Thursday, November 29, 2007

And Then There Was Nothing

Over Thanksgiving, my family and I ventured out to Green Valley Lake to check on the family's wee ancient cabin. I'm happy to report it still stands but large sections of the little town are gutted by the Slide Fire that had so many folks on edge a few weeks back.

As expected, I took a shit load of pictures but the one above stands out to me the most. One high-placed cul-de-sac, Juniper Lane, every single house was destroyed. This wooden bridgeway once led to a home with a beautiful view of Lake Arrowhead; house is no more but the view remains.

Before we left Long Beach, my brother had made the wry comment, "It'll be another Mass Destruction Family Tour. Ah, just like old times." Indeed, it brought back memories of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath - where once there were buildings, now there is open sky and people's personal belongings are strewn about.

I tried to post more photos but f**king Blogger wouldn't let me and I just want to get this up for now. More to come.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Brother's Hair

I've got eight million blog posts screaming to be written but when I came across this photo from Thanksgiving last year, I knew I had to clear this off my desk.

My brother, Robert, is a George Clooney character. Women love him and men want to emulate him. Growing up, my friends would swoon and say, "How's Hot Rob?" and even my parents, to this day, strive to impress him. He's a genuine modern-day swashbuckler. Give him the right car and poof! He's 007.

In his SoCal youth, Rob was a surfer/skateboarder and later dabbled in modeling before giving it up. "I felt stupid," he'd said, "All that fake smiling, not for me." Later, he became a successful furniture designer/builder before he became what he is today, a Land Baron. (He will scoff modestly and roll his eyes at this, solidifying his coolness.)

Robert is funny, smart, caring and generous, not to mention wildly popular. At a recent reunion wedding, another heartthrob character, Mike, recalled how Rob would walk with a strange hot-young-girl-shaped tumors growing all over his body. "It was amazing. Literally, one would be stuck to his neck, another on his elbow, another grabbing his ankle ... it was unbelievable. We just watched in awe."

Somewhere along the way, as his peers faced dreaded hair loss, Rob's hair grew. And grew. And GREW.

After the move to Mississippi, he let go the slick, suited dealmaker and became the shaggy hunter and land conservationist. He grew a goatee and that went gray. And the hair on his head didn't necessarily grow longer, it simply became BIGGER. Cutting it seems to worsen the problem. Evidently, it takes a uniquely gifted and incredibly patient hairdresser with a special thinning tool. Not a ton of those in the Deep South, apparently.

These days, a cap must be worn on his head at all times and usually is. When dining out with the family, Rob and his wife were trying to teach their son good Southern manners. They told little Robbie that his cowboy hat had to come off as they were in an eating establishment.

"But why doesn't Daddy take his hat off?" he'd asked.
"Because Daddy will scare the waitress and then we won't get our food, that's why," said Rob.

Rob's had a bountiful life thus far and the latest evidence is coming out his scalp. Fun to watch. It's like having a real, live Chia Pet for a sibling.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Turkey Hangover - Please Hold

I returned last night, fat and exhausted, from a week's worth of solid family and food focus. Unfortunately, my frenzied life did NOT organize itself in my absence. Instead, I'm more over committed than ever. What is that about anyway? I've got a good guess and I think it's spelled D-I-S-T-R-A-C-T-I-O-N.

Anyhoo, while I try to play catch up, please enjoy this shot of Mama Iva's patio at nighttime. Purty, huh?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Front page!

My nephew and sister-in-law made the front page of the South Mississippi Sun Herald today!

It's one of those "folks hit the road for the holidays" photo opps that all local papers run. Still, the phone is ringing off the hook and we're buying up extra copies.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Legends in the Sky

Heading to California for the Thanksgiving holiday, I flew out of Denver yesterday and the airport was practically deserted. In anticipation of a crowded nightmare, I'd puffed on the peace pipe and left extra early, expecting throngs of travelers all with the same idea. Instead, the terminal was eerily quiet and there was not a single person in the security line, it felt like "The Langoliers."

I kept asking airport employees what the deal was. "Just wait until Tuesday," they'd say, "this place will be a zoo." (Note to self, repeat this flight schedule next year.)

I noted to a United Airlines employee the line-up of snowplows in the parking lot, ready for action. "Maybe they'll be ready this year since last year was such a mess," I said, hopefully.

She shook her head and laughed, "It doesn't matter. They'll never be ready."

Joy-of-Joys: I hugged a Comedy Legend!

Everything about my trip yesterday was charmed. Once I boarded the plane, the flight attendant noted my guitar and brightly offered, "Hey, you can store that in the First Class closet if you want. There should be room." I went up to do so and on my way back, smacked right into Bob Newhart! He's a wee man and even with those signature reading glasses on the nose, I almost overlooked him. My response was so ultra cool:

Bob: "Yes, yes, I am."
Me: "OMIGOSH, that's weird! I've been listening to your old comedy albums for the past two weeks!" (It's true I have. Specifically, an album from the early 60s that I borrowed/stole from my mom on my last visit.)
Bob: (Genuinely surprised.) "Wow, really? My albums? That's great!"
Me: "I feel compelled to hug you, is that okay?"
Bob: "(Laughing) By all means!"

I gave him a good squeeze and cheek kiss and he returned the hug! What a thrill! I then quickly stepped out of the way, found my seat and called Gins to report my Brush With Greatness. (This much I have learned when meeting celebrities - if you cannot control the gush then at least make it quick.)

This is always the fun part about going back to LA - Legends pop up in the weirdest places.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dear Eleni,

Congratulations on your Bat Mitzvah! In lieu of actually being there today, this post has been created in your honor.

First off, you know a lot more than I did at your age. Still, there are a few random scraps of wisdom that have stuck to my shoe during my (nearly) 42 years on this blue marble and I’d like to pass them along. My Jewish consultant, Ginsberg, says that if I want to “go Super Jew” I should offer them in derivatives of 18. Therefore, I present 36 bits of random advice:

1. When you’re in a new class, a new school, a new job, a new town – it’s easy to find the best friends you haven’t met yet. Whoever is funny, or better yet, thinks you’re funny - those are your people.

2. Listen – really listen - to music lyrics and think about the words. Visualize them. They are little books y’know; each song is a great story. Or it should be.

3. Work at least two years as a waitress (or in retail) – it’ll provide empathy later as well as a lifetime of valuable insight to the human condition. Tips too.

4. ‘I’ before ‘E’ except after ‘C.’

5. There will be many phases of your life. Accept that you can’t take everyone with you. I usually end up dragging 3-4 folks per era through the decades. Your mom comes from the Macromedia Era and I’m never letting her go.

6. Wear sun protection. Even when foggy – the rays refract and do something trippy.

7. Trees contain more knowledge than we can ever imagine. Animals too. Respect them always.

8. Read your betters; books should make you stretch.

9. Falling in love is grand experience. Savor every moment.

10. Hiding your purse or coat behind the amplifier at a show is a great idea but make sure you dance nearby to keep an eye on it. Also, see #11.

11. Stop after two drinks and don’t mix your alcohols.

12. Sorry, but your mother is right about pretty much everything. In the next 5-8 years this will seem impossible but trust me on this one.

13. If you think you can’t, you’re right.

14. Once you realize you’re wrong, have behaved badly and owe someone an apology, call them immediately and GROVEL. They will appreciate it and will most likely return the favor in the future. This keeps relationship at a healthy pink level and also means you’re not an asshole. Everybody takes turns being wrong.

15. If you’re on a date with a boy and he checks out another girl in your presence, make a polite excuse to leave and just keep walking.

16. Stay in touch with old friends. After a few decades, these people become family-like but without the obligations. They will save your ass time and time again and are worth their weight in gold.

17. When in doubt, do the kind thing.

18. Always be up for a new experience, especially when it comes to food. Don’t be afraid of spices or weird colors.

19. Dorky guys are best. They might be fumbly and awkward but they will appreciate you like nobody’s business.

20. Just because something has never been done before doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Less than 100 years ago, women could not vote in this country and now we are looking at the possibility of the first female President. Amazing.

21. Explore at least five countries outside the U.S. – more, if possible. See other worlds, other people, other cultures and let your senses take them in. Never will you get a more accurate perception of where you come from than when you leave it. (Tip: Learn the words to “Fifty Nifty United States” before you leave; it will help you win many bets and a few pints of beer.)

22. It’s never too late to learn something new. I just started playing guitar last year – it’s a hoot. This week I’m making an apple pie for the first time.

23. Boys are nice. Just make sure they see the real you.

24. Be flexible – the world will be much easier to maneuver, especially when traveling.

25. Be wary of salespeople and zealots of any kind.

26. Seek out hobbies that enhance your life and bring you joy. It may not always be the same thing; sometimes one passion leads to another.

27. Never be afraid to ask a ‘silly’ question. Chances are, everyone else wants to know too. Same goes for the follow up question.

28. Don’t rely on outside sources for your happiness.

29. If you are worried about scoring a parking spot, say aloud the exact address three times on the way over. Say it with confidence and purpose and you’ll be surprised at the success rate.

30. Pay off your credit card bill every month.

31. Don’t follow the masses but at the same time, don’t be afraid be like something that everyone else does. Think for yourself – don’t be one of the sheeple.

32. Recycle fervently.

33. Be grateful always, not just when there is a big dead bird on the table. This is the core of true happiness.

34. Learn to grow to stuff you can eat. Not only is it yummier and cheaper but it makes you feel all-powerful like … like Bono or Martha Stewart.

35. Honor your family in whatever way works. I give my mom foot rubs and pour her wine; I make dinner for my dad and kiss his bald head. Simple stuff but deeply appreciated.

36. Live in the moment - it is all you have. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is just an idea. Believe me, fully grasping this concept takes practice and the secret is this: Listen with your whole body – the birds, the traffic, the person facing you – take it all in with great big greedy gulps.

Lord knows I could go on and on but eventually I’ll start making stuff up so perimeters are useful here. I hope your day was perfect in every way. You are such a smart, beautiful girl who carries herself so well. I rest a bit easier knowing you are part of the world’s future.

Your friend,


P.S. One last tidbit: Kangaroos got their name when the settlers showed up to Oz and asked the Aboriginals, “Hey, what are those crazy hopping animals called?” The Aboriginals said: “Kangaroo.” It was many years before the settlers realized that in the Aboriginal language, the word “kangaroo” means, “I don’t know.” This is my favorite factoid of all time.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Feminism Fallout?

In Maureen Dowd's column today, "Should Hillary Pretend to be a Flight Attendant?" she revisits the idea that a women's developed intelligence - and career/financial success - is her most damaging feature when it comes to scoring a date. Maureen is my sister-kin (single, smart, redhead) and she has visited this topic more than once.

On more than one occasion, I have played down, or rather, chose not to fully reveal my intelligence just to see how it affected my date and the theory is proved correct. Unfortunately, I can never keep this charade up for too long, which is why, relationships never formulate. At this point, I have given up on dating indefinitely until I find a man who's ego is self-contained and not tied to the size of my boobs or the power of my brain - and both are quite substantial.

I often wonder if I wouldn't mind being less smart if it meant I could connect with more members of the male species. I mean, fer chrissakes, it's not like I'm Ayn Rand or Madeline Albright or Carly Fiorina. I'm not a big player in the scheme of things and that's the way I like it - too many meetings. Blech.

My feelings vary on this, depending on the day, but I recall one interview that shed some disturbing light on this. For about five minutes, Chris Rock had a talk show on Comedy Central and I happened to catch it when his guest was Pamela Anderson. Chris cut to the chase:

Chris: "What does it feel like knowing that every person, every man, that you meet wants to have sex with you and has no interest in what you have to say?"

Pam: "Honestly, Chris, I don't mind."

Chris: "You don't care that people don't necessarily see you as a fixture of intelligence?"

Pam: "No, I'm perfectly happy being a person of normal, average intelligence and people seeing me that way. I know some incredibly smart people and, to be honest, they don't seem very happy. Believe me, I'm just fine being a 'bimbo' to the world. The people that know and love me in my personal life know differently and that's good enough for me."

DAMMIT! I HATED that she was right. Furthermore, when asked about the state of her career, Pam had the wherewithal to respond: "Hold on, I don't have a career. My boobs have a career. I'm just along for the ride."


I wish I had the answer here but I don't. Feel free to enlighten, argue or cheer me up on this.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ugly Bedroom Makeover

I've many, many photos from my recent trip to the California desert - looks like they are coming out in clumps, kinda like hairballs.

ANYHOO, out at the family's modest "Desert House" at Twentynine Palms, the Guest Room is legendary. The decor is blinding and has not changed since 1960. It invokes a time when Disney and Technicolor were still fairly new and people went nuts and tried anything. Menus included lots of Jell-O, Cream of Mushroom Soup and other bizarre ingredients.

Family lore has it that the godawful bright pinks and reds combined with classic green shag carpeting can cause time travel, or at least temporary blindness. It looks like something that might appear in a Charles Phoenix Slide Show.

Much like The Admiral, Mama Iva had had enough of the jokes and guests wearing sunglasses to bed. She decided it was time to bring the room into the current century or at least some vague century that wouldn't cause Martha Stewart to have a seizure.

Mind you, it wasn't just the loud hues, the drapes were faded in a perfect square thanks to the harsh desert sun searing through the cheap fabric. Also, they were torn at the top, mostly from decades of desperate and urgent tuggings to put them quickly aside.

Ahhhh, better, no? Of course it is. Fancy new mattress and everything. Then why does it look so weird to me? So sedate? I mean, one could actually get a soothing massage in this room as opposed to unwelcome acid flashback.

I'm all for decor improvement but less so when it comes to removing sources of traditional comic fodder. The Liver Bed, in the Master Bedroom, named for how easily it shook, was also removed in the makeover frenzy. Liver Bed was completely unstable the source of many midnight giggles between Mama Iva and myself. The springs were cattywampus, making it very easy to control the snoring of one's bed partner - just one little movement made the other person move and voila, silence.

Old stuff sometimes contains magic and laughter and the new stuff doesn't ... yet.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Going Backwards?

This photo just kills me. It was taken by Gleb Garanich from Reuters and it shows a beggar in Tbilisi, Georgia (the country, not the state). In the evolution of our species, looks like we might have made a bad turn somewhere back there.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Exploring in the Desert

Last weekend, I was in Twentynine Palms - as previously stated - one of my favorite places on Earth. One day, I went on walkabout and along the way, I faced temptation.

Left of the trail, I spotted two abandoned structures which I'd undoubtedly passed numerous times but never felt the urge to explore. This time, the world was covered in that perfectly luscious dusk light AND I was wearing my camera - my favorite accessory. So, off the trail I went.

There is nothing I love more than shooting empty forgotten stuff in that gorgeous state of "arrested decay". Now with digital, there is the urge to shoot compulsively but I try to mess with my own head a little bit and pretend I'm running out of film; I shoot less but end up with a higher image satisfaction.

The first building was a cabin of dark wood. The windows were all boarded up, no evidence of life at all. I circled the building several times but nothing caught my eye except for the edge against the background. Near the rotted back door, there was a dirty window to peek through - nothing but bits of junk, an old washing machine, dirty dish towels. I took the opportunity to pee in the sand.

Next to the cabin stood a tragic, empty mobile home, complete with badly worn astro-turf on the 'porch.' Where the cabin exuded sadness, this place invoked cruelty.

Same treatment - I circled the trailer few times but nothing really grabbed my one good eyeball. The long line of tires on the roof - I'm sure there's a hackneyed reason for this - is bizarre and fun so I shot that. Suddenly, a gust of wind came through and the front door creaked opens a bit. 'Twas a distinct invitation. Or a dare, not sure which.

I stared at that beckoning front door for awhile, just pondering the possibility of the unknown, which made me both excited and terrified to be standing there. Not a soul was around and I'm always drawn to this concept: No one to stop me and no one to help me. Freak, I know.

Finally, I made a move and the sagging wooden steps felt like they'd give way any second. First glance at the 'living room' I felt I'd obviously stumbled into the opening scenes of a slasher film. Still, I figured it was relatively safe to continue since I was a) not scantily-clad and b) was not recently having sex. I creaked open the door, did my best tough-girl voice, “Hello? Hey? Anybody home?”, and entered this ugly, forgotten place.

Darkness, dust and a badly stained green carpet greeted me. Broken bits of life were scattered everywhere – torn drapes, an oil-stained t-shirt, a broken suitcase – clues that lives were spent here but hardly lived. I slowly crept from room to room, looking for clever shots, until I picked up that tell-tale stench of death. I realized it was coming from the end of a long, darkened hallway. Again, I stared at the blackness and felt the temptation to see the dead thing for myself.

After years of journalism, my brain is permanently geared to headlines, so when “IDIOT SEX-LESS PHOTOGRAPHER SLASHED BY ZOMBIE METH HEAD IN ABANDONED DESERT TRAILER” ran across my brain like a CNN news ticker, I considered reconsidering. Did I mention it was in 36 pt. type? In bold Impact font?

Right about here I came to my senses, mumbled an excuse about ‘bad lighting anyway’ and got the fuck outta there.

Hoofing my way back home, I asked myself: "Self, would I have gone as far as I did without the camera? Would I have gone in if I didn’t have the means to document it? Am I that stupid and careless?" Sadly, Self sheepishly answered, "Yes."

I then came upon a woman walking her dog. She called out, "Are you a prospector?" Odd. Anyway, we got to chatting and I asked her about the buildings and hello! I got the juicy download:

“Boy, the owner has had a hard time keeping those places rented. First, there was a satanic cult – they were doing animal sacrifices and everything. Had pentagrams and swastikas up everywhere. Then, a lady moved in and was hauled off to jail the next day for prostitution. And then a grandmother moved in with her three pit bulls. I think she was cooking meth in there.”

My instincts were right – the past was action-packed in these parts. I’m sure glad I didn’t know any of that before I entered that trailer or I would have followed the dead smell for sure.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

NoDak in the News

Let’s Hear it for the Homeboys: Wayne Hauge and Dave Monson, two North Dakota farmers, are taking the DEA to federal court next Wednesday, November 14, to argue for their right to grow industrial hemp. They've already successfully petitioned the NoDak state Legislature -- of which Monson is a member -- to authorize hemp farming.

As for any stoner concerns, Wayne and Dave say comparing industrial hemp to marijuana is like “comparing pop guns to M-16s.” While marijuana THC levels can range between 3-20 percent, Canada regulates its industrial hemp crops to contain no more than 0.3 percent. A researcher said "There's probably more arsenic in your red wine, there's more mercury in your water and there's definitely more opiates in the poppy seed bagel you ate this morning." Hemp, a former standard crop of this fine nation, is super easy to grow and has a bazillion uses like paper, auto parts, food and ethanol.

So, hey, how's that War on Drugs, btw?

Meanwhile, here’s a headline I never thought I’d see:

“Ozzy Mad at North Dakota”

Comes from the local Fox affiliate in South Bend, Indiana. Ozzy got his feathers ruffled after a Fargo sheriff set up a sting before Osbourne's local show last week. The sheriff invited 500 people with outstanding warrants to a phony nightclub party before Osbourne's concert at a nearby arena. More than 30 goodfurnuthins (folks who ignore court summons, don’t pay child support, fail to pay fines, etc.) showed up and instead of partying down, they were arrested. Book ‘em, Dano! Ha!

The phony “Ozzy-Rob Zombie pre-party” was hosted by ‘PDL Productions’ which evidently stands for ‘Paul D. Laney,’ the crafty sheriff. The hulking staff wearing PDL T-shirts were actually deputy sheriffs, probation officers and local DEA members. Bam! The long, sneaky arm of Johnny Law knows how to use a keg. Or at least the promise of one.

Said Oz:

"Sheriff Laney went out of his way to tarnish my reputation by implying that I somehow attract a criminal element, which is certainly not true. My audiences are good, hard-working people who have been hugely supportive of my music for nearly four decades."

God knows, Ozzy’s people are god-fearin, church-goin’, bill-payin’, pie-bakin’ folks. But what I really wonder is why only six percent of the invitees showed up? Not a very ambitious bunch, if you ask me.

Next time, PDL Productions should host a Ted Nugent pre-party, he’ll score a bigger batch of nimrods, I’ll bet.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Farewell, Admiral

Lately, all my old things keep lasting and my new things keep breaking. (Here's where I sound like a member of AARP.) My iPod had a corrupted file, my one-year-old DVD player called it quits and my fancy stereo went on strike. Meanwhile, I get my music off a circa-1950s AM/FM/phonograph console and do my yoga tape on my ancient VCR. I once had a microwave but it became possessed by a demon and its been pots and flame ever since.

My point is, stuff used to last. Case in point: The Admiral, a modest little refrigerator that has pulled active duty for nearly a half-century at our desert cabin in 29 Palms. He has served our family well, kept our feasts protected - if not tightly compacted - within its tiny shell.

Its rounded corners and freezer that gets chubby with white ice has been a loyal member of the Clisby Appliance Family for quite a few Easters and numerous Thanksgivings. The Admiral has seen endless tupperware tubs of dip, mashed potatoes and creamed corn since my Grandfather built the house in 1960.

But the times they are a changin' and this past weekend, the half-century old appliance was given the heave-ho by Mama Iva. She'd ordered a spanking new icebox and The Admiral was given permanent leave. When the Sears delivery dudes showed up to deliver the new one, they inquired about its predecessor. We pointed out The Admiral and they laughed, "Oh, wow." Perhaps they'd only seen a live model of this design in dusty training manuals. 'Hmph,' I thought, 'they do not realize they are in the presence of greatness.

To make room for the younger model, they put The Admiral out on the sand. I was openly, verbally sad so, in turn, I was openly and verbally mocked.

I didn't care. The Admiral's forced retirement gave me pangs of Alice, my old Chevy truck. Alice was a hunk of metal as well, assumed soulless but, again, I felt differently. When she died, I sent out an email, "Alice RIP" and the outpouring of stories told me I was not alone. Ghost in the machine.

The Admiral may just have been a hunk of wire and freon tubes but he was a pretty consistent partner in my life - offering things like Mom's homemade guacamole, leftover gravy and game-playing wine. He still works fine but his era has passed; I am starting to understand this feeling. Perhaps this at the core of it.

I asked one of the delivery guys, Raoul, where The Admiral might be taken. "They'll throw it away," he said. Ack! No! "Wait. No, they recycle them. Yeah, they recycle them." Yay! Much better! For a moment there, it was a worse fate. This way, he can at least donate his vegetable tray to some retro-Suicide Grrrl.

Either way, I felt The Admiral deserved small recognition so I did the only thing I knew how to do. I rubbed his bald, white head and took his photo, thereby recognizing his/its existence and really, isn't that what we all want? Mind you, I'm bonkers but I coulda sworn I saw The Admiral puff out his freezer door chest a bit, posing for his final official portrait. If he'd had war metals, or at least some fancy magnets, they would have shone I'm sure.

Salute, Dear Admiral!