Every year, my brother and his family make a 10 hour pilgrimage to get to Disneyland. It has been their annual tradition for years and years. The best part of it all, of course, is that I get to spend one of their days loving my nephews, riding rides, standing in lines, grading the rides, judging the “cast members,” discussing important life issues like who my favorite Avenger is… what would I do if there was no gravity… what kind of scientific discoveries we need to make to help mankind… It’s a big deal… and a giant blast… and I guess, now it has become MY annual tradition…
Today was Walt Disney’s birthday… near the end of the night, however, we missed whatever extra celebration activities might have been going on, in exchange for riding Splash Mountain… I was extra proud of my brother for negotiating the deal so they would let us keep going around and around without having to get out of the floating log… we made it four times in a row… a real record… each time around, singing new harmonies with the robots and the Brear Rabbit Soul Singers… each time, scoring and rating the final drop into the water… it was a huge thrill for my nephews… and a painful, aching trauma for me, as I had to pee soooo bad… “Can you hold it one more time, Uncle Mikey??” “Come on, Uncle Mikey! Hold it!”
Afterwards, we bolted straight for the bathrooms… mostly in silence, and with a shared, unspoken bond from our newly-achieved, life record and the pressing urgent mission at hand…
Finally, while standing in the stall, releasing the pressure valve and letting it all out… I knew it was all worth it… the waiting and holding… for Walt on his birthday… for my awesome nephews… as I boldly exclaimed “Ahhhhh oohhhhhh urghhhaagghh, Uncle Mikey just released his own Splash Mountain!” and my nephews cheered with Disney delight at my magical pun…
Ten PM (10) November (11) Twelve (12) Two Thousand Thirteen (13)…
a once-in-a-lifetime event… like Haley’s Comet… something you will tell your grandchildren about… and they’ll tell their grandchildren… 10-11-12-13…
While growing up, from time to time, I would hear my dad and his brothers making fun of their dad (my grandfather)…. for his various trademark sayings and philosophical mantras he became known for within the family… “Don’t take any wooden nickels…” or after a visit as we were leaving, he would always impart his wise, worldly life warning, “Now if you get tired, just pull on over to the side of the road.” These sayings became legendary hallmarks and, in a way, treasures to be handed down from generation to generation…
Something else he was famous for, was that his favorite actor of all time was Charles Bronson. No matter what movie might be on his television set, he managed to bring it up… any car chase scene… or western gunfight… ANYTHING… would remind him, “Boy, that Charles Bronson is a great actor!”
In the same Oakie drawl, my dad would repeat his golden words during any movie we were watching, wise-cracking and mocking my grandfather and his solemn, loyal allegiance to the “greatest actor of all time.”
Sometimes, when I am trying to find a movie to kill time (or escape time), I certainly have my own favorite go-to’s…. actors I adore or am faithfully fanatical about… This week, I’ve been marathoning Clint Eastwood movies (again)… I watched Joe Kidd, The Enforcer, Magnum Force, The Eiger Sanction, Sudden Impact, The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Unforgiven… I suppose I am drawn to the fighting-for-what’s-right themes… stand your ground… good vs. evil… sticking it to the man… the misogyny… the straight talk… the righteous indignation… all the most excellent embodiments of what Clint Eastwood stands for in every movie…
All of the characters he has played and the dialog and the writing and directing… together with the stories I’ve heard about his work ethic and how he treats people in real life… and then it occurred to me… I have become my grandfather… nobody could convince me otherwise that Clint Eastwood isn’t the greatest ever… I just love him… and when I am 80 years old… my niece and nephews and siblings will likely make it one of my signature caricature trademarks… and with a great twinkling in their eyes, they will take on my speaking voice and do their best impression of me… and mockingly pronounce…”Boy, that Clint Eastwood… he was the greatest actor of all time…”
this week’s marathon:
My neighbor, apparently, can’t stop believin’ and loves Journey so much he needs to share it with the world. For two hours, he had to play his entire collection at full throttle decibels. I tried closing all my windows, but I couldn’t keep the sound out. For the first few songs, as each one ended, a little silence broke through as the track was changing. I kept opening my window and yelling, “Headphones, man! Use headphones!” but the pounding barrage of incoming soul poison kept pouring in to my house. When he ran out of his Journey, Bon Jovi came on and that was the straw that broke my camel’s back. This was too much punishment, and I broke down and called the police. I don’t mind confrontation and have had many face-offs or community building exchanges, but this particular neighbor has left me with a sense that he might be unstable – I am unfortunately privy to some of his life adventures, and know some things from his candid conversations with neighbors in the open air… and I know he owns a gun…
Within 7 minutes, the music stopped. I could hear the ocean again.
Later in the afternoon, my neighbor began tending his garden just outside my bedroom window. He started singing, as if it was to himself, but knowing my windows were wide open… “You should not have called the police, La la la” and “You should have come talked to me la la, f#$^%ing pussy, la la la.”
I’m not sure why he thought his message should be delivered in song, but more and more epithets spilled out of him in tuneless melodies… however, not tuneless enough to erase the damage that had been done. Some melodies take years and years to forget, and now I have to start all over with the recovery program.
I wanted to yell back at him that he was lucky he didn’t get hauled away in handcuffs for having bad taste or put away for violating me, a soul rape… he should get 10 years to life for that… there should be a Three Strikes law for playing bad music…
Excerpt from my new book I am writing, “Secret Recipes of a Starving Artist.”
1. de-stem and hull 1-3 strawberries
2. cut strawberries in half, length-wise
3. place strawberry halves in bottom of glass
4. fill glass with 3-4 ice cubes (on top of strawberries)
5. fill glass with tap water
6. let sit for 4-6 minutes
7. walk to the beach’s edge where the waves come up
8. drink and enjoy
Here’s how to do your strawberries:
I have never had a personal encounter with (or a burning for) exhibitionism. Growing up, as a kid, I remember hearing stories of supposed trench coat flashers, and crazy streakers, and bizarre, cult nudist colonies… but in my whole life, I never witnessed any in action, first hand. The idea of someone exposing him or herself in public, maybe as an uncontrollable urge or necessary exciting thrill or act of artful expression… seemed like such a science fiction wonder to me.
This weekend, I took my usual stroll through the farmers market to refill my strawberry tank and perpetuate my addiction…. saw some of the same faces that I regularly see – the migrant entrepreneurs, the scary balloon clowns, the hobo buskers working their magic on the people….
All the strange sun and familiar ocean air and wind beating the boats’ sails in the distance… along with the plates and plates of freshly cut samples stabbed with toothpicks… it’s easy to get hypnotized… reminiscing about all the outdoor souks and otherworldly barker’s voodoo that I miss so dearly…
By the time I finally got home, I was exhausted and happily filled with my dose of open air and social interaction…
I unloaded the watermelon and strawberry pallet, along with the bundled clumps of fresh mint … kicked off my shoes… locked up the car… headed back in to the house… when all of the sudden, as I started to unbutton my shirt and peel it away… I looked down… to find… that my important zipper had been UN-zipped the entire morning…
Not that it’s such a horrible thing (and maybe the ocean air is the true elixir and secret fountain of youth)… but this is the third time this has happened to me in the last week and a half… completely unintentional and unplanned… and each time, I have to retrace my steps in my head, wondering who I might have passed or if anyone could have possibly noticed…
I want to believe this is not the beginning stages or early signs of dementia or of me losing my mind… but rather, simply another example of my carefree, hippy state of being…. so lost in thought and dreams that I can’t be bothered by such minor details… I keep telling myself it’s more evidence that I am a true free soul, living free and detached from the constraints of normal daily drudgery and even time itself… untethered from the conventional ways of the world. Right on, brother, right on.
Commando for the people…
A couple nights ago, I told my nephews (just before they went to bed) that we would be going on an adventure when they woke up in the morning… a secret mission. Since we had just watched the movie, Octopussy – James Bond, they were extra excited at the sound of those words, and could hardly contain their little bodies from jumping and trembling with delight.
Morning came… and I finally revealed the mission… we would spend the day spreading random acts of kindness.
After their crinkled faces of disappointment faded away, they decided to trust and believe that, if I said it, then it must be something cool… and they would jump in head first, even if their initial gut reaction was suspicious, puzzled curiosity….
While we ate our bowls of Sugar Pops and Apple Jacks, we carefully and seriously brainstormed a list of as many things as we could think of. Each new idea, more genius than the previous, lit up their faces like a sunbeam rainbow rocket (?)… and they totally got into it…
Hand-drawn cards to send to each of their grandparents. More fancy cards to send to their playmate friends (who live directly across the street). “Uncle Mikey, why are we going to use a stamp to send a card across the street??”
Some classics, like putting quarters in parking meters, hiding money and change in the sandbox of the nearby neighborhood park’s playground for other kids to find. Happy-thought, have-a-nice-day, fortune-cookie-style notes to sneak into their neighbor’s mailboxes. Picking a bowl of fresh blackberries off their backyard blackberry bush, and hand delivering to an unsuspecting next door neighbor. Dropping cut-out coupons in the aisles of the grocery store next to the respective sale items.
We were on a roll and had come up with quite a nice lengthy list.
After the drawing part was over, we addressed all the cards, packed up our box of “kindness-bombs” and hit the street… went through a restaurant’s drive-thru window and paid for the car behind us. “Uncle Mikey, what if they have a family with 15 kids and order a giant amount of food?” Me: “That’s the risk we take. Kindness will not be stopped!”
We took our lunch to the park and had a grande time talking about thoughtfulness and kindness and why they’re so cool. Afterwards, we scoured the entire park, picking up trash. There was another kid playing on the playground while his parents watched, so we had to be stealthy ninjas as we slyly dropped coins around the slide and the swings…
At the post office, while waiting in line, one of my nephews whispered, “Uncle Mikey, how about if we let that person go in front of us?” Excellent.
We then bought a few extra stamps, and sneakily placed them around the self-help stamp dispenser area, as a surprise for someone to find in their time of urgent need.
Everywhere we went, they handed out their “happy-thought” notes… to strangers on the street, to the postman on his route, to anyone we thought needed some happiness… they kept trying to think of new kind acts along the way…. our day’s secret mission was a successful blast…
A couple days later, they were so excited to tell me about their own new random acts of kindness… and how they gave a bottle of water to a homeless guy because it was hot outside… and to the gardening crew… and how they wanted their mom to buy a case of bottled water to keep in the car so they could give them out to any thirsty people they might see…
The fix-it man was here today… putting in a new kitchen counter top…. exciting. He’s about 40, I’d say. Always looks like he is between three different jobs at once… always working his butt off.… always sweating all over my floor…
He had to make several trips back and forth to the hardware store for parts, and to his workshop to cut and recut the granite before finally laying it in. I continued to work in the other room to stay out of his way.
A few hours in, he came to ask a couple questions about the kitchen’s water line, or something about the water valve… as he started to leave the room, he said, “So where’s the greenery?”
I had no idea what he was talking about. “Greenery?”
He repeated the question, as if saying it slower would somehow clear things up for me. I shrugged.
He then dug deep in his plumber’s pocket, and pulled out a giant bag of weed.
“Ah, GREENERY,” said I.
He had a proud ‘mine is bigger than yours’ face on and continued, “Ya, man. Where’s yours?”
I tried to diffuse and wash the shock off my face, couldn’t think of anything clever to say. “Well, there’s really no room here to grow it.”
He chuckled and went back to his mission in the kitchen.
Funny, I was a little touched and felt closer like we were friends, that he had that much trust and confidence in me to so openly brandish his 10 pound pot baggie right in my face.
By the end of the afternoon, his job was complete, I had my new sparkling kitchen. On his way out, he mentioned how he had to get the weed home to his wife. She is in the middle of chemo treatment for her crazy cancer…. in her liver, and a couple other places throughout her body… the doctors all say it’s now about simply prolonging any little life in her that’s left.
Up to that moment, I didn’t realize how much pain and anguish he was living in. You would never know it. He keeps it all to himself, tucked inside, and has always maintained a happy, life-is-grande disposition.
I am ashamed… all day long I had painted him so clearly and carelessly as a giant pot-head, with all my biases and profiling. I know it’s not the worst thing someone could think of you, but it slapped me in the face… stabbed me in the eye… I always thought I was superhuman and free of judging books by their covers…. but I definitely had done it.
Heavier still, it is so easy to forget how everyone has a hard life. Everybody. Nobody escapes. It’s hard. Sometimes it seems like ONLY heartbreak. You get dealt different cards, but in the end, everyone is broken and everyone has to get through it. It is a constant, pressing weight… and another kick in the pants reminder that my troubles are so small and menial, compared to everyone else.