Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas, Past and Present

Sharing Christmas memories . . .

Past . . .

and present

Happy Holidays, Y'All!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Only in L.A.

Karen called a couple weeks ago, saying she could get discount tickets for a one-night benefit performance of "You Can't Take It With You," a play starring Tom Hanks and a stellar cast of friends. I had wanted to go, but the ticket price was prohibitive. I, therefore, jumped at the chance when Karen said she could get me in for a quarter of the price. The only catch: I had to buy at least two tickets. Tim wasn't interested and Karen had to work, so I sold the second ticket to Katie, a student who lives in Northern California when not taking classes at UCLA.

The event was held at UCLA’s Royce Hall, one of the most beautiful buildings on campus. We were, of course, relegated to the balcony with all the other cheapskates. I had foolishly left my binoculars at home, so we had to strain our eyes to see any celebrities in the audience below us. We imagined seeing Ron Howard, whose production company Imagine was one the evening’s sponsors, as well as Francis Ford Coppola, who catered the post-play reception.

The real action was on stage, however. Beside Hanks, the cast included Tom’s wife Rita Wilson, well-known character actress Caroline Aaron, Dave Annable (Justin on the TV show “Brothers and Sisters”), Maria Bamford, brilliant actress Annette Bening, Kevin Chamberlain, former Oscar-nominee James Cromwell, funnyman Ian Gomez, Jon Hamm (“Mad Men’s” hunky leading man), Peter Krause (of “Six Feet Under” and “Dirty, Sexy Money”), Mila Kunis (from “That 70s Show”), William Shatner (Captain Kirk himself!), comic genius Martin Short, Alicia Silverstone (the ingenue in “Clueless”), and Holland Taylor (the annoying mother on “Two and a Half Men”). The director was Nora Ephron, who worked with Hanks on “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail.”

The play was wacky. Set during the Great Depression, it featured two lovebirds (Kunis and Hamm) who come from completely different backgrounds. Her family is extremely eccentric; his is reserved and rich. Conflict ensues when the families finally meet.

The event was billed as a “reading,” so everyone read from the script. The acting was good, even though apparently not much rehearsing went on beforehand. Annette Bening was her excellent self and Kunis and Hamm were appropriately attractive. But it was Tom Hanks who really stole the show. Wearing a tall fur cap, he played the Russian dance instructor who has opinions about everything (“IT STINKS!!”). He rarely stuck to the script and, at one point, started madly throwing chairs off the stage.

Not to be outdone, Martin Short, who played Bening’s husband, also veered from the script and several times brought the play to a screeching halt by rushing over to give Bening a long passionate kiss—all while her real-life husband, Warren Beatty, watched from the audience. Everyone screamed in delight. And then there was Bill Shatner, the play’s patriarch, who ad-libbed with the best of them. By the end, my cheeks hurt from laughing so hard!

After the applause, we ran downstairs to see if we could spot any celebrities exiting the theater. Looming above all the rest was Warren Beatty, looking exactly like he does in the movies.

“There’s Warren Beatty,” I whispered to Katie.

“And Faye Dunaway,” she responded, as I struggled to recognize the person standing next to him.

“Hmmm . . . Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty,” I thought to myself. “Why does that sound so familiar? Then suddenly, “Oh my God!” I yelped. “It’s Bonnie and Clyde!” What a thrill!

We followed the crowds to the patio where a champagne and dessert reception was being held. We hoped to rub elbows with some of the bigger name celebrities, but saw only James Cromwell (very tall) and Kevin Chamberlain (I still don’t know who he is!). Then, just as we were about to leave, I noticed flashbulbs going off inside the lobby. We pushed our way over to see what was happening.

I couldn’t see Hanks, Bening or Beatty, but we did have a clear view of Jon Hamm and Martin Short yucking it up about something. Actually, all we could see was the back of Hamm’s head as he laughed at Short’s antics. We stood there for several minutes and were about to give up when Hamm turned our way. We could see his face—well worth the wait!

It couldn’t get any better than that, so we left.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving (oink! oink!)

Like everyone else, we watch the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives,” starring Guy Fieri, the gastronome with the white (yellow?) spiky hair. He can be obnoxious, but the restaurants he visits always look appetizing in a greasy-spoon kind of way. Last week’s hour-long “best of” episode was especially appealing because it featured, among other places, Mike’s Chili Parlour, an ancient hot dog palace located in Ballard, just north of downtown Seattle. Since we were flying up there to be with my sister Vicki for Thanksgiving, Tim’s eyes immediately lit-up.

“Look at that enormous chili dog!” he said in a food-induced trance. “Do you think Mike’s is on the way to your sister’s?”

I can certainly take a hint and so quickly went to Google Maps. Mike’s was indeed on the way to Vicki’s house, if a bit off the beaten track. I printed the directions and called my sister to tell her we would be taking a side trip to Ballard en route to her house. While on the phone, she asked her husband if he had ever eaten at Mike’s.

“No,” I could hear him say in the background. “But it sure smells good every time I drive by!”

We arrived in Seattle on Wednesday just in time for lunch. After a couple of false starts—I had copied directions from the airport, not the car rental agency, which was located off-site—we got on the right freeway and headed north. We drove west of downtown Seattle and through various neighborhoods until we finally saw signs for Ballard.

“Too far!” Tim yelled, as I zoomed past NW Ballard Way. “Turn right here!”

We were suddenly in the middle of a seedy industrial area that looked like something out of “On the Waterfront.”

“There are no restaurants here,” I exclaimed. “Damn you, Guy Fieri!”

But just as we were about to give up, we spotted two very satisfied-looking men emerging from a diner.

“There it is!” we both yelled in unison as I swung over to the curb and parked.

Built in 1922, the exterior of the restaurant still has vestiges of an art deco facade that must have been elegant at one time. The inside, however, is pure diner, with raised booths, a pool table and full-on bar. It was small and dark and looked like it hadn’t been painted in forty years—in other words, it had lots of character.

Tim eyeballed the menu and selected the chili cheese dog he had seen on TV. I, on the other hand, haven’t eaten a hot dog since reading Upton Sinclair's “The Jungle” in sixth grade and so was pretty much out of luck. There was a handwritten note tacked above the bar promising grilled chicken sandwiches. But the young waitress said they had run out of chicken earlier in the week, so I just ordered french fries.

The chili cheese dog was so massive—and messy!—that Tim happily ate it with a fork and knife, while I looked the other way. A group of obvious tourists came in and scanned the room for seats.

“Looks like someone else watches the Food Network,” I whispered to Tim.

The story doesn’t end here, of course. From Ballard we went to my sister’s home and had pork roast for dinner. This was followed by turkey and lots of other food on Thanksgiving. The bird wasn’t the only thing stuffed by the end of the day!

As if that wasn’t enough, we decided to join the post-holiday shopping crowd and so drove into downtown Seattle, Friday morning. Pike Place Market was even more festive than usual. Still, we resisted all urges to eat. That is, until Tim spied a small sign across the street: “Taxi Hot Dogs.” He looked at his watch (11:30AM), decided it was time for lunch and headed toward a small hot dog joint a few doors north of the original Starbuck’s.

“One regular hot dog,” he ordered and was once again in his glory.

We both vowed we’d eat nothing but salad when we returned to L.A. We’ve been home now for 24 hours. It still hasn’t happened . . .

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day, At Last!


Woke up at 6AM. Tim and I had already agreed that we would vote first thing in the morning, since the lines would be too long after we both returned from work. I hopped into the shower and then walked over to our polling site, a house two blocks from our home. I was the first person there; but by the time Tim joined me, the line was already to the street.

At 7AM, the owner of the house came outside and announced the polls were now open. I applauded and entered. It was a bit chaotic, but I signed in and took my ballot to the voting booth in the corner. I waved to Tim to come vote in the booth next to me. We had marked our sample ballots ahead of time, so were able to vote very quickly. Nonetheless, I almost started to cry when I opened the booklet and saw Barack Obama’s name. Regardless of the outcome, this is the single most historic election I’ve ever voted in. It is almost impossible to express the enormity of this day.

Exiting the polls, we greeted our neighbors as they waited on line. We have an Obama lawn sign in our front yard, so it’s no secret how we voted.

“What a great day!” I exclaimed, barely containing my emotions.

We then saw Nick, our next-door neighbor’s youngest son, with sample ballot in hand.

“Is this your first election?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered.


Just as we got home the sky, which had been rainy a few moments before, opened up to reveal patches of blue.

“Maybe it’s sign of good things to come,” Tim observed as he jumped into his car to head to work. I went inside, wondering how I’d ever be able to concentrate on anything but the election today.


If I didn’t have to teach this afternoon I would have sat in front of the TV all day waiting for the election returns. As it was, I called Tim as soon as class ended at 5PM.

“Has Obama won yet!?” I asked half-jokingly.

He hadn’t, of course. But even though the polls just closed on the east coast, Obama had already racked up 100 electoral votes. Unlike 2004, when Tim and I went to bed not knowing whether John Kerry had won or lost, this looked to be a short night. I rushed home.

Over the next couple of hours, we watched as people around the country gathered in anticipation of an Obama victory: students at Spellman College and Indiana University; African-Americans in Harlem; and thousands of supporters in Chicago’s Grant Park. Never in my 36 years of voting have I ever seen anything like it.

Then suddenly, at one minute past 8PM, NBC newsanchor Bryan Williams came on and announced the election results. Thanks to California and our neighbors to the north, Barack Obama had surpassed the 270 electoral votes needed and won the presidency! Unbridled joy erupted in Grant Park, while an emotional Tom Brokaw cried.

I, too, cried—and haven’t really stopped yet!—in relief and happiness that a new era is about to begin in America. To me, it’s more than Obama being black or even a Democrat—it’s about having a brilliant, articulate president who has captured and reengaged the imagination and hope of our nation. Sure, he has far less political experience than his opponents; still, he has already proven himself a magnificent leader and motivator of young and old alike. He listened to the people and they responded in kind. It is now our turn to do whatever we can to help him succeed as president.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Going Native (Again!)

Those of you following this blog for a while will remember that last October I decided to demolish our backyard and plant drought-resistant California natives. Well, I didn’t do the actual demolition and planting; but, along with our fabulous landscaper Joel, I did help guide the project, which changed my whole outlook on gardening. Unable to tell a live plant from a dead one just a year ago, I am now almost obsessed with flora of all stripes.

Not a surprise then when I announced to Tim that we should plant natives in the front, even though we’d be the only house on the block without a lawn. Even more scandalous, I suggested that we build a low fence to protect our new yard, making ours, of course, the only house in the entire neighborhood with a fence. What would people think? Nonetheless, convinced that we were doing the right thing—especially as water becomes more and more precious—we decided to proceed in hopes that others would eventually follow our lead.

It is too hot to plant anything during the summer, so we waited till early October to actually begin the project. In the meantime, Joel and I toured nearby gardens and took pictures of possible fences. Then, finally two weeks ago, he came over and sketched out a plan for the yard. We would keep the hawthorne bushes against the house and our glorious Chinese elm, which everyone loves, but just about everything else would go. Demolition began shortly after. No turning back now!

Joel and I then schlepped over to Theodore Payne, the nonprofit nursery in Sunland, to pick out plants. We bought plenty of my backyard favorites—salvia (i.e., sage), artemisia (strange low-lying plants that look like tribbles), and yarrow—plus some California holly (i.e. toyon), a spiny barberry, and coyote bush. On his own, Joel selected a crepe myrtle tree, two petite maples, lilacs, and star jasmine, which will grow along the fence. Hesperaloes grace our short parkway along the street.

As you can see, the yard is now complete. All we need is a few months and a little bit of rain to get things growing. More pictures forthcoming in the spring!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Seeing Hillary

The invitation arrived in my e-mailbox about three weeks ago. Hillary Clinton was being honored at the home of Bruce Raben, a businessperson who lives in Hancock Park. I could attend a private “VIP” reception with the Senator for $1000 or I could go as a “Friend” for a fraction of the cost. I decided that, as much as I love the Clintons, I’m no more than just a friend and so RSVP’d accordingly. I then sent the invite to Tim to see if he wanted to tag along. He took one look at Raben’s address on Google Maps and e-mailed me immediately.

“The house is HUGE!” he wrote. “I’m going!”

So we got dressed up and drove to Hancock Park, one of L.A.’s most opulent neighborhoods, located directly south of Hollywood. A few police officers were on the street when we got there. We checked-in at the registration table and then joined others as they walked up a short flight of stone stairs to the front yard.

The 1920s Tudor-style house and its grounds were truly magnificent—at least 10 times the size of our small mid-century home. Since we weren’t part of the VIP reception, we were directed to the backyard where various soft drinks were being served. There we saw a slightly raised stone patio and people (mostly women) standing on the lawn behind a cord. Beyond the lawn was a pool, pool house (a little smaller than our home), and a tennis court. It had rained earlier in the day, so we made our way up to the pool deck, where it was dry.

We were standing there trying to see if anyone famous had arrived, when an older woman in a suit came up and started chatting with us. Turns out she was a high-powered lawyer from Manhattan who now lives here. She wondered if we knew the history of Hancock Park. We may not be welcome inside Bruce Raben’s home, but we have toured (as L.A. Conservancy members, etc.) many houses in the area, so were able to tell her what little we knew.

After about half-an-hour, I noticed an imposing-looking man in a suit, wearing an earpiece, standing outside the tennis court.

“Secret Service,” I said to myself. “Hillary must be here.”

Sure enough, about ten minutes later, a nice young woman came over and suggested that we join everyone else on the lawn. When I balked, her pretty face hardened and I knew then that this was not a request but an order. I realized later that the pool, which was raised a few feet above the yard, was the perfect vantage point for anyone wanting to do Hillary harm.

Local dignitaries in the audience were introduced (L.A. city council members and our hero John Chiang, the state controller who refused to lower state employees’ salaries to minimum wage during California’s recent budget crisis). Next, an event organizer in a black t-shirt (and we got dressed-up!) came out and told us about the first time he met Senator Clinton. And, then, before I knew it, there she was, smiling and waving to everyone from the patio. The crowd (maybe 200 people) went wild.

She thanked us all for our support and talked a bit about the presidential election. She then told us about her campaign to get Democrats across the country elected to the Senate. Hillary looked rested and happy and was, quite frankly, very normal. She didn’t make a speech; instead, she just chatted as if she were among friends. After about 15-20 minutes, she stopped talking and started shaking hands and posing for pictures. I really couldn’t find an excuse to climb over the people closest to her and so watched from afar. As someone standing next to me said, “It’s good enough just being in this backyard with her. I don’t need to shake her hand.”

Hillary schmoozed for quite a while and then waved good-bye. We applauded and cheered—not only because we love her, but also because the gates, which had been sealed shut during the Senator’s appearance, were once again open. When it was safe to do so, we were released to go back out into the world and promote the Democratic ticket.

(Me and a faux Hillary at the Public Library Association conference last March)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Burbank High School

Although I loved high school when I was a teenager, it certainly was not the highlight of my life. Nor was my class (1971) apparently all that memorable since it’s barely mentioned in the recently published history of the school. Still, when a former classmate told me that Burbank High School (BHS) was celebrating its centennial this year, I immediately went to the alumni website and got nostalgic for the good ol’ days.

My family moved to Burbank in the early 1960s. With Lockheed still booming and the studios (Warner Bros., Disney and NBC) churning out hundreds of movies and TV shows in those days, living in a town like Burbank was probably every middle-class American’s dream. Though a mere 15 miles away, our new home seemed galaxies apart from the considerably less affluent El Sereno, our former neighborhood in the heart of Los Angeles.

My sister Vicki and I were excellent students who loved school. We never belonged to any social cliques; nonetheless we had lots of friends and happily participated in high school life. We attended most sports events and, like everyone else, hung-out at Bob’s Big Boy restaurant after games and on weekends. We both moved on, though, soon after graduation and rarely go to Burbank anymore since our father and aunt died.

No wonder then that I was totally mystified when I returned, earlier this month, for the BHS centennial parade and celebration. I parked the car and started walking toward the high school, but for the life of me I couldn’t see its rather distinctive 1960s facade. Had they moved the school?

Then suddenly I noticed a much newer building where our school had been. It was covered in bulldog (our old mascot) banners and I realized BHS had been completely rebuilt! Stunned, I sat on the front steps and waited for the parade to start. A group of much older alums (class of 1958) sat next to me and chatted about homecoming dances and drag-racing down Third St., while I kept my eyes peeled for classmates from my generation.

The parade was sweet—lots of former prom queens and the oldest living alumna (100 years old). Anson Williams (class of 1967), perhaps our most famous graduate and star of the TV show “Happy Days,” got a big round of applause. But the single most popular attraction was Bob’s Big Boy, towed behind on old Ford wagon. Everyone ran to the curb and starting taking snapshots of possibly the most important icon of our youth. I can’t even tell you how many Bob’s hamburgers (back in the days when I was still eating beef!) and french fries I devoured while in high school.

After the parade, I rushed over to the main quad to be part of the first tour of campus. We started at the library—the newest part of the building and the final phase of a reconstruction project that’s taken over ten years to complete. The school is now twice the size it was when Vicki and I went there. The number of students has also doubled—2000 compared to roughly 900 kids in our day. The auditorium, now named after my former drama teacher Deane Wolfson, is the only thing that remains of our old school.

Though I never did run into anyone there from the class of 1971, my visit to BHS ended up being very magical. The students all seemed to love the school and the renovated campus was truly amazing. I felt empowered by our school motto, “PRIDE,” all over again.

Hail Burbank High School! Hail! Hail! Hail!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Brian Wilson

Karen had an extra ticket to the Hollywood Bowl Sunday night, so I went with her to see Brian Wilson’s end-of-summer concert.

Wilson, of course, was the main architect of surfer rock ‘n roll as well as the brilliant mastermind behind the Beach Boys. He had a rather infamous nervous breakdown in the late 1960s and pretty much fried his brain on drugs (subscription and otherwise). Still, he’s managed to outlive his brothers and bandmates, Dennis and Carl Wilson, and continues to create beautiful music, even though his voice is fairly shot. Over the past four decades, I’ve seen him perform on stage more than any other musical artist.

We took the early bus to the Bowl, so we had plenty of time to look around and survey the audience. Most of the people were our age: baby-boomers who, like my sister and me, probably spent their teen summers hanging out in Santa Monica, listening to the Beach Boys on their transistor radios.

There wasn’t an opening act. Instead, the L.A. Philharmonic orchestra was scheduled to play a selection from “The Marriage of Figaro,” a Bach concerto and the overture from George Gershwin’s “Girl Crazy,” before Wilson and his band took the stage.

I called Tim while Karen was in the bathroom.

“It’s a good thing you didn’t come with us, because the Phil is playing ‘The Marriage of Figaro,’ Bach and ‘Girl Crazy’ before Brian comes out,” I told him.

“Gershwin is OK. But Bach and ‘The Marriage of Figaro’?!” he nearly yelled. “That was never part of the deal. Quick! Take a cab and come home right now!”

Well, a little opera never hurt anyone, so I stayed. And thank goodness, too, because there actually was a method to this seeming madness. Turns out Mozart, Bach and Gershwin are Wilson’s favorite composers, so the Bowl decided to include them as part of the celebration.

After the “Girl Crazy” medley, Wilson’s band came out, followed by Brian himself, looking a lot more spry than in the past. He greeted his fans and proceeded to immediately launch into “California Girls,” one of the Beach Boys’ most popular songs. Without missing a beat, the woman sitting directly in front of us leapt out of her seat, ripped off her jacket, and started gyrating in a tight-fitting Hawaiian-print dress. Not only was she (quite literally) the only person dancing in the entire Hollywood Bowl, but her movements were extremely provocative. I swear, all that was missing was a pole! Her poor husband was duly mortified.

Though our view was mostly obscured by the pole dancer’s shenanigans, we ended up having a great time and even got up to dance ourselves during “Help Me Rhonda” and “Johnny B. Goode.” I screamed along to “Fun, Fun, Fun”—SEEMS SHE FORGOT ALL ABOUT THE LI-BRARY, LIKE SHE TOLD HER OLD MAN, NOW! After all these years, Brian still knows how to rock.

The show ended with fireworks as Wilson and his band exited stage right. Summer is now officially over.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Eating Our Way Through the Central Coast

For the past few summers, we’ve taken a short but restful vacation on California’s central coast. We usually rent a house in Shell Beach, go antiquing in Cayucos, and generally hang-out in San Luis Obispo (SLO) and Pismo Beach. But mostly we like to just relax and eat. This year Karen came along with us.

We always go up on Thursday so we can partake in SLO’s enormous farmer’s market—the single best farmer’s market we’ve ever seen, primarily because half the vendors sell barbecued food cooked right there on the street. It is a meat-lover’s paradise.

Even though the farmer’s market doesn’t open until 6PM, we always arrive early to survey our food options. Parking in our secret spot behind the Well’s Fargo bank, we started at the southernmost end of Higuera Street and began walking slowly north, lured by the various smells of sizzling meat. At exactly 6PM (vendors aren’t allowed to sell anything until the market officially opens), we ran over to our favorite pie booth and bought two freshly-baked pies—apple and olallieberry—before they sold-out. We all agreed later that the pies were among the best we’d ever eaten (yum!).

Selecting dessert was easy. But the main course? Not so much. After scrutinizing every barbecue stand along the way, Tim and I finally went back to our usual spot, Mother’s Tavern, for chicken and sausage sandwiches, while Karen continued in search of the perfect pork rib. She was so successful that Tim got ribs, too, as soon as he finished his sausage.

We then went to Bel Frites, a hole-in-the-wall joint that sells Belgian fries, which we followed by going over to Giordano’s for an Italian ice chaser (“bomberry” and limon—yum!). Waddling back to the car, we picked up two loaves of bread, two pounds of tomatoes, a jar of olallieberry jam, and, oh yes, an “Obama for President” bumper sticker. After all, one can never be too prepared in case, say, a nuclear explosion precluded us from returning to L.A.!

Believe it or not, I was actually hungry the next morning and so the three of us strolled up to the Seaside Cafe, a small bakery/coffee shop two blocks from our rental. I ate a berry scone (yum!) while they drank coffee. Back at the house, we broke into one of the loaves of bread and devoured leftover pastries that Tim had brought from breakfast the day before. Funny how the sea air opens one’s appetite!

With nothing much else to do, we drove back to SLO to shop and ogle the town’s famous Bubble Gum Alley, an odd bit of local color recommended by one of my students. Located just off Higuera Street, the alley consists of two walls completely and utterly covered in chewing gum. Although thoroughly disgusting, the sight was also strangely compelling . . . well, for a few minutes at least.

To clear our mental palettes, we headed over to Big Sky, a healthy food cafe started by the chef of the now defunct Kokomo’s, our favorite restaurant when we lived in Park Labrea ten years ago. Anticipating a meat-filled evening ahead, we unanimously opted for vegetarian dishes for lunch (fresh gazpacho soup—yum!) and then returned to Giordano’s for dessert. From there, we drove to a Pismo multiplex, where we saw “Bottle Shock,” a quirky little movie about Napa Valley wine, and counted the hours till dinner.

Every time we vacation on the central coast, people always ask us afterward if we ate at McClintock’s, perhaps the best-known restaurant in the area. We never had, so we decided to give it a try this time.

With five locations, McClintock’s is something of a local institution. I can imagine young couples eating there on prom night or families going there to celebrate landmark events, like 50-year wedding anniversaries or 75th birthdays. We, on the other hand, had no idea what to expect. Turns out, the main dining house, across the freeway from Shell Beach, is similar to Buca di Beppo or any number of “family style” restaurants where quantity is favored over quality. Before we even ordered, a young man brought a basket of onion rings to the table—it was downhill from there. The food was prepared and served in massive quantities and all for a massively big price. Needless to say, we were disappointed, but brought home leftover ribs and potatoes anyway!

I returned to the Seaside Cafe the next morning for one last berry scone (yum!) and then suggested we all walk over to see the ocean once more before leaving town. Just when I thought it was safe to move about the neighborhood, the three of us spied what appeared to be a small farmer’s market at a nearby park. Sure enough, more food galore! I resisted all temptation, but Tim and Karen were immediately drawn to The Eatery, yet another barbecue stand.

“How about a sample?” the female proprietor teased.

“We’re still full from dinner,” Tim answered, holding his stomach. “We ate at McClintock’s last night.”

“McClintock’s? Pfft!” she scoffed. “Let me show you what real tri-tip tastes like!”

And with that, she sliced off samples for both Tim and Karen. (I had already fled). Like playground kids tempted by the school junkie, they were quickly hooked and decided to split a tri-tip sandwich before we hit the road. We also purchased corn chips, strawberries and locally-produced olive oil.

How my poor little Honda Fit managed to carry us, plus all our bootie, back to Los Angeles, I’ll never know. But we piled everything into the car and were back home in plenty of time for dinner.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Labor Day Stay-cation

As usual, we decided to stay in L.A. over the Labor Day weekend. Who needs to travel when there’s so much to do here?

On Saturday, we decided to brave the heat and head east to the Huntington Library to see the “This Side of Paradise” photo exhibit, which ends September 15. The exhibit, comprised of hundreds of famous and not-so-famous photos, succeeds at capturing the essence of Los Angeles from its beginnings to current day. Sure, there were the obligatory snapshots of celebrities posing and doing glamorous as well as silly things (e.g., Marilyn Monroe lifting weights); but the best were of everyday people working and living their lives: a man watering his lawn (ca. 1973); another man holding his baby at the beach (1963); a boy selling newspapers (1943); and porn stars taking a break in Woodland Hills (2002). (“Boogie Nights,” anyone?). My favorite was Michael Light’s enormous landscape of downtown L.A., looking west above the 5, 10, 60 and 101 freeways. The city looks like a giant gray squid entangled in a mass of concrete tentacles. Everyone who loves Los Angeles should see this amazing exhibit.

The next morning, we schlepped to Santa Monica beach, where we read the Sunday paper and watched as surfers tried to catch what little waves there were. The water was flat and glassy—so glassy, in fact, that we saw dolphins swimming among the surfers—something neither of us had ever seen in all our years going to the beach. What a thrill!

En route home, we visited Arlington West, a project of the antiwar group Veterans for Peace, who erect over a thousand crosses every Sunday to commemorate the more than 4,000 soldiers who have died in the Iraq war. The weekly memorial is installed on the beach just north of the Santa Monica pier and is extremely powerful. If anyone needs visual evidence of how wasteful and wrong this war has been, certainly this is it.

On Monday, we just putzed around the house and wished we’d taken the entire week off! Despite the heat, our backyard garden has surprisingly flourished this summer, with some plants actually still blooming. I’m looking forward to re-landscaping the front yard this fall, but that’s a story to be continued . . .

Friday, August 29, 2008

Obama for President

I’ve tried not to make this blog a forum for blatantly promoting my political beliefs, but last night I became a convert and don’t care who knows it!

Still stinging from Hillary’s hard-fought defeat, I began the week rather blasé about the Democratic convention. But when Barack Obama took the stage last night as the first African-American presidential nominee in history, I started to cry and didn’t stop until well after his speech. He was brilliant, inspiring and, I dare say, just may be the most authentic candidate we’ve ever had. I am now fully committed to seeing him become president.

If George Bush accomplished nothing else during his eight years of magnificent incompetence, he at least paved the way for people to realize that now is the time for historic change. Let’s hope the rest of the country agrees and elects Barack Obama as the next president of the United States.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


McGill University
I was invited to present a paper at last week’s International Federation of Library Associations pre-conference at McGill University, so Tim and I packed our passports and headed to Montreal.
Everyone we talked to before leaving insisted that we’d love Montreal because it’s the most European of all Canada’s cities. Well, sure, most of the people there speak French (as well as English) and some of the buildings date back to the 17th century. Still, we felt right at home, as if we were visiting any other large North American city that has subways and historic sites.
Because I was in conference for two solid days, we didn’t do much exploring. But we did spend a day in Vieux-Montreal, the oldest part of the city, located along the St. Lawrence River. There we went inside the magnificent Notre Dame basilica.
We also tried to climb the entire La Tour de l’Horloge clock tower, but I chickened out when we got to the last 50 steps or so—a spiral staircase—too creepy! We stopped just inside the clock, took some pictures, and then headed back down the stairs.
The Clock Tower
We ate breakfast at the Marché Atwater, a permanent farmer’s market located near the Lachine Canal, and had dinner at an East Indian restaurant in The Village, Montreal’s gay community.
I also found time to see the special Yves Saint Laurent exhibit at the fine arts museum a few blocks from our hotel. It was the perfect way to end our brief vacation.
Perhaps my favorite memory, though, will be stumbling upon a small family-run Greek restaurant, where we dined while it gently rained outside. Very European indeed . . .