December 31, 2009

one-eyed willie and the boys, part 1 of 3

By a fluke, three Sundays in a row I cleaned the boys’ building. The first Sunday I cleaned like I normally do, chatting with the dogs as I went. The next Sunday some of the same panting faces greeted me and we discussed some more. The third Sunday I was legitimate friends with some of the dogs in the boys’ building, like a tiny Pit Bull puppy with one eye. His name was “One-Eyed Willie” from the movie The Goonies, bestowed by the county dog catcher who found him. Willie was a brindle color and wore one of those huge plastic funnel collars that prevented him from pulling out the stitches in his empty eye socket, sewn up by the shelter veterinarian when Willie arrived. Willie was in good spirits, though his funnel collar was dirty and disgusting so I brought the little guy to the play area in the rear of the shelter and let him run around while I cleaned it. That night I laid in bed and worried that I might not have done such a good job of putting the collar back on him, which would have been unfortunate if the little guy prematurely tore out his stitches. The next afternoon I returned to the kennel and found Willie without the funnel collar completely. He pulled it off during the night, and in the morning kennel workers found he hadn’t pawed at his face so they decided he didn’t have to wear it anymore. So maybe everything worked. I told him so. He was pure excitement when I talked to him.
I figured Willie would be adopted before anyone. A one-eyed puppy in a dog pound seemed adorable to me, but I was wrong.

Here's the next part.

December 30, 2009

back as volunteer

after speaking with a decision-maker, la county will make an exception to its policy of prohibiting volunteers from working at animal shelters on sundays and allow me to continue working on sunday mornings. i'm very grateful. it's not often anyone is willing to make exceptions to policies designed to make life easier for officials with large incomes.

December 27, 2009

no more volunteering

i've volunteered on sundays for two-and-a-half years at an overcrowded los angeles county animal shelter where i help the undermanned staff clean dog kennels and fill up water bowls. i've volunteered on sundays because the shelter is closed to the public on sundays and thus county managers reduce staff in order to save money. this is typical in the business. reduced staff means animals sometimes wait for hours for their cleanings and food in excrement-filled kennels. it's sad but hey, that's why the county has a volunteer program: to help out what is obviously an overcrowded and underfunded shelter system. this morning, however, i was informed of a new policy at the carson animal shelter: no more volunteering on sundays. go home.

this is the same shelter sued recently by an animal rescuer  over deplorable conditions for the animals. unfortunately, those who make the decisions at america's largest animal shelter system aren't interested in what might benefit or hurt the animals and hourly staff hustling to keep up in back. decisions have to do with covering one's ass and reducing paperwork. i'm going to request an official explanation this week as to why i can't help with cleaning on sunday mornings and why other volunteers can't walk dogs on sunday afternoons. i can't wait to hear the forward-thinking reasoning behind the new policy.

December 23, 2009


for much of the day, festivus, from seinfeld, was the top yahoo search term. the episode was from 1997. frank costanza returns to celebrating the holiday he invented in order to protest the commercialization of the christmas season. then i found out there's actually a festivus party somewhere. what an iconic show seinfeld was that people are still watching the reruns -- not excluding myself, less periodically than i would ever admit to -- and making festivus a top search term 12 years later.

December 18, 2009

35 cents for a local call

at the moment, i'm living in room #33 of a family-run motel on the beach in hermosa. the phone in my room doesn't work so well, and i find myself making phone calls at the pay phone outside the liqour store down the street. i was so tickled to have found a working pay phone in 2009 that i don't mind at all a pocket full of change. maybe i ought to put some minutes on my my cell phone plan, but the pay phone routine is working well enough, so far. it's funny the things we find nostalgic. other things that surprisingly bring on that sweet, nostalgic feeling: the glenn miller band (the soundtrack of my early childhood), holding a baseball in my hand, jams, and the irritating feeling of putting my only dime in a pay phone that doesn't register the coin and keeps returning it in the change slot.

December 16, 2009

to morning sun

the sun sets over the pacific and the sky god pulls out his paintbrush
the caterpillar settles down to sleep and will never wake up the same
who else can breath life into a tree in april in michigan?
in some way
the wheel keeps turning
my autumn love has turned
into my winter flame
where every beautiful woman reminds me of her body
i can see through a keyhole in the sky
to the outer wall of the universe
look what’s happening!
the dusting of sand on the sidewalk is really
fingernail filings from the god of love
sprinkling a holy carpet
for her feet
the wings on my back do not feel weird at all
my old friends from ancient times returning
for yet another incineration
and reincarnation of

December 9, 2009

Where's the size?

So Tiger Woods had a stable of gorgeous women, something like nine so far. What I don’t understand is, if a man has a rotation of nine women going, or a string of nine, don’t ya want a larger ass in there somewhere? I mean, I'm a fan of athletic bodies for sure, but over the course of nine women, how about a decent-sized ass in there somewhere? At the very least for a change of pace. Maybe more than one. And isn't Tiger part black?

December 7, 2009

Dreamland Christmas

I was playing with his army action figures in a battle over the oil stains on the garage floor when I looked upward toward the loft and knew—just knew—that my Christmas presents were stashed up there.
This was September. The sun was out. The garage was stuffy. Christmas wasn’t on anyone’s mind. I hadn’t figured on hunting for Christmas presents for another couple months, largely because there was nothing as exhilarating as finding Christmas presents on a November sweep. My yearly searches of the house included his parents’ closets, both of them, the attic, under their bed, under the basement stairs, behind the furnace and in the toilet tanks. I was thorough.
It had in fact been many years since I was surprised on Christmas morning at what I received as opposed to my normal routine of faking surprise because I had managed to locate the presents several weeks earlier. I was greedy in this way, clearly, but nevertheless wished it somehow possible to experience genuine surprise when opening presents on Christmas morning. More important than this seasonal daydream, however, was stumbling upon this new hiding place.
I hauled a ladder over and climbed up into the dusty loft where I found a giant robot that doubled as a storage case for ten brand new action figures. And then I found another ten action figures behind a present that appeared to be something resembling a book. Twenty-action figures! I hauled them down and began a massive war over the rich “oil pits” of the garage floor. It was a glorious battle featuring the new action figures versus the old ones. No action figures came back to life. When someone got hit, he was out of the battle. This was the sort of serious war to find out which set of action figures could claim dominance. An hour and 36 casualties later, the war was on the verge of being settled when my mother poked her head in.
“What the f--- Where did you get that?”
I had not yet developed an answer that would satisfy this question when mom matter-of-factly informed him that the toys would be returned to the store.
Without finishing the epic battle over the oil pits, I packed up the new action figures inside the robot and returned them to the loft. I didn’t even secretly pocket a single action figure and informed my mother of this good deed, a gesture I hoped would earn me the right to keep the presents I found that day.
Instead, my mother said, “You’re going to get nothing but books this year.”
“No!” I said. “Take the books back too! I was playing with the books too! I swear!”
No use. I watched my mother and father haul the toys out of the loft the next day and drive off. They returned and told me that the new presents were being stored in the loft, and if I wanted to ruin my surprise I could sneak a peek. So that’s what I did, later in the evening while my parents were watching TV. In the loft, I found a stack of books. But something didn’t seem right. It all seemed like a decoy.
I wasn’t an idiot.
The next weekend I did a more thorough search of the house, beginning with the toilet tanks. In my father’s closet, I found more books and two—just two!—action figures.
It was a gloomy day indeed. I moped around in sadness. A few weeks later I did another check of the house and garage to see if my parents had added anything worthwhile to the books, but they hadn’t. Final sweeps a week before Christmas revealed only that the stacks of books were wrapped in wrapping paper. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t deserve this. I was a good boy, for the most part. But I was also finally accepting that I had been defeated.
Maybe I was in fact getting what I deserved.
On Christmas day I woke up later than ever but still well before my parents. I moped downstairs and found a present under the tree that didn’t look like a stack of books. I ripped the wrapping paper off. It was the robot! With the 20 action figures inside! I screamed for joy as my parents staggered into the living room covering their ears.
“Where’d you hide it?” I asked.
“In the trunk of the car,” my father answered, more proud of the hiding spot than anything.
The rest of the day featured a big battle between the action figures over the property surrounding and including the Christmas tree. Old action figures versus new ones. For hours they fought. I didn’t notice my parents watching from the dining room. Only a wish come true can send a kid that far off into dreamland.

September 7, 2009

The Boxer

Well, I won my sparing match the other night…Yes, that’s a joke. I don’t win anything when I box. I survive, at best. I box for the benefit of the workout and not to train for a real fight, but I can’t resist a round in the ring. Then I get in the ring, cover up pretty quick and remember that I’m not suppose to get Concussion #21 under doctors’ orders (and more importantly, common sense’s reminder), so what the hell am I doing here?? There was, however, a moment in that sparing round, about seven seconds into it when I threw a straight left that connected (with something). If I had any power behind that punch, if I had instincts to follow one punch with another, that half-second of glory might have turned into two or three seconds of glory. So basically, I was the deranged idiot leaving the ring at the end of the round with a busted face giggling wildly, lost in a day dream of three seconds of potential glory when all I really did was punch my opponent’s shoulder squarely.

August 17, 2009


When I swim in the ocean here in Southern California, I have to combat my Midwest tendencies to fear sharks in the water. Lots of people have this fear. It’s all Jaws-related. Even the Pacific’s gentle telepathic reassurances that she will protect me don’t totally erase my fear of sharks. But this swimming season, I have done pretty well, swimming out past where my feet can touch the bottom, trusting the mighty sea, and never being let down. Then I took my 5-year-old niece to the beach recently and while she was running from the tide on shore and screaming with glee, I waded out into the water. A young man with bronzed skin and a boogie board standing with his girlfriend stopped me. “Hey man, I wouldn’t go out there,” he said. “I’ve never said this to anyone before,” he continued, “but there’s a shark out there.”

“C’mon,” I said while my niece screamed and eluded another wave racing toward her.

“I’m from California,” he said, “I’m a beach bum. I’m always here. But I was out there just now and saw this huge shadow swim right next to me. For real..”

His girlfriend was really pretty..

“Will you protect me?” I telepathically asked the ocean.

“You will be protected,” she answered.

I shrugged to the young man, caught a look of shock in his girlfriend’s eyes and had one of my most pleasant swims. From the water I listened to my niece shriek with joy on shore and, after dunking my head underwater to see for massive, fast-moving shadows coming my way, heard the ocean laughing hysterically at me.

August 3, 2009

No Petruchio

I plain-old don’t like plays, and it has nothing to do with the plays themselves.

This odd aversion to live performances began after I purchased eight tickets to see the play Taming of the Shrew.

Mind you, I didn’t attend a single performance with seven other people. No, I bought eight tickets, two at a time, and saw the play only once.

The first gal I got the tickets for was studying paleontology at the time. I dated her for a week. For me, it was one of those sugar-sweet weeks like a tropical island fantasy. For her, it felt more like the Ice Age.

I bought the tickets for a Saturday afternoon show and waited inside the theatre lobby for her. And I waited—and waited..

She was an hour and a half late, and when she pulled up in front, she didn’t even bother getting out of her car to meet me inside.

“Am I late?” she said as I opened the car door and moved her groceries off the passenger’s seat so I could sit down.

“Nooooooo problem,” I said, bright-eyed and happy that she showed up at all. “I bought two tickets for next weekend. We can go then!”

But she didn’t want to go next weekend. She just wanted to be friends. So I was stuck with the next weekend’s tickets. I called a few female friends but none could go. I stopped calling around because, well, I had run out of female friends. So that’s two sets of tickets that I bought and pitched down the drain.

The third set of tickets I picked up with the idea that I’d surprise my next love interest on a first date. Over spaghetti and olive oil, I popped the question: Did she like plays?

“Definitely,” she said. “Just not Taming of the Shrew. I just saw it.”

So I took her to see the only movie that wasn’t sold out that Saturday night or featuring a plot line about college kids having way more sex than I was having. We ended up seeing Aladdin. Behind us sat a family with something like 19 kids. A little boy kept asking if we were “boy-fend en gir-fend.” My date stressed that we were only friends.

I should have simply gone to the play alone, and appreciated the fact that I was becoming fast friends with the ticket agent. But I bought another pair of tickets and invited yet another date. She accepted and we actually saw Taming of the Shrew. We both enjoyed it. But what she didn’t enjoy was when I announced over dinner that my lobster tail was, and I think the exact words were “an obvious scam” because it cost $25 and ya’ couldn’t even eat both sides.

When I dropped her off at her apartment, she was reaching for the passenger door handle before I even stopped my car.

“This isn’t even your block yet,” I said as she waved goodbye to me.

So I don’t like plays. There’s no point in seeing ‘em.

July 20, 2009

Getting life right for ten minutes, tops

Nothing puts things into perspective like a handicapped kid.

I would have guessed this boy was about 14. He wore a blue parka and was talking to his mother. Well, actually, he didn’t really talk as much as he groaned his words, the way deaf people do who try to speak. He held his arms close to his body with his elbows and wrists bent at acute angles, as if they were broken. With black-rimmed glasses, white tennis shoes and jeans from someplace like Sears or Montgomery Ward, he stood with his weight on one leg.

I was drinking a hot chocolate and stopped at a rain-splattered park bench and watched this mother and son. They were beautiful, facing each other under the battleship gray sky.

The boy mumbled loudly.

His mom nodded.

He mumbled some more.

His mom said something—I don’t know what—but whatever it was, it was said lovingly, protectively.

They both turned and walked by me.

Why was this boy born this way and not me?

Suddenly, things I took for granted in life glittered with value and roared into my thoughts like surf. I forgot about those monthly bills I can barely keep up with and remembered that I haven’t called my sisters in a while. I forgot about the dog food I had to buy on my way home that night and remembered that I hadn’t told someone how wonderful she is.

Life is never so pure and simple as it is after encountering someone who, by chance, inherited a mutated gene. The boy in the parka must have drawn the short straw when they were handing out DNA sequences.

The boy in the parka will never have the chance to talk back to a teacher and whimper in detention, score 12 points in a row in a basketball game, work a summer job climbing ladders, buy his first car and accuse his mechanic of ripping him off.

If he could step out of his handicapped body and brain for just a moment, what would he tell us normal folks about how we should live our lives in the brief time we have left?

I drank down my hot chocolate and resumed my walk back to work. By the time I got there, the rain was falling and I was wet. I had my phone out to call someone and tell her how wonderful she is. But I had to get to work, and figured I’d call later, which I didn’t do.

So quickly I had forgotten about the boy in the parka, and I guess life wasn’t so clear anymore.

July 6, 2009

True Love . . . or something like it

This story is about finding meaning, and maybe even love.

My friend Jerry was driving his paneled minivan to a local pub when his cell phone rang. He studied the caller ID before answering.

“Heeeey,” he said into the phone. “We’re on our way. We’ll be right there. We’re like, two minutes away.”

Actually, Jerry was more like ten minutes away, and he kept talking into the cell phone and driving.

Jerry went to college and got a communications degree, and at the time, was dating a gal studying to be a pediatrician. Then Jerry dropped out of law school after two months and not too long after that, the gal studying to be a pediatrician dropped him.

“Just wasn’t for me, being a lawyer,” Jerry explained at the time.

Since dropping out of law school, Jerry has kicked around some, working different jobs—nothing he especially liked and nothing he figured on doing for very long. But he has been working those in-between jobs for almost eight years now: video store clerk, temp worker, sales, temp worker again.

Lately, he was thinking about getting his teaching certificate and said he’ll make a decision about that this summer. He believed strongly that there was something out there in this world he was born to do, and he hoped to figure it out sooner rather than later.

At the time Jerry was working at a downtown Chicago insurance firm, emailing contracts and claim forms out to clients. And he filed the manila folders that other workers who wear suits piled on his desk.

When things were slow at the insurance firm, Jerry often surfed the Web, looking at different job listings online. And he compiled his league’s fantasy baseball statistics. He sent out updates every week, but he was in last place, so he was on his way to losing interest and stopping the compilation of stats near the All-Star Break, like he did last year.

He was a temp worker for almost a year at that insurance company.

While he was a temp, Jerry had turned down plenty of opportunities to get on permanent at the insurance company because, well, he knew that if he did that, he might have ended up at that insurance company for good.

And Jerry didn’t want to end up there.

“It might be different if I was married and had kids,” Jerry said.

No sir, Jerry doesn’t have any kids. No yet. But he did have Ansel Adams posters and every CD John Melloncamp ever put out, including the ones when his name was John Cougar Melloncamp.

Since college, Jerry had dated a handful of women. They all made more money than him, and those relationships never lasted long.

“It’s just a fact,” Jerry said, “that when you’re not totally happy about where you’re at professionally, it affects you personally, I think.”

So Jerry clicked off his cell phone and pulled in the pub’s parking lot, and she was waiting for him at the front door. They high-fived.

Inside, they took their coats off, and she ordered a draft of light beer and he ordered a vodka cranberry.

She was tall, taller than Jerry, and wearing a black tank top with a thicket of roses tattooed along the small of her back. Jerry was wearing a light blue plaid shirt with a white undershirt.

When they talked, she twirled her long, brown hair around her pointer finger, and he nodded a lot and raised his eyebrows when she spoke.

A couple of times, they tried to include Jerry’s friend in the conversation, But it was hopeless.

Jerry’s friend asked her what she did for a living.

“Nothing really,” she said, and smiled.

“I’m just ‘temping’ downtown. That’s how I met Jerry. I work in the same building he does.”

June 15, 2009

True friend as valuable as money


Sometimes they’re infuriating, sometimes they’re never on time, and sometimes they won’t even lend you money.. But true friends are always around, no matter where they are. When you need them, you can find them.

Friends—the kind that listen instead of waiting to speak—those kind of friends, they’re life’s mile markers.

Other friends come and go, like the friend at work or the one at the bar or the lunch friend.

But true friends…

True friends tell you when you’re wrong.

They’ll say when you’re pig-headed. They’ll stop you when you’re being defensive. They’ll sympathize when you’re sad. And they’ll definitely tell you when your shirt just doesn’t go with your pants. That’s how it’s supposed to work, anyway. And I think eventually, a true friend will come around and tell you those things. Someone who’s not a true friend will never say them or ever lend you money.

True friends don’t play shrink and ask you, “How does that make you feel?” They know how you fell because they actively listen and can figure it out.

They don’t play it cool.. Ultimately, no one in this world is especially cool, and with true friends you can comfortably be uncool.

True friends tell you when you’re working too hard. They’ll tell you when you’re not sleeping enough. They’ll tell you that your laugh is annoying and you’re just being lazy.

They tell you when you don’t have any control over a situation, when you’re being strong, when you have to be stronger, and when you can’t borrow anymore money.

True friends have the confidence to laugh at you, without paying lip service and insist they’re laughing with you.

I suppose time is a valuable element when it comes to making friends. The longer you spend with someone, the stronger the bond.

Sometimes, though, true friendship is forged over a short period of time through the fire of a difficult experience, like men who go to war together or police officers’ partners.

I had a teacher in high school who would tell us that if we made just one true friend—just one—then we’ve come out on top in life.

“True friends,” he would say waving his finger in the air like a wand. “Truly true friends are more rare that you people think.”

We’d listen and sneak glances at each other and roll our eyes. Back in school, each of us had so many “friends” we thought that anyone who valued having just one friend was a major loser.

But as they years have passed, the lunch friends have fallen away and the work friends have been left behind—and the bar friend isn’t at that bar anymore, just like you aren’t at that bar anymore.

I suppose that’s how life is.

I bring this whole friends discussion up because I went to a carnival recently. You know the scene: carnival rides, geeks at the microphone, sticky cotton candy fingers and the smell of popcorn and pizza everywhere. For me, the best thing about the carnival was watching all the young kids hanging with their friends, running around and playing games.. Most were in large groups although some were with a single pal.

I myself was with a single friend, and then I met another one later.

It was about then that I realized I’m becoming what I used to think was a “major loser.”

The “friend” count may be lower for me than it was, but I suppose the “true friend” count is more clear for me now that I’m older. And that’s a good thing—because to play all those games at the carnival that I played, my friend had to lend me a lot of money.

June 1, 2009

The Romantic

A romantic evening for a guy means faking it. Honest.

If a guy is totally honest about a fun time, he’d invite a girl to play Nintendo into the wee hours of the morning surrounded by Chee-tos and Ding Dong wrappers. Or he’d think convenience and drive her to Home Depot on an errand for some plumber’s putty. They could talk on the way, of course.

My buddy Kevin “The Big Ragu” once leveled with a girl just five minutes after meeting her.

“You wanna go cruisin’?” he asked her, leaning against a wall with one hand, the other knuckle-deep in the back pocket of his skin-tight black jeans.

“You know, up and down Harlem,” he wooed.

Needless to say, Ragu rode his Schwinn home alone that night.

You see? That’s what we got for being honest. So we sell out, for the girl’s sake.

We take off our “ET” T-shirts for a night and ask her to do something she would like, such as a candlelit dinner followed by a three-hankie movie.

Ragu says he never brings flowers to a girl on a first date and no one ever should. I know what he means. Once, my date’s entire extended family squeezed into the foyer with disposable cameras for the flower hand-off. That was all I needed to nix that $7.99 embarrassment in perpetuity.

Another Ragu rule is always position your date in line with the restaurant TV (and always take her to a restaurant with a TV). By re-focusing you eyes, your attention can go from the Sox game to her face almost instantly.

“Listening,” Ragu said with air-quotes, “is all about reacting to different tones in her voice.”

Like Ragu says, when speaking to a girl, a fella should emphasize the positive. Put a little spin on inescapable facts, such as I’ve only been living with my mom for four and a half years. Or I easily make over $12,000 a year.

It’s no surprise then that the movie is the relief period of the date for the guy; he doesn’t have to keep up his end of the conversation anymore. He just hopes she’s sharing the arm rest with him when the credits roll.

When Ragu drops her off at the end of the evening (if he has borrowed his father’s car), he throws the car in park immediately and unsnaps his seatbelt confidently. If she bolts, she bolts. If the car is still idling ten minutes later and the passenger door hasn’t opened yet, there’s your romance right there.