Sunday mornings on the patio

by Lorin Michel Monday, June 18, 2012 1:13 AM

This father's day started with a text message from one of Kevin's programmers, wishing him a nice day. It was 9 am. It had actually started for us as early as midnight since we were still up, just finishing a movie. Normally we have trouble staying up past 11, but we were engrossed in The Help, a movie I had long wanted to see having read the book. Kevin had no desire, but he thoroughly enjoyed it, so much so that we talked about it afterward and then started looking up people who had been in it. We were surprised to find, for instance, that Cicely Tyson was only 78. We had another glass of wine, surfed around a bit, and then finally went to bed around 1.

This morning was warm and lovely, typical of June in Southern California. We took our cantaloupe and watermelon, our respective cups of coffee and the newspaper and settled at the table under the patio cover. The sun was still low in the sky though it was climbing steadily. It spit streams of itself through the trees and down through the slats in the cover. Because it was still early, there wasn't yet a breeze. Birds, perhaps the same ones from the other unfortunately early morning, were hopping through the grass and along the dirt near the wall. A hummingbird buzzed near the azaleas. In the corner, the Squire sat observing as he munched on something I couldn't see.

From inside the house, music played, an ambient blend of new age Celtic, perfect for a Sunday morning. That was the only sound. There were no children screaming, no basketballs dribbling, no motorcycle roars. At 10, the bells from nearby St. Max's catholic church chimed. It was actually lovely in the stillness, hopeful yet haunting. The newspaper fluttered, just the edge, as the breeze kicked up a notch. Slowly, the air began to fill with the normal sounds of the day. Cars, dogs, the squeals of children, the shouts of teens. A car went by and another. A sleepy Sunday morning was turning into a lazy Sunday filled with dads and kids and families.

We sat on the patio a while longer. It was strange to be just us. Justin hasn’t been here for Father’s Day in years though we always hear from him. But this was the first without Maguire. He always picked out the best cards, both for Father’s and Mother’s day. It was lonelier. Quieter. A little sad. But it made us remember how special he was, what a good furry son he had been for 15 years.

Kevin went to get us some more coffee and I thought about my own father, Terry, who’s been gone for ten years now. I still don’t always know how to live in a world where my dad doesn’t, but I’m learning. I miss calling him; I miss his voice.

Kevin’s dad, Tom, has been gone even longer. His dad died in early 1993. Still on Father’s Day I don’t think it’s possible to not think of your dad, regardless of how long he’s been gone. It’s impossible not to wonder how different life might be if he was still around. The different could be good or bad. It might not be different at all, just more of the more or more of the less. It’s an odd sensation when your parents are gone. They’re still your parents, of course, but parents provide advice, solicited and not, memories, and love. When dads die, that dies with him.

I thought of my brother-in-law, John, father to my niece and nephew, but also without his own dad who died just a couple of years ago, around Thanksgiving if I remember.

I thought of Bobbi who’s dad, Bill, is still with us, still going strong at 78. He’s an athlete, competing regularly in the Senior Olympics among other venues. It keeps him young and vibrant. I didn’t speak to her today but I have no doubt she spoke to Bill.

I wondered when Justin would call. Kevin always lights up when he gets the chance to talk with his son. Understandably. It’s a strong bond, and they’ve always had a strong relationship, even during the tumultuous teen years.

Justin and Kevin

I watched Kevin come back with coffee and listened to the morning and this Father’s Day. A day to celebrate today’s dads and yesterday’s gone by, and a day to celebrate the warm sunshine, the tickling breeze, the birds chirping, and the Squire.

Only four were missing. Terry, Tom, Maguire and Justin, but we’ll speak to one of them later today and that will be enough. Hearing Justin’s voice on this day will be today’s definition of living it out loud.

Caught in the net: observations from outside

by Lorin Michel Sunday, May 20, 2012 1:46 AM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The Squire here. And man, am I tired. It has been quite the day around here what with the people behind us in the cul de sac getting their new patio and then all the sawing and cutting, I feel like I’ve been up forever. On Saturdays, I like to sleep in a little. Not a lot because it’s still a day to get things done. Sunday is the true lazy day and it usually stays pretty quiet around here. Not today. When that cement mixer showed up early, I did. Not. Like. It. Mrs. Squirrel said something not very nice and pulled the rose-petal quilt up over her ears to block out the sound. But once I’m awake, I’m awake. I’m kind of like Him, the guy in the house here where I live. I saw him get up. I had already moved out onto the branch to watch the truck. He ambled into the kitchen. I kind of smiled when I saw Her pull the blanket up over her ears, too. She and Mrs. Squirrel are so much alike.

I finally got motivated and zoomed around the tops of the trees, trying to find something good to have for dinner. We like to do fun things on the weekends because there’s more time to prepare. I had a feeling, though, that Mrs. Squire was going to be a little cranky. She doesn’t like getting woken up by loud noises like that. I managed to find some dates in the neighbor’s tree and tucked those in my cheeks. I took them back home to the Mrs. She wasn’t up yet, so I decided to go off with Him and Her. I don’t do that very often but it seemed like it might be kind of fun. He had a backpack on, and there were long things sticking out. I think they were rackets. I also saw some tennis balls go inside the backpack. They were going to play. I wanted to get some exercise, too, so I hopped on the top and off we went.

I knew I’d be safe as long as I hung on and I was. They walked across that really busy road, the one that scares me, the one that Mrs. Squire has absolutely forbidden me to even get near because, like she says, she doesn’t want to be a squidow. I’m not sure what that means but I think it means that I’ve gone splat and she’s alone.

We went to this really nice park. I’d never been there before, but there were lots and lots of other squirrels. I’ve never seen so many squirrels in one place. It was like a squirrel convention. They were running all over the place. When people would walk by, if they hadn’t squirted past, they’d get really low in the grass. I call it flat. Make like the ground and hope no body sees. I do that in the trees and even on the wall sometimes. But these guys. These guys were like ninja squirrel masters. I was in awe.

He and She made their way to the tennis court. I hopped off before they got there. I don’t like tennis. I really don’t like tennis courts. They’re hot on my paws.  He asked her how her wrist was and she said “better. How’s your ankle?” and he said he thought it was ok but that he was old. “We’re both old and out of shape,” she said as they walked through the gate and closed it behind them. They were sort of laughing but they were both walking funny. And they hadn’t even started playing yet.

I decided to go exploring a little. I found some great seeds and stuff in the grass. They were very tasty. Had a little spice to them. I think maybe they were called sunflower seeds. I’ll have to make a note and see if I can find some closer to home. I tucked a couple in my cheek. Then I found this really big net, bigger even than the net on the tennis court. This one also had a place where you could sit inside and kind of under it. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I settled myself right in the middle between the two posts and I looked out over the rest of the park. Way off in the distance there was a dog with his person. He didn’t concern me. There were kids giggling on these really colorful toys, big toys. They were having a good time.

I turned and watched my people play tennis. They hit the little green ball into the net a lot. But they were also laughing and having a pretty good time. Then I heard somebody yell “hey, dude! Get outta there!” and I turned back just in time to see this big white ball with black parts on it heading right for me. I went flat and quiet and the ball went over me and landed in the back of the net. Another squirrel had tried to warn me. Then I heard a little kid I hadn’t seen before say “hey dad! I scored a goal!” and I peered up from between the blades of grass and there was this little boy and his dad. The little boy started running toward me to get his ball so I took that as my cue to get out of there quick.

Pretty soon it was time to leave. I was really happy to climb back on the pack and make the journey home to Mrs. Squirrel. I’d had enough exercise. It was fun being out someplace new for the day but it was also a little scary. I think I’ll stay closer to home from now on.

Oh, and we put those sunflower seeds in with our dates for dinner. It was really really great.

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Kevin and Lorin's wildlife preserve

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, May 16, 2012 10:48 PM

We have a very small piece of property here in the OP. Like many who live in Southern California tracts, our house is up against other houses, on both sides. We’re separated by six foot concrete walls that have been erected to provide some sense of privacy. Kevin likes to joke that when Dave, our neighbor on the right, sneezes, Kevin can reach out the window and hand him a tissue. I’m not complaining. We have a lovely little house on a lovely little piece of dirt. How little? 5039 square feet according to Which is what makes my news even more amazing: it appears that we have our own special wildlife preserve right here on Wiggin Street.

This is news because most wildlife preserves are bigger. The smallest one I can find that has received the official wildlife preserve designation is the Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge in Mille Lacs County, Minnesota. It’s just over half an acre, around 22000 square feet, and consists of two small islands on Mille Lacs Lake where several threatened bird species like ring-billed gulls, herring gulls, and double-crested cormorants live and breed. The refuge was granted its official status on May 14, 1915.

We have not applied for such a status ourselves but given the happenings around here, I anticipate having to file the necessary paperwork any day now. To wit: a Red-tailed hawk who regularly perches on our wall, in various places. Sometimes he’s right outside the greenhouse window in the kitchen. Every time he does that and I walk into the kitchen not knowing that he’s re-established residence, he scares me. Or maybe he’s a she. I have no idea which and don’t really need to know. He/she also perches on the wall just outside Kevin’s studio, one time complete with prey. I don’t remember what the prey was and I didn’t look too closely. I’m suspect it was a bird. But he placed said prey on the wall next to him, and proceeded to survey his/her kingdom in that steely hawk way. Like a statue, the bird didn’t move. Only his head pivoted, in slow motion, from right to left. Then he snatched up his dinner and off he flew.

Then there are the coyotes. While they don’t spend a lot of time on the refuge they do spend a lot of time on the periphery. I remember taking Maguire out one night before we all went to bed. I always checked for other dogs in the vicinity since other dogs and Maguire didn’t get along. As we were standing there in the front yard, the vintage puppy and I, I was doing my best impersonation of the red-tailed hawk, my head pivoting from side to side as I continued to make sure no canines approached. My head stopped; I stared. Coming down the sidewalk was what looked to be a dog, sans its person. I grabbed Maguire’s collar, and he looked at me with disdain. He wasn’t yet finished. I pulled him inside the house and then went back out. If there was a loose dog, I was going to grab him and call his owner. But it wasn’t a canine; it was a canis latrans. A coyote. I stood on the sidewalk. He veered from the sidewalk and moved to the middle of the street, trotting along, his eyes never leaving me. He stopped in front of me. For a minute, I wondered: should I be afraid? I continued to stare and he continued on his merry way to wherever. In the dark, from the shadowed hills, we hear others like him cry.

There are any number of other species of birds who hop about the yard; Squire and Mrs. Squirrel live there. Many lizards dart across the patio; a collared lizard stuck in the track of the screen door got quite irritated with Kevin one Saturday and hissed his way into the back yard. A rabbit or two has been known to show his cottontail. One appeared the night after Maguire passed. I caught a glimpse of him as I wandered aimlessly around the house, looking for my best buddy knowing he was lost forever. I noticed something odd on the sidewalk in front of the house, illuminated by the soft light of the garage lanterns. I walked to the window; it was a rabbit, poised, beautiful, still.

This morning, just before 9 am, Kevin started to go out the front door and immediately closed it as if he’d been stung. He motioned frantically, silently for me to come, quickly. I set my coffee cup down and went to see what he was so excited about. I peered through the long window next to the front door, the window that had previously shown me the rabbit. Just off the front stoop, sitting in a puddle of sprinkler water was a mother duck and six babies. We were astounded. Kevin ran for the camera as I watched the mother duck rise, shake her feathers into place and turn toward the road. She glanced back. The little ducks rolled over themselves as they tried to get ready to follow their mother. In a nice line, they trooped off, no doubt looking for a bigger puddle.

We couldn’t help but imagine Maguire, who even in his vintage days would bound out of the house into the front yard. He would have started, and then stopped short. We could imagine him looking back at us, then looking forward, the ducks frozen in fear of the big dog. We could hear him say: Hey. Did you guys know there were ducks out here? I like ducks. I really like baby ducks. Hey. The sidewalk smells a little like baby duck butt. Ducks are kind of like chicken aren’t they? I like chicken. A lot. So I’m pretty sure I like duck. But Dad? Why are there ducks on the sidewalk?

We would give anything to have heard him say that today, here at Kevin and Lorin’s wildlife preserve.

Kiss me you fool

by Lorin Michel Saturday, May 5, 2012 11:50 PM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The squire here. Saturday's seems to be my official day of guest blogging which is good. I like Saturdays, especially after the long week. It's really hard being a squirrel in the OP. Running up and down trees, dodging cars, bicycles and skateboards. I just about got my tail cut off the other day by a kid on roller skates. She was about 3 and bombing down the sidewalk. I was just trying to get to the other side. Cute, but dangerous.

After the long, hard winter, I've been visiting my storage bins, you know the places where I stashed pine cones and acorns, and anything else I could find. The missus has been after me to clean all of that stuff out now that it's getting warmer. She's afraid some of it will go bad and then it won't do anybody any good. Plus the neighbors could start to complain about the smell. Rotting acorns really aren't all that pleasurable though I guess there's a bunch worse.

I was sitting up in the gutter the other day, trying to remember where I put that stash of peanuts in the shell - I really should write this stuff down - and watching the world go by. My people were just coming back from a walk. I don't think they saw me. They walk a lot. Like almost every day. I don't get it. My philosophy has always been to run as fast as possible to get where I'm going. This is what allows me to keep my tail when I have a run-in with a 3-year old roller skate queen. But I've heard Her complain about her back and just last week, He seemed to have a bad ankle. I guess both of those things would make running kind of hard.

 Me, in the gutter. Hey. It's just a metaphor.

So there I was, in the gutter, nibbling on a bit of a corn cob that the big green truck had dropped out the back when they were emptying the big blue trash cans. Five second rule applied so I snatched it up.The sun was really warm though the air was still a little cool. They were talking about something. I couldn't quite hear the words but I could hear their voices. She was laughing and he was, too. I like when they laugh. It's kind of cute. It's much better than yelling. Yelling hurts my ears. The people that live on the other side of the wall yell a lot. I try to stay away from them.

Back to my observations. He had his hands in his pockets and she was holding something that looked like a stick with a purple eraser. I know all about erasers because I find them on the street. The kids drop them on their way to school. My favorite is one that has Barney on it. I don't like Barney. At all. But I like purple. I thought maybe the purple at the end of the stick was like a miniature Barney. That might be fun. I could take something like that home to help build the new room on the nest. But it wasn’t an eraser. As they got closer, I could see she was holding flowers, really small flowers.

He said "when was the last time I gave you flowers?" And she shook her head and said "I can't remember so obviously it's been way too long." And then he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek and said that he gave her flowers because he loves her, and then she laughed more and handed him the flowers because she had to get the mail. She likes to get the mail. I'm not sure why except I know sometimes people send money and they both seem to like it when they get the mail and there's money. I don’t know what money is. Does it taste good?  She asked him to put the flowers in water. Then they walked right underneath me - 'cause I was in the gutter - and I heard the door open and felt it close, and then they were inside. I scampered over to the wall and sat right outside the window by their kitchen and watched them some more.

Then Kobe started to bark - I really don't like him. He's noisy and he doesn't like me, not like the big knight liked me. We used to have so much fun, the knight and me. I really, really, really miss that guy.

I kind of growled a little at Kobe before I turned to scamper off down the wall. I saw Her look at me and give a little wave. I waved back. I like her. And she was happy that she had flowers. I decided to run over to the house at the end of the street and steal some of the yellow flowers they have in their yard.

Me and Mrs. Squirrel sitting in a tree...

Mrs. Squirrel likes yellow.

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The rain in Spain falls mainly in the gauge

by Lorin Michel Friday, April 13, 2012 8:50 PM

I’m a big fan of rain. Love, love it, especially if I don’t have to go out in it. Not because I’m afraid I’ll melt like the Wicked Witch of the West, or even because I’ll get wet. When I was running, my favorite days to hit the pavement were those when the skies had opened and a steady rain was falling. It kept me cool, even though by the time I got home, I was a wring-out sopping-wet mess. No, the reason I’m not a fan of going out in the rain is because people in Southern California can’t drive in it.

OK. That’s unfair. It’s not just Southern California. It’s the whole of the desert southwest.

I learned to drive on snow so a little slickness on rain-drenched pavement doesn’t scare me. It does, however, scare those who were born and raised here, learned to drive here or have been here so long they’ve forgotten that there is weather in other parts of the country, and world.

I also like to stay in bed when it rains. Snuggle up under the covers and listen to the dampening effect of the deluge as it pounds the house and the patio. The days when it rains it is uncommonly gray so it keeps the room dark. Perfect snoozing weather. Except of course when rain happens on a work day like today. As much as I wanted to stay in, I got out.

For the better part of the day it was torrential, waves of wet descending from the sky in near biblical proportions. Thunder rattled the pictures in the house, lightning flashed. It was all very dramatic and fabulous.

We need the rain, desperately. Our fair city normally gets just about 15 inches of rain each year. This year, we’ve been stuck at about half that amount, at least as of yesterday. But last night, according to Dallas Raines, our favorite weather guy here in LA, on KABC, who said that a big storm was coming in. A whopper of a late season deluge that was going to bring at least an inch of rain, maybe even – gasp – an inch and a half. Be still my heart.

I’ve never really understood how rain can pound the ground for hours on end, flooding intersections, sweeping small children and animals out to sea, and be only one inch. Gives whole new meaning to the term “give’em an inch and they’ll insist it’s a mile.” I’ve also never understood how sometimes the weather forecast calls for rain and sometimes for showers. I mean, rain is rain, right? Or is it right as rain? Regardless, I’ve been told that rain means constant and showers means occasional. They’re both, technically rain, but one is intermittent, similar to the setting on your windshield wipers when it’s only raining a little. I guess those would be classified as showers.

If it’s raining it’s rain but if it’s raining it can also be showers.

The confusion. It hurts.

Perhaps I’ll have more luck understanding how we can get pummeled for hours and only have an inch of rain to show for it when I know the old pot in the back yard is filled to the brim and actually spilling over. Evidently rain is measured, not in a bucket or pot, but in a rain gauge. The standard gauge used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration consists of a funnel attached to a graduated cylinder that fits inside a larger outside container. Rain falls down into it. If it overflows the inside cylinder, the outside container catches it. When measurements are taken, the height of the water in the small cylinder is measured first, then the excess overflow, if there is any, is poured carefully, so as not to spill a drop, into another graduated cylinder. The two amounts are added up and voila, rainfall totals.

A rain gauge

Naturally it was the Greeks who first kept rainfall records, beginning around 500 BC. Nearly 100 years later, Indians used bowls to record rainfall. George James Symons, a Brit elected to the council of the British meteorological society in 1863, is widely credited with creating the standard gauge still largely used today. It was made of copper. For meteorologist-wannabes, you can get your own World’s Coolest Rain Gauge complete with an elegant copper container and a soothing, deep blue measurement float. Perfect to gauge the perfect storm.

Can’t wait to see if the rain that started sometime around 1 am and didn’t stop until about 4 pm actually gave us an inch, or if it did indeed record a mile. I’m going for the latter. And I have the pot to prove it.

Happy wet Friday. May the weekend be something to celebrate.


by Lorin Michel Sunday, March 11, 2012 12:27 AM

I’m going to go out on a pond here and say that I’ve never really been sure how I feel about ducks. Conversely, I know exactly how I feel about duck, as in Peking. I. Do. Not. Like. It. At all. But ducks and all of their little webbed feet and feathers and waddle, well, I just don’t know. I suspect that my antipathy has only increased because of the AFLAC commercials. I really don’t like that little duck. I find him extremely annoying; when he was voiced by Gilbert Gottfried even more so. Now the white duck-dude is voiced by a guy named Daniel McKeague and I still don’t like him.

I bring this up because today we were on our usual fairly long Saturday morning walk that began at 1:15. We were running, or walking, a little late. But the day was another stunner. The air was warm though not hot. The sun was high but tucked behind equally high and wispy clouds, dissipating the heat. A breeze stirred the air and kept us cool as we walked down Kanan toward the high school, then up through the school’s campus, once around the track and then back toward home. Along the way, I happened to glance down into the ravine at Kanan and Oak Hills.

The ravine is filled with broken trees and discarded limbs. There are a few errant pieces of paper and trash, though not much. Other trees grow strong and keep the area shaded. In the bottom, stagnant water shifts listlessly. This water seems to come from both the rains, which we’ve had very little of, and sprinkler runoff which is common in Southern California. For an area that constantly flirts with drought conditions, we seem to waste a lot of water watering lawns, flowerbeds, fields, hillsides, and driveways. Whenever we see someone’s sprinklers spraying more water onto a sidewalk than into the dirt of their lawn, we always joke that maybe they’re hoping the sidewalk or the driveway or the road will grow. Luckily we do have Water Police here in the OP. I kid you not. A guy from the Oak Park Water District drives around in his pick-up truck and issues fines for people who are running their sprinklers during the hottest times of the day, that being 9 am to 9 pm.

I digress.

I caught a hint of movement as I glanced into the ravine, and there, paddling lazily through the filmy and dark water were two ducks. Actually, one was drifting, the other had its little duck butt up in the air as it stuck its head straight down into the water. I hoped it wouldn’t get its beak stuck in the muck at the bottom since the water is decidedly not deep.

“Oh. Look.” I said, as I stopped to watch. Kevin stopped next to me and we watched the two ducks, one paddling along slowly, the other with his duck butt in the air, feathers and feet sticking straight up.


We're very profound when we walk.

I can’t imagine there are fish in this sludge. I can’t imagine there is much of anything to eat, but maybe I’m wrong. I don’t really know what type of food appeals to a duck’s palette. I don’t know what kind of cuisine they normally indulge in. The one thing I did know was where they came from; across the street. At the corner of Kanan and Oak Hills there is a community center, and at the foot of the center is a duck pond. I believe it’s man-made though I could be wrong. Swimming through it or lounging next to it, dozens of ducks. Hanging in the trees above or crouched on the rocks nearby, mountain lions.

Based on that, I would gather than mountain lions like duck.

Do ducks fly? I guess they do. I only see our ducks as they waddle across the street. I’ve seen them on the golf course in Westlake, seen them as they walk ever so slowly across Agoura Road, to where I know not. I’m assuming these two waddled across Kanan from the duck pond to the ravine sludge. I’m not sure it was even a lateral move.

But they seemed happy, and happy is always good. I’m all about the happy and the joy, and on this Saturday, the ducks. 

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Just another February day in paradise

by Lorin Michel Thursday, February 9, 2012 10:55 PM

We ventured out for our walk today at 1 pm. We turned the corner onto Pesaro and headed into the sunshine. A slight breeze blew through the palm trees, the only trees that are still leafy and green if you can call palm fronds leafy and green. They make a sound like tall wheat grass rustling together in a Kansas field. Two doves pecked along the sidewalk, cooing in the warmth.

Turned the corner onto Rockfield as we headed toward Lindero. The kids at the school at the bottom of the street were at recess, running in the soccer field, shouting and laughing in that little kid way that always sounds so joyous. Two little girls sat in the corner, along the fence, pulling apart a dandelion. As we walked along, a butterfly flew toward us and veered right at the last second avoiding a collision.

Across Lindero and up the hill, walking past all of the houses with their windows open. Dogs barked. Two elderly white-haired women, women we see nearly every day, were walking down the hill with their five white dogs. Small pooches of undistinguished breeding but very distinguished gaits. They trotted along rather jauntily. The women said ‘hello! Beautiful day!” and we concurred, wishing them a good walk.

By the park, a man picked up his son, a toddler of maybe three, and threw him over his shoulder as the child giggled. Father and son were off to play in the sand box, both dressed in shorts and sandals. Others were walking their dogs around the walkway. More young kids swung on the swings, jetted down the slide.

Birds flew by, chirping happily. A squirrel came down from atop another palm, head first as he defied gravity, making his way toward the ground. He stopped momentarily, alert, waiting. As we walked by, I turned to look and sure enough, he was continuing on. Kevin wiped some sweat from his brow, twisted his wedding ring. I never wear mine when we walk. My fingers swell when I exercise and I can’t stand the tightness. He says it doesn’t bother him, and besides, he doesn’t like to take his ring off. He’s a better married person than I.

Down the other side of the hill and back across Lindero. Trees had been trimmed and the smell of freshly cut wood filled the air, pine and sycamore branches were piled high, awaiting a wood chipper. As we walked up through the back parking lot behind Fresh & Easy, the smell of fresh baked goods filled the air. Bread, cookies, cakes. We heard a man’s voice and a child’s but couldn’t see them. An old tan Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, faded from the sun, was parked along the back wall. It had a “coexist” bumper sticker on the back. The door to where the dumpers are kept was open. The man and his daughter were in there, looking through the dumpster; I don’t know what for. I caught his eye and he nodded and smiled. I did the same, wondering if they were searching for bottles and cans to recycle, hoping they weren’t searching for discarded food.

Out on Kanan Road, a motorcycle and then another roared by. More dogs barked, and somewhere in the apartment complex we passed, wind chimes clinkled together in song.

As we made our way back to the house, after about two and a half miles, we saw our neighbor who lives in the cul de sac behind us, walking her big Akita. She didn’t see us. They were down the street, ahead of us. Birds chirped, another squirrel darted across the road – why did the squirrel cross the road? – and as we turned back onto our street I couldn’t help but think that it’s February 9. It’s 83º.

Near our house, walking in front, we could hear him. Inside, the bark of our big dog, welcoming us home.

Celebrating another day in paradise.


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The home office vs the office at home

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, February 8, 2012 9:14 PM

I am one of the approximately 44.4 million or maybe it’s 55 million people – the number varies depending on who you ask – who work at home at least one day a year. Of course, I work at home at least 6 days a week, so I’m probably a different kind of stat, one I haven’t quite been able to locate. According to Home Business Magazine and U.S. Census statistics, though, there are 38 million home-based businesses, which means those businesses have to have offices. In addition to those 38 million offices, there are as many as 36.6 million homes that have offices in the home, offices they use to either have part-time businesses, or to pay bills, surf the ‘nets, or do some work at home. Those are telecommuters and the ones who fall between the 44.4 and 55 million.

Or maybe it’s just 2.8 million.

Statistics are just numbers but they do provide some insight as to what’s going on out there in the world, especially for someone like me who only knows what’s going out there when people tell me. Or when I read it somewhere. Or research it. Or hear it on NPR.

I was listening to NPR today on my way to a meeting. It’s the only good thing about driving in Los Angeles in the morning as far as I’m concerned. Traffic is ridiculous and a colossal waste of time and it makes my hair hurt and my blood pressure rise. Also, it makes me tired and cranky.

I digress.

The ultimate home office. President Obama’s oval office.

On NPR they were talking to the New York Times writer, Jodi Kantor, who just put out the book The Obamas, and they were discussing the White House. Evidently in the book, which I haven’t seen but have heard quite a bit about, she includes floor plans for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I’m sure the Secret Service loves that. The floor plans show the residence, where the First Family lives, along with their grandmother, Marian Robinson – the First Grandma – and the First Dog, Bo, as well as all of the different famous rooms, the places where the tour takes place, the gift shop and of course, all of the offices. As I was listening to that I started chuckling as it occurred to me that the White House is the ultimate home office.

Think about it, the President lives AND works in the same building. Granted, he has quite the staff, and the White House is 55,000 square feet, a bit larger than most people’s home offices, with 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases and 3 elevators. It has six stories, the top two of which are the residence, which is about 3,000 square feet. Still pretty good size by most people’s standards.

No doubt that home office is full of all of the usual office equipment. Computers, cell phones, wireless networks, multifunctional printers, indispensible cell phones, PDAs, tablets and more. They also have the Situation Room, so they win in the cool home office department. Business News is estimating that the incidence of home offices and offices in the home will increase greatly by 2015, with 2 million more home-based businesses and 3 million more home offices for out-of-home businesses. They also anticipate that working at home won’t make the work day any shorter or easier. The need to be more productive is already translating into very long work-days. The number of people who work longer than the stereotypical 8-hour day will also increase by more than 27 million. That number won’t include me. I already work more than an 8-hour day. My days are at least 10 and usually closer to 12 or 14 hours.

Part of my office, photographed tonight with my cell phone. So similar to the president’s, don't you think?

But I’m not complaining because my commute it amazing. My wardrobe is easy and comfortable. I have everything I could possibly need to be successful all in the confines of my 10 X 12 loft. Two computers, a nearly obsolete fax machine, a printer, a TV, a DVD player, a desk top phone, a cell phone, Mulder and Scully dolls, other toys, and tons and stacks of books, both in shelves and on the floor. Of course, mostly what I need to be successful is locked inside my brain and I take that everywhere.

Still, I love my home office. It is my sanctuary, my home within my home, the place I go to work every day around 8am, the place I’m in right now at 7:37pm. If working at home is good enough for the president, I think it’s also good enough for me.

Living it out loud every day up here overlooking the rest of the house.

The arrow and the star

by Lorin Michel Monday, February 6, 2012 10:31 PM

Last night when I took the dog out before bed, I looked up into the sky as I so often do. I don’t have a lot to do when I’m out there and he’s busy. Most of the time the sky is clear, the stars bright. Occasionally the moon smiles down upon Maguire and I, illuminating the grass, silhouetting the trees. Often there is a jet contrail, dissipating somewhere above 20000 feet. Last night there was an arrow formed by a jet trail and a cloud and it pointed directly toward a star. I stood and watched it for a while, waiting for it to dissipate, like a mirage evaporates when you finally come upon it. It didn’t.

As Maguire toured the yard, sniffing and finding places to mark his territory, I studied the arrow and wondered. Was there a hidden meaning in it? What was the star? Was it famous? Was it new? Was it part of an otherwise hidden constellation?

It was just after 11 and the sky was its customary color of black, dotted with the sparkling stars that appear most nights. Out here in Oak Park, away from the city and without an abundance of streetlights, there always seems to be more stars than when they’re blurred by the hazy, drifting lights of the city. The most stars I’ve ever seen are in the skies above our property in Tucson. Tucson has a dark-skies ordinance so it doesn’t allow streetlights or even bright lights on the outside of houses. Our property is in the upper northeast corner of the city. We can literally stand on the hillside and look directly south and see the border of Tucson and the rest of the desert. At night, sequestered amongst the towering saguaros and the blackened mesquite bushes, the sky seems to settle down right on top of us. The stars are everywhere, a virtual blanket of sparkle. When we’re there, I always feel like I could reach up and grab one, pull it down and put it on the table to light the night. The desert at night is incredibly dark, not at all quiet, and simply breathtaking in its depth. The floor meets the sky and it is really exquisite. That’s how I always think stars should be seen. From the desert floor looking up.

Oak Park is decidedly not the desert, not even close really, not by Tucson standards, but it was dark and quiet last night. The houses were mostly blackened; only every other streetlight was illuminated. There were no cars; most of the houses had extinguished their outdoor lights or garage lanterns. As Maguire paraded up and down the sidewalk, straying occasionally into the grass, I watched the sky and the arrow. I imagined that it was pointing toward a distant planet populated with people who were happy and joyous, who laughed all the time and didn’t hate. They were looking down on us with amusement.

I thought it might be a spaceship, traveling from another time and place, full of animals who had been saved and who had grown more intelligent than people, but in an enlightened way.

Perhaps it was a satellite from an era long gone, or a beacon, a light from another dimension showing whomever might follow the way. Maybe it was my dad, watching over me, twinkling and smiling, telling me that he was still there, as if I didn’t know; as if I don’t feel his presence almost constantly.

The arrow pointing to the star may have meant nothing at all other than an optical illusion, an atmospheric phenomenon that only seemed to be an arrow but was really just an oddly shaped high cloud that happened to be somehow over the condensation left by jet fuel.

I’m not a superstitious person. Regular readers know I’m not religious, but I think that arrow was there to show me there is wonder in the night, and in living a life that even allows for the possibility that on a dark night in February, an arrow made of nothing more than a cloud might be pointing the way toward a star. 

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live out loud

In the bubble

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, September 14, 2011 10:02 PM

Every once in a while I get philosophical. I sit at my desk and wonder about the world, or I stand under the stars and think about my place in that world. Today is not one of those days. Today, I’m thinking about bubble gum.

I had my first piece when I was five and went to Kathy Kallenbaugh’s house on a Saturday after catechism. Kathy was my best friend, probably my first best friend, and she lived in an enormous white house with big white columns somewhere very far away from where I lived. I realize now that this was impossible. If we lived that far away, we wouldn’t have been in the same school. Her house probably wasn’t that big either; it just seemed so to someone so small. For some reason, she had bubble gum. Maybe it was left over from a birthday party, maybe she had older brothers and sisters that I no longer remember existing. But she had Dubble Bubble, twist wrapped at both ends with a round piece of hard pink goo in the middle. I liked gum already, but bubble gum.


I quickly learned that bubble gum, like regular gum, could wreak havoc in hair. I also learned that it could get all over my face, or so I assumed because I watched Kathy blow a bubble, thin and pink, that was nearly the size of her head before it popped. When I tried, I simply blew the entire wad of gum out of my mouth. Naturally the five-second rule applied and I picked it up off the back porch to chew and try again. Kathy explained that I had to sort of flatten the gum out in my mouth. She was right. I did that by pushing it up against the roof of my mouth with my tongue. Then, still using my tongue to hold the gum in place, position it behind my teeth and then blow, slowly inflating the now hardening gum so that it pushed beyond my lips. I practiced and practiced and practiced. I was determined to be the best five-year old bubble blower ever.

And then my mother came to pick me up and made me spit it out.

No matter. I was hooked. Over the years I perfected my bubble-blowing ability so that I didn’t even need to think about how; I simply did. I also experimented with other types of bubble bum. Bazooka was good until it lost its flavor. Then it became like chewing cardboard. Bazooka came in nice little flat bricks of gum, scored in the middle and wrapped with Bazooka Joe comics. Later, the makers also flattened Bazooka into a thin strip and inserted it into packages of baseball cards, and later movie cards.

Then came BubbleYum, so sweet I could feel the sugar eating away at the enamel on my teeth. Bubblicious and Hubba Bubba were much the same. And they all stayed soft. My jaw would get tired of chewing before the gum would get tired of gumming. Plus gums like BubbleYum came in flavors! It was a bubble gum lovers paradise.

I thank Walter Diemer. In 1928, Mr. Diemer was an accountant for the Fleer Chewing Gum Company in Philadelphia. Frank Fleer had been trying for years to create bubble gum but everything he created was just too sticky. Then came Diemer who found that a heavier mass of gum was less sticky. Coincidentally it also created bubbles very easily. He brought his discovery to a grocery store to test, and every blob sold within one day. This became the original double, or Dubble Bubble gum. It was pink because the only food coloring that was in the factory when it was made was pink. It became and continues to be the industry standard.

Bazooka Joe came along at the end of World War II, with bubble gum packaged with cards appearing in 1952. Chewing gum itself has been around for thousands of years. The Greeks chewed Mastiche, the Mayans coagulated Sapodilla tree sap, the North American Indians chewed sap from spruce trees. Spruce became the main ingredient in gum for hundreds of years until 1869, when gum was made from charcoal and chalk. Tasty. Then came chicle, the precursor to chiclets, a natural latex product or synthetic rubber. Still used today, it is, essentially, rubber. 

So this is where the rubber meets the bubble. After all these years, I still love bubble gum though I’ve moved on to sugarless types. My current favorite is Orbits. I’ve even heard that it can be good for the teeth, reducing cavities and plaque. And there is the added benefit of big, fat, obnoxious bubbles. I can pop them now so they don’t get on my face or in my hair.

Kathy Kallenbaugh would be proud.

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live out loud

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