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.