Friday, October 31, 2008

Bookwhore Chronicles: Song of Kali

How appropriate that I'm (finally) writing my mini-review of Dan Simmons' Song of Kali on Hallowe'en. I honestly didn't plan it this way, having originally begun the post on Wednesday. Ah, the wonders of procrastination!
>When new poems from Indian author M. Das -- long thought to be dead -- suddenly appear, Harper's magazine send writer Bobby Luzcak to Calcutta to learn more about M. Das, perhaps even to bring some new works home for publication. He takes his wife Amitra along as an interpreter and so she can see her family and introduce them to their baby daughter Victoria. Everything seems to be going according to plan -- until they reach Calcutta and learn that plans and meetings have been changed. He and his family are rushed through the darkened streets to the hotel by a man named Krishna who seems to know more than he's letting on.

By day, Calcutta is a very dirty place with muddy streets, a faint stench lingers in the air, and thousands of bodies, cars and bicycles cram into every available space. But at night, the sense of rot and death only hinted at during the light come into full play as Bobby is lead on a for M. Das. In fact, Calcutta seems like a living being, doing whatever she can to confuse and to befuddle Bobby at every turn: from a rundown bar where a secondhand source recounts a fantastic tale about a body -- possibly M. Das -- coming back to life in the presence of the goddess Kali to a mysterious group known as the Kapalikas taking him through the maze-like city, from his meeting with the leprous M. Das to awakening in a dark room, knowing that something is inside with him, but not sure if he can believe what he sees by the flicker of match light. And yet, even after all the tragedy and manipulations, after Kali's song of destruction tempts him, Bobby manages to fight back and regain his humanity.

Simmons' descriptions of Calcutta, the people, the rituals, are detailed enough to make the reader feel as if he/she were slogging through the trash-filled alley as Bobby tries to escape or packed tight like sardines on the bus at night trying to make it back to the hotel. Yet he doesn't overdo it with them. In particular, the scene in which Bobby is fleeing from some creature or person, and can only see bits and pieces in the weak light from his matches, is effectively scary and filled with tension because like Bobby, the reader never confronts the entire creature. For me, that unknown quality makes it that much more terrifying.

Happy Hallowe'en!

This is about as dressed up as I'm getting. Have a great Hallowe'en!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Morning Glow

Something about the lyrics has stuck with me the past month or so....

Why won't my hands stop shaking
When all the earth is still
When ancient ghosts are waking
So many steps need taking
So many plans need making
I think I will
I think I will

Morning glow, morning glow
Starts to glimmer when you know
Winds of change are set to blow
And sweep this whole land through
Morning glow is long past due

Morning glow fill the earth
Come and shine for all you're worth
We'll be present at the birth
Of old faith looking new
Morning glow is long past due

Oh, morning glow, I'd like to help you grow

We should have started long ago

So, morning glow all day long
While we sing tomorrow's song
Never knew we could be so strong
But now it's very clear

Morning glow is almost here
Morning glow by your light
We can make the new day bright
And the phantoms of the night
Will fade into the past
Morning glow is here

At last!

-- Music/Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz

Monday, October 27, 2008

Housewarming and Haute Dogs

Our friend CS finally invited everyone to his new(ish) house for a housewarming. Of course, we wanted to be fashionably late, thinking it would be like any other get together: finger foods, chips, dip, cookies, veggie tray, etc. But no. CS called around 12:30PM wondering when we would be arriving because he was holding up lunch.


I told him we were on our way, no more than 10 minutes away. With the traffic lights, it was more like 15 minutes, but we made it in time to munch a few chips before CS seated us at the dining room table, setting plates with homemade chicken dumpling soup and a polenta cake with chicken before us. And four varieties of pie for dessert. And a chocolate cake. (CS, if you're reading this, you really need to open a restaurant!!) Everything was delicious, and we all enjoyed chatting and joking with everyone while stuffing our faces.

We only had a few moments to relax after the meal before heading to 2nd St. for the annual Halloween Dog Costume Parade, sponsored by Haute Dogs. Seven of us piled into two cars, rushed from one end of Long Beach to the other, and somehow managed to find parking not too far from the parade route. Though finding a place to stand to watch the parade was a bit more difficult, but after pushing through the crowds of people, we placed ourselves with the Sun at our backs and The Gap in our faces.

This was not a traditional parade. The dogs and their owners did not march down the street to show off their Halloween finery. That would have interrupted traffic. Instead, the myriad bumble pugs and pirate chihuahuas, Underdogs and cheerleader German shepherds, filed down the sidewalks on either side. The kids loved it, as did the multiple cameras snapping pictures, but the many pedestrians who didn't know about the parade grumbled loudly as the waited for the two poodles dressed as a bride and groom in a gondola stopped to pose for pictures. Some great costumes passed by, including a black poodle dressed as an astronaut, complete with helmet, while the owner dressed as the Space Shuttle; a small white dog dressed as Indiana Bones and the Temple of Bark; two surfer pugs riding a huge, styrofoam wave. I kept waiting to see if Sage and her Homer would be marching, but I think they were tired from their other weekend festivities.

CM and I escaped into The Gap at one point because of the direct sunlight baking our necks and heating our shirts. I purchased an aubergine? wine? purple? polo shirt, and CM found a lightweight hoody. Neither of which we needed, but they looked good on us.

We didn't stay until the end of the parade, though. It was almost 4 o'clock when we left, and more dogs and owners were making their way along the sidewalks. We all headed back to CS's house, where CM and I said our goodbyes the headed to our friend MM's house to see her and the twins.

I wore myself out chasing them, bouncing a big rubber ball at them, raising them into the air like airplanes, and playing peek-a-boo. But listening to them laugh and giggle was such a happy time; I didn't mind the sweat and the exhaustion. It's almost hard to believe they're 16-months old! I remember them at the hospital, both well under 5 pounds, the tiniest things I'd ever seen. Now, they walk and babble and dance and throw bits of food at CM and myself. I hope we wore them out so that they slept well last night.

I know I did.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Private Viewing

This afternoon, we headed to The Block to see a private screening of an animated film due for release in Spring 2009. (I say "private", though, judging by the line of pople winding through the AMC lobby, perhaps 200 - 300 others also responded to the email offering free movie tickets.) We arrived early to snag a spot in line close to the theater entrance, then waited for the doors to open around 1:15pm.

Once the ushers (or Nielsen people, I'm not sure which) opened the doors, we had our bags checked, scooted through a metal detector to make sure neither of us carried any recording equipment, then searched for any vacant seats we could find. As we settled in, a man in a blue dress shirt, looking frazzled and tired, asked moviegoers a few questions about animated films they'd seen in the past few months, then whispered something to a woman with a clipboard. She switched places with the man, asking more detailed questions, as he wandered up to more people. "He's making me nervous," CM whispered. "Probably from the studio's marketing department," I replied.

More people walked in, scanned the seats hesitantly, asked people to move over so their group could sit together. Shortly before 2pm, I nudged CM and pointed to a man wearing glasses. "Looks like Katzenberg showed." Before I could say anything else, the man in the blue shirt ran to the front of the theater, welcoming us, one of the first groups to see an upcoming animated film from Dreamworks. He told us that the film wasn't complete, that a few scenes would still be in storyboard or unfinished stages, that recording devices were scritly prohibited in the theater, and that we should enjoy the film. With that, the lights dimmed, and a short film ran explaining what we were about to see, the reasons for some unfinished portions. And then the movie began.


After completing our comment cards, my stomach was growling so we headed for Alcatraz Brewing Co. for a late lunch. We talked of nothing but the movie.

"I thought it was just plain dumb," CM said.

I agreed enthusiastically. I thought I was the only one after overhearing a few people mention how much fun the film was. For me, the story never seemed original, almost as if it borrowed from every sci-fi movie monster cliché imaginable. The humor -- what little there was of it -- seemed forced to me, as if the writer inserted a joke in order to get a laugh because he/she knew it wasn't as funny as it should have been.

I told CM that the moment I saw the word "Monster" on the screen, I immediately thought of Frankenstein and Dracula and the Wolfman. "Not the old B-movie ones. I don't know many people nowadays who would catch the references." The main female character grows to gigantic size at the beginning of the film (à la Attack of the 50-Foot Woman); Dr. Cockroach's gene manipulating experiment which leaves him a cross between a man and a roach seemed too much like The Fly; The Missing Link looked more like The Creature from the Black Lagoon; Bob the Blob was basically The Blob; and the final creature was very much like Mothra.

The voice talent was okay. With such voices as Reese Witherspoon, Keifer Sutherland, Stephen Colbert, Hugh Laurie abd Paul Rudd (to name a few), I think we both expected more likability and emotion from the characters. But sadly, that never happened. We both thought the character of the President served no real purpose to move the story along. He was very two-dimensional and only marginally funny. Poor misused Stephen Colbert!

Some of the computer generated character features annoyed me, like the pinched noses and the too-large eyes. The animators tried for cute but messed up somewhere. "And their mouths never really synched completely with the voices," I added. Much like a dubbed kung-fu film.

The jump from finished scenes to storyboards or to computer-generated placeholders jarred CM somewhat, but I forgave much with the animation, solely because the film wasn't complete.

About the only thing we both agree on liking was the battle in San Francisco. The animators did a fine job creating the action sequences, which really did impress me, and with the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge. Other than that, we both found the film dull.

On the comment card, I marked that I wouldn't recommend the movie to anyone. CM did the same.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bookwhore Chronicles: Falling Off the Catwalk

Something pretty nifty about LibraryThing that I recently discovered is their "Early Reviewers" group. Some publishers give LibraryThing a few copies of a book that they would like LibraryThing members to review, before the book is officially released. LibraryThing posts on their site that they have n number of copies to give to readers, and hoards of people click the request button next to one or more of the books. I tried it in July and was disappointed not to receive anything. I held off for a month, tried again in September, and lo and behold, I received an email stating that soon, a copy of the book Falling Off the Catwalk by Robert N. Reincke would arrive in my mailbox. A few days later the book arrived as promised and with a handwritten note from the author. So I set one of my books aside and immediately dove into this one.
>At the age of 29, author Robert Reincke is unhappy in his stagnant, cubicled job at Hewlett-Packard. After trying his hand at some local modeling and liking the results, he puts in for a two-week vacation to test the waters in Europe and quickly finds himself on a plane to Paris and to his indoctrination into the world of men's fashion. What follows is a year and a half filled with alcohol, hashish, ecstasy and absinthe, dragging him down into the spiral of addiction he thought left behind in San Diego. His experiences with agency after agency, rejections, the very limited opportunities in the modeling world for men, his diminishing funds, leave him wondering if he has what it takes to be model. His personal questions into his own sexuality and trying to balance those feelings with his Evangelical Christian faith only add to his self-doubt and his falling deeper into alcohol and drug abuse.

Through transcripts of personal videos, excerpts from his journals, and his own torn memories of that year and a half, Reincke offers an honest and intriguing portrait of a man struggling with his inner demons -- addiction and sexuality. He uses the drugs and alcohol to dampen his feelings toward men while believing at the same time, using would increase his attraction to women, confirming his heterosexuality. When that isn't the case, he repeatedly binges on alcohol or hash, staying out late, barely making it to photo shoots (or being drunk/stoned at them). His journals record all the events and emotions, his then beliefs about being able to control his substance abuse and his sexual urges, and finally what happens when he learns to accept himself for who he is.

I liked the openness and honesty with which Reincke presented himself. Nothing was left out, his thoughts and feelings about himself, about other men, about modeling weren't faked, and that enabled me, as a reader, to connect with Reincke as he maneuvered through the hazards of life. The memoir came across as very relatable to me, in terms of confronting my own feelings of self-doubt; I could hear myself saying many of the same things, questioning my feelings regarding my sexuality, not knowing who to turn to or where to go. It was a very worthwhile read, and I definitely recommend Falling Off the Catwalk.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ding, Dong, the Noisy Neighbor's Gone!

Last year, a week after finally driving my new car home and carefully parallel parking it behind the apartment, I awoke one Monday morning to find that one of my neighbors had scratched the bumper of my car while either parking or leaving his spot. I casually asked him about the scratch, which he denied doing though anyone could see the blue paint from my car on the gray fender of his, and left it at that. Stupid in hindsight since he did the same thing not more than 7 days later.

I told my other neighbor what I suspected and that I was no longer going to use the space. Her eyes lit up as she asked if she could use the spot. "Go ahead, but watch your car! It may get hit!" She said that she could handle him if, if, that happened.

In the year since, her car wound up with gigantic scratches and missing paint more times than I care to remember.

But no longer!

Saturday morning, I couldn't get back to sleep around 7 AM thanks to Mr. Neighbor and his girlfriend going at it wildly. The sounds of the headboard rattling against the wall like a jackhammer. His swinish grunting. His girlfriend's howls and moans which caused the dogs in a three block radius to howl along. And they kept at it until 11 AM with very few breaks to catch their breaths. This was nothing new, and I've been awakened on numerous occasions to their "lovemaking", if you will. I usually recognized ahead of time when their sessions were going to occur because they had knock-down-drag-out-throwing-plates-and-fists arguments that lasted two or more hours. (Our female neighbor told us that she's called the police on them twice because of how violent they were.)

For the remainder of Saturday until we left for the theater, drawers slammed shut, weights or heavy objects dropped against the floor, and snatches of talk about moving this box or those clothes echoed through the floor into our apartment. We didn't think much about it until Sunday morning when we heard nothing but silence coming from downstairs. CM returned from the gym and ran into our landlords and our other neighbor talking about Mr. Neighbor. Apparently, that morning he told the landlords that he was moving out. His apartment had already been cleared and cleaned as best it could. And he was gone. That was that.

Hallelujah! I can return my car to its rightful spot. No more police checking in on a possible domestic disturbance. No more grunting and howling for hours on end!!! The sun shone brighter. The birds flitted gleefully about the trees, warbling a happy tune.

And all was right with the world.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Two Times the Theater Action!

Friday night kicked off our weekend o' theater with a free performance of Alice in One Hit Wonderland 2: Through the Looking Glass at the Carpenter Center. I received an e-mail a few weeks ago that the Troubadour Theater Company would be bringing their incredibly funny show to Long Beach from their home in Burbank as part of a nationwide free night of theater. CM had read about the show and wanted to see it so when the tickets became available, I jumped right in and snagged us two seats.

We arrived early to pick up the tickets which was a good thing because the lobby was filled to capacity with people waiting for the doors to open so they could rush in for the General Admission seating. And once they opened, the throng of theater-going humanity poured through the doors, scrambling, pushing and shoving its way up the steps and through the rows of seats. We casually walked to one of the rows not quite at the back and made our way to the seats almost dead center with the stage. The music from many one hit wonders -- The Fixx, Katrina and the Waves, Right Said Fred and more -- carried over the many people talking and laughing until the lights dimmed.

The show began with a re-cap of the Troubadour's earlier production of Alice in One Hit Wonderland. Lewis Carrol took his place at a small desk on the left side of the stage. Then Alice swished through the curtains as the first guitar licks from Edie Brickell and New Bohemians' What I Am played. She opened her mouth to sing, and.... Nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. We could barely hear her because she forgot to turn on her microphone. The actor playing Carroll stopped the production, joked with the audience about how the theater was free but we needed to pay for the sound, then lifted up Alice's skirt to switch on the microphone. Once the crowd calmed down from the laughter, the re-cap re-started and ended to everyone's surprise with Alice Nelson (from The Brady Bunch) writhing on the floor as she emerged from a peculiar dream about a Cheshire cat and a mad hatter. From that moment on, no one in the theater could keep from laughing as the actors improvised, sang, danced, jumped rope (even double dutch) and at one point early in the show, when a few stragglers walked in, the entire production screeched to a halt. The actor playing Carroll pointed out the latecomers to the entire audience then broke into You're So Vain until latecomers were seated and red with embarrassment. After two hours, I had laughed so hard that my sides literally hurt, and I couldn't hold back the tears. That was just the kind of inanity that CM and I both needed after the long week.
Saturday night found us driving to Los Angeles for the second show of the weekend: 9 to 5 at the Ahmanson. CM and I both wondered how Dolly Parton would do, writing an entire musical based upon the movie and her hit song of the same name, but our friend CS assured us that it was a fantastic show (since he'd seen it a few weeks ago). He warned us that it was very technical, too, with lots of sets popping up and down, people flitting about the stage and effortlessly maneuvering around the set pieces. And we were not disappointed. From the opening number -- a version of 9 to 5 that really shows how tough it is to get up and ready for work -- through all the dances, songs and the well-written story, we were hooked. Allison Janney played Violet Newstead, the hard working employee who knows the ins and outs of working in the Old Boy network; Megan Hilty shined as Doralee Rhodes, the secretary whom everyone assumes to be sleeping with the boss because of her looks; Stephanie Block played Judy Bernley, a woman taking her first step into the workforce after her husband left her for his secretary. The three women worked together like a well-oiled machine, and I still get a kick out of their pot-smoking scene. Mark Kudisch slimed his way through the role of Franklin Hart, perfecting the sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot. And Kathy Fitzgerald almost stole the show with her hysterical turn as Roz, Hart's faithful spy.

Each of the main characters had his or her own song, and what pleasantly surprised both CM and myself is that each song suited the character. Only Doralee sang the country-styled songs while everything else rang of Broadway. Even Roz's fantasy number in the women's restroom, which must be seen to be believed. Pure theatrical magic! (I hope they release a soundtrack because I would definitely buy it!) The remarkable sets popped up from a hole at center stage, glided from the ceiling, or slid from the wings, and they re-created the look of the movie perfectly, almost interchangeably. Even the costumes seemed ripped directly from the film. I don't think I've ever seen a better move from movie to musical, and I hope it does incredibly well on Broadway.

Two very different shows, but each night we left the theaters sporting huge grins and talking non-stop. And me being jealous because I can't dance, sing or act my way out of a wet paper bag.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bookwhore Chronicles: Second Son

I read an earlier novel of Robert Ferro's -- his first, I think -- almost 10 years ago. And wanted to read more, but I could never find anything else from him. A few years ago, while browsing the shelves at Out of the Closet in Long Beach, I saw the name "Ferro" jutting out rather haphazardly from beneath a mishmash of books, hefted the other books unceremoniously to the floor and smiled at my find: Robert Ferro's Second Son. And not just any copy: hard cover; sleek, undamaged dust jacket; the words "First Edition" with a complete number line stamped on the book information page. (This was at a time when I sold books on eBay.) Cost? $2.00.
Second Son follows Mark Valerian, the third of four children and, as the title suggests, the second son. Unlike his older siblings, he doesn't follow along with his parents' wishes and instead becomes a landscape architect. A very prosperous one. He also lives openly as a gay man with HIV. At the onset of the story, the matriarch of the Valerian family has passed away, and the family tries to decide what to do with their second home in Cape May: the house in which their mother died and in which Mark currently lives. His father and older brother want to sell the home in order to aid the failing family business. But Mark is adamant about not selling, further widening the rift between him and his father.

Mark also must deal with his HIV status and his own self-perceptions of what it is to be a gay man living with HIV. He doesn't feel deserving of love, not from his family and certainly not from another gay man, and the seclusion of the house in Cape May allows him some form of escape. But he still must live and work so he travels to Italy to work on a commission and there, through letters from his closest friend Matthew, is introduced to a theatrical designer named Brian. The connection is almost immediate and once they discover that they're both positive, a barrier crumbles between them. They grow more intimate and fall in love.

Much of the novel deals with the struggles that all families go through when someone is sick, especially during the HIV/AIDS epidemic and panic in the 80s. Mark separates himself from his family, for the most part because he feels that he needs to but also because he picks up on subtle hints from his family that steer him in that direction, such as when his brother George and his wife don't allow him to touch their granddaughter, not so much by words but by their actions and reactions to him. These feelings come to a head when he learns that the family has already mortgaged the house in the Cape without telling him, and he blurts out in anger that his father had already written him off as dead.

Another strong scene that counters this and fights against Mark's own feelings of sadness comes when his niece -- George's daughter -- goes to answer a ringing phone and sets her baby daughter in Mark's lap. Instead of playing with his great-niece, he cries sad yet happy tears that someone in his family sees him as Mark instead of as someone with HIV/AIDS. Until that point, he really didn't believe his family could see the difference.

Instead of proselytizing that having HIV/AIDS means not being able to love or being quarantined from the world, Ferro's novel teaches that everyone is deserving of love and respect, no matter what hardships or problems arise.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sunday in WeHo with Mimi

We spent lunch on Sunday afternoon with our friend Mimi, who suggested a little café on a corner of Santa Monica Blvd. called Joey's Café. From the outside, it looked like a nice little place: a few tables and umbrellas along both sides of the main door without an empty seat to be seen, lots of gay and lesbian couples and groups (with the occasional straight couple) enjoying the windy sunshine. The inside was packed, as well, but we fortunately didn't have to wait long and were swiftly seated next to a window.

The menu provided a mixture of American and Mexican dishes with a good number of vegetarian choices thrown in. Everything from a chilaquiles and huevos rancheros to ham and cheese omelets and turkey club sandwiches. We spent quite a while poring over the menu, finally taking Mimi's advice to try the omelets. So I ordered a Denver omelet, Mimi the ham and cheese, and CM the turkey sausage and spinach.

We talked about our the difficulties with all our jobs, mostly thanks to the economy. Then, CM and Mimi started talking shop, since their jobs are somewhat similar, and I piped in when I could between bites of the delicious omelet and the roasted red potatoes that came as a side dish. Two hours later, we were still laughing and having a wonderful time, but Mimi said she needed to go and headed for the restroom.
As she disappeared down the short hallway, who should walk into the café but Jason Statham, unfortunately not dressed like the picture. A few heads turned, but the buzz of voices never dipped, no one made a fuss or oohed and ahead as he and his beautiful female guest were seated at a table almost diagonal to ours. We didn't even point him out to Mimi when she returned, and simply walked outside, said our goodbyes and that was that. (However, CM and I did stop by Golden Apple Comics on the drive home for more reading material.)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bookwhore Chronicles: Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood

October. The perfect month to read a ghost story or two. Or thirteen.
With the thirteen stories presented in Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood, the author takes what could be the typical ghost story and, while not turning it on its ear, engulfs the reader with a full sense of terror. Not because the stories are filled with blood, death, monstrous demons with fiery eyes and long sharp teeth dripping with saliva. Blackwood creates atmosphere, offering a detailed sense of time and place which turn them into an integral part of the story, almost like characters themselves. Many of his stories feature Nature as an antagonist, when man suddenly finds himself crossing into its unknown and forbidden territories. In The Willows, the trees surrounding a small sand island in the middle of the Danube seem almost alive with murmurings and movement to the two men trapped on its shores for two nights. And in Ancient Lights, the forest through which Mr. Thomas must cross in order to reach a small red house appears to toy with him, trees seeming to move to block his path or the trail circling back to his point of entry into the forest.

He also explores the physical and mental terror that the main characters feel, such as in Max Hensig when the protagonist Williams begins seeing the poisoner Hensig almost everywhere he goes in New York, as if he were trailing him, waiting to spring his murderous plan into action. With each new sighting, Williams' fright increases until toward the end of the story, he's in full blown terror, and the readers are dragged right along with him.

What I also enjoy about these stories is that the protagonists always have some sort of psychical connection to the events about to take place, such as the immediate, unwarranted dislike of Hensig when Williams first meets him in prison; the feeling that the premonition Martin experiences in Accessory Before the Fact as he walks along a road was not meant for him but for another traveler; the hunger that Miss Gould senses calling from a dead patch of earth in her Master's garden in The Transfer. I think we've all experienced something akin to that at one point or another, a certain sense that tries to warn us about something, but we don't know what it is exactly or how to interpret it so we ignore it. This link just adds to the terror.

Of course, Blackwood also throws in a few traditional tales which still manage to scare the pants off any reader: The Empty House which deals with a certain house in which no one will stay for a long period of time; or The Wendigo which thrusts a Native American legend upon the minds of two woodsman in the late 1800's.

Fantastic tales, all of them, just waiting to send a few shivers up and down your spine.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Brining Home Baby

I was able to bring my Honda home form the body shop yesterday -- though, it wasn't without a bit of drama. Thursday, when I called to check on the status of the repairs, the service rep told me that the car was being painted as we spoke. "Your car should be ready tomorrow after they do the alignment."

Alignment? For fixing a dent and repainting?

"Well, after the boys in the body shop removed the panel, they noticed that the wheel well was dented. And checking it further, the rear axle was a bit damaged. You probably hit that cement column a lot harder than you realized."

I stared into the phone.

"So once they fixed the axle and the painting's all done, they'll re-align the car. It will be like nothing happened."

So what was the new estimate?

"Let's see...$1,780. But your insurance is covering most of that so all you need to pay is your $500 deductible. See you tomorrow!"

$1700. I didn't even know about the rear axle damage but am glad they caught and fixed it. The car does seem to ride much smoother along the freeway; I'm not constantly adjusting for drift like before. So count that on the bright side of things. The dark side: my rates will most definitely go up.

But at least the car looks good.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Songs I'm Digging Right Now

Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap

Church of the Poison Mind by Culture Club

I'm Not Crazy by Brian Kent

Just because....

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

When Do I Get To Vote On YOUR Marriage?

11,000 gay/lesbian couples have married in California. Have the rivers run red with blood? Did churches come crashing to the ground? Did holy fire rain down from the heavens?

That would be a big, resounding NO.

No on Prop. 8

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


A few months ago, I scraped my car against a cement pillar/column in the parking structure next to my gym. And not a rounded pillar, either, but one with sharp edgers and flat, squared sides. As I was turning to head down the final stretch toward freedom from the structure, another car sped up to try to pass me while I was in mid-turn. He didn't slow down. He didn't break. He flashed his headlights and honked so I reacted. Hit the brakes. Immediately backed up. Scraped the right side of my car against the pillar.

The damage was horrific at the time. A three-inch dent just behind the rear door. White lines in the blue paint like claw scratches. The door opened and closed without any problems, and the scrape really didn't look that bad after I calmed down so I left it. Until about two weeks ago when I finally noticed the rust spots. I hadn't realized the scrapes went down to the metal. Without wanting the rust to spread, I called my insurance and dropped my car off yesterday evening.

Now, I'm stuck with a bright red Toyota Corolla. Not my first choice. Probably not even my second, third or fourth choices, but at least it drives. Though I feel that I have to crouch each time I sit in the driver's seat.

Just remember it's only for a week.....

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Birthdays and Skeletons

Friday morning around 8:30, we dashed along the 22 West, listening to one of my birthday presents and dodging many slow-moving cars. In almost no time at all, we pulled into the parking structure at Disneyland and traipsed down the steps across the parking lot into Downtown Disney for a bite of breakfast at Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen before heading into the "Happiest Kingdom on Earth".

Once we braved the seemingly neverending line to get through the turnstiles, I steered us past the gigantic pumpkin at the end of Town Square, weaved among the people gaping at the pumpkins in the windows along Main Street, and turned us toward the Haunted Mansion -- the one must-see attraction. Around this time of year, the Imagineers re-theme the mansion after The Nightmare Before Christmas, adding Jack Skellington and his crew of creatures throughout to liven things up. Also, each year they create a new gingerbread house to display in the ball/dining room, and this year's was wonderful: an enormous gingerbread coffin that opens to reveal a gingerbread man with arms folded across his chest and x's for eyes. He sits up while tiny gingerbread men and women parade around the coffin like they were in New Orleans, with umbrellas flying and musical instruments swinging an upbeat dirge. And to enhance the atmosphere, the scent of warm gingerbread wafted through the ride area.

From there, we both wanted to check out the new Hallowe'en decorations in Frontierland, including both a Hallowe'en Tree decked out in real pumpkins and a small area with many Día de los Muertos skeletal figures. Along with two traditionally decorated tables, they also included three life-sized skeletal mariachi musicians strumming guitars and wearing sombreros, and a very tall woman in pink clutching a small boquet of flowers. I think CM was as surprised as me by the detail Disney spent in creating the figures. I took a few pictures, too.

We spent a few more hours in Disneyland before heading across the esplanade to California Adventure and my favorite attraction, the Tower of Terror. It turned out to be a great day for the parks, and we waited from 5 - 30 minutes for the attractions. The longest wait was for the newest attraction: Toy Story Mania. Underneath the loop of California Screamin', the Imagineers created a new attraction, a 3-D shooting gallery/ride based on different characters in the Toy Story movies. A very entertaining, interactive ride that allowed us to shoot at targets with darts or baseballs or pies or whatever the scene called for. We earned points for each game and at the end of the adventure, were awarded a virtual stuffed animal. I had to prep CM for the attraction, though. Not because the cars spin on their own like teacups as you turned the corners, but because of the firing action of the cannons. CM said afterward that a gay man must have designed it just to see what he could get away with -- only no one caught on. You see, to fire the cannons, we had to pull a string with a large black ball dangling from the backside of the cannon. In order to hit any targets, the cannon needed to be pointing up so when we pulled the string it looked like, well, let's just say it could be thought of as nasty.

But I'm sure it was a big hit during the Unofficial Gay Days this weekend.

Our friends CS, RG and SK joined us for dinner at the Storyteller Café, and I'm so glad they all made it! RG had to drive directly from his job in Simi Valley, the entire trip lasting about 3 hours. And SK jumped into his car after landing at the airport from a last-minute trip to Arizona. CM and I were worried that it would just be the two of us after all that planning and the reservations. But they made it, and the three of them helped to cap off a wonderful birthday.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Boob Tube

That's what my Dad called the TV while my brother and I were growing up. We always gathered around the "Boob Tube" after dinner to watch All in the Family or The Jeffersons or Family Ties. My Dad and I would also spend Sunday afternoons watching an old Sherlock Holmes film with Basil Rathbone as the master detective, followed closely by a scary movie hosted by Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. I find it sad that local stations no longer show those old movies, instead airing too many "reality" shows and infomercials.

And yet, I still find time to sit down and watch the newer shows. A few have actually wormed their way into being some of my favorites....
Last night, we watched the season premier of Pushing Daisies, one of the few returning shows we've been awaiting. Stylish, with quirky characters and a great concept -- Ned can bring people back from the dead for one minute and helps a detective solve cases. But the love of his life, Charlotte (a.k.a. Chuck), is one of those he's brought back, and he can't touch her again or she'll be dead dead -- keeps the story going. Each episode delivers much humor and suspense. I also love seeing all those Broadway stars on the small screen (Ellen Green, Swoosie Kurtz, Kristin Chenoweth).
We'll be watching this reality show tonight: Tabatha's Salon Takeover. I watched season one of "Shear Genius" until she was booted off. Tabatha Coffey invades hair salons (okay, yes, obvious gay factor) around Los Angeles and New York. And she's abrasive, in-your-face, and not afraid to tell you the truth. It's obvious that she has a real affinity for her profession because her personality and actions, while they seem combative, never really show a lack of respect or hostility. She wants these salons to survive, and the people she deals with need the tough love approach to get their asses in gear. Plus, two of the shows were filmed here in Long Beach, CA, not too far from our apartment.
Saturday nights are all about Primeval on BBC America. I liked the idea behind the show -- a mysterious anomaly appears, bringing a dinosaur from the past to the present -- and have stuck with it since the first episode on American TV. Intriguing creatures and a twist in the storyline akin to Ray Bradbury's story A Sound of Thunder make for a very entertaining show that never lets up on the action.
Sunday, our favorite reality-competition show aired its season premier: The Amazing Race, and already, we know which teams we want to see eliminated. Well, at least I know which teams. Other than watching how these couples interact on their trek around the globe (two people cramped into a car, both trying to give directions as loud as possible over the other person), it's interesting to see both where they're going (the first episode took them from the L.A. Coliseum to Salvadore, Brazil) and what they need to do to keep from being eliminated (such as descending that 240-foot rope net in the picture). They've visited some out of the way places in previous seasons, like Burkina Faso, and they also appear to be one of the more open shows, having gay and lesbian couples in past seasons, one of which went on to win the $1M.

More shows await us this season, including the season premier of Lost sometime in January. Fortunately, I have plenty of books to tide me over until then,