Tuesday, October 27, 2009

This is It

When I was a teenager, my favorite book was Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. The secret mountain hideaway where the world’s greatest innovators and industrialists disappeared fascinated me to no end.

I couldn’t help but wonder if such a place could exist in our exposure happy society. Rumors that Elvis is still alive made me think of a secret place where people can hide. Ruminations that maybe Jim Morrison didn’t really overdose made my ears wiggle. And now Michael Jackson has a new song. His swan song.

I envision the three of them together now in a secret mountain hideaway. All with their death by drug overdose in common as if that story is just recycled due to lack of imagination or laziness. They could be sipping virgin Pina Coladas in absolute comfort in a place where weather surpasses L.A.’s. What does it matter to them if the story isn’t original?

Of course this is a Rand fantasy. I know that the new song of Michael’s that is sneaking around the internet was recorded and named, “This is It” before his demise. I know that the icons Elvis, Jim and Michael have become are constructs of the entertainment industry. They were rewarded though. They were spoiled, pampered and enabled. It would be hard to imagine the three of them sitting there in their ergonomic chaise lounges discussing health care or the latest version of Halo.

But then again it could happen. I met Michael Jackson once when he was on the cusp of becoming extraordinary. It was chicken that briefly brought us together. He came into the fast food restaurant where I worked. It was closing time.

This was the Michael Jackson right before his album Off the Wall when he still toured with his brothers. This was just a member of a well-known family who lived right around the corner and up the hill. No King of Pop nonsense, no glassy eyed stares and high-pitched voice, no sequined glove. His face was as it should have been, golden brown skin, curly hair, a few inches taller than my 5’7”, regular clothes. He was handsome in an average way, his dark eyes his best feature. His voice was soft, his presence calm, he wasn’t looking for fans to bestow adulation.

Our conversation went something like this:
“I would like the chicken cooked up fresh,” he said.
“It will be 15 minutes or more. We have to reheat the oil vats.”
“I’ll wait,” he said in a way that showed he had patience or maybe he had nothing else to do that night. “And I would like my corn from the back.”
“This is fresher.”
“From the back please.”

The world didn’t collapse when these three left. There’s no doubt they are gone. But a secret utopia does sound nice doesn't it?

Saturday, July 18, 2009


A cool, windless summer morning, as the hot air balloon lifted off the ground, I wondered why I didn’t have any fear. I detest heights. I get dizzy and pull my loved ones away from railings and windows. They could fall through the sky. Yet my father, his wife, my son, the pilot and I floated higher into the arms of the quiet winds’ decisions.

Our ride wasn’t all for pleasure. We had a purpose. I cradled a box inside a blue velvet drawstring bag. My sister Gere’ (Jer-ray) had died unexpectedly from a seizure. She had suffered from them most of her life. An MRI revealed calcified lesions from old brain damage caused by seizing, new lesions showed her current struggle.

My sister’s life was one of great tragedy. Failures from many people sent her on one collision course after another—state hospitals, group homes, street life, behavioral health lock ups. But she always managed a smile and a hug like the maltreated doggie who keeps on loving.

She spent her life hindered by forces beyond her control. So as I looked up at the fire from the propane tank keeping the air hot, the colors of the balloon—blue, red, yellow, violet, green and black, I thought of the rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Ray Charles and Johnny Mathis.

I handed the box to my father, my arms abruptly as light as the balloon. And we watched tiny wild turkeys run around the countryside below while we floated peacefully preparing ourselves for release, for the sense of freedom and letting her go. And in my mind’s sounds Ray and Johnny sang for Gere’: “Where troubles melt like lemon drops/Away above the chimney tops/

That's where you'll find me.”

Somewhere way up high.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


The thing about pitbulls is that they really do bite, cliché’ it seems, like Stephen King’s morphed Cujo. This I experienced firsthand recently. While many insist pits are misunderstood, the reasons why an unprovoked pit will bite and a lab in the same situation just wags its tail is too disturbing for an easy answer.

I don’t ask for drama. I don’t welcome traumatic events. I don’t relish anything about victimhood. Yet, there I was. A UPS man had delivered a package to the wrong address and instead of calling the company and going through all of that, I decided to drop it off on my way home. It was sunny and warm, a typical shorts wearing day. It was late afternoon and this neighborhood, with all manicured lawns, was very quiet.

Grasping the package and starting up the driveway, a yellow lab appeared from the house next door. Friendly lab, no big deal. But the silence caught my attention and out from behind one of the trucks parked next door, a brindle, stout male pitbull, tail straight up, stood in a crouch. He was going to jump me. As instinct, I turned to protect my throat. The pit attacked my left calf. He bit down, punctured it, chewed. I thought that was how I was going to die, torn apart, closed casket guaranteed. And then for some unknown reason he let go. He retreated to his place on his porch, and I to my car.

Trying to prevent even more blood from dripping onto the carpet while dialing the police, I kept saying to myself, “He bit me. A pitbull bit me.” Why? The lab didn’t need lunch. It could have been worse. Stitches wouldn’t be required. A pitbull bit me.

I know about dogs with bad reputations. I used to have a Doberman pinscher. When walking him, people would make an arch to avoid him. I loved that dog. Did I think he would bite unprovoked? So I’m not unsympathetic. But pitbull owners have a responsibility to deal with this issue. Yet does this world need even the possibility of intact male pitbulls escaping from their yards? Pits are misunderstood? I can’t reconcile this.

Especially with what happened next. A friend of the owner arrived, argued with me until I showed him my bloody leg. He called the owner and then proceeded to unload fishing poles from his truck with the dog following him, off leash, with a ball in his mouth. I waited in my car for animal control and the owner to appear, in the heat, my windows rolled down just enough for air but not enough for an irrational pitbull to jump through. I hate being a victim. It ruins a perfectly fine day.

Animal control took the dog for a 10 day mandatory quarantine. The owner couldn’t believe his pit would bite. And I, sigh, had to go to yet another doctor at least 3 times so far, for a tetanus shot, wound cleaning, antibiotics, an injection of an antibiotic and more antibiotics. I am feeling uncertain about going out looking from side to side for something to appear. It’s the look you get when faced with an experience where all control has vanished: the jeep driver who thinks he can blow a stop sign, the restaurant that allows their food to sit out too long to grow bacteria and then serve it, the ones who think it can all be undone with a little doggie treat.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Snake Oil

Layered with years of exhaust from the adjacent freeway, the Holiday Inn stood like a symbol of another time. A time when the hotel was fancier before other more modern and pricier hotels took up space. Now it was old, but still a place where a nice enough conference room could be procured at a cheaper rate. It looked exactly like the recession we are experiencing.

A tall, slender woman, a former runway model whose face had been re-sculpted a few times guarded the hall’s door. Her fake blonde hair hung stylishly, but thinly over her shoulders. Her practiced, automated role of greeter further entrenched her as an aging Barbie doll.

What was I doing there? Why didn’t I leave? I registered and found a seat in the second row. The audience members spoke to each other quietly, or sat there waiting. There were probably a hundred people.

The announcer introduced the day’s speaker as someone with fantastic teaching skills. He told us how fortunate we were to have him lead the workshop. I guess not all audiences are so privileged. I was expecting to learn how to become a more informed investor so I was encouraged. Not that I had much to invest. But knowledge could only help which was the reason I decided to give this whole thing a chance.

This teacher looked as if he wore a hair piece. He had the man-in-his-50’s paunch. He took off his suit jacket sweating profusely after only five minutes. When he turned to walk away, I could see the cellulite through his pants’ material. He spoke rapidly about candle sticks, blue and red lines, and making money. He wanted us to think of him as our “daddy.” Huh?

He introduced his wife, the aging Barbie doll, who strolled down the aisle and onto the stage, smiling, thrilled to turn her feet just so to show off her black boots. She wanted to instruct the “ladies” about how to have the shallowest relationship as possible. She told us to know what’s in all his accounts, keep him thinking the new outfit was old, make him feel that she will be the beneficiary of all his assets when she divorces him or he dies—whatever comes first. But most importantly, take control of the finances by learning the stock market. It was if she was having her own mini Norma Rae moment. She threw her shoulders back, head up, obviously proud of how inspirational she was. She nodded in triumph and marched off the stage.

The teaching, a review of stock market trends, the current downturn, the optimism that things will turn around started to fade into an infomercial. When Mr. Daddy told us the techniques that initially were shown to us to convince us to come to the workshop were not of much use, everything became clear.

When he showed us a tricky technique instead, he didn’t want anyone to ask any questions. But someone really wanted to know if it was legal. Mr. Daddy could not give a definitive answer. This type of scheme was a micrometer shy of a scam. And I had a thought—maybe the recession we’re in now is because such manipulations and street-fair magician illusions are one big reason everyone has lost so much of their 401ks.

Towards the end, husband and wife gave us the price list for their training course--$24,000. They wanted to make clear that the course was on sale.

I put away my notebook, told the registrars to erase my name from their lists and left. I had to think long and hard about why I was that desperate to get as far as I did and waste a Saturday on such nonsense. Luckily it was a rainy day.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Lessons from the Past

Fall 1978

I recall a moment the afternoon before the evening an aunt of mine died of colon cancer. I had spent the previous couple of weeks visiting her while trying to come to a decision about a boyfriend of mine. Every day I woke up and greeted her. She was always wide awake, her colorful scarf around her head, her fingers working as fast as possible. She wanted to finish as many granny squares as possible for an afghan she wanted to leave for her son.

I wanted to open the windows, even though it was November. She wanted them closed along with the curtains. I searched around for that neurotic kitten that would ping pong off of the walls and land up on the curtain rod waiting until the perfect moment to leap onto anyone who sat in the chair next to the couch.

The odor that permeated the apartment was like a dense, stagnant swamp. When her skin, once so creamy, turned to a dried, dark mustard tone, she agreed to put down her crochet hook and check into the hospital. She did this for our comfort mainly.

That afternoon, I had to make my seven hour drive home; I had to return to my job and her immediate family needed to have her to themselves. On the way out of town, I stopped by the hospital.

Gingerly, I sat on the side of her bed trying to help her brush her teeth. I couldn’t figure out why having a clean mouth mattered any longer. I was 18. I was in a worry over a boyfriend.

My aunt saw me wince and move to help her in a helpless kind of way when she moaned in pain. She held my hand.
“Do you have any questions?” she asked.
“The questions I have, you can’t answer yet.”
She smiled. Her bones were about all that were left of her body.

When there wasn’t anything else that could possibly be said, I stood up to leave, shoulders back, strong for her. I had always said to people, “See you later.” But I gently squeezed her hand, set it down beside her and said, “Good-bye” hating the sound of it. I made it down the corridor, down the elevator, but as soon as I entered the restroom off the lobby, my tears released uncontrollably.

I always wondered if she would have been here longer if she would have insisted on telling her doctors of her symptoms or if the doctors knew what questions to ask a soft-spoken woman who cared so deeply for her family, but was too shy and embarrassed to speak of her body.

By the time she did speak up, it was too late.

Saturday, February 21, 2009



This is a commercial interruption. I can’t stop shaking my head over this weird octuplets case. I don’t watch TV very often, but lately when I turn it on, this story blasts in my face. There are many things amiss in this as we know. The very first one is the media’s frenzy over it: all the entertainment shows, all the morning shows, and that bothersome man Dr. Phil who I heard is very tall. Then there is the mother, Nadya Suleman. She is the epitome of how this celebrity culture has degraded into delusion. What a zoo.

Reality is as follows:
A) This mother of 14 children does not look at all like Angelina Jolie. She looks like Nadya Suleman distorted.

B) Nadya Suleman has a mother who is so desperate to get these people out of her house, she tells the world that although she has been taking care of the 6 children, she resents every single minute of it and wants them out.

C) So far these children have not experienced any model parenting which explains a lot about why Nadya is as she is.

D) Nadya Suleman’s doctor, Michael Kamrava, probably suffers from stress, which according to medicine as it has been presented to me, explains everything. How could he implant 8 embryos and smile about this upsetting outcome? Stress.

E) Gloria Allred has teamed up with an organization called Angels in Waiting who is offering a very sweet deal. But it would require the paparazzi to chase someone else and Ms. Suleman’s lips to deflate while she changes diapers and perhaps learns skills her mother never bothered to teach her.

F) These 14 children need care: diapers, milk, love, therapy, more love. They need to feel as if they matter more than being a mere opportunity for their mother to have her picture taken and showered with riches.

G) If all proceeds went straight to the children and their care, this world would be a good place for them. But so far this is about the media profiting on a story of a delusional woman who has stepped into her celebrity magazines and is walking around in them with her new pair of sunglasses.

H) That’s all I will say about it. From here on out, if the story is not an in-depth piece about how these children have received care, about how they are the focus and are thriving, I will not watch, read or talk about it. Sorry Dr. Phil and Ms. Allred.