Run, Jason, Run!

I have decided to start jogging again. It’s no secret to those who have actually seen me swell in girth over the years that I’m not the spry, lanky chap I was around the time Lizzy and I were married, and while Lizzy seems unfazed by my appearance I myself am starting to get pretty fed up.

The story: the family and I recently returned from a short-ish trip to the East coast to attend a cousin’s wedding and visit, for five days, with my mother and her husband Neil at their home in New Hampshire. We had a great time, of course, but I’m afraid that while there I perhaps took too advantage of the freedom vacations usually allow the weak-willed. You know what I mean – you eat and drink like there’s no tomorrow, stay up late, rarely shower, that kind of thing.

I also made the mistake of looking over some old photos of myself that my mother had gathered in an old shoebox. Now I know that looking at twenty year-old pictures of oneself is inadvisable to just about anybody, but to say that I was thinner in those old high-school pictures would be a significant understatement, on par with saying that Al Pacino used to be a more nuanced actor or that journalism used to be a more viable career choice.

How thin was I? Well I’ve never been blessed with much muscle, at least none that didn’t require about a decade or so at the gym to develop, and I’m only five and a half feet tall. Add to that what must have been a raging metabolism and lots of bike riding and you get a teenager who graduated High School weighing about a hundred and twenty eight pounds.

Now in college, of course, that changed drastically.  The discovery of an almost unlimited access to all the food and alcohol any eighteen year-old could ever ask for resulted in the rapid addition of about forty – that’s right, forty – pounds onto the Miller frame, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that it was accomplished before December of my freshman year. Consequently I spent much of my ensuing college years in a state of rotundity not unlike that of your average Manatee or pot-bellied pig.

I lost the weight after graduation, and kept it off for years thanks to a better diet and an unshakably peripatetic lifestyle. But then came marriage. Then parenthood. Then a move away from one of the country’s most walking-friendly regions (Boston) to Southern California, where there is hardly any public transit system and where one can’t get anywhere worth going without hopping on a damned freeway and sitting in traffic for nine hours.

Gradually, I’ve seen my weight creep up since arriving in Long Beach, an inexorable and unappealing incline that has, as of this writing, engendered about twenty pounds of me that weren’t extant a mere three years ago.

I had already been contemplating a strict change in lifestyle, and had even, in the past couple of months, gravitated away from eating heavier foods and to a more veggie-centric diet. But apparently no one told my weight, which continued to inch higher. The once-reliable metabolism, it seems, must have decided to check out early.

So all this past week I’ve been running, sometimes with Lizzy and sometimes alone in the early AM. Nothing big, just a couple miles a day, but we plan on working our way up in the mileage department once the limbs and frame get used to the abuse. Also we’ve decided, being the trendy types that we are, to run sans footwear, an endeavor we’ve undertaken not just because the concept is intriguing but because, at least for me, it removes from the process the whole cumbersome business of putting on socks and lacing up shoes. I mean to say, when the act of getting up and jogging is already in a constant battle with the non-act of staying in bed, knowing that you’re going to have to struggle blindly with the footwear might just be enough to tip the scales toward the latter.

I’m still getting used to a couple of aspects of this jogging thing though, one of which is my mental state during the run. Now I know that a couple of miles or so is not nearly long enough to put any runner into an endorphin-induced trance or “zone,” but I had hoped that my thoughts might at least run a bit more strongly toward the positive. Exercise is supposed to help the mood, right?

Sadly, that has not yet been the case, as I have found that while jogging my mind is filled with an unending interior monologue. And what the interior monologue has to say isn’t pretty. In fact, it’s not so much a monologue as it is a diatribe.  If I’m not cursing the sidewalks or grumbling about politics, I’m thinking catty things about a friend’s interior decorating choices or fantasizing about besting the drunk guy who made fun of me at the wedding last week (because I was drinking a white wine and apparently looked “English”) with a barrage of searing insults before raining blows down upon his head.

Once, and I swear this is true, I lurched pass a sign outside of a church that read “Live Simply, Care Deeply” and thought, “Fuck you.” I mean, what’s up with that?

And as if that weren’t bad enough, I’m forced to deal with certain – how should I say it? – anatomical aspects of running. I won’t go into too much detail here, but let me just say that when one has just started jogging and is wearing a brand-new pair of running underwear under his shorts, one finds that after only a few yards or so one’s, um, male thing immediately misplaces itself and winds up pointing, under the force of the underwear’s vice-like grip, in a direction one is not typically accustomed to.

But all in all my new hobby had been a success. That is only if you don’t measure the success of exercise by the number of pounds shed; this morning, after almost a week of running and dieting, I ventured onto the scale to find that, give or take an ounce, I hadn’t lost anything.


I can’t wait to see what my interior monologue has to say about that one tomorrow morning.

War and Buffet

A couple of months ago the family and I went out, as is our habit, to the Marriott hotel for their annual Easter Brunch.

Brunch is one of those meals that I can really get behind. For one thing there are an unlimited number of goodies to chose from, most more at home at the dinner table than the breakfast nook.  I’ve always been one of those guys for whom any category of foodstuff would qualify as appropriate A.M. sustenance; in fact, I can say with almost no shame that in the early hours of the day I tend to be more inclined to go for the dinner left-overs than for the traditional eggs/bacon/cereal cuisine anyways. I mean, who, when faced with the choice of either slurping a bowl of Grape Nuts or reheating last night’s Roasted Lemon Rosemary Chicken with Haricots Verts wouldn’t chose the latter?

Of course, I wrote “reheating” and “Roasted Lemon Rosemary Chicken with Haricots Verts” only to be illustrative; chances are that my breakfasts usually involve me standing in front of the fridge at 5:30 in the morning and inhaling, with my bare fingers, nutriments as varied as meatballs, leftover takeout, shredded cheese, raw hot dogs, innumerable pepperoncini, and even – on more than one occasion – clam chowder.  The point is, unlike my furtive, pre-dawn gastronomical indiscretions, attending the typical well-stocked brunch is a perfect excuse to eat whatever the hell you want – and lots of it – with almost no guilt at all.

And there’s even alcohol – that is, if you want to call champagne alcohol. Me, I prefer to call it Carbonated Headache in a Bottle. I generally avoid imbibing of the stuff, with some possible exceptions being on the occasion of a New Year’s Eve celebration, the rare wedding reception, or the even rarer ascension of a Democrat to higher office. But a brunch, well…when in Rome, right?

But while the experience of gorging myself in one sitting on about twelve pounds of eggs, pasta, meat, shrimp, cheese, and pastry should normally be viewed as without a single drawback, I have to admit that there was one gray cloud that threatened to dampen my otherwise perfect mid-morning: I’m talking about the often excruciating process of Waiting In Line At the Buffet.

Or, as I like to put it for brevity’s sake, WILAB.

WILAB is only one of several trials or ordeals that have recently been testing my outlook on my fellow man. Some other well-known episodes are Waiting In Line To Use the ATM, Waiting In Line For a Shopper To Pay For Her Groceries With A Check, and, perhaps the most egregious, Waiting In Line To Put Sugar and Cream In Your Coffee.

The latter experience has pained me the most over the years, as nothing puts the average person into such a pronounced state of casual languor and meditation, apparently, then doctoring his or her freaking mochaccino. I’m sure you know what I mean – you’re waiting there by the condiment station at the coffee shop while some thirty-something hipster adds his organic turbinado sugar one grain at a time. These people treat the process like something sacred and not to be rushed, on par with some hallowed ceremony like Catholic Communion or Buddhist Pirit. I mean, the Mayans practiced Báalchequicker, and with fewer spices, than these freaks. It’s damn frustrating, and nearly makes one despair of humanity.

I’ve often thought that the main problem here is that the environment surrounding your typical coffee shop is too idyllic. Warm, soothing music lilts inoffensively from unseen speakers, generic and unchallenging artwork line the walls – that sort of thing. It tends to put people into a kind of trance.  If I had my way, I’d set up a t.v. screen at the sugar and milk station that played, on a loop, something horrific and repellent. You know, truly nauseating imagery like World War II battle footage, videos of autopsies, Ethan Hawke Screen tests – anything the average non-sociopath would avert their eyes from. Trust me, people would be in and out of that coffee shop in no time.

But back to brunch. WILAB is its own special thing.  And I don’t mean the part where you linger in line while waiting to approach the buffet; no, I mean the part where you’ve finally made it and you’re standing there in front of a succession of chafing dishes, each one beckoning you to help yourself – yet you have to wait for the guy next to you to finish what he’s doing before you can continue.

Even if what the guy was doing, as was the case when I approached the buffet line displaying traditional savory fare like bacon & eggs, was absolutely nothing.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but I never thought of this process as a complicated one. I mean, the food is already paid for, and no one was going to monitor my selections. The way I look at it, all that is required of me is to approach the buffet, pop open the chafing dish, excavate contents within, and move on to the next tray. Not exactly rocket science. Plus, it just so happens that I’m known far and wide for my iron stomach; consequently the contents of the dish are immaterial and I can work the line indiscriminately. But if anything failed to catch my fancy, well then to close the lid on the offending victuals and move on down the line would be for me the work of only a second or two. That’s the way it should be – it’s what they call etiquette.

But on loading my plate with bacon and moving over to the next chafing dish, I was stopped firmly in my tracks by the presence of a fellow bruncher standing motionless in front of said dish. Strangely, he wasn’t doing anything – just standing there, looking straight ahead with a marked expression of vapidity. I gave him a second, of course, assuming that he would come out of his private reverie and either commence with the self-service or move on, but he remained idle.

Well, I wasn’t going to let this go on for long, not with all that unseen food there waiting to reveal itself. So, keeping with my habit of avoiding verbal communication when standing in line for anything, I respectfully reached in front of him – being careful not to encroach on his personal space – and lifted the lid to the chafing dish. The idea being, you know, that if Mr. Silent Reverie wasn’t going to be proactive, then I would quietly help myself and move on.

I opened the lid and was about to go for the goods when from behind me I felt him stir, and before I was able to register surprise he had shifted himself in front of me, taken hold of the serving tongs, and was piling the contents of the dish – breakfast sausage, it turned out – onto his plate.

That’s right – by all appearances the man wasn’t in a silent reverie at all, but was, in fact, waiting for me to open the chafing dish for him. And in case you were wondering, he was not infirm, significantly aged, handicapped or otherwise encumbered; nor was I wearing a name tag, chef’s whites or a funny hat, either.

Okay, so maybe I was wearing a funny hat – but it wasn’t that kind of funny hat.

Needless to say, the experience marred what would have otherwise been the perfect brunch. In fact, the prospect of having to follow this person around, opening chafing dishes the whole morning, handing him plates and cutlery and perhaps even slicing his Roasted Lamb, was enough to induce me to withdraw from that particular buffet line and instead queue up by the waffles and sweets.

Not my first choice, you know, but as I said – when it comes to brunch I don’t discriminate.

Been away for a while…

I know that I’ve been away from this blog for some time now (like, four months!), but I can explain. Around October-ish I started a new job at a nice little Cafe here in Long Beach. Nothing big, just something to get me out of the house and away from all all those idle hours spent waiting for Spielberg to call, my screenplay to become readable or the dishes to do their damned selves. I mean, it’s not as easy as you might think getting things done when there isn’t some boss or deadline hovering over your head. You know what it’s like – you wake up feeling productive, brimming with ideas and the creative impulse. An hour later, though, and you’re back in bed with the computer on your chest, a cacophony of amateur renditions of “Barbie Girl” filling the room, and your t-shirt, face and hair bemired with the remains of the previous night’s leftovers. At least that’s the way it is for me.

Well anyway, as I was saying I wound up getting a job downtown. The hours were initially part-time, in accordance with the laws governing all jobs involving aprons and name-tags, but somewhere along the way something went wrong, and before I knew it I found myself doing the daily grind in a full-time manner. This, naturally, took a big bite out of my free time.

Not that I minded, of course; I’m as eager as the next guy to be a productive part of society – to say nothing of wanting to fulfill my role as an at least partial supporter of my family – it’s just that since removing myself from the Brobdingnagian pool of film types looking for a job in L.A, I’ve had kind of a hard time figuring out where I’d be happy working. I want to act, write, and be generally amusing, not sit at a desk going over spreadsheets and quarterly reports or whatever it is people do in offices. Is that so wrong? Add to this scenario the fact that I possess a nice, shiny, 1993-vintage bachelor’s degree in English, of all things, and you can see how the prospect of full employment in a meaningful field would prove elusive.

As it turned out, the full-time thing was really only temporary; my hours at the cafe are card-carrying members of the under-thirty demographic again, allowing me at least a couple hours a day to try to squeeze some small volume of thin, acrid juice out of the withered, dry husk of this really, really tortured metaphor of, um, creativity fruit (?) I have growing in my head.

So time to start writing! As you might imagine, tons of things have gone on in the Miller family since my last post, each episode wackier than the last and each deserving of at least 1,200 words and every imaginable sequence of punctuation devoted to its documentation. Just you wait – it’ll be grand!


I’m still getting used to this Facebook thing. I mean, I like it, I really do, but I’m just not sure if I’m using it the way I should be. I have posted pictures, along with updates (infrequent though they are) for anyone interested in my goings-on, and have even uploaded a link or two. To that degree I guess I’m just your typical user, but still I feel like I could be getting more out of it, as well as putting more into it.

My problem is that I can’t post like so many others do.  For example, I’m not one of those types who can post every detail about what I’m doing at that particular moment. Don’t get me wrong – I know a lot of guys who can get away with it. They’re never doing anything uninteresting. They’re also the same types who are always uploading pictures of themselves debauching scores of young, attractive hipsters at some ghastly discotheque. Me? My life’s a little less interesting. My posts would look a little something like this:

Jason M. Miller is looking at the ceiling. Wondering how many layers of paint are there? And what about primer? Does anyone bother to primer a ceiling? And is it “to primer” or “to prime?”

And I’m not the type to fish for attention by posting ominous, out-of context, obscure and nonsensical jibberish, either:

Jason M. Miller Hurt. Devastated.  What did she mean? Do I clean it up? If stars are like bedpans and pickles breathe marmots, then who can I trust?  Or is it whom? Undulant.

And I refuse to take part in those games, polls and quizzes that are everywhere, though I can imagine some that I’d like to see:

Jason M. Miller took the quiz “What character in the movie ‘Salo’ are you?” and got the result “Male Victim #2.”

I do, however, find myself using Facebook as a place where I can gently kid around with my Friends.  That’s one of my problems, actually – I see the sincere and personal postings of others and immediately assume that if I post a response that I think is funny then they’ll think its funny too.  Sadly, though, that’s not always the case; not only are some of my comments not funny – they’re not even appropriate half the time. Not that I’m aware of this when I hit the “comment” button, of course. It’s usually only the next morning that my witty response to, say, a Friend’s posting that he has been suffering from debilitating vertigo for weeks (“Quit crying and get over yourself, sickboy…”) seems just a tad insensitive.

Last week I even went so far as to post on a Friend’s wall, apropos of absolutely nothing, “I’m going to kill you in your sleep tonight. See you then!” I don’t know – it seemed pretty funny at the time. The next morning, however, he had deleted it from his wall and sent me an e-mail stating in no uncertain terms that he’d be alerting the authorities. Whether the authorities he referred to would represent the nice people at Facebook (who could drop my account in less time than it would take for me to “poke” a Friend) or the actual police (who could probably confiscate my computer and investigate my wise-ass post as a legitimate threat) I didn’t plan on finding out; firing off a nervous apology, via e-mail, was for me the work of an instant. Crisis, for the nonce, diverted.

My posts don’t always end in potential litigation. Some actually are quite funny (though I admit I’ve never gotten a response indication as much. I think it’s safe to just assume that everyone thinks they’re funny).  For example, as any Facebook user knows, you can easily “like” something just by clicking on the “like” button, after which your approval of the initial post’s content is wordlessly registered for all to see.  It’s a great function, really, because it allows the user to acknowledge a Friend (or a Friend’s post) without really spending any damn time getting into a comment-fest with the original poster and twelve of his or her other Friends.  There is, however, no “dislike” button. And that’s a problem.

The solution is of course to actually type the words “I do not like this!” into the comment section. But here’s the catch – I don’t write it when I actually dislike something that a Friend has posted. That would invite the original poster to comment back, and then there would be one of those Facebook arguments that we’ve all seen or, if we’re really unlucky, been a part of. Plus, where’s the humor in that? No, I write it when someone has posted something really nice and sweet, something no one could ever not like. That’s funny. Here’s an example:

Friend: Conner and Timmy and I are going to the pumpkin patch today! They can’t wait to see the petting zoo! Pictures later!

Jason M. Miller: I do not like this!!!!!

Or how about this:

Friend: Hubby and I went out for dinner last night – the first time in a long while! We actually got to talk like adults! Such a nice night!

Jason. M. Miller: I do not like this!!!

It also works wonderfully when a Friend uploads a photo. Picture seeing a single photo on your live feed. It’s a nice picture of, say, a Friend playing with a new puppy.  The Friend is all smiles, and the puppy is obviously in a state of intense joy. They are in what appears to be a living room, surrounded on all sides by a potpourri of various chew toys, knotted ropes, and balls. The picture is so adorable that if you closed your eyes you could almost hear Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s “Ain’t Got No Home” playing in the background. It’s that cute. The photo even has a title: Meet Frosty, our newest rescue dog!

And under it, in the comments section:

Jason M. Miller: I do not like this at all!!!!!!!

Funny, right?

Sometimes words aren’t even necessary. I’ve even learned, for example, that a cleverly placed emoticon can be a wonderfully succinct way of brightening someone’s day with my unique humor:

Friend: Patrick Swayze died today. So sad 😦

Other Friend: 😦

Another Friend: 😦

Jason M. Miller: 🙂

And how about all those fanclubs? Well it turns out anyone can make one! One morning a few months ago I was lying in bed, strangely awake at about five AM, my mind fluttering about as it tends to do when I’m up for no reason. Suddenly I hit on an absolutely hilarious idea. I would create fake Facebook fanclubs! It would be hilarious! I jumped out of bed and ran to the computer. Within minutes I had my first two fanclubs:

Jason M. Miller became a fan of Passing Out On The Floor In A Pool Of Your Own Sick and Finger Painting with Offal.

I invited a couple of Friends and leaned back in my chair, confident that I had just struck comedy gold. I think that as of this posting my fanclubs actually have two members, and that’s not even including me. Success! I even made a mental note to create a new one, this time less wordy:

Jason M. Miller became a fan of Hookers.

But I haven’t gotten around to it yet.

There are certain things, though, that I won’t do, no matter how much I’d love to. One of them is responding to a Friend’s religious-themed posts with something that reflects my current feelings about organized religion and the people who can’t live without it. Trust me, I would love to toss a secular reality-bomb into some of these threads, but the truth is I really do respect other people’s lifestyles, and feel that to rain on someone’s parade just because I happen to think they’re cuckoo is arrogance at its worst.  Still, I can dream, right?

Religious Friend: Jesus has blessed us with another perfect day! We are all here because of Him, and let’s not forget that!

-Three Friends like this.

One Friend: In his name!

Another Friend: Hallelujah!

Jason M. Miller: Oh Jesus Fucking Christ…

See what I mean? It would feel good to get these things off of my chest, sure, but it can hardly be denied that in doing so I would look like a total jerk. And why do something like that when all my other creative Facebook contributions are such fully developed examples of my wit, revealing to all my Friends how smart and funny I am? Why tarnish their opinions of me, opinions that undoubtedly place me at the top of their list of Friends They Admire Most?

Aw, screw it. I’m a jerk.


Catching Up.

It’s been a while now since I last posted, what with summer and its myriad events taking up much of the Miller family’s time and all, but now that it’s mid-September I guess I really haven’t much of an excuse any more. Try as I might to put it off indefinitely, I’m afraid there’s no use fighting the inevitable much longer. It’s time to do some catching up.

As alluded to above Long Beach, in the summer, can’t seem to let anybody settle down for a weekend of mere leisure. I swear that from May through September there is on every single weekend some sort of festival celebrating a specific style of food, music, culture – you name it, there’s a festival for it. There’s a Crawfish Festival, Bayou Festival, Blues Festival, Jazz Festival, Funk Festival, Lobster Festival, a Sea Festival, Greek Festival, the E Hula Mau Hula dancing Festival and Competition, and more. There’s Seal Beach’s Fish Fry, what’s called “Taste of the Coast,” (wherein local restaurants peddle their food from booths on the Long Beach Pier), and of course the annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

This last event we generally avoid at all costs, being the blue-state, hybrid driving, solar oven using socialist elites that we are, but fortunately for us we can hear the damned cars all weekend, even from many miles away. So we got that going for us.

The extracurricular activities aren’t limited to weekends, either: there are several “Stroll and Savor” weeknights (same concept as “Taste of the Coast;” here though the restaurants along Second Street serve their food to passersby from the sidewalk outside their location), Thursday night Concerts in the Park, and a Wednesday evening Farmer’s Market that has not only the requisite local produce on display but also provides music, crafts, and booths serving everything from ribs, Asian chicken, Spaghetti and New England style fried seafood to sweet crepes.

Of course we still haven’t figured out how to check out a calender of events before the summer starts, so our routine usually involved dilly-dallying around with Sarah for the first half of a Saturday before finding out, purely by accident, that one of the aforementioned festivals was starting oh my god TODAY! Then we’d run around feverishly tossing stuff in the backpack, thinking “What luck! If we hadn’t happened to have passed Rainbow Lagoon on our way to rushing Sarah to the emergency room with most of a tube of Mentos stuck up her nose, we’d never have noticed that the Incan Quechuas festival was in town! Screw the hospital – we’re dancing to charango and wooden flute renditions of classic rock songs today!”

Which Sarah would be fine with, of course, even with the Mentos, because like all kids she loves anything with lots of singing and dancing. Her favorite, so far, is the Crawfish Festival, which has tons of Cajun, Zydeco and New Orleans style music, a neat dance area, and more boiled crawfish than anyone has ever seen outside of Louisiana. We went last year, as well, but never got around to sampling the food due to the nearly two hour – yes, two hour – wait in line for the salty red critters. That, along with poorly marked entrances and some god-awful parking, led to much grumbling among the festival-goers and, consequently, a lot of bad reviews on Yelp. Ouch. As we all know, if there’s one thing that’ll make you take a good hard look at yourself and reevaluate your place on this earth, it’s a bad review on Yelp.

Not that we minded, having gone pretty much just for the music (Sarah being only two at the time), but this year the organizers seemed to have taken the poor reviews to heart and worked out many of the bugs. We had a great time dancing to the live music, watching all the older, purple-clad and parasol-wielding ladies and gents parading around to “When The Saints Come Marching In,” and yes, dining on mounds of steaming red crawfish with corn and boiled potatoes.

Which, to be honest, wasn’t much to write home about. We’re from New England, dammit, and we grew up on lobsters – like, whole lobsters, some weighing even more than two pounds. Crawfish, it turns out, are so tiny that in order to get anything resembling meat out of them you have to chew and suck on the body in a disgusting and primitive manner, looking not unlike one of those monkeys one sees at the zoo always making short work of some nut or tropical fruit. It’s embarrassing, of course, but the humiliation of exhibiting oneself this way pales in comparison to the revulsion one experiences upon witnessing the masses around you doing the same. I had a roommate a long time ago who similarly tucked into his roasted chicken legs. It’s damned unnerving, it is, and it nearly puts you off your own food.

But we still enjoyed it, and that includes Sarah, who attacked her crawfish with aplomb. She’s got a good palate, that one, which I have to admit makes me particularly proud, though nothing could prepare me for my surprise on a subsequent weekend when, while visiting the aforementioned “Taste of the Coast” on the pier, she downed – happily – three beautiful, briny, recently executed oysters on the half shell. I kept waiting for her to, y’know, gag as she chewed up the unfortunate bivalves, but it never happened – in fact, she even asked for more. A month or so later she and I were having lunch by the marina after a nice ferry ride, and she had a couple oysters then, too, so it’s not, at least for now, just a fluke.

So yes, the festival experience has been enjoyable, but this being southern California, we also found time to visit all the beaches: Long, Seal, Huntington, and Santa Monica, Pier included.  Throw in two trips to see family (One to Hawaii and one to N.E. – both sans me), a couple of days in San Diego and, of course, Disneyland, and it’s been a busy summer.  I for one am glad that it’s over, if only so that my skin color can return to it’s natural, corpse-like hue. Now we have fall to look forward to, which, after we slog through September, will bring all sorts of other opportunities for weekend fun.

Pumpkin Patch, here we come!

A Mea Culpa, and then Something Serious.

I have had occasion, on this website, to address some of life’s little issues with a casual detachment typical of smarmy writer-types and bloggers, and have made light of things that others may feel strongly about. Things that, in retrospect, perhaps deserved a deeper understanding. I have, after some pretty intense soul-searching, come to see that my poor attempts at humor have shown a complete lack of respect for both the subjects of my sophomoric rants and to my readers, assuming there are any.

Looking over at my body of work I am shocked at the carelessness of my words. For example in one posting I used a universally recognized (and deeply offensive) slur to describe the goings on in the US Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs. For this I am sorry. In another sorry display of insensitivity I joked openly, and without nuance, about rotating the tires on Ed Begley Jr.’s Smart Car. This, we can all agree, was just plain wrong. Once I even went so far as to question the veracity of Rachael Ray’s claim that, in her words, “EVOO is as good a personal lube as any I’ve tried, and I’ve tried many.” What was I thinking?

These things cannot be taken back, of course, but I hope that my sincere contrition, at the very least, might in some way mitigate the damage I have willfully caused.

It is in this new found spirit that I must address something of great importance. We live in a difficult world – a world where war, pain and sadness are visible on a daily basis in our newspapers, at least to the extent that they are not overshadowed by articles about cats being rescued from restaurant awnings. Yes, things look pretty grim out there, and one can find any number of issues worthy of one’s concern and perhaps even action.  For me, however, there is one subject which has so vexed me over recent months that I am forced, on principle, to address it head-on. It’s a big issue, not one that is spoken of very often, and one that has no immediate solution, but the quality of countless people’s lives depend on its resolution, and we, as a society, owe it our best efforts.

The problem I’m talking about is the state of your typical newspaper Comics Page.

Look, I know that the newspaper industry – and journalism in general – is undergoing some major shifts as of late, but by most accounts it is weathering the storm rather horribly. The content has turned to crap, actual journalists are being replaced by bloggers and celebrity reporters, and advertisers are abandoning them quicker than Hollywood talent agents have been abandoning Ethan Hawke. The point is if you’re a newspaper it’s harder and harder to get people to read your rag – and unfortunately for them fewer and fewer of us do.

Chances are, though, that if you are one of the dwindling number of subscribers or purchasers you probably go straight for the comics page. This is not, as some higher-minded types might claim, a bad thing, and nor do I mean to imply that the average person doesn’t read other sections. But starting our day with some episodic humor, starring familiar characters we’ve come to love, is universally acknowledged to be one of our human rights. If my facts are correct I think we even fought for it in Korea. People love the comics – so much so that it may be one of the few areas that newspapers can rely on to bring in, or at least retain, subscribers.

Which is why I find myself going insane – insane! – over the state of the comics page today.  It seems like editors are doing their best to screw this section up just to keep pace with the rest of their failing content. The sad reality is that there is very limited space available in any newspaper for the comics, and there are far more artists out there vying for the space, the exposure, and the subsequent paycheck than ever before.  And we’re not talking about “Blondie” here – the content is starting to get edgier as the next generation of artists – younger, more political, more ironic – comes of age. The problem is that the typical newspaper has room for about twenty-eight to thirty strips (depending on how badly they’ve been shrunken by the editors), and at least a third of them are old, irrelevant, or just plain bad. Which wouldn’t be a problem, if there was a competent and brave Comics Editor to be found in the industry, someone who could grab the newspaper in one hand, a huge red marker in the other, and just start fricken’ cutting.

Instead we get editors who rely on worthless, and probably fixed, “comics polls” in order to pretend to utilize the opinions of the readers. It’s a silly, spineless way to edit the section, and it begs the question – if all you do is rely on polls to make your editorial decisions, then why do we need a Comics Editor? Here in Los Angeles, for example, the Times was forced to struggle with the agonizing decision over whether to continue with the much-loved (and equally maligned) “For Better or For Worse” – whose creator, Lynn Johnston, was actually kind of, sort of, maybe not, retiring, for god’s sake –  or to open up the much-coveted space for something new.

Now if you’re like me, the answer is pretty simple: dump “Worse,” which had gotten tiresome and melodramatic, and start fishing through the deep pool of talented newcomers. Johnston herself was vacillating on her retirement, wavering between giving up the strip altogether (in which case newspapers could run reruns), or alternating between reruns and “redrawings”  of early, classic story lines. This rather than just quitting. Aargh. I mean, Brett Favre is having an easier time coming to terms with his retirement than this woman.

That’s where a ballsy editor needs to step in and just put an end to the nonsense. But not only did the L.A. Times struggle impotently with the issue, but the editors, who couldn’t bring themselves to just make a decision and choose a replacement strip, ultimately spent months running tryouts with Johnston’s strip up against three other wannabe’s (none of which would likely attract younger, more sophisticated readers), followed by the inevitable poll to see which comic their dear readers preferred. The result? A mildly amusing, poorly drawn strip that focuses on – big surprise – a married couple juggling their careers and their kids. I know what you’re thinking – they didn’t want to lose the “For Better or for Worse” demographic. Well, okay, but that’s the problem here. Screw the demographic. The demographic needs to accept that their strip is gone.

I feel I can say with complete modesty that someone at the Times needs to step up and hire me as Comics Editor. Really, just give me one day – no, one hour, and I’ll solve all their problems.  Here’s what I’d do: the first strips to go would be reruns. That means, unfortunately,  goodbye to “Peanuts.” Trust me, I think that Schultz’s strip was brilliant and would hate to see it go, but the guy’s dead. Dead.  It’s someone else’s turn. Then I’d get rid of the aforementioned “Blondie,” because no newspaper should complain that they haven’t enough space on their comics page if they’re still running this relic (the L.A. Times isn’t the only culprit; in other cities newspapers are still giving space to the likes of “B.C,” “Andy Capp,” “Lil’ Abner,” “Nancy,” and even classic “Tarzan.” They all need to go.)

Next up for the red pen is the old school, soap opera stuff like “Rex Morgan, MD” – not because of it’s style, but because of its outdated narrative.  The Times’ replacement for “For Bettor or for Worse,” “Home and Away,” has to go just because it annoys me that it was a choice at all. After that I’ll gleefully wipe out “Kathy”(c’mon, you know it needs to go), then move on to the single-panels like “Marmaduke,” “Argyle Sweater” (a blatant rip-off of “The Far Side”), “Dennis the Menace,” “Ballard Street” and the god-awful “Family Circus.”

That last bit bears repeating: “Family Circus” is god-awful. God. F-cking. Awful.

Well look, I’ve just freed up several square inches of prime real estate! That’s four or five new comics you can add! But why stop there – another solution would be to spread more comics out into other sections, like some papers do with “Dilbert” (Business), and “In the Bleachers” (Sports). For example editors could throw a couple of politically minded strips, like Tom Tomorrow’s “This Modern World,” or Scott Stantis’ “Prickly City” into the U.S. and World sections, just like many of the alt-weekly papers have been doing for a while. Not only would that free up even more space in the Comics section, but it might draw some readers’ attention to other parts of the paper.

Let me be clear: I’m not against diversity of taste – I would retain many strips that make me rage, like “Frazz,” “9 Chickweed Lane” and “Rose is Rose,” and leave some older strips, like “Doonesbury” and “Crankshaft” because their story lines remain topical, fresh, and entertaining.  Others will stay because while, in my opinion, they may be derivative and mediocre, they no doubt have a following that understands the strip in a way I don’t. Hey, they can’t all be “Get Fuzzy,” “Brewster Rocket: Space Guy” and “Lio.” There would still be plenty of family oriented strips in the mix, as well as space for some new faces.

Additionally, editors would have the opportunity to add more culturally and ethnically diverse artists on the page – and no, I’m not talking about some sort of comics affirmative action; it’s pretty widely acknowledged that it’s harder to find syndication if you’re a minority, even if the population of your city has a comparatively large minority population. An example? How about, I don’t know, Los Angeles? L.A, the melting pot that it is, has only one Latino strip, two African-American themed comics, and zero – that’s  zilch – representing the Asian community. What, no one at the Times has heard of “Secret Asian Man?”

Now I understand about subjectivity, and that many, many fans will be furious. They tend to take any change to their beloved comics very seriously, and they’ll no doubt send tons of angry letters and e-mails threatening to drop their subscription. I would ignore the emails. Let them cancel. Move on. The paper may experience a temporary drop in readership, but ultimately it would develop, I think, a newer, younger following that would eventually replace, even surpass, the ones it lost.

There you have it. Comics page fixed! Now the newspaper industry just has to work on that whole journalism problem. Oh well…baby steps, as they say.

Wow. Now that I’ve decided to devote a posting to something serious, I can see what these humanitarian types are always going on about. It really does make you feel good when you attempt to solve some issue greater than yourself. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to posting innocous and catty pieces about birthday parties and home improvement. No more insulting comments about Barbara Boxer’s dry-cleaning bill, no more smart-alecky observations about the good people of Kalispel, Missouri and their inability to make good flan.

No more irony.

I think the blogoshpere will be a better place. I can feel it!


Well, sorry that I haven’t posted anything in a while. I really don’t know how some of these blogger-types do it – whipping something together every day or so in order to keep their loyal fans happy.  For me it’s kind of a chore, actually. God forbid I ever get a job where I have a deadline.

I have a lot of catching up to do, so let’s go a few weeks back.

Lizzy and Sarah went to visit family in Hawaii a couple of weeks ago, leaving me behind to look after some homeowner issues, watch the cats, and do something referred to – rather ominously, I think – as “looking for a job.” Lizzy had to joke that, knowing me, it would be more likely that my days would be filled with sports, alcohol consumption, women of ill repute, action movies, empty pizza boxes, porn, organic hallucinogens and other manifestations of a middle-aged guy’s foray back into (temporary) bachelorhood, but I think she’s way off on this one. In fact, I made a mental note to prove her wrong by, at the very least, not ordering pizza.

The week alone wasn’t all fun and games; as alluded to above we had the brilliant foresight to schedule some needed home repairs while the girls were away. Minor things, like, you know, booking a plumber to do some serious work on several pesky leaks, and scheduling a fumigator to not only come and tent the garage and guest room in order to pump loads and loads of poison into a hitherto well-fed colony of termites, but to also perform what is called “heat treatment” on the main house in order to kill some less established critters. All in all, there were people in coveralls trudging around here at least five of the seven days I was to be “alone,” and, as the saying goes, every day spent waiting for a contractor to either arrive, work, or leave is pretty much a day spent without booze and porn.

The plumbers came and went at the beginning of the week, spending a good eight hours at the house. I had tried to get some writing done while they were here, but it proved difficult to concentrate. They seemed to delight in hollering at me every half hour or so from various points underneath the house, their disembodied voices requesting that I turn on a faucet, or flush a toilet, or drain the bathtub. Occasionally one of them would appear in the flesh, only to direct me to a dismantled bathroom where the aforementioned d. v. of the other plumber would inform me of newly discovered problems – problems that weren’t on the initial estimate but that nevertheless required immediate attention (naturally). At one point I remember some screaming, and something about a body or something under the floor boards – threats of calling the cops, and that sort of thing – but as I’m notoriously forgetful I can’t be blamed for having a hard time recollecting the details.

The very next day the fumigators arrived, and spent the morning covering every inch of the garage, guestroom and connecting deck with that lovely, striped tenting most of us have at least seen, if not experienced first hand. That was a blast, though I have to admit that much of the prepwork – emptying the rooms of any food, clothes, and tissues, wrapping or removing chairs and mattresses, sealing the freezer, making sure the corpses were completely hidden under a tarp – we had done a day or two earlier in order to make my life a little bit easier.

The Colors! How Vibrant!
The Colors! How Vibrant!

The tents were up for three days, and of course I was forbidden by law to enter any of buildings. Easily done when said buildings are the garage and a leaky, dusty guestroom, but I shudder to think of how the week would have gone if we had been forced to fumigate the house itself. The dreadful notion of having to prep, tent, and vacate the place  – with cats included – was the reason we researched the heat treatment. I mean, can you imagine how long it would take just to remove or seal all of the food? What about the clothes – would they have to be covered or packed up? On top of that, I’d have to find a hotel that would take cats. And what about the all the rare, hybrid Emu/Platypus eggs in the attic? Would they survive the poisonous assault? It boggles the mind.

With heat treatment, though, the homeowner can stay in the house and is only inconvenienced to the degree that he or she minds having large, space-aged looking tubes snaking through the house pumping 200-or so degree air into the attic and under the floors. Sure, the rest of the house doesn’t actually get that hot, but it sure came close – I’m guessing about 100 – 110 degrees. Of course I hadn’t the foresight to dress accordingly, and I was stuck sweating the ordeal out in the den wearing jeans and a black flannel shirt (the entrance to my bedroom was blocked by the tubing, so I couldn’t change into something more “heat treatment” appropriate).


I made it through the week, though, even if it wasn’t they way I had envisioned it.  Don’t get me wrong – Lizzy and Sarah have gone off before, but usually we’re able to coordinate their trip with my working insane hours on some ghastly film; the point being that I wouldn’t be home to see them anyways. This time I had nothing scheduled, so it would just be me, the house, and my own mind.

Before they left, I had pictured myself spending the days of their absence quietly reflecting on my life while working the garden or polishing the woodwork; at night I would be listening to Dvorjak, sipping a rather chewy Sauvingnon Blanc and whipping up some rare sesame-coated tuna with balsamic reduction and roasted Jerusalem artichokes on the side. Later I’d be nestled in bed with a steaming cup of chamomile and a good hardcover – I’m thinking nonfiction, like “Salt,” or Pinker’s “How The Mind Works.”

But no, instead I spent the majority of the week tiptoeing around some contractor, feverishly devouring cheese while standing up half naked in front of the fridge, whimpering in the fetal position on the floor, mixing up and applying what seemed like tons of sodium hydroxide, or hunched furtively in front of the computer in the dark. Okay, so that’s not that different from any other day around here, but still – you’d think by now I’d have figured out a way to spend my free time more wisely. I tried to tell myself that any other (mostly) unemployed guy my age would be as equally unproductive under the circumstances, but judging by all the well-adjusted (and employed) looking chaps I see around town, I’m beginning to think that it’s not necessarily the case.

Oh, and the heat treatment in the attic? It destroyed every one of the Emu/Platypus eggs. Every damned one.

So much for my plan B.

Excerpts from the diary of Jason M. Miller

The following is an excerpt from the hitherto undiscovered writings of the late Jason M. Miller, who died unexpectedly last month after a long battle with a gun wielding quadruple amputee. Little is known of Mr. Miller’s life, save for what can be gleaned from the few photos that survived the 2007 fire that consumed his home, garden, and life-sized wax figures; it is therefore a gift of no small value to historians that these writings were ever found.

Tuesday, 19th
Awoke early again. Stared at the walls, the ceiling, and footboard. Wondered, for what seemed like the thousandth time, why we don’t recoil in horror at the sight of our own toes. Could not help but wonder: why am I here? What is the nature of the soul? It was only after pondering this for an hour that I realized I was not in bed at all but was, in fact, running naked down the street wearing only a coon-skin cap, tearing pages out of Descartes’ Discourse on Method and screaming “Esse est percipi!!!” over and over.

Life is funny…

Fought with Lizzy again. God, how I hate these silly spats! It’s always the same thing – shouting, spitting, pulling out hair, crying and, ultimately, sobbing uncontrollably on the floor in a puddle of urine and blood. And that’s before she even gets in the room. I must address my anger issues…the poor woman doesn’t deserve this, even if I have suspected her lately of shenanigans. Why should I mistrust her? For one thing she’s been spending more and more time with Marcos, the pool-boy. She says that it’s imperative they discuss matters related to proper pool care and maintenance, and that it is of the utmost importance that they meet frequently, at night if necessary, or the pool might fall into irreparable disrepair. I try to point out that we don’t have a pool, but my objections seem to only make her angrier and demand more money. Maybe I’m being unreasonable…

Friday, 22nd
Met with Branford early today for a light lunch. He’s looking good, though I must say I’m a bit worried about him. He recently founded a society of academics who insist that all of the deaths at the end of Hamlet were Portia’s fault, and he wanted to know if I was interested in joining. Of course I demurred, being an adherent to the well-established theory that Portia was in fact the manifestation of Hamlet’s inner struggle with his homosexual cravings toward Guildenstern. I mean – even a cursory reading reveals as much! He even went so far as to invite me to speak at their first annual dinner next summer, but I refused. It isn’t that I’m not a powerful speaker – it’s just that lately I’ve lost confidence in my ability to persuade an audience. Last year, for instance, I spoke before the National Society of the Hearing Impaired, and after a brilliant and impassioned hour or so of speaking was met with only blank stares.

Found our daughter Sarah brooding out back by the chimenea again. I have to admit that lately I’ve had a hard time communicating with the girl. She’s over three now and should be able to understand me when I ask her to clean up after herself, but all she does is laugh mirthlessly and continue collecting her dead squirrels.

I’m beginning to think I should have read some of those parenting books Lizzy hoarded…

Decided a walk around the garden might help my mood. How brilliant all the colors of spring are! Hibiscus, geranium, crocus, variety upon variety of rose – everything seems to be blooming at once.  I inhaled deeply for some time, lost in nature’s glorious fecundity. Eventually I was overcome by all the beauty and must have passed out, because I awoke some time later naked, bruised and covered with dirt. Disoriented, I managed to catch the mearest glimpse of my neighbor Saul running out of the yard. Oddly, he was also nude. I imagine he must have been bathing and, hearing me cry out, rushed over to my garden without hesitation. Upon seeing me revived he most likely rushed back to his home to grab a towel. It all makes so much sense, though I still can’t explain the turkey baster and Maraschino cherries.

Monday 1st
Lizzy is so distant today. I long for the days of our courtship, when all was in the future and everything seemed so, so…possible. Lord, she was funny then! I remember the first night I asked her out – it was to the movies, to see the film “Moulin Rouge.” She nearly choked on her anchovies, then told me she’d rather spend a couple of hours in a dark room with the Khmer Rouge. Oh how I laughed! I remember her response: “I’m not joking, asshole.” Pure Lizzy. And so deadpan!

Managed to write for the first time in a while. This damned novel has been driving me insane! Specifically, I’ve been wrestling with the plot – how can I tie everything together before the denouement? I mean, if Tessa is to wed Brock without damaging her reputation with the other seamstresses, then how do I explain her kissing young Pablo behind the broken Stülcken Derrick in chapter 49? And if (as I’ve repeatedly foreshadowed) Nancy, the whittling instructor, survives the fiery crash that not only kills both the sousaphonist Emmanuel and his marmot Gustav but also wrecks his daughter Flora’s Segway, then how can I justify the orphan Trent finding the Peregrine Falcon under his Vicar’s settee in chapter two? Add to these troubles the fact that my publisher has been threatening to recover the advance, claiming that the material is inappropriate for a children’s picturebook, and you’ll see why things are difficult. Philistines! What do they know? They’re not artists!


Found a note on the kitchen table this morning from Lizzy. Says she’s had it with our marriage and that she’s taking Sarah and moving to the Batu archipelago with Marcos. I’m still in shock. Even worse, upon inspection of the house it appears that she has taken all of our unflavored gelatin as well. Her cruelty astounds me.

I am halfway through a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. I fear I may need the remaining 3 ounces just to sleep tonight.

Can’t write today. Still in bed. Feverish, disoriented. Bathed in sweat. Moaning. Time ticks by with agonizing certainty.

Tuesday – evening
Just read this morning’s entry and thought I should clarify –  it was the cat that was in bed, not me. She’s been sick with myxomatosis, the poor thing. I’m actually doing fine!

Friday, 5th
Still no word from Lizzy. I’ve already resigned myself to a life of solitude, though I’m still adjusting to the empty house. How strange it is to not see all of the live baby crocodiles in Sarah’s room! I still can’t believe that just a week ago we were all together – laughing, dancing, reading excerpts off the backs of cottage cheese containers out loud to each other. The kitchen now lacks the warm, comforting scent of baked mung beans that I had so come to associate with life with Lizzy…

The pain is unbearable…

I actually thought of going back to church today. It seems ages since I counted myself among the faithful, and I think the sudden changes in my life may be pulling me back to organized religion. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that there is no God. I know this rationally,  yet part of me craves some sort of meaning in life. But which religion beckons me? Christianity is out, as are Islam and Judaism. Considering Raëlism, if only for it’s liberal views on sexuality and quadrupeds…

Wednesday, 23rd
It’s been a long time since I’ve entered anything into this old diary, but I’ve been very busy. Things are looking up!  I got another advance on a book deal from a new publisher; they’re extremely interested in my idea for a novel based on the migratory habits of the Black-tailed Godwit. They’re even saying it would make a good feature film. Imagine that! Apparently a respected actor – I think the name they mentioned was C. Thomas Howell, or something like that – is interested in playing the lead! I smell blockbuster!

My health has improved as well. I’m much leaner, and my blood pressure is back to normal. Doctor says that I’m as fit as ever, though he’s still concerned about what he calls my “horrific partially absorbed twin arm thing.”

And there’s a new love in my life! She’s a wonderful girl, full of energy and quick-witted. She spends much of her time pushing a shopping cart around the bike path by the beach. There is so much clothing in her carriage that you’d think she lived out of it! And even though we lack a shared language – she mostly just grunts – we communicate wordlessly whenever I pass her by on my way to my synchronized swimming lessons. I feel like a kid again!

I think I’ve really turned a corner!

Was set upon by a marauding gang of malcontents today while walking back from the library.  Several boys, no older than twelve, shouted foul names at me and waved pointed sticks in a very threatening manner. Why me?  I don’t even know what an “Ass-tard” is!  I’m unable to acertain what I could have done to incur their ire, but they seemed very intent on causing me discomfort. One of them even threw down my copy of “Little Woman.” I’m not sure I’ll ever find the page I was on…

Oh, would that my life were more like the March’s!


And here the diary abruptly ends. No other written records of Mr. Miller’s life remain, though researchers are pouring over newspaper archives, pulling any “Letters To The Editor” that include the words “wallaby” and “onanism” in the hopes that more will be found. Historians can only hope.

Chicken Curry with Golden Raisins and Okra

I’m thinking about highlighting – or is it spotlighting? – one of this Miller family’s  regular dishes here every month. My pieces won’t be in the traditional “recipe” style, but will instead be conversational, wordy, and – like everything else I tend to write – exhibit a flagrant and reckless use of punctuation.

I’ll understand if you bail halfway through, but if you have the time and patience to stick around, I think that you might find a nice, simple dish to add to your own menu.

I’ll start with one of our favorites, adapted from a recipe we found in a magazine a couple of years ago. It’s a curry, but don’t let that turn you off if you think you don’t like Indian food. This is quite mild, not hot at all, and very, very yummy. Trust me – I pull this one out of my little bag of recipes whenever we have a guest and it kills every time.

So – start with:

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs. This is my favorite part of the chicken, both to cook and to eat. Thighs don’t cook up dry like chicken breast so often does, and they’re not filled with tendons or gristle like chicken legs, which no one bones anyway (well, they can be boned, but it’s much more difficult – which is why you never see boneless legs in the supermarket).  Also the longer cooking time that we tend to associate with legs and thighs is greatly reduced when the thigh is boneless; tender, moist, dark meat can be enjoyed after only about ten or fifteen minutes. For dishes like this one the skin must be removed; leaving it on is fine for other dishes if you’re searing the meat and then roasting it, but it’s a no-no when your chicken must be simmered in a sauce, as it will be here (unless you like flaccid, chewy flaps of skin on your plate, in which case I can’t help you).  You should have about a pound and a half of thigh meat (about five or six thighs – they’re actually rather small when boned). Lay them out on a nice, large dish.

Gather some salt and pepper. Sprinkle about ½ teaspoon of salt on the top side of the chicken thighs. Grind a bit of pepper on, as well.

Get some vegetable oil. Canola oil works too, as does safflower oil and peanut oil – anything that has a high smoke point and not a lot of distracting flavor. You know what I mean – no fricking olive oil. If I’m feeling zany I’ll sometimes use ghee, which is a nutty, clarified butter used in many Indian recipes (you could buy this at a store but it’s just as easy to make at home with everyday butter), but the veggie oil works fine. Heat about two tablespoons in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (like a Le Creuset) over medium high heat. You’ll want it nice and hot.

When it’s ready drop the chicken onto the bottom of the pot, seasoned side down, and sear without moving around (the chicken, that is – you yourself can move around as much as you’d like). After about two minutes turn the chicken over. If the pot and the fat were hot enough you should be able to do this without much trouble, but you may have to scrape up the thighs with a spatula or flat-edged wooden spoon in order to keep them from tearing up. Cook on the other side for another two minutes or so, then remove and return to the dish you had the raw thighs on (don’t worry about the raw chicken juices – you’re still going to cook it all off later). If you’re using a pot that doesn’t fit all your chicken together at once, sear them in batches – just make sure that you adjust the heat and add your oil accordingly. Cover the dish with large lid or an inverted bowl, and set aside.

Once all the meat is seared and out of the pot,  turn the heat down and take a look inside. There should still be enough oil or fat in the pan, but feel free to add a drop more if it looks a little dry.

Okay. Garlic. Take three good sized cloves, crush them with the flat side of your kitchen knife, remove the skins and stem-tips, and mince them up. Put them in the pot and stir them around for a minute or so until they just start softening. Remember not to let them overcook; browned, crunchy garlic will not only ruin most dishes, but it will probably get stuck in your teeth as well – and nobody wants to look at that. Trust me.

Next up is the curry powder. Curry powder is actually a blend of several spices including, but not limited to, turmeric, cumin, coriander, chili, fennel seeds, cardamom, garlic, cloves, fenugreek, tamarind, ginger, mace, pepper, saffron, nutmeg, poppy seeds, cinnamon, and curry leaves. In India families tend to make the blend themselves, usually from family recipes, which means that each household’s curry is unique. For the purpose of retail sale, however, as well as for restaurant cooking (and general categorization), the basic curry powders can fall under several names: Vindaloo Seasoning (very hot, usually mixed in a paste), Garam Masala (traditional, good on cauliflower), Maharajah style curry (the most prized; heavy on the saffron and therefore very expensive), Tandoori (named after the clay oven called the Tandoor, which is used to make the bright red, roasted chicken you find at every Indian restaurant), and Rogan Josh (great in the eponymous lamb dish). The heavy use of curry in regional cuisine is not limited to India, either; after a little digging one might be able to find a Sate seasoning from Pakistan, or a Balti seasoning from Indonesia, for example. Here in America when a recipe calls for curry it is probably referring to basic, sweet curry powder (there is also a hot version, so check the label), and it’s what you’ll be using here. You will need one rounded tablespoon, though you can adjust this accordingly once you’ve tried the dish. Add it to the bottom of the pot and continue to stir it up along with the already cooking garlic.

Add some Cayenne pepper. Cayenne, a member of the Capsicum family of hot peppers, is named after a town in French Guiana, located in northeastern South America. It is generally dried (or mashed into a pulp), then ground into a fine powder. There’s a special place in my heart for this humble and cheap spice, if only because it’s probably the first really hot spice I recall my family using way back in the eighties, just when our – and much of America’s – tastes were starting to transcend the horrible casserole/fondue/buffet inclinations of the previous decade, and were tentatively experimenting with something a little different – dare I say it, “foreign”. If memory serves we’d add cayenne to chicken and turkey soups, and the marriage of heat and poultry seemed made in heaven. In this recipe, frankly, the heat isn’t even that necessary, since the curry, tomato and coconut make up the bulk of the flavor, but it’s a nice touch just the same. As such a quarter teaspoon or so will do – more if you like things spicy and less if you don’t. Heck, leave it out if you want. What can I do about it? It’s a free country.

Continue to cook the garlic and spices for a bit. This won’t be a delicate process – everything will seem rather dry and will probably be balling up around your spoon or spatula. Don’t be unnerved.

Open a can of stewed tomatoes. I tend to go with Del Monte, though any brand should work fine here. Just remember to check the label carefully in order to avoid the many variations on the Classic stewed tomatoes (which is what you want), such as Italian Style, Zesty with Green Chile, or, heaven help us, No Salt Added.  Remember – stewed tomatoes are tomatoes that are thickly sliced and then cooked with minced peppers, onion and other seasonings, so simply buying diced tomatoes will not do the trick. Your one can of stewed tomatoes will weigh 14.5 ounces. Add the contents of the can, including the juices, to the pot and stir up. The liquids in the stewed tomatoes should have a deglazing effect on all the curry, garlic and chicken fond (the dark, flavorful bits of the meat left over from searing, usually stuck to the bottom of the pot), so make sure you dig it all up while stirring.

Next is coconut milk. This can be found in any decent grocery store, often in the Asian section. Coconut milk is not, it should be noted, the clear, sweet liquid found in the center of a whole coconut, but is in fact derived from pureeing (or grating) the white coconut meat, wrapping it in cheesecloth, then squeezing out the extract. This process produces a substance thicker than you might imagine; when you open the can of coconut milk (and stir it up) it should be of a consistency roughly equal to that of heavy cream. This nepenthes, you should be warned, is staggeringly high in calories and saturated fat, but what it lacks in healthfulness it more than makes up for in awesomeness. You can purchase lower-fat, “light” coconut milk, which is produced from the pulp being soaked repeatedly in water and then squeezed several times, but I’d really rather you didn’t as the resulting sauce will be too thin and much less rich. Plus, trust me when I say that you’re really not as overweight as you think you are. Anyway you will need one can containing about 13.5 ounces. Add it to the pot.

Now take the dish of seared chicken thighs and tip everything, pink juices included (lots of flavor there, which is why it’s good to cover the dish with a lid), into the pot. Shift everything around so that the meat is mostly covered.

Grab some golden raisins. The original recipe I adapted this from (from Gourmet Magazine, I think) called for dried currants, but, having no currents around at the time and many, many golden raisins in stock (they’ve always been a favorite of our daughter Sarah’s), I decided to substitute the latter for the former. It worked well, and it stuck, but of course regular raisins will do as well. The inclusion of this or any other dried berries does not, mind you, make this dish particularly sweet, so you could add more or less according to your preference. I use a smallish handful, about a quarter to a third of a cup. Toss those suckers in.

Next up is Okra. While this sweet, seasonal pod (actually a member of the Hibiscus family) has its origins in northern Africa and is a staple of Middle East, Mediterranean and Indian cooking, here in America it is usually associated with Southern cuisine, particularly as a slimy, seedy ingredient in Gumbo or as a deep-fried side dish. This is unfortunate, as it is a wonderful vegetable, and delicious when simply steamed whole and served with a little butter and salt. It is a bit slimy when cooked (a trait which, in fact, helps thicken traditional Gumbos), but once you get used to it it’s a treat. Take about 10 ounces of whole, frozen Okra (here at Ralph’s supermarket chain they come in 1 pound bags – I just use half). Fresh Okra is good too, if you can get it, but I’ve learned that for this particular dish it is one of those vegetables – like peas or corn – that tastes just as good when you buy them frozen.  Add the Okra to the pot and shuffle things around again.

Make sure the flame is on medium low and everything is starting to bubble. Cover the pot, allowing just a slight opening in order to allow steam to exit the premises and facilitate thickening .

Have a drink. Something dark, preferably single-malt.  And for God’s sake – drink it neat.

After about ten to fifteen minutes go ahead and check the chicken. Stir it up well and have a taste. You should need another half teaspoon of salt, but better, I think, that you determine that yourself as it is of course subjective. If everything’s in order then your curry should be fully cooked and ready to go.

Scoop it out with a large spoon and serve over rice. Mounds and mounds of rice.

Dogs on Parade

The other day Lizzy and I were out taking Sarah to a local exorcist when we met, outside the office door, a middle-aged woman smoking a butt by the parking lot.  The cigarette didn’t bother me though; what really got me raging was her Bichon Frise. For those of you not familiar with these creatures, I’m talking about those dirty white, puffy, toy dogs that all the upper classes seem to be in love with. I’m sure you’ve seen them all over the place – they’re undeniably cute but equally prone, it seems, to being on the receiving end of some spurned or otherwise disgruntled ex boyfriend’s ire. I remember a story from a few years ago wherein some thuggish road-rage sufferer tossed one of these critters into traffic; another, if memory serves, involved the pup plummeting through the air via an upper-level window. None of this is justified, mind you, and I’m in no way condoning any kind of cruelty to animals, but I’m just sayin’ – they’re as easy to hate as they are to love.

I do, occasionally, see the value of tiny novelty dogs. Here in Long Beach we live a half mile or so from one of the wealthier neighborhoods, and there’s also a healthy gay community here. Often the two overlap. The result? Lots and lots of really small dogs. The good news for us is that we get to attend dog costume parades (yes, dog parades), and even I have to admit that these things are a hoot.  The organizer calls the event “Haute Dog,” and the idea is to grab your tiniest, most execrable four-legged family member, dress them up like something ludicrous (but creative), and parade them down 2nd Street in Long Beach while thousands gawk.

Actually we’re blessed with two of these – one at Easter, and one during Halloween. We prefer the Halloween parade (called the “Howl-oween parade and billed as “the world’s largest Halloween pet event”), due both to our general affinity for that glorious holiday of death as well as to the wider spectrum of tiny dog costumes available to owner and viewer alike. I mean, really –  Easter’s nice and all, but how many dog-sized rabbit ears and bonnets can you see before wondering why the hell it was that you left the house in the first place?

During Halloween though, the possibilities are endless. The dogs aren’t simply dressed up and walked, either; most owners pull their pups in wagons that are decorated according to the chosen theme. Think of them as miniature floats. This past year, for example, there was among other things a dog-sized school bus, a tank, and even a dumpster bin, each filled with tiny, costumed dogs. The 2007 winner – yes, there are awards given out – was a little display called “Grilled Chi-s” (A Chi is a cross between a Chihuawa and some sort of Poodle), and that, my friend, I’ll let you visualize yourself.

I can’t say that the dogs are actually mistreated here, but if dogs are said to share any emotional traits with humans then I certainly recognized two: panic and shame. Trust me, I know these looks  because they’re the two I often use myself. They’re also the two my daughter, in her teen-aged years, will most employ upon seeing me in public, but that remains to be seen.  So maybe the dogs themselves aren’t very happy, but everyone else has a pretty good time.

So there are a couple of occasions on which I tolerate, and even enjoy, these little scourges, but most of the time they kind of annoy me. Like when the owners so love the dog that they have to bring it with them wherever they go, usually nestled in an arm or a purse. That bothers me, particularly because it’s one of those things that betrays, in my opinion, a serious flaw in the humans: excessive need. They’re displaying their need to have a companion with them, which, conversely, indicates an inability to be alone, and, y’know, what’s up with that? I mean, I like to be alone – so much so that most of the people in my life have picked up on this and helpfully stopped dropping by, calling me, sending me birthday cards, visiting me in the hospital or even “poking” me on Facebook.

But what really qualifies small dog owners for public smiting is when the life of the pet is valued over that of a human. I remember walking down an alley near an old apartment of ours a couple of years ago, musing thoughtfully on the various architectural styles of the neighbors’ homes and otherwise minding my own business. I had been admiring a particular Spanish-style thingy not too far from my own dive, when I noticed in one of the windows a small, reflective sticker applied from within. Upon closer inspection it was clear that the sticker was designed to direct any firefighters, in the event of the home’s burning, to that window in order to rescue its occupants. We’ve all seen these things, and I imagine they’re generally put to good use. If memory serves I had one myself as a boy.

But this sticker didn’t alert first responders to the presence of a child, no – this was applied strictly to aid in the rescue of the family pet. Now, I’m not a firefighter, and nor do I fetishize them like so many have since 9/11, but Jesus Fucking Christ. Can you believe the thinking that goes on in the minds of the pet owners who put that sticker up? They actually expect that a firefighter would want to make a point of navigating the flame, noxious smoke and falling beams in order to save the Chi in the upstairs room, third down on the left?  Think of the dialogue that must have gone on behind the application of that sticker – I imagine  it would probably go something like this:

Fade In

INT. A spacious, Spanish-style house.

A HUSBAND is lint-rolling the curtains in his well-decorated living room. His eyes are closed and he is humming “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi se soir” under his breath.

Suddenly his WIFE enters excitedly.

Wife: Well, I’ve got the sticker for the window over Hunter’s pillow!

The Husband starts, fearfully.

A beat.

He collects himself.

Husband: Great!

A beat.

Husband: Wait – we have a kid named Hunter?

Wife: (laughs) No, silly, Hunter’s our Bichon Frise!

Husband: (slaps his hand to his forehead) Of course! How could I forget – we’re still waiting for the Malawi government to approve our adoption papers! We don’t have a kid yet!

(Husband and wife laugh for a beat, tension releasing)

Husband (cont.): Anyway, what’s the sticker say?

Wife: Oh, it just tells the firemen where Hunter is so that they can run in and save him if the house is ever overcome by an explosive, life-threatening fire.

Husband: Hmm. (scratches his chin) Hey, don’t you think that may be a bit dangerous? I mean, like, doesn’t the fireman risk injury or death every time he runs into a burning building?

A beat.

Wife: …your point being…?

Wife and husband laugh together some more. Husband resumes rolling the lint brush over the curtains.

Fade out.

See what I mean? This kind of thing can’t go over well with the firefighters either. My guess is that as soon as they see one of these stickers they make a mental note of which room to avoid. I know I would.

So people, if you’re going to have tiny dog, fine. Just try to limit its public exposure to those days when there happens to be a reason to dress it up in something funny – like, say, a lobster. On a grill. And finally, if your house is burning down and you have to get out quick, by all means grab what matters to you most before running to safety – just get it yourself. The firefighters have more things to worry about than orphaning their kids so that your little Punky can live another three dog years.