Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Working on a New Song

Alma's birthday is approaching (next Tuesday). I have been trying to write a song for her these past couple weeks and have dusted off my guitar and strapped on my song-writing spurs once again.

Yes, it is true. I am a bit of a musician. I used to be something of a singer-songwriter here in Los Angeles and have actually produced my own CD. If you want to check it out, you can go to You don't have to buy it to listen to little bits and pieces of it. Please leave me a comment here if you like what you hear!

I put my songwriting spurs up after Bush became president, when it seemed far more important to me to protest against what was happening. And so, for about the past 10 years, I have done very little in the way of pop music. Instead, I have been practicing classical piano music (Bach and Beethoven mostly), the legacy of a few years' piano training at the Conservatory of Kansas City.

But now I'm trying to write a song for Alma's birthday. So, for the next few days, time that I might have spent blogging will be spent instead in writing and rehearsing Alma's birthday song. It looks like spring has finally arrived here after the weekend's final (I hope) winter storm. So, starting next week, I am sure I shall plenty of new material about which to write.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sometimes the Strangest Things

In our various walks at the beach, Alma and I have come across many strange items. Several months ago, for example, Alma and I found a wooden door that had washed up on to the beach. No idea where it came from. We are always stumbling across various oddities that really have no place in the ocean.

Partial List of Strange Items Found on Beach

Tooth brushes
Dead land animals like possums or racoons
Upholstery cushions
Gas Cans
Aerosol Cans (like spraypaint)
Plastic motor oil containers

There are rational explanations for some of the weird things we find on the beach. Take, for example, the toy convertible for Barbie that we found a few days ago:

You can imagine a scenario where a little girl (or boy) brings the toy car down to the beach. Maybe the toy car winds down by the water's edge while the family has spread their blankets and towels higher up in the sand. The sun goes down, the sky grows dark and in the hustle and bustle of packing up, the car gets left behind. Easy enough to imagine that happening.

For other things, like pacifiers, Alma and I are at more of a loss to explain how the items came to be on the beach:

We have come to believe that the pacifiers (we have seen many of these) must be washing out of the storm drains into the ocean and from the ocean washing up to the beach. Either that or there are many mothers in Los Angeles who bring baby and pacifier to the beach and suddenly decide to throw away the pacifier. Beats me.

The strangest item we have found so far is a wrought iron chair:

Wrapped in seaweed and various barnacular growths, the wrought iron chair looks like some prop for the 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' (coming soon to a screen near you). It's hard to envision exactly how a wrought iron chair came to find its way to our beach. But find its way it did.

Ideas, anyone?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Severe Storms Mark Start of Spring 2011

After I last wrote that spring was in the air, Mother Nature has dealt Southern California a massive slap to mark the beginning of Spring 2011. Yesterday, it rained all day here and parts of Southern California received as much as 4 inches of rain in a 24-hour period. Even here on the west side of Los Angeles, heavy rainfall produced scattered flooding and power outages, although Alma and I were not personally affected.

Most Southern California roadways are engineered for lower average amounts of rainfall per hour than was falling yesterday. At some places in SoCal, the meteorologists said the rain was falling at a rate of 1.5" per hour. This overwhelmed the drainage capacities of many of the roads and highways, leading to flash flooding. I heard a report on TV last night that water had reached "windshield level" (of cars) at the entrance ramp of Western Ave to the 5 Freeway. That is the first time in the 17 years I have lived here that I have ever heard of such conditions.

Alma and I went to the Westfield Culver City mall for our daily walks on Saturday and Sunday. It worked out well, because we also needed to buy some things at Target in the mall. But this morning it looks like the rain may continue for a third day and, if so, we shall be heading back to the mall for our 3rd straight day of walking indoors. Ugh. I cannot wait for the sunny warm weather to return and for winter to be gone for good.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Spring Has Sprung

Over the past couple weeks it has become increasingly clear that change is in the air at Venice Beach. The days grow inexorably longer, the temperatures become more mild and, not surprisingly, each day seems to see more people at the beach.

"Can you smell the hyacinths?" Alma asked the other day. "It means spring is here." I had not noticed until she mentioned it but, wouldn't you know it, as soon as she said something about it, I began to notice the delicious odor of hyacinths. Or maybe it wasn't hyacinths I was smelling but some other ambrosia in the air.

Alma has caught the spirit of the season now. Below is a photo of two flowers she created this week from seashells and driftwood she found and collected on the beach earlier this month:

Alma is now working on some sculpted Easter eggs, sort of an update to the century-old Faberge tradition. She first used celluclay to mold the eggs and then spent quite some time sanding each of the 3 different-sized eggs to a satiny-smooth finish. The final step will be to hand paint each one. (Advance warning: each of the 3 eggs will be decorated in an abstract way to represent me, Alma and our black cat.)

Yes, spring is in the air. Winter has blown itself out. Although the weather people on TV are forecasting another heavy storm for this weekend, it will be a spring storm without the cold temperatures, I think. But we may be walking at the mall tomorrow and Sunday. I will keep you posted.

Monday, March 14, 2011

From the Depths of Hell

When Alma and I returned to our car yesterday after finishing the walk, we noticed a strange smell. At first we thought some of the items we had collected on the beach might have brought that putrid, briny smell with them. However, it turned out to be something far more nasty: black tar. As it happens, the same tar source that created the La Brea Tar Pits (one block away from the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts), where dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures became fossilized after getting trapped in the goo, vents tar just off the coast of Venice Beach and Marina del Rey directly into the Pacific Ocean. We had seen the tar last summer (before I began the blog) but had not seen any for the past few months. The tar seems to show up unanounced without any warning.

This tar is very thick and dark as pitch. If you pay attention while walking on the sand, you will occasionally see what at first appearance look like wet, black rocks. The tricky part is that sometimes they are little black rocks. Other times, though, they are globules of black tar that have washed up onto the beach. What made yesterday all the more annoying, though, is that we picked up tar without noticing that we had stepped on it or in it. Alma thinks it may have been embedded within the detritus along the high and low water marks. And because we are frequently trolling those lines of detritus for material for her art, we may have stepped in tar that was hidden in kelp or on other pieces of garbage.

The stench that accompanies this tar summons vistas of Hell. If you have ever been around a street that has just had asphalt laid in the summer, you have smelled its equivalent. This stuff is not romantic in the slightest and would sour folks on the beach if they picked it up. It gloms onto your shoes and, if you are not careful, gets tracked onto carpeted car floorboards and even home carpets.

As for getting rid of it, thank God for girl power. Turns out that nail polish remover will remove it with a lot of patient scrubbing. Alma took a flat butter knife that we no longer use and pulled long slabs of it away from the soles of her tennis shoes. The shoes I was wearing are on their last legs anyway and destined for the trash bin of history in a few more weeks. So I just put them out on our balcony where they could air out and will be conscientious about not wearing them on our carpet.

In my previous post, I wrote that we had seen few signs as of Friday of the earthquake or tsunami here in Southern California. But with the re-appearance of this tar, I wonder whether the tar vents here were belching out their infernal goo in tandem with the seismic activity off the Japanese coast.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tsunamis Foreign and Domestic

It has been a few days since I last posted. Between keeping track of the literal tsunami that struck Japan two days ago and the figurative tsunami (of labor rights) that has been sweeping the state of Wisconsin the past week, I have found myself preoccupied with events far away from Venice Beach.

Yesterday afternoon, Alma and I walked our familiar stretch of beach. We started at about 3:00 p.m. PST. We saw no monstrous waves of any sort, but the beach did seem as if it had been swept a little cleaner than normal by wave action. And while we were walking, we were slapped by a couple wavelets that seemed to jump at us from out of the normal sea wash.

I am no oceanographer or seismologist, so I cannot tell if what we saw was related to the tsunami from the Japanese earthquake. I do know that, according to our local television news, 7 boats on Catalina Island were damaged earlier in the day from a tsunami surge. And up north, in Santa Cruz, the marina there was heavily damaged by the surge.

This is narcissism central so, of course, a story about a massive tsunami in Japan isn't a story without an LA connection. Of course, the main damage here has been to the boats of a bunch of wealthy boat-owners, so you will not find me crying too many tears for them. But my heart goes out to the Japanese people who have had to live with far more serious consequences of the earthquake and resultant tsunami.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Millions of Dead Fish in Redondo

Today Alma can rightfully claim title to being a Cassandra of sorts. The TV news is full of reports and footage of millions of dead fish floating on the surface of the water in Redondo Beach (just south of us along the coast).

This after some marine biologist for Heal the Bay, a local limousine liberal environmental group, had emailed Alma that most of the deaths she was documenting were the result of natural and not man-made causes.

Un-hunh. Sure. Millions of dead fish show up in Redondo Beach because of natural causes? Well, I've got a bridge to nowhere for sale to you if you believe that BS.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The PTS Ratio

Some folks may use a groundhog to determine whether spring has finally arrived. Myself, I use the PTS ratio. What, you ask, is the PTS ratio? It's the pants to shorts ratio, as measured by a highly unscientific survey I do of what other men are wearing at the beach.

The weather turned nicer yesterday and, being as it was a Saturday, the beaches were full of people. A perfect day to run my PTS sampling. Turns out that yesterday the PTS ratio was roughly 50-50. I counted some  65 men wearing shorts and some 62 men wearing pants. Advantage by a whisker to shorts.

As for myself, I had not thought to wear shorts yesterday and was wearing a pair of sweat pants. I did turn to Alma and say that if the weather remained nice I might upgrade (or would that be downgrade?) to shorts for today's walk.

But don't get your hopes up for today. The skies are again cloudy and full of what look to be rain clouds. Alma and I had planned a trip first to the Mar Vista Farmer's Market to pick up some fresh produce and what-nots and to grab a bite to eat en plein air. But with the skies full of rain clouds, not only will I not be risking shorts, we may have to walk at the soul-sucking mall again. Ugh.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Changing Perceptions

I learned something new yesterday while we walked on the beach. The grey skies and cold windy weather had returned, but we decided to risk a walk on the beach and were rewarded when the rain held off until we had finished and were back home. But it was a drab, dreary day at the beach. The ocean looked a grey, colorless mass broken only by the constant whitecaps and breaking surf. The sand seemed a dingy brown. And the grey sky.

I mentioned to Alma how depressing the land- and seascape looked by contrast with Tuesday when the skies were sunny and the ocean appeared a pristine blue.

"Water is a perfect reflector," Alma said. "So the reason the water appears grey today is that it is reflecting the grey of the clouds above."

"Ah," I replied. "And so the reason the water appeared bright blue yesterday . . . "

Alma finished my thought. "Yeah, it was reflecting the blue skies we had yesterday."

It's funny how perception influences mood. There's almost a symbiotic relationship between the two. Yesterday, seeing the grey water definitely brought my mood down. While I was glad not to have to walk at the soul-sucking mall yet again, the ubiquitous greyness did nothing to lift my spirits.

Today skies are again grey and, as I write, it appears as if it could begin raining again at any moment. Alma and I have basically decided not to risk a beach walk today and go, instead, to the mall. Sigh. So we will see if the converse of what I wrote  is true. I'll be going to the mall in a less-than-positive mood. I wonder whether my mood will influence my perceptions.

Stay tuned.