Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lighting a candle

Z is sixteen years old. Six months ago, his heart stopped beating. It didn't stop for long, but everything changed when it did.

After months in the hospital, he is home with his family.

His parents talk to him, suction his lungs, bathe him. They move him from bed to chair, and take him outside in the spring air. Therapists move him to keep his limbs working.

His friends play music for him. His mother reads aloud to him. His father watches football games with him.

I know about Z's progress because his mother M writes in an online journal shared with her family's friends and community.

I don't know Z very well. He's a couple years younger than My Son, so I remember him as one of those boisterious little kids in the lower grades at school, friends of younger brothers, part of a crowd of kids who shouted and ran and leapt and played at neighborhood gatherings, and startling people or making them laugh with their brash and infectious energy.

His parents are part of our community. Neighbors, we saw each other at community events, big parties, in the supermarket, at school. We attended the same New Year's Party every year.

While Z was in the hospital, his family stayed with him around the clock. Friends and neighbors gave them support, bringing in food, running errands, driving other children to school and activities. Some visited Z's bedside. Others could only stay in touch, pray, and hope.

When M's journal entry appears in my email inbox, I read it right away.

In her journal, M shares her fears, the daily chores, the logistics of caring for an almost-grown young man who is immobile. She tells us when Z's nurse says he moved his foot. When he has a fever. When he closes his eyes in pleasure to music. She talks about his doctors, their predictions. She reveals how she moves from hope to despair and back again.

How interesting that technology has made it possible for two contradictory things - one, the ability to keep up with people who are far away, but - two, reinforces the boundaries we create between us that we are afraid to breach.

I don't have M's phone number. I don't know her well enough to casually drop by the house, or telephone to inquire. I haven't seen Z since he came home. I once dropped off a basket of food. I write in the online guest book.

I am reluctant to pry. I am too timid.

It's been six months since Z and his family's life was irreparably changed. During the worst of his crisis, email messages urged friends to light a candle for his survival. I still light a candle when I think about him.

Thinking about something serious

It's been a helluva busy day at work. So I leave you with this picture for today - I hope it pleases you.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Inner secrets revealed

Our home's decor is haphazard, and our entry, which features a convenient table where one can put car keys and other useful items, has evolved over the years to have its own personality. Various useful and decorative objects have ended up here. The Alfred E. Neuman figure is useful for holding a check for Rita, the person who cleans our house regularly, in his expansive hands. His thumbs make good hooks for keychains, too.

A pair of carved Nigerian ibeji figures and some more contemporary African wooden figures have ended up on display here. On the wall are useful racks for hats, umbrellas, dog leashes, and hiking packs. There's a mirror to check your lipstick and hair before leaving each morning.
Our Hurricane Katrina Voodoo Shrine and an art piece called "Hand o' Power" are on the wall for inspiration and protection.

Another important item on our entry table is this:

The Magic Eight-Ball. Useful for consultation about anything you might want to know about when leaving the house to start your day; from weather to traffic to the contour of your day, the Magic Eight-Ball is worth checking out.

However, being a non-religious person in general, I have spent many days - no, months! - passing by the Magic Eight-Ball without peering into its inky depths for reassurance. Today, for some odd reason, I decided to consult, and I was shocked at what I found.

The mysterious white letters that swam up to provide advice no longer do so in my Magic Eight-Ball. The fluid level in the Eight-Ball has lowered enough that the plastic icosahedron within is revealed, floating impotently in a diminished sea of blue ink.

The oracle has been stripped bare!

I'm only curious how the fluid level has gone down in what appears to be a hermetically sealed object. Is this the mystery?

Here's a link to someone who has done a more methodical debunking of the Magic Eight-Ball.

Next up -- a disection of the Happy Apple toy.

State of the Nest

Quite early this morning while I was still in bed, I heard the coo and peculiar whirring sound that mourning doves' wings make, and looking sideways out the bedroom window, I saw a bird perched on the trellis. Must have been time for a shift change.

Watching a bird on a nest is kind of like watching paint dry - there's not much going on. Plus, it's important not to disturb the nesting bird. So I usually take a peek in the morning when I get up and in the evening when I come home, and not much else. The nest is so carefully hidden in the wisteria that it's sometimes hard to see more than the blur of dove-brown feathers. These birds have chosen their nesting place well!

This morning as the heat of the day built up, I went to the window to lower the blinds - it keeps the house cool. I noticed an interesting phenomenon. The wisteria leaves were turned upward and folded on themselves, instead of lying flat and open. I imagine this is how the plant conserves its moisture in the sun - reducing the surface area exposed to the hot rays.

It made it easier for me to see the bird, and easier to show you, too.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Work related

In recent months, I've been asked by certain local organizations' human resources departments to serve on a panel to narrow down the list of candidates for jobs in my field.

I've had an interesting career trajectory through the specialized industry I work in, from blue collar to management, from small-time to brushes with big time, from gritty to hi-tone, from cutting edge to quite boringly staid.

I'm flattered to be asked to serve on these panels, but still surprised. Little ole me? The other panelists are so respected that I'm a bit awed to be included in their company.

Today we interviewed candidates for a demanding, challenging job that requires a high level of skill, current technical knowledge, and expertise. As an independent panel, we were to rate the applicants, and narrow it down to a short list.

We had some great applicants. The HR department did a good job of screening it down. Still, it's always interesting what comes out in the interview process. It makes me want to write a "how to" article about job interviews.

First of all - If you're applying for a job, research it. Google is your friend!! There's nothing that impresses a panel more than a candidate who actually knows something about the job itself and the employer. If the employer sells widgets and you spend your interview talking about your expertise in gidgets, you've wasted your time.

Second - if you're applying for a job where the phrase "state of the art technology" appears in the description, don't emphasize the work you did in the 70's. Seriously.

Third - Don't keep talking. Answer the question and shut up. This is a hard one, because it's easy to get nervous and keep babbling. Often you get a copy of the questions ahead of time. Read them and stick to the topic. If you don't get them in writing, then LISTEN.

Fourth - don't condescend to me. I know that I look like the 53 year old lady I am, but I'm on your ratings panel because someone thinks I know something about the work you might be hired to do. Don't explain an elementary principle of our trade to me as if I didn't know it. And the last thing that will impress me is if you name-drop someone who happens to be my best friend.

Fifth - don't try to shock me. For some reason, amateurs in my specialized field seem to enjoy trumpeting examples of failure and dysfunction as though they were good things. In many an interview, I'll hear a candidate say in a kind of hearty, "ho-ho I've seen it all" tone something like, "Oh, well, every once in a while a [occurance that is a dangerous accident] will happen." chuckle chuckle.

Actually, they don't. Not where I've worked. It's not funny, and it's not tolerated. We don't hire people who find dangerous accidents amusing. Trust me.

Sixth - don't tell me what I don't want to know. If you're looking for a job because you hate your current one, don't tell me that.

Some of you might disagree on this, because honesty is important. But I think what a person reveals exhibits his judgement and diplomacy. If you type "chose to pursue new opportunities" in the box that says "Reason for leaving" I already know that you probably didn't get on well in your previous job. But if you type "left because compensation was not commensurate with the amount of time and effort required to perform duties" - well, you've just told me a whole lot more about yourself than you should have. Like you resent the shit out of those people you used to work for, you hold a grudge, and if you get pissed off at us, we're going to regret hiring you.

It doesn't matter if you used to work for the Boss From Hell. In fact, since my industry is a specialized one, I already know by reading your resume that you worked for the Boss From Hell - and I would admire you so much more if you presented yourself positively instead of making that little knowing smirk at me and say that their safety record was "er... actually, not quite up to par."

Case in point - today our panel interviewed 8 people, and one stood out as being positive, knowledgeable, exciting, someone who would bring needed leadership, expertise, and energy to the position. We were all excited. We rated this person very highly, and I truly hope that they will hire him.

I went home and told [The man I love] about my experience. Turns out he knows about this person through various networks - have I said it's a small world? And this person has been passed over for a promotion in his current position and feels a little unappreciated. It makes perfect sense that he's out looking. But he brought such a positive attitude to the interview that you couldn't have known it.

In the end, we left the search committe with 4 promising candidates, and I know one will work out. I'm glad we did it, and I'm really glad to have an inside look into the process.

Friday flower blogging - Hanging in there

This is a lupine growing in a pocket of soil on the vertical side of a giant red sandstone rock.

I admire its tenacity, its strength, its wiry survivor's instinct.

Today seemed very challenging at work, but when I started to tell the story, I realized it was all about bungled instructions, unecessary repetition of simple tasks, miscommunications, back-tracking, gear shifting - the typical stuff of work.

Why's it so demoralizing today? I don't know. But I look at this photo of this brave little California wildflower struggling to survive and yet continuing to bloom so beautifully.... well, hell. What do I have to complain about?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Dove update

They're still there! They're on the nest. I can't tell one dove apart from the other, so I never know whether it's the mama dove or the papa dove, but when I come out to the kitchen in the morning, or I come home from work in the evening, I tiptoe over to that side of the room and see if there is still a bird on the nest in the leaves.

No more photos for now, because it's really really hard to see them in the leaves. Maybe when they hatch I can get a picture.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wednesday Market Basket

Every other Wednesday on my lunch break, I go to a certain parking lot, and meet up with a guy at the back of his van. He checks my name off a list, and then he hands me a bag. The bag is always really heavy, but I don't look inside. He slips a piece of paper into the bag, for me to read later.

I take the bag home, and then I finally look inside to see what he gave me. Here's what I got today:

My employer participates in the Santa Monica Farmers' Market Basket Program.

A bag filled with seasonal organic fruits and vegetables, chosen by the Market staff, is delivered to you. You choose the size you want, and you choose whether you want a Basic bag or a Specialty bag.

The cool thing is its kind of like getting a Christmas stocking - you know you're getting something, but you don't know what!

In past market baskets/bags I've received - among other things - English peas, parsnips, golden beets, savoy cabbage, broccoflower, shitakes, dried nectarines, and blueberries. For a couple of weeks they kept giving us blood oranges - oh, the blood-orange mimosas I made on Sundays!

Two things keep me participating in the program. One is that I am challenged to eat things that are unfamiliar to me. Although I consider myself an eclectic and adventurous eater, in actual fact, I have never eaten a parsnip before I started getting my market basket.

The second thing that keeps me in the program is - the food is SO GOOD!! This is fresh organically grown food that was grown just a few hours' drive away!

This was brought home to me one day when I made a salad to take to work, and I wanted something crunchy on it. I love nuts, and I buy them in plastic bags at the supermarket all the time, but I didn't happen to have any around that day. I hadn't given much thought to the netted bag of pecans in the shell that had arrived in my market bag earlier that week - thinking what a pain it was to crack nuts when you could buy them already shelled. But I was out of shelled nuts, so I searched in my kitchen drawers for my nutcracker, and cracked a few for my salad.

At lunch I was amazed at how wonderful the pecans tasted. They didn't taste like the kind you buy in bags at Von's at all!

When I go back to work, I bring my bag into the office. Sometimes I share things around, like strawberries or apples. Today, everyone was impressed with the carrots. Have you ever seen anything so amazing?

Administrative Professionals' Day

Wednesday, April 23 is officially Administrative Professionals Day - the holiday formerly known as Secretaries Day.

This is a little new to me. I've had a long career doing all kinds of peculiar things for a paycheck, but my current job is the only one where we've celebrated Administrative Professionals Day.

Where I work, the traditional holiday is observed by taking the entire office staff out to lunch. As a middle manager, I figured that I should pay for the folks who report directly to me, but last year my own boss one-upped me and picked up the tab for us all.

While I am delighted to buy my co-workers lunch, it's the "holiday" itself that seems odd to me.

Other than lunching, what else could you do to celebrate Administrative Professionals? Have songs celebrating the joys of the copymachine, special food treats (marshmallows shaped like pencil erasers, maybe?), games like typing competitions or Trivial Pursuit featuring Windows keyboard shortcuts? Gift-giving traditions, like leaving anonymous treats in peoples' In Boxes, wrapped in InterOffice Mail envelopes?

What is it about secretaries (or administrative professionals) that inspired such a holiday to begin with?

I know it's about gratitude for services provided, but why are office workers any different than other workers who provide service? I imagine it's because of the relationship - office workers see enough of their bosses in stressful situations to be familiar with their moments of weakness as well as their strengths. I'm wondering if secretly there's not a bit of guilt involved in celebrating the "holiday", some way for bosses to mollify workers for the year's worth of resentment serving them.

Only once in my life have I worked as a secretary, but it gave me a clear understanding how annoying it is to serve and support someone who, simply by virtue of having a secretary, is deemed too good to do his or her own administrative work. I lasted less than three months.

In a two-person office, only one of us - me - was expected to put paper in the printer tray, change the cartridges, pick up the newspaper and sort the mail. Both of us drank coffee - but only one of us washed cups.

Some people are suited for such personal service jobs, and some aren't. I clearly belong in the latter group. I tend to take care of myself, and expect most people to do the same.

But Los Angeles teems with those who require personal service, and equally with those eager to provide it. My boss - a woman earning over $100,000 a year - had a well developed sense of her entitlement - it was as strong as her computer skills were weak.

There's nothing more annoying than trying to explain to a Power-Suited Diva how to "tab" through an online entry form, and discover that she isn't familiar with the Tab Key.

But where was I? I was appreciating the people I work with now. Yes, You Guys.

Thank you, M_____ for your careful proofreading that catches those 2007's where I meant to type 2008. Thank you, S_____ for reminding me of the task due today that slipped off my radar screen. Thank you, R_____ for your encyclopedic knowledge of what those flashing symbols mean when the printer/copier jams. And thank you all, for being kind enough not to roll your eyes TOO dramatically when I ask a stupid question. You are all jewels.

I'm grateful for your kindness and forbearance. And I promise you will never have to wash my coffee cup.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Giant Asparagus in Malibu!

When the Century Plant, or Agave americana, puts up its bloom spike in the spring it's a helluva surprise. We've seen these nice silver-blue clumps of spiky leaves set, benignly, in our Southern California landscape year after year. They're great, but we don't really appreciate them - they add structure to our gardens, they require little care, and they repell deer and probably the occasional intruder, but we pretty much overlook them.

But when it puts up its bloom spike, we suddenly look up at the hillside and go - holy moly! what the heck is that thing? a giant asparagus?

Agave americana takes its name, Century Plant, in a quadruple exaggeration of its habit of blooming only once every 25 or so years. Once it blooms, the main plant dies.

These agaves are putting up their giant stalks on a hillside in the Lower Topanga area. They look, for all the world, like an asparagus as thick as your thigh. Like the Asparagus That Ate New York.

The hillside is behind my favorite Thai restaurant in Lower Topanga. Lower Topanga was once a vibrant community of artists, musicians, bohemians, and strivers, renting property that was in limbo for a long enough time to allow them to make the community their own. There were small businesses such as restaurants and bait shops in addition to the residents. The land once belonged to the Los Angeles Athletic Club and then was sold to the state, which spent over a decade deciding what to do with it.

When it finally decided, sadly, the decision was to expell all the people who lived there. The purpose was to make the area a park, and in order to do this, the State decided to remove all residents - people, plants, and structures - it considered junk.

The State allowed certain businesses to remain, and Cholada Thai is one of them. So is their neighbor, the historic Wylie's Bait Shop - although I'm told that the State condemned the house Wylie's proprietor lived in, just behind the store. A neighboring business, a hair salon named Ginger Snips that I used to go to, is gone without a trace - not only did the business close, the entire house disappeared.

They kicked out the residents, then they ran out of money to develop the park. Vacant houses were left behind that were soon occupied by vagrants who destroyed them. Because of State budget cuts, even some structures that were supposed to be preserved for historical value ended up being destroyed, because they could not be protected. What waste could have been prevented from simply allowing the existing community to continue!

I like Cholada Thai - the food is fantastic, and the people who run it are lovely. This evening when I went to order my take-out, I sat and drank a Singha while waiting for it, looking out the front window at the traffic on PCH, and at the ocean beyond. One of the waitresses complimented my earrings and asked me where I got them.

When my food came, it was in a huge brown paper bag. I walked back to my car, which was parked in the gravel by the dumpster. On the hillside beyond my car, I saw these agaves, putting up their flower spikes - their first in 25 years.

When these plants were seedlings, it was probably 1983. Lower Topanga was a vibrant community. Now they're about to bloom, and this summer they will die. Like the community that was here when they sprang up.

I know that they will leave seedlings behind them. But how long will it take for Lower Topanga to regain its vitality?

Morning laugh

Mrs. G over at Derfwad Manor has a very funny post about Spanx. Go read it!

I am reminded by a family legend that [The Man I Love]'s father once said while watching my mother-in-law put on her girdle:

"Just like stuffing marshmallows in a piggy bank!"


It must be underwear day! JCK has an underwear post up too!

Monday, April 21, 2008

A stylistic dilemma

I'm new to blogging, but I realize we bloggers try to shield our families from the vast amount of publicity that will suddenly descend upon them following the clamor of world-wide attention attracted by the amazing, scintillating discourse that is the Sole and Total Creation of Yours Truly.

And why would we not? Our families should live normal lives, unmolested by the curious fans and paparazzis, and - although I know the demands of celebrity is something that I must bear - I am dedicated to protecting my Loved Ones from the tribulations of Fame that (I anticipate in the next few months) will attend me.

With that in mind, I've come up with pseudonyms for My Mom, my siblings (Brother One, Brother Two, and Brother Three) and My Son - but I am a little troubled about what to call my husband.

He is an enthusiastic reader of this blog, so I don't want to offend him with something flip and dismissive. But nor do I want to misrepresent him - I tried something that referred to his profession, but he didn't like that. His suggestion was that I refer to him as My Lord And Master - but that just seemed wrong to me. Plus it was a pain to type. In the post just previous, I have put in a placeholder for him, [The Man I Love], but that's actually a lot of trouble to set up each time.

So - I'm looking for some good advice on how to refer to one's spouse anonymously. Suggestions appreciated.

P.S. - that's his elbow there, just next to the margarita, in the post below.

Los Angeles weekends

This weekend, we did the kinds of things that Los Angeles families do on weekends - we took care of our cars, and we ate.

The eating part is pretty normal for us, but the car part is unusual. We tend to neglect our cars, and they have become somewhat decrepit. Several months ago I took [The Man I Love]'s car into Pep Boys to have a burned out tail-light replaced, and the technician told me we needed new tires. I've been nagging [The Man I Love] ever since about driving on bald tires, and today it finally worked. We took his car to a full-service tire dealer and asked them to put on new tires, change the fluids and do a tune-up.

The shop's proprietor recommended a nearby Mexican restaurant where we could lunch while waiting for the work to be done.

They had pretty good margaritas. And they made the guacamole fresh at your table - I love that! Ply me with carnitas tacos and I'm a happy girl!

Like typical Angelenos, we had driven two cars to the auto shop, to avoid getting stranded if the car had to be left overnight. Luckily, the shop said it would be done in a couple of hours. So after our meal, we decided to take my car (aka, My Son's car) for a much-needed bath.

As I said above, we are deplorable people who neglect our cars. I am a little worried the authorities are going to tear up my "Los Angeles County Resident" card because I fail to wash my car at regulation intervals. It's bad enough that the oaks trees at home spread their day-glo green pollen and stringy little flowers on my car, but there also seems to be a very large bird roosting over my parking space at work, because there are spectacular splashes of white guano on the hood and windows.

Well, like a person who only attends church on Christmas and Easter, I washed my car in celebration of Spring.

Here it is, getting washed by the kind gentlemen at the Tarzana Car Wash.I moved to Los Angeles in my 40's, and I was a little taken aback at the importance Angelenos place on having a clean car. Maybe it's because I came here from Seattle, and who can keep a car clean where it rains all the time? At my first job in L.A., I was amazed my co-workers would take their lunch break to wash their cars! Then I learned how many great taquerias in L.A. are located on or near the premises of car washes - a perfect example of the symbiotic nature of the market economy.
The Tarzana Car Wash has a hot dog stand.

It takes time to get your car washed, so car washes provide entertaining diversions to keep you occupied while you wait.

The cashier's office at car washes have racks of greeting cards, car accessories, assortments of air fresheners, and - for some reason - rotating displays of reading glasses. These are so ubiquitously present at car washes that [The Man I Love] and I refer to cheap reading glasses as "car wash glasses." Some places have coin operated massage chairs that will quiver away beneath you for a quarter.

But, inevitably, you end up with everyone else, sitting on the bench under the awning, reading the real estate ads and waiting for the guy rubbing down your car to whistle and twirl his towel in the air, indicating that he's finished. I was embarrased by the dents and the broken tail light, but the attendant polished, wiped, and cleaned my car with as much tender loving care as he would with someone's Bentley.

And won't My Son be pleased to see his car so nice and clean when he comes home from college next month? But what will I drive then????

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Walk in the Park

We are so lucky to live where we do. We can walk out our door and hike in one of the most beautiful and best loved of California's State Parks.

This morning, we took our usual route, which is about a half mile through the quiet streets of our neighborhood, and then across the road into the Park, and take the trail uphill to where it loops back onto our street.

Our neighbors' homes are hidden in a grove of coastal live oaks that meanders along dry creek beds going down to Garapito Creek, and thus down to the Boulevard, and our road twists downhill beneath the trees. When you cross into the Park, the land rises up and the trail goes through a grassy meadow.

It seems to me that the wild flowers are unusually early this year. The black sage and orange monkey flower are blooming now, and I was surprised to see the grasslands dotted with the opening blossoms of Calochortus. I've seen several species of calochortus in our Santa Monica Mountains, including yellow ones and pink fuzzy ones they sometimes call cat's ear, but I think this early white one with its deep maroon throat must be calochortus catalinae. These delicate little cups rise up on their slender stems and dance in the gentle breeze.

It was still pretty cool when we entered the park, and the trail took us uphill past scented bushes of sage and white-flowered chaparral into the forest for a while, where the ferny leaves of phacelia grew along the cool banks, studded with its pretty blue flowers. There's a lot of poison oak growing along this narrow wooded trail, so it's best to be careful.

The park is heavily used by humans and horses both - evidence of the horses is obvious. The trail twists and then goes steeply uphill. We branch off onto a side trail for our journey back to our street, and come out into the chaparral again. We come to a long sloping trail that returns us to our street again.

Today I noticed how worn the trails were after the winter. The rains always take a steep toll on the trails. Usually there are calls for volunteers for trail maintenance, but I haven't heard any this spring. In some places, branches already encroached on the right of way, and thistles and weeds grew on the pathway.

It just brought home to me the ugly reality that our California Parks are threatened. State budget cuts have put our parks on the chopping block. It may be that Schwarzeneggar is using the most popular of California's parks in some infernal game of "chicken" with the legislators to force them to solve the budget problems, but he has put five parks in Los Angeles county on the list to be closed and possibly sold off - including Topanga.

This would be a terrible disaster. A "closed" park is closed only to legitimate use, maintenance and enforcement of park rules. A "closed" park increases the danger of wildfire. A "closed" park is open to destruction and invasion. If they sell the park lands, as Assembly Bill 2392 would allow if it passes, the unique beauty and rural lifestyle of the community of Topanga is threatened.

Please visit the website http://www.savetopangastatepark.org/ and learn more about this, and sign the petition. Help keep this park open and available for everyone to use. And come out yourselves and enjoy the beauty.

It's Earth Day in Topanga

That's why there are so many cars.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

For Laura

The doves I saw from my kitchen window the day I started this blog seem to really like hanging out on top of the shade structure. It's only been a week or so since this picture, but already the wisteria has grown so much it reaches the window.
Every day I look, either one or both of the doves are out there. And this one is always hidden in the leaves like this. So I'm wondering if maybe they are nesting.
Luckily, I have an internet friend who's an ornithologist, so this post is for her - hey, Laura, what do you think? Are they building a nest? How long do they take to hatch their eggs?

L.A. Excursion, Part Three

On to the third installment of our weekend Metro trip. This was our destination after leaving Olvera Street.

We make a pilgrimage to Philippe's every couple of months. You line up in front of the counter, and order your food and watch your server make up your sandwich right there. Then you take your tray and go search for a seat at one of the communal tables. Most people tend to settle on their favorite Philippe's french-dip sandwich and stick with it. I love the french-dip lamb with bleu cheese, and a side of the pickled beets (don't knock it till you've tried it!) and a glass of red wine. This time, though, we were still full of pastrami from Langers, so we just stopped in to buy a couple of jars of their killer mustard from the cashier at the old-fashioned candy counter.

As you can see from the photo, the sky was growing dark, and a rainstorm was looming. We walked up the hill to Broadway, which is the main thoroughfare of Chinatown, and strolled up the street, looking at the gift shops, the food shops, the live poultry and fish shops, the herbalists, and the stalls with knock-off designer handbags. Lots of restaurants, of course, both Chinese and Vietnamese.

You can also buy the contraband Chinese "ant chalk" here - look in the crowded alley markets, where its displayed discreetly. Here in the canyon, we get invasions of tiny ants that march in lines stretching yards and yards across the floor or countertop ins earch of protein or water. Once Halloween, a line of them came down from the ceiling and across the floor, ending up in the dogfood dish. One stroke of "ant chalk" across their pathway kills them and breaks up the olfactory trail they follow.

I have no idea what's in the ant chalk. It's illegal in L.A. County, which is why you have to seek it out in Chinatown. Some people say it's mild boric acid; others say it's dreadfully toxic chemicals you shouldn't bring into your home. I once asked Brother One, who is fluent in Chinese, to translate the label on the box for me. He said it read "Best Insecticide" - so I still don't know what's in it. It works so well on the ants I use it anyway, but for precaution I never use it around food.

A trip to Chinatown for ant chalk and dim sum is always a good excuse in preparation for the hot dry ant-infested days of autumn.

On this trip, though, our goal was the Chinatown stop of the Gold Line - which connected back to the Red Line at Union station. My camera ran out of juice at this point - but the Gold Line is an elevated train, with a green-tiled Chinese style roof. We waited on the platform while the chill wind from the storm to the north blew in on us. We transferred quickly to the Red Line at Union Station for the trip back to North Hollywood.

The abrupt chill from the approaching storm was quite dramatic by the time we came out of the tunnel, and as we waited for the bus at North Hollywood, we huddled against the wind. Some of the passengers wore tank tops, and were freezing! Finally, the bus came.

Among our fellow passengers were a group of teenagers who were returning from a Hollywood Peace Rally. They had phrases written on their skin in Magic Marker. They alternately gossiped together and withdrew to their Ipods. Their earnestness and their hip posturing was heartbreakingly sweet to see - it made me think of My Son and his firends.

About halfway through our trip back to Canoga Park, the storm broke, heavy rain pouring onto the bus's bubble-like windshield.

At one station - I forget which - a police car was parked where the bus pulled up. Then I noticed another car a few yards away. And in the Park & Ride at least 5 police cars parked. What was going on? Semed a little heavy for a fare check. An officer entered our bus and walked the aisle. We all reflexively looked in our wallets for our Day-Passes, but then he left without checking tickets, and the bus moved on. Although unexplained, the incident lent a sense of darkness to the remaining trip.

By the time we reached our stop, the rain had dwindled. We got to our car without getting wet. We were tired, and happy from our adventure - but, hey now we were hungry! I could really use a french dip sandwich or a banh mi!!

Friday, April 18, 2008


Can somebody tell me how to work with line spacing in Blogger? It's really frustrating!!! How come some of my posts have double-spaces between paragraphs, and other posts have none even after I put them in?????

Update: How come this post is so nicely spaced and the one before it is so tight? I didn't do anything different?

Double Friday Flower blogging

What really amazes me about Los Angeles gardening is how micro climates and micro-zones vary. And here in my very own garden is a good example.

On the north side, under the oaks, it feels like a northern climate spring, with the blue pulmonaria, the columbine and irises in bloom, the late poet narcissus still fading.

But on the south side of the house, where the sun blasts in all day, it is full-blown summer. The brief heat spell we had this weekend has brought the buds out on all the roses, and they're raring to go.

This rose is always the first to bloom. It's a China Rose named "Eugene de Beauharnais" - said to be one of the roses tended by Josephine Bonaparte at Malmaison. It's named after her son by her first husband - the one before the short guy.

As a rose, it's kind of muddled looking in form, tightly packed blossoms open flat rather than tapered like the more familiar hybrid teas. And its brilliant color is liable to age to purple quickly, especially under the hot sun.

But the thing about "Eugene de Beauharnais" that's extraordinary is its powerful scent. This is a rose you can smell from 10 feet away. It's a pure rose scent, unadulterated.

I went downstairs to the laundry room this morning, and as I came around the corner of the house, the scent of this rose came to me, and I had to go get the camera and share it with you. Too bad we can't blog scent as well as sights and sounds!

Friday Flower Blogging

This is Pulmonaria "Roy Davidson". Pulmonaria are also called "lungwort" - bet you could guess it was something like that from the botanical name, right? They have leaves that are spotted with silver. It's said that they were called lungwort because the spots reminded early herbalists of the diseased spots on lungs, so they thought the plant would be good at healing lung sicknesses.

Pulmonaria have wonderful blue flowers that age to pinkish. "Roy Davidson" which is named after a noted horticulturist and author in Bellevue, Washington is a hybrid between p. longiflora and p. saccharata. In my experience, its flowers don't fade to that pinkish color so quickly, and keep their brilliant color longer.

It's blooming now under the coastal live oaks in my Southern California garden, which is at the extreme south of its range. I grew this in the Pacific Northwest, and am a little surprised it's so happy here, where our summers are so hot and dry.

The plants are right next to the flagstone path to my front door, and when they open their incredible celestial blue blossoms, your eyes are drawn to them. When its blooming season is over, the silvery splotches on the leaves fade and it's just a boring little plant again - until next spring when that BLUE grabs your eye.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mr. Lumpy

I got my first dog in 1979. He lived to be 16. Shortly after we moved to California, our second dog, a handsome and noble Malamute graced our family by sharing our home. In the ten years he spent with us, we became used to being stopped by strangers on the street admiring him. Our neighbors adored him. Contractors working on the house loved him. Small children at My Son's school fell upon him with hugs and kisses.

But that's not what this post is about. This post is about Mr. Lumpy.

Around Christmas last year, friends who were moving back east approached us. They had an old dog, and they had to make a decision about him.

Well, silly me, I spoke up and said - "Of course, we'll keep him for you!" Thus came Mr. Lumpy into our lives.

We hoped that The Malamute and Mr. Lumpy would be friends, but although they tolerated one another, The Malamute was the boss, and he put Mr. Lumpy in his place when he encroached too much.

Given Mr. Lumpy's age and decrepitude, we felt he would not be with us long. But, in fact, we lost The Malamute first. He died last summer of liver disease.

Mr. Lumpy's about 15 or 16 years old, a Rottweiler mix, with a strange bony growth sticking out of his skull. He has fatty tumors on his hips and hind legs. His gait is irregular - he actually trips on his own paws, and he has traction problems. Sometimes he can't get up, and scrabbles weakly on the polished floor until we hear and lift him to his feet. We've laid throw rugs, yoga matts, and doormats in a pathway so he can safely make his daily rounds without collapsing.

Mr. Lumpy has trouble with stairs. We have a split level, so the flights are only 5 or 6 steps. It's amazing to watch the daring with which he has been forced to act just to get around the house. He gathers his strength at the foot of the stairs, before thrusting his two front paws onto the highest step he can reach, hoping to propel his hind legs to a middle step. To descend, he poises at the top, and then leaps as in a steeplechase to the floor below. I have seen some spectacular wipe-outs on descent, let me tell you.

Mr. Lumpy is a bit aloof - he's deaf, actually. And because he came to us as an old dog, he has been slow to bond with us. I admit we were spoiled by The Malamute, who routinely put his paw on one's knee, and looked deeply and soulfully into one's eyes.

In fact, we did Mr. Lumpy an injustice when The Malamute's illness grew more serious. We began finding puddles of dog pee on our kitchen floor in the mornings, and thought it was some kind of doggie passive/agressive territorial marking by Mr. Lumpy. We scolded, and devised all kinds of methods to confine him.

Then we caught The Malamute in the act.

It was like that movie "The Bad Seed" - you know the one; where the plain, unwanted child is blamed for all the broken crockery, thefts, and occasional murders, when instead it turns out to be the darling beloved golden-haired pet of the family.

Anyway, it's now been six months since The Malamute died. Mr.Lumpy mourned him by refusing to eat for a day.

Mr. Lumpy is kind of like other geriatrics. When it gets late in the evening, he nudges us with his muzzle, and then walks expectantly toward the bedroom hallway. It reminds me of My Father, who, when he was ready to go to bed, walked around the house pointedly turning off all the lights - except for the one nearest to you in the living room where you were watching TV.

He grows on you, Mr. Lumpy. We're used to him now. He is our family's dog.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

L.A. Excursion, Part Two

The eastern end of the Red Line is at Union Station. Union Station is a magnificent and graceful building. When we were there, the restaurant inside, Traxx, was closed for a private event, but it was so beautiful I intend to go back someday. The arched waiting room is simply gorgeous, with the hushed feeling you get in a library or church - even thought it's a train station!

We crossed Alvarado Street to the plaza, and walked the crowded touristy stretch of Olvera Street and the Avila Adobe.
Olvera Street is known as the birthplace of the City of Los Angeles. The first settlement was set up down by the river, and was known as the Mission Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles. Later it was moved to higher ground, where Olvera Street is now. This area was the heart of Los Angeles in the mid-19th century, before the Anglos moved in and took over.

Preserved due to efforts of civic-minded people in the 20's and 30's, it has an air of tourism that is quaint and sentimental and slightly outdated. There are plazas with performing bands and dancers, and then you walk through the street's crowded stalls and restaurants. There are restaurants and shops, and although it's touristy, it's still fun to check out all the cool stuff. You can find everything from fine art to tacky souvenirs. You can drink margaritas and listen to mariachi bands, yet there's something innocent and goofy about it, rather than the Disneyfied slickness I expected.

Outside the main entrance there was a stuffed burro you could sit on have your photo taken. If you didn't like that, there was a guy in a giant rabbit suit, available to pose with. I really liked the stalls that had embroidered women's blouses - brilliant colors against white cotton - and also the stalls that had assortments of Mexican wrestling masks, that looked like something worn by superheroes. One shop was filled with Dia de los Muertos items, including something I'd never seen before - calico cloth printed with skeleton figures. What cool pillows those will make!

After passing through the market, we walked north into Chinatown. Coming soon - Part Three with the rest of our trip.

L.A. Excursion, Part One

I love exploring L.A., and a little while ago, I decided to explore it in a new way. It was a beautiful spring morning when I parked at the Canoga Avenue Park & Ride lot for the Orange Line, and hopped aboard.

I bought my fare at the automatic machine. The MTA works on the honor system, which means you don't show your ticket to anyone unless asked on the occasional check that they do. Which means, I suppose, you could beat the fare - except if they catch you the fine is hefty. I bought a $5 day pass, and I was good to go.

The Orange Line are big articulated buses that run on their own exclusive busway across the San Fernando Valley from Warner Center to North Hollywood. The seats were comfy and brightly colored, and there's a video monitor in the bus that (too) loudly broadcasts a Made-for-the-Bus TV channel. The busway is nicely landscaped with xeriscape plantings - purple lantana and waving ornamental grasses line a walking/bike path that parallels the route. The buses move fast, but approach intersecting streets with caution. I recall hearing there were a few run-ins with cars when the line first opened. (Hello - MTA? I have a suggestion. Why not paint the Orange Line ORANGE, instead of grey, which is the same color as the sky, the street, and the stucco-clad warehouses and strip malls that line the route. The buses literally disappear against the sky - See my photo above!)

It took about a half hour to get to the other end of the line to transfer to the Red Line. We took on enough riders to fill the bus, and it was nice to see that both wheelchair riders and bicyclists were accommodated easily.

The North Hollywood Red Line station was like a big orange yellow and green cornicopia, decorated with bright enamel tiles. The surfaces are tiles and brushed steel. The walls are bright with murals. Outside the station there's a food vendor - although you're not allowed to eat in the subway.

The Red Line is fun because each station has its own unique decor. At Hollywood and Vine, the ceiling is covered with empty film spools! At Hollywood and Western it looks like confetti! At Vermont and Sunset, it has a constellation. Cool!

We rode to the MacArthur Park station, and got off for pastrami at Langers - recognized by many as the BEST pastrami in the known world. After lunch we headed back down the escalator. The station at MacArthur Park is a little older and not so well-maintained. Discarded food wrappers blew across the tiled approach to the escalators, and at the train platform itself you could see where the pigeons liked to roost. Never mind, though, the train came quickly and we were off to the end of the line at the gracious, art deco jewel that is Union Station.

In Part Two I'll show you where we went next.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My Family's Disease

My family is afflicted with a disease. I'm not sure how many generations it goes back, but I see the distinct signs and indicators in my brothers and parents. It's not fatal, nor is it disfiguring. But it is insidious and can have a terrible effect on our lives, livelihoods, and on our loved ones and friends.

We suddenly take up a Hobby, or begin to collect things, or check out every book we can find in the library about a particular subject. Call it Obsession. Fanaticism. We pursue our interest with a single-minded zeal and ardor that outsiders - our spouses, lovers, and friends - find unsettling.

With some, the Passion is short-lived and one hobby wanes while another develops. Why, it only took me a few months to get over my enthusiasm for bakelite jewelry - the sky-high prices commanded for good pieces helped, I admit. And I started learning to make puff pastry.

Our Mother began quilting in her 50's. Then she went on to become an amateur geneologist - actually, she's so good and so thorough and has such high standards of authenticity that she's damn near professional, except for the fact that she doesn't earn income from it.

Brother Two, who was a bicycle racer as a teen, took up woodworking in his 30's along with Brother Three, and has a workshop full of expensive hand tools. He's making a bedstead for his son. His workshop is in the basement, because his restored vintage Triumph takes up all the space in the garage.

Did I mention that Brother Three used to be a particle physicist? Now he's into short wave radio.
Brother One is probably the most infected with Rampant Hobbyism. As a child, he researched World War II German airplanes; as a teenager, he singlemindedly pursued a future career as a concert French Horn player. I think perhaps the family affliction had something to do with his sudden and deeply committed conversion to Christianity; it probably also helped him become fluent in many Chinese dialects and language. Afraid of dogs as a boy, at 40, his devotion to dogs, obedience training theories, and proper canine nutrition is all encompassing.

As for me - well, I'm pretty easy-going in contrast. I took up gardening about fifteen years ago. I blame my ability to memorize botanical names on the fact that I ran with a pretty high octane garden club, living in the Pacific Northwest. We traded contraband slips of cultivars smuggled into the country from Sissinghurst. We took seed-collecting trips to the Himalayas. I ordered primula seeds from France.

Since moving to California, I've sort of gotten over gardening. There are other things to distract me. Mexican silver jewelry. Competitive swimming! The Democratic primary.

Back when I worked for the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, I learned of the national group called Circus Fans of America. At one stop, I noticed maybe a dozen townspeople clustering around one of our flatbed train cars, and taking detail photos of the tie-downs. Yes - they were circus fans with a specialized interest in circus trains, train cars, and train hardware. Not for them the more common interest in elephants, or trapeze artists, or clowns. For them, it was all about the ratchet handles.

The photo at the start of this post is a detail from this work of a fellow obsessive whose artistic genius far outshines that of my family.

Next time you think someone's a little weird...remember Simon Rodia and Watts Towers.

The daily slog

Our daily commute. We're all used to it. We get so accustomed to it that we could drive it asleep. We change lanes at the same place on our route. Even the radio station I listen to plays the same ads at the same time each day - so that I am always passing the same scenery while listening to the same dumb Zantec commercial each day.

But every once in a while, the gods of traffic play tricks on us. Every morning, I drive a winding two lane state route about 6 miles through parkland and undeveloped Conservancy land down to the coast highway, where a single traffic light governs our joining the morning traffic into Santa Monica.

Most days, it moves pretty quickly, but some days the light's timing is off - I cannot fathom why it changes from one day to another, but it does.

When this happens, we patiently line up and wait, snaking down the canyon road through cycles of the traffic light. Although it's frustrating to sit in line like this, the nice thing about it is that while you sit, you can study the scenery, and the canyon walls that rise above the road, looking at the shrubs and the budding flowers, and seeing them up close and from a still position - unlike most of the time, when you rush past them at 45 miles per hour.

Did you notice the duddleya clinging to the rock wall? did you notice the acacia tree in full golden bloom? Did you see the monkey flowers, exactly the color of orange sherbet, blooming against the buff colored rocks?

Well, the next time you are stuck in traffic, take the time to look around. There's always something to see when you're standing still enough to notice it.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A burst of flowers

Wow, just days ago, the Douglas irises in my front yard were only starting to appear. Douglas irises, and their offspring, the Pacific Coast Hybrid irises, thrive in our dry riparian oak forests of California and the west.
I planted mine maybe four years ago, when we were able to re-do our front yard with the help of our friends Anthea and John, who are garden designers and contractors. John in particular is an artist at stonework, and he crafted a walkway of the most beautiful pinkish flagstones that curved and gently descended from our street to our front door.
Anthea did the plantings, which included acanthus, campanulae, western columbines, heuchera, and clusters of Pacific Coast Hybrid iris.
Now, 3 years after planting, the irises are finally becoming established. I watched the buds forming with great anticipation. But it was a total surprise, with the heat wave of the last two days, to see all the buds open, providing a shock of blue flowers I'd never expected to be so lush!
I know they're short-lived, especially in the heat. But wasn't it wonderful?????

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Music is dangerous

I love music, right? who doesn't? But its dangerous stuff!

People don't realize how dangerous music is. A little bit is fine, maybe some good tunes in the car, maybe; or attend a perfectly respectable concert with other people and enjoy the performers onstage. But I think the line is crossed sometimes. It's kind of like taking that first hit of weed, or that first sip of demon rum. You can be a respected member of society, but just slip on the headphones at the computer after dinner - the next thing you know you're drinking wine and singing along to ITunes at the top of your lungs.

There’s nothing like a 53 year old woman channeling her inner Patti Lupone, throwing her head back and singing full untrained voice, accompanied by a full repertoire of theatrical hand gestures, to demonstrate the insidious nature of this danger. The chardonnay helps overcome inhibitions about performing, but it does NOT help the voice, let me tell you.

"Being Alive", the well-known tune from Stephen Sondeim's 1970 musical "Company" is the perfect song for nostalgic, romantic, and wine-addled people to sing. It's perfect for belting, yet - except for the ending, which you can fake at a lower octave - it's pretty easy to sing. As long as you don't get too emotionallhy overwhelmed by the lyrics, which will bring back your memories of young-adult angst. If you lived in New York City at the time, it has even more punch in the tear-jerking department.

Youtube gives us the options of seeing at least three great professional performances of "Being Alive". There's my fave, which is the
Patti Lupone version
or you can check out
Bernadette Peters' version, or Raul Esparza's Tony Show performance.

I just love Lupone's '80's hair and the blue backlighting in that video. And her twisted mouth and the slightly crosseyed thing she does with "alone is alone." But - DAMN! the woman can sing! I also like Raul's kind of angry head-shake at "mock me with praise." Peters i sgreat but not my favorite performance, but with a couple of glasses of wine I can imitate any of them!

On the Morning After such an indulgence in this illicit Music stuff, you go into work and conduct your daily business while this tune goes round in your head. It really colors your thoughts. And it's made me think seriously for once.

Although I'm the first person to indulge in my own damn self, and associate "Being Alive" with my past turbulent dating scene, where I longed for a fulfilling relationship, oddly, when I listen to a song about a person who regrets his own remoteness from other people, what I think about now is my own 80 year old mom. Her world is contracting, as she incrementally limits her activities, her movements, her communications with people.

The song's lyrics plea for:

"Someone you have to let in
Someone whose feelings you spare
Someone who, like it or not
Will want you to share a little, a lot of being alive
Make me alive, make me confused
Mock me with praise, let me be used
Vary my days, but alone is alone, not alive"

Vary my days. Wow. When I visited Mom recently, what struck me most intensely was how her days had become so uniform. Of course, we all end up following our daily routine - "digging our trenches" as a friend of mine put it. I certainly do. But I want to caution people from letting ourselves become set in stone. Can we remember to shake it up, do something different, follow a crazy impulse, take a chance? Will it help us continue to BE ALIVE?

I think I should put a sticky note on my work computer monitor that says in big letters "VARY YOUR DAYS!"

See how dangerous music can be?

Happy New Year!

Today was Thai New Year Day's Songkran Festival in the part of Hollywood called Thai Town. The Festival included a parade, a curry contest, booths with food, Thai crafts and merchandise, a stage with dancing and even a ring where Muay Thai boxing took place.

The festival organizers had arranged for off-site parking at the Kaiser Permanente facility at Sunset and Vermont, and were running shuttle buses, but I ended up taking the Red Line one stop to Hollywood and Western. It was a lot cooler waiting on the train platform. The Hollywood and Western station with its confetti-like design was a good start for a festival.

It was hot today, and the booth selling waxed paper parasols got a lot of business. Beyond the small stage where ornately costumed dancers performed was a series of green-roofed booths with shrines to the Buddha where visitors could make a small donation for the chance to sprinkle the god with water. Songkran is known as the "Water Festival", and part of the fun is to sprinkle - or throw - water on one another to celebrate. Today was a perfect day to be sprinkled!

In one booth, Buddhist weddings were being conducted, and - for a small donation - you could dip water onto the folded hands of the bride and groom, blessing their union. I did so, and congratulated the happy couple. After I'd made my tour of the festival and passed the booth an hour later, they were still there getting married by other festival-goers, so they must have had a truly memorable wedding day.

In another booth, an array of the most mouthwateringly beautiful desserts were displayed on tiered trays. I asked if they were also selling the desserts, but the attendant said no, they were just for display. Pretty incredible, though, aren't they?

Other booths had everything from crafts and clothing to on-site masseurs. There was a demonstration of something with the intriguing name of a "Wrinkle Iron" that claimed to do away with facial wrinkles - but I didn't check it out. There was a roulette wheel, and a miniature golf course to try, and a raffle for a car.

The marvelous smells from the food booths drew long lines of hungry people. I didn't see an eating area, but many people took their containers of curry or pad thai into the shady entryway of the big Ralph's complex to sit on the low walls and eat.

I passed a booth selling textiles and jewelry, and as I passed it, a rack of earrings fell over, scattering them on the street. I helped the young girl who was attending the booth pick them up and re-organize them, and then I bought a bracelet embroidered in bright yarns from her. I had a taste of duck curry. I photographed the guys grilling skewers of satay.

I donated a dollar so that I could pour water from a styrofoam cup over the golden Buddha. It just seemed like a good thing to do in exchange for such a great experience.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

We're Havin' a Heat Wave

"We're havin a heat wave
A tropical heat wave
The temperatures rising, it isn't suprising"

And my musician friend says his brain automatically finishes the verse for him as:

"Walkin' in a Winter Wonderland!"

It was 91 degrees on the coast highway this afternoon at 2 p.m.

When weather gets extreme, I'm always reminded about the tenuous state of our relationship with Nature. Just 5 days ago, it was in the low 50's, and I sat at the computer with icy hands.

Our house was built in the '60's, an era of cheap electrical power, when people saw our rosy future powered by safe, technologically advanced nuclear plants. The house is uninsulated. Ten years ago, we replaced the largest of the single-pane windows with low-E double-paned windows, but the bedroom windows and other smaller windows are still made of 3 - inch wide horizontal jalousies. The house is cold in the winter and hot in the summer.

Actually, it's even hot in the winter, too - our large, unshaded living room windows face southeast, and around 4 p.m. no matter what season it is, they take the full blast of the sun.

Unlike many Southern Californians, we don't have central air conditioning. Our electric furnace dates from the 60's, and I always think of it as a giant toaster in the basement, because it just heats up and fitfully blows hot air upward into this uninsulated house, where it dissipates.

We don't turn on the heat much. When it's super cold, we light a wood fire in the fireplace. We use small electric heaters to heat the rooms we're in - the ones that look like little steam radiators on wheels. And in the summer, we cool one room with a window air conditioner, and barricade ourselves in that room on the hottest days.

Todays heat reminds me that sumer is coming.

As the season turns, I think again about how wonderfully suited our house is for generating solar power, with its southeast exposure, it's exposed roof. Each year I wonder whether this will be the year we can find the time to research it, plan it, afford it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Empty nest

Like many, I'm the parent of a college student, and my home is now an empty nest.
I had dinner the other night with two other parents of college students, and we realized that we shared a phenomenon that may be peculiar to American parents, or at least, Los Angeles parents.

We are driving our childrens' cars.

Los Angeles families buy their children cars at 16. Typically, affordable safety is a priority when buying cars for our young people, so '90s vintage luxury cars, or Volvos are hot commodities. In the case of my family it's a 1999 Volkswagen Passat station wagon with a dinged front fender. My Son dinged the other front fender two weeks after getting his license. Another ding ocurred while contesting another Pali High student for the left turn lane on PCH - both families wanted to keep our insurance premiums low, so both kids' cars stay dinged.

Now our children are gone, we've become a 3-car family with only 2 drivers. And - paradoxically - because we shopped so carefully for good safe cars for the kids, it turns out those cars are in better shape and with less mileage than the cars we got our very own selves five years ago. With college tuition as high as it is, we're not budgeting for new cars soon. As the Parent Car odometer turns over 120,000 miles, or the tires go bald, or the check engine light stays on - and our children now live in rural Vermont dormatories or Greenwich Village apartments - the best car in the family fleet tends to be the kid's car.

We are driving our childrens' cars.

So I'm driving a dinged up '99 Volkswagen Passat. There's something funny with the electrical system, which means that the battery will drain if it isn't driven regularly - a fact I use to justify driving it every day. In the cargohold are an assortment of croquet mallets acquired by My Son while in high school, and a plastic gun that blows bubbles. Also a set of jumper cables with melted terminals from the time his friend swore he knew the right way to jump a dead battery. There's a bumper sticker on the back that promotes the movie "Snakes on a Plane". Shortly after I started driving it, I shattered the driver's side rear taillight, when I backed into a bollard while momentarily distracted.

At dinner, my friend shared with me the fact that she now drives her son's Volvo, without, however, the surfboard he used to carry on the roof rack. My other friend said even though she's still driving her own car, she can't find the time or the money to fix her broken taillight, with the pressures of paying her daughter's tuition to Vassar.
We no longer have time for the sleek limousines, the sporty roadsters, the powerful German engineering marvels that hug the curves of our Southern California Roads. Gone are the powerful SUVs that carried soccer teams and ballet classmates. Even our spouses are driving 2000 or 2001 model cars.

One is embarrassed when carrying out normal adult activities, like stopping at a restaurant with a valet. I've been known to circle the block for 20 minutes looking for street parking, just to avoid looking a valet in the eye when handing him the keys. My friend with the Volvo said the last time she parked with a valet, she pre-empted his sidelong glance with a self-righteous "We're in a drought right now, don't you know that?" to justify the dusty chartreuse oak-pollen that coated her car.

Recently, my spouse and I had to drive a local dignitary as our guest to an arts event. It was a serious dilemma - should we use his car, the two-seater convertible one of us bought during a midlife crisis at age 40? Or the Passat with its dents and filth?

Answer - we rented a Mercedes Class C for the day, and took our guest to the party. All went well, and I think she bought our deception.

Unfortunately, when we came home, our disorganized life soon had its revenge. The next morning, in the shuffle to get to work, we backed the Mercedes down our hilly dirt and gravel driveway. The Passat and the convertible, deficient as they may be, are front-wheel drive cars. We forgot that the C-Class Mercedes is a rear-wheel drive car.

It got stuck in the mud. How quickly our fine airs were brought down to earth.

Thank goodness for Triple A.

L.A's historic theatres

Everyone knows about L.A.'s historic theatre district downtown on Broadway - and it is truly magnificent. But there are historical theatres all over the city, and some are in unlikely places. The Westlake Theatre is located at the northeast side of MacArthur Park, a lively neighborhood that includes the famous Langer's Deli as well as storefront botanicas, fabric and yard good stores, and 99 cent stores. On the south side of the park is Mama's Tamales, where you can get a variety of wonderful tamales and aguas frescas. Fruit vendors and trucks do business on the streets, and ice cream vendors push their jingling carts along the sidewalks. A sidewalk preacher with a makeshift bull-horn and microphone PA system harangues passersby at the southeast entrance to the park. The Red Line stop is right here, making it convenient whenever you get a hankering for pastrami or tamales.

The Westlake Theatre is now a swap meet, and the building has been brightly painted with murals and signs to attract buyers. Amazingly, its huge roof-top neon sign is still intact, and, I'm told, still lights up. The glass box office in the front entry has been converted to a vendor's shop, and when you walk into what was once the lobby, you can see beyond the vendors' stalls the ornate plaster ceiling. Passing into the auditorium itself, at first you see only the racks display cases crammed tightly inside, selling everything from ball caps to packaged socks and pajamas. but if you look up at the ceiling, you see the wonderful painted mural from the theatre's glory days.

The once magnificent theatre fell on hard times, and in the 70's became a grind house, showing porno. It's said that the Reverend Jim Jones, notorious as the leader of a cult that committed mass suicide in Jonestown , Guyana, was once arrested in the men's room of the Westlake for committing a lewd act.

I think the place is happier now - the good natured hustle and bustle of the shoppers and families continues on beneath the flowery, delicate painted frescoes above.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What a morning!

I'm playing hooky, sort of. I'm home from work awaiting a delivery, and having a bit of guilty pleasure at how beautiful it is outside. Is it really like this out here, while I'm stuck in a cubicle all day?

The sky's flawlessly blue, and the sun is sparkling off the shiny leaves of the coastal live oaks outside my kitchen window. Actually, there's a bit of a breeze that may turn into a Santa Ana later this week, but right now it's just a welcome breath of spring air.

I went to the kitchen to refill my coffee, and what did I see?
Two little mourning doves perched on top of the trellis that covers our deck. The wisteria that climbs over the trellis is in full bloom, and the little doves were among the leaves and pannicles of blossoms.

What a gift! Shouldn't every day begin with a visit from doves?

So that's why I've decided to call this blog Dove Today - because everyday, maybe there will be a dove.