy that kids just wanted to be like.

One of those kids was my friend George. George is 9 years old and lives in Portland, Maine, home of the Sea Dogs, the Red Sox Double A farm team. In 2004, Hanley Ramirez was the star shortstop for the Sea Dogs. Ramirez rented a room in a triplex across the street from George. One time, in violation of several rules of conduct, the landlady let George in Ramirez' apartment. George tiptoed across the buckling hardwood into the bedroom, carefully swung open the closet door heavy with excessive coats of paint and marveled at the array of footwear. Later, George would get an autograph. It remains one of his primary treasures.

Ramirez was one thing, but George's real hero was down in Boston, crashing into Fenway Park's centerfield wall, outrunning opposing infielders hardest throws to first, stretching doubles into triples. Johnny played fast and loose. Johnny played hard and fearlessly, sacrificing his somewhat hulking, sometimes clumsy body in pursuit of one more base, one more out. Kids naturally love players like this, guys that play wildly and out of control and successfully and have fun doing it. When Johnny put the ball in play, it was always exciting because you knew anything was possible.

As an athlete, Johnny was a jumble of contradictions. He was big and wide, more like a fullback than the typically lanky centerfielder. With a frame like that, you'd expect him to be slow. Contradication: Johnny was one of the fastest players on the team. Centerfielders are often graceful creatures, as well. Fred Lynn, who manned center for the Sox back in the 70s, would range under flyballs with the delicate gait of a playful deer, eyes unwavering, trained on the ball until it dropped into his glove like a nut from a tree. Contradiction: Johnny was not so blessed. His gift was speed and he used it to race around the field, hauling in flies surely destined for the gap or the warning track. Even the ball itself must have been shocked to find itself wrapped in leather instead of bouncing into the bullpen. And many times Johnny would come sliding head first into shallow center to rob a batter of a bloop single only to weakly flick the ball to first, unable to double up even the slowest runner. Contradiction: Johnny's arm was one of the weakest I have EVER seen. Is it possible to be nidextrous?

And on top of it all, Johnny was a goofball. The longest hair in baseball since Oscar Gamble. Always smiling. Always playful. He was just a big kid. I've seen him goof with bat boys in the middle of an at bat. He seemed to get it, that this is a game, a beautiful, fun game played in the sun on bright green grass every day of every summer. How could you not smile? Even though he was one of the highest paid players in Boston (his 2005 salary was $8,250,000), he looked like he was playing for his fans, his teammates and as corny as sounds, and trust me, I know how corny it sounds, God help me, for the love of the game. That's how it looked.

9 year old boys can't comprehend how much money a million dollars is so they just don't bother with it. But what they do have is a finely tuned phoniness-meter. They know who's for real and who's not. They don't pick their heroes. Their heroes just are. Kids gravitate towards the adults who look like they having the most fun, the ones who are the best at what they do. Those are the ones they idolize. How could a kid like George look at Johnny Damon and see anyone but Superman?

December 21, 2005 in the predawn darkness I clicked on the Red Sox bookmark. It's funny how such a small event, a contraction of a muscle inside an index finger on a piece of electronics can tip your life from one direction to another.



Sickened, my shock came out in quiet, constricted breaths. "No. No."

NEXT:
PART II

Boston's Traitor




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Friday, February 03, 2006

STOP THE ABUSE

More absurd email communication at work.





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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

CAPITAL ONE JUNK MAIL

Last year, I received a ridiculous amount of junk mail from Capital One. Not only is it a waste of paper, it's a pain because I can't just throw it away. I have to rip it up or shred it first. It seems like a small task but day after day, I got really sick of it.



This year I'm keeping all the junk mail Capital One sends me and Cindy. I'll post monthly updates and keep a tally over in the right hand column.

JANUARY

JANFEBMARAPRMAYJUNJULAUGSEPOCTNOVDEC
10

Total pieces of junk mail received from Capital One so far this year: 10



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