Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A life of its own on the Internet

It's been really interesting to follow the online life of my piece in the Christian Science Monitor since its publication on the lucky date of 8/08/08. It's been picked up and is now listed on Google in many other blogs and sites, sometimes with comments. I've seen in it "Newspaper Death Watch," a blog chronicling the decline of newspapers; in "Fading to Black," a blog from "" which describes itself as "A look at the downward spiral of the newspaper industry because no news is bad news."

The article showed up on Sustainable News in Sedona, Arizona, preceded by a video message from somebody aiming to keep community news afloat on the Internet; on Gulf News going to military personnel in the Mideast; on "Everyone is Family" at the real; on the Global Air Referral Service, where the blogger simply picks up and posts articles he enjoys; on former Peace Corps volunteer Charlie Jewett's blog; and in a place that especially pleased me, The Rural Blog, from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

At one blog hit which has since disappeared from Google, my article drew about a dozen comments -- from a bunch of apparent right-wingers who said it wasn't the physicality of newspapers that is dooming the industry, but the content -- the tired old "liberal bias of the media" cliche. I had to smile at one remark by a writer disdaining my thesis and referring to my opening scene who snarked, "and anyway, what kind of people sit around reading out loud to each other?" My wonderful husband and me, that's who, bozo. And thousands of other people, I reckon, for whom reading out loud to each other is part of a deeply pleasurable, companionable daily ritual.

At many of the locales where my piece was reproduced, folks added their own memories and thoughts about the sensory experience of holding an actual newspaper; In The Rural Blog, journalist Al Cross particularly touched me with this reminiscence:

I was a pest to typesetter Phillip Allen, who ran the Linotype at the Clinton County News in Albany, Ky., because I wanted him to do box scores for the all-star games of the local Little League and Babe Ruth League, for which I was official scorer and correspondent. Why he gave in to a 12-year-old, I don't know. The smell and feel I remember most is taking the slug of hot type from Phillip, running an ink roller over it, laying down a strip of paper and using a heavy roller to pull a galley proof. There's nothing like helping produce your own story with ink, metal and paper, and that experience is part of the reason I will buy printed newspapers as long as they're produced – which I expect to be for the rest of my life. I'm 54.

What's ironic about all this, of course, is that all these posts appeared on the Internet, and if we were still relying on hard copies of newspapers I'd never have seen them. In that regard, the proliferation of conversation -- how we can all talk to each other so widely and easily -- is something to celebrate.

After my piece came out, I looked all over San Pedro and environs to find a copy of the Christian Science Monitor to buy, and nobody out here seemed to have it. The famous newstand on Las Palmas Ave. in Hollywood just outside my husband's store, which we used to be able to rely on to pick up almost anything, including some esoteric and wonderful literary magazines, recently pulled down its shutters. Happily I got a hand-addressed packet from CSM with two copies of the tabloid enclosed. I appreciated the gesture, and will of course cherish these vestigial remains of a disappearing era.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Language Tidbits

Bruegels' Tower of Babel

At the admitting desk at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance, there is a sign offering interpreting/translation services for patients in ten languages besides English. They are: Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese. I found this touching and remarkable.

My brother says in the shops of a single two-block area near his condo in downtown Oakland, 42 languages have been documented.

I struggle with how to communicate the significance of this to my students, who sometime resist the idea of learning even a single additional language. I experience it as part of the richness of California, part of the richness of life -- and the way the world is evolving.

It also creates chafing and misunderstandings and keeps people apart, making it easier for us to see each other as "different" instead of one species, all of us in the same mortal boat full of hunger, loneliness, fear, hope and joy.

Yesterday I took an afternoon siesta while the painters chattered in Spanish on the decks just outside the sliding screen door. The brown curtains moved a little bit in the breeze off the harbor, and I went into a trance imagining that I was in a foreign country -- that feeling you get when you're "someplace else" -- not understanding what you hear, just being, knowing that you're an outsider. I imagined I was in a hotel room in Guatemala.

I remember that feeling in Tonga, the quiet loneliness of being out of my element, and the edge to it, even though it also felt very glamorous.

All week it has seemed as if the painters are happy: there was no edge for them, among their buddies, probably pulling in reasonably good pay, and perched on the breezy, sunny hillside where if they paused to look out behind them they could see the Tall Ships coming in one by one. I like hearing the rhythm of every day language when I can't understand it -- or, rather, not much more than a word here or there. It's a relief not to have to worry about what it means.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Mariachi Madness

All week a crew of 10 painters have been crawling over our apartment building and decks, starting at 7 a.m. They are a rowdy and happy bunch, singing and joking en espanol, whistling, wisecracking, laughing and shouting directions back and forth. They also have three boomboxes all tuned to the same Spanish station, so mariachi music echoes in stereo from the top, bottom and back of the apartment. They sing along.

Eight hours a day. My prime working time.

They covered all the windows with plastic, which gave me a horrible case of claustrophobia. I've become irrationally, passionately attached to looking out at the sweep of the harbor every day while working. Without it, I cower at my MacBook on the table in the odd milky light, sweating. Without the view, this feels like little more than an overpriced, humid cage. I begin to doubt myself and everything I stand for. I have nothing to say. I'm empty and insignificant.

And then... more mariachi music.

How can anybody be so CHEERFUL?

Isn't this a violation of the Geneva Convention?

I reach my limit at 3 p.m. when there's only an hour to go. The same time of day Hemingway nailed in Death in the Afternoon. Yesterday at that sickly bright hour, I found myself doing upper body dancing on my desk chair to accordion music.

I'm a puppet, trapped in a South of the Border Clockwork Orange (That's La Naranja Mecanica to you, Pancho) doing a mindless tarantela. I think the fumes are kicking in.

By the time they leave, I'm limp and the silence is insidious. I turn on CNN but can't stand anybody's nasal whine, even with Wolf Blitzer off for the day. I'm so shook up I wonder if Fox News would sound better. I scan HBO: finally! a rerun of Curb Your Enthusiasm is the only thing I can stand; Larry David trying to avoid giving Richard Lewis a kidney. Now THAT'S television. Phew...

Later I'll sit in a stupor and watch the tiny gymnasts fall off the barre and a huge Belgian volleyball player get "killed" repeatedly by Kerri and Misty. Will the beach volleyball never end? The swimmers in their laser suits, menacing goggles, thick necks and enormous shoulders look like monsters.

This insanity may possibly find its way into the syllabi I am intensely crafting. Maybe this will be my weirdest set of class preps ever. If I hear that one guy's maniacal laugh one more time, I swear I'll scream.

For the record, the apartment is looking very nice.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Requiem for Soul Man Isaac Hayes

Another classic star of the Sixties is gone. In remembrance, I'm copying my account from last July, when I saw Isaac Hayes perform at the Hollywood Bowl:

Thursday, July 19, 2007

It was a great L.A. night -- clear skies, that breeze with a faint hint of sea water, the "X" of the searchlights overhead, many bottles of wine uncorked -- undoubtedly pricey meritages and spritely chardonnays -- in the box seats. On our bench six rows behind the ritzy section and crammed together with a bunch of other oldies, we were happy, too, with our very drinkable pinot noir in plastic cups, as Eddie Floyd in his classic tuxedo kicked things off with "Knock on Wood." Then followed Lalah Hathaway (Donny's daughter), William Bell ("I forgot to be your lover"), the remarkable Mable John belting"Your Good Thing (is About to End)" Angie Stone, and the guy Ted and I most wanted to see and hear, Booker T. Jones ("Green Onions," of course).

The second half was devoted to Isaac Hayes, whose slow, unsteady gait during the long walk to his keyboard prompted shocked gasps from the crowd. On the big screens, it was painfully apparent that even sitting down, settling down at that keyboard was difficult for the colorfully-robed legend. That entrance built drama -- the blast of his lush, urbane hits with a terrific back-up band was immensely reassuring and a relief. In one pause he sighed, "I'm glad to be here." He announced he's coming out with a new album. From the back, someone shouted, "We'll buy it, Isaac!"

This was part of the Stax Records 50th anniversary tour -- a celebration of the Soul/R&B label hatched by Jim Stewart and his older sister,, Estelle Axton in Memphis in 1957, originally as Satellite Records, probably because Sputnik had just been launched. Estelle, married and with a couple of kids, took out a second mortgage on her house to do it. Eventually, Stewart and Axton combined letters from their last names and made it Stax. Estelle kept her job at a bank until 1961.

And of course, from that old theater in Memphis, they eventually recorded songs and artists that my generation avidly danced to at all our high school proms and made out to in our fathers' cars on summer nights a lot like last night. It's impossible to hear these songs without feeling a bit melancholy. Our youth is gone.

And, well, the artists themselves are so...old. Well, it has been 50 years. But... I found myself worrying that somebody would fall or lose the beat or miss the note. I turned to my friend Dr.Teddy about halfway through and said, "It's like they dug these people out of a museum." The oldest of the lot is Mable John, who's 77. She clearly wobbled in her R&B shoes but momma, she managed to deliver the message. Eddie Floyd, formerly of the Falcons which included Wilson Pickett for a time, moved carefully but stylishly. William Bell is 68 and Booker T, who we thought looked best but didn't have to sing or move around onstage, is 62.

Even the youngsters brought on board for variety, new Stax acquisition Stone and Hathaway, are 46 and 39 respectively.

Isaac Hayes, who's hardly the oldest among them at 64, was hardest to watch. I mean, this guy was the rumble-voiced sex god of my twenties: how can he be walking like an old man? A 2006 stroke may be the reason for his halting movement, though I note on Wikipedia he and his fourth wife just had a baby last year, his 12th child. Okay, something still works. Not that any of us should be making 12 replacements of ourselves, but...forgive me, one craves signs of vigor.

Everybody came back onstage for the final performance, a somewhat pensive rendition of "Dock of the Bay." It was a nostalgic tribute to the era, to Stax Records, and to Otis Redding, who died in a plane crash in 1967. I think I'm relieved, though, that he died young. At least we didn't have to see him stagger across the stage. Maybe it's better to listen to the music at home, with all the trappings of denial in place and, especially, no dancing in front of mirrors.

Cruising the Harbor

I'm fascinated by the action on the channel leading in and out of the LA Harbor. We took my brother out on a harbor cruise Saturday evening, and here are my two favorite photos. Harbor seals on the buoy (we can hear them bark at night), and sailboats crossing paths with an outbound container ship.

Otherwise, my wordlessness continues.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Scalawag Goes National

That scalawag Jan Worth-Nelson appears to have written an essay that's just popped up in the Christian Science Monitor. See it here Sad About Newspapers

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Most Boring King in the World

AP Photo -- looks like the islands of Kao and Tofua, but I could be wrong.

Here are 13.5 remarkably excruciating moments, from the BBC, with the new King of Tonga, Taufa'ahau Tupou V (George V). He was crowned just last Friday. Sleepy Monarch

I'm interested in this quirky story because I spent two of the most memorable years of my life in this eccentric kingdom 3,000 miles southwest of Hawai'i. It was a time when Tupou V's father, Tupou IV, was about the same age as the new king is now. At least his father, a huge man with catcher's mitt paws for hands, kept life interesting: he cracked a smile once in a while and occasionally hoisted his 400-foot frame onto a specially-made surfboard. Meanwhile, this fellow, whom we always called Tippytoes, spent most of his time in London.

From the sound of it, he's ceding some monarchical powers to the Parliament. That may be the effect of pro-democracy riots and fires that destroyed much of the downtown of the capital city, Nuku'alofa, two years ago. While George V lethargically bemoans the instigators as demagogues, he reportedly feared for his life in the aftermath. Perhaps he felt deadened , facing the apparently enervating ordeals of his figurehead position. Or perhaps, being the imperious royal that he is, he simply didn't think he had to say much of anything to a mere reporter.

Thinking about this later in the day, I feel more empathetic. At the beginning of the interview, he says something like "One doesn't choose the job. The job chooses you." He follows this with a small, wry smile -- in my different mood tonight, I almost see it as poignant. Whether he wants this job or not, it has chosen him, and it must indeed be a heavy burden to bear.

So, in short, I wish the people of Tonga -- and George V -- much prosperity and happiness in their beautiful kingdom. It's a remarkable place and a remarkable culture. I wish them the best.

A Picture Is Worth...Etc.

My 24 blog entries in July are the most I've ever written in one month. After this run of garrulosity, as hot August proceeds on the hillside, absent of the ameliorating marine layer today, I am somewhat wordless and out of ideas. When all else fails, walk. Here are a few snapshots of beautiful San Pedro.

My favorite house at the end of Gaffey near Pt. Fermin Park -- the Ma Griffe gallery, with a walled garden.

An entryway on Peck.

Pigeons deshabille on the Korean Bell.

Um, feather on concrete.

I love the texture of this palm trunk.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Okay, Okay, no more polyps

I grossed out even myself with that polyp shot. So I put in a puppy instead. Happy Friday!