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No Cash? Advertise In This Space
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Howdy. I'm Justin Hall, a freelance writer living in Oakland California. I spent much of the last two years living in Japan, researching the social impact of new technologies and electronic entertainment. Now I write articles, contribute to Chanpon, Game Girl Advance and TheFeature.
Thanks for stopping by this old web site.
Photo by: Robin Hunicke
August 30, 2004
friend Michael once said his first word was "round" because he was spending a lot of time staring at a spinning record player. Imitating his baby diction, he repeated it again when we were in high school together: "wound, wound wound." Wound is how I feel damn! Too many classes and work besides I bit off more than I could even fit in my mouth. I don't know I mean I know exactly how this happened - optimism. I've sprained my optimism this Monday. Hello, to remind myself of daylight joys and bypass nighttime overwork underperformance homework stacks and unanswered everything, I post this:
Project for film class: make a 3 minute video. Edit in camera. I followed Cody to Venice beach. There the city has dedicated graffiti walls, where visitors can add a layer of color. Muralist Cody had her birthday party there this Saturday. I taped her painting, then I rewound and I taped again. The resulting 3 minutes is not chronologically linear.
August 26, 2004
what's a blog?
First day in my survey of Interactive Media class, with professor Bleeker.
He suggests from the podium that students should maintain blogs. Someone asks, what's a blog? I laugh - you're in the right place to find out! I reply.
Professor Bleeker suggests I tell her what's a blog. Taken aback for a moment, I pause and then discourse -
someone behind me replies,
In order to help pay my tuition, I've taken on some work helping technologize social and academic interaction. In other words, I'm going to be setting up blogs and wikis and helping people use them. Maybe I'll write some papers on the future of academic discourse online.
Mostly it seems to mean that I'm quickly getting in over my head as a total web tech support technician for all public discourse in the Interactive Media Division. Many classes want blogs; I'll be setting those up. And students get blogs. I'll be setting those up. The faculty and staff want a public calendar online. I'm not sure I know
I figured I might know some of the material in my classes already, having lived through some of the material. I get a certain prideful thrill from counting the number of people on my syllabuses I know, have driven in my car, have visited their homes, have travelled to foreign countries with My pride is restrained when I realized I haven't really read much of any of this. Or my interactions with those people were more grounded in scoring seared pork or drugs or a late night three way tryst during an overlong media conference. I figure I'm getting a meta-education - how is this material taught? How do you compress and digest and convey the fomenting media culture I've been breathing? I'm studying how teaching works, and I'm happy to lend a hand.
My formal language will be developed;
shit man, I'm going to graduate school to stay alive - curious idealists are being sucked into global spiritual struggles and slain in the streets. Subdued my longing, snorting at my sense of personal greatness and abandoning my messianic destiny, I'm incubating my noggin. I hope to emerge prepared to be a better father to humankind.
August 24, 2004
School has started - today was my second day. No homework yet, at least none that I'm doing. Most of my classes are four hours long. I bring a laptop, no pen, no paper. My classmates seem cool - thoroughly gaming immersed. When class gets slow, I reorganize and clean up my calendar. But I'm working to singletask on my formal education.
My education isn't yet about games much, but it is thoroughly project-based. I've got to start planning a mobile media project (maybe an asynchronous buddy-list based performance exchanging system). A Flash project looms in there somewhere soon; I'll have to build an interactive clock I think. And I've got a short film to make in mid-September - I'm planning to film in Japan, when I'm there for the Tokyo Game Show.
I've got some books to read, and all of a sudden I've got a routine - I wake up too early, clean myself up, shovel plain yogurt in my mouth, toss in a few handfuls of granola, wait for construction guys to arrive and then weave through traffic east on the 10 freeway to the Hoover exit, rolling off into the Shrine Parking Structure. Then I take my laptop bag, tuck my hair behind my ear and set off for campus.
USC appears to be amply stocked with conventionally-attractive young women in tight, short summertime clothes. I wonder two things: how long the weather will permit them to dress like that, and secondly, what effect that routine exposure will have on my libido and aesthetics.
I'm most excited about the casting session being run by the film and theater schools tomorrow - I'll sit in an auditorium and watch 40 actors speed-audition, hoping to earn a place in a noteworthy student production. When I think about making short films, as demanded by my cinema class, I've been thinking mostly about filming myself musing and muttering about life. But I have plenty of experience with that. Now I'm wondering what it might be like to orchestrate other people's mutterings. I have a lot of short films to make; I might as well take advantage of the setting to experiment on other people.
Otherwise I've accomplished a few remodeling goals by tear-assing back from school each afternoon; today I got some guy off Craig's List to relieve me of a metric ton of antique computers I'd been hoarding for decaying purposes (the text of my posting follows). I also bought a vacuum cleaner, drilled some holes in my desk and cleaned up the shavings. I hired a guy to rebuild the shelves that tore out holes in my wall, and I hired some guys to drill other, different holes to install cable TV through the house. I wanted to watch some of the Olympics but it's taking too long. Now I just want to have it set up by the time the Republican National Convention starts; maybe I'll be able to catch Ryan on my teevee!
Natalie snapped this photograph as I was mounting the last of the shelves; before the great collapse.
Apple IIe, Next Computer, Old Mac Duo/Desktop Giveaway (Culver City)
Hello Computing Enthusiasts -
Here's a list of some free computing equipment available immediately:
* An old Next desktop computer - a black and white slab, with the screen included, and a portable SCSI harddrive that works with it
* A Macintosh Duo 2300c laptop and three Duo docks
* An Apple IIe and dual floppy drives
* A few assorted Performa/Centris desktop units
* Two 15 inch monitors that work with the Mac desktops
* A rich pile of cables, keyboards, mice and peripherals for these devices
Those devices are available for pickup this week, in Culver City.
As you can tell, I'm a sort of an old computer collector. But I've run out of space - I need to give these away! Let me know if you're interested - someone wanting all of this free equipment will take priority, rather than someone who just wants bits and pieces.
August 22, 2004
friends of aggressive opitimism
weeks packed with fourteen hour days culminated in a hastily planned housewarming party. Around 1.15am, I looked up towards the top of the new medicine cabinet in my bathroom, and realized that it's okay, remodeling and moving typically take people a few months. A few months to set the place up, a few months to get all the boxes unpacked, a few months to get the right furniture.
I tried to do all of that in three weeks. I figured, if I knew I was going to be living here for at least three years, the length of my schooling, then I want to immerse as soon as possible. Get it all tricked out, so I can
compress, concentrate that time spent establishing myself in the house into a marathon of morning to nighttime arranging and coordinating. a blur growing increasingly nightmarish and ecstatic. the extremes were augmented by the arrival of a merry crew just after the date of my last posting here
I had two recruits accompanying me on this brilliant scheme, staying in my house we woke up each day to painters, carpenters, movers and boxes. We drew up furniture designs. We shopped for light fixtures. We unpacked. We arranged. They were designers and I was the client; they lived with me and I kept them fed. We lived amidst the work and it went from 7am to 10pm. Beer was consumed.
Justin, Piper, Natalie, seated for a slaphappy sofa shot - photo by Sharon
And then our last night we sat around a fire and ate. I'd invited students and faculty from my graduate school program; some showed up. I invited the painters and electricians and plumbing supply person; all expressed thanks for the invitation and none brought their families as I'd suggested. My feet hurt so bad, I could barely stand up. By the end of the party I was tired like I wanted to cry. I couldn't talk. My knees still hurt.
Kids, adults and a dog named Salami enjoy the garden firepit.
I wonder if this pacing runs in my family - I still have a t-shirt that says "I survived Colin's thesis" that my brother had made as thank you gifts for all the people who helped him pull together his marathon college-finishing writing project. Somehow it seems we recruit participants and then work to sweep them up into unrealistic but edifying enterprises. Edifying at least as I'm learning to curb my expectations.
Behind me there are stacks of old computers wrapped in bubble wrap and boxed in molding cardboard - I moved them from the garden to the utility shed area during the first half hour of the party when the Los Angeles guests were conveniently late and I was struggling to apply a normalcy template to the environment. Natalie was inside, wide-eyed, shaking her head and working to coax back up her near indomitable optimism; the collapse of two built-in office bookshelves had shaken her badly. We had measured and measured again and used levels; all our technique was right. We blamed bad drywall, an out-of-sight sinner. What was to take three hours had taken four days and two shelves had fallen taking wall chunks with them. There were books that remained on leaning shelves; a visible threat to anyone sitting near my office walls.
I think she had hoped we might unpack and arrange all of it. There is still an empty dumpster outside, taunting promising that I might rid myself of my decrepit technology museum and extensive paper souvenirs. I had done well, anticipating and stating her lessons about object attachment. I was prepared to ditch my emotional attachment to skanky ties and inflatable rockets. But there was no time. Guests might be arriving soon. The garden was still a box-festival. Nat had been staggered by the amount of stuff, the tiny space, the tight timing and the exploding shelves. Pulling together any kind of pleasant party venue would be a God-certified miracle.
None of this had shaken Piper quite as badly, as she seemed to be good at maintaining persistent hammer swinging that this pace demanded. Under my desk, she was at work in her neat skirt and floral print shirt, ballet slippers and pinned up Southern Debutante hair, wielding a screwdriver and cordless drill to secure this work surface better than we could secure the collapsing bloated media archive eating holes in the plaster.
Piper works over her design for an L-shaped outdoor bench at the House of Hardwood
The party was an arbitrary deadline. I couldn't believe it when it started. We few, we dizzy few, we band of busy blustering homemakers badly needing baths. These women saved my life and lifted me to the next relative stage of my life - graduate school classes starts tomorrow and I have towel racks and doorstops and a plywood desk and two pieces of custom furniture coming in two weeks.
A roofer dropped by today and I have no cable TV. Should I buy a Crate and Barrel couch? These are just garments - nothing to worry about but my mind. I can feel almost a cold building in my throat; something painful has happened to my gums. I had my ear checked by a USC doctor; adangerous hardened wax ball is irritating my hearing. At school, the health center gives away free condoms. Decent quality ones too. I availed myself of a dozen. Optimism prevails.
I would reflect on my feelings, on my place in a fast spinning universe, but only gratitude for these sainted friends leaks from my fingers tonight before sensible sleep overtakes.
feigning sleep amidst the boxes and debris
photo by Nat; she also took the medicine cabinet shot at the top
August 15, 2004
Big Sale at Justin's!
Him: Hey, did you hear, Justin's having a big sale?
In the midst of remodeling chaos, my twelve-pack of toilet paper has been missing for days, and yesterday the last roll on the spindle ran down to cardboard. All the work crews equal a lot of people coming through my bathroom each day!
Today I went to use the toilet. I asked Manuel, one of the Pink Painters to give me a moment of privacy. As he was climbing down off his ladder in the tub, I mentioned that I didn't have any paper to use. I'd figure out something, I said. He replied with a smile: I have some paper you could use, and he pointed to the sandpaper sitting on the toilet tank.
Here's a picture of Bill Suplee, the Pink Painter:
Good cheer in this crew. Nice folks to have around. And they're doing great work - man, for all that I've done to this house so far, painting is an immediate, impressive revolution. It's a new home suddenly. Still covered in plastic and paper and tape, not so livable yet. But soon.
August 14, 2004
mysterious folda sofa
Today Edward and Sharon came over to check out this evolving home. I was touring them through the various rooms in progress, outlining functions and fixin's. They had a lot of suggestions, like replace the bathroom door (now solid wood) with something using frosted glass, to let more light through the house. And tone down the insane pink on my bedroom walls. And be aware that the sunlight down here is different - it will brighten everything and fade anything anywhere near a window.
I showed them the guest room; I was thinking to have a dedicated bed there for visitors. You should get what we have! they chimed. It folds up like a lounger or a sofa or a comfortable bed.
I'd already looked over the 'net at all kinds of bedding options - convertible, transforming sofa beds, daybeds, futons, all kinds of sleeping furnishings. I want my guests to be comfortable, and I figured I had a living room and a place to sit outside, so I didn't need to have another place to sit in this room.
But it is a small quiet room and maybe it would be nice to be able to curl up on a lounger and read or have a couch in there during a certain kind of party. So I was attracted by their suggestion; although wary that I hadn't seen anything good that did all the things they described, their enthusiasm was infectious.
And their judgement was spot on. They had exactly what I wanted - trim, comfortable, functional. Beautiful!
The mysterious flexafolda sofa/recliner/lounger/bed in reclining mode. With colorful cushions!
And, as it turns out, impossible to find on the internet. At least so far. They remembered the brand name as Della Robia, but I can't find that. They bought it at Linder Design - they're closed this time of evening. I've been scouring Euro-Furno-Design sites for an hour now with no luck. And combinations of sofa-chaise-bed pull up the same old same old. Anyone have a positive ID and/or web link for this furnishing?
sitting in lotus
Jen's friend Mina dropped by to share her one-day pass for CABoom - a modern design exposition in Santa Monica. Modern design has its roots in socialism and egalitarianism, one vendor told me, but now it's being co-opted by the high-end. What was once modular, convenient and cheaply shared with fellow man is now becoming collectible, expensive and occasionally arty beyond use. Maybe it was always that way. But I like to believe.
I wandered between soft curves and expensive plastics quickly, swiveling my hips to stop only long enough to push my fingers into a cube seat or brush my fingers over a lampshade. Nothing held my interest, probably because I hadn't eaten and nothing looked very much like food. Besides that, everything looked intelligent and kinda uncomfortable - I like a decent back on my chairs. Why make a chair or chaise with only a bump to sit back against? Because you're going to be on the edge of your seat the entire time, engaging great ideas? I like to have the choice to recline fully and practice indolent talk.
All my furniture arrives from Oakland on Monday. I had too much stuff in that house, and that house was bigger than this house. I think its safe to say that Monday it's going to be a certified clusterfuck here - crowded and crazy. Couches in every corner, giant chests of drawers, side tables and book cases crowding out all the open spaces. Unwalkable, overwhelming, sweaty and heavy.
But I'm living in Los Angeles now, and my primary living room will probably be outside. I've got a fairly large yard, but what's better than the size is the profile - enclosed. So I plan to put something like a day bed or L-shaped sofa where people might sit or even sleep. The woman who lived here before me used to sleep outside, she reported, on a day bed. She only used a mosquito net because her boyfriend was afraid of spiders falling down from the trees.
So I'm on the hunt for comfortable innovative outside seating and entertaining. And there wasn't much of that at CABoom. Until I stumbled outside - Jen had exclaimed breathlessly about the event "they're going to have two new pre-fab houses! Fab pre fab!" I was sort of stunned by her enthusiasm, more than I was excited for pre-fabricated housing; curious what might have tickled her so, I went traipsing outside. There I found a transcendent chair -
Miller Fong's Lotus Chair
I was awestruck - it was comfortable, relaxing, gently enveloping but still open to the surroundings. It was something you could curl up in alone and read a book. It was something two friendly people could share. It felt like a throne and a couch. It felt regal and casual. It was a little self-contained sitting platform. It was a fantastic chair, and it was made for outdoor - cushions on a wicker base.
The chair sat in the outdoor show area of California Living, a modern outdoor furniture shop. I tracked down the owner there, Andy, he agreed with my high estimation of the "Lotus Chair." Designed by Miller Fong in the 1960s, Andy had been working for a few years to reissue the piece. That's all covered in this LA Times story: "California Tropical: Catching a new wave" (free registration required). And you can see a picture of the old version on this outdated Illinois auction catalog page.
As my enthusiasm mounted, and he explained his work to bring this classic chair back to the market, I realized the price was going to drop my jaw. And it did. Sometimes we covet physical objects. Usually it's a good idea to talk yourself out of that. But sometimes the object speaks beyond reason - it's just perfect. In that moment, it seems like nothing else will ever fill the hole in your life created by experiencing the craftsmanship or design or what have you. Sometimes you can talk yourself into paying retail, even if it exceeds your budget, because the object is just that terrific.
Last year, Lulu stayed at my house for a few weeks, often and she could often be seen sitting around reading. I imagined the Lotus chair in my backyard, and I pictured her sitting in it reading and I knew that the chair would be a hit with my friends.
So after all this excitement, the low-blood sugar and terrific furniture, I thought to myself perhaps I might talk myself into paying over $1000 for the chair. Maybe I would even work hard and raise up $1500 to buy it - something that memorably excellent. The space in my backyard is large enough that I'd need some other furniture. Maybe I'll buy four of these chairs, I joked with Andy. He didn't smile, perhaps out of sympathy. He could sense my desire for the object, and we'd already established that I was a young man who might not yet have the lifestyle or means to bring a chair like this into his life. $3000, he explained.
Eyes widened, rubbing my whiskers, I soon wandered back to the placid Lotus Chair. I sat back in it. It remained perfect - leaning back in comfort, invited to gaze up at the sky, to relax, to enjoy myself. I adjusted my position, sitting on different parts of the surprisingly broad surface. Moving up and down, back and forth, I nearly took a serious surprise tumble over the back, nearly taking the chair with me. I glanced at Andy - he hadn't seen. I stood up and eyed the wicker and cushions ruefully - maybe I wasn't ready.
August 12, 2004
This remodel process demands vigilance. That could be translated to "hovering" or even "lurking" verging on "pestering" - watching what the people working on my house are doing and making suggestions or asking questions. Not because I don't trust them, but because I want to seize every opportunity for collaboration.
I've tried to translate vigilance to mean "awareness" - being nearby and connected to what's happening. Available for questions and heading off conflicts or problems before they happen. Anticipating the need for Wiremold perimeter electrical sockets, and driving off to the store to buy them.
It's the heart of my participation in the remodeling process - I don't twist any wires or lift any hammers. I'm not even planning to build a bookcase. But I facilitate, and maybe guide. Mostly I guide according to their suggestions, but still I have to think of future uses and price points and potential conflicts. And I'm present. Which is constant, from 7am when the first contractors arrive, until 10pm when the last guy leaves.
Not much time for much else. Recent socializing happens in crazy spurts - I sit in my house all the time and basically anyone willing to come within five blocks of me stands a decent chance of my partially divided attention over some food. When everyone working has left the house, I putter around with paint samples and sometimes avail myself of more extended excursions. I can't make any plans because finishing this project is my highest priority and that keeps me supervising until everyone's gone and then an easy-to-attend event lands in my lap.
Jen managed to drop by for a few minutes, long enough to strike an Evita pose where the front doors meet an iron railing.
Home and two bachelors in bed by 2am. Then Alan wakes up at 5:55am for a 7:20am flight. I wake with him, and begin packing my clothes and belongings away for the next round of home improvement - painting and patching.
Now after seven hours, a bowl of yogurt and some Indian lunch leftovers, I want desparately to lie down for just a spell. To take a load off. Maybe snooze. But my sofa is covered with my hanging clothes, and that's covered by plastic. I could count on a few preserved surfaces when it was just the plumbers and the electricians. But with the painters around, everything is compacted and covered.
Also, I need to ease my bowels. But the excitement of seven people crawling over the house and working in every corner translates into about zero privacy, the kind I like for my extended reading sessions on the toilet. I think just for a second, I should have taken a shit this morning. But then I remember, I did.
Desparate for a place to recover some strength, I think I'll go sit in my car. I want to stay nearby so I can still walk through and ask a switch to be replaced by a dimmer. Times like these, I consider drinking a Coca-cola. It's a short term fix, I know.
psychedelic moments in remodeling
There's some highs that come from this process of remodeling and rebuilding. The bizarre late night giddiness when the power tools are running past 9pm illegal and the hole in the wall is growing ominously and you push to do whatever it takes to accomplish this particular arbitrary task. A dark hours frenzy to enlarge a hole in the wall for a cabinet that won't arrive for at least a week makes sense, as a goal in and of itself. Just doing something. Tiny talking dust particles enter your brain and drive you to hammer harder and deeper into the plaster. The wood screams, the sawzall whines, the tools and materials shrieking, egging you on deeper into irrational destruction.
The morning after I woke up with a hangover from that - plaster and wood chunks all over my water closet, the ancient insides of the wall gaping accusingly; I had halfway disemboweled a friend and left them alive without anesthetic.
Then there's the high that comes from the sheer number of people you might have working at once. It's like hosting thanksgiving dinner with three separate families sharing the same house with their own customs. Today, I had ten people in here at once, at my highest count. Ten folks surrounding me, ostensibly doing what I asked them to do, what I was paying them to do (mostly with my credit card). These are elaborate tasks - laying paper to prepare for painting, digging holes to prepare for concrete slabs, bending pipes to make channels for new wires in the garden. At any moment I can watch the application of any one of ten particular skills in conjunction with a spoken and unseen balance of mitigating factors, made more explicity by the presence of carpenters, electricians and painters all working at once.
I worked to translate any feeling of power I had from these coordinated workers into a fuzzy sense of social good. I hoped that Ernie, the charming electrician foreman, might strike up talk with David, the smiling sensible carpenter. Why? Maybe they would have something between them they wouldn't have discovered without meeting here. A personal connection, a friend in common, a shared sense of humor. My house is a sort of party for different contractors. Today, they all speak Spanish between them - personal chats and craft coordination in a tongue I almost recognize, though my time in Honduras is fading. Central American memories, dust, visions of a future home, sleep deprivation and total inconvenience has me dazed.
Then somehow swept up in all the frenzy of work between all these people, I seek out a wrench and I go to work on a pipe protruding from the wooden deck. When I had the hot water heater removed, the plumbers were in a hurry to leave and didn't remove a remaining natural gas conduit. It's been capped and its sticking out of the deck since Sunday. Since the elctricians had removed some of the decking to lay outdoor outlets I figured I'd grab and hammer and wrench myself and start trying to twist out the pipe and install the connecting piece below.
So that's how I found myself, spindly limbs cranking a hammer, my full strength only halfway lifting a subborn board to get at a gas pipe. I was thinking of the plumber's words as he casually capped a pipe that was full-on blowing gas into the yard - "Everyone acts like it's such a big deal. It's just gas." So I unscrewed pipes and caps myself and soon had my own fully leaking natural gas festival in my face. The exertion of torsion mixing with the sickly smell additive turned my stomach and my head. I wasn't successful at reconfiguring the pipes. Rocking back on my topsiders I realized I hadn't tried to do very much, and I was failing. I was dizzy and sick and must have been crazed to think that it would be a good idea to start amateur construction hour by opening my gas lines. Brilliant. Can I bum a smoke?
I'm not sure I screwed the pipes and caps together tightly enough, or with enough joint sealer. I'm sitting near the still-protruding pipe and I can smell faintly the lingering malingering methane. The other work continues around me; I've got another victim lined up to take a stab with more serious tools at foreshortening this natural gas supply line next week. Meanwhile, dust piles up on my machine, in the only space I could find to serve as an office, a wooden chair and milk crate, near my suitcases filled with clothes, in a sort of temporary eddy in a corner of the back deck. After it's all done, I'm going to need to get my laptop detailed.
August 10, 2004
jesus was a carpenter
Ten thirty pm finally finished sweeping out the bathroom. Couldn't get the plaster chips out of the sink; it drains slow now. My carpenter didn't lay a plastic sheet over any of the plumbing, so the dust entered every crack and pipe.
That's a midnight handyman - I needed someone to come in as the sun was going down, cut a hole in my cabinets big enough for a dishwasher sitting in the middle of my kitchen, and someone to cut a hole in my bathroom wall big enough for a mirrored medicine cabinet.
Along the way are knotted woods, stray nails, unannounced ancient outlets, and rats nests. The job extends past 9pm, past 9.30. He is worried the police are going to come and bust him for power tools.
It would not be his first brush with authority, you know. He was visited by the secret service about five months ago. He was sipping coffee at Starbucks and writing a book on his laptop. They approached and asked for him by name. He had a premonition that the President of the United States was going to die in a plane crash. Same as he had a premonition about 9/11. He writes allegorical poems about these premonitions and sends them out in email newsletters. He's had multiple visits from the FBI and Secret Service. He's helped solve crimes with clairvoyance.
I stood back, mouth slightly agape, inhaling particulate matter as he madly sawed out parts of my wall and nailed together old 2x4s to reinforce an ragged opening. We were running past his promised time, everything was a rush. But he did have time to tell me about work behind the camera in the porn industry. And Scientological friends who nearly convinced him to accept fame and fortune in exchange for his mortal soul. Instead, he gave away all his possessions, became homeless and started writing books about his visions and experiences. All this emerges as he wields the sawzall around my tiny bathroom after nine PM.
When he first arrived to start working, I talked him through the job and then went to write on my computer. Each five minutes or so, he would call out "Oh no!"
So I stood in the doorframe, studying the installation manual for a Bosch dishwasher, listening to his understanding of the conversations that happen at a sub-perceptual level. I grabbed a chisel for a little while and worked to help him fit the dishwasher under the counter. He told me stories, and slowly the holes were roughed out, the dishwasher was tucked away.
He left, I cleaned up. Nearly 11pm, I sat down on the couch to have some peace with my mind, alone in my home for the first time in ~15 hours. Then I heard deep bass emerge from next door - my neighbor spins Techno to unwind. Not bad Techno either. Just Techno, close to 11pm. I decided to water my plants.
alert level: orange
my stomach woke me this morning, tight. I tried breathing still, slow, under the warm covers. But there were too many corrections. The shower wasn't on right, the water pressure was low and it was tilted left. The faucet had arrived with scratches down the barrel, or so the plumbers said after they'd been handling it for an hour. There was a hole in my kitchen cabinet but it was just a bit shy of wide enough so the center of the kitchen held a new dishwasher that couldn't be fully installed. Ditto with my bathroom - a hole in the wall large enough for a new medicine cabinet, but not wide enough. And no medicine cabinet has shown up yet. I should really email that lady from Ferguson -
The brother-in-law of my landscaper is supposed to show up in about five minutes, at 7:30am. He's a Mayan indian, Jose said. He can lay a concrete slab where my washer and dryer will sit, in my back yard. There's really nowhere else to put it. I'll need to get some kind of a box built around it, to protect it from the elements. A little breath escapes me, and I reclaim another one - I did remember to call Sears yesterday to postpone delivery.
These are small problems! Far distant from the meaning of life or the suffering of fellow humans. But they've completely enveloped me, for a short time at least.
The Washer Box is one of the things I think about when I get some down time. I want it to look like a giant old cargo container - pieces of wood nailed together with a cross-beam or two. I met some folks who make and post posters all over Los Angeles; I want to have a surface in my backyard where they might "post bills." Anything interesting seems expensive and complicated. I consider building it myself, but I have no tools, little experience, and no time.
Each day, there are a series of people visiting my place to help me "modernize" it, make it convenient and safe. Ripping out the old, implanting the new, and sealing it up. If I thought this process would purge imperfection I was misguided in modernism. The uneven and irregular shape to nearly everything is part of the incurable charm of the house. I tell myself. That, and I should go grocery shopping; I'm out of yogurt and bananas.
Yesterday was a 12 hour day. So was Sunday. Saturday was only 2 hours. All the other days, people show up at 8am, and leave at 8pm. I gotta stay here, not hovering over their shoulder but being available for consultation and suggestion - where the light switch should go, or how large the medicine cabinet will be. Driving off to a hardware store for an air gap valve, or the lighting store for a fluorescent fixture.
One of the things I learned yesterday, from one of the two Culver City inspectors who came by my place to certify it "not approved," is that environmentalism in California has translated to some challenging building code. I mean I work to restrain my vanity, but I'm proud of the low voltage, high impact white white halogen lights I got stuck in my kitchen. Then the inspector mentioned that I had to have a fluorescent light somewhere prominent in the room, where it could be the light I used when I came to get a glass of water late at night. Energy efficient, dedicated energy efficient lighting. With its own fixture and switch. Mandatory in the kitchen, and in the bathroom if you're rewiring your house.
I was on the verge of some kind of petty freak out when I twisted my chin and stroked my whiskers - there must be a way to enjoy this. And it turns out there is - some unusually small, narrow fluorescent lighting, for example, or plenty of light fixtures that appear to be regular lights. Fun, almost lovely lights. At least when they're not turned on.
The good news for me is that I'm rewiring early. According to Dave, the building inspector, next October, California building code states that every room in every house in California must have energy efficient lighting, ie, every room in every house in California, new or being rewiring, must have fluorescent lighting. Bedrooms, living rooms, any room. A design challenge!
I ordered a sp0re doorbell button, it should arrive today. I love the idea of shopping for a home improvement on BoingBoing. Some avgolemono soup from Daphne's is warming slowly on my counter. My 7:30am appointment with a concrete slab is running 40 minutes late. I've got a list of colors from Mighty Nat; gotta find a Benjamin Moore paint store to see what "Mountain Peak White" and "Mayonaise" really look like. I think I'll do that after my Washer/Dryer slab appointment, after the electricians have arrived (going on day 7, which is okay because they're great conscientious guys). Gottta call the roofer, to schedule a time to replace the broken spanish tiles and patch the broken corner of the roof here. And I gotta bug the HVAC people again to get them to come fix the broken heater vent in the attic. Some guys are coming at 11 to reinforce the foundation. Melvin, a Kurdish locksmith says he'll drop by before noon. At noon, I have an appointment to get a painting estimate from The Pink Painter. Surfa's says they'll have my custom-cut kitchen metrocart cut ready after 3pm (cheaper than new cabinets to fill a big empty space in the kitchen I inherited). Last night Billy the carpenter called and put off our appointment to shove appliances into walls with a sawzall; that should happen tonight. That leaves lunchtime for errand running, gotta buy a bell for my doorbell (will I have enough time to track down or rig up an MP3 doorbell?). And a friend, Jen, might visit this morning!
Perhaps the most disconcerting thing at this point, I don't have an office. I had set up shop writing and running my life from a small room out back, but its walls are now gouged out and packed with metal pipes, desk covered in plastic and layers of dust. So my laptop sits between milk crates and empty paper bags on the back porch, plugged into the only power outlet that consistently works, next to the fountain of a little boy peeing. Good news is, my internet connection came on. There's a long extension cord keeping my cable modem alive. I need to plan a desk layout and construction so I can return this folding table to Scott and Mimi. But I need a few moments to get a plan together and find someone to help me execute it.
Here's the short-term schedule: probably.
August 08, 2004
I used to have dreadlocks. A single one mostly, stuck up on top of my head. That's called a stovepipe dred, Scott told me. Maybe if I'd known that I would have kept it on longer, worked it into some kind of personal machine architecture.
I cut the dreds off with a knife, when I realized I was spending a lot of time convincing people I wasn't insane. In spite of my stovepipe. I cut those nappy hairs off and I had a much more reasonable comb-over instead. Viola, I met Amy just a few weeks later.
Friend Chris has dreds, and his wife Jen to convince him he actually is insane, and he needed a haircut. By the look of the smile on his face when all his hair was shorn today, it looks like he had something to be happy about amidst all of that.
August 04, 2004
the growing unsettling stench was explained yesterday by the electrician crew. They reported finding two dead cats under the house.
Two dead cats turned out to be two petrified possums. They'd probably been dead since the termite tent trapped them in a small mammal gas chamber under my house almost a week ago. They'd been decomposing long enough to turn stiff and lose their features, but not long enough to lose their smell. In fact, they were gaining it. Each day, the sickly sweet waves of decay started earlier and reached further into the yard and finally into the house.
One friend in particular was Natalie Ammirato, of Mighty Industries. She had flown down from San Francisco to Los Angeles for one night with a suitcase heavy with design catalogs and paint chips. Maybe I needed her to smooth out my rough-shod digibachelor pad. Maybe I needed an experienced hand to pull the house together.
Or maybe I just needed another person inside the tiny asylum to tell me I wasn't crazy, or just to confirm my madness. And today, today was madness.
The electricians loaned me a full pant suit. I put my hair in a bandana, a plastic bag in my breast pocket, pushed my glasses up my nose, a flashlight in front of my face, and wriggled my way through twenty feet of dust, close under pipes, beams and floorboards. It was dark, dirty and uncomfortable. But I was paying people to spend much of the day in here - I owed it to them at least to remove the desiccated, decaying rodents.
I found the second dead possum, face down amidst a sea of plastic bags. It seemed to have been furiously preparing itself a deathbed. The stench was strong, all the way to the trash can.
More crew was incoming; Ernie's electricians sawing and plugging away, I waited for the plumbers. They showed up later than I expected, took one look at my water heater and said they wouldn't replace it. The device itself is old enough that you can't read the label. The pipe above it leaks and has been leaking long enough to give the metal some attractive alternative colors. The shed around the heater is dented and bent, probably from trying to hold back the tenacious bamboo that surrounded the device until someone cut it back to ankle-height knife-lengths.
The water heater is shoved into a narrow space, up against my neighbor's property line. Their plumbing promoter had been to my house and had promised me I could put in a new water heater in the same cramped space. But Bill the crew foreman saw a building code violation in progress; now these guys wouldn't do the job they promised.
On the phone, Michael the plumbing salesman apologized and said he made a mistake. He called a city plumbing inspector to come look at the place. Meanwhile, Bill the plumbing foreman disappeared with his crew.
Pete, the Culver City plumbing inspector, came by and certified that I couldn't replace the water heater unless I moved it. And the only place I could really move it was somewhere into my garden, where it could be more than five feet away from the property line and much closer to where I'd be sitting, drinking beer and thinking about what a bitch it had been to get this place together.
As Pete the inspector was leaving, he spied the workers inside, replacing the knob and tube wiring. Do you have a permit he called out? And as I was sitting outside making other phone calls, I heard Pete call out - "stop working now!" as he went striding out of the house and the workers inside threw up their hands.
I sat slackjawed for just a moment 'til I realized what had happened - the electricians didn't have proper paperwork and Pete, called in by the miscreant plumbing salesman, had stopped their work. Gripping my phone in my hand I went tearing up the street, shoes flapping, catching up to Pete in the front seat of his car. He was spelling out red "Work Stoppage" signs to hang on my house. Did you get a permit for this work? He asked, looking over his glasses. No, I replied, but I did sign an invoice that said "$250 for permits" so I figured they had one. And that was true. I tried not to hold Pete's job against him, he was working for our safety and modernity - progress in standardization. But it was hard - he seemed so strict, and these electricians had been working hard and being friendly and cleaning my house up each night better than they found it!
As the electricians were lounging around in the garden, taking an enforced early long lunch and drinking lemonade, the cable guy showed up to install the internet connection. Except, he pointed out, I don't have a cable running to my house. The work order said I did have cable, but the work order was wrong. So maybe a crew can come out again, another day, to install the cable. But, David said that first I needed a pole buried six feet into the ground. You know, for grounding. Maybe he could get a cable installation crew out tomorrow, but I'd need the pole. And Comcast didn't install the pole. The pole buried six feet in the ground. Gotta find somebody, he said, to dig that hole. 4pm, and I needed a post hole digger and someone to drive copper down into it. I promised him I'd get the pole in the ground, if he'd get a crew to my house. I pictured myself out there with a plastic spoon; I'd have to find someone else to work, with equipment and time, because I had other duties.
I was running the phones. Besides extracting mortified possums, my job was to run the phones. I'm supposed to harass people. During these days of personal general contracting, if it's been five minutes and I haven't made a phone call, I'm slacking. I called Danielle at the plumbers office hourly to see if I had a new appointment yet. I called Emily at the phone company to set up a new phone number. I called Steven at the cable company to see about getting a cable line run. I talked to Ernie the electrician to get a pole put into the ground under the new 200 amp panel. I called Marvin, a locksmith. I called a closet consultant Anne-Marie. I called plumbing supply people, Mary and Joel, working for two separate companies, to see what rare and cheap fixtures I could find between them. I called lighting wholesalers looking for tracklights and outdoor lamps. I called my old roommate Scott to see about moving the last of my summer sublet items. I called Jamie my real estate agent to find a housepainter.
Friends and family rang me up; I could only spare them call waiting moments between fevered attempts to get another person to come to my house sooner. Living alone may be lonely but these days I have a revolving cast of strangers coming and going all day long, people mostly unknown to me rearranging my space. I'm supposed to be orchestrating them, but my own will to keep all aspects of fixing up the house in play has me strung up like a stress puppet. Each morning I wake in a blind frenzy and work all day to stay ahead of the contingencies. And each day as I lay down to sleep, all I have to show for it is a few more holes in my wall
Yesterday, there was a high speed chase in Culver City. A man flew into my neighborhood off the freeway, leapt out of his car wielding a gun, grabbed a pedestrian as a hostage, and broke into a nearby home running from cops. There was a 20+ car, 5+ helicopter stake out in the blocks surrounding us. Natalie and me sat on the couch, wondering at all the whirlybirds. We ventured outside but were cautioned rather loudly by the police holding roadblocks at either end of the block - "Please return to your home for your safety." I actually saw police running down the street, full tilt boogie, belts swinging, hot polyester. Strange doings, my neighbor said later shaking his shaved head, normally it's so safe here.
Soundtrack: not much but Charley Patton, Spoonful Blues (download it free)
August 01, 2004
Slept in my new house for the first night. Full moon light on my borrowed sheets, tucked around an air mattress. I had a nocturnal emission - a good omen.
The house is lovely, empty, old smells masked by pinon incense. No internet connection makes it feel like no place - somewhere I can be in the moment maybe, unable to be here with you. So I visit the 'net, parked in other people's driveways, borrowing wireless connections. Arranging my life's remote control on remote control.
At home, I'm beginning to put my few possessions into the few cabinets. I have a marker, and masking tape - each place in the house I want to affect change, I write it out on masking tape and stick it up on the wall. "Full length mirror" or "4 jack outlet" or "ceiling fan" or "4'x 6' mural by Cassidy."
Tomorrow I'm flying Nat of Mighty Industries down from San Francisco for two days, to apply her design discipline and expertise to mi casita.