Tuesday, August 31, 2004

A family trip to Paris a few years ago turned into a solo one for me. My mother had had a stroke a month beforehand. Everyone else was able to cancel their flights, but mine was non-refundable. So was the place we rented on St. Germain Boulevard. Mom was getting a little better; everyone said I shouldn't let the trip go to waste, so I went.

I know, poor Mikey... had to go to Paris by himself. Boo friggin' hoo. It was bittersweet, though. I was worrying about my mom the whole time, and not really in the mood to soak up the romantic atmosphere the City of Lights had to offer.

Still, I had a nice time. I had studied French for a while, trying my best not to be the ugly American who doesn't know his droit from his gauche. And at the Musée D’Orsay, I ran into a friend I hadn't seen since college in New York, and we were both living in LA. Had to go 6,000 miles to run into each other.

Once again, my cartoon has inside family jokes (A policeman had come to my sister's kindergarten class, advising the kids not to talk to strangers. Strangers can be dangerous. Stay away from strangers. My 5-year-old sister raised her hand and said, "What's a stranger?" Yeah, she was cute, once.), bad jokes (Les Egouts -- even in Paris, the sewers could be considered a romantic tourist destination), and jokes too small to read (click on the cartoons to enlarge 'em): "Fries, Toast, and Other French Things", "How to Speak Through Your Nose" , "Guide to Dry Wines and Stinky Cheeses", "Je Ne Sais Quoi, ou Qui, ou Quand, ou Por Quoi..."

But, hey -- it's in color!

When I got into film school, my mother was surprisingly supportive. A fellow movie buff, she went to work expanding my knowledge. Made me lists of flicks I should see. Sure, I knew Sixteen Candles, but what about The Four Hundred Blows? I had seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but not The Third Man.

Her enthusiasm may have been motivated by securing a seat at the Oscars someday. But really, I think she recognized that despite naming me Michael David so that I'd be "MD", I'd better suited for creative endeavors than medicine. I hadn't inherited my grandmother's musical ability -- I'll assume that'll skip two generations -- but I did have some of mom's artistic skills. ("Hey, I'm depraved on accounta I'm deprived.")

She had painted when I was little, and I gotta tell ya, at first I was dubious of her talent. Her paintings were off in perspective, and rather crude. Her Venetian gondolier looked more like a Muppet in a bathtub. Maybe she knew it too, because the painting was tucked away in the corner of the living room, behind the piano on which I wouldn't practice. ("You ain't heard nothin' yet!")

But after she and my father retired to Las Vegas, she took up painting again. And her skills improved tremendously. The house soon became her gallery -- lots of landscapes of Red Rock Canyon and the Nevada mountains, but a few portraits, too. It was fun to compare our art skills -- we were direct opposites. Put a brush in my hand and I might as well be fingerpainting, but I'm not bad with a pen or pencil, whereas my mom wasn't crazy about drawing. And she always has trouble depicting men -- they come out too delicate, too effeminate. My caricaturish drawings of women make their features overly prominent -- I'm lucky if they don't look like men in drag. ("Nobody's perfect.")

As a birthday present, she made me this picture. It's hardly a great representation of her abilities -- she used colored pencils, and still lifes were never her forte. But a lot of thought went into it -- a collage of props from some of our favorite movies. Click on it to enlarge the picture. ("I wanna be big!")

I realize it's not clear, but see how many movie references you can recognize. For example, in the bottom right corner is the bullwhip of Indiana Jones. There's 22 others. ("I am big. It's the pictures that got small.")

Give up? Click here: Surrender, Dorothy

Monday, August 30, 2004

My Dinner with AJ

I wasn’t sure about meeting a fellow blogger. I mean, everyone seems pretty cool, online, but what if they turn out to be freaks in real life? Or what if they recognize -- I mean, think -- that I am, too?

Well, with AJ, there was nothing to worry about. I’d bet he’s the most down-to-earth real person emerging from cyberspace. Easy-going and friendly, and so talkative, I ravenously finished my lobster ravioli long before he made a dent in his al dente pasta.

It was a relief to talk to someone within, and about, our blogging community. I’ve spent so much time here, that I forget my real-life friends aren’t in on the Internet interactions. I can’t tell them, “Hey, Gooch is a dad!” or “What happened to Crayon?” or “You see that funny thing from the Countessa today?” (I do anyway, though. Making sense is overrated.)

AJ told me a lot about his life, stuff that’s both on his site, and secrets he may not have the courage to share. I did the same -- you’ll either see these tales on my blog in the future, or you’ll have to inject AJ with sodium pentathol for the ugly truth. He explained the meaning of the grammatically incorrect “All Your Blogs Are Belong to Us”, which is a lot funnier story than the origin of “Make Mine Mike”. (A variation on an old funny British movie, Make Mine Mink. New Year’s hangover was overtaking any creativity at the time, and if I put any more effort into a title, I wouldn’t have started ’04 with a weblog at all. Also, I think the superduper clever “Michael’s Blog” was already taken.)

The truth and blogging was largely the topic of conversation. How and why we’ve used this medium. He wanted to chronicle his family story; I wanted to tell funny ones, and display my cartoons, photos, etc.

Then I discovered, like he and many people, Life at TJ’s Place. It not only inspired me to write simple, humorous anecdotes, but I was impressed with the amount of comments the site was getting. That’s how a lot of us found each other.

This led to the subject of what AJ called, “party blogs” -- ones that get tons of comments, and even more daily visitors. TJs got notoriety when it was listed on blogger.com. Some sites are full of raunchy sexy stuff that draws people in, and still other people spread the love out there and get plenty in return -- gotta write the comments to get ‘em. AJ and I acknowledged there are some fine writers on each other’s sidebar -- we see them Haloscanning -- but we just don’t have the time to add them to our roster. We admitted sometimes getting jealous of the party blogs, (especially when they get more visitors for a mini-post than we do for a funny or thought-provoking one) but we remind ourselves that we’re not in it for popularity. Still, it’s so satisfying to get responses, to know someone’s out there reading your entries.

I always thought of these blogs like LA restaurants. And you’re the chef. Some places become hotspots, due in part to the atmosphere in the joint. You can go out and drum up business, go into the comments section like you’re mingling with the diners, but at the end of the day, the important thing -- to me -- is to serve fine cuisine.

AJ and I agreed, as we finished our bottle of chianti, not every dish will be delicious (though our meal certainly was), but we try. Bon appetit and party on.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Five Lists of Five
Lists of Fury

5 fun things I’ll do this weekend:
1. Meet up with AJ. Fellow SoCal site-man Gooch couldn’t make it. I told him to bring baby Gooch, but no dice.
2. Speaking of dice, I’ll be hoping that Aimee and Celti hit it big in Vegas.
3. Look for new places to move my mom. Ok, that’s not really fun.
4. Saturday, go to a BBQ where this radiant runner chick I know might be, but might not… or hang out with this collection of community college cuties – flirty fun but frankly unfulfilling… or maybe just go home and dream of blogger beauties.
5. Hopefully not dream of Jay’s site again, now that I put this audioblog there.

5 of the all-time great Simpsons lines (of course there’s plenty more):
1. “Well, crying isn't gonna bring him back, unless your tears
smell like dog food. So you can either sit there crying and
eating can after can of dog food until your tears smell
enough like dog food to make your dog come back... or you can
go out there and find your dog.”
2. “So lame that it’s... cool?”
3. “My cat’s breath smells like cat food.”
4. “No attitude, eh? Well, you can cram it with walnuts, ugly!”
5. “Remember the time he ate my goldfish, and you lied to me and said I never had any goldfish? Then why did I have the bowl, Bart? Why did I have the bowl?!”

List of 5 “Lists”:
1. Most Hungarian: Franz LISZT
2. Mintiest: LISTerine
3. Skinniest: CaLISTa Flockhart
4. Marryingist: LIZTaylor
5. Most Sore Lance Armstrong with Shiniest Yo-Yo Ma on Masterpiece Theatre: bLISTered cycLIST, gLISTening celLIST & AlLISTer Cooke.

5 albums I’ve played possibly 500 times:
1. Ocean’s Eleven Soundtrack
2. Sublime: Sublime
3. Jimi Hendrix: Electric Ladyland
4. Muddy Waters: Hard Again
5. Beastie Boys: Paul’s Boutique

5 people I’d like to thank:
1. George Washington Carver – chunky peanut butter. Mm.
2. The fashion designer who invented women’s low-cut jeans.
3. Farmers in Oxnard – great blueberry crop this summer, folks.
4. Kung Pao, whoever you are. Your recipe’s even better than General Tsao, whoever he is. Mike likes his chicken spicy.
5. All the people who deserve a beat-down. I lifted more at the gym, thinking about the selfish inconsiderate mofos. They should thank me for not taking it out on those dumbbells. Feelin’ good, now. Feelin’ strong.

And one more, to you kindhearted bloggers out there, esp. Aimee, for her thoughtful message yesterday.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Mikey’s adventure at sea, a true tale at St. Croix in the "Open Water":

My sister Julie and I took some kayaks out. We were both pretty good at kayaking back when we were preteens at sleepaway camp. But this was the ocean, not a stagnant lake in upstate NY, and we’re not kids anymore.

Even though we had to fight the current and the wind, we managed to row out to the tiny island just off the coast – I’d guess about a half mile out. We lounged on the beach of this little rock: “Cast Away” -- I was Tom Hanks; she was Wilson the Volleyball.

It was when we headed back that the trouble began. We had the elements on our side, but when I heard Julie calling out to me, I saw that she had tipped over. She wasn’t alarmed, but she was having trouble getting back in the kayak. Kept flipping it right-side up, jumping on top, and whoops -- it topsided again.

I started rowing over to try and help, but then the boat got out of her reach. The current took it away faster than she could swim to it. “I’ll get it,” I said. “Just rest and float there, I’ll bring the boat back to you.”

So I chased after this thing, grabbed a hold of its side strap, which made for awkward paddle strokes, especially against the current. I began struggling to row back.

“Are there sharks out here?” Julie said, swimming to meet me halfway.

“No, of course not.” Jeez, there very well may be, I thought. But I don’t want anyone to even think about it. Julie versus Jaws. Shit.

I brought her back the boat, and she was still having trouble climbing in. So I jumped out of my kayak and helped steady hers until she could at least balance on top of it – getting into a seated position was another story.

Then we realize -- her oar is missing. The rental guy had tied it to the boat, but it still must have gotten loose... and was long gone. Okay, it’s just an oar. No problem. I tethered the front of her kayak to the back of mine, and I’d row us both back in.

Now I was trying to get into my kayak, which I realized wasn’t easy when the boat was parallel to the waves, and the water had gotten choppier. I could see what Julie was going through – once you’re on top of the kayak, any tiny shift in weight and you’re getting dunked again. This was getting damn frustrating. Julie was laying in her kayak, holding my oar – holding on for dear life, or we were gonna be swimming back in – and I had my underwater camera tied around my ankle, thinking, yep, this happens every time I try to be Jacques-Yves Cousteau. The camera is gonna come loose and once again, I’ll lose all my sea-life photos...

I told myself: Don’t worry about that, Mike, let’s just try again -- jump up, grab on, steady, steady... SPLASH! Motherfucker!!

All right, stay calm. Breathe. Find your zen, uh, shakra kaballah... mantra? Quan boogie? Whatever. Keep your eye on the tiger.

Then it started raining. Perfect. What’s next? Julie and I looked at each other and started to laugh.

That gave me the strength; I managed to get properly seated in the kayak. Julie handed me the oar, and I started rowing. We had drifted down-current, so once again I was fighting the tide to get back. But I was a Tiki warrior, pumping that paddle like a propeller.

We emerged out of the rain cloud and my shoulders were on fire. Wasn’t sure if it was a sunburn or the serious upper body workout. But we pressed on. Julie’s kayak kept bumping into mine, which was fine -- getting rear-ended told me the boats were still connected. Between grunts I’d shout out. “You still there?” And yeah, she hadn’t capsized again. Good.

I considered docking down the beach, away from where we had launched, then we’d just arrange to carry the boats back. But as I continued I became determined to complete my mission. No short-cuts. All I had to do was fight this last bit of current, get around the jetty that led into the marina. I thought back to that first month of college, when I joined the crew team (before I got tired of commuting up to the Harlem River every morning), the coxswain yelling, “Stroke! Stroke!”

Hey, remember that old Billy Squire song? Whatever happened to him? Dammit, Mike, concentrate!

When we pulled into the marina, I had a strong sense of accomplishment. Julie felt nauseous. She leaned over to maybe puke... and fell overboard again. And then she was too tired to climb back on. But we were practically there, so she just swam along the kayaks as I rowed us back in.

The boat rental guy felt bad he hadn’t tied the oar on securely. But it was no big deal. We made it back; that was all that was important.

Honestly, I’m glad it all happened. When I was out there at sea, it was all about survival. For the first time on the vacation, I wasn’t stuck in my head, my stupid brain never shutting up, even when I tried to numb it with alcohol. Even when we were adrift in that rain, I was relishing the challenge. Would I rather be fighting the Caribbean Ocean waves, or fighting traffic on the L.A. freeways?

Weird scary dream last night.

It started off with a new feature on Jay's site. He had photos of kids in a classroom, doing some kind of educational role-playing, like a model U.N., or a model Congress. But the pictures, out of context, looked kinda goofy and nerdy, and Jay was inviting his readers to come up with captions. Many of the entries, of course, were full of sexual innuendos, which were at times pretty funny. I was gonna submit some when the dream narrative changed.

[Note: In real life, I was finally was able to hear the audio posts on his blog, and had an idea for a prepared creative one. But he went on to post other stuff, and I got too busy to do it for now...maybe this weekend. I think that’s why this was on my conscious and unconscious mind.]

Then I was on Sunset Boulevard with my sister. We had left a video store -- which isn’t there in real life -- and were gonna go back to her place to watch them. At one point we were sorting through some stuff that looked like pills. She told me not to take the little ones -- those were her dramamine (which she takes whenever she travels). I didn’t want them anyway. I wanted to have all the marshmallows from the Lucky Charms -- pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, green clovers, etc.

The parking structure was configured so that the only way out -- on foot, which is bizarre considering, as the song goes, "Nobody walks in LA" -- was onto the busy street.

There on the edge of Sunset, sitting on a table, I saw props from a TV commercial. Not a real commercial -- it had been in the dream, I think advertising for some wireless service. A quirky woman was in her apartment, preparing for a date. She lifted up an old-fashioned large black dial phone, revealing it was a container for her old 45 records. Indicating land-lines weren't necessary, a thing of the past, I guess. She took a record out, put it on the turntable, and romantic music (Billie Holiday, or something like that) played as she continued to get ready for her date to arrive. I saw the old phone, found one of the albums and tried to put it on, but it was still in its protective paper covering as I put it on the turntable -- how do you work those old record players? I was about to remedy the situation, when my sister told me we had to get going.

She was right, and I started to go, then realized I forgot the bag containing the videos. When I looked back, the bag had gotten fused into the asphalt. I tried to peel it loose, but traffic was picking up, and I had to get out of the way.

Now here’s the scary part – I wound up boxed in between two buses. It’s hard to explain the physical layout of this. I was directly in front of the giant right front tire of the bus. Traffic was stopped, but as soon as it would start up again... I would be crushed. I tried to figure out how to get outta this. I was too low to be seen by the driver. I couldn’t go forward because another bus was right there. And I simply could not get out to the side either.

My only hope was to step to the middle of the bus, between the tires, lay flat on the ground and wait for the bus to drive over me, then pray traffic wasn’t so dense that I could jump up and dash out of the way of oncoming cars. It was a longshot, but it was my only hope, and somehow... I thought I could do it.

Just as I lay down flat, I started to wonder if the middle of the bus was high enough that I wouldn’t get snagged and dragged... and how will I know exactly when the bus had passed? I wanted to look up, but was afraid to raise my head...

I may have done just that, because I woke up, raising my head in the bed, relieved it was all just a dream.

I have a pretty good sense of what this all means. I’m feeling trapped and overwhelmed in by a lot of things, especially my family situation, and it’s keeping me from "smelling the roses", appreciating and embarking on the creative things that make me happy.

That, and traffic on Sunset Boulevard is a bitch.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

It’s been awhile, so here’s today’s gripe:

Your ol’ pal Mikey, he gots troubles.

While I was away, my mom drove her motorized wheelchair into the pool. She’s fine; the wheelchair’s dead. We’re working on getting her a new one. They’re expensive and I’m hoping the insurance will pay for some or all of it.

But perhaps because of that, and/or other issues, she was served an eviction notice from the assisted living facility. So we have to deal with that, too.

There's so much to say about this... that I can't.

On a lesser note, I’m swamped at work. Both bosses keep piling stuff on me – ASAP – and one of ‘em is telling me this from a second extended vacation this month – calling on the cellphone from a beach house in Oregon.

Oh, and one of my friends was upset because I’m being “distant” and not giving up my time to hear about which himbo she should string along.

It’s all gonna be okay. I’ll post a nice travel adventure story soon.

The captain of our Buck Island tour was a man named Llewellyn Westerman. Everyone knows Captain Llew. Originally from St. Nevis, he’s now an institution on St. Croix -- an old-fashioned sailor. Llew’s 37-foot trimaran has no engine. Not even the dinghy. Doesn’t slow him down a bit. His gray beard and mentioning of his five adult children tell you he's 65 years old, but if you saw him work those sails or scuttle that rowboat, you’d guess he was half his age.

How long has he been sailing?, I ask. One of our passengers answers for him: The man came out of the womb with a tiller in his hand.

Captain Llew doesn’t say much. I hope to hear some old gob-speak. Topsails and mainsails. Steady as she goes. Prepare to come about. Listing to starboard. Port bow, man overboard. St. Elmo’s Fire.

But he stoically mans the boat as the others provide the details. Bernie the Attorney tells us how one day back in the ‘60s, some drunken sailors got tired of going around the coral reef surrounding the inlet, went out there with some dynamite and blew up a big hole. It’s illegal to damage the coral -- if those guys did that today they’d be locked up. But at least now there’s a doorway to go out to sea.

“That’s right,” Llewellyn says as he steers us toward the opening.

We stopped off at another reef for a little snorkeling -- saw lots of the same fish (blue tangs, parrotfish, snapper) as the reef near the hotel, but how can you get tired of that?

Then we went to a beach at Buck Island. The first pure sand beach I’ve seen out here. Most of them are rocky and full of coral. We laid out, went for a swim, and then dried off on the boat as Bernie played some Dylan and Stones tunes on his guitar.

Heading back, I offered again to lend LLew a hand -- did he need help pulling the anchor? Unfurling a sail?

Our fearless captain dashed up and down the boat, saying, “Man, by the time I explain what needs to be done...”

He didn’t need to finish the sentence. We were already off, heading back home. I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

The original Anti-Monster was my dog Max. I was thinking about the little kid Carter (see 7/31 entry) and my way of scaring off his imaginary demons, and realized where I got that idea -- from my golden retriever.

In the age-old debate of dogs vs. cats, one argument you could make against pooches is that they need to be walked all the time. But I didn’t mind that much; I often enjoyed my evening constitutionals through the neighborhood with Max.

But when I was busy or tired or lazy, I could just let him go in the fenced-in backyard. Let him roam around, go in the pool, pee in the bushes, dig up the yard, whatever. He liked it.

And then there were times he didn’t like it. I’d open the door to let him out and he’d just look up at me.

“There ya go, Max,” I’d say. “The great outdoors.”

And he’d say, “Yeah, I don’t really feel like it right now.”

Of course, he didn’t actually talk, but I think that’s what he would say if he could. Either that or, “Yo, Two-Legs. Enough of this Alpo crap. Make with the T-bone.”

“Max, go outside now,” I’d say. “In ten minutes, you’re gonna bug me that you need to go, and I’m gonna be busy doing my homework.”

“Bullshit, flat-face. You’ll be chattin’ up some chippie on the phone, or sittin’ on the couch with the remote. I’m gonna have to wag my tail in front of the TV just to get noticed.”

Okay, I’m gonna stop personifying my dog. It’s creeping me out.

I needed to get Max outside so he could just leave me alone for a while. But I couldn’t just force him out the door; I had to convince him that it was what he wanted to do.

An’ dat, my friends, would require a li'l stragety.

I leaned in and whispered, “Hey, Max, do you see what’s out there?” He looked out the screen door. “There are things out there. Bad, bad things.”

Now he was curious. And I kept going. “You gotta get those things out there. That’s your job. No one else can do it. But you can, Max.” I started raising my voice, talking through clenched teeth. “You gotta get ‘em, boy.”

Now maybe Max couldn’t speak, but don’t tell me he didn’t understand. He comprehended every word. I could see the hair on the scruff of his neck stand on end, his floppy ears all perked up.

I wasn’t able to convince Carter that there weren’t monsters in the backyard, but at least I got my dog think that there were. But not to scare him. Max was the Anti-Monster. And I was his coach, getting him ready for the big showdown.

“Are you ready?! You gonna get those things?! You gonna get ‘em?!”

Max was twitching, raring to go, chomping at the bit. A racehorse at the starting gate.

“GO GET ‘EM!!” I swung open the door --

Max charged outside, barking rabidly, “RAWRAWRRAWRRAR!”

What was he going after? Who knows -- squirrels? Birds? Earthworms? Boogiemen?

Didn’t matter. I got him out of the house, and he kept barking... until he heard the screen door close. Then he looked back, and I swear his face turned into a giant lollipop. Written across his forehead was the word, “SUCKER”. Cue the trombone: Mwahh-mwahhh.

I closed the main door and let the Anti-Monster do his thing outside. Inside, I went to the living room to watch Bugs Bunny cartoons.

Ain’t I a stinker?

Friday, August 20, 2004

After a week, the days in St. Croix are starting to blur together.

All the booze may have something to do with that. One day we went bar-hopping (rum-running?), from the hotel cantina to several in Christiansted. By the time we went on the Cruzan Rum factory tour, I was already pretty buzzed. There was something about fermentation and yeast and sugar -- flashbacks to high school chemistry. I could pay about as much attention as I did back in Mr. Rosenbaum’s class. Though this time I didn’t ask, “When do we get to see something explode -- ka-boom?!”, even after all the free samples of flavored drinks (vanilla rum -- yum).

Oh yeah, we wound up buying some gifts, a heavy care package that I’ll have to carry home: “Fifteen pounds on Mike’s shoulders rest / Yo ho ho, six bottles of rum!”

Was that the same day I had the delicious lobster at the Galleon restaurant? Or when I bought a friend a souvenir at the Purple Parrot Store? Did shots at the pool hall? Did shots at the pool bar?

How about when I saw an iguana? I was lying on the beach, looked up and saw on the grass, in the shade of the palm trees -- is that a dog? If so, that is one ugly mutt. I got closer and couldn’t believe it; snapped a couple of photos before it trudged away. I just hope they come out to confirm my vision. Otherwise, I may be having rum-soaked Animal Planet hallucinations. Most people see pink elephants; I see green iguanas.

One night we drove through the rainforest to the other side of the island, watched the sunset at a beach bar with a reggae band. There are 50,000 people on St. Croix, yet I swear they all know each other. Some guy saw my Yankees hat and started talking about the Bombers, but others were giving me the “cut-it-out” signal. As I broke away, they warned me that that dude was crazy -- everybody knows that. Throughout the evening, our friends heartily greeted the rasta men, the local ladies, kids building sandcastles and some grizzled old sailor regulars.

I was sure not to drink too much when I went to work -- at the island’s only casino. Which is why its name out in front was cleverly titled, “Casino”. The place was jam-packed. All the cheap blackjack seats were taken, even the 25¢ slot machines. But very few of the local gamblers knew how to play craps, so I got a nice spot at the table. How’d I do? Well, after a slow start and a few novices holding up the action (You can only touch the dice with one hand. Odds on the 5 are three-to-two; you have to put down an even number.), Mikey got his mojo woikin’. When my luck started coming, I knew it and woulda wagered big, but the casino only allowed 21⁄2X odds bets (most Vegas casinos allow 3X, 4X, 5X). If you’re confused, let me sum up: In a quick hour, I made a few hundred bux.

We left the casino and it was time for more rum. Drinks were on me.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

It's blurry, but I kinda like the turquoise colors in this picture from the coral reefs of St. Croix. It has nothing to do with today's post, though.

Dating stories aren’t usually in my writing repertoire. But I’ll break from the norm to show why. Make an exception to prove the rule:

“Have I got the perfect girl for you!”

If you’re a single, 30s man in L.A., it seems that every single, 30s woman in L.A. is the perfect one for you. Or so your friends and family think, especially if you’re both Jewish. They’ll call you up out of the blue (or turquoise) to tell about their discovery of your future spouse. I try to avoid these set-ups for the same reason I pass on eating Aunt Minnie’s hamentashen – both take a surprisingly large amount of work, are extremely dissatisfying and leave an awful taste in your mouth.

But the recommendation came from a reliable source, the credentials sounded first-rate -- a qualified candidate for the open position of a girlfriend; maybe I should rely on this reference, go from temp to perm.

So I called her, learned that she had gotten the scoop on me and was equally interested (but probably just as hesitant, too). We had a nice conversation, exchanged some e-mails, and eventually met for dinner.

I’ll spare you the details, especially because they weren’t particularly juicy. She was nice, kinda cute, kinda interesting... didn’t blow me away.

But it was a first date. Very casual. Polite get-to-know-you conversation. I thought she was a little nervous and awkward, but we hadn’t built a rapport yet. We didn’t know each others’ sense of humor, so we couldn’t kid around too much, just made innocuous jokes. (Of course I wouldn’t dare tell her the story about the horny teenager violating supermarket pumpkins. But for all I knew, she could have raunchier stories than that -- she wrote for soap operas.) I figured I’d try to go out with her again, see how it would go when we felt a little more comfortable.

We played phone tag for a few days, and then here’s the e-mail she sent me:

Hey Michael. Hope you are doing well.

Sorry we keep missing each other. Since we have been playing phone tag, I thought it would be better if I dropped you a line so you know where I stand on things. I really enjoyed meeting you last week, but I have to be honest...This might come across as crazy, but you mentioned that night that you are not a big fan of cats. This is a dealbreaker for me because my cats (and cat rescue) are a huge part of my life. I can't see myself dating someone who doesn't at least like them!

Anyway, if you are interested in catching a movie or hanging out some time as friends, I'd be cool with that but I don't think anything more than that is going to work for me.

Sorry to drop this over email but I felt disingenuous playing phone tag just so I could say this...

Take care,

The events of this story took place about a month ago. This incident, individually, doesn’t bother me a bit. I wasn’t that excited about her in the first place.

And let me make it clear: I didn’t go off on cats. If she was familiar with my ranting sense of humor, I might’ve kidded around and playfully called her pets a pair of claw-packin’, fickly-attackin’, furniture-trackin’, expression-lackin’, on-your-face-sackin’, hairball-hackin’ monsters. Instead, I just said I was more of a dog person, told her about the golden retriever I had as a kid, and mentioned that there was a friendly stray cat at my building who was winning me over. When she told me she did cat rescues, I remarked how I truly admired her for that, volunteering for a good cause.

See, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a “dealbreaker”. Okay, maybe if the date says, “...and after my third incarceration...”, or if she removes her dentures before the dessert arrives. (I mean, talk about faux pas -- everyone knows you’re supposed to wait for the after-dinner drinks to take out your teeth.) So if all else is okay, I won’t let little things get in the way, not early on. I didn’t hold it against her that she seemed a little too doting on her two feline furballs.

Yet my experience is that minor differences are enough to make some girls nix the entire thing. This date alone didn’t bother me, but start adding up a few similar disappointments, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s me. Many of these dates already knew what I looked like, so it couldn’t be my appearance, could it? I’m a good-looking guy. At least my mom says so... Are my tastes really that off-putting? Or are they just not interested in me at all, right off the bat, but need to find a particular aspect to hinge it on?

You see what happens? I start to feel self-doubting and insecure.

That’s one reason why I don’t usually like to talk about it. But I did this time, and I had related the incident to some friends. They all thought my date was nuts. One friend said that a girl like that -- before she knows it -- will turn into an old spinster cat-lady.

I appreciate the reassurance, them cheering me up, making me laugh, but I don’t like where this is headed either -- getting bitter and insulting. In dates-from-hell stories, I sometimes think the author is the one who comes off poorly, bad-mouthing the other person, and maybe even the whole gender. (Feelin’ a little guilty even posting her e-mail.) Had a rough rendezvous? I can relate to your reaction. But be careful; try not to overreact. I don’t think it’s healthy to be so unforgiving or mean-spirited. Harbor those kinds of feelings, and you won’t be open to new possibilities. Listen to Mikey, your spiritual guide to happiness. (Actually, I think I read that on a fortune cookie once.)

It all goes back to comfort and the time it takes to build a relationship. I have lots of friends who’ll find any excuse to avoid a first or even a second date. They’d rather hang out with me and other people they already know, so they can just relax. I make ‘em go out, ‘cause I don’t wanna listen to them bitch about how they can’t find a boyfriend/girlfriend. And I’ve been on the receiving end of that fear of the unfamiliar. It rarely snows in L.A., but you’ll see flakes everywhere.

Speaking of lovesick friends, so many people I know feel inadequate unless they’re in a relationship. It gets tedious hearing things like, “I won the Nobel Prize, the state lottery and a spot on the 2006 Winter Olympics team. But I don’t have a boyfriend, so I’m gonna go kill myself.” And this is another reason I don’t like to discuss dating -- too many people obsess over it. I’m not judging others on what’s important to them, but I pride myself on being fiercely independent. The best girlfriends I’ve had are the ones who don’t define who I am, but enhance it (and vice versa).

I remain optimistic that I’ll find that special woman, the love of my life. But it’ll take time. She probably won’t say, “You had me at ‘hello’” (especially if she’s one of these L.A. golddiggers who’d also say “Show me the money!”). And I don’t think we’d need to tell each other, “You complete me.” No, we would want -- more than we need -- each other. Now, a cutie who’d want to grow old with me, sharing heartfelt gems like, “The human head weighs eight pounds!”... that’s the girl for me.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

St. Croix, continued:

I’ve been here a couple of days and what have I done? Not much. And I’m finally learning not to feel guilty about it. Took a while to adjust outta that don’t-waste-a-minute work mode. It’s not even 10AM as I write this and I’m already thinking of having a rum drink.

They just scooped a crab out of the pool. Chlorine killed the poor thing. They tossed it toward the beach -- food for birds, or the lizards that are everywhere. Or for other cannibal crabs.

I saw plenty of little crabs on the rocks that outline the reefs right here at the beach. Snorkeling the first day, I saw lots of tropical fish, and chased after a sea turtle.

Things got treacherous as I head back to shore -- a barracuda was stationed in the shallows, right in my path. Just motionless. What was it waiting for? Lunch? A big mammally lunch? Filet of Mike in a coconut-flavored SPF 48 sauce? I decided to go the long way home, swimming around Needle-Face.

But as I came up to the rugged beach, I put my hand down to keep my balance from the gentle waves and -- ouch -- sea urchin. There were huge ones down at the reef, two or three feet in diameter, wedged within the crevices -- living land mines (sea mines?). This was a tiny urchin; I pulled out its thorn -- the size of a splinter. I was told they’re not dangerous, but if I wind up writing less, it’s because I had to learn to type with my left hand only.

Reconnaissance accomplished, I went back with the underwater camera. But the sea was angry that day, my friends. Like an old man at the deli sending back soup. I don’t know if it was the tropical storm (or depression, they call it – bad weather on vacation is depressing), because that swung up toward the Mid-Atlantic away from St. Croix. But it was windy and choppy and perhaps sent off the turtles and barracuda. Still got some shots of Nemo’s friends and the Prickly Pals.

Laid out in a hammock and read my books in the shade. Very comfortable and relaxing, but there was plenty of room in the hammock for two. The only thing that would make this vacation better is a cute girl to cuddle up with, each of reading, or talking, or doing absolutely nothing... sigh...

Time for a drink. Actually, in the Islands, it’s always time. The locals sit at the bar all day. They hold down jobs, but, well, they don’t keep L.A. hours, I’ll tell you whut. They all know each other and their life stories. One woman works at the nearby hair salon. She moved out from Southern California and preferred to raise her kids here. I mentioned that one time I saw the dolphins at the beach in Santa Monica. In St. Croix, she’d walk with her son along the beach to school every day. The principal asked why they were always late. Her response: Hey, sorry, we had to swim with the dolphins.

Went out to dinner one night with a bunch of lawyers, one of whom is the former Lieutenant Governor of St. Croix. A tall, thin man whose tan skin is accented by his salt-and-pepper hair. He knew everybody, constantly getting up to say hey, shake hands, etc... It was a regular schmoozefest. We met the present Lt. Gov., and the two might run against each other in 2006. I felt like I was at the Bush/Kerry debates, except neither of these guys had trouble constructing full sentences. Actually, it was a lot of inside talk, about people I didn’t know, but I didn’t mind. My Italian food was delicious.

Then next night we went to “Cheeseburgers” -- a nearby restaurant where one of our dinner guests from last night, Bernie the Attorney, DJs a little eclectic music show. Despite the joint’s name, I didn’t get a burger; had a seafood platter, which was pretty good, I guess. I couldn’t taste much, after the abundant Absolut shots and countless coladas. Also, that place is notorious for its mosquitoes -- it has a bug spray station at the entrance, and I covered my sweet (to the insect world, at least) self with it. So the smell of Off! kinda affected my tastebuds. Seems like I’m always slathered with something down here – sunblock in the daytime, repellant at night.

Okay, I’m off to add saltwater to the mix. It’s too hot; I’m going for a swim.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Early impressions and thoughts as I arrived at St. Croix:

Residents of St. Croix are considered American citizens, just like everyone in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Yet they can’t vote in national elections. I think the reason is that they still drive on the wrong side of the road. Wanna vote? Get to the right, and then you get the right.

Whenever I come to the Caribbean, I hope to hear the latest reggae music the Islands have to offer. All they usually play is the greatest hits by Bob Marley. And that’s totally irie, mon.

Alexander Hamilton grew up on St. Croix. That’s why, if you look carefully on the $10 bill, you can see a grove of mango trees. I made that last part up. But seriously, you know why Hamilton got shot in that duel with Aaron Burr? Alex was smokin’ all dat ganja, slowed his reflexes. That “I Shot the Sheriff” song originally went: “I shot the Treasurer... but I did not shoot Tom Jefferson.”

I have trouble getting cellphone reception out here, and I don’t know what kind of roaming charges apply anyway. Also, it seems like their Internet dial-up connection is infuriatingly slower than normal. Then I remembered I was on vacation, so who cares?

St. Croix houses one of world’s largest oil refineries. I noticed gas prices are at least fifty cents less expensive here than in California. But that’s moot, ‘cause I wouldn’t drive on their backward-ass left-sided roads anyway.

Whenever I travel, I love to read the local newspapers. On the front page of The Virgin Islands Daily News was coverage of Jesse Jackson’s visit to Tortola (which is a British Virgin Island, not a pasta with marinara sauce). The BVI Festival is celebrating 170 years of emancipation. The Islands may be taking longer to get state-of-the-art communications, but they got the continental U.S. beat on the abandoning slavery thing by over 30 years.

On the back page of the paper, sports coverage consisted of a tiny blurb about Nomar Garciaparra playing for the Cubs. Let me just say that now, more than ever, next to the Yankees, I’m rooting heartily for Chicago to win the World Series. I always liked Nomar; it was a shame he played for the %$#@ Red Sox.

I’m only commenting on the baseball thing because I’m at a loss regarding the rest of the sports pages. There was an article about the winner in the Game Fishing Club’s Annual July Open Billfish Tournament. When I saw something about a 380-pound marlin, I started wondering which of Florida’s pitchers got so fat.

And the majority of the coverage was about – can you guess? – cricket. Allow me to read a passage: “Dwayne Bravo got another big turner from Giles and was bowled off stump without making a run, while Gayle prodded a pad/bat catch to silly point.” Hee-hee -- “silly point”. “Dwayne Bravo” -- ha-ha. Isn’t this fun? Here’s another passage: “Giles was bowled, Steve Harmison was lbw reverse sweeping and Hoggard chipped a catch to midwicket.” It got me thinking how I can’t wait for the next Harry Potter book. Quidditch -- now there’s a game I understand.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Ever since I read Jack London stories, specifically Call of the Wild and “To Build a Fire”, I’ve been fascinated with the Arctic. I’d always devour my dad’s National Geographic whenever there was an article that even mentioned the great frozen tundra. Something about that cold harsh vast wilderness made me want to visit. And one day, we did.

My father, who shared my interest in the Arctic, signed us up for a two-week tour. The trip, led by a man named Skip Voorhees, started in Ottawa, then went to a small town called Frobisher Bay. From there, we took noisy two-engine planes to little villages on Baffin Island and Ellesmere Island, places like Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay, and Grise Fiord – the most northern year-round human civilization in Canada (maybe the world). At one point we reached the 82nd parallel – that’s way up there, considering New York is around 41 and the North Pole is at 90.

We went around this time of year, in August, when the weather was somewhat bearable, about as cold as NY in wintertime. Though it was the warmest period, the scenery was still breathtaking -- icebergs that looked like peppermint drops, and glaciers galore. The downside to this time of year was that the wildlife wasn’t as prevalent. From the plane, I saw seals and whales, but on land, there were no arctic hares or caribou, and thankfully no polar bears.

No wolves either. There was a running joke in my family about this. My father had watched countless hours of nature programs, so he considered himself an expert on the subject. And when my mom kidded us that we were gonna get eaten by wolves, my dad would say, “How many times do I have to tell you? Wolves don’t eat people. They’re afraid of man.” He was probably right, but I could only imagine the irony of us getting attacked by the wild predators, and as we were being mauled to death, I’d hear him muttering, “But wolves don’t eat people!” We joked that these last words would be inscribed on his tombstone.

Many years later, after my father died of a heart attack, we had to decide what to put on the headstone (besides his name, Hebrew name, dates of birth and death and “Beloved husband and father”). An epitaph. But something appropriate for him. A passage from the Talmud just didn’t seem right. My dad had lots of catchphrases, “Ruth, I love my pool.” and if you claimed to be toiling hard at your job, he’d scoff, “You work? Hunh!” But I blurted out, just kidding around, “But wolves don’t eat people!” And we all laughed... and then thought, yeah. That seemed right. It may sound irreverent, but that was my father. He didn’t take anything too seriously; his off-beat sense of humor was one of the things that endeared him to everyone. So that odd statement is what’s on his final resting place.

This story isn’t meant to be a depressing one. I miss my father, but I’m incredibly lucky to have had him in my life. I enjoy thinking about him, and all our good times together -- including surviving the man-eating wolves. I wanted to post this today for a few reasons. The last time I went to the Caribbean was with him a few months before he died; as I mentioned, our Arctic trip was around this time of year; and finally, today was his birthday. He would have been 75.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Plans to post stories about my trip are delayed because I had hoped to illustrate them with photos from the disposable cameras, still in my suitcase which is who-knows-where. So this won’t be a vacation entry.

Instead, it’ll be about People Who Deserve a Beat-Down. Namely, American Airlines.

And here are some other variations on that theme:

If you insist I try your recipe for a food I insist I don’t like, for example, borscht: Beet down.

To Old Man Osterman who’d always shout, “You damn kids get off my lawn!”: Peat down.

To that one kid who would tear across Osterman’s lawn with soccer shoes, just to spite the geezer: Cleat down.

No Halloween candy?: Trick-or-Treat down.

You should always use a firm, friendly grip when shaking someone’s hand. If your palm feels like a dead fish: Greet down.

There’s a girl in my office who feels guilty if she has half a protein bar for lunch. Then she walks her anorexic pencil legs over and asks, “Mikey, do I look fat?”: Eat down.

That same girl always complains that the air conditioning is making her cold. I’ve got another explanation. Food = energy, or heat. No food, what do you got? A desire to turn off the AC and make warm-blooded mammals like Mike sweaty and groggy in the office.: Heat down.

Hey, don’t rest your filthy shoes on my coffee table.: Feet down.

Ronald McDonald: Meat clown.

Guys, save us all from the hearing the hackneyed stand-up routines about the battle of the sexes in the bathroom. When you’re finished with a woman’s toilet: Seat down.

Dept. store salespersons trying to sell me schlumpy slacks: Pleat down.

Atkins Nazis who remind me of the carb content in the bagel I’m trying to enjoy: Wheat down.

If you’re a successful actor who squanders his talent because you’re a fucking hophead drug abuser: Beat Downey, Jr.

Not nice to Fleece?: Bleat down.

Spare me the boring details about your stock portfolio: Wall Street down. Or: Beat Dow Jones Industrial Average.

In my mind, I'm still
Under the sea, under the sea
Listening to nothing but the ocean waves and my snorkel or SCUBA breathing.
Darlin' it's better down where it's wetter
Take it from me

But in reality, I'm back home, hearing the noisy neighbors.
What do they got? A lot of sand?
We got a hot crustacean band

I'm still envisioning all the fishes and scenery
Each little clam here
Knows how to jam here

And I could see 'em again, but the film was in my suitcase which the airline failed to get onto my connecting flight. So I'll have to wait for them to deliver it to me before I can post pics, or get half my clothes.
I wouldn't be so tired and cranky, if I were
Under the sea
But it's good to be home, and definitely nice to be back in Blogsburg.
The fluke play the flute
The carp play the harp
The bass play the bass
And they soundin' sharp...

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