Monday, June 27, 2005

Partylands

Here’s a post about how you can’t really go back, even if sometimes you’d like to.  I have my reasons for saying so now.  More on that later.

I really didn’t experience it this way, but looking back it would seem that I went to a lot of parties when I was growing up.  There were birthdays, commencements, workshop events, jewish youth group events.... I’m not talking about big lifetime changes and major religious stuff, they’re independent of this - they’re “real.” Mostly, these parties were sort of made-up, except for birthdays, which were semi-industrialized anyway.  For these other minor sorts of celebrations, there were places designed to host parties, and people who needed to have a party for their kids went there to have them. 

Now, apparently, those places have been supplanted by the threateningly quasi-eponymous Chuckly Cheep Eatsa, a menagerie of overstimulated, undersupervised children and carbo-lactoid foodstuffs.  I haven’t been; maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge - but it sounds like the Hooters model, for kids.  There’s probably some feeder system between the two, with a “special delivery” pizza from Chuckly’s hot Hooters friend for your 16th birthday. 

But anyway, this is about the earlier parties.  All the parties I went to when I was a kid.  I remember that they weren’t all at the same loud, garrish, chaotic place every time - they were at a variety of different loud, garrish chaotic places.  I remember some of those places with particular fondness, and so, of course, today you’re stuck with them too.  I have no reason to think you’ll care about these places, but I have deep associations with each of them; they each play unique roles in my own interior iconography and nostalgic cartography.  They are places of freedom and mystery and escape.  I often wonder how they would look to me now. 

Ponyland: A tiny amusement park at Beverly and La Cienega, with pony rides I found inexplicably depressing as a three-year-old, and a funhouse/scary ride that made me shriek with anxious joy.  Even when I was so very small, I knew this place was modest in the extreme, but its scale suited me and I enjoyed it in inverse proporation to its size and my own.  The site is now occupied by the beverly center, the epitome of the elaborate commercial ghetto, the mall that sets the standard for malling internationally.  Meantime, I still sometimes find myself at old Ponyland in my dreams. 

Flookeys: this was a dogs and burgers place with garish yellow and black striped walls, and batting cages.  It smelled of mustard and ketchup, and people tended to shout there.  Despite my lack of baseball-hitting skill, it was fun to go there and endure the batting cage experience.  It made me feel liked and competent.  In retrospect, I have no idea why.  Additionally, I think it was used as the location for the video shoot for “Roscoe’s Theme” from Tapeheads, which is a great song in a deeply underappreciated flick, which only makes me appreciate Flookey’s all the more. 

Farrells: this was a throwback joint that sought to emulate some idealized version of 1905, with candystriped red-white wallpaper and bent wire chairs - more an ice cream parlour than a restaurant.  They specialized in parties for kids who liked to gorge on butterfat till they puked, with special rewards for overeating - if you finished all the ice cream in a certain wooden serving trough, for example, they’d give you a badge honoring how you “made a pig of [your]self”.  Even more impressive was “The Zoo,” a massive concatenation of, what?  24? scoops of goo, with toppings and sauce and a menagerie of small plastic souvenier animals scattered throughout - undoubtedly now recognized for the choking hazard that they were, but then truly prized commodities.  They’d run “The Zoo” out on a stretcher carried by two be-vested creamlackeys, accompanied by a third banging on a shoulder-bourne bass drum.  (here is a link to a clip of The Zoo being presented in full glory, like piping out the kiddy haggis.) The whole place was a noisy sticky mess, and we all loved it. 

Travel Town: Up on the Burbank side of Griffith Park, a bunch of old rail sidings have been set out as a sort of museum of rolling stock.  You could climb all over the engines and tenders and cabooses, all reasonably secured against the most obviously forseeable tragedies.  Nearby were live 1/8th scale steamers (of the non-cleveland variety); you could sit astraddle them and they’d take you on a quick circuit of a small track.  Some of my favorite parties were in special T-town dining cars reserved for the revels of youth.  Trains are, by definition, cool; and old trains, that much cooler.  T-town was a great place to party.

Mystery Theater: I don’t recall what this place was called, or exactly where it was.  It was in the valley somewhere, unobtrusively sited near the nice houses south of the boulevard, or in a light industrial area, or something.  It was a theater in which a simple, surrealistic show would be staged with puppets and what the brits call pantomime characters - people in goofy fuzzy suits.  There were blacklights and songs and the birthday kid got to sit on a magic toadstool; all the action was aimed to honor the lucky celebrant and then, after the show, everybody got some candy.  I always thought it was a weird place, but it was fun anyway.  I often wonder now what the hell really went on there.

Since those days I’ve developed an aversion to “party places;” I prefer home-based celebrations.  There’s something about a special place set aside for partying that seems so artificial as to deaden my celebratory spirit.  But when I was little, such qualms did not trouble me.  I have reason to believe that I’ve lost something precious in the transition. 

Today is a good day to revisit these recollections and ruminations because I leave early tomorrow for a week with my mom and extended family down in south florida.  It’s a new home for mom, and a mostly-unexplored world for me.  I’m expecting to have a nice time, to stay busy, to eat well, and most importantly, to reconnect with people I love.  Mom took me to all the places I’ve written of here, and many more; now she’ll take me to new places in a community unknown to me.  I’ll keep the old partylands in mind as I acquaint myself with these new realms, and I’ll try to make each one of them as much of a party as I can.  I’ll be back on July 5.  Till then, try to have fun.  Safe and sane is good too, but make sure you enjoy yourself.  I’ll return with a nice story about setting fire to things.

that's just the way it seems to me at 07:50 AM
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Friday, June 24, 2005

The Rock Garden

I came home from the conference downtown on a saturday midafternoon, tired and worn and glad to be home.  I dropped my messenger bag in the foyer and ambled back to our bedroom, where a radical and unwelcome change met my bleary eyes:

Our bedroom overlooks the backyard, except that the backyard hasn’t ever really been ours - Oma, who lives in the garage apartment, had claimed it as her domain long before we ever moved in.  Her bitter scowl and monolingual cantonese harrangues were more than enough to dissuade us from any more than the most fleeting sojourns into her emerald quadrangle.  Rather, we enjoyed it from above, looking out from our windows over the lawn and its slim border of fruit trees and flowering bushes.  Every few years I’d venture down to pluck a few plums, but otherwise I avoided the region goverened by Oma’s ancient claws and unwavering glare of disapproval.

Well, when I looked down at the backyard this particular saturday afternoon, it looked different: the grass was gone.  Utterly gone.  Not mowed, nor rototilled nor burned away - it had actually been paved.  The border remained, a hollow oasis of color and life, but the entire interior of the yard was concrete - grey and petrified.  Two small carefully-formed rosettes of earth remained in the middle as “features,” to be hemmed in with some scalloped pink borderbricks laid out ready for installation.  Half the yard had been tiled with large textured square pavers, giving the impression of the public walkways at a local government center; more pavers lay around, awaiting installation.  Over it all, the wind blew coldly. 

It made me think of treasures buried and the ellimination of beauty from a too-coarse, too-hard world, thoughts that stayed with me as I rode the bus to work two days later.  The ride, as always, rolled past my bank’s downtown branch, and past the alabaster-clad shell of the building across the cross-street where the bank used to live. When this now-empty building housed my bank, it was the epitome of mid-60s modernist antihumanism: a flat featureless facade, white as bleached bones but less friendly, 20 stories of vacant glass eyes staring catatonically like a drowning victim hoisted on a gaff at the wharf.  The bank offices on the ground floor were devoid of all personality, and the rest of the building was worse - it actually seemed to suck personality away from the street.

A year or so ago the bank moved to another nearby building, one with some vestige of architectural significance.  The old offices sat vacant; then, not long ago, scaffolding went up and something amazing started happening: the sheets of tired white siding that had clad it for so many years began to come down.  I’d had no idea that there was another building hiding inside the one I knew.  This new, old building that I finally saw being exposed, piece by piece, has a handsome red brick and rusticated sandstone facade, with modest ogees curling in at small insets a few stories up and a deeply ornamented semicircular arch over the entryway - a petrified garland, surmounted by an oculus window, currently boarded and probably vacant, but surely soon to be restored, all hidden for generations, hidden from generations, and only now finally re-emerging to share its handsome details with the dirty preoccupied street. 

MORAL: What is covered, will someday be divulged.  That backyard I never visited?  It’s still down there, and it will eventually return.  My job will be to make better use of it once it’s back - and, in the meantime, to see the other gardens that shelter under the featureless stone.

that's just the way it seems to me at 09:29 AM
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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Here Be There Santa-Eating Tygers

I really don’t know what to do about this anymore.  Here I think I’m being all edgy and funny and provocative, and I get THREE COMMENTS and they’re thanking me for reminding them of a nice song that makes them feel good. FEEL GOOD? I’ll show you feel good, all right.  I’ll show you right here.  Oh, and you’re welcome.  Glad you found the edgy funny post so heartwarming and touching.  jeez. 

So, what’s the opposite of heartwarming?  Going to the municipal dump!  Yay, we went to the dump twice this past weekend, and it was a delightful experience - though I must quote (patty?  selma?  YOU MAKE THE CALL): “that’s a stench I could have done without.” But the stench was only coming from the landfill, which we just drove past; the dump itself was tidy, well-organized, and fascinating.  “Fascinating?,” I hear you wondering in your benighted minds.  Yes goddamn it, it was fascinating, and here’s why: they have a hillside that’s covered with recovered weirdness of all shapes and sizes, and though I couldn’t climb up into it to get some of the shots I wanted, here’s a nice selection of some - but by no means all - of the abandoned pantomime figurines and grotesque manequins and strangely painted objects trovees that live up on the cactus-bristling slopes:

(oh and here’s a hint, if you hit F11 you can maximize your screen and get more detail on these.  It can help; these have some cool detail if’n I do say so meself.)
burned baby and rusty deer.jpg

flagrant head.jpg

frightful spirits.jpg

and of course, my favorites are the ones with the big old decaying fake tiger:
refrigerators.jpg

santa-hungry tiger.jpg

So: here’s where we start with the transition from dump photography to signage and urban decay, two of my longstanding favorite subjects. This first sign was next to the dump’s inbound weigh scale, and it seems to hold some kind of secret message if only we could unlock it:
recycle.jpg

Then, on the way home, we happened to be stuck on a freeway offramp for a while and I took a photo I rather like of the guardrail.  And of course, if I liked it, you’re stuck with it:
guardrail.jpg

Finally, here are two old signs I have admired for years; I don’t know how much longer either of them will remain up so here’s your chance to appreciate them in the comfort of whereever the hell you are right now:
mufflers.jpg

veterans cab.jpg

That’s all I’ve got, folks.  Thursday I expect to be out of cybercontact most all of the day, doing a site visit and living large with my homies, or whatever happens on these visits.  But I’ll make the most of it.  Even if they don’t have giant rotting tigerdummies.  However, I’ll count that against them on the final evaluation.  I’m pretty harsh that way.

that's just the way it seems to me at 10:47 PM
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Misnomer No More, Miss

Well things have been pretty heavy lately here at the ‘hut.  I’ve been getting all maudlin and drippy and, ya know, not actually very chuckly.  And that’s a darn shame, because I’ve seen one hell of a lot of funny stuff on line lately.  I just added Steve the Sneeze to my blogroll list, he’s good for many laughs; and the “Best of Craigs List” is on the sidebar now as well; there was the “happy the dog” video that I’m not finding again right now but really, it’s hilariously cautionary, and of course there’s spiderman rating a bunch of crayons.  Frankly, there’s a dad-blame passel of funny crap out there to waste time on, and here I am calling myself “chuckles” and making people get all emotional and engaged and whatnot.  Is this false advertising?  So far this week, yes it is - notwithstanding the embarassing pictures of myself as a child.  In light whereof, I’m going to take the unprecedented step of… well, I’m not sure what this is, but it’s time to post it so here goes. 

You remember the Honeydrippers?  In the early ‘80s, Robert Plant indulged his affinity for olde-fashioned U.S. r&b by assembling a superstar band, which wound up releasing one album and doing one fairly successful tour.  This enticed any number of other bands to seek their fortune by imitating the ‘drippers sound and style, hoping to capitalize on their success and audience.  Unfortunately, Plant’s resumption of a solo career put the Honeydrippers out of business and left the knockoff bands high and dry, never to get a chance to scam his audience with their rehashed and shopworn music.  They were mercenary and unimaginative - but that’s no reason to deny them the recognition that is their due.  If Bo Bice gets to be famous, then these guys do too.  Here, then, is a list of bands that would have tried to capitalize on the popularity of The Honeydrippers but never got a recording contract:

* The Sugar Shovelers
* The Simple Syrup Swizzlers
* The Children’s Dimetapp Droppers
* The Karo Cornholers
* The Gelato Samplers
* The Antifreeze Puddlers
* The Royal Jelly Vialsuckers
* The Duck Saucers
* The Sor Ghummers
* The Sugar Beeters
* The Marshmallow Fluffers
* The Seeping Genitals

Too far?  okay, I think that’s about all for now, then.  I’ll put up some weird photos tomorrow.  Till then, keep rockin’, or whatever it is you’re doing over there.  But you may want to close those shades.  I still think the neighbors can see you.

that's just the way it seems to me at 01:40 AM
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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Promenade

He always seemed a little lost, and she always acted like she’d just found him again.  His face bore witness both to years of hard experience, and to unvarnished naievete - a look of curiosity and wonder shining out from under a reticule of faint wrinkles.  His hair was boyishly cut with long sandy bangs that shaded his eyes; he wore comfortable casual pants and golf shirts, and she invariably hung tightly to his arm. 

She was older than he was, and made no effort to soften the ravages time had wrought on her face: her thin lips pursed; her tired brow furrowed; and her chin pointed accusingly at the whole wide world.  She wore nice luncheon dresses, with pale stockings and matching shoe-purse-belt combinations.  She emanated an air of impatient frustration, clinging to his arm as they walked, in no great hurry, everywhere.  I saw them downtown and on the Haight, in my ‘hood and on the bus and all kinds of places.  They were always together, him with eyes downcast, watching out on her behalf for pavement cracks and sidewalk soilage, and her glaring out into traffic with ill-concealed disdain, or against golden beams of sunlight that utterly failed to penetrate her opaque visage. 

They shared a hairstyle, though she wore it much less casually.  They shared a brow and nose and chin, each reflecting the other’s physiognomy sufficiently to establish beyond doubt that they were related, and very closely. With every step they took during their mutual perambulations she broadcast her creation of him, her ownership.  He existed to assist her.  She existed because, otherwise, none of the rest of reality would have had any reason to have come into being in the first place. 

I rarely saw her speak and never heard her voice when speak she did, for she spoke in hushed and withered words, uttered with scant and sour breath, whispered to her son as private jibes against a world that could never meet her expectations, much less win her approval. 

Anyway, over the past five or ten years that I’d noticed them out together, that’s how it looked to me. 

Recently, however, I saw him out walking, and she was not with him.  Instead, he was with another woman - one much closer to his age, who didn’t look too much like he did; a woman with hair that was stylishly cut and teased by the breezes, and stockingless legs that were kissed by the untamed air.  Her arm was wrapped through his, but her grip on him was companionable, not possessive.  Her eyes sparkled as she glanced up at the pigeons skipping from rooftop to rooftop, and his eyes gazed, not down to the grimy pavement in search of hazards to avoid, but clear out to the horizon, taking in the view as if he’d never seen it before.

that's just the way it seems to me at 08:51 AM
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Sunday, June 19, 2005

Dapper Dan on Daddy Day

Father’s Day: what an interesting time of year.  We’re verging on the solstice; mornings come early and night comes late; the air is full of warmth and potential and even though I’m working harder than ever, I’m enjoying it too.  Coincidentally, my mom just sent me a small cache of photos that her brother had acquired from their parents - photos of myself in exceptional sartorial splendor with some exceptional friends (coincidences to be explained below).  Here, let’s take a peek at a few:

This is me in late 1969, I suppose, ready to hit the house of worship for channukah services.  The silver menorah behind me is german, from the 19th century, and though I can’t say we were “friends,” it was and remains one of my favorite things in the world.  The same goes for the globe behind me, which features Pangea and Swaziland but was lots of fun to spin into a blur.  The nehru jacket, on the other hand, was not so much a big favorite of mine at the time, but in retrospect I sort of carried it off.  I guess I was a pretty hip little kid.  Sometimes.

Sometimes I was less hip.  Here I am with two dear friends - one who needs no introduction, and Mr. Harry Kim.  Harry was, effectively, “adopted” by my maternal grandparents after uncle Dick met him, curiously enough, in Korea, during a military assignment there.  Harry wanted to move to the states and become an engineer, and my grandfather helped that happen and set him up in a good job in our ancestral hometown of Lima, Ohio; Harry stayed there his whole career, eventually retiring as plant manager of a huge oil refinery.  He has been and remains a close friend to the family for fifty years, and was a devoted support to my grandparents till they both passed.  Harry and his family are our family.  On a different note, I do not recall owning this striped jumper-stetson ensemble, but I will take this photo as a caution never to wear anything like it again.  Oh, the humanity.

Finally, this is a photo of my dear dad and me working the n-gauge model train he built for me in the garage.  This was a damn fine train set, eventually running past three stations with several switches and sidings.  It must have been pretty new at this time because all we seem to have had set up was the primary figure-8 track, and our polka-dot trainsmen’s hats seem brand spanking new.  I had a great time with that train, and it was really good “dad time,” too.  So thanks, mom, for sending these photos along, and thanks, dad, for putting in the time and making my childhood so delightful (despite anything to the contrary I might have said at the time), and for being there for me and my family from then till now with steadfast love and heartfelt committment.

These sentiments of paternal appreciation are foremost in my mind this season because this is the first Father’s Day on which I consider myself an honoree - though still by a bit of a remove: we are waiting to travel to Korea to take our new son home.  Kelly and I have been working for some time on adopting a baby and we got word a few weeks ago that we’ve been approved and that our son has been assigned to us.  He’s three months old and doing very well with a foster family outside of Seoul; we should be able to go get him sometime around October.  Our lives now are a rondelay of preparation and anticipation as we read and watch and imagine how we’ll handle the coming new world we will inhabit as a family.  This is, for me, a father’s day to remember - looking back at good fatherly memories, and looking forward to making some new ones of my own.  Wish us luck.  This time next year I’ll be needing a lot of it.

that's just the way it seems to me at 09:07 AM
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Friday, June 17, 2005

…. and also much cattle. *

Tony was part of every child’s pantheon.  We all knew about him, along with Ronald and Mickey and Toucan Sam - these were characters, commercial though they have have been, who were members of our households, universally recognized if not always beloved. 

Well, Tony was beloved.  Whether your mom let you eat of the sugared cereal or not (for the record, mine did not), Tony was a good guy.  He was powerful, yet protective; dangerous, yet benign.  His roar signalled, not impending doom from slashing cruel incisors, but milk-resistent sugar-plated treats.  He was a carnivore who chose to stick with carbohydrates.  Among all our corporate logo buddies, he was the one you’d always pick first for your team.

I, however, had a special relationship with Tony the Tiger: he went to my syagogue.  He was, in real life, Thurl Ravenscroft, a distinguished-looking guy with white hair that swept back majesterially from a patrician brow, a silver mane for a cartoon feline.  His voice rumbled up from subterranean depths; his ruddy face seemed carved of pink marble.  In a congregation that hosted a cantor who sang with deep sweet profundity like no one else I’ve ever heard, Tony the Tiger had the voice we waited all year long to hear. 

He stepped up to the pulpit annually on Yom Kippur day - the day of atonement, the most solemn day of the jewish calendar.  By the time he mounted the bima, we were lightheaded and cottonmouthed from 18 hours of fasting and prayer.  He always came forward in the afternoon to read the traditional haftorah - the scriptural compliment to the week’s torah portion.  The torah is the first five books, Genesis through Deuteronomy; the haftorah is the rest of the bible.  Each week has its assigned torah and haftorah portions, and the haftorah for Yom Kippur is the Book of Jonah. 

So Tony the Tiger stood before us and read the entire story of Jonah, that deep booming voice working its way under our skin and into our souls, bringing to life the perilous seas, the leviathan’s hunger, God’s command and judgement.  He made it good, and we - accustomed as we were to the finest entertainment that Los Angeles could produce - sat in rapt wonder, living the bible through his voice. 

It’s been many years since I was in LA for the high holidays, many years since I last heard Thurl Ravenscroft do this reading.  I’ve found a congregation up here that plugs into my spirituality more effectively and intimately than any I’ve ever attended.  Even so, I never hear the Book of Jonah, or even think of it, without being reminded of that baritone tiger rumbling and roaring it out to me on those sweltering starved afternoons.

It all comes back to me now, out of time and out of season.  I read recently that Mr. Ravenscroft has lost a battle with cancer.  He now lives in remembrance, and on commercials of course, but never again will he recite the scripture to me. Luckily, I will never forget how it felt to hear it as he spoke it.  It was great. 

*Jon. 4:11

that's just the way it seems to me at 09:04 AM
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Thursday, June 16, 2005

Return of Recipe Corner: SEARED CARAMELIZED FENNEL SALMON McNUGGETS

That’s right, you thought you didn’t want to be me after you heard what kind of a week I was having.  But really, the ancillary benefits of being me more than make up for the transient inconvenience of working my ass off for 9 hours at the office and another hour or so at home.  And by ancillary benefits, I mean:

Seared Caramelized Fennel Salmon

Mix some* sesame oil and somewhat less olive oil in a bowl, and add large-crystal salt (sea salt, kosher, whatever, but not that wimpy granulated crap they serve in little paquets at McD’s) and sugar in equal amounts.  Shake in about 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds and red chili flakes.  Set aside and admire how very clever you are for thinking of this recipe.

*I didn’t measure any of this crap.  I’m a free spirit, man.  I know ‘cuz I read the last post.

Then get yer salmon fillets (did I mention you’d need salmon fillets? No? Well too bad. Go fetch’em.  Me and your underware drawer will be here when you get back) and remove the skin.  This is not so difficult if you use a sharp knife and a little bit of patience - start at what would be the front of the fillet if it were still on the fish, slice with the grain of the flesh, and the skin peels off pretty easily.  Once you have nekked fillets, cut’em into pieces a bit too big to stuff in your mouth without cutting them again, and drop’em in the spiced oils; manipulate the fishy oily mess all together till the fish is well-covered.

Get a dry (not oiled) heavy skillet smoking hot on the stovetop. This is a good place to use cast-iron; it imparts the richest color and the most heat in the least amount of time.  But whatever, you do what you want, you’re a free spirit.  Lay out the oily fillets ex-skin-side down in the skillet for about 2 minutes, without moving them around, and then turn them over to fry for another minute or so.  They’re done when you start to see the white fat seeping from the sides of the meat.  Remove from heat, enplate, and consume - in my case, with a nice stew of beans, tomato and yellow chives, simmered for the 20 minutes or so I took to invent and cook the fish recipe. 

Suggested pairing: Mirror Pond Pale Ale and the Daily Show.  In a pinch, you can substitute Futurama. 

That’s about all I’ve got for now.  Time to get to the dry cleaner’s, and then to the phlebotomist, and then downtown for a little cheap-n-greasy breakfast and a thick chaw of honest labor.  I left my book of scribbled essays at work yesterday but I’ll be able to pop off with another of my typical screeds for you tomorrow.  Looks like a grey cloudy day.  I think I’ll have a good one, notwithstanding.

that's just the way it seems to me at 08:20 AM
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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Freedom’s Just Another Word for Get Back to Work

I will admit it: this week is kicking my ass, and it’s still only wednesday.  I have been massaging so much data at work that I’m turning into a massagonist.  My mind boils and seethes (mmm seethey) with things that would be interesting (to me) and fulfilling (to me) to write about, but I’ve not got the time-energy combo-pak to get them from my scrawlbook to this pristine screen.  Today I get to make a presentation at the departmental meeting about the current status of the strategic planning process, and it’s just as thrilling as it sounds.  Plus, I have to get to the office earlier than usual today so I can do a lot more work than usual in less time than usual, and still leave very much on schedule to cook and eat supper early enough to fast for 12 hours for a blood test tomorrow morning for my physical next week.... suffice it to say, oy.

This leads me to think that I do have one thing to share today, not for your benefit you freaking freeloaders (I kid, I kid, you guys are the best) but for my own, a message of self-affirmation and -empowerment that I would hope carries me through my day with strength and pride.  It is my mantra of autonomy in the face of a sea of obstacles cast down around me by a cruel unfeeling universe; my challenge to myself to overcome slings, arrows, darts and javelins, and all the innumerable and unnameable trials that will ineffectually endure my persistent existence for the forseeable future.  And it is this:

YOU CAN’T HOLD ME DOWN, MAN.  I’M A FREE SPIRIT.* ** *** **** *****

* free with minimum purchase.
** limited time only
*** not good with any other offer
**** valid only at participating locations
***** while supplies last

Remember, you’re as free as I tell you you are.  Now go out and vote or make some art or something.  I have work to do.

that's just the way it seems to me at 08:19 AM
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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Weekend: You Wish You Were Me (Plus Convent Canines)

Okay, right, the weekend.  After the amazing response I got from the heron post yesterday, it’s obvious to me that y’all are mostly interested in who I saw and what I ate (or vice-versa) over the weekend.  Well I hate to disappoint you but it was a really lovely weekend and I’m glad I endured it.  Here’s my story:

Saturday was the day of recreation.  I took a nice hard run through the Presidio, set up some music and burned a disk as a gift for some friends, and then went off to the bay area blogger meet-up (not hook-up, as I’d been led to believe) at a local television studio.  We were warmly welcomed by a portly older guy in a blue blazer who emphatically disclaimed much of any idea what the hell we were doing with his media, and then I ate a bunch of little sandwiches and some cookies and I had several diet colas while basking in the wry wisdom of greg, meredith and elizabeth, who gave me cover as someone far enough removed from utter geekdom to have hu-man friends.  We chatted, we shmoozed, we made fun of the guy in the blazer, and then had our photos repeatedly taken by a videographer with a still camera, which meant that he took more photos than I thought were absolutely necessary, but whatevah.  (Thanks, Sawni, for finding this image and reading my thoughts.  Interesting digital fact: the more megapixels your camera has, the more soul is removed from persons you photograph.  I hardly noticed it with the little cameras, but when the big six-meg cameras came out I could feel my vital force being sucked right out of me.  From the quix of my fingernails, if you must know.)

After the meet-up my friends and I, plus three other cool and interesting bloggers, strolled up to a nearby tavern for beerz and conversation, which ranged from blogging to porn to hometowns to music and back to porn (I am from the San Pornando Valley after all).  At that point, sadly, I had to excuse myself and leave the party, get home, take a quick shower (to wash the stench of joy off my sour skin) and load up the car with my lovely wife for a trip to the Mission district - San Fran’s Spanish Harlem.  We parked unreasonably conveniently, grabbed some coffee, and then met Tantris and Jules (and Jeremy) at Bissip Baobab for some of that good Senegal grub, by which I mean food like paella and samosas, and not actual grubs.  We ate well, visited a nearby pub for additional refreshment, and reluctantly parted company at 11, to the serenades of actual wandering mariachis (wanderachis) since J&J had a long drive back to Santa Cruz.  Thanks, T&J&J, for visiting.  We had a fabulous time and miss you much already.

Sunday was full of work: we cleaned and straightened, hung shades in the bedroom (no more prancing about naked and shadeless for the neighbors, who have yet to register complaints), hit the hardware store and asian grocery and dim sum shoppe and housewares emporium.... Clement Street on a sunday at noon is a busy and fascinating place, and we had a great time perusing the goods and watching the other weirdos doing their shopping.  A bit more puttering around the house, hanging pictures and reorganizing a long-forgotten closet, brought us to suppertime, so we grabbed a quick burrito and then took a drive to the Unitarian Church where a weekly vipissana meditation session is held.  We attended an introductory talk followed by a solid 45 minutes of sitting zazen.  I found it delightfully clarifying, and was glad I’d gotten a little countdown timer at the housewares store that morning so I could start a regular practice of 10 minutes of mind-time after work each day.  So far I’ve done it one-out-of-one opportunities; we’ll see how long that lasts. 

Finally, returning home, I finished with the last bit of housework: going through a big box of retained mementos salvaged from that messy closet.  Old scrapbooks and photo albums, notes from friends in high school and college, souveniers from Grateful Dead concerts and other meaningful incidents in my life.... it was a big old box, not very efficiently packed, and much of what was in it I was ready to discard, but I did find a lot of cool fun stuff I intend to keep around for a good bit longer.  Prime among these: my fidget!  This is so totally coming to work with me, and I’ll manipulate it till the oil runs out the back of it all over my piehooks.  In addition, I found a raunchy old paperback I literally found in a gutter in Hollywood back in the 80s.  I won’t show you the cover, or even identify it by name, but the back cover fell off a while ago and this is it.  So you see, I guess, whence my delicacy derives.  Someday I’ll turn it into a musical.  Some day I’ll turn you all into a musical.

Then I went to sleep and when I woke up it was Monday. 

Since the weekend I’ve felt a bit run-down, even though I did have another lovely run around the lake yesterday morning.  Well, tonight is the anusara yoga class that’s usually the highlight of my week, and I’m getting a lot of work done at the office, and I’m planning on seeing friends this weekend, and it’s so freaking warm and sunny out around here that it’s hard for me not to bolt and frolic all the live-long day.  I’ve got nothing to complain about.  Yeah, just give me till tomorrow and I’ll think of something.  The weekend report is concluded.  Don’t let the blog hit you on the ass on your way out.

that's just the way it seems to me at 09:03 AM
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Monday, June 13, 2005

Blue (Heron) Monday

editor’s note: most of the photos I’ve linked below were taken by others at the location being described; one duck, one grebe, the big mechanical thing, and the “wading” photo were all taken elsewhere but were too effectively illustrative not to be included.  Just in case you thought I was trying to pull a fast one.

Monday mornings have something of a reputation - hard times, experienced through veils of irritation and lethargy; a too-short weekend run aground on the sorry shoals of another work week.  Well, I’m here to suggest a different approach.  Over the past several weeks, Kel and I have started our mondays on a manifestly other foot - one that runs. 

We’re not big running types - no marathons, no running clubs, no concentrated effort toward greater speed or distance.  We run for personal satisfaction and that’s about it.  We usually run separate routes at different times, listening to different tunes and exerting ourselves at different levels of effort.  But monday mornings, together we share a run around the lake. 

The lake is about half a mile from from our home, and one mile in circumference, so we’re not doing any marathons here.  The air as we reach the six-a.m. sidewalk feels fresh, untouched.  The treetops are in sunlight, but we are in the shade as we work our way to the park, through the rose garden, across the sleeping boulevard and up into magic space.  Trees close over our heads and bamboos and azaleas rustle by our sides; we ascend the steep stone steps cut into the hillside, from which we emerge into a victorian fantasy

The lake has a large island in the center and other smaller ones scattered about the periphery.  The main island, Strawberry Hill, rises steeply to a height of nearly 450 feet; as we approach the banks of the lake, a tall cascading waterfall catches the dawn sunrays and purls joyfully over carefully orchestrated outcroppings of manufactured stone

We begin to run clockwise, looking out across wide stretches of calm green water, unruffled even by the ducks and geese and grebes and other waterfowl starting their day with us. The only thing that breaks the surface of the water is an occasional curling trail of 100 yards or so of tiny bubbles, stationary, persistent, where the water is being recirculated back into the lake through submerged conduits, looking much like the wake of a small boat made of dreams.  For months, park staff had worked to clean and repair the lake bottom with aquamogs - but now the ‘mogs are gone and only the results of their labors remain: healthy emerald water populated by all manner of birds and turtles and fish and eels. 

We proceed around past the chinese pagoda out across from us on the island, its red columns and green tiles and ceramic dragon finials daring the sunlight to compare with its cheerful brightness, doubled in liquid mirror reflection.  As we run we can see ducklings molting their down and maturing before our eyes; the goslings and little swans stomp around with their parents, learning the delicate art of survival.  We continue past the rustic bridge and around the western bank of the lake, cloistered in shadow, the air redolent of oxygen and life.  We skirt the sheltered shallows, stride smoothly aroudn the back of the pond where the muscovies and mallards waddle calmly, herding their broods....

And then, within sight of the boathouse, we come to a stop, looking aloft, watching in wonderment.  A small rocky island juts from the water here, several dozen yards from the banks, covered with dense vegetation and several tall cypress trees with thick trunks that stretch skyward, their broad crowns spread out broadly under the pale sky.  And atop one of these, greeting the sun, stands a great blue heron, neck crooked majestically, ruffling wide wings. A towering bird on a towering tree, peering out into the sunrise over the lake and park and city.  We stand, breath barely clouding now, in silence save the chorus of birdcalls that carpets the air around us, watching the heron far overhead watch the world awaken.

From the left, another arrives, its six-foot span of translucent wings an affirmation of the possible.  These are birds that seem to defy physics - too long in the neck and leg and too broad of body to appear flightworthy when seen wading for their breakfast, piercing the water with scimitar beaks - but this one is aloft and circling, slowing, hovering, landing with heavy wingbeats in an adjacent treetop on the island; it spreads and then folds its wings and settles in for the son et lumiere of daybreak.  They stand still and watch, and we move on - continuing around the lake, back down the steps, through the garden of non-lingam, back down the hill, back home again.  Across the street from our flat the feral plum trees are heavy with bright fruit.  I steal a plum; it is crisp and sweet. 

And that’s how to start a monday morning.  Wish me luck for tuesday; and the same to you, my friend.

that's just the way it seems to me at 12:00 AM
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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Good For the Gander

The first time didn’t count, but this second time gets full credit.  I can now honestly admit to being a gropee. 

Time #1 didn’t count because it took place in what the theorists call “remissive space” - a place where normal social rules have been suspended.  Typical examples of this are halloween, conventions (as in, “hey big boy, you in town for the convention?"), and the era 1967-1978.  In my case, it was one of the last ren faires to be held in Agoura, outside of LA.  I was not a faire geek, but for some reason I decided to attend that particular year’s faire in tunic and hose: it was the early ‘80s and the tights were only a step away from those damned omnipresent legwarmers anyway.  It was a more innocent time.  I was coerced.  Okay, I don’t know why the hell I went to the faire dressed as a wanna-be anachronism, but that’s what I did, and that’s all I can say about that. 

At some point I was in the middle of a big confused mass of people, and I distinctly sensed an invasion of my personal privates: somebody pressed a rigid finger against my service entrance, if you catch my drift.  I spun around and briefly caught the eye of a laughing, blowsy woman in her middle years, blonde and zaftig.  She was not in any kind of thematic costume and was probably pretty buzzed.  We were moving in opposite directions; the crowd closed between us and she got away with her brazen buttpoking scot free.  But I figured, she was drunk, and I was sort of asking for it with my tight black tights and flagrant ‘tude, and it was the faire, after all, where wenching was a scheduled agenda item, so it all sort of seemed proper, if not actually right.  Ultimately, I decided that it wasn’t anything worth my attention.  I was a gropee of opportunity, but not one of active choice.  And thus endeth incident one: that which did not count. 

Years pass - about twenty of them.  I stop wearing tights, stop going to ren faires, leave LA, maintain inviolate corporeal boundries, never get inappropriately touched on the nether climes by a stranger again.  Until recently.

that's just the way it seems to me at 11:20 PM
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Baby Goes Back

via obscure store (see sidebar): oh. my. god. The story is bad enough. The photos will never leave my memory.  It’s about time somebody put baby in the corner.

that's just the way it seems to me at 06:14 PM
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My Fabulous Career

Sure I’m a movie star.  I can’t believe you never saw me in that scene they cut from The Buddy Holly Story.

that's just the way it seems to me at 08:48 AM
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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Look of Love

It was the Duke Orsino who first was made by his creator to say, “If music be the food of love, play on....” This phrase came to my mind while watching a tango performance over the weekend, in that the tango - she is the dance of love, or so say the Shanghaiese and their manifold friends. 

So, great.  Music is to food as tango is to dance, as both are to love.  If this was a test, I’d be tanking. 

But perhaps I can shed some light on this complex, yet misleading, analogy, by making something, as is my wont, up.  For in fact, many things in life have a something of love.  And today, the Chucklehut is going to tell you what that something is.  This is because the Chucklehut is the blog of love.  Yes it is.  Because I said so.  Oh shut up. 

So alright already: wake the neighbors, sharpen your ballpoints, and find someone to start paying attention on your behalf, because X is the Y of Love:

Tango: Dance
Music: Food
Van Dyke: Goatee
Ramos Fizz: Brunch Cocktail
Swan Style: Kung Fu School
Deep Fried Whole Pompano: Thai Entree
Appropriations: Senate Subcommittee
Camembert: Cheese
Handmixer: Houseware (runner up: cherry pitter)
Banana Cream: Pie
Brazilian: Wax
Oolong: Tea
Cummerbund: Formalware

Please feel free to expand the list; I’ve done worn out my analogizer on this one.  The floor is open and the band is playing - what is your what of love?

that's just the way it seems to me at 01:15 AM
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Monday, June 06, 2005

Weekend Wrapup: Cool and Chilly

Dang, that was some weekend.  Let’s see if I can get a bit of it down for y’all.

Friday was a conference day, and I conferred my fool ass off from 8:45 in the a. of m. when I started staffing a presentation on Economic Justice (which meant I was the guy who told everybody else to sign in) till 5 in the p. of m., four sessions and a nice luncheon later - at which point I changed out the long sleeved white shirt for a short sleeved white shirt with little naked native surfer dudes all over it, plus a fresh pair of fuzzy sox.  I took a short walk down to a convenient corner where Jon picked me up; Dave was already in the car and we hied ourselves hence to the Fillmore, where Hot Tuna was playing that evening.  We were close to the front of the line, which assured us of an excellent spot to stand and watch the show, and then Jon and I grabbed some supper to eat in line.  My chinese food was not that special, but there were two good things about it: I didn’t drop my cellphone into it; and the cap to my bottle of iced tea came with a coupon for two free weeks at a Bally’s Fitness Center, one of which is near to my office.  So that was all pretty cool.  A few more friends showed up as the hour aged, and then we were let in and rushed to the left side of the stage, where I spent the entire evening, standing on my tired pods, leaning into the stage monitors about 10 feet from Jack and 15 from Jorma.  The show was tremendous: first, the best acoustic set I think I’ve ever heard them play, and then an electric set that blended blazing solos with refrains and choruses that I couldn’t help but find rather muddy-sounding.  No matter, it was a great show and we left the ‘Mo at 1:30 am feeling barely any of the chill of that chilly night. 

I awoke early on saturday and went back to the conference.  eurgh.  I stayed till 2:30 in the afternoon, attending all the sessions and the keynote luncheon, which concluded with a rush for the doors and, in my case, for my couch, on which I napped prodigously.  By the time I awoke it was nearing evening and Kel suggested we take a bit of a walk; she drove us to Lands End (only a few miles from our home) and we had a spectacular stroll along the cliffs overlooking the ocean.  I tell ya, sometimes this town is just too cool.  In this case, it was way too cool, in that the wind was whipping and cold as a sommelier’s smile when you demand extra ice for your Riunite

Returning home, we ate a little something and watched an interesting DVD: “What the Bleep Do We Know.” I found it a bit overproduced and “soft,” but very watchable and provocative.  I was amused that the florid voluptuous woman who seemed to come straight out of old Star Trek was, in fact, “channelling” some other intelligence for us, but that’s no nevermind.  Also, the display of photographs of the impact of feelings on water, taken by Dr. Emoto, left me with a lot of questions, not the least of which was whether he had made up his own name.  After the movie, we fell asleep and I didn’t move all freaking night.  Damn that sleep’s good stuff when I get enough of it. 

Sunday started with housework and shopping for athletic wear, since I am going to be visiting Bally’s and can’t show up looking like the scungy hairball that I, in fact, am.  Upon our return home, in a stroke of brilliance, I did a load of laundry which included the shorts I’d been wearing, without bothering to remove my wallet therefrom, which didn’t seem to make much of a difference to the shorts or the wallet, but kind of freaked me out.  Then we headed out to Berkeley for another concert, this one being a recital by Tango No. 9 at a small collective of shops and restaurants on Telegraph, which is today what Haight Street used to be.  Kel and I took a spot on the mezzanine and listened to two hours of gorgeous music, to which some very smooth people were occasionally dancing in very organized and proficient ways.  My lesson from this was, if you are going to dance on the mezzanine, you had better be ready to be seen.  Since I was not, I did not.  Instead I just delighted in the rhythms and melodies, the dancing (by others) and personalities in the audience - highly Berkloid in nature, with sophisticated urban types and strangely cavorting street types and a yoga-freak sitting in half-lotus on the brick flooring, tapping his filthy feet to the tunes.  Everybody from all walks of life revelled in the lilting refrains and each other’s company, for two delightfully free hours. 

We wrapped up the outing with a visit to a gourmet grocery where we got some overpriced veggies, a pack of hostess cupcakes, and beer - weird english beer from the Wychwood Brewery, as to which we’d lately received some entertaining promotional items from an old friend of the family from our Oxford days.  (for the record, the beers are in perfect focus.  you, however, may be a little fuzzy.) Both pints were swiftly downed; we cleaned up a bit around the house; I did some writing and photoshopping, and then retired to my astonishingly comfortable bed. 

Today was Pete Beck day, all day long, and was also one hell of a busy day at work for Daniel.  Tomorrow should be a bit easier, if only because I did the nastiest parts of this week’s anticipated burden right up front.  I’m all about the frontloading

Okay, when I resort to Neil Innes I know I’m pretty much done.  Have a good’un and keep yerself warm - it may look nice out there, but that breeze’ll shrivel your produce like nobody’s business.... oh what the hell, here’s some photos from the Land’s End stroll.  Be careful, people have been swept from the cliffs and drowned. 

lands end rock.JPGThis is a rock that lives in the ocean.  When the waves hit it, it gets all misty.  Oh, I always cry at wettings. 

lands end rocks.JPGThis is another rock out in the mouth of the bay.  Across the way you can see Point Bonita with its lighthouse, just barely.  The spindrift was overtopping the pillar with every wave.  It was breathtaking.  Then again, it was freaking cold out there.

lands end cliff.JPGThis is a piece of the cliff from which, according to many signs, people apparently are regularly ejected into the ocean to their doom.  But it sure looked pretty in the setting sunlight.

pipe.JPGThis is a rusty old pipe that sticks out near the trail.  The textures seemed wonderfully rich to me.  Then again, I’m easily amused.

lands end trail.JPGThis, finally, is the famous view of the big orange bridge as seen from the Land’s End trail.  The trail winds through chest-high wildflowers.  Kel can be seen appreciating the gorgeosity from the shadows - shadows to which I now return until tomorrow.  Thanks for visiting.  This has been a Chucklehut production.  Such as it is.

that's just the way it seems to me at 11:46 PM
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The Beckoning

Happy PB Day, everybody!  Here’s some worthwhile phrases beginning with “pb” (not counting “phrases beginning,” which is not really that worthwhile):

Prehensile Basketweaving
Potential Barnstormer
Pesky Bandicoot
Priapic Badminton
Protruberant Bulge
Partially Blitzed
Pantaloon Bluster
Phosphorous Blast
Personal Bilirubin
Pandamonium Beckons

Yes, today is, once again, Pete Beck day.  I didn’t know what else to do about it.  I mean, what do you do for the day that has everything?

salt.JPG

Pete Beck: the salt of the earth.  Please revisit this site tomorrow if you want to read something with complete sentences.  I should have a chance to think of a few by then.

that's just the way it seems to me at 08:00 AM
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Friday, June 03, 2005

Passings: A Musical Interlude from the Old Man

Today is day two of the Pathways to Justice Conference, which is going very well thanks for asking.  I’ll be away from desks and computers all day long, till I leave the conference site for the Fillmore Auditorium and this evening’s Electric Hot Tuna show, which Kel and I are seeing courtesy of Dave and Kim, together with a dozen or so of our closest friends and several hundred of the less close variety.  It seems a fitting time to post a bit of an essay about music, relationships, and continuity.  Or whatever.

I don’t think Herman and my dad were ever exactly close.  Herman was around 45 when Dad was born, and had a busy job that kept him out of the house a lot.  Their father-son gulf was wide, and it got wider when dad moved out to the left coast with mom after grad school.  By the time Herman moved to California too, I was already in my teens and had only seen him a handful of times. 

What’s more (or less), I hadn’t been regaled from infancy with tales of Papa Herman, as I had been with tales of Grandpa Jerry on my mom’s side.  His stories were substantially untold, and his persona was vaguely mysterious, but mostly just seriously underdeveloped.  Papa and I did share one little riff, though, with dad and my sister too: clasping our pinkey fingers and reciting together the mantra, “Stick together 4-ever.” That was it - all that bound us, our entire common ground.  Papa didn’t do sports, or jokes, or idle chat - at least not the Papa I knew.  For us, “stick together 4-ever” was as close as we got, to a relationship and to each other. 

Herman lived near to us for about a decade in the ‘70s and ‘80s, during which time he slowly lost interest in life and allowed himself to expire at a very ripe old age.  We saw him on friday nights a few times a month, less often as his infirmities progressed.  Sticking together 4-ever was honored mainly in the breech.  He grew more distant from me, and I from him, as his sand ran out.  By the end, he seemed more a stranger than a grandfather.  I just didn’t know the man.  I felt no connection.

Lately I’ve found myself reevaluating that relationship, or lack thereof.  It seems things went deeper than I’d figured.  In the course of a long tiring day, I notice that I’ve developed the habit of chanting out little tunes to myself - just three or four notes, a quick phrase, an auditory button to tie together two pieces of my life, a way to overcome momentary fatigue.  A tiny perky tune, usually vaguely klezmer in nature.  Yi-yi-yi; didel deedle dum.  No meaning to it, nor any behind it.  A swatch of sound. 

Except I’ve also noticed that I’m not making these tunelets up out of whole cloth.  I actually learned them somehow - and I learned them from Herman.  Of the few things I remember about him, I do remember this: that he sang these little tunes too - while waiting for supper to be served, or as we drove him from place to place, or any random time.  He deedled then just as I deedle now.  My song that means “I am waiting for this yawn to end” was his; so is the one that means, “from one dull job to the next.” I am unconsciously plagerizing grandpa Herman’s musical segues. 

Papa was no songbird, and my dad wasn’t much into those mini-refrains either (being more inclined towards Gilbert and Sulllivan, J.P. Souza, and scatalogical doggerel).  Yet somehow I hear Papa singing through my voice every time one of those bits of music sneaks out of me.  Despite my lifelong belief that he and I really didn’t share anything, his spirit seems sometimes to sing through mine. 

Turns out Papa was once well-known in his Kansas City community in the ‘20s and ‘30s for a column he regularly wrote for a local newsletter.  Stick together 4-ever, indeed.

that's just the way it seems to me at 08:40 AM
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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Avagadro’s Number: another exerpt, from a lazy daniel

okay I’m sort of short on time.  thurs and fri I’ll be in a conference all day, and it’s late, and I haven’t been writing much, and the crap I writ needs to be edited, and anyway I just found an electronic copy of my unfinished and unfinishable mystery thriller novel, so instead of giving you high quality new writing, here’s another exerpt of some crappy old writing from 10 years ago.  And just to fill in the details, this whole 80 page manuscript is beyond logic and reason, so don’t worry about not understanding the subtlties.  None of this damn thing makes any sense, so sit back and enjoy the bizarre world of Avagadro’s Number: The Part About Meeting Agent Fraiser!

She was confused by Stan’s sudden departure, but mostly she was distressed by the harassment Bobby seemed intent on imposing on her.  “OK, lipstick, you like line dancing?  How about ‘line’ down at my place?  Hey, ‘voulez vous’?  Or what?” He had backed her up against the bar, away from the other patrons, and now he towered over her, his lascivious teeth reflecting the garish colors of neon beer signs.  But he pulled away just enough for her to get her elbows up when Stan fell through the door.

Stan’s head hit the floorboards hard with a hollow sound, face first, and he didn’t move a muscle once he landed.  A dark pool quickly formed on the floor beneath him.  Bobby went to his side, grabbed him by his bangs and indecorously lifted up his head.  Stan looked pale and his eyes were glazed.  Blood gushed from his throat, which had been sliced to the cervical vertebrae as if by a bandsaw, very cleanly, so that the wound was pulled open by Bobby’s grip on the prone corpse’s hair.

The crowd at the tavern fell silent.  The woman began to shake.  Bobby dropped Stan’s head and returned to the woman, grabbed her arm tightly.  “Now I’m not giving you a choice.  I’m taking you home to mother.  I’ll get to the bottom of this.”

“The hell I am… you are…,” she groaned.  She was starting to feel sick, watching the pool of blood creep across the floor toward her.  He was hurting her arm and she was off guard. She felt that, if he got her outside, she might envy Stan’s swift demise.

The door opened again and a woman of her height, weight, skin color, suit color, hair color, and season strode into the room, stepping easily over Stan’s body.  She wore a dahlia in her hair.  Bobby and the first woman gaped, and Bobby relaxed his grip on her enough to let her squirm free and pull back.

“Damn you bitch, I’ll…”

“Got a light?” The new woman joined them at the bar. 

“You’ve got nothing to do with this.  Don’t interfere.  I don’t want to have to hurt either of you.”

“You don’t say,” she replied ingenuously.  She began to reach into her shoulder bag, but Bobby grabbed her arm to stop her.  “Nice try, donut.  I don’t…”

His sentence ended in a scream as she took hold of his little finger, pulled it up, and pressed it flat across the back of his hand.  When she let it go it stayed there.  She went back to her bag, fumbled in it a moment as Bobby screamed, clutching his hand, and then, “There it is,” took out a can of mace and sprayed it down his throat.  Bobby hit the floor on his knees, his scream dropping octaves and decibels.  She took the empty mace canister in her closed fist and backhanded the butt of it into Bobby’s forehead.  He collapsed, still trying to scream, and hit the floor near Stan, whose blood soaked instantly into his shirt.

“We’re leaving,” the flower-wearer said to the other woman, who needed not be asked twice.  They were swiftly outside, and she gulped the dark air, incredulous and queasy.  “Keep walking.  Right here … let me get the door … keep your head down...” The doppelganger let her into a nondescript car parked in a red zone and they drove off without incident.  The first woman shivered in the vinyl bucket seat, gasping for breath, her eyes goggling and her skin pale and clammy.

“You need to calm down.”

“Get stuffed.  This is a nightmare.  What the hell is going on?”

“You’d never follow it in your condition.  Calm down.  Tell me your name.”

“Like hell.  Who are you?”

“Agent Jane Fraser.”

“Agent?”

“I’m with the company.” Agent Fraser was grim.  Shadows and highlights chased each other across her face under the ghastly streetlamps as unfamiliar avenues unwound before them.

“The CIA?”

“No.”

“GM?”

“No.” Agent Fraser didn’t crack a smile.

“Not the mob, right?”

Agent Fraser drilled her with an angry glare.  “How dare you.  I uphold the law.  I protect people.  You’re here by mistake.  This is my life.”

“Well then who the hell are you?  What’s with this secret ‘company’ I’m supposed to know about?”

“Muni Power.  The Electric Company.”

“Okay, you’re right.  I need some rest.”

“Too late.  We’re here.  100 North Power Drive.”

Indeed they had.  Muni Power HQ was a textbook example of institutional architecture of the early 1970s, tall and broad, with concrete faces punctuated by thousands of tiny windows, cemented shut and each individually neon-lit from outside for a wasteful and useless effect.  They drove into the main garage entrance, stopped on the second parking level, and suddenly backed up into an alcove.  Agent Fraser pressed a button on her keychain and a door rolled open behind the car.  They backed down a ramp into a dark and narrow space.

that's just the way it seems to me at 11:54 PM
playing with words • (4) Comments closedPermalinkPrint


Quarter Back: The Solo Version

Some of the best moments happen so fast that no one else sees them - still, they linger in memory with a sweetness that brightens difficult times in a way that feels at once superficial and penetrating, at once outwardly empowering and inwardly harmonious.  I refer, once again, of course, to the catching of a quarter.  But this time, it was personal.

It was an era of my life marked by an intensity of focus so all-encompassing as to overshadow my own sense of individuality, along with that of my 300 peers.  It was law school, second year, first semester - the bloom was off the rose, but harvest was unimaginably far away; which is to say, we’d all long since grown inured to the questionable joys of legal study, but were so far from graduation and professional practice as to render that ultimate goal beyond practical envisionment.  We read; we cowered in lecture halls praying for invisibility; we consigned nights and weekends to the dryest and least entertaining of pursuits.  We slogged.  Everything in college had been so visceral - even book learning felt like a process happening physically to my body; but in law school it was all so terribly abstract and abstracted.  We existed solely among the onionskin pages of casebooks that were filled with red herrings and dry rot.  Sometimes this disembodiment was a pleasure, but more usually I felt divorced from myself and from reality.  My brain was tired and my body was disengaged.  I hungered, though I couldn’t articulate it, for something real. 

The campus had been designed to echo an agora, the greek marketplace where ideas were as much an article of commerce as olives, cheese and slaves.  But I viewed it on the roman model, myself - less the agora than the tri-via, the roman crossroads where the exchange of pointless gossip gave us our word for, well, pointless gossip.  The architecture was simple but evocative: a big staircase floated down out of the broad formal face of the main building; an oldenberg ladder toppled permanently in the quad amidst small temples and truncated columns.  The physcial space seemed to flow and eddy.  In spite of this spatial flow, however, I felt stultified - so much so that I usually didn’t even notice anymore.

I was in line at the cafeteria, an underdesigned space, utilitarian and bland, with bare white walls and a plain white lino floor.  The room was set up to move us through it efficiently, and move through it we did: students, faculty and staff shuffled along past the steam tables and salad bar like sheep for the fatting.  On this particular day I stood back for a moment, gauging my appetite against my stamina against my remaining funds: how hungry was I; how long would I have to stay awake; how long till I ate again; and, oh yes, how much money do I have?  The questions challenged my hypercerebration with their simplicity; my overwrought brain was grappling with the most quotidian of realities, and I was caught in a riptide between them. 

I pulled my hand out of my pocket to count my crumpled wad of bills; with it, out popped an errant quarter.  It leapt from my trousers with quicksilver slickness, making a geometrically perfect arc from my waistline up to the height of my heart, then falling down again to the floor directly in front of me. 

I watched it with a sense of anticipated satisfaction.  The quarter struck the floor edge on, a perfect landing, perpendicular and clean.  Because of the angle of impact, it immediately bounced straight up again with surprising force, rising perpendicularly as high as my shoulder.  I reached out casually and let the quarter loft into my open hand; it placed itself gently in my palm as if it had been hanging in midair.  I didn’t even need to bend over. 

No one else saw it happen; if I hadn’t been there I might not have believed it myself.  Regardless, there it lay in my hand like a mottled mirror, silvered in the sour overhead illumination.  I’d dropped it, essentially, up, into my own fingers.  The motion of releasing and retreiving it had been so smooth and natural as to have evaded all conscious thought or any of the mental exercise of which I was so tired as to have forgotten my exhaustion.  But those two bits in the palm of my hand brought it back to me. Thinking wasn’t everything.  Sometimes the chips fall just where they’re supposed to.  Sometimes being in the right place and doing the right thing are more a function of natural flow than conscious choice. 

I think I got a burrito; they were a good value.  I spent the quarter.  I kept the change.

that's just the way it seems to me at 08:08 AM
the story of my life (abridged) • (3) Comments closedPermalinkPrint