Sunday, August 31, 2008

Stealing the Thunder

Before getting to the part dealing with the title of this entry, by now you know that I of course have to share my weekly Costco visit with you, so here's some of the goodies I picked up on Saturday morning.

A 30-pack of Kern's Nectar. It's been ages since I've had this stuff. Actually I don't plan on drinking it; I bought it for Julie. I remember back in high school the Nakai twins told us their dad was a VP at the company. Good stuff..

Newman's dressing. Salad dressing is so expensive - it's a lot cheaper getting it at Costco and better quality, as well. None of that Kraft or Wishbone stuff. Yecch. I thought it was funny that when I pointed the camera at the two bottles, little squares appeared around both faces in the lcd panel viewfinder, identifying them as the human "subjects" of the pictures.

I've never tried these tomatoes but the Campari ones I usually buy didn't look all that red or ripe today so I opted for these. At least they look like they're low maintenance.. just rinse and use!

This turkey is pretty good. Gotta replenish my supply for my boring turkey sandwich that I take to work when I'm in the office! The dusting of herbs on this make it more exciting than your average turkey, haha.

And finally I've included a picture of peaches in here before but these were jumbo. Even the guy checking the receipts at the exit made a comment about how big they were. The last box I bought was ravingly good so I hope these maintain the tradition.

This afternoon we drove down to the Orange County Performing Arts Center to take in a matinee performance of A Chorus Line. I took my binocam (combination binoculars and digital camera) with me and sneaked a few pictures, none of which came out very well. The one below is the least bad among the bad.

I never saw the musical when it first came out but did see the movie. Much of today's performance didn't register in my memory from the movie, but I do remember Michael Douglas as the director was much, much better than the person playing the role today.

The play itself was okay but didn't excite either Julie or me. There were quite a few empty seats; we asked the usher if it was okay to move closer and she said to be her guest. We moved from the first row of the back section to the last row of the section in front of us, but it made a big difference as far as view. Note: we weren't as close as the above picture would lead you to believe, though. That picture appears closer because it was taken through the binoculars. Weird thing about the binoculars is what you see through the lens is not what the camera sees - the zoom aspect is a lot lower. But still it's better than nothing.

Afterwards we walked across the street to the hi-tone South Coast Plaza. What a bunch of ritzy stores! We ate medium-range, at Lawry's Carvery, an informal order at the counter / they bring you your food operation. As you would expect, I took some pictures. First, Julie's roast beef sandwich. She said it was good and the au jus not too salty.

Next, my prime rib sandwich. I ordered it medium and it came out redder than I expected but it was good.

And we shared a caesar salad that was also good. Total tab for this was $32. Not cheap, but a lot less than you would pay at the real Lawry's.

I took a picture of the mall directory because of the scary woman on the cover. Do people really think women are more alluring when they look like Night of the Living Dead, and are angry because of it? Why can't they smile and look friendly? Personally I find the dress attractive but not the woman's expression.

Now let's take just her head and remove the expensive dress. Put her on someone else's body in normal clothes and you'd be ready to call 911 because she was having seizures or convulsions from food poisoning and her eyeballs were ready to roll up inside her head.

Last thing: I don't want politics to enter this blog but I just have to add my two cybercents here and say I am surprised and happy by John McCain's choice for his running mate. I had no idea who Sarah Palin was before the announcement but she seems like a really down-to-earth, likable person. She even looks like a cross between Sally Field and Diane Keaton. How can you not like that? I was expecting some stodgy, run-of-the-mill establishment person to be named and boy (or girl), am I glad I was wrong.

I watched a video of an interview she did with MTV way back on Super Tuesday, long before she had any idea that she would be stealing the thunder from Hillary Clinton (and the Obama campaign as well) nearly seven months later. One thing she said that I really liked was something to the effect of how Americans are getting tired of excessive partisanship that gets in the way of doing the right thing for this country. Amen. I totally agree, and I sure hope whoever wins the election will do something about this.

I'm really looking forward to both the presidential and vice-presidential debates; this is shaping up to be the most interesting election we've had in a long, long time. Are we really going to wind up with change for the better, or will it be like Roger Daltrey sang in Won't Get Fooled Again: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Okay, that's the soapbox for today. No more politics.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cochran Avenue

[It's a long weekend ahead so here's a long entry]

Once we had access to wheels, the Friday and Saturday night configuration among my buddies during high school depended on who had a girlfriend or who was trying to get a girlfriend and was out that night trying. Those of us who fit into neither category wound up as part of the Friday or Saturday night configuration.

That particular night, it was just Rob and me. But, once the dates were over, everyone was expected to rendezvous at Bob's Big Boy.

Rob and I were cruising around in his Heavy Chevy. Out of all of us he was the least adventurous when it came to driving so we generally stayed within fairly close boundaries of home. Hollywood was about as far as he'd consider driving.

We'd frequently visit Arons Records. It was on Melrose near Highland, before Melrose became a trendy place. Back then, Melrose consisted mostly of run down shops and parking was hardly a problem. Prior to finding out about Aron's, I'd frequent The Warehouse because I didn't know there were stores that sold used and promo records like Aron's did. Seeing bins and bins of new promotional records and used ones in excellent condition for 99 cents up to $1.98 was like finding gold.

Sadly, Arons is no longer around. After moving into larger quarters on Highland, eventually they fell victim to the superstores as well as music downloads. But back in the good old days, that was one of my favorite places to be. That evening Rob and I perused the bins, saw whatever there was to see, and realized it was still on the early side.

David told us he would be at his girlfriend's house that evening. Not having anything better to do, I suggested we drive over there and leave a note on his car reminding him to meet us at Bob's later on.

"You know where she lives?" Rob asked me.

"Not exactly. I know the street and the general vicinity so why don't you drive up the street until we see his car. It can't be that hard to find. She lives on Cochran."

So off we went to Cochran. We started at a point far enough south that we knew she had to live at some point north of where we were. Rob looked left and I looked right.

Finally, we saw the unmistakable sight of the Battlewagon, back to its old glory after the mishap it had suffered months ago at the hands of the embankment in Laurel Canyon. I wondered which house J lived in (by the way, this "J" isn't the same as my junior high crush "J".. seems like I know a lot of "J's" doesn't it?) - was it the one right in front or to the side or across the street? Good that at least I knew what street she lived on. The neighborhood consisted of houses closely packed together, all with lots of shrubbery that made it look even more dense. Cars lined the street up and down the block on both sides. The Battlewagon was just one of many squeezed into the available spaces.

Despite the crowd, Rob managed to find a parking space only a few driveways away from the Battlewagon. I wrote a note for him: Daveed, don't forget to meet us at Bob's. We'll be waiting for you, Holmes! The note was designed to poke fun at Rick, who had a habit of pronouncing David's name the European way, with the "a" like "ah" and the "i" like "ee." And he also had a penchant for calling people Holmes and Jones. We had taken the liberty of naming Cindy's two giant stuffed animals Holmes and Jones, respectively, which she thought were great names.

Rob was "Robear" (as in Robaire), the name and the spelling having come from his sister Karen who had seen a bear sunning itself at the Santa Barbara zoo and said it reminded her of Rob. So she called him "Robear the Sun Bear," which we shortened to Robear. Duane was "Dominique" which I suppose was the French equivalent of his name and I happened to be "Riquito" which doesn't match any language but it does rhyme with "taquito."

I finished the note, then got out of the Heavy Chevy and walked past a couple of driveways to put it under the Battlewagon's windshield wiper. I pulled the wiper away from the windshield, laid the note on the glass, then let the wiper back down to rest on top of it.

Then I thought I saw something move inside the car. I looked again but there was no one inside so I got spooked and quickly walked back to Rob's car. I opened the door, got in and sat there with a funny look on my face.

"What's the matter?"

"I'm not sure. I thought I saw something move in David's car when I put that note on the windshield."

"Something move? Like what?"

"I don't know. Like some gray thing all of a sudden but maybe I saw a reflection in the glass or something." I sat there staring at the dashboard feeling weird.

"Well what do you want to do? Do you want to go back and see?"

I thought about it for a moment. "No, let's just go. We'll see him later." That had really bothered me but I didn't want to pursue it any further so we drove off.

It was a pretty boring evening with not much to see. So boring, that Rob and I returned to the scene of the crime. As we drove up Cochran again, a car came toward us flashing its high beam. It blocked the narrow street, leaving us not enough room to pass. We sat there wondering who was shining their headlights on us like that.

It was the Battlewagon. David emerged from the car and walked toward us, fuming. In the car we could make out J, looking even angrier than David. Rob rolled down his window as David leaned in.

"Which one of you son-of-a-*** did it?" he demanded angrily.

We stared at him.

"Well?? Which one? Did you think it was that funny???"

"What are you talking about?" I asked, glancing at J whose expression hadn't changed a bit.

"Who left that &%$%#@ note on my ^#$@%^ car?!!??!"

"Uh, I did," I told him. "Why? What's the matter?" Did I mess up his windshield or something?

"Ha ha, very funny, you son-of-a-***. I'm going to break your %##@% neck!!"

I still had no idea what he was talking about. "Why? What did I do?"

"Look, it's not so bad for me, but J is furious. She's ready to kill me!" He glanced back at her and we saw her wearing the same angry stoneface. "How long were you looking??"

"Looking at what?"

"Damn it, how long were you standing there??"

"I don't know, about ten seconds. I just put the note on your car and left."

"Ten seconds? Don't give me that bull***!"

"Why would I lie? It was about ten seconds! How long does it take to leave a note on your car? I put it there and left!" I still didn't know why he was so mad.

"Are you sure? Just ten seconds?" When I nodded, he continued. "So what did you see?"

"I didn't see anything. I don't know what you're talking about." Then I paused. "Well, I thought I saw something move but I wasn't sure. I got startled so I got out of there real quick."

"That was US, you son-of-a-***!!"

"What??!?" I exclaimed, finally putting two and two together. "I didn't know!"

David pointed a threatening finger at me. "I'll see you at Bob's! I'm going to break your *%#!% neck! You'd better be there!" With that, he turned around and stomped back to the Battlewagon while J continued with the expression that had remained unchanged during our whole heated exchange. The Battlewagon screeched and flew past us. I sat there bewildered.

"I didn't see anything," I said. "They were in the car? How the hell should I know that? Why would they be making out in front of J's house?"

Rob just shrugged and looked at me. "He's going to break your neck," he said.

"Well I guess we ought to go to Bob's."

We drove into the parking lot and parked the car. Almost immediately David pulled up. He got out of the car and slammed the door. We got out of our car. The three of us stood in the parking lot facing each other.

"You know, I should break your %$%@ neck right now," Davd fumed as he glared at me. "J is so mad she won't even talk to me. It was like ice taking her home and things are kaput with us."

"Well I'm sorry, I didn't know," I said.

"Me, I'm okay but she's on the warpath with me now! What the hell is the matter with you?"

"Me?" I said. "Why were you fooling around in front of her house like that?"

"Her house is two blocks down from there! You don't think we'd be stupid enough to be fooling around in front of her own house, do you?"

"Well how the hell do I know? I don't know where she lives! All I know is she lives on Cochran, like you told me!"

David calmed down a degree. What I was saying made sense, and now he understood I hadn't done anything intentional. And that I hadn't seen anything of an indiscreet nature. We went inside the coffee shop.

David slumped down in the booth. "Oh man, am I in trouble," he lamented. "I was ready to break your neck, you know-"

"I know."

"-but I hear what you're saying. When we saw that note on the windshield, I was like, oh ****, what the hell is going on. Then J read it and that was the end. I've never seen her so mad. I don't know how I'm going to get out of this one. She was livid. She didn't say a word all the way back. We got to her house, she got out of the car, slammed the door and marched into her house. Not a word to me - not one. Ice."

"Well if it's any consolation, I didn't see a thing. All I saw was something move all of a sudden and I got out of there quick. Sorry, buddy!"

Apparently lettuce with bleu cheese dressing, meat and french fries soothed the savage beast as David calmed down and we sat there shaking our heads. The prospect of dealing with J in the aftermath made him look weary.

It took a while - a long while, but J finally eased up. Duane used to call David "Jinx" because of his penchant for having things happen to him.

That was one crazy night. I must have been really naive for taking so long to figure out what was going on. Looking back on it, what would I have done if I really had put the note on the windshield and figured out what was going on? Would I have stayed for the show? Would I have told David the truth then? I'm sure the answers would have been "no" and "no." I would have zoomed out of there even faster than I did, and hopefully would have been wise enough to grab the note. And I sure wouldn't have owned up to having seen anything.

Then there's David - put in quite the delicate situation. What if J declared his friends to be perverted jerks (who knows, maybe she did) and directed him to make a choice, us or them? What would any of us do in that situation?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Ritchie Rock - Part Two

[continued from yesterday]

Rick's question passed right over David; he was too lost in thought. Finally, temptation got the better of him. “Let’s go,” he announced.

“You gotta be crazy, holmes!” Rick shot back. "What about those brakes?"

“My brakes are okay,” David replied. “They just needed a rest. I’ll go easy on them.”

“And here we go for round two against the wild Mustang,” I told the tape recorder.

David maneuvered back onto Mulholland and headed west in what Rick and I knew was a fruitless pursuit of his now long-gone competitor, if you could even call it that. The brakes did seem like they had been rejuvenated.

Without the Mustang visible either ahead or behind us, David took a slower pace that gave the Battlewagon, and us a breather. From Cahuenga to Laurel Canyon Boulevard, there was no Mustang sighting. A disappointed David turned the car around to head back.

“Just as well,” Rick said. “What would you do if you ran into him again? This car’s in no shape for speed.”

David let out an exasperated grunt and kept driving. Back we went, past the same houses and trees and views we had seen just a short while ago. The smell of burning brake fluid seeped into the interior.

“Oh crap, the brakes are going out again.” David slowed down, but the numerous twists and turns in the road as well as the overall decline in elevation as we proceeded east made it impossible to go easy on the brakes. “Damn! Damn it! Ah, don’t worry, they're not too bad yet. I can get us back. It’ll be a piece of cake once we’re down from here and back on flat land and straight roads.”

“And that’s the big if,” I told the tape recorder, doing my best Howard Cosell imitation. “The boys have failed in their quest to find the fabled Mustang and now head home in defeat.”

Rick kicked the back of the seat and laughed, telling me to shut up, while David concentrated on the road. Unfortunately the smell of the burned brake fluid became stronger and stronger. David had resorted to shifting the automatic transmission into lower gears in attempt to slow the car down but now we were starting to experience some swerving action around the corners. Pretty soon he'd have to shift it into reverse if we were going to stop.

I interviewed Rick in the meantime. “Are we going to make it out of here? Tell me, Muhammad Ali, what do you think?”

“Well let me tell you Howard, if this was my car, I’d be making it float like a butterfly down this hill. I’d have already taken out that Mustang and put him away by doing my Battlewagon shuffle and then…”

And then a four-letter expletive roared from David startled us back to the ride. We looked out front and saw the car swerving toward an embankment and heard the squeal of the tires being asked for more traction than what they were capable of handling. Still, I thought this was going to be just another of our increasingly closer calls and we’d slide out of this one, too.

No dice. The Battlewagon slid off the pavement, onto the dirt and up against the embankment where it became lodged too far in to back out, and too far in for us to be able to push it out. We were stuck.

The tape recorder had flown out of my hands onto the floor beneath the dashboard, shutting itself off upon the impact. Playing back the tape, the last audible sound was the expletive that flown from David’s mouth. The tape had failed to catch the string of them that followed after we came to our involuntary stop, however. Those are still echoing out in space somewhere.

“Well look on the bright side, at least there was this hill to stop us from going off the edge,” observed Rick as we finally got out of the car to survey the damage. What he said was true; there were plenty of less opportune places along this road where the brakes could have finally given out that would have left us rolling over the edge of a cliff.

“What the hell am I going to do now? My dad is going to kill me,” David said as he tried to comprehend the whole mess. “I’ll be grounded until college.”

It was so late at night hardly any traffic passed by, and none offered to stop. One of them was even a Highway Patrol cruiser who must have thought we had some girls in the car and he was doing us a favor by not hassling us. There were also no nearby houses. All there was were the three of us and an inoperable blue station wagon. The mighty Battlewagon had met its match twice that night.

Finally David decided to walk down the hill to find a pay phone. Rick and I stayed at the car just in case we could flag down a police car that might happen by. We waited a long time, speculating on exactly what punishment would be meted out by Mr. Ritchie, as well as expressing our gratitude that it wasn’t either of us who had been driving.

A long while later, what seemed about an hour or more, a car pulled up. It was Mr. Ritchie, accompanied by David in the passenger seat. A tow truck pulled up a moment later. Mr. Ritchie got out of his car, said hello to us and inspected the damage while David explained what happened. He seemed calm enough, but then what else could he do – the accident had already happened.

Mr. Ritchie told David to accompany the tow truck driver as they took the car to a garage, and then he drove us home. I wanted to sit in the back but Rick beat me to it, keeping the same seating arrangement we had in the Battlewagon. In my hand was the tape recorder containing the now infamous cassette documenting our journey that night.

It was a quiet ride back. Not silent, because David’s dad made an effort to converse with us, but there wasn’t a whole lot to talk about. He showed no anger, just an acceptance of what had happened. Had this been a Little Rascals episode, one of us would have asked, "can you take us over to Bob's Big Boy instead?"

Naturally David got in big trouble, although not as big as he expected, so he said. He was grounded but things relaxed soon enough so that this incident and its aftermath wound up being just a blip on our cruising timeline.

A month or two later Rob and I drove to the scene of the crime. With us we had some paint and a brush. On one of the large rocks lining the embankment we immortalized that most inauspicious occasion by painting in big letters, “Ritchie Rock.”

Five years later it was still visible. Is it still there today or have the elements chiseled it away? I have no idea. If ever I go up there again, I’ll know exactly where to look, though.

And here's a double-feature for you:

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ritchie Rock

If you keep heading north on Laurel Canyon Boulevard instead of hanging a left at Lookout Mountain Drive, a little further up you'll run into Mulholland Drive - that famous twisty street that winds through the top of the Hollywood Hills from Sepulveda and the 405 Freeway on the west to Cahuenga on the east. Actually it goes even farther west than the 405 but back then that part wasn't paved. The "civilized" portion was east of Sepulveda.

Next to LC, that was our main cruising destination, when we had a destination. One thing pretty much every Friday and Saturday night had in common those days was that no matter what each of us might have been doing, we'd make every effort to rendezvous at Bob's Big Boy on La Cienega, the one that was a little ways north of Fedco. You remember Fedco, don't you?

With no cell phones back then, the unwritten rule of getting in touch with one another was to cruise past Bob's to see if we spotted a familiar car, which often we did. Or, if we were all together to begin with, that's where we headed for a late night snack. David always ordered the same thing: the Bob's Big Boy combo consisting of a Big Boy burger, fries and a side salad with bleu cheese dressing. It cost all of $1.05. Add a 10% tip and you were eating for about $1.15 plus tax, if they even charged it on restaurant food back then. I don't think they did.

This particular night, the configuration consisted of David driving the SMD944 Battlewagon, Rick, and me. We started at the western paved end of Mulholland and headed east.

What's nice about that street, at least at night, is it is so empty. There's hardly anyone to get in your way. And it is scenic. As the street twists and turns through the hills, vistas on one side and then the other open up to reveal panoramic views containing seas of sparkling lights in the San Fernando Valley on the north, and the Los Angeles basin on the south.

I already told you yesterday David had the messiest room I ever saw. And he also had the distinction of being the most daring, i.e., reckless, driver among us. He took the Battlewagon to the limits whenever he drove and that night on Mulholland was no exception.

As he navigated the road, me in front next to him and Rick in the back, headlights appeared in the rear view mirror. "Oh, so we've got someone looking to tail me, eh?" said David as he kept glancing at the lights. "Okay buddy, let's see what you've got."

With that, he pushed the pedal further towards the floor and the Battlewagon responded. So did the person following us. "This guy is good," David remarked as we wound our way through the curves and sped it up on the short straightaways. "I have to hand it to him, he's good."

I had a tape recorder with me. I don't know why, but I did. So as we went from curve to curve, I provided the narration along with Rick's commentary and of course, David's assessment of our pursuer's skills. No matter what maneuver David tried, the car behind stayed right with us.

"What's that smell?" asked Rick.

"Brake fluid," David answered.

"Brake fluid?"

"Yeah, burning brake fluid. It's getting a little low because I have to keep pumping the brakes a lot. Don't worry, she'll hold out."

A little while later we came to a traffic light and Laurel Canyon Boulevard. David pulled to a stop then threw open his door and went running back to the '65 Mustang behind us. I wondered what he was going to do.

"Gimme five!" he shouted as he extended his hand to the young guy sitting in the Mustang. "That's some mean driving you did," he added. The guy in the Mustang said something but we couldn't hear him since he was still inside the car.

While they exchanged words, Rick and I did as well. "That guy has a Mustang," I said. "We're in this big Chevy station wagon. How could he not keep up???"

"It's like chasing a blimp!" laughed Rick.

David finished his conversation and ran back to the car. The light changed and David waved the Mustang to go first, which he did, roaring off to the east side of Laurel Canyon. David followed in hot pursuit. "Okay, let's see how you handle being the mouse," he said. "Here we go, hang on!"

"I smell more brake fluid," Rick announced.

"She'll hold."

Meanwhile the Mustang pulled farther and farther ahead and finally the taillights disappeared. David eased off the accelerator and Rick and I eased off clutching the seat.

"And it appears the Mustang has triumphed," I told the tape recorder.

"I had to ease up because of the brakes," David said. We continued heading east and finally came to the end of the road where it met Cahuenga, near the Hollywood Bowl. At the bottom, David pulled over to let the brakes rest. "Give them a few minutes and they'll be back to normal," he assured us.

"Where to now?" asked Rick.

David had a gleam in his eye. He sat there biting his thumb, pondering the situation. Finally, he spoke. "Shall we go back up?"

"What??" Rick and I said in unison. "Go back up?? What about the brakes?"

"Yeah, the brakes," mused David. "The brakes.." He thought for another moment. "They should be good to go for a while. What do you think?"

"I think we should go to Bob's," I said.

"That guy in the Mustang said he goes up and down Mulholland. I bet he's back up there." David was on a see-saw.

"And so?" Rick said. "So what?"

"And so maybe we should go see if we can find him again. What do you think?"

It was the kind of 'what do you think' that can only have one possible answer no matter what anyone might say. Nevertheless, Rick and I were reluctant.

"Those brakes weren't doing too good," we told him. "Maybe we should call it a night and head on over to Bob's. Maybe Duane is there."

David still had a sly smile on his face as he toyed with the idea, weighing the risks. "He's got to be up there somewhere," he said. Meanwhile Rick and I sat there.

"It's your car," we told him. "Are you sure about those brakes?"

[To be continued..]

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

View From The Top

David's room was laughingly messy. The first time I laid eyes on it, a loft space at his house on Dunsmuir, I literally laughed because the disarray was mind boggling. This was late tenth or early eleventh grade. David, Duane, Rick and Rob had attended junior high at Audubon whereas I was the ghetto kid from Foshay. David moved after the ninth grade and wound up going to Fairfax High instead of to Dorsey with the rest of us. I'd also moved after the ninth grade, from Manual Arts' district into Dorsey's. I can't imagine how different my life might have been had I attended Manual Arts instead. As for David at Faifax, there he had the distinction of meeting one of the Jones trio, my best junior high buddies. What did he think of Michael, I asked. He told me what I already knew, Michael was a crazy guy.

As an aside, my boss did a double take when I told him I was a Foshay alumni. When he was in school (ten or so years ahead of me), he said that was the threat used to force them to behave - if you don't, you'll get sent to Foshay, that school for delinquents. Up until he found out that was my alma mater, he still believed it. Maybe he still does.

I think when we are totally overwhelmed with something our reaction is to laugh hysterically. I think that's what happened when I saw David's room for the first time. Clothes, books, papers strewn about - not one thing was in order. It felt comfortable, though. That's where Duane and I were one evening when David announced it was time to get in the car and go for a drive. That sounded good so we piled into the Battlewagon SMD944 (one of these days I will write a screenplay entitled, SMD944 as the successor to George Lucas' THX-1138) and headed towards Hollywood.

Unlike most evenings of cruising, this time he drove purposely. Up Crescent Heights we went, past Sunset Boulevard where it became Laurel Canyon Boulevard and snaked into the Hollywood Hills. Further up he took a left at Lookout Mountain Avenue which brought us further into the hills, up congested streets lined with houses that were the subject of Joni Mitchell's Ladies of the Canyon when she had lived there in the 60's. Lookout Mountain became Appian Way at the top, and from there David drove along the narrow road and finally stopped at a turnout that overlooked the entire city.

We got out of the car and walked the few steps to the edge of the turnout. There before us was an incredible, unobstructed view of the city spread out below. I was in awe. I guess I should have laughed right there, too, since the majesty of it was as overwhelming to me as the messiness of David's room but instead I stood and gaped.

It was so peaceful. The millions of lights shimmered from the warm air still rising from the ground courtesy of the summer's heat earlier in the day. Closer up we could see lines of cars moving through Hollywood; further out the lights dimmed but were still visible until they merged with the night sky on the horizon. We pointed out familiar landmark buildings and areas to each other like excited school kids, which I guess we were.

The street immediately below us was Blue Jay Way. George Harrison lived on that street and that's where the title of the song came from on the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour album. No link to that song appears here because I hate it. It's made only for people to enjoy if they are in an artificially-induced stupor, if you know what I mean.

David couldn't have chosen a better viewing night - absolutely clear, absolutely breathtaking. We stood and stared for a long time, taking it all in, then finally got back in the car and made our way back down into the city and the noise of Saturday night.

I visited that spot often after that introduction. Mostly it was at night but there were a few day trips as well. On a clear day, like right after the rains swept away the smog, it offered an incredible view all the way out to the ocean, even Catalina Island. The breeze through the canyon was so invitingly clean and fresh, too. On the daylight sojourns that weren't so clear, a thick panorama of brown haze stretched from one end of the view to the other; and on smoggy days you could barely see past Hollywood. It was up there that we first asked ourselves, is there smog in the nighttime? If so, how come it is always so clear even when the day is smoggy? Do you know the answer? I still don't.

After a particularly late Easy Livin' gig, Teri and I stopped at Magos to get a bite to eat - well, at Magos the big portions they whipped up were more than just a bite. It was really late - or early depending on how you look at it. The sun was barely making an appearance when I dropped her off at her place. Instead of going home, I decided to make the run up to "LC" and check out the sunrise from our now familiar vantage point. Talk about spectacular - it was still early enough for the day to be pristine, before the usual layer of smog emerged, and it was one gorgeous sight. I got out of my car, stood there taking it all in for a long while, then got back in and drove home, wishing there was some way to freeze that moment.

The trips up there became less and less frequent over time. It's been more than ten years since my last visit. That last time, I made the familiar trip, the twists and turns still embedded in my memory, up to Appian Way and around the bend to the old turnout. There was no more turnout. It had been replaced by ugly, and I mean ugly, architecture. Some developer had built a big ugly house on that spot and obliterated the view. So ended an era.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

We'll All Chip In For Gas

Back in the day, during my stay at Susan Miller Dorsey high school, my best buddies were Duane Kamei, David Ritchie, Rick Fukamaki and Rob Karatsu. I hated school and can validate Einstein's unpublished theory that time moves slower when you are looking at a clock.

Phillip Sakimoto told us the same thing every Wednesday: cheer up, it's hump day. The middle of the week; we're now halfway to the weekend and getting closer with each moment! True, but to me Wednesday might as well have been Monday.

Friday arrived. Eventually. And that meant playing automobile roulette on Friday and Saturday evenings to get out and do what I considered my favorite pastime: going cruising.

None of us had our own cars back then, but the odds were good that at least one of us could obtain wheels on any given evening if our parents or siblings were in a generous mood. I mentioned my dad's monstrous Ford LTD yesterday. Among my buddies, Duane would borrow his brother's Chevy Nova; David either his parents Chevy Impala station wagon (the "Battlewagon" with license number SMD 944 that I remember because SMD = Susan Miller Dorsey) or his sister's Datsun station wagon; Rob had his parents Chevy '63 Chevy Impala (the "Heavy Chevy"); and Rick had his mom's Dodge Dart.

On those nights when we had no specific destination, which was often, we'd simply go cruising wherever the road took us. We'd each chip in for gas. Short distances required only a buck. Three bucks meant a little more than ten gallons, which opened a wide range of possibilities. With three dollars in the tank we were the richest guys on the streets.

Where'd we go? Anywhere. One night we decided to drive down to San Diego, so that's what we did. All the way there, turned around and then all the way back. Same thing with San Bernardino, although once we got there we wondered why we'd been stupid enough to pick a boring place like that for a destination. Aside from those extremes, nornally we confined ourselves to the greater Los Angeles area, which we got to know very, very well.

I loved getting out into the night. It didn't really matter to me where we went, as long as we went someplace. The character of the streets, stores and offices with their electric illumination was so much different than in the daylight; the roads less crowded; the smog not visible; it was so much more peaceful and tranquil than when the sun was up. I loved it.

I always felt that something was out there in the night, something inviting but just beyond reach. Or rather, beyond reach until that one night we'd find it via the cruising we did. Everything looked more romantic and exciting at night. It possessed enchantment that the day couldn't possibly match. I imagined myself being part of the night, part of the scenes we would pass as we traversed the avenues and boulevards up and down the city. I'd see a couple framed at the window table of a nice restaurant, the warm glow of the lights providing the background, and wished that were me.

A while earlier I wrote about my unpleasant summer night at the Phrog in Gardena, the dance at which Cindy Azuma and Duane became an item while I stood by and watched. Like a more recent post about collecting insects and how the dragonflies I tried unsuccessfully to catch often returned to their perch for a second chance, now it was November and Duane had moved on to other girls, leaving Cindy available again.

Do you remember the music group Jo Mama? I had the pleasure of hearing them in concert once, as the opening act for Carole King and James Taylor. What a lineup, huh? The cover of their debut album, pictured below, showed them sitting inside of an Italian Restaurant named O Sole Mio. While listening to the album one day I looked at its cover and wondered if O Sole Mio was a real place. There was, after all, a street number next to the doorway of the red brick building in the picture.

So I looked in the phone book. And there it was, O Sole Mio, on Western Avenue in Hollywood.

Cindy was my dragonfly that night as we went to see the real O Sole Mio. Yes, it did exist, looking exactly like the album cover minus the neon Jo Mama sign. It was tiny - about three or four tables and a counter, and behind the counter a large sign proclaiming this little pizzeria had been featured on Ralph Story's Los Angeles (as an aside - are you old enough to remember Ralph Story?)

Various smaller signs plastered on the walls contained messages, warnings and other eccentric musings from Vittorio Regina, the chef. Stuff like threats if you didn't pay, or don't ask for too much special stuff on your pizza or else, and other things that made us wonder what sort of kook this guy was. Then the kook came out to talk to us, speaking Italian to our uncomprehending faces. "Acqua," he said, picking up one of the glasses of water. "Acqua," Cindy giggled as she repeated it back to him. After saying several other things in a charming but incomprehsible manner, Vittorio strolled back to his kitchen leaving us chuckling with confused grins. The man was like the signs he put up on the walls.

You can probably guess where we sat. Hey, this was neat - we're Joel Bishop O'Brien and Abigail Haness (Jo Mama's drummer and vocalist), framed sitting at the window table inside a cozy Italian pizzeria looking out into the night while Chef Vittorio hand-tossed our pizza in the kitchen.

The pizza? It was pretty good. It's probably the thinnest pizza I've ever eaten. It could have been the worst too (it wasn't), but it wouldn't have mattered. The setting was perfect, the company was great, and while O Sole Mio was far from fancy, it was the night scene I had imagined so many times during so many cruises.

Normally I have a YouTube video at the end to go along with the post, but the song I wanted to use is nowhere to be found on that site. So I uploaded my own. It's in .wma (Windows Media) format; please click here and give a listen.

Addendum: many years later I penned the following lyrics, I suppose a cynical retort to the night scenes I romanticized way back when..

Framed in the window
Of a midnight cafe in Westwood
Don't it look romantic
From the outside looking in
Come sit at our table
Join our conversation
Hear the words of this couple
Wearing thin

So all these days anticipating the happy ending
All these days of side-stepping the rain
Come down to this one final lousy goodbye girl
Come down to one final grey-scale refrain

She said I wish there was some way
I could let you down easy
I wish there was some way
I could spare you this pain
She said don't think love only happens in the movies
Remember the rainbow don't happen
Until you get the rain

Your words are so well-rehearsed
So finely calculated
Why don't you let me say the lines
You know I've heard them all before
You know practice don't make perfect
I'm just no good at this
How could I let myself be taken in once more

Tell me what should I do
Walk away and let the tears fall later
Blackened by this world of confusion I'm in
Make like I'm the one who can take it or leave it
Make like I'm the one who has the teflon skin

But how many times must I say I understand girl
How many times must I force this twisted grin
I said I'm so tired of playing mister nice guy
'Cause mister nice guy's a guy who don't ever win

Haha.. so much for my attempt to be Donald Fagen..

Monday, August 25, 2008

Cruising On 28.9 Cents Per Gallon

Hey, I guess I really dated myself, didn't I? But then if you're reading this blog you probably know me (why else would you be reading it) and thus already know how ancient I am. And maybe you remember the same thing about the way gas prices used to be.

I had assumed that the day I turned 16 was the day my dad would take me to the DMV to take the test for my driver's license. I assumed incorrectly. My dad looked at me like I was crazy and laughed derisively.

Instead I had to wait an eternity, like two months, before I was able to do so. At least I passed. Despite fears of having to parallel park, those fears went unrealized.

Then I assumed with my newly acquired license I could take the car and go driving around. Haha, wrong again. And again my dad looked at me like I was crazy. But also again after an eternity of about another two months, maybe less, he allowed me to take his behemoth 1969 Ford LTD with a 429 cubic inch engine out on limited journeys around the immediate neighborhood. That was better than nothing so I jumped at the chance.

And what I never told him, but he probably knows, is that I, uh, didn't exactly stay within the confines of our Crenshaw area boundaries. On those Saturday or Sunday afternoons when I told my dad I was going to Rick Fukamaki's house, a mere eight blocks away, I instead went cruising to points west and north, like up to Hollywood, for example.

One of my favorite streets was San Vicente Boulevard because it was very wide with not too many signals, and it cut through the city diagonally. I'd be the little guy behind the wheel of this mammoth gold sedan with bench seats front and back, being like what Felix Cavaliere sang about on his Young Rascals' hit, "Groovin'" - just taking it all in with the AM radio playing the top 40 and feeling so free. I'd suffer the anxiety of the next day being Monday and heading back to school when I got home but for those moments behind the wheel, it felt sooo good.

I hear these days from friends/parents who say their kids aren't interested in driving and I can't comprehend such a lack of interest. How can you not want to drive? All of a sudden you are mobile; you're free; you aren't dependent on rides and other neighborhoods are not so distant. I was especially enamored of the freedom aspect.

The songs on the radio back then? Whenever I hear these, they take me back to the view from behind the windshield: Never Can Say Goodbye (Jackson Five); Just My Imagination (The Temptations); One Toke Over the Line (Brewer and Shipley); Woodstock (Matthews Southern Comfort); Stay Awhile (The Bells); and Heavy Makes You Happy (Staple Singers), Another Day (Paul McCartney), among others.

Like I said, I'm sure my dad knew I wasn't just driving over to Rick's house. In fact one time he asked me where I was and I said at Rick's, to which he then asked why then are there so many miles on the odometer from the last time he checked? And I had no answer for that one.

I figure that battleship must have gotten about 10 miles to the gallon. Good thing gas was so cheap back in those days!

As time went on the restrictions loosened on my using the car and it became part of the rotation among my buddies when we needed transportation. I have to say that my dad was very cool to allow an irresponsible kid to drive his car around like that and trust me with it. I never did anything crazy but then back in those days, I'm thinking maybe I just didn't realize what I was doing was crazy.

These days with gas prices being what they are in an ever-increasingly crowded urban environment, driving for the most part has become an unwelcome chore. I'm so happy on the days when I work from home so I don't have to put up with the morning and afternoon commutes. And for those of you familiar with driving in the San Gabriel Valley, you know what extra hazards are on the road with possibly the most clueless drivers in the nation going to and from their destinations.

But.. for those rare times when I can get behind the wheel and don't have a deadline or fixed destination, that old feeling emerges and once again it is sooo nice to be cruising. I love it.

More to come, cruising down memory lane..

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Another Weekend Post

It's Sunday for you but it's Saturday for me as I write this entry, for what it's worth, to recap what happened today (Saturday).

Can you guess what I did this morning? Yup, another visit to Costco. Nothing exciting, though, just got some old standbys that you've already seen in prior posts, plus these things:

This is the brand of sausage we always get. Today they had some enthusiastic reps from the company giving out yummy samples. Since they're made of chicken we can pretend they are healthy. The only drawback to the big package is having to divvy them up into future portions using one of those Reynolds Handy Vac gadgets and throwing the bags into the freezer.

Then some uvas rojo (red grapes). Pretty boring.

Kirkland Yogurt. Like my clockwork turkey sandwich I have for lunch when I am in the office, I have one of these yogurts and some teeth-breaking Kashi Go Lean Crunch cereal. Except the yogurt/cereal is every single morning. Why don't they make a 7 or 14 pack of yogurt instead of a dozen? I like Kirkland because it seems to have more pieces of fruit hiding inside than other brands, for less money.

And finally, Kirkland albacore tuna! Actually the Chicken of the Sea white tuna is cheaper per can but I've become a Kirkland junkie.

Julie and I ate lunch at the Homegirl Cafe near Chinatown today. If you aren't familiar with this place, it is owned by Homeboy Industries. Here's their mission statement:

Jobs not Jails: Homeboy Industries assists at-risk and formerly gang-involved youth to become positive and contributing members of society through job placement, training and education.

It was interesting reading the back of the t-shirts many of the servers were wearing: Nothing stops a bullet like a job.

Homegirl cafe is part of their operations and occupies a portion of the first floor of the Homeboy building. The entire staff consists of young women, presumably of the type appropriate to the mission statement of the organization. They were cooking, waiting on tables, busing tables and cashiering. And doing a great job. I thing it's wonderful to have an operation like this.

Here's a couple of pictures of the exterior.

And here's some pictures of the interior. It's attractively decorated with lots of window space, a modern look and very clean as well.

And here's what we ordered. First they bring chips and salsa.

Julie ordered the combo half sandwich/half salad, choosing YuYu's sandwich (turkey, mango, chipotle).

I ordered a couple of tacos. One, salmon with jalapeno pesto, and the other, tofu chorizo. Both were good; the tofu actually tasted like and had the consistency of chorizo and I'm sure it was much healthier than the real thing.

I also got a side of arroz verde (green rice). That was pretty tasty, although Tito's is still my favorite.

They have quite an unusual selection of tacos and the entire menu consists of dishes that are anything but run-of-the-mill. I took a picture of the breakfast and lunch menus but instead of publishing them, it's easier to read from their web page so click here if you want to see the entire menu.

Lunch was fine. The restaurant was only about half-filled, nothing like the crowds standing in line at Phillipes down the street; Homegirl has the better menu if you ask me. I noted quite a few tattoos on the patrons so I guess the place attracts some homies. If you're in the area, it is definitely worth visiting. Here's the final picture from the place, taken from my seat looking out towards Alameda. Or was this taken in Beijing? Isn't that one of the Olympic pagodas and the train from the opening ceremonies in the background?

Homegirl was our halfway stop on the way out to the Westside to visit my mom, who has been in the hospital for over a week now. She fell and fractured her shoulder and suffered some other bruises and earlier this week they moved her to a care/rehab facility so she can begin to have physical therapy sessions.

I have to say it was a shocker visiting this place. It looks decent enough, but when we walked in, the place was filled with nothing but old people. Old people in wheelchairs, lying in portable beds in the hallway, lying on beds in their rooms, and it just depressed me to look at all of them because they seemed so helpless and weak. We went to my mom's room and she was sitting in a wheelchair by her bed and my dad was with her. She has two roommates, both of whom seem bedridden; at least my mom has the bed nearest the window and although there's really nothing of note when you look outside, it's the brightest area in the room.

My parents were in good spirits, though. I told them that I just don't think of them or picture them as being "old." I see the old people lining the corridors of that facility and also lying in beds in their rooms and to me, those are "old people" but my mom and dad are out of place because they're not "old people" like the others. My mom said she feels the same way - she doesn't feel old.

I don't feel old, either, and it is strange for me to know that I am older than my friends' parents were (and my own as well) when we used to visit each others houses in junior and senior high way back then. They were adults and I was a kid. But I still feel like a kid.

Today it hit me - my folks are indeed old. Someone else's kids visiting that place today who saw them wouldn't be looking at them and thinking here's a couple of youngsters among the old people; they'd probably just see them as blending in with the others. I guess I never looked at it that way before.

Anyway, I'm thankful for the long and mainly healthy lives both my parents have led and that they are still there for me, as well as for them being in such good spirits today. I just hope and pray for a quick recovery for my mom, and for my dad to not feel so lonely when he goes home. If you believe in prayer, please pray for them; I'd appreciate it and I know it will help.

Well, I hope I didn't depress you. The tone of this blog is normally much lighter and in fact that's how today's post started out and then the latter part sneaked up on you. There's a time and season for everything and I thought today was the time to write about this particular season.

Things will return to normal programming on "lighten up Monday," though.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Saturday Ramblings

It's another Saturday (well actually it is the middle of the week since I write these in advance; you don't really think I wake up early enough in the morning to publish these entries at 6:00 am every day, do you?) and that means I just ramble around with whatever comes to mind. Sort of like those boxes with question marks plastered all over the side that they used to advertise in comic books that offered $50 worth of mystery treasures for only $1 plus shipping and handling.

Speaking of which, have you ever sent for anything advertised in a comic book? I did. Once. A humongous number of revolutionary war soldiers plus artillery - something like 500 or 1,000 pieces being offered for a pittance. Half were blue, half were red, I bugged and bugged my mom until finally she gave in and sent a few bucks so I could have this massive recreation of our fight for independence.

Then the big day came. A box came in the mail. It was about the size of a box of checks (do you still use those?). I stared at it. This must be just part of the order. The rest must have gotten delayed. I opened the box and..

And it was the entire order. I never saw army soldiers so small and flat. I'm not sure but I think I had to twist them off the plastic frames they were molded on. These wimpy things wouldn't even stand up straight; they were so thin they fell over on their side. It wouldn't matter if I could stand them up anyway, they were so small, it was too awkward to handle them.

"You wanted them, you play with them," my mom told me. I did make a good faith effort but I couldn't bring myself to play more than a couple of minutes before discouragement overwhelmed me. I couldn't believe there were people out there who would publish such a misleading advertisement!

Like I said, this is rambling Saturday because I didn't even think about those soldiers until I wrote the first paragraph about the box with the "???" on it.

What I wanted to write about was an exciting book I received during the week: Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, by Charles Hogue. Here's a picture of the cover:

A few days ago I mentioned how I used to collect insects and loved to read about them. I was telling my friend Hiroshi about this and he mentioned this book. I had actually seen it long ago at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum but didn't buy it at the time (and regretted not doing so). He said it was out of print but they had used copies on and he sent me the link to the page.

Sellers were charging outrageous prices for this book but I did find one that was reasonable so I ordered it. And it came in the mail and I looked in it and saw a whole bunch of familiar faces! Well, maybe not faces, but pictures. You're smirking, I know, but it was interesting to me.

Below is one of the pictures from the book, what I think is the absolute ugliest insect bar none. Ever seen these around? Makes me shudder just to think of them - it's even worse than Whoopi Goldberg and Sandra Oh combined. The formal name is Jerusalem Cricket, although I always called them Potato Bugs and someone else told me she used to call them Baby Faces. Baby faces? A face only a mother could love, I guess.

Here's something else that came this week from Amazon. First take a look at the box, with lots of air bubble padding. What could be in there?

This is what it is: a UCLA mouse pad! Or rather, WowPad, which is a very thin textured plastic pad that works a lot better than a regular mouse pad. I was thinking, they waste a whole box for this? It isn't even 1/32" thick and it cost $4.99 so it must have cost them more to ship it than the profit they made on it. Then what did they do in the past? Send me Seven Samurai in an envelope which had a cracked jewel case so I had to return it for another one. Go figure.

Now changing subjects completely, the other thing I thought I'd write about is all this social networking stuff going on. Do you belong to any of them? I've got a Twitter account, a Facebook account, and a MySpace account but I don't use any of them. They're all pretty much dormant; they haven't been visited since I originally filled in the blanks when I signed up. I did twit for a bit but haven't in a long time.

I just don't see the point. Am I getting old? Or do I just not get it? Do I want to type "right now I am eating bacon" or, "I've discovered traffic is not pleasant" so people can update themselves about me? Or I can read the same things about other people? I've never been much of a socializer anyway and I shy away from crowds whether they be in person or cyberspace. It just gets to be too time consuming keeping up with all that stuff.

Ah, but what is he doing writing this blog? You might well ask. I dunno.. it's just uh, different. It's not the same thing. I just like to write on a plain and simple page and not have some site that has too many things going on at once, like videos or music files that start playing as soon as you get on the page, or pictures of 329 friends in the right column or favorite this or that in boxes spread all over the place. Or writing or having people write Me MEsSaGEs LIke ThIs tHAt nO ONe CaN REaD.

So that's my ramble for this Saturday. Here's a couple of rambling, wandering videos to go along with it.

Looking at that second video - next year will mark 40 years since man first set foot on the moon. Think about it- that is one fantastic accomplishment. We take so much technology for granted today but consider what the world was like back then (if you were even born yet). It shows what great things can be accomplished if you set your mind to it.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Dreaded Swat

Here's some more ramblings that come to mind, this time from my life at Foshay Junior High.

Back in the days before people listened to psychologists and instead employed common sense, there were two forms of punishment meted out for misbehaving on the yard during lunch or recess. One was to pick up a specified amount of trash, such as 25 pieces of paper. The other was to be on the receiving end of the dreaded swat.

The paddle used to administer the swat was legendary. It was big. It was red. It had holes in it to eliminate air resistance and ensure the most efficient contact with the offending rear end. And we feared and respected it.

I'd had to pick up papers but never had gotten a swat. But one day.. I was running on the yard when and where I shouldn't have been and got nabbed by one of the teachers on yard duty. This time no mercy was shown me and I, along with several other bad boys, were marched over to the gym office to suffer the consequences of our sins.

I was too petrified to say anything. I already was overcome by shame - Asian kids weren't supposed to do the kind of things that resulted in getting whacked like that and I was already feeling like an outcast. The rest of my partners in crime, though, none of whom I knew, were a different story. I never, and I mean never, heard so much begging and pleading in my entire life. Talk about pathos..

It went like this:

Kid: Oh please sir please sir I won't do it again please sir oh sir sir sir sir sir sir..

Gym teacher:

Kid: Sir sir sir sir sir sir sir AUGH!!!!!!! AUGH!!!!! Oh sir sir AUGH!!!!!!!!

And that's how it went down the line, agonized screaming and then each boy exiting and rubbing his behind. Then it was my turn. I said nothing. My eyes watered, partly from anticipating the pain but mainly from shame. I bent over and..

And it was like getting a shot. I got my whack, I straightened up and hurried out of there and thought to myself, that really didn't hurt too much. But I also knew the teacher went easy on me. The more those other kids pleaded, the harder was the smack of the paddle and believe me, some of those whacks were loud, crisp and hard, like lightning bolts. I think they saved me for last so the others wouldn't see me getting a lighter swat than they did.

My classmates asked me what it was like. I felt so ashamed but they seemed to care less that I had been "bad" enough to get a swat; they were more curious about how painful it had been. Well, I guess I could have been like James Cagney and boasted how no copper was going to bring me to my knees but instead I told them it stung a little but that was it. I added that the teacher gave me some slack, though. I know he felt sorry for this tearful little Asian boy who was too scared to even look at him.

Come to think of it, that's like how some kids used to act prior to our having to get shots. Don't you remember? There were always kids who would scream and cry, even before the needle went in. Me, I never said a thing but would always hope they'd be giving us the vaccine on a sugar cube, and if not, then using a toothpick. There must have been some sadistic nurses who, sick and tired of the crying routine, would jam the needle a little bit harder for some kids than others.

Junior high was when I really got into music, as well. Music as in listening to KHJ, aka Boss Radio with its disc jockeys known as Boss Jocks, and KRLA as well. That's really when I started assembling the soundtrack for my life. Last weekend in my blog post I listed what I thought were the five greatest rock/pop songs ever written; I love those songs but they aren't my favorite ones. The best songs, meaning favorite songs, are always associated with memories.

That's why when those Time Life infomercials for collections of songs from the '60s and '70's are on television, I get hypnotized. Those master marketers know exactly what they're doing, playing just enough, a snippet of a song to conjure up memories of what was happening when that song was on the radio, and also release the emotions as well. Then the snippet is over and the next one comes, and you're being battered left and right and wanting to bring back those oldie but goodie feelings again. I guess I'm not the only one because otherwise they wouldn't keep repeating those infomercials for moths like me.

Even in junior high, for me it was music and writing. Those who knew me knew I liked to write all kinds of crazy stories. If any of you happen to be reading this, do you remember? I've always been a frustrated (frustrating?) writer and I suppose this blog serves as an avenue of release. Hey, take the poll in the right column!

How'd I get from swats to this? I had intended to relate a few Foshay memories, got caught up in that infamous day of my sore bottom - I can still picture the inside of the gym office - and then slid over to babbling about how much I love the music from the '60s and '70s. But it's taken up enough space already so I need to stop here. If you've come this far, just know that I'll be putting more memories to music in the coming posts - it all comes flooding back and I want to capture it on these pages. If Time Life can do it then so can I - and it won't be condensed into those little 3-second teases.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pioneer Geeks

Have you seen the movie Armageddon? Do you remember the scene in which Bruce Willis' ragtag crew-turned astronaut heroes march towards the ship that will launch their mission to save the earth? Who woulda thunk it?

Back in the summer of 1970 a different crew set out from Dorsey High to be pioneers of geekdom at Hamilton High for a summer session devoted to computer programming.

Yes, before "PC" stood for the sublime Personal Computer or ridiculous Politically Correct, when program instructions were punched onto cards and fed into a reader to be executed by a massive mainframe computer whose processing power was dwarfed by today's microprocessors a googleith of its size, Keith Honda, Randy Onishi, Norman Senzaki, Sharon Kaneko, another girl who my brain is too fizzled out to remember, and yours truly marched into the computer lab that first day of summer school to be charter members of the computer generation.

Who else did us po' ghetto folks from the 'hood encounter? Some of the strangest human beings imaginable, who I thought commuted between ours and another unseen dimension. Students for whom no parallel existed at Dorsey. True wireheads. After watching Men in Black I'm thinking maybe they could have been disguised.


Why we happened to be selected from Dorsey I have no idea. I mean, none of us were dumb; in fact Sharon went on to be our class co-valedictorian and I know Norman, Randy and Keith were very intelligent. But I don't think any of us were eggheads and that was definitely the trait that characterized pretty much everyone else in that class.

It was for the most part a free-form class. That is, students were not regimented with seating charts and roll call and such formalities; instead they were like today's Verizon customers, free to roam about and do their thing, devising computer programs and then taking turns at the keyboard to punch the instructions onto the card. Back in those days if you made a typing mistake, you had to repunch the card - there was no error correction.

So how did the ragtag band from Dorsey fare? To their credit, Sharon and the other girl diligently applied themselves to the tasks. I'm afraid us guys became intoxicated with the freedom afforded us, however. Part of the time we spent playing hearts in one of the side rooms, along with the geniuses. Thing is, these other guys could afford to play hearts because whipping up a computer program was small potatoes for them, leaving enough spare time to engage in playtime.

We spent another large chunk of time eating hamburgers on the lawn in front of the school, hamburgers we had gotten from the stand across the street whose name I have completely forgotten.

And we did devote part of our time to actually trying to tackle our assignments but all that goofing off took its toll causing us to fall further behind.

Now, I don't remember my grade or anyone else's and I can only speak for myself but at that point in time I was pretty lost in the class. I wasn't particularly interested in what was going on and wasn't disciplined enough to force myself to study. Because of my own doing, I learned very little that summer and saw the class as just another academic drag on me.

Little did I know that was the entrance to the future. Many times thereafter I've looked back on that summer and wondered what would have happened if I'd applied myself and actually got involved early on in the world of computer programming. Years later, in the latter part of the 1980's when our company purchased a couple of IBM XT-286's (ooh, so powerful, with 256kb of RAM and a whopper 20 MB hard drive), the lightbulb went on in my head and I've been a computer fanatic ever since. I'd be lost without them!

But back in those days when we had the opportunity to be pioneer geeks, many of us blew it. I sure did. Still, my wondering about what might have been is tempered with my knowing that it wasn't the right time for me. There's a time and a place for everything and I lacked the mindset that summer to take advantage of what was being put on the plate before us.

Like I wrote in the first post for this blog, there's a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven. That summer at Hamilton was the time to enjoy a season of some days heading over to Florence's house with Duane to shoot pool or just hang out, play tennis, goof off, what have you. You just can't push it. Makes for some good stories to tell, though!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

When I Grow Up - Part Two

I've already mused in earlier posts about my rambling path through life and how things don't quite end up like you think they will, and also about the guilt I felt because the promise that my favorite teacher, Mrs. Capps (among others), felt I had never materialized. Or at least to my mind never materialized. But here's some more musing..

When I was little, my fantasy was never one of being rich or famous. I mentioned a few days ago that in the first grade I imagined I would remain buddies with my two best friends at that time, John and Henry, and we'd find wives, buy three houses in a row like Monopoly in a neighborhood resembling the one in which I grew up, and lean over the fence talking to each other during our breaks from mowing the lawn.

As I got older I became interested in collecting insects. For a while I thought I would become an entomologist. So did my parents. I had my insect net, collections of the specimens I captured, and a voracious appetite to read more about these little creatures.

Our next door neighbor, the Tanino's, had a lovely garden, complete with a small pond. During the summer I used to go there every day because all of the flowers as well as the pond attracted lots of insects. They had a chicken wire fence around the pond and red dragonflies used to perch on the wooden sticks pounded into the ground to support the fence.

Before I had a net, I would try to catch everything by cupping them inside of plastic containers my mom had given me. Trying to catch a dragonfly required lots of patience; if you've ever seen one up close you know they have huge eyes. I had to sneak up to them very slowly, then quickly try and capture them but usually they darted away.

But, they would also return to their perch in a few minutes to give me another opportunity. And once in a while I was successful. This was a frequent occurrence with my other insect prey as well - I'd miss a butterfly or a bee or whatever, but soon enough another one would happen along and I'd catch it.

One day I saw something I couldn't believe: a large, brilliant blue butterfly resting on a tree in the Tanino's backyard. I'd seen this only in books because it was native to South America, a member of the Morpho genus. Now what it happened to be doing in that urban Los Angeles backyard that day is beyond me, although I had heard of instances in which butterflies hitched a ride into other countries hidden among produce and plants. Ah, my first exposure to an illegal alien, lol..

By this time my mom had sewn an insect net for me. This was something I absolutely had to have for my collection. It sat there fanning its wings as I crept up to it, then swung my net and flipped the cloth sack around the rim to imprison this beautiful butterfly. I knelt down to take it out of the net and.. it wasn't there.

I had missed it.

I couldn't believe it. I was sure I had it; I hadn't seen it fly away. I stood there looking all over the place for it but it was nowhere to be seen. Then I thought of the dragonflies and how they would return to their resting place; I hoped and hoped that would be the case with this butterfly. I waited for the longest time but it never returned.

I played out the scene again and again, analyzing my actions, thinking if only I had done this or done that, but the end result was the end result. An empty net. I went back home and looked at the picture in my book to confirm what I saw and it was exactly the same butterfly.

Eventually I stopped collecting insects although my interest in them has persisted over the years and for awhile I had Greg and Katie interested in them as well. When it came time to apply for college, the prospect of a career in entomology never took serious hold in my mind. In fact, nothing really took serious hold.

And now, plenty of twists and turns later, I am where I am in my career and ask myself if I am happy. I know if I had applied myself more, going all the way back to high school and through the intervening years, I would have been more "successful," i.e., made more money, had more status or whatever, but I also ask myself if I would have been happier. I think about the missed opportunities, some like the dragonflies that came back several times but I never caught them or tried to catch them, and some like that Morpho that presented themselves once but were gone and never returned. The end result is the end result.

One of my favorite television shows of all time is Taxi. It's about a group of New York cabbies who have aspirations to higher things in life but week after week, they remain cabbies. To those of you who are familiar with the show, I've always identified with Alex. I watch him and think, here's a guy who could be doing "greater" things than driving a cab, but.. he's driving a cab.

Still, he's got a rich life. Though he has his ups and downs in the episodes, overall he's a happy guy with many blessings. Nevertheless, he still dreams of bigger and better things. The two aren't mutually exclusive.

Then I think about the Harry Chapin song that bears the same title as the television series although the two are unrelated. I guess you could say this blog is sort of like my taxi.

And sometimes I think I'm Reverend Jim..

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Random School Clips

Today's post is a hodgepodge of miscellaneous memories from my wonder years in the classroom. I'll just proceed to ramble on, if you don't mind, focusing today on elementary school..

My very first class was kindergarten with Mrs. Lindenberger. I always thought her name was Mrs. Limburger. I guess that's why she didn't seem to like me very much.

Mrs. Suzuki was my 1st grade teacher, at a time when Americans were fearful of a Communist invasion. Do you remember the monthly air raid sirens? Drop drills? We'd be sitting in class listening to our teacher talk when she would stop, an expression of extreme concentration on her face. Suddenly she'd shout, "Drop!" And we'd dive under our desks. I used to think she really heard a potential enemy plane overhead; at times I would hear a plane myself and wonder why she didn't tell us to drop right then, too. The enemies must have sounded different.

Mr. Bell, 4th grade, was cool. In the 3rd grade we all hoped to be assigned to him when we moved up. He let us watch the World Series. It never occurred to me that he wasn't particularly doing us a favor; he was just a baseball fan, lol.

Mr. Avak, 6th grade. I didn't have him for a teacher. I once had to deliver a message to his class when I was a mere first or second grader. I went upstairs to his room and saw the door was closed. Another example of how shy I was - I stood there debating on whether I should just go in, or should I knock, or should I just turn around and go back. I put my hand on the knob, then withdrew it several times. I also turned around but walked back several times. Finally, I decided to turn the knob and walk into the classroom. I did. For a split second everyone stared at me wide-eyed, after which they burst out laughing. They had been hanging in suspense waiting to see who was wiggling the doorknob. I gave Mr. Avak the note then scooted out of the room.

Mr. Morrow, 5th grade. I liked Mr. Morrow. He also let us watch the World Series. I liked him because he was always so calm, never allowing himself to be ruffled. One time the school had a marching contest. The judges were actually people from the military. Mr. Morrow coached us on how to march properly; one thing I remember him telling us was to look straight ahead and absolutely do not even glance to the side, especially at the judges. The big day came and out we marched with all the other classes, including the heavily favored sixth graders. And we won. I can still see Gregory Sandifer, face full of joy, jumping up when we heard the news. And Mr. Morrow telling him to stay still. No matter what, he was always cool and calm.

Mrs. Hill, 4th grade. What do I remember from that class? I remember walking up the stairs making too much noise with my shoes so she stopped all of us and told me to walk back downstairs and walk back up more quietly. I walked down the stairs, tripped over someone's foot and went sprawling. It hurt. But what hurt more was the class must not have seen what happened because they continued heading up the stairs and didn't even stop. So I lay there on the stairs for a moment getting madder and madder, and resolved that when I got back to our class I was going to tell off the kid whose foot I was sure had been sticking out. I trudged up the stairs still steaming and eyed Mrs. Hill as I approached the classroom door. "Rickie, what happened to you?" she asked, her face full of concern. I looked at her and then blurted out, "he, he, he.." and burst into tears. Haha, what a macho guy I was. Then she sent me to the nurse's office and my mom had to come pick me up.

Mrs. Suzuki's class again: John Mueller told the teacher that the brakes in his mother's car didn't work so she drove very slowly. I thought that made sense. Mrs. Suzuki gave John a stern look and told him that was very dangerous and to tell him mom to get the brakes fixed right away. He said he would. He said she drove slowly so what was the big deal, I wondered.

And again, same class, my best buddies were John and Henry. I always thought we would grow up, get married and be neighbors. I pictured mowing the lawn then pausing to lean over the fence and talk to John on one side, or Henry on the other. The next semester John moved away and Henry found other friends. So much for that notion.

Somewhere in the first or second grade, back when music was still part of the basic curriculum, our class learned a song called "The Popsicle Man." Did your class have an autoharp and a xylophone? Ours had both; this particular piece had a simple xylophone part and the teacher chose my classmate, Gordon Nishitsuji, to learn how to play it. It was a big thing, an honor to be singled out by the teacher for such a role and I was among many of our fellow classmates who were disappointed at not having the opportunity. One day we were playing on the school yard when two girls walked past and pointed to Gordon. "That's the boy who knows how to play The Popsicle Man, one said to the other as they stared in admiration. I still remember the pang of jealousy that shot through me when I heard that!

I don't remember the grade but I do remember how I hated having to go to "Speech Class." Once every week or two a girl would come around with a yellow card that said "Speech Class" on the outside. Inside were my name and another kid named Leroy, and the teacher sent us to the basement to meet our Speech teacher. The worst was when the card-carryng girl showed up just as we were leaving the classroom for P.E. I don't remember what we did in Speech Class; was my speech that bad?? I tell people about it now and they all laugh at me. Speech Class? You had to go to Speech Class? Then there's the funny looks they give me. Sheesh.. Maybe that's why I like to write.