Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Another Review!

I especially love this sentence: "There is a definite quality of respect and a realistic approach to What If They Lived?"

This warm fuzziness feels gooooooooooooooooooooooood!!!

Shark Teeth in Gummy Packets

Last Saturday, we went to Ventura Harbor Village. It's far enough away from the Santa Clarita Valley when you really need to escape. And I needed to escape. And Meridith needed to escape. And so did Mom and Dad. And with how gas prices are today, an hour away is good enough, with orange and lemon groves, and sod farms, and green, green earth included as you drive roads next to mountainsides that make you wonder why in hell you never lived anywhere near such peace, instead of being squeezed into a clump of apartments near a vastly indifferent hillside with only the bright, hopeful faces of flowers peeking out, trying to say that the days here aren't as bad as they sometimes are.

Oh, it's not entirely cynicism accrued over 7 years that compelled me to write that, but more disappointment after walking along the harbor stocked with all those boats, and the clam chowder at Andria's, and the pumpkin ice cream malt at Coastal Cone, and the arcade that had not only my beloved pinball machines, but also Galaga, which merits its own entry one of these days. I'll put it on my to-write list with Universal CityWalk.

The Santa Clarita Valley is 30 miles north of Los Angeles, and I've written about it before, but I can never get over the pure isolation that spreads throughout every corner. Newhall has a tiny sense of community with some diners and stores that have lasted for decades and therefore give a sense of history, but it's not really my history. Wherever I live, I always want history I can connect to, something that makes me not only proud to live there, but to keep me interested enough to keep digging into that particular past. There are better men than I to dig into that history, such as my friend John Boston, who I was honored to work under at The Signal when he was the editor of the weekend Escape section. He had been at The Signal for 30 years and he always wrote a weekly column called "The Time Ranger", which riffles through the history of the Santa Clarita Valley at enthusiastic speed. He loves this valley more than I ever could. Those columns in the paper showed that as empty as this valley feels many times over, he has never given up on it. There is always some piece of information that fascinates him enough to write an entire column about it.

One of my proudest moments in working for him was when we were going over what to put in an issue of Escape, and I had an idea to write in the guise of an orangutan who had been the model for King Louie in Disney's "The Jungle Book," my favorite animated movie and one of my favorite movies period, exclamation point, and an even bigger exclamation point. My idea was that this orangutan had expected that he would also be the voice of King Louie, but was sorely disappointed that Walt Disney had decided on the swingin' band leader Louis Prima as the voice. This orangutan is living out his days at a zoo, but has never forgotten that, always been enamored of the works of Giacomo Puccini, and was inspired to train his voice to the same heights and thought that would have helped him cinch the job.

I went home, wrote the column, and e-mailed it to John, who said that we'd talk about it the next day. He wasn't really happy with it and told me what I could do to improve it. I don't remember all the suggestions he gave, because it was so long ago, but it was a matter of streamlining what had felt like too much wandering.

I rewrote it, adjusting a paragraph, then two and three, taking into account his suggestions and seeing what didn't work and changing it, while making sure it still fit my sensibilities. I sent him the revised column, and I got back an e-mail that would have knocked me back centuries if I had fell into a time machine out of shock.

I worked with many editors before John, some that I still miss (such as the late Bob French at the Weston office of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, who was so magnanimous in his dealings with everyone, that when he became angry about something, it was so surprising because it seemed so unnatural. I heard that anger once during a phone call to probably someone at the main Fort Lauderdale building, and I knew that when that anger rose, it was because of something he passionately believed in. It was never just offhand), but John is one that I will respect for the rest of my life. It's almost hero worship. John taught me not only how to improve my writing, how to make what I want to say shine even brighter, but how to be an editor, how to see my work from an editor's viewpoint. And he also subscribed to "The New Yorker", which spurred me on to subscribe, because he always gave me his old issues and I found kindred spirits there, writers who went as deep in thought as I do.

To get to the point, even though I've veered way the hell off from what I was originally writing about, I wish to hell I'd kept the e-mail he sent me after I submitted that revised column. I looked through my inbox at the e-mails I kept from 2007, and the ones in my "Rory" folder. I've got all this shit in here that only mattered when it was originally sent, such as the Thanksgiving column I sent to myself as a possibility for the Thanksgiving issue of Escape. It actually still reads pretty well, so I may post it here. But I lost that one important e-mail. I must have been too hasty in cleaning out either my inbox or that folder and didn't think about what I really needed to keep. But in that e-mail, John admitted that he didn't expect a whole lot after the first time, and was happily surprised when I came through with that sparkling rewrite. To get an idea of his enthusiasm, he started the e-mail with, "JIMINY CHRISTMAS, RORY!'" He said that there were only a few minor grammatical matters to see to, but that was it. It would be published.

I don't think John had a great time as editor of Escape. It was in his image, and his writings matched exactly the fun of his columns, and "Time Ranger" had its own space in there, but it seemed like for him, it was more that you do it just to do it. The newspaper was changing and the management didn't see any reason to keep on a 30-year veteran. It still baffles me as to why not, particularly because he was the soul of the Santa Clarita Valley. When we moved here and my mom read the paper, she saw his columns often and thought he was the one who ran the paper, the one who owned it.

When John left The Signal, I put into quick use everything he taught me. They were looking for an editor to take over Escape, and I became the interim editor for five weeks. The columns that were submitted to me such as by Eve Bushman, the wine expert, I edited with the same kindness that John had done with my work. I wanted the section to be fun, and to me, it was. I enjoyed working with Tom, the guy who laid it all out for me on the computer, and we went over what should be where. But it was hard as hell. There was the time pressure, and my own columns to write, and to make sure that everything looked good before it was sent to press. Five weeks was enough for me in being an editor. I wouldn't want it ever again. It's the same reason I'm now a former film critic: I want to shepherd my own work.

Every day I use what John has taught me. I remember kindness towards all. I remember that you can have all the words in the world at your disposal, but to use them well, you have to love what you write. I also nursed a Tootsie Roll Pop addiction alongside him in the newsroom, but I gave that up not longer after I left The Signal, and especially when I went way down to 190-something (so far) from 260 lbs.

Scrolling through everything I've just written, this is the biggest digression I've ever had from what I intended to write about. Thank god this is a blog, because if this was anything else, I probably would have moved all of that to some future column or another chapter, and continued on with what was intended in the current column. Time to continue on.

Meridith had the idea to go to Ventura Harbor Village to celebrate our birthdays, being that they fell on weekdays. Mine was Monday, March 21, and hers was Wednesday, March 23. We had our favorite foods, and cakes (banana bread cake for me, Carvel M&Ms cake for her), and gifts. But there wasn't much else we could do beyond that during the week because it was a workweek for Dad and Meridith. We had been thinking about what we might like to do for our birthdays.

Meridith thought of going to the Discovery Science Center for those Sesame Street-themed body exhibits they had, because our dogs Tigger and Kitty love Sesame Street (Tigger's favorite is Big Bird, and Kitty's favorite is Abby Cadabby), but she wasn't sure. I told her that it's a nice gesture, but it should be for her.

Meanwhile, I thought of the Getty Center with its views of Los Angeles from the mountaintop and any potentially interesting exhibits. I looked on the website. There were no potentially interesting exhibits. Not like the food photography and the panoramic photos of New York City that spurred us on the first time we went there. Tree photography, and early photography in China. Those might have been something to see, but it wasn't enough for me. I didn't feel that hard pull that I felt before.

Meridith came up with Ventura Harbor Village because it's a mutual interest. And it's so peaceful. While we walked past the shops and the restaurants, we saw windows on floors above the shops and restaurants with blinds drawn and probably nothing inside, and wondered if there were bathrooms inside, and if anyone could live in those spaces if they wanted. We wondered why, in Dad's hurry to move somewhere to still have a teaching job (since then-governor Jeb Bush of Florida had eliminated most electives in favor of pushing more money into the FCAT exam), he didn't consider Ventura, or some other space that embodies California. I know the cost of living differs everywhere and maybe it was more expensive in Ventura, but surely Ventura has schools. I thought the same thing about San Juan Capistrano, and San Francisco, so this was not a new feeling, but it's better than the isolated feeling in the Santa Clarita Valley. Mom said I'd probably be bored by going to the harbor every day (if that was possible, of course, since, you know, a job is necessary and all), but I wouldn't. I read every single day; I seek inspiration from everything around me, and I usually get it. Spending time at the harbor, I would never be without ideas.

We went into a shop that sold various trinkets, such as shells, and art prints, and shirts, and, on a clear glass counter, a display of shark teeth on necklaces. A genuine shark's tooth. I was sure of it this time.

In 1st grade, at Stirling Park Elementary in Casselberry, home to a novel rotunda library, where the bookshelves were next to each grade level's wing of the building and the check-out desk was right in the middle, down a few carpeted steps, there was one day at lunch when I had a gummy packet. I don't remember what kind of gummies they were, and for the past 20 minutes, I've been trying to find what company it might have been. But I remember a box, of course, and 10 gummy packets inside. I opened this gummy packet, and maybe it was sea-themed. It said on the box that either one or all of the packets included a shark tooth. I thought it was a real shark tooth, and when I found it, I brought it back with me to the classroom and put it in my cubbyhole (That sounds like it should have been a dirty word, but it missed out).

I didn't know about the Food & Drug Administration, nor food safety or food standards. All I knew is that I had a real shark's tooth. Never mind that it was an off-white, or that it was softer than a shark tooth probably should be. I had a shark's tooth!

I wasn't disappointed when I found out it wasn't. Then in 2nd grade, when I ordered from a science catalog what I thought would be a full-size telescope, it turned out to be a powerful magnifying glass doohickey, with small binocular lenses on each side.

I like hanging out where reality doesn't go. All of that plus going to Walt Disney World every weekend when I was a tyke helped that along. It's what got me to where I am today and to people like John Boston, and my first book, and everything I still plan to do, like maybe sticking to one story per blog entry. Maybe.