Archive for April, 2006

I couldn’t help but climb aboard the Platform Of Truth (aka “the scale”) after all my exertions with the patio yesterday and found that I’ve descended to 222 pounds. I’ll probably pop back up to 224 or more as everything settles, but I can’t blame it on water loss. I must’ve downed a 12-pack of diet Snapples during the course of the day’s work.

There are two episodes I can specifically remember weighing in the immediate vicinity of 222 pounds — both a heck of a long time ago. One was in the fall of 1984 when I was knee deep in my yuppie craze and weighing myself religiously after every workout at what was then the Nautilus Aerobics Plus healthclub on Ventura in Studio City. The last time was in 1990 and I was a full-throttle Sparkletts Man, the very nature of the job being a daily rigorous workout with the 40-plus pound water bottles.

There were too many times in my life where I never expected to be this “slim” again. And once I hit 216 I will be at the lowest weight I’ve been in my adult life. Perhaps that milestone will arrive in time for my birthday climb with Susan to the top of Death Valley’s 11,049-foot Telescope Peak over Memorial Day weekend. Once we attain the summit, I’ll simultaneously be the smallest and tallest I’ve ever been.

So I decided to add a brick patio bordered in river rock to the end of that brick-and-river-rock Path To Nowhere I built for the hell of it a couple days ago. I began around noon, and finished around 6 p.m. It involved bagging up what must easily be 500 pounds of cleared greenery, hauling upwards of 300 bricks and another 60 or so river rocks, and then figuring out how to put it all together so it only looked like a quarter-assed job, at worst.

Here’s the before during and after shots:




What that doesn’t show you is how much time went into me rubbing most of the bricks together to get rid of thick old mortar. What that also doesn’t show you is that several times I had to pull up the bricks because since it wasn’t a matter of geometry and architecture and instead it was just a matter of setting them down on the bare ground and crossing my fingers, they didn’t necessarily want to cooperate.

I didn’t blame the bricks. They’ve been stuck in a pile under a loquat tree for close to seven years. The ones that ended up being used were just damn happy to get some fresh air and sunshine and have a purpose again after all that time. “We’re a dang patio!” they yelled in unison. That’s right bricks. I couldn’t have done it without ya. I was just glad to put them to use as much as I was glad to finish the job.

But speaking of finishing, let me tell you… when I have to do extended physical stuff I’m fine as long as I keep moving and doing. But I’m about 45 minutes done and everything is freaking balking. My back, my neck, my arms, my legs, my ass. Even my fingernails hurt. What the hell’s up with that? Oh well, nothing four ibuprofen and a hot shower can’t reduce a more manageable level.

My word, I may have something here. Presently, I’m sitting at the table that I moved to the end of the…

[five minute later]

I apologize for the interuption, but as I typed those first few letters I was forced to break away first to physicalize my objection to a ‘skeeter that was prepping to take a sip of me from my arm and then to adjourn inside to locate the mosquito incense repellent coil thingees and also fire up the citronella oil-filled camping lantern. For good measure I doused myself with a dose of DEET spray as well.

Oh my but I do love the great outdoors. It’s some of the things that live there fulltime that leave me somewhat less enthused — especially when they make me the center of their attentions, parasitic or otherwise. Anyway, All engaged countermeasures seem to be keeping the resident bloodsuckers and other flying bugs at bay let’s try that again, shall I?

I’m sitting at the table I moved to the end of the path I built yesterday. I’m looking out over the backyard from beneath the shading boughs of a tree whose species I do not know. There are a pair of blue jays flitting about the yard, a squirrel chattering somewhere in the canopy above, and the sound of traffic augmented by the telltale sound of an MTA bus churning away what seems to be eastward. I hear a jet now. And the breeze through the leaves and the wind chimes respond cautiously. If I look over my right shoulder I can see Sunset Boulevard heading west toward the Junction. Above it are palm trees and above the palm trees rises a bank of Griffith Park hills traversable by the plainly visible scar of a fire road that switches back on itself. Mt. Hollywood is blocked by a bushy tree growing in the frontyard of the house a couple doors north, but I can just make out the observatory farther left through its leaves and branches. Dogs are barking, there’s the screech of wild parrots across the sky, and a hammer hammers for a few seconds and then is done. Then it starts again. Closer to me, the loquats are ripening and I can look down upon the excavation beneath the pile of river rocks that produced the World War II German army helmet I found yesterday. In the window of the breakfast nook Pumpkin looks out at me through the screen. Bumble bees buzz and a beautiful yellow and black butterlfy does two laps around the tree I’m sitting under before heading into the yard next door. Over my left shoulder there’s work to be done in the form of the pile of greenwaste that needs to be disposed of, the product of my trailblazing yesterday and the weekend trim I gave to the foliage draping the rear wall of the yard. But that clean up will wait for now. There are mockingbirds mocking and hummingbirds clicking and there’s peace in my valley for me right now under the cloudless pale blue of this midway L.A. day. I’m drinking a diet raspberry Snapple and finishing off the remains of a small bag of sugar-free York peppermint patties — not a taste combination that my palate is doing somersaults over, but it ain’t ruining the mood.

For only the smoke of a Leon’s No. 1 cigar to comingle with that of the citronella and the mosquito coil and the scene would be complete!

Actually it still needs some fine tuning. The table upon which the laptop rests lists awkwardly to starboard as does the plastic chair upon which I sit, one of its legs driven into the soft earth by a combination of gravity pushing down upon me pushing down upon it. And I’m poaching a neighbor’s wireless connection as here in the back forty I must be too far away and/or obstructed from mine emitting in the library near the front of the house.

But it’s still a marvelous little place to be that wasn’t here yesterday and one that I’m finding has the potential to conduct some creativity.

I won’t torture the analogy too much, but these last few months I’ve been wandering a pretty unscouted path. When I get a little lost — or at least more lost than usually — I can still take pride in the fact that I don’t take refuge either in a bottle or under the bed.

To many it may be more than a bit frivolous. There are any number of better more productive things to do with the heart of the day than wasting it with a rake and my strength and a vague idea of laying a bit of perhaps unnecessary and structurally unsound walkway between two short points in the backyard. But I did it anyway. I did it because the physical labor brings about something of meditative state. I did it because it was gorgeous outside. I did it because looking for the thousandth time at the heavily marked first draft of my Rwanda piece that I got back several weeks ago from the editor who was interested in it, makes me get mad and get sad and get up and walk away from the computer with expletives trailing in my wake and the dog and cats scurrying to get the hell outta my way

I could go get drunk. I could go see about that job at the neighborhood video store looking to hire “smiley faces,” but then I have no smile so I’m ass out for that, too, thanks to the residual nerve damage to my face from my motorcycle accident 12 years ago this July that leaves it easier for me to benchpress 300 pounds rather than raise my upper lip an inch or so off my top teeth in anything resembling what used to be a smile that was easy as it was nice.

Or I could go climb under the covers. No, I go outside and I get to work.

I heave and I ho and I lug and I scrape and I dig and I haul and I tote and I lift and some three hours later I ached but goddam it if there wasn’t something of which I’m pleased. Something that I did. That I conceived and started and finished — all 16 feet of its quaint little bend with its 100 used bricks that had to have the old mortar ground off, and its 80 river rocks:


Did it get me where I needed to go or need to be? Nah, but it didn’t send me in any wrong direction, neither.

And if that weren’t enough, there’s a bonus. My exertions yielded the latest in my growing collection of backyarchaelogoical items, and by far the strangest and most incongruous of them all. It’s one thing to unearth 50-year-old whiskey bottles and hotels spoons. It’s a far different thing to come up with a freakin’ World War II-era German infantryman’s helmet:


I kid you not. I found it full of dirt after moving some pieces of old foundation that were underneath the pile of river rocks. In the back-dang-yard! At first I thought it was just a bucket of some sort, but once I had it clear I knew immediately what it was. Unfortunately the extremely rusted-out top gave way only moments after I’d extricated it, but the tell-tale brim and flared rim are still intact.

Anyway, I wrote a bit more about it on and there’s another picture there if you wanna check it out.

Since I woke up with a kicker of a headache that carried over from yesterday afternoon and in that time has since spread from above my left orbit to all across my forehead like a neon sign flashing PAIN, I’m going to do my best not only to accomplish the list of creative, physical and prcedural things I need to do today (and this week), but accentuate the continuing positive of my to-date 36-pound reduction in the form of a line graph captured over on that charts my ongoing downward progress. Instead of “line graph” I prefer to refer to it as staircase on happy acid:


I also want to share with you this passage by John Fante in his Ask The Dust, which I’m currently marveling my awestruck way through:

But down on Main Street, down on Towne and San Pedro, and for a mile lower on Fifth Street were the tens of thousands of others; they couldn’t afford sunglasses or a four-bit polo shirt and they hid in the alleys by day and slunk off to flop houses by night. A cop won’t pick you up for vagrancy in Los Angeles if you wear a fancy polo shirt and a pair of sunglasses. But if there is dust on your shoes and that sweater is thick like the sweaters they wear in the snow countries, he’ll grab you. So get yourselves a polo shirt boys, and a pair of sunglasses, and white shoes, if you can. Be collegiate. It’ll get you anyway. After a while, after big doses of the Times and the Examiner, you too will whoop it up for the sunny south. You’ll eat hamburgers year after year and live in dusty, vermin-infested apartments and hotels, but every morning you’ll see the mighty sun, the eternal blue of the sky, and the streets will be full of sleek women you never will possess, and the hot semi-tropical nights will reek of romance you’ll never have, but you’ll still be in paradise, boys, in the land of sunshine.

I feel like a student showing up 25 years late to meet his mentor. Fante wrote that in Nineteen Hundred and Thirty Nine. Sixty-seven years ago. It’s truer today than it was than.

And lookee-there! My headache’s gone. Time to get some crap done.

I wasn’t going to do my standard Sunday weigh-in, in part because of the tostada salad and double maggie I had for lunch yesterday after the Blessing of the Animals at Olvera Street, but then this morning Susan and I had a good three-mile walk around the neighborhood and in response to some landscaping she u8ndertook in the front yard after we got home I armed myself with clippers, rake and shovel and set to beating back the backyard overgrowth.

Whenever I’ve dug around up in there in the past I always seem to unearth another odd artifact of some sort, and today’s endeavor was not different. Behold an empty tube of Mollé Brushless Shaving Cream:

From a Google search I found this stuff was big in the 1940s. It even sponsored the Mollé Mystery Theater on NBC radio:

During the height of radio’s golden age, there was no such thing as shave gel or even shave cream in aerosol cans.  The modern shave creams of the era was known as either lather or brushless.  Many well-known and not-so-well-known brands made either brushless, lather, or both.  With the many brands on the market, the object was to find the right shave cream for both tough whiskers and tender skin.  For those men with this problem, they could use any shave cream brand they wanted to— as long as the tube or jar said Mollé (pronounced “Mo-Lay”).

As to this things specific age, I have no idea. But given the house is more than 90 years old, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s been hanging around for 60-plus years.

And after all the exertion, I hopped into the shower and with a “what the hell” beforehand I stepped onto the scale and it pleasantly read 224… another two pounds gone. Nice.


Susan and I made good on plans to participate in today’s annual Blessing of the Animals down at Olvera Street. So we decorated Buster the tortoise with flowers and had a blast! But instead of wasting keystrokes telling you how much fun it was, I’ll just point you to the photo set I created over on Flickr and you can go see for yourself. And check out what Susan has to show and tell over on her blog.

UPDATED (04.16): A brief five-meg Quicktime videoclip showing the moment of sacred saturation:


[click here to play]