Monday, October 31, 2005

Greenspring, Gloomburst, Desertus, and Festivus

With a good friend of mine moving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles (a move I have made three times myself), I thought it would be nice to occasionally present “tips” to help this friend make the necessary adjustments. Sure, he’s probably heard Seger’s Hollywood Nights, an effective if not thorough primer on such a Midwest-to-West transition. But does he understand the little things, the minutiae that make day-to-day life here in the beautiful Southland a qualified joy with minimal struggle? Does he? Perhaps. Either way Mike, here’s your first tip:

Those motorcycles are really allowed to drive between the lanes on the freeway. Better you know this now.

And for your next piece of advice…. just like much of the country, we have four seasons here. They’re just not the same seasons as everywhere else. In order to forestall annoying comments from transplants like “This isn’t winter. I’ll show you winter,” and “These aren’t fall colors. I’ll show you fall colors,” I’ve taken the time to rename and re-calendar the seasons:

Greenspring, Gloomburst, Desertus, and Festivus: The Four Seasons of Southern California

GREENSPRING. The cycle begins on January 16 (Laurel’s birthday), with Greenspring, the traditional “rainy season.” Tumultuous day-long rains clean the spotty L.A. air, making way for gloriously clean and clear post-rain skies, the vistas of which make it impossible to ever think about leaving this place even if the populace has forgotten that sometimes turn signals have a real function. But the true reward of this season is the natural beauty (trees and plants and such) that the rain makes manifest. Ending on April 15 (Tax Day), Greenspring is my personal favorite – messy and unpredictable, like the career of Frank Whaley, but in the end, more than satisfactory.

GLOOMBURST. Beginning on April 16, Gloomburst is marked by periods of gray cloudy rainless skies (Gloom) and fiercely bright sunshine (Burst). Most common is the gloomy morning making way to the bursty early afternoon, with late afternoon and early evening being a crapshoot. If Greenspring has been particularly rainy and the vegetation especially lush, Gloomburst can be the most physically beautiful season of them all, with the sudden changes from cloudy to sunny taking on a cinematic if overly signifying quality (imagine Mystic River if Clint Eastwood had someone to restrain him and he didn't surround himself with toadies and yes men that keep him from being a genius on the level of say, a Spike Lee). Gloomburst ends on Bastille Day, July 14.

DESERTUS. The driest hottest season, Desertus starts on July 15. This is when you go to the ocean. This is when you stay away from the hot places like Encino and La Verne. Long days, short nights, difficult air, but oh the ocean! Nothing feels better in mid-August than a drive west from wherever you may be living to the cooler air of the Pacific, then maybe north to Zuma Beach, and then maybe you make a U-turn by the Starbucks up by Trancas Canyon and then you parallel park on PCH (watch out for the randomly placed No Parking signs!), and then you grab your sandy boogie boards from the messy Desertus detritus of your trunk and, after attaching your key to your swimsuit with one those cool stretchy key bands, you run into the greatest body of water in the world braving the waves and three hours later you’re tired and all you want are some fish tacos from Wahoo’s so when you’re driving home you call ahead and Wahoo’s always has your food fresh and ready when you get there but don’t forget to ask for the extra salsa. That’s Desertus, although towards the end of September the ocean gets too cold and the fires start and it’s sort of awful for a few weeks but don’t worry – Festivus is coming! Desertus ends on October 19, a day of no significance to anyone.

FESTIVUS. First, let me thank Frank Costanza. Festivus. The dark season. The holiday season. Beginning on October 20 and ending on January 15, Festivus is the shortest of the four seasons but spans Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. With the clock changes of late October, the darkness hits and evening rush hour turns from a slow ballad to a bluesy dirge but at least the sun comes up earlier and maybe you can start getting to work earlier. Festivus is when you dig out your light jacket and umbrella. But be prepared for volatile weather – one day the rain hits hard and you think Greenspring is early but that’s just a tease because the aridity of Desertus comes flailing back the next day like a Chazz Palminteri character you just can’t kill off. But eventually, after Halloween, Desertus is climactically quiet and methodically darker and cooler and then suddenly it’s Thanksgiving and you forgot to buy the Tofurkey and then it’s Christmas and though it’s never a white Christmas at sea level, the snowcapped mountains where Leonard Cohen once lived beckon whiter than an Irish bar in Santa Monica and after that it’s a slow crawl to the more frequent rain of Desertus and the cycle is complete.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Two Kinds Of People

On the night that he allegedly murdered Lana "Not Patricia" Clarkson in his Alhambra compound, Phil Spector apparently told police "I didn't mean to shoot her." Today I heard that Spector's statement will indeed be admissable in court during his murder trial.

There are two kinds of people in the world. One kind of person hears this news and immediately imagines a Spector-produced Wall-of-Sound number featuring sweet pseudo-military drums, echoey piano tinkles, and Ronnie Spector singing "Oh I didn't mean to shoot her / No I didn't / No I didn't." The other kind of person wonders who the hell would build a compound in Alhambra.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Man (Watching Out For)

The perceptive among you may have been puzzled by my endorsement of the Chicago White Sox in this year's World Series. You may have thought "Ali, don't you dislike the city of Chicago with the needless intensity of a Hans Zimmer soundtrack?" You may have been prompted to throw out the following location/year pairs to gauge my reaction: "The South Side/2000." or "Lakeshore Drive/1996" or, most likely, "Evanston/1997." You would have been right to raise your brows but really I 've been trained to dislike the abstract game and to appreciate the nebulous players. And any city that gave us Liz Phair and John Cusack can't be all that bad even if it is. I'd still rather see the Astros win a game or two to make this interesting and I know a woman in Minnesota with a huge crush on Andy Pettite and he'll only pitch again if it gets to a sixth game so Go Astros.

Music recommendations: Tanglewood Numbers by the Silver Jews, Lookaftering by Vashti Bunyan, and Cripple Crow by Devendra Banhart. And the song Watch Out For The Man by the King of France.

Speaking of The Man, I'm compelled to write something cryptic about my experience with the higher-ups at my workplace. So, higher-ups, I tell you this: When you ask a gopher to dig a deeper hole, sometimes he locates the squirrel flesh you're trying to hide.

Friday, October 21, 2005


What's up with the Internet today? Slower than Mark Madsen on a pick-and-roll. Stickier than a Walter Becker bass line circa 1978, with the wolves howling at his door. Spottier than Bill Paxton's acting career (note: Bill Pullman is a different person). Maybe it's just an office thing but I seem to have had the same problem at home last night.

World Series predictions: White Sox in 7. Because of Ozzie, that's why. And the Astros seem a little fratboyish for my refined tastes.

I watched the first couple episodes of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central. Wow. More energetic than the deep cuts on Christmas's In Excelsior Dayglo album. More spot-on than Stephen Fry's The Hippopotamus. Funnier than Parker Posey in Henry Fool. More full of truthiness than my sophomore Sociology professor, the one with the flower in her hair and the lisp but maybe she was just a T.A. even though she seemed too old to be a T.A.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

I Understand Your Point But My Decision Is Final

I saw Sideways on DVD last night. In the theater, I was impressed. Now I'm awed. If it hasn't been scooped by screenwriting teachers and acting coaches as the perfect example of story structure and face-acting, it should be. Good montages, too. Tonight, I'll watch the legendary Giamatti/Payne commentary.

You know those Bud Light "Real Men of Genius" and "Real American Heroes" commercials? WFMU is currently playing every one of them back to back, all 100 or so of them. They're doing it for art, not for commerce. I can't describe how enjoyable this is. Listening to two or three of them is amusing. A dozen is grueling and disappointing. Listening to all of them, non-stop? It all makes sense. The universe makes sense.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Why do I keep eating lunch at La Salsa? The food is weak. Their fish is fishy. The atmosphere is cramped and fluorescent. The outdoor tables are wobbly. The manager treats her employees cruelly (dude, you're not a warden, this isn't a prison). Is it because it's the closest place to where I work? If only I would walk a few blocks further, I would be exponentially happier.

Why does WFMU interrupt their stellar music broadcasting once a week to air a creepy talk show hosted by a disturbed conspiracy theorist who says "Isn't that convenient?" way too often? Why not just play more obscure British adult-as-innocent-child power-pop?

Monday, October 17, 2005


In the past 8 months, I've written 87 blog entries and 1 1/2 short stories.

In the preceding 8 months, I wrote 0 blog entries and 6 short stories.

Are these facts connected?

Short film reviews: Wallace and Gromit: fun. A History of Violence: lots of fun.

Short sports reviews: USC-Notre Dame: greatest football game ever. Wisconsin-Minnesota: didn't actually happen. White Sox: team of destiny (if destiny exists).

Friday, October 14, 2005

Ben Marcus = Genius

In the October issue of Harper's there's an extraordinary essay by Ben Marcus in which he presents a lengthy and convincing case for experimental fiction. It's mostly enjoyable for his perfect debunking of everything Jonathan Franzen has ever said in opposition to experimental fiction or in defense of "realist" fiction, a frantically nebulous idea of a genre. Now, don't get me wrong. I love the realists. And sometimes I'm puzzled - and even bored - by the experimentalists. And I've been accused of being both. And neither. But I've never read a more passionate, hilarious, and (non-defensively) well-presented defense of experimental fiction - why it's important and why it shouldn't be universally derided by those prickly realist snobs. Only a small excerpt of the massive essay is available online but you should read the entire thing for the full effect. Harper's may cost $4.95, but in addition to the essay you'll get a lot of context-free irony and centered statistics.

The article also highlights the essential Jonathan Franzen problem. He's a very fine writer. I really liked The Corrections; this can be confirmed by the fact that I finished it, more than can be said of other realist (or not) novels of the past 10 years, like Middlesex (got to about page 100), White Teeth (p. 175), Atonement (p. 45), or The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (p. 2). But, despite his skills at writing fiction, Franzen is staggeringly wrongheaded in everything else he presents to the world - his deranged essays, his pompous screeds about the literary "industry," his fame-and-sales-obsessed book reviews, his limp non-fiction, and his author photos. And I haven't even mentioned Oprah (neither did Ben Marcus - that would be another 6 small-fonted pages and Harper's needs the space to present unintentionally funny in-house e-mails sent to employees of corporate offices with name recognition).

So, Ben Marcus, you've got my vote. I'll go read your book now.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Stealing From the Children

A prize of $2 (in the form of a two-dollar bill) will be given to anyone who can identify the source and context of the new blog title. It doesn't appear to be googleable. Hint: It's from a movie. John, you're not eligible because I know you know and it's simply not fair to the other reader(s). If you can name the person who actually uttered those words, the prize doubles (i.e., a four-dollar bill).

I've updated my links. You'll see a link to a A Brief History of the Rise and Fall of Ten Minutes Ago, the very fine blog from my frequent commenter, rabbikubota. And there are a few more new links, including my vew favorite radio station WFMU and my new favorite minimally graphic online literary journal Eclectica.

The Angels must win tonight, if for no other reason than the frown on A-Rod's face. And I also want to see Vladimir Guerrero get the extended national attention he deserves. Dude's named Vladimir.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Lacking a Unifying Theme

The lure of cinnamon is a strange allure, built on scent and texture but not flavor.

In my mind, the American League will always be superior to the National League, in spite of and not because of, the designated hitter rule.

November is my favorite month though it does indeed spawn monsters (at a much higher rate than does October, I’ll note).

Although film seems to be losing its steam as an effective artistic medium, television continues its 21st century upsurge. The last two nights of TV may be the greatest since that Wednesday/Thursday I recall in January of ’83. I’m still in awe of Monday’s Arrested Development. You see, he was an analyst and a therapist. And they had a fun sexy time.

In the northern/eastern states, November does feature dead and falling leaves but they grow back.

Cinnamon works well in tandem with just a little sugar. In the early nineties, there was a noted murder case in Orange County. A teenage girl named Cinnamon killed her father (I think), but in a semi-justifiable way. I wonder what happened to her.

In the same way that I picked up English as a three-year old by reading the sports section, I’m learning Spanish by overhearing conversations in elevators about the Angelitos losing to the Yanquis.

Monday, October 03, 2005


A new story of mine can be found today on the literary site Eclectica. Click on the October/November issue, then choose fiction. I'll be in there somewhere. It's one of my favorite stories in that it features made-up words in addition to made-up people. And I wrote most of it on a plane so it feels all transportive. My apologies to little people (if I misinterpreted the rules) and British people (if I screwed up the dialect). The rest of the issue is worth reading too.

I may be 19 years late on this particular bandwagon but is there a cooler radio station than WFMU, straight from my (very) old stomping grounds in New Jersey? Their internet stream has been flowing directly into my brain for the past few days at work. It's not that I really need the Swedish rockabilly, Portugese death metal, and KFC corporate sound collages. It's that I want it. I also appreciate WFMU's total refutation of career arcs and music marketing. I might tire of it all in a week but what's a blog for if not overenthusiastic championing?

I'm a bit embarrassed at my overenthusiastic championing of the Minnesota Gophers football team. They were crushed by Penn State (a school I have a love-hate relationship with in that I hated going there as a freshman and I loved leaving it when the family packed up and moved to the Land of 10,000+Lakes in the now-famous "caravan of '84"). Or is it .")?

I could write in cryptic tones about what's been happening in my place of work. I could discuss the quicksand-like bureaucracy that's slowed civic progress to a degree that would upset all citizens of this crazy but lovable town. I could bemoan the seasonal decrease in fresh-cut watermelon available in the 2nd floor cafeteria. Or I could just stop blogging and get back to work.