Saturday, January 31, 2015

Sending out an SOS

Just a castaway
An island lost at sea
Another lonely day
No-one here but me
More loneliness
Than any man could bear
Rescue me before I fall into despair

I'll send an sos to the world
I'll send an sos to the world
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle

A year has passed since I wrote my note
But I should have known this right from the start
Only hope can keep me together
Love can mend your life
But love can break your heart

I'll send an sos to the world
I'll send an sos to the world
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle

Walked out this morning
Don't believe what I saw
A hundred billion bottles
Washed up on the shore
Seems I'm not alone in being alone
A hundred billion castaways
Looking for a home

I'll send an sos to the world
I'll send an sos to the world
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle
                  - Sting

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sharing a sketch

My current writing class assignment is to write a sketch, 240 words or less, describing a character. We are to write an external description, with details one can get only by observing the character - there is to be no dialogue, internal thoughts, or interaction with others.

This is not truthful - it's a fantasy - but it's based on a person I actually saw in my local supermarket yesterday:

She stood by the yogurt case, basket over one arm, considering flavors. She wore a 50’s style circle-skirt, cotton sateen in a pink-and-black “Hello Kitty” print. She selected four containers of Yoplait on sale at four for $3, then continued down the aisle. As she turned, the skirt twirled out, floating above her still-shapely calves and her black patent ballet flats. Her matronly waist was cinched by a wide belt, closed with a rhinestone buckle. Her black leotard top had a modest jewel neckline, but stretched tightly over her substantial bosom.

Pausing in the cat-food aisle, one hand idly touched up her dyed garnet up-do, which sadly revealed the grey tresses at the roots. Two 12-can cases of Fancy Feast went into the basket – Elegant Medley Tuscany Collection, and Gourmet Ocean Seafood. That finished, she made her way to the liquor department, where she glanced over her shoulder cautiously before slipping a pint bottle of Popov vodka into the vast recesses of her leopard print tote. She sashayed up to the checkout stand, her confident smile marred only slightly by a touch of lipstick on her teeth.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Wild cucumber


Soon after the rains, the landscape here in the Santa Monica mountains begins to green up. One of the first winter plants to emerge is the wild cucumber, Marah macrocarpa. It springs vigorously up, stems seeking something to hoist itself up on by its coiling tendrils. The plant can climb twenty or more feet high.

Wild cucumbers have pretty, palm-shaped leaves, and white flowers that appear almost as soon as it springs from the ground. The plant is monoecious, bearing both male and female flowers on the same plant, and it can self-fertilize. The male flowers grow in clusters, while the female flowers grow singly.

The fruit is a round, prickly ball that swells up to the size of a fist, then yellows as it ripens, finally drying and splitting open to spread large seeds.

It's tendrils are fascinating, twisting like little green springs.

Here, a plant has hoisted itself up a wire fence, spangling it with white flowers like a bridal veil.

Another common name is manroot, for the plant's huge tuberous root, which makes it a remarkably drought-tolerant perennial.

Marah macrocarpa is not inedible, but it's very bitter, hence the genus name Marah, which books tell me is Hebrew for "bitter," though google-translate doesn't recognize it. Its juices and a paste made from its seeds can be used to treat pimples or other skin sores.

For me, though, wild cucumber's fresh green shoots and white flowers are a signal that spring is coming.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Tree trimmers


Perched, like bright birds, green weskits and orange hats flashing, they call and respond in high pitched staccato Spanish. Bright yellow ropes hang and loop like vine tendrils over the oak's twisting branches, and clip back to belt harnesses as, scabbards strapped to leg, the climbers straddle the tree’s limbs.

Tethered orange chainsaws dangle when idle, bar-down, like jagged plumb bobs. The men brandish long-handled pruners to lop and snip, pulling, pushing, sweeping. Another shout, and the saw growls, pulsing low then howling out in exultation. Cut green wood tweaks the nose like menthol, and a leafy branch jangles down. The tracery opens and sunlight pours in.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Sunday, January 18, 2015

White out

The Edie and Lew Wasserman Building is a sleek white glass and steel new addition to UCLA campus, a stunning architectural work by Michael Palladino of Richard Meiers' group of notable architects, a new research and patient care facility for the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA.

It took three months since my optometrist referred me to schedule an appointment, but last Tuesday I finally went in to consult with a doctor whether I have cataracts and whether they require surgery.

The building is structurally anchored by two concrete towers at its east and west end. These massive towers are spanned by six floors, open and airy with sheer glass walls facing south toward Westwood Village.

The initial impression upon entering the lobby is white and light. The building glows with light.

Upstairs, in the second floor suite of the cataract surgical unit, the examination rooms are disconcerting. White floors, white walls and ceilings, white cabinets, all the same pristine shade of white. The black-upholstered examination chair, the black and silver optical instruments seem to float in the whiteness as though unmoored in space.

When I took my contact lenses out for exams, it felt even more like I was floating in a world of white light.

The doctor is a hotshot - so renowned he has a phalanx of assistants to do the work for him. First a scrubs-wearing assistant gave me an exam. Then an associate doctor wearing a white labcoat came in, and administered a different set of tests. Only after this did I meet the doctor himself.

There seems to be a certain hierarchy among doctors - the really celebrated ones transcend the need for such conventionalities as wearing labcoats.  When my doctor entered the pure white room, he wore a tweedy sportcoat, shirt and tie, the earthy colors standing out in the whiteness.

He pronounced his diagnosis. I do indeed have cataracts. But they are not advanced, and unless they cause me impairment, he doesn't advise surgery at this point.  His assistants checked my prescription and he advised me to upgrade my lenses and glasses. "Give this a few months and see how you feel," he said. "If you really think you need surgery, just call us."

I put my contact lenses back in, and was ushered out into the bright white lobby. On the one hand, how nice that a building dedicated to human vision would celebrate brightness and illumination. On the other hand, with my eyes dilated, it was too intense, almost headache-inducing - blinding, in fact.

I found my sunglasses in my bag, to cut the glare of this magnificent edifice to vision.

Football menu

Korean-style, left, and Buffalo-style, right
Nachos and wings. Potato salad, guacamole, salsa.

Go Seahawks!

UPDATE: They  won!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Goodbye, friend, and thank you

I just learned today that Southern California journalist and Topanga's own man of letters, Al Martinez, passed away Monday.  He was 85. Al had been a columnist for the LA Times since 1985. He had also written for many other Southern California print and online publications.

I knew of Al because he wrote of Topanga Canyon, the community where he and his family had made their home since the early '70s, and where I have lived since the mid '90s. His writing made me feel a part of here.

I also knew Al because in the fall of 2012 I pulled a tab off a flyer thumbtacked to a bulletin board at Pat's Topanga Grill that said "Topanga Writers Workshops" and called the number. For a couple of months, I attended Al's Writers Workshops at his home, up the hill from my house in Topanga's "Post Office Tract" neighborhood.

The first time I attended, I realized I had another connection with Al - his wife Joanne had been a member of a book club I'd participated in sporadically a few years earlier. A smart, intelligent woman with incisive comments about the books we read, she was intriguing, yet during those years I didn't really take the time to know her well. This will teach me - and I hope it teaches those who read this - don't overlook people you encounter. You could be bypassing jewels.

Al was a wonderful guy, and very encouraging in his workshops to a novice writer like me. He gave me great feedback and strong praise for the embryonic works I submitted to him. But he didn't give specific criticism about structure or form or voice, or all those technical details I felt I needed; nor were his workshops a collaborative environment where students critiqued one another. Al followed a different kind of model, one that was not like the writing classes I'd attended at college. So, eventually, I told Al I thought I might take a break from his workshops, and check out the classes at the UCLA Extension Writing Program.

I often thought about going back, but I didn't. When I decided to apply for MFA programs, I thought about asking Al for a letter, but I also didn't. I told myself it was because it would be an imposition, since I hadn't spent that much time with him. I told myself it was because his health was fragile, which by that time, it was quite obvious that it was.

And I also felt a little ashamed at having abandoned his workshops.

And now, I feel even more ashamed. Because, when it really comes down to it, I didn't really do Al justice.

Though he didn't help me tinker with structure or form or voice or all those things that writing classes give you - what Al gave me was unconditional confirmation that I am a writer. He gave me the confidence and the motivation to go forward to do what I hope to do in the next years.

Thank you, Al, and go softly. What you gave me was the spark, the start. Who could give me more than that? I am so grateful to you.

UPDATE: Another memory of Al, from a better writer than me, Patt Morrison.  I'll have a vodka martini, straight up, with an olive, for you, Al.

Sunday, January 11, 2015


For the last couple of months, [The Man I Love] has been undergoing a challenging adventure with extraordinary grace and courage.

Tomorrow, he takes on the next chapter. My friend, my companion, my partner, I am with you all the way. 

In the rain

Malibu Pier in the rain. Who would go eat lunch at the pier in the rain? We would.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Paper nightmare

Cut paper bear artwork, Ace Hotel LA
I've been asked to temporarily take over a co-worker's task, while she works on another assignment. My co-worker is the one who signs off on requests for activity permits at our small city's beautiful beaches.

It's been just shy of a year since our organization contracted out most of the work to a permitting agency, so my colleague's job is supposed to be easier - the process is all online. We get email prompts to approve a request, and we just go into the system and click.

But the system is clunky, hard to navigate, so my colleague still uses her previous work methods to track her work.

"When a call or email request comes in," I was told when in training, "just take one of these forms and fill it out." She pulled a piece of paper from a folder and grabbed a pencil.

The paper had blanks to fill in, with things like Name, Date, Location, Contact Name, Phone Number.

Then, we refer the applicant to the contractor, who handles all the rest of the details in their online system.

I know it sounds crazy, but the online system doesn't have a calendar view, so then we take the pencil and write the exact same information in a "Week-at-a-glance" notebook calendar - this assures we won't double book activity spaces.

When the agency has  completed the permit, the system prompts me for final approval. When this happens, I have to compare the information from the online system with the calendar and the penciled-in forms to make sure they're all correct. If there are any new details, I have to update the paperwork by hand. If I have any questions, I have to consult the paperwork for client contact info - the online system doesn't store email addresses or hyperlink to a message system.

 At some later date, someone will have to enter all this information into a separate Excel spreadsheet, that will keep track of permits for each fiscal year.

So, to summarize - because we are working with an online system that:

1) doesn't maintain a calendar view
2) doesn't include hyperlinks
3) doesn't run reports

we are maintaining an entirely separate system similar to one used in 1970.

To "help" me, our office has a screener who takes the initial phone calls with requests. The calendar and file of info sheets live on her desk.  So - adding to the inefficiency - anytime a permit request needs approval, I log into the system, pull up the online info, and then get up from my desk and go down the hall to retrieve the calendar and info sheet, before I can go into the online system and click "approved."

Is this insane? What year are we in, anyway?  Why am I printing pieces of paper off my computer so that I can fill in the blanks with a pencil?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Basket of snakes

Basket of rubber snakes, Venice, CA
Sometimes life is really complicated.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Still 2014

For a few more minutes.

It has been cold in Los Angeles today. We spent a nice day out, fixed a good New Years dinner, and lit a fire in the fireplace and watched celebrations on TV.

I think Kathy Griffin was smooshing red and blue dye through Anderson Cooper's hair when [The Man I Love] took this photo of me in my chair, under a quilt, with Jack the dog slumbering doing some kind of crazy dance at my feet.

Doesn't Jack look happy? Deep within his doggie dream life!

High five!