Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Big Wake-Up Call.

For some reason, I've been thinking today of a scene that was part of some classic World War II movies: there is an officer in a natty gray uniform and peaked cap, a virtual dead-ringer for Erich von Stroheim. He looks at another officer slumped resignedly in a chair and says "Do you haff a pistol? If zo, I suggest you draw zuh proper concloozhuns!" Blackout. Sound of gunshot....

No, I'm not thinking of even considering so drastic a step. But I am feeling more of a kinship for the failed officer in the chair. Reality is not only knocking, but it's doing its best to break down the freekin' door.

My reach has always exceeded my grasp. Like one of those amusement-park machines that has a little claw you can manipulate to pick up a toy monkey or a snow globe with a penguin in it. My few attempts with those always ended with the claw grasping air. And so it is now.

When I feel as if I'm making progress in life, something always comes along to slap me in the face with a wet fish. For example, two weeks ago I got an assignment from a former client, one with whom I enjoyed working, but that has fallen on rough times. I traveled to Utah for them, cranked out a not-bad story for them, even received a check in fairly short order. My connection there was pleased. When I not-too-subtly hinted that I was ready to do more, he informed me that, while I was at the top of the freelancer's list with them, they were still committed to doing everything possible in-house to save money. It might, he warned me, be some time before anything else came along.

I have also been working for the publishing company that I regard as being something less than ethical, simply because they offer me work. On the chance that they might pay -- eventually -- I've been writing for them. Photographer D sold them a bunch of articles on the basis of me writing the texts. All well and good, except I finally received discs of the images he shot. They are, in a word, awful. Amateurish, badly lit and in lousy locations, I can only guess that the editors didn't really look at them before giving the okay.

So, since I won't get paid unless they actually print the stories, it falls on me to talk to each editor and say, in effect, "are you sure?" I'm sure as hell not going to write word one before knowing the stuff will run. A sticky situation, to put it mildly.

All this leaves me wondering: am I ever going to get any momentum going, or is this the way it will always play out?

As of now, I'm tending to believe the latter. And if I'm going to be eternally involved in a scramble for scraps and bits and pieces from here on, I'll have to do some serious soul-searching.

After all, I've already given up -- or simply lost -- a lot that was pretty damn important to me over the years. I have readjusted my sights downward time and time again. There will come a point when that's no longer even possible, much less comfortable or desirable.

And yes, there is Something Else (isn't there always?), not related to work. I won't write about it -- it'd be nice to save at least a shred of dignity -- but I will say it is a matter of unrealistic hopes and simple inattention to what is versus what I wish could be. There's no fool like an old fool, you know.

Bah. I have lived for too long on pats on the head for my work and various other forms of intangible appreciation that don't do much to make actual everyday life more bearable.

There was a time, longer ago than I care to remember, when my major concern was whether I should actually buy myself a new Ferrari. (P.S. In a rare fit of practicality, I didn't. That was an unusually wise move for me in those days....)

Now, I'm sitting slumped in a chair, and I can hear the tap-tap of von Stroheim's boots coming down the walkway....

Thursday, September 17, 2009

7 things, with asterisks and explanations...

...and the footnote-y bits will take up much more space than the basic list!

My good friend* Mr Ballistic** suggested, in his own low-key way, that four of his friends -- including Yours Truly -- should dilate on this subject: "Seven Things I Like to do Alone."

This made me stop to think for a moment. Are there seven things (aside from certain bodily functions) I actually like to do alone?

What I quickly realized is that many, if not most, if not all of the things I like doing while flying solo -- including sleeping, showering, eating, and all activities listed below -- are also things that can be wonderfully satisfying when shared. Probably all are better with the right company around and/or involved.

I've been doing too many things alone lately*** as it is. I'd even welcome company when I'm cleaning my damn apartment, and the visitor wouldn't even have to help. These are lonely times in the Scribbler household....

But I digress. On with the list!

1. Driving. Not talking about runs to the supermarket here. Those are just necessary, and are hardly ever fun. I'm talking about long jaunts on the open road****, with a purpose and/or destination in mind or otherwise, or my occasional forays onto a race track*****;

2. Working with my hands. One of my top pleasures is making, repairing or restoring solid objects, using my own skills and an assortment of tools. No audience is required during the process;

3. Writing. There have been a few instances when I enjoyed putting words on paper while someone else was around. I know I'd feel that way again if the right person wanted to hang around during the so-called "creative process," and promised not to laugh too loudly as they perused my raw copy. But it's a perfectly satisfying thing do do -- when it is satisfying, mind you -- on one's own;

4. Music. This is an odd one. Ham that I am -- or was when I had the chops to perform in public****** -- I enjoy just laying down sounds for my very own self to appreciate. I'm more adventurous without an audience, more inclined to stop after a mistake and learn from it, rather than try to cover up;

5. Walking. A great mind-clearing exercise. I can focus my thoughts on good things******* and block out the bad. Endorphin production helps, too;

6. Reading. A really good book demands concentration. Anyone in the room distracts me******** and it seems unfair to subject either the book or the person to that;

7. Photography. When I am in full-serious mode with a camera, no one else is there anyway so far as I notice. It's just me and what I see through the lens. Of course if what I see through the lens is a person********* that changes the dynamic in a big way.

There! Got to seven**********! A good thing, too, as the "*" key is starting to emit strange little puffs of smoke; must be due to overuse....

I won't lay this "seven things" task on anyone. If you want to do it, you're on your own. I'll hunt you down and read it, though....

* and I don't mean "good friend" in the way cheap politicians do, which is "potential voter/donor" or "someone famous I've never met to whom I want to suck up," But more like "better friend than he realizes."

** makes me kinda think of "Mr Majestyk," a book/movie combo I really dug.

*** on a strictly involuntary basis!

**** day-long or longer.

***** I have been known to enjoy speed-loving company in the latter case, and it's also jolly good fun to turn a hapless passenger's face bright green! I could tell some stories....

****** yes, I actually did that. But it has been 10-plus years, and assuming I can one day get back in the musical saddle, is a fair way in to the distant future.

******* real or imagined.

******** as if I would complain if subjected to such distraction again!

********* I have a short list of potential human subjects still to cover photographically.

********** well, ten, if you count the three things mentioned earlier in this post.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I never get the fun jobs!

But then, I'm not a Canadian scientist.

Here's the headline plus lede, for those of you who aren't inclined to click on the above link (which now works) to the UK Telegraph story:

Zombies would most likely wipe out humanity if they really existed, claim scientists

Civilisation would most likely be finished in the event of a zombie outbreak, claim Canadian mathematicians who have calculated the possible devastation caused by an attack by the fictional monsters.

Put this in the "if my aunt had wheels, she'd be a tea tray" file....

Monday, August 17, 2009

Writing about writing..., sadly, more interesting to me than the actual act of writing at the moment.

I do have some assignments that need to be done. Unfortunately, all are for the client is who rather cavalier about paying. We have discussed this issue, and the results have been, at best, inconclusive.

There were times when having a slow-pay client wasn't as unpleasant as it is today. I had others who were pretty speedy with the remuneration; they kept me afloat while I waited for these yobs to fork over the spondulix. Nowadays, the others are gone -- out of business, doing all work in-house or otherwise -- and the waiting gets intolerable, or worse. As it did during the past few hellish months.

But that's not the real issue on my mind right now. What bugs me is that I am singularly unenthusiastic about the articles I have agreed to write. For one reason or another, dredging up enthusiasm for them just isn't on.

That can be dealt with in two ways: You can just bash out the copy, hoping the editor won't notice or will be so desperate for words that they will push it on through. Or, you can do what I seem to do, which is to fret like crazy over the words, spending far too much time vetting your copy to make sure no one will know that you are totally unimpressed with the subject at hand.

Option Two is of course good for the work. Any traces of disgust, boredom or lack of attention to detail are weeded out, replaced with something more suitable. Then, it's time to make sure that the replacement words are still honest about the subject itself.

This happens to be a painful experience. It takes time, as I said; more than the eventual check will cover. It can cause a certain amount of inner-directed anger as well in which one beats oneself over the head for a) writing such swill in the first place and b) for giving a damn when it's possible no one else will.

It works, anyway. One editor was thrilled by the articles I sent in when I was just beginning to revive myself after the lowest point in my recent travails. Between them, they consumed more of my time than any four stories I enjoy doing, most of it spent rewriting and polishing. And polishing the polished bits again. If I hadn't been hurting for coin I would have turned both down.

Still, it's necessary to work, and writing these uninteresting (to me) pieces is not the worst thing that can happen. So I'm not really complaining. Much, anyway.

Mainly, it's another case of untrained writer never having been taught how to race through crap material and leave the impression that he cared without spending an ungodly amount of time at the task.

I'll smile when the checks arrive, though. Which had better be pretty soon.

And if/when I start getting back into the kinds of writing I genuinely enjoy, I will drop these hack articles like the proverbial hot potato. I keep reminding myself of that. It is one of the few things that helps me stay sane (or what passes for "sane" in my world) these days.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

What to write?

That's my dilemma.

I don't want to write about what has happened in the last few months. Hell, I don't want to think about it. Too much pain there to relive when things have improved only slightly.

Don't have anything fun to write about, so can't share anything in the way of good times with y'all. Yes, I have enjoyed a few minutes talking with good friends, but those were either personal or, in the case of a long call from a musician friend yesterday, somewhat irrelevant to my current reality.

I have no intention of writing about politics. I have come to believe that the best thing for all of us would be to ship all active politicians, from the current resident at the White House right down to local city council members, off to some remote and inescapable desert island, give them piles of Monopoly money, and let them jabber at each other like parrots in palm trees. There, they can think they are doing something, while not hurting real people.

News? Don't make me laugh. Nothing to say there, either.

An online "Magic 8 Ball" told me I will get what my heart desires most. That's the most positive affirmation I've gotten in a long time.

So you can see it basically is no fun being me right now. I can barely maintain my optimistic, capable, strong facade for trying to increase my workload (and thus, income), and haven't enough in reserve to display it here.

Sic semper Scribbler, as John Wilkes Booth didn't say.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


...are pretty shaky here.

They have been worse. A lot worse. And I am talking about a matter of a few days/weeks ago.

Someday I might write about some of that. Or maybe not.

For now, I only have time to say I'm here, alive, in reasonable physical (if not mental) health, and for those of you who have my phone number, it's working and hasn't changed.

I appreciate the concern shown by my friends, believe me.

More later.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

This can stop now... yet another day goes by in a kind of blur that has nothing to do with artificial mood-altering items.

It was a nothing day. It seems boring and repetitive to say no money came in and no responses were received regarding numerous inquiries about work, but that's how it was.

What bothers me more than a little is that I felt nothing when I thought about my rapidly deteriorating situation today. No anger, no resolve to do something -- as if, at this point, there is anything I can do -- or anything of the sort. All I feel is a kind of resignation (mixed with a little curiosity) about what happens next.

One way or another, this miserable situation must come to an end, and soon. Right now the chances of a positive outcome aren't looking good.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sundays are no longer my friend.

There was a time when I didn't mind Sundays. They were days off, and even if work awaited on Monday, it was a kind of known quantity, sometimes satisfying, sometimes frustrating, but generally predictable. I knew what I had, and if not ideal, it was at least tolerable.

Later, Sundays became work days. I'd write, or attend work-related events. Not ideal, of course, but again predictable.

Now, Sundays are like Saturdays. As a rule, I don't hear from the people to whom I owe money, and that is the best I can say about them.

There is no point in calling those who owe me money, or from whom I would like to get work. They take weekends off, and leaving messages for them -- as I do during the week -- is futile.

So is applying for new jobs. Again, potential employers are not accessible. They can ignore me during the week, as so many have.

But I know that tomorrow is Monday, and the whole sorry routine of trying -- unsuccessfully -- to explain why I can't pay my bills begins again. I hate that; those to whom I owe money have legitimate beefs, and they don't want to hear that my clients are ignoring me. All they know is that I owe them. They are right to think that way.

I have work. I can do three or four articles for a client whose three publications are far behind in payments. And yet, when I even think about doing those assignments, I can't even begin to work on them. What little trust I had in that company is long gone.

Tomorrow, the whole sad cycle begins again. I will call the client for whom I have done work for close to a decade, but who is hurting because of the collapse of the nation's economy. He will tell me that the usual people have not signed contracts for his gig as yet, and therefore he can't give me any assignments.

Another client will tell me they haven't decided what I can do for them as of now. They will encourage me to call back next week....

Another former -- and, one hopes, future -- client will tell me to drop by and talk with them, though there is nothing they can assign me to do right now. Maybe later....

I will apply for more jobs. A friend has suggested one; it is something I might have taken 22 years ago, when I was a novice in my craft. I'll apply, but not expect anything better than a tepid reply and money that won't allow me to survive, if I get that much.

None of which will pay those bills which are past due. Those I owe are at the point where they don't want to hear excuses. I can't blame them.

Some people will say things like: "think positive!" "Visualize success!" Been there, done that, buckaroos.

The best I can hope for is to survive the week to come. It's not a sure thing.

In the meantime, I think I will allow myself to indulge in an excess of what some call Adult Beverage. It doesn't help, but somehow makes the time pass by more quickly on a Sunday night when I have no encouraging words for myself, and have no one around to deliver any positive thoughts or encouragement.

I never thought it would come to this, Jim.

Friday, April 17, 2009

No escape... I should have known that when things don't go well, running away doesn't always help.

The trip to Catalina was, in many respects, a disaster. I'll explain, but warn all that this may get a little, well, convoluted....

A friend asked me to explain exactly what it was I was "fixing" last time I wrote about a journey to Catalina and, when I was through telling her, thought I should write about it. So that's what I'm doing, though under circumstances less happy than I envisioned.

My trips over to the island have been taken to help a friend fix a pipe organ that was installed in the Avalon Theatre in 1928...

This is, of course, a slightly less remunerative and interesting gig than, say, blacksmithing, building horse-drawn buggies or making incandescent light bulbs and vacuum tubes. It is, at best, a dying profession. But I began learning the tricks of the trade some 33 years ago and have some expertise, as if anyone cares.

This particular pipe organ has roughly 1200 pipes, plus some percussion instruments (xylophone, glockenspiel and the like) playable from its four keyboards and pedal keyboard. The last organ of its type was built in the 1930s, and those of us who work on them do so primarily out of love instead of financial gain.

The spaces (there are two) in which the pipes are installed are far from spacious, as this photo suggests...

The mechanisms that operate the pipes and other sounds are now 81 years old. The leather and felt used in the operating systems are wearing out, and need replacing. This involves working in cramped quarters, in spaces that haven't been thoroughly cleaned since 1928. It also, as I mentioned in a post last year, involves climbing less-than-sturdy ladders to gain access.

So what's the problem? Until now, the contract under which a friend of mine maintains the instrument has called for patching those bits of old hardware that are failing. But we have reached a point where the failures are coming faster than the repairs can cope with, meaning that we need to essentially rebuild the organ completely to make it work properly.

That involves not only the pipe actions themselves, but many other subsidiary parts....

The company that owns the Avalon has indicated some willingness to pay for a full restoration, but nothing has reached the contract stage. My friend who has been doing the servicing (most recently with my assistance) is trying to get them to sign on the dotted line. The alternative is that the organ will soon no longer be usable at all.

This last trip was frustrating. As quickly as we could repair one part of the puzzle, another would fail. The decay of old leather and other parts is outpacing our ability to repair and replace.

Therefore, my friend decided that this was our last "service" trip over there. If we are not given the funds to do the job properly, the organ will simply fail and become an unusable relic.

I couldn't argue.

That has too many parallels with my current situation to be comfortable to think about. I have worked hard, because I believe in what I do, but those I have worked for seem to think I'll always be there, and it doesn't matter if they pay me or not.

After the somewhat frustrating trip over to the island and back, I was "greeted" (if you want to call it that) with even more bad news which, thanks to the publications that have chosen to pay me at their own convenience instead of being up-front with me, I cannot answer.

This is simply getting to be too damn much. If everything is going to cause stress and disappointment, I might as well give up now and avoid the rush.

And, as frosting on the cake, my little camera decided to start turning up its digital toes on this trip. I expect it to fail totally within the next few days. I can't afford to replace it right now, and I will miss it.

Perhaps the last photo I'll be able to take with it was this shot of the sculpture in front of Avalon's snooty Tuna Club, yet another place that will never welcome me within its walls....

Damn. I need something (or someone) to hang on to, Jim.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A chance to escape... what I've been craving, and am finally getting.

Unfortunately, it's only for two days.

This week, in fact the last three weeks, have been an absolute nightmare. It has been a time of unrelenting stress, nightmares and that helpless feeling of being propelled at top speed toward a very large and very thick brick wall.

Today was the worst, beginning with a humiliating message from an editor I don't know who works for a former (and, I hope, future) client. My friend D., the photographer, got me into that mess in his inimitable way; I'm not yet certain how it will resolve.

A couple of friends have been steadfast through all this evil. One, in particular, should now be in Karma Heaven if my appreciation for her aid and comfort go into her good-deeds account, as they should.

Others, not so much. A consequence of having their own lives, I guess. Can't blame them; I'm not exactly a barrel o' fun these days.

Anyway, the escape: I've been asked to go back over to Catalina Island for two days to do some work there. It won't solve any of my problems here, but will take my mind off them and allow me to buy groceries when I get back.

Though only 25 or so miles off the coast, it is far enough removed from here that I can ordinarily put all the strain and pain out of my mind. This will be a major test of that effect.

But I do have to come back.

This just ain't the way it should be, Jim....

Thursday, April 09, 2009

For every action...

...there is an equal and opposite reaction. I believe Isaac Newton figured that out first.

It's the truth. There have been a number of actions around here this week. I'm waiting for the "equal and opposite" reaction.

And it's not going to be pretty.

I won't bore you with the "every action" list. It is as you might imagine: payments that didn't arrive, people who are unwilling to reply to phone messages and emails, job applications that apparently vanished into the Great Void, Photographer D. trying to get me stirred up to write a story a publication is supposedly eager to get (a contention disproved, alas, by the editor of said magazine who was, at best, lukewarm to the idea when I called him today), and the usual chorus of people lining up to drink my blood if they can't get my money....

That's the action. What might the reaction be? That's something I don't want to consider.

Experience tells me that advising the howling mob that things are out of my hands will not calm them. I am not the government; I can't write checks without worrying whether there are funds to cover them. I can't print money.

Apparently, I can't earn money either.

I'm not going to make excuses. I chose to do what I do and, over the years, I have learned that it is a tenuous gig at best. You might say I should have been more ant than grasshopper, and I can't dispute that.

PARENTHETICAL DON'T-PAY-ATTENTION-TO-FABLES THOUGHT: Aesop -- or whoever the hell dreamed up all these cautionary tales of grasshoppers vs. ants, or tortoises vs. hares -- didn't take into consideration the simple fact that even the ant (or tortoise) can starve when the diet is meager enough.

What the hell. I have no brilliant answer, no snappy comeback.

In fact, I need a break (no matter how short) from this, a friendly shoulder to lean on while I consider what I might do.

I have learned, however, that I shouldn't expect to get that break.

So the "equal and opposite reaction" will be what it is.

Monday, April 06, 2009

An anniversary...of sorts

Reading this entry in the journal of someone for whom I have the utmost respect as a writer, friend and all-around human being reminded me I have an anniversary coming up next month: it will be 23 years ago in May that I had my first magazine article published.

I remember it so vividly. I remember the simple suggestion of a story idea to an editor, a suggestion that received a "why don't you write it?" response. I remember the research, the phone calls, the visits to the subject. I remember the long hours spent at the typewriter -- yes, typewriter! -- stringing words together, and the tentative, nervous way I handled submission of the finished product.

And I remember the silence from the magazine, followed by a copy of the finished product. And I remember the check.

There was my byline, too, for 800,000 readers to see. The first of more than 1000 bylines, not counting several hundred shorter "anonymous" articles.

That was heady stuff, Jim.

It seems a long time ago in one way. The whole scene has gone to hell since, the victim of too many would-be writers jockeying for assignments and too many publishers learning that they didn't really have to treat us contributors with any respect. Pay well, follow the rules about "first-use" rights, pay on time? Not necessary. There's always some chump who will crank out articles because they love doing it.

I used to love it. My friend's words reminded me why.

Now, love has turned to the closest thing to hate. That might be temporary, might not be. I don't know.

The mentally speedy among you might wonder why I don't tell my friend to tone down the idealism and pride, prepare herself for the awful stuff she might face, knowing as I do that it can all turn to dung before you even know what's happening.

Simple answer: She combines far more talent than I ever had* with a much sharper perception of the joys and sorrows of the gig. I have faith that she can land wherever she wants to, survive and thrive in whatever conditions she finds herself. She is also, by training, experience and what I can only call sheer ability, more versatile than I.

I believed what I was taught as a child: do your best, and you'll never fail.

Woops. Wrong.

I'd still like to write. Should conditions allow me to do my best at it while eating and paying bills on time, I might well come to love it again. I'll go so far as to say I'm pretty sure I will. If those things happen.

The 23 years weren't wasted. Only the end result (as it now stands, anyway) stinks.

It was a good ride while it lasted, and my friend's words today reminded me why.

I just wish I could find the magic key to getting it to work again.

* This is neither false modesty nor unwarranted self-criticism. I am a damn good writer, considered so by my own reckoning and by some people whose opinions I consider worth listening to. I have an acquaintance who devours magazines from my field voraciously, and works with many writers in his day job. He says I'm one of the five best of the genre. I'll accept that.

But I know talent when I see it. I've
hired talent. I have read a ton of her stuff, have even giving her minor help with a few stories, and so am qualified to say: she has talent. More than I do.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Even more tired...

...and it has nothing to do with entertaining guests today...

Yes, Girl (who was sleeping on a shelf in my closet), Honey and Max dropped by again, as they often do. Naturally, the latter two spread themselves out across the bed, leaving no room for the bed's owner to rack out, which is what I really feel like doing.

The heaviest dose of fatigue came from the (usually) simple act of hunting for work. I decided to check in with a former client, one that, when last I spoke to them, had chosen to stop using freelance writers and produce everything in-house. I thought that policy might have changed.

Apparently, it has. I first called a friend who works for them. He advised me to contact the head office. I did so, and was warmly received. There seems to be a good chance they'll have some writing for me to do, though -- as I must keep reminding myself -- that is far from certain until they actually pick subjects and send out contracts.

So why do I now feel as if I've gone through the rough equivalent of a 50-mile hike? Simple: I had to make myself sound cheery, positive, and carefree. All of those things are, well, lies.

There's no doubt that I want to work for them. I'll work for anyone, particularly if they pay.* And this company was never difficult to deal with.

But it has grown profoundly difficult to present myself as Mr On-top-of-his-game. Merely watching what I say in order to present myself in the best light is wearing. Sounding as if one is begging for work can be fatal to the chances of getting any assignments.

And I sure as hell don't want to give even the slightest hint that I do not feel like writing at the moment.

It might have been different if they had immediately seized on any of the topics we discussed and ordered up a load of words from me.

When today is such a hideous mess, it's damn hard to try to focus on tomorrow.

It's probably a good thing the kittycats have the bed staked out. I feel like going to sleep and not waking until something good happens.

That could take a long time, Jim. Too long.

* The latter qualification is, alas, not being met by some current clients. I'm getting tired of getting only bills and advertising fliers in the mail, I can tell you....

Thursday, April 02, 2009

I'm sick of it.

Yes, I am.

I'm tired of being Someone (or Something) Up There's laboratory rat.

I'm tired of having Pavlovian psychological games played on me, of being subjected to situations where the stress relentlessly piles up and -- presumably -- my reactions are read on a dial or long, long strip of paper somewhere.

You'd think the experimenter would be getting tired of putting me through the endless tests involving ever-increasing periods of deprivation punctuated by the pushing of the smallest morsels into my cage, particularly when my responses have become dulled to the point where they sometimes barely register.

The bell rings, I salivate. But I'm drying up.

At least the majority of laboratory rats -- those belonging to the Experimental Animals' Union, Local 307, perhaps -- don't have to clean their own freekin' cages.

I bet they get cute girl lab rats to keep 'em company, too.

This pressure has been going on for too many years now. I'm sick of it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


...I'm out of 'em.

For far too long, I've been scratching along, thinking "if only I can get through this month" it might be possible to actually start looking -- and planning -- ahead.

So much for that.

In ways I can't go into too much detail about, the economy in general and some of the government's recent actions in particular have been pulling out the last few shaky supports to my continued survival. What I can say is that work has been dwindling, and as of yesterday (Monday) a client on whom I have long depended for a fair amount of work this time of year informed me that the current president's crackdown on the automobile industry has probably reduced this year's workload to a fraction of normal. If, indeed, there is any work for me.

Not that I have been able to do much on what little work I have from other sources. Checks are even slower than usual in arriving, and the one that has arrived in the past seven weeks was for much less than expected. That tends to make me unenthusiastic and uncreative.

Also makes it difficult to keep eating....

In four hours, a bunch of taxes will increase here in the People's State of California. Not all will affect me -- the idea of being able to buy a car is simply laughable; no matter how much the sales tax and license fees increase, I couldn't make the nut anyway -- but many will.

I can't afford to go, and I can't afford to stay.

Oddly enough, I have only occasional flashes of panic about the disaster that looms in the next few days. Maybe that's because I can't do damn-all about it this time. I have felt guilt and shame in the past, have felt I was letting people down because I made promises to creditor-type people based on promises made to me. I pulled in my own horns, saving the last few pennies for others....

I can't work up any shame this time. I do what I do to survive. I can't give up any more than I already have.

I have applied for several jobs in the last two weeks, including one that actually sounds like something I'm qualified for and could do very well. No responses yet. Based on experience over the past months, I don't expect responses. The days of a courteous "thank you for applying...don't call us, we'll call you" reply are over. Nowadays, you throw the application into a black hole, and never know if a human saw it.

I don't have the energy to fight this. In a way, I've been fighting it for 23 years now, though the first few years seemed as if I was winning. Not now.

I hate the stuporous days, the dreamless nights that provide no rest. The clock moves, sometimes slow, sometimes fast, and days go by without anything being accomplished.

And I hate not feeling. I don't even feel anger at my own mistakes and the duplicity of those who have used me. I feel nothing.

That seems dangerous, somehow.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Back in my pad again...

...after a day, a night and a morning spent on Catalina Island.

As has become the norm for these trips, I saw little of the little town of Avalon, and then only in the early evening...

...and the late evening...

...with the rest of my time spent on a project inside the Casino Building...

Not that I would ever complain about that. I went over voluntarily, knowing I would be plying one of my more useless skills in spaces that haven't really been cleaned since 1928 and demand twisting and contorting the aging body as if it were 40 years younger.

Which it is not. As I am being reminded tonight.

And that does not take into account spending the night sleeping in the rather chilly lobby of the Avalon Theatre with part of a disused stage curtain as a blanket....

To quote a song from a song by the late, great Frank Zappa: does this kind of life look interesting to you?

It does to me, particularly when the current alternative, a/k/a my daily life is not bringing in any money, though work has been done (and published) long enough ago that checks should already have arrived, but haven't, and no pleasure.

In short, I needed to escape.

And so I ran when called, going back to a place that from my first visit has never been short of memorable experiences (I still sometimes think of the girl I spent a week on the island with back in 1970....), to do a job that the vast majority of people -- including you, my friends and readers -- know nothing about, know less about my connection with it and, quite rightly, don't give a happy damn about.

Even if the world is not made measurably better because I know how to fix a broken thing that only a handful of people are interested in, there is satisfaction in the doing.

More important, at least to me, it provides a sense of accomplishment that is lacking right now in the rest of my existence.

The past couple of weeks have proven, in a million ways, that the world has decided it hums along quite well without me. I'm not being self-pitying here; the proof is in the communications that have not come my way, in the mail that didn't hit my box, the calls never made to me or, when I have reached out, were returned.

So when a friend asked me to go over to the island, where one can forget about TV, radio, newspapers and even -- if one squints the eyes a bit -- that one is still in Los Angeles County, California, U.S.A. and help out, I was on hand. I needed it as much as the beneficiary of my skills needed me. More, perhaps.

Of course one remembers everything, with awful clarity, when the boat pulls back into Long Beach. But I had 28 hours in a world where I mean something, where the wolves were not scratching at my door, their bloodthirsty panting all too audible, where I was appreciated for my knowledge, skill and (believe it or not) personality.

I fixed some of what was broken, as much as time allowed, and will go back over to fix more in due course.

And even if I know from painful experience that telling people about what I did, and how, is to see their eyes glaze over and result in comments like "oh, that's nice," or "mmmmhmmmmm, sounds very 'bout them Lakers?" I know the truth: I can do things, and the simple fact that those who hold a substantial amount of power over my life these days -- clients, banks and other people and institutions who helped push me into a depression of a magnitude I'm not sure I can cope with -- have kept me penned, for the most part, in my tiny space, have not yet been able to deprive me of everything.

Sometimes I need to be reminded of that truth. Even if I have to provide the reminder on my own.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The weirdest thing in the whole universe...

...can be seen here.

And I have absolutely nothing to add....

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Last night...

...a thick, low-level fog drifted across the harbor. It was one of the strangest sights I've seen while living here. The glow from the lights on the docks was downright eerie.

Ran back home for my camera and, inevitably, missed capturing the most spectacular stage of the fog's transit across the docks and cranes...

There are some sights a camera simply cannot capture. This was one of them.

But hey, I tried.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The really, really REALLY big Carbon Footprint.

PARENTHETICAL MY-MOOD-RING-EXPLODED-TODAY NOTE: Yes, I am in a singularly grouchy frame of mind tonight....

Late this afternoon, I heard helicopters. Living in this area, where heavy helicopter traffic is a normal part of the environment, you learn to recognize different choppers: the little machines built nearby by Robinson being given their first test flights, police helicopters, Coast Guard helicopters....

But these were big. And loud.

So I went outside to take a look. Two helicopters, glossy green with white tops, were heading along the coastline, in line with at least one exceptionally dangerous-looking military craft.

Yes, the current president is in town.

He came into Long Beach this afternoon aboard Air force One, his Boeing 747, and transferred to Marine One, his helicopter, for local hops.

Of course there is more to his entourage than that. I don't remember all the specifics -- and thus I may have one or two details wrong -- but when the president travels, he has AF One, a back-up aircraft, a number of C-17 transports (carrying Marine One plus at least one backup, plus his limousine -- officially called a Cadillac but actually built on a gas-guzzling GMC truck chassis -- and the full-size SUVs driven by his security detail) and at least one plane for the press.

If you haven't noticed, that adds up to a lot of fuel consumption. And a lot of money.

What brought him here? What task of Vital National Importance? He came here to appear on the Jay Leno Show tomorrow night.

I suppose some will think I'm making a fuss about trivia. Every president since Franklin Roosevelt has had a fleet of dedicated aircraft, and all have made extensive use of them.

But we are, in case it has escaped your attention, in a major financial crisis. It'd be nice to see some restraint at the top, particularly since this junket will cost as much as several of the AIG executives' bonuses the current president was complaining about (loudly and scornfully) earlier today.

Worse, this is the president who wants to slap carbon-emission taxes, cap-and-trade costs and taxes and alternative-energy taxes on us. Some put the price to consumers for his carbon-tax scheme at something north of $2 trillion. Not to mention a fair number of job losses in industry.

This is also the president who believes in some not-now-in-existence source of energy that means we don't have to drill for oil here or import any.

Still, there was this invitation to do Leno's show....

In this respect, he makes Al Gore, who has amassed a tidy $100+ million fortune through his environmental alarmism, all the while jetting about the world and occasionally plunking himself down in his massive estate, look like Ed Begley, Jnr.

I'm all in favor of many aspects of "environmentalism." I believe strongly in reducing emissions, cutting down on fuel consumption and wasted resources, improving the efficiency of everything that consumes energy. I have no problem with those things. They make sense.

But there is a word for people who live a good life of excess consumption while lecturing others on the need to cut back, do without and make increasingly onerous sacrifices in the name of "the public good." Said word gets underlined and written in capital letters when they do it with the money we normal citizens have less and less of every day.

It's not a word anyone considers nice or complimentary. But it fits.

And no, I'm not jealous because I have gone my whole life without tasting $150-per-pound Wagyu Beef, which apparently shows up from time to time on the White House menu. Hell, I just wish I could go out and buy myself an In-N-Out Burger tonight. But I can't.

Here endeth the rant. The news is about to come on. I can find out what's up with Octomom....

The things I don't understand...

...would make one hell of a long list.

What I most don't understand -- aside from a couple of personal matters I won't go into -- is money.

I never did, really.

But events of recent days have left me increasingly puzzled, and a hell of a lot more pessimistic about the future.

Back in Washington, the so-called "servants of the people" are using what amounts to counterfeit money to prop up a number of companies that, in the course of making a select few obscenely rich, ran into the brick wall of Reality, which is: you can't sell what doesn't exist.

Somehow, the president and the worthless goons in Congress have decided that writing checks we will ultimately have to cash will somehow give us all confidence in our rapidly failing economy.

It seems to work for the stock market. Doesn't work for me, though.

I have a hunch a few of said goons know this is a smoke-and-mirrors ploy. That's shown by the sudden uproar over the bonuses AIG Insurance, one of the companies that has received more than $100 billion of the government's counterfeit (that is, not backed by any possible kind of asset) money, paid monstrous bonuses to some of its executives, including several who were responsible for bringing the company down.

To me, that's about the dumbest move AIG could have made. Calling this scheme part of the Money Industry's "standard practices" and insisting that it's the only way to "keep good employees" strikes me the same way Cunard laying a bonus on the Titanic's captain would.

But I can't get myself into the frothing-at-the-mouth rage politicians are showing over it. In fact, cynic/realist that I am, I'm firmly convinced that Obama, Dodd, Frank, Schumer and the rest really don't care about a measly $100+ million in bonuses. But they know the questions about their own behavior during this time are coming, that they will be scrutinized (and, in my opinion, found at a minimum deficient, at maximum cuplpable in our financial meltdown), and they want to put it off as long as possible.

The government has no place in business. Never has, never will. But the current crop of greedheads seems hell-bent on controlling every business in America. If they run them the way they have "managed" their Constitutional duties, I expect failures on a massive scale. And it won't take long.

Some people are comparing this to the scenario in Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged." And it does display some amazing parallels with that story.

Having seen American business "leaders" in action, I no more believe we will be rescued by Rand's Aryan crew of "objectivist" inventors, railroad tycoons and assorted mythic "heroes" than I expect to see our skies filled with the fleets of aeroplanes of "Wings Over the World" from the 1936 movie "Things to Come."

I would be laughing at the gross ineptitude of the so-called experts and the otherwise-unemployable gang of whiners, looters and assorted misfits in Washington, except that they are playing with our lives.

And they are making a hell of a mess of it.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Just shoot my tired, aging ass now, okay?

I've been looking for things to cheer me up today, and they've been in pretty damn short supply. If I didn't mark the passage of time by the frequency of bills coming in -- and by the scarcity of spondulics in the piggy bank when checks are late, which some are again -- I could mark it by the encroachment of gray on head and beard.

PARENTHETICAL FOLLICULARY ORIENTED THOUGHT: Hell, when I don't shave every day, the beard looks as if it'd be white now if I hadn't mowed the sucker off, which is yet another reason I'm glad I did it.

So what has driven me farther into despair and thoughts of impending -- and immediate -- senescence? you ask.

And I say, why, since you ask, it was this happy little article in the UK Daily Mail.

For those too lazy to click the link, I append the first three paragraphs:

Old age is often blamed for causing us to misplace car keys, forget a word or lose our train of thought.

But new research shows that many well-known effects of ageing may start decades before our twilight years.

According to scientists, our mental abilities begin to decline from the age of 27 after reaching a peak at 22.

Isn't that cheery? I've been sinking like a bloody stone for decades, all the while thinking I hadn't yet reached my peak.

Ah, but it gets even better, in a concluding paragraph that rips the scab right off the wound:

There is some good news, though. The report states that abilities based on accumulated knowledge, such as performance on tests of vocabulary or general information, increase until at least the age of 60.

Yeah, right. "Good news," says the reporter, no doubt some snooty little Brit who hasn't yet reached the age where wrinkles, gray hairs and other manifestations of decay start hitting with the impact of a thousand white-hot needles.

I got less than 13 months before the brain shuts down, friends and neighbors.

Give 'em a call down at the old glue factory, someone, and tell 'em I'm on my way....

Friday, March 13, 2009

I may be the only person in the world...

...who doesn't want to see Bernard Madoff drawn, quartered, tarred, feathered, shot or at least sentenced to years of torture for running a Ponzi scheme that cost a lot of investors all or part of their savings.

Oh, I think he should go to jail, all right. I also think his considerable assets should be used to reimburse those who trusted him with their money.

But I can't quite work myself into the kind of rage that has gripped some people, including writers in the New York Post.

It's not that I feel any sympathy for Madoff. He screwed up, big-time.

But the part of the story now being forgotten by those who howl for his blood is this: those who invested with him knowingly took the risk. They were promised the near-impossible, which is regular huge returns on their investments, regardless of other economic conditions. I've heard profit numbers in the 40% range being tossed about as examples of what Bernie promised his clients.

Where I come from, if someone promises you a deal that good, it makes sense to be skeptical, to ask questions and look at the fine print.

Madoff's investors didn't do that. What a surprise.

No, they took their profits year after year -- this has supposedly been going on since the early 1990s -- and never wondered what magic ol' Bernie was performing.

And now, they are whining. Some people put all their money in Bernie's bogus funds, a choice which even I, who knows nothing about investing, can see was dead stupid. They lost it all. Other, more prudent, types are down to their last few millions.

If Madoff had promised risky investments that might return 20% in a good year and cheated his clients, I'd understand their anger. But nothing I know of increases in value by enough to generate a 40% return, unless it's based on the obscene interest rates those "payday cash loan" places charge their customers.

These were not stupid people. They just weren't very smart, which is a different thing.

Except, maybe, for those who claim they trusted Bernie because he is a member of their religion. Now that's stupid.

So I'm happy to see him go off to the cooler for a few years, just as I was happy to see cheats like Michael Millken do time in the Graybar Hotel.

But Madoff is no worse than the rest of the high-flying financial crooks, so spare me the sob stories about his "victims" and the calls for retribution instead of punishment, please.

In fact, I think Madoff is less guilty of massive fraud than those who are now saddling us with trillions of dollars in debt for our children and grandchildren to pay off and funneling the proceeds to their favorite contributors, cronies and various "protected" groups around the country.

Madoff, at least, will go to jail. The president and his cadre of greedheads in Congress will most likely get away with it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Do I maybe look like a herpetologist?

An email in my "spam" folder this morning convinced me I do. Or at least I must seem like a zookeeper to someone called "Iammas," who sent me a message with this subject line:

Your python will be able to work for days without a rest!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Starting Monday off...

...with some weirdness, which works for me!

And what was the weirdness? An encounter with a 1959 BMW Isetta "600," the larger brother of the little Isetta "300" I drove last year. This one is what Germans called the "Limousin" model. I doubt anyone else would have called a car three inches short of 10 feet in length a limousine...

Like the 300, it has the single front-opening door, but adds a rear seat with its own door on the right side!

If it looks small from outside (and it does; for a scale reference, note that the wheels are 10 inches in diameter), it is positively tiny inside. For a time today, it held three adult males, and all were more or less equally cramped. To get comfortable behind the wheel, I would have needed to cut my head off. Didn't seem worth it. You could pick Tolouse-Lautrec off his wheeled cart and plop him in the back seat, but even he would whine.

Out in back, the mighty 26-horsepower engine lives. If stripped of the metal covers, it would be familiar to anyone who has seen a BMW motorcycle...

Was it fun? Heck, yes! I felt as if I should have had a red putty nose, orange wig and baggy polka-dot suit on while driving it. No floppy shoes, though; the pedals were too small for my size-12s as it was.

When the 600 was new, BMW claimed it would get 43 miles per gallon, and make 62 mph. Both, presumably, while driving on a flat road with no passengers. I can tell you 50 mph was an adventure, and 60 -- much less 62 -- would have been a thrill ride.

But I was smiling all the way. A good thing, too, as the 600 is not a car for shy people. We got the kind of reaction one might expect from riding on a giant, fuzzy puppy.

Could've been better, of course. Given my druthers, I would have ditched my two male companions -- one was Photographer D. -- and invited more congenial company for a ride. Aside from being better looking, said congenial company is moreover somewhat compact and would have fit quite nicely into the other half of the front seat. With a picnic basket in the back, it could have been a memorable day.

As it was, it was pretty damn nice.

Friday, March 06, 2009

A quiet day...

...entirely too quiet for my taste.

The good news? I guess it would have to be that I know only seven of the 651,000 people who lost their jobs last month. Bad enough to commiserate with those few; I don't do that very well, teetering on the financial brink as I am.

Somehow, none of us are too sanguine about the government's attempts to revive the economy. Some of that has to do with the bill our children and grandchildren will be paying (obviously more true of those who have -- or will have -- offspring), but more has to do with where the money is going. At least as far as anyone can determine; the "open and transparent" administration is hiding details like a mafioso concealing his ill-gotten gains.

And the talk about bolting California is growing among my friends. The greedheads in Sacramento have completely lost their collective mind; taxes are going way the hell up, and concessions made to state employee unions isolate their members from the financial reality we mortals face.

At the moment, much as I'd like to bail out, I can't. Such work as I can manage to get is centered in this area. Can't afford to stay, can't afford to leave.

On the home front, I got two calls today. One was from D. the photographer, telling me he has arranged what we need for a story I'll be paid for in three months. Maybe. He seemed puzzled by my lack of enthusiasm. But then, he has a separate income (spelled g-i-r-l-f-r-i-e-n-d) and his "cutting back" is much more limited than mine.

The other call? It was from a friend picking my brain regarding an arcane subject about which I am a (relative) expert. No money there, but it was nice of him to call....

On several occasions today, I came close to pitching my radio out the window. I know the state, like the nation, is only a few steps away from meltdown, and I don't need repetition, which more or less keeps me from "talk radio," but the commercials are beginning to bug me, too. Indian casinos talking about how much you can "win" (I learned ages ago that the house always wins), ads for law firms that can effect "loan modifications" from banks (for people who shouldn't have bought houses they can't afford in the first place), ads for the teacher's union (which says we should tell our elected "leaders" to spend more money on teachers) and "public service" ads telling us California is running out of water so we need to all stop washing and drinking beverages made with water.

I've babbled on long enough about what's making me feel like the whole mess is simply too much for me to deal with. I'll stop before start I whining about a few people who seem to have, without announcement or explanation, dropped me from their lives like the proverbial hot potato....

My neighbor's cats are sitting at my door, waiting to be let in. She must be out for the evening.

Inscribe that on my tombstone: cats liked him.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Seeing red...

...inside and out...

Yeah, the sunset was dramatic today, but I'm trying not to be.

I'm just in one of those self-pitying funks where I see people who "love" me withdrawing. I guess I can say that, since they aren't reading me these days.

It's one of those things I could take to Frank Sinatra's sympathetic bartender, but doesn't work in a journal.

I also remember the version a hip musician friend came up with:

It's quarter of three
There's no one in the place
Except you and me
So stick 'em up, Joe....

There's a lot of stuff that irritates me about the way the world is going tonight. But I'm more involved in things that affect me directly.

It's damn lonely here tonight, Jim.

And that's all I have to say.

I don't #@+%&#& believe it!

But it's true: My county supervisors -- as big a bunch of ^%&@#!=> as you'd ever hope to find -- have declared this "no cussing" week in the county.

Ain't that a load of &%@*....

Businesses are crashing, the stock markets are tanking, the federal government and this city and county are drowning in red ink, and they're worried about people )^%#@&# cussing?

I don't freekin'* believe it.

Some 15 year-old do-gooder is supposedly behind this. Guess his tender ears can't take all the nasty words out there. Or he's looking for attention. My guess is the latter.

I cussed like a sailor when I was 15, even without the benefit of the expanded Billingsgate vocabulary I now possess. So did every %@#$+"?&^#%! and (^(#&*$^!# I knew.

I don't think it hurt me. I know when to unleash a tide of profanity and when to play Mr Polite and keep my >#{@!$% mouth shut, believe me. In fact, there are times when I'm too reticent, and a strong dose of cussin' would let my listeners know I'm upset.

Or, as I would normally say when not restrained by the new measure, &!$$#) off.

Apparently, the little #%&( wants to expand the "no cussing week" idea, first to the entire state, and then beyond.

If I were his dad, I'd paddle his @$$ for coming up with such a dimwitted idea.

But I'm not, thank goodness, so as far as I'm concerned, he can go &#^@ himself.

* Just so you know, "freekin' is not considered a nasty word these days and will get by almost any censor, just as the "Godfrey Daniel!" and "Mother of Pearl!" employed by the late Mr Wm C Fields got by censors in his day.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

It's a beautiful day... the neighborhood...

Or, to be specific, a beautiful day if you're a city worker, sucking up that lovely unionized weekend o/t from a budget that is supposedly a billion dollars in the red...

Our streets were closed off today so a local college ("local" if being 20 miles away counts as such) could run a triathlon. This meant that hundreds of residents had to find other places to park, and had to schedule their day so they could stay home until the whole affair is over, supposedly by 1:00 p.m. It meant listening to someone yammering away on a PA system starting at about 5:45 a.m., hearing tow trucks hauling away the cars of those who didn't get the message, motor cops riding up and down the street and the noise made by a bunch of college students cheering on their favorite ath-a-letes.

It also meant that every "parking enforcement" officer in town was here in their Prius or Honda hybrid down to keep "order" as dozens of city-owned trucks dashed around hauling cones, signs and whatever else. The bill for this event would probably keep several dozen families fed for a year.

I have nothing against triathlons. Just the opposite. But I do have something against the disruption they cause.

That's especially true since the number of Saturdays messed up by this nonsense has increased from one the year I moved here to three last year and, if gossip in the nabe is to be believed, to six this year.

Doesn't seem like much, does it? I'm here to tell you that this, like the inconvenience of having your neighborhood be considered a choice spot for film crews, gets incredibly annoying after the second or third such instance.

It's no coincidence that our city council personette lives across town. None of this stuff happens on her block.

I really don't mind community events, but when outsiders come in to take over our streets, disrupt our sleep, and generally screw up the pattern of life without so much as asking any of us if we mind -- or saying "thank you," for that matter -- it is freekin' irritating.

PARENTHETICAL LATEST-NEWS-STYLE UPDATE: It's over. All the cones, barriers, police tape, runners, bicyclists and assorted non-local items have been hauled away. Peace reigns. Sorta, anyway. And it's still a beautiful day.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I'm feeling more and more like... of these...

Yeah, that would be a dinosaur.

The latest reason -- that I'm willing to talk about, anyway -- was finding out that the Rocky Mountain News is shutting down on Friday after a 150-year run as one of Denver's daily newspapers.

I never worked for the paper locals have long called "the Rocky;" I haven't worked directly for any newspaper -- except as a delivery boy when I was a kid -- though my byline has appeared in a couple. In fact, I'm not certain I've ever seen a copy of this one. But for someone who grew up with newspapers, I'm saddened by the passing of any of them. And the Rocky is not this year's first paper to fail; nor will it be the last.

There are plenty of reasons for the demise of newspapers. Financial problems play a major role; a century ago, most were owned by a local publisher, often an individual. It didn't take a massive income to keep said individual happy (and, often, wealthy). Today, most are owned by conglomerates, home to highly paid executives who have no direct connection to the paper. As a result, profits are eaten up by a horde of hangers-on, fancy office buildings, and all the detritus of corporate life.

Many papers were purchased by these faceless entities in good economic times. Massive debt was created when loans were taken out to buy them. Profits might fall, but interest rates seldom do, except when a bankruptcy court steps in.

Another big contributor is, of course, the Internet. People wonder why they should buy a paper when the same content is available on the 'net. For "free," too. Advertisers, who once sunk their dollars into newspapers, were seduced with tales of millions of "click-throughs" and switched their allegiance to web-based publishers.

Finally, most major newspapers have become so agenda-driven and ideological that it's difficult to trust their news reporting. That's one reason I dropped my subscription to our local reactionary rag long ago.

Still, I hoped a day would come when newspapers once again assumed their proper place in society by doing what I was taught to do in journalism school: report facts in news stories, and leave opinion for the editorial pages.

Now it's unlikely to happen. From what I've seen, within a decade the number of major papers in this country will be reduced to a fraction of what it is today. Some large cities won't have even one, much less two or more.

I won't miss some of the casualties as they are; I will miss what they could -- and should -- have been.

As for the Internet: I feel bitter about that, because the money isn't there for most of those who actually create content. I've seen my work on various sites many times; I have never seen a dime as a result, and I'm not alone in that.

There will be a day of reckoning, by the way. Advertisers are beginning to learn that a fair percentage of website visits are more-or-less random, and the ads aren't bringing in expected returns in business.

But by the time advertisers and readers choose to take a second look at newspapers, the presses will have been silenced forever in too many areas, and the trained personnel who could put a paper on the racks will be flipping burgers.

At one time, I nourished a mild fantasy of spending my last writing years behind the editor's desk of some small-town newspaper, doing what I once trained to do while being a part of -- and in contact with -- a community.

Well, forget that.

I'm beginning to think I should avoid the rush and go get measured for one of those blue vests.

Bad enough that this is happening; there are so many people around who are so web-based that they don't give a damn about the demise of the real "press."

I hope the dinosaurs were wiped out without warning or prolonged agony. It ain't like that for writers, Jim.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Forget the Olympics...'s a sport that will leave the fans gasping!

And yes, I think medals should be awarded to the throwee, too.

Actually, when I think about it, this isn't so impressive. I've been thrown farther by girls who couldn't have weighed more than 110 or so (that would be 50 kg for the international audience) dripping wet....

Friday, February 20, 2009

I really want to...


But I won't.

I'm a considerate bastard, I am.

And I'm a realist. I know that the things that bug me aren't on anyone else's radar.

Even Atlantis is denied me.

It can be a real drag to live in my world, Jim.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A place to move?

The Sun, a Brit newspaper, wonders if this is Atlantis.

I have my doubts. They've been excited by blurry photos of Nessie and various UFOs, too.

But I'm hot to find a new place to settle....

As expected...

...the slimy crooks in Sacramento got their tax increases and passed a "budget."

Apparently, none of the lazy, pampered cretins who sit on their fat asses in state offices will lose their so-called jobs. Really important state programs, such as the annual $10 billion spent on illegal aliens -- oh, excuse the hell out of me, "undocumented workers" -- and plenty of cars and other freebies for elected officials, will go on.

Of course the top income tax rate in the state will approach 10% -- millionaires will pay 9.8%, and those who make more than $45K will chip in 9.5%. And we will all pay a minimum of 7.5% sales tax, see our vehicle license fees double, and get it in the neck in a number of other creative ways.

All this assumes the state gets a huge chunk of the federal "stimulus" giveaway, A/K/A money the Feds are pulling out of thin air while deferring payback to our children and their children. If not, I'm guessing the Governator will come around again, begging bowl in hand, and ask for even more.

What the hell am I thinking? He'll do that anyway. All public officials are drug addicts, only instead of duji or opium their jones is for money.

There are lots of dislocated arms in Sacramento today, yanked out of their sockets by these pitiful greedheads patting themselves on the back. They "saved" California!

Can I have a "A-MEN?" Or at least a "wOOt?"

It's going to be damn hard to rent a one-way U-Haul truck in California for the next few months. People stretched to the breaking point by the sick job market and now burdened with an unbearable tax load are going to be bugging out in droves.

I hope I'm one of them.

Not, as I mentioned last night, that I'm convinced anyplace else is a potential Paradise. Washington D.C.'s chickens are going to be coming home to roost much sooner than most people think. The "stimulus" plan, particularly when combined with the "mortgage stimulus plan" and whatever other giveaways and fraudulent "public-works" projects the government can dream up to pay off campaign contributors (or bribe potential voters) will bankrupt the nation. Except, that is, for the already-wealthy whose bank accounts are protected by all the giveaways and tax breaks.

Once Washington kills the American auto industry -- which it blames for all the failures it has piled on them, from insane regulations to forced acquiescence to union demands (unions being particular pals of the politicians) and economic policies that have left many Americans simply incapable of buying cars -- and renders the dollar essentially worthless, we will be in deep dung.

This is not helped by the so-called "conservative" free-market people, who may be right in some principles but are blind as bats when it comes to the realities of economics when caught in a tug-of-war between the ignorant crooks in government, the Ayn Rand absolutists and the as-long-as-I-get-mine crowd.

Can you tell I'm not particularly feeling upbeat about the future?

I suppose a lot of us would be hanging ourselves, except we simply can't afford rope.

I'll start looking around for a cave that fits my radically downsized needs. And I'll write if I find work, of course.

In any event, with luck I won't be in California a year from now.

If there is a California a year from now....

Waiting... find out if I need to start making serious plans to leave California, a thing which will be extraordinarily difficult for me.

Our corrupt, free-spending state legislature is meeting tonight to pass a so-called "budget" that will combine budget "cuts" -- in reality, reductions in their atrocious spending plans -- with massive tax increases.

The increases will include an additional $0.12 per gallon in gasoline tax, a higher sales tax (up to 9.5% in Los Angeles), a 5% surtax on income taxes and a plethora of additional "fees." For most people, the increase will be $1500-2000 per year.

I can't afford that.

The governator, who has proven himself a real "girlie man" (to use his term) when dealing with unions, has already cut a deal with the primary state workers' union that guarantees them no layoffs. Even so, he threatens to lay off thousands of state workers if the tax package doesn't go through.

Big deal, I say. Fire the whole pampered lot of them, as far as I'm concerned. The state has added thousands of workers since Ahhh-nuld became governor, and has increased its spending by more than 50%.

None of these cretins give a damn about the citizens of the state. Therefore, I don't give a damn about them. Let them hit the breadlines. They are the laziest bunch of people I know of, anyway.

Not that I expect things to be much better anywhere else. When the bill comes due for the new President's "stimulus" plans, we -- and our children and grandchildren -- will be on the hook for an unimaginable sum of money anyway.

Who benefits? Not you, and not me. Greedy and stupid people who bought houses they couldn't afford, venal bankers and investment brokers and others of similar character will be "helped." We will pay.

This is, I suppose, the inevitable result of the nanny state that first came into being in Franklin Roosevelt's day and blossomed during subsequent administrations. Despite the bleatings of certain economists, money is indeed a finite commodity. You cannot spend it when you don't have it.

But that is what our governments have done.

So I'm guessing my relocation, if I can manage it, will only be a temporary respite.

It was fun while it lasted, I guess.

The latest news is that the state's legislature will meet at 11:00 tonight to pass the "budget" that, like Washington's "stimulus" plans, was crafted in private and not revealed in full to the public even now.

I don't think I'll stay up for that. I can read about how badly we've been screwed tomorrow.

And then start trying to figure out some way to escape.

To where? I have no idea.

Maybe George Noory will have suggestions. He always knows where the space aliens are congregating....

Monday, February 16, 2009

Stormy weather... what we had here most of the day.

It rained all morning, and the ocean was rough, to say the least...

I have to admit I was feeling claustrophobic today. I couldn't stand being in my place but had nowhere to go. I went for short walks in between rain showers, but that didn't help.

Later in the afternoon, the rain ceased, and I mentioned the spectacular high surf to my neighbor. We convinced each other -- at first reluctantly -- to go down and take a closer look.

At that point my camera's batteries failed, but she took some neat photos, a couple of which you can (and should) see here.

It was remarkable to stand within a hundred feet or so of these waves and sense the violence of their action. The breakwater took a pretty good pounding.

It was also bloody cold, but worth suffering that for a chance to see something neither of us had seen in the time we've lived here.

Tonight, it's still cold, of course, though the waves have calmed some and there are puffy clouds in a sky that's a billion stars deep. The rain is more or less over, though the prediction is for more storms this coming weekend.

I don't feel quite so claustrophobic now.

Only in the U.K...

...would a news site offer up a headline like this.

It's great news, anyway.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

It's February 14th...

...and, of course, I know that that means.

It's a work day for me, as I have to head off to an exhibit and then write about it. It's not something I would look at on my own, I must admit, but has the saving grace of not being related to anything I ordinarily write about. I'm hoping this will lead to orders for other articles on unfamiliar (to me, anyway) topics.

This means I'll miss the Valentine's Day dinner at the local International Order of Red Men lodge. They eat early, beginning the festivities at 6:00. The price is right -- $19.95 per person, "includes dinner, drinks dessert & entertainment" according to the flier stuck in my door last night -- but even the free drinks wouldn't make up for the fact that I'd be sitting there by myself....

I do wonder about the "entertainment," though. What would tickle the fancies of the pretend-Native Americans, anyway? Musicians? Stand-up comedy? A magic act, maybe?

The flier gives no hints. It merely lists the basic info, superimposed over an inexplicable photo of a rose in a vase (low-cost black & white reproduction gives it a vaguely sinister horror-movie vibe) with a starfish and conch shell below. Could the latter two items be "Red Man" totems? Dunno....

It almost seems weird enough to check out.

But I'll be working, and this Valentine's Day will be, as too many others have been, just another day.

I will avoid going into any brick warehouses, though, and will certainly stay the hell away from Chicago.

Friday, February 13, 2009

On the shelf...

...and that's not a self-evaluation, though I admit to feeling twinges of a placed-in-storage-unused attitude tonight....

Instead, this is an idea I have brazenly stolen from a friend who can see me and raise the pot when it comes to education, erudition and, alas, talent.

She listed the books on the top shelf of one of her bookcases. One or two struck me as odd choices, but then I realized she, like me, may have simply placed books up there somewhat at random. When I moved recently, I simply pulled books out of boxes and tossed 'em on the shelves until each row was filled.

I have room for four bookcases only, and three are mainly devoted to work. This is my "recreational" bookcase...

The top shelf contains the following, listed by subject and with explanations where I think they are helpful. You will notice I am interested in biographies; I'm guessing they make up the majority of the books I have in this case, and dominate the top row. From left to right:

Jim Tully's A Dozen and One, 13 character sketches of people he knew, including Charles Chaplin, Clark Gable, Diego Rivera (the brilliant Mexican muralist and Communist), Paul Bern (the husband of Jean Harlow), columnist Walter Winchell and H L Mencken;

Jack Warner's (one of the Warner Brothers) autobiography;

Jack Kerouac (Ann Charters);

Harry S Truman (David McCullough);

Burt Kennedy (who? He was a producer of "B" movies, primarily Westerns) (autobiography);

Winston Churchill (Roy Jenkins);

David O Selznick (producer of, among other movies, Gone With the Wind) (David Thomson);

Nikita Khruschev (Walter Taubman);

General H Norman Schwarzkopf (autobiography);

Howard Hughes (Richard Hack -- and a "hack" job it is, too!);

Samuel Goldwyn (L Scott Berg);

W C Fields (James Curtis -- a superb job!);

Mao Tse-Tung (or, in the new politically correct spelling, Mao Zedong) (by his personal physician, Dr Li Zhisui);

Franklin Roosevelt (Theodore Roosevelt is two shelves down...I need to swap them) (Conrad Black);

Lyndon Johnson (Barry Goldwater is on the third shelf also...another swap needed!) (Unger & Unger);

Edward D Wood, Jnr (do I need to tell you he produced Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen or Glenda?, two of my favorite movies?) (Rudolph Grey);

"Uncle Joe" Stalin (Edvard Radzinsky).

I am so glad she came up with this idea! If challenged, I might reveal other shelves, too! In fact, I'll match her, row by row, even if the results merely confirm my weirdness....

By the way: that lumpy gray object on the top of the case is my helmet, safe in its bag....

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sometimes, I suspect even Viagra won't work...

...and seeing this would have to count as one of those times. I've never needed the stuff, and was convinced I don't now, but after a quick peek at these pictures I'm not so damn sure.

Having posted the above link, I feel it's only fair to warn you against clicking it.

It's Octomom, a few days before delivery.

'Nuff said.

Dumb, dumb, dumb...

...that would be me.

I'm having one of those days. You know, the kind in which you're glad you aren't the one with a finger on the Red Button (because if you were, the planet would be instantly vaporized simply because you can't control those manic urges) or operating heavy machinery.

All I've operated today is a computer, and even that has resulted in a certain amount of damage. Sharp objects? Don't have any nearby, thank you.

I guess it all began last night. I was enjoying a perfectly pleasant conversation with a friend when an email came in. It advised me that one of my articles, hot off the press, contained an egregious error. An error which, so far as I can determine, I made all on my own with no help from anyone.

What I was writing about was a device produced in minuscule quantities, and so its serial number has great value to collectors. Somehow, I got it into my head -- and notebook -- that this particular example was Number 052 of its series.

Nope. It was Number 067.

I would ordinarily castigate myself briefly, dash off a note to the magazine editor telling him to run a correction in the next issue, and laugh it off. Yes, it is embarrassing to make a mistake, but after writing well over a thousand articles in my "career," I've learned you can't hit a home run every time at bat.

(Where the hell did that metaphor come from?)

But knowing the owner of this device -- by no coincidence the person who sent me the email -- leads me to feel absolutely certain that this mistake will be hung around my neck like a giant, stinking albatross. I haven't heard the end of it, and will not for a good long time.

The memory of those irritating moments last night has steamrollered its was into my consciousness every time I needed to check a fact during my work today.

As a result, neither my work nor my temper have been worth a hill of horse dung today.

I was considering jacking the whole thing in and heading down to one of the local sleazy bars for a drink. Or 10. But then I realized I'd have to sit with myself in the bar, and I'm definitely in a mood to punch myself out.

And so, as soon as my fresh pot of coffee has finished brewing, I'll get back to work.

If I screw up the current article in any way relating to facts, it won't be my fault. I'm working mainly from printed information sheets.

I'm not having a very good time here, Jim.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

An update...

...on the photo I posted last night.

There is a story behind the photo of the firefighter giving water to an injured koala.

It's a happy story, an unfortunate rarity amid the tales of loss and destruction coming from Australia's great tragedy.

But it's worth reading....

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sometimes, odd things affect me... is the case with the horrifying fires that are ravaging Australia right now.

A friend wrote from Down Under to tell me an acquaintance was nearly killed by one of the fires in a place called Yarra Glen. That bothered me, of course. But the devastation didn't hit me, I mean truly hit me like a fist in the gut, until I saw this photo on an Australian newspaper's website...

I admit it: I wept. Not just for the koala, but for all the humans and animals who have suffered and died down there. And for the bravery and courage of those who have fought the fires and saved what, and whom, they could.

There are times when, self-absorbed as I am, I realize that all in life is not about me.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

angry**********.com... a website I've become addicted to. I'm not publishing the full name, as it's primarily for wretches like me in a specific career who need a place to bitch in anonymity.

I haven't posted there. Yet. But it's only a matter of time.

I'm not angry enough today to go there and spill my verbal guts. I received two whole checks yesterday, thus allowing me to pay this month's bills and, if I'm a good boy and don't waste money on trivial pleasures like ordering a pizza or buying books or music, covering next month's essentials as well.

Not that my monthly nut is so damn big these days. I have surrendered most things people take for granted, and live in a space so small that when Kate put out a call for people to post pics of their bedrooms, the resulting photo was so embarrassing, including as it did my office space and "living" space all in one minuscule package, that I decided against putting it here.

I love my work. I really do. I will write four articles this week, and each will be well-researched, clean and -- one hopes -- have the little touches that make my editors happy they have chosen me.

Sadly, none will be good enough to make publishers feel an uncontrollable urge to call their accounting departments and say: "send this boy a!" Nor will it cause them to think that perhaps the combination of writing talent, expertise and care taken with the work deserves a few extra dollars in the pay packet.

While I have mentioned these undesirable traits of my profession in the past, I have tried to moderate my disgust with a writer's lot. I know a few writers who are just starting out on the long career journey; one is stunningly good, and will in a reasonably short time be great. These people sometimes visit my journal, and I would not want to imply that they might fall into the same bottomless void that has swallowed me more-or-less whole.

If the value of sheer talent means nothing, we as a society are truly doomed. So I continue to hope that some who show extraordinary talent will achieve deserved fame and financial comfort even if I have not and never will.

I admit, shamefacedly, that I feel tremendous relief that neither landlord, phone company nor utilities will be hounding me this month. Or even next month.

Is that good enough? No.

But age and a lack of marketable suit-and-tie/work-in-an-office skills forces me to continue on my lonely and too-often unhappy path. From time to time, I crank out an especially good article, one that makes me feel as if all the tsooris is worth it.

That's a pathetic payoff, but what the hell? It's what I have, Jim.

And I keep buying lottery tickets....

Saturday, February 07, 2009

"They" say it's gonna rain...

...but I'm convinced it won't rain here for a while...

Why do I even mention this? There are far more important things than some random precipitation to be concerned with.

Octomom continues to make headlines. This simple girl, whose sole purpose in life if you ask her is to have babies (and, apparently, to emulate Angelina Jolie, puffy-lip-wise), has now cranked out 14 of them, eight in the last delivery. Never mind that she can't afford to give them what they need without government help; she wants to have them, and so went trotting off to fertility clinics where unscrupulous doctors filled her with embryos.

This woman is just plain nuts.

But her saga pales in comparison to the hundreds of Octomoms in the U.S. Congress. The senescent fools in Washington -- and the president -- seem convinced that spending almost a trillion dollars we don't have, that simply don't exist, will somehow save the nation from the current economic crisis.

It's as if you and I decided to write checks we can never cover. I admit I'd like to do that -- I really have the hots to own a Porsche and a nice house -- but I somehow think it wouldn't work out so well if I chose to begin spending wildly with nothing in the bank to cover it.

No matter how much they howl about needing to do this right now, it's a stupid idea.

What we need is to have our so-called "leaders" spend less, while simultaneously loosening their legislative hold on businesses that actually employ people.

Why do I bother writing about this? A lot of Americans seem to want something for free, and they are being listened to. Those of us who want to do our jobs without regulations and exorbitant taxation are in the minority.

I have no children, but your children, and their children, are going to be paying for the lunacy of the "Stimulus" legislation about to be passed.

And who will benefit? The pals of those in government, that's who. Wall Street operators will make fortunes from the "Stimulus," and so will various Senators and Representatives whose campaign funds will be be swelled by contributions by those who are going to be cut into the cash.

Better for me to stick to the weather.

Sure looks like it's gonna rain...