The Circular Files

Okay, okay. I haven’t contributed anything to these electronic pages for weeks. Truth be told I’ve been editing my latest book, giving it a thinning haircut so that it looks virtually the same as before the edit, only, well . . . thinner. Good thing, too, because the original first draft was 2000+ pages and at the moment it’s maybe 850. That translates into an actual 600 page book – all of it totally fascinating, I assure you.

I’ll probably have to cut some more.

However, it’s not like I haven’t been thinking of stuff to write for this column. I take my responsibilities and good fortune seriously. As proof, here are some of the recent ideas I’ve had.

1. Ink Stained Wretch: A parody about Mel Gibson insulting the Jews, only I'm Gibson, and I claim that fumes from my ink-jet printer cartridges are to blame. Being Jewish myself, though, I thought maybe I should rethink this, or at least find someone(s) absolutely no one likes, to insult. Still looking.

2. In Search of the Cat: My new book is about the greatest surfing story never told: an oral biography of Miki “da Cat” Dora. So I thought I’d write about my struggle to remember the names of all the cats I’ve had since I was a child – not counting the kittens we gave away, of course. What a perfect tie-in! You see what I’m getting at? To show you that I’m just not pulling your tail, here’s the list: Katz. Melvin. Tux. Pudgy. Sarah. PeeWee. Norton. Smokey. Lucy. Buddy. Holly. Louise. Louie, Jr. Solid. Poot. (Don’t ask.) Patrick.

3. No Opinions, All the Time: I used to tell my wife that I had no opinions. That’s also what it says on my website. Wouldn’t that be a nice way to go through life, avoiding confrontation? Then I realized no one would believe me, and I don’t have the energy to argue about it. I also made some notes about whether principles and politics could co-exist, but I couldn’t stop laughing long enough to keep typing.

4. When I moved to California in 1964, there were a lot more hydrangeas in the Valley. What happened to the hydrangeas?

5. I’ve always wanted to write about our city’s awful traffic situation. Every time I’m on the 101 between Tarzana and Studio City, I think of Los Angeles as the spoiled dream. I used to see the Coldwater Canyon off ramp sign and think, Hey, change the C to a G and it’s Goldwater. Ha ha. Now, if I look up, I’ll have an accident. I used to be able to make it from Granada Hills to Westwood in 15 minutes, in the middle of the day, in an underpowered VW bus. Yes, it was 1969 and I was going to see my girlfriend, but I still don’t think I laid that heavy on the gas pedal. Incidentally, this was a bus in which I got a ticket for getting on the freeway too slowly. I’m fascinated by traffic theory and how we get traffic jams for no good reason. But then I thought, Who wants more bad news?

6. Please Mr. Postman: I get so much crap in the mail I thought I’d log it all for a week. We get the usual flyers and coupon books and market clippers. Friendly real estate agents send us glossy postcards. I especially love the ad for Lasix surgery: “Special! Only $399.99 for one eye. $699.99 for both. I don’t think surgery should be sold that way. I’d sooner get my Lasix at Costco. We also get plenty of catalogs, and not just at Christmas. It wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t come in my name, my wife’s name, my first name and her last, and vice versa. Four copies of each. And each time I call to get off the list, they act like I’d just interrupted them at dinner time. And then there are the many, many credit card solicitations! Sometimes three a week from the same bank. Talk about wasting trees. Also, that gummy stuff they use to hold the pseudo-credit cards to the letter always screws up my paper shredder.

7. The Nightcrawler: Just on my stretch of Ventura Blvd in Tarzana there are, I think, eleven billboards for cars, TV shows, a gentlemen’s club, some sort of lube job. You can’t get rid of them, though, so I thought it would be fun to alter them at three in the morning. I’m just waiting for my ninja suit to come back from the cleaners. My new pet peeve is the Volvo billboard that asks, “Who would you give a Volvo to?” I used to have a Volvo, so I’d just fix the bad English. But really: Whom wrote that?

8. When is a Hump a Bump and Vice Versa? I think the proliferation of speed bumps, speed humps, and speed tables on residential streets has gotten way out of hand. They’re growing like kudzu. I itch to go fast just to get past them, but I can’t because it would crack my car frame. The only upside is seeing the word “Hump” in big block letters in the road. Come to think of it, when I’m through with the billboards, I could add “All night long!” right there in the street.

9. Hey, My Mom’s on Television: Not really. But my mom thinks she is. It’s old age. It’s living alone. She watches too much TV and now she thinks she lives in that world, and the real world is just TV. I’d get her out of the house if I could, but she won’t go. I’ve already told you how the Weather Channel folks offered her a job. Thank goodness she turned it down. Now, I hear she co-hosts Craig Ferguson’s late night talker. Well, at least the woman’s got good taste.

10. It’s Too Far, Let’s Go Back. This one began with an anecdote about how I realized I was washing my feet in the shower just fifteen seconds after I had already washed them. My hearing is also not what it used to be, because my wife later told me she saw it all happen in the mirror and was screaming, “No! No!”

The problem, of course, is that I’m a baby-boomer only a few long years from turning sixty, and I don’t think my generation, despite our narcissism and appalling fear of getting old, ever imagined we’d really live this long or come this far.

This reminds me of a little story.

When I was a kid and lived in the Bronx and then Teaneck, N.J. we had a running joke about my step-grandfather. His name was Leo Spindel, but we just called him Spindel (pronounced: Shpindel). Whenever we’d take a family trip, invariably, when we were within a mile or two of our destination he’d always say, “It’s too far. Let’s go back.”

It didn’t matter if we’d gone ten miles or 200.

We laughed then. I appreciate his anxieties now. What a perfect metaphor. What a long strange trip it’s been. There’s much I’d like to go back and do again; nothing like doubling your pleasure. There’s much I’d like to do over; take a mulligan of sorts. But it doesn’t matter how far we’ve come, only that we’ve come far.

So I’m focusing on the future, and what I might write about next.

As this column resoundingly proves: There is no going back.

It also proves that throwing out the garbage can be lots of fun.

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