Monday, July 31, 2006

cold spring tavern

We were headed north toward Solvang and Los Olivos on Day One of our little Sideways getaway. Winding our way along Highway 54, the San Marcos Pass through the Santa Ynez Mountains I spotted a smallish cedar brown sign with narrow yellow lettering. Stagecoach Road, it read, followed by the tantalizing words Cold Spring Tavern. An arrow pointed left.

"Turn here!" I hollered.

"Turn where?" a startled Turk hollered back. He hit the gas and we headed straight for a cliff.

"Back there!"

"Back where? Why? It's too late."

"No, no, it isn't! It's Cold Spring Tavern! I've heard about this place. I've seen pictures ~ it looks great! I've always wanted to go. I didn't know it was in here. Turn around!"

"Okay okay okay. Hold your horses," he intoned with the zen-like equanimity that has seen him through 23 years of road trips and nearly 20 years of marriage.

Rule Number 1 of Road Travel ~ never argue with your wife when she's shouting at you on twisting mountain roads. Whatever it is, it can't be as bad as going over the rail. Not usually.

We U-turned back, hung a sharp right and wound our way along a narrow path. We found it by a tiny waterfall and parked in the small clearing bordered by a steeply sloped, rocky embankment. I grabbed a jacket as a sweet cool breeze rustled the leaves overhead and we stepped out of the car into the sylvan glade. Built in 1885 as a stagecoach stop for weary travelers along the Pass, the tavern was all I'd imagined it would be ~ a deliciously cozy haven; authentically rustic and thoroughly romantic. I was enchanted.

"Let's live here," I murmured as we entered the front door.

"Let's eat first," replied the Turk.

He ordered a huge house burger served on artisan bread with fat fries and a large glass of freshly brewed iced tea. I had a lovely house salad with lingonberry dressing, followed by the special. The grilled King Salmon glistened plump and coral on it's bed of bright red and green grilled peppers, lightly sauteed spinach and creamy mound of garlic mashed potatoes. The house Chardonnay was crisp and light and filled my head with a soft amber mist. Everything glowed with the golden warmth of old wood, afternoon sun and decades of hearty conviviality.
Even the stuffed goat's head in the corner smiled down on all benignly; forgivingly. Life, I thought musing happily over that luscious salmon, was sometimes something very close to perfect.

"I'm not leaving," I told the Hubs as we left.

"I know, dear," he said, hands in pockets, shooting me a sidelong glance. "But that means, of course, we'll never get to Cambria."

I sighed. He was right. A very wise man, that Turk. I've always thought so, and I thought so even as he backed into the steep rocks with a resounding crunch on our way out of the lot.

"Shit!" he said, abandoning all aforementioned composure. "Did I damage the bumper?"

I got out and looked. "I don't think so," I said. We were tight against the rock, and I couldn't really see anything.

"Thank god," he said.

I hoped for the best. You don't mess around when life is busy being something very close to perfect.

Rule Number 2 of road travel; never tell your husband that he may very well have put a sizable dent in his beloved bumper. Not on the first day of your road trip. Not if you want to make it to Cambria.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


The heat must be getting to me. As temperatures continue to hover in the triple digits pretty much everywhere from Albuquerque to Anchorage (105 degrees here so far today) the lizards are invading my house now in search of shade. One the size of a Gila monster just showed up in my garage while I was doing laundry. I jumped up on the washer and screamed until my husband came running in.

"Look look look!" I yelled, pointing down at the floor. The lizard shot his forked tongue out at me.

"What what what?" my husband yelled, looking straight at me and completely missing the monster, who turned and skittered under the car.

I have an absolute horror of lizards. I have nightmares about them wherein they invade my yard, my house and my closets, entirely covering the ceiling and the walls. They attack. I don't know what it means. It's a phobia, I guess. But I digress. It must be the heat.

So I found myself the other day in a place I never believed I would. There I stood, looking suspicious and vaguely ashamed of myself in the self-help section of my local Borders bookstore.

I have an aversion to the self-help industry in general. It isn't that good people haven't sought and been helped by some books/television shows/seminars/cults ~ I know that they have. There are legitimate practitioners with expert knowledge in their field whose primary goal is indeed to help people overcome serious problems, and they are to be lauded.

Unfortunately, these authors are overwhelmed by the glut of formulaic 'Pablum for the Chicken-minded Soul' style books written by opportunists with no more legitimate claim to a superior understanding of life, love, or how to lose 10 pounds than you or I. Common sense is repackaged as new and significant insight by some media guru or another, when in fact we all already know exactly what we ought to be doing to improve our lives: Eat less, exercise more. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Get some sleep. Share. Enjoy all things in moderation. Choose your friends wisely and seek their council. That way, when your boyfriend forgets your birthday and stands you up for the fourth time this month you won't have to shell out $24.95 for a book by an erstwhile stand-up comic that explains that "He's Just Not That Into You." You'll know. Your mates will tell you. Ask.

Besides, there is probably more wisdom to be found in one poem (the world is too much with us, late and soon...) and more truth in one novel (We live as we dream - alone...) located in the aisle dedicated to 'Literature' than in the entire 400 titles designated as 'Self-help'.

And yet, there I was.

I have been lately inspired by the blog of
Danny Gregory; artist, author, teacher and genial journalist whose exhortations to just sit down, shut-up and draw something have jump-started a slumbering desire to take seriously and improve my own efforts. I expected to find his book, "The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to Be the Artist You Truly Are" in the 'Art' section but apparently wanting to draw better is a form of self-improvement. I never would have thought of it that way.

Looking around to see if there was anybody I knew, I risked eye contact with a middle-aged man with dark hair and glasses perusing a book in the History department. He quickly averted his gaze and I found myself hoping he didn't think I was there for that prominently displayed Dr. Phil "Love Smart" title. Why should anyone care about the judgement of strangers, you may ask. Well, I don't know, but I'll bet Don Miguel Ruiz, the author of "The Four Agreements" which promises to "reveal the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering," does. I had no time to find out. I headed at once for the 'G's, grabbed my book and trotted off to listen to some music.

In retrospect, maybe I should have checked to see if Ruiz or Oprah or somebody could help me with my lizard phobia thing. If the weather gets any hotter and those damn reptiles any bolder (one just rang the doorbell and demanded protection money) I will have to go back for self-help or go on medication. You never know. I wonder if Phil's really a doctor. He might be able to fix me up.

In the meantime, I'm working the book. I'm enjoying it. It's opening up my tiny mind. I'd post pics, but once again I'm having difficulty uploading images. Must be the heat.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

all about the wordplay

I do not do crossword puzzles, but I am tormented on a daily basis by someone who does.

"You've read Eliot," he'll begin casually, not looking up from his paper.

"A...little," I'll reply. I find it in my best interest to let him think I am more intelligent and erudite than I really am. It's part of my imaginary mystique, and the only way I can get him to let me make major purchasing decisions. Still, I am cautious.

"It was a long time ago," I warn.

"What's an eponymous Eliot title; Dash dash dash M; dash dash D dash?" He says it like that; dash dash dash, which only serves to bewilder me further. Again, I reflect upon my staggering lack of culture.

"Cats!" I trill, confusing T.S. with George, 8 letters with 4, and ignoring M and D completely, as it does not conform to what seems to me to be the fairly obvious solution.

"Cats?!" He shoots me an incredulous look. I can read his mind. Sometimes he is wondering what he ever saw in me, and where I really went all those times I claimed to be on campus earning a degree. Other times he suspects I am holding out on him, the perpetrator of some cruel effort to deprive him of the joy of finishing the Sunday Times crossword puzzle before the golf tournament comes on. This does me a grave disservice. I am not unkind. I am just functionally illiterate.

Still, as my choice of mate would indicate I am drawn to intelligent men with a well-developed sense of humor and a firm knowledge of who they are and what they want out of life. On Thursday I got to spend some time with a few of my favorites.

"Wordplay" is a fresh, funny and fascinating little film featuring self-described enigmatologist Will Shortz and a cast of like-minded puzzle enthusiasts, most of whom bring unabashed nerdiness to dizzying and joyful new heights. Shortz himself, alternately described as "monk-like and remote" or the "thinking-girls' pin-up boy" is decidedly the latter ~ with a wide-open countenance and charmingly amiable manner, he is a man who has found his true vocation and is simply delighted to be able to share his gift with anyone else who cares to play along.

Play along they do, and it is an unadulterated pleasure to hang out with (my personal pin-up boys) Bill Clinton and Jon Stewart, in addition to as varied a crew as (Yankee pitcher) Mike Mussina, the Indigo Girls, Ken Burns and Bob Dole as they demonstrate their crossword-solving prowess and routines. (Bill does his in pen, Jon is so confidant he volunteers to do his in glue stick; Bob Dole claims that the whole election thing was "a puzzle to me.")

We ride along as professional puzzle constructor Merle Reagle drives down the road spontaneously rearranging letters on passing signs ( Dunkin' Donuts becomes Unkind Donuts, and Noah's Ark; No! A shark!) and then watch, rapt, as he builds a puzzle sitting at an empty dining room table with nothing but his pencil, a piece of paper and an impressively agile mind.

The film's heart is to be found in the crossword competition held annually at the Stamford Marriott, Connecticut, where the contestants are invariably brilliant, endearing, consummately competitive and yet thoroughly decent human beings, and it is to their endless credit (as well as that of the filmmakers) that the sight of what appears to be a roomful of brainiacs taking a series of competitive tests becomes an engrossing, even thrilling event.

I won't tell you who wins. But Bill, Jon ~ boys? Make some room on the wall ~ mamma's got a brand new pin-up. Proper name, ten letters meaning 'sexy'.

I'll give you a hint. It's W dash dash l; Dash dash o r t z.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

ideas I wish I'd had first

Fortunately for the Bill of Rights and free-thinking Americans everywhere, the dread but seasonally ubiquitous Flag Measure has failed again ~ this time by a single vote.

The best suggestion I'v heard so far to retire this ridiculous waste of time, money and civil liberties once and for all came in the form of a letter to the editors of the LA Times:

I suggest that flag wrapping, not flag burning, constitutes the most egregious desecration of the flag. Flag wrapping is the practice by politicians of wrapping themselves in the flag, especially during an election year. An excellent example of flag wrapping has just been provided by members of Congress who pushed for a constitutional amendment that would give them the power to ban flag burning by private citizens. I propose a constitutional amendment that gives Congress the power to ban flag wrapping by elected officials, beginning with all members of Congress.

Los Angeles

Brilliant! Now, why couldn't I have thought of that? It's an elegant solution to a problem that seems to exist nowhere as much as in the minds of the greedy, dim-witted, hypocritical blowhards that we the people, in spite of all the howlingly obvious reasons not to, still insist on sending back to their cushy congressional cash couches year after year after demoralizing year.

I urge you to write your congressperson today regarding this important constitutional amendment. BAN FLAG WRAPPING NOW! Write early, write often.

Happy Independence Day!