Friday, December 31, 2004

I had lunch with the Gooch yesterday. So far I had met a few bloggers when they were in Southern California, but never local-boy Gooch; he was always unavailable. Lame excuses like going up north for Thanksgiving, or what was that other one? His wife delivering their first child? Pfft. Yeah, good one, Gooch. What’s next? The dog ate your website?

We were both in town for the holidays and work was slow, so we finally met up. The timing was really perfect because we got a break in this rainy season and were able to sit outside at Clafoutis, a restaurant on the Sunset Strip. Gotta love LA -- dining al fresco in late December.

Unlike the other bloggers I’ve met so far, Gooch is a big dude. Six feet, broad-shouldered. I only remark on this because it’s one of the slightly jarring things about meeting online friends in real life. You see ‘em for months as a little flat square photo on their profile or if they post a few pics. Suddenly they’re a real person in 3D with a voice and everything.

And yeah, he’s kinda low-key, like in his blog or his comments. Notice Gooch doesn’t use smileys and is very sparing on caps, italics and exclamation points. He’s kinda like that in person. Plenty of energy and still funny as hell, but I was the one chatting away like a madman over lunch. (Actually, it was because the temperature was dropping and I had to stay active to stay warm; Gooch was one drink ahead of me and seated under the heat lamp.)

We discussed the usual: Fellow bloggers, some of our favorite sites, how Gooch always says exactly what I was gonna say when he comments, leaving me with nothing to remark but, "What Gooch said."

The whole question of people’s personas in Blogland often comes up in these meetings. How some people feel comfortable discussing intimate details of their personal lives, their sex lives. Gooch and I were kinda amazed and impressed with that -- our posts are relatively less racy. Gooch is married, and his family sometimes reads his blog. I have some real-life friends who read mine, so perhaps I censor myself a bit. But mostly, I prefer to mention personal things only if I think I have an interesting story. And even still, the reactions I’d get make me think I oughta start a private blog strictly for those thoughts. On the other hand, the flirting that goes on within the comments can be fascinating, fun, and sometimes just weird.

He told me about Baby Gooch, Mrs. Gooch and the step-Gooch-kids. He didn’t have his holiday photos available, so be sure to bug him about posting Goochpics later.

A couple of days earlier, I had told AJ on the phone about the upcoming meeting with Gooch, and he asked if I'd call him during the lunch so the two of them could talk. I’m not sure what they discussed, but it was quite the LA scene, the two of us hanging out on Sunset Boulevard. Gooch chatting on the cellphone while I’m checking out the stylish girls doing some after-Christmas shopping at the fancy shops on the Strip.

Here’s one thing I shared with Gooch, which I’ll reveal to y’all:

I’m gonna stop blogging. At least for a while. I have to. It’s not that I’m burnt out; it’s that I’ve been too fired up. I make lists of ideas for my blog, and even though I presented a lot of them this month, at any given time, there’s at least a dozen more things I wanna write about. Still have a stack of cartoons to scan and post. And then there’s the day-to-day observations and anecdotes to discuss. I know I could write something new every day.

So what’s the problem? It takes up too much of my attention. I’m fairly pleased with a lot of the stuff I’ve written here, but I have a lot of goals (including creative ones) for 2005, and I won’t get much else done, not as long as I’m thinking about what I’m gonna post next, or feel compelled to visit and comment on everyone’s sites, not to mention other bloggers whose sites I’d love to delve into. If I could practice some moderation, great, but the addiction’s too strong. I gotta cold turkey it for now.

I started Make Mine Mike on January 1, 2004. After a full year, it’s a good time to take a break.

I’m not trying to get people to ask me not to go or to keep checking for my return. Just letting everyone know. If I’m back soon, please don’t laugh at me for my lack of will power, I know I’ll miss you all too much. And if I'm gone for awhile, trust me, I’ll be thinking about y’all. The bloggers I’ve met like Gooch and the rest of you whom I hope to meet someday. Have a great new year.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

I grew up in a town on Long Island called Wyandanch. It’s pronounced “WHY-un-danch”, but I liked the way my Hungarian grandfather would say, “Vee-un-DON-chee-ah”.

Wyandanch was the chief, or sachem, of the Montauk Indians. (Sachem and Montauk are yet other towns on LI.) He was a strong, brilliant leader of his people, and that impressed an English soldier, Captain Lion Gardiner, another striking figure. In the 1630s, they created a bond, partially out of necessity for survival as they were surrounded by more warlike tribes on Connecticut and Rhode Island. But the two also became friends, practically brothers. Kinda like in Dances With Wolves, but we can only assume Gardiner had more personality than Kevin Costner.

However, Wyandanch’s partnership with the white man caused problems from both sides. His fellow Indians saw this as a betrayal of their people. And other English settlers on Long Island never really trusted the Native Americans. They created false rumors of rape and conspiracy which led to further persecution. An outbreak of smallpox in the 1650s wiped out a huge number of the Montauk people, including Wyandanch himself. Shortly after that, the remaining members gave up thousands of acres to a group of settlers. Centuries later, a New York State judge decreed that the Montauks were not a recognized tribe, and had no claim to the land of Eastern Long Island, a battle which is still ongoing. Today there’s no reservation there, just shopping malls, rich celebrity homes… and the setting for The Great Gatsby or Weekend at Bernie’s.

I grew up with some rudimentary knowledge of the history, but I got a lot of those details from here. When I was a kid, the town’s namesake had a different connotation relating to race relations.

If you say “Wyandanch” to a Long Islander, it’s kinda like saying “Harlem” or “Compton”. Wyandanch is largely a black neighborhood. The northern end of it, however, was a new suburban community in the early 1970s. Lots of young white middle-class families moving in, like my parents. My development was mostly Jewish and Italian Catholic. As a kid, I thought Protestants were the minority in the U.S.

But since the rest of Wyandanch was black, some of the families in our community didn’t want to be associated with it, and petitioned to have the name changed for our area. We became “Wheatley Heights”. It’s ridiculous because: a) I don’t who the fuck “Wheatley” was; b) there were no friggin’ heights in the area; and c) if you mailed a letter to my street address and wrote “Wyandanch, NY”, it’d get there just as easily as if it were sent to “Wheatley Heights”.

So, whatever. We lived in Wheatley Heights. But we went to elementary school in Wyandanch. There were a lot of black kids there, too. Our school was the only one in the district with this large minority -- about 30% African-American -- the other elementaries had almost no people of color.

Well, some of our neighbors in Whitey Heights didn’t seem to like that. They came out with a petition to have the black children distributed equally among the other schools.

My mom asked them why. Why should these kids, many of whom could walk to school, suddenly have to take a half-hour bus ride to and from another school where they don’t even know anyone? Not to mention be even more of a minority?

The petitioners explained it would cut down on the racial strife among the students.

Racial strife? My mother remarked how every time she visited our school, she saw the kindergarteners having to walk down the hall double-file. The little five-year-old black boys and girls holding hands with the white ones. All the way up to sixth grade, there was no racial strife. Mom refused to sign it.

The petition never passed, perhaps largely due to her objection. And I suppose that pissed some people off. For weeks, our house would get crank phone calls. As soon as my parents answered, they heard some low voice muttering, “Nigger lover, nigger lover.”

I was unaware of this at the time. When my mom told me about it later, I was shocked. Hm, where was this supposed racial strife coming from...?

She asked me then, “You never had any problems with the black kids in school, did you?”

Sure I did. And with the white kids. I had friends and enemies, acquaintances and rivals, some white, some black. But the lines were never drawn based on color. My best friends were usually the kids I could play with after school, i.e. my neighbors, so they were mostly white, but location was the only reason.

I’m not saying I didn’t notice differences, but I mostly marveled at them. First of all, I thought afros were so damn cool. When you’re little, you’re very tactile, you have no qualms about touching everything. I remember this one boy in first grade had a huge red afro. You just had to put your hands on it... Whoa, it was spongy and bouncy. Our hair was all shaggy and straight. No matter how much you combed your coif, it never stayed in place. But those tight curls seemed so low-maintenance. And if they did need to tease it out, hey, a lot of people had their picks wedged right there in their ‘fro. Convenient.

Also, their names were more exotic. All the parents in my neighborhood gave their children boring ol’ Matthew, Lisa, Debbie... It was nice to have a Kasim, Koshina and Africa in our attendance.

Finally, there were some cultural distinctions. But I’m not sure if it was the African-American children being influenced by their older siblings and parents, or if we all were affected by pop culture. The TV shows and music and movies of that era. Let’s Do It Again with Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier... “Sanford and Son”... I remember writing a fan letter to Donna Summer. Yeah, that’s right. Shut up, ya big dummy!

In fifth grade I wrote this story, a variation on Cinderella. Except instead of white chicks, the characters were all black dudes. It was titled “Sidney Ellis”. (I didn’t know about the Jerry Lewis movie Cinder Fella at the time.) Sidney overcame his evil step-bruthas, thanks to the sudden appearance of his ultra-cool godfather. Though I didn’t use the word, I think he was basically a pimp, with the zoot-suit, wide-brimmed hat and magical cane. With a flourish, he decked Sidney out in a three-piece polyester suit and told him, “You’re gonna be the baddest cat at that discotheque.”

Sidney said, “Like John Travolta?”

“Screw that honky!” The godfather said, “Get your ass to that disco!”

I realize today that the story wasn’t politically correct. But I know that even then, I wasn’t intending it as any kind of representative stereotype... and the kids in my class knew it, too. Even my teacher didn’t have a problem with it, but he made me change that line to “Forget that jive turkey. Get to that disco.” Shit, censored by The Man.

Not sure if I’m stretching a point here, but it’s sad that my hometown was the seat of centuries of ethnic tension, albeit in different forms. What I got from growing up in a community with a little cultural mix wasn’t any kind of racial strife bullshit. Just some awareness of diversity and perhaps a little more creativity.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

“Awright, that does it,” I’d tell my father. “About time I beat the living crap outta you.” Then I’d put the old man in a headlock and start punching him in the arm.

He had one of two reactions. Sometimes he’d do nothing and just yell to my mother, “Oh, look at this. Hittin’ his father. Call the cops.”

We were just kidding, imitating our next-door neighbors from years ago. When they had that same interaction, they were dead serious.

It was one of those domestic disturbances that got everyone’s attention. Maybe because it was surprising -- Jared Heller was one of my best friends. We knew each other since we were two and a half and hung out all the time. He was basically a good kid, at least with me. But with the parental units, it was a different story.

Mr. and Mrs. Heller weren’t abusive or neglectful. Just completely ineffectual as authority figures. Discipline was a word that didn’t exist in that family, and they desperately needed a vocabulary lesson.

I’d go over his house, and Jared -- or his little sister -- would be cursing out their parents. I don’t mean storming off, muttering a “fuck you” under their breath. I mean screaming at the top of their lungs: “I fucking hate you, you bitch, you shithead cunt!”

I’d stand there with my jaw on the floor. If I even gave my parents a dirty look, I’d end up richocheting off the walls, but Jared’s mom would just speak gingerly back to the brat, practically whining. “Please, Jared. I love you, Jared. Pleeeeze stop, Jared.” Ya think he did?

When Jared was around fourteen and demanded a dirt bike, Mom and Pop Jellyfish did manage to put their tentacles down and say no. Well, Jared decided he would buy it himself; where was his bar-mitzvah money -- all those checks from Uncle Mort and Aunt Harriet and other relatives he never heard of? Deposited into a college fund, they said. But that was his, dammit -- he earned it. (Forgetting of course who paid for Hebrew school and the cost of the bar-mitzvah reception and all...) Well, if his parents were gonna keep his money, he would take something of theirs.

Jared went to the garage and grabbed his father’s golf clubs, figuring he could sell ‘em and buy his beloved motorized ass-hammer. When Mr. Heller tried to stop him, Jared started pushing him around, feeling empowered by his oncoming puberty. Did his father set the kid straight, put him in his place, teach him respect of his elders? Nah, Daddy Doormat ran chickenshit back to the house and dialed 911.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so judgmental, but it was a shame, seeing my buddy go bad. Jared later got mixed up in drugs, wound up in juvie hall... And our friendship completely deteriorated. Last time I saw him, when I went back in NY for a visit, Jared seemed okay, until he started preaching to me about some new cultish religion he had joined. So much for Hebrew school and the bar-mitzvah, I guess.

It made me think of this other kid from the neighborhood, Steven. He was a tough kid, a bit of a bully, and always a troublemaker. He moved away when we were around ten, but our parents stayed friends, maybe partially because they had similar attitudes about raising their kids. So I’d see Steven once in a while, and thought it was funny that this Jewish kid was such a teenage “Guido”, wearing the wife-beaters, gold chains, driving the muscle cars, and tawkin’ like Tony Soprano.

We hung out once in NYC just before I was moving out to LA, and I was surprised at the adult he turned out to be. Still very much a brutish Long-Islander, but now wearing a suit and delivering his lines with a genuine friendly charm. No wonder he was doing so well as a stock broker. Steven said things like, “You bein’ a writer. Fuckin’ A. That’s perfect. I remember you were always readin’ those comic books, tryin’ to write and draw your own. You’re gonna kick ass out there.” Or “Hey, I saw your mom, she looks great. She’s so thin.” (Mom wasn’t thin, but compared to Steven’s portly parents, everyone was Calista Flockhart.)

And then he said, “And when you father was over, I shook his hand. Shit, he’s got a strong grip.”

“Yeah, my dad’s got those giant hands. He’s still a pretty tough guy.”

“Lemme ask you something.” Steven said, “You think you could kick your father’s ass?”

“I don’t know.” I had never thought about it. “He’s still bigger than me. But he’s got no stamina. So if I can dance, rope-a-dope him, I could wear him out. But if he gets in one good punch...” I asked Steven, what about his father?

“Well, he ain’t bigger than me, but, y’know, he’s my old man. Our fathers ain’t gonna let their kids kick their ass, know what I mean?”

I nodded. I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation, but it was an interesting question.

I told my dad about it, and he agreed: I’d better protect myself long enough, avoid the haymakers, otherwise I’d be kissing canvas.

So when I’d come over and tell the old man it was clobberin’ time, the other thing he’d say is: “Yeah, you think you could kick your father’s ass?” And he’d swing back at me with surprisingly fast hands as if to answer the question.

It wasn’t always me buying the one-way ticket to Oedipalookaville. My father would occasionally stick his boulder-sized dukes in my face. “When’s the last time I punched you out, boy?”

“In your dreams,” I’d say. “When’s the last time you took a nap? Ten minutes ago?” Man never actually slept at night; just took cat-naps all day. “I think you’re overdue for another fantasy, Pops.”

“No really, when’s the last time? I think I hit you, what? Once or twice in your life?”

This was another thing he’d say all the time. I usually shrugged it off with a joke. If I reminded him of times he did inflict corporal punishment, he’d want to relive the crime that justified it. So I had to feel like shit about something really stupid I did as a kid.

The first time I can remember was when my dad got stuck with the job of babysitting my big sister and me. Perhaps he wasn’t aware of the ongoing battle between us. It was always something: She ate the last Mallomar, I took the TV clicker, she was in my room, I was breathing her air... And after we ignored the final warning from my dad to keep the #$!%& noise down, somehow I got caught in his path. I remember feeling like a deer in the headlights, frozen in fear at the top of the stairs, seeing this Mack truck storming up the steps three at a time, glaring with those slanty eyebrows, closer, closer -- wham! I swear he knocked me from the top of the stairs, down the hall, through my bedroom door, across the room until I slam-dunked against the back wall onto my bed. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but one thing I know was true -- it wasn’t fair; she started it.

The last time my dad lost it with me was my 16th birthday. It was a weekend, and a group of my friends were hanging out at someone’s house. The get-together wasn’t specifically for me, but I knew I’d soak up some extra attention from the girls. So I put on my coolest casual clothes, lookin’ good, baby... and Dad decided right then we had to do some dirty strenuous chore out in the backyard. No, it couldn’t wait, we’d been putting it off long enough. I’d like to note for the record: the man never took care of his tools or equipment, just left it outside in the rain and snow for months. So I groused and tsked and groaned as his filthy rusty socket wrench nearly stained my nice new shirt and this dirt & vermin-infested heavy pool equipment was scuffing up my pants. Yeah, I know, I was being an insolent teenage punk-ass. And the old man couldn’t take it anymore. “Dammit, boy!” He grabbed me by my shirt, pressed me up against the fence, and shoved his clenched meat hook in my face. “You want something to complain about?!” When I later got to my friends’ house (in my shirt now wrinkled from Dad’s clutches), I received a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday to You!” The timing wasn’t bad, actually. I was still shaken up by my father’s outburst (on my bday no less) but the girls thought I was choked up at their thoughtfulness when I muttered: “*Sniff*... thanks.”

I’m just recalling the ones I can laugh at now. There were much worse incidents. I mean the stupid things I did, not so much my father’s reaction. So when my dad would say again: “I hit you what? Maybe once, twice in your life?”, I finally had to set him straight.

“Look, Dad. You hit me once in a while. I know you want to think you didn’t, but you did.” His parents were very old-fashioned, a bit too strict. So my father had sworn he wouldn’t hit his kids, but as it turned out, well, he wasn’t perfect. He lost his temper more than once or twice, and my brattiness didn’t help. Still, by a certain age, he had my respect, so his anger and disappointment with me was punishment enough. I told him it was okay, I don’t feel like I was abused or anything. But if it juices up my autobiography, I might embellish a little.

So when we threatened to beat the living crap outta each other, I suppose it was nothing more than a weird way of showing affection. Certainly no deep-seated resentment there. Even if I could kick my father’s ass, he would never need to call the cops on me.

Monday, December 27, 2004

...And we take you to Round 4 of the Primal Primate Prize Fight: Michael versus Thelonious Monkey.

Felonious Thelonious has proven his worth in the Thrilla in Manila against a gorilla. Instead of a rope-a-dope, he gave him the ol' ook-a-duke and won the title. But as you may remember, Michael has been in the ring with the ring-tailed lemur. And in the Rumble in the Jungle, he easily harangued the orangatan.

And now Michael plans to shock to the monkey. Spank him, too. The challenger jeers at his simian opponent, not afraid of Thelonious' right. Will the chimp be the champ or the chump?

And -- Babboon! -- the monkey shines him with the left! Talk about gorilla warfare! Michael tries to say, "Take your stinkin' paws off me, you damn dirty--" but he's less articulate than Koko the Gorilla. Guess he's not takin' the punches as well as he's gibbon. The ref gives him a standing-ape count, but decides to call it a TKO -- Thelonious Klobbers Opposable-thumb-boy.

During the post-fight publicity shot, Thelonious -- declaring he's handsome, elegant, intelligent, sweet; he's really ideal -- shows a lack of sportsmanship (and perhaps evolution), trying to wedge his furry fist in the human's face. Asked how he felt about the curse of the monkey's paw up his nose, Michael shrugged. "Hey, at least it wasn't a banana in the tailpipe."

Saturday, December 25, 2004

What’d I do Christmas Eve? Took a girl out. We thought it’d be quiet, but there were tons of people at the bar, singing, dancing and drinkin’, nog or you-name-it. Somehow I doubt it was an all Chanukah & Kwanzaa crowd.

We first saw Million Dollar Baby. She picked it. I didn’t know much about the flick, ‘cept it starred Hilary Swank as a boxer, trained by Clint Eastwood. Not bad. I loved Girlfight, with Michelle Rodriguez from a few years ago, but this was a bit more serious. That’s why we had to go out for drinks after -- she was crying during the movie and we needed to rehydrate and lighten the mood.

I thought about telling her about how a scene from the movie evoked a memory from my life. Hilary gets her nose broken in a fight, and Clint adjusts back in place -- crack! Yeah, we winced too. Especially with her blood running all over the canvas.

I only got one nose bleed in my life. I was in wrestling practice. You go through some moves, then the coach would say "free wrestle", and then you actually try to pin your opponent. Sometimes you’d be matched against people in your weight class, but you might go up or down a few divisions, depending on which teammates were available. I was paired up with a kid two years and two weight-classes below me. So I was taking it easy on the dude. But then he swung his head up, and bam! accidentally nailed me in the schnozz. It didn’t hurt that much, but -- holy shit -- my nose was gushing.

See, I had gotten in plenty of scuffles as a kid. Me and my friends would get temporarily mad at each other, and duke it out. Or once in a while, I had to be brave against some bully. It’s what boys do; we weighed what? 70 pounds? Hard to do any serious damage when you’re that small. We ruffians rarely got hurt. When I had braces, I might end up with badly-cut lip, and I doled out more than my share of bloody noses. But I never ever got one myself. I took plenty of hits to the honker, but no hemorrhage. Strong capillaries or something...

So you can imagine my surprise to find this red river running down my face. The kid took advantage of the moment and slammed me down to the mat. "Hey, look at this!" He shouted to the other guys on the team. "I’m beating Michael! I’m actually beating him!"

That little punk. I forgot about my contusion and countered my opponent’s moves. With size and experience on my side, it didn’t take long to nearly have him pinned. I grimaced down at the wise-ass. "You’re doin’ what, now?!" It didn’t sound that intimidating, with my voice all nasally. But the crimson droplets in his face surely made my point.

Weird, I hadn’t thought of that in ages. The kid apologized; no hard feelings. It seemed kinda funny to me now. But I looked at the girl as we walked outta the theatre. She was still wiping her eyes.

Nah, maybe I shouldn’t share this one. I was fairly quiet as we went to the bar. Booze beats blood any day.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Of all the cartoons I've drawn, this is one of my favorites. I was sketching a lot at the time and making slight improvements in my style. I’m no Van Gogh or Trudeau, I know. But this came out fairly well for me, both visually and story-wise, even if its appeal doesn’t go beyond my familial unit. See, to appreciate the jokes, it would probably require seeing The Pope of Greenwich Village a million times like me and my mom and dad did. Knowing all the great lines:

“What do you need a fancy suit for? You got no job to wear it to.”

“You ever hear of artificial inspiration?”

“It’s the genes that do all the runnin’. The horse’s got nuttin’ to do with it.”

You woke her.”

“I took $500 off the shylocks to see Frank Sinatra at the Garden... sat two seats from Tony Bennett. That's success, Pop.”

“They took my t’umb!”

And then understanding how the plight of the movie’s two small-time hustlers paralleled my parents and their entrepreneurial exploits a while back. Their business didn’t exactly take off, but hey, we still had each other, not to mention the memories, the movie, and for what it’s worth, this cartoon.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Small-but-good dilemma: My boss, who's very cool, offered as an alternative to the usual generous holiday gift certificate to Amazon, to get me TiVo. But I think I'll pass on that. I've managed to kick the couch potato habit, though I'm hardly a freedom fry -- I already spend too much time in front of another electronic box. And I could log on the computer, surf through the Amazon site, and get lotsa books and all my old '80s music (I had formerly on cassettes) on CD so I can "Rock the Casbah" and "Whip It" in my car. Or -- I could use the Amazon certificate toward finally buying a digital camera. But I don't know what kind I should get -- megapixels leave me megaperplexed. Of course, who needs a camera when I can just draw cartoons of everything...?

Monday, December 20, 2004

Back in college, I had gotten this new set of colored pencils and decided to try and use all of them while sketching my friend Bob. Today, Bob’s a big shot journalist for the Associated Press. But back then, he was a goofball, sometimes loud, sometimes shy, always insecure… And yeah, Bob was losing his hair at an early age. He was actually kinda fat, too -- he lost a lot of weight prior to this picture. Still, he did okay with the ladies; he had a nice girlfriend that year in school.

On the other end of the spectrum were some of the others in our dorm suite. There was Mario, a slick and handsome Italian-American. Dude coulda modeled for Gucci or something. He always got the hottest chicks. Bastard. We would’ve hated him if he weren’t so incredibly modest and easy-going. There was also Jonathan, who seemed like an average fellow in every way, but had the kind of quiet confidence you can only have when you’re closely related to the Rockefeller family and its fortune. (Some of these guys went to Andover, but were much smarter -- and in my opinion, more likable -- than another certain successful alumnus.) And there were a few more guys, somewhere in the middle in terms of looks and smoothness, including myself.

We sat around at our local watering hole one night, playing a drinking game. Each person had to tell a story. Tales of lusty adventure about women we’ve known. Not stories of conquest -- ones of utter humiliation and failure. Hitting on a girl and getting flat-out rejected didn’t count. It had to be an instance in which you really thought you were gonna get some, and something went wrong. Hilariously wrong, bizarrely wrong, frustratingly wrong. The more agonizing the coitius interruptus, the more everyone had to boozius imbibius. There were episodes involving mistaken identities, vomiting cats, state troopers, intrusive roommates, exploding radiators, vegetable oil floods, obnoxious little brothers, electrical fires, horny ferrets, you name it.

We went around and around the table, telling one story after another, the lot of us groaning and laughing at each anecdote. It was fun, and not just because we were getting so drunk, but because it was reassuring. No matter who the guy was -- rich or poor, good- or goofy-looking -- he wasn’t alone in striking out every now and again. And again. And again.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Sometimes, especially around this time of year, when people find out I’m Jewish, they start asking really stupid questions.

“Oh, you're Jewish? So when do you people celebrate Christmas?”

Uh, when pigs fly, or they become kosher, whatever comes first.

It really surprises me what some people don't know. I had this friend who asked me, "What's that Hanukkah thing all about?"

I should mention that my friend's name is Joshua Shapiro. I said, “Josh, I went to your Bar-mitzvah. What happened to you? Your foreskin grew back or something?”

But then I sometimes meet fellow Jews who know everything and wanna share it with me like we're talking in code or something.

"Oy, vays mier, I had schmutz on my punim, my talis was a schmatta, the mischbucha's dovening, and this altercocker lubivatcha's giving me tsuris."

I'm like, what? Why are you talking like Jackie Mason?

"Bubbalah, it's like the Hagaddah says: Mah nishtanah ha leilah hazeh. Abbay gazunt?

I usually just look at them and say, "So, when do you people celebrate Christmas?"

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Y’all hate spiders. I like ‘em. They’re cool badass creatures. Those multi-eyed monsters eat those filthy scavengering insects that eat our food, or us. Here, our enemies’ enemies are our friends. Don’t hate the eight.

Outside my front door is a giant palm tree which I’ve mentioned sometimes attracts squirrels, hummingbirds, and of course, bugs. So I was actually pleased to see a giant web set up within the curve of a large frond. Don’t know ‘bout you, but I find those elaborate creations fascinating. And in the center of this delicate-but-solid intricacy was a huge yellowish arachnid. Obviously, Snyder the Spider was living large in his prime real estate.

I let him set up camp outside my home, and he collected pests in his net that would otherwise waft inside from the Pacific sea breeze. And we were happy, peaceful neighbors.

Until the day I played with karma. Upset the balance of nature.

I found a little spider in my bathtub. Little, that is, by comparison to the moth-eatin’ behemoth outside. This indoor crawler was a black blemish on my otherwise clean porcelain. The shower wasn’t big enough for the two of us.

Out of respect for Peter Parker, I don’t squish spiders. I scooped it up with some tissue and was gonna set it free outside. And then I saw Snyder there, looking like he was floating in space, until you caught the glimmer of his silvery strands against the sunlight. Hey, I wonder what would happen if...

I flung the little black spider into the web. Would they show professional courtesy to each other? Arachnophilia?

Nope. Spider fight!

Snyder zoomed in and the little guy turned to face him. There was an entanglement of legs and feelers, but within seconds, the yellow combatant has his jaws imbedded in the other’s abdomen. The black spider became paralyzed, and without wasting a moment, Snyder began to twirl his prey around, wrapping it up in webbing.

Watching him prepare his cannibal carne burrito was captivating, and yeah, creepy. Should I really have been playing David Attenborough like in one of those old wildlife specials, toying with the animal kingdom like that?

A few days later, Snyder was gone, his palm tree web left unattended and in disrepair. And then I saw him. Up in the corner of the walkway leading to my apartment. He was spinning a new web, much closer to my front door. As if we were buddies now. I imagined my life as a sitcom. And Snyder was the wacky neighbor, like Kramer, mooching food offa me.

That was bad enough, but he had supported his web with one long strand going diagonally down toward the banister. No good. I’d get clotheslined every time I went in or out. I swiped at the strand and Snyder scrambled to the wall as his whole home imploded. “Sorry, dude,” I told him. Yeah, that’s right, I actually said that.

Later that day, I came home and discovered he had a new web. Same spot, and held in place by one strand again… from which Snyder was dangling. His big yellow body provided the weight, the cornerstone of his new construction. Amazing for sure, but… this was just getting too close for comfort. Remember that show? I was Ted Knight, and Snyder was JM J. Bullock. Yeah, that’s right, I actually referenced that.

I picked up one of those restaurant flyers -- there’s at least two new ones hanging from my doorknob every day -- and swung up high above Snyder. It caught his thread, and Snyder began to ascend up toward the Thai on Tenth menu. So I tossed the whole thing over the railing. What happened to Snyder, I don’t know.

What I do know is this was not like a sitcom. This was more like one of those “Blank from Hell” movies. You know -- there’s a new someone (the “blank”) who’s congenial but a little... off, perhaps. The blank befriends the protagonist, and even helps him… but then takes the new friendship too far, and when the main character tries to create some distance, the blank gets mad and seeks revenge. Single White Female: Roommate from Hell. The Hand That Rocks the Cradle: Nanny from Hell. Cable Guy: Jim Carrey from Hell. Or is that redundant? Anyway, you get the idea.

And this was the point when the hero thinks the Bug-Catcher from Hell is long gone... but he’s gravely mistaken.

I haven’t seen Snyder for over a month. But this morning, I noticed some dots in the remaining strands of his old web at the palm tree. I thought they were perhaps seeds from a nearby tree that blew in and got stuck there. Except the seeds were moving.

I looked closer and saw the dots were yellow. And as I leaned in even more, I realized... they were little baby spiders. Hundreds of ‘em.

Perhaps Snyder was really a she. And the first movie was nearly over, and they were setting up the sequel. Because I swear, those little yellow dudes were all glaring at me with their tiny multi-eyes. Yep, this was the teaser for Spawn of Snyder...

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Picked my grandmother up from the hospital on Sunday. This is her fourth time in this year, maybe more. I’ve lost count. I mentioned on one of those visits, that at her age, whenever she feels under the weather, or has minor chest pains, they rush her to the emergency room as a precaution. Better safe than sorry. But they inevitably keep her there overnight for observation and we all worry, and wind up getting pissed at their snail-like incompetence.

Back in July I said how they forgot to transfer her expensive medications, making me drive all over the Valley playing prescription pick-up. The blunder this time was just as infuriating.

For starters, no offense to Filipinos or any immigrant group, but I really wish more native-born Americans would go into the nursing field. Simply because I’m frustrated at trying to decipher their Tagalog-tainted speech when they’re providing important medical instructions. Or, please, Miss Manila, RN, learn the difference between your P’s and F’s before telling me about my grandmother’s new prescriptions. “She take pour fills fer day por the pirst week. Take the fills with pood.”

What the puck?!

Getting Grandma home was a real hassle. Poor thing was really tired, moving painfully slowly and still in her nightgown and some disposable hospital robe-thing as she shuffled through the lobby of the old folks’ home. Of course all the yentas at the place had to gawk.

And when I got her settled in her room, and helped her out of the robe, I realized…they left the IV tubes in her arm.

I wouldn’t dare try to remove those things, so I called up the hospital, got the head nurse on the phone. She said, “Ohhh, I porgot!” She asked if I could bring Grandma back. A half-hour drive, not to mention making her go out again? Oh, and did I mention it took nearly an hour just to get a wheelchair so we could get the puck outta Kaiser Fermanente?

Someone from Health South was supposed to come and do an at-home follow-up visit the next day, so the woman at the hospital assured me that it would be okay to leave the tubes in ‘til then. Fine.

But Monday came and went, and then Tuesday. No one came to see Grandma. I was at work, becoming worried that these plastic tubey things in her wrist would cause an infection. By the end of the day, I was livid. Got another mispronouncing med tech at Kaiser on the phone, and explained that no, there’s no skilled nurse at my grandmother’s place to do this job, and I’m an hour’s drive away from her right now, and I shouldn’t have to schlep her all over town to correct their mistake. (Granted, I would have if I had to, but I shouldn’t have to.) They finally dispatched a nurse to make a house call and the problem was solved.

My sister went through this two months ago when she picked up our grandmother from the last hospital visit. But since my sister’s been swamped with work, I took care of it this time. She didn’t finish working ‘til 2:30AM, when she accidentally called me on her cellphone, waking me up and nearly inducing a coronary when I saw who was calling at that ungodly hour. What?!What happened?! “Oops, sorry,” she said. “Must’ve hit redial from earlier this evening.” Thanks, Sis.

I didn’t really wanna write about this, but it helps to get it off my chest so I can calm down... yet not forget. I talked to my grandmother today, and though still not feeling great, she’s at least in better spirits. Actually chuckled when I made my usual wise-ass remark about her having to put her skydiving, bullfighting and stuntwoman plans on hold for a while. Or at least until after she turns 91 in January.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Just some of the crapola on and around my desk... or 25 reasons I can never get any work done
1. Three yo-yos -- one sleeps, one glitters, one glows in the dark. I stink at all three of ‘em.
2. Three harmonicas -- key of G, key of A, and chromatic key of C. I’m better with the yo-yos.
3. Wind-up robot from Wound & Wound Toy Company on Melrose. Danger, impulse buyers, danger!
4. Brass camel I got from an Arab suq in Jerusalem (suq is a good Scrabble word). They didn’t have any brass monkey. (That funky monkey!)
5. "I’m Just a Bill" action figure. "Oh, no!" "Oh, yeah!"
6. Rene Magritte reassemble puzzle. It’s not solved, ‘cause that wouldn’t be, y’know, surreal.
7. Captain & Tenille button, who appeared years ago at the city fair in Northridge, taking away the town's previous claim to fame, the 6.7 earthquake of 1994.
8. Framed cast photos of "What’s Happening!" Ooh, I’m tellin’ Mama!
9. Over two dozen different reference books -- dictionaries, thesaurusesuses... (slang, foreign language, rhyming, geographic) Now I can tell you the capitol of Uzbekistan, and describe it French, Spanish, hip hop, hipster/noir, Cockney... and come up with a buncha words that rhyme with "Tashkent".
10. Simpsons action figures, including large Ralph Wiggum doll (with finger up his nose). "Smell you later forever!"
11. Several books on beating the casinos at craps. As soon as I perfect my system, I’m gonna win it all back in Vegas, baby.
12. Mr. Potato Head, Silly Putty, Slinky, and other toys from an old birthday gift. See, it was supposed to be ironic -- kids’ toys, even though I’m supposedly not a kid anymore... yeah, ironic, that’s it...
13. Brochure for surf lessons I haven’t taken yet. Just another 10 years in LA, and I’ll get around to it...
14. Unused coupons to Burke Williams. Here’s the thing: Best part of a girl giving you a massage is the anticipation of what it’ll lead to. Maybe I’ll redeem ‘em soon... I love happy endings...
15. Desktop globe. Which is good in case I need to confirm what the large floor globe says, and the wall map or 3 atlases are wrong and my National Geographics are part of the conspiracy...(yeah, right, "Tashkent")
16. Best of the Net list of websites. Published before the dot com crash. Now this phone-book tome could be cut down to the size of a pamphlet.
17. Receipt for purchase of cigarettes from overseas. Mom won’t quit, and do you know what a carton costs at Von’s? Twice the price from Russia. Worth the wait, da.
18. Cufflinks made from old NYC subway tokens. Very cool... but me, wear a suit? Fuggedaboutit!
19. Decorative pill boxes full of foreign coins. Recent money fluctuations killed their exchange value. Still, I’ll keep my tuppence, to feed the birds.
20. Huge pile of old keys. Opening my old apartment in New York, my old ’76 Buick Skylark, and the Secret Wondrous Chamber of Mystery. Ahh, but which key is which...?! That's the mystery.
21. Chinese balls. I mean those metal orbs that make a sound when you rotate them in your hand... didn’t castrate Deng Xiaoping.
22. Film calendar for American Cinematheque at the Egyptian -- Marx Bros. Film Festival! "Hooray for Captain Spaulding, the African Explorer. Did someone call me schnorrer?"
23. Expensive underwater camera (broken). Great for the beach; supposed to be waterproof. And it is. But if sand gets in it, you’re fucked.
24. Wine House catalog. I'll buy some nice chardonnay and chianti... as soon as I finish all my cheap Scotch and tequila.
25. Stack of cartoons I oughta scan in and make a more interesting blog entry than this friggin’ stupid list.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Once upon a time, there was this kid named Mike. Goofy young teenager with braces, couldn't comb his reddish hair right or even roll up his sleeves properly. And his chanukah presents that year were pretty lame.

Until he opened up a gift from his parents and found... a dog dish and a leash. There was also a keychain with that read, "I ♥ MY GOLDEN RETRIEVER".

"Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Mom and Dad?"

Mike always wanted a dog, and sure enough, he got one. The greatest puppy in the world: Max.

Being a rambunctious teenager, Mike played a bit too rough with Max that winter, throwing snowballs at the little guy...

Tossing him into snowdrifts...


Max didn't mind. But when Mike put him to work shoveling the driveway, enough was enough.

Max marched up to his maniacal master...

...and CHOMP! Bit Mike's finger off. OW!

Mike felt bad. He apologized to Max, and using his remaining nine fingers, gave the little guy a hug.

The two learned to play nice. (Besides, Mike couldn't throw a snowball properly with his missing digit, and Max thought it didn't taste as good as a rawhide anyway.) They grew up together through many winters, best of friends.

Happy holidays from Mike and Max.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

CD players weren’t always standard in new cars. My last one had a tape deck, so I got one of those cheap portable discmans with the cassette transfer thingie... Piece of shit would skip all the time. Whatever I played while driving over speed bumps ended up sounding like The Who stuttering in "My g-g-g-generation".

So I was thrilled my new car has the built-in CD player. And I had to have some new tunes -- I so rarely buy music, I feel gapped out, man. Bought the latest Green Day album, which of course is so five months ago, but I’m enjoying catching up with Billy Jo and the gang.

I especially like that song "Boulevard of Broken Dreams". Stayed warbling through my head even after I got outta the car the other night. I had to park a few blocks away from the theatre, but it was cool. I just paced along to my jam:

I walk this empty street
On the boulevard of broken dreams
Where the city sleeps
And I'm the only one and I walk alone

Actually, there were plenty of people there, waiting in line for the movie. But it didn’t matter. I was looking for my friend, scouring the crowd of Hollywood hipsters and honeys. And I felt good, what with my new ride, new tunes, new wool cap (or beanie). It was cold out, but I didn’t need a jacket. Insulate the attic and the whole house stays warm...

I walk alone
I walk alone

And then the record scratched, as I tripped over the uneven sidewalk. I didn’t fall on my face, just kinda stumbled for about ten yards, my legs shuffling beneath me until I regained my balance.

The crowd was too busy talking on their cellphones to even notice. So I tried to restart my strut song, but then I was looking down, keeping an eye out for cracks in the pavement and, I dunno, the whole record seemed warped after that.

Yeah, I’m a smooth smoothie.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

I went to a screening of The Aviator last night. I was exhausted and didn’t think I could stay awake through a nearly-three-hour movie, but I really enjoyed it. Best Scorsese film since Goodfellas. Cate Blanchett was hysterical as Katherine Hepburn. And Leo should get an Oscar nod, but unless another great performance appears in another movie, Jamie Foxx will win for Ray, though this was a better flick, in my opinion.

Biopics, man. Get me thinking. But about weird shit. Like, if I were rich and successful and famous, would I slip into some kind of self-destructive behavior, and if so, which indulgence would it be? Not alcohol; I can't continuously drink too much. I’ve tried, in a misguided attempt to emulate all those great writers... but it just dehydrates me and crapifies any creativity. Womanizing, I’m still trying... and that’s not necessarily self-destructive, depends on the women... I wouldn’t do drugs like Ray Charles, and I’ve already mentioned how I’m no OCD germophobe like Howard Hughes...

But the reclusiveness... yeah. I could see me doing that, retreating from the world and turning into a grouchy ol’ beardy-weirdy. Go away, leave me alone!

Oh wait, I’m not rich. Never mind. Let’s hang out, grab a cuppa joe. Wanna go see a movie?

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Last week, the day after Thanksgiving, I drove up to Camarillo to meet with fellow bloggers Leese and Stanks. Leese posted in detail (in a much more timely fashion than me) about the enjoyable encounter, so I’ll mostly provide my own impressions of these two crazy kids.

First of all, Leese and I started off months ago flirting in Blogland -- harmless verbal banter -- something about her pedicured toes that got our fingers-a-typin’ in someone else’s comments section. Shortly after that, I came to really appreciate Leese’s website, especially the stories about shopping with Stanks, their steamy romantic evening alone, their little boy not liking Leese’s lullaby voice, her new car-washing obsession, or their son asking innocent questions about Mommy and Daddy's intimacy ("you make humpy?").

Though I hadn’t yet read Stanks’ blog, I was glad she brought her husband along. I figured it could be a little weird for a married woman to meet an internet guy face to face. And though probably she knew there was nothing to worry about, I didn’t want Stanks thinking I’d interpret this as him saying, "Take my wife -- Leese."

But because they’re both so easy-going and down-to-earth, we laughed about this, rehashing episodes of "As the Blog Turns" with complete comfort. As Leese mentioned, we talked about our favorite sites and posts.

And bloggers. This was the second real-life blogger-meeting for each of us -- Leese had met Aimee and I met AJ. Leese and I weren’t actually that surprised that all these get-togethers went so well. If you read enough posts and comments over time, you can tell how a cool person’s pixellated personality will translate easily into 3D.

To commemorate the occasion, we took some pictures, but in my opinion, they really didn’t do any of us justice. I don’t think I’m photogenic --there’s always a weird angle, lighting, and my goofy expression of "so, will the flash go off this time?" Based on those shots, I’d say the same about Leese and Stanks, but Leese’s post of their recent family photos look more like the couple I met. Leese is petite, cute and charming, and Stanks is a good-lookin’ dude with a friendly smile.

And they’re a great couple. That’s what I got most of our meeting. These two are happy and in love but good-naturedly bust each others’ chops. It was endearing, never schmaltzy. The stories they told me about each other was what I enjoyed most. I kept telling them, "You should blog this." How they met in college (a fight over using the library’s computer) or when Stanks was the on-site manager at a hotel, and drunks would pull the fire alarm, so they’d have to scramble their kids outta the place.

They thought they might have to bring the boys; the restaurant they picked out was low-key and child-friendly -- sawdust on the floor so you can drop your peanut shells there. They told me how they had been there before and the kids were amazed it was okay to litter that way. I had hoped they would bring those manic monkeys, and Stanks had even considered having me meet them out his father’s house so I could also try Leese’s homemade wontons... but it would be too distracting with the whole family there for the holidays.

Oh well, next time. They had offered some good advice about my car situation, and now that I’ve got a new one, I’ll have to make a roadtrip soon. Hopefully meet some other northern California bloggers, and of course hang out with Leese and Stanks again.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

More quick car talk.

This past week I had taken my banged-up baby to a couple of mechanics, who both quoted me a few thou to fix it. The lease inspector said if I turned in the car as is, it’d cost me $4600 (!) And my insurance company -- and who knows if and when they would cover me -- would still make me pay the 2 deductibles totaling a grand, plus they’d surely raise my rates. Mikey’s screwed right?

Not royally though.

Next time a friend tells you, “Dude, I’m tellin’ ya,” you should heed their advice. I kept hesitating to see Juan, my friend’s mechanic. Juan is way up in the Valley -- pretty far schlep just to get another ridiculous quote and take a week and a half to fix so I’d have to make arrangements to get around from the edge of the earth up there. But when my friend insisted, “Dude, I’m tellin’ ya,” well, who could argue with that logic?

So I roadtripped up to see Juan, who said he’d charge me to repair everything -- even the other little scratches on the car -- for $800 and change. Sweet. That's less than the deductibles, and no raised rates or hassles. Plus Juan would only take a few days, and he gave me a loaner in the meantime. Granted, I got my spankin’ fresh hoopity-doopitydoo with the brand new car smell at home... but this little Hyundai would get me to and from Juan’s shop in the hinderlands. Super sweet.

I cancelled the insurance claims, and drove to work relieved...

Know what’s weird? Written in the dust of the loaner’s back window -- backwards so I could read it forward in the rear-view -- it said “POLIS STATION”. I assume the Hispanic guys at Juan’s misspelled “police” phonetically in Spanish. Did they get this cardboard box of a car from the cops?

Or maybe they just left off the H in “Polish”, as in the car came from the mechanic’s buffing area. Or from Krakow?

While I pondered my geeky word games, I cruised past a patrol unit with a few police officers. Female cops. Oh baby, there's something about a woman in uniform… really got my nightstick in a chokehold. They had their dark hair pulled back in a bun -- Latina-looking, and I gotta thing for las chicanas. Especialmente en la policia....

IMO, LAPD is much different the NYPD. Most New York cops I’ve seen are nothing like the ones on TV. By comparison, the most attractive real-life police make Dennis Franz look like a fashion model. And that includes the female officers. But in LA, the police are tan and tall and buff and chiseled... and that includes the female officers. Even with their equipment and bullet-proof vests, it was obvious these babes in blue were bootylicious.

Guess I was just in a good mood about solving my car problems. But I wasn’t quite ecstatic enough to forget these women had guns and tazers and fifteen ways to break a perp's neck. Otherwise, when I drove past, I just mighta said, “Hey, you ladies wanna polish my station?”

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