Monday, March 31, 2008

The Apartment, Zevon

I have to agree with someone else's astute assessment of the film The Apartment. It's pretty amazing. I watched it on a Sunday morning, filled with sturdy coffee and thick English muffins from that new store. I don't know if I've seen another film that so effortlessly combined comedy and drama in every scene, other than Boogie Nights which may never be topped in that regard.

(Happy Birthday Patrick)

I've been listening to a lot - and I mean a lot - of Warren Zevon music lately. I recently picked up the oral history/biography of Zevon written by his ex-wife. Growing up, Zevon was one of the Big Three of singer/songwriters that I alternately worshiped and admired. (Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel were the others. This would have been the slightly pre- and slightly-post Reagan era.) I've never stopped liking his music but I have to admit I didn't listen to him much between 1988 and two weeks ago. Upon reading the book, I picked up one of the many anthologies of his music, this one filled with 44 songs spanning 25 years. I'm both amazed by how well his (often time and place-specific) music stands up today and saddened by how I sort of dismissed his songs for all this time. Given that he recently, famously died, the sadness is doubled. Still... wow. At least six of his songs would fall into my top 100 songs of all time if I ever bother to make such a list. Here are my favorite Warren Zevon songs (in order of how I want to write about them):

Desperadoes Under the Eaves. Almost every morning, I drive past Gower on my way to Larchmont to pick up my coffee. Recently, I've made it a habit of listening to this song for its chilling refrain: Look away, way down Gower Avenue. It's a perfect Los Angeles morning song even if he probably wrote it at night. And yes, it's technically Gower Street but that's okay.

Werewolves of London. This song is known as his most famous single and is dismissed as a novelty song by many. But listen closely - the rolling piano melody, joyous yelping chorus, and the odd (for Zevon) bridge-less repetitive structure all combine to make this one of the catchiest songs of the seventies. And the little half-laugh half-yelp he gives out on the final verse, right after singing "I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic's. And his hair was perfect" is sublime. You see, werewolves have lots of hair and he couldn't help but laugh at his own perfect joke.

Let Nothing Come Between Us. The poppiest song he's ever recorded, from his 1987 post-rehab comeback album. It's heart-achingly sweet. It should be played at all weddings, even if Warren didn't exactly have the best track record with relationships.

Boom Boom Mancini. From the same '87 album, this song never moved me when I first heard it while driving down the mean summer streets of Eden Prairie. Now, this song about a boxer with an up-and-down career and an opponent's death on his conscience, is just plain brutal. And hard. And affirming.

Carmelita. Another great L.A. song from his early, folkier days. Here, he name-drops Echo Park, Alvarado Street, and Pioneer Chicken, the latter a surprisingly frequent topic of discussion at my mid-to-late 90s Thanksgiving family dinners; more on this in the future.

Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School. An indelible childhood memory. Waiting for the U.S. hockey team's 1980 "Miracle" gold medal game to start, I sat in my room and listened to the album of the same name. The title track seemed to be then (and now) the perfect apology for disappointing others. Don't ask why I identified/identify with this topic so much. Just wait for the classical intro to end and the guitars to kick in.

Real or Not. One of his later songs, from the 90s. If I believe the liner notes, he wrote this song for William Shatner. The production is hokey and overly Horsnby/Lanois-esque. But the chorus kills and manages to pull off what most songwriters can't - merging the personal with the political. Speaking of which...

The Envoy. He wrote this song in 1982, about trouble in the Middle East ("The Syrians are mad at the Lebanese... Baghdad does whatever she please"). Every word made sense then and still does now. Bonus points for writing the song about my father's favorite Arab-American diplomat Philip Habib.

Johnny Strikes Up the Band. Wow. If you had to distill California in the 1970s into one song, this would be it. This is the great merging of (and I mean what I'm about to say as a total compliment) the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. Plus, the greatest bridge ever written.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


So... some of you may have seen my triumphant performance on Merv Griffin's Crosswords yesterday. Of course, if you live in the greater Los Angeles area, you didn't see it; instead you saw this guy. Yes, my return to game show glory was pre-empted in my local area by an acne cream info-mercial. Luckily, at least one person in Minnesota ties saw it, so it has indeed "aired" and I will actually (finally) receive my prizes:
  • Week-long trip (for 2) to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico... with accommodations at this place
  • Weekend-long trip (for 2) to Las Vegas...with "accommodations" at this place
  • 3,650 dollars (already accounted for, going to pay off student loan debt, credit card debt)
  • Merv Griffin-designed Crosswords watch (actually already received this; it's sweet (and no I'll never wear it))
And the seemingly out-of-nowhere Christopher Guest picture in yesterday's post - what's the meaning of it? My final question, to complete the crossword: "Best in Show actor Christopher _______." Answer: G-U-E-S-dramatic pause-T

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Me, on the TV

If all goes as planned, I will be appearing on an episode of the game show Crosswords tomorrow.... Wednesday March 26. Go here if you want to know if your area carries this dazzling moving program. In markets where two episodes air per day, I will be on #2. In markets that air only one episode, you will not get to see me. Do I win? Maybe. Do I lose? Could be. Not allowed to say.

(If you don't see me in the first few minutes, don't worry - I appear about 5 minutes in as one of the "spoilers")

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Little Head, Big Head

On this perfect Saturday, how about a picture of the cats? (thanks for the great camera work Alex)

My record in yesterday's games: 11-5; 2-day total: 21-11.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Baltimore, a Belt, a Train, a Taxi, a Disappointment: NCAA Tournament Predictions Part 2

Here's part 2 of my NCAA tournament first round picks. Scroll down for part 1. Winners are in bold.

Today's games:
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 16 Mount St. Mary's. Because they're better.
No. 8 Indiana vs. No. 9 Arkansas. Because their seeds should be reversed.
No. 7 Gonzaga vs. No. 10 Davidson. Because Gonzaga annoys me and Davidson is playing close to home.
No. 2 Georgetown vs. No. 15 Maryland-Baltimore County. Because that trip I made to the suburbs of Baltimore in 1997 didn't work out like I planned.

No. 6 Oklahoma vs. No. 11 St. Joseph's. Because I remember 1979.
No. 3 Louisville vs. No. 14 Boise St. Because sometimes you have to do what you don't want to do.
No. 7 Butler vs. No. 10 South Alabama. Because my anti-Indiana bias needs to be curtailed.
No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 15 American. Because they're good.

No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 12 Villanova. Because Clemson is coming on strong.
No. 4 Vanderbilt vs. No. 13 Siena. How would I know? I'll pick the higher seed.
No. 5 Drake vs. No. 12 Western Kentucky. Because Drake is Drake.
No. 4 Connecticut vs. No 13 San Diego. Because San Diego is a pretty school on the top of a pretty hill, with a campus full of trees and brick and ivy and Connecticut is, as always, overrated. Okay, not always. There was 1999.

No. 1 Memphis vs. No. 16 Texas-Arlington. Because of Derrick Rose.
No. 8 Mississippi St. vs. No. 9 Oregon. Because someday I'd like to visit Eugene.
No. 7 Miami vs. No. 10 St. Mary's. Because I'm running out of reasons.
No. 2 Texas vs. No. 15 Austin Peay. Because I've run out of reasons.

My Day 1 record: 10-6. Not bad. Okay, actually that's bad considering the lack of upsets. And 2 of the 6 losses involved my 2 favorite teams. All in all, a bleak day. A nice sunny day, with a fascinating Monk rerun that I may need to watch again.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Titans and Tiny Teacups: NCAA Tournament Predictions Part 1

Today, I continue my 2-out-of-3 year tradition of posting my NCAA tournament predictions here, incorporating both basketball analysis and personal history. Now, the "predicting winners based on funny stories and arbitrary criteria" concept has been recreated in way too many blogs and other places for me to recreate my lengthy story-laded 2005 and 2007 entries. Besides, so many of the same teams are in it this year and I'm running out of stories. So you'll get my actual first round predictions today and tomorrow, with short "because" sentence fragments and a (funny?) anecdote or two where appropriate.

Winners are in bold.

Today's games:

No. 3 Xavier vs. No. 14 Georgia. Because Georgia has lost more games than it's won.
No. 6 Purdue vs. No. 11 Baylor. Because Purdue is in the Big Ten.
No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Belmont. Because Duke is, sadly, better.
No. 7 West Virginia vs. No. 10 Arizona. Because Arizona is deceptively good, better than its record indicates.

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Portland St. Because Kansas is really good. And I really want Portland State to win. I spent a Saturday afternoon on that campus once. It's really cool. I'd love to live in the tree-lined streets around campus. So, my heart is with PSU. But Kansas is Kansas.
No. 8 UNLV vs. No. 9 Kent State. Because I just saw a replay of the UNLV-Duke final from 1990 when I was at the gym and damn that team was fun to watch.
No. 6 USC vs. No. 11 Kansas State. Because O.J. Mayo keeps getting better. Because I want campus morale to be high.
No. 3 Wisconsin vs. No. 14 Cal. State Fullerton. Because I went to school at Fullerton once and I'm part of the "Titan Family." Because they have good teachers and ample parking. Because Madison let me down. (note: a USC/Fullerton 2nd round game would blow my mind, due to competing allegiances.)

No. 5 Michigan St. vs. No. 12 Temple. Because Purdue is in the Big Ten.
No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 13 Oral Roberts. Just because.
No. 4 Washington St. vs. No. 13 Winthrop. Because despite my lingering bitterness over being "laid off" by a WSU miniature-teacup-collecting alumnus, they're still a good team.
No. 5 Notre Dame vs. No. 12 George Mason. Because 5 is a higher seed than 12. Also, my friend Jim went to Notre Dame long ago and I visited him in South Bend once and it was kind of cool.

No. 6 Marquette vs. No. 11 Kentucky. Because Kentucky doesn't belong in the tournament.
No. 3 Stanford vs. No. 14 Cornell. Because Stanford is really really good.
No. 8 Brigham Young vs. No. 9 Texas A&M. Because Big Love is a good show.
No. 1 UCLA vs. No. 16 Mississippi Valley St. Because Kevin Love is a good player.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Recently, I took a trip to Brea, California. I used to live in Brea, right there on the northern edge of Orange County, just south of a valley of dried brush oil well emptiness.

When I think of Brea, my gut reaction is happiness mixed with nostalgia. There are no bad feelings. Only good ones. I lived there from September 1988 to July 1990. For most of that time, I lived with my friend John. For a few months, I lived alone. After that, a roommate whose name I simply can't remember.

I lived in the La Casa Brea apartments on Date Street. Then - and now - the exterior of the apartment complex was dotted with over-sculpted trees. There was a pool. And carports that seemed to hold secrets. Yes, I just wrote that. Brea is Spanish for "tar." La Casa Brea translates as "The House of Tar." (The La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles translates as the the tar pits but that's another story for a different time.)

I wrote my best poem ever about Brea. It's called "Brea." Here it is, in its entirety:
We don't live there anymore
I wrote my best poem of 2007 about Brea. Read it here.

To most people, Brea is a nondescript smallish suburb, a typical Orange County community, populated by nice families with mini-vans, its streets filled with chain stores and bigger chain stores. It is all that. But, to me, there's something really special about the place. I lived there in my early 20s, which might explain the nostalgia. I moved there at 22, left at 24. 23 was good. 24 was worse. 25, 26, 27 - not much to say there.

I've been thinking about writing this blog post for almost two weeks. I have a lot to say and I'm just not sure how to say it. Maybe I'll make a list:

My Top 10 Brea Memories

10. Walking with John to the Brea Mall (just down Imperial Highway from where we lived) to see The Burbs starring Tom Hanks. We thought we were so cool. For walking. Half a mile.

9. Going to the Olive Garden with John, Katinka, and Matt. We probably did this more than once, some combination of the four of us. I'll count it as one memory. We were poor, so the all-you-can-eat soup/salad/breadsticks combo was exactly what we needed. Yeah it was the Olive Garden. So? Got something to say about that?

8. Buying the album Flood by They Might Be Giants at Tower Records and then listening to it in the parking lot, laughing as they sang about Flood, "a brand new record... for 1990."

7. The first party at the Date Street apartment - February 1989.

6. Listening to Matt and his friend sing So Alive by Love and Rockets, accompanied by acoustic guitar, in the parking lot behind Denny's.

5. March Madness 1990 at Hof's Hut with the gang from the Developmental Psychology seminar.

4. Spending a Saturday afternoon with Katinka as she went bikini shopping at the Brea Mall.

3. Two weeks ago, going to the Improv in Brea with Katinka and her friends. It was sort of a reunion... although I really only knew one person there. Since 1990, they've torn up and rebuilt downtown Brea. It still feels the same. I still like it there.

2. Going to Denny's after the Leonard Cohen concert on that October 1989 night in L.A. with John... That night, we met Matt and Jim, who led us to Katinka and Haley and Rob(v) and the rest of them.

1. The second part on Date Street - March 1989. This one was filled with tension. And love. And doubt. At the end of the party, I remember listening to the first Jane Siberry album (from 1980) as six of us sat on the Pier 1 double papasan and the little couch.

Yeah, so it was the time of my life that explains Brea in my mind. It really is just a place. But there's something about the place - I like everyone I've met in Brea, everyone from Brea. I can't say that about Yorba Linda. Or Fullerton.

Brea smells nice. There are cool little houses - purple ones, green ones. There are ancient burger stands and the only cool Denny's in the world. Shopping carts.

Wow. I almost forgot one of the most memorable memories - not exactly a favorite because it involved the destruction of furniture. It was right before I left Brea. I had rented a U-Haul and loaded it with all my furniture. I'd be leaving for Minneapolis the next morning. But first, I wanted to give Matt (who lived on the other side of Brea) my lame cheap computer desk. So I drove the U-Haul across town. On my way there, I heard loud rumbling sounds behind me. Apparently I hadn't properly latched the U-Haul's back door. Lambert Road was strewn with broken pieces of the cheap furniture of pre-IKEA America. Matt never got his desk. The desk got the worst of it. Luckily, only about a third of the contents spilled out.

We put back together what we could. And then I left Brea.

I'd go back every few years. In the mid-90s, I had an unreasonable crush on a waitress at the Renaissance Cafe, the overpriced "bistro" next to the book store. The crush was unreasonable because I lived 100 miles away in Ventura at the time. I'd always check on La Casa Brea to make sure it was still there. It's still there. Most everything is still there. The one big change is the entirely recreated "downtown" Brea. with its movie theaters and comedy club and other "destinations" that, for the most part, shut down at 11. It's alright, actually. There's a Starbucks there now. There never used to be one in the late 80s.

One more favorite memory: Craig Park, on the corner of State College and Imperial... going there with Alex last year. We sat at a picnic table and looked at a design ideas.

Another memory of Craig Park: walking through the park on a Sunday morning, listening to The Waitresses' Bruiseology on a Walkman. That night, I couldn't sleep. For the next five days, I couldn't sleep. It was my longest insomnia ever. It was toward the end of my time there. My friend... they were all gone. I was about to leave town. Maybe I should have stayed.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

44 4-word Sentences

The winds are high. It's a lazy day. Last night was cold. Today belongs to basketball. Going to a movie. A Hard Day's Night. At the New Beverly. The seats are uncomfortable. The prices are low. Finished the crossword puzzle. Sunday New York Times. Read a rock bio. It's about Warren Zevon. I liked his music. The Envoy was brilliant. As was Excitable Boy. He died too young. The book is interesting. Written by his ex-wife. He was an archetype. The sensitive tough guy. More sensitive than tough. Addicted to hard liquor. Then came his clarity. Addicted to 12 steps. Addicted to unattainable girlfriends. It's a fascinating story. My final four picks. In the east Tennessee. USC in the Midwest. The south, Michigan State. Drake in the west. Three upsets, I know. No number one seeds. One obvious sentimental pick. Been a good day. We went to Glendale. Ate at The Habit. Mocha malt was good. The sun was strong. My eyes are tired. But I won't sleep. Until I get tired. Until it gets dark.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Too Much Sun

I'd like to stress that the final sentence of yesterday's post was written with some degree of humor and levity.

Also, in the picture of me bowling, I'm obviously displaying less-than-perfect bowling form (see Liam and the Jesus in The Big Lebowski for examples of perfect form.) Still, I believe I got the highest score out of all of us on that November 2005 night on the east side of Pasadena.

My cats were staring at me this morning as I struggled to wake up (it's the Daylight Savings Time.) Seymour often looks at me in the hopes of triggering my feeding mechanism. Lily, on the other hand, usually ignores me until I grab my keys and take that last step to the door when she meows, in an effort to get me to stay home. But there she was this morning, inches away from my head, with Seymour at my feet. Both of them (the cats, not my feet) staring holes into my eyes. Had I done something wrong? Did I start snoring again? Are they confused by the time change too?

Eventually, they scampered away as I stood up and discovered I wouldn't have time for a shower because it's street sweeper Wednesday and I don't want another ticket. All was back to normal.

Finally, a few political opinions. To those of you in my old Pennsylvania stomping grounds: vote for Barack Obama, campaign for Barack Obama. Also, while I may not agree with the guy's tactics and while I don't condone prostitution, is it really necessary for an effective, popular governor to resign for one stupid (but still shouldn't be illegal) misstep?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Recently, I went to the nearby family compound for a dual birthday party. In the interest of privacy, I'll try to be as anonymous as possible as I recount six highlights of the party, which was attended by 11 members of an extended family spanning three generations and three disparate sections of Los Angeles County.

1. Nobody bothered to tell one of the birthday celebrators that she was going to her own birthday party. It's not that it was a surprise party. They actually forgot to tell her. She seemed very confused. This made the party host unreasonably angry.

2. Before dinner, we were all sitting in the living room and no one was talking. It was uncomfortable, if not surprising. My family doesn't like small talk, nor any size of talk. To break the silence, my mother asked "So, what's new?" to everyone. One family member immediately said "I have Type II Diabetes." After that, the room became more silent and uncomfortable until...

3. My mother again broke the silence and said to two of the party attendees, "I heard that your father died. I'm sorry to hear that." Suddenly, there was a reason for everyone to talk - they discussed the (mostly estranged) late father's estate and arcane foreign inheritance laws for 10 minutes. Nobody seemed sad about the guy's death.

4. Dinner was take-out Thai food. When the birthday celebrator #1 stared at her food before she started eating, birthday celebrator #2 said, in a highly condescending food, "This is THAI food. It's from THAILAND."

5. A couple of the extended family members have become wine snobs. Before dinner, wine snob #1 said to us "I've waited 46 years for this. I finally get to drink a 'first harvest' French wine."

6. After wine snob #2 told wine snob #1 that he had been correct in letting the first harvest wine "breathe" for an hour before dinner, snob #2 took a sip and said "It's good but I taste a little too much "terroire." Snob #2 then explained that this was French for earth, or dirt.

None of this is really remarkable. As my friends know, I have many more family stories of unwarranted snobbery, passive-aggressive drama, silent treatments, weight loss bribes, years-long resentments, unreasonable expectations, broken engagements, second hand smoke, debates about which country produces the best rice, sibling favoritism, temporary abandonment, and Mad About You. Perhaps some cousins can recount some more stories in the comments. In small doses, these tales are amusing. Taken as a whole, I can't believe I'm still here - functioning, communicative.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Perfect Plum

Over the past few days, I've worked as hard as I ever have. Real work. Paid work.

I've written so many words, spoken so many truths.

Now I'm tired.

Now I'm watching college basketball on my couch. The shades are closed. The air conditioning is on though it should probably be off.

I just ate two plums. The first was far better than the second. The first was the perfect plum.

I've changed the channel. Two and a Half Men is not a bad show. They're like the Allman Brothers Band of TV shows. You forget about them and then you remember.

I'll eventually write that La Verne post.

And I'll write a Brea post. Brea, wow. I almost forgot.

And yes I changed the blog design. again. I exiled the orange over here, where you'll see some new stuff from 8 years ago.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

On November 13th...

(To those who asked, the blog post about Sunday in La Verne is on its way. This is not it.)

I cleaned my desk at the office. It was getting a little too crowded, with stacks of junk consisting of old newspapers (some of which I read) and old meeting handouts (all of which I read, few of which I read twice). Now I have much more surface - slippery and veneered. I also changed the calendar page to March. The new picture is one of an old pier. People are wearing hats. There is a beached canoe and a roller coaster. I wish I was there. I could be there. The beach would be nice today. It's around 70 degrees and the sun is bright but calm.

This morning, I returned some DVDs to the downtown Los Angeles library. I successfully navigated the one-ways and the no-left-turns in a seemingly impossible quest to find the elusive curbside drop box. It's on 5th, between Grand and Flower, in you need to know. 5th is a one-way, heading west.

One of the DVDs was from season one of The Odd Couple. I loved that show growing up. I like it now. Someone needs to revive that show. Or the play or movie, both of which were great too. Maybe I should be the one to do it. Or these guys.