Thursday, May 31, 2007

Last Day at the Lake

As always, click an image to enlarge it.


I just remembered a horrific detail of yesterday's adventure that I must have blocked out.

Shortly after turning onto the highway, we were assaulted by a stench so noxious I could barely breathe. There were four of us in the car, and I glanced around furtively to see three blank faces, each no doubt suspecting one of the others. We had no dogs along to bear the blame.

But the fetor was so powerful, the only way it could have been human was if one of us had actually burst open and perhaps caught fire, which was not the case.

Peering out the window through my watery eyes, I noticed that we were passing a garden center. A tragic mishap involving fertilizer, I decided with considerable relief.


Great response here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Have You Tried Our Pennzoil Tempura?"

This morning I did two things for the first time in six days: I put on shoes and I ventured beyond the gates of River Hills. Miraculously, I survived my foray unscathed despite fears of rampant poverty and crime in the outside world. A week in a gated community can really change you.

Our destination was the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, a 380-acre Eden farther up the lake, on the North Cackalackee side. We went in the morning to beat the heat and ended up having the place almost to ourselves except for a well-behaved group of schoolchildren and a couple (also well behaved) celebrating their 61st anniversary. Our expectations were exceeded.

There were scads of unusual plants in the garden, but the most exotic thing I saw was on the way home: a building that housed a Japanese restaurant at one end and an auto parts store at the other. Nobody else saw it, and I have a feeling they didn't believe me. Must try to get a photo to restore my credibility ... if I can muster the courage to go out again.

N.B.: A few people, bless their hearts, didn't realize the bikini-clad temptress in the Memorial Day post was a joke. So I'd better declare that there were actually no gnomes in the fancy garden. A few topiary critters, but gnary a gnome.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Normal Accidents

Stephen was still Stephen. He was not about to get religious now, just because he was dying. The more he lost, the stronger he seemed to those who knew him well. He subscribed to what has been called the theory of normal accidents. On every construction job, there is a chance that one ridiculously small mistake -- one number dropped from the blueprints, one bolt dropped from a beam -- will start a crazy chain of events and bring down the whole house. That is what had happened somewhere inside his body. The same thing happened to about 5,000 Americans a year. His illness was a normal accident, and he refused to mythologize it.

Jonathan Weiner, His Brother's Keeper

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Heading South

It ain't Alaska, but ...

After nearly a year of renovation, Dan's parents are exhausted, but their house is pretty much done. More importantly -- to me -- it's now accessible. So we're hitting the road tomorrow morning for an eight-day visit.

Almost as exciting as going somewhere new is the fact that we don't have to take I-95 to get there. Hosanna!

Not a Moment Too Soon

Mark Morford draws parallels between the demise (one realized, the other anticipated) of two super-sized American icons.

One of These Stories Is True

The other is from The Onion:

Gay Flamingos Become Proud Parents

Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory

Kind of a toss-up, isn't it?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Shocking Discovery

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Bill O'Reilly may proclaim at the beginning of his program that viewers are entering the "No Spin Zone," but a new study by Indiana University media researchers found that the Fox News personality consistently paints certain people and groups as villains and others as victims to present the world, as he sees it, through political rhetoric.

The IU researchers found that O'Reilly called a person or a group a derogatory name once every 6.8 seconds, on average, or nearly nine times every minute during the editorials that open his program each night.
I feel so disillusioned.

The Year's Top Country Songs

1. If I Had Shot You When I First Wanted To, I'd Be Out Of Prison By Now
2. I Hate Every Bone In Her Body But Mine
3. It's Hard To Kiss The Lips At Night That Chewed Your Ass All Day
4. If The Phone Don't Ring, You'll Know It's Me
5. I Still Miss You Baby, But My Aim's Gettin' Better

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Big Picture

A nice article about Peggy Chun, a Hawaiian artist, and how she's continued her work since her ALS diagnosis.

Going, Going, Gone

I'm even more clueless than I realized. My mother reported that the house across the street was snapped up in three days. The one next door isn't close to finished, but the developer is already showing it to potential buyers.

He offered to buy my mom's place. I think she should consider it, but I doubt she will. She's said more than once that she thinks the next owner will renovate or expand it instead of tearing it down. That's a breathtaking display of denial, considering what's going on all around her. Dan, my sister, and I smile indulgently and shake our heads. The future is clear to us, and it isn't one of modest homes.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Mommie Dearest

"Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions."
Jerry Falwell

Mourning in America

The Internet is awash in touching tributes to the late Jerry Falwell. Christopher Hitchens's remains my favorite, but there are plenty of other contenders.

Like this one, by Betty Bowers:
I first met Jerry when he swooped down on Heritage USA to pick Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's bones clean of any easily-liquidated assets and studio equipment. They weren't the first people to be trampled when Jerry smelled money -- or bacon. As I told Tammy at the time, it's downright suicidal to stand between Jerry and a working television camera. After all, Jerry was most TV talk shows' go-to guy when they needed the snaggletooth-hillbilly point of view, a notoriously un-telegenic demographic.
And this one, by Mark Morford, which lets Falwell's words speak for themselves:
"The abortionists have got to bear some burden for [the attacks of Sept. 11] because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'"

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"The best thing about animals is that they don't talk much."
Thornton Wilder

"If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons."
James Thurber

Dexter, a Staffordshire bull terrier, prepares to enjoy a traditional English tea -- complete with cream cakes -- at London's Claridges hotel.

Cowboys and Candles

May is ALS Awareness Month, and yesterday was Advocacy Day, the annual occasion when we totter and roll around Capitol Hill to make our presence known. I hadn't been for a couple of years -- partly because the issues didn't seem terribly pressing, but mostly because our congressman and one of our senators are always supportive, while the other senator was ... George Allen.

Unlike Rep. Jim Moran and Sen. John Warner, Allen never met with us during his six years in office. Instead he would pawn us off on the youngest, least-experienced staffer available. I guess the big man was too busy pursuing his presidential ambitions and trying to get more Republicans into office. Or maybe he figured we wouldn't live long enough to vote his sorry ass out of office, in which case the joke's on him. (Now that we've booted one buffoonish self-styled cowboy, how can we get rid of the other?)

So at the personal level, my appearance this year was as much to celebrate Allen's departure as to lobby. We didn't get an audience with his gun-toting successor, Jim Webb, but he did rush by us in the corridor. And Warner, who's always had a soft spot for ALS, was gracious enough to duck out of the Capitol between votes to meet with us personally. I've never voted for him, but he's a good guy and a classic example of a critically endangered species: the moderate Republican.

My favorite part of the yearly gathering is the candlelight vigil, which was held Monday night at the Reichstag -- I mean the World War II -- Memorial. The speeches were pretty good, although two of the speakers coincidentally confused irony with coincidence. Which is ironic, considering that the words are essentially antonyms. (If you're the sort who conflates irony and coincidence, I should explain that antonyms are opposites.) I used to worry that irony was dying; now I'm more concerned that people don't know what it is in the first place. But that just makes it more fun for those who do.

Cavils aside, the vigil was, as always, a warm and touching event, and I was glad to be around for yet another one.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"Such a Little Toad"

Christopher Hitchens eulogizes Jerry Falwell on "Anderson Cooper 360."

A Hundred and Eighty Stitches

Unearthed! The Justice Department loyalty oath written by Monica Goodling:

I, [state your name], do solemnly swear
On, like, the biggest Bible ever,
Preferably one from Regent University,
That I will faithfully execute my duties
As they're passed down from Karl and Alberto and Monica [Wink at me. Hi!]
And occasionally a late-night phone call from a U.S. senator or representative from my state.
And will, to the best of my ability,
Prosecute any and all Democrats on voter fraud charges,
I mean really grind my boot into their face until they're unrecognizable,
And they need, like, a hundred and eighty stitches in their Democrat heads,
No matter how bogus the charges are,
And they will, trust me, be bogus as hell,
I will go after them, their families, their pets,
Their careers and their friends. I will dig up the bodies of their relatives and mock them,
And I will go through their trash twice a day.
And I will never prosecute people in my own party,
No matter how corrupt they are,
Because that would be like punching my mom in the mouth.
One nation, under, like, the most awesomest God,
A Christian God, of course, evangelical and heterosexual,
And the most awesomest president, George W. Bush.
And one more thing ... I will NEVER breathe a word of this to anyone.
And if I'm ever subpoenaed, I'll print all my emails and then burn them,
So they'll be destroyed for good.
Congratulations. You're in.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Unreal Estate

When I was growing up, if a family in our middle-class neighborhood wanted more space, they'd finish the basement or attic or convert the porch or garage. VoilĂ : a relatively quick and inexpensive den or family room. Occasionally someone would add a room or two to the back or side of a house, but if they needed more than that they'd just move.

Although the additions gradually got larger and more ambitious, people still used words like charm and character to describe the pre-war homes until recently. But in the past few years, with land values shooting through the roof, new owners have started to feel they should have a house befitting their whopping investment. Hence the teardown.

My poor mother is surrounded by three such projects in various stages of completion. Two are spec houses, one of which hit the market last weekend. Six bedrooms, five and a half baths, $2.3 million. I'm out of touch, I know, but that seems like an awful lot of money for one of the smallest and least desirable lots on the block: a third of an acre, with a steep dropoff. In fact, if any land remains behind the massive new house, it must be nearly vertical.

Apparently there's some cachet left to an old house, because the listing notes that it was built in 1939. Never mind that the only original features are two or three walls and a fireplace.

If even that is too cramped for you, take heart. The house next door will have seven bedrooms when it's finished in a few months. Price undetermined.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Good Times

Our Mother's Day brunch was far less eventful than this one and did not involve mug shots or a court appearance. We have subtler ways of expressing hostility.

More Fun With Animation


Nancy and her tomatoes is my favorite part.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

In Praise of Mothers

"Men are what their mothers made them."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

To a large extent that's true. But I think the observation could be expanded to include all women who've played significant roles in nurturing and guiding a person. I can think of many such figures in my own life.

At the top of the list, of course, is my mom. Having successfully completed the job -- as a single mother, no less -- she should have been able to sit back and relax until the pendulum swung in the other direction and she needed some care herself. But fate has little regard for our expectations, and things took a different turn when ALS appeared on the scene. My mom is now performing many tasks she thought she'd seen the last of decades ago. And she does it without complaint, which is especially remarkable when you consider who she's dealing with.

It's far too late to thank her, but my maternal grandmother was a huge influence in my early years. She'd tell you that she was my nanny, cook, and chauffeur -- and she was. But she was also teacher, travel companion, and moral guide. She's behind my Quakerism, my love of travel, and my loathing of bullshit. Grandma called things the way she saw them. And she was usually right on.

Her younger sister, by contrast, rarely saw the need to call things one way or the other. Despite being the "frail" one, Antoinette outlived my grandmother by more than two decades. She too was a great presence in my life, but she saw only one role for herself: that of cheerleader. Although she had no children of her own, she encouraged and celebrated every person she loved, and there were many. Shortcomings just made her cheer harder. Everyone should have an Antoinette in their life.

Over the years, I've acquired even more "mothers," each of whom has nurtured me in her own way. Like Bonnie, my stepmother, and Terry, my uncle's significant other of almost 30 years, both unfailingly supportive, always asking what they can do to make my life easier. There's also Florence, a neighbor who's been a family friend for three generations now, and Mary, who took care of me when I was little.

And finally there are other people's mothers. I've always felt lucky to have exceptional friends, and sometimes I got lucky twice over. Several of their moms opened their wings and welcomed me right into the nest, often becoming friends in their own right. A great privilege in each case.

At this uncertain stage in my life, it wouldn't be surprising to feel dark and apprehensive -- and sometimes I do. But usually I feel warm and secure, in large part because of all that mothering. So thanks, Mom. And "Mom" ... and "Mom" ...

Happy Mother's Day!

Headline du Jour

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Beat Goes On

I've been a Lowen and Navarro fan since 1991 -- long before I got ALS, and even longer before Eric Lowen did.

Three years after his diagnosis, he seems to be doing fairly well. He graduated from scooter to power wheelchair in the past year and can't play the strings as expansively, but his voice remains clear and strong -- and so, evidently, does his spirit. (Click here for an article he wrote last summer.)

The band maintains a touring schedule that would wear down lesser mortals, and wherever they perform they offer several free tickets through the local ALSA chapter. This was the second year in a row that we enjoyed their largess.

L&N always put on a great show; neither age nor ALS seems to have the slightest impact. And the Birchmere is an ideal venue. Like their music, it's warm, accessible, and intimate. Good times.

The Awakening

I never worry about running out of embarrassing anecdotes. Besides having plenty of my own, others are happy to share. Especially when the joke's on someone else.

As it happens, I know both the informant and the subject of the story I heard yesterday. Its authenticity has been verified, if somewhat reluctantly. The defense was simultaneously weak and compelling: "I was in college."

One bleary Saturday morning, after a night of carousing with friends, our heroine awakened, turned her head to the left, and saw a hand.

Her heart pounding as fast as her head, she frantically replayed the events of the prior evening. Who was I with? What happened those last couple of hours?

Steeling herself, she glanced to the right. Nobody there. She'd simply passed out with her arm behind her head, and her hand fell asleep.

As the informant observed: "It must have been a hell of a night if you couldn't recognize your own hand."


Friday, May 11, 2007

Fun With Animation

Eclectech's trippy Tinfoil Hat Song, featuring the delightfully named Sylvia and Emmeline Spankhurts.

Main site here. There's even a song about bestiality.*

* Please note that the word is bestiality -- not
"beastiality," as most people pronounce it. The animals and I thank you.

Fun With Editing

The Joan Crawford Mega Mix.

An Insider's Tour of Paris

NEW YORK, May 10 -- The latest odd statue by artist Daniel Edwards features a naked, provocatively posed and seemingly dead Paris Hilton undergoing an autopsy.

For a show warning teens about underage drinking, the sprawled-out "Hilton" clutches a cocktail glass in one hand and a cellphone in the other as her distressed dog, Tinkerbell, jumps across her bare chest. She and the animal wear matching tiaras.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Hello Dolly

I was forwarded an email recently that contained the most captivating claim.

The writer, who described himself as a "proud papa," boasted: "My daughter is well known in the doll collector's world."

Peer esteem notwithstanding, if I had an adult daughter who collected dolls, I'd be a lot more worried than proud.

Perhaps I'm just embittered by my owned failed efforts. For a very brief period in childhood I collected baseball cards (or maybe it was football) -- one of several doomed attempts to fit in. Later there were the beer cans, which did not prove as valuable as I'd hoped. (To put it mildly -- they eventually went out with the recycling.) I don't think I've really collected anything since, and I tend to look askance at those who do.

Isn't collecting just focused materialism? What's the point, anyway? Not that everything needs a point. But will your life really fall apart if there's an empty spot on your Spoons of the World display rack?

When you set out to acquire a particular set of objects, it's easy to get carried away. Even obsessed. Before you know it, you've crossed the thin, blurry line that separates collectors from hoarders and the neighbors are giving you funny looks. It happens all the time.

My former dentist's receptionist had a thing for stuffed bears. Not just any kind, but a pricey line whose name I forgot as soon as she told me. They seemed to be marketed more to 40-something receptionists than to children. With no kids herself, she'd dedicated her spare bedroom to the bears, lining its walls with shelves to house the ever-expanding collection. She stayed up late watching QVC and placing an order whenever a new bear was introduced, which seemed to happen remarkably often. She was totally hooked, even after it began to strain her marriage. All this she told me with nary a trace of self-consciousness.

Much of my aversion is based in snobbery, of course. I snicker at Hummels (or, God forbid, Lladros), but I might admire a display of, say, pre-Columbian pottery. Same with Rockwells versus Renoirs.

As for dolls -- antique ones, anyway -- they give me the willies. Dolls and clowns. And I'm not the only one.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Further Signs of the Apocalypse

A wildfire rages behind the Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park
north of downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, May 8, 2007.
(AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

(Rebecca Calamar)

Houston, We Have a Problem

I thought everyone I knew had heard -- at least once -- the harrowing tale of my 1997 layover in Houston, but a close longtime friend claims not to remember it. I am therefore obliged to recount the sordid episode once again. Blame him, not me.

That steamy summer, I was at the George (H.W.) Bush Intercontinental* Airport, changing planes on my way home to San Francisco after a business trip in Whorlando. (If you absolutely must know, I was helping train executives of a popular family-style restaurant chain to deal with media in the event of a disaster at one of their eateries. Don't ever say I didn't contribute to society.) With some time to spare, I made a brief pit stop.

After successfully tending to matters, I was just about to move along when I heard a voice very nearby say something you never want to hear in a restroom: "Oh no." This was followed by the unmistakable sound of an overflowing toilet.

Instinct took over: I snatched my briefcase off the floor and froze on the commode, my legs sticking straight out in front of me like a magic trick. A pool of water appeared under the partition, then a small, lonely turd, which rolled to a stop in the middle of the pretty puddle.

Because I was in the last stall, I found myself between a rock and a hard place -- the hard place being a solid wall and the rock being ... well, you know. Fortunately, the toilet stopped flushing before the situation turned any uglier, and I yanked up my pants and beat a hasty retreat.

This is exactly the sort of thing I would have expected to happen at an airport named for George Bush, I thought disgustedly.

* Most airports are content to call themselves international, but evidently not Houston's.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

"Weekends Are Drinking Time"

I've made plenty of stupid mistakes, but none of the "10 dumbest resume blunders" described in Fortune.

One former boss kept the rather fawning please-hire-me letter I wrote after the interview. He liked to pull it out from time to time just to torment me. If you held it to the light just so, you could see the brown smudges.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Japanese nail artist Yoko Matsuda shows Hello Kitty nails
at a Tokyo beauty show.