Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Name for the Beep, and....MERINGUE!!!!

With the beep from the spa now reaching four days in not seeing the futility of calling out for someone, I'm thinking of naming it. It's become a household companion, though it's far quieter from inside the house. But it's ever-present, just like Tigger and Kitty.

"Annoying Fucking Noise" doesn't work because it doesn't annoy me as much as it did Mom when she was near the patio door and heard it for a few seconds.

Nothing related to the sound. Not "Beepy" or "Beepie," not "Incessant-Lee" (purposely written that way), not "Relentless." I'm thinking of "Jimson" (for this, not related to the weed; I just like the name) or, well, I don't know. Something else might come to mind later, but that's all I have right now.

I don't know how the spa operates when it's off. The jets obviously aren't running. They're clogged. But I think they actually try to work at various intervals during the day. It's got to be the leaves, though. The cold weather last year did not cause the spa to bubble up enough to have a layer of meringue. When I was out on the patio with the dogs this afternoon, that's what it looked like, complete with fluffy peaks.

It is a nice diversion from the brown hills struggling to be green, and the mountains on either side of the freeway. I think it actually is one of the most interesting sights in my six and 1/4 years here. Better than the same SUVs from Stevenson Ranch with the same soccer moms. Better than the same gaggle of bothersome, nosy seniors gathering on the same street corner every day with their dogs. I need to disturb them one day by emphatically waving at them when I leave the complex for some errand. I can't forget that before we move.

I'm Broken, But I Don't Beep Like That

For the past two days, an incessant beeping. No one else noticed when it began because their windows and kitchen doors and sliding doors leading to their patios are closed tight against the cold. Same during the day. Still, the beep. I noticed it because the dogs do what they need to on our patio. I stand out there, making sure they go, and I heard this.

Is it coming from the utility closet to the left of the neighborhood pool, behind the signs with all the rules that people ignore, yet seem to follow? Is it some alarm clock that refuses to shut off, even if the plug is pulled, even if the batteries still powering it are taken out? Creepy, but no. Neither of these.

It's from the circular spa a few feet diagonal from the bottom left corner of the pool. A few days ago, or maybe just a bit longer than that, we had fierce winds that grabbed leaves from the trees and threw them into the pool, also into the hot tub. Filters or pipes must have become clogged, setting off this beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep. I'm guessing the spa also tried to foam up a bit because that's on the surface of the water now, more of it than usual.

Two days, becoming three. None of us nearby residents can get to it to do anything (not that we know how to anyway), because after the Homeowners Association deemed poolgoing season to be over for the year, back in late October, they put a lock on the security gate that none of us residents have a key for. This started on Christmas Day, so obviously, no one would have done anything because of the holiday. It's not that bothersome anyway. But that beep. It's demanding. I wonder how that meeting went to decide the alert mechanism for immediate repair. How does someone decide on that type of sound? Is there a company that specializes in that and sent a catalog for that particular company to decide on what sound they wanted? I've got problems in this life, as everyone pretty much does, and I want that too. Send me that catalog!

However, I am truly eternally grateful that whomever was in charge of installing that spa did not choose Jim Carrey's "Most Annoying Sound in the World" from Dumb & Dumber.

I'd be surprised if anyone left a message on the HOA's voicemail to fix this. These aren't the kind of residents who care about their neighborhood. The biddies, with their yapping dogs, keep an annoying watch on the neighborhood, but the particularly annoying ones nearby don't live close enough to the spa to hear the beeping. I'd expect it not to be fixed until the spring, unless they actually need the guy who sifts leaves from the pool to come earlier to do just that. Maybe he knows something, or they know someone else for it.

This is my neighborhood. Feel that excitement. That, and Christmas light "icicles" put up without imagination. And not even the ones that look icy. Strings of white lights hanging over the tops of garages do not count. Why can't the biddies just get a ladder from their garages and breathe on that section of their roof? They'd have real ones right away.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Quiet Comfort and Joy of the Newhall Library

The Santa Clarita Valley does not lend itself to a penchant for exploration of all corners of one's home surroundings. I only state that as a non-native, having lived here for merely six years, but you get into a pattern. You stick with what you know. There are two Wal-Marts in this valley, one a Supercenter, two Targets, both the same, two Ralph's supermarkets, one a Fresh Fare, and so on. You know what you can find at the regular Ralph's in Valencia, and what's at the Fresh Fare that you can't find at the regular Ralph's. There's not a lot of desire to seek out something different within the valley, and the valley recognizes this by not changing much on its own. Even to this day, Santa Clarita is still only known by its one major landmark: Six Flags Magic Mountain. Tell someone you live in Santa Clarita, and they might not know where you are. Mention Six Flags, and they get a general idea of where you are. It's pretty typical, and I learned that when we went to Six Flags as tourists, back in April of 2003 on a day with a stinging chilly drizzle: I only knew the rollercoasters in front of me as I walked the park. Even on Goliath, which takes you fairly high before pointing you down steeply, I didn't notice the entire working valley behind it.

Another example would be the Michael Douglas film called King of California. His character emerges from the "Santa Clarita Department of Mental Health," which doesn't exist, and it's obviously why writer-director Mike Cahill set his film here, even though a good portion of it was filmed at other locations. The valley easily gives itself up to stand in for other locations because there's nothing distinctive about it.

When the Valencia library closed for two months in early December, I immediately decided to pick up my holds at the Canyon Country library. Valencia offered a bookmobile parked in the lot there for picking up holds, but I wanted an actual library. I wanted to browse if I felt like it. And having been to the Canyon Country library, enamored with its massive back wall full of novels, that's where I wanted to be every Saturday. Then, reality, as documented in the entry "A Library Stocked with Disappointment." However, I was wrong about the Newhall library. Very, very wrong. A Wayne Szalinski-designed building, maybe, but not what I discovered.

Mom decided we'd start in Newhall today, wending our way to Canyon Country. Though the library looked ridiculously small when we drove past it last week, she wanted to see the inside, and I could return my books. So we parked in the small lot to the right of the building and walked the sidewalk in front of the building to the entrance. We walked in, and regret cascaded through me. Six years in this valley and I couldn't think of being a regular patron of this library? Right as you walk in, you see the new books across from the checkout desk. Teen books on the left, one set of shelves devoted to those, and the rest from there to the right, full of new books. After that, to the left of the new books, are two locked vertical glass cases containing DVDs to rent. $1 a day. Star Trek was in there, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and many others I liked. To the right of the case on the right were the DVDs to check out on one's library card. To the left of the other case were the CDs. Both sets of shelves protruded into the children's book area, but what an area. This is where any little kid should discover words and all the marvelous things that can happen when they're linked together. There's a window big enough to let in some sunshine, right where it's needed, right where kids can sit and read.

The right side of the small, yet oh-so-valuable building, is devoted to adult and teen reading. Novels, travel books, the Meg Cabot Collection (it can be called a collection here, much to my sister's delight, who noticed a shelf full of hardcover Cabot books, and cloth-lined baskets on each side of those novels, filled with Cabot paperbacks), biographies, all on shelves that are close enough to each other to browse with immense pleasure in a devoted reader's heart, yet far enough not to be overwhelmed by the books, as it admittedly tends to be with the Valencia branch where three people in the same aisle is a bothersome crowd.

We and an elderly woman at the library catalog computer were the only people there at that hour. Mom looked at their magazine selection, which is far better than what Canyon Country offered. They had the magazines she regularly reads at Valencia, as well as the table space to stretch out a bit, plus a window near the ceiling which allowed sunshine to beam on the table we were sitting at, next to the magazines.

The books to buy were to the right of the exit, a modest yet truer collection than I've seen at the Valencia library. Truer, because you can actually know a little about the people who donated these books and magazines. There was a Joyce Carol Oates novel, Middle Age: A Romance, and Model Airplane Magazine. Meridith first thought the magazine title was "Modern Aviation," and I perked up because I wanted to read more about the Airbus A380 than I have already. It's an ugly, ungainly-looking airliner, but I'm fascinated by its construction and what led to its creation, besides the apparent need to carry more passengers than the Boeing 747. No matter, though. I was happily surprised to find that someone in this valley read Joyce Carol Oates and someone was into model airplanes. I imagine there are more, but I'm glad just to know that there are a few, because I never expected it here.

Sitting at that table next to the magazines, with the sun having a clear view through that window, I wanted this to be my library. I imagined books of my own lining these shelves, and I would definitely move my bed there as well as everything else in my room. And there would be room for it. Plus, most importantly, the people working at this library looked like they actually wanted to be there. They were pleasant. This library is so relaxed, so welcoming, and it showed when I asked one of the librarians if I could bring the box I took from the Valencia library that used to contain my holds. I told her that I put a fair amount of books on hold and she said that I'd have some stiff competition. I joked that she didn't know me yet. She called someone working in the back, most likely the manager of the branch, who allowed it. I thought of bringing the box to Canyon Country, before I fully experienced it, but that would have been useless anyway, because only two of my holds were on the first shelf. The rest were sitting above the first shelf, at the top. I wouldn't have needed the box anyway. But because the Newhall library keeps the holds on shelves behind the counter, and because it looks like the shelves would sag once my holds arrive there (for the next week only), I'm happy to give them my box. It looks like it'd have a wonderful home there.

I wish I had gone to this library five years ago (our first year, we lived in an apartment in Valencia, and walking to that library was very convenient). This would have been my sanctuary, getting me away from all that frustrates me about this valley. After five years, I don't think I would have been so unsatisfied here, maybe a lot less, as some frustrations always remain. Or, you know, maybe this is the valley's attempt at a peace offering, knowing that I'm excited about becoming a resident of Las Vegas, wanting me to eventually leave it on decent terms. Makes for an easier transition. I just hope I can find a library in Vegas that matches this total-happiness-in-every-part-of-my-body experience.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Last Book for Research

Carole Landis: A Tragic Life in Hollywood by E.J. Fleming is the final book I'm reading right now for research for What If They Lived? And I've realized through the 40 pages read so far that despite the overall tedium of the research I did in the previous months, I still enjoy reading about the history of 1930s Hollywood, the studio system, the iron-clad contracts, the gossip rags, Louella Parsons, the premieres, everything that's more interesting than what there is today in Hollywood. The weekly media masturbation to box office totals doesn't have the same panache as Louis B. Mayer's many quirks.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Earlier Wrong Words

Forget those last three sentences in the previous entry. After I posted that entry and went to bed, I remembered in the darkness that there's one more day of pure pleasure to come next week: A day in Anaheim at Downtown Disney and Buena Park at Po Folks Restaurant, where we used to go in Florida when I was a tyke and older. I subsisted happily on their country fried steaks and when there was an all-you-can-eat special for them, we always went. Then that location changed owners, it became unfortunately corporatized (logos of various other companies that supplied them were on the menu), the all-you-can-eat specials were dropped, and they closed because of lack of business. We went once after the ownership change and that was it.

The one in Buena Park does not have all-you-can-eat specials, though they make a decent, fork-cuttable country fried steak. Add on hush puppies, sides of macaroni and cheese and rice and gravy, and peach cobbler for dessert, and it's the kind of satisfaction that makes you forget all other aspects of your life, allowing you to completely enjoy the moment.

We last went to Downtown Disney and Po Folks on March 21, my birthday. Depending on what transpires with this potential move to Las Vegas, this day next week may be the last one to both places. I don't yet know if we'll also stop at Buena Park Downtown, my favorite depressed-looking mall, but even though I secretly hope it will be there, that liquidation bookstore had better be gone. Not that I wouldn't spend any more money on books for now after Goodwill last night, but my room's small enough already. That bookstore looked temporary anyway.

This time, I will bring my journal with me and I'll be sure to write down everything I experienced, especially the rustic lobby of the Grand Californian, which has wood paneling all over, which reaches to all three floors. I love sitting on one of the couches in the middle of the lobby floor, being awed by it, as well as watching people walk left and right and right and left on those higher floors from my vantage point. This will be one of the very few things I'll miss about Southern California when we move.

I hope this will be as good as my birthday was.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Spontaneous Evening

Usually, I never go out on weekday evenings. I've got to write, I've got the newsletter, I've got enough to do. But when there is the promise of books, I remember that the evening also exists in later hours, and I make sure there's some cash in my wallet.

Mom had an old walker to give to Goodwill. She started using it a few years ago and it's given her back problems all this time. Last Saturday, we stopped at Saugus Drugs, which is nothing like your Walgreens or your Rite Aid. No shiny tile floors, all carpet, and they also sell windchimes and figurines which sit in vertical glass cases. While Meridith and I were playing with recliners that moved up and down by remote, near the pharmacy counter in the back, Mom and Dad looked at the walkers behind us. I didn't listen to their entire conversation with the manager who eventually emerged at their request, since I was seeing how far up the recliner would go before I'd fall off, but the manager went in the back and found a walker Mom wanted. It was slightly defective, something about it not fully extending, but Mom took it, and the manager also gave a discount of about $20-$30.

There are two Goodwill locations in Santa Clarita. We only knew that one, a truck on Soledad Canyon Road, took dropoffs. The other, on Bouquet Canyon Road, a few minutes from our house as it turns out, is a full-on store with racks of clothes, recliners, golf clubs, mattresses, trinkets, coffee mugs, TVs, videotapes, CDs, and, most importantly, books. I woke up close to 3 p.m. today and hadn't planned on going out. I needed to get back to work on the book. But after Mom found out that to-be-discarded items could also be dropped off at that Goodwill store, I shaved the noticeable beginnings of an always-annoying-feeling beard and got dressed. And I had a spontaneous evening.

I thought it would be a little bit of a drive through the valley to the Goodwill store. I'd forgotten that Bouquet Canyon Road is a right from the exit of our development (we're in entrance 2 of Mountainview Estates), then straight on past La Petit Academy and the corner Circle K, keep going through two traffic lights, and finally across from 7-11 in a very cramped shopping center. Then a left turn in, past Rite Aid, a right turn, and there it is, not quite on the edge of the property, because of some sort of medical building next to it, but you get the feeling that the abyss must be nearby.

Just a few feet from the entrance to the Goodwill store, I spotted the books, to the far left in the store, facing shelves of coffee mugs, glass things, figurines too. I carried in Mom's former walker, left it at the counter, as the person at the register said to do, and I walked to the books, first looking at the VHS tapes, marveling at how much time had passed since I owned The Lion King and other Disney movies on videotape. I browsed the CDs as well, finding nothing that I wanted to own, and what might have interested me, such as a CD of Lenny Kravitz's hits (I used to own a copy), looked more scratched than I find reasonable. Then, the books.

I'm very discerning about what I want, but I don't know exactly what I want until I see what's available. As my eyes pass each title, there might be a word in the title or an author's name or something about the cover that trips that command in my brain to reach out and take that book from the shelf. Also the prices: 99 cents for softcover, $1.99 for hardcover.


Fahrenheit 451 ($0.99)
Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks ($0.99)
Love Letters and Two Other Plays: The Golden Age and What I Did Last Summer by A.R. Gurney ($0.99)
Damon Runyon by Jimmy Breslin ($1.99)
Tinsel by William Goldman ($1.99)
Old Songs in a New Cafe (Selected Essays) by Robert James Waller ($1.99)

And, before we left, after a final look at the books:

The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House by Bob Woodward ($1.99)

I don't remember going to Goodwill in Florida. I remember a few thrift stores, with instruments inside glass cases, and racks and racks of clothes nearly taking up the entire space of one store, and even then, I still gravitated to the books in those stores. I didn't notice anything else about those stores beyond my cursory glances, but I noticed a lot about the items in this store, such as the tiny Alaska ceramic cup my Mom bought to put bathroom cups in, in honor of Kitty, our beloved part miniature pinscher/part terrier, who we adopted from Alaska. The cup has a design of the state, blues and greens all around. But looking closer at what else was for sale, I saw a coconut-shaped storage container from a Catamaran Cruises company (I know there are many, but I forgot the name of this one), a coffee mug from the Ramada Express Hotel and Casino in Laughlin, Nevada, a coffee mug from West Virginia, and big candles with wicks far too low to be effective. These things really travel. As I walked those aisles, I wondered where these items had come from, where they had been in the houses they had once sat in. I looked at the house figurines, made in the United Kingdom, and wondered who had once loved these items, if they had spent time looking at it from all sides, staring at the windows and wondering about the kind of people who might live in such an abode. These things contain so many stories, yet mostly, previous owners cannot be found on any part of them. There are some stains, some chips, but it's not always enough to sense the person who owned the thing. The only commonality among all of it is that no one wanted them anymore. Either there was too much to move with from one state to another, or it was a gift someone didn't want, or someone had died and their family members, already deciding what they wanted from what remained of that person's life, brought those items to Goodwill. Looking at all those items, I don't see the people that brought them to Goodwill or even the people who owned them. Only shadows, really, and speculation.

However, I found part of my childhood there: A particular set of stencils with letters, numbers, shapes of airplanes, ships, and some animals. Living in Florida at that time, I never thought about California or any other state in the country, except the one time we all flew to New Jersey in 1994 to visit Dad's grandmother, who was in the hospital. When I saw those stencils this time, I was surprised they existed anywhere else. Here they were, with "Gina" written in crayon on the front of the box, which looked ragged. I wonder when Gina outgrew them.

Dad decided to drive to Newhall before we went to the 99 Cents Only store, and there, amidst the narrow roads and aged buildings, we found the Newhall library, which looked like a Wayne Szalinski-designed building. The parking lot couldn't possibly fit everyone who wanted to go there, though judging by how many people live in Newhall, and thinking of those who are apt to go to the Canyon Country and Valencia libraries, completely ignoring this section of the valley (and there are thousands), the parking lot might very well be adequate. But looking inside from the car, wow. Those shelves looked like you'd have to insert yourself into a stick figure maker before navigating them. I could already smell the must that had to be lingering in there. Not sure now if we're going there on Saturday after we leave the Canyon Country library, though I wouldn't raise a fuss if we didn't. Mom thought the Newhall library we'd see was the one to be built. She thought it had been built already, but that's not going to happen for a long time, and by the time it does, we'll likely be residents of Nevada.

The 99 Cents Only store presented a bounty of Minute Maid fruit punch in an overgrown juice box, small boxes of granola cereal, Lipton Brisk Tea in big bottles, and Best Foods' Honey Mustard (Hellmann's for those of you living east of the Rockies), which might be interesting for a change since I always buy Ralph's-branded honey mustard. Typical stuff shipped from Inter-American Foods in Cincinnati, Ohio. Of the many things I miss about Florida, I sorely miss the Publix supermarket and the items they'd make on their own in Central Florida, such as eggnog, milk, and ice cream, though I'm not sure if they ever made their own mustard. It's possible, but growing up in Florida, I was always keen on mayonnaise for ham and cheese, ketchup for beef bologna. I never noticed if one of the brands of mustard sold there was their own.

Then, In-N-Out. Wonderful, wonderful In-N-Out. I didn't care that it was getting close to 7 p.m., that I still had the newsletter, that many essays in the book still loomed, that I'd forgotten to Tivo Jeopardy. I loved the evening so far, and a 3x3 burger (3 patties, 3 slices of cheese) was the best way to continue my uninhibited happiness. French fries and a strawberry shake, too. Fries for Meridith and Mom as well, and I think Mom just had a cheeseburger, while Meridith had a double-double (2 patties, 2 slices of cheese). Completely satisfying. It's what all the days of one's life were made for.

I'm nearly done with the newsletter, having started late, yet I don't feel like continuing to read that Carole Landis biography. I don't feel like organizing the essays I still have to write. I want to scoop up all the books I bought at Goodwill and figure out which to read first. But it's 2:04 a.m. and reality has set in again. Less than three hours before I extract myself from the online world and my work on this computer and try for a few pages, or 20 or 30, in the latest library book I'm reading, which is The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009, always reliably edited by Dave Eggers. After I'm done writing my share of this book, I'm going to begin signing up for online courses through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in pursuit of a bachelor's degree in professional aeronautics, but I'm also going to make sure I spend a lot less time on here. It's convenient to put my thoughts down here, but sometimes I miss keeping a journal. That should be concurrent with this, and I do bring a composition book with me in the car, but the books I bring, the New Yorker issue I haven't read yet (I'm all the way back on November 9), I don't feel compelled to pick up my pen and write a few thoughts. The last time I regularly used a journal was in early February 2006 when Dad and I went to Sacramento to tour the state capitol as part of a group from a business education organization. On a highway there, I jotted down my observations of a truck carrying an open-air load of carrots and, on the way back, touring part of Hearst Castle, and picking up two pies from the bakery at Casa de Fruta in Hollister, facing stunning dark green hills. Couldn't and wouldn't forget any of that.

I'd like to have many more evenings just like this one. But for now, it's impossible to simply throw off whatever I have to do in favor of pure pleasure. Maybe after this book is done.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Library Stocked with Disappointment

I had been to the Canyon Country library before last Saturday; two or three times.

When Dad went there on the way home to give work and collect it from one or two students who couldn't attend La Mesa for a time for whatever reason, I, tired from spending the day as a substitute campus supervisor, would wander and then stop in front of rows of shelves containing books of essays and books of plays. I would beam at the back wall full of shelves of novels, wanting to eat it all. I would look for names I never heard of and see if I'd want to know them and their chapters and their characters and their views of the world.

Because the library in Valencia closed on December 7 for two months for renovations (more computers, a dedicated teen area, new furniture), and because the three other libraries in the Santa Clarita Valley, including Canyon Country, are closed on Sunday (Valencia was the only one open from 1-5 p.m.), I have to go to the Canyon Country library on Saturdays, which, as it turns out, is not such a jarring change. Granted, it was a little strange not having to access the library website during Saturday Night Live at 12:30 a.m. to renew books and see what I need to return in order to pick up the books I have on hold, but I really enjoyed today. I got up and it felt so much more easygoing. I still have that book project sitting heavily on me, but I didn't feel it as acutely as on past Sundays, when we'd go to the Valencia library towards 3 p.m. (mainly because I sleep late well into the day, and because Sunday has always been a laid-back day for the rest of the family), attend to other errands, go to Ralph's to either shop fully or just pick up a few items, and likely get home a little before or a little after 7 p.m. The pressure would build as soon as I got home. I'd be too aware that I had to put together yet another Freelance Daily newsletter (compiling three days of job listings from Craigslist and other websites for the freelance writer subscribers), and while working on the newsletter, my mind would be nagging me about the essays I still had to write, about the books I still had to read, which are now down to one, a biography on Carole Landis.

That's the only thing that I really like about going to the Canyon Country library on Saturdays: To feel at ease even with an enormous workload. Sunday now feels like the kind of day where I could jump into the air and float, if it were possible. I could walk above the couch and play limbo with the top of the doorframe leading into the kitchen, and amble across the neighborhood pool just over the left patio wall, looking down and smiling at the view.

The library itself doesn't give the same pleasure. Spending only a few minutes there, there are no problems. One of the times I was with Dad, I found a few plays I wanted to check out, borrowed his card (mine was naturally full), and used the self-checkout computer. This branch has four of them, and I can see why. Those clerks who have to work the front desk wish they didn't have to. They don't like to work, they're not helpful, and they don't look beyond the obvious places.

I returned 12 books in order to pick up the books I had on hold (the limit is 50 items). I found 10 of them, checked them out myself, and went to one of the only computers that are solely for the library catalog. I had 48 books checked out (owing to instances where I may not be interested in one or more of the books after I start reading them, but mainly because I really, really, really love books), and thought I had miscalculated again, even though I was certain I had correctly counted 12 books in my bag. There was one I apparently hadn't picked up, and I went to the front desk to see where it was. This girl, who must have been 18 or 19 or 20, maybe even 21, didn't care about helping anyone. It was obvious. I said straight out that I had a book on hold that wasn't on any of the hold shelves, and that it wasn't Oliver Twist, as that was also available to pick up, but I wasn't ready to pick it up that Saturday (I'll pick it up next Saturday). She kept asking if it was Oliver Twist I wanted to pick up, and I kept saying that it was a different book, finally showing her the title within the pages of my account that I printed out from home. She looked at my account after scanning my card, and went to the hold shelves, even though I had already been there and hadn't found the book. She came back, telling me exactly what I had told her: The book wasn't there. She then explained that she couldn't do anything else, and to call back in a few days to see if they had located the book, because the books on the carts near her were the only other holds to be put on those shelves. There was nothing in the backroom.

Big help. I put my card back in my wallet, thanked her, even though I didn't mean it, and I went to the table Mom and Dad were sitting at, Mom not at all pleased with this library and for good reason, with many pushy people there, and other people of uncertain character. If a bag was left on a table, they might look inside and take whatever attracted them. I only realized this after I came back a second time and Mom told me she moved my bag next to her for that reason, as there were some people sitting behind her and Dad who looked like they had that exact idea.

That second time out on the library floor, I decided to look again at the hold shelves to see if the front-desk paperweight had truly not found the book. She hadn't, and as it turned out, neither did I. I honestly didn't think to look above the first shelf when I picked up the other books. Two of the books I intended on checking out were sitting there, and I realized that they'd probably also put future holds of mine there, as there hadn't been room on the first shelf with my other holds. But the girl couldn't see above the first shelf? I don't expect anyone to fake enthusiasm they don't have. If a waitress at, say, Red Robin, is having an off day, I don't mind there not being a smile, as long as the order is correct and the bad day doesn't splatter on me. But at least that waitress would be doing her job, just like I expected that girl to do her job. That's what she's there for. She should do it and be dissatisfied about her life later. How hard is it to look above that first shelf? I have a good excuse in that this was my first time picking up any holds from this branch. I didn't know right away. The reference desk was no better when I asked for specific directions to the Newhall library for Mom. Same attitude there. So much resentment in the building that you could choke from the fumes. Even the books feel it. They look so depressed, including my favored back wall. There's one librarian who shelves the books wearing red gloves. I understand the hullabaloo over the swine flu and am all for assuring one's safety in health, but I don't wear gloves when I look at the books. What has traumatized her so about them?

My sister had an excellent suggestion earlier this evening for next Saturday because of the family plan to see what the Newhall library is like: Go inside, pick up the books on hold, and leave. Don't linger any longer than necessary.

I agree. I can't spend as much time in that library as I can in Valencia's. If we aren't halfway out of California to Las Vegas by February 1 when the Valencia library reopens (meaning that no one's called Dad yet, offering him a job, or we're not yet in the process of planning that move to Vegas, or in Las Vegas looking at houses), I'm going to kiss the floor at its entrance. I'm not going to be so annoyed by those librarians who take too long to check in items, or those who don't understand what I'm looking for (I'm not vague in asking for what I need. I always want my books quickly). At least they're doing their jobs. At least they're efficient, even when I get that one librarian who doesn't understand that I already looked in my box of holds for that book and it's not in there, and actually goes to the box under the counter nearest to the self-checkout computer to look. I miss her, I miss them, I miss books that look like they're living a good life on those shelves.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The 16-Word Woman

16 words from her, earlier tonight on Facebook. The chat looks different from what you'd see in a chat window on Facebook because it's a bitch to paste anything here, so I had to copy and paste everything from the particular page I was on and then delete what I didn't need. The letter "u" in place of the word "you" counts as a word since this is the Internet and I don't have time to nitpick. I know "lol" would count as three words, but again, the Internet. Let it count as one:

"Sheena - 9:06 p.m.
hey u

Rory - 9:06 p.m.
what's up?

Sheena - 9:06 p.m.
what u doing up so late

Rory - 9:06 p.m.
It's only 9:06 here on the west coast.

Sheena - 9:07 p.m.
wish u could be here lol....good nite

Rory - 9:07 p.m.
question: did you go to Hollywood Hills or Flanagan?

Sheena is offline. - 9:14 p.m."

I don't know Sheena. Yes, she's a Facebook friend, and her profile states that she graduated Hollywood Hills High School in 2002, the same year as me (the only reason she's in my friends list). Except I never expected anyone to notice or remember me in any of my classes (I don't think she does specifically, just that we went to the same school). I moved to different schools pretty regularly, except for a long stretch at Riverside Elementary from the second half of second grade to fifth grade after my family and I had moved from Casselberry (near Orlando) to Coral Springs, Florida. I went to Hollywood Hills in 11th and 12th grade, moving with my mom, who worked at Flanagan when I was in 9th and 10th grade, and who decided to take a position at HH as a library assistant/clerk. In 11th grade, I basked in the joy that was my English teacher, Roberta Little, who wasn't an extroverted type, but she exuded pure love for stories. She had us read A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner, we talked about Julius Caesar and The Great Gatsby and also saw the films based on them, the former with a robotic Jason Robards as Brutus (entirely lacking the passion and fiery anger that Brutus needs), the latter so slow and so plain with Robert Redford as Gatsby and Sam Waterston as Nick, even with its lush production design, with billowy curtains and white, white sofas. It seems more emphasis was placed on that than the performances, than the need to try to make the film feel like the experience of reading the book, which is much more significant.

I also fondly remember two class periods spent watching A Raisin in the Sun, starring Sidney Poitier, and how riveted I was watching John Fiedler as Mark Lindner, trying to dissuade the family from moving into their rightful new home, because of that neighborhood he represented not wanting black people to move in. I loved silently observing how I knew that Fiedler voiced Piglet over the years in the Winnie the Pooh films, yet that's what consumed my classmates. The drama didn't matter to them as much as excitedly pointing out that that was Piglet, and that was fine. At least I noticed the dramatic tension.

I also had two outstanding history teachers, one being Craig Forgatsch in 11th grade. To the other students, he was out-and-out crazy, but he made history vivid. The other history teacher, whose name I unfortunately forgot, stuck to the hard facts in history, definitely not as manic as Forgatsch sometimes acted, but she clearly loved what she taught. There were days when the lectures truly dragged, when I just wanted to get out of there, but I understood it all. Nothing about the American Revolution was lost to disinterest in her class. Between her, Forgatsch, and Mrs. Little, I think that's how I developed a fierce love for plays, literature and history. I read a little of all in middle school, checking out Gone with the Wind from the library at Pompano Beach Middle in 6th grade and a host of other books, but never to the degree that I do now. I think without Mrs. Little, I probably wouldn't have latched on to the great and grand works of Noel Coward and Neil Simon with such devoted fervor. And without Forgatsch and that other history teacher, I wouldn't be as fascinated with the American presidency.

So I have absolutely no idea if I had any classes with Sheena, or if I talked to her at lunch (I always kept to myself, only occasionally talking to others). The only girl I remember well from Hollywood Hills is Stefanie Markham, who had the best pair of legs I'd ever seen in high school and still today, especially when she flirted with me at a school newspaper awards ceremony sponsored by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, and leaned them against my pant leg.

Looking at Sheena's photos on Facebook, in a bikini, wearing a black bra shown from behind, looking over her shoulder while probably standing on a bed, showing off a wonderfully ample ass clad in a pink thong, wearing a nearly-gauzy short pink nightgown, I see that she loves a steady stable of men when she's not working at Miller's Ale House. The photos don't only suggest that. So do Facebook status updates indicating that she wants some "play time" and doesn't like men who are still little boys. And so on.

"wish u could be here lol....good night." That bothers me the most. 16 words and that's all she was leading to. I asked one question, because I'd forgotten where she went to high school, and she couldn't even answer that. I like whole words, always have. I don't mind "you" shortened to "u" online, or "lol," but I hate when they're overused, as they are here. To me, there was only pure shallowness in thiat conversation. I wanted to know what classes we might have been in, what made her think of me after all this time. But I won't even know that. I wish I did, just out of curiosity. I wouldn't pursue anything further. I don't want to. I like women who have time for more than 16 words.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

My Actual Thanksgiving

Second verse, same as the first (what actually happened this Thanksgiving, in the same format as the previous entry):

- I'm sure many families hosted relatives they hadn't seen in a year or more. Most likely the relative they greeted was different from the one they knew from last time. New experiences, health problems, love problems, higher taxes, forced to drive less, whatever it might be. But also, it's likely that outside of inviting those relatives to come for Thanksgiving, they hadn't talked that much to that particular relative until that point. They had their own matters to attend to, and those relatives are important, but more in the background, as someone or some people they have in their history that drives them, that defines them. It may not be apparent, but there may be a part of them that's there, in the wink of an eye, in the mindset of a spouse, in a method of dance.

Greenberg Turkeys is the same way to me. I don't think about them during the year, and only after we've ordered our turkey from them, which I think was in late October, and it was delivered on November 20th. When I thought about their turkey again, I couldn't remember how last year's turkey was. Mom said it was better last year. And therein lies the news from a once-a-year guest: Greenberg Turkeys is no doubt having financial problems because of the economy. They sure smoked the turkey, as evidenced when we opened the box to the white foil-lined bag the turkey was in and the scent was heavy, but maybe there was something in their method they had to leave out. The spices were carelessly placed, with certain sections of the turkey bearing a mound of them, rather than the spices being spread throughout the turkey. The white meat didn't require any condiments, which is sometimes the case with white meat, but the dark meat was a rather unpleasant experience. It looked gray. I imagine that's something to expect from a smoked turkey, but the gray of Charles Dickens' London? The gray of the gruel in the workhouse in Oliver Twist? It didn't taste any better either. It wasn't a problem in cooking, as the turkey was already cooked. We only had to heat it. Mom said we won't order a turkey from them next year. Every year we ordered from them, there was one year where it was great, one year middling, one year great, and so on. Not a crapshoot to try again. If we make it to Las Vegas (we will, but I guarantee it will be more stressful than I had hoped), we won't need to order turkeys. There's the buffets on the holiday, too, besides the turkeys to be found at Smith's and other stores.

- The sides were perfect, however. I don't partake much in the green beans with french-fried onions on top, but I made my plate heavy with the Stove Top stuffing and the candied yams. This year, Dad put Craisins in the stuffing and that worked well. I didn't have any of that big chocolate chip cookie, though. Too full.

- On Thanksgiving, my parents did not fire one sharp word at each other. My Dad made everything there was to eat on Thanksgiving, so I suspect that's one reason, but also the other in that he had made a genuine effort to pay attention to her. That didn't last long. On Friday, they, and Meridith, went to the Wal-Mart Supercenter and a few other places. Dad wandered away with his cellphone, Mom got ticked and just stood there until he came back, and she sarcastically asked him, "Having fun?" It came to a vicious head yesterday morning. Combine the screeching of chalk on a chalkboard with a cruise ship's horn, and the screeching of truck brakes, and you have what I heard. I fell asleep a little before 7 a.m., and I didn't even look at what time it was when I was yanked out of my sleep by the latest fight. This time, Dad had bounced a check. But he defended himself to Mom, saying that the payroll from the William S. Hart Union School District had not reached his bank account yet, and before the check would have bounced, the money came in. He called someone he knew at our local bank, who said he'd take care of it so it doesn't reflect on his bank statements, even though the next bank statement he gets will list that check as an "overdraft," though that guy at the bank assures him that there won't actually be an overdraft. That's as far as I got. Mom has every right to question him because their wedding money was used to pay off bills he racked up and he's never managed money well. For necessary bills now, of course, and he's big on coupons at the supermarket, but Mom will forever remain suspicious. But jesus, what a hard fight. She went at him about his delay in all of us moving to Las Vegas, questioning him about whether he had sent his application to the Department of Defense to teach in their online school (he did), as well as the Clark County application. I don't say anything more during these fights. There's nothing I could say that would offer insight on something they hadn't considered. I've seen every fight for 23 years of their 26 years of marriage. There's nothing I could say that would reverse what has happened all this time, nothing that would cause him to suddenly be attentive. It's obvious he does not want to change, as much as he tries to pin some of the blame on her. My sister chimed in while she was sitting on the couch in the living room, unsuccessfully trying to watch TV, but I won't tell her that it's useless. Let her try. She should understand that there's nothing we can say to stem this red tide. I think she'll eventually find out.

- Tigger and Kitty inhaled their Thanksgiving plates of turkey, stuffing, green beans, and cranberry sauce. Tigger really does eat faster than I do.

- It was a relief not to have to work on those newsletters for a few days, but nothing got done. Boredom set in again. I did receive a reply from Michael Airington, who plays Paul Lynde in a one-man show, and he agreed to help me with information for my Lynde essay. I sent him another message early Saturday morning asking if he'd consider letting me profile his show. That way, the hard facts about Paul Lynde in that part of the essay are presented in a more interesting manner. In another work-related matter, I'm nearly done with Donald Spoto's James Dean biography. Very well-researched, successfully refuting wrong-headed "facts" from years and decades ago. He's dedicated to thorough research in each of his books.

- I got restless with reading. I wanted to, but Deepak Chopra's "Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul: How to Create a New You," didn't capture my attention like I hoped it would, though it did have a section on not letting time control you. I need to work on that. I haven't started anything new since. Not yet.

- I couldn't watch that version of 12 Angry Men. Tony Danza, William Petersen, Jack Lemmon, Edward James Olmos, James Gandolfini, all fine actors (yes, even Danza, in Taxi), but a distraction in the drama. The original benefited from stark black-and-white cinematography and a smaller jury room to heighten the tension. I think this version also had the misfortune of heading into my VCR less than a week after I watched the original on channel 5. No full movies after that. Surprisingly, nothing I could think of watching. Just episodes of Scrubs from the first season and the eighth season, ahead of Tuesday's double-episode premiere of the new, retooled season on ABC.

So, the one peaceful day, Thanksgiving. Dad also managed to fight with Mom ahead of his birthday on December 1st (the same fight, yesterday's fight), and she loudly regretted having gotten him a few gifts for the day. If the cold weather hadn't let me know already, this fight shows that winter is indeed coming. Thank god for books, and movies, and the much quieter moments I get for myself in these peaceful nighttime hours, where I can be sure the war has stopped for now.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Calm Thanksgiving, A Busy Thanksgiving, Maybe a Perfect Thanksgiving

Let's see what the two-dog, four-person Aronsky Thanksgiving will have:

- A smoked turkey sent by Greenberg Smoked Turkeys in Tyler, Texas, currently taking up an entire vegetable bin in the refrigerator in its opaque white paper bag. We ordered a turkey from them last year, too, and it's really good. The smoked flavor isn't just on the surface; it's spread throughout the turkey, and the scent reminds me of my former downstairs Cuban neighbors in our condominium in Pembroke Pines, the nights they would smoke their cigars out on their patio, and we'd have to close every window near them, including the sliding door in my parents' bedroom, and turn up the air conditioning. It was annoying and inconvenient, but there are things one remembers just to keep certain places in mind, and aspects of those memories could lead to other ones not thought about for a long time.

- Stove Top stuffing, Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce, green beans with French's french fried onions sprinkled on top to remind me that vegetables can be good for me; candied yams (there's an off-limits bag of Kraft jet-puffed marshmallows in one of the lower kitchen cabinets expressly for that), and a 12-inch, round, decorated chocolate chip cookie, because the best pumpkin pie for holiday consumption is at Henry's Farmer's Market in Woodland Hills, and not only would it have been insane to go today to try to get anything from there ahead of Thursday, but Dad worked a full day at school, and it will be the same for him tomorrow, despite most other schools in the district knocking off early. My sister also found a box of Jell-O pumpkin spice pudding at Ralph's, and maybe she'll make that as part of dessert. I can't get my beloved pumpkin pie, so I'd like to have something pumpkin-related at the table. Doubtful I'll find pumpkin egg nog at Ralph's right now either.

- My parents laying down their verbal arms against each other. I'm not completely confident that the bad blood between them has been quelled, because there was that day a few years ago in Pasadena after a bad fight when Mom told Meridith and I that she and Dad were done fighting. Yeah, right. That lasted for about two weeks. But Dad is making an effort this time. Before dinner tonight, Dad actually sat with Mom in the bedroom and they talked. He sat next to her. They talked. She had some things to discuss with him, and he listened. Maybe there were some things she said that he might not have liked to hear---I wasn't in the room, and they were talking pretty low, so I don't know---but he didn't get defensive. He listened. Imagine, 26 years ago, if he had realized that he was out of his childhood household. He didn't have to embody his father's ways. He could drop his family's habits and learn to live better. All those years wouldn't have been wasted. I admit, though, that at least he's learning now. He could have remained steeled against personal change until he dies. We all want to get to Las Vegas. We all want to have a better life. I don't think Mom gave him an ultimatum, but maybe, just maybe, he's understanding how much good we want from these forthcoming new experiences. All the times we've moved have been because of his whims. It's time to enjoy ourselves every day. I'd like to see their marriage improve. It would be a startling, but welcome surprise. Tonight was a strong start.

- There will be Thanksgiving plates for Tigger and Kitty. Turkey, stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce. Paper plates, but the sentiment is the same. They do so much for us that they deserve part of our feast. They're just as much a part of this family as we are to each other.

- I won't be working on Freelance Daily newsletters on Wednesday night for Thursday and Thursday night for Friday. Off on Thanksgiving Day, obviously, but also on Friday because how many Craigslist ads could there possibly be for freelance writers and other freelance writing-related positions the day after? This means that I need to haul ass on that book. I need to finish reading that James Dean biography, read that Carole Landis biography, and write constantly to make these two nights off, plus Saturday night, make a military Humvee-sized dent in my workload. However, it requires staying off the websites I don't need as well as the ones I use to stave off occasional boredom from this project. That will be the big challenge. But I should remember that I'll have a bigger chunk of free time during those evenings to get a lot done. I can do this. I really can do this. I can...oh hey, I haven't checked my library card yet to see what's come in for me to pick up on Sunday.

- I need to read. I've got Moby Dick, Don Quixote, the latest book by Deepak Chopra ("Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul: How to Create a New You"), because I need a new me; some books my sister checked out for me on her card, including My Booky Wook by Russell Brand, Hotter than That: The Trumpet, Jazz and American Culture, and The Mammoth Book of Haunted House Stories. Plus, I've got three recent issues of The New Yorker I haven't read yet, including the latest, "The Food Issue", and dammit, I just want to get away from this droning machine. But not yet, because I need to read the James Dean and Carole Landis biographies at the computer. I took enough notes by hand, and spent so much time transcribing them that I don't want to do that anymore. I deserve that with these final two books.

- Movies. The 1997 TV movie adaptation of 12 Angry Men with Hume Cronyn, James Gandolfini, William Petersen, Jack Lemmon, and other acting luminaries. I've been curious about it for a long time and fortunately, the library still has VHS copies, one of which I checked out on Sunday. Coincidentally, the night before, I watched the original 1957 film on channel 5 (the CW), and didn't mind that it wasn't in widescreen. It's powerful, no matter the screen format. In the DVD player, I have A Prairie Home Companion from Netflix, which I put at the top of my queue after discovering the titular radio program and immediately becoming a fan of Garrison Keillor in writing and in hosting and voice acting. There are DVDs of the actual programs which were filmed quite a while ago, which are next after I see what this grand group of actors does. Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Tommy Lee Jones, Virginia Madsen, Lily Tomlin, and Maya Rudolph are in it, and Lindsay Lohan looks like she actually focused on the script. I've also got The Taking of Pelham 123 from Netflix, the new one with Denzel Washington and John Travolta, just because I wanted to see James Gandolfini playing the mayor of New York City. To go from a mob boss to mayor of New York City is very impressive. It's like how Jeff Bridges went from playing The Dude in The Big Lebowski, to President Jackson Evans in The Contender. I love that kind of movie trajectory.

I hope all this will be Thanksgiving. A great Thanksgiving, our final Thanksgiving here in Santa Clarita.

Stand Up and Speak Up, Over 20 Years Later

My mother made the grave mistake of not looking out for herself, or standing up to my father when he was insistent on his own way. I heard about it last Sunday morning. I had only slept about four hours, probably succumbing at 6:15 a.m. to whatever my subconscious had planned. Not only is my subconscious an expert at creating dreams that sometimes totally confound me, but it has a radar to detect worrisome family sounds, such as my parents fighting. Mostly my parents fighting. Actually, that's all the radar detects, and I'm jolted out of my sleep.

I was pulled out of an unmemorable dream at 10:15 a.m. to the sounds of dual pasts being rehashed. I heard about Dad's family, I heard Mom lamenting how she didn't disregard her mother-in-law's advice to brush off much of what Dad says. I heard about Casselberry and Orlando again, Mom saying that we were happy there, but since Dad wasn't happy, we had to move to South Florida. We were happy in Casselberry. We were so close to Walt Disney World that we went there every weekend, and sometimes during the week just for dinner. A good number of the employees knew us by name, and many cast members in the parades at the Magic Kingdom always recognized us and sometimes stopped by right in the middle of their work to say hello. Orlando International Airport was where my love for aviation developed. I loved Stirling Park Elementary, which I attended from kindergarten to the first half of second grade, because the library was a rotunda. The middle of the rotunda was where the check-out desk was, down a few carpeted steps, and each set of wide bookshelves was in between the entrances to the classrooms of each grade level. We had a house. There was a tangerine tree near my window, a basketball hoop next to the driveway, a huge tree in the front yard that made me want to build a tree house. I also fell out of it once, right into the green-leaf plants around it.

I always wondered why Mom never stood up for herself, why she never made Dad consider her in his plans too. He was either transferred from the Orlando branch of Southern Bell (which became BellSouth, and then AT&T bought it) to a branch in Fort Lauderdale, or he had asked to be transferred. I don't know. Part of my understanding of Mom's timid nature is that she was raised by her grandparents, who I suppose taught her, through their day-to-day living, to never really question anything, never to wonder what might be good for her. She regretted not standing up to Dad to tell him that we should stay in Casselberry, so I, and soon my sister, could grow up in one place, and feel like we were home somewhere. She also had a job there that she liked, working for a heating and air conditioning company called Air Flow. She was rising within the company and at the time Dad decided we should move to South Florida, she was offered a promotion. Our family had money. There was no problem with that. Dad just wanted to leave. Maybe he didn't like the people in his office anymore. Maybe he somehow pissed off the people in his office. He's the type that strives to eventually take over wherever he works. Not take over in the traditional sense, but making sure that he has the dominant voice. He tends to make a lot of noise, overly expressing his opinions of what's going on, what someone might be doing wrong, what someone should be doing right. It has caused trouble for us over the years. He can't just sit down, do his job, and let pass whatever might bother him. That piece of bother could be gone the next week and it wouldn't matter anymore. I'm not saying he should be an automaton, embodying what crowds of anonymous workers represent. But maybe we wouldn't have moved around so much.

My parents' marriage has never been a two-way street. Only now is Mom finally realizing what she's lost over all these years, and, approaching 51 years old, she's beginning to speak up. Dad's done ok in many things, but none related to the important things, like his marriage. When we're at a store, whether it's Ralph's or Wal-Mart or Target or PetSmart, his cell phone is his preferred companion. He doesn't even walk near Mom. He'll wander off. Multiply those instances by about, oh, 24 years (even though they've been married 26 years, I can't be sure if it happened in the first two years of marriage too. I don't think I'll ask right now), and you can understand why Mom finally confronted Dad about these matters.

Then, last night, Mom was affixing a few tchotchkes to Dad's keychain, adding on to the square plastic thing he has that has a cartoon of New York City, and a few other things I've never really looked at closely. She couldn't find one particular piece on there: A locket or something similar that she gave to him in the days when their marriage was young. On one side was "Jeffrey" and on the other side was something like "From your loving wife." I wish I had paid closer attention to Mom when she told Meridith and I this story yesterday towards the late afternoon. Most important in the telling was that she had saved up her money to get Dad this thing to put on his keychain, engraved with that. It was not cheap. It took her quite a while to save up for it. When asked about its absence, Dad acted like he was looking for it on his night table. Eventually, the truth emerged: He had thrown it out some time ago. Yesterday, after coming home from work to Mom still in a sad state, and rightly so, he admitted to her that he had thrown it out to get back at her for some fight they had long ago. Oh yes, my father can be vindictive, just like his father was, and I'm making damn sure that trait never blooms in me.

I think Mom used to be a huge supporter of marriage. She hoped that I would get married, and my sister would get married. But also yesterday, she told us what I have been mulling over for the 23 years I've witnessed their marriage (years 1 and 2 of my life don't count since I don't remember anything): It's fine if you find someone you want to have a relationship with, but make sure you're happy first, make sure you have what you want in your life, what you want to succeed at, what satisfies you. For years, up to now, as I got older, to where I am now, Mom occasionally hinted that I should meet a nice girl and, well, you know the rest. I've never prodded her to understand and support my staunch belief that personal happiness should come first above all else (I'm not happy yet, but I'm working on it), but finally I've heard what I've always hoped to hear from her.

Granted, some aspects of personal happiness may be difficult if you're married with a few kids. I'm not there yet, and I'm not sure if I will be there. I know for now, after I finish writing my share of "What If They Lived?", I want to sign up for online classes from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. I want my bachelor's degree in professional aeronautics. I want to work at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. I want to get to know Las Vegas. I want to find things there to love as much as I love the lobby entrance off one of the parking garages at Mandalay Bay, leading to a few restaurants off the casino, as well as into the casino. There are tons of books I still haven't read. I want to read them, or at least 3% of them. I want to write.....plays, essays, fiction, literary nonfiction, I don't know yet. I want to find out what I should be writing about. I want to find out what drives me and write about that. There are also tons of movies I want to see, likely equal to the number of books I want to read.

In that aspect of life Mom once hinted at, I think I'm genetically torn. My mother's romantic idealism wars with my father's indifference. Naturally, I occasionally dream about women. Before I began dating Irene, who was my girlfriend in 7th grade (we broke up amicably because she was moving to Naples, on the west coast of Florida, and even though we'd be only an hour apart from east to west coast, we couldn't be certain how often we'd see each other), all the dreams I had leading up to that day involved girls. A psychic mind? Only with that. But I don't know. Relationships take work. The only work I really want is at McCarran. I know there's compromises, and I don't think I could live with that. Right now, if I want to do something, I do it. If there's something I want and I don't have enough money, I wait until I do, and then I get it.

Maybe I'm ok as I am. Besides, I've already lived through 23 years of a marriage. Why would I want another? But maybe, just maybe....oh hell, there goes both factions again.

Mom knows that living in Las Vegas won't make up for what she, and we, already lost. But now there's a chance to plant ourselves firmly and let our roots break ground, dig into the earth, and keep us steady and unmoving (that is, no more looking at apartments, no more boxes, no more stress of that kind. We've moved 11 times. I want to be done with it). Maybe by then, Mom and Dad will figure out some common ground to make the rest of their marriage work, if they want it to work. And maybe I'll figure out what I want.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dad's Birthday and Mom's Birthday Already?

Last year, during the day on New Year's Eve, we went to the Los Angeles Zoo. Mom wanted to for her birthday.

I remember waiting for Mom and Meridith on a bench a few feet across from the women's restroom, after we'd arrived and gone through the entrance turnstiles. As usual, Dad was talking to someone on his cell phone (sounded like someone from Broward County, Florida, one of the people he still knows who works in that school district), and I was looking over the zoo's map and attraction descriptions. I remember there was a "welcome" message from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa printed in the guide, as well as one from city councilman Tom LaBonge, who I guess represents the district the zoo is in. I don't know. I live in a valley where the city council is made up of people elected far too many times, but who will keep getting elected because that's all this valley has. No one else will run because 80% of the population works in Los Angeles, Burbank, even the San Fernando Valley, I'm sure. They live here to get away from those areas at the end of each day.

I sat there, wondering if LaBonge ever thought about his words in the zoo map either after he had sent them to zoo management to be printed in the map, or some time afterward, maybe months, maybe a year later. Probably not. More to worry about in being a councilman, I think. But it's like the apartments in this neighborhood. I wonder if the architect(s) in charge of these developments ever come back to look at what they did, or if the painters come back or the planters or whomever. Either to remember when they were younger, when they did better work, or a bit of satisfaction during a week not going well.

Mom and Meridith came out of the restroom, and we walked the zoo. It was a decent day up to when we got to the monkey cages, and then it got even better.

I've only used "Missed Connections" on Craigslist twice: Once in late June 2008, and once on New Year's Day 2009. Apparently, I'm still a pussy in trying to talk to women. Here's what I wrote for the latter posting:

You: A Blue-Haired Wit, Me: Gaston T-Shirt at the Monkey Cages - m4w - 24 (L.A. Zoo)
Reply to: (The given e-mail address obviously isn't valid anymore)
Date: 2009-01-01, 2:12AM PST

I did it again, and while I will most likely brood yet again over why I can’t simply open my mouth and strike up a significant conversation with a girl I find attractive, I post this, for peace of mind, and naturally in hope of finding the girl who, yes, got away.

I was at the L.A. Zoo on New Year’s Eve, as part of my mom’s birthday. She and my dad were elsewhere for the moment, and I was at a set of monkey cages with my sister, who was looking at one of the monkeys on the left, while I looked briefly at what would turn out to be a common interest between the two of us. I was wearing a t-shirt of Gaston, the brutish villain from “Beauty and the Beast.” I went over to look at the monkey in the middle cage, and there you were, beside me, looking at the same monkey. I saw you a little while before that, walking with your friends, but what you said at that moment really made me take notice. Well, besides your hair being a darker shade of blue that happens to be my favorite shade.

You noted to friends near you about that monkey in the middle holding his wrists. Whether up or in some other manner, I’ve forgotten, as I remember only you being there and wondering aloud why that monkey was holding his wrists in whatever way you noticed. I answered quickly, “Maybe it’s emo,” and after you had considered another reason, you latched onto mine and agreed. Then you mentioned either about this monkey or about our mutual favorite (a monkey in the cage on the right just sitting on a branch, eating berries, oblivious to the world) that it was auditioning for “America’s Next Top Monkey.” I didn’t only laugh at that because I liked your energy, your wit, and your blue hair. I thought it genuinely funny. Unfortunately, I laughed about it with my sister after you had gone. All I had to do was quickly continue the conversation after you agreed with my “emo” remark and maybe we would have gotten somewhere. Boy did I mess up there. Why is it that the events of our past sometimes still stifle us? I guess I’ve never been comfortable with speaking to an attractive woman directly in front of her friends. Bad results in middle school, especially in 6th grade when a girl I had asked to a winter dance accepted, and then after talking to her friends in P.E., came over to me and quietly turned me down. Not a major disappointment, mind you, but how in the heck could that even be a factor when I wasn’t even thinking of that when I stood next to you? Evil subconscious.

Like any writings here in “Missed Connections,” I hope you see this. I want to talk to you again. I want to share that mutual wit again. You were the first person I met in five years in Los Angeles with whom I felt an intellectual connection. But if you don’t see this, I know I will be continually inspired by you, as a writer. You reminded me to be what one wants to be in life, to just take it all in and laugh as you go along. And with blue hair. That brilliant blue hair.

Location: L.A. Zoo
it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests

After there had been no replies for a few days, and still none after I reposted it a week or two later, I wasn't leave-me-here-to-slowly-melt-into-the-carpet disappointed; just disappointed that my mind's image of her had blurred.

And now, here we are. Thanksgiving ahead, and Dad's birthday on December 1. Then Mom's on December 31. I don't mind that Christmas was pushed at us by desperate, money-hungry corporations earlier this year. It doesn't bother me anymore. It used to when we didn't have XM Radio in the car in Florida. Heck, this was when XM didn't exist yet, and we got stuck with Christmas music for two weeks before the holidays on LITE 101.5 and MAJIC 102.7. (I'm not sure what Power 96 had in those years, but later on, I'm sure with the rap music format it adopted, it had something like, "Jingle my bells and kiss my mistletoe. That's right, girl. Kiss it sweet." Yes, I'm white. How did you know?) KOIT, my favorite radio station in San Francisco, has two streams available online this year: The Christmas music stream, which is the regular radio broadcast, and the lite rock stream, for those who can't take that much Christmas music in an hour or a day.

I'm shocked, though. I just briefly met that girl. I just posted that ad on Missed Connections. I just reposted it. And now we're already zooming back to that date, in this year? Life goes faster as one gets older, I know. I've also been thinking about this because I didn't do anything worthwhile this year. Yes, I learned to disconnect myself from the hype that Hollywood drowns in every Oscar season. I learned that voting in the Online Film Critics Society awards is a cycle that will never end unless Hollywood suddenly goes out of business, or unless I lose my membership in the organization, which is possible. Not many reviews written during the course of writing this book. But I think I might be happier watching movies on my own terms, not thinking at all about what Hollywood is pushing, and also being able to read more books. I'll still stick with ScreenIt (I get paid) and Film Threat (I still like watching independent films that have absolutely no connection to Hollywood).

That book, What If They Lived?, is a necessary first step in my writing life. It hasn't been completely fulfilling, though, and I'm disappointed in that upon reflection of this year. Maybe I should have written my own essays too. Maybe I should have spent more time writing blog entries. No one really reads this, but it's a personal space that allows me to do anything in words. Maybe I should have indeed read the plays I wanted to read and figure out something to do about that, figure out what play I would want to write first, out of all the ideas I have stored in my "Plays" folder on this computer. Maybe I should have written more about Las Vegas, considering what fascinates me about the city, what aspects of its history I want to learn right away, what I want to do when we get there again and especially when we live there, and what I have done so far there that has satisfied me. I wanted more days like that day at the L.A. Zoo; like that day at Boomer's in Fountain Valley, driving a go kart, then going to eat at Po Folks in Buena Park, then to Downtown Disney; or, better yet, like my birthday, spent at Downtown Disney, then some time at Buena Park Downtown, happily picking through the heavily discounted stacks of books at that temporary, makeshift liquidation bookstore, and then going to Po Folks. Or, that day the 8th graders of Dad's middle school went to Disneyland, and Mom, Meridith and I went along with him. That day with that perfect article in The New Yorker about that university archivist of various authors' things and manuscripts, and that short story by Junot Diaz, both carrying me to the bus parking lot at Disneyland.

I want my writing to satisfy me like those days. I want to sit in front of this computer and feel like I'm doing any of those things. I want better days. I don't want to waste them anymore, like I have already.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wednesday, But It Might As Well Be Friday

It started as soon as Dad got home from work, 4:53 p.m., 7 minutes before he had an online meeting related to the online school he works for. He didn't hear what Mom was saying, claiming he was doing five things at once. He wasn't. He logged onto whatever program is used for the meeting, got a sheet of printer paper and folded it to write down notes, and a black pen was right against the base of the computer monitor. I don't remember what Mom was trying to talk to him about, whether it had been the arrival of the bird cage she had been waiting a while for, or the frustration she'd had a few days ago in Petsmart not really caring whether the cage box they sent had arrived. I wasn't listening to that part; I think I was close to my room, thinking about watching the rest of Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall. But, there was my dad, as usual, not admitting that he hadn't heard her, not apologizing for it, not explaining to her that he was doing something which precluded him from hearing her for the moment. Familiar territory for me; familiar since the age of 3.

It's hard to respect my father when he doesn't take responsibility for what he clearly did. His not hearing Mom led to a small tiff that stopped until the meeting was over. Actually, not many words were said afterward, but there was the familiar chill in the house of the two not talking. Mom had warned him after the last fight that once more and she was done. "Done" has always been a mysterious word. Does it mean divorce? I'm not sure how that could go because she doesn't work because she's semi-disabled, she doesn't drive, and what would be the destination in this economy? Done? Does that mean she's not talking to him for a while, yet remaining here? And Dad didn't even acknowledge what he had done afterward, didn't even see how ridiculous it was. How hard is it to listen to someone? I remember hearing them argue early one morning not too long ago. I think it was on Veteran's Day when he had the day off. He suddenly charged into action, suddenly adopting an interest in the bird cages she was putting together, asking questions about them. It's such a fake interest. He doesn't care about those. It's always been obvious. They merit nothing more than a cursory glance. And that's not so bad. It's not his fake interest that gets me, but his lack of doing anything to try to make up for what he did.

Today, after he and Mom traded the usual poisonous words that I've heard for years, he stayed in their bedroom past 7 p.m., and then brought his laptop out to the dining room. He honestly pays more attention to that than he does to Mom. And then later, after Meridith, Mom and I had had dinner, he brought it back out again, towards 8:30 p.m. A few more things to check on, no doubt, the same few more things every evening. He walked right past Mom, didn't try to repair the rift, didn't take responsibility for what he did. She quieted down, he was his usual stony self. That would have normally sufficed for me when I was growing up, relief enough that they had stopped fighting, at least for a few moments, but now, I despise what he does. If she quiets down, he believes the fight to be over and that's that. If the fight's over, then it's time to move on. But he's been doing this for their entire marriage. They've been married for 26 years, I've been around for 23 of those years.

Their story is complicated, parts still not entirely clear, yet every time they fight, I think about two things: First, the worry about how this particular fight will end. Will life go on or will our lives endure such an emotional earthquake that after it's over, we won't be sure yet what has changed?

(Right now, I'm watching one of the worst episodes of "Roseanne," toward the end of its run, with Roseanne and Dan trying to repair their damaged marriage. John Goodman's got the Walter Sobchak beard and haircut, because he had been filming The Big Lebowski, and it looks like he still had more filming to do.)

The second thing I think about is what I can use from their marriage for my own benefit? What could become a short story, a play, a set of essays? The first time I was aware of some kind of gaping hole in the marriage that could not possibly be fixed was at three years old, at night, on the way back to our apartment in Sanford, near Orlando. I remember that my room had a paper shade that covered the window when I was put down for an afternoon nap. I also had a glass night table with a lamp.

That night, Dad got stopped for speeding. The officer wrote the ticket, handed it to him with his license and registration, and we went home. I was put to bed, and I heard faint arguing. (There was good insulation in the walls of that apartment.) I knew it was Mom and Dad, obviously, but I wasn't sure of the reason or the context, or that this would go on for years after. Little did I know that it had gone on before I was born too, like when their wedding money went toward paying Dad's credit card bills and other bills, bills that I think he lied to her about. Arguments over his parents, my grandparents (though Grandpa is long decased), arguments over his uncaring attitude, which as you've read already, still lasts to this day. And of course, I'm going to go to bed toward 6 a.m., his bedside alarm is going to go off, he's going to turn on the TV, and god knows if I'll be able to get to sleep right away because if she wakes up, that's it. The argument will continue, starting small and then growing. I can't sleep then, not because it bothers me so (it still does, just not like when I was 11 and the back of my neck would have a burning feeling whenever they fought), but because that's too much noise. I wish my subconscious would not sense it when I'm sleeping and jolt me awake to hear the latest, as it was during the fight before this one.

To be honest, I felt like writing more. I felt like documenting all the fights I've heard, which must rise to a number no one should count. I remember the fights in Coral Springs, including one in which she nearly walked out on Dad with my sister and I and suitcases in tow. I remember the fights in Grand Palms and the fights years later about Grand Palms, how we had to climb a set of stairs after we opened the door, to get to our condominium floor. Not good for her weak legs, and her anger about that was understandable, her firm belief that Dad didn't care, that he'd move anywhere. There's a lot of that in the many stories I could tell. There was the huge, roaring fight on the day of Reagan's funeral, and I alternately watched the hearse drive down the freeway near his library, with people standing on the overpass, and went to the bathroom in their bedroom (where I was watching the proceedings), feeling sick, my mouth dry, not able to feel better, not with the rage going on in the living room. It's never been physical, just verbal.

It should be known right here that I'm not fishing for anything. Not encouraging words, not stories from those who could relate to me, not any of that. For a time, I tried to figure out exactly what makes them stay together, and I guess for Mom, it's necessity. What else is she to do, at least right now? For Dad, I don't know. I'm not sure I care anymore. Maybe there's a story in all of this to use on my own, maybe there isn't. I don't know. I ought to find something just so it's not only been harrowing to witness sometimes.

Usually, the fight begins on Friday. Dad comes home, he's stressed from the week that just finished, and something triggers the argument which lasts into the weekend, unless they go out at some point and can't continue to snipe at one another in public. I guess this is close enough to Friday.

Geez, I should lighten up the next time I stop by. It's hard when you're uncertain yet again of what the future is, when you're not settled into what you hope will be the next, and best, phase of your life. If this had happened while we lived in Las Vegas, at least I'd have some foundation on which to steady myself. Right now, I want to stretch each hour of this day into their own days, so I can wrap each one around me. Hopefully tomorrow gets better, but I'm not sure how much better. But at least there's the books from the library, that Sondheim DVD, the remake of The Taking of Pelham 123, and whatever else I can think of watching. So at least there'll be a bit of something good.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Home? Not Right Now.

My bookcases are 5-year-old moving boxes, with stacks of books in the front of each, and unfortunately unseen stacks of books behind. I know what books make up those invisible stacks, but I want to see them all. The many works of Charles Bukowski should not be hidden at all. It's impossible not only to rearrange without spending half a day at it, but also to make sure that the box used does not succumb to the forces of gravity, books sliding down to the carpet, as two do, the two nearest to my widescreen TV.

During the recent abominable episode of Saturday Night Live hosted by January Jones, I upturned the wide, canoe-shaped blue container we use to put newspapers in to eventually dump into the recycling bin in the garage, and used it as a table for bowls of cheese sauce and salsa for tortilla chips during the show, for me and my sister. We haven't had a coffee table ever since we moved here from South Florida. We didn't take our old one with us. No room. If I had had a craving for chips and salsa in the old apartment in Valencia, the island in the middle of the kitchen would have been suitable for usage, but not for location. Too far from the TV in the living room.

I have two framed prints by Chris Consani of Humphrey Bogart, Elvis Presley, James Dean, and Marilyn Monroe sitting on the aisle of a carpeted movie theater, and at a bar, with Dean behind the counter, Bogart looking up from a newspaper, and Elvis checking out Monroe's rear, which is clad tightly in a pink dress. I think I got those prints not long after we moved here in Saugus, and they've been sitting in big white bag ever since. In fact, the only reason I'm pressing ahead with this book project despite fading interest is so when I eventually hang these pictures on walls new to me, I don't have to feel ashamed every time I look at them. Monroe and Dean are two of the names I'm writing about in this book. But there is good news for both of their essays. My introduction in the essay on Dean is three pages, should probably be less, and there's not a proper connector yet from the experience of not making a whole lot of lasting decisions at Universal CityWalk, to Dean's life. But at least there's something there. For the Monroe essay, I figured out how to write it, with hopefully the guy I need to talk to giving me enough information about the yearly memorial he holds for Monroe in Westwood. I'm hoping the history of her life was discussed at the most recent memorial, so I can put bits of that into the essay and move on.

Anyway, this current place was never meant to be permanent. Mom never liked it, and it wasn't worth putting holes in the wall to hang up pictures that may have been taken down in a few years to be moved elsewhere. Permanent is the word I seek now in my life.

I'm holding off on a new bed until we finally make it to Las Vegas. I need it, but the less to move with, the better. I can't wait for the day when I feel what a bed is supposed to feel like.

There's a lot we all have denied ourselves these past six years. The apartment and this place are too small for so much. The couch in the living room used to be in the living room of my dad's uncle's house. At first, it smelled of dog piss (his dog spent a lot of time on the couch), but the smell eventually faded and we keep a bed sheet tucked into the couch, on top of the cushions, a bed sheet we don't use anymore but which is clean enough for this purpose.

I miss having a desk. I'm not sure how far my old one traveled. I know I had it when we lived in Coral Springs (Florida, of course), and it was in a corner of my room in Pembroke Pines, under the window overlooking our front walkway, right next to my closet. (Oh, a closet. One of those too, please. A bigger one.) But I don't remember if I had it when we lived in Casselberry. I do know that I grew too big for it. I think by now, I would look like Alice trapped in that house after she grew inside it. The chair would be exactly that small.

As it has been since the first day here, my bed is my workspace as well as my sleeping space. It has not been a fruitful arrangement, but it must continue until we're settled in Nevada. A bed will be the first thing I get. A desk will be the second. I need a thinking space badly. I don't want an outrageously expensive desk, with glass paneling on cabinets below, but sturdy enough, and a chair comfortable enough.

All of that leads to this: I want to be home already. I want to know that where I am is where I belong, not just biding time until we're off to wherever we have to go to next. We moved around Florida enough times, and we had lived in the apartment a year before we moved to Saugus.

I don't necessarily fear what's to come. I've been through a lot already in moving. My family and I traveled for five days from South Florida to Southern California, and the only time I saw the state capitol building in Tallahassee was when we were on our way out. I'm concerned, of course. It's a lot of work again, though thankfully, it'll only be four hours or so from here to Las Vegas, not the five days and the nightly stays in hotels that accepted pets. Our last stop before Santa Clarita was Blythe, in a motel room so dirty, so grimy, that we all slept in our clothes. Meridith turned on the showerhead and four dead bees fell out of it. I feel like those bees, only in that I feel that stiff here. During the last year, it's been a kind of damaging inertia. There's the book, but I don't feel like I've really done anything truly worthwhile this entire year, truly fulfilling.

You know, these thoughts of Vegas have been going on for two years, ever since I came upon a job listing for a writer at the Las Vegas Sun on and thought that might be my way in to getting to where I wanted to be, as a film critic somewhere. Mom heard about it and was immediately gung-ho about Vegas, at 2 a.m. Not only about that potential job, but about all that Vegas offers. More to do there than there ever will be here. I had many pairs of pants to put in the wash this past weekend and in checking the pockets of each, I pulled a ticket out of one of the pockets of my formal black pants, a ticket for "Mamma Mia!" at Mandalay Bay, from September 28, 2008, still in the same condition as when I had it that night. So it's been over a year since we were in Vegas.

We'll have to pack again, we'll have to re-organize ourselves when we get there, we'll have to be sure the pets are ok while we're driving there (two dogs and three finches), oh yes, and actually finding somewhere to live, which we haven't done yet because no one's called my dad about a business education teaching job for him. He still has applications to finish for online schools, so it'll still be a while. But I do feel at home there. And I can't live through another season of Santa Ana winds. I can't stand that nervous feeling in my stomach when those winds essentially become all I think about, waiting for when they're supposed to die down. I never got used to it like the denizens of this valley obviously are. Yesterday, a wildfire flared up east of San Juan Capistrano, one of my favorite places in Southern California that I almost seriously thought about living in if we had become lasting residents. According to the L.A. Times website, the fire reached 250 acres, but at 10:04 p.m., was 75% contained, with full containment expected today. That's fine. But I can't stand worrying about that at this time of year. Evacuating once in October 2007 was hard enough. I don't always want to know what time of the year it is. I want September to quietly slide into October. I know that the summer temperatures in Las Vegas are reasons for hibernation in arctic air conditioning until September. I can live with that, but I can't live with the threat that these usually hot, dry winds can cause major risk to my house. We live across from a not-heavily brush-covered hill, but you can see the age of the brush. There was rain a few weeks ago and somewhat of a sprinkle last week, not enough to turn anything green, but this brush is brown and gray. I can't wait to live on flatlands again, like I did in Florida. I think that's what first showed me that Las Vegas could be home. That, and being introduced to Vegas food by way of the Carnegie Deli and their monolith-tall sandwiches.

The Santa Clarita Valley is someone's home. I know that. They can easily live here. I don't know how, but I'm not going to smirk and laugh at their belief that this is home. They have a rhythm here, a comfortable pattern, and many things that drive their daily existence that they feel could only be fulfilled here. I want to find what they have and embrace it for myself. It's not going to be right now, it may not even be for the next few months. But I know my chance will finally come, to know a place intimately and feel that it's mine. I could never get tired of Las Vegas, not with all it offers for a writer in just a day. I know it could work.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It Wasn't My Mall That Often, But It's Not My Mall Anymore

A stomach ache from an excessive love of pumpkin egg nog (from Mountain Dairy, a division of Inter-American Products in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is crap in making regular egg nog, but they somehow improved the recipe when adding pumpkin flavor) led to sitting in the bathroom for a few minutes and got me thinking about security at the Buena Park Mall, and how you don't really see any security personnel there, but it's implied. You're just vaguely aware. In a previous entry, I pegged the mall as drab and dreary. It has a strong backbone, because clearly the buildings that make up this mall have likely been around for more than my six years in Southern California. It's actually called Buena Park Downtown, but it feels more like a mall, though the antithesis to what you'd expect a mall to be. It's honest to its area. It's owned by Developers Diversified Realty, which began in 1965, and it shows. The company also owns Paseo Colorado in Pasadena, which I also previously mentioned, and it's a whiplash-difference from Buena Park Downtown. Paseo Colorado is airy, and a little smug, with high-end outlets, a movie theater, a Gelson's (the ultimate in supermarket shopping that could make you bankrupt, if you were that reckless), and the feeling that if your brain isn't made up of barely regenerating soap bubbles, then there are parts of it you shouldn't bother with.

Developers Diversified Realty knows its areas. It really knows. Paseo Colorado takes in the atmosphere from what surrounds it, and so does Buena Park Downtown. I just found on the DDR website that the Buena Park Downtown property was acquired in 2004. So it had a previous owner. Here's a better way of putting it: It's the Eeyore of shopping malls. If not for the pinned-on tail, which in this case is such anchor stores as Wal-Mart, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Kohl's, you get the feeling this mall would kill itself.

Maybe that's a little extreme. I could call it battle-hardened, but what battle? Just the passage of ownership, really. There are some dimly-lit parts in it, and it's not so much a leave-me-alone feeling as a leaving-you-alone feeling. When I enthusiastically perused that liquidation bookstore on my birthday, I wasn't aware of any other part of the mall. I wasn't thinking about Wal-Mart, or the tiny food court, or the store that sells all kinds of work uniforms on the first floor. If you went to Wal-Mart, you wouldn't think of any other part of the mall. Same goes for the work-uniform store.

Ontario Mills is the complete opposite. It's in the round. Pick a point to start at in this mall and you'll end exactly at that point. The Simon Property Group owns it, but I don't think it owned Sawgrass Mills in Sawgrass, Florida when I was growing up in South Florida. There was never that much detail to Sawgrass Mills beyond the huge multi-light metal blimp frame in one of the food courts, and a model airplane flying above on a track in the other food court, the Hurricane Food Court. I don't know what it's like now, haven't known since we left Florida, but I'm sure they put a lot more into it than there was before.

The Simon Property Group also knows its locations, though more subtly than Developers Diversified Realty. You drive through Buena Park, noticing the gloom; you pull into one of the parking lots at Buena Park Downtown, and the feeling continues without interruption. With Ontario Mills, you have to look around a little more, notice many more details. This part of Ontario is where people pass through. They never stay for long. And I'm sure there are those like me and my family who come from other valleys to shop there because our own mall is crap. Or at least we used to. It won't be long before I get to that.

There's a Hooters near Ontario Mills. Right across the street is a Chick-Fil-A, and near that is the fast food pasta chain Fazoli's, which has the best greasy garlic breadsticks. Right across from one of the mall's parking lots is a Hampton Inn, which I'm familiar with from a night's stay in Louisiana when my family and I were moving cross-country from South Florida to Southern California in five days, with two dogs and a bird. As I'm writing this, I'm scrolling through the Louisiana listings on the Hampton website, trying to figure out which Hampton Inn it was, and I think it might have been in Covington. I'm only sure that we unfortunately didn't have time or the ability (because of the pets) for a detour in New Orleans. This was in August 2003, two years before Hurricane Katrina.

Anyway, you gradually get the sense of Ontario Mills being for people who either don't live in the area or don't intend to stay long. I imagine the mall has regulars, but walking inside, it's hard to believe that it would. Not that it looks bad, but over time, there has been less and less reason to go there as often. We used to, years ago, when Steve & Barry's was there, as well as Fozzy's, a great discount bookstore, and Virgin Megastore. I can't find a website for Fozzy's, so I guess it went out of business completely. The Virgin Megastore closed along with many other locations, including Times Square in New York City. Steve & Barry's closed because it crash-dived into debt and it was revealed that the company hadn't paid its suppliers for some time. But Steve & Barry's was great for pop culture t-shirts. I have seven "M*A*S*H" shirts from them, as well as three related to "The Princess Bride" (one with Inigo Montoya, one with Fezzik, and one with Vizzini), one "Cheez-Its" shirt, and a few others I can't remember right now, only that they're stuffed in my closet. I think, if the t-shirts in my closet hold for many years, I may have a collection that rivals Bruce Vilanch's.

I never warmed to the Valencia Town Center Mall in this valley. It's good for the movies at Edwards Valencia 12 once in a great while, but I think I lost interest in it after the bookstore closed, after I happily took part in their 70% off closing sale. When I am there, I go to Hot Topic to see what pop culture t-shirts they have, but that's all I can find to do. There are other clothing stores, but it gets very boring very quickly.

Those many years ago, I liked knowing that all my interests lay in one mall. I looked forward to going to Ontario Mills. I'm not one for going out often, but I was always ready when it was suggested. It's appropriate anyway that we don't go there now. Because of likely pending trips to Las Vegas to see about a new house once my dad's hired by whomever will hire him to teach business education, he and mom are keeping close watch on the mileage on the PT Cruiser and we definitely don't go as far as Ontario anymore. It's funny, though. It feels like everything is closing up. I don't have a regular interest in Mountasia or Six Flags Magic Mountain anymore. I can't think of anything I'd want to do at the mall. The only thing regular in this valley is the Valencia library, which I go to every Sunday for book returns and pick-ups. Last Saturday, we went to Woodland Hills to Fry's, so I could look for new headphones (found them and "The Pajama Game" on DVD), Best Buy, PetSmart, HomeGoods, Henry's Farmer's Market, and Jerry's Deli. A typical Saturday full of errands and eats, but we had to go outside the valley to find what we needed. The Santa Clarita Valley has never had a great deal of anything to offer, and yet I hear from my dad about people who live in this valley who have never left this valley, not even for the day. I can't understand how they manage that, but apparently they do.

About two or three weeks ago, my sister wanted the final issue of Gourmet magazine. We couldn't find it at a Wal-Mart in Palmdale (as if they cook like that in Palmdale), so we went to Valencia Cigars & News. It's a sizable, impressive indoor newsstand, stocked with every possible interest humanity could have. Civil War magazines, photography magazines, international magazines, gossip magazines, and of course, porn, in print and on DVD. There's a separate section for that with a sign on one of the swinging double doors that says, "If you spend more than 5 minutes looking, we'd appreciate a purchase." Meridith found the final issue, and I found The Atlantic Fiction 2009 special issue. It seized me because of a piece in there by Southern writer Jill McCorkle. The cover price was $5.99, but the guy at the counter keyed in $3.99. If he thought the "5" was a "3", bless him. I would have paid $5.99 anyway, but a discount on top of potential pleasure is always nice.

I haven't been back to the newsstand since, but I think often of all the magazines in there, all the parts of the world from which they come, amused by those Civil War magazines being stocked for someone. I don't think they'd be stocked otherwise. I'm continually amused by that because a drive around this valley, or at least one that lasts six years, a visit to many places around this valley, and you can't imagine anyone interested in history beyond their most recent happenings.

That newsstand is also symbolic of me looking outward. The Atlantic in general comes from Maryland. I spotted a few publications entirely in French. I think every day about Las Vegas, about the history I've yet to study and want to, about where I haven't been yet on the Strip and off, about where my place might be in that vast desert landscape. Years before, I wasn't thinking about Florida or any other state beyond those locations I saw in the independent films I reviewed (the truly independent ones, without distribution deals of any kind). I was trying to get used to the Santa Clarita Valley, trying to live in it as strongly as I could while my mom objected every day to living here, while she and dad fought terribly in barbed words about living here, about how he just moved us here without any consideration to what we wanted, about how much she hated every square inch of it, about, about, about. Is the newsstand also a sign that we will eventually depart? Eventually. I figured it out about a week ago during the night. With the exception of an almost immediate move to Sunrise, Florida soon after I was born, we've lived in Casselberry, Coral Springs, Pembroke Pines (all Florida), and the Santa Clarita Valley for 5-6 years each. I'd like to reach 10 years somewhere.

I think when you fully live somewhere, when you're aware of everything around you, when you know exactly what intersections are the worst at certain times of the day, when you find some pleasures in various things in your area, you belong. For me, it's been more about awareness than love of a place. I was aware of nearly every part of this valley, I knew where the places essential to my life were, I knew the intersections. But that was more like a crescendo as the third, fourth and fifth year came and went. Now it's faded. I've never felt like I belonged here, but I've appreciated the daily resources. I could not live anywhere without a steady supply of library books.

The newsstand and the library. That's all I really care about in this valley now. There's Ralph's, there's Trader Joe's, there's the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Carl Boyer Drive, there's Von's occasionally, but those are to be expected. Cereal, bread, deli, bottled water, fruit, vegetables, frozen dinners, meat, it's an errand. If those cover letters and resumes my dad sent out bring something hopeful to us, then this will be a proper transition to Las Vegas. To begin to care greatly about a future home (I already do, but I suspect not to the degree that one would from actually being there), you have to power down from what you currently know. With this, and the coming rains in winter (which I like more than the Santa Ana winds, though I don't mind those if there's rain included), it will be a transition calmer than when we thought we would move. During those times, I think we would have been leaving abruptly, without a good chunk of time to properly look for somewhere to live. Another apartment was considered. I think we'll do well now in getting there if this next year turns out to be the year.