Back to the MRI

PictureGetting better!

I recently went for an MRI at a facility near my home. It wasn’t my first. In fact, I’ve been there four times this year. It gives me a nice feeling to walk in and hear the staff call out “Ken”! It’s probably how Norm felt whenever he walked into Cheers back in the day. For those of you who don’t know, Cheers was a show about a bar that had a few regular customers, including Norm. Whenever he walked in, everyone would call out “Norm!” because it was a place where “everybody knows your name”.

Anyway, that’s what it’s like for me to go for an MRI. It’s also usually a lengthy process- this time took 4 hours. If I were at Cheers I’d have gotten completely drunk given that much time at the bar. But they don’t serve drinks. The entertainment is provided by a giant TV that is set on either soaps or terrible afternoon talk shows.

On this visit I suggested they implement loyalty cards, like a sandwich shop. That way I could get my fifth MRI free after the purchase of four at regular prices. They smiled at my suggestion and asked me to step away from the desk. I requested they give it some thought, at which point the receptionist asked me why I was there so frequently.

“My brain thinks I’m more athletic than my body actually is,” I said, “so I tend to hurt myself when I’m doing something athletic, like surfing”.

“Then why don’t you get better at surfing?” she said.   Ouch.

She’s right, though. I’ve always been somewhat athletic, though I don’t look like it. One of my surfing buddies told me that I’m “like an ox wrapped in a marshmallow covering” because I can easily outlast him when surfing. I think if I had that type of marshmallow covering I’d end up with less visits to the doctor.

I could be more like my friends who smoke and drink. They never go to a doctor because they never hurt themselves. Sitting on the couch watching TV with a beer is apparently not very risky.

I’ll eventually get the results of my latest MRI, but I’m sure I’ll be back because my brain and body are never going to be on the same page. When I do return, I sure hope they’ve implemented the loyalty cards, or at the very least added a bar.

“Ken!” they’ll call out, right before asking me for my insurance card and beer choice.

Hipster rattlesnake

PictureNot the actual snake, but a close friend of his who agreed to be photographed.

I hiked a new trail last weekend. I chose a steep, demanding trail as opposed to the easy trail. They intersect high up the mountain, but the part I like is more challenging which means it has a lot less people, and therefore more wildlife. Normally during the early summer I look down while hiking, as rattlesnakes are pretty much everywhere, whether you see them or not. And normally I don’t wear headphones because I want to hear the rattle if I’m near one.

But on this particular day I had been watching my feet while missing all the cool birds and animals around me. So I started looking up. Now, as you have probably guessed, if I’m looking up I can’t also be watching for snakes. I looked down to change the song on my music player and realized that my next step was going to land on the back of a rattlesnake.

I jumped back, quite startled but then immediately puzzled. As I backed up a foot or two, I realized the snake was making absolutely no effort to move, to defend itself, or do anything for that matter. Once I realized he wasn’t coiling up to strike, I moved a little closer, and politely requested that he move off the trail so I didn’t have to go all the way back down. Apparently he was quite comfortable on the toasty warm trail, and didn’t seem interested. I also noticed that he was fat, but only in one small section. It was then I understood- he was relaxing after a tasty (I assume) meal. But that still left me with a dilemma.

I stepped a little closer, and again asked him to move. He had his rattles partially lifted up, in an “I’m a way-too-cool LA rattlesnake, and I’m not actually going to rattle for you”. As a musician in LA, that struck me as very similar to how crowds in LA react to a band. People are too cool to actually clap, and this snake was too cool to rattle. I guess he was a hipster. When I noticed this, I became more emphatic in my requests that he move.

And move he did, very slowly. Unfortunately, he moved to the steep side of the trail, and he was too full to climb the cliff, so he just kind of ambled to the side and stretched out. I did some quick mental guestimates on whether he could strike me as I passed on the narrow trail, and decided to go for it. The hardest part was walking slowly so as not to disturb him. I passed without incident, thinking he was probably the most mellow rattlesnake I’d ever seen.

The funniest part was my encounter with too middle-aged Beverly Hills type women coming down the trail, very loudly. As they got to them I mentioned there was a rattle snake down the trail a little ways. They asked me if I was sure it was a rattlesnake. I said yes. They countered with “we saw a couple of black snakes and thought they were rattlesnakes but they weren’t”. Of course not, because rattlesnakes aren’t black, and have rattles, hence the name. I mentioned the rattles to the ladies, and they countered with “but did he rattle at you?”. They obviously didn’t believe me. As they walked away I thought about suggesting they reach into the brush to see if it really WAS a rattlesnake.

Zombie Girlscouts


I went to the store on a Saturday afternoon, and was delighted to see the girl scouts were selling cookies. I always buy a few boxes, so I put my groceries in the car and came back to buy. There were two girls holding signs, and one says to the other, as I’m standing in front of them, that she would get the next customer. When she stopped talking she began looking past me, as if waiting for someone better to show up. I finally broke the awkward silence and told her I’d like to buy some cookies. She looks at me with disgust and motions behind her with her thumb “they’re right there”. So I step behind her to the table, where the table attendant just looks at me with a blank stare.

Apparently this is the zombie Girl Scout troop.  I tell her I want to buy some cookies. She tells one of the junior officers to help me. They finally take my order for 4 boxes, and hand me the cookies. Now I guess everyone is supposed to know how much they cost, but I don’t keep that kind of stuff in my brain. I have enough to worry about than to try to remember what Girl Scout cookies cost a year ago. Besides, who’s to say the price is the same every year? After an awkward pause, I ask how much. Again, with attitude, senior bitchy scout says “16 dollars”. Obviously I have inconvenienced them- maybe they were all Facebooking when I showed up. Or, being the zombie troop, were just waiting for nightfall. Whatever the deal was, next year I’m avoiding that troop. I came across this photo on the web- I think this girl was in the troop……..

Drowning Thoughts


I like to surf.  I’m not some kid that shreds with lots of turns and cutbacks, but I can hold my own in some pretty sizable surf.  Or so I thought. California had an El Nino winter during 2009/2010. what that means is the storms that generate waves tend to be more or less direct hits on Northern and Central California. And that means the waves tend to have more power and size. In layman’s terms, they are big, fast, walls of water instead of the slower, rounded and sloped waves in a normal year.

I’d already been out to one of my favorite point breaks a couple of times during high-surf periods. These are the times when reporters warn people to stay out of the water, and there are signs all along the beach warning of the high surf. I think you see where this is going.

The first couple of times were physically demanding, but I was able to paddle out and ride some big waves. The waves on those days ranged from 8-12 feet (measured from the back, not the face so the face is usually larger).

The third time, well, it didn’t turn out so good. The waves were about the same size. Reports said 9-13 feet, so the faces would be up to 15 feet. I started to paddle out thinking I could manage, because I’d done it before. But I failed to take into account one critical point. There were no lulls between sets. That is why only about a dozen guys were out at a place that normally sees 100.

Without the lulls, it’s incredibly difficult to wrestle a longboard out to sea through waves that large. In fact, it’s damn near impossible. And then the fun began.

The currents drove me along the shore, until I was dangerously inside. “Inside” means I’m sitting where the waves are breaking, and I’m getting concerned as I see a line of huge, Hawaii-syule walled up waves moving in. I realized there is no way I’m going to be able to paddle out past these monsters, and decide to save my energy and air to deal with them when they hit. Maybe not my best choice.

The first waves breaks a few feet out, and drives me down into the blackness. I relax to conserve the oxygen in my body. As I surface, I see yet another wave about to break. I try to paddle into a better position but the wave is too quick. I’m sucked up into the lip of the wave and thrown back down to be impaled on my board. I surface again and, you guessed it, wave number three drives me so far down my ears pop. I find my way back to the surface and see waves 4,5,6, and more coming in. I am completely screwed and I know it. As wave number 4 destroys me, I am out of air and strength, and realize I might actually drown.

Here’s where it gets weird. I wasn’t worried about the things I haven’t accomplished yet in life, or about my family and friends. No. My thoughts were about how embarrassing it would be if I nearly drowned and had to be rescued.  I’d never be able to surf there again! The second thought was how the hell I was going to afford to pay for the rescue and medical bills. Wow. I had to find the strength to get to shore, or I was going to be really embarrassed and broke if I didn’t end up dead.

I stopped counting on the ninth wave, as there were more coming. I managed to maneuver myself into a position to be driven towards the shore when the next waves broke. It was rough going, but eventually I found my way to show.

I crawled up on the rocks, bruised, bleeding, and in a great deal of pain. But I wasn’t going to be embarrassed. I had gotten myself out of there.

My Bad-Ass Hike That Wasn’t


In my never-ending quest to stay in shape, I recently took up hiking. Los Angeles is a great place for this. There are trails all over Southern California. Some have waterfalls. Some have cliffs. Some have amazing views of the area. And some…….have a bunch of freaking hippies with couches (I guess I need to explain though for people that live in LA there is nothing odd about that statement).

I discovered a hidden hiking trail one day in the hills above the Hollywood reservoir that leads to a lone tree that can be seen from most of Los Angeles.  It’s a steep, rocky trail that seemed best suited for rattlesnakes as opposed to people. But this was a man’s hike, and I reveled at the challenge.  I hiked to the pinnacle of the hill, 1700 feet up, and looked out over the entire Los Angeles area, all the way to the ocean 25 miles away. This was my new retreat.  A place I could go to escape the city. A place that few other people went to. Yep, this place was my place, until that fateful weekend 

It was a hot day as I began my ascent up the hill. As I looked up I thought I saw a person at the top, near the “tree”.  The tree is a bit of a landmark, and the only one on top of the hill. You can see this tree from anywhere in the LA basin, and there’s even a guest book at the base of the tree for visitors to sign and write down their impressions.

As I reached the top of the ridge, soaked in sweat and looking something like an unshaven, dirty serial killer, I saw a mirage. There were four girls sitting on a couch by the tree. And they were drinking wine. Now, the reasons I thought this was a mirage were multiple. This was my private place (with a guestbook), and it was a manly hike to get up there. There was absolutely no way what I was seeing was happening.

I walked along the path at the top of the ridge, towards the mirage, but the mirage remained as I approached the girls.  Finally I had to accept what I was seeing. There was indeed a couch. And there were four girls sitting on and around it drinking wine. My brain was not getting it. Maybe it was the heat. I was, after all, feeling hot and dehydrated. But there was no denying it was real when one of the girls asked “are you one of the musicians”?

I was not sure how to respond. Yes, I am a musician but no,  I’m not one of the musicians, whatever that meant. They offered me wine and asked if I wanted to stay. My first thought was that they were probably offering me poison for some hippie or witch ritual. My second thought was why in the hell someone would offer a hot, sweaty hiker wine. That seemed to be a sure way to get hurt while hiking back down.

While still bewildered,  I thanked them and turned to walk along the ridge. It was then that I noticed backpacks and coolers piled under the tree. So I asked the girls what is going on, and how they got the couch up there. One began to speak but was quickly hushed by her friend. Now it was getting spooky.

I hiked away, along the ridge to another part of the mountain. As I completed that part of the journey and turned back to head back down the ridge to the hiking trail,  I noticed more people, along the side of the hill…..and another couch. Okay, now this is ridiculous.

As I reached the trail to hike back down (remember, this is a “bad ass, manly hike” in my mind) a girl appeared at the top, wearing a sundress and moccasins. Yes, she hiked all the way up in freaking moccasins.   Wow, these hippies have amazing powers! She then asked me where the drinks were, so I pointed her on her way and headed down. Apparently one of their powers isn’t flying, at least not physically.

During my hike down the hill, I came across every variation of person imaginable. There were musicians dressed as though they were about to play the Roxy Theater, hauling instruments  and asking one question, every single time I came across one. “How much further”? I told everyone they were almost there, regardless of how far they had to go. I didn’t want them to lose faith.  But wow, there is nothing funnier than people dressed for a night of clubbing hiking up a steep trail in 100 degree heat.  The girls who didn’t get the memo were just precious looking with their makeup melting and running.

I guess the group was well-intentioned, but they weren’t very good at cleaning up. The couches will probably just rot up there. And apparently they also spread the news about the wonders of MY spot, because on July 4th I hiked up to watch fireworks, only to find at least 100 of them cooking hot dogs, drinking and smoking pot. I didn’t see anything on the news afterwards, but there is no way they all made it down in the dark, in an altered state, without someone getting hurt!

It went this way most of the summer. They even put a zip line up so they could ride from one part of the mountain to another. Not that I ever tried it. I’m not trusting a bunch of stoners to put up a proper zip line. But now that summer has waned, I guess they have gone back into hiding, and I have my tree back.