The Great Plotnik

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Having a Ball

When The Great Senor Plotnik was in High School, and he had a Spanish report he had to give in front of the class, he always wanted to go first, if need be, but preferably second or third, so he could get it over with early, eliminating the need to stress about it while all the other kids were doing theirs for the next two days.

So naturally, when it comes to Yearly Physical Exams, Plotnik likes to get it over with early in the morning and early in the week. That means Monday morning, and that was yesterday.

Those who Know Him and Love Him Anyway already know The Great Plotnik becomes The Great Wussy when worrying about his yearly meeting with Dr. Herman Herman. Since this year GP has dear friends with actual diseases, by Sunday night he had already convinced himself he had not only those diseases, but, simultaneously, several others.

This year, on the top of his Worry List, which he always writes out and keeps in his hand during his exam, was Cancer, pushing Heart Disease and Stroke down to number two and Letter Diseases (MS, ALS, CF) to three. But Dr. Herman Herman surprised him, as he always does, by finding a tiny wart on Plotnik's back. "Hmmm," said Dr. Herman.

"He says 'Hmmm,' but he means OHMYDEARJESUSGOD," thought Plotnik, starting to sweat.

The problem is, Plotnik can't see the wart. It's at the exact spot on his back which is invisible, no matter how you twist in the mirror. And anyway, he has already imagined it in his mind's eye, looking like the Pac Man monster with yellow teeth, growing grossly obese by consuming Plotnik's flesh.

"I wouldn't worry about it," said Dr. Herman Herman, finally, but then stuck his finger up Plotnik's, well, you know, you have to check for Cancer of the, you know, after he'd previously had Plottie drop his pants so he could check for, well, you know Cancer of the, oh, Christ.

"Having a ball, Doctor?" Plotnik always says, same joke, every year.

"Cough," Dr. Herman says, every year.

"Tell me the truth," Plotnik said, after coughing, Herman Herman's hands on his vitals, "do you really ever find any Cancer there? I mean, aside from Lance Armstrong, have you ever REALLY heard of Cancer of the Vitals? I mean, come on, have you?

"Yes," said Dr. Herman Herman.

"F___," said The Great Wussy, thinking he'd have to add that to his list.

Monday, February 27, 2006

TI truly NAPOS

This is the historic First Photo of Rachel Rodriguez/Nguyen/Brown/Goldstein signing her very first copy of her own book 'Through Georgia's Eyes,' as she sits in the Famous Author's Lounge at The Great Plotnik World Headquarters and Meatball Kitchen. She is signing the book for her friend Diane, who smiles in the background, along with Diane's husband Steve.

Rachel does not quite have her Famous Author's Signature down yet -- on her very first book she will run out of room and only have room left for 'Rachel.'

The book is beautiful. Rachel is beautiful. She could, if she wanted to, very easily stand up, hold her book, and say: TINAPOS. TI truly NAPOS.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

A Sunny Saturday at James Licknik

The sun shone! It's Saturday, and the sun shone! Three months of rain every single weekend, and today, finally, a clear Saturday morning. And sure enough, like last year's daffodils and tulips poking their heads up through the cracked asphalt playground, the cars started arriving, radios blaring. The Great Plotnik came first, on the Plotkicycle, followed by Sam and his son Shawn, then Sam's brother C.J., then Sherlock and Mike, then Adili and Ron, then Rico, then Bobby, then Alex and then Skip.

It was hard for Plot to contain his enthusiasm and joy as he heard his b-boys double parking their cars on the sidewalk, scaling the fence (maybe a few pounds heavier and taking a few more seconds to climb over?), laughing, talking the same old shit, Skip wearing the same #23 shirt, Rico the same black shorts, Plotnik the same green sweatshirt.

Once the game started, it was the same old arguments, the same old complaining, the same old whining, the same guys hurling the same garbage. Adili is still a hothead. Shawn is as tall as Sam now and much faster. Sherlock has still never found an argument he can't enjoy. Skip, shortest man on the court, still plays the tallest. Plotnik has new b-ball shoes, but it wasn't because of them that he was floating a foot above the court. He was in Heaven.

Because every winter, when the rains and cold weather take away the ball game on Saturday mornings, and Spring dawns slowly, The Great Plotnik wonders whether anyone will ever show up again to play. People move, change jobs, have kids, get busy, find games closer to their homes. Once, this game was made up of locals, but now more guys drive in from the East Bay then live in the city. Plot is always worried the game will collapse.

But then the rain stops. Birds sing. Trees flower. Love is in the air. Plotnik gets a rebound, tosses it out to Shawn who throws it ahead to Adili who lays it in the basket, 1-2-3.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Stocks and Venture Capital for Frances

The Great Plotnik's friend J-A came from a lot of money. When Plot and Duck were struggling to pay their rent, J-A and his wife lived in high style. J-A was rather morose, though. Once, Plotnik asked his friend if always having plenty of money wasn't in itself somewhat of a curse. J-A said "Actually, if I had to choose between being rich and being poor, I'd take rich."

Would we live radically differently if money were no object? Everyone has a different answer. It comes down to what gives you the most pleasure. To many people, the act of paying a lot of money for something -- to know that they can -- is the most pleasurable part of the experience.

Once, Plotnik was writing a review of a fancy winery on the Silverado Trail, where their special new vintage went for $150 a bottle. Their other wines sold in the $20-$40 range, still a lot of money for a bottle of wine as far as Monsieur le Plotnique was concerned.

So he tasted all the wines, bottom to top. To him, the $40 wine, which had a mellow finish, tasted far better than the $150 wine, which was brittle and acidy. The $20 wine was close behind the $40 wine. But the $150 wine came in a very chic bottle with a beautiful label. It was already the winery's biggest seller. Plotnik swore he could see the winery executives chuckling over their Bud Lites in the back room.

But that's because The Great Plotnik came from Mummy Plotnik, who came from Grammie and Grampie Plotnik, all of whom lived through the Great Depression. People from that generation cannot spend money. They can't. They can't even get pleasure from it -- selling pencils on the street corner and soup kitchens are still burnt into their memories.

The Late Great Chief-nik left Mummy Plotnik with plenty of money. But she still likes shopping with her friend at the $1 Store.

When PD and BZWZ were kids, they loved the Russell Hoban 'Frances' series, about a cute little girl badger named Frances. Frances had a friend named Albert. Albert had the annoying habit of bringing the same lunch to school every day: a hard boiled egg, a sandwich and a little container of salt. He would always take one bite of sandwich, one bite of egg and put one shake of salt on the egg. The idea was that the sandwich, the egg and the salt all had to come out even.

This may be how The Great Plotnik feels about money. He wants to take care of his children, live to 104, and have his very last cent be spent tipping the waitress who brings him his last latte. Life and money should all come out even, just like Albert the Badger-nik said.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

B Heights from D Heights

In Saint Plotniko, there are many small, hidden streets, often accessible from one direction only. One of The Great Plotnik's favorite tiny streets is Beacon Street, which is on The Great Plotkicycle Route to Diamond Heights. The other day TGP was pedaling down from the Safeway, saddlebags filled with boxes of half-priced cereal, when this view of Bernal Heights from Diamond Heights stopped him in his tracks. He got off the Plotkicycle and stared. A few dogs scampered by on their way to Kite Hill. Nobody was playing on the rope swing on Kite Hill yet -- it takes a bit of courage.

A neighbor stared suspiciously at the Religious Leader armed with Shredded Wheat.

At the end of Beacon Street, empty lots have been carved for large homes to be built; much construction is being done on other houses too. The neighbors complain. But if you could, wouldn't you too want to build a nice house to look at this view?

In time of flood it's always nice to live on top of the hill, instead of at the bottom, but it doesn't flood that much here. And once you've ridden to the top of the hill on your Plotkicycle, and filled up your saddlebags at the grocery store, it's smooth sailing all the way down to the Meatball Kitchen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sublime to Ridiculous

Yeah, I know, forget it already, enough about Guatemala.

But three weeks ago at 5AM The Great Plotnik looked out his window and saw this. Parrots were singing. Monkeys were chattering. Today he has to go to Japanese class. T.A.'s will be babbling. Talk about a voyage from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Rocky the Cat

Rocky the Cat lives on Mike's houseboat at Oyster Point. He wears a leash because the few other boatowners who live full time at the marina don't welcome animals roaming around on their decks, though you'd think they'd welcome a well-groomed cat. Mike built the houseboat he lives on, and has it moored next to his other boat, on which he has his picture-framing workshop. He renovated the workshop boat from the hull of a WWII-era landing craft.

Mike and Kuniko used to live South of Market, in a fantastic loft filled with photographs and picture frames and canvas stretchers and paper cutters. From a couple of thousand square feet, they now live in perhaps 200 square feet. They've exchanged space for very low rent and a life on the water.

Rocky seems to be the only cat around. He sleeps in the sun on the houseboat deck, while Plotnik and Ducknik and Mike make their framing choices next door on the workshop boat. The sun couldn't be brighter, the bay bluer or the afternoon more promising of Spring.

Monday, February 20, 2006


Miz Sparker sent The Great Plotnik a class assignment this morning that she had written concerning the year 1957. The other students in her class had to look up 1957 on the internet. Miz Sparker remembered it well and wrote a very funny paper, especially the part about the martinis and the t-shirts.

The Great Plotnik was already 6,000 years old in 1957. The year started out badly. 1957 was the year public domain and the Ventura Freeway ate his childhood home in Sherman Oaks, a section of Stiletto City where there hadn't been oak trees for fifty years, and his family was forced to move further West. When they got to Encino the oaks were still tall and ancient ("Encino," in fact, means Oak in Spanish), and the dry, rolling land was lovely. His parents bought a house with what seemed to be an endless backyard.

But by the following year the freeway had pushed ten more miles westward and this time it chopped down a stand of oaks and went right through the Plotniks' backyard. There were now fifty feet and a mound of earth between the 101 and the Plotnik back door. Walking out that door you heard a constant "WHOOOOOOOOOOSHHHHHHHHHHH..."

Plotnik remembers the lemon trees on that little mound that overlooked the new freeway. Incredible as it now seems, he and his friends would fill a large paper bag with hard, yellow lemons, walk up onto the freeway overpass, and heave the lemons, one at a time, at each Chevie Impala, or Ford Fairlane, or Packard Clipper, or Nash Rambler, or Chrylser Imperial passing by below. At the time, it seemed like some kind of vague protest. It is miraculous they never hit or killed anybody.

In 1957 Plotnik rode his bicycle down to the Little League Field to try out for the local team. In the previous year, he had grown from a little kid into a fat kid. Yes, The Great Plotnik was, for a year or two, The Fat Plotnik. He hadn't had time to adjust to his new body yet, until the moment the old, bald-headed coach with the Brooklyn Dodger baseball cap threw the first pitch to him at the tryout. Plotnik had bad eyes and had never been a very good hitter, but his fat, new arms slugged that ball, crushed it. It flew 'way over the wall in right field, out into the weeds. Everyone watched in amazement, Plotnik first amongst them. He couldn't believe what he'd just done. It dawned on him that being a big kid had a lot more potential than being a little kid.

His team, the Oak Park Little League Yankees, got to the Championship Game in 1957. It was the same year Plotnik had discovered Anti-Plotnikism. His greatest tormenter, the huge kid who had tried unsuccessfully all year to catch Plottie so he could beat him up, was the star hitter of the other team.

This is the stuff dreams are made of. With Plotnik's team ahead by one run, in the last inning, Clyde the Nazi came up to bat. Two outs. Winning run on third. Plotnik playing shortstop.

Clyde smashed one into the hole. Plotnik dove to his right, stopped the ball, then got up and heaved it with all his might to first base. Luckily, Tony Barlow was the Yankee first baseman and he was the tallest kid on the team. Tony leaped up, caught Plotnik's throw and crashed into Clyde before he got to first. Game over. Yankees win. They carried Plottie on their shoulders into the dugout.

Do you know tears of joy? Does everyone know tears of joy? 1957 wasn't such a terrible year after all.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Should the Orgasmatron be Hi Def?

It's the $1 and $5 Bills' Birthday Weekend. There are Sales. Plotnik and Ducknik have to face the music. It's time to join the 21st Century. Their 20-year old Magnavox TV is dying. The DVD component of their VCR-DVD player is dead. What's left is the VCR.

Truth be told, this weekend they've watched 'Eight Mile' and 'Latcho Drome," both on VHS and both very fine movies, especially the Andalusian segment at the end of Latcho Drome. If you want to hear a singer with cojones, do check out the Gypsy woman at the end of this film. Hooo-Waa.

Yeah, For electronics? On a holiday? What deeper levels of Hell can there be?

And also, what pieces should the Plotniks purchase? Is there any point to HD-TV? I mean, the screen and picture are sharper. So?

There is a Magnavox 27" VCR-DVD-TV combo on sale at Squirtbutt City. It sounds cool...but what if the DVD player goes out on the combo? Do you have to take the whole TV into the shop? Of course you do.

The Plotnik family has always been 10 years behind the tech curve. He remembers poopooing personal computers. He remembers being forced by a collaborator to try word processing on a script they were writing. It took five minutes to realize what a life altering invention this was.

Same with cell phones. "Oh, I can always use a pay phone."

Same with cable modem. "Dial Up is perfectly fine for me!"

Same with the I-Pod. Now he can't imagine driving anywhere without listening to 18 hours of "Washington's Crossing."

Same with the Orgasmatron. How does anybody live without an Orgasmatron?

But HD-TV? Plotnik is willing to listen to anyone's comments, but, though he feels like a perfect Druid to say this (funny, he doesn't LOOK Druidish) -- what's the point?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Mmmm Shishlik

After riding the Plotkicycle up and down Saint Plotniko's chilly hills this morning, because his wussy basketball players couldn't PLAY because it was so COLD and the court was WET and WAH WAH WAH, The Great Plotnik's thoughts turn naturally to food.

Mmmmm, lamb chops at Shamshiri Restaurant in West Wooden, a neighborhood of Stiletto City near the University (UCSTC). Persians have filled this neighborhood with their scrumptiferous restaurants, and Shamshiri is one of the best. Sunday is Persian Night Out, and it's hard to find a place to park, a place to sit inside, a waitress to take your order. Making a decision from the menu is work too. The kebab grill in the back has five men trying to keep up with the demand, while the smell of saffron and garlic and spices makes each diner drool in anticipation.

Plotnik sits with Ducknik, his nephew Nefnik, Nefnik's girl Fefnik, and Fefnik's 7-year-old gambler son, Vashnik. Do not EVER bet against Vashnik, you will lose.

Two summers ago, Vashnik, then five, sat on Plotnik's shoulders at the paddock at Del Mar Race Track, before Race 5. He pointed at a brown horse and said "Him!" Plotnik put five bucks on the brown horse's nose, who won by five lengths. Plot split his winnings with Vashnik (in retrospect, probably not the wisest thing to do).

Back to Shamshiri. Plotnik settles on the Shishlik -- SIX, count 'em, SIX barbecued lamb chops, served with a lemony cucumber, herb and tomato salad called Shiraz, grilled tomatoes, peppers and onions and a pile of buttery rice. Being smart, he substitutes for the white rice with Shirin Polo, a fantastic rice dish with orange peel, pistachios, almonds and saffron.

Nefnik says he's not hungry. Instead, he sits on Plotnik's right and whines incessantly for more lamb, WAH WAH WAH.

Plotnik suggests you probably think twice about ordering any of the Persian stews much favored by Fefnik, who grew up eating these things. Every culture has a few beloved soul food dishes that all other cultures find basically inedible. Think chitterlings and chopped liver. And now Sabzi Goopzo, which is Persian Green Slime in Lemon Sauce which has been left outside to rot.

But, MMMMMMM, Shishlik! Someday, Plotnik and Ducknik will learn to order one order of Shishlik and split it, but they haven't learned yet.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Home in the Woods

We've had such a good time in Inverness. Reading our stories in Wally and Julie's living room, surrounded by books, duck decoys and an Irish harp, or eating a large Tiaposian Pot Luck, once anchored by Tim's salmon and John's curried rice and PJ's hardboiled eggs, or sitting outside by the fish pond while we spun tales about writing or not writing, this house has been a safe, creative haven for everyone. Who can ever forget the new girl who loved animals and John's story about killing the dog?

All right, Mushnik has corrected the facts. The story wasn't about killing a dog, it was about poisoning a cat.

In the old, old days with Tim and John and Claire and Beth and Carol and Luci and Jan and Ellen and Laura, and in the not quite so old days with Karen H and Suzi and Rachel and Martha and Jeff, and now with Plotnik and Mushnik and Mistress Domin-Nik and Blonde Bombshell and Large Pants and Chef Pickle-nik and Mississippi Motorhead -- the constant has always been Wally and Julie and their glorious home in the woods.

What happens now? More parties, of course. What else can we do? Stories need reading, accordions need squeezing, people need hugs up close and in person. Don't worry, it'll all work out.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Dear Julie

She was never without an opinion, and most of them were just what we were thinking. What a grand old girl.

The Great Plotnik remembers with a huge smile the first story he ever heard Wally read, which was about Julie and her flowers. It's such a nice memory.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Mrs. Dolnick's Good Advice

Each time he goes to Mummy Plotnik's house in Stiletto City, The Great Plotnik gets to play his favorite piano in the world. Her 1936 Chickering spinet, which Plotnik's grandfather gave to her as a wedding present, has perfect tone, crisp trebles, solid basses, singing middles. Playing this piano always carries Plotnik to another world.

Last Saturday night, as everyone else was getting dressed to go out to dinner, Plotnik sat down at the piano to play. Robert Schumann's 'Traumerei' popped into his head. But while playing the middle section, he realized he had it wrong, that he'd juxtaposed the opening for the middle and the middle for...what? So he went looking for his Schumann 'Scenes from Childhood' piano book, which he located in the pile of music books next to the piano. The book looked like it hadn't been touched for decades.

Opening to 'Traumerei,' Plotnik read through the music to see what he was playing incorrectly, and while doing so also came upon all the notations his piano teacher, Mrs. Dolnick, had written on the music sometime in the 1950s, when The Great Plotnik was secretly memorizing the music while pretending to read it.

Transported back to his piano lessons as a young boy, which he feared and disliked, Plotnik remembered Mrs. Dolnick telling him that someday his memory would falter, but if he could read the music he would always be able to play it. Yes, yes, Mrs. Frieda Dolnick, with your white hair, your Austrian violinist husband, your little studio on Ventura Boulevard, your smell of rose water and your insistence that little Plottie would have to play last on the program -- you were right.

Not only that. Playing through all the Schumann pieces in 'Scenes From Childhood' made Plotnik realize that in his own songwriting and composing he has stolen from Schumann, from Mozart, from Beethoven, from Chopin, this phrase here, that phrase there, without ever being conscious of it. That's how it goes. Mrs. Dolnick knew this is the reason it is so important to study, to put yourself into the historical flow of the music, in some small way.

Then, if you're lucky, you get to sit down at your mom's piano, and bring it, and yourself, back to the beginning, to the land where the fairy tales come from.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Stiletto City in February

Back from Stiletto City, but the melody lingers on. Each time The Great Plotnik visits his home town when the weather is good and conditions are just right, he remembers what he used to love about it. He used to think that if his family weren't still there he'd never set foot in the place again. Now he's not so sure.

Speaking with The Great BeeziWeezi on the phone from Mummy Plotnik's house, she says there are 26 inches of snow in Central Park. The snowplows clear the tourist areas but do nothing up where BZWZ lives, so walking to work is tough. It's cold. She's got mice.

But after hanging up the phone, the rest of the family takes a walk in Runyon Canyon and here is what there is to see. It's hard to fault a city that gives you views like this.

No, actually, it's easy. The place is a caricature of itself. If Stiletto City got as p.o'd over unflattering cartoons as certain other groups do, they'd have burnt the place down a century ago.

But flaws and jokes aside, Stiletto City in February is a very beautiful place. The Great Plotnik has a funny feeling it may be home again, some day, for everyone. Who knows?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Sitcom Dog

"It's a comedy."
"No, it isn't."
"Yes, it is."
"For God's Sake, John, on Page 14 a woman gets beheaded and her flesh gets eaten. This is NOT a comedy!"

These are the snippets of converstions The Great Plotnik hears as he walks with Mischief, Ducknik, The Great PunkyDunky and The Great FiveHead in Runyon Canyon, primo dogwalking and Hollywood Gossip spot in Stiletto City.

A guy walking a weimerauner sees an emaciated woman in a pink "I Love Music" T-Shirt stroll by -- he says to his girl friend: "Hey, wasn't that the girl in, you know, that sitcom with the, you know, the thing about the, hey, remember?

Plotnik looks up and sees Tim Roth. "Hello, Mr. Roth."

Tim Roth nods. The great Honey Bunny man from Pulp Fiction is walking some kind of designer dog.

Mischief is both impressed and in heaven. He sniffs at the rear end of all dogs, designer dog, Hollywood dog, sitcom dog, even the rare mutt. There are hundreds of dogs here, breeds rarely seen, breeds who do dogfood commercials and breeds who chase mailmen for Toyota, and there are also Two Day Views of Stiletto City -- which is to say there are two days during the entire year when the yellow crap clears away enough to enjoy this magnificent vista. It's a crystal-clear afternoon, with views to the sea on all sides, and stunning realizations of the size of Stiletto City's Urban Dogpound.

The skyscape and philosophy are lost on Mischief, but not the romance. He is in his element, hanging with his crewe of pooches, all intensely interested in rear ends, and peeing. When he lifts his leg, the sitcom dogs and designer dogs all run up to check it out. When they lift theirs, Mischief, like a somellier sniffing a cork on a rare vintage, barks in appreciation.

Personally, The Great Plotnik thinks Mischief is the handsomest guy here. But he appears to have Hollywood Disease: he falls in love too easily, albeit temporarily. He is fascinated with by the rear end of a large, speckled greyhound female. What is he thinking? What does he propose to do about it, having been neutered like a trombone player who now delivers pizza?

The Great Plotnik finds his mind wandering to the sitcom Mischief will one day write about Runyan Canyon, and the song they'll choose for the theme. "Sometimes When We Touch" --was that Dan Hill? --pops into his head.

"Sometimes When We Touch
Your Butthole's a Bit Much
So I Have to Close My Eyes
And Aroooowooooo."

Little sanity left. Driving home tomorrow.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Elijah, Jeremiah and Shampoo

First of all, there was a brisket waiting when Plotnik and Ducknik got to Mummy Plotnik's house. So cancel yesterday's comments about Mocha Mix and Fibro-Lax.

There is a Starbuck's across the street from Peet's in CinePutz, which is the section of Stiletto City where Mummy Plotnik resides. Plotnik chooses Peet's. The server who grinds his beans is named Elijah. The server who takes his money is named Jeremiah. The server who gives him his complementary cup of coffee is named Shampoo or Shlumpoo. Apparently, In CinePutz there is a city ordinance banning one syllable names.

The paper is still full of cartoon story with burning embassies. Sorry, folks. The world needs more cartoons, not less cartoons. More sense of humor, not less. More Take It Easy, Achmed, It's Just a Cartoon.

What we need less of is self-importance. BULLETIN: IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT YOU!

Except in Cine Putz, where it's ONLY about you. The conversation in Peet's is about small plates, and percentages, and options. When everyone goes home they walk through an oversized front door. Mummy Plotnik has one too.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Our Kingdom for a Horse

Ah, the stomach, the internal workings of the body's natural flow.

There are no countries of the world, it seems, other than the Republic of Saint Plotniko, where fiber is part of the diet, where natural foods are even part of the National Discussion, much less available to be consumed. White Rice. Roll. More White Rice. 'nuther roll. How 'bout some o' that White Rice?

After being in Guatemala for several weeks, Plotnik and Ducknik's digestive systems were -- let's use an analogy. Imagine the starting gate at Belmont Park. The horses are all in the gate. The fans are cheering. The race is ready to begin. They count down to three: One, Two, THREE!...oh, four. Five? Eleven. Twenty two thousand and nine. Seventeen million and sixty two -- OPEN THE DAMN GATE FAWGODSAKE. That clear enough for ya?

Upon returning to Organic Valley, the horses took off. Oi, the last few days have been interesting, to say the least.

NOW, however, it's back to Square One. Plotnik and Ducknik are driving down to see Mummy Plotnik in Stiletto City for the weekend. The woman lives on Imitation Margarine and Fibro-Lax tablets. God help us.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Clowns Rule

The guy in front lived in Japan for four years and seems basically fluent. The girl in back is Chinese so she knows all the kanji already. The guy next to her is also Chinese and not only knows the kanji but knows the Japanese pronunciation. His girl friend seems to speak Japanese perfectly. This semester's two Japanese t.a.'s speak almost no English so they talk constantly to these four students in lightning fast Japanese. Or it might be Japanese. It sounds like it might be Japanese.

That leaves Plotnik and the two other American clown guys. Plotnik was in Guatemala for two weeks, so he missed everything in Lessons 16 and 17 except for the test which he unknowingly got back just in time for.

Two weeks of speaking Spanish, a language Plotnik knows well and with which he feels as comfortable as clogs, to return to one day of Japanese and end up once again a knucklehead.

Still, he said to himself, as he piloted the Plotkicycle down Monterey Avenue back to World Headquarters, there is a purpose to all of this.

In this world we're either being tested or patronized. But the older we get, the less we get tested, the fewer chances we take. That's crazy. If we don't stretch, eventually we'll crack.

Back to class! Clowns rule!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The End of the Road, The Start of the Road

Everybody who goes to Guatemala ends up at the Maya ruins of Tikal. The civilization hit its peak around 600AD. A hundred years after the site was abandoned, the jungle grew up around it and for close to 1,000 years only the howler monkeys knew.

Of the Mayan Grand Slam, Plotnik is standing at third. Chichen Itza seems to be the most spectacular, but Palenque isn't nearly as much fun now that you can't take the train there anymore. Those two are in Mexico. Tikal, in the northern Peten jungle of Guatemala, has the most wildlife and is the coolest. Copan, which lies across the border into Honduras, is the one the Plotniks have missed.

But the Maya site TGP wants to see most is Bonampak, where the best-preserved murals are. It too is in Mexico, on the Usumacinta River, and you can't get there except by some serious packing-in.

That's the thing about traveling. Like M&Ms, the more you eat the more you want.

Usually, P and D are already planning the next trip as they're returning from the last. They try to do it before they get home and realize how broke they are. But it's too late. The bills were waiting.

Still, maybe they'll use up the last of their frequent flyer miles to get as far South as they can -- Lima, Peru -- and head overland into Bolivia, Paraguay, Chile and eventually to Buenos Aires.

Maybe they'll head to Japan and see if Plottie can locate any of the 197 kanji he has learned so far, or the Tall, Beautiful T.A. who has abandoned Kanji Class this semester.

Some day both Plotnik and Ducknik would like to see Southern Italy and North Africa, but Europe will probably remain out of the budget as long as America's resources are being given to Dick Cheney, who eats live bats, and his family and friends, to whom 'travel' means 'Hamburger in Cancun.'

Returning to Africa is a distinct possibility...especially East Africa. And once you're there, why not Madagascar? And then the Maldives and Seychelles? That leads to India and Sri Lanka, and those take you overland to Ankgor Wat. Perth and the rest of Australia are a short hop from there.

But for now, for The Great Plotnik, it's back to writing about meaningless, stultifyingly phony phestivals like the upcoming and much-looked-forward-to Crab, Paella, Wine, Toe Cheese and Phlatulence Phestival at the Palace of Phine Pharts.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Everyone Gets a Taste

Quehueche River
Originally uploaded by thegreatplotnik.
Eddy, the Garifuna canoe guide, was so stoned he kept laughing AH HAAA HAAAAAAAA! There were a lot of people in the canoe. There were crocodiles in the river. The girl in the front spoke French. The canoe went very slowly. "Boat go over everyone fish meat, mon, AH HAA HAAAAAAA!" said Eddy.

"Hmmm," said Plotnik.

"You no think me right, mon?" Eddy said to Plotnik.

"Eat me, Eddy," Plotnik said to Eddy.

"EAT ME EDDY! EAT ME EDDY! AH HAA HAAAAAAAA!" The boat shook side to side as Eddy roared. "EAT ME EDDY!"

When Plotnik and Ducknik got out of the canoe they were on the Caribbean. Alex the Garifuna rapper took their Quehueche River Bridge picture, then the three walked together to the Siete Altares, seven very beautiful pools and waterfalls that cascade into each other as tourists and locals take their clothes off and swim.

Plotnik kept his shorts on, which was a good thing because Eddy's group came along right after, as Plotnik was swimming in Altar 5. "AH HAH!" Eddy said when he saw Plotnik in the water. "EAT ME EDDY? EAT ME EDDY?" he screamed.

"EAT ME, EDDY!" Plotnik screamed back.


Later that night Ducknik and Plotnik ate at Tilimbo Limbo restaurant, a little yellow hut on the beach where Mexican Maria was the owner. She had once married a Hindu. The Hindus live across the river from the Garifuna. Maria makes great chicken curry.

Alex got a tip from Maria for bringing two paying customers. He also got a tip from Joelle the artist when Ducknik bought a small drawing from her on the beach. If the crocodiles had eaten Plotnik, Ducknik and Eddy, Alex probably would have gotten another tip. No worries. Everyone gets a taste in Paradise.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Ladies of Chichicastenango

Maya Ladies Chichi
Originally uploaded by thegreatplotnik.
The K'iche Maya at the Sunday Market in Chichicastenango are short, and the tourists are tall. It is very crowded. The Great Plotnik took this photo holding his camera over his head as he inched forward.

Each K'iche, Mam, Kakichel or other Maya village has its own colors, woven by women in exact patterns and seen on clothing and on cloth. As Plotnik passed from one village through the next, on the drive up to Chichi, he could easily see where one village's women stopped and the next village's women began.

In the market in Antigua, Plotnik saw one very old woman carrying a bag of avocadoes on her gray head that must have weighed a hundred pounds. The bag rested on a red cloth the exact color of her blouse.

In the photo, Chicastenango's colors are worn by the woman at the left, carrying a red mantel around her shoulders, probably with a baby inside. Plotnik saw the colors worn by the woman in the front of the photo in villages closer to Lake Atitlan.

The men wear blue jeans or blousy work pants, and black t-shirts or blue work shirts, and sandals. Colors seem to apply only to women.

At one shop, a young teenage girl with a baby sleeping against her back wrapped in her cloth, asked Ducknik how long babies nurse in Ducknik's country. Ducknik said 'it depends, not too long.' The girl's eyes got very big.

Old men sell limestone rocks. He weighs out a customer's order, breaks a rock against another until the larger rocks have become small pebbles. Then he grinds the pebbles to a powder in a mortar, using another rock as a pestle. The women use the limestone powder as an abrasive to remove the outer layers from their corn, before they grind it into masa for tortillas.

Guatemalan tortillas are twice as thick as Mexican tortillas, but smaller. The best ones are charred, so that they almost crunch when you fold them in half, fill them with avocado, cheese and salsa and take a big bite.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Three Volcanoes

Three Volcanoes
Originally uploaded by thegreatplotnik.
Back in town, it's a little weird to start thinking in English again. The Great Plotnik and The Great Ducknik will put four Guatemala pins in their map: Antigua, where Ducknik went to language school; the Maya Highlands of Lake Atitlan/Chichicastenango; the Caribbean tropics of Livingston and Rio Dulce; and the amazing jungle ruins of Tikal.

The last three days were hot and humid. Plotnik and Ducknik spent sunrises and sunsets on tops of Mayan pyramids with howler monkeys screeching in the dark; a long Thursday covering several hundred kilometers on a river launch, a bus that smelled like pee and a slightly scary van heading into the bumpy blackness; several mornings eating delicious huevos a la ranchera, beans, bananas and thick, homemade tortillas, but they gave up trying to find a decent cup of coffee in a country with coffee plantations everywhere they looked.

Last night at a guest house in Guatemala City, one of the most violent and polluted cities in the hemisphere, Plotnik realized once again how much he likes hanging around in hostels eating chicken and rice and talking to kids who love to travel. In his heart of hearts he thinks he's still one too.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

One Love

The Great PunkyDunky was right when he told his parents about Corn Island and the Caribbean Islands of Central America. Livingston, Guatemala, isn't an island, but it's on the sea, and the Garifuna culture is alive and well, mon, One Love. In the first place, it is beautiful and tropical, on the Caribbean, blue skies, blue water, swooping sea birds, and great food, One Love; in the second place the fish is fresh -- last night a big bowl of tapado, a coconut broth with crabs and shrimps and fish and bananas, and tonight plans for another bowl of the same, OK, OK, Mon; in the third place there are the Garifuna people, black Spanish speakers whose culture descends from slaves kicked off the island of St. Vincent a few hundred years ago. Alex, a young Garifuna rapper and beautiful kid, was our guide today on a daylong hike through Garifuna villages and down to the sea in a canoe and hiking up to waterfalls and back around again. We paused in his friends' hut to listen to Alex's and his friends' music as spliffs the size of burritos got passed around (we weren't offered any). We met his grandfather, the master drummer. We ate lunch sitting on a chair facing the ocean. We walked through waterfalls and jumped in and swam. We heard Alex's amazing story and tonight we'll hear more when we go hear his band which starts at 9:30, IF we can stay awake. It was a lot of walking, One Love.

Of course, the hotel's hot water isn't working. Of course, the one ATM machine in the town broke down this morning. Of course, there is the usual beachtown craziness going on, with the occasional robbery, like yesterday on the canoe that we took today. None of this matters. The sun is about to go down. The first band starts at 7. We'll eat at 8. Go see Alex at 9. Then, it's onto the river tomorrow for the ride in a launch back to the real world, to Rio Dulce to catch another bus for the ruins of Tikal. One Love.

The Great Plotnik and The Great Ducknik officially put into the world the hope that they and their children can some day come back to Livingston, Guatemala. If Corn Island is this cool, it must be truly One Love.