Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Love this...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tumbleweeds are smarter than squirrels...

It's weekend number three in a row of being out of town. Weekend one was a wedding, number two was a knockdown, drag out "fight" with a hoarding mom of a relative of mine. Number three would be a quiet, jaunt with two of my three kids and mama to Tahoe. A lazy drive through tired towns full of whimsical motels and mom and pop shops. I was looking forward to a packed car and random acts of random tunes from random compact discs picked randomly from my collection of randomness. A road trip in its purest form.

Things started off great. "Ah. Check out the cute little town. That's a neat motel," we consistently chimed. "Look at the cute cows and cute horses, etc, etc." Things were chipper, the weather was good and the miles ticked by. Our kids are used to travel, to the car, to being out and about. We never think twice about packing up and taking off. They can handle it. They've both been to Europe, around the country and the eight hours in the car would be a cake walk mixed with stops for grub and leg stretching.

Our first stop would be Bishop, CA. With references carefully constructed by my newbie-to-the-internet father we pulled into Erick Schat's Bakkery. When my dad recommends an eatery, you know it must be good. We walked into the place and immediately we were in pastry and bread heaven. They are known for their breads including the Sheepherder's style. Armed with cheese bread, the aforementioned Sheepherder, some cookies, and a couple of sandwiches we all agreed that grandpa's suggestion was spot-on.

Onward. Back in the rig and more free-spirited miles to come we continued on the 14 until we reached the death march of winter storms on the 395. Now it was dark and windy. Real windy. In fact, today the 395 and the surrounding areas would experience some of the worst winds in a long, long time. Combine darkness, cold weather, 100-mile-per-hour winds and mix in a large helping of snow flurries and soon the carefree "Kumbaya" road trip got very ugly. The flurries began in earnest and while mama and I thought it was just dirt and dust from the Biblical winds we soon discovered that the horizontal onslaught was indeed snow. Because the wind was blowing so hard it didn't stick to the car or the ground or to anything. It just flew by on it's way to nothing but the town of Evaporation.

Then relief. We came into another town and things subsided. Just the visual of motels and shops and people relieved my nerves, but soon it was back onto the lonely stretches of what is normally a beautiful, scenic drive. More horizontal madness. Driving a square SUV under normal circumstances is an exercise in concentration, but under these conditions, this box of metal makes me think negative thoughts like "This road is stupid," and "Why did Nissan put a First-Aid kit in that little nugget of space on the rear hatch of the Xterra?" Was it telling me something?

The white knuckle driving continued. Soon it was just wind and tumbleweeds. All shapes and sizes of tumbleweeds, lifting up and scurrying across the road. Hit one and it does two things: either instantly evaporates, or gets lodged under the front bumper. What's amazing is that the weeds seem to know when to scurry and when to turn back, unlike a stupid squirrel. Some tumbleweeds would time it and get across without getting squished, while others would get one-quarter of the way across and turn back. Some would bolt across like the medium sized ones. They were lean and quick and somehow saw a need to get to the center parkway. The large one's "Weebled" along, stopping when they sensed a car, then continuing. Occasionally they would get lodged or flattened but most made it. They were used to this and used the Biblical winds to their advantage.

This continued for hours: wind, wind and snow, more wind, etc., tumbleweeds, more towns with neat motels and hollowed out old gas stations. I am wondering at this point where Tahoe is. Does it still exist? Did it just vanish? White knuckles and sweaty palms, head in the windshield to see; it all made me think of how nice it would be to be at home with no wind and sun!

Eventually we made it to Gardnerville. It's the town just before our ascent up the 207, which would spill us out to the 50 for a second and South Lake Tahoe. The sign read "Chains Required." It was the end of our journey for the night. We turned back around and shacked at the Holiday Inn Express. The next morning the sign read "Cold and Icy, Drive with Care." An interesting sign that spells dread and positivity at the same time. We ramble on in the metal box, up the pass. Soon the boy from sunny Southern California has a parade of "mountain-types" behind him. I pull to the side, let the experienced drivers through and get back on path. No wind and sun means we'll make it, though slowly to our destination. We do. Pheww.

This year I have done some pretty big drives like from Italy to Austria on my own in a rented stick- shift Citroen, but nothing compared to this spellbinding, sweaty palm adventure. Now some chill in Tahoe.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

MC Luke Part II

In this mix Luke is blazing the keyboards and sporting the JBL's. Part 2 of the reel is Luke shredding the blow-up guitar. He's destroying the thing! Makes Hendrix look like a weeping school girl. Cry Jimi, cry!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mix Master Luke Schamber on the turntables.

My 5-year-old son thinks he's a DJ. It usually happens in the early morning say 6:30am. The mix master in him takes over and while today's mix wasn't his strongest it still rivals any bit of hacking out there.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

It's officially over...

Why must you forsake me FB? Yep, I have become disillusioned with the mighty Facebook. Her intentions are good but for some reason FB has been clawing at my throat, strangling time, pushing my buttons. Before I made the shift to FB I was on MSP. Myspace was raw and uncertain, chaotic and boisterous. Like a teenager on a Friday night with not much to do except push a grocery cart around the streets and scream out obscenities. It's funny for a moment but then it just becomes annoying. MSP worked for a second for me, but then I graduated and moved to the more grown-up "adult contemporary" FB. In the beginning it worked. It was easy and clean and concise. I wasn't inundated with garbage, but instead I chose the garbage I wanted...I opted in!

My intentions were to use it for work, to stay in contact with the people in my industry, to stay in-tuned with the ever-changing, ever-growing "friends" I accumulated. It seemed to be going well, FB was nice to me and she accepted the fact that I didn't want everything but just the essentials. Then she turned on me. Soon I was barraged with requests and options and bugs and trash. People I barely knew back in high school wanted to be my "friend", and I accepted. Slowly, invites to random get-togethers and specific groups began pouring in and I denied every single one of them. "Hey bro, wanna hang out and shoot hoops and go to 'lame Mexican restaurant name here'?" "'Name here' has invited you to join the stupid so-and-so group for saving Praying Mantis'." And on and on the invites flowed daily. The news feed was suddenly bursting with images of people I barely knew, videos of things I don't care about, and status reports about crap that doesn't interest me. And yet with all this happening, I contributed to this mess. I too posted images and told people I was eating mac-and-cheese while watching bad television. I found myself sucked in to the Farm Town application, and joining my old high school group thing. I became a fan of random things whether it was a specific television show or rock band or food. I took quizzes and filled out surveys to see which celebrity looked like me and vice-versa, and I did so without blinking. In fact I chuckled a time or two whether I was reading someone's paragraph-long status or watching a stupid pet trick video someone had embedded into the feed.

I became part of the culture of FB, it was ingrained in my head, it was an app. on my iPhone, it was a subconscious beast that I had no clue was affecting my psyche. This beast would scratch the surface just slightly but not enough to make me itch it. Suddenly my professional intention turned to being strictly social in a blink of an eye. At the heart of FB is the social connection, but the problem I was facing was that people thought that I was the same "I" from 23 years ago.

So why did I come to this "FB No Longer" conclusion? It literally clicked with me this morning. I was thinking about my stupid farm (Farm Town) and something went "ting". I could live my life without FB. Contrary to what the social media Kool-Aid drinking know-it-alls spout, we were just fine without this form of "communication". We have now become a country of self-indulgent, me-obsessed, narcissists. Yep I said it. Why has it come to this? Why do some people think I care about pictures of their pet rat or what they ate for dinner or pictures of the "fucking awesome" weekend at Lake Havasu? Better yet, why did I contribute to this indirect method of interaction? I sipped my latté this morning pondering where I went off the rails. I weighed the odds. On one shoulder sat "Could I live without FB?" Along with "Has the Kool-Aid been forever embedded into my soul?" While on the other shoulder "You were just fine without it before, so you may miss it for a little bit, but soon it will go the way of that old t-shirt you finally let go of" sat perched with legs crossed and a wry grin on its face. Also on this shoulder are some good things like old classmates I have reconnected with and friends in New York City and Florence and all over. There are good elements that FB has to offer, but I am convinced I don't need them. So yes it clicked over an early-morning latté that social networking is more social than networking for me. I have enough friends as it is! I hope my 504 (whose counting right?) friends are cool with me leaving the planet of FB. Shit, who am I kiddin', they won't even know I left. And that's the funny thing with FB. You can disappear from something that is so "social" without leaving a trail or without anyone much caring.

For now I have officially "deleted" my FB account. What's interesting is that it won't go into effect for another 14 days. FB is a tricky chick. She will let you come in easily, but she won't let you exit without stewing about it, in your head, for 14 days as to whether you made the "right" choice. FB is nicotine, or Coca Cola, or coffee. You can quit it but you have to dig deep to find the will to stay off it. I'm good with my decision. I'll find other things to do like read or write.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Prosthetics aren't allowed in soccer

It's a Saturday and while most of the planet is rejoicing in the free time away from work with family, friends, pets or other, I am headed to Alta Dena for a date with the AYSO referee school. I put it off for months pissing and moaning inside and out to be quite frank: "I played soccer for years and years. I know the rules of the game. Geez." Etc. Etc. Etc. On I go rambling and mumbling about the glory days of youth soccer when shin guards were for wussies and your socks were low. The names were different too: Rumblers, Hawks, and some obscure name from a Dutch team. Now it was filled with superheroes and cuddly stuffed animals or puppy dogs of some breed. Are the kids of today in today's over-massaged-everyone-wins-nobody-keeps-score-everyone-gets-a-trophy-world-of-soccer turning soft? Or are the parents who fear their kids will suffer if they encounter a sliver of disappointment the one's to "blame"? Hold on. I am truly over-thinking this. Soccer is different these days. I recall those days when I would play against teams who would bite into onions to get fired up and kids had longer locks than my feather-haired sister. When running until you couldn't stand it anymore was a drill and when the snack at half-time was orange slices and water and not candy and cake-like creatures.

I am reliving my past. Boo. Onward.

So it's different these days. All things in sport change. Look at a game like baseball where players make way too much money, brand themselves individually, get in way too much trouble, train too little and play for the money (mostly) than for the love of the game. Replace the word "baseball" with any other team sport and the same holds true. Except for soccer. Well maybe Beckham plays for the money, but for most I truly believe their is a passion. Even the American guys. The Euros, no question.

So soccer. Here I am on that fateful Saturday in a room full of the same people. All looking a little down but at the same time we're all here for the love of the game, err, because we had to choose an area where we could donate time to AYSO. It sounds bad, but deep down inside I had a slight desire to be a ref. The word slight became the word "no" as I sat and begin listening to the chubby, mid-50's man who began spouting bad jokes and fumbling with his presentation. This was going to be a long one.

The master of ceremonies. We'll call him Steve has been a ref for about 10 years. Cindy, his wife, was an AYSO "high-up" managing the district office. We were "introduced" to his daughter and son who were now teenagers and "really good" players. Of course they were. Smart too. Saw that coming. This was Steve's moment though, so he immediately went into the beauty of the game. And for a brief, fleeting moment he had me. He captured my imagination and ran with this for, well, not long enough. Soon Steve was knee-deep into examples of his ref skills and moments when he was calling a U-14 game and something happen. Nothing significant but to Steve an offside call in the final moments of an "any Saturday, any time" game was a mind blower. Jokes were interspersed here and there. I must say that soccer jokes aren't funny but Steve's awkward delivery and cherub-like demeanor made them bearable. Courtesy laughs were flying all over the storage space. The worksheets we were working from were also classic. They were corporate, for beginners, outlining the game and things you couldn't do on the field. Things were flowing but slowly. I was beginning to curse my decision to ref. I could've been that dad setting up the simple goal, or the one passing out snacks at half-time. Instead I went to the upper echelon and I was real uptight. At this moment. On this day. With Steve as my teacher.

Things pick up a little when the kid two seats down from me, raises his hand every two seconds. He's about 13 and is a little off kilter. He stutters and twitches as if he's completely nervous. He's ref'd before so he's knows the game. Kinda. He strikes me as a massive whistle blower with a short attention span. I think he's going to blurt a profound question about some obscure rule, but instead he recites a similar situation as Steve where the ball went out bounds but it was questionable whose ball it should be. He said it was raining and muddy all day. He said it was confusing. Then he stopped. He just stopped. We all sort of stopped. Steve picked up telling "Roger" that he made a good call, whatever it was. Who cares. This kid now bugged me. He wasn't done though, he had 7-8 more of these "interruptions". All of them were similar.

The crowd for me was a mix. You had mom's who all looked sporty, looked like they jogged a lot, had sporty sport watches and sport hair. You know the hair-do that is just pulled back or covered with a USC or UCLA hat. They are all business and they chose to be refs! The dads, on the other hand, are the typical South Pasadena/San Marino guys. Saturday is golf day perhaps so sweat pants and a USC shirt is the garb. Mix that combination with a set of Nike cross trainers or New Balance running shoes and you have typical Saturday dad who wants to be at home on the couch or on the course. So I am surrounded by aggro soccer moms and JPL or CalTech dads. Smart, keen, unaware of the beauty of the game of soccer. I can sense that.

Now Steve brings out the holy grail of ref paraphanelia: the backpack of ref stuff. Meanwhile two other refs enter the room. One is a teenager with a slight mullet and he too has a nervousness about him. He fumbles with the soccer ball attempting to show skill but doesn't have it at this moment. The other is a lurch of a man with a cul-de-sac hair head, short, thin, also nervous. Steve pulls out 4 whistles. He needs four and explains why: "Just in case I am on a field with other games around me I can choose a different sounding whistle. That's why I have four." He stomps around like Mussolini as if his 4-whistle setup is genius. It's not genius but it's smart. Steve has captured my attention again. He moves on to the cone-like bits. "I use these to mark spots on the field that may be of danger. Not to the kids, but to me! I need to know that I won't hit a sprinkler or a puddle when I am running up and down the field." God forbid Steve looks out for the little gremlins. Again he paces around. Another good tip but certainly not earth shattering. His fellow refs nod in agreement. They whisper to each other either saying Steve's a jackass or Steve stole my line. Not sure. Who cares anyway, Steve's on a roll. More things come out of the bag: extra shin guards, tape, gauze, stopwatch, etc. It's all there. Steve is certainly prepared.

More recall comes forth. Apparently being a ref is powerful. Steve has and has had the ability to stop games because of parents or aggressive play or lame coaches. I am intrigued by the power and Steve's perception of power. Steve's in it for the power. He fooled me. Steve moves on and Bob, the Chief of all refs in this area of AYSO steps forth. It's Steve's boss. Bob gives the seal of approval and begins his awkward spiel about power and certain calls and more scenarios. He recalls similar fouls and calls and results. Name dropping people in the AYSO who we don't know and who carry titles that make no difference to me. I am annoyed by Bob but his uneasiness in presenting makes me giggle. He makes no eye contact, has bad jokes, drops things, but he's wearing the black and whites stripes. He's the man in this small region of the AYSO ref world. Section whatever, district who cares. While his awkward stance makes me laugh he also scares me. I think to myself "I would not want to ref with this guy." His lack of eye contact intimidates me. I don't want him to call on me. The kookie kid a couple doors down is oblivious to Bob. He doesn't give a rats ass if Bob is the "big cheese" he's gonna give another ridiculous example of his little sisters game a year ago. Then he stops when I am expecting more. He throws Bob off. Silence. Lunch time.

After lunch we head outside with the master: Bob. The Chief of Refs essentially repeats many of the same things he explained inside. He tells us to not go "All Barney Fife on anxious and annoying parents." He giggles. I giggle. That's genius. Never heard that before. Probably never will. Touché Bob!

More examples follow. We get into a discussion about knee braces and it's a serious one. No knee braces that have metal on them are allowed. "They could tear a kid up real easy," says Bob. No arm braces either. Then the bonanza of all questions. Not from the quirky teenager with the twitch but from a USC-clad dad who asks about prosthetic limbs. "What about a kid with a prosthetic leg or arm?" We all shutter. Stop. Wrinkle our lips as if to say either: A) Take that Bob!; or B) That's a serious, though-provoking question that should be answered. Bob hesitates. He twitches that twitch as if he just saw a naked woman appear at his front doorstep or a ghost or whatever scares or shocks Bob... Maybe eye contact. Bob puts his hand to his chin, rubs it, massages it. We all stand still, wanting to go home. It's that time. But at the same time I am intrigued by what Bob will come back with. The twitchy teenager is twitching but seems to be thinking about unicorns and lemon drops. Bob has an answer, you can tell by his ref stance and his eye contact that is now fixated on the genius-question-asker's New Balance shoelace. "Well. Well. Hmm. Don't prosthetic arms usually have hooks on the end? So, uhh, no I don't think that's allowed. But, but, wait a minute. Wait a darn second. It's the kid's arm right, so we have to let him play. Oh geez, you know I am not sure quite frankly. Hmm." Then New Balance dad replies "Well is there someone you can ask?" Oh great. Game on. "Well yeah, I should ask someone, but that someone is me. I am the person to ask." Oh snap! Silence. Nervous laughter. Bob makes brief eye contact with New Balance dad and for a brief moment super-ref is human. Twitchy kid has his arm raised. Nothing comes of it. What a day.

In the end it was entertaining and come our first game I was no longer needed. Sandy the super mom who knows too much about ref'ing had someone else. I soon became assistant coach of the Rotten Banana Rockets. A flock of cute, round faced kids including my son Luke who love the game, run around in a pack, make incredible contact with each other, which ultimately makes me and the coach laugh. I love this game!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Toes meet the pedi

It was bound to happen. The toes were in danger of puncturing soccer balls with their sharp edges. They have gone too many years and too many miles without a proper tune-up. You can't call a simple rip and tear by my own fingers a true act of landscaping. The cuticles too had edges not seen by the Asian girl who would work them over, probably ever. Around these parts a nail salon is a dime a dozen. Down the main drag is one every three to four storefronts. Every time I walk past one I mumble to myself "I should really get the caveman paws looked at." But I never do. Can't find the nerve to walk in with grubby, dirty feet and say "Wash 'em!". Contrary to what my inner self thinks and believes I am fearful of what the two Asian girls will think and subsequently chatter about to their colleagues. Chinese of Thai or Korean is not like Spanish where I can pick out a few words here and there and piece together what I think would be their reaction. So I never walk in. My flip-flopped feet and toes with the typical flip-flop tan lines live another day with dirt under the nails and cuticles from hell.

Let's face it, most man toes are beasts. They are big and grungy and the toes mis-shapen and well, manly. That's okay but at times I see a man toe that looks refined and polished and cut just right and think "That guy is either gay, or he frequents a mani-pedi-massage parlor, uhh, shop." I have yet to realize that men do get mani-pedis. Without question I have a big heap of metrosexual in me, but going to get the boys looked after has never been on my short list. And so it went. Walking past the nail places. Often. Not pulling me in.

Then one day it happened. Passing by a nail place around the time of my birthday recently, I bee-lined into the door of a woman-wonderland. I have never been in one before. What was I getting myself into. To the right was a counter with an older Asian man giving me the once-over. In in his real broke English he asked me what I wanted today. "Uhh, a, uhh, pedicure, I think, err, and mani, err, manicure?" Sure no problem, we have this special and that one and this type and that type, etc. I was in a blur of broken English. I am not alone. My lady and my son Luke and baby Hope are in tow. Hope's asleep and Luke has no idea where he's at, so my lady is the only one I can look to for guidance. Like a professional she steps up for the lame caveman (me) and sets things straight. Soon I am whisked away into a 1980s wonderland full of creme, light blue and peach. Where am I? Is this safe? What are these monster chairs with monster arms and a pool thingamajig at the feet? I sit down, flop the flips off and assume the position. I look to my left and my lady is knee-deep in a People magazine. Nearest my left is another woman about three monster chairs down. She looks like she's asleep, blissful, unaware of the soccer mom duties that consume her daily life. That is why ladies come here. Yep to get the nails done, but also to grab a sliver of time that is lost to changing diapers, making PB&J's and Trader Joe's. It's not a secret society, but for an hour it very well could be an escape.

This is going to be awesome. I sense it. I feel it. Shit, I hope it doesn't go sideways. The Asian ladies haven't even seen my toes yet. This could go horribly wrong. These toes are rare. They may have soil samples from 1995 in there, and gnarled cuticles that haven't been seen, well, ever. Asian girl Number 1 sits down, puts my feet in the pool thing. It feels good but when my feet get pruned the toes take on a different appearance. Now they are angry toes that look like an old-grizzled man. She doesn't bat an eye. This is ground zero for her. She may have worked on an old woman named Edith who has massive corns and bent nails that are as thick as plywood. Mine, it seems, are basic man toes. A little grungy but nothing to make her flinch. She digs in, literally, and plows out things. I can't watch. I sink into an US Weekly. Thanks Britany!

The cleaning and scouring continues and then Asian woman Number 2 steps in and goes about my finger nails. Some muttering, giggling and a fair bit of chatter ensues. They are talking about my toes I can sense it! More US Weekly. What's up with Rachel Zoe? A couple digs hurt. I know which part of the big toe she was visiting. It had yesterday's yard work in it and she didn't give a rats ass how it felt. She needed that stuff out. This is her job. Imagine Paul Pierce not going full gas to the basket? You get my point. After work she may talk about her day and the nails she buffed with her significant other. Similar to a financial analyst who may rattle on about saving a company or beating the system. She dug and it hurt. I flinched. Some mutter between 1 and 2. A quick pause. Onward.

The nail session went well. Number 2 was older and more compassionate it seemed. She realized she was working on a newbie and a man no-less. She was however, completely broken in her English. She was, in fact, beyond broken. It was unrepairable. She muttered something to me about something. I said yes. I said yes again, And then sure, and then just a nod in agreement along with a smile. I may have bowed for all I know.

In the end my nails were buffed, and had a slight shiny polish to them. Not pimping, but enough to make me wary of my manhood. Perhaps the most uncomfortable moment, aside from Number 1 digging for gold in my big toe, was when Number 1 buffed the bottom of my feet. While it seems like a soothing and relaxing affair it just caused me to giggle and hold my breathe, clinch my fist and do anything to keep me from bursting out in either tears of wild laughter. It was awful. It shouldn't have been, but it was. My son Luke laughed too. I had a partner. Phew. My lady just mouthed from across the room what appeared to be "What is it????"

Now I have done it. I get up. My nails looked fabulous as did my tired old toes. Basically the pigs had lipstick put on them and lipstick is temporary. But I could see the toes stand up taller. They were proud. No longer was one hiding under the other. At this moment they were real toes sans soil and edges. They were buffed and clean, trimmed and shaped. For a moment, a day, maybe 72 hours they were admired by the family. "Look at daddy's toes!" Luke says. "Wow honey, they really look good," says mama. A successful trip to the place I dreaded. The woman-filled grotto with snickering Asian girls was what I imagined but not the reality. Will I go back again? I may try another place. I need to shop around. Number 1 really dug into big papa on the end and Number 2 was solid, but I couldn't understand a word she was saying. I need Asian girls who will treat the pigs with more respect and who will not continue to ask me if I want a buff or shine or whatever. We'll see what happens.

For now, the toes are back to the pre-pedi-state. Too many flip-flop days in the garden, but I sense the old boys wouldn't want it any other way. This is their life. They are utilitarian extensions meant to grind in soil and walk on hot cement, and get hard, and run and jump and all that. At the same time, they want love. All the work they do should be rewarded and I suppose a pedi is the right thing to do. Just keep the Loofah away from my soles Number 1!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The DMV and riff-raff

The license has expired. It's been a decade at least, and then suddenly it came. Quick. Too quick. "Shit, now I have to go to the DMV!" Maybe I can renew it online. Login. Click, clack, sigh. Sorry can't do it. Next up a call goes in to the labyrinth of hell. "Your wait will be about 10 minutes, please hold or call back at another time," was the voice on the other side. Probably from a guy who no longer works there, but Jenny in the "operations" department thought José's voice sounded perfect for the recording. Since then José has left for greener pastures to work in the jury room of the Sacramento county court house. Onward.

I wait. Put the phone on speaker, burn my shitty AT&T minutes and hope that something will come from it. Finally, a voice. Annoyed, disgruntled, flat-out wondering why I have disrupted her morning. I can hear it in her tone. I get through it, make the appointment for July 29, 2009 at 10:30 am. Sweet, an appointment. Like with any appointment this will go well. Wait, like most appointments in the real world, this means nothing, zero, zip, nada. Go the dentist for the 9:30 am on a Monday, and it soon becomes the 10:30 am. Same with the car dealership and everything else. But here's the reality: if I went by this motto and arrived an hour later it would be just my luck that the dentist, or doctor or pissed-off DMV employee would somehow, magically, by the grace of God, be on time and have the best performance day of their career. Can't use that motto Skippy. Gotta go earlier than 10:30 am, maybe 9:45. I do.

I get there at 9:45 am. Pull into the driveway and park. I head over to the line that is always there, any day, all day, all the time, forever. Why is there a line forever? Who are all these people? Why do they all look like they just fell out of bed, or jail, or came from a fight? The DMV seems to be full of riff-raff. I said it, and I believe it. I am going on the shallow assumption of initial appearance but I survey the crowd and make grand assumptions below my breath: "That crazy looking Asian kid was caught with pot, speeding and wrecked his lowered Acura," "That beat looking white trash woman lost her license because her dirty boyfriend got a DUI and she was holding the Schnapps." Everyone, in my head, has a tragic story pinned to their shirt. Likely most are here to do what I am doing, renewing my license. Others like the fresh-faced teen is getting her driving permit or license. And that old man over there with no teeth is taking a test. Where's his huge Lincoln Town Car, I wonder.

This line, do I have to stand in it? I go to the front and ask the tiny Asian dude who is the master of ceremonies. He's directing people here, there, down there, back over there and on and on. Most have to stay in line while he directs me to sit on the bench, the dirty one over there with the other people and the discarded Carl's Jr. cups and wrappers that for some reason the jackass who brought it couldn't put it in the trash can three steps away. I push it aside. We are the appointment crew. The smart one's who made the choice to get a time and not the retards who decided that standing in line was the best choice. He asks in broken English: "Wuh ime you hab pointmen?" "10:00 my friend." "Ohhhhh you too ewlee."

So I sit and wait. I make eye contact with the maestro so he doesn't forget me. He looks at me with a face that says to me, "You stupi whi boy. Come too ewlee. Naw tin clock yeh. Phhhh." Finally he orders me to a line. I head down rambling through people, jockeying for position in the appointment line where the clerk behind the fiberglass processes my information and gives me a computer generated number. I am now "G14". I sit in the dreary waiting room while people on my right wait for their own stuff: taking a driver's test. The computer screen and computer voice spit out numbers, it seems, at random: "A20, D25, G10..." There's no science to it. It's pure American inefficiency. If it were Germany the place would be organized and rebuilt from the ground up with concierge and a beer garden. Here I am in Pasadena in a run down 1970's building with build-out upon build-out. Sitting there makes me wonder about infrastructure and service. "Sure we are rich and powerful, but we can't even figure this basic shit out?" Finally "G14, window 25." That was easy. Shouldn't doubt my country!

Up to the window and 20-something Asian guy process my stuff, one finger type at a time. He must be new, or maybe they don't expect a lot from Window 25 guy. Whatever. He asks me to read the top two lines of letters to "test" my vision. It's five feet away and the type is huge. Easy. What a joke. If you need glasses to read those things, you are in deep trouble. Off to the next line where I get my picture.

Around the corner and past all the snarling riff-raff I get to the picture line. A couple people in front of me touch up faces and the old Asian man currently talking to the picture clerk can't speak a lick of English. His USC-educated son is translating. "Now you have to take a picture. A picture. A picture, dad." I am assuming he's saying this but I don't know for sure because, well, he's speaking Chinese.

My turn. I scribble my signature on the disintegrating digital pad. Do it once. "No good" says clerk. Do it a second time and the end result is half print, half cursive that looks like a 7-year-old did it. Whatever, take my picture. Snap. "Looks good" says picture clerk. What a dreadful job he has. "Four to six weeks, you will get it." What the fuck takes so long. Isn't it essentially done right there? I don't get it. Why not five weeks? Or two days?

Two weeks later I get it. Looks nice, though I am rounder in my face and heavier in my weight listing. I remember thinking when I filled out the information: "Oh man, I would love to be 155 pounds still. Should I put that in there? That's what my old one said. Nope, can't do it." Didn't.

Two-thousand-fourteen is when my new license expires. I can bet with certainty that the DMV will have the same type of people, the same lines, the same chaos, the same dirty building and the same (well different people) type of grumpy, somber people working there.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Kids, eating out and bathrooms

I have fond memories of the days before kids. Lazy weekends spent on the couch eating pretzels, sipping a frosty Sierra Nevada, watching bad television, or a This Old House marathon. In between this glorious laziness were 15-minute power naps that were complete with heavy snoring, slobbering and the realization when I woke that another episode of Huell Howser is on. Sweet days. Days that are gone.

Kid number 1 came, then 2, now we are 7 months into number 3. Numbers that add up to beautiful days and long ones at the same time. While the world is full of schedule mongers and helicopter parents, our style is loose. When is nap time? When baby girl is tired. When is bath time? When they are dirty. When do they go to bed? When it's time. Why create a schedule when it functionally messes with your life? To each his/her own.

So our life continues, though in a much more chaotic manner compared to the glory days of doing whatever, whenever. Now there's a crew in tow. Simply going to the market whether normal or flea is a process. Cole (10) is self-sufficient, Luke (5) is getting there, and Hope (7 mos) is a baby nugget. Enough said. But we do it because we want to. Simple exposure to daily life unsheltered brings experiences that they may not remember completely, but exposes them to life unfiltered, unscheduled, uninhibited.

Same goes for going out to eat. It too is an adventure and we don't do the blue-plate special schedule of 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. We go when we go. When the crew is ready. When shirts are on right-side out, the diaper is refreshed, and toys are tucked away in the bag only to see the light of night when a possible meltdown may occur. Preparation is key of course for the excursion to the local haunt. Spare diapers, wipes? Check. Cash? Yep. Onward.

While it's always nice to actually go out to dinner with just mama and I, it's not always feasible so the army of 5 hit it. Wait for a booth. Sit down. Get the Chianti rolling, the milk, the Sprite, the formula too. All set. Order the pizza, get some bread, maybe a salad. Bingo! All ordered, time to look at each other, chat, people watch. Things are rolling along fine. Luke has his cars. Cole's drawing, baby girl is giggling at the old man in the next booth... The cheap Chianti tastes like a million bucks. Here comes the bread and salad. We dig in. The cheap salad tastes like a thousand bucks. Life at this very moment is off the charts. I have restaurant high. It's similar to a workout high where you have this feeling of levitation of maybe 1/2 inch off the floor. The sweaty, springless, naugahyde booth bench can't be felt. People watching is at its all-time high. "What did they order? Why is the middle-aged couple not talking to each other? Damn this cheap Chianti is good." Then the pizza comes. Eggplant, basil and tomato. The best pizza on earth made even better by my restaurant high. Scoop a piece out for each character, mama first of course. Then the boys, then me. "Oh sweet Jesus, this fruit you bring me renders me speechless," I think. One successful bite, washed down with Chianti interspersed with cold tap water that tastes like a hundred bucks... Restaurant high catapulted.

Then it happens. "I need to go poop," says a grimmacing 5-year-old. "Grunttttt, ughhhhh, errrrr," says baby nugget. Mama and I look at each other. Default is she handles nugget and I handle the pooper. The high drops a few levels back to where I began at the beginning of this adventure. The seating situation creates another drop in the "high" level. Luke scurries out from under the table. The "cool" family out late is now the center of attention, but we never let our guard down. We have experienced this before. It happens. Shit happens. The schedule folk don't know this because they are done with the bath, reading stories, sheets tucked tight. Our mojo has a slight dent, but nothing that can't be fixed with a slight tap. The goddess of patience (mama) takes nugget, taps on her back, flips her around, gives a few sweet "Shhhhhhhhsssss" and baby girl is back to her wide-eyed, dimple faced freshness.

Meanwhile I am off to the outhouse. Single toilet, paper on the floor, the john in need of a second flush. Little Champ climbs aboard the seat, telling me to look away. I do. The moment last a few minutes. I sense a lineup outside the door. Whatever. Hold up hipster, this little fella has some business to tend to. We're done. Hands washed, stomach cleared, back to pizza. At this point baby Hope is passed out on the naugahyde, Cole's playing cars and Luke crawls under the table to his spot. The restaurant high is still flat-lined, but another slice and gulp of the sweet juice will bring it up a notch. It does. Kids are in check, doing their thing, nibbling, sipping, playing. Chit-chat about life, things, work, travel, gardening, you name it. Another slice, more Chianti. I am back up to the level I was at before things slightly unfolded moments ago. Tables turn over. An old couple compliment us on our kids, things are good.

The check comes. Nugget is still asleep. The boys are tired. I'm full, as is mama. I scoop up baby girl, Cole takes the leftovers, Luke the toys and we're off. Into the car. Back home we go. A successful outing. Not unlike the hundred other times we've headed out. We don't fear meltdowns or scowls or situations. We confront them when they happen and remedy the situation. We are all on the same playing field. Our life is not determined or dictated by a schedule. This exposure is important, children are resilient and I think deep down they are truly enjoying the adventure.

So while those days of being kidless sitting on the couch watching Norm Abram rebuild an interior wall or Tom Silva frame-in a window, the deep naps and cold pizza are long gone, there's really nothing better than a posse of 2 kids sitting on naugahyde (1 in the high chair eating mashed bananas) chowing on pizza, a fresh-faced 10-year-old giddy about a Lesney Matchbox purchase for a bargain, or the deep-dimpled strawberry blond ball of fire with a blow up guitar impersonating Pete Townsend at the local concert in the park. These are priceless, unscheduled moments that will be brought up in conversation on the front porch days later and perhaps years down the line. "Remember that one time..."

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Waiting for the moment my 10-year-old says...

While there are so many things I am anticipating my son Cole saying in the next few years, the one phrase I have thinking about constantly is this: "Umm yeah, I'm kinda done playing with my little brother." He's been the perfect brother (Cole), though he lives with us part-time. He has accommodated his little brother Luke and his baby sister Hope seamlessly. Certainly the boys have their moments, but Cole has dug deep and when he is with us has been the perfect playmate. While I see boys and girls Cole's age getting into more complex things, Cole has maintained this beautiful balance between becoming a tween and staying a little kid. He still finds playing cars with his little brother interesting and appealing. While he may not like the cartoons or shows that Luke likes, he still sucks it up and accompanies him most of the time in front of the television. He helps his brother accomplish things and fix things and get dressed if he needs the help. At the park he will pull his brother and his brothers' friends in a wagon, around the park, for hours.

In the small room they share it's clear they have their separate spaces, but they ultimately end up playing together on the rug in the middle of the room. And so all of this works, and aside from the normal turmoil that can be expected when a 5-year-old and a 10-year-old with different personalities clash, the living situation is pretty darn nice.

But the day will come when they separate. Not physically but mentally, emotionally. I can see when Cole is, say 13 and Luke will 8. What will Cole be into? Girls, sports, himself, all of it? What will Luke like? Video games, sports, his own friends? The age difference is significant enough to warrant this separation at some point. Maybe it comes later when Cole is 15 or 16. I fear the day that he may not want to come up from his mom's house in Dana Point because he may have a chick or his buddies want to go out. I hope it never gets to this point, but teenagers are teenagers.

For now I relish this time these two buds have together. They are like an old married couple in a way. Bicker, fight, separate followed by play, be pals, ride bikes, go nite-nite. I can sense the loyalty that Cole has toward Luke and the admiration that Luke has toward Cole. I know that in any given, uncomfortable situation at the park or wherever, that Cole will have his brother's back. I know that when they are out riding their bikes together, ahead of us, up the street, that Cole watches his brother's every move. Making sure he's safe and in line. I know that Luke is watching his brother and how he rides his bike, the turns he does, the way he stops, the sounds he may make and is storing it in his little head.

It's a beautiful thing to watch: two brothers growing up, in crazy times, together half the time. My hope is that this connection will maintain, that while both will grow and spread their wings, that they will still come back to the connection they have as brothers and roommates. I think they will keep this bond no matter what, through time, forever. There's something there that I can't necessarily see but can sense. Even through the tempers and attitude, they still come back to an innocent place that is blissful and accented with the sounds of Matchbox car horns and make believe security officers.

Meanwhile little sister Hope is sitting back with a binkie in her mouth thinking "What is wrong with these guys?" It's poetry in motion.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The little blue bike

My five-year-old is a mysterious boy. Forget the fact that he truly is an old soul or that his imagination is miles apart from most little kids I know. He has this trigger that will engage when he feels it's the absolute right time to pull it. Essentially he's that kid who likely knows how to do something but clearly wants to do it on his terms, at his pace, on his schedule. It has worked this way for everything, from letting go of his thumb sucking, wiping his own butt, riding his scooter, swimming, and now bicycling.

The journey begin with the wooden bike, the one with no pedals, made in Germany... The one I could sell the shit out of to local hipsters and Calabasas MILF's. Anyway, Luke never used the bike for a year. He looked at it, touched it, walked by it to get to his tricycle. The "cool" wooden bike that all the parents dig, was simply a wooden bike he didn't feel like riding. It went this way until finally the stubborn little man got on, coasted off and begin understanding the feel of the bike with no pedals. He did it for a short time, and now that I think back, I realize it was his intention. He likely thought the bike was cool all along, and probably wanted to jump right on that thing and take off, feet in the air, howling at the blue sky. But his "Cool Hand Luke" persona kicked in and he showed just enough to make me grin and kept the rest in the vault of his tiny little head until the day he was 100 percent fired-up to ride the wooden bike again. So he propped the bike back up where it belonged, pulled out the tricycle and screamed down the sidewalk.

This played out in the same manner for some time, little-by-little he would ride a bit longer, put it back, get in his big plastic car and zip down the street. I always wondered how the circuits were firing in his head. I was beginning to wonder if he would just never get it, not give in, be too fearful of crashing, whatever. Was he just thinking that he would just toy with me for a bit longer until I promised some plastic reward like a Playmobil character, Matchbox car or banana split at Fosselman's. Was this "hold-back" a calculated move on his part that will last his whole life. Will he be that kid who had his hands on his hips on the soccer field, but had talent in the end? Or that teenager who never studied for anything but somehow pulled it off? Perhaps he's that same guy in college who had the same study high school habits, but by sheer last minute will and a few Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Ales somehow wrote decent things. I don't think he will be that guy because I think he's smarter than that. He's witty and imaginative, compassionate and loving, outspoken and shy at the same time. He just does it on his own terms... everything.

So ultimately Luke got on the wooden bike, took off with his feet in the air, howling at the sky, full of life, piss and vinegar. He stopped at the corner, waited for me. We crossed together. He scooted over, made room for people walking by, imagined he was a motorcycle rider or policeman or security guard chasing down a bad guy. It was instant, in the moment, it was his method. I shook my head likely saying 'that little fucker!' and basked in the moment he made the little wooden bike look like a play toy. He went from unsure to certain in a glimpse, as with everything else. He went on to master the wooden bike and soon began to grow out of it. The seat was raised to its limit and it was clear it was time to move on.

My mom bought a 16-inch bike at a yard sale and my dad delivered it. Luke's eyes lit up when he saw the selfless grandma's purchase perched against the wall. It's a blue Trek with fenders, and padding and a coaster brake. It's the first real step to a traditional 20-inch bike. He wanted to ride it right off. So we pulled it down to the sidewalk, buckled his helmet to his head and perched him on top of the saddle. It was about the right height for his skinny-tall body and I grabbed on to the back of his shirt and away we went. I ran and he pedaled for about 10 feet all-the-while letting go to see where he stood. He was firm, assured with a slight wobble but nothing to fear. Back and forth we went several times, each pass with a longer "let-go" on my part. He understand the braking and steering and seemed comfortable with the feeling. Ten minutes went by and he stopped, dragged it up to where it was originally perched, took off his helmet and went inside. We exchanged "high-fives" and hugs and that was it.

Later in the day we revisited the little blue bike for a short trip/ride to the park up the street. We followed the same procedure, which consisted of me running next to him, letting go, grabbing back, letting go, braking, pushing, starting, riding. Within five minutes it was just him, the little blue bike, the sidewalk, the air. He braked, stopped at the corner, waited for me, then we crossed and he took off again. On the way back it was less of me helping and more of him riding, on his own, in his own head, imagination running wild as a police officer catching bad guys. He's now a true bike rider, skipping the training wheels, and doing it on his own terms.

For me I waffle between being proud of his quickness, and it not being enough of a struggle for him. Part of me wanted him to pick it up and take baby steps until he got it. I wanted him to have a tough time with it so he knows how great it is to accomplish something as complex as balancing on two wheels, while being aware of your surroundings, and steering at the same time. I vaguely remember learning to ride a two-wheeler but it couldn't have been this easy for me! At the same time, deep inside, I am doing back-flips, saying "fuck yeahs!" over and over, because of this grand achievement from a little boy who does things on his own terms with his feet in the air, howling at the sky, full of life, piss and vinegar.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Tale of the clipboard

It's a typical evening in the 91030. Kids playing on the grass, couples walking by on the sidewalk, Jackaranda's dropping purple flowers. Americana through-and-through. Then the buzz is killed with a cute little red-haired hippie girl carrying a clipboard. You know the scene. It has happened to you. You see it coming but you don't. It's slow motion. You quickly try and exit stage right, behind the gate, under the car, act like your talking on the phone, whatever. I like using clipboards, but I hate seeing them appear 10 feet in front of me. Normally it's some droopy looking teen looking for magazine subscriptions, or a cute little munchkin selling candy bars or wrapping paper, but this time it's serious. The planet is in peril and I can be the touchstone for making the turnaround.

I'm standing there with a hose in my hand, a wet car, soap suds in the bucket yacking with my neighbor. We both saw her at the same time. I'm hoping, praying, that she corners him first, then I could prepare my exit strategy and land at the far reaches of my backyard pretending to clip a bush, trim a limb, feeding a California Condor. You get the point. But he has his dog on a leash and he's in the safety zone known as the sidewalk. Clipboard holders won't bother you if you are in that spot. It's off limits. Perhaps it's a policy. Somewhere in some conference hall when all the solicitors meet for their annual meeting, they ponder the sidewalk policy and always conclude it's not good to corner people on public property. So it's laid in stone, in writing in the manual of solicitation.

My neighbor says he's going to help me. He knows my past with solicitors. I've told him. It usually goes like this: Droopy teen knocks on door lightly. Tim (me) waits, freezes, drops to the ground. Droopy teen knocks more and louder. I stay frozen. Droopy teen now punches the door, annoyed, persistent. She's not leaving it seems, so I get to the door, act as if I just woke from a nap. She goes into her spiel. I stand frozen, contemplating how to get out of it. This inability to react in this situation makes the spiel continue to a point where I can't interrupt because A) I have nothing; and B) It's beyond the point because I will feel bad and she will be sad or mad or both. I am drawn in, but not. It's a tough spot so I let it play out. She gets to the end of the awkward presentation. I know what's coming. We all know what's coming. Droopy teen says "Would you uhh like to uhh donate a bajillion dollars to my youth group that will uhh allow me to do cool things like uhh get a job or something uhh or learn to type?" I say "Umm, I don't have any cash." "We take checks too and credit cards," says Droopy teen. In the end 70% of the time I give in with the minimum, get on some lame email list, kick myself, rehearse what I should have said, and urge my psyche to play it differently next time.

So that's what happens... usually. This time around with red-haired-hippie-girl (RHHG) things were going to be different. While my neighbor said he would help with the exit strategy, he froze rendering him useless. I blocked him out and focused on her. Slight red dreads showed me she was serious about the environment. Great. I start off first saying I already gave to a different guy a couple months ago. She asked what program he was from. "Uhh." RHHG is up 1-0. She starts in. I listen. She continues. I begin drying my car. My turn now: "I'm wasting water right now, right? I'm washing my own car when I hear I should be taking it to the car wash." RHHG comes back not buying it. She's quickly up 2-0. I continue on the car wash thing: "If I go to the car wash, I have to drive there, burning oil. The car wash says they recycle the water. I doubt that. The towels they use they have to dry, so they use energy. And the guys who work there have to drive their cars to get to work so they burn oil. You see my point?" RHHG is silent. I am on the board and bring the match to 2-1 with RHHG still in the lead. At this point she goes into Obama's policy, lobbyists outnumbering her organization, etc. Meanwhile my neighbor is glass-eyed wondering when this will end. I notice he's beginning to take steps back towards his house, which is next on RHHG's foot path. I just get to the point after 5 minutes and tell her "I am not giving you any money today." RHHG cocks her head and tells me "The guy down the street gave me a $100." She went there. My turn. "Well he's rich!," I say. It's clearly 2-2 now. Clipboard carriers should never reveal who gave what. It's an act of desperation.

The "discussion" is over and the clipboard reveals itself out from under her right arm. It's a beat looking board with plenty of miles. There's the typical environmental brochure. Looking to move ahead I say "That's printed on recycled paper right?" "Uhh, I think so," says RHHG. I move ahead 3-2. She should know this and she know what kind of ink is used. My next question would have been "Is it soy-based ink?" I didn't have to go that route but it would have put me up 4-2.

She asks if I could sign it. I do of course and near the end, confidence in hand, I pass over the phone number line. "I don't want you guys to call me, I hate that," I say. Now I am clearly up 4-2. Shit, I gave my email address. It's now 4-3. I better end this thing now before she asks for more. I sign it and quickly turn to my car to continue drying. My neighbor freezes. He knows she's heading to his place: the one with "No Soliciting" signs plastered on the windows and door. RHHG looks past the signs and begins her thumping on the door, then more, then harder, then punching. She gives up and moves to the next. Did I rattle her? Nope. Do I feel good about my performance? It's getting better.

IMAGE ABOVE_That's a tree growing sideways like that. It's massive and unreal.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mouse poop, wood rot and the organizing of my garage

I have come to dread the garage. Where once it was my "Man Cave" it has since become a hall of shame. Where once things had their place, now they stood unforgotten and lonely in a dark corner of the abyss. At one point she was in good shape. My lady had taken the time when I was away on business to sift through the rubble and make sense of the forsaken pieces and parts and remnants of life both from the past, the present and the future. Things were organized in bins and stuff we had no use for was discarded or donated. The labels on each bin had positive titles like "Beach Fun" and "Biking Gear" and "Camping Stuff". It was corrected, the mess of a cave, but soon, slowly, after time, and accumulation of stuff people thought we may need, it turned its cheek and relapsed into the jumbled, mixed-up, disorganized locker of waste. Rather than get back into it, I put it off, preferring to curse at the stacks, and shimmy sideways by the piles of randomness. If that didn't work I would simply scoot the stack to a new spot, wipe my hands clean, nod with acceptance as if I just did an important piece of work.

Look, I am not a lazy person, but the thought of tackling a chaotic garage slips down the list somewhere near getting a pedicure, going to a Yanni concert or seeing another movie with either Sandra Bullock or Keanu Reeves or both in it. Let's just say it's way down near the bottom of the aforementioned list.

The garage is supposed to be that special place where things like garden tools, bikes, more bikes, random things and holiday gear reside. Perhaps I am "scarred" by my childhood and the garage I grew up with/in. Maybe it is just a case of rebelling against my father's garage (not really but I need to make this impactful). I have fond memories of that garage, my dad's "Man Cave". It was a good size with rafters carefully organized and bins labeled. It had cabinets to the side and a bunch behind a wall where the water heater, and washer and dryer sat. The workbench was spotless and had just the essentials. The tool box too housed quality tools both new, and from my grandfather. It fit two cars comfortably and you can bet parking the cars in the garage took precedent over anything else. Bikes hung from the beams, a clean lawnmower sat on one side, Farrah Fawcett's (RIP) infamous bikini poster was properly tacked on one of the walls, and empty Yuban and Folgers coffee cans were recycled to store nuts, bolts, washers, nuts, etc. (properly labeled of course). Perhaps the greatest element to this childhood garage was the floor. It was infamous. It was polished concrete, shiny and new looking. The running joke was that you could eat off it, and in all likelihood, you could. My dad washed the cars on it (eliminates water spots caused by the beating sun) and when he did, the floor became an ice rink. It was slippery and dangerous and you had to walk with care for certain. We still tease him about that garage, in particular the floor. I suspect it's envy.

His current garage, at a different house is similar to the one of my childhood. It's smaller but incorporates the same care as the earlier one. Things are organized, there's still the shiny floor and coffee cans and two cars in their right place, polished as usual. Now he has sheds to house the garden equipment and yep those are dialed in also.

So you see my "pain". I am certain that my garage will never live up to the old man's. It's just not possible. I lack the will to dig in and discard. My organization skills waiver between decent and lame, and my ability to "just say no" is ridiculous. So onward I go, organizing the best way I know how, which can be considered just tidying up. I still question why we have so much lumber or old glass knobs or cd's, but I can't bear to discard them.

After a day of pushing things out, getting rid of randomness, and pushing it all back in to shiny new spots, the old girl has a slight facelift (maybe just a dose of Botox). My hope is that this slight cosmetic surgery sticks and doesn't end up like Joan Rivers all beat and not funny.

Now I like waltzing around in the space. Where's my bike helmet? Oh here it is, in the bike helmet section. Where's that power tool? Over here in the power tool box. Sweet Jesus it's organized. Not old man organized, but she's dialed in enough to cause a smirk rather than cussing, and sighing, and moping.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A tent, chowder and a car show

I haven't been camping in a while, let alone shacking in a tent with my two boys. The offer came up and the family shipped off with a car full of stuff, three nuggets stuffed in the backseat, my lady in the front, and a bike rack stuffed in the hitch. We were off for Father's Day weekend in Pismo Beach where we would meet up with my parents and their big RV and my sister, her husband and my nephew and their fifth-wheel trailer.

Oh Pismo. What can you say about it. If this was your first visit to Pismo Beach then you would truly freak out. It was a bit of Mad-Max mixed with an episode of Twilight Zone. Car shows can be a interesting study of people. You have such a cross-section of folks ranging from the wealthy old guys who have enough dough to sink into a Mercedes Gull Wing, to the blue collar guy who bought an old truck already polished, to the Cholo who has a nasty Impala dropped to the ground, and finally the white trash redneck who has decided to sink more cabbage into a '69 Camaro than into his single-wide mobile home.

The people that attend a car show of this size is actually more interesting than the presenters. The white trash level was high as was the range of mullets and muscle shirts. I saw more Cholos with bar codes inked on their neck than I would see on a Friday evening in Echo Park (not that I go there, but it sounds good). I am an extreme people watcher. I get it from my mom who is a professional at it. I mixed in well because perhaps I have a bit of white trash in me too. I mean I split a foot-long corn dog with my family. My son Cole still has the stick to prove it!

Camping in a tent in a camp site at the beach with family is an exciting thing. It's an opportunity to sit around a carefully groomed fire (thanks to my dad), talk smack, tease, joke, catch up on things, etc. My mom and dad usually camp on their own in their big RV so when the normal two-person site became 10, it put my dad's camp senses into overdrive. He's perhaps the greatest camp site organizer the planet has ever seen. Laying the turf, grooming the dirt, surveying the local dumpster for discarded objects like what appeared to be (according to my dad) a stand for a cooler. "All I have to do is take a wire brush to it, sand it a little, oil it, and paint it flat black." It's this mentality that has brought me many-a-treasure from random places. Things like a train set that the boys still use, plenty of sweatshirts from used cars and garage shelving racks that were left for dead.

My mom is the matriarch of the camp site. She's clearly the boss and if you are a bunch of Cholo guys who plan on blasting gangsta rap at 7:30 in the morning be prepared for the most gutsy woman ever to waltz to your site and let you know she doesn't feel like hearing it. A 25-year-old Latino tough guy is no match for my mom. In the camp my mom maintains a chair that turns her normal powers into superpowers. Suddenly, instantly, as if the camping chair with the cup holder released powerful energy, chores are shouted out in a mild-mannered tone. "Dick (my dad) can you get the tomatoes?", she says. "I think we need another log on the fire." It's poetry really. My mom's Italian blood needling my father's German genes. Somehow, someway, after all these years and all this time together it still works. Pissy in the one moment and loving in the next. It's a study in tolerance, patience, persistence, obedience, romance (maybe?). It's classic to watch.

Camping is also a time to indulge in all sorts of behavior. Eating smores every night, bringing out the Jiffy Pop (yep, they still make it) and not showering for four days. Camp fires too isn't something you make often if at all unless you camp. It's a time to unleash your inner-pyro and burn sticks and paper. Camp sites also provide for some excellent people watching including the lame-asses who blow $500 on a cooler scooter, or the aforementioned gangstas with bad taste in music and judgment.

It was a great bunch of days spent at Pismo and while the car show was a bit chaotic, the last evening was pretty sweet. The crowds had all but cleared out and the quaint, semi-edgy beach town returned to its true spirit. We ate good chowder, strolled around and had yet another carefully constructed epic camp fire. The next morning we packed up and hit the road, but not before my dad cleaned out in between the planks of wood that make up the top of the picnic table. I think he found some bottle caps and 26 cents.

Image_1: One of the many cool old trucks at the car show. I dig the primer color and faux rust look.
Image_2: Cole ready to mack down on a smore. They came out of his braces eventually.
Image_3: Luke: The kid who never seems to pose "normally" for a picture. Love it.
Image_4: Baby Hope was mesmerized by the carefully constructed camp fire.
Image_5: My nephew Tyler. He wants to be a fireman.
Image_6: I think my dad found 26 cents.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Being cool

The car in the picture says MO MNY on the license plate. We were on our way down Los Feliz Boulevard near the Greek Theatre and it donned on me after seeing this plate... What's with vanity plates?

We are a vain society and likely even more so in Los Angeles. Vanity plates say "Look at me, read my plate, guess what it is. Isn't that cool? You like it?" I must admit some are pretty smart and I don't mind ones that have family references on them, but most are just lame. This one bordered on lame, arrogant, retarded, with a spritz of WTF?. Here this guy rolls along in a C55 AMG, a car that is likely close to $100,000. The letters AMG on a Mercedes Benz automatically signify that you have money. Adding the vanity plate adds insult to injury. Saying "Look peasants, this car belongs on the Autobahn but I choose to drive it in the gridlock of Los Angeles. Blat!"

Bumper stickers are a notch down from personalized plates. Sort of the poor man's vanity plate. I especially enjoy the stickers that say FREE TIBET. Sure Tibet should be free, but for me that particular one has become way too fashionable or "cool" (see below). Rolling along in your Volvo with FREE TIBET equates to saying "Look Tibet is screwed, and I wish they would be free because the Dalai Lama is a 'cool' dude, and I so want to visit the place and get some prayer flags, but I have a mani-pedi I have to bust out in 15 minutes." You can't free Tibet from your Volvo 760 Turbo. Another crowd-pleaser is SAVE MONO LAKE. That's a classic and it runs in the same circle as FREE TIBET. You can't save Mono Lake if you are behind the wheel of a, well, Volvo 760 Turbo. So bumper stickers are exactly that, stickers. A vanity plate in a sticky form that eventually wears out and is replaced by an even better one that says "My kid is student of the month at Mono Lake's Tibetan academy." I have no answer for that one.

This brings me to the whole concept of cool. Inside I laugh when people say this or that is "cool." What makes it cool? What's cool to you may be lame to me. I am guilty of it often after I meet someone: "That guy seems pretty cool," I say. Am I cool? If he seems cool and I indeed think I am cool what will bring him up to the level of coolness I apparently am at? At the same time, this guy I think "seems cool" may think I seem cool, or he may just think I'm a dick. It's a discussion that is best had in your own mind. That is if it's a cool enough subject to ponder.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jumbled thoughts on my local park

Today it was daddy day. Mama went to her private practice and dad (that's me) took control of the balls of energy known as my kids. I'm not the stereotypical dad of yesteryear who would be a crazed mess if this situation happened upon him, I'm current dad who can handle the kids. I know how to change diapers, feed babies, snuggle, soothe, discipline, control, etc. I don't need a reward or a gift certificate or a pat on the back. If you're a dad and you don't contribute, you're a dick.

The park is the perfect place to kill time; get some fresh air and, did I say, kill some time? A 5-year-old with crazy energy and imagination to match can take a couple acre park and turn it into his own private Wonderland. We have one just up the street. An old park with old trees and wide open, sprawling lawns. In the middle is the jungle gym area where the man commands the stage. He's no longer ambivalent about meeting kids in the sand, as now he seems to have become a social butterfly, sometimes standing in front of a group of kids or following along until one finds his shadowing intriguing enough to play with him. Most of the time the game is predictable. Tag is involved, as is a sword and a pirate and some sort of thunderous crashing.

While he's involved in some sort of crash-tag-world-war-drama-fest, his sister and I sit on the sidelines. Hope is laughing at kids in swings and slobbering or gnawing on both fists, while I scope the setting assessing whether babies are cute or not, or why the kid with a mustache insists on wrapping the swing over and over the top bar.

"That baby is really ugly. That one has no hair. Nice outfit on that one," I say under my breath of course. "She's definitely a nanny with a kid with white hair like that." It's bad I know, but we all do this in some way or another. I watch women look at other women. You can see that they start at the shoes and move there way up. Men I think start at whatever area appeals to them most and move around the ball park.

Anyway. Parks are a great place to see parenting at its best or worst. Dakota throws sand at Logan. Mom of Dakota looks the other way. She's a hipster more concerned with the cuffs on her jeans. Logan's mom is vigilant and confronts Dakota. Wrong move. Suddenly hipster mom leaves the cuffs and moves in to see what the deal is. Things are settled easily but not without some interesting moments. You see I am convinced that parks are just excuses for moms (mostly) to let the kids go wild while they chit-chat with other hipster moms. Nothing wrong with it, moms need a break too, but you can keep an ear peeled or an eye out for your hipster-influenced kid at the same time.

Then I think and ultimately conclude that the wild kid without manners is a reflection of the hipster parents. Some hipsters parents are cool, but some think they are too cool. You shouldn't breastfeed your 3-year-old child just because of some "cool" article in the LA Weekly said so.

All this while I sit watching my "cool" kid impersonate a pirate or a mummy or a crazed police officer. Oh shit! I think I am a hipster. Meanwhile, baby Hope is likely thinking in her small little head "Parents are lame, and yes dad I am going to Burning Man when I get older."

Long live the local park and all the weird things it makes my head think of.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Jury Duty Files

It came a while ago. That slip of paper that causes dread and profanity when you open it. No, not the high school reunion invite or that mysterious, possible, probable ticket taken by a hidden camera in the town of Lucca, Italy, but instead the summons for jury duty. I looked at it, turned it over, held it up to the light to make certain it was real like a 100-dollar-bill. Sure enough it was real. There are two routes to take for this: A) Do you "civic duty" and go on the date it shows; or B) Postpone the mo-fo until another time. Bingo, "B" it is. I call the number, tap in "June 15, 2009". Perfect, I have time.

Time comes so fast when it's "duty time". Those two months flew by and sure enough the same scowls and moans of displeasure came to the surface when I had to actually depart and go to the court house. "Shit! I so don't want to go!" I would rather go to Calabasas to get a pedicure than go to jury duty [what?]. I kept thinking of ways, at this the 11th hour, to get out of it. Nothing.

I make the 2 mile trip in no time. Go through security. "Nice belt" says the security guard. "Thanks" I say. "Have fun" she says. "Screw you" I say (under my breath). Oh this is not good. Bitter already and I haven't even stepped through and into the Jury Grotto. Snap out of it Self. Leave the bitterness, sarcasm, and all that other baggage at the door. This is your "civic duty." Okay, think positive. Maybe the jury room will be epic. Maybe it will have foosball, and a pool table, and a fridge full of Horchata and a Carnitas bar, and a massage table for when you wait for all those hours. Close your eyes tight, maybe it will happen. Tighter. Tighter. I open my eyes to ratty old chairs, a snowy television, and old magazines with the address labels ripped off. I am one of many, of course, who is at this dreary place. Everyone has the same sad look on their mug. It's me, a couple retirees, a bunch of older Asian ladies and a mix of others.

The dreary voice comes over the static speaker: "Welcome to jury duty (scratch, scratch, scratch). If you need to postpone or if you are going out of town in the next 7-10 days (scratch, scratch, scratch), please come to window 2 (screetch, scratch, chirp)." For a moment my right foot stepped forward. "What are you doing Self? Self step back, endure the pain." Self wanted to march in there, scribe out an excuse like "Going on a long trip to Istanbul," and march out with head held high. I would sign my name with an "X" and snicker under my breath "Take that J-Du." I didn't do it of course and waltzed in with the other members of the slumping herd.

It's on! I pick a spot in the corner, away from anyone who may be "chatty" (I have "chat" radar). I get a good spot and immediately survey the crowd and wonder who may get rejected. "That guy has too many tattoos, he's out. She looks too mad. That old guy is in for sure. Sleepy Asian women has drool running down her mouth," and on and on.

Aside from the long break, bad-corporate-jury-duty-drink-the-KoolAid-civic-duty-video, and the transfer for everyone to the East Los Angeles court house, the wasted day of my life went okay. Finally at around 2:00pm they call names. "Sandra Sanchez, Wang Chung, Old Man, Old Lady...". About 9 people in I am mashing my teeth, curling my toes, praying to the Saint of Jury Duty (whoever that is) that they don't call my name. "(Screetch, scratch, scrunch) Would those names I called please report to Room 'whatever, whatever'." I am free for the moment. There must be more names coming, has to be more. Right? Not for the moment. I laugh inside as does the old Asian women who is sitting too close to me. "I hope we go home. Soon. Maybe. Yes?", she says. "I do too ('Move your purse' I say under my breath)."

A half-hour rolls by and people trickle in and out. People who were called on that first round leave. "Oh shit!" I think. I know I am next. I have to be. There's 15 people left in the room. I'm that guy. They need me. I hope they don't need me. I hope the kid passes over my name. It's a hard last name to pronounce, maybe he'll be too embarrassed to say it and move on. Please Saint Jury Duty, let me live!

Nothing for another 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes. Then "(screetch, scratch, chirp)." Damn, the reckoning is here, right? "(screetch, chirp, shrill) The case has been dismissed, you are all free to leave." The old Asian woman next to me cheers. Others follow suit. This system, right now is awesome. I am in the moment. I stand, smile, toss my badge in the tray and walk quickly out before they change their mind.

I'll be back in a year. I know that. It happens to me. The jury Gods find me somehow like clockwork. I will likely post this very same blog entry next June. Look for it. Mark your calendar.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Twitter VS. Facebook, or I have nothing to blog about

Once I was a nay-sayer of Facebook and while I am still a bit annoyed by Twitter, I see it has its moments. Consider Lance Armstrong for a minute. He has more than a 1,000,000 followers and growing! All he basically talks about is how great his life is, how much he rides or plays kickball or listens to the "coolest" music. Just 140 characters that causes people from every walk of life to comment as if they know him. It's extraordinary really. I would venture to guess that if you get a single mention in one of Lance's Tweets, your follower number will bump up significantly purely by intrigue. In many cases it has become a quest for followers. Someone I know is constantly monitoring the number. "Up 25 today!" or "This week I gathered another 120." Nevermind the fact that most of the jargon that riddles the landscape is nonsense. It's the American way to think more about quantity than quality.

Facebook for me has become fun. I was Anti-FB at one time and then I started gaining "Friends". The weird thing is that I know perhaps 50 percent of the people. Most are work-related but more and more are people from my childhood. Initially I wasn't much into "hooking" up with people from elementary, middle or high school, but I have slowly become fascinated by their stories. People I have known for more than 30 years have "come into" my life. A high school friend who lives less than five miles away. A childhood-elementary school friend who I would likely never cross paths with in "real" life has suddenly become a friend again in, well, real life. A high school mate who I "discovered" on Facebook was where I spent two days in Italy with the family. I would have never see him again without Facebook. There are also the train wrecks. People from the past who have taken strange paths.

I have used Facebook extensively for work, whether it be interviews for the magazine or learning of new products coming down the line.

There are still people who think Facebook is lame. It has almost become cool to hate it. Snide remarks like "Facebook is stupid" abound, but it's one of those cases where if you aren't in it you don't know. Besides what make you think you are so cool? K*I*T. Have a bitchen summer. Like fer-sure.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

They know more than we do...

It's a typical drive home from Los Feliz after a night evening with my sister- and brother-in-law. The baby's already asleep in the back and Brett Dennen is on the player. My son is chiming on about this or that mostly involving crashing of some sort. If he were a teenager you might be worried about his constant referrals to crunching and crashing, but he's five and it's funny.

Then things come up most notably how Stefanie and Luke have this love-hate relationship of late. They are modern day "Archie and Edith". Similar to an old married couple. He refuses to brush his teeth when asked or make his bed or pick up his things. At the heart of his rebellion is his free-spirited nature, and that he wants to do it on his own terms. His hard-headed, stubborn existence can be attributed to the fact that a fair bit of his being is German. That should explain most of it, but another element is that he just likes to aggravate his mother. The arguments are entertaining no doubt. And then they are found snuggling 10 minutes later.

Other than the discussion of the daily ritual of arguments we were having a conversation about movies. Somehow the word "documentary" came up and somehow in some way the five-year-old in the back who was a second ago blabbing random noises, uses the word in a sentence in the right context as if he was listening to the conversation we were having in the front. I froze, turned down the music, and inquired about his sudden fascination with documentary. "How do know what a documentary is?" I ask. "I just do, hello!" says he. Kids say words they hear others say the word but have no idea what the word means and you brush it off as they are just repeating. "Okay, what's a documentary?" I chirp. "It's a movie about real people," he says. At that moment I turned the music back up, looked ahead, took a gulp and marveled in my head about the simplicity of his definition.

Later that evening it was story time and then bed. Tonight's feature was "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein. A classic. A quick read. At the end based on the earlier exchange on the drive home, I ask him questions about the book. "Why did the man cut down the tree?" I ask. "Because he needed it to get away," says Luke. "But he cut down the tree. Did the man not like the tree?" "He loves the tree," he says. "Why did he come back to the tree?" I ask. "Because he loves the tree. Duh!"

Once again I was stopped in my tracks. Adults could go on about the meaning of "The Giving Tree" and give analogies and childhood or adult examples, but a five-year-old boy could sum up the situation and message in simple terms that says so much. In its simplicity is complexity. In its complexity is a general understanding of what it is... a timeless story no more than what may be 250 words.

Eventually, the five-year-old will give in to the complexity, lose the innocence, simplicity and instinct that defined "Documentary" and the meaning of "The Giving Tree." For now he has his crazy imagination, his uninhibited attack on life. It's funny, frustrating, fruitful and will remain deep in his being, this I am certain. This kid is an old soul and my guess is that he will tap this wonder from time to time as he gets older.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's hard doing a blog...

Here I sit putting pressure on myself to try and express into words some sort of blog entry. It's been a while given that the "Donut Adventure" was more than two months ago. I keep searching for topics, looking out the window thinking 'Hey a blog about why my street hasn't been repaved might be good.' 'No it wouldn't!' I conclude. 'What about one on junk mail or flossing?' 'Seriously, that's all you got?' Then I wonder why I had so many ideas before. I was a blog-whore at one point. Things were flowing freely. I didn't have to think about it. This "flow" helped me with my job too, when I had to write for the magazine. Tapping away on the keyboard allowed me to free my mind and get into a rhythm. Then it dried up.

Of course I write this for me and the three people who stop by occasionally. You know who you are. And even they have said to me 'You need to update your blog.' I have concluded that my 'blog' has become a 'bog'.

When I came back from Europe I was ready to blaze the keyboard about how great Europe was/is and how every time we/I come back we/I want to turn around and move there. I tapped away for 30 minutes and came up with some prose, but it wasn't working. Can you get writers block even though you A) aren't a writer, and/or B) just have a little shitbox blog? Whatever it was I still have, sort of. Maybe I have blog material in some pocket of my brain that houses this type of stuff. Maybe my life isn't as eventful as it was say three months ago. Maybe our adventures have slowed. Whatever the situation is I am working through it. Look for future blogs on "Stacks", "That area of your house that accumulates crap", "Why the VERSUS channel sucks", "How come we don't have beer gardens", "Why America should not have roundabouts", and my personal favorite that's been haunting me for a while "Why 'The Housewives of New Jersey' shouldn't claim they are Italian". A very inside source told me that there was or could be a "Housewives of Calabasas". I will keep you posted on that one.

For now, this blog entry is not really an entry per-se but an explanation as to where my creative energy has been or not. I am figuring ways to tap back into it. This creamy latté certainly helps. Shit, I think I did one on creamy lattés. Erase that one from the list.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009

What would you do for a donut?

It was a Saturday night and I made a brief mention of having donuts Sunday morning, the following day. Usually Sunday's are for my "world-famous-po-dunk-no-two-are-the-same" pancakes, but after a date with Huell Howser which took us to Stan's Donuts in Westwood, I had a hankering for the fried little nugget. Donuts to me are what smack is to a junkie. Offer it up at any time, whether I am fit or not and I will eat it. My self discipline is non-existent when I sense a donut at work, at home, or wherever I may be.

So the plan was set for a quick morning trip to the local donut shop.

Sunday morning, and I look up donut shops on my rectangle of glass (iPhone). The typical Winchell's and Dunkin Donuts pop up, but I wanted something original, something "mom-and-pop." A shop that had flavor and character and was "manned" by a sleepy old guy or perky Asian woman who barely speaks English. I wanted authentic, not uniforms and definitely not a chain.

So I found it. It was a donut shop and bakery about 2.6 miles from our house. Turn right, veer right, stay left, u-turn here and presto you're there in about 5 minutes' times. Simple enough if you drive, but the 2.6 miles became a walk, an outing for the family. Baby in stroller? Check. Luke, Cole, you ready? Yep. Mama, you have everything? I think so. Good. We're off on foot and we tear up the first 1.5 miles and make the right. Suddenly the landscape changed. Gone were the beautiful old Craftsman's and in to view came chewed-up sidewalks, trash, bars on windows, and graffiti. We were certainly out of our element, but this is what we do. We venture to places we may not be comfortable with and I bitch about why we are doing this and my lame wife says "It's all about the adventure!" I say "But there's graffiti on the damn sidewalk! Who tags the sidewalk?" It's my usual barking and while I was continuing to wonder where we were, the boys were loving the beat up old cars and random bits of trash and because Luke was on his bike, he was loving the undulation of the sidewalks. Cole, on the other hand, is a junk collector and would marvel at broken, abandoned things or hubcaps or whatever.

The 2.6 miles by foot, with 2 boys, and a munchkin in a stroller is, in reality, a 2-hour walk.

Eventually we made our way to this supposed bakery-donut shop and I was a bit surprised at what we found. It did have the token middle-aged Asian woman and the random filthy guy downing a cup of Joe, but the posters for the sex pills and various Mexican bands playing around town took the prize. All over the windows these posters were plastered, but in the end I didn't care. I was the junkie with a singular focus of a real soft, delicate sprinkled donut.

The boys ordered their favorites and my wife got her apple fritter and then we set off back to home. At some point we had to stop to sample the delicate fruit (donut) and did so in front of the local library. Here was a family of 5 chowing on donuts in the wrong part of town, but we didn't care. We continued on to home taking in the local character that included a sweet 1970's station wagon and a bike shop that had more bars than a jail.

Eventually we made it back and while the adventure, as my wife calls it, was to a part of town we would never normally go to, it was just that... an adventure. This is what we do, and this is what I did for a donut. As they say "the journey is the destination."