Friday, November 30, 2012

Fine Thanks

I ran into this lady I used to know from a while back. Every time I see her I recognize her instantly, but I can never remember if it's for a good reason or a bad reason. She's like a siren that way, and I float towards her with glazed eyes, my mind hastily scanning all my files. (Pretty..... has an accent): Oh hi.

(Zza Zza?...Slavic?...parent?)...Nice to see you too.

(strands of loose hair on jacket....standing too close...crazy eyes) Okay. Yeah. Well--

At once, the memory drops in and Sherlock Holmes describes it while we continue talking.

(We met at a parent night at school 4 years ago. Both single mothers, we sat together near the back of the room and she talked the entire time I was trying to listen to the teacher: She used to walk everywhere but had injured her foot somehow and was now stuck at home. She had no income but was collecting disability...) I'm rushing, so sorry

(She started in on how she was still on medication but liked to have a glass of wine at 5 o'clock) Well you gotta do what you gotta do

(She followed me down through the frozen foods, past dairy, past meats...didn't even stop to take a breath) I think my meter might be...

I emptied out all my non-verbal clues, distress signals and then rude behavior; sometimes you just have to cut and release. I said "goodbye, so sorry, gotta..." and then of course by the time I got to the check out line I felt simultaneously exhausted and ashamed of myself. Every single one of my granny/old Italian Aunt/nosy landlady interior voices came out full force: What? You can't have a simple conversation for 3 minutes out of your life? That could be you! That is you! Miss High and Mighty in a  rush blablabladdiddybla...
Then my protective guard came out and yelled back: That woman is batshit crazy. She's probably still talking back there to the coffee grinder; she doesn't care. You are in a rush...
And then there's a full-on London Football stadium mob fight going on in my head: screaming, shoves, kicks, head butts.

The sweet store clerk starts taking the things out of my basket and ringing them through, "How are you doing tonight"

I take a deep breath, feeling suddenly too warm with my jacket. "Fine Thanks", and I reach in my pocket, fishing for my card.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

One Old Thought About the Gym and One New

1. Last night at the gym a guy came in and started getting serious with the weight machines. Very serious. I was on the treadmill and he set himself up across from me. Each rep he did was punctuated with the sound you make when someone fires a cannon ball into your stomach. It wasn't really something you could get used to. I tried not to look at Dar who was on the stationary bike across the room, but every once in a while we'd catch each other's eye and I couldn't hold it in. Pretty soon I was laughing so hard, I had to hold onto the side rails while my legs continued moving like wet noodles in long slow strides. I'm pretty sure he didn't notice me.

2. I don't know why but I can't bring myself to read while I'm on the treadmill. There's something obscene and grotesque about it. I know. That's extreme. But when I see someone reading while they're on the treadmill all I can do is judge and get annoyed. "Really? You're reading? Doing one thing at a time isn't enough? (Big teenager sigh and eye roll and attempt to focus inward)...(then can't help it) How's Kim Kardashian?... Idiot."
What the hell is wrong with me? She's just working out. Calm down. 
Part of it is my own shame at running indoors. I should be outside, breathing fumes and dodging traffic. Like someone serious about endurance and misery. But here I am on the treadmill (actually it's an elliptical). Like a poodle. Like a poodle, in a sports bra.
Hand me that People would ya?

Here's what I should be doing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Family Humor

There used to be a super 8 movie of my Grandfather suffocating a baby in a basinette with a teddy bear. We would watch it at family gatherings like Thanksgiving and Christmas, and all fight over who the baby was. That's me! No it's me! No, me!

"Who was it, Don?" Nana would say, getting in on the action.
"It was little Billy Macready", GP would say without looking up from his book. Always it was a different name. "He wouldn't stop crying".

We all gasped and sat up and looked at each other. Little heads turning from one cousin to another, hiding smiles, feigning shock. We'd look to Nana who was sadly shaking her head as if to say, "It had to be done". Occasionally she would say, Oh I hate this one, this is horrible, Don! Turn it off! and she was such a good actress I couldn't tell if she was playing along or if she really meant it. Either way, we'd all yell, No, No, Leave it on. Leave it on. Tiny little voices, pleading and adamant.

There was another movie of GP pretending to drown in the pond down the road from their house. Wearing blue jeans and no shirt, he hurled himself into the water with a running start. Then something grabbed his leg and he got pulled under. He battled it. Punching and splashing. Splashing and flailing. Finally, weakened, he drifted under the water; his open hand like a final scream was the last thing to disappear.

Yaaaaaaaaaaay, we all clapped at the beauty of it, and also because GP was a grump sometimes, and he deserved it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Black Clouds Hangin

                                                  Sometimes black clouds are beautiful.

I read something over the weekend about a guy who had Thanksgiving by himself. He was saying that even though he tried to prepare himself for it being just another Thursday, even though he wasn't a big fan of the holiday to begin with, he still had a hard time not feeling depleted by it. He went to a movie and all he could think about was how sad it was that he was the lone guy in the theater. "The distance between gratitude and self-pity", he wrote, "is miniscule". That stuck with me, and I think it's true, but it also led me to the idea how self-pity can make an appearance when you're in a group of people too, especially a group you are related to. You don't need a day locked up in solitairy to figure that one out. Holidays are weird, you have more than the usual conflicts going on: joy and love are next to rage and guilt. Annoyance? Pull up a chair! Empathy and grace? Right here between shame and regret. And pass the stuffing!

The negatives are there, as usual right on time, but they don't need to be indulged; I mean, they can't really be ignored, but pay close attention instead to the moments. Think about seeing your step-mom dance to Benny Goodman with her mother; or secretly giving the cat a piece of turkey and watching her trot off with it like she just won a prize; or reading a text from a friend who writes about hiking in the mountains: "Walks in the snow where the flakes come down so huge and lightly whole lifetimes pass until they fall". Think about that.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


My computer went dark the past few days so I didn't get to write about what I am grateful for. Is grateful the same as thankful? Grateful seems a little more emphatic, more desperate (what I am) so I'll use that.
-I'm grateful for my computer: almost always the last thing I look at before I go to bed and the first thing I look at when I wake up (is that weird?)
-My neighbors: I love them all, but special shoutout to Senora who walks down our block at the crack of dawn, and then after dark, rolling her suitcase behind her. I don't know where she goes or what she does but she walks everywhere, up and down hills, really every single day, even weekends. She knows every cat in a ten block radius and I love hearing her stop to talk to them sweetly in Spanish at 7pm after a long day.
These two are always waiting when I come home at the end of the day. I don't think I need to explain why I love them.

-My brother-in law: My brother's husband Duncan not only knows everything (Ask Duncan! is what we say when we can't think of the name of a song, or a period in history, or what a particular dialect of an Australian accent sounds like) he is always as ready for a conversation about religion or politics as he is for a dance party. He is kind, and an amazing listener and the best Uncle ever.

Working Outside: What is better than digging in dirt, having rude conversations, peeing on a tree and seeing immediate results of your labor. I don't know!

These Three: Most of the time, I don't know where they all came from. How did I get so lucky to know them, who each in their own way have taught me everything I know about being a human.
The Big One

The Teen

The Boy

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Secret Spot

A few blocks down past the stadium, through the park, across the train tracks and past the bridge, there's a street with a few warehouses. They are brick buildings, the kind you see in New England towns, you know: mills, old factories. The street is silent and pretty much barren. It wouldn't be surprising to see a tumbleweed coming down the middle of the road.
This building has probably been through a few earthquakes, maybe a gun fight or two, maybe it even caught some seaweed back in the tropical storm in 1939. At one time people probably poured through it like ants; in the morning and then again at night. And now it's just here, baking in the sun.

 Downstairs there's a vintage clothing storage place/store called Shareen's. It's like a sort of club house where you can go hang out and try clothes on and sit on huge ratty sofas and eat licorice and drink tea. There are no dressing rooms so you have to just change out in the open, fling your shirt across a water pipe, kick your shoe on the stairs and pretend you live in the wild west or you're going to church in the 1930s or working as a secretary in the 1950s.

Some of the clothing is crusty, stained and almost falling apart from age and use, but it's a real bank for ideas, characters and stories. You can't help thinking about your Gram and Mrs. Featherman and Aunt Nellie and Jackie O.

You should go.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Where The Lonely Games Take Me

I go through phases of playing Words With Friends and Solitaire on my phone. I like it because when I play, I do not have a single conscious thought in my head (although now that I've said that, it can no longer be true). I'm like a monkey with a pinecone. This is more true of solitaire because I'm just matching cards. I can go into a dream state during solitaire. Red, black, red, jack, four, seven. It's good practice for when my kids put me in a home. I can forget my past, my unfulfilled dreams, my lost loves, and just pass the day away in a quiet, tidy manner. Just put me in a diaper, in a chair by the window and I'm good.

Words with Friends, the scrabble game, is a little different though because you have to think of words, which probably have associations, and that whole process can take you down a different, though often equally solitaire-y, path. I once tried to spell the word QUEEF, which would have been a good one because of the 10 point Q on a triple letter and the 4 point F on a triple word, but it was not an "acceptable word" and  then I giggled and choked so much that Harry yelled at me from the other room.

There's also a "friend", so you're not completely alone; sometimes you can play with random strangers which can feel kind of sexy, especially with words like THROTTLE and DRENCH; sometimes with your sister-in-law, who beats you so badly (by 300 points!) that your spirit gets completely crushed, and you become filled with hatred and despair; and sometimes you play with a distant cousin you barely know. This last opponent is the one I am playing now; he is actually my Dad's cousin, though he's closer in age to me. His mother, my Grandmother's youngest sister, was one of my favorites. I like to imagine he is just like her, when I think of him out there in cyberspace. She was a real rascal, an amazing and effortless musician: a pianist ("Don't forget the T!") who chainsmoked and danced the shim-sham shimmy. Her name was Ahvagene, and she is the reason I know about this guy.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Happy Weekend!

Jury Day: Part two

Choosing a jury is an art not a science. This is what the judge said and I liked his thoughtfulness. I also liked all of us who were sitting there waiting to be chosen. I think we were about 40 in all, a pretty even demographic of LA, a few who spoke english as a second language. It felt like we were in camp together, an outward bound type of thing and I liked listening to everyone answer questions. It's not always what they say, but how they say it.

Do you think it's important to always be honest and truthful?

I liked the woman who answered like that; it was sort of a "This is a stupid question but maybe you're asking it to get to something deeper about my personality so I'm going to answer in a vague way that really says I'm trying to figure you out" kind of response. I also liked the ones who answered simply and earnestly, like sweet kids talking to a grown up.

You state that you work at Home Depot.
Uh huh. I mean yes.
When you started working at Home Depot, did they give you a manual of guidelines that you were supposed to follow?
Yes, but I never read it.

It was an odd feeling being in the "selection" process, there is the part of you that naturally wants to be included and "chosen" and then the part of you that wants nothing to do with it. There is a part of you that wants to be helpful and do as you are told and the other part of you that is judgmental and reactionary. You're put in a group and given breaks at regular intervals, but told not to talk to each other about anything you see or hear in the courtroom.

This is very difficult for me. If someone tells me not to do something that is all I want to do, even if it's something I couldn't have cared less about to begin with. I wanted to pay my civic duty, but not for more than a day. I wanted to be picked for the team but I didn't want to have to play in the outfield.

Juror number 7, we understand you write a blog.
And will you be writing about your experience here today?
I don't know...Maybe something, you know, about the loud fart that no one acknowledged, but nothing about the case.
Good. (fake smile) And of all the questions we have been asking today are there any that you feel you need to address?
I think that most of the time a person who sues is ignorant, stubborn and has an inferiority complex.
Ok, thank you for your time.
And the whole notion of punitive damages has been abused.
Thank you.
And this state in particular is so litigious, that a teacher can't even pat a kid on the back without some desperate pervert accusing--
OK, Juror 7 thank you. You are released.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

11 Angry Men and Me: Part One

Yesterday I had to go to jury duty and though I raised my hand and promised not to talk about any of the details of the case I can tell you that during the selection process someone left what was probably the loudest fart I have ever heard. And no one said a thing. Not even an "Impressive!" whistle. I wanted the judge to pound the gavel, "Order, order!" but there was just silence. No one even turned his head to have a look around and connect with a suppressed grin, "Did he just...? Yes he did!" For half a second everyone in the room collectively and silently acknowledged what had just happened and then proceeded. I had two thoughts:

1. Thank God that wasn't me.
2. I am in a room filled with mature adults. (for possibly the first time in my life!)

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Beginning of The Carny: Grandpa Harry

When my great grandfather was in his 90s we used to go visit him on Sundays. He lived in a little brick house with rose bushes out front that he grew himself. Inside the house smelled like mothballs and cigars so strongly that I still can't smell either of those things without instantly thinking of that living room. Yes there were doilies and knitted things on the tops of the arm chairs; yes there was a huge TV that probably weighed as much as the delivery truck that hauled it to his house; yes there was a bowl of peppermints, unwrapped and stuck to each other. But there was also an odd framed landscape with a stream that lit up and "moved", there was a super glide chair lift that we'd pile on and ride up and down the stairs until someone yelled that we would break it (kind of a miracle that we didn't) and then, in Gramps smelly bedroom, there was a dresser covered with toys and dolls and puzzles that we were allowed to look at, but not touch, until he came upstairs and gave us a proper demonstration. He loved those toys so much and used to be so proud of himself after he wound them up and they actually began to move, as though winding up a toy was a new invention that no one else knew about or could possibly master as he had. "You wind it up... see? And then look at that", he'd chuckle, "Oh boy!" Then he'd get to the newer ones and he'd have to "hunt" for a "battry" to get it to work. He had a whole  monkey series of toys that did creepy things like blow bubbles or flip burgers. I hated/loved/was obsessed with those weird monkeys and their crusty fur. They had knees! Elbows! We used to sit on the unmade bed in our Sunday clothes and watch the whole show.

Here are some other facts about Grandpa Harry:
He lived until he was 104
He drank 4 Roses whiskey and smoked cigars
He wrote a book about the importance of having a positive attitude
When he entered a room he'd say Cheer Him Up! or Hip hip hooray! and clasp his hands over his head like a champ.
He was tall and skinny and wore round James Joyce glasses and a fedora
He couldn't walk past a clover patch without "hunting" for a 4 leaf clover (he always found one!)
He played the harmonica and could do the old soft shoe

This was his jam:

Friday, November 9, 2012


I wonder if it was difficult to explain how playing a sad song at the end of a movie with all the sad main characters singing along by themselves could be an uplifting thing.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Reposting An Oldie: The Desert

I'm catching a cold and last night slept with my mouth open. I woke up late and with a mouth as dry as the... 

I went to the desert on Sunday. I think since I was a kid, I have had mixed ideas about the place. For one, it is just a vast spread of nothing where you crawl on hands and knees desperate for water, hallucinating a chilly watering hole beneath a Palm tree while vultures fly in circles above your head. For another, it was a place where my grandparents lived for half the year, in a house my grandfather built, that had no electricity or running water and was an 8-mile hike to the closest phone. They, like others who grew up or have lived out west, thought of the desert as a place to relax, reflect and recharge. I, like others who grew up in a small suburban town, thought of it as a place to go crazy and die. There was something scary about it, not peaceful, just imbalanced. Still, the idea of GP and Nana out there in Lucerne Valley with the sky and the sun and the moon and the stars always seemed romantic.

Who lives in the desert? Lizards, crazy hobos, and Nan and GP.

My grandfather built a bench for my grandmother, a place to sit during the day where she could listen to music and talk shows from her transistor radio. It couldn’t have been an easy sell; my grandmother was a very social person and loved being around people (my grandfather was not, and did not), but she always talked about her bench as though it was a special kind of luxury. “I’d sit out there sometimes 4 hours a day! I got the best reception!” It would get cold in the winter months but Nana always talked about how great it felt to sit in the sun. I have seen photos of her on her bench wearing two overcoats, gloves, a big hat, and a blanket across her lap, her radio and ashtray beside her, smiling like a movie star. To someone else she might look like a crazy homeless person.

The silence: ahhhhhhhh. 
The silence: AAAAAAA!#%&!!!

We were in the desert scouting locations. We needed 360 degrees of nothing but sand and sky, a tumbleweed or two so we drove out to my grandparents, “12 miles through town, past 8 telephone poles and a red roof until you get to a sandy road, take a right and go 5 miles”. Their house was long gone, and there were others now, more telephone poles and cable discs, clusters of motor homes and boys riding around on motorbikes like loud angry bees. Gone was the big open panorama of sky and sand. Gone was the quiet.  

After my grandmother died, my grandfather moved out to the desert  and lived there for a month or so until he died too. My cousin found him in a chair, his hands still folded in his lap, listening to the radio. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Self Vs. Self-Help

A friend of mine gave me a book recently; I guess you would call it a self-help book. I wish there was a better name for that category. Maybe it should be called "books that you keep by your bed that you read the first few pages of and think are amazing and then you tell your friends and in telling your friends you sort of feel/act as though you've read the whole thing and so they (the books) sit on your bedside table forever, except once in a while you pick them up to read a random sentence and they're amazing again and you sigh and think, I really should read that".


Okay, Self help. Fine. I'm pretty sure I have at least three friends/family members who have read every self help book ever written. It's not like I'm alone here. It's just that words like journey, transform, radiant, devotion... they all make me feel uneasy. And a little annoyed. I don't know why that is.


Yes I do. I'm immature, I can't help it. Anyway, I'm glad you're here. You have now stepped into the battle I have with myself and these self-help books. Welcome. Yeah, have a laugh. It's fine. The truth is I love these books, I just wish they were called something else. That's all. This one is called The Untethered Soul, The Journey Beyond Yourself.

Come on.
No, I mean it. It's great.
Get the fuck out.
Read it yourself.
Maybe I will.
Okay! ...What's it about?
It's about all the voices you have in your head.
And trying to figure out which one is really you.
Yeah, it's interesting.
So which one is you?
I'm the one who hears everyone else.
You asked.
Good luck with that one.
I think it's true.
Of course you do.
Maybe you're just jealous because it's not you.
Well it's not me either.


As I was saying, I have this book, and I haven't been able to get through the whole thing, but I like to pick it up from time to time and just open it anywhere and put my finger onto the page and read. Here's what it said this morning:

To obtain true inner freedom you must be able to objectively watch your problems instead of being lost in them.

I'll have to work on that one.