I feel like I should have something to say about the death of Michael Jackson; I do write about pop culture stuff, and this was, after all, the King of Pop.
I was never a fan. I won a copy of Off The Wall at a youth center bingo game when I was a kid; the only album in my rotation back then was the Star Wars soundtrack. I liked "Beat It", but only because of Eddie Van Halen - I was wearing bandanas and parachute pants in those days, and Michael Jackson wasn't my trip, dude. It didn't matter; he sold millions of albums anyway.
Lots of things didn't matter, when it came to Michael Jackson. He was "eccentric", "troubled", "childlike", "a Peter Pan figure". These are the words that people told themselves when the stories began to emerge; it didn't matter, the accusations, the payoffs. A father who treated his own children like animate dolls, to be dressed up and paraded around and dangled from balconies. A grown man who enjoyed sleeping with young boys. I wonder if there was ever a point when the kid that carried the Jackson 5 realized that whatever humanity he once had was slowly starting to slip away. These things didn't matter; he sold millions of albums. He was the King of Pop.
Sometimes when I open up the Compose New Post: Pet Cobra page, I have nothing in my head but a title. That's the case today - I stole the title from some movie about a bunch of homeless teenagers. I think. I never saw the movie. I could look it up on IMDB but that would distract me from the purpose at hand, which is to put stuff behind the title, give us both something to read.
The day takes me in all sorts of directions, now that I'm not confined to an office. Everything is work, except when it's not. There is always something to clean - dishes or clothes or the dog or the floors. There are insurance people to talk to. There are bills. There is the work behind the writing - "leveraging social media", reading and responding to emails, constantly checking and worrying over site traffic, planning for the next few posts. The writing is not work, except when it is. There are two kids. One is at day camp and getting him there is work. One is not and right now she's standing up in her crib and shrieking when she should be napping. She's work, except when she's in your arms and you are consoling her; that's not work, not at all, it's something deep and as definable as the edges of a nebula.
The other day I was running. Barefoot, on the beach, at the water's edge. Miles of sand and cliffs ahead of me and an endless ocean to my right, and then turning around to my left. This was play with a substantial amount of work - heart and lungs and blood so loud as to cause complete silence. I was thinking about work - the work of writing, and the difference between writing as craft and writing as art. I ran past a couple of spearfishermen walking out of the surf. Spears and flippers and masks and snorkels. No fish. The writer/craftsman: "they came back empty-handed". But I knew the truth.
(Not a lot of people read this site. I'm glad. This is not work, this is play.)
Artists are eccentric. I don't think I'm perpetuating stereotypes here; they operate on a different and usually pretty interesting level. Art is the unfiltered result of a mind trying to interpret a piece of the world, and whether that takes shape in words, sculpture, drawing, or painting, the artist usually won't get the results he or she wants without some sort of disconnect with the way the rest of us see and feel things.
I say "usually", because my particular artist, the one I'd asked to create a piece for me, took what I'd told him - a vision of waves, incorporating the names of my kids - and got it exactly right. He saw what I saw. And so when I went to his studio, it was with great anticipation and more than a little dread. I was excited to watch him work, to watch him create art. And I knew it was going to to hurt like a motherfucker.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. My 40/40 List began with breakfast. I was jonesing for lox; salty, fishy, buttery lox, atop cream cheese, atop a bagel. Occasionally, my lust for lox flares up like a Vulcan's pon farr; like Spock, I am born of two worlds, and my Jewish half gets these cravings, which can only be sated through consumption or single combat. The problem: I live in the uber-Christian stretch of north coastal SD, where the Chosen and their delicacies are rare. Also, I'd probably go to jail if I killed someone with a big Space Axe. My in-laws live up in the Valley, where there are real delis and kosher markets, but the logistics of going up there to grab some lox for breakfast were a bit daunting. A four hour drive through L.A. rush hour traffic and back seemed a bit impractical, and by impractical I mean Glenn Beck Crazy. (I'm telling you, Paul Giamatti ought to play him in the movie.) The solution: by Yahweh, I'd make my own!
I consulted various tomes: the Torah, the Talmud, the Dead Sea Scrolls, even the tablets of the Ten Commandments (the trick is, don't look in the Ark when you're opening it). None of these contained a decent lox recipe. Thank God for the Internet. A quick Google search revealed dozens of pages laying out detailed instructions for creating a batch of lox. It's not terribly difficult.
1. Get some salmon filets.
2. Put a bunch of kosher salt on them.
3. Wrap them in plastic.
4. Stick them in the fridge and leave them for 12 hours or so.
5. Remove plastic, rinse off the salt, slice, and eat.
Oh, you're supposed to flip them once. And that's it. That's all you do. You don't skin it, you don't actually smoke the fish, you don't need to get a rabbi to bless it with the Magic Ingredient of God's Approval. People pay $15 a pound for the stuff. I got two filets - a pound total - for $5.
But before I start opening Jack In The Lox franchises, I should tell you how the stuff came out. It looked OK:
Actually, it looked exactly the same as it did before the salt was applied. And it didn't taste awful. It wasn't as good as the lox one might find at Milton's or Jerry's Famous Deli - if I'd have bought the salmon from a real fishmonger instead of the local Ralph's, it would have been better. It tasted like salty raw fish. I happen to like salty raw fish, so mission: accomplished. No intestinal parasites as of this writing, but if they appear, I'll be sure to get some pictures and post 'em.
We get a lot of skunks 'round these parts. A lot. They come out at night and get caught in headlights, scurrying across the road; some animals, we know, learn from experience, and the smart skunks know to time their Frogger-esque runs to avoid getting pulped. The near-constant acrid reek of skunk juice that hangs over my neighborhood speaks volumes - there aren't a whole lot of smart skunks.
This particular skunk looked like he died a peaceful death - also a rarity, like a guy dying of, say, a massive stroke in his sleep at Verdun. No blood, no guts. I'd driven by him a few times and the first time I thought he actually was asleep, taking a skunky nap by the side of the road. He was lying underneath a realty For Sale sign. The sign had a portrait of the realtors, a married couple, perfectly coifed, smiling the glassy-eyed empty smile of cultists. Or the smiles worn by the soldiers in the World War II books, mugging for the camera while hovering over the body of a dead SS officer. What an odd place for the skunk to expire, right there under the realtors' sign. His was a death out of Gatsby. The Eyes saw him leave this world for the next.
I didn't really know why this particular skunk affected me so. Until it hit me, much later, with certainty. Someone had left him there.