My Personal Battle with Terrorist Supplies

Posted June 23rd, 2011

I am a worrier. And don’t think I  don’t worry about that.  In fact, I just started a meditation course  to try and morph myself from a hand wringing anxiety sponge to  a beaming wellspring  of calm. While I am awaiting that transformation,  I continue to  fret about many things. One of them is not being able to keep my  emergency kit stocked with food.

There are two main reasons that I have this kit: 1.My lifelong bad habit of reading the newspaper  every  morning means that  I open each and every bright new day with some time that is specially devoted  to  empathizing with people I don’t know who are dealing with devastating floods, earthquakes, tornadoes and military disasters. And 2. I live in California, a state that is  obsessed with reminding its residents that a horrifying earthquake is not just inevitable but long over due. While we are eagerly awaiting  it,  there are also fires,  mudslides and an intermittently bankrupt state government to keep us occupied. Fortunately for me, despite an unbalanced budget, they were able to find enough money to recently  put up some cheery signs on Pacific Coast Highway warning of the possibility of a tsunami,should conditions be agreeable.In fact, LA is so in love with its own disasters that  newescasts station reporters at the scene of any former disaster every time rain is predicted, just to remind everyone that even the faint memory of a mudslide or a fire is still a good reason to be tense.

Its hard for me to imagine my box of emergency supplies being very useful in an earthquake, tsunami or  fire since all three of them would require me to flee the premises. But I guess I read the grasshopper and the ants one time too many when I was a kid.  I plunged ahead and bought a big container in which to stash  food, water, a first aid kit and the roll of duct tape I still had from when  Atty. General John Ashcroft, of the Bush administration, insisted that we needed to be ready to seal all our windows with plastic sheeting.  Ah, what golden days those were for the duct tape business.  It must have seemed  like the arrival of a special better-than-Christmas TAPE holiday .  Imagine the corporate meetings they  had, trying to figure out what they could do to to keep the giant national duct tape celebration going.

Anyway, I persist  because  I somewhere deep in my soul I am preparing for a scenario in which my loved ones and I have survived that shift in tectonic plates or that dirty bomb terrorist attack and there we will be,  cut off from civilization for some finite period of time, wandering around in our sports jackets , looking too formal for our new  Mad Max landscape. After a few hours of that, it will just be a matter of time until the man and four dogs with whom I share my life will  begin staring at me and wondering what is for dinner. Definitely none of them will have put away any boxes of supplies. That much I know.  Nope, everyone will be looking at me like “So? Now what?”.  Obviously it will have behooved me to have figured some of these things  out in advance.

The first time I shopped for this disaster food, I did my menu planning around the fact that in horrible circumstances, we would  all be pretty depressed.  Thus I bought things to eat that not only had a long shelf life but that might lift our spirits a little when we opened the box: Nuts, dried bananas, three kinds of jerky, high end canned soups. I got enormous flats from Costco of canned tuna or chicken, canned spaghetti, chocolate protein bars, malted milk balls. I bought so many of the  kind of tasty snacks  I try to stay away from because they’re fattening that I began secretly to look forward to at least a small disaster so I could have a big hand full of bridge mix without feeling guilty.  And this impulse, of course,  lead me directly to an entirely different problem: It soon became impossible to keep my disaster supply box full of food .

It didn’t take long for the raids to begin. Whenever I got hungry in the middle of the night or had been drinking sake , I would make a bee line for the terrorist supplies.   The nuts and dried bananas were the first to go.  Right after that I thought I’d have just one protein bar. But of course after the carton was opened,  all of them disappeared pretty quickly.   Canned beans? Sure, why not. One glass of cabernet and I’d be overcome with a romantic feeling about eating beans from a can that I’ve been harboring since I was in grade school watching old movies full of cowboys eating around a campfire. Mind you, I did’t eat all my terrorist supplies in one bingey night. It  took me  a couple of weeks. But before I knew it, I had also consumed every can of the minestrone and the canned ravioli. By then, the only food left was a few cans of beets or  carrots. Those foods were safe because I never wanted to buy them in the first place.  I hate the taste of canned vegetables. (I also hate canned raviolis but they take on a certain gross reverse-appeal after a few glasses of wine.)

Eventually it occurred to me that my behavior left me with only one reasonable course of action.  I had  to force myself to fill my emergency preparedness box entirely with  cans of food I hate.  It was that or continue to have an empty emergency box that needed to be refilled, therefore rendering it useless as a disaster preparedness kit. This lead to a trip to Costco where I walked up and down the aisles answering the question “What else would I not eat if I were a little tipsy?”

True, an  emergency kit full of canned carrots and canned wax beans and canned beets is an emergency kit that will never be raided in the middle of the night. But its not going to do much to lift our depression after we’re heading in to a second night without power or water, wondering when some helicopter is going to spot us gesturing wildly on the ground.   I can already hear the disparaging remarks from my neighbors who might need to rely on me and who are now faced with nothing but water logged beets and peas.   On the bright side I suppose by the time our lives resume in a normal fashion, we will all be slimmed down and full of vitamins .

Still, my dogs will fare okay. And that counts for something. I bought huge sacks of their usual diet.  Don’t want to let down the dogs.  And  there’s no danger of me eating their food in the middle of the night. At least I hope there isn’t. I haven’t tried it yet. Maybe its not all that bad. There are nice looking drawings of fresh salmon and vegetables on the sack. And a rushing stream. Peas still in the pod. Fresh tomatoes.  All in all, just one more reason why I better  hurry up and get further in to my new meditation class. A more relaxed and transcendent me isn’t going to want anything to do with canned ravioli in the middle of the night. Maybe. Though I’m not so sure about the dog food.

A conversation in the parking lot at the market.

Posted June 23rd, 2011

Yesterday as I left the supermarket, a  middle aged woman in a floral print blouse and nondescript black pants  blocked me on my way to my car. She looked a little beat up but, speaking as a person who often looks a little beat up herself ,  I didn’t want to judge her.  At the same time, I thought it was pretty annoying the way she stepped right in front of me  and stopped my progress. Up until that point, I had been clipping right along, making very good time leaving that market. I hate that market. I couldn’t wait  to get out of there.

But before I could begin to offer her any of the surly snarly attitude  for which I am internationally beloved,  she got my attention. “Do you know what pellagra is?” she asked me.


Now there was a word I hadn’t heard in casual conversation in a while.  Instantly I was impressed and interested. Apparently, I thought to myself, she is raising money to fight pellagra, a disease that has kind of fallen in to the  reliquary with scurvy and rickets. Good for her, I was now thinking, wondering when she was going  to lead me over to a card table. If I’m going to be corralled in to making a donation, I had concluded at this point, I’m glad its to fight pellagra. I mean, why should  all my funds only be going to more contemporary and fashionable diseases like cancer, AIDS and MS when pellagra goes over looked and unaddressed.  It  deserves my attention.

So I answered her. “Yes, I’ve heard of it.” I said, ” Isn’t it a disease caused by a vitamin deficiency? Actually, I think maybe my uncle had it.”

I threw that uncle thing in  to make the conversation a little more personally relevant . That way when she hit me up for funds, I’d have a better reason to be generous.

““No,” she said, ” It causes people to disappear. And then the birds get bigger.”

“Oh. Right. Right.” I said, now understanding why she wasn’t carrying a clipboard or a cannister or offering me any pamphets”  I guess that isn’t what my uncle had after all. Okay. Well, good. Thank you.” Then I pushed past her and made a beeline  to my car.

And as I drove away, and revisited all the details of our exchange,  the thing that  I couldn’t get over is that I THANKED HER.

When did everyone decide they’re all so HOT?

Posted June 10th, 2011
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I know for a fact that there are no nude pictures of me circulating anywhere . For one thing, I never had any taken. I’m just not the type to do that. I also felt that it would somehow take away from my work . By which I mean; how could I hope to make a living pointing out other peoples imperfections if mine were glaringly on display?  Which brings me to this: When did everyone everywhere decide they were so goddamn hot that they needed as many strangers as possible to see them naked? I mean, there has always been a group of people whose job definitions included naked posing. But  it didn’t used to be most of us.

Just a few years ago, when people thought about fulfilling their potential, they didn’t necessarily mean that they hoped they could one day rise to enough social prominence and popularity  to be permitted to pose for pictures with their butts sticking out . Back then,  a guy who looked like Anthony Weiner would have woken up in the morning, looked at himself in the mirror and thought “Well, I’m not the best looking guy but, know what?  I look pretty good. For me. I mean, for an average looking human who  looks a great deal like a ferret , thumbs up.  I’m doing okay.”

But then it somehow  came to pass that Paris Hilton and her pals had so much  influence on the culture at large that being “hot” became part of every job definition.  And its left me feeling nostalgic for the time when there was still a nice range of different ways to display embarrassing egomania in a public persona. There were dignified loud mouths (see: Prince Phillip).  There were substance abusing show offs (see: Rose, Axel) even in the political arena (Kennedy,Ted).  You could present yourself as a brilliant scientist or an interesting smart ass and not  also feel the need to pose unclothed holding only  a towel. Really. Its true!  I swear I’m not making this up.  In those days, politicians with bad judgment used to date strippers and put them on the payroll.(See: Mills, Wilbur.) But now they’ve fallen under the influence of  that old feminist saying:”We have become the men we wanted to marry.” Today’s politicians have finally become the strippers they wanted to put on the payroll.

I’ve heard people say that the naked picture thing is now such a common  by product of internet social networking that it’s not even worth a raised eyebrow. Yet the  problem with a sexting elected official continues to reside in the notion that where human behavior and character is concerned, the whole is the sum of its parts. Because the only reason to even have an election is to pick out a special member of the group who can best represent that group’s unified interests. On the other hand, if sending out pictures of your dick is now so ho-hum that it can no longer  even be classified as bad judgment, I guess those of us who still have it filed that way may need to  download some cultural software updates. Or move to Great Britain.

And having said that, I have to confess that I kind of count on not seeing naked lusty butt shots  of the people I most admire. I hope there are no naked pictures kicking around  of  Jane Goodall or Mark Twain or Robert Benchley or Kurt Vonnegut Jr. or Lynda Barry . I would be heartbroken to learn that David Attenborough had taken pictures of himself without his pants and sent them out to everyone who said they liked his BBC documentaries about shrews, terns and horseshoe crabs.  (And this despite the fact that I have noticed that every one of his docs includes footage of him sitting inches away from a pair of some bird, mammal or reptile who are smack  in the midst of coitus.)

So I guess I am calling for a return to a wide variety of colorful, interesting and individually chosen paths to ego-maniacal career destruction. It seems like a good idea to me to leave the naked dick and boob shot approach to those winners of the genetic crap shoot  in desperate need of some updates on their IMDB profiles.

(PS:I have a new book coming out in November. Its a book of funny essays. And its definitely my most personal set of essays ever. Years of writing novels have opened some kind of trap door that is now impossible to close. I hope its stuff that the people who like my other books will want to read.

If there’s a theme to the book, its the never ending task of coping with the crazy people who surround us all. ( I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who is surrounded by crazy people. Am I? I’m not, am I?)  I have been trying to learn something, anything, from these experiences, since, as I understand it, that seems to be kind of the point. And for the sake of the book,  I’m going to go ahead and assume there is a point.

For example, the book contains  a piece about my problematic relationship with my extremely critical seemingly un-pleasable mother and the odd, thoroughly irritable travel diaries that I saw for the first time after she died.  I quote from them ver batim, which made me pretty nervous. But having gotten laughs  the few times I got up the nerve to read from them on stage, I was encouraged to turn them in to an essay that tries to add up the pieces and draw some conclusions , now that its over.

There’s  an exhaustively thorough piece I began writing as a present to some of my  girl friends, as I sit back watching them  running headlong in to the endless variations of the miseries that dating has to offer.  Its based on a lifetime of  note taking as I lived through my own version of same. Its called “How to Spot an Asshole.” and I’m pretty sure  I didn’t leave anything out.

There’s also a piece called ‘Never Again’ about the nerve wracking experience of falling in love again after swearing off love entirely. And the difference between having this experience  in the first half of life, and  in the second half.

Of course there are also a few pieces about dogs, because they are the craziest people of all.   I analyze why I love them with so much unswerving devotion, considering that they require me to tolerate behavior I will no longer tolerate from people.

I guess I’ll say more about this whole thing as it gets closer to November.

I hope its a good book . You can pre-order it already, I’m told. Its for sale on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Borders Books . The publisher is, once again, Randomhouse.