Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It only took four-plus decades

I have this hate/hate relationship with winter.

Kenny Mackenzie once told me something that really helps during these winter months. He told me what he loved about winter: Coming home after school or work to a warm house, peeling off the wet, cold, clothes, and getting into warm, dry clothes. Growing up in So Cal, I didn't have that experience often enough to make it a powerful resource for me, but Kenny's description was so vivid (I can still hear his thick Scottish accent rolling the R's in warm and dry, and see him rubbing his hands together with a big smile on his face, eyes bright), that bringing that memory to mind always makes me feel toasty.

Which just goes to show you don't have to have the experience yourself. If you want to do something, find someone who's good at it and ask them how they do it. This works, whether it's becoming a morning person, loving exercise, or getting through winter without throwing yourself off one of the 12 beautiful bridges Portland conveniently supplies for such purposes.

I've found something else that helps me get through winter: hand lotion. Over my lifetime, I've tried just about every aloe, shea, cocoa, lanolin concoction out there. Vasoline with gloves. Mary Kay. Avon. Curel. Ecucerin. From 99 cents to 18.99, I've tried them. Don't email me your solutions. Maybe it works for you. For me, six weeks past Halloween, my hands feel like pet horny toads. (Pacific Northwesterners: Look it up. Adorable in a way only a desert-rat could love.)

So this year, I did what I always do. I got on the Internet. And bless those consumers at, they came through for me.

Corn Husker's Lotion. My grandmother kept a bottle of the stuff ("That's the ugliest bottle I've ever seen," said a friend) under the bathroom sink. I can't remember her ever slathering that goop on me. But boy, howdy, Corn Husker's Lotion did in three days what weeks and weeks and weeks of nothing else could.

It's cheap and ugly and my hands feel like a five-year-old's. I swear, I feel like I've found the fountain of youth.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Matthew Gray Gubler - the knot at the end of the rope

On Facebook, there's this "Become a Fan" feature that I've been invited to use, but I've avoided. I've been a fan of TV series, books, and movies, but I wouldn't describe myself as a fan of people. I feel a little uncomfortable putting people on pedestals; but I feel terrific about putting their works up there: the works are campfires where I can sit around with other fans, toasting marshmallows, telling jokes, and obsessing over minutiae until two in the morning. When I say I'm a Stephen King fan, I mean I'm a fan of his work; I'll read anything the man writes. I've rarely thought of myself as a "fan" of an actor, although there are actors I like a lot.

Until now. What can I say? Desperation makes me vulnerable. You know the saying about coming to the end of your rope: Tie a knot and hang on. If you can climb up above the knot and turn it into a swing, so much the better.

When I was a kid in elementary school, I loved getting A's. It was a game. When one of my teachers lectured on how to study effectively - eliminate all distractions, turn off the TV and radio, etc. - I immediately started doing my homework with the radio or record player on, because I wanted more of a challenge. If it was harder to study with noise in the background, I was going to have noise, dammit.

So I've long, long had the habit of putting the TV on in the background for white noise. And to this day, if I'm reading a book or writing, you practically have to whack me to get my attention. I have a terrific ability to tune out auditory stimuli.

I still prefer to have some background noise while I work (unless the work involves numbers). Maybe it comes from living in L.A. most of my life, or from working in companies with cubicle activity humming around me, or maybe just from practice/habit. To fit the bill, background noise has to be something I like, but have seen or heard before or don't really have an interest in closely attending to.

I couldn't have known what a big, big mistake I'd made when I was channel surfing for some suitable background noise about two months ago and heard Mandy Patinkin's wonderful voice. And stopped. I mean, Patinkin is safe, right? Familiar, I like him, I can tune him out. I've seen most of what he's done, with the exception of Sunday in the Park With George. I can set my subconscious to perk up at my favorite parts of whatever this is.

Well, I should have kept right on surfing, because I'd never seen whatever this was. Right off, that made it an unsuitable selection. Change the channel, De Lude.

But -- Mandy Patinkin! I could happily listen to him recite the phone book. Maybe it was a movie. Oooo... Maybe he'd sing!

Wrong, wrong, wrong. It was about detectives. And they looked grim. Odds are: no singing.

But -- I love detectives.

They're interesting. Change the channel.

That's okay. I can still tune it out. I just gotta focus.

At the commercial, I find out it's a series. A series? A weekly series? I get a weekly dose of Patinkin's voice? Oh, no. This is awful! I mean, it's great! I mean... crap. I hit the INFO button on the remote control to find out what this is. It is...

It is an unmitigated disaster. Reruns of a series I have never heard of but has been around long enough to be running three episodes a night on A&E. Now we've moved totally out of the land of BACKGROUND NOISE and into the geography of TIME SINK. *headdesk*

Fortunately, Mandy Patinkin leaves the show 30 minutes later. Seriously. The episodes are being shown out of order, with no discernible pattern. I look at the schedule and learn that over the next few nights, Part I of a two-part arc airs, but Part II of the arc appears nowhere on the schedule. Not tonight, not tomorrow, not ever.

I am annoyed and relieved. There is no way I'm going to get any entertainment satisfaction out of non-sequential episode broadcasts. They offend my sense of narrative. Time-sink threat neutralized, the show takes on background-noise status once again. Without Patinkin, and being broadcast out of order, I don't really care.

But I can't screen it out 100 percent. Enough seeps through to know the stories and actors are compelling, and I wonder if they are on DVD so that I could watch them in order and actually, you know -- pay attention.

I get online to research. How many seasons are there? What are the backstories? What network did it debut on? Who produces this stuff? Who ARE these people? Aside from Patinkin, I don't recognize anyone.

I suppose this is where I should mention that my second (I think) winter in Portland shocked me into a pretty serious (albeit temporary) depression. I will not waste time elaborating, but this winter is the first since then (1994) that I've felt this tired, snappish, and on the cusp of hopeless.

Enter one of the actors in Criminal Minds (that's the show), Matthew Gray Gubler, who has a Web site, which became this year's answer to my please-god-let-the-solstice-arrive midwinter prayers. Gubler's site is quirky and cheerful, kind of like if David Lynch had been born a Muppet, or Ralph Steadman's style with Jim Henson's heart. Gubler handwrites his blog entries and scans them in (as a fountain pen and calligraphy lover, I find this endearing). He draws odd little creatures and makes funny noises. His brief documentary of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou cracks me up, and his unauthorized autobiography episodes are horrifying and hilarious -- more Mamet than Muppet, but I watch anyway and wince and laugh.

I had to "Became a Fan" of Gublernation on Facebook. I suppose I'm easily amused. During these short, dark days, I think that's a good thing.