Monday, October 29, 2007

Goblins, Alley Cats, Witches on Brooms

I can't remember when it started, but a number of years ago our friend Gillian Horvath initiated a pumpkin carving party for Halloween. Sunday was the latest installment.

Len's contribution is the first photo up. He draws from scratch. He's done SwampThing, Batman, the Bat Symbol, and a variety of other things. The pumpkin he chose this year turned out to be somewhat unripe, resulting in the fascinating green outline to his carving which you can see before we lit the candle.

This Jolly Roger was carved by friend Jesse. She added a second carving on the back which casts an image reading "TELL NO TALES" which may show up in some of the other pictures, but it was quite hard to capture. Some of the other pumpkins also had rear carvings. In the big group shot, the top pumpkin has a haunted house which casts ghosts on the wall slightly to the right of the pumpkin and in the middle on the left of the same photograph, you can seek the cast of a bird in flight.

Some of the other pumpkins show bats in flight, a couple of rats, a mummy with the wrap over one eye undone, a howling wolf, and Chewbacca. Next year, I'll remember my tripod.

It is all great messy fun. Gillian has insisted that we remind her that she must hold this party each year because it is too much fun to forego. Martha Stewart can eat her heart out.

On Saturday night we went to the annual Niven Halloween event. Each year Larry and Fuzzy have a theme for their party and this year it was "Come As Your Second Life Avatar." This was a tough theme, because I've got a pretty good first life and I don't need a second life. I finally decided that since I often describe myself as 18 with a lot of years of experience, the avatar should dress like it was 1969. Out came the jeans, which I needed to cut to unravel at the ankle, a peasant blouse, a mesh-crocheted poncho I made while sitting in an English class that year, and the peace symbol necklace my college boy friend brought me from Spain. I put a paisley scarf around my forehead and tied it on the side and put on a pair of sandels. Perfecto!

Last year, we were supposed to dress for the year we were born. I had to pull out the sewing machine to make a skirt as full as they were that year. I took a whole lot of clues from "I Love Lucy" and had my hair dresser do my coif like Lucille Ball and then I pulled out the bright red lipstick and nail polish. Often, I wish we had more lead-time.

I can't remember when Halloween turned into a time for decorations at home. I do remember the competitions to paint scenes on the windows of the stores on Main Street in my home town, but we really didn't do anything at home. Now, I've heard, it is second only to Christmas for decorating frenzy. One of the houses we passed on our way to the Niven's house looks like 1313 Mockingbird Lane, with its big gate and orange lights. Another had lit pumpkins all along the fence. In a gated community, it is less likely that someone will come along and destroy things, I guess. At home, Len's been known to put up some decorations like a skeleton on the door or a banner off the flag pole. We don't get many trick-or-treaters, which is a big disappointment to us both. What's Halloween without beggars at the door?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fire Season upon Us

This is the view that KNX is showing of the Los Angeles County fires mere minutes ago. It's accurate, because I am looking at the layer of dirty air above me. On the photograph, the spot marked closest to the ocean is the Malibu fire. The one almost perpendicularly north is the Stevenson Ranch fire, and that's the one I've got to keep an eye on, because its march to the sea could include Chatsworth where the Arabian Prince is in residence.

It's a bit like tornado weather around here, except there is no wet and the sky is brown instead of that sickly green that the mid-west gets as a storm approaches. Without the fires, I might even call it "Earthquake Weather," a phrase and title from Tim Power's work. "Earthquake Weather" doesn't usually have this kind of wind. It is warm and dry. The humidity is less than 10%. This is tinderbox time.

As I look out the window to the north, I can see blue sky between the cloudcast and the horizon, but just beyond the hills is black smoke from the fire to the north. Looking out the south window, it is evenly overcast, with the sun making the view a bit warmer than I would expect this time of the afternoon.

The air smells and tastes terrible. My throat hurts every time I take a deep breath. My eyes itch and weep. And I want to rip my skin off.

My friend Jack Dann arrived from Australia last night. He's beginning to think he brings these fires with him, because the last several trips he's made here have been in the Fall, and there were major fires--closer to us, in fact, than they are now. I could see flames from where I am sitting.

We deal with all of the four elements--or are they elementals?--in Southern California: earth, air, fire, and water in the forms of earthquake, wind, fire and floods. Fire and flood sort of alternate. I expect in moderation we would have neither or fewer of each.

That's the price you pay to live in Paradise.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Day the Music Died

10 years ago today, John Denver had an unscheduled landing in Monterey Bay. I first saw him on a local music program on television around the time that Peter, Paul and Mary had a hit with Jet Plane. I confess that I made a point of going to Jasper, Alberta to photograph the things of which he sang. His music spoke to my soul in a way no other songwriter's work has and I sorely miss the enjoyment of a new recording.

He was also a terrific performer, and I saw him in concert many times. The last was six months before he died in a venue where we had the best seats I'd ever had for one of his appearances--fourth row center. His voice got better with age and he was fantastic that night.

I met him once, in the mid-1980s, when he was in Washington for World Hunger Day. I screwed up my courage to go tell him how much I had enjoyed his music over the years. He got my name, addressed me by it several times as we walked out of the Kennedy Center theatre, which impressed the hell out of me. I photographed him that evening when he sang at the National Cathedral, but I never got the opportunity to shoot a magazine or album cover of him. That's a major regret of my photographic career, along with shooting a cover story for Life Magazine.

It is rather sweetly ironic that on the anniversary of the death of this songwriter who used his celebrity so well in pursuit of world peace and concern for the environment that Al Gore should receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on environmental issues.

Fun Things to Do When You Live in LA

It has been an incredibly busy two weeks around here.

First, I needed to get through the second "Creative Voices" program that Donna Accardo, head of the English Department at Pierce College and I have arranged at the school. We had Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, the writing team behind all three Pirates of the Caribbean films (as well as Shrek, The Mask of Zorro, Aladdin, Small Soldiers, and a few to many others to mention), as our speakers. When we had Harlan Ellison in the spring, we just let him go on stage in performance. For Ted and Terry, we had to work out a Q&A format, which actually went quite well. The school paper called it "well organized" and we've gotten many compliments from the president, veeps, and faculty and staff.

Ted and Terry, whom we've known since 1993, put together a great clip reel of scenes from their films, using the Pirates score behind it. The only dialogue is an exchange with Jack Sparrow ending with "but you have heard of me" which closed the 3-minute reel. I'm looking forward to seeing a second version of what they called a "vanity reel" which includes the sharp dialogue they've written.

Our next event will be early in the spring semester, when we will have novelist Larry Niven. I've asked Barbara Hambly to handle the Q&A for that.

After things finished on October 2, I spent the next week scrambling to get our taxes for 2006 done before the expiration of the extension. The paperwork got turned into our accountant on Wednesday, and we are now awaiting the bad news.

Last night, after much debate about whether we were too tired or simply did not have the enthusiasm to leave the house, we headed across the Valley to the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences auditorium to see a program about television theme music.

We are so glad we did.

It was the best program we've ever seen there in the 10 or so years Len's been a member (beating out the night with the West Wing cast or any night a David Kelly show has been featured.) Octogenarians (or possibly nonogenarians) Earle Hagen (I Spy) and Vic Mizzy (The Addams Family) were both interviewed on stage and both of them were sharp and entertaining. Mike Post was interviewed along with Steve Bochco, with whom he has collaborated on many shows. John Schneider and Jean Louisa Kelly showed off their Broadway chops by singing a number of themes. Mr. Schneider did the Dukes of Hazzard theme and Ms. Kelly did a torch-song version of the Mickey Mouse Club theme, after which Schneider said "Walt Disney is no longer frozen."

The program was produced by Ray Colcord and Arthur Greenwald, and the interviews were conducted by Jon Burlingame who wrote TV's Greatest Hits. Mr. Colcord (who has a pretty interesting website, check it out) introduced the program and was so funny I was very sorry when he left the stage. Fortunately, everyone else was equally good. I guess it does help when when you get a writer (Mr. Greenwald) to write the show. Henry Mancini's daughter hosted most of the evening, with theme opening montage (Comedy, Action, Detective/Spy, Drama, Science Fiction) introductions by Maureen McCormick, Lindsay Wagner, Robert Vaughn, Stacy Keach, William Daniels and Bonnie Bartlett.

Since Len knows virtually every TV theme song ever written, we had a great time singing along--which was encouraged, but probably annoyed our neighbors.

And while I'm hanging around today, a big Happy Birthday to the personification of Wolverine himself, Mr. Hugh Jackman. It would be really nice if Len did a cameo in that new film that's coming out. If Chris Claremont got one in X-3, it would be only right for Len to get one in Wolverine.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Take Me to the Fair

It's Monday morning and I've got to finish the program for tomorrow night's appearance by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio as "Creative Voices" for the series we started with Harlan Ellison last spring here at Pierce College. I've known Ted and Terry for 14 years and I'm certainly pleased with the success they've earned with Pirates of the Caribbean, although we don't get to see them nearly as much as we used to.

We spent yesterday at the Los Angeles County Fair, eating food which was bad for us and spending money for things we didn't need--well, I didn't participate in that part. We've gone almost every year since Len and I have been married, and he started going before then. (I grew up in the town in New York where our county fair was held, but it was a much smaller event. I doubt as many people lived in our county as attended the L.A. County Fair yesterday.)

I wound up with a new pair of black pearl studs for my ears. Our annual tradition includes a stop at Kobe Pearls, where for about $12.00 you get to chose an oyster and see what's inside. This year, a pair of 6 mm black pearls. So, for another $22.00, they drill and mount them. I've got a large black pearl ring from a previous year and a pendant from another. Then there's a box with all the pearls I haven't bothered to get set. One of these days I'll have enough for an entire string of them. They come in all colors. I'm partial to black and the rarer pinks. I've got lots of cream and gold-creams in the box. Someday, I'd like to have a large baroque pearl pendant accented perhaps by diamonds. I think the really huge baroques I've seen (when I used to accompany someone on wholesale buying trips on 47th Street in NYC) come from Tahiti. I probably have better things to do with my money.

The horse events for the weekend involved Drafts and Mules and Donkeys. I watched the junior riding competition--little girls riding big Clydesdales, Belgians, Shires, and Freisians in either English or Western tack--and it looks a lot like riding a couch with pretty action. I saw what was supposed to be a driving event with two competitors, but one of the horses really acted up and the driver lost his temper with his whip and was sent out of the arena. I guess the woman won.

There were also some ponies in the stock barns which I watched for a bit. There was a mini-palomino in an isolated corral which I'm pretty sure was a stud. One of the mares in the group of ponies was in season, which I mentioned to my two companions who didn't want to know how I knew. Bob said he didn't see the problem, because it would be mission impossible, until I explained that the mare might be willing to accommodate by lying down. That was too much information for him. Len said I couldn't bring the palomino home, even though he was smaller than our golden retriever Muffin. He was eohippus sized.

We really like seeing the table-setting competition. Last Friday's L.A. Times did a front-page story about them. Friends of ours used to compete regularly, but they haven't done so in years. I'll have to post some pictures when I get a chance to process the ones I took yesterday.

Bob had gone to the Fair the day before and had done a craft thing which he paid for us all to do together. I'm not sure what it is called, but it involves a clear, egg-shaped ornament, mica based colors, and a setting medium. When all is done, the colors make a beautiful ornament. I'll have to photograph them as well. Even grown-ups like arts and crafts time!