Friday, February 27, 2009

Octopus Floods Aquarium

I love this news article in the LA Times about a small octopus that dissembled a valve in her tank yesterday. Octopuses are widely believed to be the most intelligent of the invertebrates. I did a post with an octopus story a while ago. Click here if you want to read it.


I told a friend I would never put myself on Facebook but after having several conversations about how useful it is for staying in touch with people, I caved in. If you want to add me as a friend send me an email at this blog address.

One thing I'm NOT doing is providing a link to this blog on my Facebook page. I rather like being somewhat anonymous and I don't know if all my friends would appreciate some of my rantings, my bizarre flights of fancy, or my characters (imaginary friends).

I must admit after being on Facebook for a short time I'm already starting to find it a little tedious. I like being in touch with people, but you can spend a hell of a lot of time on there. The time I spend checking my email accounts and attempting to read the news is more than enough time as it is. Someone told me I could do all or most of my blogging there instead of here, but I would hate to restrict access like that. People couldn't just stumble on this blog with random searches.

At least I didn't put myself on myspace.

2008 River Cruise: (Sort of) Lost in Prague

Powder Tower in Prague. We should have made a left here, but we went straight instead.

After our Prague city tour and shopping around Old Town Square, me and my new friends G and N made our way back to the hotel. I had spent a couple of minutes with the tour guide getting directions. As it was I was the only person who knew which way to go. We started out going down the right street and reached the Powder Tower and kept walking. We made it to a major freeway intersection, crossed under the underpass, and realized quickly we were in the wrong place.

G and N became a little nervous and in a couple of minutes were starting to panic. I didn't know it at the time, but we were butting up against their biggest fear: getting lost in a foreign city. We started asking people passing by if they knew where the hotel was.

The first two people we stopped were two very nice young women. One spoke very good English. They didn't know where the hotel was but said it was nearby and offered to call it on their cell phones. We had no luck as they got connected to a woman in England (damn corporate hotel central reservations!), then we were disconnected. I managed to flag down a cab and we said goodbye to the two young women. The cab started shouting at us when we tried to get inside, "No passengers!" I closed the door and he drove off.

We crossed the street and met a delivery truck guy who couldn't speak English but was able to understand mostly what we were saying. G asked him if he could drive us there, but he refused as there was no room in the truck. She became angry, but we calmed her down. She kept saying all we had to do was have the hotel send a car to pick us up.

My two new friends were really starting to panic. I suggested we go back the way we came and start over again. I felt a little sheepish as I would have never allowed a situation like this to happen if I was on my own. I would have gotten a map and made someone mark off where we were starting and where the hotel was. Still, I wasn't afraid even if it was the late afternoon.

We finally met George, our knight in shining armor. George turned out to be from Oklahoma and he was an English teacher. He'd been living in Prague for over 10 years. He gently explained to G and N the best thing to do was get bus tickets and take right bus to the next stop. At this G and N became very agitated then I realized they were afraid of taking public transportation. I thought that was a little odd because we were only going to the next bus stop. George got us bus tickets, took us to the bus stop, made sure we got on the right bus, told us how to stamp our tickets, and sent us on our way. We tried to pay him, but he wouldn't accept our money, said we were insulting him by offering it.

He also told us not to take a cab under any circumstance because they're legendary for charging astronomical prices if you're a tourist. George was very kind and took so much time to help us with the bus tickets and helped me calm G and N down. Such a sweet man!

We met a lovely young woman on the bus who talked to G and N for a bit. I could see this was making them feel less afraid. Eagerly I looked around on the bus and paid close attention to our route. I love public transportation. Sure enough we drove right past our hotel and got off at the next stop about half a block away. It was getting dark when we walked back to our hotel, but I was feeling really good. I had enjoyed our little mishap.

When we got back to the hotel I found out that we should have made a left turn at the Powder Tower instead of going straight.

Later, I found out that G and N were well traveled but had never done anything outside of taking a tour. They'd never ventured forth on their own at all even when there was free time. On tours they take excursions but they're so afraid of being lost in a foreign city that they won't attempt to take public transportation even though it's much cheaper and a better way to see the inhabitants.

They also have a bad sense of direction. I know plenty of people don't have a good sense of direction, but it didn't take me long to figure out the reason why they never know where they are or where they're going is because they don't pay attention to their immediate surroundings. I'm always paying attention to where I am and looking around for landmarks when I travel. Sometimes I get turned around, but I can always find my way back to my destination.

G asked me later what I would have done had I been alone and gotten lost. My reply was it would have never happened. I would have been prepared with a map before starting out.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Duncan Sheik and Spring Awakening

There's a moment you know...
You're fucked
Not an inch more room to self-destruct
No more moves, oh yeah
The dead end zone
Man, you just can't call your soul your own

But the thing that makes you really jump
Is that the weirdest shit is still to come
You can ask yourself "Hey, what have I done?"
You're just a fly
The little guys, they kill for fun

Man, you're fucked if you just freeze up
Can't do that thing, that keeping still
But you're fucked if you speak your mind
And you know, uh huh, you will

Yeah, you're fucked all right
And all for spite
You can kiss your sorry ass goodbye
Totally fucked
While they mess you up
Well, you know they're going to try

-"Totally Fucked" from "Spring Awakening"***

I just got back from seeing Duncan Sheik at the Palace of Fine Arts. I wasn't so familiar with Duncan although I realized later "Barely Breathing" was one of my favorite songs when it came out in the mid-1990s. In addition, "On a High" and "She Runs Away" were familiar when he sang them.

Duncan and his band at the Palace of Fine Arts

No, I was most familiar with Duncan because of the Broadway show "Spring Awakening." This is my favorite show. There are three shows I've seen in my life that really broke me open both in amazement and overwhelming emotion. The first was "Zorba" after "Zorba the Greek." I got to see Anthony Quinn do the same role in the musical that he did in the film not once but twice. The second show was "Black Rider" written by William S. Burroughs with songs by Tom Waits. It's difficult to explain to someone who isn't familiar with the show how incredible and unusual it was, but I can say that if all the shows weren't sold out I would have definitely seen it more than once.

I saw "Spring Awakening" three (3) times when it was playing here.

The show is groundbreaking with very adult (and quite grim) themes. It centers around a group of teenagers in late 1800s Germany and their various "awakenings." Sex, angst, teen pregnancy, abortion, homosexuality, teen suicide, profanity, rebellion and child abuse all figure prominently. Yes, it's dark and explicit but it's also an amazing, sometimes harrowing show. The music is fantastic and Duncan won two well-deserved Tonys for it. The show as a whole won eight (8) Tonys.

Back to the concert. Lauren Pritchard, who played Ilse in the original Broadway show, was part of Duncan's band so they sang some "Spring Awakening" songs including "Mama Who Bore Me," "Touch Me," The Dark I Know Well," and "Don't Do Sadness/Blue Wind." What a lovely treat! Duncan played some songs from his new album "Whisper House" which is also going to be a Broadway show. It's a ghost story and judging from the songs it's going to be another dark one.

Duncan did not sing "Barely Breathing" much to the great disappointment of the young man sitting next to me. He kept yelling "Barely Breathing!" at Duncan towards the end of the show and while we were applauding before the encore. Instead, Duncan sang "Fake Plastic Trees" by Radiohead. I felt Duncan and his band deserved a standing ovation just for that song and I was happy to give it to them.

I wasn't expecting to go to this show, but one of my friends called me earlier today to see if I could go. Sometimes life brings you unexpected gifts.

***"Totally Fucked" is a welcome relief in the second act of "Spring Awakening." Several tragedies have occurred and during this song the main character stands his ground and speaks the truth even if the consequences are terrible for him. Towards the end of the song the kids are jumping around the adults on the stage in rebellious exhilaration. The song ends with the kids flipping everybody off in complete defiance. It's one of my favorite moments in the show.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

2009 Job Hunt: Checking In

So the big news for now is...there are very few jobs and I still don't have one. I've been trying to review the written materials I got from the career transition outfit that was part of my severance package when I was laid off last year. I don't have access to their services or their website because I can't afford it but the written materials have proven to be very useful.

My first task was to survey my immediate professional environment so I spent a couple of days on reading about the "Wall Street Crisis" and their list of layoffs. Last week was a particularly nasty week of bloodletting with over 1,000 jobs lost on Thursday. I learned that most folks in the legal industry see this crisis lasting for the rest of this year and through most of next year. That means more jobs will be cut, positions consolidated, and employers will be looking for creative ways to cut even more costs.

It's depressing stuff to be sure, but I have to say knowledge is power. People keeping shaking their heads and saying "What do you do?" The answer is I go out there and keep looking. It's going to take a long time to find a job what with the market being flooded with paralegals, but the jobs are out there. Getting crystal clear about my skills and experience so I can discuss and write about them well, boning up on my interview skills, and coming up with a targeted list of places to pursue a position are all very worthwhile ways to spend my time.

Things could be much worse for me. Consider the following: I could have a serious illness which would give a whole new meaning to the term "health care benefits." I could have a mortgage, and worse, a sub-prime mortgage I'm trying to dig my way out of. I could have a kid or kids and be a single parent. I could be employed at a place where everyone is waiting to see if layoffs will occur. I could be in a relationship with a guy who doesn't love me and will never love me. I could have a back injury, the flu, an addiction, no friends, and no way to watch the first season of "Lost."

So even though I have no job right now I count myself lucky. And if I can't get a job I have a backup plan. Many people don't have the kind of support I have. I'm a blessed person.

In addition to job hunting related activities, I'm going to try to make the very best of this time. I have been showered with even more time to do things I've been wanting to do. Now is the time to make real progress with my personal life. It is the silver lining in the middle of all these storm clouds.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

View Outside My Window: A Break In The Rain

It's been a while since I posted one of these pictures. It's been raining lately.

Your Debutante Knows What You Need But I Know What You Want

It's been a week of My Listy and other efficiencies. The flushed-with-function working papers are piled up in black and white stacks just waiting to rush forward. Ideas fly around like small owls racing away from the cold dawning Sun. Bats open and close their wings in appreciation. They lean forward, teeth out, as I gently hand them their magic fruit breakfasts, juices running riot over my fingers.

It's also been a week of rollercoastering emotions. Just last week I thought I'd die or at least switch identities from the rising floods around here. Salt and waves were threatening to knock me off my lone rocky island. The tide sneaked in and surrounded me, unceremoniously. I stayed stranded (or maybe LOST) but only for 48 hours before my imaginary friend came to get me in a tiny boat with choking outboard motor, with the gasoline fumes overwhelming my olfactory sense. The rain made things more difficult but there's always a hot fireplace and welcome bathtub to crawl back to. That you can be sure of.

After the floods came the battle with the volcanoes, the roiling gray-white hot ash. The flooding hot mud. I was in the truck just ahead of the eruption's blast, my companion yelling "We CAN'T outrun the ASH!" I knew differently especially as I pushed the truck to 125 mph. It was a straight if bumpy road. We would find sanctuary soon even as I tried to unclench my teeth. The wind kicked up hot air but the truck didn't fall apart and I managed to keep myself grounded in the midst of hell's earthly appearance.

Now the volcanoes are reduced to the sometime desire to throw something against my apartment walls, but I'm willing to throw one of the dog's soft cushy toys so we know what that's about, and I'm sure you'll agree I've come far just in the past few hours.

Times sure have become a scarcity and conservative's wet dream. By conservative, I'm not talking elephants, not even the neo-con ones. I'm talking about people who don't want to rock the boat, money hangers-on is what I'm talking about. There are greenbacks to grip tightly in panicked fists and taxes to dry heave about. I'm in a good place even without employment. I believe in myself, and more importantly, I believe in the power of information and the scattering of ideas, albeit some unconventional ones.

Even with all that activity efficiency reigns in this place. Oh, and I still get to keep those desirable package deals with their swooning riffs and endless compliments. I didn't have to trade them in after all.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

2008 River Cruise: Prague in the Morning

On my first morning in Prague, or Praha in Czech, our group had a city tour. The weather wasn't bad, somewhere in the lower 50s. I felt odd being alone but decided not to worry about it. In my usual fashion I stayed somewhat apart from people at first, but people in my tour group soon took an interest in me, particularly when they saw me attempting to take self-portraits.

A frantic shot of the Vltava river taken while the bus rolled over one of Prague's many bridges.

Our tour started at the top of Prague Castle. You can just see it in the photo above on the distant right. The weather was cold, but splendid. As we all assembled outside the bus we had to wait for our local guide. While waiting two older women, cousins who were traveling together, struck up a conversation with me. They clucked in disapproval when I told them I was traveling alone and before I knew it they had adopted me. I'll call them G and N.

It was colder at the top of Prague Castle. I had to put my gloves on. Prague Castle is a complex of the main castle, St. Vitus Cathedral, lessor castles, gardens and halls. The President of Prague lives there and it's a place where most Czech government functions occur.

A properly stoic guard although I did manage to get him to crack a momentary smile.

We were just in time to see the changing of the guard at the entrance of the castle. I watched the proceedings with curiosity since I missed the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace when I was in London a few years ago. Our tour guide explained that the guards are properly stoic, that is not allowed to smile, move, or speak, just like in London. People took tons of pictures of them, posing and giggling. I was wearing my ray bans when I snapped the picture above. I got the guard to smile just for a moment when I lowered my sunglasses, smiled hugely, and said "Thank You" in sugar-coated tones.

We were herded into one of the many courtyards in the complex. While our tour guide did some explaining I wandered off a little taking care not to venture too far off. I was not yet familiar with my group and worried about losing them as there were other tours coming in by the bus load.

One of the courtyards at Prague Castle.

We went through a side entrance at last and I saw our first destination: the grandiose St. Vitus Cathedral. I was terribly excited. I love church architecture.

The real deal complete with all the elements to make you look upwards so you feel properly humbled before God.

The cathedral is massive, dark, and cold. All that stone and stained glass everywhere. We were asked not to use a flash so I took plenty of pictures, but many of them didn't come out.

A particularly splendid stained glass specimen, the Mucha window.

I kept wandering around and soon realized that my new friends G and N were a little disconcerted with this behavior. They didn't say anything, of course. On the tour we had these headsets so we could still hear our tour guide even if I wandered off a bit. These pictures simply cannot show the grand size and scale of this place.

This picture might give you a better idea. Note the flying buttresses, one of my very favorite architectural features.

Here's the front entrance of St. Vitus' with its rose window.

Although the spectacular chapel of St. Wenceslas (his relics are kept here) was undergoing renovations we were still allowed to take a peek inside. There are over 1300 semi-precious stones and paintings here and the chandelier is made of gold and more precious stones. I couldn't get a very clear picture but you can still get a general feel for this place.

Absolutely breathtaking...

We left St. Vitus for the front entrance of Prague Castle and the huge courtyard. I took pictures from the viewing area on the hill, but was shooting directly into the sun so none of them came out well, but I'll post better pictures in a later post.

I continued to wander around without my new companions and away from the tour group. I noted happily that they had a National Gallery in the complex which would inform my plans for the next day.

We made a pit stop at the water closet and while everyone was waiting around, I noted that G and N were chatting with people from our group. I was more standoff-ish until a nice man offered to take a photo of me since I kept trying to take self-portraits. G and N introduced me to a few people and I talked them for a while. Then we piled onto the tour bus and made our way towards Old Town which is situated on the other side of the river from Prague Castle.

On the way to the Old Town Square we did get to see a bit of the Jewish Quarter (the Josefov) in Prague, but only just. The tour guide was moving too fast. G loves cemeteries and since N is Jewish she wanted to see the synagogue and the cemetery, but both were closed up tight. I was as disappointed as they were.

Old Town or Stare Mesto is where the Prague was first settled as our guide told us. We had been told by the tour guide that we would have a few hours to explore Old Town after the tour and then we could make our way back to the hotel on our own since it's within walking distance. I was getting antsy. I was feeling the confining effect of being on a group tour.

The Old Town Square is very beautiful.

We were told about the history of the Square and surrounding buildings. The tour was finished up by giving us a short history of the world famous medieval Prague Astronomical Clock which shows the positions of the Sun, Moon, and some planets.

The beautiful clock.

After getting directions so we could make our way back to the hotel, G, N and I left the tour group. G had been in Prague eight years earlier with her daughter and they had found a vegetarian restaurant just off the Square that she claims was the best vegetarian food she ever had. In the spirit of adventure, we set off to find it. After some twists and turns we finally asked a clerk in a jewelry shop down one of the side streets and she gave us general directions. I found out quickly that G has a terrible sense of direction, but we managed to find the place and she was very happy.

In front of the restaurant. If you take the street directly opposite the Clock and wind your way down the narrow street you'll see it off to the right side after the equivalent of a block or two.

The restaurant was very stripped down, cafeteria style. We gathered our trays and started piling food on our plates. N was very skeptical, apparently she's not a very adventurous eater. Each dish was labeled in English, but sometimes what the card said didn't correspond with what the food looked like. No matter, we pressed on. By the time we got to the cashier it became clear that this was a place were locals like to eat lunch. It was very cheap and we were the only tourists. The cashier barely spoke English, but we managed to pay for our food and find a table. The other folks at the tables looked at us in surprise as we passed them.

Here's a picture of my plate. Don't ask me what the food was. All I know is the soup was a lovely carrot soup.

The food was spectacular. As G promised it was the very best vegetarian food I've ever had. I couldn't believe it! Eagerly we gobbled up our food while N sat with us. She barely picked at her plate. I guess she didn't like it much. Most of the food was in a kind of casserole style with plenty of grains. Yummy! I highly recommend it (if you can find the restaurant) for a delicious, off-the-beaten-path experience.

After our meal the three of us wandered around the various gift shops around the Square. My feet were cold so I looked for socks, but there were none to be had. The search for socks became a running joke between the three of us. I bought a couple of things but wandering the gift shops isn't really my deal especially if you keep going into one gift shop after another that keeps selling the same shit over and over. I soon realized this seems to be how many people visit other countries: they go on a tour and afterwards go shopping in tourist gift shops. Yick.

After wandering for a while the ladies decided we should make our way back to the hotel. We thought we were following the proper directions, but I turned out to be wrong.

Next up: Sort of Lost in Prague

Monday, February 02, 2009

He's Hoping I'll Come Through

Won't you come with me baby ?
I'll take you where you wanna go

And if it don't work out

You'll be the first to know

I'm pledging my time to you

Hopin' you'll come through too.

- Bob Dylan, "I'm Pledging My Time," Blonde on Blonde, 1966

It's amazing how you can take forms of art, such as the above lyrics, and apply it to whatever is going on in your life. I feel like I'm on the verge of a faint blossoming, that I'll see the silver streaked road over the next rise on that hill of saturated green in the distance. The question is do I want to climb that hill?

The alternative is rather staid, but at least it won't be stifling. Haven't I always said I've wanted to hear the words: "Stay with me. Stay with me because it's better to be together than apart. Stay with me and we'll be unstoppable."

It sounds like I'm auditioning for a weird stage play featuring two superheros in Danskin tights who are on the verge of splitting up, but know that their strength lies in being as one. The stage is too small, wooden. The tights are too tight, they don't match exactly. The older superhero is so confused that he has to read from the script because he keeps losing his place. The curtains are tattered and yellow. And yet there's the fragrant note of optimism in the air which hovers as the audience rises to its feet at the end. It's a sweet time to be a superhero in a stage play.

It's an even sweeter time to listen to Bob Dylan who might just sway this situation with his harmonica, organ, and guitar. I keep asking myself if I trust Bob, but what I'm really asking is do I trust myself? I'm supposed to be fragile, but I know I'm not. Perhaps I need to stop acting so fragile. After all, a superhero is still a superhero even on a too small stage.

But There's Nothing Really Nothing To Turn Off

"That's some patient pup you've got there, Miss Turtle."

"Hm," I say in response. The apartment door has closed behind me and I am making my way down some burgundy heavily carpeted stairs. The apartment building is grand and old. The stairs are narrow and I hold the white painted banister with my right hand. I walk through the lovely lobby of the building, Mr. Gryphon behind me. I walk out of the building and turn right. I am approaching the corner of Gough and Broadway in my beloved City. It's a pleasant, cool night. The cool air feels good on my tear stained cheeks.

"Do you want my opinion?"

"You seem to want to give it to me," I say as we cross the intersection toward my car. I am making slow, almost swaggering strides. Lower Pacific Heights is a lovely neighborhood of beautiful houses, apartment buildings, and school buildings.

"The bones of your ghosts are seeping in compassion and trust. They cannot hold themselves together for long before they dissolve leaving you in a place of affection and friendship."

I turn around about a half a block from where my car is. I stare at Mr. Gryphon. "What the fuck are you talking about?" I put my hand on my hip. My trademark tears are starting up again. I am angry and hurt. Angry at myself for tender feelings. Hurt about the situation.

"I mean," says Gryphon as he walks slowly up to me and slides his arms around me, "I'm feeling an affinity for your pup, there." The way he's holding me is too familiar for comfort. I pull away and start walking back towards the car.

"Yes, Mr. Gryphon, you AND the dog are apparently in complete agreement." He says nothing in response, but I know that no matter what happens he will still be there with me. He will not leave me and he will always give me a place to come back to.

Some lines from a song plays in my mind:
Lights flicker from the opposite loft
In this room the heat pipes just cough

The country music station plays soft

But there's nothing really nothing to turn off*

I stop next to my car. "Mr. Gryphon, why can't you be my boyfriend?"

He blinks slowly before responding. "I'm your imaginary friend. Boyfriend or no, it appears you've found the real deal, Miss Turtle. There's nothing to turn off here from what I can see." I glare at him and then make my way to the driver's side of my car. I get inside then open the door for him. He slides in easily.

"This sucks," I say my voice breaking a little. I have put my keys in the ignition, but have not turned them yet. I put my hands on the steering wheel, gripping tightly. "It appears, Mr. Gryphon, that I have truly found what I've been looking for."

"So you have, Miss Turtle. What are you going to do now?"

I grit my teeth. "You know what I'm going to do now." Mr. Gryphon smiles a rare smile at me. I turn the key in the ignition and pull away from the curb. It will be good to get home.

*Bob Dylan, "Visions of Johanna," Blonde on Blonde, 1966