Monday, December 31, 2007

I've had worse days...

...lemme think for a moment. I'll come up with one.

Yeah, maybe the day...naaah. That was not nearly as bad. Fuggedaboutit. Maybe I haven't had a day that was more of a screaming bummer.

Two good things: first, a nice long talk with my friend R., who has to work tonight. Poor guy. I hope the citizens fill his tip jar. I can't stay glum talking to him.

Second: a belated Christmas card. The sentiments expressed meant one heck of a lot to me, particularly from this person, about whom I cannot say enough nice things.

For different reasons -- obviously! -- these two people make me smile.

But neither is here.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Almost made it...

...but the upcoming "celebration" tomorrow night has now officially turned to dust.

As so often happens, it was a song that stopped me in my tracks and made me want to simply vanish until at least January 2nd, if not longer.

Why is it that music, which I love, has such power to lay me low?

Below, the lyrics to "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"

PARENTHETICAL MAYBE-I'M-JUST-FUSSY THOUGHT: When searching for the exact lyrics, which I've half-known for many years, I ran across sites such as "Lyrics by Barbra Streisand," "Lyrics by Diana Krall" and several others with roughly the same titles. None of them wrote the lyrics; they just freekin' sang 'em! This song is one of many great tunes written by Frank Loesser, who has received far less credit over the years than he deserves.


Maybe it’s much too early in the game
Ah, but I thought I’d ask you just the same
What are you doing New Year’s
New Year’s Eve?

Wonder whose arms will hold you good and tight
When it’s exactly twelve o’clock that night
Welcoming in the New Year
New Year’s Eve

Maybe I’m crazy to suppose
I’d ever be the one you chose
Out of a thousand invitations
You’d receive

Ah, but in case I stand one little chance
Here comes the jackpot question in advance
What are you doing New Year’s
New Year’s Eve?

Wonder whose arms will hold you good and tight
When it’s exactly twelve o’clock that night
Welcoming in the New Year
New Year’s Eve

What are you doing New Year’s Eve?

Naturally, the majority of those who sing this are female. And imagining that any of them would be lacking for the attention they seem to crave is beyond me. If Diana Krall wasn't locked in with Declan MacManus, do you really think there wouldn't be 5000 dudes ready and willing to make her New Year's Eve happy?

Hell, I would. But I doubt that a New Year's feast at Louie's #2 Chinese carryout (or at Nam's Red Door, the local Vietnamese place) is what she's looking for.

That's why I identify better with some songs from Frank Sinatra. I can easily picture him knocking back a few at a bar. Ava Gardner really messed him over.

To the best of my recollection (and I recall pretty well), I have never been to a New Year's Eve party. In good years, I celebrated with someone warm and cuddly. That hasn't happened all that often.

In the worst years, I got myself plowed under and fell asleep with the TV on.

This year, no TV.

Would I rather spend the evening with someone warm and cuddly -- and, more important to me these days -- trustworthy? You can count on it. I miss the presence of a soft voice, soft hands and a tender heart more than I can express.

So I'm sitting here, mournfully ruing the simple fact that while I would love nothing more than to spend New Year's Eve with someone loving, sweet and talented, would love nothing more than to make her evening perfect, it ain't gonna happen..

The very, very few women I know (we're talking single digits here) who might fit that bill simply aren't interested. And I am not into begging.

Perhaps you have all -- or at least a major part -- of that scene waiting for you tomorrow night. I hope so. I really do. But if you do, chances are you'll think I'm making too much of a fuss about it.

Frank would understand.

By popular demand...

...which, in this case, involves one comment left by a great guy who has plenty of perception and sensitivity, I will fill in a blank left in my previous, pre-walk entry.

What do I like more than freelance writing?

Even if you leave out the more aggravating aspects of the game as it is played today -- that is, the crappy ethics of editors and publishers, the pathetic pay (when they pay) and the terminally unskilled who will take jobs for next to no pay just to style themselves as "writers" -- I still think my general answer would be: I like damn near everything else better.

I can boil it down to two major passions, though: love and music. Sometimes in inverse order.

Music is something of an unrequited passion, though. I am not, never have been and never will be sufficiently talented to make music a full-time occupation, and that hurts a bit. The interface between what I hear and what I can do seems faulty. I keep trying. And it doesn't affect my need to have music close at hand, nor does it diminish the desire to perform.

Love has a variety of meanings. Friends and relationships, for example. Or wimmins, though sometimes more colorful terms may be substituted. I can't rate myself in this area; I think I'm a good friend, and I ought to be doing okay with the ladies, too. My fault, if any, seems to have been that not all of them play by the same rules -- or live by the same standards -- as I do. That, like my shortage of musical ability, does not mean I'm not willing or eager to rejoin the game if an opportunity presents itself.

Those passions are harsh masters. Or mistresses.

I need other things as well. I certainly dig photography. Always have, always will. Certain musical instruments speak straight into my soul. I like cars, too, though I cringe when anyone suggests I "love" them. "Loving" an inanimate object seems slightly perverse.

In fact, I am always ready to put other things aside for anything that gets my mind working and lets me see, experience and/or learn about new things. That has no end to it.

For me, writing has always been a case of sharing my knowledge, perceptions and experiences with others. Give me friends (and, please, a lover) to share them with and my enthusiasm for explaining it all to faceless hordes in writing diminishes.

It was a nice walk. Even though my legs were only willing to put up with four miles of wear, I spent the whole time thinking nice thoughts.

Have to get back to doing that daily.

Well, I lied...

...not completely, you understand. I washed the dishes. When you have no clean coffee/tea/hot chocolate mugs, life stops.

But I did not work on any articles. Nuh-uh, can't do it. Better to say I don't want to. I will, eventually, maybe even later today. But any of those on the front burner right now are simply adding to what I'm owed and not receiving. When I can somehow concentrate on what the reader gets (information, entertainment) as opposed to what the editor gets (a lot of time and expertise that gets paid for when he feels like paying), I'll be able to spit out the requisite number of words.

I know I yammer on about this stuff and, if you're not in the freelance biz, it must be boring as hell. But it is the sum total of my life at the moment.

Not that I want it that way. My other yearnings are far stronger, but must be repressed in favor of survival.

I can only hope I'll be able to indulge myself in what I consider the most important gifts life can bestow before I'm too old, tired and cynical to dig them.

Right now, I need to go for a walk. Haven't been spending enough time at that, to the detriment of both mind and body.

Today & tomorrow...

...will close out 2007, and I'm happy about that, you can bet.

But I also know that at least the first few days of 2008 will be as bad, or possibly worse, than their predecessors. Nothing I can do about that, and pasting a smile on my face, making happy to everyone I see and generally doing the Mr Positive bit will have no effect on circling vultures; at the same time, people who have shown an aptitude for screwing around with me -- and will continue to do so, using the "holidays" as an excuse, I'm sure -- will make me sweat out more days of non-payment.

At least I made it to bed, and slept through the night, without mishap. I credit ginger ale for that.

Assuming continued quiescence from the stomach, I'll work today. Tomorrow, too. Artists are supposed to suffer for their "art," you know.

Not that I'm an artist, by any means. I consider writing a craft, not an art. Same goes for photography as well, though at least one friend disagrees with me on that, I think.

Must go wash dishes now.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Just another diversion...

...which, out of consideration for sensitive folks, I will do my best to explain in paraphrase wherever possible.

About an hour ago, I began to feel, as one feels a thunderstorm brewing in the far distance, that my stomach was going to cause me some problems. I was just about to fix some dinner, to be followed, maybe, with a good belt (or two, or more) of Mr Beam's Golden Elixir. It's been that kind of day.

Plans changed. Instead of a meal, I went for some soup, which as of now remains in my tum.

But, as is always true of me in such situations, I also developed a craving. For ginger ale.

And that craving was just like almost everything else these days. It brought with it a severe pang of loneliness.

And that made me think of a much happier time in my life, a winter night when I was lying on a lovely woman's bed in a highly perspirational state, unwilling to get up except when more urgent needs drove me toward the bathroom. Said woman tried all the normal nursing options -- the damp washcloth, the holding of hands, the sympathetic sounds -- and then, seeing that they weren't getting the job done, asked if there was anything else she could do.

I wanted then what I wanted now: ginger ale.

So she put on her coat and drove off -- in the snow, just to make it more of a sacrifice -- to find a late-night store. She returned with a nice big bottle of Vernor's which, along with her other ministrations, helped quell the riot in my nether regions.

Strange to think of a time when one is sick as a "happier" time. But when you have someone around who cares for you, even digestive distress is one heck of a lot easier to bear.

Fortunately, the local market is only two blocks away, I wasn't sure I could make it there and back without mishap. I did, but it wasn't easy.

The forebodings remain. Another sleepless night seems assured. There's no way of knowing if having a loving companion nearby would make matters better, but of course I'm certain it would.

At least I have a plastic wastebasket next to my bed....

I don't like being cryptic...

...but, in a way, it makes all kinds of sense.

One doesn't want, for example, to bad-rap individuals for whom others have protective (or, in some cases, lustful) feelings. Nor do I want to directly besmirch the names of people I currently work with, or, with luck (bad or good) might have to work with.

On the other hand, getting all true-confessions-y seems to upset some people who drop in here. Even when they are "anonymous," it doesn't do much for my state of mind to read comments implying that I am nothing more than 90 kilograms of misery.

PARENTHETICAL TRUE-CONFESSIONS NOTE: I am, alas, a couple of keys over 90kg right now, which is more than I want to weigh anyway. Not quite a lard-ass, but weightier than I want to be. As if anyone gets close enough to notice....

What I suppose I am, by definition is stupid. Stupidity is said to be "doing the same thing over and over in hopes the result will be different."

That would be me.

For example, today I lit into the story I spent yesterday preparing for. Cranked out them words...and then the mail came. Once again, the expected -- and needed -- checks did not arrive.

One of the major offenders happens to be the client who ordered this article.

Result: full stop. Loss of resolve, energy and creativity.

I could blame this in part on my parents. After all, they were the ones who drummed it into me, over and over, that if I did above-average work, I would be a success.

Of course they also led me to believe that I should trust people in my personal relationships as well. Love, give to and be there for others and good things just have to happen.

They did not teach the latter dictum by example, by the way. But it took me years to see that.

The lesson I have learned, and still seem fated to need to deny, is: do right, and people will rip you off.

Of course this could all be horsecrap. I might simply be living at the bottom end of a bad-karma cycle.

My natural optimism, which I admit isn't too apparent around here -- this is the only place where I can vent dark thoughts, at least when not feeling intimidated by people taking me to task for not doing the Pollyanna bit -- has just about run out.

I will be incredibly happy to flush 2007 down the sewer. Not that I think 2008 will be any better.

If I can make it a better year, I will. But my resistance to what some people euphemistically call "challenges" and try to present as opportunities, though I tend to see them as thefts of my talents and emotions, is nearing an end.

Was all this sufficiently cryptic? Didn't mention a single name....

Friday, December 28, 2007

Interesting.... a rough description of our safari into Darkest Desert Center, CA.

It should have been a relatively short drive, but the only way to get where we were going was a confusing maze of twists and turns marked by faded, unreadable street signs. I was a little worried about the photography, since Desert Center is, to be kind, a rathole. Filthy. Either monstrous new housing developments or single houses, trash-bedecked, on their last legs. Our destination was out of "town" a ways, and was reasonably attractive.

The weather helped. It was not as cold as I feared, and a light cloud cover gave us nice, even light. D. set enthusiastically to getting the necessary shots -- I admit I would have preferred to do that myself, but we've worked so long (and so well) together that I can't complain. Much.

I am, however, a bit worried about what I will look like in the pix. I'm used to it, even enjoy being seen doing fun things, but in this instance I guar-an-damn-tee you I will look like a circus bear riding a tricycle under the Big Top. I forgot a clown hat, damn it, and the owner of the device I squeezed myself into would have been insulted had I worn one.

Took me back, though. Way back. Back to a time when many of my present-day tormentors had not even been born. Nineteen Sixty-six, to be precise, the year I first got a driver's license.

While I'm not mentioning names, I am willing to bet few of you would recognize the cars I drove, and none of y'all have so much as ridden in one.

All in all, great fun. The owner was a nice guy with a sense of humor, and was willing to surrender his toys to my not-so-tender mercies.

The drive home was awful. Traffic has become intolerable in SoCal, particularly on the primary route used by illegal aliens to get from Mexico to Los Angeles. It should have been a piece of cake, as the "border" inspection station (which is some 40 or so miles North of the border) was not stopping anyone -- thank you, Jorge Bush -- so only the sheer number of vehicles was making I-5 crawl.

Earlier on the drive home I saw my first Indian gambling casino. Yes, though I have lived here, well, forever, I've never driven past one. Depressing. A huge fortress of a building, surrounded by parking structures full of cars. Even the overflow lot was jammed. And in the bus parking area, several buses covered with Chinese characters, bringing the maniacal gamblers from Taiwan and the People's Republic to drop their wealth.

I felt no desire to stop.

But I was still feeling pretty damn chipper when I got home. Until I looked in the mailbox, where several grand-worth of checks once again failed to appear, though they are overdue. Every penny is already spoken for by grumbling creditors....

Nonetheless, tomorrow morning I will set to and crank out today's story.

Here endeth Friday....

Getting ready to go... today's gig. It's only just past 8:25 and D. won't be here until roughly 10:00, but I want to clean the bathroom today, and I always do that in concert with taking a shower. Whoever designed the shower here didn't care about cleaning it....

Given the weather here, I was actually looking forward to getting where we're going. It's in the desert, and my thoughts were drifting toward lip balm, sunscreen and wearing a t-shirt outdoors for the first time in a couple of months. Maybe even shorts; they wouldn't have shown in the photos.

But then I checked weather reports and found it will be no warmer there, amid the cacti and sand dunes, than here. In fact, the nights are colder out there. Silly me.

Weather has no part of my being glad I'm not in Iowa or New Hampshire. You can put on heavy coats and thermal undies when it's freezing, but they offer no protection against politicians. As the days dwindle ahead of the Big Votes, all of the hack would-be presidents, without exception, sound increasingly stupid and untrustworthy. Right down to Ron Paul -- whose weirdness moved him from my "maybe" list to the "fuggeddaboutit" column -- who has now revealed that he thinks of evolution as a "theory", something I have never before heard from an MD.

Comes to it, I can't get up any interest in any of the candidates from either party. Except, possibly, for a couple whose candidacies have already been written of by the "experts."

Am I stupid, or are the elites of politics as venal and self-serving as they seem to be?

Oh, well. I'll vote for someone when the time comes. Reluctantly, I'm sure.

But right now, I need to go clean the bathroom.

That's productive.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

As if I care...

...about the world's woes.

I mean, I do care, but it's damn hard to be worried about the possibility of being vaporized when local excreta keep hitting the rotary ventilation unit.

For those of you in places like, well, Idaho (home of "wide-stance" Larry Craig and other aberrations), that means the shit is hitting the fan.

I should not be surprised that every client who owes me money has managed to take the time between Christmas and New Year's off. I have not received a check in more than a month, and the wolves are circling. They're howling, too.

My "buddy" D., the photographer, has set us up for a gig tomorrow. One of the lowest-paying jobs we have on the list, mind you. Nonetheless, it is money -- even if I don't see it until April or May -- so I have to go. He drives, though...I'm not shelling out for gas to make a 150-mile round-trip for coolie wages. Especially when his part of the deal is a few hours' worth of taking pictures, and mine is several days spent generating words.

The drumbeats trying to get me to move to Wisconsin are intensifying. My friend R. has suggested it before, and now another friend is singing the praises of such a relocation. It's nice to be wanted, I have to admit. All I have to do is figure out how to survive there, and I'm gone, baby.

Having been in Cheese-land before, I know they grow some fine-lookin' chicas there, and I'd be with people who are deep into my musical scene.

I've said it before: music and babes are what life's about.

But in the meantime, I'm here, Where The Ghetto Meets The Sea, drowning.

I no longer have those idiot notions about saving the world.

All I want to do is save my own ass, and have a few laughs while doing so.

Those who don't understand history...

...are doomed to repeat it.

But now, the stakes are higher than ever, as the weapons of the first and second World Wars were inconsequential compared to those readily available today.

I have been reading William L Shirer's Berlin Diary, his account of the events leading up to -- and subsequent to -- the start of World War II. Shirer was a radio correspondent for CBS whose beat took him to various parts of Europe as peace crumbled.

It's not difficult to find parallels between 1939 Europe and the world of 2007. Mad power-grabbers are waving swords and making threats, misguided but sincere anti-war types are counseling "discussions" with people who have no interest in maintaining whatever stability the world now enjoys, alliances with enemies are sought, and behind the scenes some are counting the potential profits of plunging the world into war once again.

One wonders what spark will finally ignite the new war. Will it be the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, whose death today has propelled her into mythic hero status among those who know nothing of her past record in nuclear-equipped Pakistan? Will Mad Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lose patience and fire missiles at Israel?

Will it be George Bush's misguided crusade to spread "democracy" through the world, or the foolish "we can negotiate" stance of the Democrats?

In any event, too many world "leaders" simply fail to understand the dynamics of those who wish them dead. Bush, Gordon Brown and too many members of the Western "elite" have no clue what is in store for them, what will come all the sooner if they continue to attempt appeasement.

The world has always had its share of madmen ruling countries. In the past, they could do little damage; today, too many have nuclear weapons. And once one of those madmen sees an opportunity, there will be no turning back.

In the early months of 1939, Neville Chamberlain was willing to allow Adolf Hitler almost anything in pursuit of "peace." History shows how well that worked out. Today, we have those in this country who think so-called diplomacy can have an effect on modern Hitlers.

We make alliances with those who care nothing for our nation's survival, just as Germany and the Soviet Union did in 1939. Will we, too, be stabbed in the back as the Russians were? And will we then line up at the side of an avowed enemy, as Roosevelt did with Stalin?

What this all means to me is that we are, as we were in 1939, on the brink of a conflagration. The diplomats, the power-hungry and the madmen, have had a field day trying to work things out, and in their greed, stupidity, fealty to political parties and religions and clueless desire to make the world "tolerant" to every nutjob who comes down the road, have created a mess for which no one seems to have an effective answer.

I have no answer either. As if anyone would listen to me.

Actually, I do have answers, because I read history. None would be adopted, and none would be pleasant. They would be considered "unfair," "intolerant" and, worst of all, would run counter to the image we like to think the world has of us. Even if that image vanished back in the days of Vietnam.

But what price the avoidance of total destruction?

One way or another, we will pay the bill for what the world has become. And it may be sooner than you think.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I'm looking out for you...

...and if you don't believe it, I've written two long, involved entries this evening that I scrapped before they made it to this page.

If that isn't consideration, I don't know what is.

I almost told you dark details about me. And a couple other people, for that matter. After reading about them, you might have concluded that I'm really a good guy, one who has made the sole mistake of believing in others.

But that's from my perspective, and experience -- which might also be called reality -- doesn't necessarily support that.

After all, in our society, it's the majority that rules. And the majority includes a few women, employers and others who have ripped me off.

And I was too damn weak to press my case.

If you think you know who -- or what -- I'm referring to, you may be right. Or wrong.

I don't much care. I know where I am, and what I can expect. That is reality, and it's not going to change no matter what I write.

Maybe tomorrow will be different.


Hooray for Hollywood!

No one should have been surprised when this story hit the wires...

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 25 (UPI) -- A beefy gent wearing a red Santa hat and purple G-string in Los Angeles this holiday season not only didn't pass for Santa but failed a Breathalyzer test, too.

Rick Carroll, 53, of Long Beach, Calif., who also sported a blond wig, black leg warmers and red, lace camisole, allegedly registered just over the legal blood-alcohol limit of .08 percent when officers tested him after he pulled up in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater Sunday night, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

The 6-foot-4, 280-pound Carroll was booked on a misdemeanor DUI charge and released on $5,000 bail, the newspaper said. His car was impounded.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Chief Ken Garner said officers were "pretty sure this is not ... Santa Claus."

In fact, the only aspect of this story that surprises me is that anyone noticed....

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Oscar Peterson... gone. He was 82.

Oscar was the first to make me actually appreciate and enjoy the piano. Even before I had heard Art Tatum -- whom Peterson admired; he once said listening to Tatum made him want to push his piano out the window -- I was enthralled by what Peterson could do.

Not only did he have the technique of a giant, allowing him to play with astonishing complexity, but he knew when simplicity served his music best.

Better musicians than I could ever hope to be summed him up well: Duke Ellington referred to him as "Maharajah of the keyboard." Bill ("Count") Basie said, "Oscar Peterson plays the best ivory box I've ever heard."

Oddly enough, I was listening to an album of piano duets he made with the great Basie on Sunday, the day of Oscar's passing. The two men were totally in sync as they played; it was difficult to tell where one left off and the other began.

Those I've met over the years who knew him told me Oscar was a kind and vibrant man. I'd guessed that from listening to him.

Being at an age when so many of my musical inspirations are gone, Oscar's death hits hard. I was always hoping for more from him....

Rest in peace, Oscar.

I dislike being obvious...

...which is why I haven't written today.

Hell, you all know what happened here. Nothing. I woke up feeling absolutely knackered and, despite spending most of the day in bed, I'm no better now.

I did get a call from my friend R., whose apartment was filled with holiday revelers. We talked for a while, his father and I talked -- G. is much closer to me in terms of age and, shall we say, negative life experiences -- and, for a while, I actually was in the company of friends, though they were almost 2000 miles away.

Not a real barn-burner of a day.

But then, I had no expectations. I've weaned myself almost totally from any thoughts of miracles, on 34th Street or anywhere else.

I know many people had a wonderful, loving Christmas. I hope all of you were among them.

Monday, December 24, 2007

It's time... NORAD tracks Santa to Rutland, Vermont, Christmas is approaching the East Coast.

That means it's appropriate to wish one and all a Merry Christmas, or a happy whatever-you-celebrate...

I'm sure everyone has decorated their Christmas trees, hung up the dreidls lit by blue-and-white lamps, built their Kwanzaa huts* or otherwise done what they do to celebrate the season.

I've been listening to Christmas music ranging from heartwarming to awful, have been guzzling cold meds and trying keep the seasonal spirit from fleeing. Ate well, too, as the neighbor whose dinner invitation I turned down dropped back by with a plate of Swedish meatballs, 'taters and gravy. Yum.

The red-clad lard-o is now reported at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, which means he'll soon be visiting a friend in Ontario.

I'm taking some joy in thinking about all the kids who still think ol' Santa is the bomb, gift-wise. Looking back, I can't ever say I dug the act 100%, but I still like it.

What I want every one of you to do, if you're fortunate enough to be in the situation I miss so terribly, is to turn to the ones you love, tell each one you love them, give them a warm hug, open up that gift-bag of kisses and spread them around. No gift is more valuable.

And so, as the famous sleigh, pulled, for the record, by nine not-so-tiny reindeer, zooms in on Labrador City, Newfoundland, I bid one and all a merry and healthy Christmas....

* Why do I say these things?

Christmas Eve-ning...

...and jolly old St Nick is dispensing prezzies in Puerto Santa Cruz, Argentina.

Did you ever stop to think how many languages the guy has to know?

If anything, I'm feeling worse, emotionally if not symptom-wise. A neighbor came by to invite me to Christmas Eve dinner, but I'm probably infectious as hell right now. Ditto for a possible outing for a meal & movie tomorrow; I don't want to repay kindness with sickness....

My friend H. volunteered to serve meals today at a large homeless shelter downtown. I'm proud of her. It's not something I could do easily, especially in these days when my emotions are running so close to the surface. Right now, I'd be more interested in finding volunteers to save my tired ass....

Diana's singing in my ear(phone)s about the "Winter Wonderland" she's in, which of course bears no resemblance to Where The Ghetto Meets The Sea. Some of the day's warmth lingers -- or I'm running a slight fever -- and the sky is clear as can be.

Not much else here in the way of entertainment. My years-long avoidance of TV means I've missed the umpty-bazillionth replay of "It's a Wonderful Life." All I can say to George Bailey is "I got yer angel right here...hangin'...." My angel would laugh fiendishly as I took the big plunge into the icy river.

Well, this is California, after all, and the river would likely be dry.

I'm bummed out. I hope I didn't spread that as I would my germs to anyone who got near.

I will, as the song says, be home for Christmas. Either sitting in this fershlugginer chair or in bed.

Damn me. Santa is now in Macchu Picchu, Peru. I've seen pictures of the place. Would like to drop by for a visit sometime.

Christmas Eve, mid-afternoon...

...and Santa has just left Portugal for a run down the Western edge of Africa.

I slept through his European deliveries. Wanted to help the fat bearded guy by volunteering to drop a few gifts off in Germany, the UK and Northern Ireland....

The cold (or whatever it is) seems to be in a bit of a lull. Maybe I have sneezed, dripped and tear-ed out all the moisture in my body. Or perhaps it was the three-hour coma sleep.

Being sick is bad enough any time. Right now it's worse, of course. It's depressing as can be, to be honest. Not that I had any great expectations for Christmas Eve, but it has totally screwed up days spent trying to get myself into some kind of half-way Christmas mood.

Santa is in Tombouctou, Mali as I write. I wish I was somewhere other than here, though not Mali. And I wish I didn't feel as if eight tiny reindeer bastards had trampled me repeatedly.

I still hope it's a much happier day for you....

Midmorning, Christmas Eve...

...and Santa has just left Baghdad, Iraq. I hope he left lots of nice things for all our soldiers....

My cold is getting worse by the hour. No energy, and all I can do is sit here snuffling while tears -- that's one of the things blocked sinuses cause, you know -- run down my face. I had made some plans for tomorrow; I hope I can get over this crap before then. Otherwise, I'll be doing then exactly what I'm doing now, and that will irritate me.

No talk from me about anything I hoped or wished for. All I wish for as of this moment, is to sleep, and be able to breathe when I wake up.


Bah humbug, in fact.

Santa is visiting Tadmur, Syria right now. Shouldn't take long....

Right now, Santa is... Calcutta, India, according to NORAD.

And I'm sitting here nursing what I hope is only a slight cold. Temperatures have been wildly variable here in recent days, which sets up the conditions that stop up my nose and set me to coughing and sneezing. Might get up to 75 today, but the temps still drop rapidly after dark. Right now, it's 52.

What I want to do is brew up a pot of green tea and go back to bed.

What I have to do is laundry and a little bit of clean-up in the apartment. Don't have the energy to do the kind of cleaning that needs to be done....

And, of course, I'll be following Santa, who is now in Taunggyi, Burma.

Speedy, ain't he?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Wanna know where Santa is?

Starting at 4:00 am Eastern Time on Christmas Eve, you can track the big gift-giving guy as he guns his sleigh around the world, dropping off goodies for all the good children everywhere.

Yeah, that means one or two of y'all might miss out, but you had your chance! It's the old naughty/nice bit, and you were just too naughty.

PARENTHETICAL SANTA-AIN'T-THAT-DUMB THOUGHT: I'm absolutely certain the portly red-suit-dude knows the difference between good naughty and bad naughty. So some of you will still find neat stuff under the tree....

To follow his progress, all you have to do is go to the NORAD Santa Site, where their radar and imaging systems will be updating his location with pinpoint accuracy.

It's so cool!

Hard to believe NORAD started this program back in 1955, when they were focused on ensuring that them evil, godless Russkies weren't trying to lob the Big One at us.

The Soviets are gone, but Santa survives. And NORAD still keeps an eye on him.

I've checked in at the site several times on each of the last two Christmas Eves -- and remember radio newscasts many years ago that would report his location throughout Christmas Eve night based on NORAD data -- and I still find myself being drawn into it.

If you have young children, this is a wonderful bit of fun. Or, if you're like me, it is a welcome reminder of innocence and childlike wonder.

Laugh at me if you like, but just do it, okay?

Hell, I might even post a few location updates here tomorrow night for you curmudgeons who won't let yourself play....

Christmas light show -- finale

If there was one thing that struck me most as we walked through the light-bedecked streets, it was the attitude of the people who walked, stood around or drove through the several blocks of decorations.

The houses were almost all worth looking at...

And simpler displays made a nice contrast...

It'd take someone more familiar than I with holiday rituals and traditions to say what a small Ferris wheel has to do with Christmas...

But it was the crowds that made it feel extra-nice. All friendly, a few stopping to comment ("getting good pictures?") while H. and I snapped off shots, people speaking Spanish, Japanese -- Toyota and Honda have their US headquarters nearby, and both have brought in plenty of people from the Home Office to work there -- and English. Young people had tables and booths set up where they sold cookies, hot chocolate, popcorn and heaven knows what else to raise money for their high schools' bands, choirs, cheerleading squads, etc.

I really wanted to photograph a lot of the people -- including a man who was walking his dog on a leash wrapped with Christmas lights -- but by the time I was ready to get to it, I had a camera-full of dead batteries. But they were what made the experience special. Just walking around under hundreds of thousands of lights alone would have meant nothing.

Should have gotten a photo of H., too. She looked so seasonally appropriate in her fur-collared quilted vest. I was tempted to grab a snap of her under the hang-gliding Santa, but she was down the street aiming her camera at something else. Had I done so, you would have seen the happiness of the occasion reflected on her face.

Fortunately, no one took my picture. Gray-bearded bears in bright-blue parkas ain't too photogenic.

On one street we did see a group of Christmas carolers, singing with the enthusiasm and beauty that only comes from wanting to be there singing for the sheer joy of it...

And with that, my story of the Christmas Lights of Torrance (or was it Lomita? -- comes to an end.

It was a wonderful evening...

Moving right along, Christmas-wise...

...I want to put in a plug for my absolute favorite Christmas musical animation.

You can see/hear it here, and if you're like me, you'll go back more than once to enjoy it...

The recording of "White Christmas" behind the animation was made in 1954 by The Drifters.

Both music and images are spot-on, and very entertaining. I never get tired of watching the white reindeer sing its solo...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Lest I/we/you forget...

...this is a small sample of what H. missed when she suggested Torrance -- or was it Lomita? -- as our Christmas photo destination.

PARENTHETICAL SNEAKY-BASTARD THOUGHT: Yes, sweets, I know you're looking at my site. That's why I have Sitemeter. It knows when you've been sleeping, it knows when you're, wait, that's part of the extra-deluxe version I don't get 'cause I'm cheap....

These are pics I took back in December, 2005* in San Marino, where they light up the trees and keep the house decorations to a minimum...

I didn't get over to Altadena on that trip, where some of the denizens really get into the all-out, put-up-a lot-of lights-for-Santa bit.

Do I think the Torrance (or Lomita) display was way cooler? Damn skippy I do!

But maybe that's because in 2005 I froze my nalgas off, alone, to try to spread some Christmas cheer, and this year I had a dear friend as a companion.

Still, I enjoyed looking at the trees.

But the old dog can still learn a new trick or two....

* For a journal in another space, mind you.

Christmas light show -- part 2

We were told that the whole show in this neighborhood is installed and fully lit the day after Thanksgiving. While in my Grinch-ness I'd rather the folks waited a bit, there's no doubt that they helped provide Christmas bonuses to the Department of Water and Power...

Santas abounded, of course. Some were the traditional sort, delivering their prezzies the traditional way...

While at least one seemed to have got the hang (so to speak) of more modern forms of delivery...

Not all the decorations were secular, devoted to what Stan Freberg famously called "keeping the "X" in Christmas." This house had an angel watching over its driveway (or perhaps over the shiny new fully-loaded Ford F-150 pickup I cropped out of the image)...

There was a manger scene, too. I know my favorite chronicler of life in Charleston would have pointed out that the baby Jesus was not, according to all accounts, born prematurely and thus should not have yet made his appearance, but that seems to be the way of modern manger displays...

The best part of the show -- at least in my view -- is yet to come, and will be in the final chapter....

Christmas light show -- part 1

So there we were, in this decidedly upscale neighborhood in Torrance -- or was it Lomita? -- where, each year, the residents go all-out on the Christmas lights and ornaments. My friend H. claims it's a "well known" ritual, but somehow I've never heard of it. Maybe it's "well known" to her because she lived in Torrance -- or was it Lomita? -- for a while.

Never mind. The first thing one sees while driving in a long queue of cars -- most of which have their headlights off, thank goodness -- is lights. Lights in the trees, lights on and around the houses. H. said it reminded her of Disneyland. I liked this better than Disneyland; it was free, for starters, and there was no commercial pimpage for the Mouse's latest movies...

A lot of people seem to tour the neighborhood by car, but the only way to really take it all in and enjoy it to the maximum is walk. That way, you can enjoy the show from a closer perspective.

Some of the decorations were almost traditional...

A few went the cartoon-character route, such as this "Peanuts" display. Behind the open fire on the porch, the homeowner and his dog sat watching the passers-by, while his sound system played Vince Guaraldi's tunes from the long-ago Peanuts Christmas TV special...

And of course the Simpsons were out on a lawn...

Judging by the sheer scope of the display, which runs for several blocks, it seems likely some outside company comes along and does the heavy decorating work. I should not like that on principle, but it doesn't matter. The effect is overwhelming. Like Disneyland....

Sadly, the photos can't convey the scope of the whole thing. Or maybe I need to go for a major equipment upgrade.

But I have plenty more, and some of them may be able to get the point across better, even if only by emphasizing the number of homes that participated.

And there's no way photos can give you the sense of enjoyment (contentment, maybe) that comes from being around a mass of humanity in happy-holiday mode and sharing the experience with a good friend.

More ahead....

And so...

...I'm feeling a bit grumpy and peevish -- that is, normal -- this morning. Heck, I even took this quiz and scored a nice, round 22 on it. Thought I'd do better. Must practice....

But last night was a different story. I have a neighbor who is a superb photographer; I suggested a holiday-themed nighttime photo safari to her and, after a couple of false starts (weather and schedule problems) we finally went off to give it a try last night.

It was cold. I mean boo-coo cold. I broke out my second-warmest parka and boots I acquired for a trip to Alaska many years ago, and she bundled up as well. And off we went.

She rejected my suggested locations as being "too far away" (understandably) and proposed someplace closer. Though not even 15 miles from here, it was an area I simply don't know, she couldn't remember exactly where our destination was, and we wandered around for a bit before getting there.

PARENTHETICAL SO-MUCH-FOR-STEREOTYPES NOTE: I think I shocked her a bit when I actually asked directions of a native. I'm a pro at getting lost, and long ago learned both to ask and not rely totally on people who might/should know where a given place is and how to get there.

I never quite trust people who tell me what they think is worth photography. If I haven't seen it, I reserve judgment. She was right; oh, boy, was she right! We ditched the car, grabbed our cameras and set out on foot.

Despite the fact that my camera decided to play silly-buggers, (a) using up one set of batteries and (b) claiming my back-up batteries were no good, I managed to squeeze off a bunch of images before we packed it in.

After some clean-up work on them, I will be posting quite a few pictures over the next couple of days.

It was a beautiful evening, to say the least. The pictures won't do it justice, but I'm hoping you'll like 'em.

Later, we hung out on the roof of my building with a six-pack of Tsingtao. It was cold and clear, but somehow warm.

Altogether, a good evening, thanks in large part to H., who is an excellent companion.

I almost started feeling a little Christmas spirit...

Now, if I can just up my score on that quiz a bit....

Friday, December 21, 2007

I'm really trying... work up some kind of holiday cheer. I'm telling the truth, so help me, Bing Crosby.

That explains a few of the recent posts. I keep thinking if I just go along passing along the cheer, it'll somehow work a little magic on me.


Even played some Christmas music. But that has the opposite effect from what's desired. Diana Krall may sing as if the only thing missing from her seasonal happiness is having me there with her, but she -- like a couple of those women who have expressed such sentiments to me more directly in the past -- is only in it for the money, or to please an audience to which I do not belong.

I've heard all the ads, too. Sorry, advertisers; not buying anyone a Lexus. Nor will I be stopping in at the big downtown jewelery center to stock up on diamonds. Cripes, I haven't even got anyone around who'd be delighted by a gift from Home Depot.

And if I did, couldn't afford such nonsense anyway.

Doing the "Santa" act is what Christmas is all about for me, anyway. Not necessarily big gifts, because sometimes the hippest things to lay on people are the small, thoughtful things you've spent hours choosing.

Believe it or not, if I could be Santa this year, no one I know would get lumps of coal in their stockings. At most, I would try to give one or two people the gift of thoughtfulness, since it's clear such a thing in in short supply in their lives. Nothing painful, you know. Just an awareness that they have contributed to my own Dark Christmas, which they did not need to do.

In one instance, I might "gift" someone with painful, debilitating loneliness, just the same as mine. But, knowing me, I'd take it back fairly quickly. No one deserves that.

I know, all too well, that the "real" Santa won't stop by here until his goodie bag is well and truly emptied. In fact, I suspect he'll sneak through the window -- no chimney here -- just to take a long pull from my bottle of Jim Beam before he heads the reindeer back to the stable.

It's been like that for longer than I care to admit.

I do want to cheer up. In fact, I have something planned for this evening that might help me fill this journal with happy ho-ho-ho stuff through the 25th.

There are so many people who well and truly deserve a hefty dose of Christmas joy, and I want to kick a little into the mix if I can.

This can be the cruelest time of year, as I know too well.

But if I can do anything about it, it won't be so for others....

I've said it before...

...just about 12 months ago, in fact.

I was in the early stages of a miserable Christmas "holiday." Funny, it's just about the same this year. Maybe a little worse, in fact, despite the best efforts of a couple of people.

But some things don't change, and my choice for favorite Christmas song of 2007 is also my favorite from 2006, 2005, and so on.

It was composed by the brilliant Tom Lehrer, who was also responsible for such enduring hits as "I Got it From Agnes," "The Old Dope Peddler" and "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park."

It's not so much the tune -- which, like so many Lehrer melodies, is well-crafted but not, on its own, memorable -- but the lyrics which deliver a message as timely as it was when written back in the 1950s.

Which is why I post them, once again, here.

Christmas time is here, by golly,
Disapproval would be folly.
Deck the halls with hunks of holly,
Fill the cup and don't say when.

Kill the turkeys, ducks and chickens,
Mix the punch, drag out the Dickens.
Even though the prospect sickens,
Brother, here we go again.

On Christmas Day you can't get sore,
Your fellow man you must adore.
There's time to rob him all the more
The other three hundred and sixty-four.

Relations, sparing no expense'll
Send some useless old utensil,
Or a matching pen and pencil.
("Just the thing I need, how nice!")

It doesn't matter how sincere it is,
Nor how heart felt the spirit,
Sentiment will not endear it,
What's important is the price.

Hark, the Herald Tribune sings,
Advertising wondrous things.
God rest ye merry merchants,
May ye make the Yuletide pay.
Angels we have heard on high,
Tell us to go out and buy!

So, let the raucous sleigh bells jingle,
Hail our dear old friend Kris Kringle,
Driving his reindeer across the sky.
Don't stand underneath when they fly by!

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Yes! Thanks to a well-connected source, I am able to bring you the first look at the 2008 Hooters calendar! Lots of au naturel photos this year; not a tight t-shirt or pair of skimpy shorts in the lot!

Damn...some of 'em have big, ummmm, eyes, no?

A tip o' the hat to: J. M.

A note from Down Under... my email box this morning offered up a new take on a familiar Christmas song. It is apparently from some local comedy show, though I'm not there and have no idea what it's all about.

I like the song, though...


Our special guests this week are boy wonder Hamish Blake, ARIA award winner Missy Higgins, interviewer extraordinaire Andrew Denton and razzle dazzle dancer Rhonda Burchmore.

This week’s show features a star studded choir bringing down the house with a Specky version of ‘Winter Wonderland’ and an appearance by none other than the man himself, Santa. Don’t miss A Very Specky Christmas Special this Sunday at 7:30pm…it’s time to find out who’s been naughty or nice.

A Very Specky Winter Wonderland

Cricket’s on, are you listening
On my brow, sweat is glistening
Crackin a beer, we’re glad to be here
Christmas in a summer wonderland

Come around, bring your cossies
And some spray for the mozzies
We’re havin a lark
in the caravan park
Living in a summer wonderland

In the afternoon we’ll have a barbie
Even in a total fire ban

Marinate the bangers with a stubbie
And give a glass of sherry to your nan

Later on, we'll perspire,
As the temperature gets higher
(Santa) looks out of sorts
He should be in shorts
Christmas in a summer wonderland.

Wake-up calls...

...or, to be precise, wake-up emails.

One was from a client who buys one story each month. The are publishing a "special issue" of their magazine next month, and my regular feature won't appear.

The other let me know a large-ish story I wrote under some pressure to get it done speedily has been delayed for one, maybe two, issues.

In plain English, that means I won't see checks for those articles for a while. Possibly a long while.

Thanks, people. You brought a dose of holiday cheer to my day.

I really love trying to explain to my creditors -- a couple of whom are getting downright testy -- that I'm working, but the payoff will be delayed. Again. Somehow, the talent for making them understand and accept continues to elude me.

How long do my clients think they will be able to depend on me if I can't afford to be here?

Merry friggin' Christmas.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Today's out-for-a-walk photo...

...requires no explanation...

PARENTHETICAL I'M-NOT-THE-ONLY-PERSON-WHO-PHOTOGRAPHS-KITTYCATS NOTE: There is a major-league cool cat photo I really, really dig here.

Ain't this Charmin... reported here, with photos, a "flushing bride" will be getting married in New York City today while wearing a gown made of toilet paper.


When Jennifer Cannon dreamt of her fairytale wedding, she probably imagined she would be wearing a gorgeous white dress. What she didn't expect was that it would be made from toilet roll.

The bride and her fiancee Doy Nichols from Lexington, Kentucky, plan to get hitched today at the temporary Charmin public restroom in Times Square, New York.

Her gown is fashioned from glue, tape and Charmin Ultra Soft and Ultra Strong toilet tissue. However, with a sculpted bodice, frilly cap-sleeves and bow, it is surprisingly elegant.

The ceremony has been sponsored by toilet paper company Charmin, while the intricately detailed dress was designed by Hanah Kim, winner of the 2007 Toilet Paper Wedding Dress Contest, sponsored by

The Reverend Debra, 50, from New York, will be officiating. She describes herself on her website as "NOT what your Grandparents ordered!" and is pictured in a plunging pink top.

But the bride hasn't completely lost her marbles. Charmin have paid for the couple's wedding ceremony, all expense paid airline flights, hotel, and a honeymoon package at Destination Kohler in Kohler, Wisconsin.

I can think of one or two people for whom this idea is perfect: low-cost and, thanks to the ready availability of colored toilet paper, as good for a second, third or fourth marriage as for the first.

What the story fails to mention -- perhaps out of delicacy -- is that Kohler, WI is best known for the Kohler Co., a giant producer of plumbing fixtures and bathtubs. And, of course, toilets.

In fact, had their honeymoon been set for the sumptuous American Club in Kohler, which just happens to be owned by the Kohler Co., they would be right across the street from the bathtub/toilet plant, and right next door to the Kohler museum, home to a giant collection of old and new bathroom fixtures.

I know. I've stayed there.

But never with a bride, garbed in toilet paper or otherwise.

My hat's off to the (presumably) happy couple. I don't think I'd have the nerve to do this.

They probably feel as if they're really on a roll right about now....

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

In an attempt to maintain my dwindling sanity...

...I sat outside staring at the rain falling on the pool.

And took a picture...

The attempt doesn't seem to be working.

Rain is on its way... fact, in the hour between the time this photo was taken and now, it has arrived. Los Angeles is in a state of panic...

Don't know why I got sidetracked. I was more interested in the realization that the world's premier chronicler of sidewalk scratchings has never, to my knowledge, taken notice of official markings on sidewalks...

Hey, lookit me! I'm a trendsetter...

I was reluctant to post this...

...because the pain remains too fresh, too intense.

The worst thing about Christmas:

For the first time in 18 years, I will be absolutely, 100% alone. Hobbes won't be here to help me maintain even a minimal facade of happiness...

Obviously, he knew nothing about Christmas. What he did know was he got gifts (catnip mice, noisy toys he could chase around the place, shiny things he could stare at), a helping of fresh-cooked turkey, ham, or roast beef, and a whole lot of attention.

In return, he loved me. That was as good a present as any I've ever received.

I can't go on with this. But I had to say it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Only nine more days...

...and the Ghost of Christmas Future will be the Ghost of Christmas Past.

It's not really as if I want to kick the holiday shovel out of anyone's hand. Really.

Never think I am upset with anyone who has a wonderful Christmas, hell no. In fact, I'll be the one out in the snow -- so to speak; no snow here Where The Ghetto Meets The Sea, though we might have rain tomorrow -- applauding you and yours with absolute sincerity as you drink your eggnog, sing carols and open presents.

For more years than I care to count, I have either had no one around with whom to share the joys of the season or have been without the wherewithal to treat them as I wished. Or both, like this year.

I'm not in a mood to crash anyone's party. I've had an invitation or two in recent times that had an air of pity about it, and that's almost as difficult to bear as no invitations at all.

What makes matters worse, of course, is that those with real jobs -- writing and signing checks, for example -- seem to get a hell of a lot of days off this time of year. What the hell; doesn't matter if their Big Corporation is a few days or weeks late in making payments, does it?

But the worst thing of all is this: I want to be joyful, want to feel the Christmas spirit.

But it's not happening.

PARENTHETICAL I'M-NOT-TOTALLY-PARANOID-ABOUT-BEING-ABANDONED THOUGHT: I have my angels. Few in number, but no less cherished for that. The gifts and cards -- a couple more of the latter will be shown when I have daylight in which to shoot them -- have kept me from total despair, as did an unsolicited, incredibly heartwarming note I received today.

All I can say is this: if you are blessed with any or all of the traditional holiday experiences -- looking into the eyes of, and sharing a gentle kiss with, your love on Christmas Eve, having family and friends with whom to gather, and the rest -- never, ever take them for granted.

So far as I know, I never have done that, but they are gone anyway. I would like to believe I might have some or all of them next Christmas, but that's 373 days away, and since I thought the same last year, and the year before, my hopes are not high.

But I can dream. And wish all of you the beauty of the holiday that will bypass me again this year.

I still believe in Santa Claus. I just tell myself he's too busy making deliveries to good people to have time to stop here.

Mindless & easily amused

That's my mental state this morning.

Don't remind me: I should be working right now. That has become so difficult that I'm almost beyond caring. Perhaps after I brew up some tea, I'll be more willing -- and able -- to do what I have to do.

If you need some distraction -- and who the hell doesn't? -- I suggest you click this little link to the BBC website and have a little fun.

Let me know how you do. I'll confess discuss my results when a few of you have owned up....

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Banging my head against the wall...

...again. As usual, you might say.

And you'd be right.

I've been flailing away at work today, with spectacularly poor results. What it comes down to -- and yes, I've said this before -- is that I simply no longer give a damn about what I'm doing.

The article I will deliver tomorrow is one for which I receive very little money. But I receive it regularly, which puts this client light-years ahead of the rest. But even that knowledge doesn't help all the time.

I got a call today from D., the photographer, whose girlfriend convinced him they absolutely had to go to Seattle, for which he dropped a couple of projects we were doing. He was using his connections (which, in some areas, are better than mine) to line up replacement subjects for the story I wasted hours on last week, and which we could have gotten published speedily had all worked out.

The fact that his devotion to his girlfriend (who pays many of their bills, since his income is as pathetic as mine) pushed me deeper into the hole meant nothing to him. He was jabbering away about all the stories we could do up there. Except that the weather is bad, so he can't do any publishable photos. "We can come up here and do them later," he said.

Later is one of those words that can drive me into a rage. What I need is work -- and payments -- now. I am sick unto death of the "I'll pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today" syndrome...especially since it never works for me.

Okay, I know I'm getting into the "oh, poor me" shtick again, but so be it. This is my life, people, and it daily moves farther away from anything I have dreamt of or even worked for.

If I had to name one Christmas wish, it would be a chance to wake up one morning feeling secure. To know that I have a day ahead without people bugging me. I know there's always the risk of being skooshed by a truck, swallowed up by a tidal wave, or being abducted by aliens, but those hold no terror for me. Everyday things most people need not be bothered by keep me in a constant state of fear.

Tomorrow I return to yet another story that has required more of me than it is worth. I'll see a check for it in March, probably. Or April.

I keep doing this stuff, even though the effort seems more futile by the day.


PARENTHETICAL TOTALLY UNRELATED THOUGHT #1: I spent a little time working on my piano, trying to fix the two keys and one pedal that don't work. I'll have to find a place that supplies piano hardware to get replacements for some odd-looking parts. I also need to think about ordering new hammers at some point...I'm sorry I looked.

PARENTHETICAL TOTALLY UNRELATED THOUGHT #2: Got an email from R. after I sent him a photo of the Mexican Coke bottle similar to the one I posted here yesterday and advised him of the price I paid per bottle. His reply consisted of two words: one verb, one pronoun.

About last night...

...when I got a call from one of my neighbors. She was all dolled up to attend a fancy Christmas party, and asked if I would take some pictures of her and D., her boyfriend (who also has an apartment in the building). So I went to yet another neighbor's apartment, camera in hand, to capture images of the Happy Couple.

She was no problem, having an above-average AQ (Attractiveness Quotient). But her boyfriend, who is a reasonably good-looking dude, has a bad habit of getting blitzed -- almost every evening -- and it shows in photos. His face gets red, his smiles get, well, strange and his attention span shortens appreciably. It was not fun. And I hope she drove to the party.

I didn't have any better luck getting a picture of the cat who lives in the apartment. She wasn't drunk, but was just being a cat...

This got me thinking about the whole Christmas Party scene. This may be the first year when I will not be at any "holiday" festivities, and I have mixed feelings about that.

Such shindigs are generally couples-oriented events, and of course I am not half of a couple. It's not so much that others actively make the single person feel unwanted, but there are always awkward moments when you are the odd number.

I won't say I've never had fun at such parties. A few past corporate-type gatherings have been a blast, mainly because the people there were both friends and respected colleagues; the respect and friendliness were reciprocal.

On the other hand, the few instances of client-party attendance have been uniformly awful. The one that got me out of attending those was given by a well-known magazine which (apparently reluctantly) extended an invite to me, a freelance, and the woman I was then involved with. We sat, alone and ignored, munching tasteless hors d'oeuvres while the "family" members (staff) all separated into small, laughing bunches, roughly equivalent to the way the divided themselves up at the office. After a few fruitless tries at penetrating these hermetically sealed groups, we left. I was mortified.

Maybe 10 years ago, I set my all-time Christmas party record, attending something like nine gatherings in a two-week period. Six were in L.A., one was in Norway and the others were in New York City and Detroit. One was exceptionally nice (guess which!), and the others were bearable if not memorable.

Like all the rest, none of them turned into drunk-a-thons or hit-on-people events. Boisterous at times, yes, but nothing one would wish to forget the next day.

Why do I mention all this? I dunno; guess it's because the subject has been bugging me since the invitations started to not materialize this year.

And I really don't know how I feel about the whole thing. Sad, in a way, but also somewhat relieved not to have to deal with the unpleasant aspects.

What I really want is to be able to throw a Christmas party of my own, related to "business" only by the fact that a few people from that side of my life would be welcome, complete with tree, gifts, music, good food and much enjoyment.

Someday, maybe....

I burned a disc of the photos of my neighbors this morning. When either of them wakes up, I'll drop it off.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Big score... the 99-Cent Store!

The story begins last week, when my buddy R. was telling me he had recently sampled the best Coca-Cola he could remember. It was bottled in Mexico, and was sometimes available in the "ethnic" section of a store maybe 30 minutes' drive from Milwaukee.

This set me to thinking: I live one hell of a lot closer to Mexico than he does, so I ought to be able to find it, ?

What I did not expect was to see cases of the stuff at the local 99-Cent Store today. Never saw them before, and I'm a regular customer of the place. I bought a couple (two for $0.99) and popped one when I got home.

Mmmmm. Tasty!

What's the secret? The hecho en Mexico version does not contain high-fructose corn syrup -- cane sugar is used instead -- or any of the preservatives U.S. Coca-Cola is cut with.

In short, it tastes exactly like the Coke I remember from my days as a yoot. Like before most of y'all were born.

Just got back from a return run to buy a bunch more....

Now I'm wondering just how much R. will shell out -- plus shipping and handling, of course -- for a six-pack or two?

Friday, December 14, 2007

A plea to abolish nighttime...

..because that's when all the bad stuff comes calling.

As long as the sun is out, I can maintain. I mean, I might actually see, and if lucky, talk to real, human-type people. But when night falls, it's just me and, well, me.

It wasn't always thus. When I had a love who lived across the country, I could depend on a 7:00 p.m. call. Every night. Either she'd call me, or I'd call her. We would talk about our days and say all the things to each other we said while together. I didn't feel alone at all, and I knew each day brought us closer to being together, there or here.

Later, when I had a love who lived not so far away (even in the same time zone), I...well, never mind that. Not going there.

Nowadays, all that's left are memories and a cold, empty pad. Some nights -- when I must -- I work, other times I read. I look forward to the earliest moment I can go to bed and not wake up at 4:00 a.m. to stare at the ceiling until it's really time to start a new day.

PARENTHETICAL THANKS-AGAIN-TO-THE-FRIEND-WHO-GAVE-ME-THE-KEYBOARD THOUGHT: Music helps. Boy, does it help. I have been pecking away this evening, and a few random bits of information are starting to come back. Not enough, of course, but each correctly picked-out melody, each interesting chord progression, makes me feel a bit better. The effect is cumulative.

I dislike cooking anyway, but I despise cooking for one, despise not having anyone to share kitchen duties -- which always left me washing dishes after -- and tend to simply slap "meals" together.

By and large, my neighbors are no help. They tend to use evenings to get wasted (via major excesses of doobage or alcohol) and, while I am far from immune to the latter temptation, I don't need their help to ratchet it up. Amazing, because they invariably have companionship.

I guess you're never really satisfied with what you have.

No, that's a miserable lie. I was deliriously happy with what I had during two previous spans of time. Does my lack of desire to shop around, to sample other treats, make me weird? One of my serious encounters -- two, if you count my ex-wife -- make me think so. But my heart and my personal beliefs tell me "no."

What I do know is that I have grown to dislike and fear the night, have come to do whatever I can to rush it by and hope for something better when the sun rises again.

In this mood, I dare not listen to Diana Krall, Jim.

Back to the other keyboard.


...I'm ready to trim my fingernails with a chainsaw. Right down to the second knuckles.

The damn things just don't want to follow my mental commands.

I'm very grateful to the inventor of headphones.

O, Christmas...


Yes, a genuine Christmas card arrived in the mail today from the delightful Missi...

Entirely appropriate for her, too, as it combines her appreciation for/addiction to ground-up baked beans dissolved in hot water and her nifty sense of humor. The message inside was warm and sweet, also appropriate.

Two gifts and a Christmas card, all unexpected, all very much appreciated.

Some people really make me smile.

Time to cut up the government's credit cards...

...because if anyone takes a realistic look at the way politicians spend, the only conclusion must be that taxpayers are doomed.

All of the Democrats who want to be president have made it clear they intend to increase taxes. Of course they'll only go after those lousy rich bastards; easy for Hillary Clinton to say, because she and Bubba already have their loot in hand....

On the other hand, many of the Republican presidential wannabes claim they want to lower taxes. But they have proven to be just as wasteful and financially profligate, so that will simply raise the national debt to even more catastrophic levels.

On a more local level, the numbers are awful, but slightly more comprehensible. California is 14 billion scoots in the red this year, but the state government is resisting The Governator's call to impose spending cuts. Nope, they want to raise taxes. In line for such treatment are such things as internet usage and car purchases (which tax was responsible for the removal of the previous governor from office). There are also plans afoot to turn freeway carpool lanes (a stupid idea paid for by tax dollars) to toll lanes.

The leader of the we-must-raise-taxes forces in California is one Fabian Nunez, a member of the state assembly from Los Angeles. Our local rag, which has never met a tax -- or illegal alien aid program -- it didn't love, said this (among other things) about Nunez: "...tens of thousands of dollars in spending by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) from his political fund. His expenditures included a $3,199 stay at Hotel Parco in Rome, $5,149 for a "meeting" at a wine shop in the Bordeaux region of France, and $2,562 for two purchases of "office expenses" at Louis Vuitton in Paris."

Clearly not what you'd consider a role model for financial probity.

Locally and nationally, leaving aside such trivial political tax-dollar spending as $1 million for a "Woodstock Museum," the elected wastrels have remarkably similar aspirations:

-- More money for "social" -- e.g. giveaway -- programs;
-- open borders, and many kinds of financial aid for illegal aliens;
-- huge increases in foreign aid to unfriendly nations;
-- a bailout for people who bought houses they couldn't afford;
-- lots of parks, bridges and buildings with politicians' names on them;
-- many more government agencies, with staff increases to match;
-- tax breaks and handouts for the politically connected;
-- "free" health care for everyone.

I may be strange, but when I'm out of money -- like now, for example -- I stop spending except for essentials. A lot of people do that.

And I bitterly resent elected hacks telling me I must sacrifice for the well-being of others, many of whom are doing better than I am. Not only do they want me and all of us to pay the bills for welfare-suckers* and people who have no right to be in this country, but they also want us to pay for such things as the $16,000 Nancy Pelosi spent on flowers for her office this year, and her government-owned jet for those dozens of "necessary" trips she takes.

I'm not picking on Pelosi alone. She is no worse than the majority of politicians.

Not long ago, I suggested that politicians be held personally liable for the debt they rack up on wasteful, self-serving matters. I still believe that would be a good thing.

The point is this: communism collapsed in large part because it was economically unworkable. Thanks to the shitweasels in our government, our democracy may soon follow suit for the same reason.

At some point you cannot buy what you cannot pay for. And you cannot extort money from tax people who are on the edge of poverty. Even "the rich" will become poor if you rob them often enough.

Realistically, the day of reckoning is here. We should not lean on government for everything, you know; among other things, that gives politicians more and more power over us.

But the national and state governments are so hung up on their money jones that they refuse to see the catastrophe ahead.

* As opposed to those who genuinely need some assistance, whom I'm happy to help as much as I can.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I'm glad you're not here...

...because it would be too damn uncomfortable for me.

I've had what might be called a "bad day." I've had a lot of those lately. If you consider the better part of three years "lately."

"Good days" are rare, unexpected and generally beyond my comprehension.

And I don't know whom I would want -- or trust -- to be around me right now. I once thought I did, but I was mistaken. No doubt most of you have someone to whom you can turn in rough times; at least I hope you do.

Some time ago, I felt I was among you. I was wrong. I thought I had found someone who knew what it was like to have bad days, and who appreciated support and love. But when it got down to the nitty-gritty, all she wanted was someone to support her, and to hell with worrying about the rough stuff that happens to others. Me, for example.

It's pure hell being alone.

This is where I think I'll end this. No sense in looking for what I can't have. And it makes no sense telling you how much it hurts.

And if you find this incomprehensible, I'm happy for you.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Let's not have Christmas...

...and say we did, okay?

I'm not whining about the poverty that keeps me from flooding my wonderful friends with gifts. Nor am I talking about the sure knowledge that I will be, as has been the case for so many years, alone on Dec. 25th. I mean, I've gotten my presents, and they are so much better than I could have hoped.

Nope, this is different. What I'm talking about is the simple fact that my emotions, even in the happiest of Christmas seasons, are right on the surface for all to see, and sometimes I get pretty wrought up without warning.

PARENTHETICAL ALWAYS-A-SILVER-LINING THOUGHT: Since there won't be anyone around to see them, it matters not at all, I guess.

A perfect example: I was talking to my musician friend R. today. After we had gone through our "normal" range of topics, we started to talk about Christmas music. I pointed out that (a) I refuse to listen to any before about December 20th, and (b) almost never buy albums of such music. After all, they're only good for a week or two, tops, and sit on the shelves for 11-plus months.

Without warning, he said "listen to this" and cued up a track of Diana Krall singing Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song."

Sheesh, pal, why not just slice open one or two of my arteries?

I've said it before. Diana Krall is, in my estimation, the closest thing to a perfect female vocalist this planet has yet produced. Her voice in unearthly; pure, never forced and always on pitch. I have yet to find a single point in her style worth criticism, no matter what tune -- or in what style -- she happens to be singing.

And she is very, very easy on the eyes.

Even more, that particular song is, as far as I'm concerned, the ultimate popular Christmas song. It's not the lyrics, particularly; they're good, maybe not great. But the melody and harmonic structure achieve greatness. It can be performed emotionally (as Krall does) or up-tempo jazzy.

The combination of performer and song was enough to bring tears to my eyes. And did.

PARENTHETICAL NO-ACCOUNTING-FOR-TASTE NOTE: R. believes Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time is Here," written some years go for a "Peanuts" animated Christmas show, is the best contemporary Christmas song. I'd put it right below Mel's work. Doesn't matter, though, because Krall covers both tunes on the CD. Perfectly.

I didn't have this CD -- I said I don't buy Christmas records often, did I not? -- but, as of late this afternoon, I do. On a five-star rating chart, I give it six stars.

But I am very much afraid that, come Christmas Eve, listening to it is going to break me apart completely.

It's all very complex, and I refuse to detail all the elements that dig so deeply this time of year. They involve visions of the holiday partially seen in the past, and others that have so far existed only in my imagination. Hearing this music -- and a select few recordings -- brings on too strong a contrast between what I have (and am) and what I want.

Some time after January 1, I'll be fine. Really.

Until then, it's going to be a rough emotional ride.

Before I was interrupted... the delightful news reported below, I found this image on one of my favorite sites.

Taken in China, it pretty well sums up the attitude of a couple of women I love. Especially the last one...

Even now, I find it pretty hard to bear....

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Keyed up!

That would be me, thanks to a couple of friends.

It has been 10 years since I seriously laid fingers on a keyboard. At a time of financial turmoil, I had to sell off my Hammond. Since then, the fingers and instincts have atrophied.

That hurt. Oh, did it hurt. I would have to say that the lack of music-making gear was more painful than anything else this side of, well, companionship.

Today, I'm back in the game.

My neighbor, the mad piano player, is moving out. He and his wife offered me their acoustic piano, which at first I wasn't thrilled about taking. I mean, who wants everyone in the damn building to know whatever musical talent I may have had has faded away. I didn't want to subject everyone to endless scales and chord progressions.

At one time, I didn't care who heard me. I could play back then.

But when a great friend, a talented musician in his own right, offered to send me one of his electronic keyboards -- which I can play while wearing headphones -- I decided I might as well have both.

As of today, I do...

No one will hear me for a while. I can practice as long as I want, when I want, and not bug anyone.

And when (if?) the chops come back, I can sit down to the 88 and make loud noises.

I'm not a pianist, not at all. But the piano is the best instrument for making the fingers work. In time, I'll start playing the organ again. Not, however, until I can master the single keyboard.

When the two keyboards arrived, I hustled down to the garage and hauled out my sheet music and exercise books.

Now, the hard part begins.

The plan is to listen to Art Tatum until my ears fall off. Then, once I've mastered some of his licks, I'll know I'm getting somewhere.

PARENTHETICAL MUSIC-HISTORY NOTE: It is said that Tatum, who was blind, wandered into a dive one day and heard two piano players jazzing it up. He went home and practiced until he could imitate what he heard, never knowing there were two and not just one pair of hands playing.

I'm not Tatum. Never have been, never will be.

But I will get my chops back.

Tonight, I feel more alive.

That's what music will do for you.

And I feel more gratitude than I can express to these people for giving me the best gifts I could imagine, for understanding -- and sharing -- the desire to make music.

My vanishing vocabulary.

Since today was yet another day when I managed to get sweet FA* accomplished, I had lots of time to think. And one of the things I thought about was words that have been dropping away from my written and spoken vocabulary.

PARENTHETICAL JUST=SHOOT-ME-NOW-THOUGHT: I'm sure there are dozens, if not hundreds of words I no longer use. Some are "technical" terms used in my previous career, others are names of people I no longer have reason to think about. And a whole boatload of 'em probably disappeared into thin air out of plain ol' senility. But I wouldn't know about those, would I?

But the loss of one word bothers me most.

I rarely, if ever, use the word love these days, and never in the strictest definitions. Oh yes, I occasionally say "I love that!" when someone shows me something I like, and did join in a sentimental chorus of "I love you, man" (accompanied by various Revolutionary Brothers, Homeboy and other strange signs and handclasps) with some equally inebriated neighbors a few nights ago. "Patron" tequila served in quantity makes you that way....

But in the vital, important-as-breathing part of the word, I have been silent for far too long. And in the last few instances, the definition of the word was so strictly delineated that other affectionate but non-threatening words might have been substituted.

The reason, of course, is that the only time that word has been aimed at me for a very long time was the aforementioned "Patron" incident.

Part of my old-fashioned upbringing (and why should it have been different? I am old-fashioned) taught me a certain reverence for certain special words. I can honestly say, for example, that there is no one I know of whom I hate. Hate is so strong a term that I would have to make it my goal to inflict serious injuries on anyone who merited the word. Dislike, yes; despise, okay. But no hate. Except for a few situations, certain inanimate objects and boiled okra.

I have loved a few people, and still do. Some actually returned the love, and only one p*ss*d all over it.

But, once said in the most personal way, it is to me a solemn promise. I have done my best over the years to not misuse it; professing to love someone in order to get personal gain is abhorrent to me.

What that means is that I have basically been taught not to love by a couple of very unfortunate results. I'm afraid of it, now. And that's because I still love two people who claimed to have the same feelings but, for different reasons, could rip it away with as much ease as they offered it.

Me, I can't do that. Both have unclaimed deposits in my spiritual bank. As if they give a damn. Maybe it's better they don't know; one might feel compelled to take advantage if her later affairs fell apart.

This doesn't mean I no longer feel capable of loving. I know a few potential candidates, but also know none are likely to be interested. Which is, of course, their right, and I respect that.

But I know of no greater risk to health than not loving. And not being loved. Vital systems dry up and eventually stop functioning.

When strange ol' Eden Ahbez -- in his weird masterpiece, Nature Boy -- put it:

The greatest thing
you'll ever learn
Is just to love
And be loved in return

He wasn't kidding, Jim.

* Don't know the term? Ask a Brit, or maybe someone from Oz or NZ.