The Great Plotnik

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Jock-Cheerleader-Brain Trust Ruling Axis Parts 4 and 5

 4: Speedy

No one recognizes anyone at fiftieth reunions. I had studied our yearbook but in the flesh I was unable to pick off anyone at first glance. People recognized me right away though. Ha! This is such a lie. I should have made it easier for the astigmatized and cataract-ridden class of 1963 by stapling my name tag to my forehead.

But who can blame them? I had sprinted out of Encino faster than Usain Bolt. I was running from everything in those days, from Addie and Speedy and Marisol and my mom and my family and my house and my friends and my lame L.A. life inside the vacuum-sealed pouch. I played no favorites. I ran from happy and good and I ran from miserable and bad. I ran from Jews and Baptists and oranges and canyons and cars and beaches. My UC friends became my new people. Anyone from home was a waste of my precious time.

Except for Speedy. We called him Speedy for the same reason that seven foot tall lumberjacks are called Tiny. Speedy was the slowest person who ever lived, and that saved us. He couldn't keep up, so I couldn't get away from him. He never got it. He couldn't tell I wanted out. So with Speedy, I had no choice. I stayed in. We were friends from Ninth Grade until that stroke on the freeway.

(DAK: #42. Speedy: bottom photo, third from left on top.)

Speedy and I played basketball together for decades after High School. He did what others have never attempted: he took basketball (a fast game) and turned it into Freeze Tag (a slow game).

I have passed him the basketball. He has his back turned to the basket and there is a defender behind him, knees flexed, arms raised, in defensive position. Every other basketball player on Earth, within a very few seconds, will jump, or feint, or shoot the ball, or pass it, or dribble it, or at the very least let out a stream of trash talk.

Speedy stands in one spot, not moving. Someone must have shouted "Freeze!" The defender is flummoxed. He can't guess what Speedy is going to do, because Speedy isn't going to do anything. Ten seconds pass, twenty seconds pass. The defender throws down his hands and says "Come On!" which is the same as "UnFreeze!" Speedy grins, steps back and takes that stupid looking Wilt Chamberlain fall away jump shot. Bip! He never misses.

How can someone who moves so slow have a stroke?

When Speedy died I was a mess. I flew down to Las Vegas where they buried him, God knows why, because Speedy was also the world's slowest and worst gambler. It would take him all night to put one quarter in a slot machine. I told his weeping fourteen year old that her daddy was the best friend anyone could ever have. She thanked me. I promised to keep up with her. I lied. I run from the dead. Sometimes, I look at myself and wonder who pulled my heart from my ribcage and replaced it with a deflated hot air balloon?

5: Old Flames Should Never Die

The Delirian 1963 class reunion the other night was weird. No one welcomed us, no one gave a speech, no one took the time to prepare a thing. I had prepared something. I would have spoken. No one asked me. I waited for things to kick off. They never did.

Maybe that was because so few people came. None of the women who were beautiful in 1963 showed up. They most likely are not beautiful now or they'd have hired a limo and made an appearance. The working class kids didn't come either. Maybe they had as little contact with the Jock-Cheerleader axis as I had, or, I suppose, it's possible they were still working class and couldn't spare the $100 bucks each for two kinds of steam table pasta and a seafood risotto that tasted of the sea (The Dead Sea). But nobody ate it so they can serve it to the Cesarians 1963 reunion in August.

But I got a text this morning from Marty W. the overseas principal. I always liked Marty. His dad worked with Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and Sylvester the Cat. I ran away from him too, until Friday. But we will be friends again. I enjoyed talking to Mike Y., the non-religious Israeli, and both Darbara and I liked Joyce Q. the photographer, and I was happy to see Darb thought Addie was fun. But kI will not encourage Addie, lips or no lips. Her lengthy recitation of every boyfriend she had had since first grade was not only exhaustive but, I thought, distasteful, since I was but a blip between Al and Joel or maybe it was Ed and Clint.

But I think this was bravado on her part. During dinner, while I talked with Mike Y. on my right, I could feel Addie's eyes on me from the left. Right before dessert I walked over and kneeled down next to her.

"Why did you break it off with me?" she whispered.

After all these years, still?

So I told her what I remembered about her scary parents. It's true they had unnerved me, but that was only part of it. Marisol had been right. I had felt unchallenged by Addie. And she was tied to "Here." I was hurtling towards "There" and the rocket was ready to blast off.

But I didn't tell Addie that. We all try to keep the memory of our old flames alive. They remind us of when we were beautiful. I knew what Addie wanted to hear. I blamed it on her crazy dad.

"So it was my father," she said, placing her hand on my hand. "I'm really happy to hear you say that." She was trying not to cry. "I always thought Marisol was right. That I...wasn't smart enough or...pretty enough...for you."

"Addie, I was crazy about you," I said.

"I was crazy about you," she said. We both might have been lying. But we slept better that night. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Jock-Cheerleader-Brain Trust Ruling Axis: Part Three

The Jock-Cheerleader-Brain Trust Ruling Axis

Part 3: Prom Picture

Luci H. married Mel K. and became a multi-billionaire. Fred Z. became an organic farmer. Mike Y. moved to a kibbutz in Israel. Jack S. became a high school counselor and Marty W. an overseas high school principal. Mike B. went to Vietnam and served 13 months in the Mekong Delta. He hated it so much he reenlisted for four more months of combat just to get out of the army faster. Bob N. sells real estate. Joyce Q. is a photographer. She married Aaron D., a director we've all heard of, and lives in Portland.  Marsha W. kept her posture and Joan H. still couldn't remember my name and Addie never lost her soft lips.

Richard S. was Class President. He died a year after graduation. Casey C., the Head Cheerleader, was killed in a head-on-collision on the 101 even before and unidentified internal rot killed Richard. Casey and Richard were Prom Queen and Prom King and neither made it to twenty-one. Their prom picture still breaks my heart. 

And Bill P., our valedictorian, died last week from pancreatic cancer. The Delirian Jock-Cheerleader-Brain Trust Ruling Axis is not wearing well.

Tomorrow: Speedy

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Jock-Cheerleader-Brain Trust Ruling Axis

Part 2: Luci and Ray

People are afraid of High School reunions. The Tenth is OK, because nobody expects much of you yet. By the Twentieth your youthful good looks are receding with your hairline. Women are already coloring their hair. Guys are holding in their guts. You are supposed to have begun achieving.

By the Twenty-Fifth you need name tags. By the Thirtieth you can't read the name tags and the Fortieth gets worse. Hair, followed by skin, followed by teeth. Alcoholism. Serious diseases. You might be dead. If not, your career has hit its peak. You have written the best song you'll ever write. You stopped listening to music. Pretty soon you'll start going on cruises.

But Fifty is cool: we made it! We graduated from High School and were thrown into the ocean of life. Fifty years later we have washed up on this island with a bartender. Not all of us -- but enough of us. It's an accomplishment. 

Of course, when you first get the emails from the Planning Committee you think: Are you kidding? Do I want to be in a room with a bunch of sixty-seven and sixty-eight year olds? No Fucking Way!

But then -- you're at the Marriott -- your wife has dressed you -- your old girl friend has kissed you -- your friends remember you -- and you find that when you are surrounded by your classmates you are seventeen and eighteen again. 

I had hoped Luci K. would come. She's in the picture above, on the bottom, along with the guy she eventually married. I really liked her.

I was the youngest kid in our class, so the Delirian 1963 women were beyond unapproachable. They wanted guys with cars. But it was possible younger girls might -- might -- find us older men enticing.

Luci K. was Luci H. then. She was in the class behind me. She was beautiful but not scary, sharp but not biting. When I would pass her in the hall she would smile. Smile! A Buckingham girl!

I had discovered soul music. Sam Cooke and Barbara Lewis started me off and Ray Charles sealed the deal. In eleventh grade Ray came to town. He and the Raelettes were going to play at the Shrine Auditorium downtown, so I took baby-sitting money and bought two tickets, anguished for a week, then finally found the courage to phone Luci and ask her to come with me to see Ray at the Shrine.

She said yes.

The Shrine was not a place that kids from Buckingham High went. Our city was not Jackson, Mississippi or Montgomery, Alabama, but there were white schools and black schools, white music and black music, white radio stations and black radio stations, white neighborhoods and black neighborhoods, white churches and black churches. There was only one law and it was unwritten: "You? Here. You? There."

The Hollywood Bowl was "Here." El Monte Legion Stadium was "There." (Mexicans.) The Shrine Auditorium was not only "There" (Negroes) but I would have to borrow my Mom's car and could under no circumstances tell her where I was going.

It was enough to tell her Luci was Jewish. At least, I guessed she was. She had molten eyes. She was prettier than the other Jewish girls, but her last name, "H.," seemed to imply Eastern European origins. It was enough for my mother so it worked for me. I told Mom we were going to the movies. 

Neither Luci nor I had any idea what we were getting into. The Shrine was Central L.A.'s Apollo Theater. A concert there was an exploding color wheel. I never realized how beige my world had been up to now. People wore orange dresses and green suits. They were on their feet screaming long before the Ray Charles Orchestra fired them up even further. Then, when Ray walked out and exploded right into "What'd I Say" the building launched heavenward, the hard old wooden seats turned into trampolines, the sound system assassinated Pat Boone and the Crewcuts, the Jewish downbeat soul-mogrified into the Baptist Backbeat, one and three became two and four, and I discovered God.

My, it felt good to be alive. On my feet and freshly baptized into the Church of Righteous Ray, I looked down to see Luci still clutching her purse. I held out my hand and she put her purse into her left hand and her right hand into mine.  She stood up. But the song was almost over.

Timing has never been my strong suit and in those days Ray sometimes needed to get backstage in a hurry. The concert ended just as he, the Raelettes and I had gotten Luci to her feet. She and I held hands walking back to our car, but that may have been because she was terrified.

All the way home, up the Harbor Freeway, out the Hollywood Freeway, onto the Ventura Freeway, off on Havenhurst and up Balboa Boulevard towards Luci's house, we said nothing. I couldn't speak because I was working frantically on my move to kiss her goodnight at her door. All that music, and the holding hands, and the long drive, and the bond I had felt with Luci, in no small part because she was the only girl in our school who would be willing to drive with me from "Here" to "There," paled before the potential prospect of me bending to kiss her and her turning away.

She made it easy for me. We got to her house, I parked the car, and before I could get out to open her door she leaned over in the front seat and pecked me on the cheek, said "thanks, I had fun," opened the car door and walked quickly up her walkway towards her front door. She opened the door with her key, turned and waved, went inside and shut the door.

Busted. The bills were all due and the baby needed shoes and I was busted. Cotton was down to a quarter a pound and I was busted.

Still, I had peered over the mountain and glimpsed "There." Now I was back in Van Nuys which could scarcely be more "Here." I hated "Here."

"C'mon Baby, don't you treat me wrong
Come and love your daddy all night long, ahh huh.
What'd I Say?
All right.
Uh huh."

Easy for Ray to say.

Tomorrow: Part Three: The Jock-Cheerleader-Brain Trust Ruling Axis

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Jock-Cheerleader-Brain Trust Ruling Axis, Part One

This story was filed from the San Fernando Vally'nzuela by Dak Dumbutton, Great Plotnik High School Reunion Correspondent.

The Jock-Cheerleader-Brain Trust Ruling Axis

Part One: Kiss Fifty

It was a small High School Reunion on a Friday night, in a hotel party room with seven round tables on one side set with white tablecloths and linen napkins, and a small bar in the middle with one bartender in a red Marriott jacket standing behind it. Someone had hung a banner on the wall that said "Delirians 1963."

I handed my drink ticket to the bartender. His tip cup was plastic and cracked on one side. I stuck a dollar in it.

"Cold beer?" I said.

"Yes sir," he said, reaching into a bucket for a Heineken and setting it on the bar after removing the cap.

"Thanks," I nodded and turned to my right. I had been conscious of a small woman in a white dress standing next to me at the bar but hadn't seen her face yet, and anyway, after not setting eyes on any of these people in the fifty years since we'd all graduated from Buckingham High, seeing faces meant nothing. It was all about name tags.

I turned, she said "You're here!" and reached her arms around my neck and kissed me. I had spent the last half hour wondering why I'd bothered coming to this stupid reunion in the first place, but now, as the kiss continued, I was conscious of two things:

One, I still hadn't seen who it was, but

Two, I remembered these lips. They were a little soft, maybe I'd call them chewy? and filled me with a kind of well-being, a special old-timey taste from back home, one I clearly hadn't forgotten.

I knew my wife was standing there but I was into this kiss. "Mmmm," the little woman murmured. My arms were around her waist now and I might have pulled her a little closer. I knew who it had to be, but I needed to be sure. So I broke away and stared at her face, doing what everyone in the room had been doing all night long -- a long smile of non-recognition, then a furtive, slashing glance at the name tag we had all attached to our shirts or blouses.

"Addie!" I said. "Dang, it's good to see you."

"I'd hoped you'd come," she said and laughed as she encircled my neck with her arms again. "I'm glad my husband isn't here."

"Uh huh," I said.

"Twenty seven years, two kids," she said.

"I was looking at your picture last night in the Yearbook," I said.

"You were?" she said, smiling that pretty smile that was the first thing I'd noticed about her, back when she wore a headband and was rounder too, very pleasantly so. Now, she was exercise-class thin.

"Yes," I said. "I was showing my wife pictures of the people I had hoped would come to the reunion tonight."

"Your wife?" she said.

"Yes, she's Darbra, this is Adeline. Addie."

Darb had been watching this kiss, in amazement, along with the bartender, who had shook his head and mixed her a powerful gin-and-tonic. Darb shook Addie's hand. I could she hadn't matched Addie's face to the stories I had told her, about Addie's mom who was so disabled that she lived in a box they kept on the sofa in the front room, about her father who would lurch into the room and scream hateful obscenities at the mom in the box, like "why the hell do you just lie there, DAMMIT woman, get UP," the father who one day filled up my mom's '59 Chevy convertible with water from his garden hose while I walked inside to pick up his daughter for a date.

And I hadn't remembered to match Addie's photo to her lips, the ones I had spent a lot of time memorizing in the months after we graduated, before the night she set up a double date at the beach, the two of us plus her best friend Marisol and my best friend Speedy. I had forgotten all this. I had forgotten that was how I met Marisol, a high school beauty who became my girl friend for several years, the one I threw Addie over for, the one my family was sure I would marry, the one who followed me up to Berkeley the year afterwards, first telling Addie she was going to marry me before the year was out. Until the reunion I didn't know any of that, and I didn't know Marisol had also told Addie that I had broken up with her because she was too stupid for me. I winced when Addie told me that. 

Eventually I ran from Marisol too. But that was later, when I was running from everybody.

Darb hadn't met Addie before the reunion, but she had met Marisol, in New York, and she also met Carly, the geneticist I ran into in Mexico the summer before Marisol arrived in Berkeley. Carly replaced Marisol and inadvertently paved the way for Darb, because my parents hated the ultra-Catholic Carly so much that a beautiful, professional and classy woman like Darb, who though not Jewish was also not anorexic, sounded like a deal, knowing their son, that they had better grab onto. 

Darb actually enjoyed talking to Addie. I enjoyed kissing her. My wife was the prettiest woman in the room and I didn't look so bad either. And there you have my Fiftieth High School Reunion.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Yellow Rose of Lexus

OK, it's a bad pun, but these yellow roses are huge, and they're fragrant too. The problem is the rose bush itself is also huge, too huge for the garden. But it's doing well, and roses almost never do well in the summer fog, so it stays. And you can't beat the bouquets.

The Padron peppers are doing well too, in their tubs down in the garden and up on the top deck.  In Spain they say you get upwards of 100 peppers per plant. Here we'll be lucky to get one meal, but it'll be a great meal. Plot and Duck ate Padron peppers almost every day in Spain, sauteed in olive oil and dusted with sea salt, and still never got enough. 

It's an alstroemeria year.  White, pink, red, yellow, short and tall, the garden is filled. If we deadhead them, they'll keep producing until the heat of summer. What heat of summer? I mean, until August.

This picture has alstros plus baby's breath and lobelia (white) and columbine (purple) in the foreground, plus some reddish fuscia in the back. The Monster Yellow Rose is towering in the center background.

As always, Crystal Kitten keeps watch on the bumblebees and hummers, pollinating busily at this time of year.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Next Week: Jocks and Cheerleaders. Today: Extremely Loud

Dak Dumbutton's 50th High School Reunion Story, entitled "The Jock-Cheerleader-Brain Trust Ruling Axis" is finished. We will start posting it on Monday, one chapter per day for five days.


Meanwhile, Plot and Duck found "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" on Direct TV last night. We have so many movie channels we can't even find them all. We'll have them until whatever super-package-come-on offer they gave us runs out. In the meantime, this Jonathan Safran Foer story, which was one of Plotnik's favorite books of all time, is perhaps even more powerful as a movie. What a tear-jerker. Tom Hanks is in it, but only peripherally. The movie belongs to the astonishing child actor Thomas Horn, as well as Max von Sydow and Sandra Bullock.

But if you read reviews of this film, which has supposedly received the worst reviews ever for a film nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture of the Year, you'd think it was a self-serving, gratuitous and heartless piece of garbage. It is, in fact, life-affirming, brilliant and heartbreaking. What could so many reviewers have seen, or not seen, to give them such a visceral negative reaction? How could so many people miss the entire point of this wonderful movie?

The Great Plotnik is a reviewer himself, so he understands being on the outside looking in, but that is generally true only when the reviewer's particular button gets pushed. In Plotnik's case, that button would be movies or plays where children are killed. Dead kids, or the threat of it? That's it, crap movie. No exceptions.

But what is the button here for so many people?

Have you seen it? Which alternate universe is Plotnik in?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

MM-G is in Town

MM-G, formerly known as MM-SF, is in town for a week. Last night we took advantage of the beautiful weather to go to the Cliffhouse for dessert, after having dinner at the Beach Chalet. The sun is deceiving. When we stepped out of the car to go in to the restaurants, the wind just about blew us out to sea. But man, we are lucky to live in this gorgeous place.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


The wind has been heavier than ever this year. It makes you think this will be our loss when global warming really gets going. That heat out in the central valley is rising and the hotter it gets the harder it pulls the summer ocean air across the city. It's only May and Plot can't ride his bike in the afternoon any more, only in the morning. It can start to blow at noon -- unheard of in the old days, except as a rarity. This year there has been a lot of that -- tree branch-breaking wind all day and well into the evening.

The weather is still great, but that wind -- well, it makes you wonder.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Reunion Story - Almost

The Great Plotnik received a posting this morning from  Dak Dumbbutton, his High School Reunion Correspondent (seen above in lower left). This story cannot be posted yet, out of respect to Dumbbutton's entire family, to say nothing of all those mentioned, with photos. These reactions are possible:

1) "Dadddd!"

2) "Dude!"

3) "Papa? Did you really kiss that girl?"

4) "I will murder you."

5) "I just love your new story!"

One of these reactions is less probable than the others. Some proofing will be done first and perhaps a run past TIAPOS. So you'll all just have to wait and see.


Suffice it to say that The Great Plotnik enjoyed his 50th High School reunion 27% more than he expected to. A few moments were more enjoyable than others, a few others less so. Nobody recognized anyone. It made Plotnik wonder what happens at High School reunions in Afghanistan? For all the recognizing of old faces going on the other night, we could all have been wearing burkhas.

"Is that you in there Ed?"

A few classmates were even nicer than Plotnik remembered. He and Duck enjoyed them and will hopefully spend time with them in the future.

The rest still deserve to be institutionalized and their brains cloned for the "Earth, San Fernando Valley 1963" exhibit at the Martian Museum of Art.

Not many came. Two categories conspicuously missing were Overweight Women and Bankrupt Men. No cheerleaders. No varsity football players. Few gentiles, but since there were no cheerleaders or varsity football players, this should not be surprising.

No teachers. Nobody asked them.

No speeches. Nobody said a word about anything. It could have been a cocktail party to celebrate the birth of a hamster.

But it was great to see Marty, and Mike, and Joyce, and Andi.

Maybe you'll read the story soon.

Friday, May 17, 2013


So here we go, down to Stiletto City for The Great Plotnik's High School Reunion with the Big 0 on the end. He got out his yearbook the other night and leafed through it, trying to remember who his friends were.

He remembered a few people. But the truth is that Plot was one of those guys who couldn't wait to get out of high school and get on with his life, to slip away from the world in which he was brought up. He's probably still running, though these days he does get curious, from time to time, about what happened to whom. Did classmates go to Vietnam? Did anyone do anything interesting with their lives? What about the pretty girls, most of whom Plotnik never had the courage to talk to?

In High School Plot thought of himself as a sort-of jock, but not a football jock. No cheerleaders were included with second string basketball players. He was the youngest kid in his class, so he always felt a little awkward socially, which he made up for (in his mind) by being a little bit weird.

But normal seemed weird. Getting in someone's car, finding someone to buy beer, then drinking the beer while riding around and yelling out the window, and eventually having to clean someone's barf off the seat covers -- this was normal, but it was never too attractive.

Discovering soul music -- that was weird. Driving to South Stiletto to hear music and feel a little more alive -- that was weird.

Plot's stepdad died as Plottie was entering High School, and the Chief came along later. Schmeckl was already away at college, so during most of high school it was Mummy P. and Plotnik. Plottie felt a responsibility to his mom that has never really left his shoulders, but it got easier once she married the Chief before Plottie's last semester.

The yearbook -- why can't he remember people? Well, doofus, that's because you didn't have very many friends, remember?

He's been to several of Ducknik's reunions, but she loved high school and had tons of friends. Still, Plottie's observation of those reunions is that they are parties thrown by the once-popular kids for the once-popular kids. The social pecking order is still prominent.

But the thing is, Plotnik was so clueless he's not even sure who the most popular kids at Birmingham High School were. In the yearbook he sees that the photos are all of the same bunch of people. Most Popular, Best Dancer, Most Likely to Succeed, Class President, Class Secretary, Head Cheerleader. Different photos of the same kids. It will probably still be the same, except for the valedictorian -- a really nice guy who just died of pancreatic cancer. So there's that too.

Plotnik will take the yearbook to Stiletto tonight, to see if he recognizes anyone or anyone recognizes him. He was dreading it before but he's not now. He already paid his money. A hundred bucks each for chicken or fish.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cousin SeattleMom-Mouls.

Couldn't figure out how to use up the mahmoul filling from last week. Then Cousins SeattleMom and SeattleDad came to town. Cousin SeattleMom KNOWS what to do with cookie fillings. End result: these wonderfully fat little crescents, 'way 'way 'way better than original mahmoul and probably one fifth as caloric (3T of butter instead of 1 1/4 C, for example).

These cookies will become a mainstay of the Plotnik Dessert Table and are hereafter referred to as Cousin SeattleMom-Mouls. Many thanks to the Seattles.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Brother Jimmy Street drove up from SoCal to see his daughter Rebecca at UC Santa Cruz, so he just kept on coming afterwards and stayed a few days with Plot and Duck. The Bro has been out at sea on cruise ships long enough now that terrestrial pleasures mean a lot to him -- a great cup of coffee or dim sum at Koi Palace, for example.

Plot had been thinking of putting a trumpet figure on "American Joe," but since Bro Street was here we decided to try the idea on tenor and alto sax. WHAT a good idea! 

Method: alto on top, doubled. Then tenor at the top of its range in the middle, and tenor at the bottom of its range on the bottom, sounding very much like a baritone sax.

Plot loves horn sections. Horns give you the same indescribable sense that voices do -- music that comes from the body. When you play a horn or a wind instrument you blow what's inside you out into the world. Same with your voice -- whatever you're feeling flies directly into the microphone.

Not so on a piano or guitar -- there are those pesky strings and keys and hammers in the way. It's more brain, less guts. Not that Plottie doesn't love guitar and piano, after all these are his instruments. But blowing a horn or singing like a bird -- well, maybe in the next life.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mother's Day Weekend and a Disturbing Photo Exhibit

Saturday was the Snowy Valley Garden Tour -- Plot bought a ticket and went by himself. He got to see eight local gardens, of which several were gems. The best thing about these once-a-year tours is you get to see what's in back of the houses you can usually only see from the front. The great views are always from the back. Yards are small but people do a lot with them.

Sunday was Mother's Day. Ducknik heard from her kids and then off we went to the De Young in Golden Gate Park to see the "Girl With the Pearl Earring" Dutch masterpieces exhibit. It was fabulous. Rembrandt, Vermeer, Franz many artists painting at the same time during the height of the brilliant Dutch renaissance of the first half of the 17th Century. wasn't all gardens and flowers and girls with pearl earrings.  Plot and Duck got to the museum early. So while they were waiting for the docent tour they walked into a most disturbing and disheartening photo exhibit by Kael Alford and Thorne Anderson, two American photo journalists who chose not to be embedded with American troops in Iraq, but to instead have the courage to wander around and take uncensored photos from 2002 through around 2006.

The photo quality and the amount of sensitivity that went into these photos is remarkable. But how can any American look at these photos without feeling sick to his stomach? Plotnik hates being the bad guy. Descriptions and photos of "shock and awe," for example, in which the idea was to bomb civilian areas for fifty days in order to rid the country of Saddam's highest-ranked generals, but which in fact missed their target every single time and killed not one high-ranking official but instead took out civilians, men, women and children, as well as their homes and villages, were really hard to look at.

What a terrible pity. No, you can't say "hey, war is war." This was not war. This was slaughter. There was no enemy in these homes, only people trying to live their lives. They had no defense against missiles and fighter planes. Some hated Saddam, some didn't. Most didn't care one way or the other.

Just like us. Most people I know disliked George Bush, but like him or not like him, we wouldn't have wanted China to bomb us to get rid of him.

The official photographers embedded with American troops were not allowed to take any of these photos, so we never saw them. Civilians had to be called "enemy combatants" or "insurgents." The horror of this exhibit is not in the art, which is astonishing, but in the sickening reality of what our government chose to do to these people.

And for what? The answer, no matter how much of a hawk you might be, can only be: we did it just because we could. George W. Bush, you can add this statement to your worthless museum.

Oh, right. This was about Mother's Day. Shoot. I did it again.

We did have a delicious Mother's Day dinner.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Tough Times

TIAPOS was fun last night, even though some of the readings were difficult. Once, everyone was younger. We wrote lighthearted stories, funny and heartwarming. Now several TIAPOSIANS have had intimate relationships with disease. These poems and stories are not lighthearted. They stab us where we live. It is never easy to separate the work from the person who wrote it.

It's easier to make a joke or shoot a video about your cat. Plot's heart goes out to his friends who are suffering, and he is grateful to them for writing as honestly as they do about the things we all wish we could hide away from.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

The Basket of Love

The Basket of Love is $39.99, the Mother's Embrace is $44.99, the Mother's Devotion (with charm) is $49.99, the Home is Where the Heart Is is $59.99 and they go up from there. Plotnik is always complaining that email has become a giant advertising opportunity, but he will admit he likes to be reminded by Conroy's Flowers to remember Mummy P.'s bouquet.

When Ducknik spoke with her last night, she said "I hope you have a fun Mother's Day and I hope I have one too."

Plot and Duck will be down there the following weekend to see Mummy P., but also to see Bluto and Dipfart. Plotnik is dreading his High School Reunion with the 0 on the end. He doesn't know why he's going, except he figures he will be one of the few with hair and without a transplant.

He has been trying to remember his classmates' names. The problem is he didn't even know them then. Plot was one of those people who would have done double shifts to get high school over with faster. Having been to Ducknik's 50th, he knows how these things work -- the kids who were in charge then are the geezers who are in charge now. The party is for them and about them.

Except for Bill, our Valedictorian, who just died from pancreatic cancer. That's the other part.

Mummy P. has got to be one of the last members of her 1932 high school graduating class. It's a victory, of sorts.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Making Mahmoul (Part Two)

(For the first installment of Making Mahmoul, see Mahmoul Part One )

The Great Plotnik returned home with his en'babla (pistachios), his s'meed (semolina), his mahlab, his mahmoul mold and powdered sugar on his upper lip.

Having watched all the videos, he knew the production of the mahmouls would require several hands. The Duck was busy painting the bedroom in a color called "Quiet Moments," and you don't mess with Duck when she is painting, it doesn't matter if it's Quiet Moments (gray) or Santorini Sunrise (beige) or New Orleans Hot Sauce (red).

Who names these colors? Every company has its own names. Benjamin Moore's "Soft Summer" looks pretty much the same as Kelly Moore's "Chamber Music" -- that is, off-white. In the end, it's all off-red or off-white.

Plotnik would like to be the guy who names the colors.

"Hello. I have to paint my fence. What do you suggest?"

"For fences, we always recommend the Wilson Pickett."

At Great Plotnik World Headquarters, Plot is not allowed to paint, the legacy of stepping in two roller pans full of Canary in the Coal Mine (yellow) in the New York days. But the kitchen is his.

Needing helpers, Plot called next door to get Brother (not his real name), age 6, and Sister (not her real name), age 7. He could hear them screaming over the phone. "Yes! Yes!"

They arrived promptly. "Are your hands clean?" Plot asked.

"Mine are," Brother said. Plot looked at Brother's hands. They were caked with mud. "Better wash them again," he said. "Yes," Brother said. "They're really not very clean."

"Can we have some cookies?" Sister said.

"Not yet. We have to bake them first."

"What kind are they?"

"They are butter cookies with a pistachio, walnut and honey filling."

"I don't like nuts," said Sister.

"I don't like nuts," said Brother.

"Why don't you like nuts?" Plotnik said. "Nuts are delicious. Don't you like pecan pie?"

"Are pecans nuts?" Brother said, "because if they are I don't like them."

"Our real dad is allergic to nuts," Sister said, "so we figure it's better not to like them too."

"Our friends don't eat them," Brother said. "You can get sick."

"But…do YOU have an allergy to nuts? And what about peanuts? Don't you like peanut butter?"

"Peanuts are legumes," said Sister. Her parents are both scientists.

"Can we have chocolate?" Brother said. "I like chocolate."

"Me too," said Sister.

"Let's get set up," said Plotnik.

He had already made the dough and the filling and placed them in separate bowls. He set the bowls and the other fixings on the dining table where the kids could reach.

"Here's what we do," he said. "I'll make one myself first and show you. Now, one person has to form the dough into a ball, like this, and then stick his or her finger into it to make a hole."

"Me! Me!" said Brother.

"The next person takes around this much filling and stuffs it into the hole, like this, then closes it over with dough.

"Me! Me!" said Sister.

"The next person puts it into the mahmoul mold, like this, flattens it out, like this, then taps it on the cutting board until the filled and shaped cookie falls out, like this."

"Me! Me!" said Brother.

"You're already doing the dough and sticking your finger in it," Sister reminded him.

The thought balloon above her head said "Listen little dweeb, you've already got a job and you're lucky we're even allowing you in this house,"

"But,'re sticking the filling in and closing them up," said Brother.

His thought balloon said "One of these days, Alice. POW! Right in the kisser!"

Plotnik said "Why don't I start out doing this job? Then we can switch later. Oh. One more thing."

He got out two cookie sheets and a stick of butter. "Here, Brother.  Take this butter and grease the cookie sheets."

Brother narrowed his eyes. "D'you mean…I get to rub butter all over that?"

"Lucky!" said Sister, but she didn't really want to have anything to do with rubbing butter. Sister is focused. She will be a scientist like her mom. She was calculating exactly how many grams of walnut-pistachio-honey mixture it would take to fill each hole. You could see her little laser brain spinning.

"If I take this much it would suffice, IF my BROTHER weren't making the holes. They will be all different sizes. He is such a PUTZ. Why did he get invited anyway? Boys mess up everything. I think I'll suffocate him tonight in his sleep. But if I do that Mom will be mad. Oh. I have an idea, "

Sister sister-bumped Brother and knocked him to the side. Brother's jaw dropped and his eyes got wide.


Sister smiled like DiAnda, The Angel of Pastry.

"OK," Plotnik said. "Let's get going."

"Don't you (sniff) have any (sniff) chocolate?" Brother said.

The assembly line began. Brother ripped off a handful of dough and was about to throw it at Sister.

"That's too much," said Plotnik. "Roll it in your palms like this."

Brother rolled it in his palms and when the dough turned into a perfect little ball he smiled excitedly.

"Oooh," he said.

"Now stick your finger into it." He did that. It was perfect. He handed it to Sister, who was suitably impressed.

The kids' stepdad Papi (not his real name) walked in. "Look at Brother's mahmoul," Plotnik said.

"Allah Akhbar!" said Papi. 

Brother did very well, except when he got bored and tried to make one large cookie out of the half of the batter that was left. That was a signal for the kids to switch jobs.

Sister is a big sister so she thinks she has hereditary rights. She pushed Brother out of the way. Brother is the little brother so he started to whine.

"She pushed me! Waa aaaa aaaaa, Sister pushed me!"

Sister was already forming dough with her hands, and whistling.

Brother mounted an attack, rushing at her and trying to push her away. She brushed him away with controlled disdain, staring at Plotnik and smiling, as if to say "these little gnats you have in your kitchen. They are so bothersome."

"Brother, why don't you fill the cookies for awhile?" Plotnik said.

"Can I have some milk?" he said.

"Can I have some too?" said Sister.

Plotnik got them each a cup of milk. They drank it. That seemed to work. Now, they switched jobs and in less than half an hour all the mahmouls were sitting on greased cookie tins to go into the oven at 375 for twenty-five minutes.

"Can I lick the bowl?" Brother said.

Plotnik would have said "of course" to Isabella or to Desmond (their real names), but Papi was standing there. He and his wife Mapi (not her real name) have asked Plotnik not to give either of their kids anything to eat during the day because then they won't eat their dinner.

"I don't know," he said. "What would your mom say?"

"What WOULD your mom say?" Papi said.

"My mom is not here," Sister pointed out.

"She wouldn't mind. She lets us eat as much sugar as we want," Brother said.

Papi laughed. Plottie laughed too. "Really?" Plotnik said.

"I like sugar," said Brother. "Is sugar really bad for you?"

"Brussels sprouts are bad for you," Plotnik said.

When the mahmoul came out of the oven, Sister wouldn't touch them, but Brother ate one. He licked his lips.

"I don't like nuts," Brother said. "But I do like cookies."