Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Circuit City Fingers-Crossed Sale: The Results Show

Copies of "Witness for the Prosecution"? I was already overconfident in thinking that there might be even one copy at the Stevenson Ranch Circuit City. But, as it turns out, I was also overconfident in thinking that there might be all four volumes of "Futurama" there, waiting for me.

Instead, I found a Chuck Norris movie. I don't remember the title. I also spotted Seinfeld: Season 9, Everybody Loves Raymond: Season 9, Grey's Anatomy: Season 4, about seven copies of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," along with a stray copy or two sitting among the CDs that couldn't be sold, and what felt to me like miles and miles of empty shelves, too long and disappointing to walk, yet I did it four times on the off chance that I might have missed something, that what I wanted was perhaps sitting behind another DVD case. I looked behind some of the DVD cases on my third go round. Nothing. Yet there were other customers walking past me holding stacks of DVDs. Some of what they were holding, such as "Catch and Release," starring Jennifer Garner, made me think that they were buying just to buy. "Oh my god, look! A total bargain! I have to buy this. I want that feeling of having bought something at a severely discounted price. I can't live a day without that feeling."

Yes, I'm a little bitter. But Mom was right: They get all the good stuff out of the way before total liquidation, and what remains is what discerning movie buffs and music fans would never buy. Being a discerning movie buff, I wasn't interested in any of what they had. There was "Air Force One," but in fullscreen and I don't go for that. Had there been a copy of "The Hunt for Red October," I might have bought that, despite spending nearly a week with it for a review for Screen It (parent-oriented review, so all details about violence, profanity, and blood and gore are required in list form in different categories), but I really enjoyed it, especially that level of intelligence in a suspense film.

However, there were some good things about spending time at Circuit City not at all finding what I originally wanted. I read the back of a triple-disc pack of "Psycho II," "Psycho III," and "Psycho IV," and now I'm curious about them (Netflix for the first two, VHS copy from the library for the third), and I got new headphones. It was quite apparent I needed new ones because the black fabric over one of the ears had fallen to the side and in order to wear them comfortably, I had to stretch the fabric over that ear and put them on while holding down that bit of fabric so it would stay. Obviously new ones were necessary.

I found them, stereo headphones, they work well and with thicker fabric over the ears as opposed to the thinner ones before (now thrown out), I can turn the volume up on the computer a bit more and it won't be too loud. It's the only reliable item you can get there that you won't get stuck with, since they don't accept returns now. $9.99 at 30% off comes to about $6.99 plus tax, so I did ok with these. And I don't have to again go through the ritual described above. That reason alone is worth it.

I'll just hope for "The Noel Coward Collection" to eventually come down in price on Amazon, and....wait! $6.20 for "California Suite" on Deep Discount ( instead of $9.95 on Amazon, with free shipping from Deep Discount instead of the price paid for shipping for orders under $25 on Amazon? With how large my wishlist is becoming, I may have to switch my allegiance. On some DVDs at least.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Circuit City Fingers-Crossed Sale

Tomorrow, I will be the vulture picking at the carcass on the desert floor. I will hop around it, looking for those crevices where the most beneficial things lie. I will peck and peck, hoping to break down that which is hardest.

I'm going to Circuit City to see what's left of their merchandise. Earlier in the week, I heard that all DVDs are now 50% off and I have to go. I need to go. My growing wishlist (see "A Partial Wishlist") demands it.

I highly doubt they will have "The Noel Coward Collection" in stock, but what a joy it would be if they do. I wouldn't be disappointed if not, as I'm also looking for "Witness for the Prosecution," "California Suite," "The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)," and "Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie," which had been on sale on for $8.49 towards the end of December, but by the time I decided to order that and "My Blueberry Nights," it was already back to $14.99. "My Blueberry Nights" remained at $8.99, and I wasn't going to let that pass.

Because of the overwhelming appeal of DVDs sold at 50% off, I thought harder about what else I wanted. The four volumes of "Futurama" came to mind, especially because of those episodes airing on Cartoon Network, and being reminded of how continuously funny and literate they are. I'm not putting too much faith in them being available at this Circuit City in Stevenson Ranch, because they'd obviously be more popular than my desire for "Witness for the Prosecution" and the others, but they're on my list. Maybe I'll get that lucky.

Then I thought about "The Simpsons." I own the four seasons from the start, then a huge gap, as I also own season 9, which I requested, but I never requested 8, 7, 6 and 5. Or at least I thought I didn't.

For a few weeks in January, I decided that I wanted to Tivo "The Simpsons" every night. Before that, I watched it once in a great while. I still have old assignments from 1st grade and in one of them, inside clip art of a TV, I drew "The Simpsons" in crayon. Badly, but they're there, in overdone yellow. Maybe that triggered sudden daily viewings of "The Simpsons."

One episode I saw during those weeks was 'Round Springfield,' where Bart unknowingly eats the jagged metal prize in a box of Krusty-O's, ending up in the hospital. Lisa spots Bleeding Gums Murphy in another room, and Lisa doesn't know that Bleeding Gums is dying, since he doesn't let on about it. He dies and leaves Lisa his saxophone and she wants to find a way to honor him, which would be to have his sole record, "Sax on the Beach," played on a local radio station, if not for Comic Book Guy jacking up the price to $500 upon learning about Bleeding Gums' death. With the $500 Bart receives from a settlement over the metal in the Krusty-O's, he buys Lisa the album because she was the only one who believed him when he said he felt sick. She gives the record to the radio station DJ to play, and is handed a transistor radio so she can listen to the broadcast. It seems like it would get limited play, until a bolt of lightning from the dark sky electrifies the transmission tower, and all of Springfield hears Bleeding Gums' jazz. Then Bleeding Gums, appearing in a cloud, plays one last song with Lisa, which brings forth the most affecting version of Carole King's "Jazzman," performed by Yeardley Smith, who voices Lisa. I listened to it over and over from the Tivo, and then found it on YouTube.

So it would seem necessary to look for the season 6 DVDs which this episode is on, but I went on Amazon to look up season 6 and the Homer-head packaging looked familiar. I went into my room to take stock of the seasons of The Simpsons that I have and digging through the stacks I have in boxes on their sides that serve as shelves, I found that season. So that's $15 I've saved. And I know for sure I don't have "The Noel Coward Collection."

I've always liked Best Buy more than Circuit City anyway. Always felt that the former is more geared toward electronics and DVDs and CDs and appliances than the latter, which always felt like the stores were saying silently, "I know more than you'll ever know about what you like and if you have any questions, the employees are sure to look down on you and laugh in private later." I prefer the illusion that employees at these type of stores are willing to answer your questions, though I've not had any in years.

So tomorrow, I am a vulture. And I don't mind it, even though all sales are final. I doubt that possible copies of "Witness for the Prosecution" have been jostled around as much as DVDs current around some time in January.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The View That Did It

Southern California is the land of predictable space. If ever you spot a rare parcel in Los Angeles or anywhere within the region, you might think, based on the size, that it could soon be a parking garage, a drive-thru convenience store, a Walgreen's, maybe even a strip mall, and you would be right. In fact, over a year ago, there was one in Valencia, which began at a corner on the left, and stretched to a barrier of trees far on the right. Obviously, with how measured it looked, it had to become a strip mall and indeed it did, a high-end strip mall with the pricey Bristol Farms supermarket as its anchor. There's no surprise to what could become reality here in retail and parking.

The first night my family and I were in Las Vegas, arriving a little after 9 p.m. after having endured what should have been documented widely as one hell of a desert traffic jam, I felt uneasy when I got out of the rented SUV after we had parked in front of our room. This didn't feel right. A concrete wall, and then a fence after that, and was it certain that shady figures didn't hang out here? It felt like Miami after-hours. But whereas there you can feel the darkness at times, that which you'd rather remain separated from, this darkness left you alone. It has no reason to bother you. Why should it cause trouble for people just looking to gamble? That wasn't quite what I was after at that moment, feeling heavily the sense of an abandoned area, even though we were just off the Strip and our hotel (sort of) was next to the Hooters Hotel and Casino, not far if you walked and not even a minute to get there if you drive.

Then next to the SUV, I shook off that worried feeling and looked around closer. This was the first time in years upon years that I felt unencumbered by strip malls and any shopping districts trying to make themselves part of the feeling of an area. I don't mind malls so much, nor some of the shopping centers surrounding them, but you start to notice quickly wherever you are that the mall looks so incongruous to where it is.

Maybe that's pushing it though. I don't think often about that anyway. The only way you know you're in Valencia in the Santa Clarita Valley is if you spot the shopping center with the Pavilion's supermarket and then the Valencia Town Center Mall another block up. That's the only distinction Valencia has in being Valencia. I think I was just looking for something unique about where I was; you know, outside of the gargantuan Las Vegas Strip close to us.

My first taste of the unique was in seeing planes take off from McCarran International Airport right from where I was standing. I had never been that close to an airport. Living in Casselberry near Orlando in Florida, my parents took me to Orlando International Airport to watch planes take off and land, but we still had to drive for a bit to get there. In Coral Springs and Pembroke Pines, we'd go to Fort Lauderdale International to watch the fighter jets and other aircraft take off from there for what was then the Shell Air and Sea Show, catering to the thousands on the beach. Yet, we still had to drive out to there, about 25 minutes or so, using the highway. Same thing with Los Angeles International: Time spent on freeways and we're there. There was never any airport close to me until this moment. And here I was, watching a 737 take off (even in darkness, I can figure out what plane is in the air), and I was so impressed by this. Comes the third trip to Vegas and we're driving along roads where we see planes on approach to McCarran, seemingly hovering right above us, as if they had the capabilities of helicopters, the closer ones extending their landing gear. I loved this and it's why I want to be there. Plus I've seen other photos from Vegas online showing 747s taking off from McCarran, so I'm set, as the 747 is my favorite aircraft. Doesn't matter which model. I like them all.

Being that Vegas is right in the desert, you don't have to go far to find what you want. No one would dare drive for a time to find, say, a pharmacy, or a blackjack table. If you want it, they got it right nearby. It ties into what I wrote early this morning about having focus in Las Vegas, and only being there because you know what you want. The landscape reflects it. It also leads into some welcome unpredictability, such as spotting a CVS Pharmacy along the Strip, as well as thousands of feet of a souvenir store with t-shirts and trinkets cheap enough to give to relatives and blow the rest of the money on slot machines and other games of generally failed chance. The New York-New York casino has this locked photo wall, I think near the slot machines, showing people who have won big, holding big checks. One of the people in the photos was holding a check for over $400,000. I want to be that person, but I've reconciled myself to the fact that it's never that easy anyway and you apparently have to gamble big to win big, and risk losing big in the process. The biggest amount I've won was $10 from a $0.25 slot machine at the MGM Grand on my first-ever night in Vegas. Spent $2 trying to win more and pocketed the other $8.

Even with finding what I never expected in Vegas, that's not what did it for me and made me feel like I was home. Not the generously short skirts the Caesar's Palace cocktail waitresses wear, not the barrage of billboards and video advertisements along the Strip that offer so many possibilities, and yet never account for the too-few hours in the day and especially the night; not even Mandalay Bay, where I wish I could live.

We were three miles from Hoover Dam, standing on a roadside, looking out at houses near Lake Mead. One had a fountain right on the driveway and I wanted that as my house. It had that sense of relaxation I wanted in a house. Then we drove up to the Hacienda Hotel and Casino and parked in their lot. Never expected to find a casino this far out, but considering tourists visiting Hoover Dam, it's logical, if not for how empty it was when we went in after the experience that made Las Vegas home for me.

Adjacent to the Hacienda is a mountainside that you can walk on. It has benches along the path where you can sit and remain stunned at the view. The deep blue waters of Lake Mead, smoother than you'd expect a lake to be. I looked out at this, at a tall, separate chunk of rock across from where we stood, and it felt like all the dreams I ever had in my life had combined to create this view. This is where I needed to be from then on. This is where my life could bloom better than in the staid Santa Clarita Valley.

I think about that view often, along with the belief that if you can't find inspiration in Las Vegas as any kind of writer or artist, then you'd better quit your craft. The stories are not only in the faces of the gamblers you'll find in the casinos. There's also those you can imagine walking along the edge of the road in the emptiest parts of Las Vegas, away from the Strip, as well as that view of Lake Mead. And then you tie your own life together with everything you see. And you become a new person, different from what you believed yourself to be. Never believe that nationally-held stigma about Las Vegas. Any city that can thrive in the desert is more noteworthy than a hundred Clevelands.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What Las Vegas Will Be Mine?

For this lamentation, I'm tempted to pull out the argument that mediocrity reigns while the creative minds go broke. But that implies that the creative minds didn't do enough to promote themselves better, and more inventively than the mediocrity. It's just not true, especially since the economy is the runaway locomotive streaking over everything.

There's a bookstore in Henderson, Nevada, near Vegas, called Cheesecake and Crime. Or there will be until February 28th when, after a year, they're closing because of the economy. Cheesecake and Crime ( is billed as a "Mystery Book Shop and Cheesecake Joint." Books and cheesecake are enough for me to quickly drop whatever I'm doing and revel in both. I don't read mystery books often, but from what I had read about the bookstore, it sounded like the staff was so knowledgeable about mystery books that they could have easily led me toward the right beginning, if not for how far I unfortunately am from there.

If you live in the desert, you know what you're doing and know exactly why you're there. It's not the kind of land you wander aimlessly. It breeds some unique things and this bookstore was one of them. I could see myself going there often, perhaps even working there if there was room and if I was in the midst of my online courses from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. But distance and incentive preclude that, since my dad still hasn't gotten word from the Clark County School District of Las Vegas about any business education teaching positions opening up. That district is dealing with the same problems as districts all over the country and it's hard, because on the last trip we took to Vegas, I knew it was home. I was more relaxed inside the Office Depot we went to for a few things not stocked in Santa Clarita. A lot of the buildings we passed on the road, I felt like could never get tired of seeing them. Getting back to Santa Clarita after that trip, I felt a depression duller than the last night we spent at Hooters and then the Luxor. Sitting poolside at Hooters that night, I knew I didn't want to go back. This was home now. But I would never leave my dogs behind and so my family and I returned here, a valley that suffocates you as soon as you come from a trip, refreshed. The same thoughts curl into your mind, the same boredom, the same brief disgust at how incommunicative people are here and then quickly getting used to it again. Right now I've got that concern again about what would be if we went to Vegas again, believing that there is stability to be found here instead of over there, which hasn't been the case since we had to evacuate for a day because of wildfires in October 2007. Yes, we have a house and all, but there's nothing to do here. You have to go to the San Fernando Valley for that, to Burbank, Los Angeles proper, and the distance goes on and on, but always as far from this valley as you can get. At least in the Las Vegas area, you're never far away from what you might want to do.

We plan to look deep into Henderson the next time we go, to see if there are any houses that interest us and if it looks like home. Already Las Vegas feels like home, but we want to find the house to match. And yet I wonder what Las Vegas will be mine when we hopefully move there soon. "Soon" would be nice, but who knows, when it all hinges on the school district? I'm already a little discouraged with Cheesecake and Crime closing. But I hope that Blueberry Hill (, a local chain of family restaurants, will remain. I still need some of those personal landmarks gathered during three trips to Vegas.

The Strip has changed. More buildings are being erected, ventriloquist Terry Fator is now at the Mirage while Danny Gans, the former resident performer at the Mirage, is at the Wynn, and I can live with that. But even with the relatively little time I've spent on the Strip (even though it's been mere hours combined), it's hard to imagine it without the Folies Bergere show at the Tropicana and La Cage at the Riviera. I never went to either show (on our second trip to Vegas, we went to see The Amazing Johnathan at the Sahara (he's now at the Harmon Theatre at Krave at the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood) and a Russian ice skating show called ICE: Direct from Russia at the Riviera which is the most boring show I'll probably ever see in Las Vegas), but it's just having those billboards on the Strip, and on the marquees outside the casinos that gives a sense of stability, makes you truly feel at home. Well, at least me. And I know that acts will change at each casino, but there's the hope that they'll remain long enough to not to be totally jarred when new acts come in.

Then in the Las Vegas Sun came the rumor that comedian Bobby Slayton might be leaving the Hooters Hotel and Casino soon. He had a role as the host of a hard-news TV show in the movie "Bandits," and I've heard some of his comedy. All good. One of the taglines used for his show is, "Sit. Roll over. Play married." I like his acidic humor, but right now, it's hard to imagine anyone else being there, since he was the first headliner for the casino when it opened. I was impressed to find Hooters in this form that first time in Las Vegas, off the Strip (we stay at America's Best Value Inn, which is adjacent to Hooters), and at the time, I liked the coffee shop diner they had there. Cheap prices and the food was good. I was especially proud of my second time in Vegas because I had three steaks in four days. When in Vegas, indulge deeply in your personal pleasures.

The diner closed because I'm sure it wasn't bringing much value to Hooters at that point. They replaced it with a country-western bar, and it fits. And the management expanded the Hooters restaurant there, so it all works out. I briefly mourned the loss of the diner the last time we were at Hooters, but it's not so bad, considering all the other choices for food on the Strip and elsewhere, also in Primm, located just behind the state line.

Las Vegas obviously thrives on tourism and that's what worries me. If this stimulus package takes proper effect, it's going to take time for things to stabilize and I've a feeling it's not going to be an explosion of sudden energy. But even so, people are looking to turn their lives right side up and Vegas doesn't sound like a priority. Not only that, but even if the economy can be stimulated, there's all those people who have lost jobs. They're looking and they're hoping, and it's not the time to be spending a few days in Vegas.

But I want Vegas to succeed again. I want it so badly because I've finally found where I belong. I know it and it's taken years to find it because of all the times we've moved within Florida and then to Southern California and the Santa Clarita Valley, and then one more move across the valley. It was bad enough when, after our second trip to Vegas, the Clark County school district enacted a hiring freeze in response to the district's dwindling budget. Then came the economic freefall and here we are, still waiting. I don't want to wait anymore, and I've got the feeling a lot of other people don't want to either. We want our money to be good again, we want steady jobs, we want a lot of things that are tied into this economy. I just hope it works out enough to get my family and I to Vegas. My mom likes it because there are always things to do, whereas here there's nothing. My dad likes it because since Vegas is a cluster of service industries, business education is crucial. Or should be. I'm not sure what the consensus is toward it right now. My sister likes it because her future educational institution is there: Le Cordon Bleu, the cooking school. She wants to one day work at the Mesa Grill, Bobby Flay's restaurant at Caesar's Palace.

Me, I love it not just because of all that I've described, but because I would also like to work at McCarran International Airport one day. It feels like my kind of airport, one that is neutral to all the people that fly in and out, the big winners and the big losers, the casual gamblers and the hardcore poker players, the newly-arrived tourists and the 28th-time veterans. All I want is to work near the planes there. For me, that's happiness.

Soon. I hope for that every day.

Scraps of Literacy: An Introduction

Before I was smacked by the idea of featuring those receipts which print out after someone has checked out books either through the self-checkout computer at the Valencia library, or at the front desk with the wildly varying number of librarians at that long counter at any moment, I never paid much attention to those receipts. By the time mine print out from checking out books at the front desk, I've accumulated a mile of paper. I'm not just a voracious reader, but also a fickle one. When I was younger, I would stick with books that didn't seem to be working, just because I felt I should make it to the end. Whether out of a foolish obligation to finish a book because of having started it already, or out of hoping that the book might get better, I believe what the young believe as they get older: I was dumb. Now if a book doesn't work for me, I close it and let it go. I did that recently with a book of lectures entitled "The Courage to Be" by Paul Tillich, as it contained dense language that my former critical reading, writing and thinking teacher from College of the Canyons would have had multiple orgasms over. A disturbing thought, as that teacher, Deanna Davis, never looked like the kind to engage in such pleasures. If she didn't agree with your opinion of a detailed essay she was teaching, to demonstrate various factors in a persuasive essay, she would dismiss it. She always favored those who agreed with her opinions. Never an open-minded sort.

I thumbed through a few pages of this book, skimming over passages, and I was horrified. This was exactly the kind of language I was subjected to in her class, of people writing in complicated ways to show off their presumptuous importance. Most of what was in the textbook required for the class was exactly that. Davis wrote the same way in her syllabus for the class and in other documents I have found online. You can't be sure that there's a human mind behind those words. Words should elicit passion. I don't think she's ever found it.

Now, stepping off that fast-moving tangent, I couldn't get into this book because as smart as I believe myself to be when reading, and having accrued so much vocabulary since starting to read at the age of 2, I couldn't make my way through this book. I was originally interested in it because it delved into topics close to me at the moment. The product description is thus, from

"Paul Tillich describes the dilemma of modern man and points a way to the conquest of the problem of anxiety. This editions includes a new introduction reflecting on the impact of the book since it was written."

That's me. I'm not confident in my own work and am a little anxious about what might be ahead. I wonder what will be upon starting online courses from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and what comes after. Not what should be thought about at this point, I imagine, since apparently the "fun" of all this is in the discovery, but I've only been receptive toward that in certain things, and education is not one of those things. Discovering great movies, discovering involving books, yes. But this side of life, I'm trying to get used to that. I thought that the book might help ease some of those concerns and suggest ways to just face whatever's coming with calmness and confidence. Not overconfident, but just enough to make it all work. This was one of the sentences:

"Nonbeing is no threat because finite being is, in the last analysis, nonbeing"

My head's pulsing right now and I think I feel a sharp pain. Does anybody else smell toast?

Yeah, what I skimmed through was that bad. I don't expect the English language to be surgically clean, but words should at least be in an order that one can grasp, if not the first time, then at least the second or third time after, not the 30,456th time.

Getting back to the receipts, mine print out long at the front desk each week. Some of those I clipped into separate sections to make them easier to scan in my dad's classroom at his school last week. They're never an attention-getting length, since there hasn't been one instance where I've checked out 50 items at a shot. Before the new library computer system was installed countywide, the monetary limit for checking things out from the library was $500. So, at the library, I'd have to look at the inside flap of each book, note the price (they always went by the price the book carried), and add it all up to make sure I didn't end up over $500. This relatively new system (it's been a while now since it was set up) makes it a lot easier because I know where I stand at all times. My account is always at the maximum 50 items anyway.

While scanning this first round of receipts that day at my dad's school before my main work as a substitute campus supervisor, I noticed that there are distinct differences between the receipts given after items checked out at the front desk, and those that print out from the self-checkout computer, where you place the back of your card under the red scanner light and then place each item's barcode under that scanner to register, until you've scanned them all and take the card off from under the scanner. Then that receipt prints.

Here's what may be the first of the "scraps of literacy" to be mused over in a future entry:

Under the business about the location of this library, there's the time of when this transaction took place (03:35 pm). The items appear next, along with due dates which aren't entirely valid. 23:59 would be 11:59 p.m., and on the Friday that these DVDs would have been due (unless the patron renewed them online), the library's only open until 6 p.m. But it's a time standard for the entire computer system. They'd never tailor the due time to when each library in the countywide system closes. It was already enough of a great expense to bring over brand-new computers with brand-new conveniences for the library staff (such as receipts printing out whenver an item was scanned, and being notified that the item was to go to a different library. Before this sytem, librarians had to write out a hold receipt by hand with vertical strips of paper provided, filling out the required information. Now they just tap a button on the computer, the receipt prints out, they slip it into the book or DVD or CD, and the items are picked up to go to wherever the next destination is). People know when their items are due anyway.

The bottom of this receipt, with the number to call for renewals, or the website to visit, along with "Have a great day!" are only seen on these receipts from the self-checkout computer.

Now we come to the receipts given after checking out books from the front desk. I will use this one, from November 23, 2008 as the example. Don't mind the smudges. They come from having these things in improper storage. I only put all of them in a zip-top plastic baggie when I took them with me to my dad's school that day.

The differences here begin with the full address of the library printed on the receipt from the front desk. In each of the listings, there the "Item ID" with the number following, the "Date charged," noting the date, as well as the time it was checked out, and then the due date with the same time as the self-checkout receipts, 23:59. There's notations as well for whether something's a music CD, as you see there for "Brown and Roach, Inc." And the biggest difference, of course, is that more ink is used to print these receipts.

Now I can proudly say: Welcome to my reasons for this blog. More to come in the next few days, though with only 12 receipts to choose from so far (this past Sunday at the library was a wash for receipts since the outside of the entrance to the library, where one would normally find receipts crumpled and thrown around, was clean, and I'm not daring enough to go digging in the rectangular wastebasket, located under the machine where you add monetary value to cards used in the copy machines), I plan to space them out as far as I can without losing the rhythm.

Monday, February 16, 2009


(The inspirations for the title of this blog will be posted soon, as more thought is required than just sitting down at the computer to type whatever comes to mind)

On a paper rectangle taped to the top of each of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory boxes for each of us, this is printed in four colors, blue for me:

For Our Special Rory Leighton
(and may it be a LOVE-ly year for you!)
Much Love,
Dad, Mom, Meffie &

"Special" is actually underlined, but there is no underline command on Blogspot. I thought there was.

Tigger and Kitty are our dogs, the dogs, and Jules, Ducky, Chippy and Chloe are our finches. The finches.

The order of the names under "Much Love" differ based on whose box of chocolates it is. And there's more asteriks on the actual rectangle of paper.

Mom also used this during last year's Valentine's Day, the same writing, the same design, the same "and may it be a LOVE-ly year for you!" which I suspect has different meanings for each of us.

For my dad, it's the hope for the continued stability of the marriage, as unstable as it has been over the years. Put this way: A month can never go by without a fight, no matter how small or intense. But that's not what has me writing about this Valentine's Day greeting.

I'm ok with the sentiment, but it's the "LOVE-ly" that bothers me. I know it means that Mom hopes I start dating, that I seek a relationship with someone. It's natural for a parent to want that, I know, but she should get used to me not wanting one and not seeking out one. I've explained this so many times, that I prefer my life the way it is, with more freedom afforded than a life with a relationship. I find more satisfaction in working on myself---writing, reading voraciously, watching movies, preparing to hopefully take online courses from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for a bachelor's degree in professional aeronautics---than in having to memorize a completely new person and adapt my life to intertwine with theirs. No. Not for me.

My refusal should have been known when we all were looking out the window of my parents' bedroom at an open garage with two kids playing a few inches outside it, part of a family that had just moved into that development. We commented on how cute the kids were, and Dad said that I'd have kids like that one day, and I replied, "Yeah, sure. Keep that hope alive." My mom replied with a sarcastic "thanks," and I'm not keen on disappointing anyone, but this is my life. I can do with it what I like.

LOVE-ly? No thanks. It's better like this. I've known that for years and am proud of it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Actual Valentine's Day

I didn't want to get up at 11 a.m., and I didn't like noon either. I had gone to bed at 6 a.m. and knew that in order to spring out of bed without sleep noticeably lingering behind my eyes, 1 or 2 p.m. would be the right time.

But there my sister was, before noon and a little after, trying to wake me. Dad suggested that we all go out for lunch, Mom liked that thought, and Gandolfo's New York Delicatessen was the decision. Not Philippe's in downtown Los Angeles, not Po Folks in Buena Park, because Mom believed that they would be equally busy today and the service would probably suffer because of it. I've been to Philippe's when it's crowded during a workday, for example. The service never slides. Not with what they offer and not with the 100 years they've been in business. I would expect service faltering at Po Folks. I could see that.

So I got up, after my dog Tigger growled at my sister for a time to leave me alone and let me sleep (my favorite guard), and off we went to Gandolfo's, which has brick walls, and Frank Sinatra and Barbara Streisand playing. I didn't really notice any of the other songs that played afterward, since they're not as prominent as "New York, New York." They also have high-definition flatscreen televisions and our table was almost under one, far back enough for me to watch a college basketball game happening on ESPN, and I'm almost convinced enough to get one. That TV had stunning clarity, a little better than my 46-inch widescreen TV in my room.

The sandwiches at Gandolfo's are named after parts of New York. There's the Yonkers turkey sandwich, the Empire State chicken breast sandwich, and the Throgs Neck Bridge, which I had, containing "chicken breast, turkey, bacon, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion, avocado, ranch dressing - hot." I perused the menu in the car on the way there and for about a minute, thought that "hot" meant jalapeno hot. Nope. Hot sandwich. It would seem more obvious if it wasn't the last word in most of the listings.

The chicken breast was breaded, and while the owner of the place was friendly enough, as talkative as some New Yorkers, I hope they plan to make it better. A sandwich like mine should be active in taste and the chicken breast tasted flat, more like a food item that just happened to wander into the sandwich and immediately regret it. It was disappointing to learn from the owner that the corned beef and pastrami are shipped directly from New York City, but everything else is ordered locally. The pasta salad, sour cream potato salad, egg salad, all made fresh every day, but though the owner seems to be trying to bring New York to Southern California, it can't be done. New York cannot exist in Southern California. That's why New York is on the opposite side of the country.

There are Jewish delis in Los Angeles, such as Factor's Famous Deli, that are spectacular because they don't try to mimic another location. They know the traditions of Jewish deli, that if you don't have sour and half-sour pickles on hand, you're not a genuine Jewish deli. Matzah ball soup, you need. Egg creams are paramount as well.

Realizing that Gandolfo's doesn't have nearly the floor space Factor's has, it's not expected to be total New York. But what are they going for? They want New York, and their sandwiches are named appropriately, but has any New York delicatessen really been studied? Even if you can't get all the ingredients directly from New York because of shipping costs, surely you can figure out the recipes and try them even with the items you have bought locally. But even then it might be futile. A New York delicatessen only works in New York. I've never been to one, but my parents can attest to that, with enthusiasm. Proud New Yorkers.

The owner, as he spoke, was most proud of the "homemade" cheeseburgers, as he puts it. They can't sell over 60, because Jack in the Box nearby would be mighty pissed about the crimp in their business. So only 60, only on Saturdays beginning at 11 a.m., and apparently they sell out quickly. One customer who walked in confirmed that, and it surprised me to see a regular already, considering that Gandolfo's looked like it had just opened.

The experience was ok. The sandwiches were well-made, and I liked how fresh the pasta salad was (it included oil and vinegar, cucumbers, and strips of red peppers), but a sense of New York would be futile. It's not enough just to have Frank Sinatra belting out how he'd like to "wake the city that never sleeps," which is why New York is where one should go for that genuine delicatessen. I can't get there, but I'm aware of what I have around here. And it made me want to visit Factor's again soon.

After that, we stopped at PetSmart, where there were dogs being offered for adoption, and there was a sweet female dalmatian, who loved seeing everyone that had come to play with her a bit. Tigger and Kitty are enough for us, of course, but she was so playful and adorable. There was also a cockatiel I saw that seemed grateful to see me, perhaps not having gotten enough attention with being in the bottom cage of a stack of three. My sister used to have a cockatiel named Pepsi, who was plenty noisy. I'm not entirely sure, but I think we eventually gave her away.

Next was Bristol Farms, a high-end supermarket in Valencia, though it seems wrong to use the word "supermarket." I bet that company would prefer "community market," even though there's absolutely no sense of community in Valencia and certainly not in the Santa Clarita Valley. This is not where people live, with the hope of being part of a community. The majority of the people who live here work in Los Angeles and don't want to live there. They don't mind commuting, so long as they don't have to deal with the stresses of a big city. We are the backwoods of Los Angeles. And Saugus, where I live, is the backwoods of the Santa Clarita Valley. If I could play the banjo, I would, even among developments that used to sell for over $400,000.

Bristol Farms is always reliable in pissing me off with ridiculously high prices, though those who live comfortably in Valencia and Stevenson Ranch (since this is the only Bristol Farms in the valley), can afford these prices. Or used to. Obviously, because of the economy rushing around the toilet bowl on its way down, the store isn't making as much of a profit as it used to and it shows, with some items my mom likes bearing expiration dates that have long passed, and rotten deli in the case that no one has noticed. No one is really perceptive in this valley. If they were, there'd be a riot and an angry demand to turn that person back into an automaton.

The prices didn't get me mad this time; the drink boxes for kids did. I found a set of drink boxes called Wateroos ( Fruit-flavored water. One was apple.

Great. Another pussified generation on the way. When I was in elementary school, we weren't afraid to go for the hard stuff: Mott's. Juicy Juice. These were names that dared us to fuck around with what we knew was good. If a kid had a rare purple Juicy Juice box, out came the plastic knives from the lunch line. We were not afraid. I'm worried that this future generation will produce an eventual president that will be too timid to be tough with the rest of the world while engaging in diplomacy. Get these kids off the flavored waters and hook them up to what I grew up on. Turns out the company that makes Wateroos exists between San Francisco and San Jose. Figures. A nondescript area. Just like them.

I hope that this product is relegated to only California, but I can't be sure. Looking at the website, it looks like this epidemic is spreading. Damn.

After gaping at the prices in Bristol Farms and picking up a few things, it was back home for a dinner of baked clams, and then chocolates from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. A white chocolate peanut butter cup for me, and chocolate-peanut butter bark which I haven't eaten yet, because it's the size of a bathroom tile. The peanut butter cup was enough for now.

And, as would be expected, I later relished the silence outside while walking the dogs in this deeply cold weather. All of the trees and the parked cars and the vast starry sky for me. Only for me. I own it all. That really beats being in any kind of relationship. I have it all already. And I'm satisfied with it.

My kind of Valentine's Day. I love it.

Oh, and I finished reading "Come Blow Your Horn" before I went to bed yesterday morning. In my previous entry, I called it "merely inconsequential light farce." I should have dropped "inconsequential" because it was of great consequence. It got Neil Simon started on all the plays he wrote, as well as the screenplays for "The Out-of-Towners" and "The Goodbye Girl" and I appreciate that. He does farce well, but the best plays were still to come after that.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Ideal Valentine's Day

Go to crowded restaurants, hoping that your long-in-the-running reservation still holds. Give cards that you've spent 20 minutes choosing from a selection reaching from one end of a Hallmark store to the other. Give chocolates, give roses, strengthen relationships, propose marriage. I don't envy you.

This Valentine's Day, I will...

Hug my two dogs Tigger and Kitty tightly, and spend more time than usual throwing Kitty's tennis ball, watching her eagerly chase after it and bound back to me with it, galloping like a horse.

Revel in the chocolates I know my parents bought from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, some for each of them, some for me, some for my sister, and enjoy not having those kinds of obligations which come with relationships and marriage.

Finally finish reading Neil Simon's first play "Come Blow Your Horn," which is a generally strong beginning for his bright, lively dialogue, but it's merely inconsequential light farce. Considering his background in '50s television comedy beforehand, it was a good start and with plays like "The Odd Couple" and "California Suite" following, its value is easily seen.

Breathe in yet another cold night and silently express my love for the quietude of my neighborhood in those hours, the contours of trees against moonlight, branches sticking out in various directions, empty streets, soft light from the streetlights shining on grass and the entrance to my neighborhood and other entrances, the cold metal of the communal mailboxes, the steep hills I never imagined when I lived in Florida. And the inevitable blue-and-tan-and-blue glow from televisions, seen through windows. I always wonder what my unknown neighbors are watching.

Watch a movie or two. It's been only season one episodes of "Will & Grace" via Netflix all this week (my new addiction), and I should write more reviews. And this time, actually write them instead of writing about my intent to write them.

Have dinner, naturally, but the question is what and where? Is my dad going to suggest to my mom that they go somewhere, leaving my sister and I home, even though there's nothing in this valley that remotely compares to what Las Vegas offers in culinary ectasies? And if so, does that perhaps mean pizza for me? Maybe a calzone? My dad also thought of Po Folks in Buena Park, a Southern-style restaurant that I grew up on in Florida and which now only exists in this part of Southern California, and I like that, but even though my mom said we'd wait until my dad had a new cap put on one of his teeth (and that's been done), I don't agree with that for Valentine's Day. I would like to go, as it's been far too long since the last time, but considering the precarious fragility that always looms in my parents' marriage (there's lots of blog material there, but only as distant observation now and not trying to work it all out and "think about what it all means and how it has affected me," since I now accept the bad verbal fights they still sometimes have), it may be best for them to go out as a twosome. The foursome can wait. I don't mind waiting a little longer for country-fried steak, hush puppies, and peach cobbler. It shoves the anticipation up even higher, anticipation that can never be disappointed.

Don't assume that all whom are single are morose, and spend the day bemoaning their aloneness. Chris Gore, the head of Film Threat (for which I still write after 5 years), called it "Singles' Awareness Day" on Facebook. Yes! I'm aware, I'm proud of it, and I love it! I have the trees in the darkness, the chocolates I didn't have to make a great effort in choosing, more Neil Simon works to read, my dogs, et cetera, a satisfied et cetera at that. You have your romances and that worry about the right gift up until your other half opens it and the consequences emerge. I already have my love, in different ways.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Successful Scanning

Had to cut my "scraps of literacy" for them to fit on my dad's scanner in his classroom. But I successfully scanned all the receipts I collected from the library and for those that I had to split, I'll present them in two parts, with commentary below the first part and also below the second part. The actual work of being a campus supervisor was of minimal concern today, and more on that later, but I'm happy that I was able to do what I wanted. If I find any more of those receipts before the school year is over, it'll be my main objective to scan them the same way in the future days that I work there.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Partial Wishlist

You would think that because I review independent and mainstream movies, I wouldn't need to purchase DVDs. But there are those that either aren't readily available (and it's always because I can't find the contact information for that particular publicist), or those that I've discovered long after the initial release, as with BBC Video's "The Noel Coward Collection," pounced upon after I'd watched "Meet Me Tonight," a filmic adaptation of three of his plays. That made me curious about the Collection, which in turn sped me toward the books of his plays, his diaries, his letters. Writing is sometimes impossibly frustrating, which is why if one tries as a writer and does not simply coast along, it's crucial to look to those writers that can make one fall madly in love with words and remember the value of each word to whatever one writes. For me, that lovefest is triggered by Noel Coward, as well as Neil Simon, whose "California Suite" movie adaptation I'm watching while writing this. I'm surprised I hadn't latched onto Simon's works much earlier, considering that "The Goodbye Girl" (never the Patricia Heaton/Jeff Daniels TV movie; the original, with Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason, forever and always), and "The Out-of-Towners (Only the original, with Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis) are prominently in my DVD collection, and I also originally owned them on videotape.

In my mind, I've tried to keep track of a wishlist I've been building, based on all these factors. I've failed, forgetting and then remembering and then forgetting, so I need to have a concrete version, as concrete as it can get on the Internet. So here it is, my wishlist for now, which I'm sure I'll add to once more titles suddenly pop up while I'm trying to get to sleep, either overnight before going to work in the morning, or on subsequent nights:

The Noel Coward Collection ( - I've also got it in my Netflix queue, only because I couldn't bear having only a week from my local library to pore over the treasures these seven discs contain. And I know that once I eventually purchase this, or convince someone else to get it for me, these discs will be in my DVD player often.

California Suite ( - The dialogue and characterizations (particularly from Maggie Smith and Michael Caine) are why I've watched this eight times so far on the family Tivo in the living room, and why, even with 10% space left on the machine, I've refused to delete it.

Back to the Future ( - In this new special edition, all the footage from "Back to the Future: The Ride" is in this set. But here is the conundrum I'm sure Universal Studios Home Entertainment is delighted for me to have: If I buy this, then I have two copies of "Back to the Future," because of the trilogy pack which came out so long ago. Now, do I also buy parts II and III just to have them separately, even though they contain the same extra features that the original trilogy pack has? Hopefully they got the aspect ratios correct on parts II and III this time because the first time, II and III were framed wrong, and Universal initiated a replacement program whereby you could get new discs for free with both movies in the correct aspect ratio. From what I've learned, they've learned as well and those new II and III discs should be from the same stock. But I want the first film so badly again, trilogy pack be damned, because of that ride footage, even without the DeLorean simulator and Omnimax screen.

Anything by Noel Coward ( - Total mental orgasm.

Anything by Neil Simon ( - Total Mental Orgasm: The Sequel

There's more DVD and book desires floating around in this head, I'm sure, but none of those have touched off any synapses yet. I'll give it time. No point in forcing what will eventually come.

Enter the Scanner

Tomorrow I'm working at my dad's school as a substitute campus supervisor, and that's advantageous for this project of scanning those item check-out receipts from the library and posting them on here. My dad has a flatbed scanner on a table across from his computer, and while I will soon also try the digital camera method suggested to me, this will make it easier for a lot of the long receipts I have that otherwise would need to be cut into manageable sections. Also have to remember to bring my flash drive with me, since I have plenty of room on there to save these images.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Silence That Envelopes the House

11:05 p.m. My time. My parents are asleep, their bedroom located behind the living room, while my sister, saddled with a cold, will be asleep soon, if the Disney Channel doesn't knock her out first. I like to think the audiences for "Zack and Cody: Don't Mug Like That or Your Face Will Freeze" are paid something to laugh that loud and that often.

And I've just come back from walking our dogs, Tigger (part miniature pinscher, part Italian greyhound) and Kitty (part miniature pinscher, part terrier), where outside is the most piercing cold I've ever felt not just in the five years I've lived in Southern California, but even in all the years I lived in Florida. Frost on cold nights in Casselberry, near Orlando, was bad enough to kill the tangerine tree that was next to my window, as it is for orange crops as well, as seen on the news around this time of year. But the cold here, throughout the night hours, is the kind that immediately preys upon your vulnerabilities. With me, no gloves on my hands and no ski mask on my face. I refuse because I'd look ridiculous, even in a neighborhood where no one cares, where you live right next door to whomever and only wave at them once in a while. Not exactly a neighborhood where you try to get friendly. They might call the cops, concerned.

Having defrosted from the cold outside, I love this time of night. There is a silence that has gotten into all corners of this house, in between the couch cushions, in my bedsheets which I won't slip into until near 5 a.m., in the space between the refrigerator doors, and I'm sure it's gotten to the silverware and dishes too. For me, it's the kind of silence that lingers, never questioning, never suggesting, but at times, making me think about what I'm doing at the moment and whether I should be doing something else.

I'm nearly done with the newsletter for the night, but what next? Reading through the various Word files I've created with ideas for plays and even some dialogue written? More time spent with the first volume of Neil Simon's plays, studying structure at the same time I sigh with admiration over his dialogue and wish I could write like him? I haven't written any new reviews for Film Threat lately, so what about those DVD screeners from various independent filmmakers? There's one that I've wanted to see for a while, a documentary called "Humble Beauty," about homeless artists. I should contribute to my annual review tally with the Online Film Critics Society, of which I am a member and also on the governing committee. 50 reviews a year, as stated in the bylaws. Or maybe I should retreat to my journal for the night, reading what may sound so simplistic now. Is there anything else I could add that would balance it out?

I don't know what I want to do yet. But the silence rests above and all around, patiently, making me think further. Maybe a novel. Lord knows I've checked out enough of them on my library card as well as my sister's library card. I've got that collection of novels by Carson McCullers and only vowed to continue watching "The Member of the Wedding" on the Tivo in the living room after I finished reading the novel of the same name. There's also the early Steinbeck novels in one collection too. Maybe just the radio? KCRW? Lot of music there that I haven't heard yet, and I could listen and mentally add to my list of city music, that which feels city-like, specifically Los Angeles. I haven't even started a list for Las Vegas yet, and I should, considering how badly I want to be there already, if not for the dire reality of this economy which renders the Clark County School District there unable to hire my father yet as a business education teacher. That's a whole set of entries for another time. More to add to that physical list.

The time to just lay on the couch doing nothing passed long ago. I can't very well lay face up and stare at the marginally high ceiling. It's not a popcorn ceiling like I had in various houses in Florida (we moved a lot), so it's not as easy to find different shapes and scenery in it. Impossible to do that when there's so much read and watch and write about.

The silence can make you think about so much. It can send you right back to better days in memory. It can put you right back on the road toward Northern California, to Casa de Fruita in Hollister where there was a bakery that had the best peach pie in the state, and the most stunning views of the greenest hills you'll ever find, if you stay within the United States for your entire life. England might have greener ones.

I should finish this newsletter, archive it, and set it up to have it sent automatically to 680 subscribers. The newer subscribers are probably on that free trial week offer, and I hope they subscribe right after. Then, I'll answer the silence with what I plan to do. I'll think of something.

Nothing's Ever THAT Easy in L.A.

As soon as the $170,000 imported Bentley stopped next to a Toyota dealership in Universal City after a three-hour low-speed chase with police that ended where it had begun, there were live shots from ABC 7 of many people running toward the scene. News media, sure, along with one of ABC 7's reporters also on the scene. But also paparazzi, believing by that point that there may have been someone famous in the car. Considering the details let forth by news outlets while the chase was going on, such as the police going after the man for an assault on his girlfriend with a deadly weapon and the fact that the Grammys had concluded the night before (though why would any music star stay in L.A. longer than necessary unless there was business to conduct there and even then, why would they hang out in Universal City towards 8 p.m. anyway?), there was the most obvious person to think of and it was the name the news stations were not bandying about because no lawsuit is ever welcome.

I thought it was Chris Brown too, considering what he had done to Rihanna, based on what's supposedly been known so far. And as the features of this Bentley were described, though mentioned to have Illinois license plates, who wouldn't believe at that moment that it was him, what with his music career now threatened to end?

As soon as the broadcast of ABC 7 was over on TV, I immediately went to the live feed on the their website, which lasted until 12:45 a.m. There was one point when a cameraman from the station got a close-enough shot of the man inside the car, as close as can be with tinted windows. A beard, a gun to his head at one point, and sunglasses. No, this couldn't be him. Much as the people from TMZ and other paparazzi agencies (call TMZ a gossip website all you want, but they chase the story as much as those other photographers do) would have liked it to be someone famous, even him, that wasn't the case, as evidenced by the news from the L.A. Times this morning that the standoff ended when the Pakistani businessman shot himself and later died at a nearby hospital.

And now there's even more information, that this man, Mustafa "Moe" Mustafa, was a former luxury car dealer:

So nothing in L.A. is ever that easy to figure out, and nothing in L.A. is ever that easy, period. Most celebrities try to stay away from those public streets anyway, unless they've decided to give it all up for some crazy reason. And that hasn't happened, not like that, at least not in our time. But then, I don't pay much attention to celebrity news anyway, only in passing on my way to reading other stories not dealing with them.

UPDATE at 4:14: An L.A.-centric website called LAist has a far better recap of the car chase than I could ever manage:

I know car chases happen in L.A. often, but I was really struck still by this one. Mainly because all the others I've seen on TV simply stop abruptly, police jump out of their vehicles and either have their guns out at the car, demanding out loud that the suspect get out of the car, or chase after the suspect on foot after he's decided to do the same. There's no name to the person, just that person small from the vantage point of a helicopter.

But this one, with all the speculation, with how long that man stayed in the car, I was just floored because here I was, working on the Freelance Daily newsletter, and here was this guy in Universal City, and who knows what was going through his head? Me and him, two entirely disparate people, and still I wondered. Still I was curious, just like I am when I stand near two tables at a concrete section with railings, across from the handicapped spaces nearest the entrance in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart on Kelly Johnson Parkway, in Santa Clarita, looking out over a good portion of the valley, Six Flags Magic Mountain obstructed by trees a few feet away from me, thinking about what must be going on in the valley at the same time I'm looking out at that part of it. What are people doing? What's happening on the roads? Who's working in some of those office buildings right now even though it's the weekend? All those stories in this valley and in Los Angeles as well. I don't think I've ever thought as much about people as I have living here. Not even in the 19 years I spent in my native Florida. Being near L.A., and living in what is basically the backwoods of L.A., you think about a lot when it comes to people.

My Evening Craigslist Clickathon

(Update on the "scraps of literacy": A hopefully regular reader named "sittingpugs" suggested to me that I use a digital camera, that way I can adjust various settings. I plan to try that very soon.)

In 1st grade, 1990, my classmates at Stirling Park Elementary in Casselberry, Florida always called me a "computer hog," because I was often on the only computer the classroom had, a computer that only worked if you had a floppy disk in the separate drive. Yes, a floppy disk. I think one of the games available was "Number Munchers," where with the frog-like "Muncher," you'd munch, say, multiples of 5. It became "Math Munchers" years later.

I was never bothered by that comment, because it's true. At this moment, I have tabs open in my Internet Explorer browser for the "J! Archive" (, devoted to archiving Jeopardy! games, YouTube ('My Road' by Quinn Walker, because of an episode of "Scrubs" from last week called 'My New Role' which found Dr. Cox trying to adjust to his new position as Chief of Medicine), my e-mail, the 'dashboard' of Blogger, news from the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the celebrity drag show called "An Evening at La Cage" at the Riviera Hotel and Casino has closed after 24 years (a shock, considering that the Tropicana is closing the showgirl spectacular "Folies Bergere" on March 28, after 49 years. The Strip is vastly changing), and Google.

But it's not just my penchant for keeping 8-10 tabs open at a time in one web browser that makes me a "computer hog." After I wake up in the middle of the day, I get on to check various news websites to see what's going on, such as later today when the results of the Israeli election will be announced. Curious about that potential shift in power. Plus there's my Battleship games on, called 'Battleboats' on there, many movie news websites, Film Threat, the site I write for, and so much else that I can't think of right now, but I know I'll remember those sites later when I access them.

That would probably be applicable to a lot of people though. But there's also the hours I spend online each evening, compiling job listings for a freelance writing newsletter run by a woman in Texas who inherited Freelance Daily (, from someone else and about two years ago, put an ad in one of the newsletters that she was looking for someone to work on the newsletter. Either an unpaid intern, or a paid someone. I decided to be that "paid someone" and there apparently wasn't much demand for the job, because I was brought on right away.

The program created for the newsletter, accessible on a website separate and private from the one containing the newsletter archives for subscribers, is wonderful, if it was ever fixed, something that hasn't been looked into, but I've gotten better at inputting many of the listings manually.

The genius of this program is that there's one section where you adjust the dates for ads you're seeking from Craigslist (February 10, say, listed as "Feb 10" in the "From" box and make sure that the "To" box lists the same date), click the "Get Content" button, and the program automatically gathers up listings from various locations on Craigslist. San Diego, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, all of them and many more pulled in. Another tab in the program lets you "filter" the ads through, by way of five buttons on the left side of each ad, corresponding to various categories, such as 'Straight-Up' (for magazine writing ads, or writing ads that don't really fit anywhere else), to 'Copywriting' and 'Technical.' Just click one of those buttons and the ad is dropped into that specific category. Another tab lets you see the newsletter as it'll be seen by the subscribers, and another on the far right lets you put in a 'quote of the day' and change the date of the newsletter for each day.

Freelance Daily goes out to subscribers Monday-Friday, which means I'm at work on this Sunday nights through Thursday nights. Sunday nights can be the most trying, because there's three days worth of listings to sift through, from Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Thursday nights for the Friday newsletter are usually the easiest because it's more than likely that those who would post ads are already inside the weekend, and so there's not that much to pick. Generally, I can get that newsletter finished before or a little after 11 p.m, faster than other nights. The newsletter is sent out automatically through a site called Your Mailing List Provider (, where you set up your newsletter to go out and out it goes either right away or at an appointed time set by you.

The "listing generator," as I call it, hasn't really worked all that well for a long time. It used to pull in 300 listings or so which would cover the bulk of what was posted on Craigslist and leave me to only click manually through the locations covered and many extra ones, to pick up what might not have even been considered, usually in locations not swept by the program. Now it picks up only about 120 or so listings, sometimes less and that makes a lot more work for me, having to manually type in the listings, copying and pasting the text of the ad too, as well as the e-mail address. I wish the work could be made easier by the 'generator' being fixed, but as might be imagined, the newsletter doesn't make a great amount of money, and therefore a tech guy could only be contacted if the program wasn't working at all. I understand the owner's stance on it because she does a lot each day keeping the newsletter promoted and running another small business she has. Plus she's got kids and a husband, and the day shrinks.

But if it weren't for those "computer hog" days all the way back in 1st grade, I wouldn't type as fast as I do. I've gotten awed comments from classmates through all my years in school, and other people, wondering how fast I type, and a few who wondered how many keyboards I've destroyed. I've never tracked how fast I type, and no keyboards have ever been harmed. In the case of the black one I'm typing on right now, Dell makes them strong enough to face me. That helps the newsletter work go by fast, provided that I don't dawdle on assorted websites, which is sometimes difficult.

Because I compile these listings every Sunday night through Thursday night, it does get tedious. I scroll through the same cities every night through the listing generator, and I click on the same cities on Craigslist. Click and click and click, though sometimes with me it's clickclickclick. That fast on a mouse too. It's why my fingers are the only strong, toned parts of my body.

With that tedium, I need entertainment while I'm working. My bookmarks are jammed with it, in different categories, such as one for books that interest me, which must contain over 500 Amazon links by now. I've never counted how many, but it takes about 40 seconds to scroll through the entire list. There's also lots of YouTube links in my main folder, the bulk of them probably dead, as I've clicked on a few of them and found that the videos were removed or NBC Universal ordered them taken down, or some other music label who hasn't yet figured out the value of marketing on the Internet. Some are smart enough to repost the videos on their own accounts, so that's a start.

Then there are those miscellaneous links, such as book blogs, poetry sites, a Nintendo game site that boasts replicas of the old Nintendo games that you can play by using only your keyboard (, and hundreds of others spanning all kinds of interests. I think I've even got a few cooking websites stashed in there, though I don't have as much of a passionate interest as my sister, who wants to be a chef). It's problematic when I'm clicking through these sites, rather than gathering listings for the newsletter, and then the hours tick by and I'm at 3 a.m. once again without much of a newsletter to send out yet.

I've figured out one way to try to combat not only the Craigslist boredom, but to keep myself on track. The KCRW radio station (, which broadcasts NPR programs (including "Morning Edition") and their own music programs, has one every Saturday morning from 3-6 called "Strictly Jazz," hosted by Bo Leibowitz, a calm, considered, thoughtful voice that's the only one to have to introduce jazz pieces. I'm more into jazz than I was when I first listened to it about a year ago, but am still gradually easing in. However, Leibowitz's program makes me ease more quickly because of what he offers, including Dexter Gordon, jazz from other names I've never heard of, and my favorite part of his show: The women. I love the voices of those jazz chanteuses. I especially love a voice that matches a lone trumpet wailing deep into the night on a city corner lit only by an overhead street light, with apartment and office buildings looming in the shadows. I like to imagine that the trumpet plays loud enough to render useless any objection that the apartment dwellers could have. They can't stick their heads out of their windows and yell at the trumpeter to cork it, because they're laying in their beds, knowing that the trumpet's notes match their own feelings that swirl around them as they try to sleep. It's one of the many images in my mind whenever I hear good, articulate jazz.

I ought to find more programs like that on the Internet. There's one on WAMU 88.5 FM in Washington D.C. called "Hot Jazz Saturday Night," which plays "vintage jazz, swing, and big band recordings from the '20s, '30s and '40s," according to the website ( And there's also the 'Real Jazz' channel on Sirius/XM which I listen to occasionally, but never before I've listened to 'Strictly Jazz' if I haven't already during the work. I'm usually watching a movie in my room or on the Tivo around 3 on Saturday mornings, so I never listen to the program live. Always archived. Still brings the same pleasure, much like when I've got KCRW going on an early Monday morning around 4, laying in bed, eyes closed, and I hear a song that makes me want to know the title badly and I wait until the DJ comes back on, and scramble to find a pen on my nightstand and onto the back of one of the pages of my New Yorker cartoons page-a-day calendar it goes, along with the name of the artist, to look it up later that day, maybe even find the song on YouTube, and revel in it again, such as with "That Night" (, the only song I know of that feels like Los Angeles. I've always been looking for that song, and this is it. I won't leave you hanging as to what I mean, and I'll address that in another entry because it requires that kind of attention. But it involves trying so hard to connect with a place because of simply being there, and not being able to click with what others are so used to.

Even though I find putting together the newsletter tedious (and that feeling is more pronounced before the end of the week), I do find value in it because of what it brings to the subscribers: Potential jobs that they don't have to scour Craigslist themselves to find, because they're all right there, categorized in that newsletter. It saves freelance writers time, and I get a lot of satisfaction when it's full of listings that I know will be useful, when the pay sounds right and the writer of the ad sounds honest and straightforward in who they want to work for them. Though Monday's newsletter took a lot longer than it should have (surfing the Internet during, because three days of listings can sometimes be frustrating), I felt that exact satisfaction with 85 listings offered, confident in nearly all of the jobs being of use to someone. Though it may be later in the morning than I'd want it to be by the time I'm done (the newsletter usually goes out at 3 a.m. my time, pacific time), I don't feel so frustrated when I'm that satisfied. I've helped someone, even though I don't know who they are. And that's pretty good. Admittedly, the paycheck, mailed to me every week, helps too.

I've noticed throughout this entry that my reasons for considering myself a "computer hog" don't match up to the belief shared by my former classmates. It's also because I get frustrated when someone is on the computer too long when I need it. I used to argue about it, especially when my dad used it, long before he got his laptop which has been a godsend in other ways for me. That'll be in another entry covering the other work I do, which also requires extensive time on the computer. My mom never liked those arguments between my dad and I, which were alleviated with that laptop. I still get a little ticked when my sister's on here a lot longer than I'd hope, especially when it starts getting late into the evening and I have to start work on the newsletter. But that hasn't happened in such a long time and so isn't such a concern anymore. It can definitely be said that the trait I had in 1st grade is still with me, but larger now. And that's yet another entry for me to write, about traits like that one that are still with me today. My elementary school teachers were accurate in their assessments of me.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Well, This is New

I've never felt the urgent need to maintain a blog before, as there's been enough insights from varied minds to keep me mentally nourished, such as from Ken Levine (, the master sitcom writer and Erin O'Brien (, whose brother John wrote "Leaving Las Vegas," among other stunning books, and who's a talented writer in her own right. With them, and others like Pete Vonder Haar (, a fellow writer for Film Threat (, what could I possibly have to say that would make a blog worthwhile?

As expected, an idea came a few weeks ago that I've not yet worked out logistically (i.e., too lazy so far to make it happen, though seeing the blog alive should motivate me), but I hope will become the crux of this blog. If not all the time, then I hope the posts without it will retain the theme.

Three Sundays ago, my family (parents and sister, whom I will most likely write a lot about) and I left the Valencia branch of the County of Los Angeles Public Library system and on the ground were what stands now for due date stamps on the back of books: Printed lists of what has been checked out and when those items are due. It came with replacing the then-aging countywide computer system, which had librarians scanning in books to be returned and writing out various numbers on slips of paper corresponding to libraries that those items would be sent back to. A lot of paper used and certainly plenty of pen ink.

With this new system, there is still a lot of paper used, but now all the librarians at the checkout desk have to do is scan the book and a piece of paper prints out detailing which library the book goes back to, and to whom, if anyone. Much easier, less time taken, and I admire the convenience of it.

Those printed lists of what is checked out (the self-checkout computers also obviously do this) are useful if you're not me. That is, you don't access the library catalog from home every day, reserving book after book and causing wild frustration during the week (I imagine) to the librarians who were at least enterprising enough to remove my books from among the shelves where other people's books are sitting, waiting to be picked up, and put them in a large box under the counter at the far right side of the check in/check out area.

But outside on that Sunday, I noticed a few of those printed lists on the ground. I picked them up, learning that someone had checked out books on Indian cooking, while another, most likely a teenager, had checked out what looked like every "Yu-Gi-Oh" book the library carried. This was fascinating to me: A record of reading habits. How many books? How few? Short lists? Long ones?

I told my sister, upon picking up a few of these, that I wanted to start a blog showcasing these. Not to criticize, as I believe that whatever gives you pleasure you should embrace, but perhaps to make a little fun of some of the choices, and also maybe to imagine the person who checked some of these items out. "Little Children" and one of the discs of the first season of "Charmed," you have to wonder just a little bit.

We have a multi-purpose printer here at home that also can send out faxes and scan things. The most workable method for me is to tape these "scraps of literacy," as I call them, and hence the blog title, to sheets of white printer paper---making sure they're absolutely secure and don't cause us to have to buy a new printer---and running them through the scanner function.

I have a few short ones that I plan to practice on and hope that they work, including that one containing the above-mentioned DVD titles. Now, it should also be known that these slips of paper do not contain library card numbers. A matter of security, and a good one, particularly when people just throw them on the ground and move on.

In the weeks following my discovery of this, the grounds near the entrance of the library and up to the automatic doors have been disappointingly clean. Every Sunday, I hope for at least a few more on the ground, that maybe whomever cleans that wide area either forgot or wasn't there on Saturday or that morning (the library opens at 1 on Sundays and closes at 5). But I'll work with what I have for now, because I'd like these to be the centerpieces of this blog.

As for other possible "scraps of literacy," I read often, watch lots of movies, and there's certainly a lot to write about in this world of mine, so I plan to include all of that in here too. Most likely short pieces unless there's something really on my mind, another meaning to "scraps of literacy," and I hope my writing here is always literate enough.

I'm also constantly enthralled and fascinated by the night. Those hours within the darkness are when I spend the most time up and about, except for when I serve as a substitute campus supervisor at La Mesa Junior High, where my dad teaches business education. Nepotism with a twist: I'm good at it. However, though I do get on well with the students that the office and administration call for at various times in the day, it's not quite the same as the set of students I knew when I was a tutor for the AVID program, basically a useless stab at trying to turn kids toward going to college after they graduate high school. Never mind the car mechanics needed and various other jobs in the world that are also important. You help kids with problems they have with various subjects, there's a chart they draw out to try to figure out those problems, and that's all I could say about that without mustering further disgust. It's never been helpful even in its own aims. Seems more like a power trip for those teachers engaging in it, a way to teach without having to put forth the effort needed to be a really good teacher. Just sit behind the worksheets and methods laid out by others. Never mind the inspiration that could come from actual effort.

I'm sure I'll cover that in further detail in future entries, but for now, I will say that I did quit out of that personal disgust. I didn't want it anymore and it bored me to the brink of stupidity. It's thankfully not possible for me to step off that cliff. So I took a job as a substitute campus supervisor when needed. And the first time I did it, I met again many of the students I had helped as an AVID tutor, who seemed to like me more than their own teachers. They wondered why I was a campus supervisor now and I explained to them why, lightly, without getting into the bolder details of my dissatisfaction. I credit the genes I was given, as my dad has the same talent for engaging people, but I've no desire to follow him into teaching.

You may find in future entries my tendency to wander like this at risk of losing the point I intended to make. Here, it's to say that the hours kept by some of the campus supervisors are not friendly for a night person like me. One has hours of 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., my favorite set because school ends at 3:10, and I have some time to stretch out on the couch in the teacher's lounge upstairs from the library. I go in with my dad in the morning and leave with him as well in the afternoon, so that means getting up at about 5:40 a.m. I'm going in again on February 12th, the day before a four-day weekend for the William S. Hart Union School District, encompassing all its schools. Good enough for me, though the hours I'll inherit this time are 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Five hours instead of the six I love so much. But a paycheck is always appreciated, so I'll happily take what I can endorse, after the district has taken various things out of it, the little, niggling, bothersome taxes that make you wonder what they actually use the money for, and if they actually use it.

But perhaps that's a little too cynical at this moment. I shall save that for later. I've no qualms about the job, certainly not with what it entails during the day, yet another string of thoughts suitable for another time, another entry.

I hope you'll join me and stick around, curious about what happens next. Maybe spontaneous combustion. I'm easy.

And now to figure out the scanning function on this printer.