slice of life

In the 12-plus years I’ve been a-blogging, I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than a week or two without posting SOMETHING. So you can imagine my shock when I saw I’d last been seen here basically more than three weeks ago.

The funny thing is, I’ve still been communicating, but mostly on Facebook, which for reasons known only to Mark Zuckerberg has been able to squirrel its way in to becoming something of my defacto mode of e-communication. I don’t even tweet much anymore.

But enough about that. Without any further preambling, here’s some of the stuff I’ve been doing of late:

1) Kayaking The Los Angeles River

As part of a pilot program this summer, a section of the long-lost Los Angeles River coursing through Elysian Valley was reopened to the public for use as a recreational resource, an opportunity angelenos have not had since the 1930s when the river’s channelization was begun to prevent flooding.

As a boy I accidentally discovered the river, and from that single experience I have never stopped being enamored with and zealously protective of what so many others have dismissed as our city’s woeful waterway — little more than a drainage ditch to the sea. Though I’ve been aware of its potential, I never imagined that one day I’d see such a sea change in perception so that  the river would made accessible and embraced not as a prohibited place but as public parkland to be explored and experienced and as something to connect with after so long a disconnect.


So for me, thanks to L.A. River Expeditions (Facebook), to be among the first wave during this historic first season and doing what you see in these clips at the top and after the jump: putting a kayak into its waters and putting my butt into that kayak and paddling — however awkwardly — downstream for a water-level perspective of my beloved river, it’s not a dream come true. Because I never dared to dream this could ever happen. Not in my lifetime.

No, it’s much more than that. To me it’s nothing short of a glorious miracle. And for that I’m thankful to everyone who has fought so tirelessly and valiantly over the years to get the city’s much-maligned and misbegotten river recreated in enough influential minds so that it can now be leisurely recreated upon.

Physically and soulfully these waters were very moving.

2) Unrocking The parkway in front of our house

I can’t remember if it was four or five years ago, but it all began when our next door neighbor contacted me to tell me he was redoing the section of parkway in front of his house with river rocks, and would I be interested in going in for half of the cost and doing mine as well to give the two parkways some continuity.

I figured why not. It would look better than the dirt and dead grass that had been there and it would be an opportunity to do something positive with the guy with whom, frankly, I’m not on the best of terms.

So a few weeks later he shows up with a metric ton of the palm-sized rocks and we pour them out, and the continuity lasted for all of as long as it took for the grasses and weeds to grow from between our rocks. See, he keeps his section of the parkway completely sterile, using gardeners he’s instructed to pluck pretty much even the slightest growth of green. Me? I’m my own gardener and I instructed myself not to give a hoot about what grows.

The only thing I’d been meticulous about is putting the rocks back that people for some stupid reason can’t resist kicking or tossing all over the place: the gutter, the street, the sidewalk, our front steps. And yes, I’ve even confronted people I’ve witnessed taking the rocks – literally picking up several and walking off as if there’s a “Free Rocks — All You Can Carry!” sign posted.

Fast forward to this week, and I’m finally done with these rocks. Agreeing to partner this design option for our parkways did nothing to improve things with the neighbor, and so I decided that it’s time to reclaim or refresh our decidedly seedy section of the parkway and remove the river rocks.

I started yesterday (August 12), and quickly discovered that it was something easier said than done. What I thought would take a couple hours of clearing the roughly 40′ x 4′ area, is going to take about eight or more… mostly because over the ensuing rainy seasons, what started as one layer of rocks on the surface of the soil is now in places two or three layers of rocks that have been buried by the flow of water and soil, hastened by those people who’ve tromped on them and pushed them deeper. It’s really quite remarkable how low some of these rocks have gone.

I found out during the first four/five foot long section I cleared from the driveway apron to the magnolia tree, which also involved digging up all the dead patches of grass. And there are a LOT of dead patches of grass.

Soooo, what you’re seeing here in this timelapse is roughly 45 minutes of me attacking with little more than a spade and begloved hands the second four/five foot section between the magnolia tree and the brick walkway. Ended up filling the bucket three times. That’s a lotta rocks. And I’ll do it again tomorrow. And the day after. Until it’s done.

Not sure yet what I plan to do once it’s all cleared. I may just leave it bare. I may plant something. Or I may supersaturate the soil and set the rocks back into the wet dirt side by side like so many tiles. At least that way if some idiot wants to take one or toss one  it’ll require a little more effort than just bending over and getting grabby.

Menial labor? Meaningful labor? Bit of both from where I’m toiling.

Forty-six seconds of Pumpkin enjoying breakfast specifically and life in general, this clip documents what has to be a serious contender for the title of Happiest Most Satisfied Sound Ever, and I’m lucky in that I get to hear it every morning.

I sat down on Friday to enjoy a persimmon and a guava, and brought my trusty little lockback pocket knife with which to slice them. The persimmon and the guava were part of a bag of backyard goodness my friend and neighbor David brought over. The knife, pictured below previously belonged to our tenant Joe, and was discovered in a fishing tackle box of his that I found in the basement a year or two after he died in 2008. I’ve kept it nearby ever since. It’s a great little knife.

I didn’t realize it’s above-average attributes until I brought it with me one recent Saturday to the Rio Hondo College and as I was sitting at a table with others in my class and using it to slice up an apple, a fellow student picked it up and commented on it. He read the “Japan” stamped near the base of the less-than-two-inch-long blade, and was impressed, remarking that this must be a vintage knife as it’s rare nowadays that such a small blade would be made with Japanese steel. Stamped above the “Japan” is “440 C Stainless,” which I later came to learn is the highest quality 440 stainless steel.

It made me appreciate the knife even more.

Back to the persimmon and the guava on Friday. Turns out I didn’t even need the knife because the persimmon was so ripe you could eat it like an apple or tomato — the guava the same way. I followed those up with a store-bought grapefruit and again the little knife wasn’t used because it was too small to quarter up the fruit’s large diameter.

Afterwards, I took the paper plate upon which the inedible fruit bits sat and I scraped them off into the nonrecyclable trash bin before putting the plate in the recyclable bin. Unknown to me then was that I’d placed the knife on the plate and piled the rinds and stuff atop it and scraped it into the trash, too.

It was about 24 hours later, when I decided to have another persimmon and guava and grapefruit that I realized the knife was missing. It was not in its usual place by my desk. It was not on the table by my chair in the livingroom, and I went into the usual dark funk whenever something of mine is not where it’s supposed to be. Of course, I also was quick to say what my mom has always called The Magic Prayer: “Nothing is lost. It is simply not revealed,” but my heart wasn’t in it. Logically, I checked under and around my desk and my livingroom chair, Illogically I checked places the knife would never be: upstairs, outside in the backyard. Finally it dawned on me it might be in the trash, so Saturday afternoon, I did some searching of the containers in the kitchen and the cans on the side of the house. Still, no knife.

So I groused and I fumed and I frowned and I nashed and I looked again in all the logical places I’d looked before, and again in the illogical places, too. Then this morning I wrote the following on my Facebook page:

With apologies to WH Auden, stop all the clocks and shut off the phone… this is me obsessing: My absolute favorite pocket knife has maddeningly gone missing and its disappearance happened at some point after using it to slice some fruit either yesterday or the day before (I’m not sure which). Compounding my frustration is that the fruit was either ripe enough not to need slicing (persimmon and guava) or too big for the pocket knife’s short blade to be effective (grapefruit). Having searched in all the places it might be (as well as many places it absolutely wouldn’t), I then did a cursory and unsuccessful search of the discarded garbage, my fear being I accidentally pitched it with some other trash. But I’m afraid I’m going to have to don some makeshift biohazard gear and dive in deep to the budding repulsive compost-in-training for a more complete examination that leaves nary a broken eggshell, turkey bone, coffee ground, nor grapefruit rind unturned. Few things frustrate and fixate me more than a cherished thing that’s just up and vanished, so like I said, silence all the pianos and stop the dog from barking… this is me obsessing.

After getting back from a wonderful 3.5-mile hike in Griffith Park with Susan and Ranger, I finally rolled up my sleeves and plugged up my nose and this afternoon dove determinedly into the outdoor cans. Damn the stench and the stickiness and the sog and the yuck and the muck I was going to go piece by piece until I found it, or threw up trying.

And I did. No, I didn’t upchuck. I found it. When I lifted the three-day-old remains of our Thanksgiving turkey, there it was sitting in a damp and dank bed of coffee grounds.

And I wrote this on Facebook and posted the above photo:

Start the clocks back up and turn on the phones… This is me no longer obsessing over my gone-missing absolute favorite American Valor 440 Stainless Japan steel pocket knife, pictured here after it was recovered from the trash into which I so unknowingly and ignominiously discarded it. And no I did not literally cry for joy when I found it under the turkey carcass and covered in coffee grounds. I just smiled in relief.

Nothing is lost. It is simply not revealed.

May I present to you 35 seconds of our calico cat Patches being… Patches. There is a perfectly and freshly filled bowl of water not 12 feet away, but after I finished the breakfast dishes and accidentally left the water trickling from the kitchen faucet, Patchy opted to hop on up into the wet sink and slake her unquenchable thirst with absolutely no regard and/or problem with the fact that in order for the water to get into her mouth she had to let it course down the side of her head.

To break the monotony of her 5’x5′ backyard hutch, I’ll let our Russian tortoise Buster out to explore. But contrary to what you might think about tortoises being slow, I have to keep an eye on her when she’s out because she moves often with a purpose and at a pretty good clip, for a tortoise, at least (seriously, there have been times where I’ve let her out of my sight for a couple minutes and I come back and she’s nowhere near where I last saw her).

Anyway… in this clip, Buster attempts to cross over a line of river rocks in the backyard and in doing so teaches two very important lessons about perseverance, which is the hallmark of Chelonian species who’ve been persevering on this planet from more than 200 million years:

  1. If at first you fail, do it again, and if you fail again, do it again
  2. No matter how ill-equipped we may seem to be, we can overcome obstacles before us.

And listen to ambient electronica while they do. So there.

Since the May 2 orientation, I’ve had to get a fair number of Rio Hondo College ducks in a row in preparation for my first day, June 6.

Last on my list was: haircut. But of course there’s a backstory. Not counting a slight trim in a salon shortly before leaving for our vacation in Thailand and Cambodia in March 2011, my last time setting foot in a barbershop for your typical regular haircut was February 2010.  This was due in part to my getting a buzz-cutting kit at Costco, and deciding to try my hand at DIY barbering, which I got pretty comfortable with along the sides and back of my head. Not so much with the top.

As a result the top just grew and grew and grew, until I had something like 10-inch-long unruly follicles that I did my best to keep plastered back and down either with hats, or with a combined overuse of haircare products.

Frankly the long hair was more trouble than it was worth, but it was my long hair dammit. And I was quite enamored with it since its ceaseless growth was occurring at an age when some men have long got over having lost theirs.

But then came the decision in August 2011 to thrust myself into a this new environment and I knew my ‘do was a don’t.

But getting the ‘do done in proved to be the easiest thing for me to put off, and it kept getting pushed down the list of priorities — past the combination lock — until it finally had nowhere left to go.

Now from a barbershop perspective, my go-to place had been Tony’s in the shopping center on Glendale Boulevard and Fletcher in Silver Lake, a couple miles from me. I started going there when I moved to Silver Lake in the winter of 2003 and was a faithful customer up until 2010, when I embarked on the good ship Cut Your Own. And my barber there had been a wonderful old gent named Louie, who was in his 80s (but looked to be in his 60s) and was not only a genial old-school barber but also always gave me a great cut.

As that was two-plus years ago,  I decided to call and make sure Louie hadn’t retired, and if not find out what coming day he would be working. Tony picked up the phone, and to be polite: Tony’s a character. He’s ornery and short-fused and he proved it on several occasions when I’d be in there being attended to by Louie. One time he got in to a full blown shouting match with a customer and kicked him out. I think Tony’s motto is “The customer’s not just always wrong but full of shit, too.”

So Tony answers the phone and I tell him it’s been a while, and that I was wondering if Louie was still there. Straight away, Tony starts breaking my balls.

“Ooooooh, Louie? Yeah… let’s see. Well, here’s how it is. Louie’s about 90 years old now. And for Louie to cut your hair we’d have to go to his house and get him and bring him back here.”

I look at the keypad of my phone wondering if there’s a *69 type combo I can punch to block bullshit.

Instead I cringe and risk further Wrath Of Tony by following up with “Do you mean he’s not in today or… uh, he’s no longer working there?”

“Ooooooh, you’re not getting the picture are you? Let me see if I can explain it more clearly: See, Louie’s about 90 years old now. And for Louie to cut your hair we’d have to go to his house and get him and bring him back here.”

Clearly when Tony repeats the same sentence that qualifies to Tony as giving me the clearer picture — even though of course it didn’t clear anything up. But I took the hint and stayed silent admiring how so basic a question could so set Tony to baloney mode.

Maybe sensing he’d ornery’d on me a wee bit too much, he eased off and  invited me to come in, somewhat in the way Count Dracula bids Jonathan Harker entry to his castle. “Come on in. I’m here,” he said. “Ramon is here. Either one of us can take care of you.”

I started to say for that to happen I’d need him to come to my house and bring me back there Louis-style, but instead just thanked him and hung up.

So instead I went to Figurin’s, a shop literally around the corner from our house that I should’ve been going to since I moved in with Susan in the summer of 2004. But never did — and I’m not really sure why.

Better late than never, I took a farewell snap of my long locks then traipsed over there. Covered up and ready, I snapped a pre-during shot there in the chair and then in less than 30 minutes with the skilled hands of the very much Louie-like proprietor I was traipsing home fully satisfied to snap my Rio Hondo-ready ‘do.



Next Page »