writing


PREFACE: I wanna walk this a step to the rear and backstory why I went to all the trouble of this project. See, since its demise, the amazing Joz Wang took it upon herself to foot the bill in keeping the group blog Blogging.la alive as an archive. I think she had long-simmering planshopesdreams to reinvigorate it but hadn’t been able to because LIFE.

In those ensuing years, having never kept copies of my 12 years’ worth of posts as they occurred in real-time, I frequently fretted over the potential day when Joz might very well and rightfully pull the plug and all that work I put into it over all those years for the love of doing so might be lost forever.

There were several false starts back when life was quote/unquote normal, wherein any initial motivation to complete the ginormous task got crushed right out of the gate after copy/pasting a few posts. So in essence, Covid19 provided the perfect opportunity to allow me to see it through because, as stated to death below, I wasn’t doing much the fuck else. So in closing, I wanna give a huge shout-out thank you to Joz for keeping things going long enough for me to finally tackle such a task. Covid19 may have provided the environment to get it accomplished, but without Joz’s dedication to what Blogging.la was, the following never could’ve happened.

I have not done much this Covid19 “lockdown.” I have not learned a new language. I have not lost weight. I have not taken an online course. I have not Zoomed. I have not cleaned the windows. I have maintained weedwhacked. I have not played Animal Crossing. I have not gone to Costco. I have not mastered the piloting of a drone. I have not donated blood. I have not ridden my bike. I have not converted a single cassette tape of mine to digital. I have not volunteered. I haven’t even been able to make it through one fucking book.

I did get my ass in gear and plant a backyarden, but hell, I do that pretty much every spring so DOES NOT COUNT.

BUT. When years pass and if I’m lucky enough to still be in this world, I will look back over this strange timeless/formless suspended animation of life in all its iso/quarinsanity, and there is one thing for which I will be proud. For all that I didn’t accomplish, I did do something for which I am terribly pleased and impressed. In looking back over this void of two months I may have done not a lot, but with a little bit here and a little bit there I accomplished something rather monumental earlier yesterday afternoon that I loooooong dreamed of doing but honestly never thought I would.

Suffice it to say it was a daunting task. Not on a vaccine-development scale but daunting nonetheless.

I went on to the admin side of the long-dormant Blogging.la website, a group blog for which I wrote for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 ,7, 8, 9, 10, 11, TWELVE years, and with the simple act of cutting and pasting each and every single one of my posts over that period from 2004-2016, I created a Word document archive some 948 pages in length of the 1,251 things I wrote about. All in it involved more than 328,000 words.

Whew!

Beyond having all that in my own possession, I’m not sure what I’ll do with it now. Maybe I’ll comb through it and find a Top-10. Maybe I’ll compile whatever might be its best parts into a “Blook,” to borrow the term Blogfather Tony Pierce coined. Maybe I’ll just sit back and be glad it’s a click away and pleased I made it so.

Note: This site has long been too dormant and been dormant too long. I may change that or I may not not. But going on week seven cooped out with  the COVID-19 emergency, I’ve started wondering what I want to do with the rest of my life. And as a result I’ve been pounding keyboards with some of the stuff in my head — most of which gets deleted. Writing has always been a passion and equally a pain. It’s something I know I am good at, but for too often don’t have the patience. Few stories flow from me. They have to be dragged out, and then endure ridiculous tinkering. But more than a year after my last post, I posted to Facebook this little window into a few weeks of one childhood summer that I banged out relatively effortlessly a cou0ple early mornings ago, and definitely wanted to port it here to live and perhaps to breathe a breath of life into this comatose old blog rather than just leave it to disappear from  a social media platform. Anyway, here it is…

It was the early 1970s. I was at my grandmother’s house in Carbon Hill, Alabama, for a part of the summer. Just me and her. I was six. Maybe seven. Carbon Hill is a small town in the northwestern part of the state, outside of the larger town of Jasper, which I read once had the distinction once of being the top coal producer in the entire world. Grandma had a dusty little wooden house with a coal-burning stove in the kitchen that sat near the the crossroads of two strips of asphalt.

The nearest building was across one of the roads that had once housed her flower and gift shop shop, but now stood empty. The next nearest was the small church down one the other road aways, at which my grandma used to teach Sunday school in a damp dirt-floored basement underneath the pulpit. During a different summer visit, I sat in that basement with my cousins and Grandma going on with some story about David, transfixed at a large hornet might have been the size of my eyeball that flew to a s midair stop and hovered so beautifully in the open basement doorway. I couldn’t decide if the hornet was afraid to come in or was just taking its time figuring out which one of us it was going to sting, until finally grandma got fed up with me staring at it dumbstruck and slammed the door shut.

The nearest neighbor was my great aunt Nellie up a nearby dirt road who I visited even though Grandma didn’t seem to keen on it. Aunt Nellie was sweet and gave me Milky Way candy bars and told me to mind her sister Ola and that she loved and missed Lyndell. That confused me at first because everyone who knew my mom called her Casey, which is how I learned the difference between birth names and stage names.

The room I slept in was in the rear of the house near the screened-in back porch. It had wood paneling and a ceiling fan in the center and bare floors and a large down bed with down pillows and a down comforter all positioned at an angle that when you’d fall in it would almost fully swallow you up. The bedding gave the room a deep, dense, and absolutely wondrous musty smell that has never left my nose, nor will I ever hope the day comes when it does.

Above the room’s ceiling and under the roof in one of the corners was a beehive so very large and active that you could hear endless droning of its workers day or night. So loud was it that often it seemed they were either in the room or on the verge of breaking through, but I never was freaked out by it. For that I can thank my best friend back in Van Nuys who was allergic and would run crying a mile like a baby in the opposite direction of where a single honeybee minding its own business might be. His embarrassing tantrums were a great lesson in how not to act around bees, most of which I’d encountered in my life had much better things to do than sting you. In fact, the incessant buzzing coupled to that thick aroma would often conspire to lull me off to sleep even when swaddled almost to suffocation in the humid-hot nights.

To the west of the house was a creek (which grandma pronounced “crick”) full of crawdads and the occasional cottonmouth. Behind the house was a chicken coop, and beyond that were towering sunflowers and corn stalks as far as I could see. There were also masses of beans growing somewhere, but their location I don’t recall. I only know they existed because of the many evenings spent shelling bushels of them on the front porch with grandma, done so under a bare bulb porch light that drew skies full of noisy flying things from the next county. Under the light stood a large bowl of water, and in the mornings it would be full of a fair percentage of those winged creatures who had the misfortune to land in it.

As a child of six or seven what terrified me weren’t the bees or the bugs or the critters in the crick. I became petrified by the black panthers I’d overhear grandma talking about on the phone and how there was no stopping them and they were coming to get all of us. I had no idea at the time or for years to come that she was frightened by the militant activist group so often in the news of the day. From my Jungle Book mentality all I figured she was talking about was a legion of bloodthirsty Bagheeras lurking out there somewhere in the darkness.

And damned if on one of those steam-soaked nights when something made a noise louder than the beehive and startled me from sleep, instead of my room the following morning, Grandma found me sprawled out on the backporch couch, garden hoe gripped tight in my hands from the vigil I’d stood in the dark, guarding over the house and the hens and beyond it the impenetrable sea of sunflowers and corn, where every whisper of the wind and sway of a stalk was a deadly black panther to which I’d defiantly stomp my weapon to keep them at bay and away from my grandma.

When she woke me frowning at my location, I told her what I had been keeping watch for, and Grandma gave me a sideways look stared out into the field and walked back into the kitchen wondering aloud where I’d gotten such a silly idea like that.

Cahuenga Pass, circa 1938CAHUENGA PASS

I dreamed there was no knife in my hand after I took the punch to the side of my head.

It was a nice dream while it lasted, but I came awake with a jump at the subconscious knuckle crunch of fist against temple, much in the same way people who are falling in their sleep jolt awake just before they impact whatever hard parcel upon which they are about to land.

Blinking the blur out of my eyes, the flood of relief I felt at the absence of the knife boiled entirely away in the instant I found myself still in the jail cell I’d been placed in after being booked for murdering the road-rager who’d thrown the blow.

Because there had been a knife in my hand. Funny thing, not only do I not remember how it got there, but I had initially planned on just accepting the slug. In a way, I totally deserved it.

I’d gotten off work. I was coming from Hollywood into the valley through the Cahuenga Pass where I’d been in a hurry to drop off a package for my boss at the FedEx near a curve in the road past Barham. I was in a rush to get home to my Encino apartmetn and cleaned up for a date later all the way back over on Melrose with none other than Elie Tolsen. I’d known Elie since high school, but back then crush be damned, I was a stoner fuck-up to whom such a princess wouldn’t give the time of day. Since then, I cleaned up nicely and got a promising job at Paramount. She’d filled out nicely and landed a co-starring roll on a popular TV cop show that just so happened to film at the same studio.

So there I was, FedEx package delivered and putting my car in reverse there on the driveway apron, trying to make every second count. Instead of backing out, heading east and turning around safely and sanely somewhere back in the direction from which I’d just come, I opted instead to back out across the clear eastbound lanes and arc into the space for left turns in the center of the street.

While I executed the obviously questionable maneuver perfectly, it surprised the driver of a car coming west around the bend who laid on the horn as he passed me, an alarm I fully deserved. After pulling into the lane I came up behind him stopped at a red light a couple blocks down. While the driver of the car was just glaring at me in his rearview mirror, it was the passenger who’d gone totally apoplectic with anger, turning fully in his seat full-throat yelling at me and flipping me off through the rear window. Seriously, there was spittle involved. Man overboard!

The irony is not only did the driver try to calm his friend down, but I also gave it my best attempt to placate the asshole. I mouthed sincerely that I was sorry and gestured as best I could to indicate I was certifiably the worst driver in the world who shouldn’t be allowed to walk the streets much less operate a motor vehicle upon them.

It didn’t translate to the guy riding shotgun. He just kept laying on with the fuckyous and the assholes and the middle fingers and the kickyerasses to the point where I had enough and returned fire. Then he gestured: let’s fucking go right fucking here, right fucking now.

Next thing, the light’s turning green, but he’s out of the car and moving towards me. Nothing about him was outwardly concerning — 5’10” maybe 175 pounds, no guns in his hands. But regardless of his lack of physical stature or weaponry, logic dictates that one should not stay frozen in a confined and hardly defensible space such as the interior of a vehicle as some stark and raving lunatic closes the distance. One should get out, the better to fight or to flee.

But for some strange reason, I stayed put — surprisingly calmly so. Ignoring the psycho as he arrived at the driver’s side window and instead looked straight ahead at the driver of the car who also remained behind his wheel but now in exasperation held his head in both hands.

I don’t remember what the fellow yelled and spit at me through the open window, neither is it important. What is important is that my failure to engage enraged him further enough to first slam his hand down on the roof of my car and then bitchslap at the side of my head, coming into contact with my left ear enough to cause an intense burning sensation.

Here’s the thing. I don’t take pain well. I don’t mean to say that I have a low threshold for it, it’s just that I woefully lack the ability to ignore whatever thing — be it animate, inanimate or in this case highly animated — that is the cause of that pain. I’ve destroyed chairs that I’ve stubbed toes on. I flushed a hamster down the toilet that bit me on the pinky. During my first year in junior high, I put a towering ninth grader in the hospital for suckering me into accepting a high five with a nail held between his middle and ring fingers. The school security guard had to pull me off him to stop me with hands full of his ears and hair from banging his head face first into the playground asphalt for the tenth time. It’s a byproduct overdrive impulse to inflict an equal or greater amount of damage to that which has been inflicted upon me.

Slim as it may have been, any chance of me not going batshit at the eird slap was taken off the table when his fist came in full contact to my temple, the force of which drove me across onto the passenger seat, upon which sat my backpack and in which resided the buck knife with a folding four-inch locking blade that was a gift from the warehouse manager of a previous employer back when I hadn’t quite cleaned up so well.  The job was in a bad part south and east of downtown and the manager told me for very good reason that I should never ever be without a knife.

In the ensuing daze of ear-ringing semi-consciousness I won’t deny going through the complicated process of opening the appropriate pocket of the backpack, removing the knife from its leather case, and locking it open. It’s just that I sincerely don’t remember doing so. All I recall is that when I felt him grabbing at my shirt and pulling me back toward him, I came up more quickly than he expected. With my left arm I pinned his right arm against pillar of the car frame and kept pushing the forearm away from me at an unnatural angle until there was a very satisfying crack and and even more satisfying a scream. Then what may have been the butt of his left palm connected with my forehead and I saw a light show before my eyes during which I drove the knife in my right hand into and out of and into and out of his midsection.

I couldn’t tell you how many times, other than I didn’t stop until he slumped and fell away from my car onto his back in the number one westbound lane just in time to be run over by a passing FedEx truck. Whether he was dead before he hit the street, or was finished off under the tire treads, I don’t know.

All I knew when sirens sounded in the distance and grew louder with each passing second was that I had killed two things, a man and my date with Elie. I was far more upset about the latter.

So KPCC’s Sharon McNary sent out an email yesterday soliciting thoughts from the station’s listeners about the upcoming expectedly cataclysmic shutdown of the 405 Freeway this entire weekend, and one her requests was for respondents to write a headline, haiku, or limerick about the impending doom.

So I tapped out this tribute to motorista angst:

No matter which way you’ll be headin’
You cannot escape Carmegeddon,
To this weekend say “Ciao!”
It’s Autocalypse Now,
Lock the doors and crawl under the beddin’.

While most of the city’s car-addicted will be doing their damnedest to stay as far away from the 405 or any of its ripple effect across the greater Los Angeles-area highways and byways, curiosity over what such an integral motorway looks like completely devoid of its cargo has me plotting a long bike ride to and through the eye of the storm (so to speak) that at this point will be departing from the Happy Foot/Sad Foot sign in Silver Lake (northwest corner of Benton Way and Sunset) Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m., to head up-river, across the valley (involving the Chandler and Orange Line bikeways), then over the Sepulveda Pass and back through the westside to our starting point. Before making the climb up there will be a side trip to the always intriguing Sepulveda Dam spillway.

Charted distance: 46.9 miles
Route: http://tinyurl.com/6khnsvc

Dear Verlyn Klinkenborg,

I just read your May 8 column about your ongoing failquest to find the “real” Los Angeles on nytimes.com today, and if I wasn’t so enamored with your entirely awesome name, I’d have sworn at you three times already, because normally when I read something like what follows, I just want to cuss like a sailor:

Something escapes me about Los Angeles. Wherever I go, I always imagine I’m finally going to grasp its essence. I try to feel its harmonics in my bones.

I watch the edges of the freeway to see if there is a clue in the debris the traffic sweeps to the sides. I wonder if there would be room for all these cars if they decided to find parking spots at once.

The iconic glimpses don’t help me in my quest — not the sudden view of the Hollywood sign I get from the Hollywood Freeway, not the view of downtown almost floating in the sunset from Pasadena. Every now and then, I turn a corner and think that something essential is about to be revealed. The feeling intensifies all the way up Venice Boulevard into Culver City, and then I’m on National taking one of those curious hidden freeway entrances and suddenly the feeling vanishes.

I’m new to you so I have no knowledge of how long you’ve been in Los Angeles and writing about it. Maybe you’re fresh and fully assimilated into the prevalent car culture. Or maybe you’ve been out here awhile and this is just more of what you’ve been writing. Gawd, I hope not. But either way, as someone who’s a native as well as a perpetual tourist in my own town, I’m the first one to admit your job ain’t easy. I’ve spent a good portion of my life trying to feel the city’s harmonics in my bones and it don’t come simple. Having said that I can only wonder if you’re kidding or if you indeed really think you’ll find what you’re looking for strapped in behind the wheel of a vehicle, seemingly addicted to our freeways and one of the more soulless stretches of Venice Boulevard. As such, if you’re at all legitimately interested in ending your deadend game of seek and hide with this wonderful city, I’m going to tender you the following heartfelt advice.

  1. Get off the 101 or the 10 or the 134 or the 405 — and stay off!
  2. Get out of your goddam car — and stay out!
  3. Get somewhere. On foot, on a bike, on a bus or a train — but for gawd sakes as much as you might want to don’t go to City Walk, or LA Live or the Grove. Go to a Dodger game. Go to Boyle Heights. Go to Union Station. The LA River. Go to Leimert Park. MacArthur Park. Go to the Watts. West Adams. San Fernando Mission. Venice.

Of course if you sincerely think that eye-spying shoulder trash and stalking onramps is the way to go about grasping at any of this city’s essence then my advice will be lost on you. And if so, tell you what: get out. Because it’s never going to happen. You’re just going to pound out more banal columns bemoaning Los Angeles as always being beyond the reach of your vestigial intellect.

So either get your boots on the ground and get busy or do yourself and L.A. a favor and order yourself up a window seat back to NYC. and as the jetbird swings back over land after its LAX take off over the ocean, look down. You’ll have just as good a chance of harmonizing with our lost city from that removed and encapsulated a vantage point as you would from a car stuck in traffic on the 110. And when that fails to happen you should have no trouble picking out the 10 and the 101 and the 405 and the 134 from the grid below and remembering all the good times you had on them.

What a crazy busy wonderful last coupla days. If there’s ever been a 48-hour period where I’ve bitten off more than I could chew but still managed to swallow it all without choking, this was it. It all started Friday night coming home from work with an intensive trip to the market to procure all the ingredients for the Coca-Cola-Brined Fried Chicken recipe (that I wrote about here) I’d been salivating over since reading about it in the current issue of Esquire magazine.

I’d been thinking of cooking it for Sunday, but a late-breaking freelance edit/rewrite gig wasn’t going to allow that so I decided instead of just Susan and me I’d whip up a batch for us and however many cycling pals returned with us from The Village Idiot Ride (that I wrote about here). Keep in mind, I’ve never done much of anything from scratch. Also keep in mind I’ve never fried chicken or cooked for a group. As such I even had hamburger patties and brats onhand as a contingency if my culinary endeavor failed miserably — which it almost did, but more on that later.

So by 8 a.m. Saturday morning in preparation for the arrival of my friend Steve and Alice and Manny and Ingrid and everyone else who might be biking with us over to the restaurant on Melrose,  I had beers on ice in the cooler and was getting the outside and inside of the house in order and cleaned up, first tackling the front and back yards and then the weeks-overdue vacuuming and dusting of the first floor while Susan did the same upstairs.

We managed to finish all that in time for me to get down to the business of mixing the brining mixture and the batter mix and the relish, and getting the chicken marinating in time for me to get cleaned up and ready for everyone to arrive. And by everyone I mean all these cool cats who paused long enough for an awesome group picture in front of the house by Susan before we set out for the crosstown ride (click it to enlarge):

groupshotLeft to right, top to bottom:
Barleye, Alice, Steve, Ingrid, Harry
Lance, Esther*, Daniel*, Dak, Stephanie, Jeff
Roadblock, John, Some Guy, Manny
*Thanks to Steve for filling in the blanx I was having with these names!

While Susan and I are generally nice people, we’re not the most social of animals and thus haven’t had this many people at the house since our wedding reception back in ’05 — and certainly never so many cycling pals!

So off we rode to The Village Idiot restaurant, where owner and my next-door neighbor Dean greeted us, and Steve and his “guardian angel” in the form of the restaurant’s barkeep Simon got a chance to reunite under far happier circumstances (click it to enlarge):

sns

After leaving the restaurant, a majority percentage — including late arrival Marino (who showed up while we were at the restaurant) returned home with me. In addition Manny stopped off to bring his wife Cybele over, and I commenced to almost fail in my attempt to complete the relatively simple task of thoroughly cooking some battered chicken thighs in hot oil.

Instead as it turned out, I only half-cooked most of them. Fortunately Marino cut his in half and showed me the trouble before anyone could ingest the undercooked meat and Cybele came up with the plan to recover the distributed food and toss them in the oven for a spell.

Thus they emerged from the O’Keefe & Merritt cooked through now as Coca-Cola-Brined Fried Baked Chicken, and it was generally well received. Sure I was disheartened, but would have been decidedly moreso had anyone taken ill because of my failure. And if it’s any consolation, on Sunday Susan took the leftover batter and extra package of thighs and did them up right. Here are the thumbnails of  a photoset of the overall recipe-in-progress  (viewable here on Flickr):

sequence

Sunday was a horse of an entire different color. Whereas I was all over the place Saturday cleaning and riding and socializing and cooking (or attempting to), the seventh day found me in front of my computer from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (with only a few short breaks and a sole one-hour retreat in the mid-afternoon) trudging through a late-breaking editing/rewrite gig. But I wasn’t complaining (at least not about the job as much as about the article’s condition) because even though it effectively removed me from enjoying the last day of the weekend, it paid me for my freelance services as an editorial cleaner almost as much as what I take home for two weeks at the office.

Let’s just say it’d buy a lot of chicken. And some lessons on how to cook it.

I’m not fully letting go with the whooping and hollering just yet. I’ve done so with past job interviews that I thought I’d nailed only to be let down like a lemming off a cliff in a Disney film.

But at the same time I just got off the phone with an editorial director of a national company looking for someone to take the reigns of one of their trade magazine based in West L.A.  and I can’t help but be excited at how well the conversation went.

Fingers crossed.

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