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.