No Brainer

It’s raining like crazy right now in Southern California.

It started last night, continued on and off throughout the day and it’s coming down anew this evening. We’re getting as much as an inch per hour, the wind is gusting up to 50 miles per hour and there’s a flood advisory in effect. These may not seem like scary numbers to anyone living in International Falls, Minnesota, but it’s really just about the most weather we ever get here in the land of sunshine and lollipops.

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Normally the rain hits hardest in the mountainous regions to the north and east of L.A. In the old days, before we improved the drainage, the water just ran off, down through the gullies and streams from the mountains, right through the city to the ocean, bringing with it lots of mud. The two biggest streams came to be known as The Los Angeles River and The San Gabriel River, although they were often dry for years at a time. This system had been working pretty well for centuries, a long time in a town where you’re old at 29 and the Nielsens come out every morning.

But today the rivers are mostly paved aquaducts. Realizing that Nature had screwed up, the various municipalities that make up greater Los Angeles have been pouring concrete in these ditches for the past fifty years, until now they are very efficient transporters of water. Now when it rains in L.A., these rivers become raging 30-mile long torrents of angry, muddy, boiling water, filled with rocks, trees, cars and occasionally people. The water screams down through the basin at thirty miles an hour and ten feet deep. The pavement assures that nothing is absorbed into the ground, so as the river flows along it gains more and more depth and power.

I haven’t turned on the television news since I’ve been home from work, but I am willing to bet right now that at least one local station will feature a story on someone who has fallen into the river and has to be rescued. It happens every time it rains. Some nincompoop will climb over the fence and get close to the edge. Since it’s all paved now, when the nincompoop slips, there are no branches to grab onto, no uneven ground to slow his fall. He is going in to the drink, and fast, and then he is going wherever the river goes, because nobody is strong enough to fight such current.

They will have a helicopter shot of the river, and they will pan the camera around and every now and then we’ll get a glimpse of the asshole in the water. Then we’ll see the 50 or so firefighters, cops and paramedics on the shore, with their assortment of vehicles and lifesaving equipment. If the guy has found something in the water to grab onto, like an abandoned car, the lifesavers will be throwing ropes to him. If he’s free floating they will be running ahead to the next bridge, from whence they will try to grab him as he floats by. Of course what we all hope for — this is the most exciting — is that they will drop a rescuer down from a chopper to grab the guy and pull him to safety. Or maybe we hope they’ll drop him and he’ll disappear. I’m not sure about that.

If I watched TV at work I could see this live, with running commentary from local TV announcers who are warm and dry in the studio, as well as from the reporter in the helicopter and the occasional telephone interview with some fire captain. But there will always be a recap on the 11 O’Clock News, in case I missed it, which I did.

So here’s my advice for the rainy season in Los Angeles: stay away from the river!

This is so simple that you could call it a no-brainer: If you had no brains at all, you should still know enough not to fall in the river. I mean, there’s nothing around the river that you have to get to — no stores, no churches or schools, no government offices. Nothing. And there are bridges every few blocks, so you’d never have to ford the stream to get where you’re going. So why would you even go near the river, considering that the consequences of falling in are so extreme? Well, you wouldn’t, even if you had no brains at all. So don’t.

It’s a no-brainer.

A Christmas Tale

I was the last one out of the office on Christmas Eve, and the holiday was pissing me off.

I don’t really celebrate Christmas anymore, but I have a soft spot for it — the wish for peace, the kindness to each other, the fresh kindled hope for a better future, blah, blah, blah. It’s sweet, you know? But of course we have done our best to ruin it. The buildup is so huge I am always let down by the reality, once it arrives. And I find that I don’t believe anyone’s holiday wishes. I think they’re just platitudes. I was sick of peoples’ hollow Xmas greetings, and feeling grouchy about the whole thing.

So it’s around sunset, it would be totally dark in fifteen minutes and a chilly wind was starting up. I was leaving the office, not smiling, grousing my way out the back door because the front was locked, and I get half way down the outdoor steps when I see her standing in the parking lot. She’s old now, and none of us knows how long she’s been living in and around our parking lot, but she’s been here longer than I have. Her grey and white coat is filthy and her body is impossibly scrawny. As I go down the steps, the heavy security door bangs shut behind me. She hears it and steps warily over to where she can sort of lean on the side of the building, her head cocked my way.

“Hey there, old girl,” I say. She is blind, or nearly so, and she turns toward the sound of my voice. We have seen each other around for years, but she has shown me recognition only in the past month or so, and even now some days she doesn’t. She hesitates, then takes a shaky step toward me. She recognizes me, and even though the office door has closed and I won’t be able to get back in to wash my hands, I know that I will have to pet her, and that her fur will leave a greasy residue that I will have to wear all the way home. I put my briefcase down and sit on the bottom step.

“C’mon, sweetheart,” I coax, and she walks very slowly toward me, until I can just reach out and touch her bony neck. I scratch for a moment, as she tries to make sure that I mean no harm. When she is satisfied that I am safe she comes all the way over to where I am sitting. I scratch her and amazingly, she purrs. She is so decrepit I am surprised that she can purr. My gentle petting rocks her whole body, and I can see that it is only with effort and concentration that she is able to remain standing.

“Poor old baby. It’s a tough life, isn’t it?” I ask in my gentlest cat-calming voice. She lifts her head and stares into my face with her blank, milky eyes.

Yes, it’s tough, she says, but look at me. I’ve survived. Her voice is a high-pitched croak.

Her frailty is so obvious I don’t want to discuss survival with her. “Well, that’s great,” I say, stroking her cheek. “Uh, where are you sleeping tonight?”

I’ll be here as usual, she says, and a shudder runs through her. Maybe under that pickup truck over there. Delicately, she places one skinny paw on my thigh. Do you mind? she asks.

My pants will have to be cleaned. “No, of course not. Come on up.” She needs my help to get into my lap, and more assistance to get comfortable, but at last she is lying there, more at less at ease. The effort has exhausted her, and she just lies there for a minute.

You know, she says at last, I’ve been such a fool.

“What do you mean?” I ask, surprised.

She sighs. For all these years I feared and hated you people. I hid from you, and I looked upon all of you with distrust and suspicion. She looked sheepish. I bit one of you once, a long time ago.

“Well, that’s not so foolish,” I say. “You’re feral, and we don’t have such a good reputation among your kind. It’s totally understandable.”

No, it was wrong. If I had known all along, that all you wanted to do was pet me and feed me… She trailed off. I mean, where did I think those bowls of food and water were coming from, right outside that back door? I was so blind — she smiled — I mean before I was blind, you know? I shifted a little, and we had to get rearranged. She spoke again.

My heart was closed. I couldn’t see the kindness that was offered to me. I had to do everything for myself. I thought everyone who approached meant to hurt me, or take something from me. I’m ashamed to say that I taught my kids to be the same way. All of them are gone now, bless ’em, except for my youngest. I hope it’s not too late for her. She’s a pretty little thing, you know. Takes after her father. She coughed. You might not believe it, but I was pretty once, too.

The old gal in my lap — and this turn of conversation — was making me uncomfortable. “Well, I think you’re still pretty…”

She coughed again, and it went on for several seconds this time. Don’t kid me, sonny. I’m a foolish old hag, and I’m almost blind, but a girl knows.

I could think of no comeback for that. She wasn’t allowing any flattery, any platitudes. Overhead, the wind whistled through the wires.

“Look,” I say, “would you like to come over to my place tonight? It’s warm, and I’ve got plenty of food. You could take a warm bath, if you want.”

She stood up in my lap, and crept slowly back onto the asphalt at the base of the steps, stretching her arthritic limbs as she walked. That’s a sweet offer, sonny. A few years ago I would have jumped at it. But now I’m afraid I’m too set in my ways. I couldn’t sleep in a house. I’d be too nervous knowing I couldn’t run if I had to. Besides, I’ve got my Little One to look out for. She’s around here somewhere, and she won’t come out while you’re around. She still needs me, more than she knows. She doesn’t pay much attention to her old mom these days — you know how they get. She still has a chance, though. I hope I can show her that she doesn’t have to make my mistakes. I have to show her… she coughed some more, and I thought there was a catch in her voice. …I have to show her how to open her heart to the beauty and pain and love that is all around, instead of hiding in fear and suspicion. She gazed nowhere in particular and was silent for a moment. Before I go, you know?

I stood and picked up my briefcase. There would be no use inviting both of them — we lived in different worlds, and this parking lot was nothing more than the place those worlds touched. But I was glad we had met, and touched, this night.

Thanks for listening, sonny, and for petting me. It’s really what I’ve always wanted, if only I’d known. Crazy, isn’t it? After running and hiding all those years, now I can’t get enough of it. And thank you all for the food — the Little One and I, we appreciate it.

She turned and started to make her way along the side of the building, toward the alley. “Merry Christmas!” I called, and for the first time that year, I really meant it.

She stopped and turned. Merry Christmas to you, sonny. Now scoot. Go home and be with your wife. She’ll be waiting for you. Then she walked stiffly on, and around the corner of the building.

I could feel the dirt on my hands. I looked at my pants, and they were covered with her dirty fur. A perfect half-moon had risen and floated low over the buildings in the twilight. Traffic rushed by on the boulevard. I turned and walked to my car.

Doctor My Eyes

Jesus Christ some of the people on my street have lit their houses like casinos!

I feel like dropping in on some of my neighbors to shoot some craps or play a little Blackjack. Viva Las Vegas! Is this what Christmas is all about? Is this nationwide? Here in Southern California, people seem to be trying to simulate foul weather using billions of tiny clear lightbulbs, placed on their homes in such a way as to suggest icicles, dripping from the rain gutters, surrounding the window frames, hanging from the trees in their front yards. Reminiscing, I guess, about the good old days in Los Angeles, when it snowed.

Then there are the figures in the yard, Santa and his reindeer driving right over to the stable where Mary and Joseph gaze at their new baby, a twelve-foot lighted inflatable snowman on the roof, grazing animals (sheep and deer) made of wire frames covered in those same icicle lights, some of them actually moving. Life imitates Disneyland. Do people do this all around the country, or is it just a west coast aberration?

I Wish

This is the time of year when we wish for things, and the wishing is its own reward.

I remember wanting and wishing as a kid for some new toy at Christmas, whatever was on my mind that year. I was a weird kid, not like other kids, so the stuff was off-beat, but just as useless, really, as the stuff all the other kids were wishing for, only in different ways. Sometimes I got what I thought I wanted, sometimes not. In the end what I really wanted was warmth and love, my mother’s touch, my father’s smile, a sense of belonging…

Hey, is this getting a little sacharine? Yeah, it is. Thanks for stopping me. Now I’m grown up, I know what’s important, and there’s only one thing I want now: A DATE WITH GWYNETH PALTROW. I’ve been asking for this for quite a few years now, and so far, nothing. It would have been better to hook up with her when I first wanted to, because she wasn’t as famous then, and she would have had more time for me.

But even now I believe Gwyneth and I were meant to go out to a dark coffee house together, and sit across a tiny table lit by one flickering candle and talk all night about subjects big and small, our knees bumping gently under the table, both of us super-aware of that electricity, the room vanishing around us, Gwyneth gazing shyly at me, her casual touch raising the hairs on my arm. We would be amazed at the thoughts we had in common, the feelings we shared unknowingly. We would finish each other’s sentences and laugh and laugh at it all, and all the sad years we had not been together would melt away and we’d have known each other forever.

At midnight or later, much later, we would close the place and drive to the beach, where we would walk together in the moonlight, first on the boardwalk, then out onto the sand, then wading into the shallow waves, our shoes tossed aside and our pant legs getting wet, the silver moon shimmering all around us on the water. I would touch her hip and she would lean in to my body, her golden hair dusting my neck, pulling my arm around her waist, that electric touch jolting us both again, this is how it has always been and how it always will be, the shyness gone, turning in to one another, straining together, her feet off the ground now, her eager long legs curled all the way around mine and ankles locked together, her butt in my hands, our two breaths mingling, lips brushing once, brushing twice, the tip of a tongue, two open mouths, a moan in the moonlight, urgent now, I can walk with her weightless on me, each step a little bump, a little thrust, now down on the sand, unbuttoning, unbuckling, skin seeking skin, belly to belly, thigh to thigh, no way to be closer, moving together, how it always has been, how it always will be…

I am ready for this, even though I know it can’t work out. We come from different worlds, and we must return to them. There might be a weekend in it, then a few awkward phone calls, maybe a final lunch date at a crowded Musso and Frank’s, each of us with far away thoughts.

Still, I wait for my moment, my golden glimpse of heaven. Email me, Gwyneth…

Silent Night

My town is all lit up for Christmas.

Can we stipulate that there must be something deep within the human spirit that draws us to have a celebration in the the dead of winter? Don’t make me argue about it: For so many thousands of years, so many cultures have gotten into some kind of festival of lights right around the winter solstice. In the earliest versions, people apparently thought they had to pray and offer sacrifices or else the days would just keep getting shorter until there would be no light at all. Who wouldn’t do anything to forestall that?

I wonder how long that went on before somebody began to speculate what would happen if they didn’t have the ceremony, if the saturnalia party did not go on as usual. Every year we go through this charade, and every year everything turns out just fine — the days get longer, the sun gets warmer, the rains come, the rivers overflow, the earth is fertile and the crops are abundant. What the fuck? It must have happened eventually, but that guy (or girl) probably became the next sacrifice. When you’re talking about the possible advent of Eternal Winter, you can’t take any chances.

Ever since I learned the horrible truth about Santa when I was 17, I have had problems at this time of year. Problems with my soul, damage to my heart. I find myself out in the street at midnight, looking out at the huge blue-black sky, thinking how small I am, how small is my world, wondering what is the point of all this? In these silent nights I grow morose, the centuries invade my street and settle on me like fearsome dust. Face in my hands I cry, take away the darkness, touch my soul, heal my heart. Talk to me starless sky endless space between us touch us see us save us save me. I turn up my collar and stand in the street, and I let the night come into me, and I grow until I am the night, I fill the world, the sky is me. It’s my own little saturnalian outburst. I don’t know where it comes from. Maybe I need more sun, more light in my eyes, in my life.

The houses on my block, some of them, are decorated with brave bright lights and they warm the night. The people inside the houses dream of peace and salvation, of friendship and love and forgiveness. The planet will turn, the days will get longer. We will be forgiven. I shake it off and shove my hands in my pockets and walk back. I haven’t heard an answer, but I’ll forget that.

Day of Rest

Geez, what a week.

It’s over now, but in the past five days The Corporation really got its money’s worth. I did the work of three men, and I was sick the whole time. I normally don’t want to be there, but this week I really should have been home in bed. Trouble is, the work won’t go away just because I do, and no one else will do it while I’m gone. Sick. So whenever I come back it’s all still waiting for me, along with the new work, which is always urgent. I will have to die or get fired to evade this.

As an added bonus, my cold/flu or whatever prevented me from sleeping more than three hours a night all week, so I started each day in the hole and got deeper in as the day progressed. Friday night I finally passed out and slept all night, and now today (Saturday) I feel human for the first time since last Sunday.

I’m alone in the house (just me and Molly the Cat), alternately surfing movies on the cable, finishing B’s leftover chicken soup, reading random blogs and following their links to other random blogs (thank God for Firefox and tabbed browsing). I read somewhere that there are 4.8 million blogs, but that was a month ago. There must be a lot more by now, and I am amazed at how many smart, funny, drunk, isolated, depressed, introspective, social, clever, educated, frank and opinionated people there are out there doing this. Who wants to bet that university studies are not being conducted on the phenomenon right now? Stay tuned to Fresh Air on NPR — I’m sure someone will be plugging a blogging book soon, if they haven’t already.

Of course I will get nothing accomplished on this day of rest. Usually that would make me feel guilty, but since I am recovering from a near-death experience I am OK with my indolence. Tomorrow I’ll have to make up for today. Then on Monday I can go back to making The Corporation rich.

Rest Area Ahead

Are You Drained by Christmas Shopping?

It’s the Holiday Season! This time of year, people often say to me Larry Jones, I need a break from the hurly burly world of gift shopping, nog-drinking and carol-singing. Do you know where the toilet museums are?

Well, joyeux noel, yes, I do! You can learn perhaps more than you expected at the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets. Visit the online collection and your happy curator Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak will smile at you from every page. For detailed information regarding ancient defecation and urination rituals, check out this section.

If that’s not enough for you (and it wasn’t for me), you can check out The Toilet Museum, for more toilets and peripherals, including toilet sounds and a section of frequently asked questions about toilets, which will challenge what you may think you know. While at The Toilet Museum (and in the holiday spirit), don’t miss the Gift Shop. For you last-minute shoppers, monogrammed toilet paper makes a great stocking stuffer…

The education continues as we move on to the great state of Texas, home to Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum. I was particularly impressed by Barney’s feathered creation with the Native American motif on Page 2. This site truly gives new meaning to the phrase “expose yourself to art.”

OK — back to the mall, all of you! Email me directly for my sizes and wish list.

Snot, Day 3

OK, I think I know what this is about.

I have been rendered helpless. My vision is blurred, my bones are made of glass, my throat is scratchy, my body is trying to expel all fluids from every orifice (sorry), I’m cold and sweaty at the same time, I can’t eat and I can’t think. Worst of all, I can’t sing along with the radio in the car. My voice just won’t go there. This is the universe sending me a wakeup call, right? You are wasting your life, doing nothing with your abilities. Here’s how it would feel if all were taken from you. How do you like it? What if you really couldn’t think or sing?

To the universe: I get it! Please stop! I want to live! Give me back the equipment, and I’ll use it, I promise.

Snot, Part 2

Slept about an hour last night, so woke up stupid. Am still stupid here at the office. My blog is my only friend. See no relief, as I have a metric shitload of work to do, and must attend a party as soon as I’m done here, which I probably never will be.

Having trouble refocusing between the computer screen and the paperwork. Head throbs, but can’t recall if I have taken aspirin lately. Best to take another handful.

Filled with love and longing.

I am not defeated.

Snot

Where does all this snot come from? I have blown my nose 5,000 times since last night. I must weigh five pounds less, and my nose keeps running.

And why so many symptoms? Runny nose, headache, sore throat, backache, fever. What part of God’s Plan is this? God: You had me at headful of snot, OK? I got the message then, and I started to undergo treatment. Do you think I will forget? Is that why you are piling on?

Thanks for listening.