Zen as fuck

You know you’re a loser when you realize you’ve been binge watching eight hours of Richard Norton Smith interviews on C-SPAN. Well, technically it’s American History TV, just like watching writers on C-SPAN is technically BookTV, but come on, it’s C-SPAN. I mean who’s kidding who. It’s a nice break from watching hockey shows, anyway. At some point I realized I’d been listening to a Hermeto Paschoal album while watching American History TV—OK, C-SPAN—and halfway through “Sereiarei” Hermeto’s got this whole cacophony of geese and pigs and cows and goats and chickens playing with the band and Richard Norton Smith is talking about Millard Fillmore and it was zen as fuck.

The retired life.

The pandemic at Eight O’clock

(from sometime in 2020) . . . . The eight o’clock howls began tonight with the shriek of a woman and some crazed percussion on a ceramic pot followed by scattered shouts and shrieks and whistles and ululations and frantic beating on bongos and boxes and beer bottles till literally hundreds of unseen voices join in, welling up from the hills like a drunken audience demanding an encore and then, suddenly, it ends and all is silence again.

Words falling like rain

I remember standing across the street for the longest time watching pages from a zillion books billowing from the library building and flutter on fire through the air till they disintegrated. Words were falling upon us like rain, you could catch them on your hand and they’d dissolve. One fluttered down and landed on my hand, a corner of a very old page bearing a few fragments of sentences and quote marks. Some one was saying something, but the words turned to ash in my palm, and I never knew what or who.

LA Central Library burning in 1986.

Falling (2019)

In the wee hours of the morning I was sleepily walking through the kitchen with my arms full of laundry when the sinuses set off a sudden spell of vertigo which combined with my trick knee sent me tumbling backwards with all the grace and power of a falling redwood tree. Crash, then silence. I guess the knee isn’t as good as I thought, I said aloud, and laid there a second as I’ve done after a hundred falls, making sure I could feel and move everything. Nothing was broken save my wife’s tub of bird seed which kept my head from slamming into the wall. I will buy her a new one. Realizing everything was sound—limbs, back, brain, jewels—I clambered back up, took the day’s clothes I had left in a neat little pile on the counter mid fall and tossed them in the laundry basket and made my way without any more gravity issues towards the bed. She was sound asleep. Nothing wakes her up, not even crashing redwood trees. You’re going to hurt tomorrow I told myself, and I was right.

I had promised a doctor I wouldn’t fall down anymore. You can break a hip, she said. I didn’t tell her I’ve fallen those hundred times or more over a lifetime, that I fall like a stuntman, that I’ve never broken anything. I’ve been lucky, I said.

Early in the pandemic

The gardeners show up, borracho. Shouting and laughing and singing at the top of their lungs, a little unsteady behind the leaf blower. The other guy is gonna hurt himself with that weed whacker. It’s like one of those end of the world movies, the streets empty and the only signs of life are drunken gardeners.

Eight human heads worth of long stemmed wine glasses.

[written sometime during the pandemic]

Maybe 25 years ago we were at a yard sale in Los Feliz and saw a box of wine glasses. It was about fifty assorted glasses, the remains of many a complete set. Dude said some of them went back thirty or forty years. Five bucks for a couple generations of wine glasses. The people attending our parties had been rough on our nice glasses. Plus me being so huge I shattered a couple just holding them (true). One I put down on a table after a sip, misjudged the velocity and the fragility of your tiny world, and shattered the glass on the table, much to everyone’s surprise but my wife. He does that, she said. Anyway, the fifty new old wine glasses lasted longer than you could have imagined, considering my oafishness and the barbarism of our friends, probably because everyone is so old now that breaking things is hard, but we’re down to the very last one. So either we drink wine out of Dixie cups or buy some more glasses. I found some we liked on the website of one of the doomed but clinging to life big box stores and ordered them. Easy enough. They came today. Four in a box. Lovely things, though apparently I’d forgotten what a world of lushes we now live in and hadn’t considered the size of the glass. No mere Lilliputian wine glasses of old, these were big enough to fit a human head. And I think there’s four more coming. That’s eight human heads. Two quartets worth. Alas, we live in one of those early Depression era Spanish style duplexes atop a hill in Silver Lake with not enough outlets or closet space, and certainly not enough cupboard space for eight human heads worth of long stemmed wine glasses. We don’t even drink enough wine for eight human heads worth of long stemmed wine glasses, I mean I’m epileptic and she’s from Milwaukee. Oh well, the problems of the modern retiree.

Fish and marriage

[Popped up today on Facebook from 1988]

Aquarium is almost completely restocked and lush with plants. Still looking for a few otocinclus (impossible to find lately) because they devour algae like no other. And also three or four freaky spooky see through glass catfish for when we drop acid and become one with the pesciverse. Aquariums are Fish TV, no commercials and Trump free. If only I could see where the trio of ghost shrimp slipped off to. You can see right though them, just innards and legs and beady black eyes.

We’ve had a continuous aquarium nearly as long as we’ve been married, since 1983 or so. We were married in 1980. Sometime back in the ’80’s the dreaded fish disease ich struck and all our fish died but one, a black mollie, who got desperately sick but survived. She had the tank to herself for maybe a year when we decided to introduce some pretty but inexpensive fish. They were neon tetras, I think, and they thrived, so we restocked our tank around that one mollie. It lived for years. Thirty years later we still have a thriving fish tank. The filter wheel is probably twenty five years old. We’ve never had another epidemic and the fish live forever. Unless, of course, the danios go berserk and eat everyone. But they seem past that now, the Charlie Manson danio died after psychotically attacking a plant for days, and the other danios are back to their hyper wiggly mindless selves. All seems well. Weird how a marriage and a fish tank go together for decade after decade, somehow inseparable.

The seventies

[Popped up on Facebook from 2019]

Remembering going into the den to flip through the seven or eight channels to see if anything was on and nothing ever was and going to my bedroom and putting on a stack of LPs (six at a time) and reading a book from the library. Wow. The seventies.


Nancy posted a mess of photos or her and Rich going back their 27 years and the earliest of them, with her so drop dead cute, was only a couple years before I first met her. That first time I met Nancy was the weird meeting her HR coworkers arranged so that she—she’s really cute and funny, Phil, you’ll love her!—and me—he’s huge and funny, Nancy, you’ll love him!—could meet and be cute and funny together for the people who collected around to watch. I’m serious, that is exactly what they were planning. Nancy and I still talk about how weird that was. Of course, I kept putting it off. Finally, two of the HR girls (HR girls always adored me, why I don’t know) came and got me. Nancy’s here! You two must meet! I grumpily followed. We get to the meeting spot and point out Nancy and I nearly died. She was so little, they hadn’t told me she was so dinky. And she was the cutest, most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen. They hadn’t prepared me for that either. She smiled that smile of her and looked at me with that gaze of hers and suddenly I felt like the biggest and the clumsiest galoot, just ridiculous, and the last thing I wanted to do was to meet somebody so gorgeously dinky. I hesitated. Come on, Phil, meet Nancy! and they led me up to her. I’m totally fucking this up, I was thinking, I don’t wanna meet her. She seemed just as uncomfortable. I can only imagine what she thought with me looming over her. The audience was getting impatient, waiting for witticisms. Say something, Phil. She was so cute, and those eyes of hers so irresistible, that I couldn’t even look her straight in the eye. I don’t think I’ve ever been so discombobulated. But the audience wanted something funny. I couldn’t think of a single funny thing to say. So I mumbled a short joke. A short joke. I remember regretting that instantly, but Nancy laughed. Our audience laughed. Nancy replied with a joke, though neither of us can remember the joke, but it was funnier than the short joke, and the crowd laughed again. Apparently we’d passed the audition. The crowd dispersed, and relieved at the end of the weirdness, Nancy and I chatted briefly. The whole weird scene certainly made it clear that neither of us were like these other people. Normal people are so strange. And we’ve been pals since.

I hate language rules

I much prefer two spaces after a sentence. Why that new idiotic single spaced rule came about I have no idea, nor why people think it makes them a better writer when all it means is they still couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag but they do so with one less space after a period. There isn’t a single punctuation or spacing rule that improves writing, period, double spaced. If you want to be a writer quit worrying about punctuation or grammar rules or proper spelling. You can learn that later. First learn to write. And you don’t learn to write obsessing over which rules are in vogue at the moment. You learn to write by putting your thoughts into sentences that other people will like to read.

I hate language rules. I fucking hate them.

You know, I graduated high school with a summa cum laude in English. I’d forgotten all about that for thirty years till I found the certificate in some of mom’s papers, like I’d left it somewhere and quickly suppressed the memory. But I remembered being called into the English office and wondering what the fuck I could’ve done to get in trouble in the English department and there were all these nice teachers looking at me. They told me I’d been awarded the summa cum laude in English. I had no idea what summa cum laude meant. They told me. I must have looked confused because to be honest I hated English classes. I despised the grammar rules and the old poetry. I only took the goddamn things because they were easy, I could bullshit anything on an essay test and never do any of the homework. I think I took every one they had. I just had to show up, write the occasional essay and ace the class. It was that easy. If you’re kind of a natural at writing you learn that trick quick. I was an autodidact anyway, voraciously reading big, thick, dense books I’d get at the public library and studying my beloved set of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which I still have, actually. I was reading the histories my dad would get from the Book of the Month Club when I was still in grade school, some of which I also still have. I read all three volumes of Bruce Catton’s Pulitzer winning Army of the Potomac trilogy while in fifth grade, pronouncing Potomac like Fotomat. I’d nearly drowned in the damn thing back in first grade and I still couldn’t pronounce it. And here they were seven grades later still trying to teach me grammar as if language were built on rules like the Ten Commandments and all you have to do is memorize them. Yeah, right. I’d be damned if I wasted my adolescence with their silly assed grammar instruction. I never told them that, though. I was always very nice. Pleasant, even. So they give me a fucking award on my way out the door.

That probably came under irony in the text book.