Sunday, May 29, 2005

What's So Funny 'Bout Reading, Writing, and Lordzim?

Tutoring. Sometimes it's the highlight of my week -- and that's not always a reflection on the week. Today, for example, I spent the first hour teaching vocabulary to two unusually smart little brothers named Chris (sixth grade) and Victor (eighth grade). Their dad is a plumber and their mom is a babysitter. Some words Chris and Victor learned today: nonchalant and apathetic (perfect words to teach middle school kids), appraise and apprise (and how they differ), circumspect, palatable, audacity, surreptitious, and reverberate. Charged with using them in sentences, Chris wrote "It reverberated in the bathroom when I flushed the toilet." Meanwhile, another kid who comes in every week just won a spelling bee.

Helping above-average kids optimize their minds is among the best things I've ever done. Chris and Victor's superior intellects might have gone unattended in crowded inner-city classrooms, but they've been benefiting from A.'s tutoring sessions for years. Working with them, I have a very clear sense of changing their lives, however minutely. Even if they are nonchalant and try to appear apathetic, I'm sure the work reverberates. It has to -- we help them one-on-one, instead of letting them moulder in classes of 30 or more.

We were having so much fun today (well, I was, and they played along), that another kid at the same table seemed to want to join in. He'd look up forlornly from his half-dozen addition problems and just watch us. After an hour on vocabulary, Chris and Victor and I agreed we were done -- too much of a good thing -- and once they'd rousted a board game I started working with the other Chris.

The change of pace was startling. He's in fourth grade and way behind in language arts and math. We painstakingly read a very short story -- he needs help with pronunciation and basic reading -- and while the work wasn't as much fun, it was just as challenging and rewarding, if not more.

I've mentioned tutoring a few times here, but never in such detail. I've also told most of my friends how rewarding and easy it is. But none of them -- save K., who tried it a few times but didn't cotton to it -- has shown up. Yet it's conveniently scheduled and located, requires just two hours a week, and provides the invaluable feeling that we're changing the world, one underprivileged kid at a time. It sure beats a beer high.

If you live in LA, you can come to St. Agatha's at Mansfield and Adams, just off the 10 Freeway, any Saturday from 2-4pm or any Thursday from 7-9pm. If you don't live in L.A., improvise or find something online. Most any inner-city kid could use your help.


Friday, May 27, 2005

Encore Encore

Longtime readers may recall a reference to Sonny Rollins (3/18) at Disney Hall, one of many performances negligently described in the annals of Lordzim.

Expanding on the theme of encores and demanding audiences, K. writes,
When we saw Sonny Rollins the crowd was clapping so hard several palms were bleeding, but he came out the side door and made a perfectly expressive gesture. A gesture that said: "I'm just glad I made it through the evening. Please go home so I can take my teeth out and go to bed!"
And they did. Let the record show he'd already served up at least one encore, maybe two. When a guy that old tells you he's done, he's done. Especially after he's played like a man half his age for as many minutes as years he's been alive.

OK, here's the audience participation moment: Send me your best encore stories and I'll post them.


Thursday, May 26, 2005

Kultur Week in Review: Early Edition

Traffic is in freefall, so it's about time I logged the week's cultural activities. Since that's what you come here for, after all. The Lord Zim Culture Report. And you are in luck. Not one not two but three count 'em three fancypants nights out.

Monday: Following a breezy, chatty little pre-show reception for season ticket holders, we attended the last Green Umbrella event of the season: "Conductor's Choice" with Peter Lieberson. No notes on this one. Why not? Because I can do whatever I want here, that's why not. A minor observation: As Lieberson led the 25-piece ensemble through his own Horn Concerto, the French horn star by his side, I watched the other French horn player, stuck at the back of the stage, in a funk and a row all his own. Or so I imagined. I couldn't stop wondering how the workaday horn player was feeling about playing second -- fiddle? -- to a horn star. A horn star playing the shiniest brass instrument ever.

Tuesday: dark.

Wednesday: Rush tix for a high-concept dance piece called "Play Without Words." Amazing. Funny, erotic, graceful, violent -- all the best adjectives. Plus the cliché adjectives: smoky, jazzy, cool. The story, based on Joseph Losey's 1963 film "The Servant," is fairly straightforward, as K observed, but the treatment is extraordinary for a few reasons. At any given time, each of the five main characters may be represented by up to three dancers at once. Three guys wearing the same suit and three women wearing the same dress trade partners and enact different attitudes, specific moments, and even possible outcomes, underscoring how complex life can be despite our need -- thanks, laws of physics! -- to wrap results up neatly. I usually like to say that there's no control group on a life, but in this piece, there sort of is.

A wizardly two-story structure on the stage combines two very different styles of staircases, two doors, and a variety of pipes and open areas that serve as apartment vestibule, subway car, peep show gallery, hiding place, and so on. And it revolves. Watching the sultry dancers strut down a revolving staircase is just one of the many pleasures of the piece. And no, there is no dialogue at all.

I'd go on, but I'm boring myself. I might as well just hold up a card that says "9.8," reiterate my endorsement, and move on to tonight's diversion. It's closing Sunday, so hurry if you're interested.

Speaking of interest, I had no interest in watching classical pianist Christopher O'Riley play his solo piano transcriptions of songs by Elliott Smith and Radiohead at UCLA's Royce Hall, but a friend did and her boyfriend didn't, so she called me. She knows I'm a goer. A good egg. A sport. And she was paying.

A few remarkable things:

1. I'm not the world's most punctual guy, but I've never seen so many people show up late. The audience -- 20s and 30s, wearing frowns and current hair -- kept flooding in between songs, long after the point at which people are usually all there. I figured they were unaccustomed to a hard start time; A. surmised they'd expected an opening act. Comical. The worst of it was that just as the lights dimmed we had scuttled about six rows forward from our mediocre $32 seats (!), so with every new influx of legitimate ticket-holders we wondered if our subterfuge would be laid bare. It wasn't, but the rustling of tardy passers-by was no picnic.

And what about all that yelling? I know, I'm a curmudgeon, but if you want to whoop at a show, go see System of a Down.

2. But Yogi, what about the music? O'Riley is very good technically -- occasionally amazing -- and a genuine fan of both acts, but I found the actual music to be overdone and often dull, even verging on smooth jazz at times in the Elliott Smith half of the show. Radiohead offered richer and more challenging source material, so I was able to stop thinking how easily he might break into "Piano Man."

3. Encores. No, not three encores. More like four or even five. I don't know; we left after three. It's not as though another encore was likely to add anything by then. Though it did break my record for number of encores witnessed. More on that below.

Interesting gimmick, good job thinking of it, great job monetizing it. But I've had my fill. You, however, can buy the beautifully assembled book of his Radiohead transcriptions for piano online. A mere three-score simoleons.

Regarding my broken record: Until tonight, I'd never seen anyone return to burn more times than John Cale did 20-some years ago after an exhausting, exorcistic show he played at the World Famous Whisky-a-Go-Go on the Sunset Strip. He and his band had rocked for well over two hours, sweat was dripping off the ceiling, the floor was shaking, and the crowd would not let him stop. These days, people barely clap long enough to let the performers escape the hot lights with some dignity (and maybe that's because I'm going to all these senior citizen venues and skipping the Fugazi shows), but back then, on that Hollywood night, John Cale's fans were adamant.

The band willingly played an encore or two and then, five minutes of clapping and stomping and hooting later, they came out grudgingly for another. And that still wasn't enough. We felt history was being made -- his great rock record "Honi Soit" was just out, the venue was historic, and the show was lasting longer than anybody had imagined it might. The clapping and stomping continued. Finally, several minutes later, Cale returned to the stage alone -- grateful, resentful, and worn out. He summoned a ghostly, wracked version of "Heartbreak Hotel" on the piano. It was a crushing performance, and he walked off, victorious and complete. It was over. We were done. Even I was satisfied.

But ... the crowd was not. The crowd had become The Crowd, that thing you read about in Shirley Jackson's story and Comparative Government class, and The Crowd still wanted more. I was flabbergasted. The man had gone beyond every standard of generosity and emotion, and he had nothing left.

So? So what?


Eventually he slouched back onstage (alone or with the band, I don't remember), tossed off a half-strength tune and told us all to go home or get fucked or something. Then the people knew it was done. I think the bouncers moved in to clear the floor, the lights came back on very bright, and the PA blasted some awful room-clearing music.

I knew even then that I should have left after the spellbinding "Heartbreak Hotel," but car-crash fascination held me rooted. After that display, I lost all respect for my fellow audience members, and I'd like to think it taught me a lesson about artists and their audiences. Or audiences and their artists. Feed me!

To wrap up this longest of all possible blog posts, I'll just note the maxim, new to me though probably old hat to you, "Serve the classes, live with the masses. Serve the masses, live with the classes." That's what's so brilliant about the O'Riley act: Dressing up popular alternative music in an egghead costume lets him reach a free-spending new audience quite apart from the stodgy classical buyer. I wonder if his career as a serious musician has suffered.

Hmmm. How might I apply that lesson to Lordzim? Maybe I should fill my blog with celebrities, TV, and gossip, after all. How 'bout those Hilton girls, huh? And what about that pip Lindsey Lohan? She's a singer too!

Let me sleep on that.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Prop Chips

I was at "The Lot" today, which used to be known as the Warner Hollywood lot until it wasn't, and as I was heading for the exit I saw a pal emerging from a building. I applied the brakes and hailed her. She was surprised, of course, torn from her work reverie, but appeared chipper at the unexpected distraction.

She's doing prop work on a big poker-related movie (these will be showing up in cineplexes at a dizzying volume all too soon). Having finished the location shooting in Las Vegas, the film has now taken over a few L.A. soundstages and built faithful replicas of two actual casinos. Happily enough, the Bellagio was about to renovate anyway, so the production was able to buy big chunks of actual Bellagio furniture and fixtures. Phew, is that stuff ugly. I've never seen the place, but it's high time they redecorated. Maybe gamblers just feel at home there. [Insert hate mail here.]

So what does a prop master do on such a production? Watches the chips, in large part. Thousands of Bellagio chips were manufactured for this production, and they're not fake. That's right -- take the movie chips to the Bellagio and you can exchange them for real money. According to my propster pal, the chips, like the money, just had to be real. It wouldn't work otherwise. Who knows. Cinéma vérité, circa 2005. A real guard watches over every table in the fake casino. Real chips, real greed.

They've also hired several professional poker players to keep the action authentic. Poor guys -- they come to Hollywood and spend the whole day knowing just how much they'll be up at the end of the day.

After every scene, people count the chips, some of which are worth $1,000.00 each. The other day, the count turned up four chips short. The whole production stopped. Counting, recounting, everybody was on edge. And then they discovered the missing chips. One of the pro gamblers was idly playing with them, running them through his fingers like a magician, oblivious to the havoc he'd caused.

In other fascinating news of wretched excess: The Lot is infested with 500 extras for this movie. That's about $50,000 a day. I nearly hit two while driving to my own appointment. They mill about in the middle of the one-lane thoroughfare, chatting, waving, as self-absorbed and oblivious as a professional gambler fussing nervously over a set of chips.


Breaking All the Rules

OK, two of you have called me out on the latest breach of the Lordzim articles of faithlessness. Thanks to my laxity, this slo-mo blogsquall and its credo aren't worth the pixels they're printed on.

Wrote the anonymous at 9:30pm Monday:
I thought your blog was different. no politics. no gossip. no celebrities.. and there, right there.. all together... bill clinton, sex, grandmothers, esses, and paparazzi-like activity.
Well, Me, you've got me dead to rights. You and my mom, Me. I'd drop a mea culpa and give you 40, but it's been a rough week for This Old Blog, what with a glut of memories, more PC difficulties, a creeping summer malaise that saps the very whip and thrust from the heart of the blog itself, and -- on top of all that -- serious backchannel backchat from some of you out there in TV Land on just how much sucks these days. Hey, it's not like there's a cover charge here.

What's a self-appointed profiler of the condition human and its discontents to do? Retreat. Retreat into the known verities, the things that make me laugh. Those things, kids, include a photo of Bill Clinton (Oops! Damn! Said his name again. Fuck!) about to lick a grandma's head, and a duck preening before a massive waterspout. Aflac your own damn self.

Ultimately, it shows that even a curmudgeon will succumb to the charms of powerful leaders and little old ladies. And ducks.

OK, here's something almost important: It's about freedom of expression in this brave new post-9/11 world. Let me just set this up, as the people on TV say. (Oops! Damn!) When viruses killed my hard drive two weeks ago, I lost a few hundred digital images, almost all of them from my last trip to NYC. The only images I still have are the ones I posted here, including the bleak subway platform scenes and one eerily illuminated MTA tunnel vision.

Last week, back in NYC, I was walking past a certain signage-heavy garage and thought to recapture the Parking for Dummies image. Yet as I stood in the driveway framing the shot, a crewcut suit goon marched up and said I wasn't allowed to photograph the garage. Soon thereafter, I heard cops do the same if you try to take photographs in the subway. Or not. But the shutterbugs are fighting back via this manifesto. Where will this end?

OK, maybe I can't say where exactly, but in the spirit of linking, here's a grim, exhaustively researched series of articles on how it will end. Yep, it's that scary New Yorker series on global warming entitled "The Climate of Man."


Saturday, May 21, 2005

A duck at my high school. The water feature and the bridge went in after I left.  Posted by Hello

'I did not lick that woman's hair!'

This picture of S's grandmother with Bill Clinton (he's the tall one preparing to lick the short one's head) has nothing to do with my reunion, but it just arrived after a delay of several weeks. And no, I did not retouch this photo at all. Better still, Clinton's photo handlers chose to send it out. Crikey! What kind of shots are they holding back?

"OK," you're saying. "Uh, context?" But of course.

Thanks to his work for the Clinton AIDS Foundation, earlier this spring S received four VIP tickets to hear Clinton speak at the Ahmanson and to "meet" the big man at a VIP reception beforehand. I was glad to be invited.

No substantive discussions took place with the former Leader of the Free World between bites of ahi and eggplant canapes. Rather, the photo machinery hustled everybody through assembly-line style, gracing us regular folks with one photo, one flash, and five seconds at best in Mr. Bill's presence. Or so we thought. Then S's snowy-haired grandmother stepped into the golden circle, armed with her disarming wit and messages for BC from her mailman and her nurse, a former Little Rocker. The flashbulbs went berserk, and Clinton made much of her, holding her close and murmuring at some length into her hair. It was hilarious.

This shows what we've known all along: Bill Clinton just loves women. Don't matter about the sex. And the women, they love him right back.

No, you don't get to see my photo. Not unless you ask nicely.  Posted by Hello


Alive Again ... Crepuscularly

OK, so it wasn't like DNC news coverage: no staccato updates flashed memory-rich bons mots across the wires every twenty minutes all Reunion Weekend long. And no, no photos have flown up onto the blog to convey at least a taste of the festivities. In fact, it's been a dead blog all week, and for that, I owe the few, the brave, an apology.


I've had a few things on my mind. And any thoughts of conveying all those things via blog call to mind the firehose-as-drinking fountain analogy. That's a tired notion, so I won't bore you by invoking it.

To recap the reunion: It was more fun and more illuminating than I'd expected it to be, and the anxieties were fewer, largely because I just didn't care.

What did become clear to me was that as a teen malcontent who kicked against the pricks and their power structure for three years, I spectacularly squandered an opportunity to line my bed for the rest of my life, a particularly galling understanding given that the whole point of schools like the one I attended at no small cost is to build new nodes onto the power structure at its highest levels. At best, I was a court jester, but not even a wise fool. For all my frenzied, hollow rebellion, I might as well have stayed at home and taken AP classes at a public high school. Wisdom comes with age, I guess. So does death. And secrets.

Learned a lot of secrets this weekend, just as cousin A had said I would. Why my last dorm has been shut down. Why B had sex with M. Why J had sex with everybody. Why R wishes she hadn't had sex with anybody, or maybe just not as many people.

And surprise, surprise, almost everything of interest comes down to sex and money. Re the latter, I learned why Y has no respect for Z (not this Z). Why T did whatever he wanted. (We always knew why D was structurally coupling with T, even if we didn't know the concept.) Why rules were so erratically enforced. And from these bits of data I understand why my own stay was so inconsequential ... even irrelevant. Interestingly, even if I wasn't a brahmin or a scion or a shoo-in or a gridiron star, some of my teachers did bother to care, as a sheaf of yellowed course reports show.

I also learned that my favorite old teacher, now retired, never made as much in a year as one student's full tuition ($8k back then). P tells me that in the wake of a recent scandal at St. Paul's, the world learned that school's headmaster's annual take tops $500,000 a year -- easily more than ten times a student's current annual tuition. As I told Y, who also came to our school as an outsider, when she and I willingly chose to enter that bastion of the WASPocracy, a place that's survived for more than a century by adhering to its rules and its code, we surrendered to those rules, the explicit and the implicit ... even if we weren't aware of all of them. That's why they call it finishing school -- it finishes you off.

There's nothing very surprising about such schools coddling their channels of money. It makes sense. Billionaires build new buildings, as long as their brats stay enrolled. Schools enforce the rules to keep them sharp and effective -- but not so much that they lose revenue. Sacrifice the kids you can afford to lose in order to keep the rest in line. Which is why T could smoke pot in his room with impunity but my ex-pal K was expelled for missing classes and then being caught in a car coming back from a beer run. Which is why apple-cheeked rich stoner A was expelled twice and this past weekend finally received her rehabilitative diploma, but Texas-fried genius R was kicked out (once) for sleeping with his girlfriend and to this day remains persona non grata.

Gee, this is fun, but I have to go tutor the little kids at St. Agatha's.

And yes, there will be photos.


Thursday, May 12, 2005

Data Lost, Institutional Memory Regained

NEW YORK -- Just arrived. Post-virus laptop report. I hate someone out there, but as it's impossible to know just who wrote the virus that destroyed my laptop last week and forced a total reformat of the internal drive last night, I'm letting my hostility go. Om. Om fucking shanti. Let's look at the silver lining! I re-installed all the software on the flight and am delighted by how swiftly the thing boots up and runs now.

I had backed up my files (not a complete idiot), but somehow had neglected email and the last few weeks of photos. Including the last New York trip documented in earlier posts. All those subway photos. Damn. True, I could have held out for data recovery, but the reunion weekend ahead and some impending paid work will require a laptop, so I had to get this one out of the shop. In effect, I've sacrificed past correspondence for the sake of the immediate future, where I plan to correspond with my more distant past, the life I lived for three awkward years at boarding school.

As regular readers may have guessed, I've never been a rah-rah type, never sustained any school spirit, never been peggable as a booster or a joiner or someone who would show up for something so institutional and treacly as a reunion. I’ve avoided all the previous events. But something about this one stuck with me. After tossing the early mailings, I started to pay attention a couple months ago, when a pleasant, funny woman at the school called to make sure I was coming. She seemed very real, not at all like the administration androids I thought I remembered.

And then a few other things happened. Everybody I talked to about reunions said they'd loved theirs, against all expectations. I recognized, as noted a few days ago, that all the 18-year-old wretches who bedeviled me are gone, replaced by adults who just might be kind of worth meeting. It occurred to me that if some of my friends showed up, the event might be fun. So then I started shilling to lure the dispossessed. Network marketing. I hope my downstream reprazents.

And I remembered how beautiful and old and mysterious the actual buildings and campus are ... or were. True, the school sold the Skeets, a few luxuriant acres of rolling fields where we used to loll in the tall grass and drink and lose our minds. They’ve built impressive new structures to house scientific inquiries and administrative iniquities. Dorms have been decommissioned, and teachers and coaches dismissed or deceased. Some of the buildings I lived in were pretty decrepit even back then. Yet most of what I lived with is probably still there in spirit. And if even a couple of my former pals show up, we’ll be able to reminisce and relive moments and sentiments I’ve certainly forgotten.

What on Earth was I so mad about all the time?


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Fascinatin' Polyrhythms, Inadequate Marketing

The glories of season tickets. Buy once, enjoy intermittently for months to come.

Last night, for example, the L.A. Phil's Green Umbrella New Music series brought an awe-inspiring percussion program to Disney Hall, where a not-quite-full house kept the coughing and shuffling to a merciful minimum in the face of giant marimbas, solo snare drum sorcery, and hypnocussion.

I've said I won't review music on this blog, which is lucky for you and me both, because if I did I'd just rhapsodize for pages about how much I enjoyed the entire program. Evelyn Glennie, the sprightly, barefoot Scotswoman who bestrides the world of serious percussion, was gracious and funny when addressing the house but spellbinding leading an ensemble and then soloing, first on a marimba and then on a snare drum.

About that snare: Standing on the stage's rearmost riser with just the one drum and no sheet music, Glennie performed "Prim," a meditation by Icelander Askell Masson on the first 16 prime numbers. I was less than captivated at first -- "ho-hum, a long drum solo," I thought -- but as she warmed to her task and the pace quickened and the rhythms grew both more direct and more difficult, she took on a witchy aspect. Two spotlights conjured shadows that replicated her (as shadows do) bending lower and lower over her drum, her cauldron, her hypnotic sticks and skins. And the beats grew still faster. K leaned over and whispered something about the shadows and "MacBeth"'s weird sisters. Had plumes of smoke risen from the snare or even her hair no one would have blinked. By the time the piece stuttered to a grudging stop, the entire hall was as focused as if she'd performed brain surgery. Whew. I think we all wanted a cigarette.

Another leading light of modern percussion, Steven Schick, had to follow that opus with Xenakis' "Rebonds," a piece played on drums and wood blocks. Also amazing. He was unique among the performers (six in all) for the full-body zip and elan he brought to his work. OK, enough non-reviewing. But I'll note in an exceedingly lowbrow and trivializing way that in the final third of the final piece, Lang's "the so-called laws of nature," Schick and three members of his red fish blue fish ensemble drummed up a precise, obsessive, almost synthetic sound playing flowerpots and dishes with what looked like bright red chopsticks.

Given the immediately likable and fun sounds of modern percussion, its many sonic similarities to popular electronica, and the youth of many of the performers, the hall's failure to fill looks like a direct result of inadequate marketing. Tonight's Shostakovich program, for example, appeals to a relatively fixed number of potential ticket-buyers. The same could be said for many previous Green Umbrella programs that were more purely cerebral in nature. But what better opportunity to lure a new crowd to Disney Hall than with a bunch of attractive youngish people hitting things with sticks? I'm not aware of the outreach the LA Phil put into promoting last night's show, but I know at least a dozen people who would have been just as delighted as we were, had someone tapped them on the shoulder last week via radio or alternative PR and said, "Hey. You might like this."

And a final note, linking the Cinnabar Serenade to today's percussive post, we ran into Flame (see below) outside as we left the venue. See? L.A. really is like a small town sometimes.


Monday, May 09, 2005

One Night in Glendale
(Cinnabar Serenade)

A few days ago G notified me that Cinnabar, for 12 years one of Glendale's best restaurants, will be closing on May 15. Her email suggested we have a drink there -- a sazerac for me and a Moscow mule for her -- for old times' sake. We agreed to meet after her Mother's Day devotions.

I first visited Cinnabar years ago as a pilgrimage to another bar -- specifically, the wood and silk bar from Yee Mee Loo, a Chinatown watering hole legendary for its filth and bonhomie. Having kept generations of Angelenos well-sauced, Yee Mee Loo was enjoying a well-deserved revival a decade or so ago when the property owner decided the bar absolutely had to be flattened to make room for a skyscraper.

Well ... one thing leads to another -- or doesn't -- and today, the former Yee Mee Loo site is a parking lot. Still.

It's not just Chinatown ... it's Los Angeles, Jake.  Posted by Hello


When Yee Mee Loo closed, the Kwan Yin bar itself (pictured) went to Glendale and the bartender, a venerable Chinese gentleman, went to the Good Luck Bar, where he continued to make the scary blue drink for which he was famous. I'm not sure, but I think that's him as a young fella to the right of Kwan Yin herself in the last picture below.  Posted by Hello


Sunday, May 08, 2005

The first time I walked into Cinnabar, I recognized one of the owners. Flame (that's her name) used to be close to one of our favorite neighbors when I was a kid. To this day, whether I haven't visited in two months or two years, she remembers my name, asks how my mom is, and fills me in on what my former neighbors are doing. Yes, at such moments, L.A. does feel like a small town. (Like I'd know a small town if it jumped up and bit me.)

After May 15, I won't know where to find her for a while, but I know she'll turn up. She and her partner-brother, Alvin, may open a new restaurant after their long-awaited vacation, she says, but whatever they do, they won't be doing it on Glendale's Auto Row.

OK, that's it. This may seem like the beginning of a detailed and marvelously longwinded memoir, but it's not. Just a few more pictures and we're done.  Posted by Hello


The wall-hung Rock-ola jukebox at Cinnabar. Note the familiar 4:3 aspect ratio and friendly blue glow.  Posted by Hello


Once upon a time, a jukebox looked as good as it sounded.  Posted by Hello


Photo credit: G.  Posted by Hello


The end of the bar at Cinnabar, where Kwan Yin and her barman stayed close for 12 years. Posted by Hello


A Shelter Magazine for Jes' Plain Folk

Many of you (well, three) have expressed confusion at this post. I wrote it immediately after flinging a copy of Dwell to the floor, disgusted by its smug homogeneous tone. Not that it's a bad magazine, but the shelter genre overall seems to encourage the worst behaviors and misplaced priorities. So what's the point here? Good question.

High Desert Hideaway

When Marcia and Tom Zwingli won their high desert shed in a 29 Palms VFW bingo tournament, they knew immediately what they didn't want.

"That 'piece-of-shit high desert shed' look. So many sheds you see these days have the Home Depot windows and field fencing to keep the critters out," says Marcia, her chapped upper lip faintly curling. "We eschewed that esthetic."

The Zwinglis turned instead to an adaptive desert minimalism that will be immediately familiar to fans of service stations and drive-thru espresso stands.

"We didn't have a whole lot of square footage to work with," says Tom, a twelfth-year doctoral candidate in medieval wall coverings who moonlights as an unlicensed plumber. "But we knew that for this to work, we'd have to bring the inside out and the outside in."

No mean feat in the high desert, where winds of up to fifteen miles an hour can send sand whipping through wax paper windows at punishing speeds. Fortunately, the Zwinglis had a lot to work with. Most of the shed's framing was intact, and at least half of the tarpaper siding panels remained. Replacing the largely broken windows with panes of original weathered glass they sourced at nearby motels, the Zwinglis showed similar ingenuity when it came to the three-inch gap between the shed's original hollow-core door and the floor.

"We had a pure cotton beach towel that Marcia's mom had left on a chaise at our last apartment complex's pool. We found that by rolling it in a long, almost Japanese configuration, we were able to block out the dust and the noise of that draft. We considered implementing a hard rubber lip, but the casual, improvisational nature of this modular cotton-based solution really appealed to us. And the price was right ... though that wasn't our primary consideration." The gaily colored towel whimsically marries the spirit of mom's jelly roll-ups with the practicality of linens once used to keep pot smoke from escaping one's room at home in high school. A family of field mice has adopted the wind roll as its own little home, which goes straight to the bottom line by reducing monthly kitty chow costs.

Ground Up

Like most high-desert shacks, Casa Zwingli sits on a concrete slab. Tom felt strongly about respecting the slab yet forging a new tactile relationship with it. "I got girls' feet," he shrugs. So they gathered fallen Joshua Trees from the surrounding plains and Marcia called in a favor from her brother Jedediah, who runs Jed's Salvage in neighboring Desert Hot Springs.

Jedediah experimented with the "Crusher," as he playfully refers to his automotive compression facility, and was eventually able to form sheets of pressed Joshua Tree -- a supple high-desert response to the creeping hegemony of bamboo flooring. Tom brought in a crew of skilled Hmong tribesmen from Palm Springs, where he found them bussing tables, and they laid the indigenous Joshua tree flooring over the shed's existing cement foundation.

"We loved the look of the cement," says Marcia, "but the cracks were so big snakes kept coming in."

High-Desert Shitkicker Shelter has stepped out for a cold one or two and will be back when it darn well pleases. Make yourself at home. Don't mind the dogs; they don't bite if you don't look at them.


Inner City Reading Meltdown

Tutoring was exceptionally challenging yesterday. A single fourth-grader and I took turns reading a story in a textbook (we alternated paragraphs), and when we were done, I asked him to answer the reading comprehension questions provided by the textbook authors.

Zilch. Zippo. He rolled his eyes, smiled, fidgeted, said the longest "Ummm" I've heard in weeks, and made it very clear that if he did remember anything of the story we'd just spent 30 minutes reading, he wasn't letting on. It wasn't for want of asking what the unfamiliar words meant; we'd worked out a system whereby he knew to ask for definitions. No, he simply appeared not to recall anything.

My challenge in such cases is to avoid passing along any frustration to the student, who, having failed to answer the questions, doubtless feels his own inadequacy at some level. And then to send him back out to mom at 4pm with a smile in his heart and a spring in his step and a fervent desire to return next week. By the time his mom showed up and all the other kids had crowded around the piano to hear the "Peanuts" theme, our traditional session closer, I'm not sure how much he cared. I guess that's good ....

Like many of the kids who show up for tutoring, he relied extensively on repetition and rote, repeating and shuffling words from the last sentence or two in an effort to present an acceptable answer. (It was like fridge magnets, but slower and less fun.) I attribute that weak process to overcrowded classes and overworked teachers, and I know that the couple hours of extra help they get from us each week really might make a major difference, particularly because most of their parents simply cannot read to them in English. That's why I keep going back.

The worst part is that the kids we see are the fortunate few whose parents care enough to drive them across town once or twice a week for free tutoring.

The comparison between this set of challenges and the ones I'll be revisiting in New England next weekend is inevitable and perverse.

For what it's worth, my little pal said the best thing that happened to him last week was going over to his friend's house. Because his friend has a Gameboy.

Well, it beats smoking pot.


Saturday, May 07, 2005

Faster Searching, More Music

It's amazing to me that some of you out there -- you know who you are -- have yet to add the Google Toolbar to your web browsers. I know, I know ... this sounds like shameless shilling, and maybe it is, but it's also the most valuable endorsement a product can have: heartfelt and borderline fanatical. I'm only writing this because I can't visit each of you to install it personally. (I mean, I can't ... right? Let me know.)

What am I talking about? Toolbars, Ben. Toolbars. Skip this if you've already drunk the Kool-Aid. Or if you use a Mac (sorry). But if you like Google's search and find yourself typing "google" or worse, "" into your Address window several times a day, you, friend, now stand on the very verge of relief. Go to and accept the corporate gift. It takes just a moment and doesn't hurt a bit. You won't be sorry.

Once the toolbar installs itself, you'll have ready access to a Google search and a history of your recent search terms whenever a browser is open ... but that's not all! If you can get past the privacy and Big Brother issues, the Google Toolbar 3 beta is happy to help you in even more ways: It spell-checks and auto-fills web forms, calls up maps of addresses you find on web pages, and even translates words. Zowie! Just wait -- Toolbar 4 will allow you to websurf with your eyes closed and your computer unplugged. No, that's not a joke. That's the mobile web.

NB: It is true that I blog at the pleasure of Google (which owns Blogger and therefore hosts Lordzim) but this little plug was unsolicited. And uncompensated. And I'm not a shareholder. Still, I can't help but wonder when this giant friendly corporation is going to start charging for all these free things, like Blogger, Picasa, and Hello, for starters.

Speaking of things I do pay for, let us also extol the virtues of Rhapsody, the only Real Networks product I've ever liked. What's that you say? They didn't create it, but rather bought it as part of Well, why quibble? It's a great way to hear unlimited music, as long as you're listening at home. And at just $25 every three months, it's an astonishing value. Don't tell the benighted music industry this, but I haven't bought more than half a dozen CDs since Rhapsody started bringing all the music home for me. In fact, I barely take my own CDs off the shelves anymore. From Ella to Eno to Elefant, from A Girl Called Eddy to Z-Trip, etc., ad nauseam, you can probably find it on Rhapsody. Yes, even Les Sans Culottes.


Thursday, May 05, 2005

NostalgiaQuest 2005

Rio will have to wait. I finally overcame assorted qualms and committed to attending my high school reunion. Or should I say High School Reunion. Now that I'm going, my stomach feels hollow, like I'm about to jump off the highest diving board. (I might just be hungry.) A bungee jump is the apter analogy, however, because I will come back from this event, no matter how rewarding or gloomy it proves. Even a bellyflop only hurts for a minute or so. You, lucky blog-reader, have a front-row seat to my odyssey, should you wish to check in on its progress next weekend.

As my good pal and former dorm neighbor JB sentimentally observed, though I may not want to see most of these people, they are like my brothers and sisters, because we all lived together and experienced fundamentally the same things. Ha. Ha. Call me Cinderfella. Hey, lady!

Your faithful correspondent will not be reporting on the "Golf Outing at the W. Country Club" scheduled for Friday the 13th, but can hardly wait for that night's "Mardi Gras Style Kick-off Dinner for All Reunion Classes." Oh, the fun we will have. Oh, the fun.

In any case, life goes on and I'm sure this topic will be lost amid the swirling sands of ephemera by next week.

Point of Order: Yes, I realize this post is a "stream of revealing details about the author's own daily life," something explicitly forbidden by the LordZim by-laws. I am making an exception to the rules for the sake of keeping this thing interesting. It's an experiment. If you object, go explore the archives, which are rich with impersonal observations.


Bang! Pow!

Trying to decide whether or not to go to my high school reunion. Also reading Stephen King's "On Writing," which is great. Laugh-out-loud funny, touching, very self-aware, and a breeze to read (surprise, surprise). That's where I found this headline. He uses it when affectionately mocking his teenage self.

Speaking of teenage selves, please join me as I dwell obsessively on the reunion thing for a moment.

High school reunion. Looming. Soon. Why can I not pull the trigger and click on the buttons to buy the tickets that will get me there? Whence this endless hesitation? True, I have no interest in seeing any of the 18-year-old jocks and weenies and prepsters I graduated with, but hey -- they won't be there. The adults they turned into will, and those are the people I am both interested in and repelled by. It'd be so much easier if I lived in New York and could just swan up to the country on a lark, like my friends who -- yawn -- may or may not go and don't even have to decide yet.

But living way out here on the far coast requires a conscious, premeditated effort to involve myself in something that my own 18-year-old self would have dismissed with a sneer. No artifice of effortlessness possible. Lying to affect a disinterested air is even more pathetic and transparent than genuine interest, which at least has honesty on its side.

The list of 30 registered attendees is a catalog of people I have no desire to see again. Part of me thinks that anybody with an interesting life would find this event an uninteresting opportunity to dwell in the past. But I spent three years at a school known for its rich traditions and cast of characters, many of whom have gone on to fame, far more of whom have gone on to fortune. So many of my fellow alumni were to the manor born ... where have they landed?

And yet. Everyone I know who has overcome these same concerns has told me how great they found their own reunions.

I'll probably go, but for the same money I could spend a week in Rio.


Sunday, May 01, 2005

Rimasto Orfano e Cinema Antica

It's been a while since I wrote about art, beyond the nasty self-absorption and IP theft that occasionally attends collaborative efforts (see earlier posts for specifics). On this glorious spring Sunday afternoon, when I should be out making mudpies, I'm pleased to have something more inspiring to report.

Last night we attended a performance of "Rimasto Orfano" by European choreographers Emio Greco and PC. As I have little interest in dance, I rarely attend performances and have few standards of comparison, but all that aside, I found the piece riveting. The dancers (three of each gender) wore gauzy floor-length dresses and used a kinetic vocabulary that owed little to ballet, with a few exceptions including one amazing long pirouette. I have no idea what the narrative structure was (which is, I don't mind telling you, frustrating), but just watching the dancers move kept me and the rest of the audience almost motionless for an hour ... and I am a world-class fidgeter. I deeply enjoyed the score, by Bang on a Can co-founder Michael Gordon.

If you're reading this in a city that may soon host this startling performance, go. Barring better PR or smaller venues, you probably won't have any trouble getting in; UCLA's Royce Hall was about half-full. Not half-empty.

Window on a World

In other entertainment news -- or what passes for it in these celeb-free precincts -- pop just sent me a link to this slightly hokey "virtual cinema," which affords the high-bandwidth websurfer unlimited access to Steven Spielberg's collection of antique films about Israel and other topics in Jewish history. As I type, an early color-process travelogue entitled "Springtime in the Holy Land" (1939) unspools to the right of my MS Word window, and an English announcer describes in orotund tones such picturesque relics as "the arrival of the trains, ships waiting ready at the quayside, the loading of the citrus boxes, the bustle of the porters at work, Arab and Jew, all as part of the great trade in citrus fruits that Western civilization demands in increasing quantities from the land which was one of the earliest cradles of civilization." Uh, Sumeria?

Yes, it is hard to concentrate while watching a movie, even if it is playing on a three-inch screen. But everyone who knows anything knows I'm a multi-tasker from way back. It's that flexibility and focus that have enabled me to build this heavily trafficked blog while managing a $20 million Malaysian import-export business and raising prize whippets on the grounds of this estate I share with a vegan acrobatic and arts collective.