|22 july 1999|
In a daring move, I am swooping dangerously close to web journal orthodoxy by talking about something I saw recently on my electric television machine.
There was a program about hot dogs on PBS last night called "A Hot Dog Program" by Rick Sebak. You can't watch something like that without getting a craving, so I slipped two slices of yesterday's pizza back into the fridge and pulled out a couple of Nathan's Beef Franks for dinner instead. Slapping 'em into a couple of buns, I chomped away in full compliance with the theme of the evening and felt the guilt over a bad diet fade away. I knew deep down I was redeeming myself with interactive meaning. It was like the Great Alimentary Mandala, eating in front of the TV showing people eating what I was eating. A more transcendental dining experience cannot be had in America. It was sublime in intent and slathered in mustard.
The show was one of those amusing romps through the culture, a non-investigative celebration of an American habit, a program just like the subject it featured - not all that nutritious, but it sure tasted good. It was preceded in Los Angeles by a show called "Visiting... with Huell Howser," a 30-minute man-about-town program that's been airing here for many years now featuring Huell, a nice guy with a Tennessee accent, aw-shucksing his way across L.A.'s points of interest and hidden treasures. I love the guy. In last night's episode, as a lead-in to "A Hot Dog Program," he visited Pink's.
It's famous. Old things in L.A. get famous automatically after being in existence for more than twenty years, but Pink's, in business for 60 years, offers the bonus of extraordinary cuisine of the absolute lowest order. The chili dogs... oh mommy. The chili that falls over the dog and into the bun is the best stuff you can get on your hands in mixed company, and it won't come off until well into the next day. The hot dogs have the perfect snap. Onions, mustard, cheese, ooh yeah. Rinse it down with an orange soda and it's all over for you, toots. You're hooked. You've got a weenie on your back.
I used to write in an office one block from the place. For long stretches, weeks, I'd make a daily pilgrimage. I knew it couldn't last. You can't do chili dogs every day for that long and not feel somehow more present than you used to feel. I worked in an upstairs office in a building built in the 1930's, and though it had been earthquake retrofitted, I couldn't be sure about the load capacity of the floor. So I stopped going to Pink's. For a whole month. It's a serious jones, people. Once you get that grease in your dreams and that chili under your fingernails it's a whole new way of life. Oh sure, you may stop. But you can't quit. Some guys, older ones, will say they've had the heart attack, had the bypass, had to quit.
The earth moved last night. At 2:57am there was a 4.0 aftershock of the Northridge earthquake. Ever since the big shaker in 1994, Viv and I have been on a hair trigger for launching into Amy's room at the slightest hint of a temblor. The bedroom window rattles a bit and we wake up and freeze for an instant, waiting for the walls to start waving and the roar to move through the valley. Usually it's just the wind.
But last night it wasn't the wind and we made it all the way into Amy's room. Nothing else happened. No second jolt, no rumble. I grabbed the radio from the bathroom and crawled back into bed to listen to the news report. At this point the only thing left to wait for is confirmation of magnitude and epicenter just to make sure the whole thing was a local event and not the faint rumblings of a 9.9 in San Francisco.
Turns out it was local, minor, no damage no injury, no harm no foul, go back to sleep, folks, show's over.
Viv, of course, does not believe this. To her, every small tremor is a foreshock to the big one, so she lies there, waiting, listening, going over the inventory of tools she's going to need to pick through the rubble. I, on the other hand, am quite ready for sleep. This is not allowed. Viv will not be awake by herself during the vigil, so I have to wait to hear her snoring before I can do the same myself.
So there we are, two naked grown-ups awaiting our fate. I always suggest at this point that we harness the powerful forces of nature to see if we can make an earthquake baby, and last night was no exception. But alas, the tension was too much, and there will be no little "Seismo" running around in the future.
Viv reminded me last night that if we did make an earthquake baby we'd have to name it Kate. This is because of my unrequited love for Dr. Kate Hutton, a seismologist extraordinaire at CalTech. Whenever there's a big aftershock the TV news crews flock to her for the straight poop. She never disappoints. She is a soft-spoken woman with a dry wit and a myopia so severe she always seems to be in a squint of bemusement and I love her and she is on my list and that's all there is to it.
How can you not love someone whose passion is to be in tune with the planet's vibes? A person like that is bound to be funny. A person like that is sure to see the Big Picture, the glory of Life's Rich Pageant, and the beauty of a Double Chili-Cheese with Onions. Oh mommy.
"All I Want" -- Joni Mitchell -- BLUE
"My mother made me eat broccoli. I hate broccoli. I am the President of the United States. I will not eat any more broccoli."
- George Bush