Friday, November 30, 2007

It's all about meme...

...because a lot of friends are answering quizzes, and I have damn-all to say, thought I'd clue all y'all in about a few things, just as they have....

1. If your doctor told you TODAY that you were pregnant, what would you say?
Nothing printable. But I'd call the Jerry Springer show, for sure. I'd finally make history, Jim.

When was the last time you flew in a plane?
That would have been Nov. 5th, a sad flight back from Daytona Beach, FL.

What did the last text message you sent say?
Text message? I don't send no stinking text messages....

What features do you find most attractive in the preferred sex?
Honesty, musicality, and a lack of greed.

What is a goal you would like to accomplish in the near future?
Get back to playin' keyboards.

Shoe size?
11.5-12, depending on the shoes.

Been to Mexico?

When is the last time you had a massage?
Seven years ago. It was superb.

What was the last TV show you watched?
Local news in Daytona Beach...wanted to check the weather.

What are your plans for the weekend?
Work. And if there's time, more work.

If your significant other asked you to marry them TODAY what would you say?
That would require a significant other. I can think of two chicas who could ask and I, puppy-like, would eagerly say "yes, please!"

What is in the back seat of your car right now?
Leather. Three pairs of seat belts.

What were you doing at 8 am this morning?
Sending a "where's my check?" email to a client..

If you could marry any celebrity today who would it be?
I doubt any celebrity would marry me. And the feeling is mutual.

Have you ever been to a strip club?
Yup. Not enamored of silicone.

What is the best ice cream flavor?
Green Tea.

What is the last sporting event you watched?
A car race. Why else would I have been in Daytona Beach?

Where is your mom right now?

Are you allergic to anything?
Nothing pills or injections can help.

Favorite pair of shoes you wear all the time?
My "Piloti" driving shoes.

What is one thing you have learned about life recently?
It'll kill you.

Do any of your friends have children?
Several. Neat kids, too.

What do you do at work?
Peck away at a keyboard, forming words.

Who was your last kiss?
A beautiful, beautiful woman. Sadly, it was on my cheek.

How did you get one of your scars?
Stuck a hairpin in an electrical socket.

Ever broken a bone?
Nope. Dumb luck, I guess.

Have you ever cleaned up someone elses vomit?
Yeah. No biggie. Cleaned up kittycat and doggie barf, too.

What was the last thing you ordered at McDonalds?
A Filet-O-Fish. Long ago.

What is your favorite color to wear?

What is the longest plane ride you have ever been on?
LAX to Tokyo. Was maybe 14 hours.

What is the longest road trip you have ever taken?
Newport Beach, CA to Newport, RI.

What are your turn-offs?
Broken promises.

What was your 1st alcoholic beverage?
I think it was a sip of sake. I've come a long way....

What was your last alcoholic beverage?
A stiff slug of Jim Beam. Maybe three minutes ago.

What are you craving right now?
In the words of a jazz musician I used to work with, "trim."

PARENTHETICAL YOU-ACTUALLY-READ-THIS-STUFF? THOUGHT: Sheesh. I sound like a real ding-a-ling, do I not? As Lord Buckley once said, "them cats is sayin' you're nowhere, and you ain't never been nowhere, 'cause you was nowhere in front!"

You didn't learn anything, but you sure as heck wasted a good 2-3 minutes....

It's raining...

...and I, for one, am delighted.

Yes, I love rain. Snow, too.

Strange, isn't it, that someone heavily into a monstro load of depression would get a smile out of seeing gray skies and rain?

I thought so, too, but then I began to think about it.

Rain is far too rare here. Snow is, well, nonexistent. I usually have to be somewhere else to enjoy them.

So wet weather, like so many things, is something I crave but seldom, if ever, get to savor. And then when I get a taste of it, it never lasts long enough.

I'm nothing if not consistent, Jim.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

I've been trying to think...

...of something I could tell all y'all that wasn't the usual run of complaints, whines and flat-out jive I've been posting recently.

Didn't work.

Every time I venture outside my own tiny box -- a William Steig world where I sit, thinking "people are no damn good" -- I hear or see things that upset me in the outside world.

And I don't need further upset.

I have already decided that I am a charlatan, a kind of idiot-savant who can entertain, yet derive no real knowledge or satisfaction from doing so.

Let it be said I'm not so awful, really. Despite the horde of women who have kicked me to the curb, publishers who have cheated me and various others who have broken promises as if they were saltine crackers, there's still something to be said for me.

Aside from my being a chump, that is.

No, really. I'm a good guy. When I'm on your side, baby, I'm there 'til the Big Dirt Nap. You might not care about -- or, in a few cases, have long since rejected -- that dog-like loyalty, but when the nasty stuff hits the fan, you still have someone who cares.

That would be me.

Yes, I'm full of self-pity again. It's difficult not to feel that way when everything you do comes up a day late and a dollar short. When you can't take what little praise you earn to the bank, or use it to stave off the wolves who are howling for your blood.

Just remember, my loves: when the day comes that you, too, are beset by demons, you could have had me at your side. Probably still could, if you chose to ask.

But the demons are here, and you don't give a rat's posterior about that.

I think it's time for me to go to bed. This day was bad, and tomorrow will be worse. I'd better rest up for it.

I don't have a TuesdayPillow... fact, when you come right down to it. I have only five pillows, and to the best of my recollection, none were bought on a Tuesday.

Two are on the bed. Both are in dire need of replacement. The nice one, filled with some kind of unidentifiable feathers, has sprung a bit of a leak, so my bedroom floor now looks like the bottom of a birdcage.

As for the rest, two are part of my hideous and (I hope) soon-to-vanish couch. I keep a serape spread over it, otherwise no one would dare sit on it. The final pillow is on a chair in the office; the cat used to like to sleep on it.

And none, as I say, have any relationship to any kind of TuesdayPillow*.

You may wonder what the hell this is all about. Frankly, so do I.

* PARENTHETICAL DUMB-AS-EVERYTHING-ELSE-IN-THIS-ENTRY THOUGHT: I use them on Tuesdays (at least the ones on the bed) and I guess that's a "relationship." I have trouble figuring out "relationships...."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Middle-of-the-night thoughts...

...or, what happens when you wake up at 3:00 am and can't get back to sleep.

For no earthly reason, I found myself thinking about some of the musicians I've known. For various reasons, having in part to do with some of my musical preferences, quite a few were nearing -- or arriving at -- the end of their performing careers. I'm leaving out those I met casually; Sinatra was at his peak circa 1958 when I shook his hand, and of course there are others -- my friend R., for example -- who have many years ahead of them.

In each case, it was a strange experience. Like athletes, each had maybe lost a step, and was making up for it with fancy footwork until age took control. And at times, their frustration with the limits the years had imposed on them would come out, though never in public.

Some were veterans of the real Dixieland days, making appearances and recordings as far back as the 1920s. Though almost all were wizened old men when I met them, they could play tunes they had played 10,000 times before with authority. And if a note was missed here and there, the audiences still ate it up. Louis, for one, had brought his trumpet a long way from his early days, and still loved what he did.

Others came along a little later. My music teacher, for example, got his first gig circa 1932; when work in his chosen area got scarce, he formed a trio that played in clubs and hotels, and later did radio in the days when live music was still important there. When I met him, his scene was primarily teaching.

Until the last few years of his life, he could still sit down and play, and while some heard the occasional error or noted his playing wasn't as crisp as it had been 20 years before, he was still well worth listening to.

A reasonably mild soul, he took the gradual loss and final departure of his skills gracefully. We still talked music, listened to music and, in his last year (a time when I was with him more than I ever had been in the past), he was pushing my musical education as quickly as he could.

And I always encouraged him in the idea that he would play again.

Perhaps a week before the end, he suddenly said "help me over to the bench; I want to play." I did, and he did. Weak as he was, his mind had forgotten nothing. I have never been able to explain (and cannot now express) the emotions I was experiencing as he played, and am not entirely sure what he was thinking.

Was it "good?" No. His motor skills were almost gone. But in another sense, it was a glorious performance, a heartfelt farewell to a career that had spanned eight decades. I heard it the way he wanted me to hear it, the way I hope he heard it.

Every note is stuck in my head today; it always will be. And if I ever play those songs again, it will be with that memory in mind. In a way, the music was as rich as it had been on recordings he made back in 1940, recordings I still play regularly to this day.

When I was much younger, I would listen to older performers and say "damn, I wish they'd hang it up." Now, as my own days grow shorter, and with the memory of my friend and teacher's final performance still echoing, I see it differently.

It is not how you perform as much as it is that you perform at all. That spans the entire range from skill level and experience to age.

So long as you love what you do, keep doing it until you're taken away.

That's doubly true if the Universe has treated you kindly over the years and allowed you some modicum of comfort in which to perform your art.

I don't even know how I got off on this tangent. Blame it on sleepless nights and loneliness, on missing what once was and never will be again.

Monday, November 26, 2007

22 years wasted?

It seems so. Several people, here and elsewhere, have suggested that I need to change my scene completely, go somewhere else, do different things.

Well-intentioned for sure, and I love each and every one of them for caring, but damn rough on the ego.

As I mentioned, I am only a few months shy of 22 years as a writer. I recently went back and looked at Story #1; I wouldn't write it the same way now, but it was damn good. And it was for a major magazine in my field, which served as an entrée to a horde of magazines who then bought my stuff.

If I was to list the result, there would be approximately 1500 stories -- ranging from 500 to more than 6000 words -- in maybe 50 different publications.

That's the good side, of course.

There was the magazine I created, edited and wrote for, which -- for reasons that had nothing to do with quality -- lasted for exactly two issues. There were other publications that took me for granted, and still do.

And people are suggesting I walk away from all that.

What can a 57 year-old man, who has few marketable skills (beyond a certain craft with words, an ability to service pipe organs, do tasks in the animated-film business (that have long ago been abandoned) and is alone in the world, do to earn a living?

Not much, Jim.

That's doubly true when he would have to leave behind a mountain of, well, stuff*, and would take a large amount of debt along with him.

I thought, foolishly, that one day my skills, expertise and dedication to my craft would pay off. Hasn't happened.

And yet, there is still something about the work I do that attracts me. Part of that is the reaction of some I respect, who love (or at least are polite about) reading what I write.

For some reason, I remember visiting a friend in the hospital years ago. He shared his room with someone else who actually recognized my name from some stories I had written. I made this poor sick -- dying, actually -- dude's day by autographing a magazine for him.

For many reasons, I can't seem to find a situation I'd prefer, even though writing has done a great deal to destroy my life. I made mistakes, true, but I had help. Lots of it.

A "career" that leaves you alone in the world and broke is not good and yet I, and others like me, keep on trying to make it happen.

We are fools.

Despite what I said in an earlier post, I really wish someone could come along and make things better. I couldn't do it; maybe someone else could.

Or maybe I'm simply destined to end up on the trash heap, no matter what I do.

Forgive me. This is a self-pity kind of night. I made decisions, they turned out to be wrong. And I feel more isolated than ever.

This is going to be a long, cold, unhappy night.

I bought this life, and now I'm paying for it. Wasn't supposed to be this way.

* And destroy a few things he shouldn't have kept, which would cause severe embarrassment to someone he stupidly thought might one day return.

Even computers hate me these days...

...not this one, thank goodness. Not yet, anyway.

I decided to pay my phone bill today. I didn't want to -- there are bills more pressing -- but being phone-less would be the final blow.

So I called the pay-over-the-phone number. I've done this for years. You push phone buttons to get through the process, punch in more numbers to pay. Simple. Easy.

But my phone company was "sold" a few months ago, in a bogus transaction that simply broke California into a subsidiary of the Main Company. Fraud, if you ask me.

So the numbers to call have changed, my "customer ID number" has changed, the bills have changed (more confusing, more frequent) and, worse, the pay-by-phone service has changed.

When I got the number and called, a computer-generated voice "talked" me through it. I had to answer, not push buttons. Do you know how damn stupid it is to say simple phrases to a computer?

Those who have heard me know my voice is very clear and my pronunciation is correct. The computer didn't understand me half the time, and of course that made me angry.

Worse was to come. The billing dates have been moved forward, and my new bill was already in the mail. In fact, I found it in my mailbox after completing the call.

The voice informed me I had paid the "past-due" amount, and told me to tell it when I would make the next payment. It gave me a choice of dates, the latest of which was December 6. Which I took. It will automatically snitch that amount from my bank account on that day.

And then it asked me how I rated its performance, giving me a choice of ratings from 1 (worst) to 5 (best). Naturally, I picked 1, at which point the bastard computer voice said "I'm sorry you're displeased," thanked me for using the company, said goodbye and hung up on me.

I looked at the bill. My latest date for paying the new bill is December 14. Not December 6.

I will be calling the computer's manager tomorrow, who I hope is a) human and b) not in India.

The whole exercise consumed 25 minutes, as I had to go look up my "customer ID number" after being disconnected because I didn't know the new one.

Believe it or not, this is the best thing that has happened to me today.

I am so angry I, I mustn't do that.

It's not getting any easier....

It's a Charlie Foxtrot kind of day...

...or maybe it's just FUBAR. I don't know.

What I do know is that my morning enthusiasm for completing an article today -- one I have spent far too much time and energy on even before typing the first word -- vanished completely in the face of near-continual interruptions, harassments and general dung-throwing that began around 9:30 this morning and haven't stopped yet.

How the hell am I supposed to do good work when everyone, and everything, is getting in my face?

Well, I can't. It's that simple.

In fact, if ever a day was made for simply giving up, this is it.

It's possible it wouldn't have been so nausea-inducing if it was not the latest of so many frustrating days. I wouldn't know about that, either, because that's what it is, and I'm in no mood for what-if speculation.

This stinks. And my ability to resist the pressure and deal with the problems is dwindling fast.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I still have dreams...

...even at this most absurd time to believe that things can work out.

Some of that is due to my friend R., and his dad, G. I have talked to them three times this weekend -- twice with R., once with G. -- and they have, as always, made me feel as if I'm really worth something.

It's not something that happened because I was singing the blues about the cesspool I'm drowning in. It is more just a matter of them liking me, for who I am and what I know.

That really helps when you're way, way down.

I empathize with G. We are nearly the same age, and have experiences with some of the same people and places in our strange corner of the musical world. He called at around 11:00 last night, and we talked until maybe 1:30. Ah, the old stories, the old people, neither of which mean much to the general public, but shaped us, for better or worse.

G. has had rough times in recent years. It means nothing. At heart, he remains a good man, and I spent some time bugging him to return to his God-given talent, which is music. There's a selfish reason: I want to hear him perform. Like R., he is a monster talent.

The dreams? I would love nothing more than to hang with R. and G. and make music. They were born for that and I, with far less talent, feel the same urge.

In those dreams, I'd bring in a few other friends, who would dig the scene. Few things in life express love as well as music played from the heart and soul. And I would feel regret for one who is no longer a friend, but would have fit right in.

Should I survive the next few months, I will be hooking up with R. If all goes according to plan, I'll then head up to his neck of the woods, bunk with him and his wife, and get together with G. At which point, I'll remind him, again, that he needs to be heard. I have a couple of recordings of him from years past; what he has forgotten is more than I know now.

One thing you learn as the years go by: who and what you love make up all that is worthwhile about life.

I know that, now. All I need to do is somehow get a chance to take one more shot at making them the focus of my attention.

Maybe the dream will go all the way, and I'll take someone I love with me, so she can share in a unique passion.

What I really want... what you would probably call a small miracle. And I mean small; by most standards, it would be infinitesimal.

I simply want those with whom I must deal to act professionally. No big deal, right? I mean, they put out magazines...that's their business. Without exception, each likes my work, never complains about what I turn in. None are reluctant to call me for those last-minute writing jobs that they need now, if not sooner.

But they seem to have trouble making time to discuss work they supposedly want, have trouble making the decision to give me the go-ahead for new assignments.

And of course they have trouble writing the checks when the work is ordered and completed.

On my side, it is nerve-wracking to keep making those calls, leaving those voice-mail messages, send off those emails with photos and/or information about what's available. It would not be a problem if anyone replied, but they seldom do.

It is even more nerve-wracking to explain to utility companies and landlord that yes, I am working, but no, the checks may not arrive for anything between one and three months. On occasion, longer.

I shouldn't have to do that. And, in fairness, they shouldn't have to hear it.

Therein, the basis of the small miracle I'm seeking: I simply want others to hold up their end of mutually worthwhile bargains. Let me work, and do what you are supposed to do.

I'm a wee bit unhappy with being in this constant ass-in-a-sling situation.

Simple, eh?

I'm not even asking for a lottery win. Not that I'd turn it down, you dig, and not that I couldn't pick a good two dozen items -- and a few people -- on which (and whom) to spend such a windfall. Nope, all I want is to, well, see a little of the respect I have spent 21 years earning*.

Nor am I asking for anyone to step in and make it all better. That'd be very cool, of course; a nice-looking, loving woman who is attracted to me (which I guess is possible) and is, shall we say, well-fixed, spondulics-wise, would be more than welcome to drop by and put me out of my misery.

I don't waste much time thinking of that.

While I make plans and do work that would fit right in with the minuscule miracle, I have trouble believing even in that. The universe seems to be expending more energy on those who make massive fortunes selling bogus "carbon credits" than helping people who actually produce something.

Right now, just let me get within shouting distance of paying my bills on time and cutting down my debts. Had I gotten what I'm asking for sooner, it would have happened already. But I'll take it now, please.

And if it's not too much trouble, could I maybe be able to put a few bucks aside to buy a few Christmas presents?

* Actually, as of next June, it will be 22 years since my first story was published.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

What has happened to me?

Damned if I know.

What I do know is that I am having more and more trouble writing about what goes on my tiny slice of space on the planet.

It keeps on getting worse, Jim.

And going into gory detail about it is not only impossible, but unrewarding.

Just as my efforts to reverse the ugly trends of recent months and years have not borne fruit.

Two people kept me from going completely off the rails today. One is my musician buddy R., who called today and reminded me that some people -- if you count him as "some people" -- think I have some value.

He has no idea of the magnitude of the train-wreck my life has become. He simply likes me, and respects me.

Another is, well, someone I won't gush about too much, as I know she sometimes drops by to read what I have to say. And I think she knows how I feel about her, anyway.

Okay, so neither one of them can show me the way to increasing my supply of either sex or money -- the two commodities totally missing from my life -- but that doesn't matter. They are, whether they know it or not (and they don't), simply keeping me going a bit longer than I would without them.

I owe both of them for that.

And if I can navigate my way out of the shit-storm, I'll certainly do what I can to make their lives happier. Even if it's simple encouragement and appreciation. They have that already, but I'd like to make a wish or two come true for them.

One or two people beyond R. and Ms. X have done their bit to keep me functional, too. I am more than grateful.

For their sakes, I hope I can get past the vampires clamoring for my blood.

But I'm not sure how many rabbits I can pull out of my hat. The magic act may be over.

I owe a great debt to R., J., K., and K. And I do not forget.

If I get through the next few days, the next few weeks, I'll make sure they know it.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday... what I had today. I'm not talking about shopping. That wasn't on the menu.

Granted, it started out very nicely with an early phone call from one who is more than welcome to call at any hour, any day. I was feeling quite cheerful when the call ended.

After that, it all went to hell.

And that's all I have to say about Black Friday.

I've had enough black days in the last couple of years to last several lifetimes. I see no change, no hope, on the horizon.

That's all I'm going to say about today.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Relentless... in: never mind that I survived Thanksgiving (barely). The drumbeats for this Black Friday garbage have been pounding for a week. If I had any money, I would apparently be forced to go out and push through the throngs to get "special prices" on stuff I probably don't want and wouldn't give anyone as a gift.

Worse, I heard the first scattering of Christmas music on the radio today.

It's just not fair.

Maybe I'm wrong. It was probably "seasonal music" or "winter holiday music." Christ has been effectively banished; wonder when He'll be booted out of Easter, too?

Not my concern right now. I'm nursing the wounds of being alone on a day when being with friends and loved ones is virtually a matter of law, and I'm damned if I would even consider queuing up tomorrow to buy stuff.

And I have not yet begun to prepare my defenses for a Christmas/New Year's period to be experienced under the same conditions in effect today.

I have too much to get through before I can think of that. Hell, the end of December may not even matter.

At the very least, it seems damn near everyone else had a perfectly dandy day today. I like that.

But is it really necessary to start pimping for Santa-Day the second the last slice of pie has been served on Thanksgiving?

Alone on Thanksgiving...

I'm tempted to break the window and invite him over for a meal. I can feel his loneliness from here. It's that way for me, too....

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Just because I can't make it happen...

...don't for a moment assume I'm not thinking about my Thanksgiving Dream.

In said dream, I would have a room full of people. Some of them are readers here; it would be a room full of warmth and happiness, good conversation and music.

PARENTHETICAL IT'S-MY-DREAM THOUGHT: I even know what the house would look like. I "designed" it in my mind years ago. And, since I'm a deprived Californian, it would be snowing outside. Lightly, so everyone could drive safely to and from the gathering.

No one would go hungry. Neither carnivore nor vegetarian would be left out. There would be beverages for all tastes. Plenty of comfy chairs at a large table, too; eating on trays doesn't make it.

And at the peak of the afternoon, when all are fed and catered to, I would stand and raise my glass in a toast to some wonderful people who have filled my heart with appreciation and joy. It would take a while; that would be my best chance to tell each and every one what they mean to me.

My love would be with me.

ANOTHER PARENTHETICAL CAN'T-SEE-EVERYTHING THOUGHT: I don't know what she would look like. I only know she would have the virtues of a couple of women I know and would be as honest, faithful, loving and caring toward me as I would be to her.

And after the meal, more conversation, more music, more of the warmth generated by good people having a good time.

And yes, John, Bing would stop by with his cocktail shaker full of eggnog. He might even sing.

Much later, I'd wash dishes before going to join my love in front of the fire....

It's not happening for me, but that doesn't stop me wanting each and every one of you to have your own part of that happy vision tomorrow. Love, friendship and good food are what Thanksgiving is all about, you know. Along, of course, with an appreciation for the universe that has provided them.

Bless you all, dear friends.


As I was waking from a night of strange (but detailed) dreams, a voice was saying "you can't do it."

And the voice was right. When things get extra-rough, it is difficult enough to make an effort to put things together; having pre-holiday "holidays" interfere is one problem too many.

Everyone I need to talk to has taken today off, it seems.

The thought has become the deed. I can do nothing, and it is not a good feeling.

That brings me to my rant about Thanksgiving: Like everyone else, I've been bombarded with the usual propaganda. You know what I mean: "Be thankful and give to those who have less. Remember that you have loved ones, friends, a good home and a bountiful table, football games on TV in the afternoon, blah blah blah...." And of course since you have all those things, give.

If I was enjoying any of these things on Thanksgiving, do you think I'd be ungrateful?

Just as one can always find people who have it better, those who have it worse can also be found.

It's not that I don't care. Given my -- shall we say -- limited resources, I still try to give to the "less fortunate" when I can. I do sense their pain, and am affected by it.

And if -- or when -- my situation improves, you can bet I won't forget. But damn, when the arrogant professional do-gooders get on my case about how it only takes $1.34 (or whatever) to feed some homeless person a Thanksgiving dinner at the [insert name here] Shelter so I should whip out my wallet, do they ever stop to think that much of my lavish feed for the day will have come from the 99-Cent Store?

I remember the people who have helped me. I always will. There haven't been many, but their unselfish kindness and concern is truly unforgettable. And it will be returned and, with luck, spread around as well.

In the meantime, my situation is quite dreadful enough, thank you very much. I need to find out how -- and, I hope, find a little help and/or cooperation along the way -- to improve it. A Thanksgiving like the one the guilt-trippers describe would do me just fine. I'd ease up on the bounty (I've never liked over-eating or wasted food) and delete the football games, though.

When I get there, ask me again to care about those who have it worse. I'll do all I can to help.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I was going to post a "humorous" picture...

...but when it came right down to it, I was too bummed out to do it. Besides, why put up a pic of my ugly mug to remind the Women of America what they have escaped?

Yes, there was one lighthearted moment this afternoon. Wasn't enough to dispel the gloom.

If anything makes my current situation worse than it otherwise might be -- apparently, the universe thinks hassling about money, work and loneliness isn't enough -- the impending holiday season is throwing in an extra load of pain.

I grew up watching all those old black-and-white "holiday" movies from the 30s and 40s, and unfortunately fell under their spell to an extent. You know the stuff...curling up by the fire with my Love after a long tramp through the snow, Bing Crosby dropping by with a thermos full of hot eggnog (spiked), gathering at the local Inn to sing holiday songs with friends and hordes of kids (some mine), overdosing on turkey, cable-knit sweaters and tartan scarves...all that crap.

Each year that Thanksgiving and Christmas passed and I never hit that paradise, I thought it might come the next year. I knew it wasn't going to happen with my dysfunctional family, but when I fled the nest I thought I'd get there.

And I never have.

And I never will.

The vision has changed, you know. After all, Bing Crosby is dead. And the love has changed, too, from brunette to blonde and now to, well, something else to be determined.

Okay, enough of that. It bugs me.

But what doesn't, these days?

Besides, I'll be working on Thanksgiving. Probably on Christmas, too. If the crap hasn't totally hit the fan by then, that is.

One thing I will not be doing is watching "It's a Wonderful Life."

If I jump off a bridge, my guardian angel will surely be down at The Spot downing a brewski or two when it happens, Jim.

Out for a few hours...

...and, quite frankly, dreading it.

All I hope is that meltdown doesn't occur when I'm out with other people. I'm not certain it won't, though.

I can feel it closing in.

Monday, November 19, 2007

For K...

...who will never know how much she did for me in simple and basic ways, a slice of my neighbor's yummy German chocolate cake...

...and I'll even save the large piece for her!

Love has many forms. Sometimes, simple appreciation and friendship is the best love of all.

I wanted to write something nice today...

...really. I mean it. I did want to.

But the elements of the day simply didn't line up that way.

I finished -- and shipped -- a story this morning. Not a major money-maker (which I really need right about now) but something to help cut the deficit. Writing it was an exercise in agony, not because I wrote badly or did anything wrong, but simply because I never got into it, never was able to find a way to give it the kind of sparkle and flow found in some of my "better" work.

That bummed me out, and the day didn't improve when I put it in the email.

My photographer friend D. called me. He is in Central California with his girlfriend. He wanted to know if I had arranged a photo shoot that's supposed to happen tomorrow. Me. Me, who works as much as a week or ten days to get a story finished, while he spends a few hours on it and is done.

Well, yes, I had made the necessary calls, plus a few others. My stress levels are high enough right now that talking -- and putting up the necessary cheerful, optimistic front -- is like running a marathon. I did it, though.

And I had a couple of run-ins with nemeses in my life as it is currently lived. I refused to lie to them, and thus did not tell them what they wanted to hear.

Then I tried to start work on yet another story, and totally blew it. I was out of sorts, and bagged the whole mess until tomorrow. Except that I will have to spend four hours or so playing shepherd at the photo session, which essentially kills the day.

Thanksgiving? I may buy a package of "deli" sliced turkey and have a sandwich. While I work.

What I really want to do is sleep, sleep for hours, or days, or simply sleep out the time I have remaining to me.

I have no ambition save simple, basic survival. Wish I had a reason to want more.

This seems like a good place to address a point several people have made. I have friends, and I know that. But to call upon them for solace, for the simple act of listening to what has brought me so low, is something I can't manage.

There are a couple of people I trust implicitly, and they know more about my unhappiness than I would ever reveal here. They know who, and what, and why. They are people I've known, and love, and appreciate. Because of that, they are people I trust to hear me say anything and not flinch.

Others are friends as well, but when I think of talking with them I fall into my father's pattern -- which I dislike -- and simply clam up about the things that are tearing me apart. I won't -- can't -- make contact.

That's no knock on them. If anything, it's my failure for not trusting trustworthy people.

And I will admit that the few on whose shoulders I would love most to rest just don't give a happy damn. Or are otherwise occupied. For reasons I won't go into, they are sheltered, protected. People -- male people -- are ready to bail them out, make them happy. As I would if I could.

Sometimes, even the most independent of us need some solace. I know this, because I have provided it. But I can't ask for it myself.

Enough of this. I have accomplished all the tasks I set for myself today. That they weren't enough to raise my spirits is indicative of the way the Universe is messing with me.

I'm being asked -- no, expected -- to give more, and take less.

Screw karma, Jim. Whatever bad I've done has long since been paid for.

Bitter? Me? You damn betcha.

And that, fellow babies, is why I can't write something nice here tonight.

I guess it was inevitable...

...that people who create robots with human characteristics would take their inspiration from women I've been involved with...

Can't even begin to count the number of times I've heard one say “I don’t want to do this anymore.” And now the time is coming when I can actually buy a robot companion who treats me the same way....

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The only living being I've spoken to today...

...and she ignored me.

Of course cats usually have far more important things to do than have conversations with humans....

Religious fervor.

One of my neighbors has it, and has it bad.

I'm not talking about loud prayer, daily church attendance and passing out pamphlets to acquaint the heathen with the Lord's Message. Not at all.

He is busy praying to the Real-Estate Gods.

Some time back, he began a series of online seminars to get wealthy with real estate. You know the drill: "Using [insert name here]'s Become a Real-Estate Millionaire course, I have gone from a pathetic life of poverty to untold wealth, and in only six months!" He also went to a few presentations, and spent untold hours doing "homework" online.

And now he is a Believer in a System. Not that anything has happened yet, but he knows the lingo of Big Deals and can talk about nothing else. He occasionally gets dressed up and trots off to seminars; the latest, if I remember right, was a "Millionaires' Retreat" at some hotel function room. He has his C-Corp (or is it S-Corp?), his LLC, and has printed out lists of properties being sold for unpaid taxes and who-knows-what other distressing circumstances, on which he intends to bid.

He is convinced he will be rolling in the ol' mazooma in a very short time. He is Motivated.

Will anything come of this? I don't know, but my instincts say "no."

Those who become zealots are also often called "suckers." Their energy is tapped by the self-help gurus, the Tony Robbins-type "motivators," the sellers of "You Too Can Become A Billionaire" books.

Would you, if you had a sure system to get wealthy, go around teaching it to others? I think not. You would use it yourself, keep it quiet so as not to have more competition. The mindset of these people is that they have a lot of money, but can't rest until they have all of it.

Maybe this cynicism on my part is why I am an abject failure. I've never felt that blinding fervor, even on a couple of occasions when I really gave it my all. I've wanted to, but life has told me nothing comes easily, and little is gained by learning the Secrets of the Rich.

I think it's because I'm certain there is always one secret they don't tell you, and that's the one that worked for them. If, that is, they had any other secret than understanding how to exploit the greed locked in the heart of the average citizen.

For me, the only time that urge to devote every part of my being to an objective has struck involved people. I have wasted the energy that could have made me the biggest property owner in California on love.

And from that, I have gotten the result I fear my neighbor will soon experience: nice try, but no success.

I hope I'm wrong about him. I hope he grabs the golden ring and gets all the subsequent free rides he dreams of. He's a nice guy.

Hell, I wish I was wrong about what I have reaped from my efforts.

He's happy and optimistic right now. I am not.

He has farther to fall, I think. In a way, it's better to be at the bottom, knowing things can hardly get worse, than to believe you have the world by the tail and find out that you've been suckered.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Even monkeys are going mad...

...which makes on wonder what the world is coming to.

Monkeys? Yes, as reported here, some are getting downright surly:

Troupes of monkeys are out of control in India's northeast, stealing mobile phones and breaking into homes to steal soft drinks from refrigerators, lawmakers in the region have complained.

"Monkeys are wreaking havoc in my constituency by taking away mobile phones, toothpastes, sipping coke after opening the refrigerators," Hiren Das told Assam state's assembly.

He said the primates were "even slapping women who try to chase them".

I'd love to hear from anyone who has gotten a call from one of these critters....

Friday, November 16, 2007

This would be interesting to watch... least for someone who is observing from outside, and could walk away when it gets too disturbing.

But it's happening to me, damnit, and I'm stuck with it.

Today could only have been worse if some drug-crazed gangbanger had chosen me as a good target for a drive-by. Wait...that wouldn't have been so bad. It would have cured my constant headache and other somewhat frightening signs of my body's distaste for a steady stream of disasters, large and small.

Having gotten this far, I now realize I can't describe any of what's been going on. Let's just say it has been more than I can deal with.

It's strange: people come to me for advice and help, both in work and personal situations. Each is immersed in their own moment of need when they tap me for aid. They don't know I can't even help me.

I'm the one who needs a shoulder to lean on, a pair of sympathetic ears and advice. I'm the one who needs to simply give in to the pressure, at least for a while, and be told that all the greedheads and creeps who are shooting at me right now can be overcome.

No one here like that, Jim.

I have a feeling God isn't hearing my prayers this week. Maybe that's because I'm the one asking for help this time.

Out of control, chapter 46,971

I'm in no mood for work today. Doesn't matter, because I have to get various things done, and pretty quickly.

Expect no candor from me here. I am so upset that any description of what yesterday was like, and what today has been like so far, would probably devolve into a long stream of obscenities.

Suffice it to say I am hugely upset with several people. They piss me off almost as much as I piss me off.

I am not happy. I see no reason to be happy. And I see no reason to expect anything good for the foreseeable future.

I'm going for a walk. I can't sit here any longer.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Last night, when sleep would not come, I pulled a book called No Surrender off the shelf and, once again, started reading it. It is the story of one Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier who was stationed on Lubang Island in the Philippines in 1944, and did not learn that the war was over until 1974, when he finally laid down his rifle and returned to Japan.

After meeting his superior officer from 1944 (who had since become a bookseller) and receiving his orders to go home, he asked himself a simple question: "what was I doing here all these years?"

That is a question I've been asking myself. In a sense, I identify with ex-Lieutenant Onoda. I have spent 20-plus years thinking I was doing what was right, what I was best-equipped to do. Sadly, I am more and more certain that I have deluded myself.

I have had some good times, to be sure, but have no wife, no children, no home. As making ends meet has become more difficult, I have denied myself all those pleasures many take for granted but which I could not afford.

This wasn't done because I was feeling noble. I always expected the Big Turnaround was right around the corner. It never has been.

Now, I'm wishing someone would come along and give me orders to give up the lonely fight and go "home." Wherever "home" is. Onoda gradually re-acquainted himself with modern society; I, on the other hand, would love to find an isolated place to do nothing more than survive without having to deal with a society I neither accept nor understand.

Unlike him, I have a good idea that my war is long since over. Not having his moral fiber and training, I would love nothing more than to lay down my weapon and give up.

I have missed a great deal during my "war," probably irreparably so.

Onoda did not blame anyone for letting him down. Neither will I, though both of us could point fingers. Pride kept him in his war, as pride and stupidity kept me in mine.

I no longer wish to fight.

What was I doing here all these years?

It must have been a mistake...

...but thos story claims that Osvaldo Aldrete Davila, the illegal-alien drug smuggler whose lies on the witness stand put two innocent Border Patrol agents in prison, has been arrested in El Paso, Texas.

For what? Drug smuggling.

Persecutor Johnny Sutton -- that arrogant, amoral puppet for Jorge Bush and his open-borders amigos -- was, naturally, crowing that he'd put Aldrete Davila in jail as soon as he had enough evidence to make it stick, and now he does.

It only took two years, despite a considerable amount of available evidence that the illegal was continuing the drug-running that put him in the way of two border agents.

In the meantime, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, the agents who were enforcing our laws, have spent almost 11 months in prison -- Ramos has been held in solitary confinement since the first few days of his confinement -- based on lies, evidence that was withheld from the jury in their case, and the pressure from above on Sutton and his lap pitbull, Debra Kanof, to do anything, legal or not, to get them imprisoned while the real criminal, Aldrete Davila, got free medical care and a free border pass (which he used for drug-smuggling, naturally).

I'm no lawyer, but I can't help thinking the illegal's arrest should serve as an excellent reason for Ramos and Compean to be released immediately and their convictions overturned.

If the full truth of this sickening episode is ever made public -- including those parts of the trial transcripts Sutton managed to have suppressed -- I'm reasonably certain Sutton and Kanof will be disbarred at a minimum, perhaps on their way to jail themselves. And there will be an investigation that may reach right up to the upper levels in the government, where the bidding of the corrupt Mexican government is regularly done.

And what of Aldrete Davila? I'm willing to bet that if he ever comes to trial and is found guilty, he'll do far less time than has been imposed on Ramos and Compean.

If, that is, Jorge Bush doesn't intervene and get him released.

Oh, and before I forget: what happen to crooked Senator Dianne Feinstein's boast that she would hold hearings on the Ramos-Compean case? I guess she's just too busy to deal with something as trivial as "justice."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Today was a depressing day...

...spent with over 1,000 of my closest friends* at a giant-size Media Event.

I'm not going into a blow-by-blow recitation, but can relate two events that have proven to me that the universe is definitely interested in kicking me while I'm down.

And I am down, in case you haven't noticed.

For starters, I ran into the editor about whom I wrote yesterday. The one who loves my writing, remember? She was effusive about my stuff -- and I love her for that -- but revealed that the two stories I've done for her recently (both drawing loud praise) will run in January and February issues of her magazine. That means I won't be paid until...January and February. A difficult concept to explain to my creditors, to say the least.

Second, and worse, I ran into someone I have not talked to in seven years. He works for a major magazine and was responsible for interviewing me for a job 'way back when. I have not seen him since.

This -- the job application -- was an odd situation. I don't like the publication's biases, and didn't then, but working for them would have allowed me to move to the place I wanted to be, and live with the woman I wanted to live with. When said woman realized that I was pursuing the job seriously, she was eager to see me get it.

More important in some ways, when I talked to this individual back then, I realized that the attitudes of the publication wouldn't matter much. Working with him would be sheer pleasure. We were in agreement about damn near everything, and he was blown away by my resume and attitude.

In fact, he extended a job offer, subject only to approval of the bureaucrat-woman who ran his department. She turned me down. "Too qualified," she said. "Probably would want to take [her] job and change the publication's focus."

He was embarrassed when he had to told me I wouldn't get it. He understood that I had no such plans. All I wanted was to do a good job, make good money and live in peace with a sweet, sweet lady. Even if my enthusiasm never got into print, I could enjoy the gig.

So today, I met him again. We didn't recognize each other at first. When we were introduced, I said -- among other things -- I wished the publication had hired me back then. He looked at me and replied, "I've regretted that decision [not to put me on the payroll] ever since."

And I realized how strong was the effect of that one failure.

If they had hired me, I would not be alone. I would be with perhaps the best woman I could imagine being with, living in a nice area. She might not have made decisions she made that changed her (and not for the better). Certainly, I would not be sitting here wondering what shit-storm would strike next.

This is what you do when you get old and have trouble coping: you look at what could have been, and realize that there are turning points that could have saved you.

And you blame yourself for not having done something you couldn't do to make it happen.

I didn't realize it until today, but it has been downhill ever since that one job opportunity went away.

And I sit here hoping an earthquake, tidal wave or meteor strike will hit me before tomorrow.

I've really messed up, my friends. I didn't need to have the one great failure played back to me for proof. I loved and was loved then, and appreciated enough for my abilities to come close to being where I wanted to be.

Damn. How much easier it would have been to have my life blow up in flames years ago! I didn't need the reminder....

* I'm being sarcastic, of course.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

It's not all bad...

...but it might as well be.

The story I was so worried about? The one that was making me go through all sorts of strange mind-trips and doubts?

I sent it in this morning, and got an email from the editor a few hours later:

"Wow -- that was fast! And it's good, too! Must say, you're really proficient at this. I would love to have one of your pieces in every issue.

A relief, no?


Why the hell did it come on a day when I'm so angry/depressed/wacked out that it means nothing to me?

Not her fault. It's my fault. She's an excellent editor, and never messes with my stuff. I like her, like working with her.

But she can't -- and won't -- say the Magic Words. She's not in a position to say them, in either personal or professional categories.

I give her credit for trying, though.

Tomorrow's another glad-handing, "networking" get-together. I do not want to be there. But I have no choice.

The Nice Guy "me" seems to be away. All I have left is the side of me I don't particularly like.


Not tonight...

...I have a headache.

And my eyes are having trouble focusing. They hurt like hell, too. I suspect my blood pressure is in a place it ought not be, and there's little I would appreciate as much as a month or two of uninterrupted sleep.

I ascribe all of this to stress, which is present in far greater quantities than I can handle. I'm feeling much as George Armstrong Custer must have felt, with people on all sides ready and eager to do him in.

No details. Too depressing, and more than I want to face at the moment. And for once I won't toss blame around; there are plenty of people who have done their bit to screw up my life, but I've been something of a co-conspirator more often than I'd like to admit..

One thing that bugs the daylights out of me: my parents, particularly the paternal one, never taught me that brand of self-assurance, bordering on arrogance, with which one can face down adversity. No, my father simply walked away from whatever bugged him; I learned by example, so to speak.

But he had my mother backing him up. She labored at her job, day in and day out, for most of my childhood while he sulked at home when a job took what he considered a wrong turn. She tried to make the future sound good, though I doubt he believed her.

We had one conversation many years ago that now seems a defining moment. An employer asked me to do a job I wasn't sure about and I asked him for advice. He said, "if it was me, I'd quit."

I didn't. Not then, anyway.

So what I'm left with, absent any kind of support mechanism, is simply to grovel, ask for favors and, if necessary, beg. I have answers for a couple of the problems I've run smack up against; but if they meet resistance, I'll have to be pretty abject about the whole damn thing.

Damned if I'm not ready to hang up the whole mess, Jim.

I hate this. Hate it.

I simply can't project the kind of force that makes people do what I need and agree with me about what should be done.

I have tried to avoid acting in the ways that made my father, in many respects, a pretty unpleasant and unhappy person.

Some of them, though, must be genetic.

I hate that, too.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Today's wisdom.

When one door closes, the rest of them li'l suckers start slammin' shut, too.

I'd have this engraved on my tombstone, if I wasn't convinced I'll wind up being processed into pet food.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What happened to Sunday?

I lost it somewhere, that's what.

Never went for a walk. Never even went outside, not for a minute. I didn't even take a shower or get dressed; I'm in the same sweatshirt and Levi's I put on this morning.

I went back and worked on the story that's freaking me out so much. It still seems, well, marginal to me. Part of me is absolutely certain the editor will like it, while another part thinks she'll find another story to run in its place.

Something, as Miss Clavel famously said in the old, old Madeline stories, is not right.

I came across a recording today. It's exquisite, unforgettable Billie Holliday singing one of my favorite ballads, Alec Wilder's heart-wrenching I'll Be Around. The melody, and the lyrics -- which I posted here some considerable time ago -- still reach right into my heart. To some extent, they are my story, at least when it comes to relationships.

Maybe I should put that last word in quotation marks. I can't honestly say I've ever had a real relationship, at least if longevity is a factor.

What makes this recording particularly poignant is that it was made in 1958, very close to the end of Lady Day's career. And her life. At times, you can still hear the soaring beauty of her voice. In other places, you can hear the toll drugs, booze and plain ol' hard living took on her.

That makes me wonder: is there a point at which those who have talent should fold their tents and vanish into the night? Should the performances continue when the tools are no longer sharp?

Granted, there are plenty of wannabes and almost-ares who have skill, and they go on and on, never reaching the top, and never quite deserving to. They work at it, and bring pleasure to small audiences in small towns, all the while dreaming of the Big Discovery when someone promises them stardom and delivers.

If I am in either group, it is surely the latter. But I know people in my own area, immensely talented people, who have continued on long past their prime. I have watched their gifts deteriorate, have seen them lose interest while still grinding out the product.

At this moment, it would not break my heart if I never wrote another word to earn a living, such as it is. I've said all I can think of to say, am in fact repeating myself more often than I like.

If a true, once-in-a-generation talent like Billie can end up performing with an unreliable sense of pitch and cracking, hoarse voice, how much more pathetic is it when those who never shared the equivalent of her ability keep plugging along?

To be honest, I think loneliness is behind much of this in my case. Never mind the bright moments, the feelings of being closer to having -- and doing -- what I want than I normally think I am. They count, but don't last. When one warm, unforgettable moment is followed by interminable hours of scuffling for an undefinable result, it causes confusion. Do I believe the good, or the endless drudgery?

Something is not right, indeed.

I wonder if it ever was right, or ever will be.

Some people should never have been given the trait of introspection. I think I'm one of them.

Not entirely connected...

...but I did managed to complete my unfinished article this morning -- which ballooned up to 1700 words from the promised 1500 -- without having to stop to wrench off my head and look for damage inside.

Since tomorrow is the "holiday" for Veteran's Day (the government won't rest until its employees have 350 paid holidays a year, you know) I don't have to send it off until Tuesday morning. That gives me time to take another read or two and decide what it's all about.

It's "cold" here. I know 61 degrees would make some of you strip down to shorts and t-shirts and gambol around outside, but hey, it's plenty chilly for here, especially with the wind coming off the ocean and vague threats of later rain. I will soon head out for a walk, but with little enthusiasm. I could easily be dissuaded by someone soft and sweet with whom to curl up in a blanket...which means I'll be going for a walk.

I'm curious: If Juan Carlos, the King of Spain, can tell that miserable shitweasel Hugo Chavez to "shut up" when he operates his mouth before putting his brain in gear, why does no one in our government have the cojones to do the same? Seems like the ideal way to nip some of the world's bigger jackasses in the bud, if you ask me. Treat Mahmoud the Mad of Iran, Russia's "Poot" Putin and similar loudmouths like the uncouth five-year-olds they are, and maybe they'd simply fade away.

And, regarding Veteran's Day, which is set aside to honor those who have served, fought and, in too many instances, died for this country, I have only one thing to say: What you, or I, or George Bush or Hillary Clinton think of the wars they fought means absolutely nothing. They made the sacrifices; we did not.

I salute and honor every last of of them.

Time to stretch my legs, then get back to work.

Some holiday.

Shut up, Scribbler.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sidetracked... a neighbor who announced that she had just bought a bottle of Patron, which is very near the best of Mexico's fermented cactus juice beverages.

Six healthy shots later, I abandoned all though of continuing with my article. I did, however, managed to turn out 997 words before I hung it up, which leaves roughly 500 to go. Piece o' cake. I can do that in the morning.

Besides, the article was continuing to weird me out. Too many shadows floating into it, too many personal references I had to kill before they got woven into the fabric and rhythm of the piece.

This is what happens to unskilled writers (like me): they start at the beginning and just throw in anything they think fits. And they then hope a closing point eventually comes and they can wrap up the whole mess before someone turns out the lights.

It's a stop-me-before-I-kill-again kind of thing.

So now I'm writing this.

I can think of maybe six places I'd rather be right now, and one (or maybe two) people I'd rather be at one of those places with. But I'm not.

And I won't be in the morning, when I will get an attack of the guilts and sit down to another day of cranking out the ol' words when I'd rather be elsewhere.

Is anyone still reading this?

I feel like maybe the most boring person in the known universe.

No, I know I'm not. But too few others know it.

How many times to I get to see what might be on the other side of the door without actually being let in?

Life ain't fair, Jim.

Word rationing... in effect here today.

I have to save most of them for work, as I'm looking at three long pieces due by the end of next week*.

Moreover, the piece I'm working on now has become singularly strange. Perhaps my mental state is getting worse faster than I thought, but this assignment is unbolting all sorts of long-closed doors in my head for reasons I don't understand and couldn't fully explain if I did know what's up.

I'm still suffering the effects of transferring myself from six days of heavy socializing back to relative isolation, too.

For once -- and this is rare, believe me -- there's a little trepidation about what the editor will think when she reads this piece on Monday. She has always liked it when I let the words roll and put myself into a free-association Death Dive, but this one may be too far out in left field for her.

I blame her. She wanted the story, wanted me to write it. She would not have accepted it if I hadn't agreed to deliver the words.

And I need to return to cranking out the verbiage. I have a lot I want to say, but schedule and prudence are working against that right now.

Later, maybe, if I get far enough along that I can break from it, and if I decide I need to ingest a hefty jolt or two of Mr J Beam's distilled beverage, The dam may burst and my demented ravings might show up here.

Don't know whether all y'all should be eager or apprehensive about that.

* Okay, a newspaper reporter wouldn't blink at having to do 3500-4000 words in six days. For me, it's a lot, and I'm a tad grumpy as a result.

Friday, November 09, 2007

At this hour nine days ago...

...I was getting a refill of hideous airline coffee from a flight attendant while en route to Florida.

At this hour four days ago, I was on a return flight, roughly somewhere above the state of Arizona.

So what has changed? Nothing.

When I arrived home -- for once, my friend D. was on time to pick me up at the airport -- I did a few things and then took a nap. A 15-hour nap. Somehow, my body clock has gotten dreadfully out of sync with the world; I go to bed at 10:00, wake up at 4:00 am. This is not jet lag, but is more like some time shift that began before I left on my last trip.

As usual, life goes on as if I'd never left. I've written 1.5 articles this week, and am about to leave to supervise photography and take notes on another. I have a week to finish the .5 of a story and one more. If I really buckle down, I should get another done as well, but I know myself well enough to not promise that will happen.

Mainly, I'm rattling around in this empty place, and am not happy about it. Others I know are already talking about Thanksgiving and -- ridiculously -- Christmas. They will be mere days for me; worse than normal days because there will be no mail and too many closed stores.

Take no notice of me. I get cranky when the daylight hours get short.

Oh, yes. I forgot. Monday is the day set aside to "celebrate" Armistice Day/Veteran's Day, which is really Sunday.

Another work day here.

On occasion, I enjoy some truly wonderful times. But oh, how I pay for them in between.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

All good things come to an end...

...just as bad things do.

NOT-AT-ALL PARENTHETICAL WARNING: If you don't like True Confessions, please go away now. I'm being me now, and getting into some strange emotional territory.

The last evening of any of the trips I've taken for work is an odd experience. There is always some relief that it's over, and that the next day will see you reunited with familiar surroundings. There's knowledge that the current free ride is over, too, and you'll have the airplane ride home to think about what life is like without special passes, free lodgings -- though the Daytona Beach Days Inn is surely the most forgettable place I've been put up in during my 21 years of this gig -- and, most of all, free food. Good food, too.

And it means parting with friends I see only on such trips.

There was an odd element this time. A very nice lady whom I have long admired was not far away and, though we had never actually met (unless you consider the odd phone call, some online discussions and reading each others' journals "meeting") this seemed a perfect opportunity to get together.

What I did not take into account was that I would essentially spend almost all my waking hours within the confines of Daytona Speedway. No chance to sneak away for a visit. Given her schedule and mine, there was a strong chance we couldn't make it happen.

So I took the somewhat drastic step of asking my hosts if she could join us for the final night's dinner, which would be less formal -- and less car-centric, I hoped -- than those of the previous nights. As I am generally the least demanding of freeloaders journalists, I was fairly certain they'd agree. And they did. And so did she.

CONVOLUTED PARENTHETICAL RAMBLING EXPLANATION: I have done this exact thing before, but always with women I've known for a long time. Even so, the first time I've always been afraid they would be bored, not approved of, or simply not blend into the somewhat strange milieu I work in. I've wondered that about one or two who would certainly have been in such a position had they stayed around long enough, too. It's an extension of my personal not-fitting-in fears. And, perhaps, a feeling that an unhappy guest could not only screw up the evening, but perhaps make my colleagues and hosts look at me a bit differently.

Is this weird? I don't know.

Anyway, we arranged to meet at my "luxury" lodgings and go for a drink before hitting the dinner. She had no idea -- I hope -- of my concerns, my fear that she would not fit in, would end up, like a character in some strange experimental play, sitting in the center of the room with ghostly figures wandering silently around her as if she didn't exist.

But enough of that. When she arrived, it was affection at first sight. Everything I believed -- and hoped -- about her proved true within seconds. She took me to one of her favorite "watering holes" which, coincidentally, gave me the first ocean view I had during the trip. She made me feel comfortable. And happy. I didn't have to think about Porsches for the first time in almost five days, didn't have to play Big-Time-Journalist. I was human again.

In time, of course, we had to head for dinner, and the nagging itch reappeared. I've always liked intelligent, up-front women; would my associates -- and, let it be said, friends -- feel the same about this one?

They would. And they did. "Ish" was by far the youngest, brightest and most attractive** woman in the room. And the most charming. She has an important characteristic of a great reporter*: she's able to get people to want to answer questions, allied with her genuine liking for them as human beings. She got to talking to a gentleman I didn't know sitting across from us, who turned out to be a racing driver I watched doing his stuff (and admired) for years. Her warmth made us friends instantly.

At one point, I left the room and, when I returned, found another writer talking intensely to her. Heck, everyone who met her seemed to feel a need to talk to her.

And me? I was feeling like the proverbial million dollars. Who would not in my position? I had brought someone super-special into the room. Had the dinner gone on longer, I have no doubt she would have had everyone -- all 50 or more people -- telling her their stories.

As we were leaving, the PR guy who had agreed to let her "crash" the dinner thanked her for coming. And meant it. I've known him for years, and can read his face and tone of voice. To anyone else, he would have said something more non-committal and polite.

We went back to the bar at the beach for a last drink. I was wishing the evening would never end, frankly.

I write all this because, as those of you have been longtime readers will know, I have had some rather poor experiences with women in the past few years. I needed proof that I could spend an evening with one who could enjoy meeting people I like, and comport herself with wit and sheer brilliance. And she delivered, more spectacularly than I could have hoped.

ANOTHER PARENTHETICAL CONFESSIONAL-TYPE THOUGHT: Naturally, it also helped that she seemed to enjoy being with me, too....

Does this sound sappy? It isn't, really. I simply have never known a woman (or a man, though that is less interesting to me, of course) who had the gifts "Ish" displayed. I was jealous in a sense, by her ability to turn strangers into friends, and delighted that she was willing to spend an evening with us.

Me, mainly.

It's curious, and difficult, to admit that a reasonably casual evening could be the high point of what was, all in all, a pretty dandy trip. But it was, and I owe it all to her.

She may never know what scars she erased from my psyche. It's not something I can admit easily. Sometimes, I simply need to feel appreciated for who I am, in a way that has nothing to do with what my job lets me experience.

If this sounds like a mushy love message, so be it. In seven hours, she did more for me than the woman whom I adored, whom I thought was going to be with me forever. I needed to feel human, and male, again. I needed to feel liked, appreciated and cared about by someone for whom I could do nothing, work-wise. "Ish" did that, and with seeming ease.

And for doing so, I will always appreciate her.

I can't believe that I am about to post this. But I know magic when I see it, and I must credit her for being magical.

Thank you, dear "Ish."

* Damn, I envy her for that!

** Make that beautiful!

For the final photos...

...I've chosen the unique -- and, in one case, strangest -- Porsche 917s at the event. The first two were shipped over from Porsche's museum for display. The third is in a private owner's hands.

As mentioned, the 917 was a bit of a mess aerodynamically, and the company hired a French firm to help them by designing a body shape that would be stable at high speeds. This was one of the few Porsche racers not designed by the in-house styling department.

Porsche's stylists were horrified when they saw the result, considering it ugly and awkward-looking, which it is. They had the last laugh, getting it coated in pink paint...

...and painting a meat-cutter's chart on it. It was then named "the Pink Pig," and appeared in -- but did not finish -- the 1971 24-hour race at Le Mans, France. Supposedly, the company sponsoring the car -- Martini & Rossi -- was not amused. Porsche's stylists were...

A very early 917 ran one race and was returned to the factory, where it was used for testing. In time, Porsche decided it needed a new engine for the 917, and produced a 16-cylinder version of the existing flat-12. This required some length added to the car's frame to get it installed...

The engine was apparently good for roughly 800 horsepower, though a turbocharger was planned, raising it to nearly 2000 horsepower. Some say the turbo-16 was built, officially, it never existed...

But the biggest problem with the 16-cylinder 917 was, apparently, that all who drove it absolutely refused to even consider racing it. Too much power, without frame, suspension or brakes capable of coping with it was a complaint about the "normal" 1000-horsepower 917; 2000 horsepower was simply beyond the limits of acceptability.

The 917 below, the last of the breed, was actually never raced -- or even completed -- during the days of the car's biggest success. It was partially completed when Porsche pulled out of the Canadian-American Challenge races at the end of 1973, and stayed that way for some time until California Porsche dealer Vasek Polak bought it and had the factory complete it.

Even then, it was not raced, and remained in a warehouse until Polak's death several years ago...

And that, to the sounds of a huge sigh of relief from you non-car types, is the end of my Daytona Adventure. Except for one final fun evening, which will appear (minus photos, alas) in due course....

The stars of the show...

...were, officially and unofficially, several examples of Porsche's Type 917 racing car. The paint scheme on this example will be familiar to the few people who remember Steve McQueen's 1971 movie Le Mans, in which he played the role of a Porsche racer...

All 917s used various versions of a 12-cylinder engine, designed in the same fashion as a normal Porsche (or VW Beetle) engine. Initially, it developed roughly 600 horsepower but later, when turbocharging was added, the flat-12 put out as much as 1500 horsepower for short bursts, but was normally restricted to "only" 1000 hp...

This was a car capable of nearly 250 mph; it was very sensitive to aerodynamics. Many different body designs were tried to make the car driveable. Some were successful, and some were not. From all accounts it was always a "nervous" car to drive...

There were essentially two version: the 917/10 and 917/30, with many individual variations and modifications. The 917/30 was longer, one way it was hoped the car could be made easier to drive. Both coupe and open ("Spyder," in Porsche-speak) versions were built. The open cars raced most often in US events, and did extremely well...

The driver of a 917 Spyder didn't have too many distractions. He didn't need any; the car provided plenty of distractions as it was...

But the most famous of all 917s for Americans would be this 917/30, with which the late Mark Donohue dominated the Canadian-American Challenge racing series in 1973. After it was essentially legislated out of contention by the series rule-makers, Donohue drove it one last time in 1975, taking it to what was then a closed-course speed record (over 221 mph) at Talladega Speedway in Alabama.

Those 917 drivers I've talked to loved the cars, but were very careful about describing "good" qualities beyond massive power. One often heard words such as "frightening" when they were in a position to be candid about these monsters.

Take heart: there are only two more entries to come regarding my Daytona trip....

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Will it never end?

There will be only three more entries following this one from my four-day Daytona adventure. I think.

This is a random-image kind of thing, starting with a type 934 (racing-modified 911) getting some major transmission repairs after its first on-track session...

Cars were brought in from Europe, the UK, South America and of course from numerous places in the USA. This early 911 racer was brought down from Newburyport, Massachusetts...

One of the more numerous purpose-built racers at the event was the Type 908, which was built in several forms during the late 1960s. This particular car is an early 908LH (LH = Langheck, or Long Tail)...

The second-most familiar type is the open-top 908/3...

And this is Porsche's current -- and quite successful -- competition car, the RS Spyder...

Next: The stars of the show....


...that made the days a bit more interesting.

I have long known that many car people are fanatical about their favorite makes. With the possible exception of Ferrari fans, Porsche owners are perhaps the most, well, devoted to every detail, every trinket and item that carries the Magic Name.

Those of us who were there at the company's invitation were given passes and enameled pins to allow us into various restricted places and events. These were combined on a pass-holder attached to a lanyard with "Porsche" printed on it...

...and I was accosted (as were several others) repeatedly over the weekend by fans who oohed and aahed and offered money for these items. It is whispered that these and similar goodies eventually will appear on eBay. Not mine. I save them, along with similar goodies from many of the events I've attended over the years. Or I simply hand them out as gifts at appropriate times.

Likewise, we were given these nifty caps...

...which made us targets identified us as judges in the Saturday-evening concours d'elegance, which is a fancy French way of saying "car show." Most of you know I've done that before, but never in an exclusively-Porsche environment...

What put me off at first was being assigned to judge a group consisting solely of Type 956 and 962 race cars. I know little about these machines, which were considered Porsche's most successful racers of all time (the 962 was a modified 956), being consistent winners from 1982 through the early 1990s...

...but I need not have worried. Each class had a "Class Judge" who was in charge of our search for the most original* example, which then received a beautiful trophy. Ours was an affable German who, I guessed, was one of those people who has devoted far too much time to studying these cars out of sheer passion.

Wrong. My first question about something out-of-the-ordinary brought a response that began with "when we were assembling these at the factory..." So it became a case of "ask the man who worked on design, development and the final build process." By the time we were through, I felt I could write a book about 956s and 962s....

Next: more interesting cars...what else?

* Few, if any, racers are "original" after their first race. Some are modified almost beyond recognition during their on-track careers.


...Porsches from the 1950s and '60s. If there's one reason I particularly like these machines, it's their simplicity. No computerized systems, few (if any) materials more exotic than aluminum, and no time spent in wind tunnels analyzing their aerodynamics. They were certainly slower than modern racers, but that's a relative thing; they required just as much skill to drive fast as their current equivalents.

For starters, here's a Type 718 RSK, a favorite of both amateur and professional racers. From 1958 through the early 1960s, the RSK was a consistent winner...

An interesting (and extremely rare) modification of the RSK involved removing the passenger seat -- required by sports-car racing rules and moving the driver's seat to the center of the car. This allowed Porsche to enter -- and win -- races in a class for single-seaters...

The Type 904 appeared in 1964. It was the first Porsche to have a body formed in fiberglass instead of steel or aluminum. Some people bought 904s and added mufflers and other amenities to make them street cars. The Porsche factory built one 904 with a leather-trimmed interior and full road equipment for the use of a member of the Porsche family...

Porsche was not shy about doing whatever it took to build winning racers. In 1960, they went to Italy to have one Carlo Abarth -- more familiar for his fast Fiat-based machines -- build a lightweight "special" competition coupe. Abarth, with the assistance of the Zagato firm, came up with the sleek GTL. In the end, it was a bit of a disappointment, being only 100 lbs. lighter than Porsche's own version, and was riddled with quality issues that drove the Germans crazy. Only 20 were built, and are now prized for their looks and rarity more than blinding speed...

Finally, many racers built special cars using Porsche engines, or shoehorned them into existing machines. This car, which won one of the USA's first professional sports-car racing championships (where winners took home money as well as trophies) combined a Porsche engine with a very light body and chassis from Lotus, a UK builder...

Is this all TMI? Hope you're enjoying this, anyway....

A short intermission...

...since I have always posted at least one scenic shot in my "travel" entries, I'll break away from the Porsche photos and show you what the dominant "scenic" view (the track's start/finish line) was for me between Thursday and Sunday...

I can't imagine sitting up in the nosebleed seats in the stands. Oddly enough, I remember when the track had "Daytona USA" painted on the wall...I liked that better, somehow. And I might note that this photo was taken from the *coughs* exclusive VIP lounge, for which only a handful of people had access passes. If you consider 2-300 a "handful...."

And if anyone doesn't believe racin' is expensive, note that high-octane racing gas is only $6.30 per gallon at the track. No credit cards or checks accepted...

Okay. Back to cars next time. I didn't even see the ocean or any of the city of Daytona Beach until Sunday night....

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

More-or-less unconnected photos...

...that don't seem to fit the categories I planned to show.

First, here's one of the Porsche factory's transporters, which carried racing cars across Europe in the 1950s and '60s. It was built by Mercedes-Benz, and was converted from one of M-B's buses...

In this instance, it carried a Type 910 racer, circa 1967...

And that leads me to include the Porsche racing car that, for whatever reason, simply grabs me the most in a visual way. This is a Type 906 of the early '60s, very fast but, with the windows wrapping over into the roof, rather warm inside...

Another coupe, this time from 1953, is a Type 550 built for the Mexican Road Race. It is one of only two hard-top 550s built. Porsche sold it directly after the race, and it remained in Mexico until a few years ago...

Not many people know that Porsche wanted to race in the Indianapolis "500." But they did, and formed an association with, among others, American Ted Field (heir to the Marshall Field department-store fortune, and an avid racer) to make it happen. The result was a strange and ultimately sordid tale of rule-changes and political maneuvering that kept it out of the 1980 "500."

Roughly a decade later, Porsche tried again, with different cars but, arfter several unsuccessful attempts, gave up...

Yes, there are more car-photos coming, and they are all Porsche racers. Be glad I'm not subjecting you to all 127 of them!