Saturday, December 30, 2017

This Old House

Check out my old apartment, sold for $465k.

I sold it for $300k in December of 2006.

Comparison: kitchen detail from 2005/2017
Don't feel badly for me—I only paid $125k for it in November, 2002, and I once figured out I had spent $16,000 on renovations. The before photos are a reminder of what a crappy place it was when I bought it. Before I got sick of listening to the front door buzzer all the time and walled up the parlor door with two levels on insulation and sound-deadening board. Before Al replaced all the lighting switches with push buttons, before we put in that fake tin ceiling later sold as "original detail," before Turbo scrubbed all the paint off the old hinges and I matched the missing ones at Olde Good Things. Before we got the fireplace cover dip-and-stripped. Before I dug the old pocket door out of the wall only to find half of it was missing. Before the fake-wood shutters, now removed. Before me and Yancey and MK ripped up the ugly old carpeting and found the beautiful heart pine floor underneath after a week of tearing up plywood (I still ache from the memory). Before I learned how to move and plumb an island sink. Before the stained glass bought off eBay, before the transom, before the old gaslamp I re-installed only to see destroyed by the interim owners, before we glued up medallions, before exposing the brick in the kitchen, before rigging up wall cabinets on the floor in front of the brick and faking a countertop from wood. Before the condo owner upstairs landscaped the backyard.

I was able to turn the proceeds from the sale into 1) my wonderful house in Bergen-Lafayette 2) my great little condo in Burbank by Warner Bros, and 3) a comfortable nest egg where I don't have to panic all the time.

Still, I am impressed. The people who sold it for $465k spearheaded the drive to fix up the exterior of the building. It really went downhill for about a decade. The story was that the condo association paid painters to redo the front, and the painters took the deposit and vanished. The place steadily went downhill until the owners of 1L got Sylwester from Kearney to finally, magnificently redo 350 8th Street.

Two units immediately changed hands for exorbitant amounts of money, after years of owners losing cash on their deals. Good for them.

It really does look great. See?

Monday, December 25, 2017

Scenic Holiday

My mother lives at the foot of Skyline Drive, and takes every chance she gets to drive along the crest of the Virginia mountains.

Here is the highest point near her home as it looked on the afternoon of December 25th, 2017.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

My Mother the Seer

My mother had my baby scrapbook sitting out on a table, so I opened it up.

This caught my eye.

Prophetic. And hilarious.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Research and Restoration

Back in September, when I was home for a few weeks, I made a trip down to City Hall to see if they had any old photos of my house.

JC used to have a great collection of photos, but they were damaged in the flood waters of Hurricane Sandy, the same flood that dumped four feet of water into my basement.

(I wasn't there at the time. I was safely above the water on a 4th-floor apartment in Hamilton Park. The previous owner had to sort out the flooded basement in Lafayette.)

City Hall had low-res photocopies of photos of my house, so I took those. It's hard to see exactly what my "tin house" looked like, but when I walk down the block, I see earlier restorations. I don't know how accurate they are, because Lafayette isn't legally a historic district, thus there is no requirement to restore facades to their 1938 appearance.

I hope the photos are eventually restored, and meanwhile, I'll have to take my best guess from the photos and from the restorations on the rest of the block.

Houses from down the block

Sunday, November 05, 2017

School Night Out

If you'd told me in 1986 that Daniel would be headlining shows across the country, that he'd even play at the Hollywood Bowl at one point, I might have believed you. I had heard his tapes, heard his raw talent, could hear the perfect songs behind the thumping and the chord organ and the coyote saying aroo-aroo-aroo.

Probably not in 1996, though. Maybe not even in 2006. Things were rough for a while. But here we are.

And here I was, young for a night, heading backstage on a school night. It's not the thrill it once was as I've got an eye on the clock the whole time, never quite able to overlook that I have to work in the morning. And it's not like you can bluff your way in at these big shows--you need to set up a pass in advance.

I sat outside at the counter at Two Boots just before the show, and a homeless guy came by asking for money. "That could've been Daniel with a few twists of fate," I thought. He's lucky his family accepted his problems as their responsibility. And he's lucky to have a tolerant diaspora of friends he has known for 30-40 years. He is complicated, to say the least. His memory is strange to me—he doesn't remember the people he's met in the room, but he remembers taking me to a Butthole Surfers show in 1986, and going to the movies in West Virginia in 1992. He remembers me getting out of my car and lifting up the seat to let him into the back with Louis and Nick from the Chronicle. He remembers I work at Marvel. I don't. I work for DC now and I've told him that a half-dozen times. That's not how his memory works anymore.

He and I snapped a few photos together. I help my phone out and we looked at them.

"I don't even recognize myself in photos anymore," he said.

I knew exactly what he means. He's aging faster than I am—he is on medication, doesn't exercise, drinks too much Mountain Dew. But I see it in myself too.

Listen up and I'll tell a story
About an artist growing old
Some would try for fame and glory
Others aren't so bold
And everyone in friends and family
Sayin' "hey go get a job
Why do you only do that only
Why are you so odd?
And we don't really like what you do
We don't think anyone ever will
We think you have a problem
And this problem's made you ill

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Historical Landmark

I found this while researching a possible trip to Tunisia.

And it made me laugh.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

More Home Improvements

Stuff I bought and hung up in my Burbank condo:

I bought a Moroccan mirror. My plan was to go to Mexico and buy a Mexican mirror, because it seems more appropriate for SoCal, but the Moroccan store is right by the North Hollywood metro. So Moroccan it is. 

A coat rack? Well, sort of. An everything rack by the front door. I have been looking for an interesting coat rack since I moved in. I finally gave up and got a cheap one. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Fun with Photoshop

I had to cough up a photo of myself for a panel I'm on at work. All the other women on the panel had dazzling professional headshots with perfect skin and make-up, and blurred backgrounds.

I do not have one of those.

I guess I should get one, maybe. I'm not sure I will. That is so not my thing.

Meanwhile, I had to give them something. I dug into my snapshots and faked it.

Can you spot the differences?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

One in Every Port

I got a new toy! 

Because I don't have enough to do...

Sunday, October 01, 2017

In Memoriam

So this happened.

photo provided by Scott Edelman
I did not plan to speak at the memorial celebration of the life of Fabulous Flo. But among all the stories told from the podium, none of them mentioned Flo being a pioneer for women. Which she was, along with presumably dozens of other women behind-the-scenes as well as the women in the spotlight, such as Marie Severin and Ramona Fradon.

Every generation seems to neglect its own history, and the praise for each next wave seems cursed with a lack of respect for those who came before. And so I felt it necessary to point out that Flo was a woman in comics long before we were holding panels congratulating ourselves for the invention of something that has been around for decades.

We fetishize certain jobs, pretending only they matter. The mainstream equivalent is society ignoring traditionally female jobs—nurses, teachers, caregivers, secretaries—and talking about how women were not in the workforce before they became middle management, heads of corporations, coders, and executives. Of course they were in the workforce. We just discounted their efforts and neglected their contribution.

Women have always been in comics. Just take a look past your value system. Writers and artists matter, but they are nothing without the people who presented their visions to the world. 

Big City of Dreams

Looks like a fun place.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Angeles Crest

My mother came to visit, so I rented a car and we drove up into the mountains.

San Gabriel Mountains

Friday, September 15, 2017

Meanwhile, in Burbank

Shit's going down in the building laundry room.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sparks and Flickers

The lights had been flickering, ever so faintly, since the day I moved into my Burbank condo.

At first, I thought I might be imagining it. I couldn't see the flickering if I looked at the lights with intent. I only saw the flicker if I was thinking of something else, looking away. 

But the exhaust fan in the downstairs bathroom didn't flicker—that was an audible surge. My ears were more reliable than my eyes. 

Perhaps there is something wrong with the fan, I thought. 

But I did nothing, because eventually I would just replace the fan. It's one of those cheap-ass loud fans people believe masks noises the human body makes in the bathroom. Sure it does, but only to the person in the bathroom, the person wishing to cling to this particular myth. I assure you, the person not in the bathroom is quite capable of distinguishing between cheap fan sounds and biological function sounds. Not because they want to. 

But the flickering seemed to get worse, and once I realized the gurgling from the fridge wasn't actually from fridge at all, but from the nearby electrical box, and it wasn't gurgling but was actually crackling from a circuit, then I became nervous.

I texted the electrician who had installed my ceiling fan and wired in my upstairs ceiling lights, but he is "contractor ghosting" me now. I assume he's busy. That's not the worst, I suppose. His first work was vastly better than the second job he did for me. I wasn't sure I should bother calling him back anyway. 

I looked up the recommended electrician on the HOA docs, called him during a break while I was wandering around Pasadena yesterday, and he said "I'll be there in an hour." I raced back to the #501 bus stop and hurried home. Ten minutes after my arrival, he showed up. 

He showed me the corrosion on the line and tested the microwave circuit. The condo has a giant beast of a built-in microwave with exhaust fan over the stove. I hate it, because it has a sensor that turns the exhaust fan on whether I like it or not. This beast is the likely culprit, with an output of 14 amps on a 15 amp max circuit. I ran it while he tested, and the beast tipped just over the scale into 15 if I ran a few other things at the same time. 

The electrician will come back and install a dedicated microwave circuit down the road, I think, or maybe I'll look for one that isn't a beast, but in the meantime, he swapped out the breaker. 

I'm pretty happy with how this all turned out. Reasonable price, service in an hour, and careful explanation. I think I just switched electricians. 

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Doorway to the Past

I had been agitating BBF to help me with my old pocket door I'd salvaged from 350 8th Street pretty much since we first met a few years ago. Al H (who did some of the work on my old place) had helped me extract my pocket door, but we were sorely disappointed to learn someone over the preceding century had sliced off a third of it, presumably in order to shove the door back into the cavity and seal off the gusts that came in from behind it. (We stuffed the cavity full of insulation before sealing it up again, but left the 2/3 pocket door in the basement, until I moved, when we then left it in the garage.)

BBF was having none of it.

Where are you going to put an 8x4 pocket door? There's no room for it. And it's missing a third of the wood!

I know exactly where I'd put it. In the cavity of my house that used to have a pocket door, given the worn track on the floor. I'd dismantle the angled semi-arch someone built in the past and restore the pocket door on the edge of the parlor to what it surely was in 1900.

But BBF is the one who would have to help me drive the door back and forth to Dip 'n' Strip and then do the carpentry work, and he doesn't have that old Turbo-style "The more impossible, the more I want to try it" going on, probably because he is not Australian.

He did agree to help me carry it from the garage to my Lafayette house, where he propped it up in the tiny yard.

Then it was my problem.

I had concluded I wasn't going to get the door to Dip 'n' Strip and back. I wasn't going to convince BBF to tackle the carpentry project of restoring the door to its former glory. I wasn't going to convince him to tear out the parlor wall, build a track, insert the pocket door, and do a high-end finish.

But I also wasn't going to throw out the etched glass that survived 87 years in three of the six glass panels. I had a matching one already from when a neighbor dug it out of his door while restoring. If I had four, maybe I could use them in something eventually. At least, throwing out etched glass from the 1930s seems irresponsible. I was determined to save the glass if I couldn't save the door.

I dug around in my toolbox, eventually finding a chisel, hammer, and a gizmo theoretically used to yank up old caulk. I had that because the tub at Yancey's (my rental on Hamilton Park) had DIY tile around it, leaving all kinds of cavities for mold to grow in. I don't know how many times I recaulked there over the years of renting.

I dug into the ancient glazing putty of the 2/3 pocket door, and once I'd find the glazier's points, each side went smoothly. I managed to remove all three etched glass panes without breaking anything.

We moved the old door to the curb on Sunday night, and the trash collectors took it away. I didn't stay home to watch. I couldn't bear it.

My 4th pane was salvaged from this door at 350 8th.

Garage Clean-Out

What could be more fun than laboring over Labor Day weekend?

Saturday, BBF and I headed to the Secaucus tool rental section at you-know-where (big box place with an orange sign), picked up a pressure washer, and headed to my garage in the "Italian Village" section of JC.

To get to the spigot, I'd had to borrow a key off one of the owners of the condos above the garage. He'd sent it to me Priority Mail from Chicago. He is the same guy who gave me "wasta" back when my Kuwaiti company had a storage unit near the Manhattan Bridge.

BBF and I hooked up BBF's garden hose to the spigot, put the pressure washer together, and went to work.

This all worked surprisingly well. Take a look.

There are still oil spots. I have some electrical parts cleaner that gets the oil off easily. Spray on, wipe off with old towel, wham, no more oil. But the toxic brain-damaging odor was too much. If I do that again, I'll have to come back with a respirator.

The garage is ready for a new owner. No more car, no more stuff in the garage, and a spiffy cleaning.

This garage made my nomadic lifestyle possible from 2003 or 4 to 2017, and it's in the middle of an area exploding with real estate growth. Maybe I should hold onto it. Maybe I'll have to if it's hard to sell. How does one price a garage? Are there comps? Not in JC. But it's not a loss if I can't sell it--I can just rent it out then, and cling to my past a little longer.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Larry the Lamp

Larry the Lamp's Travelogue:

I am a lamp. My name is Larry.

I lived in an antique store in Manhattan until a colleague of Marie's found me and took me home. David later relocated me to North Hollywood when the office moved to Burbank, where I lived until David gave me to Marie in Hollywood. He was leaving, going home to Miami.

In Hollywood, I lived in a vintage building until Marie moved me to Burbank. But her home there was not vintage—it was built in 1987.

I was sad in Burbank surrounded by short ceilings and textured orange peel walls.

Then one day I was sent to Jersey City in two boxes! I took a ride on an airplane and was put on a truck to an 1895 row house with a bay window. Marie will show up soon to reassemble me and BBF will rewire me properly.

I will be much happier in an 1895 house than in a 1987 apartment.

I've had quite a few electric adventures for a lamp, and those are just the ones we know about.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Project Solar Eclipse Here

The eclipse made me seasick for the rest of the day.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Maybe I Should Have Just Paid Someone...

I spent too much time today sewing this textile to a matte and then putting the DIY frame together.

I bought several of these at a market in Brazzaville. Some of you might remember. This and the smaller items went home in a tiny box from the Brazzaville post office, where a pygmy named Benson chatted me up. The wooden TinTin sculptures went with me to Zambia, with its reliable postal system, but I had a big fight at Customs about them when the officials in Kinshasa claimed they were antiques.

I wasn't totally surprised--I'd had this happen in Ethiopia in 2001, but there, I just had to get some paperwork filled out. In Kinshasa, the only way through was by bribe or sheer stubbornness. I chose the latter (actually, the latter chose me when I lost my temper) and refused to move until they finally gave up. I also did a lot of arguing. That was fun. Never argue with officials with guns in airports, unless you are pretty sure you can get away with it.

I didn't expect to still own this Congolese textile six years later--I meant to send it to someone in my souvenir program, but somehow I did not.

I have one like this already in Jersey City. But that one I bought in Nairobi--this is the real thing, Congolese, bought in Republic of Congo.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Small Luxury

You know how you add something small to your life and later you wonder why you didn't do it sooner? Like a mat in front of the sink, to stand on while washing dishes. Or a doormat next to the bed, so you always get the dust off your bare feet right before bed (admittedly, this wasn't a big problem back East). Or changing sugary peanut butter for the real thing and wondering what took you so long.

Well, I recently decided I was tired of using a big colander for my morning berries. I went on Etsy and found this small berry bowl. Profits went to a foster care advocacy agency and my berries are housed in just the right bowl, so all is well in Burbank for now.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Dinner with Friends

I don't have many favorite things. Maybe reacting to problem after problem on the road in a remote part of a foreign country. Or sitting on a curb in Bangkok eating pad thai after a Thai massage.

My most favorite thing is enjoying a meal with friends who are smart and interesting. I got to do that last night in DTLA, and it's so rare for me to get around to this these days. A great reminder of how I prefer to spend my time.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Food from a Truck (Daily)

No, it hadn't ever occurred to me either. And I love to complain about having only food truck options for lunch daily here in Burbank.

But this turned out to be delicious.

Monday, July 10, 2017


Today I am wearing a shortish skirt with squirrels on it.

It's hot out and I read somewhere that people my age don't really age anymore, so I can wear all the squirrels I want. You should too.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

On Suddenly Understanding Selfies

Traveling alone and not taking photos of myself never seemed to be a problem to me, until I was asked for a photo of me in a specific shirt. I've written a recommendation for one of my favorite independent designers, for her website, but you know what I don't have? 

Photos of me overseas actually wearing the clothes she designed. 

I do, however, have a lot of photos of my feet, and occasionally, my hands. 

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Call It Homage. Bus Homage.

Finally, a bus you can sleep on! How novel!

Only...not to rain on anyone's parade, but this has been going on in China for years. I spotted my first sleeper bus in 2001, and I'm sure they'd been around a long time before I first saw one.

I actually took one in 2011. Comfy. 

I know we love to steal ideas and give them their own personal outlets and lamps, but...god, we're just ridiculous.

Will I be taking a sleeper bus? No, I'll stick with Spirit out of Burbank Airport, because I like a nice shower in the morning mixed with my cheap fare, but it's good we're finally beginning to catch up to China.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Slight Exaggeration

The trains must've gone faster in the late 1800s.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

A Step Up

I got some photos of the completed new stoop yesterday. It looks so great! Plus, now I can get mail for my own little downstairs studio instead of it all going into the mail slot on the main door.

I wish I could go to Jersey City and sit on it for a while. I could sit and contemplate just how far I plan to go with renovating this 1895 row house on Breadalbane Terrace.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Breadalbane Terrace

I stumbled over this while searching for info on why my house is on Breadalbane Terrace in Lafayette, Jersey City.

The fellow on the left was descended from the Scottish Highlander Breadalbane branch of the Campbell Clan. He was a huge figure in the development of the Lafayette area.

Which might explain why my house says BREADALBANE on the side of it, but what I don't know is why the carving is in perfect shape and if it was restored to match exactly what was there before. I assume so, but I'm going to need to do some more digging.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Remote Repairs

I have a new stoop!

Well, not completely new. More rebuilt than new. I haven't actually seen it yet, and might not see it until September given how high airfares are in the summer. Maybe if I weren't so busy spending all my money on fixing up my old house in JC and my new condo in Burbank, I'd be able to spend the money for airfare, but then there'd be no stoop to check out. Perplexing.

I'm told the old railings are back up and the steel grate over the downstairs entrance is back, along with the gate. I'm hoping the guys hung the new mailboxes I bought, and if they actually left the keys to the new mailboxes somewhere useful, that would be good too.

Jetco also fixed two spots where the stucco was cracking. They're the same guys who redid the stucco on the back of the house last year, and they've been nothing but charming and thorough. I initially had a hard time getting them on the phone, but once winter kicked in, it became easy. Of course, now I have their direct email address, so getting in touch is a cinch.

The best part about the new stoop is the kids who inhabit my house (I rent it out to a family, you didn't think I let it sit empty, did you?) love to sit on the stoop. And now they have an extra-special stoop for sitting. And stooping, I guess.