The Great Plotnik

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Belly Ball

Could The Great Plotnik love a photo any more than this?

This latest Stiletto Trip was full of emotional tugs, some great meals, hanging around in auto repair shops and a few fun family outings. Right now, Plottie has to go up and hang insulation on the attic ceiling. See you in a few hours.

OK, it's a few hours later, but the first part of the attic job is done. When the Plotniks got home yesterday, there was a message from Mr. Chun, the roofer, saying that he was going to start the job several days earlier than expected. This means half the attic has had to be emptied today so the ceiling can be insulated and tarped, in advance of an entire universe of mung and soot and yucch falling onto the decades of garbage being garaged in the attic, stuff the Plotniks haven't even opened from their last move (in 1993), plus acquired useless junk that no one will ever want. Plotnik's original Kaypro 4? Want it? It's here.

The idea is that the insulation will stop most of the filth from getting into the attic and the tarps some of the rest. Of course, all that dirt will also render the insulation less effective, but that's for another worry later on.

Meanwhile: Down in Stiletto where the Cold Noodles Simmer, Belly and BZ bonded like crazy.

A trip to Manhattan Beach was more than fun (Cousins Two and Seattle, one of you lives in Redondo and the other in Westwood, right? Manhattan is really a great beach.). Being at the beach reminded Plotnik about the healing nature of sun and salt water. After half an hour body surfing small waves, going under and coming up and going back under and coming back up, his body felt lifted, his spirit salved. Since earliest childhood, Plotnik has felt this salving nature of the ocean, and yet in Saint Plotniko, where he lives, there are no decent beaches. For all of Stiletto's City's faults, it does have one of nature's most wonderful cures.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

So. Here We Are.

Got back at 7:05pm, just in time for the first pitch. It's never easy to say goodbye, is it? It was hot all the way through the Central Valley, until half way across the Bay Bridge, when the traffic and cold chill appeared for the first time.

So. Here we are.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Beach Cures and a Blogger Reflects

Ah, OK, it's not so bad. Everyone went to Manhattan Beach yesterday, swam in the breakers, rode waves, Belly played in the sand, Plottie channeled his Inner Teenager, bronzed and handsome (he's a writer, he's got imagination), and in the process it dawned on Plot that the world is not only not ending, but it's really a lot of fun at the beach in this crazy town. Maybe PD and 5H will save some money in the East and then come home, buy a beach house next to the Manhattan Beach Pier and everyone will move in and, maestro, cue the reggae soundtrack.

The Great Plotnik is aware that a blogger can either hide his daily joys and/or sorrows, or he can go ahead and write about them while the feelings are pure and real, determined to try and learn about himself from the process of putting emotions into words.

Novelists wait until they've analyzed everything and figured out the story line; Plottie writes first and tries to be as honest as he can without hurting anyone's feelings. Later, he tries to figure out what he was really talking about, like analyzing a dream, where nothing is what it appears to be but everything is about that one thing. What is that one thing?

Right now, Monday morning, the bottom line is that Plot and Duck are feeling better. Nothing important is changing, only location, location, location. Who needs Buenos Aires when you've got Providence? Does Lisbon really have better views than Brooklyn?

And that halfway point between the two: somewhere in Connecticut. Ah, Connecticut. What the f___ is up with that T in the middle?

This morning, the girls will do girl stuff with Asian women in salons. The boy, Plotnik, will hang around and hopefully get in some guitar time with BZWZ, and maybe go to the ballgame tonight with PD, or, if not, eat some more shrimp tacos. Viva la vida loca.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Deep Breath

It just takes a little time. Look a little deeper and things don’t look so bleak. After that rage against the machine yesterday, Plotnik has to admit a few things. One is that although Stiletto’s pure size makes living in it difficult, that same size is what makes its interesting parts interesting. The two huge cities of America, The Big Shmapple and Stiletto City, are world renowned magnets for people from every continent on both hemispheres. There are more Mexicans in Stiletto than any city in the world outside of Mexico City, more Armenians than anywhere except Yerevan, more Uzbeks, more Cambodians, more Persians, more Everybody. And nobody gets along. That’s what makes it such a struggle, but also gives it spice.

Life is hardest for newcomers, but you don’t hear angry Uzbeks on Talk Radio in Stiletto City. It’s angry anglos, men for the most part. They’re pissed off because of foreigners, because of politics, because of people with different color faces or boys who want to marry boys or the rising price of oil, which they blame on environmentalists, or any of a hundred different topics, but what they are all really saying is: “I want things back like they used to be.”

Long ago and far away, Schmeckl and Plottie used to play football in a little Armenian churchyard in Sherman Oaks, on the corner of Nagle and Riverside Drive, with their closest friends, two bothers, whose parents were Armenian immigrants. The brothers lived next door to the church. In the churchyard were towering English walnut trees – you’d have to clear off the walnuts before you dared tackle anyone because you could crack open their heads before you could crack open one of those walnuts. If you weren’t careful you ended up with a hard-to-remove green stain all over your hands and clothes and heard about it from your Mom.

It was a very simple and beautiful church. The fathers wore black robes and beards. If you tossed them the football they’d try to catch it but could never throw it back without the ball ending up twenty feet in the wrong direction. When Plotnik thinks back, he sees everyone smiling.

Yesterday, Plot and Duck went straight to Hell. It turns out that Hell has moved to a mall on that same corner, Fulton and Riverside. Duck had to go into a fabric store to buy foam to repair one of Mummy P’s chairs, so Plotnik walked across the street to look at the old church. It’s still there, in a way, but it has been enlarged greatly and is now an Armenian Congregational Evangelical School. The entire property is surrounded by twenty foot high fences with pointy glass on top.

Why? Who are the Armenians worried about? It can’t be walnut thieves – they chopped those trees down long ago to have room for teaching children about the glorious countryside of Old Armenia and the barbarism of the Turks.

Next door, where Schmeckl and Plottie’s friends once lived on an acre and a half with an enormous truck garden, there is today an entertainment complex of offices, housed in a concrete four story bunker with a name like BFD Group. The BFD Group doesn’t know about the hundreds of tomato plants Plottie’s friend’s Dad used to grow on that very property, perhaps right under their meaningless little desks, where Slim the filthy old gardener once picked a tomato hornworm off a tomato plant and squashed it in front of Plottie’s face. A field of tomatoes in this subsector of Hell would be absolutely inconceivable to the pony tailed minions at BFD Group.

You see? That’s why people scream curses at immigrants and democrats on talk radio. They have to blame somebody. The world that was so easy, with sunshine 360 days a year, with plenty of room to spread out and prosper, where a child like Plottie could be safe to ride his bike, explore and be a kid, to be by himself all day during the Summer without his parents being so terrified of their everyday lives that they felt it necessary to plunk him behind twenty foot fences covered with shattered glass, those days are buried under concrete, under freeways, under shopping centers, under development and more development. When you don’t like things outside you hide inside. People who live today in this city are not even aware how intense and fearful their lives have become.

But it’s not all bad. It just feels that way sometimes, when you’re a little out of tune, when your D string will not wind up to E, like yesterday, when the reality of PD and 5H leaving was starting to sink in. But life is good, y’all. Today was fun. BZ’s here.

While she and Duck and family friend K-Dawg took Mummy P. to a museum, Plot and PD and Belly ate lunch at Homegirl Café in Chinatown, while Plot got Mummy P’s driver-side window fixed on her car. Mummy P's housekeeper suggested to Plottie that he put new tires on that car too and not ask first, because the tires were worn down to the metal inside the tread, and there had been, shall we say, a reluctance to get them changed. The window hadn’t worked in six months. Plot fixed that too.

Mummy P. will be 94 next week and her ears hear randomly. That’s easy to take care of, but not quickly. Everyone is working on it. Tonight, BZ showed her photos on BZ’s computer of her two weeks in Ethiopia. The pictures are sere and beautiful, pastel camels walking across rocky soil in front of eerily misshapen cliffs, tall men with Middle Eastern features and brown skin wearing Western t-shirts, mountains that look like they're made out of mud and mud huts that are hard to pick out from the mountains. Everything is close to the same sandy color, subtle. Mummy P. can’t really make out subtlety in photos any more, so she pronounced the landscape ugly.

But she only said that to Plottie, and he knows what's going on. Tomorrow her eyes will be working better and the ugly will be less so. She’ll see things more clearly. She’ll pick up the beauty. That’s the way it is for all of us. We're getting there. We just need a little time.


PS -- Yesterday, at the Homegirl Cafe, The Greatest Belly walked through the entire place, greeting each table, making people laugh and swivel around to see her, carrying her My Potty book so strangers could read her a page or two. The girl can work a crowd.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Two Weeks Later, The City is Less Than it Was

Well, as times change so does your point of view. Plotnik realized this morning that Stiletto City has seemed more than tolerable to him, that he even entertained a few fantasies of some day figuring out a way to move back here, and that these dreams have lasted for several years, the years that The Great Punky Dunky, The Great FiveHead and The Greatest Belly have lived down here. Now that the news has become official and The Plotniks South are about to become the Plotniks East, beginning when PD starts his fabulous new job in October in the Big Shmapple, Plottie feels like this morning he is no longer driving around on Mission Road in cool East Stiletto but in some worn out industrial center of East Omaha, or East Phoenix, or East Anywhere Used to Be USA, or that maybe he forgot his cute filter, or left it in the pocket of an old jacket that he used to wear, the jacket with the big pockets where everything fit so perfectly, finger intwined in finger, with plenty of room for all the incongruities of a city far too large for the human condition to have a chance to prosper without working very, very hard.

That’s it. It’s just too big. But it’s weird. Only two weeks ago, Plottie was waxing poetic about Belly running for the moon in Little Tokyo, and the romance of people from every culture coming together to share a magnificent moment, and yet this morning it is as if all these taco shops, these tire repairs, these auto/paint stores, these Chinese-Salvadorean-Cambodian donut/pupusa/chow mein shops, these smog checks, these liquor stores and these passport photo stands, as well as the endless supply of late model suvs stalled at noon on the 101, doing a profound zero in the fast lane with an equally endless amount of pick up trucks with one orange front bumper and one blue rear bumper and sides built up using somebody’s old metal fence, to haul recycling cans to the dump, if they, or the Lexuses, could actually get anywhere, if the fast lane, the slow lane, the middle lane and the next to middle lane were actually moving and not simply merging like badly stirred pancake batter into one big lump, for the purpose of ending the fantasy once and for all and transmitting this one, obvious message: Plotnik isn’t getting anywhere here.

Not that he didn’t realize it already – a city, big or small, great or mediocre, American or French or Japanese, is not worth its weight in concrete if you don’t have people you love living in it. Like BZ said about the Shmapple, to thrive in any city you have to either love the city or the job you’re doing in it. Plotnik loves the Plotzers, and he loves the small part of his family that will be left, and if he thinks a little harder about it he could say he loves the memory of being a child and teenager here, but sit twenty minutes on the freeway and that lump that should be fluid, isn’t; that sentimentality you confused with pleasure, fades; those talk radio shows you had found filled with material for jokes, are really cruel and hateful, and you realize another week in this town and you will be ready to blow your last fuse at the vapidity and smallness of such an enormously self-infatuated flatulent burg.

The move East is great for Punky-D and family, and Plot and Duck are bursting with pride at their courage and achievements. They’ll end up renting a nice place in Brooklyn with three bedrooms and a yard for Mischief, and Plot and Duck will see them often, perhaps not as frequently as when they were an hour away, but after all BZWZ will only be a three hour train ride from the Shmapple, so there will be more bang for the buck. It’s the right move. In fact, in a journalism world where newspapers are laying off reporters right and left, so many people with ten and twenty years experience in the field pounding the pavement looking for the two nonexistent jobs, this is his only move.

But we’re talking about how a city can change overnight, how the heat that was a relief from the summer fog of Saint Plotniko now feels oppressive, and how the fragile pieces of Mummy P’s aging, which seemed perfectly manageable only two weeks ago now begin to add themselves up to a number that is too high, like bad cholesterol, like the levels on a busted oil pressure gauge, and they may be signalling the beginning of a new stage, one which Plot and his brother Schmeckl will bear up to and manage, but not as comfortably as before, not as easily as before, not without Belly to cheer up Mummy P. and Mischief to give her a few bonus licks on the hand.

Plot’s OK. He’s been anticipating this for weeks, and has once again applied a lesson previously learned, that it’s best to grieve in advance, to anticipate the worst, and do it in the middle of several dark nights in a row, and preferably don’t sleep and make sure you feel so low that when whatever you’re worrying about actually happens it’s never as bad as you feared.

Oh, he can’t lie to you, faithful Plotnikkies. Plot is sad, he’s feeling a little sorry for himself and his heart is heavy, but it’s supposed to be. If you can’t be a bit heartbroken when people you love like life itself move away, then you have no heart, then the love wasn’t worth it, then it was all surface, like this enormously empty city, once the Family Home for all the Plotniks, but today giving off the stench of a breakfast you already ate, a life you already lived, a home missing some pretty damned wonderful bricks.

On the other hand: BZ is here this weekend and so is PD and family and so is Mummy P and so are Plottie and Duck. Some housekeeper somewhere is cooking bacon and treating this neighborhood of imitation half-and-half to the smell of something real. Life goes on. Braindeads will be here on Monday and Plottie will be there, trying not to think too much about the way things come and go. Because, like baseball, once things have come and gone, they always come back again. You save up Frequent Flier Tickets. You text. You email. You phone. "Bomba" she says, when she picks up the phone, a little older and prettier each time.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Big 'uns

Maybe this fat baby will start to ripen up soon? Never had big'uns before out in the Vast Tomato Acreage, but this year they're here. Wouldn't want Ronald Reagan to know it, but these are Russian heirlooms. Just keep heating up, ol' planet.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Uh Oh Afghanistan Uh Oh

Barack Obama is in Afghanistan and is spouting about how Afghanistan is the most important war we can fight. Does no one remember what happened to the Russians there? Plotnik is concerned, fellow Plotnikkies, that we will exit Iraq and enter Afghanistan in a big way, from which death trap we will never extract ourselves. And they don't even have any oil.

Meanwhile, McCain is running around like a Mickey Mouse wind-up doll shouting "Choose to Lose! Choose to Lose!" but he thinks he's talking about Iraq. Afghanistan will swallow us whole if we're stupid enough to commit major amounts of troops there. That seems to be what's coming, mark Plottie's words.

Remember that Afghanistan only exists because the British established it to be a buffer between India and Russia, to block Russia's route to the sea. It is in the middle of everything, a collection of cultures lumped together. These cultures don't trust each other, and its people treat outsiders as unwanted interlopers.

Osama bin Laden is an unwanted interloper too, but he's a Sunni Muslim, which is a lot better than a Crusader for Christ. He's safe there. We're the ones who have to watch our backs.

Don't listen to the army, Mr. Mickey. Don't listen to the chiefs of the armed services, Mr. O. Use your heads. Compared to the nightmare that Afghanistan could become, Iraq is a burger and a beer. When you exit Iraq, turn West, not East. Use Map Quest if you have to. Shift Control 5 on this computer.


OK, it's a little bit later in the day and here's another way to think about it. It is very easy to say: "Leave Iraq, shore up Afghanistan." It feels less unpatriotic to say that, more like you're really supporting our troops and our country. After all, the Taliban gave a safe haven to Osama bin Laden, and he attacked us, and the Taliban were in Afghanistan, therefore we should be in Afghanistan to protect against a resurgence of the Taliban.

Good men and women, does anyone out there think that American troops can prevent a resurgence of any political or social movement in a foreign country, whether we like it or not? Let's put it another way.

Some significant percentage of Americans will not vote for Barack Obama because he isn't white. Why do they feel that way? There are any number of historical reasons, but the bottom line is they feel that way because they do.

If troops came into every city and onto every farm in America, and gave out free food and jobs and chocolate bars, and tried to build the occasional school, would these actions change the way these people feel?

In 1968, if police had arrested everyone who supported, say, George Wallace, would the people who felt that way have changed their minds? Could it not also be posited that they would simply have hardened their attitudes?

Most importantly, it's 2008. In 2008 it does not take too many hardened crazies like Timmy McVea or the Unibomber to create havoc on this planet. If you cannot stop them with your own police in your own culture, how in the world do you expect to deter them with foreign soldiers who do not even speak the local language?

Bottom line: do we want to occupy the whole world? Do we want to try and be Rome? We could try. Should we?

It is Plotnik's opinion that it is wiser to clean up our own wilderness and give the world an example to follow. We can only waste our fortune and our soldiers, and can gain little short-term and absolutely nothing long-term trying to be peacemakers in Arab or other Muslim lands. Think about that when you hear Mickey and O talking about pouring resources into Afghanistan.

If we have to occupy somewhere, how about Hawaii? They've got beautiful flowers, we could have a parade.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The World is In Motion

Oi, everything and everyone is moving very fast. Last night, Plot and Duck went and saw this show at this place and you could read his review if he'd written it yet, but he hasn't. He will, later, he promises. OK, here it is:

It may happen that the Plotniks end up with two children held hostage on the East Coast, but not against the kids' wills. Also, it may not happen.

It may happen that the Plotniks eat that rasty old pizza for lunch today or run and drown themselves in a bowl of Thom Ka Gai. It looks like the latter.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Creativity and Turmoil

The last week of school in June, the kids at Edison Charter School, once known as Edison Middle School, sketched out these poems in chalk on the playground. Plot first saw them when he came down to play b'ball on Sunday morning, and since there's been so little rain since then, most of the poems are still there. Most are doggerel in squirrely English and all are kind of touching in their way.

But it's summertime. Yesterday morning, when Plot got to the court, he saw what kids do on the schoolyard during the summertime.

They even tagged the basketball backboard. (Sigh) Plotnik wishes he could reach the basketball backboard. He wouldn't even have to spray paint on it to enjoy it.

Plotnik knows it's not the end of the world, it doesn't mean anything, kids will be kids and all that. But it's ugly. It's purpose is to be anti-beautiful, otherwise they'd tag their names or affiliations (or whatever in the world those symbols are supposed to mean) in a more esthetically pleasing way. Please, don't pander and say kids think this is beautiful. Kids are a lot smarter than that and a whole lot more creative.

If this kind of tagging, common world around, reflects a kid's inner turmoil, then what can we expect from their actions?

It doesn't mean anything? Yes it does, dammit, it does.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

How Can Anyone Live in a Place This Beautiful?

The red barn with the tooth on it (Farmer Sam is a dentist), the old white farmhouse surrounded by fruit and nut trees, the grapevines in long, tended rows, 100 acres of freshly mowed fields, a partially open farm gate, the fragrantly sweet old Napa scent of hay, grass and!

Farmer Sam was resplendent in his disco shirt.

Chef Pickle attempted to pull off American Gothic while wearing Plotnik's Barnum and Bailey hat.

Only four Tiaposians actually showed up, plus one Duck. (We now learn Mississippi Motorhead and Leah were there too, but where were they!) Everyone filled their plates enough for everyone else, trust Plottie on that one. FCA Nguyen Feinberg Lopez, Blonde Bombshell, The Great Plotnik and Chef Pickle were forced to represent for everyone.

After dinner, the barn was too packed with people to find a place to actually dance, so The Great Plotnik taught everyone the chicken dance outside. This is an especially popular dance, particularly when you're at a winery and have been at the cabernet for awhile.

The unrecognized person in the first photo, dancing under the moon, is Freddie Fix-it, who won a Blue Ribbon again, this year for his Firehouse Chili and Corn Bread.

This was Plotnik's dinner plate, and includes food only from Table Four. Chef Pickle's fabulous turkey/pork meatballs were in two enormous restaurant trays, but were long gone before the TIAPOS party could get over to Table One. (Plotnik did get there himself, of course. We're talking about the Southeast meatball on his plate, not the two Center-Left meatballs, which were very good, but nowhere near Pickle's.)

This is Nguyen/Feinberg/Lopez's dessert plate and doesn't even include the chocolate/marshmallow nut bars.

It's hard to believe that the food could have been better this year than two years ago, but it was. There were hundreds of plates of food, all different. By far, the most beautiful presentation Plotnik has ever seen was this one: roasted peaches, tomatoes, tiny squashes and various flowers in a balsamic vinaigrette. It was beyond delicious too. That pound cake tasted as good as it looked.

Turkey, ham, blackberry cobbler.

Plotnik even won a Blue Ribbon for his orange/olive/sweet onion salad, but didn't take a picture until it was almost gone.

As the sun was setting, it was time to rest on a sofa or take a little walk on the farm and see the lanterns strung in and out of the vineyard, hear the music in the distance and think for a moment how wonderful it is to be part of a night like this. Thanks, Farmer Sam, you're the best.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Farmer Sam's Party is Tonight.

Farmer Sam's party is tonight. But first:

'Not a Genuine Black Man,' playing for only one more week as a benefit to allow the Marsh Theater to buy new seats and finally put those old red ones back on the crosstown buses they ripped them out of, is funny and thought-provoking to be sure, but is even better when you consider that Brian Copeland, it's writer and solo performer, has come off of spinal surgery to honor his commitment to the Marsh. You can read San Francisco Theater Blog's review of 'Not a Genuine Black Man' here, but the benefit only runs for four more shows.

Back to the party. The Great Plotnik, The Great Ducknik, The Great Domin-Nik and J-Whacky, Blonde Bombshell, Famous Children's Book Author Nguyen Feinberg Lopez, Mississippi Motorhead and Leah are all going to Sam's gala every-other-midsummer Party tonight. Chef Pickle will be there. Plotnik is bringing a naval orange/sweet onion/cured black olive salad for 20. Upwards of a hundred people bring a dish for 20, and not just any dish but their best dish. This is the Food Event of the year. Dinner, dancing and hanging out at a beautiful vineyard where dreams are born. These pictures are from two years ago.

OK, it's true: Plotnik went and got these old photos so he could remember what shirt not to wear this year. The TIAPOS women are getting to him. Mush and Dance-Nik, we'll miss you.