Quotes that Say Something

"Please, dad, get down and look. I think there's some kind of monster under my bed."

Life when seen in close-up often seems tragic, but in wide-angle it often seems comic. -- Charlie Chaplin

"And when the cloudbursts thunder in your ear, you shout, but no one's there to hear. And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes, I'll see you on the dark side of the moon." -- Roger Waters, "Brain Damage"

May 24, 2012

The Pyrrhic Victory of Godfried Geisal

     "One more such victory will undo me!"

                                                 --  Pyrrhus
     You have brains in your head, You have feet in your shoes, You can steer yourself,
     In any direction you choose.
                                                                                                        --  Dr. Seuss

     The church scandal haunts and enrages him . . .“When my involvement with (it) ended, I no longer   
     recognized anything in my life. I never questioned my faith,” he said. “My spirituality is stronger
     now. I am not a Catholic. It all left me feeling empty." All these years later, when reminded of
     this, the same (sense of) emptiness returns.

                                                                               --  Ray Mouton, Attorney, quoted by
                                                                                     Jason Berry, Lead Us Not into Temptation

Pyrrhus of Epirus

In the middle of a warm and sultry afternoon overhung by partly cloudy skies, Jones did not yet admit to anyone that his once cherished game of all eyes on the future was already at an end. This made him feel hollow as he drank his first coffees after lying in their unmade bed late and listless and that dull ache of unrootedness grew like a swelling balloon inside  of him as each day ticked toward its conclusion. He found himself without setting a firm plan for his day suddenly sitting semi-isolated in a dark green painted seat in the middle of the lower stands in left field, which baseball lore has assigned a title, the bleachers. Jones had no clear memory of aiming toward the baseball park and though he had paid $25 to pass through the bank of expectant attendants who held beeping ticket scanners and said welcome and enjoy the game under the red canopy with a big P over a main entry he could not recall how he got there. Jones had been drifting for days and nights around the cracked and subsiding downtown sidewalks. Only a few hundred other paid entrants, the completely hooked baseball fanatics who show up as soon as the place is unlocked with their branded teamwear in place and their leather gloves of all shapes and sizes and trademarks mashed onto their catching hands, were wandering around (in fact most of the early arrivals were congregated in front of Jones down by and leaning over the left centerfield fence), praying that a slightly scuffed white Rawlings baseball would land like an explosive device in their laps. Jones began to think about his exhiliration in years past -- youthful, sports-loving years -- to be sitting with energy so close to the inviting playing surface of the outfield and yet vulnerable enough, God forbid, to get banged by a whizzing hard ball and knocked into a stuporous and cracked heap.

The baseball park's sound system blared uptempo but inoffensive rock and hip-hop tunes that echoed around the cavernous, unpopulated ballpark. The music like the interplay of two teams reminded Jones that the baseball game though it might be vigorously well-played today the outcome would not matter much, or at all. He was drawn to an earnest and melodramatic sermon that a middle age volunteer coach explained to a trio of  'if you say so' Little League boys about an oldtime Hall of Fame player named Richie Ashburn from the rollicking 1950s. Masterful in his judgmen  about balls and strikes and his choked-up bat control, Ashburn was legendary for being able to go deep into the count during his at-bats, then spoil about a dozen or more pitches by fouling them off, before he could coax the pitcher into curveballing his way into hurling ball four or a high hittable ball toward home plate. Coach said 'Now always be careful, guys. These balls come at you real fast here in the stands.' The man went on about a mythical day in the major leagues when Richie Ashburn lined, actually rocketed, a screaming scary foul ball with his ash color bat into the seats above the third base dugout, the twelfth of twelve such foul shots. A graying matron whose reflexes had experienced far quicker days gone by was just beginning to register the red alert of panic blaring on and off with a fury in her mind's eye, her hands down helplessly and wrapped around a red-and-white striped popcorn box, when the line drive by Ashburn smacked into her cranium just above her left eye. Blood spurted forth into the popcorn box and part of her eye got squished out onto her face. Her brain shorted. She slumped motionless, like a flexible, wornout old mannequin, bleeding over the painted seat back in front of her, her arms and hands now lifeless, dangling all the way down.

Worried onlookers thought at first that she was dead. But she was not. Long minutes later (and skipping over many lurid details here), play resumed a bit breathlessly. Ashburn fouled two more pitches straight back. Ushers in ancient, fraying usher uniforms and straw hats with American flags on them carried the victim precariously upon an army green stretcher up some stairs toward a breezeway exit. The woman was blood-smeared and completely unresponsive as the crowd cheered gamely for her. Her face looked doughy and very pale, plus it was turning a sickly blue and black.  A few police officers tripped up the steps alongside the ushers carrying the stretcher; they tried to seem helpful. As the cheering died down, as the third pitch since the mishap reached the batter, Ashburn sliced a loud foul ball that went cutting and ripping  down the first base line. With the ominous crack of his bat, everyone (stretcher crew included, but not the out-cold woman) flinched and gazed back grimacing toward home plate. Ashburn growled with displeasure as he saw the ball bounce into the bullpen in right.

Then, something that strains one's ability to believe in anything good in this world happened. The pitcher released another pitch -- a change-up, a very flatline pitch, one that truly did match the obsolete, Abner Doubleday era label of slowball, that inched its way over time toward the plate and batter. Time in the ball park stood still. Ashburn held back. He pumped his bat down then up. He waited patiently. The pitch faded away from him. The catcher reached wide to snag the errant pitch. The chief umpire was raising his left hand to call "Ball four." Yet suddenly, Richie Ashburn, a hall of famer and legend to forever be in American sports, dropped his ash bat with lightning quickness onto the rotating ball (actually, the pitch that had mostly passed him by). The ball launched off Ashburn's bat like a missile strike from a modern war drone into the third base seating area, up behind the dugout. The awful foul hurtled toward its primary target. It crashed like a brick hurled from a high bridge into the poor insentient woman's jawbone -- which instantly cracked into many pieces with a horrifying, tree-splintering smash. This baseball then gently rolled from her chin after the electrifying impact and settled onto her slack left arm. Then it departed the ballpark right beside her on the stretcher. Everyone around seemed afraid to touch the ball. It has been often reported that nothing of this sort, this two lethal fouls for one ticketholder during one at-bat, has ever been repeated in the recorded history of major league baseball, which has a lot of chapters written in it.

'That kind of thing can happen at any time, men!' warned the leader of the young trio. 'So heads up. Keep your eye on the ball all the time. Your whole life can change with something just like that.'

The boys nodded but looked vacant then confused. The moral of the story from their coach had yet to sink in as they replayed the lurid images in their minds.

Jones vhaguely eard the slight sound-delayed but mighty thwack of a wooden bat as he thought about this. A fly ball, hit by someone he never would be able to accurately name, which just might have the distance, folks, came arc-ing toward him high and black in the partly cloudy sky. Jones is sitting semi-isolated in a painted chair half the way up the rows of seats in left field. Only a few other people, the hardcore baseball junkies and souvenir fanatics, were assembled this afternoon like an unruly lot, the aimless Israelites waiting for Moses to reappear on the mountain, straining down and leaning over the left field fence. A cheer went up because they suddenly believed that this leathery rocket smacked out of the batting cage would stretch its arm all the way to their gathering spot. Jones had judged otherwise. He was therefore distracted for a few seconds by the improbable image of a long-haired skinny guy walking by, like a misplaced and sneering biblical prophet, wearing a hometown ball cap and carrying a blade carved placard that proclaimed, Repent, the end is near! John 3:16. Go Giants.  The batting practice homer suddenly exploded on the painted stadium chair next to Jones. He felt a rush of emotions as he figured out what had just happened. At once a number of people young and old were around him. Exhiliration gave way to shock and a tremble of fear. Jones scolded himself for such bad judgment. He envied whoever got that baseball.

'You coulda got beaned really really bad, buddy,' a fan with a Boston accent nearby yelled at him. Yep, then I'd a been rendered forever stuporous and regretful Jones said to himself nervously. He imagined he would have felt much like that poor old lady on the rude and painful receiving end, twice, of Richie Ashburn's offensive wrath. No one else paid much attention to him though. They all seemed distracted completely, chasing after the BP stamped baseball. This included the trio of boys and their coach-chaperone. Another sound-delayed but mighty thwack of a wooden bat shook his world. This long ball was racing up into the left field sky with a vengeance. Danger was stealthily, relentlessly, aiming toward him, on its relentless way, once more. He sat very still.

Then, Jones smiled. This moment reminded him of something. His professional and personal life had been changed during a similar moment twenty-eight years before. A harmless-seeming flyball in the guise of a news feature came flying through the haze and slammed down onto the respected front page, above the fold, of The Examiner before his eyes.  Jones' professional and personal life, and the lives of millions of persons, barely reco gnized the haze setting in. They did not feel the full fury of the game change -- but they were perversely beaned, beaned really bad, like the passed out and bleeding old lady who was heading up Row 13 behind the home team's dugout. Yet they never felt the slam at the time. The sky was empty and gave no signals to Jones. The sting and the aches and the bone breaks would be revealed later.

Gilbert Geisal:  These balls come at you fast here

To be continued

"On An Island"  --  David Gilmour

Remember that night, the warmth and the laughter
Candles burn though the church was deserted
At dawn we went down through empty streets to the harbor
Dreamers may leave but they're here ever after

Let the night surround you, We're halfway to the stars

May 21, 2012

Is Your Job Affecting Your Health?

During recent years, I have been on both sides of the picture -- employment and unbidden unemployment. I have learned that one can be happy or sad, fulfilled or unfulfilled, while experiencing each firsthand. There are many (subtle) implications in this truth. 

The title of a blog piece on The Atlantc caught my attention as soon as I saw it. The title is "Is Your Job Killing You?" Somedays the answer is yes. What do you think?

Here it is:

May 17, 2012

Everything That She Ever Wanted Herself to Be

I was driving home in my car from Wal-Mart, a bag filled with prescription meds and some food staples on my back seat. Frozen on my seat by a long red-light back-up, he came walking down the median toward me and the idling, persistent autos all around. In his left hand he clutched a predictable cardboard sign. He was  unshaven (by a few days), tall (about 6'3"), dressed in black khaki shorts (dusty), a gray tee (sweaty and too tight around the middle), and a decent pair of gray socks with New Balance shoes (dude, what are you doing?) -- and he looked to be about 50-60 pounds at least, maybe more, overweight. I studied the spectacle for a moment. Not many others in cars and trucks seemed to notice. Apparently conditioned to this sort of encounter, the man failed with most of present a symbol of hunger or neediness or anything triage bad on this afternoon. I relaxed my hands on the wheel a little. But I prayed to anyone who happened to be eavesdropping on my Sirius channel that this guy would not seek eye contact with me.

I furtively peeked at his cardboard. -- On the Way Home on the Road. Need Money. All Will Help. God Bless.

I groaned lightly. In a few words, this stranger had managed to sum my life story with a Sharpie and a box top. Yours too I ask you?  I memorized the words of this roadside plea. On the way and need money. Get in line, my man. All will help. Next time, don't dress like an underemployed but superfed supplicant. Planning is crucial. Nonchalance takes points off one's final panhandler grade. The cardboard stalker had nothing apparently in which to collect his random contributions. So, he was not anticipating a big haul that day.

This was somewhat like an incident years ago, when I was performing in small spotlights here and there, when a young woman named Becky approached me between acts. Several hours had flown by since the lights had dimmed and all of us had first gathered for the show. 

Becky was suffused with color. She informed me about what kind of work she did. Smiling she said 'Thanks to this night and you, I now know what I want to do.'

'What's that?' I asked with little enthusiasm. I am an introvert. Breaks between acts are almost always welcome. Putting myself out there on the line in front of others usually knocks me down and twirls me to a loopy state, even just a smidgen of putting it out there.

Becky paused, grinned coyly, sought eye contact. 'I want to do everything exactly like you do it. I now know. I want to do what you do.'

Silently I prayed, ever the cynic on my Sirius frequency, 'O Lord, why is it always this way?' -- To my new best friend I said: 'Becky it's a good thing to want to conquer something one loves to do. You look like a can do person. It takes one thing after another after another, girl. How do you get to Carnegie Hall the old joke says? Practice. Practice. Practice.'

With just a hint of stale and conventional humor one often can squeeze out of such sticky predicaments.

Later, when someone else had finished performing back in Becky Town, she called me on the cellphone. She told me that the same Becky had turned up for a weekend late show with a boyfriend. She seemed to get into it with vigor. But behind the curtains, amidst backstage shadows, while fingering inquisitively my friend's CDs for sale, 'She said that when she saw what I did and you did it looked so wonderful, like everything that she ever wanted for herself, for her own career.'

'Oh Lord,' I prayed again in a whisper, gazing at my long-time friend's furrowed brow. 'She has no idea what a ride she might be in for.'

'Dude. Word,' my professional pal noted.

As my car idled at the red light today, I realized this would never actually take place. But to contemplate it is a rush. I push out of the driver's side door, leaving it ajar and the motor still running Toyota softly. Someone nearby says from the inside of a rumbling Ram truck cab, 'Hey, what's the deal?' I accost the road wanderer. He steps back with one foot, his mouth comes open slackly, and the man drops his sign. It slides into the street. I subject him to a pithy harangue of two or three sentences at the most which I have not rehearsed: about social conformity, predictable stereotypes, and failing to give one's all, total focused effort, till the last scene in the final act of the drama. Then I get back in my vehicle as horns honk all around and other car operators negatively salute me via their middle fingers. Road rage begins to turn really ugly.

An unsmiling but sincere lady approached me quietly in a hallway at work the other day. Having observed two brief presentations that I have conducted during recent weeks, she asked me about this technique and that technique that she thought she saw me using, and inquired about how I had learned to put them subtly into practice. Surprised by her close observations, I mentioned that she was pointedly correct. She said she wanted to know because if she tried this and that it could make her way, way better at what she offers to the world. The amazing factor to me was that she was still trying. Not in a perfectionist way that I could detect, and I am no expert on such things. A professional like me nearing the end of the year-after-year dusty and sweaty road of workday journeys, she was seeking to get better at what she does and what she should do well. C'est bon. Let it go, all the way, push downfield. I envied her energy and her inquiring mind that yet wants to know.

So there it was instantly before me when I caught sight of that miserable, third-rate cardboard wish list in the guy half-trying to squeeze society's generous hand. You, sir, must stop it. Trying. Improvement. Effort. Striving. Wishing. Just do it. But no  cheap grace and no lethargic cons will be permitted on this side of the street. All of us are taking the long walk and heading some place that's a veiled mystery. Sometimes I wonder what became of earnest Becky and her easy smile. As it goes in the touching books and movies, we are each On the Way Home, On the Road. Need Money. All Will Help. God Bless. Hopefully it is not the fabled road to perdition. Contributions to the cause can all be handed to me personally and/or sent to my post office box. Or, better yet, all goods can be aimed electronically into the sweaty tee of my direct deposit account (and thus my debit card, instantaneously), like the archer's arrow true.

My cardboard sign declares -- Need money, need more time to do it all, here; don't we believe at times that it is so? All you give to the great work will help. God bless you, brothers and sisters.


May 11, 2012

The Time I Met the Real P.F. Chang

(Blogger's Note: I am taking time out from scripting my latest mystery/made-for-TV movie screenplay call "The Curators." This interruption is either a subconscious ploy so I can seal my personal failure @ telling this pretty good tale, or it's just another vestige of a restless mind in my head that keeps annoying me with self-disclosing vignettes that simply won't 'take a number' and wait patiently. Again, I have been writing pseudonymically, as I have managed to do for years, like with Stephen King's use of the pen name 'Richard Bachman.' My latest false front may well be Paulie Dent because I want to say something about teeth. But then maybe I should re-name myself Cliff Hanger instead. The anonymity that I gain by cloaking my actual name in the papers and journals is very freeing -- I'm so anonymous in this Nook book culture that when I look into a mirror or gaze into a store window, to assess the damages that time and hard living have done, I often do not even see a reflection.)

There's something in the air in Hollywood
I tried to leave it but I never could
Shine your light now 'cause this time it's gotta be good,
You get it right now (yeah) 'cause you're in Hollywood.

                                          --  Madonna, "Hollywood"

Having just consumed a full plate of Wok-Charred Beef with Colorful Vegetables, peppered up by a spoon-on sweet red chili sauce, my mouth is now a menacing, fire-emitting weapon. It's so hot still that you may want to sit back a little if you're leaning in. Accidents do happen. This story may actually get hot. (Minutes ago, when I came out of a P.F. Chang's restaurant, the breeze off the ocean hit me like chilly gasp. The mellow vibe of the mango-tinted walls and honey decor and indirect lighting of the chic eatery, boosted up by trendy tile flooring, was left behind. I had stuffed in too much pop Asian cuisine as often happens at Chang's. On the spot, I resolved, no, I took an oath, to never eat a whole wok-charred beef platter like that again.)

The gasp of air in my face brought to mind an episode a few days ago when my older friend, Gino, and I were languishing on some stuffed arm chairs in main passageway of the upscale Glendale Galleria, an ode to capitalist extremes situated near Chavez Ravine, old Hollywood, the home of the stars, and the famous city of Los Angeles. People-watching at the Galleria was a sane response to a bad condition. It was about 100 sizzling degrees outside that day. Any old refuge from the warm is the way Gino and I were thinking: that was the plan. Most chairs in the mall are the kind in which a person can comfortably sink. We were lounging thus by main entryway to a Neiman-Marcus , Needless Markup is what Gino always calls the place. His company is now and then a bit tedious. But it almost always is a learning experience.

My career goes well as the agent and personal manager of a small herd of pro athletes, mostly basketball players who are clinically depressed, making millions each year on my periodically summoned contracting, stubborn negotiation, and conflict-resolution skills. Gino is a retiree. He worked for over 40 years as a locker room then on-field trainer for a collection of NBA teams. His one book, an autobiography that was ghost-written in full, was titled My Life Among the Giants: The Sweet Meets the Sour. Between us, we have lots of time almost year round on our hands.

A man of about 75 years (I reckoned) walked up to Gino's side slowly from the cloud of idle strollers that suddenly was drifting through this wing of the galleria. The man was smiling, a bit ruefully I thought. He stuck out his wrinkled hand to Gino.

'O-o-o-h-h-h my Gawd!' Gino exclaimed as began to push himself up with hard effort. 'What in the hell are you doing here? It's been years. Hasn't it? How many? Christ.'

'Yeah. Five or six at least I'd guess. I'm picking up a little something nice for Claire. Her birthday's coming down the pike,' said the newcomer.

Gino introduced me to the his friend, a man named Dick. They proceeded to do some 'old times, good times' chit chat, the Army during the Korean Conflict was mentioned, other pains and pleasantries were exchanged. Yet these two old warriors clearly were not close acquaintances nowadays. The new guy, Dick, a frequent mallwalker it seemed, was very casually dressed, desert tanned from weekending in Palm Springs, and slightly bent forward like most of the older gents who were shuffling hither and yon in this Glendale bunker. Not wishing to disappoint his beloved Claire . . . as he talked, she was a woman whom I suddenly pictured as a silicone enhanced and bejeweled Revlon blonde sporting a dangerously killer thin figure and who looked to have a serious Maybelline issue, a bit younger and more agile version of the actress named Julie Bowen (of the TV show Modern Family). Dick  soon went on his way amiably. Call these observations mere intuition on my part.

Gino let himself down gingerly, since he is wracked by lots of arthritic aches and pains now that he's pushing 75 too.  The cushions on G's chair exhaled heavily, like a soul fleeing toward one of Dante's hot and heavy circles, as he plopped down the last few inches. We sat. To extend the unserious chit chat I observed: 'Seemed like a nice enough person.'

'Oh, hel-l-l yeah. He is indeed, genius,' Gino replied. 'A lot like the other older guys  around here, most of them anyway. By his looks you'd never know that he was loaded. He's got the bucks. I mean he is really lo-lo-loaded.' (His eyes lit up a bit, like a small blaze had been ignited behind his eyeglasses. His body flexed slightly.)

'I did notice that monster ring and those were like $200 docksider slip-ons Dick had. But really? You know that Dick he's a super rich guy?,' I said.

'Wha-ho-ho yeah. Yeah-h-h. Real into the Hollywood social picture and his overstuffed bank accounts,' Gino said knowlingly. 'But you'd never know it to look at him. They all look around here, the shuffling set, they look like they don't have a pair of effing pennies to rub together. The old women throw themselves at these creepers trying to get their bony old hands in their pockets.'

Several people passed by and we each took note of them. All in all, mall foot traffic had subsided suddenly. First to go by was a Khloe Kardashian lookalike, her mahogany hair all lustrous and shiny and her vacuous face ever so slightly turned upward, towering gawkily over her high-spiked red heels. I told myself that surely Khloe was beelining toward a dress rehearsal in the Elizabeth Arden boutique of Neiman's for her show Keeping Up With the Kardashians. 

Too hot to keep up with me, boys?

The second in this parade was a very old man, pitifully red-faced and wheezy. He was shuffling along in poorly fitted canvas loafers and he was towing one of those maudlin air tanks with an IV style tube winding loosely up, pumped full of oxygen, and inserted into his whiskery nostrils. Wrinkled and faded shorts (khaki), a food spotted Hollywood Squares tee shirt, soiled wool socks, and a droopy bleed-em-blue Dodgers ballcap pulled down low over his eyes constituted his fashion selections for the day. In the hand that was not pulling the air cylinder he held a long cigar. It had not been fired up thank goodness. The old guy was compulsively twitching it up and down between his index and middle fingers like the infamous George Burns, a.k.a the dead God Almighty, used to do on stage.

The third person to amble by was (no kidding here) the comedian Richard Lewis, who was nearly as pale as Casper the friendly ghost. He wore a black suit jacket that proved two sizes too big for him, black pegged jeans, a ritzy black crew neck tee shirt, and black and white Chuck Taylor vintage canvas shoes., though Lewis has probably never launched a basketball at a hoop during his life. His dyed-black hair was puffed up fluffy thin and flounced around his head as he trudged. His hands were thrust deep into his pants pockets. He too leaned into the air ahead of him, but way over forward, like he knew he might suddenly begin to roll down a hillside. I was thrilled when I saw him. Lewis seemed to be heading for the entryway to Bloomingdale's. Without thinking, I raised a hand and waved. Lewis noted that. "How are ya?" he intoned without missing a step, in his New Yorkese, and with an 'I'm doomed' hangdog expression pulling on his face. I watched as the comic walked briskly, his Chuck Taylor's squeaking on the polished mall floor, down toward Bloomie's. Momentarily I imagined he was late for an on-camera rendezvous with Mr. Larry David and the cast of Curb Your Enthusiasm in men's accessories.

A piece of advice my father gave me long ago instantly came to mind. Son, never get out in front of the parade so far that you cannot hear the music.

'Yessir, that's Dick.' Gino spoke up. 'That guy you just met? One would never know it to look him in the face. But he got ser-eee-ous-ly rich in churning real estate after the blowup in Korea here in the fabled city of the angels, well in El Monte and San Pee-dro to be exact. You know, he needed to do something with all of his cash besides pay a stable of lawyers to divorce his first wife. So Dick bought into the restaurant game, among other things. In fact you know what? -- Dick is the real P.F. Chang. The real deal himself."

That surprised me. My attention locked on Gino. His thick, untrimmed white eyebrows twitched a bit. I watched for an 'Awww, just shitting you, guy,' Gino smile. Dick had not looked to be Asian. In fact, as I had just heard it, he had in his time slain a cast of thousands of Asians in the Korean hills back in the 1950s. 

I asked, 'Dick? That Dick? The Dick who just went by? His name is Dick Chang?'

'No-o-o-o. No. No. No. Nope indeed,' Gino said reprovingly. 'He's from effing Oxnard. He's not like that, the Chinese thing, that's just marketing a la mode. Clever deal. Pretty sharp, huh? It's a business thing, an investor's dream. Dick is the guy who got the idea for P.F. Chang's franchises. So, he is like the real P.F. Chang. His partners, also load-ed and tired of killing strangers, got outta the service and he, Dick, thought it might be a good idea that would work for his closest buddies and him. The bunch of them hired companies to write the menu, design the look, make some big white plaster horses and off they rode. Hi-oh, Lone Ranger. The P.F. stuff is just a made up thing. I know he's made stacks and stacks of cash. Like I said he was doing okay during the years before.'

I reserved my thoughts. This was a beautiful American fable. Warm mango and brown woods, honey colors, sizzling sounds, fragrant foods, crisp and friendly young wait staff and inflated dollar signs as far as the eye could see. Textured painting all over the walls. Tile floors to beat all. Feelings of envy welled up in me.

'Some people. They're just born with the winning lottery ticket in their hands or by hook or by crook get the big payoff,' Gino sighed.

'And on the night he was born the angels did sing, shepherds knelt, Korea fell, and a brilliant shining star rose in the west?' I laughed. 

'Something like that, young buck,' Gino played along. 'Something exactly like that.'

Of course the story went on though Gino and I were done for the day.

Two days later, an expensive dental crown (with the ghostly remnant of the original tooth still inside) cracked off in my mouth. Three days later, another crown, with tooth fragments still lurking, cracked off in a similar fashion. I spit it out when no one was looking into my fist. Later, at home, I took both castoffs from my pants pocket and placed them in a small plastic baggie. I placed the bag on a shelf where I keep my walking-around things. The pair of relics once affixed to me appeared miserable and forlorn. Getting old and losing's one's looks is a witch, they say.

The misery dragged on. Four days after meeting the real P.F. Chang a divot got carved out out of a top front tooth and it went AWOL. I began to hate God secretly. The back teeth that had long been missing I could fake. But this clipped front headlight was going to try my patience hugely.

Then, normal disbelief strayed way of my rails. On day five, as I enjoyed a Hershey Bar with whole almonds, after I greeted P.F. Chang, I should have known better than to bite down with my front teeth. Almost all of the tooth next to the chipped front guy came down onto my tongue.

I closed my mouth and looked around foolishly to see if anyone had noticed. I again heard my dad's old admonition about not getting too far out in front of what's good for you. A searing feeling that I had been experiencing for days, but to which I would not admit, black-clad mourning itself, seized hold of me, like a mistakenly chewed and swallowed whole red chili pepper will blow up one's inner electrical boards. Up from my pocketed iPod, racing through the tracer cords of my super-bass earbuds, the song "Yet Another Movie" by Pink Floyd poured into my ears.  I frowned. As far as I could discern, no one had caught on to my Day Five mishap yet. Mournful. Rueful, I was. I was not sure I could hold on -- that I wouldn't lose my slick composure right there. As a distraction, I began to contemplate synonyms. Part of speech: adjective. Mournful. Rueful. Gloomy. Bleak. Disheartened. Dismal. Melancholy. Somber. Ch-ch-ch-cheerless. You get the gist of this exercise.

I once again hated God at that moment, who appeared to me like a pixie George Burns. At that moment, God whispered to me, at least it sounded like God: God said "Dick!"
'This's gotta stop, dammit all,' I said to myself with shallow conviction. Mentally calculating quickly, I realized that this shedding of teeth would have to end if it raced on like this. I only had twelve or thirteen of my originals left. You are only allotted so many hairs on your head, so many whiskers on your face, and so many teeth in your mouth for life's parade. Drop right off or out many of those teeth do. Eventually, even the luckiest of persons, especially stock car daredevils, wartime bombadiers like poor exploded military guys like Snowden, and stunned lottery jackpoteers clutching their little tickets, run out of luck.

Quick examination told me that the latest shard of tooth resting in my hand showed signs of disease.  My disease. The kind of malingering evil that John Updike had assigned to Freddie the Lothario Dentist in one of his American ennui novels. It, the broken tooth, was a sickly gray around its edges and tarred yellow from years of the nervous cigarette smoking I did long ago. I extracted a paper receipt from Starbucks from my khaki shorts. In it I carefully wrapped that broken piece of me. I felt sad, mournful, rueful, etc., etc. So, I stuffed the wadded paper with its little dental secret into the iced tea cup that I had drained (Lord, it was hot, hot that day too in L.A.). I replaced the plastic lid and green straws onto the cup. Then I dropped it all ruefully, sadly, mournfully, cheerlessly: Goodbye and adieu, amigo, into a trash can. In my imagination, I pictured what a burial on the open sea looks like. I wondered if God had taken a disliking to me.

But seriously. If I told
you the rest of the story I
would have to hurt you.


'You remember Dick, don't you?" Gino asked me on Day Twelve after my ludicrous tooth mishaps had begun and as we once again sat perched on the same Galleria chairs. "I'm going to his funeral tomorrow."

'No. No really? P.F.? Crap. What happened? Dick looked pretty good," I was surprised. Then the mental picture of a traditional Chinese burial with U.S. military color-guard struck me as humorous.

'For a man his age? Yep, yep, yep. Got it. Yeah, Dick's a goner,' Gino chimed back. My friend is growing old and he recognizes that. He worries every time he's in some enclosed space or takes an Ambien. Mourning makes him teary and sentimental. He once confessed that he has a snarky little script that was implanted in him as a midwestern Protestant kid: Now I lay me down to sleep and so on. Some people get to escape such slithery worries and premonitions. Gino secretly is scared that one of his nightly drifts into drugged sleep in the dark of his room will lead to his final rational thought but he won't know it.  

'The Dickster purchased the farm. Yep. The other day, or night.,' Gino noted. 'Get this, genius. He gets found dead, without any clothes, naked as  a jaybird. Claire found him dead in their California King before their beach run at dawn. She was all Nike'd up and looking to conquer that new running track that leads up into the hills by their house. Then she wondered why he wasn't stirring like his usual self. We always said she was way too young for him. Looked like he woke up, took off his pj's beside the bed, then flopped from a heart attack face first into the high thread counts on the mattress, his long scar from the war on his front side imprinting a path in the sheets. Sad thing to think about him going that way. I would not want it!'

'And thus another legend in the Hollywood hills fades into the sunset,' I said. 'Cue the theme music for Mulholland Drive: The Movie. He seemed like a nice enough person. I'll be the first and last to tell you he could really wok 'n roll the Chinese takeout.' This elicited a smile.
'He was the big Korean war hero, you know' Gino said. 'Me, all I did for my two years duty over there was type. Friggin' bombshells bursting in air around us all day and night. Not giving us a chance to sleep. I slept for two effing whole months when I got back. You know how good I was at the office work, I had a head for it. Type. I typed a bi-i-g stack of military forms 'round the clock. They must of totaled about 10 feet high all stacked. I didn't go into battle like other bunker fodder. No real blood and guts for me. Till one day. Dick, he was the real-l-l-l  deal-l-l-l, brother. He got the Purple Heart. He got the Medal of Honor from the President himself at the White effing House.'

This was all news to me. It smacked me like a knuckles-bared blast in the mouth. I recalled something I had missed in real life. Dick, old P.F. himself, dressed all the way down to the dregs of the crate and barrel just twelve days ago had some kind of big ass medal, which I had casually, stupidly overlooked, pinned to his chest.

'That medal he was wearing the other day was what?,' I asked.

'Medal of honor from Uncle Sam. You guys that never served. Who never-r-r-r  even for a minute put your tender asses on the line . . .'

'Like through those awful firestorms of typing?'

Gino stopped and laughed.

He went on, 'Dick came to hate all the Asians for their animal ferocity, as enemies on the battlefield. Then came the business front during post-war days. Koreans? He hate-hate-hate-ed them especially. It was his killer's instinct, the training, it looked like, the kill or be killed feeling unleashed in the service, like a banzai blast, deep in his brain. Led his company and him to race up hillsides to wipe out Koreans' sniper nests. Then they boated back to the States and some of them including Dick, Mack, and Jack dreamed up the trendy Asian food game of P. Effing. Chang's . Dick, he mellowed a lot as time went by. His money partners and silent backers did too. They loved his plan. Their inside joke zeroed in on flogging a bunch of real-deal Chinese recipes into something that spoiled, American restaurant goers would at high, higher, highest prices (A) stomach and buy, as if it were the real thing, and (B) profit from, because their war-weary asses were still intact by some miracle, freaks of the lottery, by the time they got back here and they were hungry. It's all a war, cub scout, the game of life, in the end, a P. Effing War. You give-give-and give more. You get. Only sometimes though do you get. Seems to me like everybody somehow loses in the end since the house always scoops up the last bets left on the line. Now not Dick's kids, everybody says, but Claire is gonna spend P.F.'s hu-u-u-ge fortune.'

'Medal of honor,' I whistled. 'That's big time. Serious. A real war hero. Made for Hollywood and TV. Coulda fooled me about Dick, old-timer. What did the guy do in Korea?'

We decided to have lunch at the Chang's place in Glendale by the Galleria in Dick's fallen honor. The signature, riderless and oversized white horse of the Emperor Chang stood as stoically, an eerie guardian, as ever by the door. I felt mildly dizzy when we ambled sweaty and thirsty into the pleasantly air-cooled melange of faux Asian-deco ambiance. When my eyes adjusted to the dim indirect lights, I spied the real Khloe K. and Julie Bowen sitting hunched in a back booth, holding hands tightly and having an intense liquor-laced girl talk. No kidding. I reckoned that Dick the War Hero, a.k.a. the Emperor of this dynasty, would have felt proud at that moment, his square shoulders thrown back, his chest puffed out, his conqueror's medal gleaming on his military green and carefully ironed shirt, as he stood by the warm and fuzzy liquor bar.

I ordered a full-order of spicy House fried rice, no chicken, no fried egg. Gino asked for Wok-Seared Beef with Colorful Vegetables and white rice in the lunch size. Damn, those professional menu writers can flash the linguistic talent.

'What's your problem, girlfriend?' Gino asked.

'My dentist told me to go easy on these freshly built up teeth he fixed for me. They gotta set for a while he says,' I replied. I impulsively pulled up my lip then showed him the front teeth that looked at last normal having been drilled and sculpted and pasted into acceptable shapes by Dr. Kim Wang, the Korean endodontist to the stars in Beverly Hills. The Lady Gaga song about fetish problems, "(Show Me Your) Teeth," occurred to me.

'Now who's going Hollywood?,' my friend chided me.

We decided to toast the real P.F. Chang with passion fruit iced teas. Neither of us handle alcohol well. The ice in the tea glasses tinkled lightly. Wonder what Khloe and Julie are drinking?, I thought.

'How did you meet, P.F.?,' I asked.

'Damnedest thing of 'em all,' Gino said. Were those the front edges of tears he suddenly was displaying as the brass tabletop turned his face an unnatural shade of brown?  'The man saved my effing life. I tell you he was a great one. His company and him dragged in one smoky dawn to our base camp all muddy and wet, bayonets still fixed, half slaughtered and half asleep because they'd been deprived so long, bloody smears all over their fatigues, right into our camp. They had just come off some fierce night firefight. Dick was an NCO, so he came in to report this unplanned descent to our clueless presiding officer, who told him to lose those bayonets on their guns right away, pronto, since We weren't the enemy, soldier!'

'So-o-o-o, there you sat there during this? Typist of the year in your spiffy soldier suit? You said, what? Hi and saluted or something?'

'Never got that far, genius,' Gino chided me slightly again. He rubbed his eyes as if the smoke from the base camp was searing them again. 'Somebody outside the office shanty yelled hoarsely Incoming, Incoming, Down, Down. Just like that. You could hear the bazillions of tracer rounds coming in at us like a swarm of killer bees searching for some sweet treat. Then the massive whizz bang concussion of a hu-u-u-ge artillery shell went off earsplitting nearby. Dust and boards and everything else that was that office building began to fall down on us. I saw a big flash of fire from the bomb's blowback. Dick right away jumped on me and covered my body. Knocked me right off my chair and smashed me into the floorboards. I was typing, I'll never-r-r-r  ever forget this, cubbie, at that very moment --We regret to inform you, blah, blah, blah. The whole damn hack-shack of an HQ came screaming down on us. The P.O. died in a sec. He was sliced clean in effing half by a broken off bayonet whirling into him like a mad copter blade. Clean cut through at the waist. Just pants and combat boots were standing there. Blood bubbled up a and over his belt for a little time. Then what was left of him flopped. Those last words of his, Mister, we are not enemy!, were still hot on his charred lips when he got cut in two.'

'And then? What?' said I impatiently.

'Well, obviously, we lived. Genius. Me, I didn't suffer a scratch,' Gino said. 'The recoil and the crashdown cost Dick most of his teeth though. A wood plank from the roof came bearing down on him like a trident missile and got into his upturned mouth. The man, my newest best friend in the world, bled all over me. Spurts went everywhere, I'll tell ya, in my eyes and in my ears, up my nose.  A piece of something that had been the HQ tore Dickster open deep from his neck to his balls. It took hours of MASH-like surgery by Hawkeye and Trapper John, M. effing D., to mold Humpty back together again. The docs kinda swept all his liquids and solids into a squishy pool and dumped it all back into him. From then on Uncle Sam, and to what was now the Dickster's dying day, bought Dick the best denture plates on the planet whenever neede, the best that modern dental science and our tax money can buy. Gave him his war-hero medals too.'

'Why is this a secret?,' I asked.

'Because he was like this. He made me, a stranger, swear an oath not breathe a word to anybody about what he had done for me. He told me he would rip my ass in half if it took him forever to hunt me down if I talked to anybody about his bravery. I didn't like it, this under the table deal. But I believed him, his intensity. crap I was alive and I decided I would always honor that request by the man who saved my life that day.'

We thought to have a toast to Dick's heroic secrets again. 'Well, here's to P.F. The real deal, no chinks in that armor. The legend behind the legend,' I said.

We drank. We laughed. I added, 'Wow. What a story! This damned Hollywood life -- seems like all mirage, no jackpot, no payout, nothing real to grab on. You never know who you're gonna meet in these hills, Dynasty Dick like, or what you're gonna rub up against. This place sucks so much but it feels so frosty cool to the touch.'

We squinted across the dining area. I thought I spied Khloe raise her long-stemmed melon martini in mango colored smoked glass. Some rumours say that she is not really a true-blue Kardashian child but the product of an illicit affair had by her mother. Now, Khloe Whatshername was offering a midday toast to someone or something -- and then she turned her head and winked at me, just me.

Gino remained uncharacteristically quiet. After a long pause he said, 'Well, nobody sure is gonna throw a ticker tape parade for me and the thousands like me. I hear they will have at least a small band and the 21-gun salute for Dick at his funeral. Military color guard too. Plus Mack and Jack will be around. Proves one thing I guess. The most real things in life are those you cannot see. God bless America.'

U.S. Medal of Honor (Army, Modern)

'Whoa. Poet, philosopher, typist of the year! You are the total package, I reckon, sir and we are not the friggin' enemy.'

I smiled and stabbed in the air at him with two hands, mimicking a thrust with a bayoneted rifle.
'That's what they say, young buck. Whatever. Nobody's gonna throw a parade for us who scrambled out from under the bloody guts of the war heroes. But no need to be reminded of that,' Gino replied gruffly. 'That's what they say. Now! Where's my effing beef and rice?

A few minutes later, I scooped a generous bite of House Fried Rice, no chicken, no egg, into my mouth. Gino grunted with pleasure over his lunch plate of charred beef. I bit down. I felt a crack trace up an incisor like a fault line signalling a minor earthquake. Opening my mouth, I spit out bits of peas, scallion scraps, rice pieces, and a chunk of sharply-pointed tooth. It fell onto the table, hitting it firmly. I feared a big divot would dig into the brass. But it did not mark it. Gino raised his bushy eyebrows in alarm.

I held up the remnant of the incisor between my index and middle fingers in the dim light, like evidence extracted from a mistress's murder nest in sparkling Hollywood. Looking at the lost piece of me, I felt that old, familiar mournful churn, somber, dreary, bleak ch-ch-ch-cheerless, gloomy, vulnerable, disheartened, etc., etc., rolling in my stomach.

'Hoo-oh-oh, whatzthat?, baby brother?,' Gino inquired with a rueful grin. 'Another one? How many is that? You, my man, are falling a-a-a-a-part.'

I sipped some cold passion tea. Fruity flavor, no dental pain to speak of. So far.

Gino said loudly when our chipper young waiter came back to our table, 'Well, well, well, strike up the band and bring out a cake. Bring the whole damn brass band why don't ya? There oughta be a Souza march playing. My Gawd, look here at the genius, he's cracking up fast.'

To the waiter Gino added, 'Do you all have a wheelchair? Can you call 911? I think the cub scout here is gonna need assistance in getting outta here.'

Sound of the denoument:  "Glory Box," by Portishead  --  Hear it here: