I sucked at shining my boots when it mattered most — during my time as a cadet at a local public police academy. I was a complete failure at putting a proper gleam on my boots, and I paid the price at inspections in getting yelled at and doing pushups.
Since then in the course of my present employment my results have improved. Given how bad I was before, I’d say they’ve improved a staggering amount. By no means am I saying I’m the best. I’m just saying I’m far more satisfied with the endgame than I’ve ever been. Shame I couldn’t have figured this out when it counted.
The boots: A pair of A.T.A.C. 8″ Shield Side Zip-up 5.11s, straight-outta-the-box.
My method? Credit where it is due: I owe a debt of gratitude to an area shoeshine establishment known as Code 7. They used to have a location much closer to my Los Angeles home but have long since shuttered that place and now operate about 25 miles away. For $10 (a bargain at twice the price; not including tip), they are masters, but a 50-mile roundtrip is just too far for me to travel even for such unparalleled and affordable excellence.
So I did the next best thing: imitated them. While I can no longer find it on their website, Code 7 used to have a webpage that listed the series of steps involved in their process. Based on that here is what I do, as shown in the accompanying 90-second timelapse (realtime: 60 minutes):
1) Saddlesoap lathered on, dried, and buffed off
2) Angelus polish hand-rubbed on and then melted with heat gun
3) Let cool and repeat Step 2
4) Let cool and repeat Step 3
5) Let cool and repeat Step 4 (yes, I bake in four layers of base on new boots)
6) Allow boots to cool completely
7) Kiwi Parade Gloss hand-rubbed on
8) With water, cloth and elbow grease, dab-dab circle-circle until shiny
9) Clean up work surface
10) Horsehair brush finish
For those of you who do not have palm trees on your property with which you have to deal, I am a bit jealous. We happen to have two. One is roughly a sixty footer that has been growing for perhaps near as long as our 1906 house is old. It stands majestically and relatively out of the way in the northwest corner of the backyard. The other comes in somewhere upwards of forty feet and it is literally and maddeningly situated smack dab in the middle of the backyard, about ten feet back from the kitchen windows.
I would estimate that in the course of the near thirteen years that tree and I have been acquainted, I have spent a cumulative total of two hours and thirty-six minutes just staring in WTF-style amazement at it wondering which one of the previous owners had the opportunity to uproot the palm tree in its infancy some half-century ago, but instead decided it would be a dang good idea to allow it to grow in pretty much the most obtrusive possible place that one could allow one to grow. Many’s the time I’ve looked out the kitchen windows and admired how much its trunk has all the view-blocking beauty of a utility pole or smokestack, and doubly so how its position subsequently limits any landscaping opportunities. Not coincidentally, manyâ€™s the time Iâ€™ve dreamed about going back in time and whacking that person in the shoulder with a frond for being such an idiot.
Speaking of fronds, thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m over-telling this story today. With the winds this past week, comes the treesâ€™ inevitable shedding of its dead. The sixty-footer did so last week, dropping twenty-nine fronds heavily but mostly harmlessly onto the north sideyard. I came home last night to find the forty-footer had shrugged off twenty-seven. Why is it I know the exact number? Because I chop up each and every one — the better to pack them into the green bin and get them the hell outta my sight.
It wasnâ€™t always like that. For our first few years together, the fronds would fall (I remember one bunch totaling 60 that practically scared the poop outta me when I was napping in the hammock and heard it break off in mass with a ridiculous shhhhnraaack! and then crash with a ground-shaking shhhhwhump to earth) and I would go about tying them up in bundles of 10 or so, lugging them all down to the curb and then praying and hoping that my bulky item pickup request with the sanitation department would get fulfilled — which it sometimes wouldnâ€™t, forcing me to make another request, and the fronds would then sit there at the curb for another week. Maybe two.
Iâ€™d guess it was finally around 2008 or so that I decided to cut out the middleman, and instead purchased a pair of heavy duty shears, wherein after each frond fall I would cut up each one of the sometimes seven- to eight-foot tall beasts into three parts (as you can see in the accompanying timelapse of me attacking the forty-footers twenty-seven this morning): first separating the fan from the shaft, then the shaft from the tail. The process makes for a pretty good workout, especially considering that until chopping up the sixty-footerâ€™s offering last Sunday, I was being a dumbhead in making the process aaaaaaall the more laborious by using the shears to forcefully make a full cut between the shaft and the tail.
Hereâ€™s the thing, decapitating the fan is a piece oâ€™ cake. The shaft is very thin at the base of the fan and all it takes is a literal snip to make that separation. Down at the other end is a different matter. The shaft has not only widened out but itâ€™s way thicker and denser too, thus making a full cut through that section took a lot of effort and time. It takes force, it takes position, it takes leverage, and then some more force, responsitioning and leverage. Factor in the inevitable dulling of the shears’ blades and it’s not a party. Not only that, but as a bonus on occasion, in the course of attempting that arduous cut– many of the fronds are lined with sharp little thorny spikes –the shaft would snap against my neck or head, cutting me. I sooooo rejoiced at the glory of life whenever that magic would happen. Hallelujah.
Apologies to Steinbeck for the â€œOf Mice and Menâ€ reference, but for as much as I like to think Iâ€™m George, I can be such a total Lennie.â€ For whatever reason last Sunday, after cutting off the first fan I went to work at the other end, and it was only after roughly ten years of doing it the hard way of huffing and puffing and groaning trying to cut aaaaaall the way through that a light bulb went off and a voice said â€œRelaaaaax you numbskull. Donâ€™t force it. Instead just cut into one side enough to score the surface and then bend it away from you!â€ And I was all, â€œWha…?â€ And the voice was all â€œJust trust me. Truuuuuuust me.â€ So I said â€œOK,â€ and I scored the surface and then bent the shaft down and away and dang if the frond didnâ€™t let out a satisfying kraaack! and part from the tail. Not fully, but after that making the remaining separation was an effortless snip with the shears on par with that involved at the other end.
I rejoiced in my ten-year-late discovery and upon finishing the job in record time came running in to share the news of my exciting discovery with my beloved Susan. In the end, letâ€™s just say she looked at me very much the way a parent might look troubled upon a child who might be showing themselves for the first time (or fiftieth) to be perhaps a peck short of a bushel. In fact, Iâ€™ll it’d be a safe bet youâ€™re looking at your screen in much the same way. I understand. Go ahead and tell me about the rabbits then, huh? Can ya? Tell me all about the rabbits!
Anyway. There is much joy here in Frondville on this day. Next year when the palms drop their next batches upon the ground I wonâ€™t be jumping with joy at the task at hand, but at least Iâ€™ll be accomplishing it more efficiently. Hallelujah!
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 riverâ€™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 cityâ€™s woeful waterway â€” little more than a drainage ditch to the sea. Though Iâ€™ve been aware of its potential, I never imagined that one day Iâ€™d see such a sea change in perception so thatÂ 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 â€” however awkwardly â€” downstream for a water-level perspective of my beloved river, itâ€™s not a dream come true. Because I never dared to dream this could ever happen. Not in my lifetime.
No, itâ€™s much more than that. To me itâ€™s nothing short of a glorious miracle. And for that Iâ€™m thankful to everyone who has fought so tirelessly and valiantly over the years to get the cityâ€™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 oneÂ 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.
Though not without cause given how little I’ve been riding this year, any reports of my having forgotten how to ride a bike all over the dang place have been greatly exaggerated, as seen in this to-Whittier-and-back of 46-miles Saturday, split in the middle by eight hours of classroom instruction at Rio Hondo College.
I must say that the “out” half beginning in the near-deserted early morning was much more enjoyable than the “back” portion in the late afternoon, which involved scads of traffic, a ceaseless headwind along the entire straightaway length of Valley Boulevard, and me riding in something of a zombie-fied state due to fatigue and my internal fuel tank being almost completely empty.
The morning ride was also enjoyable because of the nearly six-mile-long game of leapfrog you’ll see in the above vid that I have on the nearly Valley Boulevard with an MTA bus that began near Cal State LA and didn’t end until I bailed onto the Rio Hondo Bikeway in El Monte.
But the other thing that ran out of gas too early was the camera, konking out after a brief respite spent at Lincoln Park.
In what’s only my fifth ride of the entirety-to-date of 2013 (egad!), I tripped on over to the Glendale DMV to pick up a copy of the latest edition of the California Vehicle Code.
There’s something fulfillingly off-kilter about biking to the Department of Motor Vehicles, which is exactly why I did it, in this case from Silver Lake to the Glendale branch and back, about 17 miles under a wonderful second day of spring.
Buster is a mind-changer. Most of my life I considered tortoises to be plodding, simple-minded and uninteresting creatures. But then along comes this Russian tortoise into my life in October 2001 and she burned that opinion to the ground — and continues to do so.
Even though this clip ends in her failure to escape and me coming to her rescue, it’s a great reminder of how awesome she is and how incredible tortoises can be — how curious, how energetic, and how stubbornly unstoppable. Her ancestors don’t date back 200-million years because they just sat around the planet.
She looks at the almost two-foot-tall pile of river rocks I’ve arrayed on the left not as a way to be kept in, but as a way to get out. And though she suffers several setbacks in her escape quest, she ultimately gets thiiiiiiiiiis close to succeeding — all the more incredible when you consider how poorly equipped a tortoise is to such a rigorous endeavor.
Regardless of how inadequately outfitted Buster is to climb over a pile of rocks, “quit” is simply not in her vocabulary. Well… neither is “vocabulary,” but you know what I mean.
So on this Thanksgiving Day, I’m thankful for a lot of things and one of them is Buster’s indomitable spirit, which keeps inspiring me — especially so at this latter stage of my life when I’m attempting to scale my own disproportionate rockpile and achieve a place in a new career field.
As I’ve done for many years now during the Memorial Day weekend, I get on my bike and make a solemn sojourn to Los Angeles National Cemetery. Late last week, in response to an inquiry from KPCC as to who or what their listeners would be thinking about and doing for the occasion, I recorded my thoughts for them via SoundCloud:
It was a beautiful day and a beautiful ride, and as you’ll see in the video, I did my annual duty in righting a whole bunch of individual flags that had fallen. But I pedaled very pensively the way home, thinking both about the freshest graves I found there of soldiers killed in Afghanistan in August and September of 2011, and of those undoubtedly to come.