Tuesday, December 20, 2005

What have we learned this year?

Sometimes you can't escape your obligations to the legal system.

But you can always dream. And dream. And dream some more.

You can get your friends to start their own blogs. Or, if they already have one, you can give them one of yours to play with.

Then you can start a podcast. Then get a couple of girls to start one. (And totally not get jealous when it becomes more popular than yours.)

You can work on developing a caffeine dependency. Really make an effort. Seriously. Then worry that your wish has come true, and cut it out cold turkey for a week. This may be difficult, but at least resuming caffeination has some moderately interesting results.

Of course, you'll get back into it a little too much, and have second thoughts (or are they third by now?), and try another detox week.

Oh, but it's much harder this time. So hard that you have to learn to cook just to distract yourself. One day you're amazed that you can add stuff to scrambled eggs; but it won't be long before you're on to stuff that almost destroys both your kitchen and you. And a kick-ass knife always helps.

In the meantime, there's always time for quiet reflection upon stuff you bought at Ikea.

And lots more adventures in caffeination, and returning produce.

Throw in a new haircut and Netflix, and you've got a year.

Now, as long as I've got a couple weeks left, what were those resolutions again?

Monday, December 19, 2005

What's in Alaska?

Dreams are a lot like movies in that you have no control over their content and just walk into each one hoping it will be entertaining. Plus, the ratio of good ones to bad ones isn't very promising. Fortunately, last night was one of the few that actually didn't disappoint. Bear with me as I attempt to describe it in as non-surreal terms as possible.

I'm in Alaska. Not sure why. Internship? School program? That part never got answered, or I forgot it. Anyway, it's the late afternoon and I'm wandering around the Alaskan streets. They don't look like Alaska (to the best of my knowledge), but more like L.A. In fact, they look like a studio backlot. I'm standing on the sidewalk and a bunch of police cars start tearing around the corner. More, and more, and more. Some of them are regular cruisers; others are unmarked cars. They just keep coming, and some of them start pulling over a couple blocks away. Eventually I realize they're there to block off all the streets ahead. I try to walk up towards where they are, but signs start appearing telling me that I can't go any farther. They're not even real signs; they're painted into the streets and sidewalks.

I walk back in the direction I came, and the streets start getting crowded with people heading in the same direction. It's like the whole place is being evacuated. At one point I follow some people into a big old-fashioned building, and some people are heading upstairs. I go a different way and find a marked door that says "Official Mapping and Planning" or something like that. Inside are three people sitting in chairs holding maps or blueprints. I ask them what's going on, and they tell me there's been a big earthquake. I get out of there and find myself inside this giant cruise ship type of thing. Apparently it's a safe place to go to get away from the earthquake. The whole middle of the ship is a giant pool, and I'm in the pool treading water and talking to other people. I ask them if they're sure we're safe in here, and they say, yeah, of course, we'll be fine. About a minute later another earthquake hits and the whole ship tilts way down in one direction, plunging lots more water over us all, and people are frantically trying to swim back to the edge to climb out. Some smaller people and children are being helped out of the pool by adults, and as the adults toss them out of the pool they tell the children's names to the people up above -- I guess so they can be recorded as survivors, or something. I climb out by myself, and find out that the earthquake was so big that it hit L.A. too. There's some kind of hotline to call so you can be listed as being okay. I consider calling it but then decide to call my parents instead, to see if I can get through or if the lines are too busy with other people calling home. (Luckily, my cell phone stayed in my pocket the whole time I was in the pool.)

I get through to my parents and ask them if they know what's going on. They don't; they haven't heard about it yet. I tell them this is a pretty big deal and will be all over the news by the end of the day. As I'm talking to them, I walk out onto another street, and a whole section of wall from a storefront falls in my direction; however, it's light enough that I can stop it with the hand that isn't holding the phone. I go across the street to a little bar/restaurant and see most of my friends from college inside. I get off the phone and go inside the bar and talk to my friends to make sure they're all okay (though I never question why they're with me in Alaska). Two of my friends who basically haven't seen or spoken to each other since college (because of bad blood which I won't get into right now) are hugging each other, and I realize that I had always wondered if a life-threatening incident like this would be enough to get them to reconcile and forget about their little feud, and I now have my answer. Then I feel guilty for thinking about that, because it's such a trivial thing in light of what's going on around us. One of them comments on my new haircut and glasses, and interestingly she's now turned into teenage actress Michelle Trachtenberg (who played Dawn on "Buffy" and was also in "Eurotrip").

Then it's over.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Christmas Letter

Although much has been written about my Jewish tendencies, there is still one aspect of goyish -- even WASPish -- culture that I count myself extremely privileged to have a connection to. And that is The Christmas Letter. I feel very sorry for anyone who has yet to experience one of these, because they have the potential to turn otherwise boring, obscure relatives into unintentional comic geniuses on a level you can't imagine.

But first, a little background. Long before blogs, MySpace, or mass emailing ever existed, The Christmas Letter was the undisputed method of describing the important events of your life to a lot of people who didn't really give a shit. And even in the face of those new exciting technologies, The Christmas Letter survives thanks to scores of people throughout the Bible Belt who still chuckle to themselves at all the "neat" things you can do with Print Shop and a four-color printer.

I am related to some of these people. I don't see them regularly (or in some cases, ever in my life), but once a year I am reminded of their existence via the treasured letter that makes its way to my parents' mailbox. What a letter it is. The whole year is encapsulated in two to five pages, sometimes with embedded photographs. Without even looking at it, I can already list the topics that are sure to appear within:
  1. Job promotions and/or layoffs
  2. Travel (usually within the continental U.S., more specifically anywhere reachable by car)
  3. Attempts at home carpentry
  4. The brand new niece/nephew/grandbaby, and the mischief he/she is already getting into
  5. Health issues and/or death (always sandwiched between lighter things, of course)
  6. Community/church activities
Other stuff pops up from time to time, but this is usually the crux of it. And as varied as these categories are, they're inevitably united by a central theme. That theme, of course, is Jesus.

If you read these letters without knowing who Jesus was, you'd probably imagine him to be a charitable great-uncle, a helpful Human Resources manager, a sperm donor, a ruthless mafioso, or some combination thereof. Regardless, you'd sure come away with the notion that Jesus had one hell of a busy year. Jesus blessed the family with a baby, Jesus helped find us a new job, Jesus gave us some great weather this summer, and Aunt Lucille passed away but that's okay because it was the will of the Lord (who, we understand, signs Jesus's paycheck).

And then the letter ends, usually with "Warmest Wishes for a Blessed New Year" or something like that, and I'm left pondering what kind of crazy hijinks Jesus has in store for the coming months.

The weekend in dumb haikus


it's not hard to make
cheesecake factory's salads
with stuff from whole foods

podcasting is fun
especially when you are
tres caffeinated


party city has
lots more goyish than jewish
stuff. what can you do?

2 floor Target is
fun; it has the escala-
-tor just for your cart.

made grown-up mac and
cheese (see link); it's really good.
used parsley this time.

sort of semi-watched
what's eating gilbert grape, which
was a decent flick.


I owe the city
of west hollywood twenty-
nine bucks; hence, they suck.

(that's because I parked
on a hill with my wheels not
turned right. whatever.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I love my car, part 2

(Click here for part 1)

Anyway, I could wax probably poetic for another 200 pages or so (except the middle 75-80 would just be pages full of "I bet you didn't read this far"), but I won't.

The car is dead. (Or traded in, same thing. Non-wastefulness issues notwithstanding, I kind of don't even want to think about someone else driving it because it just feels very wrong.)

Long live the car. Brand new Civic with all the fixin's. Still on its first tank of gas, having yet to be driven anywhere outside of the Westwood/Palms/Santa Monica area. We're definitely still in the honeymoon stage, so let's talk about the good stuff before I've driven it long enough to have things to complain about.

First of all, electronic gadgetry. I'm not going to start listing off specifics, because that would be boring, but let's just say I could pretty much drive around until I died of natural causes and still not run out of music (granted, I'd really be scraping the bottom of the barrel by that point... I'd have to save some good stuff for the end so I didn't exhale my last breath with, like, Kenny G in the background).

Then there's the navigation system, which made The Sparkler wonder if having that would force me to change the name of this blog. No, I replied, the car may be good with directions but I still royally suck with them. At least now it'll be fun to get lost because I just have to hit a couple buttons to get me home... then make a wrong turn, hit some more buttons, make another wrong turn, drive into a ditch, call AAA, get pulled out, hit another button, accidentally turn on rear defroster, finally find correct button just as HOLY CRAP I'M IN THE WRONG LANE and I veer off onto the sidewalk and hit an L.A. Weekly display case (this week's headline: Are You Edgy Enough? Here's Why Not) before finally realizing that I was only going out to get groceries and should have just walked. Plus the whole thing is voice-activated, so I don't really need to hit any buttons at all. Unfortunately, the voice-activation girl has a bit of an ironic streak because when I say "Display Audio" she says back, in her perfect your-call-is-very-important-to-us voice, "Display Hospitals" and proceeds to pop up a bunch of hospital icons on the map. Sometimes when I give her an order she just does nothing, which I think means she's giving me one of those "Eeeeh" faces usually exchanged by opposite-sex siblings. I'm sure we'll work out our differences, though.

Incidentally, my long-term linguistic project is to find some kind of trace of a provincial accent in the voice activation girl's voice. I think I can do it. Like I said, it's long-term. But she has like at least a several-hundred word vocabulary, so she's got to slip up at some point and reveal her regional upbringing. And when she does, I'll be there to blog about it.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

I love my car, part 1

I should be doing cartwheels over the fact that I have a brand new car, but for the moment I'm wracked with guilt and thinking about Toy Story.

Some people think that humans are set apart from other animals by nature of the depth and meaning of the bonds we make with others of our species. I don't think that's it; I think what sets us apart is our ability to make deep, meaningful bonds with inanimate objects. And I'm not just talking about the stuff we personify as kids (stuffed animals, action figures) or mementoes that represent one specific thing (security blanket, first dollar earned, ticket stub, etc.). I mean that it's possible, and probably inevitable, to form a lasting connection to something that's been in your life for a very long time, even if that something can't talk, meow, bark, or gurgle. Not that this is all that earth-shattering of a point to be making; I think we're all pretty well aware of it. But I'm wondering if that concept works in reverse. Tyler Durden told us that the things you own end up owning you, but the more heartening (and potentially guilt-inducing) message of Toy Story was that the things you get attached to end up getting attached to you. Did my 1995 Honda Accord get attached to me? (And hey, isn't 1995 also the year Toy Story came out?) Is a machine capable of feelings? Well, now we're getting into Terminator 2 territory. But I digress.

I had the car for about ten and a half years. At the risk of introducing yet another metaphor, I guess it was kind of like having a pet -- first in the sense that its entire life was encapsulated in a relatively small period of mine, and then in the sense that it saw me through a lot of very different stages in my life without much obvious reaction. Wherever I was, it just did its car stuff. Clearly I needed it to come with me when I moved here, because living in L.A. without a car is tantamount to living in Utah with only one spouse, but really, I didn't just need a car; I needed that car. As much of a disconnect as it was to be driving down Sunset in the same vehicle that used to require regular de-icing for 3 months a year, it also made everything sort of make sense. I was protected from the forces of external change by this light blue metallic forcefield with bumper stickers strategically placed to cover up scratches. The CDs that used to be the soundtrack for getting lost down one-way streets in Boston just switched over to being the soundtrack for getting lost on the way to LAX or the Valley or wherever. (Not that that happens anymore.) So even though things were a whole lot different in the world outside the car, on the inside they were pretty much the same.

Another digression, and then I have to go to bed. Here's a partial list of places the car was, at some point or other, driven around in, skipping the obvious like Boston and L.A.:

Vermont (most of the state)
New Hampshire (probably just a little)
Rhode Island (Newport and environs)
Connecticut (drove through)
Montreal (because you can drink and gamble when you're 18)
New York (but not NYC, sadly)
Georgia (mainly Savannah)
Florida (Daytona Beach and Orlando)
every state between Massachusetts and Florida
San Francisco
Vegas (twice)
England (well, the New one anyway)

Part 2 and so forth later.