Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year, Sorta

It’s 11:30 on New Year’s Eve as I write this. My loud next door neighbors are having an exceptionally loud party in their backyard. Well and good, it’s the sort of holiday that calls for celebration and a certain degree of noise.

What amazes me is how fiercely banal they are. Mild hip-hop blasts about ten feet from my desk, not quite loud enough to rattle the windows. Someone just screamed giddily for everyone to go inside to play Pictionary. (They’re not.) Another yelled that she isn’t going to drink as much soda in the New Year. They’re all in their 20s or 30s, but they’re shouting conversation like they’re 90 and lost their hearing aids. I keep expecting to hear complaints about AARP and the proposed changes to the Readers Digest. Children wander in and out, plaintive cries of “Mom!” a dissonant counterpoint to the urban elevator music.

It’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, given their volume I cannot choose but hear. The size of the packaging at Costco is the current topic and everyone is surprised by it. Go figure.

They’re having fun. I could be annoyed, that would be easy, it’s annoying. I’ve done my time at those kinds of parties. Now I’m enjoying not having to be somewhere I don’t want to be. If the dogs aren’t bothered, then neither am I, even though they’re all singing “Party like a Rock Star” off-beat.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Poor Mr. Warhol

Andy Warhol was right about the 15 minutes of fame. It’s a pity our highly evolved short-attention-spanned society replays it all in endless montages at the end of the year, thus obviating the original concept. “15 minutes plus reruns” doesn’t have the same ring.

Still, Warhol’s point was a good one. Once upon a time you had to do something significant to be known. Art, science, literature – don’t forget, mathematicians were rock stars back in the day. But even then not everyone was a Leibniz. Most of them were like most of us. All hail the ordinary! Forget the biggies, let’s look at the little people who made it all possible.

Imagine how different the past was to live through, rather than to read about. One of my beloved etiquette books points out that the genteel-est Victorian aristocracy had hygiene we would now find repellent. That’s the upper class. Think what normal people were like. Think about what they did, what they wore, where they pooped before plumbing. Garderobes and chamberpots, anyone? At least they couldn’t tweet about it.

History will know us by our TV, our tabloids, our video games and our eternal gonzobytes of Facebook updates. It’s not Caravaggio or Bronte, but that’s who we are and that’s what we do. Look at any of the “Top 100 of 2009” lists and know in your heart that this is as good as our culture gets and fame doesn’t always last a full 15 minutes.

It makes me want to tweet a haiku for posterity.

Friday, December 25, 2009


My darlings, I beg your indulgence. This Christmas was so perfect that I can’t just let it disappear with the last of the dishes, I must record it for posterity.

There was food (which I made, and which was kindly received) and gifts and most of all, there were people. Our table was full, with people we love, and under it Jonah had his buddy Big Dog. Okay, technically the Big Dog doesn’t fit under the table, but you get the idea.

I’ve said many times that I enjoy Christmas, but I never expected all this. I sit here in happily amazed contentment, grateful for the good fortune that brought such wonderful individuals to my life.

Don’t worry, I’ll return to our regularly scheduled gripes and rants soon enough. Right now I have that oft-maligned word “bliss”, and I had to tell you about it. I hope and trust that Santa was good to you, too.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Humbug!

There’s cranky and then there’s grouchy. Go farther along that spectrum, down down down the rabbit hole of a bad mood and when you hear a sickening plop, that’s where I was.

Aside from all the mishigas of Christmas (and one salesperson has already been amused today by my using Yiddish terms when referring to Christmas) my headlight has been burned out for a few days. The last time I tried replacing it on my own turned disastrous, so I knew I’d be dropping off the car, temporarily severing the umbilicus, in the immediate future.

I just didn’t realize how immediate that future would be.

When I passed the garage on my way home, I poked my head in to make the appointment. Just that, I neither expected nor wanted attention. My lovely, beautiful guys dropped everything to take care of me. They changed the oil, too, and wouldn’t take payment for any of it, just wished me a Happy Holiday. Thus, when I got home shortly thereafter, I dropped everything to make scarycookies™ for them. Paltry thanks for a gesture more magical than anything that happened to Charlie Brown’s little tree, but I brought them hot from the oven, and they were pleased.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Figgy Redux

Christmas is great. I love the lights and the nutmeg and the fact that people pretend to be nice to each other for most of December.

Enough sentimentality. I’m going back to a discussion of epistemology, rationalism and dog pee on Twitter. Hugs all around, bye for now.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Just Checking In

It’s about 10:30 on Sunday night. I’m supposed to be hitting my daily joke list but I’m not, I’m writing to you. The good news is that although I started with 20, now I’m writing 35 jokes a day on the most obscure topics imaginable. My favorite has got to be “There is a stick lying on the sidewalk.” I did 35 on that, and I think four were genuinely funny. There were 35 on “Rain.” You get the idea.

There was a time when a drunk guy could make people laugh by putting a lampshade on his head. I never got that one. If I told you the topic that has me stymied at the moment, you wouldn’t believe me.

Wax on, wax off. Do anything often enough and you build up a rhythm. That’s the whole point of the exercise. I can knock out the cadence of a joke without thinking about it now. Big whup. Funny is still the gold ring, and no matter how much we’ve been conditioned by Life’s laugh track, funny is still a random spark that only occasionally brings Frankenstein to life. When it does, it’s more often Boris Karloff than Peter Boyle.

Okay, back to it. Time to channel my inner Shecky and kill.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Age Before Beauty

Robert offered some excellent music for background, which I set aside because it just sounded, well, too young. I can’t really explain it any other way.

Throughout my lifetime there have been complaints about how our culture is too youth-oriented. When I was young, those complaints sounded whiny and envious. Now I look at all the Hollywood-pretty faces around me and wonder if they’ll ever develop distinctive personalities. Physical perfection is no longer sufficient for beauty, I require substance with the style.

The trade-offs of age are palpable and almost measurable. Where I used to have wild creativity, now I have perspective. You might say I can’t follow more than one thought at a time, but I call that “better focus”. Despite having blown off my daily workout this morning, discipline is a norm, not an effort.

Maybe it’s evolution. It’s convenient to prefer where I am to where I was, and certainly more comfortable than the alternative. Just as writing this was more comfortable than hitting today’s list of 20 jokes, but I am hoisted on my petard of discipline and have to get back to it now.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Saturday Night's Alright

It was a busy night in a nice Italian restaurant in our neighborhood. At the next table were two people in their 20s or 30s, and a woman who was older than them but not that old. Say 60s, maybe. The older woman had brought her meal with her, a sandwich on rye bread so fresh it smelled delicious from where we sat, and some things in Tupperware.

That’s the whole story, a person bringing a complete meal into Bella Vista. There’s no punch line. It was just so strange that I had to tell you about it.

In other news, I’m continuing my “20 Jokes A Day” regime. I lost a day when my computer died, but picked up immediately with an even worse topic than lawns, also contributed by my gym partner (to whom I will no longer refer as “snarky” lest he find me something even more dire) – dimples. Yes, I came up with twenty jokes about dimples. Today I selected my own topic: “Robert is so sarcastic, that…” Okay, it’s a gimme, but it’s Saturday night and I wanted to be done quickly.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Even Garbo Was Funny

It all started when I decided that I’m just not funny anymore. It goes in phases, sometimes I can see punch-lines happening around me, and sometimes I can’t. Twitter makes it obvious when I can’t, because I have nothing snappy to tweet. I’ve had a few gems lately, but I had to work for them.

Drastic action was called for, so I took the plunge. Many of Robert’s comedy writing books recommend writing between 20 -50 jokes on a single topic, every day for a month.

Now, I’ve never taken a writing class, let alone read a book on how to write. I’ve never done a writing exercise of any kind. That said, I write professionally. So I thought, how hard can this be?

You may laugh now. Really. The voices in my head won’t stop cackling at my expense. You might as well join them.

I’m on the third day, and I’m already stuck. Just finding topics is a nightmare. Day One was ten jokes about deviled eggs. Day two was twenty on bagels. Today, my snarky gym partner suggested “lawns” as a topic. I’m on #11 and so stuck I stopped to write this.

Don’t worry, I won’t post any of my efforts here. Why should we both suffer?

Friday, November 27, 2009

American Idle

I stood at the counter, a stack of books in my hands, waiting to pay. Five employees outnumbered the customers by two. They chatted, all ignoring me. A man in his 30s was complaining that there are no uniquely American holidays besides the 4th of July.

“Thanksgiving?” Someone offered. Not terribly profound, it was yesterday.

“Maybe.” He conceded reluctantly.

“Excuse me?” That was me. “Can I pay for these?”

He was annoyed, and made a production out of it, which was odd since I was paying in cash. He kept yammering to the others about how all of our holidays are also celebrated elsewhere.

I thought I’d try to be friendly. I smiled. “What about President’s Day?”

He glared at me. “I suppose you could say that.”

“And Martin Luther King Jr. Day.” I continued. “Arbor Day?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” He frowned. “I suppose. Maybe. Do you want a bag?”

I kvetched all the way to the car. Robert pointed out that when we walked into the store, the guy was talking about something his mother had said at breakfast. Over 30, and he lives with his mother. No wonder he doesn’t think Thanksgiving is a holiday. It’s his daily life.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gratitude Shmatitude Bad Attitude

With Thanksgiving nearly upon us, and my shopping list made, it’s time to hearken back to days of yore, and those godawful forced gatherings of our collective youth.

Some things are universal. There was always (at least) one relative who drank too much, and (at least) one who didn’t drink enough and was wired tighter than an actuary on crack. Maybe someone used the meal as a therapy session and maybe another took notes for future grievances.

Is it starting to sound familiar? We’ve all been there.

The first time I was old enough and tough enough to say No and spend the holiday with people I enjoyed, was revelatory. With few exceptions, I’ve never looked back.

Middle age brought tranquility, and the confidence of being able to cook well enough to provide abundant deliciousness for my loved ones and any dear friends who may grace our table. I now look forward to Thanksgiving with the contentment of a Hallmark card and the zeal of the Food Network.

So, although I can’t help thinking of my distanced relatives, I merely wish them well and get on with what matters: the all-important decision of what to make for dessert on Thursday. My adorable mother doesn’t like pumpkin pie. At the moment, it looks like caramel-apple-pecan cake, but that could change. Delightfully, la belle Tsarina will be here too. Let me know if you’d like a chair. There’s plenty of everything.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Doofus And Gallant

My mother has a saying, “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.”

A few days ago, two young men came to our door within an hour of each other. Both were scamming – I mean, selling something.

The first was an exercise in contrasts: nice shirt, ugly tie and a million dollar smile with a mouth full of expensive metal caps. He was ostensibly selling magazines to help urban youth. I fell for that scam twice, ages ago in another city, and won’t again. But he went out of his way to charm, and I was charmed. I gave him a few bucks for the entertainment --- I mean, for the Cause.

The second guy was his antithesis. In scruffy shorts and flip-flops, he either had an unfortunate harelip surgery or a permanent sneer. He wanted me to replace our lovely original 1939 wooden windows with aluminum. I refused. He looked scornful and called our windows “ugly”. I shrugged. Then, as if he was talking to a child, he explained that aluminum windows would reduce our heating and cooling bills. So I told him we don’t have either central heat or air conditioning.

You’d think I’d just spat in his beer bong. With infinite contempt, he asked, “What do you do when it gets hot?”

I smiled sweetly and answered, “We open the windows.”

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Earlier this century – don’t ask me what year because I don’t know offhand and would have to look it up – Robert and I took one of our regular trips to Las Vegas. (Check the archives. We go often and there are good stories. Put “Vegas” in the search box.) This particular trip included @rpaulwilson, star of the British TV show “The Real Hustle” and a dear friend.

We drove home on Robert’s birthday and made two detours before leaving Vegas. Paul wanted to go to the Gambler’s General Store, and we had to stop at a chapel. Paul didn’t know that on the first day of the trip we’d snuck over to the registrar and bought a marriage license. You see, after more than a dozen birthdays and Christmases, I ran out of gift ideas. So for Robert’s birthday that year, I married him. The look on Paul’s face when I parked the car was better than any prank ever.

We only told two people.

There was no reason to talk about it. My name didn’t change, nor did we need another toaster or stick blender. After a few years, on another of his birthdays, we got rings. People became aware. By then it wasn’t a secret, just not a topic of conversation. Well, not until Robert checked the box “married” on Facebook, but that tempest never left the teapot.

Why am I making it an issue now, and outing myself as a married person? Because of irony, darling. Irony and Twitter.

When I finally persuaded Robert to join me on Twitter, he bastardized my name and became @AlphonseBunter. After all those years of refusing to answer to “Mrs. Wilson”, now it looks to the world like I am Mrs. Unter. Feh! Feh and phooey. Don’t ask where “Alphonse” came from, I doubt he knows.

In closing, I recommend that you do two things: follow @AlphonseBunter on Twitter, and youtube “The Real Hustle”. While you’re at it, check out my cherished @Cybrarian’s ‘Word Of The Day’ blog

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


There’s no dialogue anymore. If you’re lucky, you get to alternate monologues. Even this doesn’t happen all the time. You’re reading a monologue right now and I thank you for that. We might as well embrace the process, and celebrate the soliloquy.

Don’t ask for my opinion just to get me to listen to you rant. Tell me the rant. I don’t care if you value my opinion. What bothers me is the lie.

“I’d love to get your take on this,” he lied. What he wanted was validation. He wanted me to watch the commercial, oops, I mean listen to his story. I was in the gym at the time and had no way to fast forward.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Clean Slate

I spent today in a cleaning frenzy. If you’ve seem our home, then you know how many nooks and crannies can hold the dust and dog hair. Feel free to grab white gloves and inspect. I defy the most neurotic germ-phobe.

What I didn’t know was that I was also cleaning metaphorically. Last week left a residue of mental suckiness that somehow got polished away in the process.

Sure, next week will bring its own, uh, “challenges.” (Don’t you hate it when people use that word? I do. Problems are problems, not “challenges.” Euphemism deflates meaning.) But now I can start from square one, not square minus ten. And that is a triumph of sorts.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Miss(ed) Popularity

Society loves a winner. “The gold ring” is the summa of all desiderata, as is “winning the lottery.” If I was cynical, I’d say that life is a popularity contest. Oh, yeah. I am, and I often think it is.

My un-secret vice is When Life’s been kicking me in the shins, I tend to run whimpering to Pogo. There I play the same handful of games at which I excel. Lookit me, oh goody, I can beat a bunch of random strangers who all have better things to do than get really good at a computer game – but it makes me feel better.

Today in the gym I was asked why I’m so pleased about my Twitter follower count. It’s a foolish but quantifiable show of popularity to have spambots and porngirls follow me online. That’s like bragging that your favorite TV show has the most commercials.

I should strive for distinction by making the world a better place. Until I do, I’ll take the top score on Pop Fu™ and try to be clever on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

No Guarantees

The tribulations of adolescence are undignified in middle age.

I didn’t just tweet that. I was going to, but without explanation it sounds more profound than I feel. Besides, there are times when “25 words or less” won’t do, and a curmudgeonly rant is one of them. Are your seat belts on, my darling children? Here we go.

The blessings of middle age include a generosity of spirit regarding one’s own appearance. Once hygiene is provided for, the rest is negotiable and the currency is comfort.

Speaking of comfort, the sleep situation reverses itself midway through life. Once upon a time I felt like a rogue warrior when I stayed up all night and lurched through the subsequent day. Now I’m inordinately proud if I manage to rack up more than 7 consecutive hours of unconsciousness.

Equanimity comes with age. Despite going ballistic yesterday over something that was merely annoying, for the most part I don’t care about things the way I used to.

But what about the adolescent tribulations, you ask. Reasonable of you, and I did promise. Not for me to break a covenant, so I will share too much: There is an unsightly pimple on my face.

Forget sagacity and wisdom, if I came with a warranty, I’d demand my money back.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wherefore Art Thou, Angela Lansbury?

Spoiler: Feminist rant ahead.

I never watched “The Rockford Files”, mostly because the character of Jim Rockford was so damned endearing that I couldn’t stand the torment of his hapless misadventures.

That said, we have the second season of “Banacek” on order (for real not from Netflix) because I know we’ll watch them over and over as we did with the first season, as we do with the all-time pinnacle of heroic narrative, “The Saint.” It doesn’t get better than that, folks.

Why the rant? Go ahead, I double dog dare you, think of an equivalent female character in popular culture. Books, films, comic books, radio, I don’t care if she’s in tights and a cape or has little fairy wings, you try to come up with a single female character who is attractive, strong, smart, kicks ass AND – this is the important part, of course we can do the rest but this is the sine qua non – has a sense of humor.

It can’t be done. Carole Lombard got most of it, Myrna Loy too. The young Lauren Bacall comes closest, I think, but still doesn’t quite make it. (Don’t even mention Katharine Hepburn or Uma Thurman, neither was/is funny.) I want likeable, strong, smart, beautiful and funny. And I want them to figure out the mystery before anyone else does. You could make a case for either Elizabeth Montgomery or Lucille Ball, but I think you’d lose on the kick-ass component because both were constrained by their era to defer to their husbands. Fictional Cawti, Barda and Siva never solve the plot nor make a joke. Pam Grier would have been funny if she had the lines, but she didn’t.

Simon Templar, Archie Goodwin, Vladimir Taltos – just once in my life I’d like to have a role model who needs to wear a bra.

Okay, after I got all that written out, a lovely rant if I do say so myself, Robert, that expert practitioner of enlightenment through evil, looked at me and said, “Mrs. Peel.”

Fine, then. Name two. Or one who can’t be called a sidekick.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Storm Warning

The weather report for my area says it’s raining right now. Of course it isn’t, but it might as well be. At midnight with the curtains blowing and the electricity building in the air --- oh yeah, my bones say it’s a storm, but either a small one or still far away.

In either case, it’s cold enough for a sweater, and the little heater by my feet is on. I’m espresso-level awake, though I haven’t had caffeine since this morning.

But you know what? It’s a glorious mood. There’s recklessness reminiscent of adolescent excess. Ha. Say that five times fast. Still, it’s true. In this mood, decades past, I once began a road trip at 2 a.m. just because there was nothing else to do. I started my first novel on my beat up old electric typewriter that had a broken “o” key so I used zeros instead and had the first three chapters written by dawn. I knew that my favorite vanilla crullers came out of the oven at V-G’s Donut Shop in Encinitas at 4:00 a.m.

The unreality bestowed by hour and weather brings credulity, the belief that the unlikely isn’t just possible, it’s a good idea.

All of that was a very long time ago. Now I know that tomorrow will start in eight hours whether I’m ready or not. Age may bring wisdom, but it’s a hell of a lot less fun. And I really miss those crullers.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Pretty Lie

I lied on Twitter yesterday. Deliberately and on purpose, even.

The truth: I saw a woman of indeterminate age. Logic infers early 60s but appearance not so much. Her hair ranged from honey to dishwater blonde. Her arms were toned, her skin laser-taut. Her face was preternaturally smooth. Time, pain, money and a whole lot of work went into that. The effect should have been lovely or at least pretty. At the very minimum, she should have been attractive -- except she wasn’t because of two things: her sneer and her slouch.

The tweet: “A slouch and a sneer cancel out a pretty face. Pity.”

While that’s true, it’s not what I meant. What struck me at the time was that this woman put so much effort into her appearance, only to stop short of two necessities that don’t require surgery and can’t be bought either at Nordstrom’s or the beauty salon. A pleasant expression and straight posture are readily available to all of us. She had neither. I find that fascinating.

What I find merely interesting is that I didn’t think my tweeties would appreciate those nuances.

Most of the world is still repelled by surgical and artificial beautification. I remember Torquemada-esque eyelash curlers and lye-based perm solutions; painless non-ablative lasers seem facile (though expensive) by comparison. I no longer get Botox, but that’s due to laziness rather than high-mindedness.

With my lined forehead and gray streaks I can’t say I’m in a beauty closet. I try to wear lipstick more often now that my hair is boy-short and I’ve given up my beloved plaid flannel shirts for the same reason. I won’t castigate Joan Rivers, nor will I decry extreme measures should I develop more of an ego in the future. I just won’t tweet about it.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Thought For The Day

Let’s face it, knocking wood and looking at the Biggest Picture, things are easier than they used to be. We’re not fighting the elements or wild animals for food and shelter -- discounting anyone who tries to eat in my house without tithing Jonah.

For the most part we buy our food without either hunting or gathering, and didn’t build our own homes. So, barring the obvious; health, paying of bills and meeting of deadlines, my question is: what do we think about?

Of course we avoid that which makes us uncomfortable, at least we do when we can. How many times did you reschedule your last dentist appointment? I rest my case. I haven’t even thought about setting up mine.

Instead, I find myself meandering down a bunch of mental paths. Robert’s DVDs of “Lie to me” have me reading the works of Dr. Ekman, a behavioral psychologist whose work borders on cultural anthropology. My Twitter buddies have me deconstructing Absurdism and relating it to the commonplace. And “NCIS: L.A.” has me wondering how I ought to be restructuring my ab workout.

But right now I find myself wondering why I seem to be blowing all my good ideas in spurts of 140 characters instead of detailing them here, for you. Sorry about that. I’ll mine my twitterfeed for blog concepts next time.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Not My Post

The front page of today’s New York Times had an article about how families in Jakarta with servants handle the end of Ramadan, when all the servants go home to be with their families for two weeks.

Most of you know about Robert’s childhood in Indonesia (and Singapore, Malaysia and Guam.) What you may not know is that when he lived in Jakarta, his family had seven servants--- although, as he says, three of them were guards.

It’s misleading to stop at that point. So many families in that area rely on servants that it made the front page of the NY Times. Robert’s friend and driver, Sujarno, was considered to have an excellent position and his family thrived on the salary. As Robert put it, there is no middle class there. If you had the kind of work where you could grow your fingernails (right hand only, of course) then you were doing well.

This breakfast conversation fit with my recent thoughts on modern social stratification. We really are becoming a global society, with the castes separated not as much by geography as by ideology. Corporate conglomerates transcend national boundaries, sadly often becoming laws unto themselves. (This is as close to politics as I’m willing to skate.) When I think of my friends on Twitter, who reside in at least four different countries and whose ages span as many decades, the globalization theme continues.

None of this matters, of course. And it’s Robert’s childhood, not mine, which is why I said from the beginning that this isn’t my post. It’s the one he should have written. I guess I should close with “Never mind, then.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Vacuum Packed

Serenity. Peace. Zen emptiness, my mind was barren of thought or stress. A mental vacuum is as abhorred by nature as any other. Wham! Bang! Kapow! On went the computer and in rushed the world.

The older I get, the more stuff fills my time. Sure, everything takes longer – and not only because I have to go into a room two or three times before I remember why, smarty-pants. There’s more to do, and more people to do it for.

Pace is everything. One foot in front of the other and keep going. I gave that advice twice tonight in entirely different contexts. Everybody’s life seems full to bursting, it’s dizzy-making just trying to keep track of it all.

Then I look down and see that the dog’s bowls need attention. Everything stops again, until the kibble is abundant and the water is clean. Priorities bring balance, and tranquility reigns once more. Well, technically Jonah reigns, but he seems pretty placid about that.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Last Vegas Word

One of my favorite moments happened in the Ladies’ at Caesars Palace. I was taking pix of the art on the stall doors and ended up having a conversation with a nice and intelligent woman about the evolution of Las Vegas over the last 20 years and which casinos have the most interesting Ladies’ Rooms. This prompted a trip to New York New York for pix of the (apparently) famous pink toilets in the Mae West Ladies’ Room by the escalator.

But it wasn’t all gambling and toilets. First and foremost, there was the food. Roasted salmon, Robert’s 16 oz rib-eye with bone marrow, delectably artistic sushi, truffled onion soup with wild mushrooms, tea-smoked Arctic char, mountains of perfect pastry, fresh berry crepe with Tahitian vanilla whipped cream, elegant milkshakes (mine was caramel, pureed chestnut and vanilla, Robert’s was Irish Coffee,) --- going into the French restaurant and knowing the waiter so well I didn’t even order, he went into the kitchen and spoke to the chef about creating meatless courses I would enjoy that weren’t on the menu. It was goood.

You won’t believe this, I wouldn’t except there’s proof: one night we went into the hotel gym just so Robert could film me doing chin-ups before dinner. Inelegantly, but considering that I’d been eating excessively for days, it was a miracle. Nice gym, too, not that I’ll ever see it again. I go to Vegas to escape the gym.

Really, that’s what the trip was all about. Escape. From what to what is almost irrelevant, the escape happened and that’s what matters. Now it’s over and we’re back. At least I have all the pix.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Vegas Interstitial

Overheard at a slot machine: “I’d play this game but I don’t know how.” Put money in and hit the button, honey. Then wave bye-bye.

Random visual: Two Hasidim standing in an artfully lit foyer, listening to a loud guy in a louder Hawaiian print shirt, exactly two days before Rosh Hashonah. L’shana tovah. I took a picture.

Random sightings: Between the two of us, we counted nine brides. Not bad for September. Ironically, we only saw three in June.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Loving Las Vegas

Hello again my dears, darlings and random strangers. We’re home, and what a long strange trip it ‘twas.

Cue Munchkins singing, and put away your Ouija board. Crowds are back in Vegas. They weren’t tourists so much as hordes of glowering businessfolk, but it still speaks well for the economic forecast. Significantly, the casinos no longer pander, which means they don’t feel like they have to, which means that we-the-people have (in)discretionary income with which to gamble again.

Speaking of we-the-people, they were particularly entertaining this time around. Cameo: two young businessguys at the next breakfast table in a tres chic bistro in the Venetian. Overheard; “I’m here for you, Doug. This is all about you. It’s Doug’s world, and I’m just here to make it run smoothly and keep Doug happy.” Oil piled on cliché for ages before I looked and saw that he wasn’t talking to his companion, he was talking into a phone the whole time! Well, except when he asked the waiter for ketchup for his eggs. The waiter flinched, but brought it in a pretty little ramekin.

That was a momentary diversion before we received the oeufs au gratin, sautéed spinach, lyonnaise potatoes, cranberry toast with sweet butter and jam, sourdough waffles with fresh strawberries and selection of pastries. Like I said, it was breakfast.

The Pet Store convention spawned some amusing visuals, mostly people wandering around the casino towing large purple boxes with “Urine Off!” written in huge appropriately-yellow letters. Yes, I have pix. If you want to see them, just ask. We’ll get coffee. I have pix of all the food as well.

Then there was nice Peggy from West Virginia, in Vegas for the first time. She wanted advice on how to work the system. I did my best, and she took notes. Contrast this with a conversation I had at midnight, in the same casino, with a seasoned gambling lifer at the next poker machine. He gave me tips on how to work that system. He taught me well, I was there long after he went bust. No pix of either of them, sorry.

End Part One.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Shangri Las Vegas

Once upon a time, Las Vegas was sanctuary. We saw no one we knew. There was neither obligation nor responsibility. No matter how scant our budget, we ate both well and often.

After nearly a decade, that’s almost all still true. Knock on wood, I’m gearing up for satiety and bliss. We leave on Sunday. (Jonah is already preparing to take control of his country estate.)

The difference is that now we have lives in Vegas. We have people we see and people we avoid. More significantly, people know us. There goes my precious anonymity. The exponentially increasing familiarity makes it difficult to feel like a tourist but I’m sure we’ll manage somehow.

I’ll let you know in about a week. Behave yourselves, my darlings. Stories later.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mediocre Expectations

We all know the drill. “Once upon a time” something happens. The good guys eventually triumph, and evil is punished proportionately. We, as readers or viewers (medium depending) live happily ever after.

How difficult is that?

George Peppard’s plans always came together. Tim Hutton’s do now. And no one, absolutely no one, messes with Angela Lansbury. Period. This is as it should be. This is the Tao of narrative.

Can you tell how irritated I am? We’ve been watching a pleasant but strangely unsatisfying murder mystery series on DVD. I bought the first novel in the series, to try to suss out what bothers me about the show. Oy vey, was that a mistake.

Okay, so I figured it out. Bad things happen in this book, as is necessary for a story, especially a murder mystery. Here, the bad things keep happening. Then we find out the worse things that caused the bad things to happen in the first place. Then it ends. Aargh!

Someday I will write the post I’ve begun a dozen times, pondering why we enjoy something as gruesome as a murder mystery. In the meantime I will watch Top Chef and reread stories wherein Evil and Rudeness are punished, and the hero(ine) wins in the end.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Dada Mambo

I got to see my dear pal Max today, which is always happy-making. You’ve heard me mention Max. If you get the chance, ask for his Marcel Duchamp stories. The cutesy-pie title for this post is misdirection. The meme du jour is surrealism.

Surrealism: melting clocks, chickens in shoes, whatever. To paraphrase Max paraphrasing Magritte: “Ceci n’est pas un blog.” Well yes, it is, but Max’s original joke is superb and I’m not telling it here. See his show. Now buckle up and hold on…

I had an interesting Twitter discussion a day or two ago. Put your eyebrows down, that’s not an oxymoron. @Neurasthenic is an intriguing and intelligent art student in Canada. We were talking about conceptual art theory and repressive authority structures.

The ideas somehow dovetailed with a novel I’m reading. One of the characters is a surrealist painter and former student of Andre Breton. Breton is the only surrealist I’ve ever read about in detail, albeit years ago, in the fiction of Lisa Goldstein.

Still with me? The last Goldstein book I read was called “Tourists” and had nothing to do with Breton or surrealism. But the clock of my life is melting; in a week or two we will be back in Las Vegas for our regular seasonal touristness. This is the Big One, folks. It’s Robert’s birthday! Don’t tell him he’s getting socks. Again.

Wait, I forgot. We were talking about surrealism. Well, that’s Vegas, baby. Juxtapose crude and elegant. Put a loud beer-drinker wearing a wife-beater and shorts inside an exquisite French restaurant. Stand in the Bellagio garden and be elbowed by someone who will only see the flowers when they get home and download the pix. Forget the Ugly Americans, though there are plenty, there’re also Ugly Everyone Else’s. My favorite haven is a bright, noisy, plastic-coated, delicious pit of despair that’s as separated from consensus reality as you can get without driving over yellow bricks.

I should be able to see Max once more before we leave. You can see him at

Friday, August 28, 2009

Summer Camp In Mayberry

To all of you who call me “Luddite” like it’s a bad thing, let me extend my most triumphant double nyah.

We were cooking our dinners last night when the power went out. Of course I assumed it wasn’t just us, so I didn’t panic. Turns out I ought to have. It was just us, just our 1939 technology. Apparently a doohickey blew, and took a whatsit with it.

Five power outages in the region, we were told when we called, plus a fire. “Don’t expect anyone in a hurry.” After an hour it was, “They’re on their way and will be there any second.” They were right the first time. It was too hot for candles, so we camped out on our front lawn for about three hours before the trucks (yes, plural) came.

Here’s where the Mayberry part comes in. Because of all the chaos in the area, the guys didn’t show up til well after 10:00 p.m., but they were here past midnight. Okay, we still didn’t have electricity when they left, but they tried, dammit, they tried. One of them fell off the ladder and bounced off the gazebo roof. His reaction was to compliment us on how sturdy it is. And they seemed genuinely sorry that we would have to first find an electrician then call the power company to come back afterward. Such niceness, and from city employees!? Ya gotta love Burbank.

I won’t tell you how I found the electrician we ended up with (aboriginal shamans go through less in their initiation rites) but he was an absolute angel. John Hall (818) 848 – 7474. He showed up within the hour, fixed everything, and dealt with the power company for us to get the electricity turned on. He even stayed while the new guys were here. More Mayberry, he knew one of them because their sons were in Boy Scouts together.

The crowning glory of this whole story happened an hour after normality was restored. We’d cleaned all the food out of the fridge and gone to replace it. While unloading the groceries, a very nice neighbor came by and happened to complain that his air conditioning was broken. Pobrecito. While we were telling him this story, the power company guys from last night showed up because they’d just gone on duty and wanted to be sure we were all fixed up and didn’t need anything else.

Now if Aunt Bee would just make us a pie, we’d be set.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Statutory Something

My 82 year old mother had just gone to the annual Be-Boppin’ Antique Car Festival. She was going on and on and on about some Bugatti she’d seen. I must have yawned, or chewed through my own leg or something, because she said, “It’s art!”

I said, “No, paintings are art. These are cars.”

She said, “You like sculpture.”

I said, “Some sculpture.”

She said, “Cars are sculpture. You like Michelangelo’s David.”

I said, “I’ll go out on a limb here and say yes, I’d rather look at a statue of a muscular naked young man than a car.”

She sighed, and said, “What does it say about me that I’d rather look at the car?”

I said as compassionately as I could, “Well, you can still drive.”

The funniest part is, she made me blog this.

Friday, August 21, 2009

It's A Small World After All

A leftover of 60s idealism is an urge to make a difference in the world. That’s not enough. The captain of the Exxon Valdez made a difference in the world. We want to make the world a better place.

Reading the newspaper, or however you get your Big Picture, it’s easy to feel insignificant. On a global scale, most of us are. Perspective reminds us that we neither live nor act on a global scale. Our individual realms are much easier to affect.

Maintaining your personal social ecology is a tremendous responsibility. Don’t complain about the same situation more than once to the same person. Once is venting, twice is whining. Yes, I do it too, but I’ll try to stop.

Take your time when you talk to people. You matter to them, and that’s important. Smile when you mean it, not when you don’t.

This is about more than courtesy. It’s easy to poison an emotional environment. (See? It’s an Exxon Valdez callback for symmetry!) When someone is being serious, making a joke can backfire—even if it’s a really funny joke, or even when you just want to lighten the mood. We’ve all done that, and isn’t it awkward afterward?

We live in little tiny worlds within the big one. It’s up to us to make and keep our own peace. Trust me, it will make a difference.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Andrei Codrescu wrote, "Most people want to be recognized for something, even if it's just dumb repetition."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

But Who's Counting?

Discouragement is manifold. In one day we can be discouraged in a nearly infinite number of ways. Attitude counts, sure, but the merriest grin and happiest chortle will dissolve in heat, traffic and frustration.

Then there’s futility. Bust your ass and – goal aside-- you’re left sitting on a busted ass. If it only worked out as expected, you’re discouraged by the amount of effort it took, or disappointed that you didn’t do that extra bit to make it better. And how often do things turn out better than you expected?

I’m reading a book by a writer who crafts words so beautifully that I am humbled and would be ashamed except that you’re here, reading this, so I can’t be as dull as I feel. The passage I just read talked about how he (Jim Harrison) read Neruda and Paz and Lorca to reinvigorate his soul. Escher-like, his words bent my own discouragement.

Everything has a flip side. The aforementioned Mr. Harrison says “It seems we’re either lapsed or evolving.” Stumbling, we see anew. Stagnant, we can reassess. Anger often catalyzes that burst of insight that solves All. Dr. Freud might point out that these are synonyms for perception. In my sophomoric days, we used to say that “Perception is the only reality.”

Discouragement is real, very painfully real. It’s the feeling that one’s spirit has dribbled out like change through a hole in a pocket. Take heart. Spirits can be patched and fed. It’s just a matter of figuring out how.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Six Degrees Of Ron Jeremy

We were talking about Trader Joe’s at dinner with our friend Scott the other night.

Don’t ask me how, somehow the conversation shifted to Robert’s new porn-stache.* Hilarity ensued. I relayed my favorite reaction (from Jim): “Tell ‘Robert Jeremy’ to shave.” I went on to say that I was going to Trader Joe’s the next day with a friend who lives in Ron Jeremy’s apartment building.

The waiter had just come back, and heard me. He said, “I waited on Ron Jeremy once. He was really nice.”

By the way, I looked it up. Ron Jeremy was in “The Dangerous” with Elliott Gould, who was in “The Big Picture” with Kevin Bacon.

*Picture on

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Picture Perfect

It’s always been about image-control. Nefertiti had that stylish hat to hide her deformed skull. No portraits of Henry VIII show his pus-filled gouty foot. The medieval miniatures hand-delivered to prospective suitors didn’t show what the aristocrats really looked like. If they had, kingdoms might have turned into republics a whole lot sooner.

Golden-Age Hollywood studios controlled the images of their stars, before Photoshop made it easy to erase hangovers or worse. The results were uniformly glamorous, or at least pretty--- with the emphasis on “uniform” despite ethnicity, age or context. I’ve always found it ridiculous that Rita Hayworth had to shave her forehead, as if a widow’s peak would look bad on that face. This is about more than looks, though. On Friday I drove past Mickey Hargitay’s old florist shop. Remember how the studios hid his relationship with Jayne Mansfield? Everything from homosexuality to drugs was painted over with glitter and rhinestones for tabloid perfection.

More time has passed, the pictures in the tabloids are no longer shiny and perfect, and image-control isn’t owned by the rich.

Nowadays, we have to take care of ourselves. It’s not just a matter of editing a resume or an anecdote into a favorable portrait. We spin our memories, and not always for the best. Compound the problem by putting it all online, and you have image-control entropy. We don’t broadcast our failures or our faults, at least not deliberately. Personalities appear in the comments people choose to make public. You’re not what you eat, you are what you post.

Robert refuses to walk behind me with a fill-screen and a bright light. Until he does, I’ll have to watch what I say.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Power Of The Press

This morning at the gym, the most muscle-bound trainer -- with wide-eyed earnest sincerity, no less -- said to two of his clients:

“Well, you can’t tell anybody, but I have this client who is a big financial reporter for the newspaper and apparently all the financial reporters for all the big newspapers in America get together once a year in secret and decide which stocks are going to go up and down”

And they say print is dead.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Control-A, Delete

You’re welcome. I just deleted a rather whiny post out of respect for you and your sensibilities. With my catharsis completed invisibly, let’s move forward.

What would your catharsis be? What mental boils need lancing? To redecorate the metaphor, what sugarplums dance in your head?

Many times I’ve sat in this chair wondering what was going to be the topic de la nuit. (Can’t say “du jour” if it’s dark out.) I approach a potential post topic the way I would a movie concept. First, last and always-- remember who will be reading it.

Did you hear that? Sometimes it sounds like smashing dishes; sometimes it’s an old radio sound-effect horn. You see, I have no clue who will be reading this. Some of you I know well, some I know a little, some I’ve never met. So “know your audience” is out as a starting point, though I always begin there and bomb.

Okay, the gauntlet is down. I’ve just tweeted for a topic. I might get something, I might get nothing. This could get scary, and not in a delicious scarycookie way.

Friday, July 24, 2009


I stood up for a friend today.

This should not be noteworthy.

It’s as simple as that. Respect should accompany friendship, and action should accompany respect. Obviously I’d prefer that it all come with a side order of dignity, but I can’t afford to be picky.

Oh sure, we see people stand up for strangers, and have done it ourselves. This is good. But somehow along the way we stopped expecting our friends to stand up for us. “I can take care of myself” – I’ve thought, said and backed that up often. However, I’m not going to watch a friend be disrespected or mistreated. You wouldn’t either, if you thought of it that way.

The problem is in the perception. We see situations differently; one person’s joke is another’s insult. I’ve been there too, accused of overreacting on a friend’s behalf when I took offense where none was intended.

Judgment calls aside, let’s talk about situations where we know a friend is uncomfortable, right there, in the moment. Sure it’s awkward, you expect the friend to react directly. But you wouldn’t allow a general racist comment to go unchallenged, nor should you when something offensive is directed at someone you value -- even if it’s only implied and hanging in the air like a fart. I’ll light a verbal match to clear the air, and so should you.

“Friends help you move, good friends help you move the bodies.” Well, guess what. Speaking up for a friend isn’t on the level of moving bodies, and more people should do it more often.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Back in 1995, I cut what had been a mass of long hair to almost Marine-like brevity. I did it while on vacation. When I came back and went to my regular coffeehouse, a courtly old man in a suit and tie-- in San Diego, in summer (?!)-- walked up to me, took my hand, bowed over it and said very seriously, “You used to have such beautiful hair.” That was all he said. I never saw him before, I never saw him since. I let my hair grow back.

In 1999, I read an interview wherein an American actress described her character as “not having the confidence to have short hair.” That comment stayed with me. (Jenna Elfman, re: “EdTV”)

I don’t remember which French actress said that at 30, a woman cuts her hair to her shoulders. At 40, it’s cut to the chin. 50, it’s at the ears. This week I had my hair cropped to my ears. No, I’m not 50 and won’t be for a while. I did it because I wanted to. My hairdresser didn’t, but I’m bigger than she is.

What is it with hair? The guys at my hardcore gym didn’t comment. Significant, because here people are judged only by how they train. The guys at my regular gym asked when I’ll grow it back. There, women are judged by how attractive they look according to old-school standards that require lots of hair. Notice the use of “people” in the first case and “women” in the second. Freud should have been an editor, my point is already made.

Short hair definitely takes guts. The social template is more Bea Arthur than Audrey Hepburn. The short hair spectrum is something like gamine-boyish-mannish-butch. There’s something decadent about long hair. The most beautiful hair I know makes Lady Godiva look like the abovementioned Marine. (Hi, Sis!)

In my youth, I was a hair model, did you know that? But I’ve never been decadent. Never mind, I like it and Robert love-love-loves it, so that’s that.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Pride And Prefaces

In my recent readings, two different people, (both of whom are smarter than I am) said that the way to write a book is to sit down and write. Do it every day, no matter what the words are. Just keep going, and in the end you’ll have written a book.

That’s inarguable. Write, and you’ll have written. Eat and you’ll have eaten. Verb and you’ll have… oh, never mind.

I look around and I see people living in their lives like that. Go through the day and you’ll have gotten through the day. While that’s inevitable to some extent (would you work if they didn’t pay you?) it bothers me that no one seems proud of their accomplishments.

It took two things to make me realize this. One is a game on Pogo; useless as it is, I’ve become very good at it, and I’m proud of that. The other is this blog. You’ll never see the books I’ve written, and my scripts are either rewritings or rewritten. You see this blog. It’s mine, and I don’t “just write” it. (Insert your mocking taunt here. I have enough self-esteem to handle it.)

We know people who are arrogant beyond their achievements. Ignore them, I’m talking about us. When we do something, we should, if we can, do it well. There is value in that. It should make us feel good. There’s nothing wrong with honest, earned pride. It’s healthy, and will help you get through the day.

Speaking of health, it’s hot so please drink enough water. No, it has no philosophical significance. I just worry about you.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


“Did you see the article in Monday’s paper? It was just like one of your blogs.”

I hadn’t, as it happens. I read three newspapers every morning (L.A. Times, N.Y. Times and the Daily News, in no particular order) but I skip the sports and health sections. The article in question was in the health section.

I never did find out what my friend meant. And, since the paper was already recycled, I never will.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Let’s talk about symbols and futility. Remember after 9/11, the solidarity flags people put on their cars got ratty and dirty. I got so angry seeing the ones that just fell off into the streets, to be run over or mashed into the gutters.

Then there are ribbons. When the red ribbons first showed up, it meant something. Now everything has a ribbon. I wonder what the color is for hemorrhoids. (Okay, okay, we all know what color that would be, it was a joke, people!) I’m okay with it, if someone shows up with an orange polka-dot ribbon I’ll ask what the cause is, and the ribbon will have done its job of raising awareness. Still, I can’t help feeling that the effect is weakened by ubiquity.

Where am I going with this? To Twitter, naturally. When Neda died, it was chic to cover your Twitter picture with green. Now I only see mine and one or two others still covered. The moment has apparently passed, only it hasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think green Twitters will make a damned bit of difference in the world. Nor do I think the dire situation in Iran is the worst thing happening to humanity right now. Sadly, there is a list of worsts. Scroll up, this is also about futility. There is a good argument for the ultimate futility of all symbolic gestures. So what? They still have meaning, that’s the definition of a symbol.

My Twitter picture is green because I cared. It’s still green because I still care.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Time Is On Your Side

If you could do anything, what would it be?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: heal the sick, end war, feed the hungry, clean up pollution, beat the crap out of the belligerent--- altruism and compassion are off limits. This is a purely hypothetical, selfish, indulgent hypothesis. No invisibility, x-ray vision, flying carpets or wishes, either. I’m trying to keep to a pragmatic unreality.

I find the evening stretching pleasantly in front of me. Not too far, it’s after 9:00, but still. My mind wanders to my personal cosmic To-Do list. I could clean out my desk (my car has recently been rendered pristine) or hit that pile of books I’ve been meaning to read. There’s that final Dark Shadows videotape (yes, VHS, really) to watch. There’s Pogo. Worst case, I suppose I could always work.

What would you do?

The Big Dog is visiting. This may be his last night though I hope to squeeze an extra day out of Fate. I love this beast, and he just came in, with his enormous head and beautiful black-coffee eyes. With little Jonah on sentry duty in the front window, it’s imperative that I go rub the Big Dog's belly for a while-- at least until Jonah comes in for his share of attention. Decision made by default. I hope all your choices are as easy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Vegas Vignettes: Witchy Woman

On the last night, a lovely older woman sat next to me. She looked ordinary enough, but she had a kind of presence. There was something commanding yet kind about her. She held a handful of paper napkins and other sundries which I’m sure had some arcane use.

Well, she sat at the slot machine on my right and after two or three spins she made a disapproving noise. I looked over inquiringly, and with a slight accent, she said that the machine “wasn’t speaking” to her. Of course it wasn’t, I thought. She hadn’t been there for more than a minute, but I just smiled sympathetically. Why not? I was losing too.

She gathered her things and moved over to the machine on my left. I noticed she was only betting about 20 cents a spin, but now she’s pleased. She told me that this machine was speaking to her. I sure couldn’t hear it, but she was happy. She was still losing her 20 cents every time, but getting happier and happier.

I was losing too, playing $1.50 a go, but I was comfortable (we’d eaten an enormous dinner) and just didn’t feel like moving. Moreover, she was pleasant to be around. There was something about her that I liked. We were chatting when she started to win. Small at first, then pretty soon she’d parlayed $5 into about $250. I congratulated her but she only nodded, saying with a smile “I told you, it was speaking to me. I’d better take this out now.”

She took it out, put the ticket in her purse then went back to playing with a fresh $5. Soon her husband arrived, he saw that she had $8.36 and told her to take her winnings out before she lost it. She did, and he took the $8.36 ticket to the cashier. She started to follow, then came back to wink at me. “Good thing I took it out when I did!” Then she patted my machine. “I hope it speaks to you soon.”

That’s when my luck turned, and I won all that money.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Disney McVegas

You probably don’t remember the first time you went to Disneyland. By the time you were entrenched in childhood, that trademarked castle was branded on your brain. Enter the park and be surrounded by color, light and sound unlike anything at home or in school. McDonald’s was much the same, only with less travel time. Inside those Golden Arches™ were light and sound and comfort.

As an adult, I avoid both McDonald’s and Disneyland. When I was short they were magic, as was Las Vegas.

My grandfather was a ‘macher’ in Las Vegas when I was a child. (Find a Jewish friend to translate, if I had another word I would have used it.) He favored the Hacienda. Appropriately enough, my own casino is in Mandalay Bay in the same location. You’d think the magic would have staled from when I was tiny, wandering among the slots, staring up in happy amazement. Only the angle changed. Now I sit happily, as happily as once I rode the Matterhorn, with about the same number of ups and downs.

Las Vegas is in constant flux but with a consistent level of banality that I find comforting. Because we’re there seasonally, the subtle changes are more apparent and more significant. What’s odd is that I went from feeling like an outsider observing the stream of humanity, to feeling like an insider doing the same. We know the people, and they know us. More important, they feed us.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’ll take a piece of perfectly seared escolar over a Big Mac any day. The times, they have a-changed.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Vegas Vignettes: Thirteen

Monday morning we left at exactly 7:13 a.m. by the digital car clock. You all know how superstitious I am. One person already asked why we didn’t sit in the driveway for an extra minute. That would’ve been quixotic. It was 13, no matter how you camouflage it.

We dropped Jonah off at his country estate then got Starbucks. So the actual trek to Las Vegas began at--- yep, 9:13. We got gas in Barstow: 13 gallons. Now I’m starting to get a little weirded. We checked into the hotel, they gave us a suite on the 13th floor. We left the room for the casino and synchronized watches at exactly 5:13.

Ok, to those of you on Twitter, that’s all old news. But wait! There’s more.

On the last night I was winning. And I mean winning big, really big, to the point where I was taking tickets out of the machines so I wouldn’t lose the money again. I cashed the tickets out and shoved all the money in my pocket, to count later in private. Turned out there were exactly 13 $100s.

If I was going to sell my superstitious neurosis, $1,300 is a good price. But pish tosh! I’m no ideological whore. Still, it sure didn’t hurt.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Go With The Flow

You must know this story: A student goes to the Teacher asking for guidance. The teacher pours a drink as the student goes on and on about previous studies and previous teachers. The drink overflows and the student yells. The Teacher smiles and says something along the lines of “First you have to empty your cup.”

Over the years, I’ve heard it told as Zen, Talmudic and Sufi. Same story, same point. You’d think by now I’d get it.

We don’t notice how incrementally and insidiously our cups fill up, maybe because we don’t choose what we put in them. I didn’t put that Rihanna song in my head, pretty as she is; I see that same video every day in the gym.

Tedium and repetition aren’t the bulk of the mental cup-fillers. Stresses, annoyances and irritations are. In today’s climate, it’s easy to build up a tolerance for stress. If we didn’t, we’d be in trouble every time we fired up our computers or answered our cell-phones. Anxiety is both unavoidable and inevitable. A life without any conflict would be as dull as reading the encyclopedia. That said, enough is enough.

Why doesn’t matter. My cup is overflowing and I’ll be taking a few days off to go empty it. Au revoir, darlings. Behave yourselves, I’ll back soon.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

All Blogged Up

Today’s New York Times had an article in it about blogs. I meant to save it, but of course it’s somewhere in the bin out front right now. A company tracked millions of blogs, and 95% of them had no activity within the last year. It seems that bloggers are choosing Twitter and other, more immediate, forms of cyber-expression. That’s like comparing apples and prix fixe menus. I love Twitter but it’s a snack, not a meal.

I remember reading books filled with nothing but correspondence. Back in the day, people used to write long and sometimes interesting letters to each other. Sure, they had no other way to communicate over distance, but it was still a lot of effort, and a lot of words.

Picture yourself sitting at a desk, pen in hand, covering more than one sheet of paper with your news and your thoughts, then sending it out with the knowledge that it won’t be read for days, maybe weeks, and even then it would only be seen by the person to whom it was addressed. This wasn’t that long ago, and it probably took about the same amount of time we spend watching one DVD—assuming we make it to the end of the DVD and don’t shut it off halfway. It takes less time to draft and publish a blog post, but people don’t do that either, apparently.

Then again, letters are small and can be burned, but the Internet is everywhere and forever. That’s daunting, granted, but come on, people! We’re tougher than that. Suck it up and get out there and post. Don’t be another statistic.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Why's Have It

Sometimes it’s enough to know that something happened. We deal with it and move on. When it isn’t enough, or we can’t deal with it, we get out the social microscope. We trace connections, and draw lines between the experiential dots until we see a picture that tells us the almighty Why.

I blame Freud. He started explaining all those deeply buried reasons why we particularly like asparagus or don’t like clowns. He kicked “Honor thy father and mother” up a notch --- and extra credit to whoever knows which commandment that is, because I don’t. My point is that he’s the one who started the tsunami of explanation.

‘“Why” doesn’t matter.’ That’s a favorite saying of mine, whenever someone starts picking apart a situation rather than deal with it. So a guy cut you off in traffic. You will never know what he’s compensating for, or if he’s in a humanitarian hurry to save a life. Make fun of his bumper stickers and get over it.

Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned repression, suppression and denial? They may not be popular, but they sure were efficient.

There was a moth trapped inside my window all afternoon. Just now, I caught it in an empty glass and set it free in the bushes outside. If it had been a fly, I would have killed it on sight, but it wasn’t, it was pretty. That may be why I set it free, or I could have been anthropomorphizing, or maybe when it flapped its wings something happened in Iowa. Maybe I needed a closing paragraph. “Why” doesn’t matter. It happened, and that’s enough.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

No, Prank You.

Remember when I said I’d begun a post about pranks? I wanted to write about humorous incidents, not cruelty-based practical jokes. My call for stories produced many results. You won’t see any of them on this blog. Human nature being what it is, I don’t want to encourage anyone to repeat or worse, build upon, the viciousness. (A lot of it was funny, but I feel guilty admitting that.)

I wanted “Animal House”-like memories of rambunctious teens, or more recent stories about merry adults who enjoy laughing. You know, like the people who populated 80s media, or Stanley Tucci movies. I should have realized how fictional that mindset truly is.

“If you slip on a banana peel, that’s comedy. If I do it, that’s tragedy.” I’ve heard this attributed to Mel Brooks amongst others. Aristophanes was probably the first to say it, or something like it. I bet Aristophanes was the biggest prankster in the agora.

What is a prank? There’s an element of irony, surely, in that expectations are twisted by the surprise. Sugar in the salt shaker is classic but not funny. Gelatin-solidified toilet water was considered a hoot when I was in college. Once upon a time, I sat in on the auditions for a play I wrote. A somber, Serious Actor delivered his lines dressed all in black with his fly open and his red undies showing. To this day I wonder if that was a prank.

I believe a prank should be funny, but I am a creature of the 70s and a product of network television. Reviewing the practical jokes I’ve been given makes me wish that real life could have a laugh track, so I wouldn’t feel as sorry for the victims.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

To Be Continued

There are two partial posts drafted in this Word™ file. One is on practical jokes, the other is on death. I can’t find an ending to either. You decide if that’s ironic.

We’re dog-sitting til tomorrow, and I love these beasts to distraction, literally, which is why I can't seem to finish anything.

There’s one behind me on the floor, either meditating or snoozing, I’m not sure which. Bertha, the star of stage and screen (also literally) is an elegant lady to whom even Generalissimo Jonah defers. The other is the Big Dog. He’s simply gorgeous, a mountain of love who obeys tiny Jonah implicitly and follows him around, well, like a dog.

It’s a welcome surfeit of canine cuteness and I have a weakness for such things. I’ll try again to be clever after they’re gone.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Writing Right

A little while ago, I started writing a regular fiction thing. I hesitate to call it a book, though all the other things like that I ever started ended up being books. Unpublished ones, don’t get your hopes up. But I was tired of what I saw as the limitations of the movie format, and wanted to go back to my roots, what I nostalgically saw as “pure” storytelling, with all the naïve idealism I can pour into the phrase.

Feh. Feh, and bah. I am now thoroughly screwed. While I have a nice little story going, just unrealistic enough that I don’t feel guilty not turning it into a treatment, I find myself having enormous trouble writing it. I’ve been infected by the scripting process. The differences didn’t seem like much when I went from fiction to film, but trying to reverse the process is killing me.

Remember a few posts ago when I said I used names in fiction dialogue to make it easier to follow? Now I “hear” the lines (a useful skill professionally) and they sound unnatural to my mental ear. But if I take the names out, then it’s all “he said”/”she said” which looks unwieldy on the page. I never had this problem before.

And the dialogue itself is tough. I’m conditioned to keeping it under a third of a page (one page = one minute, screen time, about) only when all the audience sees (why didn’t I say “reader” just then, Dr. Freud?) is ink and paper, then that’s not enough to advance the plot.

There’s more. Fictional characters, when you can’t see them, have to be more clearly defined but quickly enough that the story isn’t bogged down by long descriptions. Rex Stout was a genius at that. I used to be fairly good, now I’m accustomed to keeping them vague so the casting people have a broader range of possibilities. This is useful in a script, but it’s quicksand in a story.

Fortunately I’m going back to script work this week, so all this will soon be moot.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Can We Talk?

Was it Sartre or de Beauvoir who said, “We see ourselves in the eyes of the Other”? I’m pretty sure it was him in ‘Being and Nothingness’ but it’s been a while, please correct me if I’m wrong.

Let’s talk about talking. I know, we’ve been doing little else for the last week or so, but I’m on a roll here.

Tonight we had dinner with a dear friend. (Hi, Scott!) Then later, while walking Jonah, we had a conversation with a nice neighbor. This made me think about the difference between just talking and having “a conversation.”

When it’s someone I’m comfortable with, I just talk. I don’t think about what I’m saying, any effort I make is merely to be sure that I use words corresponding to whatever is in my head at the moment. Ideas move forward, carrying the people with them. Eventually we stop talking and go home. Although there is a beginning and an end, those are arbitrary. We know we’ll talk more next time.

“A conversation” seems different. Information is exchanged in an almost capitalistic way. At first, the information is biographical: I tell you what I do and you tell me about your job. That’s a reasonable exchange, fair enough. A “one sided conversation” is just that: an unfair exchange, a bad deal, someone didn’t get their share.

That’s when I thought about the Sartre quote. People often use conversations to present themselves as they want to be seen, or as they want to see themselves. Words become a static image of variable reality, depending on how honest we are or what we want to get out of it. Which leads me to thinking about Facebook, (talk about image control!) and if Jean Paul Sartre had a Facebook page, would he update his status and what would he say?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Back To The Future

We have an unbelievable level of technology readily available to us. It’s really space age stuff, although I’m not going to watch any old Jetsons to see how much of it was predicted. Segways, iPhones --- hell, regular cell phones (even non-camera versions like mine) are pretty amazing if you think about how your diapers were fitting while I was still rotary-dialing old style.

And what do we do with all this micro-circuitry? We go on Facebook and reconnect with people from our childhoods, our adolescences, our Good Olde Days.

Now I don’t know about you, but I spent the second twenty years of my life trying to forget the first twenty. Of course I’m delighted to be contacted by old friends, they’re not what I tried to forget. Overall, Facebook is good, as is technology, but please don’t tell anyone I said that.

No, this is about incongruity. This is about chintzy 80s junk being sold on Ebay for massive amounts of current recession-era dollars, or movies of dubious quality finding cult status when re-released on DVD--- when the fact of Ebay and owning movies would have been unimaginable thirty years ago.

My question is, does the super-cool information highway lead backwards, or do we just throw ourselves into reverse once we get on it?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Name Calling

Ever notice how rarely people say names? I mean directly, to the person whose name it is.

One of the differences between writing regular fiction and writing scripts (for me, anyhow) is the tendency to use names in dialogue to make it easier to follow.

In real life, people don’t use names casually. We say someone’s name for emphasis, or to get their attention, or to refer to them in the third person. We don’t throw names at people--- at least I don’t, and I don’t hear it done often.

My personal exception to this: two women at my gym, both of whom use my name repeatedly whenever they see me. It’s noticeable because I never told either of them what it is. This is true of one man also, but I ignore him.

There is a cliché, the awkwardness of having forgotten someone’s name. I’m used to that and I bulldoze through it directly and honestly. It’s like buying toilet paper. Why be embarrassed by a universal experience?

No, I’m not going anywhere with this. This is a rant, not a manifesto. I’ll let you know when I actually have a point.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Eye Believe

Remember eye contact? When I was growing up, my father taught me to look someone in the eye when I spoke to them. You don’t see that so much anymore except for persuasion or dominance.

Oh sure, there are conversationally synchronized glances by way of punctuation, but as a rule I make more consistent eye contact with people I walk past on the street than I do with people I meet for lunch.

The “road rage” section of Traffic School said that eye contact is considered an act of aggression. They also advise not smiling at oncoming traffic. Since traffic doesn’t usually make me smile, this shouldn’t be a problem.

When I’m speaking with someone, and they keep looking away, they seem furtive to me. Hold on a sec while I look that up (yes, Jim, in my paper dictionary) because I always think “furtive” and I want to be sure it’s correct. Okay, “stealthy”. That makes sense vis a vis vocabulary but not vis a vis behavior. What’s “stealthy” about ordinary conversation?

Now I’m not advocating an unblinking psychotic stare, nor do I want you to ignore the other people around you. I just want to remind the world that, information exchanges aside, conversations generally happen for reasons ranging from general politeness to friendliness and that sometimes the old ways are best. Shoulders back, eyes front, and please try not to spit.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Boring, Boring, Gone

The media finally stopped blathering about shortened attention spans. It’s assumed that between video games, Twitter and whatnot, none of us can think about anything for more than a nanosecond because we get bored.

How often do you read an entire webpage, Godforbid a book? Okay, I’m cheating here. Obviously you are capable of following multiple paragraphs. Let’s move on and discuss boring people. You know some, though none of your close friends are boring. None of mine are, either. We’re not, you and I. So what makes those other people so tiresome to be around?

Maybe boringness (not boredom) is like villainy. A good villain doesn’t think s/he is evil. Nobody thinks they’re boring. When I tell a story or joke, or try to convince someone that something is interesting, it’s because I believe it really is interesting or funny or significant. Maybe boring people just aren’t persuasive enough.

But what about boredom itself? I’ve been trying to figure out what it is. Is it emotional, a form of depression? Is it intellectual, a form of – well, I hesitate to call it stupidity. I’ve been bored, and I’ve been stupid, and I believe there is a difference. I think boredom hits us in the spirit, but I’m not sure what I mean by that.

My mother doesn’t understand boredom. She associates it with a vacuity of mind that is incomprehensible given how interesting the world is. What do you think boredom is? And don’t just say you know it when you feel it.

Maybe I’ll have some more insight into all this after I sit through another hour of online traffic school. That’s what got me this far.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

No Degrees Of Separation

I think of them as familiar strangers. You have them too, different ones. They’re the people you see regularly but don’t know. They’re in your grocery store. They drive to work along the same route you take, though you may only recognize the bumper stickers and not the faces. They’re regulars in your Starbucks, or at that little place you like for lunch. For me, it’s the folks at my gym(s), we say hello when we see each other elsewhere, but in the gym we’re strangers.

Life is a balance between the known and the unknown, the familiar and the new. Too much of the same thing and we go stir crazy, but too much newness can put pressure on our coping mechanisms. This is true of our work, our play, our food--- and our relationships.

Technology factors in. Strangers read my gripes, paeans and haiku on Twitter several times a day. I don’t know everyone reading this now. I still tweet my soul and blog my guts out indiscriminately. Conversely, I lower my voice when discussing anything remotely proprietary in the gym. There are strangers, and then there are strangers.

For all that, I’m still startled when someone I recognize as a regular but don’t know says “Hello, Carole” to me in the gym. It happened again yesterday. I wonder if she knows Kevin Bacon.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hot (Fudge?) Sunday

Hey there, how’re you doing? How’s life treating you? Working hard, or hardly working? Oh, right. It’s Sunday, and a warm one at that.

I’ve been reading “The Nation” (Max saves it for me, thank you Max!) and thus feel obligated to say something worthy. The problem is, I’ve always avoided politics in here. Why stop now? You’ll either agree with me or I won’t change your mind anyhow.

“What about some insightful perspective into human nature?” you may ask. Please. We all know what human nature is, and what it’s good for. No, my only option is passive dry wit, which, unlike a Pirandello character, is in search of a subject.

Once upon a time, I created this blog because I wanted sanctuary. I was tired of composing narrative and wanted to speak in my own voice. I never expected to be heard, mere expression was sufficient catharsis. But I wrote stuff, and you read it and you’re still reading it (ha! gotcha) and now I don’t want to disappoint or worse--- bore you.

Maybe it’s time to go back to narrative, at least for today. Fictional characters don't get bored unless I want them to. At least mine don't.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Cautionary Character Study

This morning at the gym I saw something weird. Now, I’m saying this after spending the afternoon in Hollywood, during a road closure, where there were many extreme sights and many people who would stand out as bizarre in a small town or even another city. None of them were blogworthy, not even the busty blonde in a halter top who was jumping up and down repeatedly on the sidewalk just off of Hollywood Blvd. I did enjoy the gaggle of giggly secretarial-types, half on cell-phones, who went into the porn store. Likewise, I appreciated the meticulously dressed and made up stern older man who didn’t remove his toothpick before being effusively kissed by his young and exuberant friend.

No, the morning sighting was stranger, and infinitely more disturbing. A man in his 60s; slight paunch, receding hairline, you know, normal, but wearing white bicycle shorts so tight they were transparent, emphasizing the pile of padding in his genital region. That was chillingly awful, and I apologize if you get nightmares.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

On Burbank Pond

People say “stagnation” like it’s a bad thing.

You have your favorite books and foods. If you watch television, you have your favorite shows. (I do too, just not as many.) At work, there are tasks you enjoy doing, and tasks you dislike less than others. We gravitate to our preferences, that’s human nature.

Unless it means living on Froot Loops to the point of anemic constipation, what’s the harm?

Stagnation is the putative harm, the lack of personal growth through new experiences. Still waters may run deep but they get a yucky scum on top. The stone that doesn’t roll is mossy. So what? Moss is nice, and I’m sure that scum looks good to other scum—or something.

As a middle-aged person, I find myself valuing comfort over adventure. Once upon a time, that would have been anathema. I’ve had my share of adventures, with the metaphoric scars and trophies to show for them. Now I play Pogo. Oh, and every couple of weeks we Netflix an episode of “Midsomer Murders”. We watched one tonight, it was good.

Please try to contain your envy. Remember, the bucolic life isn’t for everyone.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Life Cycles

Little kids have it easy. They wear cute little clothes and, for the most part, the people around little kids like what little kids do.

When does that stop? With me it was around five feet. Then again, it took less than a year to get to 5’6” from there. It could be an age thing, I have no idea. Somewhen everything went from “Oh how precious!” to “So?” and stayed there to the present day. This is normal, we all went through it, and few of us would go back willingly.

But (of course there’s a “but”) there are days when we want that gold star, that brownie point, that cookie for having been particularly clever. We want our anxieties to take center stage, and we want someone in Authority to reassure us. Reassurance doesn’t happen often in adult life. Society isn’t structured for that sort of thing. Instead, we have consensus. We poll our circle and collect aye votes for whatever we did, or want to do.

In the long run, I think we’re better off. As I reconnect with people from the past, I relive those days. When I talk about my past with my current circle, it causes them to relive theirs. This is an uncomfortable process. We have plenty to deal with now, and better ways to spend leftover time.

It’s almost enough to make me wish I still had my red Snoopy sleeping bag to crawl into, or at least a sugar cookie with sprinkles.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Blogs are for ranting, that was established long before I ever thought of writing this one. I enjoy a good rant, clears the sinuses. I just wrote a beaut, a full page on why I was disappointed in the Renaissance Faire despite the terrific performances of the friends we went to see. (She was luminous and graceful, he sports a handsome new goatee and their children were adorable in their little costumes.)

You’ll never read it. Control A then delete. Gone, pfft. Let’s talk about why.

Okay, the Faire itself was a commercial cliche, though the food was good and the weather wasn’t as bad as it’ll be later. I got a ticket on the way out, there’s a trap on the long straight 15 mph road.

It’s easy to tear something down. Very easy, if you saw some of the outfits people put on for the privilege of paying $25 a head to be seen in. So what? You can go to your nearest mall to see people wearing silly fashions. You can go to Disneyland and be charged more for worse food. You can go to Jumbo’s for floppy breasts.

If our moment in history means anything, it means that it’s important to look forward, to build, to stop sniping and Get On With It. Besides, that’s what traffic school is for. Sigh.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Ask And Ye Shall Answer

The one who asks is the one who answers.

This could be my Fourth Rule. It isn’t, because it lacks scope, but it could be. (See “The Three Rules” November, 2008.) It’s like the hypothetical Eighth Dwarf.

Think about it. You say, “How are you?” My response, barring cutesy-pie flippancy, is “Fine, how are you?” Then you elaborate, thus being the answerer of the original question.

This works all over the place. “What do you think about x?” “Where do you want to eat?” “Does this make my butt look big?” (Just checking to see who’s awake.)

I’m a huge fan of etiquette and protocol, you all know that. This one stumps me because even the anointed Miss Manners has said that “How are you?” is a greeting, not a question. I want it to be a question. I want people to care how other people are. They don’t (Rule #3), and they won’t (Rule #1), but they should. I do.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

M Is For Melva

Who, if you’ve found this blog by accident, is my mother. She is 81 years old and kicking like a teenager--- metaphorically, of course. Her knees aren’t great.

Of course I speak to her often and see her regularly, but these last couple of weeks even more so. M is also for Maintenance, and the warranty ran out on a few body parts, which have now been repaired and are up to industry standards, thanks for asking.

You’ve all heard me whine whenever I have to learn to work some new technology. Melva began life by watching the radio (sic), and can now work a dvd player better than I can. She’s taking a computer class just so she can read this blog. She can’t yet without my help, so we can talk about her.

We’ve all yelled at the tiny person straining to see over the steering wheel of the car in front of us. That’s not Melva, she can still leadfoot the accelerator. And she gets along with my friends. (Jim, she still talks about that chocolate martini.) Being with her is a testament to identity, and how it doesn’t have to erode with age. Intelligence, creativity, being interested in things— these are qualities we associate with youth. Mine have diminished over time. Hers haven’t.

In this case M is for Marvelous and aMazing and iMpressive. M is for Mother, and Mine is Melva. Mwah!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Mental Habitrails

You remember Habitrails. Transparent modular tubes form a structure, (a habitat, hence the name) for hamsters to move through. We make our own mental ones, and we move through them over and over until they start closing in and we go nuts. Then we do something, anything, to break free--- before jumping right back in to begin again.

Where are you in that cycle? This isn’t rhetorical, please stop and think about it. Maybe you can predict what the people you see every day are about to say. I can do that with about half of the folks in my gym.

When you get an email, can you tell what it will be based on who sent it? Or perhaps you work with someone who will always tell you first how great your stuff is, then how you should change it all. You know it’s coming, because life is a Habitrail, and you’ve been there before.

But then it happens. Someone surprises you. The obnoxiously un-funny lout (of either gender) says something insightful or genuinely amusing. The person who you thought wasn’t listening not only responds, but gives you a new perspective on what you were thinking. It’s the third line of the haiku, the one that twists the whole and bestows meaning. Habits are made to be broken, even and especially mental ones.

Habitrails to you, until we meet again.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Vegas Snapshots: Food

My dears, I couldn’t possibly tell you All. Those of you who decry my veggies and grains with protein powder should have seen me gobble and gorge. Of course I kept a list, but there isn’t space on the Internet for it.

I will say that the truffled onion soup poured over sautéed wild mushrooms and a quenelle of red cabbage & red wine puree at Fleur de Lys remains one of my favorite flavors ever, anywhere. This version isn’t on the menu and was brought out as a gift from the kitchen, which added to my gratified delight. The asparagus, wild mushroom and parmesan risotto didn’t look like much but my oh my, the taste! Exploding with yummy goodness. Yellowtail (also not on the menu, another gift) with wild mushrooms and ginger foam. Tapioca soup with fruit and sorbet. Oh yeah, Robert liked his steak thingy and his valrhona chocolate soufflé. He can tell you about that himself.

Fresh cinnamon sugar doughnuts at Bouchon were served with home-made (in a restaurant?) cherry jam and Nutella for breakfast. Candied orange peel and cranberries in the oatmeal. Beurre monte over the poached eggs on toast.

Sustainable and artistic and delicious sushi at RM Café, two lunches in succession. Perfect pastries too numerous to mention, from a plethora of places.

But we mustn’t forget Aureole. They got an entire post from me last trip. Highlights only this time, because the kitchen generously added two entrees and two desserts to the full meal we had ordered. To describe it all would kill us both. Six (count’em 6!) amuse bouches, I especially liked the truffled egg served in an eggshell, and the lobster spring roll. Three cheese ravioli with house smoked salmon and lemon thyme foam, the thyme was a whisper, a melody that united the whole. The seared escolar on carmelized cauliflower with watercress beurre blanc was my other favorite dish of the trip. My dessert: Lady Gala doughnuts on salted-caramel mousse with apple ice cream and apple confit. Our terrific waiter gave us six different house-made sorbets and a lovely tiramisu and a chocolate thing as well.

In closing, I will just say--- burp.

Vegas Snapshots: Characters

A week ago I hit burn-out. I was weary in spirit. Then we spent four days in Las Vegas, and the strange, wonderful and delicious things that happened there gave my soul a jump start. Robert and I go often enough that we’ve settled into a happy rut. This time, the familiarity was punctuated by astonishment. But I’ll get to that later.

This trip turned out to be partly about people. Not just the ones we know, but also the ones we saw. We were both enchanted by a couple in their early 60s walking in front of us during a post-breakfast stroll through the Venetian. She kept grabbing his butt. I tried to take a picture, but it blurred.

Downtown, I saw a burly man with shaved head and graying goatee, muscles bursting out of muscles, one arm devoted to a lone wolf tattoo--- wearing an ornate gold Star of David over his wife-beater t-shirt. Obviously he doesn’t care where he’ll be buried.

I kept one photo that was blurred beyond recognition. The woman had to be at least 70, with a graceful presence you could feel from ten feet away, and a beautiful face. Her companion was a handsome young man who held her hand and looked at her with utter devotion. They exuded such serenity and happiness as they walked that I ran after them and snapped a picture although Robert tried to stop me. I hope I never forget them.

At one restaurant, a compliment about the food elicited the life story of the waiter. Apparently he’d been in the food industry for 16 years (he looked about 25 but was over 30) and had owned his own establishment at 18, traveled Europe with Eric Ripert and now was a triathlete who trained UFC fighters. The same thing happened the next day at a different restaurant, with a different waiter, who had a very different biography.

On the last night, the table next to ours was filled with defense contractors ranting about work-related issues despite the public setting. They paused to discuss the wine list (10,000 bottles long, this was at Aureole.) After much consideration, they asked the sommelier for a bottle of “red”, and then returned to talk of Afghanistan battles and product lines. A woman stopped by to say hello to one of them. She had been sitting unseen at a table directly behind the loudest complainer, and knew him professionally. I hope he hadn’t divulged anything proprietary.

Are you still with me? I’ll close on the astonishing thing as a reward for your patience. When I stopped by Aureole to make the dinner reservation, the reservationist remembered us from our first visit there nearly a year ago. She told us--- correctly--- where we sat. How many people go through there in a week? In a year? Why on earth would a hostess (not the server) remember us? But she did. At Bouchon, the waiter looked at us and said (also correctly) “I’ve waited on you before, haven’t I?” We hadn’t caused a scene, nor done anything notable in either place. I try to tip well by normal standards, but again, nothing memorable. It was downright freaky.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Watch This Space

Jim Harrison said, "Art is in no position to duke it out with our baser appetites."

I intend to test that theory. With any luck, I'll have some stories for you when we get back in a few days...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Clarified Better

“If it doesn’t hurt, you’re not doing it right.”

How many times have I been challenged on this over the years? That’s rhetorical, stop waving your hands.

Those of you who have trained with me know what I mean in the gym: do the exercise properly, by this I mean “perfectly”, until the muscle quivers with pain and won’t move. Then do it again and again and again. Do a different muscle every day til that first one is healed, then repeat.

Take it out of the gym and it’s a metaphor. (Go figure.) Pain is not a requisite for correctness, but there is a level of effort beyond comfort that is salutary. And, to reply to the comment on the previous post, yes, that includes writing this blog.

We don’t just seek comfort, we inhabit it. I revel in mine, and am lost when pushed outside its cushily familiar limits. Oh, I go, and often, but I’m not happy about it. That’s in real life. Here, in my cyber-niche, with mostly my good and dear friends and family to see, I can stretch without fear--- but I don’t. I should, but I don’t. I vent my curmudgeonly spleen on topics I have thought out to various extents. Sometimes, I even edit.

But when I’m writing something for someone else, I push. I strain. I squeeze my brain until it quivers and won’t move anymore. That’s where the best work is, and that’s when I know I’m doing it right. Just like in the gym, that’s when it hurts good and makes me stronger.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pas De Food

When I was 8, my ballet teacher, Monsieur Pierre, would walk down the line of little leotards and pointed toes and whoosh his cane down the back of anyone whose butt was sticking out. He never connected with actual juvenile flesh, but the point (the pointe?) was made. In spite of Monsieur, I love and revere ballet above all other art forms to this day.

In ballet, I learned my driving principle: “If it doesn’t hurt, then you’re not doing it right.” When I became older and finally convinced of my fundamental gracelessness, I turned first to weightlifting, then to kung fu, then back to weightlifting. No other disciplines offered the same neurotic fascination with perfection as ballet, the same extremity of aesthetic, the exaltation of endurance.

Somewhere along the way, I became equally obsessed with food. Nutrition first, sad to say, then taste. I’d like to think I’ve found a balance between the two. You can argue if you want to, I might even listen.

Today I ran across the following quote, by Julia Child: “Non-cooks think it’s silly to invest two hours’ work in two minutes’ enjoyment, but if cooking is evanescent, well, so is the ballet.” (‘Culinary Artistry’, Dornenburg & Page, 1996)

This proves two things. One, I was right in the first place and two, Julia Child rocked. Q.E.D.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Solitary Confinement

Bam! Smack! Kapow! Sunday I had no Internet. Smash my fingers and call me Stumpy. I was lost, temporarily bereft of distraction.

Yesterday morning my training partner went AWOL. Working out alone was solitary confinement at its worst, just me and the voices in my head. What a pity I know all their jokes.

We live behind bone walls, locked inside our own skulls, listening to our own running commentary on whatever we’re doing. And unless you’re in a monastery, you’re probably doing something. (If you’re in a monastery reading this, you should probably be doing something else.)

Twenty years ago it was no big deal to climb onto a rock in Campo and just sit. Either thinking or not thinking, it didn’t matter which. Now the only time I sit and think is when I’m stuck in traffic. You too?

“Contemplation” has become an invective associated with either an innie or an outie. I deplore this. Not that I’m rushing into a Transcendental Meditation retrospective, but there are occasions on which roses should be smelled. If it requires going offline, then do so.

I’ll try to remember all this when I work out alone again tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Magic Babel-Fishbowl

It’s all misdirection, really. We think we’re living in a technological fishbowl (because, if you’re reading this, you probably are) but what matters more is what we don’t say.

When I staked out my bits of cyberspace, I did it with malice aforethought, as a fully consenting adult. This is my real name, and I’ve even gone to the effort of putting an accurate photo up, instead of the more flattering but outdated one that was easier to use. Look! There’s nothing up my sleeve. I have nothing to hide. I stand beside my words. Celebra--- oops, I mean, Abracadabra! Of course it’s all an illusion. We control what we post.

You’d think people would care more about the image they’re projecting. Then again, how often is the driver of the next car picking his/her nose? Don’t my neighbors know I can hear them in their backyard?

Privacy has changed. The Internet is like a small town in the 1800s, although less picturesque. We’re in each other’s pockets all day. We wear our secrets, and our foibles. We even advertise them. Does anybody remember when dignity was a virtue?

But when I swim in the Twitterstream, munching bits of wit and tons of trivia, mangling metaphors (albeit alliteratively), I often find myself wondering what they aren’t saying, what’s really going on behind the techno-curtain. Of course it’s all a trick, I just hope the joke isn’t on me.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Not Just A Number

One of my good friends is about twenty years older than me, give or take. Another is about twenty years younger. Though we each are very much stuck inside the stereotypes of our own ages, it’s more significant to our characters that we’re from three different continents--- if you count Brooklyn as a continent.

Age is a context. We’re the product of our times, our fashions, our music, our stories. Nowadays there is a personality attached to the number. I can’t run into Hot Topic and pick up something to wear, even if I was so inclined. Luckily I’m not.

So today I’m a year older. Big deal. My bones were creaky, and my glasses progressive anyhow.

Thank you all for your kind wishes, tomorrow we’ll resume our normal one-sided conversation.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Mariette Hartley and James Garner used to do a series of TV commercials. Not quite narrative, but so rich with character that the audience was engaged. Maybe that sort of thing still happens, I wouldn’t know. Everything I see around me is getting as abridged as an old Dana Carvey impersonation. One characteristic line, one image or gesture is enough. It’s narrative by logo, no need for transitions or inductive reasoning.

My adored Twitter aside, let’s face it, we’re becoming a culture of captions. Celebrities are identified by a single trait. Political issues, and politicians, are painted either red or blue. Similes are rampant; everything is “like” something else. That similarity suffices for description, and I for one don’t like it.

This entropy also affects written language. Our complex, heartfelt emotions reduce to smileys. Psychotherapy should be much easier now. Go ahead and text how you really feel. The response might well be a prescription for dietary supplements, or a pharmaceutical “as seen on TV”.

Adjectives are good. So are adverbs. I mean this! :0

Which reminds me, Jim, how are you coming with “Atlas Shrugged”?

Monday, March 2, 2009


Robert said (on Facebook, naturally) that Facebook is an A.R.G. Of course, he’s absolutely right, but in such an insidiously sinister way I felt it deserved elucidation.

A.R.G., Alternative Reality Game. The example he gave me was a movie I never saw, called “The Game”, in which Michael Douglas’ life is turned inside out by what turns out to be--- you guessed it--- only a game. Real life interactions turn out to be fake, or at least part of the larger scheme. Dire consequences are negated, happy ever after attained.

That was a movie. Facebook is real, but it’s an ersatz reality. There are two people I don’t know on my friends list. One of them is completely random, we have no friends in common, nor do I have any idea why I was chosen. No further communication has occurred to explain it. My dog has a Facebook page, with more activity on it than my own. It's an A.R.G.. While I do my best to transcribe in human terms what I presume to be his canine motivation, it is absurdity in pixels and may stop amusing me at any moment. Robert can take over from there.

The idea of the A.R.G. is that fiction overlays reality. That distinction already blurs online. Deb, I’ve known you for seven years now, but if you walked up to me on the street I wouldn’t recognize you because we’ve never met. For that matter, my photo was taken before I let my hair go gray.

Where is the edge of reality, and what constitutes an alternative? If there is no ultimate purpose to Facebook, and it seems like there isn’t, maybe it is all just a game.