Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Oh, the unending pretenses of wine, so vast that I can know nothing about it, but all the same I love drinking the good stuff. I can tell the difference. Anyone can. And everyone's right.

Since Mrs. Ditchman and I are wine enthusiasts (I'm more of a wine drinking enthusiast), we spent some of our anniversary doing some hoity-toity wine-tasting. Where, might you ask? Well since the private jet was being washed, we decided we'd head out to beautiful Temecula Wine Country. It's local. Step out of our house and 40 minutes later you're sipping the finest White Zinfandel you've ever experienced.

Or White Cabernet. Or White Merlot. Such is the rollicking uniqueness that are the Temecula wines, considered to be part of the "South Coast" region of California wines. If you are a believer in the old adage "friends don't let friends drink white zin," then you may be too snobby to appreciate Temecula wines. I won't hold it against you. On the other hand, if you're like me and are willing to try any wine just to say you did, increasing your breadth of knowledge and frame of reference, THEN BY GOD DRINK UP! Temecula Wine Country. Tis a silly place.

How silly? Sufficiently silly. Still worth it, however. Playing it safe, we hit three wineries. First up: Wilson Creek Winery. Home of that perennial Costco favorite, that bottled hit I'm sure you've heard of: Almond Champagne. How does it taste? Well, almondy. What kind of place is it? Well, why do you have to ask? It's like Fantasyland for adults who aren't interested in the details of fine craftsmanship. It's like wandering through a theme park with gum on the bottom of your shoe. It's twelve dollars for six tastings. They give you a ticket and tear off a bit after each taste, like a carnival. There are a million people, all clamoring for the "White Cabernet" which the server, whose knowledge of the wine was summed up with "It's the best one," relayed the information to you with such uninterested displeasure at having to be bothered to work on a Sunday, that you could just tell he'd be drinking a bottle of it when he got home later. In a tumbler. On ice. With Sprite.

They also served a "chocolate port" named "Decadencia," and if by "decadent" you mean "reflecting a state of moral or cultural decline" then, yes. Seriously. It tasted like they bottled the champagne bar spittoon after they dipped it in the days-old chocolate fountain out back in the dirty gazebo. I don't mean to be harsh, this is actually what it tasted like. To me. Just then, I observed a woman with two brimming glasses of the cocoa drool doing the hands-full-and-backing-out-the-door thing. "We must be snobs," Mrs. Ditchman leaned over and whispered, smile on her face, radiant in the light coming through the tinted glass of the tasting room on our anniversary. "WHAT?" I asked. I couldn't hear above the crowd.

So we left. Every wine country has that one winery where everyone goes. It's like a winery hub. All the other "serious" winemakers resent it, I'm sure, but it's that one winery, with their cheap, grapey fluke with the funny name that made a name for itself, that draws folks in. I always go to that place. I figure the wine is just going to get better from there.

Then we went to a place called Leonesse Cellars. Why did we choose Leonesse? Because it was on the free map provided by the Chamber of Commerce. Because we were driving by. Because they had a nice patio cover out in the vineyard. Their hit is the White Merlot. "No one else makes one!" the pourer proclaimed proudly, not understanding that no one makes "Alpaca Manure Wine" either and perhaps there's a reason. How was it? Well, it was better than the white cab we had at the last place. Anyway, there did happen to be a red cab on the tasting list that elicited some interest in the nose of my wife, but it was something of a stretch. (It would have had to age to the point where the bottle itself became vintage glass.) So we laughed our way out to the parking lot, snobs that we are.

I was becoming disappointed. I had held out hope, giving the Temecula Wine Country the benefit of the doubt. Surely there was some good wine in the region, it's just been overlooked! Why, it's a tough business when you've got Napa snubbing you and Paso Robles and Santa Barbara and their Sideways pop-viticulture overpowering your southland mystique. I really wanted to find a nice Temecula wine that I could take to my wine-drinking friends and say, "Oh, you've just got to try this terrific Temecula wine!" and then get laughed out of the room, where I could enjoy its secret goodness all to myself.

In the car, we looked at the map again. There are about two dozen wineries in the region. (Fourteen of them are award-winning!) Where you can spend an entire weekend touring the byways of Napa or Sonoma, you can drive around Temecula wine country in a half hour. The locals here would have you drive slow through their suburb, taking in the sights and sounds of wine country, enjoying the early-in-the-season ripening grapes and the misty mornings that precede the long, dry summers that are so perfect for certain Rhone varietals. Whatever. Don't blink or you'll miss it.

We headed down the highway. I was determined to try one more and I asked Mrs. Ditchman to pick. She mentioned the one we had just passed, as in, "How about that one -let's get this over with." I pulled over and looked at the map. My wife said, "No really. Let's just try it." Many wineries are all about luring you off the road with their irresistible architecture. They build fantastic stone walls with ornate, wrought-iron gates, reminiscent of beautiful Tuscany, or what you suppose beautiful Tuscany might look like. They have impressive signage. They put the tasting room up on a hill, carving a road right through the middle of the precious vineyard, winding up to a landscape flooded with rosemary and sage, roses and lavender. You like the wine already!

So here we had passed a winery that was a steel warehouse, with a vinyl banner out front that read "Cougar". We had strayed off the Temecula Wine Country main strip, if there is one, and found ourselves in the region's backside. I said, "Well, if I was going to make a wine in Temecula, it wouldn't be on this lame map. And it would be off the beaten path." And since it wasn't on the map, Mrs. Ditchman said, "Cougar it is, then" and we turned the car around and headed up to the square, non-descript building -which looked semi-abandoned without any limos, buses or trolleys out in front of it. We parked in the gravel, noticing the two public Port-A-Johns. "Oh, this place looks promising!" Mrs. Ditchman said in all seriousness, which then had us in tears, laughing as we got out of the car because it's typical of us. "No, really! It looks like it's right up our alley!" And we tried to wipe the embarrassing smiles off our faces as we pulled the metal door open and walked in. Alone.

Wine's a funny thing. When you go to the store and you want to try something new, what do you do? Look at the label? Read the description? What moves you to buy it? If a winery is spending a lot of time on a brilliant label design and a spectacular Venetian plaster in the tasting room, are they not trying to distract you from something? So I don't trust labels, appearances, or proverbial book covers. Oh sure, some of the best wines have wonderful labels and lavish winery grounds, but you're paying for it at $50-$90 a cork. I guess you can't blame a winery for dressing up like success, but really, wine is like this: you only know by tasting it. If you have a friend you trust whose taste is similar to yours, it helps. Otherwise, wine is for the blind.

So we found it, the gem of Temecula. The wine was terrific. We weren't drunk. The winemaker came out and met us. He apologized for the bathrooms. He was the only person we had met all day who knew what he was talking about. There were no ticket stubs to tear off. He was most proud of the Sangiovese, but they make a "pink" wine to appeal to the Temecula crowd. (It was the best pink wine we had all day, or, well, ever.) He wants to stick with the Italian varietals and described several grapes that are rare on this side of the world, but that they like to play with -Cortese, Fiano di Avellino, and Greco di Tufo. (They import the grapes from Baja while they're waiting for U.S. customs to allow the vines to be grown here.) I was also impressed with the Arneis and the Vermentino, which I'd never had before. Still, the Sangiovese was the favorite, so we bought a bottle. (We wanted to be sure it actually was good, and we'll try it later, on some day when its worth can be better considered.) Also, we pet their winery dogs.

So Temecula Wine Country is not a total waste of time, and you're just going to have to take our word for it until you brave the region yourself. And it's called Cougar, if you're wondering. They've only been around for a few years. They don't have any pictures on their website. They're still working on the place, but they're no dummies: they're going to make it look like a beautiful Tuscan Villa. We saw the plans.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Achh. No time to blog or do anything today, other than run, run, run forever. I won't go into it. My wife made me.

MY WIFE, MY BEAUTIFUL WIFE! I will say we had a sweet anniversary yesterday, babysitter and all. We counted it as the ninth time we've ever gone out without the kids (in three years.) Actually, I just thought of another time... Okay, ten. (And that includes the salsa lessons.) It's not the way we planned it when we had kids, but you know, kids have a way of messing up whatever plans you had for your life. (Like: organize, achieve, declutter, etc.)

The pic I posted on Sunday (below) I just love. There we are walking down the aisle just moments after being wed, me shaking hands with the winemaker, like, I'll be in touch, man. No, seriously. I'm going to be needing you later.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

"The highest happiness on earth is marriage." -William Lyon Phelps


Friday, March 27, 2009

And last night's dream was just dumb nonsense. Like a stuck channel selecting button on an old remote. I guess it's been a long week.

Went to a new brewery yesterday! Breakwater Brewing Co. in the new, revitalized downtown Oceanside. Okay, so the city isn't done revitalizing itself. Neither am I, but a brewery always helps. I saw it going in about a year ago and thought, of course, that's what this fair city needs! Finally made it down there yesterday, stopping in after going to the dump, and which I've been in the habit of doing every Thursday of late. Anyway, I walked in and was immediately disappointed in the layout of the place. It's not the glamorous temple dedicated to hops and barley, with a shrine of holy water nearer the taproom to thee. That's the way Gordon Biersch makes them, but rather this was little more than a pizza joint with cheap carpentry and a formica bartop. Ordered some beer anyway. It was awesome.

No, really. The beer is good. I've been to enough breweries that I can tell when the brewmaster is actually spending some time in there experimenting and learning. People don't realize that Karl Straus and BJ's and all those other odd microbrews that restaurants slap their name on for show are all the same dumb recipe made with tap water and surplus malt and little generic packets of yeast. I can't abide those places. So, Breakwater is pretty good. It's no Lost Abbey, but it's drinkable. And the bartender was friendly. Always: the best beer in the world is easily ruined by an inattentive, ill-mannered bartender. Bums me out.

Lost Abbey has kind of a depressed tasting room too, to be sure. It's not bad, given that you're in a factory warehouse, but where Oceanside Ale Works in a similar venue has a sunny and cheerful air about it, Lost Abbey is a little dark, a little dirtier, and hard to find. Like a lost abbey, I imagine. Only I suspect an actual abbey would be tidy to a fault.

Oh, what does it really matter if the beer is good, eh? I've actually been thinking about getting back to brewing my own beer. Years ago we made more than a few splendid batches, and had a grand time doing it. Each batch cost about ten bucks and would make over a hundred beers. The stuff wasn't half bad, honestly, and no more difficult than making bread -it's basically the same ingredients, you know. The hard part was managing all the damn bottles. First you have to drink a hundred beers (no problem) and save the bottles, and then you have to bottle and cap them one at a time, making sure you have enough caps on hand (and a working capping tool.) Then there's the problem of storing a hundred bottles of beer in the fridge, which is easy when you're a bachelor, impossible when you're living in the suburbs with your non-beer-loving brood. So I was thinking the solution would be to distill it to a keg and purchase a kegerator, for conditioning. I'll have to look into it.

And I'm looking for financiers. Invest some cash and you can have as much as you can drink and we'll name the first batch after you. It'll be a swell party.

Have a marvelous weekend. Mrs Ditchman and I were wed 6 years ago, Sunday. I may just take her out for a beer. She deserves it.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

So last night's dream is private. It was of the kind that would cause embarrassment and one to suffer accusation. Ever have a dream like that? Can you be blamed for it? I believe it was in some Disney movie where they said "a dream is a wish your heart makes when you're fast asleep". This can't be true. I've had some dreams that make my heart seem like rude, black chaff.

Hey look! There's one!

It's a shooting star, just sitting there in the desert. I presume they took the picture before they went over and plucked it off the landscape to deliver to the research institution. (It's full of tiny diamonds, you know.)

The article is here. Oh, science. Aren't shooting stars in the nighttime sky just the fleeting dreams of children? And those meteorites that land the ones that come true?


There's a ton of end-of-the-world stuff in the news today. I was going to filter it all through here but... let me put it this way: Mrs. Ditchman said that if The End is coming, she didn't want to know about it. She's right. Let's ditch the character arc of the Apocalypse and just bring it on. I'm too busy to worry about it.

But I love that picture of the shooting star just sitting there in the desert. Some part of me wishes they had just left it there.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Well, I WAS WRONG. I admit it. Shows you what I know.

Steve Wozniak made it to the third round of Dancing With The Once-Were-Household-Names. Somehow it defied all the rules of logic and physics and dance hall protocol, but he squeaked through. He had the lowest score delivered by the judges since Season 2 (we're currently suffering through Season 8) and still the fans iPhoned in their votes and put him over the top. So he shall return, and I, unfortunately, will watch.

I had to look up which season we were in, actually. This poor bastage, Tom Conroy, had to do a whole write-up on last night's show. Do the guy a favor and read it. He's been locked up in Guantanamo for over a year and he's obviously being tortured. Where's the Human Rights Commission when you need them?

Denise Richards and Holly Madison, the two models whose dance moves are rivaled only by unfolding wooden deck chairs, fought it out to the bitter end. And though the judges favored Richards' improvement over Madison's top-heavy cleavage, Richards was the one who got voted off by the fans. Sorry. Sorry.

I know this information is important to you, which is why I'm sharing it. Look, there's just nothing else on Tuesday nights, and I can't argue another show out of my wife anyway. Too tired to go upstairs and commit to bed, I submit to the show. It's moderately entertaining schlock like this that makes things like the heretofore unnoticed tunnel from the river to the White House basement so profound.

I still can't get over the guys prancing around, intently diminishing their masculinity with all-out fervor. The ladies, on the other hand, are nice to look at, but it takes a certain amount of courage for the men to shake their tail feathers. Only Gene Kelly could dance and make it look manly, if you ask me. And he, only barely. (The man was something of a god. Perhaps it was that unapologetic smile of his.)

Also, it should be noted, there's this guy. Not manly, per se, but he's certainly having a heckuva good time.

But who doesn't like dancing? I mean, actually doing it? Okay, don't answer. I admit that since Mrs. Ditchman and I took salsa lessons I have a new appreciation for it. The lessons ended a few weeks ago, and we were honestly just beginning to get the hang of it (well, okay, me. Mrs. Ditchman had it down from Day 1.) I was eager to watch DWTS to see their salsa moves, only to find that whatever it was they were doing, it was nothing like the traditional (and by comparison, bland) salsa that we had learned. Oh well. If we ever end up in Havana, we now know the moves.

I grew up with my mom, who was a dancer, watching every Hollywood musical ever created by man. I appreciate all those classics and their joyful, cheerful, romantic energy. Some of those old movies you come out of with a skip in your step and you find yourself spinning around lampposts all the way to the parking lot. They don't make them like that anymore. They try, as in Chicago and Moulin Rouge, but both those flicks were so thoroughly lacking in the traditional Fred Astair, Gene Kelly, and Julie Andrews elegance and innocence that they missed the point entirely. (My mom loved them too, though.)

Seriously. Fall in love and wave on the cab. Dance home in the rain.

It can't be resisted.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I'm a sissy. My three-year-old daughter called me a "sissy" this morning. I don't know where she got the word, probably from a book, those tools of the devil! Maybe we should get her off those infernal things and back in front of the soul-numbing boob tube where she belongs.

She called me a sissy because at 6AM she kept pushing the little button on the little stuffed Easter bunny that sends it into a screeching, ear-wagging "song" of sorts. It drives me nutz, which she loves. "No! Nooooo! Make it stop!" I scream, as I thrust my head between the couch pillows. She thinks that's hilarious and squeals with delight every time, pushing the button over and over AND OVER... I love hearing her squeal and laugh like that, and maybe I am a sissy for it, but she can make that stuffed robot screech all day long if it keeps her laughing.

The Easter box is out of the attic, which is where the infernal singing robot-thing came from. It sits in that crate up in the rafters with its lifeless eyes, staring dead ahead at the other fluffy robots until the proper holiday rolls around and out it comes, happy as ever, wiggling its ears and bellowing out its dumb Easter song. In the Christmas box are similar toys: dancing penguins singing "Jingle Bell Rock", a little Teddy bear that reads The Night Before Christmas, and others. My sister has a six-foot tall Santa that has an entire repertoire. Hit the button and he'll sing and dance and ho-ho-ho for you all night. Pretty soon you just want to punch him right in the sugar plums.

It's my sister who sends us these things, and if it wasn't for the big Santa in her own living room I'd say she was trying to torture us. The book-reading Teddy creeps me out the most because it's just so real! (Ahh, that's what the world needs: robots that will do the reading for us.) I guess I prefer my household robots to be disconnected, faceless aliens, with little more than simple utilitarian qualities. (Hey robot! Get me a beer and vacuum the floor! Not light beer, you metal-minded moron -ALE!)

On the news this morning was this item, which I linked here months ago. Put guns on that thing and it will frighten the enemy back into the Stone Age, I imagine. For that matter, this would scare the enemy, too. But robot supermodels? Will never happen. Why? No sex appeal. Not yet anyway. And if you think there aren't a bunch of horny, geeky scientists out there in some Silicon Valley back alley working on robot prostitutes, you don't know how the world works. Weird.

What comes after the Information Age? The Robot Age, of course. We're almost there. Soon as they come up with a viable, sustainable power source, the world will change overnight. Here's another one: 5-foot-long robotic fish are currently patrolling the Mediterranean, looking for clues about the environment. Amazing.

And then things will really get spooky. I'm thinking of Super-Toys Last All Summer Long, the heartbreaking short story from the 60s by Brian Aldiss. (You can read it here in five minutes. I suggest you print it out on real paper.) It's heartbreaking because of the neutralizing of humanity that seems to accompany the arrival of robots. It's no coincidence that as the Information Age twitters us all apart, there will be people who will look to robots for companionship. I mean, real people are just so unreliable and problematic and distant, you know?

It could all just as well be called the "Artificial Age" with the "books" on screens and talking, singing toys taking the place of friends and artificial flavorings and artificial colorings and Alumawoods. I'm not sure they will ever be able to make a robot squeal and giggle believably. Or a robot with growing, silky hair and warm, soft skin, and alluring, finely-detailed eyes that can convey a mood with a millimeter-sized flick. Or even a robot with an amazing juvenile sense to joke that I'm a sissy.

Perhaps I am an old sissy, because I will reject the artificial people when they come knocking.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Look! I planted a butterfly garden!

Progress report in a month.

So in last night's dream my brother had received a big box in the mail which was a marine aquarium, complete with fish and water and modern filtration systems. It was a new technology, totally encased, with all the trimmings and zero maintenance. All you had to do was plug it in. My brother was unimpressed, and I was a figure of complete envy. He never got around to plugging it in, which was driving me nuts.

Yesterday, as I was about to fulfill my plan of dropping all other plans and submitting to the garden, Mrs. Ditchman turned on HGTV during lunch. "Here's something you should watch!" and I looked over at the screen to see the title card: 25 BIGGEST MISTAKES IN LANDSCAPING. Since I am a good husband, I didn't take it as an insult. Partway into the show this guy's face came on, and I nearly fell out of my chair.

Tony is an old friend from the Dantean Point days, and a member of our Algonquin Circle of local southland writers. He's hilarious, but so was everybody in that inner clique. Sure, we were steeped in squid sh!t most of the time, but it worked like ink all the same. I don't miss it much, but I do remember fondly the creativity, the good music, the cheap wine, and the ever-present laughs. There are more stories there than in this dumb blog, I assure you.

What happens to a circle of loosely-knit artists, fifteen years out of the nineties? Well, most of those guys can be found in the IMDB nowadays. Mark, the group's official Sergeant at Hips (as opposed to the Sergeant at Arms) went on to be a film/tv editor, editing "Jackass: The Movie" of all things, so I suppose we can either blame him, or thank him, for what did and did not make it into the final cut of that cinematic treasure.

Carey, for whom I retain a certain esteemed respect and was in my wedding, went on to be a winemaker for Arcane Cellars, in Oregon. They have a nice cabernet. The pinot tastes like bad ham water.

Karl went on to be a a successful voice actor for The Simpsons. Contrary to the information on his Wikipedia entry, he is hardly German. Last time I saw him he was in an off off-Broadway play. After the show, I went backstage and annoyed everyone by demanding to see him. When he finally came out, stunned by my attendance thousands of miles from home, we had a good laugh and he introduced me to everyone in the show. Nice guy. Once played a Klingon on Star Trek: Voyager.

Eric was, and I assume still is, a particularly talented writer, hilarious, studied under T. Coraghessan Boyle at USC, and could play a mean piano, which always made for spirited meetings (Carey and I happened to have a piano there in the living room.) He is now a writing instructor at the Oregon State University Honors College. Though his "Hotness Level" on RateMyProfessors.com flatlines at zero, he gets high marks from his students, some of whom he evidently owes drinks.

And then there's Neil. Neil is working somewhere in L.A. I caught up with him on Facebook recently. Evidently, he's still traveling the world in his spare time, God bless him. He recently went here:

...and refuses to say where the exotic place is so that it doesn't get spoiled by tourists, (the bastard/the bastards.) He went around the world (literally) back then, which he put on his resume when he returned because he got sick of prospective bosses asking him what he did for all those years he wasn't working. He was working actually -as a bartender in Ireland and teaching English in post-communist Czechoslovakia, for example. He saw the Berlin wall come down in the 80s. He saw the Dalai Lama's toilet. When he came home, he found that all his friends were gone or crazy, so we took him in. He wrote about his travels, and it was a terrific read.

And there's Hunt. I have no idea where Hunt is. Hunt was working at Sony Studios, last I heard, and it was there that he showed me the first HDTV I ever saw, ten years before anyone ever owned one. It was amazing, at the time. We all appreciated having Hunt around because his jokes and quips weren't nearly as cutting as Eric's, and they balanced each other out. Nice guy.

Our group was called GLACFAC, which stood for "Greater Los Angeles Cooking Fighting And Club". This made absolutely no sense, since we never cooked nor fought, and it became funnier and funnier as the meetings went on, eventually taking up its own silly and surreal meaning. We met a few times a month, usually on hump day, and shared writings, thoughts, conspiracy theories, wine, and real dirty martinis (vodka topping off a jar of olives, with a dash of garden soil.) Carey would make an agenda customized for every meeting, and its unveiling was the highlight of every night. (He would, by hand, cut-and-paste funny photos together at work, in the days before Photoshop.) We had a motto, which was in Esperanto: "Ni havas el luno!" It means loosely "We own the moon!" (we were convinced America should claim it because it had put its flag there.) Everyone always had to arrive with an "interesting fact" and if it was neither interesting nor factual, you were forgiven if it was funny. So, in the days before the Information Age, we shared a bunch of funny disinformation once a week and we had a good time doing it. This was all before the Internet, and one meeting we wowed over the potential of something called a CD-ROM.

After a few years of dedicated meet-ups rivaled only by A.A., GLACFAC culminated in a retreat to Mark's parents' condo in Mammoth, where we all drank a lot of wine and made a big pot of some damn good chili. We also wrote a collective screenplay that weekend, just for fun, which we called "Goodbye World". It was a comedy about the end of the world, which may or may not come in the next 24 hours. I cleaned up the thing and submitted it to a random film festival, where it became a finalist. I still think it's a great title.

Me, easily the least creative of the bunch, I went on to aluma-glory in the suburbs. Life is funny that way. Life is funny all sorts of ways, but when you're sitting around on a Sunday afternoon, putting off cleaning the aquarium, and a face from the past arrives unannounced on the tv screen and tells you what you're doing wrong with the landscaping, you can't help but think about these things.

A funny thing about the past: I don't want it back, (I'm happy here in the present) but it sure is fun to visit once in a while. I would love one more GLACFAC. A sort-of reunion, but it's impossible and it will never happen. It will never happen because these guys are artists, and artists can be relied on for little more than incidental, televised, extempore directives in a weekend of sudden gardening. (My new novel: The Sudden Gardener.)

But it would be funny as hell.

The men of GLACFAC at their last official meeting, c. 1996. We had drinks somewhere. Not shown: Eric, who had flown to Oregon by then. I think someone had him on one of those newfangled cel phones. Whatever we said to each other that night, it amounted to goodbye.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

The forecast for the day is just a thin, lone, wiry lightning bolt. Rainless, and not the least bit intimidating, and hardly inspired.

Slept on the couch last night in a resigned effort to make Saturday last twice as long, since the day ended with little to nothing having been accomplished, like the rest of last week. What I intended was to take a shower before bed, but after the kids were bathed and the chores of the evening were through, I clicked on Mythbusters and plopped down for a breather and...

"Raised children" needs to be added to the list of daily accomplishments, lest I begin to feel like my life is going nowhere. When you get to the end of the day without having even gotten in a good shower, life just starts to feel meaningless. But it feels especially meaningless if you are unshowered, unshaven, teeth unbrushed, and you're wearing yesterday's work clothes.

I felt dirty, which is why I didn't want to climb into bed. I'd come back sweaty from a run in the morning, got pooped on and vomited on and then went out and worked in the garden dirt a bit during the kids' naptime. Then I had my hands in the boat's engine compartment, which reeks of grease and stagnant water. And then there was the fumbling of old charcoal in the barbecue. It was a nice meal, but the Little Ditchman spent most of it in TimeOut, with her face against the wall, defiantly.

All the joys of parenting are diminished during a TimeOut. She had thrown her cup on the floor, after we had told her not to, and then she refused to admit it and apologize. She was trying to outwit/outplay/outlast us there, against the wall, and it was clearly another test of power, which she would lose. When Mommy and I finally got up to leave was when she broke down and gave in (abandonment is the insufferable punishment.) It is good and necessary to teach a child discipline, obedience, and respect, but with every passing battle a tiny, hungered, darkened, heartbreaking distance grows between parent and child. Even if you do it right, they will never thank you for it. It must be how God feels when He tries to teach us an important lesson, and we shake our fists at Him in response: You don't love me! Having nothing to do with any it, The Little Ditchman also said she didn't want to go to church tomorrow.

On the couch, I dreamt I was at a medical supply company, looking through cabinets of hearing aid batteries, to find one that matched the water filter for my aquarium. At one point, I was mistaken for an employee and started being handed things to do and asked questions about this or that policy. I was becoming very popular with the job, and then the boss arrived. I was told his name was "Mr. Frucker" and that I should be sure to pronounce the "r" to avoid the sting of embarrassment. So I said, "You mean like this: FruckeRRRRRR?" And everyone laughed.

That's about when I woke up, without the battery I'd been looking for. I remembered the battery's number: CR2354, and it occurred to me how much bigger it is than a hearing aid. It's amazing to me that my mind will construct such oddly complex scenes, and yet senselessly place a battery the size of a quarter inside a hearing aid. So, I was laying there in the dark, on the couch, silently wondering about it, and I suddenly felt the whole room jiggle beneath me. It only lasted a few seconds, and then a minute later: again. It was almost undetectable. It worries me when it happens, a small quake here could mean The Big One in L.A. or San Francisco, but a large truck had gone by in the distance and sometimes the windows rattle when that happens. Still, I've never known a truck to make the couch shimmy. I looked over at the clock to make a note of the time, thinking I'd check the news for earthquake information in the morning. It was 4:00AM.

Sure enough.

But then I re-read it. That wasn't 4AM this morning, that was 4AM yesterday morning, making this morning's rumblings just a phantom, and no earthquake. Perhaps I'd imagined it. Perhaps it was a truck after all. Perhaps the cat rubbed up against the couch.

In any case, I'm imagining things again. This past week has been one with some profound dreamtime, and wistful days of wishful thinking, with work so slow. I got out in the driveway yesterday and fired up the old boat, the rusty bucket of fiberglass and steel that's slumped in a pile in the cul-de-sac like that character in the Holy Grail bellowing "I'm not dead yet!" After charging the battery for a time, I got it fired up. It ran swell for a few minutes, and then POP! which means another broken pushrod. The problem just keeps happening, no matter how hard I try. And with every pop, snap, and clunk, I feel the dream of being out on the water just die a little bit.

I'll go take a shower now, and drag the family to church, even though it's they who drag me most of the time. Spring has not yet sprung, but it is coiled and set, like a trap for the beleaguered and downtrodden of us, tired of the winter of our discontent.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Woke up at 5AM after a weird, oddly complex dream in which the International Space Station crash-landed on Hawaii. Amazingly, there were survivors. I and my family were working for some camp/commune operation and I had determined that there was a conspiratorial cover-up regarding the ISS crash. Camp facility managers were wiping everyone's memory clean by making them wear these strange, white felt hats. I refused to submit, only to find that all of my friends had been brainwashed and now were coaxing me to give in, invasion-of-the-body-snatchers style. I got my family together and we made a break for it in a truck hauling a trailer full of aluminum. They were catching up to us. I was about to surrender and quit when a few friends snapped out of it, their memories returning. They told me I had been right all along, and then dumped the aluminum, and a large tube tv, out of the speeding trailer and onto the highway, resulting in a multi-car pile-up.

I emerged from the wreck. The Little Ditchman walked up to me. She had cake frosting on her face. And then she said, "I'm done with this," meaning all of it.

Which is when I got out of bed. The little guy was yelling his head off. Not crying, mind you, just yelling like he was sick of being in his crib all night. I decided not to argue, and after an unsuccessful attempt to get him to go back to sleep, we went downstairs for black coffee in the dark. With cream.

Perhaps I've become too involved with Lost and its mind bending plot scenarios. Perhaps I'm paranoid that the government is going to catch on that I don't deserve all this good life in the suburbs, and then strip it from me. Perhaps I shouldn't have had that extra helping of lasagna last night. (Which reminds me of my favorite palindrome: "Go hang a salami, I'm a lasagna hog.") Perhaps I've just spent too much time digging lately.

Digging through old photos, digging in the garden, digging holes for footings for aluminum patio covers... You know the day is going to be a long one when you arrive at the job site, announce that you're the man who's going to be digging and pouring the footings for the new patio cover, and then the foreman comes over and offers you the use of his jackhammer. (Yes, I ended up having to use the jackhammer, and yes, it was tiring -no doubt contributing to this end-of-winter ennui.)

But that's life. We don't know why the kid won't take sleeping seriously, and I'm troubled by the image of the Little Ditchman with frosting on her face. Is it meaningless? Or is it some latent symbolism of birthdays passed, her aging and growing? Time is fleeting, as we arrive at Spring of 2009. This is the season of birthdays in my family, and you can't help but feel that nagging abstraction of AGE, like a rock in your shoe. But then comes Summer, which means open-toed sandals, so we'll be all right eventually.

Another thing. In the dark this morning, trying to get the Little Digger to settle down, I stared out across the yard and watched the fog just slide up over the suburbs like some sort of spectral blanket wrapping around the trees and street lamps. I heard a low distant rumbling that came and went, came and went, every 20 seconds or so. It sounded like the ocean, and I would have sworn that it was. Somehow the fog had dragged the sound of crashing waves all the way up to this dark inland shore, where I was standing, waiting for the first day of my 40th Spring to begin.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hands full. Truck not big enough.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

We did not win the HGTV Dream Home, if you were wondering, or if you missed the live segment where the announcer arrived at the winners' boring house and handed them the free car. (If you would have seen it, you would have noticed right off the bat that the couple were not Ditchmans.) The overly-decorated home, fully furnished and painted in gaudy colors, was in Sonoma wine country and you, our lucky friends, were to be allowed to rent it from us for a nice Napa vacation. As a frequent TMST reader, we were going to offer you a significant discount!

But alas, we're stuck here in the beautiful Oceanside suburbs, and barely affording the taxes on the one place. Mrs. Ditchman said that if we had won we would just move, to get out of SoCal for the first time and try and start a new life elsewhere, building aluminum patio covers for wineries and so forth. I suppose I could get a job as a finish carpenter, or something. If there is a Land of Opportunity out there, MapQuest it and forward an email.

On to the good news: Steve Wozniak made it past the first cut on Dancing With The Stars! Fantastic! Who knew that Belinda Carlisle never had the moves? (I guess having the beat just wasn't enough.) Mrs. Ditchman was at Bunco last night, where she neither won nor lost bad enough to win, and so I was at home with the two kids and my corned beef and cabbage. I did not watch Dancing With the Stars. I watched something on the History Channel about some guy's new theory on how the pyramids were built (from the inside, with tracks and cranes.) All the network shows go to 10:03 or 9:06 or something now, so at 10:00 I switched over to ABC and caught Wozniak's sweaty brow and frozen smile. He looked like a beleaguered Teletubby with a stunned look on his face like the timer just ran out and the explosives in his bowtie failed to detonate. Anyway, he still had his head. (I gave him two shows before he's gone, if you'll recall.)

(The "Teletubby" part is from one of the DWTS judges. He said it. It stuck. Now if you Google "Wozniak" and "Teletubby" you get 25,000 results. Oh, this modern world...)

But Wozniak retained an odd sense of likability, which Belinda lacked. She had an air about her that evoked that she would much rather be chanting with Buddhist monks, and hey, who could blame her? It's Dancing With The Stars, for crying out loud! Clearly, they forced her to go on the show.

Which I still maintain should be called "Dancing with the Has-Beens," only, the producers stepped it up a bit this time by putting a guy on there who is not yet a star, but perhaps will get a career boost out of it. His name is Gilles Marini and he's a model from France, so he's super-sexy. I guess he had a walk-on part in a handful of tv shows, but I'd never heard of him. What do you want to bet he's the new star of some ABC thing in the fall lineup? Yes. Nothing. Don't worry, now that he's been on DWTS his career is doomed for sure.

Why am I telling you all this? Because it's Wednesday. Because there's nothing on my mind right now. Because I'm feeling profoundly underwhelmed like a sheep or a cow or a pelican or something. Because last night's beef was either overly, or underly, corned and I slept uneasily all night as a result. I feel incapable today, which I'm sure is derived from yesterday's lack of accomplishment. But a new episode of Lost is on tonight, and I'm sure to find myself there.

And tomorrow? Up with the concrete guys.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The past few Mondays have been busy scenes, though it defies explanation. I guess the weekends have been busy, so come Monday morning there's quite a mess to clean up. I've been running off to work the past few Mondays, or just running off, and leaving the family home to deal with it, coming home when the ALL CLEAR sounds. It doesn't really, though. Plenty of mess is left for me to take care of.

Last weekend's little party was the best ever, as Lileks' Gnat would say, if we had invited her. The friendliest BounceRoom Rental Guy in the world brought the blimp-sized thing a day early and picked it up a day late, vacuuming it when he dropped it off and vacuuming it when he picked it up. "It's a brand new one!" he exclaimed at the drop-off, so we put some wear and tear into it for him. We came home from church on Sunday and it was gone! Either abandoned and stolen altogether, or just picked up surreptitiously by the nice man, who absconded with the mass of vinyl without getting a tip, God bless him.

Also seen at the party: a made-by-mommy Mickey Mouse cake, a chocolate fountain, shamrocks, neighbors sucking down Irish beers by a full-flamed chiminea, and kids ripping water plants out of the pond in order to get at the little fish that are in there. It was awesome. Really, I don't mind the kids messing with the garden. I like kids more than plants, and so much so that I didn't plant anything before the party. (Learned that mistake at last year's party.) It was a full house, with attendance over sixty heads even though no one from my side of the family (which is another twenty or so) showed. After everyone left, a dedicated few of us opened the good tawny port and reclined around the chiminea, chatting of things past/things to come. Always my favorite part.

Extraordinary thanks to all those who pitched in early and helped out setting up the fountain and party fixin's. At midnight the night before, I was stuffing Mickey stickers and Jolly Ranchers into little plastic bags and wondering if we'd ever get around to all the other tasks, but folks always arrive and offer to help. It's the miracle of the suburbs, like the loaves and fishes. You think there's not enough time to do it all, and there's not, but you have to alter your thinking -you don't need more time, you need more hands. It's a party. The hands are on their way.

I love the suburbs. I love the cul-de-sac. I love all the little kids on the street who know each other. I love how everyone's yard is different. I love all the trick-or-treaters. I love everyone's Christmas lights. I love the garage sales that turn into margarita-laden block parties. On Sunday afternoon a couple of kids came by saying that they had opened a restaurant: "Molly's Bistro" and they were serving dinner at five. Mrs. Ditchman stopped in after she picked up the mail and found some of the other neighbors over there, eating spaghetti served by little kids. All summer long we've got lemonade stands and Girl Scout cookies, rumors and news at the mailbox, barbecues and gripes against the city. We all borrow each others' tools and we all look out for each other. We know every car on the street. And if you fall out of step with this or that, it doesn't go unnoticed, keeping you honorable.

It's almost all little girls on our street, since the neighbor with the two little boys moved out to Temecula. We neglected to invite them to the party, and we regret it. The family next door to me just remodeled their home, nearly doubling it in size. And the old guy across the street passed on to the Great Suburb of Existence, recently. He was a vet. The little flag from his grave is still on his lawn, which he kept immaculate, always mowed in a thoughtfully articulated herringbone pattern.

The suburbs evolve, you see, and so there's eternally something to talk about. It's good to have neighbors, and it's good to know them. It's good to have someone who lives nearby that you can rely on in an emergency. And it's good to have a calendar filled with little kid parties. There's a sign on my street that warns "NO OUTLET" but it's a cul-de-sac, which means "bottom of the bag" in French. Tolkien called the Hobbit's home "Bag End" to make fun. If I recall, the Hobbits lived in a pretty good place, and were dedicated to one another. This all makes sense to me. In a cul-de-sac, the only way out is through each other.


Friday, March 13, 2009

The refrigerator is making knocking noises. Did I clean it wrong? How could this happen? And all of it just hours before the Little Ditchman's Big Party, tomorrow. Great. Get some ice. Break out the beverage cart.

What was originally going to be a "small affair with some playgroup friends" has transformed into our usual 12-hour, toss the max. occupancy sign-style bacchanalia. I don't know how it happens, but we are always looking for an excuse to clean the place. And it seems a few folks around here like a good party. (Me.) We don't know who to knock off the invite list, and it just seems to grow and grow, but it should be fun! We're renting an inflatable jumper the size of the Hindenburg! And like the Hindenburg, these parties are big, beautiful flying machines -until they go up in flames and come crashing down, people leaping for their lives. Fortunately or unfortunately, I'm the dad and about as helpful as a broken stapler at a dirigible hangar. Mrs. Ditchman is frustrated with me. Anyway, the theme of the party has something to do with Mickey Mouse. I know this because I saw the big round cake with the two smaller round cakes next to it.

Since the alumawork around here has flatlined, we'll spend the day tidying up and prepping the fixin's, or fixin' the preppings. Or frepping the pixin's. The Little Digger apparently has lost the need and desire to sleep, thus depriving all of us. Resentment abounds as he just bounces there on his own, smiling, at 5AM. It's amazing how this little guy can be so cute and so irritating all at the same time. Like a happy little bundle of stinging nettles.

And we broke the bank on this party, just like with the last one on New Year's. I guess it's what we do when all hope is lost. (Hey! My place for the Apocalypse!) If you're coming, bring a sixpack. If you're not coming, bring one anyway. Toast my belated! Toast St. Patrick! Toast the dumb cold we're all gonna get from all these little kids drooling on everything around here!

Gotta go get the yard mowed and ready for the guests. The day has Costco, Bevmo, and Partygo lined up for the missus. Also, I've just been informed that it is Friday the Thirteenth again. Oh, the humanity!


Thursday, March 12, 2009

VFTW has a bit about the newspaper business, or the end thereof, which is interesting. I have not been paying attention to the whole story per se, but I have been experiencing it.

I miss reading the newspaper. I love the big unwieldy thing in my fingers, foldable in every direction. You could tear out whatever, and then toss the rest. And the general utilitarian qualities of newspaper are like no other human thing. Their ubiquity is diminishing, and now I have to go scraping around the house if I need an extra piece of newspaper for lining the cat box or starting a fire. I love the unique experience of drawing down old Christmas ornaments and noting the aged date on the newspaper they're wrapped in. I remember the time when I would go down to the coffee shop and sit there for an hour and a half, perusing the L.A. Times. This was back when Starbucks were only a paltry few in the northwest, and no one was answering cel phones or angling for a good Wi-Fi signal -but alas, now I'm sounding like grampa.

For some odd reason, I was actually a subscriber to the New York Times when 9/11 hit. The NYT had some sweet deal and I signed up (they're still trying to get me back) and on 9/12 I got this on my Santa Barbara doorstep:

I think I still have it. The coverage was awesome to read. Among other things, they had a 250 word obituary for every lost American, however average. The tv coverage was unforgettable as well, but it was not digestible as the paper was, and I'll be sad when all the papers are gone forever. Important events will be little more than distant manicured images, unable to cut to your soul like good writing can. I fear we will all become, somehow, more detached.

I suspect that the newspaper business will reorganize on its own and become something else entirely, with the help of technology. Reporters will all go rogue with their own blogs or sites, charging for research, access, and advertising. And the only real newspapers on that black-and-grey medium will be the free loose-leafed weeklys, standing in messy piles in the corners of restaurant lobbies. CraigsList will do them in, eventually, but I think some will hang on. We still get a Sunday paper, which gets thinner and thinner with each passing week, and before church my wife and I sift through all the coupons and discuss the potential savings. I'm always preoccupied with turning directly to the Fry's ad on the back of the front section. (I'm addicted to it like some odd techno-porn, salivating at the thought of inexpensive SATA drives and the DDR2 PC6400s that're practically given away. Oh!)

The last couple years of reading the San Diego Union Tribune I've found that I've already read most of the AP articles on the Internet, and the other pieces on the sheets are either cropped to incomprehension to fit between the ads, slanted irretrievably to the political left, or so poorly written as to offend the birds and felines who eventually end up making good use of it. We don't have time to catch it every morning, so we called the newspaper to cancel the M-F subscription and they actually had the gall to charge us more for a Sunday-only delivery. They have to keep their circulation up in order to please the ad-buyers, so they shamelessly produce (literally) tons more trash for the world to reconcile. I took the hit and paid the extra for less.

They're trying everything. There are guys in the middle of every intersection of my neighborhood hawking the paper. They stand out in the traffic, begging for the sale. Sometimes there's two, or even three of them catching the cars going in every direction. I chatted with one guy once, who said the money went to a homeless charity or a rehab or some such thing, and the newspapers (and the sporty SDUT traffic vests) were given to them for free. Now, I don't mind the traditonal newspaper guy on one or two corners, shouting headlines like out of some old movie, but there are so many of theses vagrants out there knocking on car windows that I feel accosted sometimes. It slows traffic. It's a hazard. And it looks patently desperate. I suspect one day they will all just disappear quietly, when a city ordinance comes down on them or the paper goes belly-up once and for all.

We also get another newspaper thrown on our driveway once, and sometimes twice a week. It's a free local thing that I rarely read and goes right in the recycle bin. We called them to try and get them to stop delivering it and -get this- they said they were going to charge us to stop delivery! I laughed it off and tried to forget about it, but I see those useless things sunburned and wet, piled up on the weedy driveways of local foreclosures, and I want to charge the newspaper company for blatant littering or illegal dumping.

One of those papers got tossed on my lawn last week and it had a bright red front page with HUGE newspaper lettering on the front. It got my attention, so I unfolded it to see what the noise was about. It read: WARNING! THIS MAY BE YOUR LAST ISSUE! YOU NEED TO CONTACT US IF YOU WANT TO CONTINUE DELIVERY! Not kidding. It was on every paper in the neighborhood. I suspect the brazen jokesters will bill us all.

So the newspapers have taken the train to Crazy Town, if you ask me. Sad. I remember my father most mornings as legs, fingers, big newspaper, and a cup of coffee on the table. You could hear him snickering and shaking his head at the bad news from behind the pages. My kids will never see that, and it won't matter that they don't, but as my father spoke long ago of a time that I could only imagine -one without televisions and theme parks and fences and rockets, and yet milk was delivered daily to the house- the days are coming when I will speak to my children of a similar far off-land, one that is only now dipping below the horizon and out of view. It was high school without cel phones and email, tv commercials without digital imagery, only five channels on a tube the size of several suitcases, and the news was delivered daily to the house ...printed on paper!

And no lattes.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It hurts to type! I trimmed the finger nail on my right index finger too close and then I worked in the garden without gloves and it got infected and now it hurts every time I touch it! No really! I do 93% of my typing with my right index finger!

Okay, I admit it. I've been avoiding this blog. I'm not sure why, really. I mean, it's not for a lack of subject matter. I think I've just got my hands full with too many projects right now, and sitting down and concentrating on one thing for ten minutes is damn near impossible above all the screaming.

Okay, there's not that much screaming, but if I asked everyone in my immediate family to let loose about whatever it is that's bothering them right now, we would blow the roof off this place and send the chimney into orbit. Mrs. Ditchman and I were sitting next to each other on the couch last night, which is what we routinely do from 9-9:30, and it occurred to us that it was the first time we'd done that in a week or so. We fell out of the routine! That's the way things go around this time of year. I'd let off some steam and tell you about all the March/April events we have in our household, but again: I want to save the chimney.

Apple released a new iPod today, for those of you that get pumped up about such things. It's very, very small, and has nearly the same capacity as the first iPod I got back in 2002, which was the size of your full wallet before you emptied the cash out to buy it. Now they're the size of the earbuds themselves, which makes one wonder why we need all that dangling wire anyway. I'm sure it's on the horizon. They're already putting video cameras in prosthetic eyes, you know.

Speaking of filmmakers, Mystery Man On Film had a sweet post the other day, if you caught it. This will bore everyone tremendously -so click on something else now- but evidently patient Hollywood spies have uncovered the transcripts of the story meetings between Lucas, Spielberg, and Kasdan as they were putting together the original Raiders of the Lost Ark and its resulting franchise. Intense scrutiny of the documents reveal that Lucas is actually a creative genius, Spielberg is the one with the mind on the shot list, and Kasdan systematically put all the wild ideas together and made the thing work brilliantly, just as I had always hoped and supposed. I downloaded the PDF of the whole thing and am looking forward to reading it when I get the time (retirement).

It's significant because Spielberg is notorious for not doing director commentaries on his DVDs and Lucas has a mean penchant for marketing. So the big question: were they stolen or were they leaked? Answer: LEAKED. Everyone and his mother-in-law would be getting legal C&D notices if the thing was stolen, and Lucas has always done something shrewd to keep his products alive in the marketplace every nine months or so, even though his movies are 25-30 years old. So I'm a cynic, but I still think it's cool.

Mystery Man On Film has a great write-up on it, though. Couldn't have said it better myself. And no, Mystery Man On Film is not me, unfortunately.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

No blog today. I'm cleaning the refrigerator.

Twittering about it on Facebook.


Monday, March 9, 2009

How does my garden grow? As far as the asparagus is concerned, damn fast. I tried to take some pictures of it.

Last Monday:








It grows like bamboo! Okay, so it's not much of a meal, but I don't grow this stuff to eat, I grow it to gawk at. What was about 3 inches a week ago is eighteen inches today. That's over two inches a day! Of course, now it's too tall and woody to eat, (I should have picked it at about 10 inches) but it was all for the sake of science.

For those of us who garden to learn patience, plants like this are a boon to the spirit. Also a boon to the spirit: asparagus wrapped in bacon!

Some day, they will grow asparagus on Mars.

Although he said further tests would have to be conducted, Professor Kounaves said the soil seemed "very friendly… there is nothing about it that is toxic".

"We were all flabbergasted at the data we got back," said Sam Kounaves, Tufts University.

"It is the type of soil you would probably have in your backyard - you know, alkaline. You might be able to grow asparagus in it really well."


Saturday, March 7, 2009

That's about how I felt at 4AM when the Little Digger woke me up, mad that he wasn't invited on last night's birthday pub crawl. Humble thanks to all who attended. (Special thanks to those at Churchill's who did not buy me that last round I had my eye on.)

Also, wanted to add that I share a birthday with this fine woman, who says she has "one more dance left in her". God bless her.

How and why the seven foot octopus got in the fourteen inch box is here, if you're wondering.


Friday, March 6, 2009

I just can't resist posting this:

Had a heckuva birthday yesterday. It reached a low point when I took off my glasses to wipe the sweat off my brow, and then promptly smashed them to bits when I stepped on them with my steel-toed construction boots. Oh well. Add a new pair of sunglasses to my birthday wish list (which never expires, btw.)

Anyway, does that ever happen to you? Not the glasses thing. The other thing. You're dressed like Vader at the beach, knee deep in the ocean, and you're trying to filter the seawater through a Britta and into an old plastic jug? I mean, hey, sometimes the Force powers just don't work, you know? Happens to me all the time.

Went to Stone Brewery for dinner and beers last night, and despite the fact that the last time I went there I came home and threw up for six hours (it wasn't their fault) this place has got to be the coolest brewery in the known universe. Here's a photo link. The grounds are just beautiful, and you'll never guess what the primary landscaping motif is... okay, maybe you can. The place has all grown in since I was there last and wild animals have moved onto the grounds. The lighting at night is wonderful. The Little Ditchman chased rabbits as we sipped a fine craft brew and listened to the croaking frogs and the water tumbling twixt the reeds and over the rocks. The moment couldn't be beat.

Excepting perhaps tonight's moment which will be with some friends at The Lost Abbey Brewery. It's not as ritzy a place, but the beer is the best in the world (my world.) Here's a link to the tasting room BrewCam (a work of inspired genius installed, no doubt, by the brewers' wives) so if you can't make it tonight, check out the BrewCam and we'll wave to you.

Have a tasty, beer-swillin' weekend. I may hit Oceanside Ale Works tomorrow, just to put the trifecta in play.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

At 4:59PM today I turn 39! Which means that I will have exactly a year left to do all those things I was going to do before I turned 40. Some of the things I was going to do -like invent high-definition television, start an internet auction site called eBay, and invade Iraq and depose the tyrant- have already been done, so I got a good out on that. There's still the robot-vacuum that does stairs, the cheap solar-generating interlocking roof tiles and road pavers, and the viable technology for remote-controlled toy helicopters that need perfecting, so I'll be busy through the summer. Also, I've been meaning to disappear Kim Jong-il, the bastard. I'll get right on it.

Like Kim Jong-il, I have my own cult of personality on Facebook, where I have received today more birthday greetings than any other birthday I've ever had. (Thanks!) Unlike Kim Jong-il, my birth was not foretold by swallows or heralded by the miraculous appearance of double rainbows across the land and a new star in the heavens. I am rather, the quiet, unassuming, middle-child born around the Ides of March when Caesar was assasinated. I share a birthday with the guy who painted this:

and the actor who messed on my childhood with this:

...but also this fine actor, who was knighted by the Queen:

...and won an Oscar for perfectly uttering one of the best final lines in any movie: "Where the devil are my slippers?"

Also, this guy was born on the same day as me and in the same year but on the other side of the country:

(John Frusciante, guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I'm not much of a fan, but he's all right.)

Also on this day in history: John Belushi committed suicide when he OD'd on cocaine and heroin in bungalow #3 of the Chateau Marmont, 5 civilians were killed at the hands of British troops in what became known as the Boston Massacre (sparking the American Revolution) and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty went into effect after ratification by 43 nations, (though it arguably didn't do any good.)

So I carry that with me. In college, I was rooming with a guy from my home town who was born the day before me, on March 4th, also in 1970. We were laying in our beds staring at the ceiling in the dark one night, chatting, and we discovered that we were born in the same hospital, hours apart. The two of us were probably in the same maternity ward cry room in a couple of beds, a few feet apart, and here we were 21 years later, a couple beds apart. Life is amazing that way. For all the times you notice moments like that, there must be a thousand near-misses when you don't.

What do I want for my birthday? A new SUV, a new boat, a new iPhone, World Peace after the defeat of all the enemies of America, and Global Climate Change limited to the four seasons and a hella storm every now and then so we can be reminded of our miniscule place in the universe and still get some good pictures. Also: free gas for life. What do I really want? The day off to work in the garden and gift certificates to every nursery in town. What am I really getting? I get to work on someone's patio cover, which is more than I can ask for, but I'm going to not rush anything and demand that everyone on the job site kindly back off. (Come to think of it, I may just do that every day from now on.)

Birthdays and holidays are troublesome to so many. All the magic and wonder and power they had in our youth, is somehow distant and misplaced in adulthood. The truth is it's the adults who made all that wonder and magic happen when you were a kid. Now that you're old, it is you who are the conductor of the wonder, the one with the wand. Use it, or be miserable. But be miserable on your own time. The hardest part of growing up is being put in charge of that wand, and then being surrounded by all the other grown-ups who neglect to use theirs.

The Little Ditchman just came up to me and grabbed me by the cheeks with both hands, planted a kiss on my mouth and said simply, "Happy Birthday, Daddy." And then she gave me a hug and high-fived me. If you were planning on getting me a gift, don't sweat it. You won't be able to top that. (But I'll accept your high-five all the same.)

I'm looking forward to her next birthday way more than my own. It's what keeps me young.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sometimes I get so preoccupied with gardening that I completely miss important events. For example, yesterday was "Square Root Day" and I totally failed to celebrate it. If mathematics humiliates you into a quivering bowl of liquefied offal like it does me, then I will explain: yesterday was 3/3/09. 3x3=9. Square root of 9 is 3. Awesome. The last Square Root Day was on 2/2/04,and was totally overshadowed by Groundhog Day. Don't worry, the next one is on 4/4/2016 so you don't have to fret about party planning for a while. And considering that the Mayan calendar runs out on 12/21/12, I would wait to see if the world really ends before you start baking that square root cake.

If you'll recall, last year the Chinese celebrated the opening ceremonies of the Olympics on 8/8/08, which was sure to induce peace and prosperity into the world. Then the Olympics ended and the world stopped looking at China and they stopped working on their infrastructure and the bottom of the recyclables market fell out. Here's to 9/9/09!

I have a friend who recently started celebrating Sexagesima, because the Pope cancelled it and so no one was celebrating it anymore. Sexagesima is the second Sunday before Ash Wednesday, about 60 days before Easter. It should not be confused with Quinquagesima or Septuagesima, which are totally different Sundays. What do you do on Sexagesima? According to the official site (on Facebook): "We celebrate by sharing great food, ridiculous quantities of great wine, and one really terrible bottle." I'm sorry we missed it this year, as it sounded totally profound, though I'm pretty sure he just celebrates it because it's a religious holiday that has the word "sex" in it. All the power to him! Anyway, less significance has been ascribed to less momentous occasions. I, for one, am always looking for something to celebrate.

Like this work day. I'm going to celebrate it by dropping the kids off at the sitter and busting my butt on that rooftop in Coronado. That's right: today is "Coronado Rooftop Aluminum Cover Day" (or "CRACD") and it's celebrated on the first Wednesday of every March by building an aluminum patio cover on a rooftop in Coronado, California and then going home and "crac"ing open and polishing off four lukewarm domestic beers (symbolizing the four installed columns) while watching Lost. See you there.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"I don't want to work. I don't want to go to church. I just want to go outside and get down on my hands and knees and weed," a friend of mine said the other day, and I can understand the sentiment.

Of course, I get all philosophical about weeding, which may or may not bore you out of the blogosphere, so I'll try and stick to the facts. (Didacticism is a cursed weakness of mine. Such writing is best left in the Personal Growth/Self Help section, in my opinion, but who knows? Maybe that's my unborn career path.)

WEEDS are those things growing out there in the garden that you wish would just grow elsewhere. I am always weeding. I walk out across the lawn, see one, rip it out, toss it, continue. I weed when I'm eating lunch, I weed when I'm on the phone, I weed whenever I'm doing anything else outside. It's a mindless, repetitive task, monk-work, and one good for contemplation, communication, and communion -which is why I could understand doing it in the place of church or work. After all, it is work and you are down on your knees, but you do it because you're getting something accomplished without any burden of the obligation to finish. Like any Christian work, there's no obligation to finish because you never will, (and the good Lord forgives you for it) but you must never stop. They're weeds. They'll take over.

I'm getting good at weeding. The trick is to pluck them when they're young, when they come out easily without any fight, but you also have to be able to tell the difference between a weed and a plant you want growing there. It's a heady concept. Sometimes when I'm weeding, my daughter will come out and "help" by pulling out all the flowers and vegetables I just planted. But if we plant enough seeds and let everything grow we'll learn all the important leafy differences. Planting is necessary with weeding. Don't plant anything and you'll either have all weeds or nothing but barren and empty ground. (And it's never really empty. Look closely: more weeds coming.) Some folks think that Roundup is the best thing for weed control, but it's not. The best thing for weed control is a well-planted and well-tended garden that crowds the weeds out and down to a manageable level. It really is possible.

Something funny about weeds: one man's weed is another man's flower. I looked over my fence the other day and saw my neighbor mowing his "lawn" but it was more that he was mowing his property, which was covered with weeds. I saw dandelion seeds shooting out of the mower with reckless abandon but then drifting gently on the breeze with their tiny little parachutes, right over the fence, and onto my fertile lawn. And I tossed around handfuls of lawnseed a few weeks ago, in order to replant some bare spots. I got some of the seed in my garden boxes, where it is now sprouting healthily. On the lawn it is grass. In boxes it is a weed. Life's confusing that way.

I actually bought and paid for a weed the other day -it was the damnedest thing. I was at the Spring Garden Show at the fairgrounds on Sunday. Perfectly manicured, vibrant botanical displays as far as the eye could see -and not a weed in sight! I was perusing several flats of herbs when I came across a dark crimson and yellow-flowered Oxalis, the likes of which I had never seen. Oxalis is an aggressive weed, with a shallow root system and a fascinating Darwinian propulsion device that can blast weed seeds as far as 6 feet. The stuff is ground-colored when it first takes root and sprouts, so it's tough to spot and clear. I've spent many hours tearing those knitted roots out of flower pots and corners of the yard that I'd considered conquered only days earlier. So here was a pretty weed, and I got sucked in and plopped down 4 bucks for it. I put it in a nice pot and fertilized it, like a drunken priest nurturing a sole vice. That priest will wake up with a hangover and head to confession, and I'm sure I'll be ripping that pretty Oxalis out of my lawn by the handful later this season. Interestingly, one species of Oxalis is also the Shamrock, which must be the national weed of Ireland. Perhaps the Irish just gave up on the weeding altogether. And hey, find the mutant weed with four leaves and guess what? It's good luck! See what happens? Don't let the weeds define you.

And sometimes you just don't know what to think. You're playing on your nicely-weeded grass with your three-year-old and she suddenly stops and yells cheerfully, "Look Dad! A pretty yellow flower!" and she rips it out and brings it to you.

She's not weeding, but she is. Life's confusing that way.