Archive for December, 2009

On Christmas Day, heading back across the darkening Yosemite Valley to the Awahnee to get ready for the Bracebridge Dinner later that evening, through the mist I spied a pair of coyotes looking for supper about 400-yards out and on the move across a snow-covered meadow:


Let me strive to  forget my disappointments with the trivialities of man — poorly appointed hotel rooms and pompously pretentious dinners — and instead remember and revel in these privileged and priceless moments witnessing the magnificence of nature.

Happy New Year!

Seeing as today’s bike commute would mark my 200th of the year, I didn’t let a little  morning rain dampen my desire to pedal to that milestone and to work (OK, it was more than a little; I was drenched by the time I got to Westchester).

Were I made of less water-tolerant stuff I would have driven, and in the course of doing so missed out on the chance to show a little love to a big bundle of bubbadawg just south of Ballona Creek..

Sporting a worn collar, but no tags I found him wandering seemingly aimlessly on Mesmer Avenue in the Mar Vista neighborhood (or maybe it’s Del Rey, hard to say). He seemed in good health, but not at all interested in being buddy-buddy. As you can see in the video below, he did however beeline it across the street to gobble up every bit of the stash of kibble I carry with me just in case of these meetings.

Hopefully his peeps are somewhere nearby within the surrounding residential area and they will be reunited. Hopefully.


Tonight’s blue moon, two days from its full stage on the last day of the year and the decade, as seen from my office window via the 6.1x digital zoom of my cam with the lens against the eyepiece of my 12×25 binoculars and the whole thing balanced on my knee with my leg propped up on the sill as I sat at my desk.

It won’t win any awards, unless there’s an award for blurry pixelized moon pix made with the use of binoculars. And limbs. Could happen. Once in a…

In the big scheme this ain’t much. But in the annals of making lemonade outta lemons when it comes to improv’d bike repairs, it’s worth mentioning.

It all started the week before last when one side of my left pedal malfuntioned while on the way to work. Now these aren’t your normal every-day platform pedals like the kind you grew up with. Nor are they the old school road bike pedals with the straps you cinch around your shoe. These are “clipless” pedals — a bargain basement variety purchased from… emphasis on bargain basement.

Whereas a higher-quality pedal would incorporate a more durable metal for the flange that the front of the cleat on the bottom of my bike shoe snaps into, these Nashbar pedals use either a hardened play-doh, or perhaps a lowest-grade alloy, and as such after not much more than 1,000 miles of punching the cleat in and pulling it out, the flange essentially snapped off like a Lee press-on nail in a Nevada cathouse rendering that side of the pedal unclippable. Talk about putting the metal to the pedal.

Normally I’d swap that fail out post hasty, but I didn’t because the other side of the pedal was still intact, that is, until yesterday when that flange broke about halfway through my morning commute, leaving me pedaling somewhat awkwardly the rest of the way in and dreading the ride home that evening.

Then just as I was about to leave the office, it dawned on me that the right pedal had both sides intact, so wouldn’t it theoretically be cool if I could dismantle the unbroken flange from one side of the right pedal and move it over to the left pedal thus restoring full clippability.

It didn’t take long for theory to become reality and I was able to pedal home with both feet firmly clamped in.

But for how long…? Hopefully only as long as it takes for the sturdier Shimano pedals to arrive.

So here’s how things went down. After breakfast Christmas Eve morning in the amazing Awahnee dining room followed by a visit to the Yosemite Village store to pick up some hairspray for mom (which she’d forgot to pack), it was decided she would hang out at the hotel while Susan and I did some sightseeing.

So off we went and checked out Yosemite Falls, returning from which we found mom in the lobby of the Awahnee, whereupon she regaled us with her close encounter with the predatory king of the area’s food chain.

After getting back to her room with the hairspray she also discovered that she had somehow managed to forget all her makeup, and so donning her mink coat and foregoing the shuttle service, she set out from the hotel for the approximate 10 minute walk to the store.

But instead of striding along the paved pedestrian path on the hotel-side of the road, she opted for the more natural route that wound through the trees and big boulders between the north side of the road and the granite walls of the canyon.

There she is strolling serenely along still within the boundaries of the hotel’s grounds trying to figure out how she could have been such a doof and left her makeup at home, when she heard a voice from across the road, calling urgently and firmly to her: “Ma’am!”

My mom turned and found a uniformed person leading a small group of people on some sort of tour (probably of the hotel).

“Yes?” she answered.

“I need you to listen to me carefully and do exactly as I say.”


” I want you to walk directly to me. Do it slowly. Now. Don’t turn around. Don’t run. Just walk. To me.”

Despite my mother’s tendency neither to listen very carefully nor to do exactly as she’s told. She followed orders and in a few moments she was across the road and standing before the uniformed person who asked her if she’d like to see why he asked her to do what she did.

“Of course,” she said.

Grabbing her by her fur-clad shoulders he rotated her around until she was looking back where she had been. Perched on the tall boulder she had been passing on her left was a mountain lion.

“Not a very big one,” she told us.

But big enough for her jaw to drop open as she watched it looking from her where she was standing to down directly below it where she had stopped, the lion’s long tail whipping back and forth a few times before it leapt behind the rock and out of sight.

“It was stalking you,” the man told her. “Best to stay on this side of the road.”

Again, she did as she was told. And it wasn’t until later that she realized the impact of the encounter and what might have happened had that tour guide not been there to get her safely away from it. It haunted the rest of her stay.

Postscript: The closest we came to a mountain lion were these tracks we found while tromping off-trail on Christmas Day near the base of El Capitan:


Susan’s still working on her collection, but got her awesome pix up here, and I managed to cull some 185 snaps from the more than 400 I shot during our three days in Yosemite — such as this one, taken by a kind gentleman who offered to snap Susan and me backdropped by Half Dome beside a snowman in a meadow we didn’t build so much as stand back up and add a misshapen noggin after I’d discovered it tipped over and headless.

PS. My mom was stalked by a mountain lion, but I’ll save that strange tale for another post.

1985saxIn 1985 I decided I was going to be a tenorsax man. That’s me on the right (click to biggify) shortly after I went to Baxter-Northup Music Company on Ventura Boulevard somewhat on a lark and bought a used Bundy on a two-year payment plan. She was not at all pretty to look at as saxes go, but she was beautiful to me and along with a couple beginning instructional booklets I brought her home to Van Nuys, and soon after spent many an hour with the doors closed in that dressing area of my single apartment usually with socks stuffed in the bell to protect my neighbors from the awful noise that came from my self-teachings.

Month to month, paying the $1,200 total down, my ability with the sax gradually increased. Never to the point of being any good or knowing what the hell I was doing, but I could put on “Joe’s Blues” recorded live at the Century Plaza by the Capp/Pierce Juggernaut and riff along somewhat capably with my favorite jazz vocalist Joe Williams. Same with some Manhattan Transfer, Lou Donaldson, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, and others.

When my grandmother died in 1987, I consoled myself with long slow renditions of “Amazing Grace.”

Though it became quickly clear I didn’t have the chops or the dedication or the desire to be anything but a closeted sax player, I kept on blowing for the sheer joy of it until I even got up the courage a couple times to venture outside, open up the case and just blow under a streetlight. Once was at the Santa Monica Pier, and once at my beloved and long-gone Cafe Figaro located at the mouth of Melrose Avenue just before it drains into the convergence of Santa Monica and Doheny on the Beverly Hills border. Each time I made a few bucks, probably more out of my passing patrons’ sympathies than out of appreciations for my musicality.

Nevertheless I always said the two things I’d never be without was my bike to get me where I’m going and my sax when I got there to make me some money for breakfast. Or beer.

I kept saying that up until one of the literally and figuratively poorest days in my life. It was 1996, and to make whatever month’s rent, it came down to putting an ad in The Recycler and sacrificing my beloved sax. A fellow answered the “for sale” offer and showed up to see what I had. Given its condition got no better from when I’d bought it, he scoffed at the $350 asking price, countering with something substantially lower. I told him point blank there was no “OBO” in the deal and that the least I could do to honor my best friend who I’d been able to turn to keep me company through some 12 years of some serious solitude was stay firm on the deeply discounted price. It was $350, take it or leave it.

He took the price and my sax and a bit of my heart when he walked out the door.

But the rent got paid and I vowed that one day I’d replace her. I even kept the mouthpieces handy as reminders — a plastic black one that I bought to replace the white one that came with the instrument and a far fancier Berg Larsen one that my friend Donny Sierer — a cool cat and a tremendously talented musician who married my good friend and tremendous actress Josie DiVincenzo — had given to me as a gift in the late ’80s (along with kind encouragement to keep up my playing).

To this day, within arm’s reach at my desk the mouthpieces sit. And held to the plastic one by a clamp whose copper has spent the last 13-plus years oxidizing  is the same 2-1/2 Rico Royal reed that I last wetted and blew through so long ago.

Last night, after coming home from Yosemite, we decided not to wait until this morning to open our presents, mine from my beloved Susan being a brand new tenor sax. Goodness gracious: with going to Yosemite and coming back to find the Most Awesome Present Ever, could this Christmas get any better?  That answer would be no.


As to any question about how she sounds, I like you people to much to subject you to any initial audio evidence of the havoc so long an absence can have on skills that were at best meager to begin with. But if anyone needs me I’ll be in the upstairs cubby hole off the bedroom known previously as The Clubhouse but now as the Music Chamber with some socks in the sax’s bell blowing my heart out now that an old hole in it has been filled.