Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Night 2: Two Cups

At 3:38 a.m. last night (or yesterday morning, whichever you prefer), I knew I passed my craving for the night. I looked into the fridge a few times, saw a leftover piece of cake from one of the Chinese bakeries we went to in Chinatown last Thursday, and was thinking about that. I sat at the computer and I thought about a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But I didn't bother with either. I conquered those cravings for one night.

Christ, I sound like a weight-loss success ad. I never wanted my attempt at weight loss to sound like that. But it was the first night, over at that point, and I felt good about it.

Now it's 3:01 a.m. and I've passed the second night. It was bad. I didn't think of Cheez-Its, but Meridith brought home a leftover Subway sub, and, well, right now I've forgotten what else, but I remember my mind being a demanding bitch. I stuck with two cups of tea. One was Twining's Lady Grey, and the other was Bigelow's Lemon Lift. I vowed to combat those cravings with tea and the tea was only a partial help. The rest was willpower.

So far, I've only eaten what I need to eat. Only something when I get up (which is lunchtime for others, but breakfast for me), and at dinner. No snacks. Not anymore. I've done too much of that.

I wish I could write better about this small achievement. But it's already 3:01 a.m. and there's a DVD I want to finish and send back to Netflix so I can get a new one by Friday. And I wish that I had done better the last time I tried to diet. If I had, a second night would have been so long ago in memory.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Night 1: Tea. Just Tea.

Dodged my cravings earlier. I went right to the fridge to see what was inside, but closed it and went back to the computer. I've got an empty tea mug here, and I think based on that, I should make more soon. I've lasted longer than I did last night. It's 10:31 p.m. now. I think it was around 9:20 or so last night when I gave up. I won't give up tonight.

Night 1: Failed Again

I've got to find the trigger in my head that leads me to the fridge and shut it down. It's possibly in front of the function that allows me to see the TV at the same time I'm working on the computer and still know what's going on. Or it might be behind the space where my book addiction lies.

This cannot go on. And it's bad enough that every time I fail and fall, I think to myself that I'll get it right tomorrow night. But tomorrow night might become last night all over again. And the cycle would continue. I hate the cycle.

More tea. One mugful isn't going to do it. If I think of what I know is in the fridge, then I need to think of the tea I could make. Cheez-Its, tea. Deli, tea. Almond cookies, tea. I broke that monotonous cycle many months ago. I have to break it into even more pieces this time, bury it where it can't possibly crawl back, and move on.

Right now, I'm not sure that writing is harder than dieting. Writing might actually be easier now.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bug Guts and Glory

Where the hell else am I supposed to spray? This half-house, as I call it (though it probably fits the definition of an apartment more) is small enough that I have to be careful about where I spray so that the dogs aren't sniffing around out of curiosity. They've been with us long enough to know that this is the time of year when it's necessary to spray for bugs because of the heat, but I prefer to be extra-cautious.

And yet, even after having totally bombed the length of the patio with Raid Ant & Roach when I knew that it wouldn't be the time for the dogs to pee out there (for those just joining us, the patio, with its pebble ground, is a suitable simulation of the Las Vegas landscape, which would be visited upon by my dogs every day after we move there, which is not now, but soon, I hope), I'm getting reminders of where I haven't sprayed and wondering how I should handle this.

That poured out because a few minutes ago, I saw a spider crawling past on the wall behind the computer monitor. Having no other whacking device handy, I used the back of the black computer mouse and slammed it once against the wall, transferring dead spider and dead spider guts onto the mouse. I'm wondering where this thing came from. Is there some kind of small hole at the bottom of the window next to me? Should I also spray there during my next Raid Rampage? All the windows have been closed for about two weeks, so nothing should have gotten in. Maybe it got in through the window in my parents' bedroom, the one next to the front-door walkway.

Bigger defenses are a given. I have to. I only sprayed the patio ground because of the clusters of fast-crawling ants I sometimes find when I'm picking up dog poop. Yes, they do that there too. And last night was one of those times, which prompted me to throw the poop and the plastic bag covering over the side into the grass at the back of a neighbor's apartment, because at that moment, I didn't want to bring in yet another plastic bag with a few crawling ants inside. I've done that twice before and I don't like it.

I think I'll spray more thoroughly today. Most likely after I get back from the library and wherever else my mom and/or dad have to go, just as the sun sets. I think the garage needs another bug spray coating, and certainly the front-door walkway. I hate these battles, but then I think of La Mesa Jr. High, where my dad works. That school was built on an ant hill.

Night 1: Back to Night 1 Tomorrow Night

Was good for nearly the entire evening. Had an in-head craving for Cheez-Its that didn't extend to any other body part, then the body got up and headed to the kitchen a little after the 11 p.m. news on ABC 7. Out came the box from the kitchen to the living room, then it led to a slice of swiss cheese from a plastic Kraft Deli Fresh package, and a bunch of other things I won't list here because personal shame has taken over now.

By the way, ham off the bone has a lot of noticeable sodium.

I'm almost tempted to return "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan because of its food theme, but the book isn't the problem. The pages can't be eaten anyway. I've just got to get on this properly. Tomorrow night, I go back to compiling job listings for an online freelance writing newsletter, as I do every Sunday night through Thursday night for the following days, and tea is always helpful to break the occasional tedium. I used to think of the work as very tedious, but with research for that book sometimes even more tedious, I make sure to appreciate certain aspects of the newsletter, like how with each listing I find, I might be helping a freelance writer find a job they can do and make some decent money. I don't think of any of the subscribers to that newsletter as competition, since I don't do any copywriting, or technical writing, or translations or transcriptions. I want to work at an airport one day. That's all. So I consider every listing found to be a mini-mitzvah that contributes to a bigger mitzvah when the newsletter is done and there's sometimes 80+ listings. Even on the days when there's only 28-30 listings, I still feel good.

I didn't go for those Cheez-Its because I didn't have anything to do. I'm trying to finish reading "To Your Scattered Bodies Go" by Philip Jose Farmer, and of course, there's the book. There's a lot to do. It just happened. Now I have to stop it from happening again. The newsletter is work to do. I'll be sitting here for a few hours putting it together. I've been at this so long that I know what listings should go into the newsletter and I sometimes turn the "focused attention" part of my brain off, and think of other things. And I usually have headphones on, so I'm listening to either jazz or NPR programs or using Pandora at the same time I'm working.

Night by night again. I just have to take it night by night. I failed tonight, but tomorrow night's a chance to succeed. The motivation should be set like cement into my mind: This body is getting older, not staying young, and I can make my right knee feel better and shrink that around-the-world (or "love handles" or "Goodyear tire design" if you'd like) fat. For the benefit of my health, why should this be so hard? I can be healthier.

When I went to see Star Trek at the Edwards Valencia 12 the Saturday before last (May 16th), the people at the ticket counters were taking so long and it was nearly 1:30 p.m., which was when the next showing of Star Trek was to start. I knew I probably wouldn't get my favorite seat (first row before the floor, where you can put your feet up on that quarter-wall), but I still wanted to get in before the movie started.

Once my sister got the tickets, I tore them apart, separating Star Trek from "The Soloist," and giving her those tickets. The guy ripping tickets took mine, did, and I ran faster than I had in months. I deftly avoided clusters of people by planning a few seconds ahead on what I was going to do, and I veered at just the right second. I got into the theater, and was a little winded (which is yet another motivation to lose weight), but I was euphoric! I loved that feeling of going so fast, of speeding past the movie posters and video game machines like I had a thinner, much more flexible body. I wanted more of that. I could almost say that I don't know how in the hell I lost touch with that feeling, but it's when you're out of your daily routine, like seeing a movie, that you forget some of your habits. I just fell back into those which are not good for me. But to have that feeling again, to one day run that fast and not feel winded, to exercise more and feel really good not just in body but also in spirit, I'd like that.

Night by night this time. Tomorrow night, the first night again.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

In Moderation

I'm trying to remember: Food in moderation. It's why I treat lunch at Philippe's in downtown Los Angeles like it's the holiest Jewish synagogue on Earth. It's why I never take any food home. No further lamb sandwiches, no slices of pie, no macaroni salad. After an exalted lunch there on Thursday, I bought only an impressively thick coffee mug with Philippe's printed on it and "1908-2008" below the name, heralding 100 years of business so far and hopefully forever.

That's forced moderation, though. We don't go to downtown Los Angeles often. We haven't been to Las Vegas in a while either. We haven't been back yet to that Asian buffet off the Strip that we all like, nor the Carnival World Buffet at the Rio, nor one of the Blueberry Hill family restaurants, one in a high-quality chain. They make everything with care.

The refrigerator is the major problem. Get enough deli in there, American, Muenster and string cheese, the occasional cake, some fruit (once in a while), leftovers (preferably spaghetti, because fettucine alfredo, my favorite, is always gone in one sitting at dinner), whatever my sister's brought home from working in the kitchen at my dad's school (sometimes small subs from Subway, ham or roast beef), and peanut butter (for the occasional sandwich), and gradually, day by day, there won't be a whole lot left in the fridge. Add yogurt to that list. I almost forgot yogurt, but I don't blast through that as often as I do the rest because cheap as yogurt is, it feels awkward to have at 1 or 2 a.m.

I know what I am: An overeater. Not a binger, so much. Ok, maybe a slow binger. A box of Cheez-Its doesn't become a flat box to put into the recycling bin in one night. There's a one-and-a-half quart container of Dreyer's Summer Peach Pie ice cream in the freezer. I wish it was at the supermarket for longer than the summer because Breyer's peach ice cream has peach pieces in the ice cream that taste more like ice than peach. The Summer Peach Pie flavor actually respects the peach pieces. They must adhere to some method that Breyer's doesn't know. That container won't be gone by tomorrow night, but I've already shaved off the top layer.

I don't know why I overeat, but I have a clear motivation for why I shouldn't, and I'd better start quick, lest I land in my father's territory. There's a history of diabetes in our family, but only if there's enough weight gained. My father got to that weight easily. He worked in the bakery his father managed when he got older and the overeating stuck. I don't want to end up with diabetes.

It's hard to scale my eating habits way back. I did it once a few months ago. It actually lasted for a long stretch of time, my right knee stopped hurting, and I could swing my arms at my sides without hitting flesh. The right side of me was more stubborn than the left, but there was very little there.

Now the knee's back to its occasional pain regimen and I hate the term "love handles," so I'll say that I'd better knock my weight down soon or Goodyear's going to examine me front and back for inspiration for a new tire design. It's not that bad yet, but I know it could get worse from this point.

I need to do this for another reason: I savor every visit to Philippe's. Even though Claim Jumper is overpriced now (even in this recession), I love getting a table at the right side of the restaurant where I can have a view of the freeway and the back of the major Stevenson Ranch shopping center. It's high up enough where you can see both, side by side. I sometimes see a security car driving at the back of the shopping center, near a dumpster and the loading docks, and I like to think about what the driver's like, if he likes the job, what he does on his days off. As for the freeway, where is everyone going? Are the big rigs only traveling within the state or are there a few from the east coast? I haven't thought of a short story or essay yet from watching all that, but I like letting my mind work out.

I love those experiences because I don't have them often. I mentioned this point early on in the entry, but I wanted to repeat it because of those visits to Claim Jumper.

I don't get the same feeling from the refrigerator anymore. I know there's cheese in there. Sometimes there's pie and I'm crazy for pie. Ginger ale, iced tea, sometimes root beer, I know where those are on the shelves inside the door.

I don't like it. Muenster cheese with tuna spread on it isn't as pleasureable as it might be if I wasn't going for it so often. I might even like deli even more if I wasn't so familiar with honey-baked ham versus ham off the bone. I want to enjoy all this again as much as when I go to Philippe's. I do have tea every day, going between Bigelow's Lemon Lift and Twining's Lady Grey, but it's a daily pleasure that's not the same as everyday binging. The Lemon Lift tea is comforting and the constant question I keep in mind when I drink the Lady Grey Tea is, "Will I catch that hint of orange in my mouth this time?" It's especially wonderful when the orange and lemon flavors intermingle.

The tea is part of my lifestyle, just like my near-obsessive reading habit, just like my obsessive movie habit. I wouldn't give that up. It's part of me. But the overeating shouldn't be. I need to stop now before I end up with a handheld device that tells me if my blood sugar is normal, and the fingerpricks to make that happen. I'm 25 now. Immortality isn't as assured as it was when I was a teenager. Back then, I didn't believe all of me was immortal, but maybe my body. It isn't. That mindset has to disappear. Today and in the following days and months, I need to gauge what I eat, when I eat, and how much I eat. I should eat only at lunch and dinner (I don't get up in time for breakfast), and when those daily cravings take over and constantly command my brain, only water and tea should prevail. For a few weeks now, I've been thinking that I should pay more attention to tea, drink more of it, read more about it. This would be a good time for that.

I need to make it work permanently this time.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

An Khe

Fortunately, though it was a sad shock to be leaving Florida and moving to Southern California in early August of 2003, I didn't miss the start of the 5th season of "The West Wing." This was a major season, at least when it aired, because Aaron Sorkin had been fired and chief director Thomas Schlamme had left with him. How would the show fare now without its main big brain in charge? Would any other writer be able to write dialogue that would at least sound as smart and informative as Sorkin's?

The first episode of the 5th season, "7A WF 83429" was dramatic enough that there wasn't much time to think about that, save for the immediate changes, such as whipsaw camerawork that was merely "ER" producer John Wells' way of establishing his full command of the show, which was not to the benefit of devoted fans of "The West Wing," like me. In the second episode, which saw President Bartlet (not president at the time) and his wife Abigail on what looked like a set out of Star Wars, even though it was in the White House residence. The lighting made it seem like it was.

This was all terribly wrong. The characters didn't speak at all like they did, but mouthed whatever the writers had to bitch about when it came to world affairs. Sorkin never fashioned it that way. He had things to say about the world, but always made sure that it sounded right coming from whatever character he was writing, seeing that it hewed to their individual personalities. I couldn't believe I was hearing Chief of Staff Leo McGarry so roughly cynical, or Toby so angry at....nothing. Nothing that could possibly matter to the fabric of his personality.

But I hung on. I watched every episode straight through, no matter how bad it was, hoping that even without Sorkin, "The West Wing" might have a chance of reclaiming at least 10-20% of the Sorkin spark. That happened later, with "The Supremes," which saw Glenn Close and William Fichtner as eventual Supreme Court nominees and genial sparring partners. It was because of Debora Cahn, who understood what Sorkin was after. She knew that these characters were important people in the context of this fictional White House. It was also important to show the effects of their decisions, both personally and in policy. The other writers on the show just seemed to be jazzed about writing for a show set in the White House, forgetting all that had come before.

I've been watching season 5 reruns on "Bravo," to see if my original instincts were correct. Before this, I Netflixed season 5 discs containing "The Stormy Present" (because it guest-starred James Cromwell as a former president and had John Goodman again as Glenallen Walken, former acting president and former Speaker of the House) and "The Supremes," but that's as far as my toleration went for season 5 episodes. Now, having seen over half of the fifth season again, there still are shockingly bad scenes that make one wonder how writers and producers could abuse characters like this, but in later episodes, there does seem to be a drive for improvement. I can understand the writers in season 5 trying to get used to being the ones in charge of shepherding the show, but there was no excuse when seven episodes in, there was still no sign of improvement. I suspect the gradual improvement came from Debora Cahn even before "The Supremes" because at the start of the end credits for the episode "The Warfare of Genghis Khan," I noticed she was the story editor, which most likely means "head writer" in different words. I hope that's what it meant.

Now I'm at "An Khe," and I remember parts of this episode well, but I remember the experience of it even more. The night it aired, February 18, 2004, was when I finally got used to living in Southern California. I didn't have that "Holy crap! I live in Southern California, near enough to Los Angeles and Hollywood!" moment, and still haven't. I don't think I ever will because as mentioned over and over again in previous blog entries, California has never felt like home.

Before this, I had been impressed with how unattached the Santa Clarita Valley seemed to be to anything (before I found out about the various groups that make up this valley, such as the "glamorous" soccer moms of Stevenson Ranch and the valley boosters that are a small number of those who are involved with any activities the City of Santa Clarita puts on). In our apartment complex in Valencia, which took up a year, there was a neighbor on the second floor of our building who kept a fishtank on the ledge of his tiny patio. One night at College of the Canyons, I typed a paper for a man who looked like he wouldn't be at the school much longer. His constant companion seemed to be his backpack and though he promised to pay me for my work, and never did, I got my payment from the conversation we had while walking to the bus transfer station because there were no more buses from College of the Canyons to the transfer station.

He talked about recently being in Las Vegas, and hanging out at the University of Nevada Las Vegas campus, mentioning one professor who allowed him to sit in on some classes. He didn't look like he'd stay in the Santa Clarita Valley much longer. A traveling man he was. I don't think he would ever be comfortable in one place, though having visited Vegas a few times, I don't understand why he left. I think he's probably either in San Francisco or somewhere in Arizona. There's no way he could still be here. That's the only example of impermanence I've seen here. After five years, I still admire that.

Anyway, the night that "An Khe" aired, I decided not to watch it in the apartment living room. I was attempting to understand what was so great about exercise, and with one of four keycards in one of the kitchen drawers, I went off to the apartment complex's small gym, where I found myself to be the only one there. I turned on all three TVs, changed the channels to NBC, and watched the episode on three screens. There may have been a little burn I felt, but I mostly remember sweat. I tried the weights, tried pushing black bars together in front of my face, used the stair-stepper, but preferred the stationary bike. I'm not organized in my exercise pursuits, and so had no method or order for it. I still don't. I haven't done much of it since we left the apartment and moved to Saugus and this half-house. I guess it would be considered an apartment or condominium too, except it looks like a house, though a house looks far bigger than this, and you're on your own for yardwork.

Wow, look at that. Not much about the episode, which I'm going to watch again in about two minutes on my Tivo after not having seen it since it originally aired. I don't think any of these season 5 episodes are going to make me go out and get that DVD set, as seasons 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7 are the only worthwhile seasons. Season 6 was pretty bland until Congressman Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits) agreed to seek the Democratic presidential nomination at Josh's (Bradley Whitford) behest. I consider this more of a last look, to see if I'm still right about some of the bad writing, and also to see these episodes again after five years.

Sorry if you were seeking coherency in this. Some days I rock it, other days I drop it.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Fante on Top of Bukowski

Just came back from the library, with a big load of hardbacks to organize into stacks. Two of the paperbacks that look small amidst the hardbacks are an edition of "Ask the Dust" by John Fante, from 2006, at the time of the movie adaptation with Colin Firth and Salma Hayek, and Charles Bukowski's "Pleasures of the Damned." This Harper Perennial Classics edition has the introduction Bukowski wrote for the novel and on the back is a quote from him from the introduction: "Fante was my God." In one of those book stacks, I placed it on top of "The Pleasures of the Damned: Poems, 1951-1993" by Bukowski. Seems appropriate.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Those Secret, Sweet Spotlights Shining on Those Bookshelves

When I go out these days, it's either because we're all going out to eat, and I can't get polish sausage from Dickey's Barbecue at home; or it's because I have to go to the library, and that's every Sunday; or it's that rare movie I have to see in theaters, as it is with "Star Trek," which I didn't see during its opening weekend, but have to soon. I've been thinking that considering the price of tickets and how much work I have yet to do for this book, that waiting for DVD would be ok. But "Star Trek" on a screen far bigger than my 46-inch widescreen TV in my room would be more appropriate.

Late yesterday afternoon into the evening, the reason for going out was because my sister was going to cook at the incoming 7th-grader barbecue at La Mesa Jr. High, where she works in the kitchen there, and my dad works as the business education teacher. My sister also cooks at home, conjuring up omelets that seem to arrive from some part of the universe we haven't yet uncovered that may represent all kinds of humanly pleasures in one place. The dishes she brings home from her culinary class at College of the Canyons are equal to that.

There were hamburgers and hot dogs at this barbecue, very basic, and it was disappointing to find that the cheese was individually wrapped. I had hoped for some real cheddar, but this was your common backyard barbecue in a bigger setting. No salmon on the grill, no getting fancy with ribs or chicken. Hamburgers and hot dogs. Everyone likes them, both or one.

I got up a little after 2 p.m. yesterday, and naturally, the weight of work unwritten was pressing down on me. But I try to remember that when I'm actually doing the work, there is progress and doesn't seem so hard. It's just that divide between research and writing. Not so much when to stop researching and when to start writing, but if the research will immediately give me an idea of how to start each essay. So far, not clearly. I'm also trying not to feel so stressed over it. Yes it's my first book and yes, it's an accelerated schedule for a manuscript, but to take responsibility and work my way through it would show not only that I can do this, but that I can see writing other books too.

Not exactly a day I would want to go out, but after the frustration of quite a bad book called "Clown Princes and Court Jesters," which was the only book in which I could find solid information on silent film comedian Larry Semon, I was still recovering from that drained feeling I had. There are still books to read about Mabel Normand and Roscoe Arbuckle, books wholly focused on them. But for Larry Semon and silent film actor Robert Harron, there are many books to page through. This book didn't exude any passion on any of its subjects; it only presented information in a perfunctory manner. It didn't even feel like the two authors were interested in these figures.

It wasn't so much the book that made me want to go out, particularly since I had finished battling the book a few days ago. But any time I can support my sister and see her be what she likes to be, I do it.

The evening was designed to introduce income 7th graders to the campus and teachers and to have a little fun. I heard about Mario Kart being played in one of the classrooms, and games meant to reinforce communication skills, and snow cones being sold for a dollar, but that's as far as I cared. I was with Mom while Dad went to be the social being he always is at these things, not really bored since I had two books with me.

All three of us had cheeseburgers, Doritos (there was cool ranch and nacho cheese), chocolate-chip cookies, Sierra Mist (my Mom and I) and Diet Pepsi (my Dad). Not much to the evening after that, just sitting around and waiting in my dad's classroom. He talked to students and parents of students and I watched the end of NBC Nightly News and all of "Jeopardy!", and read a bit too. My dad's TV is near the ceiling, so you have to look up a ways to see it. My mom wasn't pleased at finding a collection of magazines in the library adjacent to my dad's classroom, because she could have read Dog Fancy and not have to have kept her head raised up as it was.

This turns out not to have been as interesting as I hoped it would have been, but there was one aspect of the evening that made it worthwhile to let go of most of my evening.

After leaving his classroom, closing the door and locking it, he proceeded to turn off all the lights in the library, which made it too dark to see in front of us to get to the office and out that door to the car. So I turned on all the lights, and Mom noticed the magazines, commented on not finding them earlier, and I left one light switch up, which was about three lights that formed a kind of spotlight over a corner of the library, in the fiction section against that wall, where authors were that have/had last names that probably begin/began with "E", "F", and "G." I immediately imagined putting a sleeping bag there and staying there all night amidst those books, all those names that could bring so much new life into my imagination. All those titles with so much possibility. It outshined even the view seen from the parking lot of the school, all the lights of that section of the valley, all the traffic lights and the parking lot lights, and the store lights, and the house lights. It's a maze of sorts, but also a view that makes one fall into silence with awe and reverie constant emotions. It's why I love the night. I get that view, and I get that spotlight over that section of books, like it's inviting me to stay for a longer time than I have. I wish I could have. Just to be among those books and nothing else in the world. All those voices silent when those books are closed, but ready and fighting to capture me from the first page. All those voices who don't know who I am and don't care, only that I might like what they say. All those worlds, all those lives. I've loved it since I was 2 years old. It was a reaction I should have expected, but I never expected it to seize me so fiercely. It's like the website I found through the blog Working with Words ( Planet eBook ( There, you can download "Around the World in 80 Days," "Anna Karenina," "Oliver Twist," and 59 other titles for free as .PDF files. I downloaded "Oliver Twist," "Gulliver's Travels," "Dracula," "The Jungle Book," and "The Odyssey," but I'm reticent about reading them for hours on this computer. I remember reading "A Tale of Two Cities" exclusively online for some assignment and I hated it. Not the book, but I just hated sitting here that long and soon it felt I wasn't engaged in the book, but more and more aware of it being such a slog.

I have a copy of "Around the World in 80 Days" that I just pulled out from a miscellaneous stack of things on my nightstand. It's a Bantam Classic paperback from January 2006, with a peach-colored background and a drawing of a big orange balloon with four smaller, but still large balloons around it, and two men are sitting opposite each other in its basket, with French flags hanging off six points. It's 194 pages, and I'd much rather read "Around the World in 80 Days" like this. It's why I will never buy a Kindle: I love the intimacy of books. Hardcovers are more imposing because of their size. They demand more. But paperbacks like this one, they're more inviting, more personable. That's not to say I only read paperbacks, because if I did, I'd be waiting quite a long time for countless books I want to read. Paperbacks seem to say, "Come on in. Take your time if you'd like. Put your feet up, and join us." I especially love in "Classic" editions the list of titles on the back that the publishing company in question also offers. Such promise and excitement (to me) to be found in those. And, as you might expect, I've been sniffing paperbacks for years. I love the smell of them, of that wood mashed into pulp and then made into paper, having come from god knows how many trees, all that history in that paper that we can only imagine. But imagining's good enough.

Amazing how a cluster of three lights shining as one spotlight on a section of books could inspire all this.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Box of Candy, For Me, If I Subscribe to Your Newspaper?

My dad got the Sunday newspapers that morning, but I didn't look at them until yesterday. On a Sunday, in the L.A. Times, I'll look at the comics, the Arts & Books section, and possibly the rapidly fading "California" section, and maybe the front page. The next day, only the comics and the Arts & Books section. From The Signal, the exclusive newspaper of the Santa Clarita Valley which seemed worthwhile to work for at first, but soon became a stressful drag on my life, I'll only pull out their comics section, only because they have the full Doonesbury, which the L.A. Times doesn't have.

So, this was Monday. Therefore, the comics and the Arts & Books section from the L.A. Times and the comics from The Signal. I needed something to read in the car on the way to a haircut appointment, and it turns out it was all I had to read because I wasn't interested in starting "A Confederacy of Dunces." I know the acclaim that book has earned, but I need to be in a certain mood for it: Interested. I wanted to read it because of the New Orleans atmosphere. I was curious, and also harboring the disappointment that when my family and I drove cross-country for five days a little over five years ago, moving to Southern California, we drove through Louisiana, but couldn't stop in New Orleans because we had two dogs and a bird with us. Unfortunately, this was before Hurricane Katrina. One day I'd like to go there. I'd also like to go to New York City, maybe Colorado, and even more maybe, back to certain parts of Florida to see what has changed since we moved. Maybe.

Anyway, before we left for that appointment ("we" being my dad, my mom and my sister as well), I got the contents of our individual wastebaskets together, took out the garbage, took out the recycling and newspapers, all to roll the garbage and recycling bins out to the curb for pick-up today. After I dumped the newspapers into the recycling bin, there was a subscription advertisement from The Daily News. I only mentioned the Sunday newspapers because there probably wouldn't be much of a chance to mention it anywhere else in this blog, and it's not really that interesting to merit its own blog entry. And at the time, I thought it had come from one of those newspapers, even though my dad only buys The Signal and the L.A. Times on Sundays. Mind you, I had just gotten through pulling out my favorite Sunday sections, so that's why I was briefly confused.

I assume EZ Pay is a way for them to automatically take the monthly billing rate out of your checking account. The advertisement states that I can "Save up to 70% off regular home delivery price." I don't read the Daily News that often and they really are getting desperate, what with the cuts they made, and yet they want subscribers to read what looks like a significantly thinner newspaper. If I sign up for EZ Pay, I "receive a Gift Certificate for a 1 pound box of See's Candies." I can't stand See's Candy stores. They're too sterile to look like they're stocked with candy. Those black-and-white tile floors, the chocolates behind glass that looks like they replace it every day; I can't even be sure that the people who work there like candy. It's not so much the candy that bothers me about the ad, but that they couldn't think of anything else. Only candy? Not perhaps a knowledgeably chosen set of bookmarks for avid readers? Not a gift card to Best Buy for those who might want a DVD or CD instead of candy? No? Their line of thinking is that everyone loves candy, which may be true for most everyone, but I suppose they couldn't survey their readers and find out more about them? Why bother? Too much work, too much money, and too little time. Why try to get to know your subscribers? All you need is their money, not their life stories.

I'm not complaining, though. I understand that. A set of steak knives would probably not be ideal, but surely there could be something given away that would be more creative than candy. I'm not one to figure out what that might be. I'm not paid by The Daily News to figure that out. But if it was me, a quesadilla maker.

At the bottom of the ad, it says: "Offer good for new subscribers in designated areas only. At the end of 26 weeks, subscription will continue at the then-semi annual subscription rate unless otherwise informed." So if I wanted to subscribe for, say, the "Weekend Plus" package, I'd pay $25 for 26 weeks for the Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday editions, plus the Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday E-editions. Even though I spend enough time online for it to be considered a cry for help (though I wouldn't, but I know that I sometimes waste time that could be used for work I really need to do), I like paging through an actual newspaper. Whenever my family and I go to Po Folks in Buena Park, I go to the Orange County Register rack in front of the entrance to the restaurant and I get a copy. If I'm in a different place and find a newspaper rack wherever I go while I'm there, I like to get the newspaper that's connected to that place.

But The Daily News is asking for too much, even with $25 for 26 weeks. They knocked film critic Bob Strauss back to the news desk and replaced his reviews with Christy Lemire pieces from the Associated Press. Yeah, cheaper for the newspaper financially, but it also makes them cheap in personality. On the days when I was a substitute campus supervisor at La Mesa Jr. High, where my dad works as the computer/business education teacher, I especially liked on Fridays where I could open up their weekend section to Strauss' reviews and marvel at how doggedly this man worked. That much dedication through that many words and one could only imagine when the screenings were during the week. Some during the day, possibly late morning, some at night, surrounded by radio movie pass winners and others, but he pulled out those reviews easily, it seemed.

I wouldn't subscribe to a newspaper only because of the critic who writes movie reviews. Strauss wasn't one of my favorites (Andy Klein, formerly of L.A. CityBeat and now working for some entertainment-based offshoot of the L.A. Times online is one, Josh Bell of Las Vegas Weekly is another, and his reviews makes me look forward to eventually becoming a resident of Las Vegas; and Anthony Lane of The New Yorker is the top favorite of mine), but he was consistent. He loved movies and it showed, as well as the knowledge he had of them.

If I subscribed to a newspaper, it would be because I truly considered where I lived to be home. My parents subscribed to the Orlando Sentinel when we lived in nearby Casselberry, and to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel when we lived in Coral Springs and then Pembroke Pines, for which I wrote movie reviews for a few years in their Teentime pages which are in the back of their weekend Showtime section, published every Friday. Florida is naturally my home state because I was born and raised there. I considered Casselberry home because my fondest childhood memories come from there, and there were some in Coral Springs and Pembroke Pines, enough to become one, instead of two places, even though each condo was vastly different.

I woke up in each of those places every day, knew exactly where I was, knew how each one felt to me, knew how connected I felt to each place. That's home. Not as in "I've had enough being out so long, can we please go home?" but the steel-and-screws definition of "home." Solid and unwavering.

Here, north of Los Angeles, or the backwoods of Los Angeles as I call it, I don't get that same feeling. I haven't for five years. I've tried. It's not because I missed Florida all that time. It wasn't as if a week after we moved here, I wanted to go back to Florida. I was more curious about Southern California than connected. To me, this was the other side of the universe. Living among mountains was exactly that.

Newspapers have always mostly come to me for free from my dad's school. The Signal is delivered there every morning, and the L.A. Times used to be delivered there until their financial freefall. No more free newspapers for schools was their edict. No need to subscribe, and I wouldn't anyway because though they informed in some ways, it didn't feel like they had seeped into my blood. Anywhere you live should seep into your blood. You should feel roads before you see them, anticipate those places you expect to go. With these newspapers, I wouldn't be inconsolable if I missed a day.

At this point in my life, with co-writing that book previously mentioned, with hopefully starting online classes soon through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in pursuit of that bachelor's degree, I'm looking for solidity. I want that feeling of home again. I want to wake up and know that where I am is where I want to be. I don't get that here, waking up in the morning. I get up, I know I have things to do, but I'm not thinking of my surroundings. And I want to do that.

This relates to subscribing to newspapers because we haven't subscribed to any since we left South Florida for Southern California. Five years of no newspaper being thrown against our door. Now, being that we have two dogs, one of whom was only in Florida with us briefly before we left for Southern California (he had been flown from Southern California after my mom decided that she wanted him after we had seen him in a pet store in Seal Beach, but we were already headed home), they don't know the sounds of newspaper delivery. Our next-door neighbor and his wife get the L.A. Times delivered around 4 a.m. and it either falls to the ground with a "thump" or bounces against the garage door. It depends on who's delivering it. But it doesn't wake the dogs, because one is usually asleep with my sister until around 5 a.m. when she comes to my room to burrow under my covers and sleep, and the other sleeps with my parents. It sounds far enough away, even though it's right next door, to not have an effect.

Las Vegas is our next and oh-please-oh-please-oh-please-let-it-be last move. As part of our new house, wherever in nearby Henderson that might be, I want to be sure that the Las Vegas Review-Journal is part of that. I've only been to Las Vegas three times, I think, but I know it's home. That city is constant inspiration for a writer. If you can't find inspiration in Las Vegas in any creative thing you do, then you should stop doing it. That is the truth.

I find it everywhere I go in Las Vegas. I find it in the Greyhound Bus Depot near Fremont Street on the way back to the car in a gated parking lot. I look at the people waiting for the bus, some with duffel bags, and I not only wonder where they're going, but where they've been. I remember the backpacker I met at College of the Canyons in Valencia (in the Santa Clarita Valley, obviously), who asked me to type something up for him after seeing how fast I type, who promised to pay me soon, but I got paid another way that night. There was no bus after 7 p.m. from College of the Canyons to the transfer station, so we walked to the transfer station. He told me that he had been in Vegas for a time and at the campus of the University of Nevada Las Vegas, there was a professor who had allowed him to sit in on his classes. He is one of the two most memorable people I've met in Santa Clarita, even as briefly as this. I thought about Vegas in that moment, not believing it to be so much a desolate gambling outpost, as I had believed when I lived in Florida, but was amazed at how willing this guy was to travel wherever. But why wherever? Was there something about each place he went that inspired him? I never saw him after that night, but I like to think he might be in San Francisco or even in downtown Los Angeles. I never asked what he did for a living, if he even had a job, because it didn't matter to me at the time. But I was very curious about what made him run.

Back to the withering point, Las Vegas it is for the next newspaper subscription. Hotel room occupancy is up because of the discounted rates, but the casinos are confident that people will eventually come back, so much so that MGM Mirage is increasing the rates for the summer. If they loosen the slot machines a little and make potential blackjack winnings more than they are now, they'll get people back. I know it's not only the gaming, but there has to be a little more incentive.

Las Vegas is the only city whose newspaper will never be in danger of folding. The Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Las Vegas Sun are all there is, and there's no real competition between them anyway. They co-exist. Couple them with the Las Vegas Weekly and because it's the desert, they survive. I want those papers to be mine everyday. And one day they will be.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Hard Goodbye and a Fond Hello

"Scrubs" ended two nights ago. An eight-year run, and I was there for six or seven years. I know that I found out about the show through Netflix. Watched the first season that way and was hooked. I was there when NBC was mistreating it through bad scheduling and little advertising. I was there when ABC, who produced the show anyway through Disney, saw that it was being beaten up, and steathily negotiated it to its network for one more season. Or so we think because as of now, there's no word yet on how the negotiations are progressing for a ninth season, which would most likely see Zach Braff come back for a few episodes, but not all, and most likely no Judy Reyes as Carla, as she indicated some time ago that the eighth season would be her final season.

It would be best for the show to be left at this ending. Bill Lawrence, the creator of "Scrubs," has been working on a new show called "Cougar Town" starring Courtney Cox (who guest-starred for three episodes as the new Chief of Medicine at Sacred Heart), and according to, executives at ABC like it enough that it will probably be given a slot on the fall schedule. Lawrence has said that even if "Scrubs" continues without him, there are enough producers and writers on that staff to continue on. I don't think so. Lawrence was there from the first episode to the last. That's what made it work. When creator/writer Aaron Sorkin and director Thomas Schlamme left "The West Wing," still my favorite show, even three years after the end, seasons 5 and 6 became a bad time for the show. The writers' struggle to try to maintain the quality that Sorkin brought showed in each episode. I had sympathy for them at the start of the 5th season because of Sorkin's departure. That was a lot to live up to. I didn't expect Sorkin-quality writing, but as the season progressed, there was no real voice to find. These people of this administration didn't seem like the same people we had in the previous four years. There was hope in the episode "The Supremes," in which Glenn Close and William Fichtner guest-starred as potential Supreme Court nominees, because it was written by Debora Cahn, who understood the rhythms of the show. She was as close to Sorkin as we would likely get, and every episode that she wrote proved that she was the next best thing. She rose above all the other scripts that had been churned out for episodes up to that one. Finally, there was a voice.

Because Lawrence kept with "Scrubs" throughout its entire run, there was always something to cause burst-out-loud laughter. Always. At times there were episodes that were simply coasting along, but there was always a moment or two to keep me watching. Always.

This finale, this is the proper finale. There is no reason to try to position the new interns at Sacred Heart as the new cast. This is not "ER." While Denise and Sunny were interesting to watch, we were with J.D. and Elliot, and Turk and Carla, and Dr. Kelso and Dr. Cox, and Ted and the Janitor and Jordan and so many others who populated Sacred Heart. Every week, there was a reason to watch them. There still was at the end.

That hallway of memories for J.D., him watching what his future might be, Carla telling J.D., in response to his question about why she never tortured him like she does Dr. Cox---"You were Bambi. Somebody had to teach you how to walk."---I cried. I really did. The only time I got a little teary-eyed at the end of "The West Wing" was aboard Air Force One (or SAM (Special Air Mission) whatever for sticklers like me), when Former President Bartlet was looking out the window and Former First Lady Abigail Bartlet asked him what he was thinking about. "Tomorrow," he answered. Then the shot of Air Force One, and that was it. But it was just a little mistiness in the eyes.

There were a lot of tears from me this time. And I thought they had ended after that fantasy flash-forward had ended when the maintenance man out front tore down the white sheet that said "Goodbye J.D." in big letters. They didn't, especially upon seeing that the maintenance man was creator Bill Lawrence. J.D. looks at the hospital for the final time, Lawrence looks at him, at the hospital for a second, then back at him and says quietly, "Good night." J.D. replies, "Good night," and walks to his car. The creator saying goodbye to his creation. I broke down.

There has to be balance. With sadness, as it was with the end of "Scrubs" there has to be unfettered happiness. I found it after I got up pretty late yesterday before my mom's appointment with the dentist to see how the aftermath of the wisdom teeth removal (two) was faring, and had a shower, which made the day look better.

We left the dentist's office and before stopping at Dickey's Barbecue Pit for dinner in the Pavilion's shopping center in Valencia, we stopped at Target across the street. Naturally, I wanted to go see what DVDs they had. And naturally, my sister tagged along, as I always ask her to.

I looked at the new releases that are in a display for people to see as they pass by. I found the mainstream Criterion Collection release of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." It dragged, namely during the sequences in Russia, but I liked it.

$22.98. Too pricey for me. I just found out that has it for $19.98. I'll consider it.

My sister was looking at the kids' DVDs and pointed out a DVD to me that surprised me completely. And I'm usually never surprised when it comes to DVDs because I always know what's coming out and what I might be interested in having in my collection.

But I didn't know about this, and this was that aforementioned happiness: Jetsons: The Movie.

It was the second movie I saw when I was little (the first-ever was "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"), and we owned it on VHS too. It took so many years for it to come to DVD, but I guess with the impending release of two "Saturday Morning Cartoon" collections from Warner Bros. with a lot of Hanna-Barbera cartoons on them, as well as The Jetsons: Season 2, Vol. 1 coming out in June, they had to do it some time.

Only quibble, even though I've always been used to fast-forwarding to my favorite parts and rewinding them repeatedly, is the lack of scene selections on the DVD. There's only "Play," and a "Languages" screen. At least it's on DVD now, though. No complaints about no extra features, considering that William Hanna, Joseph Barbera, Penny Singleton ("Jane"), George O'Hanlon ("George"), Mel Blanc ("Mr. Spacely") and Jean Vander Pyl ("Rosie") are long dead. The real commentary would have come from the production team, but of course there would be the stories about Hanna and Barbera leaving the film because of their displeasure at how it was being run by the executives at Universal. Universal even today probably wouldn't want that.

So it's an example of time and technology. My dad took me to see "Jetsons: The Movie" (my mom got stuck with "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" since my dad was a fan of The Jetsons when it was on TV) in 1990, we owned it on VHS, and now here it is on DVD. Man, I hate to sound like countless other people, but I really am getting older. Nothing funereal about it at this point, of course, but it still fosters amazement.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I Should Go to the Laundromat More Often

There's no remote, no wall-mounted dial, nothing that can change the channel on the flat-screen TV at the "18 Min. Wash" laundromat to "Jeopardy!" I'm stuck with Entertainment Tonight and the only interesting parts thus far have been the segments on "Star Trek" and the "Meryl Streep Exclusive" featuring her on the set of her new film with Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. The cotton candy-head who's narrating the segment says that tomorrow, there'll be an interview with her and Baldwin and Martin from the "secret" location of "The Untitled Nancy Meyers Project." I won't watch. I haven't watched in years.

Then the program switches its focus to Elizabeth Edwards being interviewed about the kind of marriage she either has or had with John Edwards. I don't know whether they're going for the halcyon days before he cheated on her, or the aftermath. But, knowing "Entertainment Tonight" by reputation, it's got to be the latter.

I'm sitting on a light green plastic chair bolted to the floor, against floor-to-ceiling length glass windows with the standard view of parked cars in front of the laundromat. My dad is sitting on an orange chair one seat down, gabbing on his cell phone. I hear the names "Herrera" (former principal of Silver Trail Middle) and "Melita" (I think she's still an assistant principal at Silver Trail) and automatically know that he's talking to someone in South Florida, as Silver Trail was in Pembroke Pines, the middle school I went to for 7th and 8th grade. My dad taught computers and business education there. I look up at the TV again, mounted on a wall near the first two (one above and one below) dryers in this laundromat. Whoever is narrating the bit about Edwards is getting embarassingly breathless about it.

By this time, we've already loaded the comforter from his and my mom's bed into a free washer, plugged a few quarters into the slot, poured powdered detergent into the hole on top of the machine, and started it. The washer and dryer we have at home is not big enough to handle comforters. It wasn't an oversight when we were looking for a new washer and dryer to replace what the previous owners had left behind. There's little room in the garage as it is, and the only space available was between the door that leads into my parents' bedroom, and the space heater. To have a washer and dryer that could handle a comforter would require the dryer to most likely sit in front of the space heater. That wouldn't work.

I get up a few times to check on the rotating comforter, watching it get splashed with detergent suds and water over and over. My dad's still listening to the person on the other end in South Florida giving him news about what's going on in the schools, news that has no effect on his daily work life, but he likes to know.

I'm not bored while I'm sitting on that chair; just looking for something. I don't know what, but even though I brought along a novel called "Dog On It" by Spencer Quinn, I know it's not in the first few pages, even though it is interesting to read a detective story from a dog's point of view. I don't dare get up too often to check on the comforter, as a mother and daughter are standing on opposite sides of the row where my washer is, and I don't want to be a distraction.

I go outside and watch the traffic. It gets lighter as this early part of the evening goes on and more people come into the laundromat, having settled the tab on most of their day, knowing that they have to get some laundry done. A dirty blonde-haired woman walks in with her husband, a man who has to shop from the Big and Tall catalog. There's a janitor at my dad's school with a metal leg who is probably 3/4 of this guy's size. And he looks more amiable.

They take the washer in front of my green chair, which means I'll get some entertainment. I like watching sheets and blankets and shirts and other comfortable things tumble in a dryer, and especially in a washer. I get to thinking about how long it's been since these things were washed or what stains had been on them, or even what attracted that person to that particular blanket or quilt. This is one of those rare places in Santa Clarita where it looks like there are stories to find, where something is going on, where people aren't walking around with blank stares that advertise that there weren't many I.Q. points awarded them in the genetic raffle.

There are more people in this laundromat now. More clothes going into the washers, a lot more dryers running. When my dad and I walked in with the comforter in a blue hard-plastic basket, the powdered detergent in a baggie, and the quarters in another baggie---all on top of the comforter---there were only three people there. Now it's growing. Not just the mother and daughter, not just the opposite of Jack Sprat and his wife, but a woman who works as a cashier at a Home Depot, whose father can't get a lot in the way of benefits for his military service, which got him three Purple Hearts. My dad and I find this out in the parking lot when the woman strikes up a conversation with how warm it was getting inside the laundromat with all those dryers running. This leads to discussion about the economy and the problems felt throughout the country, but even more personally here. She moved back in with her father to take care of him and is finding it hard to make it at the Home Depot with a $10-an-hour wage, but she prays 24/7. I believe her. She has the lines on her face and a wrinkle here and there that shows she's been through some relentless hardships. She has an ex and that's as much mention as he gets, "the ex." Good enough for me. I can already imagine what the man might have been like. A lot of yelling, I'm sure, and total emotional breakdown.

The comforter is nearly done drying. Dad checks it, closes the dryer door, puts it on another setting and then presses the red "start" button. I alternate between watching the suds and water in front of me at my green seat and the wall of dryers. I should go to the laundromat more often. I could sit in that green seat on other days with a book, reading, and also watching the activity, like I have a collection of clothes in one of the washers. There's a sign carved into a wooden board on the wall that says, "No attendant on duty." Someone opens the laundromat and closes it. I know that by the flat-screen TV tuned to something I won't watch and there being no remote. I know that by the lights being on. So I don't think I'd be looked at funny for staying too long. Each hour, the customers change. Mothers may come in with kids, housewives come in, people come in after work and dinner, whatever.

I'm not saying I'd go every day. I wouldn't become a fixture there. But I don't think I would go every day if there was the chance to do so, if I didn't have so much to do in my days already. There's something to really appreciate about a laundromat, how everyone is on equal footing here. We're all middle-class, just wanting to get some laundry done so we can feel comfortable about at least one part of our lives, satisfied that we've got clean clothes, bedsheets, towels, comforters, whatever it might be. It's a routine, yes, it's a necessary chore. But that sliver of satisfaction is there, at least to me. And it's why, when I was watching those bits of Entertainment Tonight while being annoyed at not finding any remote control, I looked at the people in the laundromat. These are the real people. I know there are people who watch Elizabeth Edwards being interviewed because they may have the same problems in their own marriage. I understand that. But all the celebrity, all the glitz, yes, again, an escape for some. But I think the regular people are more interesting than the celebrities. There's a lot more personality just in comforters and quilts alone. Designs, prints, why did we buy them? We have our reasons and those reasons are what keeps me more engaged than news and analysis about who was eliminated from "Dancing with the Stars."

The comforter done, Dad loads it into the basket, and we go to the car. The post office next, followed by a stop at the new Dickey's Barbecue Pit in the Pavilion's Shopping Center in Valencia, only to pick up a menu. It's a possibility for eats in the next few days. We all love barbecue and to have barbecue this close might be nice. Barbecue brisket, Southern pulled pork, "The Turkey," hickory grilled chicken, polish sausage. I only hope the result is as promising as the names.

Then home. Sometimes life can be interesting in this valley, but the laundromat isn't always enough. I got more out of that laundromat than this entire valley this year. It's not a sad statement, just that what you know from five years of living here is all that there is. Nothing ever changes drastically or becomes more interesting. At least there's the laundromat.

These Waiting Room Walls are Too White! Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!!!

How do I know when I've waited long enough in a waiting room?

Just after Macy Gray begins singing in "Spider-Man" and before the Green Goblin attacks the World Unity Day Festival on the TV in Dr. Lackman's waiting room, she walks in.

She, with a black-and-white patterned dress that's two inches above her knees. She, who works black heels very, very well, even though black isn't my favorite color for heels.

I don't try to approach her. She sits in one of the chairs across from me, with the second-most perfect pair of legs I've seen in my life, the first being when Stefanie Markham flirted with me in 11th grade at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel school newspaper awards, which included a block of time for the Teentime section, for which I wrote, and which was in the back of their weekend Showtime section every Friday. She subtly touched her crossed legs against one of my black pant legs and though I was quiet, I noticed.

This woman is most likely approaching 30. I've nothing against that, but I'm not interested. I prefer the things people don't always notice because they're busy with other things. It's like the scene in the "Something About You" music video by Level 42 where the man walks out of the great, cavernous, historical hall in pursuit of the woman. He walks quickly down the steps to her. I notice the background, the architecture.

A construction worker is sitting two seats away from me. I learn that he's a construction worker when he approaches the woman with the pretense that he's noticed her cell phone, and uses some kind of device or a cover that keeps it protected. I half-listen to their conversation while my eyes are quick-stepping through the collection of thoughts in "Resident Alien: The New York Diaries" by Quentin Crisp. I started the book when my parents and I got to the waiting room, my mom there because of what she thought was an adverse reaction to the medication they prescribed to her to recover from having two wisdom teeth pulled. She experienced great, grasping pain in her chest earlier in the day, and the water she had drank over time was only coming out in the tiniest amount, leading her to believe that her kidneys were not working properly. It's not medical paranoia, but this had been going on since Thursday, when she had the wisdom teeth pulled. It was the same thing with the sinus surgery she had a few years ago. It took her longer to recover than most patients would. It stems from when she had Gullian-Barre Syndrome before her 20s, a nerve-weakening disease. It weakened many other parts of her system as well. I find out after we leave the waiting room that it's the anesthesia that caused the problems she's having. The doctor told her to just let it pass, let it work its way through. It's really the only thing she can do.

Back to the waiting room and the book. By this time, at the climax of "Spider-Man" when the Green Goblin commands Peter Parker to choose between the suspended cable car full of kids or Mary Jane, I'm three-quarters of the way through the book. I began reading when I was 2 years old and have been speed-reading ever since. My 3rd grade teacher actually called my parents in for a conference because he was concerned that I was reading on a level miles ABOVE my classmates.

The combination of listening to the conversation between the construction worker and the brunette woman, and reading my book, and the volume at which "Spider-Man" can be heard is becoming distracting all at once. I'm not wishing that I was the construction worker. When he first sat down next to her, I heard her talk and she sounded like she was a little past the beginning of her 30s. I found then that the cliche was true: Women are like fine wine. They get better with age. I thought I had it good when I was in 8th grade and sat next to Monica Haynick in math class, sneaking looks at her pantyhosed legs, grateful for the alternative to another boring math lesson. We talked regularly enough that we had a good rapport---she always had some kind of boyfriend trouble---but I honestly think those legs got me through that semester of math without me going crazy.

But now, this woman across from me, it's an incredible change. I get to see this now? I like this!

Anyway, I don't want the world to shut up for a few minutes so I can read the rest of the book, but I am getting tired of it now being at least an hour and 10 minutes since we got there. At that moment, unbeknownst to me, Mom and Dad are finishing up with the doctor. He's probably advising her what to do, to let the ill feeling work its way through. In the waiting room, I find that the next paragraph has become excruciatingly-slow. My eyes aren't speeding past the words, still retaining the meaning of what I'm reading. I need to get out of this room. I imagine that based on the easy conversation between the construction worker and the woman, there might be a date to follow. He mentions his daughters, and I think of the possibilities: Either he's divorced, or this really is just a conversation about a quality cell phone case. She's beautiful, with a suspicious kind of stare, but it doesn't seem like she's dating anyone or is married. She seems like the type that believes it'll happen when it happens, or even if it happens, but she's not concerned about it. I admire the man, though. He has the guts I never had in middle and high school, and probably still don't, but now it's by choice and not hormones.

Finally, just when I believe that one more minute in this bureaucrat's dream of a waiting room will make my head explode and add new colors to the carpet, Mom and Dad come out. We have to go downstairs to the waiting room there because Mom has to get an x-ray done and blood taken. Well, at least it's a different waiting room. And it doesn't look like it'll take as long as before.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Set Another Season Free

It's getting warmer in the Santa Clarita Valley. Not like towards late April when it felt like the pre-heating of an oven and then went back down to cooler temperatures. There's no cooler temperature to go back to this time.

I don't want it to be summer yet. Didn't we just get through Christmas a week and a half ago? I don't know if I mentioned this in a previous blog entry, nor do I intend to read through previous blog entries to find out if I did, but apparently, there's a trigger that's set off either after you reach a certain age, or as you reach a certain age. In my case, it was January of this year when I discovered that the trigger had been pulled. In March, I turned 25, but before that, January began as it always did, one slow day at a time, but not too many slow days. When I was younger, January would always begin as a slow crawl. January you had to take a long hike over many mountains to get to the next day. Not anything to complain about, but it was noticeable.

This past January began like it had all those years ago, seeming like it would gradually get to February and then begin moving faster, but suddenly, it was January 26th. And then February 3rd. Followed by February 18th. March 15th. March 21st, my birthday. And now here we are, at May 4th. The Mexican workmen who have been repainting the walls near the community pool (one of two in our area, with the second, technically the first, down the hill towards the entrance) and taking care of other construction-related matters, put the chairs back around the pool today, as well as the two round tables, with chairs around those. It's time already for residents to begin using the pool again during the weekends and sometimes the weekdays? My dogs are going to be plenty bothered by that, since Kitty likes to sit in the sun on the patio ground, but hearing the noises beyond that thankfully high wall, we'll see. Then again, she might not have been so bothered last year or the year before. In Southern California, some days melt right into each other and it's hard to remember if what was done last year also applies to this year. I don't know if Kitty barked last year at any of it. Probably not.

I know the sayings and the encouragements. "Always look ahead." "Live for today and then plan for tomorrow." "Never dwell too much in the past." The past is where I hope to make part of my living, what with this book about what some actors might have done in their careers had they still been alive, but including background on what they had done. But it's criminal how January comes and then April and May barge in like flip-flopped and Speedo'd vacationers finding out about the classy buffet at an upscale restaurant. There's no point in complaining, I know. There's no way to slow it down and the years go faster as one gets older. It's not that I regret some things that I enjoyed when I was younger being so inaccessible now, such as Walt Disney World. In fact, the Galaxy Theater at Tomorrowland, where I saw many shows when I was in a stroller, has long been torn down and replaced with a high-tech stage for a show called "Stitch's Supersonic Celebration." Part of my childhood is gone and from the chatter about Space Mountain being refurbished, there may be things from there that were part of my childhood that may disappear as well.

I'm not looking for my childhood again. There's really no reason to go back to Florida. Las Vegas is where I belong now, whenever that might happen. But it's just having at least a few minutes slowed down long enough to really savor what's around me. This is the time of year when the morning light starts peeping way too early. Past 5 a.m. and it already shows. It's not even gradual and it doesn't even knock. It's already there.

On nights without worrisome winds, I'm learning. After 11 p.m., when I have Tigger do what he needs to on the patio (which simulates the landscape of Las Vegas that he needs to be accustomed to by the time we get there), and walk Kitty outside (she does do what she needs to on the patio in the morning, but it's a challenge at night and I inevitably walk her outside sometimes because I like being fully outside at that time), I look up at the stars, I look at the landscape around me, I look at the windows with lights on behind them, and I wonder. I wonder if this neighborhood existed in the late '80s. I wonder how many different drawings I can make by mentally connecting the stars to one another without thinking of the constellations. I wonder when they'll have the sprinklers on automatically in my area, now that it's getting hotter. I take those hours between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. and lie comfortably against them, like Huck Finn as he floats down the river on his raft. After 4 a.m., it's close to bedtime, so it's more of a transition hour. But these hours, there's so much possibility in them, so much to revel in, more ideal as work hours, but sometimes, I prefer to look at the sky and remember that though the days may go fast, there's still a lot to do within those days, and to enjoy.

There was an article in the New York Times on July 5, 2007 ("Indoors and Outdoors, Theater is Making a Splash"), about plays that used water, such as a production of "Romeo and Juliet" which had, as its centerpiece, "a 70-foot, 4,000-gallon pool." This is what got my attention:

"But sometimes a pool is just a pool. For “Swim Shorts” 10 writers were commissioned to create plays centered on the 25-foot-long, 7-foot-deep tourist oasis 14 stories above West 57th Street. The results include a piece featuring puppets and an alien spacecraft landing, another using a boat hand-built in Nebraska, and a renegade show in which the water stands in for quicksand. Though there’s not much time for on-site rehearsal (scheduling around hotel guests can be tricky), there’s an unmissable backdrop: the Midtown skyline on one side and the sunset over the Hudson on the other. Audience members sit on lounge chairs on the deck; umbrella-topped cocktails are served from an adjoining bar. “It’s summer,” Mr. Sherman said. “You want to cool off.”

I can do that too. After the residents are gone for the night, I can stare at the pool and the chairs around it, wondering who had been there today, who simply lounged, who dived into the pool numerous times, and what drama might have burst out. Or I can think of my own stagings. What stories could be told poolside? Who would be there in my imagination?

Time. Damn. But at least there are still options, even at this speed.

The Ghost of James Dean (or an associate)

To me, it wasn't a coincidence.

I looked over at my clock radio early Sunday morning. 5:05 a.m. I decided to finish watching "Me and the Girls," one of my favorite dramatizations of a Noel Coward short story about George Banks, a gay entertainer looking back on his life being in charge of a collection of dancing girls with whom he toured. The ending is particularly poignant, and by it, I'm convinced that Tony Soprano was indeed killed, despite the other side of the argument. I'm late enough for that train that I've fallen face-first onto the track. I know. But it came to mind when I watched George believe that Mavis was going to come see him again in his hospital room.

I finished it, and went to my DVD player to eject disc 6 of "The Noel Coward Collection," a DVD set I will hold so close and so dear to me, as it's a steady source of inspiration. Whenever I need assurance that the mountains of words in the English language can still be fascinating, I need only to put on one of these discs and I'm smiling again, mulling over the words I hear, sounding them out, spelling them in my head, fascinated at how an "l" and a "y" can co-exist without any trouble between them.

Now, my room is stacked with DVDs and books, and old issues of The New Yorker, and a bunch of writing magazines given to me by a former editor simply because he had them stacked on one shelf of his bookshelves at his desk, and I had been eyeing them for some time. Those are on the floor nearest the one window I have in my room, a window I can't open because there's no screen in front of it and there's no point in getting one now, what with the hope of moving out soon, provided Las Vegas comes calling and my parents can sell this place, which has the hopeful financial benefit of a gate at the start of the front-door walkway (no other front-door walkway in this small area has one), and a large patio which overlooks the community pool.

I use old moving boxes for shelves. There was talk of getting actual furniture for this place, but since Mom never stopped disliking this place, the thought fell away. She's right in many ways, but those ways are better saved for another time so I can actually get to the point.

I didn't even intend to look to my right. I wasn't even thinking about it. But my head drifted over, and my eyes were pointed at the tops (really the sides, but now serving as the top) of two boxes where I had stacked issues of The New Yorker that I had bought for cheap from my local library (10 cents an issue), as well as "Pandora's Clock" and "Medusa's Child" by John J. Nance, the hardcover first edition of "Walt Disney" by Neil Gabler, and DVD box sets, such as the complete run of A&E's "Nero Wolfe," "The Stanley Kubrick Collection," and a nicely made-up special edition of "La Dolce Vita." What was sitting on top of that is what caught my eye. A three-DVD box set. I turned it over and it was the James Dean DVD box set that was sent to me so long ago, and I only got as far as unwrapping it and each 2-disc DVD set.

I laughed, because clearly the ghost of James Dean had been here, a little impatient at that moment. He is one of the actors I'm going to write about in that book, "What If They Lived?" But since I'm working in chronological order and am currently at work on Robert Harron, Larry Semon, Mabel Normand, and Fatty Arbuckle, he'll have to wait for a while longer, but from suddenly finding that box set, he doesn't want to wait. I have been thinking about his life, though. This powerful young actor gone, but revered, remembered, and never forgotten. I don't intend to try to answer the "why" of that, because there's no one answer for it. There's many answers. I want to find my own. It's like how silent film actor Robert Harron is praised in many books for his performance in "Intolerance," directed by D.W. Griffith. I don't want to use "Intolerance" in my writing for what would surely be the 394th time. I watched "True Heart Susie" on Saturday and was amazed how he could look like a young, not very intelligent boy living simply, and with a girl who loves him but he's reticent about returning the affection. He goes to college on the money the girl's collected for him, but makes him think that a philanthropist who visited his town put up the money for him to go to college. He comes back, sporting a mustache, and he looks like a man. There's no more of the boy there. It's a remarkable transformation, and not one that's as big a deal as actors today make of their own transformations in film. He appears as this grown man, and that's that. But that Harron was able to be utterly convincing as this boy and then the man is what made him a great actor of that time.

I like these ghosts. As shown with me suddenly noticing that DVD set, they want their lives to be known again. Maybe Dean, or an associate, feels that I could offer something new about his films and his life. Really it's just movie and book-driven research, but there's also the experts and historians to talk to as well. We'll see.