Thursday, May 6, 2010

All smiles in LA

Every city has it's own mojo, right? It's own local groove driven by the residents, not by the structures, the politics, or certainly the tourist attractions. It effects every human experience from the daily coffee service to lifetimes of love and sorrow. It's why some cities make an instant home and why most simply never fit, like well loved hand-me-downs you can't stand to wear.

I think of this mojo like a pop-up bubble question constantly on the mind of the localirati.

"Are you authentic?" they ask in Paris, to themselves and beneath every interaction.

"Do you win?" New Yorkers want to know, "or can I beat you if and when it comes to that."

"Do you understand?" in Princeton or Boston, and "Are you listening?" to New Orleans' heartbeat. Even small towns have their mojo, built up from the hours of their work, the dedication of their faith, or even their single shared desire to be left the hell alone.

So of course Los Angeles has it's own flavor. Not the glitzy quest of, "what's your dream?" the tourists think they see here, but something simpler and more fierce for it.

"Are you happy?"

What else could you expect from the city that spends 320 days in the sun. And for so many, the happiness soaks in like a perfect golden tan. The pleasure warms us, light action thrills us, and the smiles bounce from sunny head to head. Traffic? Oh, sure. Earthquakes? Yeah, they're around here somewhere. But I can't stop smiling when it's 72 again.

Happiness is a wonderful drug. Addictive. And most So Calers don't live here by any small accident. We sought out this happiness from cities with the wrong mojo for us all around the country and the world. An enclave of the joyful. New Yorkers want to win the World Series? Sure thing. We'll be at the beach while it's playing.

If there is anything we're truly competitive about, it's being happy. We don't really care who has which car, wife, or part in the next action picture. We care how happy that makes us. And if it's not happy enough, we... well, we're even more unhappy about that.

So it's a wicked mirror when it goes wrong. And since we are so obsessed with happiness, the darkside of the funhouse is a truly bipolar nut. Why fall so far? Because if you're not happy here, let's face it, you won't be happy anywhere. You can't bitch about Eden. There is no where left to longingly dream for, and we know it. And so does a rich little community of shrinks.

So call us shallow, materialistic, dramatic or whimsical. Make fun of our relativism and overly optimistic views. Blame us for the world's age obsession, weight obsession, and the advent of Paris Hilton (no seriously, we're sorry about that). But don't blame us for being happy, dangerously and obsessively happy.

If you lived here, you'd probably feel the same.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wicked deal

An image of a person playing the poker varient...Image via Wikipedia

A good poker dealer is much like a good bartender. Keeps the action moving, keeps the unruly in line with a wink and a prod, and of course brings a deep well of amusing stories. Poker is, after all, a game of stories.

So the good dealer the other night brought out this quip-happy anecdote: She was dealing low stakes limit at a casino in Vegas, and a grumpy chaser kept calling out (and missing) his miracle cards. She started playing along. After getting a few wrong, she hits big. "4 of clubs," she announces before flipping a river to reveal the very card to a small round of amusement. "Eight of spades," she goes again on the next hand, and spikes it perfectly. The table goes wild. To be fair, it is pretty amazing. A little over a 2,000-1 shot to call two in a row. But for a dealer that probably lays down well over 100,000 hands a year, it's far from impossible.

Mr. Grumpy was apparently not amused. "How did you do that?" he stammers. And on the downbeat, she looks up and tells him flatly, "I'm a witch."

Very nice. Let's assume he grumpily stumbled off, half a rack down to another table where he could be a lousy tipper. That's about the picture I get from it. Good story.

Don't forget to tip your dealer.
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Saturday, June 27, 2009

A neighboring Republic

I'm working my way through an interesting book about the formation of the company and brand Republic of Tea.

Nearly a blog of sorts, the book is literally comprised of the correspondence (faxes - a technology that must please go away now) between the collaborators, a finely-aged entrepreneur who built and sold Banana Republic and a young, energized business-hippie. I met the hippie in a business meeting. He's still an interesting guy, but not so much the youngest anymore.

Incidentally, I believe these kind of hippies are called Ecopreneurs now. So says the friend of mine who wrote another book Build a Green Small Business (I'm such a bookworm today - spectacular). And yes, my author friend is definitely a modern hippie, right down to the day he disappeared on the Appalachian Trail and came back as Rip Van Winkle. He did eventually buy a razor.

Part of the beauty in the eponymous Republic of Tea book is the honest passion these guys have for their product -- to their mind their calling -- to improve and spread the word about tea. I do understand. I certainly admire the passion. But the person who loves tea tends to do so with an audible slight towards those of us married to a darker lover.

As one of the authors starts off:

Fueled by coffee, life moved very rapidly for me in that other Republic, so fast that I began to sense I was missing something quite grand along the way. The sensation grew until I could bear it no longer. I was compelled to defect. Fleeing the race-to-nowhere that had been my life, I tasted the joys of existence in a new way - sip by sip rather than gulp by gulp.

I hear you. It's about pace and appreciation. And quality. Most of all quality. But is coffee so incapable of that? Sure, coffee and coffee savants are fused with a certain kineticism that makes tea drinkers uncomfortable. And I can't promise to french press oily beans every morning -- though oh so nice when I can. But to say that we cafiends don't appreciate quality is simply flawed and short-sighted in its own right. Like a ceviche fan disparaging an aged prime rib.

Frankly, it sounds like they were drinking bad coffee too. Bummer. That too can be mended.

So I take umbrage sirs. But I do enjoy your book. And it seems that you've left a market of premium beverage lovers unserved by your fanaticism for leaves alone. Perhaps it's time for me to explore development of a republic of beans.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fear of silence

Because again of my unusual work, I've spent a good amount of time thinking about mental cognition. And the deterioration of it. So literally, about losing your mind.

As it turns out, losing one's mind is one of the most feared and least talked about of all concerns. Short of Nancy Reagan promoting it now, it's the Voldemort* of diseases and fears, the unspoken creeper most likely to attack those actually looking for it.

*Honestly, I find the use of Voldemort foolish here, almost as comedic as Beetlejuice, though I'm sure you understand my pop-culture Bloody Mary reference either way -- and I suppose it seems current even if now a ruined distraction as a reference tool. In this case, my personal stalker is the slasher flick Candyman, which I saw at the perfect time and place to have it seared into my mind as three times more frightening than it ever was. It's horribly out of date for fright-night now, but I still don't talk to my mirror much.

Anyway, losing your mind scares the hell out of people like almost nothing else. I understand. Unless we each find our way to a catastrophic event (personal, regional or global), we should all fairly well expect to *lose things* as we grow old and older.

Effort, exercise, and purchases to the contrary may slow the process, but our grip on the precious will loosen either slowly or suddenly. And while the physical decline looks painful and frustrating, the mental fall is sheer terror.

I won't suppose to know why that fear is so true for others. But I fairly well understand why it cowers me.

I don't want to be alone. Not that much alone.

The same logic that makes solitary confinement an ultimatum and a Texas funeral the consummate theatrical threat makes going dark and muddy in the head outrageously frightening.

We spend more than enough of our lives pushing past the fog of distraction, addiction, misunderstanding and laziness to connect wholly with the ones we love. To cover that clarity with wet sand of undeserved doing is the home-wrecker of all time.

Surely there is punishment enough in the loss itself -- and we will all suffer loss -- but cognitive theft comes hardest because you must watch the fog roll in. You must watch your feet cross the planks. And you must watch the waving loss of love's grip as your ship slowly sails out, and the shoreline recedes into the murk.

It seems fair to be afraid of that. So I am.

And then not to think about it further. So I won't.

No reason to call the Candyman now.
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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Reading (aloud) list

One thoroughly enjoyable part of having a three-year-old is reading her bedtime stories. Most nights.

There's nothing but positives about finally getting a previously frenetic child clean, calm, and tucked in. Cuddled up and sharing the same moments I shared with my parents; reading with my father in fact was a favorite, one of the rare very clear memories I have from being quite that young. I even still have a few of the books, A.A. Milne poetry and Dr. Seuss, all too dog-eared to read but safely tucked in the main room shelf with the relics and "literature" -- but their modern twins ready-for-action among the living books in my daughters room.

I love how she jumps in completing the phrases, asks questions, and offers analogy to the continuously evovling social ties of a pre-school world.

You're right, the Grinch's dog Max probably is very much like when Aladesia didn't like having sticks on her head. I hear you Aladesia. I don't want sticks on my head either. Wait, you didn't put the sticks on Aladesia's head did you?...

Good stuff. But here's the catch. Some of these books aren't the blissful little masterpieces I remember (and brought) from my childhood. Some of them are crap. Some are just a little boring. Some were badly translated (let's hope that's the problem anyway). But we have a few, special gifts of course from family members who really must read the books first next time, that are absolutely fucking painful.

Seriously. My loving wife of 10 years, and mother of this beautiful only-child, will literally turn tail and sneak out of the room if our daughter reaches for a prize few of these literary treats. I just try negotiation or delay. And "accidentally" losing the books has been a serious pillow conversation. Haven't had the stones for that. Yet.

Book choice is important. Not surprisingly, you read the book more than once. Possibly more than 100 times or more. Aloud. So a writer that can keep a decent cadence is appreciated. Rhyming is nice but surely not a rule. Emotional range critical. And humor a plus. Isn't it always?

With that in mind, I'll relay a few of my favorites:

1. When We Were Young or Now We are Six by A.A. Milne.
Sure, Pooh bear and Piglet are tremendous also, but you already know that. These were two of the books I read with my father. Certainly something to pass down. My daughter would be subjected to them even if she didn't like them but fortunately it all works. And The Sailor is the motivational speech we all need.

2. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.
The classic. By far my favorite for multiple readings, and amazing to see a small child get the point over time. Fans of Dick Cheney will feel a little knot in the belly here. That's okay, as the book points out, there's still time for you to help repair. Just get to it.

3. Olivia Saves the Circus by Ian Falconer.
We have several of this Olivia series, and they're excellent, even on the 124th read through. I do feel like I'm seeing this guy's whole family though. Except they're pigs. I hope they are all cool with that.

4. 365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental.
I have no clue where we got this story, but it's spectacular. Except for the preachy part at the end, which I typically skip and my daughter doesn't seem to know or mind -- she's too busy counting the penguins. A hilarous story of math and global warming.

5. Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Conner.
Undoubtedly, this book will be better loved by little girls than boys (yeah, you can get all PC on me... but you try to read it to a 3-year-old boy and tell me then). But as a dad reading to a girl, I am quite certain this has earned me some street cred on picking out the right clothes for school. Previous to regular readings of this book, Mommy was consulted as second opinion on every freakin' sock. I make this a must-read for that reason alone.

6. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst.
There are days when I need this book as much as she does. It's like the soulful blues and the therapist's couch of the toddler. Some day you'll grow up to Old Yeller and Shawshank, but for now let's just listen to Alexander and his wistful dreams of Australia.

Good luck with those.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

An homage to a perfect cup of prose

Back in the digital dark ages, before everyone posted their diaries, shopping lists, and trips to Kogi up for their friends and acquaintances, there was a cool little site called Fray. And that's the version I mean too; if you go to now, it's similar but not quite as open. Good for them, but at least the old version is still there.

The Fray concept was, well, basically a multi-user blog. But regulated for quality. True stories by people who can tell them. In other words, it was totally awesome. Definitely take a look.

A few of my favorites there are Letterman on Acid and Lost. But my favorite - no surprise - for the lines here alone was a little ditty called Perfect Cup of Coffee by Alexis Massie:

Coffee is an elixir, the one drug that is both utterly legal and
utterly acceptable. I've been drinking a pot or two of this stuff
for twelve years. Coffee is a lifestyle that is so omnipresent that
we don't even notice it. People that don't drink coffee are weird.

It's true. People that don't drink coffee are weird. Like people who never get tired, or sarcastic, or sad. They cannot be trusted. Because no one is without weakness. Some people just fake it better than others.

And because somewhere between your weaknesses and your passions is why you do the thing you do. People who cover that up constantly are either lying to you, lying to themselves, or both. Sounds dangerous either way.

Better to drink another imperfect cup.

Take a look at Fray some time while you do. New or old, I think it's great stuff.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Love for Randy the Ram

Finally saw Oscar sleeper The Wrestler last night. Tremendous movie. Sad and honest, but filled with the beauty that only comes from a life long passion.

So certainly I don't want to pay short shrift to the true meaningful messages of the film -- in the end you really only have the life you created. Would you rather have the one thing you've been obsessively passionate about, or the many human parts of life you missed? One particularly cool tenet of the movie is that Randy clearly drove his path, and still can. He's not invincible and far from perfect, but he's driving the bus of his life and can even steer it significantly if he chooses. Unlike many others in the world, he's never really whipped around by the random impact of life. As one of the co-stars says, "like always, I'm the heel and you're the face." People want him to have whatever he chooses. He just needs to make the choice.

While significantly less important in the grand scheme, I was extremely taken by the deli counter scenes. Scenes where he's demeaned, amused, confident, and finally self-destructive. I love the wry approach he picks up to making the best of an otherwise belittling situation. He's a showman, and a wonderful one.

But beyond that, it entirely reminds me that people -- in this case the customers -- have these few weird places in life to show their ass, and the deli counter seems to be one. There is little as frightening as a bitchy little old lady at the deli counter in a New Jersey Stop & Shop. You know she doesn't pull that attitude anywhere else but at the deli, in her car, and probably at the DMV. Why should the deli man take the brunt of your years of attitude?

But when a sales counter like that is humming, it's a show, and a fun one. It only takes one person to crack a joke about the chicken breasts. So I figure we all get to drive the bus a bit, at least on the tone of the situation. Best to enjoy the moment.