If you click here and scroll down to “health inspector nazis,” you will see what I mean by having hit a nerve. The story that the bullhorn duo John and Ken picked up on is mine from the local paper. For those that don’t know, John and Ken run the most listened to AM afternoon drive talkshow in L.A. on KFI, a station I actually listen to quite a bit myself. The story seems to have legs, as we say, and has been picked up by lots of different media outlets.
Still, a difficult week, too as we ran into financial difficulties courtesy of the Federal Government. I own a Tax Sheltered Annuity through my school district and it’s not worth much anymore. But, it’s enough to pay off some debt and help us get our refi going. Only thing is the Feds say I cannot have my money. Based on the stipulations surrounding a TSA, there’s no closing that account unless you meet the IRS’s definition of “hardship,” which we don’t.
But, sunlight broke through today when I learned that I can roll the TSA over into an IRA. From there, I can get access to the money any time I choose because the rules are different for IRA’s. True, the dollars are no longer pre-tax dollars, but that’s OK with me. I’ve stopped contributing to the TSA anyway.
My brothers and I share a running joke in that we say we’re “living the dream,” when anyone asks how we’re doing-and by that term, we are generally sarcastically overstating our condition. But this week, I got to teach great literature, work with students on writing good, solid essays and show them how, and I got to report on some amazingly good stories. I am indeed living the dream, gentles. I may not be wealthy–but I sure am rich.
I’m sitting here doing exactly what I tell my students to never do–I’m staring at a blank page. In this case, I’m staring at a blank screen. Well, really no. It’s not blank. It’s a word press site so there are all kinds of things on the margins-but the area that I’m in control of is blank. Or was.
This is the case because after a post like the last one, where I was writing with visceral certainty and about my own past, my own passions and my own experiences, I’m here on a Wednesday wondering what there is that’s so interesting to write about.
I’m too perplexed and even a bit depressed over the state of education. The hapless and helpless administrators, the feckless and reckless unions, the apathetic kids, the overbearing parents. It’s too much. So, no-I won’t write about that.
I could write about the stalled attempt to refinance our home, but that too is rather a sad story. Is it possible it still may work? Sure, it’s possible. Is it likely? No. No it isn’t.
This is not to say there isn’t good news. I actually enjoy my little niche of teaching and like what I do there, even now. And I love being a freelance writer and correspondent for the local newspaper. This week is a busy week for me as I have already covered three stories and have yet one more to do.
My wife and my daughter are healthy, so am I and we have each other and Aunt Laurie, too. We get to spend our evening’s together which is nice and the rain makes things feel close, comfortable and easy.
The sky was interesting all day. It darkened and lightened and was swollen with rain clouds but for the first few hours, it remained dry. Slowly, as the clouds accumulated into a mass of gray, little drops began to fall and then steadily drizzled all the rest of the day while it got colder.
Several times, I caught myself breathing deeply and inhaling rich, fresh aromas of rain and mist. It made me happy to feel how fresh it was, how invigorating. I stood outside with a gentleman named Fred Roth, the Chairman and co-founder of the Camarillo Academic Olympics for kids. We talked as the rain began and at first, didn’t bother to go inside.
This evening, the rain turned to a kind of Seattle-drizzle. It was wet, but you could walk outside without getting too wet and yet, everything glistened and became illuminated by the graying down of the day while the sun, already hiding behind clouds, gave way to dark night.
And it’s then, as I was driving home just before dusk from a press conference, ready to wind down for the evening and enjoy dinner and a glass of wine that I thought, “this isn’t so bad.”
I’m 13 years old living in the dappled sunlight and heat of the San Fernando Valley. I’m digesting a steady diet of Journey and Boston-ballad bands that run through the FM radio rotations like merry-go round horses and once in a while, catching a glimpse of my big brother’s favorite bands who have a more progressive edge. I walk in the door one day and see Doug and his friends gathered around the stereo in the living room listening to Led Zeppelin. I didn’t know if I’d heard them before, but I think to myself, “the radio plays this?” Until then, it was AM stations and pop hits, ballads and even bands like Air Supply, for which I now think I must pay penance because I listened.
Doug, on the other hand, is the oldest of us three and he is already a fine drummer at 17 years old. He plays in the marching band and he sings in a rock band called Arial. Their guitarist is a guy named Brian Hughes who is rumored to have had a heroin problem and I don’t know what heroin is, but I know that when I watch Brian play, he drools–and he’s in another world. He’s a musician. A real musician.
Doug has started listening to Jazz and he introduces me to Chick Corea and Chuck Mangione. I pay attention to it because he’s the big brother and I admire both of my brothers at this age. I’m beginning, just beginning, a fascination with words of my own and I’m starting to keep a journal and write stories. One day, Doug comes home and asks me if I want to go see Louie Bellson play at Pierce College, the community college where I will eventually meet my wife, but up until then, was the place where cool teenagers go when they leave high school. I don’t hesitate and I’m introduced to a new world: Jazz. There’s Grant Geisman, Chuck Mangione’s guitarist, playing with Belson, and Doug tells me jazz musicians often play with other people. This isn’t what’s supposed to happen. You join a band-and you’re in that band. For life or so I thought.
But it’s Chick Corea who captures my attention. His band is called RTF or Return to Forever and they have this amazingly talented line-up. Stanley Clarke is on bass. Doug tells me, “you haven’t heard anyone play bass like this.” I don’t know what to think. The speed at which Clarke plays and the finesse that he puts into his playing are a revelation to me. I take up bass guitar when I’m 14 years old. I never, never achieve anything close to Stanley Clarke. But I listen to him and appreciate his music.
By my teens, I’m thoroughly dressed in progressive rock. Yes, Genesis, Rush, Emerson Lake and Palmer get blasted through the cassette player. But I’m branching out. My fascination with words continues and so I listen to Simon and Garfunkel and Paul Simon’s poetry works for me. If I’m not hashing out mad rhythmic Rush melodies, I’m lying on my bed, listening to Simon sing about his disillusion in “American Tune.”
Chick Corea’s Return to Forever band is never far away from me, either. I put it on mostly in the day-time, as though night is too sleepy to appreciate its nuances, as though night is too dark, too unknown to allow trips down a musical rabbit hole through which I’m not sure I’ll return. I’m not a drug-user. That would come later-and I would never make it a hobby. I don’t get that interested in weed or even booze. I just like music.
My parents divorce and the earthquake that shapes the landscape of my brothers’ and my lives is now complete. I’m 17 years old and music is my refuge. Music and words. Journals are piling up in the corner of my desk with poems, diatribes, articles and ideas. I begin to take photographs, too. I listen to more music and more Chick Corea, but as the divorce occupies more and more of our lives, I drift from it and I stay away for a very long time….
It’s in the background now. I listen to Stanley Clarke to remind me of who I was. I’m in college and I meet Edd in 1987 who becomes and remains one of my closest friends. Edd is a musician like Brian Hughes was, but without the heroin problem. Edd appreciates everything and yes, he has heard of Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke and yes, he even has some of the albums.
Edd and I form a band and play together until I’m in my 30’s. A latent passion is awakened and it’s not until well after I’m married that I realize I’m no musician. Edd is, still-a fine and consummate one. But words begin to push their way into my world and suddenly, I’m a writer, a teacher and music is what I listen to, not what I do.
That’s where things are now, in my 40’s. So it was with a good deal of resurrecting some of those ghosts that I went to see Stanley Clarke play last night. Free tickets from my friend, Ty and I brought Edd along to an intimate little club called The Canyon.
Stanley Clarke doesn’t play the bass, he engages and coerces it. His band aren’t just musicians, they’re virtuosos who create art night after night on the canvas of their instruments. Clarke’s music has no lyrics, no words-he doesn’t need them. His fingers dance across the bass and he creates fretted and fret-less images with grace and elan. He’s a pied piper inviting all to forget the world and live in this moment.
Now in his late 50’s or early 60’s, Clarke leads his 20-something band-mates into swirls of little jazz miracles, allowing just as much room for them to play as for himself, never stealing the show from them, always allowing the music to be the one thing-the only thing that matters for that hour and a half. The songs are new and old and Clarke plays them with the energy he had 30 years ago. His style is all original and the clarity, the beauty and the nuance of the melodies is so personal, so revelatory that I’m not standing in the middle of the club floor staring at a stage. I’m lost, rather ensconced in each and every high and low and the fingers of this man who I feel like I’ve come to know after 30 years of listening.
So, now in my 40’s when concerts are much less interesting to me and not worth the money and the time and effort, last night was an unexpected gift. All the old visions, all the old desires to play, all the wonder of getting lost in a melody and a riff came back last night and for a time, I was 25 again.
When the reverie ended, I wasn’t unhappy about it. I was simply grateful that I got the chance and more so, happy that I got to share it with friends. I’m tired today, sleepy and groggy with being out later than usual and standing for that hour and a half, straining to get a glimpse of a master craftsman at work. But the feeling is mollified by the simultaneous feeling that I got to see Stanley Clarke play after 30 years of wanting to.
I’ve not been resting on my laurels these past few weeks. Doing so would indicate that I had laurels upon which to rest. But truly, I have kept a busy and expanding freelance writing schedule, re-written the curriculum, along with my colleagues, for the journalism classes offered in our school district, worked with Jason to build websites for every teacher at the high school (go here to see a really good use of one) and taught my classes.
Meanwhile, I’ve been working for over a year now to free our family up from an interest only loan we hold for our mortgage and only recently have gotten anywhere. We’re about ready to refinance–pending approval–at a very good interest rate locked in for 30 years. This will subordinate our HELOC and allow us the freedom to stay in the house which is what we want to do. I’ve been attending classes with Sue as we prepare for the adoption of another child into our family and Peanut and I have been working on building a whole new relationship since Christmas-time when the revelation of the past few years dawned on me.
Biorganicwines.com has taken a back seat to all this and I’m uncertain of its future just now. I don’t have a vision for it as I did previously and so I’m pulling back a bit, checking out the lay of the land and thinking about how to proceed. I’m also in the process, rather necessarily than willingly, of planning to purchase a new car. This is not something I want to do, but the venerable MPV has now cost us nearly $8,000 since August and that’s just too much money–over $1000 dollars a month. On top of it, we were just told that a small oil leak we’re experiencing will require yet another $1400 repair. This is the straw that broke the minivan’s back. We just cannot keep dropping coin on this car when we could negotiate a certified pre-owned or even a new car–at about $300 a month. This would have saved us, over the past 6 months, some $4200. We cannot keep throwing good money after bad on the thing.
And I don’t know why I wrote about this because what I essentially just did was updated you on nearly every important facet of what’s happening right now.
Without question, the highlight, or lowlight, of today’s hike through the Malibu Hills was Scoop happening upon the same corpse of a raccoon, now more decomposed than two weeks ago, and rolling in it as though he was a wolf bringing the scent back to the pack. Only problem is that we’re the pack and he was with us. We even brought niece-dog Lucy along and she didn’t rub herself all over the dam thing. She just kept walking, tongue lolling out to her side enjoying the adventure.
This behavior is not new to Scoop. He’s famous for this sort of pack behavior as though he’s barely removed from the Arctic or Idaho wild running with is mates and hunting weak caribou. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. Oh, he’s in good shape for a dog of nearly 11 years but he’s more goat than wolf. He trolls along the fields, chewing up bits of grass, grazing on the tender leafys. Of course, this causes issues when it comes time to–deposit the leavings, as I might say. At times, a leafy, or blade of grass or weed gets caught and he requires assistance in its removal if he is to be respectable and not walk around all day with things hanging from his derrier.
Meanwhile, the behavior of rolling, as I say, is not new. One hike we did years ago, Scoop found himself a pile of animal dung that was…well, large. Musk ox maybe? Rare and dangerous wild Clydesdale herds in the area? I don’t know. But, the dog found it. I saw him heading for it and at the time, was holding a remote control that sent electric shocks through the collar he was wearing. As a hound dog, he’s not famous for returning on command. As a hunting dog, he’s useless, unless he’s doing the hunting. Otherwise, forget it.
So, my friend Ron points out that his dog Molly has made a dash for the creekbed and Scoop is following–but Scoop has deviated his course and I see him headed for mound o’ Clydesdale or whatever the hell dropped a load–or ate some bad cheese or a whole family of squirrels or whatever, on the other side of the creek bank. I called to him, but he characteristically ignored me. I pointed the remote at him and began pushing the button. Mid-run, he jerked a little, but didn’t stop. Two more taps. Nothing. Terminator-like, he headed on toward his quarry and commenced rolling in a great pile of scat the likes of which should have brought archaeologists out of the ivory towers to see if dinosaurs had once again started roaming Camarillo.
Thank God when I finally got him back, I didn’t leash him up. I just kept him close by, downwind to be sure and shocked him if he began to get off course. I shocked him a couple of times just because I was pissed at him, too. He was young-and I was aggressive. So….
Ron, whose house was our home base pointed out that Scoop would not be welcome on his lawn to get his bath. I understood and heavily sighed as he brought me the hose and turned it on full-blast with the nozzle on “painful” as I powerwashed 6 pounds of animal caca into the gutter. I know I must have broken 17 different E.P.A. hazardous waste laws while I did it. That dog was his own dam superfund site.
So, while today’s miscreant behavior was a little less…pungent, it still reeked. He earned the double scrubbing he got and as we had to drive home in the minivan with five people (Aunt Laurie and Peanut’s classmate along), Scoop was relegated to the very back of the vehicle where one normally keeps luggage, coats, things like that. He was tired at that point, so he didn’t complain too much. Nor did eau d’ raccoon fill the car with its odiferousness, thank God. As I said…double scrubbing.
February is spring-time in Southern California. We can have cold and rainy days, or we can have warm sunny days and today was the latter. More rain expected later in the week, but it was a good day for a hike if a bit too warm. High 70’s and little breeze. I know that elsewhere, it’s cold and snowy. But I’m laughing at the warming alarmists who discuss the Olympics as though the lack of snow is proof of anything. Any good research–or really, any basic reading, of the Vancouver, B.C. climate shows that the average winter temperature is well above freezing. It’s a maritime climate and the Pacific storms are augmented by the Pacific breezes and the ocean. Ah well. At least we know it’s a real debate now. It always was, of course–but the leftists took it upon themselves to say “case closed.”
Anyway, brought home the dogs to hose them down and shampoo them off with flea and tick soap. We set up the assembly line in the backyard. I was on washing duty and Aunt Laurie was on drying duty. Lucy is a particularly tough dog and quite strong. She has the ability to knock you over by simply pulling on her leash. Dragging her back to where you want her, when she is interested in getting away from you, is not easy. Result: Back’s a bit tight and a bit sore.
Now, however, both dogs are clean and tired-and Scoop’s sound asleep on his bed while Lucy is home with Aunt Laurie, presumably also asleep.
Only a couple more things left to do tonight and I’ll hit hay soon, too. Nothing more exciting to write. Good night, gentles.
The cathode glow of the television tube has kept my daughter’s attention for too long today. This is unusual on two levels. First, she is not much of a TV watcher. She will of course watch before bedtime, like most kids, but normally she’s not all that interested. Secondly, even when she wants to watch, we don’t always let her.
But we relented this evening because she played all day, had a friend over and everything and because she’s tired and it’s a way to get her to stop running around. And, of course, as it is Valentine’s Day, it’s the Disney premiere of Starstruck.
It was an odd day. We go to church about 20 miles from here. We’re committed to the place and love it, but the distance occasionally puts us in a quandary. We got there today at our normal time and realized there was no Sunday School. That meant more than an hour until church started. We made an attempt at hanging around. We went to Yum Yum Donuts and had a bite. We walked around the Farmer’s Market for a time. And still, we had an hour before church. Sigh. We couldn’t do it. We’re spoiled and we’re aware of that limitation, so we headed home.
I awoke this morning with a tough headache, probably brought on by a bit of wine. I didn’t drink too much-but certainly more than normal and this caused the problem. I treated it with my usual headache medication but apparently, it wasn’t a migraine. So, headache still throbbing and now the added bonus of groggy and disconnected head and I never did get it together today. Flew a couple of trips on the Flight simulator (Microsoft and all), did some casual reading, loaded some grades into the computer for school and ate hamburgers for dinner. And I feel like I drove a big rig across the Rocky Mountains anyway.
The freelance life continued this weekend and I worked both Friday and Saturday while making a few pitches. It’s a busy life and I like it but it’s also an addiction, a true passion for me.
Well, Peanut is now at the critical stage. She’s watching the movie, but she’s so tired, she cannot focus. Bedtime will hit soon. A day off tomorrow, gentles and we’ll use it wisely.
The day was another busy one in pursuit of some deadlines I needed to meet. Tomorrow, I have another story to produce and I’m not at all unhappy about any of it. I am, however, unhappy that I decided on pizza for tonight’s dinner and we ended up with a couple of “gourmet” frozen ones from Vons.
Mind you, these pizzas actually have flavor. I’m pretty happy with their product and have purchased it before. It’s usually on sale for about 4 bucks and for 4 bucks, it’s darned tolerable. But tonight? Not so much.
The grease quotient, the fat quotient and the spice quotient (the pepperoni pizza was particularly spicy for whatever reason) really created difficulties for the whole fam. Peanut did her typical Friday food load as she comes home from school to prepare for her “hip hop dance class” at the local studio. She ate nachos and then some more chips, she ate an apple, some fruit, fruit juice and, I think, some Valentine’s candy from her classroom Valentine’s party and then, after dance class-she tried the pizza. Didn’t like it. Settled on a hot dog and some more fruit and some carrots.
But, she’s not 44 with a stomach that’s lost a lot of its umph, along with a lot of lining. The pizza was not just what I needed. The Rolaids was. Ah well. C’est la guerre…and all that.
P’s strep is loosening up. She says her throat doesn’t hurt as bad but she’s coughing a bit more, now. That’s actually good–she’s getting it out and we’re happy about it. She was well enough to dance tonight, well enough to do school. We’ll keep her on that path and see where it goes. I’m fading–and when I do that, I get boring. Apologies.
Took a powernap, gentles. It’s time to turn in. Good night.
Humble apologies. Allow me to catch up on a few things….
I’ve had to take some classes this week as Sue and I wind up the preparation portion for the adoption to go forward. We just finished CPR and First Aid tonight.
I’ve also been very busy on deadlines and have been writing this week rather extensively. As I’ve mentioned before, paid works trumps not paid work, so I had to focus the attention as they say.
Peanut has strep and Sue isn’t feeling 100 percent, so I’ve been busy at home, too. But the doc got involved today as the little one’s temp. went up. She’s had a sore throat since Sunday and five days worth was a bit much. So, in and of course, a round of antibiotics.
Now–on to other business and a few observations.
The Superbowl: Tremendous game. The best game featuring two teams I cared little about ever. But, I rooted for the Saints as they were the underdog and I was not disappointed.
As for the half-time show, The Who were….well, strange. I took two views and here’s the first: They seem more and more like a parody of themselves. Mind you, very few bands can do this. The Rolling Stones have done it and now the Who. It’s not good when you parody yourself. You look a bit faded, a bit weak. And Rog and Pete definitely did. It’s enough that they’re really only at half strength now. I suppose it’s probably true that the two of them are the heart of the band, but it’s hardy fair to discount Entwistle and Moon.
But they looked old and they looked tired and Pete Townsend very much had the look on his face of, “is it over, yet?” Where he tried to be animated, he was stiff. Where he tried to play cool riffs, he was mottled. Daltrey’s voice held up, kind of-but they looked uncertain of each other, of themselves.
The second view point would be that they are legends, now. And they continue to play and they seem to still enjoy it a bit. They did write the anthems of the 60’s and 70’s and one cannot deny their influence. Huzzah and Bravo and all that.
But, I might have felt better about it when I was a bit younger. These past couple of years have seen me change my tastes a bit and all the stuff I once listened to, I’m less tolerant of, now. I know–it’s me getting old, not them. Maybe so–but I don’t feel old. I feel liberated in some ways. I just don’t think they sounded all that good and after Entwistle’s death and Townsend’s absurd explanation as to why he was looking at kiddy-porn, well–I’m just not really all that inclined to shout hurray anymore.
So, there’s that.
Meanwhile, I’ve picked up a new magazine for which to write. The first piece I’ll produce for Ventana Magazine is a profile of my good friend and drama teacher, Richard Winterstein. He’s a gifted and passionate teacher. He deserves the attention and I’m happy to write about him. I’ll also be writing some wine pieces for them, so I’m pleased.
The evening is here and it brings with it the usual February stuff. Peanut, who has been doing marvelous well since Christmas, has a sore throat. We’ll see if we can’t nip it before it becomes something more sinister. But you know, she’s changed and matured. She said, “dad, I’m going to go to bed earlier tonight so I don’t get sicker.” Made the choice all by herself.
She also made the choice to do some other things including, and this one was a whopper, ride her bicycle to school all be herself. This is the child about which I wrote some time ago that she wouldn’t let go of her mother’s leg when we dropped her at school. She would scream and pout. So much so, that for the past two years, we worked with a neighbor of ours who is 13 years old and goes to the same school that she would walk Peanut to school and in the rain, her parents would drive her. This eliminated her ability to cling to us.
This morning, she got on her bicycle, said good-bye to her mom, and rode the two blocks to school without an adult, an older kid or even a classmate to go with her. It was a seminal moment and, like all of them, there was no soundtrack. There was no moment in which the camera faded in or out, or focused on the middle distance as she rode into it. There was Peanut, on her bike, riding over to school, comfortable and content that she could handle it herself–and there was her mom, since I’d left for the day, standing in the driveway marking the passage of time with a smile and a little inside tug at her heart as her little girl took another of the inexorable steps toward growing up.
So, she may well have a sore throat and she may get sick this week. That too is a sign of growing. We all remember getting colds, flu and all the rest of it in third grade. But we get through that, too. And we get on our bicycles the next day and we ride into the next sunrise and sunset.
Quickly go the days. And years.
A new piece of wine writing here. Thanks for your patornage.
It’s a rare Saturday evening post, to coin a phrase. Home tonight from dinner with friends we don’t get to see very often. Had a nice time, though I suppose it would have been nicer if I’d gotten a decent night’s sleep last night.
Mexican food, normally among my favorite things, just didn’t work. Too spicy, too fatty and ultimately, kept me awake the better part of the wee morning hours. I tried the omeprazole and I drank water, I sat up, I did it all….to no avail. Burp after burp after burp. Good times.
I think what gets to me most is that while I’ve never had a cast-iron stomach, I never really had the problems that I do now that I’m in my 40’s. The acid reflux thing is the absolute pits and causes no end of problems for me if I don’t eat correctly. So why not eat correctly?
Fair question. No answer. Too tired, I imagine.
Rainfall today was pretty heavy and in light of the limitations the rain puts on outdoor activities, we sought to appease a sad and lonely child by taking her to Chuck E. Cheese. She was pretty happy about that. Me? Meh….I could do without the place. It really is a little version of hell. The noise, the bad food, the filth, the screaming bratty kids. But, in all, none of that matters. Peanut had a play date taken away from her because apparently, her friend who was supposed to come over made some bad choices and mom yanked the playdate. This left Peanut rather lonely and then she found out that the father-daughter dance was tonight and she wasn’t gong to be there. I didn’t even know about it, so I was rather sanguine. Too much so for Peanut’s taste.
I confess, I’m no fan of dancing, not in the slightest. And yes, I know that my little girl deserves to dance with her daddy and I will, of course, concede the point. We went to the dance once when she was 4 and she remembers it, even. Sort of. But she wanted to go again and we missed it this time.
So, to Chuck E. Cheese. As I say, appeasement doesn’t work anywhere in the world, anywhere in history. Every time it has been tried, it meets with failure–except in dealing with little girls. Sometimes, to keep whatever is left of sanity, one needs to appease them. It’s the exception that proves the rule, I guess.
Super Bowl, but no Pittsburgh Steelers. That’s OK, we aren’t hosting this year and I’m headed up to my friend Brett’s house where I will provide Philly Cheese-steak sandwiches. Pretty good stuff, that. Got about three pounds of rib-eye roast and will thinly slice it tomorrow, sautee it with a bit of butter and peppers and onions and then, put it on the bun with a bit of cheese whiz. That’s the Geno’s route. Pat’s King of Steaks would indicate Provolone. I’m OK with that, but Superbowls call for cheese whiz, or, in this case, Tostitos Cheese dip.