Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Silence That Envelopes the House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing's Ever THAT Easy in L.A.

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

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

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

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


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

UPDATE at 4:14: An L.A.-centric website called LAist has a far better recap of the car chase than I could ever manage: http://laist.com/2009/02/09/chris_brown_car_chase_lapd_says_no.php

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

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

My Evening Craigslist Clickathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I ought to find more programs like that on the Internet. There's one on WAMU 88.5 FM in Washington D.C. called "Hot Jazz Saturday Night," which plays "vintage jazz, swing, and big band recordings from the '20s, '30s and '40s," according to the website (http://wamu.org/programs/hjsn/). And there's also the 'Real Jazz' channel on Sirius/XM which I listen to occasionally, but never before I've listened to 'Strictly Jazz' if I haven't already during the work. I'm usually watching a movie in my room or on the Tivo around 3 on Saturday mornings, so I never listen to the program live. Always archived. Still brings the same pleasure, much like when I've got KCRW going on an early Monday morning around 4, laying in bed, eyes closed, and I hear a song that makes me want to know the title badly and I wait until the DJ comes back on, and scramble to find a pen on my nightstand and onto the back of one of the pages of my New Yorker cartoons page-a-day calendar it goes, along with the name of the artist, to look it up later that day, maybe even find the song on YouTube, and revel in it again, such as with "That Night" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2u5aoZgDK6Q), the only song I know of that feels like Los Angeles. I've always been looking for that song, and this is it. I won't leave you hanging as to what I mean, and I'll address that in another entry because it requires that kind of attention. But it involves trying so hard to connect with a place because of simply being there, and not being able to click with what others are so used to.

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

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