Photo: Eric Stone

19 March 2010

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01 March 2010

THE GOOD BROKE LIFE IN SUNNY SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

In the winter, when my mom was a kid growing up in Los Angeles, sometimes she'd take the train up to the snow in the morning and go sledding. Then she'd head back into the city around lunch time, hopping off the train at one stop to pick some oranges from the trees along the tracks. She'd take the train out to the beach and there were days when she'd go swimming. Other days, it might be just a little too cold for that, but she'd sit, pushing her bare feet through the sand, watching the waves, eventually the sunset.

She'd do all that, well, just because she could.

You can't do that by train anymore, but you can still do it by car. Easily. There are some very good reasons why California was the primary destination of internal migration in the U.S. for more than a hundred years. And why it has been the primary destination for overseas immigrants, from all over the world, for the past 20 or so years.

People often ask me if I miss living in Asia. And I do. There is something about the perspective you get of the rest of the world, and of the U.S. from outside the U.S. that is very seductive. There are a whole host of other things about life as an expatriate that are also very seductive.

But for just plain variety, diversity, depth and breadth of culture and the arts and food and nearly everything else, I think I could make a pretty good case for the Greater Los Angeles Area being the greatest place on the planet.

Not to rub it in, but today is March 1, 2010. It is 70 degrees outside. There is plenty of snow on the mountains about an hour to 1-1/2 hours away. The sky is sunny and blue and if you're not reliant on government funding or a good job for what you do, well, the living is easy. (The State is essentially broke. Un- and under- employment is horrifying.)

And no matter what, I'm not going to starve. Here's what I picked from my backyard this afternoon:Standard, Key and Thai limes (and Thai lime leaves which are very useful), Mandarin and Naval oranges (there's a third type as well, but it looks like it needs another week or two to ripen), Standard and Meyer lemons, Chilies pequin, rosemary, mint and flat leaf parsley.

Okay, so there's no protein. For that I might have to shoot a raccoon or trap a squirrel or something. One of my neighbors has chickens, and turkeys for that matter. But Sunset Boulevard's only a ten minute walk down the hill and there's a great Cuban restaurant with garlicky roast pork.

Yep, it's the good life in Sunny Southern Cal, even when we're broke.

19 February 2010

"THE MEDIA" OWES US AN APOLOGY

NOT TIGER WOODS. I just tried watching his public mea culpa and I had to turn it off. If he wants, he can go ahead and apologize to his wife, his family, his business partners who have lost some money. But me? I don't need to hear it.

Now sure, on a fantasy level what I would hope to hear Tiger say, backed up heartily by his wife, is something along the lines of: "You guys have it so wrong. Elin and I have an open relationship. We think monogamy is ludicrous and goes against everything in our biology. So leave us alone."

But, well, a very wise old friend of mine used to say: "You can hope in one hand and shit in the other and see which fills up faster." So I'm not expecting something like that, not from anyone, not ever. It's a shame, really. Think of how much grief the country would have been spared if Bill and Hillary had gone on TV and said something like that.

(I have no idea whether or not any of these people have open relationships, but the reality is that - especially in couples where one or the other or both people are rich, powerful, famous, or heartbreakingly beautiful or handsome - they really should have considered it for their own good. They might as well give in to the reality that monogamy isn't very likely between them, and be honest about it.)

Okay, so barring my fantasy scenario, what I really want to hear from the next "caught" celebrity is: "It's none of your fucking business. Get off of my lawn."

There are a large host of pretty damn important issues staring us in the face every morning when we wake up: unemployment, healthcare, education (or lack of it, or lack of funding for it), corruption, government gridlock, a couple of wars, future-threatening deficits, whether or not the Dodgers are going to have good enough starting pitching this year... All of which are inadequately reported by media outlets that would rather deal with the simplicities of who Tiger Woods is sticking his dick into, than the complexities of the real world that actually have an impact on our daily lives.

It's the media I'm mad at, not Tiger Woods. I don't really care about Tiger Woods. I only care in that the newspapers I read, the websites I visit, the radio and TV shows I listen to and watch, are filled with him and his stupid, boring apology, rather than with anything that informs me about the stuff that actually affects me.

Okay, so now that that's off my chest, I'm going to talk about writing. I'm a writer, after all.


I just had an interesting interaction with the person who constitutes what little I've got in the way of a writing group. (Follow this link to read what she has to say about this matter, but finish reading mine first, okay?)

Sometimes we trade our works in progress back and forth for comment and criticism. It can come in very handy. She pulled me back from a cliff I was about to jump off of in my latest book - CENTRAL AVENUE.

But we work very differently. She is a diligent, detailed outliner. I'm not. I don't outline at all, I just sit down and start writing and see where it goes.

A couple of days ago she sent me the outline of her latest book. She wanted to know what I thought. What I thought was that I liked it, but it might be stronger if she changed the gender of one of the major characters in the book.

She said, maybe that makes sense, but it would mean she would have to totally rethink, rework and generally rewrite the entire book and almost everything in it. That thought did not make her happy.

I, not being accustomed to the huge amount of labor that some people put into working out their outlines - and being something of an ignorant boor from time to time - responded with something that she felt belittled her concern over the massive task I had just suggested to her. I said something along the lines of: it shouldn't be too much work, the basic plot is still there and you haven't written the book yet, just the outline.

Okay, so perhaps I can be a bit insensitive sometimes. But that is the way I saw it. I piece together my books as they come, word by word, line by line, scene by scene, and in my mind, when I type that very first word, all it means is that anything can happen next. If at some point I need to take something in a different direction, I just do it as I get to it.

But, it should come as no surprise to me that not everyone writes the way I do. Nor should they. Every writer needs to find their own way to write, the way that works best for them.

I don't know whether or not she is going to take my suggestion to heart, or tell me to shove it up my ass from whence it came. That's up to her. She'll write the book she wants, in the way she wants, and knowing her it will end up being a very good book.

And what have I taken from this? Yet another kick in the butt telling me that not just the end, but the means of getting to that end need to be taken into account on a regular, and individualized, basis.

24 January 2010

THE JOY OF EXHIBITIONISM

As any long term reader of my blog knows, I love tattoo expos. As a photographer, my favorite subject has always been people. A lot of people are shy about having their picture taken. Not, however, at tattoo expos. That's part of the enjoyment of the experience for people in attendance.

Sometimes I feel a little guilty as I don't have any tattoos of my own. As I've mentioned before, I've got commitment issues; I just can't decide what tattoo I'd like to live with for the rest of my life. But that doesn't mean I can't appreciate other people's ink. I do, a lot.

Here's some pictures from the human exhibition I was at yesterday:







And then, like any good exhibition anywhere, there were people promoting and selling things that in their minds were associated, but in this case weren't tattoos. For instance; in support of the ballot measure to legalize pot:

And, well, simply expressing their love of vaginas:

10 January 2010

COUGARS, NAZIS, TICKS - OH MY!

Not to rub it in, but today was a fairly typical Los Angeles January day: temperature in the mid to upper 70s, views from the ocean out to the snow capped San Gabriels in the east (taller than any mountains east of the Rockies), a slight breeze. You get the picture. And if you don't, here's one:


The thing that makes Los Angeles, in my mind, the greatest city on the planet, is its diversity. I can probably list several hundred things that one can find here in this one place, that you'd have to go to a few dozen other cities to come across.

Does New York have mountain lions? Maybe in the Bronx zoo it does.

I set out today with a group of friends to go on a hike. We passed the gate on the fire road in Rustic Canyon - part of Pacific Palisades - and took note of the things to watch out for: mountain lions, rattlesnakes (in summer), brushfires, flash floods, ticks. Yes, we were comfortably within the confines of what is arguably the largest, most populous urban area in the United States (taking into account all the counties that make up the Greater Los Angeles area) and yet we were venturing into a potentially deadly wilderness.

Central Park? Hah, that's for panzies!

Our destination was the ruins of a Nazi commune, deep in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Yep, that's right, Nazis. And they bought their 50 acres of land from Will Rogers - who was decidedly not a Nazi sympathizer. Back in the 1930s they spent four million dollars (nearly $65 million today) building their own little self-sufficient slice of the Third Reich, in which they planned to wait for the glorious victory of Germany over the rest of the world.

Luckily for all of us, it didn't turn out that way. Not long after Pearl Harbor they were raided, kicked off the land, tossed into jail and that was the end of that. During the 1950s the area was reportedly used as an artists colony. Andrew Wyeth, Henry Miller and possibly Christopher Isherwood were supposed residents at one point or another. Now it's all just falling apart, waiting to be bulldozed eventually to be part of a big park.

To get to it, you walk down 500 some odd steps after hiking for a little while. To get back to civilization from it, you walk up either 511 or 512 steps - the counts were evenly split. My left knee is now killing me. But at least we lost not one member of our intrepid party to malevolent wildlife, or nazis.

Here's some pics:




31 December 2009

PICS FROM THE PORCH

I woke up far too early on this the last day of 2009. I was somewhat compensated, however, by the view from the bedroom window of the moon setting over the Hollywood Hills. Groggily, I went for my camera:


28 December 2009

EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING IT, SO WHY NOT ME?

THIS YEAR'S SUMMATION:

I don't like Top Ten lists. For one, I usually have more or less than that to go on the list. For two, I tend to see most things in a bewildering array of shades of gray. For three, I break things down into an enormous number of concise categories. (Not just "books." Not even just "mysteries." Not even "mysteries," "thrillers," "literary fiction," "non-fiction," etc. I'd have to have dozens of Top Ten lists and I don't have the time, or the inclination.) For four, some of my favorite things came out prior to this past year and I just now got around to them.

So here's some stuff I liked this year. (Don't worry, to maintain my somewhat cranky reputation I'll get to some stuff I didn't like, below.)

Among the books I especially liked, loved even, were:

INTO THE BEAUTIFUL NORTH, Luis Alberto Urrea. It was fun, allegorical, magnificently written, smart as all get out, political, sexual, social and about nearly anything and everything worth giving a damn about. The beautiful, but not sappy, side of the human condition.

BEIJING COMA, Ma Jian. One of the most depressing, disturbing, fantastically written novels I have ever read. It is awfully hard to think anything kindly about China after reading this book. It is about the ugly, brutal, avaricious side of the human condition. Dostoevsky would have been proud to have written it.

THE KINDLY ONES, Jonathan Littell. Okay, another depressing novel. And really gross and hard to read in places, too. The fictional argument for Hannah Arendt's "Banality of Evil." Makes you think about things you probably don't want to think about.

MIRRORS, Eduardo Galeano. A history of the world through snippets of biography, memoir and quotes from people who are real, mythological and no one knows for sure. Wildly entertaining, easy to read, and thought-provoking.

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING, Bill Bryson. Extremely amusing and informative. Intelligent science for us non-scientists.

I tend to avoid too much pimping of my friends' books, even though I buy and read all of them, or as many as I can. I'm sure to forget someone. Sometimes I might not like a friend's book (as they might not like mine) and so I don't feel like I can be honest. And, well, at this point I know too many fellow writers. I have a hard enough time keeping up with my own blather on this blog.

But, that said, I do want to add my voice to the growing chorus that is singing the praises of the first novel by Sophie Littlefield, A BAD DAY FOR SORRY. It is one very damn fine read from a writer who I know works harder at her craft than many of the rest of us; certainly more than myself. I'm looking forward to her future books.

I liked some movies this year, too, but for the most part I think it was a lousy year for movies, so I'm having a tough time remembering them. Not that many appealed to me, so I didn't see as many as usual. Among the ones I do recall are:

THE HURT LOCKER. About as suspensful and riveting a movie as I have ever seen. I got so wound up watching it that I felt like I had to do stretches and take deep breaths when I got out of the theater.

THE HANGOVER. It was funny - even the second time. (I saw it again at Thanksgiving with my family.) And I find so few comedies actually funny, that that was enough. But it was smart, too, and somewhat sabotaged it's genre - which I appreciated.

That's about it, at least that I can recall. I tried jarring my memory by looking at the current rash of Top Ten lists online, but I just didn't see much that I loved at the movies this year.

On the other hand, this is the year that I finally decided television is capable of being a whole lot better than movies. I think this is because of the medium itself. Most movies are anywhere from 90 to 130 minutes long. That has nothing at all to do with artistic or storytelling decisions. It has to do with the fact that in the past movie theaters were set up to best handle films that involved a certain number of reels of film, and that they also need to squeeze in a certain number of showings per day to make a profit. (And overpriced popcorn and sodas, of course.) That severely limits the amount of character and plot development any movie can engage in. In some cases, it's a good thing. Too many movies are already too long.

But I have come to see movies as the equivalent of short stories - no matter how big their scope. While television series can stretch out, much like a novel. Perhaps that is a reason why the best movies adapted from previously published works, tend, with a few exceptions, to come from short stories, rather than novels.

I read, and enjoy, and write, more novels than short stories. So here's some of the television series that I have most unabashedly enjoyed in the past year:

BREAKING BAD. As dark, complex, bleak and yet at times funny as anything I have ever read or seen.

MAD MEN. Ditto, but also about the very human struggle against the brain-numbing responsibilities of daily and family life.

BIG LOVE. Sexual and religious politics to the max. A Shakespearean drama that has the ability to make me squirm.

UGLY BETTY. I dunno, I just like it. I think it's smart, funny, charming, touching and sometimes makes some pretty good points.

THE BIG BANG THEORY. The only half-hour sitcom I have ever liked this much. Very smart, very funny, politically incorrect. If laughing really is good for you, this show is medicine for me.

Okay, I could go on and on and on if I wanted: music, websites, restaurants, art shows, etc. But enough's enough.

Here's a short, incomplete list - in no particular order - of some (domestic only) things I didn't like this year:

Republicans
Democrats
The Supreme Court
Big financial institutions
Many unions
Glen Beck
Keith Olbermann
All TV "news"
Sherlock Holmes - the movie.
Bored To Death - tv series.
American Airlines
About 77.8 percent of what I see on Twitter
Celebrity obsession
Bob Dylan's Xmas album
"Reality TV" (other than Top Chef, which I have a weakness for.)
A Prairie Home Companion
The NY Yankees

There's plenty more where those came from, but it's time to wrap up this year end wrap up.

I hope, as I always hope, that next year is better. Although on the whole, for me at least, this year's been pretty good.