Tuesday, March 31, 2009

2:03 a.m.

Sitting here at the dining room table in near-darkness, on my dad's laptop, listening to Charles Bukowski reading his poems from a CD set called "Charles Bukowski Uncensored" which I ripped to the computer and transferred to my mp3 player long ago, but because of the home computer going to the tech guy at my dad's school to be stripped completely and built up again, I transferred these and a lot of other tracks to my jump drive to hold me over until we get that computer back. I'm listening to Bukowski talk about "Vegas and pussy and victory," and I'm thinking, in the glow of this laptop screen, looking into a dark tunnel of a kitchen, that there's nothing else that could be as great as this at this time of the night. I am listening to a master wordsmith, continually reminded of why he was a master wordsmith. I don't want to be him, I don't want to ever try to imitate his style, but I like to genuflect often at his rundown, well-worn temple of words. God forever bless the man, and maybe have a few beers with him too.

Where is the Night?

The night is in this living room-cum-dining room, in the three low light bulbs above me at the dining room table, its depressed light barely making an effort to be bolder than the darkness. The light reaches as far as the bird cage nearest to the TV in the living room portion of this long room and then it gives up. It's about right for this hour, getting near 1 a.m.

The night is also at the community pool across from the patio, not yet open to the residents for the season. It's not quite that temperature that merits late-night hours for teenagers by the pool, in the pool, and in the spa. I wish the mallard duck that I've seen at the pool the past few nights was there tonight, but it's too cool out there for it. The water looks green now, from nature's sediment, leaves, dirt from duck feet, and certainly duck droppings as well. Whomever takes care of the pool will inevitably have to clean it again. It makes no sense that the lights inside the pool are on when no one's there. Well, no one physically, but mentally, since I'm thinking about it right now.

I know without doubt the night is at the houses I've seen near the foothills across from La Mesa Jr. High, where my dad works. It has always amazed me that people would want to live that far away from everyone else, in a cul-de-sac pushed up against a foothill, one that looks like the same as every other suburban tract in the Santa Clarita Valley. What one finds in Stevenson Ranch suburbia is the same anywhere else here. It's disappointing, considering the landscape, which should demand more from those that live in the shadows of mountains and hills and golden yellow flowers on hillsides. Even some of the trees seem to have given up.

I know it seems I'm rambling, but that's what this night feels like. I wonder what it would be like to look into the doors of the Pavilion's supermarket in Valencia, if not for living in Saugus. We lived in Valencia for a year, in one of the apartment complexes behind the Pavilion's shopping center, but I never thought to wander out at night and see what the inside of a darkened supermarket looks like. I think it's because I would have riled our dog Tigger, and our apartment door didn't have anything that could block him from going out. Not that he ever would, but to me, it was best not to disturb him late at night by doing something like that.

The parking lot in this neighborhood, and the one across the street, I like to think that during these hours, I own the cars and trucks parked there. I can't get into them, nor would I want to, but Toyotas and Hondas and Mazdas and Fords, and F-150s and every other kind of vehicle a formerly $400,000 homeowner can get, they're mine. The tires are mine, the windshields, the tailpipes, the colors. I'm not fond of cars anyway, but I just like that I can have them if I want. I don't want to drive them, but I like looking at them, imagining. It may seem strange to be proud of that when I don't like cars, but they're the first available things I can think of.

I wish my neighbors were more well-read. I wish I could find old issues of The New Yorker in their recycling bins. I wish boxes of books sat beside their garbage bins. There was one night while living in the apartment in Valencia where I was taking garbage out to the dumpster, and there was an abandoned chest of drawers against a wall of the dumpster area, in between the two dumpsters. I opened one of the drawers and found a wealth of books left in there, including one called "Little Green Men" by Christopher Buckley, which I still haven't read, despite moving with it to Saugus. There were others I picked up as well, such as "Closers: Great American Writers on the Art of Selling," which contains an excerpt from the novel "The Competitor" by Thomas Bontly. I've read that excerpt more times than anything else in the book so far, and it impressed me so that I bought the book from Amazon Marketplace. I still haven't read that one either, though I lean toward my literary priorities catapulting me elsewhere rather than harboring the thought that the book might not live up to the high standards set in that excerpt, which I don't.

Loving the night is a complete reversal between me and my sister. When I was little, I was always the one put to bed at an early hour. My dad kept my sister up well into the late hours when she was little and when she was growing up, it was hard to get her to go to bed because of that. Now she's the one who's in bed well before 11 and here I am at 1 a.m., writing this. It's not an unconscious rebellion against having been put to bed that early during those years. But I suppose to me, there's more life at night than there is during the day. There's the expected routines, not just with work, but in errands, food shopping, pumping gas into the car, trying to beat the light at the intersection before it turns red, sighing with a little bit of defeat as the garage door comes down on another day after you've parked inside. Not that I have any experience with the latter, but I imagine it may be commonplace among many. At night, there are shadows all over. The colors of tree leaves and bushes and curbs and streetlight poles during the day, become as dark as the blacktop of the street. There is a hint of what there was during the day, but now it's a landscape for the imagination. People can think sinister of their co-workers to loved ones and friends. People can imagine what they might say to those co-workers if they were witty enough and confident enough. I live in the night because that's where I believe the human soul truly lives. During the day, we try to live up to expectations we've set for ourselves for that day, and that others have set for us too. At night, we are by ourselves as we lay in bed, mulling over the day's events and thinking about what might happen the next day. We may talk to others about the day, but we are thinking only as one person. We may think of ourselves in those hours in relation to others, how certain actions we may plan to undertake might affect ones we care about, such as a car purchase or a possible new job, or anything that "responsibility" calls for. I don't have contempt for responsibility. I know there are elements of that which are crucial to our lives. I just have contempt for the vacuum bag that some keep themselves in because of that. Not all people, mind you, just those, say, in my neighborhood, maybe in your neighborhood. My next-door neighbor for example looks like he's been married for decades, and I know exactly what he does as soon as he gets home. Well, I don't know what he does when he's inside, but after a while, he and his wife go out to dinner, then they come home, then the TV goes on in the living room, at least until 11, and then lights out. I walk the dogs on the patio because of a boxed-in man-made landscape that's a decent simulation of Las Vegas terrain (where we plan to eventually move if the Clark County School District begins hiring teachers again), and they need to learn how to go on that terrain. From the patio, I can see the light on in my neighbor's living room and I know that that's when the TV is on. Almost exactly before 11, the light's off. Routine that can kill.

But I'm not one to embark on a crusade to try to break people out of their routines. So be it if they want to live their lives that way. I have my own and that's the only one that matters within my body. As would be appropriate at 1:22 a.m., I've lost the point I was rumored to be making. In fact, I'm not even sure there was one within the confines of the previous paragraph.

My favorite view of the night is from the side parking lot at the Wal-Mart on Kelly Johnson Parkway in this valley. Don't ask me to say where exactly that is because I don't know. I've not known for five years. I have a theory on how to get there, but not certainty. It's what comes from living where you don't care much about what's here. There hasn't been much reason to chance that. But anyway, the view is unfortunately blocked pretty well by a few tall trees which I don't think were there last year. Without them, you could get a totally clear view of Six Flags Magic Mountain, all the lights of the rollercoasters on. Of course if you're looking for a full, not-totally-straight-on view, then you'd have to walk down the parking lot a bit. My favorite view is not that, though, but all the buildings with lights on the sides, lights shining down on other parking lots, traffic lights seen far up mountains, clusters of houses, all kinds of stories that strike me with wonder. Anything interesting happening at one of the intersection? Any suitably crazy people crossing the street? Any new residents sitting stock-still in their apartments, trying to remember what brought them here? Anyone just standing outside wondering the same thing I'm thinking about?

When I was at The Signal, the exclusive newspaper of the Santa Clarita Valley, I thought about writing a column for the weekend Escape section about wanting to make chalk drawings on the long stretch of street that passes my neighborhood on the way to higher ground and higher elevation neighborhoods. Well, not chalk drawings. That's too small-scale. Alien planet landscapes, portraits, city scenes, a chalk drawing of a better street than ours, whatever. I can't actually draw, but just imagining it was always fun. I didn't write it because I was caught up in working on many other things at the paper, but I think it was more of a column than an actual desire. I sometimes stand on that street at night and just marvel at how quiet it is, how my neighbors and other parts of this suburban hick population (we are far enough away from the hub of this valley that I call where I am the backwoods of Santa Clarita, just like Santa Clarita is essentially the backwoods of Los Angeles, since most of the residents live here only because they don't want to live in L.A., but don't mind commuting every day) drive out in the morning, drive home in the afternoon, like pre-ordained permanent choreography. There are some good neighbors, the few that I've seen. One woman I talked to has lived in my neighborhood for 26 years and that's a relief since I'm always worried whenever the winds get heavy enough, especially the Santa Ana winds. It's one of the reasons I can't wait to move to Las Vegas where, despite the winds at times, at least I'd be living on flatlands, and looking at mountains, not living in them.

There was a big black guy I passed by once on the way back to the house after walking Kitty, and we said hello to one another, and I was pleased at his voice. A relaxed tone, almost like you could imagine him as a trumpeter in a jazz band or even as a soloist. He just had that air about him, like he also lived for these hours, where his inspiration was. No doubt he has a job far different from that, but his presence is one of the rare pleasures of the neighborhood, inspiration found that can help create a character for something. A play, maybe a novel, I don't know yet. I need to start writing more often first. That I know.

Maybe that's what the night is. Jumbled moments and jumbled souls, like this blog entry. It's not meant to always make sense. That's what the daytime is for. It's where Oprah reigns and so does traffic frustration. At night, there's the choice of late-night hosts, rustling through leftovers in the fridge, and sometimes just sitting in the living room, thinking. Or, like me, looking up again at the three dining room fan lights on low and wondering. Just wondering. Wondering about the happiness of my next-door neighbor just because he's next door. I doubt he thinks of me the same way, but it doesn't matter. Nothing will ever hinge on that. For me, these kinds of thoughts just happen. They're better at night.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Night Series: Finally, THE Night

I don't know yet where to put this day among my small collection of perfect days. Do I put it behind the Saturday about two or three years ago where my family and I, and my sister's friend, went to Boomer's Amusement Center in Fountain Valley, then to the Southern-style Po Folks restaurant in Burbank, and capped it all off with an inching-toward-late-night visit to Downtown Disney in Anaheim? Or does it go in front of December 7, 2007 when my mom, my sister and her friend went to the Spice Girls concert at the Staples Center in L.A.? On that day, I woke up at 3 p.m., which I used to not do, finding my Amazon.com order of "I'm a Lebowski, You're a Lebowski: Life, The Big Lebowski, and What-Have-You" on the dining room table. Then, in the mailbox, my order from playscripts.com containing a collection of plays by Nina Shengold, who gives lively voice to weary waitresses and even bags and suitcases at a warehouse full of other luggage either abandoned by their owners or lost by various airlines. Following that, after my dad got home from work, we went to Boston Market for dinner, and finally into the mayhem that was two lanes of traffic approaching the Staples Center, also because Enrique Iglesias was performing next door at the Nokia Theatre. And then, the traffic seemed to disappear as if some invisible force had either chanted something or snapped unseen fingers. My dad and I went to a Staples nearby because he had to look for something, and then we drove around L.A., through Koreatown, and various other parts.

This day, which is rapidly becoming yesterday at three minutes to midnight, had in common the feeling of one activity gliding into another without any conflict with anything else. Strange, because there really wasn't as much going on as there was on the days just mentioned. What made this day perfect from the start was the weather. I went outside with Tigger, one of our dogs, to get the mail and the warmth outside seemed casual, like it was in no rush and didn't have any point to prove. Compare that to summer heat where it's blazing and one wonders what made it pissed off. I know it's science and the seasons and weather patterns, but it's also when you spent very brief foot time on concrete if you're near a pool. If you get out of the pool, you're quick about not dawdling. In that case, you just jump right back in.

I've also used this description in my Facebook profile: "Pleasantly warm." That's how it was. Not too warm to be stifling, not too hot to make you remain in your house until autumn. Plus, there was an omnipresent thin layer of cold that was like a put-upon kid in school asking a bully if he could move so the kid could get through, but soon giving up and just waiting. The cold during the day was never as demanding as it is now, where it feels like the freezer cases of a supermarket. Consider it then the easygoing meshing of two kinds of weather, which I hadn't seen until today. Usually when the sun was out on days before, the cold was the dominant force. But this time, both existed in tandem, though the sun had the slight edge today. And that was fine.

I went online after I got up, checked the usual websites such as Drudge Report, and my e-mail, and then, what else was there to do? I know I should have watched at least one movie today to review, but it didn't feel like that kind of day. Felt like a reading day, and that's what I did, with The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister, a novel that I wish didn't have to end. There have been many times where I lose a little bit of faith in the English language, not because of anything that passes for reading online, but because of not feeling any confidence in my writing, which happens often. I opened this book and I found new meaning. That's not to say that I'll suddenly gain permanent confidence in my work, but at least I know the words are there and aren't always that imposing.

I love the end of daylight savings time, because it gets darker later and allows the evening to gradually come forth. The sun seems to go down a bit slower, looking out on a vast stretch of land, regretting the decision, but knowing it has to happen. The evening gets a bigger introduction that way. Silent fanfare.

My evening was rife with the usual business: Job listings to compile for that freelance writing newsletter, listening to the usual and always welcome Disney theme park music on Utilidors Audio Broadcasting (http://www.uabmagic.com/), and then more reading. Now, at 12:31 a.m., it's probably time for a movie. Definitely one to review, to follow a perfect day.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Night Series: My Next-Door Neighbor's Wife's Windchimes

(I keep promising to begin my "Scraps of Literacy" series, and I must promise once again in order to afford a further delay. Reviews for Screen It, though they pay, suck any desire for writing out of me. I usually need about a day or so to recover from those. Now, you might ask, why would I say that when clearly, I'm writing here, and on another topic? Well, this new series came to me because I love everything the night offers me, provided there aren't coyotes too nearby or wildfires. A calm night like the one outside right now can get me extolling at length all that there at night that shapes my personal landscape. Those "Scraps of Literacy" will come soon, and this time, I promise with an intent to deliver the next time you see "Scraps of Literacy" in an entry)

My next-door neighbor's wife has a set of windchimes hanging from the wooden covering on her patio roof. It's the standard roof for all of the developments here, except she and her husband have their covering. This property, and the one across from us with the sidewalk to the pool and walls separating us, does not. Imagine it as a half-finished wood shop project with white-painted beams and rafters, but not all the rafters put into place, and none of the covering. Apparently, it was a decision by the home owners' association, though it stretches back farther than we've been here. This is what we've lived with, and it's fine, since I don't care much about this place. That's not to say I don't like it. I live here, there's a ceiling over me and a roof above that, and that's fine. But there's no feeling of a connection, and as expected from me, that's suitable for another entry. I have to update that list.

The windchimes are seen thusly: The longest rod is on the left, a shorter one is in the middle, and the shortest is on the right. I've no idea if there are anymore behind those. I don't know anything about windchimes beyond the nerve-wracking sounds they make (only nerve-wracking here, and that reason's coming), but I'm assuming that from my vantage point, the ball or disc that drags across the windchimes to make the sound rests in the middle. I don't know. I'm not going to get closer to my neighbor's patio than where I go on my own patio to walk my dogs (training for Las Vegas piddles, since the gravel on our patio is a fair approximation of the landscape there).

I hate her windchimes. When I'm in my bed and I hear them, I want to pull the covers further over me and try to sleep until the wind finally calms down. I'm not a native, and I can't handle those gusty winds. I've lived through five wildfire seasons. The first one saw ash raining down when we were living in an apartment in Valencia. In October of 2007, we were evacuated for thankfully only most of the day when there was concern that the Buckweed fire (started by a kid with matches) might reach us. It didn't, but it's not an ideal area to evacuate from, considering that there's only one road to use to exit, and many other developments within this area. I had never been so truly scared in my life, not even during hurricanes in Florida. But we got lucky in all the years we lived there because only the feeder bands of all of the storms struck us. Obviously, hurricanes have been more dangerous since we left, and there are other reasons I probably wouldn't move back to Florida (my home state, and I miss many parts of it), but I never felt this kind of fear.

Then there was last November, seeing fire on mountains and thick smoke in the sky. I didn't know how close these mountains were and from where I was standing on my patio, they looked like they might have been close enough. But the next day, my parents and I went out and we saw that these fires were on the mountains in Canyon Country. That far away, yet distance is relative in this valley. You can never be sure because of skewed vantage points like the one from my patio.

Each time, there were the Santa Ana winds, blowing and blowing, and making my neighbor's wife's windchimes sound louder and more determined, as if they had decided to suddenly play a symphony right there. I've always felt extremely uneasy whenever these winds are around. My stomach decides to grow a monster during that time, and I'm always hoping that nothing horrid happens, but always worried whenever I see on the news that something has flared up elsewhere. I wish that she'd get rid of those windchimes, but unfortunately, they also serve as a barometer as to how bad the winds are. It's the most complex relationship between a man and windchimes.

I want to move to Las Vegas already, and this is one of the reasons. Vegas is flat land and when the winds blow there, there's not as much to worry about. Plus, I'd be looking at mountains, not living in them. That's the other worry about living here when the Santa Anas are around. Vegas presents its own set of worries, I'm sure, but since I have no attachments to this valley, sentimental or otherwise, I'll be happy when it comes time to move. Particularly since I feel like Vegas is my home. It's everything I've wanted from humanity, that ability to relax without being so uptight about whether something is "morally right." It's hedonism in the desert. Unfortunately, it's not impervious to the shaky economy, but education is still needed there and that's where my dad comes in. I just hope they start hiring soon.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Where are You, Admired Writer?

Where are you, John Rowell, the author of the gay short-story collection, "The Music of Your Life"? I grew so attached to your book after checking it out twice from my local library a few years ago, I bought it from Amazon, and I had hoped that with all that time passing, you would have set up at least a blog to keep the world apprised of any writing projects that may lead to seeing your name on a book cover again. All I have to go on is the interview you did for Barnes & Noble at the time of your book's release, and your own book recommendations, which I'm still using. Not that I mind basking often in the radiance of your personality throughout those stories, but I want something new. I want more of that personality, that elegance of voice, and that assured style. Come on, man, where are you? Perhaps you think keeping a blog is too vain, but you do have fans. Well, at least me. That's one I know of.

Speaking of fans, where are the others who like "Subways are for Sleeping" by Edmund G. Love? It's a multi-story chronicle of the homeless living ingeniously on the streets, the fire escapes, the flophouses, and the subways of New York City, and though Love has a straightforward writing style, his observations are fascinating. Not that I need a community to appreciate more the people profiled in this book, but I'm just curious. It's like whenever I watch "My Dinner with Andre"; I always wonder how many people in the world might be watching it at the same time.

I'll get to those "scraps of literacy" soon enough. It's just been one of those down weeks, and so was the week before this one. It stems from whenever I set out to write a movie review for Film Threat, that feeling of intimidation in writing for such a prestigious site, one that looks out for all indie filmmakers who want their work noticed somewhere. And it should be us, since the name has long been synonymous with giving independent filmmakers due attention, starting with the magazine years ago.

I always hope for the kind of review that comes from something in a film, some hook that lets the entire review spill forth without having to do any "real writing," that is, thinking hard about what to say. Plus I've become perhaps a bit too obsessive over making sure that the writing reads well, which isn't such a bad thing, but it started with my editor's observation that I use too many commas and not enough periods. I'm mindful of that now, but I fear reading over a piece too much, even after letting it sit for about a day, worried that any perceived freshness will be sucked right out of it. I don't know. Maybe it is that, maybe it isn't. Maybe I just need to write more and in turn, be less cautious and more fearless. Being cautious is good, but not so much that it threatens to choke off your creativity. I'll get it together again soon.