Monday, June 25, 2012

Cigarette Smoke


A good moving journal has written for it the occasional metaphorical contrapposto, as the tilted arm or slumped shoulder hangs off the rigid posture of rightness and movement so popular in the character sketches of the old masters: Leonardo, Michelangelo and even as recently as Degas. This contrast in expression and timely movements creates a single frame wherein a viewer could look for hours if well told. And further, if well told, could then embed grace in the very antagonism of contrasting poses: one arm strong and supportive where the other is bent, pliant and lost in the wind. Contrast is what drives us, more so than the simple notion that change drives us. Change is random whereas contrast is change with memories of before. Contrast is why we remember the dance step quick-quick-slow better than quick-quick-quick. For the sake of contrast, tonight’s subject is about the opposite of moving, changing, fluctuating, and molting. For contrast and the grace of balance, tonight’s subject is about roots and the beginning of a new awareness to that which happens when things stop changing.

My new friend will be known as Bucca. Clearly this is not his name. He smokes. He’s old and seemingly closer and closer to a life in the hospital. I wish many things for Bucca. I wish him well. I wish for the feeling to come back to his leg so he can exercise. I wish his wife hadn’t passed and that he had someone. He does have a roommate right now and she is company and a steady ride to the hospital when needed. Bucca is old. It’s in his face, deeper than the lines and crevices, deeper than the skin slowly being drained of its suppleness. It’s in his face because it’s in his eyes. Bucca has sad eyes. His eyes look out, they skim and survey and land only fitfully on various things in their view. His eyes find no interest in what they see but seem so practiced in looking for things that they know no other habit than to look, survey and move on. I like Bucca very much; this affinity was not immediate.
Bucca sits most mornings on a nearly off-kilter, collapsible chair; it is at the least more sturdy than Bucca. He likes word puzzles. Most mornings he sits in front of his door, smoking his morning cigarette and solving puzzles in a book. We are not so dissimilar as I have my own collection of puzzles I habitually solve; the collection is on my iPhone and the puzzles deal with numbers, but these are only surface variations. We share a habitual practice to occupy our time and we do it with puzzles.

First Impressions are thankfully sometimes wrong-
At first I thought Bucca was a lonely, bitter, old man. I believe though that as I get to know him more that my first impression is incorrect. In fact, I look forward to the day when my first impression will be wildly incorrect. Bucca is the only person I see regularly in the morning and even in the evenings. He stands, looks out, surveys, registers no interest and continues looking and surveying until his cigarette burns through its life. Once complete, he turns with a slow shuffle and heads inside. In the mornings he sits studying his puzzles; they keep his mind sharp. I walk by, discuss the weather, ask about his health and if he had been to see the doctor recently. I want many things for Bucca but I think the thing I want the most it to see him every morning and evening so I can have someone to say hi to and I have some company as I pass time between work and living. Bucca is a man that has stopped to grow his roots in one place and, as I have so very little practice in growing my own roots, it always brings me comfort to see him study his puzzles and smoke his cigarettes. I absolutely hate cigarette smoke and especially loathe that lingering smell that even now permeates my clothes and steals the joy from the air. This however is a small price to pay for knowing that even as I plant roots for a single life in Los Angeles, I have a friend with his own sedentary roots who spends too much time playing games instead of getting out.

You would like Bucca; he doesn’t say much but when he does he complains about neighbors and reminisces about his wife. And Bucca has an excellent quality to share for anyone who wants to be known or heard in this world; Bucca is always happy to see you.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A California Night from Santa Monica

"Someone Saved my Life tonight."
A truck passes leaving a muffled, quiet rumbling in its wake. In five seconds the void returns and the lyrics drift in through the slatted glass window.
"someone saved, someone saved, someone saved my life tonight."
In looking out over the night covered streets the song comes from nowhere. The courtyard below, and the corner grocer parking lot, are empty. Cars pass occasionally and temporarily burning after images in the empty corner with their headligts - but here, on 17th and Ocean Park, Santa Monica is asleep save for Elton John's pleading voice. This is when and how the city block sings out loud when it believes no one is listening. 
"Someone saved my life tonight."
While inside one of the many apartments, the Latin Playboys are on an indefinite loop with the song "Crayon Sun" stating "This is what I am. This is what I am."

The neighbors in my building have in past and or present represented many unique points on the nations vast demographic scales. Criminals, a published Christian essayist, Korean school girls, parents, a septa or octagenarian, multiple visual effects professionals, caucasians, African Americans, mixed race couples, writers, visual artists, teens, forty year olds, mustaches, gray hairs, transients and long-timers. Not everyone gets along but at least people don't fight with each other in shouting matches. Sometimes a tv is played too loud, or sex is had at volume eleven, at one in the morning. Homeless people are invited around by one resident who has once gone so far as to make a lobster dinner for his homeless acquaitance and deliver it with some beers and served on top of a garbage bin next to the laundromat. Regardless of day or night, the bitter, and sometimes acrid, stench of wacky-tobacky lingers in the open air halways, just outside apartment windows. On some nights, random strangers stand in the dark alley with the tiny cords coming from their ears. Their eyes are often lowered as usually they desire to avoid direct eye contact. One person wore a hoody, stood completely in shadow against the day care hedges. This warranted a call to the police of suspicious activity. Of the weekly or monthly craziness that happens on my block, some of which starts in my apartment building, nothing was more scary or absurd than the resident who was hauled off to jail for human trafficking. We never learned where he was keeping the trafficked humans, but it wasn't in our apartment complex. This was over a year ago and there's been no similar trouble since.

Tonight though it's quiet as the city sings "someone saved my life tonight" and one apartment quietly replies "this is what I am."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How to Fix Your Brakes, Illustrated

Tonight's post wraps itself around the soft, inviting cover of hobbies, manliness and auto repair. Rarely is a blanket of comfort so well weaved than when time alone meets personal accomplishment and hardened steel tools. Being able to take time aside from a busy life to build or repair something and to do so with the strength of my hands, the hardness of my bone and the stubbornness of my will is a deeply reaffirming experience. To look at something physical and know my hands have laid upon that material, formed or fitted disparate pieces together and repaired or created it brings pride without hubris and gratitude without expectation.
Additionally I should note that tonight's post brings two hobbies together. The description of the second will be laid out in great detail in a follow up post: the "How-To" of how this post went together; I assure you it is more interesting than it reads. The rest of this post should be humorous...

Ah brake repair. It is so necessary a task. Without brakes airplanes would crash into levees, auto drivers would crash through fast food restaurants and order their meal while idling inside the kitchen. Even kites need brakes, for without a method to stop those flying daggers every third person would have an eyeball permanently attached to a flying piece of nylon on strings. And what of the Vikings? Without a method to stop their boat they might have accidentally carved a new river in North America as they missed their turn at Greenland and continued heading west.
What follows is a series of photographs from an old auto repair manual. I was fortunate enough to find these photos before I fixed my own front brakes last weekend. In case you're interested I replaced the brake pads and rotors. I'll relay the text as best as possible from the book I found. It is old so forgive the liberal interpretation of the instructions. From the illustrated manual, we can see that fixing your brakes, the front ones, is an easy process requiring no more than 8 steps. So... on we go...

"Step 1: Hire an Assistant-
The hiring of an assistant is of a dire importance. Assistants can be trusted colleagues who anticipate your every move and have the precise tool ready for you before you speak it's name. Working together side by side, you and your assistant will create a bond stronger than..."
Okay, this part gets fuzzy, but I think the author is trying to give examples of things with strong bonds like "Tango and Cash," "Bert and Ernie," or dihydrogen monoxide. The author then gives instructions on how to find an assistant including greetings of proper etiquette of the time. Below, the photo illustrates hiring an assistant.
"I say fair maiden... want to get in my buggy?"

"Step 2: Inspect Your Tools-
Now Reader once an assistant has been hired be sure that all working equipment is in operable shape. This is often where the bonding between you and your assistant starts. The pairing of technician and assistant must start here. Ensure your assistant understands the tools and job at hand."
Umm... I'm not sure what's going on here but I think the technician is excited by his assistant's knowledge.
Great Googly-moogly!!

"Step 3: Read the Instructions:
Well done reader. If you have made it this far, you certainly are quickly preparing yourself for the task at hand."
This photo is straight forward. Make sure you and your assistant read the instructions.
Find the nearest book and read it (this one!). All books contain useful knowledge.

"Step 4: Take a Break:
Reader by this point you have surely worked up a thirst. The road ahead will be arduous, take naps, cat-naps, breaks and rests often. I wager a shilling dear reader that you're ready for that nap!"
I guess people back then got tired easy.
Zzzz.... Oh not that insufferable Mr. Darcy again.... Zzzzz....

"Step 5: Fire that Chipmunk!
By now my fellow auto enthusiast you've witnessed that accursed chipmunk waiting around the edges of your project trying to take credit for your work, take your assistant or steal your Lucky Charms. Clearly I do not have to tell you this can not be tolerated. Fire That Chipmunk!"
Look at the chipmunks they had back then. I had no idea chipmunks evolved that fast in a hundred years.
You'll never work in this town again if my mustache has any say in the matter!!

"Step 6: Fix the Brakes!
This is it dear Reader. This is what all your napping and rodent expunging has lead to. It's time to fix your brakes! Make sure your assistant uses the big 'x' shaped tool in the general area of the engine bay. Buff the B-post!"
I think this illustrated guide is missing some key steps...

"Step 7: Congratulate your Assistant on a Job Well Done-
It is customary to show your appreciation to your assistant by making idle conversation and offering fair recompense. It would be rude to not ask your assistant if she is free on the morrow's Thursday to wed and make babies. The modern woman particularly finds large mustaches and waggy fingers appealing."
Times sure have changed since then...
Good Work Technician. Wiggle your mustache and she is now satisfactorily flattered! Prepare to make babies!

"Step 8: To the Victor go the Spoils
Soon the morrow's Thursday will approach. Prepare with a clean shave and practice your waggy fingers!"
Clearly not all technician / assistant relationships ended in babies back then. I think the author was deluding himself by this point.
Dear Technician, did you forget to properly display your waggy fingers?!?! A modern woman deserves better!!!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Artist and Bon Vivant: Tito Margolis Van Amsterdam O'Shaunessy IV

Tonight's post is written from and with love and brings what I hope to be some lighthearted laughs at the spontaneity of a child's newly maturing sense of humor.
I wish, I wish, I wish I had the wherewithal or imagination to write tonight's entry. Were I to give credit to where credit is due, for the first section in tonight's post, I would credit my friend and his five year old son. I won't use his son's real name here, so instead I'll refer to him as "Tito Margolis Van Amsterdam O'Shaunessy IV." Though not a blood relative of mine, Tito Margolis Van Amsterdam O'Shaunessy IV is like a nephew to me and his sister is my Goddaughter. In an odd turn of events, I am their father's father.
The first section in tonight's post is a retelling of a dinner conversation at my friend's dinner table. In this conversation Tito Margolis Van Amsterdam O'Shaunessy IV references his "Andy Watching Eye." Tito Margolis Van Amsterdam O'Shaunessy IV will tell his father that he can keep an eye on me all the way from Chicago. This keeps me safe and I am grateful for Tito Margolis Van Amsterdam O'Shaunessy IV watching over me, from Chicago, with his "Andy Watching Eye." He's been known to see me on the beach, or after earthquakes.
The second section, shows a visual comparison of a drawing, of me, by Tito Margolis Van Amsterdam O'Shaunessy IV against an actual photo of me.

::That Which Succeeds the Preamble::
As told by my friend / son about his son, my nephew...
So last night we are having beef.  I'm certain it was.  My wife cooked, so it was absolutely amazing.  Tito is farting around with his dinner as usual.  I finally say:
(Dad) "Look…you need to eat that or you will never be big and strong."
(Son) "What makes me big and strong?"
(D) The meat and the veggies.
(S) This?
(D) Yes.
(S) How much should I eat?
(D) Depends on how big and strong you want to be.
(S) Really big and really strong.
(D) Probably all of it.
(S) Then will I be big and strong like you?
(D) Strong yes, but don’t eat too many sweets or you will be big like me.
(S) No, I want to be strong like you, but big like Andy.
(D )Well Andy is not big, he is skinny.
(S) No, not like that, I meant BIG.  Like he is so tall.  He touches the ceiling with his head.
(D) Really?
(S) Oh yea.  He is huge.  He is like a giant. Last time he was here, he left marks on the ceiling with his head.
(D) Really? Wow. How is he doing, Tito?
(S) I don’t know.  I haven’t checked in a while.
(D) Can you check please? 
(S) Sure.  I need to go to the bathroom and put my Andy watching eye in. 
(D) OK, be sure to wash your hands.

-Tito leaves for bathroom…we here sounds like bzzzzz clang clang clang bzzzzz (similar to transformers)

(S) OK I got it in.
(D) Did you wash your hands.
(S) I used Alcohol.
(D) Oh, OK.  So how is Andy?
(S) Oh no.
(D) Oh no?  What is going on Tito?
(S) He ate too much beef.
(D) Huh?
(S) Dad, he grew huge!  He busted down his building and is walking through the city.
(D) Oh no.  Is he breaking things?
(S) Kinda, because he is so tall.  He has airplanes around his head.
(D) Like King Kong?
(S) -laughs- Yea! Just like that.  They think he is a gorilla because he is so tall and hairy!
(D) -now I am laughing- Oh wow!  Are they shooting at him?
(S) No, he is a friendly tall hairy gorilla.
(D) He is a gorilla?
(S) Well, he isn’t a gorilla, he just looks like one.
(D) Are you sure you have the correct eye in?
(S) Let me go check.
-Tito runs into the bathroom, more transformer sounds.
(D) Did you wash your hands?
(S) No, I used alcohol.
(D) OK.  Was it the right eye?
(S) No, I have the right one in now.  That one was my King Kong watching eye.
(D) So what is Andy doing?
(S) Oh not much.  He is just watching some TV.
(D) Oh…ok.      ….    ….   How many eyes do you have?
(S) Lots. 
(D) Like a spider?
(S) Yes.
(D) That is gross.
-         Tito Laughs- finishes dinner.

::Comparison of Artist's Rendering to Actual Photograph ::
A few weeks I received an image which Tito himself drew. It's a portrait of me wearing my well known fedora. In order analyze the visual accuracy of Tito's artistic rendering I've created side by side comparisons of the rendering to an actual photo. It may be difficult to tell the differences between the two, so in the second image I've labeled some of the differences between the drawing and the photo.

The two images are amazingly similar which I think stems from the similarities of the hat. Unexpectedly, there are more differences then you may have originally noticed. You'll see from the photo that I actually have no abdomen whereas in the artist's rendering I have cloven hooves for feet, yellow hose, a purple sundress and a bullet hole.