Friday, August 31, 2007

Movin' On Up

Tales From The Testosterone Zone has moved to a new home. Please change your bookmarks and bloglinks to come visit us at Wordpress.

Bye, Blogger. It's been fun.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Because I Said So

One of the August Moms sent the group a link to an eBay auction of Pokemon cards. The seller is a mother of six children. One of the little darlings sneaked a pack of Pokemon cards in her grocery cart, and the mom only found out later on. She was so furious that she sold the cards on eBay. Click here to view the auction.

Somewhere in The Suburbs found a link to this woman's blog, "Because I Said So." The author, Dawn Meehan, has been blogging since June 2007, and she already has some 77,000 hits to her blog because of that eBay auction. I'm a little jealous, but I'll get over it.

You MUST read her resignation letter. I laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes. I only wish I could write like that. Then again, I don't want the "six pack of motivation" she has. Ugh, my three wolves are enough.

Go ahead! Have a laugh.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Smog Angeles (Part 4 of 4)

Back to our regular programming . . .

After the Jeopardy! taping, we resumed our breakneck tour of Los Angeles. The next free morning took us back to the Hollywood Bowl for another free dress rehearsal. This morning we heard Michael Tilson Thomas conduct the L.A. Philharmonic and the L.A. Master Chorale in Beethoven's 9th Symphony, "Ode to Joy". They were outstanding. MTT elicited so many nuances from the orchestra, it was like hearing the piece for the first time. The Chorale was phenomenal. Their voices were a wall of jubilant sound bursting forth to the very top of the Bowl. I have sung the Ninth before, so it was a thrill to hear it performed so well.

With the sounds of joy ringing in our ears, we drove off the mountain and down to Pink's Hot Dogs for lunch. This is the Hollywood hot dog institution that's been at the corner of La Brea and Melrose for 39 years. At lunch on a hot day in the middle of the week, the line was nearly 20 people long. We all had a good time choosing and creating our perfect dogs, but Wild Thing enjoyed his the most.

Thus fortified, we went in search of that sulfurous, odiferous place known as the La Brea Tar Pits (George C. Page Museum). The boys loved it! I thought it was pretty interesting, too. The lake pits have regularly belched methane and asphalt for some 30,000 years. It is at once bizarre and captivating. The boys particularly enjoyed the woolly mammoths -- statues outside and reproductions inside -- and a sabre-tooth tiger skeleton and hologram.

When we were finished being The Flintstones, we drove back into the 21st century Farmer's Market, complete with valet parking. We found fresh limeade and lychees there and not much else; however, it was a good place to buy cheap souvenirs. We finished the day at a noodle shop in West L.A., Asahi Ramen ("noodle nirvana"), on Sawtelle. That street is a mecca for fabulous Asian food.

The following day was our last in Smog Angeles. We began with breakfast at another L.A. institution, Langer's, a real Jewish delicatessen. The boys did not understand their father's fascination with this place. WineGuy saw it to be a throwback to the classic 1960s deli experience, complete with knishes, corned beef hash, and egg creams. The boys viewed it as some diner in a seedy part of town, where there were no Jews to be found. [Sometimes I think WineGuy's mindset is still set somewhere between "Leave It To Beaver" and "Sargent Pepper".] The food was fair. The experience? Wistful. But, it was relatively close to Watts, Hebrew Union College, and the California Science Center. The latter was our destination. It, too, was disappointing. Those exhibits which worked were weak. It was jam-packed with hundreds of screaming kids, and we were not amused. Wild Thing and Moose most enjoyed BodyWorks, featuring "Tess," the 50-foot woman (a body simulator). Wizard had a blast riding the High Wire Bicycle.
That's the end of our Adventures in Smog Angeles. We did not see any movie or TV stars there other than Alex Trebek. We flew back to Miami, drove home, did many loads of laundry and packed for our next trip, Chicago.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Broadcast Interruption

We interrupt your regularly scheduled "Smog Angeles" programming for this important announcement: I am on the horns of a dilemma.

The next days of our L.A. trip were devoted to my Jeopardy! appearance. I want to describe the experience in detail, but I am contractually prohibited from divulging the results until the air date, OCTOBER 17, 2007. Check your local TV listings for the time; even if you don't know me personally, you'll easily figure out who I am.

I have already written the final installment of our trip to LaLaLand. I'll post it tomorrow.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Smog Angeles (Part 3 of 4)

[Part 2 turned out to be very long, so I continue here.]

One true highlight of this trip was our visit to the Getty Museum. We've been trying to get there for 10 years, and WineGuy and I were ecstatic to have finally made it. The Getty was worth the wait. The Disney Hall paled in comparison to Richard Meier's travertine tour-de-force on the mountain. Wizard and I took an architecture tour, wherein they discussed how Meier lived on the site during the 15 years it took to build the museum, research center, and foundation buildings. Regardless of which gallery you're in, there is plenty of seemingly natural light, that moves with the day and changes the patron's viewing experience. The interplay of light and shadow on the walkways was artful.
Meier said that his task was to "manipulate forms in light, changes in scale and view, movement and stasis." He used the principles of Modernist architecture – simplified forms, materials and function that dictate the final result – to create volumes and surfaces and that mold the light. The setting is incomparable; the buildings are masterful. Nothing overwhelms the visitor except for the vistas, which are beautiful from every vantage point.

Oh, yes, they have art there, too. Good art, some outstanding pieces. Truly remarkable for such a young collection. It goes to show you that a huge endowment can create an amazing collection in no time. From the ancient Roman antiquities (some of which have recently been in the news), to the illuminated manuscripts, the period French furnishings, and the incredible Impressionist paintings, it is clear that the museum directors had carte blanche to pursue the ultimate collection. My little art student, Wild Thing, was particularly taken with Van Gogh's Irises. He loved the brushstrokes and movement in Van Gogh's paintings. We also enjoyed seeing some of Edward Weston's photographs. WineGuy and I had a great time discussing the visual and psychological ambiguities of Edouard Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. which was a special exhibit this summer.
After spending hours looking at art, we took a break at one of the lower level cafes. It was wonderful sitting outside in the cool mountain breeze overlooking the magnificent gardens at the Getty. We meandered down through the Central Garden, just blazing with summer's floral glory. There is a series of water features whose sounds change depending where you stand near them. There were lots of butterflies and bees enjoying nature's bounty that day, too. We found a secluded sculpture garden just off the Central Garden. It offered "smogly" beautiful views of the City of Angels. We even hiked down to the South Promontory to see the cactus garden. Wizard took this photo of me and WineGuy in the Central Garden.
We ended our Getty excursion in the museum store, where I purchased a box of notecards featuring pictures of the building. WineGuy got a rock. Yes, a rock, like Charlie Brown found in his Halloween sack. No, I'm not kidding: WG purchased a small block of the ubiquitous travertine, etched with the museum's logo.

Guess what? Our day was far from over. WineGuy believes in milking every last experience out of every trip -- despite exhausted and whining spouse children, so we took a little driving tour. We saw some famous theaters -- Pantages, El Capitan, and the newly restored Egyptian; the Capitol Records building and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I found Bonnie Raitt's star there, but not my own. ;-)We wended our way up Mulholland Drive. The views from up there were spectacular, BUT the road is one tight switchback after another and requires 110% concentration to drive. You have to intensely crave privacy to live up there.

Finally, the touring ended. We drove back downtown to have dinner at a Los Angeles institution, Philippe (pronounced "FILL-ih-pee") the Original. Philippe is "French dip heaven". Yea and verily it was. I've never had a better French dip sandwich anywhere. In fact, the leg of lamb version was even better than the beef. By the end of dinner, we were stuffed and exhausted. I needed to shower and get some sleep because the Jeopardy! taping was scheduled for the next two days.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Smog Angeles (Part 2 of 4)

The weekend arrived, and that meant dim sum, a traditional Chinese breakfast of dumplings. We took Paige's advice, albeit after the fact, and drove downtown to Empress Pavilion in Chinatown. Arriving early was the key to a good table and no crowds. This was strategic because we planned to take the 12:00 p.m. guided tour of the new Walt Disney Concert Hall downtown.

Filled with shiu mei and shrimp dumplings, we navigated our way across downtown Los Angeles. We found a parking spot on the street behind the concert hall and hiked up to the main entrance. WineGuy took Wild Thing and Moose inside to procure the tickets while Wizard and I loitered outside (and across the street) to take multiple photos of Frank Gehry's colossal "bloom". It is rumored that, from above, the Walt Disney Concert Hall looks like a blooming rose, an homage to patroness, Lillian Disney's, love of roses.
It took 16 years and $274 million to create this marvel of steel and wood. The exterior panels are made of bright- and satin-finished stainless steel panels. This photo shows Wizard in front of these panels.
There are lush public gardens on several levels around the building. One garden features a rose sculpture covered in a mosaic of broken Delft tiles. The building's interior is even more curious as there are no right angles anywhere to be found. The architect used Douglas fir paneling throughout the public and performance spaces. As a result, the entire interior feels organic, almost living. Unfortunately, we were unable to view the performance space live as there was a closed rehearsal inside at that time. However, we did watch a video of the auditorium and saw up-close images of the amazing 6134-pipe organ, the "forest of pipes," which Gehry and Manuel Rosales designed for the hall. Although there is a terrific gift shop at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, we left without making a purchase because three children (who shall remain nameless) could not make a decision!

We decided to explore a little more of downtown L.A. before heading on to our next destination. WineGuy navigated us through the Jewelry District, with over 3,000 wholesalers spread across several city blocks -- it's larger than New York's 47th Street; the Flower District, complete with wholesale markets exploding with color and fragrance; the Toy District, which is clearly the central market for all those crummy, little, toxic toys made in China. Afterwards, we drove back out to Belair to the Skirball Cultural Center.

The Skirball Center is Reform Judaism's concept of a musuem cum concert space cum exhibition hall: a facility trying to be all things Jewish all at once, kind of like the Reform movement. To me it was an annoying and confusing melange of a public space. Their permanent exhibit, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America, is a broad representation of Jewish artifacts from the Old World to the New. For a small exhibit, it was nicely curated but poorly organized. The most fascinating displays were about Jews in China (Kaifeng and Shanghai). WineGuy particularly liked the museum store there; it was a giant Judaica shop, the likes of which we haven't seen in a long time.

After a Jewish outing, what should good Jews do? Eat, of course! Eat what? Chinese food, of course! Actually, we decided on a wonderful Japanese noodle shop in Beverly Hills . . . close enough. But first, we had to show the boys Rodeo Drive. The jaded little varmints I'm raising were totally unimpressed. Some comments worth repeating:
  • Why is it called Roh-DAY-oh Drive when it's spelled ROH-dee-oh? I have no clue.
  • What's so special about all the fancy cars? Jamie's dad drives a Bentley Continental, and his mom drives a Range Rover. Donald's dad drive a convertible Jaguar, and Billy's mom drives a Maserati. Ho hum.
  • What's the big deal with Gucci and Prada and Hermes? We have the same stores at [the local fancy shopping center]. Did I mention they were jaded?
And so the comments went about everything in Beverly Hills, from the shops to the houses: we have the same thing at home, and ours is bigger, fancier, and nicer. Jaded, I tell you! The best we could do at that point was feed them dinner at Mishima. This was a terrific little noodle shop featuring giant bowls of udon and soba soups. The tempura was great, too, but the biggest hit was Wild Thing's children's dinner. They served him noodles, rice, and a gelatin dessert in a monkey-shaped bento-like box: it had three sections, each stacked on top of the other, which formed a monkey's head when fully assembled. Here's a (downloaded) photo of the puppy box:How cute is that??

By now, you've figured out that our travels are mostly about food and museums. The following morning was no exception. We set out early on Sunday morning for breakfast at Kay 'n Dave's in Brentwood. On our way there, I passed a truck hauling a horse trailer and nearly crashed. There were CAMELS in the horse trailer, not horses! Only in L.A. As it turned out, the truck brought its exotic livestock to set up a weekly petting zoo in a parking lot across the street from Kay n' Dave's. Breakfast was mediocre, but the postprandial entertainment was a hoot: camels, llamas, a cockatoo that tried to steal my diamond ring, some baby goats, and miniature horses. The boys reluctantly left the animals while WineGuy couldn't get out of there fast enough. We headed further north to Bel Air and the Getty Museum.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Smog Angeles (Part 1 of 4)

Here it is, the first installment of The Zone Goes To Los Angeles. Suffice it to say that my children's first impression of the City of Angels was the horrible air. They couldn't believe "Hollywood" was so polluted. However, they did love the beach, and I loved what little I saw of Malibu.
The drive at the beginning of our trip presaged all the driving I would do throughout the entire trip. We drove from our home to Miami (2 hours) to catch a direct flight to LAX. It was a good plan to fly non-stop to the West Coast. We arrived in L.A. early enough in the afternoon to get some things done. AAA was our first stop, and it was very close to our hotel. Moose and I picked up our packet of L.A. maps and information. He proudly announced to the AAA clerk – and everyone else we met in L.A. – that I would be appearing on Jeopardy! We zoomed down Sepulveda to our hotel, Radisson Los Angeles West Side. The studio contracted a great rate for contestants so it was hard to pass up, even though Wine Guy would have rather stayed somewhere more central. The west side location allowed us to explore West L.A., Marina del Rey, Venice, and Santa Monica.

Speaking of Venice, we managed to snag a reservation at Joe's for dinner that evening. Joe's gets top ratings in several categories from Zagat's (the little red dining guides that are foodie bibles): Most Popular and Top Food. We arrived at the beginning of dinner service and were seated in a lovely courtyard. Wine Guy and I each ordered the prix fixe dinner and some other small dishes for the boys. The waiter offered them things like plain pasta and grilled chicken, but my boys were having none of that! They wanted heirloom tomato salad, tuna tartare and the like. The service was attentive and fast, especially as the boys started to fade (and fuss) from exhaustion. All in all a good culinary start for the family that travels "by its stomach" so they say.

Day 2 dawned sunny and smoggy. We motored over to Susina Bakery for some coffee and pastries to fortify us for the morning's activity, the Hollywood Bowl. The baked goods were pretty good but frightfully expensive for what we got. Nevertheless, we headed up into the hills to catch a free dress rehearsal of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. I was excited to go because I had seen the Bowl once before, briefly, when I was 15. We got great seats way down front and proceeded to read our L.A. Times and eat our goodies to the strains of violin soloist, Sarah Chang, playing a Brahms concerto. The boys weren't interested in sitting still so they took great pleasure in running to the very top of the 18,000-seat ampitheater! They ran up and down a few times and left us alone. It was bliss! After the rehearsal, Wine Guy navigated us through the old Jewish area, the Fairfax district, past Henson Productions and Kermit the Frog, and down to Little Ethiopia. We enjoyed an authentic Ethiopian lunch at Nyala, complete with that spongy, sourdough-y bread, injera. The food was interesting but fair.

By this point the boys were tired and whining and wanted to swim. We ran back to the hotel, changed into swimming stuff and drove out to Venice Beach. We managed to find a prime parking spot, although with a 1-hour meter. It was enough time to see the boardwalk spectacle there and dip our toes in the (cold!) Pacific Ocean. We drove back to the hotel for dry clothes and headed back up the beach to Santa Monica for dinner. We had a reservation at the Border Grill, the restaurant made famous by the "Two Hot Tamales," former Food Network stars, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. I'll be frank: Border Grill is completely overrated. The Mexican food was neither creative nor authentic. It was barely better than Taco Bell. The service was indifferent and chaotic. The room was so dark that you needed a candle or flashlight to read the menu; and, it was deafeningly loud in there. Border Grill was a portent of things to come: an overrated restaurant of a celebrity chef relying on her reputation instead of her culinary skills. [See my comments about Rick Bayless in Chicago; link to follow.] On the way back to the hotel, we detoured through Marina del Rey to see the inlet and the fabulous boats.

The next day we escaped the smog of the city for Pacific Palisades. WineGuy got us tickets to see the newly refurbished Getty Villa. J. Paul Getty modeled his Malibu villa after the Villa dei Papiri (Papyrus House) excavated in Herculenium, near Pompeii. It is a 2-story museum dedicated to the study of Ancient Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art. The interior is cool and quiet despite the hot sun outside. There are lovely gardens: an inner Peristyle (courtyard), the East Garden with a beautiful blue mosaic fountain, and a magnificent Outer Peristyle with a reflecting pool. The Villa's antiquities included beautiful sculptures and urns and the most intricate mosaics all over the walls and floors. There is also an outdoor ampitheater that is generally used for staging ancient dramas, in which my "gladiators" struck their own poses!

We surprised ourselves at spending the entire day at the Villa; there was so much to do. The family took a guided tour of the museum's highlights. We had a lovely lunch at the museum's café. Later on, Wizard and I took an architecture tour while WineGuy took Wild Thing and Moose on the Children's Tour of the galleries. A great thing about these guided tours was the wi-fi audio system used by the tourguides and guests: the guide spoke in a normal voice, and there was no shoving to be at the front of the line to hear or see. Really smart! Walking around all that antiquity in all that heat really wore us out, so we drove back to the hotel and rested for a while. Dinner that night was at a Los Angeles institution: In-N-Out Burger. The little critics loved the milk shakes, liked the burgers, and hated the French Fries. For dessert, we found this little paletería, a Mexican popsicle and ice cream shop, called Mateo's (in the 4900 block of Sepulveda). Paletas are Mexican popsicles usually made out of fresh, tropical fruits like mango, mamey, maracuya (passionfruit), guava, ñance, etc. Mateo's featured mouth-watering sorbets made from these fruits; they were cool and refreshing after a hot day.

(Apologies for the date stamp on the photos. The photos are from my film camera; my digital camera was being repaired. I had the photo center burn a CD with my 35mm photos.)