Our Little Island

In our first house back in LA, we had a small kitchen with limited counter space. Alex, in her design wisdom, found the perfect butcher-block to put in the center of the kitchen. It had drawers and towel racks on either side and was on wheels so it could be moved, just in case you wanted to dance a salsa while eating your chips and salsa I guess.

With all the cooking Alex does, we really couldn’t of functioned in that little kitchen without our Coconut Island. That’s what the tag said when we bought it, and what we’ve called it ever since. Our Coconut Island saw many a margarita mixed, and bountiful bowls of guacamole guaced. It helped us prepare turkeys for turkey days, and cookies for Christmases.

Eventually we found a pot rack to hang right above the island, so you could grab just about anything you needed in that kitchen without taking more than a step or two.

We’ve upgraded since then and our new setup is ideal, but I sometimes miss the closeness we were forced to endure around our Coconut Island. We kept the piece and I took a picture of it for perspective against our new built-in kitchen island. The Coconut Island now fits inside our pantry as a kind of pantry work-space. Our new pantry is not much smaller than that old kitchen.

We haven’t named our new island. Maybe because it’s not cute and quirky, but simply a nice working space. Perhaps we could call it the Big Island, like Hawaii calls Hawaii. Mai Tai’s anyone?

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That Time I Almost Got Ryan Seacrest Fired

New Year’s Eve would be a different experience without him. Kelly would not have a Ryan to chat with every day for the foreseeable future. And that famous pregnant pause between “this” and “is American Idol” would probably not exist.

Year’s back, in Atlanta, a friend was producing a game show with this likable young local kid, Ryan, with a freakishly grown-up voice, as the host. We ended up taking him out to some Buckhead bars. We were of age, he was not. I can’t remember if we knew the doormen or if we just had Ryan speak in his deep radio voice, but we had no trouble getting him in.

A few years later, I had moved to LA and my producer friend invited me to lunch with a small group of starving-artist types, one of them being Ryan. It was appropriately Mongolian BBQ: The type of place where you take a bowl for one price and smash as many ingredients into it as you can. You then hand your stuffed bowl to a guy standing over what’s basically a big flat wok. The guy dumps out all your ingredients and grills up a giant heaping of hot food for you.

Ryan had moved out to LA about the same time as me, not long after that Atlanta game show. Judging from our overfilled bowls, I’d say we were both at the starving point. He did, however, have a gig at the local radio station. Not the best time-slot, but a start. He was talking about attending community college as some kind of backup, I guess.

When my girlfriend at the time heard that Ryan worked at the radio station, she had me call him up to see about recording a voice-over reel. You know, the kind of thing that gets you jobs reading copy for commercials and such? Well, Ryan, being the nice guy that he was, said “sure thing, come on over to the studio while I’m working and I’ll set you up.”

When we get to the radio station he has on his headphones, on-air. He’s going a mile-a-minute, talking, pushing buttons, flipping switches, multi-tasking. This guy is in his element. He sees us and smiles and waves us in. He holds up his finger like “just a sec,” pushes another button or two, puts down his headphones and greets us both warmly.

He has us follow him into an empty studio next to his and shows me how to run the recorder in there to do the demo reel. It’s actually easier than I thought. Ryan then bolts to get back to his next radio segment and leaves us in there all alone with the door closed.

About 15 minutes later we’re almost done with the demo-reel, and I see a face in the little window in the door to our room. The face has a scowl. I hear a knock and I open the door. “Who gave you permission to be in here?” the face asks angrily. “Uh, Ryan” I answer. “Ryan!” the guy turns and goes to confront Ryan. I rush to the board and push record. “Hurry up,” I say to my girlfriend, “let’s finish this last take before we’re kicked out of here.”

I think Ryan got scolded, but not fired, and we kind of lost touch. I hoped it wasn’t for the recording incident.

A few years later, I was in an LA restaurant bar with another friend who was not in the business of show whatsoever. Up comes this well-dressed kid with the brightest smile, and frosty tipped hair. It was Ryan. He asked how things were and I did the same, though I knew he’d been bumped up to the best time-slot in radio: the afternoon drive. I introduced my friend to Ryan who regaled us with some Hollywood chatter. Later, my friend said presciently, “that kid’s either going to make it big, or crash big.”

I haven’t seen Ryan since…. Well, except everywhere.

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The Battle of Almost Wounded Knee

Last year they nested in a nearby tree, bumping into our windows drawn to the inside light at night. They looked like mini army helicopters and kind of sounded like them when they hovered around you while outside. They weren’t fat like bumblebees, but bulky like Humvees. These were the biggest and scariest looking flying things with a stinger that my wife and I had ever seen.

“We’re not in LA anymore,” I said to Alex. In LA flying bugs were more scarce than an older woman without Botox. In LA we would see a few bees around our lavender, some flies sometimes when we picnicked, a rare mosquito. These were all outside bugs mind you, not really trying to get in. Here in Georgia it’s like they’re banging at the door with a search warrant.

We made it through last summer without any giant Humvee-helicopter wasps making it into our home, or God forbid onto our skin. Then this summer, I noticed one going into the fascia above our front door. I went online and did some recon and found out that these things are European wasps. Great, I thought, whatever happened to NATO?

Like most things around the house, I usually try to do them myself before calling an expert. I waited until dusk and suited up the best I could. By the time I had my wrists and ankles rubber-banded and my hockey helmet on, I’d worked up a sweat. “Let’s hope these things aren’t attracted to sweat,” I said to Alex through the glass shield of my hockey helmet. “What?” she asked. “Wish me luck!” I yelled. Alex chuckled at me in my getup and just shook her head.

I’d set up a ladder under the entry point earlier. I stepped outside gingerly and climbed the ladder. I put my wasp spray up to the gap in the fascia and let her rip. Suds and white foam went everywhere as I quickly climbed back down the ladder. Unfortunately, I missed the bottom rung and started to run backwards while trying to keep my feet underneath me. Probably realizing I’d need both hands to break my fall, I flung the can of wasp spray out of my hand and it went flying into the front yard. I then crashed into one of our front porch columns. I sat there for a second kind of stunned. I looked through the now foggy hockey mask. Was that a platoon of wasps swarming toward me, or just my imagination? I got up quicker than I’d fallen and ran into the house.

“What the heck happened out there?” Alex asked. “I fell off the ladder.” “Are you okay?!” I checked that all my appendages were moving properly. “I think I’m okay.” “We’ll call an expert tomorrow then?” Alex suggested. “Not so fast.”

The next day I walked out and examined the battlefield. The ladder was still where I fell off of it, and my wasp spray had rolled about 20 yards away. There wasn’t a dead wasp in sight. Suddenly, I heard a Humvee-helicopter over my shoulder. I eyed the wasp spray, but it was too far away to do me any good. Instead, I ran into the house and decided I might want to call an expert…. Or maybe I could bait them? The battle continues.

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Going Grinch

In LA, we lived one neighborhood over from a place seasonally dubbed “Candy Cane Lane.” Come December, it’s a Christmas wonderland. Cars line up for miles to drive through. I couldn’t imagine buying a house there say in July with no clue, then December 1’st you open your front door to find yourself in Whoville.

Any other time of year, it looked like any other Valley neighborhood with ranch homes, two-story Spanish redos, and garage conversions… which is what always got me: Without garages (or basements for that matter- LA doesn’t do basements) where did they store all the Christmas stuff? There were thirty-foot Santa’s, autonomatronic elf shops, working trains, and lots of smoke and mirrors. And the amazing thing was that these people did the work mostly themselves. Granted, many of them either worked in the entertainment industry, or knew people who did, so getting all the smoke and mirrors was not that difficult.

Now that we are out here in the Atlanta suburbs, it looks beautiful this time of year. There are classy white bulbs following impossible-to-reach roof peaks, giant snowflakes lit up in giant maple trees, and icicle-lights dripping down many a house. But this stuff is done by professional lighting companies, not homeowners.

Our first year here, Alex said she wanted lights out front, so I put a horizontal strand above our front porch. “Can’t you get them to follow the shape of the house?” she asked after not being too impressed with my first offering. “Well, yeah, if I had a thirty-foot ladder, a helmet, and some climbing gear,” I only half-joked while looking up at our high-peaked roof. So, I did what I thought was the next best thing and wrapped our front trees with lights as high as I could (fortunately they were still young and relatively short trees). A few hours later I proudly showed off my work. “Nice,” Alex said, but I got a whiff of patronization. “Hey, we can’t all afford a lighting crew,” I said.

We used to make fun of Candy Cane Lane. It was tacky, but I kind of miss that “do-it-yourself” spirit. In fact, after realizing I’d never be able to keep up with the Jones’ out here, I asked Alex if we could go the opposite direction and steal a page from the Candy Cane Lane playbook. There was a family there who was either really fed up, or possibly Jewish and didn’t celebrate the holiday, who simply put a Grinch in their front window and lit it up with a spotlight so it was the only thing you saw at that house, sitting amongst all the crazy colored lights and moving giant objects of a Candy Cane Lane Christmas.

We bought a Grinch and everything, but Alex said no, not going to happen. I’m keeping the Grinch just in case she changes her mind though. Better shop for a good spotlight too.

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Sounds of the City

The freeway hums 24/7 like a swarm of bees, dogs bark in staccato, and leaf blowers whine like mobs of Italian mopeds. Add an occasional helicopter chasing a criminal or circling a freeway accident, and this is the LA soundscape. Sure, you can drown it out with the ocean waves at the beach or maybe high up in the hills, but that’s just temporary for most.

When we moved from LA to Atlanta, we thought it would be more quiet, and it is in some ways- it’s not as 24/7 like LA- but Atlanta can have all those LA sounds and more; even in the outer suburbs where we are. We’ve got volleys of gunshots (probably deer hunters, but who really knows), dirt bikes and ATV’s roaming the woods, and the constant beep-beep-beep of construction crew vehicles creating new subdivisions and doing roadwork on seemingly every road in every direction.

Paris has its strange police sirens; Chicago has the noisy L-trains; and New York its Taxi horns (or did that go away with the advent of Uber?). If I were to pick one sound that stands out in Atlanta and its suburbs, it’s that beep-beep-beep. Even at the airport at 8am when you’re trying to calm down after fighting through traffic, parking shuttles, and TSA attitudes, you can’t escape the beep-beep-beep of airport carts.

Atlanta and LA have a lot in common: both are sprawling, car-centric places, with their own music, sports and entertainment scenes; both can be loud in their own ways. Hopefully, there’s just enough quiet to be found in either place for someone to remain sane. That, or I’ll just go deaf from the beep-beep-beeps—then my noise sensitivity won’t be an issue at all.

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Southern Fried

Living in LA we had some of the best and most diverse food anywhere, and we are foodies so we were in heaven. In fact, Alex is such a good cook and home-stylist, that at one time I wanted to pitch a TV show called “Move Over Martha” with Alex as a younger, hipper Martha Stewart.

Moving to Atlanta, I’m sure Alex had her reservations (no pun intended) but she was quick to realize that Atlanta takes its food as seriously as any major city. Just like LA, it has trendy spots with the latest crazes, like farm-to-table; different ethnic areas with signs and menus in other languages; giant world markets like Buford Highway and Decatur Farmer’s, where regular Joes and Janes, and Joses and Juanas, can shop alongside chefs in double-breasted jackets and Crocs who are picking up last minute items for their evening menus. And of course Atlanta has southern food.

In LA, there are a few places that claim to serve southern, but they tend to lean more toward the soul aspect, or the southwest rather than southeast. Tex-Mex is good, but it’s not southern.

In Atlanta, they have southern down: They’ve got shrimp and grits; variations on anything fried, like the green tomato, and of course chicken. In LA, the meat aisle of most local grocery chains is probably half chicken, half beef. In Atlanta it is chicken 60-40, maybe 70-30.

There is great fried chicken at most good restaurants in Atlanta, like Table and Main in Roswell, but the local Kroger grocers have some that competes with all of these. The first time we ate Kroger fried chicken we were in the middle of our move, so an unfair advantage I know—Pizza Hut can almost taste gourmet after you’ve moved a thousand boxes and haven’t eaten all day—but the second and third time at Kroger was unbiasedly just as good. We were so impressed, we started using a soft ‘g’ when saying the name of the place to make it sound more fancy. “Where are you eating tonight?” our friends from LA would ask. “Krozhay,” we would say in our best French accent.

Who knows, maybe “Move over LA” will be my next TV show pitch?

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Craig’s List for Dummies

I’m not saying Georgia is dumber than any other state, but if Craig’s List was a bellwether, I’d have to assume as much. In California (specifically LA) we sold couches, tables, TV’s… all kinds of things on Craig’s List, and 9 times out of 10 it was a quick and easy proposition.

My wife Alex does the posting, so I know the ads are thorough and well organized—put it this way, she has worn out more than one label-maker since I’ve known her—but out here people still ask the craziest things.

We had a table top for sale and the lady asks “how tall is the table?” “Well, it has no legs” I said “so…” But I was thinking, “didn’t you read the ad or even look at the pictures?”

People call and ask the price of something or how big it is, when Alex always puts the price and dimensions right there in the short ad next to the pictures. It’s like they expect us to know all the measurements off the top of our heads, or have a tape measure at our hip at all times. Or re-read them the ad.

Here in Georgia they will ask if we can bring them the item like we’re Amazon or something. “Let me just send out one of my drones,” I’m tempted to say next time.

And I can’t tell you how many people have made appointments and not shown up, or called an hour after their appointment and said they were running late, but can we wait for them. “Sure, another hour of our day is worth the $10 you may or may not pay for that ceramic pot you already talked us down on,” I almost said one time.

“What is it with these people?” Alex asked. “They are dumb, lazy and inconsiderate. Not a good combination.” “The Trifecta!” I answered. “You can make up for dumb with hard work, or lazy with smarts, or inconsiderate with either.” “No,” Alex said wisely, “there’s no making up for inconsiderate.” And she was right.

Just be considerate folks. And put on some pants!

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Amateur Fireworks

I’ve seen fireworks in Boston Harbor from the roof of a harborside condo, in numerous east coast towns in the same night from a Manhattan-bound train, looking down the Pacific Coast from a bluff in Pacific Palisades, even from a posh Paris apartment overlooking the Seine and the Eiffel Tower.

So when our neighbor in Atlanta started his own show a few years ago, I was skeptical. Alex, however, was excited. “Hurry up, let’s go watch!” she exclaimed. I followed her reluctantly, but as soon as I walked onto our front porch I changed my tune. This was a professional-grade show, and we didn’t even have to brave any crowds or fight to find parking.

That was a few years ago, before fireworks were legal in Georgia. The kind of show my neighbor put on then was an anomaly. Now, it’s a warzone out there. And not just for the night of the holiday, but for the nights surrounding it, and random nights throughout the year. It’s so loud for so long, the ghosts of the Civil War are getting PTSD.

I guess it could be worse. Back in LA, my friend from Inglewood used to come up to our house in Woodland Hills on the 4th, not to watch our fireworks, but to get away from the Inglewood-style fireworks, which consisted mostly of shooting bullets in the air.

Alex and I talked about where we could go to get away from all the noise this year, and we really didn’t have an answer—the desert?

When we were young, a sparkler was fun and two sparklers double-fun. We graduated to the occasional firecracker or bottle-rocket. Those bigger M-80’s were an urban myth in my neighborhood.

Now you can pick up major fireworks just about anywhere in town: Target, Kroger, Costco…. I don’t know what direction we’re headed as a society, but I do think there’s an untapped market for earplugs out there. That, or quiet travel destinations.

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Vampires in Suburbia

Morning fog lingers around trunks of giant trees wearing robes of Kudzu. Heat and moisture creep into the day on cicada-winged notes. We intermittently drive through tunnels of greenery that hide the clouded blue sky above.

Another Atlanta summer, and we were on a mission to find fabric. Yes, I said fabric. Before Alex, I don’t think I had ever stepped into a fabric store: now I know Jo-Anne and Michael by their first names.

But Alex doesn’t just settle for retail, she’s a wholesale hound in the best sense of the word. She can find the source of just about anything, and somehow finagle a deal. Granted the minimum quantities can be a problem: We have had large pallets of various things delivered to our doorstep. And in LA, we had no basement or garage to help store these things. Our Atlanta house has both…. A blessing and a curse.

The heat of the summer had turned Alex’s attention to curtains. Blackout curtains to be exact. These are the double-paneled, heavy curtains with fabric on one side, and an opaque rubberized material on the other. They keep the sun and heat out, and create a dark room at night.

I almost forgot to mention, my wife’s a vampire; or at least she has the habits of one. She cannot sleep in a room that lets in any outside light. Now I have become light-sensitive as well. I guess you adapt to those around you? That, or she bit me.

We found the fabric store in Marietta. It was a little white southern house in the shadow of a gigantic billboard that looked bigger than the store itself. We parked under the billboard for shade. “Welcome to Marietta,” I said to Alex.

Inside, the sound was muffled by rolls and rolls of fabric, arranged by color. We passed pink girly prints and red brothel-looking material, light blue baby themes and darker blue nauticals, and found our way to the beige section. I know beige sounds boring but, probably Restoration Hardware influenced, it is our base color—that and grays.

Alex grabbed a pair of scissors from the end of a roll and started cutting the stuff right there in the aisle. “Uh, honey,” I said looking around, “are you supposed to be cutting up the inventory?” “This is a sample swatch. Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing,” she said. And I guess she was right: We walked out of there with enough sample swatches for a quilt, and no one seemed to blink.

Making curtains is more work than I thought. I mean just the math involved to make sure you get enough material to cover the job is hard enough for me, but then there’s the cutting and pinning of the material, the pleating, the sewing of course, and the hardware. Fortunately, Alex did everything but the hardware. I can handle hardware.

The first night with our new curtains, we slept like…vampires. We had no clue how late it was when we woke up the next morning until I pushed back the curtains and was almost blinded by the bright summer sun.

The next night before bed, Alex noticed me putting something in my nightstand. “What’s that?” she asked. “Sunglasses!” I said. “Welcome to the brood,” she replied with a smile.

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Grandma Didn’t Need a GPS

“I don’t know if I could navigate Atlanta without a GPS,” Alex said one day, exasperated by all the street name changes, street name similarities, redundancies, and lack of grids. “It’s the old wagon and ferry trails,” I said. “Ferry trails? Well, the tooth fairy couldn’t find her way around these trails without a GPS,” Alex joked.

I had learned to drive here, so for me it was no big deal getting around when Alex and I arrived from LA. When I was young, before I was even of legal age to drive here, I snuck out the car. It was a stick-shift and we lived at the top of a steep hill (goes to show you how much thought went into my decisions back then) but I made it back up that hill okay, and I don’t even think my parents noticed the extra mileage.

By the time I was 17 or so, I knew all the back roads and shortcuts. I could get from Sandy Springs to Druid Hills without hitting a freeway or nary a light. I kind of prided myself on taking the road less traveled. I didn’t know all the street names, but I knew the landmarks. There was the little corner grocery store in the middle of one of Buckhead’s finer neighborhoods—now just another large home. The Lark and the Dove restaurant—turned into a Ruth’s Chris corporate diner… I mean restaurant. There was La Paz and Al Zaps—which might still be around—but most of the old individually owned places are no more. Now the landmarks all blend in with each other… there’s the Starbucks, and the other Starbucks. The nail salon, and the other nail salon, and the other nail salon, infinitum….

There must not be many itches left to scratch out here, what with all the nail salons. Alex once tried to describe a place we’d been to by saying it was right near the nail place, then realized that could be any strip mall in a 60-mile radius. They all have them. And now they’re going up-scale in bigger and fancier locations with water features and names like Paris Spa, and Renaissance Nails.

I think I can appreciate a nice set of nails more than most men, but come on—how many of these places do we need? And if you’re getting the fake ones, I must say it’s obvious at a glance and even more obvious when they touch your skin.

I will always remember my grandma putting me to sleep as a child by gently running her nails up and down my forearms. I was in heaven then, under sheets and blankets softer than anywhere else I’d ever slept. And her nails? As real as she was.

Grandma didn’t use a GPS (not that she had the choice). I do now, even in Atlanta most of the time, I hate to admit. Every so often though, I like to shut it off and just find my way around like I used to when I was young: Tearing around hillside curves and down Northside Dr. in the middle lane of the interchangeable three lane road, punching it over a crest to catch some air, knowing full well there may be someone accidently coming the wrong way….

Fortunately, for my and everyone else’s safety, that last part’s only a memory. I can just imagine if Alex was with me—fingernails dug into the dashboard in white-knuckled fear. But, hey, at least she’d be able to find a nail salon to fix her up after she pried her fingers free—wouldn’t even need a GPS!Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 4.23.36 PM