Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Now Hiring

One of my favorite jobs I ever had was working at Borders. Sure, the hours were inconsistent and sometimes grueling. There was your occasional pain-in-the-ass customer. Restocking the periodical shelves was like an agonizing game of Where's Waldo. Yet overall, it was a fun experience, at least according to memory. I, of course, had spent many a non-working hour reading or sampling music. I think there is something to be said for working in a familiar, enjoyable place even if the work itself is uncomplicated and not challenging.

This is what occurred to me as I escaped to the Williams-Sonoma at lunch today. They had a french onion soup starter, pumpkin spice quick bread, and a harvest blend stuffing kit from La Brea Bakery! As usual, the place smelled like sweet bread in the oven, and the faces around the counter were friendly and personable. I wanted it all. I wanted to go all "Julie & Julia" and cook my way through the whole damn store. Today's was only a browsing mission, however, a scout if you will. I will be back. Oh yes, I will be back.

Back to my point though...As I was leaving and relishing the joy that is Williams-Sonoma, I had an impractical fantasy. What if I just worked a string of retail jobs at my favorite stores? One day at each store, maybe two-a-day a few times a week. Could I live? Maybe not, but it would be fun, wouldn't it? Besides, think of the discounts.

I give you my list of stores I would work at if I were actually to lose my mind and implement such a plan:

(In no particular order)

Book Soup
Amoeba Records
Portrait of a Bookstore
Ballard Designs (I know it's a catalog, not a store but this is a stupid fantasy anyway)
LL Bean (see above)
Cost Plus World Market

Friday, September 24, 2010


Correction: I was horrified to find that I had a spelling error posted large as life for 9 straight days. I humbly apologize.

Well, I am bored as hell (shocker!) and I thought I should throw something up here so in the absence of anything worthwhile, I shall regale you with a tale of last night's encounter with a surly barman. Let's call it "(Petty)Showdown at the Formosa Cafe."

Arriving at the historic Formosa Cafe around 8:30 for The Doug and Mara's fundraiser, my lady friend and I made our way to the bar. Whilst imbibing on the first of several free cocktails, we eyed a miniature, A-frame menu advertising appetizers at Happy Hour prices. The veggie spring rolls were too great a sumptuous value to resist. We ordered them. They came, Nicole ate them, all was well...or so it seemed. A short while later, Ellen arrived and had designs on veggie spring rolls of her own. These, however, would have to be of the full price variety as the mini-menu had been replaced by one far more physically and economically imposing. We ordered them anyway. They came, the broads ate them, all was well...or so it seemed. When the check came, I noticed that we'd been charged the full, robust price for both sets of rolls, rather than one-and-one, happy hour-to-regular. I jovially pointed this out to the waitress who immediately agreed as to the error and vowed swift reparations. I thanked her, gave her my credit card and she vanished to the unseen kitchen area. That's where, as we would later find out, someone got to her. She came out moments later to ask me how many veggie spring rolls had come out in the initial serving, because someone in the kitchen (with Dina?) was asserting that we got six, which was apparently more than the Happy Hour portion. I assured her I had no idea since I had not partaken, but that, regardless, we had ordered the first veggie spring rolls under the pretense of the low low price as it was displayed to us and would probably not have so splurged otherwise. After all, I had enjoyed a turkey sandwich on the way over. I did stipulate that I was certain the first spring rolls had arrived on a decidedly smaller plate. Again, she was gone. Moments later, a strange man dressed in black emerged, seemingly from thin air, and inquired if we were "the people with the veggie spring rolls." In my own subtle way, I answered, You got it, Butch. Well well well....This man in black was visibly perturbed. He said that while he was going to adjust our check to reflect a one-and-one price tab, he just wanted me to know that we DID get six(!) veggie spring rolls. He was adamant about the number we had received and consumed and that number was SIX! Not two, not four, but six. The implication, of course, being that we are somehow responsible for knowing how many veggie spring rolls are served in any of their various price tiers and that by eating the allegedly additional spring rolls placed in front of us, we were making a commitment to pay for them. You-eat-it-you-buy-it kind of thing. I acknowledged that we'd been so informed and somehow managed to keep my immeasurable gratitude for his lesson in ethics contained. Then he somewhat brashly asked to confirm my mini-menu story. I stood my ground, the truth standing behind me like a big brother with his arms crossed. The man in black then pointedly checked to make sure that this mini-menu had now been taken away, seemingly so that we could not try any more of these shenanigans. We showed him that it certainly had, most likely sometime around when Happy Hour ended, or ten minutes after we polished off the last of the first veggie spring rolls. With one more fleeting yet still prideful assertion that we had gotten six spring rolls, the man in black was gone. The waitress returned with the new check, still cheerful, still as disinterested and baffled by the scope of this minor battle as I was. Sure enough, there was the receipt with the old total and there was the receipt with the new total. Everything's kosher, right? Wrong. The credit card receipt, the little guy you actually sign, still carried the older, higher total of injustice. What was I to do? Track down the innocent waitress again and drag this trifling tragedy out even further? On another day, after another drink, that just may be exactly what I would have done. Alas, it was not to be, not on this night. On that night, the point was conceded to the man in black. In the end, he just wanted it more. I scoffingly signed my name as if writing a check for a parking ticket, including an impartial tip for the waitress who was unwittingly caught in the crossfire. I downed the last swig of my martini, paid my respects to The Doug, and called it a night, without the slightest flutter of regret or shame. After all, we did get six veggie spring rolls.


And look at that, it's now time to go home!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Big, Huge Announcement

After many hours of deliberation and careful calibration, I am very pleased to announce that the Fall playlist is complete! September 15th already, but, finally, it is complete!

Not that size matters, but...

We're talkin' 421 songs, 1 Day, 1.80 GB of devastatingly appropriate music for the Fall season, real or mostly imagined. I leave you now to enjoy a celebratory cup of chai tea.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

No NOT Walk Alone

So I'm out running this morning and I'm on my way back when I come to a stop light where a small, residential street feeds into a mid-major street. I see this kid on the corner on his bike, waiting to cross. I'm looking around for where this kid's parents are, but there is no one. This kid is smaller than my five-year-old nephew who is in Kindergarten. He's on training wheels for crying out loud. Cars are whizzing past at an average 37 mph in this exact type of intersection where I have almost been hit myself several times by cars making a right turn without looking for peds. Even if a car were looking, they wouldn't see this little guy who, even with his helmet on, was no higher than my waist. We just stood there, the three of us, him, me, and the other me that was standing beside himself in shock over this situation. Anyway, the light changed, we both made it across and the next block to school was back in the quiet residential area. Safe and sound for this morning at least. But still, are you fucking kidding me?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Walk Alone

When I was about ten years old, my fifth grade class spent three days at this sort of outdoor science school up in the mountains, Camp Hi Hill. The curriculum was comprised of hiking to a natural spring, star gazing, and various other scientific stuff that I can barely even vaguely recall. I do have two lasting memories from this little excursion. The first is the "memory stick" each of us brought home with us, my first exposure to the sentimentality that would later blossom into the lost art of yearbook-signing. The second memory was in hindsight the most valuable aspect of the whole trip.

It was just around dusk as our cabin group was being led by our counselor to the top of the mesa from some unknown point to which we had hiked. Our counselor stopped us on the trail unexpectedly. We all sat down and he explained what was about to happen. We were about five minutes' walk from the top of the mesa, he said, where the rest of the campers would be waiting. He told us that each of us, one by one, would be walking the rest of the way up the trail on our own. It was to be our personal, solo walk. For someone who was already towing the line between bravery and fear just by being up there with all these strangers, away from family for the first time, this was no walk in the park. It was a mildly scary proposition. But there I went, out into the trees alone. I can't lie and say I remember it vividly. Honestly, I just remember walking, the myriad whistles, cranks, and hums of the wild forest around me, and the first twinkle of pride when I made it through to the other side unscathed.

Last night though, as I was trying to fall asleep, I was thinking about how nice it is sometimes to go for a walk alone. I hear more, I see more, I experience everything differently. The best part is the opportunity to be truly and completely alone with my own thoughts. Really, how often do we get that in our daily lives? I even recalled specific walks I had taken over the years that had each been very important to me in their own way. A walk by myself is a way to work things out. As I began thinking about this, it occurred to me that it very well may have started that night in the woods. I would think that had been the point, to plant a seed of independence or self-reliance. I don't know that it's as simple as saying "it worked." A big part of it, I'm sure, is simply growing up. But I will say, I really enjoy my alone time when I get it, be it a walk or the occasional Saturday night grill and football game at home.

That's all. Just saying.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?!!!...No? Not interested? Oh. Okay.

There is something very very wrong with this world when a man (me) cannot find a single buddy to go to a friggin' football game with. Not one. I can't afford it. I have plans with my girlfriend. I have a family thing. I have to get up early Sunday morning. All fine, iron-clad(ish) excuses if considered on an individual level, but when viewed as a collective whole, is there really any just cause that I had access to four(!) tickets for the USC game this Saturday yet will end up watching it from my couch? (Rhetorical)

Did I mention it's the 2010 home opener?!

What. The. Hell.

It's cool. I can tailgate on my back patio, drinking fall seasonals*, grilling burgers, making macho jokes to Mr. Frodo. At least I save a few bucks, which offsets the cost of my recently acquired lederhosen. So I got that going for me, which is nice.

*I found a Widmer Bros. Oktoberfest brew at Bevmo.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

A Good, Deep Breath

When I was living in New York, which I cannot believe was a decade ago, the city would get to me. The crowds, lights, subways, and the cramped, vertical, walking-city layout were key factors in what it made it so damn thrilling to live there, but I would also reach a point where if I didn't see a tree and a patch of grass, my head was going to burst. These moments were easily recognizable and always lingering even when the need was not immediate, like feeling the jaws of a vise on your head even before it's tightened. Thank God for Central Park.

Living in Los Angeles, with its vast spread, sea breezes, and mind-numbing traffic, I've never felt the urgent need to break away from the city because it doesn't really feel like a "city." Or so I thought. When I touched down in South Dakota last week, I realized I actually did need to escape from LA and that my head was in fact dangerously close to popping. The difference was that this time, the tension had been building painlessly, gradually like a slowly filling helium balloon. I didn't know how badly I needed to get out of town until I was already gone.

What a break it was. It was more than a break, it was a recalibration. It was a deep breath and a slow, careful exhale. I'd been to South Dakota and Denver many times before, of course, but this was the first time I can say I truly felt like I was going to a second home (Just ask brother Wayne and he'll vouch for me helping myself to his pantry). Maybe the best way I can organize my thoughts on this is to break it down by day.


First stop, directly from the airport should always be Armadillo's ice cream shop (seasonal). I had a steamburger, of course, and then satisfied a month-long craving for a milkshake with one of their signature concoctions edible only with a spoon. The Snickers Delite, folks. I friggin' love Snickers.

The nap. Is there anything better? I cannot tell you the last time I had a legitimate nap prior to that afternoon. And I went deep. I was dreaming.

Return to the scene of the crime, the winery of our wedding. Now that was weird. It felt like it had been a lot longer than a year. It felt kind of like going back into last year's classroom, assuming that conjures good memories for you. It certainly did for me. I caught myself telling every employee I came in contact with, like showing the new kids where the graph paper is stored. "Let me help you pick out a few tastings, youngster. I got married here last year."

And they had even managed to get all the candle wax off the hearth.


Uncle Jim took me fishing, my first time. The power and peace of the utter quiet. The sky. Holy shit, the sky. The purest, brightest blue, an ocean touching this lake. The term "big sky" hit home. The endearing, dry banter of Uncle Jim and his son Rick, playfully picking on each other all day long. My first and only fish! He was too small to keep, but, he fought like a marlin. The honor in keeping the tiniest fish that died as we removed the hook, scooping him back out of the water even though he had less than an ounce of meat on him. Rick was not going to let him lay to waste. A ham sandwich and a PBR never tasted so good as they did out on that boat, with a line in the water.

Deadwood, always Deadwood. The big, fancy suite you'd never expect to see in this Old West gambling town with its giant tub, fireplace, and complimentary slippers. Sharing a bottle of wine with the winemaker and his family (i.e., me). Hitting the tables and losing my shirt. The graciousness and sincerity of the dealer we had all to ourselves who implored me to never give up on my artistic dreams. Sometimes it's just so much easier to be open with a stranger.


Like Willie Nelson said, "a bloody mary morning." After years of trying to like them, I am finally(!) on board. It's a good thing because I needed a little hair of the horse that bucked me and then kicked me as I tried to stand up. The luck that began with finding the only place serving a breakfast sandwich at noon. The luck that continued as I hit my straight flush, taking all my money back and some of theirs, all with one foot out the door. The convertible. A '91 LeBaron, but a convertible nonetheless. Driving (see, rocking) through Custer State Park, top down, "American Woman" blasting. The striking scale of the Cathedral Spires. Driving through "The Eye of the Needle," aptly named for the size of this rock tunnel. Wondering what the first car to drive through it might have looked like. The kindness of strangers when the convertible wouldn't start again (it is a '91 LeBaron).

Sitting on the back patio that night, sharing several bottles of wine with the winemaker and his family. The crackle of the fire in the chiminea. The often underrated magic of seeing stars, their power to remind you how small you a healthy way. The way the flicker of firelight seems to filter out everything but honesty on the faces it touches.


The road trip. Denver, by way of Wyoming. Desolation, isolation, service station. The crap we buy there. Snow fences, open spaces, a metal cowboy planted on the hilltop for no apparent reason. The budding anticipation for the Little America Resort in Cheyenne, building from mild amusement to ecstatic glee after hundreds of miles of roadside billboards.

The reward of reaching family at the finish line.


Playing in the sandbox, building cities, farms, construction sites at once. The jolt to the imagination that is trying to keep up with the kids. Wiping the sand from Claire's eyes, trying not laugh too hard that she has dumped the entire cup of sand right on her head. The unspoken fun of taking little Caeden to kindergarten. Promising to take care of his monster truck until he gets home (I think I left it in the car. Oops.). A new outdoor mall for the Gap/Banana Give-and-Get 3-Day sale. Hey, I have come to love that sale. Plus the sales tax is lower in Colorado. The surprise and joy of my first Papa Murphy's pizza. Sitting out back, watching the sun set over the Rockies.


The Wedding. I love everything about weddings and this one was a knockout. The beaming pride of families coming together. The naked humility on the faces of the bride and groom as their big moment finally arrives. The indomitable tears everyone knew were coming yet are still utterly sincere. Then, the party. The brotherhood that builds around the bar. Dancing with any man, woman, or child in my vicinity. Dancing with parents. For a music fascist like me, realizing sometimes (though rarely) the song doesn't matter in the least. The 10 year-old who could give me lessons on being a ladies man. Letting go, looking around to find everybody falling with you. Everybody pretty much cutting footloose. The summer camp camaraderie of everyone staying in the same hotel.


The Day After breakfast, trying to remember everything you still desperately need to recover from. Noticing the same confusion on faces around the room. Asking "Hey, wasn't that you doing the Thriller dance?" while waiting on the wafflemaker. Saying goodbye, wondering when you might see them all again. Hoping it won't be long.

Finally, coming home. Dropping your bags, picking up the cats, and getting ready to start over.