Friday, June 30, 2006
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
MORE TROUBLE WITH ARTHUR LEE
Few things are as dangerous as two bored kids with nothing to do on a summer afternoon. The extended sunlight hours, the lack of supervision and the teenager's innate sense that the thrill of bad behavior will surely outweigh the sting of its inevitable consequence conspire to lure young men-to-be into situations with little purpose other than pure childish titillation. It all starts with the boredom. Children are creative. If you leave them alone with a hole in time, they'll come up with some way to fill it.
When I was 13 I filled a lot of those holes hitting tennis balls at the Hunnewell courts on Washington Street with Arthur Lee. Yes, that Arthur Lee, the same one with whom I would later be falsely detained for auto theft. Twice. Our reckless imaginations would concoct absurd scenarios and an equally reckless desire to turn those scenarios into reality just to see what would happen created a world made of dynamite in which Arthur and I were pair of lit sparklers aimlessly wandering about.
Though we didn't realize it at the time, the most positive result of the hours and hours we spent hitting tennis balls was that it kept us from filling hours and hours with some other more dangerous activity. One has to wonder what would have become of us had we not been lucky enough to live in a town with multiple public tennis courts, several sporting goods stores, a high school tennis coach who tolerated our stunningly undisciplined approach toward the game, and most of all, parents who paid for racquets, balls, shoes, sweat bands, tube socks and lessons at the Babson Recreation Center. Without this support, Arthur and I would most likely have lost all control of our destructive impulses and drowned in an eddy of dysfunction.
We would have been truly bad kids. As it was, were we just occasionally bored.
There was a stack of rotting firewood in Arthur's backyard that seemed to have been there forever. The wood was black and weathered, partially encrusted with late summer mildew, funghi and moss. One steamy, August afternoon the heat and humidity caused some brief but powerful thunderstorms, the kind that are so localized that the sun shines right through the rain drops as they stretch out before exploding on the asphalt. The rain left the firewood soggy and pungent. Knowing that the Hunnewell courts would be peppered with puddles that would render our fresh Penn tennis balls heavy and useless, we found ourselves mindlessly whacking an old tennis ball against the firewood.
The ends of the logs stuck out of the pile creating hundreds of corners and bumps and irregularities that made it impossible to predict where the ball would bounce when it hit the stack. That, I suppose, was the game. It tested your reflexes. How many times could you whack the ball against the wood pile before it took a crazy bounce over your head or past your feet.
"Wait! Stop!" Arthur shouted. His brow came down as he focused intently on one section of the wood pile, one triangular space between three logs. He approached slowly, picking up a stick off the wet grass.
"There's a snake in there," he reported calmly.
When I was in 3rd grade my unfairly beautiful teacher Miss Wargo, on whom all the boys in class had a crush, came over to our house with her boa constrictor. She told me that the snake was her pet, that it wouldn't hurt me and that I could hold it if I wanted. I really didn't want to but it seemed to be important to her so I held out my arms with my palms facing up. She placed the snake in my hands. I wasn't prepared for the unfamiliar sensation of cool, smooth living flesh moving across my skin. I freaked out, yelped and dropped the snake on the grass. I was embarrassed and blamed the snake for making me look weak in front of Miss Wargo. I've hated snakes ever since.
I came up behind Arthur and looked over his shoulder as he used the stick to probe the triangular void in the wood pile. Sure enough, there was the recognizable flash of shiny, green scales. I didn't see its head, just about three inches of its mid-section.
"It's a garter snake," I said.
"Duh," Arthur said and before I knew it he had retrieved a pillow case from the basement past the washing machine and the garbage can his mother kept filled with dry white rice. Arthur was Korean and his mother served rice with every meal. Their house always smelled acidic and his kitchen refrigerator came to be one of the most feared places on Earth to me and my friends. It was only when I'd see the garbage can full of rice or the bizarre, unidentifiable pickled vegetables in the fridge that it ever even occurred to me that Arthur was Korean or else when some conversation specifically centered around nationality. He just was what he was and right now he was a kid trying to coax a snake out a stack of firewood with the stick. It took some patience but, hell, we were just two kids hitting a tennis ball against a pile of rotting wood. We had time. Eventually, the snake fell to the ground and before it could wriggle to safety, Arthur tossed the pillowcase over the beast, inverted it and tied the top. There stood Arthur, with a flopping, writhing pillowcase in his hand and a familiar look of excited anticipation on his face, a look I didn't even realize I was wearing, too.
"Let's go," he said.
"Where?" I asked.
The rain water sprayed up off the back tires of our ten speeds creating damp, beige stains on our backs as we sped through town. Adept at this sort of thing, Arthur skillfully steered with one hand and held the pillowcase with the other. We locked our bikes to a parking meter a block down from Woolworth's, part of some intricate getaway plan that now escapes me, walked up the street, and took a moment to compose ourselves before pulling open the double doors and oh, so casually walking into the fabled department store.
There was nothing fancy about this Woolworth's although now that it's gone – it closed before I turned 14 – I wish I had spent more time there. Aisles of dusty brown metal racks with faded coloring books, bottles of soapy water for blowing bubbles, Mad Libs, rhinestone jewelry, Lik-A-Maid and Pixie Stix. The coolest thing about it was that it still had a luncheonette counter where you could order a grilled cheese sandwich and get a coke made right there from syrup and soda water. I could have made good use of that place as a teenager. It's the kind of thing I wish I could be nostalgic for, a memory I wish I had.
But on this day we weren't there for the grilled cheese or the rhinestones. Why were we there? We had not formally formulated any plan. We went straight from "snake in pillowcase" to "take snake in pillowcase to Woolworth's." I guess we thought we'd walk in, assess the situation and improvise some sort of prank. We failed, however to foresee the fit of uncontrollable laughter that overtook us immediately upon our arrival in the underwear aisle. I can't explain it, but trust me when I say that standing in a department store holding a snake in a pillowcase surrounded by shelves and shelves of men's underwear can really be quite amusing.
"What do we do?" I whispered, barely able to keep from squealing like a piglet.
"I don't know!" Arthur was giddy, almost frenzied and untied the top of the pillowcase just as we saw the front of a shopping cart peeking out from around the end of the aisle.
"Someone's coming!" we whispered in unison, now fully panicked. I guess some sort of primal self-preservation instinct took over because Arthur just dropped the pillowcase onto a big pile of unwrapped white jockey shorts and we scampered off to the board game section where we hid and stood listening intently for something, anything. Three minutes went by. Five minutes, Ten. Soon we became distracted by the grimy, outdated board games.
"Look at this. It looks like it hasn't been touched in 20 years," I said to Arthur.
"Yeah, it probably got put there when it was new and it hasn't moved since," Arthur said. "I mean, that game's been around forever. See how old the drawings look. They're like old-fashioned."
"Who do you think put it here 20 years ago? Do you think it was some guy who was a stock boy back then and now he's the manager?"
"Maybe he's still a stock boy. Maybe he's still a stock boy working here right now and he walks by these games everyday and says, 'Nope. Still haven't sold that one.'"
"That would be pathetic," I said. "I mean, he's an old man by now and he's still a stock boy? That's kinda sad."
"Maybe he's retarded," Arthur said, thoughtfully trying to cheer me up.
"Dumb-ass. You can't get a job if you're retarded."
"Why not? Yeah, you can."
"You can not. Think about it. If your boss tells you to do something and instead you go wandering off somewhere, why would he keep you working there?" My logic was flawless.
"Because you'd be retarded," Arthur explained.
"Because you'd be retarded. They have laws that let you get away with stuff if you're retarded. Or black." Arthur spoke with authority but I skewered his argument with an impenetrable retort.
"Dumb-ass. You're retarded."
"You are. Haven't you heard of affirmative action? It's a law that says that if you're black or retarded, then your boss has to give you more chances to mess up before he can legally fire you. Don't you watch the news?"
"That's what that is? I keep hearing that. 'AFFIRMATIVE ACTION!' Whatever," I said dismissively.
"It makes things fair," said Arthur.
"It's just for black people and retarded people?" I asked. "What about Chinese people? Do they get to mess up more, too? Do you get to because you're Korean?"
A glimmer of confusion flashed across Arthur's face but he decided to remain certain.
"No. Just the blacks and the retards."
"Well, then the law is retarded. It should be fair for everyone. Blacks, retards, Chinese people, Korean people. Even white people."
"White people?" Arthur seemed slightly irritated and indignant. "Why should white people get to mess up extra? You already have it the best. That's why they need they law in the first place."
"Well then if white people are the only ones who have it so good, why not just change things for them instead of trying to make it even for everybody else?"
"Yeah, treat the white people like the retards are treated now. That way everybody's happy."
I swear it made sense to me at the time.
Speechless, Arthur looked at me blankly. I blew on a Candyland box and sent a cloud of dust into the shaft of summer light streaming in from the street.
"You are!" Arthur finally said.
"I am what?"
Just as the ensuing shoving match was getting underway, a piercing, womanly shriek pealed across Woolworth's from the general direction of the underwear aisle, bringing our socio-economics discussion to an abrupt end. Like mirror images of one another, Arthur and I locked eyes and stood motionless for a full second, eyes popping out of our heads, jaws lowered, mouths puckered in cartoonish "Oooooooooo!" fashion. Years later I would realize that this was the moment that always made it worthwhile for us. The adrenaline rush we experienced at the moment our mischief reached its peak, that was the high that kept us coming back for more. That's what we were hooked on. That's why we were always getting into trouble.
I didn't think about any of that at the time. At the time all I thought about was getting the hell out of Woolworth's before anyone realized that we had let a garter snake loose in the men's underwear.
We bolted down the games aisle, cut across the checkout lanes, burst through the double doors and ran as fast as we could down the street to our bikes, laughing hysterically the entire way.
garter snake • tennis • arthur lee • babson recreation center • woolworth's • mad libs • lik-a-maid • pixie stix • affirmative action • candyland
Monday, June 26, 2006
THE SUCKING AND THE SMACKING
I have a problem. I share an office with two space aliens named Rajneesh and Kathy. I suspect they weren't the best of students in their "How to Convincingly Act Like a Human Being" training. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they flunked out and that's how they ended up with such a crappy assignment.
They must have both really not paid attention to the part where they went over which audible bodily functions are acceptable and which ones are not. I often have to leave the office and walk around outside because the sounds are so disgusting. I've started keeping track of all the sounds the two of them make. I've even started rating them on a scale of one to seven earplugs, one being Unpleasant But Acceptable and seven being You'll Have To Excuse Me I'm Going To Go Walk Outside For A While Because I'll Seriously Vomit If I Have To Listen for One More Second.
Setting aside previous transgressions by both Rajneesh and Kathy, let's compare, shall we?
THE SUPPRESSED COUGH
Have you ever been in a movie or a class or a restaurant and you take a sip of water and it kind of goes down the wrong way and makes you cough uncontrollably and you know you're out of control but you try to control your cough as best you can by trying to not cough at all so what comes out instead are these short little bursts of cough-air almost like you're not coughing but just clearing your throat in a really retarded way? Rajneesh does this throughout the day. Every day.
THE DRY HACK
Have you ever had something like a piece of food or a hair or anything tickling the recesses of your throat and it induces a bizarre cough/wretch hybrid where your throat really wants expel whatever's in there but can't really figure out the best approach so it forces you to take a deep breath and let out one solid, forceful mono-syllabic hack that kind of sounds like a cough but could easily be followed immediately with a dry heave pretty much exactly the way a cat coughs up a fur ball? Kathy does this usually between the hours of 4 and 5. Every day.
THE POST-STRETCH EXHALE
Have you ever been lying in bed and you know it's time to get up and you're OK with that but you just want to take your time so you roll around and reach way up above your head and straighten out your legs as straight as they will go and tense up all your muscles and suck in a bunch of air and hold your breath and stretch, stretch, stretch like a cat that's been lying in the sun for four hours and if feels so good that when you finally release the tension from your body and all your muscles relax that you let out one really loud breath that shoots across the bedroom? Rajneesh does this throughout the day. Every day.
THE EXHALE OF DISTRESS
Have you ever been annoyed or disappointed by something minor and you want to say something to express that disappointment so you inhale to get ready to say something but there's really nothing to say or else you're all by yourself so why say anything at all and so instead of saying anything your lungs just give out this quiet little burst of breath that establishes your stance that you are annoyed or disappointed but that you recognize that you can't do anything about it? Kathy does this throughout the day. Every goddamn day.
Have you ever come in from the cold and made yourself a piping hot mug of tea or coffee or hot chocolate or even a bowl of soup and the liquid is so hot that allowing it more that a second of contact with your tongue and throat would cause serious burning so you temper each sip with a carefully gauged intake of air that cools the liquid just enough to allow you to swallow safely even though the process creates a viciously loud slurping sound that is only OK to make if you are next to someone else who just came in from the cold and is likewise slurping away at some hot beverage? Rajneesh does this once a day as he eats his spicy, microwaved Indian dishes for lunch at his desk eight feet behind me.
Have you ever been five years old and your Mom buys you a gumball from the gumball machine and you're so excited and you pop that sucker in your mouth and start chomping away, activating all those oral glands and you're so into it because you're five and you don't know any better and you don't realize that your mouth is wide open so that every soggy compression and decompression of gum between your molars is making a really loud saliva-soaked squishing sound shoot out of your mouth? Kathy does this once a day when she has her afternoon piece of gum. Every day.
Have you ever been 13 years old and your body is growing so fast that it demands extra large quantities of food so instead of having one bowl of cereal for breakfast you have a second and a third and you feel like you could have a fourth and a fifth but you don't because you know that you'll want more cereal later so instead you wolf down the first three bowls with such gusto that you barely chew and swallow each spoonful before cramming the next one in there so your mouth is never not full of so much food that you have to eat with your mouth open and your cheeks are swollen with milk and wheat and sugar and every chew makes a loud, sloppy, wet smacking sound. Rajneesh does this every day when he eats his spicy, microwaved stinkpot of tupperware at his desk eight feet behind me.
Have you ever been given one of those super duper sour hard candies that pushes your entire sense of taste to the limits of its ability by essentially tearing open your salivary glands so the bodily fluids flood the back of your mouth in an attempt to re-establish some sort of endocrinological order and it's all you can do to keep up with that production of fluids by sucking and smacking and swallowing and slurping and puckering and sucking and smacking and swallowing REALLY REALLY FUCKING LOUDLY? Kathy has one of those candies once a day.
Because of these aliens my productivity is down. I get up and leave the office several times a day just to get away from all the noise. If anyone out there has any academic clout on whatever planet these space beings came from, I implore you to see to it that their successors are better trained as to which audible bodily functions I find unacceptable. Feel free to submit this list.
office humor • co-workers • bodily functions
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Thursday, June 22, 2006
JUNE BLOOM AMID THE GLOOM
To Angelenos, June means two things. Actually, that's a lie. Like everything else in Los Angeles, June means approximately 12.9 million different things to the 12.9 million people that live here, so I'll put it this way. There's a couple, a dark brooding man and his bright cheery girlfriend that show up at the Los Angeles party every June. People put up with the downer of a guy in this couple because his girlfriend is such a fox.
The guy is known as June Gloom, the weather pattern that creates an opaque, gray cloud cover every single morning that the date starts with a six. Thankfully by noon, it burns off revealing the sun we all know and worship. All Angelenos know this guy, they humor him and just wait for him to leave.
But June Gloom never shows up alone. He always brings his hottie girlfriend the jacaranda tree. Everyone's always happy to see her. Every June the neighborhoods of Los Angeles become pocked with these electric purple bursts of vegetation. Seemingly overnight, these wonderous trees appear everywhere, offering up sticky, sweet blossoms in a hue so vibrant, you'd think it was a prop for some mysterious shoot. If Prince ever decided that his next phase should be to become a tree, the jacaranda would be his model.
Here's a jacaranda across the street from my office.
june gloom • jacaranda
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Sunday, June 18, 2006
COOL LITTLE HOLLYWOOD MOSAICS
Friday, June 16, 2006
SNAPPED ON THE WAY TO WORK
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
A MISFIT SPEAKS OUT
I can't believe this. As if it's not bad enough they stick me out here next to the friggin' freeway, but then they dress me up like a goddamn tree. Like it's so bad to be a cell tower. This sucks! They're always spouting off about freedom of choice and individuality and expressing yourself and being yourself, but when it comes right down to it, they want me to be like everybody else. They want me to be ashamed of myself. They want me to pretend to be something that I'm not. What hypocrites! Jesus!
And as if that's not bad enough, just look at me! Look at where I am! Do you think for a minute that all these real trees out here take me seriously? Hell, no! They won't even talk to me which incidentally is pretty ironic since I'm the communications expert around here.
You'd think they'd have all kinds of questions for me and they probably do but it's a little hard for them to casually start a conversation when I'm tarted up like a damned Christmas tree. And by the way, if they had to make me look like this, is this the best they could do? I mean, honestly. I look like one of those aluminum trees that gets hauled out of the crawlspace every twelve months with the metal branches stuck in the holes on the metal trunk. C'mon! Throw me a bone. See that hill behind me? Hollywood is right on the other side. They've got all kinds of special effects wizards and set designers and whatnot over there. Couldn't they find someone to make me look a little more realistic? It's embarrassing.
And the white dish stuck on the front of me isn't helping, people. It's like, "Hey, look at me! I'm a giant dork dressed up like a tree! Don't believe I'm a dork? Check out the big white dish!"
The stress of not fitting in around here is starting to take its toll. I hate to admit it but lately I've been dropping calls. I know, I know, it's only hurting me and it's a lame cry for help but I don't know what else to do. It's like they stuck me out here and then forgot all about me. They don't care. The cars driving by don't care. The real trees certainly don't care. I'm seriously at my wit's end.
I just want to be myself. Is that so bad?
cell tower • fake tree
Monday, June 12, 2006
SOME PEOPLE FALL ASLEEP IN MEETINGS
Ten years ago I worked with an unfit middleaged man from New Jersey named Barry. Barry was nice and funny and obese and probably very smart although I'm just guessing that he was smart since his duties at the firm never involved me directly. The closest we ever came to working together was when we would both attend the large bimonthly staff meetings.
Oh, yes. And Barry was a NyQuil addict. Well, if not an addict then a casual user. Whenever you would walk by his cubicle, there in the overhead cabinet would sit a bottle of the infamous blue elixir. And it wasn't as if he just kept it on hand in case he needed it to combat the sudden onslaught of cold or flulike symptoms. You could see that its position would change throughout the week. A keen observer could even see that the amount of liquid in the bottle would vary, implicating Barry in the use if not abuse of the medication.
The staff meetings were routine. Twenty or so of us would pack ourselves into an often underventilated conference room. One by one, group leaders would recount recent developments and predict future ones. Accuracy varied. Usually only a fraction of what transpired related to my daily life so I learned to employ certain techniques to help pass the time. The standard technique involved simple observation of my coworkers, none of whom I would soon learn were as entertaining as Barry.
The meeting would start and Barry would take out a pad of legal paper, pop the top of a ball point pen and hunch over the table with his head bent straight down as if he were showing everyone how much his hair was thinning. By assuming that position, most in the room were unable to actually make eye contact with him. It looked like he was taking notes. Sometimes he would place one hand on his brow as if he were shielding the bright fluorescent light from reflecting too brightly off the yellow pad, further obstructing everyone's view of his eyes. The other hand held the pen, its tip resting directly on the paper.
Not long into the meeting, sometimes ten minutes, sometimes two, the fun would start. Barry's body would enter that space where mind and body battle it out for control over the situation. The body wants to sleep. The mind fears the consequence of giving into the body's wishes. The two forces rock back and forth in a rhythm:
Falling asleep...Each time his mind would jerk his body back into consciousness, Barry would assume anew his pseudo-notetaking posture, perhaps even scribbling a word or two before the urge to sleep would slowly return and his hand would glide across the paper, dragging the pen tip with it eventually falling off the edge of the pad like a brakeless car off the side of a cliff.
NO! AWAKE!Sometimes, realizing that he was seriously in danger of falling right out of his chair onto the Scotchgarded carpet, Barry would just get up in the middle of the meeting and leave without excuse or explanation. Usually, though, the cycle would continue for the entirety of the meeting. After adjournment, Barry would stand up, tear the page from his pad and drop it in the small wastebasket in the corner of the conference room.
I came to look forward to those staff meetings purely to watch Barry. In fact, watching Barry's bimonthly battle to stay awake became routine for me the way parents casually watch their toddlers swing on a swingset while talking to their friends about their favorite reality show, paying just enough attention to make sure nothing out of the ordinary happens. I could follow the meeting's discussion while keeping an eye on my sleepy collegue. Eventually, I started secretly retrieving Barry's disgarded "notes." I collected them for a while and even hung a few choice examples over my desk. It was like some weird abstract folk art, a list of random words that trailed off into sometimes jagged sometimes swoopy paths.
office humor • falling asleep in meetings • nyquil • scotchgard
Saturday, June 10, 2006
THE GREATEST ENTRANCE I'VE EVER SEEN
On May 17, 1995 I watched The Late Show with David Letterman. It was a special show taped in London. Here's what I remember.
Letterman introduced his first guest Peter O'Toole, inciting a thunderous ovation the audience, but the camera shot of the stage showed only a slightly wavering curtain. No sign of O'Toole. Two seconds, five seconds, eight seconds elapsed, the anticipation rising, the applause only growing louder as if willing the great actor to appear.
Then, I'm sure to the surprise of more than just this viewer, a camel strode out from behind the curtain with none other than the beatific O'Toole perched atop the single hump. Beaming, he commanded the moment as only Peter O'Toole can. The camel, slightly skittish but game for the bit, turned fully around in a tight circle at center stage, O'Toole skillfully maneuvering the animal with a combination of gentle taps from the end of a long switch. The audience somehow managed to roar even more loudly. The noise was now a sustained, high-pitched static coming out of the television speaker.
At O'Toole's direction, the camel bent one of its front legs and performed a sort of curtsey on its way to assuming a full kneeling position of rest, one that allowed O'Toole to dismount. Before the audience had a chance to reduce its frenzied state, out from under his clothes O'Toole pulled a oversized can of beer and held it up for the audience to see. He popped the top, toasted the crowd and Letterman before gulping down a healthy swig. It seemed impossible but the decibel level continued to rise. The television speakers were buzzing and crackling.
He then turned to the enormous beast, which though kneeling still carried its head a good two feet above O'Toole's. The master thespian held the giant can of beer up to he camel's rubbery lips, offering a sup of the brew. Like prehensile appendages, the lips reached out and wrapped themselves around the can tugging it out of O'Toole's hand. Then, tipping its head back, it quickly guzzled down the entire can, its huge neck convulsing with each swallow. It then sent the empty can skipping across the stage floor. Licking its lips and bearing an expression that I can only describe as nonchalance, it gazed out a the audience. There was absolute bedlam in the theater. O'Toole bowed graciously to the audience and his obedient partner, took his seat next to Letterman and when the applause finally subsided enough for O'Toole to speak, he completed what I consider the greatest single entrance I've ever seen by offering the perfect Peter O'Toole wry, understated observation.
"I think that's called a stupid pet trick."
david letterman • peter o'toole • camel • may 17, 1995 • london
Thursday, June 08, 2006
TOPANGA DAYS 2006
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
NAKED LIVING IN 1979
Sunday, June 04, 2006
I saw something sad yesterday in the bakery at the grocery store. On the day-old rack, a beautiful birthday cake with a big "You're 94!!" on it.
Friday, June 02, 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.
Total pieces of junk mail received from Capital One so far this year: 24
capital one • junk mail