Friday, December 29, 2017

"Dark Visitor"

I said I’d go in there.  But did not promise when.

Busy family.

During the same week, Anna and Colby welcomed “Baby Golda” into the world, and are also moving to a new house.  One of our responsibilities during these turbulent transitions is to housesit their cat Tiki. 

And right now, I am the only one in the house. 

“Our” responsibilities are now mine.

Tiki, black as midnight, is a prodigiously large cat.  Baby panthers look up and go, “Daddy?”

Here are my feelings about cats, which I hasten-before-I-am-critically-rebuked to report are respectful, but apprehensive.  And if they are extremely large cats, as is our current resident, enormously apprehensive.

This personal apprehension comes from a deeply held though scientifically questionable belief; to wit,

“If you mistreat a cat, they can go to the phone and call lions.”

“It’s bad.”

“We’re on our way.”

I know people who love cats.  Concerning their natural aloofness and the undulating scratches decorating their owners’ bodies reminiscent of victims of a knife fight….?

“That is simply the way they are.”

…. their exoneratingly dismissive explanation.

I know cats a little.  Wait’ll you hear this.  I jotted it down beforehand, so I know it’s a doozy.

We had a cat once.  Her name was Franky.  Except she wasn’t our cat.  And her real name was Clara.

Crazy paragraph, huh?

Once while we were eating dinner, a small but sleek yellow-and-black cat padded up to the open door of our kitchen and began scratching feverishly at the screen door... screen.  First, we ignored her.  Then we took her a saucer of water.  And then table scraps.  Soon we were buying her cat food.  And taking her to the vet.  Including the last time, when we said goodbye and they put her to sleep.

A multi-year “cat story”, rendered in seven sentences.

We called her Franky.  Which, it turned out, was not her real name.

One night while I was working in New York I received a tearful phone call from Anna.

“Dad!  They say Franky’s not Franky!  She’s Clara!”

The neighbors behind us had a flurry of cats.  One of them, whom we called Franky but who was apparently Clara, chose to “adopt” us and we took total care of her until, six or so years later, she died. 

Franky was an “outside cat”, living in “the Wild” – if you can call the urban domesticity of Santa Monica “the Wild” – ultimately succumbing to an ailment “outdoor cats” are prone to succumbing to, if they can avoid run-ins with coyotes.

My enduring memory of our unlikely relationship is dragging myself home from work after midnight or substantially later, opening the garage door leading to the house, and there’s Franky/Clara, waiting alertly to greet me.  As I stumbled up the steps, Franky continually cut in front of me.  This was her idea of a game… played with an exhausted comedy writer with bad eyesight.  But, you know… it’s an affectionate gesture.  Like when she’d bring me a dead bird as a present.  And I’d pretend to be grateful.

I believe it was comedian George Carlin who said pets are, in fact, tragedies waiting to happen.  You love them and they die.  But it recently occurred to me that that’s true about every relationship.  Unless you die first… it can only be wished.

Okay.  It is just about time to visit his feline lair.

Tiki currently resides in a little-used bedroom, behind an ominously closed door.  With wary trepidation, I imagine opening the… you know what?  I don’t want to imagine that.  There is pouncing and jugular veins involved.  And desperate crawling to the telephone.

Please forgive the frenzied hyperbole.  Realistically, I just need to accept that every “cat experience” is going to be different.  I know Tiki’s not Franky.  Then again, neither was Franky.

Maybe we’ll bond.  That’s a nice thought.  You know an even nicer thought, it just occurred to me?

Before I know it,

… they’ll be taking him to their new house.

Okay.  Let’s do this thing.

“Nice kitty.  Nice…” – I’m rehearsing – “…kitty.  Nice kitty…”

And then,

he was gone.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

"Rancho La Puerta - The Wrap-Up"

Final Tally:  I had a great time. 

But I didn’t love it.

Add that to the “Opaqueness Sweepstakes.”

Okay.  Watch this circle.  You’re gonna love it.

What made it a great time was that I encountered more people than I do visiting the Ranch as a couple.  (Couples invariably only meet couples.)  But the reason I didn’t love it – this is somewhat embarrassing, but she’s doesn’t read this so it’s okay – was because I hadn’t visited the Ranch as a couple.

You see how that goes?  I’d have loved it more if I’d have come as a couple, but I’d have encountered less people, and encountering more people is what made me have such a great time. 

Conclusion:  I’d have loved it more if I’d had less of a great time.


Did your brain just explode?  Mine did.  All over my stand-up desk!

The reason I know I had a great time was not just because of the conventional elements – the magnificent setting featuring the luminous Mount Cuchuma, the congenial company who enjoyed my stories, like the one about the venerable Indian living on the premises who announced he would reveal “The Secret of Life.”  But when the time arrived for his awaited presentation – which required us to skip lunch, no minor sacrifice in a “No snacking” environment – we were informed that “Chief Silver Raven” had dropped a rock on his foot and was heading for San Diego for x-rays.  Costing us the chance to learn “The Secret of Life” – and lunch. 

Throw in the fact that the primary reason for my trip was because my pants didn’t fit, and now – an encouraging indicator – they almost do.

But also in the mix, some disturbing stuff happened – nitpicky and serious – and I still had a great time.  That’s how you know you had a great time.  The unwelcome stuff can’t ruin it.


By now, you’ve heard this first one more times than you’d understandably like to:

After my requested “ranchera” close to the lounge was ultimately granted, I discover that they had closed the lounge for repairs, and had arranged a “temporary lounge”… not close to my “ranchera.         

An added misfortune was that, cordoning off the lounge “work venue” for safety purposes, they had also roped off the adjacent hammocks, chopping my scheduled activities by a third, down to “Men’s Nap” and “Men’s Bath.”

The cramped “temporary lounge” demanded library-like silence.  So when I downloaded the YouTube broadcast of Woody Allen’s masterful AFI tribute to Diane Keaton, his words and my eruptive guffaws drew immediate rebuke, which would have imaginably increased substantially had they been aware that the source of my comedic convulsions was Woody Allen. 

And that’s just stuff about the lounge.

Furthermore, in no organized order…

A good friend of mine lost his job… in the United States Senate.

My expensive hairbrush disappeared and, leaving me disheveled “Crazy Hair” from Tuesday evening until Saturday.

Wildfires ravaged many areas of California, one of them within “gusting distance” of our Santa Monica home.

I received tangible evidence I was indeed approaching seventy-three when the  doable “Morning Hikes” became demonstrably less doable.

And then there was this one. 

While I was away, my daughter Anna, scheduled to deliver her baby in seven weeks, after a worrisome Sonogram, was now scheduled to deliver in three weeks, and after a subsequent examination, the delivery was re-scheduled for three days.  (The day after I get home.)  

I know, right?

How dare they impinge on my restful vacation!

So you know… all that happened.

But then, this happened.

I wake up Saturday morning, “Getaway Day.”  My packed suitcase is sitting outside, awaiting “pick-up”, and I am off to an early breakfast before my departure,

Suddenly, as if on cue, my invisible Mariachi Band dotting the ridge of the sacred mountain, bursts melodically to life.

I am scared.  I am nervous.  And I am alone.  And here’s their latest spirited release, proclaiming our approaching “blessed event.” 

Classic Mariachi-style rhythm and harmony:

(The bandleader’s “countdown”)



(Boom bada boom boom boom)

They’re gonna have a little baby

(Boom.  Boom.  Boom.  Boom.)

They’re gonna call her Golda, maybe

(Boom.  Boom.  Boom.  Boom.)


(Bada beeda beeda beeda bum.)


It’s going to be a young muchacha
She’s gonna learn to do the cha-cha. (These are not professional songwriters)


Buoyed by this bolstering musical message I board the returning bus, heading off to the hospital.

But with hope.

You see why I like that place?

That would never have happened if I were leaving Las Vegas.

(Like she’d allow me to visit Las Vegas alone.)

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

"Lost And Found... And Then Lost Again"

Sometimes, we live in “Crazy Land.”  “Crazy Land” is where people talk nonsense to you, and to stay in the game, we talk nonsense right back.  Consider the following:

A few days before my trip to the Ranch we received an email reporting that they had found the pillow we had left there on our previous visit.  I immediately call them, preferring to talk to an actual person than engage in Internet exchanges that may or may not get through, I have experienced both.  I request that they put the newly discovered pillow in my room, so it will be there when I arrive, and they assure me they will.

I arrive at the Ranch, I go into my room – the one close to the lounge but they moved the lounge – and the first thing I am aware of is –

No pillow.

After visiting the inoperative lounge, I proceed to the Concierge office (which was next to the temporary, further-from-my-room “Replacement Lounge” – I do not easily dismiss grievances – where I report that the pillow they had assured me would be in my room was, in fact, not currently in my room.

After some keyboard-tapping investigation I am regretfully informed that the unearthed pillow was, once again, missing.

“You mean the pillow you said you found is lost again?” I inquire, trying to piece things together and embarrass them at the same time, which is not nice but I have a traditionally low threshold for perceived (and possibly actual) incompetence.

Here’s the thing, though.  And I am sorry for holding this back so long, but it helps immeasurably with the story.

We had absolutely no recollection of leaving a pillow at the Ranch. 

When they informed us they had found our pillow, we had no idea what they were talking about.

We do have two small cylindrical pillows, which, when traveling, we invariably carry along.  But we have both of them in our house.  We double-checked in our bedroom – “One”, Two”.  How does one account for the loss of one of the two pillows that are currently sitting on your bed? 

I am uncharacteristically speechless.

Why did we then not tell the Ranch personnel that the third pillow doesn’t exist?  Because they thought it did.  In fact, they had, temporarily, found it. 

Maybe we were mistaken.  Maybe there was such a pillow.  And if there, in fact, was one…

We wanted it back!

I mean, hey, it was our pillow!

(You see what I mean by “Crazy Land”?)

A few days into my stay, there is a letter stuffed into my mailbox.  It’s from the “Concierge Coordinator” and it says, in part,

“I am truly sorry to confirm that we were unable to locate your pillow, so sorry.  However, we would like to replace it, if it’s not too much to ask…can you stop by the Concierge office to provide brand, size and other relevant details so can go ahead and buy it.”

“Brand, size and other relevant details” for a pillow that we are virtually certain doesn’t exist.

What world am I in? 

It’s like playing ping-pong without a ball, and yet assiduously keeping score.

I did not go to the Concierge office.  It is not in me to describe in relevant detail a pillow that exists only in the minds of the people who lost it.  Besides, on the same day I received this “Alice In Wonderland” letter from the Concierge office, an expensive hairbrush I had definitely brought along – I made sure with a confirming phone call – disappeared, and despite my most diligent efforts, I was – and am still – unable to find it.

With understandable trepidation, I report the lost hairbrush to the Concierge office.  They now have two mysteries on their hands:  a lost hairbrush I know actually exists, and a lost pillow that – let’s say generously – may not.

At this point, I would be happy to get back one of them.