Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gender Fender-Bender

No this isn’t about cross-dressing, it’s about sexual politics and gender roles. (Bye! See you next post, which I’ll try to make more frivolous.)

Still with me? Heh. Thanks for that. Seriously, I figure it’s about time I tell you some of the stuff I see every day in my gyms. I’m fascinated because the same patterns play out in such different configurations.

At the big chain boutique gym, the one I loathe, I watch reasonably-fit guys preen and swagger, and largely-unfit young women simper and flirt. Gender stereotypes played in classic fashion. No surprises there.

But in my hardcore gym, where there is serious muscle on both sides of the gender divide, the exact same patterns occur. Today I watched a muscle-bound pretty thing – she’s got a face like the St. Pauli girl but walks like a linebacker -- tilt her head coquettishly and try to giggle. The guys there make what I call “look at me” noises when they lift. I’m not talking about an involuntary vocalization to get out that final rep, these are rhythmic and consistent porcine beats that can be heard from a distance and do nothing but draw attention to the grunter. Let’s ignore the ones who count out loud, they’re low-hanging fruit. The women don’t do that, at least I’ve never heard any.

There’s a woman who has to be 80 if she’s a day. She wears a sports bra that looks like two black socks filled with oatmeal, and the entire Sherwin-Williams line of make-up. She’s less embarrassing than the equivalently aged man who acts like he’s Tom Sawyer and his trainer is Pa Walton. The trainer is half his age.

Nature or nurture? I learned my own gender patterns from watching endless “Love, American Style” as a tween. I’m still looking for an explanation for the buff older man who announces loudly, proudly and often, “People ask me if I believe in God. I tell them, sure, I believe in myself.”

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Hurry, New Year!

Most people hate Christmas music. By now they -- you -- have itchy teeth, headaches, and wish it was over. I don’t mind, and can tune in or out without trauma, except for “The Little Drummer Boy”. That’s depressing as hell and I’ll be glad when it’s gone.

Instead, I hate the end of the year “Best Of” brigade. Ten best! One hundred best! Best of the decade! Spare me. The New York Times magazine today was a compendium of obituaries. The subject of each had died this year. It was like a morbid high school yearbook, I didn’t open it. Our nation’s media are about to become a week-long VH1 special, and those are only fun in spurts.

Benchmarks are good. We need to pause now and then, and mark our progress. It’s also important to honor and respect those who are gone. I’m all for all of that. I just don’t want to do it every day until January.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ho Happy Ho, Happy Ho Ho Ho

Yes indeed, I do like Christmas. I love it that people pretend to be nice. Then again, I appreciate the ones who have an attack of honesty. They don’t bother, even if I’m related to them. So what? It’s all good. It’s Christmas.

It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when I hated the whole month, and after that, a time when it was only sad. All this too has passed, and now I can bake (the cookies have been made and given away) and cook, and enjoy the people and dogs I love best.

Where are you in this cycle? Do you love, hate or ignore the holiday? Economic reality is daunting, but remember this: ultimately what matters this time of year is what has always mattered the most. Don’t be cynical. It’s people -- and dogs, for those of us who have them.

Just appreciate the people around you. That’s the best you can do, and there’s nothing better in the world. I appreciate each and every one of you.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Lost & Found

It started with a little book innocently titled “Thought Dial”, by Sydney Omarr. Yes, the astrologer, although the book is about numerology and consistently references some supernatural being called Sepharial. I don’t know who Sepharial is supposed to be, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

I knew a woman who was interesting and eccentric, and died a few years ago well into her 90s. A strict and prudish Republican, yet she followed every single New Age trend decades before they came into fashion. She was expert at the formulae of astrology, and dabbled in numerology. She used to tell me that Omarr was a terrible astrologer and never to read the horoscopes in the newspaper. (I didn’t, but not because of her.) Somewhere along the way she gave me this little book. Apparently although he was a bad astrologer, Omarr was a good numerologist. (Oxymoron?) I happened to keep the book all these years.

Turns out, there’s a chapter called “Locating Lost Articles”. The process is simple: think of three numbers between one and ten, reduce it to a single digit (unless they add up to 11 or 22, dunno why) and look up the result. Sepharial (again, no idea, I’ve never read the rest of the book) tells you where to find the object. Here’s the truly bizarre point: more often than not, it works.

Now, I’m not for a second supporting the mystical. I think the directions just trigger a subconscious memory of where you last saw the thing. But my friends on Twitter enjoy sending me numbers when they lose something, and now I extend to you the same option. To quote my good friend Max Maven quoting Nils Bohr, “They say it works whether you believe in it or not.”

Or, as the charming @radiantfracture put it, “I don’t believe in it either, but that doesn’t seem to stop it from working.”

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mayberry, Revisited

A neighbor I don’t really know just stopped by to give us some avocados from her tree. Isn’t that lovely? She went nuts over our house. I guess where she’s from (Bakersfield? Nebraska? She told me once, years ago, but all I remember is that it was a farm) people don’t live the way we do.

“Your home is about celebration and color, I love it!” She said, endearing herself to me for all eternity. She’d seen the red living room from the street, but she had no idea that the kitchen is goldenrod yellow, the dining room is two shades of pumpkin orange, my office is royal blue and there’s a tiny purple hallway leading to the fuchsia bedroom.

The books piled everywhere surprised and charmed her. I guess I expect every home to have bursting stacks in the corners. Our odds and ends, culled from Robert’s early life in Singapore and Indonesia as well as my parents’ global travels (Moroccan camel saddle, anyone?) fascinated her. I even showed her my personalized autographed photo of Barnabas Collins, I mean Jonathan Frid. She oohed over things I’ve forgotten I see every day. Telling the stories reminded me why I kept them.

Sometimes it can be a happy thing to see our lives through other eyes. I love our little home, but now I want to give it a cookie.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

By Popular Demand

Thanks for the gratifying inquiries. Here it is, the food post. Remember, except where noted, this is just what I ate:

Monday: Apple croissant, poached eggs on brioche toast with beurre blanc, wheat toast with Vermont butter and blackberry jam, spinach and garlic sautéed in lots of butter, and a bowl of fresh tropical fruit macerated in lemon juice. Next, we stopped for Italian thick hot chocolate, made with dark chocolate and heavy cream, and a shared butterscotch milkshake with toffee syrup, dulce de leche ice cream and chocolate bits. For lunch we split a Fuji apple salad and some lobster rolls (made with dill and yogurt) served with a mountain of freshly made potato chips. Our magnificent casino host surprised us, waiting in the room was a ginormous cheese plate, a bottle of excellent cabernet, and a tray filled with big strawberries painted with dark and white chocolate to look like little tuxedos. Dinner was a vegetarian minestrone with garlic toast, crusty peasant bread with white bean and garlic dipping sauce as well as a nicely salty tapenade, fettucine with field mushrooms, English peas, parmesan and truffle oil. Dessert was a plate of crispy fried cannoli filled with mascarpone and pumpkin, on a bed of candied cranberries with a caramel dipping sauce. Whew!

Tuesday: See above for breakfast, but add the chef’s gift of a pastry basket filled with an apple croissant, cheese Danish and a velvety, cupcake-y banana nut muffin. We ate nothing else until dinner. The amuse bouche was grilled romaine rolled like a tiny croissant, nestled next to a bit of artisan goat cheese, topped with a nameless mushroom and sprinkled with fresh herbs and balsamic, all perfectly composed on a spoon. My first course was a Pacific yellowtail crudo with trumpet mushrooms, toasted pine nuts and a creamy sauce, topped with a pile of sliced black winter truffles. Yes, I said a pile of truffles. Next came pumpkin ravioli (I do love me some pumpkin) with knobs of lobster, fresh herbs and a coarse mustardy sauce over a bed of fresh corn that popped in the mouth. Then I had a sunchoke and mushroom risotto with toasted pumpkin seeds and butternut squash. Dessert was a heavenly bread pudding with Meyer rum and brown butter ice cream. Then the chef sent out little cups of espresso-infused chocolate soup. On the way back to the car we stopped for shared pastry; cheese Danish, almond brioche and a chocolate croissant.

Wednesday: Same breakfast again, but this time the chef sent a gift basket with a warm pecan sticky bun, a chocolate almond croissant and a banana nut muffin. Then later we had more chocolate, this time I had Venezuelan hot chocolate and an espresso. But what you really want to hear about is dinner. We were invited to a test of the new menu at the as-yet-unopened Fleur tapas bar. It went on for hours. The kitchen sent out a total of seventeen small courses, each lovely and delicious and perfect. Robert ate all the meat ones, I ate all the fish, and we shared the rest. If you get a chance, try the mussels in basil and parmesan, and the lobster mac’n cheese with brunoised veggies, and of course the mystical, magical, truffled onion soup. We had the very first Afogatto they ever served, only the second one they ever made. This one was mashed strawberries and lychees with vodka in a bowl, they pour in liquid nitrogen and whip it to the consistency of a Slurpee. Need I say “Yum”? It was yummy beyond belief. There were three (count’em three!) dessert courses. You’re welcome to details, but I’ll have to tell you by voice, the Internet doesn’t have room for all the superlatives. It was a privilege to be there, and our deepest thanks to Juan, Owen, David and Yvonne who made it happen, and a shout out to our cheerful buddy Xavier.

Thursday: Yes, I had the same breakfast, again. It’s that good. This time the toast was cranberry and we had freshly made beignets with nutella and jam. Lunch was a superb trio of butter-poached lobster rolls with kettle chips. Before leaving Las Vegas we had pastries. Mine were a pecan tart in a hazelnut crust with cinnamon whipped cream, and a vanilla éclair with praline and candied hazelnuts. On the way home we stopped for hummos and tabbouleh, then my swan song of indulgence for the year before returning to my usual veggies and grains and protein powder; a sprinkle-covered glazed doughnut and a blueberry doughnut.

Of course I have pix of everything, let me know if you want to see any of it. And to answer the other question that often comes up: I gained exactly two pounds, which was well worth it.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Gotta Have A Montage

Just a few notes:

We drove north to Las Vegas against the steady traffic of Thanksgiving weekenders coming south. With only two lanes going in each direction, and in the slow lane no less, a bratty little pick-up kept high-beaming a big rig -- as if there was anything the big rig could do to get out of its way.

Just fyi, “falling down drunk” is not a euphemism. I done seen it happen, in the middle of the afternoon. Sic.

Decades ago, when Robert had temporarily grown his hair long, a salesman once came up behind us and called us both “Ladies”. Parity was achieved by a saleswoman in the Palazzo who came up behind us and called us both “Gentlemen”. I thought my shoes were cuter than that, but okay.

Two big burly cowboys (the National Rodeo Finals were in town) stood a ways away from a bored Little Person in full Elvis regalia, complete with cape and shades. One cowboy said to the other, “Go on, take his picture. What’re you afraid of? Think he’s gonna knock you down and steal your camera?” Real couth, guys.

And if you’re keeping score, the bride count this trip was six.

Lest we forget, the Ladies’ Room Chronicles:

The drunk guy mistook the Ladies’ room for the Men’s room. Fine. But he didn’t have to get mad at me. I was just washing my hands.

“Hello. Hello? Hello!” came out of a stall down the row. I assumed the woman was on a cell phone, but she kept saying hello. “Hello? Hello!” Just as I was about to respond, she switched to profanity, in complete sentences. I left silently.

Another woman began her phone conversation in the next stall before she even sat down. Then I heard, “No, don’t. I mean it, do not do this. No! I said no! Oh… Hi sweetie. Mommy will be home soon.”

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Gravity Sucks

“Ought to” are heavy words. No, not “Hey man, that’s heavy!” (Kids, ask your grandparents why that’s supposed to be funny.) I mean those words have a metaphoric weight that can’t be dismissed just because it’s symbolic.

Here’s the metaphoric irony: Doing what you “ought to” do doesn’t lighten the weight of responsibility. Sure, the “ought to” is discharged, but you’re just as tired as if you lifted real iron. Trust me, I do both regularly. It’s the same.

Lucky for me, it’s time to lighten the load and put on some weight. Enough facetious repetition, I’m done now. We’re going to eat for a few days. You know the rule; behave yourselves in the meanwhile, my darlings.

Postscript for my tweeties: I’m going off the grid this round. I’m not ignoring you. I’m just not taking Twitter with me. We’ll catch up when I get back. Ciao, bello(s)!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Merry Thanksgiving

Since the Christmas decorations went up a few weeks ago, the thought occurred to me that we’re now spending a sixth of our lives decked in tinsel.
Now, I like Christmas. The people I love best come to my table and I get to feed them. I like sparkly things, and I like nutmeg. Most folks pretend to be nice for the month of December, and that’s a pleasant change.

Still, the decoration thing pisses me off. Thanksgiving gets cheated. Oh sure, a house up the street has a huge inflated turkey wearing a top hat. There’s a cornucopia flag or two. Whoopee.

Thanksgiving is a good holiday in theory, despite its murky history. Especially in difficult times, we should take a day to focus on what’s good about our lives. But we don’t. We deal with having to get to where we’re going and then stuff our faces with a predetermined menu. Come on, how often do you eat cranberries the rest of the year? Thanksgiving has devolved into a dry run for Christmas.

Never mind. I’ll be with my loved ones for a nice meal, and I hope you can say the same.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Reversal Of Fortune

We don’t often notice when an annoyance goes away. Nobody ever woke up thinking, “Hooray! The paper-cut is healed!”

Still, when a car alarm up the street stops making noise, it’s a relief. When the kid behind me in line at Starbucks turned down his iPod so I couldn’t hear it anymore, I was ready to clap for joy. Moving along that spectrum, what does one do when a decades-long whine suddenly stops?

Those of you who know me in real life know my family situation. I’ve been pretty much estranged from my extended family since my father died in 1993. My mother was too, but not as dramatically. Yes, I tried to start dialogues over the years, but now I just send cards in December and gifts for occasions if I find out about them. All that changed last night.

My cousin (my father’s sister’s oldest son)’s wife called to invite me, Robert and Melva to Thanksgiving dinner. We can’t go, but that’s beside the point. We were asked, and in a sincerely welcoming way. This is huge. For seventeen years I felt that none of them liked me, which they’re perfectly entitled not to do. It still rankled. That rankling has gone. Like with the car alarm up the street, where there was a problem, now there is calm.

I’ll stop before I start to sound like a Hallmark card, or before I look it in the mouth and wonder why, and why now. But I really am thankful for this.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

That's Not Nice

I’ve said it before. I believe that if you can help someone then you are morally obligated to try. This doesn't mean you should do something that makes you seem nice -- whether they want you to or not. It's only help if it improves the situation. Besides, if a gesture is unwelcome, how nice can it be?

“You look really good today.” Judging someone, even favorably, is not nice. That’s ego. For the record, a genuine compliment is not a judgment; it’s an expression of appreciation. You'll have to decide which is which based on your situation. If your boss said that, it’s different than if a friend said it. I'll give you a hint: niceness is about social comfort. If you feel uncomfortable, you were probably hit by a favorable judgment. Or maybe just hit on.

A woman at my gym introduces herself by saying, “I’m a nice person,” and then she talks about herself until you chew through your leg and escape. One poor guy was stuck for half an hour. Every time I walked by, he was darting desperate glances right and left, though he kept nodding and saying “uh huh.” Maybe he was nice.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Once upon a time, about seven or eight years ago, I was at a tres chi-chi opera gala, sitting at a table filled with beautiful (and beautifully augmented) socialites and trophy wives. I was the nondescript plus-one, happily invisible until the bread basket came around and I helped myself to a roll. All conversation stopped. Every sparklingly spackled eye was upon me as I compounded my sin by smearing butter on a bit I’d broken off. One or two jaws dropped as I ate it with my best Sunday manners. I even ate a second one since no one else wanted any. From the reaction, you’d think I had just spat in the centerpiece. All hail Saint Atkins, and boo hiss evil carbs. To this day I don’t know if their reaction stemmed from their fear of gaining weight, or disgust at my lack thereof.

I was reminded of that incident this morning. A particularly svelte and muscular trainer came into the gym holding a small bag. Another trainer (same adjectives apply) asked what was in the bag. “A croissant,” answered the first trainer. I hadn’t really been paying attention until I heard the second trainer gasp. Her voice shook as she exclaimed, “You’re not going to EAT that, are you?!” For the record, he was and he did. Bully for him.

I have my own food phobias, most of which center on laboratory-developed ingredients, protein powder notwithstanding. I don’t eat animals. Although I can cook a decent steak and roast a chicken like nobody’s business, I admit to a bit of revulsion when I think about consuming either. I’m trying to translate that to the examples above and come up with a point.

It took @rmangaha, a guy who deliberately ate in a sushi bar with a C rating, to help me figure it out: People sure are funny about food.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Moment, Observed

Picture three youngish men, say early 30s. Each one had a different pattern tattooed up their arms. Their hairstyles were unique. I couldn’t read the shirts from a distance, but they were different from each other. These guys obviously put a lot of effort (and pain) into personalizing their appearance.

Here’s the funny: All three wore black t-shirts with the sleeves cut off to show their tats. All three had dyed black hair. All three wore jeans. It might as well have been a uniform. They looked like a macho version of every single girl band from Josie & the Pussycats to Destiny’s Child.

It reminded me of the scene in “Life of Brian” where a crowd roars in perfect unison: “We are all individuals!”

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Name Calling, Part 2

It started when I went to the bank this morning. The smarmy post-pubescent teller called me by my first name. Okay, I can accept that. But when he referred to my withdrawal as money he was “giving” me, I wanted to smack him twice. Good thing they have that bullet-proof (ergo smack-proof) glass.

Next, I went to the gym. A guy I don’t know, although we nod in passing because we’re both there a lot, called me by name. We’ve never been introduced. I don’t know his name. I don’t want to. I don’t even want to nod, but courtesy is necessary in that environment because you see the same people over and over again. Obviously he asked a friend of mine what my name is, but can you scream “Creepy!”? I should have done that at the time, but I didn’t.

Fine, we’re a first-name society. I would blame hi-my-name-is-Kevin-and-I'll-be-your-waiter from the 80s, but he’s probably gone to the Great Audition In The Sky by now. Can we please just agree to wait until someone gives us their name before we start using it? Pretty please with low-carb sweetener on top? Besides, this way there’s no pressure to remember it the next time you see them.

That’s the “Name Calling” post from May 2, 2009. Two posts make it an official peeve.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

All Hallows Eve

Once upon a time, when I was young and wanted to be goth, Halloween was the ultimate, the knees of the bee, the meow of the cat. Okay, I’m not quite that old. But Halloween was cool.

Then I got older and Halloween became a mere pain in the ass. Where we used to live, “Trick or Treat” was an understatement. Forget toilet paper. Those kids used spray paint, but never on our house. I always insisted on giving out good candy. It worked.

Ten years ago we moved back to the land of my birth, Los Angeles. If you ever have the opportunity, you must spend Halloween evening on Hollywood Boulevard. It’s indescribably, bizarrely wonderful. We don’t do it anymore because of the little dog, but it’s great.

Tonight we stayed home and gave out candy. Yes, the good stuff, though I had to run to the store because three jumbo packages weren’t enough. The multitudes invaded. Vans (one stopped right in front of our house) disgorged groups of mostly adults with some kids. The adults were in costume, with bags of their own. At one point two grandmothers with bags accompanied a single child. We heard one person say, “This is a nice neighborhood, I’ve never been here before.”

The cynic in me would have snorted. I couldn’t, because of Robert (aka @AlphonseBunter.) He had more fun giving out candy than the greediest child did taking it. For the first time since I stopped dressing up, Halloween was cool again. My mother was here too. Although I became the default designated adult, between the two of them they brought back the magic of the holiday. As I type this, I’m keeping one eye on the window in case the Great Pumpkin flies by.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The New New Age

There was an ad for a psychic phone line on the radio yesterday. When was the last time you heard one of those? Aside from the obvious stupidity --- if they were any good, they’d just call me instead of wasting money on marketing --- the thought occurs that we may be undergoing a navel-gazing resurgence of the New Age-y 90s. No, dear, I don’t care what it said in your history books, the 60s don’t count. That was a fashion statement. The 80s were a do-over. The New Age came of age in the 90s.

Look around. We’re increasingly inundated with predictions and forecasting. Sure, a lot of it involves politics and/or economics, but the mindset is there. Suddenly it’s supposed to be possible for some people to see the future. It doesn’t matter if they use a computer program or a Ouija board, it still ain’t gonna happen.

With Warren Buffett retiring soon, who’s to say he won’t be replaced by an old woman with too much silver and turquoise jewelry and a dreamcatcher hanging from her rear view mirror? Even though I’m tired of those old bumper stickers, I’d put her “I Ching” coins up against Wall Street any day.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Where'd It Go?

This morning, as I sat reading the newspapers with coffee in hand, I thought about what I had to do before I left. Driving to the first gym, I wondered if I’d have time for an errand before the second gym. You get the idea.

Fuck the equanimity that comes with age. I want to know, where did the moment go?

“To the Zen monastery,” you say. Ha ha. Very funny of you. Facetious as that was, it’s not a bad point. Neither one of us is a Zen master. If we were, we’d handle our schedules better. Then again, if we were, we’d meditate half the day and rake sand artistically for the other half, so never mind.

This afternoon, after tending to the various tasks that occupied my un-Zen consciousness, I sat and finished a book I like. I’ve read it before, and it’s fairly awful so I won’t tell you what it was, but I read the last page twice and smiled. Then I sat there for a moment, feeling rather calm and pleased with Life. (Knocking wood retroactively, just in case.)

The answer to the question of where the moment went is this: It was on the couch in my living room.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mother Love

Some nights the passage of time doesn’t seem all that bad. It’s Sunday, so I had dinner with my mother. For a typically diminutive 83 year old widow-lady, she kicks serious ass. I’ll spare you biographical details, mostly because I tend to feel puny by comparison, but it’s nice to know that at that age, with all the concomitant aches and whatnot, she can still toss back a Bloody Mary at dinner and have an insightful conversation, not to mention a good laugh.

My favorite part was that when we came back here so she could catch up on this blog, I tweeted a line of hers from the restaurant. That’s not the great part. The great part is that she corrected what I had originally typed. That’s class. Why? See for yourself:

“If you hadn’t seen me drunk that drunk you wouldn’t say I was drunk.”

I’m still chuckling, and I bet so is she.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ha, Ha, Huh?

There are people who never have a good belly laugh. Oh sure, they chuckle when they hear a joke, but everyone knows what a joke sounds like. “And it was the chicken!” Ba dum bum. Har har.

But the rest of us can also laugh when there’s no joke. Laughter is an audible form of amusement and maybe even happiness. There’s joy in it, even when it’s something silly and meaningless. Our little dog has taken to carrying around one of Robert’s size 14 slippers and it’s funny as hell. Some things are so fun they’re funny, and there are people who just don’t get it.

They’d be mortally offended if you pointed that out, though. No one wants to be humorless. It’s possible to be nice and cheerful without a sense of humor. But the epiphany I had today, and the reason you’re reading this, is that those people, the ones who don’t laugh, never seem happy. The best I’ve ever seen in any of them is satisfaction. I don’t mean to impugn satisfaction, I’m a big fan. I still prefer joy. I don’t know anyone who can feel joy without laughter nearby.

Imagine going through a day without being able to appreciate the intrinsic absurdity of our lives. Which reminds me of my favorite joke: What’s green, hangs on a wall, and whistles? The answer is a herring. It isn’t green, someone would have to nail it to a wall, and it doesn’t whistle, but you can’t have everything. Heh. Cracks me up every time.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Whenever I sit down to write to you, I can’t help but think about what I ought to be doing instead.

The good news is that the older I get, the shorter that particular list gets. I no longer feel that saving the world is an option. Yes, there was a time when I did. It wasn’t recent and I might have been a little tipsy. I was inclined to lift the elbow in those days. There may be a connection.

Now the list is more pedestrian. There’s a plot that’s giving me trouble, I can put the story together but not in an interesting and funny way, and it has to be both. There’s always laundry. Believe it or not, I still write paper letters and mail them in envelopes with stamps. Not many, though, and I’m good for this week. I’m writing to you instead.

It’s your turn. What should you be doing instead of reading this? The big things can be put off. That project you’re working on can’t be done in an hour, an afternoon or an evening. The little things aren’t important. You can procrastinate until they don’t need to be done anymore. Everything else you’ve probably already done or you’d be doing it now. Just like me.

So here we both are, instead. It’s a pity I don’t drink anymore, this calls for one.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Let’s do something different today. I figure you’re sitting at your desk right now. Aren’t you? Oh sure, you might have a laptop balanced on your tummy while you do something else, but I doubt you’d be reading a blog in that case. No, you’re probably killing time at work. A desk it is.

Look at the piles of crap you have stacked all over the place. If your desk is perfectly organized and tidy (yeah, right) then you can look at the neatly sorted piles of crap. Now see how much of your personality some alien archaeologist could discern from the various objects. Include anything stuck on your monitor.

Me, I have a fat wad of business cards (random excerpts include my casino host, the electrician, a car repo guy from my gym, a dead magician, an acupuncturist, my dentist, two living magicians, a waiter and for some reason a wedding picture of a cousin I haven’t seen in years.) That’s actually a pretty fair list, if you know me. The bottles of Advil™ and chlorophyll are also indicative both of my personality and lifestyle. The enormous crystal ball was a gift. I should measure it. You’d be impressed by the heft. And of course, there are the obvious: a calendar, a dictionary, a cd/tape player (rarely used) and the ubiquitous Magic 8-Ball™. I’m sure you have all of those handy too. There are oddball items I either can’t describe or I don’t want you to know about, but they’re extraneous to the game.

Seriously, try it. You’ll be amazed how you can tell what’s important to you by what you keep near to hand. Besides, it’s more accurate than phrenology.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Jetted Off

Well, Jet has strayed again. She vanished without a trace, except for two little scratches on my bracelet arm where she was playing with the dangly pieces.

Once upon a time, I saw the original “Cat People” with Simone Simone. Despite my admiration for the beautiful Nastassja Kinski, I never saw the remake. Maybe if I had, Jet might have stuck around a little longer.

I’m not getting rid of the super-duper kitty kibble, just in case.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Jet Fuelled

We were micro-assaulted while we walked home from dinner last night (which was with our friend Paul B., who doesn’t read blogs so I won’t bother to say hi.) The cutest black kitten attached itself to our feet. We ducked, swerved and took sophisticated evasive maneuvers, to no avail. It followed us home, and was still hiding under Robert’s car this morning.

Who are you? Do you know me in real life? You might remember the (now deceased) beautiful half-coyote dog who went just about everywhere with me for fifteen and a half years. Her ashes have been in a box on a shelf for a decade now, and until Jonah, I had no other animals. That is, until this morning.

We named the kitten Jet, after the stray dog in Nero Wolfe. The vet will tell us on Monday if she’s been chipped. It was difficult only buying food for her. I wanted to get All of Everything, but I’m trying not to get too attached, just in case. Jonah is already attached. He grooms her and follows her around. She’s learned to climb the tree, and to come back down when I put out the bowl of kitty kibbles.

There’s something about this little creature. I’ve never been a cat person, but she’s bringing me around. Of course I’ll do my best to see if she already has a home. In any case, she does now, if she wants to stay.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Under Control

Hi, my name is Carole, and I’m a control freak.

Oh stop. I know this isn’t news to most of you, but that’s no reason to be sarcastic. Some of the readers haven’t met me and may not have known, though I’ve never tried to hide it.

Yes, I am a control freak but a lot of that is fallout from my sense of responsibility. Responsibility is about decisions. Control is about choices. There is a difference.

“Are you hungry?” is a decision, Mexican or sushi is a choice. Going out with a new person who might be That Special Someone is a decision, what you do at the end of the date is your choice. Answering the phone is a choice, having the foresight to check caller i.d. is a decision. You get the idea.

Everything you just read has been sitting in my drafts folder for months, waiting for a zippy little finish. I gave up. That’s a decision.

The choice to read it was up to you, and is beyond my control.

Friday, September 17, 2010

My Side Of The Table

Caveat: This is only what I ate while in Las Vegas. If you want to know what Robert ate, nag him to update “Some Psychotic Ramblings”. Oh, and if you want non-food Vegas stories, scroll down to the next post. This one is all about the food.

Monday: Perfect eggs, with buttery Lyonnaise potatoes and spinach sautéed with minced shallots and whole garlic cloves and more butter. The croissant was lathered in gorgeous peach jam. Tart tropical fruit “salad”. That was breakfast. Later, a raspberry tart layered with pistachio mousse on a sable Breton, garnished with edible gold flakes. Dinner was shared, big-eye tuna tartare pizza, an amazing composed seaweed salad, pate made from monkfish livers, seared scallops on top of a surprisingly strong and delicious Dijon-potato puree, and meltingly soft -- not chewy at all -- octopus with crunchy tentacles, in a jalapeno vinaigrette with seasoned cucumber slices. Oh, I almost forgot the spicy sushi that had honest-to-God Pop Rocks™ candy mixed in. You heard crackling, then fishy goodness exploded in your mouth. Dessert came hours later, Venezuelan hot chocolate, and banana split waffles with vanilla bourbon ice cream, chocolate truffle bits, caramelized Rice Krispies™, caramelized toffee bananas, chocolate ganache and caramel sauce. For those of you who know me, yes, I ate chocolate which I normally dislike. This was that good. (Robert had the aptly titled Euphoria Peanut Butter Chocolate Fudge Sundae. I wasn’t going to tell you, but you should know.)

Tuesday: Oeufs au gratin with spinach and tomato confit in a Mornay sauce, along with brioche toast and blackberry jam. Lunch was Maine lobster rolls, which were three little hot fresh-baked sweet-ish bread rolls filled to bursting with butter-poached fresh lobster and served alongside hand-cut potato chips and an onion slaw. Dinner began with Morro Bay oysters on the half shell with piquillo peppers and (seriously good) Tabasco sorbet, placed on top of a bowl of chunky salt and black peppercorns with star anise scattered for both aesthetics and aroma. The mini sourdough baguettes came with sweet butter the consistency of pudding and a bowl of salt chunks. Maine lobster ravioli with lemon- olive oil puree, summer corn, marscapone and asparagus. Crescenza cheese mezzaluna was a vegetarian delight with braised black kale, wild mushrooms and parsley emulsion. Sweet corn pannacotta with marinated apricots, crunchy dry corn kernels, caramel ice cream and a popcorn tuile. Vanilla-infused chocolate soup. One final snack of a dulce de leche brioche before bed.

Wednesday: Robert and I shared a pastry basket with cheese Danish, strawberry croissant and a banana nut muffin. More perfect eggs (poached, this time, with beurre sauce) with spinach, and cherry jam with the croissant. Later, a smoked salmon pizza with salmon caviar and a Caesar salad with the largest fresh anchovy I’ve ever seen on a parmesan crisp. After a long walk, there was Italian thick hot chocolate, the consistency of a sauce but much more delicious and a shared butterscotch chocolate cream milkshake with dulce de leche ice cream, chocolate chunks, toffee sauce and pure chocolate. Dinner was just a damned good cheese bagel.

Thursday: We came home after another glorious breakfast (see above). This time the jam was blackberry again, the toast was cranberry and the pastries were a pecan sticky bun, and a banana nut muffin. It took two different stops to get the hummos, tabbouleh and tiropita.

It’s Friday afternoon as I write this. Except for coffee and a lot of protein powder, I haven’t eaten since.

Vacation Montage

While Robert and I sat in a luxurious lounge in the Venetian, the soundtrack played something from “Phantom of the Opera”. After a few desultory jokes about that and “Cats”, we ended up talking about T.S. Eliot for a while. Right after that was when my dear friend in Canada, @radiantfracture, tweeted a reference to Eliot. (For my tweeties: Robert isn’t either Alphonse or Bunter. He’s Robert Wilson.)

Random sight: A drunken bride in full regalia having trouble hiking up her skirt on her way into a Ladies’ room in the elegant Bellagio hotel.

Shoe-shopping at 10:00 p.m. is fun. The salesman spent six weeks in a coma back in 2004. I have no idea how the conversation got that far, but he was interesting. Apparently his grandson weighs 22 lbs. That’s not so interesting.

At one point we walked past a guy who looked just like Simon Le Bon circa 1983, complete with paunch and pout. When we went into the next building, the soundtrack changed to Duran Duran.

Hotel billboard: Close-up of a woman’s breasts as she gets out of a pool. The caption read, “You’ll see lots of breaststroke, just not in the pool.”

At a gas station in Barstow, two truckers were talking. One said, “He told me he couldn’t loan out that DVD because it was so special to him, but if’n I wanted, I could watch it in the back of his cab with him. No way I’m sitting with him in his cab watching ‘Brokeback Mountain’!” Even though it didn’t work, I’ve got to give that unknown trucker credit; it was a better pick-up line than the ones we overheard in the casino.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Be Right Back

Yesterday, after I was done making endless lists and finishing up what needed finishing, an email came in notifying me that our hotel overbooked and when we go on vacation tomorrow, we’re staying somewhere else. Granted, it’s a more prestigious and fashionable place, but it’s not the same. Pout.

You know me, I find things out. So I phoned around. Turns out, a former President of the United States suddenly needs hundreds of rooms in my favorite hotel. I couldn’t find out why. I hope, trust and assume it’s for a very good reason pertaining -- at the very least -- to world peace. It’s not often one can contribute to world peace. They can have the room.

This is good for you though, because it means in a few days I will have new stories about new places and new food.

Behave yourselves in the meanwhile, my darlings. Auntie will be home soon to look after you.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dichotomy Du Jour

Aren’t dichotomies fun? Get comfy and let’s do this. Today’s dichotomy is, in no particular order: Obligation vs. Responsibility.

Yes they’re two different things, but I disagree with you in the back. You say that they’re two entirely different things. They’re not. That’s why we need our oversized magnifying glasses, to figure out where the sameness ends. I’m not sure.

If you’ve got an obligation to do something, you ought to do it, but you don’t have to do it. It’s the same with responsibility. Ultimately you probably get it done, whether it’s before the consequences set in, or after, whether you whine or try to weasel out of it, or not. It needs doing. You do it. It gets done.

There’s ethics vs. morality, but that doesn’t explain it. We’re each responsible for our own state of mind, but we’re obligated not to damage the people around us if we freak out. Raise your hand if you’ve ever managed that one. Me neither.

I’m stumped. This is going in the enigma pile; next to the question of if the little light in the fridge goes out when the door closes. I suspect, when all’s said and done, it matters about as much, which is to say not at all. We all have obligations and responsibilities, probably more than we’d like, and I still want to know what the difference is.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ha Ha? Nah.

Thanks to two gentlemen of my acquaintance, one of whom I may or may not have married, I have dredged up my old nemesis topic: what the hell is “funny” anyway?

Richard, another young man of my acquaintance, has a favorite joke of all time: “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” “I eat mop.” “I eat mop who?” “Yuck, that’s disgusting.” (Do I need to tell you that it’s phonetic?)

See, I don’t think that joke is funny. I do think it’s funny to watch people get it, but not the joke itself. Richard (a.k.a. @rmangaha) still laughs every time.

Did you laugh? Be honest, I won’t tell anyone. This joke may fall into the category of burp and fart humor, or is it may be a clever manipulation of phonemes for an unexpected result. Surprise is funny. Clever twists are funny. To many people, poo is funny.

The two gentlemen in the opening paragraph have embarked on a joke-writing marathon similar to the ones all of you so patiently endured when I did it. I wish them luck. I’m not allowed to participate. That’s what restarted me thinking about what “funny” is. I still have no idea. I will, however, repeat my favorite joke that I wrote during my time in the trenches:

Saint Peter goes to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist asks, “What seems to be the problem?” Saint Peter says, “I see dead people.”

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Jail Time

My home is a colorful cocoon, one I love dearly. Masses of books are piled randomly in just about any space large enough to hold a stack. For example, the stack in the corner includes tomes on etiquette, Sufism, humor and social commentary, not to mention various speculative fiction, food writing and the occasional mystery. Just as time can restore virginity to some people, age has gifted me with forgetfulness, which makes old books new again.

I’ve been confined to barracks since I sprained my ankle. Sounds like an ideal vacation, doesn’t it? I’m chewing through my damaged leg to get out. Don’t get me wrong, the DVD we watched yesterday (the 1965 version of “Ten Little Indians”) was great. There’s another red Netflix envelope waiting like a grab bag. Whatever it is will either be something I want to see or something I ought to see. And I have all this lovely time to contemplate, to work on anything I want. But…

Somehow my ankle is connected to my brain. They both stopped working at the same time. Forget writing the Great American Movie Treatment. I can’t seem to write a joke, or even a clever tweet.

On the plus side, I finished the Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle, the most difficult of the week. Don’t tell anyone that I had to google “Ancient city on the Vire”, though. That’s cheating.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Fall Of Autumn

My first broken bone was in my foot. Ah, youth. I hobbled around for a day or two before doing anything about it. Yes it hurt, but I didn’t know it was a bad hurt (i.e. requiring repair), only a severe one (i.e. fucking ouch). I’ve since broken the other foot along with a few random bits and pieces, but that was then. Let’s talk about now.

You should have seen my laughably ridiculous pratfall in a parking lot yesterday. I felt my ankle wrench, but over half an hour passed before it resisted holding my weight. Nice to know I can still be naïve. I honestly didn’t think I was injured.

Now I’m stumping around the house with a cane, feeling stupid. Staying off a body part while it mends is a matter of scheduling. Knock wood, I have time to heal. What I lack is the temperament. It’s embarrassing to admit that I’m bored, even though there are words to type and books to read. Languishing in front of a monitor is only pleasant when it’s by choice.

The trick is to control the whining, which I hope to do as soon as I finish this. It’s been over a decade since I wasn’t properly ambulatory, but I once had the knack, I just have to remember how. That, and wait for it to be over.

With my foot bound in an ancient ace bandage, propped up on a little green pillow with tassels on my desk, I’m either hypochondriac enough or paranoid enough to worry that my muscles will atrophy in three days. Maybe I should give up and learn needlepoint.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Snuff Enough

For a while now, I’ve been considering writing about murder -- specifically, murder mysteries. I adore them. I like old witty English ones and gritty noir. I inherited and read my father’s collection of 60s-80s arrogant male asshole detective fiction. I have not one but two favorite Dutch mystery authors; I wish the second had as good a translator as the first. Who doesn’t love a good mystery?

Murder is by definition violent, catastrophic and tragic. We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about fictional mysteries. They can be Marx Brothers level funny, or as complex as chess. The structure of a mystery is similar to science fiction/fantasy in its lack of realism. Come on, a real witness to violence wouldn’t calmly remember the clock or that the spoons were upside down.

Let me tell you what happened. I was reading at the gym. A friend asked what it was. I showed him the cover, Ngaio Marsh, circa 1966. He scoffed. He said that reading mysteries was the same thing as watching a snuff film. That’s a quote, and he meant it. He angrily brushed aside my talk of puzzles and metaphor, and denied the separation between death and fiction. I gave up arguing with him after a while.

Now I can’t stop imagining Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher talking to the press about police progress in the latest urban atrocity, or David Suchet mincing around the scene of a drive-by. Insert the goofiest TV detective you can remember into today’s headlines. It might mitigate the tragedy for an instant.

Some stories are just stories. It’s reality that bites. Elementary, my dear Watson.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Comedy Of Two Tails

Or: Cat People, Come Back Later

The beloved Big Dog is with us for a meager couple of weeks. I wish he could stay longer. He’s about 100 pounds (give or take) of gorgeous good-natured sincerity. He’s always right there, just in case you need some help with that. He walks like Scooby Doo runs. We love this beast.

Our Jonah is 25 pounds; half corgi, half dachshund. Please visualize the size difference.

Now you have to understand that adorable little Jonah is the self-appointed boss, king, hierophant, Ruler of the Universe. The Big Dog is fine with that. More than fine, really, he seems to enjoy being bossed around. It’s a happy match. It’s also a funny one.

Last night there was a difference of opinion about a toy. The Big Dog thought he was going to play with it. Jonah corrected him. So the Big Dog went to Robert for belly rubs. Jonah couldn’t permit that. Since Jonah is half herding-breed, he herded the Big Dog out of the room entirely. The Big Dog is four times Jonah’s size but he never had a chance.

Absolute power may corrupt, but it also has bad manners. I confiscated the toy.

Bam! The opponents became a team. Jonah on one side played cute, the Big Dog on the other played dumb. Hero and sidekick worked together in perfect unison to get me to drop the toy. It’s on top of the refrigerator right now. I’ll take it down later, for the next episode of Big Dog and Little Dictator. Pinky and the Brain have nothing on these guys.

You can friend Jonah on Facebook. He's Jonah D. Mann, because Jonah is da Man.!/profile.php?id=1265278016

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Don't Worry, Be Happy

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I know someone who wanted to be a lawyer, not in vitro, but shortly after breathing independently. Robert wanted to be a whale. It’s a funny story, but not mine to tell. Ask him.

Me? I wanted not to be afraid anymore.

It was an adolescent thing. Before that I wanted to be a ballet dancer. Even in adolescence I wanted to be a ballet dancer. Hell, I’d still like to be a ballet dancer. But by age thirteen I was 5’8”, busty and ungainly, so it was never an option. Then I just wanted not to be afraid. At least that’s how I phrased it to myself at the time. In retrospect, I think I wanted to be strong.

Over time timidity was replaced by hesitance. This in turn became recklessness. Survival bred confidence, which grew into strength. The process took about ten years. Imagine achieving your heart’s desire in your 20s – and being aware of it, which I was. I’ve never been ambitious. Ask anyone who has worked with me. Instead, I’ve been happy, knock on wood. I value that.

Oh sure, I have monstrously bad moods which can last for days and infect the innocents around me. I’m not a particularly nice person, but I try to be gracious. I care about people. To my credit, I keep the lessons I’ve learned, and I try to wear my scars with wisdom rather than pride. Sometimes I succeed. It’s enough.

Let’s talk about you. What path did you start on, and where have the branches taken you? Are you an astronaut, a poet or a cowgirl? Did you crave a moment in the spotlight, and did you ever get it?

Imagine what you would say to the younger you, if you could. I think the best would be: “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”

Monday, August 2, 2010


It’s so tempting to blog what my Loud Neighbors do. Not that it’s particularly interesting. Believe me, it’s not, that’s why I don’t. This afternoon, when I finally managed to focus and start being productive, I heard Grandpa outside yelling for the boys to get out of the “pool” (an above-ground bathtub-esque construction) and pick up the yard because their father was coming home to take them to get haircuts.

Their reply: “That’s stupid.”

When I’m in public, I’m painfully aware of who can hear me. Not that it ever matters. No one gives a damn about whatever personal saga I’m relating to my patient and generous friends. But I do try to watch what I’m saying --- in public. Sure, I’ve been guilty of the occasional, “So what happened when they lanced it?” faux conversation in elevators. Who hasn’t? I’m talking about in general. Usually I pay attention.

Maybe that’s why I’m so appalled by my neighbors. The parents as well as the children prefer yelling to talking. Although they eschew profanity for the most part, their favorite words include “liar”, “cheater” and “stupid”. Still, they’re kind to their dog, which is significant.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Someone I valued, now deceased, once told me that you can tell a real friend by the fact that when you both meet, even after a long separation, the conversation just picks up and moves forward. He had no truck with long catch-up sessions, but he knew how to appreciate good company.

That’s how I think of all of you. You’re good company.

Sure, when I go to Vegas I synopsize my adventures, but that’s more for me than it is for you. Ask anyone who’s had to look at the photos. And like any other blogger, I use this forum for general catharsis as well as to vent. Special thanks to those who email me when I hit a shared peeve.

Mostly, times like right now, I sit down and feel like we’re having a conversation. I just can’t hear your half of it. For that I want to say: hey, thanks, buddy. Your time is much appreciated.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Have A Cookie

Sometimes we forget to be happy. It’s an easy thing to forget. We’re bombarded by irritations and annoyances, not to mention overwhelming global tragedies. Gulliver was only attacked by the Lilliputians or the Brobdingnagians one at a time. We get it all, all at once, constantly. We’re cut off by some asshole in traffic while listening to an update on the effects of the BP oil spill. Look at your email or your calendar, or listen to your messages. It never ends.

It’s time to hit the pause button on Life. I would say “take a break from what you’re doing” but if you’re reading this, you already have. Odds are also good that you’re sitting down right now. Have a refreshing sip of your beverage and let’s get to it.

Sometimes you have to remember that you have worked very hard and come a long way from where you started. Doesn’t matter that you aren’t yet where you’re going to be. You’ve already done a lot, and that’s significant. Stop dwelling on what you have left to do for just a second, and be proud of where you are right now. I just trimmed Jonah’s dewclaws, and I’m proud of that because I wasn’t sure my aging eyes were up to the task. It’s a little thing, but I feel good about having done it. Your stuff is bigger, you should feel better.

Take a moment to be happy. Be pleased with what you’ve managed to achieve, and proud of having done what it took to achieve it. Then, when you’re calm and strong, you can take the next step forward. You have my very best wishes, and a hug.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Shadows & Blog

Dark Shadows was an earnest but campy “horror” soap opera that ran five days a week from 1966-71, then reran on cable in the 90s. As a phenomenon, there’s not much to say about it. I certainly wasn’t going to blog about going to one of their conventions.

Really, that’s what I thought.

We wandered into a huge room. Close to a thousand people watched raptly as snippets of various episodes were projected on a mall-theater sized screen. A lot of the same folks go to these things every year, year after year. They’ve seen it all before. At a Serious Dramatic Moment, about half the people there laughed – out loud -- in perfect unison. Seriously, hundreds of them, all at once. This was creepier than anything in the plot. We never figured out why.

The demographic of people who were fans in 1966 isn’t young, though they still dress that way. I hope I have the guts to wear a micro-mini with high heels when I’m those women’s age. I also hope I don’t. Ask me about the old lady in the psychedelic dashiki, I’ll tell you off the record.

Details aside, I respect their devotion. The two who broke my heart and gladdened my spirit were an elderly couple in matching Dark Shadows shirts. She was partially blind but pushed his wheelchair and handled his oxygen tank like a trooper. Her smile, when I asked to take their picture, was humbling in its radiance. I wish I hadn’t ruined the shot.

This is the moral, and why I’m telling you about it: We don’t outgrow our penchants and peccadilloes. We take them with us into that good night. Let the jokers joke and the snobs sneer, what matters isn’t what we care about, it’s that we still care. Those people still care, and I honor them for that.

Well, maybe not the guy who looked like Captain Kangaroo’s evil uncle, but the rest of them, definitely.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Not All Those Who Wander

If the crackling air isn’t enough of a clue, the free-range egg whites cooking on the sidewalk ought to be. Summer has arrived in Los Angeles.

What does that mean, exactly? For those of you in far flung exotic lands, let me describe the wave, the tsunami that crashes over this city.

They’re called “tourists” in polite society. The rest of us add adjectives, or in my case adverbs, for emphasis. They’re easy to spot; even nowadays many will be sunburned to a glowing magenta, accented by bathing suit shaped stripes. In July they marvel at our wonders. Everything is just so darned interesting and look over there isn’t that the guy from that commercial standing next to the palm tree? Is that a real palm tree? Omg (sic)! In fact, they’ll speak mostly in exclamation points. By the way, isn’t it legal to turn right on a red light just about everywhere? Not where they come from.

But if history holds, by August they’ll be complaining. They’ll stop admiring local fashion and start jeering at the Californian weirdo’s. The celebrities they spot won’t be “big” enough. The food will be overpriced (true) and strange (not). Then Labor Day will come and poof! Like magic, they’ll all go home.

Please don’t let this deter you from visiting our ersatz semi-tropical Metropolis before then. If the sights bore you, you can always watch the tourists. Somebody ought to.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Here's The Skinny

I’ll say it again; “Have you lost weight?” is NOT a compliment!

If you want to tell someone that they look nice, just say it. Don’t speculate on their weight. Don’t ask what’s different. I’ve used, “You look great, is that a new cell phone?” but when talking to a techie, the facetiousness is lost and to the others, the joke is lost.

Go elsewhere on the Interwebs to find more articulate people than I decrying the unhealthy culture of thinness. Slimming down may be an appropriate response to (or a side effect of) an unfortunate medical condition, but as a standard of beauty, pffft!

We’re talking vanity here, folks. I don’t care what gender you are, strong and robust look better than scrawny.

Sure, I’m in the gym every day, training like an obsessed demon. So what? It’s pure ego on my part. I train because I’m going to be fifty. I train because I dislike weakness in myself. I don’t do it to be skinny. Besides, you all know how I love to eat. Fleur de Lys, mmm … but I digress.

When it was said to me by a (male, not that it matters) bulimic yesterday, I recognized that “Have you lost weight?” is the highest possible accolade in his lexicon. In the lexicon(s) of people like me, who slam protein trying to put on muscle mass, it’s a slap in the face.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Inka Dinka Don't

We can talk more about Las Vegas in a minute. Right now I want to tell you what happened this morning. There’s a particularly annoying old man at my regular gym. I’ve mentioned him before, but not for a while. He dyes what’s left of his hair a sort of dull cerise, and half of what he does have he sticks straight up. If it was longer it would be a comb over. It’s about finger length. It looks both silly and sad. He also has a bugaboo: tattoos.

As you might imagine, there’s a lot of visible ink in a gym. I like ink. But somehow this man decided that my training partner and I both loathe it as much as he does. He complains to us (not to anyone else) about all the tattoos. He makes up for his mumbling with volume and repetition. We get it. He doesn’t like tattoos.

Today, after months of this senseless ranting, he said. “I have a tattoo.”

Then he showed us the numbers on his forearm.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Fleur Grows In The Desert

Once upon a time the Nevada desert gave out a tiny neon burp. Someone named it the Las Vegas Strip. Now people come from all over to fill it. It’s both paradox and oxymoron. Gauche, elegant and absurd; abandon all reality, ye who enter – and enter with abandonment.

The devil is in the dichotomies. Driving to breakfast at 7:00 a.m. (!), leaving elegant comfort and heading up the Strip toward comfortable elegance, we saw a half-naked drunk guy rousted from one of the dives near the Imperial Palace. Later, inside the Venetian, we saw a Taoist monk in robes next to a mother and daughter wearing matching “Twilight” t-shirts.

Did I say breakfast? We shlepped to Bouchon every morning for sourdough waffles with fresh strawberries and hot maple syrup, custardy apple-y French toast, oeufs au gratin, sautéed spinach with shallots and garlic, croissants with fresh peach jam, luscious pastry, hot caramel (like hot chocolate, only caramel), excellent eggs, et cetera, et yummy cetera.

The tourists may range from entertaining to awful, but the people who live and work there are genuinely nice. Shout-out to radiant Allison in the VIP lounge, she is as charming as she is pretty and you should see how very pretty she is.

And of course a huge thank-you goes to Juan at Fleur de Lys for being a stand-up guy and a pal and also for bringing the amazing Hubert Keller out for a long chat. What a perfect ending to a meal that transcended perfection.

You’ve heard me go on about the Fleur de Lys onion soup in previous posts when I was discussing Art. This soup is Art. Before it came a tempura black cod amuse bouche on soft yet crunchy warm potato salad with cayenne aioli which was as magnificent as the yellowtail with a cippolini onion, shiitakes and ginger foam which was as gorgeous as the slow-cooked salmon and then there was the mind-alteringly lovely butter poached lobster on herbed spaetzle. What can I say? This ersatz vegetarian loves her fish. Truffled macaroni and cheese; some kind of magical cow produced that cheese, no ordinary cow could have done it. Then, oh my dear lord, then there was the cold tapioca fruit soup with mango and passionfruit sorbet intermezzo before the chocolate soufflé with mocha ice cream. I’ve run out of adjectives. Buy a thesaurus or read some poetry to get the right words. I can show you the pictures. That’s the best I can do. It isn’t enough. Even the music is perfect there. It’s a gestalt for mind, body and spirit, and our friend Juan gave us the opportunity to thank the man who created it all.

Really, the watchword for the trip was “gestalt”. That, and “full”. And so, with a happy sigh, I return to the cycle of veggies and grains, gym and keyboard, until it’s time once again to visit the delicious electric chaos on Las Vegas Boulevard.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Plastic Lotus

Reality is like a diamond. It’s hard, cold, clear and expensive. I, for one, have had enough. The time has come for the cubic zirconium version of reality.

Yep, you got it. We’re going back to Vegas, baby! The land of the plastic lotus eaters or the plastic land of lotus eaters; take your pick. Both are true.

Hopefully I’ll have a funny story for you when it’s over. Cross your fingers and behave yourselves in the meantime, my darlings. I will miss you all.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Same Again, Bartender

People tell me things. I mean things that wouldn’t come up in normal conversation. The most extreme example is the telephone operator who wanted marital advice. Yes, she worked for the phone company and I had called on phone company business. No, I have no idea how the conversation got personal. It just did. It always does. I know more about my plumber after one visit than the friend who referred him does, and he’s known him for years.

Richard enjoys it. I know he’s grinning right now (despite his car troubles) because he’s been there when it happened and it amuses the hell out of him. Robert is just used to it. It’s what I do.

It happened again today. I was soloing in my back-up gym. One of the employees (i.e. someone who should have known better) stopped my workout to talk. I could have avoided it, as I could have avoided all the other conversations, but I didn’t.

Bartenders, taxi drivers, receptionists – they all get it. But they’re a captive audience, and like the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” they cannot choose but to hear. I can choose. Maybe that’s why it happens.

I don’t believe much, but I believe that if you can help someone then you are morally obligated to try. Like today, with the gym bimbo. I know information that would help him if he understood it. I don’t think he did, but I did my best to explain.

This is old news to those who have been with Scarycookies from the beginning, and big hugs to you for that. For the rest of you, don’t bother looking up “True Confessions” in the blog archives, because it’s just more of the same. But if you do go back and read it, the good news is that I not only forgot the incident but luckily I’ve forgotten the doctor’s name. That’s “happily ever after” enough.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cosmopolitan & Dumber

I’ve just been offended by an advertisement. I’m not talking about something on TV or the ubiquitous pop-ups that infest the Interwebs like zits on a juicer in pre-judging. (Some jokes I tell just for me, apparently. Thank you, Whit Haydn.)

No, this insult was personal. Today’s mail contained a renewal notice for Cosmopolitan magazine. Renewal, mind you. I would subscribe to the Weekly World News before I’d even deign to look at the cover of Cosmo in the check-out, or order a cosmo in a bar for that matter.

Feh! Feh and phooey.

So they think they can fool me into “renewing” a magazine I would never touch while conscious. How dumb do they think I am? Oh, right. By definition, they think I’m dumb enough to read Cosmo. That says it all.

And if you do read it, and would like to defend it, please feel free. I’d be interested to hear what you have to say. The last time I opened that magazine was in the late 70s, and Marabel Morgan (don’t ask how I remembered that name, maybe it’s some kind of feminist PTSD) was yammering that a woman should greet her husband wearing nothing but Saran Wrap™ to get his mojo rising after a hard day at work.

I just read this to Robert who said, “But the quizzes are fun!” Sigh. I do NOT want to know.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Now & Now & 5 Minutes From Now

“Live in the moment” -- that’s easy to say, but it can’t be done. I blame technology. (Surprise!) We’ve multitasked ourselves into mental shrapnel, deluding ourselves that we are not only functional, but efficient.

Clichés are clichés for a reason. I’ve read enough Zen (a shelf-full, third up from the bottom in the bookcase closest to the door of the blue room, feel free to browse) to know that there is value in now-ness. “Now” is a wonderful place, I should go there sometime. It sounds lovely and pretty and mountain-lake-in-the-summertime-Alps-y.

Who among us would get out of bed in the morning if we weren’t thinking about what we have to do that day? Besides pee, come on, I’m trying to be serious here. We have conversations in our heads before we even get there. We’re always one step ahead of ourselves. We call it “having goals” but it’s really just a way of getting past tedium.

As I sit here, listening to my Loud Neighbors have conversations that sound like arguments, choosing to live five minutes from now when I’ll have gotten up and walked away, seems like wisdom.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Posthumous Happy Birthday

Had my father lived, he would be 89 tomorrow. He didn’t, obviously. He died in 1993. Since then, I’ve learned how death really changes a person.

My father was an interesting and difficult man. He played football in the Rose Bowl. After World War II he met Errol Flynn backstage at a nightclub in Paris. He had a sneaky method of forcing his car into the next lane even if the person didn’t want to let him in. He taught me how, and I try to use this knowledge with great responsibility.

But, since his death, my father’s life has been retroactively subsumed by one short phase of it. He was a Marine. He was at Pearl Harbor, and then later, Guadalcanal. I have his medals. I was named after a high school buddy of his, a man I met only once, a genial guy named Carroll who survived the Bataan Death March. I knew my father named me but I didn’t make that connection until after he died.

That’s part of how death changes people. My father didn’t speak of his time in the service. He gave me his copy of Guadalcanal Diary signed by everyone in his platoon (which is mentioned in the book) on condition that I promise never to read it. I never have.

Despite his posture, his nobility and his temper, when he was alive I never thought of him as a Marine. Now, in retrospect, that surprises me because despite our complicated relationship and the variety of my memories, I rarely think of him as anything else. In that sense and in so many others, his death also changed me.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Irony Bored

Wednesday night, I was in the kitchen and missed a call because the phone was on my desk. Thursday night, it was the reverse. It’s only ironic because I made sure to bring the phone into the kitchen with me lest I miss a call, and then forgot to take it back.

My beloved E.F. Benson used “irony”, “sarcasm” and “wit” almost interchangeably. As a result, I came late to the Morissette-inspired harangue. Don’t we have enough to worry about without having someone like me jump down our throats because we said “ironic” when “serendipitous” or “coincidental” would have been more apt?

Ironically, there will be no rant. Even I am bored with this topic.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Up, Up And Away!

Children dream of adventure. Start with a tricycle, then a two-wheeler with training wheels then zoom! First they want to cross the street alone, then they want to walk to a destination. Eventually adventure means stories, from fairy tales to novels to epic sagas of obstacles overcome and golden goals met and won.

It doesn’t stop. Teenagers want to drive and drink and screw and not be in school. They get a little older, and they want an exciting job and not to be in college. After that, it’s any job that pays well. Then, later, a job they don’t hate.

See? We’ve crested the hill and now we’re on the downside. We still want adventure, maybe never more so. Our idea of it changes proportionately. Now adventure can be as simple as paying off a credit card or going to a new Starbucks. Pathetic? Maybe. But we’re older now. We’re out of school. Driving is a necessity, and opportunities for both drinking and screwing aren’t the variables they once were.

What we’re left with is perspective. Stories about valiant heroes battling dragons became novels about valiant individuals battling their inner demons. It’s still wish fulfillment, but the bigger we get the smaller and more meaningful our wishes become.

Think about it. You still crave adventure, we all do. But without a cyclone and a yellow brick road to guide us to it, adventure isn’t easy to come by in the real world. Oh, it happens. Metaphor aside, there are very real monsters out there as much as there are very real heroes. And, to pick up that metaphor again, it’s up to us to slay our own dragons.

Friday, May 21, 2010

3 Birds, Some Bugs & A Turtle

Or, as Robert said, “I know there are animals here somewhere. I can smell their poop.”

Stipulated: When we lived in San Diego, we had annual passes to that zoo. Hiking the hills for a couple of hours a day, through glorious and exotic foliage, passing the various non-human communities, was a familiar treat. It’s been more than a decade since then, but that’s our (apparently impossibly high) standard.

There’s a huge banner outside the L.A. Zoo, advertising an exhibit coming in 2007. They’ve also taken out half the parking lot, which doesn’t seem to matter because there was plenty of close parking. There were more “No Trespassing” and “Exhibit Closed” signs than there were open exhibits. The solitary gorilla in the enclosure sat with his back to the crowd. You know he was doing that on purpose.

Once upon a time, on hot days in San Diego, we used to sit on a bench in the aviary amidst the infinite number of colorfully loud birdies and play cards. So we headed straight for the aviary here. Other than a cramped flamingo ghetto, all we saw were three birds and a turtle. I put bugs in today’s title but there weren’t even that many of them.

If we go back, it will be because of the woman who was cleaning up tapir poop. For all the bleak shabbiness of the place in general, she scratched the tapirs behind the ears like they were puppies. They were as cute as puppies too, and she showed them such tenderness, such obvious love, that it made the whole experience a happy one. Besides, I adore warthogs, and theirs is named Wanda.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Frying-Pan Fired

This is a saga of karma, Nemesis and ultimate redemption. Doesn’t that sound good? Well, on a stupidly small scale, it’s accurate.

First the karma; it’s simple enough, really. When I went to my regular gym yesterday, it was jam-packed with people behaving even more annoyingly than usual. Standing around talking, neither training nor getting out of the way of anyone who wanted to, “belligerence” was the word of the day. My gym-partner and I gave up, and I made my solitary way to my back-up gym. There I was faced with two different but each archetypically perfect 20-something fitness females prepping for a competition, both training right next to me. Karma, from the frying pan into the fitness fire.

They were also my Nemesis. My discipline is good. I’m there almost every day, but I cater to my age and tend to do the minimum I can do and still live with my pride. Granted, that’s a middling lot, but it wasn’t enough when I saw how hard these young women were working.

Today was also a solo day, and I went straight to the hardcore gym. It’s gray, achy-bone weather, and I was making excuses to myself while on the treadmill. You know, stuff like “at my age this is fine” and “my bones ache so I don’t have to do that much.” That’s where the redemption comes in.

Angrily, and with great determination, I gave myself a mental wedgie. This is as young as I’m ever going to be, and so what if my bones ache? Somehow I managed to stop whining and kicked into gear for a workout of which I can be proud. It’s not Significant, it doesn’t matter a damn, but there are times when doing enough really is enough, on every level.

See, that’s the redemption. It doesn’t matter what you’re down on yourself about, what matters is that you fix it.

Besides, it cracks me up that in this case, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is literally true.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Diagonal Dialectic

The guy was sitting with a companion, at a table kitty-corner from ours. Is it “kitty corner” or “catty corner”? Never mind, I digress.

Now that I think about it, and having reread my adorable and witty yet ultimately pointless description of the aforementioned guy’s strange behavior, I think I’ll shelve that and we can discuss the digression instead.

So, which is it? Do you say “kitty corner” or “catty corner”? Take a stand and hold your ground. Don’t cop out and say that you say “diagonal”. No one does that, not in real life.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Let’s talk about perspective. An unfunny joke can be hysterical depending on who tells it. (Ask Melva for the gas station story. Trust me.) The worst of the 80s came back, only now it’s cute and quaint with the perspective of time. Never mind, bad example.

The point, such as it is, depends on how you look at it. Smile and the world smiles with you, unless they think you’re plotting against them. “All the world loves a clown” except for sensible people who find them disturbing.

Attitude is everything. Turn that frown upside down. Look at the bright side. Bludgeon yourself with peppy clichés until you’re either distracted or not bothered any more.

And if you can’t change your perspective, don’t worry about it. Just wait. This too shall pass. If it doesn’t, if it’s the new normal, then your perspective will adapt and you’ll find a way to look at it that you can live with. There’s an example for you: as much as I loathe the “new grammar”, I just ended a sentence with a preposition, with no distressing physical side effects.

Remember, as bad as the 80s resurgence was, shoulder pads never came back. There’s always a bright side.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Honor, Loyalty and Starvation

I have a good friend who is about as unlike me as it is possible to get and still stay within the species. Our politics are polar opposites --- to the point where I prefer not to discuss issues at all, though he would happily argue until the cows come home. Speaking of cows, he is an unabashed carnivore who dislikes plant food and I am a fishy-vegetarian. If we ever got locked in each other’s kitchens, we would starve.

For all our differences, he is a good friend. I find the “why” interesting enough that I’m telling you all this.

My friend values honor and loyalty, as do I. Now, I know a lot of people who are both honorable and loyal. I am fortunate in that. But I don’t know many who think about these traits as independent qualities, or who would value them particularly if they did.

My grandmother used to say that she’d rather spend time with someone she respected who disagreed with her than someone she didn’t respect. When I was young, and she was still alive, I didn’t really understand what she meant. Maybe I should get a Ouija board, just so she can say “I told you so.”

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Who Wants The Shoe?

Pass “Go”. Collect two hundred dollars. Roll again and move. These are words of wisdom, folks.

There’s a quote I’ve carried with me since Mrs. Jorgensen’s 11th grade English class. (Nothing to do with Monopoly™ -- wait for it, you know I always come back.) William Butler Yeats, “The eagle flies in an ever widening gyre.” That image has stayed with me since 1977. It describes a cycle, except you don’t end up where you started, you’re a bit higher. Then you go through it again and again, the same cycle, only each time it’s a little bigger, a little higher. There’s progress. No matter how discouraging, pointless or repetitive life seems, there’s always progress. That image has gotten me through a lot, and I’ve clung to it all these years, except…

Except it’s wrong. I finally looked it up. The actual quote is “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ The falcon cannot hear the falconer.” Not even an eagle, a falcon. Also cool, but sheesh. The poem really is by Yeats, and called “The Second Coming”. It’s religious, which I most sincerely am not. I don’t know about Mrs. Jorgensen but I suspect it’s way too late to ask.

Conceptual spank! Here was this metaphysical mental video that carried me through the dull and the bad, but now it turns out to be something else entirely. Read it yourself if you’re curious, that’s not my point.

I’m keeping the bath water and throwing out the baby. No, wait. That’s not right either. My beloved metaphor for the vicissitudes and travails we all face is less apt than a stupid Monopoly™ game. So instead of a lovely eagle in flight, now I have to use that old shoe going around the board. Sure, it’s always the same board, and you’ll land on someone else’s property and you won’t get the good Community Chest card, but every time you pass Go, you’ll still get your $200 and that’s still progress.

The moral here is: Don’t look a metaphor in the mouth, because it might bite you in the ass.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Nice Blog, Have A Cookie!

On Tuesday, September 23, 2008 I posted the following:

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

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

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


That’s the first post, unedited and in its entirety. I’ve posted more than 189 times since then.

For those of you who have asked “Why Scarycookies?” this is the best answer I can give. In other words, I don’t know. Why not?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Art Who?

Once upon a time, I took a “Philosophy of Aesthetics” class and on a rare day when I actually attended a lecture, the discussion was on the validity of artistic interpretation. Specifically, is it fair to find meaning in a work that the artist didn’t intend to put there? People who picket galleries or sign petitions to complain about a joke on a sitcom notwithstanding, there is a serious argument on both sides.

My grandmother read “The Lord of the Rings” back in the early 1960s. She liked it fine, no big deal, until she saw or read some interview with Tolkein in which he stated unequivocally that the story was not an anti-war allegory. All of a sudden, her perspective of the books shifted; what she had considered mediocre literature she suddenly considered a mediocre fairy tale.

I remembered all this when Robert and I were talking about music yesterday. He commented on the inanity of the lyrics of a band I like. Since I rarely understand anyone’s lyrics (old fogy alert!) that started me thinking.

You know that movie/TV show you really liked until you saw an interview with the star? Your experience with, and feelings for, the work changed because of the information that the actor is an egotist/idiot/(insert political affiliation here). It can go the other way, when you find out more about what the author/director intended, you take the work more seriously and give it another chance. Don’t make that face, it’s happened to me.

Art is an expression of meaning, or an experience of beauty, or both or neither. I enjoy music despite my complete ignorance of a lot of the lyrics. Traditional examples of beauty include sunsets and a child’s laugh. My own example would be the onion soup at Fleur de Lys. Does the depth of my admiration make a bowl of soup Art? Think of the first person who snorted, “My five year old paints better than that!” before you answer.

This is what happens when a degree in Philosophy outlives its sell-by date, folks. It ain’t pretty, and it sure ain’t art.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Angst In Your Pants?

Anxiety: part fear, part dread, all yuck. Worst of all, like self-pity, anxiety requires neither logic nor reason to flourish in abundance.

Sure, there are a million logical reasons to use “dread” as a verb. Read a newspaper (or whatever it is you do), answer the phone, open your email. Fear is Darwinian. Without hazards there would be no evolution, survival would not require adaptation. “That which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger,” etc.

But just as paper covers rock, and scissors cut paper, both chance and luck beat logic. In the middle of the gloriously crappy action-horror novel I’m reading was this chunk of gold: Nihil desperandum. “Never fear.” This is stupid.

Thinking about why it’s stupid was enlightening. Fear is good. It tells us to get out of the way of an erratic driver. It warns us to check caller I.D. and not to put stinky milk back in the fridge. Anxiety is the baby sibling of fear. It’s a whining and bratty sibling, nonetheless anxiety can be ultimately useful as motivation.

Trust your instincts. If you’re anxious, there’s a reason for it. Trace it, track it. Figure out if there’s something you can do to prevent whatever you’re afraid of, then do it.

But, if you’re anxious because of insecurity, that’s a different animal entirely. In that case, take a deep breath and know that even if you have doubts, I believe in you. Man up. One foot in front of the other, lift your chin and keep going. Trust me. You will get through this.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

De Feet

Picture one of those hardcore Ironman scenes. An elite group of gals and guys -- each completely devoid of a speck of body fat-- pound mercilessly toward the next challenge. Faces set, eyebrows grim, forcing themselves rhythmically forward through pain and trauma with nothing but discipline and those little chemically spiked Jello packets for fuel. Onward they go, toward survival, their watchword is “endurance”.

Okay, now imagine that the entire group stops for pizza and beer.

That’s pretty much where I am, only without the pizza or the beer. The 20 Jokes A Day marathon was going swimmingly until I ran smack into a metaphoric wall. Interestingly, that was after I managed ten on “foot massage”. The topic that stopped me wasn’t that tough. It was “time off” and the options were legion. God, Santa, Barbie – what would any of them do with a day off? The punk rocker listens to Lawrence Welk. The chef eats McNuggets. The comedian goes to funerals. I wrote nothing.

Still, I’m not admitting defeat. I’ve just paused to reflect. It’s the pause that refreshes. (What product used that line? I forget.) Anyhow, I expect to start up again any minute now, so if you have a topic, let me know.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


“Funny” is a funny thing. By this I mean that “funny ha-ha” is “funny strange”.

It’s happened to you, lots of times. @rpaulwilson was here for dinner last night and I started telling some of my jokes from yesterday, which were stupid and not particularly funny. This devolved into all of us telling old and silly jokes, which in themselves weren’t funny but the accretion was hilarious. Laughter is a flame and anything becomes fuel until it sputters out.

Contrast this with the last time someone tried to make you laugh when you were depressed or just pissed off. Nothing is funny then, the flame never sparks.

Stay with me here, this is a mini-meme. I’m doing Jokes Of The Day in order to make better sparks, or to be able to spark on command. The challenges this time around have been fierce -- eye twitches, velociraptors, all you can eat restaurants -- to the point where I’ve dropped the minimum down to ten from twenty, keeping pretty much the same ratio of sparks to duds. (The random “Tudor regicide confectionery” joke doesn’t count, except maybe to the glorious @radiantfracture.)

The funny-strange thing is, it’s working. So much so that when I was given “Jello molds” for today, my brain started percolating. Then, this morning on the way to the gym, the radio cooking show mentioned Jello Easter eggs. I made the following note on my hand at the next red light: J-EG’s.

Now that I’m sitting here trying to write jokes about Jello molds, the fundamental problem becomes obvious. Sure, I can craft a joke with breezy ease and perfect ba-dum-bum cadence. But, to flog the metaphor that’s already been squeezed dry, I’m trying to start a flame with soggy matches. Writing them is easier, but “funny” is still elusive.

That’s when I realized that funny is a funny thing. Please keep the topics coming, folks. I’m not ready to give up yet.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

What Zen?

It’s that time again, folks. My funny bone has atrophied. So and therefore, I’m going back into hardcore training. I’m committing to 20 jokes a day… again.

If you have any warmth towards me at all, or if you just want me to suffer, pretty please with sugar-free sweetener on top give me topics. Anything. I may not get a full twenty out of all of them, but I promise to try. If you don’t, I’ll be stuck with whatever is in the newspaper(s) and the very thought of writing political humor makes me shudder.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Slash & Burn

Once in a while, for me and for you and for this silly little blog, I prune the archives. Sometimes the words just don’t zing. Worse, they go stale. Of course you noticed, but you’re too sweet and polite to say anything.

Three posts just got the ax.

It’s easy to mistake Thought for Significance. Hell, it’s easy to mistake a lot of things for significance – or for thought, now that I think about it. Did you know that this blog has had parameters from the beginning? “No politics” is the first one. The Internet doesn’t need my coal.

Those of you who know me in 3-D will be impressed by my clean language here. Cussing online is like wine. I have a glass now and then, and I occasionally post a word the networks won’t air. However, I try to write with more emphatic vocabulary than that to which I so often devolve out loud.

Lastly, there aren’t any emoticons. Sure, my tweets are full of them, but here I have the luxury of complete sentences. You can tell when I’m being wry or facetious. You’re still reading. Q.E.D.

No politics, nice diction and no emoticons: if the bar were any lower an ant couldn’t limbo under it. Yet somehow the bland and the beige ooze through, which is why I have to slash and burn.

As I always do whenever I’ve done a purge, with one hand on an E. F. Benson novel, I swear oaths of wit and pith for the future. Only gems from here out.

Yeah, right. We should be so lucky. ;)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Just A Quickie

We were having lunch in a small café (RM Seafood, for the faithful.) Two 20-something women sat at the next table, quite close to ours. One was being loud about how much she hates the people at her office. She really, really hates them.

At this point the drinks came and we missed a sentence or two.

As soon as the waiter left, she was talking about the “disgusting and humiliating” things “he” makes her do. No, I have no idea who “he” is. Robert charitably contends it’s a boyfriend, but I say there wasn’t time for that big a segue, she had to be talking about her boss.

The pertinent information is that whoever he is, the thing he puts over her head gets her hair all wet.

Friday, March 12, 2010


“Away” is existential. Sure, there’s the literal geography of being in a different place. That’s a given. But you can be elsewhere physically and leave your mind back home. I didn’t do that.

Alice fell down her hole. (Heh-heh, I said “hole”.) Dorothy rode her cyclone. Arthur Dent hitched. I just drove up Interstate 15 until we hit Shangri-La. Wondrous food, blinking lights, sparkly clean toilets with automated soap dispensers – Las Vegas is more fun for me as an adult than Disneyland ever was for me as a child.

Again, all of that is a given. Those of you who’ve followed this blog (and big hugs to you!) have read about it before. I’m stuck trying to explain why this trip was bigger than all the previous. It was, and more.

No, I didn’t win lots of money. Well I did, but I graciously gave it back before we left. The food was both abundant and marvelous, the butternut risotto with gingersnap foam and candied pecans created just for me by the chef at Fleur de Lys (don’t try to order it, it’s not on the menu) will be a fond memory always. That was after the hostess recognized my face and smiled us to our regular table without me ever saying my name.

Birthday flowers (lilacs in March in the desert!) along with a five layer birthday cake and enormous tropical fruit basket appeared magically in the room. Mountains of the most delectable pastries gifted by the Bouchon chef at breakfast were devoured with the amazing piles of food we’d actually ordered. Tony the Jedi-waiter at RM liked my haircut. The chef at Fleur spoiled me gorgeously for mere mortal chow.

And the stories, oh my, the stories were funny. I’ll give you those in dribs and drabs while I try to parse the mental stuff, the Zen of elsewhere. Onward and backward we will go, my darlings. Excelsior!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

That's Heavy, Man

Intangibles have weight. Obviously stress, tension and anxiety put lead in our spirits, but mundane repetition can do the same thing.

You wake up with the residue of subconscious motley fading from awareness then bam! Foreknowledge of the upcoming day falls on your head, chasing away dream’s last absurdity. Not enough to keep you in bed, but depending on the day, it might be enough to make you want to stay there.

You don’t. Like a brave little soldier you get up and slog. I’m proud of you for that. Even though you know that one guy is going to piss you off like he always does. Despite traffic, a mountain of potentially meaningless effort and phone calls, you persevere. Kudos belong to you, my dear friend. Your stamina and fortitude deserve reward.

I have neither stamina nor fortitude, but I’m getting a reward anyway. Knock wood for me please, sweetie, we’re off to Vegas tomorrow. I’m going cold turkey off the grid this time, too. My antique cell phone doesn’t receive email, and I’ve cut off all Twitter access to it as well. I’ve never done that before. This is a test of the emergency sanctuary system. It’s spiritual fasting via sensory overload, to lighten my soul and fatten my belly.

You’ll get a full report when I return, with the usual pix if all goes well. Please take good care of yourself in the meantime.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Clap Your Hands!

Yes, Tinkerbell, sometimes people are nice.

I know I’m the last person you’d expect to say that. Relax and breathe. My cynicism remains extreme. Logic and rationality require that I make allowances.

Nearly every day, someone – I have no idea who – stacks all three of my newspapers in a tidy pile on our lawn. Once or twice I’ve gone out early and had to crawl under my car and onto my neighbor’s yard to collect them, but most days there they are, three plastic-covered newsprint Lincoln logs.

You remember those old bumper stickers: “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty”. You know the ones. Well, someone out there is really doing it. Despite the disruption of my bleak worldview, this is me saying “Thank you.”

Sunday, February 28, 2010

See, See, See?

On Sunday nights, I take my beloved mother out to dinner. Tonight's place was packed. When we left, the parking lot was full. The car next to mine had its lights on.

“Wait for me a second,” I said to my mother after she got into the car. “I’m going to tell them their lights are on.”

“Tell who?” she asked. “You don’t know whose car it is.”

“It’s the Russian guys who took the table next to ours. Trust me.” I went back in with a grin.

“Excuse me, but do you gentlemen drive a white minivan?” They nodded. “Your lights are on.”

The oldest of them ran out ahead of me and turned off the lights. He went back inside just as quickly, after saying thank you but without asking me how I knew it was theirs. My mother was more curious. As I backed out of the parking space, I pointed to the license plate. 4CCCP.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Call Me Virgil

This story ends fine. I don’t want you to stress. But finely as it ended, there was comedy, pathos and even terror amid things, so let us begin. Take my hand, Dante, it’s time to roll.

Yesterday I went to the DMV without an appointment. I left after 1:00 p.m. to avoid any lunch rush. Ha. 45 minutes to find a space of dubious legality half a mile away, up a hill. Then there was the standing line that stretched out of the building and around the block-- in unexpectedly blazing afternoon heat. About another hour to get my numbered ticket, but once I got into the shade I didn’t care. Not quite two hours after that I was at the window.

She wore a T-shirt that said “Bow to me”, which should have been a tip-off. The change of address displeased her, but her mood brightened when my nearsighted eye couldn’t pass the eye test. I see 20/20 with both eyes, but one contact lens is set for reading, not distance. She acted as if my license was in jeopardy then waved me to a machine at the end of the row.

“Put your forehead on that!” It was greasy and rather disgusting, but her fear tactics worked. I obeyed. “Read line one!” I did, with clarion precision, while she had a conversation with a coworker. I lifted my head. “Put your head back!” I did. “Read line two!” I did. She fiddled, it got blurry. “Line five!” I managed, she fiddled, blurrier. “Line six!” I died inside. “I can’t.” More fiddle, then clarity returned. “Line three!” Proudly, I announced every letter. She stopped talking. Timidly, I peeked out. She’d gone back to her window. I scurried. “Here’s your temporary license. Wait in line for the camera.”

Who could begrudge the next 50 minute line? I waited in a cloud of relief to be thumb-printed and processed. As 5:00 struck and the office officially closed, I watched tragedy strike. A charming old man got lost in the sardine-packed crowd looking for the window when his number was called. The employee he approached for help told him, “You have to go back and get a new number.” That broke my heart.

On the plus side, my parking space turned out to be fine. I was home by 6:00, with eight pages left to read in the book I’d brought with me.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bureaucracy Loves Company

Little things matter. I’ve read books that try to quantify how random interactions with relative strangers can have pervasive effects. Sure, we all know that one bad driver on the way to work can ruin your morning, but there’s a good side to this single. (Kids, ask your grandfolks what a record is. Be prepared to hear about AOR radio and the movie “FM”. Counter that with “Airheads”. If you’re too young to remember “Airheads” then you shouldn’t be reading this. Go play World of Warcraft, or whatever it is young people do nowadays.)

A smile from someone you see regularly -- whether it’s the security guard, a barista or a fellow drone -- can make you feel like you’re not in it alone, whatever “it” is. It’s not just misery that loves company; a good laugh is best shared.

What’s my point? On Monday I’ll be dropping by my friendly neighborhood Department of Motor Vehicles to wait in line and renew my driver’s license. Granted, the DMV is neither friendly nor in my neighborhood, but I expect to share this experience with a number of strangers who, by the end of what I presume will be a lengthy wait, will be familiar strangers. It’s my own fault for forgetting that the deadline approacheth, and I will pay my penance in time and patience. Hopefully there will be someone else who will see the humor in the situation, and with luck, I’ll share a smile or two. If not, I might be able to give a first hand analysis of the Stockholm Syndrome.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Language is both volatile and subjective. A word can imply something completely different to you than it does to me – or worse, something slightly different, just enough to skew but not enough to be obvious.

Let’s put it another way. When you hear “blue” you think of a particular shade that’s different from the one I see in my head. Fine and good. It’s hard to think of a situation where that would matter. But for other words, those little nuances can shift the meaning into a whole n’other ballpark.

What do we intend when we say things? I think most ordinary conversation communicates emotions, not ideas. “How are you?” can translate to “I like you and I am pleased to see you now” as much as it can “Ugh, you again! I’ll be polite until I can get away, which I hope will be soon.” The particular word choices are less significant here, the feelings affect the flow.

But, and it’s a big but, when the feelings are complex or strong or potentially conflicting, the words matter – whether we’re hearing them or saying them. Our personal interpretations can inflame the most innocent comment. This is why I am starting to think that feeling may supersede meaning.

That’s heresy coming from me, given my lifelong love of narrative and philosophy. Meaning used to be the crown, and words the jewels of which it was made. But where there is genuine goodwill, we ought to be able to transcend verbal differences. I ought to be able to. With one hand on my beloved paper dictionary, I’m going to try to. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Rain Check

This wasn’t going to be my next post. I’m taking a break in our regularly scheduled blogging because it’s raining.

Go ahead, make a joke, I’ll wait.

It’s true, I am Southern Californian, born and bred. I’ve lived here my whole life. Rain is a big deal. It’s not that cold and there’s something delightfully disruptive about the spattering. Not to mention that in the middle of a drought, there’s water all over the place. How decadent is that?

Really, that’s what it’s all about, abundance in the midst of rationing. Imagine butter and eggs falling on World War Two communities. Okay, maybe not. My brain is soggy. Or maybe I’m just loopy from the pitter patter. Still, it’s fun.

Not so much for the little dog, though. The water goes up to his haunches, which makes peeing problematic, or it would if he was willing to go outside. Fog may creep in on little cat feet, but rain makes all four of a dog’s legs cross.