Saturday, April 28, 2007

Extra Innings

I used to try to think about
baseball, but realized
that I didn't know enough
about the game to
really concentrate on it.

I have heard that thinking
about yard work can be
effective, but growing
up in California, I have
seen too many bikini-clad
women watering lawns for that
to do much good.

A few years ago, I concocted
the single saddest scenario I
could muster: The cries of the
last kitten alive inside a
burning pet shop.

I can remember feeling
drowned in an absurd emotional
rush and my tears falling
onto my girlfriend's neck
and shoulders. I'm still
haunted by the sight of
her eyes slowly opening,
forming the most tender look
of concern as she
wiped my cheeks with her
gentle palms.

Sometime later she confessed
that was the morning she
realized she loved me, that
my tears were more endearing than
any flower or any gift that
could be bought. I was
moved to finally make peace
with myself. Last Valentine's
day, I bought her a ring and
a kitten, and on a whim I
bought us both season tickets
to the Angels.

T Jordan - 1993

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

One person's trash - part three

Listen to this.

Javier Escobedo pushes a gray, wooden-framed cart down a ramp from the loading dock to the parking lot. He has just left the auction floor where he paid $75 for the still mysterious contents of the cart. The cart is taller than he is, and evidently heavy as he struggles to maneuver it toward his pickup truck. He parks the cart behind his truck and kicks the lock tabs on the wheels. He walks around to the front and swings the hinged door open to reveal stacks of computer monitors, VCRs, and other electronic gear. “Nice.” Javier says, and gestures toward the stash. “Better than Tuesday.” He says.

Javier’s business partner is busy atop the ten-foot high pile of large appliances, furniture and boxes of clothing that are cradled tenuously between the home-made iron scaffolds welded to the frame of the 1974 Dodge D200. He’s stacking the merchandise for travel. Javier explains to me that there’s a technique to stacking all the goods so that they can achieve maximum height and still have a stable load. According to Javier, they are sometimes required to repack the trucks at the border as the highway bridges in Mexico don’t follow the clearance standards that we have here in the States. I asked him what happens to the items that still won’t fit in the truck after repacking. “We sell them there.” He says, and thrusts his index finger toward the ground indicating they set up shop on the side of the road, and sell what they can.

Javier starts sorting the goods from the bin, taking handfuls of computer cables, broken keyboards, and anything else that no longer holds any re-re-sale value to the dumpster in the middle of the lot. I turn back toward the loading dock in time to see two women arguing over a rolling cage of clothing. They’re standing in the middle of the dock, some five feet above the parking lot, yelling in Spanish, and pulling the cage back and forth between them. The argument intensifies, and catches Javier’s attention. He abandons his cart and jogs up the ramp toward the women. I move closer too, and witness the larger of the two women take a straight arm swing at Javier who absorbs the hit into his shoulder and back, then struggles to grab the woman’s arms to restrain her. By this time, two other men join the fray, and the scene playing out on the stage becomes part tragic, part comical as everyone grapples to control the two women who have long-since stopped fighting each other, and now just want to be released. Two of the thrift store employees, standing near the entrance of the lot begin walking toward the melee, but they obviously have no intention of getting involved. They walk several steps, then stop, apparently only to gain a better vantage on the theatrics. But by now, it’s all over. The group at the top of the ramp disperse, and the smaller of the two ladies, the victor, rolls the clothing cart down the ramp toward her husband who had been sitting on the tailgate of their truck watching the show. He has the look of someone who has seen the same play many times, knows the ending, and can't wait to get home.

Monday, April 23, 2007

One person's trash - part two

Listen to this.

It’s crowded in here. Crowded, loud, gritty, and poorly lit; but for some reason, I love it. The auction room has the same vibe that causes the visceral turbulence in a concert hall seconds before the main act hits the stage. In addition to the auctioneer’s voice echoing from the PA, a hundred or so bidders yell toward the front of the warehouse attempting to out-shout one another and draw the auctioneer’s attention. There are arguments amongst groups of men, but no fights are breaking out yet. I’m told by one of the bidders that most of the others have unwritten agreements between them as to who can bid for what types of merchandise on any given day. So on Tuesdays and Thursdays you agree to bid on clothing, tools, and small appliances, and Monday, Wednesday and Fridays, you can only bid on consumer electronics, large appliances, and furniture. The arguments break out when someone fails to stick with their agreement – say, if a bin of furniture is about to be sold for far less than it’s worth, and, despite not being your ‘furniture’ day, the temptation to place a bid is just too great. In addition, I’m told there’s a hierarchy amongst the bidders that is constantly in flux, depending on their perception of their own seniority on any given morning. If someone sees himself as the senior potential bidder of a particular lot, and it’s at a price that can’t be passed up, all bets are off, all agreements null and void. So there’s more than one way to pick a fight here on the floor, and, according to my source, there are plenty of them.

The atmosphere here is about as far from Sotheby’s as you can get. And while an upscale auction house relies on high quality offerings, impeccable standards, and established decorum, this auction relies on quantity over quality, the momentum of mayhem, and a climate of spirit that rides somewhere between promise and anarchy.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Privacy Please

Waking to a familiar voice,
"Whispers dig deeper." she
says, squatting down on me,
breathing hot into my ear.
I stare through red eyes at
the neon sign and think of
eating breakfast alone,
getting a glass of water,
finding a new lover.

Stepping into my shorts.
her arm on my back as I
stand to a tilting room
and a sonic boom. I don't
look at her as I walk toward
the kitchenette. Scaring her
with a 9 a.m. beer
might tear her out of
bed, but not out of this
cozy room.

Opening the refrigerator.
A pathetic giggle mixed with
a rusty burp as I realize
how stupid it was for me to
put the beer on the bottom
shelf. I lean into the
head rush and turn into the
spin. Knees on linoleum,
head on vegetable crisper.

Footsteps or heartbeats
echo then stop, a door
slams, the room grows
dark and cool. I blink and
squint to see the
privacy sign spinning wildly
on the handle.

T Jordan - October 1990

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Sandy Bottom

It's Saturday night. My phone
rings and I let the machine
pick it up. It's the
girl who broke up with
me two weeks ago calling
"just to say hi and see how you are."
I make a toast in the direction
of her voice and slosh some
vodka on the couch.

So-called friends tell me she's
dating a surfer from
Hermosa. There aren't any
waves in Long Beach. Not
anymore. Not since they built the
breakwater, and, more
recently, poured gravel along
the breaker shallows to
protect the shoreline from

I look at my hairy gut and remind
myself that at least my
knees are still good. I
picture this girl
and her surfer rolling
around inside sandy
sheets, and her thinking how
hard and adorable her new
hairless friend is -
at least for a while. At
least until she discovers
that this guy can't write
poetry or tie his
shoes without Velcro.

Then she'll call me again,
and this time I'll answer.
We'll take a walk down to the
ocean and sit near the water's
edge, and listen carefully over
the silence of the beach
at night for the ripples
lapping against the gravel.
I'll read her a poem, we'll hold
hands, and track sand back into
the bedroom.

T Jordan - June 1987

Thursday, April 19, 2007

One person's trash - part one

Listen to this.

Welcome to commerce on the fringe - the thrift shop yard sale. It’s been called the last stop on the dumpster express. Donated items and things that can’t be sold at a regular retailer go to a thrift store. What can’t be sold at a thrift store comes here. Five mornings per week this parking lot is the auction site for tons of post-consumer jetsam. Dozens of people bid on rolling carts chock full of clothing, computer parts, stereo components, toys, tools – you name it. Some bins sell for as little as $10, others for more than $100. There are no guarantees here, no returns. Some of the items may work fine; but many will be tossed in dumpsters immediately as the bins are sorted. All that sorting goes on here in the lot following the auctions, and it makes for a lively, somewhat frenzied scene. Trucks piled dangerously high are loaded then driven south to Mexico where the items are resold in flea markets, antique stores, and yet more yard sales.

This place is both a salvage yard and a treasure chest; and to those who make their living selling merchandise that even thrift stores can’t move, it represents something even more profound - hope.

I’m going in... stay tuned.

Monday, April 16, 2007

For Burney

Perhaps you’ve had the opportunity to be the first person on your block to own a really cool item. Did this propel you to the level of popularity you had hoped? I’ll sure bet it did. I remember when my neighbor, Burney was the first person on our block to get a powered lawn mower. It was 1970, and back then, powered mowers were usually reserved for lawn care professionals, those wealthy enough to have a lawn larger than a welcome mat, or, in Burney’s case, someone with a delicate self image who believed that owning cool things would make him likeable. Anyway, Burney’s new mower fulfilled every desire he had for popularity, and made him an instant celebrity. I’m surprised the local paper didn’t stop by to take a picture of him proudly perched over his ½ horsepower gleaming green beauty. Not only could he now mow his 350 square foot plot of sod in less than 45 seconds, but he could effectively scare every cat within ear shot into the next county. Yep – Burney was sitting on top of the world.

One afternoon while I was hanging out with Burney on his front steps, he brought out his little baggie of tobacco and rolled up his cigarette like he always did. He said he had to smoke outside because his wife didn’t let him smoke in the house. I was five years old – what did I know from tobacco? All I know is that whatever kind of tobacco he was smoking, it sure smelled a lot different than the kind of tobacco in my parent’s cigarettes. He used to smoke his cigarettes differently too – taking long drags on them and holding the smoke in his lungs for a really long time. Sometimes he’d burst out in coughing fits and have to take a slug out of his can of Coors to quiet himself. He'd take a long pull on the can, then fling his head forward with a resounding Ahhhhh. "Don't drink beer, Tommy. But when you're old enough, make sure it's cold. Ice cold." Yeah, Burney was a really funny guy. One day after smoking a cigarette on the porch he decided to mow his lawn. I reminded him that he had just mowed it before lunch, but he didn’t seam to want to listen to me. He just laughed a little, pulled the rip cord on the mower and started her up. He started coughing again as the mower blew exhaust toward him, so he walked away from the mower to get his Coors. As soon as his back was turned, the mower started moving forward. It rolled straight off the lawn, over the sidewalk, off the curb and into the street right in front of a car. The car managed to stop with a skid and Burney looked toward the sound, dropped his Coors, and ran into the street. He was a fast runner for an old guy of 30 or so, but not fast enough to grab the mower before a car coming from the other direction smashed into it and sent it sailing 50 feet through the air and careening off a parked van.

Some of our neighbors heard the raucous, and came out to see what was happening. Both drivers from the cars ran over to Burney who was frantically trying to turn what was left of the mower off. I don’t know why, but it took three people two minutes or so to shut down that engine. I stayed on the curb, watching the whole incident go down. I remember the three men trying to yell above the noise of the mower, all the while black smoke billowed from the exhaust. They finally shut it down and lifted it onto the sidewalk. They talked for a while, exchanged their versions of what had just gone down. During the commotion my mom ran out of the house, thinking the car skid and resulting casualty may have been me. She stood next to me until things calmed down a little then took my hand and brought me back inside our apartment.

The next day I walked over to Burney’s house and found him working in his garage. He had several Coors lined up along his workbench, and was bent over the warped carcass of his mower, sweating and talking to himself. I didn’t say anything. I sat on a stool and watched him for about twenty minutes. He didn’t even know I was there. Finally he glanced toward me and blinked. “Hi Tommy.” He said. “Hi.” I replied. “Is it broken?” I asked. “Naw, just banged up a little.” Burney said, looking back down at the heap of twisted metal. “Heck of a wreck though yesterday, huh? Did you see how this thing flew when that car hit it?” “Yup.” I said. Burney paused, looked past me for a moment as if he was formulating a thought, then gave me a half smile. “You’ll probably tell this story to your kids someday.” He said. At that age I had no real concept of time or any notion that I’d ever be a father. “Uh huh.” I said. “Well, do me a favor if you do tell this to someone okay?” “Uh huh.” I said. “Tell them that I got the mower up and running the next day, and it worked just fine. Will ya do that for me?” “Sure.” I said. “Thanks Tommy. You’re a good boy.” And with that, Burney leaned back over the mower, tightened a couple of bolts and started it up. It looked and ran just like new; and Burney spent the rest of the afternoon mowing every lawn along our street; stopping only occasionally to take a sip of ice cold beer offered by his gracious neighbors.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Cruise

About six years ago, Ema and I decided to take a cruise. Once the idea sunk in, we were so excited about this adventure that we swore not to let the fact that we couldn’t afford the trip stand in our way. Nor did we allow the fact that I have an inner ear disorder which obligates me to spontaneously empty the contents of my stomach whenever the ground on which I’m standing moves. Ema assured me that today’s modern ocean liners are so stable and smooth, that you don’t even know you’re on the water. I reminded her of the time I lost my lunch while standing in line for a movie when a 4.2 earthquake hit. Touché.

While booking the trip, we decided that as long as we were spending money we didn’t have, we mize well splurge and get an outside stateroom with a balcony. This way, our last memories of life prior to moving to skid row would at least include a decent ocean view. The kind person on the other end of the phone assured me that we had booked the same room that we saw in the brochure. “Yes sir,” she said, “We have you and your wife booked to share the deluxe ocean view stateroom on the Cordova deck.” “With a balcony?!?” I blurted. “Yes, sir, with a balcony. That will be nine hundred thousand dollars.” Actually I forget the actual amount. All I know is that we made more than a couple of trips to the day-old butcher in the year following our trip.

The day of the cruise had arrived, and we couldn’t wait to get on the ship and check out our deluxe stateroom with balcony! We made our way down into the ship to the Cordoba deck. This should have been our fist clue, as the further down in the hull of a ship your room is, the noisier and less desirable it is as well. Think “steerage” from the movie Titanic. We reached our room, mid-way down a very long hallway lined with buzzing fluorescent lights. I slid the key card, pushed open the door, and Ema and I stood in silence for several long seconds staring into the room which represented our last bastion of fun and frivolity before the vexing and pitiless phantom of financial demise embraced us at the end of the gangway as we stepped ashore.

“The pleasure of expecting enjoyment is often greater than that of obtaining it, and the completion of almost every wish is found a disappointment” --Samuel Johnson

Magical photographic techniques have been used for decades to enhance the allure of consumer products for marketing purposes. We’ve come to expect certain liberties that advertisers take to sell us goods. That perfectly grilled steak on the Webber grill billboard? We accept that the grill marks were made with a curling iron, and the rich caramel coloration is a result of dipping the meat in a wood stain and honey mixture. Nowhere, though, is there a wider chasm between fantasy and reality than with the cruise ship brochure photos. Fish-eye lenses do more than broaden and deepen our visual perspective of an otherwise tiny cabin, they toy with our mental perspective as well - manipulating our dreams; and providing a false promise which we are compelled to believe.

When Ema and I saw the photos of our deluxe stateroom with balcony in the brochure, we no more believed them than we believe the Southwestern Grilled BBQ Bacon Burger we order from Carl’s Jr. will look anything like the photo on the menu board. But, when our food is finally delivered, at least it resembles our notion of what a hamburger should look like, and not, say, a chicken wing. That’s what Ema and I were staring at – a $3,000 chicken wing.

At the far end of the room, where the balcony should have been, there was a large, oval, doorless window. “This has got to be the wrong room.” Ema said, trying to regulate her breathing as to not hyperventilate. “Yeah.” I said, and walked into the room. I approached the window and felt along the outer edge for a handle of some sort, a seam, anything that would indicate that the window could be opened. Nothing. I turned back to Ema who was struggling with the bathroom door handle. “Wait” I said, “Don’t move a muscle. I’m going to speak to someone in charge.” Ema likes it when I get upset enough to be proactive. She was able to let a thin smile escape as I swept by her and kissed her cheek on my way out of our tiny room.

I walked back up the long, slightly sloping hallway to the aft main stairwell, and climbed four floors to the main deck. Hundreds of guests milled about, many with astonished looks on their faces as they glanced skyward at the magnificent glass elevator stuffed to capacity, as it rose toward the promenade deck. I’d seen the elevator. I’d also seen the hallway with the buzzing lights and a curious little room, not much bigger than my cubicle at work, which had somehow been mistakenly issued to us. I set my eyes on the purser’s desk at the far end of the lobby.

At the pursers’ desk I was greeted by a tall, pretty brunette, mid-twenties, Rachel according to her name tag. “Hello Sir, what can I help you with?” Too damn cheery; normally I’d put a stop to that right away, but there was something about her look, the way she presented herself, that smile, those dimples, the fresh, unsoiled innocence of youth. . . “C’mon, Jordan, snap out of it!” I told myself. “Your WIFE is downstairs in steerage, standing in a room the size of an airliner lavatory! Concentrate on your anger, man – you do it all the time at home!” I took a deep breath, remembered the last time I caught our dog peeing on the office carpet, and got down to business.

“Hi.” I said, firm, composed, confident. Then again, I reminded myself it’s not that hard to say ‘hi.’ “I believe we were given the wrong room.” I handed her our boarding pass and room key. “Well let’s take a look.” She said, turning to her computer. “Hmmm, according to our records and your itinerary, everything seems to be in order. Was there something wrong with the room?” I was halfway expecting this answer. “Let’s start with what’s right with the room – it’s a shorter list.” Rachel gave a half smile. “The room appears to be dry – free from sea water leakage of any kind; there’s a bed of sorts, something resembling a television, but I needed my reading glasses to correctly identify it, a window. . .” I paused, remembering the one bit of evidence that neither Rachel nor her computer could dispute – the balcony! “Oh yes, the window. According to the brochure, our deluxe stateroom was supposed to have a balcony – not a window.” Rachel bit her lower lip and tilted her head slightly as she turned back toward her computer monitor. “Hmmm. . .” She said, tapping away on the keys. “Oh, your room doesn’t have a balcony. It has a balconette.” She smiled, turned back toward me and combed some hair behind her right ear with her fingers.

Now I may not know much about politics, mathematics, history, automotive repair, or women, but the one thing in which I do have confidence is my command for the English language. I’m a ‘word nerd,” love words, and know quite a few of them. Never, in my nearly four decades on this planet, however, had I heard the word ‘balconette.’ I folded my arms on the faux marble countertop, leaned in toward Rachel, and took a deep, cleansing breath.

”A balconette?” I said as I watched Rachel’s pleasant smile morph into an apoplectic glower. “But the brochure we received from the travel agent explicitly called out a balcony. And, P.S. - What the hell is a balconette?!?” Rachel lowered her eyes toward the counter as if trying to remember her 40 minute training session on how to nullify a disgruntled cruiser. Then, quite suddenly, her smile returned. “Yes Mr. Jordan, the brochures are incorrect; printed two years ago before we changed ships for this route. I’m terribly sorry that the travel agent mislead you. Our website has all of the latest information on our ships and rooms. A balconette is simply the term we use to describe our upgraded bay window. Most rooms on your floor offer only a porthole. Now, if you’d like, I’d be happy to show you how to find our website online.” I paused, gathered my thoughts, tried suppressing my rage by finding a happy place – nothing. Rachel was no longer pretty, no longer alluring. Even her dimples had no affect on me anymore. She meant less than nothing to me, and the poor girl didn’t even know it yet.

“Look, Rachel, first of all, Today is Friday, and I wasn’t born on a Thursday – you follow? Calling a window a balconette is like calling an AMC Pacer a Limosenette simply because it has big windows. Very misleading.Secondly, my wife and I booked this cruise with the expectations of having a balcony, and there’s no way that I am going downstairs to tell her that the porta-potty of a cabin you issued us is the one we are going to spend five glorious nights in. And do you know why we are not going to spend five glorious nights in that tin can?” I took a breath and watched Rachel fumble for the alarm button under the counter. “Because my darling wife of eight years, with whom I’m celebrating our anniversary at the Captain’s table tomorrow evening, just got promoted to Senior Editor of an internet travel review site called You may want to become familiar with this site as roughly 90 percent of the passengers on board who used the internet to research their cruise used TripAdvisor. Now, if you’d like, I’d be happy to show you how to find it online.”

I’m not sure when they arrived; sometime during my tirade, I’m sure, but there were two gentlemen in suits standing behind me, listening to my every word. Rachel, who, at this point, stood at least two feet back from the counter, looked at me and nodded toward them. “These gentlemen might be better suited to handle your difficulty, Mr. Jordan.” I turned, but before I could speak, the taller of the two suits presented his hand and introduced himself. “Hello Mr. Jordan I’m Victor Caldera, the Senior Director of Customer Service on this ship, and this is Mr. Phelps, the Sales and Marketing Director. Rachel, bless her heart, should have directed you to me in the first place, as she is really in charge of looking after people’s valuables on the ship. But, as you can see, the line for the Cruise Service desk is much longer, and by speaking with Rachel first, you avoided such a wait.” Victor chuckled, and waved his hand across the foyer to a long line switch-backing between velvet ropes in front of another counter. “Oh. . .” I turned back toward Rachel. “Sorry about that.” She smiled again, more tentatively this time – no dimples. “Now let’s go check out your room, ehe?” I lead the two suits down into the bowels of the ship, showed them our room, the brochure, and introduced them to Ema to whom they congratulated, and apologized profusely.

Ema was bewildered and impressed by how much power her dear husband yielded. She had no idea why she was being congratulated, but went along with the act like a trooper. It wasn’t until we were unpacking our suitcases in our spacious, luxurious suite on the Promenade deck, that I finally told her the whole story. She was still impressed, even considering the lie; and somehow, some way, this extravagant trip suddenly seemed worth every cent.