Thursday, April 30, 2015

Our dark secrets

One of the shameful secrets of our life in Topanga has been the mess in our basement. Our basement is full of boxes that include books and papers we moved here from Seattle in 1996 and never opened, obsolete computer equipment, broken furniture, boxes of discarded children's toys, things we meant to donate to Goodwill but didn't, old paint, and panes of window glass from old windows.

We've rented a dumpster and are starting to tackle all this. It's been both alarming and embarrassing - I thumbed through a box of old photographs of my 30 years-ago self, soiled and stuck together by rat droppings. I found a stack of my old vinyl record albums from the '70s, still wrapped in bubble wrap.

The rat droppings is a theme. Our rural habitat is a very hospitable home to roof rats, also known as black rats or rattus rattus. While we've finally managed to get them out of our living spaces, they've moved right into the basement, slipping under doors and gnawing through window screens. This is going to be a dirty job.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The wheels are turning

A street message I photographed in Paris.
I've started the process of leaving my job. I met with HR yesterday, and I'm completing my retirement paperwork by this weekend. I found out what happens with my vacation hour bank (I get it all!), and whether I can keep my insurance.

I gave my supervisor a heads up - I didn't tell her my separation date because I wasn't sure exactly when it would be.

The new boss popped his head in my door and started asking me to run reports that analyze my work, and I just smiled.

It's beginning to feel real!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sweet spring

There are an awful lot of plants named Jasmine. They're all sweet-smelling and heady. In early spring, in February and March, the plant known as Jasminium officinale blooms here in Southern California. It has pinnate evergreen leaves and pretty little white star-like flowers that open from pink-tinged buds. This year, with our drought, the early Jasmine season was swift and fleeting, dried up and wilted away.

On my visit to New Orleans, my days and nights as Naomi and Louie's guest were filled with another heady jasmine scent, from a huge evergreen shrub in their back yard. This is Trachelospermum jasminoides, also known as the Confederate Jasmine, due to its tender nature, hardy only in the Southern States.

Today while walking through Santa Monica's Clover Park, I was surrounded by its familiar scent. Here it blooms as a sweet, evergreen ground cover to the trees. Sweet, sweet spring.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Snapshots from the road

My friend sound engineer Karen, left, and me
Going through the stuff in the basement, I rescued some old photos.

Here's two from around 1982. On the road, my tour, a show called "One Mo' Time", met up with "A Chorus Line" in Atlanta. My show was playing the Fox Theatre; they were playing the performing arts center downtown.

Show rigger Ty Knotts, his wife Marilyn, and, far left, carpenter John Selig
We're in the bar of the Georgian Terrace Hotel, right across the street from the Fox Theatre. This was the year I made an unfortunate hair style choice (a curly perm). I look kinda drunk, I think.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Feeling a little crabby

Alaskan king crab legs at King's Fish House in Calabasas. Sure were sweet!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Grey grey day

Is June Gloom coming early this year?

It's grey outside, and chilly.

Jack doesn't mind it, though; he likes lounging on the back deck in almost any weather.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Blue too

Jacarandas are in bloom in West Los Angeles. Here they are in Santa Monica's Clover Park.

We have a jacaranda tree at home in Topanga, some 1200 feet higher in elevation. Our tree doesn't even have bud spikes yet. It usually blooms in June, although this year has been weird with the drought.

Jacarandas are South American natives trees, although their beauty has inspired gardeners and city planners all around the world to import them. Some cities, such as Pretoria in South Africa and Ipswich in Australia, are known for their avenues lined with jacaranda trees. Here in the US, southern cities like Tampa, Florida are graced with them. San Diego's Balboa Park is also full of these beautiful trees.

San Diego's trees are credited to horticulturalist and landscape architect Kate O. Sessions, who imported them for Balboa Park, and because of her they have become popular throughout Southern California.

Beautiful as they are, jacarandas are  thought by some people to be nuisance trees because their blooms drop and make a mess on the ground. They fall so thickly they can be a slip hazard on sidewalks.

But who could complain about something so beautiful? This hummingbird appreciates the jacarandas!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

More than a sandwich

A po'boy is more than just a sandwich. The New Orleans po'boy sandwich got its start, the story goes, in 1929 when a French Quarter lunch joint run by two former streetcar conductors gave out free food to striking streetcar workers on the picket line. Clovis and Benny Martin asked a local baker to make 40" long loaves of French bread, so that that four sandwiches could be made from each loaf without wasting any bread. Whenever they saw a striker coming in for a sandwich, the staff would say, "Here comes another poor boy!"

What makes a New Orleans po'boy different from, say, a Philadelphia hoagie or a New England grinder is the bread - a long, white French loaf with a crackly crust and a light and airy inner crumb.

You can argue where the best po'boys are made, and when you do, it's almost certain the name of Parkway Bakery and Tavern will come up.

This Mid City joint has won awards for its sandwiches. When I stepped inside on a Friday afternoon, the bar-room was already full, the bar shoulder-to-shoulder with customers. I snagged a seat and ordered an Abita Amber beer and a fried catfish po'boy.

"Dressed?" asked the bartender, which means did I want it with mayonnaise, lettuce, pickles and tomato?

Yes indeed, fully dressed.

There are many different fillings for a po'boy, but popular ones are fried seafood like shrimp, catfish or oysters, or soft-shell crab. Roast beef and gravy is also popular, served with "debris" or the crusty bits of meat that end up in the roasting pan. A po'boy can be cheap, with luncheon meat, or it can be exotic, with alligator sausage or fried chicken livers.

With the influx of Vietnamese immigrants in the '70s, sandwich cultural fusion created a mash-up between the po'boy and the banh mi, giving rise to Vietnamese po'boys.

Whatever you call it, it's good eating.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


I had to share a photo I took last Wednesday as I flew into Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

The skies had been clear all the way from Los Angeles to east Texas, but just after we flew over Houston, clouds began to appear between my window and the ground, growing thicker the closer we got to New Orleans.

We flew over Lake Pontchartrain, then banked around and flew in a sweeping curve over the city and across the Mississippi River. Another turn, to approach the runway from the south.

We circled as we descended, and I caught this view of tankers on the river, and of the dark storm clouds approaching from the northwest.

Twenty minutes after landing, I was standing in front of the rental car counter, when the skies outside opened up like a fire-hose had been turned on, and the wind dashed the rain against the windows.

Good timing.

Monday, April 20, 2015

His own private railroad

Marigny cottage
Saturday was Record Store Day, and in the run-up to its upcoming release date, Louie is promoting his CD, Elevation 13: Louie Ludwig with the Moss Pickers,  at local record stores. Naomi and I were deciding what to do - it was open day at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, and I wanted to sight-see.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


Click to "embiggen"
Wall on Frenchmen Street, New Orleans, LA.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Night on St. Claude

It's Friday night, and we're out on St.Claude in the Marigny, right across the neutral ground from the Hi Ho Lounge. The kid stops us as we're putting up posters on a plywood construction wall.  I'm taking photos of the posters already there, a series protesting violence to women, and the kid asks if those are ours.

He's tall and skinny, with dreadlocks arraying around his head like a black sun. He's wearing a blue shirt with a bright green marijuana leaf blazened over his heart.

"No," we say, "we're just putting these up," and my friend Louie begins to tell him about his music.

"I thought maybe you were photographers," says the kid. "I'm a photographer."

We get to talking and someone says, "There's a lot to shoot here in this town," and the kid says dismissively, "Naw, it's getting boring here. I'm going other places. I'm going out to LA," he says. "I want to find other things to take."

Naomi steps forward. "You ought to go to Birmingham, Alabama. I know it sounds weird, but there's this historic furnace there." I'm looking at her from outside myself and think this young black kid is going to turn away from this older white lady, grey hair on top of her head and glasses with beaded strings swagged from the temples to around her neck, but no. This is New Orleans, and you can be anybody. The kid gives her his rapt attention as she tells him about the shapes and colors and textures of the Sloss Furnace and how she took photos there until her memory card filled up.

And then he tells us about what he's doing, a project of 56 days' worth of photos, shot everyday in Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, other places. "And then I'm picking the best and putting them up, 56 Dayz, it's called, dayz with a z."

And I know, watching them, that if it had been just me there, we would have said our polite and good-natured hellos and moved on. But it was Naomi, and she can reach out and totally engage another artist, leading him to open up and share his art, enthusiasm, and hopes with strangers.

Before we part and go on to the club, we've typed our email addresses into his phone.

TJ, or Ti Young 'un, he's called, and he's a young photographer. In 56 days he'll have something for the world to see.

My friend Naomi made these reproduction street tiles here on St. Claude Avenue.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Where I'm staying

Here's a look at the neighborhood where I'm staying this weekend.

Thanks to friends Naomi and Louie for their welcoming hospitality.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Decatur Street sights

Today on Decatur Street in the French Quarter.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


I just received a list of classes for my first semester, and instructions how to sign up. Students are to choose their top five choices, and send their list back to the department director so he can determine how to fairly sign people up.  I think of those five choices, students end up in three classes.

One class, a workshop in my genre, non-fiction, is a given. But there are so many other choices! There are literature classes ranging from Chaucer to Milton to the Modern Novel. This is exciting!

But so hard to decide!

I'm mindful of mistakes I made as an undergraduate, not paying attention to the schedule I was setting for myself. So I'm thinking about that carefully.

I don't want to give myself too heavy a load at first. I have to take the workshop - but should I also take a workshop in another genre? Would that be too much writing? Or would a literature course, with readings and papers to write, be even more demanding?

The workshop takes place once a week in the evening.  There's a class on Nature Writing that sounds really interesting, but it takes place the same day, mid-morning. Since I don't know where I'm living yet, I am wondering whether this would be wise. Will I want to hang around campus all day between classes? Or travel back and forth twice?

On the other hand, maybe it would be nice to cluster all my classes on the same day, leaving the rest of the week free.

Another thing to consider is getting some fundamentals under my belt. I have zero knowledge of literary theory or pedagogy - and frankly, I don't much care about them. Should I just get those out of the way at the beginning? Or wait until I'm more accustomed to scholarly life?

So far, the classes on my wish list include:

1)  Literature class (Nature writing) that meets Tuesday/Thursday from 9:30 am - 10:45 am
2)  Writing workshop in my genre (mandatory), Tuesday 6:00 pm - 8:45 pm
3)  Class that analyzes craft in fiction, Wednesday, 6:00pm - 8:45 pm
4)  Literary Theory, Wednesday, 4:30 pm - 7:15 pm (obviously, if I take this I can't also take the craft class)
5)  Non-fiction literature, online

What do you think?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Meet the new boss

Our division at work has been without a permanent boss for more than a year. Back in February of 2014, our then-boss was promoted, and a search was begun for her replacement.

During the search, an interim manager from outside was brought in. Though she was a nice lady, the interim boss had been given the message early on that she was not in the running for the permanent position. It's a testimony to her grace and professionalism that she led the division with a positive attitude until her term expired.

The search was not successful, so upper management began a new search. By that time, our interim manager got a permanent job somewhere else. We all wished her well when she left.

They appointed someone from within to serve as the next interim manager.

All this is background for the fact that early this month, our newly-hired permanent manager, B., came on duty. He's had a busy couple of weeks, with orientation and everything, and he has confessed that he's feeling a bit of information overload.

Today was my first one-on-one meeting with him. I gave him enough background to understand my duties, and also gave him a background on my experience here. I admitted that my career goal is retirement, though I didn't yet announce my plans.

He seems like a good guy - a little eager, energetic, a kind of a go-getter. He's already thinking of changes to the organization, questioning how we do things here. I think he'll probably need some adjustment to the glacial pace at which our particular bureaucracy operates.

I had an odd feeling, talking to him. In other circumstances, I might have been anxious about the potential changes he might make to my job; I might feel worried. But instead I just felt care slipping away from me.

Later this afternoon, I had talks with two senior colleagues of mine. They will be working more closely with the new boss, and will need to adjust to changes. Their moods seemed to mingle optimism and wariness in turn.

It was different for me, and I feel sorry it's not the right time to tell them. Six months from now, I won't be here. Whatever happens to our office is of no consequence to me.

It's a pretty liberating feeling.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


Today was an intense spring cleaning day, as we hit the basement to pull out unwanted stuff.  We went through Our Son's room, getting rid of some stuff and packing stuff he wants to sift through into a box. I'd packed up some stuff to donate to Goodwill, and some books to donate to our local library, and we wrestled them into the car and dropped them off.

The living room, kitchen and master bedroom are fast becoming "uncluttered" and it feels really good!

We've dismantled an old basketball hoop that has been in our driveway for the last ten years. That was a helluva good accomplishment!

We put some stuff up on our street with a sign that says "Free Stuff!" and much of it has already disappeared. We also filled our brown waste bin, and tossed some things in a dumpster our neighbors have allowed us to use. Our recycling bin is full up; so is our yard waste container.

We're still not organized enough to hire our own dumpster and hire some guys to help us throw stuff away, but we're getting there.

The downside? We are exhausted. We're reclining on couches sipping white wine and occasionally sighing, "Oh, man!" I've popped two ibuprofen to ease the aches in my poor knees and back.  I'm pretty sure I'm going to sleep well tonight.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Familiar ritual

Saturday lunch at Father's Office on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica has become a familiar ritual for us.

Good beer, good wine and the best damned burger in town. The clientele ranges from yoga-clad young professionals to frat boys to grey-grizzled men in their sixties, who are probably high-powered executives of some kind. 

There's no table service - you have to order everything at the bar. Seating is first-come, first-served. If you get there just after noon on a Saturday, you can grab a table no problem.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Week's end

Going into the weekend. Our de-cluttering and spring cleaning campaign continues. There's more to do!

And I'm trying to decide whether to buy a new pair of walking shoes. I have too many shoes already, but it always seems like I don't ever have the RIGHT shoes.

I want some good shoes for urban walking. I tried on some this evening, and they felt pretty good, but the only colors they came in were bright purple and green, and bright pink. I honestly couldn't see myself wearing them. Everyone's wearing day-glo colored shoes these days - what do you think? Should I do it?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Got my suitcase in my hand

Lucky Dog cart!

This time I'm walkin' to New Orleans
I'm walkin' to New Orleans
I'm going to need two pair of shoes
When I get through walkin' me blues
When I get back to New Orleans

I've got my suitcase in my hand
Now, ain't that a shame
I'm leavin' here today
Yes, I'm goin' back home to stay
Yes, I'm walkin' to New Orleans

I've got no time for talkin'
I've got to keep on walkin'
New Orleans is my home
That's the reason why I'm goin'
Yes, I'm walkin' to New Orleans
        - Bobby Charles, written for Antoine "Fats" Domino, Jr.

No, I'm not walking - but I'm going to visit the city next week. I'll be visiting the University, attending a fiction reading, meeting some internet friends in person, and looking at apartments.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015


I'm reading a great article by Francisca Mari called "The Assistant Economy," all about the growing field of the occupation of personal assistant.

We're not talking secretary or executive administrative assistant. Those are jobs that, while often involve a lot of hand-holding and personal connection, are still defined as work that benefits the employing organization, not the individual. A person may be the executive administrative assistant to the CEO of Big Business, Inc., but at the end of the day, that person works for Big Business, Inc., not the CEO.

The jobs that are the topic of the article are all about performing personal tasks for an individual employer. We often think of celebrities, movies stars or performers as people who hire personal assistants, but according to the article, many important and self-important people hire personal assistants, including authors, politicians, TV personalities, and - yes - CEOs of Big Business, Inc. even hire personal assistants. To perform tasks that are intimate, sometimes trivial, and often demeaning.

Personal assistants provide daily support and companionship, and nurture their hard-working bosses. They do everything from buying gifts for their bosses' families, to procuring the latest food craving. They are on-call all the time. They may even fake fan-mail for their bosses - providing a kind of bought-and-paid-for affirmation.

Sometimes the money is pretty good. You might think that being paid to be in the presence of an important and creative person, being close-up to genius, would be great, even if you're only there to shine the boss's shoes or make sure he doesn't run out of his favorite flavor of Altoids. Yet personal assistants are not viewed as equals. They are treated like servants, and often become the stand-in proxy for their boss's frustration and anger.

Once upon a time, I worked as an administrative assistant for a woman who was leading a fundraising effort for a performing arts theatre. Though our employer was an educational institution, and my job was a classified position, what my boss really wanted was a personal assistant. We were a two-person office, just her and me, and for six months I spent my time hand-writing invitations for her, buying her newspaper, and serving coffee and cookies when she held meetings.

I am not suited for such work. The final straw was when, after a day with just the two of us in the office, she set her used coffee cup on my desk as she pulled on her coat to leave for the day. She expected me to wash it, so it would be clean for her in the morning. I quit shortly after.

Some people are fine with this kind of work; or maybe some bosses are less imperious. I have a friend who has been a personal assistant to a certain movie star for many years. She's a bright and assertive person, certainly not someone who'd put up with being treated like a servant.

Mari's article also discusses the rising trend of books written about personal assistants - both roman-a-clef novels and tell-all non-fiction exposés. Since many people who become personal assistants are creative people in their own right, this makes sense.

Other assistants may aspire to take on their boss's role in the future. Movie producer Scott Rudin - who is known to have gone through over 200 assistants in five years - started out as personal assistant to a Broadway producer.

What do you think? Could you work as a personal assistant?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Rainy and cold

California's historic drought notwithstanding, we experienced a sudden storm this afternoon, just when my evening commute started.

Big, quarter-sized drops of rain plopped down onto my windshield, and then a torrent, sheeting down the glass. Traffic was a nightmare. I was stopped at one intersection, trying to turn left, through a cycle of two lights before I gave up and changed directions.

Home now, it's a cold night. I gave Jack a quick walk and then came inside to batten down the hatches. 

How's spring treating you?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Down the hall from the men's room

My office is down the hall from the area in our building where the restrooms and kitchenette reside. I've written about this before, how I get to experience everyone's food smells. For the most part, it's nice, because everyone says hello or stops to chat on their way to grab a coffee or a snack.

One of the other things I get to experience is an unfortunate familiarity with everyone's bathroom habits.

The men's room is first in line down the hall, and it has a very loud exhaust fan. It's impossible to ignore it when someone strides past my door, opens and closes the bathroom door, lets the seat fall with a clunk, and turns on the exhaust fan. It's impossible not to be aware of what's taking place in there.

When both the restrooms' fans are going at the same time, it sounds from my office like the building is a propeller-driven plane, ready to take off.  Fortunately the fans are not only loud, but effective at their intended purpose.

I am thankful I have an office with a door to close.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

By the light of the silvery moon

Last night and for the next three nights, our Southern California beaches will see a unique phenomenon - the grunion run.

Grunion are small silvery fish that would otherwise be invisible if not for their reproductive habits. Between the months of March and September, during high tide of the full or new moon, the grunion swim up on the sandy beach to spawn by the thousands.

It's hard to predict what beach they'll choose each time, but generally they prefer wide sandy beaches that are secluded and dark. So, without much of a plan, last night we drove down to Castle Rock beach, just off Pacific Coast Highway on our morning commute. With a couple of warm blankets, we huddled on the sand, watching the waves beneath the full moon.

Alas, after a prolonged wait, no grunion graced our beach.

But we enjoyed the night air, and the light of the full moon on the waves.

Three more nights of this cycle's grunion run - perhaps I'll try again!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Blue skies

Phacelia grandiflora is a native wildflower of the coastal chaparral habitat of the Santa Monica Mountains.

This specimen is growing on a sheer dirt cliff on our road. It makes me happy to drive by and see that flash of blue. Today I walked to where it grows so I could take photos.

Friday, April 3, 2015

A Thing a Day

Another accomplishment in my campaign to do A Thing a Day to spring clean and downsize our home.

I cleaned out the kitchen junk drawers!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A lot to do

Over the last couple of weeks, the impact of my acceptance to graduate school has been slowly sinking in. There's an awful lot to do between now and the start of classes in August.

Some of it is super-important and life-changing - I will be retiring from my job, and getting my pension from the State of California. I need to find a place to live, figure out what to take with me, figure out how to get it there.

Other things seem silly and trivial -

I have to get immunization shots, as any other entering student would, even at my age.

Will I take the bus to class or drive my car?

Will I have to change my phone service?

At work, I'm processing paperwork for projects that will take place well after I'm gone. I haven't put in notice yet, not until I iron out the details of retirement dates. But each time I do something, I'm caught up short and think - holy crap, I won't even be here then!

Other times, when doing ordinary things like picking up prescriptions or gassing up my car, I think wait, where will I do this six months from now?  Or I drive by the Pacific Ocean and think, this won't be part of my day anymore.

So many things in my life will change. I'm excited, and eager for it to start, but sometimes it feels overwhelming.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Before it goes away

Spring is fleeting here in Southern California, before the heat comes on. And it's even more fleeting in a drought year.

Here is our nearby hillside, bright with blooming wild mustard, in early March.

Wild mustard is an invasive weed, but during the short time it blooms, it can color our hillsides beautifully. Now, a month after I took these photos, it's going to seed and going brown and dry. Soon it will be gone, and our hills will take on a more tawny tone.