Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A New Year Haiku

Happy New Year, all--
Hope it's good for everyone.
My dog has a toy.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Goldfinger & Dove

“Casablanca”. Chocolate Chip Cookies. The Mustang convertible. American classics, every one. As are ‘Goldfinger & Dove’.

Who’s ‘Goldfinger & Dove’, you ask? My dear, they are two of the classiest magicians working today, classy performers and classy people. Even if they weren’t friends of mine, which I’m proud to say they are, I would respect and admire them. So much so that I went back to the Magic Castle last night and waited for the 11:15 show, just to be able to see them perform again. Of course, even on a Monday, the first two shows were full up. Jack Goldfinger himself couldn’t wrangle a seat for me, though he was courteous enough to try.

Aside from the sheer professionalism they exude (Jack was limping from an injury offstage, as soon as he got onstage he danced with the easy grace that is the trademark of both him and his beautiful wife Dove) what I enjoy most about their show is that they enjoy it. They’ve been doing this long enough that there is none of the anxiety so often visible in lesser performers. They have a good time, thus so do we in the audience. Their charm is palpable, as is their effervescent elegance and style.

Speaking of charm and style, Amos Levkovitch closed the show with his incomparable dove act. (The birds, not the lovely Mrs. Goldfinger.) Again, the audience benefits from the experience and comfort of the performer. Amos’ act is witty, refined and – this is important to me as an animal-lover—you can tell he cares for his doves, an impression not all magicians give.

You missed a great show. Pity.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Redux Reflux

“Best of 2008!” “Worst of 2008!” “Top 100 (things you didn’t know there were 100 of) of 2008!” The unwelcome headlines splatter my monitor with banality redux.

Like my 10 year high school reunion, not enough time has passed to have forgotten, or to appreciate any of it in context. I’m sick of celebrities (both media and political), and don’t care where they are on the list of somebody’s Top 100. Make it stop, please.

While we’re at it, let’s do something about the January People. They’ve already invaded one of my gyms, I’ll check the other tomorrow.

Funnily enough, I respect them for making New Year’s Resolutions. I can’t, I have no will power. Sure, I’m more disciplined than the next obsessive-compulsive, but will power? No way. That’s why I work out 7 days a week and limit my food excesses to Clark County, NV. (See the post “Zeitgeist Las Vegas, Finale”)

My problem is their belligerence, whether born of moral righteousness (justified, they’re making a tremendous effort) or the obvious discomfort of the process. Oh well, most of them won’t be there in a week, and maybe the others will start to show some basic courtesy--- or at least unblock the entry to the ladies’ room when someone behind them says “Excuse me!” more than once.

Friday, December 26, 2008


Jim was just here for leftovers (happy St Stephen’s Day to the rest of you, too!) and we were talking about some drunk-dialed calls he made last week. I thought it was in the middle of the night, but it wasn’t, they were done in the afternoon. So I asked him, “Aren’t drunken calls usually made after midnight?”
He said, “After midnight? That’s for amateurs.”

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Maybe It's Just Me...

Doesn't everybody name their holiday turkey before cooking it?

Happy Happy Goy Joy!

Balance In The Universe--- It’s All Connected--- What The Hell---
Pick your cliché of choice, they’re all true and apropos of the season.

For all that it’s a time of year when our faces are rubbed in the accumulated loss and entropy of relationships, there is a terrific upside. We (plural of “I”, these are universal truths here, folks) do connect with the people with whom we have an annual greeting exchange. And the lights are pretty, whether blue and white or multi-colored. But the real upside is the food.

I’m about to dive into the kitchen, to begin preparing tomorrow’s feast. This is great fun, and I’m looking forward to it. But even if I wasn’t cooking, it would still be great fun to go out and eat an abundance of carbohydrates and fat and sugar with people I love. Jonah has already had the turkey gizzard, and all’s well with the world.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Farewell, My Lovely

The enchanting Aicha is leaving us, as we always knew she would someday. G.I. Joe was wrong, though. Knowing isn’t half the battle. Maybe a third, tops.

Okay, I admit it. Time wore me down. Too many dear ones lost, to distance or death, their names still in my address book. (Yes, Jim, on Luddite paper.)

Bryan, you were the first to grow up and go away. Bubble, you were the last. Ironically, you two are the first numbers in my cell phone. One came back, one didn’t go far.

I need to remember that, sometimes they do come back. And sometimes, they’re not really gone, it just seems that way.

We’ll miss you, Aicha.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Merry Hell

As most of you know, I adore (and collect and devour) etiquette books. Let’s have a conversation about manners.

Don’t go! Come on, at least give me a chance.

Her Lady Goddess-ness Miss Manners’ entire oeuvre basically says that manners are a way for people to get along in groups. My example: It is good manners not to cross the street on a red light.

To extend the policy of the Golden Rule (which is theoretically inarguable but effectively a load of crap), good manners are about giving the other guy a break. While walking to my car this afternoon, I was nearly run over by a woman driving erratically through the parking lot. My first retaliatory impulse was checked when I realized she was being harangued by someone in the passenger seat.

We’ve all been there, especially this time of year. Everyone is depressed enough to begin with, compounded with worries about The Future. Or they are depressed about The Future, compounded by the season. Whichever. It’s there, for everybody. And they’re taking it out on total strangers. As annoying as people are, why not give them a break? The line was long to begin with, the parking space wasn’t that great, and that poor salesclerk is working miserable hours for no commission and minimum wage. Someone has to suck it up and break the cycle.

Remember, Santa is watching.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Back at the ranch, the world has been turning. Baby boomers are setting up to take over the government (see today’s LA Times front page, you can read the article, I didn’t), it snowed in Barstow, and the groundhog saw his shadow. Strike that last bit. Never mind, we’re probably in for at least six more weeks of winter anyhow.

So, how are things? I hope your holiday preparations are progressing nicely. I should be making the scarycookie dough right now, but I’m not. I’m sitting here talking to you instead.

It was enough that I made an honest effort to shop for presents. Without success, but it’s the thought that counts, right? And my thought is that if a store wants my business, they should provide a clerk to make the transaction instead of talking on a cell phone to a buddy. Moreover, I wasn’t the only customer who left disgruntled. Bah humbug.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Zeitgeist Las Vegas, Finale

I’m only going to tell you about one meal. See for the rest.

The place is called Aureole, and the chef is Charlie Palmer--- probably not in person, but you never know, he’s there often.

Upon entering the restaurant, you cross a dizzyingly narrow catwalk at the top level of a four-story wine tower that houses 10,000 bottles of wine. The “wine angel” of the evening, a pretty girl in a black catsuit, rappels up and down gathering bottles as needed. The path wraps around the tower, making damned sure you appreciate it fully before you get to the hostess stand at the bottom.

They know us there, and it was a slow night (a slow season, see previous) so we were escorted under a glass archway with water cascading throughout, to the Swan Court. This is an exquisitely appointed dining room, the floor to ceiling windows face a large pool with fountains at one end and half a dozen sleeping swans at the other. Tres chic, and usually the demesne of VIPs. We got a semi-walled circular booth, and service fit for a much-loved monarch.

First the amuse: a microscopic napoleon of roasted beets and crème fraiche mousse on a tiny cracker, next to a croque monsieur (French for a ham & cheese sandwich) the size of a walnut, then a carved cucumber cup filled with ethereal salmon mousse. Each morsel was one bite. When our magically efficient waiter realized I was giving Robert my croque monsieur (and why) he flew to the kitchen and returned with a little cup made from one hand-cut potato chip, filled with fresh buffalo mozzarella, a slice of heirloom tomato and some micro-greens, all drizzled with antique balsamic vinegar.

Merely to say that Robert had the French onion soup is unfair to every immortal piece of art produced by civilization. The idealized consommé was thickened with truffles and foie gras, the carmelized onions and aged gruyere mere gilding. This voluptuous concoction was baked in a bowl covered with flaky pastry that had more gruyere melted on top. The waiter deftly beheads the whole, and the fragrance goes straight through your nose into your brain, inducing euphoria even before the spoon goes in.

Sure, Charlie Palmer is famous for beef, but the potato gnocchi (yes, Ted, that’s probably redundant) with seared scallops on an organic leek fondue, surrounded by wild porcinis and bathed in champagne foam was a melody of texture, filling my mouth with light. Velvety, savory, delicious beyond expression. I’m smiling as I type this, just remembering how it felt to taste it.

Of course the entrees were equally perfect. Pan-roasted New Zealand snapper came with a summer squash tapenade and citrus wafers, golden chanterelle mushrooms and a sherry-infused jus. The veal loin with crisped sweetbreads had a fricassee of the same golden chanterelle mushrooms alongside, and some citron potato.

But the desserts… how to do them justice? We both had the fleur de sel caramel bombe with summer cherries and cherry-pomegranate sorbet. A pretty citrus tuile held the sorbet sphere above the bombe, and a mathematically exact spiral of hardened caramel garnished the little sculpture.

Our waiter was so saddened by the fact that we had each ordered the same dessert that he brought us another to share. An amazing tiramisu trifle with ginger sorbet came with the strangest sweet I’ve ever experienced. It was like a really good chocolate brownie but not, like a phenomenal dark chocolate soufflé but not. A hybrid of both, baked in buttery, flaky pastry (more croissant than pie crust, only not) served warm and comforting and yummy.

The plate of individual chocolates (each infused with a different gorgeousness: lavender, orange, vanilla, caramel, more chocolate) were both almost too pretty to eat, and superfluous at that point. Don’t worry, we mustered the fortitude to finish every one.

Monday, December 15, 2008

December Digression

Ah, the holidays. The season of casual hurt arrives with sparkling lights and a cartoon Santa praying to a Baby Jesus crèche in the neighbor’s yard.

What a hypocrite I am. Except for that abovementioned Santa, I enjoy the season. I adore the twinkle lights, even if we can’t be bothered to put them on our house. I like fruitcake. I like all the other Santas, though they don’t make elves like they used to. The holiday itself doesn’t matter to me for obvious reasons, but the trappings are great fun.

Thanksgiving is the tip of the iceberg--- and it’s the one that hit the familial Titanic. Not mine, the only family I have left (on speaking terms, that is) I cherish beyond measure. We don’t celebrate so much as give me an excuse to present a formal menu. We get together often anyhow, and I do like to cook. What bliss that it doesn’t matter what we eat, as long as a few bits reach the dog.

No, I’m thinking about you. You know who you are, and you are legion. As December progresses, let me remind you that yes, people suck. Not YOU! Don’t be silly. My friends are all uniformly wonderful people. And if anyone tries to pressure you or even just says anything uncomplimentary, tell me and I’ll take care of them. I’ve got your back, with jingle bells on.

Ho ho ho.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Zeitgeist Las Vegas, 2

Part Two: Travelogue

First, the bad news. The fantastic bagel place in Victorville is no more. There’s a tattoo parlor there now. This is also a metaphor, one to be ignored for all eternity.

The Mad Greek in Baker, home of The World’s Tallest Thermometer, was, I believe, the model for Callahan’s Bar, the Inn at the End of the World, and every other mythic stopping-place in print. On the way out, it was a bickering elderly couple (Welsh husband and Irish wife) in line next to a patient and multiply pierced tall youth. On the return, it was a tableful of louts who were as annoying in the parking lot as they were inside.

First stop in Vegas, by tradition, is Payard in Caesars Palace (no apostrophe, thank you Max.) We were enjoying pastries at a table by the fountain, when a gracious English lady started taking pictures nearby. I offered to take one of her, and just as I was clicking the button (a real camera, not digital) some asshole stopped and put up two hairy fingers behind her gray head. Of course I took a second shot. When she develops the film, she’ll have a story.

When we got to THEHotel™, we were checked in by Rosie, a very nice woman we’d never met before. We had a conversation about home-made bread. Rosie’s daughter is a lifelong vegetarian, who happens to eat chicken. I can’t say much, I eat fish, which isn’t a vegetable either. (If you wonder how I get into these conversations, read the post “It Takes All Kinds”. It’s what I do.)

The montage of characters: A kindly man who paints the retaining wall outside of Caesars every couple of weeks. The scruffy and dreadlocked hipsters who for some reason always represent near the fanciest designer stores in the Forum Shops. Tony, the motorcycle-riding Italian by way of New Jersey waiter, an anachronism who belongs more in Bugsy’s Vegas than the current Dubai outlet. A hostess so snotty we walked out of the restaurant without eating rather than deal with her a moment longer. The cowboys. My dears, there were cowboys galore. ‘Twas the 50th anniversary of the Rodeo, and they were everywhere.

(By the way, the cowgirl word for toilet, is “terlet”. I tell you this as a favor, in case you ever need to ask for directions in their territory.)

In the cowboy marketplace, there was a very long line of people waiting for an autograph from a man in full regalia. Turns out he was Fred Whitfield! Okay, I didn’t have a clue either. You can find out for yourself at The best part was when we were leaving. A Norman Rockwell circa 1995 – esque family was just coming in the door, and Opie (soon echoed by both Dad and Grandpa) exclaimed in awe, “Look! Over there! It’s Fred!” Oh, just so you know, it is apparently pronounced “Fray-ud.”

Zeitgeist Las Vegas

Part One: What Las Vegas Means To Me

Being in Las Vegas has always been transformational. (For the newbies, no, I’m not kidding. The old guard may want to skip the ideology and go straight to the travelogue.)

I spent my childhood among cultural installations and artifice, both because I grew up in West Hollywood and because my mother is a fine artist who took me with her to some of the most significant art installations of the 1960s and early 1970s. Las Vegas conflates both, admittedly with an emphasis on artifice that should make the icicles on Walt’s cryogenic tank envy-green.

I love Las Vegas the way I loved Disneyland as a child. I love the colors, the lights and the sounds. The slot machines hypnotize and mesmerize me as they were designed to do. I wander among the beeps and twinkles and happily allow myself to be lured by new graphics; the prophet, the world-traveling gnome, the various Mayan/Chinese/Medieval ersatz storylines. I even love the cheesy 80s soundtrack that blasts everywhere. And the food, my oh my, I do love the food.

The yellow brick Interstate 15 leads to a neon burp in the desert. Look at aerial pix of the Strip, it’s absurdly small. For congenital visitors like us, it’s even smaller, since we only go to a few places within the bubble of buildings. The further in you go, the bigger it gets. I once timed the walk from the car to the room; ten minutes at a brisk pace. The “room” is a suite, two bathrooms, three wide-screen TVs (none of which I watched, except for the express check-out), a wet bar (to which we never take the key) and more.

The hotel itself (pun, it’s called THEHotel) is part of an international corporate conglomerate. Bigness, there. But in a throwback to the glory days when the Mob ruled, I deal with one charming casino host, who always comps our stay. We hadn’t been back since August. A long time for us, normally a blink for Vegas, but entropy had hit our beloved casino. About 15% of the slot machines were missing, and there weren’t many people playing the machines that remained.

Las Vegas is a metaphor for our entire culture. It probably always was, but it’s painfully apparent now. The high-stakes areas were just as full as always, the rich will always be with us. The rest of the casino was a wasteland. One favorite restaurant was closed, supposedly for “renovations”. The rest were understaffed because of low turnout. But the people were the same, each a character, almost all interesting. And while there weren’t as many stories this time, the ones there were, are choice. To me, Las Vegas will always be sanctuary.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Watch This Space

Or don’t, because there won’t be anything in it til the weekend.

Please behave yourselves in my absence, and apologies in advance if you leave me voice mail and it isn’t returned.

Ciao, honeys!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Don't Read This!

Seriously, you’re a pal and I appreciate the thought, but stop right now. Go check the 7-day weather forecast, or read some gossip about celebrities I’ve never heard of. Spider Solitaire, Pogo, Warcraft— click on your cyber-opiate of choice. Trust me. So far at least, I have been utterly truthful on this blog and I mean it. Irrelevant, mind-numbing boredom lurks in the next paragraph.

We went to the Harvest Festival in Pomona today. (Yes, the arts & crafts fair. You thought I was kidding. Ha!) I know, we were just at the one in Ventura, and we don’t usually go twice in one season, but I had a couple of things to pick up that I can’t get anywhere else, so we went.

Remember the hoopla about the recession? Septic economy, unemployment the highest it’s been since, what, 1934? Forget all that. The place was packed. And I’m talking about the Pomona Fairplex, which is huge.

There were plastic bowls (available at the 99 Cent Store in bulk) with the word “popcorn” tackily written in paint-pen, selling for $4 each. There were scads of ugly fabric purses and uglier sweater-y things. Oil-cloth aprons. Piggy-banks that said things like “For The Boob Job”.

To be fair, there was beautiful hand-carved wood furniture, and more genuinely splendid jewelry than in Tiffany and Cartier combined. (I’m not buying any, still, they were there.) But the cool vendors were M.I.A., which means I didn’t find most of what we went there for. Apparently I was the only one. Crowds of people were dragging wagons and carts filled with ridiculous crap, blocking the aisles and elbowing other people away from the booths.

Where did they come from? And why, in today’s economy, would people spend so much money on a reindeer sign with their family name custom-painted on it for their front yard? We saw enough of them walking around with one. At least they weren’t using it as a weapon, which is something.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Everybody’s got something. Disease, anxiety, stress, in-laws for the holidays--- no one gets a free ride. Me, I’ve got a cold. Big deal, so does half of western civilization at the moment, from what I hear.

Why bring it up? (No phlegm intended) Because a casual conversation I had this afternoon replayed a conversation I had this morning, so you get to read about it.

It’s all about the supplements. Why don’t I take chondroitin-glucosamine for my chronically achy joints? Or shark cartilage? Or rhinoceros horn—no, wait, that’s not right. I don’t, for the same reason I’m not taking zinc or Echinacea or mustard plasters for the cold.

Oh, I used to, once upon a time. Quit cold turkey, except for the occasional multi-vitamin. I hit bottom when I bought a bottle of gingko biloba for my memory, then forgot to take it. Seriously, it hit the sell-by date ¾ full. Taught me a lesson.

Neil Gaiman famously wrote, “You get what everyone gets. You get a life.”

Just take two aspirins and call someone in the morning.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Okay, enough with the philosophy. We’ve discussed joy (dogs peeing on trees) and tragedy (if you have to ask, don’t look at Monday’s post.) We’ve pondered psychology, ideology and the entertainment industry--- sometimes simultaneously.

We’ve covered a lot of ground since I began this blog, yes we have. I’d like to thank those of you who’ve stuck with me, and welcome any newbies who happened to stop by.

Today marks a new dawn for Scarycookies. Look down and to your right, I finally figured out how to change the photo. Technology is mine! Bahahaha.

Don’t worry, tomorrow the pointless and excessive verbiage will resume.

Monday, December 1, 2008


When I went to pick up my mother for Sunday dinner, the radio news was partway through a story about dead bodies being retrieved after a flood. On the way home, the news was filled with more corpses, nine decapitated ones found in Tijuana, the heads in plastic bags nearby.

We as a community have been inundated with tragedy. Our tolerance levels for sorrow have built up necessarily, else we’d be stultified by basic human decency and compassion.

I think about soldiers and doctors, who are conditioned to cope with atrocity. I think about my friends who are coping with some seriously nasty shit. I think about my shelf full of books on zen that preach detachment--- as if it’s possible to stop caring. And I turn it all around.

Good things happen too, we just don’t hear as much about them. Or maybe we do, but our tolerance there has also increased. Maybe it isn’t enough to take comfort in little things, but it has to be enough that we do what we can to help. Sometimes, all we can do is care.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dog-Walking As Metaphor

We have an extra dog this week. The Pug, Princess Wiggle-butt (not her real name) is in the house. This makes the evening patrol a little slapstick. Jonah reconnoiters the neighborhood to assert his sovereignty. Like a well-organized leader, he marches with military precision and chooses his targets judiciously. Semper fi!

The happy little Miss wants to sniff every blade of grass, every tree, every everything, on both sides of the sidewalk, not in consecutive order but with joyous abandon.

We choreograph the leashes (under and over, do si do) so it’s no problem. But I found myself in the position of wanting to explain to Her Pugness that you can’t sniff it all. No, I didn’t try to reason with a dog, but it did start me thinking.

I’ll never sit sesshin with a zen master in a Japanese monastery. Nor am I likely to ride the Trans-Siberian railroad (nod to Steve Hely, wherever you are.) I have no desire to see Katmandu, or the Forbidden City, or even the Taj Mahal. My father was a committed traveler, who had his passport stamped with pride of conquest. If the only Paris I ever see again is on the Las Vegas Strip, I’ll still be happy.

There’s a Sufi story I don’t remember, but the point is that when you travel, you take yourself with you and that’s what you find there. Like the dogs peeing on the same trees night after night, I happily return to Las Vegas to relax in the casino and luxuriate in the restaurants when I feel the need to be Elsewhere. We’ll be there in the foreseeable future. The dogs can only hit so many trees, and we can only eat so many meals. Like them, we have to choose judiciously. Dog-walking truly is a metaphor, but then, so is Las Vegas--- another metaphor, for another post.

By the way, the nicest Ladies’ Room in Vegas is in the Venetian. I have a photograph if you ever want to see it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

It Takes All Kinds

Last week, I happened to phone my nameless faceless national financial institution with a question about my statement. Don’t ask me how or why, but I had a conversation about chickens with the nice lady who took my call. Not eating them, but taking the eggs out from under a broody hen (which I’ve done so often in the past that I devised an ingenious method for staying un-pecked—which received tremendous admiration from the nice lady, who hadn’t thought of it before.)

Yesterday, in a shop, I got into another conversation which started out about a clock and ended up about the 12 cats and four dogs for whom the saleswoman was about to cook Thanksgiving dinner, of which only two cats and one dog were hers.

Does this happen to you?

I was going to write about personalities, about the angry French man who jabbers away in French at the gym. (A French-Canadian friend told me that the man does nothing but bag on women.) There’s a Russian lady there whose eyebrows go up and meet in the middle, making an upside down V, when she asks, “How are you?” with tragic sympathy--- though I’m always cheerful around her as a matter of policy. A genial Thai man makes corny jokes that are indecipherable because of his accent, though the good-naturedness comes right through so I know to smile and chuckle no matter what I think he’s saying.

Personalities are only part of the equation. We all live inside the solitude of our minds, some of us are more okay with this than others. This blog, in itself, is an act of outreach. You stalwart few who read it often see what I’m thinking, what I should by all the laws of politeness keep inside my skull but I don’t. Instead, I smear it over my bit of cyberspace for us to talk about when we meet, or speak, or just email. At least, unlike the financial lady, I don’t go on about chicken plucking. Yuck.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Frick: “ik ga er ook af welterusten”

Frack: “even berichten kijken nog”

Frick: “doei”

The names have been changed to protect the innocent, but they really said it. Whatever it is. Isn't public chat wonderful?

Monday, November 24, 2008

God Bless Rube Goldberg

Go ahead, say it. Luddite. Technophobe. Jim, I am your “Amish friend”--- which is in itself a Quaker joke but never mind.

After finally making the adjustment to a digital camera, thus admitting to posterity that convenience trumps artistry, and maneuvering the photo center at my local drugstore with a minimum of appalling missteps (beginning with failing to insert the thingy properly and concluding with failing to insert the disc at all) I brought home my brand-new photo disc (a bargain at $2.99) and loaded it onto the computer, only to get stuck again.

Personally, I blame you. Not all of you, just the handful of well-meaning ones who told me how unflattering my profile photo is.

Now I have a disc replete with adorable doggy pix (not just ours, also the Pug Princess, the Duchess and hizzoner Branz) none of which I know how to email to the relevant parties. Every time I try, my computer just laughs mockingly. Or maybe I’m hallucinating that after having clicked on every possible whatsit. Maybe it’s my adorable dog who is laughing. It isn’t me, that’s all I know.

Oh sure, I can (and will) wait for Robert to get home and take care of it, but that belies my honest attempts to navigate the technology myself. So, to posterity, I say, “I told you so!” and from now on I will leave machinery to Rube Goldberg and get on with my day.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Said to me very earnestly, by a woman at my gym,

"I don't read. I'm much too creative a person."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

At the Castle...

Gather round, friends, it’s story time. A foolish but cross my heart true story happened last night at the World Famous Magic Castle™ right here in Hollywood, California.

Yes, I went back. When I tell you that Eugene Burger was there, you’ll understand why. For those of you who haven’t had the sinister pleasure, imagine a fiendishly skilled hybrid of Rasputin and Santa Claus. Nuff said.

The close up room seats about 20 people, so we were all clustered together. There was a pretty blonde selected to sit at Eugene’s table. Now, you have to understand, darling Eugene’s voice can growl from hellish pits that would terrify Hieronymus Bosch. (He is a sweetie, really, and universally adored.) Eugene did a card trick, which had a story about the Spanish Inquisition. Don’t ask, it’s his trick and I’d only mangle it anyhow. The thing is, all he was doing, physically, was folding two cards together then magically turning one inside out while he told a story. If anyone else did it, it could be dull. It was transfixing, because it was Eugene, and the story was so good.

Here’s why you’re reading this; when Eugene got to the part of the story about torture, when he actually folded the cards in half, the pretty girl gasped in horror. Loudly, and involuntarily. When one card magically twisted in his hands, the girl gave a little yelp of genuine fear. When Eugene, playing Torquemada, tore the cards in two, she almost screamed. So much so that her friend in the back called out, “She’s vegan, she can’t hurt anything!”

That’s magic for you. I’m a vegetarian too, but I can tear paper.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Today I made Max Maven laugh, thus proving that life can indeed be sweet.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Kant do it

Once upon a time, back at the University when-and-where I was a Philosophy major, life was at once more sophisticated and more simple. Simple because everything in life reduced to manageable ideas, based on where in the cycle from ardent to disaffected I happened to be at the time. ‘Sophisticated’ literally because of the sophistry inherent in the process.

Of course the logical progression (heh, concept pun, I’m actually chortling at that one, what a nerd) goes from epistemology to rationalism to zen.

Epistemology first, what is knowledge? That’s easily written off as what can be known, what is fundamental to us as thinking beings. From there we go to rationalism, reason, logic. Then the inevitable backlash— transcendence and dismissal of reason in favor of … what? Intuition, the inescapable and ineffable moment. Being alive, being happy, just Being.

Of course, just Being makes the idea of Meaning, meaningless. Hell, that’s arguably the whole purpose of zen. And we can’t have that, no we can’t.

Nuh huh, no way.

Why not? Because we care. Because stuff matters. Because when bad things happen (California is burning as I write this, and I worry for my loved ones in the path of destruction, enough to break the ‘no topicality’ rule I set myself when I started this blog) we react. And we don’t react in an ineffably intuitive way. We plotz. Plotzing is neither rational nor zen.

To paraphrase my favorite rationalist David Hume, from “A Treatise of Human Nature”, no matter how intellectually evolved we are, we still get bitch-slapped by Life. To which I can only add, the trick is to get back up and be happy again as soon as you can.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Why Do You Care?

From thinking about what makes us care about a story, I wandered further, into what makes us care about anything.

The negatives are easy, from Injustice (anything from Prop 8 to bad tippers) to Tragedy (pick a fatal disease, any fatal disease), obviously we’re going to care about that.

The positives are more difficult. Why do we like what we do? I don’t even know why I like the food I do. None of it is a holdover from childhood, except maybe those sugar cookies with the colored sprinkles, the round sprinkles, not the oblong ones eeuw. Since I rarely ate vegetables or anything I eat now, I can’t use either nostalgia or tradition to justify my preferences.

Tastes change. I won’t say “evolve” because I’m not sure it’s an improvement. But we do care, about a lot of things, or else we’d be dead inside, and we’re not.

So why do we care about the things we choose? How would you even approach an answer to that?

I tried looking at what I care about, what I like, as if I could find a visible pattern. Hey, it was a start.

What do you care about? What things, what causes, what stories, what music? (People with children, please recuse yourselves or focus elsewhere, that’s too easy. Likewise anyone who has successfully loaded Lich King, if you don’t know what that is, be grateful)

You’re an eclectic bunch, whose collective answers would probably charm a statistician, if we all answered honestly and thoroughly--- which we won’t. Never mind. We care because that’s who we are. And I’m the one who coined the phrase “Why doesn’t matter” so I guess I should listen to myself and go back to Pogo where I belong. Thanks for playing.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What Makes A Story Good?

Don’t look at me. I like crap. And I am capable of reading something really, really good (which I just did, Busiek’s “Secret Identity”) and still being ambivalent about it.

What makes a story good? If you care. If you care about the characters, if you care what happens next. Two separate things, one of which is necessary. Either one, but it’s rare to find them separate.

Think about a story you like. Nothing epic, tapestry narrative takes on a momentum of its own and the characters are either Joseph Campbell outlines or superficial plot-movers. No, think of something smaller, with a distinct beginning, middle and end. Doesn’t have to be fiction, but fiction is easier because it ends. Movies are fine, it can be anything. This isn’t rhetorical. I mean it, think of something.

Now, what do you like about it?

I bet it isn’t the gloriously lyrical descriptive passages, or scenic vistas if it’s a movie. It might be the way the ending comes together so perfectly--- but I doubt it.

My money is on the characters. Ford Prefect. The Dread Pirate Roberts. Nero Wolfe. Kiera the Thief. Eddi McCandry. Chiun. Simon Templar. Perry Mason (from TV, not the boring books). Our lists might overlap, they might not, it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that a good story is made up of at least one good character, someone who becomes real to us and makes us care. Otherwise the Happiest of Ever Afters is irrelevant.

Caveat: Discussing this at the gym today, I was given the example of Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” in which there is a gloriously descriptive active passage without significant characterization. Show of hands, how many of you thought of Dostoevsky for your example? I sure didn’t.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Excuse me

Courtesy is stupidly easy. When people go through a public door, they could glance behind them to make sure it’s not going to close on someone, but they don’t. (Robert has a theory that more women ignore this than men. Since he said it, I’ve been watching. He may well be right.)

Would it kill people to thank a waiter/ess who’s shlepping their food and refilling their cups? A tip doesn’t cancel out an occasional smile or a monosyllabic “Thanks” now and then. How hard is that?

No one should block the aisle with their shopping cart, nor the intersection if they can’t get through on the light. Don’t get me started on parking lots. Figure out which way the spaces go and go that way. Jeez.

The Internet is a rudeness magnifier, anonymity is psychological Kevlar. I played Bingo last night, not chatting at all, and got chewed out – by name, no less—because someone in the room didn’t like the way I was playing. Yes, in Bingo, of all places. Nowhere is safe.

What a relief that my friends are all outstandingly gracious individuals and good tippers. You make my world a nicer place to live, and I thank you.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


My paternal grandmother called it the Evil Eye. She wasn’t the nicest person around, nor was she particularly happy. Which is just as well, because she believed that if you were too happy, something bad would happen to cancel it out. She died in 1995 and to this day her crypt is marked with nothing more than her name on a piece of tape. No one in the family ever put up an official plaque. I’m as guilty as the rest of them, but I do go and look at it every year or two.

As you all know, I am superstitious as hell. Not because I believe in demons or evil forces, but because I believe in human neurosis and self-fulfilling prophecy. If I fail to touch wood (or hold my breath when passing a cemetery, or cover my mouth when I yawn, etc) then I might subconsciously do something stupid to screw myself up immediately thereafter, because on some level I expect something bad to happen. God forbid.

This leaves me in a strange place. After a lovely Sunday dinner with my mother, I find myself both comfortable and serene. Nothing to rant about, no bilious complaint about bad food or bad service (both were excellent), my ferocious yet adorable dog has recovered from his alimentary distress (knock wood) – it seems my choices are, keep away from the keyboard, or risk the Evil Eye.

I have as much chance of keeping away from the keyboard as I have of rollerblading down Hollywood Blvd in a green tutu. Since I can’t rollerblade, I will just say Happy Birthday to the U.S.M.C., and wish you all as good a day as I had today.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Three Rules

Once upon a time, I crafted three rules that apply to just about any situation. Here they are:

1. It can’t be helped.
2. It’s got to be done.
3. People suck.

Having just spent the morning clearing off a nearly foot-tall pile from my desk (mea culpa, I admit it publicly, I did NOT go to the gym today, go ahead and jeer or cheer as you prefer) an aggregation of old projects, new projects, receipts, photos, business cards, postcards, playing cards, ticket stubs, random notes, bits and pieces and whatnot—I found myself thinking about the Three Rules. You know what? They still work. Try them yourself, you’ll see.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Zinzinbar x 2 = Infinity

“There were some men, sitting around a campfire. The Captain said, ‘Zinzinbar, tell us one of your famous stories!’ So Zinzinbar stood up, and he said that there were some men, sitting around a campfire. The Captain said, ‘Zinzinbar, tell us one of your famous stories!’ So Zinzinbar stood up, and he said…”


“Feeling in need of refreshment, I stepped into a nearby café. There were some men, sitting at the bar. ‘Gentlemen,’ I said, ‘I have just killed a man.’
‘Killed a man?’ ‘Yes, killed a man.’ ‘What was his name?’ ‘His name was Zinzinbar.’ ‘Zinzinbar?’ ‘Yes, Zinzinbar.’ ‘Z-i-n-z-i-n-b-a-r?’ ‘Yes, Z-i-n-z-i-n-b-a-r.’ ‘Sir, you have killed my brother, we must fight!’ We retired to a field near the outskirts of Paris. I, being the innocent party, fired the first shot. My opponent fell dead. Feeling in need of refreshment, I stepped into a nearby café…”

These stories were told to me when I was a child. Told repeatedly, as well as many times, by my parents’ friend Oscar. Oscar never said where the stories came from, and I never asked. I would practice them until I could get each repetition identical in inflection and emphasis—because I would end up going through four or five cycles with each telling.

Time passed, and I forgot them. Oscar died years ago, and the stories stayed forgotten, though I must have told them at least once, to Robert, because he just asked me about them.

It took a while to jog my memory for the full text of both, I couldn’t remember one line. Before I got it (which I did, eventually), he’d gone online to see what he could find. What he found amazed me. Apparently there are several versions of these stories floating around, although most use the name Zanzibar. And in every reference, the writer claims to having been told the story as a child, without ever knowing the provenance. Just like me. Spooky, no?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Ideas come out of nowhere. Inspiration doesn’t, that generally has a catalyst of some sort, but ideas spring up spontaneously.

The problem, of course, is that wit requires inspiration which requires a catalyst. So I am left with fragments of possible posts, each of which began with an idea but never grew into actual wit. As my friend Cliff would say, it’s half-witty. And while I am comfortable with mediocrity, I refuse to be a half-wit.

So when it was pointed out to me today that I haven’t posted since Sunday, I took a look at those bits and pieces, verbal seedlings that need mental fertilizer to grow into something useful or at least entertaining. For once I find myself insufficiently full of shit, so this is all you get. Don’t worry, I’m sure it’s only temporary.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Reaching The Bowling Point

It happened partway through my daily hour on the treadmill this morning. The TV suspended midair for the distraction of the human hamsters was turned to professional bowling, not uncommon on a Sunday.

You groaned just then, didn’t you? Well, you shouldn’t. Bowling’s really fun to watch. No, really, it is. I’ve gotten hooked over the years, having seen a lot of it on the treadmill. Okay, pretty much the only TV I see by choice is “Iron Chef” but still. Bowling can be impressive, or in this case, agonizing.

Here’s what happened. I noticed that this guy (he looked like Tom Skerritt’s accountant) was 49, and he was throwing off some serious attitude. There’s no sound, just patchy subtitles. They said something about his grandkids, but I couldn’t see what. He was up against a young guy who looked cool. Tubby, arty facial hair, you know, normal. The young guy was knocking out strikes while Gramps kept having to pick up spares, and Gramps was pissed. I was rooting for the kid. One by one, they stopped showing the other competitors, it was down to these two.

The Kid was ahead, and then it happened. Not just a 7-10 split. I’ve seen how they pick those up. No, this was two pins on each end. Impossible shot, and The Kid didn’t make it. Now, The Kid has two pins left and Gramps, who was behind, is out in front. There are two frames left to bowl.

If The Kid makes both strikes, he can win the competition. The next throw is everything. If he misses, it’s over, but he’s been striking like a demon up until now. Suddenly, the screen went black. Then it turned to football. Guys in green and white (with yellow trim) were playing guys in blue and something. Aargh! And don’t tell me it’s only bowling. I don’t want to hear it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween, A Retrospective

Somewhere in my Dickensianly crowded desk drawers, I have a picture of myself as a child of maybe four, dressed in a pink princess costume. This was so long ago that it was still original and quite artsy to dress a little girl that way. My mother handcrafted the pointed hat with fake jewels and streaming veil, when the fact is that I was too young even to appreciate the pillowcase full of candy--- all of which I was allowed to eat, whenever I wanted.

It was years before parents were warned against treats of loose cookies or fresh apples (razor blades found therein in such quantities that ERs across town offered their x-ray equipment for screening kids’ loot.) Back then, movie horror was psychological when it was good, and special effects were equal parts ketchup and camp. Halloween was only fun, but it was way fun.

Fast forward, and Halloween was the coolest time of the year. Costumes were daring or bleak or symbolic (or all of the above), demonstrating either the state of mind or the aspirations of the wearer. I’m talking adulthood here, folks. At least two of you will remember my Halloween parties, with a guest list of over 50 and food for 100. Still, a decade has passed since the last of them, and I say, “Good riddance!”

Entropy affects everything, even holidays. Somewhere along the line, Halloween became more bother than it was worth. A big, beautiful pumpkin adorns our porch because it was a lovely gift. And having 200 pounds of dog is a great excuse not to give out candy, I’ll have a different excuse next year.

Bah humbug.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


While walking the boy-dogs this afternoon, we had to maneuver around and under some sound equipment. Filming in the street (& sidewalks) four blocks away. Robert said they caught me scooping the poo. Look for it on youtube, I’m wearing a blue tank top.

Tonight, being Sunday, I took my mother to dinner. We went to Frank’s* --- which will be closed for filming next Wednesday.

That’s the thing. Here, we take the Industry for granted. We’re used to the ubiquitous white trucks, the extraordinary inconvenience. People who don’t work in and for the biz, know people who do. Non-professionally, I know actors who tend bar, actors who don’t, stuntmen, set-builders, drivers, researchers, grips, editors, directors, A.D.s, voice guys, craft service--- not to mention the occasional animator (wink) and computer guy. Hell, you all are reading this, well, a flattering lot of you, anyhow. (I’m not counting the writers, because I don’t think that’s mathematically possible. Besides, you know who you are.)

We don’t blink when a Famous Person goes by. Character actors are more interesting than stars because of the effort required trying to remember what we know them from. So when the guy last night said “in production” of course I assumed he was Industry, not in an assembly line somewhere. Just like you did. Unless you’re reading this first, in which case, scroll down to the next post, “Overheard”. I’ll wait. No, really, read it now.

Good. Because yesterday I was planning a post about what it’s like to live on the periphery of the entertainment industry, and that was before I was hit with all the filming today. What was going to be a metaphor, became one of those coincidences inappropriately called irony. Now all my pithy observations seem redundant somehow, so I’ll stop here.

*The old chef from Genio’s Italian Restaurant is now at Frank’s coffee shop on Olive, just west of Victory. He’s only there at night, so the dinner specials are surprisingly good. Melva had the sand dabs, and they were terrific.


Ordinary-looking guy, "I’m not that into it, but they’re well into production already."

Ambitious-looking girl, "Oh?"

Guy, earnestly, "What I really want is to go back to school and get my PhD in Science."

Girl, amazed, "Wow! I didn’t know you can do Science!"

Guy, modestly, "Yeah, I can do Science."

Okay, show of hands, people. How many of you assumed that the “production” mentioned above was some kind of film/TV project? Yep. Just what I thought, all the locals. I did, too. Commentary to follow.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Dan Chaon is a multi-award winning author. I haven’t read a single one of his books. My bad.

What I have read is an essay about chili he wrote for a book called “Alone In The Kitchen With An Eggplant”. I’ve been reading food theory for over a decade. I have shelves full of the stuff. Not once have I ever made anything from any of it. Never bothered, never wanted to.

So why did I spend hours today chopping three kinds of peppers (and onions, and a whole head of garlic, and cilantro and oregano, et al) into teensy tiny micro-bits to make a ginormous pot of chili? The first time I read the essay, it didn’t make an impression. Then I reread it over the weekend, and bam (sorry, bad foodie pun) now I’m wielding my Henckel like an obsessed Benihana reject.

The irony is that I will never taste the stuff. There’s four-count’em-four pounds of meat in it. Luckily I have company coming tomorrow (Hi Scott!) who had better be hungry when he gets here. Otherwise, let me know if you want leftovers. Robert says it's good.

Monday, October 20, 2008


In the weight room at the gym, a 50ish man wearing a trilby and sunglasses with his workout gear, yelling into a cell phone:

"I'm trying to find someone who will pay some attention to me!"

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Mood is a funny thing. It’s a funny word, if you look at it or try to say it five times in a row. Like a yawn, a mood can be contagious in a way that transcends species.

We all know that if one person in a room yawns, the others will follow. It’s also been demonstrated that if a dog yawns, the people in the room will also yawn.

Well, after a typically busy morning, I find myself sitting here surrounded by dogs in a placid state of contentment. I echo their placidity, and their contentment. Easy enough to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon, but it’s an activity I heartily recommend to one and all. And if you don’t have enough dogs for a mood threshold, come over here before the end of the month and sit with ours. We’ve got three til November.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Blog Blog Fizz Fizz

Television was the dominant cultural outlet of the last century, the Internet is obviously going to be It for this one. (Say it with me, “duh!” It’s a starting point, people. Work with me here.)

Did you know that you can zip to a random blog from this page? Look up top and click on “next blog”. I tried that last night.

For all the avoidably egregious syntax, what I found was humbling. From articulately heartbreaking political activism, to families just keeping in touch, to teenagers who put a level of effort into their blogs that should embarrass me --- except that I wonder why those kids came up with elaborate graphics, sound files and whatnot just to support a whine about having too much homework. Whatever happened to soul-wrenching adolescent angst? Sheesh.

Society is going through yet another round of the medium being the message. What I don’t understand is how Young People with their Twittering nanobyte attention spans can read each other’s screensful of … um… verbiage. I assume if I went to their school it would be more salient, but I still see irony here.

Print media is dying. Magazines are disappearing, newspapers are shrinking. Yet the next generation is churning out pages and pages of text online, accompanied by carefully chosen pictures and music. The curmudgeon in me wants to decry their lack of substance, easy enough to do. But they are WRITING! In quantity, no less. And in that, I uncharacteristically find hope.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wherefore art thou, Max?

That’s rhetorical. It’s Buenos Aires this week. But by now all of you should have seen his live theater show, “Max Maven Thinking in Person: An Evening of Knowing and Not Knowing” in which he (brilliantly) discusses Knowing and, yes, Not Knowing, and breathes life, fire and wit into that magician’s trope --- Mystery.

Well, I have a mystery.

Last night I found out that back around 1980 (before you were born, kiddies) someone claiming to be me did something hurtful to someone I have never met. Apparently I had been credited with that deed all this time—and I didn’t even know it happened.

What to do? I thought of a few lines from Max’s show, which I won’t quote here because I’m sure he’ll do the show again and you can see for yourself, but to give you a hint, they’re about Not Knowing. Because I will never know who did it, nor why.

And Max, if you’re reading this, let me know when’s good for coffee.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Doing Things Badly

People often do things badly. Not you, of course, dear reader. I am talking about the rest of us.

When I say "do things badly", I do not mean "do bad things". From casual typos, to misaligned parking, to not paying attention how something is phrased and inadvertently giving offense--- there is a range of imprecision from "oops" through "uh oh" to "oh shit".

Anyone who has worked out with me (you know who you are) knows my obsession with form. That's a no-brainer, lift a heavy weight badly and you’ll get hurt. Same with language. Say what you mean fer chrissake, don't get all poncy with words unless it's because they're more expressive. And food, better to have good ingredients that you can taste rather than elaborate layers of seasoning and presentation that do nothing but cover the plate.

If you’re going to do something, why not try to do it – if not well, then at least, not badly? We don’t, though. We speak without thinking, we eat without tasting, we skim what we’re reading. Don’t get me started on what I see in the gym every day, I honestly don’t know why some of those people even bother—or how they stay out of the hospital.

But there’s a corollary. (Ha! You thought I was going to say “metaphor” again, didn’t you?) If you’re enjoying what you do, often that’s enough. Not always, a hearty belch can make you feel better but it’s still not welcome in my face no matter how far into the alphabet you can get. Play a game because it’s fun. Send a note to a friend even if it has typos. Stop reading this, get out of your chair and do something, anything, to get your blood moving. Because the one thing you can’t do badly, is be happy.

Friday, October 10, 2008


In line, in the Ladies' room:

"Why do they always have to have those big stalls? You know people in wheelchairs don't have to pee."

And, if she votes, her vote will count just as much as mine. Sigh.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Sunday afternoon I finished reading Tony Vigorito’s “Just A Couple Of Days.” Interesting enough, but wait for it.

Sunday night, Robert used the word ‘meme’. I’d never heard it before. It wasn’t in my handy-dandy giant dictionary (Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary--- which by now is neither new nor universal.) So Robert read to me from some Internet thingy that “meme” was coined in 1976, by Richard Dawkins, noted geneticist and philosopher. Later, I found this:

Main Entry: meme
Function: noun
Etymology: alteration of mimeme, from mim- (as in mimesis) + -eme:
an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture

The next morning, on the op-ed page of the Los Angeles Times, Gregory Rodriguez mentioned Richard Dawkins in his opening paragraph.

So what? Stay with me here. At breakfast Robert and I discussed “Just A Couple Of Days”. I said it reminded me of “Cat’s Cradle”, which led to a talk about Ice-9. Then he noticed that the Vigorito cover quote by Christopher Moore called it “A viral meme of a book.” Ok, I should have seen that myself, but I didn’t.

The real weirdness was when the person to whom I was about to loan the Vigorito book mentioned Ice-9 in conversation that same morning. Nothing to do with Vigorito, it came up in an entirely different context. When was the last time Ice-9 just happened to come up in a conversation you were having?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Boy, did she have the wrong table!

I (lifetime lefty, in case you found this blog by accident) was sitting with my staunchly Republican friend Jim at our regular Starbucks, when a young woman with a clipboard approached us. She was from NBC, looking for undecided voters...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Incongruity (Redux)

Of course Macy’s put up their Christmas decorations halfway through a September heat wave. I didn’t even blink when I saw it. No big deal.

Popular culture has made incongruity ordinary. We expect a twist, a surprise, a bit of a shock--- and are disappointed when we don’t get it. How rare for something to be only what it seems, or someone. Remember when “true blue” was a compliment? Okay, most of you are too young to remember literally, but you get the idea.

Everything has to be juxtaposed with something else to give it validity. Go ahead and offset an idea by acknowledging its opposite, as long as it’s not political. Political issues retain polarized identities in their purest form. Everything else has become a motley grab bag of ideas and execution. Look at the current fashions, if you dare. (Did I mention I was at a mall recently? Do rich kids not own mirrors?)

This blog is an example of incongruity in action. The journal-esque format implies an intimacy belied by public access. I brazenly publish my real name, and in so doing I limit what I am willing to confess for general consumption. Part of that is cynicism, part is professional restraint.

Dignity + the Internet? There’s incongruous for you. Wolfgang Puck putting strawberries in a green salad has nothing on that.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Elvis! On Stilts!

Sorry to get your hopes up, it's just what it sounds like. An Elvis impersonator on stilts, at the Harvest Festival in Ventura.
The peanut brittle is as good as ever, though.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


It’s dead common here. By “here” I mean Los Angeles County, not just the mythical Hollywood. Don’t get me wrong, I like beauty. My friends tend toward extremely attractive as a group. Yes, you do.

If I’m going to have a pastry, I like the decorated ones. I keep the jackets on my books and have been known to purchase one just because I liked the cover. Beauty is good.

On the other hand, beauty can be used as a “get out of kindness free” card. I’d rather be cut off in traffic by a tiny old person who can’t see over the steering wheel than yet another carefree (and careless) Pretty Young Thing of either gender. There was a pretty waitress at my local boite who, in the same conversation, told me “Wow, you eat a lot” and “The way I look, I could get a job anywhere in Hollywood.” She’s not there anymore, maybe she did.

Pretty isn’t as pretty does. Not here. It’s useful, and preferable to the alternative, but here it’s a minimum requirement. The level of expectation is higher, and the punishment for failing to reach it is worse. Los Angeles doesn’t have a court of public opinion, it has a judges’ panel. At least it’s not sexist. The level of expectation is as high for men as it is for women.

In contrast, I know another waitress at a different local restaurant. She isn’t just pretty, she is beautiful. She smiles because she means it, and that shows. So many people happen to be pretty, but when a pretty person is also kind and happy--- that’s when the idea of Beauty regains some meaning.

Aicha, if you’re reading this, I took the food up to Melva’s place myself.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I finished Steve Martin’s “Born Standing Up” at the gym today. He writes extremely well. Before that, it was Marco Pierre White’s “Devil in the Kitchen” which I enjoyed more. It wasn’t as well written, but I loved it. Here I was thinking, I haven’t come down to the inevitable discussion of books, and I have these two excellent memoirs handy (okay, one excellent one and the other I adore) then it happened.

Over coffee this afternoon, my friend Jim referred to “Harpo Speaks”.

Unfair! Until Max Maven writes a memoir, “Harpo Speaks” is definitive of the genre. And I have nothing to say about it, except that I still like “Devil in the Kitchen” better, though I have no good reason to. "Harpo Speaks" is an amazing work all around. Sigh. Shutting up, for now.

Monday, September 29, 2008


Does your brain ever feel like a zit? You know, all puffy with infected thoughts. Like if you could physically scour out the inside of your skull, the smog would thin, the economy would improve and sitcoms would be funny again.

You may be having a Dysfunctional Downer Day™. (Okay, I’m kidding about the ™ part, though someone else may have trademarked this by now)

Like a zit, a particle of dirt (bad news, traffic, some idiot in the elevator with too much cologne) works its way into your consciousness, causing a build- up of bile that not only poisons your mood but can turn your very presence toxic for a ten foot radius.

Worse, the D.D.D. is contagious. Only the most stalwart can isolate themselves until the phenomenon dissipates. (Of course, solitude breeds reflection, which is counterproductive to mood improvement)

There are treatments for D.D.D., such as starchy foods, a good book (preferably one you’ve read before so you don’t get any nasty surprises) or the ultimate—pet a dog. The effect of the cure is in direct ratio to the cuteness of the dog. For example, being cut off in traffic only requires a schnauzer-level of cuteness and you’re good to go. However, really bad news takes a corgi-pomeranian mix. Fortunately I have one of those in my living room, and am going to pet him right now. I don't know what the rest of you will do, though the early works of Calvin Trillin are always a safe bet.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


At Borders, in Glendale. Two people (mid 20s) who had been browsing in silence, until:

"Have you ever eaten Spaghetti-Os?"
"No, have you?"

There has got to be a metaphor in there somewhere. When I find it, I'll let you know.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Buying rosh hashonah dinner at the Honey Baked Ham (tm) store.

No, not me. You know who you are.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Cyberspace is funny. Despite the illusion of enormity, really we’re all just sitting alone with our faces in a monitor. To those of you picking your nose or scratching your butt, thanks for not making me watch. Not like on the freeway, where we’re all encased in our tiny worlds jammed up next to each other, where in fact, yes, I can see you pick your nose and may I ask you to stop, please?

People close to me found True Love in cyberspace, though I did manage to use real paper to wrap the real wedding gift. I have friends here, in cyberspace. Some I’ll never meet in the flesh. They, you, are none the less real for all that. And when one of my virtual friends is suffering in their real world, that overlaps into mine as well.

Things I’ve Learned From People I’ll Never Meet:

1. I have a terrific recipe for summer squash, gotten from a Sioux zen master in a game of Tri Peaks.
2. Kids bite. Literally. They also spit a lot.
3. Sometimes someone who seems really nice, really is. (That one surprised me.)
4. Colloquial German looks strange when abbreviated in a chat room. Same for French.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Illusion/Reality: No Pressure

Once upon a time, the written word had heft. Originally because it was scratched into a rock. Then because it was painstakingly painted onto that rare new invention, paper. (Skipping papyrus, vellum, et al for expedience.) Even when literacy became more common, education was not, thus giving publication gravitas which mere verbal discourse lacked. The drunk old guy shouting on the street lacked the credibility of anything Mr. Boswell wrote about his buddy Sam, though their conclusions might have been similar.

What changed? Accessibility, for one thing. From political rants printed on foolscap and handed out on streetcorners, to tabloids, to talk radio, to … this. The blog.

Anybody can do it. (, if a Luddite like me can set it up, your dog can.) In fact, one could argue that almost everyone has. It may soon be mathematically possible to have more blogs in cyberspace than there are laptops, PCs and Blackberry™s combined.

And that’s where illusion comes in. The illusion of dignity, of relevance—when in reality, I more resemble the old man on the street than Samuel Johnson. I know that someone (most likely someone close to me, who else would bother?) is going to take the time to read my words, without the benefit of a shared meal or even equal listening time. How intimidating!

There is enormous pressure to write only salient, insightful observations that would justify your effort, dear reader. In the spirit of thousands of years of pontificating loudmouths, I will do my best to withstand sagacity. Meanwhile, you might want to check to see if your dog has a blog somewhere. I think mine does.


From a pretty girl, outside my gym:

"I want to be an ice cream man. Then I could drive an ice cream truck and be all, you know, 'want some ice cream, little kids?'"

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I used to do magic. When I was 8, I got a 35-cent pamphlet on witchcraft from a supermarket in West Hollywood. I threw it out when the girl who had bullied me mercilessly for months broke her arm. To quote my friend Max quoting Niels Bohr, “They tell me it works whether you believe in it or not.”

Some thirty years later I took up sleight of hand. That didn’t last much longer, and all I kept from it are a few cherished friends and an obscure screen name. What I find interesting is that although the concept of magic is still entertaining as narrative, magic done live isn’t. In the audience of a typical world-class magic act, I’ll yawn and try not to look at my watch. People around me will gasp, transfixed by what they couldn’t possibly have just seen---how did they do that?!—and even when it’s objectively amazing, I’m still thinking “Oh God, how much longer?” (There are exceptions, notably the abovementioned Max. We’ll get to them in a later post.)

But I can read a truly crappy speculative fiction novel through to the end.

There’s a metaphor in this. Real illusion--- where the card appears in an impossible place and I have no idea how it got there, when a hatful of something gooey is suddenly dry but no more stylish for all that--- is as mystifying as how some people can cast their only vote completely opposite to their best interests. I don’t know how either thing happened, but I accept that it did because it’s true. At least the crappy novels generally have a happy ending.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Scary Cookies

I make cookies. They’re scary good, but I don’t eat them, I only give them away. That’s got to be a metaphor, but for what?

Robert says that a blog has to be about something. Considering how many he reads, I don’t know where he got that idea. If a tree falls in space, and Superman isn’t around to save it, do generations of rationalists spin in their graves?

It’s all about metaphors. When we’re trying to explain a thought, we don’t exercise our vocabulary to give a specific definition. Instead, we come up with an example. “Okay, imagine a couch made out of a single giant marshmallow. No, wait. Not one big marshmallow. Lots of those little ones. Now, imagine that you’ve poured hot chocolate all over it and they’ve gotten all gooshy. That’s why hydrogen cars are better than electric.” Metaphors aren’t always a good thing. But they’re here to stay. And that’s why “scary cookies”.