Sunday, August 30, 2009

My Most Excellent Adventure

I'm pretty young, I'll admit: only been an adult for a little over 24 hours. I think I've learned a lot in that time, but with a line of ancestors stretching back twenty-five million years, we sort of hit the deck running, intellectually speaking. That's a lot of know-how passed down, and I believe the 500 brothers and sisters are maybe the best class this week, and not just because we're related. A few have gone a mile or more and seen some things.
Maybe our keeness developed during that long dream-time as a pupa; it was a much needed rest, at least, after the endless, ravenous eating we did as larvae. I'm not going to use the word "maggots;" that's just disgusting. And why are body parts so badly named, too? "Proboscis" for mouth, for example. And a dull word like "wing" for that superior, strong, light structure that is an apotheosis of art and mechanics. There's a lot more I don't understand although I've been a good student, using my 16,000-facet (yeah, that's right: the rest of you species might as well be bats!) eyes to the fullest.
One thing that's puzzling me is the girls. They look and smell and act different, but it's a puzzlement as the old song goes (I listen well, too). My homies who are a little older say that when our hatching is mature in another 45 hours, we'll figure it out. Looks interesting. But I've got a bigger story to tell right now; I can hardly believe what just happened over the last hour! If life holds adventures this big, I can't wait to get on with it. Simply put, I've gone farther than anyone maybe ever has!
You don't learn much if you're not curious, right? Coming down from an upland (we call it a mesa, here), a swirling breeze brought a new, complex smell: rotting plants, salt, stale heat...I had nothing better to do than investigate, so toward the blue horizon winged this daring pilot.
When I cleared the cliff, my prob...mouth was wide open -- didn't even know what I was looking at! No land or trees, just a blue-gray plain below a bright sky with torn wisps of cloud. I hovered around, trying to figure this out and keeping eyes out for birds, when I felt a tremor in the air. Before I could react and dive low to shelter, the wind cranked up, lifted and tumbled me around, then straight up, then forward, then up in a spiral. Bouncing off the cliff and taking me with it, the sudden blast carried me high over what now looked and smelled like the biggest pond ever. My wings were whirring at top speed to get some control over this alarming situation and after levelling out, I saw land coming up again, but just a small patch, out in the great pond by itself. An idle thought flashed by: wished I'd flown into a library this morning and studied a little local geography. The ancestral memory let me down on this one.
I felt the wind slow down as the little piece of land loomed larger, and before I had a chance to be frightened about slamming into the sharp, baked rock, I regained control and with feet extended in textbook landing position, just drifted into a nice spot next to a crevice filled with dark shadow.
I'm just going to relax here in the sun for a few seconds, since the chilly air above the great pond affected my reflexes and fogged the old noggin (making my well-executed landing even more awesome!). Boy, will this be one great story to tell when I get back to the 'hood -- those older guys won't have anything on me! I'll just pick up another one of those winds once I figure out the pattern.
Got to do some exploring here first: I feel like I'm going to burst with curiosity! Wait a minute -- what's this? Can't move my feet; they're just stuck! I'm not too cold now, so that can't be it...whatever I'm on just vibrated, and not like a leaf. Uh-oh, this can't be good. Something moving out of the crevice toward me, that's what I'm feeling. Covered with hairs like me but 'way too big for a's raising its front legs! I know what it....ouch! aargh...aaahhh...

Friday, August 21, 2009

I Want to Believe

Not really, but I do like Agent Mulder's catchphrase. I wonder about how people "believe things that just ain't so," as Will Rogers put it. The current clash of ignorant armies in the night (another great phrase) about our health care non-system came to mind as I was reading Willa Cather's 1915 book, The Song of the Lark. One character says, "Facts really don't count for much, do they? It's all in the way people feel..." The psychology of this is well analyzed in a new book by Chip and Dan Heath, Made to Stick, about how to make ideas "stick" -- and it's not about rattling off a factual, logical argument. Those aligned on the Right have been extremely good at this since Roger Ailes (now head of Fox Noise, dontcha know?) crafted Nixon's successful 1968 counter-revolution with the simple image -- and message -- of the hardhat guy. Reagan's speechwriters' quips, "tear down this wall," "get government off your backs," and "there you go again" sealed the deal in the minds of millions. No substance, but sticky as Superglue. The current President's team should have kept in front of their eyes the half-dozen basic principles of advertising, propaganda, persuasion, or whatever you want to call it: a few templates that when used are sure to affect the way people think. Just compare the effectiveness of a page of statistics on Africa's problems to a Save the Children ad with a face and a name. That the Administration has the facts and the truth is irrelevant to success in convincing the mass public.
They also have to understand the conservative and fearful nature of the masses and how to work around it (they don't think and analyze, they believe). Although written a century ago, the thoughts of the Thea, the protagonist in Song of the Lark, are still true today: "She had seen it when she was at home [a small town in Nebraska, 1880's] last summer -- the hostility of comfortable, self-satisfied people toward any serious effort."
The emotional reaction -- and that is what counts -- to the candidacies of Andrew Jackson, Harding and Reagan was that they looked like presidents, and in the case of the latter two, that was all there was but it was enough. And the selling of Dubya, who looked and sounded no more impressive than Barney Fife -- well, that was just a brilliant job.
The ancient Greek and Roman orators knew how to bring in an audience. The 20th century masters of propaganda and advertising knew it. I really wish I could hand our hapless leaders these tools to use, because the stakes are high.

Friday, August 14, 2009


What does this old 1959 Ford Ranchero pickup have to do with salsa??
My new neighbors for the month, Eric and Chris next door, very nice folks and native Californians, took me and a picnic along to the lawn of the Mission for a music and dance performance last week. Between the rose garden and the venerable mission, with a full moon rising...that was quite enough for a fine evening, but Chris' cold bean salad was right up there. I asked what the secret ingredient was, since there obviously was one, and she said, salsa. When Ron, Claire and I went to Los Arroyos Mexican restaurant in town the night before they left on their long trip, we brought back a small container of one of their salsas, and was I glad we did. The whole thing disappeared the next day. Yum.
I thought that life as a whole is more vibrant when you enjoy the little "containers" of added flavor you encounter:
A gray-haired lady drove into a parking space this morning in a well-rusted 1959 Ranchero, looking completely original and still running well. She may have bought it new, and she's seemingly still running well too. I'll bet she picks up hay for a horse and big bags of feed for a few goats, and sighs over all the fence maintenance that's building up.
Parked nearby was a pristine early 70s VW Beetle, with gleaming red upholstery and a sunroof. Does that bring back memories?
A sprig of alyssum blooming in a seam between curb and sidewalk in a busy commercial area. (All the locally-owned, regional or national stores, cafes and restaurants are built in modern faux Spanish style, which a purist would object to, but it's so much easier on the eyes and the spirit than the air-conditioned nightmare of postwar cheapo box construction.) On the stone patio beside the house here, a tiny wisp of a plant with about two leaves, and one blue flower the size of this "o." The tidy round tree near a hidden creek, bejewelled with purple plums, all the same size and looking perfectly many who knows how long it would take to pick them?
An apple, an orange, an apricot picked from the trees in the back yard. Strawberries in the ground a few dozen yards from where they're sold at Lane Farms Market (the way it looks inside the breezy wood building with a gravel parking lot, it could be 1940).
It's good to see people of all ages so trim and fit (we first marvelled at this in San Diego, years ago). On the nearby bike trail, the colorful and helmeted riders speed by on sophisticated many-geared machines with tires about the circumference of spaghetti, and near the ocean and on campus the big-tired no-geared beach cruisers loaf along. Along with skateboards, they're about the only cheap, no-maintenance transportation available, although the bus system here actually works.
And there's something about flowers blooming all year 'round that gentles the soul, too.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


What if the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld team had been in charge during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis?
You wouldn't be here to wonder about it, most likely.


New oxymorons:
a sound investment
a conservative plan for the future


How are a Zen monk and a loaded pizza alike?
They're both one with everything.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Down With Progress!

When men are lonely and huddle as children
They mistake the prattle of fools
For the voice of the sage, so desperate
Is their search!

(graffiti found in a Stanyan St., S.F., doughnut shop)

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Old Spanish Days, or Fiesta for short, is on this week as it has been after the earthquake and rebuilding of 1925. Yesterday I went to El Mercado del Norte, one of two daytime events, with the usual carnival rides (the kids were having a great time on the bungee jump!), Mexican food stands, and dancers on stage. The gloriously colorful (and well-made) costumes and dances of several Mexican states went around first, from tiny beginners to adults (there are about six dance clubs/studios dedicated to this art here; many begin as preschoolers and continue into their forties). Next were more polished groups presenting flamenco (with live musicians) and rhumba. Chomping on a churro, this anglo had a great time.
Ron and Claire's extra-nice neighbors, Eric and Chris, took their sons and me to the big official opening event on the lawn between the rose garden and the Mission (the Queen of the 18th-century California missions, the only one still staffed by Franciscans). We were pretty far from the stage set up in front of the facade with the magnificent twin bell towers, but it was splashed with colorful light to highlight the dancers and musicians, and the sound was perfect, so with a full moon behind us it was a magic evening. The above lady in the all-white flamenco dress is this year's Spirit of Fiesta, Daniela Zermeno. I wish I could have found and posted the picture that was on the front page of the paper today, with her twirling a gigantic white shawl. If I lived here, I'd have a caballero's outfit, for sure. You know, the Zorro look!
At 7 a.m. this morning, my new bud Eric showed me how to get on the trail around the Mesa that the horse riders use (step CAREFULLY), a blissfully serene 5-mile amble which on one part runs right along the cliff edge overlooking the ocean. We found lots of wild fennel; the tiny new leaves taste exactly like black licorice. Pelicans were diving, precisely, to ruin some fish's day, but we didn't see any dolphins or whales, or any more than two other humans. Reading the paper after returning, I learn that great white sharks are now plentiful in the Channel, and are nipping at sea lions and harbor seals. Good thing the water's too cold to go out in!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Grazing in a New Field

The idea of owning a second home or, horrors, a time-share (a big trend for a lot of people until 2008) fills me with fear and loathing (thanks, Hunter S.), and going to a completely new place has its anxieties too (because you learn how to visit a place by doing it badly the first time and well when you return, educated). Returning to the familiar new is like the last bowl of porridge or Little Bear's bed. It's the nuances you explore, the big things having been figured out. I get an unnaturally large charge out of finding those hidden free parking spaces in a big city or tourist trap -- let the first timers walk 3 miles across the steaming hot parking lot at Disney World!
A lot of quality reading material streams into Ron and Claire's home here in California, and since I don't have, for a month, the usual responsibilities eating up time that could be more pleasantly wasted, I roll around in the luxury of having the Sunday NY Times like a feline in catnip.
The Magazine and Book Review by themselves would be enough to take to a desert isle (along with some cold white wine, mojitos, or microbrews, of course).
As Ms. Cortez mentioned on Rus' FB page, you can get any adult libation anywhere anytime around here (liquor in the drug store? sure!). And despite recent business closings, with a little under 500 restaurants to choose from, and dozens of music performances every day, there's a lot of 'splorin to do. But just knowing it's all there (like the opera in NYC) is enough most days, because the easy feeling of freedom -- not being constricted and constrained and deprived for no good reason -- is the best thing about visiting any sunny vacation area near lake or ocean.
Back to the Times, though: just in the Sunday edition there so many bits that catch the eye like a jewel in the sand. Such a contrast to the whiny conservative local paper, or the T-D, or our local fishwrapper which tries hard, but is all emphemera with no pretension towards writing at all.
Well worth spending 20 minutes reading: an article about a photographer who documented people who have opted out of conventional American life, all over the South --- hermits, hobos, wanderers: Alec Soth entitled his work "Black Line of the Woods," taken from Georgia writer Flannery O'Connor who noted the significance of the treeline behind any house and yard, where the rules of civilization start to disappear, of which he says, "She's talking about where culture ends. I wanted this work to be about the longing to escape." The reviewer has captured the meaning of a book you never heard of, and made you want to find it.
Another arresting insight -- a character in another new book reviewed says: "...but everything in New York is built upon another thing, nothing is entirely by itself, each thing as strange as the last, and connected." The theme of life and history distilled in one sentence. Did any teacher or textbook ever give you a laser beam of illumination like that?
In Travel, you learn that 20% of the modern Irish are non-drinkers, and that a good pub has craic, which in Gaelic means the whole concept of friends, fun and banter (like the Taproom on Robinson St.). The English "fellowship" pales by comparison; the French "bonhomie" being a little better, but this one is a keeper.
On another page, you learn that if you lick the underside of a banana slug, your tongue will go numb. Back before kids "numbed their senses by staying cooped up inside," it seems most people in coastal Oregon knew that...
Feeling pretty ignorant after all this new and precise knowledge, I eagerly dove into an op/ed piece on a topic I'd been thinking about: the business model of keeping your customers by getting them hooked. The insanely profitable worldwide success of advertising and cigarettes will morph into food products engineered for addiction. Products are "spiked" to "drive cravings and create repeat purchasers." "In one study, 40 of 43 rats preferred sugar to cocaine after trying both." High-calorie, fatty and sugary "foods" are proving to be "addictive as well as destructive." I've seen in the checkout at the grocery store back home carts full of nothing but snacks and sodas and paper products...
It's too beautiful outside to keep sitting here or reading more, so since I need one thing from the store today, I'm off on foot to get it. You can't 'splore in a car; you miss too much.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Zombie Days

After a harrowing three-leg flight, I arrived much the worse for wear, and am only now starting to feel normal. The sun is slow breaking through the overcast today, which is just fine; all this Saturday morning it has been quiet, with no one stirring except for the hummingbirds and the cheeky gray-headed jays.
I won't detail the horrors of cattlecars-in-the-air, since you've all been there too, except to note that in the Minneapolis airport I was surprised to discover how fast and far I can still run.
While Ron and Claire were busy packing for their trip to Asia and doing the thousand other things that had to be wrapped up, I just sat outside like a zombie, not only to stay out of their way, but because that's all I was up to doing. The gentle weather has been healing, and I'll never fail to be amazed at the wonderful food growing in the yard: apples, apricots, tomatoes and oranges. The hibiscus and roses aren't edible, but feed the spirit.
Yesterday morning I was pumped up to take that lovely 2 1/2 mile round-trip walk to Java Station, and check on any changes during the past year, before diving into that lovely sixteen ounces of Kona coffee. But, aaargh! -- my favorite yellow-painted wood tables outside are GONE, an action taken by the new owners. The endless wait to get into the unisex restroom remains the same.
Two houses that had been for sale for over a year had the signs down, but may not have sold. The six lovely new Spanish-style houses at the very end of Vieja Rd., two blocks away from Ron's, are all STILL for sale over a year after they were finished (there are currently over 2,000 homes on the market in L.A., Ventura and Santa Barbara counties priced at $2 million or more. That's just unreal). Our favorite place, on the end of the spur and backing up to the vast and undeveloped Mesa bordering the ocean, has been reduced from $2 mil to $1.8 mil -- when Nancy comes out, we have to hop on that deal!
Well, probably not.
Saw a sign on the back of a truck yesterday: Sodem & Gromora Landscaping.
I wish I could transport (NOT by plane) all you out here to walk along Old Vieja Road, which shows as a regular route on the map, but is anything but. Half is paved, with beautiful, peaceful houses and estates, but then it ends at a metal barricade, with a low section for horse riders to pass over. From then on it's dirt, bordered by dozens of huge eucalyptus trees, exuding that unmistakable Vicks VapORub odor. Their smooth trunks are swirled with subtle colors that have no names and would drive someone who's tripping right over the edge (disclaimer: this blog does not advocate altered states of consciousness, in public at least). Great mounds of some species of shrub are covered with red flowers whose petals look and feel just like tissue paper. Hundreds of horseshoe impressions indent the dusty trail, and of course you have large steaming mounds of horse product to step around. Astonishingly rural scenes in the midst of uber-class surburbia: not only many horses, but chickens, ducks and goats while Audis are parked in driveways. You know the Corollas belong to the maids.
Weird Scene on De La Vina Street: I went to a free music event held in the performance space next to Jensen's Guitar & Music last night, billed as "Noise/Experimental/?" The first group, Soul Manure, "played" a fairly long piece with an old Japanese movie projected on the back curtain, a TV on showing skateboarding, and instrumentation of violin, guitar, electric bass played with a bow, and keyboard. Second, a soloist from L.A. sat on the floor in the dark with one blue light, playing long sustained notes on an old Fender, with an iPod providing whooshing sea sounds and then what must have been a hurricane in progress. He said he was on tour for 2 1/2 weeks, so there must be an audience here for this digital-age Warhol happening stuff. Who knew?
I bought a cool 45-watt used amp at Jensen's, same brand I have at home, but this one has a fuzz-type effect on one channel. I was lucky it was a good buy, but boy are things more expensive out here (about 9.5% sales tax, too).
On the national scene, a clever writer in the Washington Post skewered Fox Noise nicely:
"The world. Flat. We report, you decide." Teach the controversy!
The sun's out now, so I must be too. Your intrepid reporter will probably have some more odd tales to relate, so tune in next week!