Monday, July 31, 2006

Vespa or Electric Car

My old friend Curt has this electric car. While it is approved for driving on surface streets, it looks like a four-seated golf cart. It can only go up to 40 mph, so it wouldn't be appropriate to drive on the freeway, but he and his wife drive it around town on short trips. I think the charge is good for 24 miles round trip.

It made me think about my own commute to work and alternatives my current driving habits. I hate the idea of carpooling. Of my colleagues who have carpooled, there always seemed to be the problem of what time to arrive at work and, more important, what time to leave. I don't like having to live around someone else's schedule.

My car is a hybrid, but not a mega-mileage hybrid. It gets decent mileage, but not great mileage.

One reason for my musing about this has more to deal with the ethics of living in the current war-monger atmosphere and fighting in wars that have more to do with giving big oil companies control over oil prices. The less money I spend on gas, the less tainted I feel. I have no delusions about bringing down the oil companies, but I can choose where my money goes.

I don't want a motorcycle because I don't plan on going on any long trips. I just would want something to get to work and back and use for short errands.

Public transportation is undependable around here, so it's not an option for getting to work.

The pros for either a Vespa or electric car are not that different. The cons are greater. In both cases, other motorists would probably show me little respect and I'd have to be extra careful on the road. For an electric vehicle, there is the question of sized and overcrowding my garage. A Vespa would leave me more vulnerable to other motorists, as well as the weather and road conditions. Of course, this is California, so the weather doesn't change that much.

I the price difference is also significant.

So I brought this up while dining with my brother, my SiL, and my mother. The Bro and SiL thought it was laughable to get a Vespa. But most passersby I asked (my friend Curt, Blowhard Canary and his GF, and Zoe all thought the Vespa would be better).

Anyway, I'm far from having the disposable income right now, but am just thinking about it.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Disney Fruit

I go to Disneyland and I see evil.

This started a little while after Walt died and the rumors of his being frozen until they could find a cure for the cancer that afflicted him had begun. Throw in the fact that, even after he died, he was still somehow able to show up as host to Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color (how was I to know it was filmed for broadcast in advance?), and you've got all of the evidence of pure evil that you need.

A long time ago, post-Walt, I bought this environmentalist magazine that had an article about how the Disney company was planning to expand its theme park operation to Yosemite National Park. The lead picture was a scene of Yosemite decorated with images of Mickey, Goofy, and the gang cavorting amongst the trees. The thought horrified me.

So imagine my horror while shopping for produce at a local supermarket and, while testing a peach for ripeness, Donald Duck smiled up at me from the tiny packing sticker.

I knew that a long time ago Donald came out with his own brand of Orange Juice. But this was new.

I dropped the Peach and gasped as I saw before me piles and piles of peaches with Disney characters stuck to their fuzzy skin, each smiling happily. Each sticker proclaimed the guaranteed ripeness of its piece of fruit.

Peaches are one of those fruits that, around here, can be iffy. When ripe, the aroma seduces, the flavor intoxicated. And these peaches were aromatic.

But I couldn't bring myself to buy them.

So, I moved on to the plums, which also promised succulence and flavor. There to tiny Disney faces greeted me. They seemed to be everywhere. I half expected to find them on the blueberries.

I returned to the peaches and began sorting through them carefully. Indeed, I could find some that had stickers from Disney competitors, so I bought those. Likewise with the plums.

It's just my way of sticking it to the mouse.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Mad-Dogged at the Folk Center

Standing in line, waiting for the Folk Center doors to open and Open Mike to ensue, Billy C and I stood in line, chatting and passing my Oscar Schmidt back and forth. Neither of us did this on purpose, nor did either of us realize what the other saw, but we casually gazed over across the street where we saw this rail thin man in a dirty sports coat adjusting his jeans and shirt looking over--nay, staring at us. Probably a homeless guy, I thought, probably planning to walk over and ask for change.

I turned back and continued chatting with Billy C and others, but I could see through the corner of my eye that he now walked across the street and seemed headed for us. But I didn't look directly at him. Billy thought he was looking at him, but I don't know. Soon, he was inches away, his face close to mine. I turned and met his gaze--the cold stare of a man there...but not there. Just as I looked at him, he turned and walked up the street. Three people ahead of simultaneously turned and looked at me, having themselves noticed that he had singled me out.

I said, "I hope you guys have got my back if he sneaks up behind me."

PJ showed up at one point with his new squeeze. He didn't come for the Open Mike. He and Squeeze had just left some lecture (it's a college town, for all of you outsiders).

This character who had appeared at an earlier Open Mike showed up with his mother. Let's refer to him as Asshole Profundo (AP, for short). He has a deep voice that sounds like a bad faux Paul Robeson and pasty white skin. The first time he and his mother appeared, I couldn't tell if they were husband and wife, brother and sister, or mother and son. And I had the odd feeling that it might not matter.

Anyway, the reason I harp on this is because Billy C and I sat behind them. While the crowd filed in, during which time most of us self-actualize, AP kept turning around, and looking at my notebook and singing which ever song I had it opened too, tainting it for the evening. Tucked in the inside flap were a couple of poems by Maria Ranier Rilke, handouts from last weeks writers' conference. One poem included the original German version next to the English translation. AP proceeded to read the whole thing in German to me, thinking it quite clever. I began to explain who and what it was and then thought, Nah, I don't even want to talk to this guy.

I mean, he and his mom really give me the creeps.


House lights down. Stage lights on.

As the first act walked up on the stage, AP became anxious and Mom/Sis/Mrs. AP turned and asked Billy C if he had a pencil. AP also looked around for a pencil. As the first act began, he got up with his notebook full of music and walked out, presumeably to look for a pencil.

When he came back, having found a pencil and having satisfied his penculiar needs, he continued to mumble smart comments about other performers, harmonize to himself, and just generally be annoying.

He spent most of his set, fumbling with his music, tuning his guitar, and trying hard to be funny. He sang an aria from an opera entitled "The Jew."

Never heard of it.

But there was something about the way he introduced it that, again, reaffirmed his creepiness.

I gathered from his performance at the last Open Mike, that he and Mom/Sis/Mrs. AP belonged to some sort of cultish religious group.

After intermission, as the lights went down again and I could see which empty seats would likely remain empty, I moved to the other side, sitting next to one of the regular performers.

Highlights of the evening:

Bebe, she of the Koto-like Chinese instrument, played. Billy C and I wondered aloud on the drive home whether she was really that good, or just good to us because we have never seen anyone else a Koto-like Chinese instrument. She rocked my limited Koto-like Chinese world.

Then, the store's owner, Musical phenom Ben Harper, a successful singer-songwriter and grandson of the store's original owner Charles Chase, played two songs.

Billy C and I both saw him outside with his wife, Laura Dern (the actress from the original Jurassic Park and daughter of Bruce Dern).

Anyway, he played two songs and was really excellent.

For a dollar admission, that was a pretty good deal by itself.

The woman who followed him had the best pipes in the universe.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Adventures with Bobs

I met Bob at the first of two job interviews at a school where I taught for 9 years. I didn't get the job that time, but did on the second job interview a few months later, where Bob sat again on the interview committee. I got the job this time in part because Bob and some friends had seen me the previous night in a performance of Threepenny Opera, in which I played Mr. Peacham.

Like so many of the teachers I worked with then, Bob is a fascinating character loaded with quirkiness. I regard him as one of my best friends--probably the best friend acquired in this phase of my life.

Bob's mother has alzheimer's and he and his wife have begun the process of finding a place where she can stay and get the kind of care she needs. He and I got together to talk about what I have learned about some of the facilities locally, since my family and I have already moved our mother into one of them.

We met in this local independent coffee place and talked awhile, sampling some of their sugar-free and sugar-loaded sweets (I eschewed the latter, I'm trying to be good). We both had on rust-colored t-shirts, so we looked like either a couple of aging twin brothers or an aging gay couple.

Bob and I are both diabetics--his, I believe being more advanced than mine. Bob is more of a compulsive personality than I, so he often acts on what he wants in the moment, which can be amusing and can also be exasperating.

We decided to go on a drive-by tour of some places I had checked out, while I gave him what I knew of the low-down on each.

We stopped at one and Bob decided he wanted to go in and check it out, so he stopped right in front of the entry-way--in a red zone (I mentioned this a couple of times, but it didn't matter to Bob)--got out of the car, and walked into the building--passing the check-in desk and making a beeline into one of the hallways, stopping to chat with residents, pausing to inspect the dining room and other gathering places. We were in and out in five minutes.

On the way to the next place, I ran down the positives and negatives of this place as Bob listened thoughtfully while driving and dialing his wife up on his cell phone--all the while trying to drive, weaving between lanes and stopping a little bit to quickly at red lights, unless he decided to try to beat it--so she could talk to me about living trusts and so I could talk her out of buying tickets to a production called Sleeping Beauty put on by Junior University (a local children's theater known for its four-hour-long productions and hard metallic seating) to which they had planned on taking their seven-year-old grandson. All the while. I think I did a public service here.

At another home, this one an independent facility, we drove down to the end of the ample parking lot down this alley that looked to Bob like it might circle around the building but instead turned into a green walking path for residents. We stopped at the start of the path and walked the distance around the path to inspect the outside of the building--I, of course mentioned that we had parked illegally--Bob of course not being concerned with that.

We walked into the reception room where Bob asked questions, took a flyer, as well as piece of candy, chatted with a lady about the food served at this place, marched outside and down the alley where he had parked the car. As we backed out, he asked me to watch and let him know if he was about to hit the wall which to me looked like he almost did several times.

We decided to get dinner at Panera, where we evaluated the day's adventure thus far. I had the half-sandwich/bowl of soup combo, with a fruit salad and diet coke while he had an Italian sandwich and a bag of chips with a jumbo diet coke. We decided to go see Clerks II, so Bob refilled his jumbo soft drink cup with coffee and we took off for the new theater in MoVal. As I checked the movie section of the newspaper for times, Bob steered with one hand, held his jumbo coffee-filled soft drink cup in his other hand and tried to manage a leak in the bottom of said cup with his third hand which of course he doesn't actually have so I guess each of his hands was operating at each task at only about 66% capacity. I asked him if he wanted me to hold his cup. He said, "That's ok, I've got it."

I pulled a napkin out of my back pocket and gave it to him so he could catch the leak, which helped him better control both the cup and the driving.

We got into Clerks II just as it started. The theater was full enough that we could only find seats in pairs. We're both big guys, so we usually sit with seats between us, but couldn't find a row to accommodate this. I think, subliminally, what with the same-colored t-shirt thing, we wanted to play down the aging gay couple thing. So, we each took an aisle seat, one behind the other.

OK. I admit that Jay and Silent Bob are a kind of guilty pleasure of mine. I don't always like the gross humor, but there is a certain heart to many of Kevin Smith's films that I like. Values like love and friendship always seem to triumph against the backdrop of glandular humor. I can appreciate that.

Aside from the tastelessness of some of the gags, the one thing I think he misses is in the character of Silent Bob, who usually speaks in only one or two scenes, often to spout the wise lesson of the film. Silent Bob is like Bill the Cat from the Bloom County, Outland, and now Opus comic strips. Bill says little. So, when he does, it should be brief, to the point, and either hilarious or deeply profound. If he says too much, the magic is destroyed.

Likewise with Silent Bob. Kevin Smith too often crosses the line between what would be just right and too much. The first line he speaks is hilarious. But then he responds to some comment from Jay and ruins the magic. If he is truly Silent Bob, his words should be economical and precise. All else should be silence. Anything more becomes self-indulgent.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

New Specs

As I said before, while in Taos, while cleaning my glasses, I was overcome with a surge of Herculean strength and twisted my glass frames so that one of the thingies became noticeably wobbly. I tried to be careful with them for the rest of the week, but the thingy broke off in the middle of a workshop session. Several people scrambled to find glass repair tools in their purses or bags. But,alas, it was for naught. The problem wasn't a lost screw, but structural damage. So I spent the rest of the week holding my glasses up to my face so I could read.

I had an old pair with me, but they didn't help much with the reading.

Just before I left for Taos, I got a prescription for a new pair and I knew they would be ready when I got home, so no Biggs.

I picked them up today. There was a family ahead of me that was picking up a new prescription for one of their little girls--her first pair. She was a pretty little girl, 11 or 12. When she tried her new glasses on and looked in the mirror, tears filled her eyes and she began crying silently. She hated the way she looked with glasses. Her mother and the girl at the counter tried to comfort her. The lady helping me had the same prescription, so she also turned to comfort the girl. The mother began explaining to her that, if she earned the money, she could get contacts and show her how to put them in. But, in the meantime, she would have to wear the glasses.

The counter lady offered to go back and have them tinted for her. When she came back, the girl liked them better that way and stopped crying.

Ah, how fragile the psyche of the pre-teen. Oh, the pain of growing up.

Monday, July 17, 2006

In Dreams

One thing I didn't mention earlier about my Taos stay is that I stayed at the Sagebrush Inn, which is where Georgia O'Keefe stayed when in Taos painting her vagi-flowers. I stayed in what I think must be one of the original rooms. It was upstairs and relatively secluded an close to the lobby and restaurant. It also had to bedrooms with king beds, a fridge, and fireplace--which I didn't need. I only had two neighbors--one next door and one downstairs. I checked to make sure that I wasn't getting charged for the extra room and the clerk assured me that I wasn't. I guess they just ran out of singles and I lucked out.

I didn't much care about the extra bed, but the extra room gave me a place to work and practice my ukulele without having my neighbor pounding on the walls next door.

I don't hold with a lot of the new-agers who believe that Taos has some magical quality (the mountains humming and all that). It could be true, but I'd rather concentrate on the explainable.

One thing I did notice was the frequency and intensity of my dreams. Our fiction workshop leader mentioned this too. He had several nightmares while in Taos. I didn't have nightmares, but each night I would have an intense dream full of archetypal goings-on. I would awake, then fall back asleep, have another dream, wake up again, fall back asleep again, have yet another dream, and so on until morning. I probably had at least three such dream per night. I would have written them all down, but I would never have gotten any sleep.

A product of the Taos hum? Maybe. But it could have been the altitude. It could have been a product of the intense weather. It could have been because I kicked in full gear with the creative process all week and my subconscious just wanted to join me.

On a practical note, when cleaning my glasses, I forgot my strength and twisted the frame, which threatened to just break for the first half of the week and then finally did on Wednesday. So I spent the last three days having to hold my glasses to face so I could read.

Among the topics for the week-long workshops, for those who are interested: Writing Poetry that Matters, Writing for Change (non-fiction), Writing Your Family Story, Writing a Screenplay, Mystery Writing.

The website: Taos Writers's Conference

As long as I'm in the linking mood, here is a picture of last year's fiction workshop.

The guy next to me with the up-turned baseball cap is Dan Meuller, the workshop leader both this year and last year. He wrote a book of short stories called How Animals Mate. The girl in front of me was in both last year's workshop, as was the short guy on the end. But he isn't as cute.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Taos and Back

I just got back from Taos, New Mexico this afternoon. This is my third year attending the Taos Writers' Conference and I always feel refreshed when I get back.

I drove across the desert from Mo Val to Taos. My original plan was to drive the whole distance like I did last year, but that plan changed as I drove into Arizona at about midnight and saw the thunderclouds in the distance. They were amazing to behold, but the rain they brought with them made me decide to play it safe and check into a motel in Kingman. Didn't need the extra challenge of rain coming down in the dark.

It rained off and on the whole trip and. When I arrived Friday Night, it began to rain pretty hard and kept up the whole weekend--stopping on Monday. Usually, Taos is sunny and hot, with the occasional winds or showers. But this was a constant downpour.

I took a weekend poetry workshop during which time we wrote about four poems each. Rough drafts, of course--but I felt that each had possibilities and plan on revising them this week. The workshop group met in an upstairs meeting room. Strange thing was that we had two participants out of the 12 who had major injuries that made walking up stairs difficult for them. One young lady had some kind of leg injury and used a crutch. The other injured was this poor woman who looked like she must have had some major car accident or something. She wore a neck brace, had to pad her chair with special cushions, and used a walker to get around. The hotel provided assistance for her, but I was surprised that no one offered to change meeting rooms to accommodate her.

The week-long workshop was for fiction. That focused primarily on stories we had brought with us. We spent the week reading one another's stories and critiquing them. The participants ranged from amateurs, like me, to published authors. One 72-year-old lady had written one book, her memoirs, and gotten them published. Another woman had just signed a three-book deal with a publisher and was in the process of re-writing the first one.

Didn't do much of the touristy stuff. I've already done most of that in Taos. When I wasn't meeting with my workshop, I was either reading, writing, or walking. There are lots of walking paths behind the hotel, but there are also packs of wild dogs that lurk there. One lady told me of her encounter with three dogs who weren't very friendly. So I just created a civilized trail for myself at Kit Carson Memorial Park and environs and walked that every day.

Anyway, I'll post some of the stuff once I've had a chance to revise it.

Monday, July 03, 2006

My Short Hiatus Explained

It has been difficult this summer to do many of the things that I have vowed to do because of outside stuff, some of which has been worthwhile, some of which has not. In spite of everything, I have managed to eat better, exercise almost every day, and write almost every day (mostly on this blog).

The reason I haven't written anything here for the past four days has been because I have been working on a short story and trying to get it finished in time for the writers' conference that's coming up.

I had one in the can from a while back, but decided that I should come up with something new. It started out to be very short, but, after working on it, it has grown to almost 13 pages.

I haven't written much short fiction. I didn't used to think I had any ideas. Recently, I have discovered that our memories are our ideas. We all have stories to tell.

Anyway, that's about as much writing about writing as I can do. I'll probably either post what I've got here or send it to those of you who might want to see it.