Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Bankruptcy at Borders"

One of the reasons I was so excited about moving to Sherman Oaks was that there is a Borders right around the corner from my new apartment.

Yesterday, I learned that that Borders is one of 200 of the company's 642 stores it is closing. You see, Borders filed for bankruptcy protection.


I should have known something was amiss when, during one of
my recent visits to Santa Barbara, Calif., I noticed that the Borders on State Street AND the Barnes & Noble – in the next block – were closed. I hadn't been to Santa Barbara in several months, so I was surprised then saddened.

You see, since moving to "Cali" in 2006, bookstores have become my "groove." Especially if they have Wi-Fi.

I read somewhere a while ago that the bookstore had become the new library, a place where a person could get lost among the tomes on its shelves or enjoy a cup of Joe while people-watching. I can't tell you how many hours I've spent at Borders over the past few years. In Santa Barbara. Glendale. Pasadena. Sherman Oaks.

So, to me, knowing that Borders Group Inc. is closing the store on the corner of Ventura Boulevard and Cedros Avenue made me feel ... well, like the person who gets to the party right as it is ending.

"Man, that was a good one! You missed it. Too bad."

Seems like this is the story of my life, sometimes. Or, at the very least, a recurring theme.

I served in the military several decades ago, thinking I would travel the world then – after I'd served my hitch – use the G.I. Bill to finish college. That plan went awry when I learned from the Air Force recruiter I was talking to at the time, that the G.I. Bill, as I knew it, had been discontinued ... six months before I'd signed up.

And now, years later, just as I'd gotten used to the idea of having a place to chill out and expand my horizons – within a five-minute walk from my front door – that plan has gone awry.

Oh, well.

There's a public library a few miles away. I wonder if it has Wi-Fi.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Doggone it!"

I like dogs. Always have. Sometimes, though, I believe some dog lovers take things to the extreme.

Not that the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is an example of dog lovers being extreme, but in a way, I am glad it's all over.

A 5-year-old Scottish deerhound named Hickory won best in show at the esteemed New York event. And that's good. More power to Hickory ... and her owners and handlers. And anybody who might be a fan.

Just as long as they aren't snobs about it.

Yeah, yeah, I know all about how people treat their dogs as if they were their children. I happen to know some canines who eat better than some humans I know. And they certainly get better medical (and dental) treatment. That's OK, I suppose.

One time, while I was living in New York's borough of Manhattan, I came upon a woman who was walking her dog ... and the dog and its owner were wearing matching "outfits" - Burberry coats and black boots. I had to stop and gawk. Really. To be fair, the dog was a small one and the "boots"-- I later learned -- protected the animal's feet from the salt that it was on the sidewalks. It was during the month of January. Still, I thought the whole scene surreal.

I haven't seen that level of doggy-style coordination here in California, but the other day I watched as a woman held her purse down so that her terrier could jump into it. I actually thought that was pretty cool, by the way.

I just get irritated when I come across folks who act as if THEIR dog is THE dog of all dogs, as if all other dogs are less. Not cool. More than once when I was walking Lucy -- my "girl" (more on Lucy later) -- I've come across people who see us approaching and they give us a look ... as if we don't belong on the same street. Lucy is a 9-year-old rescue. She looks as if she is mixed with Pit Bull and German shepherd and she is one of the most mellow, sweet dogs I have ever met. The whole Michael Vick thing didn't help, but I'm not condoning nor faulting Vick, who paid for his crime and has moved on. At any rate, the snobs sometimes need to be taken down a peg or two every now and then.

Of course it cracks me up when these "pedigreed" pooches get their "dog" on, sniffing others (you know how dogs do) and even misbehave from time to time.

My upstairs neighbors own two Chihuahuas, one of which is missing a front leg and uses a prosthesis to get around. Then there's Blues, who lives nearby. Blues picks up his toys and puts them in a box when he's done with them. And Bones, who gets so excited to see you that you'd think he is going have a seizure.

You probably won't see Bones or Blues or even Lucy at Westminster.

Maybe there should be a major dog show for regular dogs, dogs who don't have papers or pedigrees ... but are stars just the same.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Roses are red"

Valentine's Day.

If you're in a relationship, this is one of those holidays that you cannot forget about. You'd better not.

Funny thing, though. I don't believe it's been so commercial. I'm pretty sure it hasn't always been this way.

Roses are red ...

According to Wikipedia, Valentine's Day is named after Saint Valentine, a Christian martyr. And it's traditional to express love for each other by offering up flowers, confectionery and sending greeting cards.

I can remember when the most popular students in grade school would come home with the most valentines. Things became more complicated, years later, when I dated. Though I never considered myself a "playah," Valentine's Day got rather expensive. And complicated.

This one didn't like roses. That one did. This one loved chocolate candy. That one was allergic.

Nowadays, things are simple.

And I'm glad, too.

Roses are red.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"The Grammys"

I just finished watching the 53rd annual Grammy Awards show on TV.

Call me crazy, but I am not in the groove anymore where this award show is concerned. For one thing, the show, which was televised from Staples Center downtown, not too terribly far from where I live, was broadcast on CBS and began at 8 tonight. But by the time the show aired on the West Coast, it had actually been over for about three hours. I'm not sure why that happened, but it threw me off.

If someone could explain to me why this arrangement was made, I'd appreciate it.

I used to follow the Grammys ... to a deeper level than I do now, but to tell you the truth, I was not familiar with more than half of the artists who were nominated and won. So, in keeping with the times, I watched a webcast of the arrivals on my computer and I even tweeted after seeing some of the interesting and entertaining tweets posted by others.

I had to add my two cents worth.

Actually, it was pretty cool that the pre-televised version of the show was streamed on the Web as well.

As I call myself a bit of a music lover, even to the point of "messing around" on the trumpet now and again (the drunker you get, the better I sound), I enjoy the Grammys. There were several highlights that stand out:

  • Lady Gaga arrived in her "egg" and when she "hatched," she looked like '80s-circa Madonna. Both Madonna and Lady Gaga are on my iPod, by the way.

  • Eminem's performance (even though he wore his pants down his butt) and the fact that he's been known not to smile in public.

  • Cee Lo Green, accompanied by Gwyneth Paltrow and several Muppetlike puppets, performed "Forget You" (the song's actual title is "F-word You," which I found hilarious) -- but you cannot say the F-word on network TV, right?

  • Justin Bieber did NOT win a Grammy for new artist of the year, which went to jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding. Excuse me, but I do not suffer from Bieber-fever. And according to one 5-year-old I know, "He sings like a girl."

  • Saturday, February 12, 2011

    "What happened to the rakes?"

    This morning, as I walked the dog near Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, I noticed something. It was quiet. There was no annoying sound of a leaf blower.

    It took me a minute to wrap my brain around the concept.

    You see, just about every other day of the week somebody somewhere near my apartment is working on somebody's lawn. As stereotypical as it may be, all you really have to have is a truck it seems, a lawnmower, a weed wacker and a backpack leaf blower. I say "stereotypical" because I haven't seen one yard work crew that was not Hispanic. And the one time I approached the operator one of those backpack leaf

    blowers, he couldn't understand me and I couldn't really understand him. I don't want to get into the whole illegal immigration thing here and turn this posting into a debate (Besides, who's to say these crews are illegally working in the United States?) but I have no problem with someone coming here to try and make a better life for themselves.

    Isn't that the premise upon which our great country was founded in the first place? And not to turn into "Mr. History Lesson," but to my understanding, the only people in the U.S. who didn't come from somewhere else are the American Indians. So I don't get it when certain people rant and rave about how certain other people shouldn't be here and how there is a certain crime element that comes in ... blahblahblah ... and how we need a border fence ... blahblahblah ...


    I don't really want to do yard work, anyway. Nor do I want to clean up after folks, or care for someone else's kids. I'll do these things if I absolutely HAVE to. And the way things are going with the economy, who knows?

    It was worse before I moved to Sherman Oaks a couple of months ago, when I was in North Hollywood. There, the noise started promptly at 7 each morning. It didn't help that I was often getting into REM sleep right about this time.

    And the racket would go on for about two hours or so.

    But the lawns were neat. That's for sure. And the lawns are neat where I live now, as well. It's just a bit noisy, that's all.

    It's just the use of a leaf blower that gets me. Leaf blowers are noisy. They're bad for the environment. Whatever happened to rakes, anyway? Can anybody tell me that?

    At least once a week, the outfit that works on the grounds of my apartment complex clears the garage. With a leaf blower.

    One day recently, I saw the operator blowing three leaves across the garage floor and out into the street.

    Three leaves.


    Friday, February 11, 2011

    "Black History Month"

    This month, February, is Black History Month.

    And it chaps my ass to see young blacks with pants hanging so low theirs is all out for the world to see. I mean, come on! Pull up your pants!

    I was in a Starbucks this afternoon and a young brother came in and ordered a mocha-frappa-whatchamacallit. I mean, the guy’s pants were so low, I could see the labels on his underpants. And I didn’t want to see that. Believe me. Watching him made me want to go up to the young man and say, “Youngblood, PULL UP YOUR PANTS!”

    I didn’t, though.

    Instead, I thought about my regular coffee – with room for cream. But it hit me.

    This is Black History Month. I should be doing something to recognize this. Why was I tripping on what the folks in the office think of me recognizing my roots and my history?

    Why should I be upset about the young man with the way-too-low jeans?

    Then, after the Starbucks clerk gave me my drink, I thought about the Middle Passage and what my high-school history teacher, Mr. Barnaby, told me and the rest of my class back at West Side High School about it. What he said back then seemed quite relevant through the years, since it took between 30 to 180 days to make the trip. And, to be brutally honest, if a slave was sick during the journey, the slavers had no problem throwing them overboard. Later, I learned that sometimes, when the slave ship was overweight, or if provisions ran low, slaves were thrown overboard. Healthy or not.

    Back in my "militant" days, I took solace in this. "Don't EVEN call us lazy, because if we are here, then someone in the family survived the Middle Passage, so you are probably trying to negate someone who is a descendant of someone else who survived the journey..."

    Now, I'm looking at this kid with his pants down on his ass. And I'm thinking about some of my heroes, many who have done much more than what we've done ... often with much less:

  • Martin Luther King Jr., champion of civil rights, needs no introduction whatsoever.

  • And before there was Oprah, there was Madam C.J. Walker, who made her fortune working on black women's hair with the hot comb.

  • Frederick Douglass was a fantastic orator, who was a runaway slave, taught himself to read and spoke out against slavery during a time when it was potentially fatal to do so.

  • Elizabeth "Bessie" Coleman was the first female pilot of African American descent.

  • Oscar Micheaux was the first black to produce a feature-length film.

  • Harriet Tubman the abolitionist who led slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

  • George Washington Carver came up with hundreds of uses for the peanut.

  • Hattie McDaniel was the first African American to win an Academy Award for her portrayal of a servant in "Gone With the Wind." She told NAACP members, who criticized her portrayal of maids and mammies, "I'd rather play a maid and make $700 a week than be one for $7."

  • Garrett Morgan invented the traffic signal, later selling the patent to General Electric for $40,000.

  • Althea Gibson made her mark on the tennis court when she broke that sport's color barrier.

  • Alain Leroy Locke was a writer, philosopher, patron of the arts, educator and the namesake of my elementary school.

  • Opera singer Marian Anderson planned to give a concert in the Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., in 1939, but the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let her perform because she was African American. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt was so outraged, she resigned her membership.

  • Crispus Attucks was the first American to die in the Revolutionary War.

  • Wilma Rudolph was the fastest woman on the planet during the 1960s, becoming the first American to win three gold medals in the Olympics.

  • Benjamin O. Davis Jr. was the first African American general in the United States Air Force and led the Tuskegee Airmen in WWII.

    These are just a few of my heroes from history. All of them are gone. But they are not forgotten, so they live on. Some of them you may have heard of.

    But there is a whole other list. This list includes my maternal grandmother, Julia Mae Gadsen, who came up with an interesting plan to leave the South for a better life for her and her daughters in the North. Then, there's my grandfather, Albert Redding Sr., who also decided to head north from Macon, Ga., and get to South Bend, Ind., where he could raise a family. His wife, I learned recently, was one of the first black schoolteachers in Macon.

    Then, there's the host of aunts, uncles, cousins and other relatives - real and "play" - who add to the mix of what is my Black History Month.



  • Thursday, February 10, 2011

    “The clock is ticking”

    It’s been a while since I’ve last posted to this blog. Almost a year. An awful lot can happen in the course of 12 months. A lot can happen in a year’s time. I’ve seen people I care about leave. I’ve changed jobs. I’ve moved. I started building websites. I attended my 35th high school reunion. I’ve experienced the joy of becoming a grandparent. And yesterday, my birthday, I turned 54.

    Fifty-four years. Six hundred forty-eight months. Nineteen thousand, seven hundred ten days. You get the idea.

    Eisenhower. Kennedy. Johnson. Nixon. Ford. Carter. Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Bush. Obama. Eleven presidents, though I have be honest and concede that I have no actual memory of the first one on this list. My presidential memories pick up with the second.

    So, I’m sitting at my newest favorite spot, Crave CafĂ©, on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, Calif. I’m devouring my protein omelete (eggs, chicken, sun-dried tomatoes and Swiss cheese) and I’m noticing how many young people are there hanging out. Laptops booted up and aglow. Some of the youngsters are sitting there, sharing music through the earbuds of their iPods. I see a young couple, sharing what looks to be a cool juice-type drink and listening to music on an iPod. The guy has one of the earbuds in an ear and the girl has the other in one of hers.


    So -- midbite -- watching the couple giggling and enjoying each other’s company, my mind goes back to when Annette Handley and I used to go to the record department at Sears in downtown Gary, get into a “preview” booth with a couple of 45 records and spin the vinyl while sneaking a few hugs and kisses behind the drawn curtains.


    I haven’t seen any preview booths like that lately and I haven’t seen a vinyl 45 in years. Time flies.

    I don’t mind so much being one of the “older guys” in the office who remember when knowing the Dewey Decimal System was key to looking for books in the library … especially when it was time to do a term paper.

    I don’t mind being able to remember a time before everything became digital … when Annette Handley and I used to get some “alone time” in one of the record booths at Sears in downtown, Gary, Ind., back when you could preview a 45 record before you purchased it.

    When going outside to play was the adventure to beat all adventures on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

    When there was no need for a “play date.”

    When there were a handful of major TV networks: NBC, CBS, ABC. … Or whenever there was a black person on TV, how we’d all gather and watch … in awe.

    When you could practically fill you car with gasoline – from “e” – for less than five or 10 dollars.

    When the thought of a student with a loaded pistol on school grounds was simply unheard of.

    When a pair of sneakers didn’t cost $200.

    When folks in the neighborhood knew their neighbors and you didn’t DARE do anything out of line, because somebody would see you doing it and by the time you got home, you’d be in big trouble.

    Times were simpler, and, in some respects … better.

    Don’t get me wrong; I don’t intend to be one of those old “geezers” who goes on about how good things were “back when” and how “messed up” things are now. I’m totally cool with the technology that pervades society. I find it exciting. I only WISH I had access “back when.” I like e-mail (I’ve got four accounts that I use.) I love my iPhone. There’s AT&T U-Verse at my apartment.

    I’m on Facebook. I tweet (though not too much, I have to concede). Oh, and I’ve got my eye on an iPad.

    So don’t get it twisted. I’m not a technophobe… though I do know quite a few of them. And, surprisingly, a lot of them are my age … with children who are into the technology groove. So, you’d think that these self-describe holdouts would embrace a means to stay in contact with their kids, the majority of whom have left the nest.

    My grandson KeyVaughn, who was born in September, will – hopefully – reflect on his HIS 54th birthday. Maybe he’ll reflect on some of the things that I will have told him about growing up “back in the day” by then.

    It’s funny the things you remember as you get older.