Saturday, July 16, 2016

Simple Joy

Years before he died, my friend Edward Readicker-Henderson, a well-known travel journalist, asked me what I'd like him to leave me in his will. I said "Nothing, I have enough stuff." But once his will was executed, our mutual friend Amanda wrote to say he'd left me a stuffed llama as a gag gift. I know he laughed when thinking of my reaction upon learning I was getting a stuffed llama, but I changed my mind about wanting nothing after his death. Did I want just a stuffed mangy llama to commemorate our 13-year friendship?

No, I wanted something more. I asked for, and was sent, one of his ukeleles.

He'd once interviewed Jake Shimabukuro, and written a story on ukuleles for Islands magazine. It stuck with me because he had come away so amazed by Shimabukuro's skill.

Edward wrote a lot of stories about travel keeping him going in his last years. It's hard for me to NOT travel now, and a certain well-known comic book artist who happens to be one of my supervisors had a good laugh about this just yesterday--he knows too well it's hard for me to go to a desk every day instead of seeking out a curious adventure. He followed along on the original MariesWorldTour, the 2001 edition.  (Of course, going to work in Los Angeles is its own adventure.)

So I have a ukelele now, one built by Edward's brother, Don, who is also in the Islands article. And oddly, to me, this uke doesn't represent music. It doesn't even represent travel, or my need to create mini-adventures when I can't tackle the whole world.

It represents this: Untarnished amazement.

If Edward could be blown away by someone's skill on a ukulele, that's a lesson.

It's okay to be amazed once in a while.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Killing Your Bucket List

I just finished preserving a recently deceased friend's website. That means I put everything into past tense and added a few lines, such as RIP. It was frustrating, because he and I both made our personal sites in iWeb, which is long since orphaned by Apple, and it's hard to manage without specific files, which only exist on the computer the person made the site on. I don't even have my own, and I certainly don't have his.

But I cobbled it together in Dreamweaver, copying and pasting code when the drag-and-drop wasn't happening. And it's done now, not updated, merely archived. There for readers of his work, his friends, his family, and maybe to help me feel like I could do something.

I meet Edward Readicker-Henderson in late summer of 2003. We're both writers, though he worked for magazines, and I took the slower, less profitable book-writing path. He liked to write about travel, as I do, but he actually made a living at it.

A year or so later, ERH went on a press trip to Jordan, where he met Amanda Castleman. We soon met over email, and before you knew it, Amanda, ERH, and I had the virtual watercooler. This was pre-Facebook, so we gabbed endlessly via emails, the three of us freelancing from home or from our laptops from any number of global locations.

We were fast friends for more than a decade, the three of us. You might remember seeing Amanda show up here occasionally, or even as a special guest in Sydney during 2011. But as ERH become more tired, and Amanda and I stayed busy or used social media to keep up, we drifted off to an extent. He had always been ill--in fact, he used his illness as a point in his work--but he became steadily more sick. I can't say more seriously ill, because he had in fact had very little time to live on many occasions. It doesn't get much more serious than that.

You can cheat death many times, but the house always wins. And we weren't surprised, not much, but in a way, we were. He'd bounced back enough times to where nothing would surprise us.

I was somewhat relieved for him when his pain passed, and he went in the best-possible way, in palliative care after having been visited by family and friends. But it still hit me today, while sorting out his virtual record of being. I can't ask his advice or send him a joke, or ignore his emails when I'm exasperated, then guiltily write a few days later. There's one less person in the world who actually "gets" me now, and there weren't many to begin with.

Here is Edward Readicker-Henderson speaking about the nonsense of having a bucket list. Those are my coffin photos he borrowed. But you know, he didn't go in the airplane coffin after all. He chose cremation. Which is just as well--I am not even sure you can get one of those coffins without a special trip to Ghana.

I don't have a travel or experience bucket list, but that might just be because I've long since caught on. Life's not about country counting or bragging (even just to yourself). Getting on a plane and visiting a location doesn't make you a better person than someone who stayed home. I don't know what the point of everything is, or how to have the best life one can--all I know is there's one less person I can say something like that to now. One less person who won't judge me poorly for not being positive and cheerful. One less person who won't judge me when I snarkily say you can't magic your life or your health with your mind. I'll miss you, my friend.  

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Great Escape

A few months ago, I had a particularly bad work e-mail weekend.

My work e-mail comes to my phone. Usually, I answer whatever seems pressing, and leave the rest for Monday. But there was one weekend where someone went so over the top that I turned my work e-mail off on my phone and started fantasizing about where in the world no Internet could reach me.

There aren't many places. The salt flats of Bolivia. Certain spots in the ocean between French Polynesian islands. Even Cuba has connections in the post office and in upscale hotel lobbies. Even Burma has it, as does Bhutan, Tibet...but you know where you can get out of range without an expensive plane ticket?

The bottom of the Grand Canyon.

I knew this from the rafting trip I took there in 2008, when I went from Lees Ferry to Bar 10 Ranch over six days with Arizona River Runners. I've booked at the last minute via an agent in Flagstaff, because I reasoned they had access to multiple inventories, and that had worked out great.

What if, I thought, I went back to the bottom of the Grand Canyon? Could I get any farther from the office without using vacation time? But how could I justify a trip there given how expensive it is and how I'd already spent six days at the bottom of the Canyon, (not to mention the mule trip in 2002, a North Rim trip in 2012, and various other South Rim trips, including one just a few months ago?

Easy. One thing I'm good at is justifying travel.

I'd finish rafting, flying IN at Bar 10 this time, and continuing to the end in Lake Mead.

Arizona River Runners had a sale trip listed, which I snapped up. I didn't have a lot of my gear with me, though I'd grabbed a bunch to bring back last time I'd been home. I had to buy used Tevas on eBay because mine had split on the 2008 trip, and I didn't know what had happened to the lilac-colored rainsuit (I probably threw it away due to hideousness). I paid for the trip, bought a same-morning-as-the-trip one-way ticket from Burbank-Vegas, and a return for Vegas-LAX for the evening of the trip's end, and sorted out my gear.

And headed off the grid.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Finishing Touches

I went home over Memorial Day weekend, so BBF and I could finish up my little crashpad near Liberty State Park. A friend of a friend will be staying there for two months prior to her move to Hollywood, where she will join those of us shifted across the country for work. For two months of my life, I'll break even on my house rather than losing hundreds of dollars, so long as I overlook the thousands of dollars I've been pouring into renovations for a year.

So it was time to finish.

BBF is a professional contractor with a license and insurance and that sort of thing, so I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was anyway when I walked under the stairs and found he'd installed a new motion-activated outside light, and repaired the entry grate while I'd been in California.

Looking at the photo of the entrance, it occurs to me I should have painted the entryway. But too late now, at least until August.

Inside, he'd finished the mini-kitchen. This isn't a "real" apartment...or it's real, but it's just what we call an in-law suite. There's no oven and no freezer. Someday, I'll apply for my house to be a two-family, and then I'll go to town, but for now, it's just a downstairs bolthole.

There's still space to hang a shelf or pot rack on the right, over the tin covering the far wall. And a rounded shelf could go on the edge over the extended countertop.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

My New Crashpad

I love what BBF is doing to the downstairs floor of my house in JC. It's a mother-in-law apartment, not really its own thing, but not part of the rest of the house, either. We're fixing it up for me when I'm home on weekends and holidays, and it's so cute I want to move straight back.

When I first saw the house, I could see from the outlets that someone had once had a kitchen downstairs. I've looked at three other houses on the same block, and other houses are two-family and do have an entire kitchen where my house now has a mini-kitchen.

I was inspired to build this from one of the AirBnBs I stayed in, which was only a small room, but so cleverly arranged I realized I could easily set up my ground floor to be my own in-law suite.

I was lucky--the AirBnB place had an electric hotplate, and installing that was part of my plan, until BBF called me one day and said "Did you know there's a gas valve right by your kitchen?"

I had a professional stop by and make sure the gas line was AOK and didn't need any maintenance. (Well, BBF is a professional, but I have a helpful heating professional who sorted out my heating system last year, and he stopped by to confirm everything was up to code and not broken.) This new was so welcome--I have gas burners instead of electric! I don't have an oven and I don't have a freezer, but this isn't really meant to be a full-on apartment. It's just my hideaway in Jersey City.

I don't have a final photo yet, but I'll get it next weekend when I'm home.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

New Stucco

I had a hard time getting anyone on the phone at the stucco repair place...until winter, and then it was easy.

They took the first nice days of Spring and repaired the stucco on the back of my house. It was complicated, involving getting the convent next door to open the gate to the backyard, but the stucco looks great.

Of course, now there's a leak on a window, and no one can figure out where it's coming from. There's always something.

Friday, May 06, 2016

All for $30 to $35 a Month, No Less

This ad ran in the New York Times classified section on September 15, 1895.

It took me a while to dig it up, but I'm glad I did. This is my house, the 121-year-old one I bought a year ago. 

A local history walking tour is happening on Sunday, May 15th. I'm sure they'll stop at my house, examine the words "Breadalbane Terrace" on the side of my building, and a docent will explain the significance and the story behind the block of cute houses. I wish I could be there, because I don't know why these adorable, historic row houses sit where they sit.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Daniel J on the Devil, 2016

Daniel still sang a bit about the devil, but not the way he used to. And he talked over the most embarrassing parts of my video. The footage from 1987, where he was worried about year 2k, he talked over his video monologue. "It's the future, Dan, it all worked out okay."


Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Rare Screening

Several months ago, during one of my trips home (I am dual-coast living right now, working in Burbank and still maintaining an active presence with house renovating, close friends, and man-friend in Jersey City), I dug out some Beta back-ups of my old Daniel Johnston footage from the late 80s and early 90s.

Then, about a month ago, I had a facility down Vine preserve lossless digital copies of the takes.

Was this the best way, I wondered? Or would it be just as easy to use the DV copies I'd made already, but had no idea where in my storage unit they were? Or would it make more sense to use the VHS originals? But then...they had continued to degrade since I'd converted them to Betacam in the mid-nineties.

In the end, the Beta back-ups worked out way cleaner than the last time I'd looked at the VHS tapes. I winced as I paid a small fortune to digitize material I'd previously digitized but couldn't find, but unless I flew home and dug through my storage unit, this was unavoidable on the timeline in question. Other offers to pay were nice, but I need a clean copyright to my own footage.

What didn't work out so well was my memory. I nearly missed the screening! It's tomorrow night, but I essentially have almost no concept of day or time or even year, because I like to inhabit my own little bubble of reality. Fortunately, FB reminded me, so I'll be attending this tomorrow night. I forgot to RSVP, so I might have to show an ID and point to the program description, but this should be entertainingly odd for a Sunday night.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

A Walk Around the Neighborhood

This morning, I stumbled over this great look at my neighborhood back home in JC. I was delighted to see my house in the first photo.

I'm more and more convinced that buying this house was a good move. The area is really pleasant and not overrun by wealthy speculators (yet, at least).