your weather today

25 Jan 00 5:55 am
Los Angeles

When Hemingway was in Key West and couldn’t write, he could either walk around the corner and up a few blocks or, if the mood struck him, get one of his six-toed cats to give him a ride (six-toes cats can drive, you know, although in these modern times, it’s only legal in select parts of western Iowa) to Sloppy Joe’s, drink for a while and perhaps — I’m just guessing here — pick a fight or two.

If only he’d had cable.

Actually, we’ve got a Sloppy Joe’s out here in (usually) sunny Cal-i-forn-i-ay. In Irvine, the dark heart of a dark county. No Papa sitting at the bar, but the attached “entertainment complex” has one of those store-in-a-cart things that sells Pokemon backpacks. Nearly the same, isn’t it? But since I don’t drink — not in Los Angeles, anyway; I hear by popular demand it’s going dry soon — the fact that the sunset view from our Sloppy Joe’s is over the interchange of two freeways instead of the Gulf of Mexico doesn’t much bother me.

Instead, I prefer to combine my writer’s neuroses with insomnia. It’s cheap, easy to get a prescription for and I can fill it myself. It’s got side effects, sure; when you finally wake up, you’ve got twelve minutes to get to the post office before closing. But I’ve learned lots at this hour, from having that cable Hemingway didn’t have. One wouldn’t know it from casual evening sampling, but MTV and VH1 both still run music videos. Hours of them. Every night. VH1 is even kind enough to call the program “Insomniac Music Theater.” I suspect non-insomniacs, given the opportunity to see a video again, would also appreciate a little music theater. However, one can’t devalue the opportunity to again catch “Behind the Music” — the dramatic Vanilla Ice episode — should the VCR have been mis-programmed for every one of the nine hundred and forty-two previous airings in the past month. Without a complete viewing of the show no one could ever guess how touching it is that after having made and lost millions, he wants only to be a good father. (While, of course, continuing the search for the people responsible for that Gumby haircut he had in the “Ninja Rap” video.) It’s that thoughtful attention to emotional detail that causes such fine examples of corporate-created entertainment to make me swoon with giddiness. At least I think it’s giddiness; well-trained internet experts also tell me it could be lack of oxygen.

(A side note: Microsoft Word doesn’t think that either mis-programmed or misprogrammed is a word. Odd that a Microsoft product would have such an omission from its dictionary.)

Over on MTV, though, you’ve got former members of Road Rules and Real World bungee-jumping off the Stratosphere tower in Vegas, trying to win 10,000 e-Trade dollars. Back to VH1. But it’s one of those days when my detailed notes from the weeks-long holiday “Behind the Music” marathon allow me to take a break from regular nightly viewings of that fine program, content I will miss nothing new about Tommy Lee’s stint in jail. I turn instead to infomercials. It’s not my first choice, but I don’t have TV Land for those “Happy Days” reruns I so crave. (Well, the ones with the original Arnold’s; it was a better-decorated diner.) These days, however, the infomercials seem to be lacking. The 11th year of the Carlton Sheets Real Estate Program infomercial isn’t quite as exciting as the stellar 9th year was, and the fantastic products industry has yet to come up with anything to rival two years ago, when infomercials for both Dura-Lube (with the engine full of DuraLube and sand still running after hours of punishment, and other highly scientific tests) and Dura-Shine (with the thrilling outtake of the high power laser used to demonstrate just how good a shine Dura-Shine produces accidentally touching the sleeve of the host’s shirt… and burning a hole right through it!) running not just back to back, but sometimes at the same time on different channels. That was thrilling television, and while this year’s home vacuum-pack machine is pretty neat — good for pillows and sweaters as well as food — it’s a distant Show to the Win and Place of the dueling Dura-Products.

With tonight’s insomnia goaded on by the rare sound of rain on the roof, I long for the days where I could count on finding such interesting programming at such a late hour. The videos tonight seem to be the same as last night — which hardly seems possible, considering the lengthy and varied playlist today’s music outlets provide — and on the third go-around of Headline News I began to suspect it was a tape, since not only was the copy the same each time, the line readings had the same inflections. No, it was time for something new. Ninety seconds of Good Day LA dropped my IQ by 50 plus points; they were discussing who didn’t shave their underarms at the Golden Globes. I am not making that up. Not the time for the networks; they may shine but not at that hour. I had to look elsewhere.

I found that newness in The Weather Channel.

It’s been some time since I’ve given The Weather Channel much attention. (Note the capitalized “The” so as not to confuse The Weather Channel with any of the dozens of cheap Taiwanese generic knockoff weather channels; just like an eMate is not an iMac, and Apple has a court injunction to prove it.) My cable company has been through seventeen owners in the last two years, as, in a startling recreation of the French Revolution, one executive after another is decapitated for replacing “Bravo” with “The Home Shopping Outlet” channel. It seems the Opera crowd is a bloody lot. (I’m taking suggestions for jokes supporting the “Let them eat Cable” concept.) Each new executive, in an effort to hide the good stuff they’ve sold down the river and also save their own neck from the fate *ahem* befalling the previous occupant of their Successories!-furnished cubicle, shuffles the channel lineup in the hopes you’ll think that quality show you saw once before was just a dream. Thus, for quite a while now, I’ve never been sure exactly where to find the original American-made The Weather Channel. Besides, when I think of weather in LA, I think of LA Story, one of the ten best films ever and don’t you forget it. The report in the film will likely be accurate, and it’s got Steve Martin writing his own stuff, which is too rare.

But today, a big weather day for us, required some big-time weather. Only one and a half laps on the TV Guide Channel — excuse me, The TV Guide Channel — revealed the Weather Channel to be hiding on 32, between the scrambled pay stations and the midget porn and New Age crystal shit that is cable access. I gave one more network a chance, and after another promo I couldn’t possibly make up (“Like Today, only later. Later Today!”) I tuned to The Weather Channel and their show, Your Weather Today. It’s got actual named anchors, and a storm expert. This looks good.

I had mixed feelings at discovering our rainstorm had been completely upstaged by a blizzard tromping up I-95 from South Carolina all the way to Boston. (Should someone find a photo of the giant Sombrero on a stick at South of the Border covered with snow, please send it my way.) Having driven I-95 all the way from Miami to Massachusetts — both ways — I feel qualified in saying the road is one of the most boring in the whole country and being buried in snow is a good start to improve the interest factor.

And it sure made for good television. The Weather Channel’s crack team could barely contain their glee. They managed to keep the smiles off their faces as they listed the closed airports, but you could hear their excitement in their voices as they got out their little electronic pens and scribbled little lines and arrows all over an on-screen map of the mid-Atlantic, showing just how messy things were gonna get. Their two reporters on location were doing a great job, with the one by the expressway across from LaGuardia panning across the parking lot to show that the “big, dry kind of snow” wasn’t causing ice sheets on parked cars, and while you shouldn’t go out unless it’s an emergency, you were unlikely to find your lock frozen. A big comfort. Her Boston counterpart trudged out into the service road next to him to demonstrate that snow was in fact sticking, even though it had just been plowed. He then took a ruler and stuck it in the snow. “Yup, we’re up to one full inch here in the parking lot.” He checked that reading in two spots for accuracy.

But it was raining here, dammit, and I wanted the world to know. Nobody matters other than Los Angeles, right? But nobody was gonna know that from The Weather Channel, so I took matters into my own hands. I called my mom.

The recording on her work voice mail in DC said she wouldn’t be in due to the weather. I called her at home.

“Mom, where’s your sense of adventure?”

A snort of derision. “Well, the federal government is closed, so we’re closed. [My mom works for the lobby branch of a postal trade organization. Remember that before you send me junk mail.] Besides, I’m not crazy, I wouldn’t have gone anyway. They’re talking about over a foot!”

Phooey, I say. It’s just a little snow. I sort of miss snow. The last blizzard I saw was at a Dairy Queen in Kermit, Texas, population 6,000, where after a fine dinner of chicken strips, gravy, French fries and Texas toast (since I was in Texas, was it just plain toast?) I got an Oreo Blizzard. The counter woman did, in fact, flip the thing over, lidless, to demonstrate the Blizzard has the company-required consistency. You don’t get service like that at the urban Dairy Queens out here, and it’s a crying shame. Hell, you can’t even get the fine dinners like that. While the cholesterol might eventually be an issue, for a buck ninety-nine it’s tough to beat. [Update 01 Mar 00: You can, in fact, now get that fine dinner here in LA at the silly little storefront Dairy Queens; it's under "Regional Favorites" and is $4.49. I saw this through the window; I didn't go in. I swear.]

Then mom makes me happy: “I hear you’ve got rain.” She knows! Yes! Word has gotten out. Our rain is still relevant and important. My work is done.

Winding down from the ordeal of making sure the world knew it was raining here, my thoughts turned back to snow. I remember tons and tons of sledding as a child, including one unfortunate buffer-overrun situation that resulted in visiting a very, very cold and very, very rocky creek. (Your average four-post Flexible Flyer doesn’t quite have the lift generation design of, say, your average Piper Cub aircraft, and the physics you need to otherwise jump a creek like that you don’t learn until later in life. Teach your children well.) I remember snow forts, and snowball fights and snow days to enjoy it all. I had snow boots and mittens, and I remember them steaming by a fire after we’d come back inside. (It’s been noted by those familiar with me at that age that last memory is likely hooey and I’m actually remembering reading years of Calvin and Hobbes, with their frequent chats by a roaring fireplace. I don’t feel qualified to prove otherwise, frankly.)

Even rain used to be more fun; both as it fell and in puddles. There was adventure in just watching lightning. But today I just worry about other drivers not handling the slickness of the roads. And there is rarely lightning here.

Where went my sense of adventure? Did the TV culture kill it? Or did I, just out of lack of energy? Or was it just hopeless from the start? Hemingway had wide open spaces. He had wars he just sort of dropped in on, sort of as a journalist but mostly as a fan. He had a Great Depression. He had a farm outside Havana, and went adventuring or at least deep-sea fishing all the time. He wrote “A Farewell to Arms” and “To Have and Have Not” and “The Old Man and the Sea”.

I’ve got wide-open parking lots. I’ve got wars I just sort of drop in on when they show up on CNN. I can’t legally go to Havana but I’ve got seven channels of full-time fishing shows. I can’t see how to get a crack at writing about a life so lived when most adventures I see are 48 minutes plus commercials. Maybe it’s good Hemingway didn’t have cable. (I thought briefly about throwing my TV in the pool, but that would be satisfying only fleetingly, and I’d feel guilty forever. I cannot give up electronics; I even still have a Beta deck.)

Yes, I’ve lived some, traveled some, had some adventure. I’m not sure it’s enough. I can’t go back and not have cable, not live in the era I live in, not un-discover and un-photograph some of the world so I can see it fresh for myself. I’m feeling comfortable with it being 2000, and I see a whole future ahead of me. But what to fill it with? How do you live enough to have a tale to tell? Is there anything we haven’t seen already? Does The Travel Channel replace my need to be interesting? Are there stories left?

My weather today: uncertain and cloudy, frustrated and moody.

What’s your weather like?


Five weeks after writing the above, I suddenly realize that the last time I was in Key West I spent a great deal of my time on crutches, sitting around in pain, two weeks out of a Toronto hospital with a leg full of metal and various other crackable parts of me cracked. I didn’t do much but sit around and watch cable. But it was okay, because there was free HBO.

And every day I was there, for hours on end, it rained.


This was published on 25 Jan 2000.
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