Sunday, December 31, 2006

Have you made your resolutions for the New Year?

I have. The list is pretty long and daunting. I gotta lotta stuff to get done in 2007. So much that I may not get to ‘em all. Like, I can’t promise I’ll blog more often, but I’ll try. Or try to try.

The things that are particularly important to me I usually do accomplish. For example, I do think I can lose the weight I’ve gained since training for my last marathon. Which may require training for another marathon. But I can do it.

The reason I feel so hopeful about the future is because I really enjoyed this last year. Hell, I was grateful enough to finally go 365 days (for the first time in 6 yrs.) without once having to visit a family member in the hospital (well, I still had to worry as one of my uncles wound up having surgery on the arteries to his legs and the other uncle had a quadruple coronary bypass, so, not quite, but… they were both back east, and turned out fine; I’ll still count it).

But I also knocked three big things off my list. In 2006, I:

1) Got outta that stinkin’ office job and landed a fun full-time gig writing for TV.
2) Finished writing my novel.
3) Met and fell in love with Adelphia, the girl of my dreams.

2006 was an excellent year, and 2007’s gonna be even better.

I hope it will for you, too. Happy New Year.

Friday, December 29, 2006


Usually roadtripping from LA to LV is easy, but driving back is a bitch. Except, apparently, the day after Xmas, when it's the other way around. This is due to people in their SUVs heading east after their holidays, making the journey into Nevada twice as long as normal, because they have to slow down and rubberneck... at absolutely nothing.

Once you arrive, the hotel may decide it was optional to provide you the amenities you specifically asked for, reserved and paid for a month in advance. Be patiently obstinant and they'll magically find that elusive non-smoking room with a king-size bed.

Vegas is great for little kids, nicotine addicts, and slow-walking tourists. We adults who are quick to just go and friggin' gamble already, and who also have clean lungs and dirty minds, might find America's Playground a bit frustrating.

None of the above will bother you very much if you're with your cute girlfriend who's taking in Sin City for the first time and makes everything fun.

Also, there's free drinks.

Never gamble scared. Therefore, the high minimum craps tables at the popular casinos may be too rich for your blood. You could venture off the Strip, but if your girlfriend wants to stay, you could reluctantly take her suggestion and try the boring ol' 25-cent video poker machines.

When you win a few hundred bucks on a straight flush, be sure to kiss her before going to the expensive craps tables with that hole burning through your pocket.

The Liberace Museum is good tacky fun. The tour guide talks about Mr. Showmanship with a great deal of knowledge and a thick accent. You might correctly identify her as being from near you and your girlfriend's former hometowns on Long Island. Also, from the tour guide, you may learn that the museum was "foist opened in da mid-seventies in dem Hollywood Hills". Since this is near your girlfriend's present hometown, she might announce her plan to follow Liberace's idea and open a museum dedicated to herself.

Which could cause you to wonder what the attraction for tourists would be. Liberace collected million-dollar rhinestone-studded outfits and fancy pianos from Europe. Your girlfriend seems to collect bobby pins and cheap wine from Trader Joe's.

Still, don't underestimate self-promotion. No one in Vegas apparently did.

A good example of that is the way a casino touts its headlining comedian. If you're like me, not only would you never spend money to catch this certain schmo's act, you'd really rather not have to see his steroided mug advertised everywhere in the damn place, including on the "Do Not Disturb" sign.

Back to gambling: When you've pissed away your video poker profits on craps, blackjack, roulette and even the slots, be happy you broke even. If you have to stop at Primm on the Nevada border to get gas and use the bathroom, maybe you should listen to your girlfriend again and not step into Whiskey Pete's casino. As she points out: you got in a little gambling entertainment which cost you nothing. So far. Time to go home, not into debt...

Then again, these smaller casinos are much more low stress. You can play calmly at the cheap craps tables without the crowds breathing down your neck, just your girlfriend reluctantly cheering you on... and win back a hundred bucks. Oh yeah, baby.

Listen to your girlfriend most of the time, just not all the time.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

“Hey, Mikey, whattaya want for a present?”
“I dunno, Jules. What do you want?”
“I dunno…”

Every year it’s the same thing with me and my sister.

I feel like I’m the easiest person to get gifts for. I have lots of different interests, and yet rarely buy myself anything. But then again, while the thought counts and all, I really don’t need any more Yankees gear or coffeemakers or a spider farm…

My sister knows that there are bigger, important things on my list. Julie usually buys me the more expensive items, but the tradeoff is: she insists that I do the research on exactly what I want. Like this year, she’s getting me a new printer/scanner for my home computer, but I had to look up which model suited my needs and where to find the best deal. Oh, man…

Half the reason I don’t get these things for myself is the price, but the other half is… well, I’m lazy. Why is it every birthday and holiday season I gotta start scouring the internet or going in and out of stores for my own gift? I don’t wanna have to figure these things out. I hate shopping. Just gimme gimme gimme!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful and all. Over the years, thanks to Julie (and in part, my own efforts), I got a nice briefcase, a new leather jacket, a good stainless steel watch... Even my digital camera was obtained partially due my sister’s monetary contribution (and later used by her during her scenic trip to Iceland).

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She, on the other hand, is a strange one to shop for. Julie loves little things to keep herself tidy and uncluttered. Organize This! is one of her favorite stores. One holiday season, she told me she about these large plastic bins to store all her gift-wrapping paraphernalia. I thought she was kidding. Most people keep scraps of ribbon and tubes of gift-wrap tossed somewhere in a closet and though they think about one day straightening up this mess, no one would waste a good Chanukkah present on such a project, would they? To me, storage bins are the grown-up equivalent of getting sox for Xmas.

Instead, that year I got her lotsa fun gifts, including a reproduction of the Atari video game console -- Breakout, Space Invaders, Missile Command, etc. The gift combined three of Julie's favorite things: the old Atari games, the ‘80s and reminiscing to our childhood days growing up on Long Island. She seemed delighted. But to this day that toy has remained unused, stashed away in her closet, adding to clutter that she so despises.

So for her birthday a month later, I got my sister the stupid wrapping paper storage bin, and she was ecstatic! She immediately opened it up and put it to use, only taking a break from her fun-filled finickiness to thank me again.

And now that she got a new car, she’s Felix Unger on the road, too. Constantly working on clever ways to store her phone charger, her CDs, whatever needs organization… I worry about her getting into an accident due to DWI -- driving while inventorying.

This year, I’m getting her a buncha cool stuff, but I think her favorite items will be the new Thomas Guide and a portable car vacuum. It seems mundane, but she’ll be thrilled. I tells ya, that girl is weird.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Working in post-production suddenly made me flashback to my days DJing for my college radio station. It’s not so much all the creative fun -- whether spinning blues records for the radio or cutting blue material for TV -- that brought me back. More likely, it’s being surrounded by all the heavy electric equipment in a closed confined space. Basically, what took me down memory lane was being in another potential electrical fire.

There’s plenty of precautions, of course. The sprinkler systems, the emergency exits, and of course, fire extinguishers. But do they really work?

It’s not something you really think about. Who pays attention to safety equipment when you’re perusing the radio station’s impressive record collection? When there’s shelves stocked with countless classics, one might be pondering whether to listen to Mississippi John Hurt, Mississippi Minnie or Mississippi Fred McDowell (who was actually from Tennessee, and “do not play no rock n’ roll, y’all. Just straight and natchel blues.”).

With so much vinyl to choose from, no true blues fan would give a second thought to the dusty old fire extinguisher stuck in the corner near the storage closets. In fact, it was blocking me from checking out the New Orleans section, filed under Z for Zydeco -- I’d just move this thing out of the way, lemme pick it up and --

KSSSSSHHHH! The extinguisher went off. I had barely touched the handle, but it seemed to have a hair trigger and started spraying yellow powder everywhere. First I tried to get the canister to shut off, but squinting and tearing up, I couldn't figure it out. Then I realized that the dust could damage the precious music, so I shut the locker before the blues turned into yellows. Finally, it occurred to me that the flame retardant fog wasn't good for me either.

Still holding the expectorating extinguisher, I stumbled blindly for exit. Perhaps out in an open space I could see what I was doing and shut the damn thing off. I stepped out of the radio station, into the main hall of our college campus activity center building. Where the annual crafts fair was taking place.

There were booths with homemade jewelry, hand-painted dishes, wind chimes, etc. Craft creators from all over the city congregated here. And amid all the knick-knacks, paddywacks candle wax, artifacts… a gas bomber attacks.

There I was, bursting into the crowd, within an increasing cloud of chemicals. Just beyond me, I saw a couple of security guards. Great. Maybe they could help shut this thing off; I was gonna asphyxiate. But they just stood there, each commenting on the incident into their walkie-talkies. Well, report on this, Rent-a-Keystone-Kop: The faulty yellow-feverish equipment is your problem now. Jaundiced Boy has left the building.

Later, security called my dorm room and interrogated me over the phone. I explained it was an accident, that I certainly had no intention of sabotaging the crafts fair.

They asked: Why did I leave the scene?

“Uh, so I could breathe?”

I asked them: Why didn’t they help me? A kid is trying his best to defuse this detonating device and all they can do is give a play-by-play and suspect me of tchotchke terrorism. I worked at the college radio station, was checking out Professor Longhair, and wound up not only as Blind Lemon Jefferson, but as Big Threat on Campus.

They let me off the hook, and soon everyone forgot the whole thing.

But since I’m back in post production, I suddenly remembered it all. And now I know better. Unless it’s an emergency, stay away from the emergency equipment. And as always, stay cool. This fellow is mellow, but not yellow.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Because most Angelenos are confined to their cars as they drive solo all over this spread-out city, they value word-of-mouth about cool places to go. Just as the rare opportunity to use the carpool lane is a major commodity, so is finding out about the best bar scene, a super surfing spot, or where to get cheap Botox.

Even running routes are in demand. In LA, a picturesque park with unpaved paths can be paradise -- anywhere one can get in a little exercise, away from Schmuck Q. Escalade paying more attention to his Blackberry and Bluetooth than the red light he’s running.

Runyan Canyon was supposedly the place to be. Miles of dirt roads in the heart of Hollywood. Great for hiking, running, and spotting celebrities who look exhausted except for in the unflinching face. Obviously, they sprang for the expensive Botox.

So why did I hesitate to check out Runyan Canyon? Partially because I’m a creature of habit. I’m well-acquainted with my beach routes -- where to find clean water fountains, to see tall ships in the Marina, to ogle women volleyball players, to clothesline passing skateboard punks…

When I finally tried this new midtown mecca-for-the-fitness-minded for the first time, I couldn’t yet become a true convert. The whole trek was more of a scouting expedition, to get the lay of the land. I was transfixed on traversing this treacherous terrain. Only when I reached the top could take in the sights. And yes, the view of the LA landscape, from the Hollywood sign to Santa Monica, was a scenic smoggy spectacle.

Yesterday, I went back, and Runyan Canyon was much more fun. And I barely broke a sweat on the way up. Probably because it was later in the day and colder out than last time, but I prefer to believe that I was no longer intimidated; I had conquered the mountain.

On the way back, I could appreciate one of the major assets of the trail -- it's a dog park, where people can let their pets run loose, off the leash. Everywhere were cute schnauzers strolling, hounds hurrying, retrievers rambling … While I was carefully climbing down the steep part, a woman asked me if I noticed a little yellow dog looking lost back there. “Well, yeah,” I said with a shrug. “There were lots of yellow dogs.” I was sorry I couldn’t help, but did she mean the one digging in the bushes, the one wearing a frilly pooch poncho, or the one caught in a three-way circular train of butt-sniffing?

As the path safely leveled out, I broke into a jog. It was exhilarating and easy, trotting downhill and passing the hikers fighting gravity by going the other direction. We’d get out each others’ way, stepping to the right. I was wondering if we were in England we’d all go to the left, when I noticed a dog galloping toward me with a ball in its slobbery jowls. Perhaps it was an English bulldog. Whatever the breed, pooches are even less polite than people, so I moved even further aside. At the last second the canine lost its toothy grip on the ball, dropped it, and dashed in front of me to get it.

There was no way to avoid the dog. “Whoa!” I tripped over the damn thing and if I hadn’t put my hands out in front of me, I would’ve landed face first in the dirt. I slid on my palms and got a good look at ants on the ground up close.

Everyone on the trail saw my pratfall, but only the owner of the dog said, “Omigod. Are you okay?”

I immediately rose to my feet, annoyed. “Yeah, I’m okay.” I took off running again. My quick recovery wasn’t because I was embarrassed. When I took that tumble, my ankle must’ve caught that dog -- I heard it yelp as I hit the ground, and didn’t want to give the panicked pooch a chance to go berserk and bite me. That’s all I needed. Roaming roadblock rabies.

At the bottom of the hill, I saw that my hands were pretty scuffed up. At least that was my only injury, even if it’s not the way I prefer to get calluses.

Next time I go, I’ll be more careful. And I still might even tell my fellow LA runners about that mountain trail. Usually tips about hotspots in this town come with a caveat: “…it gets too crowded on weekends.” Or: “…but parking is a bitch.”

Recommending Runyan Canyon will come with the warning: “Beware of dog.”

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Between being sick, and then being tired, and then being focused on the holidays, I haven’t felt much like blogging. Fortunately, my congestion’s gone and the energy’s returned. But my Scrooginess will never go away.

Whether a store’s sound system plays “Jingle Bells Rock” with a big band arrangement or includes a reggae version of “Deck the Halls”, they’re the same damn tunes. Yes, I know, Christmas and Chanukkah are for children, so we can all witness these winter wonders through their innocent eyes. But still, our adult ears have heard this fucking playlist for the last 30-something Decembers. Imagine every summer, the radios repeating just a dozen ditties, among them “The Macarena”, “Getting’ Jiggy With it” and “The Thong Song”.

People tell me that it’s normal to find Xmas shopping annoying, but often these are the same folks who seem to enjoy it at any time, which I can’t understand. Maybe they like practicing for the end of the year, so they can be smug about how they got it all done so easily. I, on the other hand, am a babe in the woods when it comes to consumerism.

I wish I hadn’t waited so long to order stuff online, ‘cause now nothing will arrive ‘til January. So I had to hightail it to retail. And forget comparison shopping. Even if I had time for that, I have absolutely no patience. A friend’s advice: “Oh, you could get this cheaper downtown, and that at half price up in Woodland Hills and they have a greater selection of all of this in Pomona, just 8 miles off Route 60…” was met with my icy stare, basically saying: “Are you shittin’ me?”

Obviously, I’m like this all the time. My experiences with shopping are sporadic and few, and thus each endeavor is viewed as a tactical mission to be accomplished as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Once I had a card for 30% off any purchase at Banana Republic. I hadn’t gotten any new threads in about a year. I really only needed a new pair of pants, but this was a good excuse to get my lazy ass to finally update my wardrobe, somewhat. Still, I can only take a few minutes of browsing for clothes and trying shit on before I get antsy to get the hell outta there. I decided to only get the pants. As the cashier rang me up, she said that the discount card only worked for purchases of $75 or more, and my one item cost less than that. I sighed and went quickly to get something else, maybe a sweater or a few pairs of socks or something. The cashier pointed out that I was going to spend more just to save a little and suggested I buy the pants but use the card for another time. “Another time? This card expires in two months,” I said. “You think I’d come back so soon? I’m here now. Let’s do this thing.”

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

When the toilet in my bathroom overflowed, I called the landlord. He charged me to fix it, saying it was my fault. That was debatable, but I didn’t feel as anxious to argue as he always is; I was just anxious to get it done. I don’t know if he charged the people below me when they complained about the water leaking into their apartment. But he probably did as lousy a job on repairing their ceiling/my floor as he did on my toilet, ‘cause both problems quickly happened again.

Keep in mind we’re among his most tenured tenants, paying half or even a third in rent than the newer residents of the building. He’d love us to move out so he could make more money. So pestering us is a small price to pay.

Like showing up Saturday morning unannounced, knocking on my door and lingering outside. He was there to fix everything -- again -- because the people downstairs complained. Fine, but how ‘bout a little damn notice? I called his cell and told him he’d have to wait. The reason I didn’t want to let him in right away is that Adelphia was over. Just because it was convenient for that schmuck, I wasn’t gonna let him barge in on me and my girlfriend trying to enjoy our weekend.

When I finally let him in, Adelphia was in the other room, and overheard him quibbling with me over every little thing. She was flabbergasted that my landlord is such an asshole. I shrugged; I’m used to it.

But he threw me for loop when I came home last night and found a notice on my door. On a legal form declaring “Three (3) Days to Cure Violation or Forfeit the Premises”, the landlord had handwritten the so-called violation: “Unauthorized tenant residing in the apartment” as witnessed by “himself”.

Whatta prick.

I called him and told him in colorful language that his cheap ploys at getting me evicted are bordering on harassment. If he had truly been concerned about this strange woman in my place, he could’ve just friggin’ asked me during one of his drawn-out debates about the repairs. Or called me, for chrissakes. Jumping to conclusions about an overnight guest using an official notice is nothing but passive-aggressive bullshit. He gave me a bunch of babbling excuses and explanations for his behavior, but I ended it before he could come off as even more conniving, if that was possible.

Yeah, I know all the arguments about buying vs. renting, and even just moving outta here might seem like a good solution, but I’m not ready to do any of that yet. Despite some problems, I like where I live. And I love sticking it to my landlord by paying so little each month. I plan to consult the rent control board, the city of Santa Monica and other organizations about how best to deal with this schmuck.

In the meantime, running through my head is the old Saturday Night Live sketch called “Prose and Cons” featuring Eddie Murphy as a poetry-writing prisoner:

“Images” by Tyrone Green
Dark and lonely on the summer night.
Kill my landlord, kill my landlord.
Watchdog barking -- Do he bite?
Kill my landlord, kill my landlord.
Slip in his window
Break his neck
Then his house
I start to wreck!
Got no reason --
What the heck?!
Kill my landlord, kill my landlord.
C-I-L-L …
My land… lord.

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