The Great Plotnik

Friday, August 31, 2007

Baby I is Learning Young

You have to train them early, from diaper to season ticket holder. Baby I is waving one of her favorite toys. Here's a closeup:

It's still really hot outside, but nowhere is it as bad as on the freeway. Yesterday, Plot had to get from Mummy P's to Casa Punquidunqui at 5PM on the Hollywood Freeway. It always amazes Plottie that drivers down here consider using a turn signal as an act of War. At 0 mph, stuck behind a double semi tractor trailer, a baby crying is really loud. Certain Mercedeses deserve whatever pianos fall on their heads. Mummy Plotnik's water line shouldn't have broken, a guyser of water shooting into the sky, but it is 42 years old. The Great FiveHead has been gone for ten hours and she's still only halfway there, Peace.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Baby I's first Blog Entry

This is Baby Is f4893 abellas f3 first blog entr32y.

We;ve had a nap. We've taken a stroll by the lotus blossoms. She's on Plotniks lap rightxvxxczxcgyixzcgyixzcguxczgyu

There are newwwwww ph kdjla otos but not now.

It's hot. 5H leaves tonight for Singapore. It's hot there too buth2gpgh785gh349.

afrlkrlkßi says Isabella with her foot a';owij.

Sept in LA. Plot forgot. Hot as snot.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Kenya and the Masai Mara

The Great BZWZ was sad to say goodbye to Kenya's Masai Mara as she boarded her plane for the return to Nairobi. She felt like the other Plotniks felt after seeing Kruger Park in South Africa -- that they'd never seen anything in their lives like these animals in their natural environments.

The Safari Tent was pretty danged plush.

Mr. Lion looked like a pussycat in the field.

Mr. Buffalo figured he had nothing to worry about.


Mr. Lion took a little cat nap afterwards.

Safaris in Kenya are in smaller vehicles, so you can get closer. This looks like a simple tree in the savannah, but look closer.

Mr. Leopard has dragged his prey (probably an antelope) into the tree to keep it away from other predators. It may have been this boy or one of his cousins:

Everybody doing a life list should consider placing a safari to see animals in Africa 'way high on the list. You don't have the same world view afterwards as you did when you started.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Cardamom and Pineapples and a Crowned Crane

Plotnik got ready to show you a photo of a thriving basil plant in the Rear Acreage of World Headquarters, but then BZWZ broke out her photos of Kenya and Uganda. What you see above is a stand of cardamom seedlings in a nursery. Below are the cardamom flowers and seed pods that snake across the ground. Obviously, the cardamom seeds we use come from these pods.

Cardamom plants, like coffee shrubs, like shade. In Uganda, bananas are everywhere and can provide shade for coffee and cardamom. Coffee and Cardamom. Oops, a song title if Plottie ever heard one. Below are pineapples growing on the bottom and bananas on top.

And then we have this bad boy: the Crowned Crane, National Bird of Uganda.

This is just a teaser: tomorrow we get safari photos.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Tigers are Back

The tiger lilies are back, albeit a full month after those in the Hanging Gardens of Mushalon. The Great Plotnik bought a few tiger lily bulbs at least a dozen years ago, and kept them in a tub on the deck for ten of those years. By then they had multiplied many times, so he unpotted and transplanted them into tubs in the garden next to the lavender.

You really have to hand it to nature for coming up with a flower that looks like this. Look at those stamens -- don't they look like jellyfish?

On the other hand, it's Monday morning. Plottie really has to deal with this desk this morning.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dim Sum on Sunday

Did somebody say restaurants are losing their client base, that people no longer go out to eat as much as they once did? Not at Koi Palace in Colma on Sunday at noon. The restaurant was jammed, and the waiting room was packed so full it took several minutes for Plotnik to force his way towards the hostess in order to grab an electronic number. Then Plot, Duck, BZ and Cousins One and Two waited over an hour to get seated and then another hour and a half to choose and consume their dim sums as they rolled by.

Wadda think: do Cousin Two Names and The Great BZWZ look like cousins?

The dumplings and the dragon beard candy were quite good, and the fish had to be fresh since every few minutes a man would come to the fish tanks with a net, grab a carp or bass or grouper, throw it on the floor and WHAMMM it with a club, then haul it into the kitchen.

Cousins One and Two are already in the car, driving the seven hours back to South Stiletto and Plot is really glad it's not him.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Cousin One and Cousin Two and Baby I

Cousin Two Names and Cousin One Name are in town this weekend. As we speak, they are driving to the Napa Valley to visit Sattui Vineyards, stock up on cases of various wines, then rush back down to The Great Plotnik World Headquarters in time to get dressed and then fly back across the Bay Bridge to Smokeland in time for a wedding that starts at 4pm.

You've got to be really young to think this will be fun. But hey. They're newlyweds. Everything's fun.

What's interesting is that Cousins One and Two are doing well in their careers, he as an Assistant Principal in a K-12 school and she in the administrative office of Stiletto City Unified School District. And yet even they, with two handsome incomes, are unable to imagine buying a home anywhere near where they live now. As Cousin Two says: "Our entire generation is priced out of the housing market."

Plotnik is not so sure this is a bad thing -- because what they get in return is a strong degree of financial security, as their entire income stream is not sunk into an enormous mortgage and upkeep of an expensive home. This makes for less pressure, and less pressure is good for everyone's health.

The new news is that Plot and Duck are heading back down to S.City this week to fill in as Doting Grandparents while The Great Five Head takes on her first major job since Baby I was born. She'll be in Asia and Plot and Duck will watch their Highly Intelligent Granddaughter for a few days while PD is at work. Tough job, but somebody's got to do it.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Ideas for Blonde Bombshell

Last night, Blonde Bombshell talked about a free trip her sister has offered her -- to anywhere in the world, basically. Sis has a timeshare with a company who has properties everywhere. The only caveats are that Bombshell has to decide where to go and then come up with the money for the airfare, and also that the trip must be made by December. These timeshares all have kitchens so you can cook your own food and save money that way too.

So the question becomes the familiar one: where do you want to go and how much is it worth to you? You've got to pay cash money for the airplane and then you have to endure the awfulness of modern flying. The further you want to go, the longer the awfulness of the airline experience, and then you have to do it again to get home.

Also, BB doesn't like to drive long distances and isn't so sure about the reliability of her car.

Mississippi Motorhead's idea was a good one: go to the most expensive place on the list. He suggested Tokyo. It costs a fortune normally to stay in Tokyo, so you can enjoy a city you'd otherwise never be able to go to.

But Bombshell is not so much of a traveler. She'd rather stay in the USA.

Hmmm, USA, thought Plotnik, a place in America you can fly into without a long drive afterwards to get there. He thought about the wonderful, unique cities in America in which he'd love to spend more time. New Orleans would have been Choice One, but no longer. The Big Easy is the Big Yesterday now.

Charleston, SC -- very cool city. Same with Savannah, Georgia, but they're hard to get to. In more modern, Western cities like Austin, Texas, a car is a must. Bombshell doesn't want to drive if she can help it. Great idea: Key West, Florida! What a fabulous place...but there's a plane change involved and the first flight is too long.

So we're looking for a place that you fly into and you're there. There's lots to do and also pretty spots to do nothing. When you're done, you turn around, take a cab to the airport and you're home. Let's say two or three hours in the air, tops.

Who's got an idea?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Just The Holes

(Thanks to Dancenik and Mushnik for two wonderful photos of New York City)

After yesterday's posting of BZWZ attaching her East Africa travel pins to the Great Mapnik, The Great Plotnik spent some time in his chair, staring at the map, but not at the pins, just at the holes.

Then he received a note from Rachel The Famous Children's Book Author, containing two travel letters posted from her friend in Camaroon. The pins on the map, and those letters from Camaroon started Plotnik thinking about the way people from one cultural background look at people from another and most specifically how they write about it.

Just The Holes

I When I stare at my map, I never see the pins, just the holes. When I read travel letters from friends in exotic places, I mistrust their observations, because they are not mine. I want it to be me who fills in all the blank spots, swims the lagoons, sails the fjords, hikes the peaks, lazes in the valleys, chews the qat, picks the chipotle out of the soup and hears the music of the spheres.

II The Camaroonian cab driver can’t figure out why the white traveler wants to see Camaroon. He thinks the white traveler needs to see Camaroon because he wishes to laugh at the poor. He thinks there is no poverty where the white traveler lives. The white traveler thinks: “My life in America must not be rich enough. Otherwise, I’d stay home.” The cab driver would like to try living where the white traveler lives.

III Family matters. Friends matter. Kids matter. Work matters. My family is here. My friends are here. My kids are here. My work is here. But I think about there, not here. What does there have that here doesn't? Why is soup tastier in French?

IV Church bells clang in Oaxaca. The faithful need to awaken the heathens. The muezzin calls In Istanbul: “Al-lahhhhh! (I’m up! I’m working! No one should be allowed to sleep once I’m working!) Al-lahhhh!” In Tikal, the howler monkeys start blaring at 3AM. With them, it’s probably not about God but it all comes out the same. I sit up in bed. I scratch my head. Sleep is dead. That’s what I said.

V When I’m traveling, I hate tourists. I want to be the only one with a blog. I want to be first to taste the pozole. I don’t want other people to hate the sheep eyeballs before I hate the sheep eyeballs. I laugh at fat Europeans who smoke too much, drink too much, throw their money around too much, dance too much, sing too loudly, tickle the women under their chins and never go to sleep because they’re having far too much fun. I would be doing all that, if I weren’t busy blogging.

VI On the Turkish coast, you order your fish and they run out to their boat, row into the bay, catch the fish, bring it back in and throw it on the charcoal. Sometimes the whole process takes a long time, but there is a lot of retsina and cheap white wine. After awhile it doesn’t matter anymore what you ordered and you’ve learned a bunch of new songs about the Yankee Imperialist Pig Dog. When the meal finally comes, you find out you ordered chicken.

VII Sometimes we sit on our deck in San Francisco and stare in awe at the view. We tell ourselves that if we were in the Glorious Republic of Pig we’d be waxing poetic about the gorgeous cityscape and the glorious bridge and the romantic fog and the brilliant sky. If we could find this wine in Bordeaux we’d give it five stars and send two cases home. Stars streak from the constellation of Pegasus. In Greece, we’d swoon. Here, the wine is five bucks and the stars are like this all winter. We’ve gotta get our passports renewed.

VIII Once upon a time there was a handsome prince. It wasn’t me. The handsome prince met my old girlfriend after I left her behind in a hotel room near Tehuantapec because I’d taken off with two new American girls. One was plump and dark and one was skinny and blonde. Guess which one wasn’t Jewish.

The handsome prince took my old girlfriend for the adventure of her life in his private plane. They flew over the jungles of Chiapas, the ruins of Bonampak. They drank single malt whiskey and lay in the sun with his hand under her bathing suit.

My new girl friends and I hitchhiked towards the Caribbean coast. At first, they sat in the shade as I stood alone on the baking, music-less highway with my thumb pointed North. The trucks passed by so fast the asphalt stung my face, loud horns reverberating in the silent shimmering heat long after the trucks had disappeared into the horizon.

After several hours, I sat down and the girls stood up. Marian stuck out her thumb and the first truck screeched to a stop. The driver wore a sombrero. He motioned to the girls that they should climb into the air conditioned cab with him. He pointed me towards the open trailer with the cattle. It was really cold back there after the sun evaporated into stars. Occasionally, I could hear the three of them laughing and singing along to huapango music on the radio. I sucked as a handsome prince.

IX Rachel’s friend Diane has written a travel and photo book called ‘Best Seat in the House,’ about the toilets she has used, or tried to use, or fallen into in the middle of the night, buried up to her bare thighs in human waste, in various less-than-pleasure spots around the world. She has got travel stories to make your kidneys tremble.

I suppose my travel book will have to be about being a Jewish musician in the Far East where the only Jews hide behind large walls, who make enough money to hire my partner and I to come play music for them but live in countries where no one has ever heard the word ‘Jew.’ The story is stranger than it seems because I’m not Jewish anywhere but in Thailand. In America I’m a Jewnitarian. My neighbor across the street thinks I’m Catholic because he is and he likes me. He tells me Jew jokes. I feel like Borat. But I can’t write a travel book about that, and Diane already has the travel toilet market cornered. So I guess it’ll have to be about Jews in Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, where the guys in black beards are usually mullahs.

X When I was a child, I didn’t know anybody who had ever traveled anywhere, except all our dads who had been in World War II and didn’t speak highly of anything they saw overseas. My wife’s father was on the first destroyer into Japan Harbor. My stepdad was on a destroyer in the South Pacific. My uncle was at Pearl Harbor AND the Battle of the Bulge.

My father was 4-F and my brother was 4-F but I was ready meat. I had to work really hard to stay out of Vietnam. Traveling is one thing, getting my ass blown off for Dow Chemical was another.

XI Praise Jesús, my son Dan saw Vietnam before I did. By the time Dan got there, Saigon was called Ho Chi Minh City and you could buy Advil on any corner. Dan has also been to Brazil, Nicaragua, India, Nepal, Cambodia, South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique. His little sister Bronnie is only 24 but she’s been to Kenya, Uganda, Peru twice, Ecuador, Panama, England, Spain, France and Ireland. She’s sailed to the Galapagos on a research boat. She’s talking about taking another research boat to Antarctica. She’s angry that our map with all the travel pins doesn’t have Antarctica on it because Antarctica is under the frame of the map. If she goes to Waddell Bay, we’ll have to put her pins into the wall under the map.

XII I used to hate to fly, but that was before everybody else learned to hate it too. Now, I consider all the businessmen grousing because they have to take off their wing tips wussies. I happily remove my belt before I go through the metal detector, gleefully pack my liquids and gels into three ounce containers and place them in a quart-size plastic bag with a sealable top, smile toothily at all the grim-reaper-faced airline security personnel and am only slightly deterred in my excited anticipation of a flight that will have all the creature comforts of an Inquistion hotel, when I realize these Homeland Security dipwads are not doing shit to protect me, that any terrorist worth half his weight in rupees would slip his bombs, his guns, his Koran, his suicide note, his nuclear weapon, his tractor to pull it onto the tarmac and his political tract condemning the American agressor plus the photo of his 15-year-old widow past these idiots as easily as chili rellenos through a gringo. But I refuse to start being terrified to fly again until everyone else chills. More pins.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Pins For East Africa

It was worth the wait to stand by as The Great BZWZ put four pins onto the African continent. If you look quickly, they look like four yellow markers marking the northern edge of Lake Victoria, but on the ground, of course, each pin represents a completely unique spot.

From right to left, East to West, we see Nairobi, Kenya; Kisumu, Kenya; Kampala, Uganda; and Ruhira, Uganda. Nairobi and Kampala are large nations' capitals while Kisumu is the third largest city in Kenya and Ruhira is a small Ugandan village.

But the map always seems to get larger after you put pins into it. The world grows as we watch -- a few places discovered and a few roads traveled but so many more out there, waiting to be appreciated.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Deja Whaaa? Zappa Plays Zappa

You've heard of deja vu. Last night at Berkeley Community Theater the Plotniks experienced Deja Whaaa?, where you're not only sure you're feeling something you've felt before in a place with which you're quite familiar, but the second you enter the concert hall you realize it is filled to the rafters with people who all look like the people you went to college with, everyone of whom knows and applauds every single guitar lick in every single song, applauds, in fact, before the band even starts playing, and sings along to every word and grunt, except you, Poor Plottie, don't know Jack Doodly about the music, are not familiar with any of the songs, are not even sure what language they're playing in and are pretty sure you've fallen down into a rabbit hole lined with paisley shirts, tattoos and pot fumes.

Jeez Louise, Berkeley, Plottie's Alma Mater: Half an hour after the show starts, gray-headed, pony-tailed people with big asses are still weaving their way in, standing in the aisles blocking everyone's view, wondering where their seats are in the dark, laughing loudly, burping and saying "Shit. 'Cuse Me. (Burp)."

The saving grace -- and man, is it ever a saving grace -- is that Zappa Plays Zappa is one of the very best rock and roll bands Plotnik has ever heard. Even Ducknik, who is not usually someone who takes kindly to loud, crashing boy-hormone music, was on the edge of her seat (it is she who noticed there weren't very many women in the audience).

Plotnik's friend Jamie plays guitar in the band. Jamie set two seats aside for the Plotniks, along with two VP20 cards. Plot never did find out what those cards were for. No one in the box office knew. On stage, Jamie and Dweezil stay calm, while everyone else jumps around like a raccoon is chewing on his/her face.

Zappa Plays Zappa is fronted by Dweezil Zappa, the late Frank Zappa's son. They play Frank Zappa music, which is incredibly convoluted and difficult to play, but also rocks its rear end off start to finish. Occasionally you might hear something resembling a chorus you could sing to, like "The Raccoon is Chewing On My Face," but it doesn't happen much.

Actually, when it did, everyone sang right along: "A Raccoon is Chewing on My Face. A Raccoon is Chewing on My Face." It seemed perfectly natural.

Plotnik had always assumed that Dweezil was another SonofaLegend, like Julian Lennon, or Dino Martin, who could, you know, play a little and approximate Dad with a macabre kind of boyish adulation that would appeal to young girls, but Plotnik was dead wrong. After one song halfway through the show, with the audience having just exploded onto its feet, albeit wobbly, to scream like mad for what Dweezil had just done with his guitar, Plottie texted PD and Nefnik that "Dweezil Zappa just played the greatest guitar solo I've ever heard. This band is astonishing."

Nefnik, who is a drummer and knows Jamie best, texted back: "Told Ya."

The Great Plotnik was not a big Frank Zappa fan -- he vaguely remembers Suzy Creemcheeze -- but he really loved this band, above all Dweezil and the drummer Joe Travers and a 9-year-old keyboardist they've got hidden in the back behind the bassist like an illegal alien. He plays a few synthesizers that are probably forty years older than he is.

Imagine if the music had been familiar. Plot and Duck would probably not have left at 10:30, drained after two and a half hours with no end in sight. Eventually, the raccoons would have left them noseless, but happy.

Sadly, Zappa Plays Zappa was only in town for one night -- the band is on a world tour and that may not be a big enough venue for them. Thanks for the tickets, Jamie from UF and AL. You're onto something big here.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Team of Six, Together for the First Time

The Great Plotnik and The Great Ducknik really loved the weekend on the Southern California Coast -- dolphins playing in the surf, families with well-behaved children frolicking in the sand, polite campers in the beach campgrounds (where P-Dunk had reserved, six months in advance, a large campsite for two tents, one for him, 5-H and Baby I, and one for BZWZ) and equally helpful camp rangers in the upscale tent and cabin campsite a few hundred yards up the road (where Plot and Duck resided).

It felt like paradise to watch the sunset on the sea, strum the ukelele and play the Baby I repertoire ("Oh, Froggie Went a Courtin' and He Did Ride, Uh Huh! Uh Huh!"), body surf in fairly warm water and eat ice cold watermelon (cold, because the campsite with the coolers was only a hundred yards away from the water).

It's amazing that you can do so much in such a short time -- Friday dinner through Sunday breakfast. Of course, this is the Plotnik family, so meals were not your usual campfire fare. Saturday night, Ducknik fileted a whole Alaskan salmon that PD and Plot had pleaded with the rakish ship captain to please sell them in a small, exotic harbor outside of...oh, all right, they got it at Costco. But oh man, was it fantastic, bbq'd in Argentine chimichuri with whole scallions.

On Friday night, Chef Pierre Punqui/Dunqui created a one-pot Shrimp Creole that has forever defined what you're supposed to slather on top of grilled corn -- Shrimp Creole sauce, of course.

It must also be said that a Plotnik family tradition, when camping, always involves a nutritious and wholesome breakfast.

The six campers, five pedaling and one going 'ba ba ba ba' rode bikes from El Capitan State Beach to Refugio State Beach. The Great FiveHead was very happy to impersonate the last scene from 'Breaking Away.'

A few words about El Capitan Canyon: They rent cabins and safari tents. The Plotniks had a safari tent, which by the time you add in the tax comes to what feels like a whopping $160 per night. They also rent cabins for $100 or so more per night, which have somewhat more insulation and also their own bathroom.

That's a lot of money to go 'camping.' So, is it worth it? Hmmm. As always, it comes down to what you feel like spending. El Capitan Canyon appeared to have all its cabins sold out (and reserved many months in advance), while a few safari tents appeared to be vacant. Duck and Plot were very comfortable, in fact quite delighted with the tent, but it did mean you either had to hold it in all night or get up, slip on your jeans and walk 50 yards to the bathroom.

Still, $160 per night to have to get up and walk to the bathroom? versus $25 per night for a campsite 100 yards from the beach? After a three second poll of two participants, the answer is Yes Indeed. Here are the three major upgrades from camping on dirt: 1) No dirt. 2) Fluffy warm beds with sheets and blankets. 3) Electricity (for the coffee pot and battery charger and lights). There is also a swimming pool (though you might not want to use it, seeing as at least 100 toddlers were in it when Plot looked). And by the way, since the cabins all have their own bathroom, nobody seems to use the communal washrooms. The showers were great and all bugs had apparently been given the summer off.

Which is to say, lots of families seem to have the dough to fork over $250 per night with their kids to stay in a cabin. The Great Plotnik and Great Ducknik would never have done it when the kids were small, nor the $160 for the safari tent, they'd have paid $25 and stayed in a regular tent, and loved it. But now...well, it was worth every single penny. It was really, really sweet.

Word to all children: On Saturday Night, before facing down and obliterating the Chimichuri Salmon, the Plotnik Family of Six drank a toast (a 2001 Bennet Lane Cabernet blend - couldn't resist that). The toast was to being together for the very first time on what was once a Plotnik Family Tradition: the Summer Vacation. TGP and TGD are very proud of TGBZWZ, TGPD, TG5H and TGBI, and feel blessed that the kids seem to still love what the parents love best. We all need to do this again very soon.