Monday, July 27, 2009

sunday drive: signs on sepulveda

Working on Sunday has thrown a wrench into with my Sunday Drive Photo Series, but having forgotten to be to the manor born, I am coping as best I can. There was lots of light yesterday when I left work, so I wandered down to a wonderfully old stretch of Sepulveda Boulevard in Culver City where I knew there were intact fifties motels, some wonderful boomerang signage, a cool old cocktail lounge, and a really yummy Pastrami sandwich.

But that was just coincidence, right?

Ladies and Gentlemen, enjoy the signs of Sepulveda:

View entire set here

the eagle has landed

That was John's code. It meant that he had gotten some last night. I would see this message scrawled on a business card left in my cubicle.

It was 1985, and I was working for a major corporation in Michigan. John was my most intense post college friendship,we were like frat brothers who hadn't met until after graduation. He was my IT support person, and the term "Metrosexual" was probably coined to describe him. Our first post-work adventure was shopping at J.L Hudson. I should have had an inkling.

We became close friends, traveling companions, drinking pals and bong buddies. Living in a rust belt town with very limited sophistication, we learned to travel. We traveled for shopping, for movies, for concerts, for adventures. I saw Betty Blue, the Psychadelic Furs, Sid and Nancy, The Pretenders, and Blue Velvet because of him. He had friends in Chicago. I wanted to see the Prairie Home Companion in Minneapolis. He wanted to experience Boxing Day in Toronto. By now we were also workout buddies, and we had both noticed a certain spark in the shower, although we both double dated with women. By now I had noted that my future was elsewhere, but I was yet to act on it.

It was on a weekend trip to Dad's cabin in a Michigan winter that we managed to land the Eagle ourselves. The cabin had a gas powered sauna, which once warmed up, allowed our relationship to find a new level. He admitted that he was bisexual in words moments before he demonstrated it in gesture. At some point his wrist somehow made contact with the heating element, causing a burn which he wore as his mark of retribution for weeks to come. It was one of many inside jokes we would have. And it was the first that I began to notice a pattern of him disappearing for a while after the Eagle landed. But he always came back around, and the situation repeated itself.

I guess it peaked on our trip to Europe. We had both scheduled vacation for the same week. The entire office knew where I was going, and John created a cover story of a camping trip. Only our General Manager's secretary knew the real story, and we sent her a post card from Paris. Paris was wonderful. Our first night there we shared the company of a girl named Gina, on subsquent evenings we somehow got by without her. We discovered early on that wine was cheaper than Coca Cola, so we drank heavily and fucked like dogs. His regret spirals were conveniently short in duration by then, and pretty much gone by nightfall. And while I never thought of him as gay, it became clear that he was enjoying himself. Perhaps this was his week to just let his guard down and live. I must admit he did it well.

Things cooled after that trip, as I had suspected they would. I was now ready to be out, and steered accordingly. I believed he was bi, so his needs were much more supplemental in nature. We spent less time together, although we remained friends. I transferred to Chicago, he took a job in Denver. We saw each other a few times after that. He came up one weekend to Chicago, I spent thanksgiving one year with his new girlfriend and himself. We spoke of the past landings of the Eagle in code.

I guess the letters stopped shortly after I moved to California. I saw him on a flight to Atlanta in the summer of '97, he wore a wedding band and a few extra pounds. We exchanged pleasantries but neither seemed compelled to stay in touch. Our paths were divergent by then.

It was on a whim that I typed his name into google and found a memorial site in his honor. Cancer, at age forty-eight, leaving a wife and two surviving children. Damn. Very sad.

I recall one conversation over Guinness Stout where he asked, "Where are the friends that we are going to know for the rest of our lives?" I wish I had been that friend for him. I'm certainly grateful for the adventures we had.

For John, in remembrance of Paris all those years ago, Edith Piaf from the year of his birth and Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.

Rest well, my friend. No regrets.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


I'm not sure I recall the exact moment when I renamed her. It was probably one of those struggling adolescent moments when the pre-teenage boy was at a crossroads, having always been exceptionally close to his mother but reaching a phase where his friends found this closeness uncool.

Or perhaps I was emulating her- she had a lifelong habit of nicknaming her friends and relatives. I was nicknamed Skip at age five, due to a note on my Kindergarten report card. Dee the Bricklayer, Aunt Hussy, General Letty, all of these names were part of my everyday life. The advent of "handles" during the CB radio fad had nothing on her.

So I started calling her Chuck. And she answered to it. When written communications demanded a bit more dignity, birthday cards were addressed to Lady Charles of Southhampton. Her cards to me were signed simply Chuck. The exact origin of Chuck is also unclear, her theory was that it was a reference from M*A*S*H, but upon reflection I think I was referencing Peppermint Patty's nickname for Charlie Brown.

Either explanation could descend into way too much thought. Maybe it was just a away for a teenage boy to remain close to his Mom while simultaneously needing to grow up and pull away.

But as tends to happen with adolescents, it was just a phase. Once the Preppy Handbook was published, I renamed her Muffy.

Monday, July 20, 2009

julius shulman, 1910-2009

Julius Shulman, the most noted photographer of Mid Century Modernism in Los Angeles passed away at his home on Wednesday. He was 98. His pictures were soaring and iconic, and promoted the mid century style in addition to documenting it. His most famous photograph, seen here, was as much a love letter to Los Angeles as it was a picture of Case Study House 22.

I had met him several times in conjunction with LA Conservancy events and visited his steel home in the Hollywood Hills. He was a charming man. Rest in peace, Julius. Thank you for your labors.

Read his LA Times obit here

Saturday, July 11, 2009


On this third anniversary of his passing, at an annual retreat where we have all been together so many times, he should be here with us.

John, you are loved and missed today and always. Thanks for being my very special friend.

queens on the mary

In remembrance of John on the third anniversary of his passing. Originally posted in March, 2007.

This week I received a mailer promoting the RSVP transcontinental gay cruise on the Queen Mary 2 and my mind immediately flashed back to my first RSVP travel experience.

A couple of Christmases back, my friends John and KJ (hereto known as the Ubercouple) created a very memorable Holiday- they invited six of their friends to accompany them on an RSVP Cruise of the Mexican Riviera.

We were all tremendously touched and excited, and eagerly planned what would be a most memorable voyage. As it would be my first cruise aboard this particular line, I had lunch with a friend who had more cruise experience. "It's a great trip, you'll love it", Blair reassured me over sushi. "Just too bad it's so hard to get a drink on that ship." I just about fell into my miso soup.

Okay, talk about a deal breaker. I immediately telephoned John and told him of my dire warning. Given how we collectively viewed Vodka as a food group, this would require a plan.

"I'll talk to KJ and call you back", he said, trying not to show too much concern. I imagined a Vodka ambulance meeting us at the docks. KJ thinks of everything. The next day, John called back very calm. "It'll be fine", he reassured." We'll just all bring two liters of Ketel One in our luggage. That way, we can have a relaxing drink before dinner". Or before breakfast, if needed.

Soon we were on board and sailing away with a Bon Voyage party. We immediately noticed that others had probably made the same observation as Blair, because the cruise line had apparently stopped off in Singapore and filled the ship with Asian love slaves, young girls positioned every thirty feet or so who were taught to say "drinky, drinky". While this was very reassuring, it soon occurred to us that we were awash in booze. That night over dinner, we hatched a plan. We decided to have a massive private cocktail party the last night at sea and use it all up. That would give us a week to see how many people we could meet and invite.

I was all in favor of the party, but I reasoned, that if we were going to have a private cocktail party with smuggled booze aboard an Ocean Liner, the only civilized way to serve drinks was in stemware stolen from the ship itself. So that evening, after our round of Martinis, John had us fill the stems with water so they would not be cleared away. We stepped smartly out of the dining room with our Martini stems in our hands, and this began to amass glassware. My cabin was deemed the official stemware repository, because I had the least luggage, and my roommate, a drag queen from San Francisco, spent the entire week stoned on hashish brownies and so was unlikely to notice.

Our plan worked smartly although it did probably increase our vodka consumption somewhat. "Have another Martini", KJ would say. "We need the glass". By midweek, my cabin clinked when people walked by in the hall. The nightclub chanteuse in the show lounge complained that all the big Martini stems had vanished. We looked sheepish in the front row and laughed about it later. We absolved our guilt by inviting her to the party.

The last night at sea, all was in readiness. I had spent the entire afternoon washing stemware, which was the price one pays for glamour. The party had grown way too large for John and KJ's suite, so KJ booked one of the lounges. For a private party. On board a gay cruise. And found a passenger whom he hired to play piano. Throw in a few trays of appetizers, a topless girl from Scotland, and a hundred newfound friends, and our little use-up-the-booze party probably ended up costing about the same as a base Hyundai. But everybody we knew in LA already had a car anyway.

We abandoned the stems at the party, along with the remaining vodka. All that was borrowed was returned, which was of course the plan all along. When people asked about the cruise, we told them what a wonderful time we all had. Most of all, John loved telling the story of the Martini Party. "Wasn't it the most fun?", he would reflect.

Yes, John. It was.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

united breaks guitars

I've been personally boycotting United Airlines since the summer of 2000, when a labor slowdown cancelled a lot of flights, causing me to miss my own birthday party with family in Michigan.

Well, Dave Carroll and his band flew United last spring, with their usual disastrous consquences.

Here's the story, from Dave's You Tube Site:

In the spring of 2008, Sons of Maxwell were traveling to Nebraska for a one-week tour and my Taylor guitar was witnessed being thrown by United Airlines baggage handlers in Chicago. I discovered later that the $3500 guitar was severely damaged.

They didn't deny the experience occurred but for nine months the various people I communicated with put the responsibility for dealing with the damage on everyone other than themselves and finally said they would do nothing to compensate me for my loss.

So I promised the last person to finally say no to compensation (Ms. Irlweg) that I would write and produce three songs about my experience with United Airlines and make videos for each to be viewed online by anyone in the world. United: Song 1 is the first of those songs. United: Song 2 has been written and video production is underway. United: Song 3 is coming. I promise.

United has demonstrated they know how to keep their airline in the forefront of their customer's minds and I wanted this project to expand upon that satirically. I've been done "being angry" for quite some time and, if anything, I should thank United. They've given me a creative outlet that has brought people together from around the world. We had a pile of laughs making the recording and the video while the images are spinning on how to make "United: Song 2" even better than the first. So, thanks United! If my guitar had to be smashed due to extreme negligence I'm glad it was you that did it. Now sit back and enjoy the show.

Dave Carroll

So far the first song has gone viral with almost half a million hits. Type "united beraks guitars" into google and you'll find 1,710,000 hits as of this morning.

And there are two more songs coming. Follow him on twitter.

But Ms. Irlweg can proudly boast that she saved the airline $1200, the cost of repairing the Taylor guitar.

Maybe she got employee of the month for that.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

plastic fantastic

While all eyes are on Los Angeles, mine are fixed on Seattle for some exciting air geek news. The all new 787 Dreamliner moved under its own power today for the very first time.

Yes, it's two years late, and no, it can't fly yet because the wings may snap, but here's a bouncing baby Boeing taking its very first steps:

Nice to see you out and about, plastic fantastic. Hope you can fly soon.

city of angels

For those of you would-be travelers who wisely stayed home today, here's a travelogue of the highlights of Los Angeles, so it will be like you're really here.

Oh, and one thing- it's from 1935. Enjoy.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

little boat

Forty years ago today, on July 4, 1969, my family was vacationing in a small cabin on the beach in Oscoda, Michigan. I happily recall running out the cabin door directly onto the sand, pail and shovel in hand. When my brother and I were not playing on the beach, we were busy in other pursuits, he in reading, and myself with a pen and notebook furiously intent on restyling the 1969 Pontiac line up into something at least marginally acceptable for 1970. I never could get past those frowning taillights. It seemed to me, now several years old, that a respectable car such as Pontiac should not frown. By midweek I had a pretty good 1970 Bonneville drawn, perhaps I should have sent the drawings to General Motors.

We had brought Dad's fishing boat along, all thirteen feet of it with an outboard motor slightly more powerful than a vacuum cleaner. It was on the morning of the fourth that Dad, my brother, and I set out for a morning of fishing. Mom decided to go into town instead.

In my adult reflections, I notice that Mom generally stayed home when the boat reared its shiny self. As fearless as she was in so many ways, Mom really wasn't all that lucky with boats, and especially with small ones. I think it dated back to her childhood, when as a youngster learning to ski, she had issues falling out of them and the like. So she begged off.

We weren't great fishermen to start with (except for that trip to Yellowstone in the summer of '70, but that hasn't happened yet) and by late morning the accountant and the two bored boys were ready to close their issue of Field and Stream and head for shore. We had a couple of hours to kill before meeting up with Mom, so we got burgers downtown and then Dad spied the Ice Cream Stand. We had just finished our cones (mine Chocolate Mint, thank you) when we spied Mom coming up the block. She asked if we had eaten yet and we confessed. She said she wasn't particularly hungry, but was amused by the ice cream stand. We returned to the scene.

Mom ordered a Banana Boat, which was a small banana split. It was served in a little plastic rowboat, hence the clever name. Isn't brand identity everything? Anyway, she received her little treat and began to eat it. I asked her (and I guess a bit loudly), "Mom, can I have the boat when you're done?" These two ladies standing within earshot heard me and immediately decided she was, in fact, the Meanest Mom on Earth, brazenly eating a sundae in front of her two small children. Cruella de Vil with her furs in storage, they surmised. Perhaps they had not seen us there a few minutes prior. Mom looked at me and thanked me for my discretion.

We were speaking again by the time the fireworks stated.

Like I said, she wasn't so lucky with boats.

the egg

On Independence Day it was tradition at home to watch 1776, the only musical that I can recall about the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Fast paced, witty and clever (with some tenderness thrown in for those of you who can abide same), it remains on my short list of favorite congressional musicals. A very short list indeed.

For today, I present the climatic scene where the Declaration has been submitted to the Continental Congress and Messrs Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams await the birth of a new nation, in song:

Happy Independence Day to all.