And now about Cheesecake Factory

by Lorin Michel Friday, June 27, 2014 9:57 PM

When I worked at Sebastian in the early 1990s through 1995, one of my favorite places to go for lunch was the Cheesecake Factory. There was one on Canoga, just north of Erwin, dangerously close to the office. Back in those days, almost everything we did was via phone and fax. We had computers but there was no email to speak of, certainly not on a company network. The art department, of which I was part, created their art on boards to go to the printer. Printers would come to the office on a regular basis, and because we were a very good account for them, often they would bring things.

Things like bagels in the morning, and lunch in the afternoon. One lady in particular, Jan from Viking, would often call around 10 am and say she was coming by at 12:30 to bring lunch for the department. What did we want. It was often unanimous. Cheesecake Factory. At 12:30, Jan would breeze into the office, waved in by the receptionist. Through the double doors she’d come, lugging five or six plastic bags sporting the Factory’s logo, and turn into the big open area that defined our department. There were eight of us, sometimes more if we were particularly busy and needed freelancers.

The bags would be placed on the big art table, used for everything from studying packaging comps and mockups to the latest photos to come in from our photographer. There was a huge cutting board on one end. The word would spread quickly. Jan’s here. We’d congregate, ants at a picnic.

I always ordered the same thing. A half portion of the chopped cobb salad. There were appetizers, too. Avocado eggrolls, wontons, hot spinach and cheese dip. And the bread. Always the bread that was always hot. Dark rye and sourdough. Jan usually brought a couple of pieces of cheesecake for dessert as well. I am not a sweets person but I can almost always make an exception for cheesecake, especially pumpkin cheesecake which was seasonal, only offered in the fall. Jan knew this and I always got my own piece. She’d even put my name on it.

The original Cheesecake Factory, in Beverly Hills. It opened in 1978.


Over the years, after I left Sebastian, I’d only go to the Cheesecake Factory occasionally. When we lived in Calabasas, off of Las Virgenes Road, the corporate offices were just around the corner, on Agoura Road. We’d ride by on our bicycles every now and then, and the smell of baking cheesecake filled the air. The fragrance of chocolate and caramel and sugar was so thick we could see it.

Those were the days.

I can’t remember the last time I was there. Probably when I met someone for lunch at the one in Thousand Oaks years ago. It’s just not a place I think of often, though when I do, I think of it fondly.

Tonight we’re going to Best Buy. We have a few items we want to get, like a wireless keyboard I can use with both my Macbook and the iPad. Cheesecake Factory is down the street, in the mall. We’ll slip into the bar and order a glass of wine and some food to go. An appetizer to be named later and a large portion of the aforementioned chopped cobb salad. I’m kind of excited. It will be like old times. I might even have a piece of bread, though I’ve been doing so well with my no carbs diet it seems nearly a travesty.

But it’s so warm and fresh, and with just a hint of butter, it’s almost as good as a piece of cheesecake, though never as good as the pumpkin. That’s how we’re living it out loud on this Friday night, and I’m smiling already.

It's a dry heat

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, June 25, 2014 11:02 PM

The heat that wraps around the desert southwest is like nothing you’ve experienced if you’ve never experienced it before. It rises up from the ground and pushes down from the heavens and when those two forces collide, the explosion is suffocating. And beautiful.

This morning, when we left on our bicycle ride, it was 81º. It was 7:30. There was no breeze to speak of, nothing even trying to move the air to make it more comfortable. As we pedaled along, I felt the sweat begin to pool. We both sucked down water to keep from dehydrating. We rode into the sun, feeling it on our skin; when we returned, the sun beat on our backs. Lizards, cold-blooded creatures, darted across the path. Birds flitted from tree to tree. People walked and jogged, others cycled. It was gloriously early, tremendously hot.

My mind drifted to my pottery class because why wouldn’t it. I was there on Monday, for my last class though I’m signing up for another starting on July 7, another hot day in the desert. June and July are the hottest months and so far it is living up to its reputation. It has been 100º or slightly over for three weeks now. The nights drop to 70º so it’s pleasant. But the days are on fire. We haven’t ever experienced the extended desert in summer but we know heat. Southern California is hot. The summer’s in the Valley regularly top 100. I’ve driven through and across when the temperature gauge on my dashboard reads 115º. I know that’s not real as it’s the car, but 115 is probably at least 105. Hot. Smoggy. Uncomfortable.

On Monday, I was at class. It’s held in a house, a small desert adobe that has probably been there for decades. Outside, in the back, is the equivalent of what was once a covered patio and is now a place for storage, for shelves that hold pots that come out of the kiln. To the side is more storage as well as pieces of pottery, tacked to the wall, with different colors of glaze. In a small room, tucked inside like a cave, is where the kilns are. When I was there on Monday, the kilns were running. The exterior temperature was 100º; the temperature in the kiln room was well over that. Kilns fire clay to upwards of 1700º. Toasty.

It was like walking into a furnace.

I was talking to my mother and she asked me about the heat and I said it had been hot. I didn’t want to say how hot. I knew she would shake her head and even though she wouldn’t say it, I knew she’d be thinking: Why do you live there. Why would you choose that. I could say the same for New England, especially in the winter. Why.

She laughed and said what we all say: “But it’s a dry heat, right”

A dry heat implies that there is no humidity, of which there is very little in the desert. A dry heat somehow says that it’s more manageable. A dry heat. We love it. We are desert rats. We choose the heat and the glare and the melt; the lack of breeze and wind. The way the hair on our arms prickles, the slight burn of the sun. In the early morning, it’s not nearly as deadly. It’s just a tease of what’s to come.

We love the heat, the desert, the dryness, the richness. Because it is rich, it is real. It is on fire and laps at the soul. It is alive. It is our way of living it out loud.

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That sinking feeling

by Lorin Michel Friday, June 13, 2014 10:48 PM

One of the overwhelming aspects of building a house is the realization that everything down to the light switch plates must be chosen. To choose, much time is spent at the light switch plate store or the tile store or the appliance store or the plumbing store – you get the idea – in order to choose what you hope you’ll love when it’s actually in context. On the wall, or in the kitchen, or on each of the 27 interior doors (in the case of door knobs).

Going to these stores can obviously be very time consuming. As I’ve mentioned before, I am a big fan of shopping online. It still continues to amaze me what can be found for sale on the internet. Things that you never knew you wanted, like clavos. In fact, I didn’t even know what clavos were until Kevin decided to build the door to our wine room and decided we would use clavos, for decoration.

In addition to everything listed above, we also need fixtures, like bathroom sinks. We’ll have four bathrooms: the master (a full bath), a ¾ bath, a full guest room bath and a powder room. The master has two vanities so we need a total of five sinks.

Several months ago, on a Sunday, we started surfing a bit. We’d spent the day before at Lowe’s looking at everything from cabinets to washing machines to toilets. We didn’t like what we had seen for sinks other than for the kitchen sinks (yes, plural. One main, one in the island) where we’re pretty set on graphite. I don’t like stainless sinks even though we’re doing all of our appliances in stainless, and I don’t like porcelain because it chips. When we redid our Oak Park kitchen, we put in a black graphite sink and we loved it.

I don’t know how it happened but I ended up on Overstock. I’ve had mixed success on Overstock. Sometimes I find great stuff; sometimes nothing I’d even consider. I suppose that’s the case with most e-commerce sites. I had no idea what I wanted so I just started surfing through. I ended up with a vessel sink by Vigo that was kind of cool. Very different. We decided we’d buy it, along with a waterfall faucet. We wanted something like that for the powder room, a room that won’t be used much. The cost wasn’t bad at all. For the sink, the pop-up drain and the faucet, it was about $225. It was in the budget.

I love shopping on the internet because I have the entire world at my fingertips. I can surf and compare. It’s wonderful. The downside is I’m often not entirely sure if what I’m seeing onscreen is what will arrive on my porch. In the case of the first Vigo, it surpassed our expectations. Simply stunning.

So we went back to the well and decided that we’d buy two more Vigo sinks, of a different color of course, for the master. We’re also not doing waterfall faucets. They’re cool to look at but they don’t appear to be as sturdy as regular faucets. They’re fine for a powder room that gets occasional use; not for the master bathroom which will get several-times-daily use.

We found something we liked last weekend, took another chance. They arrived today.

There was apprehension as we opened the box. There was a sinking feeling that maybe this time, the photos online weren’t accurate enough. We were nervous. But as soon as we removed the Styrofoam packing and lifted the sink in its cloth bag, sliding it away, we both looked at each other. We put it on the counter. We studied. We walked around the island where it was displayed. We made hmmming noises. Then we looked at each other and grinned. Another success.

Celebrating our new sinks tonight. It’s just a small part of a big project but it means we’re this much closer to living it out loud in our new house. 

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On Sundays alone

by Lorin Michel Sunday, May 25, 2014 10:24 PM

For the past four days, we’ve had company. Our dearest friends Roy and Bobbi have been with us and oh, what a time we’ve had. They drove on Wednesday, leaving around 9:30 am. The plan was to take I-10 across California, into Arizona, down through Phoenix and finally exit in Tucson. That was the plan but plans change. As the old saying goes, life is what happens when you’re busy making plans. Also really bad accidents. One did, on the 10 at Blythe, closing the freeway in both directions. There is no other way to get through Blythe and into Arizona when on the 10.

Luckily they found out early enough; Bobbi sent me a message from the car. We started researching in order to plan an alternate. South on 86 out of Indio, past the Salton Sea, to the 111 and on down to the I-8. The I-8 runs from San Diego straight across the lower part of the Sonoran Desert, dangerously close to the Mexico border, so close that you could see the fence. It’s not significantly longer, maybe 20 miles. They stopped in Yuma for lunch, one of the biggest armpits in the country (apologies to people who live in Yuma), then zoomed along, finally arriving around 6.

We were waiting. We had some cheese, some wine. I made pasta with two kinds of sauce, or as Roy calls it “gravy.” We laughed and talked through the night. Over the next couple of days, we just enjoyed ourselves. We visited some wonderful places, places we had discovered and wanted to share. The Lost Barrio downtown, the famous Hotel Congress where John Dillinger was staying and where he was finally caught way back when as he was exiting the Rialto Theater across the street. We went to the Arizona Inn, a landmark that first opened in 1930. It’s a throw back place, full of history and possibility. It looks like old Hollywood glamour. I know that stars like Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, Katherine Hepburn and more used to vacation in Tucson during the 1930s and 1940s. I think the AZ Inn catered to the elite. It still caters to an older clientele simply because of the décor, the style. It’s old world and gorgeous.

We went to The Dish, an eclectic and impossibly small bistro that serves things like a bowl of mussels, swimming in a garlic-saffron broth, with a glass of wine for just $12.50 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Kevin and I had the mussels, Bobbi had smoked salon flatbread. Roy had a salad and squash soup. We all shared a Spanish wine.

Roy is an artist. Kevin has been pitching him as his artist representative and several weeks ago, booked a one-man month show at a gallery on the east side. We went to check out the space, take some pictures. We went to the house, took a picnic, went south to Elgin to do some southern Arizona wine tasting. We tasted our own wines, our Syrah and our Cabernet Sauvignon.

Our three full days of fun came to an end this morning. They loaded up their rental car, and drove off into the desert as Kevin, Cooper and I stood in the driveway watching them go.

It’s been a strange day. We’ve been trying to get some work done, and Kevin has been making more progress on that front than I. Cooper has been napping. He doesn’t seem to be feeling well today. Or maybe he’s just missing Roy and Bobbi. I know we are.

They’re our closest friends. We get along terrifically. We’ve always traveled well together; we stayed together well, too. There was no stress. It was just easy and fun. On this Sunday, as the warmth wrapped around us, we were missing our friends but celebrating our time together and the good times yet to come, when once again we’ll be living it out loud together.

The adventures of Cooper Michel

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, May 14, 2014 10:50 PM

Episode 5: The spa

Because we were gone yesterday we decided to give Cooper a little bit of a doggie vacay. That’s how I placated myself anyway. Our Cooper tends toward the anxious and he has separation issues, especially when he’s separated from me. We think it’s because he has been left so many times before us. Try as we might, we can’t seem to get him to believe that this time, this family, is for good. He’s stuck with us, like white on rice, or pet fur on black pants.

When we were in Oak Park, we had a place called the Westlake Pet Motel. Great people who simply loved the animals. The place was immaculate. Tucked into the hills and canyons off of Decker/Route 23 South, it was an ideal setting for lots of barking dogs. We discovered it when we had Maguire. He loved going. We’d get there and they’d take his leash and he’d just trot along, never looking at us as if to ask “why am I going with these strange people?” He simply went. When we picked him up, he would have been bathed, and he would come out to greet us with a wild-eyed look that didn’t even see us. It was as if he’d forgotten us in the time he was moteling. It didn’t take him long after we returned home to fall into his routine. Usually about 20 seconds.

Cooper has been there once. Last May when we went back to New York to see Justin, we left him in their hands. A brush fire was burning in the general vicinity. The winds shifted and according to news reports it was eating everything in its path, and in its path was the motel. As we were 35,000 feet up, I was frantically emailing trying to get information. We’d left our boy, our anxiety-ridden little dude, and now the hills were on fire. A girl named Abby responded to my emails and called me throughout the weekend, assuring me that all was well, and that Cooper was fine. If anything changed, she would let us know. Sure enough, everything was fine. We picked him up, all fluffy from a bath, and took him home several days later. No worse for the wear.

We needed a new place. I found the Sabino Canyon Pet Resort. They had a great website, they looked like they cared about the animals left in their charge. I called, I booked Cooper a doggie suite, a two-room kennel with a bed and a blanket, plus a pass-through to go out to take care of business. It wasn’t as close to other dogs as the traditional kennels. I thought it might be better for him since he’s terrified of other dogs. Hearing them is one thing; seeing them quite another. We dropped him on Monday late afternoon since we were leaving very early on Tuesday and would be gone until the evening. Because he’s anxious, and because he doesn’t yet trust, we didn’t want to have a pet sitter come in to let him out. He might have eaten her. Not to mention the fact that we don’t completely trust leaving him alone all day in the house.

So Cooper Michel went to the Pet Resort. He slept in his two-room suite, on his blanket, with Bull and Fox with him. He wandered through his “door.” Today he had a bath.

When we dropped him off on Monday late afternoon, I asked when we could get him. We have never liked being in the house without our dog. It just seems wrong, empty. They said that since he was getting a bath, it would be a little later. They’d call me. I couldn’t stand the wait. At 10:15 this morning I called.

“He’s under the dryer.”

For some reason all I could imagine was my little red-furred one, inside a dryer, spinning, spinning. Kerplump, thump. Kerplump, thump.

We picked him up at 12:30. He came around the corner and as soon as he saw us he started to pant and strain and whine. We’d come back. We’d come back for him. He was saved.

He was fluffy, he smelled good. He’d spent a couple of days at the spa, and life was good after all. He was still Cooper Michel and that was worth celebrating. 

The hiss of the gila monster and the rattle of the snake

by Lorin Michel Monday, May 12, 2014 9:44 PM

The first place Kevin and I lived together was in my townhouse in Calabasas. We had spent the last year and a half of our relationship commuting between his apartment in Woodland Hills and my place affectionately dubbed “the country house.” Country house rightly brings to mind an English Tudor mansion nestled amongst rolling hills, a tree-lined drive leading the way to peace and tranquility.

My townhouse was about 1200 square feet. Nice, but by no means large. It had a good-sized kitchen and a separate dining area which opened down onto a sunken living room. A brick fireplace cut the far wall at an angle, making the room more welcoming. Upstairs there were two bedrooms, one at either end of the hall. The master was huge, with a walk-in closet and a wardrobe, and a nice sized bathroom. It had a two-car garage. After the earthquake, I had to move out for three months while they put shear wall up on the outside, and nearly gutted the interior. I got new tile and brand new carpet; new paint. It was lovely; and it was mine. I bought it after my first husband and I divorced.

After awhile it became ridiculous for Kevin and I to have two places. We were spending every night together. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night in the city (aka Woodland Hills) and weekends in the country. We decided to consolidate. We combined our furniture, sold what we didn’t want and bought some new. We wanted our lives together to literally be a combination of us rather than him moving into my space or me moving into his. It made sense to move into the townhouse because I owned it.

The townhouse was directly on Las Virgenes Road/Malibu Canyon. It’s a busy road. Even though the master bedroom was in the back of the house, away from the road, you could still hear the continuing whine of rubber on asphalt. When we decided we needed more room for the three of us, plus Maguire, we bought a house in Oak Park. Oak Park is a sleepy little niche of a town, wedged into the corner where Agoura, Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks meet. We moved in at the end of August in 1997. It was the night Princess Diana was killed. We moved all of our furniture into the garage and spent the day painting and cleaning. At 10 pm, we ordered a pizza, opened a bottle of wine and found one of our televisions. We wanted some “noise.” We turned on CNN and there was the breaking news.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from my mother was this: when you move, the first thing you should do is set up your bed. That way no matter what else you do for the rest of the day, from cleaning to unpacking, when you’re ready to drop from exhaustion, you have a place to drop into.

We went to bed sometime after 1 am. At 5:30, we were awakened by the incessant singing and chirping of birds. We lay there in bed, listening and laughing. Birds! We hadn’t heard birds like this before. We were definitely in the country now.

This morning, I asked Kevin if the birds in Oak Park were as loud as they are in Tucson. He laughed and said he wasn’t sure. Then I began to wonder what we might hear at our new house. As we pondered that, listening to the doves and the sparrows and the cardinals and the pigeons, it suddenly occurred to me exactly what we would hear. In the desert, amongst the cactus and the mesquite, with the hawks circling above, I could already hear it.

The hiss of the gila monster and the rattle of the snake. This is life in the desert and it is glorious. It is living it out loud, while being very careful not to get too close to either else we be dying out loud. 

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Thou shalt not fear the apocalypse

by Lorin Michel Sunday, May 4, 2014 10:21 PM

As desert rats, we understand that in the next weeks, we will be descending into the inferno. We are ready, we think; we are prepared, maybe. We know we will become like pieces of pottery, fired in a kiln only to eventually emerge and cool for use. I use this forced metaphor because tomorrow I start a pottery class. I’ve been looking forward to it for a while. On Monday nights for the next eight weeks, I will drive through the ever-building heat toward a studio where I will sit at a wheel and throw around wet clay. I can’t think of a better way to cool off.

Where was I? Oh, yes. The coming apocalypse. By apocalypse, I mean the dreaded summer heat of the southwest where daily temperatures are usually at 100º and higher. These temperatures can be found in Southern Arizona and Southern California, especially in the San Fernando Valley of SoCal. There have been days when I have driven across the Valley and been told by the temperature gauge on the dashboard of my car that it is a balmy 116º. 

That is nothing compared to the hottest place on earth, the desert’s own Death Valley where the hottest temperature ever recorded on earth was 134º. Talk about going into the kiln. Several years ago, my mother visited in the summer and we went to Santa Ynez and Los Olivos to do some wine tasting. It was 104º. She’s not used to living in a kiln, but – as my brother likes to joke – at least it’s a dry heat. Like that matters when the temperature is over 100.

To beat this apocalyptic heat, we engage in several activities. One involves staying inside with the air conditioning running, keeping the house at a comfortable 78º. Another involves traveling by car, also with the AC on. And another involves rearranging our lives so as to exercise before 8 am so as not to melt into a puddle of goo. This was the case this morning as we set off on our bicycles. At 8:40. We had good intentions. Last night we went to bed and said we would ride this morning early because of the coming apocalypse. It was supposed to be 95º today (I think it ultimately topped out at 93º). We woke up early and then because we hadn’t slept well because let’s face it, who can when the end of the world is coming, we fell back to sleep. Or rather, we dozed. At 7:35 we awoke with a start. We still had to walk Cooper. We needed to have a cup of coffee. We needed to prepare for the journey, a process that entails Kevin topping off the air pressure in the tires while I get the water bottles ready.

When we finally mounted the bikes and clicked into our pedals, it was already toasty. We rode 13 miles. Not far but it was mostly uphill. Even the brief periods of downhill were uphill. It’s true. I know you’re probably thinking that the heat has started to fry my brain because how can downhills go up, but they can and they do in the desert when it’s hot. Maybe it’s a mirage. By the time we got back, 52 minutes later, we were hot, sweaty, and red-faced, exactly how I would expect the apocalypse to make me.

I don’t know much about the apocalypse actually. My understanding is that it involves guys on horses, rather than bikes. But if my scant knowledge of the end of the world is correct, there is great heat and fire, and the gates of hell or something.

After a winter of nearly no rain, there will be fires. As I write this, there is one burning just east of Los Angeles. The weather people are predicting an apocalyptic fire season that has already started months early. It’s the price we pay for living in the southwest. But I don’t believe the actual apocalypse is coming, nor do I fear it if it does because I’m fairly used to the heat. And besides, I ride a bike. 

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El Niño is coming! El Niño is coming!

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 9, 2014 10:00 PM

While the east has been buried in snow, ice and cold this winter, the west has shriveled up, dried up and blown away like tumbleweed across the Sonoran. It’s been unseasonably warm as well. I had a feeling it probably didn’t bode well for a balmy summer but I tried to convince myself that I was wrong. I’m not a meteorologist. Turns out I was probably right after all.

Yesterday was warmer than usual. Today it’s downright hot and humid. It’s only April 9. I am not amused. Tomorrow is supposed to be even hotter. As I write this it’s currently 90º in the OP, according to my iPhone. I suspect it’s even hotter. For some reason the way temperature is sometimes officially charted often seems lower than reality. It’s much the same way with how rain is measured. It can pour for three days and according to the weather gods, we’ve only received half an inch. I don’t understand it and not to be too get-off-my-lawn, but I also don’t believe it.

Most people probably haven’t paid attention to several items that have recently appeared in various places on the interwebs discussing the possibility of an El Niño developing this year. It started small, both the items and the El Niño evidently, but they are now growing proportionally.

Southern Californians tend to equate an El Niño with cataclysmic rain. The kind of rain where you start to think that maybe there really was a Noah and maybe he really did have to build an ark, but not because of the god above. More likely it was because of the god below.

El Niños start in the Niño3.4 region of the Pacific Ocean, south of the Hawaiian islands. Essentially this area of the ocean experiences persistent warming for five or more three-month “seasons.” The water that’s deep below the surface becomes what scientists affectionately call off-the-charts warm. This water moves east, toward the coast of California, propelled by trade winds. Coincidentally the warm water also drifts from down deep to nearer the surface where it says a big hello to the air, boosting temperatures and thus changing weather patterns.

According to those in the know, El Niño-ologists, April could be the month the big boy officially gets started. Considering it’s only April 9, and it’s already 90º, I’d say that’s a safe bet. Evidently the water in the Pacific is about the same temp as that of the biggest El Niño ever recorded, in 1997 – 1998. It’s also the only time since then that water below the surface has been this warm in April.  El Niño wreaks havoc in Indonesia, inducing severe drought; in Peru where the anchovy catch will be affected; in Australia where the dryness is exacerbated; in India where monsoons will proliferate. In California and the west, we pray for El Niño because it usually means lots and lots of rain. Rain leads to flooding which leads to ark building.

Still if it helps keep the tumbleweeds from tumbling and eventually gives us more rain I guess an April 9 temperature of 90º is something we can live with. Of course, ask me in June or July how I feel, when the air is hot enough to raise the hair on my arms and the sun tries desperately to change the color of my hair, when it’s so hot the planes can’t get off the ground and the interior of my car burns my hand when I touch the gear shift. Ask me then.

Still, I’ll smile and I’ll enjoy it because I’ll know what’s coming once the sun turns cooler and the air becomes more friendly. Rain. Rain. Rain. 

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A cold wind is blowing

by Lorin Michel Thursday, April 3, 2014 12:31 AM

I am on the Rillito River trail. Clouds are drifting in ever faster from the west. The wind is in my face. It’s a cold wind, colder than I expected for a Wednesday morning. I am in shorts and a long-sleeve pullover, zipped up to keep warm. On my head, a bright yellow helmet; my glasses silver; on my feet, blue shoes velcroed closed, and clipped into my pedals. I am on my bike. Behind me is my husband, in similar attire. We are racing along the pathway, heading due east and thus into the sun. It’s 8:30 am. And it’s cold.

I’m writing this in my head as we move and the wind swirls around us. It’s an interesting process, writing in one’s head because the brain is constantly moving and thinking and creating and figuring all while making sure the body is working the way it’s supposed to. Right now, for instance, it’s making sure that my legs are churning forward and that my head is down, the wind blowing through the vents in my helmet, whistling a tune I’ve heard before. One that has no melody.

I’m thinking about nothing and everything, as the brain is able to do, surprisingly – and scarily – easily. I see a brown dog down in the wash, racing through the sand, digging in the bushes, the brush, sand flying, his owner right behind him with water. I smile. It’s an involuntary reaction. Further up the path is a runner. She’s long, thin, in a bright red t-shirt and black running shorts. Her shoes are fluorescent pink. I remember when I used to run. I loved running. I miss running. My knees and my hips don’t agree. I swerve wide to pass the runner and as I do, I feel a twinge in my right hip. I ignore it.

Another dog, this time running with his owner, ahead. She’s also in black shorts. Her dog is also brown. They duck off the bike path and veer off onto a dirt path through the desert. The dog is on a leash.

I keep thinking about this quote from Lord Byron:

In the desert a fountain is springing,
In the wide waste there still is a tree,
And a bird in the solitude singing,
Which speaks to my spirit of thee.

I can’t remember what it’s from. I think it’s Stanzas to Augusta. In my whirling, cycling brain, as the runner disappears into the desert, I make a mental note to check later.

Later, I will read a report put out by researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine who have found that people exposed to natural light between 8 am and noon have a lower body mass index; that for every hour later in the day, an extra 5 or 10 pounds could be added to a person who’s 5 foot 8 inches tall. I’m 5’ 7.”

We cross a bridge that crosses the dry riverbed, circle up and back around to continue. We’re only going as far as where we have to physically cross the road and then we’ll turn back. I think that’s coming just ahead. It is, and we pull to a stop. We’ve been cycling for just 20 minutes, but it will also be 20 minutes back. 40 minutes of aerobic exercise in the morning, under the bright sunlight.

On the way back, the wind swirls and blows cold even in the sun.

Chief Seattle wrote: “Make me courageous when the cold wind falls upon me. Give me strength and endurance for everything that is harsh, everything that hurts, everything that makes me squint. Let me move through life ready to take what comes from the north.”

He was a Susquamish chief who lived on the islands of Puget Sound in the late 18th and 19th century. His wisdom rings true even in the land of Archaic and Hohokam, Tohono O’odham and Yaqui and so many other Native Americans.

From the northern desert, a cold wind is blowing. But the sun is shining and my legs are pumping. I’m celebrating the morning and the day to come. I’m living it out loud on a hard Italian seat atop a metallic blue bicycle with bright yellow lettering. It’s going to be a good day. 

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live out loud

The trashman cometh and he cometh way too early

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 2, 2014 12:44 AM

The morning comes in quietly. It begins with the hush of the sun as it peers over the eastern horizon, almost timid, checking to make sure it’s OK to come out. It always seems to think the coast is clear because up it comes. I’m awake sometimes and can see the night fade to gray and then begin to flood. Simultaneously the birds begin to chirp and as the light brightens more birds start singing. The whir of cars traveling down Campbell picks up speed, and suddenly the morning can no longer be denied.

I am not usually awake to see this. Sometimes it happens because I’m having an insomnia moment or two. Sometimes because I have to pee. And sometimes, like this morning, it’s because the trashman cometh.

We live in a fairly urban area, albeit inside a gated community. As such we’re safe from the world while being right in the middle of it. There are 18 houses with garages to the side, some with small yards amidst the desert landscaping in the back, all with courtyards leading to the front doors. There are only two small children; there are many dogs. No one leaves their cars in the driveway. It’s beautifully landscaped, with trees and flowering bushes but mostly cactus, some large prickly pear, some soaring ocotillos, all of them flowering. Everyone is friendly though no one is friends.

On Monday mornings, we have trash pick up. Sunday nights, everyone rolls their cans to the curb. Blue recycles, green trash. It’s all very orderly. The trash collecting trucks come roaring through, separated by about 30 minutes. They’re noisy; their mechanical arms clank and grind. The engine grinds, wheezes.

But that’s nothing compared to the cacophony that sounded this morning just after the sun rose. It was about 6:20 am. Official sunrise was at 6:12. It wasn’t yet bright, just light. The dog was snoring as he often is when he’s sleeping. Dreams were causing his four feet to run and clash against the side of his kennel. He’s not locked in at night but it’s where he sleeps, on the padded rug inside. It’s his house, his den. He goes in voluntarily and he’s free to come out at any time which is usually around 7.

Clang. Bang. Grind. Clank. SLAM.

Did I mention that behind us is an apartment complex? It’s a decent complex but like all complexes of the sort, including condos and townhouses, and most business establishments, trash is deposited into dumpsters. Dumpsters tend to be grouped together, sometimes only two, sometimes four or five. The complex behind us has four. We know this because when we walk we sometimes cut through the parking lot so we’ve had the pleasure of strolling past them a number of times.

Since the weather has been so lovely, even at night, we’ve been sleeping with the window open. This allows us to hear the sounds of the night as well as feel the rush of cool, fresh air. We hadn’t thought about the sound of the trash trucks emptying dumpsters.

The trashman starts early and the first places he visits are evidently the apartments behind where we live. The truck roars in through the dusty morning, slams on its brakes that squeal and screech, maneuvers its lifting arm under the metal dumpster, lifts it, dumps it and slams it back down onto the asphalt. Then speeds through to the next one to repeat the sequence all over. And again.

I rolled over and opened my eyes, sighing. Kevin followed suit. We both were looking up at the ceiling.

“You hear that?”

“How could I not?”

“Could they come any earlier?”

“At least Cooper’s not up yet.”

And with that, Cooper exited his kennel, shook his fur into place, rattling his tags, announcing that he was ready to go outside. Because if everyone else is up anyway, he can goeth out early. Way too early, and with that, we celebrated the beginning of Tuesday.  

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live out loud

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