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 interesting...how '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.