Monday, April 4, 2011

One More Book That Makes Me Deliriously Happy to be Alive

In my enthusiasm about "The Garner Files" (, I forgot about one more book that makes me happy to be but one citizen on a planet that releases such books.

Stephen Sondheim, one of my heroes, is putting out the second volume of his life's work. The first was called "Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes."

The second, to finish out the song, "Finishing the Hat", is called "Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Wafflings, Diversions and Anecdotes." Sondheim is one of the few great minds that can make a word like "attendant" work. It doesn't sound so formal, so stiff coming from him. It's just part of who he is as a master Broadway powerhouse.

I also pre-ordered this one. It comes out on October 25.

A Shorter Ventura

Dad and Meridith have the week off from La Mesa Junior High. Spring break. So today, for the first day of this week, we went to Santa Paula, to a bird store there to see about two birds that were possible for a new bird. Our gray finch, Pretzyl, died on Friday, but unlike when Jules, our blue finch, died, I didn't feel much emotion. Pretzyl was good company, a good soul, but I didn't feel really close to her.

One possibility at this bird store was a blue parakeet, and a white finch I had seen last Sunday when we had gone to Ventura Harbor Village and stopped here on the way back to Santa Clarita. I went to see it again and played with it for a while, calling it from the back perch to the perch closest to the front of the cage and it responded most times. The owner of the store told us that this finch was female, because of the darker red beak, and also that it didn't look like it was doing too well, so if we wanted to adopt it, we could, which meant that we could have it without having to pay anything.

I didn't like this. We've gone through many birds that have been expensive that have died not long after. And there's nothing veterinarians can do, because they can't get that inside a bird as they can a dog or a cat. And even the simple act of clipping the ring off one of our birds' legs cost us $67. No, we can't take in every single bird in the world. We're not Doctor Doolittle.

Yes, I liked the bird, but this bird also pecked at the bottom of the cage, pecking off the bird shit and eating some of it. Yes, eating. This did not seem like the actions of a healthy bird. I couldn't chance that and I wouldn't, even as Mom said it would be fine if we had three birds again since we have the cage, Pretzyl's old cage, which she washed last night just in case we came home with a bird today. But no. Even the blue parakeet that Mom liked had the quirk of destroying the newspaper below the grate in his cage, and, as I heard it, shitting all over everything.

Two dogs (Tigger and Kitty) and two finches (Mr. Chips and Ducky). That's enough now. It's even, there's less to clean, and it'll be easier to move when it comes time.

After we left, Mom asked Meridith if she wanted that frog chef figurine we saw in one of the trinket shops at Ventura Harbor Village. Meridith was concerned because in black letters, on the cookbook that the frog holds, is "Frog Legs." She worried that Kitty will be able to read that and not be happy about it because we consider her our froggy, being that when she lays on the floor flat, her legs stick out like a frog's, whereas Tigger looks like he has chicken legs. Since Meridith reads to Tigger and Kitty every morning, we figure that Kitty can read some things pretty well. But Mom told her not to worry about it. If she liked the chef frog, then she should get it. And off we went, back to Ventura Harbor Village.

But this wasn't one of those instances of going to Andria's again, or to Coastal Cone, or back to the arcade for more games of Galaga. This wasn't a birthday. Just a short stopover to that trinket shop. I forgot the name, but it's across from Surf 'N Taco.

Mom and Meridith went in, and I sat down on the bench to the left of the store, opening up to where I left off in "Small Wonder" by Barbara Kingsolver. I had no reason to go in and I didn't feel like heading to the arcade for a few minutes. This was the kind of day not to do anything too exertive. And I play Galaga hard.

No, this was a few moments just to sit in the sun, just to read, just to listen to the clinking of dishes behind me in Surf 'N Taco, the muted conversations, the TV on KCAL9, the afternoon news blaring, which made me check my watch and see that it was just a little after 2.

It felt right, because this wasn't a birthday celebration as it had been last Sunday. No reason to cover the same ground as before. I knew the harbor was there, I knew what I liked about it, and that was enough. The craving for the harbor hasn't fully regenerated itself yet.

Next was to the Pacific View Mall, but only for a few minutes to decide where we wanted to eat and that was Super Panda Buffet, on the outskirts of the mall property, and in front of the parking garage. They call it Super Panda Buffet because by the time you're done, you feel like you're the size of a panda. I did. And I know I don't want to do it again. I don't know how I did it when I was a lot heavier, but I think back then, I wasn't even paying attention to it like I did now. I loved the stuffed shells, the dumplings, the finely chopped peanuts that go on top of the soft-serve ice cream from the machine, but once it was all over, I felt too stuffed. If you don't burp enough in due time, it feels a little painful, and it did. I don't know how some people can eat like that, but I know for sure that I can't anymore.

On the way home, I couldn't even pick up Kingsolver's book. No energy. Lethargy. I just let an index finger linger between pages 78 and 79, while listening to the old Walt Disney World Tomorrowland Transit Authority soundtrack on my mp3 player, remembering those times, because that's all I had the energy to do.

Never again. Never like that.

John Le Carre: My New Hero

John Le Carre withdrew from consideration for the Man Booker International Prize, which is worth $96,070, or 60,000 pounds, to the winner.

In the AFP article (, Rick Gekoski, the chair of the judging panel, read a statement from Le Carre, which was received 45 minutes before the announcement of the finalists in Sydney, Australia.

It said: "I am enormously flattered to be named as a finalist. However I do not compete for literary prizes and have therefore asked for my name to be withdrawn."

Gekoski says that Le Carre's name will remain on the list, which I think is wrong. If the Man Booker panel truly respected Le Carre, as they claim to, they would accede to his wish.

I agree with Le Carre. I believe reading is, at times, a solo journey, one in which you find the authors you love and hold fast to them, no matter what the "authoritative" voices say.

What affects you, what inspires you, what makes you want to do more in your own life (Barbara Kingsolver did that for me yesterday when I read part of her essay collection, "Small Wonder"), that's what you go with.