How To Start Something


This is a post about writing, and about startin’ somethin’.

I wouldn’t consider myself a writing guru, but talking about the craft of writing is one of my four favorite things to talk about. My other three favorite things are stories, music and Vikings.

(after having been publicly shamed in no less than two comments, i have since capitalized every instance of vikings except this one)

I recall the first time I actually fell in love with Vikings. I had told my German teacher that I used to be a huge fan of pirates. I would read about them and write stories about them, and dream about being back in the days of swashbuckling. Then the Pirates of the Caribbean movies came out, and all of a sudden overweight people who worked at McDonald’s were getting skulls and crossbones tattooed on their shoulders, and I felt sort of robbed.

It wasn’t like I was a pirate pariah beforehand. I was never beaten up for liking pirates. I just felt like… I don’t know. It was just annoying.

“Pirates are okay,” Dr. Ferguson told me, “but Vikings are better. They’re basically pirates but with a crazy religion and way more violence.”

Well, well, well.

If your interested in books about Vikings, I would highly suggest reading the phenomenal Saxon Tales by Bernard Cornwell.

This is all beside the point.

I wouldn’t consider myself a writing guru, but I recently watched two movies, and the beginnings couldn’t have been more different, and so I wanted to write about it.

The movies were Labyrinth and Singham. They are, strangely enough, more similar than you might think.

Everything has to start somewhere, and it’s your job to pick how.

When you talk about acting, you’re supposed to say “I really like the choice she made” when referring to someone’s performance. That’s because acting is about making choices. Writing is about making choices, too. Nothing is unintentional in a film. Even less is unintentional in a book, because someone chose literally every word on the page.

So when you wanna be startin’ something, when you gotta be startin’ somethin’ you need to make some choices. Both Singham and Labyrinth made choices, and what’s really, really interesting is that they couldn’t have been more similar and yet, at the exact same time, more different.

When you’re planning the beginning of the story, your job is the same job you have when you break out a board game for your friends to play: you need to make sure all of the pieces are on the board. Some games are really complicated, though. They’ve got a lot of pieces, but you really want to play, so you need to make sure you get all the pieces down as quickly as possible, or your friends are going to get bored and go do drugs or something instead.

You don’t have to be thorough. In fact, you need to be as brief as possible. If you tell to much, you use up all your ammunition for later in the story. Character secrets are like bullets, and you only have so many. You can’t come out blasting, you have to bide your time. Wait for the perfect shot, and then you’ll blow your audience away.

So the trick is to be fast, and let people know what’s going on.

In the first ten minutes or so of Singham, we meet an evil mobster who makes a good cop in Goa kill himself from shame. It’s clear the mobster is an asshole, and then we come to this song:

And now, all of a sudden, you know everything you need to know about Singham, the main character. He’s a man. He does manly things. He’s religious. He helps the week. He’s super strong. He has the ferocity of a tiger, and he never spares evil doers. He’s dashing as fuck, and can wear the hell out of a denim shirt. He’s Singham, and he’s going to beat the shit out of some people in this movie.

This is how Labyrinth starts:

And boom, we know (almost) everything we need to know about the main character. Anything else we need to know happens mere moments later, when she runs home and we learn she has a baby brother who she always has to watch and she hates so much that she wishes the Goblin King would come steal him away.

Both films put their pieces on the board super fast.

Then Signham… Singham just fucking drops the ball.

Don’t get me wrong. The movie rules. It has fight scenes like this:

That’s just some good, clean fun. The whipping is… a little disturbing, but, I mean, come on, the dude called out Singham. Insulted his future wife! What did he THINK was going to happen?

This fight happens after maybe twenty minutes in, where we’ve learned even more about Signham: he’s the head cop of some village and guards the villagers with his life. They respect him and shit.

Then the tale spirals out of control with a forty minute long love story that has nothing to do with the main plot at all. It’s not a bad love story, but there’s a big problem.

What’s this love story doing in the movie we just watched two clips from?

Here’s the beginning to one of the greatest cinema masterpieces of all time:

You might think this beginning is stupid, and you’d be right. But it’s also perfect, because it lets you know that Arnold Schwarzenegger can carry a fucking tree, he can pet deer and they won’t run away, and he loves his daughter more than anything. This sets up the plot of the movie (his daughter gets kidnapped) and the tone of the movie (Arnold is a tank that kills everything and it’s insane) perfectly.

What happens in the rest of Commando? Arnold kills everything keeping him away from his daughter.

What happens in the rest of Labyrinth? Jennifer Connely goes to a magic land and rescues her brother from the goblin king.

What happens in the rest of Singham? We have a forty-minute long love story and then get back to the plot we all came here to see.

So now we’ll talk about beginnings.

You’re job as a writer is to let us know everything we need to know as fast as possible, and then deliver us an amazing thing based on those things you just let us know. Arnold loves his daughter? Good. She better get fucking murdered or kidnapped. Jennifer loves this weird old book? Good. She better learn that she lives in the real world. She hates her brother for no reason? She better learn not to hate him. Singham is a tough action man? He better do tough action things.

Watch your favorite movie or TV show. All the stuff you need to know show up in. oh, about the first quarter of it. Any fun surprises or twists happen later, and if they are done correctly, they play off or use things that were brought up in the first act.

So why did I decide to do this?

I read a lot of stuff on wordpress. I talk with friends about a lot of writing projects. Beginnings are hard. They’re hard to nail, and so when I see something that does it really well, like Labyrinth or (parts) of Singham, I just want to share it.

Lastly, someone, and it could have been Albert Einstein, but it probably wasn’t, once said that if you can’t explain something well then you don’t truly understand it. Therefore, if you learn how to explain something well, then you will understand it.

So this post has a twofold purpose:

  1. Hopefully it will help some of you start something.
  2. Hopefully it will help me be a better writer.

Oh, and one more thing: Hopefully it makes someone watch Singham, Labyrinth or Commando.

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A Song For David Bowie


King_Jareth_with_the_Crystal

I was deeply affected by David Bowie’s passing today. I called my friend Rob to talk about it. We met up later and listened to some of the hits, and then bought a six pack and watched labyrinth. I’d never seen it before. It’s magical.

I tried to find a copy of Bowie’s new record in town, but every store was sold out, and that’s saying something when you live in LA.

Rob urged me not to go buy something. It’s not right, he said. For David Bowie, we need to make something.

So I did.

It’s called Quicksand:

 

*****

 

I was adrift, stumbling around London in a haze. I could tell you I wasn’t drunk, but that would be a lie. I could tell you I had better things to do, but that’d be a lie too.

I came across an out-of-the-way tavern down the east end. It was a tall old building. It looked like it could have been something many years ago, a rich merchant’s house or a church or maybe even a school. It was crumbling now. The top floors looked barely habitable. The dark front door had a worn, hexagonal brass doorknob in the center of it. Above the door, a large, black star that was back lit somehow. I didn’t care how.

I went inside. My buzz was fading and I needed a drink. Plus, I was trying not to go home.

It was a dive. I pushed past the purple curtains that shielded the interior from the cold and found a rotten palace of beer-stained hardwood. Crumpled cigarettes twisted in overfilled ashtrays. Pool balls sunk into deep grooves on the pool tables. The smoke was thick. It made my eyes wet. I was pretty sure it was illegal to smoke indoors, but I wasn’t about to tell anyone to stop.

I just needed a drink.

I stumbled to the bar and found a stool next to a garbage can, which was just perfect for me. It felt like a rock.

“Pint,” I grunted, and an arm slid a glass of something dark and bitter toward me. I downed it. It tasted like mud. Good mud. The kind of mud you could grow something in. It tasted like… like fate. I’m not really sure how, or even what, but that’s just how it was.

“Thirsty?” A voice asked me. I turned to my right and say that the voice belonged to a man. A woman. No… he was a man. He wore a bedazzled, leather 18th-century outfit that would have been right at home at a fancy dress party in West Hollywood, and he smoked a cigarette out of a long holder. You know the kind. Cruella DeVille had one.

Very Femme Fatale.

“What are you,” I asked him, “some kind of clown?” He smiled at me as he picked up a cigarette packet. He offered me one and I took it. I don’t really smoke. I just sort of suck on the things. If I haven’t been drinking, a get a little head buzz from holding something that can kill me in my mouth. I had been drinking, though, so it was all rather pointless.

“I’m the entertainment,” he told me. I glanced at him, and he jerked his head back at a dingy stage. There was an old, upright piano there with an orange and blue lighting bolt painted on it. I smirked.

“Classy,” I said.

“Hey, man,” he said, “just relax.”

I took a drag and signaled the bartender. He brought me something else. “Fair enough,” I said.

He watched me as I drained the glass, and then took his cigarette out of the holder and snubbed it on the counter. He crossed his legs and stared at me.

“What’s wrong, then?”

I swirled the backwash in the bottom of my glass. Then I drank it.

“I don’t have any problems,” I told him.

“Everyone has problems,” He told me.

“Yeah? What are yours?”

“One of my eyes is permanently dilated.” He showed me. It was.

“Huh. I never heard of that.”

“It’s called anisocoria. Got it when a bloke hit me in school.” He lit another cigarette. It couldn’t be healthy. “We were fighting over a girl.”

“Who got the girl?” I asked. He just shrugged. I laughed. It was short lived.

“So what is it?”

I looked at my empty glass, and signaled for another. “A friend of mine… well, not really a friend. This guy I looked up to. He passed away.”

“And you’re sad about it?”

I didn’t say anything. The man took a long drag.

“So what did you make him?”

“What?”

“What did you make him?”

“He’s dead, he’s not having a birthday party.”

“No, no. People die, so you make them something. It’s how you remember them, right?”

“I remember people by crying a lot and buying things.”

“Does it make you feel better?”

I didn’t say anything.

He shook his head. “No, no. Make him something.”

“Like… what, like a tribute?”

“It’s not for them, love. It’s for you.” He stabbed the cigarette on the counter and leaned forward. “You feel something, right? You admired this guy?”

“He was unique. He was brave. He was kind.”

“So make something unique. Be brave. Be kind. He made you feel something, so use that feeling and make someone else feel something. You know how people say if you remember someone they never really die?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s bullshit, love. Bullshit. They’re dead, but that doesn’t mean you have to forget. Use what you feel and make something that he would have said ‘yeah, I like this’ about.”

I reached into my jacket and pulled out my manuscript. “I think I did. It’s why I started drinking. I’m just… I’m not sure how it turned out.”

“So you’ve been carrying it around London?”

“Yes.”

“All night long?”

“That’s right.” I laughed. It’s the sort of laugh that you laugh when you’re really just begging for affirmation. “I was thinking about throwing it away. That’s why I took the stool by the garbage.”

He shook his head. “What are we going to do with you?”

“I just need to know.”

The lights dimmed. He smiled again. “There’s only one way to find out.”

He set down a clear, glass orb on the counter and snapped his fingers. The arm brought him two shots of something amber. He downed them both. I smiled.

“I never took you for much of a drinker.”

“Baby, I’m not even really here.”

He walked over to the stage and pressed some keys. I stared down at my manuscript. It was hard to focus. 

“Alright, ladies. We’ve got time for one last song.” He started gently pounding out some chords and singing. “Oh I ain’t got the power anymore, no I ain’t got the power anymore.” He dove into the verse, and I dove into my manuscript.

I read it. He played.

He was better. He was way better. It wasn’t even close, but then again, I didn’t want to compete, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t either. He played, and I read, and the music swirled around me, and I felt the power. My mind lit up like a solar flare with the sort of electricity you only get when you’re around someone who cares so deeply about what they’re doing that you end up caring, too.

“I’m sinking in the quicksand of my thoughts, and I ain’t got the power anymore.”

I looked at the garbage. You know how sometimes, in really dim light, you look into something that has volume to it, like a trash can, and it just yawns at you, and it seems like it doesn’t have a bottom, and it won’t ever, ever end?

Yeah, it wasn’t doing that anymore. The trash can, I mean. I could see a condom at the bottom of the liner.

I finished my drink and managed somehow to stand up. The room tilted and whirled so hard it made my brain hurt, but I found a path and made it to the door.

“Don’t believe in yourself, don’t deceive with belief. Knowledge comes with death’s release”

It didn’t really make much sense, but it worked, in a weird sort of way. We made eye contact, and he nodded at me.

I just nodded back.

Then I left.

I suppose I made it back to Bloomsbury at some point because I woke up the next morning in my own bed, wishing I would have died.

I looked at the clock.

Morning. That was being generous.

My roommates would be back from Wales soon, and I…

Had it really been four days?

I rolled over. There was a manuscript on my bedside table. It had a touch of glitter on it. Next to the manuscript was a clear glass orb.

I never did find that bar again. It’s gone now.

I went looking for it my last night in London. The weather was warm, and we took Barclay’s bikes and rode them around the whole fucking town. We didn’t wear helmets, so our hair streamed behind us, and we laughed at the sheer folly of it all, kicked our legs out and screamed like kids, and the blood raced through our veins and our hair was blowing behind us and we could feel the life throbbing through our temples and I never did find the bar again.

I never found it again, but…

Now that I come to think of it,

I’m not sure I ever did.

12552863_10206555010332863_8858698764207114835_n

 

The Most Productive Procrastination


9tk2aq5

So I finished the rough draft of a novel, and I find it increasingly difficult to focus on anything else.

There’s a screenplay I should be writing right now. I started this thing called “Shut Up and Write”. The idea behind it is that you get four randomized screenplay ideas, created by randomly drawing note cards with actors, genres, professions and locations, and the combining those into little idea clusters, and then you write a screenplay with no planning, no personal stake, and no strings attached.

The idea is to not care if it’s good. The idea is to shut the fuck up and write.

A lot of people worry that what they’re creating is good. I don’t have this worry, because I don’t write anything that I wouldn’t want to read. Therefore, the first fan of almost everything I write is myself, and so I’m almost always confident that something in any project I’m working on has merit.

This isn’t a delusion. I’m also pretty good about abandoning projects that aren’t working. I don’t incinerate them, though. I just put them on whatever is behind the back burner. Anything I’m interested has something cool about it, and at the very least I can cannibalize the ideas from a failed project for a new one. Maybe this scene is nice, but it would work better in this story. This character would be more fun here. Etc.

But a lot of people, especially people who haven’t written as much as I have, never get passed development because they spend all their writing time worrying about if what they came up with is good.

This is unacceptable.

Something about it is good, because you are a consumer of media and have a very discerning taste, whatever that may be. You know what you like and, unless you are Ted Bundy or something, there’s probably a group of people out there who like what you like too.

Novels exist that are basically big foot rape fantasies. They are, quite literally, about young women who wander into the woods and get raped by big foot. I have read one before, and it was horrible. Horrible in that it was morally horrible and also just poorly made.

There’s an audience for it. At one point, Virginia Wade was pulling in sixteen to twenty thousand dollars a month from her erotic big foot stories.TWENTY THOUSAND. A MONTH.

If there’s an audience for that, then there’s an audience for whatever the fuck you want to write about.

And I think that’s why I like writing. Sure, I hate Big Bang Theory. I don’t like Cum For Bigfoot.

But someone else does.

And the fact that I don’t like it doesn’t make the fact that they like it any less valid.

Who am I to say that Big Bang Theory is a garbage show full of stupid, not funny garbage jokes? No one, that’s who.

So goal one of shut up and write is this: just write. The die is cast on the first of January, and everyone will shame you if you don’t finish. Who cares if it’s bad? There’s something in there that isn’t.

There’s something in there that’s good.

That’s the second goal. We write, we don’t care and then we celebrate.

A lot of times when I get notes, I think people are too critical. I’m not trying to cushion the notes i receive by shouting “you’re mean and you’re wrong” to whoever gave them to me, but I think a good note is when you try to figure out what the writer wants to do, and then help them achieve that, rather than saying that something is merely bad. Everything is there for a reason. It’s your job as a note giver to figure out what the reason is, and then think about what you are going to say rather than giving your first gut reaction.

I see gut reactions so many times in notes. Gut reactions are seldom useful.

So we don’t give notes for Shut Up and Write. It’s the only time in the year we won’t give notes. Instead, we celebrate. We’re going to have a big party, where the wine and beer will hopefully flow like the Mississippi, and we will read the writer’s favorite scenes from their work.

We’ll assign characters, goof around, and laugh. Then we all clap and take a drink.

This isn’t softening the blow, though it may seem like it. If someone wants notes, they can send me their screenplay and I’ll give it the ol’ ruthless treatment. Instead, this is encouragement. Everyone needs encouragement, probably even Cormac McCarthy and JK Rowling. Hell, probably even Stephen King.

So that’s what we do.

And here I am, writing a blog post.

The cards I finally settled on were: Tom Hardy, The Everglades, Psychiatrist and Mockumentary.

I love Mockumentaries.

I love Tom Hardy.

I love the everglades.

This one practically writes itself.

Practically.

The practically is very important.

So here I am. I’ve got to head to work in three hours, and I’m participating in the most productive form of procrastination.

I’m writing a blog post.

I don’t really believe in New Years resolutions, but the first is as good a date as any to start something new.

So I’m going to try to blog twice a month.

Calm down, it’s only so I can trick you guys into buying my book later.

Ay yi yi… this post is a quagmire.

Maybe that’s my point, though.

Look at this mess above you.

I hope it’s a beautiful mess, because something other than procrastination gave me this idea.

There’s a kernel of gold among the mud. Can you find it?

I’m not sure I can, but it’s there.

So I’ll leave you with this:

I’m not sure what you’re doing on this Sunday, or whatever day it is when you read this, but today is your day.

There’s a new David Bowie album out.

The sun is shining, at least here in Los Angeles.

You’ve got some free hours.

Don’t fuck around online.

Don’t watch TV. TV is dumb.

Don’t read Cum for Bigfoot.

Don’t clean.

Don’t ___ .

Shut up.

Just Shut Up And Write.

And now….

Well…

And now, I think I’ll take my own advice.

And Shia’s advice, too.

 

When it Rains


rain

Los Angeles is a desert.

I remember the first time I saw it.  I was driving in from the West, up and over the mountains, and careening down the 210.  We were coming up from Vegas, Jared, Sonia and I, and had just come through the Mojave desert, where it was so hot that my Garmin wouldn’t stick to my windshield.  I had to awkwardly wedge it up against the dash.  The smallest bump would send it tumbling.

I was coming off a night of heavy Vegas drinking and a bad chicken sandwich that I bought from a gas station in Nevada.  There were signs all over it that told me aliens were real.  I should have taken that as a sign, but I was starving, and ready to make it to my new home.

I crested over sandy hill and there it was, stretching on forever.  In florida, I was used to greens and blues.  In Los Angeles, it was blue and tan, the dry khaki of dirt and sand.

It was a dry land, a land without rain, where it’s tough for things to grow.

It rained once on our trip, on the way back from the Grand Canyon.  It was almost otherworldly.  The Arizona landscape didn’t know what to think.  Here we were, Arizona and I, in a desert, and it was raining.

I love the rain.  I used to sit out on the back porch with my dad during thunderstorms.  This was about every weekend, because, if there’s one thing South Florida has, it’s thunderstorms.  We’d watch the rain, and I’d wonder what would happen if lightning struck the pool cage.

We’d probably fucking die.

It was alright though.  I had a cup of taster’s choice instant coffee, and it kept me warm.  It was cheap, sure, but after years of drinking it, you can even associate cheap with being happy.

It doesn’t rain in Los Angeles.

I would take the 405 to get downtown to my internship every Monday and Wednesday for the first four months I was in LA.  The Santa Monica mountains are basically piles of dirt with a few dried up old scrubs clinging to their slopes.  It was so weird.  The last mountains I had driven in before I came out west were in Tennessee and Missouri.  Those mountains were green and had stuff you could grab onto if you fell off.  These though…

Internships pay you in experience, not money.  I tried eating experience for a while, but it left me hungry and feeling sort of dumb, so I started looking for a job.  No one was hiring.  Not even movie theaters.  It was tough, but I had some money left over from student loans, so I could afford cheap meals:  Ramen with a side of experience.  Chicken broth with a dash of practical skills.  Baked chicken marinated in experience sauce, and a nice cup of experience to wash it down.  Being an intern was working out pretty well.

And the days got hotter, and the nights got drier.

I had never really worked a highschool job.  I was always doing theater or sports or robotics or band, so I didn’t have time.  In college I scanned people’s cards at the gym.  It was amazing.  I worked at summer camps three out of the four summers I was in undergrad.  Besides that, I’d never really worked, so I wasn’t averse to working something like Panera or Chipotle.  McDonald’s was where I drew the line, though.  If I was going to work fast food, I’d at least like it to pretend it wasn’t fast food.

Days turned into months, and November rolled around, and it started to rain.  The city had no idea what to do.  There was a drought, and you think people would have been outside with pots and pans, running around, screaming, trying to catch all the water they could.

Nope.  They were just hitting each other with cars.  I wonder if the driver’s handbook for California recommends flooring it at the first drop of water.  “When it rains,” it must say, “stoplights don’t count anymore.  The only rules are what a man makes for himself.  Hit or be hit.  Him or me.  Blood in and blood out.”

It’s an old joke, but seriously, don’t drive in LA when it’s raining.

One weekend, the streets actually flooded, and I got a call from Starbucks.  My first interview.  I was hired later that week.  I was on fire with writing, too.  I wrote every day.  I finished three screenplays.  I finally got my film industry mentor assigned to me.  I was talking to some other industry people, too.  It was magical.

And it rained, and it rained, and it rained.

And then it stopped, right around my birthday.  Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months again.  The savings dwindled away, and I just kept working at Starbucks.  I didn’t place in a screenplay competition, and then in another, and another, and another.

I just kept waiting for it to rain.

Stephanie bought a basil plant soon after we moved into our apartment.  She set it on our kitchen windowsill, which gets light for a good portion of the day.  She watered it daily.

It got neglected when she got her editing job.  Either that, or it felt restrained in its pot.  Who knows what plants are thinking.  Probably “wow.  I wish I was something else.”

It was July, and I was home alone.  I walked downstairs for some water, and I saw the plant.  It was brown, and leaned to the side.  It’s pot was encircled by decaying leaves.

I stared at it.  I was holding a cup of coffee.  It was warm in my hands.

I stared at the plant and I wondered if it was waiting for it to rain, too.

So I watered it.  It was right next to the sink.  I can’t believe I never thought to do it before.

It’s getting close to rainy season again and, if the weather people are correct, this El Niño is going to make it a doozy.

I can’t wait to see what this next rainy season will bring.

I keep watering the plant anyway, though.

It seems to be doing better.

basil

A Twitching In My Fingers


coffee farm

I wake up every morning twitching.  It starts in my toes, and then travels upward until it finally reaches my finger tips, which convulse like a dying spider.

Coffee.

But, I mean, come on, man.  I don’t need it.  It needs me.  What red blooded american can get started in the morning without a cup of joe?

Am I right?  Amirite?  A,md kmm lslkfdsmnfs fofdfsnj jkn

Sorry, my hand was spasming on my keyboard.  Be right back.

Ahh, that’s better.  Can you smell it?

Starbucks gives me a free bag of coffee a week.  I’ve sampled every single blend, but I make it a point of honor to grab a bag every week, no matter what.  I consider it a raise.  An extra dollar a day that I won’t have to spend on coffee.

Coffee.

Here’s my current stash, minus the dozen or so I pawn off to the less fortunate.

I could start my own store.

I could start my own store.

I don’t have a problem, though.  I’m just lucky to have that much coffee.  I am the one percent.

The first thing I do after twitching is go downstairs and make some coffee.  I usually make eight cups.  The only thing I hate about making eight cups is how long it takes for the god damn coffee machine to finish making eight cups.

What’s that?  Oh, sorry.  Just… I’m not myself until I’ve had my coffee.

I drink my coffee out of a mug I bought in Scotland.  I normally only have about two mug-fulls.

See? I told you I didn’t have a problem.

Scottish Coffee Mug

Oh, god.  It’s almost as big as the coffee machine.

I just measured.  It can almost hold a liter of coffee.  A LITER OF COFFEE.  That’s like as big as a BUBBA MUG.  Is Scotland the Alabama of Britain, or do they just market these things to oblivious americans whose concept of size is so corrupted from fast food that they look at this coffee mug and say “gee, I could drink one of two of those a morning back in my home, ‘merica.”

Almost a liter.

Maybe I do have a problem.

But as I always say, “what’s the point in being addicted to something if you can’t do it every day?”

Happy coffee drinking, readers.  You know we all need it.

coffee genie

Dogs and Babies Are The Same Thing


dumb ass dogs

My family is a dog family.  My parents have a golden retriever.  My sister has a pug.  If I were able to afford to feed another being other than myself, I would probably have a dog too.  Well, maybe if I didn’t live in LA.

Los Angeles must be hell for dogs.  Their acute hearing must ring with every horn honk and fire truck siren, the stenches of human secretion and garbage that grace the streets must ravage their sensitive noses.  The hundred-degree concrete can’t be good for their paw pads, and the only grass in my neighborhood is already so full of poop that it basically is poop.

Careless dog owners leave the poop.  I like to imagine they think they are doing the grass a service.  In this drought-ridden land, where water is scarce and sprinklers are basically outlawed, dog poop might be the only moisture the grass gets.  In their minds, I think, they are keeping LA green with a little bit of brown.

The poop thing doesn’t really bother me.  I live in an apartment.  It’s not my grass, and after my second or third venture into a plot of turf, I’ve learned just not to walk on the stuff.  City dogs don’t bother me, either.  They’re always on leashes and seem so blasé about every new stimulus they come across that I feel sorry for them.  Here comes a doberman pincher, its face droopy with ennui.  A squirrel crosses his path, and the doberman merely watches it trot along before wandering over to a three inch by five inch tuft of scrub to defecate.  Back it goes, into a tiny studio apartment, to sit on a couch and watch re-runs of Law and Order while it’s owner asks it for notes on her audition.

“Yeah, I wanted that line to be ‘bark’, but what if I tried it less ‘bark'”?

The only dogs that bother me are the dogs that people bring into the mall.  If I had to make a list of places where dogs don’t belong, the mall would be included, along with hospitals and the surface of the sun.

I saw one urinate on some of our fake plants one time.  Its owner told him “good boy” and then just walked away.  I’m supposed to call someone when this happens.  Mall security, I think.  I never do, though.  It’s not my fake plant.

Sometimes, when I can’t fall asleep, I wonder if dogs poop in the fake plants.  It’s why I don’t use the escalators anymore.  They’re just too close.

The only thing worse than dogs are babies.  You would think that babies wouldn’t be as bad.  You can leave a dog at home.  You can’t really leave your baby at home.  Babies are only good at a few things, and finding creative ways to injure themselves seems to be one of them.  “I have no idea how she fell down the trash chute, officer.  I had only popped over to the mall to walk my dog for an hour or, so.  Honestly, how did she have the time?”

Babies are worse because dogs eventually get tired of making noise.  Babies never do.  More often than not, I’ll be on register, writing down someone’s very berry hibiscus refresher on a trenta cup (no ice, extra berries), and a baby will be wailing.  It’s impossible to discern where the noise comes from.  There are dozens of strollers in line, and dozens more waiting for drinks.  Strollers prowl the walkways and block the elevator.  Strollers gently rise up and down on escalators, and jam up the exit routes.  If there were a fire, only people who ran hurdles in high school would be able to make it to safety.  The strollers would foil the rest of us.

I was cleaning the stores lobby when a baby barked at me.  I turned to its stroller, and it wasn’t a baby.  It was a dog.  The dog smiled, wagged it’s tale, and barked again.  It must have been two or three, and seemed to be in perfect health.  Its owner turned and looked at me.  The expression on her face said “well, aren’t you going to complement my dog?”

I looked next to her, where another woman stood behind her stroller.  There was a baby in her’s, and a young couple were fawning over it.

And that’s when I got it.

You don’t bring your baby or your dog to the mall for their enjoyment, or health, or benefit at all.  You don’t take them because you can’t leave them home.

You bring them because it makes you special.  It sets you apart from the rest of us.  Your a mother, or a father, a caretaker of some kind.  You want to be complemented.

You’re showing off.  That’s why you bought the bright pink, two thousand dollar stroller that has a mini AC in it.

The dog owner was still looking at me.  Her face still longed for validation.

I gave in.

“Dogs aren’t allowed in the mall” I told her.

She blinked.

Thirty minutes later, my shift ended, and I got to go home, to blissfully continue my life, free of both babies and dogs.

Because, really.  Can you tell the difference?

dog and baby

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