Friday, December 30, 2005

Happy New Year!

I'm mostly on vacation, having fun. Just wanted to show you how my Israelisms mug improves the look of my mug.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Serena Ryder -- Unlikely Emergency

I just realized, except for the whole electricity and cooking thing, we were kind of Shabbat-y this Shabbat. On the big continuum of observance we were a lot closer to shomer Shabbos than usual. No driving, no buying stuff. We made pancakes, but SOMEONE got the TBS and TSP confused when putting in baking powder, so they ended up a awfully soda-y. We sat around. We played computer games. We napped. We walked the dog. I took gorgeous pictures and then, in a USB-to-Computer snafu, the photos got wiped from the memory card. So you can't ever see how wonderful it looked from the balcony to see the Pacific covered in clouds with the sunlight shining brightly on them. We're up at 1500 feet, so it's often like this, us in sunshine and Santa Monica and Malibu down below underneath the blanket of clouds. It was mid-70s today, early winter. If you squinted just right the clouds became snow covering the ocean, and at the horizon, Catalina Island barely managed to push above to bask its top in the sunlight.

We are off to an Xmas-eve dinner at this restaurant in Pasadena. We're going because my brother and sister-in-law and band are the night's entertainment and there's a big banquet, and my mom is a sucker for all the Christmas stuff. And I'm giving everyone their presents, so we'll see how they like their notecards. My daughter will get showered with way too many presents, which suits her just fine.

And tomorrow my girlfriend comes back and we all can start Chanukah!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Sufjan Stevens -- The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us

This is a photo of the homeless cat guy. I took a photo from really far off, and cropped out everything else and photoshopped about. I like the result because the image is really flattened and stylized, but you get the essence of the cat guy and his bent back. The smudge of orange in his lap is the cat. At least I imagine that's a smudge of orange. Maybe the cat isn't visible. I am such a coward, too, taking a photo far off, I know.

I am so tired, but I have to walk the dog before I can go to bed, but I don't want to put my shoes back on, so I am sitting here instead. How hopeless and silly.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Neil Young -- Expecting to Fly

So on the way to the subway yesterday after work I saw my cat man riding a bicycle across the street, a cigarette between his teeth, his cat crouching comfortably on his shoulders. Even riding a bicycle, he is bent forward, in this case, perhaps, to make it easier for the cat to keep its footing.

I am almost finished with all my Chanukah presents. Since I'm not giving that many, it wasn't that difficult. I printed out particularly pretty pictures I'd taken and made notecards for people, sets of 12, some desert wildflowers, some photos of Los Angeles buildings that I'd messed with in Photoshop. I'm always making presents. I never feel competent with it, but I do it, nonetheless. I never get past the feeling of being a kid and scribbling something and thinking it's the most wonderful thing ever and bringing it with pride to my parents, expecting them to burst into applause or tears at its beauty.

I remember when I was 6 I drew a picture of a zebra in a zoo cage with a zebra baby, and at the time I was very impressed with myself and my skill. Today, I wonder just how weird it must have looked, and how I managed to keep the zebra stripes separate from the cage bars... I can still remember the way it looked through my 6-year old eyes, and I can't see it as I'd see it at 40. For better and for worse, inhibitions develop as we age. However, mine are not as developed as most peoples', I think... they're big enough to make me wonder whether my mom will say, as she has done at certain gifts- "What is this? What am I going to do with this? I'll never use this..." but it's not enough to stop me from doing it. My need to give my notecards and framed poems and drawings, etc. etc. etc., overcomes my reluctance to risk people hating my work. Of course, my mom has probably reacted that way twice in 35 years of getting gifts from me several times a year. So that's over a hundred gift-giving occurrences, and she's responded negatively a few times, but I'm always a bit nervous. Such a fragile person, I am.

Thank G-d I don't live in some small town in a small state with a decent cost of living -- I'd probably get some bizarre idea I could make a living doing the artsy craftsy thing and quit my job and do something like calligraphy. In LA, I'm not even as good as the average amateur. But if I was in some small town, I'd be doing invitations and photography at weddings. In small towns (at least in my imagination) interest and passion is more important than talent and skill.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

John Doe -- Repeat Performance

There's a lot of homeless guys begging downtown, especially where I work, because it's the financial district, and that's where the people with money are. Many are obviously suffering from mental illness (the homeless guys -- the people with money can afford medication), having conversations with themselves or people who arent' there. Many seem perfectly normal and amiable men, and if it wasn't for their grimy clothes and skin and unshaved facial har, they'd fit right into life downtown.

Most guys just ask each passerby for money and thrust out a paper cup. Some have cardboard signs declaring themselves homeless, Christian, veterans. All are standing.

All except for one. One guy sits silently, a cup in front of him, in the pose of a Buddhist at prayer. But his hands are not held in some meditative pose -- they are always cradling a full-grown orange tabby cat. He is very thin, with glasses. He's mostly bald with closely shaved head, and he sometimes has large scabs on his scalp. Lately, he's been wearing a cap, which is a good thing. On the side of each of his eyebrows is tattood "5150" in the plain, thin style typical of gang or jailhouse tattoos.

"5150" is a California code relating to the conditions under which someone can be involuntarily confined for psychiatric evaluation. One has to be a danger to oneself, a danger to others, or gravely disabled. My cat guy is probably suffering from a serious psychiatric ailment -- most homeless men are -- but it says something additional about someone that they would have their faced marked permananently this way.

But whatever problems and obstacles this man has aren't evident when he sits and pets his cat and politely thanks people who give him money. He's often on my way to work, and I've taken to thinking of him sometimes more as a Buddhist mendicant than a homeless guy, so singular a figure he is. When I give him a dollar or two, it's more like when someone bums a cigarette. When I used to smoke, I'd welcome the opportunity to give someone a cigarette. It was a little connection with someone else, an opportunity to do a little good deed. And it didn't matter if it was a homeless person or someone obviously well-off -- we had the nicotine bond. I think this guy and I have a bond because I have never been good at sales-- if I were homeless, I'd probably sit there with my cup, waiting for people to put in money while I tried to think about positive stuff. I couldn't ask people for money or hold a sign. And it would be so nice to have a cat in my lap all day.

This morning as we said hello and I gave him a couple dollars, he asked how I was. I told him "Fine, but I am dreading how busy I'll be at work today!" He said, "I'm sorry," and gave me a smile and wished me a Merry Christmas. And only after did I recognize that it could be considered off to complain to a homeless guy about my job or to say anything really personal at all. But I had seen my sitting cat guy and been happy he was there, and spoke with him as I would any other casual aquaintance.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Wilco - Reservations

I am making my Chanukah presents right now. Actuallly, I'm sitting while my printer churns out photographs, but that's pretty much my present. I'm making notecards with photos I've taken stuck to their fronts -- Joshua Tree National Park wildflowers and landscapes. Each set of notecards will have a couple copies each of five different photos. I love digital photography. Now we can take thousands of photos and only print out the ones that don't suck. I am not a photographer, my camera isn't that fancy, but I have good pretty photos. When you take dozens and dozens of photos, you get lucky. I'd share some with you, but I can't. For some reason, the blogger interface on my Mac is missing a few buttons like the Add Picture button. But boy, you'd have been impressed.

There are so many things I'd like to say, but I'm sleepy. And it's before 11! This is noteworthy, because I'm usually a night owl. But recently I've been pretty consistently getting to bed earlier. And ever getting up earlier. It's going to be a great 2006. I can tell.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Kate Bush -- The Painter's Dream

Saw King Kong yesterday. As a movie, in every respect -- plot, pacing, character development, special effects, etc. etc. etc., this movie kicks ass over Lord of the Rings. I guess because Peter Jackson wasn't as constrained as he was with Lord of the Rings. He's totally changed the whole point of the story, in a way. Peter Jackson can make really good small-scale movies -- Beautiful Creatures is a really good movie with a small budget, for instance, that shows that he has always been good with characters and emotional stuff-- but with these big stories he is such an exuberant filmmaker. The sheer joy of movies is on every moment, and it goes for three hours, but you seriously won't easily be able to say it would be better if you snip this or that. (And no three or four false endings like the LOTR.) You have your tearjerking melodrama, you have wonderfully over-the-top and perfectly paced chases, you have some of the best creepy-crawler thriller stuff you'll ever see. It's going to be a movie people will see over and over again. You'll have women seeing it for the romance angle, you'll have men seeing it for the cool chases and things getting smashed and squished real good. Or not -- I don't know that I'd see it again in the theater, at least not right away -- that's the problem with this time of year. Everyone releases their Oscar vehicles at the same time so voters have them fresh in their minds, and there are just too many movies to see. Anyway.


Friday, December 16, 2005

Ofra Haza - Horashoot

OK. So now I know what's going on. It's not a game show thing, it's a stunt. The chair part is for a cameraman. A stuntguy is now attached to cables with some sort of harness over most of his body, with cables attached to his legs and arms. He's on his back, and they keep dropping him and as he plummets down, the cameraman is zooming up and past him on his chair and they are practicing the shot. And other cameramen are setting up their shots underneath. Anyway. It's pretty cool to see all the work that goes into something that will be on screen for a second.

Yes -- Perpetual Change

So, I'm at work and my cubicle has a nice window view, and the view (of Westlake buildings and the Hollywood Hills and the Hollywood Sign) today is obstructed by a huge crane set up in the parking lot next to my building. It's holding up a scaffolding to which are attached pulleys and cables, and apparently they are filming an episode of one of those shows like Fear Factor, because they have been doing test runs doing controlled free-falls with a fancy chair with harnesses and junk and there's guys setting up with cameras and the like. The chair, when hoisted as high as it goes before the dropping, is about at my level. I'm hoping they are filming today before I go home, because I have a perfect view from here, and I'd love to be working while people scream in freefall outside. That way, my internal state would be perfectly reflected in the outside world.

I am stressed and nervous about deadlines and major huge obstacles, but I'm feeling pretty darn good, so that's nice to experience. Recently I've been knowing everything is great and feeling like crud, and now I'm doing better. And it's Shabbat, and it's gonna be nice and quiet and relaxing. Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Magic Numbers -- I See You, You See Me

So I just got back from walking the dog. Nice long walk, the moon still barely full tonight, cold enough to need my jacket and just right so I can walk and walk and not get hot. Winter is my season, the moon my celestial body. At least in Los Angeles. In Hartford it was fun being in below-freezing weather for a few nights, but I'm sure living in it would quickly wear.

While I walked, I listened to "Supper's Ready," the best Revelations-related piece of art ever, my favorite Genesis thing. So I was walking the dog, admiring my moonshadow, humming and whistling along, having a wonderful time.

And then it got better, because on the way back, I passed by The Maserati House, and not only was the Gransport there in the driveway, very politely parked where I could appreciate it, but was was right next to it? A brand new Quattroporte! This guy is my hero. But perhaps it's a visitor's, because he's having a Christmas party. And a damn late one; as the dog sniffed the bushes and peed and I sniffed the air for new Maserati smell, people were pulling up in limos and getting out with presents, at 9:45pm. Now that's a cool Christmas party.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Vashti Bunyan -- Same but Different

Today I say Baruch Dayan Ha'Emet for Tookie Williams. Arnold followed in the trail blazed by Wilson and Davis and refused clemency for Tookie. I don't blame him as much as despair of all our elected officials and the Sodom and Gomorrah group they are now pandering after. Governers used to commute the sentences or pardon hundreds of people, and over the years, as the "law and order" stance has become popular, have stopped doing it at all. So we have the weird juxtaposition of huge numbers of people being released after decades of incarceration as DNA proves they were convicted improperly, yet when Tookie refuses to say he's sorry for a crime he's insisted all along he didn't do, there is no admission among the powers-that-be that, well, judging from all these folks being released left and right after decades in jail because they were innocent all along, perhaps Tookie isn't guilty. Perhaps he's innocent too. And it's not like clemency would have freed him. It would have merely made Tookie live for the rest of his life behind bars. Which is, in itself, an amazingly harsh sentence. But Arnold has to continue the masquerade to placate the hang-em-high set, the shoot-then-ask-questions set, the scared and hurt people who are so afraid of the world that they'd rather slaughter innocent people than let a killer live imprisoned for the rest of their life. (And this is just one of many masquerades we watch all to placate these people who want to hide their heads in the sand. Our drug policies are similar lies spun to make people feel like an unwinnable war is going well, we still try to treat undocumented aliens as if we could stop them from coming over if we cracked down harder and built better walls, etc...)

Last night, as I drove home in terrible traffic for almost two hours with a terrible migraine, I started to pray to G-d, chanting 'bring Moshiah now' over and over. I started to believe in Moshiach's immanent coming and hoping it would be last night, solely so Tookie wouldn't get executed last night. Usually the whole Moshiach thing seems silly, and the whining and begging seems so childish, but that was me last night, because was so tired of the death penalty and our society and I felt the sooner Moshiach got here the sooner we'd stop the craziness. I've been protesting these things since college and despair of change. So why not? Bring
Moshiach now!

Vashti Bunyan. One of the oddest names ever. But great music. She put one one album, Just Another Diamond Day, in 1969, and then, apparently disappointed in the response and with the music business in general, walked away, went off and had a family, and then in 2000, her album was reissued and people took interest. And this year, she released Lookaftering. It's very interesting to discover someone and be able to listen to pretty much her entire body of work in two hours with two albums that were recorded thirty-five years apart, and to hear the difference those years have made. This is, I guess, English Folk music. It's very pretty, but not cutesy at all. It's all acoustic guitar and clean chimey sounds and flutes and that sort of thing. Her first album is very much from a young perspective. There's lots of wood walking and animals and pastoral stuff and whispering fairy stories till they become real. Her new CD has her singing more about relationships and children and love and loss, but with the same gorgeous sounds. The reviewer on said that this album could have been made 300 years ago, but he meant it's timeless, not dated or ancient... anyway. It's remarkably singular stuff. Gorgeous, gorgeous.

Friday, December 09, 2005

T-Rex -- Wind Quartets

I've been in Hartford on business all week. It's been nice and cold, and today it's snowing like crazy. Very nice to be inside this warm office and look out at snow falling. My flight leaves late enough today it looks like I'll leave on time.

It's been a week of dinners and banquets and evenings drinking with work people, and while I love my coworkers -- our department is filled with really exceptional people with big hearts -- I don't do well with large groups and noisy conversations. I am looking forward to getting to the airport and reading. I have two new books-- Salvador Plascencia's The People of Paper and Luis Alberto Urrea's The Hummingbird's Daughter . These are some of the most interesting sounding books I've seen in ages. Then again, I have not been really paying attention. I've read whatever books everyone else is reading, stuff on the top ten lists, so perhaps books like these are filling independent bookstore shelves. Anyway, I'm sure to have a wonderful trip back, though I may fall asleep reading and doze the whole way back. I'm getting some good work done today, so I'll have a jump on next week's catching up.