Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Many Questions

A couple of days ago, the Other Family Human and I drove past the Glendale Hilton. In the parking lot in front of the hotel was an oddly shaped vehicle, identical to the one in the picture beside these words. I was driving. "Did we just pass a big Oscar Mayer Wiener on wheels?" I asked the OFH. She affirmed that we had. We were stumped. What was it? A bus? Could you ride in it? More importantly, did they sell hot dogs from it?

So, we were glad to see that the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, as it is officially known, was featured on the front page of today's Glendale News-Press. I scanned the article. I was hungry for information and, curiously at 7:00 a.m., for a hot dog. I was dismayed that the paper used the Wienermobile for nothing but a photo op. They showed the vehicle itself, and a picture of two Glendale natives taking a picture of it for their Facebook page. There was no accompanying article, no explanation of what the darn thing is. Irresponsible journalism. If it wasn't for Wikipedia, I would know nothing of the Weinermobile. But here's what I found out with a few minutes research:

The first Weinermobile was created in 1936 by Carl Mayer, nephew of the eponymous Oscar. There are seven in existence today. They exist solely to advertise Oscar Mayer wieners. They are driven by recent college graduates who get the job for one year and one year only. There are 300 people walking around the world with the dubious distinction of Oscar Mayer Wienermobile driver alumni. Wikipedia did not mention what they do now. And no, Oscar Mayer wieners are not sold from the Wienermobile. In that case, I suggest they park them closer to grocery stores.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Fungus Among Us

Something weird was growing in the pot with the cherry tomatoes. I watched it for a few days and then brought it to the attention of the Other Family Human this morning. "Did you plant any mushrooms on the balcony?" I asked. She had not. I brought her out to look at them. They looked just like the fancy Asian mushrooms that go for $6.99 a pound at Whole Foods. "Don't even think about eating those", said the OFH, "it's really hard to tell poisonous mushrooms from the other kind". I pulled them up, all right, but I left them in a bucket right next to where they'd been growing. If I can't tell them apart from the fancy mushrooms they sell at Whole Foods, maybe the eggplant-eating rodent will make the same mistake. Heh, heh.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tim Barry's Garden

In the Green Room at the Wiltern Theatre we waited while the nephew prepared himself for their concert.  A couple of other people, friends of the band, stood around chatting when in walked a really tired looking guy named Tim Barry.  Come to find out he'd just gotten off of the stage at the Wiltern Theatre two performers before the main attraction -- The Gaslight Anthem.
Tim fell onto a couch, looked around, and said a simple, "Hi."
And then without questioning or prompting he started talking about how much he missed his home in Richmond, Virginia.
He hasn't been there in awhile.  He planted a garden, as he always does.  This year's garden is one of his best.  Friends come by to pick his produce.
"My neighbors are really enjoying my garden," he said to us.  "I miss my garden."
On Tim's website, http://www.timbarryva.com he quotes Robert Lewis Stevenson:  "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.  I travel for travel's sake.  The great affair is to move."
Except that Tim misses his home and his garden.  He yearns to pop open a can of beer and sit with his plants.  It's not easy being on the road but when the road is most of your life it's where you need to be.  Even when with every part of your being you miss your garden.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gaslight Anthem Tonight at the Wiltern

Good guys really can finish first.

Remembering Plenty

It's really easy these days to focus on what we don't -- what we've lost, what we need but can't afford, what we wish we could have but don't.  We hear daily on the news or read in the papers or on blogs about how the country has lost one more thing -- one more seemingly honest politician, one more celebrity gone to seed, one more drop in the value of the dollar.
We begin, perhaps, to see life from the vantage point of deprivation.  When that happens it's all too easy to begin to deprive ourselves or important self care that perhaps just a few years ago wouldn't have seemed beyond our grasp.
I'm not proposing that we put on blinders and pretend that during the past few years there have not been significant changes in the way we live and in the way we hope to again live one day.  I am proposing, though, that we find something each day for which we are grateful.
Gratitude won't improve the economy or make crooked politicians honest.  It will, though, help us get through a rough time because we are not so focused on loss.
Give it a try.
Today or tomorrow at the latest start saying, "I'm so grateful for ....." and then find something for which you are truly grateful.  I'm pretty sure you'll find quite a few things.  I know I do.

Monday, July 19, 2010

My New Pal

My new job involves a great deal of driving, and I thought I could make it work with my good old Thomas Bros. guide. After three weeks of getting lost all over in cities I thought I knew rather well, I finally broke down and bought a GPS. My new pal and I started out together today for the first time. I decided to do whatever it said, whether or not I thought I knew better. I input the first address, which my information had told me was in North Hollywood. My new pal choked, and offered me a few similar addresses. I had to pull out the Thomas Bros. to determine that the address for which I was looking was across the street from North Hollywood, but was actually in Los Angeles. Great. My new pal is a stickler. Of course, now that I had looked at the Thomas guide, I knew where I was going, but nonetheless, I followed my new pal's instructions and he got me there just fine. Relations between us were going quite well until I got an emergency call which took two hours, from noon to 2 p.m. Once it was over I was quite hungry and headed for a favorite Thai restaurant a mile or so away. My new pal informed me that the restaurant would be on my right. I was pretty sure it was on the left, but it had been several years since I'd been there, and I figured it might have moved. I was driving in the right lane when the restaurant appeared on the left, exactly where I had thought it was, and my new pal announced, "Approaching Thai BBQ on your right" as I passed it on my left. It's bad enough that I can't tell left from right, but when my GPS can't either, it's a bad sign. I went around the block and back to the restaurant parking lot before my new pal could even finish saying, "recalculating". And I made him pay for his own lunch.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Rock On

We are about to make our annual visit to a rock concert. We do that every time The Gaslight Anthem plays Los Angeles. Three years ago, we went to a scuzzy bar in Glendale and they were the opening act. Then it was the Knitting Factory, and then the Music Box at the Henry Fonda Theatre. This year, they are headlining at the Wiltern. I e-mailed The Nephew and asked if we might have backstage passes. At the Knitting Factory, we got stuck in the mosh pit and we haven't yet recovered from the experience. He replied that our VIP passes would be at the box office, and would we like to attend the taping of the Tonight Show on Friday? The Gaslight Anthem will be the musical act that night. You bet we would like to. So tune into Jay Leno on Friday night to see a great rock band. Pay particular attention to The Nephew on drums. And look for two older, but very enthusiastic, fans in the studio audience.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

CostCo - Where Dreams Come True

The agency for which I work invited a CostCo guy to come and give staff introductory deals to join so I did.  I mean, come on, it's practically unAmerican to not belong to some sort of pay to shop group.
CostCo -- Imagine a place where you can buy a television, a bottle of wine, organic blueberries, a coffin, shrimp cocktail, and automobile tires.
The place kind of reminded me of Hoagland's General Store in the little town of Young, Arizona, where I grew up.
The store was run by two brothers -- Ray and Glenn Hoagland.  Every once in awhile Glenn drove their big old army surplus truck into Phoenix to bring back stuff to sell in the store.  Ray, on the other hand, had never left the little town of two hundred.
"I went down to that bend in the road once," he told me one snowy day.  "But there wasn't much to see that I couldn't already see from the porch here."
So he never ventured further than their property.
You could find just about anything in that store.  Horse shoes.  Dried pinto beans.  Cover alls.  You know the kind.  Ray wore them all of the time.  Cold or hot soda depending on whether or not the generator which powered the refrigerator was working.  Motor oil.
Ray often ventured an opinion on whatever it was you were about to buy.
"You don't need that.  Save your money."
"That's no good.  Spend your money on something better."
I couldn't help but notice today at CostCo today no one told me not to buy the stuff in my cart.
Sometimes I could use Ray back in my life.  He wouldn't come to me, though, on account of that bend in the road.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Things Like This Happen From Time To Time

She receives a little over seven hundred dollars a month disability payments.  Her rent is three hundred fifty a month.  For that amount she shares a bathroom with four other residents of a converted something or other.  Her room is slightly larger than her bed.  There isn't sufficient space for a chair.  She is able to only buy a few perishable items at a time because her bar refrigerator won't hold any more.  She owns a small television which sits on top of the refrigerator.  Her clothes hang from pegs on the wall.  She has a window -- some tenants don't.  She saved for two years and bought a window air conditioner but can rarely afford to use it.
This month she encountered some unexpected expenses -- medications and taxi fees because it's too hot to walk to her few appointments.  She has four dollars to last her the rest of the month.
"I'll be okay," she said.  "I've got some cans of soup.  Things like this happen from time to time."
She can't imagine why she feels sad.  She used to be happy.
She also used to have a job and a car and a one bedroom apartment.  She lost all of that when she fell and could no longer work.
She turned sixty-five not too long ago and wonders if there is anyplace to live where life might be a little easier.
Just because things like older adults going hungry when they didn't have enough money to last the month happen from time to time doesn't mean that they should.  In fact, when they do happen we should all be outraged and demand better treatment of older adults, and younger adults, and of each other.
We don't, though, because most of the time we don't even know about it.
Now we do.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Don't Cry For Me Argentina

Argentina on Thursday became the first nation in South America to legalize same-sex marriage, turning aside protests from the Roman Catholic Church to give gay couples the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts.

Fur Sure

This is the time of year when dogs shed their coats. I know that because my home is covered in fur.

The Family Dog has a lot of surface area. He is no small pooch. He looks deceivingly short-haired, but his Labrador Retriever forebears are famous for a considerable undercoat. The Family Dog has an undercoat that seems to go right down to his internal organs.

I bought a thing called a Furminator. You are supposed to be able to brush the dog once a week and it will remove all the loose hair from the undercoat. Let me tell you how that works in reality. I brush The Family Dog in the garage. I remove enough loose hair from him to stuff a mattress. By the time he comes into the house, he is already sprouting new tufts again. I am afraid that if I do it more often, I will make him bald. Also, it's time to go to work. So off I go, with a generous sprinkling of dog hair on my clothes. I call it my overcoat.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Margaret Cho on the Oil Spill Disaster

Most mornings while driving to work I listen to the Stephanie Miller Radio show on AM 1150 (here in LaLaLand, that is).  Sometimes I laugh out loud because the show is so raucously funny and sometimes I cringe because the show addresses such painful and crucial topics.  Sprinkled throughout the three hour air time is a variety of guests talking about all sorts of topics pertinent or not.
This morning's guest was Margaret Cho, the outrageously often inappropriate always on the edge Korean American comedian, fashion designer, actress, author, and recording artist best known for her stand-up routines in which she critiques social and political problems.
This morning's discussion focused briefly on the Gulf oil spill disaster.
Cho voiced her own brand of outrage that people were not more furious about what's happening (or not happening) with the clean up, with stopping the lead, with addressing the whole topic of deep oil wells, and what can and should be done about BP and its affiliates.
Here's what Cho had to say -- not her exact words but close enough:
If we want people to become appropriately furious about what's happening in the Gulf, we should somehow slip into the narrative same sex marriage.  Forget that same sex marriage has nothing to do with the oil spill disaster, people would become so outraged over the mere mention of it that they would, by association, become furious over the oil spill.  Just think how angry people would be if one ocean wanted to marry another ocean.
Sometimes I wish my drive to work was a little longer.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Balls in the Garden

You may remember a recent post about community gardens stating that plants are healthier and the yield greater when a variety of different plants seemingly crowd together in the same area.
Today while watering my area of the community garden I couldn't help but notice the sporting goods theme in the area of a neighbor.
I don't think the yield will be impressive, though, because only one type of athletic equipment has been planted.  To harvest a lot of tennis balls I think the gardeners should have also planted croquet mallets, darts, baseball bats, and possibly a golf cart.

Old Poems by Natalie Merchant

This video is almost a half hour long so set aside some time for amazement.

In the 1980s, Natalie Merchant led the great folk-rock band 10,000 Maniacs. She went solo in the '90s, and to maintain creative control over her music, she self-funded her debut album, Tigerlily, which had chart-toppers like "Jealousy," "Carnival" and "Wonder." She recorded her sophomore album, Ophelia, at her home studio; the album went platinum, and she headlined at Lilith Fair and joined the American Folk Music Tour before releasing Motherland, which paired her rich voice with more strings.
Merchant independently released her 2003 album, The House Carpenter's Daughter, which veers back toward classic folk; she covers traditional songs such as "House Carpenter" and "Weeping Pilgrim," an 18th-century hymnal she found in the NY Public Library archives. Merchant is dedicated to supporting a wide array of nonprofits and social justice groups. For the past five years, she has been researching, writing and recording a collection of songs adapted from the works of classic and contemporary poets. She is set to release Leave Your Sleep in March 2010.

Thanks to ted.com for providing free of charge videos to enrich our lives.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Culprits

Last summer, I wrote about the tragic end of the hoped-for eggplants growing on our balcony. They had achieved a two or three inch length and I was planning an elaborate dinner. Then, some rodent came and gnawed them to the nub.

A few days ago, the Other Family Human and I were sitting on that same balcony drinking coffee and watching the squirrels in the trees on the hillside. The OFH looked to the backyard next door. "It wasn't rats", she said. "Look at the way the branches hang over into the neighbor's yard. A squirrel could get onto our balcony without even having to jump."

This year, we have planted tomatoes, honeydew melon, peppers and squash on the balcony. I am writing this in case the squirrels have internet; I'd like them to be able to plan their menu.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

In The Community Garden

It's not much, our little section of the community garden.  Twenty feet by four feet.  Already, though, we've got zucchini and peppers and some flowers and pumpkin growing.   There's a lot of other stuff also growing but I don't quite remember what because I threw away the seed packets.  The red ants are still there.  We've reached some kind of truce, it seems.  I won't cover them with any more organic corn meal and they won't bite me.  I'm holding up my end of that deal.  I hope they are small insects of their words and don't bite me.  I think I'm allergic to red ant bites.  Perhaps we are all.  Here's what I do know.  Corn meal doesn't slow them down at all.  That's okay.  There seems to be plenty of room for everyone.
The community garden of which I am a participant was started in part by Amy's Farm which uses the polyculture approach to farming.  Polyculture is agriculture using multiple crops in the same space in imitation of the diversity of natural ecosystems.  It avoids large stands of single crops.  This approach often requires more labor but has some advantages:  The plants are healthier and produce more.  For example, a study in China reported in Nature Magazine showed that planting several varieties of rice in the same field increased yields by 89% largely because of a dramatic decrease in the incidence of disease.  The greater variety of crops provides habitat for more species, increasing local biodiversity.  This is an example of Reconciliation Ecology, or accommodating biodiversity within human landscapes.  For example, my ants are doing well and have invited other types of ants to come live in my plot of the garden.

The main advantage for me, though, of this type of gardening is that I am left feeling that I've done something that is part of a movement of return -- return to a time and a way of life fast fading unless strangers get together to help each other grow good food.
Here's a thought.  Find a community garden and ask if you can help out.  You improve not only your mood and your sense of belonging but you help out the planet, too.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Adventures of a Lizard Hunter

The Family Dog is fortunate that we adopted him almost nine years ago. For a street dog, he didn't have a lot of street smarts. Now that we are living in a less urban area, I hoped his hunting skills would improve. Sadly, they have not.

Yesterday we were taking our walk when a bigger-than-usual lizard darted in front of us. Seeing The Family Dog, or at least sensing a large predator nearby, the lizard ran towards a bush. The Family Dog followed. He sniffed intently at the bush for a good thirty seconds, during which time the lizard had ample opportunity to get through the bush and around behind the dog. I had to stand there and watch my lizard hunter sniffing the place where his prey had been and gone, and see the lizard standing behind him. I swear I could see his little reptilian sides shaking with laughter. I took The Family Dog home and gave him a biscuit. What would I do with a dead lizard, anyway?

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Morning After the Fourth

Do you think if the Roman Candle knew that come Monday morning it would be nothing more than an empty memory left on a West Hollywood sidewalk it would still - as darkness fell on July 4th -- say strike the match and watch me dazzle the world?
I'm hoping that it would.

My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends -
It gives a lovely light.
Edna St. Vincent Millay -  "A Few Figs from Thistles", 1920
 US poet (1892 - 1950)

Not that I'm a fan of burning candles at both ends.  On the other hand, neither am I a fan of keeping candles Roman or otherwise neatly packed away in drawers waiting for just the right and possibly the safe time to strike the match.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fireworks are Nice, but the Concept is Grand

We drove home from Orange County to Los Angeles and watched the fireworks displays, legal and illegal, on both sides of the highway. It was great, and I hope everyone enjoyed the freedom to risk fingers and eyes setting them off. But how many people thought about the meaning of American independence? Well, at least one person and his readers did. This nation is facing formidable problems but I like the hope and belief that blogger Spencer Ackerman exhibits in today's entry in his personal blog, Attackerman (http://attackerman.firedoglake.com) I also happen to like Spencer Ackerman,whom I have known since shortly after he was born. Here are his words about America:
"You know what the great thing is about a country founded on a set of propositions? About a series of commitments that define what it is to be a citizen of that country? It’s that to be an American is an endless process to show fidelity with those commitments. The frontier never actually closes. We’re never in America yet. America is always yet to come. Like an Englishman once reminded us, the future is unwritten, with liberty and justice over the horizon. If we’re decent and strong and dedicated enough to press onward."
Thanks, Spencer, for reminding us of the founding principles of this country and of what it takes to stick with them.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Gainfully Employed

Yesterday, I received something that I hadn't seen in a while. It's called a paycheck.

Until a couple of weeks ago, I had been unemployed for fourteen months. I spent the last six months of that time in a training program which did exactly what it was supposed to do - get me a job. However, it paid exactly the same as if I had been sitting home watching daytime TV.

Columnist Paul Krugman wrote an editorial entitled "The Third Depression" in last Saturday's New York Times. He writes, "Around the world — most recently at last weekend’s deeply discouraging G-20 meeting — governments are obsessing about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt-tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending." As Krugman sees it, we are at the beginning of a long slow depression, and this is not the time for governments to try to balance their budgets when they should instead be creating jobs.

A few days ago, I wrote about three young schoolteachers I know who lost their jobs at the end of this academic year. So many people, young and old, want to work, need to work, and the job market just keeps shrinking.

Krugman ends his article with these words, "And who will pay the price? The answer is, tens of millions of unemployed workers, many of whom will go jobless for years, and some of whom will never work again." I am in my late fifties, and for many months I was afraid that I might never work again. I am very grateful to be gainfully employed, and I hope I don't forget all those out there who want the same chance. More important, I hope our government doesn't forget them.

Friday, July 2, 2010

If You Prick Him

He will bleed.  And if you tickle him, he will laugh.  And if you find yourself alone in an elevator with him, you will probably feel very frightened or at least unbearably uncomfortable.
Not only does he suffer from a significant mental illness, he also navigates through each day born with a developmental delay/disability.  He can't read and he can't write.  Quite frequently his speech is garbled.  In spite of all of these strikes against him, he's a friendly guy who likes nothing more than to help people carry their stuff.
Two days ago his sister died.
Through his tears and choking sobs he tried to tell me the cause of death.  He stammered and pointed to his nose.  I asked a few questions and none of them satisfied him.  I still don't know the cause of death.  It doesn't really matter.  What matters is his grief and his need for comfort.
I do know that he has spent a lot of time sitting or a bench or on a curb weeping.
Today I met him on a sidewalk.  He was walking one direction.  I walked the opposite.  We stopped.  He told me he had to shave and put on clean clothes.
This time I correctly guessed that he was going to the funeral.
He predicted that he would probably cry a lot.
I assured him that funerals were the perfect places for tears.
Then he pulled a small pack of tissue from his pants pocket.
"I'm going to bring these with me."
I told him that he was doing what a lot of us forget to do -- take good care of ourselves by planning our needs ahead of time.
He put the tissues back into his pocket, burst again into tears, and headed home.
He couldn't see my tears.
Heroes sometimes save lives and sometimes fight wars and sometimes just remember to take a pack of tissue to the funeral of someone they loved.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Meanwhile In Canada

In early 1850 the Provincial Lunatic Asylum in Toronto, Canada, admitted its first patients.  For years the facility was one of the largest public buildings in that nation.
Dr. Joseph Workman, Superintendent from 1853 until 1875,  stressed the importance of taking family histories and seeking hereditary traits, because he believed that many patients seemed to be born with a tendency to mental illness. He observed dysfunctional families but saw the illness as the cause and not the result of the family dynamics. Freud, Jung and psychoanalysis had not yet arrived on the scene. He studied alcoholism and even noted what we now call 'fetal alcohol syndrome'. 
At Workman's suggestion, the study of alienism (now known as psychiatry) was introduced into medical schools in both Canada and this country.

The Lunatic Asylum was demolished about thirty years ago.  On that site now stands The Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canada's largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, as well as one of the world's leading research centers in the area of addiction and mental health. CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Center.
The CAMH project is unique for many reasons.  The old city asylum was torn down and replaced by an urban village where people with mental illness and addictions can mingle in an everyday way with people not suffering from mental illness.  The CAMH project is part of a bigger project called The Inter-generational Wellness Center.  The Center will house a Geriatric Mental Health program, and a Child, youth, and Family Program.  When it's completed, the project will become an ordinary part of Toronto life with shops, restaurants, offices, and apartments.
Imagine the lack of stigma recipients of CAMH will enjoy.  Amazing.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles county it becomes increasingly difficult for the indigent mentally ill to just find a place to sit awhile and feel safe from constant command hallucinations much less find a place to receive medications or hospitalizations.
If Canada can do it, why can't we?