Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Wonders of Glamping

Me: "We can get two Creekside Queens,"

Doug: "We ARE two Creekside Queens."

The refusal of the route south of Big Sur to stop mud from sliding onto its thoroughfare has resulted in a most unexpected turn of events discovery, thanks to several industrious and well-traveled friends I have on Facebook. As we were stranded in Santa Barbara, it was suggested by several folk that we look into El Capitan Canyon. These lodgings were only 20 minutes from SB but worlds away in terms of experience. We are camping. Well, not exactly camping—El Capitan Canyon is a resort/campground that offers what is known as "glamping"— glamourous camping. I think the word "glamping" is a terrible term, not at all onomatopoeic; it suggests galumphing, which is not right. El Capitan is a rustic resort offering camping for those who wouldn't even contemplate pitching a tent. It offers tents and cabins, but cabins with running water and heat and a microwave; no television but wi-fi; a fire pit and no stove but a general store where you can buy comprehensive dinners and tools to put on the grill or a "s'mores kit" complete with elegant skewers to toast your marshmallows. You're in the middle of the wilderness, but with well-defined trails and numbers on your cabin or yurt. It's as close to camping as I am willing to get.

Driving to our designated spot (only to unload; cars are restricted to certain roads) it felt like I was going to camp. I even started wheezing, for nostalgia's sake. Our cabin was indeed creekside, right by our friends'. One big room with a queen size bed and a loft for the kid. Good, hot water pressure. A porch with 2 chairs and an outdoor picnic table. A pool nearby and dim internet connection which comes and goes. Absolutely unreliable cellphone coverage, at least with Sprint. Perfect for cutting oneself off from technology, but not TOO much. I can blog, but only when the wind is blowing in the right direction.

The kids love it: lots of birds and ground squirrels and places to explore, even a truculent skunk who comes to visit us at night. We take a trail to see llamas and the caretaker there (complete with border collie, stick in mouth) allows us into his pastures to get close to goats and sheep and a very amenable donkey. Flashlights at night, lots of running around waving sticks.

Doug, is in his element, surprisingly, but perhaps it's because he can build a wood fire AND still shop Gilt online. This laid-back atmosphere suits him, toasting s'mores, telling tales while hiking and sniffing out spiders by flashlight (don't ask— it's mystical). His face is red and his hair smells like a brushfire.

"Wait... can I get wifi here?"
My fingernails are filthy, I got beach tar on my feet,
And I miss my clean white linen and my fancy French cologne...

I have settled in somewhat less comfortably. This city mouse is unused to the country rhythm. I find us unprepared for "roughing it," with no knife or cutting board and find it disconcerting to be eating at night when it's dark out. A Frisbee fell into a slope rife with poison oak and there are very amusing pictures of me galumphing down the hill in a plastic bag, like I'm entered into some kind of downhill potato sack race, using tongs to pick up the frisbee and then unable to coordinate galumphing back up the hill. I make baked potatoes wrapped in foil that resemble lava rocks on the outside but that are thankfully fluffy inside. I'm slowly slowing down; by the time we leave on Thursday I should be just getting adjusted.

I do love the stars, though; I can take my iPad out into the blackness, turn on "Star Walks" and actually see what constellations I'm staring at. And I've found some measure of relief from my moratorium of app games, courtesy of a 6-year-old with a passion for paying board games who has brought along a suitcase full of them. Playing with someone else in person is perfectly legal, and so I've been able to get my fix in the form of Pairs in Pears, Appletters, Blokus, Chutes and Ladders and Monopoly.

Doug: Congratulations. You beat a six-year-old again.
Me: Yes, but he's a very SMART six-year-old.

My normal urban life is circumscribed by a multitude of tethers: obligations, appointments, duties, and nests of coiled slim black cables twisting from the wall. There are many leashes on me, some I'm grabbing, some grabbing on to me. Detaching from these leashes isn't easy, because while they may constrain you, they're also holding you in place.

I'm learning. This morning I finally got up early and meditated, setting out my kneeling bench on the porch. No kids, no cooking, no plans. Just listening to the birds and the rush of the stream below. Letting thoughts, and attachments, drop into the water like leaves, and float, float away.

Ah, there's the vacation.

Monday, March 28, 2011

On Hold, but Reading Substantially

At the Canary Hotel in Santa Barbara, typing away while my boys sleep. We're in a bit of a holding pattern here, awaiting word as to whether we can proceed with our scheduled plan to journey north to Big Sur. Right now, due to the recent rains, the roads north and south out of Big Sur are closed. The southern road has mud slides; the northern road has swept itself out to sea. Doesn't sound promising, does it. The woman at the lodge in Big Sur sounds increasingly depressed each time I call. The road south is partially opened, but infrequently and only for locals to escape in and out of the area. If we do get in and they close up again, the reception lady told me glumly, you may have to be airlifted out. Hmmm... perhaps not the kind of exciting vacation we were planning.

Meanwhile, time in Santa Barbara is fine— relaxing, low-key, and nostalgic; it's the site of our wedding a few years ago. The hotel is lovely and centrally located, the kids have enjoyed the Aquarium at the end of the pier. But it's hardly the rustic, outdoorsy (but not camping!) experience we were hoping for. It's more like vacationing in Pasadena, but with a coast. Yes, we could take day trips out and about, but we haven't really committed to being here so haven't made the most of it. Today is do or die: we go to Big Sur, or pull up stakes and find somewhere else. We're traveling with another family with 2 other boys, excellent companions, so we've got a little caravan going.

At times like these the desire to fling Angry Birds, or other games of that ilk, is itchingly palpable, but I've abstained. If Benj is having an electronic game-free vacation, so should I. Though I do have 2 Scrabble requests— is it rude of me to ignore? Surely common etiquette dictates that I play... no, no, it's the poison talking.

Current events, via Angry Birds!

Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and AnecdotesI have gotten scads more reading done, however, and not just on the internets. I just finished "Finishing the Hat," a lyric memoir by Stephen Sondheim. Anyone interested in musical theater, or song-writing in general, should pick up this weighty tome. It's like having a master class in lyric-writing, with Sondheim offering critiques not only on his musicals (from the beginning all the way through to "Merrily We Roll Along" ) but other composers as well. Fascinating.

Currently reading "The Little Giant of Aberdeen County" on the iPad, and a cool graphic novel called "Cages" in... person? (What's the opposite of digitally? Naturally? Yes, I'm reading that book naturally. Or perhaps substantially. I'm reading substantially. I like that. It implies weight, heft. Perhaps not the most practical thing to bring on vacation, a substantial book, but I couldn't help it. It's that good.) "Cages" is written and illustrated by Dave McKean, who did all the covers for the Sandman series. It's a substantial book, indeed.

CagesThe Little Giant of Aberdeen County

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Scheherazade at Breakfast

"Why was she a brat?"
"Oh, she was awful. Eat that bacon in your hand, I'll tell you."


"Her name was... Veronica something..."

"Veruca Salt."

"VERUCA. Yes. Horrid girl. Spoiled spoiled spoiled. She wanted to have everything she saw. And she walked in a room and saw these squirrels. Trained squirrels..."

"What could they do?"

"Another bite of egg, please."

[cut cut chew]

"So, these squirrels were trained to... to... uh, tell whether the golden eggs that Willy Wonka had were good eggs or bad eggs —is that right? The good eggs were pure 24-carat gold—"

"What's 24 carrots?"

"Eat some more."

[slurp chew chew]

"Use your knife."

"A carat is a way of measuring how perfect a, uh, gem is, or precious metal... uh..."

"24-carat means it's all gold, and if it's less than 24-carats, then it has other metals mixed in."

"YES. Exactly. So these squirrels knew exactly which eggs were 24-carat gold, and they would save them, and throw the other eggs, the bad eggs, down the garbage chute.

"The bad gold eggs?"

"Yeah... uh... so—another bite— anyway, Veruca saw these squirrels and she had to have one, and said, 'Daddy, Daddy, I want a squirrel and I want it now!' And her daddy said, 'All right, Wonka, how much for a squirrel?" And Willy Wonka said, 'These squirrels are not for sale, they're my special squirrels,' and Veruca starts screaming yelling and having a tantrum and she runs at the squirrels and tries to—"

[miming remote control] "Pause. Eat. And drink some OJ."

(chew chew sip)


"Veruca tries to catch the squirrels, but they all come up to her and start surrounding her and sniffing her and they decide to throw her— hey, you're almost done with your eggs, just that one bite—and they throw her down the garbage chute, because, you see, she's a bad egg.

"So she's covered with garbage?—done!"

"Good job! Yes, she's in the garbage, and then the Oompa-Loompas appear, and they sing: What do you do when your girl is a BRAT? She is as sly as a Siamese CAT! Something something something to SHAME! But you know who's to blame? The-mo-tha-and-the-fa-a-tha..."*

[Daddies put their hands by their faces and do the side-to-side Oompa-Loompa dance. Son laughs. Breakfast is complete.]

*Lyrics, as well as the entire Willy Wonka plot, acknowledged as completely mangled.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Charm Offensive

All right, so most of you have seen this youtube video, right?:

It's a rant by an unfortunately-clad student at UCLA. Head-shaking, but not terribly shocking. She'd be right at home taking Tea with certain political sects. Lots of uproar at UCLA followed, with the Chancellor decrying the video and many youtube viewers wanting to string her up by her processed tresses. Among the vitriol, though, was this witty ditty sung by an incredibly charming actor/singer named Jimmy Wong. It proves that you don't have to get into the gutter with your opponent to make a point; you can just kill 'em with kindness:

Update: She has since apologized.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

At the Late Night, Double Feature, Picture Show

"How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable 
seem to me all the uses of this world..."

Though I'd like to attribute tonight's insomnia to my lack of app game playing (almost a week, folks!) it's more likely the bronchial infection currently invading my airspace (yes, I'm on antibiotics). I haven't been able to notice any difference in my game-free life because I'm moving at a much slower pace, and have little desire to do much of anything. Which would be a perfect time to play games, wouldn't you think?  Add to this the fact that those damn people at Rovio (creators of Angry Birds) have released a FREE update in time for St. Patty's Day. It's topical! How could I not play? Plus 15 more levels... Resolve...weakening... Rovio knew I was trying to get clean. They don't want me to get away. They're probably watching me now, through a hidden app on my ipad. It's talking to me now: "One of us... one of us..."

I'll tell you one thing: without games, the ipad becomes a LOT less exciting. Sure, it's a great book reader, and it can carry my contacts & calendar, but without exploring those delightful, time-wasting tidbits contained within, the ipad becomes less delicious forbidden fruit and more Franklin Day Planner.

 In related news, Rovio's expanding the Angry Bird Franchise. They've raised $42 million and are planning on creating an empire of chattering, Angry Birds, across multi-platforms, including Facebook. Didn't I warn you all? They're coming for YOU next!

God, things get weird around here after 2 in the morning.

Okay, did you see this video? (it may be pulled by the time you see it). Apparently, a kid who was bullied gets fed up and body-slams his adversary onto the concrete. There has been an almost-universal chorus of cheers for the bullied boy and gleeful catcalls against his tiny tormentor. Now, I know we've seen this "picked-on-boy-takes-a-stand-and-finally-whups-ass-of-trashy/snooty/psychotic-enemy"many times in the movie, and we're conditioned to see it as an inspirational and triumphant act, but to me there's something just so sad about it all. Violence begetting violence. It would have been so easy for that retribution to turn fatal, and then there would be one boy dead and one boy scarred for life. I dunno. What do you think?

Beware the Ire of Cranky Gay Man! The NYT reports that Mars Needs Moms is on its way to becoming one of the biggest flops in motion picture history. I didn't realize I had such influence...

All right, must try to sleep again. Have an audition to voice a Disney toon tomorrow, hope my voice miraculously rejuvenates. Good night.

Okay, one more. Anyone remember this?:

I think I've lost my mind.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Day 4- And Mars Needs Moms: a Diatribe

I told my sister (and fellow user) Sue that I was into day 4 of laying off digital games, and she was amazed. "Are you giving it up for Lent?" she asked. Damn, it is that time of the year. I was just going to see how long I could manage it, but here before me is a ready-made milestone. Lent is, what?—40 days? Can I abstain that long? What the hell, let's give it a go.

I don't think I've been at all more productive without games; there isn't heaps of time laying about now for me to use, but there isn't the crutch for procrastination that I used to rely on. I did read a magazine. Planted some parsley. And I feel like the little chunks of time I used to spend flinging Angry Birds has in some measure accumulated into a larger piece of time; I have cleared away space and gotten things taken care of whereas before they might start to pile up...

Oh shit, I've drifted into Tetris metaphor. 

It's going to be a long 40 days.

Okay, can we talk about this?

Why does this movie title piss the hell out of me? I find myself giving the finger to the billboard every time I pass it by in my car.  Yes, yes, I know it's based on a book of the same name (by Berkley Breathed, no less) but I just find it infuriatingly outdated. What, Mars needs moms because only moms can be nurturing parents? No one but moms are fit to raise children? Was this movie produced by the National Organization for Marriage?

Mars, please take this Mom....

Is it just me? Have I just become Old Cranky Gay Dad ("Hey you kids, keep off my lawn!") or is anyone else offended by its implications?

Maybe it's a symptom of withdrawal.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Day 2

Okay, I had insomnia all last night—can I blame that on my not playing app games?

My second day of cold turkey. No discernible difference in my day, though I seemed to move more efficiently from point A to point B. The day seemed to drag a bit, but maybe that was the zombie effect from a lost night of sleep. My friend Denis pointed out that playing games allows you to withdraw from the world for a little while, and that can be a good thing (Pusher! Pusher!). Of course, he's also the one who just challenged me to a Scrabble game (though to be fair, he hadn't read the blog before challenging me). Hmmm...

Okay, so many of you have winkled out the television show I was on, or happened to catch my episode when it aired two nights ago. Thank you for your very kind words. I, being the Richard Blais of TV acting, could not bear to watch it, but I'm sure I'll still cringe at the VERY ersatz Chinese. Maybe I'll work up the courage later. Probably not. For those who are dying to see it, you can go onto and the episode is called "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow." I'm in two scenes. The show has a good look.

Day 1

All right, so I've gone a day without playing any games but NYT Crossword. The only way I got through it was that I knew I wanted to post something on the blog today (public judgement as incentive). How was my day? Did I get more done? Yes... worked on taxes, got a few minutes more of work-out at the gym... got the dinner ready on time... felt virtuous, but only in theory...

It was a slog.

I think it's this idea of having a little rewards to punctuate your day. Or the illusion of rewards. Because there's always more to do, it's the Augean stables here on Beachwood Drive, and Jack doesn't want to be a dull boy...

How weary, flat, stale and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world...  we'll see how long this lasts.

Ah well, guess I'll have more time for Facebook!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Curse of the Birds

I'm in big trouble. There's a rickety edifice barely standing before me, all plywood boards and stone. Some of it has already come crashing down. Shards of glass and wood are scattered on the ground. I'm hoping the whole thing will just topple over, but by some aberration of physics, the structure holds. Those dirty pigs are behind it all. I only have one last chance at exposing them, one last red bird to fling. One chirping, belligerent, angry, angry bird... Angry Birds are chattering. Angry Birds will be avenged. Angry Birds will Never Give Up.
Can anyone save me from these Angry Birds?
I'm picking on the Angry Birds, my newest compulsion, but it could have easily been Plants Vs. Zombies. Or Edge. Peggle. Even Scrabble or the NYT Crossword have hounded me (though these, I repeat to myself, are for ALZHEIMERS prevention). It's the world of Apple App Games, baby, and I'm addicted. 
I was a prime candidate, really. Back in college, there was Donkey Kong Jr. and Galaga, at our local bar/restaurant (Yesterday's, and Leslees, respectively). The thing about games back then was you had the impediments of Money and Place and Time to save you. In order to play, you'd have to pump actual quarters into a machine, a literal representation of how much cash you were using up. You also had to get to a specific, non-home place to play, and you had to set aside time in order to get your ass over to that place. My compatriots and I did a lot of damage, but it was concentrated, in furious, late-night bursts.
When I got a computer, the games followed (Alice, Lemmings, Dungeons of Doom, Myst, etc. etc.). They were kinda pricey, so I only bought one at a time, and played that until the end. I would do marathon sessions in the comfort of my own home, but I was still tethered to the computer. As long as I wasn’t near one, I were safe. 
Fatherhood arrived, with its attendant responsibilities. Who had time to play anything? I couldn’t devote huge blocks of time to sit down and play games, which is why I never really got into the Nintendo/Playstation/Wii craze. Okay, yes, there were bouts of Sudoku (for the ALZHEIMERS) and Spore, but nothing too crazy. I was clean.
Then came the ipod Touch.
The ipod,and it's turbo-charged cousin, the ipad, swept away all impediments. These little gismos are with me at all times, can be pulled out at a moment’s notice. The games are cheap, or free. Nothing too convoluted, or complicated, just tiny, mind-numbing bursts of joy. The Place is Anywhere, and the Time is Whenever, as in, whenever there is a moment. Waiting for the toast to pop up. Standing in line at the post office. About to get out of your car in the parking lot. Wherever there is a small space of time between blocks of appointments and chores, the games are there, ready to fill the space up, creating a solid wall, with the mortar threatening to outsize the bricks. It's really the antithesis of Zen Buddhism, which strives to create space, to live in the present. With these time-wasters, space is not permitted, emptiness is quickly and lovingly filled with beeps, chirps, small explosions and exclamations of digital triumph, wrought small. App games are the the anti-Zen.
What‘s the enticement? It's the Illusion of Getting Something Done. I passed the level! I got 3 stars! I beat the high score! It’s much easier, and falsely satisfying, than Actually Getting Something Done. The trouble is is that soon it becomes a habit, done without thought, and then it becomes a sickness. The game is playing you, not the other way around. You do it reflexively, even when there's no joy to be had in it. What was once a diversion from your day becomes your day. The Machines have taken over. 
Of course, this whole post is really a lie. I’m still using. I still play. As much as I decry my addiction, I want you to join with me in it. I wish to pass the sickness on, because Delusion, even more than Misery, loves company. It's part of the malady. I want to share my tips on how to get the football player zombies with the corn missile. Want to find out how you’ve uprooted that piggy in the wheelbarrow. Where the Golden Eggs are. One of us, one of us...
To recognize the problem is the first step in overcoming it, right? Writing about it lessens the urge. Haven’t played all day (except for the NYT crossword, and that’s for the ALZHEIMERS). I think maybe I’ll try only playing at night. Or log how much time I’m wasting. Maybe even (gulp) delete the app.  I'll figure it out. 
Just as soon as I get past this one stage...
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “A man is what he thinks about all day long.” Why do we want to become a nation of Angry Birds?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

See? I Can Be Nice, Too

It's almost impossible not to laugh at this. The father was tearing up rejection slips. I know the feeling... Sigh... maybe I better watch this again.

Three Addicted Dicks

And only ONE of them is acting!