Sunday, August 30, 2009

Early Morning Play-by-Play

Laguna Beach, CA, August 30, 2009

6:15 am Alarm goes off; hit snooze.

6:20 am Get out of the snuggly bed and notice the sound of the waves coming from the open window.

6:35am Discover that the hotel’s complimentary breakfast room is still locked. Head to Starbucks, not at all disappointed.

6:40am Order a hot chocolate and vanilla scone, and notice that all the customers at this hour are older men. This must be the local’s hangout? There are no tables and no restroom – obviously a tourist town where they don’t want the beach bums using their restroom!

6:45am Walk along the boardwalk back to the hotel, past four people playing volleyball (at this hour?!), one man doing jumping jacks, and a sanitation worker who is emptying the trashcans in preparation for this summer’s last August weekend. See a white fluffy dog who looks like George, on a leash by the still-closed lifeguard tower.

6:50am Find a table at the hotel’s beachside restaurant, closed and deserted, except for two workers who are opening all the umbrellas and wiping down tables.

6:52am A flock of seagulls who had been sitting far down the beach, camouflaged among the piles of seaweed, suddenly take flight and head south along the coast.

6:58am Notice that the waves are calmer than yesterday, but they still form long, perfect curls of water as they crash in waves the length of two football fields.

6:59am Take note of the people on the beach at this time: A man is standing at the edge of the surf with his dog and keeps gesturing toward the waves with his arm, encouraging the dog to get in the water. The dog looks at the water, then at the man, and then he barks - it’s just too cold. Farther down the beach is a lone fisherman. He hasn’t caught anything. Three older Asian women are taking their morning walk on the beach with shoes in hand.

7:00am Think how nice it would be to be able to include a walk on the beach as your daily morning routine.

7:07am The first surfer arrives, climbs aboard his surfboard, and heads far out, past the huge waves.

7:15am Get up to take a photo of this fabulous morning location, and have a nice conversation about photography with the Spanish-accented man who had been hosing down the patio.

7:16am See two swimmers far out in the water, their black arms (in wetsuits) arcing above the water like distant fish. They swim out to a buoy and the turn back toward shore.

7:18am The surfer catches a great wave and rides it for about five seconds before it overtakes him. The fisherman re-baits his hook.

7:19am The hotel workers move to the beach to prepare the private beach area for their hotel guests. They begin pounding stakes into the sand which will hold the ropes and signs that say “Private Beach.” (We sat there yesterday and had drinks and lunch delivered to our chairs. It was nice, but I think I prefer the freedom of having our own blanket and umbrella out in the middle of the action. Being behind a rope, while luxurious, has a sort of animals-in-a-zoo quality.)

7:22am The swimmers head out to sea again. One stops midway and treads water. A man with a camera squats at the edge of the water, setting up the perfect shot.

7:25am A man jogs by with his dog, a black lab who patiently trots by his master, who runs barefoot in a sprightly torso-twisting trot. (When they get nearer, I realize it’s a woman.)

7:26am Two people walk down the concrete steps and sit at a table nearby.

7:28am Spot a lone swimmer far out from shore. Where did he come from? How long has he been swimming? Make a mental note to work out more.

7:34am Notice a dolphin swimming along shore, surfacing now and then in a fluid arc. He surfaces again, in another location. Are there more than one? Watch longer, until suddenly two dolphins jump out of the water side by side, in perfect unison, like at a Sea World show, but infinitesimally better. A few moments later, four or five can be seen at once, their fins black against the sun’s morning glimmer.

7:40am A huge black dog on a leash forces his owner to stop so he can dig. He digs frantically and then they move on. Farther down the beach, he stops again to dig in another spot. And then another. Wish George were here to dig, too.

7:41am Decide to turn off the computer, because deep down, computers and beach vacations don’t mix.

7:41am Look up for one last thing to write, and see the surfer far out past the waves. Others have joined him by now, but he sits on his board alone, slowly bobbing up and down, staring out to sea.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cousin Larry

This week there has been a lot of activity at the hummingbird feeder outside our kitchen window. One bird in particular likes to sit in the vines growing up our patio cover, and one day he sat there for probably ten minutes, grooming himself.

Have you ever seen a hummingbird do this? He ruffled up his feathers as if he was airing them out, and he kept shifting his weight back and forth, using his beak to clean under his wings. I could even see his long tongue retracting every time he took a break and turned to the other side.

This hummingbird must have had an itchy neck, because suddenly he raised his tiny hind leg and scratched his neck like a dog. He kept scratching, and his feathers ruffled up in scraggly peaks until he turned to the other side to satisfy another itch. I don’t know that it truly was an itch, but I couldn’t help comparing him to George, whose furious neck scratching verges on ecstasy.

We always had a bird feeder in our rural Indiana backyard when I was a kid, and there are many photos of bright cardinals or blue jays at our wooden feeder in the snow, or at our back door where Mom sometimes spread birdseed so the birds would come closer. Now, after a year of filling the feeder at our house in Vegas, we finally have regular hummingbirds. It took them that long to claim our yard as their territory. Every winter I put up a finch feeder (a regular feeder would attract pigeons) and enjoy the feeding frenzy outside our door. I take it down in the Summer, however, so I can get rid of all the bird poop on our patio! (Grandma calls bird poop “bird dirty.”)

When I had my first apartment in Vegas, there was a sparrow who regularly came to my balcony railing to sit and torment my cats. He would face my sliding glass door and sing loudly as if calling to my cats. When they finally showed interest, he would fly away to a nearby tree and then start the game again about an hour later.

Having birds come to my house makes it feel like home, bringing nature to a nature-starved girl. And they connect me to the greater world when they fly far above us, stopping at one house and then another, and then returning again to visit me the next day. They are mysterious, delicate, lofty, yet also ever so simple. They come to my yard and become my little friends.

I think I will name the itchy bird Cousin Larry, in honor of local Hoosier celebrity, legendary Boston Celtic, Larry Bird. Everyone in Southern Indiana claims to be related to him. But he really is our cousin. I swear. Just ask my Grandma.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


I write this today from a basement breakfast room in a Best Western in St. George, Utah. The room is packed with familes and older couples and the air is filled with the smell of coffee and the occasional beeping of the waffle-iron's timer. My two girlfriends are asleep in the hotel room, tired from late-night gabbing after last night's musical Footloose at Tuacahn, the gorgeous outdoor amphitheater north of town.

But this morning I'm not thinking about last night's show, although it was made complete by the goat who pooped onstage. And they even re-enacted the tractor competition scene from the movie (when Kevin Bacon wins because his shoelace got stuck) and used two real tractors, one of which crashed and caused the bad-guy to fall in a pond.

Instead, this morning I'm thinking of the beauty of morning. As I walked across the parking lot toward the free breakfast, I met several peoploe walking back with cups of coffee. Each of them greeted me with a "Good morning!" and a smile. Strangers are friendlier in the morning.

It was fun leaving my girlfriends asleep and breaking out on my own today. I've always valued my alone time, gaining strength and focus in my solo trips or strolls. In fact, the last time I visited my friend Laurie in California I set my alarm two hours earlier than hers, just so I could sit on the beach alone - alone with five surfers, two fishermen, countless seagulls, and a brave sand crab.

Waking up extra early reminds me of the excitement I felt as a kid when Mom would wake me up for special occasions, like the start of a road trip, preparations for a holiday get-together, or even to stumble, sleepy-eyed, to the TV to watch a pretty lady named Diana become a princess.

Today, mornings represent waking up before dark to catch an early flight for a welcomed vacation, or getting up early enough to warm up my voice before an audition. Early mornings suggest that big things are in store.

But best of all, I love heading out early for a walk with George. The world is quiet then, the weather is gentle, and the world almost vibrates with the promise of what is to come. Oh, the possibilities.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pay no attention to the girl by the window...

The Starbucks near my workplace does not have a drive-through, so I am forced to go inside, which I don’t really mind. The Summerlin area of Las Vegas is more upscale, and I am always intrigued by the people there. I stand in line and survey the group inside or those sitting outside under the huge shade trees with their perfectly groomed dogs. They are always well-dressed, often in business suits reading the morning paper, or sitting in groups wearing expensive jogging suits and rewarding themselves with an after-workout iced coffee.

Lately I’ve been watching two thirtyish men who always sit at an outside table by the window. I first noticed them about three weeks ago on a morning that was already 90 degrees at 7am. The man I’ll call “Bald Guy” was talking and making emphatic gestures with his hands. His sleeveless t-shirt bared tattooed arms and dark glasses sat atop his bald head. The guy across the table from him (I’ll call him “Ball Cap Guy”) was sitting in rapt, eager attention, wearing a backwards ball cap and a black t-shirt. But their un-Summerlin attire wasn’t what caught my attention; they had books on the table between them, and as Bald Guy spoke, Ball Cap Guy furiously wrote notes in the margins of the book in front of him.

They must be taking a class together, I thought, but then I noticed that the books in front of them weren’t identical, so they probably weren’t studying. And it sure looked like Bald Guy was lecturing or teaching something to Ball Cap Guy. Luckily their outdoor table was outside and perfectly positioned by the coffee pick-up window, giving me every reason to stand right next to them by the window. I moved closer and tried to see the text on their open books, hoping they would think I was looking at the stack of New York Times newspapers against the wall.

Maybe they’re doing Bible study, I considered, but Ball Cap Guy’s book didn’t look like a Bible. I tried to look at Bald Guy’s book, but he had moved a sheet of paper over it. Ball Cap Guy’s margins were getting full, and he turned a page and began to write a sentence in large capital letters above the text on the fresh page. This was my chance! I craned my head, trying to get a better view, so I could read the movement of his pen as he wrote. By this time, I didn’t care if they caught me; I was too curious. Bald Guy’s hands punctuated wildly as Ball Cap Guy wrote carefully, “God helps those who help themselves.”

So it was Bible study of some type. Mystery solved. I moved away from the window and picked up my Venti Iced Chai, thinking about what Ball Cap Guy had written. No matter what your religion, it’s a good motto for us to remember. A reminder not to just sit by and wait for things to happen. You have to get out there and make your own luck. Give yourself the opportunity for good things to come to you. They sure as heck won’t come when you’re sitting at home with your butt on the couch.

The next time I saw Bald Guy and Ball Cap Guy, they were sitting outside, far away from the building under the trees. Maybe I need to think about a different platitude, such as Curiousity killed the cat? Or Mind your own business?

Monday, August 3, 2009


There’s a man at the dog park who is originally from Indiana like me, and every time he sees me he yells, “Hey, Paoli!” (I'm from Paoli, IN.) We’ve had some interesting conversations over the past year because our political and religious views couldn’t be more opposite. But I don’t really mind. He obviously likes to talk, and he thinks opposing opinions are amusing. Most recently, our conversation led to the safer topic of books. Now that’s a conversation I can get into.

I grew up always with my “nose in a book,” as Mom would constantly complain when I tried to read during dinner. But she didn’t really mind, because she gave me my love of literature, starting by reading me books such as Goodnight, Moon and Where the Wild Things Are, and reciting James Whitcomb Riley poetry she’d memorized when she was a kid. I was always excitedly scared by her rendition that ended “…and the gobblins’ll getcha if you don’t watch out!”

When I was young, Mom bought me the first of the Little House on the Prairie books. Every time I finished one, we made a special trip to the Bloomington mall, where I was allowed to purchase the next book in the series. And on New Year’s Day 1984, just after I turned thirteen, we sat together on our blue living room sofa as Mom began to read aloud the book 1984, beginning many deep discussions about its meaning. To this day, I’m disgusted when people think Big Brother refers to the TV show instead of George Orwell.

I was very lucky to have excellent English teachers in high school, including the eccentric Ruth Uyesugi, who taught Senior English. In fact, Mrs. U, as we called her, taught English for so many years that my mother had her for Senior English, as did all my aunts and uncles. Mrs. U made Literature seem scandalous and exciting, introducing us to novels that included incest, insanity, or murder. We thought we were getting away with something in her class, when it was actually just her master plan of giving us a lifelong love of reading.

When people see the huge library of books I have in our front room, I always tell them, “I buy books like most women buy clothes.” And I can’t resist the possibilities inside a new book. Certain books have a cozy feel to them, making you want to stroke their covers like a cat. And an old book’s musty smell brings back childhood memories of rainy days, curled up with an afghan and a book on a lazy Saturday.

I still have all the books from my childhood, and someday I look forward to sharing them with my children, introducing them one at a time, like precious gifts. They are, after all, aren’t they?