Book Reviews: Unicorns, Beagles, and Penguins

Phoebe and Her Unicorn in Unicorn Theater
The interspecies gal pals are back for another fun story, this time taking place at drama camp. The addition of Marigold’s sister Florence—now with 100% less nostril spiders—only increases the fun, although there are times Phoebe feels left out. I sense a lesson coming. . .
As always plenty of fave moments:
“I am very dead!” Something said at least once every play. Check out the beginning of Zootopia to prove my point.
Double unicorn stare. Those are the worst.
“Real life not dramatic enough for you?” Thanks, dad.
Whenever someone says, “Awkward!” reply with, “I find all social interactions awkward!”. . . on second thought, don’t.
Yep, that’s what “mess hall” means, alright.
“I could not hear you over the sound of how beautiful I am.” So using this line. . .
Very happy to see the electric dragon back. Max needed a fantasy buddy; even Dakota has one.
If I could give this an even higher mark, I would give it just for rhyming pomegranate.
“‘Nostrils Sisters’ sounds like a band my moms would like.” With such great choices, Max might be my fave of all. . .
A few pages at the end teach how to draw the characters; if Sue’s a little scary, good job!
I couldn’t believe it when the first full-length story ended up being better than the strips, but it works here again.

Super Chill: A Year of Living Anxiously
After seeing the cover, I had to read the description to find out this did not feature Abraham Lincoln, considering the beard and all. Thought it was going to be a “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” kinda thing. But no, it’s not a dead president, it’s about a guy who. . . lives anxiously, in one of the most colorful comic strips I’ve ever seen.
Best moment had to be that dour deadpan fortune teller. And wow, New Favorite Song is as dark as it gets!
There’s one strip where he relates to a cartoon character; I relate to him only because when I was in Japan I ate a pikachu burger too. (It was delicious.) Also, the Selfie.

Snoopy: Boogie Down!
There’s been so many of these books that it’s hard for them to come up with a new theme. This one doesn’t really matter till the end.
Right away there’s a pun worthy of making me wonder if the guy from Pearls Before Swine got the idea here.
I hate bugs, but I’ll adopt the one who knows more than Lucy and Sally.
Never saw the character Eudora before. I like her, especially her fishing style.
The disguised drop shot made me chuckle before I could stop it.
There’s a special section at the end featuring the history of dance in the strip.

Curtain Call
French guy wants to get back to the woman and child he abandoned during a trip to Africa, so he plans an armored car heist with possibly the one person the least in contact with reality in the whole world.
This story feels like it could have been told a lot quicker if it wasn’t for all the frequent asides and explanations as to why things are the way they are. The narrator mentions the armored car robbery he’s planning, but nothing happens for the first half, other than long justifications as to why everyone is racist and/or a homophobe. And that’s only a few of the ways this gets so depressing. Plus I really hated the ending; why didn’t he just do that in the first place?
I’ve read a couple of others by this author, and while it feels like the same kind of narrative, this time it’s even more so. The artwork is of a kind as well, which on the one hand makes it consistent but on the other means the books are not getting better.

Hellicious TP Vol 1
It’s the cute little kids that always get ya, even if they are the devil’s granddaughter. Make it a bored kid—named Cherry—with the power to harvest souls and you get a recipe for. . . well, whatever passes for a disaster in Hell. This ain’t no cuddly Dante story.
“What is that thing, and why is it. . . cute?” I feel ya, dude. I almost feel sorry for the poor death metal musician, though anyone who makes that kind of noise can’t expect much better.
Mom is about as hot as one can expect a horned demon to be.
Cherry grinning maniacally while on a mound of those she’d just killed was almost funny, but the fact is this tried to make me laugh every page and mostly failed. Even the ad for cassettes missed the mark. It should have been better, considering the premise.

Loading Penguin Hugs
Uneven comic strip collection that basically boils down to cutesy motivational cartoons.
Starts with a ghost hug. “You can’t feel it, but it’s there!” I call it a virtual hug, but okay.
Reasons to get out of bed was fun.
I’m gonna try really hard to forget just how much penguins smell. Thankfully I only saw one in here, though it wasn’t giving hugs. Lots of cuter animals, though. (Just occurred to me the penguins might still be loading, considering the title.)
“I made brief contact with a dog!” might just be too cute, as is “I’m awesome trash!”
“Self-love hedgehog” made me think of something completely different.
This will likely end up being TOO sweet even if you’re not all that cynical.


Travel Thursday Encore–How to mix pleasure with business–Seattle 05, Day 1, Part 2


Ah, Seattle. At times I consider this city to be the second most beautiful in the world, trailing only behind its neighbor to the north, Vancouver. The two are very similar; urban sprawl surrounded by, and dotted with, green landscapes everywhere, but the Canadian entry has the advantage of a small island of recreation right next to the downtown area, as well as a huge bridge with a tremendous view. But Seattle’s a close second. The sports stadiums and Space Needle notwithstanding, it has the feeling and atmosphere of a small village that just happens to go on and on.
But why is it every time I go to Seattle it’s sunny and hot? The last time I was in Portland it was over 100, so I’m afraid to go back there. Rainy Pacific Northwest, my muscular buttocks!
Despite a really easy time grabbing my big backpack from the luggage slide and then walking through what is one of my favorite airports–there’s always a pleasant surprise somewhere in the corridors–I missed the express bus and had to take the regular one, which stopped at every single block. The driver warned me about this, but what the hell, I was either napping or taking in the sights, most of them industrial, around the airport and northward with Puget Sound to the left. I will say there was everything from gangbangers to old rich people on the bus. I also noticed the sign that informed, “No eating, smoking, or littering. NO ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES.” Which I guess means you can drink coffee or water or soda, which is different from most buses I’ve been in. And then a guy brought his dog on, another no-no in most places.
Then I had to transfer at Westlake, and didn’t think at the time to take the monorail. Still, this bus eventually left me a couple of blocks from the hotel, and I got to see that I had just missed the last Duck tour of the day as I walked by the tiny triangular block where they’re based; oh well again.
As usual excited to get out and about, I emptied my day backpack of everything but camera gear and headed off north, where I had map-scouted a few parks in Queen Anne that were supposed to have tremendous views of the entire town. What the Thomas Guide isn’t good at showing is elevation. Hey, if I coulda found a topo map of the area, I would have used it; it’s one thing to know such a place was a good lookout for some photos of the city, quite another to find yourself climbing some of the steepest streets you’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. And watching a beautiful blonde trudging along in front of you without a problem, then turn to smile benevolently when you reach a crest in the hill and pant for oxygen, is not conducive to good manners. Somehow I managed to gasp, “You do this every day?” only to have her shrug and respond, “You get used to it.” For that lack of sympathy I refrained from asking her to dinner, her loss. {Shut up. . .}
After finding out the first park was useless, and actually catching three people gawking out of their houses like I was a Martian, I checked the map and made my way west, through entire streets of mansions–and if you want to know what kind, just look at the name of the neighborhood–though I have to say the few people I encountered were a lot nicer; perhaps they were used to pedestrian tourists. Finally got to Kerry Park and indeed found, after some more huffing. . . er, resting, that it was undeniably a fantastic place from which to photograph the city.

I musta spent at least an hour here, taking some photos, running out of inspiration, sitting on a bench and talking to tourists, then taking some more shots, then continuing the cycle round and round. And speaking of inspirations, there was this one geeky-looking guy from Portland on his honeymoon with a model-worthy blonde who hung on his every word. Well, he was probably rich. . . at least that’s what I keep telling myself, to stay sane. And just about every other tourist was Asian, though more Koreans that Japanese, to my surprise.

Well-rested now, or as well as I was going to get, I plodded down Queen Anne Avenue. It was probably an even steeper hill than the one I climbed, which is pretty bad going down too, partially because I get shin splits, but mostly because gravity urges me to go faster. This area was different from the mansions, reminding me of Vermont or Hillcrest in Los Feliz, El Lay, with its profundity of old-style apartments. At this point I accidentally flicked a switch on my mp3 player and discovered, after a couple of years of ownership, that it had a radio too. Finally, after a good half hour of walking and tons of buses zooming by me, I got to the business district, and immediately found a Kidd Valley.
For those of you not in the know, Kidd Valley is a small local chain of burger joints that, ever since I’ve been coming here, has been known as having the best burger in town. Since I’d always gone to the one north of the University, I had no idea I’d be running into another one, but my mouth instantly started salivating. . . until I got inside. If I were to dig hard enough in my map cabinet I’m sure I could find an old receipt that would have stated a middle-of-the-road-or-menu burger going for about a buck fifty. But now the cheapest burger is $3.39! When did that happen? Age-ol’ story of good reviews and greed, sigh. I ended up going to a market and buying a loaf of pound cake and assorted veggies, since my hotel room had a mini-fridge.
Also in this neighborhood, which reminded me of parts of Hollywood south of Sunset and to the east, were plenty of used book stores that also contained records, DVDs, and even cameras. I ended up browsing a lot longer than I thought, and then I ended up on the opposite side of Seattle Center than I needed to be, behind Key Arena.
As I noticed the giant indoor stadium to my left, a guy shoots out of the darkness and offers me a very discounted ticket to the playoff game going on inside. I kept all my hair–get it?–and walked on my not-so-merry way, noticing that the stadium had an all-glass exterior on this side, and the people looked like ants scurrying for food. Instead of humans scurrying for food, I guess. It must’ve been halftime, or else the game wasn’t going as well as they’d hoped; some were already leaving.
Couldn’t help but notice that, unlike most stadiums you see, this one had cheap brick apartments across First Street. Kinda like the ones outside Wrigley Field in Chicago, I guess, except you can’t see the basketball game from these. Down the block were Taqueria Jalisco and another Mexican place, which peaked my interest for a moment, until I saw that, unlike their names, they were not mom & pop type small eateries, but rather more like the horrible Acapulco and other bad chains of “Americanized” Mexican food. Ya know, if you try to order anything from those menus in Mexico, they would have no idea what you’re talking about! Since I didn’t go in, that’s as much of a review as you’re gonna get.
Not wanting to chance Seattle Center being closed, I walked around the periphery until I staggered into the McD’s and took the burger, fries, and my market purchases back to the hotel, where I promptly collapsed.
After a couple of hours of rest and watching TV, I reached for the tripod in my big backpack and went up to the fourth floor of the hotel–no roof access–to try to get some night shots of the Space Needle. I could plainly see people still up there in the well-lighted disk, but even with center-weighted metering I couldn’t seem to get a good-enough shot. Since it was obviously still open, I thought of going over and getting some shots of the city lights, but then I remembered the reason I’d decided not to on this trip.
Still fresh in my memory from my last visit was a girl who worked up there, at the gift shop counter, who seemed way too blasé about being up in the sky every day. Yes, I know it’s human nature and blah blah, but it got to me. Someone asked her how she enjoyed the view, and she simply shrugged.
“Just another job.”
“Don’t you ever look out anymore? You must have when you first started.”
“Got boring quickly.”
And so did you, babe. . .

Feeling sleepy at around ten–which is shocking until you remember how early I had to wake–I went back to the room and puttered around, making sure everything was ready for the presentation in the morning. My last thought was “I have no idea why that full-length mirror is where it is in the bathroom–I don’t need to see myself piss.”


Poetry Tuesday: Three Poems on Love

By Lady Izumi Shikibu, somewhere in Japan, 970-1030.

On nights when hail
falls noisily
on bamboo leaves
I completely hate
To sleep alone.

You told me it was
because of me
you gazed at the moon.
I’ve come to see
if this is true.

If you love me,
come. The road
I live on
is not forbidden
by impetuous gods.


Heightened Senses

So, I have heightened senses.
The most famous person, even if he wasn’t real, to suffer from this was Usher. . . no, not the rapper, the character from Edgar Allan Poe’s story. That was fiction, of course, because no one could live like that; he would have killed himself a long time before. So yeah, I don’t have it anywhere near that bad, but I still had to grow up with everything being. . . too much.
Why does it suck most of the time?
As I age, my hearing and eyesight are fading, but unfortunately not my sense of smell. That’s as strong as ever. Every time I pass a dumpster, or even a trash can, I have to remember to internally close my nose, otherwise it feels like getting hit by a sledgehammer.
Taste is also hard to deal with. The way you feel when biting into the hottest pepper around is the way I feel with any small amount of any spice. . . except cinnamon. I have to order everything bland; my burgers consist of meat, cheese and bread, with the occasional bacon thrown in. Steaks have nothing on them. Waiters hate me, dates are embarrassed (only one of many reasons, apparently), and no one really understands.
Then there’s the last one: touch. This is the most difficult to explain, as there are two components: touching someone or something, and being touched.
My touching is as strong, or as sensitive, as ever. I’ve pleasured women just by rubbing their eyebrows. Being touched, however, is declining in a bad way.
In talking smack with guys and being honest with ladies—try it, it works—I’ve known that pleasurable sensations are off the scale for me, compared to most. The physical delight people achieve with orgasm, I can achieve with a lot less, so just imagine what a climax feels like. Unfortunately, with great pleasure comes great soreness. Even worse, as I age I’ve lost even more of this stamina, getting sore quicker, in some cases a lot quicker. It’s a bummer, though usually you don’t feel it until after. It does usually preclude an encore, though.
And regular pain? Please don’t pinch me. Getting a flu shot? More like a stab wound. And going to the dentist? No thanks, haven’t in 25 years. I’d rather have my teeth fall out.
Now imagine sunburn. . .
I’m writing this next section while eating at Juanita’s, my favorite place at Olvera Street, in downtown Los Angeles. I’m eating a bean and cheese burrito, just about the only thing on the menu I can have. Even with this relatively plain dish, I’m getting a slight buzz from the cheese. And right after, I go to Kitty’s for a soft serve. . . vanilla, of course.
So yeah, most of the time it doesn’t matter, but that just makes the times it does that much worse. Chronic pain is my closest friend. So for those who have asked me to go out with them, to nightclubs in particular but really anywhere loud, I hope you understand a little better why I always say no. If you invite me to a Cajun or Indian restaurant, I might have to shoot you. So don’t. Leave me alone and let me decide, okay?

Book Reviews: Tokyo Cops, Loving Lords, and Indie Films

The Moving Blade
In Tokyo a thief breaks into an American’s home during his funeral, stealing some computer files and adding some netsukes and money to his pocket. A tall foreigner follows him and takes him down with, of all things, a sword. That leads to a giant conspiracy of greed in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami.
Found it difficult keeping the characters straight, as I am not used to Japanese surnames. That was a problem at the beginning, where everyone’s introduced, but also at the end, when Jamie’s looking for help and everyone’s tracking the bad guy. The conspiracy was also a bit of a problem, because at times it was, oddly enough, too big to follow. Near the end it got a bit overwhelming because of the multiple storylines, but thankfully the book takes the time to wrap things up and solidify relationships without it feeling like a sequel hook.
Wish there had been more on the netsukes, as I find them much more interesting than swords. But then, they’re harder to kill with. . .

Lord of Temptation
The previous entry in this series featured a lot of Hawkridge, a titled but destitute man with more honor—or ego—than is good for him. This story is different in that it’s a regret and fix plot, where the characters have a past they must overcome.
This isn’t the best book in the series, but it is the sweetest. Of course it helps when there’s an adorable ten year old girl as a large secondary character. From a historical perspective, the balloon scene was lovely.

Lord of Vice: Rogues to Riches #6
The last Grenville finally gets her own story, a rich girl/poor boy tale where for the first half of the book he doesn’t know who she really is. It isn’t until he discovers her true identity that his ego and pride get in the way, but then she isn’t perfect either.
In a series full of incredible women, Bryony is my favorite. She was always funny and irreverent, but never ditzy. Quite the opposite, as she turns out to be a financial genius. Here she gets to be the star and takes full advantage. Even more amazing is Max’s sister, Frances. She sounds like someone who could easily fit into the 21st century.
The male protagonist, someone who’s appeared in most if not all of the previous stories, is fully accepting of such unorthodox female creatures, but still has a bug about titles and aristocracy rather than money.
My least favorite character throughout, the mother, got off way too easily, especially since she’d been through something similar with her opera-singing daughter.
But even though the problems are more creative, they’re still due to miscommunication and jumping to conclusions, as are 99.9% of the situations in this genre. I might have given this the highest score otherwise.
My two faves in this series have been the last two, which is how it should be.

Picture Perfect Cowboy
Total Noo Yawker gal goes to Kentucky to photograph a retired rodeo star for a charity calendar. Turns out they’re totally made for each other in a kinky way, if he can get out of his own head.
There’s a scene early on where the female photographer is taking nude photos of the clearly nervous cowboy, and yet their banter is hilarious.
As always in this genre, the happily ever after never happens on the first try. What makes this different from most who try and fail spectacularly is that his problem completely makes sense, and is solved just as perfectly. This might be the best romance novel I’ve ever read.
The short story at the end, which is more like a deleted scene from the novel, has a completely different vibe to it, but is equally hilarious. Good to see the nascent Dom on the other side of it, from a psychological view.

Theirs to Protect
A lawyer flirts with a couple of cops while getting coffee. She runs into them again later and things get sexy, followed by things getting serious.
Plenty of humor, which is the most welcome thing here. The plot peters out quickly, but then it is a short story, just long enough for meet cute—twice—two sex scenes, and some angst.

Exposed: The Education of Sarah Brown
An innocent librarian goes to Europe and lets herself be instantly seduced by a photographer. Then she gets caught up in a child slavery ring and things go downhill fast.
While for the most part I enjoyed the story, especially the descriptions and dialogue, it’s written too matter of fact, with little style. Choppy, without flow, making good things feel almost boring.
On to better stuff. I like how complex Sarah is, even in her abandonment issues, but I really love Elsa. The difference in her personality when she’s not being a Domme is wonderful to see. I like when the author repeats one of my fave lines: “free food always tastes better.” The police scenes were also well done.
What I didn’t like story-wise was all the coincidences. Of all the people in Berlin and Amsterdam—and even between the two cities—the same half dozen people keep running into each other. Add Barcelona and things become another level of ridiculous. Strains credulity far too much.
I knew what would happen when Tony joined in, but it was still a good way to lead to the inevitable conclusion.

The Red Ledger Part 1
English teacher in Rio is trying to enjoy Carnaval despite an overeager friend with benefits. Instead her life is forever changed by an old boyfriend, who can’t remember her and has another reason for seeking her out.
It’s a short book, which is surprising when I consider how slow it moves, how often it rehashes the same ground. He needs something from her, but it takes him far too long in his alpha haze to ask her for it. As expected, there are twists and turns in the plot so no one knows who to trust.
Always happy when my alma mater UCLA is mentioned.
Warning: this ends in a huge cliffhanger! It struck me that this was a longer book reduced to smaller portions.

Good Sex: Getting Off Without Checking Out
Considering the title, there’s very little sex, especially in the first half. Most of it feels like a meditation handbook.
Once it does get to sex. . . maybe I’m just different, but she talks about issues—for example, don’t be afraid of eye contact—that in my experience seem strange. To me they’re just natural, everyday things. Why would anyone be afraid of eye contact during sex? I just don’t get it.
The section I most enjoyed was on threesomes. It was the most honest, but it took me forever to get there.
By the end—and it took me months—it felt like only a small amount of people who start this will get through. It’s targeted very specifically: if you’re into meditation and crystals and such, this is for you. Everyone else might get something, but will have to hunt long and hard for it.

True Indie: Life and Death in Filmmaking
Don Coscarelli is a name I’ve heard of plenty, but his movies are basically a blank to me because I can’t stand the horror genre. The main reason I picked up this book was Bubba Ho-Tep, and having read Bruce Campbell’s version of events, it was fascinating to see it from the other side, so to speak.
This is one of those rare books where you feel like you’re sitting with the author, listening to his stories over lunch, much the way he describes meeting filmmakers when he was young, name-dropping Coppola, Cage, and most importantly Trumbull. It’s just fun, especially if you have any interest in how movies are made. All the more exciting when it’s low budget; gives young filmmakers hope. But at the end he cautions that things are harder than ever for indies, even though production costs have plummeted.
Lots of fun fascinating stories, but ends with the death of one of the main actors.


Travel Thursday Encore–How to mix pleasure with business–Seattle 05, Day 1, Part 1

Today on Travel Thursday, the first of five days of intense squeezing-every-moment traveling amidst boring business stuff. So long it’ll have to come in installments, or I guess old skool would call it “serialized.”

I like not having to prepare for a trip. Going to some place I haven’t been to before, or only once, I’d be researching for weeks, make sure I found all the places I wanted to see and made some kind of itinerary. But this is Seattle, a town I’ve been to so many times I probably know it almost as well as I know El Lay. Still, there were some places in the Emerald City I haven’t checked out yet, but I was more likely to get back to the Pacific Northwest–again–than Tanzania, so no big deal.
Okay, there was a bit of preparation, mostly physical. In the two weeks before the trip I took long walks every day, partly to think through all the stuff that had to be thought through–that’s when I do my best thinking, not counting pillow talk–but mostly as conditioning for all those Seattle hills. Two days before I left I went to a UCLA softball game, against the University of Washington, of all things; too bad all the girls I knew on that team had graduated, but that is most definitely another story. The stadium is on a hill on the northwest side of the UCLA campus, and this is one steep long climb, so I was happy to see I was only a little winded instead of gasping as usual. Then on Sunday I went to UCLA gymnastics, and climbing up the stairs in Pauley Pavilion a few times is a similar experience, so I felt I was as prepared as I could be.
But nothing can prepare you when you so hate waking up at six in the morning. . .
After an hour bus ride down Rosemead/Lakewood Blvd., and that is one long boring jaunt when you’re trying to stay awake, still had to transfer to a Long Beach bus to get to the Long Beach Airport. Yes, it was still quicker and closer than any other airport, but. . .
The perfectly named Long Beach Airport was probably built in the 40s and looks it, but not because it’s decrepit, I was speaking architecturally. In fact, it kinda reminded me of the background of the last scene in Casablanca. {I’ve been told since then that it’s built in the Streamline Moderne style, if any of you are into that sorta thing.} After a relatively quick check in–my first time doing it with a touch-screen rather than a human–I marched up the stairs to the Legends of Aviation Restaurant & Bar, and I gotta say, the second floor before entering the restaurant looked even more like a time warp! If the plane has propellers I’m staying home!
But then you enter the restaurant and things are back to normal. Since I still had a lot of time till my flight, though I haven’t gone through Search & Seizure yet, I tried to do everything in slow motion, savor every morsel, watch the planes land and take off–and gawking at my first sight of an actual LANCER!–and check out the waitress as often as possible, but even with all that I finally left and went off to have my shoes checked, along with other things.
Restaurant review: Legends of Aviation Restaurant & Bar
{Find the place where all the planes are taking off. Go into the only building. Climb to the second floor.}
Hey, much better than what you get on the plane!
Nowadays, in most modern airports, you have a large variety of eateries to choose from, most of them either fast food or way-overpriced. But in certain tiny flight hubs you may not get much of a choice, like at the Long Beach Airport, where the Legends of Aviation Restaurant & Bar, on the second floor of the terminal–okay, the only building–is the only game in town. Luckily it’s a good game.
The very cheerful waitress told me to have a seat anywhere, so of course I ambled off to grab a table near the windows that showed a view of the airfield. There was even a patio section, though I can’t imagine who would want to put up with all that noise! There was also a bar, but it might have been a better deal to face it away from the view of the landings and takeoffs. . . I’m just sayin’.
Okay, my waitress was a tiny perky brunette named Jessica who made the meal a lot more fun than I would have imagined. She had this enjoyable way of saying “You’re wel-come!” that I wish I could have taped. It got to the point where. . . there was this woman seated across the aisle from me who looked so totally bored that she was willing to spend a few minutes practicing her flirting technique on me, but the more time I spent smiling and semi-flirting with my waitress, the more pissed off she got.
The very first thing said between us was me telling her to take the previous tip away, because I didn’t want to be tempted. She laughed heartily and whisked the money into hiding, calling me a big goof; I’m surprised she didn’t hit me on the head with her pad. Not being in an adventurous mood. . . well, yeah, I never am when it comes to food, but certainly not when I might possibly get airsick, I had the bacon and eggs with wheat toast. You would think it’d be hard to screw up something so basic, but I’ve had too many bad breakfasts to not know better.
This one was not screwed up, in fact it was damned tasty, aided by the fact they got the bacon exactly how I liked it. While I don’t keep records the way I do with corn, that might be the second-best wheat toast I’ve ever had {the first being at the bus station in Duncan, Vancouver Island, Canada}. And like in all great eateries, the waitress has something to do with it, because if you get a surly server it somehow makes the food taste not as good, right?
And then there’s the view. I’m not a hard-core aviation buff, but I’ve flown on enough of them, especially in the Marine Corps and UN Peacekeeping, to recognize the C-130s and such dotting the hangers on the other side of the field, so no doubt this airport has a military component as well. I had to borrow some binoculars–smart of the restaurant to have them on hand–to see that it was indeed a Lancer off in the distance, the most beautiful plane ever built. It was pretty cool having both my senses of sight and taste so fully engaged at the same time. So if you’re the kinda person who loves watching planes, this is the perfect place for you!
Along with a big glass of milk my bill came to just over seven dollars, which is a great price anywhere but particularly in a spot where it’s the only alternative. And after paying I asked Jessica to put the change in my backpack, which I already had on, so it wouldn’t set off the metal detector when my bod passed through; she laughed and did so, though I can only assume that from the sound–she mighta kept a quarter, but I doubt it. The whole experience left me in a great mood to fly, an auspicious start to the trip.
{note: the restaurant had since been “remodeled,” so I can’t vouch for what it looks like now, or the prices. I just hope they were smart enough to keep the food tasty.
And keep Jessica.}
Back to our story. . .
To my surprise, the security checkpoint looked to be made out of those modular trailers you had in high school when there was no more room in the old buildings, and even more surprising was zooming right through. I guess I’m finally used to doing and undoing the laces on my boots, and luckily I was awake enough to wear matching socks.
As usual getting anywhere early, I spent the time reading, in this case most of the UCLA magazine, before going over to look at the snacks. The counter girl giggled as I bought an orange creamsickle and matching yoghurt–to balance the nutritional content, of course–and especially at my face when I saw that sushi–wrapped plastic container, at least–was on sale there too. I don’t know anyone who would take a risk on buying preserved sushi, but some people like to live on the edge. . . me, I’d like a condo two blocks from the edge. {Sorry, old joke.}
Do you think they have a security camera in the airport restrooms? Considering this would be the place where someone in disguise would change, or possibly let loose a biological or chemical agent into the air vents, you’d have to think there would be, right? But still, what about inside the stalls? Do the guys in the security room develop a fetish? Are there blackmail tapes? Is that how they caught that Republican senator in Minneapolis? Do I really want to know? Bingo.
It wasn’t till I sat back down to finish the other half of the UCLA magazine that I realized I was wearing my heavy Washington Huskies jacket {which I ended up never needing, but more on that later. . . SHIT! anyways.}
Finally on the plane, where everyone settled quickly and efficiently so that we took off on time. Can’t remember the last time an airport and flight went off like so much clockwork, though of course the thought jinxes it for next time. Huh.
Got a damn good view of the Lancer as we taxied–seriously, the most beautiful plane ever, some might dare call it. . . sexy? In the way cars can be sexy, of course.
Flight was short due to talking the whole way.

Next week we’ll finally arrive in Seattle. . .


Poetry Tuesday: To A Swallow

By Euenos, somewhere in Greece (most likely), about 2000 years ago.

Relish honey. If you please
Regale yourself on Attic bees.
But spare, O airy chatterer,
Spare the chattering grasshopper!

Winging, spare his gilded wings,
Chatterer, his chatterings.
Summer’s child, do not molest
Him the summer’s humblest guest.

Snatch not for your hungry young
One who like yourself has sung–
For it is neither just nor fit
That poets should each other eat.



Maybe it’s due to all the weight I’ve lost, but in the past couple of months there’s been more photos taken of me than in my whole life. Thankfully there’s always someone—or something—with me, so people can have something nice to look at.

The lovely Cassey Ho

The one and only Lindsey Stirling

From UCLA Gymnastics, the pint-sized strongest person in the world, Savvy!

Also from UCLA Gymnastics, Olympic champion and life champion Kyla Ross!

UCLA Gymnastics coach and all-around bestest person on the planet, Miss Val! (Poking my eye out.)

Seventh–and sweetest–NCAA gymnastics championship for the Bruins!


Travel Thursday Revisited: Very South America 2006

A roundup of some of the places I stepped on during this longer-than-expected trip. That was back in the days of film/not digital for me, so you can imagine how much extra equipment I had to lug around, especially in the Peruvian Andes. . .

Have you ever been amazed by the roar of a waterfall, just one? Imagine being surrounded by a horseshoe of them! This is Iguazu, in southern Brazil, famously shot in a few movies, including a Bond and an Oscar winner. Even with the hotel window closed, you can still hear the thunder.
And then you hear the loud squawk of a bird on your balcony. How loud does he have to screech to be heard over the waterfalls? Very distracting.
And it was a toucan, and who can see a toucan without wanting some Froot Loops? Not me. Unfortunately, the hotel was out of them. Well, at least they were smart enough to know what a Froot Loop was and usually have them around, but I know by the time I get back to Buenos Aires I’ll have gotten over the urge.
Damn, I can’t believe how humid it is here. I’m usta cold waterfalls. . .

Buenos Aires
Flying into Buenos Aires you’re stunned at how big the city is; it makes you think you’re in El Ay, it’s so spread out. The big difference is the two hugely wide streets, probably just as wide as the Champs-Elysees, or Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City. Anyone care to guess the name of the more important street? Avenue July Ninth! Why is this important? My birthday, of course. Claiming you didn’t know is no longer a valid excuse. And no clothes, even UCLA t-shirts! I already have a UCLA umbrella too.
After the tango show the dancers got people from the audience to try to teach them some moves. So of course one of the women, the prettiest I’m sure, came to my table and tried to persuade me to join in, and wouldn’t believe me when I told her I already knew how to dance tango, but I’m on the injured reserve list for life. Finally I stood up and did some arm movements while standing still to prove I knew the stuff. She smiled, gave me a kiss on the cheek, and waved bye-bye as she went looking for another target. And it wasn’t till I got back to the hotel that the desk clerk laughingly told me I had a huge lip mark on my cheek. . .
I hate that. . .
Oh, and a shoemaker/dancer tried to buy my boots because he loved them so much and wanted to make some just like it. That’s one thing I never expected to happen to me. . .
I actually spent only one day touring Buenos Aires, since it doesn’t have all that much going for it as far as tourist attractions, tango bars notwithstanding. It’s a place to BE more than to see. Well, there’s the obelisk, but once you’ve seen one Washington Monument you’ve seen them all. The second day I spent shooting models, some of which were tango dancers, though I couldn’t picture them with all that heavy makeup and attitude.
Before I left on this trip I was asked if I was going to Patagonia, which seems to have some sort of quasi-religious sentiment attached to the name. Nope, the company I’m shooting for doesn’t go there, and been there/done that. Although it would have been cool to revisit a certain tiny town. . .
Peaked your interest? Well, here’s the story:
Way back when I was in the Marine Corps, we parachuted at night after a 12-hour flight, not being told where the hell we were. In fact, the point was to figure out where in the world we were in as quick a time as possible, without being spotted by the locals. I was the intel guy, so it was my job to find out. I quickly figured out we were in the Southern Hemisphere, whereupon the team leader says, “That’s a big help!” all sarcastic-like. My reply was, “Hey, I just eliminated half the world!” Actually more, since that half of the world is more water than land, but why quibble. From there I found a small town and creeped up to the school–luckily it was the weekend–and saw a map through the window and figured out where we were and called it in. Record time, too.
From there we were picked up and sent to jungle training in the Amazon, of which the less said the better. Can’t use a rifle or knife on creepy-crawlies. . . well, some of them were big enough to use a knife on, but too fast. And I didn’t care if I flunked the course, there’s no way I was eating ’em!

Because of the time difference, I was having dinner in Santiago as I watched UCLA win their first basketball game of the tourney. Who woulda thunk there’d be a sports bar in Chile? Of course all the big screens were showing soccer, but I managed to grab a little table in the corner and persuaded a waitress to change one of the TVs to the game; I do seem to have awesome charm when it comes to non-romantic matters. Luckily I didn’t look at all out of place, considering everyone was screaming at the soccer games, except for the timing, so I was screaming alone, until a couple of Americans came in. Not UCLA fans, but I’m sure they were hoping I would buy them a beer if they cheered.(almost rhymed).
Didn’t have to go to Antarctica to freeze my giblets off, even if it’s summer here in the Lake District. (according to spell check, that’s how you spell giblets; I thought it would be a J. Actually, didn’t know I had giblets, but live and learn.) It’s really frustrating being out at ten at night with a full sun while wearing half a dozen layers. . . and having to take off the gloves to take photos. . . on a camera that hates cold. . . especially when you were in 70 degree sun the day before.
Schnitzel and Strudel in Frutillar, for that brief taste of old Germany, on St. Patrick’s Day, of all days. For a longer taste, or better yet a taste of Austria, I stayed at the Hotel Salzburg. And fresh juicy grapes the size of cockroaches on steroids: mmmmm. . .
Just for the heck of it, on my way back from the Lake District to Santiago, I spent the night in a town called Los Angeles; pretty much had to, right? The next morning some Germans–real ones, from the old country–and Czechs tried to cajole me into going white-water rafting with them. Me, who’s deadly afraid of water, possibly even more than heights! I figured I’d go along with the free ride and then chicken out at the last moment so I could take photos, but as it turned out their rental truck wouldn’t start and I didn’t have to go through any theatrics to stay dry.

Easter Island
Except for the statues, the less said about this place the better. Even the statues got old to this archaeology enthusiast after a day. Checkmark it on the “been there/done that” list. . . hope that didn’t come across as bitter, just disappointed.

Got back to my favorite South American city {Santiago} with two days to walkabout before catching a couple of tiny flights up to Lake Titicaca. Go ahead, laugh at the name, you know you wanna.
Not much I can tell ya about it. It’s a huge lake, and it’s really cold because it’s way up in the mountains. A couple of real islands, a few fake ones, and some very touristy cultural awareness. Oh well, it was a nice rest.
What rest? Did you hear my scream at 12:30 in the morning local time, 9:30 Pacific? The only TV in the hotel with cable was the one in the lobby, and the desk clerk was looking at me like I was crazy as UCLA played like shit and still beat Gonzaga at the end. That was exhausting! And yes, I know UCLA didn’t deserve it, but that’s why you play the full 40. . .

Someone at the home office in Seattle was smart enough to have a small plane ready for me in Puno, which is the town on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, to take me to Arequipa, but I convinced him to make a detour. First we circled the lake a few times–well, not really, we didn’t go into Bolivian airspace, but you know what I mean–so I could get some shots, then we headed for the coast so I could shoot the Nasca lines, then finally when we were almost there we flew over Colca Canyon. If the Peruvian Air Force asks you about unscheduled flight plans, we were having lunch together that day, right? (hummed to Cheryl B. Engelhardt’s Empty Alibi.)
In the town of Arequipa I stayed in a hotel called La Casa de Mi Abuela, which translates to “my grandmother’s house.” It was a cool place to crash, with bungalows and gardens and such, but I just had to mention it for the name. There was also a restaurant called Zig Zag–yes, in English, or whatever language that comes from–that served stone-grilled ostrich burgers. Make up your own joke.
In the Colca Canyon, I had another chance to go white watering, but this time found it much easier to say no, and that was before they told me they were rated VI (I hope the higher the number, the more difficult, otherwise I passed up the equivalent of a ride on a bathtub). I climbed a volcano instead. (Ha, sounds so easy when you write it. . .) From up there, better than from the plane, it was easy to see why this canyon is twice as deep as the Grand one in Arizona.
If you’ve ever seen a condor, California style, you know how huge those puppies are. The ones down here are even huger, if that’s a real word (according to spell check it is). Wingspans 10 feet long–that’s longer than some basketball players. So big they can’t just flap and start flying, but need a running start off a cliff; imagine doing that for the first time. They circle around below you and then, suddenly it seems, they’re above you. Ever been in one of those aquarium tunnels, where you see sharks swimming above you? That’s how it felt, only more so, because you weren’t protected by glass and one of the young birds might mistake you for lunch. Got some cool pictures, at least.
Was that UCLA-Memphis game not the ugliest ever? And that’s saying a lot, considering the past two. At least I won’t have to worry about finding cable TV for a few days. . .
Even though I’d been to Machu Picchu before, this time I not only spent a whole day going through the ruins, but also other sites in the valley, as well as having the time to actually speak with locals and make fast enough friends for them to take me to places the tourists never see.
These four days were, and it is rare for me to use this word, spiritual, even magical. It was truly amazing how many tourists I came across who were tearful, some because they finally got here, but mostly because it’s just so fucking beautiful. . .
One of the highlights–at least for this non-morning person–was getting up at five to join the workers at Machu Picchu on the trek up the mountain so I could shoot the dawn. And just for fun, I played Shannon Hurley’s Sunrise as I shot, followed by Lovers Electric’s Morning Sun. It really helps when an old UCLA buddy is now the regional director for archaeology and can do whatever the hell he wants despite any posted rules, and bring his friend along. {Hopefully you already read that story, called “Puttin’ the Machu in Picchu!” It features a German/Swedish blonde model, so. . . yeah.}
Turns out I inadvertently got one of the local guides in trouble. When I sign up for one of these trips, I’m given a list of things they want me to shoot. Usually it’s a short list, and I can improvise and add to it, as long as I get a usable shot of what they want. So it turns out one of the sites they wanted me to shoot is no longer open to the public, only their local guide “neglected” to tell them this; afraid of getting paid less, I guess. But if he was dumb enough to think no one would notice once they arrived, well, who am I to deprive him of reaping from his stupidity . . .

So. . .
According to my handy dandy pedometer, the best gift evah–although you have to consider I usually gets clothes as gifts, but still–I walked over 100 miles on this trip. No Fffffin’ way! When my feet and shins heard this news, they decided they should feel sore, even if they didn’t before. (did that rhyme?)