Monday, June 28, 2010

Love Your Oceans - Be The Solution

Maybe it's because of all the horror of the Gulf Oil Spill down South, but it seems to me that people here in California are getting a lot more riled up lately about saving our own waters from the same fate. Because we MUST.

In that vein, I recently went out with the Santa Monica Baykeeper folks to observe National Oceans Day, and also to take a look at what shape our beloved Bay is in. Started in 1993, the Baykeeper's mission is to protect and restore our waters through enforcement, field work, and community action. As we've seen down in the Gulf, if people are allowed to do whatever they want to our environment, they will - and with disastrous results.

So it was that I woke up early on a Sunday morning and pedaled over to the Marina to meet up with Brian Meux, Baykeeper's Marine Programs Manager, and Kristy Pyke, their lovely P.R. Lady. The idea was to take the boat up to Point Dume and meet up with reps from Heal The Bay, The Surfrider Foundation, and Below The Surface, who were paddling out on stand up paddleboards to highlight our most diverse and productive ocean area, and check out the health of the kelp forests that keep our entire oceanic eco-system thriving (hopefully) while we were at it.

It was a misty morning, with waves just big enough to make us happy that we'd behaved ourselves (somewhat) the night before. It was, in all honesty, a joy just to look down and see blue water, after all the black globby images we've seen coming out of the Gulf Of Mexico. It was not a joy, however, to see a giant cluster of mylar balloons floating by, way out at sea. I've said it before and I'll say it again ... LEAVE YOUR DANG BALLOONS OFF THE BEACH!

Your kids will still have a happy birthday, I promise. They kill marine life, period. That is not a good lesson to teach the birthday party kids, now, is it? We scooped up that bunch of balloons, and just wished we'd had a chance to wring the necks of those who thought it best to leave them in the sea. Grrr.

Cruising along, we spotted the Paddlers up ahead, and we all met up to discuss what they were doing, and what we can ALL do to make sure that we continue to have beautiful beaches and waters to enjoy for generations to come. It's all about involvement, after all. Each of the organizations mentioned above has events or clean-ups you can volunteer for pretty much every week. And you should.

It's good for the soul to participate in things that are bigger than you,and that make the world better in one instant. I pick up after some of you fools every morning as I walk along the beach, and you have the instant gratification of it being more lovely than you met it each morning, just by bending down and grabbing that broken bottle (REALLY?!) or picnic remnant or stupid balloon scrap.

We were all encouraged (and one surfer a little spooked) when a gigantic purple striped jellyfish wafted by right under the guy's board who was next to the boat. If that big jelly was happy where he or she was, things may be looking up for our Bay. The stories these guys can tell you, from their paddle-outs, their aerial surveys, and kelp forest dives are full of both dismay, and hope.

Dismay that people actually still have the mental capacity to think it fine to dump old toilets and tires IN the sea, 3 miles out from the coast! What in the world is WRONG with these brains that could do that? Dismay at the "Plastic to Plankton ratio" that some say is like 6 bits of plastic to each one of plankton. I just almost puked as I typed that, but it's true.

But there is hope for us yet. I felt it as we raced across the waves and watched about 30 dolphins race alongside us and in our wake, jumping out into the sunshine and gracing us with their sleek beauty and natural smiles. Hope that we were all out there early in the morning, because there are these organizations and people who care so much, and actually get out to DO SOMETHING about it.

Hope was evident again this past weekend as Baykeeper, Surfrider, Heal The Bay, and a whole bunch of concerned citizens met up for "Hands Across The Sand" down by the Venice and Santa Monica Piers, and at over 650 other coastal beaches around the world at noon our time.

We all gathered by the Venice Pier, and talk was less what you did last night, and mainly all how much we love our beaches, and how badly we all want to preserve and IMPROVE them, and especially save them from any oil related fate. On that note, Venice friends and neighbors laid down on the sand to spell out "Go Green" and "End Oil" out of humans. Then all of us who were not being used in a letter, held hands all across the beach to demonstrate to the world that we mean business about our beaches. We have to.

As the motto of Below the Surface states, "Be The Solution". That can mean many things, but it HAS to mean doing SOMETHING. Bring your own bags to the market. BAN Plastic bags. Use a stainless steel water bottle every time, and phase out those plastic ones. Participate in beach clean-ups. Throw your beach trash away in the first place - duh. Get rid of your cigarette butts in an ashtray, not out your car window, jerks. (I will make a citizen's arrest on that one. Every time.) Reduce your filthy oil habit, as best you can. Reuse and Recycle. Ride your bike. Take a WALK, L.A.! Hold hands across the sand with your friends to bring attention to it all. Walk the talk.

As Summer takes over Venice, get to know your H2o. Our health depends upon its health. Imagine our Summer months down at the beach, looking out at black tar islands and choking sea creatures, instead of shimmering blue waters full of life. That would wreck your buzz for sure ... and we really don't want that.

- CJ Gronner

*Photos by Paul Gronner (Baykeeper) and Sean James (Hands Across The Sand).

Dan Coakley - Enjoy Responsively.

It takes a lot to get Venice people to the Valley ... and Dan Coakley and his band are a LOT. Dan has a brand new and excellent Ep out - EP 1 - and we were all excited to hear its tracks live with a full band ... excited enough to head over the hills, even.

Dan's EP was produced by Dave Cobb, who also took over the reins on Shooter Jennings & Hierophant's EPIC new album, Black Ribbons (which if you haven't listened to it yet, don't talk to me until you do. Crucial listening, especially if you're an American that gives a damn about anything anymore). While Dan and Dave were a huge part of Black Ribbons, so too are Dave and Shooter an integral part of EP 1 ... you can hear them all in there on both albums, and the resulting music demands the same respect, and beer bottles clanking together in a "Hell YEAH!"

I've seen Dan in a bunch of bands: The Hell City Rockers, Fistfight, High Or Hellwater, and now as straight up Dan Coakley, I get that he is right where he should be - rocking it, and meaning it. It's not easy in the music industry these days, but I admire people who go their own way and do their very own thing. As Dan told me, "If you want to be a working the fields, Farmer Musician, it's there for you." Meaning, you can get your music out there your own way these days, if you're up for the work. And he is. (P.s. - Farmer Musicians is a sweet band name, someone.)

EP 1 is a collection of four deeply personal songs, full of darkness and hell, but even fuller of redemption and light. Like all the best music is, and as real as it gets.

Which is why it was so great to finally get to see and hear it all live. Dan has surrounded himself with ridiculously talented musicians in his band, while he himself gets so wrapped up in performing his songs, he might not even know you're there.

Dan's cousin, Paige Gullivan, opened the musical evening, with some solo acoustic songs from his New York based band, Russian Vogue. His voice sounds like John Doe, and my favorite number of his was "Des Colores", the one that he introduced as, "This is a Spanish song. I don't know what the words mean, but I like it." Me too, Paige. So, so pretty, it was. When Dan took the stage next, he said, "God Bless America, I love that guy!" Again, me too.

Dan and his band wasted no time getting the rock started, as he yelled, "Are we gonna go for it?!" Yes, we sure are. They kicked it off with a new track off the EP called "Black", a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll. Dan hails from Baltimore, MD, and told me that Baltimore (Charm City!) is in fact South of the Mason-Dixon line, so he's fully qualified to execute some twang when he wants to. He also told me that the music he hears in his head generally has the beat of a railroad train, and I hear that in there as well, coming right at you.

That's what I like so much about Dan's music ... the emotions and truth come right at you, tough as nails, but remind you also to hang in there, and get through whatever is being thrown at you. Because you can. Like on the beautifully painful track, also on the new EP, "The Bird and the Boy" ... Watching Dan sing, fully immersed in it, "I lost myself somewhere ... I'm dying and I just don't care ...", it was dark stuff, but the music swoops in and carries you past it all. As it should.

Some older ones from earlier recordings, "135", the bluesy "Colorado", and "P" were thrown down, and sounded as fresh as they ever did. "It Ain't Me" is my favorite of the older bunch. "She grabbed my hand, and turned to me, and said, 'Let's leave, this ain't my scene' ..." It just sticks with you, running through your head for days. Ask my shower. "For You" was a song by Dan's friend Dave Sparrow, who was in the house to see it get the people out on the dance floor. Warren Zevon fans got a treat with Dan's cover of "Carmelita", that featured a dope Hammond organ solo by Mike Mangan (Of Mike Mangan's Big Organ Trio), prompting Dan to quip, "Check out Mike's big organ!" Ba-dum-bum.

"Been Down" is the opening track on the EP, and played live, it was as kickass as it is on the recording, which is not always the case, but when you have this kind of talent in the room, it definitely is. Mike Mangan on that organ of his, Ben White on bass, Brian Keeling on drums, and Mike Blumberg shredding his guitar apart made it almost hard to know where to look during each song, but as Shooter and I discussed after the show, Dan has the ability to be the equilibrium up on that stage, and be the kind of North Star of the group that draws your focus to him. No small feat when you're talking about players of such extra high caliber as this.

All of that was most evident on my favorite Dan Coakley track of all time - so far - "Blow By Blow" (Written by Dan, Dave Cobb, and Shooter). If you ask Dan what kind of music he likes the most, he'll answer you, "Anything that has balls." That is "Blow By Blow", if anything is. I feel like it's the track that is most him, and mayhaps that's because it pretty much tells his whole life story up until now, in the most rock your face off song I've heard in a long time - by anyone. I love it so much. It's the good old-fashioned kind of ROCK that makes you want to go out and break guitars on your own head, and then slug whiskey straight from the bottle. Yet, like I said before, as dark and heavy as it gets ... "Blow BYYYYY Blow, the hits just keep coming, and I just keep ROLLING!" ... that's about the best advice you can get. The hits WILL keep coming in life, and you HAVE to just keep rolling on. It just makes it a whole lot easier to do when you've got that whiskey, guitar, and rock shows with true friends to see you through.

Check out Dan Coakley live as soon as humanly possible (East Coast shows in July, back Left Coast in August), and get to know his rock before you roll, via EP 1 at ITunes.

And as Dan says, "Enjoy Responsively."

*Photo awesomeness by Paul Gronner.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Don't Quit Your Daydream

If you have the music in you even just a little, then the new documentary done by the marvelous band, The Good Listeners, is going to be one of your new favorite films. Don't Quit Your Daydream (Winner of the Nashville Film Festival's Special Jury Prize) had its L.A. premiere last night at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, and it was a packed house of friends, fans, and fellow dreamers that laughed and applauded the entire time.

The film follows The Good Listeners, Nathan Khyber and Clark Stiles, as they embark on a road trip in big RV across America to record an entire album - a song a day - with a stranger collaborator in each city they chose, and document the whole thing in what would wind up being the movie we all cheered last night.

As both guys were nearing 40, and both were unwilling to give up their rock star dreams (after having tasted early success as a part of the 90's band, Absinthe), they wanted to do something extreme to express their music, and also to reflect upon themselves and where they're going in their lives. They had tried to get work scoring films, and when those opportunities grew scarce, they just decided to score their OWN film. They've done unconventional recording before - 10 songs in 10 days holed up in a cabin for their debut album Ojai - but this was their biggest, and most urgent feeling, endeavor yet.

The film is deeply touching for anyone that, frankly, has a pulse, but especially for those who entertain their own musical or artistic dreams, that can seem so elusive at times. The people they meet along the way, and the music and friendships they create (in one day!), show not only the power of music, but the power of humanity.

From Joshua Tree recording in an "Integratron" space alien thing with a real cool hippie banjo player named Bingo, to the lushly gorgeous visual of recording ON a swamp cruise in Louisiana with the Cajun Man, Black, accompanying them on accordion (made all the more poignant with the tragedy of recent oil spill events wrecking everything down there), every person and place they visit is both memorable and inspiring.

In New Mexico, they meet up with a "Nuisance/Collaborator" called Lane and make music in a metal shop. In Texas they play with a guy named Paul that makes music using old video game sounds. In Memphis they play/learn the blues with an old mechanic named Daddy Mack, whose fatigue with life is transparent, even as he tells them about blues notes and how "You gotta lay it back" when you play them. In Louisville, they collaborate in a beautiful horse barn with their friend and producer, Adrian Grenier (Yeah, Entourage's Vince). They visit the Kentucky Derby with him, and learn about how "The world is beautifully unfair", when they can't get a room themselves, but Adrian makes one call and they get two fancy hotel suites. Sure enough.

The kids at the Paul Green School Of Rock in Philadelphia give the guys hope for the future of music, and let them reconnect with their original feelings about music. A guy named Christian in New York is struggling with the choice between professional baseball and a music career, also lending musing points to our Good Listeners, as they reflect upon their own life choices, making stunningly lovely music all the while.

And that's the whole point. As Clark says near the end of the film, "Even if Nathan and I never make it big, we'll always have the music we made." Yes, they will ... and so will we. What a blessing that is, as is this fantastic journey they've created and shared with us. The film ends with the Collaborators saying bits about what music means to them, and Bingo says, "You should do what you love to do. 'Cause that's what you'll be best at."

The evening wound up with a quick and humorous Q & A with Nathan, Clark, and Adrian, and then a live jam by The Good Listeners (and Friends!) in the Egyptian Courtyard, which left us all with the comforting knowledge that whatever happens ... we'll always have the music.

See Don't Quit Your Daydream (and listen to the wonderful album of the same title that they wound up with!) as soon as you can ... and take that title's advice deeply to heart.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Street Talk

In Venice, even the streets and sidewalks themselves will tell you what's up ...

And then just when you're thinking about how much you love that ... you ride over this one:

Oh, Venice. I love you too.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Go Skateboarding!

Today is not only the official beginning of Summer 2010 (Happy Solstice!!!), but it's also National Go Skateboarding Day!

My family always had a skate ramp in the backyard or in the street in front of the house(I have a scar on my chin to show for it), and it's been so gratifying to see the sport grow and grow and GROW over the years. Now it's a billion dollar industry, and little kids are encouraged to skate, whereas my brother grew up having to chant the old "Skateboarding is not a crime" mantra. It's such sweet justice that the Venice Skate Park opened half a block from his place, and it's teeming with skaters of all ages, all the time.

Speaking of little kids, in honor of today being Go Skateboarding Day!, my little pal, Truman Conway, (and his cool Dad, Dave) made a sweet video down at the beach, and if you don't want to go skating - in Venice - right after viewing ... Well, I can't help you.

There was also a fantastic skate contest put on by Ghost Town Skateboards this last Saturday at the Church ramp on Lincoln. It was a glorious day in the sunshine, and my skater brother Paul's band (called Earthquakes On Acid at this printing) had its debut, appropriately surrounded by the skating brethren. We'll talk more about that this week with Leandro from Ghost Town.

It's a beautiful day, wherever you are, and Summer is the perfect time to get out there and GO SKATEBOARDING!!

Take it from Truman.

Friday, June 18, 2010

I Love L.A.!

Man, those Lakers. They really put you through the wringer, but somehow you never lose faith. I didn't sit down the entire game, and I'm not positive, but that, coupled with my Minnesota Purple and Gold (of course you know that the LAKErs came from Minneapolis, like me, so we all go waaaaay back with our love, legit.) shirt AND underwear, might have been the deciding factor. You never know.

Congratulations, dear 2010 NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers!! You did it!!! Again. And it ruled. Kobe, Fish, Artest, Odom, Pau (but you kind of lost your shot, didn't you?), high flying Shannon Brown, and all of you ... Phew!

Thank you for the great times you give family and friends and strangers alike, who come together to want to kiss and kill you at this time every year. You do NOT suck. And never will.

I LOVE L.A.!!!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Stop It.

Summer doesn't really get going at the beach in Venice until more like July. It's funny to watch the news and hear about scorching temps in the Valley or wherever, when you're in a sweater and still a little chilled. I guess the bonus to that is that the Summer lasts longer, all clear and warm until well into the Fall. I guess.

So you put on that sweater and you go for a walk along the beach. You see a seal dying in front of your eyes, being tossed around in the shore break. There's nothing you can do, but tell a lifeguard and walk away, with the image seared into your brain like a cattle brand for the rest of the day, and probably life. Moving on, you almost slice your foot off on a brown, jagged, broken bottle bottom. 'Cause it makes total sense to leave behind glass bottles where little toddlers squeal around in the sand.

You walk a little further up and see a sad bunch of wilted balloons being pushed around in the foam like the seal. Disgusted, you pick them up and take them to the garbage can, only to find it FULL of other balloons inside (at least SOME people bother to put them in the cans)! Folks - your kids will still have a happy birthday without bringing murderous (to sea life) balloons along to the beach. They'll probably like it more, since balloons are kind of creepy/terrifying if they pop. So be forewarned, I will slap your face if I see you at the beach leaving balloons (or cigarettes) behind. I will, and I'm a pacifist. Up off the beach, I see it's phone book delivery time, as every house I cruise past has one on their front steps. WHO in the world still uses big fat phone books anymore? We do not need them, they're a waste of paper and trees, and a complete hassle to even have around, falling out of your cupboard, heavy with lack of use. (Click HERE now to Opt Out of getting them).

Dumb. Stop it.

Feeling rather irked, I pedaled away from the beach, waving to some friendly faces, stopping for a fun chat or two, which changed the whole vibe straight away. I went past the big old Rip Cronk mural of Abbot Kinney on Venice & Pacific, and thought about that dude, Mr. Kinney. How visionary and cool he was, to create such a lasting legacy of a place out of a dream he had. And how we really should honor him by taking a little better care of the joint.

Plus you don't really want to get slapped at the beach, on your sunburn that still got you, through the clouds.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sunset Over Venice

My extra talented brother, Paul, took this photo of the sun setting off of the beach in Venice.

He didn't use any special Photo-Shoppy tricks, just his own eyeballs and the colors of nature.

I'm not mad at it.

You're probably going to be seeing a new Blogtown feature called "Paul's Epic Photo of the Week" or something like that. Because he's really that good, and I rather enjoy making peoples' jaws hurtle to the floor.

Check it -

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Artisan Venice - By Venice Artists FOR Venice Artists.

There's been a lot of talk lately about how the Boardwalk vendors aren't really that Venice anymore. Cheap Chinese jewelry sets from Santee Alley for $2.00, and packaged incense and soap you can get anywhere seem to be more prevalent than local arts and crafts created in front of your face by local artists following their bliss. There are lovely and spirited exceptions to be sure (the ones you'd likely read about here), but ask anyone standing around the beach Police station early Tuesday mornings for the weekly Boardwalk booth lottery, and you will get an earful about how scarce the legit artists seem to be down there these days.

Which is why it's so great that there is a new Art venue straight under the shadow of the lit-up VENICE sign hanging at Windward & Pacific, called Artisan Venice. Fittingly, and poetically justified, it is in the exact spot recently vacated by the chain Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf that locals wanted no part of. From the hand painted sign to the art spilling out on to the sidewalk (most often actively being worked on by a local artist right then and there), it is clear that Artisan is by and for Venice artists.

I happened to be biking by after being juggled by another story subject (Sigh. Los Angelenos, you CAN be better. You don't HAVE to be flakes!), and thought, "Oh, right. I can go check out that corner place that's not open yet when I bike by early mornings and see what's what." So I cruised on in, and one of the guys inside saw my Minnesota Vikings shirt (same colors as Lakers, and I have school spirit) and said, "Are you from Minnesota? Discount on anything in here if you are!" Well, that cemented the friendship immediately, as it does, and I shook hands with co-owner, Darren Hall, also from Minnesota. Duluth to be exact. He had a few minutes, so I sat down and learned about the spirit of the place, while smelling the foggy air and acrylic fumes of the skateboard painter working right outside.

Darren grew up and went to school in Duluth ("In the third largest white ghetto in the United States", a fact I did not know), and though he loved music and art, his track seemed to be heading towards a thrilling built-in HVAC career, courtesy of his step-dad's biz, like most of the other guys in the area (at best). But then he thought it was time to go and introduce himself to the Father he'd never met, a guy who blew through Minnesota back in the 80's on tour, named Daryl Hall. Hall of Hall & Oates. (In a stroke of sheer synchronicity, H & O are in the news today for canceling their Arizona gig in protest of that state's dumb immigration stance. Good for you, Hall & Oates!) After the somewhat awkward backstage meeting, Darren went on tour all over the world with his Dad's band, and saw a lot of cool things. He wound up visiting a cousin in L.A. at one point, who brought him down to Venice. He straight away thought and knew, "This is it. This is home." (I remember that exact feeling myself, and could probably look up the exact day in the archives, as profound as it was.)

After some stints doing awful collections phone calls, and the much more fun video game testing, Darren got a gig working at a smoke shop on the Boardwalk, where he developed good relationships with a slew of glass blowers, and learned to love, as he put it, "the Boardwalk Hustle". After a while of that, and helping the business owner to prosper, he began to have thoughts - and a lot of encouragement from locals - of opening his own business, with his business partner, Steve Avila (an Ohio boy). They tossed around ideas, among which was a 24 hour, cheap and good pizza delivery (which we could still use, by the way, guys!), and just knew that "whatever it was gonna be, no matter what we were gonna do, it was gonna be cool".

Knowing that he could get a ton of glass merchandise to open shop with, they began there, until hitting on the idea of creating a space for ALL Venice artists to show, create, and sell their works. It is a space that is "evolving daily", but that you can see is already a welcome and welcoming spot for art of all kind. When I was in there yesterday, there was the fore-mentioned guy out front spraying boards, there was a guy inside painting on t-shirts, and we were surrounded by the art of Venice artist, Jules Muck, on every inch of wall space - their first one person show. From handmade hippie chick dresses (that I love) to hand knit beanies, to those brilliant locally blown glass pieces and earthy jewelry - also being pliers-ed together right there by one guy - it is abuzz with the spirit of creativity.

Darren and Steve want artists to not only know about the space, they want it to be USED, and encourage artists to contact them about doing their actual work in the shop. I asked Darren how he goes about choosing the art, and he said, "We take anything. I don't judge art." (Um, I would like to introduce him to my college art professor that I'm still a little scarred by. Jerk.) The idea is that everybody gets 1 spot in Artisan, as you never know what someone is going to like. Then, if it does well, maybe they get some more spots ... you get the idea. Oh, and "They have to love the thing they want in here. People can tell." Meaning, you made something you love and want to share that with people, not buy junk downtown at marked down prices and then come down here to jack it up to sell to Boardwalk tourists.

This is all very important for Venice, as there is no shortage of complaints about how art isn't as accessible, and commerce has become such the bottom line. Not at Artisan. The love and community vibe is genuine, as evidenced by the stream of people stopping in to say hello or show their latest work to Darren and Steve.

To add to the fun, they've been hosting live music on weekend nights, to a full house that spills out onto Windward's sidewalk and makes full use of that VENICE spotlight. An Australian band saw the drum set in the corner last week, and asked if they could jam. They drew a crowd, including the long truck from Fire Station 63, whose Firefighters lined up to join the rocking mix of neighbors and tourists.

As for those tourists, it is Darren and Steve's hope that Artisan Venice will become one of those "Must See" spots when out-of-towners make their Venice pilgrimage. As it should be. It's always cooler to point to that bright, trippy spot on your wall back home, and say that you got it on a sunny day in Venice, California, by a friendly person that you got to know a bit while they created their work and shouted out greetings to their buddy from up the street. Cooler yet to know that no one else has it. It is original, and colorful, and maybe a little daring - just like the town itself.

Artisan Venice is supporting local art like perhaps no one else is right now. Let's return the favor by supporting them. Like Darren said, "Come in and believe!"

Artisan is:

Located at 80 A Windward Ave.

Reachable at 310.399.6424 or

Open Tues-Thurs, 10-8/9 and Fri -Sun, 11ish-2 a.m. ish - with music!

Closed Mondays.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Matt Ellis - Heart Of Mine Video (starring Venice!)

My dear friend Matt Ellis just came out today with the classic new video for his single, "Heart Of Mine", off his excellent new album, Births, Deaths & Marriages.

Along with Matt, it stars the best dog ever, Banjo - the lovable Lady and the Tramp-y Tramp dog child of Matt and his lovely wife, Vavine. You can see here why Banjo is one of the only dogs I really get and consider a homie. Him, and Lyle, the pro-skateboarder Bulldog sidekick.

And speaking of homies, the video is full of Venice locals rocking along with Matt at the Cinema Bar, and Banjo is seen sprinting all over Venice streets to try and make the gig!

Production crew was also straight Venice, with Matt directing the video himself, shot by Matt Taylor and Jose Diaz, and edited by Matt E., Paul Gronner and Joey Indrieri.

A creative bunch, in a creative place, CREATING! That's what's most Venice about it.

Enjoy! (and Congratulations to all involved!)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Monday Morning June Gloom Battler Human Installation

Monday morning. June Gloom. Fatigue. Responsibilities. Chores. Goals. Ideas. But first, I must commence the week with a walk along the shore to refresh my mind, and my appreciation/
observation of my beach. News has been bleak all over the place, and then there's your own life to handle every day. It can tend to feel like a lot to deal with. Especially when you have a bit of a party sore throat whine leftover from the weekend.

Which is why it is so classic to live in Venice, breathe in the salty morning air mist, go get your Cough Shot/Cold Buster combo at the Fruit Gallery, and come back outside to see this otherworldly creature coming down the Boardwalk, on a scooter towing a stuffed grocery cart.

His hat reminded of a Thai Temple, a mannequin torso tied to his own, all sorts of other stuff, and not batting an eyelash that he was somewhat bonkers looking. I'd fiend to know his story - and will get it one of these days - but I had no materials with me, and he was also in the middle of a bit of a verbal skirmish with one of the Mad Max ones down there, so I thought I'd steer clear-ish for the moment. Whatever was going on, both wasn't my concern, and also didn't matter. What mattered was the mischief and spirit that would compel this guy, who probably doesn't have much at all, to get all done up as a human art installation and give the gloomy week's start a kick in the pants! At least I took it as such.

We were standing there, gaping in a bit of awe at this dude, when here skated the Cosmic Crusader (aka Harry Perry)! We see him many mornings getting his juice in his Clark Kent daytime persona, but he's rarely turban-ed up so early. I asked him what was up with that, and he said, "I can't tell you."

Ahh. More mystery and intrigue to the soft parade of this Venice morning.

And all of us in it together.

*(Jenny E's phone snapped this magic!)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Jamaican Cool Out

In addition to a ton of other world issues lately, I've been thinking about Jamaica and its ultra-violent Police v. Gangster wars in Kingston lately (look it up, or get the gist of it here).

A while back, I had the best solo journey ever, as I adore reggae music and had been wanting to visit its home forever, but had been slightly deterred by everyone saying how dangerous it was. No one was up for it, and couldn't BELIEVE it when I said I was going on my own. I'm not one to let fear stop me too much, so when I heard about Jake's in Treasure Beach, Jamaica through Aveda, my longtime hair stuff manufacturer, I booked the trip in no time flat. Then I find out that the Henzell Family that owns it, the dad, Perry, directed The Harder They Come - one of my favorite movies ever! Sold.

There are many, many fond memories and epic tales to tell you about this trip - MANY - but right now I was thinking of a particular one that soothes me to this day when I daydream about it. I don't want anyone to be scared of such a heavenly place, so take a moment out for yourself to go there with me, and then perhaps think about going yourself (... maybe avoiding Kingston for now).


I waited in the airy lobby, listening to reggae play lightly, and watched a jillion butterflies flit about. Soon enough, a small, wiry guy with a shaved head and a British accent approached me and introduced himself as (I can’t believe I forgot his name!) my ride to Shirley Genus. We shook hands and he led me outside to his van in front of Jake’s. He and I chatted easily as the van bounced across the muddy, hole-filled roads. He had visited Jamaica a bunch of times, and had come for a visit five or six years ago, met Shirley and had been there ever since. He didn’t miss England at all (another one!). He turned down a road and we were in what looked like farm country, in a town called Great Bay. I told him how excited I was for my herb bath and massage, and he said Shirley was the best. She has been consulting on a new spa on Turks and Caicos island, and said that they were in discussions with Jason Henzell (Jake’s owner) and Aveda to open a spa at Jake’s! YAY!

In mid-conversation, he stopped and said, “Look!” Before us was a giant rainbow! I asked if he would stop the van so I could hop out and take a picture. He smiled and obliged. We were now in territory that was locals-only and I got strange looks from everyone that we passed. I think I heard yet another “White Girl!” shout, but this didn’t faze me in the least anymore, not that it ever did. My nice ride guy took another turn and we bounced across a dirt road cutting across a farm field. We curved around and pulled down a driveway of what looked like a farm. Out the dirty windshield I saw a wooden hut with a campfire beside it, in front of two houses that belonged to I don’t know who.

I hopped out of the van and a regal black woman with great posture and a turban came down the steps of the hut. I held out my hand and said, “Are you Shirley? I’m C.J.”, and shook her hand. Again I was surprised at the weak handshake from such a strong (though very thin and sinewy) woman. I think at first she was amused by my enthusiasm and friendliness, and was kind of distant. There was a pot/cauldron over the fire simmering with who knows what inside. Shirley led me inside and showed me the wooden box that you go in for the herbal steam bath. The hut was beautiful, circular and entirely wooden with slats where some light peeked through. The roof was thatched and the walls were covered with paintings (by Shirley, I learned) and mobiles made out of shells and various flotsam. A trippy cool place, in a beautiful surrounding.

Shirley instructed me to “take off everything” and handed me a towel. She said to call her when I was ready. I stripped down, wrapped myself in the towel and shouted, “Ready!” Shirley came back inside, handed me a bottle of water and stood aside as the nice, bald guy struggled in with the boiling pot of herbs. He and Shirley each took a side handle of the pot and upturned it into a terra cotta pot thing in the wood box. The scent of herbs (mostly lemongrass, to my nose) filled the air. The guy excused himself with the empty pot and went back outside. Shirley held aside the heavy curtain at the entrance of the box, handed me a thick wooden stick and told me to go inside. I went in and sat on the little bench inside the box, where a white towel had been placed. Shirley let the drape fall and tucked it in at the bottom so there were no drafts. She talked to me outside of the curtain, explaining the herbs (which she grows) and telling me to stir the pot with the stick every couple of minutes to arouse the herbs and let more steam rise. It was already super-hot after maybe one minute, but still manageable.

Shirley spoke to me from outside the curtain, in her even, deep, calming tone. She said that many people have been helped by this bath, including her own father who had emphysema. He’d walked to her steam bath once, leaning heavily on a cane. After the treatment, he was able to walk back without any aid. She said that many toxins go into your body through the skin, so when you’re in the steam and your pores are open, the healing properties of the herbs can enter your skin also. The sweat was beginning to dot my brow, which I told her when she asked. She told me that she would leave me for a bit, and that in a few minutes the sweat should be pouring down me like I was in the shower. I sat in the moist dark, hearing faint sounds from outside, but mostly aware of my deep breathing, the better to inhale the herbs. I stirred the pot, releasing a whole new round of steam. It felt very prehistoric.

I tried not to think about that I kind of had to go to the bathroom, since there were certainly no facilities in this wood hut. I got over it as the sweat began to pour down my back. I’m not a huge sweater, so I was kind of shocked at how soaked I was becoming. Shirley told me that I would stay in the box for fifteen minutes, and I began to wonder how much time I had left, more in the vein of not wanting it to be over. You don’t often get to sit in the steamy dark, stirring a pot between your legs, with herb-y steam wafting up at you. I dug the cave woman aspect of it. Shirley came back and asked me how I was doing, and I could only answer, “Great”. Another few minutes and my time in the box was finally up.

When Shirley pulled the curtain back, it was like sticking your head in the freezer to cool off in the summer when there is no air conditioning, even though it was still a hot, Jamaican afternoon out there. Ahhhh. Shirley told me to lie down on the fresh, white-sheeted massage table. I got onto my stomach, enjoying the feeling of the cool white on my hot, sweaty skin. She gave me a sip from my water bottle, then I nestled my face in the little hole on the table. She began to massage me with deep, strong strokes (where was that in her handshake?). I felt fully relaxed, even more so when a gentle rain started up again, and a little goat bleat floated in from the field outside.

The wood and shell chimes moved a bit, and I smiled down at the floor, thinking that this was another of many epic Jamaican moments. I usually don’t like to talk at all during a massage since it hinders total relaxation, but this was an interesting woman, even a little voodoo feeling, and we talked the entire time. She told me how it annoys her when the vendors on the beach harass people to buy things. They don’t like her either because she’ll tell them that if someone really wants something, they’ll go get it. I thought about how that applies to all areas of life, really. A good rule to live by. For example, if someone really cared for someone else, they would try their best to make it work. If someone wants to make something out of their life, they will work and try hard. If I want a wooden dolphin real bad, I will go get it. You don’t need to wait all day to see if I’m going to buy it, I just will.

The conversation got pretty deep, delving into politics, the drug trade, violence in Kingston, all boiling down to the point that if you want to be good at anything, deal with people in an honorable manner. It’s all about RESPECT. She said, as an example, that if she wanted to deal drugs, she would be the best at it, because she would do it with honor. People go wrong when they get greedy and want too much power. YOU have the power inside yourself to give yourself the life you dream of, if you go about it with respect. In terms of power and war, she agreed with me that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

All of this was interrupted by a large wince and OW from me, as she dug into the massive bruise on my inner thigh from the boat trip the day before. She said, “It’s tight there”. No kidding. We talked more about her business and how some parties are trying to get her to teach her methods to others so they can use them at different spas, but she is mixed about it. Everything has to be just so, and might not be if she’s not there to monitor it. There may be a teaming of her, Aveda and Jake’s, as the bald guy had mentioned. I really hope it works out for her, because she is wonderfully different, and I was feeling fantastic. I remember having vague out of body thoughts/dreams and I don’t know now if they were thoughts or dreams. Perfect. THAT is relaxation.

Too soon, Shirley gave my feet a final squeeze and said, “OK, take your time getting up”. It was over. She excused herself and went outside to wait while I got dressed. I oozed over onto my back, staring at the ceiling for a moment, feeling like jelly. I dragged myself off of the table and slowly pulled my dress over my head. I took a deep swig of water and took a long look around the hut. I wanted to imprint it on my brain. If I close my eyes now, I can see the wood, the paintings, the shell mobiles … and instantly feel a calm come over me.

All dressed (reluctantly), I opened the door and went outside into the fresh afternoon, taking a deep breath. Bald Guy was outside hustling about, doing stuff. Shirley went back inside and piled up the sheets and towels, then brought them outside and threw the pile in the back of the van. I thanked her and told how MUCH I loved the treatment. She smiled and said she was coming with us. I hopped in the front seat as told, Bald Guy got in to drive and Shirley got in the back. Off we went, bouncing across the fields. I looked at all the trees and commented that I’d heard it was mango season, but the ones I bought from the guy on the beach were still hard as rocks. Shirley said they had trees in her backyard that were the best in the world. We drove along, and I mostly looked out the window, feeling mellow.

We pulled up in front of two little houses and stopped. Shirley asked the Bald Guy to go into the house and get a couple of mangoes for me. I got out to pet the bunch of dogs that ran out, while Shirley explained that they lived in the house on the left, because the one on the right was severely damaged in Hurricane Ivan and would cost a lot of money to repair. Baldie came back with two mangoes of two different kinds. I again thanked Shirley and told her that I had really enjoyed talking with her, and that I hoped everything worked out how she wanted it to. She smiled in her restrained, I’ll call it regal again, fashion, and we said goodbye.

Back in the van, bouncing along the roads again, avoiding people walking along the road. I told the Bald Guy (I hate to call him that, what WAS his name?!) how great my treatment was, and how happy I was to be off the beaten tourist path. He said you have to be the right kind of person to enjoy the country and less going on. He’d had lots of highbrow people in his van, he said, and couldn’t fathom the attitude of some. I was happy to hear that Helena Christiansen (my favorite super-model back in the day) was extremely sweet. That was the only name he named, so she must have been nice. Good to hear.

We pulled up at Jake’s, greeted by the old car with “Jake’s” painted on its door. The Bald Guy walked me inside, we shook hands and I said I hoped I’d be there again soon. He said, “I hope so”, in his nice British way, we shook hands and I was off to take a shower and freshen up for my Pelican Bar (an actual bar built on a sand bar out at sea!) trip.

Back at Tiki Tiki 1, my clothes were draped everywhere, in futile hopes that they would someday be dry. I didn’t really have time to just flop on the bed and do nothing like I was tempted to, so I got in the shower, which was a delight. I used a little Rosemary-Mint to spark me back up a bit, and it worked. I went very fancy and added a bobby pin to my wet hair. Oh, and the requisite fuschia hibiscus garnish. I got used to putting flowers in my hair when I lived in Hawai’i and I’ve done it ever since.

Some places just make it easier to find the flowers ...

*Photos ripped off from Jake's,, and random stock since I didn't have my camera with that day. Dumb.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

You've Been Flocked!

I was just walking down the street and thought to myself, "Wow, these neighbors really like plastic pink lawn flamingos", and then I got closer and saw that the person had been "Flocked".

It must be some new kind of singing telegram type deal you can do. It's tacky and plastic, and kinda made my day. I hope it made the birthday girl's day too.

A guy jumped to his death this morning on the Venice Boardwalk in the thick of the June Gloom. I don't know what gets you to that point, but we live in such a beautiful place with people that are interesting and fun, and decorate their friends' yards with pink flamingos! In the darkest of times, it helps to know that the sun always comes out eventually.

Remember how it feels to have your day brightened (what was your last one that comes to mind?) and see what you can do to bring that to someone else. It may even wind up being a life saver.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


David Christopher Gronner.

We lost him when I was four. I still think about him every day, and wonder what he would think about the world today. He would have made it a lot nicer, that much I do know.

Hold your loved ones close, and let them know how much you care. It's really all we have.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Memorial Gratitude

Hi there. Did you go to a natural body of water over the weekend? Did you love it? I hope so. I had The. Most. Glorious. Day on the beach on SUNday, possibly ever. I had my Mermaid posse on the sand with me for the first real Beach Day of Summer 2010 at Playa de Los Amigos, and we all went all the way in the water, even though it was so cold my flesh was blue and you probably could have pierced it without me feeling it. But then to lie there on the warm sand, drying off in the very slight caress of a breeze, while sipping some contraband that bubbled that perhaps one of the Mermaids procured from her bag ... it does not get much better.

The Regulars of our usual spot at the Beach all showed up, and greeted each other with "Happy Summertime!", as this exact slab of sand is really the only place I ever see some of these people. It was happy, like a family reunion, but a Summer reunion. The guy that sells frozen treats out of his cooler, and always gives you a quick reminder lecture about sunscreen was there. There was a new guy this year that was covertly saying, "Ice Cold Coronas" and wearing a heavy-looking backpack. One guy selling his bracelets was throwing in a free lottery ticket with each purchase this year ... sign of the times?

June Gloom was another sign of the times, as it seems the atmosphere was totally aware of the Calendar, and was extra thick and gray this morning, after quite possibly the most beautiful weekend on record in the '10's so far. And then walking this morning, we saw another dead sea lion pup or seal ... I didn't want to get close enough to differentiate between the two. I didn't even want to see it at all. There were also so many jellyfish cleverly camouflaged in the sand that we really had to pay attention not to get zapped by one of those guys. A bunch of guys were out picking up all the trash that some Memorial Day revelers still can't get through their thick brains that you walk ten feet to a garbage can to deal with, not just throw it where you sit.

So after a perfectly stunning weekend on the beach, you get thrust back into real life. The BP tragedy on the news turns my stomach every day, and here we are with the blessing of clean(ish) beaches and water, and some mental patients still think the sea is both an ashtray and a trash bin. What does it take to get through to the dim bulbs out there that you have to be grateful and CHERISH what you have, while you have it? The news isn't doing it, so maybe us constantly talking and protecting it with each other and going on little rants like this, will. I'm at least gonna try.

Before Memorial Day becomes a day that we have to honor our fallen nature along with our fallen Veterans.

Thank you, Mother Nature, for putting up with us this long.

Photos by my cool brother PEG.