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An Old Dog Scratching at the door

August 8, 2013 at 9:30 am

  There’s an old dog scratching at the front door to get in, and it’s me. I have been scratching for the past few years to find a suitable home in which to curl up in the middle of the floor, consider columns I might write if I had a place to publish them and then bark like hell at anyone who passed by. It’s what I do for a living. I bark. And while the metaphoric use of an old dog to describe my situation breaks down a little, it more or less explains what has been going on in my life since leaving the solitary comforts of the L.A. by God Times. I was sent on my way with a kick and a bone to seek adequate quarters beyond Spring Street, and I have found them at last. I’m home. I will remain here as long as I am granted the right to growl a little and bark a lot, growing old in an atmosphere of creative prospects. I am no longer a slave to the rigid forms of newspaper formats and the unlikely leadership of those who with pomp and circumstance pave pathways to the graves of print journalism. At age 84, I never expected anyone to go all out for the pleasure of my company, even though I am a fairly clean old dog, have had all my shots and, like Asta, the boozy Scottish Terrier from the old Thin Man detective series, limits his drinks to one martini a day in the evening after six, straight up, hold the olives.   My work here at LAO will consist pretty much of the same kind of writing I’ve been doing since moving south from pathetic little Oakland almost 40 years ago. I will write about Topanga and downtown L.A. because I live in both places. I will write about people because I honor the human condition. I will write about my world because I chose to. My past is my present, the present my future. Doors close and doors open. The old dog rises, stretches and yawns. The door is ajar. He ambles out, sniffs the air and heads off in no specific direction. What he is looking for he may never find. But he’s never going to stop looking.  

And Awaaay We Go

August 7, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Ahoy, Contacts, circling the Earth in cyberspace, soaring past planets of ideas and imagination, blasting into a sun where all great words burn with a luminescence of spirit into an endless night. I have news. That’s just my way of saying hello. I call you Contacts because you are the ones who sent me email addresses to include in my blog of communication and columns, to share with you what I see and write and think, from the absurd to the critical, from songs of whimsy to the low rumble of funeral drums. Today I have news. It is Wednesday, August 14th as I write to say that my columns will begin appearing in the web site laobserved.com beginning Friday. I will try to have one every week, but the operation at LAO is flexible; I can take a day off once in awhile or even write an extra column if the need arises. There will be no limits to my subjects. I will write of family, culture, morality, Hollywood, politics, government, hatred, love, dogs, martinis and the horror of war in the ebullience of spring. There will be laughter and there will be tears, and there will be me, back-packing a thousand years of experience. You can write me as always here at almtz13@aol.com. You may curse me if you wish, or agree with me if you must.  Tell me your thoughts and explore with me the deeper considerations that bubble in your troubled souls. Surprise me. Amaze me. If you would like to submit a short essay, a poem, a picture or a drawing, you may do that, but there’s no pay involved, and I might turn It down. Tell me about a book you’re reading or a movie that knocked you on your ass. Tell me what truth looks like on a starry night. Tell me how pain feels when the wind blows. Tell me what it’s like to cry. I’m waiting.   {All artwork rendered by Nicole Martinez [aka] Calamity Cole , sight design by Adam Weatherall}  

They’re Pursuing a New Course in Berkeley

April 18, 2013 at 11:24 am

As a long-time resident of Northern California, I can declare with impunity that nothing that happens in Berkeley ever surprises me, and that includes the U.C. campus. Then why, I hear you ask, write about it at all, Berkeley being so, you know, far away? Well, because what happens there occasionally trickles down to our own colleges, and I want everyone to be prepared for what could escalate into a new academic pursuit: sex on campus. Right. Here come the Golden Bares. I realize there are sensitivities involved here, not the least of which is that many parents are learning for the first time that a columnist for the impish Daily Californian is leading the way in what seems to be encouraging , er, intimate relationships on campus without getting caught, although fear of detection doesn’t appear to be a real concern. The writer is one Nadia Cho who, one is led to believe, specializes in sex. She tried it with a woman once and wrote about it and decided that what the seething undergraduates of the prestigious university needed was “a nice little sex tour through the campus.” It was, you see, the day before Thanksgiving, the campus was relatively abandoned and there wasn’t much to do, so why  not grab her boy friend and explore the question  of  whether sex inside of Sather Gate is a possibility. Her answer is yes, it’s “very doable.” Her essay was reprinted in Facebook and while I admired her ingenuity I was appalled by her audacity. Was she suggesting that campus sex be included in a regular curriculum and that class assignments involve field studies? Beats me. She claimed to have found a good site for her own dalliance in a section of the campus library devoted to the archives of the British Royal Academy, which I suppose at least adds the whisper of an intellectual tone to her eroticism.  But because silence is traditionally required in libraries regardless of one’s activities, it probably isn’t the best place for a loud and lusty roll in the archives. So next they tried an empty classroom where they not only could be as noisy as they wished but where she could prance about in her underwear “writing dirty things on the chalkboard,” a practice not yet acceptable during regular sessions. I emailed Cho to ask if her giggly take on sex was real or only a whimsical piece of satire. She replied that it was finals week and she didn’t have time for an interview. I emailed her again for just a yes or no to my basic questions and never received a reply. Finals first, sex-talk later, I guess. I fear that the fun-loving nature of her treatise could inspire others to conduct their own experiments and that campus fornication might spread to CSUN, Pierce and even Valley College where they’re still learning how to do it, not where. At least it will be a more visual response to those wondering if their kids are really learning something in the halls and bushes of academia.

Goodbye From the Bard

April 2, 2013 at 5:01 pm

You’re wondering why I am standing by a half-open door marked Exit, looking back with regret at the me that used to be me? It is because this is my last day as a columnist for the Daily News and perhaps the last day of the me that has written columns for three different newspapers over the last four decades. I am, you might say, from this day forward the Former Al Martinez. Well no, they’re not going to behead me or lock me in a tower for the rest of my life. They are just not going to use my column anymore due to budget restraints, a new design for the group of small newspapers to which the DN belongs and probably any number of other reasons. They are basically going in a different direction, and there is no room on the bus for me. I think part of it is that I don’t write local stuff but reach out for a broader view in a style of writing that just isn’t “journalistic” enough. Good writing, as one L.A. Times publisher said when the Otis Chandler era came to an end, isn’t a requirement for newspapers anymore. My writing is just too ornate, too stylistic, too gothic and too soft for those who own newspapers. And as they sit in lofty judgment on what the public wants, the product that is a result of their judgment drops deeper into the abyss. I have been a journalist since 1952 after a tour of duty with the Marines in Korea. I decided at the outset that feature or column writing would be my goal because they offered opportunities to display one’s writing abilities. News stories, by the demands of form and content, were limiting. I wanted no restraints. I began by writing “fill-in” columns for a small Bay Area newspaper, then moved on to the Oakland Tribune where, after 6 years as a reporter, I was given my own column. Ten years after that, following clashes with a low-IQ, right wing publisher, my column was taken away and I moved on to the L.A. Times, where I spent the next 38 years, the last 25 as a columnist. My career there ended when good writing was deemed to be unessential to newspapering. I began writing for the Daily News and here I am, on my way out. The likelihood is there are probably no more columns in my future. I will continue writing a blog for the AARP and perhaps turn out freelance articles and maybe another book, but the essays I loved creating are likely in my past . They were heady years. I was granted an opportunity to offer comments and opinions on a world that seemed perpetually on the brink of cultural Armageddon; a world of high humor and low motives; of cowardice and courage; of high achievements and unbelievable stupidity. I’ll miss it terribly and I’ll miss you, but I’ll be all right. Just a little lonely, that’s all, without the me that used to be me. ####

A Bard Doesn’t Take Out the Garbage

April 10, 2012 at 11:11 am

I am having a little difficulty convincing my wife that now that I am the Bard of Los Angeles, as officially designated by the Huntington Library, I am due certain perks and privileges that non-Bards do not, and should not, receive. That does not include possessing the right to have someone beheaded or imprisoned in a tower and I do not expect to be honored with a concubine of any sort or free drinks at Abuelitas but I do feel that a Bard should not have to take out the garbage or feed the dog every night. Those of you who keep abreast of small events accorded to eager little people such as myself know that the Huntington has collected my life’s work and has it currently on display under the imposing title of “Al Martinez Bard of Los Angeles.” Because the Huntington is an institution of prestige and knows a Bard when it sees one, I have accepted the title with all of its glorious manifestations. I do not wear tights and a ruffled collar, but I do shave more frequently, wear socks with my sneakers most of the time and limit my martini intake to one at a time and not lick them up like a dingo at a watering hole. On the other hand, I see no reason why a Bard must continue doing menial chores around his Bardom, such as the aforementioned garbage chore or feeding the Bard Dog. I have suggested to the Bardette, which is to say my wife Cinelli, that it ill befits one who bears the Shakespearian title to be found engaging in tasks that demean it. I doubt, for instance, that Will ever did anything but throw everything into the street outside his home, which was a common practice in the 16th century. Since there was no PETA back then, dogs were not offered special care and were forced to rummage for their food in the garbage that Shakespeare and the Missus tossed into the street. “Are you suggesting,” the Bardette asked, “that we throw our garbage into the street in front of the house and let the dog eat whatever he can find in it that is edible?” “Sort of,” I said in the deep baritone I had acquired since becoming a Bard. “And you would sit at a table with a quill and scroll writing sonnets while I, your wench, did the housework, cooked, shopped, dusted, swept and polished and fed you wine and a whole suckling pig the remains of which would be thrown into the street for the Bard Dog to eat?” “Well, since you put it that way,” I said, “the Bard could probably help out a little. Perhaps thee could just throw the dog food on the floor and let the Bard Dog consume it and lick the floor clean at the same time.” “Good idea,” she said, “and we can throw your dinner on the floor in another part of the house which you can lick clean as you dine.” You can guess how the rest of it went. The Bardette continued to bury me in truths and satire until my position weakened, my voice lost its deep, commanding baritone and I began squeaking like a parakeet. I have since reassessed my position as the Bard of Los Angeles and will continue dutifully feeding the Bard dog in a spirit of reconciliation with the lovely Bardette. We have also agreed to share the garbage chores on an every-other-day basis. The rest of the time I can sit on my big Bard ass and rewrite […]

Pissed Off at the Pissing Marines

January 29, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Somebody get the smelling salts. I have passed out on the floor from the shock of hearing the news: war is cruel and inhuman and disgusting. It came to me in the form of a video that revealed four United States Marines urinating on the dead bodies of enemy soldiers in Afghanistan. There was an immediate outcry against the desecration of our military adversaries even after we had shot the life out of them. It was OK to kill them but not to piss on them afterward. As a result, we are demanding severe punishment for the warriors who for reasons of their own had no respect for those who had been trying to kill them and had chosen a crude but effective method of demonstrating their disrespect. But that’s not allowed anymore in the more genteel requirements of human conflict, and they must pay the price of their indiscretion. So what am I missing here? As a former Marine during the Korean War, it was always my understanding that war was dirty, and ugly and painful and essentially quite discourteous. We were not trained in boot camp and at Camp Pendleton to be friends with our enemy but rather to blow them into confetti by whatever means available. Shoot them, bomb them or burn them, but by any method subdue them. Pissing on them afterwards was never offered as an option but one understood that they were bad guys out to kill you and well might manifest their antipathies in many different ways, including those utilized by the Marines in Afghanistan. My best memory of war is of a fellow infantryman who, when there seemed an odd occurrence in the heat of battle, would shake his head and says “This is unreal.” He would amplify the phrase by concluding later that what had happened must have occurred in some kind of parallel universe. It could not have happened to him. Not really. He had a point. Where life and death intersect, there is no reality. The very idea of members of the same species confronting one another on a field of battle and killing each other according to very specific rules is surreal. It flashes into the head with the peculiarity of a new idea: I could die here. Try as we might, we cannot gentrify war. We do not have referees wandering the battlegrounds to make sure that everyone is performing his duties in the best interest of the Geneva Accord. Neither do those with guns and bombs have the inclination to carry a condensed version of the rules stuffed in a pocket of their ammo belts and little time to implement those rules if they had them. Complicating the problem of ungentlemanly conduct by our soldiers is that the newer wars are not “traditional.” We do not see great armies clashing head-on with tanks rolling and bayonets fixed. In Afghanistan and in Iraq before that, we are engaged in combat with shadows and whispers that dart in and out of reality like subliminal thoughts, targets that merge and melt before one’s very eyes. The unreality of war has taken a quantum leap. Does that justify desecrating the bodies of those we have killed? Never. But in their way, the Marines were playing by a set of rules that exposed what war is really all about. It is full of mindless rage, thoughtless acts of violence and a consuming desire for vengeance. By its inherent disrespect for life, war pisses on the whole human race. Almtz13@aol.com

She Calls Me Grandpa Apple

January 11, 2012 at 12:36 pm

This is the year of Gracie Ann and I am her grandpa Apple. Although slightly rounded I do not otherwise resemble an apple. I am neither red nor green with a bright luminous skin and I am in no way delicious. The closest I would come to the shape of a fruit would be a pear, with the large part at the bottom and the little head-like stem at the top. But Apple is what GracieAnn called me on the evening before the last night of the year, and there was no hesitancy in her assertion. She pointed with the certainty of new discovery and very clearly pronounced my identification. “Apple,” she said. Some might say that at age one it was as close as she could come to the word grandpa and perhaps that is so. But I prefer to see it larger perspective, a glimpse into the inner-me as it were, wherein dwells the solid core from whose goodness springs the American pie. Well, maybe not. The point is that this is the year of discovery for our beautiful granddaughter, as it is for all of the little ones of the world who, with a blink or two, are beginning to see what lies ahead and who they will accompany to the magical kingdom called tomorrow. One wonders if in places like Africa or the Middle East or the dark alleys of America there will ever be a tomorrow for them, or if they will lie hungry and forgotten, pressed like petals between the pages of human history. I would prefer to think that the generation that is beginning to take its place in the world will someday see beyond the elements that have traumatized us to a point of paralysis and realize that the secret to survival goes beyond occupying Wall Street to occupying a global conscience whose moral force could save us all. Mountains and oceans and deserts of human resistance lie in the path of GracieAnn’s army of change, and we can only hope that when the infants are old enough they will also be strong enough to surmount the barriers that were too much for my generation to overcome. We’ve heard all this before haven’t we, from someone else’s Grandpa Apple. Go forth, we keep saying, and change the world, but instead we melt into the crowd and jostle our way to payday, while the changes we make if any are miniscule. But at least I can offer a phrase that resonated with me years ago. When I asked a rebel in the 1960s what advice he would give the next generation, he looked up at me after a march through the streets of Berkeley to end the war in Vietnam and said “Give a damn.” Grandpa Apple repeats it here in reduced form: care. And march on from a word, GracieAnn, to rebuild the world. Almtz13@aol.com

Shakespeare Was a Teenager Too

December 16, 2011 at 3:55 pm

(This is by way of introducing you to the writing of Dashiell Young-Saver, a 17-year-old high school senior who is a member of my Topanga Writers Workshop. To say he is a prodigy would only begin to describe his writing abilities. A straight-A student recently accepted to Harvard, he is as adept at humor as he is at high drama. Meet tomorrow.) By Dashiell Young-Saver Shakespeare would have loved Twitter. For those my age reading this who aren’t familiar with Shakespeare, he wrote plays on an island long ago, when people lived in their own feces. For those of you who do not know what a play is: it is like a T.V. show, but harder to understand. For those who do not know what a T.V. show is: it is an internet video that has a plot. And by plot, I mean a story, not a plot of land on Farmville. Now getting back to the point before I lose your short attention spans, Shakespeare would have loved Twitter because it forces the youth of the world to become more inventive and creative writers. Shakespeare wrote poems and plays in structured formats. His sonnets had to have iambic pentameter, rhyme, and be a certain length. The rigid structure seems confining, but it actually forced Shakespeare to be even more creative to work within the format and give meaning to his work. That is why old people like his stuff. Twitter is even more structured than a Shakespearean sonnet or a play. Limited to 140 characters, Twitter would have ended this column at the first mention of feces (coincidentally, that’s also the place where many stopped reading this column). So, each tweet is almost as structured as Bruce Jenner’s face. To fit any sort of meaning in the character-limit, twits (pun intended) have to be inventive and make up words, much like Shakespeare made up some of his. LOL, ROTFL, FTW, IDK. Since Shakespeare’s time, there has never been so much significance in so few letters. The abbreviations and shortened words convey meanings both literal and figurative. Well, figurative in that they may be talking about someone else’s body figure, as people often do on Twitter. The Chinese were able to put years of significance and wisdom into single characters in their languages, and now they are taking over our economy, industry, and culture. American teenagers are now doing thousands of years of character condensing catch-up on Twitter with abbreviations. And they are succeeding. Already so many abbreviations come from Shakespeare’s greatest works. His play Julius Ceaser is JC or “just chillin’” or “Jesus Christ” in youth speak. The play King John (KJ) is JK (just kidding) backwards. The Tempest is TT, which also stands for “Big Tease.” And some of his most famous tragedies arranged in a certain order: Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth can be abbreviated as JHOM or “just helping out my…” As I see my peers use more of their own words and grammar, I can’t help but boast that we are the most creative and developed writing generation. Maybe one day, we can condense the many ideas and significances of words into a single character. At that point, our generation will have conquered, I mean mastered, the English language. As Shakespeare once wrote in the play King Henry IV Pt.2, “Yea, man and birds are fain of climbing high.” So shall the Twitter bird and the young man of today climb higher than ever before in the English language. Academics (people who live in their own feces or, what they call, their own ideas) […]

The Day After Thanksgiving

November 28, 2011 at 11:46 am

It is early in the morning on the day after Thanksgiving and the house is in moderate disarray from a family gathering of 14 happy souls. There are still dishes in the sink and the dining room remains almost as they had left it with chairs pushed back from the table, orange and lavender petals from a bouquet scattered on the linen table cloth, glasses with traces of wine here and there. All of this will be taken care of as the day progresses. The dishes will be washed and put away and the dining room restored to its orderly condition. The household will settle into its normal routine. But this isn’t on my mind as I stand with a cup of coffee looking over the rooms where family had gathered only hours ago. I can still hear the echoes of conversation, trails of laughter, shards of stories traded back and forth across the table. Our extended family is a gregarious mix of retired teachers, a retired milkman, a financier, a gifted young artist, an entrepreneur, an aspiring musician, students, a baby, a park worker and the wives who keep it all together. As I stand near the table recreating the sounds and images of yesterday I see my wife, the vibrant Cinelli, basting the turkey, mixing the dressing, finishing the glorious pumpkin pies and organizing the additions that others have brought to the dinner. She smiles as she works, happy to have this day, happy to have this family, happy to have all of us winning the struggle to survive during a difficult time in America, thinking of a daughter who didn’t live for this day, pushing ahead through pain and memory for the joy of others. She is a remarkable woman who paints and writes poetry as gracefully as she serves up a gourmet dinner, as willingly as she keeps our household running, as artfully as she juggles our finances, as patiently as she keeps her grouchy, unstable husband plunging forward. Conversations of the day before remain in the room, this pleasant room, and while they vary in content, there remains a compelling toast to those who Occupy Wall Street from Oakland to New York,  mounting a velvet revolution against greed, corruption and the ruthless quest for power that has tarnished the very soul of America. I realize as I stand with a cup of coffee in hand considering the glory of family on a day of thanksgiving that we are a cross-section of Americana and our voices are rising to right the wrongs and to bring equality back to a nation off balance. This is what I have to say today as morning rises over the mountains and the valleys of L.A. We are a happy people, grateful for what we have but challenging the status quo. Like the character from the 1976 movie “Network,” we’re madder than hell and we’re not going to take it anymore. It’s the bottom line on this day after Thanksgiving. Almtz13@aol.com

Autumn: A Time to Remember

October 19, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Autumn is the sweetest time of the year, a hesitation between seasons that allows the mind to wander many trails. The days grow cool in autumn as a mist spreads down from the mountains like a bridal veil, and stars strew the night skies with a multiplicity of diamonds. Summer taxes the soul with its tyranny of heat and winter passes without noticeable change unless the rains come in drenching torrents, but autumn colors the trees and adds gold to the fields. Autumn is a quiet time. I realize as I sit in our gazebo facing the somber moments of my life that there is a melancholy nature to the stillness of the morning. I find myself in a month of Remember, gazing past the oak trees and chaparral to the place where images appear in kaleidoscopic substance, reassembling the past. I see our daughter Cindy in the last seconds of her life, our entire family gathered at her bedside, saying goodbye in our individual ways. I see myself leaning down to kiss her forehead and I hear the whispery sobbing of her sister. I imagine Cindy walking away, trailed by her life, free of the cancer that eroded her physiology. She died at 1:25 on the morning of March 29th. It will forever haunt me that on the afternoon of her death there was a loud banging in the room, enough to shake the house, a thumping four times somewhere on the roof or around us or everywhere. We all heard it and tried to find a reasonable source but there was none. I’ve had other spooky moments, but this was beyond explanation. The fact that there were four thumps reminded me that I used to joke with Cindy in the silliness of our rapport that the answer to anything was always four. And I wonder now if somewhere she was granted ethereal time to acknowledge that. If there is a substance to the notion of spiritual contact it might have occurred then. And while you will not find me chanting and banging tambourines, you will find me staring and wondering. Autumn makes one more aware of nature, of things that grow and things that live, a cycle in the seasons that calls upon us to remember that we are all interlocking pieces of the universe, each depending on the other for our existence. Flowers that avoid the ebullience of spring bloom in the graying tones of an autumn morning, and small animals scurry through the shrubbery, animated by an instinct that is almost a dance to the shortening days of the year’s fading months. There is life everywhere in autumn and music too if you listen carefully, emerging from a hum that is the foley of film-makers, the background sounds that affirm life’s vitality: the murmur of traffic floating up from the boulevard, the barking of a dog, the flutter of birds, the distant voices of humanity fragmented and reassembled in the misty air. I guess I am this way today because a week ago I became suddenly disconnected with my life, not knowing where I was or why and being told later that I had probably suffered a minor stroke. With that, a bad heart and a lung disease called COPD I am abruptly aware of my own mortality. I suck in life like energy through a straw and rise to remember how much beauty is contained in its essence. Autumn is the mother of seasons, and I am one of its children. Almtz13@aol.com