Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Birthday

The pictures may say it all. My birthday was at Joe's Crab Shack complements of Camille and Joanne. The crab legs were great. The chocolate cake was fantastic. The green wig was so me.



Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Lucky Guy

I have been called many things: Brent, Brenters, Hightower, Geffe and my new favorite Geffe de los Sombreros Rojos (Boss of the Red Hats, which happened to be one of the few things I understood while sitting in house full of Spanish speakers for 20 minutes). I'm sure I've also been called other things: jackass, jerk, nerd, geek and so on and so forth (there's no need to dwell).

Last weekend I was driving down Figueroa just south of the USC campus. While waiting for a stoplight in my little red Mazda from the backseat Joanne informed us that a guy was staring at us. I looked around Camille and, indeed, a man was staring back at me with a huge smile on his face.

"He must really like Camille," I said. The man then gestured that Camille should roll down the window. After a moment's hesitation, she did.

"He's a lucky guy," the man said. This was met with roars of laughter from my car and Camille responding that I am, in fact, a lucky man. The light turned green and darted down the street.

For the next 10 minutes (or the time it took to drop the girls off at their cars) Camille and Joanne took turns filling the silence with quiet giggles that then turned into fresh peels of laughter. For months whenever the three of us have gone out on our "family" trips, Camille has taken great pains to tell perfect strangers that I am a lucky guy. Now, a complete stranger has told her before she had the chance.

The next day, all Camille and Joanne could say was, "Well, you are a lucky guy." Who knew?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The LA Auto Show

Last weekend I returned to the LA Auto Show. My entire objective was to poke around in each of the full size pickups so that in a couple years when my five year car buying plan comes to its conclusion I'd know which truck to choose.

Meanwhile I dragged Joanne and Camille along as part of our weekend outing rotation. While roaming around the hundreds of cars we methodically made notes on which cars best suited us.

It turns out that Camille belongs in a Jaguar XK convertible.

And Joanne is a Mini Cooper girl (no matter what her mom says).

Me...I chose the new Dodge Ram (Laramie package with the built in side rail toolboxes). Oh yeah, gotta save my pennies.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pandora's Music Box

I'm not much of a music person - tone deaf, incapable of remembering music (a song may get stuck in my head, but I don't actually hear the music, just the words) and so on and so forth, but I like music.

My next problem is that I'm lazy. For this affliction, God made the Internet.

I stumbled across Pandora and I'm already hooked. You just enter a song title or an artist and it starts playing stuff that has the same "musical genome".

For instance, I like Andrew Bird. I put in his name, they play one of his songs and then move on to music by a whole list of people I do not know: Benjy Ferree, The Shins, Eric Bachmann....

And it turns out they all have the same appeal as Andrew Bird. Now I can be lazy and stumble across new music and as long as I'm cool with it picking the sequence of play it's all free. I love free.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Commuter Zen

My evening commute avoids the freeway traffic jams. Instead I risk the surface streets as I pass through Huntington Park, south-central Los Angeles and Inglewood. These are not high rent neighborhoods. Some would call them undesirable. Though, as an aside, Saturday night coming back from an LA Kings hockey game we traveled through downtown neighborhoods that lent themselves to nervous joking. I told Jake not to stop for the signs or the red lights. Just roll on through. Camille offered up further advice telling Jake that if someone was standing in the middle of the street and did not start to move then run them down like you were in a Baghdad slum. Crossing Los Angeles on Florence Avenue, in comparison, is a cakewalk.

Anyway, the point of this little note is that I see interesting things on my nightly commute. For instance, there was a guy standing on the sidewalk with his pants around his ankles. He was doing some manly adjustments under his boxer shorts, then pulled up his pants and went on his way. Alone, this was disturbing to see, but there was more. He was not alone. There were people passing him on all sides. They never even took a second glance. It's like he wasn't there. Only in LA, I though to myself.

Last night, I saw a glimmer of humanity, though in an urban variation. I was on a little side street I use to avoid the clogged intersection at Soto and Slauson when the dented, faded minivan in front of me started slowing down for the traffic light - a green traffic light. God, how I hate that. Then I noticed the situation. A passing truck had lost a case of some indistinguishable and possibly exotic root vegetable. The guy in the minivan was angling to grab himself some tubers while the light was red. Before he could get his door open another man came running across the intersection to gather up the case. I sensed trouble.

Happily, the scruffy looking pedestrian picked up the vegetables from the street, loaded them into the case and then started handing over a half dozen to the guy in the minivan. I was touched. Sharing really is caring.

As I drove off I wondered whether kindness really did exist or whether threats were exchanged before the food. Either way, it was preferable to the other "business" transactions I sometimes see.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Halloween Movie Night

It was Halloween Movie Night yesterday and we watched Poltergeist, an oldie but a goody.

Attendance was a little spotty. Some of the guests were involved in a traffic incident earlier in the day and were still at the hospital. Last report: everyone was going to be okay, but there were stitches involved.

The other invitees might have been discouraged by the late invitations. My fault - I'm apparently not so good at Evite.com. That no one had responded in two weeks should have been the tip-off. Anyway, there were four of us.

I'm thinking this group would make a good posse - an entourage, if you will. Everyone needs a posse!

In addition to the scary movie, there was scary food. Camille has been hard at work for weeks devising her food.

Blood Punch

Witches Fingers

Kitty Litter Cake

Not pictured was the chili (not so scary), the green potato salad (still tasty) or the fried rice with pink tuna (which the cats would have really liked to had a taste of).

The following pictures are fun because of the mirror. I've never been able to see both sides of myself at the same time - I'm not sure I like it.


After the dinner we watched the movie, then came back to the apartment and watched a different, less scary movie, but on Blu-Ray which makes everything better. Camille and Will kept falling asleep. Actually, Will pretty much slept through the whole thing. I don't know if this is a testament to my living space's inherently relaxing vibe, the dullness of movie night or the amount of alcohol in the Blood Punch, but I'm going with the alcohol.

Also of note, I beat Will at Madden 09. Final score, 21-14 on a last second touchdown. Go Houston!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Random Cats

I think you'll agree...it's been too long without random pictures of cats.

So cute.

So cute, but oh so deadly. Don't let her fool you.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Third Anniversary

I haven't tried to say anything profound in awhile. Probably for good reason. Read on...


Today makes three.


Then it was an air mattress with a single pillow. A clock radio glowing with red numbers near my head. A suitcase with a week's worth of clothes not far from my feet. Outside - the city.


Three years ago today I unloaded four cats, a suitcase and a few odds and ends into my new apartment. For three days I had traveled from Alma, Kansas to Los Angeles, California. I crossed mountains. I outran a storm at the peak of the Rockies. I spent a night on the edge of the desert as the October sun set in the direction of my travels.


The trip surprised me. I never planned to make it; never dreamed I'd live in such a place. I never desired it. I never wished for it. Then it was. Now three years have passed and tomorrow begins a fourth year. And then maybe a fifth? A sixth?


So much has passed between that first night on the air mattress in an empty apartment and now. More furniture. Less cats. A whole world of friends and coworkers and moments that will someday make for endless hours of stories and laughter.


I never meant to come here. Living in Los Angeles was the furthest idea from my mind as I sat in my house in Kansas, yet I knew even as I said no the first time that eventually I was coming here. I took the night offered me to think about it and I did. I spent that night trying to talk myself out of moving.


It wasn't Los Angeles. It wasn't the opportunity or the promotion. It wasn't the lure of Hollywood, the temptation of the climate or the entrancing roar of the ocean waves. It may have been as simple as having been asked to go. A surprising new wrinkle. Fodder for a thousand stories. An adventure.


And it was a test. Like many, I have spent a lifetime figuring out what I want to be when I grow up. Also, I have spent a lifetime figuring out where I belong. I always thought it was the small towns I had known as a child. Porch swings. Neighbors stopping by. Friday night high school football games. And I do belong there - sometimes.


I have learned in the passing years that I also belong in the city with all its many small wonders. Movie theatres. Live shows. College football games. Sparkling computer parts stores. I enjoy the trappings of the urban core - sometimes.


One day, about a year after I had moved to Los Angeles, I drove the short distance to the beach. I walked along the water's edge not far from the Manhattan Beach pier and stopped for awhile to watch the sun sink near the horizon. I realized then that I had come as far as I could go. I stood at the edge of the earth peering into the vastness of the ocean. A lifetime had brought me to that moment and that place. It was the first time I felt at peace with deciding to move here.


A year later I returned from a winter trip back to Nebraska. It was Christmas. On the last night in Lincoln it snowed about 12 inches and Thaddeus and I shoveled the drive all morning trying to free the car. Thaddeus braved the elements and probably imminent death getting me to the airport. At LAX, the glass doors opened out into a warm night. Good to be home, I thought. A first.


Home remains an elusive ideal. Is it the place we are born? The place we die? The place we live longest? Is home truly where the heart is? Or simply the place we always go back to? I do not know.


I have lived in only two places longer than I have lived in Los Angeles - Lincoln and Caddo Mills. When people ask where I'm from I say Nebraska even though I have lived more of my life somewhere else. When I tell stories about my childhood I say I grew up in Texas even though I grew up in other places too. For me, home has never been a place. Instead, home resides in the souls of people I find in those places. It's why my parents' house feels like home though I never lived there. It's why I have a niece and nephew in Lincoln though I'm not related to their parents at all. Home travels with us.


Had I never lived in Los Angeles I may not have learned that lesson. In Los Angeles, almost everyone is from someplace else. The wall of my cubicle is lined with over a dozen flags representing the countries where my coworkers were born. They come from across the globe and speak as many languages as there are flags. If home were simply a place, we would all be a long way from it.


I learn something new from them each day. Words. Customs. Traditions. Foods - oh, the foods! Most importantly I learn that home is where we make it.


For now, this is my home. I do not know for how much longer. Years? Decades? Next week? This place is far from perfect. Long commutes. Dirty air. Homeless folks panhandling on the corners. Prostitutes displaying their goods at the stoplights on Crenshaw. This place is not all that bad either. Shiny new movie theatres. Countless arenas, stadiums, coliseums and a Rose Bowl. Only twenty days of rain a year. No winter. No snow.


Today makes three years in Los Angeles though it hardly seems possible. Here in this last place on earth I thought I'd be I find it harder to imagine being anywhere else. It doesn't always feel like home, but it feels like a good place to call home for awhile. A time will come when I get tired of the noise, the traffic, the grit of the city and I'll go somewhere else. Where? I do not know?


I never wanted to move to Los Angeles, but when the chance came I took it because I thought I might find home. Having found it nowhere else, the big city seemed like a good place to look. If I didn't find it in the city then maybe in the places I had already been.


On this last day of my third year I can say I have found home. Home is the place that makes us happy. Home is the people that make it that way. And home need not be a single place when it can be anyplace we want it to be.





Thursday, October 2, 2008

Big Daddy and the Fair

It is that time...it is time to tell a funny story about myself. It is a story best told in person, but that won't stop me.

When Camille and I arrived at the LA County Fair a couple weeks ago, we were greeted by a bank of photographers. We were early arrivals to the fair and entered in a trickle of other patrons which left the photographers distracted and talking amongst themselves. I was trying to sneak past them, but failed.

The last guy on our side of the group turned in time to see us. He was a stocky, black man with a quick step and unnervingly happy disposition. "Wait right there, Big Daddy," he said to me. Crap, I thought. Camille was already laughing. "Come on now, we've got to get a picture of Big Daddy with his lady." Camille laughed more.

Fine, I thought, I slid in next to Camille. "Oh come on, Big Daddy, get close to your lady. We've got to get a picture with Big Daddy and his lady!" I put my arm around Camille. I'm surprised that the picture turned out so well. I was expecting an open mouthed, mid-guffaw look from Big Daddy's lady. Nope, just a big smile (and the next several hours and most of the following days being called Big Daddy).

Sunday, September 21, 2008

LA County Fair

Last weekend I ventured to the LA County Fair in Pomona.

This was my second "urban" fair and, well, it just isn't Iowa. In the place of endless barns of cattle, horses, sheep and other four-legged furry creatures, there are a couple displays of barnyard creatures. I'll admit there were quite a few chickens and pigs. I'll also admit there were two cattle breeds I hadn't seen at the fair.

There was the furry, short-legged Highlander.

And the Watusi with the monstrous horns. Poor guy can't even hold his head up the right direction.

I also attended my first horse race. Aside from the half an hour wait between 5 minute races, it's an alright way to rest your legs after walking through a hundred miles of carnival rides, food vendors and people peddling their wares.

Of course, it wouldn't be a fair without fair food. A deep fried Snickers, a plate of BBQ brisket, a root beer float and half a funnel cake and I was done. My greatest disappointment was the fruitless search for a deep fried dill pickle. Maybe next year.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Little Labor Day Football

On Labor Day weekend, Sunday night, I was laying in bed reading War and Peace (in order to maintain my snooty, west coast, intellectual, know-it-all street cred) when my cell phone rang. It was late and I considered letting it ring, but 70 pages into War and Peace I found there were too many characters, too many princes and princess and too many Russians speaking French for me to get too involved so a phone call was a bit of a respite.

Jake had an extra ticket to the UCLA-Tennessee game at the Rose Bowl the next evening. This happens to Jake, that is, free tickets happen to Jake and sometimes he invites me along. In turn, when free tickets happen to me, which isn't nearly as often, I return the favor.

The next day there I was, in the Rose Bowl. It is at those moments that I take a few seconds to reflect on the oddity of finding myself, without any real planning, being at such places and doing such things.

Jake and I had expected the game to be quick and painless (for Tennessee). Turns out it wasn't, but more on that later.
In my three years in Los Angeles, I have had a disappointing run at celebrity sightings. I made up for it a little during the game. Before the game, taking a sip from my souvenir Bruins cup, I spotted a familiar face - Harvey Dent, or Aaron Eckhart, if you prefer. Then, during halftime the crew from ESPN showed up in the corner of the field - Lou Holtz, Mark May and Rece Davis (you can see them in the picture below, really you can). Sadly, at work, no one knew who these people were. I'll spare calling my coworkers names (like ignoramouses, for example).

In the end, the game was neither painless for Tennessee or quick for Jake and I. With 27 seconds left on the clock and Tennessee down by 3 it was nearly 9 o'clock. For normal people that would be meaningless, but for those of us trudging through our working days in "food processing" anything happening after 9 is happening after bedtime. Of course, Tennessee managed to get all the way down the field and kick a field goal. It would have been rude to leave before overtime and besides we'd come this far, we may as well stay on for a few more minutes.

UCLA prevailed in the first overtime.

It took over an hour to get from our seats to the car and out of the parking lot. Fortunately, while sitting idle in the car waiting for the line to move, we enjoyed Chex Mix and watching the glossy eyed, open mouthed looks of people looking for cars they might never find.

Oh, and we'd seen a classic college football game...too bad we spent the entire game trying to decide which team to cheer for.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Golf N' Stuff

The Evil Trifecta will always be Becky, Ron and me, but the essence of the Evil Trifecta lives on in Camille, Joanne and me. Think of us as The Reprobate Trio.

Our latest outing was to Golf N' Stuff in Norwalk for a little putt-putt golf action.

The Reprobate Trio sets out.

Joanne watches as her ball returns to her.

Camille retreives her ball after another winning putt.

I line up for a doomed putt.

As the day grew longer and hotter, it was time for a rest on a tree stump.

A few notes:
  • Camille won. Joanne and I are quite certain that she cheated. She was recording the scores and after we schooled her on the first nine, Camille came from behind to beat us - final scores: Camille-64, Brent-66 and Joanne-72.
  • Do not trust the GPS system in Joanne's car - we were going in circles half the day.
  • Always wear sunblock. You'd think I would have learned this lesson, but no, I haven't.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Happy Birthday Joanne

Joanne had a birthday last week. She reports that though she has crossed into her 23rd year the joints haven't stiffened, her walk hasn't slowed and except for forgetting her car keys the mind is as sharp as ever.
For the rest of us Joanne's birthday means only one thing - PARTY!

We do love a good birthday at work. It allows us to disregard business for a couple hours, convert a conference room to a buffet and eat far more than we should.

A few pictures from the blessed event:

Oh, and we also like the cupcakes. God bless the cupcakes!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Niki's Big 5-0

One of my peeps (as I like to call them) turned 50 last month while she was away on vacation. Her husband decided to throw her a later birthday party last weekend.

Here's the happy couple - Niki and Bruce.

Niki is smiling because Bruce gave her a Lexus for her birthday. Bruce is smiling because as purchasing manager that he is the price was negotiated well below sticker.

I have included this next picture of Rafael (we know him better as R1) because I take a perverse pleasure in posting images of people eating.

Continuing in this theme of catching people in their natural states I offer up Simon watching the Olympics. Each time I snapped a photo of him actually looking at me the thing turned out too blurry to recognize - I'm not sure what this says about Simon.


Finally, though there is an entire series of these photos, I chose the first one because it really tells you what all the rest of them are about. In this image Joanne is lecturing me on the finer points of self-photography - something about pointing in the correct direction, remembering to smile and then wondering aloud whether the camera was working. It was. I could make a flip book out of them.

It was a pretty good party. Like many of my LA party experiences I found that I was a stranger in a strange land. Usually this means I'm surrounded by a group of Latinos. This gathering, however, had a more Asian / Pacific Islander feel to it. It was a nice change.

The food was good and included all the normal party foods followed by teriyaki chicken, Kahlua pig, California rolls and some sort of bamboo. There was also a surprising broccoli dish - I say surprising because I liked it and I usually find anything green to be too healthy for human consumption.

And finally, if you happen to appreciate organization you would have died and gone to heaven. The coolers were labeled with their contents. The trash and recycling receptacles were also neatly labeled. A towel was placed on each cooler to wipe the water from the can of whatever one chose to drink.

Oh, and they had the best toothpicks - little tissue paper watermelons on top. How fun is that!?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

He's One Lucky Guy!

My LA family - Joanne, me and Camille.

A vicious and unsubstantiated rumor had been spread the other day in the upstairs offices that I had acquired two new girl friends down in the lab. The rumor continued that their pictures were on my blog. (Actually, this all came about from an overheard phone call where I was discussing my friends list on Facebook.)

Not to be outdone by the lab girls and to prove that in reality Camille and Joanne owned me a picture session was hastily arranged and the results posted on my blog.

And here I thought women would never fight over me.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

White Trash

I am 25% White Trash.
Not Too White Trashy
The white trash in my blood will not keep me from becoming a doctor or a lawyer, but it will keep me from a good haircut and any sort of fashion sense.


And here I thought this would be so much higher.

Monday, August 4, 2008

An Evening with Dolly Parton


I only became aware of Dolly Parton's appeal as a gay icon last summer. She's in that elite pantheon of women with what I'll call crossover appeal - Cher, Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler amongst them. Gay men love Dolly Parton - who knew? I don't know if I wasn't paying attention or whether it just never occured for me to make the connection between prolific drag show impersonations and gay icon status, but whatever the reason my ignorance was lifted.

Had I not learned about Dolly last summer, I would have learned last night. I may have been the only single, straight man in the audience. I went to the concert because I have an unnatural predilection for country music, especially the classics - Waylon, Willie, Johnny, Kenny, etc. but something tells me that most of the audience would not have bothered to consider that possibility. Only in LA, I thought, could I find an audience of real cowboys, wannabe cowboys and gay cowboys (and not a fist fight the whole night).

Other than the usual traffic getting to the Greek Theatre, it was one of the best concert experiences I've had. First, I won the stacked parking lottery. Somehow they placed me in the coveted front row. When I left that night I didn't have to wait for another soul. I just started up, dropped gently over the curb and out into the street. Second, I had a great seat. Not only was it relatively close, but I was on an aisle and no one ever filled the seat next to me. I couldn't have been happier unless I was sitting on my own couch. Third, while milling in line to get out of the theatre, I saw a familiar face standing next to me and after she spoke I realized I was walking along side Deana Carter. I know, I know, you don't know who she is, but I do and that's what's important. Finally, it was a great concert. Dolly knows how to put on a show (she also knows how to play fiddle, dulcimer, autoharp, guitar, piano, harmonica and some sort of Celtic flute). She told stories, chatted with members of the audience including a 4 year old girl down in the pit and she told jokes (good and bad and many involving boobs - I can't imagine why).

So ends my summer concert series - a shame really, I was just starting to have fun.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Flags of QA


My boss and I were thinking aloud one day about the diversity of department. One or the other of us thought having a set of flags representing the various countries of origin of our staff would be interesting. I ran with the idea and purchased one flag from each country that I knew about. I had a little trouble finding Bhutan. I also encountered a political controversy when I put up the official flag of Vietnam, a flag not recognized by my Vietnamese-American friends. To make amends I added the South Vietnam flag.

From left to right, the flags of QA are Bhutan, South Vietnam, Peru, Mexico, Vietnam, China, Philippines, India, El Salvador, Venezuela, Taiwan, Cambodia and the United States. (We just hired a gentleman from Egypt so I'll be looking for that flag next.)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Lilly Walks

So I've been looking for a reason to attach a video to my blog for the first time. And here it is. My niece finally decides it's time to walk.

video

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Library Thing

Some of you may have noticed that there's a new sidebar on the blog. It randomly selects books from my library and displays them for the world to see.

This all started innocently enough when Michelle added a book reviewing feature on Facebook. Being the sort of person that I am, I went about finding more information. Yes, yes, the nerd that I am has long sought a nice database program for organizing my books. It turns out that there is one. It's called Library Thing.

I can hear you asking, what makes this so much better than making a spreadsheet? Simple, all I have to enter, for most books, is the ISBN number and the rest of the information is populated. How fun is that? The perks keep rolling in. The system tells me how many books in a particular book series I have, it tells me how many other people own the same book and it tells me how many books I share not only with other users, but with historic figures (for instance, Ernest Hemingway and I share 33 books). I ask you again, how fun is that?

Anyway, here's my library as entered to date. I have a bookshelf and a half to go.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Cousin Trevor's Wedding

Yes, that is a beer poster and if you know my cousin and his friends, there is nothing more appropriate in the world.

My cousin Trevor was married to his lovely bride Misty on June 21st. I was busy ushering so I didn't get too many photos of the actual event, but I do like this one of Trevor licking the cake off Misty's face. (Why stick to the old, tired poses when you can have this?)

Normally I do a fair job at running from any camera, but I was under instruction to do a better job of getting pictures, especially of myself in a tux, so here they are.

This is my niece Shayla.
This is my niece Lilly.
This is my cousin and fellow usher Scott.
This is my "adopted" nephew Thaddeus.


And this is his sister Alexandria with friend Sarah.

And because it's not all about me, here is my sister's little family.

My sister and father having a spin on the dance floor.

And grandpa with his granddaughter Shayla.


Finally, though I may live forever in regret of having done this, here I am in a lighter moment.