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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Saturday's with Moby

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 26, 2014 8:48 PM

When Kevin and I saw The Bourne Legacy several years ago, we suddenly became aware of the end credits music. We had seen all of the Jason Bourne movies, with Matt Damon. This latest incarnation starred Jeremy Renner and we enjoyed it more than most people. Part of the reason was the music by Moby. We became instant fans.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought Innocents, Moby’s album from 2013. It’s a very atmospheric album, filled with Moby eclecticism, perhaps less on this disc than on others. We like to put it on in the background, especially on weekend mornings and just let the electricity flood the house. This is what we did this morning, after we got back from a mile and a half walk with Cooper that included stopping at the vet to get his nails trimmed. We used to do Maguire’s ourselves because his nails were clear. We could both get down on the ground with him and I would shine a flashlight through his nail so we could see the vein, then Kevin would snip. Cooper’s nails are black. Neither of us is brave enough to chance it. He’s now very stealthy, stealing around the house and sliding around corners like he’s in socks.

We were back by 8:45. We put a pot of coffee on and listened to the wind. It’s been very windy lately, imposingly strong, in your face. It’s the wind of the desert and when it blows it has a mean streak. I tried to find something I wanted to listen to on live365, my internet radio app of choice but nothing was singing true. Moby was still in the CD player so I fired that up and poured myself another cup of coffee.

The fifth track on the album is called The Perfect Life. It’s got a near gospel sound to it. It begins like this: Oh We close our eyes The perfect life Is all we need.

As I was listening, I thought about those words. Is the perfect life something that’s only seen in dreams; in our imaginations; our thoughts? Is that why we close our eyes? Or is it the fact that life around us is just as we need it to be and so we close our eyes to acknowledge the weight of the ideal we have achieved? This life, the people in it, the lives we have created are all we need.

I thought of this fact all today, through the wind and the rain it brought along to play. The thunder as it rolled across the sky before rolling itself out. Kevin worked in the garage on the Porsche, reattaching the new front-end shocks. I did some cleaning, some laundry. I am always amazed at how mindless cleaning is. There are no thoughts, there are only tasks. It’s liberating, freeing. Easy.

I went to the grocery store. It had been a week and a half since our last trip and the refrigerator, the cupboards, were bare. There was precious little food to be found anywhere. I bought everything we needed and some things we didn’t. When I left home, the sky was brooding. As I exited the grocery store, I could smell the dampness of the dust. It was raining. I drove home and as I turned into the driveway, the garage door was still open. It had been open most of the day. Kevin was now reattaching tires. Cooper was helping in the wonderful way that dogs help which is not at all. They lie nearby and sleep, content to be with you. Maguire used to help me wash the car, which meant he laid underneath the big oak tree in the front yard. Cooper helps dad in the garage by lying on the cold cement.

As soon as I got out of the car, both of them rose to greet me. It was raining, cold. A perfect day. My husband and my dog were there, not necessarily waiting for me, but not not-waiting. Kevin smiled, Cooper wagged his tail. I had a car full of groceries and wine. Later, if it cleared up, we were planning a trip to the property to introduce Cooper to the new house. If not, we’ll go tomorrow.

A rainbow appeared, a perfect arch of refracted color and light against a still dark sky. The clouds were gradually flying east. The sunset was going to be spectacular.

On this Saturday Moby set the stage early on for today’s perfect life. It was all I needed; all I need.

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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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Repping the artist

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 6, 2014 11:01 PM

Our friend Roy is an artist. He made his living for years as an art director and illustrator, but he is truly a fine artist. He sketches constantly, paints daily. His work is amazing. I know I’m biased but I also believe him to be very talented. Like so many talented people, though, it’s hard to break through. It always seems like a case of right-place-right-time in order to make a name for oneself. How else to explain Thomas Kinkaid?

Several years ago, Bobbi created a website for his work, and put said work up on additional fine art sites for people to order prints. She and I recently started a blog called The Artist’s Loft, which we post on Roy’s site but that also appears on Fine Art America. We’re working on getting the word out.

Kevin has also gotten in the act as an artist’s rep. Bobbi designed a postcard and Kevin has been talking to local galleries and putting out feelers online. We believe it’s a matter of persistence, of getting the art out.

Tomorrow we’re delivering a packet of information to Agua Caliente Park Gallery, an oasis on the far eastern side of town. It used to be a ranch but has since become a place to see water in the desert, all types of birds and wildlife, and visit an art gallery that showcases works of nature as well as the great desert southwest.

Bobbi sent us the paintings they want to show, placing them in a great layout. Kevin is going to print them on regular 8 ½” x 11” photo paper, along with artist information, the postcard and contact information for contacting the rep, meaning Kevin.

Repping an artist can be a full-time job. Much like a writer has an agent, ditto actors, fine artists have representatives that do the same, namely pitch the artist’s work to galleries in order to get the artist a showing. With a showing comes potential notoriety, not to mention possible sales. Sales are good because money makes the artist’s work more appreciated, not to mention provides money to buy more canvases, more paints, more sketch pads. It also has the added benefit of helping with little things like food and the mortgage or rent.

Eternal Dance, commissioned for Lorin Michel, 2013. For Pam.

Kevin is enjoying this a great deal. I think, in many ways, it’s easier to be the rep than the artist because for the artist, it’s highly personal. Even though Roy is probably Kevin’s best friend and Kevin wants nothing more than to see him succeed, he’s still removed from the work because he doesn’t do the creating. The hardest thing for an artist to do is represent him or herself. It requires two different types of personality: one who’s into sales/marketing; the other who’s … not.

Artists can be reclusive. They see things differently and thus think and react differently. This is why they can’t represent themselves. Because they don’t think like business people, in terms of dollars and cents, or logistics. They think creatively rather than linearly.

Which is why we currently have Kevin, a businessman, who has dusted off his sales/marketing hat and is starting to pimp Roy’s art everywhere he can. We’re determined – we’re committed – to get this fabulous art into some galleries. It starts with one. That’s all it takes and then hopefully it snowballs. If anybody deserves the accolades, it’s Roy. Anyone who knows him agrees. Anyone who doesn’t would if they knew him and knew his work.

Celebrating art and especially the fine artist Roy Guzman. Keep your fingers crossed for some showing soon.

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The son on the Sun

by Lorin Michel Monday, February 24, 2014 11:30 PM

Our Justin has started his first post-college job. He left today out of the Port of Miami on the Sun, a cruise ship owned and operated by the Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Lines. He’s the Lighting Technician, the only one on the ship and as such, he’s responsible for all of the technical aspects of light for all of the entertainment. He will also be responsible for designing the lighting for at least one of the smaller shows. He doesn’t know which one; doesn’t know a lot about what he’ll be doing at all. Though since the ship left port for the open sea at approximately 4 pm EST, he probably knows a lot more than he did.

We’re very proud of our boy. He’s come a long way. He started out so small and unassuming. He was just a little bit of a guy, all red hair and big glasses. Skinny. Friendly. Outgoing. He was never afraid of anything or anyone, other than if he needed to be of course. But he’d go up to any person who worked in a store or a restaurant to ask for help if he needed it. He started flying by himself when he was five, coming to visit his dad and I once a month for long weekends. He took it all in stride. He went to summer camp in California, a new one each year, sometimes with the same kids, sometimes not. He made friends easily and had them throughout the year so that when he came to visit, they came to sleep over and play.

When he moved to California permanently and started school here, he knew only a few kids. Within a couple of weeks, he had friends. He tried out and made the soccer team. He got a girlfriend. He assimilated and never looked back. Yes, we had some issues in high school. Some of them typical parent-teen angst; some worse. But we got through it all. More importantly, he got through it all because of who he is. Strong, independent, fearless.

He started college at the University of Arizona in Tucson, again knowing no one. Two and a half years later he transferred to State University New York at Fredonia where two years after that, he would graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Theatrical Production/Lighting Design & Electrics. Last fall, his last semester, as he was preparing to graduate, he started applying for jobs. He found job boards in the theatre industry, created a spreadsheet, and sent cover letters and resumes to everything he was interested in. He got two calls. One from a performing arts center on Long Island for day crew. One from Norwegian Cruise Lines. He got and took both. The Long Island gig he can work when he’s not on the ship.

Photo from last week, Justin in the desert. Taken by Joanne, his girlfriend

He had at least three interviews with Norwegian, had to pass a background check and get medical clearance. He’s on the Sun for six months straight. They cruise in and out of their home port every 7 to 14 days, but he has time only to run some errands on the mainland before they ship off once again. Six months, seven days a week. Then a mandatory 6 weeks off. They give him room and board and pay him a decent salary. Out of that salary he has to pay for internet service ($20 for 200 minutes) and phone service ($20 for 60 minutes); also any alcohol. It can add up quickly, especially since he also wants to save anything. His mother has been harping on him since he started school that he needed to save some of the money he makes while working for the time when he’s not. We’ll soon see if my nagging has paid off.

I’ve never been on a cruise and have never had much of a desire to be on one. We have friends who love them. Kevin’s brother and his wife go at least once a year. My sister and her husband went on one for their honeymoon. I’m more of a landlubber. But it’s not me working the cruise; it’s him and he’s thrilled. Anxious. Nervous.

We know he’ll be fine. He’s always good in new situations with new people. He’s personable, and he’s smart. He knows his stuff. And he’s always loved the sea. This will be a good job for him, whether it’s just for six months or if he does it for a number of years.

Our son, the brightest star in our lives, is now on the Sun. And living it out loud. 

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Chasing the sun

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, January 7, 2014 11:29 PM

Much of the country is in the deep freeze thanks to the Polar Vortex that has swept down and across the Midwest, into the deep south and on up the east coast. I read today where Anchorage, Alaska was only 34º and expecting rain while places in Louisiana are freezing and losing the citrus crops that usually do fine at this time of the year. Places in Minnesota were flirting with 62º below zero, Chicago and many parts of Wisconsin weren’t far behind. It’s been so cold and miserable that airlines have canceled some 6,000 flights over the last few days because it’s too dangerous to takeoff and land. There is ice to contend with, both on the wings and on the runways.  The wings can be taken care of with de-icing equipment but the runways are a different story. Fuel is also difficult to get into the planes when it’s this cold.

People are suffering; some have died. Dogs are wearing coats and booties. Everything is frozen, and gray. Bitter. I worry especially about the homeless. I’m sure the shelters are over-flowing; I hope they’re letting people sleep on the floor. I read a story about a couple whose son had gone missing and was spotted in a photograph taken by a photojournalist chronicling the homeless during this cold snap. The son was huddled around a steam vent in New York, trying to keep warm and no doubt failing. I don’t think it’s possible to keep warm outside in this kind of weather.

As I do so often when it’s impossibly cold in the Midwest and the northeast, I wonder how it is that people live there. Having lived there myself until I was 22, I know it can be done. I just don’t understand why. I remember visiting one holiday season many years ago when my dad was still alive. We were going to be having a holiday meal at my mother’s house and my dad wanted to watch a football game. He didn’t like my mother’s television so he gave us the money to buy a new one. The only catch was that we had to go get it.

Mom and I took my brother’s Bronco and off we went to Walmart, perhaps the first and last time I ever shopped there. As it was the holidays, it was pretty crazy inside but we found a television and one of the workers said he’d meet us outside the front entrance to load it up. We pulled the truck up to the entrance and sure enough the kid was there with the TV, only I couldn’t get the back hatch open. It took what seemed like a half hour. In reality it was probably only minutes. The wind was howling, the sky was gray, the air arctic. The kid was in shirt sleeves and looking at me with murder in his eyes. I finally got the back open, he loaded the TV and I got back into the cab where my mother was waiting. I looked at her, and felt an uncontrollable shiver flow through me. Shaking, I gripped the wheel.

“How do you people live here?”

The St. Joseph's Lighthouse on Lake Michigan where it was -50

I honestly didn’t and don’t know the answer. I watched the Green Bay football game over the weekend. They had been predicting dangerous cold, the kind of weather where frostbite can set in quickly, within minutes. It was 3º at kickoff and dropped slightly thereafter.

I feel marginally guilty here in the desert where the days have hovered in the low to mid 60s. Even for here, that’s cold. It’s not bitter, nor, I realize, dangerous. The sun is brighter just in the fact that it’s shining. It’s not shining in much of the country right now. But it’s warm streaming through my windows.

Every morning, Cooper begins his chase to catch the sun. He starts in the western corner of my office, near my guitar case. That’s where the first rays land when they come in from the east. Soon the sun moves so he moves, too, closer to me. As the sun moves across the sky each day and the trajectory of its rays changes as well, Cooper’s position changes with it, finally ending up with his butt against the chair on the east side of my office, catching the last bit of warmth of the day.

If I could package this chase and send it to the coldest places in the country so that they could partake in the warmth, or at least in the cuteness, I would. I have no doubt that they’re chasing the sun, too. I hope they find it soon; I hope the thaw can begin. 

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Up, up and away

by Lorin Michel Friday, December 27, 2013 11:37 PM

In 1967 the pop-soul group the 5th Dimension released a single called Up, Up and Away. The lyrics talked of drifting up and away “in my beautiful, my beautiful balloon.” I like the Fifth Dimension though I have no idea why. I think it’s nostalgia. I remember when I was a kid and visiting the big brick house in McKeesport where my Aunt Eleanor and my Aunt Beryl lived with their husbands.  The radio was always on in their house. It was a big console radio that sat on the floor under the window that overlooked the Youghiogheny river below. To the right and left the steel mills, then still producing, would belch thick plumes of smoke into the air. And from the radio, I remember the lush tones of Marilyn McCoo singing about marrying Bill (I would find out later that she was, in fact, married to Billy Davis, Jr) and about not getting to sleep at all the night before.

This morning, we took Justin to the airport and on the way back, to the east, three hot air balloons hung suspended in the sky. The sun had come up not much earlier and was blazing across the desert from the east, golden red and cold. The air was still.  The balloons lazed high above the earth, high enough so we couldn’t make out the people, the size of the basket or even graphics on the balloon itself. They were off in the distance; we were on the freeway. And they were majestic.

I wondered what it might be like to hover above the desert in the morning when the sun is just beginning to warm the ground, to alight on the cactus, to make the sand dance and send any creatures scurrying. I love the desert. Love its peace and majesty, its magic and spirit; its mystery. Even its danger. In the summer, under unrelenting temperatures it can destroy every living thing caught in its thunderous heat, with no shade or water for miles. Only cactus and reptiles seem to survive and even thrive. When winter descends, those once scorching temperatures plummet past freezing. People and animals can succumb to exposure if not careful. The desert can kill you easily and in a hundred different ways. I respect its power even as I marvel at its beauty.

Hot air balloons floating above this danger seems a complete dichotomy. No one thinks of danger when they think of hot air balloons. They’re too peaceful to be dangerous; too eerily beautiful. That’s a misunderstanding. Anything that floats above the earth at heights reaching thousands of feet is vulnerable. There is propane gas that ignites to heat the air inside the balloon, keeping it aloft. The wind can come up suddenly. My mother was a hot air balloonist for years and knew of several accidents, a number of which were catastrophic. As with anything wondrous and mysterious, there can be an undercurrent of the unknown. It’s that unknown that keeps many people away even as it attracts so many others.

The song Up, Up and Away was written by Jimmy Webb. It celebrated a genre called sunshine pop, cheerful and upbeat with warm squishy music and vocal harmonies dripping from the vinyl on which they were recorded. It also celebrated hot air ballooning and went on to win Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the Grammy Awards the year it was released.

I thought of the song today as I watched the balloons hang in the air, as we flew by and left them behind too quickly. As we did, I knew that Justin, too, was up, up and away, on his way back to New York to start his post-college career. Like the balloons he was here and then, he was gone. But we’ll see him again soon. And perhaps we’ll see the balloons, too. Perhaps when they next make an appearance, it will signal Justin’s impending arrival. As they descend slowly, drifting lazily to the ground, Justin too will descend and then we’ll all celebrate with champagne and orange juice.

At least that’s how my mom’s crew celebrated the end of a successful Up, Up and Away ride.   

Such fine chaps

by Lorin Michel Saturday, December 14, 2013 11:36 PM

Many Sundays ago, when Maguire was still alive and young enough to go with me in the car to run errands, when there was still Blockbuster Video and before Netflix and Smart TVs, he and I went to Westlake Village to return our DVDs. It was a beautiful day, warm but not hot, and as we pulled up to a stop light on Agoura Road, two motorcycles roared to a stop next to us. They were both cruisers and each carried a couple, with the man driving and the woman along for the ride. They were on our right, on the passenger side. Maguire, in the back seat, hung his head out the window and looked handsome, which wasn’t hard for him. The women both looked at him and smiled. They nodded to me. The light changed, the men dropped the bikes into gear and off they roared.

When Maguire and I got home, I said, casually, to Kevin that we should get a motorcycle. We had our first by the end of the following week, a metallic silver Suzuki Intruder 850. It was a beautiful bike but proved to be too small. Within the year, we bought another Suzuki, this time a 1500. It was big enough, powerful enough, stylish enough with its two toned paint – metallic white and metallic silver – but it was missing character. Another year later we got our current bike, a Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad 1500. It has a chipped engine which I think soups it up a bit. It also has custom exhaust. It’s big, it’s bad. It’s comfortable. Metallic black with white wall tires, and two big saddlebags. We love it.

The Kawasaki

Over the years we have put thousands of miles on all of our bikes, but the most on the Kaw. I believe we’re currently around 23,000. It’s only used for fun, though Kevin occasionally takes it to meetings or to run errands. I don’t like it when he goes off without me. It worries me. My philosophy is “if we’re going to go splat, we’re going to go together.”

Since we’ve been riding, we’ve also collected quite the menagerie of riding gear. We have heavy leathers for when it’s cold, light leathers for when it’s just cool. We have vests for when we just need a little something to break the wind. There are different gloves to go with the different weather types; llighter gloves with a mesh top for when it’s not cold, heavier, lined gloves for when it is. Kevin has gauntlet gloves for when it’s cold. They are long and wide enough to go up over the end of this jacket sleeve. It keeps the wind out. I had always seen riders wearing leather and thought they did it just to be cool. Once we started riding, I realized it was because it often is cool if not downright cold. And the air goes right through cotton jeans and jackets. Leather blocks it.

Kevin in his biker gear, including chaps

Years ago, for Christmas, and unbeknownst to each other, we got chaps. Chaps are seatless leather pants that are most frequently associated with cowboys. They’re Spanish in origin, and were called armas, or shield, and used as protection against cactus, brush and thorns when herding cattle in the west. They were basically two large pieces of leather sown together and attached to the horn of the rider’s saddle, and then spread across the horse’s chest and the rider’s legs. A little bulky and awkward. Finally someone got the idea to actually make them function more as an addendum to pants and Chaperajos were the result. Chaperajos means leg of iron. They were abbreviated to chaps though the ch was pronounced as sh originally. They became hugely popular in the 1870s, again primarily with cowboys. In the colder climates, cowboys also wore angora chaps with bear, buffalo or angora fur/wool. In the 1900s, batwing chaps became all the rage. They fit closely at the waist and thigh and then flared at the bottom for greater flexibility.

Motorcycle chaps developed initially from tank corps gear after World War I. Long leather coats were worn for protection, but tended to catch in the wheels. By World War II, wide legged leathers or breeches were being worn. In 1928, Irving Schott invented the popular jacket and chaps made famous by Marlon Brando in The Wild One in 1954. They’ve been worn by American bikers since the early 1960s to protect against weather, especially the cold, and in the case of a fall, they tend to be more resilient against asphalt.

Me in my biker gear, including chaps

As far as I can tell, the addition of fringe is purely decorative. Mine have fringe. I also have a brilliant red rose tapestry sown onto each thigh. It matches the brilliant red rose abstracts on my coat, which also has fringe. Kevin’s chaps don’t have fringe. Neither does his coat. I wear mine with black cowboy boots, as a nod to the past.

We look bad on the bike. We look like bikers. And unless you ride, you might have thought that all that leather is just to look like part of the biker subculture. That may be partially true. We bikers stick together. There’s an unwritten code that says you stop to help someone who’s on the side of the road. If you’re just passing another biker, you acknowledge each other with a low hand out to the side, or a peace sign. Very cool, very casual. We take care of each other because ultimately we’re all fine chaps. Some of us are also wearing them. 

An ocean away

by Lorin Michel Friday, December 6, 2013 10:18 PM

The Pacific Ocean is directly below me. To the west, the remnants of the sun paint the sky in orange and red. Dark clouds flow through the streaks, hints of the weather traveling in tomorrow before heading east to Tucson. I too am traveling east, coincidentally also to Tucson. I've had meetings in LA all day, fought freeway traffic and somewhere in between managed to have lunch with two members of my west coast family.

I forget sometimes what it is like here. The weather was cool, the sky dancing with clouds tinged with the coming rain. There's a different atmosphere in Southern California, less connected somehow. Everyone sitting in their cars, listening to news or holiday music or satellite radio or NPR. Everyone stares straight ahead, there is no eye contact. To make eye contact would be too personal. It's a little trick I learned myself a long time ago. Stare ahead and hope that the traffic miraculously dissipates, and please don’t look at anyone.

There is more moisture in the air, more expanse. The ocean confirms it. It's funny how I hadn't thought much about the ocean in the last few months and now here it is, in all of its darkening glory, shards if sparkle still remaining. Dolphins darting up and under. A freighter sitting peacefully though in reality probably moving along.

Palos Verde juts off to the left; Santa Monica rounds to the right and north.  Soon the plane, which has taken off to the west will begin its long sweeping turn to the north as well and then to the east. The city and its billions of lights will grow bright again as the night calls. The lights will stretch forever, ending some 100 miles away. They will grow faint as we climb to a higher altitude, eventually disappearing into the desert.

The sun set over an hour ago in Tucson where I can see the sunset in my mind. The sky above the desert glows like fire most nights, and screams with the delight of orange and purple and red and yellow. I had never seen the sky like that until we came to love Tucson. I think it was one of the reasons we fell in love with Southern Arizona. The sunsets are even more dramatic than in California. I had never known that to be possible.

I miss the ocean. I had always said I wouldn’t want to live too far from the sands and its crashing waves. When I moved west so many years ago, I moved from one coast to the other. Now I feel I'm an ocean away from that plan. I'm strangely ok with that. Because missing something, like missing someone, gives me a reason to visit, as if I needed a reason to be with the ones I love and the gray Pacific I adore.

I miss my friends, my beloved Roy and Bobbi, my Diane and Gene, my Tammy, others. I miss my California life but then I look to the sky, to the extinguishing sun, and the stars appearing softly and I realize that I have a new life I love as well, one nestled against the foothills, where the stars are so bright as to seem surreal. My ocean is now those heavenly twinkles and sparkles, and I find tremendous peace in that. It’s my new ocean, vast and deep, mysterious and magical, a place where there is much to discover and so much to celebrate everyday.

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live out loud

Red Friday

by Lorin Michel Friday, November 29, 2013 9:29 PM

It is the Friday morning after Thanksgiving and I’m sitting at the eat-at bar in my kitchen, listening to jazz and drinking coffee. The sun is shining and the air is warm, not hot. The windows are open letting in some fresh air and sweeping out some of the Thanksgiving of yesterday. On the counter are the wine glasses from last night’s dinner. I’m eyeing them periodically, knowing I have to wash them. I always hand-wash my wine glasses. They’re much to delicate to go into the dishwasher, not if I hope to keep them available for holding a deep syrah or a bold, peppery Cabernet Franc. I’ll get to them eventually, maybe this afternoon. Right now, I’m content to listen to my music and sip my coffee and write.

Cooper is where he always is at this time of day, on the floor, next to me, his head on his paws, his eyes mostly closed. If I move, the eyes slide open lazily to make sure I’m not going anywhere. Convinced that all is well, the eyes droop closed. Soon he’ll sigh and sleep. The life of a dog.

I have a number of things I’d like to get done today, things to get me ahead of the coming onslaught on Monday. Much of it is maintenance work, requiring little to no brain power, just time. I do have to get ahead on some invoices, and write a letter to Santa. My friend Lisa’s son has battled cancer twice in his young life. This year he is attempting to get 5000 Dear Santa letters for the Make a Wish Foundation. He posted it on Facebook where he and I are also friends, and I was one of many who happily agreed.

The sun has just dipped behind a cloud I didn’t realize was there and the house feels as if it has dropped 10º in temperature.

Kevin has just started a fresh pot of coffee. We always make a small pot to start. For some reason the second pot is always better, less bitter. Maybe it’s because by the second pot our palette has numbed. The coffee maker is gurgling and snapping as it warms the water and pushes it down through the filter, out into the carafe. I love the smell of brewing coffee. I love the smell of freshly ground coffee beans even more.

It’s Black Friday. Every time I open a browser I’m confronted with photos of shoppers storming their favorite stores in search of items that a loved one, or perhaps they themselves, desire. I can imagine the parking lots of the big box stores like Best Buy and Walmart and Target and Kmart overflowing. At the malls, people circle endlessly, inching through the lots, desperate for someone, anyone to leave, stalking the shoppers who have left the safety of the mall to walk, laden with bags and boxes to their waiting car. It’s the only place in America where driving slowly behind someone who is walking along is not cause for alarm by the pedestrian. It’s simply the status quo for those who brave the mall to shop, especially on this day after Thanksgiving.

I am not a mall shopper. When I was young, I occasionally braved the mall; no longer. My motto has long been if I can’t find it on the internet, I probably don’t need to buy it. I’m sticking to that motto. It has worked for me for many years now. I absolutely do not shop ever on the day after Thanksgiving. The name alone – Black Friday – is enough to make me start to quake with fear. Too many people in too small of a space, even in the cavernous malls; even at the outdoor malls like one of the nicer ones we have here. Black Friday can make even La Encantada feel claustrophobic.

In previous years I have used this day to clean my office, but my office is actually quite clean. So instead, this year, we’re starting a new tradition we’re called Red Friday. We’re making turkey sliders – small sandwiches with left over turkey, cheese, lettuce and tomato. We’re packing a cooler with bottled water and cold Pepsi and my boys and I are going to hit some wineries to taste. We have four we want to go to, based on their red wine selection. We’ll taste only red wines as we usually do, and we’ll think of all of the other hapless people fighting over the last pair of ear buds and iPhones and tablets and whatever as we swirl and sniff and savor. We’ll raise a glass to toast to this most special time of the year, this Red Friday when we’re living it out loud and celebrating a new tradition for the season.

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live out loud

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