Monday, November 14, 2011

Yes, we do get Autumn

Sort of

There are actual Maple trees in Los Angeles. These are ones on Alden Drive in Beverly Hills. About now they start to change, giving a three-block long mini New England. Of course, this show lasts for a two to three week period, then the trees are bare. Since our period where it's "cold" is so brief, they bud again seemingly in minutes.

I posted this pic to Facebook and one of my pals said something to the effect of "wouldn't it be nice to have snow in the trees?". Uh, sure. If it could fall in pleasant fat flakes while I was checked into a hotel room with a wood-burning fireplace. On my honeymoon with my new husband John Barrowman. Who gave me as an engagement present a new SLK.

If I have to wake up and start shoveling my car out I'll pass...

Photo: My iPhone

Sunday, October 09, 2011

3 Games you should let your kids play..

This is totally anecdotal. but here's my reasoning. I was sitting with friends at some local gathering and offered the young (impeccably mannered) son of one of my friends my iPhone to while the time away by playing some games. He replied (those manners) that he would have to check with his Mom, since he's not usually allowed to play these sorts of games. This got me to thinking about some of them. What is it that some of these games are indirectly teaching us and our kids? So here's my list of (completely unscientific) games that I would happily have my putative kid play.

1) Angry Birds

Yes, I can hear you all groan. It's a time-waster, a brain-sucker and might be the worst new movie of 2012. It's also one of the best ways to get young minds behind the idea of physics and engineering. Because to get three stars in any level you have to understand the most economical way to destroy the pigs constructs, and you have to learn to adapt to new capabilities of the new birds and new environments.

2) Scrabble

Do I have to state why this one is a good one? I've found myself mining skills I haven't used in years in coming up with 6 letter words that let me beat "Norm" by 100 points. Anything that gets your kid to start thinking about vocabulary as something that's a competitive sport is a good thing.

3) L. L. Bean Moose

A memory game that might be better for us adults than the kids, but sharpens memory skills for all that play it, You can do 12, 20, or 36 tiles where you have to match up variously clad moose with their twin on the board. It sharpens visual acuity and promotes memory.

Okay, there they are. Three games you can feel good having on your kids phone. Ones that you can also use (as I do) as an excuse for keeping our adult minds young. Of course when you see me sitting at the Beverly Hills Markets patio drinking a diet coke and staring into my phone I'm engrossed in the latest article on or re-reading "A La Recherche du Temps Perdu"

I'm not playing Scrabble, oh, no...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering the Twin Towers.

Of course, the greatest loss of 9/11 were the lives of the people that were cruelly cut short by the actions of madmen.

But for just a moment I'd like to talk about the Twin Towers.

The towers were conceived in the early 60's and it shows: they blasted the street grid of lower Manhattan, swept away an entire neighborhood in the name of progress and (and at the risk of being flamed) ended up as a cool, detached failure at the tip of the island. It was a triumph of modern architecture, but not an inviting design.

Originally conceived as 88 stories, they added the extra 22 to get the required square footage they felt they needed. Another feature of the building was that unlike other skyscrapers, the outer skin was structural: it bore 40% of the buildings weight load, made the building almost impervious to cross-winds and allowed vast completely open floorplans with no columns between the elevator core and the skin. It was said that Minoru Yamasaki, the architect of the WTC was actually afraid of heights; it was his idea to have the outside columns spaced at about 20 inches to have reassuringly thick metal between between the glass for workers who might balk at the vertiginous heights. The mullions narrowed from 3 to 1 at the top and bottom of the towers to allow ingress to the lobbies and views from the observations platform and Windows on the World.

Another innovation were the elevators. Part of the problem with super-tall buildings is that so many elevators need to be in service to get to the high floors. Skyscrapers like the Empire State Building didn't have this problem since they were subject to New York City's setback laws which required that the building became slimmer as it became taller. Fewer elevators were needed to get to the smaller higher floors. A project as mammoth as the WTC would need a solution or too much expensive floor space would be devoted to elevator shafts that produce no income.

The solution was the "skylobby". First used at the John Hancock Center in Chicago, for WTC express elevators went to the top, the 78th, the 44th and the lobby while local elevators went to the floors in between. The local elevators could be stacked making the elevator core much smaller.

The towers were set in a rather sterile plaza that before Battery Park City was erected (on landfill from the WTC site) was right on the East River. Much like Yamasaki's twin Century Plaza Towers in Century City that still stand today, it was beautiful as sculpture, but in real life barren and so windswept on some days getting to the lobby was a challenge.

I went there several times when I was a New Yorker, if only to take the PATH train and hit a couple of the shops in the promenade. Sadly, I never went to the observation deck or had a drink at Windows on the World, thinking that there would always be time to do so.

Maybe that's the ultimate takeaway from this. There might not be time tomorrow. Whether it's to visit something in the town in which you live or even to tell someone that you love how much your life has been enriched by knowing them, don't wait. Things can be gone in an instant. Don't wait to love life.

Photo: Village Voice

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

It's September, and it's hot.

This is the time of year that I like to remind myself that the thing that really made the Southwest livable was the advent of really good AC.

Oh, Los Angeles is usually pretty temperate if you're on the Westside, but if you're in the Valley (where it will be 107 tomorrow) you need you're AC. Places like Palm Springs and Scottsdale in my opinion would be uninhabitable for months out of the year without it in the same way that great swaths of this country would be in Winter if we didn't have heat.

I'll refer you to the excellent article at Wikipedia about the history of this marvelous invention. I'm often questioned why I still insist upon taking the MTA even though it's not the most reliable system on earth. Well, part of is that is they understand that when it's hot out and you have a 50 foot long metal tube filled with meat-puppets pumping out 98 degrees, it's best to have AC that could keep ice cream turgid. I've boarded buses in shorts and a polo where by the time I get to my destination, I'm uncomfortably cold.

I love it.

Sadly, the AC in my Honda is not quite up to snuff. My car has many things going for it. It gets stellar gas mileage. Since it's a color that Honda calls "Red Camellia Pearl" that's more like the lipstick in a Nagel print and is a stick, so nobody will ever steal it. It's a Honda, so it will last a while. The AC however is wholly inadequate.

In this sort of weather you really need the sort of automotive overkill AC that was (and I assume is still) offered by the Americans.

The advantage that American companies have is that they are in Detroit. In addition to having brutal winters, the Midwest have brutal summers. Trust me, I've lived there. It's not unusual to have the high 90's and 90% humidity. At midnight. General Motors responded by having a system called "Automatic Climate Control" (standard on Cadillac) and "Comfortron" (optional on lesser marques). With this system, you would set a temperature and the car would do it's level best to get you there as soon as possible. In winter it was a blessing: at the point in January when you actually thought you might expire a blast of furnace heat would come in and scarves, gloves and hats could be safely shedded. In summer the car would do everything it could after being parked outside in the sun to drop the temp to the 68 degrees you've chosen.

I can say having briefly driven a friends 80's Cadillac in the 90's that it's almost uncomfortable. Having parked the Coupe deVille in a parking lot in the Valley while I shopped I think it was about 237 degrees when I opened the door. Flipping the (gold) ignition key it took about four seconds for the system to be pumping out air so frigid that I was after a few minutes feeling like I was like in a Midwestern snowstorm.

I loved it.

But I think it's better now that we have remote-start.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Thursday, July 07, 2011

NextBus has an iPhone app for Los Angeles METRO

Yes, Metro has finally ditched it's own worse-than-useless app and joined the early aughts. They are now using NextBus' proven app that relies on the buses own GPS tracking to tell when, well, the next bus is coming. While it's better than nothing, here's a few reasons I find it be be kind of a fail. (disclaimer- this opinion is based upon a month of using the app daily on my commute from Beverly Hills to downtown and around the Westside. Your mileage may vary)

  • It's not accurate. I've stood on the corner in the morning where the app insists that my next bus is 7 or 8 minutes away, while I can see it turning onto my street. Conversely, I've had it insist that the bus has arrived and gone past when it hasn't shown up yet.
  • It's not accurate. There are holes in the GPS coverage big enough to, well, hide a city bus in. For the past two days NextBus has told me that the bus I was waiting for was coming in 15 minutes. When I walk to the stop then it insists that the next bus is in 50 minutes. Thinking that perhaps the bus had broken down I got the car to drive to work. Today when I was pulling out of the alley, I saw the phantom bus turning onto my street.
  • It's not accurate. METRO is notorious for running truncated lines. This app will insist that the #4 bus coming is going to Santa Monica when it's only going to West LA. The same thing happens if you're taking the 14, 16, 20, 704 and 720. In other words, every bus that I take.
  • It's not accurate. In areas crowded with bus stops, the app cannot be set to drill down to show you what bus is stopping at the place you are actually standing at. It will tell you every bus in a certain radius, forcing you to scroll through multiple screens to get the bus you want, every time you check. Not so bad if you want to know when the next #14 is coming (although it will still lie to you and tell you it's going to Beverly Hills when it's not) but when you're at the stop for the 728 if can be a bit annoying.
In other words, it has an accuracy issue. If you don't rely upon it to tell you exactly where and when the bus that you want to take is coming, then you're golden. Then again, if you can't rely upon it to tell you where and when the next bus is coming, then what's the point?

Photo: Apple

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Things That Need To Come Back Soon:

Tail O' The Pup

Tail o' the Pup was a hot dog stand. That is of course like writing that Greta Garbo was pretty, Genghis Kahn was easily annoyed or Albert Einstein was mildly clever. Tail o' might have been slightly less well known that Pink's in Hollywood, but Pink's wasn't shaped like a hot dog on a mustard-smeared bun.

Tail o' started life in 1946 at the corner of La Cienega and Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles. It stood there for nearly 40 years before being threatened with demolition to make way for the wholly unnecessary Hotel Sofitel. Luckily, a space was found a block West, just south of Beverly on San Vicente. Another 20 years of happy customers ensued until a developer bought the land and evicted Tail o' to make way for a development that at the time was written of as a retirement home for elderly GLBT. Tail o's hot dog front was dismantled and stored. It was rumored that it would surface in Westwood and there was talk in Beverly Hills of trying to fit it in, but as of this date not only is there no Tail o', the original location is just a weed-choked chained-off parking lot.

Tail o' was the source of the single-best star sighting I've had in LA. I was hoping my BFF would arrive in time to see her, alas she missed seeing Ella Fitzgerald delicately munching away on an Extreme, her Mercedes Landaulette at the curb, complete with uniformed Chauffeur.

Dennis and Eddie Blake. who have owned the Pup since buying it from the original owners in the 70's are written of as looking for a location to re-open. Guys, look harder. I need an Olé with onions and a side of rings. It's been too darned long..

Photo: Wikipedia

Friday, June 17, 2011

"The Night Walker" is, well, nowhere.

It's not on DVD and it's not on YouTube.

Which is sad, since it's a fun William Castle shocker made in the years when he was transitioning from Schlockmeister to the producer of class fare like "Rosemary's Baby".

The redoubtable Barbara Stanwyck stars as a lady unhappily married to a blind scientist who dreams of a perfect, handsome lover, audibly. Husband, who is blind but not deaf, records his wife's dream affairs and sets his lawyer (Stanwyck's real-life ex-husband Robert Taylor) to find the cad before being blown to bits in his home lab. Craziness ensues.

Miss Stanwyck is great in this. Yes, her screams sound like an asthmatic Puma whorfing up a hairball. But she's required to emote against mannequins, an ex-husband and Lloyd Bochner (who are lit to look like mannequins), spinning chandeliers and at one point a flaming shishkebob the size of a Tiki Torch and she pulls it off.

Why is this not on DVD?

Trailer via YouTube

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Desperately Seeking Susan" is on Netflix Streaming..

It's hard for me to believe that this movie, which launched Madonna's short-lived career as an actress is now over 25 years old. Madonna plays the title character, a free spirit who becomes a fixation for New Jersey housewife Roberta (Roseanna Arquette). Roberta is bored with her life in Fort Lee: she walks out of her party in the middle of her husband Gary (Mark Blum) debuting his latest hot-tub commercial so stare longingly across the Hudson at the spires of New York City.

Having noted a personal ad in a local tabloid that Susan's boyfriend has arranged a meeting with her (we're told this is how they communicate in the days before e-mail) at Battery Park, Susan shows up to do a little stalking. What neither Susan nor Roberta know is that the earrings Susan pinched from the random guy she bedded at a New Jersey hotel are stolen, priceless, and wanted very badly by a very bad man (Will Patton) who is willing to kill to get them. A blow to Roberta's head ensures that Susan and Roberta's lives intertwine as both the killer and a handsome movie projectionist (Aidan Quinn) mistake amnesiac Roberta for Susan while Roberta's husband and sister (Laurie Metcalf) enlist Susan to help find the missing woman, who the police suspect of being an on-the-run hooker.

It's a fun movie that glosses over some of the gamier aspects of the story. Susan is a charming amoral thief who uses and discards men. Gary is having an affair behind Roberta's back and seems more concerned at how Roberta's disappearance will affect his status than for her welfare. But it's fun to see a flashback to the NYC of the 80's of my yoof. St. Marks Place, the East Village, Danceteria, even the scaffolding around the Statue of Liberty during it's renovation are showcased. The fashions were believe it or not fresh at the time; this is the Madonna that launched the craze for cropped tops and gloves and wearing tons of rubber bracelets.

I didn't even know this, but there was a short-lived musical version that played London's West End that closed in record time and lost £3.5 million. A YouTube news clip about the fiasco is below,

Friday, April 29, 2011

"Angel, Angel Down We Go" is on Netflix Streaming..

Many movies are referred to as "rarely seen" and this is one of them.


There are bad movies we love, and there are just bad movies. Produced at the time when studios were trying to capture the youth market, this ham-handed "thriller" involves the plutocratic Steele family: former porn star turned Society Matron (Jennifer Jones, miles past that Oscar), her closet-case Industrialist husband and overweight (as we're told about every 10 minutes) daughter Tara Nicole. Into their lives comes messiah figure/pansexual nutjob Bogart Peter Stuyvesant, and bedlam ensues.

Not much about this is good. For instance, the director isn't content with referring to a character as a cow; he has to cut to a painting of the character's face pasted over a cow, while there are cowbells and mooing on the Soundtrack. This little trick he seems to find completely fascinating and repeats it endlessly. The musical numbers are Partridge Family good and the plot is so determined to shock, shock, shock you that it ends up being laughable.

As laughable as having a movie where Jordan Christopher sings, but Lou Rawls and Holly Near really don't.

Under "Cult of the Damned" on Netflix Streaming, if you dare.

Link: YouTube

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bette Davis in "Beyond the Forest"

Bette Davis was one of the best actresses working, responsible for such classic performances as Mildred in “Of Human Bondage”, Regina Giddens in “The Little Foxes” and Margo Channing in “All About Eve”.

Rosa Moline in “Beyond the Forest” was arguably her worst performance.

40-ish Bette stomps around picturesque Loyalton, “Wisconsin” snarling one liners, chain-smoking and shooting small animals (“They irritate me” she sneers). Young Rosa is unhappily married to the town Doctor (Joseph Cotton), a do-gooder whom she despises for his lack of desire to actually collect his fees. She’s hot for Chicago Industrialist Neil Latimer (David Brian) and the rich, big city life she feels is her due. Needless to say, she’s willing to do anything, anything to get it. And does, to unintentionally hilarious effect.

The movie is considered a camp classic: Bette is, as she said herself far too old for the role and cranks her personal acting switch up to 11, perhaps to try to make us not think about the plot, which has holes large enough to pilot that Chicago-bound train she’s always mooning over through. It doesn’t help that it’s directed by King “subtlety? never heard of it” Vidor who gives her free reign and matches her with directorial choices that redefine “over the top”.

But, if you’re a fan of these sort of eye-popping things you won’t be disappointed. I wasn’t.

Long unavailable except on overpriced VHS tape, someone posted it to YouTube in 10 minute increments. Click on above to watch, before someone makes them take it down.

Video Source: YouTube

Friday, April 15, 2011

1973 Cutlass Road Test

I love these old boats. New cars are better in every way, but the styling on these are sheer 70's corporate flamboyant...

source: YouTube

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" is on Netflix Streaming. Just in case you need a memory refresher of how stunningly lovely, or what a wonderful actress Elizabeth Taylor was..

Friday, March 18, 2011

"Banksy is Coming to Dinner" is on Netflix streaming.

Joan Collins proves she's not only the most self-aware celeb on the planet, but one with the most self-deprecating sense of humor playing along with this "mocumentary" where a sometimes unpixelated actor (or is he? You judge the layers of meta..) plays infamous street artist Banksy who visits the Collins' "ancestral" home for a dinner party. This might be the reason that "Exit Through the Gift Shop" was so questioned as being real. It's great fun; you'll want an invitation to Joan's table.

Image: internets

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Safari update:

New update, same old crashes. Every other visit to crashes the browser. Report to Apple. Relaunch hangs, so Option/Command/esc to force quit. Report to Apple.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Better yet, use Firefox..

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Towering Inferno is on Netflix Streaming

If you haven't seen it since it came out in the 70's when, like me you were a teen, er baby, um thought in your parents head you should check out what is arguably the penultimate disaster movie. I'll reprint what I wrote in an Amazon review many years ago:

"Architect Paul Newman and owner William Holden have just completed their crowning acheivement; the 138 story Glass Tower. Unbeknownst to them, baddy builder Richard Chamberlain skimped on the building specs. He wired the building with tinsel or something; as soon as someone plugs in a hair dryer, the fuses go pop (why do the put the fuse boxes in the room used to store the oily rags and paint cans? Why do they need oily rags and paint cans on the 86th floor? Is there an oily rag and paint can room on every floor, or do people have to share?) and the all-star barbeque begins."

A little harsh. Yes, the cheese factor is high (the sets I referred to as "Frank Lloyd Wrong") and to modern audiences some of the plot holes are pretty evident. But there are shots in this that in this post 9/11 world where we are more aware of the issues facing first responders can't help but resonate. Oddly the building itself it prescient: we don't have 138 stories of mixed use, but the idea of a tower that combines residential on a narrow top and offices on a wider base was way ahead of its time in the 70's.

It's a perfect popcorn movie for a rainy night like this one in LA.

Image: Wikipedia

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Spinning Rainbow Must Go!

I mean really Apple, You've gone through multiple versions of Safari. Why am I sending you daily reports when you're freaking browser can't handle some random code on a web page? You're supposed to be the anti-Microsoft, right? The stuff that just works?

Work on it people..

Image: internets, after Safari crashed for the bazillionth time.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Visual Acoustics" is on Netflix Streaming..

My mother was born and raised Catholic. She often said that the most didactic pain-in-the-butt Catholics were ones were converts. So you all will forgive my starchy, topsider-wearing Victorian-growing-up-in convert fan-boy kvelling over the fact that the documentary on the Chronicler of All Things Modern is out on DVD and Netflix Streaming. It is not only a testament to the modernist movement in Los Angeles and of a singular talent of the man recording it, it's a testament to the fact that life doesn't end at 60 or 70 or 80. I met him when he was into his 80's and I hope to half as interested, connected and charmingly inquisitive as he was when I'm that age. I hope I'm that way this week...

Info on the DVD is here..

Photo: from his archive