Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Crash Course

If ever there was a party I'll forever regret not crashing, it was the one held last weekend in Crawford, Texas.

Granted, it was a small affair, as crash-worthy affairs go, boasting 100 revelers at most. (If the Secret Service, assorted functionaries, faithful retainers and fondue-makers can be counted as "revelers." If they can't, the number's closer to 12.)

And, yes, there probably wasn't much to wash the aforementioned fondue down with, either. (At least, not "much" by this and every other part-time party-crasher's standards; how could there have been? The host himself has been dry for decades. One needn't be a Mensa member, or even a Densa member - known, varyingly, as a typical Palm Beach voter; any O.J. Simpson trial juror; Carol Mosely-Braun's campaign manager, etc. - to reckon that neither "Drain pool and fill with Mezcal" nor "Stock up on Stoli jigglers" was on the host's pre-party to-do list.)

And then there's the matter of the guest list, which was so lacking in luminaries that even the treasurer of the Norman Fell fan club would've been underwhelmed.

So why all this morning-after regret?

Because the two VIPs that WERE in attendance, George W. Bush, President of the United States, and Silvio Berlusconi, Italian Prime Minister extraordinaire (extraordinairio?), are my kind of VIPs. With a bullet! With two bullets, right where their word-mincing contemporaries' mouths are!

The Duke and Il Duce, Cowboys-in-Chief. One likes to wear boots, the other lives in a country that's shaped like one. And both are quite often accused of putting their boots in their mouths. Boy, the two of them together in one room would be all the hoedown I'd need. Even the flies on the wall must've felt like extras in a live action spaghetti western. Oh, to have been one of those lowly flies!

See, I happen to like spaghetti westerns. Well, I like spaghetti. And I like western things, if not the dusty old west itself. And I really like Clint Eastwood, the former king of the spaghetti western. Heck, I like all of Clint's roles (save for that sniveley, Alan Alda-ish guy he played in "The Bridges of Madison County." Ew; go ahead, Clint, make me puke.)

Dirty Harry Callahan, now that's quintessential Clint. And while I realize Mr. Eastwood's only been "pretending" to be all these diplomacy-challenged tough-but-upright dudes, I can't help but point out how well he plays them. Not to mention how consistently.

Indeed, there's an element of the "hooker with a heart of gold" in our very own president - and a more than whopping element of it in the Italian Prime Minister -which I, for one, have always been attracted to.

It's why I like Harry Truman. John McCain. The person that pulls you aside and tells you you've got toilet paper on your shoe (Dubya, you'll recall, pulled the world aside to tell it that the Little Dictator of North Korea was a whack-o, and though he was right, the world just wasn't ready to hear it put quite so, what's the word? Oh yeah, HONESTLY.)

Berlusconi can't conduct an EU meeting without being interrupted by a guy who clearly resents the Prime Minister's immense personal fortune. Berlusconi could offer the guy a Lamborghini and it wouldn't shut him up, so he (wisely) doesn't bother. Life's too short, one can almost hear the Prime Minister sighing, to bother with fascists - oops, did I say fascist? I meant to say people who would make a good fascist in a movie about fascism. Or a good concentration camp guard in a movie about the Holocaust.

I suppose it's a good thing that this country's leader has an immense personal fortune of his own. If he ever decides to write his memoirs, he'll have to pony up some big bucks to somebody who knows how to write the kind of memoirs that sell.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Style Council

Well, I'll be.

Or rather, I am. Pleased, that is; pleased as punch, even. Two floors down from tickled pink and across the hall from happy as a clam, if you want to get technical about it.

But even if you don't want to get technical about it (and I wouldn't blame you if you didn't), you might want to know this: it's not a half-bad way to feel.

Okay, so maybe you already knew that. Maybe you're pleased as punch right this very minute, sitting there thinking, "Well, duh. Why doesn't she just get on high and tell us breathing's not half-bad, either?"

Or maybe you're the chronically, perhaps even congenitally, pleased sort -- and if it weren't for finding "The Collected Poems of Rod McKuen" in my attic one long ago spring cleaning, I'd never have believed such people existed -- in which case you, too, are thinking, "Well, duh..."

Fair enough. I'd probably be thinking much the same thing if the foot was in the other mouth, or if I was standing on your side of the fence, or, well, never mind. All this warm fuzzy business has clearly gone to my head.

And why wouldn't it? When you've been in a state of agitation for as long as I have (how long, exactly, I couldn't say for certain. I do know that Rolling Stone magazine was still about music and Miz Lillian was the First Mother when I started answering the phone the way the late Dorothy Parker used to answer hers -- "What fresh hell is this?" -- but answering machines were invented shortly thereafter, and life tickled me pink on many a subsequent occasion, and before I knew it, it was the 90s and I wasn't so much agitated as I was angry, tempered by frequent, if fleeting, bouts of joy, and after that, well, that brings us to the present. Let's just say a long time.) "pleased as punch" is the last place you'd expect to find yourself.

But thanks to our very own City Council, or two-fifths of it, at least, pleased as punch is where I am, and boy, is it a swell place to be. I dare say a girl could get used to this.

Of course, I probably shouldn't -- get used to it, that is -- because, let's be honest: I don't really belong here. I can't even vote, not on any Ojai-specific things, anyway.

Oh, sure, I've got the right zip code and belong to all the same property tax rolls as the folks who flood City Hall on Tuesday nights; I'm even part of the same "community" as they are, I just don't have the right address.

Consequently, I didn't get any say in what 200 of my fellow community members proposed last Tuesday night -- even though they proposed it in my name and, yes, even though I agree that the United States Attorney General does tend to take things a bit too far.

But that doesn't mean I would've signed their petition, a petition declaring, what, exactly? That I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore? That I'm taking my marbles and going home? Nyah, nyah, nyah, we don't like you, Mr. Ashcroft?

Please. That's not my style. And it's not the style of another 10,000 or more people living downwind from City Hall, either. People whose children attend Ojai schools, whose dollars support Ojai business, who volunteer their services to Ojai organizations and support Ojai-based charities, people who, despite their very Ojai-ness, were all but invisible to their petition-circulating neighbors last Tuesday night.

Fortunately, it wasn't the style of two out of five City Council members, both of whom showed the petitioners the real meaning of "thinking globally, acting locally."

And I couldn't be more pleased about that.

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Thursday, July 3, 2003

Moveable Beasts

The problem with giving kids unusual names is that you'll never be able to find any personalized tchotchkes for them when you go out of town. Which means you'll be taking little Sassafras or Jambalaya with you wherever you go, because, let's face it: they've already got their own baggage ("No, my parents don't do drugs; 'Sassafras' happens to be a family name.")

Of course, on some level, you already knew this. Just as you knew that, while genuine Swiss chocolate or sabots or souvenir slot machines are always appreciated, nothing says "I thought of you the whole time I was away" like a keychain or mousepad or license plate with their name on it. So you take them with you.

And, for the first 13 years or so, you can't imagine why you ever went anywhere without them. Prairie dogs, pyramids, poi - they're all just a little more delightful when seen (or tasted) with children. Even the "mid-sized" Primus the rental car agency gave you is fun, never mind that the air conditioner doesn't work and the radio's stuck on the Grand Ole Opry channel.

When you bring the kids, you take the tours you wouldn't normally take and learn things you wouldn't have learned if you'd left them at home. After all, you know what the Mona Lisa looks like; why spend two hours in line for a two-minute peek at it when you can spend two hours at the hands-on museum down the street? Where everything says "please touch?"

When the kids are along, you snorkel and visit aquariums to see "fishes painted by God." You say things like "mon" and learn all about dreadlocks. You giggle at all the topless sunbathers, and boy, does it feel good.

For the first 13 years or so, bringing the kids means never having to say you're sorry - for playing with the bidet, making faces at the Bobbies, mimicking the mimes, gagging on the haggis, or for just being an ugly American.

But then, without so much as a how-do-you-do, the kids start acting less kid-like. They start acting like, well, the way you used to act. The stamps on their passports are no longer magical, they're just stamps. They take their shoes off without being asked, placing them next to their GameBoys or CD players or laptops in the "bins provided" by airport security. They stop looking out windows and start demanding aisle seats. They don't waggle their fingers behind each other's heads when posing for pictures. They don't save their francs or yen or cute little guilders, they spend them - usually on magazines to read by the pool.

And, like the desert-wandering Israelites of yore, they complain. Not a lot, mind you; not enough to make you think that they, too, were stuck on a 40-year family vacation. But enough to make you realize that the Talmud was on to something: "Travel," it says, "is only enjoyable in moderation."

Of course, I'd amend that to say "group travel." And I have (amended it to say that.) Many times. But then, I'll get the pictures back from some family junket or watch the kids sleeping and I'm ashamed of myself. How could I ever go anywhere without little Sassafras or Jambalaya?

The answer is, I can't. They're always going to be with me; they're part of the journey.

Whoever said excess was wretched must have had rocks in his head. That, or one too many middle seats.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2003

Some Splainin'

You know how whenever someone says, "Don't turn around, but here comes..." the first thing you do is turn around?

That's how I am with those little boxes of pellet "snakes" that come in any Red Devil Fireworks "family assortment pack."

Lemme, in the words of Ricky Ricardo, 'splain.

Every year, from June 30 through July 3, whenever I heard my dad's car in the driveway, I'd drop whatever I was doing and rush out to greet him - my own little family tradition, you might say. But before you go thinking, "aw, how cute," you might take note of the fact that I was only cute a few days of the year. A lot of kids rushed out to greet their dads year-round. (We called these kids "suck-ups." No, just kidding. Well, sort of; I mean, some of these kids WERE suck-ups, and where I came from, suck-ups were only one caste level above bullies. But I digress.)

Still, it took some effort to uphold this tradition, seeing as how my dad never came home before six and was rarely home before seven; Mom kept his dinner warm until eight most nights, sometimes nine. More often than not, I welcomed Dad home from a hard day at the office in my pajamas.

But I'd run outside no matter how cozy I'd been or with any color goop drying on my (teenaged) face to greet Dad on those aforementioned days, because on those aforementioned days, I wanted to help Dad unload his trunk. Much as he'd rather I didn't - help him unload it, that is.

"Well, look who's here to help her old man bring in his blueprints," he'd snort, knowing with every fiber of his paternal being that he was as much to "blame" for my sudden, albeit annually-occurring, offers to help as he was. For my dad couldn't pass a fireworks stand without stopping to buy something, and he never turned away any bag of ignitable goodies "the guys at the office" were always giving him at this time of year.

"Don't even think about opening that box/bag/carton," he'd say; "I haven't had a chance to go through it yet myself."

'Going through it' was, of course, Dadspeak for, "I haven't had time to get rid of the pellet snakes" he hated so much.

Sparklers; Gushing Geysers; Roman Fountains; Piccolo Petes; Tijuana Tillies; all manner of screaming whatnots and whizzers; even contraband M-80s: They were all okay in my dad's book.

But pellet snakes, ugh. Just the sight of an unopened box of them could produce a curse-filled tirade. "Whoever the **** is that decided nothing says 'Happy Fourth of July' better than stained sidewalks and driveways and God knows what else should be ****** by his ********* at high*****noon..." for example.

Naturally, I was as drawn to these admittedly useless little black scourges-of-concrete as moths are to flame. They were the first things I looked for when I was old enough to buy my own fireworks, and I can't for the life of me explain my attraction.

Neither can my husband, who is almost as blasphemous as my dad on the subject and truly loathes "...the ****** things."

Indeed, I'm bracing for his annual, "You threw those despicable driveway destroyers out, didn't you?" even as I write this.

And, in the spirit of the season, I'll plead the fifth. Until next week, when I'll produce the infernal pellets and say, "No, dear, I didn't. But I didn't light them, either. Happy?"

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