Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Man, April went by fast, but I did it. 30 days, 30 posts. And maybe 30 readers, total. Not bad.

And despite all the stories I wrote, I still have others I didn't get to, and may never will. Maybe next month...

Engagement Photo Session, or How to Pose Like the Schmoes

Walt Disney Will Probably Be Thawed From His Cryogenic State Before I Make it to the Front of the Line for Pirates of the Caribbean

Press Junket Junkie

Put Your Money Where Your Mouse Is

Yenta My Love

Tattooed Guyliner Dude in the Red Wife-Beater, aka Chef Emo

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

In this internetastic super-cyber e-commerce world, customer service seems to be a lost art form. Most of the time it's non-existent, but when it's good, it can help a business rise above issues like mediocre products or pricing its patrons into the poorhouse.

One of our favorite restaurants is Cafe Paradiso. The food is very good, though not significantly better Italian cuisine than all the other restaurants around. And it's never too crowded, but that's likely because their dishes cost more than their culinary counterparts. So why do we keep going? 'Cause they remember us, give us the best seat in the house, and cater to all our little food foibles without flinching. (E.g., all of Adelphia's sauces on the side, extra chili peppers on top of everything of mine -- sure, even the gelato.)

And everyone on the West side has raved about The Counter. It's just a fancy diner, and despite the gimmick of building your own burger, the ground beef and garnishes aren't so great to justify the half-hour wait. But I gotta say, they've got some of the nicest staff I've ever encountered. So I'll continue to customize my accoutrements at The Counter.

Then there's the counter-examples.

Months ago, when I was shopping for a new laptop, I went into Creative Computers in Santa Monica. There was a guy who worked there -- well, he wore the store's shirt and name-tag, but he didn't seem to be working there. He was surfing the Web on one of the big-screen computers, checking out the latest football scores. I sat at one of the laptops next to him, and he muttered, "You thinking of getting a new computer?"

"Thinking about it," I said.

And then he did nothing. A minute later, he got up and walked away.

Okay, I had to be a more aggressive buyer, I guess. I asked another guy if he could help me. I told him I was looking for a new laptop, but wasn't sure what to get.

He regarded me with utter disdain, sneering through his rotten Wailing-Wall teeth, and asked what I wanted to do on the computer. I explained that mostly, I do a lot of writing, and web surfing, but my last laptop was too heavy and slow.

He sighed. "Well, I don't know how to narrow it down, if all you want is a portable typewriter with internet access."

The derision was too much to take. "Wow, nice attitude," I said. "You guys really don't wanna sell me a computer."

I left and got much better treatment at the Mac store.

Oh, and then there was last weekend at Tengu. Adelphia had a gift certificate for $50, which we kept meaning to use, but rarely went to Westwood. Since we had spent all day at the UCLA Bookfair, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to use that certificate to savor some sushi & sake.

Adelphia checked with the bartender/waitress, to see if she'd accept the certificate that she'd held onto for years, and the woman said no problem.

After filling up on some good raw fish, we wondered if we had even used up the full amount. The waitress gladly checked and said our tab was up to $46.50. As I was wondering if we should order something else, the waitress said something she nearly regretted.

"I checked with my manager, and he said we can't accept the certificate. I'm sorry," she shrugged and turned to walk away. "Don't worry, you guys. Your drink is on me."

Oh, our one drink? I thought: what about the half-dozen dishes of raw fish, lady?

But Adelphia had the right response. "No. First of all, the certificate didn't have an expiration date. Second, in California, it's illegal to sell a certificate with an expiration date, or even if it has one, it's illegal to fail to honor the certificate with the intended services or cash value. Third of all, you agreed to honor it before we even sat down." Adelphia took a breath and said, "Please have your manager come talk to me."

The waitress didn't know who she was messing with -- someone skilled and experienced in the service business. Adelphia knew her stuff. And I knew there was no way in hell I was paying for this food. We were prepared to have them call the police, but it wouldn't come to that. The woman returned and said not to worry about it. I almost felt bad for the waitress and I still left her a $10 tip, but she and her manager's stupid service didn't really cost them anything -- the food had already been paid for years ago -- except any future business from us.

Monday, April 28, 2008

My fiancee's a teacher, constantly dealing with unruly students. So my recent stories about getting in trouble in my younger days were of particular interest to her. But I soon realized Adelphia didn't encourage these tales because she needed to understand the mischievous male mind any better... she just liked hearing about what a rotten kid I was.

When my mother was around, she told Adelphia about all the times she was called down to the Principal's office because of me. A bit of an exaggeration, but Mom reminded me of how I had to sit at the end of my bed for a month every day after school as punishment... for failing gym. Yes, I failed gym. No, not because I couldn't do a sit-up or got pummeled by the dodge-ball too often. It was because I supposedly fooled around too much. So what if I would take the chalk powder we used in gymnastics and turn my classmates into white ghosts? Or if I rolled up another kid in the gym mat? He thought it was funny too. In fact, it was supposed to be my turn to become a human burrito before the jerk-o gym teacher blew the whistle on us.

And then there was the time I had that pen. Mom casually mentioned it, but didn't say much more and I had nearly forgotten that incident. I must've been about five or six, I don't remember exactly, but I remember the pen -- it was one of those novelty pens where you turn it upside down and the ink bikini runs out, revealing a naked lady.

"Where'd you get that?" Adelphia said.

"My dad's office, after going with him to work one day."

"You stole it?"

"No, I think someone there let me have it. Maybe not, I don't know, I just thought it was pretty cool, that's all..."

"What happened?"

"It was no big deal," I said. Adelphia just kept looking at me. She wouldn't let this go. I shrugged. "I brought it into school for show-and-tell. So what? It certainly made kindergarten more interesting."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

My sister and I were talking -- we each spent part of the weekend separately working with kids, and it got us thinking about the juvenile mindset... and that perhaps we were the same when we were their age... but different.

Specifically, the way we dealt with punishment. We both agreed that getting punished by our parents almost never taught us a lesson. Today, we see the error of our ways, but back then, Mom & Dad laying down the law just made us go through the motions of correcting our mistakes, though in our hearts we believed we were right.

Here's the differences in us as kids: I never understood why my sister was so resistant to accepting that we got in trouble. No matter what caused a fight between us kids, when our parents were fed up, they'd send us to our rooms -- now! But Julie had to fight it. Had to argue that she didn't do anything wrong, that Mikey started it (very often true). And at first, I relished her compounding her punishment by arguing her case... but then started to feel bad for her. I started to mutter, "shut up, shut up, you're only gonna make it worse..." until Julie doubled or tripled her sentence with my infuriated and impatient parents. The punishment was inevitable -- why try to fight it? Any surprise that today my sister's a lawyer?

My sister questioned why I got myself in trouble so often. Specifically, I had chores to do, but never did them, which always got me punished. Julie said, "You knew you had to do 'em, why not just do 'em? Why add a punishment to the chore? I never understood that." To the best of my recollection, it wasn't defiance -- I wasn't some kind of conscientious objector to taking out the trash. I just kept forgetting, or putting it off. And no punishment in the world seemed to get through to me.

My sister said, "Nothing got through to you?"

"Almost nothing," I said. "Not until Mom started tearing up my MAD Magazines."

"Oh yeah..."

"That was just cruel."

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Adelphia: Do you wanna watch "Top Chef"?
Michael: Eh.
A: C'mon, the show's got good food.
M: So? I can't eat any of it.
A: And a hot host.
M: You mean...?
A: No, not Giada diLauren-tits.
M: Hey, don't disparage my other girlfriend. I don't let her talk shit about you.
A: Yeah, right. Anyway, "Top Chef" has got Padma Lakshmi.
M: "Lox Schmear?"
A: Lakshmi. She's Salman Rushdie's ex-wife.
M: Salmon's Lox Schmear?
A: Just watch, will you?
M: How did she get that scar on her arm?
A: I don't know. Maybe the same way Tina Fey got the scar on her face.
M: Really?
A: Why not.
M: Fine, I'll watch. But I already tried "30 Rock" and there was no Lox-shmear-Fey cat fight...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Four features of a frustrating Friday:

1. I took some work for the money, and honoring that commitment, had to pass on a fun short-term gig that just came my way.

2. This same job I’m doing may screw up the timing and impede my chances for a creative long-term gig.

3. The “Lost” podcast with Jay & Jack used to make my morning run more entertaining, but lately I can’t help but notice these guys aren’t the most knowledgeable fans, unlike The Transmission people, who didn't put up a podcast yet. Okay, so Jay & Jack didn’t know that “The Tempest” was most likely a reference to the Shakespeare play, not the ‘80s video game. Fine, they mispronounce the home state of one of their callers -- it’s “Ill-i-noy”, not “-noise”. Or calling Tunisia “Ton-YOU-see-ah”. But when they Googled Ben’s alter ego, Dean Moriarty, and only came up with Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, and not Kerouac’s On the Road character, their poor research skills was Ill-a-noying in my ears.

4. Listening to fan feedback while exercising, I could try to call myself an athletic, intellectual enthusiast, but let’s face it -- I’ve become a total “Lost” geek.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

My friend Dan is a rare type in LA. He never flakes. In fact, he’s the most diligent dude I know. If we make plans, Dan’ll call two days ahead of time to confirm, then e-mail the day before, then again that morning, and call twice more beforehand. By the time we hang out, I’m almost sick of him.

We do actually hang out, though. I’ve known other people like that -- follow-up-fanatics -- who typically don’t show up. I think they’re just trying to find an excuse to flake. Checking in as a way to be checking out.

Dan’s just a super-thorough guy, and super-nice, too. How can I complain about constant confirmations a couple of weeks ago when it was all about my birthday? He wanted to make sure I was still available for him to take me out to eat and give me a gift. Hey, if there’s a free lunch involved, call all you want. E-mail. Text me. IM. Use semaphore and smoke signals, just gimme my swag.

And I was happy to reciprocate the generosity for his birthday last weekend. But Dan said he was going out of town, back to Jersey to be with his family for the occasion, so he suggested we get together when he got back. Specifically, yesterday – Wednesday. Which meant I’d get multiple messages on Monday and two hundred more on Tuesday.

But I didn’t hear from Dan all week. I had left him an e-mail message listing our favorite restaurants and greasy spoons as choices for his birthday lunch -- or would he prefer I fly out to his hometown, which is near the Sopranos stomping grounds, and we go to Satriale’s Pork Store? No answer.

I tried to contact Dan several times, emulating the uber-e-mailer. But the roles were hardly reversed, because when he floods my inbox, I always respond.

This started to freak me out. Something had to be wrong. Plane crash? Illness? Alien abduction? Paulie Walnuts?

Late last night, he finally wrote me back to reschedule, saying, “Sorry, I was traveling all day and was incommunicado. Did we say we were having lunch today? I must’ve mixed up the dates.”

I was relieved, but I was also right. Something was wrong. Aliens replaced Diligent Dan from Jersey with the Familiar Flakiness of La-La Land.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My mother's birthday was today. I thought I'd honor the occasion with an artwork retrospective. I've mentioned before about a still-life she did for me -- an homage to our favorite movies. As fun as it was, that was hardly her best work. My mom became a pretty good painter later in life. Now her collection of originals has been distributed throughout our family. I have several paintings -- although they won't fit in our apartment, I have to hold onto her masterpieces until I find room. I did part with the nude below because someone offered to buy it. Mom would've been proud to know she was a paid artist, albeit posthumously. Puts her in the same company as Van Gogh.
arch senorita profile
afrwoman treescene nudewoman
bluebttles vista
If I inherited any of her artistic skills, it isn't apparent in the cartoon below (click to enlarge, or click here). But I was happy to honor her accomplishment of getting a PhD, well after raising my sister and me. Her dissertation soon got published, too. Mom keeps inspiring us, even after she's gone. Now, excuse me, enough with this blogging; I gotta try to do something productive with my time already.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Marketing one's self is an important skill. It's something I need to develop better, because all the talent and hard work won't mean a thing if it doesn't reach people. But there's the right way to do marketing, and then there's just plain exhibitionism.

I've been to a few gatherings at someone's home, where one of the guests, or even the host, decides to take the floor and display their so-called artistic ability, whether or not anyone cares to witness it.

For example, my friend has had some dinner parties, which are always fun because her cooking is amazing and she's a totally down-to-earth cool person. And so are most of her friends.

A few of them are singers. Great. Do I want to hear any of their musical skills? Sure. They can lend me their CD and I'll give it a listen. Or I'll gladly check out their show.

Oh, they want to put on a show on right here, at the dinner table? Well, what can I say? Fine, go ahead. Surely they'll just croon the chorus and maybe one verse. Not the whole six-and-a-half minute song. Oh, they will. Do I have to pay attention to this whole thing? My soup's getting cold.

I've seen this happen twice, and yet another time with someone doing a dance routine, which rivaled Elaine from Seinfeld's awkward gyrations. And it's hard to avoid this surreal presentation. Seeing how these people jump at a chance to get attention, when they casually mention, "Oh, I choreographed a really interesting dance to this song," or "I love to sing. I'll cover any tune, anytime, anywhere," I just smile and quickly change the subject, but it doesn't matter. The self-indulgent show must go on.

Last weekend, one of these would-be chanteuses shared her drawn-out ditty after announcing that she didn't bring anything to the dinner party; she would sing for her supper. And as I sat there uncomfortably having my ears fill up while my stomach remained empty, I was thinking what an idiot I was for bringing dessert or a bottle of wine.

Maybe next time, I'll do my old standup comedy act or break-dancing routine.

Monday, April 21, 2008

1 year living w/Adelphia:

A few dead plants
3 fun parties
A billion fallen leaves
A trillion fallen seeds
1 marriage proposal
Countless great memories

Sunday, April 20, 2008

It’s Passover, my favorite Jewish holiday. Yeah, I like the Seder meal even more than the gifts of Hanukkah. Although I also like Tu Bishvat ‘cause it’s fun to say Tu Bishvat.

I’ve attended Seders with different members of my family, friends’ families, and even strangers who’ve taken me in, like when I was living in London. And I’ve noticed that Passover is the same wherever you go, with only minor variations. Like the father in the English family shouting to his wife, “Oy!” to which I had to ask, “Was that a British ‘oy’ or a Yiddish ‘oy’?”

The Passover meal often involves the number four. There are four questions, and four sons who ask the meaning of Pesach. All of this was nicely summarized in Green’s post.

Here are four types of people at any Passover dinner, and the questions they ask:

1. The Seder Stickler, who insists on doing every single ritual: “How you can have the bitter herb? We still have 19 pages of the Hagaddah to read.”

2. Weinstein the Wino, who drinks his four cups of wine in the first five minutes: “Can we Irish up this Manishevitz a little?”

3: Cool Hand Puke, who believes in celebrating our freedom with the freedom to consume excessive amounts of hard-boiled eggs, or other dishes: “Who dares me to snort this whole bowl of horseradish?”

4: The Roamin’ Afikoman Hunter, who uses the game of searching for the matzoh as an excuse to snoop throughout the house: “Mrs. Shapiro, if unleavened bread has no yeast, why do you have fungicide in your medicine cabinet?”

Happy Pesach!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

At one of our happy hour haunts, my fiancée Adelphia & I were having another nice night together. Not sure if the people around us could say the same thing.

We wound up sharing an area with a group of girls who were discussing guys. We tried not to eavesdrop, but overheard enough to tell it was the usual gossip about how men are dogs, blah blah blah. A very girlie conversation, I thought, as true as it may be. Guys talk about the same subject only from a completely different perspective.

Like when Russell from my old job was telling me about some of the work parties the network had before I started there. How he got drunk and made out with some older woman named Heather who worked on another show.

Anyway, he never called her after that, and if he ran into her around work, she seemed friendly enough, like she didn’t care.

Then one night he went out to Busby’s Sports Bar. It was Valentine’s Day. Russell and Eskie, another guy from work, had the very crafty idea to hang out that particular evening. They could put the moves on single women who were determined not to sit home and mope because they didn’t have a date. And who knows? Maybe these ladies were hoping to meet the man of their dreams on Valentine’s Day… In other words, they might be ready for a little lovin’ from Russell & Eskie -- Two Wild and Crazy Guys.

Russell said he saw Heather, who said hi to him. And she was getting even friendlier with Eskie, which was perfect, because the woman brought her friend from work, Ana, a young cute hottie who seemed very interested in Russell. The two couples were hitting it off.

Then all of sudden, Eskie decided he wasn’t feeling well and had to bail. Now Russell didn’t have his wing-man. Heather had no distraction. Russell thought that Eskie had in essence, cock-blocked him with the young hottie Ana.

Ana lived nearby, she said, and asked Russell to walk her home. Heather came along too.

So he was heading back to the girl’s apartment with two women. Was Heather there to chaperone? Or did Russell think he had a chance to fulfill every guy’s ultimate three-way fantasy?

“I had no idea what to expect,” Russell said. Back at Busby’s Bar, Heather and Ana had gone to the ladies’ room together. Heather had had her chance to tell her friend about mashing lips with Russell. It didn’t seem to be a problem. Everybody was upbeat, even flirty. “I was just gonna go with the flow and see what happened.” But, oh, the possibilities…

Then, just as they were getting close to Ana’s place, Heather said, “Oh, did I ever tell you? Russell made out with me at the holiday party. Then he never called me again.”

And that was that. The hottie turned cold toward Russell and the two women left him high and dry.

“The timing was impeccable,” Russell said. “Here I was thinking Eskie inadvertently cock-blocked me, but in fact, Heather waited all night to deliberately cock-block me!”

I laughed along with him, but then he saw me just looking pensive about the whole thing.

“What?” Russell thought I was passing judgment or something. I wasn’t.

“I was just thinking,” I said. “I’m just glad to be out of that dating world. But I almost – almost – miss the awesome, crazy stories you single guys get to tell.”

Friday, April 18, 2008

About a month ago, a guy from The Gas Company parked his truck outside our place (illegally, btw), and started doing some work on the sidewalk in front. I came out and said, “Hi. Are you here to install those gas meters?”

My tone was perfectly friendly. His was not. He looked up, eyed me suspiciously and said, “Who are you?”

That should have been my first clue as to how this conversation would go. I looked back at him – what’s with the attitude, pal? But I told him my name and that I live there. “Oh, okay,” he said. He told me the company had had some problems with identity theft.

But he was the one asking for my name. And I wasn’t asking for his social security number. I calmly repeated my question. “So are you here to install those gas meters?”

“I’m reading the gas meter,” he said.

“Okay, but is that related to installing the meters over there at some later time?” I pointed to the pipes sticking out of the ground in our yard.

He just gave me that suspicious look again and told me that there were no meters there. That gas meters are in the sidewalk, not on private property.

This guy wasn’t dumb -- I could tell. He seemed to have a real bug up his ass and wanted to take it out on the world. Then again, maybe it there was a lack of communication here, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and I explained it further.

I said that I was told that there would be meters in the yard, in the future. I explained that the plumbers who had been working at our place several weeks ago said that they had to wait for the gas company to come and install new gauges where those pipes were. When I saw the guy’s truck, I thought perhaps that he was there for that reason. “But I guess not,” I said, based on his expression. “Have you heard anything about this?”

“So what’s the problem?” he said. Again, answering my question with a question. “You don’t have any hot water?”

“No, we have hot water.”

“So…” he threw up his hands. “What is it you want? What do you want done?”

Despite his abrasive personality, I tried to stay pleasant, explaining the situation in greater detail:

We had a hot water heater inside our apartment. But the tank started leaking, so these plumbers came, removed it and replaced the whole system with a tankless heater. That required tearing up our yard to lay pipe underground, which came sticking up out of the soil in the front of our place. The plumbers said that they couldn’t finish until the gas company came. To the best of my understanding, that meant cutting off one gas line, rerouting it to those pipes and installing new meters. Plus some plumbing work inside our place. We’re waiting right now, with a hole in our ceiling, our walls, and these half-finished pipes.

What I wanted, I said, was whatever work needs to be done, to be done. But it seems like maybe the plumbers dropped the ball on this and I was gonna look into it.

That’s when the guy started going off. He starts lecturing me on what his company does and doesn’t do – namely that they don’t install meters on private property.

If I were to write out his dialogue it would have to be IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE THAT WAS THE TONE OF HIS VOICE. Which I find almost as annoying to read as to listen to, so I’ll spare your eyesight.

I said, “Sir, please don’t yell. I’m standing right here and talking quietly to you.”

I’M NOT YELLING, he yelled (sorry), still in that same noise level, that the whole neighborhood could hear. He talked that way from the beginning, so there was no use trying to get him to change.

And when he repeated his bit about how they don’t install meters, I said, “Yes, I understand. That’s why we’ll have to contact the plumbers and—“

“Let me finish! I let you talk,” he whined, as if I had been arguing my case, not just sharing with him the situation. I lowered my head and took a step back, as if to yield the floor to him. He seemed intent on pointing out that it was his. “You got to talk and tell me what you wanted to say so when it’s my turn to speak you should let me speak, just as I let you speak when it was your—“

“So speak!”

For the third or fourth time he lectured me on what the gas company’s jurisdiction is. When he finally finished, I waited, then said, “You know, I asked if you knew anything about installing these meters. You could’ve just answered ‘no’.”

Later, after talking to the landlady and waiting a few more weeks, some other guys from The Gas Company came – they said they didn’t know that guy, it’s a big company – and with the plumbers did exactly what that schmuck insisted they didn’t do.

They installed the meters.

Honestly, I don’t know what’s fuglier. These monstrosities or that guy’s personality.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

My dad was deadly at Scrabble. The guy had a keen eye for anagrams, and could turn a rack of seven crappy letters into a high scoring play every time. Plus the ol’ man knew just how drive you nuts.

If it was your turn and you took more than a minute, he’d start humming game show music to annoy you into going already. So you’d throw down some tiles and then he’d disapprove of your move. “That’s your word?! I waited all this time for that? Lemme see what you had.” Before you could object, he’d grab your rack and find a move that’s triple the points of what you came up with. Sounds humiliating, but he wasn’t trying to psyche you out; he just wanted to get the most out of his opponent. He seemed to believe in an open-book policy of playing – Dad would show you his rack, too, and say, “Mikey, I know there’s gotta be a bingo here, but I can’t figure it out. Help me out.”

He kicked my ass for years. It wasn’t until I developed my literati addiction that I began to increase my two- and three-letter-word lexicon and got him to add more curse words into his vocabulary because I’d win once in a while. He still beat me most of the time, but I was starting to give the guy a run for his money, right up to the end. I miss my worthy word game challenger.

Dad had set the bar for other competitors. Granted, I played plenty of tough people… but only online. I needed a rigorous real life rival.

So when I discovered there were a few Scrabble clubs in the LA area, I decided to give one of them a try. And it was everything I expected, having read Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players.

The West LA branch met in some senior center every Saturday. The room next door featured elder folks aerobics, where the gray-haired geezers looked endearing as they slow-stepped to old classic swing songs.

And the Scrabble room? Well, let me put it this way: I’m hardly some skinny, hip kid, but I was easily the thinnest, youngest and coolest guy in the place.

These folks were mostly old heavyset people who replaced social graces with knowledge of acceptable words with Q but no U. Many of them were awkward and analyzing the game just won by the branch’s champion, full of long words nobody ever actually uses. But none of this meant they weren’t perfectly nice. They welcomed me as a newbie and invited me to my first game.

I played one of the regular women there. I didn’t expect much of a challenge. I figured she was just an administrative type, there to induct me into their world. And hey, I was a pretty good player.

Not good enough. The lady beat me by over 40 points, which is what she scored on nearly every move. Damn, I was gonna have to step it up.

The next game was easier. Maybe I was ranked really low, considering my league record was 0-1, so they put me with one of the weaker players… or the old woman across from me was trying to lull me into a sense of security. I was sure any second now she’s stop dumping 3 or 4 tiles with weak entries and slam me with a triple word extravaganza. But it didn’t happen and I was batting .500.

The last game was with a kindly old gentleman who afterwards told me his life story: a former advertising writer who found that world so miserable he moved into teaching history. That was a decent job, he said, but living in the LA area for a long time, he got a jump on the real estate market, buying up properties in Pacific Palisades cheap and now can just live off the rent money. Normally I’m wary of landlords, but this guy just seemed too nice.

He was amazed at my two seven-letter words, but really I just got lucky. Well, I worked my way into having a rack of good letters, and AEINRS? (? = a blank) is good for about a billion bingos. I made MARINES, and then picked straight out of the bag TIPSIER. He wanted to challenge me on that word, but I warned him I could also make PITIERS, or SPIRITED off his D. The two bingos gave me an extra 100 points, which I needed to eke out a win.

Impressed, he suggested I join a tournament the next day. As a beginner, he said, I’d be ranked low and could do very well. He and his Scrabble club friends even offered to give me a ride up to Pasadena. “We could pick you up in the morning and make a day of it,” he said. “We like to pack a lunch and make a day of it.”

His cordiality wasn’t creepy. In fact, the camaraderie was contagious, but I think I felt completely overwhelmed by all the cryptograms. I was Scrabbled out.

I thanked them all, and politely declined the invitation. I haven’t been back since that first visit. Maybe as amicable as these people were, it just wasn’t my crowd. Maybe the improved weather makes me want to be outside on the weekends rather than inside at the Senior Center. Maybe the old man I miss playing with is my old man.

Or maybe I just like retiring from competitive Scrabble with a winning record: 2-1.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

For the handful of readers I have left, I promise to get to the Scrabble story tomorrow. I was busy all day with some freelance work. A lot of my articles are getting picked up by Google Entertainment News, which is kinda cool, 'cause even if I don't get byline credit, it still means more readers, whoever they are.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

As you may know, I'm not too shabby at doing crossword puzzles. Maybe last Sunday's New York Times grid was particularly easy, or I'm getting better 'cause I finished it and challenged myself with the acrostic.

10 letters, 2 words, all-time pro home run leader: BARRY BONDS, right? Nope, didn't jive with the cross-clues. So maybe it's an asterisk steroid issue. Well, HENRY AARON is 10 letters. Nope, that didn't work either. What could it be? Ahh, American-centric me forgot about the Japanese pro leagues: SADAHARU OH hit 868 lifetime homers. Domo arigato, you clever crossword clue creators.

Oh, by the way, as you probably know, I'm a big geek.

A geek who'll destroy you at word games. Don't even try to compete with me in Scrabble. I'll bingo your ass into oblivion on the triple word score.

But unless you're willing to bring your bag of tiles and timer over, you'll just have to take my word for it. 'Cause I won't play online. Sorry, FaceBook folks, you can stare at your Scrabulous screens 'til you scream, but not me.

I'm clean and Scrabble-sober now.

At one time, though, I was addicted to a different online Scrabble network, not to mention Yahoo's literati. It was bad, man. It was bad. I had a 10-game-a-day habit, maybe more... who can remember when you have that many blank tiles and anagrams running through your head...

But I kicked it, worked the program (by not downloading the program), and took 12 steps toward the shelf where I keep the board games. Now when I'm jonesing for some word play, I gotta physically use a pen (no pencil for me) to write in the Sunday Times puzzle, or go up against a Scrabble opponent face-to-face, looking him in the eye to see if he's got that dreaded Q or not.

Next: My visit to the West LA Scrabble club.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Late night TV has long been my lullaby. I usually turn in anywhere between 11:30 and 1, and sync my sleep patterns with a serenade from sitcom reruns or other scheduled programming.

I suppose generations of people fell asleep to the Johnny Carson theme, but on the rare occasion I was allowed to stay up late, “Heeere’s Johnny” didn’t knock me out like Rod Serling saying, “You are entering a dimension, not one of time and space but the mind…” Or on New York's WPIX, I believe, they'd air old Star Treks, with William Shatner saying “To boldly go”, which confused me with English teachers trying to futilely tell us it's wrong to incorrectly split infinitives.

For years I zonked out to the opening from MASH or Edith and Archie warbling “Gee our old LaSalle ran great,” but now I seemed to have stifled those memories like some kinda Dingbat.

The Simpsons theme held the number one spot of turning-in tunes for over a decade. At one point, the guitar twang that opened Beavis & Butt-head could’ve won me over for putting me under, but the dumb “heh-heh” laughter would always jar me awake.

As I came to know every episode of Homer and Bart’s adventures all too well, another cartoon show came to the forefront. Thanks to Comedy Central re-animating the animated antics of Family Guy, my eyelids get heavy whenever I hear baby Stewie say “…laugh and cry!”

And now, it’s TMZ on TV. I could chalk it up to research for my silly freelance work, but now I already know the information before it makes it on the air. Vanilla Ice arrested? Got it. Heath Ledger alleged coke use at the Chateau Marmont? Covered that with a similar cynical angle. So if I pass out in the middle of the latest media circus on Robertson Boulevard (by the way, you attention whores, L.A.’s got a million better restaurants than the Ivy), it's no big deal.

What’s scary is I’m starting to have nightmares involving Britney Spears, Harvey Levin and that Prince von A-hole guy who’s married to Zsa-Zsa Gabor.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

One of the personal trainers at my gym nodded at me while I was struggling and straining with the self-mutilation machine on low setting. Then he told his new client, "This guy is the most intense person working out here."

He later said he admired how I worked hard when I was there, something he tries to get all his clients to do. I appreciated the comment -- inspiring that kind of dedication is what he does for a living -- he himself runs a marathon every other month. But I just said, "Ahh, I make it look tougher than it is by grunting a lot."

In fact, the other day, I got on the seated row station, grabbed the bar, expecting resistance, but instead, fell into a backward somersault. Someone had taken out the pin since my last set, leaving no weights. Everybody in the gym laughed at me or asked if I was okay. "Man, those weights get lighter and lighter with every workout," I said.

All kidding aside, when I got back my running photos, I had to tell myself: Jeez, dude, you can try to be strong and fast, but do you gotta look so koorayzay?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Dammit... Rock climbing... $@#&%*... Bragging rights... Friggin' cute baby...

My friends invited me to go the rock climbing gym. Adelphia was invited too, but she's just not as into overcoming a fear of heights by dangling from some rope... Although, she was sorry she'd miss out on seeing our friends' baby again.

They're not gonna bring the baby, I said. Not to go rock climbing.

They brought the baby to the bar, she reminded me. These days, they bring their baby everywhere. Not that anyone could blame them -- that kid is adorable, especially in its little bunny outfit.

Yeah, but they're also cool parents, who still go out and do fun stuff, I said. The other night they wanted to stop by and tell me, "Happy birthday, and yes, we brought a baby to a bar." They hung out for a few minutes and left. But when they go rock climbing they're not gonna bring the kid. How do you think the mom lost her baby weight so fast? She didn't need to spend a fortune on a personal fitness center and trainer like J.Lo. It's from climbing walls once in a while without worrying about the wee one.

Adelphia bet me they'd bring the baby. For bragging rights.

I had already won them back -- I knew Linda Fiorentino didn't get an Oscar nomination for The Last Seduction. And I knew they wouldn't bring the baby to go rock climbing.

Well, the good news is I got to see the cute kid crawling all over the floor while we crawled up the walls. (It's only a matter of time 'til she goes vertical, like the 4-year-old I saw climbing.)

The bad news is coming home later to see Adelphia's doing what she called the Wall-Crawl Bragging Rights Disco Ball.

Friday, April 11, 2008

I’m sitting outside on our patio, all set up and working on my laptop, wondering who’s gonna join me this beautiful afternoon. Will I be serenaded by the Santa Monica idol singers? Begged for attention and then blown off by Maggie the cat?

Shoulda known – one of the squirrels scampers over. He peeks out from the tree right at me, hoping I’m gonna feed ‘em, even though he’s got a peanut in his mouth. When he sees that I’m not turning my front yard into some kind of a rodent restaurant, the li’l bastard climbs up a branch right over my head, and proceeds to gnaw away, dropping peanut shells on top of me.

The passive-aggressive pest has done this before, usually with avocados that he’s plucked from one of the higher branches in the tree. So I suppose today I should feel lucky I’m not getting bombarded with half-eaten guacamole.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Don't care about American Idol. In fact, I don't know anything about that show.

Except that David Cook is quite the artist -- ripoff artist, that is. And David Archuleta is the next Michael Jackson -- and I don't mean multi-platinum superstar, but a lying press-manipulator who'll grow up into a man-boy with daddy issues.

No I don't know anything about that show. Besides, it's all bullshit now that Chikezie's gone.

And who needs American Idol, when we've got Santa Monica Idol? There's a couple of teenage girls around the corner who like to sing outside on their raised porch when they get home from school. I imagine they're just trying to get away from mom and dad inside, when they warble such eclectic hits as "In the End" by Linkin Park,"Superman" by Eminem... or any tune the contestants covered last night on A.I.

So maybe these kids do want some feedback. Sitting in our living room with my fiancée, listening to this local concert, I do my best Randy Jackson: "Yo dawg, that wasn't bad, but not the best song choice and a little bit pitchy, awright?" Or Simon Cowell: "Well, it wasn't quite as awful as your last after-school performance, but it still sounds like something one might hear in a cruise ship lounge act."

Adelphia stands up and claps her hands off-beat, then sits and drops one droopy Paula Abdul-like eyelid. "I-- I-- I just love... you are... that was... I just have to say... to get up there and... you!"

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

My birthday bash was awesome, thanks especially to my beautiful sweet Adelphia, and to my friends, bloggers or otherwise, who came by to remind me I haven't changed much since my baby photo slash Carvel ice cream cake slash fire hazard.
IMG_2041 IMG_2054 IMG_2052

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Today's my birthday. No one's more surprised than me that I'm 40 today.

Here's some other numbers:

I recently ran a 5K race -- that's 3.1 miles -- and I finished in the top 3% of the 2000+ entrants, ninth in my division. Although I don't try to compete with others, just myself. And this was my best time ever, knocking over a minute off my previous personal best set 4 years ago, or more than 20 seconds per mile faster, which is about the same pace I ran when I was 17.

Pardon me being Mr. Patty McBackenSmacken here. Your ol' pal Mikey just doesn't feel 40.

So happy birthday to me.
Now you kids get offa my lawn.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Click on the image to enlarge. Can't promise that'll make it any more comprehensible, but this is what happens when scrawling a stream of semi-consciousness.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

“Can I get a hot dog with sauerkraut… and just a little bit of chili?”

“Uhhhh….” The teenager working the concession stand at the track looked at Adelphia like a deer in the headlights. Finally he turned to his supervisor, a lunchlady type, to get the answer.

“No,” Lunchlady said.

“No? You’re out of chili?” Adelphia said. She glanced at me. We had seen that the last customer had chili oozing off their hot dog. Looked kinda sloppy, but we were starving and craving gross greasy junk.

“We’d have to charge you for both toppings,” the kid said. He seemed to apologize, or just completely unsure of how to do his job.

I could see Adelphia wanted to question these hash-slinger’s inability to distinguish between no, you can’t have it, and no, you may not have it for free, but I had a simple solution. Or so I thought.

“Okay, tell you what. Give her one with just sauerkraut, and gimme one with everything on it.” There’d be enough sludge on mine to share with Adelphia.

When I got my hot dog, there was chili, onions and peppers.

“No sauerkraut?”

“No,” the teenager said, “it doesn’t go with the chili.”

It doesn’t go? What? Is this condiment etiquette? Red wine doesn’t go with fish and chili doesn’t go with sauerkraut? Well, I don’t care. I’m willing to make a frankfurter faux pas. Wiener protocol be damned.

“But I wanted sauerkraut.”

“Oh,” he said, and proceeded to make me a new hot dog… with just sauerkraut on it.

“No, no, you don’t understand. I wanted sauerkraut, too. I wanted sauerkraut and chili and everything.”

“I gave you everything,” he said, referring to the old hot dog that was no nowhere to be seen.

“Yeah, but there was no sauerkraut.”

“Everything doesn’t come with sauerkraut.”

I thought of the Steven Wright line: You can’t have everything; where would you put it? The answer is: On my friggin’ hot dog.

“I think we’re defining ‘everything’ differently,” I said. I pointed up at their sign that listed toppings. “‘Chili, cheese, sauerkraut, onions, peppers.’ I wanted all of that. Come to think of it, there was no cheese on that either.”

That’s when Lunchlady jumped in, snarling at me with several seemingly unrelated remarks. “There’s no sauerkraut in everything.” What? “Each topping is seventy-five cents.” Okay, I’m willing to— “We don’t have time for this.” Time for what? To slop a few topping onto my hot dog, or to keep making no sense?

I looked behind me. No one else was waiting in line. I’m guessing others knew not to try eating at the Abbot & Costello concession stand at Santa Anita.

I joined Adelphia, bringing two hot dogs with only sauerkraut.

“What happened to the chili?”

Now it was me who looked like a deer in the headlights. “I… don’t… know.”

Yesterday at Santa Anita I could look at all the numbers on the Daily Racing Form and factor in past performances, race distances, equipment changes, breeding and training… to hit the trifecta twice in a row. Made a little money. I can handle playing the ponies.

But trying to get what I want on my wiener is a different story.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Good morning, campers.

It's almost 6AM, and we got a busy day ahead of us.

Gotta get in my morning run.
Then watch the horses do the same at Santa Anita.
Then assist my friend Epoch with his spring cleaning... of all the extra alcohol at his wet bar. I've never heard of being stocked with too much booze as a problem, but it's one I'm willing to help remedy.

Derby Day & debauchery.

It's hard work being a degenerate gamblin' drunk.

Friday, April 04, 2008

I think my fiancée Adelphia’s jealous.

Even though we’ve loved living together for almost a year at our cozy apartment, we’ve encountered a small problem. There’s been someone else. Another certain female has been vying for my attention, enticing me leave our happy little home every night.

Our neighbor’s cat, Maggie.

She likes to lurk around our patio, looking for food. I never feed the feline furball, but she’s smelling the peanuts that the squirrels Hamas and Fatah hide in Adelphia’s flower pots. Since Maggie belongs to the landlady, I try to tolerate our uninvited guest as she begs for attention. Of course, ten seconds after allowing me to pet her, she hightails it outta there.

This has been going on for a while now. Over time, the cat’s taken a liking to me, as short-lived as it may be, but not so much my fiancée. So when Adelphia are hanging out in our living room at night, she gets bemused as we’ll hear a jingle from the cat’s collar.

“Maggie’s here for you,” Adelphia says, smirking. “That little whore.” Then she does an imitation that cracks me up, talking in a feline floozy voice: “Ring a ding dinnnng! Can Michael come out and playyyy?”

As I step out to placate the pussycat, I tell Adelphia, I swear, it means nothing, and I’m thinking about her the whole time.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

More car talk.

First of all, in the inevitable NY vs. LA discussions, when hear that NY is so much more expensive because of the ridiculous rents, I gotta set the record straight. Not just because LA rents can be a bit crazy, and I always got lucky with apartments, but in California you need a car, and between payments, registration, insurance and gas, you’re tempted to pack up, move back East and kiss the conductor of the 1 train to the Upper West Side for the convenience a subway token provides.

And then there are the other car expenses.

Like repairs. I had held off on fixing the dents and dings on my old car ‘cause of the money involved. Fortunately, I came across a little cash and was ready to go up to the body shop for an estimate. Unfortunately, my car wouldn’t start. Dead battery. Thanks to Adelphia’s Triple-A membership, it was fixed in no time, but not with no money. Still, I should be grateful that was my only mechanical problems during my entire lease, right? The car ain’t vintage, but it least it’s brake-worthy, Seinfeld.

And let’s not forget about parking.

With my new car, I drove over to a nearby coffeeshop with my new laptop – lightweight and luggable unlike my last one. Getting work done, making job connections with the free wifi connection, possibly landing a lucrative gig… when I see the parking guy with his mini-meter-maid-mobile, writing me up. Actually, there was no meters there, but dammit, they were really serious about that one-hour rule, weren’t they? I’m usually so careful and this was gonna set me back fifty bucks.

Two days later, I was over at my gym – the site of my denting disaster. Traffic is crazy over there as you try to park on the street. There’s a garage, but they shortened the validation time, and it means either paying crazy overage rates, or rushing back with no time to shower, and sweatily stinking away that new car smell. So I went back to looking for spots on the street, but I got another parking ticket. I was pissed, because it wasn’t my fault – the meter was broken, and it was the only space available.

I was determined to fight this, although not so hopeful. Years ago in Hollywood I got a ticket for parking in the red… on a poorly painted curb at night with a broken street lamp overhead. My friend took a photo of the area, I wrote a letter pleading my case and included the evidence. The parking administration denied my claim, and just gave me bureaucracy bullshit, and I knew they were making it hard on me so I’d just pay, but they were right and it worked, those bastards.

Would I have any better luck this time? I called the broken meter hotline and reported the one that caused me problems. Then I tried to call the number on the ticket itself to contest it to the city, but it just put me in voicemail hell. You probably aren’t surprised. But I was. I expected to be directed to some guy in Mumbai.

So I wrote a letter. Pfft. Who reads anymore? This post has gone on long enough, right?

I was sure nothing would come of this but a collection notice telling me my parking violation fee has doubled. When I got something from the City of LA, I expected a warrant for my arrest, but it stated that they honored my claim and the ticket has been voided.

I know, it ain’t that big a deal, but I was thrilled. This town’s lousy public transportation system can really run you ragged, but it’s nice to know, once in a while, you can beat city hall.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

During this past month, I got a new car. I also got a new computer not so long ago. Seems perhaps preposterous that during a period of precarious professional positioning, I’m purchasing possessions like I got pockets puffed up with plenty of pesos. I’ll probably have to pay the piper before any alliteration does, but what the hell.

Besides, my lease was up and I kept extending it because I was procrastinating on researching new vehicles. I considered the fact that now that I didn’t have to take my mom around and haul her wheelchair into a big trunk, I could get that a little sporty convertible, or hey! A big ol’ hoopty, hittin’ da switches and cruising the ‘hood.

Who am I kidding? Mid-life crisis-mobile, during Mideast oil dependency crisis? Not to mention mechanical mishaps? Changing a flat tire and replacing transmission fluid is the extent of my automotive knowledge. I’ve always believed that reliable cars may not look so cool, but neither does standing by your sweet ride on the side of the road while you wait for a tow truck.

I went back to the local dealer just to check out the newer model of the simple sedan I have now. The guy who gave me the test drive was mellow, but his boss started in with the sales tactics. He told me he could take my old car, dings and dents and all, give me a lease for the same period and price as my last car. Great. Let’s do it, I said.

Then of course, they leave me waiting forever, until they finally roll out my spanking new set of wheels, and that’s when he starts to finagle the finances. “Well, you see, the lease company can’t allow that price, but my friend, maybe if you make just slightly higher payments…”

I was annoyed, but stayed calm and decided to play his game. I told him to wait, that I was gonna look into this, see how the numbers worked out and then, “my friend”, I would get back to him. A little while later, I handed him a piece of paper with what I was willing to do. I didn’t want to make higher lease payments, but I’d give him a hundred bucks more right then and there, and make the period of the lease three months more. He probably thought that was a good deal, but for me, it made no difference. A C-note wasn’t gonna set me back, and neither did ninety extra days. I’d undoubtedly put off getting a new car when the lease is up anyway.

And the best part of this is that I didn’t have to fix all the ding-dang dented damage I had done. I had gone through this at the end with my last car, and though I knew a good cheap body shop, I’m all for avoiding hassle. So no more scraping curbs or reckless turns in tight spots with the new car.

Less than two weeks with it, I misjudged the space while parallel parking and put a little dent right in the front wheel well. Dammit. Oh well, figures I had to christen that baby sometime.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Hey kids, dja miss me?

Well, to make up for a MakeMineMike-less March, I'm gonna try to do something here every day in April. That's right, every day. Come what may in May, there'll be April showers of whatever the hell I do here.

Lately what I've been doing is writing other stuff on the web. On some projects, I don't get a byline, but at least it ensures I'm anonymously anonymous. Here's one of my more pun-ditory pieces. I'd elaborate, but usually I have to bang these out fast. It's been good practice for me. Like my posts -- I usually spend way too much time trying to be uberclever and often feel a bit underwhelmed afterwards. Maybe it's me. Maybe it's the mellow response. But with comments, it ain't quantity, it's quality, ain't it?

And like my future posting plans, by increasing one, another, like grammar, might be sacrificially sacrificed.

And hey, if I don't live up to this daily day challenge, I can chalk it all up to an April Fool's joke.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by