Monday, March 31, 2008

Roaming Warriors of Southern California

One of the interesting aspects of life in southern California is that occasionally motorists pull out guns and shoot at each other.

With two of these to investigate in one day, one in Long Beach and one in the valley, the press likes to cover this stuff as if violence is steeply increasing, but it's not news. We shoot at each other down here.

Back on Valentine's Day, for one terrible moment, I thought I had become involved in a traffic shooting myself. No, not as the perpetrator, silly. I don't get that angry in traffic - though it is one of my least favorite modes of suffering. When the dismay becomes overwhelming, I act out by pulling over and finding coffee somewhere. Like this place. Or this place.

No no, on Valentine's Day I was the target of another driver's aggression. The kind of angry insanity that, armed with a pickup truck in motion, becomes an unpredictable and deadly weapon.

The Honda and I were driving down Sunset Boulevard to take the lovely out for dinner. It was very congested - lots of cars, sort of inching along. Frustrations were running high as traffic moved past Elysian park. One way you could tell was all the fruitless lane switching. Another manifestation was vehicles attempting to create new lanes where none should exist.

A pickup truck, however sleekly designed, is not a bicycle. The bike lane, between traffic and parked cars, is no place for any vehicle other than a Schwinn. Yet, as I moved along Sunset Boulevard heading west, I became aware of a decidedly un-Schwinn-like presence attempting to pass me. Some guy (we know it's a guy) with gravel for brains was hoping to negotiate a gap in the parked cars and get ahead of me before rear ending some poor fool who stopped to get their dry cleaning.

Time extends and as traffic began to slow for a new stoplight, and as my new favorite idiot realized things were not going his way, I leaned my head forward to make eye contact with the other driver. No horn. Horns stimulate the asshole genome. I just wanted to make sure this moron could see what was going on, was paying attention. I'd guess he was 23 years old, driving a beat up tank with some filthy lawn equipment in the bed, and he had buddies with him. He looked at me and said something in Spanish that was not for my benefit.

Traffic moved again and he gunned it, trying to navigate insufficient space, and I was positive we would collide. Then a tremendous POP! and my imagination kicked in, smelling gunpowder. Sweet hopping Hermes, I'm getting shot! The truck took off, cutting right and heading up one of the steep streets climbing a bluff near Chavez Ravine. As for me, I pulled into a gas station and staggered out of my car. Meanwhile, another pickup truck followed me.

The fella, a heavy Mexican guy with a clean 10-gallon hat and a kindly smile, asked if I was all right. I shrugged. All I wanted to know was,"Did he shoot at me?"

"Nah, he didn't shoot. He ran into one of the parked cars. Took their mirror right off."

At which point us two cowboys saddled back up and headed back into the wild west.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Today The Mayor Will Visit

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is scheduled to visit the center today.

Of course, they also told me Paris Hilton was going to drop by our most recent fundraising event. She didn't show, but the night was still "hot."

Part of the center is leased by the LAUSD to house an alternative education high school and their classrooms have just gotten a beautiful overhaul funded by Target. They now have an official Target floor, just like the one you walk on when you go to their stores for cheap candle holders or clothes or plastic bins to store your old taxes. With new carpeting, fresh paint, a drop ceiling, some new furniture, and other spiffy details, the room looks just grand.

And so, no doubt, will our well-tanned mayor.

Lately I've been walking around the office making a grinding sound - the sound a car makes when it is bearing far too much weight and is sitting squarely on its suspension, knocking the passenger's teeth out as it hits bumps and potholes. The metaphor of wearing too many hats is no longer appropriate. I'm wearing a three-piece concrete suit while wading in a pool.

Today, however, I will brush off that concrete suit, adorn it with a stucco bow tie, and smile for the mayor.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Been A Little Busy

Hello, dear reader, one of four or five readers who check in on this blog occasionally, thank you for stopping by and keeping this blog in your thoughts.

I've been on a top secret mission prospecting minerals in a little-known African country - well, no. That's silly. Actually, what I've been up to is much more pedestrian - I have accepted a full-time job as a crossing guard. No, that's a bad pun. No, seriously, what I've been working on is developing a cactus that pulls up oil from deep in the ground - by the time the cactus is 10 years old it is saturated with crude, ready to be harvested and squeezed without any expensive drills.

Wouldn't that be nice! Actually, no, that's not what I've been up to.

My baby has started speaking in utero and so I've been spending my nights at Sarah's belly, teaching him Italian, determined that he will be a bilingual child from birth. There is so much bullshit in the world, he's going to need at least two languages to help address it.

Don't believe that either, do you? That's why I love you, dear reader, you are smart. You know that some of this blog is utter fiction, some of it is autobiographical, and that at any moment what comes out is simply whatever made me laugh at that moment, in raw form and rarely revised. The crudest stuff you could squeeze out of a cactus.

I have not been here much this week because I've been working on other projects. Doing some improvisational acting with some nice and talented people in the Fairfax district; drafting an actual written contract to use for wedding officiant services (now that I've married so many of my friends, I'm started to be referred to people I don't know as well and, well, there are very good reasons to put things in writing); finished up a draft of a new play, and another one is starting to emerge from my fitful pencil scratches.

So this week I am posting a bit less often but I haven't wandered far. But if a latecomer stops by and wants to know where I am, you folks just tell him I'm mining Rhodizite in Madagascar, won't you? Let's have some fun on a Tuesday.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Green Moon of Discipline

Political watchers, like other kinds of sports fans, have a special vocabulary that is sometimes interesting to examine.

One of the words frequently used to describe the Bush Administration, by supporters and critics alike, is disciplined. No, we are definitely not referring to fiscal discipline. Certainly we are not referring to a disciplined approach to executive power. What political watchers mean by disciplined is that the Tyrant and his operatives stay "on message." They will repeat something, regardless of its truth, over and over again and will not depart from the script no matter what.

REPORTER: Today the President said the moon is made of green cheese. How does this statement hold up against scientific knowledge about the composition of the moon?

PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think the President's statement is perfectly clear, and if you want to question the president's assurance that the moon is indeed made of green cheese, I suppose you'll have to go talk to scientists. You can always find a scientist to confirm what you want.

REPORTER: But Dana, we've BEEN to the moon! American astronauts have walked on the moon! Today, former senator John Glenn called his own press conference to say this green moon talk is nonsense.

PRESS SECRETARY: The President's critics will always trot out someone to contradict him, but John Glenn you will remember did not actually walk on the moon himself. Neither, I think, have you. The President's job is to stay apprised of these things, and today he has confirmed that several bodies in space are composed of green cheese. The moon is only one of these. I would question why this fixation on making the moon something other than what it is.

This is barely an exaggeration, gentle reader! Aside from my silly imaginary topic, this is very much the way the White House speaks and has always spoken to the American people. Are you prepared for a real-life example? Here we go. This is what political watchers call "discipline."

As we begin YEAR SIX of the Iraq Occupation, the President presented, as usual, a transparent lie in his speech at the Pentagon (emphasis mine):

Out of such chaos in Iraq, the terrorist movement could emerge emboldened -- with new recruits, new resources, and an even greater determination to dominate the region and harm America. An emboldened al Qaeda with access to Iraq's oil resources could pursue its ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction to attack America and other free nations. Iran would be emboldened as well.

They weren't playing that sound byte on many news stations. It's a howler. The President of the United States is claiming that al Qaeda, in reality a small and fiercely unpopular insurgent group in Iraq, is somehow going to be allowed to poach Iraqi oil and sell it internationally? How does that work? We're supposed to believe the Shi'ite majority in Iraq, the Mahdi Army, Sadrists AND Badrists - and the Shi'ite nation of Iran - would permit such a thing?

Now let's go to the press conference for a moment. A reporter actually followed up on this stinking lie - or tried. This is what political watchers call "discipline."

Q The President warned of the danger that al Qaeda could gain access to Iraq's oil resources. But I don't understand how a fragmented, clandestine, non-Iraqi terrorist organization could produce and sell Iraqi oil on the global market, especially when the majority of Iraqis have turned against al Qaeda. Could you describe a plausible scenario?

MS. PERINO: The purpose of what the President said is that al Qaeda should not be allowed to have safe haven in Iraq and take over --

Q How can they take over Iraq's oil reserves --
[[Yes, can we get back to this lie?]]

MS. PERINO: Well, if we were to leave we would certainly ensue chaos and not be able to -- if we were to leave too soon, it would certainly be chaos and it would be terrible for not only the innocent Iraqis, but the entire region and, in fact, our own national security. That's what the President --

Q But the Iraqis would let a foreign terrorist organization take over their oil?
[[Attempt #3.]]

MS. PERINO: You're missing the point, and I think that you should go back and read --

Q No, I --

MS. PERINO: Yes, actually, I think you are missing the point. And I call on you because I see what you write about how you come here and you really want to have questions asked. And I'm calling on you and I'm providing it to you, but I suggest that you read the President's speech and read it in context, because that's -- what you're suggesting is not what the President said.

And with that she moved on to another question.


VOTERS - We need to start writing letters to news editors. Stop passing those meaningless on-line petitions, folks, they mean nothing. Phone calls, emails, and letters to news editors - your newspaper, your news radio station, your TV news station, your favorite newsy websites and blogs - and urge them to report on and question lies like this.

And you POLITICAL WATCHERS - maybe it's time to reconsider some of this vocabulary. Staying "on message" is not necessarily a virtue. Is it not a little strange and cynical to watch someone stick to an indefensible lie and call that "discipline?"

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Five Years

Five years ago today, our tyrant condemned two countries to hell in a ruinous war.

Even when it became clear we had been swindled into a pre-meditated war, a compliant Congress went along with the tyrant's program, faithfully funding his insane and aimless project, and doing nothing effective to curb his overreaching abuse of executive power and the American people.

On the fifth anniversary, he repeats the lie that this foreign occupation makes our country "safer" when exactly the opposite is true.

No President has broken his oath of office more flagarantly or with more lasting damage. And the institutions of our country were completely baffled in their role of oversight. A malignant administration ran amok and the United States could not defend herself.

Five years later, one must seriously question our republic's ability to fend off the advances of a dictator more capable and determined than George W. Bush or Richard Cheney. It is a question we should give long, sober thought. And since the press will not ask this question, the people must bring it up. Every day, anywhere we discuss politics. We must talk openly about tyranny and authoritarianism for the sake of national security and the survival of Constitutional government.

We must ask the candidates for President.

Yesterday, one of the candidates gave a speech many consider brave and inspirational, saying some frank things about race and class in our country. We must be as brave and as frank in discussing the abuse of power that has taken place over the last eight years, the drastic expansion of executive power and the unchecked power of the justice system, and how Congress can safely rein in a disasterous war.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Tale of Sir Ackenfloyd

Sir Ackenfloyd quaffs his morning coffee and Lady Scinticleer helps him into his chainmail, then his platemail, and the rest of his armor. She senses some hesitancy. "Good knight," she says.
"It's morning, dear."

"No no, Ackenfloyd, I was just going to ask you, what burdens you?"

Ackenfloyd sighs and the armor settles around him, going tinka-tink, and Scinticleer realizes the brave knight is dragging his feet about going to the round table this morning. "It's just that..." and he pauses for inspiration. "It's a good job and all, but sometimes I don't feel like going. Some of the other knights, they - they-"

"Yes? Yes?"

"They interrupt. It's awfully rude. Sometimes in the middle of a sentence, they - "

"They just start talking right over you?"

"Yes. Exactly."

Lady Scinticleer smiles warmly and eases on her knight's helmet. "The way to handle that, my light, is simply to pause for ten seconds every time you are interrupted. They will soon learn they gain no time by interrupting you like that, and things will go much more swiftly if they learn to be patient and take their turn at conversation."

Under his helmet, Sir Ackenfloyd is smiling at his lady's wisdom. Since he cannot nod his head, he gives a slight bow of his upper body and says, "Yes! That is wise! I shall try that!"

With endearments and prayers, Lady Scinticleer waves him off, and good knight Sir Ackenfloyd heads outdoors to assume his mount. He looks up and down the path and wonders to himself...

"Now where did I leave my horse this time?"

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I Didn't Do Anything, But I Apologize

This blog has taken a step back from presidential politics this month, mainly because it would be repeating the same dreary material over and over again. Also, a lot of my friendly readers might tire of my complaining about Democrats.

Actually, in the Congress, Democrats had a good week.

At the risk of appearing as a Hillary Clinton basher (a "monster" if you will), just want to say something that CNN and other news media appear unwilling to say; and it's a phenomenon in public discourse that is not unique to Hillary Clinton.

Here's the CNN headline: "Clinton Apologizes To Black Voters."

They go on to report: "Senator Hillary Clinton did something Wednesday night that she almost never does. She apologized."

Here is the alleged apology: "You know I am sorry if anyone was offended. It was certainly not meant in any way to be offensive."

No fault is admitted. The incident is written off as a misunderstanding. No recognition of hurt feelings (I'm sorry IF anyone was offended). Whatever it is she is trying to say, she is not really apologizing.

There is no journalistic ethic, no standard of impartiality, that requires a reporter to refer to an apple as a vegetable just because a politician says it is.

Yet they call this transparent spin an "apology."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Strange Monday

Late last night, some happy news tapped ever so gently on the lid of my e-mail box - news I almost forgot by lunchtime Monday, so I will open with it and move on to my strange Monday.

The glad tidings came from the Shoestring Radio Theatre up in San Francisco, letting me know my first attempt at a radio play had been accepted and would be produced for their weekly show on KUSF , also to be heard on the Public Radio Satellite System and, naturally, their website. Keep one of the eyes on the back of your head on this space, gentle reader, and we will let you know when and where you may hear it.

The play, Do You Hear What I Hear?, was written in 2006 at the instigation of an old Conservatory chum who dove into radio. It's a barmy fantasy involving a gumshoe detective, a wee bit of madhyamika buddhism and more than a few jokes. Really, I am pleasantly surprised and delighted that Shoestring is going to perform it and put it on air. I was so excited, I sat up late at night reading the script again, and more than anything else what I enjoyed was a handful of two-dimensional stock characters contemplating the very fabric of their universe - something three-dimensional human beings rarely do.

Anyway, I slipped into bed elated, and spent the night being woken up by one nightmare after another. It was truly one of the worst nights of sleep I've had since I started sleeping again. Waking up and shaking off one terror, I would drift off again only to find some new horror cued up for me. It was a night of being pursued by disembodied dreads, walking in on suicides, rotting colors, music that ached, and finally - around five in the morning, thank you - dreaming of being shot in the head. Thanks ever so much, I'll go back to the insomnia if you don't mind.

Sleep deprived, I drove into South Central for work. (We're encouraged to call it "South Los Angeles" instead of South Central because changing the name of a problem is far cheaper than building things there or handing out kevlar to all the children. I call it South Central, never you mind, because everybody knows what I'm referring to when I write those two words together.)

At work I was nearly killed because some homicidal archivist decided to stack a 30-pound box of weighty matters on top of several boxes of donated clothing. I go searching for bank statements from 2005, and down it comes, nearly taking me down and leaving my creditors with no stone to suck; yet I survived this assassination attempt and soon found my day was only beginning.

Sallie Mae has drawn a line (a line you can view by opening a PDF attachment) that said, no more, you must resume paying your student loans, it is time to pay the price for getting a master's degree in a profession where you aren't wanted, pay up. Moreover, hand over your net income for the rest of March, dad. I wrote them an appeal to human sense, with proof of income and details of expenses; and if further appeals are required, they will include copies of sonograms and offers of my firstborn, or perhaps a shirt packed off to them with the memo "Please find enclosed, the shirt off my back (laundered)."

The lady bearing the spark of our passion phoned me at work to tell me her doctor was making concerned noises and directing her to the hospital, would I care to join her for a romantic evening in the labor triage unit? What could I say? When love calls... Spruced myself up, waved to the boss, and off I went to hold hands with my love as we listened to a John Cage composition entitled "Fetal Monitor" and wondered if this little ape running loose in her stomach was going to crawl out today.

Well, he didn't, and we were sent home relieved of much pain and fear. The pain, in my case, was over the welts Sarah dealt me when I remembered George Harrison and began to sing, "Here comes the son..." Rat-a-tat-tat, blows across the shoulders - who knew those cables reached so far?

As I finished writing this entry, the sleeping beauty partly awoke and called to me across our den of felinility. "Alg!"

"Yes, mistress of everything savory?"

"The rice bowl is under the piano! Okay?"


And thus endeth a very strange day, dear friends. The question remaining is - do I slip under those covers tonight? Will I dream of rice bowls under pianos, or do the terrors lie in wait for me again?

Maybe I could just stay up and write another sentence or two?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Saturday Mandala

Sarah made birth art this morning, left the art stuff out and asked me to try. So I put on Hamza El Din and went at it, starting from a circle Sarah had traced on the paper. When the CD stopped, I stopped.

Have not secured permission to put hers up, but here's mine - wrought with colored pencils, acrylic, oil pastels, and whatever else I found....

Friday, March 07, 2008

Baby Gonna Come Out

Sarah came home with a copy of the latest Shambhala Sun yesterday. "This - this is a Buddhist magazine!" I cried in surprise. It had been lent to her by a co-worker, for a couple of articles on psychology.

Noticing a tease on the cover about "the koan of parenting," I had a look inside and found (along with an ad for a Buddhist dating service!), an article by Karen Maezen Miller, a student in Maezumi Roshi's lineage - "A Cypress Tree, A Kiss Goodnight." It was beautiful and genuine and doggone it, said what I knew what she was going to say because this is so (in her words): "Through your own eyes, animated by your own intuitive action, the course becomes clear. Any parent, regardless of their beliefs, awakens to the whole of Buddha's teaching by not knowing what it means."

Or, as Paul Haller once whispered to me warmly at a sesshin on Cape Cod, "It's gonna happen the way it happens."

At my own office, a man named William is anticipating the arrival of his son as soon as next week. Yesterday I asked him if he and his wife had been taking birthing classes and we got to wondering how prepared anyone could be in advance, how much one could ever figure out about becoming parents, with all the information and advice fizzing in the atmosphere. William summed it all up by saying, "Doesn't matter. Baby gonna come out."

Zen Buddhism is a practice, it's not a philosophy or an aesthetic. This why the koan analogy is apt. Koan practice, the question and answer practice unique to the Zen tradition, when it sinks into your bones and gets underneath the mask, is indifferent to all of the mind's precious darlings. Here is your situation - what is the relationship? How will you act? Baby gonna come out.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

My Red Phone Ad

In the run-up to the latest round of Democratic primaries, the campaign for Senator Hillary Clinton rolled out a remarkable advertisement. View it here. The "Red Phone" ad became instantly notorious, as its subtext was pretty baldly, "Vote for me or your children will die." Barack Obama fired back with a red phone ad of his own.

Even the Republican John McCain riffed on the red phone ad, and some military leaders say they would rather not have McCain answering the red phone.

Since everyone is getting in on this red phone thing, I decided to write my own Red Phone Ad. And I would like to invite any reader of this blog who feels so inclined to send me their red phone ads. Write them up and submit them as comments. Let's have fun with this thing.

Here is my Red Phone Ad:

It's 3:00 A.M.

You and your cholicky baby have been up all night.

Somewhere in the White House, a phone is ringing.

"Nnnnn- hello?"



"J-Dog, 'ssup? You chillin'??"

"Um. I think you've got the wrong number."



Had that been an actual emergency, the phone would have been answered by a President half-asleep and groggy.

Can we take a chance on a president who has time to lay down and sleep? You're not sleeping! Why should the President of the United States?

Vote Larry. An insomniac and a workaholic. And a bit of a jerk. Everything we expect in a leader of the free world.

I'm Larry and I approved this message - at 3:00 AM.

The Phone People

A growing number of people at my office are walking around wearing their telephone headsets all the time.

It is no mere status symbol: these devices are actually in use. I have become used to approaching people carefully, miming a handphone and mouthing "Are-you-on-the-phone?" before I speak to them. You have to be delicate with them, like rousing a sleepwalker. At any time while I am conversing them, these individuals are liable to break eye contact, direct their gaze somewhere over my shoulder, and begin speaking loudly to someone who is not in the room with us. The disembodied voice usually takes precedence over conversation in the flesh.

My boss has a personal assistant who works a few hours per week. Yesterday, she arrived talking into the air, waved to me, put her things down, pantomimed a request to be let into a locked office, followed me in, opened up a drawer, and commenced working without missing a beat in her conversation. I never did get to exchange a proper hello - at some point during the day, the assistant was gone, and I imagine her walking down the ramp toward her car, alone and talking. Or perhaps she simply disappeared in thin air - "dropped," like a broken cell phone signal.

Al the security guy is in on it, too, but he doesn't have a "bluetooth" or similar device that clips to his head. He has an old fashioned plug-in earpiece, and he walks around with the earpiece on, the cord dangling by his side.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Walking Down The Tideland Myself

Tideland (2005) is said to be Terry Gilliam's darkest movie ever, a nightmare, so disturbing and repulsive as to be unwatchable. Depressing and hopeless, they say. American critics reviled the film, which struggled to find distribution in the U.S. It opened at a few theatres here in 2006, but it was such a desultory effort the director was forced to walk the streets wearing a sign to promote his movie.

Thanks to the DVD release (which crops the picture against the director's wishes), I saw the movie this weekend and all I can do is scratch my head and wonder at the negative reaction. Hopeless? Repulsive?

Weren't these critics falling all over themselves to praise Pan's Labyrinth that year? There were scenes in that movie I had to watch through my fingers, and I left the theatre feeling brutalized.

Tideland is even more upbeat than Gilliam's own Brazil (1985). Both movies depict an innocent person escaping traumatic circumstances into a fantasy world. In Brazil, a guileless bureaucrat is trapped in a dystopian, fascist police state with no way out. In Tideland, the circumstances take a couple of sad and disturbing turns, yet we see the innocent child at the center of it maintain her innocence, survive the situation, and at the end she seems to have found a way out, unlike poor Sam Lowry.

There is almost no violence - a single slap. As for disturbing images, I've seen worse on television medical dramas, and there is no malingering. The movie briskly moves along - not at the pace of a Hollywood blockbuster, perhaps. The narrative is linear, and the blurring of fantasy world and real circumstance is carried out in a straightforward manner.

Wisely, the little girl at the center of this spooky wonderland, and the pre-pubescent tension between her and her male friend Dickins, are kept perfectly innocent. It is, in fact, a very deft job by a director who is better known for big-budget, image-driven, large-cast spectacles.

Indeed, it lovingly portrays a child who uses her imagination to integrate a shocking event, in a way that is beautiful to watch. And for Gilliam, a very interesting artist who seems to be gifted with difficult luck, it is an achievement.

So I'm saying rent the thing and give it a try, won't you?