Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Environmental Concerns -- Journal Entry #3

10/16/05 – ENCINO, CA

I think somebody’s grandmother is buried under the roses in the courtyard of my apartment building. No, seriously. There has to be something in the soil or the atmosphere that those roses love, because they bloom longer and bigger than any rose bushes I’ve ever seen. My late godmother, who had one of the greenest thumbs I’ve known, used to tend roses in her very sunny garden every year. And every year, depending on the variety of the bush, some would bloom in April, and when they closed up shop at the end of the summer, others would pick up the slack from October to December. But no one of her rose bushes bloomed the entire time.

The roses in the courtyard start blooming in early April, and don’t quit until sometime around early to mid-December. The gardeners who tend them are instructed by the apartment manager to cut them back to the stalk every year in January. After a couple of months, there they are, grown back to around four feet tall and blooming again. I am not the person best suited to explain this phenomenon. I have mentioned before that I am a “herbicidal maniac.” When my godmother passed away in 1999, I was given the heartiest of her plants, the nearly indestructible pothos she’d tended for years (my reputation for horticultural devastation is renowned among family members – and yet, they love me anyway, which is sweet of them). It’s a well-known fact that to kill a pothos takes the coordinated effort of both a gasoline flame-thrower and the gravest gypsy curse. Linny’s pothos is dead now.

It was an accident. I swear.

So, why the roses bloom all year round is a mystery, especially to me. There is a rumor -- having nothing to do with the roses per se, but inspired by other weird, inexplicable phenomena -- that the building is haunted. This appeals to my twisted imagination, but I have little faith in its voracity as an explanation for the blooming foliage.

If I had to speculate, I’d say the prime reason for the roses’ constant state of blossom has to do with the layout of the building itself. The white stucco walls of the apartment reflect light from all angles, during most times of the daylight, most times of the year. Even on an overcast day, diffused light bounces off the walls and comes at objects in the courtyard from all angles. I know this because it’s a terrific place to take pictures, if you’re looking for good quality diffused lighting. What takes a fashion photographer’s camera assistants an hour to pull off with bounce cards and reflectors occurs naturally in our courtyard. I wonder if being bombarded with light all day long, from all directions, doesn’t confuse those poor little roses something awful. Maybe they can’t tell the difference between April and October because the light is little different between those months here. Roses love light, and they get it in spades in this place. And they love water, which they also get in abundance, as the leaky hose hooks up to the spigot at the corner of the rose bed when the manager waters the plants on her patio.

So maybe that’s enough to keep them happy to bloom from spring through winter every year. Then again, there’s still my “buried granny” theory. Which, when you think about it, dovetails nicely into the “haunted apartment” theory. Which, when you think about it some more, sounds like the beginning of an interesting short story. Hmmm….

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Environmental Concerns -- Journal Entry #2

Second in the series of Environmental Landscape journals I wrote for class.
10/13/05 -- CENTURY CITY, CA

I am on a mission from God. Okay, not God exactly. My good friend, who is working on a project for Disney, needs me to drop something off at the Fox television clip library, which is housed on the Lot. I get to leave the high-rise where I work -- Fox Plaza, otherwise known in the movies as "Nakatomi Plaza" (from the movie "Die Hard" which was shot here). The reason for my joy is two-fold. One, I get to take a walk in the open air (away from a buidling where the windows don't open and the climate control is always off), and see some "outside"; and, two, because Thursday is sushi day at the Fox Commissary.

The Fox TV clip library is housed on one of the only parts of the 20th Century Fox lot that was part of the original studio, before it was sold off and developed in the early 70s by that ratbastard Marvin Davis (I'm sorry -- that just slipped out). It's my favorite part of the studio, because there's lots of history here. The old dressing room bungalows have been converted to production offices, and the two "Writers Buildings" (old and new) now serve to hold the staple production companies (David E. Kelley, Matt Groening) that make the shows that are currently keeping the studio afloat. (Nature lesson #1 -- The one who gathers the most resources at his disposal gets the choicest real estate.)

On my way out of the Old Writers' Building, where the clip library is stashed, I see two of the Fox's finest. No, not the security guards. I mean the Lot cats. Almost all backlots, from Paramount to Disney, are full of feral cats that have been abandoned or have made their way there. They're speedy little devils, though, and before I can capture them on my camera phone, they've ducked under the little wildernesses that someone has planted between the production bungalows. The Fox cats have one single job on the lot -- they are the rat police. A couple of studios have tried to rid themselves of the inconvenient cat population, only to reinstate it later when they discovered that with the absence of the cats came the large, unchallenged daring rodents. Now most studios institute a "neuter-and-release" program, whereby the cats are not allowed to breed out of control, but are allowed to continue unmolested as they do their thing. (Nature lesson #2: In the presence of a balanced eco-system, introducing a man-made disturbance regime is often ill-advised and always tedious to rectify.)

In front of the New Writers' Building, where the writers for The Simpsons and Family Guy hang out (clearly a disturbed bunch), there is an old fountain that has not worked correctly since the first time I visited the lot in the early '80s. The trickle of water, which is intended to flow from the top, then down all sides of the two-tiered structure, and into the pool below, has been rendered ridiculous with a single trickle down the right-hand side. The only thing that makes the fountain even remotely useful, other than as a nostalgic conversation piece, is that some impetuous fool has stocked the fountain with koi fish. This was not a Fox executive decision, I'm sure. Fox studio executives don't tend to make decisions that create artful little patches of nature anywhere. Still, the fish are pretty happy here (at least, they seem to be -- with fish, who can tell?), and the odd circumstance of their enclosure has not seemed to dampened their appetites. As I walk around the fountain, they follow me, gathering in a school at the fountain's edge, jawing the water, waiting for me to feed them. (Nature lesson #3: Life can pretty much happen anywhere it's given a foot in the door; and Nature lesson #4: Being chased and stalked by rapacious koi fish is weird and creepy.)

From a slightly different angle, it appears that the fountain has actually become a watering hole for expensive motor vehicles. There's a metaphor here somewhere, but the whole koi fish episode has kind of creeped me out and I can't find it save my life. You're welcome to take a whack at it. (Nature Lesson #5: see Nature Lesson #7).

Fox doesn't tend to like "accidental nature" too much (I refer you back to the paragraph on feral cats). Fox likes its nature planned, coordinated, architected, drawn and then brought in on flatbed trucks. Nowhere was this more evident when Rupert Murdoch's wife… make that Rupert Murdoch's former wife (not to be confused with the sweet young thing that currently holds that particular distinction) -- decided that Fox needed a bit of gussying up. In her defense, she couldn't have been more right. Ten years ago, we who had once worked at Paramount (arguably the most architecturely beautiful and still intact studio remaining to date) referred to Fox as "Tobacco Road." Trailers abounded, there was nothing even remotely resembling a landscape design, and even the Executive Building, where the chief-high-muckity-mucks worked, smelled something like a stable on a hot July day.

Anna Murdoch set about to create one little patch of civility in the midst of disaster. Thus was born "The Walk." Extending from Studio 20 (where Reba is filmed) down to the Commissary and Studio Store, it was designed as place employees could gather during lunch breaks, sit, eat, read and/or relax. Note the neatly trimmed lawns, the curbed plant beds, the carefully trimmed and maintained trees (ignore that high-rise in the background -- that's the MGM Building on Constellation. Big weinies. We hate them.) Anna left no stone unturned. Or did she?

Back in the olden days, when I was still chubby and Anna Murdoch was still the au current Mrs. Murdoch, my job then necessitated several trips from the Plaza to the Lot everyday. I was getting more nature than I knew what to do with back then; I just didn't know it. The day that construction of The Walk got interesting was the day they brought in some nature -- carefully sandblasted, cut to order, sanitized for our protection -- as, of course, all nature should be.

There are four such little seating areas along The Walk, all of them carefully delineated by these boulders, carefully placed so as to look as if some landslide had simply deposited them there by chance. It takes a lot of effort to make nature look so random. Just ask the crew of four flatbed trucks, two Bobcat dozers, and twelve workmen, all slaving away to place the boulders to the "just-so" specifications of Anna Murdoch and her landscape architect.

This is how Fox likes its nature. Nature here needs to be carved or trimmed or otherwise created in a controlled way, lest it break out of its designated borders and run roughshod all over the place. (Nature lesson #6: Nature must never be left to its own anarchic devices because its sneaky and if given an inch will take a mile.)

The Walk ends at the Fox Commissary, and today is (as I've mentioned) sushi day. But before we go in and secure our stash of cold, dead fish, let us take one last look at nature the way it was before we ever got here.

Behold, a group of plastic patio tables, gathered for a late morning graze. Huge herds of these noble beasts used to roam unmolested over the vast open prairie land of what is now Century City, Westwood and West Los Angeles, before the white man came and drove them to near-extinction with their incessant BBQs and weinie roasts. Now, only scattered small clusters remain to remind us of a time in our history before movie studios, trophy wives, multinational corporate moguls, feral cats and imported boulders shaped our environment. (Nature lesson #7: Anything can look like nature if viewed from the proper angle.)

Okay… I'm done…. Clearly, I need protein. I have a date with some cold, dead fish. At least these guys know their place -- they stay put in the tray and don't follow me around, like those damn koi fish.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Environmental Concerns - Journal Entry #1

I just finished a class called Environmental Landscapes. Part of the assignment in class was to observe the phenomenon of urban nature -- wildlife and nature as it exists in an urban setting -- and write journal entries about it, then send them to the professor. Since I'm kind of doubting he ever really read them (I do go on, after all), and because I'm busy with my MFA stuff (first packet due Jan. 21st), I thought I'd start posting them here, to keep the Naked Chicken fresh, and so's they shouldn't go to waste. Think of it as a sort of literary recycling, in keeping with the environmental theme.


I have very little interest in surfing myself. I saw "Jaws" when I was fifteen and, though I'm told the odds of shark attack are minimal, I feel reasonably certain that remaining on the beach reduces one's chances to next to none. Also, the Pacific Ocean is freakin' cold. All year round. Wet suit, schmet suit. I am a morning person only to the degree that I can avoid being cold and wet before noon.

I do love to watch surfers surf, though. It comes from having friends, an ex-husband and ex-in-laws who surf(ed). It's a big ocean, and it's interesting to watch how people --especially large male-type people who are all well over 6'3" --try to tame or conquer it. Getting out past the breakpoint, where one is in a position to actually catch the wave seems to be about 70% of the work right there, because you're fighting the incoming waves all the way out. The sooner you can get belly onto board and start paddling out, the easier it is.

But today in Newport, it isn't the men that have caught my eye. For they are nearly all men today. Today, a family of three arrives --a father, his son who is (I'm guessing) around 17, and his daughter, who is 12, at most. At first, I don't even realize that she's a girl. Dressed in a black wetsuit, with boy-short pixie cut sun-bleached blonde hair, too young to exhibit any secondary sex characteristics, she could be a boy from the back. Then she drops her board on the sand so she can secure her ankle strap. The board is the tip-off --bright baby blue, with a cherry-hot pink heart painted in the center. I remember now that my ex-husband had urged my daughter to decorate her board with loud, easily spotted decals, so that if she wiped out and lost her board while they were surfing, he'd know immediately when the board popped to the surface without her.

The father and the son, who are about the same height, head straight out into the water, as all the other surfers have done so far. They barge through the incoming waves until they are waist-deep, then belly onto their boards and paddle out past the break. But our Mizz Thang can't do this. She weighs maybe 65 pounds and she is, at this point, soaking wet. The waves merely pick her up and toss her back to the beach, with little effort or ceremony. How is this tiny thing going to get herself into a position to catch a single wave, I wonder?

She stands knee-deep in the water, as the waves finish breaking and skid to a stop on the beach. She drops her board onto one of the spent waves and hops on it, riding it nearly to the end. Then she cuts back in toward the surf, catches the tail end of another wave, rides it out a bit, cuts back, and so on. She keeps doing this over and over, and I'm fooled at first into thinking this is what she's come here for. Then I realize. The waves come in and go out, and after a couple of minutes, she's managed to use the ocean against itself to get to the point where she can drop down on the board and paddle to the breakpoint, where her father and brother are waiting.

Did someone teach her this? Did someone show her that if she just used the ocean's own power to draw her out to sea, she wouldn't have to charge headlong into oncoming surf? Did someone teach her to compensate for the wicked riptide and undertow that hangs near the shore? Clearly, her father has had her on a board since before she could stand. Maybe he was once a 65-pound weakling, too, and he learned to master the ins and outs of the waves to help him get past the surf. Somehow, I don't think so. I think this very little girl has figured this out for herself. It seems, instead of fighting the ocean, she's found a way to make some peace with it, and to get it to cooperate with her. They both get what they want. The ocean gets to come and go as it pleases, and she gets a ride out past the waves.

A few minutes later, a really good wave begins to curl just in front of the breakpoint. I know it's a good wave, because five of the bobbing heads that have been sitting on their boards, letting the others pass them by, are now in hot pursuit of the wave. One by one, they drop away, acknowledging that this one isn't theirs, until only one remains. A flash of blue and a cherry-hot pink heart peak out of the curl as she rides the wave in --all the way in to the point where the surf stops short.

Then she drops the board on the dying surf, hops on and begins the patient work of letting the ocean pull her back out so she'll be ready when her next wave comes.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Is This Fair, I Ask You?

Is it fair to ask two children to grow up in a house with a sibling who carries the DNA of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt? No. Really. I'm just praying this baby is boy, because no matter how beautiful little Zahara turns out to be, there's just no way she's going to measure up to any girl child born of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

It's not fair. It's just not fair. I'm starting a plastic surgery collection fund for these kids today.


Monday, January 02, 2006

Why Teenagers Should Never Be Allowed to Leave the House.

Oh, my Jesus gay. Am I supposed to be glad this knucklehead got home safe and sound? I know he's running on Cheetos and testosterone, but does he have any idea how many American military lives he put in jeopardy with this stupid whack-assed stunt? When he hits American soil, his parents will probably hug him and tell him how happy they are to have him back in one piece. Which is what I'd do if he were my son and did something so incredibly brainless.

And then -- though I don't believe much in corporal punishment -- I'd smack the shit right out of him. Twice. Hard.

Dumb ass little pischer....

(Dear Lord -- thank you for giving me a child who doesn't clean her room and doesn't do the dishes, but never once entertained the idea of flying to Bahgdad for Christmas vacation.)