Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens

Sad to hear today's news. Then again he lived and wrote about 17 lifetime's worth. I don't agree that he's our Orwell or our Mencken. I think of him as a complete one-off, and while I'll enjoy reading his work for a long time into the future, I'll miss his timeliness and topicality. I won't be able to read about some demagogue or invasion without wondering what he would have said about it. Regardless of what you think about his positions (Falkland Islands, Iraq War, etc.), you have to admire someone who doesn't care about the politics of consensus, isn't afraid to make you mad, and is willing to put his opinions on the line by going on some truly scary talk shows and TV programs. (Sean Hannity, etc.)

I'm also amazed that he kept cranking out the essays and columns up to the very end (including a beautifully written response to the term 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger' in the most recent Vanity Fair. Not sure if I told either one of you this but I met him once a long time ago at the Capitola Book Cafe. I showed up late, not realizing there was a reading. An acquaintance of mine, who vaguely knew Hitchens, grabbed me by the shoulder and frogmarched me to the podium and said, "Christopher, this is Dan White of the Santa Cruz Sentinel!" before I could retreat. Mr. Hitchens was kind enough to pretend to be impressed. It was really awkward. I can't remember what we talked about.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Nikki Giovanni in Santa Cruz

I just had a great, free-wheeling phone conversation with Nikki Giovanni, who will be here in Santa Cruz in a few weeks. Among the topics we covered: Martin Luther King, Jr., space travel, Occupy Wall Street, Prince Charles, writing pedagogy, and the importance of poetry. I will post that here once I've distilled it down to a Q and A. Be patient. It takes time to put it all together. In other news, I've got a slamming headache from watching the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" video on YouTube.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The anthology has arrived (and I survived cat bite.)

I just received (in the mail) The 36 Hours/150 Weekends anthology book published by the New York Times and Taschen, and featuring two of my recently published travel pieces. Please go out and buy it but don't drop it on your foot. It must weigh five or six pounds!!! In other news, I don't have rabies. Also, I just wanted to know that my pecan pie turned out fine. However, my pumpkin pie was a gelatinous horror that sent people running from the table. Sorry for the bad food, everybody. There's always next year. I also want to apologize for the small type. I bet you're experiencing eye-strain right now. I tried to increase the font size but the button isn't working.

Friday, November 18, 2011

My day can only get better (I just got chomped by my own cat!)

I am going to take a break from blogging for a while because typing is almost impossible right now. My cat took a huge bite out of my finger! It's not his fault.
Here's what happened. My cat has not been feeling well -- he's been fighting off an infection -- so I had to go to the vet in San Jose and get these gigantic, stinky brown pills for him. You wouldn't believe the size of these pills. Maybe they thought I said "moose" instead of "cat." Anyhow, he refuses to eat them on his own, even if I stick them in a "pill pocket'' that is made out of smelly cat food. Following the doctor's instructions, I had to stick the pill directly down his throat and push. That meant opening up his jaws, gently nudging my finger beneath his razor-sharp teeth, and inserting the pill into his throat and pushing it down there without choking him or having him bite my arm off. After several tries (and a pretty huge bite) I finally succeeded. And then I looked at the jar and realized that I'll have to the do thing every single day for the next freaking week! I have newfound respect for people who own tigers and lions and servals.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mad Men, Weeds, Charlie Sheen and critical thinking

In case you're interested, I have a new-ish story that gives you an inside look at Lionsgate TV, which produces, among other things, Mad Men, Weeds and Nurse Jackie.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Poisoning Pigeons in the Park: my interview with Tom Lehrer

Here's another one from the vault, a rare interview with Tom Lehrer. This came out 10 years ago but I think it's still relevant. Too bad that America's most incisive and funny political songwriter isn't writing political songs anymore. He could have a lot of fun with Herman Cain among others.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

More on whales

As it turns out, that crazy whale photo you've been seeing in newspapers and broadcasts across the country is by Santa Cruz's own Shmuel Thaler, "complete with misspelled name in the photo credit." His whale image recently made the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. Thanks, Shmuel, for sending in. If it wasn't for people sending in, I'd have no content at all. Still waiting for advice on the pie.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Thanksgiving draws near. Time for me to make another inedible, goopy pecan pie

I'm just looking at the calendar and noticing that Thanksgiving is creeping up on me again. For me, this means one thing: friends and loved ones will soon be gagging on my overwrought, undercooked chocolate-pecan pie.

Every year I screw it up in a different way. One year I burned it so badly that the outside was black as pitch, and yet it was raw and glutinous in the middle. No one wants to hurt my feelings, so everybody ends up choking down one piece -- and in some cases, more than one piece -- of my mucilaginous, viscid baked product.

Another time it was so hard that you could barely pry the pieces apart, even when you used a sharp knife and hit the handle as hard as you could with your fist. Last year it came out OK, but for some reason I accidentally added mint flavor so it had this disgusting menthol aftertaste like Listerine.

Anyhow, if anyone has any advice on baking these pies, send in (but I have a feeling you won't. You're all a bunch of lookie-loos. No offense.)

By the way, this stupendously disgusting pie is something I found online on a blog. I can't claim credit for baking that one.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Cactuseaters on True Fiction Radio

Thanks again to my brother Phil for finding this and sending it along. I knew it was about to be posted online but didn't know it was already up! Anyhow, here is that free podcast from True Fiction Radio, including brand-new readings by Wallace Baine and Richard Stockton, and also a brief reading by me (from the Cactus Eaters.), recorded recently in town. If you've got access to iTunes, download away. I'm part of the radio show #12, podcast on 10/30/11.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Joan Didion coming to the Bay Area

She's going to be in conversation with Vendela Vida at the Herbst Theater. Go if you can. (I can't.) I went to a fantastic Didion event in NYC some years back. She was in conversation with New Yorker editor David Remnick, and it was all going well until someone in the audience asked Didion a truly dumb and appalling question at the very end.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Skyhopping whales, part two

In case you aren't following the local news, certain Santa Cruzans have lost their minds in regard to this surge of humpback whale sightings. Kayakers are going right up to them and practically rubbing the creatures' noses. I think this is a good time to remember that humpback whales can swim 16 miles an hour and have the combined weight of 350 humans.

In other words, annoying them is a very bad idea ...

The ghosts of Torrington, Connecticut

I chuckled after watching this scary trailer advertising a new horror movie that takes place at the Yankee Pedlar Inn in Torrington, Connecticut. This struck me as funny because the Yankee Pedlar is a real place. In fact, I frittered away a certain amount of my early 20s at the bar on the bottom floor of that very inn. I have a real life, silly "ghost story" that takes place in part at the Yankee Pedlar. When I get a moment, I will upload that for you. (it's long and rather complicated.)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Spyhopping whales in Santa Cruz

I was walking on West Cliff Drive just the other day with a friend when we saw the same two 'spyhopping' whales that you'll see in this link to a story in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

The Sentinel story implied that the whales were here primarily for the food.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

You might consider reading these next

(this is my scratchboard illustration of Mephitis Mephitis, whose noxious spray can render dogs temporarily sightless.)

First of all, stumbling upon this link to an interview with Tom Waits was an unexpected boon. Plus, it's nice to hear that someone's car is messier than mine, and that he apparently like Valencia hot sauce, although my brand is Tapatio. A couple of other things. It's unnerving when I read a very good book that came out a while ago without me knowing about it. One prime example is Bernard Cooper's The Bill From My Father, as good a memoir as I've read in a long while. It has poetic compression, heft, authenticity, the whole shebang, and it doesn't try to gussy up the grouchy inscrutable dad at the center of the book. Books I also enjoyed recently: Gerry Hadden's new nonfiction work, Never the Hope Itself (I even blurbed this one! Take a look at the back cover next time you're browsing in a book store), which is a foreign correspondent's tale and an alluring ghost story set mostly in Haiti and Mexico. I also liked Jonnie Hughes' new one, On the Origin of Tepees, a meme-centric look at human creativity, manifest destiny, extinction, tent design and more. I thoroughly enjoyed Robert Sullivan's The Thoreau You Don't Know, a feisty take-down of received notions about America's most brilliant transcendentalist grouch. This book made me take a second glance at just about everything I've read about the man, including EB White's endearing but cutesy take on Thoreau. Oh, and here's one more. You've got to pick up Hemingway's Boat by Paul Hendrickson. Tell me if that isn't the best opening chapter you've read in a long time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

True Fiction radio

I'm going on True Fiction Radio in less than an hour. I'd better start driving to the studio now in case I get a flat tire or run into traffic. (or both.) My reading and my talk with Richard Stockton will soon be available as a podcast on iTunes.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Something old, something new

I'm going to do a podcast soon in which I'll read something old (well, not that old -- it's something from The Cactus Eaters, involving a possible case of mistaken identity and a dirty knife) and a very small section of a work so brand-new it doesn't even have a name just yet. Will post that link when it's ready.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Scott Williamson sets speed record on Pacific Crest Trail

Exciting news, and this is the first I've heard about it. Thanks to my brother, Phil, for sending this in. Scott is the most prolific PCT hiker ever, and he's even yo-yo'd the trail (southern to northern terminus, then northern terminus to southern terminus in one sustained effort) on more than one occasion. Amazing accomplishments, to say the least.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

If you guessed "Anton Chekhov," you were correct

Anonymous has won the contest. Thanks for all the people who sent in -- although now I'm wondering if only one person sent in, but did so many times. Incorrect answers included Jesse James -- who is not a novelist -- and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dr. Abraham Verghese speaks out about bedside visits and i-Patients (PLUS: see if you can guess the identity of the guy with the mustache).

OK, sharp-eyed Cactuseaters readers. Let's see if you can guess the identity of the mustache-wearing guy in the photo projected on the big screen behind Dr. Abraham Verghese. If you think you've got the right answer, send me an email, and if you're the first one that comes in, I'll put your name in my blog. The original version of the story included a dead giveaway, but I removed it just to make it more challenging for you...)

Anyhow, here is the link to my story on Dr. Abraham Verghese. I have an alternate and much longer version that goes into (much) more detail. If you'd like me to post that longer version as well, send me an email. Otherwise, you know I'll forget to do it. By the way, I should point out that he broke down barriers between himself and the audience by making his presentation as informal as possible. Instead of hiding behind a lectern, he walked the stage, facing the audience the entire time, and never consulting notes of any kind until the very end -- nearly 45 minutes into the presentation. I've never seen anyone pull off such a thing before with the sole exception of Malcolm Gladwell, who lectured note and Teleprompter-free, and in great detail, when he visited Columbia University some years back.

(photo by Steve Kurtz.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dr. Abraham Verghese in Santa Cruz

How many people do you know who can remove a human appendix, and then rush home and crank out a bunch of really good sestinas? How many people do you know who can write smoothly paced novellas while waiting to be called up to perform brain surgery? Not many, I would guess. The successful doctor/successful writer hybrid is one of life's enduring mysteries. You'd think it would take a lifetime to reach eminence in just one of those professions. But that hasn't stopped such physician/authors as Anton Chekhov, Oliver Sacks, Richard Selzer, Ethan Canin, or, for that matter, Abraham Verghese, who is visiting Santa Cruz today to give a lecture and visit students. The title of tonight's sold-out lecture: The Art of Medicine In The Era of Homo Technologicus.

I always want to know: how on earth does anyone have time to be a writer/physician, or even have time to learn how to do both? At the risk of blogging about something with gravitas and import, and therefore interrupting and perhaps compromising my flow of ideas about cookies shaped like banana slugs, and candy bars with weird faces on the wrappers, I'm going to change gears for a moment and write about Verghese's visit to campus today. I'm interested in the topic of his speech tonight -- the importance of patient care and empathy in an age in which technological advances can create a gulf between doctors and patients, who often complain that they are being treated like diseases or diagnoses instead of actual people. But I'd also like to know more about the way he draws from sympathetic imagination in his writing (his latest book is the bestselling novel, Cutting For Stone) as well as his medical care. I'll post the link when the story's done.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Slug event photo montage

Here are some scenes from the Slug fete that took place on Tuesday. The first two photos are by Carolyn Lagatutta, and the one on the bottom was taken by Lisa Nielsen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pre-order your copy of 36 Hours right now

It looks like sales of the upcoming 36 Hours anthology, which includes two of my New York Times columns, are going well, even though the book isn't even out yet. Pre-order yours right here.

Slug cookies mentioned somewhat prominently in Santa Cruz Sentinel and San Jose Mercury News

Check this out, especially paragraph four, which I encourage you to read in public, preferably in an obnoxiously loud and braying voice. How about them bananas?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hell yes, here are my UCSC Banana Slug cookies! Banana slug treats have almost sold out at the Buttery

Hey everybody, at long last, here are my slug cookies, produced (with my home-made banana slug cookie cutter and cartoon design) by the Buttery. We handed a bunch out today and they went fast, and we hear there are only three left at the Buttery itself. Some people ate a whole fistful at once. They're going to sugar-crash so hard! Long live Sammy the Slug.

When I first saw these I flipped out. It's like seeing one of my cartoons or doodles transformed into a food item. And then you start seeing people biting off their heads and nibbling on their little antennae and you feel like saying, "No, no, no, hey you, stop, that's mine!"

Artful cookie photo by Carolyn Lagatutta

They're out of the oven and ready to go!!!!!!

I'll upload full-color photos as soon as I am able.

Today's cryptic schedule for you-know-what

So, here's my schedule

This morning, after I drink a cup of you-know-what, I'm going on KSCO a.m. radio right around 715 or so. You'll never, in a million years, guess what I'll be talking about on the radio. Must I say it out loud??? (It ryhmes with 'shmug.') If you want to listen in, feel free.

At 745 am, sharp, I have an appointment at you-know-where, to pick up a bunch of baked shortbreads shaped and decorated to look like you-know-what.

Right around 1045, I will be going up to you-know-where to set up a booth dedicated to you-know-what. Close to 230, I will head to downtown Santa Cruz to discuss you-know-what with you-know-who.

See you all later on. You know where.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Absolutely the last time I'm blogging about this (liar, liar)

Just wanted to make sure that lots of you folks show up for both these things tomorrow.

I'd write more, but right now, I'm on my way to retrieve a gigantic yellow furry Slug outfit.

Not making this up.

Dawn of Slug Day

If you are up on time, you might want to stop by the Buttery Bakery early Tuesday morning and watch me walk over there to pick up approximately eight zillion slug cookies that I designed myself. As a matter of fact, I could use some help carrying the boxes so let me know if anyone can help. (no, you won't get a free cookie out of it, but I'll give you a big fat acknowledgment in this blog.)

I am nervous about this but I don't know why. The bakery itself says the cookies will look very cute and banana-slug like, and I have every reason to believe them, but what if there was some weird miscommunication on my part, and the cookies come out huge or too little?

Last night I had a nightmare that the cookies came out looking like tape worms, with hideous green frosting.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The banana slug you don't know: fascinating facts in the pop cultural history of Ariolimax columbianus

You might even think that Sammy the Slug's cameo appearance—on John Travolta's UC Santa Cruz T-shirt in Quentin Tarantino's 1994 movie sensation Pulp Fiction—was the only example of banana slugs infiltrating popular culture. But Pulp was only the starting point. Here are few well-populized highlights in the history of UC Santa Cruz's favorite mollusk on and off campus.

Slug versus governor

In the summer of 1988, California's then-governor, George Deukmejian, vetoed a bill that would have made the banana slug California's official state mollusk, complaining the bill was not representative of the international reputation California enjoys."

"I think the governor has thoughtlessly missed the point on this one," said disappointed Assemblyman Byron Sher, D-Palo Alto, who authored the bill at the suggestion of a children's group, the Redwood Campfire Kids. Sher emphasized that four out of the five banana slug species can only be found in California, and called them an emblem of state wildlife diversity.

Opponents of the bill said it was silly. Never mind the fact that the state has an official insect: the dog-faced butterfly.

Slug versus kitty cat

Back in 1985, on the UCSC campus, Sammy the Slug squared off against a rival mascot—the sea lion—and won the contest handily, as Slug supporters far outnumbered backers of the sea lion in a campus-wide vote. But California Fish and Game once received a complaint that a banana slug fought someone's housecat—not symbolically, but for real.

Here is the transcript of the conversation between a panicked caller and a Fish and Game official, as reported by the Los Angeles Times:

"I have this vicious large slug in my house and he is attacking my cat," the caller told the Fish and Game employee. "What should I do?"

The Fish and Game staffer replied: "It's probably a banana slug. They grow as big as four or five inches."

He also comforted the caller by saying: "This is a rare occurrence, but if it happens again, give us a call."

Sexy beast

In June 2008, London's Daily Telegraph ran an article about visiting Santa Cruz. Close to the bottom of the article, the author recommended buying a pair of silky underwear featuring Sammy the Slug, "the friendly mollusk," adding, "You can't get more intimate with Santa Cruz than that."

Weird sex in the slug world

In October 2001, renowned banana slug expert Alice Bryant Harper sat down with Metro Santa Cruz newspaper to talk about some little-known facts about the banana slug's unusual mating habits, some of which are so extreme that we cannot "reproduce" them in this family-friendly publication.

Since then, major authors have described some of the alarming aspects of our friendly local slug. In 2002, a popular book entitled Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson mentions the fact that male banana slugs often get their private areas gnawed off during copulation.

Not the weirdest mascot!

And you might want to clip and save this next time someone tells you that Sammy the Slug is a "weird" mascot, or goes as far as to call him the "weirdest mascot of all."

Not true. Consider the Fighting Okra of Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi. (The greenish vegetable edged out a previous school mascot known as the Statesman.) And don't forget the Poets of Whittier College (who have battled the Banana Slugs).

Other strange names include:

• The Fighting
Kangaroos at the University of Missouri

• The Anteaters of the University of California, Irvine

• The
 Boll Weevils at the University of Arkansas at Monticello

• The Fighting Camels at North Carolina's Campbell University.

• New York University has
dubbed its men's teams the Violets. Women are Violettes.

• The name of the Rhode Island School of Design's mascot is so salacious that we can't even print it here, though you're free to Google it if you wish.

• The New College of Florida has an invisible mascot called the "Empty Set," delineated by a pair of parenthesis.

• Let's not forget the Dirtbags of California State University, Long Beach.

It also is worth mentioning that UCSC is not the only university whose mascot fended off a challenge from a rival mascot. Some years back, Scottsdale Community College students chose Artie the Artichoke as their mascot after knocking back a challenge from the rutabaga. And no, we're not making this up.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Banana slug cookies will soon be baked.

I am still enjoying the surge of publicity related to my upcoming banana-slug cookies.

Funny -- when I got my first book published, I didn't tell very many people about it at all. But now that I've designed a cookie cutter shaped like a banana slug, I can't shut up about it. I'm telling everybody. In fact, I'm working it into every single conversation I have, in the most awkward ways you can imagine:

Random stranger: "Hey, you're standing on my foot."

Me: "Sorry. Guess what, I invented a cookie cutter shaped like a banana slug."

Anyhow, I am as anxious as anyone when it comes to the final product. The Buttery Bakery is going to start rolling out the crunchable slugs early in the morning next week.

If you happen to be in Santa Cruz, the banana slug cookies will be handed out in two places: up on the UC Santa Cruz campus at 1130 to 1 p.m. September 27 at my Banana Slug booth right in front of the Bay Tree Book Store in the quarry plaza. The booth will feature an actual appearance by the Sammy the Slug character. Then make sure to go to City Hall in Santa Cruz where the City Council is going to vote on a resolution declaring an official UCSC banana slug mascot day. For real.

Stay tuned for fascinating facts in banana slug cultural history.

(accompanying illustration by Dan White with assistance from Linda Knudson)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Slug cookie success

I'm glad to report that my neighborhood bakery really likes my suggested design for what just might be the first official banana slug mascot cookie.

I will try to post a photo when the first one comes out of the oven next week. In case you are wondering, the baked goods will be part of a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of UC Santa Cruz's famous banana slug mascot.

By the way, this accompanying photo shows a couple of rejected banana slug cookie options. The first one is my drawing, which is simply too big and too detailed to make a reasonably priced cookie. The second is a banana-slug-shaped blob of marzipan made by a pastry chef at the bakery. The problem is that the marzipan slug is, if anything, hemmed in by its extreme realism.
In other words, it looks disgusting!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Help: desperately seeking a cookie cutter shaped like a banana slug

Hi everyone. I'm about to order a bunch of custom-made cookies in the shape of banana slugs. Seriously. The trouble is, the bakery needs me to come up with a cookie cutter shaped like the creature in question. If you can help me out, send in to this blog immediately. I'll also post on Facebook and elsewhere. (Time is running out. I'm not making this up). If you live somewhere on the Central Coast, I can meet up with you and pay you a fair price for your cookie cutter.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Attack the Block: my vote for finest film of the year

These are such busy times -- non-stop, hectic -- but I was able to get out and see a very fine movie called "Attack the Block." Now, don't be turned off by the "aliens attack" set-up. The movie avoids that cliched, open world scenario in which all-powerful creatures vaporize Paris, cause tidal waves, bite the head off the Statue of Liberty and so forth.

For one thing, the alien creatures are earthy and highly kill-able mammal types -- hairy beasts that look like hedgehog wolf-bears, with some gorilla thrown into the genetic mix. The beasts don't have any death rays, just claws and fearsome teeth, which crackle and buzz and emit a strange blue glow like fluorescent track lighting.

For another, the alien invasion focuses on a single building in a dangerous London neighborhood and surrounding alleyways, trash-strewn fields, rubbish bins, etc. The aliens' combatants are mostly a group of young people who are well on their way to becoming thugs. The housing project houses three generations of full-blown and potential criminals: two older crime bosses, their adolescent henchmen, and, coming up just behind them, two little tyros who idolize the henchmen and are always trying to show them up. Stand this gang up against a group of alien creatures and you've got a truly novel fight to the death scenario.

I can tell that the makers of this movie put a great deal of thought into all this -- the hierarchy of the gang, and even the way the creatures interact with one another and what drives them to attack (which I won't reveal here).

The high-rise apartment complex is put to excellent use. I have a feeling that location scouts explored every nook of a real high-rise, considering every way that the garage underneath the complex, the tight and endless hallways, two creaking elevators, stairwells and skyways with perilous drops separating them, can be mined for suspense and shocks. They also though long and hard about all the things that scare us, and transported these old phobias from a 'scary woods' scenario to a 'scary city' scenario --the feeling of entrapment, disorientation, feeling pursued without knowing where you are, having to make a break from a safe zone while having no idea if something terrible is waiting just outside the door or the garbage bin.

All in all it was a wickedly clever film. Yes, it's funny, but it will also make you jump, shake, and spill your popcorn all over the place.

See it now, preferably in a nice, claustrophobic theater. I would recommend Haight-Ashbury's Red Vic, but someone told me that it just shut down for good. If true, this is very sad news.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Cactuseaters: back from my grand tour of the California Southlands (Santa Monica and beyond)

Don't count me among the Santa Cruzans who drive around with bumpers that say "We're back. L.A. sucked."

I, for one, enjoyed every moment of my grand Southlands tour which included Santa Monica, Westwood, Hollywood, Reseda, Tarzana, Redondo and Palos Verdes. Yes, there was a bit of sprawl, and yes, their was a bit of traffic (I almost got clipped in half by a Hummer, and had to rev my engine and drive like mad on the Rosecrans entrance to the 405), and yes, the place is humongous, but I loved the aspirational energy, the food, and the sense that I was putting every bit of my Driver's Ed training -- including all those "Red Asphalt" movies -- to the test. I went into a wonderful Bay Cities Italian deli in the middle of Santa Monica, and it was bedlam -- everyone clamoring for the same eggplant paninis and turkey Reubens. The struggle, the waiting, the clawing and shouting, made my sandwich taste even better.

We spent a good sized chunk of our time in Santa Monica, in a lovely rented house in a leafy, mostly quiet neighborhood -- I say mostly because it lies directly in the flight path of the Santa Monica Airport. The planes did not bother us at all, even though they swooped above us at regular intervals. I imagine it would be more of a problem if you lived on that street year-round and had to deal with the planes all of the time. (see the bottom of this post)

In the course of the week, I found that "nearby" highlights in Los Angeles are nowhere near each other, even if they look cheek-by-jowl on a Southlands map. For instance it took FOREVER to go from Santa Monica to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, but it was worth the extremely long trek. I especially loved the Zodiac heads sculpture by Ai Weiwei, now on exhibit at the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The heads – a rooster, a pig, a dragon, and a toothy sheep, among others –were beautiful and unsettling. All of them stare down from six foot spikes, and bare their teeth. They stand in judgment of the viewer. I read that Wei Wei based this sculpture on a looted work of art, erected in China by Jesuits and and pillaged by invading French and British forces in 1860. Most of the animal heads in that garden – save for the ones that inspired the animal heads in Wei Wei’s magisterial work, were carted off or destroyed. “You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the place we burnt,” lamented the regretful Charles George Gordon, the British captain who led the mission.

The Broad museum itself was another surprise; a series of escalators (like the ones at the Pompidou) deposit you on the top floor. It's a bit like a fun house; enormous dinner plates that spin and threaten to topple over on you when your circle around them, Jeff Koons' larger-than-life Michael and Bubbles sculpture, and, on the first floor, a Richard Serra installation called "Band" that overwhelms with its scale and grace.

Incidentally, I was saddened but not entirely surprised to hear that a plane actually crashed right near where we were staying -- on the same block of the same street, no less.

(Fortunately, no one was seriously injured in that crash. Still, these good folks should think about moving the airport some place else. I guess the other alternative is moving the houses, but that would be harder.)

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

"Someone I'd Like You To Meet" author profile

I know my three readers keep checking for new content (I can see you from here). I am working on a piece about my journey to Los Angeles, but meanwhile here is an interesting profile. Also, in the unlikely event that you've never heard of them, I love these literary blogs: The Millions, Bookslut, and The Rumpus.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Emilio Estevez's new mainstream movie about a long-distance trail (and it's not the PCT!)

This just in. Someone just sent me a link to a preview about a movie starring Martin Sheen, and directed by his son, Emilio Estevez (remember Repo Man?) concerning a certain famous long-distance hiking trail. But it's not about the PCT, and it's not about the Appalachian Trail, either.

If you're all out of guesses, go ahead and watch the trailer. Anyhow, if you're reading this, and you feel like making a movie out of you-know-what, you know how to reach me. Forgot to mention that three Hollywood screenwriters contacted me when it first came out, hoping to get it made into a movie, but I guess these things take time. And lots of financing, too. Anyhow, you have to wonder if this is going to be first in a pack of "do the trail" movies, or if it's just a one-off. I think long-distance trails would be good movie subjects and backgrounds, with the potential for conflict, loose bands of friends, odd coincidences, animal attacks, etc. On the down side, it would be mighty hard to haul decent equipment up and over all those danged passes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Welcome back, and read these next

I hope you all had a good trip. I honestly think you'll enjoy Family Fang by Kevin Wilson. Deadpan, sometimes blood-curling, surprisingly good-humored. Performance art and fame are the "lenses" into loopy family life. The potato-gun scene is an all-time classic. Can't get enough of Lynda Barry's Picture This, which brings me back to the days of purposeless (and therefore blissful) creation. It is, mostly, a picture book but I think you will like it anyhow. I've read it three times so far. I also read Robin Black's If I Loved You I Would Tell You This with admiration. Aside from that, I'm pretty fired up about One Day I Will Write About This Place, by Binyavanga Wainana, which I've only just started.

Anyhow, I hope you brought us back some Hungarian sausages and perhaps a few containers of stroopwafels. I'm hungry right now; I could really eat them.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Someone I'd Like You to Meet in the Atlantic Monthly

Normally, I hesitate to brag about the achievements of writing friends because it makes me feel a bit like Cartman in the South Park Movie: "Yes, that's right, I saw the Terrance and Phillip movie. Now who wants to touch me?" But I'll make an exception in this case, because it's a great story and I want you to read it. The name of the story is "Someone I'd Like You To Meet." The author is Santa Cruz's own Elizabeth McKenzie, who is a Kresge lecturer at UCSC. Here is the story, right here.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cat massage link, and apologies for accidentally deleting a bunch of my postings

Um ... I never have any idea if people are actually reading this blog unless I erase something accidentally, and then, suddenly, I get lots of complaints. Sorry. I will try to restore the things I erased by mistake. Must have pressed the wrong darned button.

By the way, someone just asked me to publish this goofy link about massaging cats properly. Wow -- I had no idea there were time-tested techniques for such a thing. To be honest, I think this link is kind of weird, although I thought the feline facial exfoliation part was pretty hilarious.

By the way, I used to have a "spyware" program that gave me IPO addresses of people who read this blog regularly and told me where the "hits" are coming from but I got bored with it so I unsubscribed. In other words, I have no way of knowing who is tuning in. In other words, if you want to be a blog stalker, go right ahead.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Stop writing books!

I love reading books (and writing) and yet I found this Bill Keller article perversely comforting, especially the part about making bail.

Monday, July 11, 2011

What would Falstaff wear? (and how about the Tavern Tarts?)

Sir John Falstaff is a boozer, a braggart, and a womanizing slob. He claims he can fight 50 men at a time, but flees from any hint of danger. He says his waistline was once as slender as an eagle's talon. Now his stomach threatens to pop out of his shirt. Still, he's very fond of himself.

Falstaff is one of Shakespeare's richest characters, but the great playwright had surprisingly little to say about his costume, or the clothes of any other character.

How would such a vain and dissipated man dress himself? What would those clothes say about Falstaff's past, his view of himself, and how he wants others to see him?

Such questions drive costume designer B. Modern as she puts together the clothes for Shakespeare Santa Cruz's upcoming production of Henry IV, Part One, which opens August 5 at the Mainstage Theater on campus.

Read the full story here

Friday, July 08, 2011

Pieces of memory: Alice LaPlante's Turn of Mind

You (my one reader) have carped.

You claim that I'm giving you too many dark and unsettling book recommendations. Too much old age (Emily Alone), too much bigamy (Silver Sparrow) and romantic regret (Say Her Name.).

Well, here's another dark one, but maybe you should read something uplifting and zany before making your descent into Alice LaPlante's Turn of Mind, a novel written from the perspective of a former surgeon, long retired and speaking through the clouds of advanced Alzheimer's.

This is a story about an aging woman's "half state" existence, and her "life in the shadows.'' Does this sound like a bummer to you? All I know is that I'm hooked.

I just started reading Turn of Mind this week; that's why I had to (politely) shush someone in the audience at the Capitola Book Cafe, where LaPlante read on Thursday evening; I feared she was about to spoil the ending. Don't look for chapters here; LaPlante wrote this book in short blocks of prose with ominous white spaces between them; it's like looking at rocks through a fog. LaPlante's reading was unsettling; you get a strong sense of disorientation and unfamiliar faces. You sense the former doctor casting her clinical eye on details she never noticed before; she's held onto her analytical powers, even as her mind erases its own memory cues. The doctor must delve into her surviving memories, and her notebooks, to help her understand why people react to her so strangely. "I bitterly accept that I'm famous, beloved even, among strangers," she says, "a legend in my own mind."

LaPlante, the author of several well-regarded texts about the writing process, could have chosen any number of ways-in for this novel, but she threw herself into the story by writing from the perspective of Dr. Jennifer White. This created a challenge: how do you get inside such a character's mind without leaving your readers confused and left behind? LaPlante solved this problem by drawing freely from the "unreliable narrator" tradition (at the Book Cafe, she mentioned Nabakov's brilliant but morally suspect Humbert Humbert in Lolita, and Ken Kesey's hallucination-prone "Chief" Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.) Like Nabakov and Kesey, LaPlante makes sure to leave some touchstones to help the reader. Though the main character's grip on reality loosens throughout the story, LaPlante is kind enough to leave a few reliable sources for us: some notebook entries, written before the onset of White's dementia, and a cast of supporting characters who (unlike White herself) can be taken at their word.

By the way, if my recommendations are making you sad, you can always send a funny recommendation. I'm open to suggestions, but I won't blog about it unless I like it.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Oodles of baked goods for Santa Cruz doggie

I have it on good authority that a certain local dog owner takes his fuzzy friend to The Buttery and feeds it a warm croissant every week.

My eyewitness saw the whole thing.

"He leaned over and gave the dog half," she said. "It seemed like it went down in one bite."

This doesn't sound like a good idea. Wouldn't a dog react to a rich puff pastry in disgusting ways? The people over at addressed the issue in a recent posting. Their verdict is this: "Yes dogs can eat croissants, but i wouldn't recommend feeding them croissants regularly, on occasions as a treat would be fine but dog food or treats are better." Wow. That is one of the most horribly written sentences I've read in a long while!

Anyhow, you'll never guess the breed of dog.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Read this next: Tayari Jones, Silver Sparrow

First of all, I am glad you liked Emily Alone. That is good to hear. Now, the one to read is Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. The book is a pitcher plant. You just fall right into it, right from the beginning, and you never get a chance to escape. After a while, you dissolve. OK -- block that metaphor -- but it's nice to see a literary work that consumes you like this. One other thing -- I like the way it hauls the problems that drive the story into the light, but it doesn't try to solve them all like some cheesy ABC After School Special. It does what a good story should do -- shines a light on human lives and situations, and when the book ends, the characters go on living without your help. In several instances, I wanted to intervene -- help these people out -- and then I remembered that she made it up.

Friday, June 24, 2011

"Why are all the other drivers honking and waving their hands at me?"

"Why are all the other drivers honking and waving their hands at me right now? Why are they tailgating me and flashing their lights? There's a guy driving close to my bumper now, and he's mouthing out something but I can't understand what he's saying.

Why is he so upset?

People keep swerving out of my way. What am I doing wrong?

Geez. I guess I'd better stop typing this and put my hands back on the steering wheel."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

French Cactus Eaters

Thanks to Mr. Victor White for contributing this theme-appropriate photo, taken during a visit to Paris.

(this is part of reruns, series five. Working on a new post about Amy Stewart and the new Wicked Plants exhibit, but it's taking me a long, long time. don't rush me.)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Graduate student takes 40 years to earn his Ph.D.

Sometimes I hear people complain about taking seven or eight years out of their lives to go to graduate school.

And then there's this guy.
When he started working toward his Ph.D., Nixon was still in office, the Beatles had only just broken up, Jim Morrison was still alive, and "All in the Family" was the number-one TV program. I think it's good to remember, in this era of instant gratification, that worthwhile goals can take a long (long!) time... I was so surprised by his story that I decided to write something about it. Here's my recent posting:

Earning an advanced degree can seem to take forever.

In the case of one recent UCSC graduate, it almost did.

History of Consciousness Program grad Peter Miller received his Ph.D. last week at the Graduate Division commencement ceremony. It took him 40 years.

"I'm probably the person who has the record of how long it took to complete a doctoral degree (at UCSC)," said Miller, 66, who lined up with a crowd of students, some of them as much as four decades younger than him, last week at the Graduate Division commencement ceremony on the East Field.

Technically speaking, he's been pursuing his UCSC advanced degree in political theory and community technology since 1971. Back in 1975, he wrote his qualifying essay and passed his oral examination. All that remained was to write his dissertation.

Why did it take so long? Read the rest of the story here:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Coming soon: The New York Times 36 Hours: 150 Weekends in the USA & Canada

This just in. Someone just sent me the Amazon link to the upcoming The New York Times 36 Hours book, published by Taschen and containing updated and expanded versions of two of my travel columns. I'm really excited about this, although it seems (from the Amazon thread) that it won't be hitting the shelves of your local store until early October or so.

Rose Harden's Life-Sized Mouse Trap

I just found out about this. Remember that game, Mousetrap, involving a highly complex, Rube Goldberg-esque contraption? Rose has undertaken an enormous, human-sized version of this game. I've never seen anything quite like this. The accordions are a great touch, too.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Read this next, anonymous: David Bezmogis, The Free World

A group of Jewish emigrants from Latvia passes some time in Rome while waiting for the next way station in their lives. America, perhaps, or maybe Canada. Doesn't this sound like the recipe for a truly shmaltzy novel?In lesser hands, it would be, but this work of diaspora fiction is field-stripped of sentimentality. You will wait, patiently, for the stodgy old patriarch, Samuil, to reveal the tenderness within. You keep thinking he's going to redeem himself with an adorable gesture, or some unsolicited act of generosity. It never happens. You keep waiting for nostalgia, and the novel's romantic setting, to overwhelm the story. It never does. This must be the least sentimental story about the immigrant experience that I've ever read. You get the overwhelming impression that life, for these people, was a real struggle. Every day they face moral compromises. Rome is an in-between place for them in more ways than one. The characters must deal with challenges to their various loyalties: spouses, countries, political groups, parents. There is nothing cute or sweet about this extended family. The story is spare and unsparing.

But unsentimental does not mean devoid of feeling. In this debut novel, there is a palpable sense of yearning for a better time that never really existed.

I admired these characters just for getting by.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Atherton Book Club: Packing For Mars and much more

Last year I was proud to be the inaugural author featured in the brand-new Atherton Book Club, otherwise known as Reading In Good Company. Now the book club continues with a whole new lineup of great events. Book Club leader Annie Pena tells me that Mary will be participating via Skype during the June 14 meeting about Roach's latest book, Packing For Mars.Even if you don't live on the Peninsula, this is worth the drive. (Mothra/Godzilla photo from Toho Archives.)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

"I'll just try to eat around it" --- (never eat an apricot with a hole in it)

Just got back from a Santa Cruz-area farmer's market, where I paid $5 a pound for fancy apricots. One of them looked so good that I started eating it in spite of the obvious hole in it. "I'll just eat around it," I said to myself.

So there I was, chomping away, but when I got to the pit, there was a fat, juicy, disgusting earwig sitting in the middle of that apricot, clacking its mandibles, wiggling its antenna, with a "what the &%$@ are you looking at?" expression on its face.

The weird thing is, the bug was so much bigger than the hole it must have crawled into to go inside the apricot in the first place. I guess he hung out there for a while, eating the inside of the apricot and getting so fat that he couldn't get out again, like the squirrel protagonist in Timmy Tiptoes. Next time I'll stick with the nectarines.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Rise of the Slug: the once-subversive banana slug mascot turns 25 at UCSC

At the bottom of this blog entry, you will find a link to my brief cultural history of the UCSC Banana Slug, published on UCSC's news page. Just so you know, the slug mascot turns 25 this year. As I mention in my story, the slug is popular now but it used to be a counter-cultural upstart, caught in a rivalry with another animal that wanted to represent UCSC. To find out which animal I'm talking about, you'll just have to click on that link and read the whole thing.

As part of my due diligence for this story, I asked for (and received) permission from Hank Card of the Austin Lounge Lizards to use their unofficial UCSC banana slug fight song in the story. You can hear it in both video clips. By the way, Hank Card was kind enough to give me a bit of background about the song.

"As far as the origins of the song go, you're right that we've got a connection to Santa Cruz and have played at the Kuumbwa (concert venue) many times. We always thought the banana slugs mascot was really funny and even got slimed at the Strawberry Festival."

"I'm from Oklahoma, where football is big, so the college fight song is part of my culture. I just got curious to see if there was a UCSC fight song. Since there wasn't, my wife Kristen and I wrote one just for fun. The S-U-L-G-S spelling in the middle was a mistake we made at practice, but we thought it was funny so we left it in."

And here is the story. The video is by Mara Waldhorn.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Things you should never do in the backcountry. Selected Cactuseaters re-runs, part 17

OK, this post is older than the hills, but a couple of people mentioned it to me so here it is a second time. It's a list of things you should never, ever do during any outdoor excursion.

The Cactuseaters List of Backcountry "Don'ts'' (the unexpurgated version!)

NEVER bring a fondue maker into the woods with you. The bread crumbs, fruit wedges, gas and molten cheese will form a white magma that will spew all over you, leaving fourth-degree burns all over your entire body.

NEVER cook a meal while sitting inside your tent, even when it’s raining outside. (Trust me. Your tent will explode.)

NEVER forget that “freeze-dried’’ and “chili’’ is a very bad combination. (Trust me. You will explode.)

NEVER try to reason with anyone riding an All-Terrain Vehicle --- especially if he or she is drunk and holding a 12-gauge Mossberg hunting rifle and wearing a knit cap that says "I Like Big Jugs.''

NEVER try to make your girlfriend, or boyfriend, hike faster by calling out a military cadence in a fake Southern accent. ("Sound off, sound off, one, two, three, foe!")

NEVER attempt to brush your teeth in total darkness. Preparation H does not fight gum recession. And it tastes fishy.

NEVER bring artisan-quality cheddar cheese into the Mojave Desert with you in mid-June. A horrid white pus will extrude from the cheese, and you will vomit.

NEVER set up your tent in the middle of a mule trail in the North Cascades. Brighty, Big Snort and Old Thunder will trample you to death in your sleep.

NEVER underestimate the amount of toilet paper you will use in the backcountry. Sticks and stones won't break your bones but they will leave nicks and abrasions on your derriere.)

NEVER camp at a suspiciously beautiful, yet strangely empty, lakeside campsite. It is probably empty for very good reasons (think “flood plain,’’ “poisoned water’’ and “spaniel-sized mosquitoes.’’)

NEVER eat the freeze-dried stroganoff. It has been mummified and sealed away for good reason.

NEVER cut the handles off the toothbrush “to save pack weight.’’ Toothbrushes weigh less than an ounce – and if you try to brush your teeth with the head of a toothbrush, it will fall down your throat and lodge in your trachea, and you will die.

That's all for now. Stay tuned for my comprehensive history of the banana slug mascot, and for my report on the Wicked Bugs reading. But I can't be rushed. I've got brain freeze and it might take me a while to upload all this stuff.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

My neighbor is moving.

I see a Mayflower truck out there right now.


I mean, "Bon voyage"!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Violent gardeners and Amy Stewart's Wicked Bugs

There is a violent gardener in my neighborhood.

Call him Mister Green Fist.

He put a defeatist sign up in front of his victory garden. The sign (which faces a busy thoroughfare) warns that he'll "beat the crap" out of anyone who messes with his flowers.

Will upload a photo of that sign when I work up the courage to take a snapshot.

Speaking of wickedness and extreme gardening, I am eager to go see Amy Stewart, bestselling author of Wicked Plants, when she arrives in Capitola to read from her new book, Wicked Bugs, on Wednesday June 8 at the Book Cafe. The talk begins at 7:30 p.m. I didn't realize that Ms. Stewart is a former Santa Cruzan. For the sake of this book, she tracked down 100 of our most horrifying bug enemies, from disease-vector flies to bugs that can turn entire libraries into mulch. Stewart's books are witty and informative, but she also deserves props for the design, layout, and artistry.

I found out about Stewart from the incomparable Mary Harden, my botanical illustration teacher up in Golden Gate Park up until last year, when I relocated to Santa Cruz.

Hope to see you all there.

Cactuseaters Book Club part four: Read this one next: My Korean Deli

I've read so many memoirs that skirt around issues like race, class, family dynamics and the "prestige track," the rut that can trap aspiring editors and authors into low-paying but impressive and privileged positions. Ben Ryder Howe's My Korean Deli jumps into these issues right from the beginning.

Here's what happens when an author and editor refuses to get off the prestige track altogether (he refuses to abdicate his low-paying position at the Paris Review) even while taking an extreme step toward possible financial independence (he and various in-laws pool their resources to buy a delicatessen in Brooklyn.) As the book progresses, you can see the author struggling to maintain his footholds in the store and at the magazine -- an increasingly difficult task, as you'll see.

I did not know that an author could extract so much narrative juice from store ownership. If you think it looks like a static enterprise, think again.

I've been to so many New York delis, and I had no idea what it took to run them, even though I've spent years of my life as a bag boy at places like Von's and Safeway. If you buy one of these places, beware. 1. You have to deal with tobacco enforcement raids. First offense: a thousand bucks. 2. You have to deal with the intimidations and strange behaviors of packaged snack cake suppliers. 3. You may find yourself inheriting pistol-wielding employees who are not afraid to take extreme measures if someone tries to rob the place.

Another thing about this book: It really captured (for me) the best as well as the most horrible aspects of living in NYC for several years. While reading it, I remembered the heights of my experience (martinis at the Temple of Dendur, hearing a talk by Joan Didion, staggering home from an all-night gathering somewhere in Brooklyn, etc.) and the staggering lows (having a rat jump over my foot, having my car break down in frozen weather in the middle of Broadway at 1 in the morning, eating horrible falafel in Williamsburg. The chef thought to put pickles in the falafel. I was drinking Maalox for three days straight.)

A good book club choice.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Print sale: possessed owls, bristlecones, moths, weird bears and much more

Since moving back to Santa Cruz, I've added a new tradition to my life: heading up the hill, jostling for parking, and making my way to the UCSC student Print Sale, which is coming up next Friday. Some of the stuff is dirt cheap. Other stuff is quite expensive. All profits go to the artists. They have all kinds of handmade books, posters, children's illustrations, portraits and lithographs. Last year I saw pictures of bristlecones, moths, Easter Island heads, dancing bears, possessed clowns, and recreated old-time California maps. Last year I bought a wood-block print showing five owls standing in the crook of a moonlit yew tree. It's hanging above me as I write this. Below the owls, there are five dangling ribbons with an inscription running across them in French. I have no idea what it means.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Read these next: Stewart O'Nan and Francisco Goldman (and more)

Here are a few new or new-ish books that you -- both of you -- might like.

Stewart O'Nan's Emily, Alone is marvelous. In this slender book, old people live in an in-between world. Just driving across town -- braving roundabouts, moving in and out of tight garages in a big clunky boat of a car -- is an Odyssey in itself. Emily, the title character, lives in a crooked piece of time. She's trying hard to hold on to her routine, her memories, and her vitality. At the same time, she's moving toward resignation. At one point in the story, Emily is filling out holiday cards, a task she despises but can't bring herself to give up. She glances at her address book and notices a near-perfect split between the list of friends who are still alive and those who died years ago, or moved away. It's just one of the many quiet and powerful moments in this book. Reading through this, I asked myself, "Why hadn't I heard of this author before? Looks like he's written many other books before this. Who has been hiding him away from me for all these years?"

I've just started Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman, who recently spoke at the Capitola Book Cafe. In just a couple of lines, he sets up the story: from the first few opening lines, we know (in this autobiographical work of fiction) that the protagonist has lost his much-younger wife in a freak accident and that her mother blames him for what happened. Then, flip the page and see how the narrator particularizes their relationship with a description of an axolotl, "a species of salamander that never metamorphose out of the larval state, something like polliwogs that never became frogs." We learn that Aura, the young wife, was fascinated by these creatures, and loved a famous short story by Julio Cortazar in which an axolotl, and a man staring at the creature through the glass of a terrarium, swap souls; the man is trapped behind the glass, and the axolotl, in its new human skin, walks away. It's a strange and beautiful way to begin this story about love, grief, art, and identity slippage. Sarah Bakewell's How To Live is a terrific introduction to Montaigne, his essays, his adventures, friends and antagonists. I plowed right through this so quickly that I wanted more. Maybe the paperback version will include an addendum chapter in which Bakewell maps out one of those crazy, rambling, shape-shifting essays from beginning to end, stop by stop, like a tour guide. Speaking of "tour guide" and "shape shifting," Karen Russell's book Swamplandia is a jungle-boat cruise through an enchanted bog. All for now.

Also, here's an addendum: one of my readers told me that she didn't want to read Francisco Goldman's book because "it's about some lady who turns into a salamander. That sounds scary to me." That is a bit of a misreading of my blog post. His book only refers to salamanders (in a specific context) in that one scene. It is about the arc of a relationship and coping with loss, and while the book does have some fantastical elements, the work, as a whole, is most certainly not about amphibians.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Banana slug stampede in Nisene Marks

If you've never been to Nisene Marks, get in your car and go there now.

It just rained, and the place is oozing with giant banana slugs -- skinny ones, fat ones, short ones, curly ones, straight ones, green ones, yellow ones, old ones, baby ones.

I was only there for an hour, and I saw 25 of these slime-covored creatures without trying.

Strange that I saw exactly that number, considering this is the 25th anniversary of Sammy the Slug, the mascot over at UC Santa Cruz.

Coincidence? Yes.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"How come you guys never touch me on the knee?" Drunk neighbor's list of grievances

On Cinco de Mayo, one of neighbors got really drunk, staggered out into the street and began to shout a list of specific grievances to his housemates. Since I couldn't sleep anyhow (he woke me up at 1:55 in the morning with his shrieking, bellowing and sidewalk stomping), I took out a pen and wrote down his rantings, verbatim.

Here is his list of grievances:

1. His friends are insensitive to his needs.
2. His friends (male as well as female) refuse to touch him in affectionate ways. He was especially concerned that his housemates touch each other's knees during conversations but rarely if ever touch him on the knee. In fact he cannot remember "one freaking time" when they've touched him on the knee.
3. His friends rarely hug him.
3. He has low self-esteem. His friends are responsible for his lack of self esteem. The lack of knee-touching and hugs makes it worse. If his friends would only massage his knees on a regular basis, he would feel good about himself.
4. His friends do not understand him.
5. On certain occasions they will do "fun things" without alerting him to their plans. Then, when he'll find out about the fun plans, they will lie about it and cover it all up. "You make it seem like you've assembled spontaneously, when in reality, you've planned ahead and gone somewhere and never told me."

I hope my neighbor gets the comfort and knee-petting that he craves. I'll upload an illustration soon.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pacific Crest Trail 2011: Free Range Amelia lights out from Santa Cruz

Hoping you will have kind words and perhaps some canned cling peaches with syrup for Free Range Amelia, who is representing for Santa Cruz on the Pacific Crest Trail this year.

She's doing a full-on through hike and should be arriving in Campo soon. My impression is that Free Range Amelia can throw down quite a lot of miles per day so you'll have to keep up as best you can.

She will update this journal regularly. This blog post has been amended to remove the word "GORP." Gorp is disgusting.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Drown out your annoying neighbors (and get some writing done)

I just found out about this free Web application that lets you blast white noise through your computer or iPhone.

By the way, if you're a Pacific Crest Trail hiker, you're out there hiking with an iPhone, and you want to drown out your chatty trail companions, you might want to think about this, too. Just put on those headphones and put the volume on full blast.

Living Writers series continues in Santa Cruz ... with Aimee Bender and more

O.K. That's enough about the goose for now. Here's the rest of the series. I'm staking out my parking spot; don't swoop me. Scroll down to the bottom for the full schedule. Why didn't someone tell me there was a typo in here?

(pictured: Aimee Bender)

May 5
Jessica Hagedorn

May 12
Aimee Bender

May 26
Neo Benshi, Roxi Power Hamilton, Jen Hofer and Konrad Steiner

Here is the full schedule.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Memorial service for iconic goose

I know I have been posting quite a bit about Lucy the iconic goose. Just wanted to mention that there is a memorial service at 6 p.m. today. It would feel kind of weird for me to go to such a funeral, and perhaps hypocritical [I'm eating a glazed roasted chicken for dinner this evening with all the trimmings] but I admired Lucy and will leave some kind of note if there's a visual memorial.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Monday, April 18, 2011

Rest in peace, Lucy the Goose

I was saddened to hear that Lucy the Goose, a tireless and resilient Santa Cruzan, was killed over the weekend.

She was an older goose -- well into her teens, which is pretty old in the goose world. She had dirty gray feathers, a baritone voice that could carry for a half mile, and a bright-orange growth, roughly the size and shape of a walnut, over her upper beak.

I know that there is a long and embattled history surrounding Lucy, and that some local neighbors were upset about the noise and droppings, etc. Did this sentiment have something to do with her demise? News reports didn't say. According to one account, she may have been the victim of an animal attack. I suppose that's possible, though it wouldn't have been easy for a creature to get her. She was fairly well-protected behind a fence, and often slept and rested in areas that were completely surrounded with water.

One of Lucy's longtime fans told me that she used to live out near that big lagoon in Live Oak, once known for its large flock of loud, knee-pecking geese. According to one account, she was "dumped" in the harbor one day. Over the years, local publications have mentioned the controversy over Lucy's noise and messes, mostly as an excuse to fold in every pun you can think of involving "fowl" and ruffled feathers, etc.

Lucy was not perfect. For one thing, she was lazy. Her trumpet was so loud you could hold your cellphone up to it, and it would hurt your listener's ears. When she walked, she swung back and forth so much that she sometimes bowled herself over just walking up a hill. Lucy could go from retiring to aggressive and back again with little warning. Sometimes Lucy would preen for her fans, then turn her back on people or shout at them for no reason.

But she was part of the harbor landscape, and a testament to perseverance. Preferring her own company, she ate and played alone, but she was indulgent towards the people who served as her unofficial caretakers.

Even the tsunami storm could not drive her out of the channel for long.

Lucy will be missed.

I hope someone gets to the bottom of this soon.

(above: image of Lucy at full wingspan)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Helene Wecker: The Golem and the Djinni

Ever read a book that isn't published just yet but you have a feeling that it will be -- and that it's only a matter of time? That's what I thought when reading early drafts of Helene Wecker's novel-in-progress, The Golem and the Djinni, which has been taking shape in various cafes and BART train rides for the past few years. Helene, an East Bay resident, just found out that her radical (and masterful) reworking of the Golem legend will be coming to a bookstore near you in 2013, from HarperCollins.