Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Missing Michael Jackson

I work quite near where Michael Jackson's parents live and have driven past their house countless times over the years without actually knowing which house it was. But today a friend of mine at work showed me her iPhone photos of the crowd around that house, so I decided to drive by it on the way home from work to see what was going on. Actually, it wasn't possible to drive down the block the Jackson house is on, as the police have it barricaded. But you can park elsewhere and walk down there if you want, so that's what I did.

One whole side of the street (the side opposite the Jackson house) has news media satellite trucks from end of the long block to the other. I'd never seen anything like that before; there must have been maybe thirty trucks lined up, maybe more. The trucks, with their satellite upload dishes on the ready, all aimed skyward, were pretty cool to see, but it actually seemed like a pretty slow news day. It made me wonder just how much "hurry up and then sit and wait" is involved in the average news person's day.

There was a pretty big crowd of people out in front of the Jackson house. The gate to the parking area was open, but people respectfully stayed outside in front (but there were a few police in the area keeping things orderly). I felt like the people were expecting somebody to arrive at or leave from the house, but instead, things seemed quite quiet. I wondered what it must be like to have a constant presence of people like that, but of course, the Jacksons are quite used to it. When my mother died, and then when my father died, I wanted absolute privacy for our family to grieve, but the Jackson family surely knew that these people waiting around outside their house were fans who loved Michael, which maybe helps some.

There was an immense amount of flowers, stuffed animals (including a gigantic stuffed cartoon gorilla), balloons, banners, posters, notes, and pictures all along the wall in front of the property. The basic themes of the notes were, "Gone too soon," "You're at peace, now, sweet one," "You meant so much to me," and "Thank you for the wonderful music, which we will treasure forever." It reminded me of pictures I saw of what people had left for Princess Di after her tragic death. I had been disappointed at the news media for failing to mention all the charitable works that Michael had done, but the signs and the notes out in front of the Jackson house did not repeat that same failure--his fans remembered, for sure. There were reasons beyond Michael's music that his fans loved him so; part of that was how much he gave to others, and another part of that was how much pain he had been in, himself. People could relate to that.

My friend who had shown me the iPhone pictures said she wondered if Michael would have been as creative as he was if it hadn't been for the pain, and I thought of others who had begun as child stars, such as Judy Garland (found dead on her toilet at the age of 47 with an overdose of quinolbarbitone). If they had had happy childhoods, they maybe never would have had the deeply affecting careers they had, so that which benefits so many others perhaps costs too much for those who give us what they do.

I thought about how lonely Michael had been, upon his own admission. It was terribly sad to think that with all his popularity all around the world, that it seemed that he did not have one real friend who truly cared about HIM (instead of what they could get out of him). A friend who might have warned him to stop having children sleeping over at his house because of the accusations it opened Michael up to, or to cool it on all the damaging plastic surgery, or to not let concert promoters sign him up for a 50-city tour when he was tired and frail. But then again, maybe he did have people trying to help him and he didn't listen, I don't know. Or, again, he just wouldn't have been "Michael Jackson" without all these things.

It's funny, Michael Jackson was always one of my favorites, and I was one who always felt that he was innocent of any crimes, but I didn't confuse him with a person that I have a personal relationship with. And yet now with him suddenly gone, I feel the same kind of guilt and regret that one can feel when friends and loved ones die--"I never told them I loved them enough...I didn't visit them enough or write to them enough or call them enough...", whatever the regret it is. For example, I never went to any of his concerts (surely he must have had them in the United States, but I wasn't really on that wavelength). I guess what the feeling boils down to is, "I always took them for granted," and in Michael's case, I always took him for granted, too. I guess he was always going to be there, pumping the music out.

It seems that no matter what we do, that lesson keeps on coming, and coming from unexpected places. I guess what it really boils down to is that we take LIFE for granted. And, like so many things that happen that result in a loss, Michael Jackson's death is one more thing reminded us of how precious life really is, and how much we need to be thankful for it every single second.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

So Much Misbehaving

Is it Los Angeles, or the times we are now living in? It is hard for me to judge, since I have been here so much longer than most other places I have lived, but it seems that Los Angeles contains some of the rudest people in the world. But maybe it is the times we are living in, instead, because now seems to be a time where what is presented to people as examples of success are liars and criminals (that’s government), or rabidly aggressive, selfish, pushy people (that’s celebrities on television). It’s kind of like people are made to think that the model of a life successfully lived is the reality game show, Survivor, where there is only one winner for the million dollars, and the way to win is not to be the strongest, most resourceful, and most competent in the face of challenges, but the one who is most able to fool and then shaft everybody else.

This kind of thing is neither inspiring nor entertaining to me, and so I don’t watch it on television and I don’t participate in it in life.

But I sure do see it all over the place, mostly in little ways that shock me even more than all the gross sociopathy that surrounds us. Of course the forest is rotten, but it is truly disturbing is that the tree roots are, too.

One example I experience all the time is how people merge onto the north heading side of the 405 freeway from the Skirball Center exit. This would be my way of going home if I take the freeway, which I rarely do, because I do not have the constitution to deal with the behavior at that entrance. For some reason, this long entrance consists of two lanes of traffic, but merges into one lane about two car lengths from the highway. It is the left lane that is the main lane, and the right lane that is supposed to merge into the left. One can clearly see this from the design of the roadway, but one problem with this is that the roadway designers must have presumed that conscientious and forward-thinking drivers would look ahead and see that the better and correct lane to be in is the left lane. So, of course, I get into the left lane as soon as I can, which usually means at the very top of the road when I make a right turn into it.

However, what that does is leave a relatively empty right lane, a perfect and unavoidable opportunity for the stupidly short-sighted and the aggressively selfish. All they see is that if they go into the right lane, they will move past (ahead of) seven or ten cars waiting patiently in the correct left lane. And then what those in the right lane face is the bottleneck at the end where they are two car lengths from the freeway, yet are next to a solid wall of cars in the left lane, all of whom had gotten there before those in the right lane did. So the effect is that those in the right lane want to butt into line ahead of the wall of cars in the left lane, yet they have no right to do so, and how many in the left lane, do you think, are willing to let them in?

Okay, so maybe a driver from time to time will be genuinely “stuck” there in the right lane because they weren’t paying attention and will look pleadingly at the drivers in the left lane for a space to get in. That’s when I will give up the battle and let them in…but that then seems to invite the rest of the whole row of cars in the right lane to then aggressively push into the space that I have allowed for the one nice, pleading driver. But more often, however, the tack of those in the right lane is to just play a game of chicken with those in the left lane and push their way in any way they can, devil may dare. I have been in several of those contests, myself, in which what I am thinking is, “If you really want to buy me a new car, then keep on going because I am in the right of way and I am not letting you push your way in no matter what you do.” I have seen cars continue on anyway by driving up onto the hill of dirt on the right shoulder and then drive on down the freeway that way until they can manage to force their way into a lane later. These are the same drivers, I am sure, who will perform any dangerous stunt on the road just to get one car length ahead of you, and one car length ahead of you is where they will stay for the next hour, because their actions had secured no significant advantage at all…but they will constantly be on the lookout for the next such useless opportunity. Honestly, who wants to live that way? What kind of person spends every waking moment looking for the tiniest advantage of getting one car-length ahead? Is the proper focus for one’s journey through life to be that tight and small, looking just one inch ahead of their nose?

The truth is that more and more people are acting like they are the ONLY people in the whole world.

For example, a couple of days ago, I was at a bookstore looking for a magazine. I wasn’t looking for any specific magazine, was just aimlessly scanning what they had, hoping for something that might interest me. I guess at the back of my mind was maybe a travel magazine featuring some place I might want to go.

As I did this, I came upon a section where a little girl was sitting on the bottom shelf of the magazine rack, on a cushion of magazines, and surrounded by piles of discarded illustrated children’s books. Hey, one doesn’t sit on, in, and among the merchandise, and there were plenty of couches and chairs in that area. And if that wasn’t bad enough, her father was busy looking for books he hoped might interest her, taking them off the shelves and bringing them over to her where she was ensconced on the magazine rack, pleadingly giving them to her and then watching as she rejected them, discarding them one by one in a mess on the floor, and then he went back to the shelves for more. (What a mess they were making for the bookstore staff who was going to have clean up all that after these people left, empty-handed, of course. The girl was going to end up with ice cream, instead.)

Fortunately…but I don’t know if the good fortune was for me or for the girl and her father…she was sitting on, in, and among a section of magazines that didn’t interest me—magazines for video gamers. But if, instead, she were in the travel section and thus was blocking my view of about seven different potential magazines, there would have been a confrontation. In my mind, the confrontation might have gone along the lines of me speaking to the little girl, “Get the fuck off the magazines so that other people can look at them, you hideous freak,” which would, of course, have created quite a stir. I would have hoped to have scarred the girl for life, maybe impressed upon her indelibly the level of comportment required in a bookstore, and if I had succeeded in scaring her out of bookstores entirely, so much the better, for honestly, if you can’t behave, then I don’t want you anywhere around me, and from the looks of this, this girl had absolutely no hope in life of ever growing up into anything better than a despicable bitch.

I took one look at her father, a blond-haired guy in his 30s wearing a beige baseball cap (makes me want to vomit), and pegged him as a certain brand of “Los Angelino hope to make it big as a producer in the film industry” whom I despise. When he isn’t messing up bookstores with his sickening princess of a little girl, he’s busy attempting to pass people on the road in his Porsche—he’s got a “pitch session with the studio” that he’s late for and everybody else better get out of his way. I could see his whole story—divorced, his wife got custody, so he only has alternate weekends to “impress” his daughter and his method is to cater to her every whim and thus ruin her for life. If she’s pretty, some other poor schmo will marry her for sex, get so he can’t stand her, divorce her, lose custody of the child and so the whole thing goes generation after generation.

I’ll just skip by people talking out in pubic on cell phones. I hope they actually are getting brain damage as the alternative health practitioners continue to warn…in fact, I’m sure it’s already happened. I realize that I am now a generation or two behind, but I just cannot fathom the need to be connected to somebody by phone every waking minute, walking down the street, shopping in a store, waiting in a doctor’s office. And I sure don’t want to listen to them in a restaurant making business deals or arranging their child’s bar mitvah. Do your work in the office or have your conversation at home. Leave the rest of us at peace. Egos are shallow enough as it is, do you really have to pretend to be the big cheese or social butterfly to a public of absolute strangers, who hate the sound of you and would love to mutilate your face with a fistful of forks if they could? And this happens EVERYWHERE, ALL the time.

Then, yesterday, it was around 11:00 at night and I was hungry, so decided to walk over to the convenience store at the gas station a few buildings over. I hoped it was open; the previous owner would lock it up after 10 PM and you had to shout your request through a little hole and exchange money for snack food through a sliding drawer. But hooray, this new owner is more welcoming and even the front door was wide open; there was busy traffic of people getting gas (it was Friday night) and the store had quite a few customers.

I went in, picked out some things I wanted to buy and then got in line. Finally it was the turn of the guy directly in front of me, who held up a plastic bottle of Naked juice and said he wanted a refund. The clerk, who is some kind of Asian/Mexican mix, looked at him blankly. I know and like this clerk, have been buying from him for years, and know that he often lapses into a pretend “I don’t know the language that well” when problems arise. The guy continued, “I bought this here a few minutes ago and now I want to return it, I want my money back.” The clerk continued to stare at him in disbelief and finally said, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

The guy continued, “How could you not know what I am talking about? Don’t you remember me, I was here fifteen minutes ago, I bought this juice and some other items, but now I don’t want the juice, so I am here to return it.”

The clerk said, “I don’t remember you.”

The guy could not believe this, and continued to berate the poor guy, acting upon the assumption that he was in the right and all he needed to do was spark the clerk’s memory over the transaction and then he would be able to return this bottle of juice. But I could see that he was getting nowhere, and why should he? (Just keep the damn juice; if you don’t want it now, save it and drink it some other time.) For one thing, it looked to me more like he had just then taken the juice out of the refrigerator and gotten in line, but even if what he was saying were true, one could not expect the clerk to remember him among a constant stream of junk-food buyers, and who thinks that these snack items are returnable, anyway? The clerk asked him for a receipt, which the guy didn’t have. So then the clerk told him to come back tomorrow morning (when, I guess, the owner would be there), but that was unacceptable to the asshole, who wanted his money NOW.

It was clear to me that the guy was going to get nowhere, and nowhere was where he should have gotten. I wondered whether I should step in and come to the aid of the clerk, but I also wondered if this were a prelude to a gun being drawn and thus didn’t want to escalate the negative energy with my contribution. Instead the guy had an idea, he would go back outside and get the other stuff he bought to “prove” to the clerk that he had bought the juice in that same transaction and thus could get his refund. His leaving then brought me up to the cash register.

I said to the clerk, shaking my head, “I’m amazed at some of the stuff you have to contend with.” Then I suggested, “Simply tell him that the juice is non-refundable, that it violates a health code, that you have no idea what he had done with it after he took it out of the store, that you can’t sell it again.” All these would be logical explanations in my mind, but the clerk was more set on the bullheaded approach, and all power to him. The guy came back in as I was leaving and I hoped that next time I came back to this store late at night, we wouldn’t be back to the locked door and speaking through a hole in the glass. And if so, I knew whom exactly (what type of customer) to blame for that.

If I had my way, I’d send every one of these people back to kindergarten for a year. They failed to learn even the most fundamental rules of how to live in a decent society. Or else I’d like for there to be a special kind of “fatal swine flu epidemic”…one where whom the virus infects are those who act like swine. Unfortunately, life doesn’t operate that way, and the ones who have to suffer are the innocent and the polite, while the guilty and the rude continue on their merry way.

P.S. Here's a great article about the exact section of freeway where I have to drive home every day when I take the freeway.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Summer Lover

It must be the testosterone therapy. Why else would I be so especially excited about the onset of summer? I mean, not that I’ve never loved summer or anything, but this year, I am really feeling it and the feeling is good. I’m even loving being in LA, and that’s funny, because only a few days ago I checked out a calculator on the website that showed me how much I could increase my disposable income by moving somewhere else. I calculated it for every city on an American coast, for which I included Great Lakes cities as coastal, too. It works really well for moving away from Los Angeles, one of the highest cost-of-living cities in the country. About the only coastal cities I would lose money moving to were Santa Barbara (the worst), Honolulu, New York, and San Francisco. Even moving to other California cities would put disposable income in my pocket, even cities in Orange County, or cities like Santa Cruz.

Interestingly, based on these calculations, the best cities to move to are in Texas, and second best would be Connecticut. Well, Texas really was no surprise, and any one of Texas’s coastal cities would put an extra $20,000 to $30,000 in my pocket annually, presuming I could find a job similar to the one I have now. Sure the salaries would be less, but the cost of living is SO much less that the net effect is a hefty gain. And Texas is a state I would consider. My experiences there have always yielded very friendly people and a pride of place that I consider admirable. And I am one who likes hot humid environments and the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes, though, I could do without, but other than the west coast, you can’t find coastal cities without hurricanes whose weather isn’t freezing cold in the winter.

Moving to cities along the Long Island Sound in Connecticut would put about $15,000 to $25,000 extra in my pocket. I never would have thought of that with Connecticut, but the deal there is that salaries tend to be high (they’re in the vicinity of New York), whereas cost of living is lower than Los Angeles. I just wouldn’t like Connecticut winters, though.

A state loaded with coastal cities that I would consider, Florida, ended up being less impressive when it came to increasing disposable income…the figures there were around $10,000 to $15,000. Not bad, really, it’s just that the Texas figures were so much better.

Yet even with this, this onset of summer is making me love LA. Summer this time didn’t suddenly blast itself onto us, but has slowly crept in almost like an eastern season change, yet the season is definitely Californian. In California, as the sun goes down, a cool, sometimes chilly breeze comes in to fill the gap, which is why even in summer restaurants with outdoor patios have overhead heaters. This is something I am sure people from eastern climates find hard to understand, for in the east, when the day is hot, so, too, is the evening. Now, there is hardly anyone I know who likes a hot summer evening better than me; sitting on a porch with, say, a Southern Comfort in the hand, rocking back and forth as the lightening bugs flicker and the tree frogs shriek. If the thunder cracks and a rainstorm suddenly pours, well, so much the better, I’ve got a cover over my head.

In California, the version is a cool but sweetly refreshing chill that washes over the salt-sprayed and sunburnt skin. I can almost feel the sand between my toes and smell the bonfire that we have started on the beach. Watching a sunset as the sun makes a golden pathway across the water before it finally sets into the ocean, especially as you are entwined in the arms of a loved one, the two of you cozily wrapped up in a set of beach towels or a blanket, what could be more beautiful than that? If you’re watching this sunset from a private, hidden cove, you’ve probably got a jug of cheap wine chilling in the ice cold Pacific, held in place by a line tied through the glass handle ring. It doesn’t have to be a fancy California wine in order to enjoy this beautiful setting, and the beautiful setting enhances anything you are drinking.

Yes, it must be the testosterone, the only medical therapy I can ever remember that clearly brought on instant positive results. I haven’t felt this good inside my body since I was college age, something I never thought I would ever feel again. I had to ask my doctor if what I was feeling was genuine, or was I just somehow fooling myself, and he confirmed it as a reality, saying that he hears this from his patients all the time (he himself, a Malibu surfer when he isn’t practicing medicine, is too young to need testosterone therapy). And this, unlike injected pharmaceutical testosterone, is a therapy that is pretty safe—bioidentical hormones that are custom compounded individually for the patient and rubbed on as a cream.

From the look of me, I’m just about the last person that should be feeling sexual, yet this feeling seems to be translating to others from me; maybe the true secret of attractiveness is simply feeling good yourself. And that, I do. Even if my only possible lover is the city, and its delicious seasonal change brushing across my body, a body held and carried back and forth by a fervent, frothy ocean, the joy within me seems to say that that is more than enough.