Friday, August 30, 2013

Breaking naughty

Heisenberg decal on the car in front of me last night
[The Man I Love] and I are late-adopters - that is, we usually don't start watching a TV show until we get nagged into it. We didn't start watching either "The Sopranos" and "Mad Men" until a couple seasons in. And then we loved both shows - so we should really know better than to pass up watching something from the start (I'm looking at you, "Orange is the New Black")

All the buzz about "Breaking Bad" this summer finally got our attention. But friends who are fans insist that we should "watch the whole thing" before getting into the current season. That way, we're told, we'll appreciate the arc that the main character takes.

So we have spent the last three weeks binge-watching "Breaking Bad."

Watching the inexorable moral decline of high school chemistry teacher Walter White and his family, and the horrendous and often grotesque violence in the show would be bad enough if you only dip into that world once a week. But spending two or three hours a day there for the last three weeks is quite unsettling.

The heightened paranoia felt by the characters is contagious, making even innocent neighborhood transactions feel scary.

The popularity of the show has inspired some amazing popular culture phenomena, from increased interest in the poetry of Walt Whitman to cocktails made with blue curacao and rimmed with blue-dyed sugar. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the show is filmed on location, tourists buy fake "crystal meth" rock candy while riding guided meth-lab tours, all without a hint of irony. Micro-breweries are offering Heisenberg Dark Ale, and the Convention and Visitors' Bureau is celebrating the town's fame as the fictional center of a violent drug culture!

Now, we are only 6 episodes away from being caught up. I hope that we'll be able to watch this Sunday's new show along with everyone else.

All we need is a shaker of these and  a bag of Funyuns!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Thematic Photographic - Muted Colors

Carmi at the blog "Written, Inc." posts a photographic challenge each week at Thematic Photographic. This week, the theme is "Muted colors."

Here's a scene in muted colors. A place with a hint of fantastical decay, decrepitude. The arched and graceful vintage windows. The dappled light, the mottled plaster wall, the mauve-grey leaves of a potted plant. Muted. Romantic. Ancient.

A faded fresco, all pastel putti and pearly-flanked goddesses, reclining amid the glaucous and bosky shrubbery of an ancient glen, like a misty Tiepolo fragment.

Where are we, some charming but crumbling palazzo along a Venetian canal, imbued with history and the aura of the past?

No - it's all a stage set, a falsehood, a fabrication.

We're in a downtown Los Angeles bar; a cocktail lounge. The archaic windows are salvaged from the wrecking ball; the plaster wall is trompe l'oeil artistry; the mural is computer printed and pasted on drywall.

It's a twentieth-century office building wearing a mask of false history, a pretend atmosphere meant to provide instant neighborhood ambience for a downtown condominium renovation. In addition to the somewhat steam-punkish d├ęcor, there are flat screen monitors and a rocking DJ to draw the hipster crowds.

What do you want, anyway. Musty old muted colors? Or $3 beers for Happy Hour?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Writing, writers groups, writing classes

As I said below, I went to a conference about writers' programs. It was a free conference, presented by the UCLA Extension Writers' Program - a program that has a vested interest in attracting students to writers' classes. There were four lecture/workshop times, with six different topics to choose from each time. Each workshop was forty minutes long; each was conducted by a UCLA Extension instructor who included subtle and not-so-subtle encouragement for attendees to enroll in the program.

But it was interesting, thought provoking, and the price was right (did I mention it was free?)

Throughout my life, I've taken some creative writing courses. I took some as an undergraduate, and enjoyed them. Later, employed by a university, I took some more classes. At one, I studied with a rather celebrated author. I once joined a writers' group - that lasted about three months. About eight years ago I took an intensive, three-day writing course at UCLA Extension. I remember I really enjoyed it. But I never seem to sustain such things.

Lately, I've been looking for a way to amp up my writing, with classes or workshops. I've been looking at community college classes. Yes, I've checked the catalog at the UCLA Extension.

Last winter, I joined a writers' workshop in my local community, conducted by a celebrated senior newspaper columnist. It actually did motivate me to do some writing, but at the same time, I felt I wasn't getting much out of it. My work was praised....but I didn't really feel I got much constructive feedback. After a few weeks, I began to feel writers' block and stopped going (there were other things going on - it wasn't the workshop's fault.)

Also, the workshop took place at the leader's house, which was dusty and full of cat hair.

I tried to enroll in a community college course, but my unpredictable employment schedule made me decide to cancel.

I enrolled this month in an online Continuing Education course - it was quite inexpensive. I've just started it, and I have to say - you get what you pay for. I am not impressed with what I've seen so far. The exercises are not challenging, the instructor's feedback is cursory and superficial, and the course seems to be designed to make students buy the instructor's books.

At today's conference I visited exhibit booths for writer support groups, associations for various genres (screenwriters, science fiction, youth and womens' writing). There were also booths where local universities and colleges handed out information about their MFA Creative Writing programs. At one time in my life, I thought I might pursue that degree. Reading the brochures made me think, wonder, and contemplate what might have been.

What's your experience with writing programs? Do you know anyone who's completed an MFA? What about informal writers' groups or workshops? Do you think writing is something you can take classes for, or just DO?

School day

I'm live blogging from the Writers Faire, a conference presented by the UCLA Extension Writers program.

Dog days of summer

It's  been hot, lately. Our house has large windows and a deck facing southwest, so when it gets to be about four in the afternoon, it's unbearably hot in that part of the house, even with shades drawn. So we find the northern side of the house cooler.

The fish is Haitian oil-drum art, found in Tampa, FL

These blue plastic adirondack-style chairs were on sale at our local supermarket for $9.99! The pillows, made with sun-brella outdoor fabric, were only $6.99 at our local Big Lots. Together on our front porch, they make a pretty nice place to enjoy the cooling evening breeze and watch the woodpeckers and squirrels nest in the oak trees.

The broad arms of the chairs provide a good place to set a cool summer drink. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Thursday in the park

Pretty, pleasant Clover Park in Santa Monica on a Thursday afternoon. This is my current new work environment. Not bad, huh?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Something simple and good

We like to go to the Sunday morning farmers' market in Pacific Palisades, even though it's not as big or as fancy as the celebrated Santa Monica and Hollywood markets where the noted restaurateurs shop. This one is quirky, small, and simple - but we can still get great, flavorful fresh produce.

My SIL gave me this Ukrainian platter

Ripe, heirloom tomatoes are perfect this time of year, and so are yellow peaches. Here's a great, quick salad I made for our Sunday dinner.

Peach, green "Zebra" tomatoes, and cotija cheese salad. A basic vinaigrette of wine vinegar, grainy mustard, and just a teaspoon of honey for sweetness.

This was easy - a bed of lettuce with chunks of fruit. I chopped some fresh basil to toss with it, too. Cotija cheese is a Mexican cheese with a texture similar to feta or to ricotta salata. It's not as strongly flavored as feta, though, with a nice, mild tang. All I had in the fridge was romaine lettuce, but if I'd gone shopping I'd have used baby greens or even arugula.

The sweetness of the peaches works well with the acid of the tomatoes. Try different combinations of fruit. You can change up the color, too - yellow tomatoes might work well with white peaches! Or maybe red pluots with green tomatoes, red tomatoes with greengage plums! A cool salad is great on a hot summer evening.


Mural detail, Los Angeles Theatre
After a year of sending out job applications, I finally got that rare thing - a response. My application for a job at a nearby municipal agency earned me an invitation to take a written test.

It's a management level position in my career field. It's a step up from the position I've held for seven years. The application asked me to go into detail about my experience managing budgets and facility operations. Yesterday, I put on my nice pantsuit and drove down the 405 freeway to take the test.

Oddly, the test was strictly about supervision. We watched a video with clips of a busy customer-service office, and actors served an endless line of frustrated customers brandishing complicated paperwork. Filling in the bubbles with number two pencils, we were asked to rate the performances of these "employees."

The next section asked us to choose the best from a multiple-choice set of management actions following a made-up scenario.Disciplining, motivating, and supervising staff; also prioritizing tasks and working towards goals. We had two hours to finish - I filled in the last bubble with an hour left.

I've never taken a test on these skills, so it was illuminating for me. Most of the answers seemed, to me, to be obvious. I reviewed my work, and even with the sense of test-induced paranoia and second-guessing that comes in these situations, I didn't feel much need to change my answers.

Here's one problem that was posed - how would you answer?

"You manage a hospital unit. You have exceeded your overtime budget, and have been directed not to incur any more staff overtime for the rest of the fiscal year. It is ten minutes before a shift change, and you receive a phone call that there's been a school-bus accident, and ambulances are on the way with patients. You choose the following action:
  1. Allow the staff to go home and wait for the incoming staff to clock in
  2. Call in temporary and part-time staff
  3. Phone the ambulances and direct them to take the patients to another hospital
  4. Keep your staff on past the end of their shift to manage the crisis "
If my answer was wrong, I don't want to be right.

Side note - it makes you wonder about the dynamics of the organization - this is a leadership position to manage a $2.5 million dollar budget, and operate a complex facility serving thousands of members of the public. Yet the written test focused solely on supervising line-level employees? Maybe it's an HR policy, but I wonder why they thought this was the most important aspect of the job. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Modern Times

It's a new world out there, a new media age, the old ideas of art, commerce and sales are being transformed into what, now?

My local small-city newspaper has a story about a new art exhibit opening at a local gallery this week. The artist, a young man, is "CEO of his own art brand," the story claims. He says, "I decided I needed a way to bring all my artwork together in a brand."

Pardon me for being a curmudgeon (and would you damned kids get off my lawn???) but isn't this putting the brand before the horse, so to speak?

Don't you need to have a product of some kind before you brand it?

A recent graphic arts graduate, the artist's work consists of - and I quote the story -"him photographing women in fun situations."

He likes music and photography, having fun and the good life. Oh, and scantily clad young women. So his art celebrates that monumental and unique perspective, hoping to "inspire young people to live unbound through apparel" or "live a Southern California life style."

His show will include DJs and models and sales of apparel from his "line."

Read the story. "My art is very edgy and I hope it will be the next big thing."

No, it's not even that. Visit the guy's website. You'll see some unremarkable and utterly commonplace photos of attractive young people doing things that attractive young people do when they're partying - posing, drinking beer, wearing fashionable clothing. And scantily clad young women. Sort of like what you can see in any advertisement marketing any fashionable product, every minute of every day on every commercial outlet.

It's either the most breathtakingly cynical attempt to grift a living out of thin air - or it's a sad reflection of the utter shallowness of popular culture attempting to exploit the utter shallowness of the art world.

No, on second thought, it's both.

Modern times - ads without products.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Attack of the Giant Zucchini Monster.

There's a joke told in musician circles, about an accordion player who was driving back home from a gig, and had to stop off in a bad part of town. He'd put his ax in the back of the hatchback, and when he got back to the car, his worst fears were realized. The back window of the hatchback was broken, and when he looked inside, he realized that .... someone had put three more accordions into his car.

Just as unwanted and maligned as accordions - the joke works for bassoons, saxophones, and violas, too  - are zucchini squash, especially giant overgrown ones. Neighborhood vandals (you know who you are!) dropped one on our front porch the other night, so I decided to beat them at their own game.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Home invasion terrorism!

We're really lucky that we have a fierce watchdog to protect us.

Actually, the weird thing is that Jack NEVER barks, but this evening at about 8:45 suddenly he came to attention from his position sleeping on the living room rug, and advanced vigilantly into our entry hall, facing our closed front door.

He huffed through his nose menacingly, and then - very unusual for him - he barked, a deep warning, again and again. We wondered - what could it be? A coyote, a mountain lion in our driveway?

I got up, held his collar, and, checking to see the porch light was on, ventured to open the front door.


Someone left a giant zucchini on our porch!

A sense of the scale of this sucker. This thing is h-u-u-u-u-ge! Call Homeland Security!

Weekly Jack

Though I haven't been posting Weekly Jack posts regularly, it doesn't mean that Jack himself isn't having a good summer.

He enjoys hanging out on the deck off our living room, spending the day lounging and looking out over the garden and the neighborhood.

When the sun turns round and heats up the space, he has an umbrella to shade him, and often tucks himself beneath the wicker chairs.

It's a dog's life, for Jack.

How's your summer going?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Thematic Photographic - Downward

Carmi at the blog "Written, Inc." posts a photographic challenge each week at Thematic Photographic. This week, the theme is "Downward."
click to "embiggen"

When I think "downward" I think about movement. Here, in London's massive London Bridge Station, escalators move travelers downward into the tunnels, passageways and platforms, where the connections to the overground and underground trains interweave.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Bellinis at Brunch

Impressions of Pacific Palisades on a Sunday morning. The farmers' market sets up on Swarthmore Avenue and it's just a short block of stalls, flanked on either side by the sidewalk cafes and little boutiques that make up the central business district of this affluent little village, home to LA's elite.

Jostle among the heirloom tomatoes, the fancy baked goods, the lavender potpourri. Aging maroon-haired dowagers poke greedy toothpicks into the tupperware bins of sample peach and pluot chunks. Doddering old men, their socks drawn up over spindly calves, seamed faces golf-tanned behind dark glasses, steer two-wheeled shopping trollies through the crowds as ably and aggressively as they once, before retirement, steered talent agencies or law offices through complicated deals and schemes to build their fortunes - and you damned well better watch out if you get in their way.

At one stall, still distinguished in tee-shirt and madras shorts, a white-haired man champs his expensively tended incisors on a ripe strawberry, and waves a jaunty hand at his wife, waiting on the sidewalk with a brace of wee West Highland terriers, circling her Tory Birch shod ankles. Former chairman of the board at a museum.

A bespectacled old codger laden down with bags lips up a mouthful of sticky kernels from the brimming top of a tall bag of kettle-corn, held in a two-handed grip before him. A retired law school dean, perhaps?

Trim, Pilates-toned housewives shove massive strollers like cowcatchers through the crowds, while jerseyed and cleated seven-year olds trail behind their driven, rock-star dads who palpate the heirloom tomatoes knowingly.

A local French bistro is a prime gathering spot for these villagers, sitting beneath the sage-colored market umbrellas, dogs tied to parking meters, or inside, beneath the chalkboard advertising today's pastries. The silver-haired chef sidles through the tables holding aloft a tomato box from the market beyond. He stops, smiles and greets a seated couple.

A grandpa guides a tiny toddler to the bakery counter, barefoot in Batman pajamas. When he places the order, I'm surprised to hear the crisp tones of a European accent. He nudges me and cautions me that the zipper on my handbag, slung over my chair, is open. "You can't be too careful," he says. I'm thinking - in this crowd? If there's any place my pocket change is safe, it's here!

At one table, a lithe blonde woman in yoga wear and a panama trilby fiddles with her I-phone, ignoring the croissant before her - is she a song-writer? Lawyer? Event planner? Her face lights up as her date arrives, tee-shirted and shadow-bearded - Television producer? Real estate agent? Internet executive?

At another table, an elegant couple gossips with a botoxed blonde beauty. They're all in white linen, sunglasses concealing their eyes. The gentleman has a cashmere sweater tossed casually over his shoulders, a grey ponytail, silver turquoise rings on his fingers. The lady lifts one elegantly manicured hand, leans in and lowers her voice confidentially - "Well, she was what they called in those days a torch singer."

Sunday brunch in Pacific Palisades.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


The Jolly Oyster sells clams as well as oysters, so at the end of our visit, we brought home three pounds of manila steamers for the weekend.

We just happened to have a pound of Salvadoran-style chorizo in the freezer, so we thawed that and concocted a big ole mess of steamed clams and chorizo for our Saturday dinner.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Adventure on the half shell

San Buenaventura State Park is a broad, flat grassy expanse tucked between a curve of the 101 Freeway and the Pacific Ocean, in the city of Ventura, California, just south of the Ventura Pier. The day we visited, it was bright and sunny, with a mild breeze, and the huge RV parking lot was filled with the beasts - a schoolbus shuttle ran to the Ventura County Fair up the coast.

Even so, the sheltered grassy space where The Jolly Oyster's food trailers are set up beneath the dunes was quiet and uncrowded. A few families sat at the picnic tables, their bikes parked nearby.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Maybe it's really National Oyster WEEK!

You couldn't do better to celebrate oysters than going to The Jolly Oyster, in Ventura, CA.

More tomorrow.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Overheard in L.A.

"I'm at the honeybadger stage of my career. I just don't give a shit."  - Overheard in a Los Angeles office.

Overlead in L.A. is a funny collection of true-to-life snippets of conversation overheard and sent in by readers at the site . Go to the link and scroll down for links to other choice pearls of wisdom.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Thematic photographic - Repetitious

Carmi at the blog "Written, Inc." posts a photographic challenge each week at Thematic Photographic. This week, the theme is "Repetitious."

Carmi writes: "Life continues to be complex, so I'm compensating by selecting a really simple theme, repetitious, this week. As you can see from the photo... any simply repetitive scene will do."

I am fascinated by the new trend in cities to provide rental bikes to be picked up and dropped off as users choose. And I like the way they look, lined up against the curb. Whether it's in Paris, London, or New York, I like the idea.

So when we went to Mexico City this spring, I was thrilled to see the rental bikes there, too, in all their repetitive glory in Alameda Central Park - but with an extra feature - a papier mache calaca, or skeleton!

More bikes - in Paris!

A blurry shot in London, from the top of a bus on Bethnal Green Road.

A bike docking station in East London's Brick Lane with most of them checked out - showing how popular the bikes are!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

National Oyster Day

How could I have missed it? National Oyster Day was yesterday, August 5. In honor of the occasion, here's a cool dozen, from the great Acme Oyster Bar in New Orleans.

I've spent some happy times, sitting at the zinc bar just inside the front door, watching the skilled oyster shuckers do their thing, and sipping a cold Abita beer.

It's not too late to celebrate, though - we can eat oysters all week! Here are a few places to start, in Santa Monica

Monday, August 5, 2013

Mercado Olympic

The A-frame at the parking lot said "$2 - Pinata District Parking," and I pulled right in. The young guy in the green polo shirt wedged my little Honda into a tiny piece of real estate between a forklift and a stack of pallets, and said, "Four dollars."

"The sign at the front said two dollars," I said, and he came back, "That's fifteen minutes. Four dollars for more time."

"Ah!" I laughed. Read the fine print. I gave him a five, keep the change.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Santa Monica Noir

Palisades Park looking over the bluffs in good weather
It was good standing there on the promontory overlooking the evening sea, the fog lifting itself like gauzy veils to touch his face. There was something in it akin to flying; the sense of being lifted high above crawling earth, of being a part of the wildness of air. Something too of being closed within an unknown and strange world of mist and cloud and wind...
The unseasonably foggy weather we're experiencing now in August makes me think of Dorothy B. Hughes' 1942 noir thriller "In a Lonely Place," which is set in Santa Monica. The novel opens with the protagonist, former fighter pilot Dix Steele, standing on the bluffs of Santa Monica's Palisades Park, looking out over the fog-shrouded beach.

Green goodness

Guacamole and chips, from Rocios Mole de los Dioses in North Hollywood - the green tortilla chips are made with nopalitos, or the paddles of the prickly pear cactus. Pretty, delicious, and probably good for you, too!

Friday, August 2, 2013

August in L.A.

Cool and foggy. Can you believe it? I have to wear a sweater to walk the dog in the morning - it's AUGUST, for heavens sake.