Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Howling Dogs, Dead Cats, and Back to School Books

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

6am. I heard loud thumping sounds from upstairs in the vacant apartment. That's not supposed to happen. I got out of bed and heard commotion outside on the stairwell. I peeked through the peephole and a guy dressed in white carrying a bucket passed by. Ah, he was the painter who arrived at 6am to work on the upstairs apartment without any care of the tenants below (us). As per usual, your slumlord failed to tell us that they were going to be doing work on the apartment and that it was going to be loud.

Luckily Nicky had to wake up at 7:30 to get ready to interview someone for a column. I had to get up anyway, but I'd rather not be disturbed by someone doing work at 6am. It set a bad tone for the day considering I scheduled Monday as a writing day. It was difficult to write with all of the noise. For someone who was supposed to paint, it sounded like he was bowling up there. I couldn't win either, when he was making too much noise in the room above my office, I migrated out to the living room, only to be pestered with barking dogs that our neighbors leave in the backyard when they go off to work. Just when the dogs stopped, the painter decided to sand the walls right above me. One distraction to another. I did what I can and cranked up the music and attempted to write through it.

The day was not as productive as I would have liked, which always bothers me because I hate wasting writing days. The landlord is trying to justify an increase in rent to the potential new tenants -- by renovating the apartment above us, but at the expense of pissing us off. It's not like he's always rushing to fix our stuff. So, I don't except him to help us out with trying to rectify the barking dog situation. Nicky mentioned that it would be in his best interest to make sure he was renting out an apartment that did not have annoying barking beasts.

The barking dogs encouraged me to check out local services that could help us out. I knew that the last thing I wanted to bother the federales with was a barking dog. Besides, they probably wouldn't even bother showing up. I turned to Google with "Barking dog complaints LA" and found a website for Los Angeles Animal Services who handle all barking dog complaints. The city is completely broke and they recently created a law that allows that agency to fine pet owners $100 for each barking dog complaint. All we have to do is set the wheels in motion and write a formal letter of complaint. The agency will then write the evil pet owners a letter informing them that a complaint has been filed by one of their neighbors. If the barking continues after a 15 day period, then we can file a second complaint. The agency will then send out an officer to assess the situation to determine if a fine is necessary -- which it usually is. Normally they wouldn't be quick to rush to help us out, but since the city sees this as a means of extra revenue, they are gonna expedite every original complaint as quickly as possible.

In the meantime I looked into foghorns, dog whistles, and a device that looks like a garage door opener, but emits high frequency sounds that supposedly silence the pooches. I have my doubts, but I'm curious to see if those things actual work. Otherwise, I have to crank up the music to drown out the howling dogs.

When things got really shitty with the noise, we decided to leave the apartment for an hour. Nicky drove me up to Beverly Center to find a pair of hiking boots. I needed something for the upcoming seasonal change. While I tried on new boots, she ended up wandering around the camping section and purchased a knife sharpener. I guess the guys at Whole Foods are thrilled that they don't have to sharpen her knives.

The other day, I made a horrible decision and went to Staples early on a weekend morning. I forgot that it was the weekend before kids went back to school, and a dozen other families had a similiar idea -- beat the rush and show up as soon as it opened. All I wanted were printer paper and padded envelopes so I can mail out a few books, but I got stuck in a long ass line with parents holding shopping carts overflowing with supplies. I got was flashback of negative emotions. Shopping for school supplies with my mother was always a nightmare. Shopping for anything with her was, so I definitely did not associate that time with pleasant memories. Nicky was a bit of a nerd growing up and she said that her favorite part of the school year was getting to go shopping for school supplies with her mother and her sister Mandy. But I was on the opposite end.

I really hated buying books in college. I knew some of my fraternity brothers, the few that were not uber-rich kids, had to steal an occasional text book if it was too pricey. Me? I had a scam were I pulled off yellow "USED" stickers off of used books and put them on new books. I figured that a text book was too hard to steal, but I wanted to get some value out of my limited budget for books (even though I tossed it on my credit card), so I wanted new books at a discounted used price.

I drove to In-N-Out Burger a couple of late nights, which tortured Nicky because she is back to her LA-starving diet. I had been eating breakfast at the crack of dawn and skipping dinner in favor of lunch in the late afternoon. But by Midnight, I'm starving and still have an hour or so of work to do, which is why I the run to In-N-Out has been clutch. It only takes less than ten minutes to get there. One of the nights, a SUV in front of me was blasting Iggy Pop as marijuana smoke billowed out the open windows. Isn't that how Paris Hilton got caught in Vegas?

By the way, I penned a piece about Paris Hilton on Saturday morning a few hours after she got busted for cocaine possession. It is titled Cocaine Cowgirl. Been hearing whispers in the hills of Hollyweird that she was set up by the cops because the blow was not hers. Um, I don't believe that. But I do believe that her legal team will attempt to get the case dismissed on terms of an illegal search. Whoever is Paris' criminal attorney must be making a shitload of cash because his client is always getting into trouble.

After watching a bit of Hoarders, Nicky and I went through my sparse wardrobe that I accumulated in the two years that we've been shacked up together. She was surprised of 1) the specific colors in my wardrobe and 2) the fact that even though this is probably the largest my wardrobe has gotten since we've been going out, that I still didn't have much stuff. She persuaded me to get rid of the items that had holes and that were ripped. She also made me toss out one of the two Hawaiian shirts that I own. It was a coin flip, but she snatched out the older one that has a cigarette burn on the back.

I also have about ten books that I read and want to get rid of, but couldn't think of anyone to give the books to. I might have another book sale here with all proceeds going to fund fall Phish tour.

Yeah, after watching that Hoarders episode with the cat lady, I got a bit freaked out. She had over 70 cats in her house and cluttered garage. More than half of them were dead, most of them kittens. The cleaners were uncovering skeletal remains and other feline corpses every time they moved a box. It was incredibly sad and disgusting. Dead cats inspired me to get rid of some books. Stay tuned for a list if you're interest in taking them off my hands.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Melody Fakers

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

BTreotch recommended a podcast from a Texas sports radio station that included an interview Chuck Klosterman, one of my favorite contemporary writers. He has an amazing grasp of music history, sports, and popular culture. His versatility as a writer and journalist landed him many envious and sweet-ass gigs. Many moons ago, I spotted someone on the subway reading Klosterman's Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto. The titled fascinated me and I found a copy at Strand a few days later. I've read Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs three or four times since then, with some essays over a dozen times, and it still holds up today as my favorite Klosterman book, along with IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas.

Random side note...I know two guys who look like Chuck Klosterman.

One of the co-hosts of the show inquired about Klosterman's writing process, specifically how he comes up with the ideas to write about. Klosterman admitted that was hard question and did his best to answer, but that's a complicated and complex issue. Inspiration is not something that can be easily described. Sometimes it's all around, other times it's drought.

On most days, I can't afford to sit around until inspiration strikes. On the best days of the year, I'm jumping out of bed and sprinting to the laptop. On the worst days, it's a grueling mental battle and I have force myself to write. Even if the words suck cowballs that day, I gotta get through it. Everyday. No matter what. That's one of the secrets. It wouldn't be a chore if I was fired up or passionate about something to write about. But on the bad days, it's rough.

When I go through stretches of inactivity, my problem is that I give up before I even start typing the first words. That's when the confrontation of fear takes place. On the uncourageous days, I feel like shit because I hate wasting time. That's when I do something to find inspiration or jump start the creative area of my brain. Usually a little weed and John Coltrane do the trick, but on the bloody awful days, I have to dig a little deeper and find inspiration elsewhere.

Books are a good start. I hope that inspiration will jump off the pages and smack me in the face. When that doesn't work, I turn to music. It's no secret that I write with music on in the background. Like peas and carrots. If that doesn't work, I give the cinema a shot, particularly documentary films.

If that doesn't work, I go slumming for inspiration on the TV. I put on the History Channel and watch WWII-themed programs and wait until Hoarders comes on and I watch in a stoned glaze at the excessive clutter and filth inside the disastrous homes of hoarding addicts. That show, and others like it, became the inspiration for a few hundreds words of verbal diarrhea here on Tao of Pauly. It also inspired a short story about hoarders titled... Everest.

I'm reading Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis, which details the shallowness of LA -- a subject very similar that I'm interested in because I'm writing a novel about the shallowness of LA. Instead of getting spooked or jealous, I'm excited to read it and get a grasp of his take on the same city. I always sit down and write up notes and random bits of dialogue after a read a few sections of Imperial Bedrooms.

Anyway, traveling and people are valuable inspiration jump starters. Travel stories write themselves. My problem is that sometimes I was traveling too much and didn't have enough time to write about what happened. It took a while, but I found a happy medium where I write less and live more, because at some point, I'll have to shut out the world and withdraw while I write about those experiences.

So if I'm not writing, I better be living.

Friends are amazing launching pads for inspiration. There's no coincidence that some of my closest friends are the ones who inspire me the most. I could say that Matisse is a major influence on me (I often try to write like he paints), but I have never met the guy. He's been dead for a while now. But I see my friends as much as I can, which is amazing because I can interact with the very people who get me fired up to write. Those are the ones who also get me back on track when I'm headed toward an catastrophic derailment -- whether it's life, work, or writing.

In the end, you just have to start typing.

And you have to write a lot. A shit ton. Because you never know when that perfect groove is going to pop up. On magnificent days, you're running right out of the gates and hit the groove 30 words in. That's what we're looking for, that moment when all those internalized thoughts make an effortless transition onto the pages. On the craptacular days, it takes you 3,000 or more words before you even get warmed up, but that's part of the hassles of writing. Some days it's not there and you won't hit the groove because you don't have enough time to keep plugging away.

It's a queasy feeling when you keep falling short. But when you hit that groove, you never want to stop.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Indigents with Cell Phones, Howling Alley Dogs, and Orphaned Socks

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I guess you can file the following incident under, "I thought I had seen everything in LA, until..."

I encountered a homeless guy with a cellphone and a charger. The charger baffled me the most. I could see a potential scenario where a homeless dude found a lost cell and used it until the battery ran out or until the service was disconnected, however, this disheveled guy looked like he had not showered in months. He clutched a contemporary model (nothing resembling a smart phone, but let's just say the phone is no more than two years old) that seemed out of place in his black stained fingers and grimy hands.

I wandered inside Jack in the Box very early for a Sunday morning because I was in search of my early morning fix -- Big Ass Iced Tea. The homeless guy sat in the back booth near the bathrooms. A writer-type sat on the other end of fast food joint. He pecked away on his laptop while he sipped on a cup of coffee. I once saw that same guy many months ago only because he was the one who clued me in on the secret of the Jack in the Box ceiling. He needed juice for his laptop and reached up to plug his chord into an outlet located on the ceiling. Yes, the ceiling. I quickly learned that an electrician had re-wired this particular Jack in the Box with ceiling outlets.

I purchased my Big Ass iced tea and made my way to the exit. I initially saw the homeless guy stand on his seat in his back booth, but I figured he was deranged and his bizarre activities were none of my business. Growing up in New York City, I found it best to simply ignore peculiar behavior from homeless people, because the one time you might make eye contact with them, they will lunge at you with a box cutter and attempt to sever your jugular. Alas, I ignored the guy until he pulled a power adapter out of his long frayed winter coat and then plugged it into a ceiling outlet. He pulled a cell phone out of his other pocket, hooked it up, and then sat down.

And that's how I encountered a homeless guy with a cell phone and charger. Only in LA, and only at Jack in the Box at 7am.

I learned valuable lesson that took me a couple of years of being in LA to figure out -- do not put out the recycling stuff at night because the homeless dumpster divers will rattle around said aluminum cans and bottles at 6am and wake up everyone within earshot of the alley. Even with our bedroom windows closed, we can still hear the ruckus. At least four or five can fairies stop by per day, so if we put the recycle stuff out in the early afternoon, it will get picked up by nightfall.

The annoying dogs next door is a different story. Sometimes, the douchey owners of the big dogs let them roam in the tiny backyard parallel to our alley. The problem arises when they let those dogs out in mornings, especially on the weekends when everyone is trying to get an extra hour or two of sleep. Well, they dogs go berserk whenever a someone walking a dog passes by and they really lose it when a homeless person sneaks down our alley in search of cans. They can smell the perpetrator a half a block away and they bark progressively louder and louder and scratch at the wooden fence separating the two properties. In one sense, it's good to have a guard dog, but since the dog is behind a fence -- it's virtually ineffective and the result is just noise pollution.

I fear that one morning, one of the big dogs is going to break through the fence, much like out of an old Warner Brothers Bugs Bunny cartoon, and the outline of the dog's body will be punched out of the fence while the dog mauls the homeless guy and chews off his arm. That's why I always keep a camera close by because you never know when a mauling like that is going to happen and you'd hate to pass up a chance at snagging the next viral video on YouTube -- "German Shepard tears off arm of homeless person."

The dogs have been extra annoying recently. I have to assume that their home life has been rough, so they take out their misery on the rest of the denizens of the slums of Beverly Hills. While I sat down to write this, the dogs had an incident when a few upset neighbors were shouting across the alley. I even joined in on scorning the barkfest and unleashed a loud "Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! People are sleeping in. It's the weekend for fucks sake."

The apartment upstairs has been vacant for a week. I miss our neighbors, who always smoked cigarettes at odd hours -- which means they constantly watched the alley because someone was out there at least once an hour. We're more worried that we're going to have to deal with inconsiderate neighbors. We also wonder how long it will take to rent out the place -- our slumlord is cheap which means he offers very little in return for what the market considers is a high rental price for the neighborhood. It's not a surprise that it often takes him several months (even with the help of an agency) to find a tenant -- mainly because once they see the shit hole, they know they can find a similar place a few blocks away for a few hundred less per month. Shit, whenever I take a walk down the adjacent side streets, all I see is "For Rent" signs. Why pay more for less? Which is why the slumlord either has to fix up more shit or reduce the monthly rent.

The slumlord hired a cleaner to tidy up the vacant apartment so it looks clean while they show the place to prospective renters. We're on the cusp of a new month, so he better get cracking or he'll miss out on revenue. The guys who lived upstairs left a shitload of random food in the kitchen and pantry because the cleaning service dragged one of the big ass dumpsters to the side of the building (right in front of the window where I prefer to write). The vacant apartment is located on the second floor and the cleaner was obviously lazy, so he threw trash out the window, rather than collect it in trash bags and bring them down to the dumpster. For two hours, we were treated with the sight of random jars, stale bread, and unknown condiment containers steadily fall from the sky and an echo rattled around the alley whenever something hard clunked into the bin.

Moments like that make me want to reduce the material items that have slowly been accumulating in the apartment. I usually get freak out whenever after an episode of Hoarders, and I slip into an OCD spurt and clean the fridge, removing expired items. Then, I rummage through my closet in search of clothing items to toss or donate. I also go through my collection of books, especially the ones I started and never finished, and determine which books I can give away to friends.

And what's the deal with the three solo socks that I discovered. Each sock is not even the same length or color, so it's not like I can mix and match. I have one long white tube sock and two ankle-sized socks -- but one is black and the other is white. I assume that the socks are gobbled up by the gremlins who live in the washing machine. At least one sock a month gets stuck underneath the spin thingy, and the other socks hide out in the most random places, usually underneath couches or the bed, or they wedge themselves in between other odd spaces.

Orphaned socks. Who is going to save all of the orphaned socks in the world? I considered handing over the orphans to the homeless guy at Jack in the Box, but then again, they guy has a cell phone, so he must be doing pretty good in life and presumably does not need orphaned socks.

Please, someone claim these orphans fast, otherwise, I will be forced to euthanize said sock orphans.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Some Lost Vegas Love

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

A few review have trickled in for Lost Vegas: The Redneck Riviera, Existentialist Conversations with Strippers, and the World Series of Poker. I didn't even have to bribe Shamus. He wrote a glowing review before I had a chance to pay him off.

Check out his review of Lost Vegas. And when you are done with that, take a peek at Shamus' interview with... yours truly. We delve into a more in depth discussion on the origins of the book.

Oh, and one of the best reviews to date was penned by Brendan Murray from Ireland.... Dr. Pauly Gets To Grips with The Real Sin City and its Highs and Lows.

Here's some answers to FAQs about Lost Vegas. And please go here to buy the book.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Rescue Pile

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

It was early, too early for a Monday morning.

I sat at the end of the counter of the coffeeshop. I was third from the far end in front of the TV. The old smelly guys sat on two of the first three stools, with an empty stool between the two. A trio of cops sat in a booth in between us. They were plain clothes and I couldn't tell if they were at the end of their shift or just beginning. I slid into my spot at the counter and minded my own business -- that business being a book about rock journalism that I found at a used bookstore. For the mere price of $2, The Sound and the Fury: 40 Years of Classic Rock Journalism was one of the best literary steals I had gotten this year because the anthology of articles included a few gems on Neil Young, Marvin Gaye, and Bob Dylan, not to mention stunning pieces on Altamont and the Monterrey Pop Festival.

I conducted a little background research on a couple of the scribes included in the compendium of rock and roll literature. That's how I stumbled upon a website that included links and copies of different articles on particular scribe had written spanning thirty years as a journalist and manager -- covering both music and mainstream events. Most of the time when it comes to reading about the subject of music, I'm seeking out articles about specific bands, jazz musicians, or musical genres. In this instance, the writer I had stumbled upon was so skilled that I became a quick admirer of his work. I never knew he existed prior to today and developed an odd fascination of his opinions on subjects that included musical acts whom I don't particularly like or have listened to extensively. That's was a reminder that the secret to being a good writer is to tell a compelling story. If you can e an effective storyteller, then the audience will want to read almost any subject you write about.

I happily returned to a phase in which I'm reading books at a voracious pace. I pulled a few books out of a former pile of unfinished books, sort of a rescue mission. I vowed to finish at least two books that I began earlier this year but for some reason or another, I was unable to finish up. In the end, if the book or author is fascinating, I'll read it cover to cover, and unable to put it down from the moment that I opened up the book. Sometimes, books and I don't mesh and it just doesn't work out or I don't have enough time to read a mediocre book, or a more interesting book presents itself and I get lost in that book instead. Other times, I simply give up on the writer or the subject material. I must have started hundreds of books, probably in the thousands, that I never finished and will never open up ever again. Every once in a while, I'll give a book/author a second chance -- usually out of lack of reading material or because someone I know thought very highly of it. Michael Chabon's books often fit that genre for me and end up in the "started and re-started, but never finished pile." I've given him more chances that I usually give for an individual writer. He reminds me of the band Mars Volta. All of my friends raved about that band for a year or so, and I wanted to give them a shot and caught them at a few festivals and I always wondered what was wrong with those interactions because their music didn't resonate with me. That's when I realized that sometimes you can't force the issue on abstract things like food, music, art, and literature. We didn't hit it off. That happens.

Upon my return to LA, I rescued two books from a pile that I probably would have forgotten about in a few months. Those were books in my former "To Read" pile prior to moving to Las Vegas at the end of May. Those abandoned books sat in the same spot and collected dust while I left for the summer. Now that I have more free time and actively seeking to expand my brain power (by not numbing it from all the garbage on TV that I am unable to turn away from like Hoarders and anything on the Military Channel or History Channel that involves Nazis), I want to jump into books again and allow my brain to marinate in words instead of watching douchenozzles in wifebeaters trying to bang spray-tanned chicks. I have to see that gauche behavior whenever I'm in Las Vegas for work, why on Earth would I want to spend my free time doing that in my own home? Books are my salvation.

The books that are lucky enough to be labeled as a re-start are tossed into a new pile -- the current "To Read" pile, which includes a book that Nicky finished from Steig Larrson. It's funny, all of the Scandis that I know in poker are total degenerate gamblers and/or major drunks and/or potheads. I only know one Scandi, my friend Sigge from Norway, who is not a degen gambler. He's a writer and musician and might be a pothead if he had better access to the finest herbs in the world. Aside from Sigge, Steig Larrson is the only other contemporary Scandi writer that is on my radar. He's an exquisite storyteller and I hope to learn a few things from him. Benjo left behind Bret Easton Ellis' novel Imperial Bedrooms for Nicky and I to read. It is a follow up to Ellis' Less Than Zero. It's super short and more a novella than anything else about the original characters twenty years later. I'm waiting for that to be made into a really bad movie.

My "To Read" pile is getting even higher and higher because I purchased three new books (including Mesopotamia the latest from my favrite NYC scribe Arthur Nersian) in the last 24 hours -- all of them used and I'm positive I could find two worthy recipients to give two of the three books away. I'm hoping to finish one or two before those arrive. Regardless, I'm excited.

Books are everywhere, and you can even read them for free in bookstores if you can't get to a library. But it's takes dedication and a willingness to use your imagination in order to get through one book, let alone four or five in a single week. Books are a journey and not everyone has the time or patience to do so. Reducing the amount of TV and the internet certainly helps the literary cause. Not driving also helps. People in LA would read more books if they weren't so vain, shallow, and uneducated. Because the denizens of LA drive everywhere, they can't physically read on the road. Driving and yapping on a cell phone is tough enough.

NYC is a different beasts when it comes to books. Shit, an entire subculture of used book sellers exist who set up shop on random corners and streets, when they are not being run off by overzealous cops. Books are a common sight in the city. I always see at least one or two people per crowded subway car with a non-Bible in their hands.

I travel 250 days out of the year and airports are one of the few places where I actively see Americans buying books and reading them while waiting for their flights at the gate or even on the plane. More people would read books if the Internet had no evolved past the dial-up connection phase or if we returned to the TV of my youth when there were only three major networks and seven stations in total. Since there's an abundance of distractions in different forms of entertainment (not to mention the highly addictive nature of social media), books often get tossed aside. I don't buy this bullshit that e-books are creating or adding new readers to the marketplace. Once a reader, always a reader. If anything, more tech-savvy book worms are purchasing books on their new toy du jour, more as a means to fulfill the coolness of said device, rather than to help the advancement of literature.

Speaking of e-books, I finally popped my cherry and purchased my first one. My buddy John Hartness self-published a novel and I was curious about his e-book version, mainly because I'm supposed to launch an e-version of Lost Vegas in a few weeks. I'll buy a hard copy of his book at a later date because I support my writer friends and recently began a collection of signed books from authors that I know. Anyway, check out The Chosen if you're looking for something different to read. I breezed through the first forty pages before my eyes started to bother me. Ah, one of the drawbacks on the e-book.

Sorry for the tangent... alas, I was supposed to tell you about my Monday morning, so, moving on...

I was sitting at the counter of the coffeeshop a few minutes past opening time at 6:15am or so on a Monday morning. I had been up writing for a good hour when I decided that I needed fuel to write more. I grabbed a book and headed to the coffeeshop. I was halfway through my bacon and eggs when someone sat down in the last seat at the counter. He was unshaven and wearing a faded bar t-shirt and green sweat pants. He was a good four or five years older than me and carried a Macbook. It took me three seconds to tell me that he was a writer. He put in his order and then groaned at the TV. I had ignored it since my arrival and more interested in my book, but I finally looked up at the TV to see what he was groaning about. One of the dudes from the Jersey Shore was standing on a red carpet as paparazzi flights flashed. He was shirtless and flexing for the cameras while the words "$5 million in earnings this year" flashed on the screen.

$5 million? I groaned too.

I had never met the writer sitting two stools to my left. He could be a shitty writer for all I know, but he's gotta be 1,000 times smarter than anyone on that reality show. Any writer I know will gladly accept $50,000/year as a guaranteed salary, let alone $500,000 or even $5 million. I don't know too many writers who make $5 million a year. None actually. Even the top screenwriters would be lucky to earn couple of million and they are either Academy Award winners or penning a sequel. Maybe Stephen King or the chick who writes the Harry Potter books rake in millions, but most writers are lucky to make a few hundred dollars a week -- if they can actually get their clients to pay them on time. I have at least so much money owed to me that I could purchase an used Acrua with all the outstanding monies that is owed to me by delinquent clients -- a couple of magazines or websites who stiffed me over the years. The only thing I can do is warn other writers not to fall for their false promises. I've yet to actually run across any of those people in a dark alley, but if I do, someone is getting kicked in the nuts.

The undercover cops finished their breakfast and left. I finished my breakfast and an article about Nirvana before I paid my tab and walked outside. The late summer sun was out and beginning to blaze but the streets were still on the empty side, save for a few delivery trucks and the random bus that zoomed by. In less than an hour, the intersection would be packed with cars heading to/fro the freeway as people commuted to work in their vehicles. I hate driving in LA during the daylight, but the 6am hour is the best time to run errands in my neighborhood before everyone wakes up and clogs the grid.

I'm getting used to this waking up early to write phase. It's good for my soul and makes me feel more productive. Heck if I'm pecking away at the keyboard by 5am, I know it's going to be a good day. After breakfast, a short morning walk, and running a few errands, I can be done with essential work by 9am and caught up with emails and other bullshit by noon. Shit, by lunchtime, I've already put in a full day and I have an entire afternoon free to myself -- which has been dedicated to reading and reading and sometimes itching my jones for Angry Birds or hanging out with my girlfriend. Sometimes it seems so easy to work on a simple schedule, while other times this year, I desperately struggled to find ten minutes to wipe my ass while bogged down in a hectic rudderless day with more things to do than hours in the day allowed me.

For now, I welcome the ease of the "wake up early and get your shit done by noon" philosophy. Just how long can I keep it up is the question?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Back to the Early Morning Sessions

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

One of the best things about returning to LA is getting to jump into an old routine that brings me endless joy. And no, it's not whacking off with a plastic bag on my head while Van Morrison's Caravan plays on an endless loop. Not even close. The creative process is probably boring (or pretentious) in your eyes, but I don't give a shit what you think about the fact that I love to write during the hour when night bleeds into day and light begins to creep out of the darkness. For some reason, that is when I am my most productive.

There's two ways to go about to maximize that time period... a) stay up all night and begin writing around 4am or b) crash around Midnight and wake up around 4am. During the summers when I live in Las Vegas to cover the WSOP, I don't have a choice and I stay up all day, slogging around in the bullshit, ignoring all the petty high school-ish gossip, and desperately waiting until the late hours arrive so I could sit down and write about what happened that day. On Phish tour, I was often conflicted. I wrote when I could, but sometimes the party was raging too much for me to slip away. Alas, would do what I could the proverbial morning after, with full knowledge that the better stuff I write happens at that odd hour between 4 and 5am.

Since my return to LA, I've been crashing early in an attempt to catch up on all of the sleep that I lost the last few weeks due to excessive partying and exhausting traveling. Falling asleep is the easy part. And waking up is not hard either, since I usually wake up several times in the middle of the night. I simply make the decision to get up to write instead of trying in vain to fall back asleep.

Benjo crashed in LA for almost two weeks after the WSOP ended. The space was available because I was in between projects and to be honest, I wasn't in a good enough headspace to write. I staggered out of the WSOP with a few salty experiences and I wanted to spend my waking hours thinking about anything other than poker and writing about poker. While I was caught up in a peculiar spot creatively, Benjo slept in my office and pretty much used the same desk to write the French translation of Lost Vegas that I used to write the manuscript. I often wondered if my office was a comfortable place for him to write? Or if it was horribly intimidating? It's probably a little of both. While Benjo lived in my office, I migrated to the living room table, which I enjoy equally as much to use as a work space. Yeah, I like writing at the table in the mornings and prefer the office in the afternoons and early evening.

The early morning writing sessions are the sole reason I'm on this planet, or at the least, that's what I tell myself. I sit down at the solid table that weighs like 150 pounds. Oak. Solid oak. It belonged to Nicky's grandmother, and old German woman absolutely loved the table before she passed away a decade ago. At least, that's what she once told me one late night during a paranoid-induced speed binge, when I had the first of many conversations with the wispy apparition. Whenever I told Nicky about my paranormal encounter, she got either spooked out and didn't want to talk about her dead grandmother, or she'd roll her eyes and say, "This is what happens when you eat too much Adderall...you think you're talking to my dead Grandmother."

But, I am.

And she speaks a lot of German, so most of the time I don't know what she's saying. The conversation begins in English then trails off into German. Regardless, she likes the fact that I dig her table. It's a solid anchor and is a perfect base for my writing operations. The chairs are flimsy, though, and falling apart, but the table has a lot of history and energy. Most people think that's bullshit, but then again millions of people think God lives in the sky, so who am I to judge people? I just don't want them to judge me based on my conversations with a dead German woman.

They don't make furniture like the oak table anymore. Heck you could probably break up this friggin' table and make 14 pieces of disposable Ikea kitchen tables. When you rap your knuckles on the table it echos. Loudly. That's the sound of strength and promise. That's why I prefer to write here as the sun slowly sows itself upon the City of Angels.

The two stoners who live upstairs have officially moved out. One of them got a job teaching English in Korea and the other moved to the Valley to be closer for work as a camerman. We liked them a lot because they stayed up late, smoked tuff, and played video games. They were both Tampa Bay Bucs fans for some reason (I think one of them grew up in Florida) and every Sunday during football season, they sported Bucs jerseys. Anyway, they were always cool about our nocturnal habits. They never got freaked out if I was blasting Sketches of Spain at random times. We just wish our new neighbors are equally tolerant.

During my time away, I noticed that the other vacant unit upstairs was rented out to someone driving one of those hybrid vehicles. I saw a university sticker on the back, so I have to assume it's a student of some sort. I caught a glimpse of our neighbor -- just the back of her as she walked out around 10am wearing a collared white shirt and black dress pants. Yep, I'm guess she's works in the food and beverage industry in some sort to help put her through school, or it's her first job after she collected her degree. With an abundance of out-of-work actors and actresses in Los Angeles, the food industry is cluttered with pretty people, many of whom can't wait on a table worth shit.

I missed my hood but being New York reminded me of what it used to be like living in a proper neighborhood. The best thing about NYC is that the basic necessities are within a five block radius, or just a phone call away with a delivery service. NYC is awesome in that you can order a pizza, hooker, or get your dry cleaning delivered to your door at almost any hour of the day.

I'm back in LA for at least five weeks, maybe six. No travel. Nothing, aside from the jaunt up to Malibu to go to Zuma beach with Nicky. It'll feel good to stay put for a bit and return to the old routines. I have an upcoming freelance assignment spread out over three weeks that allows me to stay home and I even worked out a clause that gave me Sundays off to watch football.

The last few days in LA have been devoted to three things: sleep, writing, and watching random shit on the DVR. I finally caught up with episodes of the few programs that I follow... mostly Mad Men, Top Chef and Entourage. I've also got hooked on two new programs Rubicon and Hard Knocks.

Entourage has been hit or miss the last few seasons, but the show is less than thirty minutes so it's not much of an effort to watch it. Plus, I'm a sucker for gratuitous beaver shots (this instance, Sasha Grey) and glorified drug use (ecstasy, weed, cocaine, painkillers -- or what we call the "breakfast buffet" on Phish tour).

Mad Men is my new favorite drama that has since replaced Weeds and Breaking Bad after both of those programs disappointed me the last year or so. Mad Men is one of those programs that you have to watch each episode at least twice to pick up on all of the background detail, symbolism, and nuances in the characters. And man, can't believe they really went to that taboo place -- little Sally Draper diddling herself after cutting her hair off. Nicky mentioned last year that Sally is being set up to be a complete hellion and force of counterculture -- if they show, which is currently set in 1965, is still around in a few years. Heck, the mid-1960s was a watershed year for numerous movements that it's going to be interesting to see how characters develop or resist the massive tidal wave that is about to hit America. Even Peggy Olsen is dragging weed, hanging out at art parties downtown, and befriended lesbians.

Inspired by Garth's ingenious method of creating a scoring system for a Top Chef fantasy league, Nicky and I have been doing fantasy Top Chef the last two seasons. I usually scorn reality programs, but this is more like food porn and I have a tremendous amount of respect for some of those chefs -- they are true artists when it comes to culinary vision. That's inspiring in many ways, for me as a writer and as someone that has trouble deviating from the norm when it comes to food because I'm a meat and potatoes and cheese kind of guy. I'm also kicking ass in my pool. I have five chefs remaining with six to go -- Angelo, Ed, Tiffany, Vanessa, and Kevin. Victory is imminent after Nicky caught a bad beat and Kenny was knocked out during Restaurant Wars.

Since I'm a Jets fan, I checked out Hard Knocks and Rex Ryan doesn't curse as much as everyone said. That's how coaches talk -- they drop f-bombs. A few email threads have popped up about Hard Knocks including the NYC Sports thread manned by my brother and sent out to Jerry, the Rooster, and myself. The guys in the Lamont Jordan FFL are also talking about it. The biggest topic? Not the Revis holdout. Fuck him. We're all goofing on Antonio Cromartie's desire to plant his seed in as many women as possible.

"Wait, it's six kids by seven women in five states?" was one comment.

If anything, Hard Knocks got me fired up for the Jets this season, especially since they have a huge target on their backs this year. I lucked out and got to see at least 10 games last year on the west coast. My theory is that Mark Sanchez was an USC alum and since LA's only football team is USC, Sanchez and the Jets were a huge draw so CBS aired many of their games. Let's hope that half-baked theory holds true this year.

Before I bail for the day, I gotta tell you about Rubicon, a new show on AMC that popped up on my radar. If you like plodding conspiratorial thrillers from 1970s cinema like Alan J. Pakula's Parallax View or Coppola's The Conversation, then give Rubicon a shot. Most of it is filmed on location in NYC near South Street Seaport. It what my brother would call an "thinking man's action hero" type of a series. It's the opposite of '24' and you won't see shit get blown up, and I don't think I saw a gun until the end of the second episode. I sat down and caught all four episodes on Sunday, and I'm hooked for now. Give it a shot.

That's it for now. Gotta go write about other stuff.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Smell Marking the End of Summer

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

During my impromptu sojourn to New York City, I was confronted by a bittersweet smell... the smell of late August in the city.

If you have ever lived in New York, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. The late night air in late August has a distinct aroma. I've lived in many cities and have traveled the world, but nothing matches that muggy end of summer smell. I immediately got flashbacks of my youth. Whenever your brain conjures up memories of summer, it's a an instant flashback to your lost youth. That's the one thing you lose when you become an adult -- the summer fun. I was never much a fan of school and the holiday season was always rough for me, so the summers where my favorite time of year. My parents couldn't afford to send us to sleepaway camps upstate, but they managed to scrounge up enough to send us to basketball camp for a week or two. The financial strains almost meant a limited vacation lasting about a week. We only went as far as my old man can drive us in a day, but we covered lots of ground visiting different parts of New England and Canada.

Last week, I got blindsided by the smells of late August in NYC and that struck a nerve with me the most out of all the other memories I encountered on my travels through Northern California, Colorado, Indiana, Wisconsin, and New York. The floodgates opened. The stroll down memory lane was bittersweet. On the good side, the memories were what Bob Dylan descried as a "road map to the soul" as I re-traced many of the pleasant summer memories that helped remind me who I really was as a person. I grew up in the late 1970s and early 80s before we got addicted to video games and were influenced by VCRs and cable television. We were kids at a time when you could ride a bicyle without a helmet. My brother and I roamed our Bronx neighborhood freely with other feral kids from different buildings (including Vinny the Barber's kids who lived across the street).

I don't have kids, but these days, I would never think about letting them out unsupervised in New York City. Alas, I grew up in a halcyon era. My brother and I played lots of baseball or variations. We played hardball in the local park that had ballfields. We also played a lot of ball in the schoolyard of our Catholic elementary school using recycled tennis balls and a bat that we acquired from Bat Day at Yankee Stadium. Other times, we played stickball (also using a tennis ball) or a derivative of the game Stoop in the back of our apartment building. When we got bored of those games, we'd stir up a bee's nest by fucking with Boris, the angry old Russian guy across the street who always screamed at us, or we'd wreck havoc on the bitter old Jewish lady who lived on the 5th floor. She always complained about us playing in back of our apartment building. She was an old school racist from the Archie Bunker Finishing School of Hate for sure, because our playmates were the only people of color in our building -- two kids from Kenya.

Memories of a lost youth. That smell of late summer was bittersweet. The good memories included the play time with my brother and getting to stay up late or heading to the library on the really hot days to cool down and check out books. The bad part was thinking about those utterly disgusting sticky sweaty humid days, not to mention counting down the days until school began on the Wednesday after Labor Day.

Over 25 years later, I stood on the same street that I rode my bicycle up and down thousands of times. I took a deep breath and inhaled every memory, both good and bad. The goosebumps that sprinkled my arms were a sobering reminder that I also experienced the same bittersweet feeling -- I had a balls out fun the last few weeks on Phish tour, but all of that fun was coming to an end. Once I returned to LA, I would have to return to real life, whatever that is. I was fortunate enough that I put myself in a position to take the time off to have a "summer vacation" (e.g. embedding myself with hippies on a cross-country Phish tour). However, a tinge of depression tried to drag me down because I did not want the summer to end. We always chased that endless summer as a child. I still chase that as an adult.

Although the primary focus of my quick trip to New York was Jones Beach out on Long Island, I found myself soaking up a few moments of different parts of the city when I could. I spent more time in Brooklyn than I thought when I crashed with Bruce in Bay Ridge at the last minute one evening. I also had to drive Matt back to Park Slope both nights after the show. I lived there many moons ago and got flooded with a different set of memories as crawled along the streets at 2am being ambushed by memories of seeing brownstones and a few old haunts. On the afternoon before the concerts began, I took a stroll on the Upper West Side and popped into Central Park for a brief moment before I grabbed a burger at one of my favorite joints. I didn't get a chance to visit the Greek diner in the old hood that I always go to, but I snagged an Everything bagel earlier that morning for breakfast. Savory.

I also drove over the Manhattan Bridge one night as I departed Brooklyn. I made the wrong turn and got lost in the part of town where Chinatown bled into hipsterville. That wasn't the only wrong turn I took. When I picked up Bruce in Bay Ridge, I made a crucial error on the BQE and failed to get off at his exit -- the last one in Brooklyn. I drove over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge while screaming, "Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!" The rookie mistake was a costly one... $11 toll. Fuck me. I made a quick turn around and spent less than a minute in Staten Island before I returned to Brooklyn. I started that day in the Bronx, picked up a rental car in Manhattan, and then drove through Brooklyn, got lost in Staten Island, before I returned to Brooklyn to pick up Bruce and later passed through Queens on my way to Long Island. A rare treat -- all five NYC boroughs in one day.

I was relatively sober during my time in New York while I logged designated driver duties for both concert nights. A decade ago, I would have gotten snookered without any qualms. But, I'm wiser now and I really needed to ease off the pedal after pushing myself to the limits for two weeks in a bender that started out in Berkeley, moved to Telluride, then spilled over into Indiana and Wisconsin. Since this part of the trip was a bonus, I didn't mind the opportunity to be sober and responsible.

However, one night I wished that I was shitfaced because I went on supreme traffic tilt one night due to construction on the Belt Parkway. Friggin' night construction cost me 40 minutes of my life -- at a time when all I wanted to do was get back to Brooklyn safely so I could start partying for a bit before I wrote a review of the concert that I had just seen.

My tiny travel laptop has many advantages but the biggest disadvantage is that it's not as easy to write as my other regular sized laptop. I have two older laptops in NYC (including my old Apple notebook) and a British version that I purchased in London a few years ago during a business trip. My laptop died and luckily my client split the cost of a new laptop with me so I could finish the assignment. The British keyboard is slightly different -- the QWERTY is fine as far as the letters go, so that aspect is fine, however, all of the special characters are in different spots! That initially tripped me when I tried to use that laptop to write the other night. I got tired of writing on the small laptop and wanted a larger keyboard.

I booked a 7am flight out of NYC in order to get me back in LA way before lunchtime. Early flights are a bitch because of the time, but the good news is that there is no traffic at 5am. I got a car service around 4:45am and the city was empty. The airport was a different story. JetBlue scheduled all of their flights to the west coast starting at 6am and heading out just as the same time as the flights to Dominican Republic and the Bahamas. I got caught up in the log jam with only two security lines running. As soon as I cleared security with my tiny backpack and laptop bag, I avoided the long lines at the main food court area and walked to a semi-secret bakery at the far end of the terminal. All I wanted was a chocolate croissant, but I got caught up in a youth group ordering food just before their flight departed. I thought I made the vet move, but got screwed. I finally put in my order, grabbed a water for the flight, and popped the last of my pharmies for a very long time. I needed something to take the edge off on a six hour flight to the left coast. Besides, I also had a window seat and wanted to knock myself out in an attempt to get a few batches of slumber. I can't sleep for more than twenty or thirty minutes at a time on a plane, but I was exhausted and only thinking about my bed back in LA.