Monday, October 30, 2006

One Year in L.A.

Dia de los Muertos is upon us again and I realize that I've been in L.A. for more than one year now. The Santa Ana wind and the fires arrived soon after we did last September, and now they're back. Looking back at some posts of mine soon after arriving here, they seem a bit giddy. I was excited about having palm trees in my yard. There was so much great Thai food. They actually had book stores in L.A.!

Obviously, the early buzz of a new place will fade, and my infatuation with L.A. waned. The weather stayed the same. All the time. I got stuck in traffic. I woke up in the morning and coughed up phlegm regularly, though I wasn't sick. Driving at night, the sidewalks and streets were empty. There was only block after block of empty strip malls, with neon signs for agua puro or check cashing. The flashing lights around the Burrito King or the Tommy Burger seemed sort of cheery at first, but eventually became garish and depressing. The public transportation system was criminally, intentionally underdeveloped.

The people cared so much about how they and their stupid fucking cars looked. Roughly 75% of a given issue of the "progressive" LA Weekly was composed of ads for plastic surgery, body enhancements, various skin procedures and treatments. In the LA Times there were loving (albeit excellent) columns on the "Car Culture" that people in L.A. apparently take pride in. We got sick of the garlic sauce at Zankou Chicken. We kept on realizing things were over three hours earlier back on the East Coast. The selfish, self-absorbed people, so unaccustomed to ever having to share any type of public space, insisted on stepping into elevators before letting people in the elevators out first. They acted annoyed when someone inside the elevator actually had to get out first. Who were these people getting in their way? They had a right to 6 feet of space around them at all times, encased in glass and steel. It was so irritating to actually have to be near other people.

I couldn't understand the people at the office. Unlike in New York, complaining was not an Olympic sport. Complaining was negative, the bad vibes brought people down. People didn't want that negativity. There was a lot of pride in "making it happen". People strove to be winners, to be successful while not complaining, cheerily doing their work, balancing it with a healthy lifestyle. The whole positive mentality thing got me down. It made me feel like a greasy, whiny loser. Here were all these fit people brimming with sunshine and confidence, their clear skin glowing with health. What kind of fucked of place was this?

I don't hate L.A. It's a strange, disturbing, but endlessly fascinating place. Much of it is miserable to look at and crawl through behind Porsche Cayennes and Arrowhead delivery trucks, but one is often rewarded by finding magical places among the general asphalt void. I've found friends among soccer teams and book groups across the city. I wish there were more places people could come together and feel as if they were part of something together. The way it is, it feels like the city has been designed to prevent this very thing. Big talk from me, as I sit typing this in the "study" of our house on a leafy street in the faux-suburb of Eagle Rock, on the far northeastern fringe of the city. L.A. is not a city the way New York is a city. It's something else. It's certainly quite fucked up, dysfunctional, and unlovely. But having been here for a year now, I find myself rooting for this place. This is such a beautiful and wonderful place for a city, between the mountains and the sea. Whatever and whoever (if anything or anyone) designed this place did their darndest to truly mess it up. It could be so much more. And when you're out on one of those gloriously, deliriously beautiful L.A. days, maybe after it's just rained and the air smells clean and fresh, you can imagine what L.A. could be, and you really want to see it.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Why don't buses have seat belts?

There were a few times on the 110 home that I was worried that the old 81 Throwback Edition might suffer a similar fate. Yikes.

Pay no attention

The ADL fighting for your right not to hear. Tony Judt was going to present a lecture on this topic.


A lesson for all of us

Essay on Godzilla to follow when I have time. Suffice to say for now that someone once told me that it was suspicious that Godzilla looked sort of like the Korean peninsula.

Octopus TV

The Office of Special Plans, you'll be happy to know, has been reunited to Plan future glorious successes in Iran.

Octopus vs. Shark!

Guess who wins! Best use of two minutes and twenty-four seconds I can think of.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Fantastic Octopus

This is the most incredible thing I've seen in months. I knew octopuses could change color, but I had no idea they had this kind of cloaking ability.

More walking octopuses

Return of the walking octopus

This guy disguises himself as a sea coconut and runs around the ocean floor.

Continuing our theme

This is incredibly sad. I need to stop driving immediately.

Everyone has his own hamster wheel

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Not all jobs suck. Can you believe that this is Ronaldinho's job?

This is what he does when he's "working".

Where am I?

During much of the time that terror birds existed, South America was an island continent where species evolved in isolation from the rest of the world.

Some day, it won't be like this anymore. I can't quite tell if I am dead or alive. Every now and then I feel like I am having a minor stroke.

Joy to the world.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Octopus diminished

Sitting in the dining room, overpowered by the hum of the refrigerator. It sounds a little like the crickets, a buzz, with hints of higher pitched ringing you can't quite register, except it's steadier, and doesn't pulsate.

It just switched off rather suddenly. I guess that's just the cooling cycle. You have to plug something in and give it power to have it keep things cool for a long time. It's a battle against the second law of thermodynamics. How did they used to make ice before electric cooling systems and freon? (The link gives a bit of an answer to that question.)

Things are bleak. The big thing that was supposed to happen today sort of didn't happen today, and sort of did -- it's in limbo, and everyone will try again tomorrow. Meanwhile, I continue to live in dread.

Times like this, it's important to remember that the heart of a blue whale "is the size of a Volkswagen Beetle and pumps 10 tons of blood through the massive blue whale body. A blue whale aorta . . . is large enough for a human to crawl through." From U.S. Dept. of Commerce. (I think there may be a band named after this fact.) Actually, it may be more impressive that a blue whale's tongue is about the size of an adult African elephant.

I've been reduced to trivia.

The Octopus listens to crickets in Eagle Rock

I'm sitting in my new favorite chair in the "study" at our place in Eagle Rock. It's a Danish style chair with orange cushions faded from sunlight (the color of the cushions matches the pale orange of the walls of the study). I paid way too much for this chair at the flea market they have at the Rose Bowl the first Sunday of every month.

I had intentions of driving a harder bargain -- starting at less than half the price the vendor had written on the little sticker on the chair -- but the vendor had his wife and his two little kids with him, and they were sitting in his moving truck eating ice cream: I didn't want to be some kind of horrific yuppie monster, driving a hard bargain on my coveted retro Scandinavian furniture and taking money away from the father of these cute kids. So I bargained like a patsy and got taken. Instead of yuppie monster I was class-guilt-ridden yuppie sucker. I'm sure the kids got more ice cream.

Very much like this, but with orange cushions.

Whatever, it was worth it. Now I have a chair I like to read in on sunny afternoons. There are lots of windows in the study. At night it's pretty quiet back here: just the whirr of the ceiling fan and the electric buzz of the crickets in the backyard. For a moment, I'm forgetting my current travails and allowing myself to pretend that everything is all right.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Octopus at the end of his rope

I really cannot take it anymore. Something good may or may not happen tomorrow. If it does not, I really will have to consider driving the Intrepid into the L.A. River.

This level of anxiety and stress cannot be good for the system. I think I can feel my brain eating itself in despair and worry.

I haven't been on the bus in weeks. What have I become?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Home again, home again

It's never good when the day starts at 4:45 a.m. as you flail at the squawking alarm clock while your no longer sleeping wife gets steadily more pissed. 4:45 a.m. seemed so reasonable, so manageable at 11:30 p.m. It was more than 5 hours away!

Now, an early morning flight to the Midwest later, I'm on my way home again, somewhere over Colorado or New Mexico, en route to LAX. It's an Octopus first - blogging from the stratosphere. Somehow, I don't have the energy to get too excited.

What I want, what I really, truly need, is a fucking break.

But I won't slip into that self-pitying trope again. It appears to be raining all across our great nation this evening. I left pre-dawn drizzle in L.A. and landed in midday drizzle in the Midwest. Everything is ending now. The sunshine is fading, October is slipping quickly out of reach, and the year is almost gone. This is like the Sunday evening of the year.

I had so many plans and good intentions, so many fantastic new projects that would change everything for the better. Now it's too late again, and I start to suspect that this is how life slides by.

Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, California.

After eating dinner alone at the airport Starbucks this evening, I walked through the terminal in my ridiculous get-up (suit, tie, long gray wool overcoat), pulling a black rolling litigation bag behind me, feeling very lost. I caught a few little kids looking at me and I tried to imagine how they might pity me or wonder what strange, hopeless errand I was on.

What had I become? Who was I, in the silly overcoat my dad might wear, dragging my key documents behind me as the chicken pesto baguette from Starbucks digested inside me? I was a hideous, artifical, fake construction, inside and out. Everything I said, everything I did, everything I wore was working to empty out my soul like a kid scooping out the insides of a jack 'o lantern.

I think I slipped back into the self pity there.

It's my own fault. This is what I chose to become, for reasons that must've seemed sound at one point.

My taxi driver to the airport this evening was named Bashear. His family was from Guinea, but he was born in Bordeaux. He had a pretty heavy French accent. He said he didn't miss France at all. In America, we had freedom, he said, taking his hands off the wheel and gesturing expansively across the Missouri interstate. Back in France, the police would constantly ask him for "his papers", even though he was French. He would often refuse to provide any papers, on principle. His grandfather had come down to the station once and cursed out the police. His grandfather was from Guinea but had fought for the French in WWII.

He asked me if I was from India. I told him my parents were from Bangladesh. He said that was basically the same thing as India (I agreed) and that it was a shame that India had been broken up into so many parts. That's not at all what Gandhi wanted, he noted. He said if India had "listened to Gandhi," it would now be the most powerful country in the world. But they didn't listen to Gandhi -- he was "too classic." But even so, they were still strong, they had "all that computer" -- they weren't scared of China when it came to "computer". I agreed.

There were African leaders who "looked like Gandhi," who tried to keep the Congo united, but no one listened to them either, and the Congo descended into civil war and strife. We discussed the Belgians.

He asked me what I did for a job. I told him. He started reciting some legal terms in French and turned to see if I understood. He said he had gotten a degree in law in France. He wanted to know what he had to do to practice in America. France had a civil law system, but in America we had an "Anglo-Saxon" system. Did I know how he could study for the Missouri bar exam? Could he practice even if he wasn't a citizen? People had told him that he couldn't. I told him he could, but he didn't seem to believe me.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Octopus Yearns for Chittagong

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Mohammad Yunus motivated me to check The Daily Star, the major paper in Bangladesh, for the first time in a few years. The Star was not muted in its coverage of Yunus's prize: "After independence in 1971 and restoring democracy in ’91, Bangladesh witnessed the biggest achievement as Professor Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank were declared yesterday to win the Nobel Peace Prize 2006 for pioneering the use of micro-credit to benefit poor entrepreneurs." The Star goes on to note that two other Bengalis have won the Nobel Prize, Rabindrath Tagore for literature, and Amartya Sen for economics, but Yunus is the first Bangladeshi to win the prize.

In poking through the various articles today on Yunus, I learned that he was born in Chittagong, and taught at Chittagong University. Both sets of my grandparents lived and worked in Chittagong, and both my parents grew up there. The articles about Yunus got me reading about Chittagong, a bustling port city in the very far southeast corner of the country, near the border with Myanmar (Burma).

On our family trips to Bangladesh, I always preferred the time we spent in Chittagong over our time in the congested and filthy capital, Dhaka. The air was much cleaner in Chittagong, and the landscape much more interesting -- much of Bangladesh is flat and low-lying, but Chittagong is hilly. And the whole town has that seaport feel of being open to the world. "Chittagong appears to have been thriving as a port as early as Ptolemy's era (2nd century AD). He described it as one of the finest ports in the east." Lonely Planet: Bangladesh. The Chinese poet-traveler and Buddhist pilgrim, Xuan Zhang, who visited the port city in the seventh century, wrote of the city as "a sleeping beauty emerging out of the misty water." Xuan also noted that Buddhism thrived in the region at the time of his visit: he recorded the presence of 30 Buddhist monasteries and a population of 2000 monks.

My great-grandfather, I'm told, made his fortune in shipping, and my father's family, which was in Chittagong for as long as anyone can remember, apparently featured a long line of merchants who had a taste for trade in the famous port. My father's side also liked to joke that they were descended in some way from the infamous Portuguese pirates who long preyed on the rich maritime trade in the region, before settling down and mixing with the already heterogenous population of Dravido-Aryan and Tibeto-Burman Bengalis in Chittagong.

My grandmother and my parents and their siblings still often slip from proper Bengali into Chaţgaiã, the local dialect of Chittagong. The makeup of the dialect is a melange -- the constituent parts are like a sedimentary history of the port.
Most of the vocabulary of Chittagonian, like Bangla is derived from Sanskrit. It also, like Bengali, includes a significant number of imported words from Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, as well as, to a lesser extent, Portuguese. In addition, English words are widely used in spoken Chittagonian, just as it is in almost all other Indian languages, as a result of the legacy of the British Empire. Although much of the vocabulary of Chittagonian Bengali is the same as standard Bangla, there are several distinguishing features. The contribution of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish words to Chittagonian Bengali is far greater than that to standard. This is due to the fact that Chittagong was a port city that was open to traders from Arabia, Persia and Turkey since ancient times, naturally absorbing their words. This is also meant that Chittagonians were amongst the first to convert to Islam and consequently, as Muslims, they were further influenced by Arabic, Persian, and Turkish vocabulary, as these were the languages spoken by the Muslims of the time, especially the traders. Among Europeans, the Portuguese colonists were amongst the first to reach Bengal, and Chittagong as a port city, was for a time under the administration of the Portuguese. This has meant that there is a larger proportion of Portuguese loanwords in the usage of Chittagonian speakers than that of standard Bengali speakers.

Apparently, locals will tell you that the name "Chittagong" comes from "chattagram," which would mean "small village", but some sources say it is more likely that the name derives from an Arakanese phrase, "tsi-tsi-gong", which was inscribed on a tablet brought to the area by an invading Buddhist army. The phrase apparently means "that war should never be fought." Lonely Planet: Bangladesh.

I haven't been back since 1997. I hope to go back sometime soon, and to post from the ancient and bustling gateway from the Bengal to the world.

The Octopus Week in Review

You there! Idle reader! Look here. Pounding away, ten fingers at my rectangular plastic keyboard, tapping, tapping, I try to reach you, entertain you, keep you interested.

It's overcast in Los Angeles today. Fall is moving in.

It's hard to take anything seriously on a Friday afternoon. You feel like your pockets are full of money and you have all the time in the world. My favorite time of the week is between 7 to 11 on a Friday night -- that time when you can still pretend you have the endless green expanses of Saturday and Sunday ahead of you. When everything can be done tomorrow, or the next day.

Planes fly by over my office out of LAX, ascending as they build speed for journeys east. I imagine the passengers pushing the little round metal buttons in their armrests to lean their seats back, shuffling through the magazines they bought at the terminal newstand and stuffed into the pouch of the seatbacks in front of them, looking up from their fresh new paperbacks, still redolent with that pulp paper smell, and gazing out the window at miserable, hazy L.A. on a Friday afternoon, the antlines of traffic nudging toward home, the endless rows of houses broken up by baseball fields and parking lots, the ocean far behind, the mountains to the east, the grimy light of another weekend in paradise.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Octopus Picks Up Medium Pizza to Go, Calls It a Night.

It's 9:30 p.m. here in Eagle Rock, 11:30 back in MO, where I started the day. I'm at Casa Bianca, picking up a pie, and wishing I didn't have to wake up tomorrow.

I'm tired and hungry and have that airtravel not so fresh feeling and have nothing to offer but complaints and regrets. If this is the future, I hate it.

Octopus Flies Again, Thinks He's Going to Die, Goes Back to Sleep.

Somewhere over the Rockies on my early morning Midwest flight to Missouri, I was startled out of sleep when we hit a nasty bump of turbulence. It felt and sounded like some very large hand had smacked down on the top of the fuselage.

The pilot got on the PA to apologize for the turbulence, to say that he was turning the Fasten Seat Belt light again, and to reassure us all in his sturdy Missouri drawl, soft, weathered, but solid, like a long-loved catcher's mitt. Just as he was laying down his comfort blanket of drawl over us, we hit another, much nastier bump. Several passengers screamed. This one was the worst turbulence I've ever felt while flying. There was a beverage cart in the aisle. I saw all four wheels leave the ground as a pot of coffee flew onto the guy behind me, and a pitcher of ice water splashed down onto the guy next to me. I was pretty sure for a brief moment that we were going down. My heartbeat shot up and jumped against my sternum as the jets roared and pilot took us to a higher altitude.

I was so tired, having staggered out of bed at 4:30 that morning, that, somewhat amazingly, I quickly went back to sleep while everyone was still freaking out. I remember thinking there was nothing I could do, and that if we were going to crash into the Rockies, I might as well be asleep when we did.

Now I'm sitting in the Southwest "B" line, waiting out a delayed flight back to LAX. I was up this morning at 6 am Central (4 am Pacific), so I'm pretty determined to sleep the whole way, and just figure things out when I wake up.

Perhaps I need to rename this blog to Insomnia Diary or something like that. I'll tell you one thing: I am fucking sure sleep deprivation counts as torture.

Monday, October 09, 2006

All work and no play makes the Octopus want to defenestrate himself

This work bullshit has to stop. I cannot take it anymore. It's 11:20 and I'm here in the office. I'll have to work super late tomorrow night, wake up at 5 on Wednesday to travel, stay up late working Wednesday and Thursday, try to fly back on Friday, probably work all this weekend. Next week will be no better.

I am seriously wondering if this is all worth it. What's the point?

I am closing my eyes right now and imagining the future. As soon as I write these words, they fall into the past. At some point, not long from now, I will be riding the 81 in the morning light again, going to work with no anxiety, riding home at a decent hour. The time between now and then will pass, and when I am on the 81, all the pain and horror of these past weeks will be a distant memory. The time will have been like nothing.

Or, I could end up working to death. We'll see.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Octopus Returns

As a boy from Glastonbury, Connecticut, deep in the leafy, hilly green heart of the land of steady habits, I never imagined that there would come a time when I would land at an airport in Burbank named after Bob Hope and think "I'm home."

Before the flight, I sat at Gate 69 at SFO with my eyes closed, waiting out a delayed departure time, feeling things like words forming in my darkened head. They almost had sound, and they felt like dull flashes of white light. I wanted them to stop, but I was so tired that I had no control over what happened behind my eyes. Maybe they weren't words. Perhaps they were just thoughts that didn't know how to convey themselves to me.

Late last night I sat in economy with my head leaning up against the seat in front of me as our plane taxied to the gate at Burbank, wishing I could go back to sleep. I emerged from the DC-10 into the brisk Los Angeles October night, walking down the stairs onto the tarmac with the hills of Glendale twinkling in the distance. We walked by another United arrival, the people rubbing their eyes and shuffling off toward their cars, and home.

I meant to write from the plane, an Octopus first. But I was too tired, and it didn't happen. So I'm writing this now, in the Saturday sunshine streaming through our living room windows in Eagle Rock, under the swaying palms.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Octopus Summoned to Bay Area

As you can tell from my recent lack of posts and constant car-driving, I'm deep inside a very bad time at work. The madness has sucked me up to San Francisco, where I've been for the past two days, and where I'm now sitting in a yellow cab on my way to SFO after a couple of nights of working till 2 and 3.

It's cold in San Francisco, and gray, and I absolutely love it. I love cold, misty weather like this. L.A.'s idiotically uniform sunshine and blue skies, like the background in some Hanna-Barbera cartoon, drive me totally nuts. The unrelenting perfect days are oppressive, insipid, soul-sapping.

I was so tired last night that I fell asleep in my colleague's chair as we were discussing some legal document in his office. I actually dropped the paper from my hands as I fell asleep in mid-sentence. I woke up a few seconds later. It was awkward. It was about 2:25 in the morning.

I don't know when this insanity will let up. Those days of leisure, riding the bus to work at 7, riding home at 8, seem irretrievable. I just want to enjoy things: riding the bus, writing blog posts for you, playing soccer, hanging out with Mrs. Octopus in Eagle Rock. This whole rat race thing is bull shit.

I am going to sleep all the way to Burbank.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

I am the Octopus

Hear me roar. I haven't taken the bus in days. I should start eating red meat again, wearing a lot of leather, and smoking. Maybe voting Republican. Work has been a frenzied madhouse for a week or two now, with no respite in sight. I've been forced to drive, going in early and driving home on empty freeways after midnight. I fear that all of this bodes poorly for the development of Octopus Grigori.

What is the Octopus Grigori? The question has never really been asked. What does he want? Why does he exist? What does he eat? How would one describe his personal smell? Do his dreams have sound? Is he currently in violation of any state or federal laws? Are his opinions representative of the ownership and management of this site? Does he require assistance in the event of a water landing? How many ostensibly "ironic" or "funny" questions can he ask about himself? Is it only the Octopus that gets somewhat giddy with the hall-of-mirrors solipsism of posts like this one? Will he be wanting fries with that? How much is he currently paying for long-distance service?

Enough. The Octopus will return. Until then.